Part 7 out of 10
occasionally rested upon him with a pleasant gravity, and noted the
mood of meditation which sometimes came upon her when he had drawn
apart. The frequency of these dialogues was observed by Mrs
Warricombe, and one evening she broached the subject to her daughter
'I am surprised that you have taken such a liking to Mr. Walsh.'
Sidwell coloured, and made answer in the quiet tone which her mother
had come to understand as a reproof, a hint of defective delicacy:
'I don't think I have behaved in a way that should cause you
'It seemed to me that you were really very--friendly with him.'
'Yes, I am always friendly. But nothing more.'
'Don't you think there's a danger of his misunderstanding you,
'I don't, mother. Mr. Walsh understands that we differ irreconcilably
on subjects of the first importance. I have never allowed him to
lose sight of that.'
Intellectual differences were of much less account to Mrs. Warricombe
than to her daughter, and her judgment in a matter such as this was
consequently far more practical.
'If I may advise you, dear, you oughtn't to depend much on that. I
am not the only one who has noticed something--I only mention it,
Sidwell mused gravely. In a minute or two she looked up and said in
her gentlest voice:
'Thank you, mother. I will be more careful.'
Perhaps she had lost sight of prudence, forgetting that Mr. Walsh
could not divine her thoughts. Her interest in him was impersonal;
when he spoke she was profoundly attentive, only because her mind
would have been affected in the same way had she been reading his
words instead of listening to them. She could not let him know that
another face was often more distinct to her imagination than his to
her actual sight, and that her thoughts were frequently more busy
with a remembered dialogue than with this in which she was engaged.
She had abundantly safe-guarded herself against serious
misconstruction, but if gossip were making her its subject, it would
be inconsiderate not to regard the warning.
It came, indeed, at a moment when she was very willing to rest from
social activity. At the time of her last stay in London, three years
ago, she had not been ripe for reflection on what she saw. Now her
mind was kept so incessantly at strain, and her emotions answered so
intensely to every appeal, that at length she felt the need of
repose. It was not with her as with the young women who seek only to
make the most of their time in agreeable ways. Sidwell's vital
forces were concentrated in an effort of profound spiritual
significance. The critical hour of her life was at hand, and she
exerted every faculty in the endeavour to direct herself aright.
Having heard from his brother that Sidwell had not been out for
several days, Buckland took an opportunity of calling at the house
early one morning. He found her alone in a small drawing-room, and
sat down with an expression of weary discontent. This mood had been
frequent in the young man of late. Sidwell remarked a change that
was coming over him, a gloominess unnatural to his character.
'Seen the Walworths lately?' he asked, when his sister had assured
him that she was not seriously ailing.
'We called a few days ago.'
'Meet anyone there?'
'Two or three people. No one that interested me.'
'You haven't come across some friends of theirs called Moxey?'
'Oh yes! Miss Moxey was there one afternoon about a fortnight ago.'
'Did you talk to her at all?' Buckland asked.
'Yes; we hadn't much to say to each other, though. How do you know
of her? Through Sylvia, I daresay.'
'Met her when I was last down yonder.'
Sidwell had long since heard from her friend of Miss Moxey's visit
to Budleigh Salterton, but she was not aware that Buckland had been
there at the same time. Sylvia had told her, however, of the
acquaintance existing between Miss Moxey and Peak, a point of much
interest to her, though it remained a mere unconnected fact. In her
short conversation with Marcella, she had not ventured to refer to
'Do you know anything of the family?'
'I was going to ask you the same,' returned Buckland. 'I thought you
might have heard something from the Walworths.'
Sidwell had in fact sought information, but, as her relations with
the Walworths were formal, such inquiry as she could make from them
elicited nothing more than she already knew from Sylvia.
'Are you anxious to discover who they are?' she asked.
Buckland moved uneasily, and became silent.
'Oh, not particularly.'
'I dined with Walsh yesterday,' he said, at length, struggling to
shake off the obvious dreariness that oppressed him. 'He suits me;
we can get on together.'
'But you don't dislike him, I think?'
'Implying that I dislike ~you~,' said Sidwell, lightsomely.
'You have no affection for my opinions.--Walsh is an honest man.'
'I hope so.'
'He says what he thinks. No compromise with fashionable hypocrisy.'
'I despise that kind of thing quite as much as you do.'
They looked at each other. Buckland had a sullen air.
'Yes, in your own way,' he replied, 'you are sincere enough, I have
no doubt. I wish all women were so.
'What exception have you in mind?'
He did not seem inclined to answer.
'Perhaps it is your understanding of them that's at fault,' added
'Not in one case, at all events,' he exclaimed. 'Supposes you were
asked to define Miss Moorhouse's religious opinions, how would you
'I am not well enough acquainted with them.'
'Do you imagine for a moment that she has any more faith in the
supernatural than I have?'
'I think there is a great difference between her position and
'Because she is hypocritical!' cried Buckland, angrily. 'She
deceives you. She hasn't the courage to be honest.'
Sidwell wore a pained expression.
'You judge her,' she replied, 'far too coarsely. No one is called
upon to make an elaborate declaration of faith as often as such
subjects are spoken of. Sylvia thinks so differently from you about
almost everything that, when she happens to agree with you, you are
misled and misinterpret her whole position.'
'I understand her perfectly,' Buckland went on, in the same
irritated voice. 'There are plenty of women like her--with brains
enough, but utter and contemptible cowards. Cowards even to
themselves, perhaps. What can you expect, when society is based on
For several minutes he pursued this vein of invective, then took an
abrupt leave. Sidwell had a piece of grave counsel ready to offer
him, but he was clearly in no mood to listen, so she postponed it.
A day or two after this, she received a letter from Sylvia. Miss
Moorhouse was anything but a good correspondent; she often confessed
her inability to compose anything but the briefest and driest
statement of facts. With no little surprise, therefore, Sidwell
found that the envelope contained two sheets all but covered with
her friend's cramped handwriting. The letter began with apology for
long delay in acknowledging two communications.
'But you know well enough my dilatory disposition. I have written to
you mentally at least once a day, and I hope you have mentally
received the results--that is to say, have assured yourself of my
goodwill to you, and I had nothing else to send.'
At this point Sylvia had carefully obliterated two lines, blackening
the page into unsightliness. In vain Sidwell pored over the effaced
passage, led to do so by a fancy that she could discern a capital P,
which looked like the first letter of a name. The writer continued:
'Don't trouble yourself so much about insoluble questions. Try to be
more positive--I don't say become a Positivist. Keep a receptive
mind, and wait for time to shape your views of things. I see that
London has agitated and confused you; you have lost your bearings
amid the maze of contradictory finger-posts. If you were here I
could soothe you with Sylvian (much the same as sylvan) philosophy,
but I can't write.'
Here the letter was to have ended, for on the line beneath was
legible 'Give my love to Fanny', but this again had been crossed
out, and there followed a long paragraph:
I have been reading a book about ants. Perhaps you know all the
wonderful things about them, but I had neglected that branch of
natural history. Their doings are astonishingly like those of an
animal called man, and it seems to me that I have discovered one
point of resemblance which perhaps has never been noted. Are you
aware that at an early stage of their existence ants have wings?
They fly--how shall I express it?--only for the brief time of their
courtship and marriage and when these important affairs are
satisfactorily done with their wings wither away, and thenceforth
they have to content themselves with running about on the earth. Now
isn't this a remarkable parallel to one stage of human life? Do not
men and women also soar and flutter--at a certain time? And don't
their wings manifestly drop off as soon as the end of that skyward
movement has been achieved? If the gods had made me poetical, I
would sonnetise on this idea. Do you know any poet with a fondness
for the ant-philosophy? If so, offer him this suggestion with
liberty to "make any use of it he likes".
'But the fact of the matter is that some human beings are never
winged at all. I am decidedly coming to the conclusion that I am one
of those. Think of me henceforth as an apteryx--you have a
dictionary at hand? Like the tailless fox, I might naturally
maintain that my state is the more gracious, but honestly I am not
assured of that. It may be (I half believe it is) a good thing to
soar and flutter, and at times I regret that nature has forbidden me
that experience. Decidedly I would never try to ~persuade anyone
else~ to forego the use of wings. Bear this in mind, my dear girl.
But I suspect that in time to come there will be an increasing
number of female human creatures who from their birth are content
with ~walking~. Not long ago, I had occasion to hint that--though
under another figure--to your brother Buckland. I hope he understood
me--I think he did--and that he wasn't offended.
'I had something to tell you. I have forgotten it--never mind.'
And therewith the odd epistle was concluded. Sidwell perused the
latter part several times. Of course she was at no loss to interpret
it. Buckland's demeanour for the past two months had led her to
surmise that his latest visit to Budleigh Salterton had finally
extinguished the hopes which drew him in that direction. His recent
censure of Sylvia might be thus explained. She grieved that her
brother's suit should be discouraged, but could not persuade herself
that Sylvia's decision was final. The idea of a match between those
two was very pleasant to her. For Buckland she imagined it would be
fraught with good results, and for Sylvia, on the whole, it might be
the best thing.
Before she replied to her friend nearly a month passed, and
Christmas was at hand. Again she had been much in society. Mr. Walsh
had renewed his unmistakable attentions, and, when her manner of
meeting them began to trouble him with doubts, had cleared the air
by making a formal offer of marriage. Sidwell's negative was
absolute, much to her mother's relief. On the day of that event, she
wrote rather a long letter to Sylvia, but Mr. Walsh's name was not
mentioned in it.
