Having notified to my good friend Sir Roger that I should set out for London the next day, his horses were ready at the appointed hour in the evening; and attended by one of his grooms, I arrived at the country town at twilight, in order to be ready for the stage-coach the day following. As soon as we arrived at the inn, the servant, who waited upon me, enquired of the chamberlain in my hearing what company he had for the coach? The fellow answered, Mrs. Betty Arable, the great fortune, and the widow her mother; a recruiting officer (who took a place because they were to go); young Squire Quickset her cousin (that her mother wished her to be married to); Ephraim the Quaker, her guardian; and a gentleman that had studied himself dumb, from Sir Roger de Coverley’s. I observed by what he said of myself, that according to his office he dealt much in intelligence; and doubted not but there was some foundation for his reports for the rest of the company, as well as for the whimsical account he gave of me. The next morning at day-break we were all called; and I, who knew my own natural shyness, and endeavour to be as little liable to be disputed with as possible, dressed immediately, that I might make no one wait. The first preparation for our setting-out was, that the captain’s half-pike was placed near the coachman, and a drum behind the coach. In the mean time the drummer, the captain’s equipage, was very loud, that none of the captain’s things should be placed so as to be spoiled; upon which his cloke-bag was fixed in the seat of the coach: and the captain himself, according to a frequent, tho’ invidious behaviour of military men, ordered his man to look sharp, that none but one of the ladies should have the place he had taken fronting to the coach-box.
We were in some little time fixed in our seats, and sat with that dislike which people not too good-natured usually conceive of each other at first sight. The coach jumbled us insensibly into some sort of familiarity; and we had not moved above two miles, when the widow asked the captain what success he had in his recruiting? The officer, with a frankness he believed very graceful, told her, “That indeed he had but very little luck, and had suffered much by desertion, therefore should be glad to end his warfare in the service of her or her fair daughter. In a word,” continued he, “I am a soldier, and to be plain is my character: you see me, Madam, young, sound, and impudent; take me yourself, widow, or give me to her, I will be wholly at your disposal. I am a soldier of fortune, ha!” This was followed by a vain laugh of his own, and a deep silence of all the rest of the company. I had nothing left for it but to fall fast asleep, which I did with all speed. “Come,” said he, “resolve upon it, we will make a wedding at the next town. We will wake this pleasant companion who has fallen asleep, to be the brideman” (and giving the quaker a clap on the knee) he concluded “This sly saint, who I’ll warrant, understands what’s what as well as you or I, widow, shall give the bride as father.” The quaker, who happened to be a man of smartness, answered, “Friend, I take it in good part that thou hast given me the authority of a father over this comely and virtuous child; and I must assure thee, that if I have the giving her, I shall not bestow her on thee. Thy mirth, friend, savoureth of folly: Thou art a person of a light mind; thy drum is a type of thee, it soundeth because it is empty. Verily, it is not from thy fulness, but thy emptiness that thou hast spoken this day. Friend, friend, we have hired this coach in partnership with thee, to carry us to the great city; we cannot go any other way. This worthy mother must hear thee if thou wilt needs utter thy follies; we cannot help it, friend, I say: if thou wilt, we must hear thee; but if thou wert a man of understanding, thou wouldst not take advantage of thy courageous countenance to abash us children of peace. Thou art, thou sayest, a soldier; give quarter to us, who cannot resist thee. Why didst thou fleer at our friend, who feigned himself asleep? He said nothing; but how dost thou know what he containeth? If thou speakest improper things in the hearing of this virtuous young virgin, consider it as an outrage against a distressed person that cannot get from thee: ‘To speak indiscreetly what we are obliged to hear, by being hasped up with thee in this publick vehicle, is in some degree assaulting on the high road.”