Part 6 out of 10
Peak heard this with a shock of surprise which thrilled in him
deliciously. He had the strongest desire to look again at Sidwell
but refrained. As no one spoke, he turned to Bertha Lilywhite and
put a commonplace question.
A servant entered with the tea-tray, and placed it on a small table
near Fanny. Godwin looked at the younger girl; it seemed to him that
there was an excess of colour in her cheeks. Had a glance from
Sidwell rebuked her? With his usual rapidity of observation and
inference he made much of this trifle.
Contrary to what he expected, Sidwell's next remark was in a tone of
cheerfulness, almost of gaiety.
'One advantage of our stay in London will be that home will seem
more delightful than ever when we return.'
'I suppose you won't be back till next summer?'
'I am afraid not.'
'Shall you be living here then?' Fanny inquired.
'It's very doubtful.'
He wished to answer with a decided negative, but his tongue refused.
Sidwell was regarding him with calm but earnest eyes, and he knew,
without caring to reflect, that his latest projects were crumbling.
'Have you been to see our friends at Budleigh Salterton yet?' she
'Not yet. I hope to in a few days.'
Pursuing the subject, he was able to examine her face as she spoke
of Mr. Moorhouse. His conjecture was assuredly baseless.
Fanny and Bertha began to talk together of domestic affairs, and
presently, when tea-cups were laid aside, the two girls went to
another part of the room; then they withdrew altogether. Peak was
monologising on English art as represented at the Academy, but
finding himself alone with Sidwell (it had never before happened) he
became silent. Ought he to take his leave? He must already have been
sitting here more than half-an-hour. But the temptation of
~teae-a-teae~ was irresistible.
'You had a visit from Mr. Chilvers the other day?' he remarked,
'Yes; did he call to see you?'
Her tone gave evidence that she would not have introduced this
'No; I heard from Mrs. Lilywhite. He had been to the vicarage. Has he
changed much since he was at Whitelaw?'
'So many years must make a difference at that time of life,' Sidwell
'But does he show the same peculiarities of manner?'
He tried to put the question without insistency, in a tone quite
compatible with friendliness. Her answer, given with a look of
amusement, satisfied him that there was no fear of her taking Mr
Chilvers too seriously.
'Yes. I think he speaks in much the same way.'
'Have you read any of his publications?'
'One or two. We have his lecture on ~Altruism~.'
'I happen to know it. There are good things in it, I think. But I
dislike his modern interpretation of old principles.'
'You think it dangerous?'
He no longer regarded her frankly, and in the consciousness of her
look upon him he knit his brows.
'I think it both dangerous and offensive. Not a few clergymen
nowadays, who imagine themselves free from the letter and wholly
devoted to spirit, are doing their best in the cause of materialism.
They surrender the very points at issue between religion and
worldliness. They are so blinded by a vague humanitarian impulse as
to make the New Testament an oracle of popular Radicalism.'
Sidwell looked up.
'I never quite understood, Mr. Peak, how you regard Radicalism. You
think it opposed to all true progress?'
'Utterly, as concerns any reasonable limit of time.'
'Buckland, as you know, maintains that spiritual progress is only
possible by this way.'
'I can't venture to contradict him,' said Godwin; 'for it may be
that advance is destined only to come after long retrogression and
anarchy. Perhaps the way ~does~ lie through such miseries. But we
can't foresee that with certainty, and those of us who hate the
present tendency of things must needs assert their hatred as
strongly as possible, seeing that we ~may~ have a more hopeful part
to play than seems likely.'
'I like that view,' replied Sidwell, in an undertone.
'My belief,' pursued Godwin, with an earnestness very agreeable to
himself, for he had reached the subject on which he could speak
honestly, 'is that an instructed man can only hold views such as
your brother's--hopeful views of the immediate future--if he has
never been brought into close contact with the lower classes.
Buckland doesn't know the people for whom he pleads.'
'You think them so degraded?'
'It is impossible, without seeming inhumanly scornful, to give a
just account of their ignorance and baseness. The two things,
speaking generally, go together. Of the ignorant, there are very few
indeed who can think purely or aspiringly. You, of course, object
the teaching of Christianity; but the lowly and the humble of whom
it speaks scarcely exist, scarcely can exist, in our day and
country. A ludicrous pretence of education is banishing every form
of native simplicity. In the large towns, the populace sink deeper
and deeper into a vicious vulgarity, and every rural district is
being affected by the spread of contagion. To flatter the
proletariat is to fight against all the good that still
characterises educated England--against reverence for the
beautiful, against magnanimity, against enthusiasm of mind, heart,
He quivered with vehemence of feeling, and the flush which rose to
his hearer's cheek, the swimming brightness of her eye, proved that
a strong sympathy stirred within her.
'I know nothing of the uneducated in towns,' she said, 'but the
little I have seen of them in country places certainly supports your
opinion. I could point to two or three families who have suffered
distinct degradation owing to what most people call an improvement
in their circumstances. Father often speaks of such instances,
comparing the state of things now with what he can remember.'
'My own experience,' pursued Godwin, 'has been among the lower
classes in London. I don't mean the very poorest, of whom one hears
so much nowadays; I never went among them because I had no power of
helping them, and the sight of their vileness would only have moved
me to unjust hatred. But the people who earn enough for their needs,
and whose spiritual guide is the Sunday newspaper--I know them,
because for a long time I was obliged to lodge in their houses. Only
a consuming fire could purify the places where they dwell. Don't
misunderstand me; I am not charging them with what are commonly held
vices and crimes, but with the consistent love of everything that is
ignoble, with utter deadness to generous impulse, with the fatal
habit of low mockery. And ~these~ are the people who really direct
the democratic movement. They set the tone in politics; they are
debasing art and literature; even the homes of wealthy people begin
to show the effects of their influence. One hears men and women of
gentle birth using phrases which originate with shopboys; one sees
them reading print which is addressed to the coarsest million. They
crowd to entertainments which are deliberately adapted to the lowest
order of mind. When commercial interest is supreme, how can the
tastes of the majority fail to lead and control?'
Though he spoke from the depths of his conviction, and was so moved
that his voice rose and fell in tones such as a drawing-room seldom
hears, he yet kept anxious watch upon Sidwell's countenance. That
hint afforded him by Fanny was invaluable; it had enabled him to
appeal to Sidwell's nature by the ardent expression of what was
sincerest in his own. She too, he at length understood, had the
aristocratic temperament. This explained her to him, supplied the
key of doubts and difficulties which had troubled him in her
presence. It justified, moreover, the feelings with which she had
inspired him--feelings which this hour of intimate converse had
exalted to passion. His heart thrilled with hope. Where sympathies
so profound existed, what did it matter that there was variance on a
few points between his intellect and hers? He felt the power to win
her, and to defy every passing humiliation that lay in his course.
Sidwell raised her eyes with a look which signified that she was
shaping a question diffidently.
'Have you always thought so hopelessly of our times?'
'Oh, I had my stage of optimism,' he answered, smiling. 'Though I
never put faith in the masses, I once believed that the conversion
of the educated to a purely human religion would set things moving
in the right way. It was ignorance of the world.'
He paused a moment, then added:
'In youth one marvels that men remain at so low a stage of
civilisation. Later in life, one is astonished that they have
advanced so far.'
Sidwell met his look with appreciative intelligence and murmured:
'In spite of myself, I believe that expresses a truth.'
Peak was about to reply, when Fanny and her friend reappeared.
Bertha approached for the purpose of taking leave, and for a minute
or two Sidwell talked with her. The young girls withdrew again
By the clock on the mantelpiece it was nearly six. Godwin did not
resume his seat, though Sidwell had done so. He looked towards the
window, and was all but lost in abstraction, when the soft voice
again addressed him:
'But you have not chosen your life's work without some hope of doing
'Do you think,' he asked, gently, 'that I shall be out of place in
the Christian Church?'
'No--no, I certainly don't think that. But will you tell me what
you have set before yourself?'
He drew nearer and leaned upon the back of a chair.
'I hope for what I shall perhaps never attain. Whatever my first
steps may be--I am not independent; I must take the work that
offers--it is my ambition to become the teacher of some rural
parish which is still unpolluted by the influences of which we have
been speaking--or, at all events, is still capable of being
rescued. For work in crowded centres, I am altogether unfit; my
prejudices are too strong; I should do far more harm than good. But
among a few simple people I think my efforts mightn't be useless. I
can't pretend to care for anything but individuals. The few whom I
know and love are of more importance to me than all the blind
multitude rushing to destruction. I hate the word ~majority~; it is
the few, the very few, that have always kept alive whatever of
effectual good we see in the human race. There are individuals who
outweigh, in every kind of value, generations of ordinary people. To
some remote little community I hope to give the best energies of my
life. My teaching will avoid doctrine and controversy. I shall take
the spirit of the Gospels, and labour to make it a practical guide.
No doubt you find inconsistencies in me; but remember that I shall
not declare myself to those I instruct as I have done to you. I have
been laying stress on my antipathies. In the future it will be a
duty and a pleasure to forget these and foster my sympathies, which
also are strong when opportunity is given them.'
Sidwell listened, her face bent downwards but not hidden from the
'My nature is intolerant,' he went on, 'and I am easily roused to an
antagonism which destroys my peace. It is only by living apart, amid
friendly circumstances, that I can cultivate the qualities useful to
myself and others. The sense that my life was being wasted
determined me a year ago to escape the world's uproar and prepare
myself in quietness for this task. The resolve was taken here, in
'Are you quite sure,' asked Sidwell, 'that such simple duties and
The sentence remained incomplete, or rather was finished in the
timid glance she gave him.
'Such a life wouldn't be possible to me,' he replied, with unsteady
voice, 'if I were condemned to intellectual solitude. But I have
dared to hope that I shall not always be alone.'
A parched throat would have stayed his utterance, even if words had
offered themselves. But sudden confusion beset his mind--a sense
of having been guilty of monstrous presumption--a panic which
threw darkness about him and made him grasp the chair convulsively.
