At four o'clock, when it was fairly dark and Mrs. Hall was screwing up he_ourage 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 thi_s 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 parlou_ bit of a look. 'Tis going, and it strikes well and hearty; but the hour-han_on't do nuthin' but point at six."
And leading the way, she went across to the parlour door and rapped an_ntered.
Her visitor, she saw as she opened the door, was seated in the armchair befor_he 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 eye_ike adverse railway signals, but left his downcast face in darkness—and th_canty vestiges of the day that came in through the open door. Everything wa_uddy, shadowy, and indistinct to her, the more so since she had just bee_ighting the bar lamp, and her eyes were dazzled. But for a second it seeme_o her that the man she looked at had an enormous mouth wide open—a vast an_ncredible mouth that swallowed the whole of the lower portion of his face. I_as the sensation of a moment: the white-bound head, the monstrous goggl_yes, 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, an_he saw him more clearly, with the muffler held up to his face just as she ha_een 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 speakin_ver his hand, and then, getting more fully awake, "certainly."
Mrs. Hall went away to get a lamp, and he rose and stretched himself. The_ame the light, and Mr. Teddy Henfrey, entering, was confronted by thi_andaged person. He was, he says, "taken aback."
"Good afternoon," said the stranger, regarding him—as Mr. Henfrey says, with _ivid 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 t_rs. 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 alon_nd undisturbed.
"But I'm really glad to have the clock seen to," he said, seeing a certai_esitation in Mr. Henfrey's manner. "Very glad." Mr. Henfrey had intended t_pologise and withdraw, but this anticipation reassured him. The strange_urned 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 shoul_ike 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 thi_ime, because she did not want to be snubbed in front of Mr. Henfrey—when he_isitor asked her if she had made any arrangements about his boxes a_ramblehurst. She told him she had mentioned the matter to the postman, an_hat the carrier could bring them over on the morrow. "You are certain that i_he earliest?" he said.
She was certain, with a marked coldness.
"I should explain," he added, "what I was really too cold and fatigued to d_efore, 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 o_anner, "was … a desire for solitude. I do not wish to be disturbed in m_ork. 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 painfu_hat 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 slightes_isturbance, the entry of a stranger into the room, is a source o_xcruciating 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 ai_f finality he could assume at will. Mrs. Hall reserved her question an_ympathy 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 onl_ook off the hands of the clock, and the face, but extracted the works; and h_ried to work in as slow and quiet and unassuming a manner as possible. H_orked with the lamp close to him, and the green shade threw a brilliant ligh_pon his hands, and upon the frame and wheels, and left the rest of the roo_hadowy. When he looked up, coloured patches swam in his eyes. Bein_onstitutionally of a curious nature, he had removed the works—a quit_nnecessary proceeding—with the idea of delaying his departure and perhap_alling into conversation with the stranger. But the stranger stood there, perfectly silent and still. So still, it got on Henfrey's nerves. He fel_lone in the room and looked up, and there, grey and dim, was the bandage_ead and huge blue lenses staring fixedly, with a mist of green spots driftin_n front of them. It was so uncanny to Henfrey that for a minute they remaine_taring blankly at one another. Then Henfrey looked down again. Ver_ncomfortable position! One would like to say something. Should he remark tha_he weather was very cold for the time of year?
He looked up as if to take aim with that introductory shot. "The weather—" h_egan.
"Why don't you finish and go?" said the rigid figure, evidently in a state o_ainfully suppressed rage. "All you've got to do is to fix the hour-hand o_ts axle. You're simply humbugging—"
"Certainly, sir—one minute more. I overlooked—" and Mr. Henfrey finished an_ent.
But he went feeling excessively annoyed. "Damn it!" said Mr. Henfrey t_imself, trudging down the village through the thawing snow; "a man must do _lock 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 b_ore wropped and bandaged."
At Gleeson's corner he saw Hall, who had recently married the stranger'_ostess at the "Coach and Horses," and who now drove the Iping conveyance, when occasional people required it, to Sidderbridge Junction, coming toward_im on his return from that place. Hall had evidently been "stopping a bit" a_idderbridge, 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. "M_akes!"
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 ha_im stopping in my place," said Henfrey. "But women are that trustful—wher_trangers 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 hi_nder 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 wit_mpty portmanteaux. Altogether he left Hall vaguely suspicious. "Get up, ol_irl," 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 rate_y his wife on the length of time he had spent in Sidderbridge, and his mil_nquiries were answered snappishly and in a manner not to the point. But th_eed of suspicion Teddy had sown germinated in the mind of Mr. Hall in spit_f these discouragements. "You wim' don't know everything," said Mr. Hall, resolved to ascertain more about the personality of his guest at the earlies_ossible opportunity. And after the stranger had gone to bed, which he di_bout half-past nine, Mr. Hall went very aggressively into the parlour an_ooked very hard at his wife's furniture, just to show that the strange_asn't master there, and scrutinised closely and a little contemptuously _heet of mathematical computations the stranger had left. When retiring fo_he night he instructed Mrs. Hall to look very closely at the stranger'_uggage 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 wa_ndoubtedly an unusually strange sort of stranger, and she was by no mean_ssured about him in her own mind. In the middle of the night she woke u_reaming of huge white heads like turnips, that came trailing after her, a_he end of interminable necks, and with vast black eyes. But being a sensibl_oman, she subdued her terrors and turned over and went to sleep again.