H.G. Wells.

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to him, and the realisation of the inevitable postponement of his long
anticipated matriculation, the doorway to all the other great things,
took him abruptly like an actual physical sensation in his chest.

He sprang up, pen in hand, in the midst of his corrections, and began
pacing up and down the room. "What a fool I have been!" he
cried. "What a fool I have been!"

He flung the pen on the floor and made a rush at an ill-drawn attempt
upon a girl's face that adorned the end of his room, the visible
witness of his slavery. He tore this down and sent the fragments of it
scattering....

"Fool!"

It was a relief - a definite abandonment. He stared for a moment at the
destruction he had made, and then went back to the revision of the
time-table, with a mutter about "silly spooning."

That was one mood. The rarer one. He watched the posts with far more
eagerness for the address to which he might write to her than for any
reply to those reiterated letters of application, the writing of which
now ousted Horace and the higher mathematics (Lewisham's term for
conics) from his attention. Indeed he spent more time meditating the
letter to her than even the schedule of his virtues had required.

Yet the letters of application were wonderful compositions; each had a
new pen to itself and was for the first page at least in a handwriting
far above even his usual high standard. And day after day passed and
that particular letter he hoped for still did not come.

His moods were complicated by the fact that, in spite of his studied
reticence on the subject, the reason of his departure did in an
amazingly short time get "all over Whortley." It was understood that
he had been discovered to be "fast," and Ethel's behaviour was
animadverted upon with complacent Indignation - if the phrase may be
allowed - by the ladies of the place. Pretty looks were too often a
snare. One boy - his ear was warmed therefor - once called aloud
"Ethel," as Lewisham went by. The curate, a curate of the pale-faced,
large-knuckled, nervous sort, now passed him without acknowledgment of
his existence. Mrs. Bonover took occasion to tell him that he was a
"mere boy," and once Mrs. Frobisher sniffed quite threateningly at him
when she passed him in the street. She did it so suddenly she made him
jump.

This general disapproval inclined him at times to depression, but in
certain moods he found it exhilarating, and several times he professed
himself to Dunkerley not a little of a blade. In others, he told
himself he bore it for _her_ sake. Anyhow he had to bear it.

He began to find out, too, how little the world feels the need of a
young man of nineteen - he called himself nineteen, though he had
several months of eighteen still to run - even though he adds prizes
for good conduct, general improvement, and arithmetic, and advanced
certificates signed by a distinguished engineer and headed with the
Royal Arms, guaranteeing his knowledge of geometrical drawing,
nautical astronomy, animal physiology, physiography, inorganic
chemistry, and building construction, to his youth and strength and
energy. At first he had imagined headmasters clutching at the chance
of him, and presently he found himself clutching eagerly at them. He
began to put a certain urgency into his applications for vacant posts,
an urgency that helped him not at all. The applications grew longer
and longer until they ran to four sheets of note-paper - a pennyworth
in fact. "I can assure you," he would write, "that you will find me a
loyal and devoted assistant." Much in that strain. Dunkerley pointed
out that Bonover's testimonial ignored the question of moral character
and discipline in a marked manner, and Bonover refused to alter it. He
was willing to do what he could to help Lewisham, in spite of the way
he had been treated, but unfortunately his conscience....

Once or twice Lewisham misquoted the testimonial - to no purpose. And
May was halfway through, and South Kensington was silent. The future
was grey.

And in the depths of his doubt and disappointment came her letter. It
was typewritten on thin paper. "Dear," she wrote simply, and it
seemed to him the most sweet and wonderful of all possible modes of
address, though as a matter of fact it was because she had forgotten
his Christian name and afterwards forgotten the blank she had left for
it.

