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CHAPTER XXI
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 THE EARLESS MAN WITH HIS HEAD OUT OF THE WINDOW
Let us state this geometrical problem in the simplest words: an express train has to cover the ground between two little stations three miles apart. It is announced at the second when it passes the first; and yet they wait for it at the second in vain. They hurry from both stations down the line to find the wreck1; but they do not so much as find the train, an express train in which there are perhaps a hundred passengers.
 
That the station-master of A should have fallen down dead at the shock of this unheard-of, bewildering, stupefying, absurd, diabolical2, and yet how simple (as we shall learn later) disappearance3 of the train, is not greatly to be wondered at. The minds of all of them were shaken by the occurrence. The station-master of B was not in a much better condition than his colleague. Everyone present uttered incoherent cries. They kept calling the train, as if[Pg 243] the train could have answered! They did not hear it, and on that flat plain they did not see it! The ticket-clerk of station A knelt down beside the body of his chief, and presently said, "I am quite sure he is dead!" The rest gathered round the body of the dead man; and then, tearing up two of the little trees from the side of the road which runs beside the railway, they laid him on them. Carrying the body on this rude litter, they returned towards station A. We must bear in mind that the express had passed station B, and that no one had seen it reach station A.
 
But they had not yet reached station A when, on the line, on the line along which they had just come, they perceived a railway-carriage, or rather a railway-carriage and a guard's-van! They greeted the sight in their excitable French way with the howls of madmen. Where did this end of a train come from? And what had become of the beginning of the train, that is to say, of the engine, the tender, the dining-car, and the three corridor carriages?
 
Look at the plan. C marks the point on the line at which the staffs of stations A and B met, when they were hunting for the train. It is also the point at which the station-master of A fell down dead. The two staffs then, in a[Pg 244] body, were bringing back the dead station-master towards A, when at the point D, a point they had passed a few minutes before, and at which they had seen nothing, they find a railway-carriage and a guard's-van.
 
These people greeted this sight with the cries of madmen; and then they perceived an odd-looking head looking out of one of the windows of the railway-carriage. It waggled. This head had no ears; and the earless man had his head out of the carriage window. They shouted to him. From the moment they caught sight of him they asked him what had happened. But the man did not answer. The odd thing was that his head waggled from left to right, as if it were moved by the wind which was blowing at the time with some force. It was a head with crinkly hair. It was bent4 downwards5; and the cravat6 round a high collar, very white on that grey day, was untied7 and streaming in the wind.
 
At last when they came quite near (they moved slowly owing to the fact that they were carrying the station-master) they saw clearly the shocking reality. The man not only had his head out of the window, he had also got it caught in the window. The unfortunate wretch8 must have opened the window and stuck his[Pg 245] head out while the train was in motion; and the window must have been jerked up violently and cut his head half off! On seeing this, the two staffs howled afresh; then they set down the body of the station-master, ran round the guard's-van, in which there was nobody, and opening a door on the other side of the carriage, they found that it was empty, except for the man whose head was caught in the window, and that his body, inside the carriage, was stripped of every rag of clothing.
 
The news of these fantastic horrors at once spread throughout the district. An enormous crowd thronged9 the platforms of station A all the rest of the day. The chief officials of the line came from Paris. Not only were they unable to explain, on that day and the days following, the death of the man who had had his head out of the carriage window, but they were still unable to find either the train or the passengers. They talked of nothing but this strange affair at the funeral of the station-master of A, which was celebrated10 with great solemnity, and also throughout Europe and America.
 