'Mother tells me [it began] that ~your~ mother has written to her
from Salisbury, and that you yourself are going there for a stay of
some weeks. I am sorry, for on the Monday after Christmas Day I
shall be in Exeter, and hoped somehow to have seen you. We--mother
and I--are going to run down together, to see after certain domestic
affairs; only for three days at most.
'Your ant-letter was very amusing, but it saddened me, dear Sylvia.
I can't make any answer. On these subjects it is very difficult even
for the closest friends to open their minds to each other. I don't--
and don't wish to--believe in the ~apteryx~ profession; that's
all I must say.
'My health has been indifferent since I last wrote. We live in all
but continuous darkness, and very seldom indeed breathe anything
that can be called air. No doubt this state of things has its effect on
me. I look forwards, not to the coming of spring, for here we shall
see nothing of its beauties, but to the month which will release us
from London. I want to smell the pines again, and to see the golden
gorse in ~our~ road.
'By way of being more "positive", I have read much in the newspapers,
supplementing from them my own experience of London society. The
result is that I am more and more confirmed in the fears with which
I have already worried you. Two movements are plainly going on in
the life of our day. The decay of religious belief is undermining
morality, and the progress of Radicalism in politics is working to the
same end by overthrowing social distinctions. Evidence stares one in
the face from every column of the papers. Of course you have read
more or less about the recent "scandal"--I mean the ~most~
recent.--It isn't the kind of thing one cares to discuss, but we can't
help knowing about it, and does it not strongly support what I say?
Here is materialism sinking into brutal immorality, and high social
rank degrading itself by intimacy with the corrupt vulgar. There
are newspapers that make political capital out of these "revelations".
I have read some of them, and they make me so ~fiercely~
aristocratic that I find it hard to care anything at all even for the
humanitarian efforts of people I respect. You will tell me, I know,
that this is quite the wrong way of looking at it. But the evils are
so monstrous that it is hard to fix one's mind on the good that may
long hence result from them.
'I cling to the essential (that is the ~spiritual~) truths of
Christianity as the only absolute good left in our time. I would say
that I care nothing for forms, but some form there must be, else
one's faith evaporates. It has become very easy for me to understand
how men and women who know the world refuse to believe any longer in
a directing Providence. A week ago I again met Miss Moxey at the
Walworths', and talked with her more freely than before. This
conversation showed me that I have become much more tolerant towards
individuals. But though this or that person may be supported by
moral sense alone, the world cannot dispense with religion. If it
tries to--and it ~will~--there are dreadful times before us.
'I wish I were a man! I would do something, however ineffectual. I
would stand on the side of those who are fighting against mob-rule
and mob-morals. How would you like to see Exeter Cathedral converted
into a "coffee music-hall"? And that will come.'
Reading this, Sylvia had the sense of listening to an echo. Some of
the phrases recalled to her quite a different voice from Sidwell's.
She smiled and mused.
On the morning appointed for her journey to Exeter Sidwell rose
early, and in unusually good spirits. Mrs. Warricombe was less
animated by the prospect of five hours in a railway carriage, for
London had a covering of black snow, and it seemed likely that more
would fall. Martin suggested postponement, but circumstances made
'Let Fanny go with me,' proposed Sidwell, just after breakfast. 'I
can see to everything perfectly well, mother.'
But Fanny hastened to decline. She was engaged for a dance on the
'Then I'll run down with you myself, Sidwell,' said her father.
Mrs. Warricombe looked at the weather and hesitated. There were
strong reasons why she should go, and they determined her to brave
It chanced that the morning post had brought Mr. Warricombe a letter
from Godwin Peak. It was a reply to one that he had written with
Christmas greetings; a kindness natural in him, for he had
remembered that the young man was probably hard at work in his
lonely lodgings. He spoke of it privately to his wife.
'A very good letter--thoughtful and cheerful. You're not likely to
see him, but if you happen to, say a pleasant word.'
'I shouldn't have written, if I were you,' remarked Mrs. Warricombe.
'Why not? I was only thinking the other day that he contrasted very
favourably with the younger generation as we observe it here. Yes, I
have faith in Peak. There's the right stuff in him.'
'Oh, I daresay. But still'----
And Mrs. Warricombe went away with an air of misgiving.
In volunteering a promise not to inform her brother of Peak's
singular position, Marcella spoke with sincerity. She was prompted
by incongruous feelings--a desire to compel Godwin's gratitude,
and disdain of the circumstances in which she had discovered him.
There seemed to be little likelihood of Christian's learning from
any other person that she had met with Peak at Budleigh Salterton;
he had, indeed, dined with her at the Walworths', and might improve
his acquaintance with that family, but it was improbable that they
would ever mention in his hearing the stranger who had casually been
presented to them, or indeed ever again think of him. If she held
her peace, the secret of Godwin's retirement must still remain
impenetrable. He would pursue his ends as hitherto, thinking of
~her~, if at all, as a weak woman who had immodestly betrayed a
hopeless passion, and who could be trusted never to wish him harm.
That was Marcella's way of reading a man's thoughts. She did not
attribute to Peak the penetration which would make him uneasy. In
spite of masculine proverbs, it is the habit of women to suppose
that the other sex regards them confidingly, ingenuously. Marcella
was unusually endowed with analytic intelligence, but in this case
she believed what she hoped. She knew that Peak's confidence in her
must be coloured with contempt, but this mattered little so long as
he paid her the compliment of feeling sure that she was superior to
ignoble temptations. Many a woman would behave with treacherous
malice. It was in her power to expose him, to confound all his
schemes, for she knew the authorship of that remarkable paper in
~The Critical Review~. Before receiving Peak's injunction of
secrecy, Earwaker had talked of 'The New Sophistry' with Moxey and
with Malkin; the request came too late. In her interview with Godwin
at the Exeter hotel, she had not even hinted at this knowledge,
partly because she was unconscious that Peak imagined the affair a
secret between himself and Earwaker, partly because she thought it
unworthy of her even to seem to threaten. It gratified her, however,
to feel that he was at her mercy, and the thought preoccupied her
for many days.
Passion which has the intellect on its side is more easily endured
than that which offers sensual defiance to all reasoning, but on the
other hand it lasts much longer. Marcella was not consumed by her
emotions; she often thought calmly, coldly, of the man she loved.
Yet he was seldom long out of her mind, and the instigation of
circumstances at times made her suffering intense. Such an occasion
was her first meeting with Sidwell Warricombe, which took place at
the Walworths', in London. Down in Devonshire she had learnt that a
family named Warricombe were Peak's intimate friends; nothing more
than this, for indeed no one was in a position to tell her more.
Wakeful jealousy caused her to fix upon the fact as one of
significance; Godwin's evasive manner when she questioned him
confirmed her suspicions; and as soon as she was brought face to
face with Sidwell, suspicion became certainty. She knew at once that
Miss Warricombe was the very person who would be supremely
attractive to Godwin Peak.
An interval of weeks, and again she saw the face that in the
meantime had been as present to her imagination as Godwin's own
features. This time she conversed at some length with Miss
Warricombe. Was it merely a fancy that the beautiful woman looked at
her, spoke to her, with some exceptional interest? By now she had
learnt that the Moorhouses and the Warricombes were connected in
close friendship: it was all but certain, then, that Miss Moorhouse
had told Miss Warricombe of Peak's visit to Budleigh Salterton, and
its incidents. Could this in any way be explanatory of the steady,
searching look in those soft eyes?
Marcella had always regarded the emotion of jealousy as
characteristic of a vulgar nature. Now that it possessed her, she
endeavoured to call it by other names; to persuade herself that she
was indignant on abstract grounds, or anxious only with reference to
Peak's true interests. She could not affect surprise. So intensely
sympathetic was her reading of Godwin's character that she
understood--or at all events recognised--the power Sidwell would
possess over him. He did not care for enlightenment in a woman; he
was sensual--though in a subtle way; the aristocratic vein in his
temper made him subject to strong impressions from trivialities of
personal demeanour, of social tone.
Yet all was mere conjecture. She had not dared to utter Peak's name,
lest in doing so she should betray herself. Constantly planning to
make further discoveries, she as constantly tried to dismiss all
thought of the matter--to learn indifference. Already she had
debased herself, and her nature must be contemptible indeed if
anything could lure her forward on such a path.
None the less, she was assiduous in maintaining friendly relations
with the Walworths. Christian, too, had got into the habit of
calling there; it was significant of the noticeable change which was
come upon him--a change his sister was at no loss to understand
from the moment that he informed her (gravely, but without
expressiveness) of Mr. Palmer's death. Instead of shunning ordinary
society, he seemed bent on extending the circle of his acquaintance.
He urged Marcella to invite friendly calls, to have guests at
dinner. There seemed to be a general revival of his energies,
exhibited in the sphere of study as well as of amusement. Not a day
went by without his purchasing books or scientific apparatus, and
the house was brightened with works of art chosen in the studios
which Miss Walworth advised him to visit. All the amiabilities of
his character came into free play; with Marcella he was mirthful,
affectionate, even caressing. He grew scrupulous about his neckties,
his gloves, and was careful to guard his fingers against corroding
acids when he worked in the laboratory. Such indications of
hopefulness caused Marcella more misgiving than pleasure; she made
no remark, but waited with anxiety for some light on the course of
Just before dinner, one evening, as she sat alone in the
drawing-room, Christian entered with a look which portended some
strange announcement. He spoke abruptly:
'I have heard something astonishing.'
