时间：<2020-06-01 23:04:57 作者：HK恐怖短篇鬼故事knK 浏览量：9777
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.Indeed, it was hardly to be expected that he would remain there for very long. As Gregg pointed out, such very delicate mechanism needed constant attention, and the unexpected was always likely to occur. There must have been some deeply-rooted automatism that gradually released the Clockwork man from his sleep; and having awakened, the grimy walls of the cellar no doubt struck him as distasteful. It was not to be expected that the Doctor, in his hurry and panic, should have succeeded in mastering the intricacies of the clock. He had merely brought about a[Pg 192] temporary quiescence which had gradually worked off. It had to be borne in mind, also, that although the Clockwork man was dependent upon adjustment in order that he should be made to work in a right fashion, it was only too plain that he could act independently and quite wrongly.
"Oh, am I? Do you think so? I'm so glad—I'm so sorry.""Yes, you wouldn't know about them, although you're not unlike a maker yourself. Only you wear clothes like us, and the makers don't wear clothes. That was what puzzled[Pg 207] me about you. The look in your eyes reminded me of a maker. They came after the last wars. It's all written in history. There was a great deal of fighting and killing and blowing up and poisoning, and then the makers came and they didn't fight. It was they who invented the clock for us, and after that every man had to have a clock fitted into him, and then he didn't have to fight any more, because he could move about in a multiform world where there was plenty of room for everybody.""We had an argument about that," said the[Pg 178] Doctor, dismally. "He tried to explain that to me, but I must say he was no more successful than you are. The whole thing is a complete haze."
They looked solemnly at one another for a[Pg 74] long while without even approaching a "stare out.""Of what?" enquired the Doctor, conscious of masculine stupidity."I see them lying in the pit," explained Tom, "they must 'ave dropped off 'is 'ead as he lay there. Of course, 'e 'adn't fallen very far, otherwise 'is legs wouldn't ave been sticking up. It 'aint very steep just there, and 'is 'ead must 'ave caught in a bit of furze. But the 'at and wig 'ad rolled down to the bottom. After 'e'd gone I climbed down and picked them up."
He broke off, for at that moment a car drew up in front of the window, and the burly form of Inspector Grey stepped down in company with two constables and a lad of about fifteen, whom both Gregg and the doctor recognised as an inhabitant of the neighbouring village of Bapchurch."What!" rapped out Allingham.As the car sped swiftly along, Gregg sat back with folded arms and gazed upwards at the now crystalline skies, wondering, as he had never wondered before, about that incomprehensible immensity which for centuries of successive generations man had silently respected. No authoritative voice had ever claimed to penetrate that supreme mystery. Priests had evoked the gods from that starry depth, poets had sung of the swinging hemispheres, scientists had traced comets and knew the quality of each solar earth; but still that vast arch spanned all the movements of crawling mankind, and closed him in like a basin placed over a colony of ants.
Arthur finished his tea and got up from his chair. Conscious that his efforts so far had not carried conviction, he spent a few moments of valuable time in an attempt to supplement them.Besides, there was Arthur Wither's story about the flapping ears and the queer conversation of the Clockwork man, his peculiar[Pg 43] jerky movements, his sudden exhibitions of uncanny efficiency contrasted with appalling lapses. Once you had grasped the idea of his mechanical origin, it was difficult to thrust the Clockwork man out of your head. He became something immensely exciting and suggestive. If Gregg's sense of humour had not been so violently tickled by the ludicrous side of the affair, he would have felt already that some great discovery was about to be revealed to the modern world. It had never occurred to him before that abnormal phenomena might be presented to human beings in the form of a sort of practical joke. Somehow, one expected this sort of thing to happen in solemn earnest and in the dead of night. But the event had taken place in broad daylight, and already there was mixed up with its queer unreality the most ridiculous tangle of purely human circumstance.He appeared to be addressing the air generally.
The constable returned furtively to his shelter beneath the arch, hitched himself thoughtfully, and found half a cigarette inside his waistcoat pocket.Only the promptest and most fortuitous action upon the Doctor's part averted something inconceivably disastrous.Allingham paused in the turning of the handle and stared, aghast, at his companion. There was no mistaking the significance of the remark, and it had been spoken in tones of strange tenderness. Rapidly there swept across the Doctor's mind a sensation of complete conviction. If there was any further proof required of the truth of Gregg's conjecture, surely it was expressed in this apparently insane and yet obviously sincere solicitude on the part of the Clockwork man for an inanimate machine? He recognised in the mechanism before him a member of his own species!
"What!" rapped out Allingham.CHAPTER SIXThey were facing one another now. The doctor swallowed hard several times, and he felt the blood tingling in his temples. The dreaded moment had come. He had got to see this strange instrument that distinguished the Clockwork man from ordinary mortals. There was no shrinking from the eerie experience. Underneath that borrowed hat and wig there was something—something utterly strange and outside the pale of human ingenuity. In the name of common humanity it was incumbent upon the Doctor to face the shock of this revelation, and yet he shrunk from it like a frightened child. He felt no[Pg 160] trace of curiosity, no feverish anxiety to investigate this mystery of the future. His knees trembled violently. He did not want to see the clock. He would have given a hundred pounds to be spared the ordeal before him.
[Pg 26]So far as the Clockwork man's features were capable of change, there passed across them a faint expression of triumph and satisfaction. "I perceive," he remarked, "that I have indeed lapsed into a world of curiously insufficient and inefficent beings. I have fallen amongst the Unclocked. They cannot perceive Nowhere. They do not understand Nowhen. They lack senses and move about on a single plane. Henceforth, I shall act with greater confidence.""That was what the makers did for man," resumed the other. "Life had become impossible, and it was the only practical way out of the difficulty. You see, the makers were very clever, and very mild and gentle. They were quite different to ordinary human beings. To begin with, they were real."
Here, however, the discussion came to an abrupt conclusion, for something was happening to the Clockwork man."But you must admit," interpolated the Doctor, "that I might be deceiving you. I could easily do it, just to prove you in the wrong. I can assure you that nothing would suit my humour better at the present moment! Instead of which it is I who appear the fool. I never wanted to believe in the Clockwork man. I was angry with you for believing in him. Admit that it would be a just revenge on my part to hoax you.""NO," thundered the Doctor, suddenly leaping to his feet. "By heavens, no. Not that!"
"If you open the lid," explained the Clockwork man (and at the sound of that human[Pg 162] voice the doctor jumped violently), "you will see certain stops, marked with numbers."He had visions of a room full of golden brown beard. It was the most appalling thing he had ever witnessed, and there was no trickery about it. The beard had actually grown before his eyes, and it had now reached to the second button of the Clockwork man's waistcoat. And, at any moment, Mrs. Masters might return!"Stop a minute," exclaimed Gregg, arising in sheer astonishment, "you seem to be upset. I don't understand what you are raving about."