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      The Doctor suddenly took her in his arms.[Pg 203] "But you care?" he whispered. "You consent to make me young again?"

      "And the dances?" asked the Major.LVIII THE UPPER FORK OF THE ROAD

      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."It's very hard," the Curate complained, "that my infirmity should have prevented me from seeing more. The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak."

      There was still a touch of complaint in his voice, as though he felt sorry now to leave a world so full of pitfalls and curious adventures. Something brisker about his appearance seemed to suggest that an improvement had taken[Pg 204] place in his working arrangements. You might have thought him rather an odd figure, stiff-necked, and jerky in his gait; but there were no lapses into his early bad manner.

      He paused and confronted Allingham, who had risen from his chair and was still trembling.But it was not a human noise. It began with a succession of deep-toned growls and grunts, and ended abruptly in a distinct bark.

      "I wonder why I'm not clever," Arthur remarked, after a long pause. Rose clutched him indignantly towards her.

      In spite of his agitation, it occurred to him[Pg 140] that he must be prepared for worse shocks than this. It was no use giving way to panic. Incredible as had been the cricketing performance, the magical flight, and now this ridiculously sudden growth of beard, there were indications about the Clockwork man that pointed to still further abnormalities. The Doctor braced himself up to face the worst; he had no theory at all with which to explain these staggering manifestations, and it seemed more than likely that the ghastly serio-comic figure seated on the couch would presently offer some explanation of his own.Tom's eyes searched the room as though looking for something. Gregg was standing with his back to the fire-place, but noticing that Tom seemed to be trying to look behind him, he moved away. Tom immediately[Pg 60] pointed to the clock that stood on the mantelpiece.


      Gregg laughed and lowered himself into an easy chair. "Superstition, after all, is a perfectly legitimate although rudimentary form of human enquiry. These good people want to believe in the Devil. At the least opportunity they evoke his satanic majesty. They[Pg 52] are quite right. They are simply using the only material in their minds in order to investigate a mystery."How busy we were kept, and how much oftener I wrote to Ferry, and to Camille, than to my mother. And how much closer I watched the trend of things that belonged only to this small story than I did that great theatre of a whole world's fortunes, whose arches spread and resounded from the city of Washington to the city of Mexico. In mid-August one of Camille's heartlessly infrequent letters brought me a mint of blithe news. Harry and Ccile were really engaged; Major Harper, aunt Martha, General Austin, Captain Ferry and Charlotte had all written the distant father in his behalf, and the distant father had capitulated. Furthermore, Captain Ferry's latest letter to Charlotte had brought word that in spite of all backsets he was promised by his physician that in ten days more he could safely take the field again. But, best of all, Major Harper, having spent a week with his family--not on leave, but on some mysterious business that somehow included a great train of pontoon bridges--had been so completely won over to Charlotte by her own sweet ways that, on his own suggestion to his sister, and their joint proposition, by correspondence, to Ferry, another group of letters, from Miss Harper, the Major and the General, had been sent to the Durands in New Orleans--father, mother, and grandmother--telling them all about Charlotte; her story, her beauty, her charms of manner, mind, and heart. And so, wrote my correspondent, the Wall household were living in confident hope and yet in unbearable suspense; for these things were now full two weeks old, and would have been told me sooner only that she, Camille, had promised never to tell them to any one whomsoever.


      "The two were right here together," he said, "and Mr. Smith's was marked 'valuable' and had something hard in one corner of it." Camille brought a candle, Estelle another; Gholson rose from his knee: "Smith, it's gone! I've lost it! And yet"--he slapped his breast-pockets--"no, it's somewhere in the grove; it's between here and that cornfield gate! I counted all the papers just this side of that gate, and I must 'a' dropped yours then!" Ccile brought a third light and we sallied forth into the motionless air, Estelle with a candle and Gholson, Camille with a candle and me, Ccile with a candle and Mrs. Wall, Miss Harper and the Squire, and Charlotte and Ferry. In the heart of the grove Estelle gave a soft cry, sprang, stooped, straightened, and handed me the letter.


      "Don't be a damned fool," the doctor burst out, "you're talking through your hat."Uppermost in the Doctor's mind was the reflection that he of all persons should have been selected by an undiscriminating providence to undergo this distressing and entirely unprecedented experience. It was an ironic commentary upon his reactionary views and his comfortable doctrine of common sense. He had been convinced in spite of himself, and the effort to resist conviction had strained his mental powers uncomfortably. He felt very strongly his inability to cope with the many problems that would be sure to arise in[Pg 156] connection with the Clockwork man. It was too much for one man's brain. There would have to be a convocation of all the cleverest men in Europe in order to investigate such an appalling revelation. He pictured himself in the act of introducing this genuine being from a future age, and the description he would have to give of all that had happened in connection with him. Even that prospect set his brain reeling. He would like to be able to shirk the issue. It was enough to have looked upon this archetype of the future; the problem now was to forget his existence.