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- The Companions of Jehu - 100/133 -
When the rider reached this bifurcation, he was about to take the road leading to Mâcon, when a voice, apparently coming from beneath an upset cart, implored his pity. The rider called to the postilion to see what the matter was.
A poor market-man was pinned down under a load of vegetables. He had evidently attempted to hold up the cart just as the wheel, sinking into the ditch, overbalanced the vehicle. The cart had fallen on him, but fortunately, he said, he thought no limbs were broken, and all he wanted was to get the cart righted, and then he could recover his legs.
The rider was compassionate to his fellow being, for he not only allowed the postilion to stop and help the market-man, but he himself dismounted, and with a vigor one would hardly have expected from so slight a man, he assisted the postilion not only to right the cart, but to replace it on the roadbed. After which he offered to help the man to rise; but the latter had said truly; he really was safe and sound, and if there were a slight shaking of the legs, it only served to prove the truth of the proverb that God takes care of drunkards. The man was profuse in his thanks, and took his horse by the bridle, as much, it was evident, to hold himself steady as to lead the animal.
The riders remounted their homes, put them to a gallop, and soon disappeared round a bend which the road makes a short distance before it reaches the woods of Monnet.
They had scarcely disappeared when a notable change took place in the demeanor of our market-man. He stopped his horse, straightened up, put the mouthpiece of a tiny trumpet to his lips, and blew three times. A species of groom emerged from the woods which line the road, leading a gentleman's horse by the bridle. The market-man rapidly removed his blouse, discarded his linen trousers, and appeared in vest and breeches of buckskin, and top boots. He searched in his cart, drew forth a package which he opened, shook out a green hunting coat with gold braidings, put it on, and over it a dark-brown overcoat; took from the servant's hands a hat which the latter presented him, and which harmonized with his elegant costume, made the man screw his spurs to his boots, and sprang upon his horse with the lightness and skill of an experienced horseman.
"To-night at seven," he said to the groom, "be on the road between Saint-Just and Ceyzeriat. You will meet Morgan. Tell him that he _whom he knows of_ has gone to Mâcon, but that I shall be there before him."
Then, without troubling himself about his cart and vegetables, which he left in his servant's charge, the ex-marketman, who was none other than our old acquaintance Montbar, turned his horse's head toward the Monnet woods, and set out at a gallop. His mount was not a miserable post hack, like that on which Roland was riding. On the contrary, it was a blooded horse, so that Montbar easily overtook the two riders, and passed them on the road between the woods of Monnet and Polliat. The horse, except for a short stop at Saint-Cyr-sur-Menthon, did the twenty-eight or thirty miles between Bourg and Mâcon, without resting, in three hours.
Arrived at Mâcon, Montbar dismounted at the Hôtel de la Poste, the only one which at that time was fitted to receive guests of distinction. For the rest, from the manner in which Montbar was received it was evident that the host was dealing with an old acquaintance.
"Ah! is it you, Monsieur de Jayat?" said the host. "We were wondering yesterday what had become of you. It's more than a month since we've seen you in these parts."
"Do you think it's as long as that, friend?" said the young man, affecting to drop his r's after the fashion of the day. "Yes, on my honor, that's so! I've been with friends, the Trefforts and the Hautecourts. You know those gentlemen by name, don't you?"
"By name, and in person."
"We hunted to hounds. They're finely equipped, word of honor! Can I breakfast here this morning?"
"Then serve me a chicken, a bottle of Bordeaux, two cutlets, fruit--any trifle will go."
"At once. Shall it be served in your room, or in the common room?"
"In the common room, it's more amusing; only give me a table to myself. Don't forget my horse. He is a fine beast, and I love him better than I do certain Christians, word of honor!"
The landlord gave his orders. Montbar stood before the fire, his coat-tails drawn aside, warming his calves.
"So you still keep to the posting business?" he said to the landlord, as if desirous of keeping up the conversation.
"I should think so!"
"Then you relay the diligences?"
"Not the diligences, but the mail-coaches."
"Ah! tell me--I want to go to Chambéry some of these days--how many places are there in the mail-coach?"
"Three; two inside, and one out with the courier."
"Do I stand any chance of finding a vacant seat?"
"It may happen; but the safest way is to hire your own conveyance."
"Can't I engage a place beforehand?"
"No; for don't you see, Monsieur de Jayat, that if travellers take places from Paris to Lyons, they have the first right."
"See, the aristocrats!" said Montbar, laughing. "Apropos of aristocrats, there is one behind me posting here. I passed him about a mile the other side of Polliat. I thought his hack a little wind-broken."
"Oh!" exclaimed the landlord, "that's not astonishing; my brothers in the business have a poor lot of horses."
"Why, there's our man!" continued Montbar; "I thought I had more of a lead of him."
Roland was, in fact, just passing the windows at a gallop.
"Do you still want chamber No. 1, Monsieur de Jayat?" asked the landlord.
"Why do you ask?"
"Because it is the best one, and if you don't take it, I shall give it to that man, provided he wants to make any stay."
"Oh! don't bother about me; I shan't know till later in the day whether I go or stay. If the new-comer means to remain give him No. l. I will content myself with No. 2."
"The gentleman is served," said the waiter, looking through the door which led from the kitchen to the common room.
Montbar nodded and accepted the invitation. He entered the common room just as Roland came into the kitchen. The dinner was on the table. Montbar changed his plate and sat down with his back to the door. The precaution was useless. Roland did not enter the common room, and Montbar breakfasted without interruption. When dessert was over, however, the host himself brought in his coffee. Montbar understood that the good man was in talkative humor; a fortunate circumstance, for there were certain things he was anxious to hear about.
"Well," said Montbar, "what became of our man? Did he only change horses?"
"No, no, no," said the landlord; "as you said, he's an aristocrat. He ordered breakfast in his own room."
"His room or my room?" asked Montbar; "for I'm certain you put him in that famous No. 1."
"Confound it! Monsieur de Jayat, it's your own fault. You told me I could do as I liked."
"And you took me at my word; that was right. I shall be satisfied with No. 2."
"You'll be very uncomfortable. It's only separated from No. 1 by a partition, and you can hear everything that happens from one room to the other."
"Nonsense, my dear man, do you think I've come here to do improper things, or sing seditious songs, that you are afraid the stranger should hear or see what I do?"
"Oh! that's not it."
"What is it then?"
"I'm not afraid you'll disturb others. I'm afraid they'll disturb you."
"So your new guest is a roisterer?"
"No; he looks to me like an officer."
"What makes you think so?"
"His manner, in the first place. Then he inquired what regiment was in garrison at Mâcon; and when I told him it was the 7th mounted Chasseurs, he said: 'Good! the colonel is a friend of mine. Can a waiter take him my card and ask him to breakfast with me?'"
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