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The Broad Highway(Book2,Chapter2)

2006-08-28 22:49

  Book Two. The Woman Chapter II. The Postilion

  "Good Lord!" exclaimed the Postilion, and fell back a step.

  "Well?" said I, meeting his astonished look as carelessly as I might.

  "Lord love me!" said the Postilion.

  "What now?" I inquired.

  "I never see such a thing as this 'ere," said he, alternately glancing from me down to the outstretched figure at my feet, "if it's bewitchments, or only enchantments, I don't like it——strike me pink if I do!"

  "What do you mean?"

  "Eyes," continued the Postilion slowly and heavily, and with his glance wandering still——"eyes, same——nose, identical——mouth, when not bloody, same——hair, same——figure, same——no, I don't like it ——it's onnat'ral! tha' 's what it is."

  "Come, come," I broke in, somewhat testily, "don't stand there staring like a fool——you see this gentleman is hurt."

  "Onnat'ral 's the word!" went on the Postilion, more as though speaking his thoughts aloud than addressing me, "it's a onnat'ral night to begin with——seed a many bad uns in my time, but nothing to ekal this 'ere, that I lost my way aren't to be wondered at; then him, and her a-jumping out o' the chaise and a-running off into the thick o' the storm——that's onnat'ral in the second place! and then, his face, and your face——that's the most onnat'rallest part of it all——likewise, I never see one man in two suits o' clothes afore, nor yet a-standing up, and a-laying down both at the same i-dentical minute——onnat'ral's the word ——and——I'm a-going."

  "Stop!" said I, as he began to move away.

  "Not on no account!"

  "Then I must make you," said I, and doubled my fists.

  The Postilion eyed me over from head to foot, and paused, irresolute.

  "What might you be wanting with a peaceable, civil-spoke cove like me?" he inquired.

  "Where is your chaise?"

  "Up in the lane, som'eres over yonder," answered he, with a vague jerk of his thumb over his shoulder.

  "Then, if you will take this gentleman's heels we can carry him well enough between us——it's no great distance."

  "Easy!" said the Postilion, backing away again, "easy, now——what might be the matter with him, if I might make so bold——ain't dead, is he?"

  "Dead——no, fool!" I rejoined angrily.

  "Voice like his, too!" muttered the Postilion, backing away still farther; "yes, onnat'ral's the word——strike me dumb if it ain't!"

  "Come, will you do as I ask, or must I make you?"

  "Why, I ain't got no objection to taking the gent's 'eels, if that's all you ask, though mind ye, if ever I see such damned onnat'ralness as this 'ere in all my days, why——drownd me!"

  So, after some delay, I found the overcoat and purse (which latter I thrust into the pocket ere wrapping the garment about him), and lifting my still unconscious antagonist between us, we started for the lane; which we eventually reached, with no little labor and difficulty. Here, more by good fortune than anything else, we presently stumbled upon a chaise and horses, drawn up in the gloom of sheltering trees, in which we deposited our limp burden as comfortably as might be, and where I made some shift to tie up the gash in his brow.

  "It would be a fine thing," said the Postilion moodily, as I, at length, closed the chaise door, "it would be a nice thing if 'e was to go a-dying."

  "By the looks of him," said I, "he will be swearing your head off in the next ten minutes or so."

  Without another word the Postilion set the lanthorn back in its socket, and swung himself into the saddle.

  "Your best course would be to make for Tonbridge, bearing to the right when you strike the high road."

  The Postilion nodded, and, gathering up the reins, turned to stare at me once more, while I stood in the gleam of the lanthorn.

  "Well?" I inquired.

  "Eyes," said he, rubbing his chin very hard, as one at a loss, "eyes, i-dentical——nose, same——mouth, when not bloody, same ——'air, same——everything, same——Lord love me!"

  "Pembry would be nearer," said I, "and the sooner he is between the sheets the better."

  "Ah!" exclaimed the Postilion with a slow nod, and drawing out the word unduly, "and talking o' sheets and beds——what about my second passenger? I started wi' two, and 'ere's only one——what about Number Two what about——'er?"

  "Her!" I repeated.

  "'Er as was with 'im——Number One——'er what was a-quarrelling wi' Number One all the way from London 'er as run away from Number One into the wood, yonder, what about Number Two——'er?"

  "Why, to be sure——I had forgotten her!"

  "Forgotten?" repeated the Postilion, "Oh, Lord, yes!" and leaning over, he winked one eye, very deliberately; "forgotten 'er——ah! ——to be sure——of course!" and he winked again.

  "What do you mean?" I demanded, nettled by the fellow's manner.

  "Mean?" said he, "I means as of all the damned onnat'ralness as come on a honest, well-meaning, civil-spoke cove——why, I'm that there cove, so 'elp me!" Saying which, he cracked his whip, the horses plunged forward, and, almost immediately, as it seemed, horses, chaise, and Postilion had lurched into the black murk of the night and vanished.

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