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| Home | Reading Room The Time Machine

The Time Machine
by H(erbert) G(eorge) Wells

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`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


`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


`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


`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


`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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