As the train steamed into Euston Square station, Anne Lester prepared to descend with relief that this stage of her journey was completed, combined with apprehension now that the part she had most dreaded – crossing London - was upon her. She alighted from the train and stood on the platform, her carpet bag at her feet, a little bewildered by the noise and bustle. She should, she supposed, ask a porter to carry her bag to a cab, but could see none who were not already engaged. Those experienced observers had taken one glance at this plainly dressed young female, instantly and correctly identified her as governess, and concentrated their attention on the more prosperous looking passengers.
Anne, thankful that she had taken the advice of a more experienced member of her father's congregation, and had her trunk sent in advance, picked up her bag and began to walk towards the station exit. Her slender figure, attired in a grey dress and mantle, with skirts of only a modest fullness, and her golden brown hair, neatly braided under a plain bonnet, were not of a type that would attract attention; nor did she wish to do so. But she did wonder whether she was actually invisible, so frequently did people collide with her, then continue on their way without even a backward glance.
Anne was not exactly regretting the desire for change which had caused her to take a position over a hundred miles from her home. She merely thought, as she shifted her bag from one hand to the other, that she would be greatly relieved when she had arrived at her destination, met her new employers and pupils, and was able to sink back into the familiar schoolroom routine.
Outside the station Anne approached the first of a line of waiting cabs. The driver did not get down to help her with her bag, so she had to lift it into the cab herself; he barely nodded in reply to her request to be driven to London Bridge Station. Anne was too preoccupied to look about her as the cab made its way through the streets. She had no idea how long it would take to drive to London Bridge, and she was worried that she might miss her train. She had to travel to Rainford, a market town about fifteen miles out of London, where she was to be met. It would create a very unfavourable impression if she failed to arrive at the time arranged. She was glad when they appeared to be crossing the river; if this was London Bridge itself, there could not be very much further to go.
No sooner had she come to this conclusion than the cab stopped. After several minutes they still had not moved, and Anne could hear shouting ahead. She lowered the window and looked out. The cause of the delay was evident. Further along the bridge a brewer's dray had come to a halt, half on the road, half on the footpath, its load of barrels spilled across the way. The drayman was engaged in an altercation with a cab driver, whom he apparently blamed for the accident. Some passers-by and the drivers of some of the vehicles held up by the jam were being drawn into the argument, and the driver of Anne's own cab now descended and made his way forward to the support of his fellow cabby.
Accusations flew back and forth; the reputations of the mothers of the chief disputants were questioned. Anne was unfamiliar with many of the words used, but she was sure they were quite unfit for a lady's ears. She began to draw her head back into the cab, so that she would be unable to see what was going on, even if she could not avoid hearing. As she did so, she inadvertently caught the eye of a gentleman who was standing on the footpath. He was smartly dressed in city clothes, but was standing watching the dispute as idly as any loafer, his dark frock coat unbuttoned, hands in trouser pockets, his tall hat set at a rakish angle on his fair, curling hair. As he caught sight of Anne he lifted his hat, smiled and bowed to her with a flourish. She blushed and hastily averted her gaze.
She was in a most unenviable situation, she reflected, leaning back in her seat; her ears assailed by profane language, subjected to familiarities from strange gentlemen, and with every minute running a greater risk of missing her train. Should she get out and walk? But she had no idea how much further she had to go, and if she did start to walk she would have to make her way past the brawling drivers.
The door of her cab was flung open. The gentleman who had bowed to her stood there, his hat in his hand.
‘Are you in a hurry?’ he asked. ‘If so, I advise you to get out and walk; it will be a long time before this is cleared up.’ He held out his hand. ‘Let me help you get down.’
Anne was alarmed. She remembered a story she had once heard from a servant, about a young girl who had gone to London, had been approached by a fine gentleman soon after her arrival there, and had never been heard of again. This gentleman was fine enough, Anne conceded. He was probably in his late twenties, clean shaven, with brown eyes. His mouth looked ready to smile at any moment. He did not look to Anne like a seducer of innocent maidens, but she was fully conscious of her own ignorance in such matters.
‘I do not know you, sir!’ she protested, in reply to his offer. He laughed.
‘You needn’t be alarmed, I promise you I have no evil designs upon your virtue. Where are you going? To the railway station?’
‘Yes,’ Anne said, her worry about her train exceeding her fear of being accosted by a stranger. ‘My train leaves in fifteen minutes, I’m afraid I shall miss it.’
‘Oh, we’ll do it easily,’ he proclaimed, and before Anne guessed his intentions he had laid his hat down on the seat, put a hand at each side of her waist and lifted her clear out of the cab. Anne was outraged. She was quite unaccustomed to physical contact with members of the opposite sex; now she was held in the arms of a perfect stranger.
‘Sir!’ she gasped.
‘Please put me down immediately!’
‘Immediately?’ he asked.
‘You are quite sure?’
He began to lower her to the ground. Anne, glancing down, saw that the road at that point was ankle deep in mud and other debris, the nature of which she preferred not to guess at.
‘No!’ she cried.
‘You don’t want to be put down?’
‘Yes! No, not here! Please set me down on the footpath – instantly!’
He was, she saw indignantly, laughing at her. He swung her up in his arms so that she was forced to throw her arms about his neck. Her skirt and petticoats flew up, exposing the tops of her boots and two or three inches of black woollen stocking to anyone who happened to be looking.
‘Oh!’ she cried, in helpless protest. He carried her to the footpath, where he set her on her feet gently enough, and returned to the cab for her bag and his hat. Anne turned her back on two youths who were watching with interest, and tried to assemble a few dignified and well-chosen words with which to address the gentleman who had behaved so outrageously.
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