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The Wheels of Chance H. G. [Herbert George] Wells

XXXII. Mr. Hoopdriver, Knight Errant

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"I came here," said Mr. Hoopdriver, "with a lady."

"We saw you did, bless you," said the fat man with the chins, in a curious wheezy voice. "I don't see there's anything so very extraordinary in that. One 'ud think we hadn't eyes."

Mr. Hoopdriver coughed. "I came, here, sir--"

"We've 'eard that," said the little man with the beard, sharply and went off into an amiable chuckle. "We know it by 'art," said the little man, elaborating the point.

Mr. Hoopdriver temporarily lost his thread. He glared malignantly at the little man with the beard, and tried to recover his discourse. A pause.

"You were saying," said the fair young man with the white tie, speaking very politely, "that you came here with a lady."

"A lady," meditated the gaiter gazer.

The man in velveteen, who was looking from one speaker to another with keen, bright eyes, now laughed as though a point had been scored, and stimulated Mr. Hoopdriver to speak, by fixing him with an expectant regard.

"Some dirty cad," said Mr. Hoopdriver, proceeding with his discourse, and suddenly growing extremely fierce, "made a remark as we went by this door."

"Steady on!" said the old gentleman with many chins. ,Steady on! Don't you go a-calling us names, please."

"One minute!" said Mr. Hoopdriver. "It wasn't I began calling names." ("Who did? said the man with the chins.) "I'm not calling any of you dirty cads. Don't run away with that impression. Only some person in this room made a remark that showed he wasn't fit to wipe boots on, and, with all due deference to such gentlemen as ARE gentlemen" (Mr. Hoopdriver looked round for moral support), "I want to know which it was."

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"Meanin'?" said the fair young man in the white tie.

"That I'm going to wipe my boots on 'im straight away," said Mr. Hoopdriver, reverting to anger, if with a slight catch in his throat--than which threat of personal violence nothing had been further from his thoughts on entering the room. He said this because he could think of nothing else to say, and stuck out his elbows truculently to hide the sinking of his heart. It is curious how situations run away with us.

"'Ullo, Charlie!" said the little man, and "My eye!" said the owner of the chins. 'You're going to wipe your boots on 'im?" said the fair young man, in a tone of mild surprise.

"I am," said Mr. Hoopdriver, with emphatic resolution, and glared in the young man's face.

"That's fair and reasonable," said the man in the velveteen jacket; "if you can."

The interest of the meeting seemed transferred to the young man in the white tic. "Of course, if you can't find out which it is, I suppose you're prepared to wipe your boots in a liberal way on everybody in the room," said this young man, in the same tone of impersonal question. "This gentleman, the champion lightweight--"

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The Wheels of Chance
H. G. [Herbert George] Wells

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