When the dusk was gathering and Iping was just beginning to peep timorously forth again upon the shattered wreckage of its Bank Holiday, a short, thick-set man in a shabby silk hat was marching painfully through the twilight behind the beechwoods on the road to Bramblehurst. He carried three books bound together by some sort of ornamental elastic ligature, and a bundle wrapped in a blue table-cloth. His rubicund face expressed consternation and fatigue; he appeared to be in a spasmodic sort of hurry. He was accompanied by a voice other than his own, and ever and again he winced under the touch of unseen hands.
“If you give me the slip again,” said the Voice, “if you attempt to give me the slip again—”
“Lord!” said Mr. Marvel. “That shoulder’s a mass of bruises as it is.”
“On my honour,” said the Voice, “I will kill you.”
“I didn’t try to give you the slip,” said Marvel, in a voice that was not far remote from tears. “I swear I didn’t. I didn’t know the blessed turning, that was all! How the devil was I to know the blessed turning? As it is, I’ve been knocked about—”
“You’ll get knocked about a great deal more if you don’t mind,” said the Voice, and Mr. Marvel abruptly became silent. He blew out his cheeks, and his eyes were eloquent of despair.
“It’s bad enough to let these floundering yokels explode my little secret, without your cutting off with my books. It’s lucky for some of them they cut and ran when they did! Here am I … No one knew I was invisible! And now what am I to do?”
“What am I to do?” asked Marvel, sotto voce.
“It’s all about. It will be in the papers! Everybody will be looking for me; everyone on their guard—” The Voice broke off into vivid curses and ceased.
The despair of Mr. Marvel’s face deepened, and his pace slackened.
“Go on!” said the Voice.
Mr. Marvel’s face assumed a greyish tint between the ruddier patches.
“Don’t drop those books, stupid,” said the Voice, sharply—overtaking him.
“The fact is,” said the Voice, “I shall have to make use of you…. You’re a poor tool, but I must.”
“I’m a miserable tool,” said Marvel.
“You are,” said the Voice.
“I’m the worst possible tool you could have,” said Marvel.
“I’m not strong,” he said after a discouraging silence.
“I’m not over strong,” he repeated.
“And my heart’s weak. That little business—I pulled it through, of course—but bless you! I could have dropped.”
“I haven’t the nerve and strength for the sort of thing you want.”
“I’ll stimulate you.”
“I wish you wouldn’t. I wouldn’t like to mess up your plans, you know. But I might—out of sheer funk and misery.”
“You’d better not,” said the Voice, with quiet emphasis.
“I wish I was dead,” said Marvel.
“It ain’t justice,” he said; “you must admit…. It seems to me I’ve a perfect right—”
“Get on!” said the Voice.
Mr. Marvel mended his pace, and for a time they went in silence again.
“It’s devilish hard,” said Mr. Marvel.
This was quite ineffectual. He tried another tack.
“What do I make by it?” he began again in a tone of unendurable wrong.
“Oh! shut up!” said the Voice, with sudden amazing vigour. “I’ll see to you all right. You do what you’re told. You’ll do it all right. You’re a fool and all that, but you’ll do—”
“I tell you, sir, I’m not the man for it. Respectfully—but it is so—”
“If you don’t shut up I shall twist your wrist again,” said the Invisible Man. “I want to think.”
Presently two oblongs of yellow light appeared through the trees, and the square tower of a church loomed through the gloaming. “I shall keep my hand on your shoulder,” said the Voice, “all through the village. Go straight through and try no foolery. It will be the worse for you if you do.”
“I know that,” sighed Mr. Marvel, “I know all that.”
The unhappy-looking figure in the obsolete silk hat passed up the street of the little village with his burdens, and vanished into the gathering darkness beyond the lights of the windows.