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- Bob Son of Battle - 4/48 -
The little man stood smirking and sucking his eternal twig, entirely unmoved by the other's heat.
"Ye're right, Mr. Hombut, as ye aye are. But my argiment is this: that I get at his soul best through his icetle carcase."
The honest parson brought down his stick with an angry thud.
"M'Adam, you're a brute--a brute!" he shouted. At which outburst the little man was seized with a spasm of silent merriment,
"A fond dad first, a brute afterward, aiblins--he! he! Ah, Mr. Hornbut! ye 'ford me vast diversion, ye do indeed, 'my loved, my honored, much-respected friend."
"If you paid as much heed to your boy's welfare as you do to the bad poetry of that profligate ploughman--"
An angry gleam shot into the other's eyes. "D'ye ken what blasphemy is, Mr. Horn-but?" he asked, shouldering a pace forward.
For the first time in the dispute the parson thought he was about to score a point, and was calm accordingly.
"I should do; I fancy I've a specimen of the breed before me now. And d'you know what impertinence is?"
"I should do; I fancy I've--I awd say it's what gentlemen aften are unless their mammies whipped 'em as lads."
For a moment the parson looked as if about to seize his opponent and shake him.
"M'Adam," he roared, "I'll not stand your insolences!"
The little man turned, scuttled indoors, and came runnng back with a chair.
"Permit me!" he said blandly, holding it before him like a haircutter for a customer.
The parson turned away. At the gap in the hedge he paused.
"I'll only say one thing more," he called slowly. "When your wife, whom I think we all loved, lay dying in that room above you, she said to you in my presence--"
It was M'Adam's turn to be angry. He made a step forward with burning face.
"Aince and for a', Mr. Hornbut," he cried passionately, "onderstand I'll not ha' you and yer likes lay yer tongues on ma wife's memory whenever it suits ye. You can say what ye like aboot me--lies, sneers, snash--and I'll say naethin'. I dinna ask ye to respect me; I think ye might do sae muckle by her, puir lass. She never harmed ye. Gin ye canna let her bide in peace where she lies doon yonder"-- he waved in the direction of the churchyard-- "ye'll no come on ma land. Though she is dead she's mine."
Standing in front of his house, with flushed face and big eyes, the little man looked almost noble in his indignation. And the parson, striding away down the hill, was uneasily conscious that with him was not the victory.
Chapter III. RED WULL
THE winter came and went; the lambing season was over, and spring already shyly kissing the land. And the back of the year s work broken, and her master well started on a fresh season, M'Adam's old collie, Cuttie Sark, lay down one evening and passed quietly away.
The little black-and-tan lady, Parson Leggy used to say, had been the only thing on earth M'Adam cared for. Certainly the two had been wondrously devoted; and for many a market-day the Dalesmen missed the shrill, chuckling cry which heralded the pair's approach: "Weel done, Cuttie Sark!"
The little man felt his loss acutely, and, according to his wont, vented his ill-feeling on David and the Dalesmen. In return, Tammas, whose forte lay in invective and alliteration, called him behind his back, "A wenomous one!" and "A wiralent wiper!" to the applause of tinkling pewters.
A shepherd without his dog is like a ship without a rudder, and M'Adarn felt his loss practically as well as otherwise. Especially did he experience this on a day when he had to take a batch of draft-ewes over to Grammoch-town. To help him Jem Burton had lent the services of his herring-gutted, herring-hearted, greyhound lurcher, Monkey. But before they had well topped Braithwaite Brow, which leads from the village on to the marches, M'Adam was standing in the track with a rock in his hand, a smile on his face, and the tenderest blandishments in his voice as he coaxed the dog to him. But Master Monkey knew too much for that. However, after gambolling a while longer in the middle of the flock, a boulder, better aimed than its predecessors, smote him on the hinder parts and sent him back to the Sylvester Arms, with a sore tail and a subdued heart.
For the rest, M'Adam would never have won over the sheep-infested marches alone with his convoy had it not been for the help of old Saunderson and Shep, who caught him on the way and aided him.
It was in a very wrathful mood that on his way home he turned into the Dalesman's Daughter in Silverdale.
The only occupants of the tap-room, as he entered, were Teddy Boistock, the publican, Jim Mason, with the faithful Betsy beneath his chair and the post-bags flung into the corner, and one long-limbed, drover-like man--a stranger.
"And he coom up to Mr. Moore," Teddy was saying, "and says he, 'I'll gie ye twal' pun for yon gray dog o' yourn.' 'Ah,' says Moore, 'yo' may gie me twal' hunner'd and yet you'll not get ma Bob.'--Eh, Jim?"
"And he did thot," corroborated Jim. " 'Twal' hunner'd,' says he."
"James Moore and his dog agin" snapped M'Adam. "There's ithers in the wand for bye them twa."
"Ay, but none like 'em," quoth loyal Jim.
"Na, thanks be. Gin there were there'd be no room for Adam M'Adam in this 'melancholy vale.'
There was silence a moment, and then--:
"You're wantin' a tyke, bain't you, Mr. M'Adam?" Jim asked.
The little man hopped round all in a hurry.
"What!" he cried in well-affected eagerness, scanning the yellow mongrel beneath the chair. "Betsy for sale! Guid life! Where's ma check-book?" Whereat Jim, most easily snubbed of men, collapsed.
M'Adam took off his dripping coat and crossed the room to hang it on a chair-back. The stranger drover followed the meagre, shirt-clad figure with shifty eyes; then he buried his face in his mug.
M'Adam reached out a hand for the chair; and as he did so, a bomb in yellow leapt out from beneath it, and, growling horribly, at tacked his ankles.
"Curse ye!" cried M'Adam, starting back.
"Ye devil, let me alone!" Then turning fiercely on the drover, " Yours, mister?" he asked. The man nodded. "Then call him aff, can't ye? D--n ye!" At which Teddy Boistock withdrew, sniggering; and Jim Mason slung the post-bags on to his shoulder and plunged out into the rain, the faithful Betsy following, disconsolate.
The cause of the squall, having beaten off the attacking force, had withdrawn again beneath its chair. M'Adam stooped down, still cursing, his wet coat on his arm, and beheld a tiny yellow puppy, crouching defiant in the dark, and glaring out with fiery light eyes. Seeing itself remarked, it bared its little teeth, raised its little bristles, and growled a hideous menace.
A sense of humor is many a man's salvation, and was M'Adam's one redeeming feature. The laughableness of the thing--this ferocious atomy defying him--struck home to the little man. Delighted at such a display of vice in so tender a plant, he fell to chuckling.
"Ye leetle devil!" he laughed. "He! he! ye leetle devil!" and flipped together finger and thumb in vain endeavor to coax the puppy to him.
But it growled, and glared more terribly.
"Stop it, ye little snake, or I'll flatten you!" cried the big drover, and shuffled his feet threateningly. Whereat the puppy, gurgling like hot water in a kettle, made a feint as though to advance and wipe them out, these two bad men.
M'Adam laughed again, and smote his leg.
"Keep a ceevil tongue and yer distance," says he, "or I'll e'en ha' to mak' ye. Though he is but as big as a man's thumb, a dog's a dog for a' that--he! he! the leetle devil." And he fell to flipping finger and thumb afresh.
"Ye're maybe wantin' a dog?" inquired the stranger. "Yer friend said as much."
"Ma friend lied; it's his way," M'Adam replied.
"I'm willin' to part wi' him," the other pursued.
The little man yawned. "Weel, I'll tak' him to oblige ye," he said indifferently.
The drover rose to his feet.
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