Part 5 out of 10
probably receive another invitation to dine. So with light step he
went out into the hall, where Martin again shook hands with him.
The sky had darkened over, and a shrilling of the wind sounded
through the garden foliage--fir, and cypress, and laurel. Just as
Godwin reached the gate, he was met by Miss Warricombe and Fanny,
who were returning from a walk. They wore the costume appropriate to
March weather in the country, close-fitting, defiant of gusts; and
their cheeks glowed with health. As he exchanged greetings with
them, Peak received a new impression of the sisters. He admired the
physical vigour which enabled them to take delight in such a day as
this, when girls of poorer blood and ignoble nurture would shrink
from the sky's showery tumult, and protect their surface elegance by
the fireside. Impossible for Sidwell and Fanny to be anything but
graceful, for at all times they were perfectly unaffected.
'There'll be another storm in a minute,' said the younger of them,
looking with interest to the quarter whence the wind came. 'How
suddenly they burst! What a rush! And then in five minutes the sky
is clear again.'
Her eyes shone as she turned laughingly to Peak.
'You're not afraid of getting wet? Hadn't you better come under
'Here it is!' exclaimed Sidwell, with quieter enjoyment. 'Take
shelter for a minute or two, Mr. Peak.'
They led the way to the portico, where Godwin stood with them and
watched the squall. A moment's downpour of furious rain was followed
by heavy hailstones, which drove horizontally before the shrieking
wind. The prospect had wrapped itself in grey gloom. At a hundred
yards' distance, scarcely an object could be distinguished; the
storm-cloud swooped so low that its skirts touched the branches of
tall elms, a streaming, rushing raggedness.
'Don't you enjoy that?' Fanny asked of Godwin.
'Indeed I do.'
'You should be on Dartmoor in such weather,' said Sidwell. 'Father
and I were once caught in storms far worse than this--far better,
I ought to say, for I never knew anything so terrifically grand.'
Already it was over. The gusts diminished in frequency and force,
the hail ceased, the core of blackness was passing over to the
eastern sky. Fanny ran out into the garden, and pointed upward.
'Look where the sunlight is coming!'
An uncloaked patch of heaven shone with colour like that of the
girl's eyes--faint, limpid blue. Reminding himself that to tarry
longer in this company would be imprudent, Godwin bade the sisters
good-morning. The frank heartiness with which Fanny pressed his hand
sent him on his way exultant. Not too strong a word; for,
independently of his wider ambitions, he was moved and gratified by
the thought that kindly feeling towards him had sprung up in such a
heart as this. Nor did conscience so much as whisper a reproach.
With unreflecting ingenuousness he tasted the joy as if it were his
right. Thus long he had waited, through years of hungry manhood, for
the look, the tone, which were in harmony with his native
sensibilities. Fanny Warricombe was but an undeveloped girl, yet he
valued her friendship above the passionate attachment of any woman
bred on a lower social plane. Had it been possible, he would have
kissed her fingers with purest reverence.
When out of sight of the house, he paused to regard the sky again.
Its noontide splendour was dazzling; masses of rosy cloud sailed
swiftly from horizon to horizon, the azure deepening about them. Yet
before long the west would again send forth its turbulent spirits,
and so the girls might perhaps be led to think of him.
By night the weather grew more tranquil. There was a full moon, and
its radiance illumined the ever-changing face of heaven with rare
grandeur. Godwin could not shut himself up over his books; he
wandered far away into the country, and let his thoughts have
He was learning to review with calmness the course by which he had
reached his now steadfast resolve. A revulsion such as he had
experienced after his first day of simulated orthodoxy, half a year
ago, could not be of lasting effect, for it was opposed to the whole
tenor of his mature thought. It spoilt his holiday, but had no
chance of persisting after his return to the atmosphere of
Rotherhithe. That he should have been capable of such emotion was,
he said to himself, in the just order of things; callousness in the
first stages of an undertaking which demanded gross hypocrisy would
signify an ignoble nature--a nature, indeed, which could never
have been submitted to trial of so strange a kind. But he had
overcome himself; that phase of difficulty was outlived, and
henceforth he saw only the material obstacles to be defied by his
What he proposed to himself was a life of deliberate baseness.
Godwin Peak never tried to play the sophist with this fact. But he
succeeded in justifying himself by a consideration of the
circumstances which had compelled him to a vile expedient. Had his
project involved conscious wrong to other persons, he would scarcely
even have speculated on its possibilities. He was convinced that no
mortal could suffer harm, even if he accomplished the uttermost of
his desires. Whom was he in danger of wronging? The conventional
moralist would cry: Everyone with whom he came in slightest contact!
But a mind such as Peak's has very little to do with conventional
morality. Injury to himself he foresaw and accepted; he could never
be the man nature designed in him; and he must frequently submit to
a self-contempt which would be very hard to bear. Those whom he
consistently deceived, how would they suffer? Martin Warricombe to
begin with. Martin was a man who had lived his life, and whose chief
care would now be to keep his mind at rest in the faiths which had
served him from youth onwards. In that very purpose, Godwin believed
he could assist him. To see a young man, of strong and trained
intellect, championing the old beliefs, must doubtless be a source
of reassurance to one in Martin's position. Reassurance derived from
a lie?--And what matter, if the outcome were genuine, if it lasted
until the man himself was no more? Did not every form of content
result from illusion? What was truth without the mind of the
Society, then--at all events that part of it likely to be affected
by his activity? Suppose him an ordained priest, performing all the
functions implied in that office. Why, to think only of examples
recognised by the public at large, how would he differ for the worse
from this, that, and the other clergyman who taught Christianity,
all but with blunt avowal, as a scheme of human ethics? No wolf in
sheep's clothing he! He plotted against no man's pocket, no woman's
honour; he had no sinister design of sapping the faith of
congregations--a scheme, by-the-bye, which fanatic liberators
might undertake with vast self-approval. If by a word he could have
banished religious dogma from the minds of the multitude, he would
not have cared to utter it. Wherein lay, indeed, a scruple to be
surmounted. The Christian priest must be a man of humble temper; he
must be willing, even eager, to sit down among the poor in spirit as
well as in estate, and impart to them his unworldly solaces. Yes,
but it had always been recognised that some men who could do the
Church good service were personally unfitted for those meek
ministrations. His place was in the hierarchy of intellect; if he
were to be active at all, it must be with the brain. In his
conversation with Buckland Warricombe, last October, he had spoken
not altogether insincerely. Let him once be a member of the Church
militant, and his heart would go with many a stroke against that
democratic movement which desired, among other things, the Church's
abolition. He had power of utterance. Roused to combat by the
proletarian challenge, he could make his voice ring in the ears of
men, even though he used a symbolism which he would not by choice
For it was natural that he should anticipate distinction. Whatever
his lot in life, he would not be able to rest among an inglorious
brotherhood. If he allied himself with the Church, the Church must
assign him leadership, whether titular or not was of small moment.
In days to come, let people, if they would, debate his history,
canvass his convictions. His scornful pride invited any degree of
publicity, when once his position was secure.
But in the meantime he was leaving aside the most powerful of all
his motives, and one which demanded closest scrutiny. Not ambition,
in any ordinary sense; not desire of material luxury; no incentive
recognised by unprincipled schemers first suggested his dishonour.
This edifice of subtle untruth had for its foundation a mere ideal
of sexual love. For the winning of some chosen woman, men have
wrought vehemently, have ruined themselves and others, have achieved
triumphs noble or degrading. But Godwin Peak had for years
contemplated the possibility of baseness at the impulse of a craving
for love capable only of a social (one might say, of a political)
definition. The woman throned in his imagination was no individual,
but the type of an order. So strangely had circumstances moulded
him, that he could not brood on a desire of spiritual affinities,
could not, as is natural to most cultivated men, inflame himself
with the ardour of soul reaching to soul; he was pre-occupied with
the contemplation of qualities which characterise a class. The sense
of social distinctions was so burnt into him, that he could not be
affected by any pictured charm of mind or person in a woman who had
not the stamp of gentle birth and breeding. If once he were admitted
to the intimacy of such women, then, indeed, the canons of selection
would have weight with him; no man more capable of disinterested
choice. Till then, the ideal which possessed him was merely such an
assemblage of qualities as would excite the democrat to disdain or
In Sidwell Warricombe this ideal found an embodiment; but Godwin did
not thereupon come to the conclusion that Sidwell was the wife he
desired. Her influence had the effect of deciding his career, but he
neither imagined himself in love with her, nor tried to believe that
he might win her love if he set himself to the endeavour. For the
first time he was admitted to familiar intercourse with a woman whom
he ~could~ make the object of his worship. He thought much of her;
day and night her figure stood before him; and this had continued
now for half a year. Still he neither was, nor dreamt himself, in
love with her. Before long his acquaintance would include many of
her like, and at any moment Sidwell might pale in the splendour of
But what reasoning could defend the winning of a wife by false
pretences? This, his final aim, could hardly be achieved without
grave wrong to the person whose welfare must in the nature of things
be a prime motive with him. The deception he had practised must
sooner or later be discovered; lifelong hypocrisy was incompatible
with perfect marriage; some day he must either involve his wife in a
system of dishonour, or with her consent relinquish the false
career, and find his happiness in the obscurity to which he would
then be relegated. Admit the wrong. Grant that some woman whom he
loved supremely must, on his account, pass through a harsh trial--
would it not be in his power to compensate her amply? The wife whom
he imagined (his idealism in this matter was of a crudity which made
the strangest contrast with his habits of thought on every other
subject) would be ruled by her emotions, and that part of her nature
would be wholly under his governance. Religious fanaticism could not
exist in her, for in that case she would never have attracted him.
Little by little she would learn to think as he did, and her
devotedness must lead her to pardon his deliberate insincerities.
Godwin had absolute faith in his power of dominating the woman whom
he should inspire with tenderness. This was a feature of his egoism,
the explanation of those manifold inconsistencies inseparable from
his tortuous design. He regarded his love as something so rare, so
vehement, so exalting, that its bestowal must seem an abundant
recompense for any pain of which he was the cause.
Thus, with perfect sincerity of argument, did Godwin Peak face the
undertaking to which he was committed. Incidents might perturb him,
but his position was no longer a cause of uneasiness--save,
indeed, at those moments when he feared lest any of his old
acquaintances might hear of him before time was ripe. This was a
source of anxiety, but inevitable; one of the risks he dared.
