Travelling through all these one-horse towns, I realise that I have become a character in the kind of books I like.
I am the lonely wayfarer waking Innkeepers up. I am the stagecoach passenger on missions undivulged. With my bill picked up by the largest employer in town, interest in my purpose is sharp but displaced into inquisitive welcomes. Some commotion attends my arrival. Verily, aprons are smoothed, doors flung open, eggs and meat slapped into pans, rooms shown (‘the best view, sir’, or even better, ‘the usual spot Mr. Heinrich?’). My bags are carried and if I resist I’m escorted up stairs and down passages by blokes with flailing arms and sidelong shuftis.
During my stray, in all the accents of this land, amenities of every kind are availed and it’s insisted I make known those unpredicted whims which would enhance my comfort. Such fussing is accomplished with reserve, however. Cordiality seldom strays into familiarity. I’m guv’nor, never guv.
I have stopped resisting the whole spiel. It embarrasses rural folk if the transaction of renting a roof is stripped of its ceremony. I must also defer to the trope that I am. As expensive as it gets. Sometimes, my hand forks out three days’ wages when the food is quick and flavourous, the bed nicely smoothed or the smile sincere. The trick with a large tip is to be off-hand about it and nod only once at their glee.
But the trope for me, I’m afraid, stops half-way. The scene I enact over and over runs out of steam. Once in my room and no matter the weather, how good my hair or how long I stay awake, I get no midnight raps upon my window from ladies in white. No desperate letters slip under my door from escaping wards so cruelly treated. Do you think anyone murmurs entreaties to lend a sword against imminent treason? Or a bullying baron? Nope. I’ve had not a single heaving bosom greet the foiling of a tiara’s heist (once some hubcaps were took of a nurse but even she only shrugged). There’s no masks, no sword-play, no guttering flames, lashing storms or headlong gallops upon a shining black Bess atop moon-strafed cliffs. I get to cuff no rascals upon an ear, crack no codes, plunge through windows beneath which no haycart is stood. Even passive joys are denied me like oiling the workings of dueling pistols for adventures lying ahead.
I still pitch up to play my part. The innkeeper does too. But where are the brigands, femme soles and inveterate intriguers? I would not read my own travelogue.