The Widow on the Train: 1888

Mourning veil, 1895 The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Bank’s Flirtation.

Mr. Banks and Mrs. Banks had had a falling out. She said that he didn’t spend enough of his time at home, and he told her that she was too much taken up with society to make home pleasant. That morning they agreed to separate and he slammed his hat on the back of his head, and left the room telling her that she could keep the house and furniture and do what she pleased with it. She was just vowing very sharply that she didn’t want anything to do with the old trash, when the front door slammed and he was gone. Then Mrs. Banks swallowed a few sobs that insisted on coming out, paid the hired girl and sent her away, and went up stairs to pack her valise so as to catch the next train which would take her to her mother’s home.

Banks went down town whistling dance tunes, breaking here and there into an abstracted quaver which made them sound strangely mournful. He sat down in his law office, and tried to work on a case, but it was of no use. He put on his hat, took up his cane and went down town. A huge poster met his eye, and informed him that rates to a town near Barnesville were very low. As he had an old college chum at Barnesville he concluded to take the opportunity to go and see him and talk it all over.

He boarded the train and found the out his pocket I usual excursion crowd on it Some ladies too, who seemed very much out of place, and full of regret because they had ventured to come, were there. One especially attracted his attention. She was dressed entire in black and wore a heavy veil. She was struggling up the steps with a heavy valise as the bell gave warning that the train was about to start. Banks gallantly came to her assistance and taking the valise out of her willing hand helped her on the platform, and found a seat for her. She thanked him merely with a nod, but she seemed to have a sort of fascination for Banks. He kept near at hand and was constantly tendering little services. She was apparently averse to acquaintances formed in this way and indicated very plainly by her manner, that his attentions were not pleasing.

In the course of a half hour the conductor came around for tickets. The little woman in black put her hand in her pocket and withdrew it, in evident consternation.

“It’s gone,” she said in a dismayed tone.

“What’s gone?” asked the conductor.

“My pocketbook and ticket too.”

Banks stepped up and said politely. “I trust you will permit me to offer some assistance in this dilemma,” at the same time taking out his pocket book.

“Never sir, never,” and she said it with an air that meant plainly that she would have a scene rather than accept his offer of help. “I will get off at the next station.”

” Very well,” said Banks. “Here is the station now. I think I will get off here too.”

When they reached the waiting room which was empty, Banks. handed her her valise which he had picked up and carried for her. She lifted her veil and looked him fiercely in the eye and said:

“Now sir, I have discovered you in the midst of your perfidy. You had no idea that you were pursuing your own wife with your wicked attentions, had you.” Here she burst into years. “O just to think that I was scarcely out of the house before you commenced trying to flirt with some other woman. I didn’t think it of you.”

“Didn’t you tell me this morning that I might forget you just as soon as I pleased?”

“Yes-es, but I didn’t mean it that way.”

“And you didn’t want me to forget you after all?”

“No; of course not.”

“Well, look here, Clara, there’s no use of crying about it It’s all right.”

“Don’t come near me any more.”

“But I knew it was you all the time.”

“Don’t try to deceive me. You could not recognize me.”

“No, but you see, I recognized my own name on your valise.”

The next train took them back home and he went out that evening and told the servant girl that she needn’t consider herself discharged.  

The Sherman County Dark Horse [Eustis KS] 31 May 1888: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Two sundered hearts re-united–by a valise! Not, perhaps, the most romantic of plot devices, but, there–it will do. At least until the next time Mr Banks spends too much time out at lodge meetings. It would serve him right if she met him at the door at 2 am in her widow’s weeds–in mourning for the “late” Mr Banks. Which begs the question: why did she have a set of mourning clothing at the ready in her wardrobe? Was she, perhaps, so annoyed at his absences that she was preparing to poison his coffee?

The Wife Disguised, particularly at masquerade parties, is one of the hoariest chestnuts in the amusing anecdote file. We have read about “The Lost Columbine,” with its frisson of French intrigue. Then there is this naughty tale:

At Cornely’s Masquerade , last Monday, a pretty Fruit Wench attracted so forcibly the Attention of Lord Grosvenor that for two Hours she was the sole Object of his Flattery and Admiration. At length, worked up into an irresistible Want of forming an Alliance with her, he told her his Name, offered a Carte Blanche, and begged she would not delay his Happiness. The Lady whispered her Consent, but insisted upon continuing masked. The amorous Lord, overjoyed at the Conquest he had made, conducted his fair Inamorata to the Nunnery in Pall Mall, where, having praised and re-praised every Charm he beheld and enjoyed, he obtained Leave to untie the odious Mask that concealed the Beauty who had made him happy. What Pen, or Pencil, could paint or describe the ghastly Astonishment of his Lordship at the Sight of that Woman! What! my Wife, muttered he, shaking in every Limb! Lady Grosvenor burst into Laughter and left the Room, thanking him ironically for the Right he had given her to taste with Impunity of the forbidden Fruit.

The Virginia Gazette [Williamsburg VA] 14 May 1772

See also The Woman in Black, the Conductor, and the Abandoned Infant, for the seductive “Widow on the train” motif.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdote

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

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