In the spring of 1882 Mr. Jarvis Runcorn, editor and co-proprietor of th_ondon Weekly Post, was looking about for a young man of journalistic promis_hom he might associate with himself in the conduct of that long establishe_adical paper. The tale of his years warned him that he could not hope t_upport much longer a burden which necessarily increased with the growin_ange and complexity of public affairs. Hitherto he had been the autocrat o_he office, but competing Sunday papers exacted an alertness, a versatil_igour, such as only youth can supply; for there was felt to be a danger tha_he Weekly Post might lose its prestige in democratic journalism. Thus on th_atch, Mr. Runcorn—a wary man of business, who had gone through many trade_efore he reached that of weekly literature—took counsel one day with _ellow-campaigner, Malkin by name, who owned two or three country newspapers, and had reaped from them a considerable fortune; in consequence, his attentio_as directed to one John Earwaker, then editing the Wattleborough Courier. Mr.
Malkin's eldest son had recently stood as Liberal candidate for Wattleborough, and though defeated was loud in his praise of the ~Courier~; with its edito_e had come to be on terms of intimate friendship. Earwaker was wel_cquainted with journalistic life in the provinces. He sprang from a humbl_amily living at Kingsmill, had studied at Whitelaw College, and was now bu_ine-and-twenty: the style of his 'leaders' seemed to mark him for a wide_phere of work. It was decided to invite him to London, and the young ma_eadily accepted Mr. Runcorn's proposals. A few months later he exchange_emporary lodgings for chambers in Staple Inn, where he surrounded himsel_ith plain furniture and many books.
In personal appearance he had changed a good deal since that prize-day a_hitelaw when his success as versifier and essayist foretold a literar_areer. His figure was no longer ungainly; the big head seemed to fit bette_pon the narrow shoulders. He neither walked with extravagant paces, nor wave_is arms like a windmill. A sufficiency of good food, and the habit o_ntercourse with active men; had given him an every-day aspect; perhaps th_ole peculiarity he retained from student times was his hollow chuckle o_irth, a laugh which struggled vainly for enlargement. He dressed wit_onventional decency, even submitting to the chimney-pot hat. His feature_etrayed connection with a physically coarse stock; but to converse with hi_as to discover the man of original vigour and wide intellectual scope. Wit_rdinary companions, it was a rare thing for him to speak of his professiona_nterests. But for his position on The Weekly Post it would not have been eas_o surmise how he stood with regard to politics, and he appeared to lean a_ften towards the conservative as to the revolutionary view of abstrac_uestions.
The newspaper left him time for other literary work, and it was known to a fe_eople that he wrote with some regularity for reviews, but all the products o_is pen were anonymous. A fact which remained his own secret was that h_rovided for the subsistence of his parents, old people domiciled in a quie_orner of their native Kingsmill. The strict sobriety of life which i_ndispensable to success in such a career as this cost him no effort. H_moked moderately, ate and drank as little as might be, could keep his healt_n six hours of sleep, and for an occasional holiday liked to walk his twent_r thirty miles. Earwaker was naturally marked for survival among the fittest.
On an evening of June in the year '84, he was interrupted whilst equippin_imself for dinner abroad, by a thunderous rat-tat-tat.
'You must wait, my friend, whoever you are,' he murmured placidly, as he bega_o struggle with the stiff button-holes of his shirt.
The knock was repeated, and more violently.
'Now there's only one man of my acquaintance who knocks like that,' he mused, elaborating the bow of his white tie. 'He, I should imagine, is in Brazil; bu_here's no knowing. Perhaps our office is on fire.—Anon, anon!'
He made baste to don waistcoat and swallow-tail, then crossed his sitting-roo_nd flung open the door of the chambers.
'Ha! Then it is you! I was reminded of your patient habits.'
A tall man, in a light overcoat and a straw hat of spacious brim, had seize_oth his hands, with shouts of excited greeting.
'Confound you! Why did you keep me waiting? I thought I had missed you for th_vening. How the deuce are you? And why the devil have you left me without _ine from you for more than six months?'
Earwaker drew aside, and allowed his tumultuous friend to rush into th_earest room.
'Why haven't you written?—confound you!' was again vociferated, amid bursts o_oyish laughter. 'Why hasn't anybody written?'
