The Slaves of the Carriage: 1904


Those who are “to the manner born,” i.e., who have ridden in a carriage since they were in their nurse’s arms, may consider a carriage to be as natural a portion of their being, as a centaur might esteem his equine extremities. They ride in a carriage just as little children born in boats paddle on the water. But commend me to those who only attain such a luxury after their teens are over, as forming a most curious species of human zoology, and one which we think has never been viewed under the particular phase we allude to.

We continually read and hear of new made fortunes, the professors of which delight in flaunting in a carriage and four, and splashing their humbler neighbours, and so forth—but what we more especially point to, is that gradual process of absorption by which, instead of the owner governing the carriage, he or she invariably becomes its very humble servant. Talk of the slave of Aladdin’s lamp! What were his quickly performed tasks compared to the daily round of drudgery performed by the slave of the carriage?

Like many an exacting taskmaster, the carriage promises fair at first, but so soon as it has put its grappling-hook upon you, see if it does not ride you to death, should you submit to its exactions.

Let us illustrate our assertion by an example. We all know that there is, as Shakespeare has told us, a ” tide in the affairs of man”—and when a man of business has entered into a prosperous vein, there often happens to be an under current of dissatisfaction in his wife’s mind at that particular juncture, which leads her to brood continually over the unpleasantness of being condemned to cabs, and perhaps omnibuses, while Mrs. Gadabout, her near neighbour, is riding in her brougham. And now that dear Charles is getting on so nicely, why should she not have some sort of vehicle, as well as Mrs. G.?

Accordingly she opens her batteries. Being well aware that Mr. Atkins is rather a practical man, owing to his business habits, she does. not waste any shot by dilating on the wish of eclipsing her neighbours in the Square, and cutting a dash, or anything of that sort—but launches the sort of missiles she thinks best calculated to take effect upon his particular idiosyncrasy. She complains of the hecatombs of kid boots that are sacrificed by persons going out on foot. It is much cheaper in fact to ride.

“Then get into an omnibus,” was Charles’ natural suggestion—men being proverbial for not seeing further than their nose.

“Yes, I daresay!” sneers the lady, adding in a tone of irritation: “I had a silk dress completely spoilt the last time I tried one of those elegant vehicles, by a man in dirty boots passing by me to get to his place. Now, seriously, Charles, can you, who are so good an accountant, maintain that it is economical to sacrifice a dress worth five guineas, to save a pair of boots worth fifteen shillings, to say nothing of my losing a sovereign between the ill-joined boards?

“To be sure not, my dear,” said Mr. Atkins, who was deep in his newspaper, after a late dinner.

There he would have let the matter drop; but his better-half had no notion of any such thing, and observed in an off-hand tone: “It is easy to say ‘to be sure not,’ but what can one do, when one has no carriage?”

“Take a cab,” came out oracularly, after a certain delay, from the depths of the double sheet.

“Yes—a cab with a broken window, so as to catch a cold that will entail a doctor’s bill heavy enough to have lasted me for six month’s pin-money! Besides, they say cabs carry patients to the hospital; now, would you have me risk dying of the typhus fever, Mr. Atkins?”

“No! why should I?” said Charles, staring in astonishment, for he had not closely followed the thread of her argument, adding with the sincere wish of atoning for his want of attention: “Here’s an advertisement about a disinfecting fluid, that is to be sold at the oil shops—perhaps that would meet the emergency?”

“Pshaw!” said his wife, falling back upon her crochet, as she perceived it was no use pushing matters any further that day.

But she has not given up her point. By dint of seeking, she finds a case that bears upon the grievance, viz., an inquest on a person who died of the small-pox, caught from the cushions of a cab. She shows it to her husband—exultingly, we were going to say—observing, “Cabs are dangerous conveyances!”

“And walking is more healthy,” he chimed in.

“But not for persons of weak constitutions, like myself.”

“My dear, you can take a fly whenever you please. Flys never convey hospital patients.”

“The driver’s gloves always look soiled,” objected the lady; “besides, you can never deceive anybody into the belief it is your own brougham.”

“I didn’t say you could,” retorted Charles, looking up from his paper; “but you were dilating on the danger of cabs, and I merely suggested how to avoid them.”

Mrs. Atkins quickly perceived she had nearly let the cat out of the bag, and altered her tactics by turning to some other subject. But of course she resumed her favourite topic at no distant period. It was like those cut-and-come-again grievances that Members of Parliament serve up session after session, when the weather is too sultry and the House too lazy to attend to real business. Mrs. Atkins was determined to get the carriage bill to pass, if steady perseverance could effect it. Another time she told her husband that she had followed his advice and taken a fly to pay a round of visits. Then she proceeded to work upon this tema, like composers of variations; only with this difference, that while they seek to make the subject attractive, she endeavoured to show up all its worst features. She hated above everything to hold any tenure at so much an hour. She declared it spoilt all her pleasure to be reckoning up whether she should encroach upon another hour or not. She felt so mean while making such calculations! Those who kept their own carriages know none of these annoyances!

