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Chapter 7

THE RECKONING.


And after the day of Love came the days of Reckoning.
Mr. Lewisham. was astonished--overwhelmed almost--by that Reckoning,
as it slowly and steadily unfolded itself. The wonderful emotions of
Saturday carried him through Sunday, and he made it up with the
neglected Schema by assuring it that She was his Inspiration, and that
he would work for Her a thousand times better than he could possibly
work for himself. That was certainly not true, and indeed he found
himself wondering whither the interest had vanished out of his
theological examination of Butler's Analogy. The Frobishers were not
at church for either service. He speculated rather anxiously why?

Monday dawned coldly and clearly--a Herbert Spencer of a day--and he
went to school sedulously assuring himself there was nothing to
apprehend. Day boys were whispering in the morning apparently about
him, and Frobisher ii. was in great request. Lewisham overheard a
fragment "My mother _was_ in a wax," said Frobisher ii.

At twelve came an interview with Bonover, and voices presently rising
in angry altercation and audible to Senior-assistant Dunkerley through
the closed study door. Then Lewisham walked across the schoolroom,
staring straight before him, his cheeks very bright.

Thereby Dunkerley's mind was prepared for the news that came the next
morning over the exercise books. "When?" said Dunkerley.

"End of next term," said Lewisham.

"About this girl that's been staying at the Frobishers?"

"Yes."

"She's a pretty bit of goods. But it will mess up your matric next
June," said Dunkerley.

"That's what I'm sorry for."

"It's scarcely to be expected he'll give you leave to attend the
exam...."

"He won't," said Lewisham shortly, and opened his first exercise
book. He found it difficult to talk.

"He's a greaser." said Dunkerley. "But there!--what can you expect
from Durham?" For Bonover had only a Durham degree, and Dunkerley,
having none, inclined to be particular. Therewith Dunkerley lapsed
into a sympathetic and busy rustling over his own pile of
exercises. It was not until the heap had been reduced to a book or so
that he spoke again--an elaborate point.

"Male and female created He them," said Dunkerley, ticking his way
down the page. "Which (tick, tick) was damned hard (tick, tick) on
assistant masters."

He closed the book with a snap and flung it on the floor behind
him. "You're lucky," he said. "I _did_ think I should be first to get
out of this scandalising hole. You're lucky. It's always acting down
here. Running on parents and guardians round every corner. That's what
I object to in life in the country: it's so confoundedly
artificial. _I_ shall take jolly good care _I_ get out of it just as
soon as ever I can. You bet!"

"And work those patents?"

"Rather, my boy. Yes. Work those patents. The Patent Square Top
Bottle! Lord! Once let me get to London...."

"I think _I_ shall have a shot at London," said Lewisham.

And then the experienced Dunkerley, being one of the kindest young men
alive, forgot certain private ambitions of his own--he cherished
dreams of amazing patents--and bethought him of agents. He proceeded
to give a list of these necessary helpers of the assistant master at
the gangway--Orellana, Gabbitas, The Lancaster Gate Agency, and the
rest of them. He knew them all--intimately. He had been a "nix" eight
years. "Of course that Kensington thing may come off," said Dunkerley,
"but it's best not to wait. I tell you frankly--the chances are
against you."

The "Kensington thing" was an application for admission to the Normal
School of Science at South Kensington, which Lewisham had made in a
sanguine moment. There being an inadequate supply of qualified science
teachers in England, the Science and Art Department is wont to offer
free instruction at its great central school and a guinea a week to
select young pedagogues who will bind themselves to teach science
after their training is over. Dunkerley had been in the habit of
applying for several years, always in vain, and Lewisham had seen no
harm in following his example. But then Dunkerley had no green-grey
certificates.

So Lewisham spent all that "duty" left him of the next day composing a
letter to copy out and send the several scholastic agencies. In this
he gave a brief but appreciative sketch of his life, and enlarged upon
his discipline and educational methods. At the end was a long and
decorative schedule of his certificates and distinctions, beginning
with a good-conduct prize at the age of eight. A considerable amount
of time was required to recopy this document, but his modesty upheld
him. After a careful consideration of the time-table, he set aside the
midday hour for "Correspondence."

