ENGLISH ssni475三上悠亚"Here I am," the thin voice echoed faintly. The constable wheeled round sharply and became aware of a vague, palpitating mass, hovering in the dark mouth of the archway. It was like some solid body subjected to intense vibration. There was a high-pitched spinning noise.Besides, it was distressing to discover that, in middle life, he was no longer in the vanguard of human hopes and fears; but a miserable backslider, dating back to the time when thought and serious living had become[Pg 115] too difficult for comfort. Regarded in this way, nothing could ever compensate for the wasted years, the ideals extinguished, the rich hopes bargained for cheap doubtsunless, indeed, it was the reflection that such was the common lot of mankind. The comfortable old world rolled on from generation to generation, and nothing extraordinary happened to startle people out of their complacent preoccupation with passions, desires and ambitions. Miracles were supposed to have happened at certain stages in world-history, but they were immediately obliterated by a mass of controversial comment, or hushed up by those whose axes were ground in a world that could be relied upon to go on repeating itself.
"But what is a clockwork man?" demanded Allingham.
"Ah," said the Curate, kindly, "very likely that's what it is. The weather has been very trying. One does get these aberrations. But I do hope you will be able to struggle through the performance, for the children's sake. Dear me, how did you manage to do that?""Of course," he said, slowly, "you don't understand. It isn't to be expected that you would understand. Why, you haven't even got a clock! That was the first thing I noticed about you."The driver of the ambulance did not know why he had been ordered to report here, but when the Widow Roy came to the door she brought explanation enough. A courier had come to her and gone again, and the chaplain and the surgeon and every one else of any "army sort" except us two had "put out," and she was in a sad flurry. "The Lieutenant," she said, "writes in this-yeh note that this-yeh place won't be safe f'om the Yankees much longer'n to-day, and fo' us to send the wounded lady in the avalanch. Which she says, her own self, it'd go rough with her to fall into they hands again. My married daughter she's a-goin' with her, and the'd ought to be a Mr. Sm'--oh, my Lawdy! you ain't reg-lahly in the ahmy, air you?"
Arthur stared, expecting every moment to see the figure before him fall to the ground or even disappear through the earth. But just when his looseness and limpness reached to the lowest ebb a sudden pulse would shake the stranger from head to foot; noises that were scarcely human issued from him, puffings and blowings, a sort of jerky grinding and grating. He would rear up for a moment, appear alert and lively, hitch his whole body firmly and smartly, only to collapse again, slowly and sadly, his head falling to one side,[Pg 14] his arms fluttering feebly like the wings of a wounded bird."Told whom?"
"You're right, Sam," said George Bynes, who had hit up many a century for his town in bygone days, "tain't cricket. Else it's a[Pg 28] fluke; the man didn't ought to be allowed to hold bat in his hand. It's spoiling other folks' sport."Charlotte resumed. "I have come to you in the common interest, to warn you against that man. I believe he is on his way here to offer his services as a guide. He is fearless, untiring, and knows all this region by heart.""Stole them, Herbert," she expostulated. "Not stole them."
"I ain't a going to laugh," said Mr. Flack, "not unless I see fit to laugh." And he continued to stare gravely at Arthur's elaborate posturing. Presently the latter remembered his urgent appointment and disappeared through the narrow door that led upstairs."Oh, if I could only trust you!" she said, shaking her head sadly and trying to lift her arm's burden again without taking her eyes from mine. It went to her feet in a landslide, and out of one of the books fluttered three stems of sweet-pea each bearing two mated blossoms. I knew them in an instant, and in the next I had them. She would not let me pile the fallen freight anywhere but into her arm again, nor recover her eye before she was fully re-laden. Then she set her lips freezingly and said "Now give me back my flowers."
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Two gasping words from Charlotte brought his ear down, and with a worshipping light in his eyes he said to her "Yes,--yes!" and then to me, "Yes, I shall report to him in person. Now, Smith, the top of your speed!"Here, however, the discussion came to an abrupt conclusion, for something was happening to the Clockwork man.It was this circumstance that accounted for the Vicar's late arrival at the entertainment given in aid of the church funds that night. He had lingered over his sermon until the last moment, and then hurried off with only a slight pause in which to glance at himself in the hall mirror. He walked swiftly along the dark streets in the direction of the Templars' Hall, which was situated at the lower end of the town. Perhaps it was because of his own desperate hurry that he scarcely noticed that other figure approaching him, and in a straight line. He swerved slightly in order to allow the figure to pass, and continued on his way.
"Does Ned say when he will start?" asked the Colonel, and Charlotte, reading again, said the sergeant, at the time of the writing, was not expected to live an hour. Whereupon the word went through town that Ferry was on his way to us."Well?" enquired Mrs. Flack, as she poured him out a cup of tea, "who won?""No." A silence followed; then he said, "You know the reason, I think."
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