A Horse Car Incident

 

NO matter what horse-car, but it happened that I had to go a mile or two, and held up my cane to attract the attention of the driver or the conductor of one of them, which I did, after some difficulty. I am bound to say it was not on the Touchandgo road, for the officers employed there  have an instinctive knowledge whether a man wishes to ride or not, and indeed often by the magic of the upraised finger they draw people in to ride who had hardly any previous intention of it. I have been attracted in this way, and found myself to my astonishment, seated in the car, confident that I had signified no disposition to do so. In this instance, however, I would ride, and got in.

There were the usual passengers in the car—the respectable people going out of town, who were reading the last editions of the papers, the women who had been shopping, the servant girls who had been in to visit their friends, feeling no interest in one another, and all absorbed in their own reflections, as I was. I was thinking seriously, when—my eye was attracted by some glittering object on the floor, beneath the opposite seat.

Of course everybody is attracted by glitter. A piece of glass in the moonlight may be a diamond, and show is far ahead of substance in influencing men, from the illusion which affects short-sighted vision. Thus this glittering object. What was it?—a diamond pin dropped by a former passenger? No, it could not be this, because it appeared to be round, and bigger than a pin stone could be. Could it be a bracelet? No, for it was too small. I directed my gaze more earnestly towards it in my doubt, and saw that it was a QUARTER, bright and sparkling with the freshness of new mint about it, so it seemed.

This I determined to make mine at the first chance, for a woman was sitting very near it, and I dreaded any confusion I might cause, by a sudden plunge, through the motion of the cars; so, whistling at a low breath, as if indifferent, but keeping my eye upon the prize, I awaited the opportunity that should insure me the coveted one-and-sixpence. It soon  came: the bell rang, and the lady opposite, with her arms full of bundles, walked out, leaving the object of my ardent regard more distinctly in view. It seemed to me that every one in the car had an eye on that quarter, which I felt was mine by right of discovery, and which I was determined to have.

As the coach started I rose and fairly tumbled over into the just-vacated seat, taking care to drop in such a way as to screen the glittering bait. I looked at my fellow-passengers, and found that all were staring at me, as though they were reading my secret. The conductor had come inside the door, and was looking at me, and a heavy gentleman on the same seat with me leaned far out on his cane, so that he could take in my whole person with his glance, as though I were a piece of property on which he had to estimate. I felt my face burn, and a general discomfort seized me, as a man sometimes feels when he has done a wrong or a foolish act; though I couldn't think the act I was about to perform was wrong, and no one could say it was foolish in one to try to get a quarter of a dollar in this day of postal currency. At length I stooped down as if to adjust something about my boot, and slipped the object of my solicitude into my hand, unseen, as I believed.

"What is it?" asked the conductor.

"What's what?" said I, with affected smartness.

"What you just found," he persisted.

"I was pulling my pants down over my boot," I prevaricated.

"That's all humbug," said he; "you found something in the car, and it belongs to the company."

"Prove that I found any thing," said I, angrily.

"Young man," said the voice of the big man who was leaning on his cane, still looking at me, "it is as bad to lie about a thing as it is to steal. I saw you pick something up, and to me it had the  appearance of money." He struck his cane on the floor as he spoke, and grasped it firmer, as if to clinch his remark.

"Yes," said the conductor; "and we don't want nothing of the kind here, and what's more, we won't have it; so hand over."

"My fine fellow," said I, prepared for a crisis, "I know my rights, and, without admitting that I have found any thing, I contend that if I had, in this public conveyance, which is as public as the street to him who pays for a ride in it, that which I find in it is mine after I have made due endeavour to find out its owner. Money being an article impossible to identify, unless it is marked, if I had found it, it would have been mine—according to Whately, Lycurgus, and Jew Moses."

"Hang your authorities," said he; "I don't know any thing about 'em, but this I know,—that money belongs to the Touchandgo Horse Railroad Company, and I'll have it. Ain't I right, Mr. Diggs?" addressing a gentleman with glasses on, reading the Journal.

"I think you are," replied he, looking at me over the top of his spectacles, as though he were shooting from behind a breastwork; "I think the pint is clear, and that it belongs to the company to advertise it and find out the owner."

"Well," I put in, "suppose they don't find the owner; who has it?"

"The company, I should think," said he, folding his paper preparatory to getting out.

"That's it," said the conductor, taking up the thread as he put the passenger down; "and now I want that money." He looked ugly.

"What money?" I queried.

"The money you picked up on the floor."

I saw that I was in a place of considerable difficulty,  involving a row on one side and imputation of villany on the other, and studied how to escape.

"Well," said I, "if, in spite of the authorities I have quoted, you insist upon my giving this up which I hold in my hand,—the value of which I do not know,—I shall protest against your act, and hold the company responsible."

"Responsible be——blowed," replied he, severely; "shell out."

The people in the car were much excited. The fat man on the seat had risen up, though still in sitting position, and balanced himself upon his toes to get a better view. I unclosed my hand and deposited in the conductor's a round piece of tin that had been punched out by some tin-man and hammered smooth bearing a close resemblance to money!

The disappointment of every one was intense. The conductor intimated that if he met me in society he would give me my money's worth, the fat man muttered something about my being an "imposture," several lady passengers looked bluely at me, and only one laughed heartily at the whole affair, as I did. It was a queer incident.