Book One - the Making of Kipps

Chapter the Third

The Woodcarving Class

H.G. Wells


§ 1

THOUGH these services to Venus Epipontia, and these studies in the art of dress, did much to distract his thoughts and mitigate his earlier miseries, it would be mere optimism to present Kipps as altogether happy. A vague dissatisfaction with life drifted about him, and every now and again enveloped him like a sea-fog. During these periods it was grayly evident that there was something, something vital in life, lacking. For no earthly reason that Kipps could discover, he was haunted by a suspicion that life was going wrong, or had already gone wrong in some irrevocable way. The ripening self-consciousness of adolescence developed this into a clearly felt insufficiency. It was all very well to carry gloves, open doors, never say ‘Miss’ to a girl, and walk ‘outside’, but were there not other things, conceivably even deeper things, before the complete thing was attained? For example, certain matters of knowledge. He perceived great bogs of ignorance about him, fumbling traps, where other people, it was alleged, real gentlemen and ladies, for example, and the clergy, had knowledge and assurance, bogs which it was sometimes difficult to elude. A girl arrived in the millinery department who could, she said, speak French and German. She snubbed certain advances, and a realisation of inferiority blistered Kipps. But he tried to pass the thing off as a joke by saying ‘Parlez-vous Francey’ whenever he met her, and inducing the junior apprentice to say the same.

He even made some dim, half-secret experiments towards remedying the deficiencies he suspected. He spent five shillings on five serial numbers of a Home Educator, and bought (and even thought of reading) a Shakespeare and a Bacon’s ‘Advancement of Learning,’ and the poems of Herrick from a chap who was hard up. He battled with Shakespeare all one Sunday afternoon, and found the ‘English Literature,’ with which Mr. Woodrow had equipped him, had vanished down some crack in his mind. He had no doubt it was very splendid stuff, but he couldn’t quite make out what it was all about. There was an occult meaning, he knew, in literature, and he had forgotten it. Moreover, he discovered one day, while taunting the junior apprentice with ignorance, that his ‘rivers of England’ had also slipped his memory, and he laboriously restored that fabric of rote learning: Ty Wear Tees ’Umber—’

I suppose some such phase of discontent is a normal thing in every adolescence. The ripening mind seeks something upon which its will may crystallise, upon which its discursive emotions, growing more abundant with each year of life, may concentrate. For many, though not for all, it takes a religious direction; but in those particular years the mental atmosphere of Folkestone was exceptionally free from any revivalistic disturbance that might have reached Kipps’ mental being. Sometimes they fall in love. I have known this uneasiness end in different cases in a vow to read one book (not a novel) every week, to read the Bible through in a year, to pass in the Honours division of the London Matriculation examination, to become an accomplished chemist, and never more to tell a lie. It led Kipps finally into Technical Education, as we understand it in the south of England.

It was in the last year of his apprenticeship that he had pursued his researches after that missing qualification into the Folkestone Young Men’s Association, where Mr. Chester Coote prevailed. Mr. Chester Coote was a young man of semi-independent means, who inherited a share in a house agency, read Mrs. Humphry Ward, and took an interest in social work. He was a whitish-faced young man, with a prominent nose, pale blue eyes, and a quivering quality in his voice. He was very active upon committees; he was very prominent and useful on all social occasions, in evidence upon platforms, and upon all those semi-public occasions when the Great descend. He lived with an only sister. To Kipps and his kind in the Young Men’s Association he read a stimulating paper on ‘Self-Help.’ He said it was the noblest of all our distinctive English characteristics, and he was very much down upon the ‘over-educated’ Germans. At the close a young German hairdresser made a few commendatory remarks which developed somehow into an oration on Hanoverian politics. As he became excited he became guttural and obscure; the meeting sniggered cheerfully at such ridiculous English, and Kipps was so much amused that he forgot a private project to ask this Chester Coote how he might set about a little Self-Help on his own private account in such narrow margins of time as the System of Mr. Shalford spared him. But afterwards in the night-time it came to him again. It was a few months later, and after his apprenticeship was over, and Mr. Shalford had with depreciatory observations taken him on as an Improver at twenty pounds a year, that this question was revived by a casual article on Technical Education in a morning paper that a commercial traveller left behind him. It played the role of the word in season. Something in the nature of conversion, a faint sort of concentration of purpose, really occurred in him then. The article was written with penetrating vehemence, and it stimulated him to the pitch of inquiring about the local Science and Art Classes; and after he had told everybody in the shop about it, and taken the advice of all who supported his desperate resolution, he joined. At first he attended the class in Freehand, that being the subject taught on early closing night, and he had already made some progress in that extraordinary routine of reproducing freehand ‘copies’, which for two generations has passed with English people for instruction in art, when the dates of the classes were changed. Thereby, just as the March winds were blowing, he was precipitated into the Woodcarving class, and his mind diverted first to this useful and broadening pursuit, and then to its teacher.


