Part 9 out of 10
'Yes, yes; but in a very cynical and offensive way. It makes me
confoundedly uncomfortable, let me tell you. I don't think that's
very friendly on your part. And the fact is, if it goes on I'm very
much afraid we shan't see so much of each other as we have done. I
like you, Earwaker, and I respect you; I think you know that. But
occasionally you seem to have too little regard for one's feelings.
No, I don't feel able to pass it over with a joke.--There! The
deuce take it! I've bitten off the end of my pipe.'
He spat out a piece of amber, and looked ruefully at the broken
'Take a cigar,' said Earwaker, fetching a box from a cupboard.
'I don't mind.--Well--what was I saying? Oh yes; I was
quarrelling with you. Now, look here, what fault have you to find
with Bella Jacox?'
'None whatever. She seemed to me a very amiable child.'
'Child! Pooh! pshaw! And fifteen next Sunday, I tell you. She's a
young lady, and to tell you the confounded plain truth, I'm in love
with her. I am, and there's nothing to be ashamed of. If you smile,
we shall quarrel. I warn you, Earwaker, we shall quarrel.'
The journalist, instead of smiling, gave forth his deepest laugh.
Malkin turned very red, scowled, and threw his cigar aside.
'You really wish me to go on Sunday?' Earwaker asked, in a pleasant
The other's countenance immediately cleared.
'I shall take it as a great kindness. Mrs. Jacox will be delighted.
Meet me at Holborn Viaduct at 1.25. No, to make sure I'll come here
at one o'clock.'
In a few minutes he was chatting as unconcernedly as ever.
'Talking of settling down, my brother Tom and his wife are on the
point of going to New Zealand. Necessity of business; may be out
there for the rest of their lives. Do you know that I shall think
very seriously of following them some day? With Bella, you know. The
fact of the matter is, I don't believe I could ever make a solid
home in England. Why, I can't quite say; partly, I suppose, because
I have nothing to do. Now there's a good deal to be said for going
out to the colonies. A man feels that he is helping the spread of
civilisation; and that's something, you know. I should compare
myself with the Greek and Roman colonists--something inspiriting
in that thought--what? Why shouldn't I found a respectable
newspaper, for instance? Yes, I shall think very seriously of this.'
'You wouldn't care to run over with your relatives, just to have a
'It occurred to me,' Malkin replied, thoughtfully. 'But they sail in
ten days, and--well, I'm afraid I couldn't get ready in time. And
then I've promised to look after some little affairs for Mrs. Jacox
--some trifling money matters. But later in the year--who knows?'
Earwaker half repented of his promise to visit the Jacox household,
but there was no possibility of excusing himself. So on Sunday he
journeyed with his friend down to Wrotham. Mrs. Jacox and her
children were very comfortably established in a small new house.
When the companions entered they found the mother alone in her
sitting-room, and she received them with an effusiveness very
distasteful to Earwaker.
'Now you shouldn't!' was her first exclamation to Malkin. 'Indeed
you shouldn't! It's really very naughty of you. 0 Mr. Earwaker! Who
ever took so much pleasure in doing kindnesses? Do look at this
~beautiful~ book that Mr. Malkin has sent as a present to my little
Bella. 0 Mr. Earwaker!'
The journalist was at once struck with her tone and manner as she
addressed Malkin. He remarked that phrase, 'my little Bella', and it
occurred to him that Mrs. Jacox had been growing younger since he
made her acquaintance on the towers of Notre Dame. When the girls
presented themselves, they also appeared to him more juvenile;
Bella, in particular, was dressed with an exaggeration of
childishness decidedly not becoming. One had but to look into her
face to see that she answered perfectly to Malkin's description; she
was a young lady, and no child. A very pretty young lady, moreover;
given to colouring, but with no silly simper; intelligent about the
eyes and lips; modest, in a natural and sweet way. He conversed with
her, and in doing so was disagreeably affected by certain glances
she occasionally cast towards her mother. One would have said that
she feared censure, though it was hard to see why.
On the return journey Earwaker made known some of his impressions,
though not all.
'I like the girls,' he said, 'Bella especially. But I can't say much
good of their mother.'
They were opposite each other in the railway carriage. Malkin leaned
forward with earnest, anxious face.
'That's my own trouble,' he whispered. 'I'm confoundedly uneasy
about it. I don't think she's bringing them up at all in a proper
way. Earwaker, I would pay down five thousand pounds for the
possibility of taking Bella away altogether.'
The other mused.
'But, mind you,' pursued Malkin, 'she's not a ~bad~ woman. By no
means! Thoroughly good-hearted I'm convinced; only a little weak
here.' He tapped his forehead. 'I respect her, for all she has
suffered, and her way of going through it. But she isn't the ideal
mother, you know.'
On his way home, Malkin turned into his friend's chambers 'for five
minutes'. At two in the morning he was still there, and his talk in
the meanwhile had been of nothing but schemes for protecting Bella
against her mother's more objectionable influences. On taking leave,
'Any news of Peak yet?'
'None. I haven't seen Moxey for a long time.'
'Do you think Peak will look you up again, if he's in London?'
'No, I think he'll keep away. And I half hope he will; I shouldn't
quite know how to behave. Ten to one he's in London now. I suppose
he couldn't stay at Exeter. But he may have left England.'
They parted, and for a week did not see each other. Then, on Monday
evening, when Earwaker was very busy with a mass of manuscript, the
well-known knock sounded from the passage, and Malkin received
admission. The look he wore was appalling, a look such as only some
fearful catastrophe could warrant.
'Are you busy?' he asked, in a voice very unlike his own.
Earwaker could not doubt that the trouble was this time serious. He
abandoned his work, and gave himself wholly to his friend's service.
'An awful thing has happened,' Malkin began. 'How the deuce shall I
tell you? Oh, the ass I have made of myself! But I couldn't help it;
there seemed no way out of it.'
'It was last night, but I couldn't come to you till now. By Jove! I
veritably thought of sending you a note, and then killing myself.
Early this morning I was within an ace of suicide. Believe me, old
friend. This is no farce.'
'Yes, yes; but I can't tell you all at once. Sure you're not busy? I
know I pester you. I was down at Wrotham yesterday. I hadn't meant
to go, but the temptation was too strong. I got there at five
o'clock, and found that the girls were gone to have tea with some
young friends. Well, I wasn't altogether sorry; it was a good
opportunity for a little talk with their mother. And I ~had~ the
talk. But, oh, ass that I was!'
He smote the side of his head savagely.
'Can you guess, Earwaker? Can you give a shot at what happened?'
'Perhaps I might,' replied the other, gravely.
'That woman asked you to marry her.'
Malkin leapt from his chair, and sank back again.
'It came to that. Yes, upon my word, it came to that. She said she
had fallen in love with me--that was the long and short of it. And
I had never said a word that could suggest--Oh, confound it! What
a frightful scene it was!'
'You took a final leave of her?'
Malkin stared with eyes of anguish into his friend's face, and at
length whispered thickly:
'I said I would!'
'What? Take leave?'
Earwaker had much ado to check an impatiently remonstrant laugh. He
paused awhile, then began his expostulation, at first treating the
affair as too absurd for grave argument.
'My boy,' he concluded, 'you have got into a preposterous scrape,
and I see only one way out of it. You must flee. When does your
brother start for the Antipodes?'
'Then you go with him; there's an end of it.'
Malkin listened with the blank, despairing look of a man condemned
'Do you hear me?' urged the other. 'Go home and pack. On Thursday
I'll see you off.'
'I can't bring myself to that,' came in a groan from Malkin. 'I've
never yet done anything to be seriously ashamed of, and I can't run
away after promising marriage. It would weigh upon me for the rest
of my life.'
'Humbug! Would it weigh upon you less to marry the mother, and all
the time be in love with the daughter? To my mind, there's something
peculiarly loathsome in the suggestion.'
'But, look here; Bella is very young, really very young indeed. It's
possible that I have deluded myself. Perhaps I don't really care for
her in the way I imagined. It's more than likely that I might be
content to regard her with fatherly affection.'
'Even supposing that, with what sort of affection do you regard Mrs
Malkin writhed on his chair before replying.
'You mustn't misjudge her!' he exclaimed. 'She is no heartless
schemer. The poor thing almost cried her eyes out. It was a
frightful scene. She reproached herself bitterly. What ~could~ I do?
I have a tenderness for her, there's no denying that. She has been
so vilely used, and has borne it all so patiently. How abominable it
would be if I dealt her another blow!'
The journalist raised his eyebrows, and uttered inarticulate sounds.
'Was anything said about Bella?' he asked, abruptly.
'Not a word. I'm convinced she doesn't suspect that I thought of
Bella like that. The fact is, I have misled her. She thought all
along that my chief interest was in ~her~.'
'Indeed? Then what was the ground of her self-reproach that you
'How defective you are in the appreciation of delicate feeling!'
cried Malkin frantically, starting up and rushing about the room.
'She reproached herself for having permitted me to get entangled
with a widow older than myself, and the mother of two children. What
could be simpler?'
Earwaker began to appreciate the dangers of the situation. If he
insisted upon his view of Mrs. Jacox's behaviour (though it was not
the harshest that the circumstances suggested, for he was disposed
to believe that the widow had really lost her heart to her kind,
eccentric champion), the result would probably be to confirm Malkin
in his resolution of self-sacrifice. The man must be saved, if
possible, from such calamity, and this would not be effected by
merely demonstrating that he was on the highroad to ruin. It was
necessary to try another tack.
