« ForrigeFortsæt »
harnessed, when expecting to come on duty, are heard trotting down the yard. Putting to,' and transferring the luggage, (supposing your conveyance a common postchaise,) once a work of at least twenty minutes, is now easily accomplished in three. And scarcely have you paid the ex-postilion before his successor has mounted; the ostler is standing ready with the steps in his hands, to receive his invariable sixpence; the door is closed; the representative waiter bows his acknowledgment for the house, and you are off at a pace never less than ten miles an hour; the total detention at each stage not averaging above four minutes. Then (i. e. at the latter end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century) half an hour was the minimum of time spent at each change of horses. Your arrival produced a great bustle of unloading and unharnessing; as a matter of course, you alighted and went into the inn; if you sallied out to report progress, after waiting twenty minutes, no signs appeared of any stir about the stables. The most choleric person could not much expedite preparations, which loitered not so much from any indolence in the attendants as from faulty arrangements and total defect of foresight. The pace was such as the roads of that day allowed; never so much as six miles an hour, except upon a very great road; and then only by extra payment to the driver. Yet even under this comparatively miserable system, how superior was England, as a land for the traveller, to all the rest of the world, Sweden only excepted. Bad as were the roads, and defective as were all the arrangements, still you had these advantages; no town so insignificant, no posting-house so solitary, but that at all seasons, except a contested election, it could furnish horses without delay, and without license to distress the neighboring farmers. On the worst road, and on a win
ter's day, with no more than a single pair of horses, you generally made out sixty miles; even if it were necessary to travel through the night, you could continue to make. way, although more slowly; and finally, if you were of a temper to brook delay, and did not exact from all persons the haste or energy of Hotspurs, the whole system in those days was full of respectability and luxurious ease, and well fitted to renew the image of the home you had left, if not in its elegancies, yet in all its substantial comforts. What cozy old parlors in those days! low-roofed, glowing with ample fires, and fenced from the blasts of doors by screens, whose foldings were, or seemed to be, infinite! What motherly landladies! won, how readily, to kindness the most lavish, by the mere attractions of simplicity and youthful innocence, and finding so much interest in the bare circumstance of being a traveller at a childish age! Then what blooming young handmaidens, how different from the knowing and worldly demireps of modern high roads! And sometimes gray-headed faithful waiters, how sincere and how attentive, by comparison with their flippant successors, the eternal 'Coming, sir, Coming, sir,' of our improved generation.
Such an honest, old butler-looking servant waited on us during dinner at Chesterfield, carving for me, and urging me to eat. Even Mephistopheles found his pride relax under the influence of wine; and when loosened from this restraint, his kindness was not deficient. To me he showed it in pressing wine upon me, without stint or measure. The elegancies which he had observed in such part of my mother's establishment, as could be supposed to meet his eye on so hasty a visit, had impressed him perhaps favorably towards myself: and could I have a little altered my age, or dismissed my excessive reserve, I doubt not that he would have admitted me, in default of a
more suitable comrade, to his entire confidence for the rest of the road. Dinner finished, and myself at least, for the first time in my childish life, somewhat perhaps overcharged with wine, the bill was called for- the waiter paid in the lavish style of antique England - and we heard our chaise drawing up under the gateway — the invariable custom of those days, by which you were spared the trouble of going into the street, stepping from the hall of the inn, right into your carriage. I had been kept back for a minute or so by the landlady, and her attendant nymphs, to be dressed and kissed; and, on seating myself in the chaise which was well lighted with lamps, I found my lordly young principal in conversation with the landlord, first upon the price of oats, which youthful horsemen always affect to inquire after with interest, but secondly, upon a topic more immediately at his heart — viz., the reputation of the road. At that time of day, when gold had not yet disappeared from the circulation, no traveller carried any other sort of money about him; and there was consequently a rich encouragement to highwaymen, which vanished almost entirely with Mr. Pitt's act of 1797, for restricting cash payments. Property which could be identified and traced, was a perilous sort of plunder; and from that time the free-trade of the road almost perished as a regular occupation. At this period it did certainly maintain a languishing existence; here and there it might have a casual run of success: and, as these local ebbs and flows were continually shifting, perhaps, after all, the trade might lie amongst a small number of hands. Universally, however, the landlords showed some shrewdness, or even sagacity, in qualifying, according to the circumstances of the inquirer, the sort of credit which they allowed to the exaggerated ill-fame of the roads. Returning on this very road, some months after, with a timid
female relation, who put her questions with undisguised and distressing alarm, the very same people, one and all, assured her that the danger was next to nothing. Not so at present: rightly presuming that a haughty cavalier of eighteen, flushed with wine and youthful blood, would listen with disgust to a picture too amiable and pacific of the roads before him, Mr. Spread-Eagle replied with the air of one who feared more than he altogether liked to tell, and looking suspiciously amongst the strange faces lit up by the light of the carriage lamps - Why, Sir, there have been ugly stories afloat; I cannot deny it: and sometimes, you know, Sir,' winking sagaciously, to which a knowing nod of assent was returned, it may not be quite safe to tell all one knows. But you can understand me. The forest, you are well aware, Sir, is the forest: it never was much to be trusted, by all accounts, in my father's time, and I suppose will not be better in mine. But you must keep a sharp lookout: and, Tom,' speaking to the postilion, ‘mind, when you pass the third gate, to go pretty smartly by the thicket.' Tom replied in a tone of importance to this professional appeal. General valedictions were exchanged, the landlord bowed, and we moved off for the forest. Mephistopheles had his travelling case of pistols. These he began now to examine; for sometimes, said he, I have known such a trick as drawing the charge whilst one happened to be taking a glass of wine. Wine had unlocked his heart the prospect of the forest and the advancing night excited him- and even of such a child as myself, he was now disposed to make a confidant. Did you observe,' said he, that ill-looking fellow, as big as a camel, who stood on the landlord's left hand?' Was it the man, I asked timidly, who seemed by his dress to be a farmer? 'Farmer, you call him? Ah! my young friend, that shows your little knowledge of the
world. He is a scoundrel, the bloodiest of scoundrels. And so I trust to convince him before many hours are gone over our heads.' Whilst saying this, he employed himself in priming his pistols: then, after a pause, he went on thus:-'No, my young friend, this alone shows his base purposes his calling himself a farmer. Farmer, he is not, but a desperate highwayman, of which I have full proof. I watched his malicious glances, whilst the landlord was talking; and I could swear to his traitorous intentions.' So speaking, he threw anxious glances on each side as we continued to advance: we were both somewhat excited; he by the spirit of adventure, I by sympathy with him—and both by wine. The wine, however, soon applied a remedy to its own delusions: three miles from the town we had left, both of us were in a bad condition for resisting highwaymen with effect fast asleep. Suddenly a most abrupt halt awoke us Mephistopheles felt for his pistols-the door flew open, and the lights of the assembled group announced to us that we had reached Mansfield. That night we went on to Newark, at which place about forty miles of our journey remained. This distance we performed, of course, on the following day, between breakfast and dinner. But it serves strikingly to illustrate the state of roads in England, whenever your affairs led you into districts a little retired from the capital routes of the public travelling—that, for one twenty-mile stage, viz., from Newark to Sleaford, they refused to take us forward with less than four horses. This was neither a fraud, as our eyes soon convinced us, (for even four horses could scarcely extricate the chaise from the deep sloughs which occasionally seamed the road for tracts of two or three miles in succession,) nor was it an accident of the weather. In all seasons the same demand was enforced, as my female protectress found in