Part 3 out of 10
well-proportioned and suggested natural vigour. Like Christian, she
had delicate hands.
'Do you know a distinguished clergyman, named Chilvers?' she asked
of Earwaker, with a laugh, when he had taken a place by her.
'Chilvers?--Is it Bruno Chilvers, I wonder?'
'That's the name!' exclaimed one of the guests, a young married lady
of eager face and fidgety manners.
'Then I knew him at College, but I had no idea he was become
Miss Moxey again laughed.
'Isn't it amusing, the narrowness of a great clerical reputation?
Mrs. Morton was astonished that I had never heard his name.'
'Please don't think,' appealed the lady, looking anxiously at
Earwaker, 'that I consider it shameful not to know him. I only
happened to mention a very ridiculous sermon of his, that was forced
upon me by a distressingly orthodox friend of mine. They tell me, he
is one of the newest lights of the Church.'
Earwaker listened with amusement, and then related anecdotes of
Bruno Chilvers. Whilst he was talking, the door opened to admit
another arrival, and a servant's voice announced 'Mr. Peak'. Miss
Moxey rose, and moved a step or two forward; a change was visible on
her countenance, which had softened and lightened.
'I am very sorry to be late,' said the new-comer, in a dull and
rather husky voice, which made strong contrast with the humorous
tones his entrance had interrupted.
He shook hands in silence with the rest of the company, giving
merely a nod and a smile as reply to some gracious commonplace from
'Has it come to your knowledge,' Earwaker asked of him, 'that Bruno
Chilvers is exciting the orthodox world by his defence of
Christianity against neo-heathenism?'
'Mrs. Morton tells us that all the Church newspapers ring with his
'Please don't think,' cried Mrs. Morton, with the same anxious look
as before, 'that I read such papers. We never have such a thing in
our house, Mr. Peak. I have only been told about it.'
Peak smiled gravely, but made no other answer. Then he turned to
'Where is he?'
'I can't say. Perhaps Mrs. Morton'--
'They tell me he is somewhere in Norfolk,' replied the lady. 'I
forget the town.'
A summons to dinner broke off the conversation. Moxey offered his
arm to the one lady present as guest, and Earwaker did the same
courtesy to the hostess. Mr. Morton, a meditative young man who had
been listening with a smile of indifference, sauntered along in the
rear with Godwin Peak.
At the dinner-table Peak was taciturn, and seemed to be musing on a
disagreeable subject. To remarks, he answered briefly and absently.
As Moxey, Earwaker, and Mrs. Morton kept up lively general talk, this
muteness was not much noticed, but when the ladies had left the
room, and Peak still frowned over his wineglass, the journalist
'What's the matter with you? Don't depress us.'
The other laughed impatiently, and emptied his glass.
'Malkin has come back,' pursued Earwaker. 'He burst in upon me, just
as I was leaving home--as mad as a March hare. You must come and
meet him some evening.'
'As you please.'
Returned to the upper room, Peak seated himself in a shadowy corner,
crossed his legs, thrust his hands into his pockets, and leaned back
to regard a picture on the wall opposite. This attitude gave
sufficient proof of the change that had been wrought in him by the
years between nineteen and nine-and-twenty; even in a drawing-room,
he could take his ease unconcernedly. His face would have led one to
suppose him an older man; it was set in an expression of stern, if
not morose, thoughtfulness.
He had small, hard lips, indifferent teeth (seldom exhibited), a
prominent chin, a long neck; his body was of firm, not ungraceful
build. Society's evening uniform does not allow a man much scope in
the matter of adornments; it was plain, however, that Godwin no
longer scorned the tailor and haberdasher. He wore a suit which
confidently challenged the criticism of experts, and the silk socks
visible above his shoes might have been selected by the most
fastidious of worldlings.
When he had sat there for some minutes, his eyes happened to stray
towards Miss Moxey, who was just then without a companion. Her
glance answered to his, and a smile of invitation left him no choice
but to rise and go to a seat beside her.
'You are meditative this evening,' she said, in a voice subdued
below its ordinary note.
'Not very fit for society, to tell the truth,' Godwin answered,
carelessly. 'One has such moods, you know. But how would you take it
if, at the last moment, I sent a telegram, "Please excuse me. Don't
feel able to talk"?'
'You don't suppose I should be offended?'
'Certainly you would.'
'Then you know less of me than I thought.'
Her eyes wandered about the room, their smile betokening an uneasy
'Christian tells me,' she continued, 'that you are going to take
your holiday in Cornwall.'
'I thought of it. But perhaps I shan't leave town at all. It
wouldn't be worth while, if I go abroad at the end of the year.'
'Abroad?' Marcella glanced at him. 'What scheme is that?'
'Haven't I mentioned it? I want to go to South America and the
Pacific islands. Earwaker has a friend, who has just come back from
travel in the tropics; the talk about it has half decided me to
leave England. I have been saving money for years to that end.'
'You never spoke of it--to me, Marcella replied, turning a
bracelet on her wrist. 'Should you go alone?'
'Of course. I couldn't travel in company. You know how impossible it
would be for me to put up with the moods and idiosyncrasies of other
There was a quiet arrogance in his tone. The listener still smiled,
but her fingers worked nervously.
'You are not so unsocial as you pretend,' she remarked, without
looking at him.
'Pretend! I make no pretences of any kind,' was his scornful answer.
'You are ungracious this evening.'
'Yes--and can't hide it.'
'Don't try to, I beg. But at least tell me what troubles you.'
'That's impossible,' Peak replied, drily.
'Then friendship goes for nothing,' said Marcella, with a little
'Yes--in all but a very few human concerns. How often could ~you~
tell ~me~ what it is that prevents your taking life cheerfully?'
He glanced at her, and Marcella's eyes fell; a moment after, there
was a suspicion of colour in her cheek.
'What are you reading?' Peak asked abruptly, but in a voice of more
'I envy your power of abstraction.'
'Yet I hear that you are deeply concerned about the locomotive
powers of the ~diatomaceaoe~?'
Their eyes met, and they laughed--not very mirthfully.
'It preserves me from worse follies,' said Peak. 'After all, there
are ways more or less dignified of consuming time'--
As he spoke, his ear caught a familiar name, uttered by Christian
Moxey, and he turned to listen. Moxey and Earwaker were again
talking of the Rev. Bruno Chilvers. Straightway disregarding
Marcella, Peak gave attention to the men's dialogue, and his
forehead wrinkled into scornful amusement.
'It's very interesting,' he exclaimed, at a moment when there was
silence throughout the company, 'to hear that Chilvers is really
coming to the front. At Whitelaw it used to be prophesied that he
would be a bishop, and now I suppose he's fairly on the way to that.
Shall we write letters of congratulation to him, Earwaker?'
'A joint epistle, if you like.'
Mr. Morton, who had brightened since dinner, began to speak
caustically of the form of intellect necessary nowadays in a popular
'He must write a good deal,' put in Earwaker, 'and that in a style
which would have scandalised the orthodox of the last century.
Rationalised dogma is vastly in demand.'
Peak's voice drew attention.
'Two kinds of books dealing with religion are now greatly popular,
and will be for a long time. On the one hand there is that growing
body of people who, for whatever reason, tend to agnosticism, but
desire to be convinced that agnosticism is respectable; they are
eager for anti-dogmatic books, written by men of mark. They couldn't
endure to be classed with Bradlaugh, but they rank themselves
confidently with Darwin and Huxley. Arguments matter little or
nothing to them. They take their rationalism as they do a fashion in
dress, anxious only that it shall be "good form". Then there's the
other lot of people--a much larger class--who won't give up
dogma, but have learnt that bishops, priests, and deacons no longer
hold it with the old rigour, and that one must be "broad"; these are
clamorous for treatises which pretend to reconcile revelation and
science. It's quite pathetic to watch the enthusiasm with which they
hail any man who distinguishes himself by this kind of apologetic
skill, this pious jugglery. Never mind how washy the book from a
scientific point of view. Only let it obtain vogue, and it will be
glorified as the new evangel. The day has gone by for downright
assaults on science; to be marketable, you must prove that ~The
Origin of Species~ was approvingly foreseen in the first chapter of
Genesis, and that the Apostles' Creed conflicts in no single point
with the latest results of biblical criticism. Both classes seek to
avoid ridicule, and to adapt themselves to a standard of
respectability. If Chilvers goes in for the newest apologetics, he
is bound to be enormously successful. The man has brains, and really
there are so few such men who still care to go into the Church.'
There was a murmur of laughing approval. The speaker had worked
himself into eloquent nervousness; he leaned forward with his hands
straining together, and the muscles of his face quivering.
'And isn't it surprising,' said Marcella, 'in how short a time this
apologetic attitude has become necessary?'
Peak flashed a triumphant look at her.
'I often rejoice to think of it!' he cried. 'How magnificent it is
that so many of the solemn jackasses who brayed against Darwin from
ten to twenty years ago should live to be regarded as beneath
contempt! I say it earnestly: this thought is one of the things that
make life tolerable to me!'
'You have need of charity, friend Peak,' interposed Earwaker. 'This
is the spirit of the persecutor.'
'Nothing of the kind! It is the spirit of justified reason. You may
say that those people were honestly mistaken;--such honesty is the
brand of a brainless obstructive. ~They~ would have persecuted, but
too gladly! There were, and are, men who would have committed Darwin
to penal servitude, if they had had the power. Men like Lyell, who
were able to develop a new convolution in their brains, I respect
heartily. I only speak of the squalling mass, the obscene herd of
'Who assuredly,' remarked Earwaker, 'feel no shame whatever in the
retrospect of their idiocy. To convert a ~mind~ is a subject for
high rejoicing; to confute a ~temper~ isn't worth the doing.'
'That is philosophy,' said Marcella, 'but I suspect you of often
feeling as Mr. Peak does. I am sure ~I~ do.'
