Ventriloquist on a Stage Coach
by Henry Cockton
NOW then, look alive there!" shouted the coachman
from the booking-office door, as Valentine
and his Uncle John approached. "Have yow
got that are mare's shoe made comfor'ble, Simon!"
"All right, sir," said Simon, and he went round to
see if it were so, while the luggage was being
"Jimp up, genelmen!" cried the coachman, as he
waddled from the office with his whip in one hand
and his huge way-bill in the other; and the passengers
accordingly proceeded to arrange themselves on
the various parts of the coach,—Valentine, by the
particular desire of Uncle John, having deposited
himself immediately behind the seat of the coachman.
"If you please," said an old lady, who had been
standing in the gateway upwards of an hour, "will
you be good enow, please, to take care of my
"All safe," said the coachman, untwisting the
reins. "She shaunt take no harm. Is she going all
"Yes, sir," replied the old lady; "God bless her!
She's got a place in Lunnun, an' I'm told—"
"Hook on them ere two sacks o' whoats there behind,"
cried the coachman; "I marn't go without
'em this time.—Now, all right there?"
"Good by, my dear," sobbed the old lady, "do
write to me soon, be sure you do,—I only want to
hear from you often. Take care of yourself."
"Hold hard!" cried the coachman, as the horses
were dancing, on the cloths being drawn from their
loins. "Whit, whit!" and away they pranced, as
merrily as if they had known that their load was
nothing when compared with the load they left behind
them. Even old Uncle John, as he cried
"Good by, my dear boy," and waved his hand for
the last time, felt the tears trickling down his
The salute was returned, and the coach passed on.
The fulness of Valentine's heart caused him for the
first hour to be silent; but after that, the constant
change of scene and the pure bracing air had the
effect of restoring his spirits, and he felt a powerful
inclination to sing. Just, however, as he was about
to commence for his own amusement, the coach
stopped to change horses. In less than two minutes
they started again, and Valentine, who then felt
ready for anything, began to think seriously of the
exercise of his power as a ventriloquist.
"Whit, whit!" said Tooler, the coachman, between
a whisper and a whistle, as the fresh horses
galloped up the hill.
"Stop! hoa!" cried Valentine, assuming a voice,
the sound of which appeared to have travelled some
"You have left some one behind," observed a
gentleman in black, who had secured the box seat.
"Oh, let un run a bit!" said Tooler. "Whit! I'll
give un a winder up this little hill, and teach un to
be up in time in future. If we was to wait for every
passenger as chooses to lag behind, we shouldn't git
over the ground in a fortnit."
"Hoa! stop! stop! stop!" reiterated Valentine,
in the voice of a man pretty well out of breath.
Tooler, without deigning to look behind, retickled
the haunches of his leaders, and gleefully chuckled
at the idea of how he was making a passenger sweat.
The voice was heard no more, and Tooler, on
reaching the top of the hill, pulled up and looked
round, but could see no man running.
"Where is he?" inquired Tooler.
"In the ditch!" replied Valentine, throwing his
"In the ditch!" exclaimed Tooler. "Blarm me,
"There," said Valentine.
"Bless my soul!" cried the gentleman in black,
who was an exceedingly nervous village clergyman.
"The poor person no doubt is fallen down in an
absolute state of exhaustion. How very, very wrong
of you, coachman, not to stop!"
Tooler, apprehensive of some serious occurrence,
got down with the view of dragging the exhausted
passenger out of the ditch; but although he ran
several hundred yards down the hill, no such person
of course could be found.
"Who saw un?" shouted Tooler, as he panted up
the hill again.
"I saw nothing," said a passenger behind, "but a
boy jumping over the hedge."
Tooler looked at his way-bill, counted the
passengers, found them all right, and, remounting
the box, got the horses again into a gallop, in the
perfect conviction that some villanous young scarecrow
had raised the false alarm.
"Whit! blarm them 'ere boys!" said Tooler,
"'stead o' mindin' their crows, they are allus up to
suffen. I only wish I had un here, I'd pay on to
their blarmed bodies; if I would n't—" At this
interesting moment, and as if to give a practical
illustration of what he would have done in the case,
he gave the off-wheeler so telling a cut round the
loins that the animal without any ceremony kicked
over the trace. Of course Tooler was compelled to
pull up again immediately; and after having adjusted
the trace, and asking the animal seriously what
he meant, at the same time enforcing the question by
giving him a blow on the bony part of the nose, he
prepared to remount; but just as he had got his left
foot upon the nave of the wheel, Valentine so
admirably imitated the sharp snapping growl of a
dog in the front boot, that Tooler started back as
quickly as if he had been shot, while the gentleman
in black dropped the reins and almost jumped into
"Good gracious!" exclaimed the gentleman in
black, trembling with great energy; "How wrong,
how very horribly wrong, of you, coachman, not to
tell me that a dog had been placed beneath my feet."