'If everybody was as well informed of your movements as I, I don't wonder,'
replied the journalist. 'Since you left Buenos Ayres, I have had two letters, each containing twenty words, which gave me to understand that no answer coul_y possibility reach you.'
'Humbug! You could have written to half-a-dozen likely places. Did I reall_ay that? Ha, ha, ha!—Shake hands again, confound you! How do you do? Do _ook well? Have I a tropical colour? I say, what a blessed thing it was that _ot beaten down at Wattleborough! All this time I should have been sitting i_he fog at Westminster. What a time I've had! What a time I've had!'
It was more than twelve months since Malkin's departure from England. Thoug_un and sea had doubtless contributed to his robustness, he must always hav_een a fair example of the vigorous Briton. His broad shoulders, uprigh_earing, open countenance, and frank resonant voice, declared a youth passe_mid the wholesome conditions which wealth alone can command. The heart_xtravagance of his friendliness was only possible in a man who has never bee_umiliated by circumstances, never restricted in his natural needs of body an_ind. Yet he had more than the heartiness of a contented Englishman. Th_ivacity which made a whirlwind about him probably indicated some ancestra_ingling with the blood of a more ardent race. Earwaker examined him with _mile of pleasure.
'It's unfortunate,' he said, 'that I have to go out to dinner.'
'Dinner! Pooh! we can get dinner anywhere.'
'No doubt, hut I am engaged.'
'The devil you are! Who is she? Why didn't you write to tell me?'
'The word has a less specific meaning, my dear fellow,' replied Earwaker, laughing. 'Only you of all men would have rushed at the wrong one. I mean t_ay—if your excitement can take in so common a fact—that I have promised t_ine with some people at Notting Hill, and mustn't disappoint them.'
Malkin laughed at his mistake, then shouted:
'Notting Hill! Isn't that somewhere near Fulham? We'll take a cab, and I ca_rop you on my way.'
'It wouldn't be on the way at all.'
The journalist's quiet explanation was cut short by a petulant outcry.
'Oh, very well! Of course if you want to get rid of me! I should have though_fter sixteen months'—
'Don't be idiotic,' broke in the other. 'There's a strong feminine element i_ou, Malkin; that's exactly the kind of talk with which women drive men t_renzy.'
'Feminine element!' shouted the traveller with hot face. 'What do you mean? _ropose to take a cab with you, and you'—
Earwaker turned away laughing. 'Time and distance are nothing to you, and _hall be very glad of your company. Come by all means.'
His friend was instantly appeased.
'Don't let me make you late, Earwaker. Must we start this moment? Come along, then. Can I carry anything for you? Lord! if you could only see a tropica_orest! How do you get on with old Runcorn? ~Write~? What the devil was th_se of my writing, when words are powerless to describe—? What a rum old plac_his seems, after experiences like mine; how the deuce can you live here? _ay, I've brought you a ton of curiosities; will make your rooms look like _useum. Confound it! I've broken my shin against the turn in the staircase!
Whew! Who are you going to dine with?—Moxey? Never heard the name.'
In Holborn a hansom was hailed, and the friends continued their dialogue a_hey drove westward. Having at length effervesced, Malkin began to exchang_uestion and answer with something of the calm needful for mutua_ntelligibility.
'And how do you get on with old Runcorn?'
'As well as can be expected where there is not a single subject of agreement,'
Earwaker replied. 'I have hopes of reducing our circulation.'
'What the deuce do you mean?'
'In other words, of improving the paper. Runcorn is strong on the side o_lackguardism. We had a great fight the other day over a leader offered b_enyon,—a true effusion of the political gutter-snipe. I refused point-blan_o let it go in; Runcorn swore that, if I did not, I should go out. I offere_o retire that moment. "We must write for our public," he bellowed. "True,"
said I, "but not necessarily for the basest among them. The standard at th_est is low enough." "Do you call yourself a Radical?" "Not if this b_adicalism." "You ought to be on the Morning instead of the Weekly Post." _ad my way, and probably shall end by sending Mr Kenyon back to his tinker'_ork shop. If not, I must look out for cleaner occupation.'
'Go it, my boy! Go it!' cried Malkin, slapping his companion's knee violently.
'Raise the tone! To the devil with mercenary considerations! Help th_roletariat out of its grovelling position.'
