It matters little what our occupations were when we set out, exactly a quarter of a century ago, on our explorations.
Nevertheless, as our lives and all of our daily activities acquired a strange significance in the light of our adventures, I shall briefly state who and what we were, and how we started. The place and date are extremely important. We first succeeded in entering the time stream in San Francisco, on the fourteenth of April, That was precisely four days before the city was destroyed by earthquake and fire.
The mere catalogue of our party follows, with their nationalities and places of birth, and their ages in Colonel Dill, born in Tennessee, veteran of the Civil War, age Habitually in need of money, and eager to imbibe any amount of whiskey at any other man's expense. Hobby, imaginary bloodshed. Palgrave, born in San Francisco, age Physician, specializing on morally and mentally unstable children.
This man is now the well known child specialist of New York. Hobby, color analysis. Beckford, also born in San Francisco, age Attorney and orator. Lifelong friend of Palgrave and, with him, suitor of Cheryl Ainsworth. Hobby, oratory. Ducasse, born in France, age Psychologist and student of philosophy, with strong leaning toward practical mechanics.
Hobby, prison reform. Culman, born in Germany, age Mechanical engineer and inventor. In easy circumstances, owing to a simple, lucky device for measuring flow in oil wells. Hobbies, hatred of war and a desire to expose the trickeries of mediums and others in some kinds of psychic research.
Sylvester, born in England, naturalized U. Lived at Los Gatos three hours by train from San Francisco , where he had a paying ranch. Highly educated in modern theoretical physics—as it was in , with ample leisure to continue his studies. Savadan, born in France, age unknown, probably Political refugee.
Had lived for many years in San Francisco in very straitened circumstances. To this strange assortment three others may be added, although they were not strictly in our party. First there was Cheryl Ainsworth, age 24, who must be noticed more in detail later. For the moment this mention of her is sufficient. Next there was Herr Holst, the genial proprietor of the inn where Dill, Palgrave, Beckford, Ducasse, Herron, Culman, Sylvester, Savadan, and I met once a fortnight to discuss everything in this world and the next.
Last, there was John Petrie, prince of bartenders and quiet, unobtrusive host to our small crowd. Petrie's hobby was a very crude brand of astrology. He was one of us, although he never knew it and did not join us in our adventure. All of these details, however, are of little importance. What I wish to bring out in citing them is merely that we were an apparently haphazard handful of acquaintances thrown together by chance.
There were many such handfuls in the old San Francisco. We know now that ours was not governed by chance. Even before we somewhat rashly started, we had inklings of the truth. What drew us together? What common interest could hold together a whiskey-sodden Civil War veteran, a brilliant young child specialist, a young lawyer, a student of philosophy, a newspaper reporter, an expert in modern theoretical physics, a mechanical engineer, a discredited French politician, and an analytical chemist, whose ages ranged from 23 to 66?
What could possibly unite men of such a wide range of ages but a common interest in the nature of time? One "chance" remark or another had gradually attracted man after man to us, until in all eight of us stood on the threshold of reality without dreaming what door was presently to open. Chance, of course, played no part in drawing us together. We were already exploring, but we had lost our way. I need not recall the long debates in which we indulged on the nature of time.
Unaccountable at first, even to us, those puzzled arguments on the curiously unreal aspects of time as it appeared to us in our everyday lives, gradually assumed a deeper significance until at last, on the fourteenth of April, , four minutes before midnight, events crystallized out of the waters of eternity, and we found ourselves.
I pass on to these as rapidly as may be done clearly, and I shall state precisely how we ourselves, still dazed, began to learn the true meanings of our lives. Our fortnightly reunion at Holst's was breaking up. Sylvester, anxious not to miss his train for Los Gatos, consulted his watch. I'll have to be running. The mainspring snapped. The peculiar metallic click rocked my brain for a fraction of a second with an appalling vertigo.
Recovering instantly, I heard Sylvester's awed voice: "I am beginning to remember. This is the time. Come to my attic at once. I—we all—must perform an experiment immediately. Even Colonel Dill followed Savadan into the starry night without a word of dissent. Already we were walking in a dream more vivid than this thin shadow of reality which we call life. The night was cool and penetratingly clear. The myriads of icy white and steel-blue stars seemed to descend and blaze not more than a hundred feet above our heads when we turned toward the East and walked, as Savadan said, to meet the sunrise.
Savadan, it seems, had already remembered much.
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Sylvester, too, was far ahead of all but Savadan. As we turned the corner and came in sight of Savadan's lodging, Sylvester pointed up to a dark, almost starless region of the sky near the zenith. We looked where he pointed, but nobody answered. I had a haunting sensation of having watched that identical region of the sky in ages long dead and forgotten, waiting for the last rising of millions upon millions of dying suns.
There are three flights before you reach my attic. Savadan was about to enter, when Herron whispered "Wait! Their mysterious beauty against the cold blue stars of the Eastern heavens was a miracle to make any man pause. And the deep shadows in the fresh, sweet smelling grass of the narrow parking strip were a memory of illimitable spaces in an infinite sky unvisited by stars.
Again that illusive half-memory of forgotten regions swept over me like the starlit billows of a cold sea. What sea I struggled to remember I learned only at the end of our explorations. The ghost of a breeze stirred in the eucalyptus leaves.
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Herron gazed up at the trees, listening eagerly to every syllable of the faint, lisping rustle. He began quoting Rossetti's magical crystallization of the haunting mystery which all of us felt but could not express:. I too have seen a sudden flash of light. Herron will read the monuments, and I shall learn why I have been sent back so often and so fruitlessly.
I have waited and toiled thirty years for this moment. Our first experiment however can be performed standing. We took in the bleak attic at a glance. It ran the whole length of the house and made up in airiness what it lacked in comfort. In one corner a pile of trunks and packing cases belonging to the people of the house formed a sort of alcove containing the sum of Savadan's earthly possessions; a narrow canvas cot, one straight-backed chair, a plain deal writing table and half a dozen well-used books. A few feet from the alcove stood an old fashioned cistern, whose continual trickling filled the attic with a faint, musical tinkling.
To this day the sound of running water brings back every detail of our first plunge into the unfathomable stream of time.
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Will you please stand with your back to the light? Sylvester, you will face Culman. There is nothing mysterious about the circular order, it is merely to enable us all to get the most of this miserable light. Won't you allow me to defer all explanations to a less anxious moment? You see, the whole 'set' or complexion of events indicates the present as an extraordinarily favorable time for our experiment.
If we let this slip we may have to wait years before we can break into the stream of events. You're still in command, Mr. Fire away, and shoot Culman's skepticism out of the back parts of his head. Time, with all of its events, is flowing past us like a mighty river.
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It has been sweeping through human and prehuman history for ages beyond the powers of man to number. If now one could hurl himself into that stream and swim steadily back against the current, he might see the history of our race speeding past his vision.
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