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The Doctor interrupted with a guffah. "Come, Mrs. Masters, we need not beat about[Pg 118] the bush. I rather fancy you are aware of our relationship. Did you find her agreeable?"

As he drew nearer, Arthur's impression of an unearthly being was sobered a little by the discovery that the strange figure wore a wig. It was a very red wig, and over the top of it was jammed a brown bowler hat. The face underneath was crimson and flabby. Arthur decided that it was not a very interesting face. Its features seemed to melt into each other in an odd sort of way, so that you knew that you were looking at a face and that was about all. He was about to turn his head politely and pass on, when he was suddenly rooted to the ground by the observation of a most singular circumstance..
"It's rather difficult to explain," the Clockwork man continued, "but so far as I remember, doctors were people who used to mend human beings before the days of the clock. Now they are called mechanics. But it amounts to the same thing.".
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It must remain for ever a question for curious speculation as to what action might have been taken by Doctor Allingham and Gregg in conjunction, had they been able to pursue their investigation of the Clockwork man upon a thorough-going scale; for while their discussions were taking place the subject of them escaped from his confinement in the coal cellar.?
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Allingham paused in the turning of the handle and stared, aghast, at his companion. There was no mistaking the significance of the remark, and it had been spoken in tones of strange tenderness. Rapidly there swept across the Doctor's mind a sensation of complete conviction. If there was any further proof required of the truth of Gregg's conjecture, surely it was expressed in this apparently insane and yet obviously sincere solicitude on the part of the Clockwork man for an inanimate machine? He recognised in the mechanism before him a member of his own species!.

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He was so interested that presently he got up and wandered along the line of hurdles towards the spot where the strange figure had come to rest. It had not moved at all, and this fact added astonishment to curiosity. It clung desperately to the barrier, as though glad to have got there. Its attitude was awkward in the extreme, hunched up, ill-[Pg 9]adjusted, but it made no attempt to achieve comfort. Further along, little groups of spectators were leaning against the barrier in nearly similar positions, smoking pipes, fidgeting and watching the game intently. But the strange figure was not doing anything at all, and if he looked at the players it was with an unnatural degree of intense observation. Arthur walked slowly along, wondering how close he could get to his objective without appearing rude. But, somehow, he did not think this difficulty would arise. There was something singularly forlorn and wretched about this curious individual, a suggestion of inconsequence. Arthur could have sworn that he was homeless and had no purpose or occupation. He was not in the picture of life, but something blobbed on by accident. Other people gave some sharp hint by their manner or deportment that they belonged to some roughly defined class. You could guess something about them. But this extraordinary personage, who had emerged so suddenly from the line of the sky and streaked aimlessly across the landscape, bore not even the vaguest marks of homely origin. He had staggered along the path, not with the recognisable gait of a drunken man, but with a sort of desperate decision, as though convinced in his mind that the path he was treading was really only a[Pg 10] thin plank stretched from heaven to earth upon which he had been obliged to balance himself. And now he was hanging upon the hurdle, and it was just as though someone had thrown a great piece of clay there, and with a few deft strokes shaped it into the vague likeness of a man.
But the class to which the Paynes belonged were not really humble. They were urban in origin, and the semi-aristocratic tradition of Great Wymering was opposed to them. They had come down from the London suburbs in response to advertisements of factory sites, and their enterprise had been amazing. Within a few years Great Wymering had ceased to be a pleasing country town, with historic associations dating back to the first Roman occupation; it was merely known to travellers on the South-Eastern and Chatham railway as the place where Payne's Dog Biscuits were manufactured.
Arthur heard a slight noise somewhere round the back of the cottage. "Someone coming," he warned.
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21 August, 2019 - 13:08
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