Peak, meeting an amused glance from the journalist, left his seat
and took up a volume that lay on one of the tables. It was easy to
see that his hands shook, and that there was perspiration on his
forehead. With pleasant tact, Moxey struck into a new subject, and
for the next quarter of an hour Peak sat apart in the same attitude
as before his outburst of satire and invective. Then he advanced to
Miss Moxey again, for the purpose of taking leave. This was the
signal for Earwaker's rising, and in a few minutes both men had left
'I'll go by train with you,' said Earwaker, as they walked away.
'Farringdon Street will suit me well enough.'
Peak vouchsafed no reply, but, when they had proceeded a little
distance, he exclaimed harshly:
'I hate emancipated women!'
His companion stopped and laughed loudly.
'Yes, I hate emancipated women,' the other repeated, with
deliberation. 'Women ought neither to be enlightened nor dogmatic.
They ought to be sexual.'
'That's unusual brutality on your part.'
'Well, you know what I mean.'
'I know what you think you mean,' said Earwaker. 'But the woman who
is neither enlightened nor dogmatic is only too common in society.
They are fools, and troublesome fools.'
Peak again kept silence.
'The emancipated woman,' pursued his friend, 'needn't be a Miss
Moxey, nor yet a Mrs. Morton.'
'Miss Moxey is intolerable,' said Peak. 'I can't quite say why I
dislike her so, but she grows more antipathetic to me the better I
know her. She has not a single feminine charm--not one. I often
feel very sorry for her, but dislike her all the same.'
'Sorry for her,' mused Earwaker. 'Yes, so do I. I can't like her
either. She is certainly an incomplete woman. But her mind is of no
low order. I had rather talk with her than with one of the imbecile
prettinesses. I half believe you have a sneaking sympathy with the
men who can't stand education in a wife.'
'It's possible. In some moods.'
'In no mood can I conceive such a prejudice. I have no great
attraction to women of any kind, but the uneducated woman I detest.'
'Well, so do I,' muttered Peak. 'Do you know what?' he added,
abruptly. 'I shall be off to the Pacific. Yes, I shall go this next
winter. My mind is made up.'
'I shan't try to dissuade you, old fellow, though I had rather have
you in sight. Come and see Malkin. I'll drop you a note with an
They soon reached the station, and exchanged but few more words
before Earwaker's leaving the train at Farringdon Street. Peak
pursued his journey towards the south-east of London.
On reaching home, the journalist flung aside his foolish coat of
ceremony, indued a comfortable jacket, lit a pipe with long stem,
and began to glance over an evening newspaper. He had not long
reposed in his arm-chair when the familiar appeal thundered from
without. Malkin once more shook his hand effusively.
'Had my journey to Fulham for nothing. Didn't matter; I ran over to
Putney and looked up my old landlady. The rooms are occupied by a
married couple, but I think we shall succeed in persuading them to
make way for me. I promised to find them lodgings every bit as good
in two days' time.'
'If that is so easy, why not take the new quarters yourself?'
'Why, to tell you the truth, I didn't think of it!--Oh, I had
rather have the old crib; I can do as I like there, you know.
Confound it! Now I shall have to spend all to-morrow lodging-hunting
for other people. Couldn't I pay a man to do it? Some confidential
agent--private police--you know what I mean?'
'A man of any delicacy,' replied Earwaker, with grave countenance,
'would feel bound by such a promise to personal exertion.'
'Right; quite right! I didn't mean it; of course I shall hunt
conscientiously. Oh, I say; I have brought over a couple of
armadilloes. Would you like one?'
'Stuffed, do you mean?'
'Pooh! Alive, man, alive! They only need a little care. I should
think you might keep the creature in your kitchen; they become quite
The offer was unhesitatingly declined, and Malkin looked hurt. There
needed a good deal of genial explanation before Earwaker could
restore him to his sprightly mood.
'Where have you been dining?' cried the traveller. 'Moxey's--ah, I
remember. But who ~is~ Moxey? A new acquaintance, eh?'
'Yes; I have known him about six months. Got to know him through
'Peak? Peak? What, the fellow you once told me about--who
disappeared from Whitelaw because of his uncle, the cat's-meat man?'
'The man's-meat man, rather.'
'Yes, yes--the eating-house; I remember. You have met him again?
Why on earth didn't you tell me in your letters? What became of him?
Tell me the story.'
'Certainly, if you will cease to shake down plaster from the
ceiling.--We met in a restaurant (appropriate scene), happening to
sit at the same table. Whilst eating, we stared at each other
fitfully. "I'll be hanged if that isn't Peak," I kept saying to
myself. And at the same moment we opened our lips to question each
'Just the same thing happened once to a friend of mine and a friend
of his. But it was on board ship, and both were devilish seasick.
Walker--you remember my friend Walker?--tells the story in a
side-splitting way. I wonder what has become of Walker? The last
time I met him he was travelling agent for a menagerie--a most
interesting fellow, Walker.--But I beg your pardon. Go on, old
'Well, after that we at once saw a good deal of each other. He has
been working for years at a chemical factory down on the river;
Moxey used to be there, and got him the place.'
'Moxey?--Oh yes, the man you dined with. You must remember that
these are new names to me. I must know all these new people, I say.
You don't mind?'
'You shall be presented to the whole multitude, as soon as you like.
Peak wants to see you. He thinks of an excursion like this last of
'He does? By Jove, we'll go together! I have always wanted a
travelling companion. We'll start as soon as ever he likes!--well,
in a month or two. I must just have time to look round. Oh, I
haven't done with the tropics yet! I must tell him of a rattling
good insect-powder I have invented; I think of patenting it. I say,
how does one get a patent? Quite a simple matter, I suppose?'
'Oh, always has been. The simplest and least worrying of all
'What? Eh? That smile of yours means mischief.'
In a quarter of an hour they had got back to the subject of Peak's
'And did he really run away because of the eating-house?' Malkin
'I shall never venture to ask, and it's not very likely he will
admit it. It was some time before he cared to talk much of
'But what is he doing? You used to think he would come out strong,
didn't you? Has he written anything?'
'A few things in ~The Liberator~, five or six years ago.'
'What, the atheistic paper?'
'Yes. But he's ashamed of it now. That belongs to a bygone stage of
'I only mean that he is ashamed of the connection with street-corner
'Quite right. Devilish low, that kind of thing. But I went in for it
myself once. Did I ever tell you that I debated with a parson on
Mile-end Waste? Fact! That was in my hot-headed days. A crowd of
coster-mongers applauded me in the most flattering way.--I say,
Earwaker, you haven't any whisky?'
'Forgive me; your conversation makes me forget hospitality. Shall I
make hot water? I have a spirit-kettle.'
'Cold for me. I get in such a deuced perspiration when I begin to
talk.--Try this tobacco; the last of half a hundred-weight I took
in at Bahia.'
The traveller refreshed himself with a full tumbler, and resumed the
'Has he just been wasting his time, then, all these years?'
'He goes in for science--laboratory work, evolutionary
speculations. Of course I can't judge his progress in such matters;
but Moxey, a clever man in the same line, thinks very highly of
'Just the fellow to travel with. I want to get hold of some solid
scientific ideas, but I haven't the patience to work steadily. A
confounded fault of mine, you know, Earwaker,--want of patience.
You must have noticed it?'
'Oh--well, now and then, perhaps.'
'Yes, yes; but of course I know myself better. And now tell me about
Moxey. A married man, of course?'
'No, lives with a sister.'
'Pretty well supplied with that commodity.'
'You must introduce me to her. I do like women with brains.--
Orthodox or enlightened?'
'Really? Magnificent! Oh, I must know her. Nothing like an
emancipated woman! How any man can marry the ordinary female passes
my understanding. What do ~you~ think?'
'My opinions are in suspense; not yet precipitated, as Peak might
One o'clock sounded from neighbouring churches, but Malkin was wide
awake as ever. He entered upon a detailed narrative of his travels,
delightful to listen to, so oddly blended were the strains of
conscious and unconscious humour which marked his personality. Two
o'clock; three o'clock;--he would have talked till breakfast-time,
but at last Earwaker declared that the hour had come for sleep. As
Malkin had taken a room at the Inns of Court Hotel, it was easy for
him to repair to his quarters. The last his friend heard of him was
an unexplained laugh, echoing far down the staircase.
Peak's destination was Peckham Rye. On quitting the railway, he had
a walk of some ten minutes along a road which smelt of new bricks
and stucco heated by the summer sun; an obscure passage led him into
a street partly of dwelling-houses, partly of shops, the latter
closed. He paused at the side door of one over which the street lamp
dimly revealed--'Button, Herbalist'.
His latch-key admitted him to total darkness, but he moved forward
with the confidence of long use. He softly ascended two flights of
stairs, opened a door, struck a match, and found himself in a
comfortable sitting-room, soon illumined by a reading-lamp. The
atmosphere, as throughout the house, was strongly redolent of dried
simples. Anyone acquainted with the characteristics of furnished
lodgings must have surmised that Peak dwelt here among his own
moveables, and was indebted to the occupier of the premises for bare
walls alone; the tables and chairs, though plain enough, were such
as civilisation permits; and though there were no pictures, sundry
ornaments here and there made strong denial of lodging-house
affinity. It was at once laboratory, study, and dwelling-room. Two
large cabinets, something the worse for transportation, alone formed
a link between this abode and the old home at Twybridge. Books were
not numerous, and a good microscope seemed to be the only scientific
instrument of much importance. On door-pegs hung a knapsack, a
botanist's vasculum, and a geologist's wallet.
