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IX


`We emerged from the palace while the sun was still in part
above the horizon. I was determined to reach the White Sphinx
early the next morning, and ere the dusk I purposed pushing
through the woods that had stopped me on the previous journey.
My plan was to go as far as possible that night, and then,
building a fire, to sleep in the protection of its glare.
Accordingly, as we went along I gathered any sticks or dried
grass I saw, and presently had my arms full of such litter. Thus
loaded, our progress was slower than I had anticipated, and
besides Weena was tired. And I began to suffer from sleepiness
too; so that it was full night before we reached the wood. Upon
the shrubby hill of its edge Weena would have stopped, fearing
the darkness before us; but a singular sense of impending
calamity, that should indeed have served me as a warning, drove
me onward. I had been without sleep for a night and two days,
and I was feverish and irritable. I felt sleep coming upon me,
and the Morlocks with it.

`While we hesitated, among the black bushes behind us, and dim
against their blackness, I saw three crouching figures. There
was scrub and long grass all about us, and I did not feel safe
from their insidious approach. The forest, I calculated, was
rather less than a mile across. If we could get through it to
the bare hill-side, there, as it seemed to me, was an altogether
safer resting-place; I thought that with my matches and my
camphor I could contrive to keep my path illuminated through the
woods. Yet it was evident that if I was to flourish matches with
my hands I should have to abandon my firewood; so, rather
reluctantly, I put it down. And then it came into my head that I
would amaze our friends behind by lighting it. I was to discover
the atrocious folly of this proceeding, but it came to my mind as
an ingenious move for covering our retreat.

`I don't know if you have ever thought what a rare thing flame
must be in the absence of man and in a temperate climate. The
sun's heat is rarely strong enough to burn, even when it is
focused by dewdrops, as is sometimes the case in more tropical
districts. Lightning may blast and blacken, but it rarely gives
rise to widespread fire. Decaying vegetation may occasionally
smoulder with the heat of its fermentation, but this rarely
results in flame. In this decadence, too, the art of fire-making
had been forgotten on the earth. The red tongues that went
licking up my heap of wood were an altogether new and strange
thing to Weena.

`She wanted to run to it and play with it. I believe she
would have cast herself into it had I not restrained her. But I
caught her up, and in spite of her struggles, plunged boldly
before me into the wood. For a little way the glare of my fire
lit the path. Looking back presently, I could see, through the
crowded stems, that from my heap of sticks the blaze had spread
to some bushes adjacent, and a curved line of fire was creeping
up the grass of the hill. I laughed at that, and turned again to
the dark trees before me. It was very black, and Weena clung to
me convulsively, but there was still, as my eyes grew accustomed
to the darkness, sufficient light for me to avoid the stems.
Overhead it was simply black, except where a gap of remote blue
sky shone down upon us here and there. I struck none of my
matches because I had no hand free. Upon my left arm I carried
my little one, in my right hand I had my iron bar.

`For some way I heard nothing but the crackling twigs under my
feet, the faint rustle of the breeze above, and my own breathing
and the throb of the blood-vessels in my ears. Then I seemed to
know of a pattering about me. I pushed on grimly. The pattering
grew more distinct, and then I caught the same queer sound and
voices I had heard in the Under-world. There were evidently
several of the Morlocks, and they were closing in upon me.
Indeed, in another minute I felt a tug at my coat, then something
at my arm. And Weena shivered violently, and became quite still.

`It was time for a match. But to get one I must put her down.
I did so, and, as I fumbled with my pocket, a struggle began in
the darkness about my knees, perfectly silent on her part and
with the same peculiar cooing sounds from the Morlocks. Soft
little hands, too, were creeping over my coat and back, touching
even my neck. Then the match scratched and fizzed. I held it
flaring, and saw the white backs of the Morlocks in flight amid
the trees. I hastily took a lump of camphor from my pocket, and
prepared to light is as soon as the match should wane. Then I
looked at Weena. She was lying clutching my feet and quite
motionless, with her face to the ground. With a sudden fright I
stooped to her. She seemed scarcely to breathe. I lit the block
of camphor and flung it to the ground, and as it split and flared
up and drove back the Morlocks and the shadows, I knelt down and
lifted her. The wood behind seemed full of the stir and murmur
of a great company!

