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Contents > Author > H. G. Wells > The Time Machine 03 1866- 1946
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H. G. Wells
The Time Machine 03
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CHAPTER III


'I told some of you last Thursday of the principles of the Time
Machine, and showed you the actual thing itself, incomplete in the
workshop. There it is now, a little travel-worn, truly; and one of
the ivory bars is cracked, and a brass rail bent; but the rest of
it's sound enough. I expected to finish it on Friday, but on Friday,
when the putting together was nearly done, I found that one of the
nickel bars was exactly one inch too short, and this I had to get
remade; so that the thing was not complete until this morning. It
was at ten o'clock to-day that the first of all Time Machines began
its career. I gave it a last tap, tried all the screws again, put
one more drop of oil on the quartz rod, and sat myself in the
saddle. I suppose a suicide who holds a pistol to his skull feels
much the same wonder at what will come next as I felt then. I took
the starting lever in one hand and the stopping one in the other,
pressed the first, and almost immediately the second. I seemed to
reel; I felt a nightmare sensation of falling; and, looking round,
I saw the laboratory exactly as before. Had anything happened? For
a moment I suspected that my intellect had tricked me. Then I noted
the clock. A moment before, as it seemed, it had stood at a minute
or so past ten; now it was nearly half-past three!

'I drew a breath, set my teeth, gripped the starting lever with both
hands, and went off with a thud. The laboratory got hazy and went
dark. Mrs. Watchett came in and walked, apparently without seeing
me, towards the garden door. I suppose it took her a minute or so to
traverse the place, but to me she seemed to shoot across the room
like a rocket. I pressed the lever over to its extreme position. The
night came like the turning out of a lamp, and in another moment
came to-morrow. The laboratory grew faint and hazy, then fainter
and ever fainter. To-morrow night came black, then day again, night
again, day again, faster and faster still. An eddying murmur filled
my ears, and a strange, dumb confusedness descended on my mind.

'I am afraid I cannot convey the peculiar sensations of time travelling.
They are excessively unpleasant. There is a feeling exactly like that
one has upon a switchback-- of a helpless headlong motion! I felt the
same horrible anticipation, too, of an imminent smash. As I put on pace,
night followed day like the flapping of a black wing. The dim suggestion
of the laboratory seemed presently to fall away from me, and I saw
the sun hopping swiftly across the sky, leaping it every minute, and
every minute marking a day. I supposed the laboratory had been
destroyed and I had come into the open air. I had a dim impression
of scaffolding, but I was already going too fast to be conscious of any
moving things. The slowest snail that ever crawled dashed by too fast
for me. The twinkling succession of darkness and light was excessively
painful to the eye. Then, in the intermittent darknesses, I saw the moon
spinning swiftly through her quarters from new to full, and had a faint
glimpse of the circling stars. Presently, as I went on, still gaining velocity,
the palpitation of night and day merged into one continuous greyness;
the sky took on a wonderful deepness of blue, a splendid luminous
colour like that of early twilight; the jerking sun became a streak
of fire, a brilliant arch, in space; the moon a fainter fluctuating
band; and I could see nothing of the stars, save now and then a
brighter circle flickering in the blue.

'The landscape was misty and vague. I was still on the hill-side
upon which this house now stands, and the shoulder rose above me
grey and dim. I saw trees growing and changing like puffs of vapour,
now brown, now green; they grew, spread, shivered, and passed away.
I saw huge buildings rise up faint and fair, and pass like dreams.
The whole surface of the earth seemed changed-- melting and flowing
under my eyes. The little hands upon the dials that registered my
speed raced round faster and faster. Presently I noted that the sun
belt swayed up and down, from solstice to solstice, in a minute or
less, and that consequently my pace was over a year a minute; and
minute by minute the white snow flashed across the world, and
vanished, and was followed by the bright, brief green of spring.

'The unpleasant sensations of the start were less poignant now. They
merged at last into a kind of hysterical exhilaration. I remarked
indeed a clumsy swaying of the machine, for which I was unable to
account. But my mind was too confused to attend to it, so with a
kind of madness growing upon me, I flung myself into futurity. At
first I scarce thought of stopping, scarce thought of anything but
these new sensations. But presently a fresh series of impressions
grew up in my mind-- a certain curiosity and therewith a certain
dread-- until at last they took complete possession of me. What
strange developments of humanity, what wonderful advances upon our
rudimentary civilization, I thought, might not appear when I came to
look nearly into the dim elusive world that raced and fluctuated
before my eyes! I saw great and splendid architecture rising about me,
more massive than any buildings of our own time, and yet, as it
seemed, built of glimmer and mist. I saw a richer green flow up the
hill-side, and remain there, without any wintry intermission. Even
through the veil of my confusion the earth seemed very fair. And so
my mind came round to the business of stopping.