"Dear, I could not write before because I have no room at home now
where I can write a letter, and Mrs. Frobisher told my mother
falsehoods about you. My mother has surprised me dreadfully - I did not
think it of her. She told me nothing. But of that I must tell you in
another letter. I am too angry to write about it now. Even now you
cannot write back, for _you must not send letters here_. It would
_never_ do. But I think of you, dear," - the "dear" had been erased and
rewritten - "and I must write and tell you so, and of that nice walk we
had, if I never write again. I am very busy now. My work is rather
difficult and I am afraid I am a little stupid. It is hard to be
interested in anything just because that is how you have to live, is
it not? I daresay you sometimes feel the same of school. But I
suppose everybody is doing things they don't like. I don't know when
I shall come to Whortley again, if ever, but very likely you will be
coming to London. Mrs. Frobisher said the most horrid things. It
would be nice If you could come to London, because then perhaps you
might see me. There is a big boys' school at Chelsea, and when I go by
it every morning I wish you were there. Then you would come out in
your cap and gown as I went by. Suppose some day I was to see you
there suddenly!!"

So it ran, with singularly little information in it, and ended quite
abruptly, "Good-bye, dear. Good-bye, dear," scribbled in pencil. And
then, "Think of me sometimes."

Reading it, and especially that opening "dear," made Lewisham feel the
strangest sensation in his throat and chest, almost as though he was
going to cry. So he laughed instead and read it again, and went to and
fro in his little room with his eyes bright and that precious writing
held in his hand. That "dear" was just as if she had spoken - a voice
suddenly heard. He thought of her farewell, clear and sweet, out of
the shadow of the moonlit house.

But why that "If I never write again," and that abrupt ending? Of
course he would think of her.

It was her only letter. In a little time its creases were worn
through.

Early in June came a loneliness that suddenly changed into almost
intolerable longing to see her. He had vague dreams of going to
London, to Clapham to find her. But you do not find people in Clapham
as you do in Whortley. He spent an afternoon writing and re-writing a
lengthy letter, against the day when her address should come. If it
was to come. He prowled about the village disconsolately, and at last
set off about seven and retraced by moonlight almost every step of
that one memorable walk of theirs.

In the blackness of the shed he worked himself up to the pitch of
talking as if she were present. And he said some fine brave things.

He found the little old lady of the wallflowers with a candle in her
window, and drank a bottle of ginger beer with a sacramental air. The
little old lady asked him, a trifle archly, after his sister, and he
promised to bring her again some day. "I'll certainly bring her," he
said. Talking to the little old lady somehow blunted his sense of
desolation. And then home through the white indistinctness in a state
of melancholy that became at last so fine as to be almost pleasurable.

The day after that mood a new "text" attracted and perplexed
Mrs. Munday, an inscription at once mysterious and familiar, and this
inscription was:

Mizpah.

It was in Old English lettering and evidently very carefully executed.

Where had she seen it before?

It quite dominated all the rest of the room at first, it flaunted like
a flag of triumph over "discipline" and the time-table and the
Schema. Once indeed it was taken down, but the day after it
reappeared. Later a list of scholastic vacancies partially obscured
it, and some pencil memoranda were written on the margin.

And when at last the time came for him to pack up and leave Whortley,
he took it down and used it with several other suitable papers - the
Schema and the time-table were its next-door neighbours - to line the
bottom of the yellow box in which he packed his books: chiefly books
for that matriculation that had now to be postponed.




CHAPTER VIII.

THE CAREER PREVAILS.


There is an interval of two years and a half and the story resumes
with a much maturer Mr. Lewisham, indeed no longer a youth, but a man,
a legal man, at any rate, of one-and-twenty years. Its scene is no
longer little Whortley embedded among its trees, ruddy banks, parks
and common land, but the grey spaciousness of West London.

And it does not resume with Ethel at all. For that promised second
letter never reached him, and though he spent many an afternoon during
his first few months in London wandering about Clapham, that arid
waste of people, the meeting that he longed for never came. Until at
last, after the manner of youth, so gloriously recuperative in body,
heart, and soul, he began to forget.

The quest of a "crib" had ended in the unexpected fruition of
Dunkerley's blue paper. The green-blue certificates had, it seemed, a
value beyond mural decoration, and when Lewisham was already
despairing of any employment for the rest of his life, came a
marvellous blue document from the Education Department promising
inconceivable things. He was to go to London and be paid a guinea a
week for listening to lectures - lectures beyond his most ambitious
dreams! Among the names that swam before his eyes was Huxley - Huxley
and then Lockyer! What a chance to get! Is it any wonder that for
three memorable years the Career prevailed with him?

