The Ride To London

By Charles Dickens

When the coach came round with “London” blazoned in letters of gold upon the boot, it gave Tom such a turn, that he was half disposed to run away. But he didn’t do it; for he took his seat upon the box instead, and looking down upon the four grays felt as if he were another gray himself, or at all events, a part of the turn-out; and was quite confused by the novelty and splendor of his situation.

And really it might have confused a less modest man than Tom to find himself sitting next to that coachman; for of all the swells that ever flourished a whip professionally, he might have been elected Emperor. He didn’t handle the gloves like another man, but put them on—even when he was standing on the pavement, quite detached from the coach—as if the four grays were, somehow or other, at the ends of the fingers. It was the same with his hat. He did things with his hat, which nothing but an unlimited knowledge of horses and the wildest freedom of the road could ever have made him perfect in. Valuable little parcels were brought to him with particular instructions, and he pitched them into his hat, and stuck it on again, as if the laws of gravity did not admit of such an event as its being knocked off or blown off, and nothing like an accident could befall it.

The guard, too! Seventy breezy miles a day were written in his very whiskers. His manners were a canter; his conversation a round trot. He was a fast coach upon a downhill turnpike road; he was all pace. A wagon couldn’t have moved slowly, with that guard and his key bugle on top of it.

london, turnpike road

These were all foreshadowings of London, Tom thought, as he sat upon the box and looked about it. Such a coachman, and such a guard, never could have existed between Salisbury and any other place. The coach was none of your steady-going yokel coaches, but a swaggering, rakish London coach; up all night, and lying by all day, and leading a wild, dissipated life. It cared no more for Salisbury than if it had been a hamlet.

It rattled noisily through the best streets, defied the Cathedral, took the worst corners sharpest, went cutting in everywhere, making everything get out of its way; and spun along the open country road, blowing a lively defiance out of its key bugle, as its last glad parting legacy.

It was a charming evening, mild and bright. And even with the weight upon his mind which arose out of the immensity and uncertainty of London, Tom could not resist the captivating sense of rapid motion through the pleasant air.

The four dappled steeds skimmed along, as if they liked it quite as well as Tom did; the bugle was in as high spirits as the horses themselves; the coachman chimed in sometimes with his voice; the wheels hummed cheerfully in unison; the brasswork on the harness was an orchestra of little bells; and thus they went clinking, jingling, rattling smoothly on; the whole concern, from the buckles of the leaders’ coupling reins to the handle of the hind boot, was one great instrument of music.

Yoho, past hedges, gates, and trees; past cottages and burns, and people going home from work. Yoho, past donkey chaises, drawn aside into the ditch, and empty carts with rampant horses, whipped up at a bound upon the little watercourse, and held by struggling carters close to the five-barred gate, until the coach had passed the narrow turning on the road. Yoho, by churches dropped down by themselves in quiet nooks, with rustic burial grounds about them, where the graves are green and daisies sleep—for it is evening—on the bosoms of the dead.

Yoho, past streams, in which the cattle cool their feet, and where the rushes grow; past paddock-fences, farms, and rickyards.; past last year’s stacks, cut, slice by slice, away, and showing, in the waning light, like ruined gables, odd and brown. Yoho, down the pebbly dip, and through the merry watersplash, and up at a canter to the level road again. Yoho! Yoho!

Yoho, among the gathering shades; making of no account the deep reflections of the trees, but scampering on through light and darkness, all the same, as if the light of London fifty miles away were quite enough to travel by, and some to spare. Yoho, beside the village green, where cricket players linger yet, and every little indentation made in the fresh grass by bat or wicket, ball or player’s foot, sheds out its perfume on the night. And then a sudden brief halt at the door of a strange inn—the “Bald-faced Stag”—an exchange of greetings, a new passenger, a change of teams.
Away with four fresh horses from the Bald-faced Stag, where the village idlers congregate about the door admiring; and the last team, with traces hanging loose, go roaming off toward the pond, until observed and shouted after by a dozen throats, while volunteering boys pursue them. Now, with a clattering of hoofs and striking out of fiery sparks, across the old stone bridge, and down again into the shadowy road, and through the open gate, and far away, away, into the world. Yoho!

See the bright moon! High up before we know it: making the earth reflect the objects on its breast like water. Hedges, trees, low cottages, church steeples, blighted stumps, and flourishing young slips, have all grown vain upon the sudden, and mean to contemplate their own fair images till morning.

The poplars yonder rustle, that their quivering leaves may see themselves upon the ground. Not so the oak; trembling does not become him; and he watches himself in his stout old burly steadfastness, without the motion of a twig. But, leaving oaks and poplars to their own devices, the stage moves swiftly on, while the moon keeps even pace with it, gliding over ditch and brake, upon the plowed land and the smooth, along the steep hillside and steeper wall, as if it were a phantom Hunter.

Clouds too! And a mist upon the hollow! Not a dull fog that hides it, but a light airy gauzelike mist, which in our eyes of modest admiration gives a new charm to the beauties it is spread before. Yoho! Why now we travel like the moon herself. Hiding this minute in a grove of trees; next minute in a patch of vapor; emerging now upon our clear broad course; withdrawing now, but always dashing on, our journey is a counterpart of hers. Yoho! A match against the moon!

The beauty of the night is hardly felt, when Day comes leaping up. Yoho! Two stages, and the country roads are almost changed to a continuous street. Yoho, past market gardens, rows of houses, villas, crescents, terraces, and squares; past wagons, coaches, carts; past early workmen, late stragglers, and sober carriers of loads; past brick and mortar in its every shape; and in among the rattling pavements, where a jaunty seat upon a coach is not so easy to preserve! Yoho, down countless turnings, and through countless mazy ways, until an old innyard is gained, and Tom Pinch, getting down, quite stunned and giddy, is in London!

—Adapted from “Martin Chuzzlewit.”

DEFINITIONS:—Swells, self-important personages. Guard, conductor. Legacy, something left by will. Boot, a place for baggage at either end of a stagecoach. Dip, slope. Dowager, an English title for widow.

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