George Manville Fenn.

Christmas Penny Readings: Original Sketches for the Season online

. (page 8 of 19)
Online LibraryGeorge Manville FennChristmas Penny Readings: Original Sketches for the Season → online text (page 8 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


away for a week, everything was in a most deplorable state, in
consequence of the old woman meaning to have a good clean up on
Boxing-day.

I did not go out for a week, for I had to take precautions for my
health's sake, putting my feet in hot water, and taking gruel for the
bad cold I caught; but for that, and the nervous shock, I was not hurt,
though my clothes were much torn. It was about eight days after that a
letter arrived while I was at breakfast, bearing the Ancaster post-mark,
directed to me in Broxby's familiar hand; but I had read it twice, with
disgust portrayed on every lineament, before I perceived that my late
friend had evidently written to his brother and to me at the same
sitting, when, by some hazard, the letters had been cross-played and put
in the wrong envelopes, for the abominable epistle was as follows: -

"Dear Dick, - You should have come down. Such a spree. My ribs are
sore yet with laughing, and I shall never get over it. I sent old Gus
Littleboy an invite. Poor fool, but no harm in him except blundering.
The Major was here; quite a houseful, in fact. Gus was to sleep with
Tim Peters, and got somehow into the Major's room while he was down
with me finishing the toddy. Murder, my boy. Oh! you should have
been here to hear the screaming, and seen the Major stamp and go on.
He kicked the panel in, when poor Gus fled by the window, and has not
sent for his traps yet. For goodness sake contrive for the Major to
meet him at your place when I'm up next week. It will be splitting,
and of course I can't manage it now.

"Yours affectionately,

"Joe Broxby."

I need scarcely tell a discerning public that I refused the invitation
sent me by Mr Richard Broxby, of Bedford Square, when it arrived the
next week; while when, some months after, I encountered the Major and
his wife upon the platform of the Great Nosham, Somesham, and Podmorton
Railway, I turned all of a cold perspiration, for my nerves will never
recover the shock.



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

CABBY AT CHRISTMAS.

Rather cold outside here, sir; but of course, if you like riding on the
box best, why it's nothing to me, and I'm glad of your company. Come
on. "Ony a bob's worth, Tommy," says that chap as drove Mr Pickwick,
him as set the old gent and his friends down as spies. The poor chap
must have had a bad day, you see, and got a bit raspy; and I've known
the time as I've felt raspy, too, and ready to say, "Ony a bob's worth,
Tommy." You see ours is a trade as flucterates a wonderful sight, and
the public's got it into their heads as we're always a-going to take 'em
in somehow or other; so jest like that American gal in the story,
"Don't," says Public. "Don't what?" says we. "Don't overcharge," says
Public. "Well, we wasn't a-over-charging," says we. "No, but aint you
going to?" says Public. Puts it into our heads, and makes us charge
extra through being so suspicious. You see we're poor men, but not such
a bad sort, considering. Public servants we are, badged and numbered,
bound to do work by fixed rule and charge, so what I say is that you
should treat us accordingly. "Civil and pleasant," says you - "Civil and
pleasant," says we. "Drawn swords," says you - "Drawn swords," says we.
Peace or war, which you likes, and the Beak for umpire. There's a werry
good sorter clay underneath some of our weskets, if you only takes and
moulds it the right way, when you'll find all go as easy as can be; but
make us ill-tempered and hot, why of course we turns brittle and cracks;
while, you know, if you goes the other way too far, and moistens our
clay too much, why - Well, human natur's only human natur, is it? and of
course the clay gets soft and sticky, and a nuisance. Keep half-way,
you know, and then you're all right, and will find us decent working,
when you moulds us up and brings out a model cabby.

You see you calls them black fellows men and brothers, but I'm blest if
I think some people thinks as we are; for, instead of brothers, they
treat us as if we was werry distant relations indeed, and then sets to
and fights it out with us for every sixpence we earns. Don't believe a
word we say, they don't, and as to thinking we're honest - bless your
heart no, not they! "Oh, they're a bad lot, kebmen," says Mrs John
Bull, and she says as the straw's musty, the lining fusty, and the
seat's dusty, and then grumbles at the horse, and blows up the driver
and flings dirt at him.

"You rascal - you scoundrel! I'll summons you; I'll put you on the
treadmill; I'll have the distance measured; I'll - I'll write to the
_Times_ and have your rascality exposed. Drive me to Bow Street - no to
Great Marlbro' Street - or - there - no, take your fare, but mind I've
taken your number, and I'll introduce the subject in the House this very
night."

