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Chapter 5

HESITATIONS.


Mr. Bonover, having fully matured a Hint suitable for the occasion,
dropped it in the afternoon, while Lewisham was superintending cricket
practice. He made a few remarks about the prospects of the first
eleven by way of introduction, and Lewisham agreed with him that
Frobisher i. looked like shaping very well this season.

A pause followed and the headmaster hummed. "By-the-bye," he said, as
if making conversation and still watching the play; "I,
ah,--understood that you, ah--were a _stranger_ to Whortley."

"Yes," said Lewisham, "that's so."

"You have made friends in the neighbourhood?"

Lewisham was troubled with a cough, and his ears--those confounded
ears--brightened, "Yes," he said, recovering, "Oh yes. Yes, I have."

"Local people, I presume."

"Well, no. Not exactly." The brightness spread from Lewisham's ears
over his face.

"I saw you," said Bonover, "talking to a young lady in the avenue. Her
face was somehow quite familiar to me. Who _was_ she?"

Should he say she was a friend of the Frobishers? In that case
Bonover, in his insidious amiable way, might talk to the Frobisher
parents and make things disagreeable for her. "She was," said
Lewisham, flushing deeply with the stress on his honesty and dropping
his voice to a mumble, "a ... a ... an old friend of my mother's. In
fact, I met her once at Salisbury."

"Where?"

"Salisbury."

"And her name?"

"Smith," said Lewisham, a little hastily, and repenting the lie even
as it left his lips.

"Well _hit_, Harris!" shouted Bonover, and began to clap his
hands. "Well _hit_, sir."

"Harris shapes very well," said Mr. Lewisham.

"Very," said Mr. Bonover. "And--what was it? Ah! I was just remarking
the odd resemblances there are in the world. There is a Miss
Henderson--or Henson--stopping with the Frobishers--in the very same
town, in fact, the very picture of your Miss ..."

"Smith," said Lewisham, meeting his eye and recovering the full
crimson note of his first blush.

"It's odd," said Bonover, regarding him pensively.

"Very odd," mumbled Lewisham, cursing his own stupidity and looking
away.

"_Very_--very odd," said Bonover.

"In fact," said Bonover, turning towards the school-house, "I hardly
expected it of you, Mr. Lewisham."

"Expected what, sir?"

But Mr. Bonover feigned to be already out of earshot.

"Damn!" said Mr. Lewisham. "Oh!--_damn_!"--a most objectionable
expression and rare with him in those days. He had half a mind to
follow the head-master and ask him if he doubted his word. It was only
too evident what the answer would be.

He stood for a minute undecided, then turned on his heel and marched
homeward with savage steps. His muscles quivered as he walked, and his
face twitched. The tumult of his mind settled at last into angry
indignation.

"Confound him!" said Mr. Lewisham, arguing the matter out with the
bedroom furniture. "Why the _devil_ can't he mind his own business?"

"Mind your own business, sir!" shouted Mr. Lewisham at the wash-hand
stand. "Confound you, sir, mind your own business!"

The wash-hand stand did.

"You overrate your power, sir," said Mr. Lewisham, a little
mollified. "Understand me! I am my own master out of school."

Nevertheless, for four days and some hours after Mr. Bonover's Hint,
Mr. Lewisham so far observed its implications as to abandon open-air
study and struggle with diminishing success to observe the spirit as
well as the letter of his time-table prescriptions. For the most part
he fretted at accumulating tasks, did them with slipshod energy or
looked out of window. The Career constituent insisted that to meet and
talk to this girl again meant reproof, worry, interference with his
work for his matriculation, the destruction of all "Discipline," and
he saw the entire justice of the insistence. It was nonsense this
being in love; there wasn't such a thing as love outside of trashy
novelettes. And forthwith his mind went off at a tangent to her eyes
under the shadow of her hat brim, and had to be lugged back by main
force. On Thursday when he was returning from school he saw her far
away down the street, and hurried in to avoid her, looking
ostentatiously in the opposite direction. But that was a
turning-point. Shame overtook him. On Friday his belief in love was
warm and living again, and his heart full of remorse for laggard days.

On Saturday morning his preoccupation with her was so vivid that it
distracted him even while he was teaching that most teachable subject,
algebra, and by the end of the school hours the issue was decided and
the Career in headlong rout. That afternoon he would go, whatever
happened, and see her and speak to her again. The thought of Bonover
arose only to be dismissed. And besides--

Bonover took a siesta early in the afternoon.

Yes, he would go out and find her and speak to her. Nothing should
stop him.

Once that decision was taken his imagination became riotous with
things he might say, attitudes he might strike, and a multitude of
vague fine dreams about her. He would say this, he would say that,
his mind would do nothing but circle round this wonderful pose of
lover. What a cur he had been to hide from her so long! What could he
have been thinking about? How _could_ he explain it to her, when the
meeting really came? Suppose he was very frank--

He considered the limits of frankness. Would she believe he had not
seen her on Thursday?--if he assured her that it was so?

And, most horrible, in the midst of all this came Bonover with a
request that he would take "duty" in the cricket field instead of
Dunkerley that afternoon. Dunkerley was the senior assistant master,
Lewisham's sole colleague. The last vestige of disapprobation had
vanished from Bonover's manner; asking a favour was his autocratic way
of proffering the olive branch. But it came to Lewisham as a cruel
imposition. For a fateful moment he trembled on the brink of
acquiescence. In a flash came a vision of the long duty of the
afternoon--she possibly packing for Clapham all the while. He turned
white. Mr. Bonover watched his face.

"_No_," said Lewisham bluntly, saying all he was sure of, and
forthwith racking his unpractised mind for an excuse. "I'm sorry I
can't oblige you, but ... my arrangements ... I've made arrangements,
in fact, for the afternoon."

Mr. Bonover's eyebrows went up at this obvious lie, and the glow of
his suavity faded, "You see," he said, "Mrs. Bonover expects a friend
this afternoon, and we rather want Mr. Dunkerley to make four at
croquet...."

"I'm sorry," said Mr. Lewisham, still resolute, and making a mental
note that Bonover would be playing croquet.

"You don't play croquet by any chance?" asked Bonover.

"No," said Lewisham, "I haven't an idea."

"If Mr. Dunkerley had asked you?..." persisted Bonover, knowing
Lewisham's respect for etiquette.

"Oh! it wasn't on that account," said Lewisham, and Bonover with
eyebrows still raised and a general air of outraged astonishment left
him standing there, white and stiff, and wondering at his
extraordinary temerity.

H.G. Wells