Part 8 out of 10
had been profounder than theirs, but he had the pleasure of standing
justified before his own conscience. The philosophy by which he
lived was strikingly illustrated and confirmed.
He sniffed the morning air, enjoyed the firmness of the frozen
ground, on which his boots made a pleasant thud. To be sure, the
interview before him would have its disagreeableness, but Buckland
was not one of those over-civilised men who shrink from every scene
of painful explanation. The detection of a harmful lie was decidedly
congenial to him--especially when he and his had been made its
victims. He was now at liberty to indulge that antipathetic feeling
towards Godwin Peak which sundry considerations had hitherto urged
him to repress. Whatever might have passed between Peak and Sidwell,
he could not doubt that his sister's peace was gravely endangered;
the adventurer (with however much or little sincerity) had been
making subtle love to her. Such a thought was intolerable.
Buckland's class-prejudice asserted itself with brutal vigour now
that it had moral indignation for an ally.
He had never been at Peak's lodgings, but the address was long since
noted. Something of disdain came into his eyes as he approached the
row of insignificant houses. Having pulled the bell, he stood at his
full height, looking severely at the number painted on the door.
Mrs. Roots opened to him, and said that her lodger was at home. He
gave his name, and after waiting for a moment was led to the upper
floor. Godwin, who had breakfasted later than usual, still sat by
the table. On Warricombe's entrance, he pushed back his chair and
rose, but with deliberate movement, scarcely smiling. That Buckland
made no offer of a friendly hand did not surprise him. The name of
his visitor had alarmed him with a sudden presentiment. Hardening
his features, he stood in expectancy.
'I want to have a talk with you,' Buckland began. 'You are at
leisure, I hope?'
'Pray sit down.'
Godwin pointed to a chair near the fire, but Warricombe, having
thrown his hat on to a side table, seated himself by one of the
windows. His motions proved that he found it difficult to support a
semblance of courtesy.
'I have come down from London on purpose to see you. Unless I am
strangely misinformed you have been guilty of conduct which I
shouldn't like to call by its proper name.'
Remembering that he was in a little house, with thin partitions, he
kept his voice low, but the effort this cost him was obvious. He
looked straight at Peak, who did not return the gaze.
'Indeed?' said Godwin, coldly. 'What is my crime?'
'I am told that you have won the confidence of my relatives by what
looks like a scheme of gross dishonesty.'
'Indeed? Who has told you so?'
'No one in so many words. But I happened to come across certain
acquaintances of yours in London--people who know you very well
indeed; and I find that they regard your position here as altogether
incredible. You will remember I had much the same feeling myself. In
support of their view it was mentioned to me that you had published
an article in ~The Critical~--the date less than a year ago,
observe. The article was anonymous, but I remember it very well. I
have re-read it, and I want you to tell me how the views it
expresses can be reconciled with those you have maintained in
conversation with my father.'
He drew from his pocket the incriminating periodical, turned it back
at the article headed 'The New Sophistry', and held it out for
'Perhaps you would like to refresh your memory.'
'Needless, thank you,' returned Godwin, with a smile--in which the
vanity of an author had its part.
Had Marcella betrayed him? He had supposed she knew nothing of this
article, but Earwaker had perhaps spoken of it to Moxey before
receiving the injunction of secrecy. On the other hand, it might be
Earwaker himself from whom Warricombe had derived his information.
Not impossible for the men to meet, and Earwaker's indignation might
have led him to disregard a friend's confidence.
The details mattered little. He was face to face with the most
serious danger that could befall him, and already he had strung
himself to encounter it. Yet even in the same moment he asked, 'Is
it worth while?'
'Did you write this?' Buckland inquired.
'Yes, I wrote it.'
'Then I wait for your explanation.'
'You mustn't expect me to enter upon an elaborate defence,' Godwin
replied, taking his pipe from the mantelpiece and beginning to fill
it. 'A man charged with rascality can hardly help getting excited--
and that excitement, to one in your mood, seems evidence against
him. Please to bear in mind that I have never declared myself an
orthodox theologian. Mr. Warricombe is well acquainted with my views;
to you I have never explained them.'
'You mean to say that my father knew of this article?'
'No. I have not spoken of it.'
'And why not?'
'Because, for one thing, I shouldn't write in that way now; and, for
another, the essay seems to imply more than I meant when I did write
'"Seems to imply"----? I understand. You wish to represent that
this attack on M'Naughten involves no attack on Christianity?'
'Not on Christianity as I understand it.'
Buckland's face expressed profound disgust, but he controlled his
'Well, I foresaw this. You attacked a new sophistry, but there is a
newer sophistry still, and uncommonly difficult it is to deal with.
Mr. Peak, I have a plain word to say to you. More than a year ago you
asked me for my goodwill, to aid you in getting a social position.
Say what you like, I see now that you dealt with me dishonestly. I
can no longer be your friend in any sense, and I shall do my best to
have you excluded from my parents' house. My father will re-read
this essay--I have marked the significant passages throughout--
and will form his own judgment; I know what it will be.'
'You are within your rights.'
'Undoubtedly,' replied Buckland, with polished insolence, as he rose
from his seat. 'I can't forbid you to go to the house again, but--
I hope we mayn't meet there. It would be very unpleasant.'
Godwin was still pressing down the tobacco in the bowl of his pipe.
He smiled, and glanced about the room. Did Warricombe know how far
things had gone between him and Sidwell? Whether or no, it was
certain now that Sidwell would be informed of this disastrous piece
of authorship--and the result?
What did it matter? There is no struggling against destiny. If he
and Sidwell were ever fated to come together, why, these
difficulties would all be surmounted. If, as seemed more than
likely, he was again to be foiled on the point of success--he
could bear it, perhaps even enjoy the comedy.
'There is no possibility of arguing against determined anger,' he
said, quietly. 'I am not at all inclined to plead for justice: one
only does that with a friend who desires to be just. My opinions are
utterly distasteful to you, and personal motives have made you
regard me as--a scoundrel to be got rid of. Well, there's an end
of it. I don't see what is to be gained by further talk.'
This was a dismissal. Godwin felt the necessity of asserting himself
'One question,' said Warricombe, as he put the periodical back into
his pocket. 'What do you mean by my "personal motives"?'
Their eyes met for an instant.
'I mean the motives which you have spoken of.'
It was Buckland's hope that Peak might reveal his relations with
Sidwell, but he shrank from seeming to know anything of the matter.
Clearly, no light was to be had from this source.
'I am afraid,' he said, moving to the door, 'that you will find my
motives shared by all the people whose acquaintance you have made in
And without further leave-taking he departed.
There was a doubt in his mind. Peak's coolness might be the audacity
of rascaldom; he preferred to understand it so; but it ~might~ have
nothing to do with baseness.
'Confound it!' he muttered to himself, irritably. 'In our times life
is so deucedly complicated. It used to be the easiest thing to
convict a man of religious hypocrisy; nowadays, one has to bear in
mind such a multiplicity of fine considerations. There's that fellow
Bruno Chilvers: mightn't anyone who had personal reasons treat him
precisely as I have treated Peak? Both of them ~may~ be honest. Yet
in Peak's case all appearances are against him--just because he is
of low birth, has no means, and wants desperately to get into
society. The fellow is a scoundrel; I am convinced of it. Yet his
designs may be innocent. How, then, a scoundrel?----
'Poor devil! Has he really fallen in love with Sidwell?----
'Humbug! He wants position, and the comfort it brings. And if he
hadn't acted like a blackguard--if he had come among us telling
the truth--who knows? Sidwell wouldn't then have thought of him,
but for my own part I would willingly have given him a hand. There
are plenty of girls who have learned to think for themselves.'
This was an unhappy line of reflection. It led to Sylvia Moorhouse
--and to grinding of the teeth. By the time he reached the house,
Buckland was again in remorseless mood.
He would have it out with Sidwell. The desire of proving to her that
he had been right from the first overrode all thought of the pain he
She was in the library. At breakfast he had noticed her heavy eyes,
and that she made only a pretence of eating. She was now less unlike
herself, but her position at the window showed that she had been
'Isn't mother coming down to-day?' he asked.
'Yes; after luncheon she will go out for an hour, if it keeps fine.'
'And to-morrow you return?'
'If mother feels able to travel.'
He had ~The Critical~in his hand, and stood rustling the pages with
'I have been to see Peak.'
She moved a few steps and seated herself sideways on a small chair.
'My business with him was confoundedly unpleasant. I'm glad it's
over. I wish I had known what I now do half a year ago.'
'Let me hear what it is.'
'You remember that I told you to be on your guard against Peak?'
Sidwell smiled faintly, and glanced at him, but made no answer.
'I knew he wasn't to be trusted,' pursued her brother, with gloomy
satisfaction. 'And I had far better means of judging than father or
you; but, of course, my suspicions were ungenerous and cynical.'
'Will you come to the point?' said Sidwell, in an irritated tone.
'I think you read this article in ~The Critical~?' He approached and
showed it to her. 'We spoke of it once, ~a propos~ of M'Naughten's
She raised her eyes, and met his with a look of concern she could
'What of that?'