"I'll - I'll - I'll," I says to myself. "Nice ile yours 'ud be to grease
the wheels of Life with." And that was Mr MP, that was; for it was
over a mile as he rode. And only think of wanting to put a Hansom
driver off with sixpence. Then, again, I drives a gent to the rail, and
his missus with him, and when he gets out he sorter sneaks a shillin'
into my hand, and then's going to shuffle off, when "Wot's this here
for?" I says.

"Your fare, my man," he says, werry mildly.

"Hayten-pence more," I says.

"Sixpence a mile, my good man," he says, "and Mogg's guide says that - "

"Mogg's guide doesn't say that kebs is to be made carriers' waggons on
for nothing," I says; and then the porters laughed, and he gives me the
difference of the half-crown; and only nat'ral, for I'll tell you what
there was. First there was three boxes - heavy ones - on the roof; two
carpet-bags and a portmanty on the seat aside me; a parrot's cage, a
cap-box, a gun-case, and a whole bundle o' fishing-rods, and umbrellys,
and things on the front seat; and him and his missus on the back. And
arter the loading up and loading down, and what not, I don't think as it
was so werry dear. I sarved him out, though, for I took and bit every
blessed bit o' silver, making believe as I didn't think 'em good, and
stood grumbling there till the porters had got all the things in, and
Master Generous had put hisself outer sight.

You see, sir, it ain't us as has all the queer pints; there's some as I
knows on, if they was brought down to kebbing, 'stead of being swells,
they'd be a jolly sight worse than we.

Didn't know Tom Sizer, I s'pose? No, you wouldn't know him, I dare say.
Out an out driver, he was, poor chap. But what was the use on it to
him? Just because he was clever with the reins, and could do a'most
anything with any old knacker of a 'oss, the guv'nor sets him up the
shabbiest of any man as went outer the yard. There he was, poor chap,
with the wust 'oss and the wust keb, and then being only a seedy-looking
cove hisself, why he turned out werry rough. But that didn't matter;
Tom allus managed to keep upsides with the guv'nor, and was never
behind. Being a quiet sorter driver, yer see, he'd got some old ladies
as was regular customers, and one way and another he made it up. And it
was always the guv'nor's artfulness, you know: he had old 'osses and a
old keb or two, and if he'd sent some men out with 'em they'd ha'
brought back a'most nothing.

A regular sharp, teasing winter came on; rain, and freeze, and blow; and
then our pore old Tom he got dreadful shaky at last, and his cough
teased him awful, so none of us was surprised when we found one day as
he warn't come to the yard; nor we warn't surprised next day when he
didn't come; nor yet when a whole week passed away and his keb stood
under the shed, and his 'oss kep in the stable, for they was such bad
'uns none of our chaps'd have anything to do with 'em; and more'n once I
see the guv'nor stand with his hat half-raised in one hand, and
scratting his head with t'other, as he looked at the old worn keb, as
much as to say, "I shall never make anything outer that any more."

Christmas arternoon comes, and I thinks as I'll go and have a look at
Tom. So I tidies up a bit, puts on a white choker, and ties it
coachman's fashion, and fixes it with a horse-shoe pin, as my missus
give me when we was courting. Then I brushes my hat up, and was just
going off, when the missus says, "Wot d'yer want yer whip for?" she
says. "Wot do I want my whip for?" I says, and then I stops short, and
goes and stands it up in the corner by the drawers, for it didn't seem
nat'ral to go out without one's whip, and it ain't often as we goes out
walking, I can tell you.

Well, I toddles along, and gets to the place at last, where Tommy held
out: tall house it was, just aside Awery Row, and opposite to a mews;
werry pleasant lookout in summer-time, for the coachmen's wives as lived
over the stables was fond of their flowers and birds; but even in winter
time there was allus a bit o' life going on: chaps cleaning first-class
'osses, or washing carriages, or starting off fresh and smart to drive
out shopping or in the park. Fine, clean-legged, stepping 'osses, and
bright warnished carriages and coachmen in livery; and all right up to
the mark, you knew.

So I goes on upstairs, for I knowed the way to his room, along of having
had supper with him one night - mussels and a pot of stout we had - so I
didn't ring three times like a stranger, but walks up one pair, two
pair, three pair stairs, and then I stops short, for the door was ajar,
and I could see a gentleman's back, and hear talking; so I says to
myself, "That's the doctor," I says, and I sets down on the top stair to
get my wind, and then I turns quite chilly to hear poor old Tom's voice,
so altered and pipy I didn't know what to make of it, as he says.

