ST. Ives

Page 92

It was snowing to purpose, the country all white, and ourselves walking snowdrifts, when the first glimmer of the morning showed us an inn upon the highwayside. Some distance off, under the shelter of a corner of the road and a clump of trees, I loaded Rowley with the whole of our possessions, and watched him till he staggered in safety into the doors of the Green Dragon, which was the sign of the house. Thence I walked briskly into Aylesbury, rejoicing in my freedom and the causeless good spirits that belong to a snowy morning; though, to be sure, long before I had arrived the snow had again ceased to fall, and the eaves of Aylesbury were smoking in the level sun. There was an accumulation of gigs and chaises in the yard, and a great bustle going forward in the coffee-room and about the doors of the inn. At these evidences of so much travel on the road I was seized with a misgiving lest it should be impossible to get horses, and I should be detained in the precarious neighbourhood of my cousin. Hungry as I was, I made my way first of all to the postmaster, where he stood--a big, athletic, horsey-looking man, blowing into a key in the corner of the yard.

On my making my modest request, he awoke from his indifference into what seemed passion.

'A po'-shay and 'osses!' he cried. 'Do I look as if I 'ad a po'- shay and 'osses? Damn me, if I 'ave such a thing on the premises. I don't MAKE 'osses and chaises--I 'IRE 'em. You might be God Almighty!' said he; and instantly, as if he had observed me for the first time, he broke off, and lowered his voice into the confidential. 'Why, now that I see you are a gentleman,' said he, 'I'll tell you what! If you like to BUY, I have the article to fit you. Second-'and shay by Lycett, of London. Latest style; good as new. Superior fittin's, net on the roof, baggage platform, pistol 'olsters--the most com-plete and the most gen-teel turn-out I ever see! The 'ole for seventy-five pound! It's as good as givin' her away!'

'Do you propose I should trundle it myself, like a hawker's barrow?' said I. 'Why, my good man, if I had to stop here, anyway, I should prefer to buy a house and garden!'

'Come and look at her!' he cried; and, with the word, links his arm in mine and carries me to the outhouse where the chaise was on view.

It was just the sort of chaise that I had dreamed of for my purpose: eminently rich, inconspicuous, and genteel; for, though I thought the postmaster no great authority, I was bound to agree with him so far. The body was painted a dark claret, and the wheels an invisible green. The lamp and glasses were bright as silver; and the whole equipage had an air of privacy and reserve that seemed to repel inquiry and disarm suspicion. With a servant like Rowley, and a chaise like this, I felt that I could go from the Land's End to John o' Groat's House amid a population of bowing ostlers. And I suppose I betrayed in my manner the degree in which the bargain tempted me.

'Come,' cried the postmaster--'I'll make it seventy, to oblige a friend!'

'The point is: the horses,' said I.

'Well,' said he, consulting his watch, 'it's now gone the 'alf after eight. What time do you want her at the door?'

'Horses and all?' said I.

''Osses and all!' says he. 'One good turn deserves another. You give me seventy pound for the shay, and I'll 'oss it for you. I told you I didn't MAKE 'osses; but I CAN make 'em, to oblige a friend.'

What would you have? It was not the wisest thing in the world to buy a chaise within a dozen miles of my uncle's house; but in this way I got my horses for the next stage. And by any other it appeared that I should have to wait. Accordingly I paid the money down--perhaps twenty pounds too much, though it was certainly a well-made and well-appointed vehicle--ordered it round in half an hour, and proceeded to refresh myself with breakfast.

The table to which I sat down occupied the recess of a bay-window, and commanded a view of the front of the inn, where I continued to be amused by the successive departures of travellers--the fussy and the offhand, the niggardly and the lavish--all exhibiting their different characters in that diagnostic moment of the farewell: some escorted to the stirrup or the chaise door by the chamberlain, the chambermaids and the waiters almost in a body, others moving off under a cloud, without human countenance.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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