THE THOUSAND AND ONE BOTTLES
So it was that on the twenty-ninth day of February, at the beginning of
the thaw, this singular person fell out of infinity into Iping village.
Next day his luggage arrived through the slush—and very remarkable
luggage it was. There were a couple of trunks indeed, such as a
rational man might need, but in addition there were a box of books—big,
fat books, of which some were just in an incomprehensible
handwriting—and a dozen or more crates, boxes, and cases, containing
objects packed in straw, as it seemed to Hall, tugging with a casual
curiosity at the straw—glass bottles. The stranger, muffled in hat,
coat, gloves, and wrapper, came out impatiently to meet Fearenside’s
cart, while Hall was having a word or so of gossip preparatory to
helping bring them in. Out he came, not noticing Fearenside’s dog, who
was sniffing in a _dilettante_ spirit at Hall’s legs. “Come along with
those boxes,” he said. “I’ve been waiting long enough.”
And he came down the steps towards the tail of the cart as if to lay
hands on the smaller crate.
No sooner had Fearenside’s dog caught sight of him, however, than it
began to bristle and growl savagely, and when he rushed down the steps
it gave an undecided hop, and then sprang straight at his hand. “Whup!”
cried Hall, jumping back, for he was no hero with dogs, and Fearenside
howled, “Lie down!” and snatched his whip.
They saw the dog’s teeth had slipped the hand, heard a kick, saw the
dog execute a flanking jump and get home on the stranger’s leg, and
heard the rip of his trousering. Then the finer end of Fearenside’s
whip reached his property, and the dog, yelping with dismay, retreated
under the wheels of the waggon. It was all the business of a swift
half-minute. No one spoke, everyone shouted. The stranger glanced
swiftly at his torn glove and at his leg, made as if he would stoop to
the latter, then turned and rushed swiftly up the steps into the inn.
They heard him go headlong across the passage and up the uncarpeted
stairs to his bedroom.
“You brute, you!” said Fearenside, climbing off the waggon with his
whip in his hand, while the dog watched him through the wheel. “Come
here,” said Fearenside—“You’d better.”
Hall had stood gaping. “He wuz bit,” said Hall. “I’d better go and see
to en,” and he trotted after the stranger. He met Mrs. Hall in the
passage. “Carrier’s darg,” he said “bit en.”
He went straight upstairs, and the stranger’s door being ajar, he
pushed it open and was entering without any ceremony, being of a
naturally sympathetic turn of mind.
The blind was down and the room dim. He caught a glimpse of a most
singular thing, what seemed a handless arm waving towards him, and a
face of three huge indeterminate spots on white, very like the face of
a pale pansy. Then he was struck violently in the chest, hurled back,
and the door slammed in his face and locked. It was so rapid that it
gave him no time to observe. A waving of indecipherable shapes, a blow,
and a concussion. There he stood on the dark little landing, wondering
what it might be that he had seen.
A couple of minutes after, he rejoined the little group that had formed
outside the “Coach and Horses.” There was Fearenside telling about it
all over again for the second time; there was Mrs. Hall saying his dog
didn’t have no business to bite her guests; there was Huxter, the
general dealer from over the road, interrogative; and Sandy Wadgers
from the forge, judicial; besides women and children, all of them
saying fatuities: “Wouldn’t let en bite _me_, I knows”; “’Tasn’t right
_have_ such dargs”; “Whad ’_e_ bite ’n for, then?” and so forth.
Mr. Hall, staring at them from the steps and listening, found it
incredible that he had seen anything so very remarkable happen
upstairs. Besides, his vocabulary was altogether too limited to express
“He don’t want no help, he says,” he said in answer to his wife’s
inquiry. “We’d better be a-takin’ of his luggage in.”
“He ought to have it cauterised at once,” said Mr. Huxter; “especially
if it’s at all inflamed.”
“I’d shoot en, that’s what I’d do,” said a lady in the group.
Suddenly the dog began growling again.
“Come along,” cried an angry voice in the doorway, and there stood the
muffled stranger with his collar turned up, and his hat-brim bent down.
“The sooner you get those things in the better I’ll be pleased.” It is
stated by an anonymous bystander that his trousers and gloves had been
“Was you hurt, sir?” said Fearenside. “I’m rare sorry the darg—”
“Not a bit,” said the stranger. “Never broke the skin. Hurry up with
He then swore to himself, so Mr. Hall asserts.
