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Of all the lions that ever existed, painted or otherwise, white lions, blue lions, black, green, or red lions, surely never was there one like the "White Lion" at Tenterden. For he was such a remarkably placid lion, although precariously balanced upon the extreme point of one claw, and he stared down at all and sundry with such round, inquiring eyes, as much as to say:
"Who are you? What's your father? Where are you going?" Indeed, so very inquisitive was he that his very tail had writhed itself into a note of interrogation, and, like a certain historical personage, was forever asking a question. To-night he had singled out Barnabas from the throng, and was positively bombarding him with questions, as:
"Dark or fair? Tall or short? Does she love you? Will she remember you? Will she kiss you--next time? Aha! will she, will she?"
But here, feeling a touch upon his arm, Barnabas turned to find Peterby at his elbow, and thus once more became aware of the hubbub about him.
"Box seat, sir; next to the coachman!" says Peterby above the din, for voices are shouting, horses snorting and stamping, ostlers are hurrying here, running there, and swearing everywhere; waiters and serving-maids are dodging to and fro, and all is hurry and bustle, for the night mail is on the eve of departure for London.
Throned above all this clamor, calmly aloof, yet withal watchful of eye, sits the coachman, beshawled to the ears of him, hatted to the eyes of him, and in a wondrous coat of many capes; a ponderous man, hoarse of voice and mottled of face, who, having swallowed his hot rum and water in three leisurely gulps, tosses down the glass to the waiting pot-boy (and very nearly hits a fussy little gentleman in a green spencer, who carries a hat-box in one hand and a bulging valise in the other, and who ducks indignantly, but just in time), sighs, shakes his head, and proceeds to rewind the shawl about his neck and chin, and to belt himself into his seat, throwing an occasional encouraging curse to the perspiring ostlers below.
"Coachman!" cries the fussy gentleman, "hi, coachman!"
"The 'Markis' seems a bit fresh to-night, Sam," says Mottle-face affably to one of the ostlers.
"Fresh!" exclaims that worthy as the 'Marquis' rears again, "fresh, I believe you--burn 'is bones!"
"Driver!" shouts the fussy gentleman, "driver!"
"Why then, bear 'im up werry short, Sam."
"Driver!" roars the fussy little gentleman, "driver! coachman! oh, driver!"
"Vell, sir, that's me?" says Mottle-face, condescending to become aware of him at last.
"Give me a hand up with my valise--d'ye hear?"
"Walise, sir? No, sir, can't be done, sir. In the boot, sir; guard, sir."
"Boot!" cries the fussy gentleman indignantly. "I'll never trust my property in the boot!"
"Then v'y not leave it be'ind, sir, and stay vith it, or--"
"Nonsense!" exclaimed the little man, growing angry. "I tell you this is valuable property. D'ye know who I am?"
"Or ye might climb into the boot along vith it, sir--"
"Do you know who I am?"
"All aboard--all aboard for London!" roared the guard, coming up at the instant.
"Valter!" cried Mottle-face.
"Ay, ay, Joe?"
"Gentleman's walise for the boot, Valter; and sharp's the vord!"
"Ay, ay, Joe!" and, as he spoke, the guard caught the valise from the protesting small gentleman with one hand, and the hat-box with the other, and, forthwith, vanished. Hereupon the fussy gentleman, redder of face, and more angry than ever, clambered to the roof, still loudly protesting; all of which seemed entirely lost upon Mottle-face, who, taking up the reins and settling his feet against the dash-board, winked a solemn, owl-like eye at Barnabas sitting beside him, and carolled a song in a husky voice, frequently interrupting himself to admonish the ostlers, in this wise:--
"She vore no 'at upon 'er 'ead, Nor a cap, nor a--"
"Bear the 'Markis' up werry short, Sam, vill 'ee?
"--dandy bonnet, But 'er 'air it 'ung all down 'er back, Like a--"
"Easy--easy now! Hold on to them leaders, Dick!
"--bunch of carrots upon it. Ven she cried 'sprats' in Vestminister, Oh! sich a sveet loud woice, sir, You could 'ear 'er all up Parlyment Street, And as far as Charing Cross, sir."
"All aboard, all aboard for London!" roars the guard, and roaring, swings himself up into the boot.
"All right be'ind?" cries Mottle-face.
"All right, Joe!" sings the guard.
"Then--leggo, there!" cries Mottle-face.
Back spring the ostlers, forward leap the four quivering horses, their straining hoofs beating out showers of sparks from the cobbles; the coach lurches forward and is off, amid a waving of hats and pocket-handkerchiefs, and Barnabas, casting a farewell glance around, is immediately fixed by the gaze of the "White Lion," as inquiring of eye and interrogatory of tail as ever.
"Tall or short? Dark or fair? Will she kiss you--next time--will she, will she? Will she even be glad to see you again--will she, now will she?"
Whereupon Barnabas must needs become profoundly thoughtful all at once.
"Now--I wonder?" said he to himself.
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