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H. G. Wells
The Time Machine 06
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CHAPTER VI


'It may seem odd to you, but it was two days before I could follow
up the new-found clue in what was manifestly the proper way. I felt
a peculiar shrinking from those pallid bodies. They were just the
half-bleached colour of the worms and things one sees preserved in
spirit in a zoological museum. And they were filthily cold to the
touch. Probably my shrinking was largely due to the sympathetic
influence of the Eloi, whose disgust of the Morlocks I now began
to appreciate.

'The next night I did not sleep well. Probably my health was a
little disordered. I was oppressed with perplexity and doubt. Once
or twice I had a feeling of intense fear for which I could perceive
no definite reason. I remember creeping noiselessly into the great
hall where the little people were sleeping in the moonlight-- that
night Weena was among them-- and feeling reassured by their
presence. It occurred to me even then, that in the course of a few
days the moon must pass through its last quarter, and the nights
grow dark, when the appearances of these unpleasant creatures
from below, these whitened Lemurs, this new vermin that had
replaced the old, might be more abundant. And on both these days
I had the restless feeling of one who shirks an inevitable duty.
I felt assured that the Time Machine was only to be recovered by
boldly penetrating these underground mysteries. Yet I could not
face the mystery. If only I had had a companion it would have been
different. But I was so horribly alone, and even to clamber down
into the darkness of the well appalled me. I don't know if you will
understand my feeling, but I never felt quite safe at my back.

'It was this restlessness, this insecurity, perhaps, that drove me
further and further afield in my exploring expeditions. Going to the
south-westward towards the rising country that is now called Combe
Wood, I observed far off, in the direction of nineteenth-century
Banstead, a vast green structure, different in character from any
I had hitherto seen. It was larger than the largest of the palaces
or ruins I knew, and the facade had an Oriental look: the face
of it having the lustre, as well as the pale-green tint, a kind
of bluish-green, of a certain type of Chinese porcelain. This
difference in aspect suggested a difference in use, and I was minded
to push on and explore. But the day was growing late, and I had come
upon the sight of the place after a long and tiring circuit; so I
resolved to hold over the adventure for the following day, and I
returned to the welcome and the caresses of little Weena. But next
morning I perceived clearly enough that my curiosity regarding the
Palace of Green Porcelain was a piece of self-deception, to enable
me to shirk, by another day, an experience I dreaded. I resolved I
would make the descent without further waste of time, and started
out in the early morning towards a well near the ruins of granite
and aluminium.

'Little Weena ran with me. She danced beside me to the well, but
when she saw me lean over the mouth and look downward, she seemed
strangely disconcerted. "Good-bye, little Weena," I said, kissing
her; and then putting her down, I began to feel over the parapet
for the climbing hooks. Rather hastily, I may as well confess, for
I feared my courage might leak away! At first she watched me in
amazement. Then she gave a most piteous cry, and running to me,
she began to pull at me with her little hands. I think her opposition
nerved me rather to proceed. I shook her off, perhaps a little
roughly, and in another moment I was in the throat of the well. I
saw her agonized face over the parapet, and smiled to reassure her.
Then I had to look down at the unstable hooks to which I clung.

'I had to clamber down a shaft of perhaps two hundred yards. The
descent was effected by means of metallic bars projecting from
the sides of the well, and these being adapted to the needs of
a creature much smaller and lighter than myself, I was speedily
cramped and fatigued by the descent. And not simply fatigued! One of
the bars bent suddenly under my weight, and almost swung me off into
the blackness beneath. For a moment I hung by one hand, and after
that experience I did not dare to rest again. Though my arms and
back were presently acutely painful, I went on clambering down the
sheer descent with as quick a motion as possible. Glancing upward,
I saw the aperture, a small blue disk, in which a star was visible,
while little Weena's head showed as a round black projection. The
thudding sound of a machine below grew louder and more oppressive.
Everything save that little disk above was profoundly dark, and when
I looked up again Weena had disappeared.

'I was in an agony of discomfort. I had some thought of trying to go
up the shaft again, and leave the Under-world alone. But even while
I turned this over in my mind I continued to descend. At last, with
intense relief, I saw dimly coming up, a foot to the right of me, a
slender loophole in the wall. Swinging myself in, I found it was the
aperture of a narrow horizontal tunnel in which I could lie down and
rest. It was not too soon. My arms ached, my back was cramped,
and I was trembling with the prolonged terror of a fall. Besides this,
the unbroken darkness had had a distressing effect upon my eyes.
The air was full of the throb and hum of machinery pumping air
down the shaft.

'I do not know how long I lay. I was roused by a soft hand touching
my face. Starting up in the darkness I snatched at my matches and,
hastily striking one, I saw three stooping white creatures similar
to the one I had seen above ground in the ruin, hastily retreating
before the light. Living, as they did, in what appeared to me
impenetrable darkness, their eyes were abnormally large and
sensitive, just as are the pupils of the abysmal fishes, and they
reflected the light in the same way. I have no doubt they could see
me in that rayless obscurity, and they did not seem to have any fear
of me apart from the light. But, so soon as I struck a match in
order to see them, they fled incontinently, vanishing into dark
gutters and tunnels, from which their eyes glared at me in the
strangest fashion.