'Peak is the author of it. It seems to have been written just about
the time when I met him and brought him here as a visitor, and it
was published after he had begun to edify you with his zeal for
She held out her hand.
'You remember the tone of the thing?' Buckland added. 'I'll leave it
with you; but just glance at one or two of the passages I have
marked. The Anglicanism of their writer is decidedly "broad", it
seems to me.'
He moved apart and watched his sister as she bent over the pages.
There was silence for five minutes. Seeing that Sidwell had ceased
to read, he ejaculated, 'Well?'
'Has Mr. Peak admitted the authorship?' she asked, slowly and
'Yes, and with a cool impudence I hardly expected.'
'Do you mean that he has made no attempt to justify himself?'
'None worth listening to. Practically, he refused an explanation.'
Sidwell rested her forehead lightly upon the tips of her fingers;
the periodical slipped from her lap and lay open on the floor.
'How did you find this out?'
'In the simplest way. Knowing perfectly well that I had only to get
familiar with some of his old friends to obtain proof that he was an
impostor, I followed up my acquaintance with Miss Moxey--got hold
of her brother--called upon them. Whilst I was there, a man named
Malkin came in, and somehow or other he began talking of Peak. I
learned at once precisely what I expected, that Peak was known to
all these people as a violent anti-Christian. Malkin refused to
believe the story of his going in for the Church--it sounded to
him a mere joke. Then came out the fact that he had written this
article. They all knew about it.'
He saw a flush of shame upon Sidwell's half-hidden face. It
gratified him. He was resolved to let her taste all the bitterness
of her folly.
'It seems pretty clear that the Moxeys--at all events Miss Moxey
--knew the rascally part he was playing. Whether they wished to
unmask him, or not, I can't say. Perhaps not. Yet I caught an odd
look on Miss Moxey's face when that man Malkin began to talk of
Peak's characteristics and achievements. It came out, by-the-bye,
that he had given all his acquaintances the slip; they had
completely lost sight of him--I suppose until Miss Moxey met him
by chance at Budleigh Salterton. There's some mystery still. She
evidently kept Peak's secret from the Moorhouses and the Walworths.
A nice business, altogether!'
Again there was a long silence. Then Sidwell raised her face and
'You may be quite mistaken.'
'You went to Mr. Peak in a spirit of enmity and anger. It is not
likely he would explain himself. You may have quite misunderstood
what he said.'
'Ridiculous! You mean that he was perhaps "converted" after writing
this article?--Then why did he allow it to be published?'
'He did not sign it. He may have been unable to withdraw it from the
'Bosh! He didn't sign it, because the idea of this Exeter campaign
came between the reception and the appearance of his paper. In the
ordinary course of things, he would have been only too glad to see
his name in ~The Critical~. The scoundrelly project was conceived
perhaps the very day that I brought him here--perhaps in that
moment--at lunch, do you remember?--when he began to talk of the
sermon at the Cathedral?'
'Why did he go to the Cathedral and hear that sermon?'
'To amuse a Sunday morning, I suppose.'
'That is not very likely in a man who hates and ridicules religion.'
'It is decidedly more probable than the idea of his conversion.'
Sidwell fell back again into her brooding attitude.
'The reason of your mistake in judging him,' resumed Buckland, with
emphasis, 'is that you have undervalued his intellect. I told you
long ago that a man of Peak's calibre could not possibly be a
supporter of dogmas and churches. No amount of plausible evidence
would have made me believe in his sincerity. Let me beg you to
appreciate the simple fact, that ~no~ young man of brains and
education is nowadays an honest defender of mediaeval Christianity
--the Christianity of your churches. Such fellows may transact with
their conscience, and make a more or less decent business of the
clerical career; or, in rare cases, they may believe that society is
served by the maintenance of a national faith, and accordingly
preach with all manner of mental reserves and symbolical
interpretations. These are in reality politicians, not priests. But
Peak belongs to neither class. He is an acute cynic, bent on making
the best of this world, since he believes in no other. How he must
have chuckled after every visit to this house! He despises you, one
and all. Believe me, he regards you with profound contempt.'
Buckland's obtuseness on the imaginative side spared him the
understanding of his sister's state of mind. Though in theory he
recognised that women were little amenable to reasoning, he took it
for granted that a clear demonstration of Peak's duplicity must at
once banish all thought of him from Sidwell's mind. Therefore he was
unsparing in his assaults upon her delusion. It surprised him when
at length Sidwell looked up with flashing, tear-dewed eyes and
addressed him indignantly:
'In all this there is not one word of truth! You know that in
representing the clergy as a body of ignorant and shallow men you
speak out of prejudice. If you believed what you say, you would be
yourself both ignorant and shallow. I can't trust your judgment of
She paused, but in a moment added the remark which would have come
first had she spoken in the order of her thoughts.
'It is because the spirit of contempt is so familiar to you that you
are so ready to perceive it in others. I consider that habit of mind
worse than hypocrisy--yes, worse, far worse!'
Buckland was sorry for the pain he had given. The retort did not
affect him, but he hung his head and looked uncomfortable. His next
speech was in a milder strain:
'I feel it a duty, Sidwell, to represent this man to you in what I
verily believe to be the true light. To be despised by one who is
immeasurably contemptible surely can't distress you. If a butler
gets into your house by means of a forged character, and then lays
his plans for a great burglary, no doubt he scorns you for being so
easily taken in,--and that is an exact parallel to Peak's
proceedings. He has somehow got the exterior of a gentleman; you
could not believe that one who behaved so agreeably and talked so
well was concealing an essentially base nature. But I must remind
you that Peak belongs by origin to the lower classes, which is as
much as to say that he lacks the sense of honour generally inherited
by men of our world. A powerful intellect by no means implies a
corresponding development of the moral sense.'
Sidwell could not close her ears against the argument. But her
features were still set in an expression of resentment, and she kept
silence lest her voice should sound tearful.
'And don't be tempted by personal feeling,' pursued her brother, 'to
make light of hypocrisy--especially this kind. The man who can act
such a part as Peak's has been for the last twelve months must be
capable of any depravity. It is difficult for you to estimate his
baseness, because you are only half convinced that any one can
really be an enemy of religious faith. You suspect a lurking belief
even in the minds of avowed atheists. But take the assurance from me
that a man like Peak (and I am at one with him in this matter)
regards with absolute repugnance every form of supernaturalism. For
him to affect belief in your religion, is a crime against
conscience. Peak has committed this crime with a mercenary motive,
--what viler charge could be brought against him?'
Without looking at him, his sister replied:
'Whether he is guilty or not, I can't yet determine. But the motive
of his life here was not mercenary.'
'Then how would you describe it?' Buckland asked, in astonishment.
'I only know that it can't be called mercenary.'
'Then the distinction you draw must be a very fine one.--He has
abandoned the employment by which he lived, and by his own admission
he looks to the Church for means of support. It was necessary for
him to make interest with people of social position; the closer his
relations with them the better. From month to month he has worked
skilfully to establish his footing in this house, and among your
friends. What do you call this?'
She had no verbal answer to make, but her look declared that she
held to another interpretation.
'Well,' Buckland added, impatiently, 'we will hear father's opinion.
He, remember, has been deceived in a very gross and cruel way.
Possibly he may help you to see the thing in all its hatefulness.'
Sidwell turned to him.
'You go to London this afternoon?'
'In an hour or two,' he replied, consulting his watch.
'Is it any use my asking you to keep silence about everything until
I am back in town?'
Buckland frowned and hesitated.
'To mother as well as father, you mean?'
'Yes. Will you do me this kindness?'
'Answer me a question, Sidwell. Have you any thought of seeing
'I can't say,' she replied, in agitation. 'I must leave myself free.
I have a right to use my own judgment.'
'Don't see him! I beg you not to see him!'
He was so earnest that Sidwell suspected some other reason in his
request than regard for her dignity.
'I must leave myself free,' she repeated, with shaking voice. 'In
any case I shall be back in London to-morrow evening--that is, if
--but I am sure mother will wish to go. Grant me this one kindness;
say nothing here or there till I am back and have seen you again.'
He turned a deaf ear, for the persistency with which she resisted
proof of Peak's dishonour had begun to alarm him. Who could say what
miserable folly she might commit in the next four-and-twenty hours?
The unavoidable necessity of his own return exasperated him; he
wished to see her safe back in London, and under her father's care.
'No,' he exclaimed, with a gesture of determination; 'I can't keep
such a thing as this secret for another hour. Mother must know at
once--especially as you mean to invite that fellow into the house
again.--I have half a mind to telegraph to Godolphin that I can't
possibly be with him to-night.'
Sidwell regarded him and spoke with forced composure.
'Do as seems right to you, Buckland. But don't think that by
remaining here you would prevent me from seeing Mr. Peak, if I wish
to do so. That is treating me too much like a child. You have done
your part--doubtless your duty; now I must reflect and judge for
myself. Neither you nor anyone else has authority over me in such
'Very well. I have no authority, as you say, but common sense bids
me let mother know how the case stands.'
And angrily he left the room.