[Pg 246]
 
CHAPTER XXII
 
IN WHICH THE CATASTROPHE11 WHICH APPEARS ON THE POINT OF BEING EXPLAINED, GROWS YET MORE INEXPLICABLE12
So far I have only given the simplest plan of the line that I might get the basis of the affair as clear as possible. That plan is not quite complete, for though there was only this one line joining the stations A and B there was a short side-line, H I, which led to a sand-pit which had supplied a glass-factory. But since the glass-factory had failed, they no longer worked the sand-pit; and the side-line was practically abandoned. Here is the complete plan:
 
 
 
It will naturally be supposed that this side-line leading to the sand-pit is going to provide[Pg 247] the explanation, the quite simple explanation of the disappearance of the express. But if the matter had been as simple as the side-line would appear to make it, I should hardly have omitted it from the first map. I could have said at once: "It is quite clear that, owing to a train of circumstances which it remains13 to determine, the express, instead of continuing to follow the line B A, must have turned off up the side-line H I, and buried itself in the vast mass of loose sand at the sand-pit I. Rushing along at a speed of over sixty miles an hour, it evidently plunged14 into the mass of sand, which covered it up; and that is the stupid but actual reason of its disappearance."
 
But, to say nothing of the fact that this does not explain the presence, at the point D, of the guard's-van and railway-carriage, out of the window of which Signor Petito had stuck his head, this explanation could not have failed to occur to the alert intelligence of the engineers of the company. Moreover, there were points and a switch at the point H; this switch, in accordance with the rules, was padlocked; and the key had been taken away.
 
I indeed attached no importance to the fact that the padlock was locked; for, it seemed to me quite probable that the key had been left in[Pg 248] the padlock, which had actually been the case, and that Theophrastus, who had good reasons for stopping the train in order to join Signor Petito, had profited by the presence of that key, to shift the points. It was only a matter of thrusting over the lever of the switch; and that would explain why the train was not seen by the signal-man at A, since, instead of continuing along the line B A, it had turned off up H I towards the sand-pit. I told myself all this; and if it had explained anything, I should have stated it at once, and instead of giving two maps I should have given merely the latter with the side-line H I on it.
 
That I have not done so is owing to the fact that the side-line H I explains nothing. I also believed at first that it was going to make the disappearance of the express clear to us, but as a matter of fact it complicates15 the catastrophe instead of explaining it; for here is the story, the true story; and that too continues to explain nothing at all.
 
Wandering along the road which runs beside the railway, Theophrastus had noticed the little side-line, and seen that the key had been left in the padlock of the switch. This fact, which had been of no importance to him before his brief but stormy interview with Signora Petito,[Pg 249] assumed an enormous importance when he resolved to join, at any cost, Signor Petito, who was in the train which was about to pass under his nose. M. Longuet said to himself: "I cannot board the express, rushing between the two stations A and B, in the usual way. But there is a little side-line H I, the key is in the padlock of the switch; I have only to turn the lever, and the express will dash up H I. Since it is broad daylight the engine-driver will see what has happened, he will stop the train, and I shall take advantage of its stopping to board it."
 
Nothing could be more simple; and Theophrastus did it. He dragged over the lever of the switch, walked up the side-line, and waited for the express.
 
Theophrastus, hidden behind a tree that none of the officials on the express might see him, awaited its coming at the point K, that is to say, rather more than half-way up the side-line, that is to say, on this side of the sand-pit I. He waited for the express coming from H, with his eyes on the track. If, as everyone must have been supposing ever since I mentioned the sand-pit, the train coming from H had buried itself in the sand at I, Theophrastus, who was at K, between H and I, must have[Pg 250] seen it. But Theophrastus waited for the train and waited for the train and waited for the train. He waited for it as the signal-man at station A had waited for it; and he no more saw the express than did the signal-man at A and the rest of the officials of the line.
 
The express had disappeared for M. Longuet as it had disappeared for the rest of the world.
 
So much so that, tired of waiting, M. Longuet walked down as far as H to see what was happening. There he saw the staff of A, which was hurrying towards B in its search for the express. He asked himself sadly what could have become of the express; and finding no answer to the question, he walked up H I, and when he arrived at K, which he had just left, he found the empty guard's-van and the railway-carriage which a few minutes later the two staffs were to find at D!
 
