37 The Golden Rule
Two or three weeks after this, as we came into the yard rather late in the evening, Polly came running across the road with the lantern (she always brought it to him if it was not very wet).
“It has all come right, Jerry; Mrs. Briggs sent her servant this afternoon to ask you to take her out to-morrow at eleven o’clock. I said, `Yes, I thought so, but we supposed she employed some one else now.'”
“`Well,’ said he, `the real fact is, master was put out because Mr. Barker refused to come on Sundays, and he has been trying other cabs, but there’s something wrong with them all; some drive too fast, and some too slow, and the mistress says there is not one of them so nice and clean as yours, and nothing will suit her but Mr. Barker’s cab again.'”
Polly was almost out of breath, and Jerry broke out into a merry laugh.
“`’Twill all come right some day or night’: you were right, my dear; you generally are. Run in and get the supper, and I’ll have Jack’s harness off and make him snug and happy in no time.”
After this Mrs. Briggs wanted Jerry’s cab quite as often as before, never, however, on a Sunday; but there came a day when we had Sunday work, and this was how it happened. We had all come home on the Saturday night very tired, and very glad to think that the next day would be all rest, but so it was not to be.
On Sunday morning Jerry was cleaning me in the yard, when Polly stepped up to him, looking very full of something.
“What is it?” said Jerry.
“Well, my dear,” she said, “poor Dinah Brown has just had a letter brought to say that her mother is dangerously ill, and that she must go directly if she wishes to see her alive. The place is more than ten miles away from here, out in the country, and she says if she takes the train she should still have four miles to walk; and so weak as she is, and the baby only four weeks old, of course that would be impossible; and she wants to know if you would take her in your cab, and she promises to pay you faithfully, as she can get the money.”
“Tut, tut! we’ll see about that. It was not the money I was thinking about, but of losing our Sunday; the horses are tired, and I am tired, too -that’s where it pinches.”
“It pinches all round, for that matter,” said Polly, “for it’s only half Sunday without you, but you know we should do to other people as we should like they should do to us; and I know very well what I should like if my mother was dying; and Jerry, dear, I am sure it won’t break the Sabbath; for if pulling a poor beast or donkey out of a pit would not spoil it, I am quite sure taking poor Dinah would not do it.”
“Why, Polly, you are as good as the minister, and so, as I’ve had my Sunday-morning sermon early to-day, you may go and tell Dinah that I’ll be ready for her as the clock strikes ten; but stop -just step round to butcher Braydon’s with my compliments, and ask him if he would lend me his light trap; I know he never uses it on the Sunday, and it would make a wonderful difference to the horse.”
Away she went, and soon returned, saying that he could have the trap and welcome.
“All right,” said he; “now put me up a bit of bread and cheese, and I’ll be back in the afternoon as soon as I can.”
“And I’ll have the meat pie ready for an early tea instead of for dinner,” said Polly; and away she went, while he made his preparations to the tune of “Polly’s the woman and no mistake”, of which tune he was very fond.
I was selected for the journey, and at ten o’clock we started, in a light, high-wheeled gig, which ran so easily that after the four-wheeled cab it seemed like nothing.
It was a fine May day, and as soon as we were out of the town, the sweet air, the smell of the fresh grass, and the soft country roads were as pleasant as they used to be in the old times, and I soon began to feel quite fresh.
Dinah’s family lived in a small farmhouse, up a green lane, close by a meadow with some fine shady trees; there were two cows feeding in it. A young man asked Jerry to bring his trap into the meadow, and he would tie me up in the cowshed; he wished he had a better stable to offer.
“If your cows would not be offended,” said Jerry, “there is nothing my horse would like so well as to have an hour or two in your beautiful meadow; he’s quiet, and it would be a rare treat for him.”
“Do, and welcome,” said the young man; “the best we have is at your service for your kindness to my sister; we shall be having some dinner in an hour, and I hope you’ll come in, though with mother so ill we are all out of sorts in the house.”
Jerry thanked him kindly, but said as he had some dinner with him there was nothing he should like so well as walking about in the meadow.
When my harness was taken off I did not know what I should do first -whether to eat the grass, or roll over on my back, or lie down and rest, or have a gallop across the meadow out of sheer spirits at being free; and I did all by turns. Jerry seemed to be quite as happy as I was; he sat down by a bank under a shady tree, and listened to the birds, then he sang himself, and read out of the little brown book he is so fond of, then wandered round the meadow, and down by a little brook, where he picked the flowers and the hawthorn, and tied them up with long sprays of ivy; then he gave me a good feed of the oats which he had brought with him; but the time seemed all too short -I had not been in a field since I left poor Ginger at Earlshall.
We came home gently, and Jerry’s first words were, as we came into the yard, “Well, Polly, I have not lost my Sunday after all, for the birds were singing hymns in every bush, and I joined in the service; and as for Jack, he was like a young colt.”
When he handed Dolly the flowers she jumped about for joy.
