Part 1 out of 4
The Wheels of Chance; A Bicycling Idyll by H.G. Wells
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THE WHEELS OF CHANCE; A BICYCLING IDYLL
by H.G. Wells
THE PRINCIPAL CHARACTER IN THE STORY
If you (presuming you are of the sex that does such things)--if
you had gone into the Drapery Emporium--which is really only
magnificent for shop--of Messrs. Antrobus & Co.--a perfectly
fictitious "Co.," by the bye--of Putney, on the 14th of August,
1895, had turned to the right-hand side, where the blocks of
white linen and piles of blankets rise up to the rail from which
the pink and blue prints depend, you might have been served by
the central figure of this story that is now beginning. He would
have come forward, bowing and swaying, he would have extended two
hands with largish knuckles and enormous cuffs over the counter,
and he would have asked you, protruding a pointed chin and
without the slightest anticipation of pleasure in his manner,
what he might have the pleasure of showing you. Under certain
circumstances--as, for instance, hats, baby linen, gloves, silks,
lace, or curtains--he would simply have bowed politely, and with
a drooping expression, and making a kind of circular sweep,
invited you to "step this way," and so led you beyond his ken;
but under other and happier conditions,--huckaback, blankets,
dimity, cretonne, linen, calico, are cases in point,--he would
have requested you to take a seat, emphasising the hospitality by
leaning over the counter and gripping a chair back in a spasmodic
manner, and so proceeded to obtain, unfold, and exhibit his goods
for your consideration. Under which happier circumstances you
might--if of an observing turn of mind and not too much of a
housewife to be inhuman--have given the central figure of this
story less cursory attention.
Now if you had noticed anything about him, it would have been
chiefly to notice how little he was noticeable. He wore the black
morning coat, the black tie, and the speckled grey nether parts
(descending into shadow and mystery below the counter) of his
craft. He was of a pallid complexion, hair of a kind of dirty
fairness, greyish eyes, and a skimpy, immature moustache under
his peaked indeterminate nose. His features were all small, but
none ill-shaped. A rosette of pins decorated the lappel of his
coat. His remarks, you would observe, were entirely what people
used to call cliche, formulae not organic to the occasion, but
stereotyped ages ago and learnt years since by heart. "This,
madam," he would say, "is selling very well" "We are doing a very
good article at four three a yard." "We could show you some.
thing better, of course." "No trouble, madam, I assure you." Such
were the simple counters of his intercourse. So, I say, he would
have presented himself to your superficial observation. He would
have danced about behind the counter, have neatly refolded the
goods he had shown you, have put on one side those you selected,
extracted a little book with a carbon leaf and a tinfoil sheet
from a fixture, made you out a little bill in that weak
flourishing hand peculiar to drapers, and have bawled "Sayn!"
Then a puffy little shop-walker would have come into view, looked
at the bill for a second, very hard (showing you a parting down
the middle of his head meanwhile), have scribbled a still more
flourishing J. M. all over the document, have asked you if there
was nothing more, have stood by you--supposing that you were
paying cash--until the central figure of this story reappeared
with the change. One glance more at him, and the puffy little
shop-walker would have been bowing you out, with fountains of
civilities at work all about you. And so the interview would have
But real literature, as distinguished from anecdote, does not
concern itself with superficial appearances alone. Literature is
revelation. Modern literature is indecorous revelation. It is the
duty of the earnest author to tell you what you would not have
seen--even at the cost of some blushes. And the thing that you
would not have seen about this young man, and the thing of the
greatest moment to this story, the thing that must be told if the
book is to be written, was--let us face it bravely--the
Remarkable Condition of this Young Man's Legs.
Let us approach the business with dispassionate explicitness. Let
us assume something of the scientific spirit, the hard, almost
professorial tone of the conscientious realist. Let us treat this
young man's legs as a mere diagram, and indicate the points of
interest with the unemotional precision of a lecturer's pointer.
And so to our revelation. On the internal aspect of the right
ankle of this young man you would have observed, ladies and
gentlemen, a contusion and an abrasion; on the internal aspect of
the left ankle a contusion also; on its external aspect a large
yellowish bruise. On his left shin there were two bruises, one a
leaden yellow graduating here and there into purple, and another,
obviously of more recent date, of a blotchy red--tumid and
threatening. Proceeding up the left leg in a spiral manner, an
unnatural hardness and redness would have been discovered on the
upper aspect of the calf, and above the knee and on the inner
side, an extraordinary expanse of bruised surface, a kind of
closely stippled shading of contused points. The right leg would
be found to be bruised in a marvellous manner all about and under
the knee, and particularly on the interior aspect of the knee. So
far we may proceed with our details. Fired by these discoveries,
an investigator might perhaps have pursued his inquiries further-
-to bruises on the shoulders, elbows, and even the finger joints,
of the central figure of our story. He had indeed been bumped and
battered at an extraordinary number of points. But enough of
realistic description is as good as a feast, and we have
exhibited enough for our purpose. Even in literature one must
know where to draw the line.
Now the reader may be inclined to wonder how a respectable young
shopman should have got his legs, and indeed himself generally,
into such a dreadful condition. One might fancy that he had been
sitting with his nether extremities in some complicated
machinery, a threshing-machine, say, or one of those hay-making
furies. But Sherlock Holmes (now happily dead) would have fancied
nothing of the kind. He would have recognised at once that the
bruises on the internal aspect of the left leg, considered in the
light of the distribution of the other abrasions and contusions,
pointed unmistakably to the violent impact of the Mounting
Beginner upon the bicycling saddle, and that the ruinous state of
the right knee was equally eloquent of the concussions attendant
on that person's hasty, frequently causeless, and invariably ill-
conceived descents. One large bruise on the shin is even more
characteristic of the 'prentice cyclist, for upon every one of
them waits the jest of the unexpected treadle. You try at least
to walk your machine in an easy manner, and whack!--you are
rubbing your shin. So out of innocence we ripen. Two bruises on
that place mark a certain want of aptitude in learning, such as
one might expect in a person unused to muscular exercise.
Blisters on the hands are eloquent of the nervous clutch of the
wavering rider. And so forth, until Sherlock is presently
explaining, by the help of the minor injuries, that the machine
ridden is an old-fashioned affair with a fork instead of the
diamond frame, a cushioned tire, well worn on the hind wheel, and
a gross weight all on of perhaps three-and-forty pounds.
The revelation is made. Behind the decorous figure of the
attentive shopman that I had the honour of showing you at first,
rises a vision of a nightly struggle, of two dark figures and a
machine in a dark road,--the road, to be explicit, from
Roehampton to Putney Hill,--and with this vision is the sound of
a heel spurning the gravel, a gasping and grunting, a shouting of
"Steer, man, steer!" a wavering unsteady flight, a spasmodic
turning of the missile edifice of man and machine, and a
collapse. Then you descry dimly through the dusk the central
figure of this story sitting by the roadside and rubbing his leg
at some new place, and his friend, sympathetic (but by no means
depressed), repairing the displacement of the handle-bar.
Thus even in a shop assistant does the warmth of manhood assert
itself, and drive him against all the conditions of his calling,
against the counsels of prudence and the restrictions of his
means, to seek the wholesome delights of exertion and danger and
pain. And our first examination of the draper reveals beneath his
draperies--the man! To which initial fact (among others) we shall
come again in the end.
But enough of these revelations. The central figure of our story
is now going along behind the counter, a draper indeed, with your
purchases in his arms, to the warehouse, where the various
articles you have selected will presently be packed by the senior
porter and sent to you. Returning thence to his particular place,
he lays hands on a folded piece of gingham, and gripping the
corners of the folds in his hands, begins to straighten them
punctiliously. Near him is an apprentice, apprenticed to the same
high calling of draper's assistant, a ruddy, red-haired lad in a
very short tailless black coat and a very high collar, who is
deliberately unfolding and refolding some patterns of cretonne.
By twenty-one he too may hope to be a full-blown assistant, even
as Mr. Hoopdriver. Prints depend from the brass rails above them,
behind are fixtures full of white packages containing, as
inscriptions testify, Lino, Hd Bk, and Mull. You might imagine to
see them that the two were both intent upon nothing but
smoothness of textile and rectitude of fold. But to tell the
truth, neither is thinking of the mechanical duties in hand. The
assistant is dreaming of the delicious time--only four hours off
now--when he will resume the tale of his bruises and abrasions.
The apprentice is nearer the long long thoughts of boyhood, and
his imagination rides cap-a-pie through the chambers of his
brain, seeking some knightly quest in honour of that Fair Lady,
the last but one of the girl apprentices to the dress-making
upstairs. He inclines rather to street fighting against
revolutionaries--because then she could see him from the window.
Jerking them back to the present comes the puffy little
shop-walker, with a paper in his hand. The apprentice becomes
extremely active. The shopwalker eyes the goods in hand.
"Hoopdriver," he says, "how's that line of g-sez-x ginghams ? "
Hoopdriver returns from an imaginary triumph over the
uncertainties of dismounting. "They're going fairly well, sir.
But the larger checks seem hanging."
The shop-walker brings up parallel to the counter. "Any
particular time when you want your holidays?" he asks.
Hoopdriver pulls at his skimpy moustache. "No--Don't want them
too late, sir, of course."
"How about this day week?"
Hoopdriver becomes rigidly meditative, gripping the corners of
the gingham folds in his hands. His face is eloquent of
conflicting considerations. Can he learn it in a week? That's the
question. Otherwise Briggs will get next week, and he will have
to wait until September--when the weather is often uncertain. He
is naturally of a sanguine disposition. All drapers have to be,
or else they could never have the faith they show in the beauty,
washability, and unfading excellence of the goods they sell you.
The decision comes at last. "That'll do me very well," said Mr.
Hoopdriver, terminating the pause.
The die is cast.
The shop-walker makes a note of it and goes on to Briggs in the
"dresses," the next in the strict scale of precedence of the
Drapery Emporium. Mr. Hoopdriver in alternating spasms anon
straightens his gingham and anon becomes meditative, with his
tongue in the hollow of his decaying wisdom tooth.
At supper that night, holiday talk held undisputed sway. Mr.
Pritchard spoke of "Scotland," Miss Isaacs clamoured of
Bettws-y-Coed, Mr. Judson displayed a proprietary interest in the
Norfolk Broads. "I?" said Hoopdriver when the question came to
him. "Why, cycling, of course."
"You're never going to ride that dreadful machine of yours, day
after day?" said Miss Howe of the Costume Department.
"I am," said Hoopdriver as calmly as possible, pulling at the
insufficient moustache. "I'm going for a Cycling Tour. Along the
"Well, all I hope, Mr. Hoopdriver, is that you'll get fine
weather," said Miss Howe. "And not come any nasty croppers."
"And done forget some tinscher of arnica in yer bag," said the
junior apprentice in the very high collar. (He had witnessed one
of the lessons at the top of Putney Hill.)
"You stow it," said Mr. Hoopdriver, looking hard and
threateningly at the junior apprentice, and suddenly adding in a
tone of bitter contempt,-- " Jampot."
