Pretending to read a smeary newspaper long out of date, which had nothing half so legible in its local news, as the foreign matter of coffee, pickles, fish-sauces, gravy, melted butter, and wine, with which it was sprinkled all over, as if it had taken the measles in a highly irregular form, I sat at my table while he stood before the fire. By degrees it became an enormous injury to me that he stood before the fire, and I got up, determined to have my share of it. I had to put my hand behind his legs for the poker when I went up to the fire-place to stir the fire, but still pretended not to know him.
"Is this a cut?" said Mr. Drummle.
"Oh!" said I, poker in hand; "it's you, is it? How do you do? I was wondering who it was, who kept the fire off."
With that, I poked tremendously, and having done so, planted myself side by side with Mr. Drummle, my shoulders squared and my back to the fire.
"You have just come down?" said Mr. Drummle, edging me a little away with his shoulder.
"Yes," said I, edging him a little away with my shoulder.
"Beastly place," said Drummle. — "Your part of the country, I think?"
"Yes," I assented. "I am told it's very like your Shropshire."
"Not in the least like it," said Drummle.
Here Mr. Drummle looked at his boots, and I looked at mine, and then Mr. Drummle looked at my boots, and I looked at his.
"Have you been here long?" I asked, determined not to yield an inch of the fire.
"Long enough to be tired of it," returned Drummle, pretending to yawn, but equally determined.
"Do you stay here long?"
"Can't say," answered Mr. Drummle. "Do you?"
"Can't say," said I.
I felt here, through a tingling in my blood, that if Mr. Drummle's shoulder had claimed another hair's breadth of room, I should have jerked him into the window; equally, that if my own shoulder had urged a similar claim, Mr. Drummle would have jerked me into the nearest box. He whistled a little. So did I.
"Large tract of marshes about here, I believe?" said Drummle.
"Yes. What of that?" said I.
Mr. Drummle looked at me, and then at my boots, and then said, "Oh!" and laughed.
"Are you amused, Mr. Drummle?"
"No," said he, "not particularly. I am going out for a ride in the saddle. I mean to explore those marshes for amusement. Out-of-the-way villages there, they tell me. Curious little public-houses — and smithies — and that. Waiter!"
Continued on next page...