'I tried to call to them, but the language they had was apparently
different from that of the Over-world people; so that I was needs
left to my own unaided efforts, and the thought of flight before
exploration was even then in my mind. But I said to myself, "You are
in for it now," and, feeling my way along the tunnel, I found the
noise of machinery grow louder. Presently the walls fell away from
me, and I came to a large open space, and striking another match,
saw that I had entered a vast arched cavern, which stretched into
utter darkness beyond the range of my light. The view I had of it
was as much as one could see in the burning of a match.

'Necessarily my memory is vague. Great shapes like big machines rose
out of the dimness, and cast grotesque black shadows, in which dim
spectral Morlocks sheltered from the glare. The place, by the by,
was very stuffy and oppressive, and the faint halitus of freshly
shed blood was in the air. Some way down the central vista was a
little table of white metal, laid with what seemed a meal. The
Morlocks at any rate were carnivorous! Even at the time, I remember
wondering what large animal could have survived to furnish the red
joint I saw. It was all very indistinct: the heavy smell, the big
unmeaning shapes, the obscene figures lurking in the shadows, and
only waiting for the darkness to come at me again! Then the match
burned down, and stung my fingers, and fell, a wriggling red spot
in the blackness.

'I have thought since how particularly ill-equipped I was for such
an experience. When I had started with the Time Machine, I had
started with the absurd assumption that the men of the Future would
certainly be infinitely ahead of ourselves in all their appliances.
I had come without arms, without medicine, without anything to
smoke-- at times I missed tobacco frightfully-- even without enough
matches. If only I had thought of a Kodak! I could have flashed that
glimpse of the Underworld in a second, and examined it at leisure.
But, as it was, I stood there with only the weapons and the powers
that Nature had endowed me with-- hands, feet, and teeth; these,
and four safety-matches that still remained to me.

'I was afraid to push my way in among all this machinery in the
dark, and it was only with my last glimpse of light I discovered
that my store of matches had run low. It had never occurred to me
until that moment that there was any need to economize them, and I
had wasted almost half the box in astonishing the Upper-worlders, to
whom fire was a novelty. Now, as I say, I had four left, and while I
stood in the dark, a hand touched mine, lank fingers came feeling
over my face, and I was sensible of a peculiar unpleasant odour. I
fancied I heard the breathing of a crowd of those dreadful little
beings about me. I felt the box of matches in my hand being gently
disengaged, and other hands behind me plucking at my clothing. The
sense of these unseen creatures examining me was indescribably
unpleasant. The sudden realization of my ignorance of their ways of
thinking and doing came home to me very vividly in the darkness. I
shouted at them as loudly as I could. They started away, and then
I could feel them approaching me again. They clutched at me more
boldly, whispering odd sounds to each other. I shivered violently,
and shouted again-- rather discordantly. This time they were not so
seriously alarmed, and they made a queer laughing noise as they came
back at me. I will confess I was horribly frightened. I determined
to strike another match and escape under the protection of its
glare. I did so, and eking out the flicker with a scrap of paper
from my pocket, I made good my retreat to the narrow tunnel. But I
had scarce entered this when my light was blown out and in the
blackness I could hear the Morlocks rustling like wind among leaves,
and pattering like the rain, as they hurried after me.

'In a moment I was clutched by several hands, and there was no
mistaking that they were trying to haul me back. I struck another
light, and waved it in their dazzled faces. You can scarce imagine
how nauseatingly inhuman they looked-- those pale, chinless faces
and great, lidless, pinkish-grey eyes!-- as they stared in their
blindness and bewilderment. But I did not stay to look, I promise
you: I retreated again, and when my second match had ended, I struck
my third. It had almost burned through when I reached the opening
into the shaft. I lay down on the edge, for the throb of the great
pump below made me giddy. Then I felt sideways for the projecting
hooks, and, as I did so, my feet were grasped from behind, and I
was violently tugged backward. I lit my last match ... and it
incontinently went out. But I had my hand on the climbing bars now,
and, kicking violently, I disengaged myself from the clutches of the
Morlocks and was speedily clambering up the shaft, while they stayed
peering and blinking up at me: all but one little wretch who
followed me for some way, and well-nigh secured my boot as a trophy.

'That climb seemed interminable to me. With the last twenty or
thirty feet of it a deadly nausea came upon me. I had the greatest
difficulty in keeping my hold. The last few yards was a frightful
struggle against this faintness. Several times my head swam, and I
felt all the sensations of falling. At last, however, I got over the
well-mouth somehow, and staggered out of the ruin into the blinding
sunlight. I fell upon my face. Even the soil smelt sweet and clean.
Then I remember Weena kissing my hands and ears, and the voices of
others among the Eloi. Then, for a time, I was insensible.


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