He wore a riding-coat of a somewhat brighter green than might have been expected to suit the taste of a gentleman of his years, with a short, black velvet cape, and laced pocket-holes and cuffs, all of a jaunty fashion; his linen, too, was of the finest kind, worked in a rich pattern at the wrists and throat, and scrupulously white. Although he seemed, judging from the mud he had picked up on the way, to have come from London, his horse was as smooth and cool as his own iron-grey periwig and pigtail. Neither man nor beast had turned a single hair; and saving for his soiled skirts and spatter-dashes, this gentleman, with his blooming face, white teeth, exactly-ordered dress, and perfect calmness, might have come from making an elaborate and leisurely toilet, to sit for an equestrian portrait at old John Willet's gate.

It must not be supposed that John observed these several characteristics by other than very slow degrees, or that he took in more than half a one at a time, or that he even made up his mind upon that, without a great deal of very serious consideration. Indeed, if he had been distracted in the first instance by questionings and orders, it would have taken him at the least a fortnight to have noted what is here set down; but it happened that the gentleman, being struck with the old house, or with the plump pigeons which were skimming and curtseying about it, or with the tall maypole, on the top of which a weathercock, which had been out of order for fifteen years, performed a perpetual walk to the music of its own creaking, sat for some little time looking round in silence. Hence John, standing with his hand upon the horse's bridle, and his great eyes on the rider, and with nothing passing to divert his thoughts, had really got some of these little circumstances into his brain by the time he was called upon to speak.

'A quaint place this,' said the gentleman--and his voice was as rich as his dress. 'Are you the landlord?'

'At your service, sir,' replied John Willet.

'You can give my horse good stabling, can you, and me an early dinner (I am not particular what, so that it be cleanly served), and a decent room of which there seems to be no lack in this great mansion,' said the stranger, again running his eyes over the exterior.

'You can have, sir,' returned John with a readiness quite surprising, 'anything you please.'

'It's well I am easily satisfied,' returned the other with a smile, 'or that might prove a hardy pledge, my friend.' And saying so, he dismounted, with the aid of the block before the door, in a twinkling.

'Halloa there! Hugh!' roared John. 'I ask your pardon, sir, for keeping you standing in the porch; but my son has gone to town on business, and the boy being, as I may say, of a kind of use to me, I'm rather put out when he's away. Hugh!--a dreadful idle vagrant fellow, sir, half a gipsy, as I think--always sleeping in the sun in summer, and in the straw in winter time, sir--Hugh! Dear Lord, to keep a gentleman a waiting here through him!--Hugh! I wish that chap was dead, I do indeed.'

'Possibly he is,' returned the other. 'I should think if he were living, he would have heard you by this time.'

'In his fits of laziness, he sleeps so desperate hard,' said the distracted host, 'that if you were to fire off cannon-balls into his ears, it wouldn't wake him, sir.'

The guest made no remark upon this novel cure for drowsiness, and recipe for making people lively, but, with his hands clasped behind him, stood in the porch, very much amused to see old John, with the bridle in his hand, wavering between a strong impulse to abandon the animal to his fate, and a half disposition to lead him into the house, and shut him up in the parlour, while he waited on his master.

'Pillory the fellow, here he is at last!' cried John, in the very height and zenith of his distress. 'Did you hear me a calling, villain?'

The figure he addressed made no answer, but putting his hand upon the saddle, sprung into it at a bound, turned the horse's head towards the stable, and was gone in an instant.

Charles Dickens
Classic Literature Library
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