"I'm getting fairly safe upon it now," he told Miss Howe.
At other times Hoopdriver might have further resented the
satirical efforts of the apprentice, but his mind was too full of
the projected Tour to admit any petty delicacies of dignity. He
left the supper table early, so that he might put in a good hour
at the desperate gymnastics up the Roehampton Road before it
would be time to come back for locking up. When the gas was
turned off for the night he was sitting on the edge of his bed,
rubbing arnica into his knee--a new and very big place--and
studying a Road Map of the South of England. Briggs of the
"dresses," who shared the room with him, was sitting up in bed
and trying to smoke in the dark. Briggs had never been on a cycle
in his life, but he felt Hoopdriver's inexperience and offered
such advice as occurred to him.
"Have the machine thoroughly well oiled," said Briggs, "carry one
or two lemons with you, don't tear yourself to death the first
day, and sit upright. Never lose control of the machine, and
always sound the bell on every possible opportunity. You mind
those things, and nothing very much can't happen to you,
Hoopdriver--you take my word."
He would lapse into silence for a minute, save perhaps for a
curse or so at his pipe, and then break out with an entirely
different set of tips.
"Avoid running over dogs, Hoopdriver, whatever you do. It's one
of the worst things you can do to run over a dog. Never let the
machine buckle--there was a man killed only the other day through
his wheel buckling--don't scorch, don't ride on the foot-path,
keep your own side of the road, and if you see a tram- line, go
round the corner at once, and hurry off into the next county--and
always light up before dark. You mind just a few little things
like that, Hoopdriver, and nothing much can't happen to you--you
take my word."
"Right you are!" said Hoopdriver. "Good-night, old man."
"Good-night," said Briggs, and there was silence for a space,
save for the succulent respiration of the pipe. Hoopdriver rode
off into Dreamland on his machine, and was scarcely there before
he was pitched back into the world of sense again.--Something--
what was it ?
"Never oil the steering. It's fatal," a voice that came from
round a fitful glow of light, was saying. "And clean the chain
daily with black-lead. You mind just a few little things like
"Lord LOVE us!" said Hoopdriver, and pulled the bedclothes over
THE RIDING FORTH OF MR. HOOPDRIVER
Only those who toil six long days out of the seven, and all the
year round, save for one brief glorious fortnight or ten days in
the summer time, know the exquisite sensations of the First
Holiday Morning. All the dreary, uninteresting routine drops from
you suddenly, your chains fall about your feet. All at once you
are Lord of yourself, Lord of every hour in the long, vacant day;
you may go where you please, call none Sir or Madame, have a
lappel free of pins, doff your black morning coat, and wear the
colour of your heart, and be a Man. You grudge sleep, you grudge
eating, and drinking even, their intrusion on those exquisite
moments. There will be no more rising before breakfast in casual
old clothing, to go dusting and getting ready in a cheerless,
shutterdarkened, wrappered-up shop, no more imperious cries of,
"Forward, Hoopdriver," no more hasty meals, and weary attendance
on fitful old women, for ten blessed days. The first morning is
by far the most glorious, for you hold your whole fortune in your
hands. Thereafter, every night, comes a pang, a spectre, that
will not be exorcised--the premonition of the return. The shadow
of going back, of being put in the cage again for another twelve
months, lies blacker and blacker across the sunlight. But on the
first morning of the ten the holiday has no past, and ten days
seems as good as infinity.
And it was fine, full of a promise of glorious days, a deep blue
sky with dazzling piles of white cloud here and there, as though
celestial haymakers had been piling the swathes of last night's
clouds into cocks for a coming cartage. There were thrushes in
the Richmond Road, and a lark on Putney Heath. The freshness of
dew was in the air; dew or the relics of an overnight shower
glittered on the leaves and grass. Hoopdriver had breakfasted
early by Mrs. Gunn's complaisance. He wheeled his machine up
Putney Hill, and his heart sang within him. Halfway up, a
dissipated-looking black cat rushed home across flile road and
vanished under a gate. All the big red-brick houses behind the
variegated shrubs and trees had their blinds down still, and he
would not have changed places with a soul in any one of them for
a hundred pounds.
He had on his new brown cycling suit--a handsome Norfolk jacket
thing for 30/--and his legs--those martyr legs--were more than
consoled by thick chequered stockings, "thin in the foot, thick
in the leg," for all they had endured. A neat packet of American
cloth behind the saddle contained his change of raiment, and the
bell and the handle-bar and the hubs and lamp, albeit a trifle
freckled by wear, glittered blindingly in the rising sunlight.
And at the top of the hill, after only one unsuccessful attempt,
which, somehow, terminated on the green, Hoopdriver mounted, and
with a stately and cautious restraint in his pace, and a
dignified curvature of path, began his great Cycling Tour along
the Southern Coast.
There is only one phrase to describe his course at this stage,
and that is--voluptuous curves. He did not ride fast, he did not
ride straight, an exacting critic might say he did not ride well-
-but he rode generously, opulently, using the whole road and even
nibbling at the footpath. The excitement never flagged. So far he
had never passed or been passed by anything, but as yet the day
was young and the road was clear. He doubted his steering so much
that, for the present, he had resolved to dismount at the
approach of anything else upon wheels. The shadows of the trees
lay very long and blue across the road, the morning sunlight was
like amber fire.
At the cross-roads at the top of West Hill, where the cattle
trough stands, he turned towards Kingston and set himself to
scale the little bit of ascent. An early heath-keeper, in his
velveteen jacket, marvelled at his efforts. And while he yet
struggled, the head of a carter rose over the brow.
At the sight of him Mr. Hoopdriver, according to his previous
determination, resolved to dismount. He tightened the brake, and
the machine stopped dead. He was trying to think what he did with
his right leg whilst getting off. He gripped the handles and
released the brake, standing on the left pedal and waving his
right foot in the air. Then--these things take so long in the
telling--he found the machine was falling over to the right.
While he was deciding upon a plan of action, gravitation appears
to have been busy. He was still irresolute when he found the
machine on the ground, himself kneeling upon it, and a vague
feeling in his mind that again Providence had dealt harshly with
his shin. This happened when he was just level with the
heathkeeper. The man in the approaching cart stood up to see the
"THAT ain't the way to get off," said the heathkeeper.
Mr. Hoopdriver picked up the machine. The handle was twisted
askew again He said something under his breath. He would have to
unscrew the beastly thing.
"THAT ain't the way to get off," repeated the heathkeeper, after
"_I_ know that," said Mr. Hoopdriver, testily, determined to
overlook the new specimen on his shin at any cost. He unbuckled
the wallet behind the saddle, to get out a screw hammer.
"If you know it ain't the way to get off--whaddyer do it for?"
said the heath-keeper, in a tone of friendly controversy.
Mr. Hoopdriver got out his screw hammer and went to the handle.
He was annoyed. "That's my business, I suppose," he said,
fumbling with the screw. The unusual exertion had made his hands
The heath-keeper became meditative, and twisted his stick in his
hands behind his back. "You've broken yer 'andle, ain't yer?" he
said presently. Just then the screw hammer slipped off the nut.
Mr. Hoopdriver used a nasty, low word.
"They're trying things, them bicycles," said the heath-keeper,
charitably. "Very trying." Mr. Hoopdriver gave the nut a vicious
turn and suddenly stood up--he was holding the front wheel
between his knees. "I wish," said he, with a catch in his voice,
"I wish you'd leave off staring at me."
Then with the air of one who has delivered an ultimatum, he began
replacing the screw hammer in the wallet.
The heath-keeper never moved. Possibly he raised his eyebrows,
and certainly he stared harder than he did before. "You're pretty
unsociable," he said slowly, as Mr. Hoopdriver seized the handles
and stood ready to mount as soon as the cart had passed.
The indignation gathered slowly but surely. "Why don't you ride
on a private road of your own if no one ain't to speak to you?"
asked the heath-keeper, perceiving more and more clearly the
bearing of the matter. "Can't no one make a passin' remark to
you, Touchy? Ain't I good enough to speak to you? Been struck
wooden all of a sudden?"
Mr. Hoopdriver stared into the Immensity of the Future. He was
rigid with emotion. It was like abusing the Lions in Trafalgar
Square. But the heathkeeper felt his honour was at stake.
"Don't you make no remarks to 'IM," said the keeper as the carter
came up broadside to them. "'E's a bloomin' dook, 'e is. 'E don't
converse with no one under a earl. 'E's off to Windsor, 'e is;
that's why 'e's stickin' his be'ind out so haughty. Pride! Why,
'e's got so much of it, 'e has to carry some of it in that there
bundle there, for fear 'e'd bust if 'e didn't ease hisself a bit-
But Mr. Hoopdriver heard no more. He was hopping vigorously along
the road, in a spasmodic attempt to remount.He missed the treadle
once and swore viciously, to the keeper's immense delight. "Nar!
Nar!" said the heath-keeper.
In another moment Mr. Hoopdriver was up, and after one terrific
lurch of the machine, the heathkeeper dropped out of earshot.
Mr. Hoopdriver would have liked to look back at his enemy, but he
usually twisted round and upset if he tried that.
He had to imagine the indignant heath-keeper telling the carter
all about it. He tried to infuse as much disdain aspossible into
his retreating aspect.
He drove on his sinuous way down the dip by the new mere and up
the little rise to the crest of the hill that drops into Kingston
Vale; and so remarkable is the psychology of cycling, that he
rode all the straighter and easier because the emotions the
heathkeeper had aroused relieved his mind of the constant
expectation of collapse that had previously unnerved him. To ride
a bicycle properly is very like a love affair--chiefly it
is a matter of faith. Believe you do it, and the thing is done;
doubt, and, for the life of you, you cannot.
Now you may perhaps imagine that as he rode on, his feelings
towards the heath-keeper were either vindictive or
remorseful,--vindictive for the aggravation or remorseful for his
own injudicious display of ill temper. As a matter of fact, they
were nothing of the sort. A sudden, a wonderful gratitude,
possessed him. The Glory of the Holidays had resumed its sway
with a sudden accession of splendour. At the crest of the hill he
put his feet upon the footrests, and now riding moderately
straight, went, with a palpitating brake, down that excellent
descent. A new delight was in his eyes, quite over and above the
pleasure of rushing through the keen, sweet, morning air. He
reached out his thumb and twanged his bell out of sheer
"'He's a bloomin' Dook--he is!'" said Mr. Hoopdriver to himself,
in a soft undertone, as he went soaring down the hill, and again,
"'He's a bloomin' Dook!"' He opened his mouth in a silent laugh.
It was having a decent cut did it. His social superiority had
been so evident that even a man like that noticed it. No more
Manchester Department for ten days! Out of Manchester, a Man. The
draper Hoopdriver, the Hand, had vanished from existence. Instead
was a gentleman, a man of pleasure, with a five-pound note, two
sovereigns, and some silver at various convenient points of his
person. At any rate as good as a Dook, if not precisely in the
peerage. Involuntarily at the thought of his funds Hoopdriver's
right hand left the handle and sought his breast pocket, to be
immediately recalled by a violent swoop of the machine towards
the cemetery. Whirroo! Just missed that half-brick! Mischievous
brutes there were in the world to put such a thing in the road.