§ 2

The class in woodcarving was an extremely select class, conducted at that time by a young lady named Walshingham; and as this young lady was destined by fortune to teach Kipps a great deal more than woodcarving, it will be well if the reader gets the picture of her correctly in mind. She was only a year or so older than he was, she had a pale, intellectual face, dark gray eyes and black hair, which she wore over her forehead in an original and striking way that she had adapted from a picture by Rossetti in the South Kensington Museum. She was slender, so that without ungainliness she had an effect of being tall, and her hands were shapely and white when they came into contrast with hands much exercised in rolling and blocking. She dressed in those loose and pleasant forms and those soft and tempered shades that arose in England in the socialistic-aesthetic epoch, and remain to this day among us as the badge of those who read Turgenev’s novels, scorn current fiction, and think on higher planes. I think she was as beautiful as most beautiful people, and to Kipps she was altogether beautiful. She had, Kipps learnt, matriculated at London University, an astounding feat to his imagination, and the masterly way in which she demonstrated how to prod and worry honest pieces of wood into useless and unedifying patterns in relief, extorted his utmost admiration.

At first when Kipps had learnt he was to be taught by a ‘girl’ he was inclined to resent it, the more so as Buggins had recently been very strong on the gross injustice of feminine employment. ‘We have to keep wives,’ said Buggins (though, as a matter of fact, he did not keep even one), ‘and how are we to do it with a lot of girls coming in to take the work out of our mouths?’ Afterwards, Kipps, in conjunction with Pearce, looked at it from another point of view, and thought it would be rather a ‘lark.’ Finally when he saw her, and saw her teaching and coming nearer to him with an impressive deliberation, he was breathless with awe and the quality of her dark, slender femininity.

The class consisted of two girls and a maiden lady of riper years, friends of Miss Walshingham’s, and anxious rather to support her in an interesting experiment than to become really expert woodcarvers; an elderly, oldish young man with spectacles and a black beard, who never spoke to any one, and who was evidently too shortsighted to see his work as a whole; a small boy, who was understood to have a ‘gift’ for wood-carving; and a lodging-house keeper, who ‘took classes’ every winter, she told Mr. Kipps, as though they were a tonic, and ‘found they did her good.’ And occasionally Mr. Chester Coote—refined and gentlemanly—would come into the class, with or without papers, ostensibly on committee business, but in reality to talk to the less attractive of the two girl-students, and sometimes a brother of Miss Walshingham’s, a slender, dark young man with a pale face and fluctuating resemblances to the young Napoleon, would arrive just at the end of the class-time to see his sister home.

All these personages impressed Kipps with a sense of inferiority that in the case of Miss Walshingham became positively abysmal. The ideas and knowledge they appeared to have, their personal capacity and freedom, opened a new world to his imagination. These people came and went with a sense of absolute assurance, against an overwhelming background of plaster casts, diagrams and tables, benches and a blackboard, a background that seemed to him to be saturated with recondite knowledge and the occult and jealously guarded tips and secrets that constitute Art and the Higher Life. They went home, he imagined, to homes where the piano was played with distinction and freedom, and books littered the tables and foreign languages were habitually used. They had complicated meals, no doubt. They ‘knew etiquette,’ and how to avoid all the errors for which Kipps bought penny manuals—‘What to Avoid,’ ‘Common Errors in Speaking,’ and the like. He knew nothing about it all, nothing whatever; he was a creature of the outer darkness blinking in an unsuspected light.

