The wilderness was gone. I had passed out. Now, coming to, I found myself in what, bliss uncalled for, looked to be my own bed. What of Eden, what of the future Cambridge? The knowledge, to my immense relief, remained, and thus I have been able to set it down here as a record of my travels, though I scarce hope these wonders will be believed.
My own bed, with a ray of sunlight piercing the curtains, covering my room with light. A man, apparently a doctor, consulting with Dyson at the other end of the room. Seeing me, Dyson came up to the bed, squinting through his fingers at the sunlight, and coughed politely.
“How did I get here?” were my first words to him.
“You nearly drowned in the machine. It was all my fault – the experiment wasn’t ready. I feel dreadful, if you want the truth. Endangering the life of a friend for the sake of my research. I am truly sorry. I deeply regret putting you in danger.”
“But I travelled,” I said, sitting up eagerly. All of a sudden there was a searing pain in my side, as if an old wound had been opened. “Dyson, the experiment was a success after all. I traversed time.”
Dyson and the doctor exchanged glances. Turning to me, Dyson simply said, “My friend, that is impossible. I watched you pass out. There was something like an explosion, and then you were lying on the floor in a mass of tubes. You’d obviously suffered some kind of injury, so I phoned the good doctor at once. He suspects a mild concussion, which might interfere with your rational faculties for a while. I’m afraid you did not travel, only fall.”
I looked at him incredulously. Had it all been a dream? A nightmare or wish fulfilment? I thought of the voice of the fiend at the tree – for now I am sure that it was a tempter, a fallen spirit - and I saw once again the burning crown upon its head, the flames more fierce than any earthly fire.
“I’m quite all right,” I said, throwing back the bedclothes and getting unsteadily to my feet. I wanted to flee, to get out of there, to do something, but as soon as I’d pulled myself out of bed, I realised the futility of it. I would have to placate them first before anything could be done, make them sure that I had not left my senses. Play the rational being, West, my inner voice told me, and wait until they have gone. I stepped to the window, drawing back the curtains, saying nothing.
Outside, green fields and spring sunshine. The city of a thousand lights, the scholars, the ghostly docklands, all of them were suddenly extinguished, and my own Cambridge remained: the dreary, the humdrum, the familiar and the friendly.
“I would like to go out later for a bit of air,” I muttered, pulling on my clothes.
“You need rest,” Dyson said with a look of concern, reaching a hand towards me.
I stiffened and looked from him to the doctor. “You said that I passed out? For how long?”
“I took you out of there at once,” Dyson replied. “I immediately tried to bring you round, but it was not before Doctor Hallam arrived…you must have blacked out for twenty minutes or more.”
“I travelled, Dyson – I wish you could know it for yourself, you who have laboured so long to bring about such a thing. It need not seem that I was away for any length of time if I return to the same time and place. I saw the future we are in the process of constructing. But I saw more than that – I went back, Dyson, to a garden in a wilderness. I saw…”
I stopped myself short. Dyson’s eyes had drifted, distractedly, towards the doctor.
“Several days in bed, that’s my recommendation,” Hallam pronounced, evidently not caring whether I heard him, before going out the door.
I slumped into the armchair and Dyson sat opposite me. “Really, I’d feel better if you returned to the bed,” he said.
I merely regarded him. “Tell me, Dyson,” I said, after a long silence. “Do you have any doubts at all? I realise now that I have never asked you that question. I mean, we always assumed that reality was what it was. There was an unspoken concord between us. I would have been too embarrassed to shake anything up by talking otherwise. The world would have taken me for a fool. Are you so protected, that you have not even an inkling of doubt in your soul?”
Dyson had lit his pipe. “Rest,” he muttered, and gave a long sigh. “I cannot think now – I have suffered the collapse of my experiment. What other doubt is there?”
I looked beyond him to the shimmering curtains, and knew he could not really hear me.
In the days that followed, the days leading to the writing of this memoir, my life has taken the most dramatic turn. My writings have suffered from my experience. My work – that major work I was working on, lies abandoned, facing nothing but the void. Everything I have published since the Time Machine has expressed the change in my outlook. I cannot do otherwise. My name is fading from the common memory, and my work lies unread.
Was it all a dream? I sometimes ask myself. Will the future I experienced now come about, now that I have turned from my path? I cannot see how it can. Yet something tells me that other men have taken that burden upon their shoulders – I have written nothing of those theories glimpsed in the book Masterson and Keller showed me, and yet there is something in the air around Cambridge – revolutionary ideas are being sought. Already a movement is in the process of becoming, even if I am not there to guide it. If I was a prophet, as I now realise, I was not a creator or artificer – like other prophets. I saw simply and clearly into the soul of my age, and reflected it back to the men of my time. Now that I am a different man, now that I am changed, others have taken my place. The future will not be altered.
Now I see, at last and with clarity I did not previously possess, the soul of these times, and the century that stands before us. They proclaim progress, prosperity, peace, and yet I know there is no such thing on this earth. I remember the Garden, and the peace that hung over every living thing to lull our sleeping ancestors. If the machine was in my hands once more, I would return and linger always amidst that labyrinth of paths, were it only possible. Now only the desire is left, and it will have to be enough.
Do not think, for a moment, that I fail to fully grasp the import my tale will have for sceptical minds. My universe has been overturned, yet they will say that I am deluded and dream. They will remind me of the plain fact that I have accomplished nothing in the eyes of the academic world. Perhaps that is so. Since seeing the fiend at the tree I have lived with a new dread, the price with which I bought my freedom from the spirit of this age. Knowledge of good and evil are bound together, the world full of holy terrors. The sum total of my life, up until the moment when I returned from the wilderness, is all vain. This is the point from which my Time begins. I am Lazarus returned from the tomb. I have cheated death after all. This is the memoir of all I have seen, and I pray that it falls into good hands when I am gone.
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