The Lady I Shall Never Know

I WONDER so often what she is really like — this lady I shall never know. How would she appear if I could achieve an unexpected detached view of her? Suppose, for instance, I met her to-day for the first time. Suppose friends brought her to call, and, glancing up even now, I should see her coming across the veranda, entering the front door. Should I like her? Should I recognize her, I wonder? There would, of course, be something familiar about her, so that while friends were introducing us, I should be wondering where I had known her before; but I think on the whole I should find so much that was unexpected, so many little unguessed tricks of manner and peculiarities of speech, that I should be completely puzzled, unless indeed I recognized her by her dress.

But this is all, of course, an impossibility. I shall never meet the lady thus. I shall never see her as a detached whole, as I see other people. It is only fragmentary glimpses that I get of her, only bits of her that I see at a time. For me — though others seem to know her so well — she seems like a scattered picture-puzzle, which I try in vain to put together. Even with her physical appearance as a whole I am unfamiliar. Here, also, I usually see only bits of her at a time. I see her hands at work, or the color of her frock, or her hair when it is being brushed; but how she looks coming through a door, sitting, talking, or reading, or at work in her garden, I do not know. Sometimes, indeed, I see her unexpectedly when she is shopping, or in some public place, and fail to recognize her.

Last spring I caught an unexpected glimpse of her buying Easter cards. With a shock I recognized her by the ribbon in her hat. ‘Goodness!’ I whispered to myself, ‘is that the way she looks?’ It was her expression which was so unexpected. From that I gathered that her attitude toward life was wholly different from what I had supposed it to be. And how does she speak? I hear her talking more often than any one else in the world; and yet if her voice were to come suddenly out of a gramophone, in all probability I should not know that it was hers. Her dreams also — I can never know what the lady is going to dream about. When she shuts her eyes to the commonplace of every day and gives herself up to the magic of sleep, what wholly unexpected adventures come sailing up out of the dark to bear her away!

Patience, dear reader; my difficulty with this strange lady is yours also — a universal perplexity!

It is not the lady’s physical appearance that interests me. It is the real lady that I would know — her heart, her mind, her spirit. But here again I see her only in fragments. I know what she wishes to be, but what she really is, I have no idea. Other people tell me that they know her well. They tell me that such and such characteristics are special attributes of hers, and I am always surprised. Sometimes I try to understand the lady by listening to what other people tell me about her. But here I am perpetually bewildered because she seems to appear so differently to different people. There are times when I fear she is an indefinite, fluid kind of creature, pouring herself into the mould of any strong personality that offers. I fear that she is cursed with the curse of Reuben and is as unstable as water. She dresses herself in so many parts that it is wellnigh impossible to say which is the real lady.

Over and over again I catch her imitating the heroine of the latest novel she has read — or the hero, for that matter. She seems, like Ulysses, to have ‘ become a part of all that she has met.’ Indeed, such a patch-work quilt of other human beings does she seem to be, that, if she were to die to-night, I should not know which of her personalities she would pack up to take with her into the next world, and which she would have to leave behind because she had only borrowed it from other people.

O strange lady, do not baffle me forever! Let me hold you off at arm’s length and really look at you, really know you as I know other people! No, you will not do it, you cannot do it. Strange lady, myself, I shall never know you! Any more than you, poor patient reader, will ever know yourself. You may know me and I know you, but ourselves we shall never know, unless, indeed, when we pass into the next world we find awaiting us — perhaps the greatest surprise in store for us — ourselves as we really are.