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Authors: Murray Leinster

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BOOK: Time Tunnel
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“My aunt,” she observed, ignoring his silence, “was very much pleased with this morning’s business.”

He managed to ask the obvious question.

“Why,” said Valerie, “someone came into the shop and bought lavishly. Not as one buys for one’s hobby or for curios, but in quantity! And he asked many questions about where such items were made. My aunt was discreet. He probed. He pumped. He tried to entrap her into revelations. She gave him no information.”

Pepe had also had an idea of finding out where the shop’s stock-in-trade was manufactured. Now he knew, and so did Harrison. Neither of them was much happier for the information. Apparently Valerie did not share it. She laughed a little.

“Ah, but he tried to find out where he could get such goods! He squirmed and sidled and tried innumerable tricks! He said he would like to have special items made. My aunt told him that she would take his order. Then he confessed that he was actually a dealer—as if she had not known!—and offered a price for information about the manufacturer!”

Pepe had intended something of this sort, too. Harrison listened emotionally to the sound of Valerie’s voice.

“In the end,” said Valerie pleasurably, “they struck a bargain. On my aunt’s terms! He is well known as an art dealer in England and in America. It is a splendid bit of business. She will order such items as he desires. He will pay extravagantly. My aunt suspects that he will probably age them artificially and sell them as true antiques. She does not do that, because she does not wish for trouble with the authorities. But what he does with them is not her affair. Still, she put heavy prices upon them!”

Harrison mumbled. Valerie continued:

“He bought all the very best items in the shop. More than my uncle just brought back! It will be necessary for him to make another trip immediately to get more!”

“Maybe,” said Harrison, “it was good humor brought about by a good business deal that made her agree to let us come here today.”


Mais non
,” said Valerie wisely. “It was M. Carroll! Anyone but my aunt would be fond of him. But he angers her. He is not practical, and above all things my aunt is practical! Yet even she dares to go only so far! He told her that she must not offend you. He said that you were important to probable developments in the shop. He said that if you were offended, he would take measures. Ah, but my aunt was angry! She brooded all the way back from St. Jean-sur-Seine! She likes to direct. She does not like to be directed.”

Harrison did not want to think, with Valerie, of St. Jean-sur-Seine and the ghastly possibilities implied by the confirmation of all his most implausible suspicions. He wanted to think only of Valerie. But thinking of Valerie made him think of disasters that might come to her.

A soldier and a girl went by, and Harrison considered morbidly what could be the result of a mere few boxes of percussion-caps upon the history of Europe and the world, if they happened to be demonstrated ahead of their normal time.

Napoleon was not receptive to the idea of submarines, to be sure. The American Fulton had found that out. But he would grasp instantly the advantage of percussion-cap guns over the flint-locks his infantry used. Flint-locks, in action, missed fire three times in ten. Merely changing muskets to percussion guns would make the increased fire-power of his armies equivalent to two hundred thousand added soldiers. Napoleon would not miss a bet like that! There would be no trouble with manufacture. The technology of the early nineteenth century was quite up to the making of percussion-caps once the idea and the proof of its practicality was known.

Even one box of percussion-caps, put into the proper hands in 1804, would mean that the invasion of Russia in 1812 would be successful. The Russian armies would not be defeated, they would be destroyed. There would be no abdication. There would be no Hundred Days. Waterloo would never be fought. A million Frenchmen would not die before their reasonable time, and instead would live to become fathers instead of the left-overs from whom modern Frenchmen were descended. And of course the probability of exactly those persons marrying, who had married in the past that Harrison knew of, and of their having exactly those children they’d begotten in that same past, and of Valerie sharing his childhood and the two of them being here at this moment on the grassy sward of Bonmaison—it would be improbable past imagining!

Valerie talked, and he listened yearningly. Presently there was a movement nearby and someone grunted in satisfaction. Harrison looked up. There was Pepe, impeccably dressed, and beside him there was the much larger figure of Carroll.

