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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter25)

2006-08-28 16:09

  Chapter XXV. Of the Coachman's Story

  Long before the lights of the "White Lion" had vanished behind them, the guard blows a sudden fanfare on the horn, such a blast as goes echoing merrily far and wide, and brings folk running to open doors and lighted windows to catch a glimpse of the London Mail ere it vanishes into the night; and so, almost while the cheery notes ring upon the air, Tenterden is behind them, and they are bowling along the highway into the open country beyond. A wonderful country this, familiar and yet wholly new; a nightmare world where ghosts and goblins flit under a dying moon; where hedge and tree become monsters crouched to spring, or lift knotted arms to smite; while in the gloom of woods beyond, unimagined horrors lurk.

  But, bless you, Mottle-face, having viewed it all under the slant of his hat-brim, merely settles his mottled chin deeper in his shawls, flicks the off ear of the near leader with a delicate turn of the wrists, and turning his owl-like eye upon Barnabas, remarks that "It's a werry fine night!" But hereupon the fussy gentleman, leaning over, taps Mottle-face upon the shoulder.

  "Coachman," says he, "pray, when do you expect to reach The Borough, London?"

  "Vich I begs to re-mark, sir," retorts Mottle-face, settling his curly-brimmed hat a little further over his left eye, "vich I 'umbly begs to re-mark as I don't expect nohow!"

  "Eh——what! what! you don't expect to——"

  "Vich I am vun, sir, as don't novise expect nothin', consequent am never novise disapp'inted," says Mottle-face with a solemn nod; "but, vind an' veather permittin', ve shall be at the 'George' o' South'ark at five, or thereabouts!"

  "Ha!" says the fussy gentleman, "and what about my valise? is it safe?"

  "Safe, ah! safe as the Bank o' England, unless ve should 'appen to be stopped——"

  "Stopped? stopped, coachman? d' you mean——?"

  "Ah! stopped by Blue-chinned Jack o' Brockley, or Gallopin' Toby o' Tottenham, or——"

  "Eh——what! what! d' you mean there are highwaymen on this road?"

  "'Ighvaymen!" snorted Mottle-face, winking ponderously at Barnabas, "by Goles, I should say so, it fair bristles vith 'em."

  "God bless my soul!" exclaimed the fussy gentleman in an altered tone, "but you are armed, of course?"

  "Armed?" repeated Mottle-face, more owl-like of eye than ever, "armed, sir, Lord love me yes! my guard carries a brace o' barkers in the boot."

  "I'm glad of that," said the fussy gentleman, "very!"

  "Though," pursued Mottle-face, rolling his head heavily, "Joe ain't 'zactly what you might call a dead shot, nor yet a ex-pert, bein' blind in 'is off blinker, d'ye see."

  "Eh——blind, d'ye say——blind?" exclaimed the fussy gentleman.

  "Only in 'is off eye," nodded Mottle-face, reassuringly, "t'other 'un's as good as yours or mine, ven 'e ain't got a cold in it."

  "But this——this is an outrage!" spluttered the fussy gentleman, "a guard blind in one eye! Scandalous! I shall write to the papers of this. But you——surely you carry a weapon too?"

  "A vepping? Ay, to be sure, sir, I've got a blunder-bush, under this 'ere werry seat, loaded up to the muzzle wi' slugs too,——though it von't go off."

  "Won't——eh, what? Won't go off?"

  "Not on no account, sir, vich ain't to be 'spected of it, seeing as it ain't got no trigger."

  "But——heaven preserve us! why carry such a useless thing?"

  "Force of 'abit, sir; ye see, I've carried that theer old blunderbush for a matter of five-an'-twenty year, an' my feyther 'e carried it afore me."

  "But suppose we are attacked?"

  "Vich I begs to re-mark, sir, as I don't never suppose no such thing, like my feyther afore me. Brave as a lion were my feyther, sir, an' bred up to the road; v'y, Lord! 'e were born vith a coachman's v'ip in 'is mouth——no, I mean 'is fist, as ye might say; an' 'e were the boldest——"

  "But what's your father got to do with it?" cried the fussy gentleman. "What about my valise?"

