THE CLOCKWORK MAN.*
INSTEAD of transporting the reader to the world of A.D. 8000, Mr. Odle uses the much simpler device of introducing an inhabitant of that far-off future into the familiar surroundings of our own day. Coming over the brow of the hill one peaceful summer afternoon, the Clockwork Man's strangely jerky move- ments, like those of an ill-controlled mechanism, were a source of anxiety to at least one spectator at the adjacent cricket match, and when, subsequently, the stranger accepted the position of eleventh man in one of the teams, his conduct was startling and disastrous. Of course, he was not at once recognized for what he was, and some of the less sophisticated villagers declared that the Devil had arrived in person ; but it soon became evident to a Cambridge undergraduate who watched him that he must be a visitor from the future, when mankind will have dispensed with Time by means of an apparatus which enables them to travel up and down the centuries as easily as we do from one part of London to another. The Clockwork Man himself explains his sudden appearance in the present when he is talking to the Curate. He had wandered by accident into the village hall where a children's entertainment was in progress, and being accosted by the Curate as a conjurer who had been ordered from Gamage's, denies the fact, but in a moment changes his mind :— " It suddenly occurs to me that I am indeed a conjurer, and that all my actions in this backward world must be regarded in the light of magic.'
The Curate's eyebrows shot up in astonishment. Magic ? ' he queried, with a short laugh. Oh, we didn't bargain for magic. Only the usual sleight of hand.'
You see, I had lost faith in myself,' said the Clockwork Man, plaintively. I had forgotten what I could do. I was so terribly run down.' "
This is admirable comedy. Just to show his skill the automaton produced a parrot-cage out of the middle of next week. The Curate collapses. " I must have frightened him," the amateur conjurer whispered. " But I only wanted to show him and the parrot-cage happened to be handy." He trundled forward again and lurched into the middle of the street. " Death," he reflected, " that was death, I suppose. They still die."
Some readers, no doubt, will recognize the Wellsian manner, and probably the author himself would be the first to admit it. But in a case like this, where so much has been worked out on independent lines, that need not be a serious defect. The tension in the latter part of the book is very high, and the antagonism between the undergraduate, the visitor's champion, and the local doctor, his adversary, skilfully conveyed. Mr. Odle has the trick, too, of leading the reader along the pleasant footpaths of romance to consider the human side of highly abstruse speculations.