MR. TEDDY HENFREY’S FIRST IMPRESSIONS
At four o’clock, when it was fairly dark and Mrs. Hall was screwing up
her courage to go in and ask her visitor if he would take some tea,
Teddy Henfrey, the clock-jobber, came into the bar. “My sakes! Mrs.
Hall,” said he, “but this is terrible weather for thin boots!” The snow
outside was falling faster.
Mrs. Hall agreed, and then noticed he had his bag with him. “Now you’re
here, Mr. Teddy,” said she, “I’d be glad if you’d give th’ old clock in
the parlour a bit of a look. ’Tis going, and it strikes well and
hearty; but the hour-hand won’t do nuthin’ but point at six.”
And leading the way, she went across to the parlour door and rapped and
Her visitor, she saw as she opened the door, was seated in the armchair
before the fire, dozing it would seem, with his bandaged head drooping
on one side. The only light in the room was the red glow from the
fire—which lit his eyes like adverse railway signals, but left his
downcast face in darkness—and the scanty vestiges of the day that came
in through the open door. Everything was ruddy, shadowy, and indistinct
to her, the more so since she had just been lighting the bar lamp, and
her eyes were dazzled. But for a second it seemed to her that the man
she looked at had an enormous mouth wide open—a vast and incredible
mouth that swallowed the whole of the lower portion of his face. It was
the sensation of a moment: the white-bound head, the monstrous goggle
eyes, and this huge yawn below it. Then he stirred, started up in his
chair, put up his hand. She opened the door wide, so that the room was
lighter, and she saw him more clearly, with the muffler held up to his
face just as she had seen him hold the serviette before. The shadows,
she fancied, had tricked her.
“Would you mind, sir, this man a-coming to look at the clock, sir?” she
said, recovering from the momentary shock.
“Look at the clock?” he said, staring round in a drowsy manner, and
speaking over his hand, and then, getting more fully awake,
Mrs. Hall went away to get a lamp, and he rose and stretched himself.
Then came the light, and Mr. Teddy Henfrey, entering, was confronted by
this bandaged person. He was, he says, “taken aback.”
“Good afternoon,” said the stranger, regarding him—as Mr. Henfrey says,
with a vivid sense of the dark spectacles—“like a lobster.”
“I hope,” said Mr. Henfrey, “that it’s no intrusion.”
“None whatever,” said the stranger. “Though, I understand,” he said
turning to Mrs. Hall, “that this room is really to be mine for my own
“I thought, sir,” said Mrs. Hall, “you’d prefer the clock—”
“Certainly,” said the stranger, “certainly—but, as a rule, I like to be
alone and undisturbed.
“But I’m really glad to have the clock seen to,” he said, seeing a
certain hesitation in Mr. Henfrey’s manner. “Very glad.” Mr. Henfrey
had intended to apologise and withdraw, but this anticipation reassured
him. The stranger turned round with his back to the fireplace and put
his hands behind his back. “And presently,” he said, “when the
clock-mending is over, I think I should like to have some tea. But not
till the clock-mending is over.”
Mrs. Hall was about to leave the room—she made no conversational
advances this time, because she did not want to be snubbed in front of
Mr. Henfrey—when her visitor asked her if she had made any arrangements
about his boxes at Bramblehurst. She told him she had mentioned the
matter to the postman, and that the carrier could bring them over on
the morrow. “You are certain that is the earliest?” he said.
She was certain, with a marked coldness.
“I should explain,” he added, “what I was really too cold and fatigued
to do before, that I am an experimental investigator.”
“Indeed, sir,” said Mrs. Hall, much impressed.
“And my baggage contains apparatus and appliances.”
“Very useful things indeed they are, sir,” said Mrs. Hall.
“And I’m very naturally anxious to get on with my inquiries.”
“Of course, sir.”
“My reason for coming to Iping,” he proceeded, with a certain
deliberation of manner, “was … a desire for solitude. I do not wish
to be disturbed in my work. In addition to my work, an accident—”
“I thought as much,” said Mrs. Hall to herself.
“—necessitates a certain retirement. My eyes—are sometimes so weak and
painful that I have to shut myself up in the dark for hours together.
Lock myself up. Sometimes—now and then. Not at present, certainly. At
such times the slightest disturbance, the entry of a stranger into the
room, is a source of excruciating annoyance to me—it is well these
things should be understood.”
“Certainly, sir,” said Mrs. Hall. “And if I might make so bold as to
“That I think, is all,” said the stranger, with that quietly
irresistible air of finality he could assume at will. Mrs. Hall
reserved her question and sympathy for a better occasion.
