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The Parson O' Dumford   By: (1831-1909)

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Volume 1, Chapter I.



"I was asking, or axing, as you call it, my man. I said, Is that Dumford, down there in the valley?"

"And I said axe, or arks, as you call it, my man," was the surly, defiant reply.

The last speaker looked up savagely from the block of stone on which he was seated, and the questioner looked down from where he stood on the rough track. There was a quiet, half amused twinkle in his clear grey eyes, which did not quit his verbal opponent for an instant, as he remained gazing at him without speaking.

They were men of about the same age eight and twenty or thirty the one evidently a clergyman by his white tie, and the clerical cut of his clothes, though there was an easy degage look in the soft felt hat cocked a little on one side of his massive head a head that seemed naturally to demand short crisp curly brown hair. The same free and easy air showed in the voluminous wrinkles of his grey tweed trousers; his thick square toed rather dusty boots; and his gloveless hands, which were brown, thickly veined, and muscular. He had a small leather bag in one hand, a stout stick in the other, and it was evident that he had walked some distance over the hills, for the nearest town, in the direction he had come, was at least six miles away.

The seated man, who was smoking a very dirty and short clay pipe, was as broad shouldered, as sturdy, and as well knit; but while the one, in spite of a somewhat heavy build, was, so to speak, polished by exercise into grace; the other was rough and angular, and smirched as his countenance was by sweat and the grime of some manufacturing trade, he looked as brutal as his words.

"What are yow lookin' at?" he suddenly growled menacingly.

"At yow," said the clergyman, in the most unruffled way; and, letting his bag and stick fall in the ferns, he coolly seated himself on a second block of stone on the bright hill side.

"Now look here," exclaimed the workman, roughly, "I know what you're after. You're going to call me my friend, and finish off with giving me a track, and you may just save yerself the trouble, for it wean't do."

He knocked the ashes out of his pipe as he spoke, and looked menacing enough to do any amount of mischief to a man he did not like.

"You're wrong," said the traveller, coolly, as he rummaged in the pocket of his long black coat. "I'm going to have a pipe."

He opened a case, took out a well blackened meerschaum, scraped the ashes from its interior, filled it from a large india rubber pouch which he then passed to the workman, before striking a match from a little brass box and beginning to smoke with his hands clasped round his knees.

"Try that tobacco," he continued. "You'll like it."

The workman took the tobacco pouch in an ill used way, stared at it, stared at the stranger smoking so contentedly by him, frowned, muttered something uncommonly like an oath, and ended by beginning to fill his pipe.

"Don't swear," said the traveller, taking his pipe from his lips for a moment, but only to replace it, and puff away like a practised smoker.

"Shall if I like," said the other, savagely. "What have yow got to do wi' it?"

"Don't," said the traveller; "what's the good? It's weak and stupid. If you don't like a man, hit him. Don't swear."

The workman stared as these strange doctrines were enunciated; then, after a moment's hesitation, he finished filling his pipe, struck a match which refused to light, threw it down impatiently, tried another, and another, and another, with the same result, and then uttered a savage oath.

"At it again," said the traveller, coolly, thrusting a hand into his pocket. "Why, what a dirty mouthed fellow you are."

"Yow wean't be happy till I've made your mouth dirty," said the workman, savagely; "and you're going the gainest way to get it."

"Nonsense!" said the traveller, coolly, "Why didn't you ask me for a light?"

He handed his box of vesuvians, and it was taken in a snatchy way. One was lighted, and the few puffs of smoke which followed seemed to have a mollifying effect on the smoker, who confined himself to knitting his brows and staring hard at the stranger, who now took off his hat to let the fresh soft breeze blow over his hot forehead, while he gazed down at the little town, with its square towered church nestling amidst a clump of elms, beyond which showed a great blank, many windowed building, with tall chimney shafts, two or three of which were vomiting clouds of black smoke nowise to the advantage of the landscape... Continue reading book >>

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