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Chapter 4

RAISED EYEBROWS.


"Work must be done anyhow," said Mr. Lewisham.

But never had the extraordinary advantages of open-air study presented
themselves so vividly. Before breakfast he took half an hour of
open-air reading along the allotments lane near the Frobishers' house,
after breakfast and before school he went through the avenue with a
book, and returned from school to his lodgings circuitously through
the avenue, and so back to the avenue for thirty minutes or so before
afternoon school. When Mr. Lewisham was not looking over the top of
his book during these periods of open-air study, then commonly he was
glancing over his shoulder. And at last who should he see but--!

He saw her out of the corner of his eye, and he turned away at once,
pretending not to have seen her. His whole being was suddenly
irradiated with emotion. The hands holding his book gripped it very
tightly. He did not glance back again, but walked slowly and
steadfastly, reading an ode that he could not have translated to save
his life, and listening acutely for her approach. And after an
interminable time, as it seemed, came a faint footfall and the swish
of skirts behind him.

He felt as though his head was directed forward by a clutch of iron.

"Mr. Lewisham," she said close to him, and he turned with a quality of
movement that was almost convulsive. He raised his cap clumsily.

He took her extended hand by an afterthought, and held it until she
withdrew it. "I am so glad to have met you," she said.

"So am I," said Lewisham simply.

They stood facing one another for an expressive moment, and then by a
movement she indicated her intention to walk along the avenue with
him. "I wanted so much," she said, looking down at her feet, "to thank
you for letting Teddy off, you know. That is why I wanted to see you."
Lewisham took his first step beside her. "And it's odd, isn't it," she
said, looking up into his face, "that I should meet you here in just
the same place. I believe ... Yes. The very same place we met before."

Mr. Lewisham was tongue-tied.

"Do you often come here?" she said.

"Well," he considered--and his voice was most unreasonably hoarse when
he spoke--"no. No.... That is--At least not often. Now and then. In
fact, I like it rather for reading and that sort of thing. It's so
quiet."

"I suppose you read a great deal?"

"When one teaches one has to."

"But you ..."

"I'm rather fond of reading, certainly. Are you?"

"I _love_ it."

Mr. Lewisham was glad she loved reading. He would have been
disappointed had she answered differently. But she spoke with real
fervour. She _loved_ reading! It was pleasant. She would understand
him a little perhaps. "Of course," she went on, "I'm not clever like
some people are. And I have to read books as I get hold of them."

"So do I," said Mr. Lewisham, "for the matter of that.... Have you
read ... Carlyle?"

The conversation was now fairly under way. They were walking side by
side beneath the swaying boughs. Mr. Lewisham's sensations were
ecstatic, marred only by a dread of some casual boy coming upon
them. She had not read _much_ Carlyle. She had always wanted to, even
from quite a little girl--she had heard so much about him. She knew he
was a Really Great Writer, a _very_ Great Writer indeed. All she _had_
read of him she liked. She could say that. As much as she liked
anything. And she had seen his house in Chelsea.

Lewisham, whose knowledge of London had been obtained by excursion
trips on six or seven isolated days, was much impressed by this. It
seemed to put her at once on a footing of intimacy with this imposing
Personality. It had never occurred to him at all vividly that these
Great Writers had real abiding places. She gave him a few descriptive
touches that made the house suddenly real and distinctive to him. She
lived quite near, she said, at least within walking distance, in
Clapham. He instantly forgot the vague design of lending her his
"_Sartor Resartus_" in his curiosity to learn more about her
home. "Clapham--that's almost in London, isn't it?" he said.

"Quite," she said, but she volunteered no further information about
her domestic circumstances, "I like London," she generalised, "and
especially in winter." And she proceeded to praise London, its public
libraries, its shops, the multitudes of people, the facilities for
"doing what you like," the concerts one could go to, the theatres. (It
seemed she moved in fairly good society.) "There's always something to
see even if you only go out for a walk," she said, "and down here
there's nothing to read but idle novels. And those not new."

Mr. Lewisham had regretfully to admit the lack of such culture and
mental activity in Whortley. It made him feel terribly her
inferior. He had only his bookishness and his certificates to set
against it all--and she had seen Carlyle's house! "Down here," she
said, "there's nothing to talk about but scandal." It was too true.

At the corner by the stile, beyond which the willows were splendid
against the blue with silvery aments and golden pollen, they turned by
mutual impulse and retraced their steps. "I've simply had no one to
talk to down here," she said. "Not what _I_ call talking."