You figure him on his way to the Normal School of Science at the
opening of his third year of study there. (They call the place the
Royal College of Science in these latter days.) He carried in his
right hand a shiny black bag, well stuffed with text-books, notes, and
apparatus for the forthcoming session; and in his left was a book
that the bag had no place for, a book with gilt edges, and its binding
very carefully protected by a brown paper cover.

The lapse of time had asserted itself upon his upper lip in an
inaggressive but indisputable moustache, in an added inch or so of
stature, and in his less conscious carriage. For he no longer felt
that universal attention he believed in at eighteen; it was beginning
to dawn on him indeed that quite a number of people were entirely
indifferent to the fact of his existence. But if less conscious, his
carriage was decidedly more confident - as of one with whom the world
goes well.

His costume was - with one exception - a tempered black, - mourning put
to hard uses and "cutting up rusty." The mourning was for his mother,
who had died more than a year before the date when this story resumes,
and had left him property that capitalized at nearly a hundred pounds,
a sum which Lewisham hoarded jealously in the Savings Bank, paying
only for such essentials as university fees, and the books and
instruments his brilliant career as a student demanded. For he was
having a brilliant career, after all, in spite of the Whortley check,
licking up paper certificates indeed like a devouring flame.

(Surveying him, Madam, your eye would inevitably have fallen to his
collar - curiously shiny, a surface like wet gum. Although it has
practically nothing to do with this story, I must, I know, dispose of
that before I go on, or you will be inattentive. London has its
mysteries, but this strange gloss on his linen! "Cheap laundresses
always make your things blue," protests the lady. "It ought to have
been blue-stained, generously frayed, and loose about the button,
fretting his neck. But this gloss ..." You would have looked nearer,
and finally you would have touched - a charnel-house surface, dank and
cool! You see, Madam, the collar was a patent waterproof one. One of
those you wash over night with a tooth-brush, and hang on the back of
your chair to dry, and there you have it next morning rejuvenesced. It
was the only collar he had in the world, it saved threepence a week at
least, and that, to a South Kensington "science teacher in training,"
living on the guinea a week allowed by a parental but parsimonious
government, is a sum to consider. It had come to Lewisham as a great
discovery. He had seen it first in a shop window full of indiarubber
goods, and it lay at the bottom of a glass bowl in which goldfish
drifted discontentedly to and fro. And he told himself that he rather
liked that gloss.)

But the wearing of a bright red tie would have been unexpected - a
bright red tie after the fashion of a South-Western railway guard's!
The rest of him by no means dandiacal, even the vanity of glasses long
since abandoned. You would have reflected.... Where had you seen a
crowd - red ties abundant and in some way significant? The truth has to
be told. Mr. Lewisham had become a Socialist!

That red tie was indeed but one outward and visible sign of much
inward and spiritual development. Lewisham, in spite of the demands of
a studious career, had read his Butler's Analogy through by this time,
and some other books; he had argued, had had doubts, and called upon
God for "Faith" in the silence of the night - "Faith" to be delivered
immediately if Mr. Lewisham's patronage was valued, and which
nevertheless was not so delivered.... And his conception of his
destiny in this world was no longer an avenue of examinations to a
remote Bar and political eminence "in the Liberal interest (D.V.)." He
had begun to realise certain aspects of our social order that Whortley
did not demonstrate, begun to feel something of the dull stress
deepening to absolute wretchedness and pain, which is the colour of so
much human life in modern London. One vivid contrast hung in his mind
symbolical. On the one hand were the coalies of the Westbourne Park
yards, on strike and gaunt and hungry, children begging in the black
slush, and starving loungers outside a soup kitchen; and on the other,
Westbourne Grove, two streets further, a blazing array of crowded
shops, a stirring traffic of cabs and carriages, and such a spate of
spending that a tired student in leaky boots and graceless clothes
hurrying home was continually impeded in the whirl of skirts and
parcels and sweetly pretty womanliness. No doubt the tired student's
own inglorious sensations pointed the moral. But that was only one of
a perpetually recurring series of vivid approximations.

