VIEW THE MOBILE VERSION of www.fictionstories.ca Informational Site Network Informational
Privacy
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories


Shipwrecked On The Sands Of Time







From: The Panchronicon

Rebecca was the first of the three to waken. Over her small window she
had hung a black shawl to keep out the light, and upon this screen were
thrown recurrent flashes of sunlight.

"Still a-swingin'," she murmured. "Wonder how fur back we be now!"

She was herself surprised at the eagerness she felt to observe at last
the results of their extraordinary attempt.

She rose quickly and was very soon ready to leave her room. She was
longing to see Phoebe--Phoebe as she had been when a girl.

Opening her door, she was astonished to find the lamps of the main room
aglow and to see Copernicus in his shirt-sleeves, asleep with his head
on the table.

As she stepped out of her own room, her senses were offended by the odor
of alcohol. With horror she realized that rum, the spirit of all the
sources of evil, had found its way into their abode.

She entertained so violent a repugnance for liquors and for men under
their influence that she could not bring herself to approach Copernicus.

"He's gone an' got drunk again," she muttered, glaring with helpless
anger at the bottles and then at him.

"Mister Droop! Copernicus Droop!" she cried in a high, sharp voice.

There was no reply.

She looked about her for something to prod him with. There was an
arm-chair on casters beside her door. She drew this to her and pushed it
with all her might toward the unconscious man.

The chair struck violently against Droop's seat, and even caused his
body to sway slightly, but he still slept and gave no sign.

"That settles it!" she exclaimed, with mingled disgust and alarm in her
face.

"What's the matter?"

It was Phoebe who called.

"It's me," said Rebecca. "Can I come in?"

"Yes."

Rebecca walked into Phoebe's room, which she found darkened like her
own. Her sister was in bed.

"What ever happened to you?" Phoebe asked. "Sounded as though ye'd
fallen down or somethin'."

Rebecca stood stiffly with her back to the closed door, her hands folded
before her.

"Copernicus Droop is tight! Dead drunk!" she exclaimed, with a shaking
voice.

"Drunk!" cried Phoebe. "Lands sakes!--an'--" She looked about her with
alarm. "Then what's happened to the machine?" she asked.

"Whirlin', whirlin', same as ever! Cuttin' meridians or sausage meat
fer all I care. I jest wish to goodness an' all creation I'd never ben
sech a plumb born nateral fool as to--oh, wouldn't I like to jest
shake that man!" she broke out, letting her anger gain the upper hand.

Then Phoebe recalled their situation and their expectations of the
night before.

"Why, then I ought to be gettin' little pretty fast," she said, feeling
her arms. "I don't see's I've shrunk a mite, hev I?"

"No more'n I hev!" Rebecca exclaimed, hotly. "Nor you won't, nuther. Ye
might jest's well make up yer mind to it thet the whole business is
foolish folderols. We're a nice couple o' geese, we are, to come out
here to play 'Here we go round the mulberry bush' with the North
Pole--an' all along of a shif'less, notorious slave o' rum!"

She plumped herself into a chair and glared at the darkened window as
though fascinated by those ever-returning flashes of sunlight.

"Well--well--well!" murmured Phoebe.

She was much disappointed, and yet somehow she could not avoid a certain
pleasure in the thought that at least there was no fear of a return to
childhood.

"But what're we goin' to do?" she asked at length. "If Mr. Droop's so
tight he can't manage the machine, what'll we do. Here we are tied up to
the North Pole----"

"Oh, drat the old Panchronicon!" cried Rebecca.

Then rising in her wrath, she continued with energy: "The's one thing
I'm goin' to do right this blessed minute. I'm goin' to draw a hull
bucket o' cold water an' throw it over that mis'able critter in there!
Think o' him sleepin' on the table--the table as we eat our victuals
on!"

"No--no. Don't try to wake him up first!" cried Phoebe. "Let's have
breakfast--we can have it in the kitchen--an' then you can douse him
afterward. Just think of the wipin' an' cleanin' we'll have to do after
it. We'll be starved if we wait breakfast for all that ruction!"