'The peculiar risk lay in the possibility of my finding some
substance in the space which I, or the machine, occupied. So long
as I travelled at a high velocity through time, this scarcely
mattered; I was, so to speak, attenuated-- was slipping like a vapour
through the interstices of intervening substances! But to come to
a stop involved the jamming of myself, molecule by molecule, into
whatever lay in my way; meant bringing my atoms into such intimate
contact with those of the obstacle that a profound chemical
reaction-- possibly a far-reaching explosion-- would result, and blow
myself and my apparatus out of all possible dimensions-- into the
Unknown. This possibility had occurred to me again and again while I
was making the machine; but then I had cheerfully accepted it as an
unavoidable risk-- one of the risks a man has got to take! Now the
risk was inevitable, I no longer saw it in the same cheerful light.
The fact is that, insensibly, the absolute strangeness of everything,
the sickly jarring and swaying of the machine, above all, the
feeling of prolonged falling, had absolutely upset my nerve. I told
myself that I could never stop, and with a gust of petulance I
resolved to stop forthwith. Like an impatient fool, I lugged over
the lever, and incontinently the thing went reeling over, and I was
flung headlong through the air.

'There was the sound of a clap of thunder in my ears. I may have
been stunned for a moment. A pitiless hail was hissing round me,
and I was sitting on soft turf in front of the overset machine.
Everything still seemed grey, but presently I remarked that the
confusion in my ears was gone. I looked round me. I was on what
seemed to be a little lawn in a garden, surrounded by rhododendron
bushes, and I noticed that their mauve and purple blossoms were
dropping in a shower under the beating of the hail-stones. The
rebounding, dancing hail hung in a cloud over the machine, and drove
along the ground like smoke. In a moment I was wet to the skin.
"Fine hospitality," said I, "to a man who has travelled innumerable
years to see you."

'Presently I thought what a fool I was to get wet. I stood up and
looked round me. A colossal figure, carved apparently in some white
stone, loomed indistinctly beyond the rhododendrons through the hazy
downpour. But all else of the world was invisible.

'My sensations would be hard to describe. As the columns of hail
grew thinner, I saw the white figure more distinctly. It was very
large, for a silver birch-tree touched its shoulder. It was of white
marble, in shape something like a winged sphinx, but the wings,
instead of being carried vertically at the sides, were spread so
that it seemed to hover. The pedestal, it appeared to me, was of
bronze, and was thick with verdigris. It chanced that the face was
towards me; the sightless eyes seemed to watch me; there was the
faint shadow of a smile on the lips. It was greatly weather-worn,
and that imparted an unpleasant suggestion of disease. I stood
looking at it for a little space-- half a minute, perhaps, or half an
hour. It seemed to advance and to recede as the hail drove before it
denser or thinner. At last I tore my eyes from it for a moment and
saw that the hail curtain had worn threadbare, and that the sky was
lightening with the promise of the sun.

'I looked up again at the crouching white shape, and the full
temerity of my voyage came suddenly upon me. What might appear when
that hazy curtain was altogether withdrawn? What might not have
happened to men? What if cruelty had grown into a common passion?
What if in this interval the race had lost its manliness and had
developed into something inhuman, unsympathetic, and overwhelmingly
powerful? I might seem some old-world savage animal, only the more
dreadful and disgusting for our common likeness-- a foul creature to
be incontinently slain.

'Already I saw other vast shapes-- huge buildings with intricate
parapets and tall columns, with a wooded hill-side dimly creeping
in upon me through the lessening storm. I was seized with a panic
fear. I turned frantically to the Time Machine, and strove hard to
readjust it. As I did so the shafts of the sun smote through the
thunderstorm. The grey downpour was swept aside and vanished like
the trailing garments of a ghost. Above me, in the intense blue
of the summer sky, some faint brown shreds of cloud whirled into
nothingness. The great buildings about me stood out clear and
distinct, shining with the wet of the thunderstorm, and picked out
in white by the unmelted hailstones piled along their courses. I
felt naked in a strange world. I felt as perhaps a bird may feel in
the clear air, knowing the hawk wings above and will swoop. My fear
grew to frenzy. I took a breathing space, set my teeth, and again
grappled fiercely, wrist and knee, with the machine. It gave under
my desperate onset and turned over. It struck my chin violently. One
hand on the saddle, the other on the lever, I stood panting heavily
in attitude to mount again.

'But with this recovery of a prompt retreat my courage recovered. I
looked more curiously and less fearfully at this world of the remote
future. In a circular opening, high up in the wall of the nearer
house, I saw a group of figures clad in rich soft robes. They had
seen me, and their faces were directed towards me.

'Then I heard voices approaching me. Coming through the bushes by
the White Sphinx were the heads and shoulders of men running. One of
these emerged in a pathway leading straight to the little lawn upon
which I stood with my machine. He was a slight creature-- perhaps
four feet high-- clad in a purple tunic, girdled at the waist with a
leather belt. Sandals or buskins-- I could not clearly distinguish
which-- were on his feet; his legs were bare to the knees, and his
head was bare. Noticing that, I noticed for the first time how warm
the air was.

'He struck me as being a very beautiful and graceful creature, but
indescribably frail. His flushed face reminded me of the more
beautiful kind of consumptive-- that hectic beauty of which we used
to hear so much. At the sight of him I suddenly regained confidence.
I took my hands from the machine.


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