When he recovered himself and looked at Sidwell there was a faint
smile on her lips, inexpressibly gentle.
'That's the rough outline of my projects,' he said, in his ordinary
voice, moving a few steps away. 'You see that I count much on
fortune; at the best, it may be years before I can get my country
With a laugh, he came towards her and offered his hand for good-bye.
'You have interested me very much. Whatever assistance it may be in
my father's power to offer you, I am sure you may count upon.'
'I am already much indebted to Mr. Warricombe's kindness.'
They shook hands without further speech, and Peak went his way.
For an hour or two he was powerless to collect his thoughts. All he
had said repeated itself again and again, mixed up with turbid
comments, with deadly fears and frantic bursts of confidence, with
tumult of passion and merciless logic of self-criticism. Did Sidwell
understand that sentence: 'I have dared to hope that I shall not
always be alone'? Was it not possible that she might interpret it as
referring to some unknown woman whom he loved? If not, if his voice
and features had betrayed him, what could her behaviour mean, except
distinct encouragement? 'You have interested me very much.' But
could she have used such words if his meaning had been plain to her?
Far more likely that her frank kindness came of misconception. She
imagined him the lover of some girl of his own 'station'--a
toiling governess, or some such person; it could not enter into her
mind that he 'dared' so recklessly as the truth implied.
But the glow of sympathy with which she heard his immeasurable
scorn: there was the spirit that defies artificial distances. Why
had he not been bolder? At this rate he must spend a lifetime in
preparing for the decisive moment. When would another such occasion
Women are won by audacity; the poets have repeated it from age to
age, and some truth there must be in the saying. Suspicion of
self-interest could not but attach to him; that was inherent in the
circumstances. He must rely upon the sincerity of his passion, which
indeed was beginning to rack and rend him. A woman is sensitive to
that, especially a woman of Sidwell's refinement. In matters of the
intellect she may be misled, but she cannot mistake quivering ardour
for design simulating love. If it were impossible to see her again
in private before she left Exeter, then he must write to her. Half a
year of complete uncertainty, and of counterfeiting face to face
with Bruno Chilvers, would overtax his resolution.
The evening went by he knew not how. Long after nightfall he was
returning from an aimless ramble by way of the Old Tiverton Road. At
least he would pass the house, and soothe or inflame his emotions by
resting for a moment thus near to Sidwell.
What? He had believed himself incapable of erotic madness? And he
pressed his forehead against the stones of the wall to relieve his
It was Sidwell or death. Into what a void of hideous futility would
his life be cast, if this desire proved vain, and he were left to
combat alone with the memory of his dishonour! With Sidwell the
reproach could be outlived. She would understand him, pardon him--
and thereafter a glorified existence, rivalling that of whosoever
has been most exultant among the sons of men!
Earwaker's struggle with the editor-in-chief of ~The Weekly Post~
and the journalist Kenyon came to its natural close about a month
after Godwin Peak's disappearance. Only a vein of obstinacy in his
character had kept him so long in a position he knew to be
untenable. From the first his sympathy with Mr. Runcorn's politics
had been doubtful, and experience of the working of a Sunday
newspaper, which appealed to the ignobly restive, could not
encourage his adhesion to this form of Radicalism. He anticipated
dismissal by retirement, and Kenyon, a man of coarsely vigorous
fibre, at once stepped into his place.
Now that he had leisure to review the conflict, Earwaker understood
that circumstances had but hastened his transition from a moderate
ardour in the parliamentary cause of the people, to a regretful
neutrality regarding all political movements. Birth allied him with
the proletarian class, and his sentiment in favour of democracy was
unendangered by the disillusions which must come upon every
intellectual man brought into close contact with public affairs. The
course of an education essentially aristocratic (Greek and Latin can
have no other tendency so long as they are the privilege of the few)
had not affected his natural bent, nor was he the man to be driven
into reaction because of obstacles to his faith inseparable from
human weakness. He had learnt that the emancipation of the poor and
untaught must proceed more slowly than he once hoped--that was
all. Restored to generous calm, he could admit that such men as
Runcorn and Kenyon--the one with his polyarchic commercialism, the
other with his demagogic violence--had possibly a useful part to
play at the present stage of things. He, however, could have no
place in that camp. Too indiscreetly he had hoisted his standard of
idealism, and by stubborn resistance of insuperable forces he had
merely brought forward the least satisfactory elements of his own
character. 'Hold on!' cried Malkin. 'Fight the grovellers to the
end!' But Earwaker had begun to see himself in a light of ridicule.
There was just time to save his self-respect.
He was in no concern for his daily bread. With narrower resources in
the world of print, he might have been compelled, like many another
journalist, to swallow his objections and write as Runcorn dictated;
for the humble folks at home could not starve to allow him the
luxury of conscientiousness, whatever he might have been disposed to
do on his own account. Happily, his pen had a scope beyond politics,
and by working steadily for reviews, with which he was already
connected, he would be able to keep his finances in reasonable order
until, perchance, some hopeful appointment offered itself. In a mood
of much cheerfulness he turned for ever from party uproar, and
focused his mind upon those interests of humanity which so rarely
coincide with the aims of any league among men.
Half a year went by, and at length he granted himself a short
holiday, the first in a twelvemonth. It took the form of a voyage to
Marseilles, and thence of a leisurely ramble up the Rhone. Before
returning, he spent a day or two in Paris, for the most part beneath
cafe' awnings, or on garden seats--an indulgence of contented
On the day of his departure, he climbed the towers of Notre Dame,
and lingered for half-an-hour in pleasant solitude among the stone
monsters. His reverie was broken by an English voice, loud and
'Come and look at this old demon of a bird; he has always been a
favourite of mine.--Sure you're not tired, Miss Bella? When you
want to rest, Miss Lily, mind you say so at once. What a day! What a
sky!--When I was last up here I had my hat blown away. I watched
it as far as Montmartre. A fact! Never knew such a wind in my life
--unless it was that tornado I told you about--Hollo! By the
powers, if that isn't Earwaker! Confound you, old fellow! How the
deuce do you do? What a glorious meeting! Hadn't the least idea
where you were!--Let me have the pleasure of introducing you to
Mrs. Jacox--and to Miss Jacox--and to Miss Lily. They all know
you thoroughly well. Now who would have thought of our meeting up
It was with some curiosity that Earwaker regarded the companions of
his friend Malkin--whose proximity was the last thing he could
have imagined, as only a few weeks ago he had heard of the restless
fellow's departing, on business unknown, for Boston, US. Mrs. Jacox,
the widow whose wrongs had made such an impression on Malkin,
announced herself, in a thin, mealy face and rag-doll figure, as not
less than forty, though her irresponsible look made it evident that
years profited her nothing, and suggested an explanation of the
success with which she had been victimised. She was stylishly
dressed, and had the air of enjoying an unusual treat. Her children
were of more promising type, though Earwaker would hardly have
supposed them so old as he knew them to be. Bella, just beyond her
fourteenth year, had an intelligent prettiness, but was excessively
shy; in giving her hand to the stranger she flushed over face and
neck, and her bosom palpitated visibly. Her sister, two years
younger, was a mere child, rather self-conscious, but of laughing
temper. Their toilet suited ill with that of their mother; its
plainness and negligence might have passed muster in London, but
here, under the lucent sky, it seemed a wrong to their budding
'Mrs. Jacox is on the point of returning to England,' Malkin
explained. 'I happened to meet her, by chance--I'm always meeting
my friends by chance; you, for instance, Earwaker. She is so good as
to allow me to guide her and the young ladies to a few of the sights
'O Mr. Malkin!' exclaimed the widow, with a stress on the exclamation
peculiar to herself--two notes of deprecating falsetto. 'How can
you say it is good of me, when I'm sure there are no words for your
kindness to us all! If only you knew our debt to your friend, Mr
Earwaker! To our dying day we must all remember it. It is entirely
through Mr. Malkin that we are able to leave that most disagreeable
Rouen--a place I shall never cease to think of with horror. O Mr
Earwaker! you have only to think of that wretched railway station,
stuck between two black tunnels! O Mr. Malkin!'
'What are you doing?' Malkin inquired of the journalist. 'How long
shall you be here? Why haven't I heard from you?'
'I go to London to-night.'
'And we to-morrow. On Friday I'll look you up. Stay, can't you dine
with me this evening? Anywhere you like. These ladies will be glad
to be rid of me, and to dine in peace at their hotel.'
'O Mr. Malkin!' piped the widow, 'you know how very far that is from
the truth. But we shall be very glad indeed to know that you are
enjoying yourself with Mr. Earwaker.'
The friends made an appointment to meet near the Madeleine, and
Earwaker hastened to escape the sound of Mrs. Jacox's voice.
Punctual at the rendezvous, Malkin talked with his wonted
effusiveness as he led towards the Cafe Anglais.
'I've managed it, my boy! The most complete success! I had to run
over to Boston to get hold of a scoundrelly relative of that poor
woman. You should have seen how I came over him--partly dignified
sternness, partly justifiable cajolery. The affair only wanted some
one to take it up in earnest. I have secured her about a couple of
hundred a year--withheld on the most paltry and transparent
pretences. They're going to live at Wrotham, in Kent, where Mrs
Jacox has friends. I never thought myself so much of a man of
business. Of course old Haliburton, the lawyer, had a hand in it,
but without my personal energy it would have taken him a year
longer. What do you think of the girls? How do you like Bella?'
'A pretty child.'
'Child? Well, yes, yes--immature of course; but I'm rather in the
habit of thinking of her as a young lady. In three years she'll be
seventeen, you know. Of course you couldn't form a judgment of her
character. She's quite remarkably mature for her age; and, what
delights me most of all, a sturdy Radical! She takes the most
intelligent interest in all political and social movements, I assure
you! There's a great deal of democratic fire in her.'
