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Authors: Murray Leinster

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BOOK: Time Tunnel
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“Because,” said Harrison, “I have to ask you—and I can’t justify asking—if you’re acquainted with a—that is do you know…” He stopped. Then he said abruptly:

“There’s a man named de Bassompierre. Have you ever heard of him?”

“No,” said Carroll briskly. “I haven’t. Why?”

Harrison sweated. The plump Frenchman said:

Pardonnez-moi, messieurs, mais

Carroll nodded to him and he went out, with something of the air of a man escaping agitation in one place to go and be more agitated somewhere else.

“This de Bassompierre,” said Harrison painfully, “wrote to Cuvier and explained the Mendelian laws of heredity to him. In detail.”

“He probably meant well,” said Carroll charitably. “What of it?”

“He also told Ampère about alternating currents,” said Harrison, “and Lagrange about statistical analysis, and Champollion about hieroglyphics. And be wrote to the Academy of Sciences about nuclear physics.”

“If they wanted the information and didn’t have it,” said Carroll pleasantly, “I don’t see why he shouldn’t give it to them.” Then he stopped short. He stared. Then he said very carefully: “Did you say Cuvier, and then Ampère, and then Lagrange?”

“And Champollion,” said Pepe wryly, “about hieroglyphics.”

Carroll stared hard at Harrison, and then at Pepe, and then back again. He pursed his lips. Then he said with extreme care, “Would you mind telling me when this happened?”

“He wrote to Cuvier about the Mendelian laws,” said Harrison, “in 1804. To Ampère, in 1807. To Laplace, whom I didn’t mention before, in 1808. To the Academy of Sciences, in 1812.”

Carroll remained conspicuously still for a long moment. Then he spoke more carefully still:

“And he told them, you say…”

Harrison repeated what he’d told Pepe the day before. The notes and correspondence of certain much-esteemed learned men, in the custody of the Bibliothèque Nationale, contained such-and-such items. One M. de Bassompierre had written to those learned men and had given them exact information which did not exist when he gave it. Harrison explained in detail, feeling the frustrated confusion of one who knows he is talking pure lunacy which happens to be fact.

But Carroll listened with intense and concentrated attention. When Harrison finished he said, distastefully, one abrasive phrase in pure Middle-Western English. It indicated that he was less than happy about what he’d just heard.

Then he said cagily:

“But why do you bring this news to me?”

Harrison stammered. Pepe spoke. He explained apologetically that the shop of Carroll, Dubois et Cie had aroused his interest. He’d taken Harrison there. He’d met Ma’mselle Valerie…

“Oh yes,” said Carroll. “Nice girl. Pretty, too!”

Valerie had known Harrison when they both were children. Telling him the news of her family, she’d mentioned Carroll, her uncle by marriage. Then Harrison spoke awkwardly:

“And I’d started my research because of something you’d said in class, sir. You said that the state of the cosmos at any given instant was merely the probability which under the circumstances had a value of one. And of course that implied all sorts of other probabilities which had cancelled each other out, so that a close examination of history ought to show some anomalies, things which once were fact, but whose factuality had been cancelled.”

“I said that?” demanded Carroll.

“It follows from the first statement,” explained Harrison. “It was interesting. So when I got a chance to go after a Ph.D. I started to do research on a well-documented period of history. I picked the Napoleonic era and started to look for events which at the time had really happened, but later on turned out not to have happened at all.”

Carroll shook his head, frowning.

“I shouldn’t have said it,” he said irritably. “It wasn’t good sense. It wasn’t even so, though I thought it was. A fact is a fact! But there are some damned queer ones! Go on!”

Harrison explained his painstaking search through the personal papers of historical characters. He repeated that somebody named de Bassompierre had passed on facts that nobody could possibly have known at the time.

“Wait a minute!” said Carroll darkly. “I wonder…”

He strode out of the room. He practically filled the doorway as he passed through it. A moment later his voice boomed in another part of the cottage. He sounded angry. A woman’s voice joined his. There was a first-rate squabble. It ended with Carroll shouting. A door slammed, and he came back. The woman’s voice continued, shrill and muffled.

“It wasn’t my brother-in-law,” said Carroll irritably. “He swears he didn’t peddle such information. He wouldn’t have the brains to do it anyhow. And God knows my wife wouldn’t think of it! This is the devil of a mess!”