They approached the street where Earwaker had to alight. The other declare_is intention of driving on to Fulham in the hope of finding a friend wh_ived there.
'But I must see you again. When shall you be home to-night?'
'About half-past eleven, I dare say.'
'Right! If I am free I'll come out to Staple Inn, and we'll talk till three o_our.'
The house at which the journalist presented himself was such as might b_nhabited by a small family of easy means. As he was taking off his overcoat, a door opened and Christian Moxey came forward to greet him. They shook hand_ike men who stood on friendly, but not exactly on intimate, terms.
'Will you come up to the laboratory for a moment?' said Moxey. 'I should lik_o show you something I have under the microscope.'
The room he spoke of was at the top of the house; two chambers had been mad_nto one, and the fittings were those required by a student of physica_cience. Various odours distressed the air. A stranger to the pursuit_epresented might have thought that the general disorder and encumbermen_ndicated great activity, but the experienced eye perceived at once that n_ethodical work was here in progress. Mineralogy, botany, biology, physics, and probably many other sciences, were suggested by the specimens an_pparatus that lay confusedly on tables, shelves, or floor.
Moxey looked very slim and elegant in his evening costume. When he touched an_bject, his long, translucent fingers seemed soft and sensitive as a girl's.
He stepped with peculiar lightness, and the harmonious notes of his voice wer_n keeping with these other characteristics. Ten years had developed in hi_hat graceful languor which at four-and-twenty was only beginning to ge_astery over the energies of a well-built frame.
'This stuff here,' he said, pointing to an open box full of mud, 'is silt fro_own the Thames. It's positively loaded with diatomaceoe,—you remember ou_alking about them when you were last here? I am working at the fabric of th_alves. Now, just look!'
Earwaker, with attentive smile, followed the demonstration.
'Peak is busy with them as well,' said Christian, presently. 'Has he told yo_is theory of their locomotion? Nobody has found out yet how the littl_eggars move about. Peak has a bright idea.'
They spent ten minutes in the laboratory, then went downstairs. Two othe_uests had meanwhile arrived, and were conversing with the hostess, Mis_oxey. The shy, awkward, hard-featured girl was grown into a woman whose fac_ade such declaration of intellect and character that, after the first moment, one became indifferent to its lack of feminine beauty. As if with the idea o_ompensating for personal disadvantages, she was ornately dressed; he_bundant tawny hair had submitted to much manipulation, and showed the glea_f jewels; expense and finished craft were manifest in every detail of he_arb. Though slightly round-shouldered, her form was well-proportioned an_uggested natural vigour. Like Christian, she had delicate hands.
'Do you know a distinguished clergyman, named Chilvers?' she asked o_arwaker, with a laugh, when he had taken a place by her.
'Chilvers?—Is it Bruno Chilvers, I wonder?'
'That's the name!' exclaimed one of the guests, a young married lady of eage_ace and fidgety manners.
'Then I knew him at College, but I had no idea he was become distinguished.'
Miss Moxey again laughed.
'Isn't it amusing, the narrowness of a great clerical reputation? Mrs. Morto_as astonished that I had never heard his name.'
'Please don't think,' appealed the lady, looking anxiously at Earwaker, 'tha_ consider it shameful not to know him. I only happened to mention a ver_idiculous sermon of his, that was forced upon me by a distressingly orthodo_riend of mine. They tell me, he is one of the newest lights of the Church.'
Earwaker listened with amusement, and then related anecdotes of Brun_hilvers. Whilst he was talking, the door opened to admit another arrival, an_ servant's voice announced 'Mr. Peak'. Miss Moxey rose, and moved a step o_wo forward; a change was visible on her countenance, which had softened an_ightened.
'I am very sorry to be late,' said the new-comer, in a dull and rather husk_oice, which made strong contrast with the humorous tones his entrance ha_nterrupted.
He shook hands in silence with the rest of the company, giving merely a no_nd a smile as reply to some gracious commonplace from Mrs. Morton.
'Has it come to your knowledge,' Earwaker asked of him, 'that Bruno Chilver_s exciting the orthodox world by his defence of Christianity against neo- heathenism?'
'Mrs. Morton tells us that all the Church newspapers ring with his name.'
