The Man Who Knew Too Much HTML version

5. The Fad Of The Fisherman
A thing can sometimes be too extraordinary to be remembered. If it is clean out of the
course of things, and has apparently no causes and no consequences, subsequent events
do not recall it, and it remains only a subconscious thing, to be stirred by some accident
long after. It drifts apart like a forgotten dream; and it was in the hour of many dreams, at
daybreak and very soon after the end of dark, that such a strange sight was given to a man
sculling a boat down a river in the West country. The man was awake; indeed, he
considered himself rather wide awake, being the political journalist, Harold March, on his
way to interview various political celebrities in their country seats. But the thing he saw
was so inconsequent that it might have been imaginary. It simply slipped past his mind
and was lost in later and utterly different events; nor did he even recover the memory till
he had long afterward discovered the meaning.
Pale mists of morning lay on the fields and the rushes along one margin of the river;
along the other side ran a wall of tawny brick almost overhanging the water. He had
shipped his oars and was drifting for a moment with the stream, when he turned his head
and saw that the monotony of the long brick wall was broken by a bridge; rather an
elegant eighteenth-century sort of bridge with little columns of white stone turning gray.
There had been floods and the river still stood very high, with dwarfish trees waist deep
in it, and rather a narrow arc of white dawn gleamed under the curve of the bridge.
As his own boat went under the dark archway he saw another boat coming toward him,
rowed by a man as solitary as himself. His posture prevented much being seen of him, but
as he neared the bridge he stood up in the boat and turned round. He was already so close
to the dark entry, however, that his whole figure was black against the morning light, and
March could see nothing of his face except the end of two long whiskers or mustaches
that gave something sinister to the silhouette, like horns in the wrong place. Even these
details March would never have noticed but for what happened in the same instant. As
the man came under the low bridge he made a leap at it and hung, with his legs dangling,
letting the boat float away from under him. March had a momentary vision of two black
kicking legs; then of one black kicking leg; and then of nothing except the eddying
stream and the long perspective of the wall. But whenever he thought of it again, long
afterward, when he understood the story in which it figured, it was always fixed in that
one fantastic shape--as if those wild legs were a grotesque graven ornament of the bridge
itself, in the manner of a gargoyle. At the moment he merely passed, staring, down the
stream. He could see no flying figure on the bridge, so it must have already fled; but he
was half conscious of some faint significance in the fact that among the trees round the
bridgehead opposite the wall he saw a lamp-post; and, beside the lamp-post, the broad
blue back of an unconscious policeman.
Even before reaching the shrine of his political pilgrimage he had many other things to
think of besides the odd incident of the bridge; for the management of a boat by a solitary
man was not always easy even on such a solitary stream. And indeed it was only by an
unforeseen accident that he was solitary. The boat had been purchased and the whole