“No—but their coachman sell their corn and starve their horses,” observed Mr. Atkins.

“Still, it is very delightful to drive about as long as you like, and not to have to think about hours and half hours,” sighed the lady; “and I daresay it is cheaper in the end, for I missed I don’t know how many small parcels I put into the coach pocket, and one of them contained several yards of Chantilly lace.”

“You must inform the master of the livery stables,” said the husband, “and if he does not offer some compensation, I shall speak to my solicitor.”

“Oh,” cried the lady incautiously, “but I’m sure it is not the coachman, nor the livery stable people, for I missed the parcels in the middle of the day. It must have been some thief who took it out of the fly, while I was in a shop, and the coachman’s attention engaged elsewhere.”

“If so,” said Mr. Atkin’s, laughing, “you only prove that a private carriage would offer no better guarantee against pickpockets. Mrs. Atkins bit her lip at being again caught at fault; still she was not to be daunted.

The daily drop of water wears away the stone in the long run, as the wisdom of nations has never ceased repeating, since the world was peopled—and by dint of instilling into her dear Charles’s ear (for only half his attention was given to what she said, the other half being devoted to his newspaper) that a carriage was the first necessity of life, he began at length to think there must be some truth in such oft repeated an assertion. Besides, owing to the dreamy semi-attention with which he listened, there was this advantage gained, that her frequently illogical arguments were lost sight of, while the more plausible ones floated to the surface of his memory. Thus, one favourite argument was that, if she had a carriage, she would no longer require an expensive journey out of town every season, as she could take the most delightful drives in the environs of London, which would answer the purpose quite as well—nay, better still, as she would not have to leave her “dear hubby,” or to subject him to the annoyance of continually coming to and fro by the railway, supposing she chose a watering-place within a reasonable distance.

The result of her strenuous efforts were at last made apparent by the merchant’s summing up the debates in these delightful words: “Well, Fan, you shall have your carriage.”

Carriages in a Park, Alexander Ritter von Bensa,

(c) National Trust, Wimpole Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Accordingly a most elegant carriage was purchased. It had been built for a nobleman’s chere amie, as the coach-builder told Mr. Atkins confidentially, but had been returned upon his hands, owing either to some caprice or some quarrel. The lining of pale amber brocade was of the most costly description. The vehicle having been used only twice at most, as the maker declared, was, he maintained, quite as good as new, though he let it go—at “so very low a figure”—which “low figure” was of course a mere figure of speech.

In order to launch the new purchase with some degree of éclat, Mr. Atkins determined to take a holiday, and go to the races. He joined a set of friends, who had their hired vehicles, and as he promised luncheon for them all, he was of course the great man of the party. A number of glasses of champagne were emptied to the health—we were going to say, of the new carriage—-we mean to its owners, and long might they enjoy it, and so forth! Atkins felt considerably elated, and almost tearfully expressed his obligation to his dear wife for showing him the right road to happiness, which the bystanders mistook for a demonstration of conjugal affection, while he alluded to her teazing him into keeping a carriage. The only little drawback that ruffled him was, that a number of fashionable popinjays stared impertinently at his wife, as they passed by. They looked and smiled and nodded in a way he did not like, and which was not by any means respectful to—the carriage! Mrs. Atkins simpered and blushed, and began to entertain the pleasant conviction that she was looking uncommonly well that morning. Altogether the day passed pleasantly, and his friends thought Atkins had done things handsomely, and the copious libations of champagne extinguished whatever sparks of jealousy his new carriage would otherwise have kindled in their bosoms.

Next morning at breakfast, the man servant inquired with solemn importance, for what hour his mistress wished the carriage to be ordered. James looked three inches taller than the day before. Wholly unprepared for the question, Mrs. Atkins hesitated, coloured a trifle, and said at random “one o’clock.” James fidgetted about the room, and wiped the sideboard, and then ventured to ask whether his “missus” would lunch at twelve?  She had forgotten luncheon, but quickly answered: “Say two o’clock for the carriage.”

The carriage! Those two words seemed like so much sugar upon her lips!

Presently, however, James came back rather ruefully, with a message From the coachman, stating that the carriage was so dirty owing to the dusty roads, and to some “gents as were larking” having frolicsomely pelted it with eggs, and other remnants of a feast, on their return home, that he was afraid it could not be ready for two o’clock. Moreover, one of the panels had been ” scratched most awful,” James added, and it was probable the coach-painter would have to be put in requisition.