'It seems to me, Malkin,' he resumed, gravely, 'that it is you who
are deficient in right feeling. In offering to marry this poor
woman, you did her the gravest wrong.'
'You know that it is impossible for you to love her. You know that
you will repent, and that she will be aware of it. You are not the
kind of man to conceal your emotions. Bella will grow up, and--
well, the state of things won't tend to domestic felicity. For Mrs
Jacox's own sake, it is your duty to put an end to this folly before
it has gone too far.'
The other gave earnest ear, but with no sign of shaken conviction.
'Yes,' he said. 'I know this is one way of looking at it. But it
assumes that a man can't control himself, that his sense of honour
isn't t strong enough to keep him in the right way. I don't think
you quite understand me. I am not a passionate man; the proof is
that I have never fallen in love since I was sixteen. I think a
great deal of domestic peace, a good deal more than of romantic
enthusiasm. If I marry Mrs. Jacox, I shall make her a good and
faithful husband,--so much I can safely say of myself.'
He waited, but Earwaker was not ready with a rejoinder.
'And there's another point. I have always admitted the defect of my
character--an inability to settle down. Now, if I run away to New
Zealand, with the sense of having dishonoured myself, I shall be a
mere Wandering Jew for the rest of my life. All hope of redemption
will be over. Of the two courses now open to me, that of marriage
with Mrs. Jacox is decidedly the less disadvantageous. Granting that
I have made a fool of myself, I must abide by the result, and make
the best of it. And the plain fact is, I ~can't~ treat her so
disgracefully; I ~can't~ burden my conscience in this way. I believe
it would end in suicide; I do, indeed.'
'This sounds all very well, but it is weakness and selfishness.'
'How can you say so?'
'There's no proving to so short-sighted a man the result of his
mistaken course. I've a good mind to let you have your way just for
the satisfaction of saying afterwards, "Didn't I tell you so?" You
propose to behave with abominable injustice to two people, putting
yourself aside. Doesn't it occur to you that Bella may already look
upon you as her future husband? Haven't you done your best to plant
that idea in her mind?'
Malkin started, but quickly recovered himself.
'No, I haven't! I have behaved with the utmost discretion. Bella
thinks of me only as of a friend much older than herself.'
'I don't believe it!'
'Nonsense, Earwaker! A child of fifteen!'
'The other day you had quite a different view, and after seeing her
again I agreed with you. She is a young girl, and if not already in
love with you, is on the way to be so.'
'That will come to nothing when she hears that I am going to be her
'Far more likely to develop into a grief that will waste the best
part of her lifetime. She will be shocked and made miserable. But do
as you like. I am tired of arguing.'
Earwaker affected to abandon the matter in disgust. For several
minutes there was silence, then a low voice sounded from the corner
where Malkin stood leaning.
'So it is your honest belief that Bella has begun to think of me in
'I am convinced of it.'
'But if I run away, I shall never see her again.'
'Why not? ~She~ won't run away. Come back when things have squared
themselves. Write to Mrs. Jacox from the ends of the earth, and let
her understand that there is no possibility of your marrying her.'
'Tell her about Bella, you mean?'
'No, that's just what I don't mean. Avoid any mention of the girl.
Come back when she is seventeen, and, if she is willing, carry her
off to be happy ever after.'
'But she may have fallen in love with someone else.'
'I think not. You must risk it, at all events.'
'Look here!' Malkin came forward eagerly. 'I'll write to Mrs. Jacox
to-night, and make a full confession. I'll tell her exactly how the
case stands. She's a good woman; she'll gladly sacrifice herself for
the sake of her daughter.'
Earwaker was firm in resistance. He had no faith whatever in the
widow's capacity for self-immolation, and foresaw that his friend
would be drawn into another 'frightful scene', resulting probably in
a marriage as soon as the licence could be obtained.
'When are you to see her again?' he inquired.
'Will you undertake to do nothing whatever till Wednesday morning,
and then to have another talk with me? I'll come and see you about
In the end Malkin was constrained into making this engagement, and
not long after midnight the journalist managed to get rid of him.
On Tuesday afternoon arrived a distracted note. 'I shall keep my
promise, and I won't try to see you till you come here tomorrow. But
I am sore beset. I have received ~three~ letters from Mrs. Jacox, all
long and horribly pathetic. She seems to have a presentiment that I
shall forsake her. What a beast I shall be if I do! Tom comes here
to-night, and I think I shall tell him all.'
The last sentence was a relief to the reader; he knew nothing of Mr
Thomas Malkin, but there was a fair presumption that this gentleman
would not see his brother bent on making such a notable fool of
himself without vigorous protest.
At the appointed hour next morning, Earwaker reached his friend's
lodgings, which were now at Kilburn. On entering the room he saw,
not the familiar figure, but a solid, dark-faced, black-whiskered
man, whom a faint resemblance enabled him to identify as Malkin the
'I was expecting you,' said Thomas, as they shook hands. 'My brother
is completely floored. When I got here an hour ago, I insisted on
his lying down, and now I think he's asleep. If you don't mind,
we'll let him rest for a little. I believe he has hardly closed his
eyes since this unfortunate affair happened.'
'It rejoiced me to hear that he was going to ask your advice. How do
'You know Mrs. Jacox?'
Thomas was obviously a man of discretion, but less intellectual than
his brother; he spoke like one who is accustomed to the management
of affairs. At first he was inclined to a polite reserve, but
Earwaker's conversation speedily put him more at ease.
'I have quite made up my mind,' he said presently, 'that we must
take him away with us to-morrow. The voyage will bring him to his
'Of course he resists?'
'Yes, but if you will give me your help, I think we can manage him.
He is not very strong-willed. In a spasmodic way he can defy
everyone, but the steady pressure of common sense will prevail with
him, I think.'
They had talked for half-an-hour, when the door opened and the
object of their benevolent cares stood before them. He was clad in a
dressing-gown, and his disordered hair heightened the look of
illness which his features presented.
'Why didn't you call me?' he asked his brother, irritably.
'Earwaker, I beg a thousand pardons! I'm not very well; I've
'Yes, yes; come and sit down.'
Thomas made an offer to leave them.
'Don't go,' said Malkin. 'No need whatever. You know why Earwaker
has been so kind as to come here. We may as well talk it over
He sat on the table, swinging a tassel of his dressing-gown round
'Now, what do you really think of doing?' asked the journalist, in a
'I don't know. I absolutely do not know. I'm unutterably wretched.'
'In that case, will you let your brother and me decide for you? We
have no desire but for your good, and we are perfectly at one in our
'Of course I know what you will propose!' cried the other,
excitedly. 'From the prudential point of view, you are right, I have
no doubt. But how can you protect me against remorse? If you had
received letters such as these three,' he pulled them out of a
pocket, 'you would be as miserable as I am. If I don't keep my
promise, I shall never know another moment of peace.'
'You certainly won't if you ~do~ keep it,' remarked Thomas.
'No,' added Earwaker, 'and one if not two other persons will be put
into the same case. Whereas by boldly facing these reproaches of
conscience, you do a great kindness to the others.'
'If only you could assure me of that!'
'I ~can~ assure you. That is to say, I can give it as my
And Earwaker once more enlarged upon the theme, stating it from
every point of view that served his purpose.
'You're making a mountain out of a mole-heap,' was the lady will get
over her sorrows quickly enough, and some day she'll confirmatory
remark that came from Thomas. 'This respectable be only too glad to
have you for a son-in-law, if Miss Bella still pleases you.'
'It's only right,' urged Earwaker, in pursuance of his subtler
intention, 'that you should bear the worst of the suffering, for the
trouble has come out of your own thoughtlessness. You are fond of
saying that you have behaved with the utmost discretion; so far from
that you have been outrageously indiscreet. I foresaw that something
of this kind might come to pass'----
'Then why the devil didn't you warn me?' shouted Malkin, in an agony
of nervous strain.
'It would have been useless. In fact, I foresaw it too late.'
The discussion continued for an hour. By careful insistence on the
idea of self-sacrifice, Earwaker by degrees demolished the arguments
his friend kept putting forward. Thomas, who had gone impatiently to
the window, turned round with words that. were meant to be final.
'It's quite decided. You begin your preparations at once, and
to-morrow morning you go on board with us.'
'But if I don't go to Wrotham this afternoon, she'll be here either
to-night or the first thing to-morrow. I'm sure of it!'
'By four or five o'clock,' said Earwaker, 'you can have broken up
the camp. You've often done it at shorter notice. Go to an hotel for
'I must write to the poor woman.'
'Do as you like about that.'
'Who is to help her, if she gets into difficulties--as she's
always doing? Who is to advise her about Bella's education? Who is
to pay--I mean, who will see to----? Oh, confound it!'
The listeners glanced at each other.
'Are her affairs in order?' asked Earwaker. 'Has she a sufficient
'For ordinary needs, quite sufficient. But'----
'Then you needn't be in the least uneasy. Let her know where you
are, when the equator is between you. Watch over her interests from
a distance, if you like. I can as good as promise you that Bella
will wait hopefully to see her friend again.'
Malkin succumbed to argument and exhaustion. Facing Earwaker with a
look of pathetic appeal, he asked hoarsely:
'Will you stand by me till it's over? Have you time?'
'I can give you till five o'clock.'
'Then I'll go and dress. Ring the bell, Tom, and ask them to bring
up some beer.'
