Page:McClure's Magazine v9 n3 to v10 no2.djvu/267

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We arranged the terms of our campaign, trudging amicably in the snow, which now, with the approach of morning, began to fall to purpose. I chose the name of Ramornie, I imagine from its likeness to Romaine; Rowley, from an irresistible conversion of ideas, I dubbed Gammon. His distress was laughable to witness: his own choice of an unassuming nickname had been Claude Duval! We settled our procedure at the various inns where we should alight, rehearsed our little manners like a piece of drill until it seemed impossible we should ever be taken unprepared; and in all these dispositions you may be sure the despatch-box was not forgotten. Who was to pick it up, who was to set it down, who was to remain beside it, who was to sleep with it—there was no contingency omitted, all was gone into with the thoroughness of a drill-sergeant on the one hand and a child with a new plaything on the other.

"I say, wouldn't it look queer if you and me was to come to the post-house with all this luggage?" said Rowley.

"I daresay," I replied. "But what else is to be done?"

"Well, now, sir—you hear me," says Rowley. "I think it would look more natural-like if you was to come to the post-house alone and with nothing in your 'ands—more like a gentleman, you know. And you might say that your servant and baggage were a-waiting for you up the road. I think I could manage, somehow, to make a shift with all them dratted things—leastways if you was to give me a 'and up with them at the start."

"And I would see you far enough before I allowed you to try, Mr. Rowley!" I cried. "Why, you would be quite defenceless! A footpad that was an infant child could rob you. And I should probably come driving by to find you in a ditch with your throat cut. But there is something in your idea, for all that; and I propose we put it in execution no farther forward than the next corner of a lane."

Accordingly, instead of continuing to aim for Aylesbury, we headed by crossroads for some point to the northward of it, whither I might assist Rowley with the baggage, and where I might leave him to await my return in the post-chaise.

It was snowing to purpose, the country all white, and ourselves walking snow-drifts, when the first glimmer of the morning showed us an inn upon the highway side. 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 misgiving lest it should be impossible to get horses and I should be detained in the precarious neighborhood 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? Curse me, if I 'ave such a thing on the premises. I don't make 'osses and chaises—I 'ire 'em. You might be"—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 area 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 that I should trundle it myself, like a hawker's barrow?" said I. "Why, my good man, if I have 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 out-house 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 sil-