The cuckoo clock in Mrs. Roots's kitchen had just struck three. A wind roare_rom the north-east, and light thickened beneath a sky which made threat o_now. Peak was in a mood to enjoy the crackling fire; he settled himself wit_ book in his easy-chair, and thought with pleasure of two hours' reading, before the appearance of the homely teapot.
Christmas was just over—one cause of the feeling of relief and quietness whic_ossessed him. No one had invited him for Christmas Eve or the day tha_ollowed, and he did not regret it. The letter he had received from Marti_arricombe was assurance enough that those he desired to remember him stil_id so. He had thought of using this season for his long postponed visit t_wybridge, but reluctance prevailed. All popular holidays irritated an_epressed him; he loathed the spectacle of multitudes in Sunday garb. It wa_ll over, and the sense of that afforded him a brief content.
This book, which he had just brought from the circulating library, wa_ltogether to his taste. The author, Justin Walsh, he knew to be a brother o_rofessor Walsh, long ago the object of his rebellious admiration. Matter an_reatment rejoiced him. No intellectual delight, though he was capable of i_n many forms, so stirred his spirit as that afforded him by a vigorous moder_riter joyously assailing the old moralities. Justin Walsh was a modern of th_oderns; at once man of science and man of letters; defiant without a hint o_opular cynicism, scornful of English reticences yet never gross. '~Oui, repondit Pococurante, il est beau d'ecrire ce qu 'on pense; c'est le privileg_e l'homme~.' This stood by way of motto on the title-page, and Godwin fel_is nerves thrill in sympathetic response.
What a fine fellow he must be to have for a friend! Now a man like this surel_ad companionship enough and of the kind he wished? He wrote like one wh_ssociates freely with the educated classes both at home and abroad. Was h_arried? Where would he seek his wife? The fitting mate for him woul_oubtless be found among those women, cosmopolitan and emancipated, whos_cquaintance falls only to men in easy circumstances and of good socia_tanding, men who travel much, who are at home in all the great centres o_ivilisation.
As Peak meditated, the volume fell upon his knee. Had it not lain in his ow_ower to win a reputation like that which Justin Walsh was achieving? Hi_aper in The Critical Review, itself a decided success, might have bee_ollowed up by others of the same tenor. Instead of mouldering in a dul_athedral town, he might now be living and working in France or Germany. Hi_oney would have served one purpose as well as the other, and two or thre_ears of determined effort——
Mrs. Roots showed her face at the door.
'A gentleman is asking for you, sir,—Mr. Chilvers.'
'Mr. Chilvers? Please ask him to come up.'
He threw his book on to the table, and stood in expectancy. Someone ascende_he stairs with rapid stride and creaking boots. The door was flung open, an_ cordial but affected voice burst forth in greeting.
'Ha, Mr. Peak! I hope you haven't altogether forgotten me? Delighted to se_ou again!'
Godwin gave his hand, and felt it strongly pressed, whilst Chilvers gazed int_is face with a smiling wistfulness which could only be answered with a gri_f discomfort. The Rev. Bruno had grown very tall, and seemed to be in perfec_ealth; but the effeminacy of his brilliant youth still declared itself in hi_ttitudes, gestures, and attire. He was dressed with marked avoidance of th_rofessional pattern. A hat of soft felt but not clerical, fashionable colla_nd tie, a sweeping ulster, and beneath it a frock-coat, which was doubtles_he pride of some West End tailor. His patent-leather boots were dandiacall_iminutive; his glove fitted like that of a lady who lives but to be bie_antee. The feathery hair, which at Whitelaw he was wont to pat and smooth, still had its golden shimmer, and on his face no growth was permitted.
'I had heard of your arrival here, of course,' said Peak, trying to appea_ivil, though anything more than that was beyond his power. 'Will you si_own?'
'This is the "breathing time o' the day" with you, I hope? I don't distur_our work?'
'I was only reading this book of Walsh's. Do you know it?'
But for some such relief of his feelings, Godwin could not have sat still.
There was a pleasure in uttering Walsh's name. Moreover, it would serve as _est of Chilvers' disposition.
'Walsh?' He took up the volume. 'Ha! Justin Walsh. I know him. A wonderfu_ook! Admirable dialectic! Delicious style!'
'Not quite orthodox, I fancy,' replied Godwin, with a curling of the lips.
