Part 1 out of 10
This etext was produced by Charles Aldarondo (Aldarondo@yahoo.com).
Born in Exile
The summer day in 1874 which closed the annual session of Whitelaw
College was marked by a special ceremony, preceding the wonted
distribution of academic rewards. At eleven in the morning (just as
a heavy shower fell from the smoke-canopy above the roaring streets)
the municipal authorities, educational dignitaries, and prominent
burgesses of Kingsmill assembled on an open space before the College
to unveil a statue of Sir Job Whitelaw. The honoured baronet had
been six months dead. Living, he opposed the desire of his
fellow-citizens to exhibit even on canvas his gnarled features and
bald crown; but when his modesty ceased to have a voice in the
matter, no time was lost in raising a memorial of the great
manufacturer, the self-made millionaire, the borough member in three
Parliaments, the enlightened and benevolent founder of an institute
which had conferred humane distinction on the money-making Midland
town. Beneath such a sky, orations were necessarily curtailed; but
Sir Job had always been impatient of much talk. An interval of two
or three hours dispersed the rain-clouds and bestowed such grace of
sunshine as Kingsmill might at this season temperately desire; then,
whilst the marble figure was getting dried,--with soot-stains
which already foretold its negritude of a year hence,--again
streamed towards the College a varied multitude, official, parental,
pupillary. The students had nothing distinctive in their garb, but
here and there flitted the cap and gown of Professor or lecturer,
signal for doffing of beavers along the line of its progress.
Among the more deliberate of the throng was a slender, upright,
ruddy-cheeked gentleman of middle age, accompanied by his wife and a
daughter of sixteen. On alighting from a carriage, they first of all
directed their steps towards the statue, conversing together with
pleasant animation. The father (Martin Warricombe, Esq. of Thornhaw,
a small estate some five miles from Kingsmill,) had a countenance
suggestive of engaging qualities--genial humour, mildness, a turn
for meditation, perhaps for study. His attire was informal, as if he
disliked abandoning the freedom of the country even when summoned to
urban ceremonies. He wore a grey felt hat, and a light jacket which
displayed the straightness of his shoulders. Mrs. Warricombe and her
daughter were more fashionably equipped, with taste which proclaimed
their social standing. Save her fresh yet delicate complexion the
lady had no particular personal charm. Of the young girl it could
only be said that she exhibited a graceful immaturity, with
perchance a little more earnestness than is common at her age; her
voice, even when she spoke gaily, was seldom audible save by the
Coming to a pause before Sir Job, Mr. Warricombe put on a pair of
eyeglasses which had dangled against his waistcoat, and began to
scrutinise carefully the sculptured lineaments. He was addressing
certain critical remarks to his companions when an interruption
appeared in the form of a young man whose first words announced his
relation to the group.
'I say, you're very late! There'll be no getting a decent seat, if
you don't mind. Leave Sir Job till afterwards.'
'The statue somehow disappoints me,' observed his father, placidly.
'Oh, it isn't bad, I think,' returned the youth, in a voice not
unlike his father's, save for a note of excessive self-confidence.
He looked about eighteen; his comely countenance, with its air of
robust health and habitual exhilaration, told of a boyhood passed
amid free and joyous circumstances. It was the face of a young
English plutocrat, with more of intellect than such visages are wont
to betray; the native vigour of his temperament had probably
assimilated something of the modern spirit. 'I'm glad,' he
continued, 'that they haven't stuck him in a toga, or any humbug of
that sort. The old fellow looks baggy, but so he was. They ought to
have kept his chimney-pot, though. Better than giving him those
scraps of hair, when everyone knows he was as bald as a beetle.'
'Sir Job should have been granted Caesar's privilege,' said Mr
Warricombe, with a pleasant twinkle in his eyes.
'What was that?' came from the son, with abrupt indifference.
'For shame, Buckland!'
'What do I care for Caesar's privileges? We can't burden our minds
with that antiquated rubbish nowadays. You would despise it
yourself, father, if it hadn't got packed into your head when you
The parent raised his eyebrows in a bantering smile.
'I have lived to hear classical learning called antiquated rubbish.
Well, well!--Ha! there is Professor Gale.'
The Professor of Geology, a tall man, who strode over the pavement
as if he were among granite hills, caught sight of the party and
approached. His greeting was that of a familiar friend; he addressed
young Warricombe and his sister by their Christian names, and
inquired after certain younger members of the household. Mr
Warricombe, regarding him with a look of repressed eagerness, laid a
hand on his arm, and spoke in the subdued voice of one who has
important news to communicate.
'If I am not much mistaken, I have chanced on a new species of
'Indeed!--not in your kitchen garden, I presume?'
'Hardly. Dr Pollock sent me a box of specimens the other day'--
Buckland saw with annoyance the likelihood of prolonged discussion.
'I don't know whether you care to remain standing all the
afternoon,' he said to his mother. 'At this rate we certainly shan't
'We will walk on, Martin,' said the lady, glancing at her husband.
'We come! we come!' cried the Professor, with a wave of his arm.
The palaeontological talk continued as far as the entrance of the
assembly hall. The zest with which Mr. Warricombe spoke of his
discovery never led him to raise his voice above the suave, mellow
note, touched with humour, which expressed a modest assurance. Mr
Gale was distinguished by a blunter mode of speech; he discoursed
with open-air vigour, making use now and then of a racy
colloquialism which the other would hardly have permitted himself.
As young Warricombe had foreseen, the seats obtainable were none too
advantageous; only on one of the highest rows of the amphitheatre
could they at length establish themselves.
'Buckland will enjoy the more attention when he marches down to take
his prizes,' observed the father. 'He must sit at the end here, that
he mayn't have a struggle to get out.'
'Don't, Martin, don't!' urged his wife, considerately.
'Oh, it doesn't affect me,' said Buckland, with a laugh.
'I feel pretty sure I have got the Logic and the Chemistry, and
those are what I care most about. I dare say Peak has beaten me in
The appearance in the lower part of the hall of a dark-robed
procession, headed by the tall figure of the Principal, imposed a
moment's silence, broken by outbursts of welcoming applause. The
Professors of Whitelaw College were highly popular, not alone with
the members of their classes, but with all the educated inhabitants
of Kingsmill; and deservedly, for several of them bore names of wide
recognition, and as a body they did honour to the institution which
had won their services. With becoming formality they seated
themselves in face of the public. On tables before them were exposed
a considerable number of well-bound books, shortly to be distributed
among the collegians, who gazed in that direction with speculative
Among the general concourse might have been discovered two or three
representatives of the wage-earning multitude which Kingsmill
depended upon for its prosperity, but their presence was due to
exceptional circumstances; the College provided for proletarian
education by a system of evening classes, a curriculum necessarily
quite apart from that followed by the regular students. Kingsmill,
to be sure, was no nurse of Toryism; the robust employers of labour
who sent their sons to Whitelaw--either to complete a training
deemed sufficient for an active career, or by way of
transition-stage between school and university--were for the most
part avowed Radicals, in theory scornful of privilege, practically
supporters of that mode of freedom which regards life as a
remorseless conflict. Not a few of the young men (some of these the
hardest and most successful workers) came from poor, middle-class
homes, whence, but for Sir Job's foundation, they must have set
forth into the world with no better equipment of knowledge than was
supplied by some 'academy' of the old type: a glance distinguished
such students from the well-dressed and well-fed offspring of
Kingsmill plutocracy. The note of the assembly was something other
than refinement; rather, its high standard of health, spirits, and
comfort--the characteristic of Capitalism. Decent reverence for
learning, keen appreciation of scientific power, warm liberality of
thought and sentiment within appreciable limits, enthusiasm for
economic, civic, national ideals,--such attributes were abundantly
discoverable in each serried row. From the expanse of countenances
beamed a boundless self-satisfaction. To be connected in any way
with Whitelaw formed a subject of pride, seeing that here was the
sturdy outcome of the most modern educational endeavour, a
noteworthy instance of what Englishmen can do for themselves,
unaided by bureaucratic machinery. Every student who achieved
distinction in to-day's class lists was felt to bestow a share of
his honour upon each spectator who applauded him.
With occasional adjustment of his eye-glasses, and smiling his smile
of modest tolerance, Mr. Warricombe surveyed the crowded hall. His
connection with the town was not intimate, and he could discover few
faces that were familiar to him. A native and, till of late, an
inhabitant of Devon, he had come to reside on his property near
Kingsmill because it seemed to him that the education of his
children would be favoured by a removal thither. Two of his oldest
friends held professorships at Whitelaw; here, accordingly, his
eldest son was making preparation for Cambridge, whilst his daughter
attended classes at the admirable High School, of which Kingsmill
was only less proud than of its College.
Seated between his father and his sister, Buckland drew their
attention to such persons or personages as interested his very
'Admire the elegant languor of Wotherspoon,' he remarked, indicating
the Professor of Greek. 'Watch him for a moment, and you'll see him
glance contemptuously at old Plummer. He can't help it; they hate
'But why?' whispered the girl, with timid eagerness.
'Oh, it began, they say, when Plummer once had to take one of
Wotherspoon's classes; some foolery about a second aorist. Thank
goodness, I don't understand the profound dispute.--Oh, do look at
that fatuous idiot Chilvers!'
The young gentleman of whom he spoke, a student of Buckland's own
standing, had just attracted general notice. Rising from his seat in
the lower part of the amphitheatre, at the moment when all were
hushed in anticipation of the Principal's address, Mr. Chilvers was
beckoning to someone whom his eye had descried at great distance,
and for whom, as he indicated by gesture, he had preserved a place.
'See how it delights him to make an exhibition of himself!' pursued
the censorious youth. 'I'd bet a sovereign he's arranged it all.
Look how he brandishes his arm to display his cuffs and gold links.
Now he touches his hair, to point out how light and exquisite it is,
and how beautifully he parts it!'
'What a graceful figure!' murmured Mrs. Warricombe, with genuine
'There, that's just what he hopes everyone is saying,' replied her
son, in a tone of laughing disgust.
'But he certainly is graceful, Buckland,' persisted the lady.
'And in the meantime,' remarked Mr. Warricombe, drily, 'we are all
awaiting the young gentleman's pleasure.'
'Of course; he enjoys it. Almost all the people on that row belong
to him--father, mother, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, and
cousins to the fourth degree. Look at their eyes fondly fixed upon
him! Now he pretends to loosen his collar at the throat, just for a
change of attitude--the puppy!'
'My dear!' remonstrated his mother, with apprehensive glance at her
'But he is really clever, isn't he, Buckland?' asked the sister, her
name was Sidwell.
'After a fashion. I shouldn't wonder if he takes a dozen or two
prizes. It's all a knack, you know.'
'Where is your friend Peak?' Mr. Warricombe made inquiry.
