It is unnecessary to speak of the rival. Pierrotin possessed the sympathies of his region; besides, he is the only one of the two who appears in this veracious narrative. Let it suffice you to know that the two coach proprietors lived under a good understanding, rivalled each other loyally, and obtained customers by honorable proceedings. In Paris they used, for economy’s sake, the same yard, hotel, and stable, the same coach-house, office, and clerk. This detail is alone sufficient to show that Pierrotin and his competitor were, as the popular saying is, “good dough.” The hotel at which they put up in Paris, at the corner of the rue d’Enghien, is still there, and is called the “Lion d’Argent.” The proprietor of the establishment, which from time immemorial had lodged coachmen and coaches, drove himself for the great company of Daumartin, which was so firmly established that its neighbors, the Touchards, whose place of business was directly opposite, never dreamed of starting a rival coach on the Daumartin line.
Though the departures for Isle-Adam professed to take place at a fixed hour, Pierrotin and his co-rival practised an indulgence in that respect which won for them the grateful affection of the country-people, and also violent remonstrances on the part of strangers accustomed to the regularity of the great lines of public conveyances. But the two conductors of these vehicles, which were half diligence, half coucou, were invariably defended by their regular customers. The afternoon departure at four o’clock usually lagged on till half-past, while that of the morning, fixed for eight o’clock, was seldom known to take place before nine. In this respect, however, the system was elastic. In summer, that golden period for the coaching business, the rule of departure, rigorous toward strangers, was often relaxed for country customers. This method not infrequently enabled Pierrotin to pocket two fares for one place, if a countryman came early and wanted a seat already booked and paid for by some “bird of passage” who was, unluckily for himself, a little late. Such elasticity will certainly not commend itself to purists in morality; but Pierrotin and his colleague justified it on the varied grounds of “hard times,” of their losses during the winter months, of the necessity of soon getting better coaches, and of the duty of keeping exactly to the rules written on the tariff, copies of which were, however, never shown, unless some chance traveller was obstinate enough to demand it.
Pierrotin, a man about forty years of age, was already the father of a family. Released from the cavalry on the great disbandment of 1815, the worthy fellow had succeeded his father, who for many years had driven a coucou of capricious flight between Paris and Isle-Adam. Having married the daughter of a small inn-keeper, he enlarged his business, made it a regular service, and became noted for his intelligence and a certain military precision. Active and decided in his ways, Pierrotin (the name seems to have been a sobriquet) contrived to give, by the vivacity of his countenance, an expression of sly shrewdness to his ruddy and weather-stained visage which suggested wit. He was not without that facility of speech which is acquired chiefly through “seeing life” and other countries. His voice, by dint of talking to his horses and shouting “Gare!” was rough; but he managed to tone it down with the bourgeois. His clothing, like that of all coachmen of the second class, consisted of stout boots, heavy with nails, made at Isle-Adam, trousers of bottle-green velveteen, waistcoat of the same, over which he wore, while exercising his functions, a blue blouse, ornamented on the collar, shoulder-straps and cuffs, with many-colored embroidery. A cap with a visor covered his head. His military career had left in Pierrotin’s manners and customs a great respect for all social superiority, and a habit of obedience to persons of the upper classes; and though he never willingly mingled with the lesser bourgeoisie, he always respected women in whatever station of life they belonged. Nevertheless, by dint of “trundling the world,”—one of his own expressions—he had come to look upon those he conveyed as so many walking parcels, who required less care than the inanimate ones—the essential object of a coaching business.
Warned by the general movement which, since the Peace, was revolutionizing his calling, Pierrotin would not allow himself to be outdone by the progress of new lights. Since the beginning of the summer season he had talked much of a certain large coach, ordered from Farry, Breilmann, and Company, the best makers of diligences—a purchase necessitated by an increasing influx of travellers. Pierrotin’s present establishment consisted of two vehicles. One, which served in winter, and the only one he reported to the tax-gatherer, was the coucou which he inherited from his father. The rounded flanks of this vehicle allowed him to put six travellers on two seats, of metallic hardness in spite of the yellow Utrecht velvet with which they were covered. These seats were separated by a wooden bar inserted in the sides of the carriage at the height of the travellers’ shoulders, which could be placed or removed at will. This bar, specially covered with velvet (Pierrotin called it “a back”), was the despair of the passengers, from the great difficulty they found in placing and removing it. If the “back” was difficult and even painful to handle, that was nothing to the suffering caused to the omoplates when the bar was in place. But when it was left to lie loose across the coach, it made both ingress and egress extremely perilous, especially to women.
Though each seat of this vehicle, with rounded sides like those of a pregnant woman, could rightfully carry only three passengers, it was not uncommon to see eight persons on the two seats jammed together like herrings in a barrel. Pierrotin declared that the travellers were far more comfortable in a solid, immovable mass; whereas when only three were on a seat they banged each other perpetually, and ran much risk of injuring their hats against the roof by the violent jolting of the roads. In front of the vehicle was a wooden bench where Pierrotin sat, on which three travellers could perch; when there, they went, as everybody knows, by the name of “rabbits.” On certain trips Pierrotin placed four rabbits on the bench, and sat himself at the side, on a sort of box placed below the body of the coach as a foot-rest for the rabbits, which was always full of straw, or of packages that feared no damage. The body of this particular coucou was painted yellow, embellished along the top with a band of barber’s blue, on which could be read, on the sides, in silvery white letters, “Isle-Adam, Paris,” and across the back, “Line to Isle-Adam.”
Our descendants will be mightily mistaken if they fancy that thirteen persons including Pierrotin were all that this vehicle could carry. On great occasions it could take three more in a square compartment covered with an awning, where the trunks, cases, and packages were piled; but the prudent Pierrotin only allowed his regular customers to sit there, and even they were not allowed to get in until at some distance beyond the “barriere.” The occupants of the “hen-roost” (the name given by conductors to this section of their vehicles) were made to get down outside of every village or town where there was a post of gendarmerie; the overloading forbidden by law, “for the safety of passengers,” being too obvious to allow the gendarme on duty—always a friend to Pierrotin—to avoid the necessity of reporting this flagrant violation of the ordinances. Thus on certain Saturday nights and Monday mornings, Pierrotin’s coucou “trundled” fifteen travellers; but on such occasions, in order to drag it along, he gave his stout old horse, called Rougeot, a mate in the person of a little beast no bigger than a pony, about whose merits he had much to say. This little horse was a mare named Bichette; she ate little, she was spirited, she was indefatigable, she was worth her weight in gold.
“My wife wouldn’t give her for that fat lazybones of a Rougeot!” cried Pierrotin, when some traveller would joke him about his epitome of a horse.
The difference between this vehicle and the other consisted chiefly in the fact that the other was on four wheels. This coach, of comical construction, called the “four-wheel-coach,” held seventeen travellers, though it was bound not to carry more than fourteen. It rumbled so noisily that the inhabitants of Isle-Adam frequently said, “Here comes Pierrotin!” when he was scarcely out of the forest which crowns the slope of the valley. It was divided into two lobes, so to speak: one, called the “interior,” contained six passengers on two seats; the other, a sort of cabriolet constructed in front, was called the “coupe.” This coupe was closed in with very inconvenient and fantastic