"There, sir, don't stand no more; set down. Not that chair, 'cos the
leg's broke. Try t'other one. Well," he says, "I takes this as werry
kind of you to come and see a poor fellow as is outer sorts and laid
up - laid up! Ah! it's pretty well knacker's cart and Jack Straw's
castle with me. The missus there's been cleaning and a-tidying up, and
doing the best she could; but, in course, with me in it, the bed can't
be turned up, and so the place can't look werry decent. I do take it as
werry kind of a gent like you climbing up three pairs o' stairs o'
purpose to come and see me - it quite cheers me up. Not as I wants for
visitors, for I has the 'spensary doctor, and there's four sorter
journeymen preachers comes a-wherretin' me; till, as soon as I sees one
on 'em coming in all in black, I thinks it's the undertaker hisself.
The doctor came half an hour ago - two hours, was it? ah, well, I've been
asleep, I s'pose; and then time goes. He's left me a lot more physic
and stuff, but I ain't taken it, and I ain't a-going to; for what's the
use o' greasing the keb wheels when the tires is off and the spokes is
all loose and rattling, and a'most ready to tumble out. 'Tain't no use
whatsomever, whether they've been good ones or bad ones. It's all up;
and you may wheel the keb werry gently through the yard under the shed,
and leave it there, and wot odds; there's fresh 'uns a-coming out every
day with all the noo improvements, so what's the use o' troubling about
one as is worn out and out. There ain't no use in trying to patch when
all the woodwork's worm-eaten, while the lining's clean gone; what with
bad usage and bad weather; and, as to the windys, they ain't broke, but
they're grown heavy and dull, and I can't see through 'em; and you'll
soon see the blinds pulled down over 'em, never to come up no more -
never no more!"

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Then there come a stoppage, for the pore chap's cough give it him awful,
so as it was terrible to listen, and I'd ha' slipped away, ony I felt as
I should like to have just a word with my poor old mate again.

"There," he says, "I've got my wind again; you see it's up hill, and
this cough shakes a fellow awful. Never mind, though; I hope there's
rest up a-top for even a poor fellow like me; and, do you know," he
says, quite softly, "I begins to want to get there, though it does grit
me to think as I can't take Polly on the box with me; but that's a hard
thing to understand - that about life, and death, and 'ternity - for ever,
and ever, and ever. That's what the youngest parson as comes talks to
me about. Nice fellow he is; I like him, for he seems to want to light
one's lamps up a bit and clear the road - seems fond of one like, and
eager to give one a shove outer the block. But there; I ain't lived to
six-and-sixty year without having my own thoughts about religion and
that sort of thing. I know as we're all bad enough, and I s'pose a-top
of the hill there it will all be reckoned against one, and kep' account
on, good and bad. As I sez to Polly, after that chap had been here as
is so fond of hearing hisself speak, and allus calls me `my friend;'
`Polly,' I sez, `it's no manner of use; I ain't a-going to turn king's
evidence and try to shirk out of it that way: what I've done wrong will
go to the bad, and what I've done right I hope will go to the good,
while I'm sure no poor fellow could be more sorry than me for what's
amiss.' When we goes afore Him as judges up there, sir, it will all be
made light, and there won't be no feeling as justice ain't done. There
won't be no big fellows in gowns and wigs a-trying to swear a chap's
soul away - making a whole sarmon out of a word, and finding out things
as was never before thought on at all. I've been before 'em, and
examined and cross-examined, and twisted about till you don't know what
your a-saying of. And so, when I thinks of all this lying still in the
night, listening to the rumbling of the kebs - kebs as I shall never
drive no more; why, I feels comfortable and better like; don't seem to
see as it's so werry serious, as my number's been took, and I'm
summoned; `Done my dooty,' I says, `and kep' home together as well as I
could; and it would ha' been all the same if I'd ha' been born a dook, I
must ha' come to it same as I'm a-coming now.' Of course I should ha'
had a finer funeral; but there, lots of fellows as I knows on the rank,
chaps as is Foresters, they'll drive behind me with their windy-blines
down, and a little bit o' crape bow on the ends o' their whips; they'll
smoke it at night in their pipes, and take it werry much to 'art when
they thinks on it, and puts their blines right again - but mine won't
open no more now."

"Nigher I gets to the top of the hill," he says, "slower I goes; but
slow and sure I'm a-making way, and shall be there some time: not
to-day, p'raps, nor yet to-morrow, but some time afore long, for I knows
well enough how my number's been took, and my license is about gone.
Well, sir, I drove a cab thirty year, and it was never took away afore;
and so I ain't a-going to complain."

