But on the back seat in the coach is the inevitable woman, young and sickly, with the baby in her arms. The woman has paid her fare through to Guysborough, and holds her ticket. It turns out, however, that she wants to go to the district of Guysborough, to St. Mary’s Cross Roads, somewhere in it, and not to the village of Guysborough, which is away down on Chedabucto Bay. (The reader will notice this geographical familiarity.) And this stage does not go in the direction of St. Mary’s. She will not get out, she will not surrender her ticket, nor pay her fare again. Why should she? And the stage proprietor, the stage-driver, and the hostler mull over the problem, and sit down on the woman’s hair trunk in front of the tavern to reason with her. The baby joins its voice from the coach window in the clamor of the discussion. The baby prevails. The stage company comes to a compromise, the woman dismounts, and we are off, away from the white houses, over the sandy road, out upon a hilly and not cheerful country. And the driver begins to tell us stories of winter hardships, drifted highways, a land buried in snow, and great peril to men and cattle.
“It was then summer, and the weather very fine; so pleased was I with the country, in which I had never travelled before, that my delight proved equal to my wonder.”—Benvenuto Cellini.
There are few pleasures in life equal to that of riding on the box-seat of a stagecoach, through a country unknown to you and hearing the driver talk about his horses. We made the intimate acquaintance of twelve horses on that day’s ride, and learned the peculiar disposition and traits of each one of them, their ambition of display, their sensitiveness to praise or blame, their faithfulness, their playfulness, the readiness with which they yielded to kind treatment, their daintiness about food and lodging.
May I never forget the spirited little jade, the off-leader in the third stage, the petted belle of the route, the nervous, coquettish, mincing mare of Marshy Hope. A spoiled beauty she was; you could see that as she took the road with dancing step, tossing her pretty head about, and conscious of her shining black coat and her tail done up “in any simple knot,”—like the back hair of Shelley’s Beatrice Cenci. How she ambled and sidled and plumed herself, and now and then let fly her little heels high in air in mere excess of larkish feeling.
“So! girl; so! Kitty,” murmurs the driver in the softest tones of admiration; “she don’t mean anything by it, she’s just like a kitten.”
But the heels keep flying above the traces, and by and by the driver is obliged to “speak hash” to the beauty. The reproof of the displeased tone is evidently felt, for she settles at once to her work, showing perhaps a little impatience, jerking her head up and down, and protesting by her nimble movements against the more deliberate trot of her companion. I believe that a blow from the cruel lash would have broken her heart; or else it would have made a little fiend of the spirited creature. The lash is hardly ever good for the sex.