A round table was spread with the materials of supper, and here
again an experienced lodger must have bestowed contemplative
scrutiny, for no hand of common landlady declared itself in the
arrangement. The cloth was spotless, the utensils tasteful and
carefully disposed. In a bowl lay an appetising salad, ready for
mingling; a fragment of Camembert cheese was relieved upon a setting
of green leafage; a bottle of ale, with adjacent corkscrew, stood
beside the plate; the very loaf seemed to come from no ordinary
baker's, or was made to look better than its kin by the fringed
white cloth in which it nestled.
The custom of four years had accustomed Peak to take these things as
a matter of course, yet he would readily have admitted that they
were extraordinary enough. Indeed, he even now occasionally
contrasted this state of comfort with the hateful experiences of his
first six years in London. The subject of lodgings was one of those
on which (often intemperate of speech) he spoke least temperately.
For six years he had shifted from quarter to quarter, from house to
house, driven away each time by the hateful contact of vulgarity in
every form,--by foulness and dishonesty, by lying, slandering,
quarrelling, by drunkenness, by brutal vice,--by all abominations
that distinguish the lodging-letter of the metropolis. Obliged to
practise extreme economy, he could not take refuge among
self-respecting people, or at all events had no luck in endeavouring
to find such among the poorer working-class. To a man of Godwin's
idiosyncrasy the London poor were of necessity abominable, and it
anguished him to be forced to live among them.
Rescue came at last, and in a very unexpected way. Resident in the
more open part of Bermondsey (winter mornings made a long journey to
Rotherhithe intolerable), he happened to walk one day as far as
Peckham Rye, and was there attracted by the shop window of a
herbalist. He entered to make a purchase, and got into conversation
with Mr. Button, a middle-aged man of bright intelligence and more
reading than could be expected. The herbalist led his customer to an
upper room, in which were stored sundry curiosities, and happened
casually to say that he was desirous of finding a lodger for two
superfluous chambers. Peak's inquiries led to his seeing Mrs. Button,
whom he found to be a Frenchwoman of very pleasing appearance; she
spoke fluent French-English, anything but disagreeable to an ear
constantly tormented by the London vernacular. After short
reflection he decided to take and furnish the rooms. It proved a
most fortunate step, for he lived (after the outlay for furniture)
at much less expense than theretofore, and in comparative luxury.
Cleanliness, neatness, good taste by no means exhausted Mrs. Button's
virtues; her cooking seemed to the lodger of incredible perfection,
and the infinite goodwill with which he was tended made strange
contrast with the base usage he had commonly experienced.
In these ten years he had paid but four visits to Twybridge, each of
brief duration. Naturally there were changes among his kinsfolk:
Charlotte, after an engagement which prolonged itself to the fifth
twelvemonth, had become Mrs. Cusse, and her husband now had a
draper's shop of his own, with two children already born into the
world of draperdom. Oliver, twice fruitlessly affianced, had at
length (when six-and-twenty) wedded a young person whom his mother
and his aunt both regarded as a most undesirable connection, the
daughter (aged thirty-two) of a man who was drinking himself to
death on such money as he could earn by casual reporting for a
Twybridge newspaper. Mrs. Peak the elder now abode with her sister at
the millinery shop, and saw little of her two married children. With
Oliver and Charlotte their brother had no sympathy, and affected
none; he never wrote to them, nor they to him; but years had
strengthened his regard for his mother, and with her he had fairly
regular correspondence. Gladly he would have seen her more often,
but the air of shopkeeping he was compelled to breathe when he
visited Twybridge nauseated and repelled him. He recognised the
suitability both of Oliver and Charlotte for the positions to which
life had consigned them--they suffered from no profitless
aspiration; but it seemed to him a just cause of quarrel with fate
that his kindred should thus have relapsed, instead of bettering the
rank their father had bequeathed to them. He would not avow to such
friends as Moxey and Earwaker the social standing of his only
As for the unrecognised, he had long ago heard with some
satisfaction that Andrew Peak, having ultimately failed in his
Kingsmill venture, returned to London. Encounter with the fatal
Andrew had been spared him ever since that decisive day when Master
Jowey Peak recited from Coleridge and displayed his etymological
For himself, he had earned daily bread, and something more; he had
studied in desultory fashion; he had seen a good deal of the British
Isles and had visited Paris. The result of it all was gnawing
discontent, intervals of furious revolt, periods of black despair.
He had achieved nothing, and he was alone.
Young still, to be sure; at twenty-nine it is too early to abandon
ambitions which are supported by force of brain and of will. But
circumstances must needs help if the desires of his soul were to be
attained. On first coming to London, received with all friendliness
by Christian Moxey, he had imagined that it only depended upon
himself to find admission before long to congenial society--by
which he then understood the companionship of intelligent and
aspiring young men. Christian, however, had himself no such circle,
and knew that the awkward lad from Twybridge could not associate
with the one or two wealthy families to which he could have
presented him. The School of Mines was only technically useful; it
helped Godwin to get his place with Bates & Sons, but supplied no
friendships. In the third year, Moxey inherited means and left the
chemical works for continental travel.
By tormenting attraction Godwin was often led to walk in the wealthy
districts of London. Why was no one of these doors open to him?
There were his equals; not in the mean streets where he dwelt. There
were the men of culture and capacity, the women of exquisite person
and exalted mind. Was he the inferior of such people? By heaven, no!
He chanced once to be in Hyde Park on the occasion of some public
ceremony, and was brought to pause at the edge of a gaping plebeian
crowd, drawn up to witness the passing of aristocratic vehicles.
Close in front of him an open carriage came to a stop; in it sat, or
rather reclined, two ladies, old and young. Upon this picture Godwin
fixed his eyes with the intensity of fascination; his memory never
lost the impress of these ladies' faces. Nothing very noteworthy
about them; but to Godwin they conveyed a passionate perception of
all that is implied in social superiority. Here he stood, one of the
multitude, of the herd; shoulder to shoulder with boors and
pick-pockets; and within reach of his hand reposed those two ladies,
in Olympian calm, seeming unaware even of the existence of the
throng. Now they exchanged a word; now they smiled to each other.
How delicate was the moving of their lips! How fine must be their
enunciation! On the box sat an old coachman and a young footman;
they too were splendidly impassive, scornful of the multitudinous
gaze.--The block was relieved, and on the carriage rolled.
They were his equals, those ladies, merely his equals. With such as
they he should by right of nature associate.
In his rebellion, he could not hate them. He hated the malodorous
rabble who stared insolently at them and who envied their
immeasurable remoteness. Of mere wealth he thought not; might he
only be recognised by the gentle of birth and breeding for what he
really was, and be rescued from the promiscuity of the vulgar!
Yet at this time he was drawn into connection with the movement of
popular Radicalism which revolts against religious respectability.
Inherited antipathy to all conventional forms of faith outweighed
his other prejudices so far as to induce him to write savage papers
for ~The Liberator~. Personal contact with artisan freethinkers was
disgusting to him. From the meeting of emancipated workmen he went
away with scorn and detestation in his heart; but in the quiet of
his lodgings he could sit down to aid their propaganda. One
explanation of this inconsistency lay in the fact that no other
channel was open to his literary impulses. Pure science could not
serve him, for he had no original results to announce. Pure
literature seemed beyond his scope, yet he was constantly
endeavouring to express himself. He burned with the desire of fame,
and saw no hope of achieving it save as an author. ~The Liberator~
would serve him as a first step. In time he might get foothold in
the monthly reviews, and see his name side by side with those of the
leaders of thought.
Occasions, of course, offered when he might have extended his
acquaintance, but they were never of a kind that he cared to use; at
best they would only have admitted him to the homes of decent,
semi-educated families, and for such society he was altogether
unfitted. The licence of the streets but seldom allured him. After
his twenty-fourth year he was proof against the decoys of venal
pleasure, and lived a life of asceticism exceedingly rare in young
and lonely men. When Christian Moxey returned to London and took the
house at Notting Hill, which he henceforth occupied together with
his sister, a possibility of social intercourse at length appeared.
Indeed it was a substantial gain to sit from time to time at a
civilised table, and to converse amid graceful surroundings with
people who at all events followed the intellectual current of the
day. Careless hitherto of his personal appearance, he now cultivated
an elegance of attire in conformity with his aristocratic instincts,
and this habit became fixed. When next he visited Twybridge, the
change in his appearance was generally remarked. Mrs. Peak naturally
understood it as a significant result of his intercourse with Miss
Moxey, of whom, as it seemed to her, he spoke with singular
But Marcella had no charm for Godwin's imagination, notwithstanding
that he presently suspected a warmth of interest on her side which
he was far from consciously encouraging. Nor did he find among his
friends any man or woman for whose acquaintance he greatly cared.
The Moxeys had a very small circle, consisting chiefly of
intellectual inferiors. Christian was too indolent to make a figure
in society, and his sister suffered from peculiarities of mind and
temperament which made it as difficult for her as for Peak himself
to form intimate friendships.
When chance encounter brought him into connection with Earwaker, the
revival of bygone things was at first doubtfully pleasant. Earwaker
himself, remarkably developed and become a very interesting man, was
as welcome an associate as he could have found, but it cost him some
effort to dismiss the thought of Andrew Peak's eating-house, and to
accept the friendly tact with which the journalist avoided all hint
of unpleasant memories. That Earwaker should refrain from a single
question concerning that abrupt disappearance, nearly ten years ago,
sufficiently declared his knowledge of the unspeakable cause, a
reflection which often made Godwin writhe. However, this difficulty
was overcome, and the two met very frequently. For several weeks
Godwin enjoyed better spirits than he had known since the first
excitement of his life in London faded away.
One result was easily foreseen. His mind grew busy with literary
projects, many that he had long contemplated and some that were new.