"Going, sir?" he says: "Then I'll take it as a favour, sir, if you'll
just see that young genelman - the parson as I likes, and ast him to
come. He left his card on the chimbley there for me to send for him
when I felt to want him, and he seems to be the real doctor for my
complaint. I was to send if I wanted him before he came again, and I'd
rather not see them others too. That first one helps me on a bit, and
somehow, I seem to want to be a-top of the hill now, and he's
first-class company for a pore chap on a dark road. Nothing like a real
friend when you're in trouble, and he seems one as will help."

"Good bye, sir," he says, werry softly. "The warnish is all rubbed off,
and the paint chipped and showing white and worn; the bottom's a-falling
out, and the head's going fast; so once more, sir, good bye, for the old
keb'll be broke up afore you comes again. Good bye, sir; you'll tell
him to come here, as told of mercy and hope."

And then some one stepped softly by me, and went down the creaking
stairs, and I got ready to go in; but, not feeling in a bit of a hurry,
for there was something seemed to stick in my throat, and I knew I
shouldn't be able to speak like a man when I got into the room, so I
stops outside a bit longer; and then, when I made sure as it was all
right with me once more, I steps softly in, and then stops short, when I
turned worse than ever; for there, kneeling down by his bed, was poor
Mrs Sizer sobbing, oh, so bitterly! and then I thought of how he said
he'd like to take her on the box with him. And there, you'll laugh, I
know, at calling it a beautiful sight to see them pore, plain,
weather-and-time-worn people taking like a last farewell of one another;
and it was no good; I daren't speak, but slowly and softly backed out,
thinking about the years them two had been together working up hill, up
hill always; and then it didn't seem so strange that, when one of these
old folks dies, the other goes into the long, deep sleep, to be with
him. And then a-going down the stairs softly and slowly, I says to
myself, "there's a deal o' rough crust and hard stuff caked over us, but
a pore man's heart's made of the real same material as God made those of
better folks of;" and Lord bless you, sir! use him well, and you'll find
the way to the heart of a cabby.

Poor Tom! he was a-top of the hill nex' day, and I never saw him again.
But he was a good sort, was Tom. Thanky sir, much obliged; merry
Christmas to you!



CHAPTER TWELVE.

DRAT THE CATS.

Dumb animals would be all very well, no doubt, and I don't suppose I
should have much objection to keeping one, but then where are you going
to get 'em? That's what I want to know; I never come across anything
dumber yet than old Job Cross's donkey, while that would shout sometimes
awful, and rouse up the whole neighbourhood. No; I've got no faith in
keeping dogs and cats, and birds and things in a house, and sets them
all down as nuisances - sets my face against 'em regular, and so would
any man who had been bothered as I have with cats.

Pussy - pussy - pussy - pussy; puss - puss - puss. Oh, yes, it's all very
fine. They're pretty creatures, ain't they? sleek and smooth, and furry
and clean, and they'll come and rub up against you, and all so
affectionate. Bother! why, they never do it unless they want to be fed,
or rubbed, or warmed in the nice warm glow of the fire, or in somebody's
lap. Why, see what savage little brutes they are to one another, and
how they can spit and claw, and swear and growl, while their fur's all
set up, their tail swelled out like a fox's, and their eyes round and
bright enough to frighten you. No; I know what cats are - pretty dears.
Who licks the top of the butter all over, and laps up the milk - eats my
bloaters, steals mutton bones off the table, pretending to be asleep
till you leave the room for a moment, when she's up on the table and
tearing away like a savage at your dinner or supper?

"Poor thing; it was only because it was hungry," says my wife. Perhaps
it was, but then I didn't approve of it: so I gave the poor thing away.

Now, I daresay, most men's wives have got some failings in them. I
mean - ain't quite perfect. You see mine ain't, and though, I daresay,
she's no worse than other women, yet, she has got one of the most
tiresome, aggravating, worrying ways with her that any one could come
across. I don't care whether its spring, summer, autumn, or winter, or
whether it's all on 'em, or none on 'em, it's allus the same, and she's
no sooner got her head on the pillow, than she's off like a top - sound
as can be. 'Taint no good to speak - not a bit - you may just as well
spare your breath, and almost the worst of it is, she mends wrong way,
and gets sleepier and sleepier the longer she lives. But that's only
"almost the worst" on it; not _the_ worst of it, for the worst of it is,
that she will be so aggravating, and won't own to it. Say she can't
help it; well, then, why don't she own it, and tell me so - not go
sticking out, as she'd only jest shet her eyes, and was as wide awake as
I was.