Lewisham had a strong persuasion, an instinct it may be, that human
beings should not be happy while others near them were wretched, and
this gay glitter of prosperity had touched him with a sense of
crime. He still believed people were responsible for their own lives;
in those days he had still to gauge the possibilities of moral
stupidity in himself and his fellow-men. He happened upon "Progress
and Poverty" just then, and some casual numbers of the "Commonweal,"
and it was only too easy to accept the theory of cunning plotting
capitalists and landowners, and faultless, righteous, martyr
workers. He became a Socialist forthwith. The necessity to do
something at once to manifest the new faith that was in him was
naturally urgent. So he went out and (historical moment) bought that
red tie!

"Blood colour, please," said Lewisham meekly to the young lady at the
counter.

"_What_ colour?" said the young lady at the counter, sharply.

"A bright scarlet, please," said Lewisham, blushing. And he spent the
best part of the evening and much of his temper in finding out how to
tie this into a neat bow. It was a plunge into novel handicraft - for
previously he had been accustomed to made-up ties.

So it was that Lewisham proclaimed the Social Revolution. The first
time that symbol went abroad a string of stalwart policemen were
walking in single file along the Brompton Road. In the opposite
direction marched Lewisham. He began to hum. He passed the policemen
with a significant eye and humming the _Marseillaise_....

But that was months ago, and by this time the red tie was a thing of
use and wont.

He turned out of the Exhibition Road through a gateway of wrought
iron, and entered the hall of the Normal School. The hall was crowded
with students carrying books, bags, and boxes of instruments, students
standing and chattering, students reading the framed and glazed
notices of the Debating Society, students buying note-books, pencils,
rubber, or drawing pins from the privileged stationer. There was a
strong representation of new hands, the paying students, youths and
young men in black coats and silk hats or tweed suits, the scholar
contingent, youngsters of Lewisham's class, raw, shabby, discordant,
grotesquely ill-dressed and awe-stricken; one Lewisham noticed with a
sailor's peaked cap gold-decorated, and one with mittens and very
genteel grey kid gloves; and Grummett the perennial Official of the
Books was busy among them.

"Der Zozalist!" said a wit.

Lewisham pretended not to hear and blushed vividly. He often wished he
did not blush quite so much, seeing he was a man of one-and-twenty.
He looked studiously away from the Debating Society notice-board,
whereon "G.E. Lewisham on Socialism" was announced for the next
Friday, and struggled through the hall to where the Book awaited his
signature. Presently he was hailed by name, and then again. He could
not get to the Book for a minute or so, because of the hand-shaking
and clumsy friendly jests of his fellow-"men."

He was pointed out to a raw hand, by the raw hand's experienced
fellow-townsman, as "that beast Lewisham - awful swat. He was second
last year on the year's work. Frightful mugger. But all these swats
have a touch of the beastly prig. Exams - Debating Society - more
Exams. Don't seem to have ever heard of being alive. Never goes near a
Music Hall from one year's end to the other."

Lewisham heard a shrill whistle, made a run for the lift and caught it
just on the point of departure. The lift was unlit and full of black
shadows; only the sapper who conducted it was distinct. As Lewisham
peered doubtfully at the dim faces near him, a girl's voice addressed
him by name.

"Is that you, Miss Heydinger?" he answered. "I didn't see, I hope you
have had a pleasant vacation."




CHAPTER IX.

ALICE HEYDINGER.


When he arrived at the top of the building he stood aside for the only
remaining passenger to step out before him. It was the Miss Heydinger
who had addressed him, the owner of that gilt-edged book in the cover
of brown paper. No one else had come all the way up from the ground
floor. The rest of the load in the lift had emerged at the
"astronomical" and "chemical" floors, but these two had both chosen
"zoology" for their third year of study, and zoology lived in the
attics. She stepped into the light, with a rare touch of colour
springing to her cheeks in spite of herself. Lewisham perceived an
alteration in her dress. Perhaps she was looking for and noticed the
transitory surprise in his face.

The previous session - their friendship was now nearly a year old - it
had never once dawned upon him that she could possibly be pretty. The
chief thing he had been able to recall with any definiteness during
the vacation was, that her hair was not always tidy, and that even
when it chanced to be so, she was nervous about it; she distrusted
it. He remembered her gesture while she talked, a patting exploration
that verged on the exasperating. From that he went on to remember
that its colour was, on the whole, fair, a light brown. But he had
forgotten her mouth, he had failed to name the colour of her eyes. She
wore glasses, it is true. And her dress was indefinite in his
memory - an amorphous dinginess.