~The Critical~ still lay where it had fallen. When Sidwell had stood
a while in confused thought, her eye turned to it, and she went
hurriedly to take it up. Yes, that was the first thing to be done,
to read those pages with close care. For this she must have privacy.
She ran upstairs and shut herself in her bedroom.
But did not at once begin to read. It concerned her deeply to know
whether Peak had so expressed himself in this paper, that no room
was left for doubt as to his convictions; but another question
pressed upon her with even more urgency--could it be true that he
did not love her? If Buckland were wholly right, then it mattered
little in what degree she had been misled by intellectual hypocrisy.
It was impossible to believe that Peak had made love to her in cold
blood, with none but sordid impulses. The thought was so humiliating
that her mind resolutely rejected it; and she had no difficulty in
recalling numberless minutiae of behaviour--nuances of look and
tone such as abide in a woman's memory--any one of which would
have sufficed to persuade her that he felt genuine emotion. How had
it come to pass that a feeling of friendly interest, which did not
for a moment threaten her peace, changed all at once to an agitation
only the more persistent the more she tried to subdue it,--how, if
it were not that her heart responded to a passionate appeal,
effectual as only the sincerest love can prove? Prior to that long
talk with Godwin, on the eve of her departure for London, she had
not imagined that he loved her; when they said good-bye to each
other, she knew by her own sensations all that the parting meant to
him. She felt glad, instead of sorry, that they were not to meet
again for several months; for she wished to think of him calmly and
prudently, now that he presented himself to her imagination in so
new an aspect. The hand-clasp was a mutual assurance of fidelity.
'I should never have loved him, if he had not first loved me. Of
that I am as firmly convinced as of my own existence. It is not in
my nature to dream romances. I never did so even as a young girl,
and at this age I am not likely to fall into a foolish
self-deception. I had often thought about him. He seemed to me a man
of higher and more complex type than those with whom I was familiar;
but most surely I never attributed to him even a corresponding
interest in me. I am neither vain, nor very anxious to please; I
never suffered because men did not woo me; I have only moderate good
looks, and certainly no uncommon mental endowments.--If he had
been attracted by Sylvia, I should have thought it natural; and I
more than once suspected that Sylvia was disposed to like him. It
seemed strange at first that his choice should have fallen upon me;
yet when I was far away from him, and longed so to sit once more by
him and hear him talk, I understood that it might be in my power to
afford him the companionship he needed.--Mercenary? If I had been
merely a governess in the house, he would have loved me just the
Only by a painful effort could she remind herself that the ideal
which had grown so slowly was now defaced. He loved her, but it was
not the love of an honest man. After all, she had no need to peruse
this writing of his; she remembered so well how it had impressed her
when she read it on its first appearance, how her father had spoken
of it. Buckland's manifold evidence was irresistible. Why should
Peak have concealed his authorship? Why had he disappeared from
among the people who thoroughly knew him?
She had loved a dream. What a task would it be to distinguish
between those parts of Peak's conversation which represented his
real thoughts, and those which were mockery of his listeners! The
plan of a retired life which he had sketched to her--was it all
falsehood? Impossible, for his love was inextricably blended with
the details. Did he imagine that the secret of his unbelief could be
preserved for a lifetime, and that it would have no effect whatever
upon his happiness as a man? This seemed a likely reading of the
problem. But what a multitude of moral and intellectual obscurities
remained! The character which had seemed to her nobly simple was
become a dark and dread enigma.
She knew so little of his life. If only it could all be laid bare to
her, the secret of his position would be revealed. Buckland's
violence altogether missed its mark; the dishonour of such a man as
Godwin Peak was due to no gross incentive.
It was probable that, in talk with her father, he had been guilty of
more deliberate misrepresentation than had marked his intercourse
with the rest of the family. Her father, she felt sure, had come to
regard him as a valuable source of argument in the battle against
materialism. Doubtless the German book, which Peak was translating,
bore upon that debate, and consequently was used as an aid to
dissimulation. Thinking of this, she all but shared her brother's
vehement feeling. It pained her to the inmost heart that her
father's generous and candid nature should thus have been played
upon. The deceit, as it concerned herself alone, she could forgive;
at least she could suspend judgment until the accused had offered
his defence--feeling that the psychology of the case must till
then be beyond her powers of analysis. But the wrong done to her
father revolted her.
A tap at the door caused her to rise, trembling. She remembered that
by this time her mother must be aware of the extraordinary
disclosure, and that a new scene of wretched agitation had to be
It was Mrs. Warricombe's voice, and the door opened.
'Sidwell!--What ~does~ all this mean? I don't understand half that
Buckland has been telling me.'
The speaker's face was mottled, and she stood panting, a hand
pressed against her side.
'How very, very imprudent we have been! How wrong of father not to
have made inquiries! To think that such a man should have sat at our
'Sit down, mother; don't be so distressed,' said Sidwell, calmly.
'It will all very soon be settled.'
'Of course not a word must be said to anyone. How very fortunate
that we shall be in London till the summer! Of course he must leave
'I have no doubt he will. Let us talk as little of it as possible,
mother. We shall go back to-morrow'----
'This afternoon! We will go back with Buckland. That is decided. I
couldn't sleep here another night.'
'We must remain till to-morrow,' Sidwell replied, with quiet
'Why? What reason can there be?'
Mrs. Warricombe's voice was suspended by a horrible surmise.
'Of course we shall go to-day, Sidwell,' she continued, in nervous
haste. 'To think of that man having the impudence to call and sit
talking with you! If I could have dreamt'----
'Mother,' said Sidwell, gravely, 'I am obliged to see Mr. Peak,
either this evening or to-morrow morning.'
'To--to~see~ him----? Sidwell! What can you mean?'
'I have a reason for wishing to hear from his own lips the whole
'But we ~know~ the whole truth!--What can you be thinking of,
dear? Who is this Mr. Peak that you should ask him to come and see
you, under~any~ circumstances?'
It would never have occurred to Sidwell to debate with her mother on
subtle questions of character and motive, but the agitation of her
nerves made it difficult for her to keep silence under these vapid
outcries. She desired to be alone; commonplace discussion of the
misery that had come upon her was impossible. A little more strain,
and she would be on the point of tears, a weakness she was resolute
'Let me think quietly for an hour or two,' she said, moving away.
'It's quite certain that I must stay here till to-morrow. When
Buckland has gone, we can talk again.'
'If you insist, I must leave the house, and find a refuge somewhere
Mrs. Warricombe tossed her head.
'Oh, if I am not permitted to speak to you! I only hope you won't
have occasion to remember my warning! Such extraordinary behaviour
was surely never known! I should have thought'----
Sidwell was by this time out of the room. Safe in privacy she sat
down as if to pen a letter. From an hour's agitated thought, the
following lines resulted:
'My brother has told me of a conversation he held with you this
morning. He says you admit the authorship of an article which seems
quite inconsistent with what you have professed in our talks. How am
I to understand this contradiction? I beg that you will write to me
at once. I shall anxiously await your reply.'
This, with her signature, was all. Having enclosed the note in an
envelope, she left it on her table and went down to the library,
where Buckland was sitting alone in gloomy reverie. Mrs. Warricombe
had told him of Sidwell's incredible purpose. Recognising his
sister's independence, and feeling sure that if she saw Peak it
could only be to take final leave of him, he had decided to say no
more. To London he must perforce return this afternoon, but he had
done his duty satisfactorily, and just in time. It was plain that
things had gone far between Peak and Sidwell; the latter's behaviour
avowed it. But danger there could be none, with 'The New Sophistry'
staring her in the eyes. Let her see the fellow, by all means. His
evasions and hair-splittings would complete her deliverance.
'There's a train at 1.53,' Buckland remarked, rising, 'and I shall
catch it if I start now. I can't stay for the discomfort of
luncheon. You remain here till to-morrow, I understand?'
'It's a pity you are angry with me. It seems to me I have done you a
'I am not angry with you, Buckland,' she replied, gently. 'You have
done what you were plainly obliged to do.'
'That's a sensible way of putting it. Let us say goodbye with
Sidwell gave her hand, and tried to smile. With a look of pained
affection, Buckland went silently away.
Shortly after, Sidwell fetched her note from upstairs, and gave it
to the housekeeper to be delivered by hand as soon as possible. Mrs
Warricombe remained invisible, and Sidwell went back to the library,
where she sat with ~The Critical~ open before her at Godwin's essay.
Hours went by; she still waited for an answer from Longbrook Street.
At six o'clock she went upstairs and spoke to her mother.
'Shall you come down to dinner?'
'No, Sidwell,' was the cold reply. 'Be so good as to excuse me.
Towards eight, a letter was brought to her; it could only be from
Godwin Peak. With eyes which endeavoured to take in all at once, and
therefore could at first distinguish nothing, she scanned what
seemed to be hurriedly written lines.
'I have tried to answer you in a long letter, but after all I can't
send it. I fear you wouldn't understand. Better to repeat simply
that I wrote the article you speak of. I should have told you about
it some day, but now my intentions and hopes matter nothing.
Whatever I said now would seem dishonest pleading. Good-bye.'
