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Chapter 10

IN THE GALLERY OF OLD IRON.


As one goes into the South Kensington Art Museum from the Brompton
Road, the Gallery of Old Iron is overhead to the right. But the way
thither is exceedingly devious and not to be revealed to everybody,
since the young people who pursue science and art thereabouts set a
peculiar value on its seclusion. The gallery is long and narrow and
dark, and set with iron gates, iron-bound chests, locks, bolts and
bars, fantastic great keys, lamps, and the like, and over the
balustrade one may lean and talk of one's finer feelings and regard
Michael Angelo's horned Moses, or Trajan's Column (in plaster) rising
gigantic out of the hall below and far above the level of the
gallery. And here, on a Wednesday afternoon, were Lewisham and Miss
Heydinger, the Wednesday afternoon immediately following that paper
upon Socialism, that you saw announced on the notice-board in the
hall.

The paper had been an immense success, closely reasoned, delivered
with a disciplined emotion, the redoubtable Smithers practically
converted, the reply after the debate methodical and complete, and it
may be there were symptoms of that febrile affection known to the
vulgar as "swelled 'ed." Lewisham regarded Moses and spoke of his
future. Miss Heydinger for the most part watched his face.

"And then?" said Miss Heydinger.

"One must bring these views prominently before people. I believe still
in pamphlets. I have thought ..." Lewisham paused, it is to be hoped
through modesty.

"Yes?" said Miss Heydinger.

"Well--Luther, you know. There is room, I think, in Socialism, for a
Luther."

"Yes," said Miss Heydinger, imagining it. "Yes--that would be a grand
way."

So it seemed to many people in those days. But eminent reformers have
been now for more than seven years going about the walls of the Social
Jericho, blowing their own trumpets and shouting--with such small
result beyond incidental displays of ill-temper within, that it is
hard to recover the fine hopefulness of those departed days.

"Yes," said Miss Heydinger. "That would be a grand way."

Lewisham appreciated the quality of personal emotion in her voice. He
turned his face towards her, and saw unstinted admiration in her
eyes. "It would be a great thing to do," he said, and added, quite
modestly, "if only one could do it."

"_You_ could do it."

"You think I could?" Lewisham blushed vividly--with pleasure.

"I do. Certainly you could set out to do it. Even to fail hopelessly
would be Great. Sometimes ..."

She hesitated. He looked expectation. "I think sometimes it is greater
even to fail than to succeed."

"I don't see that," said the proposed Luther, and his eyes went back
to the Moses. She was about to speak, and changed her mind.

Contemplative pause.

"And then, when a great number of people have heard of your views?"
she said presently.

"Then I suppose we must form a party and ... bring things about."

Another pause--full, no doubt, of elevated thoughts.

"I say," said Lewisham quite suddenly. "You do put--well--courage into
a chap. I shouldn't have done that Socialism paper if it hadn't been
for you." He turned round and stood leaning with his back to the
Moses, and smiling at her. "You do help a fellow," he said.

That was one of the vivid moments of Miss Heydinger's life. She
changed colour a little. "Do I?" she said, standing straight and
awkward and looking into his face, "I'm ... glad."

"I haven't thanked you for your letters," said Lewisham, "And I've
been thinking ..."

"Yes?"

"We're first-rate friends, aren't we? The best of friends."

She held out her hand and drew a breath. "Yes," she said as they
gripped. He hesitated whether to hold her hand. He looked into her
eyes, and at that moment she would have given three-quarters of the
years she had still to live, to have had eyes and features that could
have expressed her. Instead, she felt her face hard, the little
muscles of her mouth twitching insubordinate, and fancied that her
self-consciousness made her eyes dishonest.

"What I mean," said Lewisham, "is--that this will go on. We're always
going to be friends, side by side."

"Always. Just as I am able to help you--I will help you. However I can
help you, I will."

"We two," said Lewisham, gripping her hand.

Her face lit. Her eyes were for a moment touched with the beauty of
simple emotion. "We two," she said, and her lips trembled and her
throat seemed to swell. She snatched her hand back suddenly and turned
her face away. Abruptly she walked towards the end of the gallery, and
he saw her fumbling for her handkerchief in the folds of the green and
black dress.

She was going to cry!

It set Lewisham marvelling--this totally inappropriate emotion.

He followed her and stood by her. Why cry? He hoped no one would come
into the little gallery until her handkerchief was put away.
Nevertheless he felt vaguely flattered. She controlled herself, dashed
her tears away, and smiled bravely at him with reddened eyes. "I'm
sorry," she said, gulping.

"I am so glad," she explained.

"But we will fight together. We two. I _can_ help you. I know I can
help you. And there is such Work to be done in the world!"

"You are very good to help me," said Lewisham, quoting a phrase from
what he had intended to say before he found out that he had a hold
upon her emotions.

"No!

"Has it ever occurred to you," she said abruptly, "how little a woman
can do alone in the world?"

"Or a man," he answered after a momentary meditation.

So it was Lewisham enrolled his first ally in the cause of the red
tie--of the red tie and of the Greatness that was presently to
come. His first ally; for hitherto--save for the indiscretion of his
mural inscriptions--he had made a secret of his private ambitions. In
that now half-forgotten love affair at Whortley even, he had, in spite
of the considerable degree of intimacy attained, said absolutely
nothing about his Career.

H.G. Wells