Chapter 39

In which another old friend encounters Smike, very opportunely and to some purpose

THE NIGHT, fraught with so much bitterness to one poor soul, had given place to a bright and cloudless summer morning, when a north-country mail-coach traversed, with cheerful noise, the yet silent streets of Islington, and, giving brisk note of its approach with the lively winding of the guard's horn, clattered onward to its halting-place hard by the Post Office.

The only outside passenger was a burly, honest-looking countryman on the box, who, with his eyes fixed upon the dome of St Paul's Cathedral, appeared so wrapt in admiring wonder, as to be quite insensible to all the bustle of getting out the bags and parcels, until one of the coach windows being let sharply down, he looked round, and encountered a pretty female face which was just then thrust out.

`See there, lass!' bawled the countryman, pointing towards the object of his admiration. `There be Paul's Church. Ecod, he be a soizable 'un, he be.'

`Goodness, John! I shouldn't have thought it could have been half the size. What a monster!'

`Monsther! -- Ye're aboot right there, I reckon, Mrs Browdie,' said the countryman good-humouredly, as he came slowly down in his huge top-coat; `and wa'at dost thee tak you place to be noo -- thot 'un owor the wa'? Ye'd never coom near it 'gin you thried for twolve moonths. It's na' but a Poast Office! Ho! ho! They need to charge for dooble latthers. A Poast Office! Wa'at dost thee think o' thot? Ecod, if thot's on'y a Poast Office, I'd loike to see where the Lord Mayor o' Lunnun lives.'

So saying, John Browdie -- for he it was -- opened the coach-door, and tapping Mrs Browdie, late Miss Price, on the cheek as he looked in, burst into a boisterous fit of laughter.

`Weel!' said John. `Dang my bootuns if she bean't asleep agean!'

`She's been asleep all night, and was, all yesterday, except for a minute or two now and then,' replied John Browdie's choice, `and I was very sorry when she woke, for she has been so cross!'

The subject of these remarks was a slumbering figure, so muffled in shawl and cloak, that it would have been matter of impossibility to guess at its sex but for a brown beaver bonnet and green veil which ornamented the head, and which, having been crushed and flattened, for two hundred and fifty miles, in that particular angle of the vehicle from which the lady's snores now proceeded, presented an appearance sufficiently ludicrous to have moved less risible muscles than those of John Browdie's ruddy face.

`Hollo!' cried John, twitching one end of the dragged veil. `Coom, wakken oop, will 'ee?'

After several burrowings into the old corner, and many exclamations of impatience and fatigue, the figure struggled into a sitting posture; and there, under a mass of crumpled beaver, and surrounded by a semicircle of blue curl-papers, were the delicate features of Miss Fanny Squeers.

`Oh, 'Tilda!' cried Miss Squeers, `how you have been kicking of me through this blessed night!'

`Well, I do like that,' replied her friend, laughing, `when you have had nearly the whole coach to yourself.'

`Don't deny it, 'Tilda,' said Miss Squeers, impressively, `because you have, and it's no use to go attempting to say you haven't. You mightn't have known it in your sleep, 'Tilda, but I haven't closed my eyes for a single wink, and so I think I am to be believed.'

With which reply, Miss Squeers adjusted the bonnet and veil, which nothing but supernatural interference and an utter suspension of nature's laws could have reduced to any shape or form; and evidently flattering herself that it looked uncommonly neat, brushed off the sandwich-crumbs and bits of biscuit which had accumulated in her lap, and availing herself of John Browdie's proffered arm, descended from the coach.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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