'What is that?'
'This afternoon I went to the matinee at the Vaudeville, and found
myself among a lot of our friends--the Walworths and the Hunters
and the Mortons. Between the acts I was talking to Hunter, when a
man came up to us, spoke to Hunter, and was introduced to me--a Mr
Warricombe. What do you think he said? "I believe you know my friend
Peak, Mr. Moxey?" "Peak? To be sure! Can you tell me what has become
of him?" He gave me an odd look. "Why, I met him last, some two
months ago, in Devonshire." At that moment we were obliged to go to
our places, and I couldn't get hold of the fellow again. Hunter told
me something about him; he knows the Walworths, it seems--belongs
to a good Devonshire family. What on earth can Peak be doing over
Marcella kept silence. The event she had judged improbable had come
to pass. The chance of its doing so had of course increased since
Christian began to associate freely with the Walworths and their
circle. Yet, considering the slightness of the connection between
that group of people and the Warricombe family, there had seemed no
great likelihood of Christian's getting acquainted with the latter.
She debated rapidly in her troubled mind how to meet this
disclosure. Curiosity would, of course, impel her brother to follow
up the clue; he would again encounter Warricombe, and must then
learn all the facts of Peak's position. To what purpose should she
dissemble her own knowledge?
Did she desire that Godwin should remain in security? A tremor more
akin to gladness than its opposite impeded her utterance. If
Warricombe became aware of all that was involved in Godwin Peak's
withdrawal from among his friends--if (as must follow) he imparted
the discovery to his sister----
The necessity of speaking enabled her to ignore these turbulent
speculations, which yet were anything but new to her.
'They met at Budleigh Salterton,' she said, quietly.
'Who did? Warricombe and Peak?'
'Yes. At the Moorhouses'. It was when I was there.'
Christian stared at her.
'When you were there? But--~you~ met Peak?'
His sister smiled, turning from the astonished gaze.
'Yes, I met him.'
'But, why the deuce----? Why didn't you tell me, Marcella?'
'He asked me not to speak of it. He didn't wish you to know that--
that he has decided to become a clergyman.'
Christian was stricken dumb. In spite of his sister's obvious
agitation, he could not believe what she told him; her smile gave
him an excuse for supposing that she jested.
'Peak a clergyman?' He burst out laughing. 'What's the meaning of
all this?--Do speak intelligibly! What's the fellow up to?'
'I am quite serious. He is studying for Orders--has been for this
In desperation, Christian turned to another phase of the subject.
'Then Malkin ~was~ mistaken?'
'And you mean to tell me that Peak----? Give me more details.
Where's he living? How has he got to know people like these
Marcella told all that she knew, and without injunction of secrecy.
The affair had passed out of her hands; destiny must fulfil itself.
And again the tremor that resembled an uneasy joy went through her
'But how,' asked Christian, 'did this fellow Warricombe come to know
that ~I~ was a friend of Peak's?'
'That's a puzzle to me. I shouldn't have thought he would have
remembered my name; and, even if he had, how could he conclude----'
She broke off, pondering. Warricombe must have made inquiries,
possibly suggested by suspicions.
'I scarcely spoke of Mr. Peak to anyone,' she added. 'People saw, of
course, that we were acquaintances, but it couldn't have seemed a
thing of any importance.'
'You spoke with him in private, it seems?'
'Yes, I saw him for a few minutes--in Exeter.'
'And you hadn't said anything to the Walworths that--that would
'Purposely not.--Why should I injure him?'
Christian knit his brows. He understood too well why his sister
should refrain from such injury.
'You would have behaved in the same way,' Marcella added.
'Why really--yes, perhaps so. Yet I don't know.--In plain
English, Peak is a wolf in sheep's clothing!'
'I don't know anything about that,' she replied, with gloomy
'Nonsense, my dear girl!--Had he the impudence to pretend to you
that he was sincere?'
'He made no declaration.'
'But you are convinced he is acting the hypocrite, Marcella. You
spoke of the risk of injuring him.--What are his motives? What
does he aim at?'
'Scarcely a bishopric, I should think,' she replied, bitterly.
'Then, by Jove! Earwaker may be right!'
Marcella darted an inquiring look at him.
'What has he thought?'
'I'm ashamed to speak of it. He suggested once that Peak might
disguise himself for the sake of--of making a good marriage.'
The reply was a nervous laugh.
'Look here, Marcella.' He caught her hand. 'This is a very awkward
business. Peak is disgracing himself; he will be unmasked; there'll
be a scandal. It was kind of you to keep silence--when don't you
behave kindly, dear girl?--but think of the possible results to
~us~. We shall be something very like accomplices.'
'How?' Marcella exclaimed, impatiently. 'Who need know that we were
so intimate with him?'
'Warricombe seems to know it.'
'Who can prove that he isn't sincere?'
'No one, perhaps. But it will seem a very odd thing that he hid away
from all his old friends. You remember, I betrayed that to
Warricombe, before I knew that it mattered.'
Yes, and Mr. Warricombe could hardly forget the circumstance. He
would press his investigation--knowing already, perhaps, of Peak's
approaches to his sister Sidwell.
'Marcella, a man plays games like that at his own peril. I don't
like this kind of thing. Perhaps he has audacity enough to face out
any disclosure. But it's out of the question for you and me to nurse
his secret. We have no right to do so.'
'You propose to denounce him?'
Marcella gazed at her brother with an agitated look.
'Not denounce. I am fond of Peak; I wish him well. But I can't join
him in a dishonourable plot.--Then, we mustn't endanger our place
'I have no place in society,' Marcella answered, coldly.
'Don't say that, and don't think it. We are both going to make more
of our lives; we are going to think very little of the past, and a
great deal of the future. We are still young; we have happiness
'We?' she asked, with shaken voice.
'Yes--both of us! Who can say'----
Again he took her hand and pressed it warmly in both his own. Just
then the door opened, and dinner was announced. Christian talked on,
in low hurried tones, for several minutes, affectionately,
encouragingly. After dinner, he wished to resume the subject, but
Marcella declared that there was no more to be said; he must act as
honour and discretion bade him; for herself, she should simply keep
silence as hitherto. And she left him to his reflections.
Though with so little of ascertained fact to guide her, Marcella
interpreted the hints afforded by her slight knowledge of the
Warricombes with singular accuracy. Precisely as she had imagined,
Buckland Warricombe was going about on Peak's track, learning all he
could concerning the theological student, forming acquaintance with
anyone likely to supplement his discoveries. And less than a
fortnight after the meeting at the theatre, Christian made known to
his sister that Warricombe and he had had a second conversation,
this time uninterrupted.
'He inquired after you, Marcella, and--really I had no choice but
to ask him to call here. I hardly think he'll come. He's not the
kind of man I care for--though liberal enough, and all that.'
'Wasn't it rather rash to give that invitation?'
'The fact was, I so dreaded the appearance of--of seeming to avoid
him,' Christian pleaded, awkwardly. 'You know, that affair--we
won't talk any more of it; but, if there ~should~ be a row about it,
you are sure to be compromised unless we have managed to guard
ourselves. If Warricombe calls, we must talk about Peak without the
least show of restraint. Let it appear that we thought his choice of
a profession unlikely, but not impossible. Happily, we needn't know
anything about that anonymous ~Critical~ article.--Indeed, I think
I have acted wisely.'
'Yes, I suppose you have.'
'And, by the way, I have spoken of it to Earwaker. Not of your part
in the story, of course. I told him that I had met a man who knew
all about Peak.--Impossible, you see, for me to keep silence with
so intimate a friend.'
'Then Mr. Earwaker will write to him?' said Marcella, reflectively.
'I couldn't give him any address.'
'How does Mr. Warricombe seem to regard Mr. Peak?'
'With a good deal of interest, and of the friendliest kind.
Naturally enough; they were College friends, as you know, before I
had heard of Peak's existence.'
'He has no suspicions?'
Christian thought not, but her brother's judgment had not much
weight with Marcella.
She at once dreaded and desired Warricombe's appearance. If he
thought it worth while to cultivate her acquaintance, she would
henceforth have the opportunity of studying Peak's relations with
the Warricombes; on the other hand, this was to expose herself to
suffering and temptation from which the better part of her nature
shrank with disdain. That she might seem to have broken the promise
voluntarily made to Godwin was a small matter; not so the risk of
being overcome by an ignoble jealousy. She had no overweening
confidence in the steadfastness of her self-respect, if
circumstances were all on the side of sensual impulse. And the
longer she brooded on this peril, the more it allured her. For
therewith was connected the one satisfaction which still remained to
her: however little he desired to keep her constantly in mind,
Godwin Peak must of necessity do so after what had passed between
them. Had but her discovery remained her own secret, then the
pleasure of commanding her less pure emotions, of proving to Godwin
that she was above the weakness of common women, might easily have
prevailed. Now that her knowledge was shared by others, she had lost
that safeguard against lower motive. The argument that to unmask
hypocrisy was in itself laudable she dismissed with contempt; let
that be the resource of a woman who would indulge her rancour whilst
keeping up the inward pretence of sanctity. If ~she~ erred in the
ways characteristic of her sex, it should at all events be a
'Have you seen that odd creature Malkin lately?' she asked of
Christian, a day or two after.