But at this moment Mr. Chilvers abandoned his endeavour and became
seated, allowing the Principal to rise, manuscript in hand. Buckland
leaned back with an air of resignation to boredom; his father bent
slightly forward, with lips close pressed and brows wrinkled; Mrs
Warricombe widened her eyes, as if hearing were performed with those
organs, and assumed the smile she would have worn had the speaker
been addressing her in particular. Sidwell's blue eyes imitated the
movement of her mother's, with a look of profound gravity which
showed that she had wholly forgotten herself in reverential
listening; only when five minutes' strict attention induced a sense
of weariness did she allow a glance to stray first along the
professorial rank, then towards the place where the golden head of
young Chilvers was easily distinguishable.
Nothing could be more satisfactory than the annual report summarised
by Principal Nares, whose mellifluous voice and daintily pedantic
utterance fell upon expectant hearing with the impressiveness of
personal compliment. So delivered, statistics partook of the grace
of culture; details of academic organisation acquired something more
than secular significance. In this the ninth year of its existence,
Whitelaw College was flourishing in every possible way. Private
beneficence had endowed it with new scholarships and exhibitions;
the scheme of lectures had been extended; the number of its students
steadily increased, and their successes in the field of examination
had been noteworthy beyond precedent. Truly, the heart of their
founder, to whom honour had this day been rendered, must have
gladdened if he could but have listened to the story of dignified
progress! Applause, loud and long, greeted the close of the address.
Buckland Warricombe was probably the only collegian who disdained to
manifest approval in any way.
'Why don't you clap?' asked his sister, who, girl-like, was excited
to warmth of cheek and brightness of eye by the enthusiasm about
'That kind of thing is out of date,' replied the young man,
thrusting his hands deep into his pockets.
As Professor of Logic and Moral Philosophy, Dr Nares began the
distribution of prizes. Buckland, in spite of his resolve to exhibit
no weakness, waited with unmistakable tremor for the announcement of
the leading name, which might possibly be his own. A few words of
comment prefaced the declaration:--never had it been the
Professor's lot to review more admirable papers than those to which
he had awarded the first prize. The name of the student called upon
to come forward was--Godwin Peak.
'Beaten!' escaped from Buckland's lips.
Mrs. Warricombe glanced at her son with smiling sympathy; Sidwell,
whose cheek had paled as her nerves quivered under the stress of
expectancy, murmured a syllable of disappointment; Mr. Warricombe set
his brows and did not venture to look aside. A moment, and all eyes
were directed upon the successful student, who rose from a seat
half-way down the hall and descended the middle passage towards the
row of Professors. He was a young man of spare figure and unhealthy
complexion, his age not easily conjectured. Embarrassment no doubt
accounted for much of the awkwardness of his demeanour; but, under
any circumstances, he must have appeared ungainly, for his long arms
and legs had outgrown their garments, which were no fashionable
specimens of tailoring. The nervous gravity of his countenance had a
peculiar sternness; one might have imagined that he was fortifying
his self-control with scorn of the elegantly clad people through
whom he passed. Amid plaudits, he received from the hands of the
Principal a couple of solid volumes, probably some standard work of
philosophy, and, thus burdened, returned with hurried step to his
'No one expected that,' remarked Buckland to his father. 'He must
have crammed furiously for the exam. It's outside his work for the
'What a shame!' Sidwell whispered to her mother; and the reply was a
look which eloquently expressed Mrs. Warricombe's lack of sympathy
with the victor.
But a second prize had been awarded. As soon as silence was
restored, the Principal's gracious voice delivered a summons to
'Buckland Martin Warricombe.' A burst of acclamation, coming
especially from that part of the amphitheatre where Whitelaw's
nurslings had gathered in greatest numbers, seemed to declare the
second prizeman distinctly more popular than the first. Preferences
of this kind are always to be remarked on such occasions.
'Second prize be hanged!' growled the young man, as, with a flush of
shame on his ruddy countenance, he set forth to receive the honour,
leaving Mr. Warricombe convulsed with silent laughter.
'He would far rather have had nothing at all,' murmured Sidwell, who
shared her brother's pique and humiliation.
'Oh, it'll do him good,' was her father's reply. 'Buckland has got
into a way of swaggering.'
Undeniable was the swagger with which the good-looking, breezy lad
went and returned.
'What is the book?' inquired Mr. Warricombe.
'I don't know.--Oh, Mill's ~Logic~. Idiotic choice! They might
have known I had it already.'
'They clap him far more than they did Mr. Peak,' Sidwell whispered to
her mother, with satisfaction.
Buckland kept silence for a few minutes, then muttered:
'There's nothing I care about now till Chemistry and Geology. Here
comes old Wotherspoon. Now we shall know who is strongest in second
aorists. I shouldn't wonder if Peak takes both Senior Greek and
Latin. I heartily hope he'll beat that ass Chilvers.'
But the name so offensive to young Warricombe was the first that
issued from the Professor's lips. Beginning with the competition for
a special classical prize, Professor Wotherspoon announced that the
honours had fallen to 'Bruno Leathwaite Chilvers.'
'That young man is not badly supplied with brains, say what you
will,' remarked Mr. Warricombe.
Upon Bruno Leathwaite Chilvers keen attention was directed; every
pair of female eyes studied his graces, and female hands had a great
part in the applause that greeted his arising. Applause different in
kind from that hitherto bestowed; less noisy, but implying, one
felt, a more delicate spirit of commendation. With perfect
self-command, with singular facial decorum, with a walk which
betokened elegant athleticism and safely skirted the bounds of
foppery, Mr. Chilvers discharged the duty he was conscious of owing
to a multitude of kinsfolk, friends, admirers. You would have
detected something clerical in the young man's air. It became the
son of a popular clergyman, and gave promise of notable aptitude for
the sacred career to which Bruno Leathwaite, as was well understood,
already had designed himself. In matters sartorial he presented a
high ideal to his fellow-students; this seemly attention to
externals, and the delicate glow of health discernible through the
golden down of his cheeks, testified the compatibility of hard study
and social observances. Bruno had been heard to say that the one
thing it behoved Whitelaw to keep carefully in mind was the
preservation of 'tone', a quality far less easy to cultivate than
mere academic excellence.
'How clever he must be!' purred Mrs. Warricombe. 'If he lives, he
will some day be an archbishop.'
Buckland was leaning back with his eyes closed, disgusted at the
spectacle. Nor did he move when Professor Wotherspoon's voice made
the next announcement.
'In Senior Greek, the first prize is taken by--Bruno Leathwaite
'Then I suppose Peak comes second,' muttered Buckland.
So it proved. Summoned to receive the inferior prize, Godwin Peak,
his countenance harsher than before, his eyes cast down, moved
ungracefully to the estrade. And during the next half-hour this
twofold exhibition was several times repeated. In Senior Latin, in
Modern and Ancient History, in English Language and Literature, in
French, first sounded the name of Chilvers, whilst to the second
award was invariably attached that of Peak. Mrs. Warricombe's delight
expressed itself in every permissible way: on each occasion she
exclaimed, 'How clever he is!' Sidwell cast frequent glances at her
brother, in whom a shrewder eye could have divined conflict of
feelings--disgust at the glorification of Chilvers and involuntary
pleasure in the successive defeats of his own conqueror in
Philosophy. Buckland's was by no means an ignoble face; venial
malice did not ultimately prevail in him.
'It's Peak's own fault,' he declared at length, with vexation.
'Chilvers stuck to the subjects of his course. Peak has been taking
up half-a-dozen extras, and they've done for him. I shouldn't wonder
if he went in for the Poem and the Essay: I know he was thinking
Whether Godwin Peak had or had not endeavoured for these two prizes
remained uncertain. When, presently, the results of the competition
were made known, it was found that in each case the honour had
fallen to a young man hitherto undistinguished. His name was John
Edward Earwaker. Externally he bore a sort of generic resemblance to
Peak, for his face was thin and the fashion of his clothing
indicated narrow means.
'I never heard you mention him,' said Mr. Warricombe, turning to his
son with an air of surprise.
'I scarcely know him at all; he's only in one or two of my classes.
Peak is thick with him.'
The subject of the prize poem was 'Alaric'; that of the essay,
'Trades Unionism'. So it was probable that John Edward Earwaker did
not lack versatility of intellect.
On the rising of the Professor of Chemistry, Buckland had once more
to subdue signs of expectancy. He knew he had done good papers, but
his confidence in the result was now clouded by a dread of the
second prize--which indeed fell to him, the first being taken by a
student of no account save in this very special subject. Keen was
his mortification; he growled, muttered, shrugged his shoulders
'If I had foreseen this, you'd never have caught me here,' was his
reply, when Sidwell whispered consolation.
There still remained a chance for him, signalled by the familiar
form of Professor Gale. Geology had been a lifelong study with
Martin Warricombe, and his son pursued it with hereditary aptitude.
Sidwell and her mother exchanged a look of courageous hope; each
felt convinced that the genial Professor could not so far disregard
private feeling as to place Buckland anywhere but at the head of the
'The results of the examination are fairly good; I'm afraid I can't
say more than that,' thus rang out Mr. Gale's hearty voice. 'As for
the first two names on my list, I haven't felt justified in placing
either before the other. I have bracketed them, and there will be
two prizes. The names are--Godwin Peak and Buckland Martin
'He might have mentioned Buckland first,' murmured Mrs. Warricombe,
'He of course gave them out in alphabetical order,' answered her
'Still, it isn't right that Buckland should come second.'
'That's absurd,' was the good-natured reply.
The lady of course remained unconvinced, and for years she nourished
a pique against Professor Gale, not so much owing to his having
bracketed her son as because the letter P has alphabetical
precedence of W.
In what remained of the proceedings the Warricombes had no personal
interest. For a special reason, however, their attention was excited
by the rising of Professor Walsh, who represented the science of
Physics. Early in the present year had been published a speculative
treatise which, owing to its supposed incompatibility with Christian
dogmas, provoked much controversy and was largely discussed in all
educated circles. The work was anonymous, but a rumour which gained
general currency attributed it to Professor Walsh. In the year 1874
an imputation of religious heresy was not lightly to be incurred by
a Professor--even Professor of Physics--at an English college.
There were many people in Kingsmill who considered that Mr. Walsh's
delay in repudiating so grave a charge rendered very doubtful the
propriety of his retaining the chair at Whitelaw. Significant was
the dispersed applause which followed slowly upon his stepping
forward to-day; on the Professor's face was perchance legible
something like a hint of amused defiance. Ladies had ceased to beam;
they glanced meaningly at one another, and then from under their
eyelids at the supposed heretic.
'A fine fellow, Walsh!' exclaimed Buckland, clapping vigorously.
His father smiled, but with some uneasiness. Mrs. Warricombe
whispered to Sidwell:
'What a very disagreeable face! The only one of the Professors who
doesn't seem a gentleman.'
The girl was aware of dark reports affecting Mr. Walsh's reputation.
She hazarded only a brief examination of his features, and looked at
the applauding Buckland with alarm.
'His lectures are splendid,' said her brother, emphatically. 'If I
were going to be here next session, I should take them.'
