“As what, master?”
“Five minutes under the pump yonder, and a clean towel.” The farmer nodded, and crossing to one of the outhouses, presently returned with a towel. And, resting the towel upon the pump-head, he seized the handle, and sent a jet of clear, cool water over my head, and face, and hands.
“You’ve got a tidy, sizeable arm,” said he, as I dried myself vigorously, “likewise a good strong back an’ shoulders; theer’s the makin’s of a man in you as might do summat—say in the plough or smithin’ way, but it’s easy to see as you’re a gentleman, more’s the pity, an’ won’t. Hows’ever, sir, if you’ve a mind to a cut o’ good beef, an’ a mug o’ fine ale—say the word.”
“First,” said I, “do you believe it was forty shillings yes or no?”
The farmer twisted his whisker, and stared very hard at the spout of the pump.
“Tell ‘ee what,” said he at length, “mak’ it thirty, an’ I give ye my Bible oath to do the best wi’ it I can.”
“Then I must needs seek my breakfast at the nearest inn,” said I.
“An’ that is the ‘Old Cock,’ a mile an’ a half nearer Tonbridge.”
“Then the sooner I start the better,” said I, “for I’m mightily sharp set.”
“Why, as to that,” said he, busy with his whisker again, “I might stretch a pint or two an’ call it—thirty-five, at a pinch—what d’ye say?”
“Why, I say ‘good morning,’ and many of them!” And, opening the gate, I started off down the road at a brisk pace. Now, as I went, it began to rain.
In which I stumble upon an affair of honor.
There are times (as I suppose) when the most aesthetic of souls will forget the snow of lilies, and the down of a butterfly’s wing, to revel in the grosser joys of, say, a beefsteak. One cannot rhapsodize upon the beauties of a sunset, or contemplate the pale witchery of the moon with any real degree of poetic fervor, or any degree of comfort, while hunger gnaws at one’s vitals, for comfort is essential to your aesthete, and, after all, soul goes hand in hand with stomach.
Thus, I swung along the road beneath the swaying green of trees, past the fragrant, blooming hedges, paying small heed to the beauties of wooded hill and grassy dale, my eyes constantly searching the road before me for some sign of the “Old Cock” tavern. And presently, sure enough, I espied it, an ugly, flat-fronted building, before which stood a dilapidated horse trough and a battered sign. Despite its uninviting exterior, I hurried forward, and mounting the three worn steps pushed open the door. I now found myself in a room of somewhat uninviting aspect, though upon the hearth a smouldering fire was being kicked into a blaze by a sulky-faced fellow, to whom I addressed myself:
“Can I have some breakfast here?” said I.