Read CHAPTER III of Tutors' Lane , free online book, by Wilmarth Lewis, on ReadCentral.com.

Mrs. Norris was about to force Tom down upon the Bosom when her eye was caught by the cheque-book on the table. “Oh, land,” she exclaimed, “why didn’t I give Henry his cheque! I’ve owed him for those German Socialist books he got me for I don’t know how long, and here I’ve forgotten to give it to him. I must send Susan after him with it right away,” and going over to a bell by the fireplace, she pushed it until Susan appeared. Then, looking at Tom, with her sweetest smile she asked, in her quietest voice, “Why don’t you like Henry?”

“Why, I don’t mind Henry.”

“Oh, come now, Tommy.” She moved over to “her” chair under the yellow lamp and, picking up the knitting immediately set the needles flying and clicking over one another. “You know you can’t bear him. He is a little cut and dried that’s the trouble with him, I think but then, as far as I can make out, you people in the classics and literatures are just as bad.”

“Oh, Mrs. Norris.”

“You are too. You are perfectly dreadful. Why, I can remember as well as anything, old Professor Packard standing up before that fireplace and saying, ‘Helen,’ says he, ’no gentleman is worthy the name who doesn’t know his Horace.’ ‘Stuff,’ says I, ’that’s utter nonsense. You might as well say a gentlemen is not worthy of the name unless he knows his French for “fiddle-dee-dee” like the Red Queen,’” and still knitting busily, she rocked with laughter.

Tom dropped into a chair beside her, threw one leg over the arm, and, pipe in hand, gazed at her affectionately. She was about the age his own mother would have been, he thought, in the immediate neighbourhood of sixty. But his own mother, who he knew had become reconciled to the life of Ephesus, could never have arrived at sixty with the imperious disregard for convention that was so perfectly Mrs. Norris’s. Upon her face at present, as she looked down at her knitting, was a smiling benignity that would have recommended itself to the Virgin at Chartres; and at the same time her hair what modest growth there was left was uncurling itself from behind and threatening to pull down the whole structure after it. It was perfect, Tom told himself, and were he a sculptor commissioned to make her bust, he would do her just like that.

“Nancy, I sometimes think, is the worst person in the world to look after Henry. It’s bad for her and bad for him. What he ought to do is to go out and get another wife and leave Nancy alone to do as she pleases. I have a good mind to take her with me to Athens next winter myself. What with Mrs. Robert Lee-Satterlee taking her to California this winter and my taking her to Athens next, Henry will have to get married.”

There had been rumours abroad lately that Henry had about arrived at the same conclusion himself and that Mary Norris was receiving serious consideration as a candidate, but there was nothing in Mrs. Norris’s manner that suggested a knowledge of it, and Tom correctly concluded that it was just another of those idle rumours that live their luxurious day in Faculty Row.

“Oh, my no,” said Tom, “that wouldn’t do at all. Why, another marriage would completely upset Henry’s System that he’s always talking so much about. It’s almost certain she couldn’t stand it, you know, and then where would Henry be? Suppose, for example, that she forgot to have his senna tea for him at night or didn’t care about playing cribbage for three-quarters of an hour after dinner? Now Nancy, apparently, gives perfect satisfaction. She adores little Henry and she manages the house so well that there isn’t a single thing to bother big Henry. But they say ”

“Stop it, Tommy. You’ve been listening again to that horrid old Mrs. Conover. Her husband was a perfect old Scrooge, and now that she’s rid of him, poor dear, she feels that she’s got to expand and make up for lost time ” Her voice, which had become more and more drowsy, as if bored with what it had to say, trailed off and died. Then, with renewed interest, she exclaimed, “I wonder what they are going to do about Poland?”

Tom had learned that an answer to these startling questions and comments of Mrs. Norris was not required. There was no harm, however, in saying the first thing that came into one’s head, as in a psychological test, and he accordingly now answered, “Paderewski.”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Norris quietly. Then brightening up: “How is your work going, Tommy?”

“Why, it’s going pretty well.”

“They get rather difficult about this time of year, don’t they?”

“They do! Oh my, I’ve had an awful time with them lately. I’ve muffed Carlyle and Transcendentalism completely.”

“Oh, no! Why that’s Emerson and all those Concord people. Still, I suppose Louisa Alcott is getting a little old-fashioned.”

“You should have seen the set of papers I got back today. There it was, all that I had given them, in great heavy undigested lumps ”

“Like footballs,” suggested Mrs. Norris.

“Once I was funny with them,” went on Tom, “and I may say that I was properly punished. They put it all down in their notebooks and then mixed it up with everything they shouldn’t have mixed it up with and I shall never be funny again.”

“I shall give you at least two grains ”

“Then there are the young men who get off all the stale old facts and expect an A. One of them came to me yesterday, when I had given him a C, and whined around my desk until I finally told him I did not consider his performance remarkable in a young man of eighteen, however much so it might be in a poll parrot of the same age.”

“Now that was wrong. Were there other boys around?”

“Yes.”

“Well, you simply must not go do that kind of thing. They’ll hate it.”

“I know it was wrong, but I am rather amused by it. As a matter of fact, I can stand anything but the ones who think they can fool me with a lot of embroidery and gas. They’re insulting ”

“Why, Tommy, you were doing the same thing yourself only three or four years ago. You mustn’t get so snufty so soon.”