The new owner of the carriage looked rather annoyed. Instead of going off to his counting-house, to make up for the time lost during yesterday’s holiday, he had to go to the stables, where he relieved himself by scolding the coachman, who was not in fault. The coachman let him work off his passion like so much steam, and then said quietly, that the carriage must go to the coachmaker’s, to which his master assented, and then hurried away to the city, wishing the carriage, the races, and the frolicsome individuals who had made free with his property, all severally at Jericho.

In a few days the new plaything was restored to its owners, and Mrs. Atkins drove out for a round of visits to exhibit her new acquisition to her friends and their servants. The next day she paid more distant visits, and the day after, went shopping—and all this was very pleasant. On the morrow of the third day, however, in reply to James’s daily query, she said she did not require the carriage.

“Why not take a turn in the park?said her husband; “such spirited horses as ours require frequent exercise.”

So because they were spirited, his wife must take exercise, in order to exercise them. But the words “our horses” had still all the charm of novelty, and Fanny laughingly agreed that she would go.

In the park she was again stared at, just like at the races, by the male equestrians and pedestrians too—while the female equestrians tossed their heads somewhat disdainfully as they passed her, though evidently peeping at her stealthily, when they thought themselves unobserved. Mrs. Atkins fancied her carriage excited envy, and her fair face a still larger share of admiration. This conduct was repeated every time she drove through Rotten Row, till she began to think the gentlemen rather obtrusive in their admiration, and the ladies most impertinently haughty. For though they might be of high birth, still “Mr. Atkins paid his way, and that was more than many of their husbands did.”

At last she complained to Charles, and though he declared it was all her fancy, he was at last persuaded to come home an hour earlier, and take a drive through the park with her. But however inclined to be credulous, the merchant could not help seeing that neither his wife nor his equipage met with the respect he considered they were entitled to. Presently he was hailed by a gentleman of his acquaintance who moved in a more fashionable sphere than himself, and seeing him rein in his horse as if desirous of saying a word to him, Mr. Atkins desired the coachman to stop. The gentleman asked a business question of the husband, as if to account for detaining the wife, and then, without waiting for the reply, whispered: “Get that lining changed, Atkins; it is not fit for your wife.”

“Not fit? Why, she thinks it charming;” and he was going to appeal to Mrs. Atkins to confirm what he said, when his adviser added: “Not fit she should ride in the carriage in which Anonyma paraded about only two months ago.”

And the gentleman bowed and rode on.

There was the explanation of the “nods and becks and wreathed smiles” of the men, and the contemptuous looks of the women! Atkins wiped the perspiration from his brow, and bid his coachman drive home in double quick time.

“Already?” said his wife.

“We must have this confounded lining altered,” said Atkins, who forthwith expounded the tremendous error they had fallen into.

Fanny was rather mortified to think it was not her good looks that had caused all the commotion on the race-course and in the park, but simply the suspicion that she was that which she was not. Mr. Atkins rated the coach maker soundly, when the latter reminded him he had stated the case as it was, on selling the carriage, adding, by way of comment, that those sort of articles were rather sought after than not.

The carriage was now re-lined, and as Fanny was a blonde, she was consoled for the loss of the amber brocade by the pale blue lining substituted for it. People ceased gazing and whispering, and she could drive all over London without exciting any notice.

Again she resumed the horse-in-a-mill existence of heretofore, and worked the carriage most diligently. And now the slavery began in good earnest. When you have a carriage, you must ride in it, unless you wish your coachman to contract idle habits, to say nothing of the horses. Only not having increased her acquaintance in proportion to this demand for perpetual motion, Mrs. Atkins need have paid three visits to one from each of those friends who had no carriages themselves. This would have been against all etiquette, and therefore could not be done. Neither can one be continually shopping short of possessing the wealth of a Rothschild; so that, taking a drive, formed, after all, the staple occupation of her existence. It was harassing and wearisome, nay, often provoking, to leave her elegant drawing-room—though, on the other hand, it was a pleasant reflection that the invariable answer to all visitors who called during her absence, would be, Missus has gone out in the carriage;”—for servants, being generally as proud of the carriage as their mistress, are sure to volunteer this piece of intelligence, even if not instructed to do so.

Another remark I have made relative to the slaves of the carriage, is, that however weary of their Sisyphus-like round of drudgery, it never occurs to them to cast off the burden for a few hours by lending their vehicle to a friend who has none of his or her own. If ever they chance to lend it, be sure it is to those who have three or four carriages and plenty of horses at their disposal. Neither do your thorough-faced slaves of the carriage make use of it themselves to go to theatres or parties, when the comfort of one’s own carriage is most valuable, from the apprehension of some fancied injuries that may be sustained either by the horses or the vehicle. Of course, when it snows or thaws, their horses must not be exposed to such weather. Nota bene, that the coachman does not come in for the slightest share of the solicitude extended to both horses and carriage. In short, the pretty plaything is more for show than for use; and it furnishes a vast deal of information too; the slaves of the carriage never allowing a quarter of an hour, at a moderate computation, to pass by without some allusion to “the carriage.” The lady talks of the vehicle, and the gentleman of the horses. If the lady happens to be a widow, she then talks of both.

