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Authors: Murray Leinster

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BOOK: Time Tunnel
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To people not newly engaged, the explosion of an atomic bomb by the communist Chinese seemed a very serious matter. Certain groups dusted off their “Better Red than Dead” placards to carry in new demonstrations of reaction to the news. On the other hand, much of the world grimly prepared to live up to an exactly opposite opinion.

But Harrison slept soundly. He waked next morning with en excellent appetite and in the most cheerful of moods. He tried to think of an excuse to visit the shop of Carroll, Dubois et Cie. and was regretfully unable to contrive one. He went to the tailors and felt remarkably idiotic while they showed him fabrics and styles and were astonished that a supposed television actor was not interested in clothes.

Later, though, M. Dubois called upon him.


M’sieur
,” said the little man agitatedly, “my sister and I wish to implore your aid! The most horrible, the most criminal thing has happened! My sister is half-mad with grief! She is distracted! We implore your assistance!”

Harrison blinked at him.

“What’s the matter? What’s happened? What can I do?”

“You know of our business and its—unusual nature,” said Dubois. His voice trembled, and Harrison found himself thinking that he must have had a very bad half-hour with Madame Carroll. “But perhaps you do not know that my brother-in-law has acknowledged that he plans a journey to the—ah—the place where I buy the stock for the shop! You did not know that? But you will see at once that it is unthinkable! It is horrible to contemplate! It would be ruinous! My sister is distracted!”

Harrison raised his eyebrows.

“I’m sorry that she feels badly,” he said as soothingly a he could, “but after all it’s not my business!”

“The arrangements for my journeying,” protested Dubois. “They are most delicate! The business connections I have made—they should be cherished with the greatest circumspection! If the nature of our operations should become known, either here or—or at the other end, the result would be disaster!”

“More likely disbelief,” said Harrison. “Nobody’s likely to credit the truth even if they hear it. They’ll never guess it!”

Dubois waved trembling hands.

“I do not argue,
m’sieur
. I do not dispute. But I plead with you to help us avoid ruin! M. Carroll must not make this journey!”

“But it isn’t any of my business!” protested Harrison. “There’s nothing I can do about the plans Carroll makes! I’ve no influence.”

“But you have,
m’sieur!
You are not being candid! He has spoken to Madame Carroll about you! He wishes her to treat you with distinction. He has commanded it!
M’sieur
, you do not realize the enormity M. Carroll has already committed, and who can tell what other enormity he plans?”

Harrison said nothing. Dubois mopped his forehead.


M’sieur
, he has withdrawn from the bank almost a fifth of the accumulated profits of the business! He has withdrawn money from the bank! My sister has now removed the rest and placed it where he cannot lay hands upon it, but
m’sieur
, it he will do this—” Dubois seemed about to strangle. “You should see my sister! She is pitiable! I almost fear for her reason!
Mon Dieu
, one is frightened by the violence of her suffering!”

Harrison rephrased the information in his own fashion. M. Dubois had been led by the nose through all his life by the tantrums of his sister, until he could imagine no more terrible an event than another tantrum. It was understandable that she would not want Carroll to travel where her brother had stolidly ventured. But it was certain that the worst of all possible crimes was the removal of money from where Madame Carroll controlled it, to any place or person where she did not.

“Still,” said Harrison, “I don’t see what I can do.”

M. Dubois wept. Literally, he wept. Madame Carroll must have terrified him all the way down to his toes.


M’sieur
, use your influence with him! My sister, in her despair, authorizes me to promise that it will be to your advantage. I open myself to you! I fear for my sister’s reason if M. Carroll carries out his insane plan! Therefore. I speak of
Ma’mselle
Valerie! It has always been my sister’s ardent desire to place her in a situation of security, with a substantial fortune so that she can live happily. M. Carroll has placed that desire in extreme danger! He has taken a fifth of the profits of the shop! He has, in effect, robbed
Ma’mselle
Valerie of a fifth of the fortune she should inherit from my sister! Do you comprehend my meaning?”

“No,” said Harrison.