Once more he swore by the throttle16 of Mme. Phalaris, and buried his brow in his hands, asking himself how that guard's-van and that carriage came to be there, since the express itself had not come. It had not come, since he, Theophrastus, had not quitted the track.
 
Suddenly he saw the head of a man waggling out of the window of the railway-carriage;[Pg 251] and since this head had no ears, he recognised Signor Petito.
 
He sprang up into the railway-carriage, and without troubling to let down the window and release the head of the unfortunate expert in handwriting, he stripped him of his clothes, and proceeded to put them on. Theophrastus, who knew himself to be tracked by the police and in whom the astuteness17 of Cartouche sprang to life again, was disguising himself. When he was dressed, he made a bundle of his own clothes, and descended18 from the carriage. He felt in Signor Petito's pockets, took out his pocket-book, sat down on the embankment, and plunged into the study of the papers it contained, hunting for the traces of his treasures. But Signor Petito had carried to the tomb the secret of the treasures of the Chopinettes; never again were the Gall19, the Cock, the Chopinettes, or the treasures to be discussed: with the result that Signora Petito, who learnt a few minutes later of the extraordinary death of her husband, presently went mad, and was confined in a lunatic asylum20 for six months.
 
But we are only concerned with the misfortune of Theophrastus, which so surpasses all other human misfortunes, and which is so hard to believe that we need all the assistance that[Pg 252] Science can give us to credit it wholly. I cannot believe that the minds of my readers are so base, or their imaginations so poor, that the matter of the treasures could be of any genuine interest to them, when they are confronted by this phenomenon, of such surpassing interest, the soul of Theophrastus.
 
Presently that unfortunate man, on failing to find anything of interest to him in the papers of Signor Petito, heaved a deep sigh. He raised his head; and lo! the guard's-van and the railway-carriage of Signor Petito had disappeared!