Before three had struck, the arrangements for flight were completed.
A heavily-laden cab bore away Malkin's personal property; within sat
the unhappy man and his faithful friend.
The next morning Earwaker went down to Tilbury, and said farewell t6
the travellers on board the steamship Orient. Mrs. Thomas had already
taken her brother-in-law under her special care.
'It's only three children to look after, instead of two,' she
remarked, in a laughing aside to the journalist. 'How grateful he
will be to you in a few days! And I'm sure ~we~ are already.'
Malkin's eyes were no longer quite lustreless. At the last moment he
talked with animation of 'two years hence', and there was vigour in
the waving of his hand as the vessel started seaward.
Peak lost no time in leaving Exeter. To lighten his baggage, and to
get rid of possessions to which hateful memories attached, he sold
all his books that had any bearing on theology. The incomplete
translation of ~Bibel und Natur~ he committed to the flames in Mrs
Roots's kitchen, scattering its black remnants with savage thrusts
of the poker. Whilst engaged in packing, he debated with himself
whether or not he should take leave of the few acquaintances to whom
he was indebted for hospitality and other kindness. The question
was: Had Buckland Warricombe already warned these people against
him? Probably it had seemed to Buckland the wiser course to be
content with driving the hypocrite away; and, if this were so,
regard for the future dictated a retirement from Exeter which should
in no way resemble secret flight. Sidwell's influence with her
parents would perhaps withhold them from making his disgrace known,
and in a few years he might be glad that he had behaved with all
possible prudence. In the end, he decided to write to Mr. Lilywhite,
saying that he was obliged to go away at a moment's notice, and that
he feared it would be necessary altogether to change the scheme of
life which he had had in view. This was the best way. From the
Lilywhites, other people would hear of him, and perchance their
conjectures would be charitable.
Without much hesitation he had settled his immediate plans. To
London he would not return, for he dreaded the temptations to which
the proximity of Sidwell would expose him, and he had no mind to
meet with Moxey or Earwaker. As it was now imperative that he should
find work of the old kind, he could not do better than go to
Bristol, where, from the safe ground of a cheap and obscure lodging,
he might make inquiries, watch advertisements, and so on. He already
knew of establishments in Bristol where he might possibly obtain
employment. Living with the utmost economy, he need not fall into
difficulties for more than a year, and before then his good repute
with the Rotherhithe firm would ensure him some position or other;
if not in Bristol, then at Newcastle, St. Helen's--any great centre
of fuming and malodorous industry. He was ready to work, would
delight in work. idleness was now the intolerable thing.
So to Bristol he betook himself, and there made his temporary abode.
After spending a few weeks in fruitless search for an engagement, he
at length paid his oft-postponed visit to Twybridge. In the old home
he felt completely a stranger, and his relatives strengthened the
feeling by declaring him so changed in appearance that they hardly
knew his face. With his mother only could he talk in anything like
an intimate way, and the falsehoods with which he was obliged to
answer her questions all but destroyed the pleasure he would
otherwise have found in being affectionately tended. His sister, Mrs
Cusse, was happy in her husband, her children, and a flourishing
business. Oliver was making money, and enjoyed distinction among the
shopkeeping community. His aunt still dealt in millinery, and kept
up her acquaintance with respectable families. To Godwin all was
like a dream dreamt for the second time. He could not acknowledge
any actual connection between these people and himself. But their
characteristics no longer gravely offended him, and he willingly
recognised the homespun worth which their lives displayed. It was
clear to him that by no possible agency of circumstances could he
have been held in normal relations with his kinsfolk. However smooth
his career, it must have wafted him to an immeasurable distance from
Twybridge. Nature had decreed that he was to resemble the animals
which, once reared, go forth in complete independence of birthplace
and the ties of blood. It was a harsh fate, but in what had not fate
been harsh to him? The one consolation was that he alone suffered.
His mother was no doubt occasionally troubled by solicitude on his
account, but she could not divine his inward miseries, and an
assurance that he had no material cares sufficed to set her mind at
'You are very like your father, Godwin,' she said, with a sigh. 'He
couldn't rest, however well he seemed to be getting on. There was
always something he wanted, and yet he didn't know what it was.'
'Yes, I must be like him,' Godwin replied, smiling.
He stayed five days, then returned to Bristol. A week after that,
his mother forwarded to him a letter which had come to Twybridge. He
at once recognised the writing, and broke the envelope with
'If you should be in London [the note began], I beg you
to let me see you. There is something I have to say. To
speak to you for a few minutes I would come any distance.
Don't accuse me of behaving treacherously; it was not my
fault. I know you would rather avoid me, but do consent to
hear what I have to say. If you have no intention of coming
to London, will you write and let me know where you are
What could Marcella have to say to him? Nothing surely that he at
all cared to hear. No doubt she imagined that he might be in
ignorance of the circumstances which had led to Buckland
Warricombe's discovery; she wished to defend herself against the
suspicion of 'treachery'. He laughed carelessly, and threw her note
Two months passed, and his efforts to find employment were still
vain, though he had received conditional promises The solitude of
his life grew burdensome. Several times he began a letter to
Sidwell, but his difficulty in writing was so great that he
destroyed the attempt. In truth, he knew not how to address her. The
words he penned were tumid, meaningless. He could not send
professions of love, for his heart seemed to be suffering a
paralysis, and the laborious artificiality of his style must have
been evident. The only excuse for breaking silence would be to let
her know that he had resumed honest work; he must wait till the
opportunity offered. It did not distress him to be without news of
her. If she wished to write, and was only withheld by ignorance of
his whereabouts, it was well; if she had no thought of sending him a
word, it did not matter. He loved her, and consciously nourished
hope, but for the present there was nothing intolerable in
separation. His state of mind resulted partly from nervous reaction,
and in part from a sense that only by silent suffering could his
dignity in Sidwell's eyes be ultimately restored. Between the evil
past and the hopeful future must be a complete break.
His thoughts kept turning to London, though not because Sidwell
might still be there. He felt urgent need of speaking with a friend.
Moxey was perhaps no longer to be considered one; but Earwaker would
be tolerant of human weaknesses. To have a long talk with Earwaker
would help him to recover his mental balance, to understand himself
and his position better. So one morning in March, on the spur of the
moment, he took train and was once more in the metropolis. On his
way he had determined to send a note to Earwaker before calling at
Staple Inn. He wrote it at a small hotel in Paddington, where he
took a room for the night, and then spent the evening at a theatre,
as the best way of killing time.
By the first post next morning came a card, whereon Earwaker had
written: 'Be here, if you can, at two o'clock. Shall be glad to see
'So you have been new-furnishing!' Godwin remarked, as he was
admitted to the chambers. 'You look much more comfortable.'
'I'm glad you think so. It is the general opinion.'
They had shaken hands as though this were one of the ordinary
meetings of old time, and their voices scarcely belied the
appearance. Peak moved about the study, glancing at pictures and
books, Earwaker eyeing him the while with not unfriendly expression.
They were sincerely glad to see each other, and when Peak seated
himself it was with an audible sigh of contentment.
'And what are you doing?' he inquired.
The journalist gave a brief account of his affairs, and Peak
brightened with pleasure.
'This is good news. I knew you would shake off the ragamuffins
before long. Give me some of your back numbers, will you? I shall be
curious to examine your new style.'
'And you?--Come to live in London?'
'No; I am at Bristol, but only waiting. There's a chance of an
analyst's place in Lancashire; but I may give the preference to an
opening I have heard of in Belgium. Better to go abroad, I think.'
'I have a question to ask you. I suppose you talked about that
~Critical~ article of mine ~before~ you received my request for
'That's how it was,' Earwaker replied, calmly.
'Yes; I understood. It doesn't matter.'
The other puffed at his pipe, and moved uneasily.
'I am taking for granted,' Peak continued, 'that you know how I have
spent my time down in Devonshire.'
'In outline. Need we trouble about the details?'
'No. But don't suppose that I should feel any shame in talking to
you about them. That would be a confession of base motive. You and I
have studied each other, and we can exchange thoughts on most
subjects with mutual understanding. You know that I have only
followed my convictions to their logical issue. An opportunity
offered of achieving the supreme end to which my life is directed,
and what scruple could stand in my way? We have nothing to do with
names and epithets. ~Here~ are the facts of life as I had known it;
~there~ is the existence promised as the reward of successful
artifice. To live was to pursue the object of my being. I could not
feel otherwise; therefore, could not act otherwise. You imagine me
defeated, flung back into the gutter.' His words came more quickly,
and the muscles of his face worked under emotion. 'It isn't so. I
have a great and reasonable hope. Perhaps I have gained everything I
really desired. I could tell you the strangest story, but there a
scruple ~does~ interpose. If we live another twenty years--but now
I can only talk about myself.'
'And this hope of which you speak,' said Earwaker, with a grave
smile, 'points you at present to sober work among your retorts and
'Yes, it does.'
'Good. Then I can put faith in the result.'
'Yet the hope began in a lie,' rejoined Peak, bitterly. 'It will
always be pleasant to look back upon that, won't it? You see: by no
conceivable honest effort could I have gained this point. Life
utterly denied to me the satisfaction of my strongest instincts, so
long as I plodded on without cause of shame; the moment I denied my
faith, and put on a visage of brass, great possibilities opened
before me. Of course I understand the moralist's position. It
behoved me, though I knew that a barren and solitary track would be
my only treading to the end, to keep courageously onward. If I can't
~believe~ that any such duty is imposed upon me, where is the
obligation to persevere, the morality of doing so? That is the worst
hypocrisy. I have been honest, inasmuch as I have acted in
accordance with my actual belief.'