Ma’mselle
Valerie is the most charming of girls,” said Dubois imploringly. “She is virtuous, she is intelligent, she is affectionate. She will be my sister’s heiress. And my sister is convinced that with tact and gentle persuasion she could be induced to consent to a marriage which—”

Harrison started.

“Which would have the most favorable of financial prospects,” said Dubois desperately. “All that is required is that you persuade M. Carroll to abandon his mad project, return the money he has taken, and let things go on exactly as they were before! Nothing more than that,
m’sieur!
And you will be established for life!”

Harrison counted ten. He didn’t even bother to think of the fact that Dubois simply proposed that if he obeyed Madame Carroll implicitly in this and all other matters for the rest of his life, she might—might!—leave him some money and in addition would promote an arrangement that he and Valerie had already concluded on their own. It was almost humorous, but not quite.

“I will have to consider it,” he said. He didn’t want to send Dubois back to his sister with news that would infuriate her more. So he said, “I would have to talk to Carroll and find out how determined be is. I would have to— Let it rest for the time being, M. Dubois! We will talk of it later.”

M. Dubois argued vehemently. Presently be rose to leave.

“Let me tell you,
m’sieur
,” he said desperately, “My sister is distressed to distraction! I fear for her health if M. Carroll should proceed with this ill-advised action. Even more, I fear—”

But then he stopped short as if he’d clapped his own hand across his mouth. He went away, confused. And Harrison realized that he was genuinely frightened. He hadn’t the imagination to see the hair-raising possibilities that Harrison and Carroll and Pepe saw, alone among the human population of earth. But he was frightened. And Harrison suddenly realized that Dubois was actually scared by his guess of what Madame Carroll might do if her husband—Carroll—did use the money due him tor the use of his time-tunnel for his own purposes. It is commonplace among the students of homicide that murders are committed more often over money than for any other motive. It is also a commonplace that the amount of money involved may be trivial. To Madame Carroll, the money earned by Carroll, Dubois et Cie was the object of passion as genuine if not as understandable as that of a jealous woman. She was capable of a crime of passion—over money.

So Harrison distastefully prepared to make another bus-trip to St. Jean-sur-Seine. He’d have to warn Carroll. He’d have to make Valerie understand…

But still something had to be done about de Bassompierre, back in the days of Napoleon Buonaparte! Something definitely had to be done! His activities could only be allowed to go on if one believed that the cosmos did not make sense; that there was no particular point in civilization, and that the human race didn’t matter because it was only an accident, undesigned and without significance.

There have always been people believing this and earnestly laboring to create a state of things humanity could not survive. There will probably always be such people. Clearly, however, if they are wrong they won’t succeed. If people are important, it has been arranged for them to survive. If the cosmos is designed for them to live in it, there must be some safety device built into it to prevent their extermination.

It didn’t appear, though, that Harrison and Carroll and Pepe, and Madame Carroll and Valerie and M. Dubois together amounted to anything so important.

Quite the contrary.

5

The world rolled sedately upon its axis, and tides ebbed and flowed, and barometric highs produced winds flowing clockwise about their center in the Northern hemisphere, and counter-clockwise in the Southern. There were people who casually mentioned coriolis forces in connection with this subject. There were minor temblors in various places, and the people supposed to know about them explained that tectonic adjustments were their cause. There were forest-fires and forestry officials explained that the woodland floors had lacked humidity, and there were droughts and people spoke with exactness of water-tables and floods, when there was sure to be an authority on the subject to discourse on abnormal precipitation in terms of inches of rain-fall or acre-feet of run-off. But these were natural phenomena, about which it is always possible to speak with understanding and precision.

The Chinese, however, exploded an atomic bomb, and a spy-plane was shot down over Western Europe, and a U.S. anti-submarine force, having located a foreign submarine in Caribbean waters, zestfully practised trailing it in spite of its evasive tactics. They stayed over it—where they could have dropped depth-bombs if they’d wanted to—for seventy-two hours hand-running. Then it surfaced angrily and the squadron leader of the hunter-killer unit solicitously asked if it was in need of assistance.

