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LIFE IN LONDON.
XII.-CHRISTMAS DAY ON A “GROWLER."
BY ARCHIBALD FORBES.
T was not quite an easy thing to carry into effect the idea
which occurred to me that it would be a novel and perhaps interesting experience to spend Christmas Day in the capacity
of the driver of a four-wheel cab. “ Cauliflower Bill ” was as hard to be persuaded as any stiff-necked Israelite of old.
“Cauliflower Bill”-so nicknamed, as I learned, from the marked prominence and number of grog blossoms on his nose, which he found it necessary to powder profusely to mitigate the danger of erysipelas or some such disorder—“Cauliflower Bill” was the owner of a single cab and of a pair of horses, and I had made overtures to him, having been acquainted with him for some time, under the belief that he would be a likely man to serve my turn, as he would not run so much risk in lending me his badge for the day as would a man who drove for a master. Bill was willing to discuss the matter ad infinitum, so long as the palaver was moistened by hot rum and water ; but his consent was hard indeed to obtain. “I'm liable to a penalty o' five quid ” was for a long time his ultimatum,—"and the forfeit o' the licence besides, and you knows wot that spells, Guvnor !” But I got him round at last through a judicious appeal to the missus, whom Bill, like a good husband, obeyed in all things. The missus thought the risk was nothing to speak about for the one day, “if so be that the gen'leman knows 'ow to drive." My capabilities in that regard the missus critically inspected from her open window, as I tooled the growler up and down the mews, and she was good enough to pronounce that I'd “do.” So it was arranged that for a consideration I was to be virtually “Cauliflower Bill” for Christmas Day, being entitled to the use of his cab-horse, whip, cape, rugs, and badge, with the stipulation that I was on no account to approach the rank which Bill himself was in the habit of using, and where, therefore, there was a likelihood of the spurious Bill being detected.
At nine o'clock punctually I was in Bill's matrimonial bower, where I found the missus engaged in making a Christmas pudding, and Bill
divided between nervousness as to our arrangement and a pint of dogsnose. My insertion into the caped cloak was the first consideration, for I happened to be a few sizes larger than Bill. But it turned out to be a garment which in effect fitted everybody, since it had no particular fit about it whatever, and I speedily found myself inside it. I cannot say that it admitted of much freedom of action in the neighbourhood of the biceps muscle, and it had a peculiar predilection for entangling itself in one's legs, while it was not to be disguised that it had an ancient and fish-like smell, as if it had been slept in by a horse in a state of stale perspiration. The edifice was crowned by “Cauliflower Bill's ” hat, a structure of many wrinkles and much rustiness, which at once imparted to me the aspect of a ratcatcher under a cloud. Bill wrapped around my throat his voluminous comforter, in which, as it seemed, was vested the valuable property of conferring on the wearer the husky hoarseness of voice which is so characteristic of the cabman species. My legs were greaved in a pair of leathern gaiters of my own, and when I was finally made up, with whip in hand and badge on breast, the missus was pleased to say that she “wouldn't ha' knowed me from Bill hisself”—a compliment which, from such a source, was inexpressibly gratifying. I was informed by Bill that as it was Christmas Day he expected me to bring him home twelve shillings at the very least, and that four o'clock was the hour at which I should come back to change horses, when, said the missus, “you're 'eartily welcome to a bit o' dinner wi' me an' Bill.” These preliminaries settled, I said good morning to the missus, and Bill and I turned down, and "put to."
Bill's first horse I found an uncomplaining and conscientious, but decidedly eccentric quadruped. He took a great deal of flogging, owing to the peculiarity that when you hit him only once or twice, he persisted in regarding this as a signal to fall into a walk, and had to be argued out of the error by continued applications of the short and rather inefticient whip with which Bill had provided me. Further, he never was quite happy unless when he was behind some vehicle which was proceeding at the rate of about two miles an hour, and evidently took it much to heart when compelled to pass the same.
He had an unpleasant habit of lapsing into slumber whenever allowed to stand still, and in this somnolent condition would ever and anon all but tumble down, saving himself only by a scramble which was calculated to impart a nervous dread to any one interested in his welfare. Further, he had no mouth to speak of, limped all round, and had the most aggravatingly assertive stump of a tail of any horse I ever knew. But he had his virtues. He never tried to run away., and to shy on any provocation was clearly not in his nature. It was in the Camden Road where I was hailed for my first fare by a nice-looking maid-servant, who got inside and proudly rode to the house where I was to take up. My fare consisted of a young lady—a governess, probably—two chubby little girls, and a bag, which obviously contained mince-pies and oranges. I was to set down at King's Cross, and I gathered from the gush of talk which preceded the final adieu that the ultimate destination of the little party was a certain aunt's house at Whetstone Park. As I drove to the station the eldest of the little maids, a bright-faced little thing, with a cataract of fair hair hanging down her back, stood up on the seat and entered into the most amusingly condescending conversation with “ Mr. Cabman." She was seven last month, and her papa had given her a be-a-utiful doll that morning, and she had six Christmas cards—and please, had I got any Christmas cards ? Was I to have any pudding for dinner ?—she was—and had I any little girls, and did they like dolls ? When I set down at the station, little Flaxenhair would have it that “ Mr. Cabman ” should be complimented with a mince-pie and an orange out of the paper bag. In the largeness of her heart the little one urged vigorously that to the horse also should be administered an orange, and exhibited great wonderment that the respectable quadruped—which had incontinently lapsed into slumber-was not fond of the fruit. “ Not fond of oranges !” quoth little Flaxenhair, with her hands in the air, as, with a pretty nod to " Mr. Cabman," she tripped into the station.