Had it seemed possible, he would have kept even from his mother the
secret of his residence at Exeter; but this would have necessitated
the establishment of some indirect means of communication with her,
a troublesome and uncertain expedient. He shrank from leaving her in
ignorance of his whereabouts, and from passing a year or two without
knowledge of her condition. And, on the whole, there could not be
much danger in this correspondence. The Moxeys, who alone of his
friends had ever been connected with Twybridge, were now absolutely
without interests in that quarter. From them he had stolen away,
only acquainting Christian at the last moment, in a short letter,
with his departure from London. 'It will be a long time before we
again see each other--at least, I think so. Don't trouble your
head about me. I can't promise to write, and shall be sorry not to
hear how things go with you; but may all happen as you wish!' In the
same way he had dealt with Earwaker, except that his letter to
Staple Inn was much longer, and contained hints which the
philosophic journalist might perchance truly interpret. '"He either
fears his fate too much"--you know the old song. I have set out on
my life's adventure. I have gone to seek that without which life is
no longer worth having. Forgive my shabby treatment of you, old
friend. You cannot help me, and your displeasure would be a
hindrance in my path. A last piece of counsel: throw overboard the
weekly rag, and write for people capable of understanding you.'
Earwaker was not at all likely to institute a search; he would
accept the situation, and wait with quiet curiosity for its upshot.
No doubt he and Moxey would discuss the affair together, and any
desire Christian might have to hunt for his vanished comrade would
yield before the journalist's surmises. No one else had any serious
reason for making inquiries. Probably he might dwell in Devonshire,
as long as he chose, without fear of encountering anyone from his
Occasionally--as to-night, under the full moon--he was able to
cast off every form of trouble, and rejoice in his seeming liberty.
Though every step in the life before him was an uncertainty, an
appeal to fortune, his faith in himself grasped strongly at
assurance of success. Once more he felt himself a young man, with
unwearied energies; he had shaken off the burden of those ten
frustrate years, and kept only their harvest of experience. Old in
one sense, in another youthful, he had vast advantages over such men
as would henceforth be his competitors--the complex brain, the
fiery heart, passion to desire, and skill in attempting. If with
such endowment he could not win the prize which most men claim as a
mere matter of course, a wife of social instincts correspondent with
his own, he must indeed be luckless. But he was not doomed to
defeat! Foretaste of triumph urged the current of his blood and
inflamed him with exquisite ardour. He sang aloud in the still lanes
the hymns of youth and of love; and, when weariness brought him back
to his lonely dwelling, he laid his head on the pillow, and slept in
As for the details of his advance towards the clerical state, he had
decided to resume his career at the point where it was interrupted
by Andrew Peak. Twice had his education received a check from
hostile circumstances: when domestic poverty compelled him to leave
school for Mr. Moxey's service, and when shame drove him from
Whitelaw College. In reflecting upon his own character and his lot
he gave much weight to these irregularities, no doubt with justice.
In both cases he was turned aside from the way of natural
development and opportunity. He would now complete his academic
course by taking the London degree at which he had long ago aimed;
the preliminary examination might without difficulty be passed this
summer, and next year he might write himself Bachelor of Arts. A
return to the studies of boyhood probably accounted in some measure
for the frequent gaiety which he attributed to improving health and
revived hopes. Everything he undertook was easy to him, and by a
pleasant self-deception he made the passing of a school task his
augury of success in greater things.
During the spring he was indebted to the Warricombes' friendship for
several new acquaintances. A clergyman named Lilywhite, often at the
Warricombes' house, made friendly overtures to him; the connection
might be a useful one, and Godwin made the most of it. Mr. Lilywhite
was a man of forty well--read, of scientific tastes, an active
pedestrian. Peak had no difficulty in associating with him on
amicable terms. With Mrs. Lilywhite, the mother of six children and
possessed of many virtues, he presently became a favourite,--she
saw in him 'a great deal of quiet moral force'. One or two families
of good standing made him welcome at their houses; society is very
kind to those who seek its benefits with recognised credentials. The
more he saw of these wealthy and tranquil middle-class people, the
more fervently did he admire the gracefulness of their existence. He
had not set before himself an imaginary ideal; the girls and women
were sweet, gentle, perfect in manner, and, within limits, of bright
intelligence. He was conscious of benefiting greatly, and not alone
in things extrinsic, by the atmosphere of such homes.
Nature's progress towards summer kept him in a mood of healthful
enjoyment. From the window of his sitting-room he looked over the
opposite houses to Northernhay, the hill where once stood Rougemont
Castle, its wooded declivities now fashioned into a public garden.
He watched the rooks at their building in the great elms, and was
gladdened when the naked branches began to deck themselves, day by
day the fresh verdure swelling into soft, graceful outline. In his
walks he pried eagerly for the first violet, welcomed the earliest
blackthorn blossom; every common flower of field and hedgerow gave
him a new, keen pleasure. As was to be expected he found the same
impulses strong in Sidwell Warricombe and her sister. Sidwell could
tell him of secret spots where the wood-sorrel made haste to flower,
or where the white violet breathed its fragrance in security from
common pilferers. Here was the safest and pleasantest matter for
conversation. He knew that on such topics he could talk agreeably
enough, revealing without stress or importunity his tastes, his
powers, his attainments. And it seemed to him that Sidwell listened
with growing interest. Most certainly her father encouraged his
visits to the house, and Mrs. Warricombe behaved to him with increase
In the meantime he had purchased a copy of Reusch's ~Bibel und
Natur~, and had made a translation of some fifty pages. This
experiment he submitted to a London publishing house, with proposals
for the completion of the work; without much delay there came a
civil letter of excuse, and with it the sample returned. Another
attempt again met with rejection. This failure did not trouble him.
What he really desired was to read through his version of Reusch
with Martin Warricombe, and before long he had brought it to pass
that Martin requested a perusal of the manuscript as it advanced,
which it did but slowly. Godwin durst not endanger his success in
the examination by encroaching upon hours of necessary study; his
leisure was largely sacrificed to~ Bibel und Natur~, and many an
evening of calm golden loveliness, when he longed to be amid the
fields, passed in vexatious imprisonment. The name of Reusch grew
odious to him, and he revenged himself for the hypocrisy of other
hours by fierce scorn, cast audibly at this laborious exegetist.
It occasionally happens that a woman whose early life has been
directed by native silliness and social bias, will submit to a tardy
education at the hands of her own children. Thus was it with Mrs
She came of a race long established in squirearchic dignity amid
heaths and woodlands. Her breeding was pure through many generations
of the paternal and maternal lines, representative of a physical
type, fortified in the males by much companionship with horse and
hound, and by the corresponding country pursuits of dowered
daughters. At the time of her marriage she had no charms of person
more remarkable than rosy comeliness and the symmetry of supple
limb. As for the nurture of her mind, it had been intrusted to
home-governesses of respectable incapacity. Martin Warricombe
married her because she was one of a little circle of girls, much
alike as to birth and fortune, with whom he had grown up in familiar
communication. Timidity imposed restraints upon him which made his
choice almost a matter of accident. As befalls often enough, the
betrothal became an accomplished fact whilst he was still doubting
whether he desired it or not. When the fervour of early wedlock was
outlived, he had no difficulty in accepting as a matter of course
that his life's companion should be hopelessly illogical and at
heart indifferent to everything but the small graces and substantial
comforts of provincial existence. One of the advantages of wealth is
that it allows husband and wife to keep a great deal apart without
any show of mutual unkindness, a condition essential to happiness in
marriage. Time fostered in them a calm attachment, independent of
spiritual sympathy, satisfied with a common regard for domestic
Not that Mrs. Warricombe remained in complete ignorance of her
husband's pursuits; social forms would scarcely have allowed this,
seeing that she was in constant intercourse, as hostess or guest,
with Martin's scientific friends. Of fossils she necessarily knew
something. Up to a certain point they amused her; she could talk of
ammonites, of brachiopods, and would point a friend's attention to
the~ Calceola sandalina~ which Martin prized so much. The
significance of palaeontology she dimly apprehended, for in the
early days of their union her husband had felt it explain to her
what was meant by geologic time and how he reconciled his views on
that subject with the demands of religious faith. Among the books
which he induced her to read were Buckland's Bridgewater Treatise
and the works of Hugh Miller. The intellectual result was chaotic,
and Mrs. Warricombe settled at last into a comfortable private
opinion, that though the record of geology might be trustworthy that
of the Bible was more so. She would admit that there was no impiety
in accepting the evidence of nature, but held to a secret conviction
that it was safer to believe in Genesis. For anything beyond a
quasi-permissible variance from biblical authority as to the age of
the world she was quite unprepared, and Martin, in his discretion,
imparted to her nothing of the graver doubts which were wont to
But as her children grew up, Mrs. Warricombe's mind and temper were
insensibly modified by influences which operated through her
maternal affections, influences no doubt aided by the progressive
spirit of the time. The three boys--Buckland, Maurice, and Louis
--were distinctly of a new generation. It needed some ingenuity to
discover their points of kindred with paternal and maternal
grandparents; nor even with father and mother had they much in
common which observation could readily detect. Sidwell, up to at
least her fifteenth year, seemed to present far less change of type.
In her Mrs. Warricombe recognised a daughter, and not without solace.
But Fanny again was a problematical nature, almost from the cradle.
Latest born, she appeared to revive many characteristics of the
youthful Buckland, so far as a girl could resemble her brother. It
was a strange brood to cluster around Mrs. Warricombe. For many years
the mother was kept in alternation between hopes and fears, pride
and disapproval, the old hereditary habits of mind, and a new order
of ideas which could only be admitted with the utmost slowness.
Buckland's Radicalism deeply offended her; she marvelled how such
depravity could display itself in a child of hers. Yet in the end
her ancestral prejudices so far yielded as to allow of her smiling
at sentiments which she once heard with horror. Maurice, whom she
loved more tenderly, all but taught her to see the cogency of a
syllogism--amiably set forth. And Louis, with his indolent
good-nature, laughed her into a tolerance of many things which had
moved her indignation. But it was to Sidwell that in the end she
owed most. Beneath the surface of ordinary and rather backward
girlhood, which discouraged her father's hopes, Sidwell was quietly
developing a personality distinguished by the refinement of its
ethical motives. Her orthodoxy seemed as unimpeachable as Mrs
Warricombe could desire, yet as she grew into womanhood, a
curiosity, which in no way disturbed the tenor of her quietly
contented life, led her to examine various forms of religion,
ancient and modern, and even systems of philosophy which professed
to establish a moral code, independent of supernatural faith. She
was not of studious disposition--that is to say, she had never
cared as a schoolgirl to do more mental work than was required of
her, and even now it was seldom that she read for more than an hour
or two in the day. Her habit was to dip into books, and meditate
long on the first points which arrested her thoughts. Of continuous
application she seemed incapable. She could read French, but did not
attempt to pursue the other languages of which her teachers had
given her a smattering. It pleased her best when she could learn
from conversation. In this way she obtained some insight into her
father's favourite sciences, occasionally making suggestions or
inquiries which revealed a subtle if not an acute intelligence.