Some blooming 'Arry or other! Ought to prosecute a few of these
roughs, and the rest would know better. That must be the buckle
of the wallet was rattling on the mud-guard. How cheerfully the
The cemetery was very silent and peaceful, but the Vale was
waking, and windows rattled and squeaked up, and a white dog came
out of one of the houses and yelped at him. He got off, rather
breathless, at the foot of Kingston Hill, and pushed up. Halfway
up, an early milk chariot rattled by him; two dirty men with
bundles came hurrying down. Hoopdriver felt sure they were
burglars, carrying home the swag.
It was up Kingston Hill that he first noticed a peculiar feeling,
a slight tightness at his knees; but he noticed, too, at the top
that he rode straighter than he did before. The pleasure of
riding straight blotted out these first intimations of fatigue. A
man on horseback appeared; Hoopdriver, in a tumult of soul at his
own temerity, passed him. Then down the hill into Kingston, with
the screw hammer, behind in the wallet, rattling against the oil
can. He passed, without misadventure, a fruiterer's van and a
sluggish cartload of bricks. And in Kingston Hoopdriver, with the
most exquisite sensations, saw the shutters half removed from a
draper's shop, and two yawning youths, in dusty old black jackets
and with dirty white comforters about their necks, clearing up
the planks and boxes and wrappers in the window, preparatory to
dressing it out. Even so had Hoopdriver been on the previous day.
But now, was he not a bloomin' Dook, palpably in the sight of
common men? Then round the corner to the right--bell banged
furiously--and so along the road to Surbiton.
Whoop for Freedom and Adventure! Every now and then a house with
an expression of sleepy surprise would open its eye as he passed,
and to the right of him for a mile or so the weltering Thames
flashed and glittered. Talk of your joie de vivre. Albeit with a
certain cramping sensation about the knees and calves slowly
forcing itself upon his attention.
THE SHAMEFUL EPISODE OF THE YOUNG LADY IN GREY
Now you must understand that Mr. Hoopdriver was not one of your
fast young men. If he had been King Lemuel, he could not have
profited more by his mother's instructions. He regarded the
feminine sex as something to bow to and smirk at from a safe
distance. Years of the intimate remoteness of a counter leave
their mark upon a man. It was an adventure for him to take one of
the Young Ladies of the establishment to church on a Sunday. Few
modern young men could have merited less the epithet "Dorg." But
I have thought at times that his machine may have had something
of the blade in its metal. Decidedly it was a machine with a
past. Mr. Hoopdriver had bought it second-hand from Hare's in
Putney, and Hare said it had had several owners. Second-hand was
scarcely the word for it, and Elare was mildly puzzled that he
should be selling such an antiquity. He said it was perfectly
sound, if a little old-fashioned, but he was absolutely silent
about its moral character. It may even have begun its career with
a poet, say, in his glorious youth. It may have been the bicycle
of a Really Bad Man. No one who has ever ridden a cycle of any
kind but will witness that the things are unaccountably prone to
pick up bad habits--and keep them.
It is undeniable that it became convulsed with the most violent
emotions directly the Young Lady in Grey appeared. It began an
absolutely unprecedented Wabble--unprecedented so far as
Hoopdriver's experience went. It "showed off"--the most decadent
sinuosity. It left a track like one of Beardsley's feathers. He
suddenly realised, too, that his cap was loose on his head and
his breath a mere remnant.
The Young Lady in Grey was also riding a bicycle. She was dressed
in a beautiful bluish-gray, and the sun behind her drew her
outline in gold and left the rest in shadow. Hoopdriver was dimly
aware that she was young, rather slender, dark, and with a bright
colour and bright eyes. Strange doubts possessed him as to the
nature of her nether costume. He had heard of such things of
course. French, perhaps. Her handles glittered; a jet of sunlight
splashed off her bell blindingly. She was approaching the high
road along an affluent from the villas of Surbiton. fee roads
converged slantingly. She was travelling at about the same pace
as Mr. Hoopdriver. The appearances pointed to a meeting at the
fork of the roads.
Hoopdriver was seized with a horrible conflict of doubts. By
contrast with her he rode disgracefully. Had he not better get
off at once and pretend something was wrong with his treadle ?
Yet even the end of getting off was an uncertainty. That last
occasion on Putney Heath! On the other hand, what would happen if
he kept on? To go very slow seemed the abnegation of his
manhood. To crawl after a mere schoolgirl! Besides, she was not
riding very fast. On the other hand, to thrust himself in front
of her, consuming the road in his tendril-like advance, seemed an
incivility--greed. He would leave her such a very little. His
business training made him prone to bow and step aside. If only
one could take one's hands off the handles, one might pass with a
silent elevation of the hat, of course. But even that was a
little suggestive of a funeral.
Meanwhile the roads converged. She was looking at him. She was
flushed, a little thin, and had very bright eyes. Her red lips
fell apart. She may have been riding hard, but it looked
uncommonly like a faint smile. And the things were--yes!--
RATIONALS! Suddenly an impulse to bolt from the situation became
clamorous. Mr. Hoopdriver pedalled convulsively, intending to
pass her. He jerked against some tin thing on the road, and it
flew up between front wheel and mud-guard. He twisted round
towards her. Had the machine a devil?
At that supreme moment it came across him that he would have done
wiser to dismount. He gave a frantic 'whoop' and tried to get
round, then, as he seemed falling over, he pulled the handles
straight again and to the left by an instinctive motion, and shot
behind her hind wheel, missing her by a hair's breadth. The
pavement kerb awaited him. He tried to recover, and found himself
jumped up on the pavement and riding squarely at a neat wooden
paling. He struck this with a terrific impact and shot forward
off his saddle into a clumsy entanglement. Then he began to
tumble over sideways, and completed the entire figure in a
sitting position on the gravel, with his feet between the fork
and the stay of the machine. The concussion on the gravel shook
his entire being. He remained in that position, wishing that he
had broken his neck, wishing even more heartily that he had never
been born. The glory of life had departed. Bloomin' Dook, indeed!
These unwomanly women!
There was a soft whirr, the click of a brake, two footfalls, and
the Young Lady in Grey stood holding her machine. She had turned
round and come back to him. The warm sunlight now was in her
face. "Are you hurt?" she said. She had a pretty, clear, girlish
voice. She was really very young--quite a girl, in fact. And rode
so well! It was a bitter draught.
Mr. Hoopdriver stood up at once. "Not a bit," he said, a little
ruefully. He became painfully aware that large patches of gravel
scarcely improve the appearance of a Norfolk suit. "I'm very
"It's my fault," she said, interrupting and so saving him on the
very verge of calling her 'Miss.' (He knew 'Miss' was wrong, but
it was deep-seated habit with him.) "I tried to pass you on the
wrong side." Her face and eyes seemed all alive. "It's my place
to be sorry."
"But it was my steering--"
"I ought to have seen you were a Novice"--with a touch of
superiority. "But you rode so straight coming along there!"
She really was--dashed pretty. Mr. Hoopdriver's feelings passed
the nadir. When he spoke again there was the faintest flavour of
the aristocratic in his voice.
"It's my first ride, as a matter of fact. But that's no excuse
for my ah! blundering--"
"Your finger's bleeding," she said, abruptly.
He saw his knuckle was barked. "I didn't feel it," he said,
"You don't at first. Have you any stickingplaster? If not--" She
balanced her machine against herself. She had a little side
pocket, and she whipped out a small packet of sticking-plaster
with a pair of scissors in a sheath at the side, and cut off a
generous portion. He had a wild impulse to ask her to stick it on
for him. Controlled. "Thank you," he said.
"Machine all right?" she asked, looking past him at the prostrate
vehicle, her hands on her handle-bar. For the first time
Hoopdriver did not feel proud of his machine.
He turned and began to pick up the fallen fabric. He looked over
his shoulder, and she was gone, turned his head over the other
shoulder down the road, and she was riding off. "ORF!" said Mr.
Hoopdriver. "Well, I'm blowed!--Talk about Slap Up!" (His
aristocratic refinement rarely adorned his speech in his private
soliloquies.) His mind was whirling. One fact was clear. A most
delightful and novel human being had flashed across his horizon
and was going out of his life again. The Holiday madness was in
his blood. She looked round!
At that he rushed his machine into the road, and began a hasty
ascent. Unsuccessful. Try again. Confound it, will he NEVER be
able to get up on the thing again? She will be round the corner
in a minute. Once more. Ah! Pedal! Wabble! No! Right this time!
He gripped the handles and put his head down. He would overtake
The situation was primordial. The Man beneath prevailed for a
moment over the civilised superstructure, the Draper. He pushed
at the pedals with archaic violence. So Palaeolithic man may have
ridden his simple bicycle of chipped flint in pursuit of his
exogamous affinity. She vanished round the corner. His effort was
Titanic. What should he say when he overtook her? That scarcely
disturbed him at first. How fine she had looked, flushed with the
exertion of riding, breathing a little fast, but elastic and
active! Talk about your ladylike, homekeeping girls with
complexions like cold veal! But what should he say to her? That
was a bother. And he could not lift his cap without risking a
repetition of his previous ignominy. She was a real Young Lady.
No mistake about that! None of your blooming shop girls. (There
is no greater contempt in the world than that of shop men for
shop girls, unless it be that of shop girls for shop men.) Phew!
This was work. A certain numbness came and went at his knees.
"May I ask to whom I am indebted?" he panted to himself, trying
it over. That might do. Lucky he had a card case! A hundred a
shilling--while you wait. He was getting winded. The road was
certainly a bit uphill. He turned the corner and saw a long
stretch of road, and a grey dress vanishing. He set his teeth.
Had he gained on her at all? "Monkey on a gridiron!" yelped a
small boy. Hoopdriver redoubled his efforts. His breath became
audible, his steering unsteady, his pedalling positively
ferocious. A drop of perspiration ran into his eye, irritant as
acid. The road really was uphill beyond dispute. All his
physiology began to cry out at him. A last tremendous effort
brought him to the corner and showed yet another extent of shady
roadway, empty save for a baker's van. His front wheel suddenly
shrieked aloud. "Oh Lord!" said Hoopdriver, relaxing.
Anyhow she was not in sight. He got off unsteadily, and for a
moment his legs felt like wisps of cotton. He balanced his
machine against the grassy edge of the path and sat down panting.
His hands were gnarled with swollen veins and shaking palpably,
his breath came viscid.
"I'm hardly in training yet," he remarked. His legs had gone
leaden. "I don't feel as though I'd had a mouthful of breakfast."
Presently he slapped his side pocket and produced therefrom a
brand-new cigarette case and a packet of Vansittart's Red Herring
cigarettes. He filled the case. Then his eye fell with a sudden
approval on the ornamental chequering of his new stockings. The
expression in his eyes faded slowly to abstract meditation.
