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|The Wheels of Chance||H. G. [Herbert George] Wells|
XXXVII. In The New Forest
|Page 1 of 6||
At Ringwood they lunched, and Jessie met with a disappointment. There was no letter for her at the post office. Opposite the hotel, The Chequered Career, was a machine shop with a conspicuously second-hand Marlborough Club tandem tricycle displayed in the window, together with the announcement that bicycles and tricycles were on hire within. The establishment was impressed on Mr. Hoopdriver's mind by the proprietor's action in coming across the road and narrowly inspecting their machines. His action revived a number of disagreeable impressions, but, happily, came to nothing. While they were still lunching, a tall clergyman, with a heated face, entered the room and sat down at the table next to theirs. He was in a kind of holiday costume; that is to say, he had a more than usually high collar, fastened behind and rather the worse for the weather, and his long-tail coat had been replaced by a black jacket of quite remarkable brevity. He had faded brown shoes on his feet, his trouser legs were grey with dust, and he wore a hat of piebald straw in the place of the customary soft felt. He was evidently socially inclined.
"A most charming day, sir," he said, in a ringing tenor.
"Charming," said Mr. Hoopdriver, over a portion of pie.
"You are, I perceive, cycling through this delightful country," said the clergyman.
"Touring," explained Mr. Hoopdriver. "I can imagine that, with a properly oiled machine, there can be no easier nor pleasanter way of seeing the country."
"No," said Mr. Hoopdriver; "it isn't half a bad. way of getting about."
"For a young and newly married couple, a tandem bicycle must be, I should imagine, a delightful bond."
"Quite so," said Mr. Hoopdriver, reddening a little.
"Do you ride a tandem?"
"No--we're separate," said Mr. Hoopdriver.
"The motion through the air is indisputably of a very exhilarating description." With that decision, the clergyman turned to give his orders to the attendant, in a firm, authoritative voice, for a cup of tea, two gelatine lozenges, bread and butter, salad, and pie to follow. "The gelatine lozenges I must have. I require them to precipitate the tannin in my tea," he remarked to the room at large, and folding his hands, remained for some time with his chin thereon, staring fixedly at a little picture over Mr. Hoopdriver's head.
"I myself am a cyclist," said the clergyman, descending suddenly upon Mr. Hoopdriver.
"Indeed!" said Mr. Hoopdriver, attacking the moustache. "What machine, may I ask?"
"I have recently become possessed of a tricycle. A bicycle is, I regret to say, considered too--how shall I put it? --flippant by my parishioners. So I have a tricycle. I have just been hauling it hither."
"Hauling!" said Jessie, surprised.
"With a shoe lace. And partly carrying it on my back."
The pause was unexpected. Jessie had some trouble with a crumb. Mr. Hoopdriver's face passed through several phases of surprise. Then he saw the explanation. "Had an accident?"
"I can hardly call it an accident. The wheels suddenly refused to go round. I found myself about five miles from here with an absolutely immobile machine."
"Ow!" said Mr. Hoopdriver, trying to seem intelligent, and Jessie glanced at this insane person.
"It appears," said the clergyman, satisfied with the effect he had created, "that my man carefully washed out the bearings with paraffin, and let the machine dry without oiling it again. The consequence was that they became heated to a considerable temperature and jammed. Even at the outset the machine ran stiffly as well as noisily, and I, being inclined to ascribe this stiffness to my own lassitude, merely redoubled my exertions."
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|The Wheels of Chance
H. G. [Herbert George] Wells
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