'You're sure it isn't reflected from your own fervour?'
'Not a bit of it! You should have seen her excitement when we were
at the Bastille Column yesterday. She'll make a splendid woman, I
assure you. Lily's very interesting, too--profoundly interesting.
But then she is certainly very young, so I can't feel so sure of her
on the great questions. She hasn't her sister's earnestness, I
In the after-glow of dinner, Malkin became still more confidential.
'You remember what I said to you long since? My mind is made up--
practically made up. I shall devote myself to Bella's education, in
the hope--you understand me? Impossible to have found a girl who
suited better with my aspirations. She has known the hardships of
poverty, poor thing, and that will keep her for ever in sympathy
with the downtrodden classes. She has a splendid intelligence, and
it shall be cultivated to the utmost.'
'One word,' said Earwaker, soberly. 'We have heard before of men who
waited for girls to grow up. Be cautious, my dear fellow, both on
your own account and hers.'
'My dear Earwaker! Don't imagine for a moment that I take it for
granted she will get to be fond of me. My attitude is one of the
most absolute discretion. You must have observed how I behaved to
them all--scrupulous courtesy, I trust; no more familiarity than
any friend might be permitted. I should never dream of addressing
the girls without ceremonious prefix--never! I talk of Bella's
education, but be assured that I regard my own as a matter of quite
as much importance. I mean, that I shall strive incessantly to make
myself worthy of her. No laxity! For these next three years I shall
live as becomes a man who has his eyes constantly on a high ideal--
the pure and beautiful girl whom he humbly hopes to win for a wife.'
The listener was moved. He raised his wine-glass to conceal the
smile which might have been misunderstood. In his heart he felt more
admiration than had yet mingled with his liking for this strange
'And Mrs. Jacox herself,' pursued Malkin; 'she has her weaknesses, as
we all have. I don't think her a very strong-minded woman, to tell
the truth. But there's a great deal of goodness in her. If there's
one thing I desire in people, it is the virtue of gratitude, and Mrs
Jacox is grateful almost to excess for the paltry exertions I have
made on her behalf. You know that kind of thing costs me nothing;
you know I like running about and getting things done. But the poor
woman imagines that I have laid her under an eternal obligation. Of
course I shall show her in time that it was nothing at all; that she
might have done just as much for herself if she had known how to go
Earwaker was musing, a wrinkle of uneasiness at the corner of his
'She isn't the kind of woman, you know, one can regard as a mother.
But we are the best possible friends. She ~may~, perhaps, think of
me as a possible son-in-law. Poor thing; I hope she does. Perhaps it
will help to put her mind at rest about the girls.'
'Then shall you often be down at Wrotham?' inquired the journalist,
'Oh, not often--that is to say, only once a month or so, just to
look in. I wanted to ask you: do you think I might venture to begin
a correspondence with Bella?'
'M--m--m! I can't say.'
'It would be so valuable, you know. I could suggest books for her
reading; I could help her in her study of politics, and so on.'
'Well, think about it. But be cautious, I beg of you. Now I must be
off. Only just time enough to get my traps to the station.'
'I'll come with you. Gare du Nord? Oh, plenty of time, plenty of
time! Nothing so abominable as waiting for trains. I make a point of
never getting to the station more than three minutes before time.
Astonishing what one can do in three minutes! I want to tell you
about an adventure I had in Boston. Met a fellow so devilish like
Peak that I ~couldn't~ believe it wasn't he himself. I spoke to him,
but he swore that he knew not the man. Never saw such a likeness!'
'Curious. It may have been Peak.'
'By all that's suspicious, I can't help thinking the same! He had an
English accent, too.'
'Queer business, this of Peak's. I hope I may live to hear the end
of the story.'
They left the restaurant, and in a few hours Earwaker was again on
At Staple Inn a pile of letters awaited him, among them a note from
Christian Moxey, asking for an appointment as soon as possible after
the journalist's return. Earwaker at once sent an invitation, and on
the next evening Moxey came. An intimacy had grown up between the
two, since the mysterious retreat of their common friend. Christian
was at first lost without the companionship of Godwin Peak; he
forsook his studies, and fell into a state of complete idleness
which naturally fostered his tendency to find solace in the
decanter. With Earwaker, he could not talk as unreservedly as with
Peak, but on the other hand there was a tonic influence in the
journalist's personality which he recognised as beneficial. Earwaker
was steadily making his way in the world, lived a life of dignified
independence. What was the secret of these strong, calm natures?
Might it not be learnt by studious inspection?
'How well you look!' Christian exclaimed, on entering. 'We enjoyed
your Provencal letter enormously. That's a ramble I have always
meant to do. Next year perhaps.'
'Why not this? Haven't you got into a dangerous habit of
'Yes, I'm afraid I have. But, by-the-bye, no news of Peak, I
Earwaker related the story he had heard from Malkin, adding:
'You must remember that they met only once in London; Malkin might
very well mistake another man for Peak.'
'Yes,' replied the other musingly. 'Yet it isn't impossible that
Peak has gone over there. If so, what on earth can he be up to? Why
~should~ he hide from his friends?'
'~Cherchez la femme~,' said the journalist, with a smile. 'I can
devise no other explanation.'
'But I can't see that it would be an explanation at all. Grant even
--something unavowable, you know--are we Puritans? How could it
harm him, at all events, to let us know his whereabouts? No such
mystery ever came into my experience. It is too bad of Peak; it's
'Suppose he has found it necessary to assume a character wholly
fictitious--or, let us say, quite inconsistent with his life and
opinions as known to us?'
This was a fruitful suggestion, long in Earwaker's mind, but not
hitherto communicated. Christian did not at once grasp its
'How could that be necessary? Peak is no swindler. You don't imply
that he is engaged in some fraud?'
'Not in the ordinary sense, decidedly. But picture some girl or
woman of conventional opinions and surroundings. What if he resolved
to win such a wife, at the expense of disguising his true self?'
'But what an extraordinary idea!' cried Moxey. 'Why Peak is all but
The journalist uttered croaking laughter.
'Have I totally misunderstood him?' asked Christian, confused and
'I think it not impossible.'
'You amaze me!--But no, no; you are wrong, Earwaker. Wrong in your
suggestion, I mean. Peak could never sink to that. He is too
'Well, it will be explained some day, I suppose.'
And with a shrug of impatience, the journalist turned to another
subject. He, too, regretted his old friend's disappearance, and in a
measure resented it. Godwin Peak was not a man to slip out of one's
life and leave no appreciable vacancy. Neither of these men admired
him, in the true sense of the word, yet had his voice sounded at the
door both would have sprung up with eager welcome. He was a force--
and how many such beings does one encounter in a lifetime?
In different ways, Christian and Marcella Moxey had both been lonely
since their childhood. As a schoolgirl, Marcella seemed to her
companions conceited and repellent; only as the result of reflection
in after years did Sylvia Moorhouse express so favourable an opinion
of her. In all things she affected singularity; especially it was
her delight to utter democratic and revolutionary sentiments among
hearers who, belonging to a rigidly conservative order, held such
opinions impious. Arrived at womanhood, she affected scorn of the
beliefs and habits cherished by her own sex, and shrank from
association with the other. Godwin Peak was the first man with whom
she conversed in the tone of friendship, and it took a year or more
before that point was reached. As her intimacy with him established
itself, she was observed to undergo changes which seemed very
significant in the eyes of her few acquaintances. Disregard of
costume had been one of her characteristics, but now she moved
gradually towards the opposite extreme, till her dresses were
occasionally more noticeable for richness than for good taste.
Christian, for kindred reasons, was equally debarred from the
pleasures and profits of society. At school, his teachers considered
him clever, his fellows for the most part looked down upon him as a
sentimental weakling. The death of his parents, when he was still a
lad, left him to the indifferent care of a guardian nothing akin to
him. He began life in an uncongenial position, and had not courage
to oppose the drift of circumstances. The romantic attachment which
absorbed his best years naturally had a debilitating effect, for
love was never yet a supporter of the strenuous virtues, save when
it has survived fruition and been blessed by reason. In most men a
fit of amorous mooning works its own cure; energetic rebound is soon
inevitable. But Christian was so constituted that a decade of years
could not exhaust his capacity for sentimental languishment. He made
it a point of honour to seek no female companionship which could
imperil his faith. Unfortunately, this avoidance of the society
which would soon have made him a happy renegade, was but too easy.
Marcella and he practically encouraged each other in a life of
isolation, though to both of them such an existence was anything but
congenial. Their difficulties were of the same nature as those which
had always beset Godwin Peak; they had no relatives with whom they
cared to associate, and none of the domestic friends who, in the
progress of time, establish and extend a sphere of genuine intimacy.
Most people who are capable of independent thought rapidly outgrow
the stage when compromise is abhorred; they accept, at first
reluctantly, but ere long with satisfaction, that code of polite
intercourse which, as Steele says, is 'an expedient to make fools
and wise men equal'. It was Marcella's ill-fate that she could
neither learn tolerance nor persuade herself to affect it. The
emancipated woman has fewer opportunities of relieving her mind than
a man in corresponding position; if her temper be aggressive she
must renounce general society, and, if not content to live alone,
ally herself with some group of declared militants. By
correspondence, or otherwise, Marcella might have brought herself
into connection with women of a sympathetic type, but this effort
she had never made. And chiefly because of her acquaintance with
Godwin Peak. In him she concentrated her interests; he was the man
to whom her heart went forth with every kind of fervour. So long as
there remained a hope of moving him to reciprocal feeling she did
not care to go in search of female companions. Year after year she
sustained herself in solitude by this faint hope. She had lost sight
of the two or three schoolfellows who, though not so zealous as
herself, would have welcomed her as an interesting acquaintance; and
the only woman who assiduously sought her was Mrs. Morton, the wife
of one of Christian's friends, a good-natured but silly person bent
on making known that she followed the 'higher law'.
