"Hallo, Danny," it said. "The way the years roll by, I forget exactly how old you are, boy. Seventeen? Eighteen? Twenty? Well, it doesn't matter-if you still believe. If you have faith. Faith in what? Maybe now you're old enough to know. I mean faith in-not having faith. That is, faith in not taking faithfully all the silly items of knowledge they try to cram down your throat in school. See what I mean? Remember what I always said about history, Danny: you get propaganda, is all, from the winning side. If you got faith enough in yourself, Danny, faith enough not to believe everything the history books tell you, that's the kind of faith I mean. Because such a faith gave me the most interesting life a man ever lived, make no mistake about that.
"I'm dead, Danny. Yep, old Uncle Averill is dead. Because this tape-recorder won't be left you in my will until I am dead. But, no regrets, boy. I had a great life. How great-nobody knows. Only you, you're about to find out. Do you believe? Do you believe the way I have in mind? Make no mistake about it now, son. If you don't believe, you might as well burn these spools and go home."
Danny considered. He remembered what had happened in his history class. Wasn't that the sort of faith Uncle Averill had in mind? Faith not to believe in historical fairy tales? Faith to doubt when one ought to doubt? Faith to be skeptical....
"Good," said the voice from the past. "Then you're still here. Look in front of you, Danny-boy. The trunk. The old steamer. Know what it is?"
"No," Danny said, then clamped a hand over his mouth. For a moment he had actually believed he was talking to the dead man.
"It's a time machine," said his Uncle's voice.
There was a silence. The tape went on winding. For a moment, Danny thought that was all. Then the voice continued: "No, your old grand-uncle isn't nuts, Danny. It's a time machine. I know it's a time machine because I used it all my life. You expected some kind of complicated gadget down here, I know. I made everybody think it was a gadget. Going down to your basement and tinkering with a gadget is fine in our culture. Hell's fire, boy, it's approved behavior. But locking a bank-vault door behind you and curling up in a steamer trunk, that isn't approved. Now, is it?
"I'll tell you about this here time machine, sonny. It isn't a machine at all, in the strict sense of the word. You can see that. It's just-well, an empty box. But it works, and what else ought a fellow to care about.
"Funny how I got it. I was eighteen or twenty, maybe. And my Grand-uncle Daniel gave it to me. Daniel, get me. Daniel to Averill to Daniel. So when you have a grand-nephew, see that his name's Averill, understand? Keep it going, Danny. Because this trunk is old. A lot older than you think.
"And you can travel through time in it. Don't look at me like that, I know what you're thinking. There isn't any such thing as time travel. In the strict sense of the word, it's impossible. You can't resurrect the past or peek into the unborn future. Well, I don't know about the future, but I do know about the past. But you got to have faith, you got to be a kid at heart, Danny. You got to have this dream, see?
"Because you don't travel anywhere. But your mind does, and it's like you wake up in somebody else's body, drawn to him like a magnet, somebody else-somewhen else. Your body stays right here, you see. In the trunk. In what they called suspended animation. But you-the real you, the you that knows how to dream and to believe-you go back.
"Don't make the mistake I made at first. It's no dream in the usual sense of the word. It's real, Danny. You're somebody else back there, all right, but if he gets hurt, you get hurt. If he dies-taps for Danny Jones! You get me?"
The dead man's voice chuckled. "But don't think this means automatically you'll be able to travel through time. Because you got to have the proper attitude. You've got to believe in yourself, and not in all the historical fictions they give you. Now do you understand? If you're skeptical enough and if at the same time you like to dream enough-that's all it takes. Want to try it?"
Suddenly the voice was gone. That was all there was and at first Danny could not believe it. A sense of bitter disappointment enveloped him-not because Uncle Averill had left him nothing but an old steamer trunk but because Uncle Averill had been, to say the least, off his rocker.
The fabulous machine in the basement was-nothing.
Just a steamer trunk and an incredible story about time-traveling.
Danny sighed and began to walk back toward the cellar stairs. He paused. He turned around uncertainly and looked at the trunk. After all, he had promised; at least he'd promised himself that he'd carry out his peculiar uncle's wishes. Besides, he'd come all the way down here from Whitney College and he ought to at least try the machine.
But there wasn't any machine.