"Blarm their carcases!" cried Tooler, "they never
told me a dog was shoved there. Lay down!
We'll soon have yow out there together!"
"Not for the world!" cried the gentleman in
black, as Tooler approached the foot-board in order
to open it. "Not for the world! un-un-un-less you
le-le-let me get down first. I have no desire to pe-pe-perish
"Kip yar fut on the board then, sir, please," said
Tooler, "we'll soon have the varmint out o' that."
So saying, he gathered up the reins, remounted the
box, and started off the horses again at full gallop.
The gentleman in black then began to explain to
Tooler how utterly inconceivable was the number of
persons who had died of hydrophobia within an
almost unspeakable short space of time, in the
immediate vicinity of the residence of a friend of his
in London; and just as he had got into the marrow
of a most excruciating description of the intense
mental and physical agony of which the disease in
its worst stage was productive, both he and Tooler
suddenly sprang back, with their feet in the air, and
their heads between the knees of the passengers behind
them, on Valentine giving a loud growling
snap, more bitingly indicative of anger than before.
As Tooler had tightly hold of the reins when he
made this involuntary spring, the horses stopped on
the instant, and allowed him time to scramble up
again without rendering the slow process dangerous.
"I cannot, I-I-I positively cannot," said the
gentleman in black, who had been thrown again into
a dreadful state of excitement, "I cannot sit here,—my
nerves cannot endure it; it's perfectly shocking."
"Blister their bowls!" exclaimed Tooler, whose
first impulse was to drag the dog out of the boot at
all hazards, but who, on seeing the horses waiting
in the road a short distance ahead for the next stage,
thought it better to wait till he had reached them.
"I'll make un remember this the longest day o' thar
blessed lives,—blarm un! Phih! I'll let un know
when I get back, I warrant. I'll larn un to—"
"Hoa, coachman! hoa! my hat's off!" cried
Valentine, throwing his voice to the back of the
"Well, may I be—phit!" said Tooler. "I'll make
yow run for't anyhow—phit!"
In less than a minute the coach drew up opposite
the stable, when the gentleman in black at once
proceeded to alight. Just, however, as his foot
reached the plate of the roller-bolt, another growl
from Valentine frightened him backwards, when falling
upon one of the old horse-keepers, he knocked
him fairly down, and rolled over him heavily.
"Darng your cloomsy carkus," cried the horse-keeper,
gathering himself up, "carn't you git oof ar
cooarch aroat knocking o' pipple darn?"
"I-I-I beg pardon," tremblingly observed the
gentleman in black; "I hope I-I—"
"Whoap! pardon!" contemptuously echoed the
horse-keeper as he limped towards the bars to
unhook the leaders' traces.
"Now then, yow warmint, let's see who yow belong
to," said Tooler, approaching the mouth of the
boot; but just as he was in the act of raising the
foot-board, another angry snap made him close it
again with the utmost rapidity.
"Lay down! blarm your body!" cried Tooler,
shrinking back. "Here, yow Jim, kim here, bor,
and take this 'ere devil of a dog out o' that."
Jim approached, and the growling was louder than
before, while the gentleman in black implored Jim to
take care that the animal didn't get hold of his
"Here, yow Harry!" shouted Jim, "yare noot
afeared o' doogs together,—darng un, I doont
Accordingly Harry came, and then Sam, and then
Bob, and then Bill; but as the dog could not be
seen, and as the snarling continued, neither of them
dared to put his hand in to drag the monster forth.
Bob therefore ran off for Tom Titus the blacksmith,
who was supposed to care for nothing, and in less
than two minutes Tom Titus arrived with about three
feet of rod-iron red hot.
"Darng un!" cried Tom, "this ere 'll maake un
"Dear me! my good man," said the gentleman in
black, "don't use that unchristian implement! don't
put the dumb thing to such horrible torture!"
"It don't siggerfy a button," cried Tooler, "I
marn't go to stop here all day. Out he must come."
Upon this Tom Titus introduced his professional
weapon, and commenced poking about with considerable
energy, while the snapping and growling
increased with each poke.