'Please don't think,' cried Mrs. Morton, with the same anxious look as before,
'that I read such papers. We never have such a thing in our house, Mr. Peak. _ave only been told about it.'
Peak smiled gravely, but made no other answer. Then he turned to Earwaker.
'Where is he?'
'I can't say. Perhaps Mrs. Morton'—
'They tell me he is somewhere in Norfolk,' replied the lady. 'I forget th_own.'
A summons to dinner broke off the conversation. Moxey offered his arm to th_ne lady present as guest, and Earwaker did the same courtesy to the hostess.
Mr. Morton, a meditative young man who had been listening with a smile o_ndifference, sauntered along in the rear with Godwin Peak.
At the dinner-table Peak was taciturn, and seemed to be musing on _isagreeable subject. To remarks, he answered briefly and absently. As Moxey, Earwaker, and Mrs. Morton kept up lively general talk, this muteness was no_uch noticed, but when the ladies had left the room, and Peak still frowne_ver his wineglass, the journalist rebuked him.
'What's the matter with you? Don't depress us.'
The other laughed impatiently, and emptied his glass.
'Malkin has come back,' pursued Earwaker. 'He burst in upon me, just as I wa_eaving home—as mad as a March hare. You must come and meet him some evening.'
'As you please.'
Returned to the upper room, Peak seated himself in a shadowy corner, crosse_is legs, thrust his hands into his pockets, and leaned back to regard _icture on the wall opposite. This attitude gave sufficient proof of th_hange that had been wrought in him by the years between nineteen and nine- and-twenty; even in a drawing-room, he could take his ease unconcernedly. Hi_ace would have led one to suppose him an older man; it was set in a_xpression of stern, if not morose, thoughtfulness.
He had small, hard lips, indifferent teeth (seldom exhibited), a prominen_hin, a long neck; his body was of firm, not ungraceful build. Society'_vening uniform does not allow a man much scope in the matter of adornments; it was plain, however, that Godwin no longer scorned the tailor an_aberdasher. He wore a suit which confidently challenged the criticism o_xperts, and the silk socks visible above his shoes might have been selecte_y the most fastidious of worldlings.
When he had sat there for some minutes, his eyes happened to stray toward_iss Moxey, who was just then without a companion. Her glance answered to his, and a smile of invitation left him no choice but to rise and go to a sea_eside her.
'You are meditative this evening,' she said, in a voice subdued below it_rdinary note.
'Not very fit for society, to tell the truth,' Godwin answered, carelessly.
'One has such moods, you know. But how would you take it if, at the las_oment, I sent a telegram, "Please excuse me. Don't feel able to talk"?'
'You don't suppose I should be offended?'
'Certainly you would.'
'Then you know less of me than I thought.'
Her eyes wandered about the room, their smile betokening an uneasy self- consciousness.
'Christian tells me,' she continued, 'that you are going to take your holida_n Cornwall.'
'I thought of it. But perhaps I shan't leave town at all. It wouldn't be wort_hile, if I go abroad at the end of the year.'
'Abroad?' Marcella glanced at him. 'What scheme is that?'
'Haven't I mentioned it? I want to go to South America and the Pacifi_slands. Earwaker has a friend, who has just come back from travel in th_ropics; the talk about it has half decided me to leave England. I have bee_aving money for years to that end.'
'You never spoke of it—to me, Marcella replied, turning a bracelet on he_rist. 'Should you go alone?'
'Of course. I couldn't travel in company. You know how impossible it would b_or me to put up with the moods and idiosyncrasies of other men.'
There was a quiet arrogance in his tone. The listener still smiled, but he_ingers worked nervously.
'You are not so unsocial as you pretend,' she remarked, without looking a_im.
'Pretend! I make no pretences of any kind,' was his scornful answer.
'You are ungracious this evening.'
'Yes—and can't hide it.'
'Don't try to, I beg. But at least tell me what troubles you.'
'That's impossible,' Peak replied, drily.
'Then friendship goes for nothing,' said Marcella, with a little forced laugh.
'Yes—in all but a very few human concerns. How often could you tell me what i_s that prevents your taking life cheerfully?'
He glanced at her, and Marcella's eyes fell; a moment after, there was _uspicion of colour in her cheek.
'What are you reading?' Peak asked abruptly, but in a voice of mor_onventional note.
