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Evolution
by [?]

Coming out of the theatre, we found it utterly impossible to get a taxicab; and, though it was raining slightly, walked through Leicester Square in the hope of picking one up as it returned down Piccadilly. Numbers of hansoms and four-wheelers passed, or stood by the curb, hailing us feebly, or not even attempting to attract our attention, but every taxi seemed to have its load. At Piccadilly Circus, losing patience, we beckoned to a four-wheeler and resigned ourselves to a long, slow journey. A sou’-westerly air blew through the open windows, and there was in it the scent of change, that wet scent which visits even the hearts of towns and inspires the watcher of their myriad activities with thought of the restless Force that forever cries: “On, on!” But gradually the steady patter of the horse’s hoofs, the rattling of the windows, the slow thudding of the wheels, pressed on us so drowsily that when, at last, we reached home we were more than half asleep. The fare was two shillings, and, standing in the lamplight to make sure the coin was a half-crown before handing it to the driver, we happened to look up. This cabman appeared to be a man of about sixty, with a long, thin face, whose chin and drooping grey moustaches seemed in permanent repose on the up-turned collar of his old blue overcoat. But the remarkable features of his face were the two furrows down his cheeks, so deep and hollow that it seemed as though that face were a collection of bones without coherent flesh, among which the eyes were sunk back so far that they had lost their lustre. He sat quite motionless, gazing at the tail of his horse. And, almost unconsciously, one added the rest of one’s silver to that half-crown. He took the coins without speaking; but, as we were turning into the garden gate, we heard him say:

“Thank you; you’ve saved my life.”

Not knowing, either of us, what to reply to such a curious speech, we closed the gate again and came back to the cab.

“Are things so very bad?”

“They are,” replied the cabman. “It’s done with–is this job. We’re not wanted now.” And, taking up his whip, he prepared to drive away.

“How long have they been as bad as this?”

The cabman dropped his hand again, as though glad to rest it, and answered incoherently:

“Thirty-five year I’ve been drivin’ a cab.”

And, sunk again in contemplation of his horse’s tail, he could only be roused by many questions to express himself, having, as it seemed, no knowledge of the habit.

“I don’t blame the taxis, I don’t blame nobody. It’s come on us, that’s what it has. I left the wife this morning with nothing in the house. She was saying to me only yesterday: ‘What have you brought home the last four months?’ ‘Put it at six shillings a week,’ I said. ‘No,’ she said, ‘seven.’ Well, that’s right–she enters it all down in her book.”

“You are really going short of food?”

The cabman smiled; and that smile between those two deep hollows was surely as strange as ever shone on a human face.

“You may say that,” he said. “Well, what does it amount to? Before I picked you up, I had one eighteen-penny fare to-day; and yesterday I took five shillings. And I’ve got seven bob a day to pay for the cab, and that’s low, too. There’s many and many a proprietor that’s broke and gone–every bit as bad as us. They let us down as easy as ever they can; you can’t get blood from a stone, can you?” Once again he smiled. “I’m sorry for them, too, and I’m sorry for the horses, though they come out best of the three of us, I do believe.”

One of us muttered something about the Public.

The cabman turned his face and stared down through the darkness.