Godwin's disappearance sank her in profound melancholy. Through the
black weeks of January and February she scarcely left the house, and
on the plea of illness refused to see any one but her brother.
Between Christian and her there was no avowed confidence, but each
knew the other's secret; their mutual affection never spoke itself
in words, yet none the less it was indispensable to their lives.
Deprived of his sister's company, Christian must have yielded to the
vice which had already too strong a hold upon him, and have become a
maudlin drunkard. Left to herself, Marcella had but slender support
against a grim temptation already beckoning her in nights of
sleeplessness. Of the two, her nature was the more tragic.
Circumstances aiding, Christian might still forget his melancholy,
abandon the whisky bottle, and pass a lifetime of amiable
uxoriousness, varied with scientific enthusiasm. But for Marcella,
frustrate in the desire with which every impulse of her being had
identified itself, what future could be imagined?
When a day or two of sunlight (the rays through a semi-opaque
atmosphere which London has to accept with gratitude) had announced
that the seven-months' winter was overcome, and when the newspapers
began to speak, after their fashion, of pictures awaiting scrutiny,
Christian exerted himself to rouse his sister from her growing
indolence. He succeeded in taking her to the Academy. Among the
works of sculpture, set apart for the indifference of the public,
was a female head, catalogued as 'A Nihilist'--in itself
interesting, and specially so to Marcella, because it was executed
by an artist whose name she recognised as that of a schoolmate,
Agatha Walworth. She spoke of the circumstance to Christian, and
'I should like to have that. Let us go and see the price.'
The work was already sold. Christian, happy that his sister could be
aroused to this interest, suggested that a cast might be obtainable.
'Write to Miss Walworth,' he urged. 'Bring yourself to her
recollection.--I should think she must be the right kind of
Though at the time she shook her head, Marcella was presently
tempted to address a letter to the artist, who responded with
friendly invitation. In this way a new house was opened to her; but,
simultaneously, one more illusion was destroyed. Knowing little of
life, and much of literature, she pictured Miss Walworth as
inhabiting a delightful Bohemian world, where the rules of
conventionalism had no existence, and everything was judged by the
brain-standard. Modern French biographies supplied all her ideas of
studio society. She prepared herself for the first visit with a
joyous tremor, wondering whether she would be deemed worthy to
associate with the men and women who lived for art. The reality was
a shock. In a large house at Chiswick she found a gathering of most
respectable English people, chatting over the regulation tea-cup;
not one of them inclined to disregard the dictates of Mrs. Grundy in
dress, demeanour, or dialogue. Agatha Walworth lived with her
parents and her sisters like any other irreproachable young woman.
She had a nice little studio, and worked at modelling with a good
deal of aptitude; but of Bohemia she knew nothing whatever, save by
hearsay. Her 'Nihilist' was no indication of a rebellious spirit;
some friend had happened to suggest that a certain female model, a
Russian, would do very well for such a character, and the hint was
tolerably well carried out--nothing more. Marcella returned in a
mood of contemptuous disappointment. The cast she had desired to
have was shortly sent to her as a gift, but she could take no
pleasure in it.
Still, she saw more of the Walworths and found them not illiberal.
Agatha was intelligent, and fairly well read in modern authors; no
need to conceal one's opinions in conversation with her. Marcella
happened to be spending the evening with these acquaintances whilst
her brother was having his chat at Staple Inn; on her return, she
mentioned to Christian that she had been invited to visit the
Walworths in Devonshire a few weeks hence.
'Go, by all means,' urged her brother.
'I don't think I shall. They are too respectable.'
'Nonsense! They seem very open-minded; you really can't expect
absolute unconventionality. Is it desirable? Really is it, now?--
Suppose I were to marry some day, Marcella; do you think my
household would be unconventional?'
His voice shook a little, and he kept his eyes averted. Marcella, to
whom her brother's romance was anything but an agreeable subject,--
the slight acquaintance she had with the modern Laura did not
encourage her to hope for that lady's widowhood,--gave no heed to
'They are going to have a house at Budleigh Salterton; do you know
of the place? Somewhere near the mouth of the Exe. Miss Walworth
tells me that one of our old school friends is living there--
Sylvia Moorhouse. Did I ever mention Sylvia? She had gleams of
sense, I remember; but no doubt society has drilled all that out of
'Why?' he urged. 'Society is getting more tolerant than you are
disposed to think. Very few well-educated people would nowadays
object to an acquaintance on speculative grounds. Some one--who
was it?--was telling me of a recent marriage between the daughter
of some well-known Church people and a man who made no secret of his
agnosticism; the parents acquiescing cheerfully. The one thing still
insisted on is decency of behaviour.'
Marcella's eyes flashed.
'How can you say that? You know quite well that most kinds of
immorality are far more readily forgiven by people of the world than
sincere heterodoxy on moral subjects.'
'Well, well, I meant decency from ~their~ point of view. And there
really must be such restrictions, you know. How very few people are
capable of what you call sincere heterodoxy, in morals or religion!
Your position is unphilosophical; indeed it is. Take the world as
you find it, and make friends with kind, worthy people. You have
suffered from a needless isolation. Do accept this opportunity of
adding to your acquaintances!--Do, Marcella! I shall take it as a
great kindness, dear girl.'
His sister let her head lie back against the chair, her face
averted. A stranger seated in Christian's place, regarding Marcella
whilst her features were thus hidden, would have thought it probable
that she was a woman of no little beauty. Her masses of tawny hair,
her arms and hands, the pose and outline of her figure, certainly
suggested a countenance of corresponding charm, and the ornate
richness of her attire aided such an impression. This thought came
to Christian as he gazed at her; his eyes, always so gentle,
softened to a tender compassion. As the silence continued, he looked
uneasily about him; when at length he spoke, it was as though a
matter of trifling moment had occurred to him.
'By-the-bye, I am told that Malkin (Earwaker's friend, you know) saw
Peak not long ago--in America.'
Marcella did not change her position, but at the sound of Peak's
name she stirred, as if with an intention, at once checked, of
bending eagerly forward.
'In America?' she asked, incredulously.
'At Boston. He met him in the street--or thinks he did. There's a
doubt. When Malkin spoke to the man, he declared that he was not
Peak at all--said there was a mistake.'
Marcella moved so as to show her face; endeavouring to express an
unemotional interest, she looked coldly scornful.
'That ridiculous man can't be depended upon,' she said.
There had been one meeting between Marcella and Mr. Malkin, with the
result that each thoroughly disliked the other--an antipathy which
could have been foreseen.
'Well, there's no saying,' replied Christian. 'But of one thing I
feel pretty sure: we have seen the last of Peak. He'll never come
back to us.'
'I can only say that I feel convinced he has broken finally with all
his old friends.--We must think no more of him, Marcella.'
His sister rose slowly, affected to glance at a book, and in a few
moments said good-night. For another hour Christian sat by himself
in gloomy thought.
At breakfast next morning Marcella announced that she would be from
home the whole day; she might return in time for dinner, but it was
uncertain. Her brother asked no questions, but said that he would
lunch in town. About ten o'clock a cab was summoned, and Marcella,
without leave-taking, drove away.
Christian lingered as long as possible over the morning paper,
unable to determine how he should waste the weary hours that lay
before him. There was no reason for his remaining in London through
this brief season of summer glow. Means and leisure were his, he
could go whither he would. But the effort of decision and departure
seemed too much for him. Worst of all, this lassitude (not for the
first time) was affecting his imagination; he thought with a dull
discontent of the ideal love to which he had bound himself. Could he
but escape from it, and begin a new life! But he was the slave of
his airy obligation; for very shame's sake his ten years'
consistency must be that of a lifetime.
There was but one place away from London to which he felt himself
drawn, and that was the one place he might not visit. This morning's
sunshine carried him back to that day when he had lain in the meadow
near Twybridge and talked with Godwin Peak. How distinctly he
remembered his mood! 'Be practical--don't be led astray after
ideals--concentrate yourself;'--yes, it was he who had given
that advice to Peak: and had he but recked his own rede--! Poor
little Janet! was she married? If so, her husband must be a happy
Why should he not go down to Twybridge? His uncle, undoubtedly still
living, must by this time have forgotten the old resentment, perhaps
would be glad to see him. In any case he might stroll about the town
and somehow obtain news of the Moxey family.
With vague half-purpose he left the house and walked westward. The
stream of traffic in Edgware Road brought him to a pause; he stood
for five minutes in miserable indecision, all but resolving to go on
as far as Euston and look for the next northward train. But the vice
in his will prevailed; automaton-like he turned in another
direction, and presently came out into Sussex Square. Here was the
house to which his thoughts had perpetually gone forth ever since
that day when Constance gave her hand to a thriving City man, and
became Mrs. Palmer. At present, he knew, it was inhabited only by
domestics: Mr. Palmer, recovering from illness that threatened to be
fatal, had gone to Bournemouth, where Constance of course tended
him. But he would walk past and look up at the windows.
All the blinds were down--naturally. Thrice he went by and
retraced his steps. Then, still automaton-like, he approached the
door, rang the bell. The appearance of the servant choked his voice
for an instant, but he succeeded in shaping an inquiry after Mr
'I'm sorry to say, sir,' was the reply, 'that Mr. Palmer died last
night. We received the news only an hour or two ago.'
Christian tottered on his feet and turned so pale that the servant
regarded him with anxiety. For a minute or two he stared vacantly
into the gloomy hall; then, without a word, he turned abruptly and
Unconscious of the intervening distance, he found himself at home,
in his library. The parlour-maid was asking him whether he would
have luncheon. Scarcely understanding the question, he muttered a
refusal and sat down.
So, it had come at last. Constance was a widow. In a year or so she
might think of marrying again.
He remained in the library for three or four hours. At first
incapable of rejoicing, then ashamed to do so, he at length suffered
from such a throbbing of the heart that apprehension of illness
recalled him to a normal state of mind. The favourite decanter was
within reach, and it gave him the wonted support. Then at length did
heart and brain glow with exulting fervour.