'I envy your power of abstraction.'
'Yet I hear that you are deeply concerned about the locomotive powers of the ~diatomaceaoe~?'
Their eyes met, and they laughed—not very mirthfully.
'It preserves me from worse follies,' said Peak. 'After all, there are way_ore or less dignified of consuming time'—
As he spoke, his ear caught a familiar name, uttered by Christian Moxey, an_e turned to listen. Moxey and Earwaker were again talking of the Rev. Brun_hilvers. Straightway disregarding Marcella, Peak gave attention to the men'_ialogue, and his forehead wrinkled into scornful amusement.
'It's very interesting,' he exclaimed, at a moment when there was silenc_hroughout the company, 'to hear that Chilvers is really coming to the front.
At Whitelaw it used to be prophesied that he would be a bishop, and now _uppose he's fairly on the way to that. Shall we write letters o_ongratulation to him, Earwaker?'
'A joint epistle, if you like.'
Mr. Morton, who had brightened since dinner, began to speak caustically of th_orm of intellect necessary nowadays in a popular clergyman.
'He must write a good deal,' put in Earwaker, 'and that in a style which woul_ave scandalised the orthodox of the last century. Rationalised dogma i_astly in demand.'
Peak's voice drew attention.
'Two kinds of books dealing with religion are now greatly popular, and will b_or a long time. On the one hand there is that growing body of people who, fo_hatever reason, tend to agnosticism, but desire to be convinced tha_gnosticism is respectable; they are eager for anti-dogmatic books, written b_en of mark. They couldn't endure to be classed with Bradlaugh, but they ran_hemselves confidently with Darwin and Huxley. Arguments matter little o_othing to them. They take their rationalism as they do a fashion in dress, anxious only that it shall be "good form". Then there's the other lot o_eople—a much larger class—who won't give up dogma, but have learnt tha_ishops, priests, and deacons no longer hold it with the old rigour, and tha_ne must be "broad"; these are clamorous for treatises which pretend t_econcile revelation and science. It's quite pathetic to watch the enthusias_ith which they hail any man who distinguishes himself by this kind o_pologetic skill, this pious jugglery. Never mind how washy the book from _cientific point of view. Only let it obtain vogue, and it will be glorifie_s the new evangel. The day has gone by for downright assaults on science; t_e marketable, you must prove that The Origin of Species was approvingl_oreseen in the first chapter of Genesis, and that the Apostles' Cree_onflicts in no single point with the latest results of biblical criticism.
Both classes seek to avoid ridicule, and to adapt themselves to a standard o_espectability. If Chilvers goes in for the newest apologetics, he is bound t_e enormously successful. The man has brains, and really there are so few suc_en who still care to go into the Church.'
There was a murmur of laughing approval. The speaker had worked himself int_loquent nervousness; he leaned forward with his hands straining together, an_he muscles of his face quivering.
'And isn't it surprising,' said Marcella, 'in how short a time this apologeti_ttitude has become necessary?'
Peak flashed a triumphant look at her.
'I often rejoice to think of it!' he cried. 'How magnificent it is that s_any of the solemn jackasses who brayed against Darwin from ten to twent_ears ago should live to be regarded as beneath contempt! I say it earnestly: this thought is one of the things that make life tolerable to me!'
'You have need of charity, friend Peak,' interposed Earwaker. 'This is th_pirit of the persecutor.'
'Nothing of the kind! It is the spirit of justified reason. You may say tha_hose people were honestly mistaken;—such honesty is the brand of a brainles_bstructive. They would have persecuted, but too gladly! There were, and are, men who would have committed Darwin to penal servitude, if they had had th_ower. Men like Lyell, who were able to develop a new convolution in thei_rains, I respect heartily. I only speak of the squalling mass, the obscen_erd of idiot mockers.'
'Who assuredly,' remarked Earwaker, 'feel no shame whatever in the retrospec_f their idiocy. To convert a mind is a subject for high rejoicing; to confut_ temper isn't worth the doing.'
'That is philosophy,' said Marcella, 'but I suspect you of often feeling a_r. Peak does. I am sure I do.'
Peak, meeting an amused glance from the journalist, left his seat and took u_ volume that lay on one of the tables. It was easy to see that his hand_hook, and that there was perspiration on his forehead. With pleasant tact, Moxey struck into a new subject, and for the next quarter of an hour Peak sa_part in the same attitude as before his outburst of satire and invective.
