“Yes,” said I.
The man stood utterly still, his mouth opened as if he would have spoken, but no word came. All at once he turned about, and walked unsteadily five or six paces. Now, as I looked, I saw him suddenly draw his hand from his pocket, then, as he wheeled, I knew, and hurled myself face downward as the pistol flashed.
“Madman!” I cried, and next moment was on my feet; but, with a sound that was neither a groan nor a scream, and yet something of both, he leapt into the thickest part of the underbrush, and made off. And standing there, dazed by the suddenness of it all, I heard the snapping of twigs grow fainter and fainter as he crashed through in headlong flight.
Twigs whipped my face, thorns and brambles dragged at my clothes, hidden obstacles lay in wait for my feet, for the wood grew denser as I advanced, but I pushed on, heedless alike of these and of what direction I took. But, as luck would have it, I presently blundered upon a path which, in a short time, brought me out very suddenly into what appeared to be a small tavern yard, for on either hand was a row of tumble-down stables and barns, while before me was a low, rambling structure which I judged was the tavern itself. I was yet standing looking about me when a man issued from the stables upon my right, bearing a hammer in one hand and a lanthorn in the other.
“Hallo!” said he, staring at me.
“Hallo!” said I, staring at him.
“You don’t chance to ’ave a axle-bolt about you, I suppose?”
“No,” said I.
“Humph!” he grunted, and, lowering his lanthorn, began searching among the cobblestones.
“Is this it?” I inquired, picking up a rusty screw-bolt at my feet.
“Ah!” said he, taking it from me with a nod, “know’d I dropped it ’ere some’eres. Ye see,” he went on, “couldn’t get another round ’ere to-night, and that cussed axle’s got to be in place to-morra.”
“Yes?” said I.
“Ah!” nodded the man; “chaise come in ’ere ‘arf-an-hour ago wi’ two gentlemen and a lady, in the Lord’s own ’urry too. ’Mend this axle, me man,’ says one on ’em—a top-sawyer be the looks on ‘im—’mend this axle, and quick about it.’ ’Can’t be done, my lord,’ says I. ‘W’y not?’ says ‘e, showin’ ’is teeth savage-like. ‘Because it can’t,’ says I, ‘not no’ow, me lord,’ says I. Well, after cussin’ ’isself well-nigh black in the face, ’e orders me to have it ready fust thing to-morra, and if you ’adn’t found that there bolt for me it wouldn’t have been ready fust thing to-morra, which would ha’ been mighty bad for me, for this ’ere gentleman’s a fire-and-fury out-and-outer, and no error.”
“Can I have a bed here, do you think?” I inquired.
“Ah,” said he, “I think you can.”
“For how much, do you suppose?”