Rebecca reflected a moment. Then:

"I guess ye're right, Phoebe," she said. "My, won't that carpet look a
sight! I'll go right an' fix up somethin' to eat, though goodness knows,
I'm not hungry."

She left Phoebe to dress and made a wide circuit to avoid even
approaching the table on her way to the kitchen. Not long afterward she
was followed by her sister, who took a similar roundabout path, for
Phoebe was quite as much in horror of drink and drinkers as Rebecca.

She glanced at the date indicator as she passed it.

"My sakes!" she said, as she entered the kitchen, "it's March 25, 1887.
Why, then's the time that I had the measles so bad. Don't you remember
when I was thirteen years old an' Dr. ----"

Rebecca broke in with a snort.

"Eighty-seven grandmothers!" she exclaimed. "Don't you get to frettin'
'bout gettin' the measles or anything else, Phoebe--only sof'nin' of
the brain--I guess we've both got that right bad!"

"I don't know 'bout that," Phoebe replied, as she began to set the
small table for two. "I believe we're gettin' back, after all, Rebecca.
The's one thing sure. Everybody knows that ye lose a day every time you
go round the world once from east to west, an' I'm sure we've gone round
often enough to lose years. I believe that indicator's all right."

"We've not ben goin' round the world, though," Rebecca replied. "That's
the p'int. This old iron clothes-pole out here ain't the hull world, I
can tell ye!"

"Well, but all the meridians----"

"Oh, bother yer meridians! I ain't seen one o' the things yet--nor you
hevn't, either, Phoebe Wise!"

Phoebe was not convinced. It seemed not at all unreasonable, after
all, that they should lose time without undergoing any physical change.
She concluded to argue the matter no further, however.

Their meal was eaten in silence. As they rose to clear the table,
Phoebe said:

"Th' ain't any use of goin' back to 1876 now, is there, Rebecca. Though
I do s'pose it won't make any difference to Mr. Droop. He can bring out
his inventions an'----"

"Not with my money, or Joe Chandler's, either," Rebecca declared,
firmly. "Not as Joe'd ask me to marry him now. He'd as soon think o'
marryin' his grandmother."

"Then what's the use o' goin' back any further. We might's well stop the
machine right now, so's not to have so many more turns to wind up
again."

"Fiddlesticks!" Rebecca exclaimed. "Don't you fret about that! Don't I
tell ye it's folderol! Tell ye what ye can do, though. Open them
shutters out there an' let in some sunlight. I've more'n half a mind to
open a window, too. Thet smell o' rum in there makes me sick."

"We'd freeze to death in a minute if we tried it," said Phoebe, as she
entered the main room.

She went to each of the four windows and opened all the shutters,
avoiding in the meantime even a glance at the middle of the room. She
did not forget the date indicator, however.

"Merry Christmas!" she cried, with a little laugh. "It's Christmas-day,
1886, Rebecca."

The engine-room door was open. Perhaps it was a sign of her returning
youth, but the fact is her fingers itched to get at those bright,
tempting brass and steel handles. Droop had explained their uses and she
felt sure she could manage the machinery. What a delightful thing it
would be to feel the Panchronicon obeying her hand!

"Really, Rebecca," she exclaimed, "if we're not going back to '76 after
all, I think it's a dreadful waste of time for us to be throwin' away
six months every hour this way."

"'Twon't be long," Rebecca replied, as she turned the hot water into her
dishpan. "You come in here an' help wash these dishes, an' ef I don't
soon wake up that mis'able--" She did not trust herself further, but
tightly compressed her lips and confined her rising choler.

"Why, Rebecca Wise," said Phoebe, "you know it will be hours before
that man's got sense enough to run this machine. I'm goin' to stop it
myself, right now."

Rebecca had just taken a hot plate from her pan, but she paused ere
setting it down, alarmed at Phoebe's temerity.

