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Chapter 1

INTRODUCES MR. LEWISHAM.


The opening chapter does not concern itself with Love--indeed that
antagonist does not certainly appear until the third--and Mr. Lewisham
is seen at his studies. It was ten years ago, and in those days he was
assistant master in the Whortley Proprietary School, Whortley, Sussex,
and his wages were forty pounds a year, out of which he had to afford
fifteen shillings a week during term time to lodge with Mrs. Munday,
at the little shop in the West Street. He was called "Mr." to
distinguish him from the bigger boys, whose duty it was to learn, and
it was a matter of stringent regulation that he should be addressed as
"Sir."

He wore ready-made clothes, his black jacket of rigid line was dusted
about the front and sleeves with scholastic chalk, and his face was
downy and his moustache incipient. He was a passable-looking youngster
of eighteen, fair-haired, indifferently barbered, and with a quite
unnecessary pair of glasses on his fairly prominent nose--he wore
these to make himself look older, that discipline might be
maintained. At the particular moment when this story begins he was in
his bedroom. An attic it was, with lead-framed dormer windows, a
slanting ceiling and a bulging wall, covered, as a number of torn
places witnessed, with innumerable strata of florid old-fashioned
paper.

To judge by the room Mr. Lewisham thought little of Love but much on
Greatness. Over the head of the bed, for example, where good folks
hang texts, these truths asserted themselves, written in a clear,
bold, youthfully florid hand:--"Knowledge is Power," and "What man has
done man can do,"--man in the second instance referring to
Mr. Lewisham. Never for a moment were these things to be
forgotten. Mr. Lewisham could see them afresh every morning as his
head came through his shirt. And over the yellow-painted box upon
which--for lack of shelves--Mr. Lewisham's library was arranged, was a
"_Schema_." (Why he should not have headed it "Scheme," the editor of
the _Church Times_, who calls his miscellaneous notes "_Varia_," is
better able to say than I.) In this scheme, 1892 was indicated as the
year in which Mr. Lewisham proposed to take his B.A. degree at the
London University with "hons. in all subjects," and 1895 as the date
of his "gold medal." Subsequently there were to be "pamphlets in the
Liberal interest," and such like things duly dated. "Who would control
others must first control himself," remarked the wall over the
wash-hand stand, and behind the door against the Sunday trousers was a
portrait of Carlyle.

These were no mere threats against the universe; operations had
begun. Jostling Shakespeare, Emerson's Essays, and the penny Life of
Confucius, there were battered and defaced school books, a number of
the excellent manuals of the Universal Correspondence Association,
exercise books, ink (red and black) in penny bottles, and an
india-rubber stamp with Mr. Lewisham's name. A trophy of bluish green
South Kensington certificates for geometrical drawing, astronomy,
physiology, physiography, and inorganic chemistry adorned his further
wall. And against the Carlyle portrait was a manuscript list of French
irregular verbs.

Attached by a drawing-pin to the roof over the wash-hand stand,
which--the room being an attic--sloped almost dangerously, dangled a
Time-Table. Mr. Lewisham was to rise at five, and that this was no
vain boasting, a cheap American alarum clock by the books on the box
witnessed. The lumps of mellow chocolate on the papered ledge by the
bed-head indorsed that evidence. "French until eight," said the
time-table curtly. Breakfast was to be eaten in twenty minutes; then
twenty-five minutes of "literature" to be precise, learning extracts
(preferably pompous) from the plays of William Shakespeare--and then
to school and duty. The time-table further prescribed Latin
Composition for the recess and the dinner hour ("literature," however,
during the meal), and varied its injunctions for the rest of the
twenty-four hours according to the day of the week. Not a moment for
Satan and that "mischief still" of his. Only three-score and ten has
the confidence, as well as the time, to be idle.

But just think of the admirable quality of such a scheme! Up and busy
at five, with all the world about one horizontal, warm, dreamy-brained
or stupidly hullish, if roused, roused only to grunt and sigh and roll
over again into oblivion. By eight three hours' clear start, three
hours' knowledge ahead of everyone. It takes, I have been told by an
eminent scholar, about a thousand hours of sincere work to learn a
language completely--after three or four languages much less--which
gives you, even at the outset, one each a year before breakfast. The
gift of tongues--picked up like mushrooms! Then that "literature"--an
astonishing conception! In the afternoon mathematics and the
sciences. Could anything be simpler or more magnificent? In six years
Mr. Lewisham will have his five or six languages, a sound, all-round
education, a habit of tremendous industry, and be still but
four-and-twenty. He will already have honour in his university and
ampler means. One realises that those pamphlets in the Liberal
interests will be no obscure platitudes. Where Mr. Lewisham will be at
thirty stirs the imagination. There will be modifications of the
Schema, of course, as experience widens. But the spirit of it--the
spirit of it is a devouring flame!

He was sitting facing the diamond-framed window, writing, writing
fast, on a second yellow box that was turned on end and empty, and the
lid was open, and his knees were conveniently stuck into the
cavity. The bed was strewn with books and copygraphed sheets of
instructions from his remote correspondence tutors. Pursuant to the
dangling time-table he was, you would have noticed, translating Latin
into English.

