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When John Willet saw that the horsemen wheeled smartly round, and drew up three abreast in the narrow road, waiting for him and his man to join them, it occurred to him with unusual precipitation that they must be highwaymen; and had Hugh been armed with a blunderbuss, in place of his stout cudgel, he would certainly have ordered him to fire it off at a venture, and would, while the word of command was obeyed, have consulted his own personal safety in immediate flight. Under the circumstances of disadvantage, however, in which he and his guard were placed, he deemed it prudent to adopt a different style of generalship, and therefore whispered his attendant to address them in the most peaceable and courteous terms. By way of acting up to the spirit and letter of this instruction, Hugh stepped forward, and flourishing his staff before the very eyes of the rider nearest to him, demanded roughly what he and his fellows meant by so nearly galloping over them, and why they scoured the king's highway at that late hour of night.
The man whom be addressed was beginning an angry reply in the same strain, when be was checked by the horseman in the centre, who, interposing with an air of authority, inquired in a somewhat loud but not harsh or unpleasant voice:
'Pray, is this the London road?'
'If you follow it right, it is,' replied Hugh roughly.
'Nay, brother,' said the same person, 'you're but a churlish Englishman, if Englishman you be--which I should much doubt but for your tongue. Your companion, I am sure, will answer me more civilly. How say you, friend?'
'I say it IS the London road, sir,' answered John. 'And I wish,' he added in a subdued voice, as he turned to Hugh, 'that you was in any other road, you vagabond. Are you tired of your life, sir, that you go a-trying to provoke three great neck-or-nothing chaps, that could keep on running over us, back'ards and for'ards, till we was dead, and then take our bodies up behind 'em, and drown us ten miles off?'
'How far is it to London?' inquired the same speaker.
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