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II



I think that at that time none of us quite believed in the
Time Machine. The fact is, the Time Traveller was one of those
men who are too clever to be believed: you never felt that you
saw all round him; you always suspected some subtle reserve, some
ingenuity in ambush, behind his lucid frankness. Had Filby shown
the model and explained the matter in the Time Traveller's words,
we should have shown HIM far less scepticism. For we should
have perceived his motives; a pork butcher could understand
Filby. But the Time Traveller had more than a touch of whim
among his elements, and we distrusted him. Things that would
have made the frame of a less clever man seemed tricks in his
hands. It is a mistake to do things too easily. The serious
people who took him seriously never felt quite sure of his
deportment; they were somehow aware that trusting their
reputations for judgment with him was like furnishing a nursery
with egg-shell china. So I don't think any of us said very much
about time travelling in the interval between that Thursday and
the next, though its odd potentialities ran, no doubt, in most of
our minds: its plausibility, that is, its practical
incredibleness, the curious possibilities of anachronism and of
utter confusion it suggested. For my own part, I was
particularly preoccupied with the trick of the model. That I
remember discussing with the Medical Man, whom I met on Friday at
the Linnaean. He said he had seen a similar thing at
Tubingen, and laid considerable stress on the blowing out
of the candle. But how the trick was done he could not explain.

The next Thursday I went again to Richmond--I suppose I was
one of the Time Traveller's most constant guests--and, arriving
late, found four or five men already assembled in his
drawing-room. The Medical Man was standing before the fire with
a sheet of paper in one hand and his watch in the other. I
looked round for the Time Traveller, and--`It's half-past seven
now,' said the Medical Man. `I suppose we'd better have dinner?'

`Where's----?' said I, naming our host.

`You've just come? It's rather odd. He's unavoidably
detained. He asks me in this note to lead off with dinner at
seven if he's not back. Says he'll explain when he comes.'

`It seems a pity to let the dinner spoil,' said the Editor of
a well-known daily paper; and thereupon the Doctor rang the bell.

The Psychologist was the only person besides the Doctor and
myself who had attended the previous dinner. The other men were
Blank, the Editor aforementioned, a certain journalist, and
another--a quiet, shy man with a beard--whom I didn't know,
and who, as far as my observation went, never opened his mouth
all the evening. There was some speculation at the dinner-table
about the Time Traveller's absence, and I suggested time
travelling, in a half-jocular spirit. The Editor wanted that
explained to him, and the Psychologist volunteered a wooden
account of the `ingenious paradox and trick' we had witnessed
that day week. He was in the midst of his exposition when the
door from the corridor opened slowly and without noise. I was
facing the door, and saw it first. `Hallo!' I said. `At last!'
And the door opened wider, and the Time Traveller stood before
us. I gave a cry of surprise. `Good heavens! man, what's the
matter?' cried the Medical Man, who saw him next. And the whole
tableful turned towards the door.

He was in an amazing plight. His coat was dusty and dirty,
and smeared with green down the sleeves; his hair disordered, and
as it seemed to me greyer--either with dust and dirt or because
its colour had actually faded. His face was ghastly pale; his
chin had a brown cut on it--a cut half healed; his expression
was haggard and drawn, as by intense suffering. For a moment he
hesitated in the doorway, as if he had been dazzled by the light.
Then he came into the room. He walked with just such a limp as
I have seen in footsore tramps. We stared at him in silence,
expecting him to speak.

He said not a word, but came painfully to the table, and made
a motion towards the wine. The Editor filled a glass of
champagne, and pushed it towards him. He drained it, and it
seemed to do him good: for he looked round the table, and the
ghost of his old smile flickered across his face. `What on earth
have you been up to, man?' said the Doctor. The Time Traveller
did not seem to hear. `Don't let me disturb you,' he said, with
a certain faltering articulation. `I'm all right.' He stopped,
held out his glass for more, and took it off at a draught.
`That's good,' he said. His eyes grew brighter, and a faint
colour came into his cheeks. His glance flickered over our faces
with a certain dull approval, and then went round the warm and
comfortable room. Then he spoke again, still as it were feeling
his way among his words. `I'm going to wash and dress, and then
I'll come down and explain things. . . Save me some of that
mutton. I'm starving for a bit of meat.'

He looked across at the Editor, who was a rare visitor, and
hoped he was all right. The Editor began a question. `Tell you
presently,' said the Time Traveller. `I'm--funny! Be all
right in a minute.'

He put down his glass, and walked towards the staircase door.
Again I remarked his lameness and the soft padding sound of his
footfall, and standing up in my place, I saw his feet as he went
out. He had nothing on them but a pair of tattered blood-stained
socks. Then the door closed upon him. I had half a mind to
follow, till I remembered how he detested any fuss about himself.
For a minute, perhaps, my mind was wool-gathering. Then,
'Remarkable Behaviour of an Eminent Scientist,' I heard the
Editor say, thinking (after his wont) in headlines. And this
brought my attention back to the bright dinner-table.