Little by little Mrs. Warricombe found herself changing places with
the daughter whom she had regarded as wholly subject to her
direction. Sidwell began to exercise an indeterminate control, the
proofs of which were at length manifest in details of her mother's
speech and demeanour. An exquisite social tact, an unfailing
insensibly as the qualities of pure air: these were the points of
sincerity of moral judgment, a gentle force which operated as
character to which Mrs. Warricombe owed the humanisation observable
when one compared her in 1885 with what she was, say, in 1874, when
the sight of Professor. Walsh moved her to acrimony, and when she
conceived a pique against Professor Gale because the letter P has
alphabetical precedence of W. Her limitations were of course the
same as ever, and from her sons she had only learnt to be ashamed of
announcing them too vehemently. Sidwell it was who had led her to
that degree of genuine humility, which is not satisfied with hiding
a fault but strives to amend it.
Martin Warricombe himself was not unaffected by the growth about him
of young men and maidens who looked upon the world with new eyes,
whose world, indeed, was another than that in which he had spent the
better part of his life. In his case contact with the young
generation tended to unsettlement, to a troublesome persistency of
speculations which he would have preferred to dismiss altogether. At
the time of his marriage, and for some years after, he was content
to make a broad distinction between those intellectual pursuits
which afforded him rather a liberal amusement than the pleasures of
earnest study and the questions of metaphysical faith which
concerned his heart and conscience. His native prejudices were
almost as strong, and much the same, as those of his wife; but with
the vagueness of emotional logic natural to his constitution, he
satisfied himself that, by conceding a few inessential points, he
left himself at liberty to follow the scientific movements of the
day without damage to his religious convictions. The tolerant smile
so frequently on his countenance was directed as often in the one
quarter as in the other. Now it signified a gentle reproof of those
men of science who, like Professor Walsh, 'went too far', whose zeal
for knowledge led them 'to forget the source of all true
enlightenment'; now it expressed a forbearing sympathy with such as
erred in the opposite direction, who were 'too literal in their
interpretation of the sacred volume'. Amiable as the smile was, it
betrayed weakness, and at moments Martin became unpleasantly
conscious of indisposition to examine his own mind on certain
points. His life, indeed, was one of debate postponed. As the realm
of science extended, as his intercourse with men who frankly avowed
their 'infidelity' grew more frequent, he ever and again said to
himself that, one of these days, he must sit down and 'have it out'
in a solemn self-searching. But for the most part he got on very
well amid his inconsistencies. Religious faith has rarely any
connection with reasoning. Martin believed because he believed, and
avoided the impact of disagreeable arguments because he wished to do
The bent of his mind was anything but polemical; he cared not to
spend time even over those authors whose attacks on the outposts of
science, or whose elaborate reconcilements of old and new, might
have afforded him some support. On the other hand, he altogether
lacked that breadth of intellect which seeks to comprehend all the
results of speculation, to discern their tendency, to derive from
them a consistent theory of the nature of things. Though a man be
well versed in a science such as palaeontology it does not follow
that he will view it in its philosophical relations. Martin had kept
himself informed of all the facts appertaining to his study which
the age brought forth, but without developing the new modes of
mental life requisite for the recognition of all that such facts
involved. The theories of evolution he did not venture openly to
resist, but his acceptance of them was so half-hearted that
practically he made no use of their teaching. He was no man of
science, but an idler among the wonders which science uses for her
He regarded with surprise and anxiety the tendencies early
manifested in his son Buckland. Could he have had his way the lad
would have grown up with an impossible combination of qualities,
blending the enthusiasm of modern research with a spirit of
expansive teleology. Whilst Buckland was still of boyish years, the
father treated with bantering good-humour such outbreaks of
irreverence as came immediately under his notice, weakly abstaining
from any attempt at direct argument or influence. But, at a later
time, there took place serious and painful discussions, and only
when the young man had rubbed off his edges in the world's highways
could Martin forget that stage of most unwelcome conflict.
At the death of his younger boy, Maurice, he suffered a blow which
had results more abiding than the melancholy wherewith for a year or
two his genial nature was overshadowed. From that day onwards he was
never wholly at ease among the pursuits which had been wont to
afford him an unfailing resource against whatever troubles. He could
no longer accept and disregard, in a spirit of cheerful faith, those
difficulties science was perpetually throwing in his way. The old
smile of kindly tolerance had still its twofold meaning, but it was
more evidently a disguise of indecision, and not seldom touched with
sadness. Martin's life was still one of postponed debate, but he
could not regard the day when conclusions would be demanded of him
as indefinitely remote. Desiring to dwell in the familiar temporary
abode, his structure of incongruities and facile reconcilements, he
found it no longer weather-proof. The times were shaking his
position with earthquake after earthquake. His sons (for he
suspected that Louis was hardly less emancipated than Buckland)
stood far aloof from him, and must in private feel contemptuous of
his old-fashioned beliefs. In Sidwell, however, he had a companion
more and more indispensable, and he could not imagine that~ her~
faith would ever give way before the invading spirit of agnosticism.
Happily she was no mere pietist. Though he did not quite understand
her attitude towards Christianity, he felt assured that Sidwell had
thought deeply and earnestly of religion in all its aspects, and it
was a solace to know that she found no difficulty in recognising the
large claims of science. For all this, he could not deliberately
seek her confidence, or invite her to a discussion of religious
subjects. Some day, no doubt, a talk of that kind would begin
naturally between them, and so strong was his instinctive faith in
Sidwell that he looked forward to this future communing as to a
certain hope of peace.
That a figure such as Godwin Peak, a young man of vigorous
intellect, preparing to devote his life to the old religion, should
excite Mr. Warricombe's interest was of course to be anticipated; and
it seemed probable enough that Peak, exerting all the force of his
character and aided by circumstances, might before long convert this
advantage to a means of ascendency over the less self-reliant
nature. But here was no instance of a dotard becoming the easy prey
of a scientific Tartufe. Martin's intellect had suffered no decay.
His hale features and dignified bearing expressed the mind which was
ripened by sixty years of pleasurable activity, and which was
learning to regard with steadier view the problems it had hitherto
shirked. He could not change the direction nature had given to his
thoughts, and prepossession would in some degree obscure his
judgment where the merits and trustworthiness of a man in Peak's
circumstances called for scrutiny; but self-respect guarded him
against vulgar artifices, and a fine sensibility made it improbable
that he would become the victim of any man in whom base motives
Left to his own impulses, he would still have proceeded with all
caution in his offers of friendly services to Peak. A letter of
carefully-worded admonition, which he received from his son,
apprising him of Peak's resolve to transfer himself to Exeter,
scarcely affected his behaviour when the young man appeared. It was
but natural--he argued--that Buckland should look askance on a
case of 'conversion'; for his own part, he understood that such a
step might be prompted by interest, but he found it difficult to
believe that to a man in Peak's position, the Church would offer
temptation thus coercive. Nor could he discern in the candidate for
a curacy any mark of dishonourable purpose. Faults, no doubt, were
observable, among them a tendency to spiritual pride--which seemed
(Martin could admit) an argument for, rather than against, his
sincerity. The progress of acquaintance decidedly confirmed his
favourable impressions; they were supported by the remarks of those
among his friends to whom Peak presently became known.
It was not until Whitsuntide of the next year, when the student had
been living nearly five months at Exeter, that Buckland again came
down to visit his relatives. On the evening of his arrival, chancing
to be alone with Sidwell, he asked her if Peak had been to the house
'Not many days ago,' replied his sister, 'he lunched with us, and
then sat with father for some time.'
'Does he come often?'
'Not very often. He is translating a German book which interests
father very much.'
'Oh, what book?'
'I don't know. Father has only mentioned it in that way.'
They were in a little room sacred to the two girls, very daintily
furnished and fragrant of sweet-brier, which Sidwell loved so much
that, when the season allowed it, she often wore a little spray of
it at her girdle. Buckland opened a book on the table, and, on
seeing the title, exclaimed with a disparaging laugh:
'I can't get out of the way of this fellow M'Naughten! Wherever I
go, there he lies about on the tables and chairs. I should have
thought he was thoroughly smashed by an article that came out in~
The Critical~ last year.'
Sidwell smiled, evidently in no way offended.
'That article could "smash" nobody,' she made answer. 'It was too
violent; it overshot the mark.'
'Not a bit of it!--So you read it, eh? You're beginning to read,
'In my humble way, Buckland.'
'M'Naughten, among other things. Humble enough, that, I admit.'
'I am not a great admirer of M'Naughten,' returned his sister, with
a look of amusement.
'No? I congratulate you.--I wonder what Peak thinks of the book?'
'I really don't know.'
'Then let me ask another question. What do you think of Peak?'
Sidwell regarded him with quiet reflectiveness.
'I feel,' she said, 'that I don't know him very well yet. He is
'Yes, he is. Does he impress you as the kind of man likely to make a
'I don't see any reason why he should not.'
Her brother mused, with wrinkles of dissatisfaction on his brow.
'Father gets to like him, you say?'
'Yes, I think father likes him.'
'Well, I suppose it's all right.'
'It's the most astounding thing that ever came under my
observation,' exclaimed Buckland, walking away and then returning.
'That Mr. Peak should be studying for the Church?'
'But do reflect more modestly!' urged Sidwell, with something that
was not quite archness, though as near it as her habits of tone and
feature would allow. 'Why should you refuse to admit an error in
your own way of looking at things? Wouldn't it be better to take
this as a proof that intellect isn't necessarily at war with
'I never stated it so broadly as that,' returned her brother, with
impatience. 'But I should certainly have maintained that ~Peak's~
intellect was necessarily in that position.'
'And you see how wrong you would have been,' remarked the girl,
'Well--I don't know.'