She read this so many times that at length she had but to close her
eyes to see every word clearly traced on the darkness. The meanings
she extracted from each sentence were scarcely less numerous than
her perusals. In spite of reason, this enigmatic answer brought her
some solace. He ~could~ defend himself; that was the assurance she
had longed for. Impossible (she again and again declared to herself
with emphasis) for their intimacy to be resumed. But in secret she
could hold him, if not innocent, at all events not base. She had not
bestowed her love upon a mere impostor.
But now a mournful, regretful passion began to weigh upon her heart.
She shed tears, and presently stole away to her room for a night of
What must be her practical course? If she went back to London
without addressing another word to him, he must understand her
silence as a final farewell. In that case his departure from Exeter
would, no doubt, speedily follow, and there was little likelihood
that she would ever again see him. Were Godwin a vulgar schemer, he
would not so readily relinquish the advantage he had gained; he
would calculate upon the weakness of a loving woman, and make at
least one effort to redeem his position. As it was, she could
neither hope nor fear that he would try to see her again. Yet she
wished to see him, desired it ardently.
And yet--for each impulse of ardour was followed by a cold fit of
reasoning--might not his abandonment of the position bear a meaning
such as Buckland would of course attribute to it? If he were
hopeless of the goodwill of her parents, what profit would it be to
him to retain her love? She was no heiress; supposing him actuated
by base motive, her value in his eyes came merely of his regarding
her as a means to an end.
But this was to reopen the question of whether or not he truly loved
her. No; he was forsaking her because he thought it impossible for
her to pardon the deceit he had undeniably practised--with
whatever palliating circumstances. He was overcome with shame. He
imagined her indignant, scornful.
Why had she written such a short, cold note, the very thing to
produce in his mind a conviction of her resentment?
Hereupon came another paroxysm of tearful misery. It was intensified
by a thought she had half consciously been repressing ever since the
conversation with her brother. Was it true that Miss Moxey had had
it in her power to strip Godwin of a disguise? What, then, were the
relations existing between him and that strangely impressive woman?
How long had they known each other? It was now all but certain that
a strong intellectual sympathy united their minds--and perhaps
there had been something more.
She turned her face upon the pillow and moaned.
And from the Moxeys Buckland had derived his information. What was
it he said--something about 'an odd look' on Miss Moxey's face
when that friend of theirs talked of Peak? Might not such a look
signify a conflict between the temptation to injure and the desire
Sidwell constructed a complete romance. Ignorance of the past of
both persons concerned allowed her imagination free play. There was
no limit to the possibilities of self-torment.
The desire to see Godwin took such hold upon her, that she had
already begun to think over the wording of another note to be sent
to him the first thing in the morning. His reply had been
insufficient: simple justice required that she should hear him in
his own defence before parting with him for ever. If she kept
silence, he would always remember her with bitterness, and this
would make her life-long sorrow harder to bear. Sidwell was one of
those few women whose love, never demonstrative, never exigent, only
declares itself in all its profound significance when it is called
upon to pardon. What was likely to be the issue of a meeting with
Godwin she could not foresee. It seemed all but impossible for their
intercourse to continue, and their coming face to face might result
in nothing but distress to both, better avoided; yet judgment
yielded to emotion. Yesterday--only yesterday--she had yielded
herself to the joy of loving, and before her consciousness had had
time to make itself familiar with its new realm, before her eyes had
grown accustomed to the light suddenly shed about her, she was
bidden to think of what had happened as only a dream. Her heart
refused to make surrender of its hope. Though it could be held only
by an encouragement of recognised illusion, she preferred to dream
yet a little longer. Above all, she must taste the luxury of
forgiving her lover, of making sure that her image would not dwell
in his mind as that of a self-righteous woman who had turned coldly
from his error, perhaps from his repentance.
A little after midnight, she rose from bed, slipped on her
dressing-gown, and sat down by the still burning lamp to write what
her passion dictated:
'Why should you distrust my ability, or my willingness to
understand you? It would have been so much better if you
had sent what you first wrote. These few lines do not even
let me know whether you think yourself to blame. Why do
you leave me to form a judgment of things as they appear
on the surface? If you ~wish~ to explain, if you sincerely feel
that I am in danger of wronging you by misconstruction,
come to me as soon as you have received this note. If you
will not come, then at least write to me--the letter you
at first thought of sending. This afternoon (Friday) I return
to London, but you know my address there. Don't think
because I wrote so briefly that I have judged you.
To have committed this to paper was a relief. In the morning she
would read it over and consider again whether she wished to send it.
On the table lay ~The Critical~. She opened it once more at the page
that concerned her, and glanced over the first few lines. Then,
having put the lamp nearer to the bed, she again lay down, not to
sleep but to read.
This essay was not so repugnant to her mind or her feelings as when
she first became acquainted with it. Its bitterness no longer seemed
to be directed against herself. There was much in it with which she
could have agreed at any time during the last six months, and many
strokes of satire, which till the other day would have offended her,
she now felt to be legitimate. As she read on, a kind of anger such
as she had never experienced trembled along her nerves. Was it not
flagrantly true that English society at large made profession of a
faith which in no sense whatever it could be said sincerely to hold?
Was there not every reason to believe that thousands of people keep
up an ignoble formalism, because they feared the social results of
declaring their severance from the religion of the churches? This
was a monstrous evil; she had never till this moment understood the
scope of its baneful effects. But for the prevalence of such a
spirit of hypocrisy, Godwin Peak would never have sinned against his
honour. Why was it not declared in trumpet-tones of authority, from
end to end of the Christian world, that Christianity, as it has been
understood through the ages, can no longer be accepted? For that was
the truth, the truth, the ~truth~!
She lay back, quivering as if with terror. For an instant her soul
had been filled with hatred of the religion for which she could once
have died. It had stood before her as a power of darkness and
ignorance, to be assailed, crushed, driven from the memory of man.
Last night she had hardly slept, and now, though her body was numb
with weariness, her mind kept up a feverish activity. She was bent
on excusing Godwin, and the only way in which she could do so was by
arraigning the world for its huge dishonesty. In a condition between
slumber and waking, she seemed to plead for him before a circle of
Pharisaic accusers. Streams of silent eloquence rushed through her
brain, and the spirit which prompted her was closely akin to that of
'The New Sophistry'. Now and then, for a few seconds, she was
smitten with a consciousness of extraordinary change in her habits
of thought. She looked about her with wide, fearful eyes, and
endeavoured to see things in the familiar aspect. As if with
physical constraint her angry imagination again overcame her, until
at length from the penumbra of sleep she passed into its profoundest
To wake when dawn was pale at the window. A choking odour reminded
her that she had not extinguished the lamp, which must have gone out
for lack of oil. She opened the window, took a draught of water, and
addressed herself to sleep again. But in recollecting what the new
day meant for her, she had spoilt the chances of longer rest. Her
head ached; all worldly thoughts were repulsive, yet she could not
dismiss them. She tried to repeat the prayers she had known since
childhood, but they were meaningless, and a sense of shame attached
to their utterance.
When the first gleam of sun told her that it was past eight o clock,
she made an effort and rose.
At breakfast Mrs. Warricombe talked of the departure for London. She
mentioned an early train; by getting ready as soon as the meal was
over, they could easily reach the station in time. Sidwell made no
direct reply and seemed to assent; but when they rose from the
table, she said, nervously:
'I couldn't speak before the servants. I wish to stay here till the
'I have asked Mr. Peak to come and see me this morning.'
Her mother knew that expostulation was useless, but could not
refrain from a long harangue made up of warning and reproof.
'You have very little consideration for me,' was her final remark.
'Now we shan't get home till after dark, and of course my throat
will be bad again.'
Glad of the anti-climax, Sidwell replied that the day was much
warmer, and that with care no harm need come of the journey.
'It's easy to say that, Sidwell. I never knew you to behave so
'Don't be angry with me, mother. You don't know how grieved I am to
distress you so. I can't help it, dear; indeed, I can't. Won't you
sacrifice a few hours to put my mind at rest?'
Mrs. Warricombe once more gave expression to her outraged feelings.
Sidwell could only listen silently with bent head.
If Godwin were coming at all, he would be here by eleven o'clock.
Sidwell had learnt that her letter was put into his hands. She asked
him to come at once, and nothing but a resolve not to meet her could
delay him more than an hour or two.
At half-past ten the bell sounded. She was sitting in the library
with her back turned to the door. When a voice announced 'Mr. Peak',
she did not at once rise, and with a feeling akin to terror she
heard the footstep slowly approaching. It stopped at some distance
from her; then, overcoming a weakness which threatened to clog her
as in a nightmare, she stood up and looked round.
Peak wore neither overcoat nor gloves, but otherwise was dressed in
the usual way. As Sidwell fixed her eyes upon him, he threw his hat
into a chair and came a step or two nearer. Whether he had passed
the night in sleep or vigil could not be determined; but his look
was one of shame, and he did not hold himself so upright as was his
'Will you come and sit down?' said Sidwell, pointing to a chair not
far from that on which one of her hands rested.
He moved forward, and was about to pass near her, when Sidwell
involuntarily held her hand to him. He took it and gazed into her
face with a melancholy smile.
'What does it mean?' she asked, in a low voice.
