The Broad Highway (Book One - Chapter 3 Concerns Itself Mainly With a Hat, page 2 of 4)


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"Sir, I trust you are not hurt?" said I.

"Thank you," he answered, his glance still wandering, "not in the
least--assure you--merely tap on the nose, sir--unpleasant--damnably,
but no more, no more."

"I think," said I, holding out the battered hat, "I think this is
yours?"

His eye encountering it in due time, he reached out his hand
somewhat fumblingly, and took it from me with a slight movement
of the head and shoulders that might have been a bow.

"Thank you--yes--should know it among a thousand," said he
dreamily, "an old friend and a tried--a very much tried one--many
thanks." With which words he clapped the much-tried friend upon
his head, and with another movement that might have been a bow,
turned short round and strode away. And as he went, despite the
careless swing of his shoulder, his legs seemed to falter somewhat
in their stride and once I thought he staggered; yet, as I watched,
half minded to follow after him, he settled his hat more firmly
with a light tap upon the crown and, thrusting his hands into the
pockets of his threadbare coat, fell to whistling lustily, and so,
turning a bend in the road, vanished from my sight.

And presently, my thirst recurring to me, I approached the inn,
and descending three steps entered its cool shade. Here I found
four men, each with his pipe and tankard, to whom a large,
red-faced, big-fisted fellow was holding forth in a high state of
heat and indignation.

"Wot's England a-comin' to?--that's wot I wants to know," he was
saying; "wot's England a-comin' to when thievin' robbers can come
a-walkin' in on you a-stealin' a pint o' your best ale out o' your
very own tankard under your very own nose--wot's it a-comin' to?"

"Ah!" nodded the others solemnly, "that's it, Joel--wot?"

"W'y," growled the red-faced innkeeper, bringing his big fist
down with a bang, "it's a-comin' to per--dition; that's wot it's
a-comin' to!"

"And wot," inquired a rather long, bony man with a face half-hidden
in sandy whisker, "wot might per--dition be, Joel; likewise, wheer?"

"You must be a danged fule, Tom, my lad!" retorted he whom they
called Joel, redder in the face than ever.

"Ay, that ye must!" chorused the others.

"I only axed 'wot an' wheer."

"Only axed, did ye?" repeated Joel scornfully, "Ah," nodded the other, "that's all."

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