“You see Griswold the theory of temporal travel has always been a passion of mine.”
Lord Cavendish topped off my sherry and returned to his wingback chair.
“Surely sir,” I said. “The past has already happened and the future is yet to be born. How could one ever hope to view such things. It appears contrary to the laws of God.”
“Poppycock,” Cavendish said and chuckled. “The Almighty provided us with minds to use, dear boy, would I not be ungrateful to not use the very brain He gifted me? “Look here.”
Cavendish pulled a large leather tome from the table beside him and opened it to a page covered with incomprehensible mathematics and drawings that seemed to somehow fold in on themselves.
“Space-time is like nothing more than a membrane upon which the world floats. We move forward following the slope of the membrane but if we possessed sufficient power we could force this membrane to flex in the opposite direction to see the past or even increase its slope to visit some future time.”
“Even assuming such a thing were possible, what could ever generate such power?”
“Ah, dear boy, that is exactly why you were summoned,” he said.
A wide smile lifted his moustaches into a U shape as he flipped rapidly through his notebook.
“We live in an age unparalleled. Science hurtles forward at an ever increasing pace. The forces of piston and steam have given us the ability to harness the lightning itself and shape it to our needs.
“I have spent years and not an inconsiderable portion of my family fortune in pursuit of my endeavors and the tree has finally provided fruit.”
With a flourish Lord Cavendish spun the book around to face me once more and presented me with a drawing of what appeared to be a salt shaker with pipes and pressure tanks attached. Gridlines spread out from the machine and mathematical formulae radiated outward like rays from the sun.
“Of course,” he said. “This sketch is not truly representative of the scale of the time engine. The boilers would be sufficient to provide power for all of London.”
“Good Lord,” I said. “Such an undertaking would take years. It could pauper a nation.”
“Sixteen years to be exact,” Lord Cavendish said. “And it nearly did pauper me but I managed to supplement my fortunes through some of my more domestic machines derived from my experiments.”
My heart shuddered to a halt and then after an eternal moment, restarted. I sputtered at the dapper gentleman, utterly at a loss for words until disbelief snuck through the forest of my confusion and erupted from my mouth.
“You’ve already built the bloody thing?”
“Of course Griswold, that is why I’ve summoned you. I require a witness to my glorious test run.”
“What exactly do you intend sir,” I asked.
Lord Cavendish stood and struck a pose. I was sure that it was utterly unintentional, merely a product of his ingrained superior status. His Lordship looked like a great explorer staring into unknown vistas or a sea captain setting forth into the unknown.
“I shall enter my time engine and utilize its energies to propel myself one hundred years hence to see what glories the power of steam has wrought within the Empire.”
I felt a rush of excitement surge through my veins, this was surely the ultimate adventure and I was honored to be permitted to witness it.
“I would be honored to be your witness sir.”
“Excellent,” Lord Cavendish stood and beckoned me to do the same. “Come with me and we shall begin. I have already prepared the time engine for my journey and merely needed yourself as witness.”
Lord Cavendish led the way from the drawing room. We exited the mansion onto the rear grounds and strolled toward the cliffs which bordered the estate. I could hear the cries of gulls and the roar of the surf as we approached the cliffs. I reasoned that perhaps Cavendish had located his time engine at a distance from the manor for security or possibly safety. It was well documented that many an experiment with steam power had resulted in violent explosions. I could not fault Lord Cavendish for seeing to the safety of his home although the long walk was taking its toll on my shoes. I had dressed for a formal visit, not a stroll through the verge.
At the edge of the cliffs overlooking the channel we came upon a metal staircase clinging to the cliff face. Without pause Cavendish led the way down the stairs. The cliffs rose over one hundred feet above the sea and it was a long, tiring climb to the gravel beach below. I started to question my host several times but withheld my opinions fearing rebuke from the great man. Eventually we alighted and walked north along the beach. The Cavendish estate is extensive and the route his Lordship led seemed to last forever. After what seemed a mile we rounded a curve of land and the mighty engine revealed itself.
It stood like a great bullet set upon the grave and clinging to the cliff like a lamprey. Enormous pipes and cables ran to the main bullet shape of the structure connecting it to pressure boilers and mighty pistons. I had never in my life seen such an engineering marvel.
“Words fail me sir,” I said after a time. “This is truly a marvel of science.”
“Thank you Griswold.”
“Why such a remote location? And why does the engine cling thusly to the cliff?”
“You see Griswold, the world moves through space as time proceeds. When the engine hurls itself forward if it were not anchored in some way to the very bedrock of the world it might appear where the planet is not. The engine is anchored to these ancient cliffs and should therefore reappear in the same location even though the planet itself has moved.
“Now come, stand on this viewing platform. As you can see it is separate from the engine to ensure that you are witness rather than unexpected participant. You will watch me through yon opening high on the engine. If my calculations are correct, the engine should disappear from this time and reappear in the far future. You dear Griswold will see my disappearance.”
“Will you return sir?”
“Oh of course. What purpose having a witness if I do not return to tell you of my journey. Yes Griswold I shall return, I have calculated the engines return to be exactly one hour after its departure to show to you that something did indeed occur. Then, having proved my theory, you can accompany me into the future to discover new worlds.”
I was thrilled and terrified at the same time. Such an offer. Such an adventure. I could only nod and then the watch mutely as the great man climbed the ladders up the side of his time engine.
Lord Cavendish gave a jaunty wave as he entered the control center of the engine. I waved weakly in return. The boilers hummed and a throbbing of harnessed power vibrated the entire cliff and beach. Brilliant sparks of Saint Elmo’s fire raced across the face of the engine. A roaring sound filled my world and with a thunderclap and a flash of light Lord Cavendish disappeared from the open control center of the time engine. The great engine itself, contrary to his expectations, remained chained to the cliff, a metal Prometheus.
The machine slowly wound down returning the sounds of the world to supremacy. I waited in hushed anticipation for the full hour Lord Cavendish indicated but no flash, no sounds from the engine heralded his return. I steeled my resolve and climbed the ladder that his Lordship had ascended not long before. The control center was empty, no sign of the great man was evident. It was as if he had never been there.
I return to the estate from time to time, ever hopeful that Lord Cavendish has found his way back to our time. As the years pass I become less and less inclined to await the great man. I pray that he has found some grand adventure in the years beyond my life.