And, giving his basket a hitch, he resumed his slow trudging movement onward. "You see," pursued Helmsley, keeping up the pace beside him, and beginning to take pleasure in the conversation "I may be anything or anybody " "Ye may that," agreed Peke, his eyes fixed as usual on the ground.
Slowly he spelled out the poorly written words: From Y. N. took Unowhat. Went twenty yards strate for big rock. Eight feet direckly west. Fifty yards in direcksion of suthern Antelope Peke. Then eighteen to nerest cotonwood. J. H. begins hear. Collins read the scrawl twice before an inkling of its meaning came home to him. Then in a flash his brain was lighted.
"Any fresh tales to tell, Tom?" inquired Matt Peke then "Any more harum-scarum pranks o' yours on the road?" Tom drank off a mug of ale before replying, and took a comprehensive glance around the room. "You have a stranger here," he said suddenly, in his deep, thrilling voice, "One who is not of our breed, one who is unfamiliar with our ways. Friend or foe?"
He could put a five-pound note in an envelope and post it anonymously to Matt Peke at the "Trusty Man" as a slight return for his kindness, but he was quite sure that though Matt might be pleased enough with the money he would equally be puzzled, and not entirely satisfied in his mind as to whether he was doing right to accept and use it.
"There aint no rhyme nor reason in it," answered Peke. "You 'elps a man along if ye sees 'e wants 'elpin', sure-ly, that's nat'ral. 'Tis on'y them as is born bad as don't 'elp nothin' nor nobody. Ye're old an' fagged out, an' yer face speaks a bit o' trouble that's enuff for me. Hi' y' are! hi' y' are, old 'Trusty Man!"
"Who's findin' fault, Mister Dubble?" asked Peke soothingly. "I on'y said 'twas powerful warm." "An' no one but a sawny 'xpects it to be powerful cold in July," growled Dubble "though some there is an' some there be what cries fur snow in August, but I aint one on 'em."
"We aint the sort to keep you up, never fear! Your worst customer's just cleared out!" "So I see!" replied Miss Tranter calmly, then, nodding towards Helmsley, she said "Your room's ready." Helmsley took the hint. He rose from his chair, and held out his hand to Peke. "Good-night!" he said. "You've been very kind to me, and I shan't forget it!"
Did it lie in his power to give them any greater satisfaction than that which they already possessed? He doubted whether a present of money to Matt Peke, for instance, would not offend that rustic philosopher, more than it would gratify him; while, as for Tom o' the Gleam, that handsome ruffian was more likely to rob a man of gold than accept it as a gift from him.
Yet there was such a good-natured expression in the man's eyes, and so much honest solicitude written on his rough bearded face, that Helmsley felt it would be almost like insulting him to refuse his invitation. "Tell me what's in it first!" he said, smiling. "'Taint whisky," said Peke. "And 'taint brandy neither. Nor rum. Nor gin.
At that moment a short girl, with a very red face and round beady eyes, came into the room carrying on a tray two quaint old pewter tureens full of steaming soup, which emitted very savoury and appetising odours. Setting these down before Matt Peke and Helmsley, with two goodly slices of bread beside them, she held out her podgy hand. "Threepence each, please!"
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