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IV



`In another moment we were standing face to face, I and this
fragile thing out of futurity. He came straight up to me and
laughed into my eyes. The absence from his bearing of any sign
of fear struck me at once. Then he turned to the two others who
were following him and spoke to them in a strange and very sweet
and liquid tongue.

`There were others coming, and presently a little group of
perhaps eight or ten of these exquisite creatures were about me.
One of them addressed me. It came into my head, oddly enough,
that my voice was too harsh and deep for them. So I shook my
head, and, pointing to my ears, shook it again. He came a step
forward, hesitated, and then touched my hand. Then I felt other
soft little tentacles upon my back and shoulders. They wanted to
make sure I was real. There was nothing in this at all alarming.
Indeed, there was something in these pretty little people that
inspired confidence--a graceful gentleness, a certain childlike
ease. And besides, they looked so frail that I could fancy
myself flinging the whole dozen of them about like nine-pins.
But I made a sudden motion to warn them when I saw their little
pink hands feeling at the Time Machine. Happily then, when it
was not too late, I thought of a danger I had hitherto forgotten,
and reaching over the bars of the machine I unscrewed the little
levers that would set it in motion, and put these in my pocket.
Then I turned again to see what I could do in the way of
communication.

`And then, looking more nearly into their features, I saw some
further peculiarities in their Dresden-china type of prettiness.
Their hair, which was uniformly curly, came to a sharp end at the
neck and cheek; there was not the faintest suggestion of it on
the face, and their ears were singularly minute. The mouths were
small, with bright red, rather thin lips, and the little chins
ran to a point. The eyes were large and mild; and--this may
seem egotism on my part--I fancied even that there was a
certain lack of the interest I might have expected in them.

`As they made no effort to communicate with me, but simply
stood round me smiling and speaking in soft cooing notes to each
other, I began the conversation. I pointed to the Time Machine
and to myself. Then hesitating for a moment how to express time,
I pointed to the sun. At once a quaintly pretty little figure in
chequered purple and white followed my gesture, and then
astonished me by imitating the sound of thunder.

`For a moment I was staggered, though the import of his
gesture was plain enough. The question had come into my mind
abruptly: were these creatures fools? You may hardly understand
how it took me. You see I had always anticipated that the people
of the year Eight Hundred and Two Thousand odd would be
incredibly in front of us in knowledge, art, everything. Then
one of them suddenly asked me a question that showed him to be on
the intellectual level of one of our five-year-old children--
asked me, in fact, if I had come from the sun in a thunderstorm!
It let loose the judgment I had suspended upon their clothes,
their frail light limbs, and fragile features. A flow of
disappointment rushed across my mind. For a moment I felt that I
had built the Time Machine in vain.

`I nodded, pointed to the sun, and gave them such a vivid
rendering of a thunderclap as startled them. They all withdrew a
pace or so and bowed. Then came one laughing towards me,
carrying a chain of beautiful flowers altogether new to me, and
put it about my neck. The idea was received with melodious
applause; and presently they were all running to and fro for
flowers, and laughingly flinging them upon me until I was almost
smothered with blossom. You who have never seen the like can
scarcely imagine what delicate and wonderful flowers countless
years of culture had created. Then someone suggested that their
plaything should be exhibited in the nearest building, and so I
was led past the sphinx of white marble, which had seemed to
watch me all the while with a smile at my astonishment, towards a
vast grey edifice of fretted stone. As I went with them the
memory of my confident anticipations of a profoundly grave and
intellectual posterity came, with irresistible merriment, to my
mind.

`The building had a huge entry, and was altogether of colossal
dimensions. I was naturally most occupied with the growing crowd
of little people, and with the big open portals that yawned
before me shadowy and mysterious. My general impression of the
world I saw over their heads was a tangled waste of beautiful
bushes and flowers, a long neglected and yet weedless garden. I
saw a number of tall spikes of strange white flowers, measuring a
foot perhaps across the spread of the waxen petals. They grew
scattered, as if wild, among the variegated shrubs, but, as I
say, I did not examine them closely at this time. The Time
Machine was left deserted on the turf among the rhododendrons.

`The arch of the doorway was richly carved, but naturally I
did not observe the carving very narrowly, though I fancied I saw
suggestions of old Phoenician decorations as I passed through,
and it struck me that they were very badly broken and weather-
worn. Several more brightly clad people met me in the doorway,
and so we entered, I, dressed in dingy nineteenth-century
garments, looking grotesque enough, garlanded with flowers, and
surrounded by an eddying mass of bright, soft-colored robes and
shining white limbs, in a melodious whirl of laughter and
laughing speech.