Poor Constance! Noble woman! Most patient of martyrs! The hour of
her redemption had struck. The fetters had fallen from her tender,
suffering body. Of ~him~ she could not yet think. He did not wish
it. The womanhood must pay its debt to nature before she could
gladden in the prospect of a new life. Months must go by before he
could approach her, or even remind her of his existence. But at last
his reward was sure.
And he had thought of Twybridge, of his cousin Janet! O unworthy
He shed tears of tenderness. Dear, noble Constance! It was now
nearly twelve years since he first looked upon her face. In those
days he mingled freely with all the society within his reach. It was
not very select, and Constance Markham shone to him like a divinity
among creatures of indifferent clay. They said she was coquettish,
that she played at the game of love with every presentable young man
--envious calumny! No, she was single-hearted, inexperienced, a
lovely and joyous girl of not yet twenty. It is so difficult for
such a girl to understand her own emotions. Her parents persuaded
her into wedding Palmer. That was all gone into the past, and now
his concern--their concern--was only with the blessed future.
At three o'clock he began to feel a healthy appetite. He sent for a
cab and drove towards the region of restaurants.
Had he yielded to the impulse which this morning directed him to
Twybridge, he would have arrived in that town not very long after
For that was the aim of Marcella's journey. On reaching the station,
she dropped a light veil over her face and set forth on foot to
discover the abode of Mrs. Peak. No inhabitant of Twybridge save her
uncle and his daughters could possibly recognise her, but she shrank
from walking through the streets with exposed countenance. Whether
she would succeed in her quest was uncertain. Godwin Peak's mother
still dwelt here, she knew, for less than a year ago she had asked
the question of Godwin himself; but a woman in humble circumstances
might not have a house of her own, and her name was probably unknown
save to a few friends.
However, the first natural step was to inquire for a directory. A
stationer supplied her with one, informing her, with pride, that he
himself was the author of it--that this was only the second year
of its issue, and that its success was 'very encouraging'. Retiring
to a quiet street, Marcella examined her purchase, and came upon
'Peak, Oliver; seedsman'--the sole entry of the name. This was
probably a relative of Godwin's. Without difficulty she found Mr
Peak's shop; behind the counter stood Oliver himself, rubbing his
hands. Was there indeed a family likeness between this fresh-looking
young shopkeeper and the stern, ambitious, intellectual man whose
lineaments were ever before her mind? Though with fear and
repulsion, Marcella was constrained to recognise something in the
commonplace visage. With an uncertain voice, she made known her
'I wish to find Mrs. Peak--a widow--an elderly lady'----
'Oh yes, madam! My mother, no doubt. She lives with her sister, Miss
Cadman--the milliner's shop in the first street to the left. Let
me point it out.'
With a sinking of the heart, Marcella murmured thanks and walked
away. She found the milliner's shop--and went past it.
Why should discoveries such as these be so distasteful to her? Her
own origin was not so exalted that she must needs look down on
trades-folk. Still, for the moment she all but abandoned her
undertaking. Was Godwin Peak in truth of so much account to her?
Would not the shock of meeting his mother be final? Having come thus
far, she must go through with it. If the experience cured her of a
hopeless passion, why, what more desirable?
She entered the shop. A young female assistant came forward with
respectful smile, and waited her commands.
'I wish, if you please, to see Mrs. Peak.'
'Oh yes, madam! Will you have the goodness to walk this way?'
Too late Marcella remembered that she ought to have gone to the
house-entrance. The girl led her out of the shop into a dark
passage, and thence into a sitting-room which smelt of lavender.
Here she waited for a few moments; then the door opened softly, and
Mrs. Peak presented herself.
There was no shock. The widow had the air of a gentlewoman--walked
with elderly grace--and spoke with propriety. She resembled
Godwin, and this time it was not painful to remark the likeness.
'I have come to Twybridge,' began Marcella, gently and respectfully,
'that is to say, I have stopped in passing--to ask for the address
of Mr. Godwin Peak. A letter has failed to reach him.
It was her wish to manage without either disclosing the truth about
herself or elaborating fictions, but after the first words she felt
it impossible not to offer some explanation. Mrs. Peak showed a
slight surprise. With the courage of cowardice, Marcella continued
'My name is Mrs. Ward. My husband used to know Mr. Peak, in London, a
few years ago, but we have been abroad, and unfortunately have lost
sight of him. We remembered that Mr. Peak's relatives lived at
Twybridge, and, as we wish very much to renew the old acquaintance,
I took the opportunity--passing by rail. I made inquiries in the
town, and was directed to you--I hope rightly'----
The widow's face changed to satisfaction. Evidently her
straightforward mind accepted the story as perfectly credible.
Marcella, with bitterness, knew herself far from comely enough to
suggest perils. She looked old enough for the part she was playing,
and the glove upon her hand might conceal a wedding-ring.
'Yes, you were directed rightly,' Mrs. Peak made quiet answer. 'I
shall be very glad to give you my son's address. He left London
about last Christmas, and went to live at Exeter.'
'Exeter? We thought he might be out of England.'
'No; he has lived all the time at Exeter. The address is Longbrook
Street'--she added the number. 'He is studying, and finds that
part of the country pleasant. I am hoping to see him here before
Marcella did not extend the conversation. She spoke of having to
catch a train, and veiled as well as she could beneath ordinary
courtesies her perplexity at the information she had received.
When she again reached the house at Notting Hill, Christian was
absent. He came home about nine in the evening. It was impossible
not to remark his strange mood of repressed excitement; but Marcella
did not question him, and Christian had resolved to conceal the
day's event until he could speak of it without agitation. Before
they parted for the night, Marcella said carelessly:
'I have decided to go down to Budleigh Salterton when the time
'That's right!' exclaimed her brother, with satisfaction. 'You
couldn't do better--couldn't possibly. It will be a very good
thing for you in several ways.'
And each withdrew to brood over a perturbing secret.
Three or four years ago, when already he had conceived the idea of
trying his fortune in some provincial town, Peak persuaded himself
that it would not be difficult to make acquaintances among educated
people, even though he had no credentials to offer. He indulged his
fancy and pictured all manner of pleasant accidents which surely,
sooner or later, must bring him into contact with families of the
better sort. One does hear of such occurrences, no doubt. In every
town there is some one or other whom a stranger may approach: a
medical man--a local antiquary--a librarian--a philanthropist;
and with moderate advantages of mind and address, such casual
connections may at times be the preface to intimacy, with all
resulting benefits. But experience of Exeter had taught him how
slight would have been his chance of getting on friendly terms with
any mortal if he had depended solely on his personal qualities.
After a nine months' residence, and with the friendship of such
people as the Warricombes, he was daily oppressed by his isolation
amid this community of English folk. He had done his utmost to adopt
the tone of average polished life. He had sat at the tables of
worthy men, and conversed freely with their sons and daughters; he
exchanged greetings in the highways: but this availed him nothing.
Now, as on the day of his arrival, he was an alien--a lodger. What
else had he ever been, since boyhood? A lodger in Kingsmill, a
lodger in London, a lodger in Exeter. Nay, even as a boy he could
scarcely have been said to 'live at home', for from the dawn of
conscious intelligence he felt himself out of place among familiar
things and people, at issue with prevalent opinions. Was he never to
win a right of citizenship, never to have a recognised place among
men associated in the dunes. and pleasures of life?
Sunday was always a day of weariness and despondency, and at present
he suffered from the excitement of his conversation with Sidwell,
followed as it had been by a night of fever. Extravagant hope had
given place to a depression which could see nothing beyond the
immediate gloom. Until mid-day he lay in bed. After dinner, finding
the solitude of his little room intolerable, he went out to walk in
Not far from his door some children had gathered in a quiet corner,
and were playing at a game on the pavement with pieces of chalk. As
he drew near, a policeman, observing the little group, called out to
them in a stern voice:
'Now then! what are you doing there? Don't you know ~what day~ it
The youngsters fled, conscious of shameful delinquency.
There it was! There spoke the civic voice, the social rule, the
public sentiment! Godwin felt that the policeman had rebuked ~him~,
and in doing so had severely indicated the cause of that isolation
which he was condemned to suffer. Yes, all his life he had desired
to play games on Sunday; he had never been able to understand why
games on Sunday should be forbidden. And the angry laugh which
escaped him as he went by the guardian of public morals, declared
the impossibility of his ever being at one with communities which
made this point the prime test of worthiness.
He walked on at a great speed, chafing, talking to himself. His way
took him through Heavitree (when Hooker saw the light here, how easy
to believe that the Anglican Church was the noblest outcome of human
progress!) and on and on, until by a lane with red banks of
sandstone, thick with ferns, shadowed with noble boughs, he came to
a hamlet which had always been one of his favourite resorts, so
peacefully it lay amid the exquisite rural landscape. The cottages
were all closed and silent; hark for the reason! From the old church
sounded an organ prelude, then the voice of the congregation,
joining in one of the familiar hymns.
A significant feature of Godwin's idiosyncrasy. Notwithstanding his
profound hatred and contempt of multitudes, he could never hear the
union of many voices in song but his breast heaved and a choking
warmth rose in his throat. Even where prejudice wrought most
strongly with him, it had to give way before this rush of emotion;
he often hurried out of earshot when a group of Salvationists were
singing, lest the involuntary sympathy of his senses should agitate
and enrage him. At present he had no wish to draw away. He entered
the churchyard, and found the leafy nook with a tombstone where he
had often rested. And as he listened to the rude chanting of verse
after verse, tears fell upon his cheeks.