"Don't you dast to dream o' sech a thing, Phoebe!" she cried, with
frightened earnestness.

But Phoebe was confident, and crossed the threshold with a little
laugh.

"Why, Rebecca, what you scared of?" she said. "It's just as easy as
that--see!"

She pulled the starting lever.

The next instant found her flying out into the middle of the main room
following Droop, the table, and all the movable furniture. In the
kitchen there was a wild scream and a crash of crockery as Rebecca was
thrown against the rear partition.

Phoebe had pulled the lever the wrong way and the Panchronicon was
swiftly reaching full speed.

"Heavens and airth!" cried Rebecca.

"Whatever in gracious--" began the dismayed Phoebe.

She broke off in renewed terror as she found herself pushed by an
irresistible force to the side of the room.

"Here--here!" she heard from the kitchen. "What's this a-pullin'? Land
o' promise, Phoebe, come quick! I've got a stroke!"

"I can't come!" wailed Phoebe. "I'm jammed tight up against the wall.
It's as though I was nailed to it."

"Oh, why--why did ye touch that machinery!" cried Rebecca, and then said
no more.

The speed indicator pointed to one hundred and seventy-five miles an
hour. They were making one revolution around the pole each second--and
they were helpless.

As she found herself pushed outward by the immensely increased
centrifugal force, Phoebe found it possible to seat herself upon one
of the settles, and she now sat with her back pressed firmly against the
south wall of the room, only able by a strong effort to raise her head.

She turned to the right and found that Droop had found a couch on the
floor under the table and chairs at the rear of the room, also against
the south wall.

In the kitchen Rebecca had crouched down as she found herself forced
outward, and she now sat dazed on the kitchen floor surrounded by the
fragments of their breakfast all glued to the wall as tightly as
herself.

"Oh, dear--oh, dear!" she cried, closing her eyes. "Copernicus Droop
said that side weight would be terrible if we travelled too fast. Why,
I'm so heavy sideways I feel like as if I weighed 497-1/2 pounds like
that fat woman in the circus down to Keene."

"So do I," Phoebe said, "only I'm so dizzy, too, I can hardly think."

"Shet your eyes, like me," said Rebecca.

"I would only I can't keep 'em off the North Pole there," said Phoebe,
as she gazed fascinated through the north window opposite.

"Why, what's the matter with the child!" Rebecca exclaimed, in alarm.
"Air ye struck silly, Phoebe?"

"No, but I guess you'd want to watch it too if you could see that ring
we're tied to spinnin' round right close to the top of the pole.
There--there!" she continued, shrilly. "It'll fly right off in another
minute! There! Oh, dear!"

Their attachment did indeed appear precarious. The increased speed
acting through the inclined aeroplane had caused the vessel to rise
sharply, and the rope had raised the ring by which it was attached to
the pole until it came in contact with the steel ball at the top, when
it could rise no farther. Here the iron ring was grinding against and
under the retaining ball which alone prevented its slipping off the top
of the pole.

"I don't see's we'd be any wuss off ef we did come loose," said Rebecca,
with eyes still closed. "At least we wouldn't be gummed here ez tight's
if the walls was fly-paper."

"No, but we'd fly off at a tangent into infinite space, Rebecca Wise,"
Phoebe said, sharply.

"Where's that?" asked her sister. "I'll engage 'tain't any wuss place
than the North Pole."

"Why, it's off into the ether. There isn't any air there or anythin'.
An' they say it's fifty times colder than the North Pole."

"Who's ben there?"

"Why, nobody--" Phoebe began.

"Then let's drop it," snapped Rebecca. "Dr. Kane said the' was an open
sea at the North Pole--an' I'm sick o' bein' told about places nobody's
ever ben to before."

Phoebe was somewhat offended at this and there was a long silence,
during which she became more reassured touching the danger of breaking
away from the Pole. Soon she, too, was able to shut her eyes.

The silence was broken by a meek voice from under the table.

"Would you mind settin' off my chist?" said Droop.

