ST. Ives

Page 115

'The cock may craw, the day may daw,' they sang; and sang it with such laxity both in time and tune, and such sentimental complaisance in the expression, as assured me they had got far into the third bottle at least.

I found a plain rustic cottage by the wayside, of the sort called double, with a signboard over the door; and, the lights within streaming forth and somewhat mitigating the darkness of the morning, I was enabled to decipher the inscription: 'The Hunters' Tryst, by Alexander Hendry. Porter Ales, and British Spirits. Beds.'

My first knock put a period to the music, and a voice challenged tipsily from within.

'Who goes there?' it said; and I replied, 'A lawful traveller.'

Immediately after, the door was unbarred by a company of the tallest lads my eyes had ever rested on, all astonishingly drunk and very decently dressed, and one (who was perhaps the drunkest of the lot) carrying a tallow candle, from which he impartially bedewed the clothes of the whole company. As soon as I saw them I could not help smiling to myself to remember the anxiety with which I had approached. They received me and my hastily-concocted story, that I had been walking from Peebles and had lost my way, with incoherent benignity; jostled me among them into the room where they had been sitting, a plain hedgerow alehouse parlour, with a roaring fire in the chimney and a prodigious number of empty bottles on the floor; and informed me that I was made, by this reception, a temporary member of the Six-Feet-High Club, an athletic society of young men in a good station, who made of the Hunters' Tryst a frequent resort. They told me I had intruded on an 'all-night sitting,' following upon an 'all-day Saturday tramp' of forty miles; and that the members would all be up and 'as right as ninepence' for the noonday service at some neighbouring church-- Collingwood, if memory serves me right. At this I could have laughed, but the moment seemed ill-chosen. For, though six feet was their standard, they all exceeded that measurement considerably; and I tasted again some of the sensations of childhood, as I looked up to all these lads from a lower plane, and wondered what they would do next. But the Six-Footers, if they were very drunk, proved no less kind. The landlord and servants of the Hunters' Tryst were in bed and asleep long ago. Whether by natural gift or acquired habit they could suffer pandemonium to reign all over the house, and yet lie ranked in the kitchen like Egyptian mummies, only that the sound of their snoring rose and fell ceaselessly like the drone of a bagpipe. Here the Six-Footers invaded them--in their citadel, so to speak; counted the bunks and the sleepers; proposed to put me in bed to one of the lasses, proposed to have one of the lasses out to make room for me, fell over chairs, and made noise enough to waken the dead: the whole illuminated by the same young torch-bearer, but now with two candles, and rapidly beginning to look like a man in a snowstorm. At last a bed was found for me, my clothes were hung out to dry before the parlour fire, and I was mercifully left to my repose.

I awoke about nine with the sun shining in my eyes. The landlord came at my summons, brought me my clothes dried and decently brushed, and gave me the good news that the Six-Feet-High Club were all abed and sleeping off their excesses. Where they were bestowed was a puzzle to me until (as I was strolling about the garden patch waiting for breakfast) I came on a barn door, and, looking in, saw all the red face mixed in the straw like plums in a cake. Quoth the stalwart maid who brought me my porridge and bade me 'eat them while they were hot,' 'Ay, they were a' on the ran-dan last nicht! Hout! they're fine lads, and they'll be nane the waur of it. Forby Farbes's coat. I dinna see wha's to get the creish off that!' she added, with a sigh; in which, identifying Forbes as the torch- bearer, I mentally joined.

It was a brave morning when I took the road; the sun shone, spring seemed in the air, it smelt like April or May, and some over- venturous birds sang in the coppices as I went by.

ST. Ives Page 116

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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