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Chapter 25

THE FIRST BATTLE.


Lewisham's inquiries for evening teaching and private tuition were
essentially provisional measures. His proposals for a more permanent
establishment displayed a certain defect in his sense of
proportion. That Melbourne professorship, for example, was beyond his
merits, and there were aspects of things that would have affected the
welcome of himself and his wife at Eton College. At the outset he was
inclined to regard the South Kensington scholar as the intellectual
salt of the earth, to overrate the abundance of "decent things"
yielding from one hundred and fifty to three hundred a year, and to
disregard the competition of such inferior enterprises as the
universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and the literate North. But the
scholastic agents to whom he went on the following Saturday did much
in a quiet way to disabuse his mind.

Mr. Blendershin's chief assistant in the grimy little office in Oxford
Street cleared up the matter so vigorously that Lewisham was angered.
"Headmaster of an endowed school, perhaps!" said Mr. Blendershin's
chief assistant "Lord!--why not a bishopric? I say,"--as
Mr. Blendershin entered smoking an assertive cigar--"one-and-twenty,
_no_ degree, _no_ games, two years' experience as junior--wants a
headmastership of an endowed school!" He spoke so loudly that it was
inevitable the selection of clients in the waiting-room should hear,
and he pointed with his pen.

"Look here!" said Lewisham hotly; "if I knew the ways of the market I
shouldn't come to you."

Mr. Blendershin stared at Lewisham for a moment. "What's he done in
the way of certificates?" asked Mr. Blendershin of the assistant.

The assistant read a list of 'ologies and 'ographies. "Fifty
resident," said Mr. Blendershin concisely--"that's _your_
figure. Sixty, if you're lucky."

"_What_?" said Mr. Lewisham.

"Not enough for you?"

"Not nearly."

"You can get a Cambridge graduate for eighty resident--and grateful,"
said Mr. Blendershin.

"But I don't want a resident post," said Lewisham.

"Precious few non-resident shops," said Mr. Blendershin. "Precious
few. They want you for dormitory supervision--and they're afraid of
your taking pups outside."

"Not married by any chance?" said the assistant suddenly, after an
attentive study of Lewisham's face.

"Well--er." Lewisham met Mr. Blendershin's eye. "Yes," he said.

The assistant was briefly unprintable. "Lord! you'll have to keep that
dark," said Mr. Blendershin. "But you have got a tough bit of hoeing
before you. If I was you I'd go on and get my degree now you're so
near it. You'll stand a better chance."

Pause.

"The fact is," said Lewisham slowly and looking at his boot toes, "I
must be doing _something_ while I am getting my degree."

The assistant, whistled softly.

"Might get you a visiting job, perhaps," said Mr. Blendershin
speculatively. "Just read me those items again, Binks," He listened
attentively. "Objects to religious teaching!--Eh?" He stopped the
reading by a gesture, "That's nonsense. You can't have everything, you
know. Scratch that out. You won't get a place in any middle-class
school in England if you object to religious teaching. It's the
mothers--bless 'em! Say nothing about it. Don't believe--who does?
There's hundreds like you, you know--hundreds. Parsons--all sorts. Say
nothing about it--"

"But if I'm asked?"

"Church of England. Every man in this country who has not dissented
belongs to the Church of England. It'll be hard enough to get you
anything without that."

"But--" said Mr. Lewisham. "It's lying."

"Legal fiction," said Mr. Blendershin. "Everyone understands. If you
don't do that, my dear chap, we can't do anything for you. It's
Journalism, or London docks. Well, considering your experience,--say
docks."

Lewisham's face flushed irregularly. He did not answer. He scowled and
tugged at the still by no means ample moustache.

"Compromise, you know," said Mr. Blendershin, watching him
kindly. "Compromise."

For the first time in his life Lewisham faced the necessity of telling
a lie in cold blood. He glissaded from, the austere altitudes of his
self-respect, and his next words were already disingenuous.

"I won't promise to tell lies if I'm asked," he said aloud. "I can't
do that."

"Scratch it out," said Blendershin to the clerk. "You needn't mention
it. Then you don't say you can teach drawing."

"I can't," said Lewisham.

"You just give out the copies," said Blendershin, "and take care they
don't see you draw, you know."

"But that's not teaching drawing--"

"It's what's understood by it in _this_ country," said Blendershin.
"Don't you go corrupting your mind with pedagogueries. They're the
ruin of assistants. Put down drawing. Then there's shorthand--"

"Here, I say!" said Lewisham.

