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|The Wheels of Chance||H. G. [Herbert George] Wells|
XXXII. Mr. Hoopdriver, Knight Errant
|Page 6 of 8||
Evidently the man was horribly afraid. Mr. Hoopdriver grew truculent.
"Where you like," said Mr. Hoopdriver. "jest wherever you like."
"You insulted the gent," said the man in velveteen.
"Don't be a bloomin' funk, Charlie," said the man in gaiters. "Why, you got a stone of him, if you got an ounce."
"What I say, is this," said the gentleman with the excessive chins, trying to get a hearing by banging his chair arms. "If Charlie goes saying things, he ought to back 'em up. That's what I say. I don't mind his sayin' such things 't all, but he ought to be prepared to back 'em up."
"I'll BACK 'em up all right," said Charlie, with extremely bitter emphasis on 'back.' "If the gentleman likes to come Toosday week--"
"Rot!" chopped in Hoopdriver. "Now."
"'Ear, 'ear," said the owner of the chins.
"Never put off till to-morrow, Charlie, what you can do to-day," said the man in the velveteen coat.
"You got to do it, Charlie," said the man in gaiters. "It's no good."
"It's like this," said Charlie, appealing to everyone except Hoopdriver. "Here's me, got to take in her ladyship's dinner to-morrow night. How should I look with a black eye? And going round with the carriage with a split lip?"
"If you don't want your face sp'iled, Charlie, why don't you keep your mouth shut?" said the person in gaiters.
"Exactly," said Mr. Hoopdriver, driving it home with great fierceness. "Why don't you shut your ugly mouth?"
"It's as much as my situation's worth," protested Charlie.
"You should have thought of that before," said Hoopdriver.
"There's no occasion to be so thunderin' 'ot about it. I only meant the thing joking," said Charlie. "AS one gentleman to another, I'm very sorry if the gentleman's annoyed--"
Everybody began to speak at once. Mr. Hoopdriver twirled his moustache. He felt that Charlie's recognition of his gentlemanliness was at any rate a redeeming feature. But it became his pose to ride hard and heavy over the routed fo c. He shouted some insulting phrase over the tumult.
"You're regular abject," the man in gaiters was saying to Charlie.
"Only don't think I'm afraid,--not of a spindle-legged cuss like him shouted Charlie. "Because I ain't."
"Change of front," thought Hoopdriver, a little startled. "Where are we going?"
"Don't sit there and be abusive," said the man in velveteen. "He's offered to hit you, and if I was him, I'd hit you now."
"All right, then," said Charlie, with a sudden change of front and springing to his feet. "If I must, I must. Now, then!" At that, Hoopdriver, the child of Fate, rose too, with a horrible sense that his internal monitor was right. Things had taken a turn. He had made a mess of it, and now there was nothing for it, so far as he could see, but to hit the man at once. He and Charlie stood six feet apart, with a table between, both very breathless and fierce. A vulgar fight in a public-house, and with what was only too palpably a footman! Good Heavens! And this was the dignified, scornful remonstrance! How the juice had it all happened? Go round the table at him, I suppose. But before the brawl could achieve itself, the man in gaiters intervened. "Not here," he said, stepping between the antagonists. Everyone was standing up.
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|The Wheels of Chance
H. G. [Herbert George] Wells
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