Gardiner’s ‘all about a dog’ at …UNILAG
Recent events at one of the foremost Universities in Nigeria, The University of Lagos has prompted a close and second look at the write up of one of the foremost British Journalists and Author, Alfred George Gardiner titled “All About a Dog”. The essay which was published in the collection “Leaves in the wind” in 1918 captures the intrigues, power display and egocentrism that are rife in the human society. The content is as follows:
“It was a bitterly cold night, and even at the far end of the bus the east wind that raved along the street cut like a knife. The bus stopped, and two women and a man got in together and filled the vacant places. The younger woman was dressed in sealskin, and carried one of those little Pekinese dogs that women in sealskin like to carry in their laps. The conductor came in and took the fares. Then his eye rested with cold malice on the beady eyed toy dog. I saw trouble brewing. This was the opportunity for which he had been waiting, and he intended to make the most of it. I had marked him as the type of what Mr. Wells has called the Resentful Employee, the man with a general vague grievance against everything and a particular grievance against passengers who came and sat in his seat while he shivered at the door.
You must take that dog out,’ he said with sour venom. I shall certainly do nothing of the kind. You can take my name and address,’ said the woman, who had evidently expected the challenge and knew the reply.
‘You must take that dog out-that’s my orders.’
‘I won’t go on the top in such weather, It would kill me,’ said the woman.
‘Certainly not.’ said her lady companion. ‘You’ve got a cough as it is.’
‘It’s nonsense.’ said her male companion.
The conductor pulled the bell and the bus stopped. This bus doesn’t go on until that dog is brought out. And he stepped on to the pavement and waited. It was his moment of triumph. He had the law on his side and a whole bus full of angry people under the harrow. His embittered soul was having a real holiday.
The storm inside rose high. ‘Shameful’; ‘He’s no better than a German’; ‘Why isn’t he in the army?’ ‘Call the police’. ‘Let’s all report him’ Let us make him give us our fares back’; Yes. That’s it; let’s make him give us our fares back.’ For everybody was on the side of the lady and the dog.
That little animal sat blinking at the dim lights in happy unconsciousness of the rumpus of which he was the cause. The conductor came to the door. ‘What’s your number?’ said one, taking out a pocket-book with a gesture of terrible things. There’s my number.’ said the conductor imperturbably. ‘Give us our fares back. You’re engaged to carry us. You can’t leave us here all night.’ ‘No fares back,’ said the conductor. Two or three passengers got out and disappeared into the night. The conductor took another turn on the pavement, then went and had a talk with the driver. Another bus, the last on the road, sailed by indifferent to the shouts of the passengers to stop. They stick by each other – the villain was the comment. Someone pulled the bell violently. That brought the driver round to the door. ‘Who’s conductor of this bus?’ he said, and paused for a reply. None coming, he returned to his seat and resumed beating his arms across his chest. There was no hope in that quarter. A policeman strolled up and looked in at the door. An avalanche of indignant protests and appeals burst on him. ‘Well, he’s got his rules, you know,’ he said genially. Give your name and address’, That’s what he’s been offered, and he won’t take it.’ ‘Oh,’ said the policeman, and he went away and took his stand a few yards down the street, where he was joined by two more constables.
And still the little dog blinked at the lights, and the conductor walked to and fro on the pavement, like a captain on the quarterdeck in the hour of victory. A young woman, whose voice had risen high above the gale inside, descended on him with an air of threatening and slaughter. He was immovable as cold as the night and as hard as the pavement. She passed on in a fury of impotence to the three policemen, who stood like a group of statuary up the street watching the drama. Then she came back, Imperiously beckoned to her ‘Young man’ who had sat as a silent witness of her rage, and vanished. Others followed. The bus was emptying. ‘Even the dashing young fellow who had demanded the number, and who had declared he would see this thing through if he sat there all night, had taken an opportunity to slip away.
Meanwhile the Pekinese party was passing through every stage of resistance to abject surrender I’ll go on the top,’ said the sealskin lady at last. You mustn’t.’ I will’. You’ll have pneumonia.’ ‘Let me take it.’ (This from the man) ‘Certainly not. She would die with her dog. When she had disappeared up the stairs, the conductor came, back, pulled the bell, and the bus went on. He stood sourly triumphant while his conduct was savagely discussed in his face by the remnant of the party.
Then the engine struck work, and the conductor went to the help of the driver. It was a long job, and presently the lady with the dog stole down the stairs and re-entered the bus.
When the engine was put right the conductor came back and pulled the bell. Then his eye fell on the dog, and his hand went to the bell-rope again. The driver looked around, the conductor pointed to the dog, the bus stopped, and the struggle recommenced with all the original features, the conductor walking the pavement, the driver smacking his arms on the box, the little dog blinking at the lights, the sealskin lady declaring that she would not go on the top – and finally going. I’ve got my rules,’ said the conductor to me when I was the last passenger left behind. He had won this victory, but felt that he would like to justify himself to somebody.
‘Rules,’ I said, ‘are necessary things, but there are rules and rules. Some are hard and fast rules, like the rule of the road, which cannot be broken without danger to life and limb. But some are only rules for your guidance, which you can apply or wink at, a commonsense dictates like that rule about the dogs. They are not a whip put in your band to scourge your passengers with, but an authority for an emergency. They are meant to be observed in the spirit, not in the letter, for the comfort and not the discomfort of the passengers. You have kept the rule and broken its spirit. You may mix your rules with a little goodwill and good temper.’
He took it very well, and when I got off the bus he said ‘Good night’ quite amiably.”
Gardiner was viewing the University of Lagos of 2020 from a lens manufactured in 1918.
Prof. Ojikutu wrote from Faculty of Management Sciences, University of Lagos.
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