Shards From A Broken Dream

August 25, 1896
Elizabeth Bassett

The train into Providence was even more crowded than the one leaving New York. It was so full of young women they had to ask several of the men to relocate into the third class cars to make room in the first and second class cars for the masses of traveling women. More than a few of the men were grumbling about paying for better.

I kept my tongue and tried to remain unnoticed in the car. I thought I was the only woman in third class but I was apparent wrong. I did not see her until after we had arrived, she must have sat in the very back of the car. I kept toward the front. I realize it is silly but at least by being close to the door to a better car made me feel more like I was in the best part of the third class car. Ridiculous right?

And so, when the train lurched its way to a final stop in Union Station, Providence, I rose quickly to get off the train in the hopes none of my peers would notice my exit from the poor section. Gathering my single, insufficient case I noticed Jonathon was sitting just a few benches back. He had not noticed me, but he would undoubtedly see me if I moved into the main aisle. I decided to wait. My thinking was if I exited the train with a gentleman like Jonathon, no one would pause to consider from where we were exiting.

It did not take long for the car to clear out. Most of the men were in a hurry to get someplace and still grumbling about the train’s relocation of their seating. From the sounds of things someone at the station was going to have more than a few complaints and requests for refunds. I considered briefly the idea of joining in and swearing I was a wronged passenger myself. Dishonest but it could put a few dollars in my empty pockets. Of course, I am too much of a lady to do anything so crass.

I stepped into the aisle at long last when the car was nearly empty. Jonathon was just then rising from his seat. Typical of him to remain patient, while so many were rushed. I was expecting to join him, but then I saw her, for the first time in person. She was struggling up the narrow aisle with three cases. I briefly wondered how she was allowed to keep them all with her considering they only allowed me to carry aboard one. Probably she was more stubborn and forceful than I am capable of being.

She looked a right awful sight. Her long brown hair was tangled with strands stuck to her sweaty face. She looked to have been running rather than sitting in a train car. Her dress, if one can call patched rags a dress, looked in dire need of a scrubbing. In my dreams, she had been more refined, more inspirational and yet here she was in the flesh and my first impression revealed nothing of the character, Mrs. Rockefeller had spoke at length about.

I was watching her when disaster struck. Just as she was approaching, Jonathon stepped out into the aisle, looking at me with a querying look upon his face. She collided with him in that very same moment. He had obviously not noticed her, his eyes taken with me instead. I blushed for him. He turned his back to me, his face showing pure annoyance as he looked for the source. I felt a twinge of sympathy for the poor girl, but it did not last.

Her cases had completely left her grasp. One of them had spilled its contents onto the floor with items rolling under benches and generally everywhere. The girl had immediately dropped to her knees, scrambling to collect her scattered belongings. Her own face was harder to read because of her downward look and frazzled hair.

There was an unmistakable quality to her despite it all. She has that natural, shy appearance that so many men adore. There was gentle quality to her and as I say I felt sorry for her for just a moment. She was like a lost puppy, out of her depth, scared and defensive as she sought a familiar sight or a friendly face in the crowd.

“You might consider looking where you are walking.” Jonathon scolded.

“Me? I might well say the same of you.” She replied.

There was something in her voice that was more noble than her appearance. Jonathon stood in silence for a moment. I suspect he was shocked to discover it was a woman and not a careless young man who had collided with him.

“Let me help you.” He said.

He started to kneel down to the floor himself.

“I think you have done more than enough all ready. Please, just leave and get out of the way.”

“My sincere apologies. I did not see you at all.”

“Obviously.” She replied.

She practically ignored him as she continued to gather her scattered items and repack them in the open case. Jonathon, ever the proper gentleman, knelt down to the floor and began collecting them as well. The girl said nothing but the look on her face was not of appreciation.

“I think that is everything.” Jonathon said, handing her a last few items and looking around.

“It appears so, but I’ll not know until I have time to take inventory later.”

Jonathon stood and offered her his hand. She looked at it and instead, pushed herself up off the floor and began to lift her cases again. I could not believe her audacity. She was clearly raised without manners.

“Let me help.” Jonathon said.

“I can manage on my own.” She replied.

“I can see that, but is your need to prove it so great?”

“My needs are not of your concern. Your offer is selfish in nature and refused as such.”

“Do you insult everyone you meet or is it just me you object to?”

“It is no fault mine if the truth is insulting to you.”

The girl arranged her cases in her arms and looked on Jonathon with impatience and annoyance. There was a sparkle in her eyes as though she relished the exchange despite the tone of her voice and the language of her stance.

“What purpose does it serve for you to struggle when I can assist? Furthermore what purpose is served by not allowing me to make proper amends?” Jonathon asked.

“My struggles are none of your concern. Your needs to make amends are none of mine. I am expected on the platform, so if you will excuse me, I have places to go.”

“I think you might well be the most stubborn and prideful girl I have ever met.” Jonathon said.
He snatched a case from her hands and then grabbed another. She was not amused. She slapped him across his face for his troubles.

“What do you think you are doing?” She demanded.

“I am assisting the lady.” He replied and stepped back into his bench area, gesturing for her to walk toward the exit.

She sighed in disgust.

“Well if you are going to act as a porter,” She said and thrust her last case upon him, “you might as well do the job right.”

How she carried off such a superior tone and attitude whilst looking like a pauper, is beyond my abilities to understand. Perhaps there is more to her than meets the eye.

They walked past me and neither said a word to me. Jonathon did not even seem to notice I existed at all. I could have cried for his lack of acknowledgment.

“May I ask you name, Miss?” Jonathon said as they descended the steps to the platform.

“Sarah, Miss Sarah Waters.” She replied.

“A pleasure to meet you, Sarah.” He replied.

I noticed the informality at once. It struck me raw and harder than any physical blow every could. He was taken with her, so much so he forgot to be a proper gentleman even if it was merely the instant of a careless address. It was still more relaxed than he had ever been with me.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Ashley, a bit subtle this.
Warm hugs,