"I hope," said Lewisham, making a resolute plunge, "perhaps while you
are staying at Whortley ..."

He paused perceptibly, and she, following his eyes, saw a voluminous
black figure approaching. "We may," said Mr. Lewisham, resuming his
remark, "chance to meet again, perhaps."

He had been about to challenge her to a deliberate meeting. A certain
delightful tangle of paths that followed the bank of the river had
been in his mind. But the apparition of Mr. George Bonover, headmaster
of the Whortley Proprietary School, chilled him amazingly. Dame
Nature no doubt had arranged the meeting of our young couple, but
about Bonover she seems to have been culpably careless. She now
receded inimitably, and Mr. Lewisham, with the most unpleasant
feelings, found himself face to face with a typical representative of
a social organisation which objects very strongly _inter alia_ to
promiscuous conversation on the part of the young unmarried junior
master.

"--chance to meet again, perhaps," said Mr. Lewisham, with a sudden
lack of spirit.

"I hope so too," she said.

Pause. Mr. Bonover's features, and particularly a bushy pair of black
eyebrows, were now very near, those eyebrows already raised,
apparently to express a refined astonishment.

"Is this Mr. Bonover approaching?" she asked.

"Yes."

Prolonged pause.

Would he stop and accost them? At any rate this frightful silence must
end. Mr. Lewisham sought in his mind for some remark wherewith to
cover his employer's approach. He was surprised to find his mind a
desert. He made a colossal effort. If they could only talk, if they
could only seem at their ease! But this blank incapacity was eloquent
of guilt. Ah!

"It's a lovely day, though," said Mr. Lewisham. "Isn't it?"

She agreed with him. "Isn't it?" she said.

And then Mr. Bonover passed, forehead tight reefed so to speak, and
lips impressively compressed. Mr. Lewisham raised his mortar-board,
and to his astonishment Mr. Bonover responded with a markedly formal
salute--mock clerical hat sweeping circuitously--and the regard of a
searching, disapproving eye, and so passed. Lewisham was overcome with
astonishment at this improvement on the nod of their ordinary
commerce. And so this terrible incident terminated for the time.

He felt a momentary gust of indignation. After all, why should Bonover
or anyone interfere with his talking to a girl if he chose? And for
all he knew they might have been properly introduced. By young
Frobisher, say. Nevertheless, Lewisham's spring-tide mood relapsed
into winter. He was, he felt, singularly stupid for the rest of their
conversation, and the delightful feeling of enterprise that had
hitherto inspired and astonished him when talking to her had
shrivelled beyond contempt. He was glad--positively glad--when things
came to an end.

At the park gates she held out her hand. "I'm afraid I have
interrupted your reading," she said.

"Not a bit," said Mr. Lewisham, warming slightly. "I don't know when
I've enjoyed a conversation...."

"It was--a breach of etiquette, I am afraid, my speaking to you, but I
did so want to thank you...."

"Don't mention it," said Mr. Lewisham, secretly impressed by the
etiquette.

"Good-bye." He stood hesitating by the lodge, and then turned back up
the avenue in order not to be seen to follow her too closely up the
West Street.

And then, still walking away from her, he remembered that he had not
lent her a book as he had planned, nor made any arrangement ever to
meet her again. She might leave Whortley anywhen for the amenities of
Clapham. He stopped and stood irresolute. Should he run after her?
Then he recalled Bonover's enigmatical expression of face. He decided
that to pursue her would be altogether too conspicuous. Yet ... So he
stood in inglorious hesitation, while the seconds passed.

He reached his lodging at last to find Mrs. Munday halfway through
dinner.

"You get them books of yours," said Mrs. Munday, who took a motherly
interest in him, "and you read and you read, and you take no account
of time. And now you'll have to eat your dinner half cold, and no time
for it to settle proper before you goes off to school. It's ruination
to a stummik--such ways."

"Oh, never mind my stomach, Mrs. Munday," said Lewisham, roused from a
tangled and apparently gloomy meditation; "that's _my_ affair." Quite
crossly he spoke for him.

"I'd rather have a good sensible actin' stummik than a full head,"
said Mrs. Monday, "any day."

"I'm different, you see," snapped Mr. Lewisham, and relapsed into
silence and gloom.

("Hoity toity!" said Mrs. Monday under her breath.)

H.G. Wells