“Oh, good morning!” stammered the little painter.
“I’m going to stay with my aunt in Truro, and seek service,” the girl announced, keeping her eye upon him, and her colour down with an effort. “Where are you bound?”
“I? Oh, I travel about, now in one place, next day in another—always moving. It’s the breath of life to me, moving around.”
“That must be nice! I often wonder why men tie themselves up to a wife when they might be free to move about like you, and see the world. What does a man want to tack a wife on to him when he can always carry her image about?” She laughed, without much bitterness.
“But—” began the amiable painter, and checked himself. He had been about to confess that he himself owned a wife and four healthy children. He saw this family about once in two months, and it existed by letting out lodgings in a small unpaintable town. He was sincerely fond of his wife, who made every allowance for his mercurial nature; but it suddenly struck him that her portrait hung in the parlour at home, and had never accompanied him on his travels.
He was silent for a minute or two, and then began to converse on ordinary topics.
Boutigo’s van—officially styled The Vivid—had just issued from the Packhorse Yard, Tregarrick, a leisurely three-quarters of an hour behind its advertised time, and was scaling the acclivity of St. Fimbar’s Street in a series of short tacks. Now and then it halted to take up a passenger or a parcel; and on these occasions Boutigo produced a couple of big stones from his hip-pockets and slipped them under the hind-wheels, while we, his patrons within the van, tilted at an angle of 15 deg. upon cushions of American cloth, sought for new centres of gravity, and earnestly desired the summit.
It was on the summit, where the considerate Boutigo gave us a minute’s pause to rearrange ourselves and our belongings, that we slipped into easy and general talk. An old countryman, with an empty poultry-basket on his knees, and a battered top-hat on the back of his head, gave us the cue.
“When Boutigo’s father had the accident—that was back in ‘fifty-six,’ and it broke his leg an’ two ribs—the van started from close ’pon the knap o’ the hill here, and scat itself to bits against the bridge at the foot just two and a half minutes after.”
I suggested that this was not very fast for a runaway horse.
“I dessay not,” he answered; “but ‘twas pretty spry for a van slippin’ backwards, and the old mare diggin’ her toes in all the way to hold it up.”
One or two of the passengers grinned at my expense, and the old man pursued—
“But if you want to know how fast a hoss can get down St. Fimbar’s hill, I reckon you’ve lost your chance by not axin’ Dan’l Best, that died up to the ’Sylum twelve years since; though, poor soul, he’d but one answer for every question from his seven-an’-twentieth year to his end, an’ that was ’One, two, three, four, five, sis, seven.”