He heard them speak easily and freely to one another of examinations, of books and paintings, of ‘last year’s Academy’—a little contemptuously—and once, just at the end of the class-time, Mr. Chester Coote and young Walshingham and the two girls argued about something or other called, he fancied, ‘Vagner,’ or ‘Vargner’—they seemed to say it both ways—and which presently shaped itself more definitely as the name of a man who made up music. (Carshot and Buggins weren’t in it with them.) Young Walshingham, it appeared, said something or other that was an ‘epigram,’ and they all applauded him. Kipps, I say, felt himself a creature of outer darkness, an inexcusable intruder in an altitudinous world. When the epigram happened he first of all smiled to pretend he understood, and instantly suppressed the smile to show he did not listen. Then he became extremely hot and uncomfortable, though nobody had noticed either phase.

It was clear his only chance of concealing his bottomless baseness was to hold his tongue, and meanwhile he chipped with earnest care and abased his soul before the very shadow of Miss Walshingham. She used to come and direct and advise him, with, he felt, an effort to conceal the scorn she had for him, and, indeed, it is true that at first she thought of him chiefly as the clumsy young man with the red ears.

And as soon as he emerged from the first effect of pure and awe-stricken humility—he was greatly helped to emerge from that condition to a perception of human equality by the need the lodging-house keeper was under to talk while she worked, and as she didn’t like Miss Walshingham and her friends very much, and the young man with spectacles was deaf, she naturally talked to Kipps—he perceived that he was in a state of adoration for Miss Walshingham that it seemed almost a blasphemous familiarity to speak of as being in love.

This state, you must understand, had nothing to do with ‘flirting’ or ‘spooning’ and that superficial passion that flashes from eye to eye upon the Leas and Pier—absolutely nothing. That he knew from the first. Her rather pallid, intellectual young face beneath those sombre clouds of hair put her in a class apart; towards her the thought of ‘attentions’ paled and vanished. To approach such a being, to perform sacrifices and to perish obviously for her, seemed the limit he might aspire to, he or any man. For if his love was abasement, at any rate it had this much of manliness that it covered all his sex. It had not yet come to Kipps to acknowledge any man as his better in his heart of hearts. When one does that the game is played, and one grows old indeed.

The rest of his sentimental interests vanished altogether in this great illumination. He meditated about her when he was blocking cretonne, her image was before his eyes at teatime, and blotted out the more immediate faces and made him silent and pre-occupied and so careless in his bearing that the junior apprentice, sitting beside him, mocked at and parodied his enormous bites of bread and butter unreproved. He became conspicuously less popular on the ‘fancy’ side, the ‘costumes’ was chilly with him and the ‘millinery’ cutting. But he did not care. An intermittent correspondence with Flo Bates, that had gone on since she left Mr. Shalford’s desk for a position at Tunbridge, ‘nearer home,’ and which had roused Kipps in its earlier stages to unparalleled heights of epistolary effort, died out altogether by reason of his neglect. He heard with scarcely a pang that, as a consequence, perhaps, of his neglect, Flo was ‘carrying on with a chap who managed a farm.’

Every Thursday he jabbed and gouged at his wood, jabbing and gouging intersecting circles and diamond traceries, and that laboured inane which our mad world calls ornament, and he watched Miss Walshingham furtively whenever she turned away. The circles, in consequence, were jabbed crooked, and his panels, losing their symmetry, became comparatively pleasing to the untrained eye—and once he jabbed his finger. He would cheerfully have jabbed all his fingers if he could have found some means of using the opening to express himself of the vague emotions that possessed him. But he shirked conversation just as earnestly as he desired it; he feared that profound general ignorance of his might appear.


§ 3

There came a time when she could not open one of the classroom windows. The man with the black beard pored over his chipping heedlessly . . . 

It did not take Kipps a moment to grasp his opportunity. He dropped his gouge and stepped forward. ‘Lem me,’ he said . . . 

He could not open the window either!