'You don't know?'
'I mean that I can't acknowledge what I can't understand.'
'Then do try to understand, Buckland!--Have you ever put aside
your prejudice for a moment to inquire what our religion really
means? Not once, I think--at all events, not since you reached
years of discretion.'
'Allow me to inform you that I studied the question thoroughly at
'Yes, yes; but that was in your boyhood.'
'And when does manhood begin?'
'At different times in different persons. In your case it was late.'
Buckland laughed. He was considering a rejoinder, when they were
interrupted by the appearance of Fanny, who asked at once:
'Shall you go to see Mr. Peak this evening, Buckland?'
'I'm in no hurry,' was the abrupt reply.
The girl hesitated.
'Let us all have a drive together--with Mr. Peak, I mean--like
when you were here last.'
'We'll see about it.'
Buckland went slowly from the room.
Late the same evening he sat with his father in the study. Mr
Warricombe knew not the solace of tobacco, and his son, though never
quite at ease without pipe or cigar, denied himself in this room,
with the result that he shifted frequently upon his chair and fell
into many awkward postures.
'And how does Peak impress you?' he inquired, when the subject he
most wished to converse upon had been postponed to many others. It
was clear that Martin would not himself broach it.
'Not disagreeably,' was the reply, with a look of frankness, perhaps
'What is he doing? I have only heard from him once since he came
down, and he had very little to say about himself.'
'I understand that he proposes to take the London B.A.'
'Oh, then, he never did that? Has he unbosomed himself to you about
his affairs of old time?'
'No. Such confidences are hardly called for.'
'Speaking plainly, father, you don't feel any uneasiness?'
Martin deliberated, fingering the while an engraved stone which hung
upon his watch-guard. He was at a disadvantage in this conversation.
Aware that Buckland regarded the circumstances of Peak's sojourn in
the neighbourhood with feelings allied to contempt, he could neither
adopt the tone of easy confidence natural to him on other occasions
of difference in opinion, nor express himself with the coldness
which would have obliged his son to quit the subject.
'Perhaps you had better tell me,' he replied, 'whether ~you~ are
It was impossible for Buckland to answer as his mind prompted. He
could not without offence declare that no young man of brains now
adopted a clerical career with pure intentions, yet such was his
sincere belief. Made tolerant in many directions by the cultivation
of his shrewdness, he was hopelessly biassed in judgment as soon as
his anti-religious prejudice came into play--a point of strong
resemblance between him and Peak. After fidgeting for a moment, he
'Yes, I am; but I can't be sure that there's any cause for it.'
'Let us come to matters of fact,' said Mr. Warricombe, showing that
he was not sorry to discuss this side of the affair. 'I suppose
there is no doubt that Peak had a position till lately at the place
he speaks of?'
'No doubt whatever. I have taken pains to ascertain that. His
account of himself, so far, is strictly true.'
Martin smiled, with satisfaction he did not care to disguise.
'Have you met some acquaintance of his?'
'Well,' answered Buckland, changing his position, 'I went to work in
rather an underhand way, perhaps--but the results are
satisfactory. No, I haven't come across any of his friends, but I
happened to hear not long ago that he was on intimate terms with
His father laughed.
'Anything compromising in that association, Buckland?'
'I don't say that--though the fellows I speak of are hot
'I mean,' replied the young man, with his shrewder smile, 'that they
are not exactly the companions a theological student would select.'
'I understand. Possibly he has journalised a little himself?'
'That I can't say, though I should have thought it likely enough. I
might, of course, find out much more about him, but it seemed to me
that to have assurance of his truthfulness in that one respect was
enough for the present.'
'Do you mean, Buckland,' asked his father, gravely, 'that you have
been setting secret police at work?'
'Well, yes. I thought it the least objectionable way of getting
Martin compressed his lips and looked disapproval.
'I really can't see that such extreme measures were demanded. Come,
come; what is all this about? Do you suspect him of planning
burglaries? That was an ill-judged step, Buckland; decidedly
ill-judged. I said just now that Peak impressed me by no means
disagreeably. Now I will add that I am convinced of his good faith
--as sure of it as I am of his remarkable talents and aptitude for
the profession he aims at. In spite of your extraordinary distrust,
I can't feel a moment's doubt of his honour. Why, I could have told
you myself that he has known Radical journalists. He mentioned it
the other day, and explained how far his sympathy went with that
kind of thing. No, no; that was hardly permissible, Buckland.'
The young man had no difficulty in bowing to his father's reproof
when the point at issue was one of gentlemanly behaviour.
'I admit it,' he replied. 'I wish I had gone to Rotherhithe and made
simple inquiries in my own name. That, all things considered, I
might have allowed myself; at all events, I shouldn't have been at
ease without getting that assurance. If Peak had heard, and had said
to me, "What the deuce do you mean?" I should have told him plainly,
what I have strongly hinted to him already, that I don't understand
what he is doing in this galley.'
'And have placed yourself in a position not easy to define.'
'All this arises, my boy,' resumed Martin, in a tone of grave
kindness, 'from your strange inability to grant that on certain
matters you may be wholly misled.'
'Well, well; that is forbidden ground. But do try to be less narrow.
Are you unable then to meet Peak in a friendly way?'
'Oh, by no means! It seems more than likely that I have wronged
'Well said! Keep your mind open. I marvel at the dogmatism of men
who are set on overthrowing dogma. Such a position is so strangely
unphilosophic that I don't know how a fellow of your brains can hold
it for a moment. If I were not afraid of angering you,' Martin
added, in his pleasantest tone, 'I would quote the Master of
'A capital epigram, but it is repeated too often.'
Mr. Warricombe shook his head, and with a laugh rose to say
'It's a great pity,' he remarked next day to Sidwell, who had been
saying that her brother seemed less vivacious than usual, 'that
Buckland is defective on the side of humour. For a man who claims to
be philosophical he takes things with a rather obtuse seriousness. I
know nothing better than humour as a protection against the kind of
mistake he is always committing.'
The application of this was not clear to Sidwell.
'Has something happened to depress him?' she asked.
'Not that I know of. I spoke only of his general tendency to
intemperate zeal. That is enough to account for intervals of
reaction. And how much sounder his judgment of men would be if he
could only see through a medium of humour now and then! You know he
is going over to Budleigh Salterton this afternoon?'
Sidwell smiled, and said quietly:
'I thought it likely he would.'
At Budleigh Salterton, a nook on the coast some fifteen miles away,
Sylvia Moorhouse was now dwelling. Her mother, a widow of
substantial means, had recently established herself there, in the
proximity of friends, and the mathematical brother made his home
with them. That Buckland took every opportunity of enjoying Sylvia's
conversation was no secret; whether the predilection was mutual,
none of his relatives could say, for in a matter such as this
Buckland was by nature disposed to reticence. Sidwell's intimacy
with Miss Moorhouse put her in no better position than the others
for forming an opinion; she could only suspect that the irony which
flavoured Sylvia's talk with and concerning the Radical, intimated a
lurking kindness. Buckland's preference was easily understood, and
its growth for five or six years seemed to promise stability.
Immediately after luncheon the young man set forth, and did not
reappear until the evening of the next day. His spirits had not
benefited by the excursion; at dinner he was noticeably silent, and
instead of going to the drawing-room afterwards he betook himself to
the studio up on the roof, and smoked in solitude. There, towards
ten o'clock, Sidwell sought him. Heavy rain was beating upon the
glass, and a high wind blended its bluster with the cheerless sound.
'Don't you find it rather cold here?' she asked, after observing her
brother's countenance of gloom.
'Yes; I'm coming down.--Why don't you keep up your painting?'
'I have lost interest in it, I'm afraid.'
'That's very weak, you know. It seems to me that nothing interests
Sidwell thought it better to make no reply.
'The characteristic of women,' Buckland pursued, with some asperity,
throwing away the stump of his cigar. 'It comes, I suppose, of their
ridiculous education--their minds are never trained to fixity of
purpose. They never understand themselves, and scarcely ever make an
effort to understand any one else. Their life is a succession of
'This generalising is so easy,' said Sidwell, with a laugh, 'and so
worthless. I wonder you should be so far behind the times.'
'What light have the times thrown on the subject?'
'There's no longer such a thing as ~woman~ in the abstract. We are
'Don't imagine it! That may come to pass three or four generations
hence, but as yet the best of you can only vary the type in
unimportant particulars. By the way, what is Peak's address?'
'Longbrook Street; but I don't know the number. Father can give it
you, I think.'
'I shall have to drop him a note. I must get back to town early in
'Really? We hoped to have you for a week.'
'Longer next time.'
They descended together. Now that Louis no longer abode here (he had
decided at length for medicine, and was at work in London), the
family as a rule spent very quiet evenings. By ten o'clock Mrs
Warricombe and Fanny had retired, and Sidwell was left either to
talk with her father, or to pursue the calm meditations which seemed
to make her independent of companionship as often as she chose.
'Are they all gone?' Buckland asked, finding a vacant room.
'Father is no doubt in the study.'
'It occurs to me--. Do you feel satisfied with this dead-alive
'Satisfied? No life could suit me better.'
'You really think of living here indefinitely?'
'As far as I am concerned, I hope nothing may ever disturb us.'
'And to the end of your life you will scent yourself with
sweetbrier? Do try a bit of mint for a change.'
'Certainly, if it will please you.'
'Seriously, I think you might all come to town for next winter. You
are rusting, all of you. Father was never so dull, and mother
doesn't seem to know how to pass the days. It wouldn't be bad for
Louis to be living with you instead of in lodgings. Do just think of
it. It's ages since you heard a concert, or saw a picture.'
Sidwell mused, and her brother watched her askance.
'I don't know whether the others would care for it,' she said, 'but
I am not tempted by a winter of fog.'
'Fog? Pooh! Well, there is an occasional fog, just now and then, but
it's much exaggerated. Who ever thinks of the weather in England?
Fanny might have a time at Bedford College or some such place-she
learns nothing here. Think it over. Father would be delighted to get
among the societies, and so on.'
He repeated his arguments in many forms, and Sidwell listened
patiently, until they were joined by Mr. Warricombe, whereupon the
subject dropped; to be resumed, however, in correspondence, with a
persistency which Buckland seldom exhibited in anything which
affected the interests of his relatives. As the summer drew on, Mrs
Warricombe began to lend serious ear to this suggestion of change,
and Martin was at all events moved to discuss the pros and cons of
half a year in London. Sidwell preserved neutrality, seldom making
an allusion to the project; but Fanny supported her brother's
proposal with sprightly zeal, declaring on one occasion that she
began distinctly to feel the need of 'a higher culture', such as
London only could supply.