38 Dolly and a Real Gentleman
Winter came in early, with a great deal of cold and wet. There was snow, or sleet, or rain almost every day for weeks, changing only for keen driving winds or sharp frosts. The horses all felt it very much. When it is a dry cold a couple of good thick rugs will keep the warmth in us; but when it is soaking rain they soon get wet through and are no good. Some of the drivers had a waterproof cover to throw over, which was a fine thing; but some of the men were so poor that they could not protect either themselves or their horses, and many of them suffered very much that winter. When we horses had worked half the day we went to our dry stables, and could rest, while they had to sit on their boxes, sometimes staying out as late as one or two o’clock in the morning if they had a party to wait for.
When the streets were slippery with frost or snow that was the worst of all for us horses. One mile of such traveling, with a weight to draw and no firm footing, would take more out of us than four on a good road; every nerve and muscle of our bodies is on the strain to keep our balance; and, added to this, the fear of falling is more exhausting than anything else. If the roads are very bad indeed our shoes are roughed, but that makes us feel nervous at first.
When the weather was very bad many of the men would go and sit in the tavern close by, and get some one to watch for them; but they often lost a fare in that way, and could not, as Jerry said, be there without spending money. He never went to the Rising Sun; there was a coffee-shop near, where he now and then went, or he bought of an old man, who came to our rank with tins of hot coffee and pies. It was his opinion that spirits and beer made a man colder afterward, and that dry clothes, good food, cheerfulness, and a comfortable wife at home, were the best things to keep a cabman warm. Polly always supplied him with something to eat when he could not get home, and sometimes he would see little Dolly peeping from the corner of the street, to make sure if “father” was on the stand. If she saw him she would run off at full speed and soon come back with something in a tin or basket, some hot soup or pudding Polly had ready. It was wonderful how such a little thing could get safely across the street, often thronged with horses and carriages; but she was a brave little maid, and felt it quite an honor to bring “father’s first course”, as he used to call it. She was a general favorite on the stand, and there was not a man who would not have seen her safely across the street, if Jerry had not been able to do it.
One cold windy day Dolly had brought Jerry a basin of something hot, and was standing by him while he ate it. He had scarcely begun when a gentleman, walking toward us very fast, held up his umbrella. Jerry touched his hat in return, gave the basin to Dolly, and was taking off my cloth, when the gentleman, hastening up, cried out, “No, no, finish your soup, my friend; I have not much time to spare, but I can wait till you have done, and set your little girl safe on the pavement.” So saying, he seated himself in the cab. Jerry thanked him kindly, and came back to Dolly.
“There, Dolly, that’s a gentleman; that’s a real gentleman, Dolly; he has got time and thought for the comfort of a poor cabman and a little girl.”
Jerry finished his soup, set the child across, and then took his orders to drive to Clapham Rise. Several times after that the same gentleman took our cab. I think he was very fond of dogs and horses, for whenever we took him to his own door two or three dogs would come bounding out to meet him. Sometimes he came round and patted me, saying in his quiet, pleasant way, “This horse has got a good master, and he deserves it.” It was a very rare thing for any one to notice the horse that had been working for him. I have known ladies to do it now and then, and this gentleman, and one or two others have given me a pat and a kind word; but ninety-nine persons out of a hundred would as soon think of patting the steam engine that drew the train.
The gentleman was not young, and there was a forward stoop in his shoulders as if he was always going at something. His lips were thin and close shut, though they had a very pleasant smile; his eye was keen, and there was something in his jaw and the motion of his head that made one think he was very determined in anything he set about. His voice was pleasant and kind; any horse would trust that voice, though it was just as decided as everything else about him.
One day he and another gentleman took our cab; they stopped at a shop in R – – Street, and while his friend went in he stood at the door. A little ahead of us on the other side of the street a cart with two very fine horses was standing before some wine vaults; the carter was not with them, and I cannot tell how long they had been standing, but they seemed to think they had waited long enough, and began to move off. Before they had gone many paces the carter came running out and caught them. He seemed furious at their having moved, and with whip and rein punished them brutally, even beating them about the head. Our gentleman saw it all, and stepping quickly across the street, said in a decided voice:
“If you don’t stop that directly, I’ll have you arrested for leaving your horses, and for brutal conduct.”
The man, who had clearly been drinking, poured forth some abusive language, but he left off knocking the horses about, and taking the reins, got into his cart; meantime our friend had quietly taken a note-book from his pocket, and looking at the name and address painted on the cart, he wrote something down.
“What do you want with that?” growled the carter, as he cracked his whip and was moving on. A nod and a grim smile was the only answer he got.
On returning to the cab our friend was joined by his companion, who said laughingly, “I should have thought, Wright, you had enough business of your own to look after, without troubling yourself about other people’s horses and servants.”
Our friend stood still for a moment, and throwing his head a little back, “Do you know why this world is as bad as it is?”
“No,” said the other.
“Then I’ll tell you. It is because people think only about their own business, and won’t trouble themselves to stand up for the oppressed, nor bring the wrongdoer to light. I never see a wicked thing like this without doing what I can, and many a master has thanked me for letting him know how his horses have been used.”
“I wish there were more gentlemen like you, sir,” said Jerry, “for they are wanted badly enough in this city.”
After this we continued our journey, and as they got out of the cab our friend was saying, “My doctrine is this, that if we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt.”