Then he advanced to Miss Moxey again, for the purpose of taking leave. Thi_as the signal for Earwaker's rising, and in a few minutes both men had lef_he house.
'I'll go by train with you,' said Earwaker, as they walked away. 'Farringdo_treet will suit me well enough.'
Peak vouchsafed no reply, but, when they had proceeded a little distance, h_xclaimed harshly:
'I hate emancipated women!'
His companion stopped and laughed loudly.
'Yes, I hate emancipated women,' the other repeated, with deliberation. 'Wome_ught neither to be enlightened nor dogmatic. They ought to be sexual.'
'That's unusual brutality on your part.'
'Well, you know what I mean.'
'I know what you think you mean,' said Earwaker. 'But the woman who is neithe_nlightened nor dogmatic is only too common in society. They are fools, an_roublesome fools.'
Peak again kept silence.
'The emancipated woman,' pursued his friend, 'needn't be a Miss Moxey, nor ye_ Mrs. Morton.'
'Miss Moxey is intolerable,' said Peak. 'I can't quite say why I dislike he_o, but she grows more antipathetic to me the better I know her. She has not _ingle feminine charm—not one. I often feel very sorry for her, but dislik_er all the same.'
'Sorry for her,' mused Earwaker. 'Yes, so do I. I can't like her either. Sh_s certainly an incomplete woman. But her mind is of no low order. I ha_ather talk with her than with one of the imbecile prettinesses. I hal_elieve you have a sneaking sympathy with the men who can't stand education i_ wife.'
'It's possible. In some moods.'
'In no mood can I conceive such a prejudice. I have no great attraction t_omen of any kind, but the uneducated woman I detest.'
'Well, so do I,' muttered Peak. 'Do you know what?' he added, abruptly. '_hall be off to the Pacific. Yes, I shall go this next winter. My mind is mad_p.'
'I shan't try to dissuade you, old fellow, though I had rather have you i_ight. Come and see Malkin. I'll drop you a note with an appointment.'
They soon reached the station, and exchanged but few more words befor_arwaker's leaving the train at Farringdon Street. Peak pursued his journe_owards the south-east of London.
On reaching home, the journalist flung aside his foolish coat of ceremony, indued a comfortable jacket, lit a pipe with long stem, and began to glanc_ver an evening newspaper. He had not long reposed in his arm-chair when th_amiliar appeal thundered from without. Malkin once more shook his han_ffusively.
'Had my journey to Fulham for nothing. Didn't matter; I ran over to Putney an_ooked up my old landlady. The rooms are occupied by a married couple, but _hink we shall succeed in persuading them to make way for me. I promised t_ind them lodgings every bit as good in two days' time.'
'If that is so easy, why not take the new quarters yourself?'
'Why, to tell you the truth, I didn't think of it!—Oh, I had rather have th_ld crib; I can do as I like there, you know. Confound it! Now I shall have t_pend all to-morrow lodging-hunting for other people. Couldn't I pay a man t_o it? Some confidential agent—private police—you know what I mean?'
'A man of any delicacy,' replied Earwaker, with grave countenance, 'would fee_ound by such a promise to personal exertion.'
'Right; quite right! I didn't mean it; of course I shall hunt conscientiously.
Oh, I say; I have brought over a couple of armadilloes. Would you like one?'
'Stuffed, do you mean?'
'Pooh! Alive, man, alive! They only need a little care. I should think yo_ight keep the creature in your kitchen; they become quite affectionate.'
The offer was unhesitatingly declined, and Malkin looked hurt. There needed _ood deal of genial explanation before Earwaker could restore him to hi_prightly mood.
'Where have you been dining?' cried the traveller. 'Moxey's—ah, I remember.
But who is Moxey? A new acquaintance, eh?'
'Yes; I have known him about six months. Got to know him through Peak.'
'Peak? Peak? What, the fellow you once told me about—who disappeared fro_hitelaw because of his uncle, the cat's-meat man?'
'The man's-meat man, rather.'
'Yes, yes—the eating-house; I remember. You have met him again? Why on eart_idn't you tell me in your letters? What became of him? Tell me the story.'
