— Not long ago it was my fortune to have an experience not usually vouchsafed, — at least seldom in so poignant and complete a degree as it befell to me. With the Club’s permission I will record.
It was on a dull, rainy day in winter, such weather as increases immeasurably the clang of the city street, and renders the pedestrian’s career a most tedious undertaking, from the tendency of multiplied and hurrying umbrellas to interlock overhead, after the manner of the Roman artifice of shields. It was the sort of day when, by natural law, the spirits take their barometrical position at the very bottom stratum, and when humanity appears altogether unlovely, save, perhaps, to the resolute philanthropist. My errand, among a series of petty commissions, was to have a prescription filled for an invalid friend. For this, however, I did not intend to go out of my way ; the next apothecary shop would do as well as any other, although the street through which I was passing was unfamiliar.
In the usual repetend of shops of all kinds, a drug store was soon reached. It was of considerable pretension, extending, as it appeared to me on entering, quite through to the next street, so uncommonly well lighted were the generally dingy recesses of the dispensary. When the prescription was filled, I resolved to take a cross-cut to the adjoining street, and was passing rapidly through the long room when I was stopped by one of those fatuous encounters with strangers which might well be called impromptu dodging-matches, and in which each person turns simultaneously to the right, to the left, and da capo, yet neither seems able to effect a passing.
I shall leave it, eventually, to the reader to decide why the person I thus met excited in me an ire and an impatience quite disproportionate to the occasion. The woman. — I felt that I could scarcely call her a lady, such was the entire absence of bea - ing and of self-possession displayed by her in the matter, — the woman had a face that was distinctly careworn, the expression jaded, yet with the suggestion of a capacity in the wearer to be roused into a light-minded interest in tiresome details such as a cultivated mind very properly abhors. She was, I saw, no longer young (I shall not forget that fact) ; and I distinctly remember how ill her rather shabby clothes hung upon a figure pronouncedly lank. But then the wet weather drives us into the unhappiest accoutrements ; so I would withhold criticism on that point.
We dodged to right, to left, and da capo. She appeared as much annoyed as myself ; but how I wished she would forbear a most disagreeably conciliatory way she had of smiling at each ineffective mutual bob ! Moreover, I thought I saw, as her eyes more directly met mine, a tendency to the sardonic jocularity of that class of citizeness who should say, “ Give it up, ma’am ! ”
The woman was just putting her lips in motion, perhaps for the enunciation of that conjectural remark, when my attention was suddenly arrested by a voice at my side, whose tone was one of courteous alarm, “ Madam, the mirror ! This way, please ! ”
The drug clerk had saved me from the destruction of valuable property (sparing, incidentally, the leanest of all purses). The quicksilver charm was dissolved, and yet not until I had cast an involuntary glance at my late fellow-dodger, and she had thrown me one, of mingled relief for herself and contempt for my maladroitness. Besides, I have since thought she may have been a person of some sagacity ; for it seemed to me that in that fleeting final glance I detected an amused apprehension of my thoughts on class distinctions in which she had figured to such disadvantage.
In brief, I had frequently heard that to see one’s double is significant of one’s approaching dissolution. My own experience in the matter leads me to affirm that such an apparition does certainly, sometimes, forerun the demise of that very large part of ourselves which we term Vanity. Posthumous reflections on this subject may be salutary, but they are not conducive to moral comfort ; and I often rue the day that I saw the shabby woman in the mirror.