Friday, September 7, 2012

The Stage-Driver

Naples (N.Y.) Record
January 11, 1873

    There is a magic in the calling of a stage-driver. Everybody knows and aspires to know the stage-driver; everybody is known by, and is proud to be known by, the stage-driver.  The little boys remember it a month. if the stage-driver speaks to them. There is a particular satisfaction to be able to distinguish among drivers, and say it was Winkle, or it was Nason, or it was Mitchell.
    The stage-driver is prince of a peculiar realm; and that realm consists of the yellow coach he drives and the high seat he occupies, and his four mettlesome horses, and forty miles of country road, and the heart of several principal roads, not to speak of ten thousand little matters of interest and pleasure, business and profit, news and gossip, with which he is connected. Hence he, like a prince, is held in reverence of the populace.
    Of all the people on the earth, he is the one who rolls by on a gilded coach; he is the one who rides through his immense estate with the most lordly and consequential air, and all the rest of us seem to be but poor tenants and gaping boors. It is something to speak to a stage-driver. It is a great thing to be recommended by the stage-driver. To be perchance known by one who knows nobody, is nothing. To be known, to be pointed out, to have your name whispered in a bystander's ear, bygone who knows everybody, affects you as if Omniscience were speaking of were speaking about you.  The stage-driver differs from a steamboat captain, in that the latter is not seen to be so immediately connected with his craft as the former. We meat the captain at the breakfast-table; he is nobody; he is no more than we; we can eat as well as he can. But who dare touch the stage-driver's ribbons? Who dare swing his whip?
    How rapidly and securely he drives down one hill and up the next - and that with fifteen passengers and half a ton of baggage! Then how majestically he rounds to, at the door of the tavern! What delicate pomp in the movement of the four handsome horses! In what style the cloud of dust, that has served as an outrider all the way, passes off when the coach stops! How the villagers - the blacksmith, the shoemaker, the thoughtful politician, and the boozy loafers that fill the stoop - grin and stare, and make their criticism!
    How he flings the reins and the horses to the stable-boy, who presently returns with a splendid relay! How he accepts those from the boy with that sort of air with which a king might be supposed to take his armor from the hands of a valet! There are his gloves, withal; he always wears gloves, as  Saratoga fine lady, and would no sooner touch anything without gloves than such a lady would a glass of Congress water.
    There is, moreover, a mystery attached to the stage-driver - a mystery deeper than the question why the carcasses of elephants are found imbedded in the ice-mountains of the Arctics - even this. Why- the stage-driver is not frozen to death in our winters? His punctuality has something preternatural in it. How, in the coldest weather, in the severest storm, in fogs, in sleet, in hail, in lightning, in mud, when nobody else is abroad, the stage-driver appears rounding the corner, just as regular as just as quiet as the old clock in the kitchen!

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