In the prosperous year of 1856, incomes of between a hundred and a hundred an_ifty pounds were chargeable with a tax of elevenpence halfpenny in the pound: persons who enjoyed a revenue of a hundred and fifty or more had the honour o_aying one and fourpence. Abatements there were none, and families supportin_ife on two pounds a week might in some cases, perchance, be reconciled to th_ulct by considering how equitably its incidence was graduated.
Some, on the other hand, were less philosophical; for instance, the househol_onsisting of Nicholas Peak, his wife, their three-year-old daughter, thei_ewly-born son, and a blind sister of Nicholas, dependent upon him fo_ustenance. Mr. Peak, aged thirty and now four years wedded, had a smal_ottage on the outskirts of Greenwich. He was employed as dispenser, at _alary of thirty-five shillings a week, by a medical man with a larg_ractice. His income, therefore, fell considerably within the hundred poun_imit; and, all things considered, it was not unreasonable that he should b_llowed to expend the whole of this sum on domestic necessities. But it cam_o pass that Nicholas, in his greed of wealth, obtained supplementar_mployment, which benefited him to the extent of a yearly ten pounds. Calle_pon to render his statement to the surveyor of income-tax, he declare_imself in possession of a hundred and one pounds per annum; consequently, h_tood indebted to the Exchequer in the sum of four pounds, sixteen shillings, and ninepence. His countenance darkened, as also did that of Mrs. Peak.
'This is wrong and cruel—dreadfully cruel!' cried the latter, with tears i_er eyes.
'It is; but that's no new thing,' was the bitter reply.
'I think it's wrong of you, Nicholas. What need is there to say anything abou_hat ten pounds? It's taking the food out of our mouths.'
Knowing only the letter of the law, Mr. Peak answered sternly:
'My income is a hundred and one pounds. I can't sign my name to a lie.'
Picture the man. Tall, gaunt, with sharp intellectual features, and eyes o_ingular beauty, the face of an enthusiast—under given circumstances, of _ero. Poorly clad, of course, but with rigorous self-respect; his boot_olished, propria manu, to the point of perfection; his linen washed an_roned by the indefatigable wife. Of simplest tastes, of most frugal habits, _ew books the only luxury which he deemed indispensable; yet a most difficul_an to live with, for to him applied precisely the description which Rober_urns gave of his own father; he was 'of stubborn, ungainly integrity an_eadlong irascibility'.
Ungainly, for his strong impulses towards culture were powerless to obliterat_he traces of his rude origin. Born in a London alley, the son of a laboure_urdened with a large family, he had made his way by sheer force of characte_o a position which would have seemed proud success but for the difficult_ith which he kept himself alive. His parents were dead. Of his brothers, tw_ad disappeared in the abyss, and one, Andrew, earned a hard livelihood as _ourneyman baker; the elder of his sisters had married poorly, and the younge_as his blind pensioner. Nicholas had found a wife of better birth than hi_wn, a young woman with country kindred in decent circumstances, though sh_erself served as nursemaid in the house of the medical man who employed he_uture husband. He had taught himself the English language, so far as gramma_ent, but could not cast off the London accent; Mrs. Peak was fortunate enoug_o speak with nothing worse than the note of the Midlands.
His bent led him to the study of history, politics, economics, and in tha_ime of military outbreak he was frenzied by the conflict of his ideals wit_he state of things about him. A book frequently in his hands was Godwin'_olitical Justice, and when a son had been born to him he decided to name th_hild after that favourite author. In this way, at all events, he could fin_ome expression for his hot defiance of iniquity.
He paid his income-tax, and felt a savage joy in the privation thus impose_pon his family. Mrs. Peak could not forgive her husband, and in this case, though she had but dim appreciation of the point of honour involved, he_ensures doubtless fell on Nicholas's vulnerable spot; it was the perversit_f arrogance, at least as much as honesty, that impelled him to incu_axation. His wife's perseverance in complaint drove him to stern impatience, and for a long time the peace of the household suffered.
When the boy Godwin was five years old, the death of his blind aunt came as _elief to means which were in every sense overtaxed. Twelve months later, _iece of unprecedented good fortune seemed to place the Peaks beyond fear o_ant, and at the same time to supply Nicholas with a fulfilment of hopeles_esires. By the death of Mrs Peak's brother, they came into possession of _reehold house and about nine hundred pounds. The property was situated som_welve miles from the Midland town of Twybridge, and thither they at onc_emoved. At Twybridge lived Mrs. Peak's elder sister, Miss Cadman; but betwee_his lady and her nearest kinsfolk there had been but sligh_orrespondence—the deceased Cadman left her only a couple of hundred pounds.
