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|The Red One||Jack London|
|Page 4 of 19||
"In the pantry?" Fatty insinuated.
Simultaneously Slim reached for his quoit, and Whiskers and Fatty for their rocks.
"Now don't let's get feverish," Fatty said, dropping his own weapon. "We aren't scum. We're gentlemen. Let's drink like gentlemen."
"Let it be a real drinking," Whiskers approved.
"Let's get petrified," Slim agreed. "Many a distillery's flowed under the bridge since we were gentlemen; but let's forget the long road we've travelled since, and hit our doss in the good old fashion in which every gentleman went to bed when we were young."
"My father done it - did it," Fatty concurred and corrected, as old recollections exploded long-sealed brain-cells of connotation and correct usage.
The other two nodded a descent from similar fathers, and elevated their tin cans of alcohol.
By the time each had finished his own bottle and from his rags fished forth a second one, their brains were well-mellowed and aglow, although they had not got around to telling their real names. But their English had improved. They spoke it correctly, while the argo of tramp-land ceased from their lips.
"It's my constitution," Whiskers was explaining. "Very few men could go through what I have and live to tell the tale. And I never took any care of myself. If what the moralists and the physiologists say were true, I'd have been dead long ago. And it's the same with you two. Look at us, at our advanced years, carousing as the young ones don't dare, sleeping out in the open on the ground, never sheltered from frost nor rain nor storm, never afraid of pneumonia or rheumatism that would put half the young ones on their backs in hospital."
He broke off to mix another drink, and Fatty took up the tale.
"And we've had our fun," he boasted, "and speaking of sweethearts and all," he cribbed from Kipling, "'We've rogued and we've ranged - '"
"'In our time,'" Slim completed the crib for him.
"I should say so, I should say so," Fatty confirmed. "And been loved by princesses - at least I have."
"Go on and tell us about it," Whiskers urged. "The night's young, and why shouldn't we remember back to the roofs of kings?"
Nothing loth, Fatty cleared his throat for the recital and cast about in his mind for the best way to begin.
"It must be known that I came of good family. Percival Delaney, let us say, yes, let us say Percival Delaney, was not unknown at Oxford once upon a time - not for scholarship, I am frank to admit; but the gay young dogs of that day, if any be yet alive, would remember him - "
"My people came over with the Conqueror," Whiskers interrupted, extending his hand to Fatty's in acknowledgment of the introduction.
"What name?" Fatty queried. "I did not seem quite to catch it."
"Delarouse, Chauncey Delarouse. The name will serve as well as any."
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