In the meantime there had been occasional interchange of visits
between the family and their friends at Budleigh Salterton. One
evening, when Mrs. Moorhouse and Sylvia were at the Warricombes',
three or four Exeter people came to dine, and among the guests was
Godwin Peak--his invitation being due in this instance to Sylvia's
express wish to meet him again.
'I am studying men,' she had said to Sidwell not long before, when
the latter was at the seaside with her. 'In our day this is the
proper study of womankind. Hitherto we have given serious attention
only to one another. Mr. Peak remains in my memory as a type worth
observing; let me have a chance of talking to him when I come next.'
She did not neglect her opportunity, and Mrs. Moorhouse, who also
conversed with the theologian and found him interesting, was so good
as to hope that he would call upon her if ever his steps turned
towards Budleigh Salterton.
After breakfast next morning, Sidwell found her friend sitting with
a book beneath one of the great trees of the garden. At that moment
Sylvia was overcome with laughter, evidently occasioned by her
'Oh,' she exclaimed, 'if this man isn't a great humorist! I don't
think I ever read anything more irresistible.'
The book was Hugh Miller's ~Testimony of the Rocks~, a richly bound
copy belonging to Mrs. Warricombe.
'I daresay you know it very well; it's the chapter in which he
discusses, with perfect gravity, whether it would have been possible
for Noah to collect examples of all living creatures in the ark. He
decides that it wouldn't--that the deluge ~must~ have spared a
portion of the earth; but the details of his argument are delicious,
especially this place where he says that all the insects could have
been brought together only "at enormous expense of miracle"! I
suspected a secret smile; but no--that's out of the question. "At
enormous expense of miracle"!'
Sylvia's eyes winked as she laughed, a peculiarity which enhanced
the charm of her frank mirth. Her dark, pure complexion,
strongly-marked eyebrows, subtle lips, were shadowed beneath a great
garden hat, and a loose white gown, with no oppressive moulding at
the waist, made her a refreshing picture in the glare of mid-summer.
'The phrase is ridiculous enough,' assented Sidwell. 'Miracle can be
but miracle, however great or small its extent.'
'Isn't it strange, reading a book of this kind nowadays? What a leap
we have made! I should think there's hardly a country curate who
would be capable of bringing this argument into a sermon.'
'I don't know,' returned Sidwell, smiling. 'One still hears
'What will Mr. Peak's be like?'
They exchanged glances. Sylvia wore a look of reflective curiosity,
and her friend answered with some hesitation, as if the thought were
new to her:
'They won't deal with Noah, we may take that for granted.'
'Most likely not with miracles, however little expensive.'
'Perhaps not. I suppose he will deal chiefly with the moral teaching
'Do you think him strong as a moralist?' inquired Sylvia.
'He has very decided opinions about the present state of our
'So I find. But is there any distinctly moral force in him?'
'Father thinks so,' Sidwell replied, 'and so do our friends the
Miss Moorhouse pondered awhile.
'He is a great problem to me,' she declared at length, knitting her
brows with a hint of humorous exaggeration. 'I wonder whether he
believes in the dogmas of Christianity.'
Sidwell was startled.
'Would he think of becoming a clergyman?'
'Oh, why not? Don't they recognise nowadays that the spirit is
There was silence. Sidwell let her eyes wander over the sunny grass
to the red-flowering creeper on the nearest side of the house.
'That would involve a great deal of dissimulation,' she said at
length. 'I can't reconcile it with what I know of Mr. Peak.'
'And I can't reconcile anything else,' rejoined the other.
'He impresses you as a rationalist?'
'I confess I have taken his belief for granted. Oh, think! He
couldn't keep up such a pretence. However you justify it, it implies
conscious deception. It would be dishonourable. I am sure ~he~ would
think it so.'
'How does your brother regard him?' Sylvia asked, smiling very
slightly, but with direct eyes.
'Buckland can't credit anyone with sincerity except an aggressive
'But I think he allows honest credulity.'
Sidwell had no answer to this. After musing a little, she put a
question which indicated how her thoughts had travelled.
'Have you met many women who declared themselves agnostics?'
Sylvia removed her hat, and began to fan herself gently with the
brim. Here, in the shade, bees were humming; from the house came
faint notes of a piano--Fanny practising a mazurka of Chopin.
'But never, I suppose, one who found a pleasure in attacking
'A girl who was at school with me in London,' Sylvia replied, with
an air of amused reminiscence. 'Marcella Moxey. Didn't I ever speak
to you of her?'
'I think not.'
'She was bitter against religion of every kind.'
'Because her mother made her learn collects, I dare say?' suggested
Sidwell, in a tone of gentle satire.
'No, no. Marcella was about eighteen then, and had neither father
nor mother.--(How Fanny's touch improves!)--She was a born
atheist, in the fullest sense of the word.'
'Not to me--I rather liked her. She was remarkably honest, and I
have sometimes thought that in morals, on the whole, she stood far
above most women. She hated falsehood--hated it with all her
heart, and a story of injustice maddened her. When I think of
Marcella it helps me to picture the Russian girls who propagate
'You have lost sight of her?'
'She went abroad, I think. I should like to have known her fate. I
rather think there will have to be many like her before women are
'How I should like to ask her,' said Sidwell, 'on what she supported
'Put the problem to Mr. Peak,' suggested the other, gaily. 'I fancy
he wouldn't find it insoluble.'
Mrs. Warricombe and Mrs. Moorhouse appeared in the distance, walking
hither under parasols. The girls rose to meet them, and were
presently engaged in less interesting colloquy.
This summer Peak became a semi-graduate of London University. To
avoid the risk of a casual meeting with acquaintances, he did not go
to London, but sat for his examination at the nearest provincial
centre. The revival of boyish tremors at the successive stages of
this business was anything but agreeable; it reminded him, with
humiliating force, how far he had strayed from the path indicated to
his self-respecting manhood. Defeat would have strengthened in
overwhelming revolt all the impulses which from time to time urged
him to abandon his servile course. But there was no chance of his
failing to satisfy the examiners. With 'Honours' he had now nothing
to do; enough for his purpose that in another year's time he would
write himself Bachelor of Arts, and thus simplify the clerical
preliminaries. In what quarter he was to look for a curacy remained
uncertain. Meanwhile his enterprise seemed to prosper, and success
emboldened his hopes.
Hopes which were no longer vague, but had defined themselves in a
way which circumstances made inevitable. Though he had consistently
guarded himself against the obvious suggestions arising out of his
intercourse with the Warricombe family, though he still emphasised
every discouraging fact, and strove to regard it as axiomatic that
nothing could be more perilous to his future than a hint of
presumption or self-interest in word or deed beneath that friendly
roof, it was coming to pass that he thought of Sidwell not only as
the type of woman pursued by his imagination, but as herself the
object of his converging desires. Comparison of her with others had
no result but the deepening of that impression she had at first made
upon him. Sidwell exhibited all the qualities which most appealed to
him in her class; in addition, she had the charms of a personality
which he could not think of common occurrence. He was yet far from
understanding her; she exercised his powers of observation,
analysis, conjecture, as no other person had ever done; each time he
saw her (were it but for a moment) he came away with some new
perception of her excellence, some hitherto unmarked grace of person
or mind whereon to meditate. He had never approached a woman who
possessed this power at once of fascinating his senses and
controlling his intellect to a glad reverence. Whether in her
presence or musing upon her in solitude, he found that the unsparing
naturalism of his scrutiny was powerless to degrade that sweet, pure
Rare, under any circumstances, is the passionate love which controls
every motive of heart and mind; rarer still that form of it which,
with no assurance of reciprocation, devotes exclusive ardour to an
object only approachable through declared obstacles. Godwin Peak was
not framed for romantic languishment. In general, the more complex a
man's mechanism, and the more pronounced his habit of introspection,
the less capable is he of loving with vehemence and constancy.
Heroes of passion are for the most part primitive natures, nobly
tempered; in our time they tend to extinction. Growing vulgarism on
the one hand, and on the other a development of the psychological
conscience, are unfavourable to any relation between the sexes, save
those which originate in pure animalism, or in reasoning less or
more generous. Never having experienced any feeling which he could
dignify with the name of love, Godwin had no criterion in himself
whereby to test the emotions now besetting him. In a man of his age
this was an unusual state of things, for when the ardour which will
bear analysis has at length declared itself, it is wont to be
moderated by the regretful memory of that fugacious essence which
gave to the first frenzy of youth its irrecoverable delight. He
could not say in reply to his impulses: If that was love which
overmastered me, this must be something either more or less exalted.
What he ~did~ say was something of this kind: If desire and
tenderness, if frequency of dreaming rapture, if the calmest
approval of the mind and the heart's most exquisite, most painful
throbbing, constitute love,--then assuredly I love Sidwell. But if
to love is to be possessed with madness, to lose all taste of life
when hope refuses itself, to meditate frantic follies, to deem it
inconceivable that this woman should ever lose her dominion over me,
or another reign in her stead,--then my passion falls short of the
true testrum, and I am only dallying with fancies which might spring
up as often as I encountered a charming girl.
All things considered, to encourage this amorous preoccupation was
probably the height of unwisdom. The lover is ready at deluding
himself, but Peak never lost sight of the extreme unlikelihood that
he should ever become Martin Warricombe's son-in-law, of the
thousand respects which forbade his hoping that Sidwell would ever
lay her hand in his. That deep-rooted sense of class which had so
much influence on his speculative and practical life asserted
itself, with rigid consistency, even against his own aspirations; he
attributed to the Warricombes more prejudice on this subject than
really existed in them. He, it was true, belonged to no class
whatever, acknowledged no subordination save that of the hierarchy
of intelligence; but this could not obscure the fact that his
brother sold seeds across a counter, that his sister had married a
haberdasher, that his uncle (notoriously) was somewhere or other
supplying the public with cheap repasts. Girls of Sidwell's delicacy
do not misally themselves, for they take into account the fact that
such misalliance is fraught with elements of unhappiness, affecting
husband as much as wife. No need to dwell upon the scruples
suggested by his moral attitude; he would never be called upon to
combat them with reference to Sidwell's future.
