Part 2 out of 10
downpour of rain. Having no umbrella, he looked about for a
sheltered station, and the glare of a neighbouring public-house
caught his eye; he was thirsty, and might as well refresh body and
spirit with a glass of beer, an unwonted indulgence which had the
pleasant semblance of dissipation. Arrived at the bar he came upon
two acquaintances, who, to judge by their flushed cheeks and excited
voices, had been celebrating jovially the close of their academic
labours. They hailed him.
'Hollo, Peak! Come and help us to get sober before bedtime!'
They were not exactly studious youths, but neither did they belong
to the class that Godwin despised, and he had a comrade-like feeling
for them. In a few minutes his demeanour was wholly changed. A glass
of hot whisky acted promptly upon his nervous system, enabled him to
forget vexations, and attuned him to kindred sprightliness. He
entered merrily into the talk of a time of life which is independent
of morality--talk distinct from that of the blackguard, but
equally so from that of the reflective man. His first glass had
several successors. The trio rambled arm in arm from one place of
refreshment to another, and presently sat down in hearty fellowship
to a supper of such viands as recommend themselves at bibulous
midnight. Peak was drawing recklessly upon the few coins that
remained to him; he must leave his landlady's claim undischarged,
and send the money from home. Prudence be hanged! If one cannot
taste amusement once in a twelvemonth, why live at all?
He reached his lodgings, at something after one o'clock, drenched
with rain, gloriously indifferent to that and all other chances of
life. Pooh! his system had been radically wrong. He should have
allowed himself recreation once a week or so; he would have been all
the better for it, body and mind. Books and that kind of thing are
all very well in their way, but one must live; he had wasted too
much of his youth in solitude. ~O mihi proeteritos referat si
Jupiter annos!~ Next session he would arrange things better. Success
in examinations--what trivial fuss when one looked at it from the
right point of view! And he had fretted himself into misery, because
Chilvers had got more 'marks',--ha, ha, ha!
The morrow's waking was lugubrious enough. Headache and nausea
weighed upon him. Worse still, a scrutiny of his pockets showed that
he had only the shamefaced change of half-a-crown wherewith to
transport himself and his belongings to Twybridge. Now, the railway
fare alone was three shillings; the needful cab demanded
eighteenpence. 0 idiot!
And he hated the thought of leaving his bill unpaid; the more so
because it was a trifling sum, a week's settlement. To put himself
under however brief an obligation to a woman such as the landlady
gnawed at his pride. Not that only. He had no business to make a
demand upon his mother for this additional sum. But there was no way
of raising the money; no one of whom he could borrow it; nothing he
could afford to sell--even if courage had supported him through
such a transaction. Triple idiot!
Bread turned to bran upon his hot palate; he could only swallow cups
of coffee. With trembling hands he finished the packing of his box
and portmanteau, then braced himself to the dreaded interview. Of
course, it involved no difficulty, the words once uttered; but, when
he was left alone again, he paced the room for a few minutes in
flush of mortification. It had made his headache worse.
The mode of his homeward journey he had easily arranged. His baggage
having been labelled for Twybridge, he himself would book as far as
his money allowed, then proceed on foot for the remaining distance.
With the elevenpence now in his pocket he could purchase a ticket to
a little town called Dent, and by a calculation from the railway
tariff he concluded that from Dent to Twybridge was some
five-and-twenty miles. Well and good. At the rate of four miles an
hour it would take him from half-past eleven to about six o'clock.
He could certainly reach home in time for supper.
At Dent station, ashamed to ask (like a tramp) the way to so remote
a place as Twybridge, he jotted down a list of intervening railway
stoppages, and thus was enabled to support the semblance of one who
strolls on for his pleasure. A small handbag he was obliged to
carry, and the clouded sky made his umbrella a requisite. On he
trudged steadily, for the most part by muddy ways, now through a
pleasant village, now in rural solitude. He had had the precaution,
at breakfast time, to store some pieces of bread in his pocket, and
after two or three hours this resource was welcome. Happily the air
and exercise helped him to get rid of his headache. A burst of
sunshine in the afternoon would have made him reasonably cheerful,
but for the wretched meditations surviving from yesterday.
He pondered frequently on his spasmodic debauch, repeating, as well
as memory permitted, all his absurdities of speech and action.
Defiant self-justification was now far to seek. On the other hand,
he perceived very clearly how easy it would be for him to lapse by
degrees of weakened will into a ruinous dissoluteness. Anything of
that kind would mean, of course, the abandonment of his ambitions.
All he had to fight the world with was his brain; and only by
incessant strenuousness in its exercise had he achieved the moderate
prominence declared in yesterday's ceremony. By birth, by station,
he was of no account; if he chose to sink, no influential voice
would deplore his falling off or remind him of what he owed to
himself. Chilvers, now--what a wide-spreading outcry, what calling
upon gods and men, would be excited by any defection of that
brilliant youth! Godwin Peak must make his own career, and that he
would hardly do save by efforts greater than the ordinary man can
put forth. The ordinary man?--Was he in any respect extraordinary?
were his powers noteworthy? It was the first time that he had
deliberately posed this question to himself, and for answer came a
rush of confident blood, pulsing through all the mechanism of his
The train of thought which occupied him during this long trudge was
to remain fixed in his memory; in any survey of the years of
pupilage this recollection would stand prominently forth,
associated, moreover, with one slight incident which at the time
seemed a mere interruption of his musing. From a point on the
high-road he observed a small quarry, so excavated as to present an
interesting section; though weary, he could not but turn aside to
examine these strata. He knew enough of the geology of the county to
recognise the rocks and reflect with understanding upon their
position; a fragment in his hand, he sat down to rest for a moment.
Then a strange fit of brooding came over him. Escaping from the
influences of personality, his imagination wrought back through eras
of geologic time, held him in a vision of the infinitely remote,
shrivelled into insignificance all but the one fact of inconceivable
duration. Often as he had lost himself in such reveries, never yet
had he passed so wholly under the dominion of that awe which attends
a sudden triumph of the pure intellect. When at length he rose, it
was with wide, blank eyes, and limbs partly numbed. These needed
half-an-hour's walking before he could recover his mood of practical
Until the last moment he could not decide whether to let his mother
know how he had reached Twybridge. His arrival corresponded pretty
well with that of a train by which he might have come. But when the
door opened to him, and the familiar faces smiled their welcome, he
felt that he must have nothing to do with paltry deceit; he told of
his walk, explaining it by the simple fact that this morning he had
found himself short of money. How that came to pass, no one
inquired. Mrs. Peak, shocked at such martyrdom, tended him with all
motherly care; for once, Godwin felt that it was good to have a
home, however simple.
This amiable frame of mind was not likely to last beyond the first
day. Matter of irritation soon enough offered itself, as was
invariably the case at Twybridge. It was pleasant enough to be feted
as the hero of the family, to pull out a Kingsmill newspaper and
exhibit the full report of prize-day at Whitelaw, with his own name,
in very small type, demanding the world's attention, and finally to
exhibit the volumes in tree-calf which his friend the librarian had
forwarded to him. But domestic circumstances soon made assault upon
his nerves, and trial of his brief patience.
First of all, there came an unexpected disclosure. His sister
Charlotte had affianced herself to a young man of Twybridge, one Mr
Cusse, whose prospects were as slender as his present means. Mrs
Peak spoke of the affair in hushed privacy, with shaking of the head
and frequent sighs, for to her mind Mr. Cusse had few even personal
recommendations. He was a draper's assistant. Charlotte had made his
acquaintance on occasions of church festivity, and urged the fact of
his zeal in Sunday-school tuition as sufficient reply to all doubts.
As he listened, Godwin bit his lips.
'Does he come here, then?' was his inquiry.
'Once or twice a week. I haven't felt able to say anything against
it, Godwin. I suppose it will be a very long engagement.'
Charlotte was just twenty-two, and it seemed probable that she knew
her own mind; in any case, she was of a character which would only
be driven to obstinacy by adverse criticism. Godwin learnt that his
aunt Emily (Miss Cadman) regarded this connection with serious
disapproval. Herself a shopkeeper, she might have been expected to
show indulgence to a draper's assistant, but, so far from this, her
view of Mr. Cusse was severely scornful. She had nourished far other
hopes for Charlotte, who surely at her age (Miss Cadman looked from
the eminence of five-and-forty) should have been less precipitate.
No undue harshness had been exhibited by her relatives, but
Charlotte took a stand which sufficiently declared her kindred with
Godwin. She held her head higher than formerly, spoke with habitual
decision which bordered on snappishness, and at times displayed the
absentmindedness of one who in silence suffers wrong.
There passed but a day or two before Godwin was brought face to face
with Mr. Cusse, who answered too well to the idea Charlotte's brother
had formed of him. He had a very smooth and shiny forehead, crowned
by sleek chestnut hair; his chin was deferential; the bend of his
body signified a modest hope that he did his duty in the station to
which Providence had summoned him. Godwin he sought to flatter with
looks of admiring interest; also, by entering upon a conversation
which was meant to prove that he did not altogether lack worldly
knowledge, of however little moment that might be in comparison with
spiritual concerns. Examining, volume by volume and with painful
minuteness, the prizes Godwin had carried off, he remarked
fervently, in each instance, 'I can see how very interesting that
is! So thorough, so thorough!' Even Charlotte was at length annoyed,
when Mr. Cusse had exclaimed upon the 'thoroughness' of Ben Jonson's
works; she asked an abrupt question about some town affair, and so
gave her brother an opportunity of taking the books away. There was
no flagrant offence in the man. He spoke with passable accent, and
manifested a high degree of amiability; but one could not dissociate
him from the counter. At the thought that his sister might become
Mrs. Cusse, Godwin ground his teeth. Now that he came to reflect on
the subject, he found in himself a sort of unreasoned supposition
that Charlotte would always remain single; it seemed so unlikely
that she would be sought by a man of liberal standing, and at the
same time so impossible for her to accept any one less than a
gentleman. Yet he remembered that to outsiders such fastidiousness
must show in a ridiculous light. What claim to gentility had they,
the Peaks? Was it not all a figment of his own self-conceit? Even in
education Charlotte could barely assert a superiority to Mr. Cusse,
for her formal schooling had ended when she was twelve, and she had
never cared to read beyond the strait track clerical inspiration.
