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The Broad Highway(Book2,Chapter18)

2006-08-28 22:55

  Book Two. The Woman Chapter XVIII. In Which I Hear News of Sir Maurice Vibart

  "Which I says——Lord love me!"

  I plunged the iron back into the fire, and, turning my head, espied a figure standing in the doorway; and, though the leather hat and short, round jacket had been superseded by a smart groom's livery, I recognized the Postilion.

  "So 'elp me, Bob, if this ain't a piece o' luck!" he exclaimed, and, with the words, he removed his hat and fell to combing his short, thick hair with the handle of his whip.

  "I'm glad you think so," said I.

  "You can drownd me if it ain't!" said he.

  "And, pray, how is the gentleman who——happened to fall and hurt himself, if you remember——in the storm?"

  "'Appened to fall an' 'urt 'isself?" repeated the Postilion, winking knowingly, "'urt 'isself,' says you 'Walker!' says I, 'Walker!'" with which he laid his forefinger against the side of his nose and winked again.

  "What might you be pleased to mean?"

  "I means as a gent 'appenin' to fall in the dark may p'r'aps cut 'is 'ead open——but 'e don't give 'isself two black eyes, a bloody nose, a split lip, an' three broken ribs, all at once——it ain't nat'ral, w'ich if you says contrairy, I remarks——'Walker!' Lord!" continued the Postilion, seeing I did not speak, "Lord! it must 'a' been a pretty warm go while it lasted——you put 'im to sleep sound enough; it took me over a hour to Tonbridge, an' 'e never moved till 'e'd been put to bed at 'The Chequers' an' a doctor sent for. Ah! an' a nice time I 'ad of it, what wi' chamber-maids a-runnin' up an' down stairs to see the 'poor gentleman,' an' everybody a-starin' at me, an' a-shakin' their 'eads, an' all a-axin' questions, one atop o' the other, till the doctor come. "Ow did this 'appen, me man?' says 'e. 'A haccident!' says I. 'A haccident?' says the doctor, wi' a look in 'is eye as I didn't just like. 'Ah!' says I, 'fell on 'is 'ead——out o' the chaise,' says I, 'struck a stone, or summ'at,' says I. 'Did 'e fall of 'is own accord?' says the doctor. 'Ah, for sure!' says I. 'Humph!' says the doctor, 'what wi' 'is eyes, an' 'is nose, an' 'is lip, looks to me as if some one 'ad 'elped 'im.' 'Then you must be a dam' fool!' says a voice, an' there's my gentleman ——Number One, you know, a-sittin' up in bed an' doin' 'is 'ardest to frown. 'Sir?' says the doctor. 'Sir! to you,' says my gentleman, 'this honest fellow tells the truth. I did fall out o' the accursed chaise——an' be damned to you!' says 'e. 'Don't excite yourself,' says the doctor; 'in your present condition it would be dangerous.' 'Then be so good as to go to the devil!' says my gentleman. 'I will!' says the doctor, an' off 'e goes. 'Hi, there, you,' says my gentleman, callin' to me as soon as we were alone, 'this accursed business 'as played the devil with me, an' I need a servant. 'Ow much do you want to stay wi' me?' 'Twenty-five shillin' a week,' says I, doin' myself proud while I 'ad the chance. 'I'll give ye thirty,' says 'e; 'wot's ye name?' 'Jacob Trimble, sir,' says I. 'An' a most accursed name it is! ——I'll call you Parks,' says 'e, 'an' when I ring let no one answer but yourself. You can go, Parks——an', Parks——get me another doctor.' Well," pursued the Postilion, seating himself near by, "we'd been there a couple o' weeks, an' though 'e was better, an' 'is face near well again, 'e still kept to 'is room, when, one day, a smart phaeton an' blood 'osses drives up, an' out steps a fine gentleman——one o' them pale, sleepy sort. I was a-standin' in the yard, brushin' my master's coat——a bottle-green wi' silver buttons, each button 'avin' what they calls a monneygram stamped onto it. 'Ha, me man!' says the sleepy gent, steppin' up to me, 'a fine coat——doocid fashionable cut, curse me!——your master's?' 'Yes, sir,' says I, brushin' away. 'Silver buttons too!' says the gent, 'let me see——ah yes!——a V, yes, to be sure——'ave the goodness to step to your master an' say as a gentleman begs to see 'im.' 'Can't be done, sir,' says I; 'me master ain't seein' nobody, bein' in indifferent 'ealth.' 'Nonsense!' says the gentleman, yawnin' an' slippin' a guinea into me 'and. 'Just run, like a good feller, an' tell 'im as I bear a message from George!' 'From 'oo?' says I. 'From George,' says the gent, smilin' an' yawnin'——'just say from George.' So, to come to the end of it, up I goes, an' finds me master walkin' up an' down an' aswearin' to 'isself as usual. 'A gentleman to see you, sir,' says I. 'Why, devil burn your miserable carcass!' say 'e, 'didn't I tell you as I'd see nobody?' 'Ay, but this 'ere gent's a-sayin' 'e 'as a message from George, sir.' My master raised both clenched fists above 'is 'ead an' swore——ah! better than I'd heard for many a long day. 'Ows'ever, downstairs 'e goes, cursin' on every stair. In a time 'e comes back. 'Parks,' says 'e, 'do you remember that——that place where we got lost——in the storm, Parks?' 'Ah, sir,' says I. 'Well, go there at once,' says 'e,' an','——well——'e give me certain orders——jumps into the phaeton wi' the sleepy gentleman, an' they drive off together——an' accordin' to orders——'ere I am."