Once more he aimed at contributing to the 'advanced' reviews, and
sketched out several papers of sociological tenor. None of these
were written. As soon as he sat down to deliberate composition, a
sense of his deficiencies embarrassed him. Godwin's self-confidence
had nothing in common with the conceit which rests on imaginary
strength. Power there was in him; of that he could not but be
conscious: its true direction he had not yet learned. Defect of
knowledge, lack of pen-practice, confusion and contradictoriness of
aims, instability of conviction,--these faults he recognised in
himself at every moment of inward scrutiny.
On his table this evening lay a library volume which he had of late
been reading, a book which had sprung into enormous popularity. It
was called ~Spiritual Aspects of Evolution~, and undertook, with
confidence characteristic of its kind, to reconcile the latest
results of science with the dogmas of Oriental religion. This work
was in his mind when he spoke so vehemently at Moxey's; already he
had trembled with an impulse to write something on the subject, and
during his journey home a possible essay had begun to shape itself.
Late as was the hour he could not prepare for sleep. His brain
throbbed with a congestion of thought; he struggled to make clear
the lines on which his satire might direct itself. By two o'clock he
had flung down on paper a conglomerate of burning ideas, and thus
relieved he at length went to bed.
Two days later came a note from Staple Inn, inviting him to meet
Malkin the next evening. By this time he had made a beginning of his
critical essay, and the exordium so far satisfied him that he was
tempted to take it for Earwaker's judgment. But no; better his
friend should see the thing when it was complete.
About eight o'clock he reached the journalist's chambers. Malkin had
not yet arrived. Peak amused himself with examining certain tropical
products which the traveller had recently cast pell-mell into his
friend's sitting-room. Then sounded a knock at the door, but it was
not such as would have heralded the expected man.
'A telegram,' observed Earwaker, and went to take it in.
He returned with hoarse sounds of mirth.
'Our friend excuses himself. Read this characteristic despatch.'
Peak saw with surprise that the telegram far exceeded familiar
dimensions. 'Unspeakably grieved,' it began. 'Cannot possibly with
you. At moment's notice undertaken escort two poor girls Rouen. Not
even time look in apologise. Go via Dieppe and leave Victoria few
minutes. Hope be back Thursday. Express sincerest regret Mr. Peak.
Lament appearance discourtesy. Will apologise personally. Common
humanity constrains go Rouen. Will explain Thursday. No time add
another word. Rush tickets train.'
'There you have the man!' cried Earwaker. 'How do you class such a
mind as that? Ten to one this is some Quixotic obligation he has
laid upon himself, and probably he has gone without even a handbag.'
'Vocally delivered,' said Peak, 'this would represent a certain
stage of drunkenness. I suppose it isn't open to such an
'Malkin never was intoxicated, save with his own vivacity.'
They discussed the singular being with good-natured mirth, then
turned by degrees to other topics.
'I have just come across a passage that will delight you,' said
Earwaker, taking up a book. 'Perhaps you know it.'
He read from Sir Thomas Brown's ~Pscudodoxia Epidemica~. '"Men's
names should not only distinguish them. A man should be something
that all men are not, and individual in somewhat beside his proper
name. Thus, while it exceeds not the bound of reason and modesty, we
cannot condemn singularity. ~Nos numerus sumus~ is the motto of the
multitude, and for that reason are they fools."'
Peak laughed his approval.
'It astonishes me,' he said, lighting his pipe, 'that you can go on
writing for this Sunday rag, when you have just as little sympathy
with its aims as I have. Do get into some less offensive
'What paper would you recommend?' asked the other, with his
'Why need you journalise at all?'
'On the whole, I like it. And remember, to admit that the multitude
are fools is not the same thing as to deny the possibility of
'Do you really believe yourself a democrat, Earwaker?'
'M--m--m! Well, yes, I believe the democratic spirit is stronger in
me than any other.'
Peak mused for a minute, then suddenly looked up.
'And what am I?'
'I am glad nothing much depends on my successfully defining you.'
They laughed together.
'I suppose,' said Godwin, 'you can't call a man a democrat who
recognises in his heart and soul a true distinction of social
classes. Social, mark. The division I instinctively support is by no
means intellectual. The well-born fool is very often more sure of my
respect than the working man who struggles to a fair measure of
Earwaker would have liked to comment on this with remarks personal
to the speaker, but he feared to do so. His silence, however, was
eloquent to Peak, who resumed brusquely.
'I am not myself well-born,--though if my parents could have come
into wealth early in their lives, perhaps I might reasonably have
called myself so. All sorts of arguments can be brought against my
prejudice, but the prejudice is ineradicable. I respect hereditary
social standing, independently of the individual's qualities.
There's nothing of the flunkey in this, or I greatly deceive myself.
Birth in a sphere of refinement is desirable and respectable; it
saves one, absolutely, from many forms of coarseness. The masses are
not only fools, but very near the brutes. Yes, they can send forth
fine individuals--but remain base. I don't deny the possibility of
social advance; I only say that at present the lower classes are
always disagreeable, often repulsive, sometimes hateful.'
'I could apply that to the classes above them.'
'Well, I can't. But I am quite ready to admit that there are all
sorts of inconsistencies in me. Now, the other day I was reading
Burns, and I couldn't describe what exaltation all at once possessed
me in the thought that a ploughman had so glorified a servant-girl
that together they shine in the highest heaven, far above all the
monarchs of earth. This came upon me with a rush--a very rare
emotion. Wasn't that democratic?'
He inquired dubiously, and Earwaker for a moment had no reply but
his familiar 'M--m--m!'
'No, it was not democratic,' the journalist decided at length; 'it
was pride of intellect.'
'Think so? Then look here. If it happens that a whining wretch stops
me in the street to beg, what do you suppose is my feeling? I am
ashamed in the sense of my own prosperity. I can't look him in the
face. If I yielded to my natural impulse, I should cry out, "Strike
me! spit at me! show you hate me!--anything but that terrible
humiliation of yourself before me!" That's howl feel. The abasement
of which ~he~ isn't sensible affects ~me~ on his behalf. I give
money with what delicacy I can. If I am obliged to refuse, I mutter
apologies and hurry away with burning cheeks. What does that mean?'
Earwaker regarded him curiously.
'That is mere fineness of humanity.'
'Perhaps moral weakness?'
'I don't care for the scalpel of the pessimist. Let us give it the
Peak had never been so communicative. His progress in composition
these last evenings seemed to have raised his spirits and spurred
the activity of his mind. With a look of pleasure he pursued his
'Special antipathies--sometimes explicable enough--influence me
very widely. Now, I by no means hate all orders of uneducated
people. A hedger, a fisherman, a country mason,--people of that
kind I rather like to talk with. I could live a good deal with them.
But the London vulgar I abominate, root and branch. The mere sound
of their voices nauseates me; their vilely grotesque accent and
pronunciation--bah! I could write a paper to show that they are
essentially the basest of English mortals. Unhappily, I know so much
about them. If I saw the probability of my dying in a London
lodging-house, I would go out into the sweet-scented fields and
there kill myself.'
Earwaker understood much by this avowal, and wondered whether his
friend desired him so to do.
'Well, I can't say that I have any affection for the race,' he
replied. 'I certainly believe that, socially and politically, there
is less hope of them than of the lower orders in any other part of
'They are damned by the beastly conditions of their life!' cried
Godwin, excitedly. 'I don't mean only the slum-denizens. All, all
Hammersmith as much as St. George's-in-the-East. I must write about
this; I must indeed.'
'Do by all means. Nothing would benefit you more than to get your
soul into print.'
Peak delayed a little, then:
'Well, I am doing something at last.'
And he gave an account of his projected essay. By this time his
hands trembled with nervous agitation, and occasionally a dryness of
the palate half choked his voice.
'This may do very well,' opined Earwaker. 'I suppose you will try
'Yes. But have I any chance? Can a perfectly unknown man hope to get
They debated this aspect of the matter. Seeing Peak had laid down
his pipe, the journalist offered him tobacco.
'Thanks; I can't smoke just yet. It's my misfortune that I can't
talk earnestly without throwing my body into disorder.'
'How stolid I am in comparison!' said Earwaker.
'That book of M'Naughten's,' resumed the other, going back to his
subject. 'I suppose the clergy accept it?'
'Largely, I believe.'
'Now, if I were a clergyman'--
But his eye met Earwaker's, and they broke into laughter.
'Why not?' pursued Godwin. 'Did I ever tell you that my people
originally wished to make a parson of me? Of course I resisted tooth
and nail, but it seems to me now that I was rather foolish in doing
so. I wish I ~had~ been a parson. In many ways the position would
have suited me very well.'
'I am quite serious. Well, if I were so placed, I should preach
Church dogma, pure and simple. I would have nothing to do with these
reconciliations. I would stand firm as Jeremy Taylor; and in
consequence should have an immense and enthusiastic congregation.'
'Depend upon it, let the dogmas do what they still can. There's a
vast police force in them, at all events. A man may very strongly
defend himself for preaching them.'
The pursuit of this argument led Earwaker to ask:
'What proportion of the clergy can still take that standing in
'What proportion are convinced that it is untenable?' returned Peak.
'Many wilfully shut their eyes to the truth.'
'No, they don't shut their eyes!' cried Godwin. 'They merely lower a
nictitating membrane which permits them to gaze at light without
feeling its full impact.'
'I recommend you to bring that into your paper,' said the
journalist, with his deep chuckle.
An hour later they were conversing with no less animation, but the
talk was not so critical. Christian Moxey had come up as a topic,
and Earwaker was saying that he found it difficult to divine the
'You won't easily do that,' replied Peak, 'until you know more of
his story. I can't see that I am bound to secrecy--at all events
with you. Poor Moxey imagines that he is in love, and the fancy has
lasted about ten years.