There were other circumstances which helped to depress his estimate
of the family dignity. His brother Oliver, now seventeen, was
developing into a type of young man as objectionable as it is easily
recognised. The slow, compliant boy had grown more flesh and muscle
than once seemed likely, and his wits had begun to display that kind
of vivaciousness which is only compatible with a nature moulded in
common clay. He saw much company, and all of low intellectual order;
he had purchased a bicycle, and regarded it as a source of
distinction, a means of displaying himself before shopkeepers'
daughters; he believed himself a modest tenor, and sang verses of
sentimental imbecility; he took in several weekly papers of
unpromising title, for the chief purpose of deciphering cryptograms,
in which pursuit he had singular success. Add to these
characteristics a penchant for cheap jewellery, and Oliver Peak
It appeared to Godwin that his brother had leapt in a few months to
these heights of vulgar accomplishment; each separate revelation
struck unexpectedly upon his nerves and severely tried his temper.
When at length Oliver, waiting for supper, began to dance
grotesquely to an air which local talent had somehow caught from the
London music-halls, Godwin's self-control gave way.
'Is it your ambition,' he asked, with fiery sarcasm, 'to join a
troupe of nigger minstrels?'
Oliver was startled into the military posture of attention. He
answered, with some embarrassment:
'I can't say it is.'
'Yet anyone would suppose so,' went on Godwin, hotly. 'Though you
are employed in a shop, I should have thought you might still aim at
behaving like a gentleman.'
Indisposed to quarrel, and possessed of small skill in verbal fence,
Oliver drew aside with shadowed brow. As the brothers still had to
share one bedroom, they were presently alone together, and their
muteness, as they lay down to sleep, showed the estrangement that
had at length come between them. When all had been dark and still
for half-an-hour, Godwin spoke.
'Are you awake?'
'There was something about Uncle Andrew. I didn't mention. He talks
of opening an eating-house just opposite Whitelaw.'
The tone of this signified nothing more than curiosity.
'You don't see any reason why he shouldn't?'
Oliver delayed a little before replying.
'I suppose it wouldn't be very nice for you.'
'That's rather a mild way of putting it. It would mean that I should
have to leave the College, and give up all my hopes.'
'I see,' returned the other, with slow apprehension.
There followed several minutes of silence. Then Godwin sat up in
bed, as had always been his wont when he talked with earnestness at
'If you think I lost my temper without cause at suppertime, just
remember that I had that blackguard before my mind, and that it
isn't very pleasant to see you taking after that branch of our
'Do you mean to say I am like uncle?'
'I mean to say that, if you are not careful, you won't be the kind
of man I should like to see you. Do you know what is meant by
inherited tendencies? Scientific men are giving a great deal of
attention to such things nowadays. Children don't always take after
their parents; very often they show a much stronger likeness to a
grandfather, or an uncle, or even more distant relatives. Just think
over this, and make up your mind to resist any danger of that sort.
I tell you plainly that the habits you are getting into, and the
people you make friends of, are detestable. For heaven's sake, spend
more of your time in a rational way, and learn to despise the things
that shopkeepers admire. Read! Force yourself to stick hard at solid
books for two or three hours every day. If you don't, it's all up
with you. I am speaking for your own good. Read, read, read!'
Quietness ensued. Then Oliver began to move uneasily in his bed, and
at length his protest became audible.
'I can't see what harm I do.'
'No!' burst from his brother's lips, scornfully. 'And that's just
your danger. Do you suppose ~I~ could sing nigger songs, and run
about the town with shopboys, and waste hours over idiotic puzzles?'
'We're not all alike, and it wouldn't do for us to be.'
'It would do very well for us all to have brains and to use them.
The life you lead is a brainless life, brainless and vulgar.'
'Well, if I haven't got brains, I can't help it,' replied Oliver,
with sullen resignation.
'You have enough to teach you to live respectably, if only you look
to the right kind of example.'
There followed a vehement exhortation, now angry, now in strain of
natural kindliness. To this Oliver made only a few brief and
muttered replies; when it was all over, he fell asleep. But Godwin
was wakeful for hours.
The next morning he attempted to work for his approaching
examination, but with small result. It had begun to be very doubtful
to him whether he should 'go up' at all, and this uncertainty
involved so great a change in all his prospects that he could not
command the mental calm necessary for study. After dinner he went
out with unsettled purpose. He would gladly have conversed with Mr
Gunnery, but the old people were just now on a stay with relatives
in Bedfordshire, and their return might be delayed for another week.
Perhaps it behoved him to go and see Mr. Moxey, but he was indisposed
to visit the works, and if he went to the house this evening he
would encounter the five daughters, who, like all women who did not
inspire him with admiration, excited his bashful dislike. At length
he struck off into the country and indulged restless thoughts in
places where no one could observe him.
A result of the family's removal first from London to the farm, and
then into Twybridge, was that Godwin had no friends of old standing.
At Greenwich, Nicholas Peak formed no intimacies, nor did a single
associate remain to him from the years of his growth and struggle;
his wife, until the renewal of intercourse with her sister at
Twybridge, had no society whatever beyond her home. A boy reaps
advantage from the half parental kindness of men and women who have
watched his growth from infancy; in general it affects him as a
steadying influence, keeping before his mind the social bonds to
which his behaviour owes allegiance. The only person whom Godwin
regarded with feeling akin to this was Mr. Gunnery, but the geologist
found no favour with Mrs. Peak, and thus he involuntarily helped to
widen the gap between the young man and his relatives. Nor had the
intimacies of school time supplied Godwin with friendships for the
years to come; his Twybridge class-fellows no longer interested him,
nor did they care to continue his acquaintance. One was articled to
a solicitor; one was learning the drug-trade in his father's shop;
another had begun to deal in corn; the rest were scattered about
England, as students or salary-earners. The dominion of the
commonplace had absorbed them, all and sundry; they were the stuff
which destiny uses for its every-day purposes, to keep the world
So that Godwin had no ties which bound him strongly to any district.
He could not call himself a Londoner; for, though born in
Westminster, he had grown to consciousness on the outskirts of
Greenwich, and remembered but dimly some of the London streets, and
a few places of public interest to which his father had taken him.
Yet, as a matter of course, it was to London that his ambition
pointed, when he forecast the future. Where else could he hope for
opportunity of notable advancement? At Twybridge? Impossible to find
more than means of subsistence; his soul loathed such a prospect. At
Kingsmill? There was a slender hope that he might establish a
connection with Whitelaw College, if he devoted himself to
laboratory work; but what could come of that--at all events for
many years? London, then? The only acceptable plan for supporting
himself there was to succeed in a Civil Service competition. That,
indeed, seemed the most hopeful direction for his efforts; a
government office might afford him scope, and, he had heard, would
allow him abundant leisure.
Or to go abroad? To enter for the Indian clerkships, and possibly
cleave a wider way than could be hoped in England? There was
allurement in the suggestion; travel had always tempted his fancy.
In that case he would be safely severed from the humble origin which
in his native country might long be an annoyance, or even an
obstacle; no Uncle Andrew could spring up at inconvenient moments in
the middle of his path. Yes; this indeed might be best of all. He
must send for papers, and give attention to the matter.
Musing in this way, he had come within sight of the familiar
chemical works. It was near the hour at which Mr. Moxey was about to
go home for his afternoon dinner; why not interrupt his walk, and
have a word with him? That duty would be over.
He pushed on, and, as he approached the buildings, was aware of Mr
Moxey stepping into the road, unaccompanied. Greetings speedily
followed. The manufacturer, who was growing stout in his mellow
years and looking more leisurely than when Godwin first knew him,
beamed with smiles of approbation.
'Glad to see you; glad to see you! I have heard of your doings at
'Nothing to boast of, Mr. Moxey.'
'Why, what would satisfy you? A nephew of mine was there last
Friday, and tells me you carried off half a hundredweight of prizes.
Here he comes, I see.'
There drew near a young man of about four-and-twenty, well-dressed,
sauntering with a cane in his hand. His name was Christian Moxey.
'Much pleasure in meeting you, Mr. Peak,' he said, with a winning
smile. 'I was at Whitelaw the other day, when you distinguished
yourself, and if I had known then that you were an acquaintance of
my uncle's I should have been tempted to offer a word of
congratulation. Very glad indeed to meet you.'
Godwin, grateful as always for the show of kindness and flattered by
such a reception, at once felt a liking for Christian Moxey. Most
people would have admitted the young man's attractiveness. He had a
thin and sallow face, and seemed to be of weak constitution. In
talking he leant upon his cane, and his movements were languid; none
the less, his person was distinguished by an air of graceful
manhood. His features, separately considered, were ordinary enough;
together they made a countenance of peculiar charm, vividly
illumined, full of appeal to whosoever could appreciate emotional
capabilities. The interest he excited in Peak appeared to be
reciprocal, for his eyes dwelt as often and as long as possible on
'Come along, and have something to eat with us,' said Mr. Moxey, in a
tone of genial invitation. 'I daresay you had dinner long enough ago
to have picked up a new appetite.'
Godwin had a perturbing vision of the five Miss Moxeys and of a
dinner table, such as he was not used to sit at; he wished to
decline, yet knew not how to do so with civility.
'Yes, yes; come along!' added his friend, heartily. 'Tell us
something about your chemistry paper. Any posers this time? My
nephew won't be out of it; he belongs to the firm of Bates Brothers
--the Rotherhithe people, you know.'
This information was a surprise to Godwin. He had imagined Christian
Moxey either a gentleman at large, or at all events connected with
some liberal profession. Glancing at the attractive face, he met a
singular look, a smile which suggested vague doubts. But Christian
made no remark, and Mr. Moxey renewed his inquiries about the
examination in chemistry.
The five daughters--all assembled in a homely sitting-room--were
nothing less than formidable. Plain, soft-spoken, not ill educated,
they seemed to live in perfect harmony, and to derive satisfaction
from pursuits independent of external society. In the town they were
seldom seen; few families called upon them; and only the most
inveterate gossips found matter for small-talk in their retired
lives. It had never been heard that any one of them was sought in
marriage. Godwin, superfluously troubled about his attire, met them
with grim endeavour at politeness; their gravity, a result of
shyness, he misinterpreted, supposing them to hold aloof from a
young man who had been in their father's employ. But before he could
suffer much from the necessity of formal conversation the door
opened to admit yet another young lady, a perfect stranger to him.
Her age was about seventeen, but she had nothing of the sprightly
grace proverbially connected with that time of life in girls; her
pale and freckled visage expressed a haughty reserve, intensified as
soon as her eye fell upon the visitor. She had a slight but
well-proportioned figure, and a mass of auburn hair carelessly
'My sister,' said Christian, glancing at Godwin. 'Marcella, you
recognise Mr. Peak.'
'Oh yes,' the girl replied, as she came forward, and made a sudden
offer of her hand.
