Statistically speaking,there are degrees in murder and therefore life must be held sacred; not merely from the insidious invasion of choleric disease, nor only from the heinous onslaught of stubborn, homicidal intent, but from that most sinister and dare I say it, most nefarious of transports, the London Omnibus. In this vast metropolis, with it’s streets mired in mud throughout the greater part of Winter, travelling abroad on foot, bag in hand, with one’s skirts held aloft, all the way from Hay Market to the Spitalfield’s Workhouse, is unthinkable.
For one, there are the little ragged children, masquerading as street sweepers, who importune one so aggressively for a farthing here and a shilling there, that one is rather apt to call the fire of jove down upon their little heads. Then there are the penny steamers, a much safer, and one might say picturesque mode of transport via the River Thames. That is, until one recalls the maiden voyage of the SS Princess Alice, sunk in collision with a collier (650 lives lost), or the explosion of the boiler aboard the Superbiam (400 lives and an entire livelihood lost).
Indeed, it might be said that the safest way to travel is upon one’s feet; though many centuries have past since man felt inclined to demonstrate his affinity with mother earth by treading barefoot upon her. Hence Cabriolets, Hacks and Drays and the nefarious evolution of the Omnibus. Generations of gentlefolk have clambered delicately aboard these vehicles; just as generations of working folk have driven ’em and made ’em profitable.
Observe the honourable Miss Peepy the elder, as she daintily ascends the ‘Halfway Dilligent’ and is expertly manhandled into a comfy seat by Mr Herbert, the cad. Observe Mr Herbert tip his hat, and proffer a courtly bow, as a precussor to his assuring Miss Peepy the elder, that the journey from Paddington to Spitalfields will cost no more today, than it did yesterday.
“A good day to you Miss Peepy! I ‘opes this day finds you in pwistine ‘ealth Miss Peepy! That’ll be six pence Miss Peepy!” Miss Peepy responds in kind, gently inclining her head and offering up a contrained smile (it doesn’t do to be too familiar!), “A good day to you Mr Herbert! Spitalfields if you please!” and Spitalfields it is, though Mr Herbert and the driver have calculated that if they turn up Tenter Street, instead of turning left at White’s Row, they should be able to make a further thruppence out of Miss Peepy and so increase their profit margins.
The Omnibus driver canters on picking up one gentle-person after another till the bus is suffuse with the the scent of Rose Water mingled with Eau de Cologne. And now the Omnibus is packed nearly to the rafters with a dozen over dressed, esteemed persons seated cheek by jowl. Ah but there is always room for more! And so the driver pauses first at London Bridge, and then at Liverpool Street, and then again at Phoenix Street, picking up several gentlemen along the way for the princely sum of 2 shillings a piece. Nice and gently the Omnibus canters along, that is until Mr Herbert, leaning out of the door and surveying the whole breadth of Commercial Steet says he espies Squivers in the distance and a-picking up speed.
“Oi Oi! It’s Squivers! Comin up off-side! Look sharp Mr Gubbins!” and with a ferocious twirl of the whip on the horses’ back sides they’re off! The gentle canter becomes a trot, the trot becomes a gallop, and the gallop becomes a headlong rush down Commercial Street, a mad cap dash up Hen Cage Row. Now the Omnibuses are neck and neck and Squiver’s twirling his whip like a man gone insane turns briefly to observe Gubbins and his Omnibus falling behind. “Ha!” he screeches, “Ha Ha Ha!” a look of exultant triumph lighting up his face, he is oblivous to the screams and wails of fear issuing forth from the mouths of his passengers.
And indeed, just as he is about to turn into Fashion Street one of his gentleman passengers is thrown out of the bus and left clinging onto the doors leathern strap for dear life. On the corner of Church Street the gallop slows to a trot and the trot to a most subtle canter, until at length they’ve arrived at Montague Street, whereupon all the passengers hastily disembark, straightening their clothes, re-adjusting their hats and tossing many a baleful glance behind them. They are horrified by the behaviour of Squires! They are outraged! But then they contemplate the prospect of having to walk all the way from Paddington to Church Street (as the poor do) and become resigned.
As for Mr Squivers, he climbs down from his perch and is soon joined by the bus boy who congratulates him on his triumph over Herbert and Gubbins. Cantering gently down White Street they pull up outside the Brass Bell pub, there they will count up the surplus profit they have made off the passengers and Squivers will recount his racing triumph, to any that care to give him their ear.