点击收听单词发音收听单词发音  

1 wreck QMjzE     
n.失事,遇难;沉船;vt.(船等)失事,遇难
参考例句:
  • Weather may have been a factor in the wreck.天气可能是造成这次失事的原因之一。
  • No one can wreck the friendship between us.没有人能够破坏我们之间的友谊。
2 diabolical iPCzt     
adj.恶魔似的,凶暴的
参考例句:
  • This maneuver of his is a diabolical conspiracy.他这一手是一个居心叵测的大阴谋。
  • One speaker today called the plan diabolical and sinister.今天一名发言人称该计划阴险恶毒。
3 disappearance ouEx5     
n.消失,消散,失踪
参考例句:
  • He was hard put to it to explain her disappearance.他难以说明她为什么不见了。
  • Her disappearance gave rise to the wildest rumours.她失踪一事引起了各种流言蜚语。
4 bent QQ8yD     
n.爱好,癖好;adj.弯的;决心的,一心的
参考例句:
  • He was fully bent upon the project.他一心扑在这项计划上。
  • We bent over backward to help them.我们尽了最大努力帮助他们。
5 downwards MsDxU     
adj./adv.向下的(地),下行的(地)
参考例句:
  • He lay face downwards on his bed.他脸向下伏在床上。
  • As the river flows downwards,it widens.这条河愈到下游愈宽。
6 cravat 7zTxF     
n.领巾,领结;v.使穿有领结的服装,使结领结
参考例句:
  • You're never fully dressed without a cravat.不打领结,就不算正装。
  • Mr. Kenge adjusting his cravat,then looked at us.肯吉先生整了整领带,然后又望着我们。
7 untied d4a1dd1a28503840144e8098dbf9e40f     
松开,解开( untie的过去式和过去分词 ); 解除,使自由; 解决
参考例句:
  • Once untied, we common people are able to conquer nature, too. 只要团结起来,我们老百姓也能移山倒海。
  • He untied the ropes. 他解开了绳子。
8 wretch EIPyl     
n.可怜的人,不幸的人;卑鄙的人
参考例句:
  • You are really an ungrateful wretch to complain instead of thanking him.你不但不谢他,还埋怨他,真不知好歹。
  • The dead husband is not the dishonoured wretch they fancied him.死去的丈夫不是他们所想象的不光彩的坏蛋。
9 thronged bf76b78f908dbd232106a640231da5ed     
v.成群,挤满( throng的过去式和过去分词 )
参考例句:
  • Mourners thronged to the funeral. 吊唁者蜂拥着前来参加葬礼。 来自《简明英汉词典》
  • The department store was thronged with people. 百货商店挤满了人。 来自《现代英汉综合大词典》
10 celebrated iwLzpz     
adj.有名的,声誉卓著的
参考例句:
  • He was soon one of the most celebrated young painters in England.不久他就成了英格兰最负盛名的年轻画家之一。
  • The celebrated violinist was mobbed by the audience.观众团团围住了这位著名的小提琴演奏家。
11 catastrophe WXHzr     
n.大灾难,大祸
参考例句:
  • I owe it to you that I survived the catastrophe.亏得你我才大难不死。
  • This is a catastrophe beyond human control.这是一场人类无法控制的灾难。
12 inexplicable tbCzf     
adj.无法解释的,难理解的
参考例句:
  • It is now inexplicable how that development was misinterpreted.当时对这一事态发展的错误理解究竟是怎么产生的,现在已经无法说清楚了。
  • There are many things which are inexplicable by science.有很多事科学还无法解释。
13 remains 1kMzTy     
n.剩余物,残留物;遗体,遗迹
参考例句:
  • He ate the remains of food hungrily.他狼吞虎咽地吃剩余的食物。
  • The remains of the meal were fed to the dog.残羹剩饭喂狗了。
14 plunged 06a599a54b33c9d941718dccc7739582     
v.颠簸( plunge的过去式和过去分词 );暴跌;骤降;突降
参考例句:
  • The train derailed and plunged into the river. 火车脱轨栽进了河里。
  • She lost her balance and plunged 100 feet to her death. 她没有站稳,从100英尺的高处跌下摔死了。
15 complicates 5877af381de63ddbd027e178c8d214f1     
使复杂化( complicate的第三人称单数 )
参考例句:
  • What complicates the issue is the burden of history. 历史的重负使问题复杂化了。
  • Russia as a great and ambitious power gravely complicates the situation. 俄国作为一个强大而有野心的国家,使得局势异常复杂。
16 throttle aIKzW     
n.节流阀,节气阀,喉咙;v.扼喉咙,使窒息,压
参考例句:
  • These government restrictions are going to throttle our trade.这些政府的限制将要扼杀我们的贸易。
  • High tariffs throttle trade between countries.高的关税抑制了国与国之间的贸易。
17 astuteness fb1f6f67d94983ea5578316877ad8658     
n.敏锐;精明;机敏
参考例句:
  • His pleasant, somewhat ordinary face suggested amiability rather than astuteness. 他那讨人喜欢而近乎平庸的脸显得和蔼有余而机敏不足。 来自互联网
  • Young Singaporeans seem to lack the astuteness and dynamism that they possess. 本地的一般年轻人似乎就缺少了那份机灵和朝气。 来自互联网
18 descended guQzoy     
a.为...后裔的,出身于...的
参考例句:
  • A mood of melancholy descended on us. 一种悲伤的情绪袭上我们的心头。
  • The path descended the hill in a series of zigzags. 小路呈连续的之字形顺着山坡蜿蜒而下。
19 gall jhXxC     
v.使烦恼,使焦躁,难堪;n.磨难
参考例句:
  • It galled him to have to ask for a loan.必须向人借钱使他感到难堪。
  • No gall,no glory.没有磨难,何来荣耀。
20 asylum DobyD     
n.避难所,庇护所,避难
参考例句:
  • The people ask for political asylum.人们请求政治避难。
  • Having sought asylum in the West for many years,they were eventually granted it.他们最终获得了在西方寻求多年的避难权。


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