Imperceptibly the speed of his writing diminished. "_Urit me Glycerae
nitor_" lay ahead and troubled him. "Urit me," he murmured, and his
eyes travelled from his book out of window to the vicar's roof
opposite and its ivied chimneys. His brows were knit at first and then
relaxed. "_Urit me_!" He had put his pen into his mouth and glanced
about for his dictionary. _Urare_?

Suddenly his expression changed. Movement dictionary-ward ceased. He
was listening to a light tapping sound--it was a footfall--outside.

He stood up abruptly, and, stretching his neck, peered through his
unnecessary glasses and the diamond panes down into the
street. Looking acutely downward he could see a hat daintily trimmed
with pinkish white blossom, the shoulder of a jacket, and just the
tips of nose and chin. Certainly the stranger who sat under the
gallery last Sunday next the Frobishers. Then, too, he had seen her
only obliquely....

He watched her until she passed beyond the window frame. He strained
to see impossibly round the corner....

Then he started, frowned, took his pen from his mouth. "This wandering
attention!" he said. "The slightest thing! Where was I? Tcha!" He
made a noise with his teeth to express his irritation, sat down, and
replaced his knees in the upturned box. "Urit me," he said, biting the
end of his pen and looking for his dictionary.

It was a Wednesday half-holiday late in March, a spring day glorious
in amber light, dazzling white clouds and the intensest blue, casting
a powder of wonderful green hither and thither among the trees and
rousing all the birds to tumultuous rejoicings, a rousing day, a
clamatory insistent day, a veritable herald of summer. The stir of
that anticipation was in the air, the warm earth was parting above the
swelling seeds, and all the pine-woods were full of the minute
crepitation of opening bud scales. And not only was the stir of Mother
Nature's awakening in the earth and the air and the trees, but also in
Mr. Lewisham's youthful blood, bidding him rouse himself to live--live
in a sense quite other than that the Schema indicated.

He saw the dictionary peeping from under a paper, looked up "Urit me,"
appreciated the shining "nitor" of Glycera's shoulders, and so fell
idle again to rouse himself abruptly.

"I _can't_ fix my attention," said Mr. Lewisham. He took off the
needless glasses, wiped them, and blinked his eyes. This confounded
Horace and his stimulating epithets! A walk?

"I won't be beat," he said--incorrectly--replaced his glasses, brought
his elbows down on either side of his box with resonant violence, and
clutched the hair over his ears with both hands....

In five minutes' time he found himself watching the swallows curving
through the blue over the vicarage garden.

"Did ever man have such a bother with himself as me?" he asked vaguely
but vehemently. "It's self-indulgence does it--sitting down's the
beginning of laziness."

So he stood up to his work, and came into permanent view of the
village street. "If she has gone round the corner by the post office,
she will come in sight over the palings above the allotments,"
suggested the unexplored and undisciplined region of Mr. Lewisham's
mind....

She did not come into sight. Apparently she had not gone round by the
post office after all. It made one wonder where she had gone. Did she
go up through the town to the avenue on these occasions?... Then
abruptly a cloud drove across the sunlight, the glowing street went
cold and Mr. Lewisham's imagination submitted to control. So "_Mater
saeva cupidinum_," "The untamable mother of desires,"--Horace (Book
II. of the Odes) was the author appointed by the university for
Mr. Lewisham's matriculation--was, after all, translated to its
prophetic end.

Precisely as the church clock struck five Mr. Lewisham, with a
punctuality that was indeed almost too prompt for a really earnest
student, shut his Horace, took up his Shakespeare, and descended the
narrow, curved, uncarpeted staircase that led from his garret to the
living room in which he had his tea with his landlady, Mrs.
Munday. That good lady was alone, and after a few civilities
Mr. Lewisham opened his Shakespeare and read from a mark onward--that
mark, by-the-bye, was in the middle of a scene--while he consumed
mechanically a number of slices of bread and whort jam.

Mrs. Munday watched him over her spectacles and thought how bad so
much reading must be for the eyes, until the tinkling of her shop-bell
called her away to a customer. At twenty-five minutes to six he put
the book back in the window-sill, dashed a few crumbs from his jacket,
assumed a mortar-board cap that was lying on the tea-caddy, and went
forth to his evening "preparation duty."

The West Street was empty and shining golden with the sunset. Its
beauty seized upon him, and he forgot to repeat the passage from Henry
VIII. that should have occupied him down the street. Instead he was
presently thinking of that insubordinate glance from his window and of
little chins and nose-tips. His eyes became remote in their
expression....

The school door was opened by an obsequious little boy with "lines" to
be examined.

Mr. Lewisham felt a curious change of atmosphere on his entry. The
door slammed behind him. The hall with its insistent scholastic
suggestions, its yellow marbled paper, its long rows of hat-pegs, its
disreputable array of umbrellas, a broken mortar-board and a tattered
and scattered _Principia_, seemed dim and dull in contrast with the
luminous stir of the early March evening outside. An unusual sense of
the greyness of a teacher's life, of the greyness indeed of the life
of all studious souls came, and went in his mind. He took the "lines,"
written painfully over three pages of exercise book, and obliterated
them with a huge G.E.L., scrawled monstrously across each page. He
heard the familiar mingled noises of the playground drifting in to him
through the open schoolroom door.

H.G. Wells