What, then, was he about? For what advantage was he playing the
hypocrite? Would he, after all, be satisfied with some such wife as
the average curate may hope to marry?
A hundred times he reviewed the broad question, by the light of his
six months' experience. Was Sidwell Warricombe his ideal woman,
absolutely speaking? Why, no; not with all his glow of feeling could
he persuade himself to declare her that. Satisfied up to a certain
point, admitted to the sphere of wealthy refinement, he now had
leisure to think of yet higher grades, of the women who are not only
exquisite creatures by social comparison but rank by divine right
among the foremost of their race. Sidwell was far from intolerant,
and held her faiths in a sincerely ethical spirit. She judged nobly,
she often saw with clear vision. But must not something of kindly
condescension always blend with his admiring devotedness? Were it
but possible to win the love of a woman who looked forth with eyes
thoroughly purged from all mist of tradition and conventionalism,
who was at home among arts and sciences, who, like himself,
acknowledged no class and bowed to no authority but that of the
supreme human mind!
Such women are to be found in every age, but how many of them shine
with the distinctive ray of womanhood? These are so rare that they
have a place in the pages of history. The truly emancipated woman--
it was Godwin's conviction--is almost always asexual; to him,
therefore, utterly repugnant. If, then, he were not content to waste
his life in a vain search for the priceless jewel, which is won and
worn only by fortune's supreme favourites, he must acquiesce in the
imperfect marriage commonly the lot of men whose intellect allows
them but little companionship even among their own sex: for that
matter, the lot of most men, and necessarily so until the new
efforts in female education shall have overcome the vice of wedlock
as hitherto sanctioned. Nature provides the hallucination which
flings a lover at his mistress's feet. For the chill which follows
upon attainment she cares nothing--let society and individuals
make their account with that as best they may. Even with a wife such
as Sidwell the process of disillusion would doubtless have to be
faced, however liberal one's allowances in the forecast.
Reflections of this colour were useful; they helped to keep within
limits the growth of agitating desire. But there were seasons when
Godwin surrendered himself to luxurious reverie, hours of summer
twilight which forbade analysis and listened only to the harmonies
of passion. Then was Sidwell's image glorified, and all the delights
promised by such love as hers fired his imagination to intolerable
ecstasy. 0 heaven! to see the smile softened by rosy warmth which
would confess that she had given her heart--to feel her supple
fingers intertwined with his that clasped them--to hear the words
in which a mind so admirable, instincts so delicate, would make
expression of their tenderness! To live with Sidwell--to breathe
the fragrance of that flower of womanhood in wedded intimacy--to
prove the devotion of a nature so profoundly chaste! The visionary
transport was too poignant; in the end it drove him to a fierce
outbreak of despairing wrath. How could he dream that such bliss
would be the reward of despicable artifice, of calculated dishonour?
Born a rebel, how could his be the fate of those happy men who are
at one with the order of things? The prophecy of a heart wrung with
anguish foretold too surely that for him was no rapturous love, no
joy of noble wedlock. Solitude, now and for ever, or perchance some
base alliance of the flesh, which would involve his later days in
In moods of discouragement he thought with envy of his old self, his
life in London lodgings, his freedom in obscurity. It belongs to the
pathos of human nature that only in looking back can one appreciate
the true value of those long tracts of monotonous ease which, when
we are living through them, seem of no account save in relation to
past or future; only at a distance do we perceive that the exemption
from painful shock was in itself a happiness, to be rated highly in
comparison with most of those disturbances known as moments of joy.
A wise man would have entertained no wish but that he might grow old
in that same succession of days and weeks and years. Without anxiety
concerning his material needs (certainly the most substantial of
earthly blessings), his leisure not inadequate to the gratification
of a moderate studiousness, with friends who offered him an
ever-ready welcome,--was it not much? If he were condemned to
bachelorhood, his philosophy was surely capable of teaching him that
the sorrows and anxieties he thus escaped made more than an offset
against the satisfactions he must forego. Reason had no part in the
fantastic change to which his life had submitted, nor was he ever
supported by a hope which would bear his cooler investigation.
And yet hope had her periods of control, for there are times when
the mind wearies of rationality, and, as it were in self-defense, in
obedience to the instinct of progressive life, craves a specious
comfort. It seemed undeniable that Mr. Warricombe regarded him with
growth of interest, invited his conversation more unreservedly. He
began to understand Martin's position with regard to religion and
science, and thus could utter himself more securely. At length he
ventured to discourse with some amplitude on his own convictions--
the views, that is to say, which he thought fit to adopt in his
character of a liberal Christian. It was on an afternoon of early
August that this opportunity presented itself. They sat together in
the study, and Martin was in a graver mood than usual, not much
disposed to talk, but a willing listener. There had been mention of
a sermon at the Cathedral, in which the preacher declared his faith
that the maturity of science would dispel all antagonisms between it
'The difficulties of the unbeliever,' said Peak, endeavouring to
avoid a sermonising formality, though with indifferent success,
'are, of course, of two kinds; there's the theory of evolution, and
there's modern biblical criticism. The more I study these
objections, the less able I am to see how they come in conflict with
belief in Christianity as a revealed religion.'
'Yet you probably had your time of doubt?' remarked the other,
touching for the first time on this personal matter.
'Oh, yes; that was inevitable. It only means that one's development
is imperfect. Most men who confirm themselves in agnosticism are
kept at that point by arrested moral activity. They give up the
intellectual question as wearisome, and accept the point of view
which flatters their prejudices: thereupon follows a blunting of the
sensibilities on the religious side.'
'There are men constitutionally unfitted for the reception of
spiritual truth,' said Martin, in a troubled tone. He was playing
with a piece of string, and did not raise his eyes.
'I quite believe that. There's our difficulty when we come to
evidences. The evidences of science are wholly different in ~kind~
from those of religion. Faith cannot spring from any observation of
phenomena, or scrutiny of authorities, but from the declaration made
to us by the spiritual faculty. The man of science can only become a
Christian by the way of humility--and that a kind of humility he
finds it difficult even to conceive. One wishes to impress upon him
the harmony of this faith with the spiritual voice that is in every
man. He replies: I know nothing of that spiritual voice. And if that
be true, one can't help him by argument.'
Peak had constructed for himself, out of his reading, a plausible
system which on demand he could set forth with fluency. The tone of
current apologetics taught him that, by men even of cultivated
intellect, such a position as he was now sketching was deemed
tenable; yet to himself it sounded so futile, so nugatory, that he
had to harden his forehead as he spoke. Trial more severe to his
conscience lay in the perceptible solicitude with which Mr
Warricombe weighed these disingenuous arguments. It was a hateful
thing to practise such deception on one who probably yearned for
spiritual support. But he had committed himself to this course, and
must brave it out.
'Christianity,' he was saying presently--appropriating a passage
of which he had once made careful note--'is an organism of such
vital energy that it perforce assimilates whatever is good and true
in the culture of each successive age. To understand this is to
learn that we must depend rather on ~constructive~, than on
~defensive~, apology. That is to say, we must draw evidence of our
faith from its latent capacities, its unsuspected affinities, its
previsions, its adaptability, comprehensiveness, sympathy, adequacy
to human needs.'
'That puts very well what I have always felt,' replied Mr
Warricombe. 'Yet there will remain the objection that such a faith
may be of purely human origin. If evolution and biblical criticism
seem to overthrow all the historic evidences of Christianity, how
convince the objectors that the faith itself was divinely given?'
'But I cannot hold for a moment,' exclaimed Peak, in the words which
he knew his interlocutor desired to hear, 'that all the historic
evidences have been destroyed. That indeed would shake our
He enlarged on the point, with display of learning, yet studiously
avoiding the tone of pedantry.
'Evolution,' he remarked, when the dialogue had again extended its
scope, 'does not touch the evidence of design in the universe; at
most it can correct our imperfect views (handed down from an age
which had no scientific teaching because it was not ripe for it) of
the mode in which that design was executed, or rather is still being
executed. Evolutionists have not succeeded in explaining life; they
have merely discovered a new law relating to life. If we must have
an explanation, there is nothing for it but to accept the notion of
a Deity. Indeed, how can there be religion without a divine author?
Religion is based on the idea of a divine mind which reveals itself
to us for moral ends. The Christian revelation, we hold, has been
developed gradually, much of it in connection with secondary causes
and human events. It has come down to us in anything but absolute
purity--like a stream which has been made turbid by its earthly
channel. The lower serves its purpose as a stage to the higher, then
it falls away, the higher surviving. Hitherto, the final outcome of
evolution is the soul in a bodily tenement. May it not be that the
perfected soul alone survives in the last step of the struggle for
Peak had been talking for more than a quarter of an hour. Under
stress of shame and intellectual self-criticism (for he could not
help confuting every position as he stated it) his mind often
wandered. When he ceased speaking there came upon him an
uncomfortable dreaminess which he had already once or twice
experienced when in colloquy with Mr. Warricombe; a tormenting
metaphysical doubt of his own identity strangely beset him. With
involuntary attempt to recover the familiar self he grasped his own
wrist, and then, before he was aware, a laugh escaped him, an all
but mocking laugh, unsuitable enough to the spirit of the moment. Mr
Warricombe was startled, but looked up with a friendly smile.
'You fear,' he said, 'that this last speculation may seem rather
fanciful to me?'
Godwin was biting his lip fiercely, and could not command himself to
utterance of a word.
'By no means, I assure you,' added the other. 'It appeals to me very
Peak rose from his chair.
'It struck me,' he said, 'that I had been preaching a sermon rather
than taking part in a conversation. I'm afraid it is the habit of
men who live a good deal alone to indulge in monologues.'