Try the trunk then? There was nothing to try except curling up in it and maybe closing the lid. Uncle Averill was a practical joker, too. It might be just like Uncle Averill to have the lid snap shut and lock automatically so Danny would have to pound his knuckles black and blue until the lawyer heard and came for him.
You see, sonny? would be Uncle Averill's point. You believed me, and you should have known better.
Danny cursed himself and returned to the trunk. He gazed down at the yawning interior for a few seconds, then put first one foot, then the other over the side. He sat down and stared at a peeling blue-paper liner. He rolled over and curled up. The bottom of the trunk was a good fit. He reached up and found a rope dangling down toward him. He pulled the lid down, smiling at his own credulity, and was engulfed in total darkness.
But it would be wonderful, he found himself thinking. It would be the most wonderful thing in the world, to be able to travel through time and see for yourself what really had happened in all the world's colorful ages and to take part in the wildest, proudest adventures of mankind.
He thought, I want to believe. It would be so wonderful to believe.
He also thought about his history class. He did not know it, but his history class was very important. It was crucial. Everything depended on his history class. Because he doubted. He did not want to take Columbus' bravery and intelligence for granted. There were no surviving documents, so why should he?
Maybe Columbus was a third-rater!
Maybe-at least you didn't have to worship him as a hero just because he happened to discover ...
Now, what did he discover?
In absolute darkness and a ringing in the ears and far away a dim glowing light and larger and brighter and the whirling whirling spinning flashing I don't believe but strangely somehow I have faith, faith in myself, buzzing, humming, glowing ...
The world exploded.
There was a great deal of laughter in the tavern.
At first he thought the laughter was directed at him. Giddily, he raised his head. He saw raw wood rafters, a leaded glass window, a stained and greasy wall, heavy wood-plank tables with heavy chairs and a barbarous-looking crew drinking from heavy clay mugs. One of the mugs was in front of him and he raised it to his lips without thinking.
It was ale, the strongest ale he had ever tasted. He got it down somehow without gagging. The laughter came again, rolling over him like a wave. A serving girl scurried by, skirts flashing, a rough tray of clay mugs balanced expertly on one hand. A man with a sword dangling at his side staggered to his feet drunkenly and clawed at the girl, but she shoved him back into his seat and kept walking.
The third wave of laughter rolled and then there was a brief silence.
"Drink too much, Martin Pinzon?" Danny's companion at the long board-table asked. He was an evil-looking old man with a patch over one eye and a small white spade-shaped beard and unshaven cheeks.
"Not me," Danny said, amazed because the language was unfamiliar to him yet he could both understand and speak it. "What's so funny?" he asked. "Why's everyone laughing?"
The old man's hand slapped his back and the mouth parted to show ugly blackened teeth and the old man laughed so hard spittle spotted his beard. "As if you didn't know," he managed to say. "As if you didn't know, Martin Pinzon. It's that weak-minded sailor again, the one who claims to have a charter for three caravels from the Queen herself. Drunk as Bacchus and there's his pretty little daughter trying to get him to come home again. I tell you, Martin Pinzon, if he isn't ..."
But now Danny wasn't listening. He looked around the tavern until he saw the butt of all the laughter. Slowly, drawn irresistibly, Martin Pinzon-or Danny Jones-got up and walked over there.
The man was drunk as Bacchus, all right. He was a man perhaps somewhat taller than average. He had a large head with an arrogant beak of a nose dominating the face, but the mouth was weak and irresolute. He stared drunkenly at a beautiful girl who could not have been more than seventeen.
The girl was saying, "Please, papa. Come back to the hotel with me. Papa, don't you realize you're sailing tomorrow?"
"Gowananlemebe," the man mumbled.
"Papa. Please. The Queen's charter-"
"I was drunk when I took it and drunk when I examined those three stinking caravels and-" he leaned forward as if to speak in deepest confidence, but his drunken voice was still very loud-"and drunk when I said the world was round. I-"
"You hear that?" someone cried. "Old Chris was drunk when he said the world was round!"
"He must a' been!" someone else shouted. Everyone laughed.
"Come on, papa," the girl pleaded. She wore a shawl over her dress and another shawl on her head. Her blonde hair barely peeked out, and she was beautiful. She tried to drag her father to his feet by one arm, but he was too heavy for her.
She looked around the room defiantly as the laughter surged again. "Brave men!" she mocked. "A bunch of stay-at-homes. Won't somebody help me? Papa sails tomorrow."