'M--m--m,' muttered Earwaker, slowly. 'Then you have never been
troubled with a twinge of conscience?'
'With a thousand! I have been racked, martyred. What has that to do
with it? Do you suppose I attach any final significance to those
torments? Conscience is the same in my view as an inherited disease
which may possibly break out on any most innocent physical
indulgence.--What end have I been pursuing? Is it criminal? Is it
mean? I wanted to win the love of a woman--nothing more. To do
that, I have had to behave like the grovelling villain who has no
desire but to fill his pockets. And with success!--You understand
that, Earwaker? I have succeeded! What respect can I have for the
common morality, after this?'
'You have succeeded?' the other asked, thoughtfully. 'I could have
imagined that you had been in appearance successful'----
He paused, and Peak resumed with vehemence:
'No, not in appearance only. I can't tell you the story'----
'I don't wish you to'----
'But what I have won is won for ever. The triumph no longer rests on
deceit. What I insist upon is that by deceit only was it rendered
possible. If a starving man succeeds in stealing a loaf of bread,
the food will benefit him no less than if he had purchased it; it is
good, true sustenance, no matter how he got it. To be sure, the man
may prefer starvation; he may have so strong a metaphysical faith
that death is welcome in comparison with what he calls dishonour. I
--I have no such faith; and millions of other men in this country
would tell the blunt truth if they said the same. I have ~used
means~, that's all. The old way of candour led me to bitterness and
cursing; by dissimulation I have won something more glorious than
tongue can tell.'
It was in the endeavour to expel the subtlest enemy of his peace
that Godwin dwelt so defiantly upon this view of the temptation to
which he had yielded. Since his farewell interview with Sidwell, he
knew no rest from the torment of a mocking voice which bade him bear
in mind that all his dishonour had been superfluous, seeing that
whilst he played the part of a zealous Christian, Sidwell herself
was drifting further and further from the old religion. This voice
mingled with his dreams, and left not a waking hour untroubled. He
refused to believe it, strove against the suggestion as a
half-despairing man does against the persistent thought of suicide.
If only he could obtain Earwaker's assent to the plan he put
forward, it would support him in disregard of idle regrets.
'It is impossible,' said the journalist, 'for anyone to determine
whether that is true or not--for you, as much as for anyone else.
Be glad that you have shaken off the evil and retained the good, no
use in saying more than that.'
'Yes,' declared the other, stubbornly, 'there is good in exposing
false views of life. I ought to have come utterly to grief and
shame, and instead'----
'What I have told you.'
'Which I interpret thus: that you have permission to redeem your
character, if possible, in the eyes of a woman you have grievously
'Who suggested this to you, Earwaker?'
'You; no one else. I don't even know who the woman is of whom you
'Grant you are right. As an honest man, I should never have won her
'It is absurd for us to talk about it. Think in the way that is most
helpful to you,--that, no doubt, is a reasonable rule. Let us have
done with all these obscurities, and come to a practical question.
Can I be of any use to you? Would you care, for instance, to write
an article now and then on some scientific matter that has a popular
interest? I think I could promise to get that kind of thing printed
for you. Or would you review an occasional book that happened to be
in your line?'
'Thank you,' he replied, at length. 'I should be glad of such work
--if I can get into the mood for doing it properly. That won't be
just yet; but perhaps when I have found a place'----
'Think it over. Write to me about it.'
Peak glanced round the room.
'You don't know how glad I am,' he said, 'that your prosperity shows
itself in this region of bachelordom. If I had seen you in a
comfortable house, married to a woman worthy of you--I couldn't
have been sincere in my congratulations: I should have envied you so
'You're a strange fellow. Twenty years hence--as you said just now
--you will one way or another have got rid of your astounding
illusions. At fifty--well, let us say at sixty--you will have a
chance of seeing things without these preposterous sexual
'I hope so. Every stage of life has its powers and enjoyments. When
I am old, I hope to perceive and judge without passion of any kind.
But is that any reason why my youth should be frustrated? We have
only one life, and I want to live mine throughout.'
Soon after this Peak rose. He remembered that the journalist's time
was valuable, and that he no longer had the right to demand more of
it than could be granted to any casual caller. Earwaker behaved with
all friendliness, but their relations had necessarily suffered a
change. More than a year of separation, spent by the one in
accumulating memories of dishonour, had given the other an enviable
position among men; Earwaker had his place in the social system, his
growing circle of friend, his congenial labour; perhaps--
notwithstanding the tone in which he spoke of marriage--his hopes
of domestic happiness. All this with no sacrifice of principle. He
was fortunate in his temper, moral and intellectual; partly
directing circumstances, partly guided by their pressure, he
advanced on the way of harmonious development. Nothing great would
come of his endeavours, but what he aimed at he steadily perfected.
And this in spite of the adverse conditions under which he began his
course. Nature had been kind to him; what more could one say?
When he went forth into the street again, Godwin felt his heart
sink. His solitude was the more complete for this hour of friendly
dialogue. No other companionship offered itself; if he lingered
here, it must be as one of the drifting crowd, as an idle and
envious spectator of the business and pleasure rife about him. He
durst not approach that quarter of the town where Sidwell was living
--if indeed she still remained here. Happily, the vastness of
London enabled him to think of her as at a great distance; by
keeping to the district in which he now wandered he was practically
as remote from her as when he walked the streets of Bristol.
Yet there was one person who would welcome him eagerly if he chose
to visit her. And, after all, might it not be as well if he heard
what Marcella had to say to him? He could not go to the house, for
it would be disagreeable to encounter Moxey; but, if he wrote,
Marcella would speedily make an appointment. After an hour or two of
purposeless rambling, he decided to ask for an interview. He might
learn something that really concerned him; in any case, it was a
final meeting with Marcella, to whom he perhaps owed this much
The reply was as prompt as that from Earwaker. By the morning post
came a letter inviting him to call upon Miss Moxey as soon as
possible before noon. She added, 'My brother is away in the country;
you will meet no one here.'
By eleven o'clock he was at Notting Hill; in the drawing-room, he
sat alone for two or three minutes. Marcella entered silently, and
came towards him without a smile; he saw that she read his face
eagerly, if not with a light of triumph in her eyes. The expression
might signify that she rejoiced at having been an instrument of his
discomfiture; perhaps it was nothing more than gladness at seeing
'Have you come to live in London?' she asked, when they had shaken
hands without a word.
'I am only here for a day or two.'
'My letter reached you without delay?'
'Yes. It was sent from Twybridge to Bristol. I didn't reply then, as
I had no prospect of being in London.'
'Will you sit down? You can stay for a few minutes?'
He seated himself awkwardly. Now that he was in Marcella's presence,
he felt that he had acted unaccountably in giving occasion for
another scene between them which could only end as painfully as that
at Exeter. Her emotion grew evident; he could not bear to meet the
look she had fixed upon him.
'I want to speak of what happened in this house about Christmas
time,' she resumed. 'But I must know first what you have been told.'
'What have ~you~ been told?' he replied, with an uneasy smile. 'How
do you know that anything which happened here had any importance for
'I don't know that it had. But I felt sure that Mr. Warricombe meant
to speak to you about it.'
'Yes, he did.'
'But did he tell you the exact truth? Or were you led to suppose
that I had broken my promise to you?'
Unwilling to introduce any mention of Sidwell, Peak preferred to
simplify the story by attributing to Buckland all the information he
'I understood,' he replied, 'that Warricombe had come here in the
hope of learning more about me, and that certain facts came out in
general conversation. What does it matter how he learned what he
did? From the day when he met you down in Devonshire, it was of
course inevitable that the truth should sooner or later come out. He
always suspected me.'
'But I want you to know,' said Marcella, 'that I had no willing part
in it. I promised you not to speak even to my brother, and I should
never have done so but that Christian somehow met Mr. Warricombe, and
heard him talk of you. Of course he came to me in astonishment, and
for your own interest I thought it best to tell Christian what I
knew. When Mr. Warricombe came here, neither Christian nor I would
have enlightened him about--about your past. It happened most
unfortunately that Mr. Malkin was present, and he it was who began to
speak of the ~Critical~ article--and other things. I was powerless
to prevent it.'
'Why trouble about it? I quite believe your account.'
'You ~do~ believe it? You know I would not have injured you?'
'I am sure you had no wish to,' Godwin replied, in as unsentimental
a tone as possible. And, he added after a moment's pause, 'Was this
what you were so anxious to tell me?'
'Yes. Chiefly that.'
'Let me put your mind at rest,' pursued the other, with quiet
friendliness. 'I am disposed to turn optimist; everything has
happened just as it should have done. Warricombe relieved me from a
false position. If ~he~ hadn't done so, I must very soon have done
it for myself. Let us rejoice that things work together for such
obvious good. A few more lessons of this kind, and we shall
acknowledge that the world is the best possible.'
He laughed, but the tense expression of Marcella's features did not
'You say you are living in Bristol?'
'For a time.'
'Have you abandoned Exeter?'
The word implied something that Marcella could not utter more
plainly. Her face completed the question.
'And the clerical career as well,' he answered.
But he knew that she sought more than this, and his voice again
broke the silence.
'Perhaps you have heard that already? Are you in communication with
She shook her head.
