H.G. Wells: The Time Machine (1895)
"So I came back. For a long time I must have been insensible upon
the machine. The blinking succession of the days and nights was resumed, the
sun got golden again, the sky blue. I breathed with greater freedom. The
fluctuating contours of the land ebbed and flowed. The hands spun backward upon
the dials. At last I saw again the dim shadows of houses, the evidences of
decadent humanity. These, too, changed and passed, and others came.
Presently, when the million dial was at zero, I slackened speed.
I began to recognize our own petty and familiar architecture, the thousands
hand ran back to the starting-point, the night and day flapped slower and
slower. Then the old walls of the laboratory came round me. Very gently, now, I
slowed the mechanism down.
"I saw one little thing that seemed odd to me. I think I have told you that
when I set out, before my velocity became very high, Mrs. Watchett had walked
across the room, travelling, as it seemed to me, like a rocket. As I returned,
I passed again across that minute when she traversed the laboratory. But now
her every motion appeared to be the exact inversion of her previous ones. The
door at the lower end opened, and she glided quietly up the laboratory, back
foremost, and disappeared behind the door by which she had previously entered.
Just before that I seemed to see Hillyer for a moment; but he passed like a
"Then I stopped the machine, and saw about me again the old familiar
laboratory, my tools, my appliances just as I had left them. I got off the
thing very shaky, and sat down upon my bench. For several minutes I trembled
violently. Then I became calmer. Around me was my old workshop again, exactly
as it had been. I might have slept there, and the whole thing have been a
"And yet, not exactly! The thing had started from the south-east corner of
the laboratory. It had come to rest again in the north-west, against the wall
where you saw it. That gives you the exact distance from my little lawn to the
pedestal of the White Sphinx, into which the Morlocks had carried my machine.
"For a time my brain went stagnant. Presently I got up and came through the
passage here, limping, because my heel was still painful, and feeling sorely
begrimed. I saw the PALL MALL GAZETTE on the table by the door. I found the
date was indeed to-day, and looking at the timepiece, saw the hour was almost
eight o"clock. I heard your voices and the clatter of plates. I hesitated - I
felt so sick and weak. Then I sniffed good wholesome meat, and opened the door
on you. You know the rest.
I washed, and dined, and now I am telling you the story.
"I know," he said, after a pause, "that all this will be absolutely
incredible to you. To me the one incredible thing is that I am here to-night in
this old familiar room looking into your friendly faces and telling you these
He looked at the Medical Man. "No. I cannot expect you to believe it. Take
it as a lie - or a prophecy. Say I dreamed it in the workshop. Consider I have
been speculating upon the destinies of our race until I have hatched this
fiction. Treat my assertion of its truth as a mere stroke of art to enhance its
interest. And taking it as a story, what do you think of it?"
He took up his pipe, and began, in his old accustomed manner, to tap with
it nervously upon the bars of the grate. There was a momentary stillness. Then
chairs began to creak and shoes to scrape upon the carpet. I took my eyes off
the Time Traveller"s face, and looked round at his audience. They were in the
dark, and little spots of colour swam before them. The Medical Man seemed
absorbed in the contemplation of our host. The Editor was looking hard at the
end of his cigar - the sixth. The Journalist fumbled for his watch. The others,
as far as I remember, were motionless.
The Editor stood up with a sigh. "What a pity it is you"re not a writer of
stories!" he said, putting his hand on the Time Traveller"s shoulder.
"You don"t believe it?"
"Well - - "
"I thought not."
The Time Traveller turned to us. "Where are the matches?" he said. He lit
one and spoke over his pipe, puffing. "To tell you the truth . . . I hardly
believe it myself. . . . And yet . . ."
His eye fell with a mute inquiry upon the withered white flowers upon the
little table. Then he turned over the hand holding his pipe, and I saw he was
looking at some half-healed scars on his knuckles.
The Medical Man rose, came to the lamp, and examined the flowers. "The
gynaeceum"s odd," he said. The Psychologist leant forward to see, holding out
his hand for a specimen.
"I"m hanged if it isn"t a quarter to one," said the Journalist. "How shall
we get home?"
"Plenty of cabs at the station," said the Psychologist.
"It"s a curious thing," said the Medical Man; "but I certainly don"t know
the natural order of these flowers. May I have them?"
The Time Traveller hesitated. Then suddenly: "Certainly not."
"Where did you really get them?" said the Medical Man.