He relinquished her fingers, which he had scarcely pressed, and
stood with his arms behind his back.
'Oh, it's all quite true,' was his reply, wearily spoken.
'What is true?'
'All that you have heard from your brother.'
'All?--But how can you know what he has said?'
They looked at each other. Peak's lips were set as if in resistance
of emotion, and a frown wrinkled his brows. Sidwell's gaze was one
of fear and appeal.
'He said, of course, that I had deceived you.'
'But in what?--Was there no truth in anything you said to me?'
'To you I have spoken far more truth than falsehood.'
A light shone in her eyes, and her lips quivered.
'Then,' she murmured, 'Buckland was not right in everything.'
'I understand. He wished you to believe that my love was as much a
pretence as my religion?'
'He said that.'
'It was natural enough.--And you were disposed to believe it?'
'I thought it impossible. But I should have thought the same of the
Peak nodded, and moved away. Watching him, Sidwell was beset with
conflicting impulses. His assurance had allayed her worst misgiving,
and she approved the self-restraint with which he bore himself, but
at the same time she longed for a passionate declaration. As a
reasoning woman, she did her utmost to remember that Peak was on his
defence before her, and that nothing could pass between them but
grave discussion of the motives which had impelled him to
dishonourable behaviour. As a woman in love, she would fain have
obscured the moral issue by indulgence of her heart's desire. She
was glad that he held aloof, but if he had taken her in his arms,
she would have forgotten everything in the moment's happiness.
'Let us sit down, and tell me--tell me all you can.'
He delayed a moment, then seated himself opposite to her. She saw
now that his movements were those of physical fatigue; and the full
light from the window, enabling her to read his face more
distinctly, revealed the impress of suffering. Instead of calling
upon him to atone in such measure as was possible for the wrong he
had done her, she felt ready to reproach herself for speaking coldly
when his need of solace was so great.
'What can I tell you,' he said, 'that you don't know, or that you
'But you wrote that there was so much I could not be expected to
understand. And I can't, can't understand you. It still seems
impossible. Why did you hide the truth from me?'
'Because if I had begun by telling it, I should never have won a
kind look or a kind thought from you.'
'But what did you care for me then--when it began?'
'Not so much as I do now, but enough to overthrow all the results of
my life up to that time. Before I met you in this house I had seen
you twice, and had learned who you were. I was sitting in the
Cathedral when you came there with your sister and Miss Moorhouse--
do you remember? I heard Fanny call you by your name, and that
brought to my mind a young girl whom I had known in a slight way
years before. And the next day I again saw you there, at the
service; I waited about the entrance only to see you. I cared enough
for you then to conceive a design which for a long time seemed too
hateful really to be carried out, but--at last it was, you see.
Sidwell breathed quickly. Nothing he could have urged for himself
would have affected her more deeply than this. To date back and
extend the period of his love for her was a flattery more subtle
than Peak imagined.
'Why didn't you tell me that the day before yesterday?' she asked,
with tremulous bosom.
'I had no wish to remind myself of baseness in the midst of a pure
She was silent, then exclaimed, in accents of pain:
'Why should you have thought it necessary to be other than yourself?
Couldn't you see, at first meeting with us, that we were not bigoted
people? Didn't you know that Buckland had accustomed us to
understand how common it is nowadays for people to throw off the old
religion? Would father have looked coldly on you if he had known
that you followed where so many good and thoughtful men were
He regarded her anxiously.
'I had heard from Buckland that your father was strongly prejudiced;
that you also were quite out of sympathy with the new thought.'
'He exaggerated--even then.'
'Exaggerated? But on what plea could I have come to live in this
neighbourhood? How could I have kept you in sight--tried to win
your interest? I had no means, no position. The very thought of
encouraging my love for you demanded some extraordinary step. What
course was open to me?'
Sidwell let her head droop.
'I don't know. You might perhaps have discovered a way.'
'But what was the use, when the mere fact of my heresy would have
forbidden hope from the outset?'
'Why should it have done so?'
'Why? You know very well that you could never even have been
friendly with the man who wrote that thing in the review.'
'But here is the proof how much better it is to behave truthfully!
In this last year I have changed so much that I find it difficult to
understand the strength of my former prejudices. What is it to me
now that you speak scornfully of attempts to reconcile things that
can't be reconciled? I understand the new thought, and how natural
it is for you to accept it. If only I could have come to know you
well, your opinions would not have stood between us.'
Peak made a slight gesture, and smiled incredulously.
'You think so now.'
'And I have such good reason for my thought,' rejoined Sidwell,
earnestly, 'that when you said you loved me, my only regret in
looking to the future was--that you had resolved to be a
He leaned back in the chair, and let a hand fall on his knee. The
gesture seemed to signify a weary relinquishment of concern in what
they were discussing.
'How could I foresee that?' he uttered, in a corresponding tone.
Sidwell was made uneasy by the course upon which she had entered. To
what did her words tend? If only to a demonstration that fate had
used him as the plaything of its irony--if, after all, she had
nothing to say to him but 'See how your own folly has ruined you',
then she had better have kept silence. She not only appeared to be
offering him encouragement, but was in truth doing so. She wished
him to understand that his way of thinking was no obstacle to her
love, and with that purpose she was even guilty of a slight
misrepresentation. For it was only since the shock of this disaster
that she had clearly recognised the change in her own mind. True,
the regret of which she spoke had for an instant visited her, but it
represented a mundane solicitude rather than an intellectual
scruple. It had occurred to her how much brighter would be their
prospect if Peak were but an active man of the world, with a career
before him distinctly suited to his powers.
His contention was undeniably just. The influence to which she had
from the first submitted was the same that her father felt so
strongly. Godwin interested her as a self-reliant champion of the
old faiths, and his personal characteristics would never have
awakened such sympathy in her but for that initial recommendation.
Natural prejudice would have prevented her from perceiving the
points of kindred between his temperament and her own. His low
origin, the ridiculous stories connected with his youth--why had
she, in spite of likelihood, been able to disregard these things?
Only because of what she then deemed his spiritual value.
But for the dishonourable part he had played, this bond of love
would never have been formed between them. The thought was a new
apology for his transgression; she could not but defy her
conscience, and look indulgently on the evil which had borne such
Godwin had begun to speak again.
'This is quite in keeping with the tenor of my whole life. Whatever
I undertake ends in frustration at a point where success seems to
have just come within my reach. Great things and trifles--it's all
the same. My course at College was broken off at the moment when I
might have assured my future. Later, I made many an effort to
succeed in literature, and when at length something of mine was
printed in a leading review, I could not even sign it, and had no
profit from the attention it excited. Now--well, you see.
Laughable, isn't it?'
Sidwell scarcely withheld herself from bending forward and giving
him her hand.
'What shall you do?' she asked.
'Oh, I am not afraid. I have still enough money left to support me
until I can find some occupation of the old kind. Fortunately, I am
not one of those men whose brains have no marketable value.'
'If you knew how it pains me to hear you!'
'If I didn't believe that, I couldn't speak to you like this. I
never thought you would let me see you again, and if you hadn't
asked me to come, I could never have brought myself to face you. But
it would have been a miserable thing to go off without even knowing
what you thought of me.'
'Should you never have written to me?'
'I think not. You find it hard to imagine that I have any pride, no
doubt; but it is there, explain it how one may.'
'It would have been wrong to leave me in such uncertainty.'
'About you--about your future.'
'Did you quite mean that? Hadn't your brother made you doubt whether
I loved you at all?'
'Yes. But no, I didn't doubt. Indeed, indeed, I didn't doubt! But I
felt such a need of hearing from your own lips that--Oh, I can't
Godwin smiled sadly.
'I think I understand. But there was every reason for my believing
that ~your~ love could not bear such a test. You must regard me as
quite a different man--one utterly unknown to you.'
He had resolved to speak not a word that could sound like an appeal
to her emotions. When he entered the room he felt a sincere
indifference as to what would result from the interview, for to his
mind the story was ended, and he had only to retire with the dignity
still possible to a dishonoured man. To touch the note of pathos
would be unworthy; to exert what influence might be left to him, a
wanton cruelty. But he had heard such unexpected things, that it was
not easy for him to remember how complete had seemed the severance
between him and Sidwell. The charm of her presence was reasserting
itself, and when avowal of continued love appeared so unmistakably
in her troubled countenance, her broken words, he could not control
the answering fervour. He spoke in a changed voice, and allowed his
eyes to dwell longingly upon hers.
'I felt so at first,' she answered. 'And it would be wrong to
pretend that I can still regard you as I did before.'
It cost her a great effort to add these words. When they were
spoken, she was at once glad and fearful.
'I am not so foolish, as to think it possible,' said Peak, half
'But that is no reason,' she pursued, 'why we should become
strangers. You are still so young a man; life must be so full of
possibilities for you. This year has been wasted, but when you leave
An impatient movement of Godwin's checked her.
'You are going to encourage me to begin the struggle once more,' he
said, bitterly. 'Where? How? It is so easy to talk of
'You are not without friends--I mean friends whose sympathy is of
real value to you.'
Saying this, she looked keenly at him.
