Pretended Helplessness – September 1912

It was the Northern Express at Carlisle, and a fashionably-dressed young woman got into our compartment and made a great spread of herself and her possessions. Then she went to the window to make her farewells to a male relative (apparently) who hurried up at his business interval to see her off. She was particularly tart and off-hand with him as he made some sort of explanation of his hurry and left her.

Next entered a smart young man who, after depositing his bag on the seat went into the corridor, to whistle, “Hey boy! Paper!”

The young woman rose and proceeded to jostle the young man in the corridor — very unnecessarily, it appeared to us. She pretended too that she too wanted a paper, and, as the train was now moving, he politely assured her that his paper was at her service and with profuse thanks she opened it daintily and made a pretence of scanning it, casting “soulful” glances over the top of it at the spruce young man opposite who, after a cursory glance at the other uninteresting women in the carriage, eyed her all over approvingly.

She very soon returned the paper with the most seductive smile and, with practised art, speedily drew him into conversation. I put him down as a commercial traveller, judging from his familiarity with the principal towns of Britain; she, I made out, a woman of independent means living in Harrogate and travelling about.

She told her new acquaintance that she was going to Broughty Ferry (or somewhere there ayont the Forth) round by Glasgow and Edinburgh, but although she had frequently made the journey, her mind was in a state of child-like helplessness (so she pretended) about it and she felt sure she could never find her way from St Enoch’s to the Central and, as for crossing the Forth, it was as formidable as a trip to Northern Scandinavia.

Whereupon the young man produced a huge time-table, a map, a sheet of paper and a pencil and, drawing his knees close to her drew a detailed plan of every step in her journey.

“I’m giving you too much trouble,” the siren murmured, looking at him with liquid eyes.

“Not at all! It’s a pleasure!” and I have no doubt his masculine vanity was tickled. While I from my corner of observation was tickled at the contrast between the tart independence of her tone to her relative and the meek deference of her attitude towards this male stranger. I am certain that not only was she perfectly familiar with her route that day, but she was quite capable of finding her way unassisted all over the world — and trading upon the vanity and the weakness of every man she came across.

To my regret, I did not see the continuation of the comedy, as I had to get out at Kilmarnock; but as the train slowed down, he was assuring this sweet, dependent creature that he would see her all right into the Edinburgh train. A few weeks later, I saw him doing business in the post-card line in an Edinburgh shop. He would have been startled if I had asked him — as I was tempted to do — how he got on with her, and where he left her.

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