Directly the first crate was, in accordance with his directions,
carried into the parlour, the stranger flung himself upon it with
extraordinary eagerness, and began to unpack it, scattering the straw
with an utter disregard of Mrs. Hall’s carpet. And from it he began to
produce bottles—little fat bottles containing powders, small and
slender bottles containing coloured and white fluids, fluted blue
bottles labeled Poison, bottles with round bodies and slender necks,
large green-glass bottles, large white-glass bottles, bottles with
glass stoppers and frosted labels, bottles with fine corks, bottles
with bungs, bottles with wooden caps, wine bottles, salad-oil
bottles—putting them in rows on the chiffonnier, on the mantel, on the
table under the window, round the floor, on the bookshelf—everywhere.
The chemist’s shop in Bramblehurst could not boast half so many. Quite
a sight it was. Crate after crate yielded bottles, until all six were
empty and the table high with straw; the only things that came out of
these crates besides the bottles were a number of test-tubes and a
carefully packed balance.
And directly the crates were unpacked, the stranger went to the window
and set to work, not troubling in the least about the litter of straw,
the fire which had gone out, the box of books outside, nor for the
trunks and other luggage that had gone upstairs.
When Mrs. Hall took his dinner in to him, he was already so absorbed in
his work, pouring little drops out of the bottles into test-tubes, that
he did not hear her until she had swept away the bulk of the straw and
put the tray on the table, with some little emphasis perhaps, seeing
the state that the floor was in. Then he half turned his head and
immediately turned it away again. But she saw he had removed his
glasses; they were beside him on the table, and it seemed to her that
his eye sockets were extraordinarily hollow. He put on his spectacles
again, and then turned and faced her. She was about to complain of the
straw on the floor when he anticipated her.
“I wish you wouldn’t come in without knocking,” he said in the tone of
abnormal exasperation that seemed so characteristic of him.
“I knocked, but seemingly—”
“Perhaps you did. But in my investigations—my really very urgent and
necessary investigations—the slightest disturbance, the jar of a door—I
must ask you—”
“Certainly, sir. You can turn the lock if you’re like that, you know.
“A very good idea,” said the stranger.
“This stror, sir, if I might make so bold as to remark—”
“Don’t. If the straw makes trouble put it down in the bill.” And he
mumbled at her—words suspiciously like curses.
He was so odd, standing there, so aggressive and explosive, bottle in
one hand and test-tube in the other, that Mrs. Hall was quite alarmed.
But she was a resolute woman. “In which case, I should like to know,
sir, what you consider—”
“A shilling—put down a shilling. Surely a shilling’s enough?”
“So be it,” said Mrs. Hall, taking up the table-cloth and beginning to
spread it over the table. “If you’re satisfied, of course—”
He turned and sat down, with his coat-collar toward her.
All the afternoon he worked with the door locked and, as Mrs. Hall
testifies, for the most part in silence. But once there was a
concussion and a sound of bottles ringing together as though the table
had been hit, and the smash of a bottle flung violently down, and then
a rapid pacing athwart the room. Fearing “something was the matter,”
she went to the door and listened, not caring to knock.
“I can’t go on,” he was raving. “I _can’t_ go on. Three hundred
thousand, four hundred thousand! The huge multitude! Cheated! All my
life it may take me! … Patience! Patience indeed! … Fool! fool!”
There was a noise of hobnails on the bricks in the bar, and Mrs. Hall
had very reluctantly to leave the rest of his soliloquy. When she
returned the room was silent again, save for the faint crepitation of
his chair and the occasional clink of a bottle. It was all over; the
stranger had resumed work.
When she took in his tea she saw broken glass in the corner of the room
under the concave mirror, and a golden stain that had been carelessly
wiped. She called attention to it.
“Put it down in the bill,” snapped her visitor. “For God’s sake don’t
worry me. If there’s damage done, put it down in the bill,” and he went
on ticking a list in the exercise book before him.
“I’ll tell you something,” said Fearenside, mysteriously. It was late
in the afternoon, and they were in the little beer-shop of Iping
“Well?” said Teddy Henfrey.
“This chap you’re speaking of, what my dog bit. Well—he’s black.
Leastways, his legs are. I seed through the tear of his trousers and
the tear of his glove. You’d have expected a sort of pinky to show,
wouldn’t you? Well—there wasn’t none. Just blackness. I tell you, he’s
as black as my hat.”
“My sakes!” said Henfrey. “It’s a rummy case altogether. Why, his nose
is as pink as paint!”
“That’s true,” said Fearenside. “I knows that. And I tell ’ee what I’m
thinking. That marn’s a piebald, Teddy. Black here and white there—in
patches. And he’s ashamed of it. He’s a kind of half-breed, and the
colour’s come off patchy instead of mixing. I’ve heard of such things
before. And it’s the common way with horses, as any one can see.”
Come back tomorrow for CHAPTER IV: MR. CUSS INTERVIEWS THE STRANGER