Remember this: it takes one person to wind the time handle back, but two to push it forward again.
If you’re going back, take a friend, in case of accidents. The past actively rejects intruders — my own indifferent health being proof of this — just as your body rejects disease. Casualties are frequent. But in this case, your task is simple. There will be two of us to wind the handle forward. All you need to do is locate it, and follow the enclosed instructions.
The time handle is in the back of my house, at number 90, Capital Street. Go through the hall and the kitchen and into the larder. It’s been there two hundred years, I hope, and even when I lived there, smelled of some abandoned and rancid ingredient. Pay the reek no attention. You have work to do.
In the larder remove the shelves — those pickle jars are glued on — and open the thin plywood door which will be revealed behind. Enter the hidden room and switch on the electric light — there is a cord to the right of the entrance.
This is the decontamination room. Spray yourself with all the cans. Try not to breathe in as you do so.
Tramp in the sandbox provided, then proceed to the door at the back and into the next room.
In here you will see the time handle. I dare say you will wish to pause, to allow your mind to absorb the wonders you see, and marvel at this, my life’s work. It is certainly the pinnacle of Man’s achievement in all of history. But you must try to overcome your sense of awe in order to do what’s required.
The time handle is, as you will see, a spoked brass wheel. It is in no way to be considered similar to a bank vault wheel and you must pay no attention to the words Capital Investments Company engraved in the centre. Considering these details will only distract you.
The time handle wants to turn backwards, so be cautious. Do not run at it with your doubtless youthful enthusiasm — it has backspin, and will tear you away out of control, never to return. When you are ready, grasp the spokes of the wheel and turn it firmly. Act in a confident manner. Time senses the novice.
The rotation determines the time you will travel backwards — one complete rotation for a month or so.
It is not exact. I made it that way, to avoid the temptation to travel back and fix those embarrassing dinner party faux pas where you call your hostess a fat snob who you would delight in proving wrong about her supposed genius ancestor . . . . But enough about Letitia.
Turn the handle the correct number of months to bring you to September, 1799 — that’s right, just before New York is renamed Capital and ratified as the centre of our great nation. The room will alter and spin, but it is vital that you hold fast to the handle. It will travel with you. I must warn you that the journey is unpleasant. Be a man and stand up to it. When the vomiting ceases and you are able to stand, you will find yourself, understandably, in a strange place, but do not be afraid — I will be there to meet you.
What a meeting it will be for you! But we must keep congratulations to a minimum, for there will be work to do, sir.
I confess to speculating at your name. Perhaps you will be Herbert, after myself. We are certainly related, for this letter has been passed down from will to will, right into the modern age of steam and railroads. I fancy that my name has not been forgotten.
A thought strikes me — perhaps you are not a man. Perhaps it is a woman who reads these urgent words. In any case, madam, proceed as instructed and despite the frailty of the feebler sex you will have success! Whoever you may be, I am Professor of Methods Scientific at Capital University.
I hope you are not one of those who I was obliged to toady to, in order to secure funding. No matter. The time handle is of greater importance than my pride. Though it is outrageous that many of the ladies insisted on joining our after dinner discussions. How tedious it is to curtail one’s conversation to the level of embroidery and child rearing! Yet even these feminine topics seemed not to please certain ladies.
— Letitia, of course. She persistently tried to turn the conversation to science and history.
As one of my prime sponsors, I could hardly shrug her off. Perhaps you know Letitia. It seems likely that you do, as I admit she is a great patroness of sciences. I dare say you have been subjected to her wild tales.
I’m sure you will agree that the story about her ancestral genius is completely ridiculous. I can’t say how many times I had to endure it. Every gathering at the university, out she trots with the story of her great-grandfather-savant who made a fortune from his predictions. “Utter poppycock,” I would always say until she grew redder and redder in her puffy little face.
“You deny my scientific enquiries, sir,” she said.
“Where’s your proof?” I retorted. “Why have we never heard of this genius, even in our great Capital?”
To this she had no answer. She went pink and muttered that she didn’t know.
As I write these words, I wince. I might have forgotten, momentarily, the importance of tact.
But I bore a great burden. Surely that excuses much?
The time handle is a work of such brilliance that I dared not share it, except with my laboratory partner, who sadly perished after my last trip. He had become obsessed with the risks of adversely changing history, and I suspect it made him careless. Since his death, I had not travelled at all, and was, perhaps, poor company.
And so I suffered professional humiliation and Letitia’s taunts. But that day, she drove me too far.
“My ancestor made us who we are today,” she declared over mock turtle soup.
“He did not!” I cried, splashing a little dodo pate into her lap.
“He did so,” she said, dabbing at the Texan platypus feathers on her dress. “He’s real and how dare you say not!”
“I will prove it,” I cried, throwing down my spoon. “I will prove that your supposed genius ancestor is a figment of your feminine imagination, doubtless from time spent reading novels! And you will acknowledge this and treat me with the respect I deserve.”
I stormed from the room and went directly to my house. I spun the time handle to return to the time of Letitia’s supposed ancestor.
I did not find him. And yet her claim is irrefutably proven. I believe — having married a local woman — I have solved the mystery of the man who invested successfully in railroads and steam industry…
And so here you are, sir or perhaps, madam. My instructions are almost at an end, and your great work is about to begin. Glory awaits. This will certainly compensate you for the risk of injury and death in using the time handle.
You will understand, of course, that genius sometimes has its failings. In my haste to prove Letitia wrong, I momentarily forgot the need for a companion when travelling backwards, to turn the wheel forwards once more. My attempts to persuade local gentlemen to travel to the future with me have so far failed, hence placing this letter in my last will and testament. But once you reach me, all will be well.
We will have a great future together, you and I. As my new partner we will be free to travel in time. What discoveries we will make! I trust that any ill effects I may have caused, by arriving a hundred years in the past, are only minor.
We will travel forwards in time and discover the outcomes of sporting events. Horse racing is popular. One or two American Krone on a winning horse will make us rich.
Of course I will be quite sad to leave my wife behind, and the children. However, I have written detailed plans for investment, such that they will grow wealthy in my absence.
Wealthy enough that their descendants may be —
A thought strikes me.
— Letitia, if this is you reading the letter — You are not at all fat. Your story about the mysterious fortune-telling ancestor is reasonable indeed. I absolutely believe that females are the equals of males in many areas. In time it might be possible for some of you to grasp at academic success, perhaps even the lower sciences. Please strike from your memory my use of the word puffy.
My pen runs dry and I can hear my wife calling for me to change the baby’s unmentionables. I am faint at the prospect. In truth, I am a desperate man. Torn from greatness and trapped here in the savage past! I hope you can forgive my harsh words in the light of this humble apology. Please, Letitia, turn the handle, and come and get me.