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

XXXII. Mr. Hoopdriver, Knight Errant

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"Own up, Charlie," said the young man with the gaiters, looking up for a moment. "And don't go a-dragging in your betters. It's fair and square. You can't get out of it."

"Was it this--gent?" began Mr. Hoopdriver.

"Of course," said the young man in the white tie, "when it comes to talking of wiping boots--"

"I'm not talking; I'm going to do it," said Mr. Hoopdriver.

He looked round at the meeting. They were no longer antagonists; they were spectators. He would have to go through with it now. But this tone of personal aggression on the maker of the remark had somehow got rid of the oppressive feeling of Hoopdriver contra mundum. Apparently, he would have to fight someone. Would he get a black eye? Would he get very much hurt? Pray goodness it wasn't that sturdy chap in the gaiters! Should he rise and begin? What would she think if he brought a black eye to breakfast to-morrow?"Is this the man?" said Mr. Hoopdriver, with a business-like calm, and arms more angular than ever.

"Eat 'im!" said the little man with the beard; "eat 'im straight orf."

"Steady on!" said the young man in the white tie. "Steady on a minute. If I did happen to say--"

"You did, did you?" said Mr. Hoopdriver.

Backing out of it, Charlie?" said the young man with the gaiters.

"Not a bit," said Charlie. "Surely we can pass a bit of a joke--"

"I'm going to teach you to keep your jokes to yourself," said Mr. Hoopdriver.

"Bray-vo!" said the shepherd of the flock of chins.

"Charlie IS a bit too free with his jokes," said the little man with the beard.

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"It's downright disgusting," said Hoopdriver, falling back upon his speech. "A lady can't ride a bicycle in a country road, or wear a dress a little out of the ordinary, but every dirty little greaser must needs go shouting insults--"

"_I_ didn't know the young lady would hear what I said," said Charlie. " Surely one can speak friendly to one's friends. How was I to know the door was open--"

Hoopdriver began to suspect that his antagonist was, if possible, more seriously alarmed at the prospect of violence than himself, and his spirits rose again. These chaps ought to have a thorough lesson. "Of COURSE you knew the door was open," he retorted indignantly. "Of COURSE you thought we should hear what you said. Don't go telling lies about it. It's no good your saying things like that. You've had your fun, and you meant to have your fun. And I mean to make an example of you, Sir."

"Ginger beer," said the little man with the beard, in a confidential tone to the velveteen jacket, "is regular up this 'ot weather. Bustin' its bottles it is everywhere."

"What's the good of scrapping about in a publichouse?" said Charlie, appealing to the company. "A fair fight without interruptions, now, I WOULDN'T mind, if the gentleman's so disposed."

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

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