A Pleasant Journey by Charles Lever

From the Confessions of Harry Lorrequer.

I, Harry Lorrequer, was awaiting the mail coach anxiously in the Inn at Naas, when at last there was the sound of wheels, and the driver came into the room, a spectacle of condensed moisture.

“Going on to-night, sir,” said he, addressing me; “severe weather, and no chance of its clearing—but, of course, you’re inside.”

“Why, there is very little doubt of that,” said I. “Are you nearly full inside?”

“Only one, sir; but he seems a real queer chap; made fifty inquiries at the office if he could not have the whole inside for himself, and when he heard that one place had been taken—yours, I believe, sir,—he seemed like a scalded bear.”

“You don’t know his name, then?”

“No, sir, he never gave a name at the office, and his only luggage is two brown paper parcels, without any ticket, and he has them inside: indeed, he never lets them from him, even for a second.”

Here the guard’s horn sounded.

As I passed from the inn-door to the coach, I congratulated myself that I was about to be housed from the terrific storm of wind and rain that raged without.

“Here’s the step, sir,” said the guard; “get in, sir, two minutes late already.”

“I beg your pardon, sir,” said I, as I half fell over the legs of my unseen companion. “May I request leave  to pass you?” While he made way for me for this purpose, I perceived that he stooped down and said something to the guard, who, from his answer, had evidently been questioned as to who I was.

“And how did he get here if he took his place in Dublin?” asked the unknown.

“Came half an hour since, sir, in a chaise-and-four,” said the guard, as he banged the door behind him, and closed the interview.

“A severe night, sir,” said I.

“Mighty severe,” briefly and half-crustily replied the unknown, in a strong Cork accent.

“And a bad road, too, sir,” said I.

“That’s the reason I always go armed,” said the unknown, clinking at the same moment something like the barrel of a pistol.

Wondering somewhat at his readiness to mistake my meaning, I felt disposed to drop any further effort to draw him out, and was about to address myself to sleep as comfortably as I could.

“I’ll just trouble ye to lean off that little parcel there, sir,” said he, as he displaced from its position beneath my elbow one of the paper packages the guard had already alluded to.

In complying with this rather gruff demand one of my pocket pistols, which I carried in my breast-pocket, fell out upon his knee, upon which he immediately started, and asked, hurriedly: “And are you armed, too?”

“Why yes,” said I laughingly; “men of my trade seldom go without something of this kind.”

“I was just thinking that same,” said the traveller with a half sigh to himself.

I was just settling myself in my corner when I was startled by a very melancholy groan.

“Are you ill, sir?” said I, in a voice of some anxiety.

“You may say that,” replied he, “if you knew who you were talking to; although, maybe, you’ve heard enough of me, though you never saw me till now.”

“Without having that pleasure even yet,” said I, “it would grieve me to think you should be ill in the coach.”

“Maybe it might. Did ye ever hear tell of Barney Doyle?” said he.

“Not to my recollection.”

“Then I’m Barney,” said he, “that’s in all the newspapers in the metropolis. I’m seventeen weeks in Jervis Street Hospital, and four in the Lunatic, and the sorra bit better, after all. You must be a stranger, I’m thinking, or you’d know me now.”

“Why, I do confess I’ve only been a few hours in Ireland for the last six months.”

“Aye, that’s the reason; I knew you would not be fond of travelling with me if you knew who it was.”

“Why, really, I did not anticipate the pleasure of meeting you.”

“It’s pleasure ye call it; then there’s no accountin’ for tastes, as Dr. Colles said, when he saw me bite Cusack Rooney’s thumb off.”

“Bite a man’s thumb off!”

“Aye,” said he, with a kind of fiendish animation, “in one chop, I wish you’d see how I scattered the consultation;—they didn’t wait to ax for a fee.”

“A very pleasant vicinity,” thought I. “And may I ask, sir,” said I, in a very mild and soothing tone of voice—“may I ask the reason for this singular propensity of yours?”

“There it is now, my dear,” said he, laying his hand upon my knee familiarly, “that’s just the very thing they can’t make out. Colles says it’s all the cerebellum, ye see, that’s inflamed and combusted, and some of the others think it’s the spine; and more the muscles; but my real impression is, not a bit they know about it at all.”

“And have they no name for the malady?” said I.

“Oh, sure enough they have a name for it.”

“And may I ask——”

“Why, I think you’d better not, because, ye see, maybe I might be troublesome to ye in the night, though I’ll not, if I can help it; and it might be uncomfortable to you to be here if I was to get one of the fits.”

“One of the fits! Why, it’s not possible, sir,” said I, “you would travel in a public conveyance in the state you mention; your friends surely would not permit it?”

“Why, if they knew, perhaps,” slily responded the interesting invalid—“if they knew, they might not exactly like it; but ye see, I escaped only last night, and there’ll be a fine hubbub in the morning when they find I’m off; though I’m thinking Rooney’s barking away by this time.”

“Rooney barking!—why, what does that mean?”

“They always bark for a day or two after they’re bit, if the infection comes first from the dog.”

“You are surely not speaking of hydrophobia?” said I, my hair actually bristling with horror and consternation.

“Ain’t I?” replied he; “maybe you’ve guessed it, though.”

“And you have the malady on you at present?” said I trembling for the answer.

“This is the ninth day since I took to biting,” said he, gravely.