'Friends,' he replied, 'who perhaps at this moment are laughing
over my disgrace.'
'How do they know of--what has happened?'
'How did your brother get his information? I didn't care to ask him.
--No, I don't even wish you to say anything about that.'
'But surely there is no reason for keeping it secret. Why may I not
speak freely? Buckland told me that he had heard you spoken of at
the house of people named Moxey.'
She endeavoured to understand the smile which rose to his lips. 'Now
it is clear to me,' he said. 'Yes, I suppose that was inevitable,
sooner or later.'
'You knew that he had become acquainted with the Moxeys?'
Her tone was more reserved than hitherto.
'Yes, I knew he had. He met Miss Moxey by chance at Budleigh
Salterton, and I happened to be there--at the Moorhouses'--on
the same day.'
Sidwell glanced at him inquiringly, and waited for something more.
'I saw Miss Moxey in private,' he added, speaking more quickly, 'and
asked her to keep my secret. I ought to be ashamed to tell you this,
but it is better you should know how far my humiliation has gone.'
He saw that she was moved with strong feeling. The low tone in which
she answered had peculiar significance.
'Did you speak of me to Miss Moxey?'
'I must forgive you for asking that,' Peak replied, coldly. 'It may
well seem to you that I have neither honour nor delicacy left.'
There had come a flush on her cheeks. For some moments she was
absorbed in thought.
'It seems strange to you,' he continued at length, 'that I could ask
Miss Moxey to share such a secret. But you must understand on what
terms we were--she and I. We have known each other for several
years. She has a man's mind, and I have always thought of her in
much the same way as of my male companions.--Your brother has told
you about her, perhaps?'
'I have met her in London.'
'Then that will make my explanation easier,' said Godwin,
disregarding the anxious questions that at once suggested themselves
to him. 'Well, I misled her, or tried to do so. I allowed her to
suppose that I was sincere in my new undertakings, and that I didn't
wish--Oh!' he exclaimed, suddenly breaking off, 'Why need I go any
further in confession? It must be as miserable for you to hear as
for me to speak. Let us make an end of it. I can't understand how I
have escaped detection so long.'
Remembering every detail of Buckland's story, Sidwell felt that she
had possibly been unjust in representing the Moxeys as her brother's
authority; in strictness, she ought to mention that a friend of
theirs was the actual source of information. But she could not
pursue the subject; like Godwin, she wished to put it out of her
mind. What question could there be of honour or dishonour in the
case of a person such as Miss Moxey, who had consented to be party
to a shameful deceit? Strangely, it was a relief to her to have
heard this. The moral repugnance which threatened to estrange her
from Godwin, was now directed in another quarter; unduly restrained
by love, it found scope under the guidance of jealousy.
'You have been trying to adapt yourself,' she said, 'to a world for
which you are by nature unfitted. Your place is in the new order; by
turning back to the old, you condemned yourself to a wasted life.
Since we have been in London, I have come to understand better the
great difference between modern intellectual life and that which we
lead in these far-away corners. You must go out among your equals,
go and take your part with men who are working for the future.'
Peak rose with a gesture of passionate impatience.
'What is it to me, new world or old? My world is where ~you~ are. I
have no life of my own; I think only of you, live only by you.'
'If I could help you!' she replied, with emotion. 'What can I do
--but be your friend at a distance? Everything else has become
'Impossible for the present--for a long time to come. But is there
no hope for me?'
She pressed her hands together, and stood before him unable to
answer. 'Remember,' he continued, 'that you are almost as much
changed in my eyes as I in yours. I did not imagine that you had
moved so far towards freedom of mind. If my love for you was
profound and absorbing, think what it must now have become! Yours
has suffered by my disgrace, but is there no hope of its reviving--
if I live worthily--if I----?'
His voice failed.
'I have said that we can't be strangers,' Sidwell murmured brokenly.
'Wherever you go, I must hear of you.'
'Everyone about you will detest my name. You will soon wish to
forget my existence.'
'If I know myself, never!--Oh, try to find your true work! You
have such abilities, powers so much greater than those of ordinary
men. You will always be the same to me, and if ever
'You would have to give up so much, Sidwell. And there is little
chance of my ever being well-to-do; poverty will always stand
between us, if nothing else.'
'It must be so long before we can think of that.'
'But can I ever see you?--No, I won't ask that. Who knows? I may
have to go too far away. But I ~may~ write to you--after a time?'
'I shall live in the hope of good news from you,' she replied,
trying to smile and to speak cheerfully. 'This will always be my
home. Nothing will be changed.'
'Then you don't think of me as irredeemably base?'
'If I thought you base,' Sidwell answered, in a low voice, 'I should
not now be speaking with you. It is because I feel and know that you
have erred only--that is what makes it impossible for me to think of
your fault as outweighing the good in your nature.'
'The good? I wonder how you understand that. What is there ~good~ in
me? You don't mean mere intellect?'
He waited anxiously for what she would say. A necessity for speaking
out his inmost thoughts had arisen with the emotion, scarcely to be
called hope, excited by Sidwell's magnanimity. Now, or never, he
must stand before this woman as his very self, and be convinced that
she loved him for his own sake.
'No, I don't mean intellect,' she replied, with hesitation.
'What then? Tell me of one quality in me strong enough to justify a
Sidwell dropped her eyes in confusion.
'I can't analyse your character--I only know'----
She became silent.
'To myself,' pursued Godwin, with the modulated, moving voice which
always expressed his genuine feeling, 'I seem anything but lovable.
I don't underrate my powers--rather the opposite, no doubt; but
what I always seem to lack is the gift of pleasing--moral grace.
My strongest emotions seem to be absorbed in revolt; for once that I
feel tenderly, I have a hundred fierce, resentful, tempestuous
moods. To be suave and smiling in common intercourse costs me an
effort. I have to act the part, and this habit makes me sceptical,
whenever I am really prompted to gentleness. I criticise myself
ceaselessly; expose without mercy all those characteristics which
another man would keep out of sight. Yes, and for this very reason,
just because I think myself unlovable--the gift of love means far
more to me than to other men. If you could conceive the passion of
gratitude which possessed me for hours after I left you the other
day! You cannot!'
Sidwell regarded him fixedly.
'In comparison with this sincerity, what becomes of the pretence you
blame in me? If you knew how paltry it seems--that accusation of
dishonesty! I believed the world round, and pretended to believe it
flat: that's what it amounts to! Are you, on such an account as
that, to consider worthless the devotion which has grown in me month
by month? You--I was persuaded--thought the world flat, and
couldn't think kindly of any man who held the other hypothesis. Very
well; why not concede the trifle, and so at least give myself a
chance? I did so--that was all.'
In vain her conscience strove to assert itself. She was under the
spell of a nature infinitely stronger than hers; she saw and felt as
'You think, Sidwell, that I stand in need of forgiveness. Then be
great enough to forgive me, wholly--once and for all. Let your
love be strengthened by the trial it has passed through. That will
mean that my whole life is yours, directed by the ever-present
thought of your beauty, face and soul. Then there ~will~ be good in
me, thanks to you. I shall no longer live a life of hypocrisy, of
suppressed rage and scorn. I know how much I am asking; perhaps it
means that for my sake you give up everything else that is dear to
The thought checked him. He looked at her despondently.
'You can trust me,' Sidwell answered, moving nearer to him, tears on
her cheeks. 'I must hear from you, and I will write.'
'I can ask no more than that.'
He took her hands, held them for a moment, and turned away. At the
door he looked round. Sidwell's head was bowed, and, on her raising
it, he saw that she was blinded with tears.
So he went forth.
For several days after the scene in which Mr. Malkin unconsciously
played an important part, Marcella seemed to be ill. She appeared at
meals, but neither ate nor conversed. Christian had never known her
so sullen and nervously irritable; he did not venture to utter
Peak's name. Upon seclusion followed restless activity. Marcella was
rarely at home between breakfast and dinner-time, and her brother
learnt with satisfaction that she went much among her acquaintances.
Late one evening, when he had just returned from he knew not where,
Christian tried to put an end to the unnatural constraint between
them. After talking cheerfully for a few minutes, he risked the
'Have you seen anything of the Warricombes?'
She replied with a cold negative.
'Nor heard anything?'
'No. Have you?'
'Nothing at all. I have seen Earwaker. Malkin had told him about
what happened here the other day.'
'But he had no news.--Of Peak, I mean.'
Marcella smiled, as if the situation amused her; but she would not
discuss it. Christian began to hope that she was training herself to
a wholesome indifference.
A month of the new year went by, and Peak seemed to be forgotten.
Marcella had returned to her studious habits, was fenced around with
books, seldom left the house. Another month and the brother and
sister were living very much in the old way, seeing few people,
conversing only of intellectual things. But Christian concealed an
expectation which enabled him to pass hours of retirement in the
completest idleness. Since the death of her husband, Mrs. Palmer had
been living abroad. Before the end of March, as he had been careful
to discover, she would be back in London, at the house in Sussex
Square. By that time he might venture, without indelicacy, to call
upon her. And after the first interview----
The day came, when, ill with agitation, he set forth to pay this
call. For two or three nights he had scarcely closed his eyes; he
looked ghastly. The weather was execrable, and on that very account
he made choice of this afternoon, hoping that he might find his
widowed Laura alone. Between ringing the bell and the opening of the
door, he could hardly support himself. He asked for Mrs. Palmer in a
gasping voice which caused the servant to look at him with surprise.
