“How did it happen?” I asked, feeling glad, in spite of his assurance, that Matilda had not heard of the episode.
“Well, it’s an old story now,” said the driver, putting a small piece of very black tobacco into the corner of his mouth. “I daresay it’s twenty odd years since it happened, but it’s not the kind o’ thing as slips out of a man’s memory. It was very late one night, and I was working my hardest to pick up something good, for I’d made a poor day’s work of it. The theatres had all come out, and though I kept up and down the Strand till nigh one o’clock, I got nothing but one eighteenpenny job. I was thinking of giving it up and going home, when it struck me that I might as well make a bit of a circuit, and see if I couldn’t drop across something. Pretty soon I gave a gentleman a lift as far as the Oxford Road, and then I drove through St. John’s Wood on my way home. By that time it would be about half-past one, and the streets were quite quiet and deserted, for the night was cloudy and it was beginning to rain. I was putting on the pace as well as my tired beast would go, for we both wanted to get back to our suppers, when I heard a woman’s voice hail me out of a side street. I turned back, and there in about the darkest part of the road was standing two ladies—real ladies, mind you, for it would take a deal of darkness before I would mistake one for the other. One was elderly and stoutish; the other was young, and had a veil over her face. Between them there was a man in evening dress, whom they were supporting on each side, while his back was propped up against a lamp-post. He seemed beyond taking care of himself altogether, for his head was sunk down on his chest, and he’d have fallen if they hadn’t held him.
“‘Cabman,’ said the stout lady, with a very shaky voice, ’I wish you would help us in this painful business.’ Those were her very hidentical words.
“‘Cert’nly, mum,’ I says for I saw my way to a good thing. ’What can I do for the young lady and yourself?’ I mentioned the other in order to console her like, for she was sobbing behind her veil something pitiful.
“‘The fact is, cabman,’ she answers, ’this gentleman is my daughter’s husband. They have only just been married, and we are visiting at a friend’s house near here. My son-in-law has just returned in a state of complete intoxication, and my daughter and I have brought him out in the hope of seeing a cab in which we could send him home, for we have most particular reasons for not wishing our friends to see him in this state, and as yet they are ignorant of it. If you would drive him to his house and leave him there, you would do us both a very great kindness, and we can easily account to our hosts for his absence.’
“I thought this rather a rum start, but I agreed, and no sooner had I said the word than the old one she pulls open the door, and she and the other, without waiting for me to bear a hand, bundled him in between them.