The Broad Highway (Ante Scriptum, page 1 of 3)


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As I sat of an early summer morning in the shade of a tree,
eating fried bacon with a tinker, the thought came to me that I
might some day write a book of my own: a book that should treat
of the roads and by-roads, of trees, and wind in lonely places,
of rapid brooks and lazy streams, of the glory of dawn, the glow
of evening, and the purple solitude of night; a book of wayside
inns and sequestered taverns; a book of country things and ways
and people. And the thought pleased me much.

"But," objected the Tinker, for I had spoken my thought aloud,
"trees and suchlike don't sound very interestin'--leastways--not
in a book, for after all a tree's only a tree and an inn, an inn;
no, you must tell of other things as well."

"Yes," said I, a little damped, "to be sure there is a highwayman--"

"Come, that's better!" said the Tinker encouragingly.

"Then," I went on, ticking off each item on my fingers, "come Tom
Cragg, the pugilist--"

"Better and better!" nodded the Tinker.

"--a one-legged soldier of the Peninsula, an adventure at a
lonely tavern, a flight through woods at midnight pursued by
desperate villains, and--a most extraordinary tinker. So far so
good, I think, and it all sounds adventurous enough."

"What!" cried the Tinker. "Would you put me in your book then?"

"Assuredly."

"Why then," said the Tinker, "it's true I mends kettles, sharpens
scissors and such, but I likewise peddles books an' nov-els, an'
what's more I reads 'em--so, if you must put me in your book, you
might call me a literary cove."

"A literary cove?" said I.

"Ah!" said the Tinker, "it sounds better--a sight better--besides,
I never read a nov-el with a tinker in it as I remember; they're
generally dooks, or earls, or barronites--nobody wants to read
about a tinker."

"That all depends," said I; "a tinker may be much more
interesting than an earl or even a duke."

The Tinker examined the piece of bacon upon his knifepoint with a
cold and disparaging eye.

"I've read a good many nov-els in my time," said he, shaking his
head, "and I knows what I'm talking of;" here he bolted the
morsel of bacon with much apparent relish. "I've made love to
duchesses, run off with heiresses, and fought dooels--ah! by the
hundred--all between the covers of some book or other and enjoyed
it uncommonly well--especially the dooels. If you can get a
little blood into your book, so much the better; there's nothing
like a little blood in a book--not a great deal, but just enough
to give it a 'tang,' so to speak; if you could kill your
highwayman to start with it would be a very good beginning to
your story."

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