The lady was at home. At the drawing-room door, before his name
could be announced, he caught the unwelcome sound of voices in
lively conversation. It seemed to him that a score of persons were
assembled. In reality there were six, three of them callers.
Mrs. Palmer met him with the friendliest welcome. A stranger would
have thought her pretty, but by no means impressive. She was short,
anything but meagre, fair-haired, brisk of movement, idly vivacious
in look and tone. The mourning she wore imposed no restraint upon
her humour, which at present was not far from gay.
'Is it really Mr. Moxey?' she exclaimed. 'Why, I had all but
forgotten you, and positively it is your own fault! It must be a
year or more since you came to see me. No? Eight months?--But I
have been through so much trouble, you know.' She sighed
mechanically. 'I thought of you one day at Bordighera, when we were
looking at some funny little sea-creatures--the kind of thing you
used to know all about. How is your sister?'
A chill struck upon his heart. Assuredly he had no wish to find
Constance sunk in the semblance of dolour; such hypocrisy would have
pained him. But her sprightliness was a shock. Though months had
passed since Mr. Palmer's decease, a decent gravity would more have
become her condition. He could reply only in broken phrases, and it
was a relief to him when the widow, as if tiring of his awkwardness,
turned her attention elsewhere.
He was at length able to survey the company. Two ladies in mourning
he faintly recognised, the one a sister of Mr. Palmer's, comely but
of dull aspect; the other a niece, whose laugh was too frequent even
had it been more musical, and who talked of athletic sports with a
young man evidently better fitted to excel in that kind of thing
than in any pursuit demanding intelligence. This gentleman Christian
had never met. The two other callers, a grey-headed,
military-looking person, and a lady, possibly his wife, were equally
strangers to him.
The drawing-room was much changed in appearance since Christian's
last visit. There was more display, a richer profusion of ornaments
not in the best taste. The old pictures had given place to
showily-framed daubs of the most popular school. On a little table
at his elbow, he remarked the photograph of a jockey who was just
then engrossing public affection. What did all this mean? Formerly,
he had attributed every graceful feature of the room to Constance's
choice. He had imagined that to her Mr. Palmer was indebted for
guidance on points of aesthetic propriety. Could it be that----?
He caught a glance which she cast in his direction, and instantly
forgot the troublesome problem. How dull of him to misunderstand
her! Her sportiveness had a double significance. It was the
expression of a hope which would not be subdued, and at the same
time a means of disguising the tender interest with which she
regarded ~him~. If she had been blithe before his appearance, how
could she suddenly change her demeanour as soon as he entered? It
would have challenged suspicion and remark. For the same reason she
affected to have all but forgotten him. Of course! how could he have
failed to see that? 'I thought of you one day at Bordighera'--was
not that the best possible way of making known to him that he had
never been out of her mind?
Sweet, noble, long-suffering Constance!
He took a place by her sister, and began to talk of he knew not
what, for all his attention was given to the sound of Constance's
'Yes,' she was saying to the man of military appearance, 'it's very
early to come back to London, but I did get so tired of those
(In other words, of being far from her Christian--thus he
'No, we didn't make a single pleasant acquaintance. A shockingly
tiresome lot of people wherever we went.'
(In comparison with the faithful lover, who waited, waited.)
'Foreigners are so stupid--don't you think so? Why should they
always expect you to speak ~their~ language?--Oh, of course I
speak French; but it is such a disagreeable language--don't you
(Compared with the accents of English devotion, of course.)
'Do you go in for cycling, Mr. Moxey?' inquired Mrs. Palmer's laughing
niece, from a little distance.
'For cycling?' With a great effort he recovered himself and grasped
the meaning of the words. 'No, I--I'm sorry to say I don't.
'Mr. Dwight has just been telling me such an awfully good story about
a friend of his. Do tell it again, Mr. Dwight! It'll make you laugh
no end, Mr. Moxey.'
The young man appealed to was ready enough to repeat his anecdote,
which had to do with a bold cyclist, who, after dining more than
well, rode his machine down a steep hill and escaped destruction
only by miracle. Christian laughed desperately, and declared that he
had never heard anything so good.
But the tension of his nerves was unendurable. Five minutes more of
anguish, and he sprang up like an automaton.
'Must you really go, Mr. Moxey?' said Constance, with a manner which
of course was intended to veil her emotion. 'Please don't be another
year before you let us see you again.'
Blessings on her tender heart! What more could she have said, in the
presence of all those people? He walked all the way to Notting Hill
through a pelting rain, his passion aglow.
Impossible to be silent longer concerning the brilliant future.
Arrived at home, he flung off hat and coat, and went straight to the
drawing-room, hoping to find Marcella alone. To his annoyance, a
stranger was sitting there in conversation, a very simply dressed
lady, who, as he entered, looked at him with a grave smile and stood
up. He thought he had never seen her before.
Marcella wore a singular expression; there was a moment of silence,
for Christian decidedly embarrassing, since it seemed to be expected
that he should greet the stranger.
'Don't you remember Janet?' said his sister.
'Janet?' He felt his face flush. 'You don't mean to say--? But how
you have altered! And yet, no; really, you haven't. It's only my
stupidity.' He grasped her hand, and with a feeling of genuine
pleasure, despite awkward reminiscences.
'One does alter in eleven years,' said Janet Moxey, in a very
pleasant, natural voice--a voice of habitual self-command,
conveying the idea of a highly cultivated mind, and many other
'Eleven years? Yes, yes! How very glad I am to see you! And I'm sure
Marcella was. How very kind of you to call on us!'
Janet was as far as ever from looking handsome or pretty, but it
must have been a dullard who proclaimed her face unpleasing. She had
eyes of remarkable intelligence, something like Marcella's but
milder, more benevolent. Her lips were softly firm; they would not
readily part in laughter; their frequent smile meant more than that
of the woman who sets herself to be engaging.
'I am on my way home,' she said, 'from a holiday in the South,--an
enforced holiday, I'm sorry to say.'
'You have been ill?'
'Overworked a little. I am practising medicine in Kingsmill.'
Christian did not disguise his astonishment.
'You don't remember that I always had scientific tastes?'
If it was a reproach, none could have been more gently administered.
'Of course--of course I do! Your botany, your skeletons of birds
and cats and mice--of course! But where did you study?'
'In London. The Women's Medical School. I have been in practice for
nearly four years.'
'And have overworked yourself.--But why are we standing? Let us
sit down and talk. How is your father?'
Marcella was watching her brother closely, and with a curious smile.
Janet remained for another hour. No reference was made to the long
rupture of intercourse between her family and these relatives.
Christian learnt that his uncle was still hale, and that Janet's
four sisters all lived, obviously unmarried. To-day he was disposed
to be almost affectionate with anyone who showed him a friendly
face: he expressed grief that his cousin must leave for Twybridge
early in the morning.
'Whenever you pass through the Midlands,' was Janet's indirect
reply, addressed to Marcella, 'try to stop at Kingsmill.'
And a few minutes after that she took her leave. There lingered
behind her that peculiar fragrance of modern womanhood, refreshing,
inspiriting, which is so entirely different from the merely feminine
perfume, however exquisite.
'What a surprising visit!' was Christian's exclamation, when he and
his sister were alone. 'How did she find us?'
'Directory, I suppose.'
'A lady doctor!' he mused.
'And a very capable one, I fancy,' said Marcella. 'We had nearly an
hour's talk before you came. But she won't be able to stand the
work. There'll be another breakdown before long.'
'Has she a large practice, then?'
'Not very large, perhaps; but she studies as well. I never dreamt of
Janet becoming so interesting a person.'
Christian had to postpone till after dinner the talk he purposed
about Mrs. Palmer. When that time came, he was no longer disposed for
sentimental confessions; it would be better to wait until he could
announce a settled project of marriage. Through the evening, his
sister recurred to the subject of Janet with curious frequency, and
on the following day her interest had suffered no diminution.
Christian had always taken for granted that she understood the
grounds of the breach between him and his uncle; without ever
unbosoming himself, he had occasionally, in his softer moments,
alluded to the awkward subject in language which he thought easy
enough to interpret. Now at length, in reply to some remark of
Marcella's, he said with significant accent:
'Janet was very friendly to me.'
'She has studied science for ten years,' was his sister's comment.
'Yes, and can forgive a boy's absurdities.'
'Easier to forgive, certainly, than those of a man,' said Marcella,
with a curl of the lip.
Christian became silent, and went thoughtfully away.
A week later, he was again in Mrs. Palmer's drawing-room, where again
he met an assemblage of people such as seemed to profane this
sanctuary. To be sure--he said to himself--Constance could not
at once get rid of the acquaintances forced upon her by her husband;
little by little she would free herself. It was a pity that her
sister and her niece--persons anything but intelligent and refined
--should be permanent members of her household; for their sake, no
doubt, she felt constrained to welcome men and women for whose
society she herself had little taste. But when the year of her
widowhood was past----Petrarch's Laura was the mother of eleven
children; Constance had had only three, and one of these was dead.