'No, I haven't; I thought of him to make up our dinner on Sunday;
but you had rather not have him here, I daresay?'
'Oh, he is amusing. Ask him by all means,' said Marcella,
'He may have heard about Peak from Earwaker, you know. If he begins
to talk before people'----
'Things have gone too far for such considerations,' replied his
sister, with a petulance strange to her habits of speech.
'Well, yes,' admitted Christian, glancing at her. 'We can't be
He reproached himself for this attitude towards Peak, but was
heartily glad that Marcella seemed to have learnt to regard the
intriguer with a wholesome indifference.
On the second day after Christmas, as they sat talking idly in the
dusking twilight, the door of the drawing-room was thrown open, and
a visitor announced. The name answered with such startling
suddenness to the thought with which Marcella had been occupied
that, for an instant, she could not believe that she had heard
aright. Yet it was undoubtedly Mr. Warricombe who presented himself.
He came forward with a slightly hesitating air, but Christian made
haste to smooth the situation. With the help of those commonplaces
by which even intellectual people are at times compelled to prove
their familiarity with social usages, conversation was set in
Buckland could not be quite himself. The consciousness that he had
sought these people not at all for their own sake made him formal
and dry; his glances, his half-smile, indicated a doubt whether the
Moxeys belonged entirely to the sphere in which he was at home.
Hence a rather excessive politeness, such as the man who sets much
store on breeding exhibits to those who may at any moment, even in a
fraction of a syllable, prove themselves his inferiors. With men and
women of the unmistakably lower orders, Buckland could converse in a
genial tone that recommended him to their esteem; on the borderland
of refinement, his sympathies were repressed, and he held the
distinctive part of his mind in reserve.
Marcella desired to talk agreeably, but a weight lay upon her
tongue; she was struck with the resemblance in Warricombe's features
to those of his sister, and this held her in a troubled
preoccupation, occasionally evident when she made a reply, or tried
to diversify the talk by leading to a new topic. It was rather early
in the afternoon, and she had slight hope that any other caller
would appear; a female face would have been welcome to her, even
that of foolish Mrs. Morton, who might possibly look in before six
o'clock. To her relief the door did presently open, but the sharp,
creaking footstep which followed was no lady's; the servant
announced Mr. Malkin.
Marcella's eyes gleamed strangely. Not with the light of friendly
welcome, though for that it could be mistaken. She rose quietly, and
stepped forward with a movement which again seemed to betoken
eagerness of greeting. In presenting the newcomer to Mr. Warricombe,
she spoke with an uncertain voice. Buckland was more than formal.
The stranger's aspect impressed him far from favourably, and he
resented as an impudence the hearty hand-grip to which he perforce
'I come to plead with you,' exclaimed Malkin, turning to Marcella,
in his abrupt, excited way. 'After accepting your invitation to
dine, I find that the thing is utterly and absolutely impossible. I
had entirely forgotten an engagement of the very gravest nature. I
am conscious of behaving in quite an unpardonable way.'
Marcella laughed down his excuses. She had suddenly become so
mirthful that Christian looked at her in surprise, imagining that
she was unable to restrain her sense of the ridiculous in Malkin's
'I have hurried up from Wrotham,' pursued the apologist. 'Did I tell
you, Moxey, that I had taken rooms down there, to be able to spend a
day or two near my friends the Jacoxes occasionally? On the way
here, I looked in at Staple Inn, but Earwaker is away somewhere.
What an odd thing that people will go off without letting one know!
It's such common ill-luck of mine to find people gone away--I'm
really astonished to find you at home, Miss Moxey.'
Marcella looked at Warricombe and laughed.
'You must understand that subjectively,' she said, with nervous
gaiety which again excited her brother's surprise. 'Please don't be
discouraged by it from coming to see us again; I am very rarely out
in the afternoon.'
'But,' persisted Malkin, 'it's precisely my ill fortune to hit on
those rare moments when people ~are~ out!--Now, I never meet
acquaintances in the streets of London; but, if I happen to be
abroad, as likely as not I encounter the last person I should expect
to find. Why, you remember, I rush over to America for scarcely a
week's stay, and there I come across a man who has disappeared
astonishingly from the ken of all his friends!'
Christian looked at Marcella. She was leaning forward, her lips
slightly parted, her eyes wide as if in gaze at something that
fascinated her. He saw that she spoke, but her voice was hardly to
'Are you quite sure of that instance, Mr. Malkin?'
'Yes, I feel quite sure, Miss Moxey. Undoubtedly it was Peak!'
Buckland Warricombe, who had been waiting for a chance of escape,
suddenly wore a look of interest. He rapidly surveyed the trio.
Christian, somewhat out of countenance, tried to answer Malkin in a
tone of light banter.
'It happens, my dear fellow, that Peak has not left England since we
lost sight of him.'
'What? He has been heard of? Where is he then?'
'Mr. Warricombe can assure you that he has been living for a year at
Buckland, perceiving that he had at length come upon something
important to his purposes, smiled genially.
'Yes, I have had the pleasure of seeing Peak down in Devon from time
'Then it was really an illusion!' cried Malkin. 'I was too hasty.
Yet that isn't a charge that can be often brought against me, I
think. Does Earwaker know of this?'
'He has lately heard,' replied Christian, who in vain sought for a
means of checking Malkin's loquacity. 'I thought he might have told
'Certainly not. The thing is quite new to me. And what is Peak doing
down there, pray? Why did he conceal himself?'
Christian gazed appealingly at his sister. She returned the look
steadily, but neither stirred nor spoke. It was Warricombe's voice
that next sounded:
'Peak's behaviour seems mysterious,' he began, with ironic gravity.
'I don't pretend to understand him. What's your view of his
character, Mr. Malkin?'
'I know him very slightly indeed, Mr. Warricombe. But I have a high
opinion of his powers. I wonder he does so little. After that
article of his in ~The Critical~'----
Malkin became aware of something like agonised entreaty on
Christian's countenance, but this had merely the effect of
heightening his curiosity.
'In ~The Critical~?' said Warricombe, eagerly. 'I didn't know of
that. What was the subject?'
'To be sure, it was anonymous,' went on Malkin, without a suspicion
of the part he was playing before these three excited people. 'A
paper called "The New Sophistry", a tremendous bit of satire.'
Marcella's eyes closed as if a light had flashed before them; she
drew a short sigh, and at once seemed to become quite at ease, the
smile with which she regarded Warricombe expressing a calm interest.
'That article was Peak's?' Buckland asked, in a very quiet voice.
Christian at last found his opportunity.
'He never mentioned it to you? Perhaps he thought he had gone rather
too far in his Broad Churchism, and might be misunderstood.'
'Broad Churchism?' cried Malkin. 'Uncommonly broad, I must say!'
And he laughed heartily; Marcella seemed to join in his mirth.
'Then it would surprise you,' said Buckland, in the same quiet tone
as before, 'to hear that Peak is about to take Orders?'
Christian laughed. The worst was over; after all, it came as a
'Not for wines,' he replied. 'Mr. Warricombe means that Peak is going
to be ordained.'
Malkin's amazement rendered him speechless. He stared from one
person to another, his features strangely distorted.
'You can hardly believe it?' pressed Buckland.
The reply was anticipated by Christian saying:
'Remember, Malkin, that you had no opportunity of studying Peak.
It's not so easy to understand him.'
'But I don't see,' burst out the other, 'how I could possibly so
~mis~understand him! What has Earwaker to say?'
Buckland rose from his seat, advanced to Marcella, and offered his
hand. She said mechanically, 'Must you go?' but was incapable of
another word. Christian came to her relief, performed the needful
civilities, and accompanied his acquaintance to the foot of the
stairs. Buckland had become grave, stiff, monosyllabic; Christian
made no allusion to the scene thus suddenly interrupted, and they
parted with a formal air.
Malkin remained for another quarter of an hour, when the muteness of
his companions made it plain to him that he had better withdraw. He
went off with a sense of having been mystified, half resentful, and
vastly impatient to see Earwaker.
The cuckoo clock in Mrs. Roots's kitchen had just struck three. A
wind roared from the north-east, and light thickened beneath a sky
which made threat of snow. Peak was in a mood to enjoy the crackling
fire; he settled himself with a book in his easy-chair, and thought
with pleasure of two hours' reading, before the appearance of the
Christmas was just over--one cause of the feeling of relief and
quietness which possessed him. No one had invited him for Christmas
Eve or the day that followed, and he did not regret it. The letter
he had received from Martin Warricombe was assurance enough that
those he desired to remember him still did so. He had thought of
using this season for his long postponed visit to Twybridge, but
reluctance prevailed. All popular holidays irritated and depressed
him; he loathed the spectacle of multitudes in Sunday garb. It was
all over, and the sense of that afforded him a brief content.