On his return home, the sight of ~Bibel und Natur~ and his sheets of
laborious manuscript filled him with disgust. It was two or three
days before he could again apply himself to the translation. Yet
this expedient had undoubtedly been of great service to him in the
matter of his relations with Mr. Warricombe. Without the aid of
Reusch he would have found it difficult to speak naturally on the
theme which drew Martin into confidences and established an intimacy
Already they had discussed in detail the first half of the book. How
a man of Mr. Warricombe's intelligence could take grave interest in
an arid exegesis of the first chapter of Genesis, Godwin strove in
vain to comprehend. Often enough the debates were perilously
suggestive of burlesque, and, when alone, he relieved himself of the
laughter he had scarce restrained. For instance, there was that
terrible ~thohu wabohu~ of the second verse, a phrase preserved from
the original, and tossed into all the corners of controversy. Was~
thohu wabohu~ the first condition of the earth, or was it merely a
period of division between a previous state of things and creation
as established by the Hexaemeron? Did light exist or not, previous
to the ~thohu wabohu~? Then, again, what kind of 'days' were the
three which passed before the birth of the sun? Special interest, of
course, attached to the successive theories of theology on the
origin of geologic strata. First came the 'theory of restitution',
which explained unbiblical antiquity by declaring that the strata
belonged to a world before the Hexaimeron, a world which had been
destroyed, and succeeded by the new creation. Less objectionable was
the 'concordistic theory', which interprets the 'six days' as so
many vast periods of creative activity. But Reusch himself gave
preference to the 'ideal theory', the supporters whereof (diligently
adapting themselves to the progress of science) hold that the six
days are not to be understood as consecutive periods at all, but
merely as six phases of the Creator's work.
By the exercise of watchfulness and dexterity, Peak managed for the
most part to avoid expression of definite opinions. His attitude was
that of a reverent (not yet reverend) student. Mr. Warricombe was
less guarded, and sometimes allowed himself to profess that he saw
nothing but vain ingenuity in Reusch's argument: as, for example,
where the theologian, convinced that the patriarchs did really live
to an abnormal age, suggests that man's life was subsequently
shortened in order that 'sin might not flourish with such
exuberance'. This passage caused Martin to smile.
'It won't do, it won't do,' he said, quietly. 'Far better apply his
rationalism here as elsewhere. These are wonderful old stories, not
to be understood literally. Nothing depends upon them nothing
Thereupon Peak mused anxiously. Not for the first time there
occurred to him a thought which suited only too well with his ironic
habits of mind. What if this hypocritic comedy were altogether
superfluous? What if Mr. Warricombe would have received him no less
cordially had he avowed his sincere position, and contented himself
with guarding against offensiveness? Buckland, it was true, had
suffered in his father's esteem on account of his unorthodoxy, but
that young man had been too aggressive, too scornful. With prudence,
would it not have been possible to win Martin's regard by fortifying
the scientific rather than the dogmatic side of his intellect? If
so, what a hopeless error had he committed!--But Sidwell? Was~
she~ liberal enough to take a personal interest in one who had
renounced faith in revelation? He could not decide this question,
for of Sidwell he knew much less than of her father. And it was idle
to torment himself with such debate of the irreversible.
And, indeed, there seemed much reason for believing that Martin,
whatever the extent of his secret doubts, was by temperament armed
against agnosticism. Distinctly it comforted him to hear the
unbelievers assailed--the friends of whom he spoke most heartily
were all on the orthodox side; if ever a hint of gentle malice
occurred in his conversation, it was when he spoke of a fallacy, a
precipitate conclusion, detected in works of science. Probably he
was too old to overcome this bias.
His view of the Bible appeared to harmonise with that which Peak put
forth in one of their dialogues. 'The Scriptures were meant to be
literally understood in primitive ages, and spiritually when the
growth of science made it possible. ~Genesis~ was never intended to
teach the facts of natural history; it takes phenomena as they
appear to uninstructed people, and uses them only for the
inculcation of moral lessons; it presents to the childhood of the
world a few great elementary truths. And the way in which phenomena
are spoken of in the Old Testament is never really incompatible with
the facts as we know them nowadays. Take the miracle of the sun
standing still, which is supposed to be a safe subject of ridicule.
Why, it merely means that light was miraculously prolonged; the
words used are those which common people would at all times
(Was it necessary to have admitted the miracle? Godwin asked
himself. At all events Mr. Warricombe nodded approvingly.)
'Then the narrative of the creation of man; that's not at all
incompatible with his slow development through ages. To teach the
scientific fact--if we yet really know it--would have been worse
than useless. The story is meant to express that spirit, and not
matter, is the source of all existence. Indeed, our knowledge of the
true meaning of the Bible has increased with the growth of science,
and naturally that must have been intended from the first. Things
which do not concern man's relation to the spiritual have no place
in this book; they are not within its province. Such things were
discoverable by human reason, and the knowledge which achieves has
nothing to do with a divine revelation.'
To Godwin it was a grinding of the air, but the listener appeared to
think it profitable.
With his clerical friend, Mr. Lilywhite, he rarely touched on matters
of religion. The vicar of St. Ethelreda's was a man well suited to
support the social dignity of his Church. A gentleman before
everything, he seemed incapable of prying into the state of a
parishioner's soul; you saw in him the official representative of a
Divinity characterised by well-bred tolerance. He had written a
pleasant little book on the by-ways of Devon and Cornwall, which
brought about his intimacy with the Warricombe household. Peak liked
him more the better he knew him, and in the course of the summer
they had one or two long walks together, conversing exclusively of
the things of earth. Mr. Lilywhite troubled himself little about
evolution; he spoke of trees and plants, of birds and animals, in a
loving spirit, like the old simple naturalists. Geology did not come
within his sphere.
'I'm very sorry,' he said, 'that I could never care much for it.
Don't think I'm afraid of it--not I! I feel the grandeur of its
scope, just as I do in the case of astronomy; but I have never
brought myself to study either science. A narrowness of mind, no
doubt. I can't go into such remote times and regions. I love the
sunlight and the green fields of this little corner of the world--
too well, perhaps: yes, perhaps too well.'
After one of these walks, he remarked to Mrs. Lilywhite:
'It's my impression that Mr. Peak has somehow been misled in his
choice of a vocation. I don't think he'll do as a churchman.'
'Why not, Henry?' asked his wife, with gentle concern, for she still
spoke of Peak's 'quiet moral force'.
'There's something too restless about him. I doubt whether he has
really made up his mind on any subject whatever. Well, it's not easy
to explain what I feel, but I don't think he will take Orders.'
Calling at the vicarage one afternoon in September, Godwin found Mrs
Lilywhite alone. She startled him by saying at once:
'An old acquaintance of yours was with us yesterday, Mr. Peak.'
'Who could that be, I wonder?'
He smiled softly, controlling his impulse to show quite another
'You remember Mr. Bruno Chilvers?'
There was a constriction in his throat. Struggling to overcome it,
'But I should have thought he had no recollection of me.'
'Quite the contrary, I assure you. He is to succeed Mr. Bell of St
Margaret's, at Christmas; he was down here only for a day or two,
and called upon my husband with a message from an old friend of
ours. It appears he used to know the Warricombes, when they lived at
Kingsmill, and he had been to see them before visiting us; it was
there your name was mentioned to him.'
Godwin had seated himself, and leaned forward, his hands grasping
the glove he had drawn off.
'We were contemporaries at Whitelaw College,' he observed.
'So we learnt from him. He spoke of you with the greatest interest;
he was delighted to hear that you contemplated taking Orders. Of
course we knew Mr. Chilvers by reputation, but my husband had no idea
that he was coming to Exeter. What an energetic man he is! In a few
hours he seemed to have met everyone, and to have learnt everything.
My husband says he felt quite rebuked by such a display of vigour!'
Even in his discomposure, graver than any that had affected him
since his talks with Buckland Warricombe, Peak was able to notice
that the Rev. Bruno had not made a wholly favourable impression upon
the Lilywhites. There was an amiable causticity in that mention of
his 'display of vigour', such as did not often characterise Mrs
Lilywhite's comments. Finding that the vicar would be away till
evening, Godwin stayed for only a quarter of an hour, and when he
had escaped it irritated and alarmed him to reflect how unusual his
behaviour must have appeared to the good lady.
The blow was aimed at his self-possession from such an unlikely
quarter. In Church papers he had frequently come across Chilvers's
name, and the sight of it caused him a twofold disturbance: it was
hateful to have memories of humiliation revived, and perhaps still
more harassing to be forced upon acknowledgment of the fact that he
stood as an obscure aspirant at the foot of the ladder which his old
rival was triumphantly ascending. Bad enough to be classed in any
way with such a man as Chilvers; but to be regarded as at one with
him in religious faith, to be forbidden the utterance of scorn when
Chilvers was extolled, stung him so keenly that he rushed into any
distraction to elude the thought. When he was suffering shame under
the gaze of Buckland Warricombe he remembered Chilvers, and shrank
as before a merited scoff. But the sensation had not been abiding
enough to affect his conduct. He had said to himself that he should
never come in contact with the fellow, and that, after all,
community of religious profession meant no more, under their
respective circumstances, than if both were following law or physic.
But the unforeseen had happened. In a few months, the Rev. Bruno
Chilvers would be a prominent figure about the streets of Exeter;
would be frequently seen at the Warricombes', at the Lilywhites', at
the houses of their friends. His sermons at St. Margaret's would
doubtless attract, and form a staple topic of conversation. Worse
than all, his expressions of 'interest' and 'delight' made it
probable that he would seek out his College competitor and offer the
hand of brotherhood. These things were not to be avoided--save by
abandonment of hopes, save by retreat, by yielding to a hostile
That Chilvers might talk here and there of Whitelaw stories was
comparatively unimportant. The Warricombes must already know all
that could be told, and what other people heard did not much matter.
It was the man himself that Peak could not endure. Dissembling had
hitherto been no light task. The burden had more than once pressed
so gallingly that its permanent support seemed impossible; but to
stand before Bruno Chilvers in the attitude of humble emulation, to
give respectful ear whilst the popular cleric advised or encouraged,
or bestowed pontifical praise, was comparable only to a searing of
the flesh with red irons. Even with assured prospect of recompense
in the shape of Sidwell Warricombe's heart and hand, he could hardly
submit to such an ordeal. As it was, reason having so often
convinced him that he clung to a visionary hope, the torture became
gratuitous, and its mere suggestion inspired him with a fierce
resentment destructive of all his purposes.
