Thursday, 5 April 2012

A Gentlewoman of Fortune

It is a year, gentle reader, since last we met with the heroine of our tale, the fashionable and ingenious princess of letters Lady Laurelia Penworthy.  The sun has completed once more its immemorial circuit of the heavens... and what a changed scene now opens before us!  The intrepid Laurelia, tired of the crabbed and confined streets of old London, has turned over the faithful Sebastian Dullbore and his august but (alas) declining magazine.  Indeed, she has quitted these shores entirely, pitching up in the pulsating metropolis of New York, that misbegotten pearl in the oyster that is the United States, a city (the sagacious reader will surely reflect) altogether more suited to her indomitable temperament.

Giddily, voraciously has Laurelia tasted the delights and opportunities of the young Republic.  She has stood with the downtrodden masses, drunk in fashionable hotels, sat late into the night talking with poets of art and love, worn luminous hairpieces, enjoyed the anachronistic (it seemed to her) courtliness with which men and women of that land become acquainted, entertained all England with her dispatches.  Surely this was a brave new world indeed... yet Laurelia could not but reflect that if she needed America, how much more did America need her! 

A thousand ideas crowded inside the narrow space of her cranium: thoughts of radical social reform, of freeing women from the eternal dominion of men, of distant wars and unusual cloud formations, of books to be written, speeches to be made, friendships to be forged.  Of mundane concerns she thought but seldom.  She floated as though borne aloft on the thermals of her own consequence.  So it was that one fine morning Laurelia quite forgot in which city she was residing -- quite forgot the custom of traffic in that country, as though still in arrogant revolt against the just laws of good King George, to move contrary to nature.  Desirous of crossing the highway, the poor young lady stepped boldly into the path of a carriage that bore down upon her with full speed.

Just think, gentle reader, what dire calamity must have ensued... how our heroine must instantly have been crushed beneath the inexorable wheels of that chariot... had not fate, and fortune (ever Laurelia's faithful handmaiden) not at that very moment intervened.  For it so happened that Mr R__ G__, an actor whose performances both tragic and comedic were much applauded by the press, and whose manly features received daily the swooning compliments of ladies on two continents, was strolling along that same pavement.

Of course Laurelia had not noticed him, any more than her eyes had apprehended the approaching carriage that would have ended her earthly existence, and our tale.  Yet he had seen her; that was what mattered.  At once his strong and virile arm reached out and Laurelia was saved!

We breathe... she, however, still unaware of the danger, was affected most strongly by the indecent familiarity of Mr R__ G__'s spontaneous gesture.  To be thus unceremoniously restrained, dragged backwards -- and by a man! -- it was an indignity too great to be borne.

"Unhand me, sir!" she demanded.


"Madam", spluttered he, "I apologise most humbly if I have offended.  I sought only to preserve your life."  With that he pointed out to her the speeding carriage, which had already passed the spot upon it would have surely run her over.  She could not deny it... Mr R__ G__ had, quite literally, saved her life.  Perhaps she had judged him too harshly.  She looked now for the first time into the face of her gallant rescuer, noted the square cut of his jaw, his azure eyes, his open and manly demeanour... she must admit that he was not unpleasing.  Her cheeks flushed with colour, feelings of relief, of gratitude, perhaps of something more, suffused her frame: emotions which, she recognised, she must resist.  A battle raged in the turbid mind of Laurelia Penworthy.  The outcome was not in doubt.  She emerged victorious.

"You need not have troubled yourself, sir," she exclaimed.  "I can see you meant well, but I can assure you that I was in no danger.  It is not some fragile specimen of feminine weakness that you see before you, one whose only thoughts are of love and whose only end is marriage.  I am, sir, a gentlewoman of fortune, a creature of the modern age, indeed its very embodiment.  I am not in need of your protection.  I was not put on earth to be the passive object of masculine compassion.  Please do not bore me with your hackneyed tales of heroism and derring-do."

"But the cab was about to crush you!" protested Mr R__ G__ , who was beginning to wonder whether it might not have been more circumspect to have allowed cruel fate to take its course.


"Bah!" replied our redoubtable heroine.  "It would not have dared."