"She WAS a stunning girl," he said. "I wonder if I shall ever set
eyes on her again. And she knew how to ride, too! Wonder what she
thought of me."
The phrase 'bloomin' Dook' floated into his mind with a certain
flavour of comfort.
He lit a cigarette, and sat smoking and meditating. He did not
even look up when vehicles passed. It was perhaps ten minutes
before he roused himself. "What rot it is! What's the good of
thinking such things," he said. "I'm only a blessed draper's
assistant." (To be exact, he did not say blessed. The service of
a shop may polish a man's exterior ways, but the 'prentices'
dormitory is an indifferent school for either manners or morals.)
He stood up and began wheeling his machine towards Esher. It was
going to be a beautiful day, and the hedges and trees and the
open country were all glorious to his town-tired eyes. But it was
a little different from the elation of his start.
"Look at the gentleman wizzer bicitle," said a nursemaid on the
path to a personage in a perambulator. That healed him a little.
"'Gentleman wizzer bicitle,'--'bloomin' Dook'--I can't look so
very seedy," he said to himself.
"I WONDER--I should just like to know--"
There was something very comforting in the track of HER pneumatic
running straight and steady along the road before him. It must be
hers. No other pneumatic had been along the road that morning. It
was just possible, of course, that he might see her once more--
coming back. Should he try and say something smart? He speculated
what manner of girl she might be. Probably she was one of these
here New Women. He had a persuasion the cult had been maligned.
Anyhow she was a Lady. And rich people, too! Her machine couldn't
have cost much under twenty pounds. His mind came round and dwelt
some time on her visible self. Rational dress didn't look a bit
unwomanly. However, he disdained to be one of your
fortunehunters. Then his thoughts drove off at a tangent. He
would certainly have to get something to eat at the next public
ON THE ROAD TO RIPLEY
In the fulness of time, Mr. Hoopdriver drew near the Marquis of
Granby at Esher, and as he came under the railway arch and saw
the inn in front of him, he mounted his machine again and rode
bravely up to the doorway. Burton and biscuit and cheese he had,
which, indeed, is Burton in its proper company; and as he was
eating there came a middleaged man in a drab cycling suit, very
red and moist and angry in the face, and asked bitterly for a
lemon squash. And he sat down upon the seat in the bar and mopped
his face. But scarcely had he sat down before he got up again and
stared out of the doorway.
"Damn!" said he. Then, "Damned Fool!"
"Eigh?" said Mr. Hoopdriver, looking round suddenly with a piece
of cheese in his cheek.
The man in drab faced him. "I called myself a Damned Fool, sir.
Have you any objections?"
"Oh!--None. None," said Mr. Hoopdriver. "I thought you spoke to
me. I didn't hear what you said."
"To have a contemplative disposition and an energetic
temperament, sir, is hell. Hell, I tell you. A contemplative
disposition and a phlegmatic temperament, all very well. But
energy and philosophy--!"
Mr. Hoopdriver looked as intelligent as he could, but said
"There's no hurry, sir, none whatever. I came out for exercise,
gentle exercise, and to notice the scenery and to botanise. And
no sooner do I get on the accursed machine, than off I go hammer
and tongs; I never look to right or left, never notice a flower,
never see a view, get hot, juicy, red,--like a grilled chop. Here
I am, sir. Come from Guildford in something under the hour. WHY,
Mr. Hoopdriver shook his head.
"Because I'm a damned fool, sir. Because I've reservoirs and
reservoirs of muscular energy, and one or other of them is always
leaking. It's a most interesting road, birds and trees, I've no
doubt, and wayside flowers, and there's nothing I should enjoy
more than watching them. But I can't. Get me on that machine, and
I have to go. Get me on anything, and I have to go. And I don't
want to go a bit. WHY should a man rush about like a rocket, all
pace and fizzle? Why? It makes me furious. I can assure you, sir,
I go scorching along the road, and cursing aloud at myself for
doing it. A quiet, dignified, philosophical man, that's what I
am--at bottom; and here I am dancing with rage and swearing like
a drunken tinker at a perfect stranger--
"But my day's wasted. I've lost all that country road, and now
I'm on the fringe of London. And I might have loitered all the
morning! Ugh! Thank Heaven, sir, you have not the irritable
temperament, that you are not goaded to madness by your
endogenous sneers, by the eternal wrangling of an uncomfortable
soul and body. I tell you, I lead a cat and dog life--But what IS
the use of talking?--It's all of a piece!"
He tossed his head with unspeakable self-disgust, pitched the
lemon squash into his mouth, paid for it, and without any further
remark strode to the door. Mr. Hoopdriver was still wondering
what to say when his interlocutor vanished. There was a noise of
a foot spurning the gravel, and when Mr. Hoopdriver reached the
doorway, the man in drab was a score of yards Londonward. He had
already gathered pace. He pedalled with ill-suppressed anger, and
his head was going down. In another moment he flew swiftly out of
sight under the railway arch, and Mr. Hoopdriver saw him no more.
After this whirlwind Mr. Hoopdriver paid his reckoning and--being
now a little rested about the muscles of the knees--resumed his
saddle and rode on in the direction of Ripley, along an excellent
but undulating road. He was pleased to find his command over his
machine already sensibly increased. He set himself little
exercises as he went along and performed them with variable
success. There was, for instance, steering in between a couple of
stones, say a foot apart, a deed of little difficulty as far as
the front wheel is concerned. But the back wheel, not being under
the sway of the human eye, is apt to take a vicious jump over the
obstacle, which sends a violent concussion all along the spine to
the skull, and will even jerk a loosely fastened hat over the
eyes, and so lead to much confusion. And again, there was taking
the hand or hands off the handlebar, a thing simple in itself,
but complex in its consequences. This particularly was a feat Mr.
Hoopdriver desired to do, for several divergent reasons; but at
present it simply led to convulsive balancings and novel and
inelegant modes of dismounting.
The human nose is, at its best, a needless excrescence. There are
those who consider it ornamental, and would regard a face
deprived of its assistance with pity or derision; but it is
doubtful whether our esteem is dictated so much by a sense of its
absolute beauty as by the vitiating effect of a universally
prevalent fashion. In the case of bicycle students, as in the
young of both sexes, its inutility is aggravated by its
persistent annoyance--it requires constant attention. Until one
can ride with one hand, and search for, secure, and use a pocket
handkerchief with the other, cycling is necessarily a constant
series of descents. Nothing can be further from the author's
ambition than a wanton realism, but Mr. Hoopdriver's nose is a
plain and salient fact, and face it we must. And, in addition to
this inconvenience, there are flies. Until the cyclist can steer
with one hand, his face is given over to Beelzebub. Contemplative
flies stroll over it, and trifle absently with its most sensitive
surfaces. The only way to dislodge them is to shake the head
forcibly and to writhe one's features violently. This is not only
a lengthy and frequently ineffectual method, but one exceedingly
terrifying to foot passengers. And again, sometimes the beginner
rides for a space with one eye closed by perspiration, giving him
a waggish air foreign to his mood and ill calculated to overawe
the impertinent. However, you will appreciate now the motive of
Mr. Hoopdriver's experiments. He presently attained sufficient
dexterity to slap himself smartly and violently in the face with
his right hand, without certainly overturning the machine; but
his pocket handkerchief might have been in California for any
good it was to him while he was in the saddle.
Yet you must not think that because Mr. Hoopdriver was a little
uncomfortable, he was unhappy in the slightest degree. In the
background of his consciousness was the sense that about this
time Briggs would be half-way through his window dressing, and
Gosling, the apprentice, busy, with a chair turned down over the
counter and his ears very red, trying to roll a piece of
huckaback--only those who have rolled pieces of huckaback know
quite how detestable huckaback is to roll--and the shop would be
dusty and, perhaps, the governor about and snappy. And here was
quiet and greenery, and one mucked about as the desire took one,
without a soul to see, and here was no wailing of "Sayn," no
folding of remnants, no voice to shout, "Hoopdriver, forward!"
And once he almost ran over something wonderful, a little, low,
red beast with a yellowish tail, that went rushing across the
road before him. It was the first weasel he had ever seen in his
cockney life. There were miles of this, scores of miles of this
before him, pinewood and oak forest, purple, heathery moorland
and grassy down, lush meadows, where shining rivers wound their
lazy way, villages with square-towered, flint churches, and
rambling, cheap, and hearty inns, clean, white, country towns,
long downhill stretches, where one might ride at one's ease
(overlooking a jolt or so), and far away, at the end of it
What mattered a fly or so in the dawn of these delights? Perhaps
he had been dashed a minute by the shameful episode of the Young
Lady in Grey, and perhaps the memory of it was making itself a
little lair in a corner of his brain from which it could distress
him in the retrospect by suggesting that he looked like a fool;
but for the present that trouble was altogether in abeyance. The
man in drab--evidently a swell--had spoken to him as his equal,
and the knees of his brown suit and the chequered stockings were
ever before his eyes. (Or, rather, you could see the stockings by
carrying the head a little to one side.) And to feel, little by
little, his mastery over this delightful, treacherous machine,
growing and growing! Every half-mile or so his knees reasserted
themselves, and he dismounted and sat awhile by the roadside.
It was at a charming little place between Esher and Cobham, where
a bridge crosses a stream, that Mr. Hoopdriver came across the
other cyclist in brown. It is well to notice the fact here,
although the interview was of the slightest, because it happened
that subsequently Hoopdriver saw a great deal more of this other
man in brown. The other cyclist in brown had a machine of
dazzling newness, and a punctured pneumatic lay across his knees.
He was a man of thirty or more, with a whitish face, an aquiline
nose, a lank, flaxen moustache, and very fair hair, and he
scowled at the job before him. At the sight of him Mr. Hoopdriver
pulled himself together, and rode by with the air of one born to
the wheel. "A splendid morning," said Mr. Hoopdriver, "and a fine
"The morning and you and the surface be everlastingly damned!"
said the other man in brown as Hoopdriver receded. Hoopdriver
heard the mumble and did not distinguish the words, and he felt a
pleasing sense of having duly asserted the wide sympathy that
binds all cyclists together, of having behaved himself as becomes
one of the brotherhood of the wheel. The other man in brown
watched his receding aspect. "Greasy proletarian," said the other
man in brown, feeling a prophetic dislike. "Got a suit of brown,
the very picture of this. One would think his sole aim in life
had been to caricature me. It's Fortune's way with me. Look at
his insteps on the treadles! Why does Heaven make such men?"
And having lit a cigarette, the other man in brown returned to
the business in hand.
Mr. Hoopdriver worked up the hill towards Cobham to a point that
he felt sure was out of sight of the other man in brown, and then
he dismounted and pushed his machine; until the proximity of the
village and a proper pride drove him into the saddle again.