For several days he scarcely left the house. To wrath and dread had
succeeded a wretched torpor, during which his mind kept revolving
the thoughts prompted by his situation, turbidly and to no issue. He
tasted all the bitterness of the solitude to which he had condemned
himself; there was not a living soul with whom he could commune. At
moments he was possessed with the desire of going straightway to
London, and making Earwaker the confidant of all his folly. But that
demanded an exertion of which he was physically incapable. He
thought of the old home at Twybridge, and was tempted also in that
direction. His mother would welcome him with human kindness; beneath
her roof he could lie dormant until fate should again point his
course. He even wrote a letter saying that in all probability he
should pay a visit to Twybridge before long. But the impulse was
only of an hour's duration, for he remembered that to talk with his
mother would necessitate all manner of new falsehoods, a thickening
of the atmosphere of lies which already oppressed him. No; if he
quitted Exeter, it must be on a longer journey. He must resume his
purpose of seeking some distant country, where new conditions of
life would allow him to try his fortune at least as an honest
adventurer. In many parts of colonial England his technical
knowledge would have a value, and were there not women to be won
beneath other skies--women perhaps of subtler charm than the old
hidebound civilisation produced? Reminiscences of scenes and figures
in novels he had read nourished the illusion. He pictured some
thriving little town at the ends of the earth, where a young
Englishman of good manners and unusual culture would easily be
admitted to the intimacy of the richest families; he saw the ideal
colonist (a man of good birth, but a sower of wild oats in his
youth) with two or three daughters about him--beautiful girls,
wondrously self-instructed--living amid romantic dreams of the old
world, and of the lover who would some day carry them off (with a
substantial share of papa's wealth) to Europe and the scenes of
The mind has marvellous methods of self-defence against creeping
lethargy of despair. At the point to which he had been reduced by
several days of blank despondency, Peak was able to find genuine
encouragement in visions such as this. He indulged his fancy until
the vital force began to stir once more within him, and then, with
one angry sweep, all his theological books and manuscripts were
flung out of sight. Away with this detestable mummery! Now let Bruno
Chilvers pour his eloquence from the pulpit of St. Margaret's, and
rear to what heights he could the edifice of his social glory; men
of that stamp were alone fitted to thrive in England. Was not~ he
~almost certainly a hypocrite, masking his brains (for brains he
had) under a show of broadest Anglicanism? But his career was
throughout consistent. He trod in the footsteps of his father, and
with inherited aptitude moulded antique traditions into harmony with
the taste of the times. Compared with such a man, Peak felt himself
a bungler. The wonder was that his clumsy lying had escaped
Another day, and he had done nothing whatever, but was still buoyed
up by the reaction of visionary hope. His need now was of
communicating his change of purpose to some friendly hearer. A week
had passed since he had exchanged a word with anyone but Mrs. Roots,
and converse he must. Why not with Mr. Warricombe? That was plainly
the next step: to see Martin and make known to him that after all he
could not become a clergyman. No need of hinting a conscientious
reason. At all events, nothing more definite than a sense of
personal unfitness, a growing perception of difficulties inherent in
his character. It would be very interesting to hear Mr. Warricombe's
A few minutes after this decision was taken, he set off towards the
Old Tiverton Road, walking at great speed, flourishing his stick--
symptoms of the nervous cramp (so to speak) which he was dispelling.
He reached the house, and his hand was on the bell, when an
unexpected opening of the door presented Louis Warricombe just
coming forth for a walk. They exchanged amiabilities, and Louis made
known that his father and motherwere away on a visit to friends in
'But pray come in,' he added, offering to re-enter.
Peak excused himself, for it was evident that Louis made a sacrifice
to courtesy. But at that moment there approached from the garden
Fanny Warricombe and her friend Bertha Lilywhite, eldest daughter of
the genial vicar; they shook hands with Godwin, Fanny exclaiming:
'Don't go away, Mr. Peak. Have a cup of tea with us--Sidwell is at
home. I want to show you a strange sort of spleenwort that I
gathered this morning.'
'In that case,' said her brother, smiling, 'I may confess that I
have an appointment. Pray forgive me for hurrying off, Mr. Peak.'
Godwin was embarrassed, but the sprightly girl repeated her summons,
and he followed into the house.
Having led the way to the drawing-room, Fanny retired again for a
few moments, to fetch the fern of which she had spoken, leaving Peak
in conversation with little Miss Lilywhite. Bertha was a rather shy
girl of fifteen, not easily induced, under circumstances such as
these, to utter more than monosyllables, and Godwin, occupied with
the unforeseen results of his call, talked about the weather. With
half-conscious absurdity he had begun to sketch a theory of his own
regarding rain-clouds and estuaries (Bertha listening with an air of
the gravest attention) when Fanny reappeared, followed by Sidwell.
Peak searched the latter's face for indications of her mood, but
could discover nothing save a spirit of gracious welcome. Such
aspect was a matter of course, and he knew it. None the less, his
nervousness and the state of mind engendered by a week's miserable
solitude, tempted him to believe that Sidwell did not always wear
that smile in greeting a casual caller. This was the first time that
she had received him without the countenance of Mrs. Warricombe.
Observing her perfect manner, as she sat down and began to talk, he
asked himself what her age really was. The question had never
engaged his thoughts. Eleven years ago, when he saw her at the house
near Kingsmill and again at Whitelaw College, she looked a very
young girl, but whether of thirteen or sixteen he could not at the
time have determined, and such a margin of possibility allowed her
now to have reached--it might be--her twenty-seventh summer. But
twenty-seven drew perilously near to thirty; no, no, Sidwell could
not be more than twenty-five. Her eyes still had the dewy freshness
of flowering maidenhood; her cheek, her throat, were so exquisitely
In how divine a calm must this girl have lived to show, even at
five-and-twenty, features as little marked by inward perturbation as
those of an infant! Her position in the world considered, one could
forgive her for having borne so lightly the inevitable sorrows of
life, for having dismissed so readily the spiritual doubts which
were the heritage of her time; but was she a total stranger to
passion? Did not the fact of her still remaining unmarried make
probable such a deficiency in her nature? Had she a place among the
women whom coldness of temperament preserves in a bloom like that of
youth, until fading hair and sinking cheek betray them----?
Whilst he thought thus, Godwin was in appearance busy with the fern
Fanny had brought for his inspection. He talked about it, but in
snatches, with intervals of abstractedness.
Yet might he not be altogether wrong? Last year, when he observed
Sidwell in the Cathedral and subsequently at home, his impression
had been that her face was of rather pallid and dreamy cast; he
recollected that distinctly. Had she changed, or did familiarity
make him less sensible of her finer traits? Possibly she enjoyed
better health nowadays, and, if so, it might result from influences
other than physical. Her air of quiet happiness seemed to him
especially noticeable this afternoon, and as he brooded there came
upon him a dread which, under the circumstances, was quite
irrational, but for all that troubled his views. Perhaps Sidwell was
betrothed to some one? He knew of but one likely person--Miss
Moorhouse's brother. About a month ago the Warricombes had been on a
visit at Budleigh Salterton, and something might then have happened.
Pangs of jealousy smote him, nor could he assuage them by reminding
himself that he had no concern whatever in Sidwell's future.
'Will Mr. Warricombe be long away?' he asked, coldly.
'A day or two. I hope you didn't wish particularly to see him
'Do you know, Mr. Peak,' put in Fanny, 'that we are all going to
London next month, to live there for half a year?'
Godwin exhibited surprise. He looked from the speaker to her sister,
and Sidwell, as she smiled confirmation, bent very slightly towards
'We have made up our minds, after much uncertainty,' she said. 'My
brother Buckland seems to think that we are falling behind in
'So we are,' affirmed Fanny, 'as Mr. Peak would admit, if only he
could be sincere.'
'Am I never sincere then, Miss Fanny?' Godwin asked.
'I only meant to say that nobody can be when the rules of politeness
interfere. Don't you think it's a pity? We might tell one another
the truth in a pleasant way.'
'I agree with you. But then we must be civilised indeed. How do you
think of London, Miss Warricombe? Which of its aspects most
Sidwell answered rather indefinitely, and ended by mentioning that
in ~Villette~, which she had just re-read, Charlotte Bronte makes a
contrast between the City and the West End, and greatly prefers the
'Do you agree with her, Mr. Peak?'
'No, I can't. One understands the mood in which she wrote that; but
a little more experience would have led her to see the ccntrast in a
different light. That term, the West End, includes much that is
despicable, but it means also the best results of civilisation. The
City is hateful to me, and for a reason which I only understood
after many an hour of depression in walking about its streets. It
represents the ascendency of the average man.'
Sidwell waited for fuller explanation.
'A liberal mind,' Peak continued, 'is revolted by the triumphal
procession that roars perpetually through the City highways. With
myriad voices the City bellows its brutal scorn of everything but
material advantage. There every humanising influence is
contemptuously disregarded. I know, of course, that the trader may
have his quiet home, where art and science and humanity are the
first considerations; but the ~mass~ of traders, corporate and
victorious, crush all such things beneath their heels. Take your
stand (or try to do so) anywhere near the Exchange; the hustling and
jolting to which you are exposed represents the very spirit of the
life about you. Whatever is gentle and kindly and meditative must
here go to the wall--trampled, spattered, ridiculed. Here the
average man has it all his own way--a gross utilitarian power.'
'Yes, I can see that,' Sidwell replied, thoughtfully. 'And perhaps
it also represents the triumphant forces of our time.'
He looked keenly at her, with a smile of delight.
'That also! The power which centres in the world's money-markets--
In conversing with Sidwell, he had never before found an opportunity
of uttering his vehement prejudices. The gentler side of his
character had sometimes expressed itself, but those impulses which
were vastly more significant lay hidden beneath the dissimulation he
consistently practised. For the first time he was able to look into
Sidwell's face with honest directness, and what he saw there
strengthened his determination to talk on with the same freedom.
'You don't believe, then,' said Sidwell, 'that democracy is the
proper name for the state into which we are passing?'
'Only if one can understand democracy as the opening of social
privileges to free competition amongst men of trade. And social
privilege is everything; home politics refer to nothing else.'
Fanny, true to the ingenuous principle of her years, put a direct
'Do you approve of real democracy, Mr. Peak?'
He answered with another question:
'Have you read the "Life of Phokion" in Plutarch?'
'No, I'm sorry to say.'
'There's a story about him which I have enjoyed since I was your
age. Phokion was once delivering a public speech, and at a certain
point the majority of his hearers broke into applause; whereupon he
turned to certain of his friends who stood near and asked, "What
have I said amiss?"'
'Then you despise public opinion?'
'With heart and soul!'
It was to Sidwell that he directed the reply. Though overcome by the
joy of such an utterance, he felt that, considering the opinions and
position of Buckland Warricombe, he was perhaps guilty of ill
manners. But Sidwell manifested no disapproval.
'Did you know that story?' Fanny asked of her.
'It's quite new to me.'
'Then I'm sure you'll read the "Life of Phokion" as soon as
possible. He will just Suit you, Sidwell.'