'When I first knew him he was paying obvious attentions to a rather
plain cousin down at Twybridge. Why, I don't know, for he certainly
was devoted to a girl here in London. All he has confessed to me is
that he had given up hopes of her, but that a letter of some sort or
other revived them, and he hastened back to town. He might as well
have stayed away; the girl very soon married another man. Less than
a year later she had bitterly repented this, and in some way or
other she allowed Moxey to know it. Since then they have been
Platonic lovers--nothing more, I am convinced. They see each other
about once in six months, and presumably live on a hope that the
obnoxious husband may decease. I only know the woman as "Constance";
never saw her.'
'So that's Moxey? I begin to understand better.'
'Admirable fellow, but deplorably weak. I have an affection for him,
and have had from our first meeting.'
'Women!' mused Earwaker, and shook his head.
'You despise them?'
'On the whole, I'm afraid so.'
'Yes, but ~what~ women?' cried the other with impatience. 'It would
be just as reasonable to say that you despise men. Can't you see
'I doubt it.'
'Now look here; the stock objections to women are traditional. They
take no account of the vast change that is coming about. Because
women were once empty-headed, it is assumed they are all still so
~en masse~. The defect of the female mind? It is my belief that this
is nothing more nor less than the defect of the uneducated human
mind. I believe most men among the brutally ignorant exhibit the
very faults which are cried out upon as exclusively feminine. A
woman has hitherto been an ignorant human being; that explains
'Not everything; something, perhaps. Remember your evolutionism. The
preservation of the race demands in women many kinds of
irrationality, of obstinate instinct, which enrage a reasoning man.
Don't suppose I speak theoretically. Four or five years ago I had
really made up my mind to marry; I wasted much valuable time among
women and girls, of anything but low social standing. But my
passions were choked by my logical faculty. I foresaw a terrible
possibility--that I might beat my wife. One thing I learned with
certainty was that the woman, ~qua~ woman, hates abstract thought--
hates it. Moreover (and of consequence) she despises every ambition
that has not a material end.'
He enlarged upon the subject, followed it into all its
ramifications, elaborated the inconsistencies with which it is rife.
Peak's reply was deliberate.
'Admitting that some of these faults are rooted in sex, I should
only find them intolerable when their expression took a vulgar form.
Between irrationality and coarseness of mind there is an enormous
'With coarse minds I have nothing to do.'
'Forgive me if I ask you a blunt question,' said Peak, after
hesitating. 'Have you ever associated with women of the highest
'I don't know what that phrase means. It sounds rather odd on your
'Well, women of the highest class of commoners. With peeresses we
needn't concern ourselves.'
'You imagine that social precedence makes all that difference in
'Yes, I do. The daughter of a county family is a finer being than
any girl who can spring from the nomad orders.'
'Even supposing your nomads produce a Rachel or a Charlotte
'We are not talking of genius,' Peak replied.
'It was irrelevant, I know.--Well, yes, I ~have~ conversed now and
then with what you would call well-born women. They are delightful
creatures, some of them, in given circumstances. But do you think I
ever dreamt of taking a wife drenched with social prejudices?'
Peak's face expressed annoyance, and he said nothing.
'A man's wife,' pursued Earwaker, 'may be his superior in whatever
you like, ~except~ social position. That is precisely the
distinction that no woman can forget or forgive. On that account
they are the obstructive element in social history. If I loved a
woman of rank above my own she would make me a renegade; for her
sake I should deny my faith. I should write for the ~St. James's
Gazette~, and at last poison myself in an agony of shame.'
A burst of laughter cleared the air for a moment, but for a moment
only. Peak's countenance clouded over again, and at length he said
in a lower tone:
'There are men whose character would defy that rule.'
'Yes--to their own disaster. But I ought to have made one
exception. There is a case in which a woman will marry without much
regard to her husband's origin. Let him be a parson, and he may aim
as high as he chooses.'
Peak tried to smile. He made no answer, and fell into a fit of
'What's all this about?' asked the journalist, when he too had mused
awhile. 'Whose acquaintance have you been making?'
The suspicion was inevitable.
'If it were true, perhaps you would be justified in mistrusting my
way of regarding these things. But it's the natural tendency of my
mind. If I ever marry at all, it will be a woman of far higher birth
than my own.'
'Don't malign your parents, old fellow. They gave you a brain
inferior to that of few men. You will never meet a woman of higher
'That's a friendly sophism. I can't thank you for it, because it has
a bitter side.'
But the compliment had excited Peak, and after a moment's delay he
'I have no other ambition in life--no other! Think the confession
as ridiculous as you like; my one supreme desire is to marry a
perfectly refined woman. Put it in the correct terms: I am a
plebeian, and I aim at marrying a lady.'
The last words were flung out defiantly. He quivered as he spoke,
and his face flushed.
'I can't wish you success,' returned his friend, with a grave smile.
'You couldn't help it sounding like a sneer, if you did. The desire
is hopeless, of course. It's because I know that, that I have made
up my mind to travel for a year or two; it'll help me on towards the
age when I shall regard all women with indifference. We won't talk
about it any more.'
'One question. You seriously believe that you could find
satisfaction in the life to which such a marriage would condemn
'What life?' asked Peak, impatiently.
'That of an average gentleman, let us say, with house in town and
country, with friends whose ruling motive was social propriety.'
'I could enjoy the good and throw aside the distasteful.'
'What about the distastefulness of your wife's crass
conventionalism, especially in religion?'
'It would not be ~crass~, to begin with. If her religion were
genuine, I could tolerate it well enough; if it were merely a form,
I could train her to my own opinions. Society is growing liberal--
the best of it. Please remember that I have in mind a woman of the
highest type our civilisation can produce.'
'Then you mustn't look for her in society!' cried Earwaker.
'I don't care; where you will, so long as she had always lived among
people of breeding and high education, and never had her thoughts
soiled with the vile contact of poverty.'
Earwaker started up and reached a volume from a shelf. Quickly
finding the desired page, he began to read aloud:
'Dear, had the world in its caprice
Deigned to proclaim--I know you both,
Have recognised your plighted troth,
Am sponsor for you; live in peace!'--
He read to the end of the poem, and then looked up with an admiring
'An ideal!' exclaimed Peak. 'An ideal akin to Murger's and Musset's
grisettes, who never existed.'
'An ideal, most decidedly. But pray what is this consummate lady you
have in mind? An ideal every bit as much, and of the two I prefer
Browning's. For my own part, I am a polygamist; my wives live in
literature, and too far asunder to be able to quarrel. Impossible
women, but exquisite. They shall suffice to me.'
Peak rose, sauntered about the room for a minute or two, then said:
'I have just got a title for my paper. I shall call it "The New
'Do very well, I should think,' replied the other, smiling. 'Will
you let me see it when it's done?'
'Who knows if I shall finish it? Nothing I ever undertook has been
finished yet--nothing won that I ever aimed at. Good night. Let me
hear about Malkin.'
In a week's time Godwin received another summons to Staple Inn, with
promise of Malkin's assured presence. In reply he wrote:
'Owing to a new arrangement at Bates's, I start tomorrow for my
holiday in Cornwall, so cannot see you for a few weeks. Please offer
Malkin my apologies; make them (I mean it) as profuse as those he
telegraphed. Herewith I send you my paper, "The New Sophistry",
which I have written at a few vehement sittings, and have carelessly
copied. If you think it worth while, will you have the kindness to
send it for me to ~The Critical~? I haven't signed it, as my
unmeaning name would perhaps indispose the fellow to see much good
in it. I should thank you if you would write in your own person,
saying that you act for a friend; you are probably well known in
those quarters. If it is accepted, time enough to claim my glory. If
it seems to you to have no chance, keep it till I return, as I hate
the humiliation of refusals.--Don't think I made an ass of myself
the other night. We will never speak on that subject again. All I
said was horribly sincere, but I'm afraid you can't understand that
side of my nature. I should never have spoken so frankly to Moxey,
though he has made no secret with me of his own weaknesses. If I
perish before long in a South American swamp, you will be able to
reflect on my personality with completer knowledge, so I don't
regret the indiscretion.'
'~Pereunt et imputantur~.'
Godwin Peak read the motto beneath the clock in Exeter Cathedral,
and believed it of Christian origin. Had he known that the words
were found in Martial, his rebellious spirit would have enjoyed the
consecration of a phrase from such an unlikely author. Even as he
must have laughed had he stood in the Vatican before the figures of
those two Greek dramatists who, for ages, were revered as Christian
His ignorance preserved him from a clash of sentiments. This
afternoon he was not disposed to cynicism; rather he welcomed the
softening influence of this noble interior, and let the golden
sunlight form what shapes it would--heavenly beam, mystic aureole
--before his mind's eye. Architecture had no special interest for
him, and the history of church or faith could seldom touch his
emotions; but the glorious handiwork of men long dead, the solemn
stillness of an ancient sanctuary, made that appeal to him which is
independent of names.
'~Pereunt et imputantur~.'
He sat down where the soft, slow ticking of the clock could guide
his thoughts. This morning he had left London by the earliest train,
and after a night in Exeter would travel westward by leisurely
stages, seeing as much as possible of the coast and of that inland
scenery which had geological significance. His costume declared him
bent on holiday, but, at the same time, distinguished him with
delicate emphasis from the tourist of the season. Trustworthy
sartorial skill had done its best for his person. Sitting thus, he
had the air of a gentleman who enjoys no unwonted ease. He could
forget himself in reverie, and be unaware of soft footfalls that
drew near along the aisle.
But the sound of a young voice, subdued yet very clear, made claim
upon his attention.
She who spoke was behind him; on looking up, he saw that a lady just
in front had stopped and turned to the summons; smiling, she
retraced her steps. He moved, so as to look discreetly in the
backward direction, and observed a group of four persons, who were
occupied with a tablet on the wall: a young man (not long out of
boyhood), a girl who might be a year or two younger, and two ladies,
of whom it could only be said that they were mature in the beauty of
youth, probably of maidenhood--one of them, she who had been
called back by the name of 'Sidwell'.