Beyond Cobham came a delightful incident, delightful, that is, in
its beginning if a trifle indeterminate in the retrospect. It was
perhaps half-way between Cobham and Ripley. Mr. Hoopdriver
dropped down a little hill, where, unfenced from the road, fine
mossy trees and bracken lay on either side; and looking up he saw
an open country before him, covered with heather and set with
pines, and a yellow road runing across it, and half a mile away
perhaps, a little grey figure by the wayside waving something
white. "Never!" said Mr. Hoopdriver with his hands tightening on
He resumed the treadles, staring away before him, jolted over a
stone, wabbled, recovered, and began riding faster at once, with
his eyes ahead. "It can't be," said Hoopdriver.
He rode his straightest, and kept his pedals spinning, albeit a
limp numbness had resumed possession of his legs." It CAN'T be,"
he repeated, feeling every moment more assured that it WAS.
"Lord! I don't know even now," said Mr. Hoopdriver (legs
awhirling), and then, "Blow my legs!"
But he kept on and drew nearer and nearer, breathing hard and
gathering flies like a flypaper. In the valley he was hidden.
Then the road began to rise, and the resistance of the pedals
grew. As he crested the hill he saw her, not a hundred yards away
from him. "It's her!" he said. "It's her--right enough. It's the
suit's done it,"--which was truer even than Mr. Hoopdriver
thought. But now she was not waving her handkerchief, she was not
even looking at him. She was wheeling her machine slowly along
the road towards him, and admiring the pretty wooded hills
towards Weybridge. She might have been unaware of his existence
for all the recognition he got.
For a moment horrible doubts troubled Mr. Hoopdriver. Had that
handkerchief been a dream? Besides which he was deliquescent and
scarlet, and felt so. It must be her coquetry--the handkerchief
was indisputable. Should he ride up to her and get off, or get
off and ride up to her? It was as well she didn't look, because
he would certainly capsize if he lifted his cap. Perhaps that was
her consideration. Even as he hesitated he was upon her. She must
have heard his breathing. He gripped the brake. Steady! His right
leg waved in the air, and he came down heavily and staggering,
but erect. She turned her eyes upon him with admirable surprise.
Mr. Hoopdriver tried to smile pleasantly, hold up his machine,
raise his cap, and bow gracefully. Indeed, he felt that he did as
much. He was a man singularly devoid of the minutiae of
self-consciousness, and he was quite unaware of a tail of damp
hair lying across his forehead, and just clearing his eyes, and
of the general disorder of his coiffure. There was an
"What can I have the pleasure--" began Mr. Haopdriver,
insinuatingly. "I mean" (remembering his emancipation and
abruptly assuming his most aristocratic intonation), "can I be of
any assistance to you?"
The Young Lady in Grey bit her lower lip and said very prettily,
"None, thank you." She glanced away from him and made as if she
"Oh!" said Mr. Hoopdriver, taken aback and suddenly crestfallen
again. It was so unexpected. He tried to grasp the situation. Was
she coquetting? Or had he--?
"Excuse me, one minute," he said, as she began to wheel her
"Yes?" she said, stopping and staring a little, with the colour
in her cheeks deepening.
"I should not have alighted if I had not--imagined that you--er,
waved something white--" He paused.
She looked at him doubtfully. He HAD seen it! She decided that
he was not an unredeemed rough taking advantage of a mistake, but
an innocent soul meaning well while seeking happiness. "I DID
wave my handkerchief," she said. "I'm very sorry. I am
expecting--a friend, a gentleman,"--she seemed to flush pink for
a minute. "He is riding a bicycle and dressed in--in brown; and
at a distance, you know--"
"Oh, quite!" said Mr. Hoopdriver, bearing up in manly fashion
against his bitter disappointment. "Certainly."
"I'm awfully sorry, you know. Troubling you to dismount, and all
"No trouble. 'Ssure you," said Mr. Hoopdriver, mechanically and
bowing over his saddle as if it was a counter. Somehow he could
not find it in his heart to tell her that the man was beyond
there with a punctured pneumatic. He looked back along the road
and tried to think of something else to say. But the gulf in the
conversation widened rapidly and hopelessly. "There's nothing
further," began Mr. Hoopdriver desperately, recurring to his
stock of cliches.
"Nothing, thank you," she said decisively. And immediately, "This
IS the Ripley road?"
"Certainly," said Mr. Hoopdriver. "Ripley is about two miles from
here. According to the mile-stones."
"Thank you," she said warmly. "Thank you so much. I felt sure
there was no mistake. And I really am awfully sorry--"
"Don't mention it," said Mr. Hoopdriver. "Don't mention it." He
hesitated and gripped his handles to mount. "It's me," he said,
"ought to be sorry." Should he say it? Was it an impertinence?
Anyhow!--"Not being the other gentleman, you know."
He tried a quietly insinuating smile that he knew for a grin even
as he smiled it; felt she disapproved--that she despised him, was
overcome with shame at her expression, turned his back upon her,
and began (very clumsily) to mount. He did so with a horrible
swerve, and went pedalling off, riding very badly, as he was only
too painfully aware. Nevertheless, thank Heaven for the mounting!
He could not see her because it was so dangerous for him to look
round, but he could imagine her indignant and pitiless. He felt
an unspeakable idiot. One had to be so careful what one said to
Young Ladies, and he'd gone and treated her just as though she
was only a Larky Girl. It was unforgivable. He always WAS a fool.
You could tell from her manner she didn't think him a gentleman.
One glance, and she seemed to look clear through him and all his
presence. What rot it was venturing to speak to a girl like that!
With her education she was bound to see through him at once.
How nicely she spoke too! nice clear-cut words! She made him feel
what slush his own accent was. And that last silly remark. What
was it ? 'Not being the other gentleman, you know!' No point in
it. And 'GENTLEMAN!' What COULD she be thinking of him?
But really the Young Lady in Grey had dismissed Hoopdriver from
her thoughts almost before he had vanished round the corner. She
had thought no ill of him. His manifest awe and admiration of her
had given her not an atom of offence. But for her just now there
were weightier things to think about, things that would affect
all the rest of her life. She continued slowly walking her
machine Londonward. Presently she stopped. "Oh! Why DOESN'T he
come?" she said, and stamped her foot petulantly. Then, as if in
answer, coming down the hill among the trees, appeared the other
man in brown, dismounted and wheeling his machine.
HOW MR. HOOPDRIVER WAS HAUNTED
As Mr. Hoopdriver rode swaggering along the Ripley road, it came
to him, with an unwarrantable sense of comfort, that he had seen
the last of the Young Lady in Grey. But the ill-concealed bladery
of the machine, the present machinery of Fate, the deus ex
machina, so to speak, was against him. The bicycle, torn from
this attractive young woman, grew heavier and heavier, and
continually more unsteady. It seemed a choice between stopping at
Ripley or dying in the flower of his days. He went into the
Unicorn, after propping his machine outside the door, and, as he
cooled down and smoked his Red Herring cigarette while the cold
meat was getting ready, he saw from the window the Young Lady in
Grey and the other man in brown, entering Ripley.
They filled him with apprehension by looking at the house which
sheltered him, but the sight of his bicycle, propped in a drunk
and incapable attitude against the doorway, humping its rackety
mud-guard and leering at them with its darkened lantern eye,
drove them away--so it seemed to Mr. Hoopdriver--to the spacious
swallow of the Golden Dragon. The young lady was riding very
slowly, but the other man in brown had a bad puncture and was
wheeling his machine. Mr. Hoopdriver noted his flaxen moustache,
his aquiline nose, his rather bent shoulders, with a sudden,
The maid at the Unicorn is naturally a pleasant girl, but she is
jaded by the incessant incidence of cyclists, and Hoopdriver's
mind, even as he conversed with her in that cultivated voice of
his--of the weather, of the distance from London, and of the
excellence of the Ripley road--wandered to the incomparable
freshness and brilliance of the Young Lady in Grey. As he sat at
meat he kept turning his head to the window to see what signs
there were of that person, but the face of the Golden Dragon
displayed no appreciation of the delightful morsel it had
swallowed. As an incidental consequence of this distraction, Mr.
Hoopdriver was for a minute greatly inconvenienced by a mouthful
of mustard. After he had called for his reckoning he went, his
courage being high with meat and mustard, to the door, intending
to stand, with his legs wide apart and his hands deep in his
pockets, and stare boldly across the road. But just then the
other man in brown appeared in the gateway of the Golden Dragon
yard--it is one of those delightful inns that date from the
coaching days--wheeling his punctured machine. He was taking it
to Flambeau's, the repairer's. He looked up and saw Hoopdriver,
stared for a minute, and then scowled darkly.
But Hoopdriver remained stoutly in the doorway until the other
man in brown had disappeared into Flambeau's. Then he glanced
momentarily at the Golden Dragon, puckered his mouth into a
whistle of unconcern, and proceeded to wheel his machine into the
road until a sufficient margin for mounting was secured.
Now, at that time, I say, Hoopdriver was rather desirous than not
of seeing no more of the Young Lady in Grey. The other man in
brown he guessed was her brother, albeit that person was of a
pallid fairness, differing essentially from her rich colouring;
and, besides, he felt he had made a hopeless fool of himself. But
the afternoon was against him, intolerably hot, especially on the
top of his head, and the virtue had gone out of his legs to
digest his cold meat, and altogether his ride to Guildford was
exceedingly intermittent. At times he would walk, at times lounge
by the wayside, and every public house, in spite of Briggs and a
sentiment of economy, meant a lemonade and a dash of bitter. (For
that is the experience of all those who go on wheels, that
drinking begets thirst, even more than thirst begets drinking,
until at last the man who yields becomes a hell unto himself, a
hell in which the fire dieth not, and the thirst is not
quenched.) Until a pennyworth of acrid green apples turned the
current that threatened to carry him away. Ever and again a
cycle, or a party of cyclists, would go by, with glittering
wheels and softly running chains, and on each occasion, to save
his self-respect, Mr. Hoopdriver descended and feigned some
trouble with his saddle. Each time he descended with less
He did not reach Guildford until nearly four o'clock, and then he
was so much exhausted that he decided to put up there for the
night, at the Yellow Hammer Coffee Tavern. And after he had
cooled a space and refreshed himself with tea and bread and
butter and jam,--the tea he drank noisily out of the saucer,--he
went out to loiter away the rest of the afternoon. Guildford is
an altogether charming old town, famous, so he learnt from a
Guide Book, as the scene of Master Tupper's great historical
novel of Stephen Langton, and it has a delightful castle, all set
about with geraniums and brass plates commemorating the gentlemen
who put them up, and its Guildhall is a Tudor building, very
pleasant to see, and in the afternoon the shops are busy and the
people going to and fro make the pavements look bright and
prosperous. It was nice to peep in the windows and see the heads
of the men and girls in the drapers' shops, busy as busy, serving
away. The High Street runs down at an angle of seventy degrees to
the horizon (so it seemed to Mr. Hoopdriver, whose feeling for
gradients was unnaturally exalted), and it brought his heart into
his mouth to see a cyclist ride down it, like a fly crawling down
a window pane. The man hadn't even a brake. He visited the castle
early in the evening and paid his twopence to ascend the Keep.