This sensibility was quite distinct from religious feeling. If the
note of devotion sounding in that simple strain had any effect upon
him at all, it merely intensified his consciousness of pathos as he
thought of the many generations that had worshipped here, living and
dying in a faith which was at best a helpful delusion. He could
appreciate the beautiful aspects of Christianity as a legend, its
nobility as a humanising power, its rich results in literature, its
grandeur in historic retrospect. But at no moment in his life had he
felt it as a spiritual influence. So far from tending in that
direction, as he sat and brooded here in the churchyard, he owed to
his fit of tearfulness a courage which determined him to abandon all
religious pretences, and henceforth trust only to what was sincere
in him--his human passion. The future he had sketched to Sidwell
was impossible; the rural pastorate, the life of moral endeavour
which in his excitement had seemed so nearly a genuine aspiration
that it might perchance become reality--dreams, dreams! He must
woo as a man, and trust to fortune for his escape from a false
position. Sidwell should hear nothing more of clerical projects. He
was by this time convinced that she held far less tenaciously than
he had supposed to the special doctrines of the Church; and, if he
had not deceived himself in interpreting her behaviour, a mutual
avowal of love would involve ready consent on her part to his
abandoning a career which--as he would represent it--had been
adopted under a mistaken impulse. He returned to the point which he
had reached when he set forth with the intention of bidding good-bye
to the Warricombes--except that in flinging away hypocrisy he no
longer needed to trample his desires. The change need not be
declared till after a lapse of time. For the present his task was to
obtain one more private interview with Sidwell ere she went to
London, or, if that could not be, somehow to address her in
The fumes were dispelled from his brain, and as he walked homeward
he plotted and planned with hopeful energy. Sylvia Moorhouse came
into his mind; could he not in some way make use of her? He had
never yet been to see her at Budleigh Salterton. That he would do
forthwith, and perchance the visit might supply him with
On the morrow he set forth, going by train to Exmouth, and thence by
the coach which runs twice a day to the little seaside town. The
delightful drive, up hill and down dale, with its magnificent views
over the estuary, and its ever-changing wayside beauties, put him
into the best of spirits. About noon, he alighted at the Rolle Arms,
the hotel to which the coach conducts its passengers, and entered to
take a meal. He would call upon the Moorhouses at the conventional
hour. The intervening time was spent pleasantly enough in loitering
about the pebbled beach. A south-west breeze which had begun to
gather clouds drove on the rising tide. By four o'clock there was an
end of sunshine, and spurts of rain mingled with flying foam. Peak
turned inland, pursued the leafy street up the close-sheltered
valley, and came to the house where his friends dwelt.
In crossing the garden he caught sight of a lady who sat in a room
on the ground floor; her back was turned to the window, and before
he could draw near enough to see her better she had moved away, but
the glimpse he had obtained of her head and shoulders affected him
with so distinct an alarm that his steps were checked. It seemed to
him that he had recognised the figure, and if he were right.--But
the supposition was ridiculous; at all events so vastly improbable,
that he would not entertain it. And now he descried another face,
that of Miss Moorhouse herself, and it gave him a reassuring smile.
He rang the door bell.
How happy--he said to himself--those men who go to call upon
their friends without a tremor! Even if he had not received that
shock a moment ago, he would still have needed to struggle against
the treacherous beating of his heart as he waited for admission. It
was always so when he visited the Warricombes, or any other family
in Exeter. Not merely in consequence of the dishonest part he was
playing, but because he had not quite overcome the nervousness which
so anguished him in earlier days. The first moment after his
entering a drawing-room cost him pangs of complex origin.
His eyes fell first of all upon Mrs. Moorhouse, who advanced to
welcome him. He was aware of three other persons in the room. The
nearest, he could perceive without regarding her, was Sidwell's
friend; the other two, on whom he did not yet venture to cast a
glance, sat--or rather had just risen--in a dim background. As
he shook hands with Sylvia, they drew nearer; one of them was a man,
and, as his voice at once declared, no other than Buckland
Warricombe. Peak returned his greeting, and, in the same moment,
gazed at the last of the party. Mrs. Moorhouse was speaking.
'Mr. Peak--Miss Moxey.'
A compression of the lips was the only sign of disturbance that
anyone could have perceived on Godwin's countenance. Already he had
strung himself against his wonted agitation, and the added trial did
not sensibly enhance what he suffered. In discovering that he had
rightly identified the figure at the window, he experienced no
renewal of the dread which brought him to a stand-still. Already
half prepared for this stroke of fate, he felt a satisfaction in
being able to meet it so steadily. Tumult of thought was his only
trouble; it seemed as if his brain must burst with the stress of its
lightning operations. In three seconds, he re-lived the past, made
several distinct anticipations of the future, and still discussed
with himself how he should behave this moment. He noted that
Marcella's face was bloodless; that her attempt to smile resulted in
a very painful distortion of brow and lips. And he had leisure to
pity her. This emotion prevailed. With a sense of magnanimity, which
afterwards excited his wonder, he pressed the cold hand and said in
a cheerful tone:
'Our introduction took place long ago, if I'm not mistaken. I had no
idea, Miss Moxey, that you were among Mrs. Moorhouse's friends.'
'Nor I that you were, Mr. Peak,' came the answer, in a steadier voice
than Godwin had expected.
Mrs. Moorhouse and her daughter made the pleasant exclamations that
were called for. Buckland Warricombe, with a doubtful smile on his
lips, kept glancing from Miss Moxey to her acquaintance and back
again. Peak at length faced him.
'I hoped we should meet down here this autumn.'
'I should have looked you up in a day or two,' Buckland replied,
seating himself. 'Do you propose to stay in Exeter through the
'I'm not quite sure--but I think it likely.'
Godwin turned to the neighbour of whose presence he was most
'I hope your brother is well, Miss Moxey?'
Their eyes encountered steadily.
'Yes, he is quite well, thank you. He often says that it seems very
long since he heard from you.'
'I'm a bad correspondent.--Is he also in Devonshire?'
'No. In London.'
'What a storm we are going to have!' exclaimed Sylvia, looking to
the window. 'They predicted it yesterday. I should like to be on the
top of Westdown Beacon--wouldn't you, Miss Moxey?'
'I am quite willing to go with you.'
'And what pleasure do you look for up there?' asked Warricombe, in a
blunt, matter-of-fact tone.
'Now, there's a question!' cried Sylvia, appealing to the rest of
'I agree with Mr. Warricombe,' remarked her mother. 'It's better to
be in a comfortable room.'
'Oh, you Radicals! What a world you will make of it in time!'
Sylvia affected to turn away in disgust, and happening to glance
through the window she saw two young ladies approaching from the
'The Walworths--struggling desperately with their umbrellas.'
'I shouldn't wonder if you think it unworthy of an artist to carry
an umbrella,' said Buckland.
'Now you suggest it, I certainly do. They should get nobly
She went out into the hall, and soon returned with her friends--
Miss Walworth the artist, Miss Muriel Walworth, and a youth, their
brother. In the course of conversation Peak learnt that Miss Moxey
was the guest of this family, and that she had been at Budleigh
Salterton with them only a day or two. For the time he listened and
observed, endeavouring to postpone consideration of the dangers into
which he had suddenly fallen. Marcella had made herself his
accomplice, thus far, in disguising the real significance of their
meeting, and whether she would betray him in her subsequent talk
with the Moorhouses remained a matter of doubt. Of course he must
have assurance of her disposition--but the issues involved were
too desperate for instant scrutiny. He felt the gambler's
excitement, an irrational pleasure in the consciousness that his
whole future was at stake. Buckland Warricombe had a keen eye upon
him, and doubtless was eager to strike a train of suspicious
circumstances. His face, at all events, should give no sign of
discomposure. Indeed, he found so much enjoyment in the bright
gossip of this assembly of ladies that the smile he wore was
The Walworths, he gathered, were to return to London in a week's
time. This meant, in all probability, that Marcella's stay here
would not be prolonged beyond that date. Perhaps he could find an
opportunity of seeing her apart from her friends. In reply to a
question from Mrs. Moorhouse, he made known that he proposed staying
at the Rolle Arms for several days, and when he had spoken he
glanced at Marcella. She understood him; he felt sure. An invitation
to lunch here on the morrow was of course accepted.
Before leaving, he exchanged a few words with Buckland.
'Your relatives will be going to town very soon, I understand.
'Shall I see you at Exeter?' Godwin continued.
'I'm not sure. I shall go over to-morrow, but it's uncertain whether
I shall still be there when you return.'
The Radical was distinctly less amicable than even on the last
occasion of their meeting. They shook hands in rather a perfunctory
Early in the evening there was a temporary lull in the storm; rain
no longer fell, and in spaces of the rushing sky a few stars showed
themselves. Unable to rest at the hotel, Peak set out for a walk
towards the cliff summit called Westdown Beacon; he could see little
more than black vacancies, but a struggle with the wind suited his
temper, and he enjoyed the incessant roar of surf in the darkness.
After an hour of this buffeting he returned to the beach, and stood
as close as possible to the fierce breakers. No person was in sight.
But when he began to move towards the upper shore, three female
figures detached themselves from the gloom and advanced in his
direction. They came so near that their voices were audible, and
thereupon he stepped up to them.
'Are you going to the Beacon after all, Miss Moorhouse?'
Sylvia was accompanied by Agatha Walworth and Miss Moxey. She
explained laughingly that they had stolen out, by agreement, whilst
the males of their respective households still lingered at the
'But Mr. Warricombe was right after all. We shall be blown to pieces.
A very little of the romantic goes a long way, nowadays.'
Godwin was determined to draw Marcella aside. Seemingly she met his
wish, for as all turned to regain the shelter of houses she fell
behind her female companions, and stood close by him.
'I want to see you before you go back to London,' he said, bending
his head near to hers.
'I wrote a letter to you this morning,' was her reply.
'A letter? To what address?'
'Your address at Exeter.'
'But how did you know it?'
'I'll explain afterwards.'
'When can I see you?'
'Not here. It's impossible. I shall go to Exeter, and there write to
'Very well. You promise to do this?'
'Yes, I promise.'
There was danger even in the exchange of these hurried sentences.
