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Chapter 8

THE CAREER PREVAILS.


There is an interval of two years and a half and the story resumes
with a much maturer Mr. Lewisham, indeed no longer a youth, but a man,
a legal man, at any rate, of one-and-twenty years. Its scene is no
longer little Whortley embedded among its trees, ruddy banks, parks
and common land, but the grey spaciousness of West London.

And it does not resume with Ethel at all. For that promised second
letter never reached him, and though he spent many an afternoon during
his first few months in London wandering about Clapham, that arid
waste of people, the meeting that he longed for never came. Until at
last, after the manner of youth, so gloriously recuperative in body,
heart, and soul, he began to forget.

The quest of a "crib" had ended in the unexpected fruition of
Dunkerley's blue paper. The green-blue certificates had, it seemed, a
value beyond mural decoration, and when Lewisham was already
despairing of any employment for the rest of his life, came a
marvellous blue document from the Education Department promising
inconceivable things. He was to go to London and be paid a guinea a
week for listening to lectures--lectures beyond his most ambitious
dreams! Among the names that swam before his eyes was Huxley--Huxley
and then Lockyer! What a chance to get! Is it any wonder that for
three memorable years the Career prevailed with him?

You figure him on his way to the Normal School of Science at the
opening of his third year of study there. (They call the place the
Royal College of Science in these latter days.) He carried in his
right hand a shiny black bag, well stuffed with text-books, notes, and
apparatus for the, forthcoming session; and in his left was a book
that the bag had no place for, a book with gilt edges, and its binding
very carefully protected by a brown paper cover.

The lapse of time had asserted itself upon his upper lip in an
inaggressive but indisputable moustache, in an added inch or so of
stature, and in his less conscious carriage. For he no longer felt
that universal attention he believed in at eighteen; it was beginning
to dawn on him indeed that quite a number of people were entirely
indifferent to the fact of his existence. But if less conscious, his
carriage was decidedly more confident--as of one with whom the world
goes well.

His costume was--with one exception--a tempered black,--mourning put
to hard uses and "cutting up rusty." The mourning was for his mother,
who had died more than a year before the date when this story resumes,
and had left him property that capitalized at nearly a hundred pounds,
a sum which Lewisham hoarded jealously in the Savings Bank, paying
only for such essentials as university fees, and the books and
instruments his brilliant career as a student demanded. For he was
having a brilliant career, after all, in spite of the Whortley check,
licking up paper certificates indeed like a devouring flame.

(Surveying him, Madam, your eye would inevitably have fallen to his
collar--curiously shiny, a surface like wet gum. Although it has
practically nothing to do with this story, I must, I know, dispose of
that before I go on, or you will be inattentive. London has its
mysteries, but this strange gloss on his linen! "Cheap laundresses
always make your things blue," protests the lady. "It ought to have
been blue-stained, generously frayed, and loose about the button,
fretting his neck. But this gloss ..." You would have looked nearer,
and finally you would have touched--a charnel-house surface, dank and
cool! You see, Madam, the collar was a patent waterproof one. One of
those you wash over night with a tooth-brush, and hang on the back of
your chair to dry, and there you have it next morning rejuvenesced. It
was the only collar he had in the world, it saved threepence a week at
least, and that, to a South Kensington "science teacher in training,"
living on the guinea a week allowed by a parental but parsimonious
government, is a sum to consider. It had come to Lewisham as a great
discovery. He had seen it first in a shop window full of indiarubber
goods, and it lay at the bottom of a glass bowl In which goldfish
drifted discontentedly to and fro. And he told himself that he rather
liked that gloss.)

But the wearing of a bright red tie would have been unexpected--a
bright red tie after the fashion of a South-Western railway guard's!
The rest of him by no means dandiacal, even the vanity of glasses long
since abandoned. You would have reflected.... Where had you seen a
crowd--red ties abundant and in some way significant? The truth has to
be told. Mr. Lewisham had become a Socialist!