‘Oh, please don’t trouble,’ she said.

‘Sno trouble,’ he gasped.

Still the sash stuck. He felt his manhood was at stake. He gathered himself together for a tremendous effort, and the pane broke with a snap, and he thrust his hand into the void beyond.

‘There!’ said Miss Walshingham, and the glass fell ringing into the courtyard below.

Then Kipps made to bring his hand back and felt the keen touch of the edge of the broken glass at his wrist. He turned dolefully. ‘I’m tremendously sorry,’ he said, in answer to the accusation in Miss Walshingham’s eyes. ‘I didn’t think it would break like that’—as if he had expected it to break in some quite different and entirely more satisfactory manner. The boy with the gift for woodcarving, having stared at Kipps’ face for a moment, became involved in a Laocoon struggle with a giggle.

‘You’ve cut your wrist,’ said one of the girl friends, standing up and pointing. She was a pleasant-faced, greatly freckled girl, with a helpful disposition, and she said, ‘You’ve cut your wrist’ as brightly as if she had been a trained nurse.

Kipps looked down and saw a swift line of scarlet rush down his hand. He perceived the other man-student regarding this with magnified eyes. ‘You have cut your wrist,’ said Miss Walshingham; and Kipps regarded his damage with greater interest.

‘He’s cut his wrist,’ said the maiden lady to the lodging-house keeper, and seemed in doubt what a lady should do.

‘It’s—’ she hesitated at the word ‘bleeding,’ and nodded to the lodging-house keeper instead.

‘Dreadfully,’ said the maiden lady, and tried to look and tried not to look at the same time.

‘Of course he’s cut his wrist,’ said the lodging-house keeper, momentarily quite annoyed at Kipps; and the other young lady, who thought Kipps rather common, went on quietly with her wood-cutting with an air of its being the proper thing to do—though nobody else seemed to know it.

‘You must tie it up,’ said Miss Walshingham.

‘We must tie it up,’ said the freckled girl.

‘I ’adn’t the slightest idea that window was going to break like that,’ said Kipps, with candour. ‘Nort the slightest.’

He glanced again at the blood on his wrist, and it seemed to him that it was on the very point of dropping on the floor of that cultured class-room. So he very neatly licked it off, feeling at the same time for his handkerchief. ‘Oh, don’t!’ said Miss Walshingham as he did so, and the girl with the freckles made a movement of horror. The giggle got the better of the boy with the gift, and celebrated its triumph by unseemly noises, in spite of which it seemed to Kipps at the moment that the act that had made Miss Walshingham say, ‘Oh, don’t!’ was rather a desperate and manly treatment of what was, after all, a creditable injury.

‘It ought to be tied up,’ said the lodging-house keeper, holding her chisel upright in her hand. ‘It’s a bad cut to bleed like that.’

‘We must tie it up,’ said the freckled girl, and hesitated in front of Kipps. ‘Have you got a handkerchief?’ she said.

‘I dunno ’ow I managed not to bring one,’ said Kipps. ‘I—Not ’aving a cold, I suppose some ’ow I didn’t think—!’

He checked a further flow of blood.

The girl with the freckles caught Miss Walshingham’s eye and held it for a moment. Both glanced at Kipps’ injury. The boy with the gift, who had reappeared with a chastened expression from some noisy pursuit beneath his desk, made the neglected motions of one who proffers shyly. Miss Walshingham, under the spell of the freckled girl’s eye, produced a handkerchief. The voice of the maiden lady could be heard in the background: ‘I’ve been through all the technical education Ambulance classes twice, and I know you go so if it’s a vein, and so if it’s an artery—at least you go so for one, and so for the other, whichever it may be—but . . . ’

‘If you will give me your hand,’ said the freckled girl; and proceeded, with Miss Walshingham’s assistance, to bandage Kipps in a most businesslike way. Yes, they actually bandaged Kipps. They pulled up his cuffs—happily they were not a very frayed pair—and held his wrist and wrapped the soft handkerchief round it, and tightened the knot together. And Miss Walshingham’s face, the face of that almost divine Over-human came close to the face of Kipps.