This book, which he had just brought from the circulating library,
was altogether to his taste. The author, Justin Walsh, he knew to be
a brother of Professor Walsh, long ago the object of his rebellious
admiration. Matter and treatment rejoiced him. No intellectual
delight, though he was capable of it in many forms, so stirred his
spirit as that afforded him by a vigorous modern writer joyously
assailing the old moralities. Justin Walsh was a modern of the
moderns; at once man of science and man of letters; defiant without
a hint of popular cynicism, scornful of English reticences yet never
gross. '~Oui, repondit Pococurante, il est beau d'ecrire ce qu 'on
pense; c'est le privilege de l'homme~.' This stood by way of motto
on the title-page, and Godwin felt his nerves thrill in sympathetic
What a fine fellow he must be to have for a friend! Now a man like
this surely had companionship enough and of the kind he wished? He
wrote like one who associates freely with the educated classes both
at home and abroad. Was he married? Where would ~he~ seek his wife?
The fitting mate for him would doubtless be found among those women,
cosmopolitan and emancipated, whose acquaintance falls only to men
in easy circumstances and of good social standing, men who travel
much, who are at home in all the great centres of civilisation.
As Peak meditated, the volume fell upon his knee. Had it not lain in
his own power to win a reputation like that which Justin Walsh was
achieving? His paper in ~The Critical Review~, itself a decided
success, might have been followed up by others of the same tenor.
Instead of mouldering in a dull cathedral town, he might now be
living and working in France or Germany. His money would have served
one purpose as well as the other, and two or three years of
Mrs. Roots showed her face at the door.
'A gentleman is asking for you, sir,--Mr. Chilvers.'
'Mr. Chilvers? Please ask him to come up.'
He threw his book on to the table, and stood in expectancy. Someone
ascended the stairs with rapid stride and creaking boots. The door
was flung open, and a cordial but affected voice burst forth in
'Ha, Mr. Peak! I hope you haven't altogether forgotten me? Delighted
to see you again!'
Godwin gave his hand, and felt it strongly pressed, whilst Chilvers
gazed into his face with a smiling wistfulness which could only be
answered with a grin of discomfort. The Rev. Bruno had grown very
tall, and seemed to be in perfect health; but the effeminacy of his
brilliant youth still declared itself in his attitudes, gestures,
and attire. He was dressed with marked avoidance of the professional
pattern. A hat of soft felt but not clerical, fashionable collar and
tie, a sweeping ulster, and beneath it a frock-coat, which was
doubtless the pride of some West End tailor. His patent-leather
boots were dandiacally diminutive; his glove fitted like that of a
lady who lives but to be ~bien gantee~. The feathery hair, which at
Whitelaw he was wont to pat and smooth, still had its golden
shimmer, and on his face no growth was permitted.
'I had heard of your arrival here, of course,' said Peak, trying to
appear civil, though anything more than that was beyond his power.
'Will you sit down?'
'This is the "breathing time o' the day" with you, I hope? I don't
disturb your work?'
'I was only reading this book of Walsh's. Do you know it?'
But for some such relief of his feelings, Godwin could not have sat
still. There was a pleasure in uttering Walsh's name. Moreover, it
would serve as a test of Chilvers' disposition.
'Walsh?' He took up the volume. 'Ha! Justin Walsh. I know him. A
wonderful book! Admirable dialectic! Delicious style!'
'Not quite orthodox, I fancy,' replied Godwin, with a curling of the
'Orthodox? Oh, of course not, of course not! But a rich vein of
humanity. Don't you find that?--Pray allow me to throw off my
overcoat. Ha, thanks!--A rich vein of humanity. Walsh is by no
means to be confused with the nullifidians. A very broad-hearted,
large-souled man; at bottom the truest of Christians. Now and then
he effervesces rather too exuberantly. Yes, I admit it. In a review
of his last book, which I was privileged to write for one of our
papers, I ventured to urge upon him the necessity of ~restraint~; it
seems to me that in this new work he exhibits more self-control, an
approach to the serene fortitude which I trust he may attain. A man
of the broadest brotherliness. A most valuable ally of renascent
Peak was hardly prepared for this strain. He knew that Chilvers
prided himself on 'breadth', but as yet he had enjoyed no
intercourse with the broadest school of Anglicans, and was uncertain
as to the limits of modern latitudinarianism. The discovery of such
fantastic liberality in a man whom he could not but dislike and
contemn gave him no pleasure, but at least it disposed him to
amusement rather than antagonism. Chilvers' pronunciation and
phraseology were distinguished by such original affectation that it
was impossible not to find entertainment in listening to him. Though
his voice was naturally thin and piping, he managed to speak in head
notes which had a ring of robust utterance. The sound of his words
was intended to correspond with their virile warmth of meaning. In
the same way he had cultivated a habit of the muscles which conveyed
an impression that he was devoted to athletic sports. His arms
occasionally swung as if brandishing dumb-bells, his chest now and
then spread itself to the uttermost, and his head was often thrown
back in an attitude suggesting self-defence.
'So you are about to join us,' he exclaimed, with a look of touching
interest, much like that of a ladies' doctor speaking delicately of
favourable symptoms. Then, as if consciously returning to the virile
note, 'I think we shall understand each other. I am always eager to
study the opinions of those among us who have scientific minds. I
hear of you on all hands; already you have strongly impressed some
of the thinking people in Exeter.'
Peak crossed his legs and made no reply.
'There is distinct need of an infusion of the scientific spirit into
the work of the Church. The churchman hitherto has been, as a matter
of course, of the literary stamp; hence much of our trouble during
the last half-century. It behoves us to go in for science--
physical, economic--science of every kind. Only thus can we resist
the morbific influences which inevitably beset an Established Church
in times such as these. I say it boldly. Let us throw aside our
Hebrew and our Greek, our commentators ancient and modern! Let us
have done with polemics and with compromises! What we have to do is
to construct a spiritual edifice on the basis of scientific
revelation. I use the word revelation advisedly. The results of
science are the divine message to our age; to neglect them, to fear
them, is to remain under the old law whilst the new is demanding our
adherence, to repeat the Jewish error of bygone time. Less of St
Paul, and more of Darwin! Less of Luther, and more of Herbert
'Shall I have the pleasure of hearing this doctrine at St
Margaret's?' Peak inquired.
'In a form suitable to the intelligence of my parishioners, taken in
the mass. Were my hands perfectly free, I should begin by preaching
a series of sermons on ~The Origin of species~. Sermons! An
obnoxious word! One ought never to use it. It signifies everything
'Is it your serious belief, then, that the mass of parishioners here
or elsewhere--are ready for this form of spiritual instruction?'
'Most distinctly--given the true capacity in the teacher. Mark me;
I don't say that they are capable of receiving much absolute
knowledge. What I desire is that their minds shall be relieved from
a state of harassing conflict--put at the right point of view.
They are not to think that Jesus of Nazareth teaches faith and
conduct incompatible with the doctrines of Evolutionism. They are
not to spend their lives in kicking against the pricks, and regard
as meritorious the punctures which result to them. The establishment
in their minds of a few cardinal facts--that is the first step.
Then let the interpretation follow--the solace, the encouragement,
the hope for eternity!'
'You imagine,' said Godwin, with a calm air, 'that the mind of the
average church-goer is seriously disturbed on questions of faith?'
'How can you ignore it, my dear Peak?--Permit me this familiarity;
we are old fellow-collegians.--The average churchgoer is the
average citizen of our English commonwealth,--a man necessarily
aware of the great Radical movement, and all that it involves.
Forgive me. There has been far too much blinking of actualities by
zealous Christians whose faith is rooted in knowledge. We gain
nothing by it; we lose immensely. Let us recognise that our churches
are filled with sceptics, endeavouring to believe in spite of
'Your experience is much larger than mine,' remarked the listener,
'Indeed I have widely studied the subject.'
Chilvers smiled with ineffable self-content, his head twisted like
that of a sagacious parrot.
'Granting your average citizen,' said the other, 'what about the
average citizeness? The female church-goers are not insignificant in
'Ha! There we reach the core of the matter! Woman! woman! Precisely
~there~ is the most hopeful outlook. I trust you are strong for
'Oh, perfectly sound on that question!'
'To be sure! Then it must be obvious to you that women are destined
to play the leading part in our Christian renascence, precisely as
they did in the original spreading of the faith. What else is the
meaning of the vast activity in female education? Let them be
taught, and forthwith they will rally to our Broad Church. A man may
be content to remain a nullifidian; women cannot rest at that stage.
They demand the spiritual significance of everything.--I grieve to
tell you, Peak, that for three years I have been a widower. My wife
died with shocking suddenness, leaving me her two little children.
Ah, but leaving me also the memory of a singularly pure and noble
being. I may say, with all humility, that I have studied the female
mind in its noblest modern type. I ~know~ what can be expected of
woman, in our day and in the future.'
'Mrs. Chilvers was in full sympathy with your views?'
'Three years ago I had not yet reached my present standpoint. In
several directions I was still narrow. But her prime characteristic
was the tendency to spiritual growth. She would have accompanied me
step by step. In very many respects I must regard myself as a man
favoured by fortune,--I know it, and I trust I am grateful for it,
--but that loss, my dear Peak, counterbalances much happiness. In
moments of repose, when I look back on work joyously achieved, I
often murmur to myself, with a sudden sigh, ~Excepto quod non simul
esses, caetera Iaetus~!'
He pronounced his Latin in the new-old way, with Continental vowels.
The effect of this on an Englishman's lips is always more or less
pedantic, and in his case it was intolerable.
'And when,' he exclaimed, dismissing the melancholy thought, 'do you
present yourself for ordination?'
