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The Time Machine
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Chapter 3

'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 color
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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