时间：<2020-07-08 00:10:17 作者：Pu哈弗h4Cjq 浏览量：9777
"But aren't you real?" Arthur could not refrain from asking.As the Doctor told the story of what had taken place so recently in the little room, Gregg sat nursing an uplifted knee between his hands and with the cigarette drooping idly from his lips. Once or twice he interrupted with a gesture, but if he experienced astonishment he never betrayed the fact. Even the description of the sudden growth of beard did not disturb the look of calm enquiry upon his hard-set features. He seemed to be following something in his mind that elucidated the facts as they came out; and as the narrative drew to a close he nodded his head very slightly, as though having found corroboration[Pg 173] for these strange events in some theory of his own, and vice versa. When at last the Doctor reached the climax of his tale there was no horror written upon Gregg's countenance. He remained impassive, a sort of buffer against which the Doctor's hysterical phrases recoiled in vain.
He waddled swiftly along, and, to Arthur's great disappointment, disappeared round the corner of the hedge, so that it was impossible to get more than a fleeting glimpse of that fascinating object at the back of his head. But he was still speaking."Yes, jolly," said Arthur, "buck up.""Well, as I was coming along I see something moving about just at the top of the pit. At first I thought it was a dog, but when I come nearer I could see it was a pair of legs, kicking. Only they was going so fast you couldn't hardly tell one from t'other. Well, I[Pg 59] ran up, thinking 'as very likely someone 'ad fallen in, and sure enough it was someone. I caught 'old of the legs, and just as I was about to pull 'im out—"
"You don't need to be reminded of that fact, I'm sure," sighed Mrs. Masters, "life sits lightly enough on you. I fear, too lightly. If I might venture to say so, a man in your position ought to take life more seriously.""Oh, God," he cried out, at last, and shivering from head to foot. "Are you doing these things on purpose to frighten me, or can't you, can't you help it? Do you think I don't believe you? Do you think I can keep on deceiving myself? I tell you I'm ready to believe anything—I capitulate—I only ask you to let me down lightly. I'm only human, and human nerves weren't made to stand this.""Yes, I lapsed. Slipped, if you like that better—slipped back about eight thousand years, so far as I can make out. And, of course, everything is different." His arms shot up both together in an abrupt gesture of despair. "And now I am confronted with all these old problems of Time and Space."
Arthur dimly comprehended this. "No children," he hazarded.Such reflections flitted hazily through the Doctor's mind as he strove in vain to find a practical solution of the problem. What was the clock? He knew, from hearsay, that it was situated at the back of this strange being's head. Tom Driver had seen it, and described it in his clumsy fashion. Since that episode the Doctor had visualised something in the nature of an instrument affixed to the Clockwork man's head, and perhaps connected with his cerebral processes. Was it a kind of super-brain? Had there been found some means of lengthening the convolutions of the human brain, so that man's thought travelled further and so enabled him to arrive more swiftly at ultimate conclusions? That seemed suggestive. It must be that in some way the cerebral energy of man had been stored up, as electricity in a battery, and then released by mechanical processes.That was why its effect was so distracting. It seemed to the doctor that the figure had popped up there on purpose to imitate the[Pg 2] action of a bowler and so baulk him. During the fraction of a second in which the ball reached him, this secondary image had blotted out everything else. But the behaviour of the figure was certainly abnormal. Its movements were violently ataxic. Its arms revolved like the sails of a windmill. Its legs shot out in all directions, enveloped in dust.
Pandemonium ensued. The scene of quiet play was transformed into a miniature battle-field. The fielders rushed in a body at the Clockwork man, only to go down one after the other, like so many ninepins. They lay, stunned and motionless. The Clockwork man spun round like a teetotum, his bat flashing in the sun, whilst the flannelled figures flying from all parts of the field approached him, only to be sent reeling and staggering to earth. Some dodged for a moment only to be caught on the rebound. Dust flew up, and to add to the whirl and confusion the unearthly noise that had so startled Arthur Withers broke out again, with terrific force, like the engine of a powerful motor suddenly started."But—surely!" The Doctor sat down again and groaned. "Surely you cannot accept such a story without a sign of incredulity? What state of mind is that which can believe such things without having seen them? Why, you credulous fool, I might have invented the whole thing!"UNIVERSAL HAT PROVIDERS.
"Well, let him stop there," growled Allingham, restarting the car with a vicious jerk, "let someone else bother their heads about him. I don't want him. I tell you I don't care a brass farthing about the future of[Pg 109] the human race. I'm quite content to take the good and bad in life, and I want it to go on in the same damned old way."VMrs. Masters was standing in the sitting room awaiting him. The Doctor strode in without stopping to remove his hat or place his gloves aside, a peculiar mannerism of his upon which Mrs. Masters was wont occasionally to admonish him; for the good lady was not slow to give banter for banter when the opportunity arose, and she objected to these relics of the Doctor's earlier bohemian ways. But for the moment her mood seemed to be rather one of blandishment.
His further suggestions were drowned by an enormous hy?na-like yawn coming from the direction of the couch. It was followed by another, even more prodigious. The room[Pg 137] fairly vibrated with the Clockwork man's uncouth expression of omnivorous appetite.N.B.—Great care should be taken not to over-wind."Ah," broke in Mrs. Masters, "there's only one woman for you, and you have yet to find her."
Arthur swallowed several times in rapid succession. His mind relapsed into a curious state of blankness. For some minutes he was not aware of any thinking processes at all. He began to feel dizzy and faint, from sheer bewilderment. And then the idea of escape crept into his consciousness. He moved one foot, intending to walk away. But the strange figure suddenly lifted up a hand, with an abrupt, jerky movement, like a signal jumping up. He said "nine and ninepence" three times very slowly and solemnly, and flapped his right ear twice. In spite of his confusion, Arthur could not help noticing the peculiar and awful synchronisation of these movements. At any rate, they seemed to help this unfortunate individual out of his diffi[Pg 13]culties. Still holding a hand upright, he achieved his first complete sentence.CHAPTER SIX"I'm not. I really noticed them. Of course, I didn't attach much importance to them at the time, but afterwards, when Arthur[Pg 56] Withers was telling his story, all that queer feeling about the strange figure came back to me. It took possession of me. After all, suppose he is a clockwork man?"
The Doctor hesitated, aware of the uselessness of dissension upon such a subject where his companion was concerned. Another idea came into his head. "What sort of a world is yours? To look at, I mean. How does it appear to the eye and touch?""We're not born," said the Clockwork man, looking vaguely annoyed, "we just are. We've remained the same since the first days of the clock." He ruminated, his forehead corrugated into regular lines. "Of course, there are the others, the makers, you know."The doctor pulled at his moustache. "I have no use for such phrases," he muttered, angrily, and began striding up and down the narrow floor space. Gregg leaned against the wall, his expression still critical.
But what could it mean? Gregg rather prided himself upon the resiliency of his mind, but not all the elasticity of which he was capable could enable him to overcome a sudden sense of uneasiness. Was the Clockwork man, after all, no more than a very elaborate and highly complex puppet? But how could that be, since he breathed and spoke and gave every sign of the possession of an individual consciousness? Considered in this new light he was even more difficult to explain.Arthur nodded.[Pg 152]