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Concerning a Certain Lady

This lady wears a blue serge suit and a black hat, without flippancy;
she is a powerfully built lady and generally more or less flushed, and
she is aunt, apparently, to a great number of objectionable-looking
people. I go in terror of her. Yet the worm will turn at last, and so
will the mild, pacific literary man. Her last outrage was too much even
for my patience. It was committed at Gloucester Road Station the other
afternoon. I was about to get into a train for Wimbledon,--and there are
only two of them to the hour,--and, so far as I could see, the whole
world was at peace with me. I felt perfectly secure. The ægis of the
_pax Britannica_--if you will pardon the expression--was over me. For
the moment the thought of the lady in the blue serge was quite out of my
mind. I had just bought a newspaper, and had my hand on the carriage
door. The guard was fluttering his flag.

Then suddenly she swooped out of space, out of the infinite unknown, and
hit me. She always hits me when she comes near me, and I infer she hits
everyone she comes across. She hit me this time in the chest with her
elbow and knocked me away from the door-handle. She hit me very hard;
indeed, she was as fierce as I have ever known her. With her there were
two nieces and a nephew, and the nephew hit me too. He was a horrid
little boy in an Eton suit of the kind that they do not wear at Eton,
and he hit me with his head and pushed at me with his little pink hands.
The nieces might have been about twenty-two and thirteen respectively,
and I infer that they were apprenticed to her. All four people seemed
madly excited. "It's just starting!" they screamed, and the train was,
indeed, slowly moving. Their object--so far as they had an object and
were not animated by mere fury--appeared to be to assault me and then
escape in the train. The lady in blue got in and then came backwards out
again, sweeping the smaller girl behind her upon the two others, who
were engaged in hustling me. "It's 'smoking!'" she cried. I could have
told her that, if she had asked instead of hitting me. The elder girl,
by backing dexterously upon me, knocked my umbrella out of my hand, and
when I stooped to pick it up the little boy knocked my hat off. I will
confess they demoralised me with their archaic violence. I had some
thought of joining in their wild amuck, whooping, kicking out madly,
perhaps assaulting a porter,--I think the lady in blue would have been
surprised to find what an effective addition to her staff she had picked
up,--but before I could collect my thoughts sufficiently to do any
definite thing the whole affair was over. A porter was slamming doors on
them, the train was running fast out of the station, and I was left
alone with an unmannerly newsboy and an unmannerly porter on the
platform. I waited until the porter was out of the way, and then I hit
the newsboy for laughing at me, but even with that altercation it was a
tedious wait for the next train to Wimbledon.

This is the latest of my encounters with this lady, but it has decided
me to keep silence no longer. She has been persecuting me now for years
in all parts of London. It may be I am her only victim, but, on the
other hand, she may be in the habit of annoying the entire class of
slender and inoffensive young men. If so, and they will communicate with
me through the publishers of this little volume, we might do something
towards suppressing her, found an Anti-Energetic-Lady-League, or
something of that sort. For if there was ever a crying wrong that
clamoured for suppression it is this violent woman.

She is, even now, flagrantly illegal. She might be given in charge for
hitting people at any time, and be warned, or fined, or given a week.
But somehow it is only when she is overpast and I am recovering my wits
that I recollect that she might be dealt with in this way. She is the
chartered libertine of British matrons, and assaulteth where she
listeth. The blows I have endured from her? She fights people who are
getting into 'buses. It is no mere accidental jostling, but a deliberate
shouldering, poking with umbrellas, and clawing. It is her delight to go
to the Regent Circus corner of Piccadilly, about half-past seven in the
evening, accompanied by a genteel rout of daughters, and fill up whole
omnibuses with them. At that hour there are work-girls and tired clerks,
and the like worn-out anæmic humanity trying to get home for an hour or
so of rest before bed, and they crowd round the 'buses very eagerly.
They are little able to cope with her exuberant vitality, being
ill-nourished and tired from the day's work, and she simply mows through
them and fills up every vacant place they covet before their eyes. Then,
I can never count change even when my mind is tranquil, and she knows
that, and swoops threateningly upon me in booking offices and
stationers' shops. When I am dodging cabs at crossings she will appear
from behind an omnibus or carriage and butt into me furiously. She holds
her umbrella in her folded arms just as the Punch puppet does his staff,
and with as deadly effect. Sometimes she discards her customary navy
blue and puts on a glittering bonnet with bead trimmings, and goes and
hurts people who are waiting to enter the pit at theatres, and
especially to hurt me. She is fond of public shows, because they afford
such possibilities of hurting me. Once I saw her standing partly on a
seat and partly on another lady in the church of St. George's, Hanover
Square, partly, indeed, watching a bride cry, but chiefly, I expect,
scheming how she could get round to me and hurt me. Then there was an
occasion at the Academy when she was peculiarly aggressive. I was
sitting next my lame friend when she marked me. Of course she came at
once and sat right upon us. "Come along, Jane," I heard her say, as I
struggled to draw my flattened remains from under her; "this gentleman
will make room."

My friend was not so entangled and had escaped on the other side. She
noticed his walk. "Oh, don't _you_ get up," she said. "_This_
gentleman," she indicated my convulsive struggles to free myself, "will
do that. _I did not see that you were a cripple._"

It may be some of my readers will recognise the lady now. It can be--for
the honour of womankind--only one woman. She is an atavism, a survival
of the age of violence, a Palæolithic squaw in petticoats. I do not know
her name and address or I would publish it. I do not care if she kills
me the next time she meets me, for the limits of endurance have been
passed. If she kills me I shall die a martyr in the cause of the Queen's
peace. And if it is only one woman, then it was the same lady, more than
half intoxicated, that I saw in the Whitechapel Road cruelly
ill-treating a little costermonger. If it was not she it was certainly
her sister, and I do not care who knows it.

What to do with her I do not know. A League, after all, seems
ineffectual; she would break up any League. I have thought of giving her
in charge for assault, but I shrink from the invidious publicity of
that. Still, I am in grim earnest to do something. I think at times that
the compulsory adoption of a narrow doorway for churches and places of
public entertainment might be some protection for quiet, inoffensive
people. How she would rage outside to be sure! Yet that seems a great
undertaking.

But this little paper is not so much a plan of campaign as a preliminary
defiance. Life is a doubtful boon while one is never safe from assault,
from hitting and shoving, from poking with umbrellas, being sat upon,
and used as a target for projectile nephews and nieces. I warn
her--possibly with a certain quaver in my voice--that I am in revolt. If
she hits me again----I will not say the precise thing I will do, but I
warn her, very solemnly and deliberately, that she had better not hit me
again.

And so for the present the matter remains.

H.G. Wells