Friday 20 October 2023

Torturing Delay

R.C. Sherriff, The Fortnight in September: A Novel (New York: Scribner, 2018), p. 36:
Ten minutes were sufficient—but not a lavish allowance, for one remote possibility always haunted Mr. Stevens with unreasoning and ridiculous fear. It was the possibility of a passing lady fainting, or accidentally falling down. It would mean stopping and helping her up: brushing down her dress, picking up her umbrella and bag, possibly her spectacles. It was not that Mr. Stevens lacked humanity or courtesy—it was simply the agonising delay that might be caused. For under such circumstances you cannot leave a lady with the cold-blooded statement that you have a train to catch. Besides, there were many ladies unused to receiving attention, who, hurt or unhurt, might easily fall victims to the desire for publicity and hold the scene till they had collected a crowd. In the worst event, if it were a fainting fit, it might mean dragging the lady to the railings and making a cushion for her head with your coat. It might mean a policeman—an ambulance—five—ten—fifteen minutes of torturing delay. It was an idiotic idea—a one in a thousand chance—yet it always lurked somewhere in Mr. Stevens’s mind as he walked to the station.