It was his habit to pay slight attention to the words of anyone but
himself, and Peak's careless answer merely led him to talk on wide
subjects with renewal of energy. One might have suspected that he
had made a list of uncommon words wherewith to adorn his discourse,
for certain of these frequently recurred. 'Nullifidian', 'morbific',
'renascent', were among his favourites. Once or twice he spoke of
'psychogenesis', with an emphatic enunciation which seemed to invite
respectful wonder. In using Latin words which have become fixed in
the English language, he generally corrected the common errors of
quantity: '~minnus~ the spiritual fervour', 'acting as his ~loccum
tennens~'. When he referred to Christian teachers with whom he was
acquainted, they were seldom or never members of the Church of
England. Methodists, Romanists, Presbyterians appeared to stand high
in his favour, and Peak readily discerned that this was a way
ofdisplaying 'large-souled tolerance'. It was his foible to quote
foreign languages, especially passages which came from heretical
authors. Thus, he began to talk of Feuerbach for the sole purpose of
delivering a German sentence.
'He has been of infinite value to me--quite infinite value. You
remember his definition of God? It is constantly in my mind. "~Gott
ist eine Trane der Liebe, in tiefster Verborgenheit vergossen uber
das menschliche EIend~." Profoundly touching! I know nothing to
Suddenly he inquired:
'Do you see much of the Exeter clergy?'
'I know only the Vicar of St. Ethelreda's, Mr. Lilywhite.'
'Ha! Admirable fellow! Large-minded, broad of sympathies. Has
distinctly the scientific turn of thought.'
Peak smiled, knowing the truth. But he had hit upon a way of meeting
the Rev. Bruno which promised greatly to diminish the suffering
inherent in the situation. He would use the large-souled man
deliberately for his mirth. Chilvers's self-absorption lent itself
to persiflage, and by indulging in that mood Godwin tasted some
compensation for the part he had to play.
'And I believe you know the Warricombes very well?' pursued
'Ha! I hope to see much of them. They are people after my own heart.
Long ago I had a slight acquaintance with them. I hear we shan't see
them till the summer.'
'I believe not.'
'Mr. Warricombe is a great geologist, I think?--Probably he
frequents public worship as a mere tribute to social opinion?'
He asked the question in the airiest possible way, as if it mattered
nothing to him what the reply might be.
'Mr. Warricombe is a man of sincere piety,' Godwin answered, with
'That by no means necessitates church-going, my dear Peak,' rejoined
the other, waving his hand.
'You think not? I am still only a student, you must remember. My
mind is in suspense on not a few points.'
'Of course! Of course! Pray let me give you the results of my own
thought on this subject.'
He proceeded to do so, at some length. When he had rounded his last
period, he unexpectedly started up, swung on his toes, spread his
chest, drew a deep breath, and with the sweetest of smiles announced
that he must postpone the delight of further conversation.
'You must come and dine with me as soon as my house is in reasonable
order. As yet, everything is ~sens dessus-dessous~. Delightful old
city, Exeter! Charming! Charming!'
And on the moment he was gone.
What were this man's real opinions? He had brains and literature;
his pose before the world was not that of an ignorant charlatan.
Vanity, no doubt, was his prime motive, but did it operate to make a
cleric of a secret materialist, or to incite a display of excessive
liberalism in one whose convictions were orthodox? Godwin could not
answer to his satisfaction, but he preferred the latter surmise.
One thing, however, became clear to him. All his conscientious
scruples about entering the Church were superfluous. Chilvers would
have smiled pityingly at anyone who disputed his right to live by
the Establishment, and to stand up as an authorised preacher of the
national faith. And beyond a doubt he regulated his degree of
'breadth' by standards familiar to him in professional intercourse.
To him it seemed all-sufficient to preach a gospel of moral
progress, of intellectual growth, of universal fraternity. If this
were the tendency of Anglicanism, then almost any man who desired to
live a cleanly life, and to see others do the same, might without
hesitation become a clergyman. The old formulae of subscription were
so symbolised, so volatilised, that they could not stand in the way
of anyone but a combative nihilist. Peak was conscious of positive
ideals by no means inconsistent with Christian teaching, and in his
official capacity these alone would direct him.
He spent his evening pleasantly, often laughing as he recalled a
phrase or gesture of the Rev. Bruno's.
In the night fell a sprinkling of snow, and when the sun rose it
gleamed from a sky of pale, frosty blue. At ten o'clock Godwin set
out for his usual walk, choosing the direction of the Old Tiverton
Road. It was a fortnight since he had passed the Warricombes' house.
At present he was disposed to indulge the thoughts which a sight of
it would make active.
He had begun the ascent of the hill when the sound of an approaching
vehicle caused him to raise his eyes--they were generally fixed on
the ground when he walked alone. It was only a hired fly. But, as it
passed him, he recognised the face he had least expected to see,--
Sidwell Warricombe sat in the carriage, and unaccompanied. She
noticed him--smiled--and bent forward. He clutched at his hat,
but it happened that the driver had turned to look at him, and,
instead of the salute he had intended, his hand waved to the man to
stop. The gesture was scarcely voluntary; when he saw the carriage
pull up, his heart sank; he felt guilty of monstrous impudence. But
Sidwell's face appeared at the window, and its expression was
anything but resentful; she offered her hand, too. Without preface
of formal phrase he exclaimed:
'How delightful to see you so unexpectedly! Are you all here?'
'Only mother and I. We have come for a day or two.'
'Will you allow me to call? If only for a few minutes'----
'We shall be at home this afternoon.'
'Thank you! Don't you enjoy the sunshine after London?'
'Indeed I do!'
He stepped back and signed to the driver. Sidwell bent her head and
was out of sight.
But the carriage was visible for some distance, and even when he
could no longer see it he heard the horse's hoofs on the hard road.
Long after the last sound had died away his heart continued to beat
painfully, and he breathed as if recovering from a hard run.
How beautiful were these lanes and hills, even in mid-winter! Once
more he sang aloud in his joyous solitude. The hope he had nourished
was not unreasonable; his boldness justified itself. Yes, he was one
of the men who succeed, and the life before him would be richer for
all the mistakes and miseries through which he had passed. Thirty,
forty, fifty--why, twenty years hence he would be in the prime of
manhood, with perhaps yet another twenty years of mental and bodily
vigour. One of the men who succeed!
On the morning after her journey down from London, Mrs. Warricombe
awoke with the conviction that she had caught a cold. Her health was
in general excellent, and she had no disposition to nurse imaginary
ailments, but when some slight disorder broke the routine of her
life she made the most of it, enjoying--much as children do--the
importance with which for the time it invested her. At such seasons
she was wont to regard herself with a mildly despondent compassion,
to feel that her family and her friends held her of slight account;
she spoke in a tone of conscious resignation, often with a forgiving
smile. When the girls redoubled their attentions, and soothed her
with gentle words, she would close her eyes and sigh, seeming to
remind them that they would know her value when she was no more.
'You are hoarse, mother,' Sidwell said to her, when they met at
'Am I, dear? You know I felt rather afraid of the journey. I hope I
shan't be laid up.'
Sidwell advised her not to leave the house to-day. Having seen the
invalid comfortably established in an upper room, she went into the
city on business which could not be delayed. On her way occurred the
meeting with Peak, but of this, on her return, she made no mention.
Mother and daughter had luncheon upstairs, and Sidwell was full of
'This afternoon you had better lie down for an hour or two,' she
'Do you think so? Just drop a line to father, and warn him that we
may kept here for some time.'
'Shall I send for Dr Endacott?'
'Just as you like, dear.'
But Mrs. Warricombe had eaten such an excellent lunch, that Sidwell
could not feel uneasy.
'We'll see how you are this evening. At all events, it will be safer
for you not to go downstairs. If you lie quiet for an hour or two, I
can look for those pamphlets that father wants.'
'Just as you like, dear.'
By three o'clock the invalid was calmly slumbering. Having entered
the bedroom on tiptoe and heard regular breathing, Sidwell went down
and for a few minutes lingered about the hall. A servant came to her
for instructions on some domestic matter; when this was dismissed
she mentioned that, if anyone called, she would be found in the
The pamphlets of which her father had spoken were soon discovered.
She laid them aside, and seated herself by the fire, but without
leaning back. At any sound within or outside the house she moved her
head to listen. Her look was anxious, but the gleam of her eyes
expressed pleasurable agitation.
At half-past three she went into the drawing-room, where all the
furniture was draped, and the floor bare. Standing where she could
look from a distance through one of the windows, at which the blind
had been raised, she waited for a quarter of an hour. Then the chill
atmosphere drove her back to the fireside. In the study, evidences
of temporary desertion were less oppressive, but the windows looked
only upon a sequestered part of the garden. Sidwell desired to watch
the approach from the high-road, and in a few minutes she was again
in the drawing-room. But scarcely had she closed the door behind her
when a ringing of the visitors' bell sounded with unfamiliar
distinctness. She started, hastened from the room, fled into the
library, and had time to seat herself before she heard the footsteps
of a servant moving in answer to the summons.
The door opened, and Peak was announced.
Sidwell had never known what it was to be thus overcome with
emotion. Shame at her inability to command the calm features with
which she would naturally receive a caller flushed her cheeks and
neck; she stepped forward with downcast eyes, and only in offering
her hand could at length look at him who stood before her. She saw
at once that Peak was unlike himself; he too had unusual warmth in
his countenance, and his eyes seemed strangely large, luminous. On
his forehead were drops of moisture.