`The big doorway opened into a proportionately great hall hung
with brown. The roof was in shadow, and the windows, partially
glazed with coloured glass and partially unglazed, admitted a
tempered light. The floor was made up of huge blocks of some
very hard white metal, not plates nor slabs--blocks, and it was
so much worn, as I judged by the going to and fro of past
generations, as to be deeply channelled along the more frequented
ways. Transverse to the length were innumerable tables made of
slabs of polished stone, raised perhaps a foot from the floor,
and upon these were heaps of fruits. Some I recognized as a kind
of hypertrophied raspberry and orange, but for the most part they
were strange.

`Between the tables was scattered a great number of cushions.
Upon these my conductors seated themselves, signing for me to do
likewise. With a pretty absence of ceremony they began to eat
the fruit with their hands, flinging peel and stalks, and so
forth, into the round openings in the sides of the tables. I was
not loath to follow their example, for I felt thirsty and hungry.
As I did so I surveyed the hall at my leisure.

`And perhaps the thing that struck me most was its dilapidated
look. The stained-glass windows, which displayed only a
geometrical pattern, were broken in many places, and the curtains
that hung across the lower end were thick with dust. And it
caught my eye that the corner of the marble table near me was
fractured. Nevertheless, the general effect was extremely rich
and picturesque. There were, perhaps, a couple of hundred people
dining in the hall, and most of them, seated as near to me as
they could come, were watching me with interest, their little
eyes shining over the fruit they were eating. All were clad in
the same soft and yet strong, silky material.

`Fruit, by the by, was all their diet. These people of the
remote future were strict vegetarians, and while I was with them,
in spite of some carnal cravings, I had to be frugivorous also.
Indeed, I found afterwards that horses, cattle, sheep, dogs, had
followed the Ichthyosaurus into extinction. But the fruits were
very delightful; one, in particular, that seemed to be in season
all the time I was there--a floury thing in a three-sided husk
--was especially good, and I made it my staple. At first I was
puzzled by all these strange fruits, and by the strange flowers I
saw, but later I began to perceive their import.

`However, I am telling you of my fruit dinner in the distant
future now. So soon as my appetite was a little checked, I
determined to make a resolute attempt to learn the speech of
these new men of mine. Clearly that was the next thing to do.
The fruits seemed a convenient thing to begin upon, and holding
one of these up I began a series of interrogative sounds and
gestures. I had some considerable difficulty in conveying my
meaning. At first my efforts met with a stare of surprise or
inextinguishable laughter, but presently a fair-haired little
creature seemed to grasp my intention and repeated a name. They
had to chatter and explain the business at great length to each
other, and my first attempts to make the exquisite little sounds
of their language caused an immense amount of amusement.
However, I felt like a schoolmaster amidst children, and
persisted, and presently I had a score of noun substantives at
least at my command; and then I got to demonstrative pronouns,
and even the verb "to eat." But it was slow work, and the little
people soon tired and wanted to get away from my interrogations,
so I determined, rather of necessity, to let them give their
lessons in little doses when they felt inclined. And very little
doses I found they were before long, for I never met people more
indolent or more easily fatigued.

`A queer thing I soon discovered about my little hosts, and
that was their lack of interest. They would come to me with
eager cries of astonishment, like children, but like children
they would soon stop examining me and wander away after some
other toy. The dinner and my conversational beginnings ended, I
noted for the first time that almost all those who had surrounded
me at first were gone. It is odd, too, how speedily I came to
disregard these little people. I went out through the portal
into the sunlit world again as soon as my hunger was satisfied.
I was continually meeting more of these men of the future, who
would follow me a little distance, chatter and laugh about me,
and, having smiled and gesticulated in a friendly way, leave me
again to my own devices.

`The calm of evening was upon the world as I emerged from the
great hall, and the scene was lit by the warm glow of the setting
sun. At first things were very confusing. Everything was so
entirely different from the world I had known--even the
flowers. The big building I had left was situated on the slope
of a broad river valley, but the Thames had shifted perhaps a
mile from its present position. I resolved to mount to the
summit of a crest perhaps a mile and a half away, from which I
could get a wider view of this our planet in the year Eight
Hundred and Two Thousand Seven Hundred and One A.D. For that, I
should explain, was the date the little dials of my machine
recorded.

