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Chapter 13

LEWISHAM INSISTS.


Ethel Henderson sat at her machine before the window of Mr. Lagume's
study, and stared blankly at the greys and blues of the November
twilight. Her face was white, her eyelids were red from recent
weeping, and her hands lay motionless in her lap. The door had just
slammed behind Lagune.

"Heigh-ho!" she said. "I wish I was dead. Oh! I wish I was out of it
all."

She became passive again. "I wonder what I have _done_," she said,
"that I should be punished like this."

She certainly looked anything but a Fate-haunted soul, being indeed
visibly and immediately a very pretty girl. Her head was shapely and
covered with curly dark hair, and the eyebrows above her hazel eyes
were clear and dark. Her lips were finely shaped, her mouth was not
too small to be expressive, her chin small, and her neck white and
full and pretty. There is no need to lay stress upon her nose--it
sufficed. She was of a mediocre height, sturdy rather than slender,
and her dress was of a pleasant, golden-brown material with the easy
sleeves and graceful line of those aesthetic days. And she sat at her
typewriter and wished she was dead and wondered what she had _done_.

The room was lined with bookshelves, and conspicuous therein were a
long row of foolish pretentious volumes, the "works" of Lagune--the
witless, meandering imitation of philosophy that occupied his
life. Along the cornices were busts of Plato, Socrates, and Newton.
Behind Ethel was the great man's desk with its green-shaded electric
light, and littered with proofs and copies of _Hesperus_, "A Paper for
Doubters," which, with her assistance, he edited, published, compiled,
wrote, and (without her help) paid for and read. A pen, flung down
forcibly, quivered erect with its one surviving nib in the blotting
pad. Mr. Lagune had flung it down.

The collapse of the previous night had distressed him dreadfully, and
ever and again before his retreat he had been breaking into passionate
monologue. The ruin of a life-work, it was, no less. Surely she had
known that Chaffery was a cheat. Had she not known? Silence. "After
so many kindnesses--"

She interrupted him with a wailing, "Oh, I know--I know."

But Lagune was remorseless and insisted she had betrayed him,
worse--made him ridiculous! Look at the "work" he had undertaken at
South Kensington--how could he go on with that now? How could he find
the heart? When his own typewriter sacrificed him to her stepfather's
trickery? "Trickery!"

The gesticulating hands became active, the grey eyes dilated with
indignation, the piping voice eloquent.

"If he hadn't cheated you, someone else would," was Ethel's inadequate
muttered retort, unheard by the seeker after phenomena.

It was perhaps not so bad as dismissal, but it certainly lasted
longer. And at home was Chaffery, grimly malignant at her failure to
secure that pneumatic glove. He had no right to blame her, he really
had not; but a disturbed temper is apt to falsify the scales of
justice. The tambourine, he insisted, he could have explained by
saying he put up his hand to catch it and protect his head directly
Smithers moved. But the pneumatic glove there was no explaining. He
had made a chance for her to secure it when he had pretended to
faint. It was rubbish to say anyone could have been looking on the
table then--rubbish.

Beside that significant wreck of a pen stood a little carriage clock
in a case, and this suddenly lifted a slender voice and announced
_five_. She turned round on her stool and sat staring at the
clock. She smiled with the corners of her mouth down. "Home," she
said, "and begin again. It's like battledore and shuttlecock....

"I _was_ silly....

"I suppose I've brought it on myself. I ought to have picked it up, I
suppose. I had time....

"Cheats ... just cheats.

"I never thought I should see him again....

"He was ashamed, of course.... He had his own friends."

For a space she sat still, staring blankly before her. She sighed,
rubbed a knuckle in a reddened eye, rose.

She went into the hall, where her hat, transfixed by a couple of
hat-pins, hung above her jacket, assumed these garments, and let
herself out into the cold grey street.

She had hardly gone twenty yards from Lagune's door before she became
aware of a man overtaking her and walking beside her. That kind of
thing is a common enough experience to girls who go to and from work
in London, and she had had perforce to learn many things since her
adventurous Whortley days. She looked stiffly in front of her. The man
deliberately got in her way so that she had to stop. She lifted eyes
of indignant protest. It was Lewisham--and his face was white.

He hesitated awkwardly, and then in silence held out his hand. She
took it mechanically. He found his voice. "Miss Henderson," he said.

"What do you want?" she asked faintly.

"I don't know," he said.... "I want to talk to you."

"Yes?" Her heart was beating fast.

He found the thing unexpectedly difficult.

"May I--? Are you expecting--? Have you far to go? I would like to
talk to you. There is a lot ..."

"I walk to Clapham," she said. "If you care ... to come part of the
way ..."

She moved awkwardly. Lewisham took his place at her side. They walked
side by side for a moment, their manner constrained, having so much to
say that they could not find a word to begin upon.

"Have you forgotten Whortley?" he asked abruptly.

"No."

He glanced at her; her face was downcast. "Why did you never write?"
he asked bitterly.