“And with such a propensity, sir, do you think yourself warranted in travelling in a public coach, exposing others——”

“You’d better not raise your voice that way. If I’m roused it’ll be worse for ye, that’s all.”

“Well, but, is it exactly prudent, in your present delicate state, to undertake a journey?”

“Ah,” said he, with a sigh, “I’ve been longing to see the fox-hounds throw off near Kilkenny; these three weeks I’ve been thinking of nothing else; but I’m not sure how my nerves will stand the cry; I might be troublesome.”

“Well,” thought I, “I shall not select that morning for my début in the field.”

“I hope, sir, there’s no river or watercourse in this road; anything else I can, I hope, control myself against; but water—running water particularly—makes me troublesome.”

Well knowing what he meant by the latter phrase, I felt the cold perspiration settling on my forehead as I remembered that we must be within about ten or twelve miles of a bridge, where we should have to pass a very wide river. I strictly concealed this fact from him, however. He now sank into a kind of moody silence, broken occasionally by a low, muttering noise, as if speaking to himself.

How comfortable my present condition was I need scarcely remark, sitting vis-à-vis to a lunatic, with a pair of pistols in his possession, who had already avowed  his consciousness of his tendency to do mischief, and his inability to master it—all this in the dark, and in the narrow limits of a mail-coach, where there was scarcely room for defence, and no possibility of escape. If I could only reach the outside of the coach I would be happy. What were rain and storm, thunder and lightning compared with the chance that awaited me here?—wet through I should inevitably be: but, then, I had not yet contracted the horror of moisture my friend opposite laboured under. Ha! what is that?—is it possible he can be asleep;—is it really a snore? Ah, there it is again;—he must be asleep, surely;—now, then, is my time, or never. I slowly let down the window of the coach, and, stretching forth my hand, turned the handle cautiously and slowly; I next disengaged my legs, and by a long, continuous effort of creeping, I withdrew myself from the seat, reached the step, when I muttered something very like thanksgiving to Providence for my rescue. With little difficulty I now climbed up beside the guard, whose astonishment at my appearance was indeed considerable.

Well, on we rolled, and very soon, more dead than alive, I sat a mass of wet clothes, like a morsel of black and spongy wet cotton at the bottom of a schoolboy’s ink-bottle, saturated with rain and the black dye of my coat. My hat, too, had contributed its share of colouring matter, and several long, black streaks coursed down my “wrinkled front,” giving me very much the air of an Indian warrior who had got the first priming of his war paint. I certainly must have been a rueful object, were I only to judge from the faces of the waiters as they gazed on me when the coach drew up at Rice and Walsh’s Hotel.

Cold, wet, and weary as I was, my curiosity to learn more of my late agreeable companion was strong as ever within me. I could catch a glimpse of his back, and hurried after the great unknown into the coffee room. By the time I entered, he was spreading himself comfortably, à l’Anglais, before the fire, and displayed to my wandering and stupefied gaze the pleasant features of Dr. Finucane.

“Why, Doctor—Doctor Finucane,” cried I, “is it possible? Were you, then, really the inside in the mail last night?”

“Not a doubt of it, Mr. Lorrequer; and may I make bould to ask were you the outside?”

“Then what, may I beg to know, did you mean by your story about Barney Doyle, and the hydrophobia, and Cusack Rooney’s thumb—eh?”

“Oh!” said Finucane, “this will be the death of me. And it was you that I drove outside in all the rain last night? Oh, it will kill Father Malachi outright with laughing when I tell him.” And he burst out into a fit of merriment that nearly induced me to break his head with a poker.

“Am I to understand, then, Mr. Finucane, that this practical joke of yours was contrived for my benefit and for the purpose of holding me up to the ridicule of your acquaintances?”

“Nothing of the kind,” said Fin., drying his eyes, and endeavouring to look sorry and sentimental. “If I had only the least suspicion in life that it was you, I’d not have had the hydrophobia at all—and, to tell you the truth, you were not the only one frightened—you alarmed me, too.”

“I alarmed you! Why, how can that be?”

“Why, the real affair is this: I was bringing these two packages of notes down to my cousin Callaghan’s bank in Cork—fifteen thousand pounds, and when you came into the coach at Naas, I thought it was all up with me. The guard just whispered in my ear that he saw you look at the priming of your pistols before getting in. Well, when you got seated, the thought came into my mind that maybe, highwayman as you were, you would not like dying an unnatural death, more particularly if you were an Irishman; and so I trumped up that long story about the hydrophobia, and the gentleman’s thumb, and dear knows what besides; and, while I was telling it, the cold perspiration was running down my head and face, for every time you stirred I said to myself—Now he’ll do it. Two or three times, do you know, I was going to offer you ten shillings in the pound, to spare my life; and once, God forgive me, I thought it would not be a bad plan to shoot you by ‘mistake,’ do you perceive?”

“Why, I’m very much obliged to you for your excessively kind intentions; but, really, I feel you have done quite enough for me on the present occasion. But, come now, doctor, I must get to bed, and, before I go, promise me two things—to dine with us to-day at the mess, and not to mention a syllable of what occurred last night: it tells, believe me, very badly for both. So keep the secret; for if these fellows of ours ever get hold of it I may sell out, and quit the army;—I’ll never hear the end of it!”

“Never fear, my boy; trust me. I’ll dine with you, and you’re as safe as a church mouse for anything I’ll tell them; so now, you’d better change your clothes, for I’m thinking it rained last night.”