'But probably Warricombe has told your brother----?'
'Oh, of his success in ridding Exeter of my objectionable presence.'
'Christian hasn't seen him again, nor have I.'
'I only wish to assure you that I have suffered no injury. My
experiment was doomed to failure. What led me to it, how I regarded
it, we won't discuss; I am as little prepared to do so now as when
we talked at Exeter. That chapter in my life is happily over. As
soon as I am established again in a place like that I had at
Rotherhithe, I shall be quite contented.'
'Contented?' She smiled incredulously. 'For how long?'
'Who can say? I have lost the habit of looking far forward.'
Marcella kept silence so long that he concluded she had nothing more
to say to him. It was an opportunity for taking leave without
emotional stress, and he rose from his chair.
'Don't go yet,' she said at once. 'It wasn't only this that I'----
Her voice was checked.
'Can I be of any use to you in Bristol?' Peak asked, determined to
avoid the trial he saw approaching.
'There is something more I wanted to say,' she pursued, seeming not
to hear him. 'You pretend to be contented, but I know that is
impossible. You talk of going back to a dull routine of toil, when
what you most desire is freedom. I want--if I can--to help you.'
Again she failed to command her voice. Godwin raised his eyes, and
was astonished at the transformation she had suddenly undergone. Her
face, instead of being colourless and darkly vehement, had changed
to a bright warmth, a smiling radiance such as would have become a
happy girl. His look seemed to give her courage.
'Only hear me patiently. We are such old friends--are we not? We
have so often proclaimed our scorn of conventionality, and why
should a conventional fear hinder what I want to say? You know--
don't you?--that I have far more money than I need or am ever
likely to. I want only a few hundreds a year, and I have more than a
thousand.' She spoke more and more quickly, fearful of being
interrupted. 'Why shouldn't I give you some of my superfluity? Let
me help you in this way. Money can do so much. Take some from me,
and use it as you will--just as you will. It is useless to ~me~.
Why shouldn't someone whom I wish well benefit by it?'
Godwin was not so much surprised as disconcerted. He knew that
Marcella's nature was of large mould, and that whether she acted for
good or evil its promptings would be anything but commonplace. The
ardour with which she pleaded, and the magnitude of the benefaction
she desired to bestow upon him, so affected his imagination that for
the moment he stood as if doubting what reply to make. The doubt
really in his mind was whether Marcella had calculated upon his
weakness, and hoped to draw him within her power by the force of
such an obligation, or if in truth she sought only to appease her
heart with the exercise of generosity.
'You will let me?' she panted forth, watching him with brilliant
eyes. 'This shall be a secret for ever between you and me. It
imposes no debt of gratitude--how I despise the thought! I give
you what is worthless to me,--except that it can do ~you~ good.
But you can thank me if you will. I am not above being thanked.' She
laughed unnaturally. 'Go and travel at first, as you wished to.
Write me a short letter every month--every two months, just that I
may know you are enjoying your life. It is agreed, isn't it?'
She held her hand to him, but Peak drew away, his face averted.
'How can you give me the pain of refusing such an offer?' he
exclaimed, with remonstrance which was all but anger. 'You know the
thing is utterly impossible. I should be ridiculous if I argued
about it for a moment.'
'I can't see that it is impossible.'
'Then you must take my word for it. But I have no right to speak to
you in that way,' he added, more kindly, seeing the profound
humiliation which fell upon her. 'You meant to come to my aid at a
time when I seemed to you lonely and miserable. It was a generous
impulse, and I do indeed thank you. I shall always remember it and
be grateful to you.'
Marcella's face was again in shadow. Its lineaments hardened to an
expression of cold, stern dignity.
'I have made a mistake,' she said. 'I thought you above common ways
'Yes, you put me on too high a pedestal,' Peak answered, trying to
speak humorously. 'One of my faults is that I am apt to mistake my
own position in the same way.'
'You think yourself ambitious. Oh, if you knew really great
ambition! Go back to your laboratory, and work for wages. I would
have saved you from that.'
The tone was not vehement, but the words bit all the deeper for
their unimpassioned accent. Godwin could make no reply.
'I hope,' she continued, 'we may meet a few years hence. By that
time you will have learnt that what I offered was not impossible.
You will wish you had dared to accept it. I know what your
~ambition~ is. Wait till you are old enough to see it in its true
light. How you will scorn yourself! Surely there was never a man who
united such capacity for great things with so mean an ideal. You
will never win even the paltry satisfaction on which you have set
your mind--never! But you can't be made to understand that. You
will throw away all the best part of your life. Meet me in a few
years, and tell me the story of the interval.'
'I will engage to do that, Marcella.'
'You will? But not to tell me the truth. You will not dare to tell
'Why not?' he asked, indifferently. 'Decidedly I shall owe it you in
return for your frankness to-day. Till then--good-bye.'
She did not refuse her hand, and as he moved away she watched him
with a smile of slighting good-nature.
On the morrow Godwin was back in Bristol, and there he dwelt for
another six months, a period of mental and physical lassitude.
Earwaker corresponded with him, and urged him to attempt the work
that had been proposed, but such effort was beyond his power.
He saw one day in a literary paper an announcement that Reusch's
~Bibel und Natur~ was about to be published in an English
translation. So someone else had successfully finished the work he
undertook nearly two years ago. He amused himself with the thought
that he could ever have persevered so long in such profitless
labour, and with a contemptuous laugh he muttered '~Thohu wabohu~.'
Just when the winter had set in, he received an offer of a post in
chemical works at St. Helen's, and without delay travelled
northwards. The appointment was a poor one, and seemed unlikely to
be a step to anything better, but his resources would not last more
than another half year, and employment of whatever kind came as
welcome relief to the tedium of his existence. Established in his
new abode, he at length wrote to Sidwell. She answered him at once
in a short letter which he might have shown to anyone, so calm were
its expressions of interest, so uncompromising its words of
congratulation. It began 'Dear Mr. Peak', and ended with 'Yours
sincerely'. Well, he had used the same formalities, and had uttered
his feelings with scarcely more of warmth. Disappointment troubled
him for a moment, and for a moment only. He was so far from Exeter,
and further still from the life that he had led there. It seemed to
him all but certain that Sidwell wrote coldly, with the intention of
discouraging his hopes. What hope was he so foolish as to entertain?
His position poorer than ever, what could justify him in writing
love-letters to a girl who, even if willing to marry him, must not
do so until he had a suitable home to offer her?
Since his maturity, he had never known so long a freedom from
passion. One day he wrote to Earwaker: 'I begin to your independence
with regard to women. It would be a strange thing if I became a
convert to that way of thinking, but once or twice of late I have
imagined that it was happening. My mind has all but recovered its
tone, and I am able to read, to think--I mean really to ~think~,
not to muse. I get through big and solid books. Presently, if your
offer still hold good, I shall send you a scrap of writing on
something or other. The pestilent atmosphere of this place seems to
invigorate me. Last Saturday evening I took train, got away into the
hills, and spent the Sunday geologising. And a curious experience
befell me,--one I had long, long ago, in the Whitelaw days.
Sitting down before some interesting strata, I lost myself in
something like nirvana, grew so subject to the idea of vastness in
geological time that all human desires and purposes shrivelled to
ridiculous unimportance. Awaking for a minute, I tried to realise
the passion which not long ago rent and racked me, but I was flatly
incapable of understanding it. Will this philosophic state endure?
Perhaps I have used up all my emotional energy? I hardly know
whether to hope or fear it.'
About midsummer, when his short holiday (he would only be released
for a fortnight) drew near, he was surprised by another letter from
'I am anxious [she wrote] to hear that you are well. It is
more than half a year since your last letter, and of late I
have been constantly expecting a few lines. The spring has
been a time of trouble with us. A distant relative, an old and
feeble lady who has passed her life in a little Dorsetshire
village, came to see us in April, and in less than a fortnight
she was seized with illness and died. Then Fanny had an
attack of bronchitis, from which even now she is not
altogether recovered. On her account we are all going to
Royat, and I think we shall be away until the end of
September. Will you let me hear from you before I leave
England, which will be in a week's time? Don't refrain from
writing because you think you have no news to send.
Anything that interests you is of interest to me. If it is only
to tell me what you have been reading, I shall be glad of a
It was still 'Yours sincerely'; but Godwin felt that the letter
meant more. In re-reading it he was pleasantly thrilled with a
stirring of the old emotions. But his first impulse, to write an
ardent reply, did not carry him away; he reflected and took counsel
of the experience gained in his studious solitude. It was evident
that by keeping silence he had caused Sidwell to throw off something
of her reserve. The course dictated by prudence was to maintain an
attitude of dignity, to hold himself in check. In this way he would
regain what he had so disastrously lost, Sidwell's respect. There
was a distinct pleasure in this exercise of self-command; it was
something new to him; it flattered his pride. 'Let her learn that,
after all, I am her superior. Let her fear to lose me. Then, if her
love is still to be depended upon, she will before long find a way
to our union. It is in her power, if only she wills it.'
So he sat down and wrote a short letter which seemed to him a model
of dignified expression.
Sidwell took no one into her confidence. The case was not one for
counsel; whatever her future action, it must result from the
maturing of self-knowledge, from the effect of circumstance upon her
mind and heart. For the present she could live in silence.
'We hear,' she wrote from London to Sylvia Moorhouse, 'that Mr. Peak
has left Exeter, and that he is not likely to carry out his
intention of being ordained. You, I daresay, will feel no surprise.'
