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He achieved that second grand sweep of the left side of his face, ending at the corner of his mouth, and followed it up by a swift, upward stroke, annihilating the bristly tuft underneath his lower lip. Looking swiftly at the clock, he noticed that it was getting dreadfully late. That was another curious problem of existence.[Pg 72] You were always up against time. Generally, when you had to do something or get somewhere, there was this sense of breathless hurry and a disconcerting feeling that the world ended abruptly at the conclusion of every hour and then began again quite differently. The clock, in fact, was another tyrant, robbing you of that sensation of being able to go on for ever without changing. That was why people said, when they consulted their watches "How's the enemy?"
And then he stopped abruptly, aware of a cool sensation on the top of his head. His hat and wig had gone! Aghast, he retraced his steps, but there was no sign of the articles on the pavement. It seemed utterly incredible, for there was only a slight breeze and he did not remember knocking into anything. He had certainly not collided with the stranger. Just for a moment he wondered.
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"When you asked me if I were a conjurer," said the Clockwork man, "I at once recalled the book. You see, it's actually in my head. That is how we read books now. We wear[Pg 100] them inside the clock, in the form of spools that unwind. What you have said brings it all back to me. It suddenly occurs to me that I am indeed a conjurer, and that all my actions in this backward world must be regarded in the light of magic."
The spectators gave themselves up wholly to the fun. It must have seemed to them that this extraordinary cricketer was also gifted with a sense of humour, however eccentric; and that his nonsensical action was intended by way of retaliation for the ironic cheers that had greeted his running at all. Nobody, except Arthur Withers, realised that the Clockwork man run thus far because for some reason he had been unable to stop himself. It may be remarked here that many of the Clockwork man's subsequent performances had this same accidental air of humour; and that even his most grotesque attitudes gave the observer an impression of some wild practical joke. He was so far human, in appearance and[Pg 35] manner, in spite of those peculiar internal arrangements, which will be dealt with later, that his actions produced an instantaneous appeal to the comic instinct; and in laughing at him people forgot to take him seriously.
When I reached the front steps with them Ferry was at the gallery's edge, Miss Harper, Cécile and Harry were on three sides of him, and he was explaining away our astonishing departure. We were going to Hazlehurst, to issue clothing and shoes to those ragged and barefoot fellows we had seen that afternoon, and the light of whose tentless camp was yonder in the sky, now, toward Brookhaven. We were to go that way, confer with their officers, telegraph from town for authorizations to be sent to us at Hazlehurst, and then to push on to that place and be ready to issue the stuff when the trains should come up from Brookhaven bringing the brigade. While he spoke Camille and Estelle joined us. "No," he said, "to start any later, 'twould be too late."