'Orthodox? Oh, of course not, of course not! But a rich vein of humanity.
Don't you find that?—Pray allow me to throw off my overcoat. Ha, thanks!—_ich vein of humanity. Walsh is by no means to be confused with th_ullifidians. A very broad-hearted, large-souled man; at bottom the truest o_hristians. Now and then he effervesces rather too exuberantly. Yes, I admi_t. In a review of his last book, which I was privileged to write for one o_ur papers, I ventured to urge upon him the necessity of ~restraint~; it seem_o me that in this new work he exhibits more self-control, an approach to th_erene fortitude which I trust he may attain. A man of the broades_rotherliness. A most valuable ally of renascent Christianity.'
Peak was hardly prepared for this strain. He knew that Chilvers prided himsel_n 'breadth', but as yet he had enjoyed no intercourse with the broades_chool of Anglicans, and was uncertain as to the limits of moder_atitudinarianism. The discovery of such fantastic liberality in a man whom h_ould not but dislike and contemn gave him no pleasure, but at least i_isposed him to amusement rather than antagonism. Chilvers' pronunciation an_hraseology were distinguished by such original affectation that it wa_mpossible not to find entertainment in listening to him. Though his voice wa_aturally thin and piping, he managed to speak in head notes which had a rin_f robust utterance. The sound of his words was intended to correspond wit_heir virile warmth of meaning. In the same way he had cultivated a habit o_he muscles which conveyed an impression that he was devoted to athleti_ports. His arms occasionally swung as if brandishing dumb-bells, his ches_ow and then spread itself to the uttermost, and his head was often throw_ack in an attitude suggesting self-defence.
'So you are about to join us,' he exclaimed, with a look of touching interest, much like that of a ladies' doctor speaking delicately of favourable symptoms.
Then, as if consciously returning to the virile note, 'I think we shal_nderstand each other. I am always eager to study the opinions of those amon_s who have scientific minds. I hear of you on all hands; already you hav_trongly impressed some of the thinking people in Exeter.'
Peak crossed his legs and made no reply.
'There is distinct need of an infusion of the scientific spirit into the wor_f the Church. The churchman hitherto has been, as a matter of course, of th_iterary stamp; hence much of our trouble during the last half-century. I_ehoves us to go in for science— physical, economic—science of every kind.
Only thus can we resist the morbific influences which inevitably beset a_stablished Church in times such as these. I say it boldly. Let us throw asid_ur Hebrew and our Greek, our commentators ancient and modern! Let us hav_one with polemics and with compromises! What we have to do is to construct _piritual edifice on the basis of scientific revelation. I use the wor_evelation advisedly. The results of science are the divine message to ou_ge; to neglect them, to fear them, is to remain under the old law whilst th_ew is demanding our adherence, to repeat the Jewish error of bygone time.
Less of St Paul, and more of Darwin! Less of Luther, and more of Herber_pencer!'
'Shall I have the pleasure of hearing this doctrine at St Margaret's?' Pea_nquired.
'In a form suitable to the intelligence of my parishioners, taken in the mass.
Were my hands perfectly free, I should begin by preaching a series of sermon_n The Origin of species. Sermons! An obnoxious word! One ought never to us_t. It signifies everything inept, inert.'
'Is it your serious belief, then, that the mass of parishioners here o_lsewhere—are ready for this form of spiritual instruction?'
'Most distinctly—given the true capacity in the teacher. Mark me; I don't sa_hat they are capable of receiving much absolute knowledge. What I desire i_hat their minds shall be relieved from a state of harassing conflict—put a_he right point of view. They are not to think that Jesus of Nazareth teache_aith and conduct incompatible with the doctrines of Evolutionism. They ar_ot to spend their lives in kicking against the pricks, and regard a_eritorious the punctures which result to them. The establishment in thei_inds of a few cardinal facts—that is the first step. Then let th_nterpretation follow—the solace, the encouragement, the hope for eternity!'
'You imagine,' said Godwin, with a calm air, 'that the mind of the averag_hurch-goer is seriously disturbed on questions of faith?'
'How can you ignore it, my dear Peak?—Permit me this familiarity; we are ol_ellow-collegians.—The average churchgoer is the average citizen of ou_nglish commonwealth,—a man necessarily aware of the great Radical movement, and all that it involves. Forgive me. There has been far too much blinking o_ctualities by zealous Christians whose faith is rooted in knowledge. We gai_othing by it; we lose immensely. Let us recognise that our churches ar_illed with sceptics, endeavouring to believe in spite of themselves.'
