Page:Instead of a Book, Tucker.djvu/104

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.



made myself unpopular with these gentlemen. One of them was chewing a quid and spitting about the floor. One was walking up and down the room in a pair of creaking boots, and taking snuff the while; and a third was voraciously tackling a steak, and removing lumps of gristle from his mouth to his plate in the palm of his hand. After each gulp of porter, he seemed to take a positive pride in yielding to the influences of flatulence in a series of reports which might have raised Lazarus. My own rations appeared at last, and I congratulated myself that, by the delay, I had been spared the torture of feeding in company with Æolus, who was already busy with the toothpick, when to my dismay he produced a small black clay pipe and proceeded to stuff it with black shag. "There is, I believe, a smoking-room in the house," I remarked deprecatingly; "otherwise I would not ask you to allow me to finish my chop before lighting your pipe here; don't you think tobacco rather spoils one's appetite?" I thought I had spoken politely, but all the answer I got was this, "Look 'ere, governor, if this 'ere shanty ain't good enough for the like of you, you'd better walk on to the Star and Garter." And, awaiting my reply with an expression of mingled contempt and defiance, he proceeded to emphasize his argument by boisterously coughing across the table without so much as raising his hand. I am not particularly squeamish, but I draw the line at victuals that have been coughed over. To all practical purposes, my lunch was gone,—stolen. I looked round for sympathy, but the feeling of the company was clearly against me. The gentleman in the creaking boots laughed, and, walking up to the table, laid his hand upon it in the manner of an orator in labor. He paused to marshal his thoughts, and I had an opportunity of observing him with several senses at once. His nails were in deep mourning, his clothes reeked of stale tobacco and perspiration, and his breath of onions and beer. His face was broad and rubicund, but not ill-featured, and his expression bore the stamp of honesty and independence. No one could mistake him for other than he was,—a sturdy British farmer. After about half a minute's incubation, his ideas found utterance. "I'll tell you what it is, sir," he said, "I don't know who you are, but this is a free country, and it's market day an' all." I could not well dispute any of these propositions, and, inasmuch as they appeared to be conclusive to the minds of the company, my position was a difficult one. "I do not question your rights, friend," I ventured to say at last, "but I think a little consideration for other people's feelings … eh?" "Folks shouldn't have feelings that isn't usual and proper, and if they has, they should go where their feelings is usual and proper, that's me," was the reply; and it is not without philosophy. The same idea had already dimly shimmered in my own mind; besides, was I not an individualist? "You are right, friend," said I, "so I will wish you good morning and betake myself elsewhere." "Good morning," said the farmer, offering his hand, and "Good riddance," added the gentleman with the toothpick.

As I emerged from the inn, not a little crest-fallen, a cat shot across the road followed by a yelping terrier, who in his turn was urged on by two rosy little boys. "Stop that game," I shouted, "what harm has pussy done you?" The lads did stop, but the merry twinkle in their eyes betokened a fixed intention to renew the sport as soon as old Marplot was out of the way. But the incident was not thrown away on a pale man with a long black coat and a visage to match. "It is of no use, my dear sir," said he, shaking his head and smiling drearily, "it is the nature of the dog to worry cats; and it is the nature of the boys to

urge on the dog; we are all born in sin and the children of wrath. I