The Time Machine
Sir Oswald Hennessey chose a cigar from the cedar box, snipped the end and held it under his nose for a few seconds to enjoy its exotic fragrance. He lit it, took a series of quick puffs to get it going, then strolled across the sitting room to his favourite armchair. A few moments later the door opened and Hobson, Sir Oswald's butler, showed Albert and Henrietta Parkin into the room. Henrietta rushed forward to greet Sir Oswald.
'This is so exciting,' she trilled. 'Thank you so much for inviting us.'
'You are most welcome, Madam,' beamed Sir Oswald. 'I am humbled by such enthusiasm. Henrietta waited for Hobson to leave the room before removing her bonnet. She shook her head to allow her loose golden curls to fall around her face. She looked at her host from beneath extraordinarily long lashes. Albert Parkin sat in a chair and picked up The Times newspaper.
'I see rubber's down again,' he said sadly.
'You should invest in my company,' laughed Sir Oswald. 'One of these days we're going to hit the jackpot with our inventions.'
'Like the Bath O Matic and the Instant Messenger Machine?' scoffed Mr Parkin.
'The Bath O Matic is selling very well,' said Sir Oswald haughtily.
Henrietta took a sip from her glass of port and pursed her lips. 'Do you think we could borrow your engineer for a few hours? I fear our Bath O Matic machine needs a little attention.'
'Of course,' boomed Sir Oswald. 'I'll get Barrymore round there in the morning. I'm sorry you're having trouble, they are normally a very reliable machine.'
'It's been overused, that's the problem,' said Mr Parkin. 'Henrietta is never out of the infernal contraption, I can't see what she gets out of it, personally.'
Henrietta blushed and placed a soft gloved hand on Sir Oswald's arm. 'I do tend to use it rather a lot,' she confided.
Mr Parkin put down the newspaper and looked around curiously. 'What fabulous invention do you have for us this evening, Old Man?'
Sir Oswald's eyes lit up. 'Something very special,' he took a puff from his cigar and looked around conspiratorially. 'I've developed a Time Machine.'
'A time machine?' queried Albert. 'I already have a pocket watch and a grandfather clock. What's so special about a timepiece?'
'This is not a timepiece, my friend. This is a machine that will transport you through time and space, to the past... or possibly, the future.'
'Good Lord,' said Mr Parkin.
Henrietta's eyes sparkled. 'Where is it? Can we see it? Have you used it?'
Sir Oswald opened the door at the far end of the sitting room and led the couple into his study. In the centre of the room stood a tall, black metal box, twelve feet long by four feet wide. It was decorated with highly polished brass fittings. A thick pipe marked, 'Inlet', protruded from the rear of the machine and disappeared through a neatly cut hole in the wall. A second, smaller pipe marked, 'Outlet', ran alongside. Each pipe was fitted with a brass fly wheel to control the pressure.
'The Time Machine is fed from a huge new boiler out in the yard,' explained Sir Oswald. 'We had to build an especially large one to get enough power to run this particular machine. It takes sixty-four pistons to generate enough power to get the sphere spinning at the correct speed.'
Henrietta ran her hand down the side of the highly polished machine and leaned back against it. 'I can feel the power surging through me,' she said. 'It's quite exhilarating.'
Sir Oswald flicked ash from his cigar and grinned. He patted the machine lovingly. 'Isn't she beautiful?'
'Very nice, I'm sure,' said Mr Parkin. 'But does it actually work?'
Sir Oswald looked hurt. 'Of course it works, my good man. Hobson has been back to 1756 and Barrymore went back to 1588. I personally went back even further than that, so I can assure you that it works, Sir.'
'1588, wasn't that the year of the Armada?'
'Correct, Madam. The Spanish Armada. Barrymore stood on the cliff tops and watched Drake sink the Spanish Fleet.'
'How wonderful,' squealed Henrietta. 'Can you choose any time and place, Sir Oswald?'
'Anywhere and at any time, Madam. This machine is so precise we can set the location to within a few feet and the time to within an hour.'
'Astonishing,' said Mr Parkin.
'I had a wonderful conversation with a Roman Centurion, finally found a use for the Latin I was forced to learn at school.'
'I never found a use for it,' moaned Albert.
Henrietta clutched at Sir Oswald's arm. 'What about the future? Have you looked at what lies ahead, too?'
'We haven't actually tried that yet, we thought we might make it our next adventure.'
'I say, would you let me have a go?' pleaded Henrietta, 'Please say you will, I do so want to see the future.'
'Dash it, Old Girl, it could be a tad dangerous,' said Mr Parkin, uncertainly.
'Nonsense,' argued Sir Oswald. 'I've used the machine myself, there's no risk involved at all.'
'Please, Albert. Do let me go,' begged Henrietta.
'Well, if you're so determined, I don't see how I can say no,' said Mr Parkin. 'I wonder if our new life insurance policy covers time travel.'
Sir Oswald led Henrietta around to the front of the machine and opened a half glass door. Inside sat a highly polished steel ball. Sir Oswald turned a knob and the sphere opened up to reveal a small cushioned seat in front of a set of dials and gauges. Henrietta sat down and Sir Oswald turned a dial, then set three stops on the panel. He checked the pressure gauge carefully to ensure the machine was fully up to steam.
