The Strange Man's Arrival
The stranger came early one winter's day in February, through a biting wind and the last snowfall of the year. He walked over the hill from Bramblehurst Station, and carried a little black bag in his thickly gloved hand. He was wrapped up from head to foot, and the edge of his soft grey hat hid every part of his face except the shiny point of his nose; the snow had piled itself against his shoulders and chest. He almost fell into the Coach and Horses, more dead than alive, and threw his bag down. 'A fire,' he cried, 'in the name of human kindness! A room and a fire!' He stamped his feet, shook the snow from his coat and followed Mrs Hall, the innkeeper's wife, into her parlour. There he arranged to take a room in the inn and gave her two pounds.
Mrs Hall lit the fire and left him there while she went to prepare him a meal with her own hands. To have a guest at Iping in the winter time was an unusual piece of good fortune, and she was determined to show that she deserved it.
She put some meat on the fire to cook, told Millie, the servant, to get the room ready for the stranger, and carried the cloth, plates and glasses into the parlour, and began to lay the table. Although the fire was burning brightly, she was surprised to see that her visitor still wore his hat and coat, and stood with his back to her, looking out of the window at the falling snow in the yard.
His gloved hands were held behind him, and he seemed to be thinking deeply. She noticed that some melted snow was falling onto the floor from his shoulders.
'Can I take your hat and coat, sir,' she said, 'and dry them in the kitchen?'
'No,' he replied, without turning.
She was not sure that she had heard him, and was about to repeat the question.
He turned his head and looked at her over his shoulder. 'I would rather keep them on,' he said firmly; and she noticed that he wore big blue glasses, and had a bushy beard over his coat collar that almost hid his face.
'Very well, sir,' she said. 'As you like. Very soon the room will be warmer.'
He made no answer, and turned his face away from her again, and Mrs Hall, feeling that her talk was unwelcome, finished laying the table quickly, and hurried out of the room. When she returned he was still standing there like a man of stone, his collar turned up, the edge of his hat turned down, almost hiding his face and ears. She put down the eggs and meat noisily, and called rather than said to him: