A Very Satisfactory Fog
A VERY SATISFACTORY FOG.
"I HAVE always wanted to see a London fog," remarked the Colonel, "and at last I've seen one. Half-a-dozen times I've seen fogs that seemed to me to be about as thick as the head of a McKinley Protectionist, but whenever I have said to a Londoner, 'Do you call this a thick fog?' he has exclaimed, 'Oh dear, no! This is only a little misty.' But I saw all the fog I ever want to see last night.'
"It was thick," I observed, "and it seems to have left you feeling rather tired."
"I am tired," said the Colonel. "It wasn't the fog that tired me so much as the after effects. Do you know that I spent this morning at the police-station, and paid a fine, all on account of that beastly fog? That was an after effect of the fog, and a mighty disagreeable one. I'll tell you about it if you've nothing better to do than to listen.
"Last night I went to the Lyceum Theatre, and when I came out I found that the fog was so thick that I couldn't even see a lamp-post until I had walked into it. I enjoyed it at first, for it was a new experience for me, and I started to walk home, thinking that I could find my way without any difficulty. A man who has found his way down from the tenth story of a Chicago hotel when the building was burning and the corridors were black with smoke, ought, I thought, to be able to get the better of any British monarchical fog that was ever yet made. But I found before long that I had made a mistake. I lost my way, and after wandering for an hour or so I was mighty glad to walk into a cabman who was leading his horse, and, as I supposed, knew the London streets as well in a fog as in clear weather. So I just climbed into the cab and told the man where to take me, and then I pulled up the windows to keep the choke-damp out, and started a cigar, and felt pretty comfortable. The cabman didn't dare to get on the box and drive, though there didn't seem to be any traffic in the street. However I didn't concern myself with the cabman, for there is no use in buying a cab and then doing your own driving; besides I had been told that the London cabmen are the best in the world, and I don't know but what it is true. I will say this for them that when it comes to making a shilling fare stretch into half-a-crown, and then grumbling because you don't voluntarily pay five shillings, your cabmen show an amount of financial genius that an average Chancellor of the Exchequer might envy.
"We had been slowly cruising around London—occasionally running into an ashbox or wandering on to the sidewalk—for about an hour (as I should judge) when the cab stopped and the cabman opened the door. I was going to get out, thinking that we had reached my hotel, but the man stopped me and said, 'Better stop where you are, sir!'
"‘And where's that?' said I.
"‘Blest if I know,' said the cabman. 'To tell the bloomin' truth, sir, I don't know where we are any more than the dead. It may be Whitechapel (though it don't smell like it) and it may be Camden Town (though the road is a little too rough for that). Anyway we're nowheres near Piccadilly way, which is where you want to go, and that's the only thing I'm sure about.'
"‘I don't see,' said I, 'that this concerns me. I hired you to take me to my hotel. I'm in no sort of hurry; but all the same if I were you I'd earn that fare instead of remarking on the geography of London.'
"‘There ain't no sort of use in wandering round in this way,' said the man. 'You must see that yourself, sir! We'll never get nowhere unless perhaps we walks into the river or some bloomin' canal. For all I know we may have gone over Waterloo Bridge, and we may fetch up in the West Injy Docks. I put it to you, sir, if that's the sort of thing you'd like.'
"I began to see that there was more or less force in what the cabman said, so I asked him what he proposed to do about it.
"'I think, sir,' said he, 'that I'd better leave you and the cab here for a bit and try to find a public-house if there is one open or a police station, so as we can know in a general way where we are. You can sit quite comfortable in the cab till I come back.'
"‘All right,' says I. 'Only you'd better find a lamp-post and make the horse fast to it, or else anchor him with a weight or something of that sort. I don't want him to start for Piccadilly on his own responsibility.'
"Well the cabman led the horse along a little farther till he came to a lamp-post, which he hit middling fair with his nose or his forehead (judging by the remarks he made), and then he tied the horse and went off, saying that he wouldn't be gone very long.
"I don't know whether he found a public-house open and got drunk, or whether he found a police station and got locked up, or whether he was run over and killed, or just suffocated by the fog. All I do know is that I have never laid eyes on that cabman since he left me sitting in his cab, and I don't want to see him either. If he ever finds me he will charge me for that twenty-four hours' use of that cab at two shillings an hour, besides making a big claim for damages. If he's alive he's probably consulting with some expert plumber as to the best way of swelling his bill up to ten or fifteen pounds.
"Well, I sat in that cab until morning. There was no kind of use in deserting it and trying to find my way on foot—I had had quite enough of that—besides, the cab was more comfortable than the streets, and as I had plenty of cigars I managed to get rid of the time in a pretty comfortable sort of way.
"Along towards morning a policeman happened to find the cab, and he opened the door and told me to get along out of that, and not to waste any time about it either.
"I told him I was not the cabman, and that the latter had left me for a few moments, and would return very soon.
"‘Can't help that,' says the policeman. 'I can't allow any cab to stop here tied to a lamp-post. You must move on at once.'
"I told him that if he would get on the box and drive to the station-house I should be very much obliged to him; but he explained that he wasn't a cabman, and couldn't leave his beat. My own belief is that he thought I was the cabman, and that I had tied up the cab in order to have a quiet sleep. When I gave him a cigar and half-a-crown he saw his mistake and went away, telling me that the moment the cabman came back I must move on.
"It was just beginning to get a little light, by which I knew that morning was coming, when a man lurched up against the cab, and after doing a little general swearing got the door open and climbed in. He told me to drive to somewhere that sounded like Victoria Street, but might have been almost anything else, and immediately fell fast asleep on the seat beside me. I struck a match and managed to make out that he wore a good hat, from which it was clear that he wasn't a vagabond, and so I decided to let him have his nap out. He leaned up in the corner and snored like a high-pressure steam-boat, but otherwise he didn't give me any trouble.
"About eight o'clock the fog thinned so much that I decided to make a start for Piccadilly. My intoxicated friend was still fast asleep, and now that I could see him I saw that he was a middle-aged old party who looked as if he might be a bank president or something of that kind, with too much fondness for port wine. I did not think it worth while to turn him out of the cab, so I just cast the horse loose and climbed up on the box and drove off at a slow walk, keeping close to the curbstone. I had my slouched hat on, and it was somewhat the worse for wear, considering that the fog had soaked it all night, and when I had pulled the cabby's blankets well up to my neck I didn't look at all out of place on the box.
"Before I had driven more than a block I came across a policeman and asked him in what part of England I and the cab happened to be. He told me I was a little north of Finsbury Circus, and as I knew where that was I judged that I wouldn't have any trouble in finding my way to Piccadilly. I jogged along, now and then coming very near to running into somebody, but meeting with no accident worth mentioning. All of a sudden my passenger wakes up, and leaning out of the window begins to abuse me for being so long on the road to Victoria Street. 'Begging your pardon, sir,' says I, 'but this here blooming fog is so thick that I daren't drive faster than a walk.' At that he got very angry and said that he'd get out and take my number, and wouldn't pay me a farthing. I was glad enough to get rid of him, but when he bolted round the corner I began to see that a cabman may have things to trouble him which we folks don't often think about.
"Pretty soon a woman hailed me, and as the cab was moving very slowly she managed to get the door open and to climb inside, in spite of my telling her that I was engaged. 'A very likely story,' said she, settling herself in the cab as if she meant to stay there. 'You can't refuse to take a passenger when you've got nobody,' she said, making as if she was going to stir me up with her umbrella; 'and you know it. You'll drive me to Bloomsbury Square, or I'll make it 'ot for you!'
"Now I knew too much to get into an argument with a woman, and so I drove to Bloomsbury Square. But when I had stopped at the number that she had given me she did not attempt to get out. She was perfectly sober, but in my opinion she was stark crazy, for she insisted that I had lost my way, and that we were not in Bloomsbury Square. I got down from my seat and tried to argue the matter with her. I asked her to look at the corner of the street, where she would see 'Bloomsbury Square, North' in large letters, but she told me not to be impertinent or she would summons me, and refused to look at the corner of the street or anything else. I rang the door-bell of the house, but when the servant had answered it, and looked at my fare, she said that she didn't know her, and went back into the house calling out to me from the doorstep that I ought to be ashamed of myself for being in such a state so early in the morning. I got back on the box again and wondered if everybody in London was made either drunk or crazy by an extra thick fog. I couldn't see my way to dumping the woman on the pavement and leaving her there, and I didn't want to abandon the cab on the street for fear that it might be stolen, or that the horse might take it into his head to bolt. There was nothing left for it but to drive slowly on and hope that things would take a turn for the better.
"There was very little fog by this time, and after thinking the thing over I made up my mind to drive back to the place where I had taken the woman up, leave her on some quiet doorstep, and drive off before anyone could stop me. It wasn't very long before I was back again in the Finsbury quarter, but it wasn't a pleasant drive, for the woman kept yelling to me out of the window, and trying to hit me with her umbrella, and generally conducting herself in a way that would have been sure to bring a policeman down on me if we had happened to meet one. When I got to Finsbury I selected a good quiet street, and then I got down and told my passenger that she must get out. Of course she said she wouldn't do anything of the kind, and when she saw that I meant business she set up a yell that promised to wake the whole street. About fifty windows went up, and more than fifty men and women put their heads out and remarked 'Fire!' and 'Murder!' at the top of their lungs. It was clear that this sort of thing would never do, so I jumped upon my perch again and drove away feeling more sympathy for cabmen than I had ever felt before.
"Having started to scream the woman kept it up. Moreover she managed to pull the front window open and set to work to jab me in the ribs with her umbrella in a way that was far from pleasant. The street filled up with people, though where they came from I couldn't imagine, and some of them cried 'Shame!' and 'Stop him!' Boys seemed to spring up out of the ground and followed me, running alongside the cab,and all the time that dreadful woman kept screaming 'Murder' and 'Thieves,' and making other unpleasant personal remarks of the same general character.
"It would have been useless for me to abandon the cab and run away, for I would have been caught before I could have fairly got off my box. I knew that a policeman would turn up presently, and for the first time that morning I was anxious to see one. Anything would have been better than driving that yelling demon of a woman, and having a mob gather round me. The thing went on for perhaps ten minutes longer, when a policeman arrived, and the woman gave me in charge for attempted murder, and a general assortment of miscellaneous offences.
"That policeman was an intelligent man. He saw at once that the woman was crazy, and he was evidently ready to accept my version of the affair; but when he asked me for my number, and saw that I hadn't any, he changed his mind. It certainly was a suspicious circumstance, from his point of view, that I didn't have any number; and after he had asked me a few questions which I answered in a way not to give him much information, for I didn't want to explain things before the crowd—he got into the cab, so as to keep the woman quiet, and told me to drive to the station-house.
"Of course when I saw the officer in charge I told him the whole story. It did sound rather improbable, as I couldn't help feeling while I told it; and I could see that he didn't believe a word I said, but was of the opinion that I was some desperate sort of villain who had been caught in the act of trying to kidnap an inoffensive woman. So they locked me up. What they did with the woman I don't know.
"I sent off messengers for my landlord, and my banker, and half-a-dozen other people, and the upshot of it all was that next morning I was taken before a magistrate, who, after examining into my case, gave me to understand that I wasn't guilty of the great majority of the crimes that had been charged against me, but that as a sort of warning to me never to commit any of them he should fine me. I paid the fine—I needn't mention just how much it was—and went home in a cab that had a real cabman on the box.
"Whether my original cabman ever saw his cab again or not, or what became of it after I drove it to the station-house, I don't know. For my part I never want to see or hear of a cab again; and after this I shall stick to 'buses and the District Railway in foggy weather. But I've considerably more sympathy for cabmen than I used to have; and if as a class they are men who look on the rest of mankind as their natural enemies, whom they have a perfect right to impose upon, I don't much wonder at it, now that I've been a cabman myself and know a little of the troubles that an honest cabman may have to endure."