This sight restored her self-control, or such measure of it as
permitted her to speak in the conventional way.
'I am sorry that mother can't leave her room. She had a slight cold
this morning, but I didn't think it would give her any trouble.'
Peak was delighted, and betrayed the feeling even whilst he
constrained his face into a look of exaggerated anxiety.
'It won't be anything serious, I hope? The railway journey, I'm
'Yes, the journey. She has a slight hoarseness, but I think we shall
prevent it from'----
Their eyes kept meeting, and with more steadfastness. They were
conscious of mutual scrutiny, and, on both sides, of changes since
they last met. When two people have devoted intense study to each
other's features, a three months' absence not only revives the old
impressions but subjects them to sudden modification which engrosses
thought and feeling. Sidwell continued to utter commonplaces, simply
as a means of disguising the thoughts that occupied her; she was
saying to herself that Peak's face had a purer outline than she had
believed, and that his eyes had gained in expressiveness. In the
same way Godwin said and replied he knew not what, just to give
himself time to observe and enjoy the something new--the increased
animation or subtler facial movements--which struck him as often
as he looked at his companion. Each wondered what the other had been
doing, whether the time had seemed long or short.
'I hope you have kept well?' Sidwell asked.
Godwin hastened to respond with civil inquiries.
'I was very glad to hear from Mr. Warricombe a few days ago, he
continued. Sidwell was not aware that her father had written, but
her pleased smile seemed to signify the contrary.
'She looks younger,' Peak said in his mind. 'Perhaps that London
dress and the new way of arranging her hair have something to do
with it. But no, she looks younger in herself. She must have been
enjoying the pleasures of town.'
'You have been constantly occupied, no doubt,' he added aloud,
feeling at the same time that this was a clumsy expression of what
he meant. Though he had unbuttoned his overcoat, and seated himself
as easily as he could, the absurd tall hat which he held embarrassed
him; to deposit it on the floor demanded an effort of which he was
'I have seen many things and heard much talk,' Sidwell was replying,
in a gay tone. It irritated him; he would have preferred her to
speak with more of the old pensiveness. Yet perhaps she was glad
simply because she found herself again talking with him?
'And you?' she went on. 'It has not been all work, I hope?'
'Oh no! I have had many pleasant intervals.'
This was in imitation of her vivacity. He felt the words and the
manner to be ridiculous, but could not restrain himself. Every
moment increased his uneasiness; the hat weighed in his hands like a
lump of lead, and he was convinced that he had never looked so
clownish. Did her smile signify criticism of his attitude?
With a decision which came he knew not how, he let his hat drop to
the floor and pushed it aside. There, that was better; he felt less
of a bumpkin.
Sidwell glanced at the glossy grotesque, but instantly averted her
eyes, and asked rather more gravely:
'Have you been in Exeter all the time?'
'But you didn't spend your Christmas alone, I hope?'
'Oh, I had my books.'
Was there not a touch of natural pathos in this? He hoped so; then
mocked at himself for calculating such effects.
'I think you don't care much for ordinary social pleasures, Mr
He smiled bitterly.
'I have never known much of them,--and you remember that I look
forward to a life in which they will have little part. Such a life,'
he continued, after a pause, 'seems to you unendurably dull? I
noticed that, when I spoke of it before.'
'You misunderstood me.' She said it so undecidedly that he gazed at
her with puzzled look. Her eyes fell.
'But you like society?'
'If you use the word in its narrowest meaning,' she answered, 'then
I not only dislike society, but despise it.'
She had raised her eyebrows, and was looking coldly at him. Did she
mean to rebuke him for the tone he had adopted? Indeed, he seemed to
himself presumptuous. But if they were still on terms such as these,
was it not better to know it, even at the cost of humiliation? One
moment he believed that he could read Sidwell's thoughts, and that
they were wholly favourable to him; at another he felt absolutely
ignorant of all that was passing in her, and disposed to interpret
her face as that of a conventional woman who had never regarded him
as on her own social plane. These uncertainties, these frequent
reversions to a state of mind which at other times he seemed to have
long outgrown, were a singular feature of his relations with
Sidwell. Could such experiences consist with genuine love? Never had
he felt more willing to answer the question with a negative. He felt
that he was come here to act a part, and that the end of the
interview, be it what it might, would only affect him superficially.
'No,' he replied, with deliberation; 'I never supposed that you had
any interest in the most foolish class of wealthy people. I meant
that you recognise your place in a certain social rank, and regard
intercourse with your equals as an essential of happiness.'
'If I understood why you ask'--she began abruptly, but ceased as
she met his glance. Again he thought she was asserting a distant
'The question arose naturally out of a train of thought which always
occupies me when I talk with you. I myself belong to no class
whatever, and I can't help wondering how--if the subject ever
occurred to you--you would place me.'
He saw his way now, and, having said thus much, could talk on
defiantly. This hour must decide his fortune with Sidwell, yet his
tongue utterly refused any of the modes of speech which the
situation would have suggested to an ordinary mind. He could not
'make love'. Instead of humility, he was prompted to display a rough
arrogance; instead of tender phrases, he uttered what sounded like
deliberate rudeness. His voice was less gently tuned than Sidwell
had been wont to hear it. It all meant that he despaired of wooing
successfully, and more than half wished to force some word from
Sidwell which would spare him the necessity of a plain avowal.
But before he had finished speaking, her face changed. A light of
sudden understanding shone in her eyes; her lips softened to a smile
of exquisite gentleness.
'The subject never ~did~ occur to me,' she answered. 'How should it?
A friend is a friend.'
It was not strictly true, but in the strength of her emotion she
could forget all that contradicted it.
Godwin began with the same note of bluntness. But of a sudden he
felt the influence of Sidwell's smile. His voice sank into a murmur,
his heart leapt, a thrill went through his veins.
'I wish to be something more than a friend.'
He felt that it was bald, inadequate. Yet the words had come of
their own accord, on an impulse of unimpaired sincerity. Sidwell's
head was bent.
'That is why I can't take simple things for granted,' he continued,
his gaze fixed upon her. 'If I thought of nothing but friendship, it
would seem rational enough that you should accept me for what I am
--a man of education, talking your own language. Because I have
dared to hope something more, I suffer from the thought that I was
not born into your world, and that you must be always remembering
'Do you think me so far behind the age?' asked Sidwell, trying to
'Classes are getting mixed, confused. Yes, but we are so conscious
of the process that we talk of class distinctions more than of
anything else,--talk and think of them incessantly. You have never
heard me make a profession of Radicalism; ~I~ am decidedly behind
the age. Be what I may--and I have spiritual pride more than
enough--the fact that I have relatives in the lower, even the
lowest, social class must necessarily affect the whole course of my
life. A certain kind of man declares himself proud of such an origin
--and most often lies. Or one may be driven by it into rebellion
against social privilege. To me, my origin is simply a grave
misfortune, to be accepted and, if possible, overcome. Does that
sound mean-spirited? I can't help it; I want you to know me.'
'I believe I know you very well,' Sidwell replied.
The consciousness that she was deceived checked the words which were
rising to his lips. Again he saw himself in a pitiful light, and
this self-contempt reflected upon Sidwell. He could not doubt that
she was yielding to him; her attitude and her voice declared it; but
what was the value of love won by imposture? Why had she not
intelligence enough to see through his hypocrisy, which at times was
so thin a veil? How defective must her sympathy be!
'Yet you have seen very little of me,' he said, smiling.
There was a short silence; then he exclaimed in a voice of emotion:
'How I wish we had known each other ever since that day when your
brother brought me to your house near Kingsmill! If we had met and
talked through all those years! But that was impossible for the very
reason which makes me inarticulate now that I wish to say so much.
When you first saw me I was a gawky schoolboy, learning to use my
brains, and knowing already that life had nothing to offer me but a
false position. Whether I remained with my kith and kin, or turned
my back upon them in the hope of finding my equals, I was condemned
to a life of miserable incompleteness. I was born in exile. It took
a long time before I had taught myself how to move and speak like
one of the class to which I belonged by right of intellect. I was
living alone in London, in mean lodging-houses. But the day came
when I felt more confidence in myself. I had saved money, and
foresaw that in a year or two I should be able to carry out a plan,
make one serious attempt to win a position among educated people.'
He stopped. Had he intended a full confession, it was thus he might
have begun it. Sidwell was regarding him, but with a gentle look,
utterly unsuspecting. She was unable to realise his character and
'And have you not succeeded?' she asked, in a low voice.
'Have I? Let me put it to the test. I will set aside every thought
of presumption; forget that lam a penniless student looking forward
to a country curacy; and say what I wished to when we had our last
conversation. Never mind how it sounds. I have dared to hope that
some day I shall ask you to be my wife, and that you won't refuse.'
The word 'wife' reverberated on his ears. A whirl of emotion broke
the defiant calm he had supported for the last few minutes. The
silence seemed to be endless; when he looked at Sidwell, her head
was bent, the eyes concealed by their drooping lids. Her expression
was very grave.
'Such a piece of recklessness,' he said at length, 'deserves no
Sidwell raised her eyes and spoke gently, with voice a little
'Why should you call it recklessness? I have never thought of the
things that seem to trouble you so much. You were a friend of ours.
Wasn't that enough?'
It seemed to him an evasive reply. Doubtless it was much that she
showed neither annoyance nor prudish reserve. He had won the right
of addressing her on equal terms, but she was not inclined to
anticipate that future day to which he pointed.