"Papa sails tomorrow," said someone, miming her desperate tones. "Didn't you know that papa sails tomorrow?"
"Not sailing anyplace at all," the father mumbled. "World isn't round. Drunk. Think I want to fall over the edge? Think I-"
"Oh, papa," moaned the girl. "Won't someone help me to-" And she tugged again at the man's arm-"to get him to bed."
A big man nearby boomed, "I'll help you t'bed, me lass, but it won't be with your old father. Eh, mates?" he cried, and the tavern echoed with laughter. The big man got up and went over to the girl. "Now, listen, lass," he said, taking hold of her arm. "Why don't you forget this drunken slob of a father and-"
Crack! Her hand blurred at his cheek, struck it like a pistol shot. The big man blinked his eyes and grinned. "So you have spirit, do you? Well, it's more than I can say for that father of yours, too yellow and too drunk to carry out the Queen of Castile's bid-"
The hand flashed out again but this time the big man caught it in one of his own and twisted sideways against the girl, forcing her back against the table's edge. "I like my girls to struggle," he said, and the girl's face went white as she suddenly let herself go limp in his arms.
The man grinned. "Oh I like 'em limp, me lass. When they're pretty as a rose, like you, who's to care?"
"Papa!" the girl screamed. The big man's face hovered over hers, blotting out the oil-lamp lights, the thick lips all but slavering....
"Just a minute, man!" Danny cried, striding boldly to them. Hardly pausing in his efforts to kiss the again struggling girl, the big man swatted back with one enormous arm and sent Danny reeling. Whoever he was, he was a popular figure. The laughter was still louder now. Everyone was having a great time, at Danny's expense now.
Danny crashed into a chair, upending it. A bowl of soup came crashing down, the heavy bowl splintering, the hot contents scalding him. He stood up and heard the girl scream. Instinctively, he grasped two legs of the heavy chair and hefted it. Then he sprinted back across the room.
"Behind you, Pietro!" a voice cried, and at the last moment the big man whirled and faced Danny, then lunged to one side, taking the girl with him.
Danny couldn't check his arms, which had carried the heavy chair overhead. It came down with a crash against the edge of the big plank table. The chair shattered in Danny's arms. One leg flew up and struck the big man in the face, though, bringing blood just below the cheek bone. He bellowed in surprise and pain and came lumbering toward Danny.
Danny was aware of the girl cowering to one side, aware that another of the chair's legs was still grasped in his right hand. He was but a boy, he found himself thinking quickly, desperate. If the giant grabbed him, grabbed him just once, the fight would be over. The man was twice his size, twice his weight. Yet he had to do something to help the girl....
The giant came at him. The big arms lifted over the heavy, brutal face.... And Danny drove under them with the chair-leg, jabbing the tip of it against the man's enormous middle. Pietro-for such was the man's name-sagged a few inches, the breath rushing, heavy with garlic, from his mouth. But still, he got his great hands about Danny's throat and began to squeeze.
Danny saw the wood rafters, the window, a bargirl standing, mouth open, watching them, the drunken man and his daughter, then a blurry, watery confusion as his eyes went dim. He was conscious of swinging the club, of striking something, of extending the club out as far as it would go and then slamming it back toward himself, striking something which he hoped was Pietro's head. He felt his mouth going slack and wondered if his tongue were hanging out. Exerting all his strength he struck numbly, mechanically, desperately with the chair-leg.
And slowly, the constriction left his throat. Something struck against his middle, almost knocking him down. Something pushed against his legs, backing him against the table. He looked down. His eyes were watery, his throat burning. The giant Pietro lay, breathing stertorously, at his feet.
A small hand grabbed his. "Father will come now," a voice said. "I don't-don't even know who you are, but I want to thank you. I thank you for myself and the Queen, and God, senor. You better come quickly, with us. Does it hurt much?"
Danny tried to talk. His voice rasped in his throat. The girl squeezed his hand and together with her and the drunken man who was her father, he left the tavern. The giant Pietro was just getting up and shaking his fist at them slowly....
It was a small top-floor room in an old waterfront building in the Spanish port of Palos. Or, Danny corrected himself, the Castillian port of Palos. Because, in this year of our Lord 1492, Spain had barely become a unified country.
"Are you feeling better, Martin Pinzon?" the beautiful girl asked him.