  "Your walise, sir? we'm a-coming to that;" and here, once more, Mottle-face slowly winked his owl-like eye at Barnabas. "My feyther, sir," he continued, "my feyther, 'e druv' the Dartford Mail, an' 'e were the finest v'ip as ever druv' a coach, Dartford or otherwise; 'Andsome 'Arry' 'e vere called, though v'y 'andsome I don't know, seeing as 'is nose veren't all it might ha' been, on account o' a quart pot; an' v'y 'Arry I don't know, seeing as 'is name vos Villiam; but, ''Andsome 'Arry' 'e vere called, an' werry much respected 'e vere too. Lord! there vos never less than a dozen or so young bloods to see 'im start. Ah! a great favorite 'e vere vith them, an' no error, an' werry much admired; admired? I should say so. They copied 'is 'at they copied 'is boots, they copied 'is coat, they'd a copied 'im inside as well as out if they could."

  "Hum!" said the fussy gentleman. "Ha!"

  "Oh, 'e vos a great fav'rite vith the Quality," nodded Mottle-face. "Ah! it vos a dream to see 'im 'andle the ribbons,——an' spit? Lord! it vos a eddication to see my feyther spit, I should say so! Vun young blood——a dock's son he vere too——vent an' 'ad a front tooth drawed a purpose, but I never 'eard as it done much good; bless you, to spit like my feyther you must be born to it!" (here Mottle-face paused to suit the action to the word)。 "And, mark you! over an' above all this, my feyther vere the boldest cove that ever——"

  "Yes, yes!" exclaimed the fussy gentleman impatiently, "but where does my valise come in?"

  "Your walise, sir," said Mottle-face, deftly flicking the off wheeler, "your walise comes in——at the end, sir, and I'm a-comin' to it as qvick as you'll let me."

  "Hum!" said the gentleman again.

  "Now, in my feyther's time," resumed Mottle-face serenely, "the roads vos vorse than they are to-day, ah! a sight vorse, an' as for 'ighvaymen——Lord! they vos as thick as blackberries——blackberries? I should say so! Theer vos footpads be'ind every 'edge——gangs of 'em——an' 'ighvaymen on every 'eath——"

  "God bless my soul!" exclaimed the fussy gentleman, "so many?"

  "Many?" snorted Mottle-face, "there vos armies of 'em. But my feyther, as I think I mentioned afore, vere the bravest, boldest, best-plucked coachman as ever sat on a box."

  "I hope it runs in the family."

  "Sir, I ain't one give to boastin', nor yet to blowin' my own 'orn, but truth is truth, and——it do!"

  "Good!" said the fussy gentleman, "very good!"

  "Now the vorst of all these rogues vos a cove called Black Dan, a thieving, murdering, desprit wagabone as vere ewcntually 'ung sky-'igh on Pembury 'Ill——"

  "Good!" said the fussy gentleman louder than before, "good! Glad of it!"

  "An' yet," sighed Mottle-face, "'e 'ad a werry good 'eart——as 'ighvaymen's 'earts go; never shot nobody unless 'e couldn't help it, an' ven 'e did, 'e allus made a werry neat job of it, an' polished 'em off nice an' qvick."

  "Hum!" said the fussy gentleman, "still, I'm glad he's hanged."

  "Black Dan used to vork the roads south o' London,

  "Kent an' Surrey mostly, conseqvent it vere a long time afore 'im an' my feyther met; but at last vun night, as my feyther vos driving along——a good fifteen mile an hour, for it vere a uncommon fine night, vith a moon, like as it might be now——"

  "Ah?" said the fussy gentleman.

  "An' presently 'e came to vere the road narrered a bit, same as it might be yonder——"

  "Ah!" murmured the fussy gentleman again.

  "An' vith a clump o' trees beyond, nice, dark, shady trees——like it might be them werry trees ahead of us——"

  "Oh!" exclaimed the fussy gentleman.

  "An' as 'e come up nearer an' nearer, all at vunce 'e made out a shadder in the shade o' them trees——"

  "Dear me!" exclaimed the fussy gentleman uneasily, staring very hard at the trees in front.

  "A shadder as moved, although the leaves vos all dead still. So my feyther——being a bold cove——reached down for 'is blunderbush——this werry same old blunderbush as I 've got under the box at this i-dentical minute, (though its trigger veren't broke then) but, afore 'e can get it out, into the road leaps a man on a great black 'oss——like it might be dead ahead of us, a masked man, an' vith a pistol in each fist as long as yer arm."

  "Good Lord!" exclaimed the fussy gentleman.

