You can't be too careful, by H. G. Wells

Chapter 10

Faith and Hope

SO it was that at last Edward Albert entered the presence of Jim Whittaker. He was ushered through long aisles of shining and glittering glass ware and china and porcelain into a large comfortable office where Mr James Whittaker was dictating letters to a bright-haired young stenographer.

“That’s Tewler,” he said, looking round for an instant.

“Glad to see you, my boy. Sit down on that sofa there. I’ll be done with these letters in a brace of shakes and then we’ll have a talk.”

Dreams of being the missing heir or the long-lost son or half brother vanished beyond recall. Edward Albert reverted to the feudal system. He had been preparing for this encounter for four days, chiefly in the Public Library and with the librarian’s assistance, and his meditations and enquiries had not been without result.

“That’s all for the present, Miss Scoresby,” said Mr Whittaker and rotated startlingly in his chair as the bright — haired secretary gathered up her pads and pencils. Edward Albert had never seen a rotating armchair before. “Let’s have a look at you, young Tewler. What sort of hands have you got?”

Edward Albert hesitated, but under encouragement held out his hands.

“Not like your father’s. His were broader. You don’t happen to draw or paint or do anything like that?”

“No, I don’t, Sir,” said Edward Albert.

“H’m. No fretwork or anything of that sort?”

“I’m not much use with my ‘ands, Sir. No.”

“You can put ’em down. H’m, So you don’t take after your father in that sort of thing. That’s a pity. What we are going to do about you, Mr Edward Albert Tewler, I don’t quite know. Old Myame has blown up like a powder magazine. He doesn’t seem to like you a bit. You’ve just put him out something awful. . . . ”

“I reely didn’t mean to ‘urt Mr Myame, Sir. I reely didn’t. ‘E’s a good man, ‘E really is a good man, but I did think I’d a right to see you. After you sent that wreath and everything. He’s Narrer, Sir. That’s the fact about ’im. ‘E’-s Narrer. ‘E5s got it into his head you’re not a Believing Christian and that you’re worldly and that seeing you won’t do me anything but serious harm. So he don’t seem to mind what he said or did so long as I didn’t see you. He’s called me perfectly dreadful things. Sir, perfectly dreadful things. Serpents. Poison, Sir. Coals of Jupiter, ‘e says, got to be ‘eaped on my head. What are coals of Jupiter, Sir? He’s sent me to Coventry. None of the boys must speak to me or me say anything to them. He says he can’t bear the sight of me. Spawn of the devil he says I am. He’s turned me out of the classes and I’ve had to go and sit all day in the Public Library. It isn’t fair to me, Sir; it isn’t fair. I never meant to ‘urt ’im like that.”

He sat forward on the sofa, hands on knees, a mean and meagre little creature, under-nourished and crazily taught, doing his best to exist and make something of a world of which his fundamental idea was that you cannot be too careful. He sensed rather than apprehended the feudal link that put Mr James Whittaker under an obligation to him.

“He did ask you not to talk to me; didn’t he”?”

“But how was I to know, Sir, that he’d take it so serious?”

“Right up to the time he found out, he was all right with you?”

“He was strict, Sir. But then he’s naturally strict. He’s such an upright man, Sir. He don’t seem to understand disobedience.”

“Quite like his Old Man,” said Jim Whittaker, but his impiety was happily over the head of his hearer. “And then you became an adder and so forth and so on.”

“Yessir.”

“What are these coals of Jupiter you keep talking about?” asked Jim Whittaker. “I’ve never heard of them.”

“I don’t know rightly what they are, Sir, but they’re sure to be something very disagreeable, Sir, if ‘e got ’em out of the Bible. They’re ‘eaped on your ‘ed, you see, Sir.”

“What, when you go to hell?”

“Before that, I think. Sir. I thought you might know, Sir.”

“No. I must look it up. And so you’re not a Believing Christian, Jo — I mean Edward. You’re beginning Doubt very young.”

“Oo! No, Sir,” protested Edward Albert, much alarmed. “Don’t imagine that. I ‘ope I’m one of the Saved. I know that my Redeemer liveth. But what I feel, Sir, is that it isn’t anything to get so Narrer about. That’s where I seem to ‘ave ‘urt Mr Myame.”

“There’s something in that. Tell me some more about what you believe? If you don’t mind.”