There was no answer and he opened his eyes. His bewilderment and
surprise were intense when he discovered his situation.

Shutting his eyes again, he remarked:

"What you flashin' that bright light in my eyes so often for?"

Phoebe gave vent to a gentle sniff of contempt.

"My--my--my!" Droop continued, in meek amazement. "I s'pose I must hev
taken two whole bottles. I never, never felt so heavy's this before!
What's the old Pan lyin' on it's side fer?"

"'Tain't on its side," snapped Phoebe. "The old thing's run away,
Copernicus Droop, an' it's all your fault." There was a quiver in her
voice.

"Run away!" said Droop, opening his eyes again. "Where to?"

"Nowheres--jest whirlin'. Only it's goin' a mile a second, I do
believe--an' it'll fly off the pole soon--an'--an' we'll all be killed!"
she cried, bursting into tears.

She dragged her hands with great difficulty to her face against which
she found them pressed with considerable energy. Crying under these
circumstances was so very unusual and uncomfortable that she soon gave
it up.

"Oh, I see! It's the side weight holds me here. Where are you?"

There was no reply, so he turned his head and eyes this way and that
until at length he spied Phoebe on the settle, farther forward.

"Am I under the table?" he said. "Where's Cousin Rebecca? Was she
pressed out through the wall?"

"I'm out here in the kitchen, Copernicus Droop," she cried. "I wish to
goodness you'd ben pressed in through the walls of the lock-up 'fore
ever ye brought me'n Phoebe into this mess. Ef you're a man or half
one, you'll go and stop this pesky old Panchronicle an' give us a chance
to move."

"How can I go?" he cried, peevishly. "What the lands sakes did you go
an' make the machine run away for? Couldn't ye leave the machinery
alone?"

"I didn't touch your old machine!" cried Rebecca. "Phoebe thought we'd
be twisted back of our first birthday ef the thing wasn't stopped, an'
she pulled the handle the wrong way, that's all!"

Droop rolled his eyes about eagerly for a glimpse of the date indicator.

"What's the date, Cousin Phoebe?" he asked.

"April 4, 1884--no, April 3d--2d--oh, dear, it's goin' back so fast I
can't tell ye the truth about it!"

"Early in 1884," Droop repeated, in awe-struck accents. "An' we're
a-whirlin' off one day every second--just about one year in six minutes.
Great Criminy crickets! When was you born, Cousin Phoebe?"

"Second of April, 1874."

"Ten years. One year in six minutes--gives ye jest one hour to live.
Then you'll go out--bang!--like a candle. I'll go next, and Cousin
Rebecca last."

"Well!" exclaimed Rebecca, angrily, "ef I can hev the pleasure o' bein'
rid o' you, Copernicus Droop, it'll be cheap at the price--but the's no
sech luck. Ef you think ye can fool us any more with yer twaddle 'bout
cuttin' meridians, ye're mistaken--that's all I can say."

Droop was making desperate efforts to climb along the floor and reach
the engine-room, but, although by dint of gigantic struggles he managed
to make his way a few feet, he was then obliged to pause for breath,
whereupon he slid gently and ignominiously back to his nook under the
table.

Here he found himself in contact with a corked bottle. He looked at it
and felt comforted. At least he had access to forgetfulness whenever he
pleased to seek it.

The two women found it wisest to lie quiet and speak but little. The
combined rotary movement and sense of weight were nervously disturbing,
and for a long time no one of the three spoke. Only once in the middle
of the forenoon did Phoebe address Droop.

"Whatever will be the end o' this?" she said.

"Why, we'll keep on whirlin' till the power gives out," he replied. "Ye
hevn't much time to live now, hev ye?"

With a throb of fear felt for the first time, Phoebe looked at the
indicator.

"It's May, 1874," she said.

"Jest a month--thirty seconds," he said, sadly.

"Copernicus Droop, do you mean it?" screamed Rebecca from the kitchen.

"Unless the power gives out before then," he replied. "I don't suppose
ye want to make yer will, do ye?"