At the top, from the cage, he looked down over the clustering red
roofs of the town and the tower of the church, and then going to
the southern side sat down and lit a Red Herring cigarette, and
stared away south over the old bramble-bearing, fern-beset ruin,
at the waves of blue upland that rose, one behind another, across
the Weald, to the lazy altitudes of Hindhead and Butser. His pale
grey eyes were full of complacency and pleasurable anticipation.
Tomorrow he would go riding across that wide valley.
He did not notice any one else had come up the Keep after him
until he heard a soft voice behind him saying: "Well, MISS
BEAUMONT, here's the view." Something in the accent pointed to a
jest in the name.
"It's a dear old town, brother George," answered another voice
that sounded familiar enough, and turning his head, Mr.
Hoopdriver saw the other man in brown and the Young Lady in Grey,
with their backs towards him. She turned her smiling profile
towards Hoopdriver. "Only, you know, brothers don't call their
She glanced over her shoulder and saw Hoopdriver. "Damn!" said
the other man in brown, quite audibly, starting as he followed
Mr. Hoopdriver, with a fine air of indifference, resumed the
Weald. "Beautiful old town, isn't it?" said the other man in
brown, after a quite perceptible pause.
"Isn't it?" said the Young Lady in Grey.
Another pause began.
"Can't get alone anywhere," said the other man in brown, looking
Then Mr. Hoopdriver perceived clearly that he was in the way, and
decided to retreat. It was just his luck of course that he should
stumble at the head of the steps and vanish with indignity. This
was the third time that he'd seen HIM, and the fourth time her.
And of course he was too big a fat-head to raise his cap to HER!
He thought of that at the foot of the Keep. Apparently they aimed
at the South Coast just as he did, He'd get up betimes the next
day and hurry off to avoid her--them, that is. It never occurred
to Mr. Hoopdriver that Miss Beaumont and her brother might do
exactly the same thing, and that evening, at least, the
peculiarity of a brother calling his sister "Miss Beaumont" did
not recur to him. He was much too preoccupied with an analysis of
his own share of these encounters. He found it hard to be
altogether satisfied about the figure he had cut, revise his
memories as he would.
Once more quite unintentionally he stumbled upon these two
people. It was about seven o'clock. He stopped outside a linen
draper's and peered over the goods in the window at the
assistants in torment. He could have spent a whole day happily at
that. He told himself that he was trying to see how they dressed
out the brass lines over their counters, in a purely professional
spirit, but down at the very bottom of his heart he knew better.
The customers were a secondary consideration, and it was only
after the lapse of perhaps a minute that he perceived that among
them was--the Young Lady in Grey! He turned away from the window
at once, and saw the other man in brown standing at the edge of
the pavement and regarding him with a very curious expression of
There came into Mr. Hoopdriver's head the curious problem whether
he was to be regarded as a nuisance haunting these people, or
whether they were to be regarded as a nuisance haunting him. He
abandoned the solution at last in despair, quite unable to decide
upon the course he should take at the next encounter, whether he
should scowl savagely at the couple or assume an attitude
eloquent of apology and propitiation.
THE IMAGININGS OF MR. HOOPDRIVER'S HEART
Mr. Hoopdriver was (in the days of this story) a poet, though he
had never written a line of verse. Or perhaps romancer will
describe him better. Like I know not how many of those who do the
fetching and carrying of life,--a great number of them
certainly,--his real life was absolutely uninteresting, and if he
had faced it as realistically as such people do in Mr. Gissing's
novels, he would probably have come by way of drink to suicide in
the course of a year. But that was just what he had the natural
wisdom not to do. On the contrary, he was always decorating his
existence with imaginative tags, hopes, and poses, deliberate and
yet quite effectual self-deceptions; his experiences were mere
material for a romantic superstructure. If some power had given
Hoopdriver the 'giftie' Burns invoked, 'to see oursels as ithers
see us,' he would probably have given it away to some one else at
the very earliest opportunity. His entire life, you must
understand, was not a continuous romance, but a series of short
stories linked only by the general resemblance of their hero, a
brown-haired young fellow commonly, with blue eyes and a fair
moustache, graceful rather than strong, sharp and resolute rather
than clever (cp., as the scientific books say, p. 2). Invariably
this person possessed an iron will. The stories fluctuated
indefinitely. The smoking of a cigarette converted Hoopdriver's
hero into something entirely worldly, subtly rakish, with a
humorous twinkle in the eye and some gallant sinning in the
background. You should have seen Mr. Hoopdriver promenading the
brilliant gardens at Earl's Court on an early-closing night. His
meaning glances! (I dare not give the meaning.) Such an influence
as the eloquence of a revivalist preacher would suffice to divert
the story into absolutely different channels, make him a
white-soured hero, a man still pure, walking untainted and brave
and helpful through miry ways. The appearance of some daintily
gloved frockcoated gentleman with buttonhole and eyeglass
complete, gallantly attendant in the rear of customers, served
again to start visions of a simplicity essentially Cromwell-like,
of sturdy plainness, of a strong, silent man going righteously
through the world. This day there had predominated a fine
leisurely person immaculately clothed, and riding on an
unexceptional machine, a mysterious person--quite unostentatious,
but with accidental self-revelation of something over the common,
even a "bloomin' Dook," it might be incognito, on the tour of the
You must not think that there was any TELLING of these stories of
this life-long series by Mr. Hoopdriver. He never dreamt that
they were known to a soul. If it were not for the trouble, I
would, I think, go back and rewrite this section from the
beginning, expunging the statements that Hoopdriver was a poet
and a romancer, and saying instead that he was a playwright and
acted his own plays. He was not only the sole performer, but the
entire audience, and the entertainment kept him almost
continuously happy. Yet even that playwright comparison scarcely
expresses all the facts of the case. After all, very many of his
dreams never got acted at all, possibly indeed, most of them, the
dreams of a solitary walk for instance, or of a tramcar ride, the
dreams dreamt behind the counter while trade was slack and
mechanical foldings and rollings occupied his muscles. Most of
them were little dramatic situations, crucial dialogues, the
return of Mr. Hoopdriver to his native village, for instance, in
a well-cut holiday suit and natty gloves, the unheard asides of
the rival neighbours, the delight of the old 'mater,' the
intelligence--"A ten-pound rise all at once from Antrobus,
mater. Whad d'yer think of that?" or again, the first whispering
of love, dainty and witty and tender, to the girl he served a few
days ago with sateen, or a gallant rescue of generalised beauty
in distress from truculent insult or ravening dog.
So many people do this--and you never suspect it. You see a
tattered lad selling matches in the street, and you think there
is nothing between him and the bleakness of immensity, between
him and utter abasement, but a few tattered rags and a feeble
musculature. And all unseen by you a host of heaven- sent
fatuities swathes him about, even, maybe, as they swathe you
about. Many men have never seen their own profiles or the backs
of their heads, and for the back of your own mind no mirror has
been invented. They swathe him about so thickly that the pricks
of fate scarce penetrate to him, or become but a pleasant
titillation. And so, indeed, it is with all of us who go on
living. Self-deception is the anaesthetic of life, while God is
carving out our beings.
But to return from this general vivisection to Mr. Hoopdriver's
imaginings. You see now how external our view has been; we have
had but the slightest transitory glimpses of the drama within, of
how the things looked in the magic mirror of Mr. Hoopdriver's
mind. On the road to Guildford and during his encounters with his
haunting fellow-cyclists the drama had presented chiefly the
quiet gentleman to whom we have alluded, but at Guildford, under
more varied stimuli, he burgeoned out more variously. There was
the house agent's window, for instance, set him upon a charming
little comedy. He would go in, make inquires about that
thirty-pound house, get the key possibly and go over it--the
thing would stimulate the clerk's curiosity immensely. He
searched his mind for a reason for this proceeding and discovered
that he was a dynamiter needing privacy. Upon that theory he
procured the key, explored the house carefully, said darkly that
it might suit his special needs, but that there were OTHERS to
consult. The clerk, however, did not understand the allusion, and
merely pitied him as one who had married young and paired himself
to a stronger mind than his own.
This proceeding in some occult way led to the purchase of a
note-book and pencil, and that started the conception of an
artist taking notes. That was a little game Mr. Hoopdriver had,
in congenial company, played in his still younger days--to the
infinite annoyance of quite a number of respectable excursionists
at Hastings. In early days Mr. Hoopdriver had been, as his mother
proudly boasted, a 'bit of a drawer,' but a conscientious and
normally stupid schoolmaster perceived the incipient talent and
had nipped it in the bud by a series of lessons in art. However,
our principal character figured about quite happily in old
corners of Guildford, and once the other man in brown, looking
out of the bay window of the Earl of Kent, saw him standing in a
corner by a gateway, note-book in hand, busily sketching the
Earl's imposing features. At which sight the other man in brown
started back from the centre of the window, so as to be hidden
from him, and crouching slightly, watched him intently through
the interstices of the lace curtains.
Now the rest of the acts of Mr. Hoopdriver in Guildford, on the
great opening day of his holidays, are not to be detailed here.
How he wandered about the old town in the dusk, and up to the
Hogsback to see the little lamps below and the little stars above
come out one after another; how he returned through the
yellow-lit streets to the Yellow Hammer Coffee Tavern and supped
bravely in the commercial room--a Man among Men; how he joined in
the talk about flying-machines and the possibilities of
electricity, witnessing that fiying-machines were "dead certain
to come," and that electricity was "wonderful, wonderful"; how he
went and watched the billiard playing and said, "Left 'em"
several times with an oracular air; how he fell a-yawning; and
how he got out his cycling map and studied it intently,--are
things that find no mention here. Nor will I enlarge upon his
going into the writing-room, and marking the road from London to
Guildford with a fine, bright line of the reddest of red ink. In
his little cyclist hand-book there is a diary, and in the diary
there is an entry of these things--it is there to this day, and I
cannot do better than reproduce it here to witness that this book
is indeed a true one, and no lying fable written to while away an
At last he fell a-yawning so much that very reluctantly indeed he
set about finishing this great and splendid day. (Alas! that all
days must end at last! ) He got his candle in the hall from a
friendly waiting-maid, and passed upward--whither a modest
novelist, who writes for the family circle, dare not follow. Yet
I may tell you that he knelt down at his bedside, happy and
drowsy, and said, "Our Father 'chartin' heaven," even as he had
learnt it by rote from his mother nearly twenty years ago. And
anon when his breathing had become deep and regular, we may creep
into his bedroom and catch him at his dreams. He is lying upon
his left side, with his arm under the pillow. It is dark, and he
is hidden; but if you could have seen his face, sleeping there in
the darkness, I think you would have perceived, in spite of that
treasured, thin, and straggling moustache, in spite of your
memory of the coarse words he had used that day, that the man
before you was, after all, only a little child asleep.