'Your experience is much larger than mine,' remarked the listener, submissively.
'Indeed I have widely studied the subject.'
Chilvers smiled with ineffable self-content, his head twisted like that of _agacious parrot.
'Granting your average citizen,' said the other, 'what about the averag_itizeness? The female church-goers are not insignificant in number.'
'Ha! There we reach the core of the matter! Woman! woman! Precisely there i_he most hopeful outlook. I trust you are strong for female emancipation?'
'Oh, perfectly sound on that question!'
'To be sure! Then it must be obvious to you that women are destined to pla_he leading part in our Christian renascence, precisely as they did in th_riginal spreading of the faith. What else is the meaning of the vast activit_n female education? Let them be taught, and forthwith they will rally to ou_road Church. A man may be content to remain a nullifidian; women cannot res_t that stage. They demand the spiritual significance of everything.—I griev_o tell you, Peak, that for three years I have been a widower. My wife die_ith shocking suddenness, leaving me her two little children. Ah, but leavin_e also the memory of a singularly pure and noble being. I may say, with al_umility, that I have studied the female mind in its noblest modern type. _now what can be expected of woman, in our day and in the future.'
'Mrs. Chilvers was in full sympathy with your views?'
'Three years ago I had not yet reached my present standpoint. In severa_irections I was still narrow. But her prime characteristic was the tendenc_o spiritual growth. She would have accompanied me step by step. In very man_espects I must regard myself as a man favoured by fortune,—I know it, and _rust I am grateful for it, —but that loss, my dear Peak, counterbalances muc_appiness. In moments of repose, when I look back on work joyously achieved, _ften murmur to myself, with a sudden sigh, ~Excepto quod non simul esses, caetera Iaetus~!'
He pronounced his Latin in the new-old way, with Continental vowels. Th_ffect of this on an Englishman's lips is always more or less pedantic, and i_is case it was intolerable.
'And when,' he exclaimed, dismissing the melancholy thought, 'do you presen_ourself for ordination?'
It was his habit to pay slight attention to the words of anyone but himself, and Peak's careless answer merely led him to talk on wide subjects wit_enewal of energy. One might have suspected that he had made a list o_ncommon words wherewith to adorn his discourse, for certain of thes_requently recurred. 'Nullifidian', 'morbific', 'renascent', were among hi_avourites. Once or twice he spoke of 'psychogenesis', with an emphati_nunciation which seemed to invite respectful wonder. In using Latin word_hich have become fixed in the English language, he generally corrected th_ommon errors of quantity: 'minnus the spiritual fervour', 'acting as his ~loccum tennens~'. When he referred to Christian teachers with whom he wa_cquainted, they were seldom or never members of the Church of England.
Methodists, Romanists, Presbyterians appeared to stand high in his favour, an_eak readily discerned that this was a way ofdisplaying 'large-soule_olerance'. It was his foible to quote foreign languages, especially passage_hich came from heretical authors. Thus, he began to talk of Feuerbach for th_ole purpose of delivering a German sentence.
'He has been of infinite value to me—quite infinite value. You remember hi_efinition of God? It is constantly in my mind. "~Gott ist eine Trane de_iebe, in tiefster Verborgenheit vergossen uber das menschliche EIend~."
Profoundly touching! I know nothing to approach it.'
Suddenly he inquired:
'Do you see much of the Exeter clergy?'
'I know only the Vicar of St. Ethelreda's, Mr. Lilywhite.'
'Ha! Admirable fellow! Large-minded, broad of sympathies. Has distinctly th_cientific turn of thought.'
Peak smiled, knowing the truth. But he had hit upon a way of meeting the Rev.
Bruno which promised greatly to diminish the suffering inherent in th_ituation. He would use the large-souled man deliberately for his mirth.
Chilvers's self-absorption lent itself to persiflage, and by indulging in tha_ood Godwin tasted some compensation for the part he had to play.
'And I believe you know the Warricombes very well?' pursued Chilvers.
'Ha! I hope to see much of them. They are people after my own heart. Long ag_ had a slight acquaintance with them. I hear we shan't see them till th_ummer.'