She too had been present the other day at Whitelaw. Her 'Oh yes'
sounded offensive to Godwin, yet in shaking hands with her he felt a
warm pressure, and it flattered him when he became aware that
Marcella regarded him from time to time with furtive interest.
Presently he learnt that Christian and his sister were on a short
visit at the house of their relatives; their home was in London.
Marcella had seated herself stiffly by a window, and seemed to pay
more attention to the view without than to the talk which went on,
until dinner was announced.
Speculating on all he saw, Godwin noticed that Christian Moxey
showed a marked preference for the youngest of his cousins, a girl
of eighteen, whose plain features were frequently brightened with a
happy and very pleasant smile. When he addressed her (by the name of
Janet) his voice had a playful kindness which must have been
significant to everyone who heard it. At dinner, his place was by
her side, and he attended to her with more than courtesy. This
astonished Peak. He deemed it incredible that any man should
conceive a tender feeling for a girl so far from beautiful.
Constantly occupied with thought of sexual attachments, he had never
imagined anything of the kind apart from loveliness of feature in
the chosen object; his instincts were, in fact, revolted by the idea
of love for such a person as Janet Moxey. Christian seemed to be
degraded by such a suggestion. In his endeavour to solve the
mystery, Godwin grew half unconscious of the other people about him.
Such play of the imaginative and speculative faculties accounts for
the common awkwardness of intelligent young men in society that is
strange to them. Only the cultivation of a double consciousness puts
them finally at ease. Impossible to converse with suavity, and to
heed the forms of ordinary good-breeding, when the brain is absorbed
in all manner of new problems: one must learn to act a part, to
control the facial mechanism, to observe and anticipate, even whilst
the intellect is spending its sincere energy on subjects unavowed.
The perfectly graceful man will always be he who has no strong
apprehension either of his own personality or of that of others, who
lives on the surface of things, who can be interested without
emotion, and surprised without contemplative impulse. Never yet had
Godwin Peak uttered a word that was worth listening to, or made a
remark that declared his mental powers, save in most familiar
colloquy. He was beginning to understand the various reasons of his
seeming clownishness, but this very process of self-study opposed an
obstacle to improvement.
When he found himself obliged to take part in conversation about
Whitelaw College, Godwin was disturbed by an uncertainty which had
never left his mind at rest during the past two years;--was it, or
was it not, generally known to his Twybridge acquaintances that he
studied as the pensioner of Sir Job Whitelaw? To outward seeming all
delicacy had been exercised in the bestowal of Sir Job's
benefaction. At the beginning of each academic session Mrs. Peak had
privately received a cheque which represented the exact outlay in
fees for the course her son was pursuing; payment was then made to
the registrar as if from Peak himself. But Lady Whitelaw's sisters
were in the secret, and was it likely that they maintained absolute
discretion in talking with their Twybridge friends? There seemed, in
the first instance, to be a tacit understanding that the whole
affair should remain strictly private, and to Godwin himself,
sensible enough of such refinements, it was by no means
inconceivable that silence had been strictly preserved. He found no
difficulty in imagining that Sir Job's right hand knew nothing of
what the left performed, and it might be that the authorities of
Whitelaw had no hint of his peculiar position. Still, he was
perchance mistaken. The Professors perhaps regarded him as a sort of
charity-boy, and Twybridge possibly saw him in the same light. The
doubt flashed upon his mind while he was trying to eat and converse
with becoming self-possession. He dug his heel into the carpet and
silently cursed the burden of his servitude.
When the meal was over, Mr. Moxey led the way out into the garden.
Christian walked apart with Janet: Godwin strolled about between his
host and the eldest Miss Moxey, talking of he knew not what. In a
short half-hour he screwed up his courage to the point of
leave-taking. Marcella and three of her cousins had disappeared, so
that the awkwardness of departure was reduced. Christian, who seemed
to be in a very contented mood, accompanied the guest as far as the
'What will be your special line of work when you leave Whitelaw?' he
inquired. 'Your tastes seem about equally divided between science
'I haven't the least idea what I shall do,' was Peak's reply.
'Very much my own state of mind when I came home from Zurich a year
ago. But it had been taken for granted that I was preparing for
business, so into business I went.' He laughed good-humouredly.
'Perhaps you will be drawn to London?'
'Yes--I think it likely,' Godwin answered, with an absent glance
this way and that.
'In any case,' pursued the other, 'you'll be there presently for
First B.A. Honours. Try to look in at my rooms, will you? I should be
delighted to see you. Most of my day is spent in the romantic
locality of Rotherhithe, but I get home about five o'clock, as a
rule. Let me give you a card.'
'I daresay we shall meet somewhere about here before then. Of course
you are reading hard, and haven't much leisure. I'm an idle dog,
unfortunately. I should like to work, but I don't quite know what
at. I suppose this is a transition time with me.'
Godwin tried to discover the implication of this remark. Had it any
reference to Miss Janet Moxey? Whilst he stood in embarrassed
silence, Christian looked about with a peculiar smile, and seemed on
the point of indulging in further self-revelation; but Godwin of a
sudden held out his hand for good-bye, and with friendly smiles they
Peak was older than his years, and he saw in Christian one who might
prove a very congenial associate, did but circumstances favour their
intercourse. That was not very likely to happen, but the meeting at
all events turned his thoughts to London once more.
His attempts to 'read' were still unfruitful. For one thing, the
stress and excitement of the Whitelaw examinations had wearied him;
it was characteristic of the educational system in which he had
become involved that studious effort should be called for
immediately after that frenzy of college competition. He ought now
to have been 'sweating' at his London subjects. Instead of that, he
procured works of general literature from a Twybridge library, and
shut himself up with them in the garret bedroom.
A letter from Mr. Gunnery informed him that the writer would be home
in a day or two. This return took place late one evening, and on the
morrow Godwin set forth to visit his friend. On reaching the house,
he learnt that Mr. Gunnery had suffered an accident which threatened
serious results. Walking barefoot in his bedroom the night before,
he had stepped upon the point of a large nail, and was now
prostrate, enduring much pain. Two days elapsed before Godwin could
be admitted; he then found the old man a mere shadow of his familiar
'This is the kind of practical joke that Fate likes to play upon
us!' the sufferer growled in a harsh, quaking voice, his countenance
divided between genial welcome and surly wrath. 'It'll be the end of
me. Pooh! who doesn't know that such a thing is fatal at my age?
Blood-poisoning has fairly begun. I'd a good deal rather have broken
my neck among honest lumps of old red sandstone. A nail! A damned
Brummagem nail!--So you collared the first prize in geology, eh? I
take that as a kindness, Godwin. You've got a bit beyond Figuier and
his ~Deluge~, eh? His Deluge, bah!'
And he laughed discordantly. On the other side of the bed sat Mrs
Gunnery, grizzled and feeble dame. Shaken into the last stage of
senility by this alarm, she wiped tears from her flaccid cheeks, and
moaned a few unintelligible words.
The geologist's forecast of doom was speedily justified. Another day
bereft him of consciousness, and when, for a short while, he had
rambled among memories of his youth, the end came. It was found that
he had made a will, bequeathing his collections and scientific
instruments to Godwin Peak: his books were to be sold for the
benefit of the widow, who would enjoy an annuity purchased out of
her husband's savings. The poor old woman, as it proved, had little
need of income; on the thirteenth day after Mr. Gunnery's funeral,
she too was borne forth from the house, and the faithful couple
To inherit from the dead was an impressive experience to Godwin. At
the present stage of his development, every circumstance affecting
him started his mind upon the quest of reasons, symbolisms,
principles; the 'natural supernatural' had hold upon him, and ruled
his thought whenever it was free from the spur of arrogant instinct.
This tendency had been strengthened by the influence of his friend
Earwaker, a young man of singularly complex personality, positive
and analytic in a far higher degree than Peak, yet with a vein of
imaginative vigour which seemed to befit quite a different order of
mind. Godwin was not distinguished by originality in thinking, but
his strongly featured character converted to uses of his own the
intellectual suggestions he so rapidly caught from others.
Earwaker's habit of reflection had much to do with the strange
feelings awakened in Godwin when he transferred to his mother's
house the cabinets which had been Mr. Gunnery's pride for thirty or
forty years. Joy of possession was subdued in him by the conflict of
Days went on, and nothing was heard of Uncle Andrew. Godwin tried to
assure himself that he had been needlessly terrified; the
eating-house project would never be carried out. Practically
dismissing that anxiety, he brooded over his defeat by Chilvers, and
thought with extreme reluctance of the year still to be spent at
Whitelaw, probably a year of humiliation. In the meantime, should he
or should he not present himself for his First B.A.? The five pound
fee would be a most serious demand upon his mother's resources, and
did the profit warrant it, was it really of importance to him to
take a degree?
He lived as much as possible alone, generally avoiding the society
of his relatives, save at meal times. A careless remark (not
intentionally offensive) with reference to Mr. Cusse had so affronted
Charlotte that she never spoke to him save in reply to a question.
Godwin regretted the pain he had given, but could not bring himself
to express this feeling, for a discussion would inevitably have
disclosed all his mind concerning the draper's assistant. Oliver
seemed to have forgiven his brother's reproaches, but no longer
behaved with freedom when Godwin was present. For all this, the
elder's irritation was often aroused by things he saw and heard; and
at length--on a memorable Saturday afternoon--debate revived
between them. Oliver, as his custom was, had attired himself
sprucely for a visit to acquaintances, and a silk hat of the very
newest fashion lay together with his gloves upon the table.
'What is this thing?' inquired Godwin, with ominous calm, as he
pointed to the piece of head-gear.
'A hat, I suppose,' replied his brother.
'You mean to say you are going to wear that in the street?'
'And why not?'
Oliver, not venturing to raise his eyes, stared at the table-cloth
'Can't you feel,' burst from the other, 'that it's a disgrace to buy
and wear such a thing?'
'Disgrace! what's the matter with the hat? It's the fashionable
Godwin mastered his wrath, and turned contemptuously away. But
Oliver had been touched in a sensitive place; he was eager to defend
'I can't see what you're finding fault with,' he exclaimed.
'Everybody wears this shape.'
'And isn't that quite sufficient reason why anyone who respects
himself should choose something as different as possible? Everybody!
That is to say, all the fools in the kingdom. It's bad enough to
follow when you can't help it, but to imitate asses gratuitously is
the lowest depth of degradation. Don't you know that that is the
meaning of vulgarity? How you can offer such an excuse passes my
comprehension. Have you no self? Are you made, like this hat, on a
pattern with a hundred thousand others?'
