That evening, sometime after the advertised hour, Mr. Salter alighted at Boot Magna Halt. An hour earlier, at Taunton, he had left the express, and changed into a train such as he did not know existed outside the imagination of his Balkan correspondents; a single tram-like, one-class coach, which had pottered in a desultory fashion through a system of narrow, under-populated valleys. It had stopped eight times, and at every station there had been a bustle of passengers succeeded by a long, silent pause, before it started again; men had entered who, instead of slinking and shuffling and wriggling themselves into corners and decently screening themselves behind newspapers, as civilized people should when they travelled by train, had sat down squarely quite close to Mr. Salter, rested their hands on their knees, stared at him fixedly and uncritically and suddenly addressed him on the subject of the weather in barely intelligible accents; there had been very old, unhygienic men and women, such as you never saw in the Underground, who ought long ago to have been put away in some public institution; there had been women carrying a multitude of atrocious little baskets and parcels which they piled on the seats; one of them had put a hamper containing a live turkey under Mr. Salter’s feet. It had been a horrible journey.
At last, with relief, Mr. Salter alighted. He lifted his suitcase from among the sinister bundles on the rack and carried it to the center of the platform. There was no one else for Boot Magna. Mr. Salter had hoped to find William waiting to meet him, but the little station was empty except for a single porter who was leaning against the cab of the engine engaged in a kind of mute, telepathic converse with the driver, and a cretinous native youth who stood on the further side of the paling, leant against it and picked at the dry paint-bubbles with a toe-like thumb nail. When Mr. Salter looked at him, he glanced away and grinned wickedly at his boots.
The train observed its customary two minutes silence and then steamed slowly away. The porter shuffled across the line and disappeared into a hut labeled “Lamps.” Mr. Salter turned towards the palings; the youth was still leaning there, gazing; his eyes dropped; he grinned. Three times, shuttlecock fashion, they alternately glanced up and down till Mr. Salter with urban impatience tired of the flirtation and spoke up.
“I say.”
“Do you happen to know whether Mr. Boot has sent a car for me?”
“He has?”
“Noa. She’ve a taken of the harse.”
“I am afraid you misunderstand me.” Mr. Salter’s voice sounded curiously flutey and querulous in contrast to the deep tones of the moron. “I’m coming to visit Mr. Boot. I wondered if he had sent a motor-car for me.”
“He’ve a sent me.”
“With the car?”
“Noa. Motor-car’s over to Lady Caldicote’s taking of the harse. The bay,” he explained, since Mr. Salter seemed not to be satisfied with this answer. “Had to be the bay for because the mare’s sick… The old bay’s not up yet,” he added as though to make everything perfectly clear.
“Well how am I to get to the house?”
“Why, along of me and Bert Tyler.”
“Has this Mr. Tyler got a car then?”
“Noa. I tell e car’s over to Lady Caldicote’s along of Miss Priscilla and the bay… Had to be the bay,” he persisted, “because for the mare’s sick.”
“Yes, yes, I quite appreciate that.”
“And the old bay’s still swole up with grass. So you’m to ride along of we.”
“Ride?” A hideous vision rose before Mr. Salter.
“Ur. Along of me and Bert Tyler and the slag.”
“Ur. Mr. Roderick’s getting in the slag now for to slag Westerheys. Takes a tidy bit.”
Mr. Salter was suffused with relief. “You mean that you have some kind of vehicle outside full of slag?”
“Ur. Cheaper now than what it will be when Mr. Roderick wants it.”
Mr. Salter descended the steps into the yard where, out of sight from the platform, an open lorry was standing; an old man next to the driving seat touched his cap; the truck was loaded high with sacks; bonnet and back bore battered learner plates. The youth took Mr. Salter’s suitcase and heaved it up among the slag. “You’m to ride behind,” he said.
“If it’s all the same to you,” said Mr. Salter rather sharply, “I should prefer to sit in front.”
“It’s all the same to me, but I dursn’t let you. The police would have I.”
“Good gracious, why?”
“Bert Tyler have to ride along of me, for because of the testers.”
“Ur. Police don’t allow for me to drive except along of Bert Tyler. Bert Tyler he’ve a had a license twenty year. There weren’t no testers for Bert Tyler. But police they took and tested I over to Taunton.”
“And you failed?”
A great grin spread over the young man’s face. “I busted tester’s leg for he,” he said proudly. “Ran he bang into the wall, going a fair lick.”
“Oh dear. Wouldn’t it be better for your friend Tyler to drive us?”
“Noa. He can’t see for to drive, Bert Tyler can’t. Don’t e be afeared. I can see right. It be the corners do for I.”
“And are there many corners between here and the house?”
“Tidy few.”
Mr. Salter, who had had his foot on the hub of the wheel preparatory to mounting, now drew back. His nerve, never strong, had been severely tried that afternoon; now it failed him.
“I’ll walk,” he said. “How far is it?”
“Well, it’s all according as you know the way. We do call it three mile over the fields. It’s a tidy step by the road.”
“Perhaps you’ll be good enough to show me the field path.”
“Tain’t exactly what you could call a path. E just keeps straight.”
“Well I daresay I shall find it. If… if by any chance you get to the house before me will you tell Mr. Boot that I wanted a little exercise after the journey?”
The learner-driver looked at Mr. Salter with undisguised contempt. “I’ll tell e as you was afeared to ride along of me and Bert Tyler,” he said.
Mr. Salter stepped back into the station porch to avoid the dust as the lorry drove away. It was as well that he did so, for, as he mounted the incline, the driver mistakenly changed into reverse and the machine charged precipitately back in its tracks, and came noisily to rest against the wall where Mr. Salter had been standing. The second attempt was more successful and it reached the lane with no worse damage than a mudguard crushed against the near gatepost.
Then with rapid, uncertain steps Mr. Salter set out on his walk to the house.