He found that his work in mathematics and classics was already some
time in arrears, and a "test" he had sent to his correspondence Tutor
during those troublous days after the meeting with Bonover in the
Avenue, came back blottesquely indorsed: "Below Pass Standard." This
last experience was so unprecedented and annoyed him so much that for
a space he contemplated retorting with a sarcastic letter to the
tutor. And then came the Easter recess, and he had to go home and tell
his mother, with a careful suppression of details, that he was leaving
Whortley, "Where you have been getting on so well!" cried his mother.

But that dear old lady had one consolation. She observed he had given
up his glasses--he had forgotten to bring them with him--and her
secret fear of grave optical troubles--that were being "kept" from
her---was alleviated.

Sometimes he had moods of intense regret for the folly of that
walk. One such came after the holidays, when the necessity of revising
the dates of the Schema brought before his mind, for the first time
quite clearly, the practical issue of this first struggle with all
those mysterious and powerful influences the spring-time sets
a-stirring. His dream of success and fame had been very real and dear
to him, and the realisation of the inevitable postponement of his long
anticipated matriculation, the doorway to all the other great things,
took him abruptly like an actual physical sensation in his chest.

He sprang up, pen in hand, in the midst of his corrections, and began
pacing up and down the room. "What a fool I have been!" he
cried. "What a fool I have been!"

He flung the pen on the floor and made a rush at an ill-drawn attempt
upon a girl's face that adorned the end of his room, the visible
witness of his slavery. He tore this down and sent the fragments of it
scattering....

"Fool!"

It was a relief--a definite abandonment. He stared for a moment at the
destruction he had made, and then went back to the revision of the
time-table, with a mutter about "silly spooning."

That was one mood. The rarer one. He watched the posts with far more
eagerness for the address to which he might write to her than for any
reply to those reiterated letters of application, the writing of which
now ousted Horace and the higher mathematics (Lewisham's term for
conics) from his attention. Indeed he spent more time meditating the
letter to her than even the schedule of his virtues had required.

Yet the letters of application were wonderful compositions; each had a
new pen to itself and was for the first page at least in a handwriting
far above even his usual high standard. And day after day passed and
that particular letter he hoped for still did not come.

His moods were complicated by the fact that, in spite of his studied
reticence on the subject, the reason of his departure did in an
amazingly short time get "all over Whortley." It was understood that
he had been discovered to be "fast," and Ethel's behaviour was
animadverted upon with complacent Indignation--if the phrase may be
allowed--by the ladies of the place. Pretty looks were too often a
snare. One boy--his ear was warmed therefor--once called aloud
"Ethel," as Lewisham went by. The curate, a curate of the pale-faced,
large-knuckled, nervous sort, now passed him without acknowledgment of
his existence. Mrs. Bonover took occasion to tell him that he was a
"mere boy," and once Mrs. Frobisher sniffed quite threateningly at him
when she passed him in the street. She did it so suddenly she made him
jump.

This general disapproval inclined him at times to depression, but in
certain moods he found it exhilarating, and several times he professed
himself to Dunkerley not a little of a blade. In others, he told
himself he bore it for _her_ sake. Anyhow he had to bear it.

He began to find out, too, how little the world feels the need of a
young man of nineteen--he called himself nineteen, though he had
several months of eighteen still to run--even though he adds prizes
for good conduct, general improvement, and arithmetic, and advanced
certificates signed by a distinguished engineer and headed with the
Royal Arms, guaranteeing his knowledge of geometrical drawing,
nautical astronomy, animal physiology, physiography, inorganic
chemistry, and building construction, to his youth and strength and
energy. At first he had imagined headmasters clutching at the chance
of him, and presently he found himself clutching eagerly at them. He
began to put a certain urgency into his applications for vacant posts,
an urgency that helped him not at all. The applications grew longer
and longer until they ran to four sheets of note-paper--a pennyworth
in fact. "I can assure you," he would write, "that you will find me a
loyal and devoted assistant." Much in that strain. Dunkerley pointed
out that Bonover's testimonial ignored the question of moral character
and discipline in a marked manner, and Bonover refused to alter it. He
was willing to do what he could to help Lewisham, in spite of the way
he had been treated, but unfortunately his conscience....

