Once it was a girl opposite me in a car a girl with a wide, humorous mouth, and tragic eyes, and a hole in her shoe. Once it was a big, homely, red-headed giant of a man with an engineering magazine sticking out of his coat pocket. He was standing at a book counter reading Dickens like a schoolboy and laughing in all the right places, I know, because I peaked over his shoulder to see. Another time it was a sprightly little, grizzled old woman, staring into a dazzling shop window in which was displayed a wonderful collection of fashionably impossible hats and gowns. She was dressed all in rusty black, was the little old lady, and she had a quaint cast in her left eye that gave her the oddest, most sporting look. The cast was working overtime as she gazed at the gowns, and the ridiculous old sprigs on her rusty black bonnet trembled with her silent mirth. She looked like one of those clever, epigrammatic, dowdy old duchesses that one reads about in English novels. I’m sure she had cardamon seeds in her shabby bag, and a carriage with a crest on it waiting for her just around the corner. I ached to slip my hand through her arm and ask her what she thought of it all. I know that her reply would have been exquisitely witty and audacious, and I did so long to hear her say it.
No doubt some good angel tugs at my common sense, restraining me from doing these things that I am tempted to do. Of course it would be madness for a woman to address unknown red-headed men with the look of an engineer about them and a book of Dickens in their hands; or perky old women with nutcracker faces; or girls with wide humorous mouths. Oh, it couldn’t be done, I suppose. They would clap me in a padded cell in no time if I were to say:
“Mister Red-headed Man, I’m so glad your heart is young enough for Dickens. I love him too enough to read him standing at a book counter in a busy shop. And do you know, I like the squareness of your jaw, and the way your eyes crinkle up when you laugh; and as for your being an engineer why one of the very first men I ever loved was the engineer in ‘Soldiers of Fortune.’”
I wonder what the girl in the car would have said if I had crossed over to her, and put my hand on her arm and spoken, thus:
“Girl with the wide, humorous mouth, and the tragic eyes, and the hole in your shoe, I think you must be an awfully good sort. I’ll wager you paint, or write, or act, or do something clever like that for a living. But from that hole in your shoe which you have inked so carefully, although it persists in showing white at the seams, I fancy you are stumbling over a rather stony bit of Life’s road just now. And from the look in your eyes, girl, I’m afraid the stones have cut and bruised rather cruelly. But when I look at your smiling, humorous mouth I know that you are trying to laugh at the hurts. I think that this morning, when you inked your shoe for the dozenth time, you hesitated between tears and laughter, and the laugh won, thank God! Please keep right on laughing, and don’t you dare stop for a minute! Because pretty soon you’ll come to a smooth easy place, and then won’t you be glad that you didn’t give up to lie down by the roadside, weary of your hurts?”
Oh, it would never do. Never. And yet no charm possessed by the people I know and like can compare with the fascination of those People I’d Like to Know, and Know I Would Like.