"There's shorthand, French, book-keeping, commercial geography, land
measuring--"

"But I can't teach any of those things!"

"Look here," said Blendershin, and paused. "Has your wife or you a
private income?"

"No," said Lewisham.

"Well?"

A pause of further moral descent, and a whack against an obstacle.
"But they will find me out," said Lewisham.

Blendershin smiled. "It's not so much ability as willingness to teach,
you know. And _they_ won't find you out. The sort of schoolmaster we
deal with can't find anything out. He can't teach any of these things
himself--and consequently he doesn't believe they _can_ be taught.
Talk to him of pedagogics and he talks of practical experience. But he
puts 'em on his prospectus, you know, and he wants 'em on his
time-table. Some of these subjects--There's commercial geography, for
instance. What _is_ commercial geography?"

"Barilla," said the assistant, biting the end of his pen, and added
pensively, "_and_ blethers."

"Fad," said Blendershin, "Just fad. Newspapers talk rot about
commercial education, Duke of Devonshire catches on and talks
ditto--pretends he thought it himself--much _he_ cares--parents get
hold of it--schoolmasters obliged to put something down, consequently
assistants must. And that's the end of the matter!"

"_All_ right," said Lewisham, catching his breath in a faint sob of
shame, "Stick 'em down. But mind--a non-resident place."

"Well," said Blendershin, "your science may pull you through. But I
tell you it's hard. Some grant-earning grammar school may want
that. And that's about all, I think. Make a note of the address...."

The assistant made a noise, something between a whistle and the word
"Fee." Blendershin glanced at Lewisham and nodded doubtfully.

"Fee for booking," said the assistant; "half a crown, postage--in
advance--half a crown."

But Lewisham remembered certain advice Dunkerley had given him in the
old Whortley days. He hesitated. "No," he said. "I don't pay that. If
you get me anything there's the commission--if you don't--"

"We lose," supplied the assistant.

"And you ought to," said Lewisham. "It's a fair game."

"Living in London?" asked Blendershin.

"Yes," said the clerk.

"That's all right," said Mr. Blendershin. "We won't say anything about
the postage in that case. Of course it's the off season, and you
mustn't expect anything at present very much. Sometimes there's a
shift or so at Easter.... There's nothing more.... Afternoon. Anyone
else, Binks?"

Messrs. Maskelyne, Smith, and Thrums did a higher class of work than
Blendershin, whose specialities were lower class private
establishments and the cheaper sort of endowed schools. Indeed, so
superior were Maskelyne, Smith, and Thrums that they enraged Lewisham
by refusing at first to put him on their books. He was interviewed
briefly by a young man dressed and speaking with offensive precision,
whose eye adhered rigidly to the waterproof collar throughout the
interview.

"Hardly our line," he said, and pushed Lewisham a form to fill
up. "Mostly upper class and good preparatory schools here, you know."

As Lewisham filled up the form with his multitudinous "'ologies" and
"'ographies," a youth of ducal appearance entered and greeted the
precise young man in a friendly way. Lewisham, bending down to write,
perceived that this professional rival wore a very long frock coat,
patent leather boots, and the most beautiful grey trousers. His
conceptions of competition enlarged. The precise young man by a motion
of his eyes directed the newcomer's attention to Lewisham's waterproof
collar, and was answered by raised eyebrows and a faint tightening of
the mouth. "That bounder at Castleford has answered me," said the
new-comer in a fine rich voice. "Is he any bally good?"

When the bounder at Castleford had been discussed Lewisham presented
his paper, and the precise young man with his eye still fixed on the
waterproof collar took the document in the manner of one who reaches
across a gulf. "I doubt if we shall be able to do anything for you,"
he said reassuringly. "But an English mastership may chance to be
vacant. Science doesn't count for much in _our_ sort of schools, you
know. Classics and good games--that's our sort of thing."

"I see," said Lewisham.

"Good games, good form, you know, and all that sort of thing."

"I see," said Lewisham.

"You don't happen to be a public-school boy?" asked the precise young
man.

"No," said Lewisham.

"Where were you educated?"

Lewisham's face grew hot. "Does that matter?" he asked, with his eye
on the exquisite grey trousering.

"In our sort of school--decidedly. It's a question of tone, you know."

"I see," said Lewisham, beginning to realise new limitations. His
immediate impulse was to escape the eye of the nicely dressed
assistant master. "You'll write, I suppose, if you have anything," he
said, and the precise young man responded with alacrity to his
door-ward motion.