  "'Stand an' deliver!' roars the masked man, so my feyther, cocking 'is heye at the pistols, pulls up, an' there 'e is, starin' down at the 'ighvayman, an' the 'ighvayman staring up at 'im. 'You 're 'Andsome 'Arry, ain't you?' sez the 'ighvayman. 'Ay,' sez my feyther, 'an' I guess you 're Black Dan.' 'Sure as you 're born!' sez Black Dan, 'I've 'eered o' you before to-day, 'Andsome 'Arry,' sez 'e, 'an' meant to make your acquaintance afore this, but I 've been kep' too busy till to-night,' sez 'e, 'but 'ere ve are at last,' 'e sez, 'an' now——vot d' ye think o' that?' sez 'e, an' pi'nts a pistol under my feyther's werry nose. Now, as I think I 've 'inted afore, my feyther vere a nat'rally bold, courage-ful cove, so 'e took a look at the murderous vepping, an' nodded. 'It's a pistol, ain't it?' sez 'e. 'Sure as you're settin' on that there box, it is,' sez Black Dan, 'an' 'ere's another.' 'An' werry good veppings too,' sez my feyther, 'but vot might you be vanting vith me, Black Dan?' 'First of all, I vants you to come down off that box,' sez Black Dan. 'Oh?' sez my feyther, cool as a coocumber. 'Ah!' sez Black Dan. 'Verefore an' v'y?' enkvires my feyther, but Black Dan only vagged 'is veppings in my feyther's face, an' grinned under 'is mask. 'I vants you, so, 'Andsome 'Arry——come down!' sez 'e. Now I've told you as my feyther vos the boldest——"

  "Yes, yes," cried the fussy gentleman. "Well?"

  "Vell, sir, my feyther stared at them murderous pistols, stared at Black Dan, an' being the werry gamest an' bravest cove you ever see, didn't 'esitate a second."

  "Well," cried the fussy gentleman, "what did he do then?"

  "Do, sir——v'y I'll tell you——my feyther——come down."

  "Yes, yes," said the fussy gentleman, as Mottle-face paused. "Go on, go on!"

  "Go on v'ere, sir?"

  "Go on with your story. What was the end of it?"

  "V'y, that's the end on it."

  "But it isn't; you haven't told us what happened after he got down. What became of him after?"

  "Took the 'Ring o' Bells,' out Islington vay, an' drank hisself to death all quite nat'ral and reg'lar."

  "But that's not the end of your story."

  "It vere the end o' my feyther though——an' a werry good end it vere, too."

  Now here there ensued a silence, during which the fussy gentleman stared fixedly at Mottle-face, who chirruped to the horses solicitously, and turned a serene but owl-like eye up to the waning moon.

  "And pray," said the fussy gentleman at length, very red in the face, and more indignant than ever, "pray what's all this to do with my valise, I should like to know?"

  "So should I," nodded Mottle-face——"ah, that I should."

  "You——you told me," spluttered the fussy gentleman, in sudden wrath, "that you were coming to my valise."

  "An' so ve have," nodded Mottle-face, triumphantly. "Ve're at it now; ve've been a-coming to that theer blessed walise ever since you come aboard."

  "Well, and what's to be done about it?" snapped the fussy gentleman.

  "Vell," said Mottle-face, with another ponderous wink at Barnabas, "if it troubles you much more, sir, if I vos you I should get a werry strong rope, and a werry large stone, and tie 'em together werry tight, an' drop that theer blessed walise into the river, and get rid of it that way."

  Hereupon the fussy gentleman uttered an inarticulate exclamation, and, throwing himself back in his seat, tugged his hat over his eyes, and was heard no more.

  But Mottle-face, touching up the near leader with deft and delicate play of wrist, or flicking the off wheeler, ever and anon gave vent to sounds which, though somewhat muffled, on account of coat-collar and shawl, were uncommonly like a chuckle. Yet if this were so or no, Barnabas did not trouble to ascertain, for he was already in that dreamy state 'twixt sleeping and waking, drowsily conscious of being borne on through the summer night, past lonely cottage and farmhouse, past fragrant ricks and barns, past wayside pools on whose still waters stars seemed to float——on and ever on, rumbling over bridges, clattering through sleeping hamlets and villages, up hill and down hill, on and ever on toward London and the wonders thereof. But, little by little, the chink and jingle of the harness, the rumble of the wheels, the rhythmic beat of the sixteen hoofs, all became merged into a drone that gradually softened to a drowsy murmur, and Barnabas fell into a doze; yet only to be awakened, as it seemed to him, a moment later by lights and voices, and to find that they were changing horses once more. Whereupon Mottle-face, leaning over, winked his owl-like eye, and spoke in a hoarse, penetrating whisper:

  "Ten mile, sir, an' not a vord out o' old Walise so far!" saying which he jerked his head towards the huddled form of the fussy gentleman, winked again, and turned away to curse the hurrying ostlers, albeit in a tone good-natured and jovial.

