The stranger came early in May one cold spring day, through a biting wind and a unseasonal hail, chaffeur driven as it seemed from Bramblehurst railway station. He carried a little black Smythson portmanteau in his thickly Smythson leather-gloved hand.
"I get discount," he said to the driver when he noticed his envious stare.
He (the stranger) was wrapped up from head to foot, and the brim of his Panama hat hid every inch of his face but the shiny aristocratically pink tip of his nose. He staggered into the Coach and Horses, more dead than alive as it seemed, and flung his portmanteau down.
"A fire," he cried, "in the name of Big Society! A room and a fire!"
He stamped and shook the dandruff from his shoulders in the bar, and followed Mrs. Hall into her guest parlour to strike his bargain. And with that much introduction, that and a ready (and unexpected) acquiescence to terms and a couple of used fivers flung upon the table, he took up his quarters in the inn.
Mrs. Hall lit the fire and left him there while she went to prepare him a meal with her own hands (which weren't gloved in latex as they should have been after handling cash). A guest to stop at Iping in the spring-time was an unheard-of piece of luck, let alone a guest who was no "haggler" with little obvious experience of handling finances.
As soon as the chops were well under way, she carried the cloth, plates, and glasses into the parlour and began to lay them with the utmost clat. Although the fire was burning up briskly, she was surprised to see that her visitor still wore his hat and coat, standing with his back to her and staring at the wallpaper on the chimney breast. His beautifully leather gloved hands were clasped behind him, and he seemed to be lost in thought, muttering to himself.
"I never thought Anaglypta would make a comeback ... Is it time to revisit flock? What about Lincrusta?"
She noticed that the dandruff that still sprinkled his shoulders was drifting upon her Axminster. "Can I take your hat and coat, sir," she said, "and give them a good brush in the kitchen?"
"No," he said without turning.
She was not sure she had heard him, and was about to repeat her question.
He turned his large, aristocratic head and looked at her over his shoulder. "I prefer to keep them on," he said with emphasis, and she noticed that he wore big blue wrap-around shades. Bushy side-whiskers, a curly beard and an extravagant moustache spilled, erm, extravagantly over his coat-collar conspiring to completely hide his face. They were joined in this conspiracy by a heavy 'death metal' fringe, the Panama hat and a creased copy of the Daily Telegraph which he fluttered in front of where his facial features should have been like a fan.
To Be Continued ...
With apologies to H.G. Wells