« 上一頁繼續 »
remained but prompt payment, and immediate departure. The bulkiest outsider was at length hoisted to his bad eminence; the ladder was withdrawn, the ostler stood counting his pence beneath the shade of the scarlet quadruped, the steps jangled, the dogs barked, the whip cracked, “all right,” and away we went, as if Paradise and Oxford were of synonymous attraction.
“I think,” said I, half interrogatively, as we reached a long hill a mile or two further on the road, " I really think it will be dark before we arrive."
The swivel-eye assumed a sneering expression, although its proprietor said nothing; while Cowslip, who had been prodigal in her trials of the Buckinghamshire ale, uttered an audible snore; and thus discouraged, I naturally fell into a fit of musing. But alas ! all my cogitations centred in one fatal self-conviction that I was on the Oxford road, actually within twenty miles of a city, where to be seen was a sentence of disgrace, where to remain invisible was as physically impossible as to throw a veil over the dome of St. Paul's, or cover the Monument with an extinguisher ! Again, in the agony of my heart, regardless of the slumbers of my female, or the sneers of my male companion, I cried aloud, “ After all, it may possibly be dark before we arrive.”
Startled by the ejaculation, Cowslip suddenly paused in her laborious nasal symphony, exclaiming, with a half-suppressed yawn, “ Las, Sir, sure you ben't feared of highwaymen?”
On this hint, a new and still more diabolical expression gleamed in the stationary swivel-eye; a sort of fiendish waggery deriding the sufferings depicted on the wretched countenance whereon it had fixed its preternatural stare. I actually shuddered under the infliction. “Highwaymen !" he reiterated, with a sort of cackling laugh. “The gentleman need not be under any apprehensions; I will guarantee him daylight enough both before and after his arrival.” A cold dew rose on my forehead; I was persuaded that it could be none other than Mephistopheles himself.
From the moment this notion took possession of my mind I felt wholly unable to withdraw my attention from his face; I was conscious of being under the fascination of an evil eye; and in defiance of stoppages or velocity, up-hill or down-hill, turnpikes or interposing pigs and children on the road, jolts, jumblings, jars, and parcels to be dropped by the wayside, I never, for a single moment, removed the vacant stare with which I rendered back his derisive glance. By Heavens ! instead of dreading the aspect of the long, smooth gravel walk which foreshows the suburbs of Oxford on the London road, I actually beheld the spires of the city rising above the green meadows with a sensation of relief. “ Daylight” I knew I should have in abundance; he had promised it to me--the wretch, the fiend! but what were twice five thousand eyes fixed in recognition upon my person, compared with that one, cold, dead, meaningly-unmeaning, insignificantly-significant eye, glaring upon me in horrible approximation! “Oh! for a horse with wings !" I would have down to the ends of the earth to be rid of my tormentor!
It had been my intention on dislodging myself from ihe coach to sneak round from the High-street towards that obscure lane wherein the ancient hostel of the Bear and Ragged Staff gives shelter to the commercial classes, and a copious dispensation of punch and other comfortable liquors to such hosiers and drapers of the neighbourhood as have wives professing an antipathy to the fumes of the Virginian weed. But the Bear and Ragged Staff was to me on the present occasion as a rock of perdition. I might as well have advertised myself at once in the “ Hue and Cry," or exhibited my face among the samples on the Corn Exchange. For once, therefore, it became necessary that I should “take mine ease”-or rather my disquiet—in a crack inn; and with my agonised gaze still fixed on the Polyphemic orb of my loathsome neighbour, I suddenly determined to get out at the Angel, the original destination of our coach, and the most eminent inn in the city. The traveller's or coffee-room was not for my money; I made up my mind to the security of a private apartment-private! delicious word! At that moment a sudden jerk proclaimed our pause at the last turnpike.
Well, Sir,” said my companion, in a sort of inward chuckle, but without withdrawing his eye, “I promised you daylight enough! Trust me, you have full two hours before you to see and be seen !"
My heart grew sick. Still, still he gazed, and glared, with that one glassy orb; and still I stared upon him in paralysed dismay. The hum of the High-street rose in my ears; crowds were moving hither and thither over its wide flag-stones---crowds of my familiar friends and familiar foes. Yet I looked not on them—thought not of themdreaded and eschewed them no longer. “ He sees me! he is looking at me! he recognises me! he will denounce me—dishonour me! What matters precaution? What avails concealment? The eye!-the eye!”