Nothing more than that; and Sylvia's comments in reply were equally
Martin Warricombe, after conversations with his wife and with
Buckland, felt it impossible not to seek for an understanding of
Sidwell's share in the catastrophe. He was gravely perturbed,
feeling that with himself lay the chief responsibility for what had
happened. Buckland's attitude was that of the man who can only keep
repeating 'I told you so'; Mrs. Warricombe could only lament and
upbraid in the worse than profitless fashion natural to women of her
stamp. But in his daughter Martin had every kind of faith, and he
longed to speak to her without reserve. Two days after her return
from Exeter, he took Sidwell apart, and, with a distressing sense of
the delicacy of the situation, tried to persuade her to frank
'I have been hearing strange reports,' he began, gravely, but
without show of displeasure. 'Can you help me to understand the real
facts of the case, Sidwell?--What is your view of Peak's
'He has deceived you, father,' was the quiet reply.
'You are convinced of that?--It allows of no----?'
'It can't be explained away. He pretended to believe what he did not
and could not believe.'
'With interested motives, then?'
'Yes.--But not motives in themselves dishonourable.'
There was a pause. Sidwell had spoken in a steady voice, though with
eyes cast down. Whether her father could understand a position such
as Godwin's, she felt uncertain. That he would honestly endeavour to
do so, there could be no doubt, especially since he must suspect
that her own desire was to distinguish between the man and his
fault. But a revelation of all that had passed between her and Peak
was not possible; she had the support neither of intellect nor of
passion; it would be asking for guidance, the very thing she had
determined not to do. Already she found it difficult to recover the
impulses which had directed her in that scene of parting; to talk of
it would be to see her action in such a doubtful light that she
might be led to some premature and irretrievable resolve. The only
trustworthy counsellor was time; on what time brought forth must
depend her future.
'Do you mean, Sidwell,' resumed her father, 'that you think it
possible for us to overlook this deception?'
She delayed a moment, then said:
'I don't think it possible for you to regard him as a friend.'
Martin's face expressed relief.
'But will he remain in Exeter?'
'I shouldn't think he can.'
Again a pause. Martin was of course puzzled exceedingly, but he
began to feel some assurance that Peak need not be regarded as a
'I am grieved beyond expression,' he said at length. 'So deliberate
a fraud--it seems to me inconsistent with any of the qualities I
thought I saw in him.'
'Not--perhaps--to you?' Martin ventured, anxiously.
'His nature is not base.'
'Forgive me, dear.--I understand that you spoke with him after
Buckland's call at his lodgings----?'
'Yes, I saw him.'
'And--he strove to persuade you that he had some motive which
justified his conduct?'
'Excused, rather than justified.'
'Not--it seems--to your satisfaction?'
'I can't answer that question, father. My experience of life is too
slight. I can only say that untruthfulness in itself is abhorrent to
me, and that I could never try to make it seem a light thing.'
'That, surely, is a sound view, think as we may on speculative
points. But allow me one more question, Sidwell. Does it seem to you
that I have no choice but to break off all communication with Mr
It was the course dictated by his own wish, she knew. And what could
be gained by any middle way between hearty goodwill and complete
repudiation? Time--time alone must work out the problem.
'Yes, I think you have no choice,' she answered.
'Then I must make inquiries--see if he leaves the town.'
'Mr. Lilywhite will know, probably.'
'I will write before long.'
So the dialogue ended, and neither sought to renew it.
Martin enjoined upon his wife a discreet avoidance of the subject.
The younger members of the family were to know nothing of what had
happened, and, if possible, the secret must be kept from friends at
Exeter. When a fortnight had elapsed, he wrote to Mr. Lilywhite,
asking whether it was true that Peak had gone away. 'It seems that
private circumstances have obliged him to give up his project of
taking Orders. Possibly he has had a talk with you?' The clergyman
replied that Peak had left Exeter. 'I have had a letter from him,
explaining in general terms his change of views. It hardly surprises
me that he has reconsidered the matter. I don't think he was cut out
for clerical work. He is far more likely to distinguish himself in
the world of science. I suspect that conscientious scruples may have
something to do with it; if so, all honour to him!'
The Warricombes prolonged their stay in London until the end of
June. On their return home, Martin was relieved to find that
scarcely an inquiry was made of him concerning Peak. The young man's
disappearance excited no curiosity in the good people who had come
in contact with him, and who were so far from suspecting what a
notable figure had passed across their placid vision. One person
only was urgent in his questioning. On an afternoon when Mrs
Warricombe and her daughters were alone, the Rev. Bruno Chilvers
made a call.
'Oh!' he exclaimed, after a few minutes' conversation, 'I am so
anxious to ask you what has become of Mr. Peak. Soon after my arrival
in Exeter, I went to see him, and we had a long talk--a most
interesting talk. Then I heard all at once that he was gone, and
that we should see no more of him. Where is he? What is he doing?'
There was a barely appreciable delay before Mrs. Warricombe made
'We have quite lost sight of him,' she said, with an artificial
smile. 'We know only that he was called away on some urgent business
--family affairs, I suppose.'
Chilvers, in the most natural way, glanced from the speaker to
Sidwell, and instantly, without the slightest change of expression,
brought his eyes back again.
'I hope most earnestly,' he went on, in his fluty tone, 'that he
will return. A most interesting man! A man of ~large~ intellectual
scope, and really ~broad~ sympathies. I looked forward to many a
chat with him. Has he, I wonder, been led to change his views?
Possibly he would find a secular sphere more adapted to his special
Mrs. Warricombe had nothing to say. Sidwell, finding that Mr
Chilvers' smile now beamed in her direction, replied to him with
'It isn't uncommon, I think, nowadays, for doubts to interfere with
the course of study for ordination?'
'Far from uncommon!' exclaimed the Rector of St. Margaret's, with
almost joyous admission of the fact. 'Very far from uncommon. Such
students have my profound sympathy. I know from experience exactly
what it means to be overcome in a struggle with the modern spirit.
Happily for myself, I was enabled to recover what for a time I lost.
But charity forbid that I should judge those who think they must
needs voyage for ever in sunless gulfs of doubt, or even absolutely
deny that the human intellect can be enlightened from above.'
At a loss even to follow this rhetoric, Mrs. Warricombe, who was
delighted to welcome the Rev. Bruno, and regarded him as a gleaming
pillar of the Church, made haste to introduce a safer topic. After
that, Mr. Chilvers was seen at the house with some frequency. Not
that he paid more attention to the Warricombes than to his other
acquaintances. Relieved by his curate from the uncongenial burden of
mere parish affairs, he seemed to regard himself as an apostle at
large, whose mission directed him to the households of well-to-do
people throughout the city. His brother clergymen held him in slight
esteem. In private talk with Martin Warricombe, Mr. Lilywhite did not
hesitate to call him 'a mountebank', and to add other depreciatory
'My wife tells me--and I can trust her judgment in such things--
that his sole object just now is to make a good marriage. Rather
disagreeable stories seem to have followed him from the other side
of England. He makes love to all unmarried women--never going
beyond what is thought permissible, but doing a good deal of
mischief, I fancy. One lady in Exeter--I won't mention names--
has already pulled him up with a direct inquiry as to his
intentions; at her house, I imagine, he will no more be seen.'
The genial parson chuckled over his narrative, and Martin, by no
means predisposed in the Rev. Bruno's favour, took care to report
these matters to his wife.
'I don't believe a word of it!' exclaimed Mrs. Warricombe. 'All the
clergy are jealous of Mr. Chilvers.'
'What? Of his success with ladies?'
'Martin! It is something new for you to be profane!--They are
jealous of his high reputation.'
'Rather a serious charge against our respectable friends.'
'And the stories are all nonsense,' pursued Mrs. Warricombe. 'It's
very wrong of Mr. Lilywhite to report such things. I don't believe
any other clergyman would have done so.'
Martin smiled--as he had been accustomed to do all through his
married life--and let the discussion rest there. On the next
occasion of Mr. Chilvers being at the house, he observed the reverend
man's behaviour with Sidwell, and was not at all pleased. Bruno had
a way of addressing women which certainly went beyond the ordinary
limits of courtesy. At a little distance, anyone would have
concluded that he was doing his best to excite Sidwell's
affectionate interest. The matter of his discourse might be
unobjectionable, but the manner of it was not in good taste.
Mrs. Warricombe was likewise observant, but with other emotions. To
her it seemed a subject for pleasurable reflection, that Mr. Chilvers
should show interest in Sidwell. The Rev. Bruno had bright
prospects. With the colour of his orthodoxy she did not concern
herself. He was ticketed 'broad', a term which carried with it no
disparagement; and Sidwell's sympathies were altogether with the men
of 'breadth'. The time drew near when Sidwell must marry, if she
ever meant to do so, and in comparison with such candidates as Mr
Walsh and Godwin Peak, the Rector of St. Margaret's would be an ideal
husband for her. Sidwell's attitude towards Mr. Chilvers was not
encouraging, but Mrs. Warricombe suspected that a lingering regard
for the impostor, so lately unmasked, still troubled her daughter's
mind: a new suitor, even if rejected, would help the poor girl to
dismiss that shocking infatuation.