`She seemed to have fainted. I put her carefully upon my
shoulder and rose to push on, and then there came a horrible
realization. In manoeuvring with my matches and Weena, I had
turned myself about several times, and now I had not the faintest
idea in what direction lay my path. For all I knew, I might be
facing back towards the Palace of Green Porcelain. I found
myself in a cold sweat. I had to think rapidly what to do. I
determined to build a fire and encamp where we were. I put
Weena, still motionless, down upon a turfy bole, and very
hastily, as my first lump of camphor waned, I began collecting
sticks and leaves. Here and there out of the darkness round me
the Morlocks' eyes shone like carbuncles.

`The camphor flickered and went out. I lit a match, and as I
did so, two white forms that had been approaching Weena dashed
hastily away. One was so blinded by the light that he came
straight for me, and I felt his bones grind under the blow of my
fist. He gave a whoop of dismay, staggered a little way, and
fell down. I lit another piece of camphor, and went on gathering
my bonfire. Presently I noticed how dry was some of the foliage
above me, for since my arrival on the Time Machine, a matter of a
week, no rain had fallen. So, instead of casting about among the
trees for fallen twigs, I began leaping up and dragging down
branches. Very soon I had a choking smoky fire of green wood and
dry sticks, and could economize my camphor. Then I turned to
where Weena lay beside my iron mace. I tried what I could to
revive her, but she lay like one dead. I could not even satisfy
myself whether or not she breathed.

`Now, the smoke of the fire beat over towards me, and it must
have made me heavy of a sudden. Moreover, the vapour of camphor
was in the air. My fire would not need replenishing for an hour
or so. I felt very weary after my exertion, and sat down. The
wood, too, was full of a slumbrous murmur that I did not
understand. I seemed just to nod and open my eyes. But all was
dark, and the Morlocks had their hands upon me. Flinging off
their clinging fingers I hastily felt in my pocket for the
match-box, and--it had gone! Then they gripped and closed with
me again. In a moment I knew what had happened. I had slept,
and my fire had gone out, and the bitterness of death came over
my soul. The forest seemed full of the smell of burning wood. I
was caught by the neck, by the hair, by the arms, and pulled
down. It was indescribably horrible in the darkness to feel all
these soft creatures heaped upon me. I felt as if I was in a
monstrous spider's web. I was overpowered, and went down. I
felt little teeth nipping at my neck. I rolled over, and as I
did so my hand came against my iron lever. It gave me strength.
I struggled up, shaking the human rats from me, and, holding the
bar short, I thrust where I judged their faces might be. I could
feel the succulent giving of flesh and bone under my blows, and
for a moment I was free.

`The strange exultation that so often seems to accompany hard
fighting came upon me. I knew that both I and Weena were lost,
but I determined to make the Morlocks pay for their meat. I
stood with my back to a tree, swinging the iron bar before me.
The whole wood was full of the stir and cries of them. A minute
passed. Their voices seemed to rise to a higher pitch of
excitement, and their movements grew faster. Yet none came
within reach. I stood glaring at the blackness. Then suddenly
came hope. What if the Morlocks were afraid? And close on the
heels of that came a strange thing. The darkness seemed to grow
luminous. Very dimly I began to see the Morlocks about me--three
battered at my feet--and then I recognized, with incredulous
surprise, that the others were running, in an incessant stream,
as it seemed, from behind me, and away through the wood in front.
And their backs seemed no longer white, but reddish. As I stood
agape, I saw a little red spark go drifting across a gap of
starlight between the branches, and vanish. And at that I
understood the smell of burning wood, the slumbrous murmur that
was growing now into a gusty roar, the red glow, and the
Morlocks' flight.