He had given the name he had heard, Martin Pinzon, as his own. The room was very hot. The August night outside was hot too and sultry and starless. The girl's father was resting now, breathing unevenly. The girl's name was Nina. One of the small caravels in her father's three-ship fleet was named after her. Her full name was Nina Columbus.
Nina brought another wet cloth and covered Danny's swollen throat with it. "Does it hurt much?" she said, and, for the tenth time, "we have no money to thank you with, senor."
"Any man would have-"
"But you were the only one. The only-never mind. Martin, listen. I have no right to trouble you, but ... it's father. Tomorrow is the second day of August, you see, and it is all over Palos that tomorrow he sails with the Queen's charter...."
"Then if you're worrying about that big man, Pietro, you can forget it. If you're sailing, I mean."
"That's just it," Nina said desperately. "Father doesn't want to sail. Martin, tell me, do you believe the world is round?"
Danny nodded very soberly. "Yes, Nina," he told her softly. "The world is round. I believe it."
"My father doesn't! Funny, isn't it, Martin?" she said in a voice which told him she did not think it was funny at all. "All Spain-and Genoa too-think that tomorrow morning my father, Christopher Columbus, will journey to the unexplored west confident that he will arrive, after a long voyage, in the East-when really my father, this same Christopher Columbus, lies here in a drunken stupor because he lacks the courage to face his convictions and ... oh, Martin!" Her voice broke, her pretty face crumpled. She sobbed into her hands. Gently, Danny stroked her back.
"There now, take it easy," he said. "Your father will sail. I know he'll sail. Do you believe the world to be round, little Nina?"
"Yes. Oh yes, yes, yes!"
"He will sail. He will prove it and be famous. I know he will."
"Oh, Martin. You sound so sure of yourself. I wish I could ..."
"Nina, listen. Your father will sail."
"You'll help us you mean?"
"Yes. All right, I'll help you. Now, get some sleep if you want to wake up and say goodbye to him in the morning. Because I'll be getting him up before the sun to-"
"Are you a sailing man too? Are you going with him?"
"Wait! Martin, I remember you now. Martin Pinzon. At the meeting of the organization to prove the Earth's round shape. You! You were there. And once, once when he was not drunk, father said that a Don Pinzon would command one of our three ships, the Nina it was, the caravel which bears my name. Are you this Don Pinzon?"
Slowly, Danny nodded. He remembered his history now. The Nina had been commanded by one Don Pinzon, Don Martin Pinzon! And he was now this Martin Pinzon, he, Danny Jones. Which meant he was going with Columbus to discover a new world! A nineteen-year-old American youth going to witness the single most important event in American history....
"Yes," Danny said slowly, "I am Don Pinzon."
"But-but you're so young!"
Danny shrugged. "I have seen more of the world than you would believe, Nina."
"The Western Sea? You have been out on the Western Sea, as far as the Canary Islands, perhaps?" she asked in an awed voice.
"I know the Western Sea," he said. "Trust me."
She came very close. She looked long in his eyes. "I trust you, Martin. Oh yes, I trust you. Listen, Martin. I'm going. I'm going with you. I have to go with you."
"But a girl-"
"He is my father. I love him, Martin. He needs me. Martin, don't try to stop me. I want you to help me aboard, to see that he ... oh, Martin, you'll have so much to do. Because the rest of our crew-some of them being hired even now by the three caravel pursers-will be a crew of cut-throats and ne'er-do-wells embarking into the unknown because they have utterly nothing to lose. Father needs you because the others won't care."
"The three caravels will sail west," Danny told her. "Believe me, they'll sail west. Now, get some sleep."
Her face was still very close. Her eyes filled with tears, but they were not tears of sadness. She took his cheeks in her hands and kissed him softly on the lips. She smiled at him, her own lips trembling.
"Martin," she said.
His arms moved. They went around her, drew the softness of her close. She murmured something, but he did not hear it. His lips found hers a second time, fiercely. His hands her shoulder, her throat, her ...
"Flat," Columbus mumbled. "Flat. Abs'lutely flat. The Earth is-flat as a pancake...."
"Oh, Martin!" Nina cried.
It was raining in the morning. A hard, driving rain, pelting down on the seaport of Palos. The three caravels floated side by side in the little harbor and a large, derisive crowd had gathered. The crowd erupted into noisy laughter when Columbus and his little party appeared on foot.