'I can't imagine,' replied Mr. Winkle. His horse was drifting up the street in the most mysterious manner — side first, with his head towards one side of the way, and his tail towards the other.
Mr. Pickwick had no leisure to observe either this or any other particular, the whole of his faculties being concentrated in the management of the animal attached to the chaise, who displayed various peculiarities, highly interesting to a bystander, but by no means equally amusing to any one seated behind him. Besides constantly jerking his head up, in a very unpleasant and uncomfortable manner, and tugging at the reins to an extent which rendered it a matter of great difficulty for Mr. Pickwick to hold them, he had a singular propensity for darting suddenly every now and then to the side of the road, then stopping short, and then rushing forward for some minutes, at a speed which it was wholly impossible to control.
'What CAN he mean by this?' said Mr. Snodgrass, when the horse had executed this manoeuvre for the twentieth time.
'I don't know,' replied Mr. Tupman; 'it looks very like shying, don't it?' Mr. Snodgrass was about to reply, when he was interrupted by a shout from Mr. Pickwick.
'Woo!' said that gentleman; 'I have dropped my whip.' 'Winkle,' said Mr. Snodgrass, as the equestrian came trotting up on the tall horse, with his hat over his ears, and shaking all over, as if he would shake to pieces, with the violence of the exercise, 'pick up the whip, there's a good fellow.' Mr. Winkle pulled at the bridle of the tall horse till he was black in the face; and having at length succeeded in stopping him, dismounted, handed the whip to Mr. Pickwick, and grasping the reins, prepared to remount.
Now whether the tall horse, in the natural playfulness of his disposition, was desirous of having a little innocent recreation with Mr. Winkle, or whether it occurred to him that he could perform the journey as much to his own satisfaction without a rider as with one, are points upon which, of course, we can arrive at no definite and distinct conclusion. By whatever motives the animal was actuated, certain it is that Mr. Winkle had no sooner touched the reins, than he slipped them over his head, and darted backwards to their full length.
'Poor fellow,' said Mr. Winkle soothingly — 'poor fellow — good old horse.' The 'poor fellow' was proof against flattery; the more Mr. Winkle tried to get nearer him, the more he sidled away; and, notwithstanding all kinds of coaxing and wheedling, there were Mr. Winkle and the horse going round and round each other for ten minutes, at the end of which time each was at precisely the same distance from the other as when they first commenced — an unsatisfactory sort of thing under any circumstances, but particularly so in a lonely road, where no assistance can be procured.
'What am I to do?' shouted Mr. Winkle, after the dodging had been prolonged for a considerable time. 'What am I to do? I can't get on him.'
'You had better lead him till we come to a turnpike,' replied Mr. Pickwick from the chaise.
'But he won't come!' roared Mr. Winkle. 'Do come and hold him.'
Mr. Pickwick was the very personation of kindness and humanity: he threw the reins on the horse's back, and having descended from his seat, carefully drew the chaise into the hedge, lest anything should come along the road, and stepped back to the assistance of his distressed companion, leaving Mr. Tupman and Mr. Snodgrass in the vehicle.
The horse no sooner beheld Mr. Pickwick advancing towards him with the chaise whip in his hand, than he exchanged the rotary motion in which he had previously indulged, for a retrograde movement of so very determined a character, that it at once drew Mr. Winkle, who was still at the end of the bridle, at a rather quicker rate than fast walking, in the direction from which they had just come. Mr. Pickwick ran to his assistance, but the faster Mr. Pickwick ran forward, the faster the horse ran backward. There was a great scraping of feet, and kicking up of the dust; and at last Mr. Winkle, his arms being nearly pulled out of their sockets, fairly let go his hold. The horse paused, stared, shook his head, turned round, and quietly trotted home to Rochester, leaving Mr. Winkle and Mr. Pickwick gazing on each other with countenances of blank dismay. A rattling noise at a little distance attracted their attention. They looked up.
'Bless my soul!' exclaimed the agonised Mr. Pickwick; 'there's the other horse running away!'
It was but too true. The animal was startled by the noise, and the reins were on his back. The results may be guessed. He tore off with the four-wheeled chaise behind him, and Mr. Tupman and Mr. Snodgrass in the four-wheeled chaise. The heat was a short one. Mr. Tupman threw himself into the hedge, Mr. Snodgrass followed his example, the horse dashed the four — wheeled chaise against a wooden bridge, separated the wheels from the body, and the bin from the perch; and finally stood stock still to gaze upon the ruin he had made.
The first care of the two unspilt friends was to extricate their unfortunate companions from their bed of quickset — a process which gave them the unspeakable satisfaction of discovering that they had sustained no injury, beyond sundry rents in their garments, and various lacerations from the brambles. The next thing to be done was to unharness the horse. This complicated process having been effected, the party walked slowly forward, leading the horse among them, and abandoning the chaise to its fate.
An hour's walk brought the travellers to a little road-side public-house, with two elm-trees, a horse trough, and a signpost, in front; one or two deformed hay-ricks behind, a kitchen garden at the side, and rotten sheds and mouldering outhouses jumbled in strange confusion all about it. A red-headed man was working in the garden; and to him Mr. Pickwick called lustily, 'Hollo there!'
The red-headed man raised his body, shaded his eyes with his hand, and stared, long and coolly, at Mr. Pickwick and his companions.
'Hollo there!' repeated Mr. Pickwick.
'Hollo!' was the red-headed man's reply.
'How far is it to Dingley Dell?'
'Better er seven mile.'
'Is it a good road?'
'No, 'tain't.' Having uttered this brief reply, and apparently satisfied himself with another scrutiny, the red-headed man resumed his work. 'We want to put this horse up here,' said Mr. Pickwick; 'I suppose we can, can't we?' 'Want to put that ere horse up, do ee?' repeated the red-headed man, leaning on his spade.
'Of course,' replied Mr. Pickwick, who had by this time advanced, horse in hand, to the garden rails.
'Missus' — roared the man with the red head, emerging from the garden, and looking very hard at the horse — 'missus!'
A tall, bony woman — straight all the way down — in a coarse, blue pelisse, with the waist an inch or two below her arm-pits, responded to the call.
'Can we put this horse up here, my good woman?' said Mr. Tupman, advancing, and speaking in his most seductive tones. The woman looked very hard at the whole party; and the red-headed man whispered something in her ear.
'No,' replied the woman, after a little consideration, 'I'm afeerd on it.'
'Afraid!' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick, 'what's the woman afraid of?'
'It got us in trouble last time,' said the woman, turning into the house; 'I woan't have nothin' to say to 'un.'