THE DREAMS OF MR. HOOPDRIVER
In spite of the drawn blinds and the darkness, you have just seen
Mr. Hoopdriver's face peaceful in its beauty sleep in the little,
plain bedroom at the very top of the Yellow Hammer Coffee Tavern
at Guildford. That was before midnight. As the night progressed
he was disturbed by dreams.
After your first day of cycling one dream is inevitable. A memory
of motion lingers in the muscles of your legs, and round and
round they seem to go. You ride through Dreamland on wonderful
dream bicycles that change and grow; you ride down steeples and
staircases and over precipices; you hover in horrible suspense
over inhabited towns, vainly seeking for a brake your hand cannot
find, to save you from a headlong fall; you plunge into weltering
rivers, and rush helplessly at monstrous obstacles. Anon Mr.
Hoopdriver found himself riding out of the darkness of
non-existence, pedalling Ezekiel's Wheels across the Weald of
Surrey, jolting over the hills and smashing villages in his
course, while the other man in brown cursed and swore at him and
shouted to stop his career. There was the Putney heath-keeper,
too, and the man in drab raging at him. He felt an awful fool, a-
-what was it?--a juggins, ah!--a Juggernaut. The villages went
off one after another with a soft, squashing noise. He did not
see the Young Lady in Grey, but he knew she was looking at his
back. He dared not look round. Where the devil was the brake? It
must have fallen off. And the bell? Right in front of him was
Guildford. He tried to shout and warn the town to get out of the
way, but his voice was gone as well. Nearer, nearer! it was
fearful! and in another moment the houses were cracking like nuts
and the blood of the inhabitants squirting this way and that. The
streets were black with people running. Right under his wheels he
saw the Young Lady in Grey. A feeling of horror came upon Mr.
Hoopdriver; he flung himself sideways to descend, forgetting how
high he was, and forthwith he began falling; falling, falling.
He woke up, turned over, saw the new moon on the window, wondered
a little, and went to sleep again.
This second dream went back into the first somehow, and the other
man in brown came threatening and shouting towards him. He grew
uglier and uglier as he approached, and his expression was
intolerably evil. He came and looked close into Mr. Hoopdriver's
eyes and then receded to an incredible distance. His face seemed
to be luminous. "MISS BEAUMONT," he said, and splashed up a spray
of suspicion. Some one began letting off fireworks, chiefly
Catherine wheels, down the shop, though Mr. Hoopdriver knew it
was against the rules. For it seemed that the place they were in
was a vast shop, and then Mr. Hoopdriver perceived that the other
man in brown was the shop-walker, differing from most
shop-walkers in the fact that he was lit from within as a Chinese
lantern might be. And the customer Mr. Hoopdriver was going to
serve was the Young Lady in Grey. Curious he hadn't noticed it
before. She was in grey as usual,--rationals,--and she had her
bicycle leaning against the counter. She smiled quite frankly at
him, just as she had done when she had apologised for stopping
him. And her form, as she leant towards him, was full of a
sinuous grace he had never noticed before. "What can I have the
pleasure?" said Mr. Hoopdriver at once, and she said, "The Ripley
road." So he got out the Ripley road and unrolled it and showed
it to her, and she said that would do very nicely, and kept on
looking at him and smiling, and he began measuring off eight
miles by means of the yard measure on the counter, eight miles
being a dress length, a rational dress length, that is; and then
the other man in brown came up and wanted to interfere, and said
Mr. Hoopdriver was a cad, besides measuring it off too slowly.
And as Mr. Hoopdriver began to measure faster, the other man in
brown said the Young Lady in Grey had been there long enough, and
that he WAS her brother, or else she would not be travelling with
him, and he suddenly whipped his arm about her waist and made off
with her. It occurred to Mr. Hoopdriver even at the moment that
this was scarcely brotherly behaviour. Of course it wasn't! The
sight of the other man gripping her so familiarly enraged him
frightfully; he leapt over the counter forthwith and gave chase.
They ran round the shop and up an iron staircase into the Keep,
and so out upon the Ripley road. For some time they kept dodging
in and out of a wayside hotel with two front doors and an inn
yard. The other man could not run very fast because he had hold
of the Young Lady in Grey, but Mr. Hoopdriver was hampered by the
absurd behaviour of his legs. They would not stretch out; they
would keep going round and round as if they were on the treadles
of a wheel, so that he made the smallest steps conceivable. This
dream came to no crisis. The chase seemed to last an interminable
time, and all kinds of people, heathkeepers, shopmen, policemen,
the old man in the Keep, the angry man in drab, the barmaid at
the Unicorn, men with flying-machines, people playing billiards
in the doorways, silly, headless figures, stupid cocks and hens
encumbered with parcels and umbrellas and waterproofs, people
carrying bedroom candles, and such-like riffraff, kept getting in
his way and annoying him, although he sounded his electric bell,
and said, "Wonderful, wonderful!" at every corner....
HOW MR. HOOPDRIVER WENT TO HASLEMERE
There was some little delay in getting Mr. Hoopdriver's
breakfast, so that after all he was not free to start out of
Guildford until just upon the stroke of nine. He wheeled his
machine from the High Street in some perplexity. He did not know
whether this young lady, who had seized hold of his imagination
so strongly, and her unfriendly and possibly menacing brother,
were ahead of him or even now breakfasting somewhere in
Guildford. In the former case he might loiter as he chose; in the
latter he must hurry, and possibly take refuge in branch roads.
It occurred to him as being in some obscure way strategic, that
he would leave Guildford not by the obvious Portsmouth road, but
by the road running through Shalford. Along this pleasant shady
way he felt suffficiently secure to resume his exercises in
riding with one hand off the handles, and in staring over his
shoulder. He came over once or twice, but fell on his foot each
time, and perceived that he was improving. Before he got to
Bramley a specious byway snapped him up, ran with him for half a
mile or more, and dropped him as a terrier drops a walkingstick,
upon the Portsmouth again, a couple of miles from Godalming. He
entered Godalming on his feet, for the road through that
delightful town is beyond dispute the vilest in the world, a mere
tumult of road metal, a way of peaks and precipices, and, after a
successful experiment with cider at the Woolpack, he pushed on to
All this time he was acutely aware of the existence of the Young
Lady in Grey and her companion in brown, as a child in the dark
is of Bogies. Sometimes he could hear their pneumatics stealing
upon him from behind, and looking round saw a long stretch of
vacant road. Once he saw far ahead of him a glittering wheel, but
it proved to be a workingman riding to destruction on a very tall
ordinary. And he felt a curious, vague uneasiness about that
Young Lady in Grey, for which he was altogether unable to
account. Now that he was awake he had forgotten that accentuated
"Miss Beaumont that had been quite clear in his dream. But the
curious dream conviction, that the girl was not really the man's
sister, would not let itself be forgotten. Why, for instance,
should a man want to be alone with his sister on the top of a
tower? At Milford his bicycle made, so to speak, an ass of
itself. A finger-post suddenly jumped out at him, vainly
indicating an abrupt turn to the right, and Mr. Hoopdriver would
have slowed up and read the inscription, but no!--the bicycle
would not let him. The road dropped a little into Milford, and
the thing shied, put down its head and bolted, and Mr. Hoopdriver
only thought of the brake when the fingerpost was passed. Then to
have recovered the point of intersection would have meant
dismounting. For as yet there was no road wide enough for Mr.
Hoopdriver to turn in. So he went on his way--or to be precise,
he did exactly the opposite thing. The road to the right was the
Portsmouth road, and this he was on went to Haslemere and
Midhurst. By that error it came about that he once more came upon
his fellow travellers of yesterday, coming on them suddenly,
without the slightest preliminary announcement and when they
least expected it, under the Southwestern Railway arch. "It's
horrible," said a girlish voice; "it's brutal--cowardly--" And
His expression, as he shot out from the archway at them, may have
been something between a grin of recognition and a scowl of
annoyance at himself for the unintentional intrusion. But
disconcerted as he waas, he was yet able to appreciate something
of the peculiarity of their mutual attitudes. The bicycles were
Iying by the roadside, and the two riders stood face to face. The
other man in brown's attitude, as it flashed upon Hoopdriver, was
a deliberate pose; he twirled his moustache and smiled faintly,
and he was conscientiously looking amused. And the girl stood
rigid, her arms straight by her side, her handkerchief clenched
in her hand, and her face was flushed, with the faintest touch of
red upon her eyelids. She seemed to Mr. Hoopdriver's sense to be
indignant. But that was the impression of a second. A mask of
surprised recognition fell across this revelation of emotion as
she turned her head towards him, and the pose of the other man in
brown vanished too in a momentary astonishment. And then he had
passed them, and was riding on towards Haslemere to make what he
could of the swift picture that had photographed itself on his
"Rum," said Mr. Hoopdriver. "It's DASHED rum!"
"They were having a row."
"Smirking--" What he called the other man in brown need not
"Annoying her!" That any human being should do that!
The impulse to interfere leapt suddenly into Mr. Hoopdriver's
mind. He grasped his brake, descended, and stood looking
hesitatingly back. They still stood by the railway bridge, and it
seemed to Mr. Hoopdriver's fancy that she was stamping her foot.
He hesitated, then turned his bicycle round, mounted, and rode
back towards them, gripping his courage firmly lest it should
slip away and leave him ridiculous. "I'll offer 'im a screw
'ammer," said Mr. Hoopdriver. Then, with a wave of fierce
emotion, he saw that the girl was crying. In another moment they
heard him and turned in surprise. Certainly she had been crying;
her eyes were swimming in tears, and the other man in brown
looked exceedingly disconcerted. Mr. Hoopdriver descended and
stood over his machine.
"Nothing wrong, I hope?" he said, looking the other man in brown
squarely in the face. "No accident?"
"Nothing," said the other man in brown shortly. "Nothing at all,
"But," said Mr. Hoopdriver, with a great effort, "the young lady
is crying. I thought perhaps--"
The Young Lady in Grey started, gave Hoopdriver one swift glance,
and covered one eye with her handkerchief. "It's this speck," she
said. "This speck of dust in my eye."
"This lady," said the other man in brown, explaining, "has a gnat
in her eye."
There was a pause. The young lady busied herself with her eye. "I
believe it's out," she said. The other man in brown made
movements indicating commiserating curiosity concerning the
alleged fly. Mr. Hoopdriver--the word is his own--stood
flabber-gastered. He had all the intuition of the simple-minded.
He knew there was no fly. But the ground was suddenly cut from
his feet. There is a limit to knighterrantry --dragons and false
knights are all very well, but flies! Fictitious flies! Whatever
the trouble was, it was evidently not his affair. He felt he had
made a fool of himself again. He would have mumbled some sort of
apology; but the other man in brown gave him no time, turned on
him abruptly, even fiercely. "I hope," he said, "that your
curiosity is satisfied?"
"Certainly," said Mr. Hoopdriver.
"Then we won't detain you."
