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Jacob's Room

"This is not a smoking-carriage," Mrs. Norman protested, nervously but very feebly, as
the door swung open and a powerfully built young man jumped in. He seemed not to
hear her. The train did not stop before it reached Cambridge, and here she was shut up
alone, in a railway carriage, with a young man.
She touched the spring of her dressing-case, and ascertained that the scent-bottle and
a novel from Mudie's were both handy (the young man was standing up with his back to
her, putting his bag in the rack). She would throw the scent-bottle with her right hand,
she decided, and tug the communication cord with her left. She was fifty years of age,
and had a son at college. Nevertheless, it is a fact that men are dangerous. She read
half a column of her newspaper; then stealthily looked over the edge to decide the
question of safety by the infallible test of appearance.... She would like to offer him her
paper. But do young men read the Morning Post? She looked to see what he was
reading--the Daily Telegraph.
Taking note of socks (loose), of tie (shabby), she once more reached his face. She
dwelt upon his mouth. The lips were shut. The eyes bent down, since he was reading.
All was firm, yet youthful, indifferent, unconscious--as for knocking one down! No, no,
no! She looked out of the window, smiling slightly now, and then came back again, for
he didn't notice her. Grave, unconscious... now he looked up, past her... he seemed so
out of place, somehow, alone with an elderly lady... then he fixed his eyes--which were
blue--on the landscape. He had not realized her presence, she thought. Yet it was none
of HER fault that this was not a smoking-carriage--if that was what he meant.
Nobody sees any one as he is, let alone an elderly lady sitting opposite a strange young
man in a railway carriage. They see a whole--they see all sorts of things--they see
themselves.... Mrs. Norman now read three pages of one of Mr. Norris's novels. Should
she say to the young man (and after all he was just the same age as her own boy): "If
you want to smoke, don't mind me"? No: he seemed absolutely indifferent to her
presence... she did not wish to interrupt.
But since, even at her age, she noted his indifference, presumably he was in some way
or other--to her at least--nice, handsome, interesting, distinguished, well built, like her
own boy? One must do the best one can with her report. Anyhow, this was Jacob
Flanders, aged nineteen. It is no use trying to sum people up. One must follow hints, not
exactly what is said, nor yet entirely what is done--for instance, when the train drew into
the station, Mr. Flanders burst open the door, and put the lady's dressing-case out for
her, saying, or rather mumbling: "Let me" very shyly; indeed he was rather clumsy about
"Who..." said the lady, meeting her son; but as there was a great crowd on the platform
and Jacob had already gone, she did not finish her sentence. As this was Cambridge,