Once or twice Lewisham misquoted the testimonial--to no purpose. And
May was halfway through, and South Kensington was silent. The future
was grey.

And in the depths of his doubt and disappointment came her letter. It
was typewritten on thin paper. "Dear," she wrote simply, and it
seemed to him the most sweet and wonderful of all possible modes of
address, though as a matter of fact it was because she had forgotten
his Christian name and afterwards forgotten the blank she had left for
it.

"Dear, I could not write before because I have no room at home now
where I can write a letter, and Mrs. Frobisher told my mother
falsehoods about you. My mother has surprised me dreadfully--I did not
think it of her. She told me nothing. But of that I must tell you in
another letter. I am too angry to write about it now. Even now you
cannot write back, for _you must not send letters here_. It would
_never_ do. But I think of you, dear,"--the "dear" had been erased and
rewritten--"and I must write and tell you so, and of that nice walk we
had, if I never write again. I am very busy now. My work is rather
difficult and I am afraid I am a little stupid. It is hard to be
interested in anything just because that is how you have to live, is
it not? I daresay you sometimes feel the same of school. But I
suppose everybody is doing things they don't like. I don't know when
I shall come to Whortley again, if ever, but very likely you will be
coming to London. Mrs. Frobisher said the most horrid things. It
would be nice If you could come to London, because then perhaps you
might see me. There is a big boys' school at Chelsea, and when I go by
it every morning I wish you were there. Then you would come out in
your cap and gown as I went by. Suppose some day I was to see you
there suddenly!!"

So it ran, with singularly little information in it, and ended quite
abruptly, "Good-bye, dear. Good-bye, dear," scribbled in pencil. And
then, "Think of me sometimes."

Reading it, and especially that opening "dear," made Lewisham feel the
strangest sensation in his throat and chest, almost as though he was
going to cry. So he laughed instead and read it again, and went to and
fro in his little room with his eyes bright and that precious writing
held in his hand. That "dear" was just as if she had spoken--a voice
suddenly heard. He thought of her farewell, clear and sweet, out of
the shadow of the moonlit house.

But why that "If I never write again," and that abrupt ending? Of
course he would think of her.

It was her only letter. In a little time its creases were worn
through.

Early in June came a loneliness that suddenly changed into almost
intolerable longing to see her. He had vague dreams of going to
London, to Clapham to find her. But you do not find people in Clapham
as you do in Whortley. He spent an afternoon writing and re-writing a
lengthy letter, against the day when her address should come. If it
was to come. He prowled about the village disconsolately, and at last
set off about seven and retraced by moonlight almost every step of
that one memorable walk of theirs.

In the blackness of the shed he worked himself up to the pitch of
talking as if she were present. And he said some fine brave things.

He found the little old lady of the wallflowers with a candle in her
window, and drank a bottle of ginger beer with a sacramental air. The
little old lady asked him, a trifle archly, after his sister, and he
promised to bring her again some day. "I'll certainly bring her," he
said. Talking to the little old lady somehow blunted his sense of
desolation. And then home through the white indistinctness in a state
of melancholy that became at last so fine as to be almost pleasurable.

The day after that mood a new "text" attracted and perplexed
Mrs. Munday, an inscription at once mysterious and familiar, and this
inscription was:

Mizpah.

It was in Old English lettering and evidently very carefully executed.

Where had she seen it before?

It quite dominated all the rest of the room at first, it flaunted like
a flag of triumph over "discipline" and the time-table and the
Schema. Once indeed it was taken down, but the day after it
reappeared. Later a list of scholastic vacancies partially obscured
it, and some pencil memoranda were written on the margin.

And when at last the time came for him to pack up and leave Whortley,
he took it down and used it with several other suitable papers--the
Schema and the time-table were its next-door neighbours--to line the
bottom of the yellow box in which he packed his books: chiefly books
for that matriculation that had now to be postponed.

H.G. Wells