  "A very interesting story!" said I. "And so you are a groom now?"

  "Ah!——an' you are a blacksmith, eh?"

  "Yes."

  "Well, if it don't beat everything as ever I heard——I'm a stiff 'un, that's all!"

  "What do you mean?"

  "I means my droppin' in on you, like this 'ere, just as if you wasn't the one man in all England as I was 'opeful to drop in on."

  "And you find me very busy!" said I.

  "Lord love me!" said the Postilion, combing his hair so very hard that it wrinkled his brow. "I comes up from Tonbridge this 'ere very afternoon, an', 'avin' drunk a pint over at 'The Bull' yonder, an' axed questions as none o' they chawbacons could give a answer to, I 'ears the chink o' your 'ammer, an' comin' over 'ere, chance like, I finds——you; I'll be gormed if it ain't a'most onnat'ral!"

  "And why?"

  "'Cos you was the very i-dentical chap as I come up from Tonbridge to find."

  "Were you sent to find me?"

  "Easy a bit——you're a blacksmith, a'n't you?"

  "I told you so before."

  "Wot's more, you looks a blacksmith in that there leather apron, an' wi' your face all smutty. To be sure, you're powerful like 'im——Number One as was——my master as now is——"

  "Did he send you to find me?"

  "Some folks might take you for a gentleman, meetin' you off'and like, but I knows different."

  "As how?"

  "Well, I never 'eard of a gentleman turnin' 'isself into a blacksmith, afore, for one thing——"

  "Still, one might," I ventured.

  "No," answered the Postilion, with a decisive shake of the head, "it's ag'in' natur'; when a gentleman gets down in the world, an' 'as to do summ'at for a livin', 'e generally shoots 'isself——ah! an' I've knowed 'em do it too! An' then I've noticed as you don't swear, nor yet curse——not even a damn."

  "Seldom," said I; "but what of that?"

  "I've seed a deal o' the quality in my time, one way or another ——many's the fine gentleman as I've druv, or groomed for, an' never a one on 'em as didn't curse me——ah!" said the Postilion, sighing and shaking his head, "_'ow_ they _did_ curse me!——'specially one——a young lord——oncommon fond o' me 'e were too, in 'is way, to the day 'is 'oss fell an' rolled on 'im. 'Jacob,' says 'e, short like, for 'e were agoin' fast. 'Jacob!' says 'e, 'damn your infernally ugly mug!' says 'e; 'you bet me as that cursed brute would do for me.' 'I did, my lord,' says I, an' I remember as the tears was a-runnin' down all our faces as we carried 'im along on the five-barred gate, that bein' 'andiest. 'Well, devil take your soul, you was right, Jacob, an' be damned to you!' says 'e; 'you'll find a tenner in my coat pocket 'ere, you've won it, for I sha'n't last the day out, Jacob.' An' 'e didn't either, for 'e died afore we got 'im 'ome, an' left me a 'undred pound in 'is will. Ah! gentlemen as is gents is all the same. Lord love you! there never was one on 'em but damned my legs, or my liver, or the chaise, or the 'osses, or the road, or the inns, or all on 'em together. If you was to strip me as naked as the palm o' your 'and, an' to strip a lord, or a earl, or a gentleman as naked as the palm o' your 'and, an' was to place us side by side ——where'd be the difference? We're both men, both flesh and blood, a'n't we?——then where 'd be the difference? 'Oo's to tell which is the lord an' which is the postilion?"

  "Who indeed?" said I, setting down my hammer. "Jack is often as good as his master——and a great deal better."

  "Why, nobody!" nodded the Postilion, "not a soul till we opened our mouths; an' then 'twould be easy enough, for my lord, or earl, or gentleman, bein' naked, an' not likin' it (which would only be nat'ral), would fall a-swearin' 'eavens 'ard, damning everybody an' cursin' everything, an' never stop to think, while I——not bein' born to it——should stand there a-shiverin' an' tryin' a curse or two myself, maybe——but Lord! mine wouldn't amount to nothin' at all, me not bein' nat'rally gifted, nor yet born to it——an' this brings me round to 'er!"

  "Her?"

  "Ah——'er! Number Two——'er as quarrelled wi' Number One all the way from London——'er as run away from Number One——wot about——'er?" Here he fell to combing his hair again with his whip-handle, while his quick, bright eyes dodged from my face to the glowing forge and back again, and his clean-shaven lips pursed themselves in a soundless whistle. And, as I watched him, it seemed to me that this was the question that had been in his mind all along.

  "Seeing she did manage to run away from him——Number One——she is probably very well," I answered.