`What's the game?' said the Journalist. `Has he been doing
the Amateur Cadger? I don't follow.' I met the eye of the
Psychologist, and read my own interpretation in his face. I
thought of the Time Traveller limping painfully upstairs. I
don't think any one else had noticed his lameness.

The first to recover completely from this surprise was the
Medical Man, who rang the bell--the Time Traveller hated to
have servants waiting at dinner--for a hot plate. At that the
Editor turned to his knife and fork with a grunt, and the Silent
Man followed suit. The dinner was resumed. Conversation was
exclamatory for a little while, with gaps of wonderment; and then
the Editor got fervent in his curiosity. `Does our friend eke
out his modest income with a crossing? or has he his
Nebuchadnezzar phases?' he inquired. `I feel assured it's this
business of the Time Machine,' I said, and took up the
Psychologist's account of our previous meeting. The new guests
were frankly incredulous. The Editor raised objections. `What
WAS this time travelling? A man couldn't cover himself with
dust by rolling in a paradox, could he?' And then, as the idea
came home to him, he resorted to caricature. Hadn't they any
clothes-brushes in the Future? The Journalist too, would not
believe at any price, and joined the Editor in the easy work of
heaping ridicule on the whole thing. They were both the new kind
of journalist--very joyous, irreverent young men. `Our Special
Correspondent in the Day after To-morrow reports,' the Journalist
was saying--or rather shouting--when the Time Traveller came
back. He was dressed in ordinary evening clothes, and nothing
save his haggard look remained of the change that had startled
me.

`I say,' said the Editor hilariously, `these chaps here say
you have been travelling into the middle of next week! Tell us
all about little Rosebery, will you? What will you take for the
lot?'

The Time Traveller came to the place reserved for him without
a word. He smiled quietly, in his old way. `Where's my mutton?'
he said. `What a treat it is to stick a fork into meat again!'

`Story!' cried the Editor.

`Story be damned!' said the Time Traveller. `I want something
to eat. I won't say a word until I get some peptone into my
arteries. Thanks. And the salt.'

`One word,' said I. `Have you been time travelling?'

`Yes,' said the Time Traveller, with his mouth full, nodding
his head.

`I'd give a shilling a line for a verbatim note,' said the
Editor. The Time Traveller pushed his glass towards the Silent
Man and rang it with his fingernail; at which the Silent Man, who
had been staring at his face, started convulsively, and poured
him wine. The rest of the dinner was uncomfortable. For my own
part, sudden questions kept on rising to my lips, and I dare say
it was the same with the others. The Journalist tried to relieve
the tension by telling anecdotes of Hettie Potter. The Time
Traveller devoted his attention to his dinner, and displayed the
appetite of a tramp. The Medical Man smoked a cigarette, and
watched the Time Traveller through his eyelashes. The Silent Man
seemed even more clumsy than usual, and drank champagne with
regularity and determination out of sheer nervousness. At last
the Time Traveller pushed his plate away, and looked round us.
`I suppose I must apologize,' he said. `I was simply starving.
I've had a most amazing time.' He reached out his hand for a
cigar, and cut the end. `But come into the smoking-room. It's
too long a story to tell over greasy plates.' And ringing the
bell in passing, he led the way into the adjoining room.

`You have told Blank, and Dash, and Chose about the machine?'
he said to me, leaning back in his easy-chair and naming the
three new guests.

`But the thing's a mere paradox,' said the Editor.

`I can't argue to-night. I don't mind telling you the story,
but I can't argue. I will,' he went on, `tell you the story of
what has happened to me, if you like, but you must refrain from
interruptions. I want to tell it. Badly. Most of it will sound
like lying. So be it! It's true--every word of it, all the
same. I was in my laboratory at four o'clock, and since then . .
. I've lived eight days . . . such days as no human being ever
lived before! I'm nearly worn out, but I shan't sleep till I've
told this thing over to you. Then I shall go to bed. But no
interruptions! Is it agreed?'

`Agreed,' said the Editor, and the rest of us echoed `Agreed.'
And with that the Time Traveller began his story as I have set
it forth. He sat back in his chair at first, and spoke like a
weary man. Afterwards he got more animated. In writing it down
I feel with only too much keenness the inadequacy of pen and ink
--and, above all, my own inadequacy--to express its quality.
You read, I will suppose, attentively enough; but you cannot see
the speaker's white, sincere face in the bright circle of the
little lamp, nor hear the intonation of his voice. You cannot
know how his expression followed the turns of his story! Most of
us hearers were in shadow, for the candles in the smoking-room
had not been lighted, and only the face of the Journalist and the
legs of the Silent Man from the knees downward were illuminated.
At first we glanced now and again at each other. After a time we
ceased to do that, and looked only at the Time Traveller's face.





The Time Machine by H. G. Wells
Category:
Science Fiction

English
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