The stranger came early in February one wintry day, through a biting
wind and a driving snow, the last snowfall of the year, over the
down, walking as it seemed from Bramblehurst railway station and
carrying a little black portmanteau in his thickly gloved hand. He
was wrapped up from head to foot, and the brim of his soft felt hat
hid every inch of his face but the shiny tip of his nose; the snow
had piled itself against his shoulders and chest, and added a white
crest to the burden he carried. He staggered into the Coach and
Horses, more dead than alive as it seemed, and flung his portmanteau
down. "A fire," he cried, "in the name of human charity! A room and
a fire!" He stamped and shook the snow from off himself in the bar,
and followed Mrs. Hall into her guest parlour to strike his bargain.
And with that much introduction, that and a ready acquiescence to
terms and a couple of sovereigns flung upon the table, he took up his
quarters in the inn.
Mrs. Hall lit the fire and left him there while she went to prepare
him a meal with her own hands. A guest to stop at Iping in the
winter-time was an unheard-of piece of luck, let alone a guest who
was no "haggler," and she was resolved to show herself worthy of her
good fortune. As soon as the bacon was well under way, and Millie,
her lymphatic aid, had been brisked up a bit by a few deftly chosen
expressions of contempt, she carried the cloth, plates, and glasses
into the parlour and began to lay them with the utmost clat.
Although the fire was burning up briskly, she was surprised to see
that her visitor still wore his hat and coat, standing with his back
to her and staring out of the window at the falling snow in the yard.
His gloved hands were clasped behind him, and he seemed to be lost in
thought. She noticed that the melted snow that still sprinkled his
shoulders dripped upon her carpet. "Can I take your hat and coat,
sir," she said, "and give them a good dry in the kitchen?"
"No," he said without turning.
She was not sure she had heard him, and was about to repeat her
He turned his head and looked at her over his shoulder. "I prefer to
keep them on," he said with emphasis, and she noticed that he wore
big blue spectacles with side-lights and had a bushy side-whisker
over his coat-collar that completely hid his face.
"Very well, sir," she said. "As you like. In a bit the room will be
He made no answer and had turned his face away from her again; and
Mrs. Hall, feeling that her conversational advances were ill- timed,
laid the rest of the table things in a quick staccato and whisked out
of the room. When she returned he was still standing there like a
man of stone, his back hunched, his collar turned up, his dripping
hat-brim turned down, hiding his face and ears completely. She put
down the eggs and bacon with considerable emphasis, and called rather
than said to him, "Your lunch is served, sir."
"Thank you," he said at the same time, and did not stir until she was
closing the door. Then he swung round and approached the table.
As she went behind the bar to the kitchen she heard a sound repeated
at regular intervals. Chirk, chirk, chirk, it went, the sound of a
spoon being rapidly whisked round a basin. "That girl!" she said.
"There! I clean forgot it. It's her being so long!" And while she
herself finished mixing the mustard, she gave Millie a few verbal
stabs for her excessive slowness. She had cooked the ham and eggs,
laid the table, and done everything, while Millie (help indeed!) had
only succeeded in delaying the mustard. And him a new guest and
wanting to stay! Then she filled the mustard pot, and, putting it
with a certain stateliness upon a gold and black tea-tray, carried it
into the parlour.
She rapped and entered promptly. As she did so her visitor moved
quickly, so that she got but a glimpse of a white object disappearing
behind the table. It would seem he was picking something from the
floor. She rapped down the mustard pot on the table, and then she
noticed the overcoat and hat had been taken off and put over a chair
in front of the fire. A pair of wet boots threatened rust to her
steel fender. She went to these things resolutely. "I suppose I may
have them to dry now," she said in a voice that brooked no denial.
"Leave the hat," said her visitor in a muffled voice, and turning she
saw he had raised his head and was sitting looking at her.
For a moment she stood gaping at him, too surprised to speak.
He held a white cloth--it was a serviette he had brought with
him--over the lower part of his face, so that his mouth and jaws were
completely hidden, and that was the reason of his muffled voice. But
it was not that which startled Mrs. Hall. It was the fact that all
his forehead above his blue glasses was covered by a white bandage,
and that another covered his ears, leaving not a scrap of his face
exposed excepting only his pink, peaked nose. It was bright pink,
and shiny just as it had been at first. He wore a dark-brown velvet
jacket with a high black linen lined collar turned up about his neck.
The thick black hair, escaping as it could below and between the
cross bandages, projected in curious tails and horns, giving him the
strangest appearance conceivable. This muffled and bandaged head was
so unlike what she had anticipated, that for a moment she was rigid.
He did not remove the serviette, but remained holding it, as she saw
now, with a brown gloved hand, and regarding her with his inscrutable
blue glasses. "Leave the hat," he said, speaking very distinctly
through the white cloth.
Her nerves began to recover from the shock they had received. She
placed the hat on the chair again by the fire. "I didn't know, sir,"
she began, "that--" and she stopped embarrassed.