For some minutes after the Professor's return to his seat a
susurration was audible throughout the hall; bonnets bent together,
and beards exchanged curt comments.
The ceremony, as is usual with all ceremonies, grew wearisome before
its end. Buckland was deep in one of the chapters of his geologic
prize when the last speaker closed the last report and left the
assembly free to disperse. Then followed the season of
congratulations: Professors, students, and the friendly public
mingled in a ~conversazione~. A nucleus of vivacious intercourse
formed at the spot where young Mr. Chilvers stood amid trophies of
examinational prowess. When his numerous relatives had all shaken
hands with him, and laughed, smiled, or smirked their felicitations,
they made way for the press of eager acquaintances. His prize
library was reverently surveyed, and many were the sportive sallies
elicited by the victor's obvious inability to carry away what he had
won. Suavely exultant, ready with his reply to every flattering
address, Bruno Chilvers exhibited a social tact in advance of his
years: it was easy to imagine what he would become when Oxford terms
and the seal of ordination had matured his youthful promise.
At no great distance stood his competitor, Godwin Peak embarrassed,
he also, with wealth of spoils; but about this young man was no
concourse of admiring kinsfolk. No lady offered him her hand or
shaped compliments for him with gracious lips. Half-a-dozen
fellow-students, among them John Earwaker, talked in his vicinity of
the day's results. Peak's part in the gossip was small, and when he
smiled it was in a forced, anxious way, with brief raising of his
eyes. For a moment only was the notice of a wider circle directed
upon him when Dr Nares, moving past with a train of colloquial
attendants, turned aside to repeat his praise of the young man's
achievements in Philosophy: he bestowed a kindly shake of the hand,
and moved on.
The Warricombe group descended, in purposeless fashion, towards the
spot where Chilvers held his court. Their personal acquaintance with
Bruno and his family was slight, and though Mrs. Warricombe would
gladly have pushed forward to claim recognition, natural diffidence
restrained her. Sidwell kept in the rear, risking now and then a
glance of vivid curiosity on either hand. Buckland, striving not to
look petulant or sullen, allowed himself to be led on; but when he
became aware of the tendency Bruno-wards, a protest broke from him.
'There's no need to swell that fellow's conceit. Here, father, come
and have a word with Peak; he looks rather down in the mouth among
his second prizes.'
Mr. Warricombe having beckoned his companions, they reluctantly
followed to the more open part of the hall.
'It's very generous of Buckland,' fell from the lady's lips, and she
at length resolved to show an equal magnanimity. Peak and Earwaker
were conversing together when Buckland broke in upon them with
'Confound it, Peak! what do you mean by getting me stuck into a
'I had the same question to as ~you~,' returned the other, with a
Mr. Warricombe came up with extended hand.
'A species of bracket,' he remarked, smiling benevolently, 'which no
algebraic process will remove. Let us hope it signifies that you and
Buckland will work through life shoulder to shoulder in the field of
geology. What did Professor Gale give you?'
Before he could reply, Peak had to exchange greetings with Mrs
Warricombe and her daughter. Only once hitherto had he met them. Six
months ago he had gone out with Buckland to the country-house and
passed an afternoon there, making at the time no very favourable
impression on his hostess. He was not of the young men who easily
insinuate themselves into ladies' affections: his exterior was
against him, and he seemed too conscious of his disadvantages in
that particular. Mrs. Warricombe found it difficult to shape a few
civil phrases for the acceptance of the saturnine student. Sidwell,
repelled and in a measure alarmed by his bilious countenance, could
do no more than grant him her delicately gloved fingers. Peak, for
his part, had nothing to say. He did not even affect an interest in
these persons, and turned his eyes to follow the withdrawing
Earwaker. Mr. Warricombe, however, had found topic for discourse in
the prize volume; he began to comment on the excellence of certain
sections of the book.
'Do you go home?' interrupted Buckland, addressing the question to
his rival. 'Or do you stay in Kingsmill until the First B.A.?'
'I shall go home,' replied Peak, moving uneasily.
'Perhaps we may have the pleasure of seeing you at Thornhaw when you
are up again for the examination?' said Mrs. Warricombe, with
'I'm afraid I shan't be able to come, thank you,' was the awkward
Buckland's voice came to the relief.
'I daresay I may look in upon you at your torture. Good luck, old
fellow! If we don't see each other again, write to me at Trinity
before the end of the year.'
As soon as she was sufficiently remote, Mrs. Warricombe ejaculated in
a subdued voice of irritation:
'Such a very unprepossessing young man I never met! He seems to have
no breeding whatever.'
'Overweighted with brains,' replied her husband; adding to himself,
'and by no means so with money, I fear.'
Opportunity at length offering, Mrs. Warricombe stepped into the
circle irradiated by Bruno Chilvers; her husband and Sidwell pressed
after. Buckland, with an exclamation of disgust, went off to
criticise the hero among a group of his particular friends.
Godwin Peak stood alone. On the bench where he had sat were heaped
the prize volumes (eleven in all, some of them massive), and his
wish was to make arrangements for their removal. Gazing about him,
he became aware of the College librarian, with whom he was on
'Mr. Poppleton, who would pack and send these books away for me?'
'An ~embarras de richesse~!' laughed the librarian. 'If you like to
tell the porter to take care of them for the present, I shall be
glad to see that they are sent wherever you like.'
Peak answered with a warmth of acknowledgment which seemed to imply
that he did not often receive kindnesses. Before long he was free to
leave the College, and at the exit he overtook Earwaker, who carried
a brown paper parcel.
'Come and have some tea with me across the way, will you?' said the
literary prizeman. 'I have a couple of hours to wait for my train.'
'All right. I envy you that five-volume Spenser.'
'I wish they had given me five authors I don't possess instead. I
think I shall sell this.'
Earwaker laughed as he said it--a strange chuckle from deep down
in his throat. A comparison of the young men, as they walked side by
side, showed that Peak was of better physical type than his comrade.
Earwaker had a slight, unshapely body and an ill-fitting head; he
walked with excessive strides and swung his thin arm nervously.
Probably he was the elder of the two, and he looked twenty. For
Peak's disadvantages of person, his studious bashfulness and poverty
of attire were mainly responsible. With improvement in general
health even his features might have a tolerable comeliness, or at
all events would not be disagreeable. Earwaker's visage was homely,
and seemed the more so for his sprouting moustache and beard.
'Have you heard any talk about Walsh?' the latter inquired, as they
Peak shrugged his shoulders, with a laugh.
'No. Have you?'
'Some women in front of me just now were-evidently discussing him. I
heard "How shocking!" and "Disgraceful!"'
Peak's eyes flashed, and he exclaimed in a voice of wrath:
'Besotted idiots! How I wish I were in Walsh's position! How I
should enjoy standing up before the crowd of fools and seeing their
fear of me! But I couldn't keep it to myself; I should give in to
the temptation to call them blockheads and jackasses.'
Earwaker was amused at his friend's vehemence. He sympathised with
it, but had an unyouthful sobriety in the expression of his
'Most likely he despises them far too much to be disturbed by what
they think of him. But, I say, isn't it desperately comical that one
human being can hate and revile another because they think
differently about the origin of the universe? Couldn't you roar with
laughter when you've thought over it for a moment? "You be damned
for your theory of irregular verbs!" is nothing to it.' And he
uttered his croak of mirth, whilst Peak, with distorted features,
laughed in rage and scorn.
They had crossed the open space in front of the College buildings,
and were issuing into the highway, when a voice very unlike those
that were wont to sound within the academic precincts (or indeed in
the streets of Kingsmill) made sudden demand upon Peak's attention.
'Thet you, Godwin? Thoughts I, it must be 'im! 'Ow goes it, my
bo-oy? You 'ardly reckonise me, I dessay, and I couldn't be sure as
it was you till I'd 'ed a good squint at yer. I've jest called round
at your lodgin's, and they towld me as you was at the Collige.'
He who thus accosted the student, with the most offensive purity of
Cockney accent, was a man of five-and-forty, dressed in a new suit
of ready-made tweeds, the folding crease strongly marked down the
front of the trousers and the coat sleeves rather too long. His face
bore a strong impress of vulgarity, but at the same time had a
certain ingenuousness, a self-absorbed energy and simplicity, which
saved it from being wholly repellent; the brow was narrow, the eyes
small and bright, and the coarse lips half hid themselves under a
struggling reddish growth. In these lineaments lurked a family
resemblance to Godwin Peak, sufficient to support a claim of kindred
which at this moment might have seemed improbable. At the summons of
recognition Godwin stood transfixed; his arms fell straight, and his
head drew back as if to avoid a blow. For an instant he was clay
colour, then a hot flush broke upon his cheeks.
'I shan't be able to go with you,' he said, in a thick, abrupt
voice, addressing Earwaker but not regarding him. 'Good-bye!'
The other offered his hand and, without speaking, walked away.
'Prize-dye at the Collige, they tell me,' pursued Godwin's relative,
looking at a cluster of people that passed. 'What 'ave you took?'
'One or two class-prizes,' replied the student, his eyes on the
ground. 'Shall we walk to my lodgings?'
'I thought you might like to walk me over the show. But pr'aps
you're in a 'urry?'
'No, no. But there's nothing particular to see. I think the
lecture-rooms are closed by now.'
'Oo's the gent as stands there?--the figger, I mean.'
'Sir Job Whitelaw, founder of the College.'
'Job, eh? And was you a-goin' 'ome to yer tea, Godwin?'
'Well, then, look 'ere, 'spose we go to the little shop opposyte--
nice little plyce it looks. I could do a cup o' tea myself, and we
can 'ev a quite confab. It's a long time since we'ed a talk
together. I come over from Twybridge this mornin'; slep' there last
night, and saw yer mother an' Oliver. They couldn't give me a bed,
but that didn't mike no matter; I put up at the Norfolk Harms--
five-an-six for bed an' breakfast. Come along, my bo-oy; I stand
Godwin glanced about him. From the College was approaching what
seemed to be a formal procession; it consisted of Bruno Chilvers,
supported on either hand by ladies and followed by an admiring
'You had better come to my lodgings with me, uncle,' said the young
man hurriedly, moving forward.
'No, no; I won't be no expense to you, Godwin, bo-oy. And I 'ave a
reason for wantin' to go to the little shop opposyte.'
Already several collegians had passed, giving Peak a nod and
scanning his companion; a moment's delay and Chilvers would be upon
him. Without another word, Godwin moved across the broad street to
the place of refreshment which his uncle had indicated, and whither
Earwaker had preceded them. It was a pastry-cook's, occasionally
visited by the alumni of Whitelaw. In the rear of the shop a little
room offered seats and tables, and here, Godwin knew, Earwaker would
'Let us go up-stairs,' he said, leading to a side entrance. 'There's
a quieter room.'
'Right you are!'
