The coach was a big vehicle, something after the style of a bus, the tilt and seats running parallel with the wheels. At the rear end, instead of a door, was a great tail-board, on the principle of a spring-cart. This was let down, and, after we scrambled over it into our seats, it was fixed half-mast, all the luggage piled thereon, and firmly roped into position. When this was completed, to any one on the ground only the heads of passengers were visible above the pile. Had the coach capsized we would have been in a nice fix, as the only means of exit was by crawling up through the back of the box-seat, which rose breast-high--an awkward feat.
Frank Hawden and I parted good friends. I leant out and waved my handkerchief, until a bend of the road hid him from sight.
It was noon, the thermometer registered 112 degrees in the shade, and the dust was simply awful. It rose in such thick grey clouds that often it was impossible to discern the team of five which pulled us, and there was danger of colliding with passing vehicles. We were very much crowded, there being sixteen passengers. When we settled down and got started, I discovered that I was the only representative of my sex, and that I was sandwiched between a perky youth in his teens and a Chinaman, while a black fellow and a man with a red beard sat opposite. A member of Parliament, farther up the seat, who had been patronizing New Year's Day races in a portion of his electorate, bawled loudly to his companion about "the doin's of the 'Ouse". In the perky youth I discovered a professional jockey; and when he found that I was a daughter of Dick Melvyn, the one-time great horse-breeder, he became very friendly. He gave me a couple of apples out of his tin box under the seat, from whence he also produced his whip for my inspection, and was good enough to say:
"If you can't stand the stink of that bloomin' chow, miss, just change seats with me. I've knocked about, so that I can easy stand some tough smells without much inconvenience."
I cautioned him to talk lower for fear of hurting the Chinaman's feelings: this amused him immensely. He laughed very much, and, leaning over to the red-bearded man, repeated the joke:
"I say, this young lady is afraid I might hurt the chow's feelin's. Golly! Fancy a bloomin' chow havin' any!"
The other man also thought it a great joke. I changed seats with the jockey, which put me beside a young gentleman of a literary turn of mind, with whom I had some conversation about books when the dust, rumble of wheels, and turf talk of my other neighbour permitted. They were all very kind to me--gave me fruit, procured me drinks of water, and took turns in nursing a precious hat, for which, on account of the crush, no safe place could be found among the other luggage.
Before we had gone half our journey the horses knocked up. All the men were forced to walk up hills for miles and miles in the dust and heat, which did not conduce to their amiability, and many and caustic were the remarks and jokes made upon the driver. He wore out two whips upon his team, until the labour and excessive heat sent the perspiration rolling in rivulets down his face, leaving muddy tracks in the thick coating of dust there. The jockey assisted with his loaded instrument of trade, some of the passengers thrashed with sticks, and all swore under their breath, while a passing bullock-driver used his whip with such deadly effect, that the sweat which poured off the poor beasts was mingled with blood.
"Why the deuce don't you have proper horses?" demanded the red-bearded passenger.
The man explained that a ministerial party had chartered his best team to go on a tour of inspection to a mine; a brother coachman had been "stuck up" for horses, and borrowed a couple from him, whereupon he was forced to do with animals which had been turned out for a spell, and the heat and overloading accounted for a good part of the contretemps. However, we managed to catch our train, but had to rush for it without waiting for refreshments. Nice articles we looked--our hair grey with dust, and our faces grimy. The men took charge of me as carefully as though I had been specially consigned to their care. One procured my ticket, another secured me a scat, while a third took charge of my luggage; and they were just as thoughtful when we had to change trains. Off we went. Grannie had packed me quite a large box full of dainties. I produced it, the men provided drinks, and we had quite a pleasant picnic, with all the windows down to catch a little air.
I love the rush and roar of the train, and wished on this occasion that it might go on and on for over, never giving me time to think or stop. But, alas, at 1.20 we pulled up at Yarnung, where a man came inquiring for a young lady named Melvyn. My fellow passengers collected my belongings, and I got out.
"Good-bye, gentlemen; thank you very much for your kindness."
"Good-bye, miss; you're welcome. Some of us might meet again yet. Ta-ta!"
A shriek, a jerk, and the great train rushed on into the night, leaving me there on the insignificant little platform, feeling how lonely and unhappy, no one knew or cared.
Mr M'Swat shouldered most of my luggage, I took the remainder, and we trudged off in the dark without a word on either side. The publican had given M'Swat the key, so that we might enter without disturbing the household, and he escorted me to a bedroom, where I tumbled into bed with expedition.