The Cabman's Story





  Produced by Darlene A. Cypser

  THE CABMAN'S STORY

  The Mysteries of a London "Growler"

  We had to take a "growler," for the day looked rather threatening andwe agreed that it would be a very bad way of beginning our holiday by getting wet, especially when Fanny was only just coming round fromthe whooping cough. Holidays were rather scarce with us, and when wetook one we generally arranged some little treat, and went in forenjoying ourselves. On this occasion we were starting off fromHammersmith to the Alexandra Palace in all the dignity of afour-wheeler. What with the wife and her sister, and Tommy and Fannyand Jack, the inside was pretty well filled up, so I had to look outfor myself. I didn't adopt the plan of John Gilpin under similarcircumstances, but I took my waterproof and climbed up beside thedriver.

  This driver was a knowing-looking old veteran, with a weather-beatenface and white side whiskers. It has always seemed to me that a Londoncabman is about the shrewdest of the human race, but this specimenstruck me as looking like the shrewdest of the cabmen. I tried to drawhim out a bit as we jogged along, for I am always fond of a chat; buthe was a bit rusty until I oiled his tongue with glass of gin when wegot as far as the "Green Anchor." Then he rattled away quickly enough,and some of what he said is worth trying to put down in black and white.

  "Wouldn't a hansom pay me better?" he said, in answer to a questionof mine. "Why, of course it would. But look at the position! Afour-wheeler's a respectable conveyance, and the driver of it's arespectable man, but you can't say that of a rattling, splashing'ansom. Any boy would do for that job. Now, to my mind money hain'tto be compared to position, whatever a man's trade may be."

  "Certainly not!" I answered.

  "Besides, I've saved my little penny, and I'm got too old to changemy ways. I've begun on a growler, and I'll end on one. If you'llbelieve me, sir, I've been on the streets for seven-and-forty year."

  "That's a long time," I said.

  "Well, it's long for our trade," he replied. "You see, thereain't no other in the world that takes the steam out of a man so quickly--what with wet and cold and late hours, and maybe no hours at all. There'sfew that lasts at it as long as I have."

  "You must have seen a deal of the world during that time," Iremarked. "There are few men who can have greater opportunities ofseeing life."

  "The world!" he grunted, flicking up the horse with his whip. "I'veseen enough of it to be well-nigh sick of it. As to life, if you'dsaid death, you'd ha' been nearer the mark."

  "Death!" I ejaculated.

  "Yes, death," he said. "Why, bless your soul, sir, if I was to writedown all I've seen since I've been in the trade, there's not a manin London would believe me, unless maybe some o' the other cabbies. I tell ye I took a dead man for a fare once, and drove about with himnigh half the night. Oh, you needn't look shocked, sir, for thiswasn't the cab--no, nor the last one I had neither."

  "How did it happen?" I asked, feeling glad, in spite of hisassurance, that Matilda had not heard of the episode.

  "Well, it's an old story now," said the driver, putting a small pieceof very black tobacco into the corner of his mouth. "I daresay it'stwenty odd years since it happened, but it's not the kind o' thing asslips out of a man's memory. It was very late one night, and I wasworking my hardest to pick up something good, for I'd made a poorday's work of it. The theatres had all come out, and though I keptup and down the Strand till nigh one o'clock, I got nothing but oneeighteenpenny job. I was thinking of giving it up and going home,when it struck me that I might as well make a bit of a circuit, andsee if I couldn't drop across something. Pretty soon I gave agentleman a lift as far as the Oxford Road, and then I drove throughSt. John's Wood on my way home. By that time it would be abouthalf-past one, and the streets were quite quiet and deserted, for thenight was cloudy and it was beginning to rain. I was putting on thepace as well as my tired beast would go, for we both wanted to getback to our suppers, when I heard a woman's voice hail me out of aside street. I turned back, and there in about the darkest part ofthe road was standing two ladies--real ladies, mind you, for itwould take a deal of darkness before I would mistake one for theother. One was elderly and stoutish; the other was young, and had aveil over her face. Between them there was a man in evening dress,whom they were supporting on each side, while his back was propped upagainst a lamp-post. He seemed beyond taking care of himselfaltogether, for his head was sunk down on his chest, and he'd havefallen if they hadn't held him.

  "'Cabman,' said the stout lady, with a very shaky voice, 'I wish youwould help us in this painful business.' Those were her veryhidentical words.

  "'Cert'nly, mum,' I says for I saw my way to a good thing. 'Whatcan I do for the young lady and yourself?' I mentioned the otherin order to console her like, for she was sobbing behind her veilsomething pitiful.

  "'The fact is, cabman,' she answers, 'this gentleman is my daughter'shusband. They have only just been married, and we are visiting at afriend's house near here. My son-in-law has just returned in a stateof complete intoxication, and my daughter and I have brought him outin the hope of seeing a cab in which we could send him home, for wehave most particular reasons for not wishing our friends to see himin this state, and as yet they are ignorant of it. If you woulddrive him to his house and leave him there, you would do us both avery great kindness, and we can easily account to our hosts for hisabsence.'

  "I thought this rather a rum start, but I agreed, and no sooner hadI said the word than the old one she pulls open the door, and she andthe other, without waiting for me to bear a hand, bundled him inbetween them.

  "'Where to?' I asked.

  "'Forty-seven, Orange Grove, Clapham,' she said. 'Hoffman is thename. You'll easily waken the servants.'

  "'And how about the fare?' I suggested, for I thought maybe theremight be a difficulty in collecting it at the end of the journey.

  "'Here it is,' said the young one, slipping what I felt to be asovereign into my hand, and at the same time giving it a sort of agrateful squeeze, which made me feel as if I'd drive anywhere toget her out of trouble.

  "Well, off I went, leaving them standing by the side of the road.The horse was well-nigh beat, but at last I found my way to 47,Orange Grove. It was a biggish house, and all quiet, as you maysuppose, at that hour. I rang the bell, and at last down came aservant--a man, he was.

  "'I've got the master here,' I said.

  "'Got who?' he asked.

  "'Why Mr. Hoffman--your master. He's in the cab, not quitehimself. This is number forty-seven, ain't it?'

  "'Yes, it's forty-seven, right enough; but my master's CaptainRitchie, and he's away in India, so you've got the wrong house.'

  "'That was the number they gave me,' I said, 'But maybe he's come tohimself by this time, and can give us some information. He was deaddrunk an hour ago.'

  "Down we went to the cab, the two of us, and opened the door. He hadslipped off the seat and was lying all in a heap on the floor.

  "'Now, then, sir,' I shouted. 'Wake up and give us your address.'

  "He didn't answer.

  "I gave another shake. 'Pull yourself together,' I roared. 'Give usyour name, and tell us where you live.'

  "He didn't answer again. I couldn't even hear the sound ofbreathing. Then a kind of queer feeling came over me, and I putdown my hand and felt his face. It was as cold as lead. The cove'sdead, mate,' I said.

  "The servant struck a match, and we had a look at my passenger.He was a young, good-looking fellow, but his face wore anexpression of pain, and his jaw hung down. He was evidently notonly dead, but had been dead some time.

  "'What shall we do?' said the flunkey. He was as white as deathhimself, and his hair bristled with fear.

  "'I'll d
rive to the nearest police station,' I answered; and so Idid, leaving him shivering on the pavement. There I gave up my fare,and that was the last I ever saw of him."

  "Did you never hear any more of it?" I asked.

  "Hear! I thought I should never hear the end of it, what withexaminations and inquests and one thing and another. The doctorsproved that he must have been