The uncle--his name was Andrew Peak--paused to make a survey of
the premises. When he entered, his scrutiny of the establishment was
close, and he seemed to reflect with interest upon all he saw. The
upper room was empty; a long table exhibited knives and forks, but
there were no signs of active business. Andrew pulled a bell-rope;
the summons was answered by an asthmatic woman, who received an
order for tea, toast, 'watercreases', and sundry other constituents
of a modest meal.
'Come 'ere often, Godwin?' inquired Andrew, as he stood by the
window and mused.
'Now and then, for a bun.'
'Much custom from your show over the wye?'
'Not so much as a better place would have.'
'Young gents don't live at the Collige, they tell me?'
'No, there's no residence.'
'So naturally they want a plyce where they can 'ev a nibble,
'Yes. We have to go further into the town for a decent dinner.'
'Jest what I thought!' exclaimed Andrew, slapping his leg. 'With a
establishment like that opposyte, there'd. ought to be a
medium-sized Spiers & Pond at this 'ere street corner for any man as
knows 'is wye about. That's ~my~ idea, Godwin--see?'
Peak had as yet given but half an ear to his relative's discourse;
he had answered mechanically, and only now was constrained to
serious attention by a note of meaning in the last interrogative. He
looked at the speaker; and Andrew, in the manner of one accustomed
to regard life as a game of cunning, first winked with each eye,
then extended one cheek with the pressure of his tongue. Sickened
with disgust, Godwin turned suddenly away,--a movement entirely
lost upon his uncle, who imagined the young man to be pondering a
'I don't mind tellin' you, Godwin,' pursued Andrew presently, in a
cautious voice, laying an open hand against his trousers-pocket, 'as
I've been a-doin' pretty good business lytely. Been growin' a bit--
see? I'm runnin' round an' keepin' my heyes open understand?
Thoughts I, now, if I could come acrosst a nicet little openin',
somethink in the rest'rant line, ~that's~ what 'ud sewt me jest
about down to the ground. I'm cut out for it--see? I've got the
practical experience, and I've got the capital; and as soon as I got
a squint of this little corner shop--understand what I mean?'
His eyes gleamed with eagerness which was too candid for the
typically vulgar mind. In his self-satisfaction he exhibited a gross
cordiality which might have made rather an agreeable impression on a
person otherwise disinterested.
At this point the asthmatic woman reappeared, carrying a laden tray.
Andrew at once entered into conversation with her, framing his
remarks and queries so as to learn all he could concerning the state
of the business and the disposition of its proprietors. His nephew,
meanwhile, stung to the core with shame, kept apart, as if amusing
himself with the prospect from the window, until summoned to partake
of the meal. His uncle expressed contempt of everything laid before
'~This~ ain't no wye of caterin' for young gents at Collige!' he
exclaimed. 'If there ain't a openin' 'ere, then I never see one.
Godwin, bo-oy, 'ow much longer'll it be before you're out of you're
time over there?'
'It's uncertain--I can't say.'
'But ain't it understood as you stay till you've passed the top
standard, or whatever it's called?'
'I really haven't made up my mind what to do.'
'But you'll be studyin' 'ere for another twelve months, I dessay?'
'Why do you ask?'
'Why? cos s'posin' I got 'old o' this 'ere little shop, or another
like it close by, me an' you might come to an understandin'--see?
It might be worth your while to give a 'int to the young gents as
you're in with--eh?'
Godwin was endeavouring to masticate a piece of toast, but it turned
to sawdust upon his palate. Of a sudden, when the bilious gloom of
his countenance foretold anything but mirth, he burst into hard
laughter. Andrew smote him jovially on the back.
'Tickles you, eh, bo-oy? "Peak's Refreshment an' Dinin' Rooms!"
Everything tip-top, mind; respectable business, Godwin; nothing for
nobody to be ashamed of--~that~ wouldn't do, of course.'
The young man's laughter ended as abruptly as it had begun, but his
visage was no longer clouded with bitter misery. A strange
indifference seemed to have come upon him, and whilst the
speculative uncle talked away with increasing excitement, he ate and
'Mother expects you to-morrow, she tells me,' said Andrew, when his
companion's taciturnity had suggested a change of topic. 'Shouldn't
wonder if you see me over at Twybridge again before long. I was to
remember your awnt and your cousin Jowey to you. You wouldn't know
Jowey? the sharpest lad of his age as ever I knowed, is Jowey. Your
father 'ud a' took a delight in 'im, if 'e'd lived, that 'e would.'
For a quarter of an hour or so the dialogue was concerned with
domestic history. Godwin gave brief reply to many questions, but
asked none, not even such as civility required. The elder man,
however, was unaffected by this reticence, and when at length his
nephew pleaded an engagement as excuse for leave-taking he shook
hands with much warmth. The two parted close by the shop, and
Godwin, casting a glance at the now silent College, walked hastily
towards his lodgings.
In the prosperous year of 1856, incomes of between a hundred and a
hundred and fifty pounds were chargeable with a tax of elevenpence
halfpenny in the pound: persons who enjoyed a revenue of a hundred
and fifty or more had the honour of paying one and fourpence.
Abatements there were none, and families supporting life on two
pounds a week might in some cases, perchance, be reconciled to the
mulct by considering how equitably its incidence was graduated.
Some, on the other hand, were less philosophical; for instance, the
household consisting of Nicholas Peak, his wife, their
three-year-old daughter, their newly-born son, and a blind sister of
Nicholas, dependent upon him for sustenance. Mr. Peak, aged thirty
and now four years wedded, had a small cottage on the outskirts of
Greenwich. He was employed as dispenser, at a salary of thirty-five
shillings a week, by a medical man with a large practice. His
income, therefore, fell considerably within the hundred pound limit;
and, all things considered, it was not unreasonable that he should
be allowed to expend the whole of this sum on domestic necessities.
But it came to pass that Nicholas, in his greed of wealth, obtained
supplementary employment, which benefited him to the extent of a
yearly ten pounds. Called upon to render his statement to the
surveyor of income-tax, he declared himself in possession of a
hundred and one pounds per annum; consequently, he stood indebted to
the Exchequer in the sum of four pounds, sixteen shillings, and
ninepence. His countenance darkened, as also did that of Mrs. Peak.
'This is wrong and cruel--dreadfully cruel!' cried the latter,
with tears in her eyes.
'It is; but that's no new thing,' was the bitter reply.
'I think it's wrong of ~you~, Nicholas. What need is there to say
anything about that ten pounds? It's taking the food out of our
Knowing only the letter of the law, Mr. Peak answered sternly:
'My income is a hundred and one pounds. I can't sign my name to a
Picture the man. Tall, gaunt, with sharp intellectual features, and
eyes of singular beauty, the face of an enthusiast--under given
circumstances, of a hero. Poorly clad, of course, but with rigorous
self-respect; his boots polished, ~propria manu~, to the point of
perfection; his linen washed and ironed by the indefatigable wife.
Of simplest tastes, of most frugal habits, a few books the only
luxury which he deemed indispensable; yet a most difficult man to
live with, for to him applied precisely the description which Robert
Burns gave of his own father; he was 'of stubborn, ungainly
integrity and headlong irascibility'.
Ungainly, for his strong impulses towards culture were powerless to
obliterate the traces of his rude origin. Born in a London alley,
the son of a labourer burdened with a large family, he had made his
way by sheer force of character to a position which would have
seemed proud success but for the difficulty with which he kept
himself alive. His parents were dead. Of his brothers, two had
disappeared in the abyss, and one, Andrew, earned a hard livelihood
as a journeyman baker; the elder of his sisters had married poorly,
and the younger was his blind pensioner. Nicholas had found a wife
of better birth than his own, a young woman with country kindred in
decent circumstances, though she herself served as nursemaid in the
house of the medical man who employed her future husband. He had
taught himself the English language, so far as grammar went, but
could not cast off the London accent; Mrs. Peak was fortunate enough
to speak with nothing worse than the note of the Midlands.
His bent led him to the study of history, politics, economics, and
in that time of military outbreak he was frenzied by the conflict of
his ideals with the state of things about him. A book frequently in
his hands was Godwin's ~Political Justice~, and when a son had been
born to him he decided to name the child after that favourite
author. In this way, at all events, he could find some expression
for his hot defiance of iniquity.
He paid his income-tax, and felt a savage joy in the privation thus
imposed upon his family. Mrs. Peak could not forgive her husband, and
in this case, though she had but dim appreciation of the point of
honour involved, her censures doubtless fell on Nicholas's
vulnerable spot; it was the perversity of arrogance, at least as
much as honesty, that impelled him to incur taxation. His wife's
perseverance in complaint drove him to stern impatience, and for a
long time the peace of the household suffered.
When the boy Godwin was five years old, the death of his blind aunt
came as a relief to means which were in every sense overtaxed.
Twelve months later, a piece of unprecedented good fortune seemed to
place the Peaks beyond fear of want, and at the same time to supply
Nicholas with a fulfilment of hopeless desires. By the death of Mrs
Peak's brother, they came into possession of a freehold house and
about nine hundred pounds. The property was situated some twelve
miles from the Midland town of Twybridge, and thither they at once
removed. At Twybridge lived Mrs. Peak's elder sister, Miss Cadman;
but between this lady and her nearest kinsfolk there had been but
slight correspondence--the deceased Cadman left her only a couple
of hundred pounds. With capital at command, Nicholas Peak took a
lease of certain fields near his house, and turned farmer. The study
of chemistry had given a special bent to his economic speculations;
he fancied himself endowed with exceptional aptitude for
agriculture, and the scent of the furrow brought all his energies
into feverish activity--activity which soon impoverished him: that
was in the order of things. 'Ungainly integrity' and 'headlong
irascibility' wrought the same results for the ex-dispenser as for
the Ayrshire husbandman. His farming came to a chaotic end; and when
the struggling man died, worn out at forty-three, his wife and
children (there was now a younger boy, Oliver, named after the
Protector) had no very bright prospects.
Things went better with them than might have been anticipated. To
Mrs. Peak her husband's death was not an occasion of unmingled
mourning. For the last few years she had suffered severely from
domestic discord, and when left at peace by bereavement she turned
with a sense of liberation to the task of caring for her children's
future. Godwin was just thirteen, Oliver was eleven; both had been
well schooled, and with the help of friends they might soon be put
in the way of self-support. The daughter, Charlotte, sixteen years
of age, had accomplishments which would perhaps be profitable. The
widow decided to make a home in Twybridge, where Miss Cadman kept a
millinery shop. By means of this connection, Charlotte presently
found employment for her skill in fine needlework. Mrs. Peak was
incapable of earning money, but the experiences of her early married
life enabled her to make more than the most of the pittance at her
Miss Cadman was a woman of active mind, something of a busy-body--
dogmatic, punctilious in her claims to respect, proud of the
acknowledgment by her acquaintances that she was not as other
tradespeople; her chief weakness was a fanatical ecclesiasticism,
the common blight of English womanhood. Circumstances had allowed
her a better education than generally falls to women of that
standing, and in spite of her shop she succeeded in retaining the
friendship of certain ladies long ago her schoolfellows. Among these
were the Misses Lumb--middle-aged sisters, who lived at Twybridge
on a small independence, their time chiefly devoted to the support
of the Anglican Church. An eldest Miss Lumb had been fortunate
enough to marry that growing potentate of the Midlands, Mr. Job
Whitelaw. Now Lady Whitelaw, she dwelt at Kingsmill, but her sisters
frequently enjoyed the honour of entertaining her, and even Miss
Cadman the milliner occasionally held converse with the baronet's
wife. In this way it came to pass that the Widow Peak and her
children were brought under the notice of persons who sooner or
later might be of assistance to them.