'You and I are different,' said Oliver, impatiently. 'I am content
to be like other people.'
'And I would poison myself with vermin-killer if I felt any risk of
such contentment! Like other people? Heaven forbid and forfend! Like
other people? Oh, what a noble ambition!'
The loud passionate voice summoned Mrs. Peak from an adjacent room.
'Godwin! Godwin!' she remonstrated. 'Whatever is it? Why should you
put yourself out so?'
She was a short and slender woman, with an air of gentility,
independent of her badly made and long worn widow's dress.
Self-possession marked her manner, and the even tones in which she
spoke gave indication of a mild, perhaps an unemotional,
Oliver began to represent his grievance.
'What harm is there, if I choose to wear a hat that's in fashion? I
pay for it out of my own'--
But he was interrupted by a loud visitor's knock at the front door,
distant only a few paces. Mrs. Peak turned with a startled look.
Godwin, dreading contact with friends of the family, strode
upstairs. When the door was opened, there appeared the smiling
countenance of Andrew Peak; he wore the costume of a traveller, and
by his side stood a boy of ten, too plainly his son.
'Well, Grace!' was his familiar greeting, as the widow drew back. 'I
told you you'd 'ev the pleasure of seem' me again before so very
long. Godwin at 'ome with you, I s'pose? Thet you, Noll? 'Ow do, my
bo-oy? 'Ere's yer cousin Jowey. Shike 'ands, Jowey bo-oy! Sorry I
couldn't bring my old lady over this time, Grace; she sends her
respects, as usual. 'Ow's Charlotte? Bloomin', I 'ope?'
He had made his way into the front parlour, dragging the youngster
after him. Having deposited his handbag and umbrella on the sofa, he
seated himself in the easy-chair, and began to blow his nose with
'Set down, Jowey; set down, bo-oy! Down't be afride of your awnt.'
'Oi ain't afride!' cried the youth, in a tone which supported his
Mrs. Peak trembled with annoyance and indecision. Andrew evidently
meant to stay for some time, and she could not bring herself to
treat him with plain discourtesy; but she saw that Oliver, after
shaking hands in a very strained way, had abruptly left the room,
and Godwin would be anything but willing to meet his uncle. When the
name of her elder son was again mentioned she withdrew on the
pretence of summoning him, and went up to his room. Godwin had heard
the hateful voice, and was in profound disturbance.
'What does he say, mother?' he inquired anxiously. 'Anything about
'Not yet. Oh, I ~do~ so wish we could bring this connection to an
It was the first time Mrs. Peak had uttered her sentiments so
'Then, shall I see him in private,' said Godwin, 'and simply let him
know the truth?'
'I dread the thought of that, Godwin. He would very likely be coarse
and violent. I must try to show him by my manner. Oliver has gone
out, and when Charlotte comes home I'll tell her to keep out of
sight. He has brought his boy. Suppose you don't come down at all? I
might say you are too busy.'
'No, no; you shan't have to do it all alone. I'll come down with
you. I must hear what he has to say.'
They descended. As soon as his nephew appeared, Andrew sprang up,
and shouted joyfully:
'Well, Godwin, bo-oy! It's all settled! Got the bloomin' shop from
next quarter dye! "Peak's Dinin' and Refreshment Rooms!" Jowey an'
me was over there all yisterday--wasn't us, Jowey? Oh, it's
Godwin felt the blood buzz in his ears, and a hot choking clutch at
his throat. He took his stand by the mantelpiece, and began to turn
a little glass ornament round and round. Fate had spoken. On the
instant, all his College life was far behind him, all his uneasiness
regarding the next session was dispelled, and he had no more
connection with Kingsmill.
Mrs. Peak had heard from Oliver of her brother-in-law's proposed
undertaking. She had spoken of it with anxiety to Godwin, who merely
shrugged his shoulders and avoided the topic, ashamed to dwell on
the particulars of his shame. In hearing Andrew's announcement she
had much ado to repress tears of vexation; silently she seated
herself, and looked with pained countenance from uncle to nephew.
'Shall you make any changes in the place?' Godwin asked, carelessly.
'Shan't I, jest! It'll take a month to refit them eatin' rooms. I'm
agoin' to do it proper--up to Dick! and I want your 'elp, my
bo-oy. You an' me 'II jest write a bit of a circular--see? to send
round to the big pots of the Collige, an' all the parents of the
young fellers as we can get the addresses of--see?'
Even amid his pangs of mortification Godwin found himself pondering
an intellectual question. Was his uncle wholly unconscious of the
misery he was causing? Had it never occurred to him that the public
proximity of an uneducated shopkeeping relative must be unwelcome to
a lad who was distinguishing himself at Whitelaw College? Were that
truly the case, then it would be unjust to regard Andrew
resentfully; destiny alone was to blame. And, after all, the man
might be so absorbed in his own interest, so strictly confined to
the views of his own class, as never to have dreamt of the
sensibilities he wounded. In fact, the shame excited by this
prospect was artificial. Godwin had already felt that it was
unworthy alike of a philosopher and of a high-minded man of the
world. The doubt as to Andrew's state of mind, and this moral
problem, had a restraining effect upon the young man's temper. A
practical person justifies himself in wrath as soon as his judgment
is at one with that of the multitude. Godwin, though his passions
were of exceptional force, must needs refine, debate with himself
points of abstract justice.
'I've been tellin' Jowey, Grace, as I 'ope he may turn out such
another as Godwin 'ere. 'E'll go to Collige, will Jowey. Godwin,
jest arst the bo-oy a question or two, will you? 'E ain't been doin'
bad at 'is school. Jest put 'im through 'is pyces, as yer may sye.
Stend up, Jowey, bo-oy.'
Godwin looked askance at his cousin, who stood with pert face, ready
for any test.
'What's the date of William the Conqueror?' he asked, mechanically.
'Ow!' shouted the youth. 'Down't mike me larff! Zif I didn't know
thet! Tensixsixtenightysivn, of course!'
The father turned round with an expression of such sincere pride
that Godwin, for all his loathing, was obliged to smile.
'Jowey, jest sye a few verses of poitry; them as you learnt larst.
'E's good at poitry, is Jowey.'
The boy broke into fearsome recitation:
'The silly buckits ~on~ the deck
That 'ed so long rem'ined,
I dreamt as they was filled with jew,
End when I awowk, it r'ined.'
Half-a-dozen verses were thus massacred, and the reciter stopped
with the sudden jerk of a machine.
'Goes str'ight on, don't 'e, Grace?' cried the father, exultantly.
'Jowey ain't no fool. Know what he towld me the other day? Somethin'
as I never knew, and shouldn't never 'ave thought of s'long as I
lived. We was talkin' about jewellery, an' Jowey, 'e pops up all at
wunst. "It's called jewellery," says 'e, "'cos it's mostly the Jews
as sell it." Now, oo'd a thought o' that? But you see it's right as
soon as you're towld, eh? Now ain't it right, Godwin?'
'No doubt,' was the dry answer.
'It never struck me,' murmured Mrs. Peak, who took her son's assent
seriously, and felt that it was impossible to preserve an obstinate
''E ain't no fool, ain't Jowey!' cried the parent. 'Wite till 'e
gits to Collige. Godwin'll put us up to all the ins and outs. Plenty
o' time for that; 'e'll often run over an' 'ev a bit o' dinner, and
no need to talk about p'yment.'
'Do you stay in Twybridge to-night?' inquired Godwin, who had
changed in look and manner, so that he appeared all but cheerful.
'No, we're on our w'y 'ome, is Jowey an' me. Jest thought we'd break
the journey 'ere. We shall ketch the six-fifty hup.'
'Then you will have a cup of tea with us,' said Mrs. Peak, surprised
at Godwin's transformation, but seeing that hospitality was now
Charlotte presently entered the house, and, after a private
conversation with her mother, went to greet Andrew. If only to
signify her contempt for Godwin's prejudices, Charlotte would have
behaved civilly to the London uncle. In the end, Andrew took his
leave in the friendliest possible way, repeating often that he would
soon have the pleasure of entertaining Mrs. Peak and all her family
at his new dining-rooms over against Whitelaw College.
Immediately upon his uncle's departure, Godwin disappeared; Mrs. Peak
caught only a glimpse of him as he went by the parlour window. In a
short time Oliver came home, and, having learned what had happened,
joined his mother and sister in a dull, intermittent conversation on
the subject of Godwin's future difficulties.
'He won't go back to Whitelaw,' declared the lad. 'He said he
'People must be above such false shame,' was Charlotte's opinion. 'I
can't see that it will make the slightest difference in his position
or his prospects.'
Whereupon her mother's patience gave way.
'Don't talk such nonsense, Charlotte! You understand perfectly well
how serious it will be. I never knew anything so cruel.'
'I was never taught,' persisted the girl, with calm obstinacy, 'that
one ought to be ashamed of one's relatives just because they are in
a humble position.'
Oliver brought the tedious discussion to an end by clamouring for
supper. The table was laid, and all were about to sit down when
Godwin presented himself. To the general astonishment, he seemed in
excellent spirits, and ate more heartily than usual. Not a word was
spoken of Uncle Andrew, until Mrs. Peak and her elder son were left
alone together; then Godwin remarked in a tone of satisfied
'Of course, this is the end of my work at Whitelaw. We must make new
'But how can we, dear? What will Lady Whitelaw say?'
'I have to think it out yet. In a day or two I shall very likely
write a letter to Lady Whitelaw. There's no need, you know, to go
talking about this in Twybridge. Just leave it to me, will you?'
'It's not a subject I care to talk about, you may be sure. But I do
hope you won't do anything rash, Godwin.'
'Not I. To tell you the truth, I'm not at all sorry to leave. It was
a mistake that I went in for the Arts course--Greek, and Latin,
and so on, you know; I ought to have stuck to science. I shall go
back to it now. Don't be afraid. I'll make a position for myself
before long. I'll repay all you have spent on me.'
To this conclusion had he come. The process of mind was favoured by
his defeat in all the Arts subjects; in that direction he could see
only the triumphant Chilvers, a figure which disgusted him with
Greeks, Romans, and all the ways of literature. As to his future
efforts he was by no means clear, but it eased him greatly to have
cast off a burden of doubt; his theorising intellect loved the
sensation of life thrown open to new, however vague, possibilities.
At present he was convinced that Andrew Peak had done him a service.
In this there was an indication of moral cowardice, such as commonly
connects itself with intense pride of individuality. He desired to
shirk the combat with Chilvers, and welcomed as an excuse for doing
so the shame which another temper would have stubbornly defied.