`As I walked I was watching for every impression that could
possibly help to explain the condition of ruinous splendour in
which I found the world--for ruinous it was. A little way up
the hill, for instance, was a great heap of granite, bound
together by masses of aluminium, a vast labyrinth of precipitous
walls and crumpled heaps, amidst which were thick heaps of very
beautiful pagoda-like plants--nettles possibly--but wonderfully
tinted with brown about the leaves, and incapable of stinging.
It was evidently the derelict remains of some vast structure, to
what end built I could not determine. It was here that I was
destined, at a later date, to have a very strange experience--the
first intimation of a still stranger discovery--but of that I
will speak in its proper place.

`Looking round with a sudden thought, from a terrace on which
I rested for a while, I realized that there were no small houses
to be seen. Apparently the single house, and possibly even the
household, had vanished. Here and there among the greenery were
palace-like buildings, but the house and the cottage, which form
such characteristic features of our own English landscape, had
disappeared.

`"Communism," said I to myself.

`And on the heels of that came another thought. I looked at
the half-dozen little figures that were following me. Then, in a
flash, I perceived that all had the same form of costume, the
same soft hairless visage, and the same girlish rotundity of
limb. It may seem strange, perhaps, that I had not noticed this
before. But everything was so strange. Now, I saw the fact
plainly enough. In costume, and in all the differences of
texture and bearing that now mark off the sexes from each other,
these people of the future were alike. And the children seemed
to my eyes to be but the miniatures of their parents. I judged,
then, that the children of that time were extremely precocious,
physically at least, and I found afterwards abundant verification
of my opinion.

`Seeing the ease and security in which these people were
living, I felt that this close resemblance of the sexes was after
all what one would expect; for the strength of a man and the
softness of a woman, the institution of the family, and the
differentiation of occupations are mere militant necessities of
an age of physical force; where population is balanced and
abundant, much childbearing becomes an evil rather than a
blessing to the State; where violence comes but rarely and
off-spring are secure, there is less necessity--indeed there is
no necessity--for an efficient family, and the specialization
of the sexes with reference to their children's needs disappears.
We see some beginnings of this even in our own time, and in this
future age it was complete. This, I must remind you, was my
speculation at the time. Later, I was to appreciate how far it
fell short of the reality.

`While I was musing upon these things, my attention was
attracted by a pretty little structure, like a well under a
cupola. I thought in a transitory way of the oddness of wells
still existing, and then resumed the thread of my speculations.
There were no large buildings towards the top of the hill, and as
my walking powers were evidently miraculous, I was presently left
alone for the first time. With a strange sense of freedom and
adventure I pushed on up to the crest.

`There I found a seat of some yellow metal that I did not
recognize, corroded in places with a kind of pinkish rust and
half smothered in soft moss, the arm-rests cast and filed into
the resemblance of griffins' heads. I sat down on it, and I
surveyed the broad view of our old world under the sunset of that
long day. It was as sweet and fair a view as I have ever seen.
The sun had already gone below the horizon and the west was
flaming gold, touched with some horizontal bars of purple and
crimson. Below was the valley of the Thames, in which the river
lay like a band of burnished steel. I have already spoken of the
great palaces dotted about among the variegated greenery, some in
ruins and some still occupied. Here and there rose a white or
silvery figure in the waste garden of the earth, here and there
came the sharp vertical line of some cupola or obelisk. There
were no hedges, no signs of proprietary rights, no evidences of
agriculture; the whole earth had become a garden.

`So watching, I began to put my interpretation upon the things
I had seen, and as it shaped itself to me that evening, my
interpretation was something in this way. (Afterwards I found I
had got only a half-truth--or only a glimpse of one facet of
the truth.)

`It seemed to me that I had happened upon humanity upon the
wane. The ruddy sunset set me thinking of the sunset of mankind.
For the first time I began to realize an odd consequence of the
social effort in which we are at present engaged. And yet, come
to think, it is a logical consequence enough. Strength is the
outcome of need; security sets a premium on feebleness. The work
of ameliorating the conditions of life--the true civilizing
process that makes life more and more secure--had gone steadily
on to a climax. One triumph of a united humanity over Nature had
followed another. Things that are now mere dreams had become
projects deliberately put in hand and carried forward. And the
harvest was what I saw!