'Right,' he said brightly. 'We're ready to go. We just have to choose a time and place. What do you think, Old Girl, where would you like to go?'
'Do you know, I rather think I'd like to see what London will look like in the future.'
'That's a grand idea,' said Sir Oswald. 'You're a game bird, I do have to say.' He checked the pressure again and placed his hand on the date dial. 'Any particular time? How about a hundred years on.'
Henrietta clapped her hands excitedly. 'More,' she said. 'Two hundred years.'
'Let's split the difference and call it a hundred and fifty,' said Sir Oswald. 'The machine hasn't been sent forwards in time before. We probably shouldn't push it too far the first time.'
Under Sir Oswald's direction, Henrietta pushed two more stops and pulled a small lever on her right. The date and time dials were set to January1st 2011.
Sir Oswald produced a leather helmet and a pair of rubber goggles with thick glass lenses. 'Just a safety measure,' he assured. He reached into the sphere, pulled a leather strap and fastened Henrietta securely to the seat.
'When you arrive at your designated time, the sphere will automatically stop spinning. A few seconds later it will open. You will be able to see your surroundings on the glass screen in front of you while you are inside the machine. Mr Parkin and I will be able to see what you are seeing on the screen in my study. We won't receive any kind of sound though. Once you are out of the device we lose contact and you're on your own. To return, just set the stops and turn the dial to today's date and time.'
Henrietta patted Sir Oswald's hand. 'This is so exciting. How long will I be able to stay?'
Sir Oswald stood back from the sphere and tapped a fogged up dial. 'You can stay as long as you please, it really doesn't matter. Even if you were to stay for six months, back here, only five minutes will have passed.'
'How very convenient,' said Henrietta.
Sir Oswald gave a final word of warning. 'If you go wandering, don't forget where the sphere is. It has been set to land behind the stable block at the back of the house, it should be safe enough there. Make sure you close the sphere before you leave it though. We don't want to inadvertently bring someone back from the future, not yet at least.'
Henrietta checked the straps and adjusted her goggles and headgear. Mr Parkin waved to her from the doorway of the machine. 'Bon Voyage, Old Thing. Say hello to the future.'
Sir Oswald closed the sphere and checked the pressure dials again. Satisfied, he pulled a lever and stood back. The sphere began to revolve. As he watched through the window, the orb increased speed until it became a blur. A few seconds later, it disappeared.
Back in the study, Sir Oswald poured a large brandy and handed it to his friend. Albert Parkin took a sip and stared up at the foggy glass screen.
'Hope she's all right,' he said quietly. 'She gets a little travel sick over distance.'
Sir Oswald placed a hand on his shoulder. 'She'll be fine, Old Chap.' He nodded to the screen. 'Look, the mist is clearing.'
Parkin's jaw dropped as he saw the ghostly images of future London appear on the screen. Small self-propelled, metal boxes filled the narrow streets. The pavements groaned under the weight of the city's population.
'Where are the horses?' gasped Parkin
Sir Oswald moved closer to the screen. 'These little horseless boxes seem to be everywhere. Their engineers must have found a way to make a steam engine small enough to fit inside them. I wonder how they feed the coal to the boiler? I imagine each box has a driver and a stoker sat up front.'
The image on the screen faded and the fog returned.
'She's out of the sphere,' said Sir Oswald. 'Henrietta's in the future.'
Five minutes later they heard the sound of hissing steam and the whir of the sphere as it slowed. Sir Oswald stepped forward eagerly and opened the sphere. Henrietta climbed out and stepped into the study. Parkin gawped at her.
She was dressed in bright pink shoes with seven-inch stiletto heels. Black stockings stopped at her exposed thighs. She wore a tiny skirt which barely covered her backside and her almost transparent blouse did little to conceal the flimsy, red corset that fought a losing battle to hold in her breasts. Henrietta's eyelids were painted pink to match her shoes; her lashes were three times their normal length. There was a gold stud in her nostril. She stared at them angrily.
'Wot iz yous starin at?' she spat.
Albert Parkin tried to soothe her. ‘You’re safely home now old girl, what on earth happened to you?'
Sir Oswald leaned forward.
'Hello, Henrietta. Don't you recognise us? This is your husband, Albert.'
'Don't you give me no shit,' said Henrietta. 'This Ho ain't no mofo's biatch.'
Sir Oswald led Henrietta to the sofa and sat her down. 'She'll be fine in a few minutes, Old Man. I was speaking in Latin for a while after I returned from Rome.'
Albert nodded. 'Thank goodness for that. But what the hell is she wearing. And what sort of language was she speaking? It's foreign, that's for certain. I thought you sent her to London.'
'I did,' said Sir Oswald. He took a cigar from the cedar box and snipped the end. 'She must have stayed there for quite a time to involve herself in their culture to that degree. What we have just seen and heard is the London of the future.' He paused while he lit his cigar. 'I think I'm going to dismantle the time machine, Old Man. If what we have just witnessed is anything to go by, then I think it's fair to say that sometimes you are better off not knowing what lies ahead. The reality can be far too upsetting.'
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