“Of course, at times when I’ve had a good recitation I wouldn’t trade places with anyone. It’s a kind of ecstasy. It’s like all sorts of rushing, exciting things like a high tide, or a close race, or a fire; really it is. Then you go to the other extreme and you ask yourself what on earth is the use of so futile a business, and what right has a young man with anything to him whatever to waste his time with it. Better go and make bird cages or hair nets or or hot water bags, and make some money. When I feel that way I sometimes go out along the ridge, just at dusk, you know, or into the woods ”

“You do? Why, I think that’s awfully romantic of you; like Chateaubriand, you know.” Then, dreamily, “He used to go out and lean on a pedestal and let the moon shine down on him through the trees. I think Nancy is a little that way herself.”

There was a pause, during which the young educator’s difficulties were brushed aside.

“Do you realize that I haven’t seen Nancy since leaving college?”

“Why, that’s strange.”

“No: you see she had left for the west before college opened in the fall, and I hadn’t been back between then and the time I graduated. As a matter of fact, the last time I saw her was in this house. It was the night of our Senior Prom. I took Mary, you know, and Teddy Roberts took Nancy, and when it was over we came in here and had a cooky contest in the kitchen. Nancy could put a whole one of those gingersnaps you always have into her mouth without breaking it.”

“Oh dear. I’m afraid she has the Billings mouth.”

“We then got to talking about growing moustaches, and Nancy bet Teddy she could grow one before he could.”

“How disgusting! That’s what comes of all this emancipation. Marcus Aurelius has a lot to say about it. I must look that up. Did she win?”

“As I remember it, she was in a fair way to, but the war came along, and we left before it could be settled.”

Mrs. Norris stopped knitting and looked at Tom with amused curiosity through her tortoise-shell spectacles, which had slid rather farther down her nose than usual. “I forget. Didn’t you use to see a good deal of Nancy at one time?” she asked.

“Only just here,” he replied.

“Oh,” said Mrs. Norris, and went on with her work.

At this point the Dean entered, dressed for dinner.

“Oh dear, I’m not ready at all,” cried Mrs. Norris, jumping up; and her knitting, worsted, and bag spilled out upon the floor. “Tommy, tell Norah to put on a plate for you.”

“I can’t really, Mrs. Norris. This is Thursday night, you see, and I’m going around to the Club.” Then as his hostess disappeared up the stairs, he hurried into his overcoat and, indulging in only a small fraction of his usual recessional with the Dean, he was gone.

Outside, walking down the long driveway that led to Tutors’ Lane, Tom slowed his pace. Overhead, Betelgeuse was making the most of its recent publicity, unobstructed by vagrant clouds. Tom gazed up at it with a certain air of proprietorship. He had known Betelgeuse years ago and personally had always preferred its neighbour Rigel, which had received no publicity at all. As a small boy some one had given him a Handbook of the Stars, with diagrams of the constellations on one page and chatty notes about them opposite. He had lain on his back out in the fields, with opera glasses to sweep the heavens and a flashlight to sweep the diagrams until he had reconciled the two. This had been in the summer, and although his observations had extended to the autumn stars, the winter constellations had suffered. Still, he knew the great ones and, weather permitting, he would gaze upon them and their neighbours with awe, the greater, perhaps, for his unfamiliarity with their diagrams.

Tom occasionally gave parlour lessons in astronomy, and he had given one to Nancy on the night of his Senior Prom, the night of the cooky contest. He had looked out and seen that the summer stars were up, and had spoken of it, to the boredom of Mary and Teddy Roberts. But Nancy wanted Scorpio pointed out, and from Scorpio they naturally progressed to the others until Nancy sneezed and the kitchen window had to be shut. Then, as it was getting light anyway and the waffles were ready, they stopped the lesson. Tom, however, with the true teacher’s instinct, had sent her a copy of his Handbook of the Stars, and at his Training Camp he had received a note of thanks. It was the only note he had ever received from her, and he found it remarkable. She had thanked him without the barrage of gratitude usual among young ladies on such occasions. There had been something masculine in the directness of it, and yet there was no doubt that she had been pleased. In closing, she looked forward to seeing him back at Woodbridge when the war was over. There had been no fine writing about his Going to the Flag. Tom had been impressed by the amount left unsaid, and he had saved the letter until, in moving about, it had been lost. He was annoyed when he missed it, but on second thought he wondered if it were not just as well. For, on later inspection, it might not have proved so remarkable, after all.

Well, the war was now over, and he was back at Woodbridge. It would be very pleasant indeed if she had gone ahead as she gave promise of doing; and why in the world shouldn’t she? When he was in college Nancy had been admittedly the first of Woodbridge young ladies. To take her to a dance was to have the ultimate in good times, there was no need to worry about her getting “stuck,” and in addition to the thrill of taking a popular girl one could enjoy all the advantages of a stag. One could flit from flower to flower until surfeited with beauty and then retire for a smoke or other innocent diversion without the haunting fear that possibly Dick or Bill was circling around and around in ever-deepening gloom with one’s elected for the night. Nancy had permanently impressed herself upon the imagination of discerning Woodbridge youth, and it was hardly extravagant that Tom should look forward to her return.

Let it, therefore, without further evasion, be stated at once that he did look forward to her return.