Surely an uncommon name. From a guide-book, with which he had amused
himself in the train, he knew that one of the churches of Exeter was
dedicated to St. Sidwell, but only now did his recollection apprise
him of a long past acquaintance with the name of the saint. Had not
Buckland Warricombe a sister called Sidwell? And--did he only
surmise a connection between the Warricombes and Devon? No, no; on
that remote day, when he went out with Buckland to the house near
Kingsmill, Mr. Warricombe spoke to him of Exeter,--mentioning that
the town of his birth was Axminster, where William Buckland, the
geologist, also was born; whence the name of his eldest son. How
suddenly it all came back!
He rose and moved apart to a spot whence he might quietly observe
the strangers. 'Sidwell', once remarked, could not be confused with
the companion of her own age; she was slimmer, shorter (if but
slightly), more sedate in movement, and perhaps better dressed--
though both were admirable in that respect. Ladies, beyond a doubt.
And the young man--
At this distance it was easy to deceive oneself, but did not that
face bring something back? Now, as he smiled, it seemed to recall
Buckland Warricombe--with a difference. This might well be a
younger brother; there used to be one or two.
They were familiar with the Cathedral, and at present appeared to
take exclusive interest in certain mural monuments. For perhaps ten
minutes they lingered about the aisle, then, after a glance at the
west window, went forth. With quick step, Godwin pursued them; he
issued in time to see them entering an open carriage, which
presently drove away towards High Street.
For half an hour he walked the Cathedral Close. Not long ago, on
first coming into that quiet space, with its old houses, its smooth
lawns, its majestic trees, he had felt the charm peculiar to such
scenes--the natural delight in a form of beauty especially
English. Now, the impression was irrecoverable; he could see nothing
but those four persons, and their luxurious carriage, and the two
beautiful horses which had borne them--whither? As likely as not
the identity he had supposed for them was quite imaginary; yet it
would be easy to ascertain whether a Warricombe family dwelt at
Exeter. The forename of Buckland's father--? He never had known it.
Still, it was worth while consulting a directory.
He walked to his hotel.
Yes, the name Warricombe stood there, but it occurred more than
once. He sought counsel of the landlord. Which of these Warricombes
was a gentleman of position, with grown-up sons and daughters? To
such a description answered Martin Warricombe, Esquire, well known
in the city. His house was in the Old Tiverton Road, out beyond St
Sidwell's, two miles away; anyone in that district would serve as
guide to it.
With purpose indefinite, Godwin set forth in the direction
suggested. At little more than a saunter, he passed out of High
Street into its continuation, where he soon descried the Church of
St. Sidwell, and thence, having made inquiry, walked towards the Old
Tiverton Road. He was now quite beyond the town limits, and few
pedestrians came in sight; if he really wished to find the abode of
Martin Warricombe, he must stop the first questionable person. But
to what end this inquiry? He could not even be certain that Martin
was the man he had in mind, and even were he right in all his
conjectures, what had he to do with the Warricombes?
Ten years ago the family had received him courteously as Buckland's
fellow-student; he had spent an hour or two at their house, and
subsequently a few words had passed when they saw him on prize-day
at Whitelaw. To Buckland he had never written; he had never since
heard of him; that name was involved in the miserable whirl of
circumstances which brought his College life to a close, and it was
always his hope that Buckland thought no more of him. Even had there
been no disagreeable memories, it was surely impossible to renew
after this interval so very slight an acquaintance. How could they
receive him, save with civilly mild astonishment?
An errand-boy came along, whistling townwards, a big basket over his
head. No harm in asking where Mr. Warricombe lived. The reply was
prompt: second house on the right hand, rather a large one, not a
quarter of a mile onward.
Here, then. The site was a good one. From this part of the climbing
road one looked over the lower valley of the Exe, saw the whole
estuary, and beyond that a horizon of blue sea. Fair, rich land,
warm under the westering sun. The house itself seemed to be old, but
after all was not very large; it stood amid laurels, and in the
garden behind rose a great yew-tree. No person was visible; but for
the wave-like murmur of neighbouring pines, scarce a sound would
have disturbed the air.
Godwin walked past, and found that the road descended into a deep
hollow, whence between high banks, covered with gorse and bracken
and many a summer flower, it led again up a hill thick planted with
firs; at the lowest point was a bridge over a streamlet, offering on
either hand a view of soft green meadows. A spot of exquisite
retirement: happy who lived here in security from the struggle of
It was folly to spoil his enjoyment of country such as this by
dreaming impossible opportunities. The Warricombes could be nothing
to him; to meet with Buckland would only revive the shame long ago
outlived. After resting for a few minutes he turned back, passed the
silent house again, delighted himself with the wide view, and so
into the city once more, where he began to seek the remnants of its
The next morning was Sunday, and he had planned to go by the
Plymouth train to a station whence he could reach Start Point; but
his mood was become so unsettled that ten o'clock, when already he
should have been on his journey, found him straying about the
Cathedral Close. A mere half-purpose, a vague wavering intention,
which might at any moment be scattered by common sense, drew his
steps to the door of the Cathedral, where people were entering for
morning service; he moved idly within sight of the carriages which
drew up. Several had discharged their freightage of tailoring and
millinery, when two vehicles, which seemed companions, stopped at
the edge of the pavement, and from the second alighted the young
ladies whom Godwin had yesterday observed; their male companion,
however, was different. The carriage in advance also contained four
persons: a gentleman of sixty, his wife, a young girl, and the youth
of yesterday. It needed but a glance to inform Godwin that the
oldest of the party was Mr. Warricombe, Buckland's father; ten years
had made no change in his aspect. Mrs. Warricombe was not less
recognisable. They passed at once into the edifice, and he had
scarcely time to bestow a keen look upon Sidwell.
That was a beautiful girl; he stood musing upon the picture
registered by his brain. But why not follow, and from a neighbouring
seat survey her and the others at his leisure? Pooh! But the impulse
constrained him. After all, he could not get a place that allowed
him to see Sidwell. Her companion, however, the one who seemed to be
of much the same age, was well in view. Sisters they could not be;
nothing of the Warricombe countenance revealed itself in those
handsome but strongly-marked features. A beautiful girl, she also,
yet of a type that made slight appeal to him. Sidwell was all he
could imagine of sweet and dignified; more modest in bearing, more
Monday at noon, and he still walked the streets of Exeter. Early
this morning he had been out to the Old Tiverton Road, and there, on
the lawn amid the laurels, had caught brief glimpse of two female
figures, in one of which he merely divined Sidwell. Why he tarried
thus he did not pretend to explain to himself. Rain had just come
on, and the lowering sky made him low-spirited; he mooned about the
street under his umbrella.
And at this rate, might vapour away his holiday. Exeter was tedious,
but he could not make up his mind to set forth for the sea-shore,
where only his own thoughts awaited him. Packed away in his wallet
lay geological hammer, azimuth compass, clinometer, miniature
microscope,--why should he drag all that lumber about with him?
What to him were the bygone millions of ages, the hoary records of
unimaginable time? One touch of a girl's hand, one syllable of
musical speech,--was it not that whereof his life had truly need?
As remote from him, however, as the age of the pterodactyl. How
often was it necessary to repeat this? On a long voyage, such as he
had all but resolved to take, one might perchance form
acquaintances. He had heard of such things; not impossibly, a social
circle might open to him at Buenos Ayres. But here in England his
poor origin, his lack of means would for ever bar him from the
intimacy of people like the Warricombes.
He loitered towards the South-Western station, dimly conscious of a
purpose to look for trains. Instead of seeking the time-tables he
stood before the bookstall and ran his eye along the titles of new
novels; he had half a mind to buy one of Hardy's and read himself
into the temper which suited summer rambles. But just as his hand
was stretched forth, a full voice, speaking beside him, made demand
for a London weekly paper. Instantly he turned. The tones had
carried him back to Whitelaw; the face disturbed that illusion, but
substituted a reality which threw him into tremor.
His involuntary gaze was met with one of equal intensity. A man of
his own years, but in splendid health and with bright eyes that
looked enjoyment of life, suddenly addressed him.
'Buckland Warricombe, no less surely.'
They shook hands with vigour, laughing in each other's faces; then,
after a moment's pause, Warricombe drew aside from the bookstall,
for sake of privacy.
'Why did we lose sight of each other?' he asked, flashing a glance
at Godwin's costume. 'Why didn't you write to me at Cambridge? What
have you been doing this half-century?'
'I have been in London all the time.'
'I am there most of the year. Well, I rejoice to have met you. On a
'Loitering towards Cornwall.'
'In that case, you can come and have lunch with me at my father's
house. It's only a mile or two off. I was going to walk, but we'll
drive, if you like.'
There was no refusing, and no possibility of reflection. Buckland's
hearty manner made the invitation in itself a thoroughly pleasant
one, and before Peak could sufficiently command his thoughts to
picture the scene towards which he was going they were walking side
by side through the town. In appearance, Warricombe showed nothing
of the revolutionary which, in old days, he aimed at making himself,
and his speech had a suavity which no doubt resulted from much
intercourse with the polished world; Godwin was filled with envious
admiration of his perfect physique, and the mettle which kept it in
such excellent vigour. Even for a sturdy walker, it was no common
task to keep pace with Buckland's strides; Peak soon found himself
conversing rather too breathlessly for comfort.
'What is your latest record for the mile?' he inquired.
Warricombe, understanding at once the reference to his old athletic
pastime and its present application, laughed merrily, and checked
'A bad habit of mine; it gets me into trouble with everyone.
By-the-bye, haven't you become a stronger man than used to seem
likely? I'm quite glad to see how well you look.'
