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|The Wheels of Chance||H. G. [Herbert George] Wells|
XVII. The Encounter At Midhurst
|Page 2 of 3||
Wonderful things were dawning on Mr. Hoopdriver. What did the other man take him for? Here at last was reality! He hesitated. Then he thought of an admirable phrase. "You 'ave some communication--"
"We'll call it a communication," said the other man.
"I can spare you the ten minutes," said Mr. Hoopdriver, with dignity.
"This way, then," said the other man in brown, and they walked slowly down the North Street towards the Grammar School. There was, perhaps, thirty seconds' silence. The other man stroked his moustache nervously. Mr. Hoopdriver's dramatic instincts were now fully awake. He did not quite understand in what role he was cast, but it was evidently something dark and mysterious. Doctor Conan Doyle, Victor Hugo, and Alexander Dumas were well within Mr. Hoopdriver's range of reading, and he had not read them for nothing.
"I will be perfectly frank with you," said the other man in brown.
"Frankness is always the best course," said Mr. Hoopdriver.
"Well, then--who the devil set you on this business?"
"Set me ON this business?"
"Don't pretend to be stupid. Who's your employer? Who engaged you for this job?"
"Well," said Mr. Hoopdriver, confused. "No--I can't say."
"Quite sure?" The other man in brown glanced meaningly down at his hand, and Mr. Hoopdriver, following him mechanically, saw a yellow milled edge glittering in the twilight. Now your shop assistant is just above the tip-receiving class, and only just above it--so that he is acutely sensitive on the point.
Mr. Hoopdriver flushed hotly, and his eyes were angry as he met those of the other man in brown. "Stow it!" said Mr. Hoopdriver, stopping and facing the tempter.
"What!" said the other man in brown, surprised. "Eigh?" And so saying he stowed it in his breeches pocket.
"D'yer think I'm to be bribed?" said Mr. Hoopdriver, whose imagination was rapidly expanding the situation. "By Gosh! I'd follow you now--"
"My dear sir," said the other man in brown, "I beg your pardon. I misunderstood you. I really beg your pardon. Let us walk on. In your profession--"
"What have you got to say against my profession?"
"Well, really, you know. There are detectives of an inferior description--watchers. The whole class. Private Inquiry--I did not realise--I really trust you will overlook what was, after all--you must admit--a natural indiscretion. Men of honour are not so common in the world--in any profession."
It was lucky for Mr. Hoopdriver that in Midhurst they do not light the lamps in the summer time, or the one they were passing had betrayed him. As it was, he had to snatch suddenly at his moustache and tug fiercely at it, to conceal the furious tumult of exultation, the passion of laughter, that came boiling up. Detective! Even in the shadow Bechamel saw that a laugh was stifled, but he put it down to the fact that the phrase "men of honour" amused his interlocutor. "He'll come round yet," said Bechamel to himself. "He's simply holding out for a fiver." He coughed.
"I don't see that it hurts you to tell me who your employer is."
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|The Wheels of Chance
H. G. [Herbert George] Wells
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