Abounding in emphatic advice, Miss Cadman easily persuaded her
sister that Godwin must go to school for at least two years longer.
The boys had been at a boarding-school twenty miles away from their
country home; it would be better for them now to be put under the
care of some Twybridge teacher--such an one as Miss Cadman's
acquaintances could recommend. For her own credit, the milliner was
anxious that these nephews of hers should not be running about the
town as errand-boys or the like, and with prudence there was no
necessity for such degradation. An uncommon lad like Godwin (she
imagined him named after the historic earl) must not be robbed of
his fair chance in life; she would gladly spare a little money for
his benefit; he was a boy to repay such expenditure.
Indeed it seemed probable. Godwin devoured books, and had a
remarkable faculty for gaining solid information on any subject that
took his fancy. What might be the special bent of his mind one could
not yet discover. He read poetry with precocious gusto, but at the
same time his aptitude for scientific pursuits was strongly marked.
In botany, chemistry, physics, he made progress which the people
about him, including his schoolmaster, were incapable of
appreciating; and already the collection of books left by his
father, most of them out of date, failed to satisfy his curiosity.
It might be feared that tastes so discursive would be
disadvantageous to a lad who must needs pursue some definite
bread-study, and the strain of self-consciousness which grew strong
in him was again a matter for concern. He cared nothing for boyish
games and companionship; in the society of strangers especially of
females--he behaved with an excessive shyness which was easily
mistaken for a surly temper. Reproof, correction, he could not
endure, and it was fortunate that the decorum of his habits made
remonstrance seldom needful.
Ludicrous as the project would have appeared to any unbiassed
observer of character, Miss Cadman conceived a hope that Godwin
might become a clergyman. From her point of view it was natural to
assume that uncommon talents must be devoted to the service of the
Church, and she would have gladly done her utmost for the practical
furthering of such an end. Mrs. Peak, though well aware that her son
had imbibed the paternal prejudices, was disposed to entertain the
same hope, despite solid obstacles. For several years she had
nourished a secret antagonism to her husband's spirit of political,
social, and religious rebellion, and in her widowhood she speedily
became a pattern of the conservative female. It would have gratified
her to discern any possibility of Godwin's assuming the priestly
garb. And not alone on the ground of conscience. Long ago she had
repented the marriage which connected her with such a family as that
of the Peaks, and she ardently desired that the children, now
exclusively her own, might enter life on a plane superior to their
'Godwin, how would you like to go to College and be a clergyman?'
she asked one Sunday afternoon, when an hour or two of congenial
reading seemed to have put the boy into a gentle humour.
'To go to College' was all very well (diplomacy had prompted this
preface), but the words that followed fell so alarmingly on Godwin's
ear that he looked up with a resentful expression, unable to reply
'You never thought of it, I suppose?' his mother faltered; for she
often stood in awe of her son, who, though yet but fourteen, had
much of his father's commanding severity.
'I don't want to be a parson,' came at length, bluntly.
'Don't use that word, Godwin.'
'Why not? It's quite a proper word. It comes from the Latin
The mother had enough discretion to keep silence, and Godwin, after
in vain trying to settle to his book again, left the room with
He had now been attending the day-school for about a year, and was
distinctly ahead of his coevals. A Christmas examination was on the
point of being held, and it happened that a singular test of the
lad's moral character coincided with the proof of his intellectual
progress. In a neighbouring house lived an old man named Rawmarsh,
kindly but rather eccentric; he had once done a good business as a
printer, and now supported himself by such chance typographic work
of a small kind as friends might put in his way. He conceived an
affection for Godwin; often had the boy to talk with him of an
evening. On one such occasion, Mr. Rawmarsh opened a desk, took forth
a packet of newly printed leaves, and with a mysterious air silently
spread them before the boy's eyes. In an instant Godwin became aware
that he was looking at the examination papers which a day or two
hence would be set before him at school; he saw and recognised a
passage from the book of Virgil which his class had been reading.
'That is ~sub rosa~, you know,' whispered the old printer, with half
Godwin shrank away, and could not resume the conversation thus
interrupted. On the following day he went about with a feeling of
guilt. He avoided the sight of Mr. Rawmarsh, for whom he had suddenly
lost all respect, and suffered torments in the thought that he
enjoyed an unfair advantage over his class-mates. The Latin passage
happened to be one which he knew thoroughly well; there was no need,
even had he desired, to 'look it up'; but in sitting down to the
examination, he experienced a sense of shame and self-rebuke. So
strong were the effects of this, that he voluntarily omitted the
answer to a certain important question which he could have 'done'
better than any of the other boys, thus endeavouring to adjust in
his conscience the terms of competition, though in fact no such
sacrifice was called for. He came out at the head of the class, but
the triumph had no savour for him, and for many a year he was
subject to a flush of mortification whenever this incident came back
to his mind.
Mr. Rawmarsh was not the only intelligent man who took an interest in
Godwin. In a house which the boy sometimes visited with a
school-fellow, lodged a notable couple named Gunnery the husband
about seventy, the wife five years older; they lived on a pension
from a railway company. Mr. Gunnery was a dabbler in many sciences,
but had a special enthusiasm for geology. Two cabinets of stones and
fossils gave evidence of his zealous travels about the British
isles; he had even written a little hand-book of petrology which was
for sale at certain booksellers' in Twybridge, and probably nowhere
else. To him, about this time, Godwin began to resort, always sure
of a welcome; and in the little uncarpeted room where Mr. Gunnery
pursued his investigations many a fateful lesson was given and
received. The teacher understood the intelligence he had to deal
with, and was delighted to convey, by the mode of suggested
inference, sundry results of knowledge which it perhaps would not
have been prudent to declare in plain, popular words.
Their intercourse was not invariably placid. The geologist had an
irritable temper, and in certain states of the atmosphere his
rheumatic twinges made it advisable to shun argument with him.
Godwin, moreover, was distinguished by an instability of mood
peculiarly trying to an old man's testy humour. Of a sudden, to Mr
Gunnery's surprise and annoyance, he would lose all interest in this
or that science. Thus, one day the lad declared himself unable to
name two stones set before him, felspar and quartz, and when his
instructor broke into angry impatience he turned sullenly away,
exclaiming that he was tired of geology.
'Tired of geology?' cried Mr. Gunnery, with flaming eyes. 'Then ~I~
am tired of ~you~, Master Peak! Be off, and don't come again till I
send for you!'
Godwin retired without a word. On the second day he was summoned
back again, but his resentment of the dismissal rankled in him for a
long time; injury to his pride was the wrong he found it hardest to
His schoolmaster, aware of the unusual pursuits which he added to
the routine of lessons, gave him as a prize the English translation
of a book by Figuier--~The World before the Deluge~. Strongly
interested by the illustrations of the volume (fanciful scenes from
the successive geologic periods), Godwin at once carried it to his
scientific friend. 'Deluge?' growled Mr. Gunnery. '~What~ deluge?
~Which~ deluge?' But he restrained himself, handed the book coldly
back, and began to talk of something else. All this was highly
significant to Godwin, who of course began the perusal of his prize
in a suspicious mood. Nor was he long before he sympathised with Mr
Gunnery's distaste. Though too young to grasp the arguments at
issue, his prejudices were strongly excited by the conventional
Theism which pervades Figuier's work. Already it was the habit of
his mind to associate popular dogma with intellectual shallowness;
herein, as at every other point which fell within his scope, he had
begun to scorn average people, and to pride himself intensely on
views which he found generally condemned. Day by day he grew into a
clearer understanding of the memories bequeathed to him by his
father; he began to interpret remarks, details of behaviour,
instances of wrath, which, though they had stamped themselves on his
recollection, conveyed at the time no precise significance. The
issue was that he hardened himself against the influence of his
mother and his aunt, regarding them as in league against the free
progress of his education.
As women, again, he despised these relatives. It is almost
impossible for a bright-witted lad born in the lower middle class to
escape this stage of development. The brutally healthy boy contemns
the female sex because he sees it incapable of his own athletic
sports, but Godwin was one of those upon whose awaking intellect is
forced a perception of the brain-defect so general in women when
they are taught few of life's graces and none of its serious
concerns,--their paltry prepossessions, their vulgar
sequaciousness, their invincible ignorance, their absorption in a
petty self. And especially is this phase of thought to be expected
in a boy whose heart blindly nourishes the seeds of poetical
passion. It was Godwin's sincere belief that he held girls, as
girls, in abhorrence. This meant that he dreaded their personal
criticism, and that the spectacle of female beauty sometimes
overcame him with a despair which he could not analyse. Matrons and
elderly unmarried women were truly the objects of his disdain; in
them he saw nothing but their shortcomings. Towards his mother he
was conscious of no tenderness; of as little towards his sister, who
often censured him with trenchant tongue; as for his aunt, whose
admiration of him was modified by reticences, he could never be at
ease in her company, so strong a dislike had he for her look, her
voice, her ways of speech.
He would soon be fifteen years old. Mrs. Peak was growing anxious,
for she could no longer consent to draw upon her sister for a
portion of the school fees, and no pertinent suggestion for the
lad's future was made by any of the people who admired his
cleverness. Miss Cadman still clung in a fitful way to the idea of
making her nephew a cleric; she had often talked it over with the
Misses Lumb, who of course held that 'any sacrifice' was justifiable
with such a motive, and who suggested a hope that, by the
instrumentality of Lady Whitelaw, a curacy might easily be obtained
as soon as Godwin was old enough. But several years must pass before
that Levitical stage could be reached; and then, after all, perhaps
the younger boy, Oliver, placid of temper and notably pliant in
mind, was better suited for the dignity of Orders. It was lamentable
that Godwin should have become so intimate with that earth-burrowing
Mr. Gunnery, who certainly never attended either church or chapel,
and who seemed to have imbued his pupil with immoral theories
concerning the date of creation. Godwin held more decidedly aloof
from his aunt, and had been heard by Charlotte to speak very
disrespectfully of the Misses Lumb. In short, there was no choice
but to discover an opening for him in some secular pursuit. Could
he, perhaps, become an assistant teacher? Or must he 'go into an
No common lad. A youth whose brain glowed like a furnace,
whose heart throbbed with tumult of high ambitions, of inchoate
desires; endowed with knowledge altogether exceptional for his
years; a nature essentially militant, displaying itself in
innumerable forms of callow intolerance--apt, assuredly, for some
vigorous part in life, but as likely as not to rush headlong on
traverse roads if no judicious mind assumed control of him. What is
to be done with the boy?