Miss Walworth had glanced back, and might possibly have caught a
phrase that aroused curiosity. Having accompanied the girls to
within view of their destination, Peak said good-night, and went
home to spend the rest of the evening in thought which was
The next day he had no sight of Marcella. At luncheon the Moorhouses
were alone. Afterwards Godwin accepted a proposal of the
mathematician (who was generally invisible amid his formulae) for a
walk up the Otter valley. Naturally they talked of Coleridge, whose
metaphysical side appealed to Moorhouse. Peak dwelt on the human and
poetical, and was led by that peculiar recklessness of mood, which
at times relieved his nervous tension, to defend opium eating, as a
source of pleasurable experience.
'You will hardly venture on that paradox in the pulpit,' remarked
his companion, with laughter.
'Perhaps not. But I have heard arguments from that place decidedly
Godwin corrected the impression he perhaps had made by turning with
sudden seriousness to another subject. The ironic temptation was
terribly strong in him just now. One is occasionally possessed by a
desire to shout in the midst of a silent assembly; and impulse of
the same kind kept urging him to utter words which would
irretrievably ruin his prospects. The sense that life is an
intolerable mummery can with difficulty be controlled by certain
minds, even when circumstances offer no keen incitement to
rebellion. But Peak's position to-day demanded an incessant effort
to refrain from self-betrayal. What a joy to declare himself a
hypocrite, and snap mocking fingers in the world's face! As a
safeguard, he fixed his mind upon Sidwell, recalled her features and
her voice as clearly as possible, stamped into his heart the
conviction that she half loved him.
When he was alone again, he of a sudden determined to go to Exeter.
He could no longer endure uncertainty as to the contents of
Marcella's letter. As it was too late for the coach, he set off and
walked five miles to Exmouth, where he caught a train.
The letter lay on his table, and with it one on which he recognised
his mother's handwriting.
Marcella wrote in the simplest way, quite as if their intercourse
had never been disturbed. As she happened to be staying with friends
at Budleigh Salterton, it seemed possible for her to meet him. Might
she hope that he would call at the hotel in Exeter, if she wrote
again to make an appointment?
Well, that needed no reply. But how had she discovered the address?
Was his story known in London? In a paroxysm of fury, he crushed the
letter into a ball and flung it away. The veins of his forehead
swelled; he walked about the room with senseless violence, striking
his fist against furniture and walls. It would have relieved him to
sob and cry like a thwarted child, but only a harsh sound,
half-groan, half-laughter, burst from his throat.
The fit passed, and he was able to open the letter from Twybridge,
the first he had received from his mother for more than a month. He
expected to find nothing of interest, but his attention was soon
caught by a passage, which ran thus:
'Have you heard from some friends of yours, called Ward? Some time
ago a lady called here to ask for your address. She said her name
was Mrs. Ward, and that her husband, who had been abroad for a long
time, very much wished to find you again. Of course I told her where
you were to be found. It was just after I had written, or I should
have let you know about it before.'
Ward? He knew no one of that name. Could it be Marcella who had done
this? It looked more than likely; he believed her capable of strange
In the morning he returned to the seaside. Prospect of pleasure
there was none, but by moving about he made the time pass more
quickly. Wandering in the lanes (which would have delighted him with
their autumnal beauties had his mind been at rest), he came upon
Miss Walworth, busy with a water-colour sketch. Though their
acquaintance was so slight, he stopped for conversation, and the
artist's manner appeared to testify that Marcella had as yet made no
unfavourable report of him. By mentioning that he would return home
on the morrow, he made sure that Marcella would be apprised of this.
Perhaps she might shorten her stay, and his suspense.
Back in Longbrook Street once more, he found another letter. It was
from Mrs. Warricombe, who wrote to tell him of their coming removal
to London, and added an invitation to dine four days hence. Then at
all events he would speak again with Sidwell. But to what purpose?
Could he let her go away for months, and perhaps all but forget him
among the many new faces that would surround her. He saw no feasible
way of being with her in private. To write was to run the gravest
risk; things were not ripe for that. To take Martin into his
confidence? That asked too much courage. Deliberate avowals of this
kind seemed to him ludicrous and humiliating, and under the
circumstances--no, no; what force of sincerity could make him
appear other than a scheming adventurer?
He lived in tumult of mind and senses. When at length, on the day
before his engagement with the Warricombes, there came a note from
Marcella, summoning him to the interview agreed upon, he could
scarcely endure the hour or two until it was time to set forth;
every minute cost him a throb of pain. The torment must have told
upon his visage, for on entering the room where Marcella waited he
saw that she looked at him with a changing expression, as if
something surprised her.
They shook hands, but without a word. Marcella pointed to a chair,
yet remained standing. She was endeavouring to smile; her eyes fell,
and she coloured.
'Don't let us make each other uncomfortable,' Peak exclaimed
suddenly, in the off-hand tone of friendly intimacy. 'There's
nothing tragic in this affair, after all. Let us talk quietly.'
Marcella seated herself.
'I had reasons,' he went on, 'for going away from my old
acquaintances for a time. Why not, if I chose? You have found me
out. Very well; let us talk it over as we have discussed many
another moral or psychological question.'
He did not meditate these sentences. Something must of necessity be
said, and words shaped themselves for him. His impulse was to avoid
the emotional, to talk with this problematic woman as with an
intellectual friend of his own sex.
'Forgive me,' were the first sounds that came from Marcella's lips.
She spoke with bent head, and almost in a whisper.
'What have I to forgive?' He sat down and leaned sideways in the
easy chair. 'You were curious about my doings? What more natural?'
'Do you know how I learnt where you were?'
She looked up for an instant.
'I have a suspicion. You went to Twybridge?'
'But not in your own name?'
'I can hardly tell why not.'
Peak laughed. He was physically and mentally at rest in comparison
with his state for the past few days. Things had a simpler aspect
all at once. After all, who would wish to interfere maliciously with
him? Women like to be in secrets, and probably Marcella would
'What conjectures had you made about me?' he asked, with an air of
'Many, of course. But I heard something not long ago which seemed so
unlikely, yet was told so confidently, that at last I couldn't
overcome my wish to make inquiries.'
'And what was that?'
'Mr. Malkin has been to America, and he declared that he had met you
in the streets of Boston--and that you refused to admit you were
Peak laughed still more buoyantly. His mood was eager to seize on
any point that afforded subject for jest.
'Malkin seems to have come across my Doppelganger. One mustn't
pretend to certainty in anything, but I am disposed to think I never
was in Boston.'
'He was of course mistaken.'
Marcella's voice had an indistinctness very unlike her ordinary
tone. As a rule she spoke with that clearness and decision which
corresponds to qualities of mind not commonly found in women. But
confidence seemed to have utterly deserted her; she had lost her
individuality, and was weakly feminine.
'I have been here since last Christmas,' said Godwin, after a pause.
'Yes. I know.'
Their eyes met.
'No doubt your friends have told you as much as they know of me?'
'Yes--they have spoken of you.'
'And what does it amount to?'
He regarded her steadily, with a smile of indifference.
'They say'--she gazed at him as if constrained to do so--'that
you are going into the Church.' And as soon as she uttered the last
word, a painful laugh escaped her.
'Nothing else? No comments?'
'I think Miss Moorhouse finds it difficult to understand.'
'Miss Moorhouse?' He reflected, still smiling. 'I shouldn't wonder.
She has a sceptical mind, and she doesn't know me well enough to
'Doesn't know you well enough?'
She repeated the words mechanically. Peak gave her a keen glance.
'Has she led you to suppose,' he asked, 'that we are on intimate
'No.' The word fell from her, absently, despondently.
'Miss Moxey, would anything be gained by our discussing my position?
If you think it a mystery, hadn't we better leave it so?'
She made no answer.
'But perhaps,' he went on, 'you have told them--the Walworths and
the Moorhouses--that I owe my friends an explanation? When I see
them again, perhaps I shall be confronted with cold, questioning
'I haven't said a word that could injure you,' Marcella replied,
with something of her usual self-possession, passing her eyes
distantly over his face as she spoke.
'I knew the suggestion was unjust, when I made it.'
'Then why should you refuse me your confidence?'
She bent forward slightly, but with her eyes cast down. Tone and
features intimated a sense of shame, due partly to the feeling that
she offered complicity in deceit.
'What can I tell you more than you know?' said Godwin, coldly. 'I
propose to become a clergyman, and I have acknowledged to you that
my motive is ambition. As the matter concerns my conscience, that
must rest with myself; I have spoken of it to no one. But you may
depend upon it that I am prepared for every difficulty that may
spring up. I knew, of course, that sooner or later some one would
discover me here. Well, I have changed my opinions, that's all; who
can demand more than that?'
Marcella answered in a tone of forced composure.
'You owe me no explanation at all. Yet we have known each other for
a long time, and it pains me that--to be suddenly told that we are
no more to each other than strangers.'
'Are we talking like strangers, Marcella?'
She flushed, and her eyes gleamed as they fixed themselves upon him
for an instant. He had never before dreamt of addressing her so
familiarly, and least of all in this moment was she prepared for it.
Godwin despised himself for the impulse to which he had yielded, but
its policy was justified. He had taken one more step in
disingenuousness--a small matter.
'Let it be one of those things on which even friends don't open
their minds to each other,' he pursued. 'lam living in solitude, and
perhaps must do so for several years yet. If I succeed in my
purposes, you will see me again on the old terms; if I fail, then
too we shall be friends--if you are willing.'
'You won't tell me what those purposes are?'
'Surely you can imagine them.'
'Will you let me ask you--do you look for help to anyone that I
have seen here?' She spoke with effort and with shame.
'To no one that you have met,' he answered, shortly.
'Then to some one in Exeter? I have been told that you have
He was irritated by her persistency, and his own inability to decide
upon the most prudent way of answering.
'You mean the Warricombe family, I suppose?'