We pause! Boots, ostler, waiters, porters, chambermaids, landlord, landlady, barmaid, all are astir—all ready—all eager for the coming custom and the customary comers! The door opens; the steps descend; the fustain-suited arm presents itself; I shake off the spell—I breathe - I am a man again. A single stride clears me the causeway and conveys me into the capacious hall of the Angel inn.
No peculiar alacrity attends on coach-passengers, especially during the bustle of arrival. “Waiter!” said I, detaining a dirty dog who was shuffling along with a glass-cloth, by way of napkin, on his arm, and a tureen of horse-tail soup in his hand—“Waiter, I want a private room - show me to a private room."
But lo! as he prepared to deposit his tureen and comply, a hoarse voice whispered over my shoulder, “ Ay, ay, Sir! I promised you daylight enough. I am not to be
I could not stop to sisten ; but, following the scudding waiter up the matted stairs, three steps at a time, found myself ushered into a small neat chamber, overlooking the street.
Ye powers of peace! Shall I ever forget the sensation of delight with which I found myself—alone, uneyed, unwatched, unmolested ? To my dying day that small chamber, with its Turkey carpet, and marone leather sofa and chairs—its gaudy looking-glass and rainbow bell-ropes, and, above all, its closed and sacred door, will live in my remembrance as the snuggest sanctuary ever vouchsafed to a wayfaring wanderer. No sooner had the waiter retreated, and the hasp of the door snapped in its socket, than I threw myself on the sofa, and gasped aloud with the sensation of a reprieved criminal. For full five minutes I could do nothing
but expatiate in the full luxury and stretchery of physical and moral release: but the sixth minute carried me to the window; and, drawing aside the blind, just enough to peep into the street and ascertain the approach of twilight, I beheld, glaring from the opposite house, a pair -yes, an actual pair of the self-same great, grey, glassy eyes which had excruciated me for five preceding hours.
“Great Heavens !” I exclaimed, falling back upon the sofa in the desponding attitude of the French hypochondriac, whose physician had dressed up a fac-simile of one of his own mental apparitions—“Great Heavens! there are two of them !”
No explanation of the foregoing anecdote need be offered to such travellers as have sojourned at the Angel inn, Oxford, opposite the sign of the optician's shop.
(Vide the Song in ChildE HAROLD, “ Tambourgi! Tambourgi !
thy 'Larum afar," foc.)
* I think it was Porson (of Greek and Cider-Cellar notoriety) who improvised the following lines, illustrative of his Literary Tour on the Continent:
“ I went to Frankfort, and got drunk
With that right learn'd professor, Brunck ;
With that more learn'd professor, Rhunken.” + “ This is the Age of Cant !"—Why cannot the fanatical worshippers of weak tea swallow their mawkish infusion of sloe-leares, &c. without abusing those who prefer a moderate quantity of more generous fluids to milk-and-water ?
Talking of water,—wbat stupid pump—what maudlin old woman in her cups (of Buhea!) invented that senseless phrase “ TEE-TOTALLERS ?”
I must confess a vagabond inclination for the vulgar pleasures of a fair. The mingled sounds of the mimic penny-trumpet, the rattle, and the toy-drum, the grinding of the barrel-organs, the clashing of cymbals, and the whole miscellaneous concert of discordant music is always very exhilarating, and never more so than when it breaks in upon the monotonous routine of a fashionable watering-place.
About eight o'clock upon a fine warm September's evening I quitted my temporary residence on the Marine Parade, and, crossing the Steyne, mingled in the parti-coloured stream of boys and girls, and children of a larger growth, which was flowing on towards “ Ireland's Gardens," where the Fair was held.
The road, like a grocer's shop on a July day, was swarming with flies. All the beaux were unbent, and the belles bending to beaux, as they greeted each other on the way, ridiculing the idea of going to a fair, and yet all pushing forward to the scene of the annual Saturnalia. The countenances of the many fashionable females I recognised in the crowd encouraged me in the pursuit. “Sweet creatures !" thought I, “they at least will not censure my predilection in favour of such a pastime. Indeed, it would be sheer ingratitude in them to contemn my devotion to the fair!”