  And so, betimes, off they went again, down hill and up, by rolling meadow and winding stream, 'neath the leafy arches of motionless trees, through a night profoundly still save for the noise of their own going, the crow of a cock, or the bark of a dog from some farmyard. The moon sank and was gone, but on went the London Mail swirling through eddying mist that lay in every hollow like ghostly pools. Gradually the stars paled to the dawn, for low down in the east was a gray streak that grew ever broader, that changed to a faint pink, deepening to rose, to crimson, to gold——an ever brightening glory, till at last up rose the sun, at whose advent the mists rolled away and vanished, and lo! day was born.

  Yawning, Barnabas opened drowsy eyes, and saw that here and there were houses in fair gardens, yet as they went the houses grew thicker and the gardens more scant. And now Barnabas became aware of a sound, soft with distance, that rose and fell——a never-ceasing murmur; therefore, blinking drowsily at Mottle-face, he inquired what this might be.

  "That, sir, that's London, sir——cobble-stones, sir, cart-vheels, sir, and——Lord love you!"——here Mottle-face leaned over and once more winked his owl-like eye——"but 'e ain't mentioned the vord 'walise' all night, sir——so 'elp me!" Having said which, Mottle-face vented a throaty chuckle, and proceeded to touch up his horses.

  And now as one in a dream, Barnabas is aware that they are threading streets, broad streets and narrow, and all alive with great wagons and country wains; on they go, past gloomy taverns, past churches whose gilded weather-cocks glitter in the early sunbeams, past crooked side-streets and dark alley-ways, and so, swinging suddenly to the right, have pulled up at last in the yard of the "George."

  It is a great inn with two galleries one above another and many windows, and here, despite the early hour, a motley crowd is gathered. Forthwith Barnabas climbs down, and edging his way through the throng, presently finds Peterby at his elbow.

  "Breakfast, sir?"

  "Bed, Peterby."

  "Very good——this way, sir."

  Thereafter, though he scarcely knows how, he finds himself following a trim-footed damsel, who, having shown him up a winding stair, worn by the tread of countless travellers, brings him to a smallish, dullish chamber, opening upon the lower gallery. Hereupon Barnabas bids her "good night," but, blinking in the sunlight, gravely changes it to "good morning." The trim-footed maid smiles, curtsies, and vanishes, closing the door behind her.

  Now upon the wall of the chamber, facing the bed, hangs the picture of a gentleman in a military habit with an uncomfortably high stock. He is an eagle-nosed gentleman with black whiskers, and a pair of remarkably round wide-awake eyes, which stare at Barnabas as much as to say——

  "And who the devil are you, sir?"

  Below him his name and titles are set forth fully and with many flourishes, thus——

  LIEUTENANT-GENERAL THE RIGHT HONORABLE THE EARL OF POMFROY,K.G., K.T.S., etc., etc., etc.

  So remarkably wide-awake is he, indeed, that it seems to drowsy Barnabas as if these round eyes wait to catch him unawares and follow him pertinaciously about the smallish, dullish chamber. Nevertheless Barnabas yawns, and proceeds to undress, which done, remembering he is in London, he takes purse and valuables and very carefully sets them under his pillow, places Mr. Chichester's pistol on the small table conveniently near, and gets into bed.

  Yet now, sleepy though he is, he must needs turn to take another look at the Honorable the Earl of Pomfroy, wonders idly what the three "etc.'s" may mean, admires the glossy curl of his whiskers, counts the medals and orders on his bulging breast, glances last of all at his eyes, and immediately becomes aware that they are curiously like those of the "White Lion" at Tenterden, in that they are plying him with questions.

  "Tall or short? dark or fair? Will she kiss you——next time, sir? Will she even be glad to see you again, you presumptuous young dog——will she——will she, confound you?"

  "Ah!" sighed Barnabas. "Next time——I wonder!"

  So saying, he sighed again, once, twice, and with the third fell fast asleep, and dreamed that a certain White Lion, clad in a Lieutenant-General's uniform, and with a pair of handsome black whiskers, stood balancing himself upon a single claw on the rail of the bed.

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