With capital at command, Nicholas Peak took a lease of certain fields near hi_ouse, and turned farmer. The study of chemistry had given a special bent t_is economic speculations; he fancied himself endowed with exceptiona_ptitude for agriculture, and the scent of the furrow brought all his energie_nto feverish activity—activity which soon impoverished him: that was in th_rder of things. 'Ungainly integrity' and 'headlong irascibility' wrought th_ame results for the ex-dispenser as for the Ayrshire husbandman. His farmin_ame to a chaotic end; and when the struggling man died, worn out at forty- three, his wife and children (there was now a younger boy, Oliver, named afte_he Protector) had no very bright prospects.
Things went better with them than might have been anticipated. To Mrs. Pea_er husband's death was not an occasion of unmingled mourning. For the las_ew years she had suffered severely from domestic discord, and when left a_eace by bereavement she turned with a sense of liberation to the task o_aring for her children's future. Godwin was just thirteen, Oliver was eleven; both had been well schooled, and with the help of friends they might soon b_ut in the way of self-support. The daughter, Charlotte, sixteen years of age, had accomplishments which would perhaps be profitable. The widow decided t_ake a home in Twybridge, where Miss Cadman kept a millinery shop. By means o_his connection, Charlotte presently found employment for her skill in fin_eedlework. Mrs. Peak was incapable of earning money, but the experiences o_er early married life enabled her to make more than the most of the pittanc_t her disposal.
Miss Cadman was a woman of active mind, something of a busy-body— dogmatic, punctilious in her claims to respect, proud of the acknowledgment by he_cquaintances that she was not as other tradespeople; her chief weakness was _anatical ecclesiasticism, the common blight of English womanhood.
Circumstances had allowed her a better education than generally falls to wome_f that standing, and in spite of her shop she succeeded in retaining th_riendship of certain ladies long ago her schoolfellows. Among these were th_isses Lumb—middle-aged sisters, who lived at Twybridge on a smal_ndependence, their time chiefly devoted to the support of the Anglica_hurch. An eldest Miss Lumb had been fortunate enough to marry that growin_otentate of the Midlands, Mr. Job Whitelaw. Now Lady Whitelaw, she dwelt a_ingsmill, but her sisters frequently enjoyed the honour of entertaining her, and even Miss Cadman the milliner occasionally held converse with th_aronet's wife. In this way it came to pass that the Widow Peak and he_hildren were brought under the notice of persons who sooner or later might b_f assistance to them.
Abounding in emphatic advice, Miss Cadman easily persuaded her sister tha_odwin must go to school for at least two years longer. The boys had been at _oarding-school twenty miles away from their country home; it would be bette_or them now to be put under the care of some Twybridge teacher—such an one a_iss Cadman's acquaintances could recommend. For her own credit, the milline_as anxious that these nephews of hers should not be running about the town a_rrand-boys or the like, and with prudence there was no necessity for suc_egradation. An uncommon lad like Godwin (she imagined him named after th_istoric earl) must not be robbed of his fair chance in life; she would gladl_pare a little money for his benefit; he was a boy to repay such expenditure.
Indeed it seemed probable. Godwin devoured books, and had a remarkable facult_or gaining solid information on any subject that took his fancy. What migh_e the special bent of his mind one could not yet discover. He read poetr_ith precocious gusto, but at the same time his aptitude for scientifi_ursuits was strongly marked. In botany, chemistry, physics, he made progres_hich the people about him, including his schoolmaster, were incapable o_ppreciating; and already the collection of books left by his father, most o_hem out of date, failed to satisfy his curiosity. It might be feared tha_astes so discursive would be disadvantageous to a lad who must needs pursu_ome definite bread-study, and the strain of self-consciousness which gre_trong in him was again a matter for concern. He cared nothing for boyis_ames and companionship; in the society of strangers especially of females—h_ehaved with an excessive shyness which was easily mistaken for a surl_emper. Reproof, correction, he could not endure, and it was fortunate tha_he decorum of his habits made remonstrance seldom needful.
Ludicrous as the project would have appeared to any unbiassed observer o_haracter, Miss Cadman conceived a hope that Godwin might become a clergyman.
From her point of view it was natural to assume that uncommon talents must b_evoted to the service of the Church, and she would have gladly done he_tmost for the practical furthering of such an end. Mrs. Peak, though wel_ware that her son had imbibed the paternal prejudices, was disposed t_ntertain the same hope, despite solid obstacles. For several years she ha_ourished a secret antagonism to her husband's spirit of political, social, and religious rebellion, and in her widowhood she speedily became a pattern o_he conservative female. It would have gratified her to discern an_ossibility of Godwin's assuming the priestly garb. And not alone on th_round of conscience. Long ago she had repented the marriage which connecte_er with such a family as that of the Peaks, and she ardently desired that th_hildren, now exclusively her own, might enter life on a plane superior t_heir father's.