Now he would abandon his B.A. examination,--a clear saving of money.
Presently it might suit him to take the B.Sc. instead; time enough to
think of that. Had he but pursued the Science course from the first,
who at Whitelaw could have come out ahead of him? He had wasted a
couple of years which might have been most profitably applied: by
this time he might have been ready to obtain a position as
demonstrator in some laboratory, on his way perhaps to a
professorship. How had he thus been led astray? Not only had his
boyish instincts moved strongly towards science, but was not the
tendency of the age in the same direction? Buckland Warricombe, who
habitually declaimed against classical study, was perfectly right;
the world had learned all it could from those hoary teachers, and
must now turn to Nature. On every hand, the future was with students
of the laws of matter. Often, it was true, he had been tempted by
the thought of a literary career; he had written in verse and prose,
but with small success. An attempt to compose the Prize Poem was
soon abandoned in discouragement; the essay he sent in had not been
mentioned. These honours had fallen to Earwaker, with whom it was
not easy to compete on such ground. No, he was not born a man of
letters. But in science, granted fair opportunity, he might make a
name. He might, and he would!
On the morrow, splendour of sunshine drew him forth to some distance
from the town. He went along the lanes singing; now it was holiday
with him, and for the first time he could enjoy the broad golden
daylight, the genial warmth. In a hollow of grassy fields, where he
least expected to encounter an acquaintance, it was his chance to
come upon Christian Moxey, stretched at full length in the company
of nibbling sheep. Since the dinner at Mr. Moxey's, he had neither
seen nor heard of Christian, who, it seemed probable, was back at
his work in Rotherhithe. As their looks met, both laughed.
'I won't get up,' said Christian; 'the effort would be too great.
Sit down and let us have a talk.'
'I disturb your thoughts,' answered Godwin.
'A most welcome disturbance; they weren't very pleasant just then.
In fact, I have come as far as this in the hope of escaping them.
I'm not much of a walker, are you?'
'Well, yes, I enjoy a good walk.'
'You are of an energetic type,' said Christian, musingly. 'You will
do something in life. When do you go up for Honours?'
'I have decided not to go in at all.'
'Indeed; I'm sorry to hear that.'
'I have half made up my mind not to return to Whitelaw.'
Observing his hearer's look of surprise, Godwin asked himself
whether it signified a knowledge of his footing at Whitelaw. The
possibility of this galled him; but it was such a great step to have
declared, as it were in public, an intention of freeing himself,
that he was able to talk on with something of aggressive confidence.
'I think I shall go in for some practical work of a scientific kind.
It was a mistake for me to pursue the Arts course.'
Christian looked at him earnestly.
'Are you sure of that?'
'Yes, I feel sure of it.'
There was silence. Christian beat the ground with his stick.
'Your state of mind, then,' he said at length, 'is more like my own
than I imagined. I, too, have wavered for a long time between
literature and science, and now at last I have quite decided--
quite--that scientific study is the only safe line for me. The
fact is, a man must concentrate himself. Not only for the sake of
practical success, but--well, for his own sake.'
He spoke lazily, dreamily, propped upon his elbow, seeming to watch
the sheep which panted at a few yards from him.
'I have no right,' he pursued, with a shadow of kindly anxiety on
his features, 'to offer you advice, but--well, if you will let me
insist on what I have learned from my own experience. There's
nothing like having a special line of work and sticking to it
vigorously. I, unfortunately, shall never do anything of any
account,--but I know so well the conflict between diverging
tastes. It has played the deuce with me, in all sorts of ways. At
Zurich I utterly wasted my time, and I've done no better since I
came back to England. Don't think me presumptuous. I only mean--
well, it is so important to--to go ahead in one line.'
His air of laughing apology was very pleasant. Godwin felt his heart
open to the kind fellow.
'No one needs the advice more than I,' he replied. 'I am going back
to the line I took naturally when I first began to study at all.'
'But why leave Whitelaw?' asked Christian, gently.
'Because I dislike it--I can't tell you why.'
With ready tact Moxey led away from a subject which he saw was
'Of course there are many other places where one can study just as
'Do you know anything of the School of Mines in London?' Godwin
'I worked there myself for a short time.'
'Then you could tell me about the--the fees, and soon?'
Christian readily gave the desired information, and the listener
mused over it.
'Have you any friends in London?' Moxey asked, at length.
'No. But I don't think that matters. I shall work all the harder.'
'Perhaps so,' said the other, with some hesitation. And he added
thoughtfully, 'It depends on one's temperament. Doesn't answer to be
too much alone--I speak for myself at all events. I know very few
people in London--very few that I care anything about. That, in
fact, is one reason why I am staying here longer than I intended.'
He seemed to speak rather to himself than to Godwin; the half-smile
on his lips expressed a wish to disclose circumstances and motives
which were yet hardly a suitable topic in a dialogue such as this.
'I like the atmosphere of a--of a comfortable home. No doubt I
should get on better--with things in general--if I had a home of
my own. I live in lodgings, you know; my sister lives with friends.
Of course one has a sense of freedom, but then'--
His voice murmured off into silence, and again he beat the ground
with his cane. Godwin was strongly interested in this broken
revelation; he found it difficult to understand Moxey's yearning for
domesticity, all his own impulses leading towards quite a contrary
ideal. To him, life in London lodgings made rich promise; that
indeed would be freedom, and full of all manner of high
Each communed with his thoughts. Happening to glance at Christian,
Godwin was struck with the graceful attitude in which the young man
reclined; he himself squatted awkwardly on the grass, unable to
abandon himself in natural repose, even as he found it impossible to
talk with the ease of unconsciousness. The contrast, too, between
his garments, his boots, and those of the Londoner was painful
enough to him. Without being a dandy, Christian, it was evident,
gave a good deal of thought to costume. That kind of thing had
always excited Godwin's contempt, but now he confessed himself
envious; doubtless, to be well dressed was a great step towards the
finished ease of what is called a gentlemanly demeanour, which he
knew he was very far from having attained.
'Well,' exclaimed Christian, unexpectedly, 'if I can be of ever so
little use to you, pray let me. I must get back to town in a few
days, but you know my address. Write to me, I beg, if you wish for
any more information.'
The talk turned to less difficult topics. Godwin made inquiries
about Zurich, then about Switzerland in general.
'Did you see much of the Alps?'
'Not as a climber sees them. That sort of thing isn't in my way; I
haven't the energy--more's the pity. Would you like to see a lot
of good photographs I brought back? I have them here; brought them
to show the girls.'
In spite of the five Miss Moxeys and Christian's sister, Peak
accepted the invitation to walk back with his companion, and
presently they began to stroll towards Twybridge.
'I have an absurd tendency to dream--to lose myself amid ideals--
I don't quite know how to express it,' Christian resumed, when both
had been silent for some minutes. 'That's why I mean to go in
earnestly for science--as a corrective. Fortunately, I have to
work for my living; otherwise, I should moon my life away--no
doubt. My sister has ten times as much energy--she knows much more
than I do already. What a splendid thing it is to be of an
independent character! I had rather be a self-reliant coal-heaver
than a millionaire of uncertain will. My uncle--there's a man who
knows his own mind. I respect those strong practical natures. Don't
be misled by ideals. Make the most of your circumstances. Don't aim
at--but I beg your pardon; I don't know what right I have to
lecture you in this way.' And he broke off with his pleasant,
kind-hearted laugh, colouring a little.
They reached Mr. Moxey's house. In a garden chair on the lawn sat
Miss Janet, occupied with a book. She rose to meet them, shook hands
with Godwin, and said to her cousin:
'The postman has just left a letter for you--forwarded from
'Indeed? I'm going to show Mr. Peak my Swiss photographs. You
wouldn't care to come and help me in the toil of turning them over?'
'O lazy man!'
Her laugh was joyous. Any one less prejudiced than Peak would have
recognised the beauty which transformed her homely features as she
met Christian's look.
On the hall table lay the letter of which Janet had spoken.
Christian took it up, and Godwin, happening at that moment to
observe him, caught the tremor of a sudden emotion on lip and
eyelid. Instantly, prompted by he knew not what perception, he
turned his gaze to Janet, and in time to see that she also was aware
of her cousin's strong interest in the letter, which was at once put
away in Christian's pocket.
They passed into the sitting-room, where a large portfolio stood
against the back of a chair. The half-hour which ensued was to
Godwin a time of uneasiness. His pleasure in the photographs
suffered disturbance from a subtle stress on his nerves, due to
something indeterminable in the situation, of which he formed a
part. Janet's merry humour seemed to be subdued. Christian was
obviously forcing himself to entertain the guest whilst his thoughts
were elsewhere. As soon as possible, Godwin rose to depart. He was
just saying good-bye to Janet, when Marcella entered the room. She
stood still, and Christian said, hurriedly:
'It's possible, Marcella, that Mr. Peak will be coming to London
before long. We may have the pleasure of seeing him there.'
'You will be glad, I'm sure,' answered his sister. Then, as if
forcing herself to address Peak directly, she faced to him and
added, 'It isn't easy to find sympathetic companions.'
'I, at all events, haven't found very many,' Godwin replied, meaning
to speak in a tone only half-serious, but conscious at once that he
had made what might seem an appeal for sympathy. Thereupon his pride
revolted, and in a moment drove him from the room.
Christian followed, and at the front door shook hands with him.
Nervous impatience was unmistakable in the young man's look and
words. Again Godwin speculated on the meaning of this, and wondered,
in connection therewith, what were the characteristics which
Marcella Moxey looked for in a 'sympathetic companion'.
In the course of the afternoon, Godwin sat down to pen the rough
draft of a letter to Lady Whitelaw. When the first difficulties were
surmounted, he wrote rapidly, and at considerable length. It was not
easy, at his time of life, to compress into the limits of an
ordinary epistle all he wished to say to the widow of his
benefactor. His purpose was, with all possible respect yet as firmly
as might be, to inform Lady Whitelaw that he could not spend the
last of his proposed three years at the College in Kingsmill, and
furthermore to request of her that she would permit his using the
promised sum of money as a student at the Royal School of Mines.
This had to be done without confession of the reasons for his change
of plan; he could not even hint at them. Yet cause must be assigned,
and the best form of words he could excogitate ran thus: 'Family
circumstances render it desirable--almost necessary--that I
should spend the next twelve months in London. In spite of sincere
reluctance to leave Whitelaw College, I am compelled to take this
step.' The lady must interpret that as best she might. Very hard
indeed was the task of begging a continuance of her bounty under
these changed conditions. Could he but have resigned the money, all
had been well; his tone might then have been dignified without
effort. But such disinterestedness he could not afford. His mother
might grant him money enough barely to live upon until he discovered
means of support--for his education she was unable to pay. After
more than an hour's work he had moderately satisfied himself;
indeed, several portions of the letter struck him as well composed,
and he felt that they must heighten the reader's interest in him.