The sincerity of these expressions, often repeated, put Godwin far
more at his ease than the first moment's sensation had promised. He
too began to feel a genuine pleasure in the meeting, and soon bade
defiance to all misgivings. Delicacy perhaps withheld Warricombe
from further mention of Whitelaw, but on the other hand it was not
impossible that he knew nothing of the circumstances which tormented
Godwin's memory. On leaving the College perchance he had lost all
connection with those common friends who might have informed him of
subsequent jokes and rumours. Unlikely, to be sure; for doubtless
some of his Whitelaw contemporaries encountered him at Cambridge;
and again, was it not probable that the younger Warricombe had
become a Whitelaw student? Then Professor Gale--no matter! The
Warricombes of course knew all about Andrew Peak and his
dining-rooms, but they were liberal-minded, and could forgive a
boy's weakness, as well as overlook an acquaintance's obscure
origin. In the joy of finding himself exuberantly welcomed by a man
of Buckland's world he overcame his ignoble self-consciousness.
'Did you know that we were in this part of the country?' Warricombe
asked, once more speeding ahead.
'I always thought of you in connection with Kingsmill.'
'We gave up Thornhaw seven years ago. My father was never quite
comfortable out of Devonshire. The house I am taking you to has been
in our family for three generations. I have often tried to be proud
of the fact, but, as you would guess, that kind of thing doesn't
come very natural to me.'
In the effort to repudiate such sentiment, Buckland distinctly
betrayed its hold upon him. He imagined he was meeting Godwin on
equal ground, but the sensibility of the proletarian could not thus
be deceived. There was a brief silence, during which each looked
away from the other.
'Still keep up your geology?' was Warricombe's next question.
'I can just say that I haven't forgotten it all.'
'I'm afraid that's more than I can. During my Cambridge time it
caused disagreeable debates with my father. You remember that his
science is of the old school. I wouldn't say a word to disparage
him. I believe the extent of his knowledge is magnificent; but he
can't get rid of that old man of the sea, the Book of Genesis. A few
years ago I wasn't too considerate in argument, and I talked as I
oughtn't to have done, called names, and so on. The end of it was, I
dropped science altogether, having got as much out of it as I
needed. The good old pater has quite forgiven my rudeness. At
present we agree to differ, and get on capitally. I'm sure he'll be
delighted to see you. There are some visitors with us; a Miss
Moorhouse and her brother. I think you'll like them. Couldn't you
Godwin was unable to reply on the instant, and his companion
proceeded with the same heartiness.
'Just as you like, you know. But do stay if you can. On Wednesday
morning I must go back to town. I act as secretary to Godolphin, the
member for Slacksea.'
Peak's acquaintance with current politics was slight, but Mr. Ellis
Godolphin, the aristocratic Radical, necessarily stood before his
imagination with some clearness of outline. So this was how life had
dealt with Buckland. The announcement was made with a certain
satisfaction, as if it implied more than the hearer would readily
appreciate. Again there was a slight shrinking on Godwin's part; it
would be natural for him to avow his own position, and so leave no
room for misunderstandings, but before he could shape a phrase
Buckland was again questioning.
'Do you ever see any of the old fellows?'
'I have met one or two of them, by chance.'
As if his tact informed him that this inquiry had been a mistake,
Warricombe resumed the subject of his family.
'My brother Louis is at home--of course you can't remember him; he
was a youngster when you were at Thornhaw. The younger boy died some
years ago, a pony accident; cut up my father dreadfully. Then
there's my sister Sidwell, and my sister Fanny--that's all of us.
I can't quite answer for Louis, but the rest are of the old school.
Liberal enough, don't be afraid. But--well, the old school.'
As Godwin kept silence, the speaker shot a glance at him, keenly
scrutinising. Their eyes did not meet; Peak kept his on the ground.
'Care much about politics nowadays?'
'Not very much.'
'Can't say that I do myself,' pursued Buckland. 'I rather drifted
into it. Godolphin, I daresay, has as little humbug about him as
most parliamentarians; we stick to the practical fairly well. I
shall never go into the House on my own account. But there's a sort
of pleasure in being in the thick of public movements. I'm not cut
out for debate; should lose my temper, and tell disagreeable truths
--which wouldn't do, you know. But behind the scenes--it isn't
bad, in a way.'
A longer pause obliged Godwin to speak of himself.
'My life is less exciting. For years I have worked in a
manufacturing laboratory at Rotherhithe.'
'So science has carried the day with you, after all. It used to be
This was a kind and pleasant way of interpreting necessity. Godwin
felt grateful, and added with a smile:
'I don't think I shall stick to it much longer. For one thing, I am
sick of town. Perhaps I shall travel for a year or two; perhaps--
I'm in a state of transition, to tell the truth.'
Buckland revolved this information; his face told that he found it
'You once had thoughts of literature.'
'Long given up.'
'Leisure would perhaps revive them?'
'Possibly; but I think not.'
They were now quitting the town, and Peak, unwilling to appear
before strangers in a state of profuse perspiration, again moderated
his friend's speed. They began to talk about the surrounding
country, a theme which occupied them until the house was reached.
With quick-beating heart, Godwin found himself at the gate by which
he had already twice passed. Secure in the decency of his apparel,
and no longer oppressed by bashfulness, he would have gone joyously
forward but for the dread of a possible ridiculous association which
his name might revive in the thoughts of Mr. and Mrs. Warricombe. Yet
Buckland--who had no lack of kindly feeling--would hardly have
brought him here had the reception which awaited him been at all
'If we don't come across anyone,' said Warricombe, 'we'll go
straight up to my room.'
But the way was not clear. Within the beautiful old porch sat
Sidwell Warricombe and her friend of the striking countenance, whom
Godwin now knew as Miss Moorhouse. Buckland addressed his sister in
a tone of lively pleasure.
'Whom do you think I have met and brought home with me? Here is my
old friend, Godwin Peak.'
Under the two pairs of female eyes, Godwin kept a calm, if rather
'I should have had no difficulty in recognising Mr. Peak,' said
Sidwell, holding out her hand. 'But was the meeting quite by
To Godwin himself the question was of course directed, with a look
of smiling interest--such welcome as could not have been improved
upon; she listened to his reply, then presented him to Miss
Moorhouse. A slight languor in her movements and her voice, together
with the beautiful coldness of her complexion, made it probable that
she did not share the exuberant health manifest in her two brothers.
She conversed with mature self-possession, yet showed a slight
tendency to abstractedness. On being addressed, she regarded the
speaker steadily for an instant before shaping her answer, which
always, however trifling the subject, seemed carefully worded. In
these few moments of dialogue, Godwin reached the conclusion that
Sidwell had not much sense of humour, but that the delicacy of her
mind was unsurpassable.
In Miss Moorhouse there was no defect of refinement, but her
conversation struck a note of sprightliness at once more energetic
and more subtle than is often found in English girls. Thus, though
at times she looked so young that it might be doubted whether she
had long been out of her teens, at others one suspected her older
than Sidwell. The friends happened to be as nearly as possible of an
age, which was verging to twenty-six.
When he spoke to Miss Moorhouse, Buckland's frank tone subdued
itself. He watched her face with reverent attention, smiled when she
smiled, and joined in her laughter with less than his usual volume
of sound. In acuteness he was obviously inferior to her, and there
were moments when he betrayed some nervousness under her rejoinders.
All this was matter of observation for Peak, who had learnt to
exercise his discernment even whilst attending to the proprieties.
The sounding of the first luncheon-bell left the young men free to
go upstairs. When at length they presented themselves in the
drawing-room, Mrs. Warricombe and her younger daughter sat there
alone. The greeting of his hostess did not quite satisfy Godwin,
though it was sufficiently courteous; he remembered that ten years
ago Mrs. Warricombe had appeared to receive him with some restraint,
and his sensation in renewing her acquaintance was one of dislike.
But in a moment the master of the house joined them, and no visitor
could have had a more kindly welcome than that he offered to his
son's friend. With genial tact, Mr. Warricombe ignored the interval
since his last conversation with Godwin, and spoke as if this visit
were the most natural thing in the world.
'Do you already know the country about Exeter?'
'I have seen very little of it yet.'
'Oh, then, we must show you our points of view. Our own garden
offers a glimpse of the river-mouth and a good prospect of Haldon--
the ridge beyond the Exe; but there are many much better points
within easy reach. You are in no hurry, I hope?'
Louis Warricombe and Miss Moorhouse's brother were away on a long
walk; they did not return for lunch. Godwin was glad of this, for
time had wrought the change in him that he felt more at ease in
female society than under the eyes of young men whose social
position inclined them to criticism. The meal proved as delightful
as luncheon is wont to be in a luxurious country-house, when
brilliant sunshine gleams on the foliage visible from windows, and
the warmth of the season sanctions clear colours in costume. The
talk was wholly of country pleasures. It afforded the visitor no
little satisfaction to be able to make known his acquaintance with
parts of England to which the Warricombes had not penetrated. Godwin
learnt that the family were insular in their tastes; a mention by
Miss Moorhouse of continental scenes led the host to avow a strong
preference for his own country, under whatever aspect, and Sidwell
murmured her sympathy.
No less introspective than in the old days, though he could better
command his muscles, Peak, after each of his short remarks, made
comparison of his tone and phraseology with those of the other
speakers. Had he still any marks of the ignoble world from which he
sprang? Any defect of pronunciation, any native awkwardness of
utterance? Impossible to judge himself infallibly, but he was
conscious of no vulgar mannerism. Though it was so long since he
left Whitelaw, the accent of certain of the Professors still
remained with him as an example: when endeavouring to be graceful,
he was wont to hear the voice of Dr Nares, or of Professor Barber
who lectured on English Literature. More recently he had been
observant of Christian Moxey's speech, which had a languid elegance
worth imitating in certain particulars. Buckland Warricombe was
rather a careless talker, but it was the carelessness of a man who
had never needed to reflect on such a matter, the refinement of
whose enunciation was assured to him from the nursery. That now was
a thing to be aimed at. Preciseness must be avoided, for in a young
man it seemed to argue conscious effort: a loose sentence now and
then, a colloquialism substituted for the more grammatical phrase.