"Often get that kind of thing?" asked the nicely dressed young man
when Lewisham had departed.

"Rather. Not quite so bad as that, you know. That waterproof
collar--did you notice it? Ugh! And--'I see.' And the scowl and the
clumsiness of it. Of course _he_ hasn't any decent clothes--he'd go
to a new shop with one tin box! But that sort of thing--and board
school teachers--they're getting everywhere! Only the other
day--Rowton was here."

"Not Rowton of Pinner?"

"Yes, Rowton of Pinner. And he asked right out for a board
schoolmaster. He said, 'I want someone who can teach arithmetic.'"

He laughed. The nicely dressed young man meditated over the handle of
his cane. "A bounder of that kind can't have a particularly nice
time," he said, "anyhow. If he does get into a decent school, he must
get tremendously cut by all the decent men."

"Too thick-skinned to mind that sort of thing, I fancy," said the
scholastic agent. "He's a new type. This South Kensington place and
the polytechnics an turning him out by the hundred...."

Lewisham forgot his resentment at having to profess a religion he did
not believe, in this new discovery of the scholastic importance of
clothing. He went along with an eye to all the shop windows that
afforded a view of his person. Indisputably his trousers _were_
ungainly, flapping abominably over his boots and bagging terribly at
the knees, and his boots were not only worn and ugly but extremely ill
blacked. His wrists projected offensively from his coat sleeves, he
perceived a huge asymmetry in the collar of his jacket, his red tie
was askew and ill tied, and that waterproof collar! It was shiny,
slightly discoloured, suddenly clammy to the neck. What if he did
happen to be well equipped for science teaching? That was nothing. He
speculated on the cost of a complete outfit. It would be difficult to
get such grey trousers as those he had seen for less than sixteen
shillings, and he reckoned a frock coat at forty shillings at
least--possibly even more. He knew good clothes were very
expensive. He hesitated at Poole's door and turned away. The thing was
out of the question. He crossed Leicester Square and went down
Bedford Street, disliking every well-dressed person he met.

Messrs. Danks and Wimborne inhabited a bank-like establishment near
Chancery Lane, and without any conversation presented him with forms
to fill up. Religion? asked the form. Lewisham paused and wrote
"Church of England."

Thence he went to the College of Pedagogues in Holborn. The College of
Pedagogues presented itself as a long-bearded, corpulent, comfortable
person with a thin gold watch chain and fat hands. He wore gilt
glasses and had a kindly confidential manner that did much to heal
Lewisham's wounded feelings. The 'ologies and 'ographies were taken
down with polite surprise at their number. "You ought to take one of
our diplomas," said the stout man. "You would find no difficulty. No
competition. And there are prizes--several prizes--in money."

Lewisham was not aware that the waterproof collar had found a
sympathetic observer.

"We give courses of lectures, and have an examination in the theory
and practice of education. It is the only examination in the theory
and practice of education for men engaged in middle and upper class
teaching in this country. Except the Teacher's Diploma. And so few
come--not two hundred a year. Mostly governesses. The men prefer to
teach by rule of thumb, you know. English characteristic--rule of
thumb. It doesn't do to say anything of course--but there's bound to
be--something happen--something a little disagreeable--somewhen if
things go on as they do. American schools keep on getting
better--German too. What used to do won't do now. I tell this to you,
you know, but it doesn't do to tell everyone. It doesn't do. It
doesn't do to do anything. So much has to be considered. However
... But you'd do well to get a diploma and make yourself
efficient. Though that's looking ahead."

He spoke of looking ahead with an apologetic laugh as though it was an
amiable weakness of his. He turned from such abstruse matters and
furnished Lewisham with the particulars of the college diplomas, and
proceeded to other possibilities. "There's private tuition," he
said. "Would you mind a backward boy? Then we are occasionally asked
for visiting masters. Mostly by girls' schools. But that's for older
men--married men, you know."

"I am married," said Lewisham.

"_Eh_?" said the College of Pedagogues, startled.

"I _am_ married," said Lewisham.

"Dear me," said the College of Pedagogues gravely, and regarding
Mr. Lewisham over gold-rimmed glasses. "Dear me! And I am more than
twice your age, and I am not married at all. One-and-twenty! Have
you--have you been married long?"

"A few weeks," said Lewisham.