`After all, the sanitation and the agriculture of to-day are
still in the rudimentary stage. The science of our time has
attacked but a little department of the field of human disease,
but even so, it spreads its operations very steadily and
persistently. Our agriculture and horticulture destroy a weed
just here and there and cultivate perhaps a score or so of
wholesome plants, leaving the greater number to fight out a
balance as they can. We improve our favourite plants and animals
--and how few they are--gradually by selective breeding; now a
new and better peach, now a seedless grape, now a sweeter and
larger flower, now a more convenient breed of cattle. We improve
them gradually, because our ideals are vague and tentative, and
our knowledge is very limited; because Nature, too, is shy and
slow in our clumsy hands. Some day all this will be better
organized, and still better. That is the drift of the current in
spite of the eddies. The whole world will be intelligent,
educated, and co-operating; things will move faster and faster
towards the subjugation of Nature. In the end, wisely and
carefully we shall readjust the balance of animal and vegetable
me to suit our human needs.

`This adjustment, I say, must have been done, and done well;
done indeed for all Time, in the space of Time across which my
machine had leaped. The air was free from gnats, the earth from
weeds or fungi; everywhere were fruits and sweet and delightful
flowers; brilliant butterflies flew hither and thither. The
ideal of preventive medicine was attained. Diseases had been
stamped out. I saw no evidence of any contagious diseases during
all my stay. And I shall have to tell you later that even the
processes of putrefaction and decay had been profoundly affected
by these changes.

`Social triumphs, too, had been effected. I saw mankind
housed in splendid shelters, gloriously clothed, and as yet I had
found them engaged in no toil. There were no signs of struggle,
neither social nor economical struggle. The shop, the
advertisement, traffic, all that commerce which constitutes the
body of our world, was gone. It was natural on that golden
evening that I should jump at the idea of a social paradise. The
difficulty of increasing population had been met, I guessed, and
population had ceased to increase.

`But with this change in condition comes inevitably
adaptations to the change. What, unless biological science is a
mass of errors, is the cause of human intelligence and vigour?
Hardship and freedom: conditions under which the active, strong,
and subtle survive and the weaker go to the wall; conditions that
put a premium upon the loyal alliance of capable men, upon
self-restraint, patience, and decision. And the institution of
the family, and the emotions that arise therein, the fierce
jealousy, the tenderness for offspring, parental self-devotion,
all found their justification and support in the imminent dangers
of the young. NOW, where are these imminent dangers? There is
a sentiment arising, and it will grow, against connubial
jealousy, against fierce maternity, against passion of all sorts;
unnecessary things now, and things that make us uncomfortable,
savage survivals, discords in a refined and pleasant life.

`I thought of the physical slightness of the people, their
lack of intelligence, and those big abundant ruins, and it
strengthened my belief in a perfect conquest of Nature. For
after the battle comes Quiet. Humanity had been strong,
energetic, and intelligent, and had used all its abundant
vitality to alter the conditions under which it lived. And now
came the reaction of the altered conditions.

`Under the new conditions of perfect comfort and security,
that restless energy, that with us is strength, would become
weakness. Even in our own time certain tendencies and desires,
once necessary to survival, are a constant source of failure.
Physical courage and the love of battle, for instance, are no
great help--may even be hindrances--to a civilized man. And
in a state of physical balance and security, power, intellectual
as well as physical, would be out of place. For countless years
I judged there had been no danger of war or solitary violence, no
danger from wild beasts, no wasting disease to require strength
of constitution, no need of toil. For such a life, what we
should call the weak are as well equipped as the strong, are
indeed no longer weak. Better equipped indeed they are, for the
strong would be fretted by an energy for which there was no
outlet. No doubt the exquisite beauty of the buildings I saw was
the outcome of the last surgings of the now purposeless energy of
mankind before it settled down into perfect harmony with the
conditions under which it lived--the flourish of that triumph
which began the last great peace. This has ever been the fate of
energy in security; it takes to art and to eroticism, and then
come languor and decay.

`Even this artistic impetus would at last die away--had
almost died in the Time I saw. To adorn themselves with flowers,
to dance, to sing in the sunlight: so much was left of the
artistic spirit, and no more. Even that would fade in the end
into a contented inactivity. We are kept keen on the grindstone
of pain and necessity, and, it seemed to me, that here was that
hateful grindstone broken at last!

`As I stood there in the gathering dark I thought that in this
simple explanation I had mastered the problem of the world--
mastered the whole secret of these delicious people. Possibly
the checks they had devised for the increase of population had
succeeded too well, and their numbers had rather diminished than
kept stationary. That would account for the abandoned ruins.
Very simple was my explanation, and plausible enough--as most
wrong theories are!





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

English
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