All very well, if the question signified, in what way to provide for
the healthy development of his manhood. Of course it meant nothing
of the sort, but merely: What work can be found for him whereby he
may earn his daily bread? We--his kinsfolk even, not to think of
the world at large--can have no concern with his growth as an
intellectual being; we are hard pressed to supply our own mouths
with food; and now that we have done our recognised duty by him, it
is high time that he learnt to fight for his own share of provender.
Happily, he is of the robust sex; he can hit out right and left, and
make standing-room. We have armed him with serviceable weapons, and
now he must use them against the enemy--that is to say, against
all mankind, who will quickly enough deprive him of sustenance if he
fail in the conflict. We neither know, nor in great measure care,
for what employment he is naturally marked. Obviously he cannot
heave coals or sell dogs' meat, but with negative certainty not much
else can be resolved, seeing how desperate is the competition for
minimum salaries. He has been born, and he must eat. By what
licensed channel may he procure the necessary viands?
Paternal relatives Godwin had as good as none. In quitting London,
Nicholas Peak had ceased to hold communication with any of his own
stock save the younger brother Andrew. With him he occasionally
exchanged a letter, but Andrew's share in the correspondence was
limited to ungrammatical and often unintelligible hints of numerous
projects for money-making. Just after the removal of the bereaved
family to Twybridge, they were surprised by a visit from Andrew, in
answer to one of whose letters Mrs. Peak had sent news of her
husband's death. Though her dislike of the man amounted to loathing,
the widow could not refuse him hospitality; she did her best,
however, to prevent his coming in contact with anyone she knew.
Andrew declared that he was at length prospering; he had started a
coffee-shop at Dalston, in north-east London, and positively urged a
proposal (well-meant, beyond doubt) that Godwin should be allowed to
come to him and learn the business. Since then the Londoner had once
again visited Twybridge, towards the end of Godwin's last
school-year. This time he spoke of himself less hopefully, and
declared a wish to transfer his business to some provincial town,
where he thought his metropolitan experience might be of great
value, in the absence of serious competition. It was not difficult
to discover a family likeness between Andrew's instability and the
idealism which had proved the ruin of Nicholas.
On this second occasion Godwin tried to escape a meeting with his
uncle. Unable to do so, he sat mute, replying to questions
monosyllabically. Mrs. Peak's shame and annoyance, in face of this
London-branded vulgarian, were but feeble emotions compared with
those of her son. Godwin hated the man, and was in dread lest any
school-fellow should come to know of such a connection. Yet delicacy
prevented his uttering a word on the subject to his mother. Mrs
Peak's silence after Andrew's departure made it uncertain how she
regarded the obligation of kindred, and in any such matter as this
the boy was far too sensitive to risk giving pain. But to his
brother Oliver he spoke.
'What is the brute to us? When I'm a man, let him venture to come
near me, and see what sort of a reception he'll get! I hate low,
uneducated people! I hate them worse than the filthiest vermin!--
Oliver, aged but thirteen, assented, as he habitually did to any
question which seemed to await an affirmative.
'They ought to be swept off the face of the earth!' pursued Godwin,
sitting up in bed--for the dialogue took place about eleven
o'clock at night. 'All the grown-up creatures, who can't speak
proper English and don't know how to behave themselves, I'd
transport them to the Falkland Islands,'--this geographic
precision was a note of the boy's mind,--'and let them die off as
soon as possible. The children should be sent to school and
purified, if possible; if not, they too should be got rid of.'
'You're an aristocrat, Godwin,' remarked Oliver, simply; for the
elder brother had of late been telling him fearful stories from the
French Revolution, with something of an anti-popular bias.
'I hope I am. I mean to be, that's certain. There's nothing I hate
like vulgarity. That's why I can't stand Roper. When he beat me in
mathematics last midsummer, I felt so ashamed I could hardly bear
myself. I'm working like a nigger at algebra and Euclid this half,
just because I think it would almost kill me to be beaten again by a
This was perhaps the first time that Godwin found expression for the
prejudice which affected all his thoughts and feelings. It relieved
him to have spoken thus; henceforth he had become clear as to his
point of view. By dubbing him aristocrat, Oliver had flattered him
in the subtlest way. If indeed the title were justly his, as he
instantly felt it was, the inference was plain that he must be an
aristocrat of nature's own making--one of the few highly favoured
beings who, in despite of circumstance, are pinnacled above mankind.
In his ignorance of life, the boy visioned a triumphant career; an
aristocrat ~de jure~ might possibly become one even in the common
sense did he but pursue that end with sufficient zeal. And in his
power of persistent endeavour he had no lack of faith.
The next day he walked with exalted head. Encountering the
objectionable Roper, he smiled upon him contemptuously tolerant.
There being no hope of effective assistance from relatives, Mrs. Peak
turned for counsel to a man of business, with whom her husband had
made acquaintance in his farming days, and who held a position of
influence at Twybridge. This was Mr. Moxey, manufacturing chemist,
famous in the Midlands for his 'sheep and cattle dressings', and
sundry other products of agricultural enterprise. His ill-scented,
but lucrative, works were situated a mile out of the town; and
within sight of the reeking chimneys stood a large, plain house,
uncomfortably like an 'institution' of some kind, in which he dwelt
with his five daughters. Thither, one evening, Mrs. Peak betook
herself, having learnt that Mr. Moxey dined at five o'clock, and that
he was generally to be found digging in his garden until sunset. Her
reception was civil. The manufacturer--sparing of words, but with
no unkindly face--requested that Godwin should be sent to see him,
and promised to do his best to be of use. A talk with the boy
strengthened his interest. He was surprised at Godwin's knowledge of
chemistry, pleased with his general intelligence, and in the end
offered to make a place for him at the works, where, though for a
year or two his earnings must be small, he would gain experience
likely to be of substantial use to him. Godwin did not find the
proposal distasteful; it brought a change into his life, and the
excitement of novelty; it flattered him with the show of release
from pupilage. To Mr. Moxey's he went.
The hours were not long, and it was understood that his theoretical
studies should continue in the evening. Godwin's home was a very
small house in a monotonous little street; a garret served as
bedroom for the two boys, also as the elder one's laboratory.
Servant Mrs. Peak had none. She managed everything herself, as in the
old Greenwich days, leaving Charlotte free to work at her
embroidery. Godwin took turns with Oliver at blacking the shoes.
As a matter of course the boys accompanied their mother each Sunday
morning to the parish church, and this ceremony was becoming an
insufferable tax on Godwin's patience. It was not only that he hated
the name of religion, and scorned with much fierceness all who came
in sympathetic contact therewith; the loss of time seemed to him an
oppressive injury, especially now that he began to suffer from
restricted leisure. He would not refuse to obey his mother's wish,
but the sullenness of his Sabbatic demeanour made the whole family
uncomfortable. As often as possible he feigned illness. He tried the
effect of dolorous sighs and groans; but Mrs. Peak could not dream of
conceding a point which would have seemed to her the condonation of
deadly sin. 'When I am a man!' muttered Godwin. 'Ah! when I am a
A year had gone by, and the routine to which he was bound began to
have a servile flavour. His mind chafed at subjugation to commercial
interests. Sick of 'sheep and cattle dressings', he grew tired of
chemistry altogether, and presently of physical science in general.
His evenings were given to poetry and history; he took up the
classical schoolbooks again, and found a charm in Latin syntax
hitherto unperceived. It was plain to him now how he had been
wronged by the necessity of leaving school when his education had
but just begun.
Discontent becoming ripe for utterance, he unbosomed himself to Mr
Gunnery. It happened that the old man had just returned from a visit
to Kingsmill, where he had spent a week in the museum, then newly
enriched with geologic specimens. After listening in silence to the
boy's complaints, and pondering for a long time, he began to talk of
'Does it cost much to study there?' Godwin asked, gloomily.
'No great sum, I think. There are scholarships to be had.'
Mr. Gunnery threw out the suggestion carelessly. Knowing the hazards
of life, he could not quite justify himself in encouraging Godwin's
'Scholarships? For free study?'
'Yes; but that wouldn't mean free living, you know. Students don't
live at the College.'
'How do you go in for a scholarship?'
The old man replied, meditatively, 'If you were to pass the
Cambridge Local Examination, and to get the first place in the
Kingsmill district, you would have three years of free study at
'Three years?' shouted Godwin, springing up from his chair.
'But how could you live, my boy?'
Godwin sat down again, and let his head fall forward.
How to keep oneself alive during a few years of intellectual growth?
--a question often asked by men of mature age, but seldom by a lad
of sixteen. No matter. He resolved that he would study for this
Cambridge Local Examination, and have a try for the scholarship. His
attainments were already up to the standard required for average
success in such competitions. On obtaining a set of 'papers', he
found that they looked easy enough. Could he not come out first in
the Kingsmill district?
He worked vigorously at special subjects; aid was needless, but he
wished for more leisure. Not a word to any member of his household.
When his mother discovered that he was reading in the bedroom till
long past midnight, she made serious objection on the score of
health and on that of gas bills. Godwin quietly asserted that work
he must, and that if necessary he would buy candles out of his
pocket-money. He had unexpectedly become more grave, more
restrained; he even ceased to grumble about going to church, having
found that service time could be utilised for committing to memory
lists of dates and the like, jotted down on a slip of paper. When
the time for the examination drew near, he at length told his mother
to what end he had been labouring, and asked her to grant him the
assistance necessary for his journey and the sojourn at Kingsmill;
the small sum he had been able to save, after purchase of books,
would not suffice. Mrs. Peak knew not whether to approve her son's
ambition or to try to repress it. She would welcome an improval in
his prospects, but, granting success, how was he to live whilst
profiting by a scholarship? And again, what did he propose to make
of himself when he had spent three years in study?
'In any case,' was Godwin's reply, 'I should be sure of a good place
as a teacher. But I think I might try for something in the Civil
Service; there are all sorts of positions to be got.'
It was idle to discuss the future whilst the first step was still
speculative. Mrs. Peak consented to favour the attempt, and what was
more, to keep it a secret until the issue should be known. It was
needful to obtain leave of absence from Mr. Moxey, and Godwin, when
making the request, stated for what purpose he was going to
Kingsmill, though without explaining the hope which had encouraged
his studies. The project seemed laudable, and his employer made no
Godwin just missed the scholarship; of candidates in the prescribed
district, he came out second.
Grievous was the disappointment. To come so near success exasperated
his impatient temper, and for a few days his bondage at the chemical
works seemed intolerable; he was ready for almost any venture that
promised release and new scope for his fretting energies. But at the
moment when nervous irritation was most acute, a remarkable act of
kindness suddenly restored to him all the hopes he had abandoned.