And yet he had seen a good deal of her. They were not in the same
course, but he had made her acquaintance on the committee of the
school Debating Society. Lewisham was just then discovering
Socialism. That had afforded a basis of conversation - an incentive to
intercourse. She seemed to find something rarely interesting in his
peculiar view of things, and, as chance would have it, he met her
accidentally quite a number of times, in the corridors of the schools,
in the big Education Library, and in the Art Museum. After a time
those meetings appear to have been no longer accidental.

Lewisham for the first time in his life began to fancy he had
conversational powers. She resolved to stir up his ambitions - an easy
task. She thought he had exceptional gifts and that she might serve to
direct them; she certainly developed his vanity. She had matriculated
at the London University and they took the Intermediate Examination in
Science together in July - she a little unwisely - which served, as
almost anything will serve in such cases, as a further link between
them. She failed, which in no way diminished Lewisham's regard for
her. On the examination days they discoursed about Friendship in
general, and things like that, down the Burlington Arcade during the
lunch time - Burlington Arcade undisguisedly amused by her learned
dinginess and his red tie - and among other things that were said she
reproached him for not reading poetry. When they parted in Piccadilly,
after the examination, they agreed to write, about poetry and
themselves, during the holidays, and then she lent him, with a touch
of hesitation, Rossetti's poems. He began to forget what had at first
been very evident to him, that she was two or three years older than
he.

Lewisham spent the vacation with an unsympathetic but kindly uncle who
was a plumber and builder. His uncle had a family of six, the eldest
eleven, and Lewisham made himself agreeable and instructive. Moreover
he worked hard for the culminating third year of his studies (in which
he had decided to do great things), and he learnt to ride the Ordinary
Bicycle. He also thought about Miss Heydinger, and she, it would seem,
thought about him.

He argued on social questions with his uncle, who was a prominent
local Conservative. His uncle's controversial methods were coarse in
the extreme. Socialists, he said, were thieves. The object of
Socialism was to take away what a man earned and give it to "a lot of
lazy scoundrels." Also rich people were necessary. "If there weren't
well-off people, how d'ye think I'd get a livin'? Hey? And where'd
_you_ be then?" Socialism, his uncle assured him, was "got up" by
agitators. "They get money out of young Gabies like you, and they
spend it in champagne." And thereafter he met Mr. Lewisham's arguments
with the word "Champagne" uttered in an irritating voice, followed by
a luscious pantomime of drinking.

Naturally Lewisham felt a little lonely, and perhaps he laid stress
upon it in his letters to Miss Heydinger. It came to light that she
felt rather lonely too. They discussed the question of True as
distinguished from Ordinary Friendship, and from that they passed to
Goethe and Elective Affinities. He told her how he looked for her
letters, and they became more frequent. Her letters were Indisputably
well written. Had he been a journalist with a knowledge of "_per
thou_." he would have known each for a day's work. After the practical
plumber had been asking what he expected to make by this here science
of his, re-reading her letters was balsamic. He liked Rossetti - the
exquisite sense of separation in "The Blessed Damozel" touched
him. But, on the whole, he was a little surprised at Miss Heydinger's
taste in poetry. Rossetti was so sensuous ... so florid. He had
scarcely expected that sort of thing.

Altogether he had returned to the schools decidedly more interested in
her than when they had parted. And the curious vague memories of her
appearance as something a little frayed and careless, vanished at
sight of her emerging from the darkness of the lift. Her hair was in
order, as the light glanced through it it looked even pretty, and she
wore a well-made, dark-green and black dress, loose-gathered as was
the fashion in those days, that somehow gave a needed touch of warmth
to her face. Her hat too was a change from the careless lumpishness of
last year, a hat that, to a feminine mind, would have indicated
design. It suited her - these things are past a male novelist's
explaining.

"I have this book of yours, Miss Heydinger," he said.

"I am glad you have written that paper on Socialism," she replied,


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Online LibraryH.G. WellsLove and Mr. Lewisham → online text (page 4 of 16)