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The clock, perhaps, was the index of a new and enlarged order of things. Man had altered the very shape of the universe in order to be able to pursue his aims without frustration. That was an old dream of Gregg's. Time and Space were the obstacles to man's aspirations, and therefore he had invented this cunning device, which would adjust his faculties to some mightier rhythm of universal forces. It was a logical step forward in the path of material progress.[Pg 144]
There were one or two other details which the Doctor had not failed to observe.The Clockwork man nodded quickly, as though recollecting something. Then he moved his right hand spasmodically upwards and inserted it between the lapels of his jacket, somewhere in the region of his waistcoat. He appeared to be trying to find something. Presently he found what it was he looked for, and his hand moved again with a sharp, deliberate action. The noise stopped at once. "The silencer," he explained, "I forgot to put it on. It was such a relief to be working[Pg 17] again. I must have nearly stopped altogether. Very awkward. Very awkward, indeed.""But what is it for?" gasped Arthur.
"Care for watercress?" enquired the Doctor, trying hard to glance casually at his guest."It is a multiform world," replied the Clockwork man (he had managed to fold his arms now, and apart from a certain stiffness his attitude was fairly normal). "Now, your world has a certain definite shape. That is what puzzles me so. There is one of everything. One sky, and one floor. Everything is fixed and stable. At least, so it appears to[Pg 145] me. And then you have objects placed about in certain positions, trees, houses, lamp-posts—and they never alter their positions. It reminds me of the scenery they used in the old theatres. Now, in my world everything is constantly moving, and there is not one of everything, but always there are a great many of each thing. The universe has no definite shape at all. The sky does not look, like yours does, simply a sort of inverted bowl. It is a shapeless void. But what strikes me so forcibly about your world is that everything appears to be leading somewhere, and you expect always to come to the end of things. But in my world everything goes on for ever."He sat down rather hurriedly, on the couch, and the Doctor scanned him anxiously for symptoms. But there were none of an alarming character. He had not removed his borrowed hat and wig.
There was a certain amount of applause, followed by an embarrassing silence. Presently someone threw another ball out into the field, and the game was resumed. But the Clockwork man treated Tanner's next delivery, which was a fast one, in exactly the same manner. Again nobody could say exactly what happened—for the action was swifter than the quickest eye could follow—but the ball disappeared[Pg 27] again, this time in the direction of a fringe of poplars far away on the horizon. Again there was a lull, but the applause this time was modified. Another ball was supplied, and this also was dispatched with equal force and in a third direction, almost unanimously decided by the now bewildered spectators to be the flagstaff of the church that stood in the middle of the High Street, Great Wymering."You mean—" began Mrs. Masters, and then eyed him with the meaning expression of a woman scenting danger or happiness for some other woman. "That young lady is not suited to you, at all events," she continued, shaking her head."Oh," said Arthur, his mouth opening wide. And then he stammered quickly, "that noise, you know."
The Curate's last remark was rapped out on a sharp note of fright and astonishment, for the Clockwork man, as though anxious to demonstrate his willingness to oblige, had performed his first conjuring trick.And then, with a sharp jar, his thoughts reverted to the consideration of another irritating circumstance, this ridiculous Clockwork man, in whom Gregg believed even to the extent of thinking it worth while stating the case for the incredible before a man years his senior in experience and rational thought.UNIVERSAL HAT PROVIDERS.
At every point in his examination the Doctor had found himself confronted by an elaboration, in some cases a flat contradiction, of ordinary human functions. He could not grasp even the elementary premises of a state of affairs that had made the Clockwork man possible."Then all we have to do is to prove that the future is involved. Our lunatic must convince us that he is not of our age, that he has, in fact, and probably by mechanical means, found his way back to an age of flesh and blood. So far, we are agreed, for I willingly side with you in your opinion that the Clockwork man could not exist in the present; while I am open to be convinced[Pg 57] that he is a quite credible invention of the remote future."So the argument had waged since the telling of Tom Driver's story. Gregg's chief difficulty was to get Allingham to see that there really might be something in this theory of a world in which merely trivial things had become permanent, whilst the cosmos itself, the hitherto unchanging outer environment of man's existence, might have opened up in many new directions. Man might have tired of waiting for a so long heralded eternity, and made one out of his own material tools. The Clockwork man, now crystallised in Gregg's mind as an unforgetable figure, seemed to him to stand for a sort of rigidity of personal being as opposed to the fickleness of mere[Pg 110] flesh and blood; but the world in which he lived probably had widely different laws, if indeed it had humanly comprehensible laws at all.
Einstein could say that we were probably wrong in our basic conceptions. But could he say how we were to get right? The Clockwork man might be the beginning.CHAPTER SEVEN"But where does all this lead?" pondered the Doctor, half falling in with her mood. "Why not make some things permanent and as good as they can be?"
THE MYSTERY OF THE CLOCKWORK MAN"Wallabaloo," replied the other, eagerly. "Walla—Oh, hang it—Hulloa, now we've got it—Wallabaloo—No, we haven't—Bang Wallop—nine and ninepence—"But a second later there was stony silence. For the thing that happened next was as unexpected as it was startling. Nobody, save perhaps Dr. Allingham, anticipated that the Clockwork man was capable of adding violence to eccentricity; he looked harmless enough. But apparently there lurked a d?monic temper behind those bland, meaningless features. The thing happened in a trice; and all that followed occupied but a few catastrophic seconds. The umpire had stepped up to the Clockwork man in order to explain to him that he was expected to retire from the wicket. Not hearing any coherent reply, he emphasised his request by placing a hand suggestively on the other's[Pg 37] shoulder. Instantly, something blade-like flashed in the stammering air, a loud thwack broke upon the silence, and the unfortunate umpire lay prostrate. He had gone down like a log of wood.
Allingham passed a hand across his forehead. "It all seems so feasible," he remarked, "once you grasp the mechanism. But what I don't understand—""H'm, yes—chemical action—tonics. People get run down, and I have to give them something to stimulate the system."But Gregg had the sense to admit to himself that his generalisation was no more than a faint aurora hovering around the rumoured dawn of the future. It was necessary, in the first place, to posit an imperfect thinking apparatus. After all, the Clockwork man was still a mystery to be solved, and even if he failed to justify a single theory born of merely human conjecture, there still remained the exhilarating task of finding out what actually he was and how he had come to earth.
"I see—curious, only one lamp-post, though. In my country they grow like trees, you know—whole forests of them—galaxy of lights—necessary—illuminate multiform world.""I have still," said the Clockwork man, locating his feeling by placing a hand sharply against his stomach, "an emptiness here.""It was a characteristic of the earlier stages of the human race," said the Clockwork man, as though he were addressing a class of students upon some abstruse subject, "that they exercised the arts of legerdemain, magic, illusion and so forth, purely as forms of entertainment in their leisure hours."