'I believe not.'
'Mr. Warricombe is a great geologist, I think?—Probably he frequents publi_orship as a mere tribute to social opinion?'
He asked the question in the airiest possible way, as if it mattered nothin_o him what the reply might be.
'Mr. Warricombe is a man of sincere piety,' Godwin answered, with grav_ountenance.
'That by no means necessitates church-going, my dear Peak,' rejoined th_ther, waving his hand.
'You think not? I am still only a student, you must remember. My mind is i_uspense on not a few points.'
'Of course! Of course! Pray let me give you the results of my own thought o_his subject.'
He proceeded to do so, at some length. When he had rounded his last period, h_nexpectedly started up, swung on his toes, spread his chest, drew a dee_reath, and with the sweetest of smiles announced that he must postpone th_elight of further conversation.
'You must come and dine with me as soon as my house is in reasonable order. A_et, everything is ~sens dessus-dessous~. Delightful old city, Exeter!
And on the moment he was gone.
What were this man's real opinions? He had brains and literature; his pos_efore the world was not that of an ignorant charlatan. Vanity, no doubt, wa_is prime motive, but did it operate to make a cleric of a secret materialist, or to incite a display of excessive liberalism in one whose convictions wer_rthodox? Godwin could not answer to his satisfaction, but he preferred th_atter surmise.
One thing, however, became clear to him. All his conscientious scruples abou_ntering the Church were superfluous. Chilvers would have smiled pityingly a_nyone who disputed his right to live by the Establishment, and to stand up a_n authorised preacher of the national faith. And beyond a doubt he regulate_is degree of 'breadth' by standards familiar to him in professiona_ntercourse. To him it seemed all-sufficient to preach a gospel of mora_rogress, of intellectual growth, of universal fraternity. If this were th_endency of Anglicanism, then almost any man who desired to live a cleanl_ife, and to see others do the same, might without hesitation become _lergyman. The old formulae of subscription were so symbolised, s_olatilised, that they could not stand in the way of anyone but a combativ_ihilist. Peak was conscious of positive ideals by no means inconsistent wit_hristian teaching, and in his official capacity these alone would direct him.
He spent his evening pleasantly, often laughing as he recalled a phrase o_esture of the Rev. Bruno's.
In the night fell a sprinkling of snow, and when the sun rose it gleamed fro_ sky of pale, frosty blue. At ten o'clock Godwin set out for his usual walk, choosing the direction of the Old Tiverton Road. It was a fortnight since h_ad passed the Warricombes' house. At present he was disposed to indulge th_houghts which a sight of it would make active.
He had begun the ascent of the hill when the sound of an approaching vehicl_aused him to raise his eyes—they were generally fixed on the ground when h_alked alone. It was only a hired fly. But, as it passed him, he recognise_he face he had least expected to see,— Sidwell Warricombe sat in th_arriage, and unaccompanied. She noticed him—smiled—and bent forward. H_lutched at his hat, but it happened that the driver had turned to look a_im, and, instead of the salute he had intended, his hand waved to the man t_top. The gesture was scarcely voluntary; when he saw the carriage pull up, his heart sank; he felt guilty of monstrous impudence. But Sidwell's fac_ppeared at the window, and its expression was anything but resentful; sh_ffered her hand, too. Without preface of formal phrase he exclaimed:
'How delightful to see you so unexpectedly! Are you all here?'
'Only mother and I. We have come for a day or two.'
'Will you allow me to call? If only for a few minutes'——
'We shall be at home this afternoon.'
'Thank you! Don't you enjoy the sunshine after London?'
'Indeed I do!'
He stepped back and signed to the driver. Sidwell bent her head and was out o_ight.
But the carriage was visible for some distance, and even when he could n_onger see it he heard the horse's hoofs on the hard road. Long after the las_ound had died away his heart continued to beat painfully, and he breathed a_f recovering from a hard run.
How beautiful were these lanes and hills, even in mid-winter! Once more h_ang aloud in his joyous solitude. The hope he had nourished was no_nreasonable; his boldness justified itself. Yes, he was one of the men wh_ucceed, and the life before him would be richer for all the mistakes an_iseries through which he had passed. Thirty, forty, fifty—why, twenty year_ence he would be in the prime of manhood, with perhaps yet another twent_ears of mental and bodily vigour. One of the men who succeed!