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قراءة كتاب One of the 28th: A Tale of Waterloo

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‏اللغة: English
One of the 28th: A Tale of Waterloo

One of the 28th: A Tale of Waterloo

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 7

cutting into my side now."

"Well, we must live and let live!" the woman said philosophically. "You may thank your stars nature hasn't made you as big as I am. Little people have their advantages. But we can't have everything our own way. That's what I tells my Jim; he is always a-wanting to have his own way. That comes from being a captain; but, as I tells him, it's only reasonable as he is captain on board his ship I should be captain in my house. I suppose you are going to school?"

"No, I am not. My school is just over."

"Going all the way up to London?"

"Yes."

"That's a mercy," the woman said. "I was afraid you might be only going as far as Canterbury, and then I might have got some big chap up here who would squeeze me as flat as a pancake. Men is so unthoughtful, and seems to think as women can stow themselves away anywheres. I wish you would feel and get your hand in my pocket, young man. I can't do it nohow, and I ain't sure that I have got my keys with me; and that girl Eliza will be getting at the bottles and a-having men in, and then there will be a nice to-do with the lodgers. Can't you find it? It is in the folds somewhere."

With much difficulty Ralph found the pocket-hole, and thrusting his hand in was able to reassure his neighbor by feeling among a mass of odds and ends a bunch of keys.

"That's a comfort," the woman said. "If one's mind isn't at ease one can't enjoy traveling."

"I wish my body was at ease," Ralph said. "Don't you think you could squeeze them a little on the other side and give me an inch or two more room?"

"I will try," the woman said; "as you seem a civil sort of boy."

Whereupon she gave two or three heaves, which relieved Ralph greatly, but involved her in an altercation with her neighbor on the other side, which lasted till the towers of Canterbury came in sight. Here they changed horses at the Fountain Inn.

"Look here, my boy," the woman said to Ralph. "If you feel underneath my feet you will find a basket, and at the top there is an empty bottle. There will be just time for you to jump down and get it filled for me. A shilling's worth of brandy, and filled up with water. That girl Eliza flustered me so much with her worritting and questions before I started that I had not time to fill it."

Ralph jumped down and procured the desired refreshment, and was just in time to clamber up to his seat again when the coach started. He enjoyed the rapid motion and changing scene much, but he was not sorry when—as evening was coming on—he saw ahead of him a dull mist, which his fellow-passenger told him was the smoke of London.

It was nine in the evening when the coach drove into the courtyard of the Bull Inn. The guard, who had received instructions from Mrs. Conway, at once gave Ralph and his box into the charge of one of the porters awaiting the arrival of the coach, and told him to take the box to the inn from which the coach for Weymouth started in the morning. Cramped by his fourteen hours' journey Ralph had at first some difficulty in following his conductor through the crowded street, but the stiffness soon wore off, and after ten minutes walking he arrived at the inn.

The guard had already paid the porter, having received the money for that purpose from Mrs. Conway; and the latter setting down the box in the passage at once went off. Ralph felt a little forlorn, and wondered what he was to do next. But a minute later the landlady came out from the bar.

"Do you want a bed?" she asked. "The porter should have rung the bell. I am afraid we are full, unless it has been taken beforehand. However, I will see if I can make shift somehow."

"I should be very much obliged if you can," Ralph said; "for I don't know anything about London, and am going on by the Weymouth coach in the morning."

"Oh, might your name be Conway?"

"Yes, that is my name," Ralph said, surprised.

"Ah, then there is a bedroom taken for you. A gentleman came three days ago and took it, saying it was for a young gent who is going through to Weymouth. Tom," she called, "take this box up to number 12. Supper is ready for you, sir. I dare say you would like a wash first?"

"That I should," Ralph replied, following the boots upstairs.

In a few minutes he returned, and a waiter directed him to the coffee-room. In a short time a supper consisting of fish, a steak, and tea was placed before him. Ralph fell to vigorously, and the care that had been bestowed by Mr. Penfold in securing a bedroom and ordering supper for him greatly raised him in the boy's estimation; and he looked forward with warmer anticipations than he had hitherto done to his visit to him. As goon as he had finished he went off to bed, and in a few minutes was sound asleep. At half-past six he was called, and after a hearty breakfast took his seat on the outside of the Weymouth coach.

Sitting beside him were four sailors, belonging, as he soon learned, to a privateer lying at Weymouth. They had had a long trip, and had been some months at sea; and as their ship was to lie for a fortnight at Weymouth while some repairs were being done to her, they had obtained a week's leave and had ran up to London for a spree. Weymouth during the war did a brisk trade, and was a favorite rendezvous of privateers, who preferred it greatly to Portsmouth or Plymouth, where the risk of their men being pressed to make up the quota of some man-of-war just fitted out was very great.

The sailors were rather silent and sulky, at first at the cruise on land being nearly over, but after getting off the coach where it changed horses they recovered their spirits, and amused Ralph greatly with their talk about the various prizes they had taken, and one or two sharp brashes with French privateers. Toward evening they became rather hilarious, but for the last two hours dozed quietly; the man sitting next to Ralph lurching against him heavily in his sleep, and swearing loudly when the boy stuck his elbow into his ribs to relieve himself of the weight. Ralph was not sorry, therefore, when at ten o'clock at night the coach arrived at Weymouth. The landlord and servants came out with lanterns to help the passengers to alight, and the former, as Ralph climbed down the side into the circle of light, asked:

"Are you Master Conway?"

"That's my name," Ralph replied.

"A bed has been taken for you, sir, and a trap will be over here at nine o'clock in the morning to take you to Penfold Hall."

Supper was already prepared for such passengers as were going to sleep in the hotel; but Ralph was too sleepy to want to eat, and had made a good meal when the coach stopped at six o'clock for twenty minutes to allow the passengers time for refreshments. At eight o'clock next morning he breakfasted. When he had finished the waiter told him that the trap had arrived a few minutes before, and that the horse had been taken out to have a feed, but would be ready to start by nine. Ralph took a stroll for half an hour by the sea and then returned. The trap was at the door, and his trunk had already been placed in it. The driver, a man of twenty-three or twenty-four, was, as he presently told Ralph, stable-helper at Penfold Hall.

"I generally drive this trap when it is wanted," he said. "The coachman is pretty old now. He has been in the family well-nigh fifty years. He is all right behind the carriage-horses, he says, but he does not like trusting himself in a pair-wheel trap."

"How far is it?"

"A matter of fifteen miles. It would be a lot shorter if you had got off last night at the nearest point the coach goes to; but the master told the coachman that he thought it would be pleasanter for you to come on here than to arrive there tired and sleepy after dark."

"Yes, it will much more pleasant," Ralph said. "The road was very dirty, and I should not like to arrive at a strange house with my clothes all covered with dust, and so sleepy that I could hardly keep my eyes open, especially as I hear that Mr. Penfold's sisters are rather

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