`Stepping out from behind my tree and looking back, I saw,
through the black pillars of the nearer trees, the flames of the
burning forest. It was my first fire coming after me. With that
I looked for Weena, but she was gone. The hissing and crackling
behind me, the explosive thud as each fresh tree burst into
flame, left little time for reflection. My iron bar still
gripped, I followed in the Morlocks' path. It was a close race.
Once the flames crept forward so swiftly on my right as I ran
that I was outflanked and had to strike off to the left. But at
last I emerged upon a small open space, and as I did so, a
Morlock came blundering towards me, and past me, and went on
straight into the fire!

`And now I was to see the most weird and horrible thing, I
think, of all that I beheld in that future age. This whole space
was as bright as day with the reflection of the fire. In the
centre was a hillock or tumulus, surmounted by a scorched
hawthorn. Beyond this was another arm of the burning forest,
with yellow tongues already writhing from it, completely
encircling the space with a fence of fire. Upon the hill-side
were some thirty or forty Morlocks, dazzled by the light and
heat, and blundering hither and thither against each other in
their bewilderment. At first I did not realize their blindness,
and struck furiously at them with my bar, in a frenzy of fear, as
they approached me, killing one and crippling several more. But
when I had watched the gestures of one of them groping under the
hawthorn against the red sky, and heard their moans, I was
assured of their absolute helplessness and misery in the glare,
and I struck no more of them.

`Yet every now and then one would come straight towards me,
setting loose a quivering horror that made me quick to elude him.
At one time the flames died down somewhat, and I feared the foul
creatures would presently be able to see me. I was thinking of
beginning the fight by killing some of them before this should
happen; but the fire burst out again brightly, and I stayed my
hand. I walked about the hill among them and avoided them,
looking for some trace of Weena. But Weena was gone.

`At last I sat down on the summit of the hillock, and watched
this strange incredible company of blind things groping to and
fro, and making uncanny noises to each other, as the glare of the
fire beat on them. The coiling uprush of smoke streamed across
the sky, and through the rare tatters of that red canopy, remote
as though they belonged to another universe, shone the little
stars. Two or three Morlocks came blundering into me, and I
drove them off with blows of my fists, trembling as I did so.

`For the most part of that night I was persuaded it was a
nightmare. I bit myself and screamed in a passionate desire to
awake. I beat the ground with my hands, and got up and sat down
again, and wandered here and there, and again sat down. Then I
would fall to rubbing my eyes and calling upon God to let me
awake. Thrice I saw Morlocks put their heads down in a kind of
agony and rush into the flames. But, at last, above the
subsiding red of the fire, above the streaming masses of black
smoke and the whitening and blackening tree stumps, and the
diminishing numbers of these dim creatures, came the white light
of the day.

`I searched again for traces of Weena, but there were none.
It was plain that they had left her poor little body in the
forest. I cannot describe how it relieved me to think that it
had escaped the awful fate to which it seemed destined. As I
thought of that, I was almost moved to begin a massacre of the
helpless abominations about me, but I contained myself. The
hillock, as I have said, was a kind of island in the forest.
From its summit I could now make out through a haze of smoke the
Palace of Green Porcelain, and from that I could get my bearings
for the White Sphinx. And so, leaving the remnant of these
damned souls still going hither and thither and moaning, as the
day grew clearer, I tied some grass about my feet and limped on
across smoking ashes and among black stems, that still pulsated
internally with fire, towards the hiding-place of the Time
Machine. I walked slowly, for I was almost exhausted, as well as
lame, and I felt the intensest wretchedness for the horrible
death of little Weena. It seemed an overwhelming calamity. Now,
in this old familiar room, it is more like the sorrow of a dream
than an actual loss. But that morning it left me absolutely
lonely again--terribly alone. I began to think of this house of
mine, of this fireside, of some of you, and with such thoughts
came a longing that was pain.

`But as I walked over the smoking ashes under the bright
morning sky, I made a discovery. In my trouser pocket were still
some loose matches. The box must have leaked before it was lost.





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

English
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