'Out riding, maybe?' said the driver
'I should have been, if I owned a horse; but I don't,' returned Martin.
'That's bad,' said the driver.
'And may be worse,' said Martin.
Now the driver said 'That's bad,' not so much because Martin didn't own a horse, as because he said he didn't with all the reckless desperation of his mood and circumstances, and so left a great deal to be inferred. Martin put his hands in his pockets and whistled when he had retorted on the driver; thus giving him to understand that he didn't care a pin for Fortune; that he was above pretending to be her favourite when he was not; and that he snapped his fingers at her, the driver, and everybody else.
The driver looked at him stealthily for a minute or so; and in the pauses of his warming whistled too. At length he asked, as he pointed his thumb towards the road.
'Up or down?'
'Which IS up?' said Martin.
'London, of course,' said the driver.
'Up then,' said Martin. He tossed his head in a careless manner afterwards, as if he would have added, 'Now you know all about it.' put his hands deeper into his pockets; changed his tune, and whistled a little louder.
'I'm going up,' observed the driver; 'Hounslow, ten miles this side London.'
'Are you?' cried Martin, stopping short and looking at him.
The driver sprinkled the fire with his wet hat until it hissed again and answered, 'Aye, to be sure he was.'
'Why, then,' said Martin, 'I'll be plain with you. You may suppose from my dress that I have money to spare. I have not. All I can afford for coach-hire is a crown, for I have but two. If you can take me for that, and my waistcoat, or this silk handkerchief, do. If you can't, leave it alone.'
'Short and sweet,' remarked the driver.
'You want more?' said Martin. 'Then I haven't got more, and I can't get it, so there's an end of that.' Whereupon he began to whistle again.
'I didn't say I wanted more, did I?' asked the driver, with something like indignation.
'You didn't say my offer was enough,' rejoined Martin.
'Why, how could I, when you wouldn't let me? In regard to the waistcoat, I wouldn't have a man's waistcoat, much less a gentleman's waistcoat, on my mind, for no consideration; but the silk handkerchief's another thing; and if you was satisfied when we got to Hounslow, I shouldn't object to that as a gift.'
'Is it a bargain, then?' said Martin.
'Yes, it is,' returned the other.
'Then finish this beer,' said Martin, handing him the mug, and pulling on his coat with great alacrity; 'and let us be off as soon as you like.'
In two minutes more he had paid his bill, which amounted to a shilling; was lying at full length on a truss of straw, high and dry at the top of the van, with the tilt a little open in front for the convenience of talking to his new friend; and was moving along in the right direction with a most satisfactory and encouraging briskness.
The driver's name, as he soon informed Martin, was William Simmons, better known as Bill; and his spruce appearance was sufficiently explained by his connection with a large stage-coaching establishment at Hounslow, whither he was conveying his load from a farm belonging to the concern in Wiltshire. He was frequently up and down the road on such errands, he said, and to look after the sick and rest horses, of which animals he had much to relate that occupied a long time in the telling. He aspired to the dignity of the regular box, and expected an appointment on the first vacancy. He was musical besides, and had a little key-bugle in his pocket, on which, whenever the conversation flagged, he played the first part of a great many tunes, and regularly broke down in the second.
'Ah!' said Bill, with a sigh, as he drew the back of his hand across his lips, and put this instrument in his pocket, after screwing off the mouth-piece to drain it; 'Lummy Ned of the Light Salisbury, HE was the one for musical talents. He WAS a guard. What you may call a Guard'an Angel, was Ned.'
'Is he dead?' asked Martin.