时间：<2020-06-06 10:09:42 作者：ucCGL 浏览量：9777
"I begin to grasp what you mean," said Allingham, digging his chin into his hands, "as an idea, that is. It seems to me that, to borrow the words of Shakespeare, I have long dreamed of such a kind of man as you. But now that you are before me, in the—er—flesh, I find myself unable to accept you.""You see, I had lost faith in myself," said the Clockwork man, plaintively. "I had forgotten what I could do. I was so terribly run down."
But there was no accounting for the activities of the Clockwork man. At a distance of about a yard from the barrier his whole body took off from the ground, and he literally floated in space over the obstacle. It was not jumping; it was more like flying. He landed lightly upon his feet, without the least difficulty; and, before the onlookers could recover from their amazement, this extraordinary personage had shot like a catapult, straight up the path along which he had travelled so precariously half an hour before. In a few seconds his diminutive figure passed into the horizon, leaving a faint trail of dust and the dying echo of that appalling noise.He had been glad to abandon the hospitals in favour of a comfortable practice and the leisured life of a country town. Great Wymering had offered him plenty of distractions that soothed the slight wound to his vanity caused by the discovery that he had over-estimated his originality. In a few years much had happened that helped to confirm his new view of himself as a social creature with a taste for the amenities of existence. And then he had been able to keep up his cricket. In the winter there were bridge parties, amateur theatricals, dinner parties with quite ordinary but agreeable people, local affairs into which a man whose health was under suspicion and whose sympathies were just perceptibly narrowing, could plunge without too much effort being required in order to rise to such occasions. And he had the witty temperament. Quite easily, he maintained a reputation for turning out a bon-mot on the spur of the moment, something with a faint element of paradox. He would say such things as, "Only those succeed in life who have brains and can forget the fact," or "To be idle is the goal of all men, but only the industrious achieve it." When taunted by[Pg 46] a young lady who suspected him of wasted talents, even genius, he retorted that "Genius is only an accumulation of neglected diseases."One evening Arthur Withers and Rose Lomas sat together on their favourite stile talking in low whispers. The summer dusk lagged, and the air about them was so still that between their softly spoken words they could hear the talk of innumerable insects in the grass at their feet. There had been few interruptions. So familiar had their figures become in that position, that it had grown to be almost a tradition among the people who passed that way during the evening to cross the stile without disturbing the lovers. There are ways, too, of sitting upon a stile without incommoding the casual pedestrian.
The Clockwork man shook his head. "We have houses, but they are not full of things like yours are, and we don't live in them. They are simply places where we go when we take ourselves to pieces or overhaul ourselves. They are—" his mouth opened very wide, "the nearest approach to fixed objects that we have, and we regard them as jumping-off places for successive excursions into various dimensions. Streets are of course unnecessary, since the only object of a street is to lead from one place to another, and we do that sort of thing in other ways. Again, our houses are[Pg 146] not placed together in the absurd fashion of yours. They are anywhere and everywhere, and nowhere and nowhen. For instance, I live in the day before yesterday and my friend in the day after to-morrow."Rose retreated a few steps and lowered her head.Gregg laughed softly. "Well, that is only another way of saying what I have already said. You seem to regard the Clockwork man as a sort of offence; he upsets your sense of decency. To me he is profoundly interesting. I accept him, and all that his curious constitution implies. Think of the triumph for the human brain. For man, thanks to[Pg 180] this stupendous invention of the clock, has actually enlarged the universe."
He broke off and struggled with some queer kind of mechanical emotion. "And now they play games with us. They wind us up and make us do all sorts of things, just for fun. They try all sorts of experiments with us, and we can't help ourselves because we're in their power; and if they like they can stop the clock, and then we aren't anything at all."She retreated towards the door.III
The Clockwork man bowed stiffly. "Thank you. Of course, I'm a little better than I was, but my ears still flap occasionally."But the Curate shook his head. Fortunately, in his professional character there was no need for the Doctor to exhibit surprise. On the contrary, it was necessary, for his patient's sake, to exercise control. He leaned against the mantelpiece and listened attentively to the Curate's hurried account of his encounter with the Clockwork man, and shook his head gravely.V
And then, as Gregg took a leisurely stride towards the door, as though to investigate matters on his own, the Doctor caught hold of his sleeve. "Don't do that. Listen, first, to what I have to tell you. I rather fancy it will take the edge off your curiosity.""Be quick," said the Clockwork man, in a squeaky undertone, "something is going to happen."Pushing his companion into the surgery, the Doctor commenced opening tins for all he was worth. The process calmed him, and he had time to think a little. For half an hour he opened tins, and passed them over to the Clockwork man, without noticing very much what the latter did with them. Then he went on to bottles containing patent foods, phosphates, hypophosphates, glycero-hypophosphates, all the phosphates in fact, combined with malt or other substances, which might be considered almost necessary as an auxiliary diet for the Clockwork man.
This evening there had been one or two labourers with red, wrinkled faces, too hungry and tired to make much comment. Then[Pg 195] Mrs. Flack had come hurrying along with her black bag (they had to get off for her as she was not so young as she had been), and soon afterwards the Curate, who beamed affably, and enquired when it was to be. He was so looking forward to uniting them."Well?" enquired Mrs. Flack, as she poured him out a cup of tea, "who won?"That last fact occupied a central place in his mind just at present, but it was also another source of irritation. Lilian was intellectual as well as fascinating, and the former attribute became more marked as they grew more intimate. Instead of charming little notes inviting him to tea he now received long, and, he was obliged to admit, quite excellent essays upon the true place of woman in modern life. He was bound to applaud, but such activity of mind was by no means to his taste. He liked[Pg 47] a woman to have thoughts; but a thinking woman was a nuisance.
The figure stopped with startling suddenness, but offered no explanation."Bless us!" Mrs. Masters could not help saying. "Manners!"The slight stirring of Rose's body, and a sigh so low that Arthur scarcely heard it, seemed to suggest that matters were becoming rather too deep for comprehension. The grasshopper sprung again, and this time landed upon the stile, where he remained for a long while, as though wondering what perversion of the common sense natural to grasshoppers could have prompted him to choose so barren a landing place. During the long pause Rose did not see the look of strained perplexity upon Arthur's face.
"Why are you holding that other person like that?" he asked.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 dear, it is trying. It really is most dreadfully trying—"
"Imagine!" burst out Allingham. "Yes, you can imagine such a thing. But you are trying to prove to me that this creature is something that doesn't and can't exist outside your imagination. It won't wash."The spectators gave themselves up wholly to the fun. It must have seemed to them that this extraordinary cricketer was also gifted with a sense of humour, however eccentric; and that his nonsensical action was intended by way of retaliation for the ironic cheers that had greeted his running at all. Nobody, except Arthur Withers, realised that the Clockwork man run thus far because for some reason he had been unable to stop himself. It may be remarked here that many of the Clockwork man's subsequent performances had this same accidental air of humour; and that even his most grotesque attitudes gave the observer an impression of some wild practical joke. He was so far human, in appearance and[Pg 35] manner, in spite of those peculiar internal arrangements, which will be dealt with later, that his actions produced an instantaneous appeal to the comic instinct; and in laughing at him people forgot to take him seriously.Only the promptest and most fortuitous action upon the Doctor's part averted something inconceivably disastrous.