Charles Kingsley, Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet: Ch. 12

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Chapter XII: Cambridge

When I started again next morning, I found myself so stiff and footsore, that I could hardly put one leg before the other, much less walk upright. I was really quite in despair, before the end of the first mile; for I had no money to pay for a lift on the coach, and I knew, besides, that they would not be passing that way for several hours to come. So, with aching back and knees, I made shift to limp along, bent almost double, and ended by sitting down for a couple of hours, and looking about me, in a country which would have seemed dreary enough, I suppose, to any one but a freshly-liberated captive, such as I was. At last I got up and limped on, stiffer than ever from my rest, when a gig drove past me towards Cambridge, drawn by a stout cob, and driven by a tall, fat, jolly-looking farmer, who stared at me as he passed, went on, looked back, slackened his pace, looked back again, and at last came to a dead stop, and hailed me in a broad nasal dialect—

"Whor be ganging, then, boh?"

"To Cambridge."

"Thew'st na git there that gate. Be'est thee honest man?"

"I hope so," said I, somewhat indignantly.

"What's trade?"

"A tailor," I said.

"Tailor!—guide us! Tailor a-tramp? Barn't accoostomed to tramp, then?"

"I never was out of London before," said I, meekly—for I was too worn-out to be cross—lengthy and impertinent as this cross-examination seemed.

"Oi'll gie thee lift; dee yow joomp in. Gae on, powney! Tailor, then! Oh! ah! tailor, saith he."

I obeyed most thankfully, and sat crouched together, looking up out of the corner of my eyes at the huge tower of broad-cloth by my side, and comparing the two red shoulders of mutton which held the reins, with my own wasted, white, woman-like fingers.

I found the old gentleman most inquisitive. He drew out of me all my story—questioned me about the way "Lunnon folks" lived, and whether they got ony shooting or "pattening"—whereby I found he meant skating—and broke in, every now and then, with ejaculations of childish wonder, and clumsy sympathy, on my accounts of London labour and London misery.

"Oh, father, father!—I wonders they bears it. Us'n in the fens wouldn't stand that likes. They'd roit, and roit, and roit, and tak' oot the dook-gunes to un—they would, as they did five-and-twenty year agone. Never to goo ayond the housen!—never to go ayond the housen! Kill me in a three months, that would—bor', then!"

"Are you a farmer?" I asked, at last, thinking that my turn for questioning was come.

"I bean't varmer; I be yooman born. Never paid rent in moy life, nor never wool. I farms my own land, and my vathers avore me, this ever so mony hoondred year. I've got the swoord of 'em to home, and the helmet that they fut with into the wars, then when they chopped off the king's head—what was the name of um?"

"Charles the First?"