فصل 02

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فصل 02

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CHAPTER TWO

The Traveller Returns

I think at that time none of us really believed in the Time Machine. The fact is, the Time Traveller was one of those men who are too clever to be believed. You never felt that you knew everything about him. You always thought that something was hidden, that he was playing a trick on you. If Filby showed us the model and explained things in the Time Traveller’s words, we would believe him more easily. We would understand his reasons - because anyone could understand Filby. But the Time Traveller had a strong imagination and we didn’t really believe him.

The next Thursday I went to Richmond again and, arriving late, found four or five men already in the sitting room. The Medical Man was standing in front of the fire with a sheet of paper in one hand and his watch in the other. I looked around for the Time Traveller.

‘It’s half-past seven now,’ said the Medical Man. ‘I suppose we’d better have dinner?’

‘Where’s our host?’ I asked.

‘You have just come? It’s rather odd. He has been delayed. He asks me in this note to start dinner at seven if he’s not back. He says he will explain when he comes.’

‘It seems a pity to let the dinner spoil,’ said the editor of a well-known daily paper, and so the Medical Man rang the bell.

Only the Psychologist, the Medical Man and myself had attended the first dinner. The other men were the Editor, a journalist and another - a quiet, shy man with a beard - who I didn’t know. There was some discussion at the dinner table about the Time Traveller’s absence and I suggested time travelling, in a half-joking way. The Editor wanted that to be explained to him and the Psychologist gave a very dull description of the ‘clever trick’ we had seen a week before.

He was in the middle of this when the door opened slowly and without noise. I was facing it and saw him first. ‘Well!’ I said. ‘At last!’

The door opened wider and the Time Traveller stood in front of us. I gave a cry of surprise.

‘Oh, my friend! What’s the matter?’ cried the Medical Man, who saw him next.

The others turned towards the door.

He looked very strange. His coat was dusty and dirty, his hair untidy and, it seemed to me, greyer - either with dust or because its colour had gone. His face was very pale and his chin had a cut on it. For a moment he stopped at the door; the light seemed too strong for his eyes. Then he came into the room. He walked slowly, with a bad limp.

He did not say a word, but came painfully to the table and moved a hand towards the wine. The Editor filled a glass and pushed it towards him. He drank it and it seemed to do him good because he looked round the table and smiled a little.

‘What have you been doing?’ said the Medical Man.

The Time Traveller did not seem to hear. ‘Don’t let me worry you,’ he said in a tired voice. ‘I’m all right.’ He stopped, held out his glass for more, and drank it down. ‘That’s good,’ he said. His eyes grew brighter, and a faint colour came to his face. Then he spoke again. ‘I’m going to wash and dress, and then I’ll come down and explain things’…

Save me some of that meat. I’m hungry.’ The Editor began a question. ‘I’ll tell you soon,’ said the Time Traveller. ‘I’m feeling strange! I’ll be all right in a minute.’

He put down his glass and walked towards the door to the stairs. Standing up in my place, I saw his feet as he went out. He had nothing on them except a pair of socks with holes in them. They were covered with dried blood. Then the door closed behind him. For a minute, perhaps, my mind was empty.

‘Strange Behaviour of a Famous Scientist,’ I heard the Editor say, thinking of his newspaper.

‘What’s happened to him?’ said the Journalist. ‘I don’t understand.’ I thought of the Time Traveller walking painfully upstairs. I don’t think anyone else had noticed his limp.

The Medical Man recovered from his surprise first, and rang the bell for a hot plate. The Editor picked up his knife and fork and the Silent Man did the same. The dinner started again. Conversation was slow for a minute or two because we were so surprised. Then the Editor said, ‘Does our friend have another job, or just a strong imagination?’

‘I feel sure it’s this business of the Time Machine,’ I said, and continued the Psychologist’s story of our earlier meeting. The new guests were very surprised and the Editor said, ‘What is this time travelling? A man couldn’t cover himself with dust by doing something impossible, could he?’

The Journalist, too, refused to believe it, and started to make a joke of the whole thing. ‘Our Special Reporter in the Day after Tomorrow reports,’ he was saying - or shouting - when the Time Traveller came back. He was dressed in ordinary evening clothes and nothing except his tired look reminded me of the change that had shocked me.

‘Well,’ said the Editor, laughing, ‘these men say you have been travelling into the middle of next week.’

The Time Traveller sat down without a word. He smiled quietly, in his usual way. ‘Where’s my meat?’ he said. ‘How nice it is to stick a fork into meat again.’

‘Story!’ cried the Editor.

‘Later,’ said the Time Traveller. ‘I want something to eat first. I won’t say a word until I get some food into my stomach. Thanks. And the salt.’

‘One word,’ I said. ‘Have you been time travelling?’

‘Yes,’ said the Time Traveller, with his mouth full.

‘I’d give a pound a line for the story in your own words,’ said the Editor. The Time Traveller pushed his glass towards the Silent Man, who was staring at his face. He jumped a little, then poured him some wine. The rest of the dinner was uncomfortable. The Journalist tried to relax us by telling funny stories. The Medical Man smoked a cigarette and watched the Time Traveller closely. The Silent Man seemed nervous, and drank a lot of wine.

At last the Time Traveller pushed his plate away and looked round at us. ‘I suppose I must apologise,’ he said. ‘I was so hungry. I’ve had a most interesting time.’ He put out his hand for a cigarette. ‘But come into the smoking room. The story is too long to tell over dirty plates.’ And he led the way.

‘You have told these men about the machine?’ he said to me, sitting back in his chair and naming the three new guests.

‘But the thing’s just a trick,’ said the Editor.

‘I can’t argue tonight. I don’t mind telling the story, but I can’t argue. I will,’ he continued, ‘tell you the story of what has happened to me, if you like, but you mustn’t interrupt. Most of it will sound like lies, but it is true - every word of it. I was in the laboratory earlier, and since then … I have lived eight days… days like no human being ever lived before! I am very tired, but I shan’t sleep until I have told this thing to you. But no interruptions! Is it agreed?’

We all agreed and the Time Traveller began his story as I have written it down. He sat back in his chair at first and spoke slowly. Afterwards he got more excited. As I write it down I feel the limits of pen and ink, and my own limits. You will read, I expect, with enough attention, but you cannot see the speaker’s white, honest face in the bright circle of the little lamp, or hear his voice. Most of us listeners were in shadow. At first each looked at the others. After a time we stopped doing that and looked only at the Time Traveller’s face.

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