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MR. TEDDY HENFREY'S FIRST IMPRESSIONS

 

 

At four o'clock, when it was fairly dark and Mrs. Hall was screwing

up her courage to go in and ask her visitor if he would take some

tea, Teddy Henfrey, the clock-jobber, came into the bar. "My sakes!

Mrs. Hall," said he, "but this is terrible weather for thin boots!"

The snow outside was falling faster.

 

Mrs. Hall agreed, and then noticed he had his bag with him. "Now

you're here, Mr. Teddy," said she, "I'd be glad if you'd give th'

old clock in the parlour a bit of a look. 'Tis going, and it strikes

well and hearty; but the hour-hand won't do nuthin' but point at

six."

 

And leading the way, she went across to the parlour door and rapped

and entered.

 

Her visitor, she saw as she opened the door, was seated in the

armchair before the fire, dozing it would seem, with his bandaged

head drooping on one side. The only light in the room was the red

glow from the fire--which lit his eyes like adverse railway signals,

but left his downcast face in darkness--and the scanty vestiges of

the day that came in through the open door. Everything was ruddy,

shadowy, and indistinct to her, the more so since she had just been

lighting the bar lamp, and her eyes were dazzled. But for a second

it seemed to her that the man she looked at had an enormous mouth

wide open--a vast and incredible mouth that swallowed the whole of

the lower portion of his face. It was the sensation of a moment:

the white-bound head, the monstrous goggle eyes, and this huge yawn

below it. Then he stirred, started up in his chair, put up his hand.

She opened the door wide, so that the room was lighter, and she saw

him more clearly, with the muffler held up to his face just as she

had seen him hold the serviette before. The shadows, she fancied,

had tricked her.

 

"Would you mind, sir, this man a-coming to look at the clock, sir?"

she said, recovering from the momentary shock.

 

"Look at the clock?" he said, staring round in a drowsy manner,

and speaking over his hand, and then, getting more fully awake,

"certainly."

 

Mrs. Hall went away to get a lamp, and he rose and stretched

himself. Then came the light, and Mr. Teddy Henfrey, entering, was

confronted by this bandaged person. He was, he says, "taken aback."

 

"Good afternoon," said the stranger, regarding him--as Mr. Henfrey

says, with a vivid sense of the dark spectacles--"like a lobster."

 

"I hope," said Mr. Henfrey, "that it's no intrusion."

 

"None whatever," said the stranger. "Though, I understand," he said

turning to Mrs. Hall, "that this room is really to be mine for my

own private use."

 

"I thought, sir," said Mrs. Hall, "you'd prefer the clock--"

 

"Certainly," said the stranger, "certainly--but, as a rule, I



like to be alone and undisturbed.

 

"But I'm really glad to have the clock seen to," he said, seeing a

certain hesitation in Mr. Henfrey's manner. "Very glad." Mr. Henfrey

had intended to apologise and withdraw, but this anticipation

reassured him. The stranger turned round with his back to the

fireplace and put his hands behind his back. "And presently," he

said, "when the clock-mending is over, I think I should like to

have some tea. But not till the clock-mending is over."

 

Mrs. Hall was about to leave the room--she made no conversational

advances this time, because she did not want to be snubbed in front

of Mr. Henfrey--when her visitor asked her if she had made any

arrangements about his boxes at Bramblehurst. She told him she had

mentioned the matter to the postman, and that the carrier could

bring them over on the morrow. "You are certain that is the

earliest?" he said.

 

She was certain, with a marked coldness.

 

"I should explain," he added, "what I was really too cold and

fatigued to do before, that I am an experimental investigator."

 

"Indeed, sir," said Mrs. Hall, much impressed.

 

"And my baggage contains apparatus and appliances."

 

"Very useful things indeed they are, sir," said Mrs. Hall.

 

"And I'm very naturally anxious to get on with my inquiries."

 

"Of course, sir."

 

"My reason for coming to Iping," he proceeded, with a certain

deliberation of manner, "was ... a desire for solitude. I do not

wish to be disturbed in my work. In addition to my work, an

accident--"

 

"I thought as much," said Mrs. Hall to herself.

 

"--necessitates a certain retirement. My eyes--are sometimes so

weak and painful that I have to shut myself up in the dark for

hours together. Lock myself up. Sometimes--now and then. Not at

present, certainly. At such times the slightest disturbance, the

entry of a stranger into the room, is a source of excruciating

annoyance to me--it is well these things should be understood."

 

"Certainly, sir," said Mrs. Hall. "And if I might make so bold as

to ask--"

 

"That I think, is all," said the stranger, with that quietly

irresistible air of finality he could assume at will. Mrs. Hall

reserved her question and sympathy for a better occasion.