Harrison suddenly felt numb. He’d been clinging desperately to the hope that his discoveries were deceptions. He’d been lured to the shop by that hope, and then to St. Jean-sur-Seine and to this present place and moment. Carroll’s history had let him hope that it would all turn out to be eccentricity, or mild lunacy, or something equally reassuring. But Carroll took him seriously! Carroll did not think him insane! Instead, he accepted the incredible statements without question and had moved to find out if the plump M. Dubois in the antique costume was responsible for the facts of which Harrison had told him.

“I—I—” said Harrison. Then he was unhappily silent.

“It’s the devil!” said Carroll, scowling. “Using the thing was against my better judgement to begin with! I was an ass to. I was an ass from the beginning! But how the devil…”

Pepe stirred. It seemed to Harrison that Pepe was paler than ordinary.

“Professor, sir,” asked Pepe unsteadily, “do you mean that these things we’ve been trying not to believe are—are not our delusions? It was very comforting to believe that I was slightly cracked. You see, this de Bassompierre…”

“Delusions?” said Carroll irritably. “Unfortunately, no! You aren’t cracked that I can see. But who the devil has committed the insanity that I can see? Who else listened to my lectures when I thought I was only casting pearls, and picked one up? You did,” he nodded at Harrison, “and somebody else must have done the same. I may have played hell with the state of things in general!”

There were footsteps. The door to the inner room opened violently. A short, stout Frenchwoman with a red face entered with the stride of destiny. Her eyes were furious. Her speech, which began instantly, was a frenzied denunciation of Carroll, uttered with such speed and vehemence that individual words could not be distinguished. She waved her plump arms, glaring at him. She shook her fist in his face. She stamped her feet. Her denunciation reached a crescendo.

Les flics
,” said Carroll sternly. “
Les flics

She seemed to strangle. She subsided fiercely. She stood formidably still, her arms folded defiantly, her face crimson, her eyes snapping, breathing fast and furiously.

“The police,” repeated Carroll firmly, switching to French to include her with Harrison and Pepe in the conversation, “would be interested to hear what you have just said of me. But these are my friends, former students from
les Êtats Unis
. It appears that our enterprise has come to their attention, doubtless through some blunder M. Dubois has made. It is an emergency of importance. But perhaps it may aid in the solution of our previous trouble.” To Harrison and Pepe he said, “I present you to my wife, Madame Carroll.”

Harrison tried to bow politely. Pepe was more successful.

“And now,” said Carroll firmly, “you will join your brother in watching over our other problem!”

He turned her around and guided her irresistibly back to the door. She squirmed. She resisted. He thrust her bodily into the other room and pulled the door shut. She made yelping outcries of fury. She went away, scolding shrilly. There was the apologetic murmur of the plump man’s voice.

“I’ve made several mistakes in my life,” said Carroll, “and I thought she was the worst. I seem to have been delirious when I married her. But this news you bring is really the very devil! We’ll have to do something about it!”

He sat down, scowling. Pepe asked:

“Are we to understand, sir, that someone, somewhere, has made what one might call a time machine and is using it?”

“Of course not!” snapped Carroll. “A time machine is out of the question! But—dammit, I must have said something that was more intelligent than I realized, and somebody must have used it to upset a sorry scheme of things and now is working busily to make it sorrier! But who the devil is it, and how did he get back there?”

“Where?” asked Pope.

“To 1804!” snapped Carroll. He waved his bands. “Getting there is possible enough. We supply our shop with goods by doing it! But who else? And why the same period? Dammit, that’s too much of a coincidence!” He stopped. “Oh. You think of a time machine. It’s quite unnecessary. You don’t have to build an elevator to get to the second floor of a building. You simply have to find the stairs. Then you walk up. That’s all. But this—”

He swept his hand through bis hair, leaving it standing on end. It had been a notable habit of his, at Brevard.

“There are so damned few of them!” he said in exasperation. “Damned few! You don’t think I live in a hole like this because I like it, do you? I’d say the odds were ten to the ninth against anybody finding a second possibility to the same period! There are more than that, no doubt, but find them! There’s the rub!”