By the time the season was over, Mrs. Atkins was thoroughly tired of her slavery, and began reminding Charles it was time to go somewhere. But her husband in turn reminded her how she had expatiated on the economy the carriage would effect in their household, by precluding the necessity of going into the country, as she could drive to all the prettiest spots round London—and seeing that times were hard, and the carriage had cost a good deal, he considered she had better carry out the plan she had herself proposed.

Thus fairly caught in her own trap, Fanny had not a word of opposition to offer, though she wished she had been far enough before she had said anything so silly, as she now considered it. Not caring to go to the park when “all London” was out of town, she proceeded to try the effects of her once favourite scheme, but not with the success she had formerly anticipated. As between the hours of luncheon and dinner, she seldom went beyond ten miles out, it came to pass that within a fortnight, she had been all the rounds forming the different outlets of London—and then there was nothing for it but to begin afresh, and go over the same ground again. How she longed for a railway by way of change! She looked fagged and grew fretful, and the sight of the carriage became almost hateful to her. Still she toiled on, as slaves of the carriage will. At last she could stand it no longer, and suddenly found out that her health required more walking exercise, when having gained over the doctor as an ally, she proposed a new bargain to her husband, viz., to lay down the carriage and resume their annual trip to some watering place.

The merchant, who had not had an opportunity of getting tired of the family plaything, having only once enjoyed the convenience of being fetched from his counting-house in the city by his better half (for, of course, “those spirited horses were not to be trusted in the city”), was rather surprised at hearing her take up the very converse of the arguments she had used but so short a time before; nevertheless, he cheerfully consented, on the express condition that she would not repent the moment she was back in town. Accordingly, the horses were sold, the coachman dismissed, and the carriage put up at the livery stables, to be used only when wanted, with job-horses. Three days afterwards Mrs. Atkins was inhaling the sea breeze on the beach of a pleasant watering place, and derived a satisfaction from walking which she had never before experienced. Like all slaves of the carriage, she had acquired an inveterate habit of talking about her favourite vehicle—nor could this be completely eradicated. It was, however, modified to this formula: “When we kept our carriage “—so, and so.

I always thought there was great sense in the abdication of that which had become a most harassing luxury—like a wise king who doffs his crown when it weighs too heavily on his head—but for one monarch, and for one slave of the carriage, who break through their trammels, how many thousands are there who whirl round and round in the same wearisome circle as the squirrel in his cage, and never cease till death stops the way!

The Rose, the Shamrock and the Thistle, A Magazine. Vol.1, June 1904

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: What an intriguing thought: that possessions somehow became tainted with the owner’s soiled glamour! If that were the case, pawnshops and discreet jewellers would be soon be out of business…  Mrs Daffodil cannot help but wonder at how that gentleman of Mr Atkins’s acquaintance garnered his information. But the carriage-maker was correct about the fascination Anonyma’s class held for the public. This excerpt comes from a longer piece about the French demi-mondaine:

The Comte Un Tel, if he do not afficher himself too openly with Liane de Lancey [undoubtedly Liane de Poucy], is none the less proud of his position of protector; replies to those smiles with a smile, replies to those winks with a wink, and, in one well-known case, actually considered it a fine thing to have been ruined by a demi-mondaine who was then most á la mode.

How respectiful is our bow when first we are presented to Mdlle. Liane de Lancey! We say—Madame. We would enjoy the honour of handing her into her carriage. True, if we be in other society, we bow discreetly, even look away; but we are not annoyed at being accused of knowing “cette femme”.

The Saturday Review 31 October 1903: p. 542

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


3 thoughts on “The Slaves of the Carriage: 1904

    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      Many thanks! Mrs Daffodil is fascinated by how a carriage lining, even one of a “most costly description” seen on only one or two occasions in public, became so quickly recognised as that of a courtesan. Perhaps the carriage makers kept special brocades with subliminally naughty patterns… If this story were by Guy de Maupassant, Mrs Atkins would discover that it was not the carriage alone that was beguiling–she herself had hitherto-unexploited fascinations. She would then leave her husband for a generous Comte and eventually come to an obligatory bad end. But this, of course, is real life.
      Best wishes,
      Mrs Daffodil

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Pingback: Fashions in Horse-flesh: 1864 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

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