That red tie was indeed but one outward and visible sign of much
inward and spiritual development. Lewisham, in spite of the demands of
a studious career, had read his Butler's Analogy through by this time,
and some other books; he had argued, had had doubts, and called upon
God for "Faith" in the silence of the night--"Faith" to be delivered
immediately if Mr. Lewisham's patronage was valued, and which
nevertheless was not so delivered.... And his conception of his
destiny in this world was no longer an avenue of examinations to a
remote Bar and political eminence "in the Liberal interest (D.V.)" He
had begun to realise certain aspects of our social order that Whortley
did not demonstrate, begun to feel something of the dull stress
deepening to absolute wretchedness and pain, which is the colour of so
much human life in modern London. One vivid contrast hung in his mind
symbolical. On the one hand were the coalies of the Westbourne Park
yards, on strike and gaunt and hungry, children begging in the black
slush, and starving loungers outside a soup kitchen; and on the other,
Westbourne Grove, two streets further, a blazing array of crowded
shops, a stirring traffic of cabs and carriages, and such a spate of
spending that a tired student in leaky boots and graceless clothes
hurrying home was continually impeded in the whirl of skirts and
parcels and sweetly pretty womanliness. No doubt the tired student's
own inglorious sensations pointed the moral. But that was only one of
a perpetually recurring series of vivid approximations.

Lewisham had a strong persuasion, an instinct it may be, that human
beings should not be happy while others near them were wretched, and
this gay glitter of prosperity had touched him with a sense of
crime. He still believed people were responsible for their own lives;
in those days he had still to gauge the possibilities of moral
stupidity in himself and his fellow-men. He happened upon "Progress
and Poverty" just then, and some casual numbers of the "Commonweal,"
and it was only too easy to accept the theory of cunning plotting
capitalists and landowners, and faultless, righteous, martyr
workers. He became a Socialist forthwith. The necessity to do
something at once to manifest the new faith that was in him was
naturally urgent. So he went out and (historical moment) bought that
red tie!

"Blood colour, please," said Lewisham meekly to the young lady at the
counter.

"_What_ colour?" said the young lady at the counter, sharply.

"A bright scarlet, please," said Lewisham, blushing. And he spent the
best part of the evening and much of his temper in finding out how to
tie this into a neat bow. It was a plunge into novel handicraft--for
previously he had been accustomed to made-up ties.

So it was that Lewisham proclaimed the Social Revolution. The first
time that symbol went abroad a string of stalwart policemen were
walking in single file along the Brompton Road. In the opposite
direction marched Lewisham. He began to hum. He passed the policemen
with a significant eye and humming the _Marseillaise_....

But that was months ago, and by this time the red tie was a thing of
use and wont.

He turned out of the Exhibition Road through a gateway of wrought
iron, and entered the hall of the Normal School. The hall was crowded
with students carrying books, bags, and boxes of instruments, students
standing and chattering, students reading the framed and glazed
notices of the Debating Society, students buying note-books, pencils,
rubber, or drawing pins from the privileged stationer. There was a
strong representation of new hands, the paying students, youths and
young men in black coats and silk hats or tweed suits, the scholar
contingent, youngsters of Lewisham's class, raw, shabby, discordant,
grotesquely ill-dressed and awe-stricken; one Lewisham noticed with a
sailor's peaked cap gold-decorated, and one with mittens and very
genteel grey kid gloves; and Grummett the perennial Official of the
Books was busy among them.

"Der Zozalist!" said a wit.

Lewisham pretended not to hear and blushed vividly. He often wished he
did not blush quite so much, seeing he was a man of one-and-twenty.
He looked studiously away from the Debating Society notice-board,
whereon "G.E. Lewisham on Socialism" was announced for the next
Friday, and struggled through the hall to where the Book awaited his
signature. Presently he was hailed by name, and then again. He could
not get to the Book for a minute or so, because of the hand-shaking
and clumsy friendly jests of his fellow-"men."

He was pointed out to a raw hand, by the raw hand's experienced
fellow-townsman, as "that beast Lewisham--awful swat. He was second
last year on the year's work. Frightful mugger. But all these swats
have a touch of the beastly prig. Exams--Debating Society--more
Exams. Don't seem to have ever heard of being alive. Never goes near a
Music Hall from one year's end to the other."

Lewisham heard a shrill whistle, made a run for the lift and caught it
just on the point of departure. The lift was unlit and full of black
shadows; only the sapper who conducted it was distinct. As Lewisham
peered doubtfully at the dim faces near him, a girl's voice addressed
him by name.

"Is that you, Miss Heydinger?" he answered. "I didn't see, I hope you
have had a pleasant vacation."

H.G. Wells