After six still seconds Turnbull could stand it no longer, but called out to the dwarfish thing—in what words heaven knows. The thing got up with the promptitude of an animal, and turning round offered the spectacle of two owlish eyes and a huge grey-and-white beard not unlike the plumage of an owl. This extraordinary beard covered him literally to his feet (not that that was very far), and perhaps it was as well that it did, for portions of his remaining clothing seemed to fall off whenever he moved. One talks trivially of a face like parchment, but this old man’s face was so wrinkled that it was like a parchment loaded with hieroglyphics. The lines of his face were so deep and complex that one could see five or ten different faces besides the real one, as one can see them in an elaborate wall-paper. And yet while his face seemed like a scripture older than the gods, his eyes were quite bright, blue, and startled like those of a baby. They looked as if they had only an instant before been fitted into his head.
Everything depended so obviously upon whether this buried monster spoke that Turnbull did not know or care whether he himself had spoken. He said something or nothing. And then he waited for this dwarfish voice that had been hidden under the mountains of the world. At last it did speak, and spoke in English, with a foreign accent that was neither Latin nor Teutonic. He suddenly stretched out a long and very dirty forefinger, and cried in a voice of clear recognition, like a child’s: “That’s a hole.”
He digested the discovery for some seconds, sucking his finger, and then he cried, with a crow of laughter: “And that’s a head come through it.”
The hilarious energy in this idiot attitude gave Turnbull another sick turn. He had grown to tolerate those dreary and mumbling madmen who trailed themselves about the beautiful asylum gardens. But there was something new and subversive of the universe in the combination of so much cheerful decision with a body without a brain.
“Why did they put you in such a place?” he asked at last with embarrassment.
“Good place. Yes,” said the old man, nodding a great many times and beaming like a flattered landlord. “Good shape. Long and narrow, with a point. Like this,” and he made lovingly with his hands a map of the room in the air.
“But that’s not the best,” he added, confidentially. “Squares very good; I have a nice long holiday, and can count them. But that’s not the best.”
“What is the best?” asked Turnbull in great distress.
“Spike is the best,” said the old man, opening his blue eyes blazing; “it sticks out.”
The words Turnbull spoke broke out of him in pure pity. “Can’t we do anything for you?” he said.
“I am very happy,” said the other, alphabetically. “You are a good man. Can I help you?”
“No, I don’t think you can, sir,” said Turnbull with rough pathos; “I am glad you are contented at least.”