With an author's pleasure (though at the same time with much
uneasiness) he perused the appeal again and again.
Late in the evening, when he was alone with his mother, he told her
what he had done, and read the letter for her opinion. Mrs. Peak was
'Lady Whitelaw will ask her sisters for an explanation,' she said.
'I have thought of that,' Godwin replied, with the confident,
cheerful air he had assumed from the first. 'If the Miss Lumbs go to
aunt, she must be prepared to put them off in some way. But look
here, mother, when uncle has opened his shop, it's pretty certain
that some one or other will hit on the true explanation of my
disappearance. Let them. Then Lady Whitelaw will understand and
After much musing, the mother ventured a timid question, the result
of her anxieties rather than of her judgment on the point at issue.
'Godwin, dear, are you quite sure that his shop would make so much
The young man gave a passionate start.
'What! To have the fellows going there to eat, and hearing his talk,
and--? Not for a day could I bear it! Not for an hour!'
He was red with anticipated shame, and his voice shook with
indignation at the suggested martyrdom. Mrs. Peak dried a tear.
'You would be so alone in London, Godwin.'
'Not a bit of it. Young Mr. Moxey will be a useful friend, I am
convinced he will. To tell you the whole truth, I aim at getting a
place at the works in Rotherhithe, where he no doubt has influence.
You see, mother, I might manage it even before the end of the year.
Our Mr. Moxey will be disposed to help me with his recommendation.'
'But, my dear, wouldn't it come to the same thing, then, if you went
back to Mr. Moxey's?'
He made a gesture of impatience.
'No, no, no! I couldn't live at Twybridge. I have my way to make,
mother, and the place for that is London. You know I am ambitious.
Trust me for a year or two, and see the result. I depend upon your
help in this whole affair. Don't refuse it me. I have done with
Whitelaw, and I have done with Twybridge: now comes London. You
can't regard me as a boy, you know.'
'But me no buts!' he cried, laughing excitedly. 'The thing is
settled. As soon as possible in the morning I post this letter. I
feel it will be successful. See aunt to-morrow, and get her support.
Mind that Charlotte and Oliver don't talk to people. If you all use
discretion, there's no need for any curiosity to be excited.'
When Godwin had taken a resolve, there was no domestic influence
strong enough to prevent his acting upon it. Mrs. Peak's ignorance of
the world, her mild passivity, and the faith she had in her son's
intellectual resources, made her useless as a counsellor, and from
no one else--now that Mr. Gunnery was dead--would the young man
have dreamt of seeking guidance. Whatever Lady Whitelaw's reply, he
had made up his mind to go to London. Should his subsidy be refused,
then he would live on what his mother could allow him until--
probably with the aid of Christian Moxey--he might obtain a
salaried position. The letter was despatched, and with feverish
impatience he awaited a reply.
Nine days passed, and he heard nothing. Half that delay sufficed to
bring out all the self-tormenting capacities of a nature such as
his. To his mother's conjectural explanations he could lend no ear.
Doubtless Lady Whitelaw (against whom, for subtle reasons, he was
already prejudiced) had taken offence; either she would not reply at
all, or presently there would come a few lines of polite
displeasure, intimating her disinclination to aid his project. He
silently raged against 'the woman'. Her neglect was insolence. Had
she not delicacy enough to divine the anxiety natural to one in his
dependent position? Did she take him for an every-day writer of
mendicant appeals? His pride fed upon the outrage and became fierce.
Then arrived a small glossy envelope, containing a tiny sheet of
very thick note-paper, whereon it was written that Lady Whitelaw
regretted her tardiness in replying to him (caused by her absence
from home), and hoped he would be able to call upon her, at ten
o'clock next morning, at the house of her sisters, the Misses Lumb,
where she was stopping for a day--she remained his sincerely.
Having duly contorted this note into all manner of painful meanings,
Godwin occupied an hour in making himself presentable (scornful that
he should deem such trouble necessary), and with furiously beating
heart set out to walk through Twybridge. Arrived at the house, he
was led by a servant into the front room on the ground floor, where
Lady Whitelaw, alone, sat reading a newspaper. Her features were of
a very common order, and nothing distinguished her from middle-aged
women of average refinement; she had chubby hands, rather broad
shoulders, and no visible waist. The scrutiny she bestowed upon her
visitor was close. To Godwin's feelings it too much resembled that
with which she would have received an applicant for the post of
footman. Yet her smile was friendly enough, and no lack of civility
appeared in the repetition of her excuses for having replied so
'Let us talk about this,' she began, when Godwin was uneasily
seated. (She spoke with an excess of precision, as though it had at
one time been needful for her to premeditate polished phrases.) 'I
am very sorry you should have to think of quitting the College; very
sorry indeed. You are one of the students who do honour to the
This was pleasant, and Godwin felt a regret of the constraint that
was upon him. In his endeavour not to display a purring smile, he
looked grim, as if the compliment were beneath his notice.
'Pray don't think,' she pursued, 'that I wish you to speak more
fully about the private circumstances you refer to in your letter.
But do let me ask you: Is your decision final? Are you sure that
when the vacations are over you will see things just as you do now?'
'I am quite sure of it,' he replied.
The emphasis was merely natural to him. He could not so govern his
voice as to convey the respectful regret which at this moment he
felt. A younger lady, one who had heightened the charm of her
compliment with subtle harmony of tones and strongly feminine gaze,
would perhaps have elicited from him a free confession. Gratitude
and admiration would have made him capable of such frankness. But in
the face of this newspaper-reading woman (yes, he had unaccountably
felt it jar upon him that a lady should be reading a newspaper),
under her matronly smile, he could do no more than plump out his
'quite sure'. To Lady Whitelaw it sounded altogether too curt; she
was conscious of her position as patroness, and had in fact thought
it likely that the young man would be disposed to gratify her
curiosity in some measure.
'I can only say that I am sorry to hear it,' fell from her tightened
lips, after a moment's pause.
Instantly Godwin's pride expelled the softer emotion. He pressed
hard with his feet upon the floor, every nerve in his body tense
with that distressing passion peculiar to the shyly arrogant. Regard
him, and you had imagined he was submitting to rebuke for an offence
he could not deny.
Lady Whitelaw waited. A minute, almost, and Peak gave no sign of
opening his mouth.
'It is certainly much to be regretted,' she said at length, coolly.
'Of course, I don't know what prospects you may have in London, but,
if you had remained at the College, something advantageous would no
doubt have offered before long.'
There went small tact to the wording of this admonition. Impossible
for Lady Whitelaw to understand the complexities of a character such
as Godwin's, even had she enjoyed opportunities of studying it; but
many a woman of the world would have directed herself more
cautiously after reading that letter of his. Peak's impulse was to
thank her for the past, and declare that henceforth he would
dispense with aid; only the choking in his throat obstructed some
such utterance. He resented profoundly her supposition (natural
enough) that his chief aim was to establish himself in a
self-supporting career. What? Am I to be grateful for a mere chance
of earning my living? Have I not shown that I am capable of
something more than the ordinary lot in life? From the heights of
her assured independence, does she look down upon me as a young man
seeking a 'place'? He was filled with wrath, and all because a good,
commonplace woman could not divine that he dreamt of European fame.
'I am very sorry that I can't take that into account,' he managed to
say. 'I wish to give this next year exclusively to scientific study,
and after that I shall see what course is open to me.'
He was not of the men who can benefit by patronage, and be simply
grateful for it. His position was a false one: to be begging with
awkward show of thankfulness for a benefaction which in his heart he
detested. He knew himself for an undesigning hypocrite, and felt
that he might as well have been a rascal complete. Gratitude! No man
capable of it in fuller measure than he; but not to such persons as
Lady Whitelaw. Before old Sir Job he could more easily have bowed
himself. But this woman represented the superiority of mere brute
wealth, against which his soul rebelled.
There was another disagreeable silence, during which Lady Whitelaw
commented on her protege very much as Mrs. Warricombe had done.
'Will you allow me to ask,' she said at length, with cold
politeness, 'whether you have acquaintances in London?'
'Yes. I know some one who studied at the School of Mines.'
'Well, Mr. Peak, I see that your mind is made up. And no doubt you
are the best judge of your private circumstances. I must ask you to
let me think over the matter for a day or two. I will write to you.'
'And I to you,' thought Godwin; a resolve which enabled him to rise
with something like a conventional smile, and thus put an end to a
very brief and quite unsatisfactory interview.
He strode homewards in a state of feverish excitement. His own
behaviour had been wretchedly clownish; he was only too well aware
of that. He ought to have put aside all the grosser aspects of his
case, and have exhibited the purely intellectual motives which made
such a change as he purposed seem desirable to him. That would have
been to act with dignity; that would have been the very best form of
gratitude for the kindness he had received. But no, his accursed
lack of self-possession had ruined all. 'The woman was now offended
in good earnest; he saw it in her face at parting. The fault was
admittedly on his side, but what right had she to talk about
'something advantageous'? She would write to him, to be sure; that
meant, she could not yet make up her mind whether to grant the money
or not. Pluto take the money! Long before sitting down to her glossy
note-paper she should have received a letter from ~him~.
Composed already. Now he was up in the garret bedroom, scribbling as
fast as pen could fly over paper. He had been guilty of a mistake--
so ran the epistle; having decided to leave Whitelaw, he ought never
to have requested a continuance of the pension. He begged Lady
Whitelaw would forgive this thoughtless impropriety; she had made
him understand the full extent of his error. Of course he could not
accept anything more from her. As for the past, it would be idle for
him to attempt an expression of his indebtedness. But for Sir Job's
munificence, he must now have been struggling to complete a
radically imperfect education,--'instead of going into the world
to make a place for myself among the scientific investigators of our
One's claims to respectful treatment must be put forward
unmistakably, especially in dealing with such people as Lady
Whitelaw. Now, perhaps, she would understand what his reserve
concealed. The satisfaction of declining further assistance was
enormous. He read his letter several times aloud. This was the great
style; he could imagine this incident forming a landmark in the
biography of a notable man. Now for a fair copy, and in a hand, mind
you, that gave no hint of his care for caligraphic seemliness: bold,
The letter in his pocket, he went downstairs. His mother had been
out all the morning; now she was just returned, and Godwin saw
trouble on her forehead. Anxiously she inquired concerning the
result of his interview.