'Certainly, if you will cease to shake down plaster from the ceiling.—We me_n a restaurant (appropriate scene), happening to sit at the same table.
Whilst eating, we stared at each other fitfully. "I'll be hanged if that isn'_eak," I kept saying to myself. And at the same moment we opened our lips t_uestion each other.'
'Just the same thing happened once to a friend of mine and a friend of his.
But it was on board ship, and both were devilish seasick. Walker—you remembe_y friend Walker?—tells the story in a side-splitting way. I wonder what ha_ecome of Walker? The last time I met him he was travelling agent for _enagerie—a most interesting fellow, Walker.—But I beg your pardon. Go on, ol_ellow!'
'Well, after that we at once saw a good deal of each other. He has bee_orking for years at a chemical factory down on the river; Moxey used to b_here, and got him the place.'
'Moxey?—Oh yes, the man you dined with. You must remember that these are ne_ames to me. I must know all these new people, I say. You don't mind?'
'You shall be presented to the whole multitude, as soon as you like. Pea_ants to see you. He thinks of an excursion like this last of yours.'
'He does? By Jove, we'll go together! I have always wanted a travellin_ompanion. We'll start as soon as ever he likes!—well, in a month or two. _ust just have time to look round. Oh, I haven't done with the tropics yet! _ust tell him of a rattling good insect-powder I have invented; I think o_atenting it. I say, how does one get a patent? Quite a simple matter, _uppose?'
'Oh, always has been. The simplest and least worrying of all busines_nterprises.'
'What? Eh? That smile of yours means mischief.'
In a quarter of an hour they had got back to the subject of Peak's history.
'And did he really run away because of the eating-house?' Malkin inquired.
'I shall never venture to ask, and it's not very likely he will admit it. I_as some time before he cared to talk much of Whitelaw.'
'But what is he doing? You used to think he would come out strong, didn't you?
Has he written anything?'
'A few things in The Liberator, five or six years ago.'
'What, the atheistic paper?'
'Yes. But he's ashamed of it now. That belongs to a bygone stage o_evelopment.'
'I only mean that he is ashamed of the connection with street-corne_ationalism.'
'Quite right. Devilish low, that kind of thing. But I went in for it mysel_nce. Did I ever tell you that I debated with a parson on Mile-end Waste?
Fact! That was in my hot-headed days. A crowd of coster-mongers applauded m_n the most flattering way.—I say, Earwaker, you haven't any whisky?'
'Forgive me; your conversation makes me forget hospitality. Shall I make ho_ater? I have a spirit-kettle.'
'Cold for me. I get in such a deuced perspiration when I begin to talk.—Tr_his tobacco; the last of half a hundred-weight I took in at Bahia.'
The traveller refreshed himself with a full tumbler, and resumed th_onversation cheerily.
'Has he just been wasting his time, then, all these years?'
'He goes in for science—laboratory work, evolutionary speculations. Of cours_ can't judge his progress in such matters; but Moxey, a clever man in th_ame line, thinks very highly of him.'
'Just the fellow to travel with. I want to get hold of some solid scientifi_deas, but I haven't the patience to work steadily. A confounded fault o_ine, you know, Earwaker,—want of patience. You must have noticed it?'
'Oh—well, now and then, perhaps.'
'Yes, yes; but of course I know myself better. And now tell me about Moxey. _arried man, of course?'
'No, lives with a sister.'
'Pretty well supplied with that commodity.'
'You must introduce me to her. I do like women with brains.— Orthodox o_nlightened?'
'Really? Magnificent! Oh, I must know her. Nothing like an emancipated woman!
How any man can marry the ordinary female passes my understanding. What do yo_hink?'
'My opinions are in suspense; not yet precipitated, as Peak might say.'
One o'clock sounded from neighbouring churches, but Malkin was wide awake a_ver. He entered upon a detailed narrative of his travels, delightful t_isten to, so oddly blended were the strains of conscious and unconsciou_umour which marked his personality. Two o'clock; three o'clock;—he would hav_alked till breakfast-time, but at last Earwaker declared that the hour ha_ome for sleep. As Malkin had taken a room at the Inns of Court Hotel, it wa_asy for him to repair to his quarters. The last his friend heard of him wa_n unexplained laugh, echoing far down the staircase.