We have seen many curious specimens of horsemanship in our streets, and in the environs of London; I say "have seen," for an equestrian has now become an object of rare occurrence, save and except among men of fortune patronising the Park from five or half-past till seven. What has become of the equestrians we used to see trotting along the New Road on their way from Paddington and its neighbourhood to the City? What of those hurrying along (if they found themselves late) from Highgate and Hampstead to their several places of business? Curious were the grotesque figures sometimes seen among such men. Well, it mattered not; they rode on horseback as the most eligible mode of conveyance then in use; and, provided they got safely to their destination of a morning, and safely back to their families at night, it little mattered how it was done-all men are not bound to be horsemen.
Gigs of all sorts were seen about the same hours in the same localities, from the old-fashioned headed machine to the spruce gig, or stanhope, with its well-turned-out harness, and its nag that "could go a bit" on occasion, the driver showing himself no novice in at least gig driving. These mostly belonged to young men, probably junior partners, and generally found their way to Finsbury Square, where the livery stables teemed with them. The young whip gloried in showing Nunkey how the thing should be done; and the latter, though he did not vie with the younker, good-naturedly called him a lad of spirit; and probably his father was flattered by the compliment paid his son on his good taste. But now, "Bank, bank!" its long body but with short accommodation, has routed equestrians and drivers of the vehicles described off the road. Men, and eke women, have learned to submit to, and expect to have their feet made stepping-stones for those who are admitted, who have no resource left but to pound their way to the front of the 'bus, where (if a tall man) your hat and head are made subservient to the opposite parts of the body of the driver, the roof being many inches lower than that of the other part of the roof for the purpose alluded to.
This is all very well for a makeshift; but, supposing papa does not like it, and remembers the driving himself in and out of town-as well might he propose to increase his establishment of two female servants by the addition of a butler and valet as to contemplate keeping a horse. The thing is set at rest by the "la reine le veut" of Mrs. Wilkins and the united voices of the Misses Wilkins, who never consider that, what with the good man's omnibus morning and evening, and their own as many days or evenings in the week as what they are pleased to consider as business or pleasure induce them to produce their sixpences, amount weekly to a sum that showed Wilkins's idea of keeping a horse was not so preposterous as it struck them. But few men have coolness enough or determination enough to have a voice against a wife and three or more grown-up misses; but, unlike Richard, will let "the Heavens hear these tell-tale women rail on the Lord's anointed."
But it sometimes happens that such ladies as we may suppose the Mrs. and Misses Wilkins to be (gentlewomen are quite different beings) have a very fertile invention, and quick thought, as regards the carrying out any plan that bodes an accession to their own amusement, and still more so as regards their vanity. It will be recollected that Wilkins had "screwed his courage to the sticking point" (but could not keep it there), when he had mentioned the idea of keeping a horse. Now, whether the present bright thought originated with one of the spirited Misses Wilkins, or whether it was the maturer one of Mrs. Wilkins's brain, I know not, but certain it is, it was first mooted in close conclave among the ladies, was carried nem. con., and now was proposed to Mr. Wilkins, not so much for the sake of his consent-for it was determined that with or without his approbation the question should be carried somehow - but the ladies felt it could be done better, and with less trouble to themselves, by gaining his cooperation. Now, this notable project was the setting up a phaeton that would hold the five Wilkinses, it having just struck the lady that they could at times drop Wilkins at his house of business, and then the carriage would be at (that supreme delight of most females) their sole control for the day. The keeping a footman, or boy, with a coat to suit his temporary occupation of coachman, was in contemplation but festina lente. It was thought prudent at first to suggest that Jones, who came to^do little odd things about the house and garden, should be engaged to drive the phaeton, though they knew not whether he had ever done such a thing in his life-to wash the carriage, clean the harness, and feed the horse. Of course, as their neighbours, who they only knew by name, had a man who did such things, and they had often admired the neatness of the turn-out-so, as Jones was a man, they held him capable of the same thing. Well, it is no use entering into particulars- of course, the project having been mentioned by the coalition, it was virtually un fait accompli. The phaeton, horse, harness, stable utensils, were purchased. Jones, under some bargain, was installed in his office; and Wilkins, who, in his earlier (it would appear invidious to say happier) days, knew something about horses, endeavoured to instil a little common-place knowledge into his coachman elect, in which he most signally failed; but, having gained the point of clearly pointing out the quantity of hay, corn, and water, the horse was to take, and at what hours, he determined not to trouble his head about the way in which the equipage was to be turned out. If it satisfied the women, he determined it should not disturb him.
Mrs. Wilkins, having now to boast that she kept a carriage (as she said and thought) like the Countess of--, was determined herself and daughters should assume the same mode of lounging or reclining in it as she had remarked many women of fashion indulge in. Consequently, Mrs. Wilkins sprawled herself in one corner, the Misses Wilkins in the others-forgetting or not knowing that what might be quite in place in a phaeton with an unmistakeable coachman and footman, and the tout ensemble in the best taste and turned out in the best style, became most supremely ridiculous with a "yahoo" driving a vehicle half washed, and the harness showing as if what cleaning it had was achieved by the aid of an article borrowed from the cook-maid.