Heaven be thanked that he was unconcerned on the point of garb!
Inferiority in that respect would have been fatal to his ease. His
clothes were not too new, and in quality were such as he had the
habit of wearing. The Warricombes must have immediately detected any
pretentiousness, were it but in a necktie; that would impress them
more unfavourably than signs of poverty. But he defied inspection.
Not Sidwell herself, doubtless sensitive in the highest degree,
could conceive a prejudice against him on this account.
His misgivings were overcome. If these people were acquainted with
the 'dining-rooms' joke, it certainly did not affect their behaviour
to him, and he could hope, by the force of his personality, to
obliterate from their minds such disagreeable thoughts as they might
secretly entertain. Surely he could make good his claim to be deemed
a gentleman. To Buckland he had declared his position, and no shame
attached to it. A man of scientific tastes, like Mr. Warricombe, must
consider it respectable enough. Grant him a little time, and why
should he not become a recognised friend of this family?
If he were but resident in Exeter.
For the first time, he lost himself in abstraction, and only an
inquiry from Sidwell recalled him.
'You have seen the Cathedral, Mr. Peak?'
'Oh yes! I attended service there yesterday morning.'
Had he reflected, perhaps he would not have added this circumstance;
even in speaking he suffered a confused doubtfulness. But as soon as
the words were uttered, he felt strangely glad. Sidwell bestowed
upon him an unmistakable look of approval; her mother gazed with
colder interest; Mr. Warricombe regarded him, and mused; Buckland, a
smile of peculiar meaning on his close lips, glanced from him to
'Ah, then, you heard Canon Grayling,' remarked the father of the
family, with something in his tone which answered to Sidwell's
facial expression. 'How did you like his sermon?'
Godwin was trifling with a pair of nut-crackers, but the nervousness
evident in his fingers did not prevent him from replying with a
natural air of deliberation.
'I was especially struck with the passage about the barren
The words might have expressed a truth, but in that case a tone of
sarcasm must have winged them. As it was, they involved either
hypocrisy or ungenerous irony at the expense of his questioner.
Buckland could not but understand them in the latter sense; his face
darkened. At that moment, Peak met his eye, and encountered its
steady searching gaze with a perfectly calm smile. Half-a-dozen
pulsings of his heart--violent, painful, and the fatal hour of his
life had struck.
'What had he to say about it?' Buckland asked, carelessly.
Peak's reply was one of those remarkable efforts of mind--one
might say, of character--which are sometimes called forth, without
premeditation, almost without consciousness, by a profound moral
crisis. A minute or two ago he would have believed it impossible to
recall and state in lucid terms the arguments to which, as he sat in
the Cathedral, he had barely given ear; he remembered vaguely that
the preacher (whose name he knew not till now) had dwelt for a few
moments on the topic indicated, but at the time he was indisposed to
listen seriously, and what chance was there that the chain of
thought had fixed itself in his memory? Now, under the marvelling
regard of his conscious self, he poured forth an admirable rendering
of the Canon's views, fuller than the original--more eloquent,
more subtle. For five minutes he held his hearers in absorbed
attention, even Buckland bending forward with an air of genuine
interest; and when he stopped, rather suddenly, there followed a
'Mr. Peak,' said the host, after a cough of apology, 'you have made
that clearer to me than it was yesterday. I must thank you.'
Godwin felt that a slight bow of acknowledgment was perhaps called
for, but not a muscle would obey his will. He was enervated;
perspiration stood on his forehead. The most severe physical effort
could not have reduced him to a feebler state.
Sidwell was speaking:
'Mr. Peak has developed what Canon Grayling only suggested.'
'A brilliant effort of exegesis,' exclaimed Buckland, with a
Again the young men exchanged looks. Godwin smiled as one might
under a sentence of death. As for the other, his suspicion had
vanished, and he now gave way to frank amusement. Luncheon was over,
and by a general movement all went forth on to the lawn in front of
the house. Mr. Warricombe, even more cordial than hitherto, named to
Godwin the features of the extensive landscape.
'But you see that the view is in a measure spoilt by the growth of
the city. A few years ago, none of those ugly little houses stood in
the mid-distance. A few years hence, I fear, there will be much more
to complain of. I daresay you know all about the ship-canal: the
story of the countess, and so forth?'
Buckland presently suggested that the afternoon might be used for a
'I was about to propose it,' said his father. 'You might start by
the Stoke Canon Road, so as to let Mr. Peak have the famous view from
the gate; then go on towards Silverton, for the sake of the reversed
prospect from the Exe. Who shall be of the party?'
It was decided that four only should occupy the vehicle, Miss
Moorhouse and Fanny Warricombe to be the two ladies. Godwin
regretted Sidwell's omission, but the friendly informality of the
arrangement delighted him. When the carriage rolled softly from the
gravelled drive, Buckland holding the reins, he felt an animation
such as no event had ever produced in him. N6 longer did he
calculate phrases. A spontaneous aptness marked his dialogue with
Miss Moorhouse, and the laughing words he now and then addressed to
Fanny. For a short time Buckland was laconic, but at length he
entered into the joyous tone of the occasion. Earwaker would have
stood in amazement, could he have seen and heard the saturnine
denizen of Peckham Rye.
The weather was superb. A sea-breeze mitigated the warmth of the
cloudless sun, and where a dark pine-tree rose against the sky it
gave the azure depths a magnificence unfamiliar to northern eyes.
'On such a day as this,' remarked Miss Moorhouse, dividing her look
between Buckland and his friend, 'one feels that there's a good deal
to be said for England.'
'But for the vile weather,' was Warricombe's reply, 'you wouldn't
know such enjoyment.'
'Oh, I can't agree with that for a moment! My capacity for enjoyment
is unlimited. That philosophy is unworthy of you; it belongs to a
paltry scheme called "making the best of things".'
'In which you excel, Miss Moorhouse.'
'That she does!' agreed Fanny--a laughing, rosy-cheeked maiden.
'I deny it! No one is more copious in railing against
'But you turn them all to a joke,' Fanny objected.
'That's my profound pessimism. I am misunderstood. No one expects
irony from a woman.'
Peak found it difficult not to gaze too persistently at the subtle
countenance. He was impelled to examine it by a consciousness that
he himself received a large share of Miss Moorhouse's attention, and
a doubt as to the estimation in which she held him. Canon Grayling's
sermon and Godwin's comment had elicited no remark from her. Did she
belong to the ranks of emancipated women? With his experience of
Marcella Moxey, he welcomed the possibility of this variation of the
type, but at the same time, in obedience to a new spirit that had
strange possession of him, recognised that such phenomena no longer
aroused his personal interest. By the oddest of intellectual
processes he had placed himself altogether outside the sphere of
unorthodox spirits. Concerning Miss Moorhouse he cared only for the
report she might make of him to the Warricombes.
Before long, the carriage was stopped that he might enjoy one of the
pleasantest views in the neighbourhood of the city. A gate,
interrupting a high bank with which the road was bordered, gave
admission to the head of a great cultivated slope, which fell to the
river Exe; hence was suddenly revealed a wide panorama. Three
well-marked valleys--those of the Creedy, the Exe, and the Culm--
spread their rural loveliness to remote points of the horizon;
gentle undulations, with pasture and woodland, with long winding
roads, and many a farm that gleamed white amid its orchard leafage,
led the gaze into regions of evanescent hue and outline. Westward, a
bolder swell pointed to the skirts of Dartmoor. No inappropriate
detail disturbed the impression. Exeter was wholly hidden behind the
hill on which the observers stood, and the line of railway leading
thither could only be descried by special search. A foaming weir at
the hill's foot blended its soft murmur with that of the fir
branches hereabouts; else, no sound that the air could convey beyond
the pulsing of a bird's note.
All had alighted, and for a minute or two there was silence. When
Peak had received such geographical instruction as was needful,
Warricombe pointed out to him a mansion conspicuous on the opposite
slope of the Exe valley, the seat of Sir Stafford Northcote. The
house had no architectural beauty, but its solitary lordship amid
green pastures and tracts of thick wood declared the graces and
privileges of ancestral wealth. Standing here alone, Godwin would
have surveyed these possessions of an English aristocrat with more
or less bitterness; envy would, for a moment at all events, have
perturbed his pleasure in the natural scene. Accompanied as he was,
his emotion took a form which indeed was allied to envy, but had
nothing painful. He exulted in the prerogatives of birth and
opulence, felt proud of hereditary pride, gloried that his mind was
capable of appreciating to the full those distinctions which, by the
vulgar, are not so much as suspected. Admitted to equal converse
with men and women who represented the best in English society, he
could cast away the evil grudge, the fierce spirit of
self-assertion, and be what nature had proposed in endowing him with
large brain, generous blood, delicate tissues. What room for
malignancy? He was accepted by his peers, and could regard with
tolerance even those ignoble orders of mankind amid whom he had so
long dwelt unrecognised.
A bee hummed past him, and this sound--of all the voices of nature
that which most intenerates--filled his heart to overflowing.
Moisture made his eyes dim, and at the impulse of a feeling of
gratitude, such as only the subtlest care of psychology could fully
have explained, he turned to Buckland, saying:
'But for my meeting with you I should have had a lonely and not very
cheerful holiday. I owe you a great deal.'
Warricombe laughed, but as an Englishman does when he wishes to
avoid show of emotion.
'I am very glad indeed that we did meet. Stay with us over tomorrow.
I only wish I were not obliged to go to London on Wednesday.--
Look, Fanny, isn't that a hawk, over Cowley Bridge?'