I entered the gardens. On two sides of the spacious green the cake and toy-booths and the shows were ranged, forming an angle. The children, who had parents or pence, were admiring the spice-nuts and gilt-gingerbread, and the fragile and many-coloured allurements of the former, while a well-ordered mob were listening and laughing at the stentorian invitations of the bawling proprietors of the latter places of scenic, dramatic, and intellectual entertainment. Every booth, with its neat white cloth, looked like the aproned lap of a capacious grand-mamma filled with nice things for distribution among her children's children. The laughing looks and the exclamations of the sun-burnt little rogues filled my heart with pleasure and emptied my pockets of the coppers wherewith I had stored them for the occasion.
As the twilight faded the smaller part of the joyous multitude gradually disappeared from the festive scene, and the number of servantmaids, smart shopmen, sailors, and fishermen almost imperceptibly increased. The coloured lamps burned brighter, and gave the place the appearance of the jewel-bearing trees in the fruit-gardens of Aladdin. A party commenced a country-dance on the green, which was soon lengthened by new-comers, and even some of the genteeler people, inspired by the scene, contrived to get up a quadrille without the aid of a master of the ceremonies. Although admiring the freedom and goodhumour with which they entered into the prevailing spirit of the hour, my dancing days were long since past, and I therefore moved on and mingled with the motley mob before the principal show.
Here Mr. Merryman, having performed a preludio upon the salt-box with a rolling pin, with all the “con spirito” and force which the compass of that favourite instrument allows, had just placed the box under his left arm, and was extending the rolling-pin, à la truncheon, in his right, when the proprietor of the adjoining booth, dressed in a white hat
and red coat, extended his body over the adjoining show, in order to catch the attention of Mr. Merryman's customers, and bawled out,
- This is the show !”
“ And this is the substance !” exclaimed Mr. Merryman. “ Ladies and gentlemen, that man's a Radical-look at his hat!” A roar of laughter followed this allusion. “The only sign of good sense he has shown is his endeavour to thrust himself into our splendid and incomparable Thespian Establishment! The only animal worth seeing is himself; for, as you observe, he is a kind of amphibious nondescriptbeing half beaver and half donkey, which is the cause of his exposing himself!"
Another peal of laughter followed this spirited expression of party feeling on the part of the indignant Mr. Merryman.
“Only tuppence, and children half-price!" emphatically exclaimed the rival.
"If you pay your money there," said Mr. Merryman, "you will most certainly be—let in. Here, here is the place, where all the money you lay out will produce a profit! We have travelled the country far and wide to gather materials for your amusement; and you will find, and must confess, that we have progressed with the march of intellect. We fearlessly challenge competition ; and if any individual, ignorantly blind to our superior merit, shall declare he is dissatisfied, and that we have made a fool of him, we will refund his money. Walk up,
ladies and gentlemen, and you will find a feast of wit here, where you may not only feed but carry away scraps enough to entertain your friends for the next twelvemonths. Only threepence !-four a shilling! Why it's as cheap as mackerel, and much more nourishing; for every one may laugh and grow fat, if he choose, without the trouble of mastication. Walk up, ladies and gentlemen-walk up!"
The wit and drollery of Mr. Merryman won upon his auditory, and they began to mount the wide-extended steps, from three to six abreast, and having paid their money for admission the platform was soon left clear of the performers, whose services were wanted on the stage, giving an opportunity to the Radical, who had so unwarrantably ventured on the precincts of his neighbour, to “explain,” and win over an audience from the crowd.
When I again approached the Thespian Establishment a “delighted and overflowing" audience were coming out.
“Now, my merry customers all,” exclaimed the unwearied clown, “ walk up! walk up! and we will rejoice the very cockles of your hearts for the small cost of threepence! Is it not worth double the money, father ?” exclaimed he, addressing a broad-shouldered Sussex farmer.
The rustic grinned at being addressed ; and I heard the words, “ Deep as Garrick !" : “Not equalled since the days of Garrick, he says !" said the unblushing Mr. Merryman. The farmer grinned again, and descended with the crowd, leaving a “clear stage” for the antics of the outside performers.
The clown then proceeded to accompany a sort of six-handed reel, performed by his gorgeously-spangled brother-comedians, upon his favourite instrument. At the conclusion of the serpentine evolutions