Chapter 17. The Last Cab–Driver, and the First Omnibus Cad

by Charles Dickens

Of all the cabriolet-drivers whom we have ever had the honour and gratification of knowing by sight—and our acquaintance in this way has been most extensive—there is one who made an impression on our mind which can never be effaced, and who awakened in our bosom a feeling of admiration and respect, which we entertain a fatal presentiment will never be called forth again by any human being.  He was a man of most simple and prepossessing appearance.  He was a brown-whiskered, white-hatted, no-coated cabman; his nose was generally red, and his bright blue eye not unfrequently stood out in bold relief against a black border of artificial workmanship; his boots were of the Wellington form, pulled up to meet his corduroy knee-smalls, or at least to approach as near them as their dimensions would admit of; and his neck was usually garnished with a bright yellow handkerchief.  In summer he carried in his mouth a flower; in winter, a straw—slight, but, to a contemplative mind, certain indications of a love of nature, and a taste for botany.

His cabriolet was gorgeously painted—a bright red; and wherever we went, City or West End, Paddington or Holloway, North, East, West, or South, there was the red cab, bumping up against the posts at the street corners, and turning in and out, among hackney-coaches, and drays, and carts, and waggons, and omnibuses, and contriving by some strange means or other, to get out of places which no other vehicle but the red cab could ever by any possibility have contrived to get into at all.  Our fondness for that red cab was unbounded.  How we should have liked to have seen it in the circle at Astley’s!  Our life upon it, that it should have performed such evolutions as would have put the whole company to shame—Indian chiefs, knights, Swiss peasants, and all.

Some people object to the exertion of getting into cabs, and others object to the difficulty of getting out of them; we think both these are objections which take their rise in perverse and ill-conditioned minds.  The getting into a cab is a very pretty and graceful process, which, when well performed, is essentially melodramatic.  First, there is the expressive pantomime of every one of the eighteen cabmen on the stand, the moment you raise your eyes from the ground.  Then there is your own pantomime in reply—quite a little ballet.  Four cabs immediately leave the stand, for your especial accommodation; and the evolutions of the animals who draw them, are beautiful in the extreme, as they grate the wheels of the cabs against the curb-stones, and sport playfully in the kennel.  You single out a particular cab, and dart swiftly towards it.  One bound, and you are on the first step; turn your body lightly round to the right, and you are on the second; bend gracefully beneath the reins, working round to the left at the same time, and you are in the cab.  There is no difficulty in finding a seat: the apron knocks you comfortably into it at once, and off you go.

The getting out of a cab is, perhaps, rather more complicated in its theory, and a shade more difficult in its execution.  We have studied the subject a great deal, and we think the best way is, to throw yourself out, and trust to chance for alighting on your feet.  If you make the driver alight first, and then throw yourself upon him, you will find that he breaks your fall materially.  In the event of your contemplating an offer of eightpence, on no account make the tender, or show the money, until you are safely on the pavement.  It is very bad policy attempting to save the fourpence.  You are very much in the power of a cabman, and he considers it a kind of fee not to do you any wilful damage.  Any instruction, however, in the art of getting out of a cab, is wholly unnecessary if you are going any distance, because the probability is, that you will be shot lightly out before you have completed the third mile.

We are not aware of any instance on record in which a cab-horse has performed three consecutive miles without going down once.  What of that?  It is all excitement.  And in these days of derangement of the nervous system and universal lassitude, people are content to pay handsomely for excitement; where can it be procured at a cheaper rate?

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