‘We’re not hurting you, are we?’ she said.

‘Not a bit,’ said Kipps, as he would have said if they had been sawing his arm off.

‘We’re not experts, you know,’ said the freckled girl.

‘I’m sure it’s a dreadful cut,’ said Miss Walshingham.

‘It ain’t much, reely,’ said Kipps; ’and you’re taking a lot of trouble. I’m sorry I broke that window. I can’t think what I could have been doing.’

‘It isn’t so much the cut at the time, it’s the poisoning afterwards,’ came the voice of the maiden lady.

‘Of course, I’m quite willing to pay for the window,’ panted Kipps opulently.

‘We must make it just as tight as possible to stop the bleeding,’ said the freckled girl.

‘I don’t think it’s much, reely,’ said Kipps. ‘I’m awful sorry I broke that window, though.

‘Put your finger on the knot, dear,’ said the freckled girl.

‘Eh?’ said Kipps. ‘I mean—’

Both the young ladies became very intent on the knot, and Mr. Kipps was very red and very intent upon the two young ladies.

‘Mortified, and had to be sawn off,’ said the maiden lady.

‘Sawn off,’ said the lodging-house keeper.

‘Sawn right off,’ said the maiden lady, and jabbed at her mangled design.

‘There,’ said the freckled girl, ‘I think that ought to do. You’re sure it’s not too tight?’

‘Not a bit,’ said Kipps.

He met Miss Walshingham’s eyes and smiled to show how little he cared for wounds and pain. ‘It’s only a little cut,’ he added.

The maiden lady appeared as an addition to their group. ‘You should have washed the wound, dear,’ she said. ‘I was just telling Miss Collis—’ She peered through her glasses at the bandage. ‘That doesn’t look quite right,’ she remarked critically. ‘You should have taken the ambulance classes. But I suppose it will have to do. Are you hurting?’

‘Not a bit,’ said Kipps; and smiled at them all with the air of a brave soldier in hospital.

‘I’m sure it must hurt,’ said Miss Walshingham.

‘Anyhow, you’re a very good patient,’ said the girl with the freckles.

Mr. Kipps became bright pink. ‘I’m only sorry I broke the window—that’s all,’ he said. ‘But who would have thought it was going to break like that?’


‘I’m afraid you won’t be able to go on carving to-night,’ said Miss Walshingham.

‘I’ll try,’ said Kipps. ‘It reely doesn’t hurt—not anything to matter.

‘Presently Miss Walshingham came to him as he carved heroically with his hand bandaged in her handkerchief. There was a touch of novel interest in her eyes. ‘I’m afraid you’re not getting on very fast,’ she said.

The freckled girl looked up and regarded Miss Walshingham.

‘I’m doing a little, anyhow,’ said Kipps. ‘I don’t want to waste any time. A feller like me hasn’t much time to spare.’

It struck the girls that there was a quality of modest disavowal about that ‘feller like me.’ It gave them a light into this obscure person, and Miss Walshingham ventured to commend his work as ‘promising’ and to ask whether he meant to follow it up. Kipps didn’t ‘altogether know’—‘things depended on so much,’ but if he was in Folkestone next winter he certainly should. It did not occur to Miss Walshingham at the time to ask why his progress in art depended upon his presence in Folkestone. There were some more questions and answers—they continued to talk to him for a little time even when Mr. Chester Coote had come into the room—and when at last the conversation had died out, it dawned upon Kipps just how much his cut wrist had done for him . . . 

He went to sleep that night revising that conversation for the twentieth time, treasuring this and expanding that, and inserting things he might have said to Miss Walshingham—things he might still say about himself—in relation, more or less explicit, to her. He wasn’t quite sure if he wouldn’t like his arm to mortify a bit, which would make him interesting, or to heal up absolutely, which would show the exceptional purity of his blood . . . 


§ 4

The affair of the broken window happened late in April, and the class came to an end in May. In that interval there were several small incidents and great developments of emotion. I have done Kipps no justice if I have made it seem that his face was unsightly. It was, as the freckled girl pointed out to Helen Walshingham, an ‘interesting’ face, and that aspect of him which presented chiefly erratic hair and glowing ears ceased to prevail.

