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  Dead Men Tell No Tales E. W. Hornung

Chapter X Wine and Weakness

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Sporting old parson who knows how to swear?" laughed Rattray. "Never saw him in my life before; wondered who the deuce he was."

"Really?" said I. "He professed to know something of you."

"Against me, you mean? My dear Cole, don't trouble to perjure yourself. I don't mind, believe me. They're easily shocked, these country clergy, and no doubt I'm a bugbear to 'em. Yet, I could have sworn I'd never seen this one before. Let's have another look."

We were walking away together. We turned on the top of the bank. And there the old clergyman was planted on the moorside, and watching us intently from under his hollowed hands.

"Well, I'm hanged!" exclaimed Rattray, as the hands fell and their owner beat a hasty retreat. My companion said no more; indeed, for some minutes we pursued our way in silence. And I thought that it was with an effort that he broke into sudden inquiries concerning my journey and my comfort at the cottage.

This gave me an opportunity of thanking him for his little attentions. "It was awfully good of you," said I, taking his arm as though I had known him all my life; nor do I think there was another living man with whom I would have linked arms at that time.

"Good?" cried he. "Nonsense, my dear sir! I'm only afraid you find it devilish rough. But, at all events, you're coming to dine with me to-night."

"Am I?" I asked, smiling.

"Rather!" said he. "My time here is short enough. I don't lose sight of you again between this and midnight."

"It's most awfully good of you," said I again.

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"Wait till you see! You'll find it rough enough at my place; all my retainers are out for the day at a local show."

"Then I certainly shall not give you the trouble "

He interrupted me with his jovial laugh.

"My good fellow," he cried, "that's the fun of it! How do you suppose I've been spending the day? Told you I was going to Lancaster, did I? Well, I've been cooking our dinner instead - laying the table - getting up the wines - never had such a joke! Give you my word, I almost forgot I was in the wilderness!"

"So you're quite alone, are you?"

"Yes; as much so as that other beggar who was monarch of all he surveyed, his right there was none to dispute, from the what-is-it down to the glade -"

"I'll come," said I, as we reached the cottage. "Only first you must let me make myself decent."

"You're decent enough!"

"My boots are wet; my hands -"

"All serene! I'll give you five minutes."

And I left him outside, flourishing a handsome watch, while, on my way upstairs, I paused to tell Mrs. Braithwaite that I was dining at the hall. She was busy cooking, and I felt prepared for her unpleasant expression; but she showed no annoyance at my news. I formed the impression that it was no news to her. And next minute I heard a whispering below; it was unmistakable in that silent cottage, where not a word had reached me yet, save in conversation to which I was myself a party.

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Dead Men Tell No Tales
E. W. Hornung

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