Sidwell and her father nowadays spent much time together, and in the
autumn days it became usual for them to have an afternoon ramble
about the lanes. Their talk was of science and literature,
occasionally skirting very close upon those questions which both
feared to discuss plainly--for a twofold reason. Sidwell read much
more than had been her wont, and her choice of authors would alone
have indicated a change in her ways of thinking, even if she had not
allowed it to appear in the tenor of her talk. The questions she put
with reference to Martin's favourite studies were sometimes
One day they happened to meet Mr. Chilvers, who was driving with his
eldest child, a boy of four. The narrowness of the road made it
impossible--as Martin would have wished--to greet and pass on.
Chilvers stopped the carriage and jumped out. Sidwell could not but
pay some attention to the youthful Chilvers.
'Till he is ten years old,' cried Bruno, 'I shall think much more of
his body than of his mind. In fact, at this age the body ~is~ the
mind. Books, books--oh, we attach far too much importance to them.
Over-study is one of the morbific tendencies of our time. Some one
or other has been trying to frown down what he calls the excessive
athleticism of our public schools. No, no! Let us rejoice that our
lads have such an opportunity of vigorous physical development. The
culture of the body is a great part of religion.' He always uttered
remarks of this kind as if suggesting that his hearers should note
them in a collection of aphorisms. 'If to labour is to pray, so also
is the practice of open-air recreation.
When they had succeeded in getting away, father and daughter walked
for some minutes without speaking. At length Sidwell asked, with a
'How does this form of Christianity strike you?'
'Why, very much like a box on the ear with a perfumed glove,'
'That describes it very well.'
They walked a little further, and Sidwell spoke in a more serious
'If Mr. Chilvers were brought before the ecclesiastical authorities
and compelled to make a clear statement of his faith, what sect, in
all the history of heresies, would he really seem to belong to?'
'I know too little of him, and too little of heresies.'
'Do you suppose for a moment that he sincerely believes the dogmas
of his Church?'
Martin bit his lip and looked uneasy.
'We can't judge him, Sidwell.'
'I don't know,' she persisted. 'It seems to me that he does his best
to give us the means of judging him. I half believe that he often
laughs in himself at the success of his audacity.'
'No, no. I think the man is sincere.'
This was very uncomfortable ground, but Sidwell would not avoid it.
Her eyes flashed, and she spoke with a vehemence such as Martin had
never seen in her.
'Undoubtedly sincere in his determination to make a figure in the
world. But a Christian, in any intelligible sense of that
much-abused word,--no! He is one type of the successful man of our
day. Where thousands of better and stronger men struggle vainly for
fair recognition, he and his kind are glorified. In comparison with
a really energetic man, he is an acrobat. The crowd stares at him
and applauds, and there is nothing he cares for so much as that kind
Martin kept silence, and in a few minutes succeeded in; broaching a
wholly different subject.
Not long after this, Mr. Chilvers paid a call at the conventional
hour. Sidwell, hoping to escape, invited two girls to step out with
her on to the lawn. The sun was sinking, and, as she stood with eyes
fixed upon it, the Rev. Bruno's voice disagreeably broke her
reverie. She was perforce involved in a dialogue, her companions
'What a magnificent sky!' murmured Chilvers. '"There sinks the
nebulous star." Forgive me, I have fallen into a tiresome trickof
quoting. How differently a sunset is viewed nowadays from what it
was in old times! Our impersonal emotions are on a higher plane--
don't you think so? Yes, scientific discovery has done more for
religion than all the ages of pious imagination. A theory of Galileo
or Newton is more to the soul than a psalm of David.'
'You think so?' Sidwell asked, coldly.
In everyday conversation she was less suave than formerly. This
summer she had never worn her spray of sweet-brier, and the omission
might have been deemed significant of a change in herself. When the
occasion offered, she no longer hesitated to express a difference of
opinion; at times she uttered her dissent with a bluntness which
recalled Buckland's manner in private.
'Does the comparison seem to you unbecoming?' said Chilvers, with
genial condescension. 'Or untrue?'
'What do you mean by "the soul"?' she inquired, still gazing away
'The principle of conscious life in man--that which understands
'The two faculties seem to me so different that'----She broke off.
'But I mustn't talk foolishly about such things.'
'I feel sure you have thought of them to some purpose. I wonder
whether you ever read Francis Newman's book on ~The Soul~?'
'No, I never saw it.'
'Allow me to recommend it to you. I believe you would find it deeply
'Does the Church approve it?'
'The Church?' He smiled. 'Ah! what Church? Churchmen there are,
unfortunately, who detest the name of its author, but I hope you
have never classed me among them. The Church, rightly understood,
comprehends every mind and heart that is striving upwards. The age
of intolerance will soon be as remote from us as that of
persecution. Can I be mistaken in thinking that this broader view
has your sympathy, Miss Warricombe?'
'I can't sympathise with what I don't understand, Mr. Chilvers.'
He looked at her with tender solicitude, bending slightly from his
usual square-shouldered attitude.
'Do let me find an opportunity of talking over the whole matter with
you--by no means as an instructor. In my view, a clergyman may
seek instruction from the humblest of those who are called his
flock. The thoughtful and high-minded among them will often assist
him materially in his endeavour at self-development. To my "flock",'
he continued, playfully, 'you don't belong; but may I not count you
one of that circle of friends to whom I look for the higher kind of
Sidwell glanced about her in the hope that some one might be
approaching. Her two friends were at a distance, talking and
'You shall tell me some day,' she replied, with more attention to
courtesy, 'what the doctrines of the Broad Church really are. But
the air grows too cool to be pleasant; hadn't we better return to
The greater part of the winter went by before she had again to
submit to a tete-a-tete with the Rev. Bruno. It was seldom that she
thought of him save when compelled to do so by his exacting
presence, but in the meantime he exercised no small influence on her
mental life. Insensibly she was confirmed in her alienation from all
accepted forms of religious faith. Whether she wished it or not, it
was inevitable that such a process should keep her constantly in
mind of Godwin Peak. Her desire to talk with him at times became so
like passion that she appeared to herself to love him more truly
than ever. Yet such a mood was always followed by doubt, and she
could not say whether the reaction distressed or soothed her. These
months that had gone by brought one result, not to be disguised.
Whatever the true nature of her feeling for Godwin, the thought of
marrying him was so difficult to face that it seemed to involve
impossibilities. He himself had warned her that marriage would mean
severance from all her kindred. It was practically true, and time
would only increase the difficulty of such a determination.
The very fact that her love (again, if love it were) must be
indulged in defiance of universal opinion tended to keep emotion
alive. A woman is disposed to cling to a lover who has disgraced
himself, especially if she can believe that the disgrace was
incurred as a result of devotion to her. Could love be separated
from thought of marriage, Sidwell would have encouraged herself in
fidelity, happy in the prospect of a life-long spiritual communion
--for she would not doubt of Godwin's upward progress, of his
eventual purification. But this was a mere dream. If Godwin's
passion were steadfast, the day would come when she must decide
either to cast in her lot with his, or to bid him be free. And could
she imagine herself going forth into exile?
There came a letter from him, and she was fortunate enough to
receive it without the knowledge of her relatives. He wrote that he
had obtained employment. The news gave her a troubled joy, lasting
for several days. That no emotion appeared in her reply was due to a
fear lest she might be guilty of misleading him. Perhaps already she
had done so. Her last whisper--'Some day!'--was it not a promise
and an appeal? Now she had not the excuse of profound agitation,
there must be no word her conscience could not justify. But in
writing those formal lines she felt herself a coward. She was
drawing back--preparing her escape.
Often she had the letter beneath her pillow. It was the first she
had ever received from a man who professed to love her. So long
without romance in her life, she could not but entertain this
semblance of it, and feel that she was still young.
It told much in Godwin's favour that he had not ventured to write
before there was this news to send her. It testified to the force of
his character, the purity of his purpose. A weaker man, she knew,
would have tried to excite her compassion by letters of mournful
strain, might even have distressed her with attempts at clandestine
meeting. She had said rightly--his nature was not base. And she
loved him! She was passionately grateful to him for proving that her
love had not been unworthily bestowed.
When he wrote again, her answer should not be cowardly.
The life of the household went on as it had been wont to do for
years, but with the spring came events. An old lady died whilst on a
visit to the house (she was a half-sister of Mrs. Warricombe), and by
a will executed a few years previously she left a thousand pounds,
to be equally divided between the children of this family. Sidwell
smiled sadly on finding herself in possession of this bequest, the
first sum of any importance that she had ever held in her own right.
If she married a man of whom all her kith and kin so strongly
disapproved that they would not give her even a wedding present, two
hundred and fifty pounds would be better than no dowry at all. One
could furnish a house with it.
Then Fanny had an attack of bronchitis, and whilst she was
recovering Buckland came down for a few days, bringing with him a
piece of news for which no one was prepared. As if to make
reparation to his elder sister for the harshness with which he had
behaved in the affair of Godwin Peak, he chose her for his first
'Sidwell, I am going to be married. Do you care to hear about it?'
'Certainly I do.'
Long ago she had been assured of Sylvia Moorhouse's sincerity in
rejecting Buckland's suit. That was still a grief to her, but she
acknowledged her friend's wisdom, and was now very curious to learn
who it was that the Radical had honoured with his transferred
'The lady's name,' Buckland began, 'is Miss Matilda Renshaw. She is
the second daughter of a dealer in hides, tallow, and that kind of
thing. Both her parents are dead; she has lived of late with her
married sister at Blackheath.'
Sidwell listened with no slight astonishment, and her countenance
looked what she felt.