"I wrote."

"Again, I mean."

"I did--in July."

"I never had it."

"It came back."

"But Mrs. Munday ..."

"I had forgotten her name. I sent it to the Grammar School."

Lewisham suppressed an exclamation.

"I am very sorry," she said.

They went on again in silence. "Last night," said Lewisham at
length. "I have no business to ask. But--"

She took a long breath. "Mr. Lewisham," she said. "That man you
saw--the Medium--was my stepfather."

"Well?"

"Isn't that enough?"

Lewisham paused. "No," he said.

There was another constrained silence. "No," he said less
dubiously. "I don't care a rap what your stepfather is. Were _you_
cheating?"

Her face turned white. Her mouth opened and closed. "Mr. Lewisham,"
she said deliberately, "you may not believe it, it may sound
impossible, but on my honour ... I did not know--I did not know for
certain, that is--that my stepfather ..."

"Ah!" said Lewisham, leaping at conviction. "Then I was right...."

For a moment she stared at him, and then, "I _did_ know," she said,
suddenly beginning to cry. "How can I tell you? It is a lie. I _did_
know. I _did_ know all the time."

He stared at her in white astonishment. He fell behind her one step,
and then in a stride came level again. Then, a silence, a silence that
seemed it would never end. She had stopped crying, she was one huge
suspense, not daring even to look at his face. And at last he spoke.

"No," he said slowly. "I don't mind even that. I don't care--even if
it was that."

Abruptly they turned into the King's Road, with its roar of wheeled
traffic and hurrying foot-passengers, and forthwith a crowd of boys
with a broken-spirited Guy involved and separated them. In a busy
highway of a night one must needs talk disconnectedly in shouted
snatches or else hold one's peace. He glanced at her face and saw that
it was set again. Presently she turned southward out of the tumult
into a street of darkness and warm blinds, and they could go on
talking again.

"I understand what you mean," said Lewisham. "I know I do. You knew,
but you did not want to know. It was like that."

But her mind had been active. "At the end of this road," she said,
gulping a sob, "you must go back. It was kind of you to come,
Mr. Lewisham. But you were ashamed--you are sure to be ashamed. My
employer is a spiritualist, and my stepfather is a professional
Medium, and my mother is a spiritualist. You were quite right not to
speak to me last night. Quite. It was kind of you to come, but you
must go back. Life is hard enough as it is ... You must go back at the
end of the road. Go back at the end of the road ..."

Lewisham made no reply for a hundred yards. "I'm coming on to
Clapham," he said.

They came to the end of the road in silence. Then at the kerb corner
she turned and faced him. "Go back," she whispered.

"No," he said obstinately, and they stood face to face at the cardinal
point of their lives.

"Listen to me," said Lewisham. "It is hard to say what I feel. I don't
know myself.... But I'm not going to lose you like this. I'm not going
to let you slip a second time. I was awake about it all last night. I
don't care where you are, what your people are, nor very much whether
you've kept quite clear of this medium humbug. I don't. You will in
future. Anyhow. I've had a day and night to think it over. I had to
come and try to find you. It's you. I've never forgotten
you. Never. I'm not going to be sent back like this."

"It can be no good for either of us," she said as resolute as he.

"I shan't leave you."

"But what is the good?..."

"I'm coming," said Lewisham, dogmatically.

And he came.

He asked her a question point blank and she would not answer him, and
for some way they walked in grim silence. Presently she spoke with a
twitching mouth. "I wish you would leave me," she said. "You are
quite different from what I am. You felt that last night. You helped
find us out...."

"When first I came to London I used to wander about Clapham looking
for you," said Lewisham, "week after week."

They had crossed the bridge and were in a narrow little street of
shabby shops near Clapham Junction before they talked again. She kept
her face averted and expressionless.

"I'm sorry," said Lewisham, with a sort of stiff civility, "if I seem
to be forcing myself upon you. I don't want to pry into your
affairs--if you don't wish me to. The sight of you has somehow brought
back a lot of things.... I can't explain it. Perhaps--I had to come to
find you--I kept on thinking of your face, of how you used to smile,
how you jumped from the gate by the lock, and how we had tea ... a lot
of things."

He stopped again.

"A lot of things."

"If I may come," he said, and went unanswered. They crossed the wide
streets by the Junction and went on towards the Common.

"I live down this road," she said, stopping abruptly at a corner. "I
would rather ..."

"But I have said nothing."

She looked at him with her face white, unable to speak for a
space. "It can do no good," she said. "I am mixed up with this...."

She stopped.

He spoke deliberately. "I shall come," he said, "to-morrow night."

"No," she said.

"But I shall come."

"No," she whispered.

"I shall come." She could hide the gladness of her heart from herself
no longer. She was frightened that he had come, but she was glad, and
she knew he knew that she was glad. She made no further protest. She
held out her hand dumbly. And on the morrow she found him awaiting her
even as he had said.

H.G. Wells