 

After Mrs. Hall had left the room, he remained standing in front of

the fire, glaring, so Mr. Henfrey puts it, at the clock-mending. Mr.

Henfrey not only took off the hands of the clock, and the face, but

extracted the works; and he tried to work in as slow and quiet and

unassuming a manner as possible. He worked with the lamp close to

him, and the green shade threw a brilliant light upon his hands,

and upon the frame and wheels, and left the rest of the room

shadowy. When he looked up, coloured patches swam in his eyes.

Being constitutionally of a curious nature, he had removed the

works--a quite unnecessary proceeding--with the idea of delaying his

departure and perhaps falling into conversation with the stranger.

But the stranger stood there, perfectly silent and still. So still,

it got on Henfrey's nerves. He felt alone in the room and looked up,

and there, grey and dim, was the bandaged head and huge blue lenses

staring fixedly, with a mist of green spots drifting in front of

them. It was so uncanny to Henfrey that for a minute they remained

staring blankly at one another. Then Henfrey looked down again. Very

uncomfortable position! One would like to say something. Should he

remark that the weather was very cold for the time of year?

 

He looked up as if to take aim with that introductory shot. "The

weather--" he began.

 

"Why don't you finish and go?" said the rigid figure, evidently in

a state of painfully suppressed rage. "All you've got to do is to

fix the hour-hand on its axle. You're simply humbugging--"

 

"Certainly, sir--one minute more. I overlooked--" and Mr. Henfrey

finished and went.

 

But he went feeling excessively annoyed. "Damn it!" said Mr. Henfrey

to himself, trudging down the village through the thawing snow; "a

man must do a clock at times, sure-ly."

 

And again "Can't a man look at you?--Ugly!"

 

And yet again, "Seemingly not. If the police was wanting you you

couldn't be more wropped and bandaged."

 

At Gleeson's corner he saw Hall, who had recently married the

stranger's hostess at the "Coach and Horses," and who now drove

the Iping conveyance, when occasional people required it, to

Sidderbridge Junction, coming towards him on his return from that

place. Hall had evidently been "stopping a bit" at Sidderbridge,

to judge by his driving. "'Ow do, Teddy?" he said, passing.

 

"You got a rum un up home!" said Teddy.

 

Hall very sociably pulled up. "What's that?" he asked.

 

"Rum-looking customer stopping at the 'Coach and Horses,'" said

Teddy. "My sakes!"

 

And he proceeded to give Hall a vivid description of his grotesque

guest. "Looks a bit like a disguise, don't it? I'd like to see a

man's face if I had him stopping in _my_ place," said Henfrey. "But

women are that trustful--where strangers are concerned. He's took

your rooms and he ain't even given a name, Hall."

 

"You don't say so!" said Hall, who was a man of sluggish apprehension.

 

"Yes," said Teddy. "By the week. Whatever he is, you can't get rid

of him under the week. And he's got a lot of luggage coming

to-morrow, so he says. Let's hope it won't be stones in boxes, Hall."

 

He told Hall how his aunt at Hastings had been swindled by a

stranger with empty portmanteaux. Altogether he left Hall vaguely

suspicious. "Get up, old girl," said Hall. "I s'pose I must see

'bout this."

 

Teddy trudged on his way with his mind considerably relieved.

 

Instead of "seeing 'bout it," however, Hall on his return was

severely rated by his wife on the length of time he had spent in

Sidderbridge, and his mild inquiries were answered snappishly and

in a manner not to the point. But the seed of suspicion Teddy

had sown germinated in the mind of Mr. Hall in spite of these

discouragements. "You wim' don't know everything," said Mr. Hall,

resolved to ascertain more about the personality of his guest at

the earliest possible opportunity. And after the stranger had gone

to bed, which he did about half-past nine, Mr. Hall went very

aggressively into the parlour and looked very hard at his wife's

furniture, just to show that the stranger wasn't master there,

and scrutinised closely and a little contemptuously a sheet of

mathematical computations the stranger had left. When retiring

for the night he instructed Mrs. Hall to look very closely at

the stranger's luggage when it came next day.

 

"You mind you own business, Hall," said Mrs. Hall, "and I'll mind

mine."

 

She was all the more inclined to snap at Hall because the stranger

was undoubtedly an unusually strange sort of stranger, and she was

by no means assured about him in her own mind. In the middle of the

night she woke up dreaming of huge white heads like turnips, that

came trailing after her, at the end of interminable necks, and with

vast black eyes. But being a sensible woman, she subdued her

terrors and turned over and went to sleep again.

 

CHAPTER III

 


Date: 2015-01-02; view: 617


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