The music had begun again. It was merely a temporary interruption. The _Tannhauser_ March started again, this time at a tremendous pace that made it sound like a rapid two-step as though the instruments played against time.
But the brief interruption gave Dr. Silence a moment in which to collect his scattering thoughts, and before the band had got through half a bar, he had flung forward upon the chair and held Mr. Racine Mudge, the struggling little victim of Higher s.p.a.ce, in a grip of iron. His arms went all round his diminutive person, taking in a good part of the chair at the same time. He was not a big man, yet he seemed to smother Mudge completely.
Yet, even as he did so, and felt the wriggling form underneath him, it began to melt and slip away like air or water. The wood of the arm-chair somehow disentangled itself from between his own arms and those of Mudge. The phenomenon known as the pa.s.sage of matter through matter took place. The little man seemed actually to get mixed up in his own being.
Dr. Silence could just see his face beneath him. It puckered and grew dark as though from some great internal effort. He heard the thin, reedy voice cry in his ear to "Block the entrances, block the entrances!" and then--but how in the world describe what is indescribable?
John Silence half rose up to watch. Racine Mudge, his face distorted beyond all recognition, was making a marvellous inward movement, as though doubling back upon himself. He turned funnel-wise like water in a whirling vortex, and then appeared to break up somewhat as a reflection breaks up and divides in a distorting convex mirror. He went neither forward nor backwards, neither to the right nor the left, neither up nor down. But he went. He went utterly. He simply flashed away out of sight like a vanishing projectile.
All but one leg! Dr. Silence just had the time and the presence of mind to seize upon the left ankle and boot as it disappeared, and to this he held on for several seconds like grim death. Yet all the time he knew it was a foolish and useless thing to do.
The foot was in his grasp one moment, and the next it seemed--this was the only way he could describe it--inside his own skin and bones, and at the same time outside his hand and all round it. It seemed mixed up in some amazing way with his own flesh and blood. Then it was gone, and he was tightly grasping a draught of heated air.
"Gone! gone! gone!" cried a thick, whispering voice, somewhere deep within his own consciousness. "Lost! lost! lost!" it repeated, growing fainter and fainter till at length it vanished into nothing and the last signs of Mr. Racine Mudge vanished with it.
John Silence locked his red book and replaced it in the cabinet, which he fastened with a click, and when Barker answered the bell he inquired if Mr. Mudge had left a card upon the table. It appeared that he had, and when the servant returned with it, Dr. Silence read the address and made a note of it. It was in North London.
"Mr. Mudge has gone," he said quietly to Barker, noticing his expression of alarm.
"He's not taken his 'at with him, sir."
"Mr. Mudge requires no hat where he is now," continued the doctor, stooping to poke the fire. "But he may return for it--"
"And the humbrella, sir."
"And the umbrella."
"He didn't go out _my_ way, sir, if you please," stuttered the amazed servant, his curiosity overcoming his nervousness.
"Mr. Mudge has his own way of coming and going, and prefers it. If he returns by the door at any time remember to bring him instantly to me, and be kind and gentle with him and ask no questions. Also, remember, Barker, to think pleasantly, sympathetically, affectionately of him while he is away. Mr. Mudge is a very suffering gentleman."
Barker bowed and went out of the room backwards, gasping and feeling round the inside of his collar with three very hot fingers of one hand.
It was two days later when he brought in a telegram to the study. Dr.
Silence opened it, and read as follows:
"Bombay. Just slipped out again. All safe. Have blocked entrances. Thousand thanks. Address Cooks, London.--MUDGE."
Dr. Silence looked up and saw Barker staring at him bewilderingly. It occurred to him that somehow he knew the contents of the telegram.
"Make a parcel of Mr. Mudge's things," he said briefly, "and address them Thomas Cook & Sons, Ludgate Circus. And send them there exactly a month from to-day and marked 'To be called for.'"
"Yes, sir," said Barker, leaving the room with a deep sigh and a hurried glance at the waste-paper basket where his master had dropped the pink paper.
« Previous My Bookmarks Chapters Next»