'I think it very likely that Mr. Warricombe may be able to help me
Marcella kept silence. Then, without raising her eyes, she murmured:
'You will tell me no more?'
'There is nothing more to tell.'
She bit her lips, as if to compel them to muteness. Her breath came
quickly; she glanced this way and that, like one who sought an
escape. After eyeing her askance for a moment, Peak rose.
'You are going?' she said.
'Yes; but surely there is no reason why we shouldn't say good-bye in
a natural and friendly way?'
'Can you forgive me for that deceit I practised?'
'What does it matter? We should in any case have met at Budleigh
'No. I had no serious thought of accepting their invitation.'
She stood looking away from him, endeavouring to speak as though the
denial had but slight significance. Godwin stirred impatiently.
'I should never have gone to Twybridge,' Marcella continued, 'but
for Mr. Malkin's story.'
He turned to her.
'You mean that his story had a disagreeable sound?'
Marcella kept silence, her fingers working together.
'And is your mind relieved?' he added.
'I wish you were back in London. I wish this change had never come
'I wish that several things in my life had never come to pass. But I
am here, and my resolve is unalterable. One thing I must ask you--
how shall you represent my position to your brother?'
For a moment Marcella hesitated. Then, meeting his look, she
answered with nervous haste:
'I shall not mention you to him.'
Ashamed to give any sign of satisfaction, and oppressed by the
feeling that he owed her gratitude, Peak stood gazing towards the
windows with an air of half-indifferent abstractedness. It was
better to let the interview end thus, without comment or further
question; so he turned abruptly, and offered his hand.
'Good-bye. You will hear of me, or from me.'
He tried to smile; but Marcella had a cold face, expressive of more
dignity than she had hitherto shown. As he closed the door she was
still looking towards him.
He knew what the look meant. In his position, a man of ordinary
fibre would long ago have nursed the flattering conviction that
Marcella loved him. Godwin had suspected it, but in a vague,
unemotional way, never attaching importance to the matter. What he
~had~ clearly understood was, that Christian wished to inspire him
with interest in Marcella, and on that account, when in her company,
he sometimes set himself to display a deliberate negligence. No
difficult undertaking, for he was distinctly repelled by the thought
of any relations with her more intimate than had been brought about
by his cold intellectual sympathy. Her person was still as
disagreeable to him as when he first met her in her uncle's house at
Twybridge. If a man sincerely hopes that a woman does not love him
(which can seldom be the case where a suggestion of such feeling
ever arises), he will find it easy to believe that she does not.
Peak not only had the benefit of this principle; the constitution of
his mind made it the opposite of natural for him to credit himself
with having inspired affection. That his male friends held him in
any warm esteem always appeared to him improbable, and as regards
women his modesty was profound. The simplest explanation, that he
was himself incapable of pure devotedness, perhaps hits the truth.
Unsympathetic, however, he could with no justice be called, and now
that the reality of Marcella's love was forced upon his
consciousness he thought of her with sincere pity,--the emotion
which had already possessed him (though he did not then analyse it)
when he unsuspectingly looked into her troubled face a few days ago.
It was so hard to believe, that, on reaching home, he sat for a long
time occupied with the thought of it, to the exclusion of his own
anxieties. What! this woman had made of ~him~ an ideal such as he
himself sought among the most exquisite of her sex? How was that
possible? What quality of his, personal, psychical, had such
magnetic force? What sort of being was he in Marcella's eyes?
Reflective men must often enough marvel at the success of whiskered
and trousered mortals in wooing the women of their desire, for only
by a specific imagination can a person of one sex assume the
emotions of the other. Godwin had neither that endowment nor the
peculiar self-esteem which makes love-winning a matter of course to
some intelligent males. His native arrogance signified a low
estimate of mankind at large, rather than an overweening
appreciation of his own qualities, and in his most presumptuous
moments he had never claimed the sexual refulgence which many a
commonplace fellow so gloriously exhibits. At most, he had hoped
that some woman might find him ~interesting~, and so be led on to
like him well enough for the venture of matrimony. Passion at length
constrained him to believe that his ardour might be genuinely
reciprocated, but even now it was only in paroxysms that he held
this assurance; the hours of ordinary life still exposed him to the
familiar self-criticism, sometimes more scathing than ever. He
dreaded the looking-glass, consciously avoided it; and a like
disparagement of his inner being tortured him through the endless
labyrinths of erotic reverie.
Yet here was a woman who so loved him that not even a proud temper
and his candid indifference could impose restraint upon her
emotions. As he listened to the most significant of her words he was
distressed with shame, and now, in recalling them, he felt that he
should have said something, done something, to disillusion her.
Could he not easily show himself in a contemptible light? But
reflection taught him that the shame he had experienced on
Marcella's behalf was blended with a gratification which forbade him
at the moment to be altogether unamiable. It was not self-interest
alone that prompted his use of her familiar name. In the secret
places of his heart he was thankful to her for a most effective
encouragement. She had confirmed him in the hope that he was loved
And now that he no longer feared her, Marcella was gradually
dismissed from mind. For a day or two he avoided the main streets of
the town, lest a chance meeting with her should revive disquietude;
but, by the time that Mrs. Warricombe's invitation permitted him once
more to follow his desire, he felt assured that Marcella was back in
London, and the sense of distance helped to banish her among
The hours had never pressed upon him with such demand for
resolution. In the look with which Sidwell greeted him when he met
her in the drawing-room, he seemed to read much more than wonted
friendliness; it was as though a half secret already existed between
them. But no occasion offered for a word other than trivial. The
dinner-party consisted of about a score of people, and throughout
the evening Peak found himself hopelessly severed from the one
person whose presence was anything but an importunity to him. He
maddened with jealousy, with fear, with ceaseless mental
manoeuvring. More than one young man of agreeable aspect appeared to
be on dangerous terms with Sidwell, approaching her with that air of
easy, well-bred intimacy which Godwin knew too well he would never
be able to assume in perfection. Again he was humiliated by
self-comparison with social superiors, and again reminded that in
this circle he had a place merely on sufferance. Mrs. Warricombe,
when he chanced to speak with her, betrayed the slight regard in
which she really held him, and Martin devoted himself to more
important people. The evening was worse than lost.
Yet in two more days Sidwell would be beyond reach. He writhed upon
his bed as the image of her loveliness returned again and again,--
her face as she conversed at table, her dignity as she rose with the
other ladies, her smile when he said good-night. A smile that meant
more than civility; he was convinced of it. But memory would not
support him through half-a-year of solitude and ill-divining
He would write to her, and risk all. Two o'clock in the morning saw
him sitting half-dressed at the table, raging over the difficulties
of a composition which should express his highest self. Four o'clock
saw the blotched letter torn into fragments. He could not write as
he wished, could not hit the tone of manly appeal. At five o'clock
he turned wretchedly into bed again.
A day of racking headache; then the long restful sleep which brings
good counsel. It was well that he had not sent a letter, nor in any
other way committed himself. If Sidwell were ever to be his wife,
the end could only be won by heroic caution and patience. Thus far
he had achieved notable results; to rush upon his aim would be the
most absurd departure from a hopeful scheme gravely devised and
pursued. To wait, to establish himself in the confidence of this
family, to make sure his progress step by step, that was the course
indicated from the first by his calm reason. Other men might triumph
by sudden audacity; for him was no hope save in slow, persevering
energy of will. Passion had all but ruined him; now he had recovered
Sidwell's six months in London might banish him from her mind, might
substitute some rival against whom it would be hopeless to contend.
Yes; but a thousand possibilities stood with menace in the front of
every great enterprise. Before next spring he might be dead.
Defiance, then, of every foreboding, of every shame; and a life that
moulded itself in the ardour of unchangeable resolve.
Martin Warricombe was reconciled to the prospect of a metropolitan
winter by the fact that his old friend Thomas Gale, formerly
Geological Professor at Whitelaw College, had of late returned from
a three years' sojourn in North America, and now dwelt in London.
The breezy man of science was welcomed back among his brethren with
two-fold felicitation; his book on the Appalachians would have given
no insufficient proof of activity abroad, but evidence more
generally interesting accompanied him in the shape of a young and
beautiful wife. Not every geologist whose years have entered the
fifties can go forth and capture in second marriage a charming New
England girl, thirty years his junior. Yet those who knew Mr. Gale--
his splendid physique, his bluff cordiality, the vigour of his
various talk--were scarcely surprised. The young lady was no
heiress; she had, in fact, been a school teacher, and might have
wearied through her best years in that uncongenial pursuit.
Transplanted to the richest English soil, she developed remarkable
aptitudes. A month or two of London exhibited her as a type of all
that is most attractive in American womanhood.
Between Mrs. Gale and the Warricombes intimacy was soon established.
Sidwell saw much of her, and liked her. To this meditative English
girl the young American offered an engrossing problem, for she
avowed her indifference to all religious dogmas, yet was singularly
tolerant and displayed a moral fervour which Sidwell had believed
inseparable from Christian faith. At the Gales' house assembled a
great variety of intellectual people, and with her father's express
approval (Martin had his reasons) Sidwell made the most of this
opportunity of studying the modern world. Only a few days after her
arrival in London, she became acquainted with a Mr. Walsh, a brother
of that heresiarch, the Whitelaw Professor, whose name was still
obnoxious to herf mother. He was a well-favoured man of something
between thirty and forty, brilliant in conversation, personally
engaging, and known by his literary productions, which found small
favour with conservative readers. With surprise, Sidwell in a short
time became aware that Mr. Walsh had a frank liking for her society.
He was often to be seen in Mrs. Warricombe's drawing-room, and at Mrs
Gale's he yet more frequently obtained occasions of talking with
her. The candour with which he expressed himself on most subjects
enabled her to observe a type of mind which at present had peculiar
interest for her. Discretion often put restraint upon her curiosity,
but none the less Mr. Walsh had plausible grounds for believing that
his advances were not unwelcome. He saw that Sidwell's gaze