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Chapter 9

ALICE HEYDINGER.


When he arrived at the top of the building he stood aside for the only
remaining passenger to step out before him. It was the Miss Heydinger
who had addressed him, the owner of that gilt-edged book in the cover
of brown paper. No one else had come all the way up from the ground
floor. The rest of the load in the lift had emerged at the
"astronomical" and "chemical" floors, but these two had both chosen
"zoology" for their third year of study, and zoology lived in the
attics. She stepped into the light, with a rare touch of colour
springing to her cheeks in spite of herself. Lewisham perceived an
alteration in her dress. Perhaps she was looking for and noticed the
transitory surprise in his face.

The previous session--their friendship was now nearly a year old--it
had never once dawned upon him that she could possibly be pretty. The
chief thing he had been able to recall with any definiteness during
the vacation was, that her hair was not always tidy, and that even
when it chanced to be so, she was nervous about it; she distrusted
it. He remembered her gesture while she talked, a patting exploration
that verged on the exasperating. From that he went on to remember
that its colour was, on the whole, fair, a light brown. But he had
forgotten her mouth, he had failed to name the colour of her eyes. She
wore glasses, it is true. And her dress was indefinite in his
memory--an amorphous dinginess.

And yet he had seen a good deal of her. They were not in the same
course, but he had made her acquaintance on the committee of the
school Debating Society. Lewisham was just then discovering
Socialism. That had afforded a basis of conversation--an incentive to
intercourse. She seemed to find something rarely interesting in his
peculiar view of things, and, as chance would have it, he met her
accidentally quite a number of times, in the corridors of the schools,
in the big Education Library, and in the Art Museum. After a time
those meetings appear to have been no longer accidental.

Lewisham for the first time in his life began to fancy he had
conversational powers. She resolved to stir up his ambitions--an easy
task. She thought he had exceptional gifts and that she might serve to
direct them; she certainly developed his vanity. She had matriculated
at the London University and they took the Intermediate Examination in
Science together in July--she a little unwisely--which served, as
almost anything will serve in such cases, as a further link between
them. She failed, which in no way diminished Lewisham's regard for
her. On the examination days they discoursed about Friendship in
general, and things like that, down the Burlington Arcade during the
lunch time--Burlington Arcade undisguisedly amused by her learned
dinginess and his red tie--and among other things that were said she
reproached him for not reading poetry. When they parted in Piccadilly,
after the examination, they agreed to write, about poetry and
themselves, during the holidays, and then she lent him, with a touch
of hesitation, Rossetti's poems. He began to forget what had at first
been very evident to him, that she was two or three years older than
he.

Lewisham spent the vacation with an unsympathetic but kindly uncle who
was a plumber and builder. His uncle had a family of six, the eldest
eleven, and Lewisham made himself agreeable and instructive. Moreover
he worked hard for the culminating third year of his studies (in which
he had decided to do great things), and he learnt to ride the Ordinary
Bicycle. He also thought about Miss Heydinger, and she, it would seem,
thought about him.

He argued on social questions with his uncle, who was a prominent
local Conservative. His uncle's controversial methods were coarse in
the extreme. Socialists, he said, were thieves. The object of
Socialism was to take away what a man earned and give it to "a lot of
lazy scoundrels." Also rich people were necessary. "If there weren't
well-off people, how d'ye think I'd get a livin'? Hey? And where'd
_you_ be then?" Socialism, his uncle assured him, was "got up" by
agitators. "They get money out of young Gabies like you, and they
spend it in champagne." And thereafter he met Mr. Lewisham's arguments
with the word "Champagne" uttered in an irritating voice, followed by
a luscious pantomime of drinking.

Naturally Lewisham felt a little lonely, and perhaps he laid stress
upon it in his letters to Miss Heydinger. It came to light that she
felt rather lonely too. They discussed the question of True as
distinguished from Ordinary Friendship, and from that they passed to
Goethe and Elective Affinities. He told her how he looked for her
letters, and they became more frequent. Her letters were Indisputably
well written. Had he been a journalist with a knowledge of "_per
thou_." he would have known each for a day's work. After the practical
plumber had been asking what he expected to make by this here science
of his, re-reading her letters was balsamic. He liked Rossetti--the
exquisite sense of separation in "The Blessed Damozel" touched
him. But, on the whole, he was a little surprised at Miss Heydinger's
taste in poetry. Rossetti was so sensuous ... so florid. He had
scarcely expected that sort of thing.

Altogether he had returned to the schools decidedly more interested in
her than when they had parted. And the curious vague memories of her
appearance as something a little frayed and careless, vanished at
sight of her emerging from the darkness of the lift. Her hair was in
order, as the light glanced through it it looked even pretty, and she
wore a well-made, dark-green and black dress, loose-gathered as was
the fashion in those days, that somehow gave a needed touch of warmth
to her face. Her hat too was a change from the careless lumpishness of
last year, a hat that, to a feminine mind, would have indicated
design. It suited her--these things are past a male novelist's
explaining.

"I have this book of yours, Miss Heydinger," he said.

"I am glad you have written that paper on Socialism," she replied,
taking the brown-covered volume.

They walked along the little passage towards the biological laboratory
side by side, and she stopped at the hat pegs to remove her hat. For
that was the shameless way of the place, a girl student had to take
her hat off publicly, and publicly assume the holland apron that was
to protect her in the laboratory. Not even a looking-glass!

"I shall come and hear your paper," she said.

"I hope you will like it," said Lewisham at the door of the
laboratory.

"And in the vacation I have been collecting evidence about ghosts--you
remember our arguments. Though I did not tell you in my letters."

"I'm sorry you're still obdurate," said Lewisham. "I thought that was
over."

"And have you read 'Looking Backward'?"

"I want to."

"I have it here with my other books, if you'd care for me to lend it
to you. Wait till I reach my table. My hands are so full."

They entered the laboratory together, Lewisham holding the door open
courtly-wise, Miss Heydinger taking a reassuring pat at her hair. Near
the door was a group of four girls, which group Miss Heydinger joined,
holding the brown-covered book as inconspicuously as possible. Three
of them had been through the previous two years with her, and they
greeted her by her Christian name. They had previously exchanged
glances at her appearance in Lewisham's company.

A morose elderly young demonstrator brightened momentarily at the
sight of Lewisham. "Well, we've got one of the decent ones anyhow,"
said the morose elderly young demonstrator, who was apparently taking
an inventory, and then brightening at a fresh entry. "Ah! and here's
Smithers."

H.G. Wells