They talked him over, and the freckled girl discovered there was something ‘wistful’ in his manner. They detected a ‘natural delicacy,’ and the freckled girl set herself to draw him out from that time forth. The freckled girl was nineteen, and very wise and motherly and benevolent, and really she greatly preferred drawing out Kipps to woodcarving. It was quite evident to her that Kipps was in love with Helen Walshingham, and it struck her as a queer and romantic and pathetic and extremely interesting phenomenon. And as at that time she regarded Helen as ‘simply lovely,’ it seemed only right and proper that she should assist Kipps in his modest efforts to place himself in a state of absolute abandon upon her altar.

Under her sympathetic management the position of Kipps was presently defined quite clearly. He was unhappy in his position—misunderstood. He told her he ‘didn’t seem to get on like’ with customers, and she translated this for him as ‘too sensitive.’ The discontent with his fate in life, the dreadful feeling that Education was slipping by him, troubles that time and usage were glazing over a little, revived to their old acuteness but not to their old hopelessness. As a basis for sympathy, indeed, they were even a source of pleasure.

And one day at dinner it happened that Carshot and Buggins fell talking of ‘these here writers,’ and how Dickens had been a labeller of blacking, and Thackeray ‘an artis’ who couldn’t sell a drawing,’ and how Samuel Johnson had walked to London without any boots, having thrown away his only pair ‘out of pride.’ ‘It’s Luck,’ said Buggins, ‘to a very large extent. They just happen to hit on something that catches on, and there you are!’

‘Nice easy life they have of it, too,’ said Miss Mergle. ‘Write just an hour or so, and done for the day! Almost like gentlefolks.’

‘There’s more work in it than you’d think,’ said Carshot, stooping to a mouthful.

‘I wouldn’t mind changing for all that,’ said Buggins. ‘I’d like to see one of these here authors marking off with Jimmy.’

‘I think they copy from each other a good deal,’ said Miss Mergle.

‘Even then (chup, chup, chup),’ said Carshot, ‘there’s writing it out in their own hands.’

They proceeded to enlarge upon the literary life, on its ease and dignity, on the social recognition accorded to those who led it, and on the ample gratifications their vanity achieved. ‘Pictures everywhere—never get a new suit without being photographed—almost like Royalty,’ said Miss Mergle. And all this talk impressed the imagination of Kipps very greatly. Here was a class that seemed to bridge the gulf. On the one hand essentially Low, but by fictitious circumstances capable of entering upon these levels of social superiority to which all true Englishmen aspire, these levels from which one may tip a butler, scorn a tailor, and even commune with those who lead ‘men’ into battle. ‘A’most like gentlefolks’—that was it! He brooded over these things in the afternoon, until they blossomed into daydreams. Suppose, for example, he had chanced to write a book, a well-known book, under an assumed name, and yet kept on being a draper all the time . . .  Impossible, of course; but suppose—It made quite a long dream.

And at the next woodcarving class he let it be drawn from him that his real choice in life was to be a Nawther—‘only one doesn’t get a chance.’

After this there were times when Kipps had the pleasant sense that comes of attracting interest. He was a mute, inglorious Dickens, or at any rate something of that sort, and they were all taking him at that. The discovery of this indefinable ‘something’ in him, the development of which was now painfully restricted and impossible, did much to bridge the gulf between himself and Miss Walshingham. He was unfortunate, he was futile, but he was not ‘common’. Even now with help—? The two girls, and the freckled girl in particular, tried to ‘stir him up’ to some effort to do his imputed potentialities justice. They were still young enough to believe that to nice and niceish members of the male sex—more especially when under the stimulus of feminine encouragement—nothing is finally impossible.

The freckled girl was, I say, the stage manager of this affair, but Miss Walshingham was the presiding divinity. A touch of proprietorship came in her eyes at times when she looked at him. He was hers—unconditionally—and she knew it.