It was not possible to make exact statements about happenings like that. They were things that people did. Unreasonably. Irrationally. On what seemed to different people appropriate occasions. But what seems appropriate to humans isn’t necessarily reasonable.

There was the fact, for example, that M. Dubois came gloomily to St. Jean-sur-Seine, carrying a very considerable number of very elaborate small bottles of perfume. The weather in St. Jean-sur-Seine was clear and mild. M. Dubois arrived on the last wheezing bus, nearly four hours after sunset. He trudged to the cottage in which Carroll endured the tedium of existence in a provincial small town with no alleviation whatever. Harrison and Carroll greeted him pleasantly. Tacitly, all argument was avoided. Carroll even cooked an omelet for his brother-in-law by way of refreshment. To be sure, M. Dubois took Harrison aside and asked him disturbedly if there were any chance of Carroll putting his money back in Madame Carroll’s hands and abandoning his mad project of a journey into France d’ans 1804. Harrison said that the prospects were not yet good. Dubois sighed heavily.

The time was then well after midnight. Carroll went casually through the improvised doorway in the sitting-room and along the burrowed passage-way beyond. He came back to observe that rain fell heavily in St. Jean-sur-Seine in the year 1804 and it was deep night there, now.

M. Dubois went prosaically about his preparations. He was deliberate and took a good deal of time about it. Harrison went through the time-tunnel himself and stood for a moment upon the plank threshold between centuries. The then-intact, disused foundry resounded with the heavy drumming of rain upon its roof. The air smelled of wetness. The blackness of the night was unrelieved. Of course the foundry would be particularly dark, but in the time at this end of the tunnel there was nowhere outside of houses where there was any light whatever. On the entire continent of Europe there was no single room in which candles gave as much light as modern men considered a minimum for comfort.

Far away, over at the horizon, there was a dull nimble of thunder. If anything moved anywhere on the earth it might be a lumbering coach with twin candle-lanterns to cast a feeble glimmer before it. But nobody moved faster than five miles an hour—seven at the utmost—even in the daytime. At night three miles an hour was fast travelling. Especially in rainy weather the overwhelming majority of people went home at sundown and stayed there.

Harrison returned to the dining room of the cottage. Uncomfortably, be looked out of a window and saw stars in the heavens. And even in St. Jean-sur-Seine, in modern times there were street lamps. Occasional buildings had lighted windows in them. Desolate and dreary as the little town was in the world of today, it was infinitely more liveable than the same town of nearly two centuries before. There had been much progress in how to do things. It was regrettable that there was less progress in knowledge of things worth doing.

Dubois, presently, would walk heavily through the homemade doorway. He would move through the tunnel which in feet and inches was of negligible length, but which had a difference of a hundred and sixty-odd years, some weeks, and a certain number of hours between its ends. He would come out where there was no cottage; where a ruined, disused cannon-foundry was not ruined but only disused, and where Napoleon was Emperor of the French and all the world waited for him to lead an armada of flat-bottomed boats in the invasion of England.

It was not reasonable for so remarkable an achievement as a time-tunnel to be used only to deliver exotic perfumery to Paris in which very few people bathed. It was not reasonable for the return-traffic to be ornamental snuffboxes, out-of-date newspapers and flint-lock pistols to be used as paper-weights. The fate of Europe hung in the balance at one end of the time-tunnel, where Napoleon reigned. At the other end the survival of the human race was in question. The tunnel could have been used to adjust both situations. But it was actually used to keep a shop going.

M. Dubois packed his stock-in-trade into saddlebags under the eyes of Carroll and of Harrison. He had already changed to a costume suited to another time.

“I notice,” said Carroll, in the tone of one who politely tries to make conversation, “that you specialize now. At first you carried an assortment of products through the tunnel. Now you seem to take only perfume.”

M. Dubois said depressedly, yet with a certain pride:

“These perfumes have no competition where I market them. I have a business connection and it is mere routine to deliver these and collect for them. These are the most valuable objects I can transport with strict legality.”

BOOK: Time Tunnel
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