“If you please, Mr Headstone.”

“I have half a mind to go with you. Where does your sister live?”

“Why, she is not settled yet, Mr Headstone. I’d rather you didn’t see her till she is settled, if it was all the same to you.”

“Look here, Hexam.” Mr Bradley Headstone, highly certificated stipendiary schoolmaster, drew his right forefinger through one of the buttonholes of the boy’s coat, and looked at it attentively. “I hope your sister may be good company for you?”

“Why do you doubt it, Mr Headstone?”

“I did not say I doubted it.”

“No, sir; you didn’t say so.”

Bradley Headstone looked at his finger again, took it out of the buttonhole and looked at it closer, bit the side of it and looked at it again.

“You see, Hexam, you will be one of us. In good time you are sure to pass a creditable examination and become one of us. Then the question is — ”

The boy waited so long for the question, while the schoolmaster looked at a new side of his finger, and bit it, and looked at it again, that at length the boy repeated:

“The question is, sir — ?”

“Whether you had not better leave well alone.”

“Is it well to leave my sister alone, Mr Headstone?”

“I do not say so, because I do not know. I put it to you. I ask you to think of it. I want you to consider. You know how well you are doing here.”

“After all, she got me here,” said the boy, with a struggle.

“Perceiving the necessity of it,” acquiesced the schoolmaster, “and making up her mind fully to the separation. Yes.”

The boy, with a return of that former reluctance or struggle or whatever it was, seemed to debate with himself. At length he said, raising his eyes to the master’s face:

“I wish you’d come with me and see her, Mr Headstone, though she is not settled. I wish you’d come with me, and take her in the rough, and judge her for yourself.”

“You are sure you would not like,” asked the schoolmaster, “to prepare her?”

“My sister Lizzie,” said the boy, proudly, “wants no preparing, Mr Headstone. What she is, she is, and shows herself to be. There’s no pretending about my sister.”

His confidence in her, sat more easily upon him than the indecision with which he had twice contended. It was his better nature to be true to her, if it were his worse nature to be wholly selfish. And as yet the better nature had the stronger hold.

“Well, I can spare the evening,” said the schoolmaster. “I am ready to walk with you.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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