To her directly, Kipps scarcely ever made a speech. The enterprising things that he was continually devising to say to her, he usually did not say, or said, with a suitable modification, to the girl with the freckles. And one day the girl with the freckles smote him to the heart. She said to him, looking across the class-room to where her friend reached a cast from the shelf, ‘I do think Helen Walshingham is sometimes the most lovely person in the world. Look at her now!’

Kipps gasped for a moment. The moment lengthened, and she regarded him as an intelligent young surgeon might regard an operation without anaesthetics. ‘You’re right,’ he said, and then looked at her with an entire abandonment of visage.

She coloured under his glare of silent avowal, and he blushed brightly. ‘I think so, too,’ he said hoarsely, cleared his throat, and, after a meditative moment, proceeded sacramentally with his woodcarving.

‘You are wonderful,’ said the freckled girl to Miss Walshingham, apropos of nothing, as they went on their way home together. ‘He simply adores you.’

‘But, my dear, what have I done?’ said Helen.

‘That’s just it,’ said the freckled girl. ‘What have you done?’

And then with a terrible swiftness came the last class of the course to terminate this relationship altogether. Kipps was careless of dates, and the thing came upon him with an effect of abrupt surprise. Just as his petals were expanding so hopefully, ‘Finis,’ and the thing was at an end. But Kipps did not fully appreciate that the end was indeed and really and truly the end until he was back in the emporium after the end was over. The end began practically in the middle of the last class, when the freckled girl broached the topic of terminations. She developed the question of just how he was going on after the class ended. She hoped he would stick to certain resolutions of self-improvement he had breathed. She said quite honestly that he owed it to himself to develop his possibilities. He expressed firm resolve, but dwelt on difficulties. He had no books. She instructed him how to get books from the public library. He was to get a form of application for a ticket signed by a ratepayer, and he said ‘of course’ when she said Mr. Shalford would do that, though all the time he knew perfectly well it would ‘never do’ to ask Mr. Shalford for anything of the sort. She explained that she was going to North Wales for the summer, information he received without immediate regret. At intervals he expressed his intention of going on with woodcarving when the summer was over, and once he added, ‘if—’

She considered herself extremely delicate not to press for the completion of that ‘if—’

After that talk there was an interval of languid woodcarving and watching Miss Walshingham. Then presently there came a bustle of packing, a great ceremony of handshaking all round by Miss Collis and the maiden lady of ripe years, and then Kipps found himself outside the class-room, on the landing with his two friends. It seemed to him he had only just learnt that this was the last class of all. There came a little pause, and the freckled girl suddenly went back into the class-room, and left Kipps and Miss Walshingham alone together for the first time. Kipps was instantly breathless. She looked at his face with a glance that mingled sympathy and curiosity, and held out her white hand.

‘Well, good-bye, Mr. Kipps,’ she said.

He took her hand and held it, ‘I’d do anything,’ said Kipps, and had not the temerity to add ‘for you.’ He stopped awkwardly. He shook her hand and said ‘Good-bye.

There was a little pause. ‘I hope you will have a pleasant holiday,’ she said.

‘I shall come back to the class next year, anyhow,’ said Kipps, valiantly, and turned abruptly to the stairs.

‘I hope you will,’ said Miss Walshingham.

He turned back towards her. ‘Really?’ he said. ‘I hope everybody will come back.’

‘I will—anyhow,’ said Kipps.

‘You may count on that;’ and he tried to make his tones significant.

They looked at one another through a little pause.

‘Good-bye,’ she said. Kipps lifted his hat. She turned towards the class-room.

‘Well?’ said the freckled girl, coming back towards her.

‘Nothing,’ said Helen. ‘At least—presently.’

And she became very energetic about some scattered tools on a desk. The freckled girl went out and stood for a moment at the head of the stairs. When she came back she looked very hard at her friend. The incident struck her as important—wonderfully important. It was unassimilable, of course, and absurd, but there it was, the thing that is so cardinal to a girl, the emotion, the subservience, the crowning triumph of her sex. She could not help feeling that Helen took it on the whole a little too hardly.

Kipps - Contents    |     Book One - Chapter the Fourth - Chitterlow

Back    |    Words Home    |    H.G. Wells Home    |    Site Info.    |    Feedback