The Time Traveller put his hand to his head. He spoke like one who was
trying to keep hold of an idea that eluded him.
"They were put into my pocket by Weena, when I travelled into Time." He
stared round the room. "I"m damned if it isn"t all going. This room and you and
the atmosphere of every day is too much for my memory. Did I ever make a Time
Machine, or a model of a Time Machine? Or is it all only a dream? They say life
is a dream, a precious poor dream at times - but I can"t stand another that
won"t fit. It"s madness. And where did the dream come from? . . . I must look
at that machine. If there is one!"
He caught up the lamp swiftly, and carried it, flaring red, through the
door into the corridor. We followed him. There in the flickering light of the
lamp was the machine sure enough, squat, ugly, and askew; a thing of brass,
ebony, ivory, and translucent glimmering quartz. Solid to the touch - for I put
out my hand and felt the rail of it - and with brown spots and smears upon the
ivory, and bits of grass and moss upon the lower parts, and one rail bent awry.
The Time Traveller put the lamp down on the bench, and ran his hand along
the damaged rail. "It"s all right now," he said.
"The story I told you was true. I"m sorry to have brought you out here in
the cold." He took up the lamp, and, in an absolute silence, we returned to the
He came into the hall with us and helped the Editor on with his coat. The
Medical Man looked into his face and, with a certain hesitation, told him he
was suffering from overwork, at which he laughed hugely. I remember him
standing in the open doorway, bawling good night.
I shared a cab with the Editor. He thought the tale a "gaudy lie." For my
own part I was unable to come to a conclusion. The story was so fantastic and
incredible, the telling so credible and sober. I lay awake most of the night
thinking about it. I determined to go next day and see the Time Traveller
again. I was told he was in the laboratory, and being on easy terms in the
house, I went up to him. The laboratory, however, was empty. I stared for a
minute at the Time Machine and put out my hand and touched the lever. At that
the squat substantial-looking mass swayed like a bough shaken by the wind. Its
instability startled me extremely, and I had a queer reminiscence of the
childish days when I used to be forbidden to meddle. I came back through the
corridor. The Time Traveller met me in the smoking-room. He was coming from the
house. He had a small camera under one arm and a knapsack under the other. He
laughed when he saw me, and gave me an elbow to shake. "I"m frightfully busy,"
said he, "with that thing in there."
"But is it not some hoax?" I said. "Do you really travel through time?"
"Really and truly I do." And he looked frankly into my eyes.
He hesitated. His eye wandered about the room. "I only want half an hour,"
he said. "I know why you came, and it"s awfully good of you. There"s some
magazines here. If you"ll stop to lunch I"ll prove you this time travelling up
to the hilt, specimen and all. If you"ll forgive my leaving you now?"
I consented, hardly comprehending then the full import of his words, and he
nodded and went on down the corridor. I heard the door of the laboratory slam,
seated myself in a chair, and took up a daily paper. What was he going to do
Then suddenly I was reminded by an advertisement that I had promised to
meet Richardson, the publisher, at two. I looked at my watch, and saw that I
could barely save that engagement. I got up and went down the passage to tell
the Time Traveller.
As I took hold of the handle of the door I heard an exclamation, oddly
truncated at the end, and a click and a thud.
A gust of air whirled round me as I opened the door, and from within came
the sound of broken glass falling on the floor. The Time Traveller was not
there. I seemed to see a ghostly, indistinct figure sitting in a whirling mass
of black and brass for a moment - a figure so transparent that the bench behind
with its sheets of drawings was absolutely distinct; but this phantasm vanished
as I rubbed my eyes. The Time Machine had gone. Save for a subsiding stir of
dust, the further end of the laboratory was empty. A pane of the skylight had,
apparently, just been blown in.
I felt an unreasonable amazement. I knew that something strange had
happened, and for the moment could not distinguish what the strange thing might
be. As I stood staring, the door into the garden opened, and the man-servant
We looked at each other. Then ideas began to come. "Has Mr. ... gone out
that way?" said I.
"No, sir. No one has come out this way. I was expecting to find him here."
At that I understood. At the risk of disappointing Richardson I stayed on,
waiting for the Time Traveller; waiting for the second, perhaps still stranger
story, and the specimens and photographs he would bring with him. But I am
beginning now to fear that I must wait a lifetime. The Time Traveller vanished
three years ago. And, as everybody knows now, he has never returned.