“He was right,” said Carroll largely, with a nod of his head at Pepe. “He said he knew where to find you. I didn’t know where you lived, but he’d mentioned his hotel, so I hunted him up to locate you.” He switched to French. “Ah, Valerie! I trust to your kindness not to remember having seen me. There would be a great squabble to no purpose. My intentions in Paris are most innocent!”

Valerie said tranquilly:

“But of course! Did you know that M. Dubois makes another journey immediately? Someone came to the shop, a most eminent dealer in art-objects, and most of the shop’s stock departed with him. It is necessary to get more.”

Carroll shrugged.

“No harm in that that I can see. Harrison—”

“What?”

“This de Bassompierre, I have to talk to him! That’s why I came to Paris.”

Harrison started slightly. De Bassompierre had been born in 1767 and died in 1858 at the age of ninety-one. But “I’m ordering clothes and equipment for the purpose,” said Carroll crisply. “But I need someone to go with me. This whole thing is your baby. I hope you’ll go with me. Will you?”

Harrison swallowed. Then he looked at Valerie. She looked as if she did not understand. He looked back.

“It is really possible to do anything?”

“Naturally!” said Carroll. “You and Ybarra had an odd experience, remember? About the history of Mexico? It’s proof of two things, no, three. One is that history can be changed. The second is that somebody’s trying to change it. The third is that even when it’s changed it has a tendency to change back. There’s a sort of elasticity to events. Your theory that things which at one time are facts can cease to be facts has a certain amount of cockeyed sense to it. If something happens, and in consequence a given fact becomes inconsistent with the rest of the cosmos, it stops being a fact. It vanishes. History closes over it as water closes over a dropped stone. There are ripples, but they die away. People sometimes remember and even write it in their memoirs, but it isn’t true any longer.”

Harrison listened. He looked at Valerie. She looked patient, as a girl does when talk is about something unrelated to her own personal interests.

“You were looking for items of that sort,” Carroll went on, “and you found something much more serious—someone deliberately setting out to change the course of history. If he isn’t stopped, he’ll stress the grand design of things beyond its elastic limit and things will stay changed! So something has to be done!”

Harrison was suddenly anxious about Valerie’s opinion of this talk. If she thought Carroll was out of his mind, she’d think him—Harrison—no less demented. But her expression remained placidly unconcerned.

“So, I’m going to argue with him,” said Carroll. “I’ve got to find his tunnel, too, and see that it’s collapsed. We can’t have this sort of thing going on! Dubois would be of no possible use to me in an enterprise like this! I could never make him see what it was all about. I want you to come along. The number of people I could ask—as a gifted under-statement—is strictly limited. Ybarra would be handy, but be says no. He had a great-great-grandfather—”

“In all,” said Pepe apologetically, “I had eight great-great-grandfathers. The one I’ve mentioned was one Ignacio Ybarra who spent some months in Paris in 1804. He made. acquaintances there which later, when he returned as the Ambassador from newly independent Mexico—”

“He doesn’t want anything to happen to him,” finished Carroll, “through his great-great-grandson. It’s reasonable! But I want you to go get yourself measured for an outfit befitting a well-to-do American travelling in Napoleon’s time. I’ve picked out a tailor. He thinks the outfits are to be taken to Hollywood for a television show. Do you need money?”

Harrison shook his head.

“I insisted,” said Carroll with some humor, “that I must be able to draw on the bank-account of Carroll, Dubois et Cie. My wife will burst with fury when she finds out I’ve done so! I’ve ordered books to do research on de Bassompierre, memoirs, and so on. Ybarra is sympathetic enough to dig out the forms used for
laissez-passe
and the identity papers we’ll need. Modern methods of forgery should take care of them. If you’ll get yourself measured for clothes, we’ll be all set. Right?”

Harrison nodded, more or less uneasily. Carroll said:

“Valerie,
mon cherie
, I count upon your friendship not to mention that I have come to Paris. It is agreed?”

“But of course!” said Valerie. She smiled at him.

Carroll strode away. Pepe followed. Harrison, looking after them, noticed for the first time that Carroll moved with a certain unconscious ease, so that he couldn’t have passed as a man of no importance in any period of history.

