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Chapter 32

THE CROWNING VICTORY.


That night about seven Ethel came into their room with a waste-paper
basket she had bought for him, and found him sitting at the little
toilet table at which he was to "write." The outlook was, for a London
outlook, spacious, down a long slope of roofs towards the Junction, a
huge sky of blue passing upward to the darkling zenith and downward
into a hazy bristling mystery of roofs and chimneys, from which
emerged signal lights and steam puffs, gliding chains of lit window
carriages and the vague vistas of streets. She showed him the basket
and put it beside him, and then her eye caught the yellow document in
his hand. "What is that you have there?"

He held it out to her. "I found it--lining my yellow box. I had it at
Whortley."

She took it and perceived a chronological scheme. It was headed
"SCHEMA," there were memoranda in the margin, and all the dates had
been altered by a hasty hand.

"Hasn't it got yellow?" she said.

That seemed to him the wrong thing for her to say. He stared at the
document with a sudden accession of sympathy. There was an
interval. He became aware of her hand upon his shoulder, that she was
bending over him. "Dear," she whispered, with a strange change in the
quality of her voice. He knew she was seeking to say something that
was difficult to say.

"Yes?" he said presently.

"You are not grieving?"

"What about?"

"_This_."

"No!"

"You are not--you are not even sorry?" she said.

"No--not even sorry."

"I can't understand that. It's so much--"

"I'm glad," he proclaimed. "_Glad."_

"But--the trouble--the expense--everything--and your work?"

"Yes," he said, "that's just it."

She looked at him doubtfully. He glanced up at her, and she questioned
his eyes. He put his arm about her, and presently and almost
absent-mindedly she obeyed his pressure and bent down and kissed him.

"It settles things," he said, holding her. "It joins us. Don't you
see? Before ... But now it's different. It's something we have between
us. It's something that ... It's the link we needed. It will hold us
together, cement us together. It will be our life. This will be my
work now. The other ..."

He faced a truth. "It was just ... vanity!"

There was still a shade of doubt in her face, a wistfulness.

Presently she spoke.

"Dear," she said.

"Yes?"

She knitted her brows. "No!" she said. "I can't say it."

In the interval she came into a sitting position on his knees.

He kissed her hand, but her face remained grave, and she looked out
upon the twilight. "I know I'm stupid," she said. "The things I say
... aren't the things I feel."

He waited for her to say more.

"It's no good," she said.

He felt the onus of expression lay on him. He too found it a little
difficult to put into words. "I think I understand," he said, and
wrestled with the impalpable. The pause seemed long and yet not
altogether vacant. She lapsed abruptly into the prosaic. She started
from him.

"If I don't go down, Mother will get supper ..."

At the door she stopped and turned a twilight face to him. For a
moment they scrutinised one another. To her he was no more than a dim
outline. Impulsively he held out his arms....

Then at the sound of a movement downstairs she freed herself and
hurried out. He heard her call "Mother! You're not to lay
supper. You're to rest."

He listened to her footsteps until the kitchen had swallowed them
up. Then he turned his eyes to the Schema again and for a moment it
seemed but a little thing.

He picked it up in both hands and looked at it as if it was the
writing of another man, and indeed it was the writing of another
man. "Pamphlets in the Liberal Interest," he read, and smiled.

Presently a train of thought carried him off. His attitude relaxed a
little, the Schema became for a time a mere symbol, a point of
departure, and he stared out of the window at the darkling night. For
a long time he sat pursuing thoughts that were half emotions, emotions
that took upon themselves the shape and substance of ideas. The
deepening current stirred at last among the roots of speech.

"Yes, it was vanity," he said. "A boy's vanity. For me--anyhow. I'm
too two-sided.... Two-sided?... Commonplace!

"Dreams like mine--abilities like mine. Yes--any man! And yet ...--The
things I meant to do!"

His thoughts went to his Socialism, to his red-hot ambition of world
mending. He marvelled at the vistas he had discovered since those
days.

"Not for us--Not for us.

"We must perish in the wilderness.--Some day. Somewhen. But not for
us....

"Come to think, it is all the Child. The future is the Child. The
Future. What are we--any of us--but servants or traitors to that?...

* * * * *

"Natural Selection--it follows ... this way is happiness ... must
be. There can be no other."

He sighed. "To last a lifetime, that is.

"And yet--it is almost as if Life had played me a trick--promised so
much--given so little!...

"No! One must not look at it in that way! That will not do! That will
_not_ do.

"Career! In itself it is a career--the most important career in the
world. Father! Why should I want more?

"And ... Ethel! No wonder she seemed shallow ... She has been
shallow. No wonder she was restless. Unfulfilled ... What had she to
do? She was drudge, she was toy ...

"Yes. This is life. This alone is life! For this we were made and
born. All these other things--all other things--they are only a sort
of play....

"Play!"

His eyes came back to the Schema. His hands shifted to the opposite
corner and he hesitated. The vision of that arranged Career, that
ordered sequence of work and successes, distinctions and yet further
distinctions, rose brightly from the symbol. Then he compressed his
lips and tore the yellow sheet in half, tearing very deliberately. He
doubled the halves and tore again, doubled again very carefully and
neatly until the Schema was torn into numberless little pieces. With
it he seemed to be tearing his past self.

"Play," he whispered after a long silence.

"It is the end of adolescence," he said; "the end of empty dreams...."

He became very still, his hands resting on the table, his eyes staring
out of the blue oblong of the window. The dwindling light gathered
itself together and became a star.

He found he was still holding the torn fragments. He stretched out
his hand and dropped them into that new waste-paper basket Ethel had
bought for him.

Two pieces fell outside the basket. He stooped, picked them up, and
put them carefully with their fellows.

H.G. Wells