Now that it was necessary to make an intelligible report of what had
happened, Godwin found his tongue falter. How could he convey to
another the intangible sense of wounded dignity which had impelled
his pen? Instead of producing the letter with a flourish, he
answered with affected carelessness:
'I am to hear in a day or two.'
'Did she seem to take it--in the right way?'
'She evidently thinks of me too much as a schoolboy.'
And he began to pace the room. Mrs. Peak sat still, with an air of
'You don't think she will refuse, Godwin?' fell from her presently.
His hand closed on the letter.
'Why? Well, in that case I should go to London and find some
occupation as soon as possible. You could still let me have the same
money as before?'
It was said absently, and did not satisfy Godwin. In the course of
the conversation it appeared that Mrs. Peak had that morning been to
see the legal friend who looked after her small concerns, and though
she would not admit that she had any special cause for uneasiness,
her son recalled similar occasions when an interview with Mr. Dutch
had been followed by several days' gloom. The truth was that Mrs
Peak could not live strictly within the income at her disposal, and
on being from time to time reminded of this, she was oppressed by
passing worry. If Godwin and Oliver 'got on well,' things would come
all right in the end, but in the meantime she could not face
additional expenditure. Godwin did not like to be reminded of the
razor's edge on which the affairs of the household were balanced. At
present it brought about a very sudden change in his state of mind;
he went upstairs again, and sat with the letter before him, sunk in
misery. The reaction had given him a headache.
A fortnight, and no word from Lady Whitelaw. But neither was
Godwin's letter posted.
Was he at liberty to indulge the self-respect which urged him to
write? In a moment of heated confidence it was all very well to talk
of 'getting some occupation' in London, but he knew that this might
prove no easy matter. A year's work at the School of Mines would
decidedly facilitate his endeavour; and, seeing that his mother's
peace depended upon his being speedily self-supporting, was it not a
form of selfishness to reject help from one who could well afford
it? From a distance, he regarded Lady Whitelaw with more charity; a
longer talk with her might have led to better mutual apprehension.
And, after all, it was not she but her husband to whom he would
stand indebted. Sir Job was a very kind-hearted old fellow; he had
meant thoroughly well. Why, clearly, the bestower of this third
year's allowance would not be Lady Whitelaw at all.
If it were granted. Godwin began to suffer a troublesome misgiving;
perchance he had gone too far, and was now, in fact, abandoned to
his own resources.
Three weeks. Then came the expected letter, and, as he opened it,
his heart leaped at the sight of a cheque--talisman of unrivalled
power over the emotions of the moneyless! Lady Whitelaw wrote
briefly and formally. Having considered Godwin's request, she had no
reason for doubting that he would make a good use of the proposed
year at the School of Mines, and accordingly she sent him the sum
which Sir Job had intended for his final session at Whitelaw
College. She wished him all benefit from his studies, and prosperity
Rejoicing, though shame-smitten, Godwin exhibited this remittance to
his mother, from whom it drew a deep sigh of relief. And forthwith
he sat down to write quite a different letter from that which still
lay in his private drawer,--a letter which he strove to make the
justification (to his own mind) of this descent to humility. At
considerable length he dwelt upon the change of tastes of which he
had been conscious lately, and did not fail to make obvious the
superiority of his ambition to all thought of material advancement.
He offered his thanks, and promised to give an account of himself
(as in duty bound) at the close of the twelvemonths' study he was
about to undertake: a letter in which the discerning would have read
much sincerity, and some pathos; after all, not a letter to be
ashamed of. Lady Whitelaw would not understand it; but then, how
many people are capable of even faintly apprehending the phenomena
of mental growth?
And now to plan seriously his mode of life in London. With Christian
Moxey he was so slightly acquainted that it was impossible to seek
his advice with regard to lodgings; besides, the lodgings must be of
a character far too modest to come within Mr. Moxey's sphere of
observation. Other acquaintance he had none in the capital, so it
was clear that he must enter boldly upon the unknown world, and find
a home for himself as best he might. Mrs. Peak could offer
suggestions as to likely localities, and this was of course useful
help. In the meantime (for it would be waste of money to go up till
near the end of the holiday season) he made schemes of study and
completed his information concerning the School of Mines. So far
from lamenting the interruption of his promising career at Whitelaw,
he persuaded himself that Uncle Andrew had in truth done him a very
good turn: now at length he was fixed in the right course. The only
thing he regretted was losing sight of his two or three
student-friends, especially Earwaker and Buckland Warricombe. They,
to be sure, would soon guess the reason of his disappearance. Would
they join in the laughter certain to be excited by 'Peak's Dining
and Refreshment Rooms'? Probably; how could they help it? Earwaker
might be superior to a prejudice of that kind; his own connections
were of humble standing. But Warricombe must wince and shrug his
shoulders. Perhaps even some of the Professors would have their
attention directed to the ludicrous mishap: they were gentlemen,
and, even though they smiled, must certainly sympathise with him.
Wait a little. Whitelaw College should yet remember the student who
seemed to have vanished amid the world's obscure tumult.
Resolved that he was about to turn his back on Twybridge for ever,
he found the conditions of life there quite supportable through this
last month or two; the family reaped benefit from his improved
temper. Even to Mr. Cusse he behaved with modified contempt. Oliver
was judicious enough to suppress his nigger minstrelsy and kindred
demonstrations of spirit in his brother's presence, and Charlotte,
though steadily resentful, did her best to avoid conflict.
Through the Misses Lumb, Godwin's change of purpose had of course
become known to his aunt, who for a time took it ill that these
debates had been concealed from her. When Mrs. Peak, in confidence,
apprised her of the disturbing cause, Miss Cadman's indignation knew
no bounds. What! That low fellow had been allowed to interfere with
the progress of Godwin Peak's education, and not a protest uttered?
He should have been ~forbidden~ to establish himself in Kingsmill!
Why had they not taken ~her~ into council? She would have faced the
man, and have overawed him; he should have been made to understand
the gross selfishness of his behaviour. Never had she heard of such
a monstrous case--
Godwin spent much time in quiet examination of the cabinets
bequeathed to him by Mr. Gunnery. He used a pound or two of Lady
Whitelaw's money for the purchase of scientific books, and set to
work upon them with freshened zeal. The early morning and late
evening were given to country walks, from which he always returned
with brain excited by the forecast of great achievements.
When the time of his departure approached, he decided to pay a
farewell visit to Mr. Moxey. He chose an hour when the family would
probably be taking their ease in the garden. Three of the ladies
were, in fact, amusing themselves with croquet, while their father,
pipe in mouth, bent over a bed of calceolarias.
'What's this that I hear?' exclaimed Mr. Moxey, as he shook hands.
'You are not going back to Whitelaw?'
The story had of course spread among all Twybridge people who knew
anything of the Peaks, and it was generally felt that some mystery
was involved. Godwin had reasonably feared that his obligations to
Sir Job Whitelaw must become known; impossible for such a matter to
be kept secret; all who took any interest in the young man had long
been privately acquainted with the facts of his position. Now that
discussion was rife, it would have been prudent in the Misses Lumb
to divulge as much of the truth at they knew, but (in accordance
with the law of natural perversity) they maintained a provoking
silence. Hence whispers and suspicious questions, all wide of the
mark. No one had as yet heard of Andrew Peak, and it seemed but too
likely that Lady Whitelaw, for some good reason, had declined to
discharge the expenses of Godwin's last year at the College.
Mr. Moxey himself felt that an explanation was desirable, but he
listened with his usual friendly air to Godwin's account of the
matter--which of course included no mention of Lady Whitelaw.
'Have you friends in London?' he inquired--like everyone else.
'No. Except that your nephew was so kind as to ask me to call on
him, if ever I happened to be there.'
There passed over Mr. Moxey's countenance a curious shadow. Godwin
noticed it, and at once concluded that the manufacturer condemned
Christian for undue advances to one below his own station. The
result of this surmise was of course a sudden coldness on Godwin's
part, increased when he found that Mr. Moxey turned to another
subject, without a word about his nephew.
In less than ten minutes he offered to take leave, and no one urged
him to stay longer. Mr. Moxey made sober expression of good wishes,
and hoped he might hear that the removal to London had proved
'advantageous'. This word sufficed to convert Godwin's irritation
into wrath; he said an abrupt 'good-evening', raised his hat as
awkwardly as usual, and stalked away.
A few paces from the garden gate, he encountered Miss Janet Moxey,
just coming home from walk or visit. Another grab at his hat, and he
would have passed without a word, but the girl stopped him.
'We hear that you are going to London, Mr. Peak.'
'Yes, I am, Miss Moxey.'
She examined his face, and seemed to hesitate.
'Perhaps you have just been to say good-bye to father?'
Janet paused, looked away, again turned her eyes upon him.
'You have friends there, I hope?' she ventured.
'No, I have none.'
'My cousin--Christian, you remember--would, I am sure, be very
glad to help you in any way.' Her voice sank, and at the same time
she coloured just perceptibly under Godwin's gaze.
'So he assured me,' was the reply. 'But I must learn to be
independent, Miss Moxey.'
Whereupon Godwin performed a salute, and marched forward.
His boxes were packed, and now he had but one more evening in the
old home. It was made less pleasant than it might have been by a
piece of information upon which he by chance alighted in a
newspaper. The result of the Honours examination for the First B.A. at
London had just been made known, and in two subjects a high place
was assigned to Bruno Leathwaite Chilvers--not the first place
happily, but it was disagreeable enough.
Pooh! what matter? What are academic successes? Ten years hence,
which name would have wider recognition--Bruno Chilvers or Godwin
Peak? He laughed with scornful superiority.
No one was to accompany him to the station; on that he insisted. He
had decided for as early a train as possible, that the dolours of
leave-taking might be abridged. At a quarter to eight the cab drove
up to the door. Out with the trunks labelled 'London'!
'Take care of the cabinets!' were his last words to his mother. 'I
may want to have them sent before long.'
He implied, what he had not ventured to say plainly, that he was
leaving Twybridge for good, and henceforth would not think of it as
home. In these moments of parting, he resented the natural feeling
which brought moisture to his eyes. He hardened himself against the
ties of blood, and kept repeating to himself a phrase in which of
late he had summed his miseries: 'I was born in exile--born in
exile.' Now at length had he set forth on a voyage of discovery, to
end perchance in some unknown land among his spiritual kith and kin.