"Stuff!" said Phoebe, bravely, but her gaze was fixed anxiously on the
indicator, now fast approaching the 2d of April.

"Oh, dear! 'F I could only see ye, Phoebe!" cried Rebecca. "I know
he's a mis'able deceivin' man, but if--if--oh, Phoebe, can't ye
holler!"

"It's April 8th--good-bye!" Phoebe said, faintly.

"Phoebe--Phoebe!"

"Hurray--hurray! It's March 31st, and here I am!"

Phoebe tried to clap her hands, but the effort was in vain.

"I allus said it was folderol," said Rebecca, sternly. "Oh, but I'd like
to throw somethin' at that Copernicus Droop!"

"Come to think of it," said Droop, "that future man must hev come back
long, long before his birthday."

"Why didn't ye say that sooner?" cried Rebecca.

There was no further conversation until long afterward, when Rebecca
suddenly remarked:

"Aren't ye hungry, Phoebe?"

"Why, it's gettin' along to dinner-time, ain't it?" she replied. "I
don't see, though, how I'm to get any victuals, do you?"

"Why, the's bread an' other scraps slammed up against the wall here all
round me," said Rebecca. "Couldn't we fix some way to get some of 'em to
ye?"

Phoebe looked anxiously about and finally caught sight of her sister's
knitting work near at hand. It proved to be just within reach, and by
slow degrees and much effort she brought it into her lap within easy
reach of both her heavy hands.

"Oh, dear!" she said, "I feel's if both my arms had turned to lead.
Here, Rebecca, I'm goin' to see if I can roll your ball o' yarn along
the floor through the kitchen door. The centrifugal force will bring it
to you. Then you can cut the yarn an' tie somethin' on the end for me to
eat an' I'll haul it back through the door."

"That's jest the thing, Phoebe. Go on--I'm ready."

The theory seemed excellent, as Rebecca had fortunately been working
with a very tough flaxen yarn; but so great was the apparent weight of
Phoebe's arms that it was only after a long series of trials ending in
failures that she finally succeeded.

"I've got it!" cried Rebecca, triumphantly. "Now, then, I've got a slice
of ham and two slices of bread----"

"Don't send ham," said Phoebe. "I'd be sure to eat it if I had it, an'
'twould make me fearful dry. I'm sure I don't see how I'm to get any
water in here."

"Thet's so," said Rebecca. "Well, here's an apple and two slices of
bread."

"Are you keepin' enough for yourself, Rebecca?"

"Enough an' to spare," she replied. "Now, then--all ready! Pull 'em
along!"

Phoebe obeyed and soon had secured possession of the frugal meal which
Rebecca had been able to convey to her.

She offered a portion of her ration to Droop, but he declined it, saying
he had no appetite. He had lapsed into a kind of waking reverie and
scarce knew what was going on about him.

The two women also were somewhat stupefied by the continual rotation and
their enforced immobility. They spoke but seldom and must have dozed
frequently, for Phoebe was much surprised to find, on looking at the
clock, that it was half-past five.

She glanced at the date indicator.

"Why, Rebecca!" she cried. "Here 'tis November, 1804!"

"My land!" cried Rebecca, forgetting her scepticism. "What do you s'pose
they're doin' in New Hampshire now, Phoebe?"

"It's 'bout election time, Rebecca. They're probably votin' for Adams or
Madison or somebody like that."

"My stars!" said Rebecca. "What ever shall we do ef this old machine
goes on back of the Revolution! I should hate to go back an' worry
through all them terrible times."

"We'll be lucky if we stop there," said Phoebe. "I only hope to
gracious we won't go back to Columbus or King Alfred."

"Oh, I hope not!" said Rebecca, with a shudder. "Folks ud think we was
crazy to be talkin' 'bout America then."

Phoebe tried to toss her head.

"If 'twas in Alfred's time," she said, "they couldn't understand what
we was talkin' about."

"Phoebe Wise! What do you mean?"