Harrison drew a deep breath. Somehow the garments worn by the plump man had helped him to believe that Carroll, who had ignored them, was eccentric rather than an authority about anything. But…

“Professor,” he said painfully. “I started out not believing this stuff. Then I did. Then I roped Pepe into the business, and I managed to stop, but he came to believe it and again I thought it was likely. You seem to understand it. I’m messed up for the third or fourth time. Will you settle it so I’ll know what to believe?”

Carroll shrugged. He stood up.

“Come along.”

He opened the door through which Madame Carroll had been thrust some minutes before. Harrison followed, and Pepe came after.

The next room was a dining room. Windows on one side let in a certain amount of dusky twilight. The sun had set upon St. Jean-sur-Seine since their arrival at the cottage, but through the windows one could see grass and the stones awaiting a purchaser, and part of the still-standing massive wall of something built very long before. In the wall opposite those windows there were no glazed openings, but there was a door, a new door, crudely made of planks and covering an unseen opening beyond it. It was self-evident that on that side the wall of the dining room was practically underground. Stained plaster proved it.

“There was a foundry here once,” said Carroll, continuing to frown at his own thoughts. “They were casting cannon for Napoleon’s army. But with the inspired incompetence of which some people are capable, they managed to cast them with huge flaws so most of them blew up when proof-fired. It looked like intended treason to the Empire, so they shut down in a hurry. They left one gun in the mould in which it had been cast.”

He opened the homemade inside door. Earth did cover that side-wall of the cottage. But there was a burrow beyond the door. It was a man-height high and roughly as wide as the doorway itself. There were some stones showing through the dug-away dirt. In the doorframe itself there was a throw-switch with wires leading somewhere. It was turned on. At one side of the burrow a mass of rusty iron protruded. It could be identified as a six-pounder cannon, muzzle up, without the cut-off end which was the next step in cannon-founding after casting. It had been abandoned, undisturbed, when the foundry closed down.

“That’s it,” said Carroll. “It hasn’t been disturbed since casting was abandoned here. In fact, it hasn’t been touched since the melted metal was poured into the mould. I’m going through here. Follow me closely. You’ll be sick at your stomach for a moment.”

He moved confidently ahead. He disappeared. Harrison blinked and stepped after him. He felt an instant of nausea so intense as almost to be a cramp and a sudden violent dizziness which was peculiarly like the almost imperceptible giddiness that had accompanied talking with Pepe about Maximilian of Mexico. Then there was light before him. Carroll reappeared, waiting for him. Pepe came blundering behind.

They were standing under the roof of a completely intact stone building, which was obviously no longer in use. It had been a foundry. There were brick furnaces and a heap of charcoal plus enormous bellows to be operated by hand. Such equipment indicated that the system of iron-founding practised here dated from before modern processes were devised. Vividly bright sunshine came through the cracks of plank shutters that closed all high-up windows. There was no cottage. None. Instead, the great roofed enclosure went undisturbed to where there had been a ruined, largely torn-down wall. But now the wall was not torn down. It was erect and solid.

Harrison’s eyes fixed themselves, fascinated, on the nearly vertical slivers of noonday sunshine. Out of the windows of the room he’d just left, the time was sunset.

Pepe said incredulously:

“This is—this is… When is it?”

The form of the question told of his complete, stunned acceptance of everything that common sense and experience still denied.

“This will be June tenth,” said Carroll matter-of-factly, “and the year is eighteen-four. It’s,” he glanced at his watch, “eleven-forty A.M. Clock-time is different as well as calendar time at the two ends of the…” He shrugged. “I spoke of a stairway. It’s more nearly a tunnel. A time-tunnel, which is a hundred sixty-odd years and some weeks, days and hours from one end to the other. We came through. We will now go back. I’m going to ask you to help me solve our current emergency, and then we’ll set to work on the really big problem you’ve brought.”

He motioned for Harrison to go before him. Harrison looked helpless. Carroll pointed to a small plank upon the ground. It looked like a threshold with no wall or door attached. Numbly, Harrison stepped over it and felt an intense digestive disturbance and a monumental giddiness. But he took one step more and he was in the burrow—the tunnel—with earth all around him and the home-made doorway before him. He stepped out into the cottage dining room. His forehead felt wet. He mopped it as Pepe came stumbling back, with Carroll matter-of-factly in his rear.

BOOK: Time Tunnel
5.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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