"That's very remarkable," said the College of Pedagogues. "Very
interesting.... _Really!_ Your wife must be a very courageous young
person.... Excuse me! You know--You will really have a hard fight for
a position. However--it certainly makes you eligible for girls'
schools; it does do that. To a certain extent, that is."

The evidently enhanced respect of the College of Pedagogues pleased
Lewisham extremely. But his encounter with the Medical, Scholastic,
and Clerical Agency that holds by Waterloo Bridge was depressing
again, and after that he set out to walk home. Long before he reached
home he was tired, and his simple pride in being married and in active
grapple with an unsympathetic world had passed. His surrender on the
religious question had left a rankling bitterness behind it; the
problem of the clothes was acutely painful. He was still far from a
firm grasp of the fact that his market price was under rather than
over one hundred pounds a year, but that persuasion was gaining ground
in his mind.

The day was a greyish one, with a dull cold wind, and a nail in one of
his boots took upon itself to be objectionable. Certain wild shots
and disastrous lapses in his recent botanical examination, that he had
managed to keep out of his mind hitherto, forced their way on his
attention. For the first time since his marriage he harboured
premonitions of failure.

When he got in he wanted to sit down at once in the little creaky
chair by the fire, but Ethel came flitting from the newly bought
typewriter with arms extended and prevented him. "Oh!--it _has_ been
dull," she said.

He missed the compliment. "_I_ haven't had such a giddy time that you
should grumble," he said, in a tone that was novel to her. He
disengaged himself from her arms and sat down. He noticed the
expression of her face.

"I'm rather tired," he said by way of apology. "And there's a
confounded nail I must hammer down in my boot. It's tiring work
hunting up these agents, but of course it's better to go and see
them. How have you been getting on?"

"All right," she said, regarding him. And then, "You _are_ tired.
We'll have some tea. And--let me take off your boot for you, dear.
Yes--I will."

She rang the bell, bustled out of the room, called for tea at the
staircase, came back, pulled out Madam Gadow's ungainly hassock and
began unlacing his boot. Lewisham's mood changed. "You _are_ a trump,
Ethel," he said; "I'm hanged if you're not." As the laces flicked he
bent forward and kissed her ear. The unlacing was suspended and there
were reciprocal endearments....

Presently he was sitting in his slippers, with a cup of tea in his
hand, and Ethel, kneeling on the hearthrug with the firelight on her
face, was telling him of an answer that had come that afternoon to her
advertisement in the _Athenaeum_.

"That's good," said Lewisham.

"It's a novelist," she said with the light of pride in her eyes, and
handed him the letter. "Lucas Holderness, the author of 'The Furnace
of Sin' and other stories."

"That's first rate," said Lewisham with just a touch of envy, and bent
forward to read by the firelight.

The letter was from an address in Judd Street, Euston Road, written on
good paper and in a fair round hand such as one might imagine a
novelist using. "Dear Madam," said the letter, "I propose to send you,
by registered letter, the MS. of a three-volume novel. It is about
90,000 words--but you must count the exact number."

"How I shall count I don't know," said Ethel.

"I'll show you a way," said Lewisham. "There's no difficulty in
that. You count the words on three or four pages, strike an average,
and multiply."

"But, of course, before doing so I must have a satisfactory guarantee
that my confidence in putting my work in your hands will not be
misplaced and that your execution is of the necessary high quality."

"Oh!" said Lewisham; "that's a bother."

"Accordingly I must ask you for references."

"That's a downright nuisance," said Lewisham. "I suppose that ass,
Lagune ... But what's this? 'Or, failing references, for a deposit
...' That's reasonable, I suppose."

It was such a moderate deposit too--merely a guinea. Even had the
doubt been stronger, the aspect of helpful hopeful little Ethel eager
for work might well have thrust it aside. "Sending him a cheque will
show him we have a banking account behind us," said Lewisham,--his
banking was still sufficiently recent for pride. "We will send him a
cheque. That'll settle _him_ all right."

That evening after the guinea cheque had been despatched, things were
further brightened by the arrival of a letter of atrociously
jellygraphed advices from Messrs. Danks and Wimborne. They all
referred to resident vacancies for which Lewisham was manifestly
unsuitable, nevertheless their arrival brought an encouraging
assurance of things going on, of shifting and unstable places in the
defences of the beleaguered world. Afterwards, with occasional
endearments for Ethel, he set himself to a revision of his last year's
note-books, for now the botany was finished, the advanced zoological
course--the last lap, as it were, for the Forbes medal--was
beginning. She got her best hat from the next room to make certain
changes in the arrangement of its trimmings. She sat in the little
chair, while Lewisham, with documents spread before him, sat at the
table.