"Thank you," he said drily, glancing from her to the door and then at
"I'll have them nicely dried, sir, at once," she said, and carried
his clothes out of the room. She glanced at his white-swathed head
and blue goggles again as she was going out of the door; but his
napkin was still in front of his face. She shivered a little as she
closed the door behind her, and her face was eloquent of her surprise
and perplexity. "I never," she whispered. "There!" She went quite
softly to the kitchen, and was too preoccupied to ask Millie what she
was messing about with now, when she got there.
The visitor sat and listened to her retreating feet. He glanced
inquiringly at the window before he removed his serviette and resumed
his meal. He took a mouthful, glanced suspiciously at the window,
took another mouthful, then rose and, taking the serviette in his
hand, walked across the room and pulled the blind down to the top of
the white muslin that obscured the lower panes. This left the room
in twilight. This done, he returned with an easier air to the table
and his meal.
"The poor soul's had an accident or an op'ration or something," said
Mrs. Hall. "What a turn them bandages did give me, to be sure!"
She put on some more coal, unfolded the clothes-horse, and extended
the traveller's coat upon this. "And they goggles! Why, he looked
more like a divin' helmet than a human man!" She hung his muffler on
a corner of the horse. "And holding that handkerchief over his mouth
all the time. Talkin' through it!...Perhaps his mouth was hurt
She turned round, as one who suddenly remembers. "Bless my soul
alive!" she said, going off at a tangent; "ain't you done them taters
When Mrs. Hall went to clear away the stranger's lunch, her idea that
his mouth must also have been cut or disfigured in the accident she
supposed him to have suffered, was confirmed, for he was smoking a
pipe, and all the time that she was in the room he never loosened the
silk muffler he had wrapped round the lower part of his face to put
the mouthpiece to his lips. Yet it was not forgetfulness, for she
saw he glanced at it as it smouldered out. He sat in the corner with
his back to the window-blind and spoke now, having eaten and drunk
and being comfortably warmed through, with less aggressive brevity
than before. The reflection of the fire lent a kind of red animation
to his big spectacles they had lacked hitherto.
"I have some luggage," he said, "at Bramblehurst station," and he
asked her how he could have it sent. He bowed his bandaged head
quite politely in acknowledgment of her explanation. "To-morrow!" he
said. "There is no speedier delivery?" and seemed quite disappointed
when she answered "No." Was she quite sure? No man with a trap who
would go over?
Mrs. Hall, nothing loath, answered his questions and developed a
conversation. "It's a steep road by the down, sir," she said in
answer to the question about a trap; and then, snatching at an
opening said, "It was there a carriage was upsettled, a year ago and
more. A gentleman killed, besides his coachman. Accidents, sir,
happen in a moment, don't they?"
But the visitor was not to be drawn so easily. "They do," he said
through his muffler, eyeing her quietly through his impenetrable
"But they take long enough to get well, sir, don't they? ... There
was my sister's son, Tom, jest cut his arm with a scythe, tumbled on
it in the 'ayfield, and, bless me! he was three months tied up, sir.
You'd hardly believe it. It's regular given me a dread of a scythe,
"I can quite understand that," said the visitor.
"He was afraid, one time, that he'd have to have an op'ration --he
was that bad, sir."
The visitor laughed abruptly, a bark of a laugh that he seemed to
bite and kill in his mouth. "Was he?" he said.
"He was, sir. And no laughing matter to them as had the doing for
him, as I had--my sister being took up with her little ones so much.
There was bandages to do, sir, and bandages to undo. So that if I
may make so bold as to say it, sir--"
"Will you get me some matches?" said the visitor, quite abruptly.
"My pipe is out."
Mrs. Hall was pulled up suddenly. It was certainly rude of him,
after telling him all she had done. She gasped at him for a moment,
and remembered the two sovereigns. She went for the matches.
"Thanks," he said concisely, as she put them down, and turned his
shoulder upon her and stared out of the window again. It was
altogether too discouraging. Evidently he was sensitive on the topic
of operations and bandages. She did not "make so bold as to say,"
however, after all. But his snubbing way had irritated her, and
Millie had a hot time of it that afternoon.
The visitor remained in the parlour until four o'clock, without
giving the ghost of an excuse for an intrusion. For the most part he
was quite still during that time; it would seem he sat in the growing
darkness smoking in the firelight, perhaps dozing.
Once or twice a curious listener might have heard him at the coals,
and for the space of five minutes he was audible pacing the room. He
seemed to be talking to himself. Then the armchair creaked as he sat
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 with him, and then noticed he had his bag and hit
upon a brilliant idea. "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
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 to his face just as she had
seen him hold the serviette before. The shadows, she fancied, had
"Would you mind, sir, this man a-coming to look at the clock, sir?"
she said, recovering from her 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--" She was
going to say "mended."
"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 stood 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 until 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
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 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-looking 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, sir. I overlooked--" And Mr.
Henfrey finished and went.
But he went off 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, sure-lie."
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
"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,
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,