And, ignominiously, Mr. Hoopdriver turned his machine about,
struggled upon it, and resumed the road southward. And when he
learnt that he was not on the Portsmouth road, it was impossible
to turn and go back, for that would be to face his shame again,
and so he had to ride on by Brook Street up the hill to
Haslemere. And away to the right the Portsmouth road mocked at
him and made off to its fastnesses amid the sunlit green and
purple masses of Hindhead, where Mr. Grant Allen writes his Hill
Top Novels day by day.
The sun shone, and the wide blue hill views and pleasant valleys
one saw on either hand from the sandscarred roadway, even the
sides of the road itself set about with grey heather scrub and
prickly masses of gorse, and pine trees with their year's growth
still bright green, against the darkened needles of the previous
years, were fresh and delightful to Mr. Hoopdriver's eyes But the
brightness of the day and the day-old sense of freedom fought an
uphill fight against his intolerable vexation at that abominable
encounter, and had still to win it when he reached Haslemere. A
great brown shadow, a monstrous hatred of the other man in brown,
possessed him. He had conceived the brilliant idea of abandoning
Portsmouth, or at least giving up the straight way to his
fellow-wayfarers, and of striking out boldly to the left,
eastward. He did not dare to stop at any of the inviting
public-houses in the main street of Haslemere, but turned up a
side way and found a little beer-shop, the Good Hope, wherein to
refresh himself. And there he ate and gossipped condescendingly
with an aged labourer, assuming the while for his own private
enjoyment the attributes of a Lost Heir, and afterwards mounted
and rode on towards Northchapel, a place which a number of
finger-posts conspired to boom, but which some insidious turning
prevented him from attaining.
HOW MR. HOOPDRIVER REACHED MIDHURST
It was one of my uncle's profoundest remarks that human beings
are the only unreasonable creatures. This observation was so far
justified by Mr. Hoopdriver that, after spending the morning
tortuously avoiding the other man in brown and the Young Lady in
Grey, he spent a considerable part of the afternoon in thinking
about the Young Lady in Grey, and contemplating in an optimistic
spirit the possibilities of seeing her again. Memory and
imagination played round her, so that his course was largely
determined by the windings of the road he traversed. Of one
general proposition he was absolutely convinced. "There's
something Juicy wrong with 'em," said he--once even aloud. But
what it was he could not imagine. He recapitulated the facts.
"Miss Beaumont --brother and sister--and the stoppage to quarrel
and weep--it was perplexing material for a young man of small
experience. There was no exertion he hated so much as inference,
and after a time he gave up any attempt to get at the realities
of the case, and let his imagination go free. Should he ever see
her again? Suppose he did--with that other chap not about. The
vision he found pleasantest was an encounter with her, an
unexpected encounter at the annual Dancing Class 'Do' at the
Putney Assembly Rooms. Somehow they would drift together, and he
would dance with her again and again. It was a pleasant vision,
for you must understand that Mr. Hoopdriver danced uncommonly
well. Or again, in the shop, a sudden radiance in the doorway,
and she is bowed towards the Manchester counter. And then to lean
over that counter and murmur, seemingly apropos of the goods
under discussion, "I have not forgotten that morning on the
Portsmouth road," and lower, "I never shall forget."
At Northchapel Mr. Hoopdriver consulted his map and took counsel
and weighed his course of action. Petworth seemed a possible
resting-place, or Pullborough; Midhurst seemed too near, and any
place over the Downs beyond, too far, and so he meandered towards
Petworth, posing himself perpetually and loitering, gathering
wild flowers and wondering why they had no names--for he had
never heard of any--dropping them furtively at the sight of a
stranger, and generally 'mucking about.' There were purple
vetches in the hedges, meadowsweet, honeysuckle, belated
brambles--but the dog-roses had already gone; there were green
and red blackberries, stellarias, and dandelions, and in another
place white dead nettles, traveller's-joy, clinging bedstraw,
grasses flowering, white campions, and ragged robins. One
cornfield was glorious with poppies, bright scarlet and purple
white, and the blue corn-flowers were beginning. In the lanes the
trees met overhead, and the wisps of hay still hung to the
straggling hedges. Iri one of the main roads he steered a
perilous passage through a dozen surly dun oxen. Here and there
were little cottages, and picturesque beer-houses with the vivid
brewers' boards of blue and scarlet, and once a broad green and a
church, and an expanse of some hundred houses or so. Then he came
to a pebbly rivulet that emerged between clumps of sedge
loosestrife and forget-me-nots under an arch of trees, and
rippled across the road, and there he dismounted, longing to take
off shoes and stockings--those stylish chequered stockings were
now all dimmed with dust --and paddle his lean legs in the
chuckling cheerful water. But instead he sat in a manly attitude,
smoking a cigarette, for fear lest the Young Lady in Grey should
come glittering round the corner. For the flavour of the Young
Lady in Grey was present through it all, mixing with the flowers
and all the delight of it, a touch that made this second day
quite different from the first, an undertone of expectation,
anxiety, and something like regret that would not be ignored.
It was only late in the long evening that, quite abruptly, he
began to repent, vividly and decidedly, having fled these two
people. He was getting hungry, and that has a curious effect upon
the emotional colouring of our minds. The man was a sinister
brute, Hoopdriver saw in a flash of inspiration, and the
girl--she was in some serious trouble. And he who might have
helped her had taken his first impulse as decisive--and bolted.
This new view of it depressed him dreadfully. What might not be
happening to her now? He thought again of her tears. Surely it
was merely his duty, seeing the trouble afoot, to keep his eye
He began riding fast to get quit of such selfreproaches. He found
himself in a tortuous tangle of roads, and as the dusk was coming
on, emerged, not at Petworth but at Easebourne, a mile from
Midhurst. "I'm getting hungry," said Mr. Hoopdriver, inquiring of
a gamekeeper in Easebourne village. "Midhurst a mile, and
Petworth five!--Thenks, I'll take Midhurst."
He came into Midhurst by the bridge at the watermill, and up the
North Street, and a little shop flourishing cheerfully, the
cheerful sign of a teapot, and exhibiting a brilliant array of
tobaccos, sweets, and children's toys in the window, struck his
fancy. A neat, bright-eyed little old lady made him welcome, and
he was presently supping sumptuously on sausages and tea, with a
visitors' book full of the most humorous and flattering remarks
about the little old lady, in verse and prose, propped up against
his teapot as he ate. Regular good some of the jokes were, and
rhymes that read well--even with your mouth full of sausage. Mr.
Hoopdriver formed a vague idea of drawing " something "--for his
judgment on the little old lady was already formed. He pictured
the little old lady discovering it afterwards--"My gracious! One
of them Punch men," she would say. The room had a curtained
recess and a chest of drawers, for presently it was to be his
bedroom, and the day part of it was decorated with framed
Oddfellows' certificates and giltbacked books and portraits, and
kettle-holders, and all kinds of beautiful things made out of
wool; very comfortable it was indeed. The window was lead framed
and diamond paned, and through it one saw the corner of the
vicarage and a pleasant hill crest, in dusky silhouette against
the twilight sky. And after the sausages had ceased to be, he lit
a Red Herring cigarette and went swaggering out into the twilight
street. All shadowy blue between its dark brick houses, was the
street, with a bright yellow window here and there and splashes
of green and red where the chemist's illumination fell across the
And now let us for a space leave Mr. Hoopdriver in the dusky
Midhurst North Street, and return to the two folks beside the
railway bridge between Milford and Haslemere. She was a girl of
eighteen, dark, fine featured, with bright eyes, and a rich,
swift colour under her warm-tinted skin. Her eyes were all the
brighter for the tears that swam in them. The man was thirty
three or four, fair, with a longish nose overhanging his sandy
flaxen moustache, pale blue eyes, and a head that struck out
above and behind. He stood with his feet wide apart, his hand on
his hip, in an attitude that was equally suggestive of defiance
and aggression. They had watched Hoopdriver out of sight. The
unexpected interruption had stopped the flood of her tears. He
tugged his abundant moustache and regarded her calmly. She stood
with face averted, obstinately resolved not to speak first. "Your
behaviour," he said at last, "makes you conspicuous."
She turned upon him, her eyes and cheeks glowing, her hands
clenched. "You unspeakable CAD," she said, and choked, stamped
her little foot, and stood panting.
"Unspeakable cad! My dear girl! Possible I AM an unspeakable cad.
Who wouldn't be--for you?"
"'Dear girl!' How DARE you speak to me like that? YOU--"
"I would do anything--"
There was a moment's pause. She looked squarely into his face,
her eyes alight with anger and contempt, and perhaps he flushed a
little. He stroked his moustache, and by an effort maintained his
cynical calm. "Let us be reasonable," he said.
"Reasonable! That means all that is mean and cowardly and sensual
in the world."
"You have always had it so--in your generalising way. But let us
look at the facts of the case--if that pleases you better."
With an impatient gesture she motioned him to go on.
"Well," he said,--"you've eloped."
"I've left my home," she corrected, with dignity. "I left my home
because it was unendurable. Because that woman--"
"Yes, yes. But the point is, you have eloped with me."
"You came with me. You pretended to be my friend. Promised to
help me to earn a living by writing. It was you who said, why
shouldn't a man and woman be friends? And now you dare--you
"Really, Jessie, this pose of yours, this injured innocence--"
"I will go back. I forbid you--I forbid you to stand in the
"One moment. I have always thought that my little pupil was at
least clear-headed. You don't know everything yet, you know.
Listen to me for a moment."
"Haven't I been listening? And you have only insulted me. You who
dared only to talk of friendship, who scarcely dared hint at
"But you took the hints, nevertheless. You knew. You KNEW. And
you did not mind. MIND! You liked it. It was the fun of the whole
thing for you. That I loved you, and could not speak to you. You
played with it--"
"You have said all that before. Do you think that justifies you?"
"That isn't all. I made up my mind--Well, to make the game more
even. And so I suggested to you and joined with you in this
expedition of yours, invented a sister at Midhurst--I tell you, I
HAVEN'T a sister! For one object--"
"To compromise you."
She started. That was a new way of putting it. For half a minute
neither spoke. Then she began half defiantly: "Much I am
compromised. Of course--I have made a fool of myself--"
"My dear girl, you are still on the sunny side of eighteen, and
you know very little of this world. Less than you think. But you
will learn. Before you write all those novels we have talked
about, you will have to learn. And that's one point--" He
hesitated. "You started and blushed when the man at breakfast
called you Ma'am. You thought it a funny mistake, but you did not
say anything because he was young and nervous--and besides, the
thought of being my wife offended your modesty. You didn't care
to notice it. But--you see; I gave your name as MRS. Beaumont."
He looked almost apologetic, in spite of his cynical pose. "MRS.
Beaumont," he repeated, pulling his flaxen moustache and watching
She looked into his eyes speechless. "I am learning fast, " she
said slowly, at last.
He thought the time had come for an emotional attack. "Jessie,"
he said, with a sudden change of voice, "I know all this is mean,
isvillanous. But do you think that I have done all this scheming,
all this subterfuge, for any other object--"
She did not seem to listen to his words. "I shall ride home," she
"Just think," said he, "what she could say to you after this."