Presently she looked up from an experimental arrangement of her
cornflowers, and discovered Lewisham, no longer reading, but staring
blankly at the middle of the table-cloth, with an extraordinary misery
in his eyes. She forgot the cornflowers and stared at him.

"Penny," she said after an interval.

Lewisham started and looked up. "_Eh_?"

"Why were you looking so miserable?" she asked.

"_Was_ I looking miserable?"

"Yes. And _cross_!"

"I was thinking just then that I would like to boil a bishop or so in
oil."

"My dear!"

"They know perfectly well the case against what they teach, they know
it's neither madness nor wickedness nor any great harm, to others not
to believe, they know perfectly well that a man may be as honest as
the day, and right--right and decent in every way--and not believe in
what they teach. And they know that it only wants the edge off a man's
honour, for him to profess anything in the way of belief. Just
anything. And they won't say so. I suppose they want the edge off
every man's honour. If a man is well off they will truckle to him no
end, though he laughs at all their teaching. They'll take gold plate
from company promoters and rent from insanitary houses. But if a man
is poor and doesn't profess to believe in what some of them scarcely
believe themselves, they wouldn't lift a finger to help him against
the ignorance of their followers. Your stepfather was right enough
there. They know what's going on. They know that it means lying and
humbug for any number of people, and they don't care. Why should
they? _They've_ got it down all right. They're spoilt, and why
shouldn't we be?"

Lewisham having selected the bishops as scapegoats for his turpitude,
was inclined to ascribe even the nail in his boot to their agency.

Mrs. Lewisham looked puzzled. She realised his drift.

"You're not," she said, and dropped her voice, "an _infidel_?"

Lewisham nodded gloomily. "Aren't you?" he said.

"Oh no," said Mrs. Lewisham.

"But you don't go to church, you don't--"

"No, I don't," said Mrs. Lewisham; and then with more assurance, "But
I'm not an infidel."

"Christian?"

"I suppose so."

"But a Christian--What do you believe?"

"Oh! to tell the truth, and do right, and not hurt or injure people
and all that."

"That's not a Christian. A Christian is one who believes."

"It's what _I_ mean by a Christian," said Mrs. Lewisham.

"Oh! at that rate anyone's a Christian," said Lewisham. "We all think
it's right to do right and wrong to do wrong."

"But we don't all do it," said Mrs. Lewisham, taking up the
cornflowers again.

"No," said Lewisham, a little taken aback by the feminine method of
discussion. "We don't all do it--certainly." He stared at her for a
moment--her head was a little on one side and her eyes on the
cornflower--and his mind was full of a strange discovery. He seemed on
the verge of speaking, and turned to his note-book again.

Very soon the centre of the table-cloth resumed its sway.

* * * * *

The following day Mr. Lucas Holderness received his cheque for a
guinea. Unhappily it was crossed. He meditated for some time, and then
took pen and ink and improved Lewisham's careless "one" to "five" and
touched up his unticked figure one to correspond.

You perceive him, a lank, cadaverous, good-looking man with long black
hair and a semi-clerical costume of quite painful rustiness. He made
the emendations with grave carefulness. He took the cheque round to
his grocer. His grocer looked at it suspiciously.

"You pay it in," said Mr. Lucas Holderness, "if you've any doubts
about it. Pay it in. _I_ don't know the man or what he is. He may be a
swindler for all I can tell. _I_ can't answer for him. Pay it in and
see. Leave the change till then. I can wait. I'll call round in a few
days' time."

"All right, wasn't it?" said Mr. Lucas Holderness in a casual tone two
days later.

"Quite, sir," said his grocer with enhanced respect, and handed him
his four pounds thirteen and sixpence change.

Mr. Lucas Holderness, who had been eyeing the grocer's stock with a
curious intensity, immediately became animated and bought a tin of
salmon. He went out of the shop with the rest of the money in his
hand, for the pockets of his clothes were old and untrustworthy. At
the baker's he bought a new roll.

He bit a huge piece of the roll directly he was out of the shop, and
went on his way gnawing. It was so large a piece that his gnawing
mouth was contorted into the ugliest shapes. He swallowed by an
effort, stretching his neck each time. His eyes expressed an animal
satisfaction. He turned the corner of Judd Street biting again at the
roll, and the reader of this story, like the Lewishams, hears of him
no more.

H.G. Wells