Then Valerie said anxiously:

“You are to go to—where my uncle Georges goes to buy the stock for the shop?” she asked uneasily.

“It seems to be necessary,” admitted Harrison.

“How long will you be gone?”

Harrison knew an irrational elation. That was the angle which first occurred to her!

There was no actual reason for him to seize upon such an item; to find his tongue working freely though his breathing became uncertain. He could have said the same things at any other time, and probably more effectively if he’d practised them beforehand. But he heard his mouth saying startling and impassioned things in a hoarse and quite in-adequate manner. He overheard urgent insistences that he had remembered her from their childhood and had never been able to think romantically about anybody else, and a large number of other unconvincing statements which he believed implicitly as he made them.

Valerie did not seem to be offended. She listened, though, with every appearance of astonishment. And suddenly he was struck dumb by the realization that this was very hasty, and she might not believe any of it. He regarded her miserably.

“I—I hope you don’t mind,” he protested, panicked.

“Only I—I would have had to say it sooner or later…”

Valerie rose from where she sat.

“I do not think we should stay here,” she said primly.

She moved away. He followed her miserably, not noticing that they were not headed toward the carousel or any of the other more thickly populated parts of Bonmaison. He stumbled in her wake.

She paused and looked around her. She did not seem astonished to find that they had arrived where they were not in sight of anybody else at all. But Harrison was astonished. He stared at her. She smiled very faintly.

Incredulously, he reached out his hands. She displayed no indignation.

Presently they ate ices together and Valerie was composed, though her eyes shone a little. She said:

“My aunt will be furious! But we will tell M. Carroll and he will force her to agree.”

In his then emotional state, this impressed Harrison as the most brilliant and intelligent and admirable of all possible remarks.

When he got back to his hotel, Pepe was waiting for him. Pepe frowned.

“Look here!” he said indignantly. “I’ve been thinking about my great-great-grandfather, who was here in 1804. If anything happens to him—”

“Pepe,” said Harrison raptly, “I’m going to marry Valerie! We decided on it today!”

“If Carroll goes back to 1804,” fumed Pepe, “nobody can tell what will happen! You know the theory about what if a man kills his grandfather in the past. But it doesn’t have to be him! If
anybody
went back in time and killed my great-great-grandfather, I wouldn’t be born! And Carroll’s going back!”

“She knew,” said Harrison blissfully, “she knew the minute she saw me again, that I was the one she wanted to marry! The very minute, Pepe! The instant she recognized me as her old playmate!”

“So I’m not going to take any chances!” said Pepe fiercely. “There’s de Bassompierre, too! I could blow up the damned time-tunnel, but de Bassompierre does seem to be doing some pretty undesirable stuff. So I’m going along! And I’m going to see that none of my ancestors get killed!”

Harrison beamed.

“That’s fine!” be said, not really aware of what Pepe had said. “We’re not going to tell Valerie’s aunt just yet. There’d be fireworks. And anyhow it wouldn’t be fair to Valerie to get married before I’ve made that trip with Carroll. It could be dangerous. I don’t want her to be worried!”

Pepe stared at him. Hard. Then he said irritably:


Dios mio!
As if this business weren’t bad enough without having only lunatics to carry it out!”

Harrison went to bed in that state of emotional semi-narcosis which is appropriate to a newly-engaged man. He was literally unaware that any other important thing had happened in the world. The newspapers of that afternoon announced a new international crisis. He didn’t notice. It appeared that the mainland Chinese had exploded their first atomic bomb.

The significance of the fact was, of course, that the communist Chinese were now added to the nations threatening the world’s precarious peace. There were cabinet meetings all over the world, where heads were shaken and helplessness admitted. It had not been expected that the Chinese would have the bomb so soon. The individuals who seemed to know most about it guessed that they hadn’t developed it entirety by themselves. There were indefinite surmises that somebody had defected from the Russians, on the ground that they were reactionary conservatives in their politics, and had carried information to Peking which made the bomb possible. It was even guessed that the defector had originally defected to Russia from France. There were despairing speculations where he—his identity was strongly suspected—would defect to next.

BOOK: Time Tunnel
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