"Would You be a Parson?"

After this I gave up my experiments in conversation. So that by the final afternoon of our journey, with Sunk Creek actually in sight, and the great grasshoppers slatting their dry song over the sage-brush, and the time at hand when the Virginian and Trampas would be “man to man,” my thoughts rose to a considerable pitch of speculation.

And now that talking part of the Virginian, which had been nine days asleep, gave its first yawn and stretch of waking. Without preface, he suddenly asked me, “Would you be a parson?” I was mentally so far away that I couldn’t get back in time to comprehend or answer before he had repeated: “What would yu’ take to be a parson?” He drawled it out in his gentle way, precisely as if no nine days stood between it and our last real intercourse.

“Take?” I was still vaguely moving in my distance. “How?” His next question brought me home.

“I expect the Pope’s is the biggest of them parson jobs?” It was with an “Oh!” that I now entirely took his idea. “Well, yes; decidedly the biggest.” “Beats the English one? Archbishop--ain’t it?--of Canterbury? The Pope comes ahead of him?” “His Holiness would say so if his Grace did not.” The Virginian turned half in his saddle to see my face--I was, at the moment, riding not quite abreast of him--and I saw the gleam of his teeth beneath his mustache. It was seldom I could make him smile, even to this slight extent. But his eyes grew, with his next words, remote again in their speculation.

“His Holiness and his Grace. Now if I was to hear ’em namin’ me that-a-way every mawnin’, I’d sca’cely get down to business.” “Oh, you’d get used to the pride of it.” “’Tisn’t the pride. The laugh is what would ruin me. ’Twould take ’most all my attention keeping a straight face. The Archbishop”--here he took one of his wide mental turns--“is apt to be a big man in them Shakespeare plays. Kings take talk from him they’d not stand from anybody else; and he talks fine, frequently. About the bees, for instance, when Henry is going to fight France. He tells him a beehive is similar to a kingdom. I learned that piece.” The Virginian could not have expected to blush at uttering these last words. He knew that his sudden color must tell me in whose book it was he had learned the piece Was not her copy of Kenilworth even now In his cherishing pocket? So he now, to cover his blush, very deliberately recited to me the Archbishop’s discourse upon bees and their kingdom:

“‘Where some, like magistrates, correct at home...
Others, like soldiers, armed in their stings,
Make loot upon the summer’s velvet buds;
Which pillage they with merry march bring home
To the tent-royal of their emperor:
He, busied in his majesty, surreys
The singing masons building roofs of gold.’

“Ain’t that a fine description of bees a-workin’? ‘The singing masons building roofs of gold!’ Puts ’em right before yu’, and is poetry without bein’ foolish. His Holiness and his Grace. Well, they could not hire me for either o’ those positions. How many religions are there?” “All over the earth?” “Yu’ can begin with ourselves. Right hyeh at home I know there’s Romanists, and Episcopals--”

“Two kinds!” I put in. “At least two of Episcopals.” “That’s three. Then Methodists and Baptists, and--”

“Three Methodists!” “Well, you do the countin’.” I accordingly did it, feeling my revolving memory slip cogs all the way round. “Anyhow, there are safely fifteen.” “Fifteen.” He held this fact a moment. “And they don’t worship a whole heap o’ different gods like the ancients did?” “Oh, no!” “It’s just the same one?” “The same one.” The Virginian folded his hands over the horn of his saddle, and leaned forward upon them in contemplation of the wide, beautiful landscape.

“One God and fifteen religions,” was his reflection. “That’s a right smart of religions for just one God.” This way of reducing it was, if obvious to him, so novel to me that my laugh evidently struck him as a louder and livelier comment than was required. He turned on me as if I had somehow perverted the spirit of his words.

“I ain’t religious. I know that. But I ain’t unreligious. And I know that too.” “So do I know it, my friend.” “Do you think there ought to be fifteen varieties of good people?” His voice, while it now had an edge

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