One Saturday afternoon he was summoned from his surly retreat in the
garret, to speak with a visitor. On entering the sitting-room, he
found his mother in company with Miss Cadman and the Misses Lumb,
and from the last-mentioned ladies, who spoke with amiable
alternation, he learnt that they were commissioned by Sir Job
Whitelaw to offer for his acceptance a three-years' studentship at
Whitelaw College. Affected by her son's chagrin, Mrs. Peak had
disclosed the story to her sister, who had repeated it to the Misses
Lumb, who in turn had made it the subject of a letter to Lady
Whitelaw. It was an annual practice with Sir Job to discover some
promising lad whom he could benefit by the payment of his fees for a
longer or shorter period of college study. The hint from Twybridge
came to him just at the suitable time, and, on further inquiry, he
decided to make proffer of this advantage to Godwin Peak. The only
condition was that arrangements should be made by the student's
relatives for his support during the proposed period.
This generosity took away Godwin's breath. The expenditure it
represented was trifling, but from a stranger in Sir Job's position
it had something which recalled to so fervent a mind the poetry of
Medicean patronage. For the moment no faintest doubt gave warning to
his self-respect; he was eager to accept nobly a benefaction nobly
Miss Cadman, flattered by Sir Job's attention to her nephew, now
came forward with an offer to contribute towards Godwin's
livelihood. Her supplement would eke into adequacy such slender
allowance as the widow's purse could afford. Details were privately
discussed, resolves were taken. Mr. Moxey, when it was made known to
him, without explanation, that Godwin was to be sent to Whitelaw
College, behaved with kindness; he at once released the lad, and
added a present to the salary that was due. Proper acknowledgment of
the Baronet's kindness was made by the beneficiary himself, who
wrote a letter giving truer testimony of his mental calibre than
would have been offered had he expressed himself by word of mouth. A
genial reply summoned him to an interview as soon as he should have
found an abode in Kingsmill. The lodging he had occupied during the
examination was permanently secured, and a new period of Godwin's
For two years, that is to say until his age drew towards nineteen,
Peak pursued the Arts curriculum at Whitelaw. His mood on entering
decided his choice, which was left free to him. Experience of
utilitarian chemistry had for the present made his liberal tastes
predominant, and neither the splendid laboratories of Whitelaw nor
the repute of its scientific Professors tempted him to what had once
seemed his natural direction. In the second year, however, he
enlarged his course by the addition of one or two classes not
included in Sir Job's design; these were paid for out of a present
made to him by Mr. Gunnery.
It being customary for the regular students of Whitelaw to graduate
at London University, Peak passed his matriculation, and worked on
for the preliminary test then known as First B.A. In the meanwhile he
rose steadily, achieving distinction in the College. The more
observant of his teachers remarked him even where he fell short of
academic triumph, and among his fellow-students he had the name of a
stern 'sweater', one not easily beaten where he had set his mind on
excelling. He was not generally liked, for his mood appeared
unsocial, and a repelling arrogance was sometimes felt in his talk.
No doubt--said the more fortunate young men--he came from a very
poor home, and suffered from the narrowness of his means. They
noticed that he did not subscribe to the College Union, and that he
could never join in talk regarding the diversions of the town. His
two or three intimates were chosen from among those contemporaries
who read hard and dressed poorly.
The details of Godwin's private life were noteworthy. Accustomed
hitherto to a domestic circle, at Kingsmill he found himself
isolated, and it was not easy for him to surrender all at once the.
comforts of home. For a time he felt as though his ambition were a
delinquency which entailed the punishment of loneliness. Nor did his
relations with Sir Job Whitelaw tend to mitigate this feeling. In
his first interview with the Baronet, Godwin showed to little
advantage. A deadly bashfulness forbade him to be natural either in
attitude or speech. He felt his dependence in a way he had not
foreseen; the very clothes he wore, then fresh from the tailor's,
seemed to be the gift of charity, and their stiffness shamed him. A
man of the world, Sir Job could make allowance for these defects. He
understood that the truest kindness would be to leave a youth such
as this to the forming influences of the College. So Godwin barely
had a glimpse of Lady Whitelaw in her husband's study, and
thereafter for many months he saw nothing of his benefactors.
Subsequently he was twice invited to interviews with Sir Job, who
talked with kindness and commendation. Then came the Baronet's
death. Godwin received an assurance that this event would be no
check upon his career, but he neither saw nor heard directly from
Not a house in Kingsmill opened hospitable doors to the lonely
student; nor was anyone to blame for this. With no family had he
friendly acquaintance. When, towards the end of his second year, he
grew sufficiently intimate with Buckland Warricombe to walk out with
him to Thornhaw, it could be nothing more than a scarcely welcome
exception to the rule of solitude. Impossible for him to cultivate
the friendship of such people as the Warricombes, with their large
and joyous scheme of life. Only at a hearth where homeliness and
cordiality united to unthaw his proud reserve could Godwin perchance
have found the companionship he needed. Many such homes existed in
Kingsmill, but no kindly fortune led the young man within the sphere
of their warmth.
His lodgings were in a very ugly street in the ugliest outskirts of
the town; he had to take a long walk through desolate districts
(brick-yard, sordid pasture, degenerate village) before he could
refresh his eyes with the rural scenery which was so great a joy to
him as almost to be a necessity. The immediate vicinage offered
nothing but monotone of grimy, lower middle-class dwellings,
occasionally relieved by a public-house. He occupied two rooms, not
unreasonably clean, and was seldom disturbed by the attentions of
An impartial observer might have wondered at the negligence which
left him to arrange his life as best he could, notwithstanding youth
and utter inexperience. It looked indeed as if there were no one in
the world who cared what became of him. Yet this was merely the
result of his mother's circumstances, and of his own character. Mrs
Peak could do no more than make her small remittances, and therewith
send an occasional admonition regarding his health. She did not, in
fact, conceive the state of things, imagining that the authority and
supervisal of the College extended over her son's daily existence,
whereas it was possible for Godwin to frequent lectures or not, to
study or to waste his time, pretty much as he chose, subject only to
official inquiry if his attendance became frequently irregular. His
independent temper, and the seeming maturity of his mind, supplied
another excuse for the imprudent confidence which left him to his
own resources. Yet the perils of the situation were great indeed. A
youth of less concentrated purpose, more at the mercy of casual
allurement, would probably have gone to wreck amid trials so
Trials not only of his moral nature. The sums of money with which he
was furnished fell short of a reasonable total for bare necessities.
In the calculation made by Mrs. Peak and her sister, outlay on books
had practically been lost sight of; it was presumed that ten
shillings a term would cover this item. But Godwin could not consent
to be at a disadvantage in his armoury for academic contest. The
first mouth saw him compelled to contract his diet, that he might
purchase books; thenceforth he rarely had enough to eat. His
landlady supplied him with breakfast, tea, and supper--each repast
of the very simplest kind; for dinner it was understood that he
repaired to some public table, where meat and vegetables, with
perchance a supplementary sweet when nature demanded it, might be
had for about a shilling. That shilling was not often at his
disposal. Dinner as it is understood by the comfortably clad, the
'regular meal' which is a part of English respectability, came to be
represented by a small pork-pie, or even a couple of buns, eaten at
the little shop over against the College. After a long morning of
mental application this was poor refreshment; the long afternoon
which followed, again spent in rigorous study, could not but reduce
a growing frame to ravenous hunger. Tea and buttered bread were the
means of appeasing it, until another four hours' work called for
reward in the shape of bread and cheese. Even yet the day's toil was
not ended. Godwin sometimes read long after midnight, with the
result that, when at length he tried to sleep, exhaustion of mind
and body kept him for a long time feverishly wakeful.
These hardships he concealed from the people at Twybridge.
Complaint, it seemed to him, would be ungrateful, for sacrifices
were already made on his behalf. His father, as he well remembered,
was wont to relate, with a kind of angry satisfaction, the miseries
through which he had fought his way to education and the income-tax.
Old enough now to reflect with compassionate understanding upon that
life of conflict, Godwin resolved that he too would bear the burdens
inseparable from poverty, and in some moods was even glad to suffer
as his father had done. Fortunately he had a sound basis of health,
and hunger and vigils would not easily affect his constitution. If,
thus hampered, he could outstrip competitors who had every advantage
of circumstance, the more glorious his triumph.
Sunday was an interval of leisure. Rejoicing in deliverance from
Sabbatarianism, he generally spent the morning in a long walk, and
the rest of the day was devoted to non-collegiate reading. He had
subscribed to a circulating library, and thus obtained new
publications recommended to him in the literary paper which again
taxed his stomach. Mere class-work did not satisfy him. He was
possessed with throes of spiritual desire, impelling him towards
that world of unfettered speculation which he had long indistinctly
imagined. It was a great thing to learn what the past could teach,
to set himself on the common level of intellectual men; but he
understood that college learning could not be an end in itself, that
the Professors to whom he listened either did not speak out all that
was in their minds, or, if they did, were far from representing the
advanced guard of modern thought. With eagerness he at length betook
himself to the teachers of philosophy and of geology. Having paid
for these lectures out of his own pocket, he felt as if he had won a
privilege beyond the conventional course of study, an initiation to
a higher sphere of intellect. The result was disillusion. Not even
in these class-rooms could he hear the word for which he waited, the
bold annunciation of newly discovered law, the science which had
completely broken with tradition. He came away unsatisfied, and
brooded upon the possibilities which would open for him when he was
no longer dependent.
His evening work at home was subject to a disturbance which would
have led him to seek other lodgings, could he have hoped to find any
so cheap as these. The landlady's son, a lank youth of the clerk
species, was wont to amuse himself from eight to ten with practice
on a piano. By dint of perseverance he had learned to strum two or
three hymnal melodies popularised by American evangelists;
occasionally he even added the charm of his voice, which had a
pietistic nasality not easily endured by an ear of any refinement.
Not only was Godwin harassed by the recurrence of these
performances; the tunes worked themselves into his brain, and
sometimes throughout a whole day their burden clanged and squalled
incessantly on his mental hearing. He longed to entreat forbearance
from the musician, but an excess of delicacy--which always ruled
his behaviour--kept him silent. Certain passages in the classics,
and many an elaborate mathematical formula, long retained for him an
association with the cadences of revivalist hymnody.