Edward Albert made a great effort. “Well, Christianity! Sir. What everybody knows in England. Chrise died for me and all that. I suppose he knew what he was doing, ‘E shed his precious blood or us, and I hope I’m truly thankful, Sir. It’s in the creed, Sir. It’s nothing to get angry about and be unpleasant to other people, calling them nasty names out of the Bible and carrying on just as though they was cheating somehow. . . . ”

“You don’t think everybody’s saved, eh? That, you know, would be a serious heresy, Tewler. I forget which — Perfectionism or something — but it would be.”

“I don’t fink at all, Sir. I don’t know enough. Only I feel if Chrise died to save us sinners, ‘E wouldn’t make a mess of it and leave most of us out. Like that, Sir. Would ‘E, Sir? If you repent truly and believe.”

“And you believe?”

“Like anything, Sir. Don’t make no mistake about that, Sir. I says my prayers and ‘ope to be forgiven. I do my best to be good. I’ve never scoffed in my life. I’ve never used bad language. Never. I’ve listened to it but I’ve never used it No, Sir.”

“And the less said about it all the better?”

“Yessir.” He replied so eagerly and with such manifest relief that Jim Whittaker realised the religious Inquisition was at an end.

“And so, to come to business. We had a sort of discussion with the worthy man here. He’s still”— he got the only word for it —“he’s Wraath with you. Wraath.”

Edward Albert featured blameless distress.

“He says he wants you to leave his — his high-class establishment and live elsewhere.”

“But where am I to live?”

“I think we can arrange something. You see, you will have a small income.”

“What, my own? To spend?”

“We think you can be trusted to do that. You’ll have to be careful, you know,”

“One can’t be too careful.”

“That’s exactly the principle. You see your mother left a little property in the savings bank and in various investments — not very much but quite enough to keep you — and Mr Myame has invested practically all of it in his school — on your behalf. We’ve arranged with him that this shall take the form of a first mortgage on his property, with reasonable arrangements to pay it off —”

“I don’t rightly know what a mortgage is,” said Edward Albert.

“You needn’t. They’ll see to all that in Hooper’s office. You’re the mortgagee and Myame is the mortgagor. It’s perfectly simple. He mortgages his school to you. See? Mortgage. And what it comes to is that you will get something like two guineas and a half a week, of which about five bob will be capital repayment which you’ll have to put by — or Hooper’s office might do that for you — and you’ll have to live on that, and I should think you can rub along quite well until you begin to earn a living. That’s the outlook, and the next question is, what do you want to get up to? Then we can decide where you ought to live and all that. What’s your idea about all that, Tewler?”

“Well, Sir, it’s like this. I’ve been making ‘nquiries as you might say! There’s a very nice gentleman who’s Librarian in the Public Library and he’s been a great ‘elp. It’s no good me trying to ‘ide it from you, Sir. I’m not ‘ighly educated. Yet,”

“Oh, come, Edward. Don’t be down-hearted.”

“I got on a bit with Elementary French and Scripture, but all the same, Sir, Mr Myame didn’t take me very far.”

Mr Whittaker intimated a general agreement.

“Frinstance it would be nice to be a Bang Clark. That’s reely respectable. You ‘ave your Bang Collar Days. You ‘ave promotion. You ‘ave a pension. You know where you are. But I’m not educated enough to be a Bang Clark. Even if I went to a good college and worked very ‘ard, I doubt if I could qualify in time. . . .

“Then there’s Lower Division Civil Service. That’s.safe. You go on to a pension. If I worked ‘ard. I’m only thirteen. If I was to work ‘ard for that. . . .

“Then there’s London Matriculation. That’s ‘ard. But the gentleman in the lib’ry said it was a good thing to work for. It opens all sorts of avenues^ ‘e said. . . . ”

Jim Whittaker allowed Edward Albert to unfold his discreet but ignoble conception of life. It appeared to him that before Edward Albert died he was likely to be despised and detested by quite a number of people. So there was no reason to detest the poor sniffy little beast here and now. All in good time. The Firm had always rather underpaid old Tewler and it had to do its duty by his son, whether it liked him or not.

And it did its duty. It acceded to his strong desire to embark upon a life of miscellaneous mental improvement in that Imperial College of Commercial Science in Kentish Town, and it made an attempt to get him housed and fed according to his condition.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30