2021-04-17 01:17:55

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ENGLISH He rescued his trousers from underneath the mattress. It was only recently that he had discovered this obvious substitute for a trouser press, and so added one more nuisance to existence. It was something else to be remembered. He grinned pleasantly at the thought of the circumstance which had brought about these careful habits. Rose Lomas liked him to look smart, and he had managed it somehow. There were plenty of dapper youths in Great Wymering, and Arthur had been astute enough to notice wherein he had differed from them, in the first stages of his courting. Early rebuffs had led him to perceive that the[Pg 69] eye of love rests primarily upon a promising exterior, and only afterwards discovers the interior qualities that justify a wise choice. Arthur had been spurned at first on account of a slovenliness that, to do him justice, was rather the result of personal conviction, however erring, than mere carelessness. He really had felt that it was a waste of life even to spend half an hour a month inside a barber's shop. Not only that, but the experience was far-reaching in its unpleasant consequences. You went into the shop feeling agreeably familiar with yourself, conscious of intense personality; and you came out a nonentity, smelling of bay-rum. The barber succeeded in transforming you from an individual brimming over with original reflections and impulses into a stranger without a distinctive notion in your head. The barber, in fact, was a Delilah in trousers; he ravished the locks from your head and bewitched you into the bargain."Incorrigible man," said Mrs. Masters. But the Doctor had turned his back upon her, unwilling to reveal the sudden change in his features. Even as he spoke those light words, there came to him the reflection that he did not really mean them, and his pose seemed to crumble to dust. He had lived up to these nothings for years, but now he knew that they were nothings. As though to crown the irritations of a trying day, there came to him the conviction that his whole life had been an affair of studied gestures, of meticulous gesticulations.

"But do you all have clocks?" Arthur ventured. "Are you born with them?"The Curate scarcely seemed to catch this remark. "Well, I'm glad you've turned up," he went on, "it's so pitiful when the little ones have to be disappointed, and they have been so looking forward to the conjuring. Your things have arrived."

Arthur swallowed several times in rapid succession. His mind relapsed into a curious state of blankness. For some minutes he was not aware of any thinking processes at all. He began to feel dizzy and faint, from sheer bewilderment. And then the idea of escape crept into his consciousness. He moved one foot, intending to walk away. But the strange figure suddenly lifted up a hand, with an abrupt, jerky movement, like a signal jumping up. He said "nine and ninepence" three times very slowly and solemnly, and flapped his right ear twice. In spite of his confusion, Arthur could not help noticing the peculiar and awful synchronisation of these movements. At any rate, they seemed to help this unfortunate individual out of his diffi[Pg 13]culties. Still holding a hand upright, he achieved his first complete sentence.CHAPTER SEVEN

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He had done everything possible to calm himself. He had taken bromide; he had been out for a smart turn around the roads; he had forced himself to sit down and answer some letters. But it was impossible to ease the pressure of his thoughts; he felt that his brain would never cease from working round and round in a circle of hopeless enquiry. In the end, and late as it was, he had telephoned for Gregg.The Clockwork man looked as though he wanted to smile and didn't know how. His eyes twinkled faintly, but the rest of his face remained immobile, formal. "Very nearly right," he said, in quick, precise accents, "but not quite.""You're right, Sam," said George Bynes, who had hit up many a century for his town in bygone days, "tain't cricket. Else it's a[Pg 28] fluke; the man didn't ought to be allowed to hold bat in his hand. It's spoiling other folks' sport."

"Quinn didn't know it, for Oliver got away, but they got the Yankee deserter, and brought him in when everybody was asleep but me, and I cross-examined him. Oh, my friend, God's arm is not shortened that he cannot save! He maketh the wrath of the wicked to praise him! The man was dying then, but thank God, I choked the whole truth out of him with a halter over a limb, and then for three mortal hours I couldn't start because the squad that took him out to--Who--who is that?"But a second later there was stony silence. For the thing that happened next was as unexpected as it was startling. Nobody, save perhaps Dr. Allingham, anticipated that the Clockwork man was capable of adding violence to eccentricity; he looked harmless enough. But apparently there lurked a d?monic temper behind those bland, meaningless features. The thing happened in a trice; and all that followed occupied but a few catastrophic seconds. The umpire had stepped up to the Clockwork man in order to explain to him that he was expected to retire from the wicket. Not hearing any coherent reply, he emphasised his request by placing a hand suggestively on the other's[Pg 37] shoulder. Instantly, something blade-like flashed in the stammering air, a loud thwack broke upon the silence, and the unfortunate umpire lay prostrate. He had gone down like a log of wood.

He was so interested that presently he got up and wandered along the line of hurdles towards the spot where the strange figure had come to rest. It had not moved at all, and this fact added astonishment to curiosity. It clung desperately to the barrier, as though glad to have got there. Its attitude was awkward in the extreme, hunched up, ill-[Pg 9]adjusted, but it made no attempt to achieve comfort. Further along, little groups of spectators were leaning against the barrier in nearly similar positions, smoking pipes, fidgeting and watching the game intently. But the strange figure was not doing anything at all, and if he looked at the players it was with an unnatural degree of intense observation. Arthur walked slowly along, wondering how close he could get to his objective without appearing rude. But, somehow, he did not think this difficulty would arise. There was something singularly forlorn and wretched about this curious individual, a suggestion of inconsequence. Arthur could have sworn that he was homeless and had no purpose or occupation. He was not in the picture of life, but something blobbed on by accident. Other people gave some sharp hint by their manner or deportment that they belonged to some roughly defined class. You could guess something about them. But this extraordinary personage, who had emerged so suddenly from the line of the sky and streaked aimlessly across the landscape, bore not even the vaguest marks of homely origin. He had staggered along the path, not with the recognisable gait of a drunken man, but with a sort of desperate decision, as though convinced in his mind that the path he was treading was really only a[Pg 10] thin plank stretched from heaven to earth upon which he had been obliged to balance himself. And now he was hanging upon the hurdle, and it was just as though someone had thrown a great piece of clay there, and with a few deft strokes shaped it into the vague likeness of a man."Can we really afford it?" Hetty asked anxiously.

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More days slipped by. Neighbors pressed sweet favors upon us; calls, joyful rumors, delicacies, flowers. One day Major Harper paid us a flying visit, got kisses galore, and had his coat sponged and his buttons reanimated. In the small town some three miles northwest of us he was accumulating a great lot of captured stuff. On another day came General Austin and stayed a whole hour. Ferry took healing delight in these visits, asking no end of questions about the movements afield, and about the personal fortunes of everyone he knew. When the General told him Ferry's scouts were doing better without him than with him--"I thought he would smile himself into three pieces," said the General at the supper-table.XLVI THE DANCE AT GILMER'S[Pg 188]

[Pg 157]"Lieutenant," I began eagerly as he was drawing away, "is--?"

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