AT four oclock, 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 with him, and then noticed he had his bag and hit upon a brilliant idea. Now youre here, Mr. Teddy, said she, Id be glad if youd give th old clock in the parlour a bit of a look. Tis going, and it strikes well and hearty; but the hour-hand wont do nuthin but point at six.
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 firewhich lit his eyes like adverse railway signals, but left his downcast face in darknessand 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 to his face just as she had seen him hold the serviette before. The shadows, she fancied, had tricked her.
But Im really glad to have the clock seen to, he said, seeing a certain hesitation in Mr. Henfreys manner. Very glad. Mr. Henfrey had intended to apologise and withdraw, but this anticipation reassured him. The stranger stood 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 until 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.
necessitates a certain retirement. My eyesare sometimes so weak and painful that I have to shut myself up in the dark for hours together. Lock myself up. Sometimesnow 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 meit is well these things should be understood.
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 worksa quite unnecessary proceedingwith 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 Henfreys 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-looking 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?
At Gleesons corner he saw Hall, who had recently married the strangers 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.
And he proceeded to give Hall a vivid description of his grotesque guest. Looks a bit like a disguise, dont it? Id like to see a mans face if I had him stopping in my place, said Henfrey. But women are that trustful,where strangers are concerned. Hes took your rooms and he aint even given a name, 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 spose I must see bout this.
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 dont 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 aggressively into the parlour and looked very hard at his wifes furniture, just to show that the stranger wasnt master there, and scrutinised closely and a little contemptuously a sheet of mathematical computation the stranger had left. When retiring for the night he instructed Mrs. Hall to look very closely at the strangers luggage when it came next day.
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.