"I mean just that. There wasn't any English language then.
Besides--who's to say the old thing won't whirl us back to the days of
the Greeks an' Romans? We could see Socrates and Pericles and Croesus
and----"

"Oh, I'd love to see Croesus!" Rebecca broke in. "He's the richest man
that ever lived!"

"Yes--and perhaps we'll go back of then and see Abraham and Noah."

"Ef we could see Noah, 'twould be worth while," said Rebecca. "Joe
Forrest said he didn't believe about the flood. He said Noah couldn't
hev packed all them animals in tight enough to hev got 'em all in the
Ark. I'd like mighty well if I could ask Noah himself 'bout it."

"He couldn't understand ye," said Phoebe. "All he spoke was Hebrew, ye
know."

"Oh!" exclaimed Rebecca. Then, after a pause: "S'pose we went back to
the tower of Babel. Couldn't we find the folks that was struck with the
English language an' get one of 'em to go back an' speak to Noah?"

"What good would that do? If he was struck with English he wouldn't know
Hebrew any more. That's what made-- But there!" she exclaimed, "what
ninnies we are!"

There was a long pause. After many minutes, Rebecca asked one more
question.

"Do you s'pose the flood would come up as fur's this, Phoebe?"

"I don't know, Rebecca. The Bible says the whole earth, you know."

And so passed the slow hours. When they were not dozing they were either
nibbling frugally the scant fare in reach or conversing by short
snatches at long intervals.

For thirty hours had they thus whirled ceaselessly around that circle,
when Phoebe, glancing through the window at the ring to which their
rope was attached, noticed that its constant rubbing against the ball at
the top of the pole had worn it nearly through.

"My goodness, Rebecca!" she cried. "I believe we're goin' off at a
tangent in a minute."

"What? How?"

"The ring on the pole is nigh worn out. I believe it'll break in a
minute."

"If it breaks we'll move straight an' get rid o' this side weight, won't
we?"

"Yes--but goodness only knows where we'll fly to."

"Why--ain't Mr. Droop there? If the side weight goes, he can get into
the engine-room an' let us down easy."

"That's so!" cried Phoebe. "Oh, won't it be grand to stand still a
minute after all this traipsin' around and around! Mr. Droop," she
continued, "do you hear? You'd better be gettin' ready to take hold an'
stop the Panchronicon, 'cause we're goin' to break loose in half no
time."

There was no reply. Nor could any calling or pleading elicit an answer.
Droop had yielded to his thirst and was again sleeping the sleep of the
unregenerate.

"Oh, Rebecca, what-- Oh--oo--oo!"

There was a loud scream from both the sisters as the iron ring, worn
through by long rubbing, finally snapped asunder.

The tremendous pressure was suddenly lifted, and the two women were
free.

With a single impulse, they flew toward the kitchen door and fell into
each other's arms.

The Panchronicon had gone off at a tangent at last!

"Oh, Rebecca--Rebecca!" cried Phoebe, in tears. "I was afraid I'd
never see you again!"

Rebecca cried a little too, and patted her sister's shoulder in silence
a moment.

"There, deary!" she said, after awhile. "Now let's set down an' hev a
good cup o' tea. Then we can go to bed comfortable."

"But, Rebecca," said Phoebe, stepping back and wiping her eyes, "what
shall we do about the Panchronicon? We're jest makin' fer Infinite
Space, or somewheres, as fast as we can go."

"Can't help it, Phoebe. Ye sha'n't touch a thing in that engine-room
this day--not while I'm here. Ye might blow us up the nex' time. No--I
guess we'll jest hev to trust in the Lord. He brought us into this
pickle, an' it's fer Him to see us out of it."

With this comforting reflection the two sisters brewed a pot of tea,
and after partaking of the refreshing decoction, went to their
respective beds.

"I declare, I'm dog tired!" said Rebecca.

"So'm I," said Phoebe.

Those were their last words for many hours.





Next: New Ties And Old Relations

Previous: Droop's Theory In Practice



Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK


Viewed 276