Friday, December 25, 2015

The Invisible Man II: Mr. Teddy Henfrey's First Impressions

 In chapter II of The Invisible Man, we are introduced to Mr. Teddy Henfrey, the local clock-jobber. If anybody in the Bramblehurst-Iping Metropolitan Area has a clock that needs repairing, Mr. Teddy Henfrey is the man to call. He turns up at the Coach and Horses around four in the afternoon, as the light of this snowy day is starting to fade. Mrs. Hall is pleased to see him, since he has his bag of tools with him, and the clock in the parlour has an hour hand that won't move.

The parlour of course is the room her mysterious guest has rented for the week, so for Mrs. Hall the arrival of Mr. Henfrey is doubly fortuitous. She taps lightly at the parlour door and ushers Mr. Henfrey in. Her guest is asleep in the armchair facing the fireplace, and the dying embers provide the only illumination. She can just about make out his bandaged and goggled head in the dim light, but to her astonishment she can't see any sign of his jaw; it's as though his mouth has expanded to absorb the lower quarter of his face.

Then the mysterious man wakes up and holds a muffler over his mouth, and Mrs. Hall decides she was seeing things. She asks her guest if Mr. Henfrey can come in and fix the clock, and he agrees. He then asks Mrs. Hall to fix him some tea after Mr. Henfrey is finished, and she agrees. He also inquires again about the boxes he left at the train station, and Mrs. Hall explains that she has told the postman, who will be picking them up the next day. The guest once more asks whether that's the earliest he can have them, and Mrs. Hall, now becoming annoyed by his persistence, tells him again that, yes, that's the earliest he can have them.

The guest, clearly not wishing to see his hostess become annoyed with him, explains that he is an inventor, and that the boxes contain his supplies and apparatus. This increases the landlady's opinion of her guest, and he goes on to explain:
"My reason for coming to Iping," he proceeded, with a certain deliberation of manner, "was ... a desire for solitude. I do not wish to be disturbed in my work. In addition to my work, an accident—"

"I thought as much," said Mrs. Hall to herself.

"—necessitates a certain retirement. My eyes—are sometimes so weak and painful that I have to shut myself up in the dark for hours together. Lock myself up. Sometimes—now and then. Not at present, certainly. At such times the slightest disturbance, the entry of a stranger into the room, is a source of excruciating annoyance to me—it is well these things should be understood."

"Certainly, sir," said Mrs. Hall. "And if I might make so bold as to ask—"

"That I think, is all," said the stranger, with that quietly irresistible air of finality he could assume at will. Mrs. Hall reserved her question and sympathy for a better occasion.
As he sets to work on the clock, Mr. Henfrey is just as unnerved by the guest's appearance as Mrs. Hall was, and he deliberately takes his time working on the clock so he'll have more time to rubberneck. The guest sees what Mr. Henfrey is up to, and becomes annoyed. When Mr. Henfrey tries an opening conversational gambit about the weather, the guest interrupts him. "Why don't you finish and go?" said the rigid figure, evidently in a state of painfully suppressed rage. "All you've got to do is to fix the hour-hand on its axle. You're simply humbugging—"

Mr. Henfrey quickly finishes his work and retreats from the Coach and Horses. On his way into town, he passes Mrs. Hall's husband, who is returning from a trip to a neighboring village in the inn's horse and carriage. We learn that Mr. Hall and his wife are recently wed, and Mr. Henfrey surmises from Mr. Hall's driving that he remained at the neighboring village for a while to wet his whistle.

Mr. Henfrey warns Mr. Hall that he's got "a rum 'un" at the Coach and Horses. He darkly suggests that the guest has disguised himself for some nefarious purpose, and expresses alarm over the fact that the guest hasn't revealed his name. Mr. Hall decides he'd better look into the matter, but when he arrives at the inn Mrs. Hall gives him hell for staying away so long. After the guest retires to his bedroom for the night, Mr. Hall sneaks into the parlour to make sure he hasn't nicked any of the furnishings. He sees a sheet of mathematical computations that the guest left behind, but is not impressed by it.
When retiring for the night he instructed Mrs. Hall to look very closely at the stranger's luggage when it came next day.

"You mind your own business, Hall," said Mrs. Hall, "and I'll mind mine."

She was all the more inclined to snap at Hall because the stranger was undoubtedly an unusually strange sort of stranger, and she was by no means assured about him in her own mind. In the middle of the night she woke up dreaming of huge white heads like turnips, that came trailing after her, at the end of interminable necks, and with vast black eyes. But being a sensible woman, she subdued her terrors and turned over and went to sleep again.
The outstanding question the reader is left with from chapter II is not anything to do with the mysterious stranger, but what Mr. and Mrs. Hall see in each other. Mr. Henfrey observes that Mr. Hall is "a man of sluggish apprehension", and apparently he's also lazy and rather too fond of the bottle. Not only do they not act like newlyweds, they act like an old married couple who have grown heartily sick of each other. Is it possible that the two of them had a drunken night of sexual hijinks that left her pregnant and in need of a husband? Or does he know some dark secret about her, perhaps regarding the mysterious death of a previous husband, and blackmailed himself into a comfortable situation with the owner of a moderately profitable business?

Perhaps we'll learn the answers to these questions in chapter III, "The Thousand and One Bottles."

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