ST. Ives

Page 104

It was plain he anticipated something extraordinary by way of a pourboire; and considering the marches and counter-marches by which I had extended the stage, the military character of our affairs with Mr. Bellamy, and the bad example I had set before him at the archdeacon's, something exceptional was certainly to be done. But these are always nice questions, to a foreigner above all: a shade too little will suggest niggardliness, a shilling too much smells of hush-money. Fresh from the scene at the archdeacon's, and flushed by the idea that I was now nearly done with the responsibilities of the claret-coloured chaise, I put into his hands five guineas; and the amount served only to waken his cupidity.

'O, come, sir, you ain't going to fob me of with this? Why, I seen fire at your side!' he cried.

It would never do to give him more; I felt I should become the fable of Kirkby-Lonsdale if I did; and I looked him in the face, sternly but still smiling, and addressed him with a voice of uncompromising firmness.

'If you do not like it, give it back,' said I.

He pocketed the guineas with the quickness of a conjurer, and, like a base-born cockney as he was, fell instantly to casting dirt.

''Ave your own way of it, Mr. Ramornie--leastways Mr. St. Eaves, or whatever your blessed name may be. Look 'ere'--turning for sympathy to the stable-boys--'this is a blessed business. Blessed 'ard, I calls it. 'Ere I takes up a blessed son of a pop-gun what calls hisself anything you care to mention, and turns out to be a blessed mounseer at the end of it! 'Ere 'ave I been drivin' of him up and down all day, a-carrying off of gals, a-shootin' of pistyils, and a-drinkin' of sherry and hale; and wot does he up and give me but a blank, blank, blanketing blank!'

The fellow's language had become too powerful for reproduction, and I passed it by.

Meanwhile I observed Rowley fretting visibly at the bit; another moment, and he would have added a last touch of the ridiculous to our arrival by coming to his hands with the postillion.

'Rowley!' cried I reprovingly.

Strictly it should have been Gammon; but in the hurry of the moment, my fault (I can only hope) passed unperceived. At the same time I caught the eye of the postmaster. He was long and lean, and brown and bilious; he had the drooping nose of the humourist, and the quick attention of a man of parts. He read my embarrassment in a glance, stepped instantly forward, sent the post-boy to the rightabout with half a word, and was back next moment at my side.

'Dinner in a private room, sir? Very well. John, No. 4! What wine would you care to mention? Very well, sir. Will you please to order fresh horses? Not, sir? Very well.'

Each of these expressions was accompanied by something in the nature of a bow, and all were prefaced by something in the nature of a smile, which I could very well have done without. The man's politeness was from the teeth outwards; behind and within, I was conscious of a perpetual scrutiny: the scene at his doorstep, the random confidences of the post-boy, had not been thrown away on this observer; and it was under a strong fear of coming trouble that I was shown at last into my private room. I was in half a mind to have put off the whole business. But the truth is, now my name had got abroad, my fear of the mail that was coming, and the handbills it should contain, had waxed inordinately, and I felt I could never eat a meal in peace till I had severed my connection with the claret-coloured chaise.

Accordingly, as soon as I had done with dinner, I sent my compliments to the landlord and requested he should take a glass of wine with me. He came; we exchanged the necessary civilities, and presently I approached my business.

'By the bye,' said I, 'we had a brush down the road to-day. I dare say you may have heard of it?'

He nodded.

'And I was so unlucky as to get a pistol ball in the panel of my chaise,' I continued, 'which makes it simply useless to me. Do you know any one likely to buy?'

'I can well understand that,' said the landlord, 'I was looking at it just now; it's as good as ruined, is that chaise.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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