After Mrs. Hall had left the room, he remained standing in front of the
fire, glaring, so Mr. Henfrey puts it, at the clock-mending. Mr.
Henfrey not only took off the hands of the clock, and the face, but
extracted the works; and he tried to work in as slow and quiet and
unassuming a manner as possible. He worked with the lamp close to him,
and the green shade threw a brilliant light upon his hands, and upon
the frame and wheels, and left the rest of the room shadowy. When he
looked up, coloured patches swam in his eyes. Being constitutionally of
a curious nature, he had removed the works—a quite unnecessary
proceeding—with the idea of delaying his departure and perhaps falling
into conversation with the stranger. But the stranger stood there,
perfectly silent and still. So still, it got on Henfrey’s nerves. He
felt alone in the room and looked up, and there, grey and dim, was the
bandaged head and huge blue lenses staring fixedly, with a mist of
green spots drifting in front of them. It was so uncanny to Henfrey
that for a minute they remained staring blankly at one another. Then
Henfrey looked down again. Very uncomfortable position! One would like
to say something. Should he remark that the weather was very cold for
the time of year?
He looked up as if to take aim with that introductory shot. “The
weather—” he began.
“Why don’t you finish and go?” said the rigid figure, evidently in a
state of painfully suppressed rage. “All you’ve got to do is to fix the
hour-hand on its axle. You’re simply humbugging—”
“Certainly, sir—one minute more. I overlooked—” and Mr. Henfrey
finished and went.
But he went feeling excessively annoyed. “Damn it!” said Mr. Henfrey to
himself, trudging down the village through the thawing snow; “a man
must do a clock at times, surely.”
And again, “Can’t a man look at you?—Ugly!”
And yet again, “Seemingly not. If the police was wanting you you
couldn’t be more wropped and bandaged.”
At Gleeson’s corner he saw Hall, who had recently married the
stranger’s hostess at the “Coach and Horses,” and who now drove the
Iping conveyance, when occasional people required it, to Sidderbridge
Junction, coming towards him on his return from that place. Hall had
evidently been “stopping a bit” at Sidderbridge, to judge by his
driving. “’Ow do, Teddy?” he said, passing.
“You got a rum un up home!” said Teddy.
Hall very sociably pulled up. “What’s that?” he asked.
“Rum-looking customer stopping at the ‘Coach and Horses,’” said Teddy.
And he proceeded to give Hall a vivid description of his grotesque
guest. “Looks a bit like a disguise, don’t it? I’d like to see a man’s
face if I had him stopping in _my_ place,” said Henfrey. “But women are
that trustful—where strangers are concerned. He’s took your rooms and
he ain’t even given a name, Hall.”
“You don’t say so!” said Hall, who was a man of sluggish apprehension.
“Yes,” said Teddy. “By the week. Whatever he is, you can’t get rid of
him under the week. And he’s got a lot of luggage coming to-morrow, so
he says. Let’s hope it won’t be stones in boxes, Hall.”
He told Hall how his aunt at Hastings had been swindled by a stranger
with empty portmanteaux. Altogether he left Hall vaguely suspicious.
“Get up, old girl,” said Hall. “I s’pose I must see ’bout this.”
Teddy trudged on his way with his mind considerably relieved.
Instead of “seeing ’bout it,” however, Hall on his return was severely
rated by his wife on the length of time he had spent in Sidderbridge,
and his mild inquiries were answered snappishly and in a manner not to
the point. But the seed of suspicion Teddy had sown germinated in the
mind of Mr. Hall in spite of these discouragements. “You wim’ don’t
know everything,” said Mr. Hall, resolved to ascertain more about the
personality of his guest at the earliest possible opportunity. And
after the stranger had gone to bed, which he did about half-past nine,
Mr. Hall went very aggressively into the parlour and looked very hard
at his wife’s furniture, just to show that the stranger wasn’t master
there, and scrutinised closely and a little contemptuously a sheet of
mathematical computations the stranger had left. When retiring for the
night he instructed Mrs. Hall to look very closely at the stranger’s
luggage when it came next day.
“You mind your own business, Hall,” said Mrs. Hall, “and I’ll mind
She was all the more inclined to snap at Hall because the stranger was
undoubtedly an unusually strange sort of stranger, and she was by no
means assured about him in her own mind. In the middle of the night she
woke up dreaming of huge white heads like turnips, that came trailing
after her, at the end of interminable necks, and with vast black eyes.
But being a sensible woman, she subdued her terrors and turned over and
went to sleep again.
Come back tomorrow for chapter 3: THE THOUSAND AND ONE BOTTLES