  "Ah——to be sure! very well, you say?——ah, to be sure!" said the Postilion, apparently lost in contemplation of the bellows; "an' ——where might she be, now?"

  "That I am unable to tell you," said I, and began to blow up the fire while the Postilion watched me, sucking the handle of his whip reflectively.

  "You work oncommon 'ard——drownd me if you don't!"

  "Pretty hard!" I nodded.

  "An' gets well paid for it, p'r'aps?"

  "Not so well as I could wish," said I.

  "Not so well as 'e could wish," nodded the Postilion, apparently addressing the sledge-hammer, for his gaze was fixed upon it. "Of course not——the 'arder a man works the wuss 'e gets paid——'ow much did you say you got a week?"

  "I named no sum," I replied.

  "Well——'ow much might you be gettin' a week?"

  "Ten shillings."

  "Gets ten shillin' a week!" he nodded to the sledgehammer, "that ain't much for a chap like 'im——kick me, if it is!"

  "Yet I make it do very well!"

  The Postilion became again absorbed in contemplation of the bellows; indeed he studied them so intently, viewing them with his head now on one side, now on the other, that I fell to watching him, under my brows, and so, presently, caught him furtively watching me. Hereupon he drew his whip from his mouth and spoke.

  "Supposing——" said he, and stopped.

  "Well?" I inquired, and, leaning upon my hammer, I looked him square in the eye.

  "Supposing——wot are you a-staring at, my feller?"

  "You have said 'supposing' twice——well?"

  "Well," said he, fixing his eye upon the bellows again, "supposing you was to make a guinea over an' above your wages this week?"

  "I should be very much surprised," said I.

  "You would?"

  "I certainly should."

  "Then——why not surprise yourself?"

  "You must speak more plainly," said I.

  "Well then," said the Postilion, still with his gaze abstracted, "supposin' I was to place a guinea down on that there anvil o' yours——would that 'elp you to remember where Number Two——'er ——might be?"

  "No!"

  "It wouldn't?"

  "No!"

  "A guinea's a lot o' money!"

  "It is," I nodded.

  "An' you say it wouldn't?"

  "It would not!" said I.

  "Then say——oh! say two pun' ten an' 'ave done with it."

  "No!" said I, shaking my head.

  "What——not——d'ye say 'no' to two pun' ten?"

  "I do."

  "Well, let's say three pound."

  I shook my head and, drawing the iron from the fire, began to hammer at it.

  "Well then," shouted the Postilion, for I was making as much din as possible, "say four——five——ten——fifteen——twenty-five——fifty!" Here I ceased hammering.

  "Tell me when you've done!" said I.

  "You're a cool customer, you are——ah! an' a rum un' at that——I never see a rummer."

  "Other people have thought the same," said I, examining the half-finished horseshoe ere I set it back in the fire.

  "Sixty guineas!" said the Postilion gloomily.

  "Come again!" said I.

  "Seventy then!" said he, his gloom deepening.

  "Once more!" said I.

  "A 'undred——one 'undred guineas!" said he, removing his hat to mop at his brow.

  "Any more?" I inquired.

  "No!" returned the Postilion sulkily, putting on his hat, "I'm done!"

  "Did he set the figure at a hundred guineas?" said I.

  "'Im——oh! 'e's mad for 'er, 'e is——'e'd ruin 'isself, body and soul, for 'er, 'e would, but I ain't goin' to ofer no more; no woman as ever breathed——no matter 'ow 'andsome an' up-standin' ——is worth more 'n a 'undred guineas——it ain't as if she was a blood-mare——an' I'm done!"

  "Then I wish you good-day!"

  "But——just think——a 'undred guineas is a fortun'!"

  "It is!" said I.

  "Come, think it over," said the Postilion persuasively, "think it over, now!"

  "Let me fully understand you then," said I; "you propose to pay me one hundred guineas on behalf of your master, known heretofore as Number One, for such information as shall enable him to discover the whereabouts of a certain person known as Her, Number Two——is that how the matter stands?"

  "Ah! that's 'ow it stands," nodded the Postilion, "the money to be yours as soon as ever 'e lays 'ands on 'er——is it a go?"

  "No!"

  "No?"

  "No!"

  "W'y, you must be stark, starin' mad——that you must——unless you're sweet on 'er yourself——"

  "You talk like a fool!" said I angrily.

  "So you are sweet on 'er then?"

  "Ass!" said I. "Fool!" And, dropping my hammer, I made towards him, but he darted nimbly to the door, where, seeing I did not pursue, he paused.

  "I may be a hass," he nodded, "an' I may be a fool——but I don't go a-fallin' in love wi' ladies as is above me, an' out o' my reach, and don't chuck away a 'undred guineas for one as ain't likely to look my way——not me! Which I begs leave to say——hass yourself, an' likewise fool——bah!" With which expletive he set his thumb to his nose, spread out his fingers, wagged them and swaggered off.

  Above me, and out of my reach! One not likely to look my way!

  And, in due season, having finished the horseshoe, having set each tool in its appointed place in the racks, and raked out the clinkers from the fire, I took my hat and coat, and, closing the door behind me, set out for the Hollow.

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