In the spring of 1882 Mr. Jarvis Runcorn, editor and co-proprietor of
the London ~Weekly Post~, was looking about for a young man of
journalistic promise whom he might associate with himself in the
conduct of that long established Radical paper. The tale of his
years warned him that he could not hope to support much longer a
burden which necessarily increased with the growing range and
complexity of public affairs. Hitherto he had been the autocrat of
the office, but competing Sunday papers exacted an alertness, a
versatile vigour, such as only youth can supply; for there was felt
to be a danger that the ~Weekly Post~ might lose its prestige in
democratic journalism. Thus on the watch, Mr. Runcorn--a wary man
of business, who had gone through many trades before he reached that
of weekly literature--took counsel one day with a
fellow-campaigner, Malkin by name, who owned two or three country
newspapers, and had reaped from them a considerable fortune; in
consequence, his attention was directed to one John Earwaker, then
editing the ~Wattleborough Courier~. Mr. Malkin's eldest son had
recently stood as Liberal candidate for Wattleborough, and though
defeated was loud in his praise of the ~Courier~; with its editor he
had come to be on terms of intimate friendship. Earwaker was well
acquainted with journalistic life in the provinces. He sprang from a
humble family living at Kingsmill, had studied at Whitelaw College,
and was now but nine-and-twenty: the style of his 'leaders' seemed
to mark him for a wider sphere of work. It was decided to invite him
to London, and the young man readily accepted Mr. Runcorn's
proposals. A few months later he exchanged temporary lodgings for
chambers in Staple Inn, where he surrounded himself with plain
furniture and many books.
In personal appearance he had changed a good deal since that
prize-day at Whitelaw when his success as versifier and essayist
foretold a literary career. His figure was no longer ungainly; the
big head seemed to fit better upon the narrow shoulders. He neither
walked with extravagant paces, nor waved his arms like a windmill. A
sufficiency of good food, and the habit of intercourse with active
men; had given him an every-day aspect; perhaps the sole peculiarity
he retained from student times was his hollow chuckle of mirth, a
laugh which struggled vainly for enlargement. He dressed with
conventional decency, even submitting to the chimney-pot hat. His
features betrayed connection with a physically coarse stock; but to
converse with him was to discover the man of original vigour and
wide intellectual scope. With ordinary companions, it was a rare
thing for him to speak of his professional interests. But for his
position on ~The Weekly Post~ it would not have been easy to surmise
how he stood with regard to politics, and he appeared to lean as
often towards the conservative as to the revolutionary view of
The newspaper left him time for other literary work, and it was
known to a few people that he wrote with some regularity for
reviews, but all the products of his pen were anonymous. A fact
which remained his own secret was that he provided for the
subsistence of his parents, old people domiciled in a quiet corner
of their native Kingsmill. The strict sobriety of life which is
indispensable to success in such a career as this cost him no
effort. He smoked moderately, ate and drank as little as might be,
could keep his health on six hours of sleep, and for an occasional
holiday liked to walk his twenty or thirty miles. Earwaker was
naturally marked for survival among the fittest.
On an evening of June in the year '84, he was interrupted whilst
equipping himself for dinner abroad, by a thunderous rat-tat-tat.
'You must wait, my friend, whoever you are,' he murmured placidly,
as he began to struggle with the stiff button-holes of his shirt.
The knock was repeated, and more violently.
'Now there's only one man of my acquaintance who knocks like that,'
he mused, elaborating the bow of his white tie. 'He, I should
imagine, is in Brazil; but there's no knowing. Perhaps our office is
on fire.--Anon, anon!'
He made baste to don waistcoat and swallow-tail, then crossed his
sitting-room and flung open the door of the chambers.
'Ha! Then it ~is~ you! I was reminded of your patient habits.'
A tall man, in a light overcoat and a straw hat of spacious brim,
had seized both his hands, with shouts of excited greeting.
'Confound you! Why did you keep me waiting? I thought I had missed
you for the evening. How the deuce are you? And why the devil have
you left me without a line from you for more than six months?'
Earwaker drew aside, and allowed his tumultuous friend to rush into
the nearest room.
'Why haven't you written?--confound you!' was again vociferated,
amid bursts of boyish laughter. 'Why hasn't anybody written?'
'If everybody was as well informed of your movements as I, I don't
wonder,' replied the journalist. 'Since you left Buenos Ayres, I
have had two letters, each containing twenty words, which gave me to
understand that no answer could by possibility reach you.'
'Humbug! You could have written to half-a-dozen likely places. Did I
really say that? Ha, ha, ha!--Shake hands again, confound you! How
do you do? Do I look well? Have I a tropical colour? I say, what a
blessed thing it was that I got beaten down at Wattleborough! All
this time I should have been sitting in the fog at Westminster. What
a time I've had! What a time I've had!'
It was more than twelve months since Malkin's departure from
England. Though sun and sea had doubtless contributed to his
robustness, he must always have been a fair example of the vigorous
Briton. His broad shoulders, upright bearing, open countenance, and
frank resonant voice, declared a youth passed amid the wholesome
conditions which wealth alone can command. The hearty extravagance
of his friendliness was only possible in a man who has never been
humiliated by circumstances, never restricted in his natural needs
of body and mind. Yet he had more than the heartiness of a contented
Englishman. The vivacity which made a whirlwind about him probably
indicated some ancestral mingling with the blood of a more ardent
race. Earwaker examined him with a smile of pleasure.
'It's unfortunate,' he said, 'that I have to go out to dinner.'
'Dinner! Pooh! we can get dinner anywhere.'
'No doubt, hut I am engaged.'
'The devil you are! Who is she? Why didn't you write to tell me?'
'The word has a less specific meaning, my dear fellow,' replied
Earwaker, laughing. 'Only you of all men would have rushed at the
wrong one. I mean to say--if your excitement can take in so common
a fact--that I have promised to dine with some people at Notting
Hill, and mustn't disappoint them.'
Malkin laughed at his mistake, then shouted:
'Notting Hill! Isn't that somewhere near Fulham? We'll take a cab,
and I can drop you on my way.'
'It wouldn't be on the way at all.'
The journalist's quiet explanation was cut short by a petulant
'Oh, very well! Of course if you want to get rid of me! I should
have thought after sixteen months'--
'Don't be idiotic,' broke in the other. 'There's a strong feminine
element in you, Malkin; that's exactly the kind of talk with which
women drive men to frenzy.'
'Feminine element!' shouted the traveller with hot face. 'What do
you mean? I propose to take a cab with you, and you'--
Earwaker turned away laughing. 'Time and distance are nothing to
you, and I shall be very glad of your company. Come by all means.'
His friend was instantly appeased.
'Don't let me make you late, Earwaker. Must we start this moment?
Come along, then. Can I carry anything for you? Lord! if you could
only see a tropical forest! How do you get on with old Runcorn?
~Write~? What the devil was the use of my writing, when words are
powerless to describe--? What a rum old place this seems, after
experiences like mine; how the deuce can you live here? I say, I've
brought you a ton of curiosities; will make your rooms look like a
museum. Confound it! I've broken my shin against the turn in the
staircase! Whew! Who are you going to dine with?--Moxey? Never
heard the name.'
In Holborn a hansom was hailed, and the friends continued their
dialogue as they drove westward. Having at length effervesced,
Malkin began to exchange question and answer with something of the
calm needful for mutual intelligibility.
'And how do you get on with old Runcorn?'
'As well as can be expected where there is not a single subject of
agreement,' Earwaker replied. 'I have hopes of reducing our
'What the deuce do you mean?'
'In other words, of improving the paper. Runcorn is strong on the
side of blackguardism. We had a great fight the other day over a
leader offered by Kenyon,--a true effusion of the political
gutter-snipe. I refused point-blank to let it go in; Runcorn swore
that, if I did not, ~I~ should go ~out~. I offered to retire that
moment. "We must write for our public," he bellowed. "True," said I,
"but not necessarily for the basest among them. The standard at the
best is low enough." "Do you call yourself a Radical?" "Not if this
be Radicalism." "You ought to be on the ~Morning~ instead of the
~Weekly Post~." I had my way, and probably shall end by sending Mr
Kenyon back to his tinker's work shop. If not, I must look out for
'Go it, my boy! Go it!' cried Malkin, slapping his companion's knee
violently. 'Raise the tone! To the devil with mercenary
considerations! Help the proletariat out of its grovelling
They approached the street where Earwaker had to alight. The other
declared his intention of driving on to Fulham in the hope of
finding a friend who lived there.
'But I must see you again. When shall you be home to-night?'
'About half-past eleven, I dare say.'
'Right! If I am free I'll come out to Staple Inn, and we'll talk
till three or four.'
The house at which the journalist presented himself was such as
might be inhabited by a small family of easy means. As he was taking
off his overcoat, a door opened and Christian Moxey came forward to
greet him. They shook hands like men who stood on friendly, but not
exactly on intimate, terms.
'Will you come up to the laboratory for a moment?' said Moxey. 'I
should like to show you something I have under the microscope.'
The room he spoke of was at the top of the house; two chambers had
been made into one, and the fittings were those required by a
student of physical science. Various odours distressed the air. A
stranger to the pursuits represented might have thought that the
general disorder and encumberment indicated great activity, but the
experienced eye perceived at once that no methodical work was here
in progress. Mineralogy, botany, biology, physics, and probably many
other sciences, were suggested by the specimens and apparatus that
lay confusedly on tables, shelves, or floor.
Moxey looked very slim and elegant in his evening costume. When he
touched any object, his long, translucent fingers seemed soft and
sensitive as a girl's. He stepped with peculiar lightness, and the
harmonious notes of his voice were in keeping with these other
characteristics. Ten years had developed in him that graceful
languor which at four-and-twenty was only beginning to get mastery
over the energies of a well-built frame.
'This stuff here,' he said, pointing to an open box full of mud, 'is
silt from down the Thames. It's positively loaded with
~diatomaceoe~,--you remember our talking about them when you were
last here? I am working at the fabric of the valves. Now, just
Earwaker, with attentive smile, followed the demonstration.
'Peak is busy with them as well,' said Christian, presently. 'Has he
told you his theory of their locomotion? Nobody has found out yet
how the little beggars move about. Peak has a bright idea.'
They spent ten minutes in the laboratory, then went downstairs. Two
other guests had meanwhile arrived, and were conversing with the
hostess, Miss Moxey. The shy, awkward, hard-featured girl was grown
into a woman whose face made such declaration of intellect and
character that, after the first moment, one became indifferent to
its lack of feminine beauty. As if with the idea of compensating for
personal disadvantages, she was ornately dressed; her abundant tawny
hair had submitted to much manipulation, and showed the gleam of
jewels; expense and finished craft were manifest in every detail of
her garb. Though slightly round-shouldered, her form was