'That's the bald statement of the cause,' pursued her brother,
seeming to enjoy the consternation he had excited. 'Now, let me fill
up the outline. Miss Renshaw is something more than good-looking,
has had an admirable education, is five-and-twenty, and for a couple
of years has been actively engaged in humanitarian work in the East
End. She has published a book on social questions, and is a very
good public speaker. Finally, she owns property representing between
three and four thousand a year.'
'The picture has become more attractive,' said Sidwell.
'You imagined a rather different person? If I persuade mother to
invite her down here presently, do you think you could be friendly
'I see no reason why I should not be.'
'But I must warn you. She has nothing to do with creeds and dogmas.'
He tried to read her face. Sidwell's mind was a mystery to him.
'I shall make no inquiry about her religious views,' his sister
replied, in a dispassionate tone, which conveyed no certain meaning.
'Then I feel sure you will like her, and equally sure that she will
His parents had no distinct fault to find with this choice, though
they would both greatly have preferred a daughter-in-law whose
genealogy could be more freely spoken of. Miss Renshaw was invited
to Exeter, and the first week of June saw her arrival. Buckland had
in no way exaggerated her qualities. She was a dark-eyed beauty,
perfect from the social point of view, a very interesting talker,--
in short, no ordinary woman. That Buckland should have fallen in
love with her, even after Sylvia, was easily understood; it seemed
likely that she would make him as good a wife as he could ever hope
Sidwell was expecting another letter from the north of England. The
silence which during those first months had been justifiable was now
a source of anxiety. But whether fear or hope predominated in her
expectancy, she still could not decide. She had said to herself that
her next reply should not be cowardly, yet she was as far as ever
from a courageous resolve.
Mental harassment told upon her health. Martin, watching her with
solicitude, declared that for her sake as much as for Fanny's they
must have a thorough holiday abroad.
Urged by the approaching departure, Sidwell overcame her reluctance
to write to Godwin before she had a letter to answer. It was done in
a mood of intolerable despondency, when life looked barren before
her, and the desire of love all but triumphed over every other
consideration. The letter written and posted, she would gladly have
recovered it--reserved, formal as it was. Cowardly still; but then
Godwin had not written.
She kept a watch upon the postman, and again, when Godwin's reply
was delivered, escaped detection.
Hardly did she dare to open the envelope. Her letter had perchance
been more significant than she supposed; and did not the mere fact
of her writing invite a lover's frankness?
But the reply was hardly more moving than if it had come from a
total stranger. For a moment she felt relieved; in an hour's time
she suffered indescribable distress. Godwin wrote--so she
convinced herself after repeated perusals--as if discharging a
task; not a word suggested tenderness. Had the letter been
unsolicited, she could have used it like the former one; but it was
the answer to an appeal. The phrases she had used were still present
in her mind. 'I am anxious . . . it is more than half a year since
you wrote . . . I have been expecting . . . anything that is of
interest to you will interest me. . . .' How could she imagine that
this was reserved and formal? Shame fell upon her; she locked
herself from all companionship, and wept in rebellion against the
laws of life.
A fortnight later, she wrote from Royat to Sylvia Moorhouse. It was
a long epistle, full of sunny descriptions, breathing renewed vigour
of body and mind. The last paragraph ran thus:
'Yesterday was my birthday; I was twenty-eight. At this age, it is
wisdom in a woman to remind herself that youth is over. I don't
regret it; let it go with all its follies! But I am sorry that I
have no serious work in life; it is not cheerful to look forward to
perhaps another eight-and-twenty years of elegant leisure--that is
to say, of wearisome idleness. What can I do? Try and think of some
task for me, something that will last a lifetime.'
At the close of a sultry day in September, when factory fumes hung
low over the town of St. Helen's, and twilight thickened luridly, and
the air tasted of sulphur, and the noises of the streets, muffled in
their joint effect, had individually an ominous distinctness, Godwin
Peak walked with languid steps to his lodgings and the meal that
there awaited him. His vitality was at low ebb. The routine of his
life disgusted him; the hope of release was a mockery. What was to
be the limit of this effort to redeem his character? How many years
before the past could be forgotten, and his claim to the style of
honourable be deemed secure? Rubbish! It was an idea out of
old-fashioned romances. What he was, he was, and no extent of dogged
duration at St. Helen's or elsewhere, could affect his personality.
What, practically, was to be the end? If Sidwell had no money of her
own, and no expectations from her father, how could she ever become
his wife? Women liked this kind of thing, this indefinite engagement
to marry when something should happen, which in all likelihood never
would happen--this fantastic mutual fidelity with only the airiest
reward. Especially women of a certain age.
A heavy cart seemed to be rumbling in the next street. No, it was
thunder. If only a good rattling storm would sweep the bituminous
atmosphere, and allow a breath of pure air before midnight.
She could not be far from thirty. Of course there prevails much
conventional nonsense about women's age; there are plenty of women
who reckon four decades, and yet retain all the essential charm of
their sex. And as a man gets older, as he begins to persuade himself
that at forty one has scarce reached the prime of life----
The storm was coming on in earnest. Big drops began to fall. He
quickened his pace, reached home, and rang the bell for a light.
His landlady came in with the announcement that a gentleman had
called to see him, about an hour ago; he would come again at seven
None had been given. A youngish gentleman, speaking like a Londoner.
It might be Earwaker, but that was not likely. Godwin sat down to
his plain meal, and after it lit a pipe. Thunder was still rolling,
but now in the distance. He waited impatiently for seven o'clock.
To the minute, sounded a knock at the house-door. A little delay,
and there appeared Christian Moxey.
Godwin was surprised and embarrassed. His visitor had a very grave
face, and was thinner, paler, than three years ago; he appeared to
hesitate, but at length offered his hand.
'I got your address from Earwaker. I was obliged to see you--on
'May I take my coat off? We shall have to talk.'
They sat down, and Godwin, unable to strike the note of friendship
lest he should be met with repulse, broke silence by regretting that
Moxey should have had to make a second call.
'Oh, that's nothing! I went and had dinner.--Peak, my sister is
Their eyes met; something of the old kindness rose to either face.
'That must be a heavy blow to you,' murmured Godwin, possessed with
a strange anticipation which he would not allow to take clear form.
'It is. She was ill for three months.' Whilst staying in the country
last June she met with an accident. She went for a long walk alone
one day, and in a steep lane she came up with a carter who was
trying to make a wretched horse drag a load beyond its strength. The
fellow was perhaps half drunk; he stood there beating the horse
unmercifully. Marcella couldn't endure that kind of thing--
impossible for her to pass on and say nothing. She interfered, and
tried to persuade the man to lighten his cart. He was insolent,
attacked the horse more furiously than ever, and kicked it so
violently in the stomach that it fell. Even then he wouldn't stop
his brutality. Marcella tried to get between him and the animal--
just as it lashed out with its heels. The poor girl was so badly
injured that she lay by the roadside until another carter took her
up and brought her back to the village. Three months of accursed
suffering, and then happily came the end.'
A far, faint echoing of thunder filled the silence of their voices.
Heavy rain splashed upon the pavement.
'She said to me just before her death,' resumed Christian, '"I have
ill luck when I try to do a kindness--but perhaps there is one
more chance." I didn't know what she meant till afterwards. Peak,
she has left nearly all her money to you.'
Godwin knew it before the words were spoken. His heart leaped, and
only the dread of being observed enabled him to control his
features. When his tongue was released he said harshly:
'Of course I can't accept it.'
The words were uttered independently of his will. He had no such
thought, and the sound of his voice shook him with alarm.
'Why can't you?' returned Christian.
'I have no right--it belongs to you, or to some other relative--
it would be'----
His stammering broke off. Flushes and chills ran through him; he
could not raise his eyes from the ground.
'It belongs to no one but you,' said Moxey, with cold persistence.
'Her last wish was to do you a kindness, and I, at all events, shall
never consent to frustrate her intention. The legacy represents
something more than eight hundred a year, as the investments now
stand. This will make you independent--of everything and
everybody.' He looked meaningly at the listener. 'Her own life was
not a very happy one; she did what she could to save yours from a
Godwin at last looked up.
'Did she speak of me during her illness?'
'She asked me once, soon after the accident, what had become of you.
As I knew from Earwaker, I was able to tell her.'
A long silence followed. Christian's voice was softer when he
'You never knew her. She was the one woman in ten thousand--at
once strong and gentle; a fine intellect, and a heart of rare
tenderness. But because she had not the kind of face that'----
He checked himself.
'To the end her mind kept its clearness and courage. One day she
reminded me of Heine--how we had talked of that "conversion" on
the mattress-grave, and had pitied the noble intellect subdued by
disease. "I shan't live long enough," she said, "to incur that
danger. What I have thought ever since I could study, I think now,
and shall to the last moment." I buried her without forms of any
kind, in the cemetery at Kingsmill. That was what she wished. I
should have despised myself if I had lacked that courage.'
'It was right,' muttered Godwin.
'And I wear no mourning, you see. All that kind of thing is ignoble.
I am robbed of a priceless companionship, but I don't care to go
about inviting people's pity. If only I could forget those months of
suffering! Some day I shall, perhaps, and think of her only as she
'Were you alone with her all the time?'
'No. Our cousin Janet was often with us.' Christian spoke with
averted face. 'You don't know, of course, that she has gone in for
medical work--practises at Kingsmill. The accident was at a
village called Lowton, ten miles or more from Kingsmill. Janet came
over very often.'