39 Seedy Sam
I should say that for a cab-horse I was very well off indeed; my driver was my owner, and it was his interest to treat me well and not overwork me, even had he not been so good a man as he was; but there were a great many horses which belonged to the large cab-owners, who let them out to their drivers for so much money a day. As the horses did not belong to these men the only thing they thought of was how to get their money out of them, first, to pay the master, and then to provide for their own living; and a dreadful time some of these horses had of it. Of course, I understood but little, but it was often talked over on the stand, and the governor, who was a kind-hearted man and fond of horses, would sometimes speak up if one came in very much jaded or ill-used.
One day a shabby, miserable-looking driver, who went by the name of “Seedy Sam”, brought in his horse looking dreadfully beat, and the governor said:
“You and your horse look more fit for the police station than for this rank.”
The man flung his tattered rug over the horse, turned full round upon the Governor and said in a voice that sounded almost desperate:
“If the police have any business with the matter it ought to be with the masters who charge us so much, or with the fares that are fixed so low. If a man has to pay eighteen shillings a day for the use of a cab and two horses, as many of us have to do in the season, and must make that up before we earn a penny for ourselves I say ’tis more than hard work; nine shillings a day to get out of each horse before you begin to get your own living. You know that’s true, and if the horses don’t work we must starve, and I and my children have known what that is before now. I’ve six of ’em, and only one earns anything; I am on the stand fourteen or sixteen hours a day, and I haven’t had a Sunday these ten or twelve weeks; you know Skinner never gives a day if he can help it, and if I don’t work hard, tell me who does! I want a warm coat and a mackintosh, but with so many to feed how can a man get it? I had to pledge my clock a week ago to pay Skinner, and I shall never see it again.”
Some of the other drivers stood round nodding their heads and saying he was right. The man went on:
“You that have your own horses and cabs, or drive for good masters, have a chance of getting on and a chance of doing right; I haven’t. We can’t charge more than sixpence a mile after the first, within the four-mile radius. This very morning I had to go a clear six miles and only took three shillings. I could not get a return fare, and had to come all the way back; there’s twelve miles for the horse and three shillings for me. After that I had a three-mile fare, and there were bags and boxes enough to have brought in a good many twopences if they had been put outside; but you know how people do; all that could be piled up inside on the front seat were put in and three heavy boxes went on the top. That was sixpence, and the fare one and sixpence; then I got a return for a shilling. Now that makes eighteen miles for the horse and six shillings for me; there’s three shillings still for that horse to earn and nine shillings for the afternoon horse before I touch a penny. Of course, it is not always so bad as that, but you know it often is, and I say ’tis a mockery to tell a man that he must not overwork his horse, for when a beast is downright tired there’s nothing but the whip that will keep his legs a-going; you can’t help yourself -you must put your wife and children before the horse; the masters must look to that, we can’t. I don’t ill-use my horse for the sake of it; none of you can say I do. There’s wrong lays somewhere -never a day’s rest, never a quiet hour with the wife and children. I often feel like an old man, though I’m only forty-five. You know how quick some of the gentry are to suspect us of cheating and overcharging; why, they stand with their purses in their hands counting it over to a penny and looking at us as if we were pickpockets. I wish some of ’em had got to sit on my box sixteen hours a day and get a living out of it and eighteen shillings beside, and that in all weathers; they would not be so uncommon particular never to give us a sixpence over or to cram all the luggage inside. Of course, some of ’em tip us pretty handsome now and then, or else we could not live; but you can’t depend upon that.”
The men who stood round much approved this speech, and one of them said, “It is desperate hard, and if a man sometimes does what is wrong it is no wonder, and if he gets a dram too much who’s to blow him up?”
Jerry had taken no part in this conversation, but I never saw his face look so sad before. The governor had stood with both his hands in his pockets; now he took his handkerchief out of his hat and wiped his forehead.
“You’ve beaten me, Sam,” he said, “for it’s all true, and I won’t cast it up to you any more about the police; it was the look in that horse’s eye that came over me. It is hard lines for man and it is hard lines for beast, and who’s to mend it I don’t know: but anyway you might tell the poor beast that you were sorry to take it out of him in that way. Sometimes a kind word is all we can give ’em, poor brutes, and ’tis wonderful what they do understand.”
A few mornings after this talk a new man came on the stand with Sam’s cab.
“Halloo!” said one, “what’s up with Seedy Sam?”
“He’s ill in bed,” said the man; “he was taken last night in the yard, and could scarcely crawl home. His wife sent a boy this morning to say his father was in a high fever and could not get out, so I’m here instead.”
The next morning the same man came again.
“How is Sam?” inquired the governor.
“He’s gone,” said the man.
“What, gone? You don’t mean to say he’s dead?”
“Just snuffed out,” said the other; “he died at four o’clock this morning; all yesterday he was raving – raving about Skinner, and having no Sundays. `I never had a Sunday’s rest,’ these were his last words.”
No one spoke for a while, and then the governor said, “I’ll tell you what, mates, this is a warning for us.”
Go to Chapters 40, 41, 42 and 43 here.