Now, I'll jest give you a sample. We live in a part where there's cats
enough to make the fortunes of five hundred millions o' Dick
Whittingtons. The place is alive with 'em; scratching up your bits of
gardens; sneaking in at your back doors, and stealing; making Hyde Parks
and Kensington Gardens of the tops o' your wash-houses and tiles of your
roof; and howling - howling - why, no mortal pusson would believe how them
cats can howl. They seem to give the whole o' their minds to it, and
try it one against another, to see who's got the loudest voice, and
setting up such a concert as makes the old women cry, "Drat the cats."
But that ain't no good: they don't mind being dratted, not a bit of it;
and if you go out into the back garden, and shy bricks, why, they only
swear at you - awful.

Well, you see, we live in a very catty part, and it seems to me as if
the beasts warn't fed enough, and do it out of spite, for no sooner does
it get dark, than out they come, tunes their pipes, and then you can
hear 'em. No matter where you are, back or front, there they are,
a-going it, like hooroar, till I'm blest if it ain't half enough to
drive you mad. Why, there's one old black Tom, as you can hear a mile
off, and I wouldn't bet as you couldn't hear him two, for he's got a
werry peculiar voice of his own. I think it's what musical people calls
a tenner, though it might be a hundreder for the noise it makes.

He's an artful old brute, though, is that Tom; and I've tried to come
round him scores of times, but it ain't no use, for he won't believe in
me. I've taken out saucers of milk and bits of fish, all got ready on
purpose for my gentleman, but do you think he'd come? No, thank you.
And as soon as ever he ketches sight of me, he shunts, he does, and goes
off like an express train in front of a runaway engine.

But I was going to tell you about my wife. Now, nex' Monday's a
fortni't since I come home werry tired and worn out - for porter's work
at a big terminus at Christmas ain't easy, I can tell you; while, when
we are off night dootey, it's only natural as one should like a quiet
night's rest, which ain't much to ask for, now is it, even if a man does
only get a pound a week, and a sixpence now and then, as swells make a
mistake, and give you through not having read the notice up on the walls
about instant dismissal, and all that? Well, tired out regularly, and
ready to sleep through anything a'most, I goes to bed, and as I lays
down I thinks to myself -

You may howl away, my beauties, to-night, for I can sleep through
anything.

And really I thought I could, but I suppose it was through having a
hyster barrel on my mind, that I couldn't go off directly - for there was
one missing, and a fish hamper, both on 'em. No doubt, having been
stolen by some one in the crowd on the platform; while I got the blame;
and I put it to you, now, could a railway porter, having a pound a week,
and Sunday dooty in his turn, have his eyes every wheres at once?

So I didn't go to sleep right off, but some one else did, and there,
just outside the window, if one o' them cats didn't begin.

"Wow-w-w, wow-w-w, wow-w-w, meyow-w-w," and all such a pretty tune,
finished off with a long low swear at the end.

I stood it for ten minutes good, turning first one side, and then
another, pulling the clothes over my ear, and at last ramming my head
right under, with my fingers stuck in my ears, but there, Lor' bless
you, that was no good, for I'll warrant the song of one of them pretty,
soft, furry nightingales to go through anything, and at last I finds
that I was only smothering myself for nowt, and I puts my head out of
the clothes again, and give a great sigh.

"Me-ow-ow-ow," says my friend on the tiles.

"Hear that, Polly?" I says.

No answer.

"Me-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow," says my friend outside.

"Hear that, Polly?" I says, for there warn't no fun in putting up with
all the noise yourself, when there was some one else in the room to take
half share. "Polly," I says, giving her a nudge, "hear that?"

"Eh!" she says; "what say?"

"Hear that?" I says.

"Yes," she says; "what?"

"Why, you were asleep," I says.

"That I'm sure I warn't," she says.

"Well, then, did you hear that?" I says.

"Yes; what was it?" she says.

"What was it?" I says. "There; go to sleep again," I says; for I felt
quite rusty to think anybody else could sleep through such a row, while
I couldn't.

"Meyow - meyow - wow - wow-w-w-w," goes the music again.

"Two on 'em," I says, as I lay listening, and there it went on getting
louder and louder every moment, both sides and over the way, and up and


1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryGeorge Manville FennChristmas Penny Readings: Original Sketches for the Season → online text (page 8 of 19)