'You have never thought of such things, because you have never
thought of me as I of you. Every day of your absence in London has
caused me torments which were due most often to the difference
between your social position and mine. You have been among people of
leisure and refinement and culture. Each evening you have talked
with men whom it cost no effort to make themselves liked and
respected. I think of that with bitterness.'
'But why? I have made many acquaintances; have met very interesting
people. I am glad of it; it enables me to understand you better than
I could before.'
'You are glad on that account?'
'Yes; indeed I am.'
'Dare I think you mean more than a civil phrase?'
'I mean quite simply all that my words imply. I have thought of you,
though certainly without bitterness. No one's conversation in London
interested me so much as yours.'
Soothed with an exquisite joy, Godwin felt his eyes moisten. For a
moment he was reconciled to all the world, and forgot the
hostilities of a lifetime.
'And will it still be so, now, when you go back?' he asked, in a
'I am sure it will.'
'Then it will be strange if I ever feel bitterly again.'
'You could have said nothing that could please me more. Why should
your life be troubled by these dark moods? I could understand it if
you were still struggling with--with doubts, with all manner of
uncertainties about your course'----
She hesitated, watching his face.
'You think I have chosen well?' said Godwin, meeting her look.
Sidwell's eyes were at once averted.
'I hope,' she said, 'we may talk of that again very soon. You have
told me much of yourself, but I have said little or nothing of my
own--difficulties. It won't be long before we come back from
London, and then'----
Once more their eyes met steadily.
'You think,' Godwin asked, 'that I am right in aiming at a life of
'It is one of my doubts. Your influence would be useful anywhere;
but most useful, surely, among people of active mind.'
'Perhaps I shan't be able to choose. Remember that lam seeking for a
livelihood as well as for a sphere of usefulness.'
His eyes fell as he spoke. Hitherto he had had no means of learning
whether Sidwell would bring her husband a dowry substantial enough
to be considered. Though he could not feel that she had betrothed
herself to him, their talk was so nearly that of avowed lovers that
perchance she would disclose whatever might help to put his mind at
rest. The thought revived his painful self-consciousness; it was
that of a schemer, yet would not the curse of poverty have suggested
it to any man?
'Perhaps you won't be able to choose--at first,' Sidwell assented,
thereby seeming to answer his unspoken question. 'But I am sure my
father will use whatever influence he has.'
Had he been seated near enough, he would have been tempted to the
boldness of taking her hand. What more encouragement did he await?
But the distance between them was enough to check his embarrassed
impulses. He could not even call her 'Sidwell'; it would have been
easier a few minutes ago, before she had begun to speak with such
calm friendliness. Now, in spite of everything, he felt that to dare
such a familiarity must needs call upon him the reproof of
'You return to-morrow?' he asked, suddenly.
'I think so. You have promised me to be cheerful until we are home
'A promise to be cheerful wouldn't mean much. But it ~does~ mean
much that I can think of what you have said to-day'
Sidwell did not speak, and her silence seemed to compel him to rise.
It was strange how remote he still felt from her pure, grave face,
and the flowing outlines of her figure. Why could he not say to her,
'I love you; give me your hands; give me your lips'? Such words
seemed impossible. Yet passion thrilled in him as he watched the
grace of her movements, the light and shadow upon her features. She
had risen and come a step or two forward.
'I think you look taller--in that dress.'
The words rather escaped him than were spoken. His need was to talk
of common things, of trifles, that so he might come to feel humanly.
Sidwell smiled with unmistakable pleasure.
'Do I? Do you like the dress?'
'Yes. It becomes you.'
'Are you critical in such things?'
'Not with understanding. But I should like to see you every day in a
new and beautiful dress.'
'Oh, I couldn't afford it!' was the laughing reply.
He offered his hand; the touch of her warm, soft fingers fired his
It was spoken at last, involuntarily, and he stood with his eyes on
hers, her hand crushed in his.
'Some day!' she whispered.
If their lips met, the contact was so slight as to seem accidental;
it was the mere timorous promise of a future kiss. And both were
glad of the something that had imposed restraint.
When Sidwell went up to her mother's sitting-room, a servant had
just brought tea.
'I hear that Mr. Peak has been,' said Mrs. Warricombe, who looked
puffy and uncomfortable after her sleep. 'Emma was going to take tea
to the study, but I thought it unnecessary. How could he know that
we were here?'
'I met him this morning on my way into the town.'
'Surely it was rather inconsiderate of him to call.'
'He asked if he might.'
Mrs. Warricombe turned her head and examined Sidwell.
'Oh! And did he stay long?'
'Not very long,' replied Sidwell, who was in quiet good-humour.
'I think it would have been better if you had told him by the
servant that I was not well enough to see callers. You didn't
mention that he might be coming.'
Mrs. Warricombe's mind worked slowly at all times, and at present she
was suffering from a cold.
'Why didn't you speak of it, Sidwell?'
'Really--I forgot,' replied the daughter, lightly.
'And what had he to say?'
'Nothing new, mother. Is your head better, dear?'
There was no answer. Mrs. Warricombe had conceived a vague suspicion
which was so alarming that she would not press inquiries alluding to
it. The encouragement given by her husband to Godwin Peak in the
latter's social progress had always annoyed her, though she could
not frame solid objections. To be sure, to say of a man that he is
about to be ordained meets every possible question that society can
put; but Mrs. Warricombe's uneasiness was in part due to personal
dislike. Oftener than not, she still thought of Peak as he appeared
some eleven years ago--an evident the story of his relative who
had opened a shop in Kingsmill; plebeian, without manners, without a
redeeming grace. She knew thinking of that now, she shuddered.
Sidwell began to talk of indifferent matters, and Peak was not again
Her throat being still troublesome, Mrs. Warricombe retired very soon
after dinner. About nine o'clock Sidwell went to the library, and
sat down at her father's writing-table, purposing a letter to
Sylvia. She penned a line or two, but soon lapsed into reverie, her
head on her hands. Of a sudden the door was thrown open, and there
stood Buckland, fresh from travel.
'What has brought you?' exclaimed his sister, starting up anxiously,
for something in the young man's look seemed ominous.
'Oh, nothing to trouble about. I had to come down--on business.
Mother gone to bed?'
'All right; doesn't matter. I suppose I can sleep here? Let them get
me a mouthful of something; cold meat, anything will do.'
His needs were quickly supplied, and before long he was smoking by
the library fire.
'I was writing to Sylvia,' said his sister, glancing at her
'You know she is at Salisbury?'
'Salisbury? No, I didn't.'
His carelessness proved to Sidwell that she was wrong in
conjecturing that his journey had something to do with Miss
Moorhouse. Buckland was in no mood for conversation; he smoked for a
quarter of an hour whilst Sidwell resumed her writing.
'Of course you haven't seen Peak?' fell from him at length.
His sister looked at him before replying.
'Yes. He called this afternoon.'
'But who told him you were here?'
His brows were knitted, and he spoke very abruptly. Sidwell gave the
same explanation as to her mother, and had further to reply that she
alone received the caller.
'I see,' was Buckland's comment.
Its tone troubled Sidwell.
'Has your coming anything to do with Mr. Peak?'
'Yes, it has. I want to see him the first thing to-morrow.
'Can you tell me what about?'
He searched her face, frowning.
'Not now. I'll tell you in the morning.'
Sidwell saw herself doomed to a night of suspense. She could not
confess how nearly the mystery concerned her. Had Buckland made some
discovery that irritated him against Peak? She knew he was disposed
to catch at anything that seemed to tell against Godwin's claims to
respectful treatment, and it surely must be a grave affair to hurry
him on so long a journey. Though she could imagine no ground of
fear, the situation was seriously disturbing.
She tried to go on with her letter, but failed. As Buckland smoked
in silence, she at length rose and said she would go upstairs.
'All right! Shall see you at breakfast. Good-night!'
At nine next morning Mrs. Warricombe sent a message to Buckland that
she wished to see him in her bedroom. He entered hurriedly.
'Cold better, mother? I have only just time to drink a cup of
coffee. I want to catch Peak before he can have left home.'
'Mr. Peak? Why? I was going to speak about him.'
'What were you going to say?' Buckland asked, anxiously.
His mother began in a roundabout way which threatened long
detention. In a minute or two Buckland had gathered enough to
interrupt her with the direct inquiry:
'You don't mean that there's anything between him and Sidwell?'
'I do hope not; but I can't imagine why she should--really, almost
make a private appointment. I am very uneasy, Buckland. I have
hardly slept. Sidwell is rather--you know'----
'The deuce! I can't stop now. Wait an hour or two, and I shall have
seen the fellow. You needn't alarm yourself. He will probably have
disappeared in a few days.'
'What do you mean?' Mrs. Warricombe asked, with nervous eagerness.
'I'll explain afterwards.'
He hurried away. Sidwell was at the breakfast-table. Her eyes seemed
to declare that she had not slept well. With an insignificant word
or two, the young man swallowed his cup of coffee, and had soon left
The wrath which illumined Buckland's countenance as he strode
rapidly towards Longbrook Street was not unmingled with joy. In the
deep pocket of his ulster lay something heavy which kept striking
against his leg, and every such contact spurred him with a sense of
satisfaction. All his suspicions were abundantly justified. Not only
would his father and Sidwell be obliged to confess that his insight