Chapter Nine - A Diversion

"Wealth brings its privileges" he had said.

One of those privileges is owning several homes. There was the house in London, the country retreat in Kent. "Down House", they called it, a modest, comfortable place which, according to the popular press, reflected the character of its owner. It was there that he kept his wife and family. It was there that he met with politician and churchmen, where his honeyed tongue allayed their fears and lulled their suspicions.

But what is a home? Is it the place where you put your life on show to the public, where you act the part you wish the world to see, where you present an idealised version of yourself? Or is it the place which reflects your true character, your true self?

On the northern outskirts of the great city of London, on a hill overlooking the endlessly growing suburbs, it's turrets and towers visible for miles around, stands a huge, rambling edifice. Gothic arches, Romanesque doorways, Corinthian columns and other architectural monstrosities offend the eye in their discordant conflict of styles. The grounds are a mass of outhouses, storage buildings, manufacturies and yards. There is hardly a blade of grass to be seen except where some forgotten and abandoned shed has decayed into ruin.

The interior is no better. Every sense is offended by the conflicts of style. Long, featureless corridors stretch into dimly perceived distance, their walls a monotonous dull green, yet they open into great halls decorated with fine marble and alabaster, or private apartments of such sumptuous luxury that the heart is crushed by their promiscuous opulence.

And to those who know the ways of that place, there are dark labyrinths of cellars, attics and libraries, and the places where clerks sit, their desks in serried ranks. Here run the veins and arteries of a great enterprise, the sheets of paper passing from desk to desk controlling the work - nay, the very lives - of countless workers of every kind all over the globe itself.

It was in this place that the black coaches were kept, where they stabled the horses which drew them at unparalleled speeds across the landscape of England, where they made those coaches with their secrets of stealth. But in this modern age, the age of steam, the age of the railway, that aspect of the enterprise had shrunk. Where once stood numerous coaches had stood, where once great herds of horses had roamed, there were now only a few coaches, used only for missions around London. To those with money, private steam trains were quicker. And in this enterprise, speed mattered.

It was in this place, in a room on top of one of the towers, that Darwin sat. This was the place that bore the stamp of his personality. This was the place where he dreamed his dreams, this the place where he brooded, constructing the plots and deceptions which drove the vast machine of his great conspiracy.

This was not just a place where he conducted his business. This was his true home.

The name of this place?

Colney Hatch.

You can find it in the history books. But you won't find out it's true history written there. History calls the building a lunatic asylum. A place where men and women are locked away against their will. A place where men in white coats conducted experiments on their patients. A place from which the screams which rang out at night were treated as normal. The cries of the inmates. The cries of the lunatics.

A convenient fiction.

Those cries. The screams of young women driven mad by fear.

Beneath the wards, the offices, factories, the apartments, the kitchens, the storerooms ran the cellars. A great labyrinth of vaulted rooms and corridors, dark and damp, and the place where vile pleasures were taken.

Sometimes the hunger grew strong.

Darwin watched him, or had him watched. Useful, even essential to the operation, his energy and anger drove him to spread the message, the gospel of the new religion some called Darwinism. Public debates are easy to win when you control the press, and even easier when you are ruthless in pursuit of victory.

Wilberforce. How could he win a debate when he knew that his opponent held his children hostage? No wonder he stammered, mumbled, lost track of his thoughts, and trembled like a frightened child. And the dark, penetrating eyes of his opponent, ruthless, vindictive, cold and unfeeling crushed any thoughts before they reached his consciousness.


The bruiser. The strong man. The enforcer.

And when the hunger grew strong, Darwin would feed him. A young woman plucked from some dark alley. A prostitute from the slums. Occasionally a girl from a nice, middle class family abducted in the dead of night and offered as a victim in a terrible game of hide and seek in the labyrinth.

It was to this place that at short, dapper man wearing spectacles arrived.

"I've come to see Mr Darwin," he told the attendants at the doors. "I have matters of great importance to communicate to him, and to him alone."

And they let him in. Why? They were not sure, but something about his manner, his quiet confidence suggested that this was someone of significance.

Darwin was sitting in his office, Huxley, looking bored stood leaning against one of the walls. The little man entered.

"Mr Darwin. How pleasant to meet you at last."

"What is your business here. I am a busy man."

"I have a book here which may interest you. I have just completed it, and it will shortly be available in the shops."

"What sort of a book?"

"It is a book of history. The history of the world."

Huxley snorted.

"And why should a book on old history be of any interest to us?"

"Because it is not just any history. It is a rather special book of history. One could call it your history."

"How so?"

"May I sit down?" Darwin gestured wordlessly. He took a chair, and sat down carefully, his hands clasped on his knee.

"I am a firm believer in free love, and wish to throw off the shackles of morality. I have been watching the progress of your great enterprise with great interest. I have a personal interest in its success, and have provided you with far greater assistance than you may suspect."

"You have helped us? How?"

"Let us talk of religion."

"Religion? What has that to do with us? We reject all religion."

"The Christian religion in particular."

"The Christians are a thorn in our side, but we shall defeat them."

"And of the Christian religion, its history in particular."

"Are you telling us that you have written a history of the Christian religion? I'll throw you out of this window if that's all you have to offer."

Huxley advanced, a threatening figure, but he remained seated an unconcerned.