The remaining two, Christian now learnt, lived with a governess in a
little house at Bournemouth, which Mrs. Palmer had taken for that
'I'm going down to see them to-morrow,' she informed Christian, 'and
I shall stay there over the next day. It's so quiet and restful.'
These words kept repeating themselves to Christian's ear, as he went
home, and all through the evening. Were they not an invitation? Down
there at Bournemouth, Constance would be alone the day after
to-morrow. 'It is so quiet and restful;' that was to say, no idle
callers would break upon her retirement; she would be able to
welcome a friend, and talk reposefully with him. Surely she must
have meant that; for she spoke with a peculiar intonation--a look
By the second morning he had worked himself up to a persuasion that
yonder by the seaside Constance was expecting him. To miss the
opportunity would be to prove himself dull of apprehension, a
laggard in love. With trembling hands, he hurried through his toilet
and made haste downstairs to examine a railway time-table. He found
it was possible to reach Bournemouth by about two o'clock, a very
convenient hour; it would allow him to take refreshment, and walk to
the house shortly after three.
His conviction strong as ever, he came to the journey's end, and in
due course discovered the pleasant little house of which Constance
had spoken. At the door, his heart failed him; but retreat could not
now be thought of. Yes, Mrs. Palmer was at home. The servant led him
into a sitting-room on the ground floor, took his name, and left
It was nearly ten minutes before Constance appeared. On her face he
read a frank surprise.
'I happened to--to be down here; couldn't resist the temptation'
'Delighted to see you, Mr. Moxey. But how did you know I was here?'
He gazed at her.
'You--don't you remember? The day before yesterday--in Sussex
'Oh, did I?' She laughed. 'I had quite forgotten.'
Christian sank upon his chair. He tried to convince himself that she
was playing a part; perhaps she thought that she had been premature
in revealing her wish to talk with him.
Mrs. Palmer was good-natured. This call evidently puzzled her, but
she did not stint her hospitality. When Christian asked after the
children, they were summoned; two little girls daintily dressed,
pretty, affectionate with their mother. The sight of them tortured
Christian, and he sighed deeply with relief when they left the room.
Constance appeared rather absent; her quick glance at him signified
something, but he could not determine what. In agony of constraint,
he rose as if to go.
'Oh, you will have a cup of tea with me,' said Mrs. Palmer. 'It will
be brought in a few minutes.'
Then she really wished him to stop. Was he not behaving like an
obtuse creature? Why, everything was planned to encourage him.
He talked recklessly of this and that, and got round to the years
long gone by. When the tea came, he was reviving memories of
occasions on which he and she had met as young people. Constance
laughed merrily, declared she could hardly remember.
'Oh, what a time ago!--But I was quite a child.'
'No--indeed, no! You were a young lady, and a brilliant one.'
The tea seemed to intoxicate him. He noticed again that Constance
glanced at him significantly. How good of her to allow him this
'Mr. Moxey,' she said, after meditating a little, 'why haven't you
married? I should have thought you would have married long ago.'
He was stricken dumb. Her jerky laugh came as a shock upon his
'What is there astonishing in the idea?'
'But--I--how can I answer you?'
The pretty, characterless face betrayed some unusual feeling. She
looked at him furtively; seemed to suppress a tendency to laugh.
'I mustn't pry into secrets,' she simpered.
'But there is no secret!' Christian panted, laying down his teacup
for fear he should drop it. 'Whom should I--could I have married?'
Constance also put aside her cup. She was bewildered, and just a
little abashed. With courage which came he knew not whence,
Christian bent forward and continued speaking:
'Whom could I marry after that day when I met you in the little
drawing-room at the Robinsons'?'
She stared in genuine astonishment, then was embarrassed.
'You cannot--cannot have forgotten----?'
'You surely don't mean to say, Mr. Moxey, that you have remembered?
Oh, I'm afraid I was a shocking flirt in those days!'
'But I mean ~after~ your marriage--when I found you in tears'----
'Please, please don't remind me!' she exclaimed, giggling nervously.
'Oh how silly!--of me, I mean. To think that--but you are making
fun of me, Mr. Moxey?'
Christian rose and went to the window. He was not only shaken by his
tender emotions--something very like repugnance had begun to
affect him. If Constance were feigning, it was in very bad taste; if
she spoke with sincerity--what a woman had he worshipped! It did
not occur to him to lay the fault upon his own absurd romanticism.
After eleven years' persistence in one point of view, he could not
suddenly see the affair with the eyes of common sense.
He turned and approached her again.
'Do you not know, then,' he asked, with quiet dignity, 'that ever
since the day I speak of, I have devoted my life to the love I then
felt? All these years, have you not understood me?'
Mrs. Palmer was quite unable to grasp ideas such as these. Neither
her reading nor her experience prepared her to understand what
Christian meant. Courtship of a married woman was intelligible
enough to her; but a love that feared to soil itself, a devotion
from afar, encouraged by only the faintest hope of reward other than
the most insubstantial--of that she had as little conception as
any woman among the wealthy vulgar.
'Do you really mean, Mr. Moxey, that you--have kept unmarried for
'You don't know that?' he asked, hoarsely.
'How could I? How was I to imagine such a thing? Really, was it
proper? How could you expect me, Mr. Moxey----?'
For a moment she looked offended. But her real feelings were
astonishment and amusement, not unmingled with an idle
'I must ask you to pardon me,' said Christian, whose forehead
gleamed with moisture.
'No, don't say that. I am really so sorry! What an odd mistake!'
'And I have hoped in vain--since you were free----?'
'Oh, you mustn't say such things! I shall never dream of marrying
There was a matter-of-fact vigour in the assertion which proved that
Mrs. Palmer spoke her genuine thought. The tone could not be
interpreted as devotion to her husband's memory; it meant, plainly
and simply, that she had had enough of marriage, and delighted in
Christian could not say another word. Disillusion was complete. The
voice, the face, were those of as unspiritual a woman as he could
easily have met with, and his life's story was that of a fool.
He took his hat, held out his hand, with 'Good-bye, Mrs. Palmer.' The
cold politeness left her no choice but again to look offended, and
with merely a motion of the head she replied, 'Good-bye, Mr. Moxey.'
And therewith permitted him to leave the house.
On calling at Earwaker's chambers one February evening, Malkin
became aware, from the very threshold of the outer door, that the
domicile was not as he had known it. With the familiar fragrance of
Earwaker's special 'mixture' blended a suggestion of new upholstery.
The little vestibule had somehow put off its dinginess, and an
unwontedly brilliant light from the sitting-room revealed changes of
the interior which the visitor remarked with frank astonishment.
'What the deuce! Has it happened at last? Are you going to be
married?' he cried, staring about him at unrecognised chairs,
tables, and bookcases, at whitened ceiling and pleasantly papered
walls, at pictures and ornaments which he knew not.
The journalist shook his head, and smiled contentedly.
'An idea that came to me all at once. My editorship seemed to
After a year of waiting upon Providence, Earwaker had received the
offer of a substantial appointment much more to his taste than those
he had previously held. He was now literary editor of a weekly
review which made no kind of appeal to the untaught multitude.
'I have decided to dwell here for the rest of my life,' he added,
looking round the walls. 'One must have a homestead, and this shall
be mine; here I have set up my penates. It's a portion of space, you
know; and what more can be said of Longleat or Chatsworth? A house I
shall never want, because I shall never have a wife. And on the
whole I prefer this situation to any other. I am well within reach
of everything urban that I care about, and as for the country, that
is too good to be put to common use; let it be kept for holiday.
There's an atmosphere in the old Inns that pleases me. The new flats
are insufferable. How can one live sandwiched between a music-hall
singer and a female politician? For lodgings of any kind no sane man
had ever a word of approval. Reflecting on all these things, I have
established myself in perpetuity.'
'Just what I can't do,' exclaimed Malkin, flinging himself into a
broad, deep, leather-covered chair. 'Yet I have leanings that way.
Only a few days ago I sat for a whole evening with the map of
England open before me, wondering where would be the best place to
settle down--a few years hence, I mean, you know; when Bella is
old enough.--That reminds me. Next Sunday is her birthday, and do
you know what? I wish you'd go down to Wrotham with me.'
'Many thanks, but I think I had better not.'
'Oh, but do! I want you to see how Bella is getting on. She's grown
wonderfully since you saw her in Paris--an inch taller, I should
think. I don't go down there very often, you know, so I notice these
changes. Really, I think no one could be more discreet than I am,
under the circumstances. A friend of the family; that's all. Just
dropping in for a casual cup of tea now and then. Sunday will be a
special occasion, of course. I say, what are your views about early
marriage? Do you think seventeen too young?'
'I should think seven-and-twenty much better.'
Malkin broke into fretfulness.
'Let me tell you, Earwaker, I don't like the way you habitually
speak of this project of mine. Plainly, I don't like it. It's a very
serious matter indeed--eh? What? Why are you smiling?'
'I agree with you as to its seriousness.'