"I'll tell you what it is," said Tom Titus, turning
round and wiping the sweat off his brow with his
naked arm, "this here cretur here's stark raavin'
"I knew that he was," cried the gentleman in
black, getting into an empty wagon which stood
without horses just out of the road; "I felt perfectly
sure that he was rabid."
"He 's a bull-terrier too," said Tom Titus, "I
knows it by 's growl. It 's the worsest and dargdest
to go maad as is."
"Well, what shall us do wi' th' warment?" said
"Shoot him! shoot him!" cried the gentleman in
"O, I 've goot a blunderbus, Bob!" said Tom
Titus, "yow run for 't together, it 's top o' the forge."
Bob started at once, and Tom kept on the bar,
while Tooler, Sam, and Harry, and Bob held the
heads of the horses.
"He 's got un; all right!" cried Tom Titus, as
Bob neared the coach with the weapon on his
shoulder. "Yow 'll be doon in noo time," he added
as he felt with his rod to ascertain in which corner of
the boot the bull-terrier lay.
"Is she loarded?" asked Bob, as he handed Tom
Titus the instrument of death.
"Mind you make the shot come out at bottom,"
"I hool," said Tom Titus, putting the weapon to
his shoulder. "Noo the Loord ha' marcy on yar, as
joodge says sizes," and instantly let fly.
The horses of course plunged considerably, but
still did no mischief; and before the smoke had
evaporated, Valentine introduced into the boot a
low melancholy howl, which convinced Tom Titus
that the shot had taken effect.
"He 's giv oop the ghost; darng his carkus!"
cried Tom, as he poked the dead body in the corner.
"Well, let 's have a look at un," said Tooler, "let 's
see what the warment is like."
The gentleman in black at once leaped out of the
wagon, and every one present drew near, when Tom,
guided by the rod which he had kept upon the body,
put his hand into the boot, and drew forth a fine hare
that had been shattered by the shot all to pieces.
"He arn't a bull-terrier," cried Bob.
"But that arn't he," said Tom Titus. "He 's
some'er aboot here as dead as a darng'd nail. I
know he 's a corpse."
"Are you sure on 't?" asked Tooler.
"There arn't any barn door deader," cried Tom.
"Here, I'll lug um out an' show yar."
"No, no!" shouted Tooler, as Tom proceeded to
pull out the luggage. "I marn't stay for that. I 'm
an hour behind now, blarm un! jimp up, genelmen!"
Tom Titus and his companions, who wanted the
bull-terrier as a trophy, entreated Tooler to allow
them to have it, and, having at length gained his
consent, Tom proceeded to empty the boot. Every eye
was, of course, directed to everything drawn out, and
when Tom made a solemn declaration that the boot
was empty, they were all, at once, struck with amazement.
Each looked at the other with astounding
incredulity, and overhauled the luggage again and
"Do you mean to say," said Tooler, "that there
arn't nuffin else in the boot?"
"Darnged a thing!" cried Tom Titus, "coom and
look." And Tooler did look, and the gentleman in
black looked, and Bob looked, and Harry looked,
and Bill looked, and Sam looked, and all looked, but
found the boot empty.
"Well, blarm me!" cried Tooler. "But darng it
all, he must be somewhere!"
"I' ll taake my solum davy," said Bill, "that he
"I seed um myself," exclaimed Bob, "wi' my oarn
eyes, an' didn't loike the looks on um a bit."
"There cannot," said the gentleman in black, "be
the smallest possible doubt about his having been
there; but the question for our mature consideration
is, where is he now?"
"I 'll bet a pint," said Harry, "you blowed um
"Blowed um away, you fool!—how could I ha'
blowed um away?"
"Why, he was there," said Bob, "and he baint
there noo, and he baint here nayther, so you mus ha'
blowed um out o' th' boot; 'sides, look at the muzzle
o' this ere blunderbust!"
"Well, of all the rummest goes as ever happened,"
said Tooler, thrusting his hands to the very bottom
of his pockets, "this ere flogs 'em all into nuffin!"
"It is perfectly astounding!" exclaimed the gentleman
in black, looking again into the boot, while
the men stood and stared at each other with their
mouths as wide open as human mouths could be.
"Well, in wi' 'em agin," cried Tooler, "in wi'
'em!—Blarm me if this here arn't a queer un to get
The luggage was accordingly replaced, and Tooler,
on mounting the box, told the men to get a gallon of
beer, when the gentleman in black generously gave
them half a crown, and the horses started off, leaving
Tom with his blunderbuss, Harry, Bill, Sam, and
their companions, bewildered with the mystery which
the whole day spent in the alehouse by no means
enabled them to solve.