"Let me tell you something of the history of that religion."

"I am aware of that history" Darwin growled "I studied divinity in my youth."

"My history may be rather different from yours. Let me tell you about the crusades."

"The crusades? What has that ancient story to do with the modern age?"

"In my younger days I was told the story of the crusades. It was a story of how noble kings of France and England journeyed to the Holy Land to meet with the leaders of the Moslems."

"And wage war against them. I know that story."

"Ah, but that is not the story I was told in my youth. The story I knew was that they held a great convocation at which their differences were discussed, and their conflicts were resolved in a spirit of courtesy and consideration, in accordance with the Christian principle to love ones neighbour."

"That is not the history I learned. It is the conflicts, the massacres, the brutality of those crusaders which helps us to undermine the integrity of the Christian faith."

"I know. And you should thank me for that."

There was a stunned silence.

"I have something to show you which will persuade and explain. If you accompany me to my workshop you will understand."

"If this is some sort of joke ... " Huxley began.

"I do not joke."

Darwin pondered for a while.

"Very well," he said at last. "we will accompany you."

He turned his dark eyes on him.

"But if this is a waste of my time, I'll turn you over to Huxley."

Huxley grinned. A savage grin. He was hungry.

They sat in the carriage as it bowled silently through the network of narrow streets. No word was spoken except for the directions to the coachman. A back street somewhere in the docklands area in the eastern part of the city.

"I purchased this workshop because of its seclusion, and it's proximity to the docks. Some of the components I use in my work need to come from overseas, and the ability to collect them as soon as they arrive both speeds up the process of construction and helps to maintain secrecy. Secrecy is important to me, as it is to you."

He opened a smaller door set into one of the pair of large goods doors, and ducked through them to enter the building.

"Come on" he called "there is nothing to fear."

Huxley entered first, looking around suspiciously, but the workshop was dark. Darwin followed.

"Gentlemen" came a voice from the darkness "behold!"

A light sprung into life. A great radiance filled the room, brighter than candles, brighter than the gas-lights which were coming into use.

"The light is a device of my own invention. They are powered by electricity."

But it was not the lights that caught their attention. The floor of the workshop was covered with orderly lines of machines, benches and presses, materials and components.

The centre of all the attention, the focus of every eye, the product of all this activity. A device of wheels and gears, of crystal rods, of dials and levers, and in the middle of this apparently wild jumble of devices a padded seat.

"My device!"

"What is it?"

"It is a vehicle. A device which allows one to move not through space, not through the conventional dimensions of space, the three dimensions with which you are no doubt familiar, but through the fourth dimension."

He paused for dramatic effect.


Darwin and Huxley stood in stunned silence.

"You see, I went back in time. I changed history. I hated the history I knew, and determined to change it. I studied long and hard, carried out many experiments, constructed many devices which failed, but achieved success at last. I went back in time, and I changed history."

He laughed, his voice ringing shrill.

"Do you have any idea of the value of one hundred pounds of modern money in the middle ages? How easy it is to make money when one can know the outcome of a race before it starts? How easy it is to bribe, to corrupt, to subvert if one has great wealth?"

"This is madness!" Huxley cried.

"I'll show you," he responded, "then you'll believe."

He scrambled into the seat of the device, pulled a lever here, adjusted a dial there.

"It will take a few minutes to set up. But what do a few minutes matter? I have all the time in the world!"

He fussed over his device, watching the dials. Wheels began to turn. Lights sparked along crystals. A humming noise grew, imposing itself on the attention.

"Almost ready," he muttered to himself, "just a bit longer."

Then there was a flash, and they were plunged into darkness.

There was a long silence.

A light appeared, the light of a flame, dim and red after the brightness of the electrical lights. Flames flickered along the frame of the machine, and they could see its inventor lying on the floor beside it, not moving. They dragged him clear. His body was stiff, his eyes open.

Flames caught and spread.

"We'd better get of here," Huxley "shall I bring him?"

"Yes," Darwin replied, "he may offer us some amusement."

Huxley slung the unyielding body across his shoulder, and they stepped out into the street. Flames showed through the open door.

"The whole place is going up."

"No matter." Darwin's voice was quiet, but thoughtful.

They sat in silence for most of the journey.

"Is he mad?" Huxley asked.

"I don't know. That machine had the appearance of a real purpose."

"But time travel?"

"Who knows?"

"Perhaps when he recovers we may find out more."

"If he recovers."

He picked up the book which he had carried with him.

"A Short History of the World." Darwin read "by H G Wells."

He looked at the stiff figure.

"I would prefer it if his device remained destroyed. The concept that history can be changed is new to me, but I fear that it may be used against us as easily as for us. It can only be an uncertain science."

"I agree with you," Huxley spoke thoughtfully. "It is a dangerous tool, even if it is not simply the fantasy of his derangement."

"It is most probably simple madness. Though when I consider the difference between the teachings of Christ and the morality of the Church, I wonder if there is some truth in his story. If not, he shows great promise as a writer of imaginative fiction."

It was late, near midnight. Darwin sat in his chair, looking out over the lights of the metropolis. He sipped his brandy. In the distance a great conflagration lit up the sky.

"He's mad, of course" he spoke aloud. "Quite mad."

First posted 6th April 2007
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