The Deaf Postilion by Anonymous

In the month of January, 1804, Joey Duddle, a well-known postilion on the North Road, caught a cold, through sleeping without his night-cap; deafness was, eventually, the consequence; and, as it will presently appear, a young fortune-hunter lost twenty thousand pounds, and a handsome wife, through Joey Duddle's indiscretion, in omitting, on one fatal occasion, to wear his sixpenny woollen night-cap.

Joey did not discontinue driving, after his misfortune; his eyes and his spurs were, generally speaking, of more utility in his monotonous avocation, than his ears. His stage was, invariably, nine miles up the road, or "a short fifteen" down towards Gretna; and he had repeated his two rides so often, that he could have gone over the ground blindfold. People in chaises are rarely given to talking with their postilions: Joey knew, by experience, what were the two or three important questions in posting, and the usual times and places when and where they were asked; and he was always prepared with the proper answers. At those parts of the road, where objects of interest to strangers occurred, Joey faced about on his saddle, and if he perceived the eyes of his passengers fixed upon him, their lips in motion, and their fingers pointing towards a gentleman's seat, a fertile valley, a beautiful stream, or a fine wood, he naturally enough presumed that they were in the act of inquiring what the seat, the valley, the stream, or the wood was called; and he replied according to the fact. The noise of the wheels was a very good excuse for such trifling blunders as Joey occasionally made; and whenever he found himself progressing towards a dilemma, he very dexterously contrived, by means of a sly poke with his spur, to make his hand-horse evidently require the whole of his attention. At the journey's end, when the gentleman he had driven produced a purse, Joey, without looking at his lips, knew that he was asking a question, to which it was his duty to reply "Thirteen and sixpence," or "Two-and-twenty shillings," according as the job had been, "the short up," or "the long down." If any more questions were asked, Joey suddenly recollected something that demanded his immediate attention; begged pardon, promised to be back in a moment, and disappeared, never to return. The natural expression of his features indicated a remarkably taciturn disposition; almost every one with whom he came in contact, was deterred, by his physiognomy, from asking him any but necessary questions; and as he was experienced enough to answer, or cunning enough to evade these, when he thought fit, but few travellers ever discovered that Joey Duddle was deaf. So blind is man in some cases, even to his bodily defects, that Joey, judging from his general success in giving correct replies to the queries propounded to him, almost doubted his own infirmity; and never would admit that he was above one point beyond "a little hard of hearing."

On the first of June, in the year 1806, about nine o'clock in the morning, a chaise and four was perceived approaching towards the inn kept by Joey's master, at a first-rate Gretna-green gallop. As it dashed up to the door, the post-boys vociferated the usual call for two pair of horses in a hurry: but, unfortunately, the innkeeper had only Joey and his tits at home; and as the four horses which brought the chaise from the last posting-house, had already done a double job that day, the lads would not ride them on, through so heavy a stage as "the long down."

"How excessively provoking!" exclaimed one of the passengers; "I am certain that our pursuers are not far behind us. The idea of having the cup of bliss dashed from my very lips,—of such beauty and affluence being snatched from me, for want of a second pair of paltry posters, drives me frantic!"

"A Gretna-Green affair, I presume, sir," observed the inquisitive landlord.

The gentleman made no scruple of admitting that he had run away with the fair young creature who accompanied him, and that she was entitled to a fortune of twenty thousand pounds:—"one half of which," continued the gentleman, "I would freely give,—if I had it,—to be, at this instant, behind four horses, scampering away, due north, at full speed."

"I can assure you, sir," said the landlord, "that a fresh pair of such animals as I offer you, will carry you over the ground as quick as if you had ten dozen of the regular road-hacks. No man keeps better cattle than I do, and this pair beats all the others in my stables by two miles an hour. But in ten minutes, perhaps, and certainly within half an hour—"

"Half an hour! half a minute's delay might ruin me," replied the gentleman; "I hope I shall find the character you have given your cattle a correct one;—dash on, postilion."

Before this short conversation between the gentleman and the innkeeper was concluded, Joey Duddle had put-to his horses,—which were, of course, kept harnessed,—and taken his seat, prepared to start at a moment's notice. He kept his eye upon the innkeeper, who gave the usual signal of a rapid wave of the hand, as soon as the gentleman ceased speaking; and Joey Duddle's cattle, in obedience to the whip and spur, hobbled off at that awkward and evidently painful pace, which is, perforce, adopted by the most praiseworthy post-horses for the first ten minutes or so of their journey. But the pair, over which Joey presided, were, as the innkeeper had asserted, very speedy; and the gentleman soon felt satisfied, that it would take an extraordinary quadruple team to overtake them. His hopes rose at the sight of each succeeding mile-stone; he ceased to put his head out of the window every five minutes, and gaze anxiously up the road; he already anticipated a triumph,—when a crack, a crush, a shriek from the lady, a jolt, an instant change of position, and a positive pause occurred, in the order in which they are stated, with such suddenness and relative rapidity, that the gentleman was, for a moment or two, utterly deprived of his presence of mind by alarm and astonishment. The bolt which connects the fore-wheels, splinter-bar, springs, fore-bed, axle-tree, et cetera, with the perch, that passes under the body of the chaise, to the hind wheel-springs and carriage, had snapped asunder: the whole of the fore parts were instantly dragged onward by the horses; the braces by which the body was attached to the fore-springs, gave way; the chaise fell forward, and, of course, remained stationary with its contents, in the middle of the road; while the Deaf Postilion rode on, with his eyes intently fixed on vacuity before him, as though nothing whatever had happened.

Alarmed, and indignant in the highest degree, at the postilion's conduct, the gentleman shouted with all his might such exclamations as any man would naturally use on such an occasion; but Joey, although still but at a little distance, took no notice of what had occurred behind his back, and very complacently trotted his horses on at the rate of eleven or twelve miles an hour. He thought the cattle went better than ever; his mind was occupied with the prospect of a speedy termination to his journey; he felt elated at the idea of outstripping the pursuers,—for Joey had discrimination enough to perceive, at a glance, that his passengers were runaway lovers,—and he went on very much to his own satisfaction. As he approached the inn, which terminated "the long down," Joey, as usual, put his horses upon their mettle, and they, having nothing but a fore-carriage and a young lady's trunk behind them, rattled up to the door at a rate unexampled in the annals of posting, with all the little boys and girls of the neighbourhood hallooing in their rear.

It was not until he drew up to the inn-door, and alighted from his saddle, that Joey discovered his disaster; and nothing could equal the utter astonishment which his features then displayed. He gazed at the place where the body of his chaise, his passengers, and hind-wheels ought to have been, for above a minute: and then suddenly started down the road on foot, under an idea that he must very recently have dropped them. On reaching a little elevation, which commanded above two miles of the ground over which he had come, he found, to his utter dismay, that no traces of the main body of his chaise were perceptible; nor could he discover his passengers, who had, as it appeared in the sequel, been overtaken by the young lady's friends. Poor Joey immediately ran into a neighbouring hay-loft, where he hid himself, in despair, for three days; and when discovered, he was, with great difficulty, persuaded by his master, who highly esteemed him, to resume his whip and return to his saddle.