Like all proud natures condemned to solitude, he tried to convince
himself that he had no need of society, that he despised its
attractions, and could be self-sufficing. So far was this from the
truth that he often regarded with bitter envy those of his
fellow-students who had the social air, who conversed freely among
their equals, and showed that the pursuits of the College were only
a part of their existence. These young men were either preparing for
the University, or would pass from Whitelaw to business, profession,
official training; in any case, a track was marked out for them by
the zealous care of relatives and friends, and their efforts would
always be aided, applauded, by a kindly circle. Some of them Godwin
could not but admire, so healthful were they, so bright of
intellect, and courteous in manner,--a type distinct from any he
had formerly observed. Others were antipathetic to him. Their
aggressive gentility conflicted with the wariness of his
self-esteem; such a one, for instance, as Bruno Chilvers, the sound
of whose mincing voice, as he read in the class, so irritated him
that at times he had to cover his ears. Yet, did it chance that one
of these offensive youths addressed a civil word to him, on the
instant his prejudice was disarmed, and his emotions flowed forth in
a response to which he would gladly have given free expression. When
he was invited to meet the relatives of Buckland Warricombe, shyness
prepossessed him against them; but the frank kindness of his
reception moved him, and on going away he was ashamed to have
replied so boorishly to attentions so amiably meant. The same note
of character sounded in what personal intercourse he had with the
Professors. Though his spirit of criticism was at times busy with
these gentlemen, he had for most of them a profound regard; and to
be elected by one or other for a word of commendation, a little
private assistance, a well-phrased inquiry as to his progress,
always made his heart beat high with gratitude. They were his first
exemplars of finished courtesy, of delicate culture; and he could
never sufficiently regret that no one of them was aware how
thankfully he recognised his debt.
In longing for the intimacy of refined people, he began to modify
his sentiments with regard to the female sex. His first prize-day at
Whitelaw was the first occasion on which he sat in an assembly where
ladies (as he understood the title) could be seen and heard. The
impression he received was deep and lasting. On the seat behind him
were two girls whose intermittent talk held him with irresistible
charm throughout the whole ceremony. He had not imagined that girls
could display such intelligence, and the sweet clearness of their
intonation, the purity of their accent, the grace of their habitual
phrases, were things altogether beyond his experience. This was not
the English he had been wont to hear on female lips. His mother and
his aunt spoke with propriety; their associates were soft-tongued;
but here was something quite different from inoffensiveness of tone
and diction. Godwin appreciated the differentiating cause. These
young ladies behind him had been trained from the cradle to speak
for the delight of fastidious ears; that they should be grammatical
was not enough--they must excel in the art of conversational
music. Of course there existed a world where only such speech was
interchanged, and how inestimably happy those men to whom the sphere
When the proceedings were over, he drew aside and watched the two
girls as they mingled with acquaintances; he kept them in view until
they left the College. An emotion such as this he had never known;
for the first time in his life he was humiliated without
The bitterness came when he had returned to his home in the back
street of Twybridge, and was endeavouring to spend the holidays in a
hard 'grind'. He loathed the penurious simplicity to which his life
was condemned; all familiar circumstances were become petty, coarse,
vulgar, in his eyes; the contrast with the idealised world of his
ambition plunged him into despair: Even Mr. Gunnery seemed an ignoble
figure when compared with the Professors of Whitelaw, and his
authority in the sciences was now subjected to doubt. However much
or little might result from the three years at College, it was clear
to Godwin that his former existence had passed into infinite
remoteness; he was no longer fit for Twybridge, no longer a
companion for his kindred. Oliver, whose dulness as a schoolboy gave
no promise of future achievements, was now learning the business of
a seedsman; his brother felt ashamed when he saw him at work in the
shop, and had small patience with the comrades to whom Oliver
dedicated his leisure. Charlotte was estranged by religious
differences. Only for his mother did the young man show increased
consideration. To his aunt he endeavoured to be grateful, but his
behaviour in her presence was elaborate hypocrisy. Hating the
necessity for this, he laid the blame on fortune, which had decreed
his birth in a social sphere where he must ever be an alien.
With the growth of his militant egoism, there had developed in
Godwin Peak an excess of nervous sensibility which threatened to
deprive his character of the initiative rightly belonging to it.
Self-assertion is the practical complement of self-esteem. To be
largely endowed with the latter quality, yet constrained by a coward
delicacy to repress it, is to suffer martyrdom at the pleasure of
every robust assailant, and in the end be driven to the refuge of a
moody solitude. That encounter with his objectionable uncle after
the prize distribution at Whitelaw showed how much Godwin had lost
of the natural vigour which declared itself at Andrew Peak's second
visit to Twybridge, when the boy certainly would not have endured
his uncle's presence but for hospitable considerations and the
respect due to his mother. The decision with which he then unbosomed
himself to Oliver, still characterised his thoughts, but he had not
courage to elude the dialogue forced upon him, still less to make
known his resentment of the man's offensive vulgarity. He endured in
silence, his heart afire with scornful wrath.
The affliction could not have befallen him at a time when he was
less capable of supporting it resignedly. Notwithstanding his
noteworthy success in two classes, it seemed to him that he had lost
everything--that the day was one of signal and disgraceful defeat.
In any case that sequence of second prizes must have filled him with
chagrin, but to be beaten thus repeatedly by such a fellow as Bruno
Chilvers was humiliation intolerable. A fopling, a mincer of
effeminate English, a rote-repeater of academic catchwords--bah!
The by-examinations of the year had whispered presage, but Peak
always felt that he was not putting forth his strength; when the
serious trial came he would show what was really in him. Too late he
recognised his error, though he tried not to admit it. The extra
subjects had exacted too much of him; there was a limit to his
powers. Within the College this would be well enough understood, but
to explain a disagreeable fact is not to change it; his name was
written in pitiful subordination. And as for the public assembly--
he would have sacrificed some years of his life to have stepped
forward in facile supremacy, beneath the eyes of those clustered
ladies. Instead of that, they had looked upon his shame; they had
interchanged glances of amusement at each repetition of his defeat;
had murmured comments in their melodious speech; had ended by losing
all interest in him--as intuition apprised him was the wont of
As soon as he had escaped from his uncle, he relapsed into musing
upon the position to which he was condemned when the new session
came round. Again Chilvers would be in the same classes with him,
and, as likely as not, with the same result. In the meantime, they
were both 'going in' for the First B.A.; he had no fear of failure,
but it might easily happen that Chilvers would achieve higher
distinction. With an eye to awards that might be won--substantial
cash-annuities--he was reading for Honours; but it seemed doubtful
whether he could present himself, as the second examination was held
only in London. Chilvers would of course be an Honours candidate. He
would smile--confound him!--at an objection on the score of the
necessary journey to London. Better to refrain altogether than again
to see Chilvers come out ahead. General surprise would naturally be
excited, questions asked on all hands. How would it sound: 'I simply
couldn't afford to go up'--?
At this point of the meditation he had reached his lodgings; he
admitted himself with a latch-key, turned into his murky
sitting-room, and sat down.
The table was laid for tea, as usual. Though he might have gone to
Twybridge this evening, he had preferred to stay overnight, for an
odd reason. At a theatre in Kingsmill a London company, headed by an
actress of some distinction, was to perform ~Romeo and Juliet~, and
he purposed granting himself this indulgence before leaving the
town. The plan was made when his eye fell upon the advertisement, a
few days ago. He then believed it probable that an evening at the
theatre would appropriately follow upon a day of victory. His
interest in the performance had collapsed, but he did not care to
alter his arrangements.
The landlady came in bearing the tea-pot. He wanted nothing, yet
could not exert himself to say so.
But he was losing sight of a menace more formidable than defeat by
Chilvers. What was it his blackguard uncle had said? Had the fellow
really threatened to start an eating-house opposite the College, and
flare his name upon a placard? 'Peak's Dining and Refreshment Rooms'
Again the mood of laughter came upon him. Why, here was a solution
of all difficulties, as simple as unanticipated. If indeed that
awful thing came to pass, farewell to Whitelaw! What possibility of
pursuing his studies when every class-companion, every Professor,--
nay, the very porters,--had become aware that he was nephew to the
man who supplied meals over the way? Moral philosophy had no
prophylactic against an ordeal such as this. Could the most
insignificant lad attending lectures afford to disregard such an
occasion of ridicule and contempt?
But the scheme would not be realised; it sounded too unlikely.
Andrew Peak was merely a loose-minded vagabond, who might talk of
this and that project for making money, but would certainly never
quit his dirty haunts in London. Godwin asked himself angrily why he
had submitted to the fellow's companionship. This absurd delicacy
must be corrected before it became his tyrant. The idea of scrupling
to hurt the sensibilities of Andrew Peak! The man was coarse-hided
enough to undergo kicking, and then take sixpence in compensation,
--not a doubt of it. This detestable tie of kindred must no longer
be recognised. He would speak gravely to his mother about it. If
Andrew again presented himself at the house he should be given
plainly to understand that his visits were something less than
welcome,--if necessary, a downright blunt word must effect their
liberation. Godwin felt strong enough for that, musing here alone.
And, student-like, he passed on to debate the theory of the problem.
Andrew was his father's brother, but what is a mere tie of blood if
nature has alienated two persons by a subtler distinction? By the
dead man, Andrew had never been loved or esteemed; memory supplied
proof of this. The widow shrank from him. No obligation of any kind
lay upon them to tolerate the London ruffian.--Enough; he should
be got rid of!
Alternating his causes of misery, which--he could not quite forget
--might blend for the sudden transformation of his life, Godwin let
the tea grow cold upon the table, until it was time, if he still
meant to visit the theatre, for setting forth. He had no mind to go,
but as little to sit here and indulge harassing reflection. With an
effort, he made ready and left the house.
The cost of his seat at the theatre was two shillings. So nicely had
he adjusted the expenses of these last days that, after paying the
landlady's bill to-morrow morning, there would remain to him but a
few pence more than the money needed for his journey home. Walking
into the town, he debated with himself whether it were not better to
save this florin. But as he approached the pit door, the spirit of
pleasure revived in him; he had seen but one of Shakespeare's plays,
and he believed (naturally at his age) that to see a drama acted was
necessary for its full appreciation. Sidling with affected
indifference, he added himself to the crowd.
To stand thus, expectant of the opening doors, troubled him with a
sense of shame. To be sure, he was in the spiritual company of
Charles Lamb, and of many another man of brains who has waited under
the lamp. But contact with the pittites of Kingsmill offended his
instincts; he resented this appearance of inferiority to people who
came at their leisure, and took seats in the better parts of the
house. When a neighbour addressed him with a meaningless joke which
defied grammar, he tried to grin a friendly answer, but inwardly
shrank. The events of the day had increased his sensibility to such
impressions. Had he triumphed over Bruno Chilvers, he could have
behaved this evening with a larger humanity.
The fight for entrance--honest British stupidity, crushing ribs
and rending garments in preference to seemly order of progress--
enlivened him somewhat, and sent him laughing to his conquered
place; but before the curtain rose he was again depressed by the
sight of a familiar figure in the stalls, a fellow-student who sat
there with mother and sister, black-uniformed, looking very much a
gentleman. 'I, of course, am not a gentleman,' he said to himself,
gloomily. Was there any chance that he might some day take his ease
in that orthodox fashion? Inasmuch as it was conventionality, he
scorned it; but the privileges which it represented had strong
control of his imagination. That lady and her daughter would follow
the play with intelligence. To exchange comments with them would be
a keen delight. As for him--he had a shop-boy on one hand and a
grocer's wife on the other.
By the end he had fallen into fatigue. Amid clamour of easily-won
applause he made his way into the street, to find himself in a heavy