My next fare proved the act-if it had required proof-that all the world, even at Christmas time, does not consist of Flaxenhairs. At the foot of the Caledonian Road I was chartered by four young men, who stipulated with me that for the sum of eighteenpence and a drink I should drive them to the Manor House Tavern, Finsbury Park. They were pimply and unwholesome-looking youths, with gaudy neckties, short meerschaum pipes, and big Albert chains of a ponderosity that nterfered with one's belief in their goodness. There were two “'Arrys” in the quartette, and the other two went by slang nicknames. It is hardly worth while to describe them more minutely, since any one who wishes to study the genus in its most offensive development needs only to visit the “saloon ” of one of the more slangy music-halls. These interesting young gentlemen smoked bad tobacco, and swore with vigour and volubility all the way to Finsbury. One of them tried as he leant out of the cab window to chaff a girl who was obviously on her way to church; but by the merest accident in the world, the thong of Bill's whip happened to drop rather sharply across his pimply face, which he thereupon drew in with some precipitation. I was surprised at the number of pedestrians who were tramping outward bound along the Seven Sisters' Road. In my simplicity I ascribed the concourse to the rural charms of Finsbury Park, which I remember in the days of the great Cox to have heard conventionally spoken and written of as “one of the lungs of London.” This appellation may be strictly correct; in which case I have only to remark that London has a lung which is eminently ugly, cheerless, forlorn, and generally unpleasant. There is little enough in Finsbury Park to entice a visit from any pedestrians ; but it was abundantly clear that the pedestrians of the Seven Sisters' Road did not care a cent about the amenities, but had a fixed goal of some sort before their eyes, as they strode past the park-gates, and keeping to the road held on toward the Green Lanes. Beyond the tramway terminus they increased in number, so that the pavement was in a manner thronged. The outward-bound current, pushing on briskly, indeed sometimes fiercely, met the inward-bound current dawdling along more leisurely, but the people comprising the latter always gave ground deferentially to those of the former, as if recognising their greater urgency. They were not, for the most part, wholesome-looking or creditable wayfarers who this Christmas forenoon jostled the churchgoers off the pavement of the Seven Sisters' Road. Hulking louts in moleskin and anklejacks, with dingy shirts open at the throat, drover young men in a quasi-Sunday attire, elegant extracts from the crowd that gathers about the head of Whitefriars Street when the display of a telegraphed bulletin of an important race is imminent over the way; numerous first cousins of the young gentlemen who constituted my fare—such and such like were the pedestrians we passed or met. And whither were they going or whence were they returning? To one and all there was, or had been, a common goal—the Manor House Tavern. For the thirsty souls in London there was no tap ready to flow with strong drink for the man with money in his pocket, for Christmas-day is as the Sunday to the public-houses. But a walk to the Green Lanes is held to impart the character of a bonâ-fide traveller, that generally undefined and extremely vague character ; and the competitive examination for admission to the alcoholic privileges of the Manor House Tavern is a very “little » indeed. A policeman stood at the crossing over the way, no doubt charged with the duty of seeing that no actual or professing bonâ -fide traveller was kept out of his beery birthright. Outside were
drawn up some half-dozen chaises and cabs, whose inmates presumably, in the course of journeys involving issues of life and death, had succumbed to stern necessity, and had found themselves wholly unable to proceed without refreshments. The "'Arrys” and their mates alighted, and having paid me my eighteenpence, expressed their readiness to fulfil their bargain to “stand a wet.” To get in was the easiest thing in the world. The outer door was wide open, and on the door mat outside the unbolted inner door stood a mild and grinning janitor. He did not waste words by asking the applicants for admission whether they were travellers ; that went without saying. “ Where from ?” was his simple and laconic routine-formula. "Jericho," was the response of one of the "'Arrys," with a horse-laugh, and straightway the gate of this elysium was opened unto us. The spacious bar was so crowded that it was difficult to get served, and the landlord must find much cause for self-congratulation that the spirit of exploratory enterprise is so highly developed among the inhabitants of London, more especially at hours when its guerdon is strong drink. As my fares had got into a snug corner, and appeared bent on making a forenoon of it, I started back to town empty, jogging slowly towards the Angel at Islington. As one o'clock struck, the air became full of the fragrance of baked meats. Men and children were to be seen, towels and tickets in hand, diving into the purlieus of the bakehouses, and re-emerging with baking dishes and tins, the contents of which sent forth the most appetising odours. I had breakfasted early, and the scent kindled my hunger, so I drew on to the stand, and telling the policeman there, according to Bill's instructions, that I was going to have some refreshment, I sought the "watering-house," and found many of my brothers of the whip engaged in huge platefuls of roast pork and cabbage.
Having lunched a little less unctuously, I again mounted the box, which by this time I found becoming very hard and cramped, and jogged on towards Pentonville Hill. At the end of a street leading into the Barnsbury Road, I was hailed by a gentleman who was strictly entitled to the appellation of the head of a family. He had the family with him, as well as that fruitful vine his wife, a purposefullooking middle-aged woman, who looked as if an odd child more or less was a trifle of which she took no account. As for the children, I absolutely decline to commit myself to statistics as to their number. They positively swarmed on and around the parent stems, so that there was no possibility of getting or keeping count of them. you take the lot on us, Cabbie ? ” was the cheery question of the