'Godwin, how would you like to go to College and be a clergyman?' she aske_ne Sunday afternoon, when an hour or two of congenial reading seemed to hav_ut the boy into a gentle humour.
'To go to College' was all very well (diplomacy had prompted this preface), but the words that followed fell so alarmingly on Godwin's ear that he looke_p with a resentful expression, unable to reply otherwise.
'You never thought of it, I suppose?' his mother faltered; for she often stoo_n awe of her son, who, though yet but fourteen, had much of his father'_ommanding severity.
'I don't want to be a parson,' came at length, bluntly.
'Don't use that word, Godwin.'
'Why not? It's quite a proper word. It comes from the Latin persona.'
The mother had enough discretion to keep silence, and Godwin, after in vai_rying to settle to his book again, left the room with disturbed countenance.
He had now been attending the day-school for about a year, and was distinctl_head of his coevals. A Christmas examination was on the point of being held, and it happened that a singular test of the lad's moral character coincide_ith the proof of his intellectual progress. In a neighbouring house lived a_ld man named Rawmarsh, kindly but rather eccentric; he had once done a goo_usiness as a printer, and now supported himself by such chance typographi_ork of a small kind as friends might put in his way. He conceived a_ffection for Godwin; often had the boy to talk with him of an evening. On on_uch occasion, Mr. Rawmarsh opened a desk, took forth a packet of newl_rinted leaves, and with a mysterious air silently spread them before th_oy's eyes. In an instant Godwin became aware that he was looking at th_xamination papers which a day or two hence would be set before him at school; he saw and recognised a passage from the book of Virgil which his class ha_een reading.
'That is sub rosa, you know,' whispered the old printer, with half averte_ace.
Godwin shrank away, and could not resume the conversation thus interrupted. O_he following day he went about with a feeling of guilt. He avoided the sigh_f Mr. Rawmarsh, for whom he had suddenly lost all respect, and suffere_orments in the thought that he enjoyed an unfair advantage over his class- mates. The Latin passage happened to be one which he knew thoroughly well; there was no need, even had he desired, to 'look it up'; but in sitting dow_o the examination, he experienced a sense of shame and self-rebuke. So stron_ere the effects of this, that he voluntarily omitted the answer to a certai_mportant question which he could have 'done' better than any of the othe_oys, thus endeavouring to adjust in his conscience the terms of competition, though in fact no such sacrifice was called for. He came out at the head o_he class, but the triumph had no savour for him, and for many a year he wa_ubject to a flush of mortification whenever this incident came back to hi_ind.
Mr. Rawmarsh was not the only intelligent man who took an interest in Godwin.
In a house which the boy sometimes visited with a school-fellow, lodged _otable couple named Gunnery the husband about seventy, the wife five year_lder; they lived on a pension from a railway company. Mr. Gunnery was _abbler in many sciences, but had a special enthusiasm for geology. Tw_abinets of stones and fossils gave evidence of his zealous travels about th_ritish isles; he had even written a little hand-book of petrology which wa_or sale at certain booksellers' in Twybridge, and probably nowhere else. T_im, about this time, Godwin began to resort, always sure of a welcome; and i_he little uncarpeted room where Mr. Gunnery pursued his investigations many _ateful lesson was given and received. The teacher understood the intelligenc_e had to deal with, and was delighted to convey, by the mode of suggeste_nference, sundry results of knowledge which it perhaps would not have bee_rudent to declare in plain, popular words.
Their intercourse was not invariably placid. The geologist had an irritabl_emper, and in certain states of the atmosphere his rheumatic twinges made i_dvisable to shun argument with him. Godwin, moreover, was distinguished by a_nstability of mood peculiarly trying to an old man's testy humour. Of _udden, to Mr Gunnery's surprise and annoyance, he would lose all interest i_his or that science. Thus, one day the lad declared himself unable to nam_wo stones set before him, felspar and quartz, and when his instructor brok_nto angry impatience he turned sullenly away, exclaiming that he was tired o_eology.
'Tired of geology?' cried Mr. Gunnery, with flaming eyes. 'Then I am tired o_ou, Master Peak! Be off, and don't come again till I send for you!'
Godwin retired without a word. On the second day he was summoned back again, but his resentment of the dismissal rankled in him for a long time; injury t_is pride was the wrong he found it hardest to forgive.
His schoolmaster, aware of the unusual pursuits which he added to the routin_f lessons, gave him as a prize the English translation of a book b_iguier—The World before the Deluge. Strongly interested by the illustration_f the volume (fanciful scenes from the successive geologic periods), Godwi_t once carried it to his scientific friend. 'Deluge?' growled Mr. Gunnery.
'What deluge? Which deluge?' But he restrained himself, handed the book coldl_ack, and began to talk of something else. All this was highly significant t_odwin, who of course began the perusal of his prize in a suspicious mood. No_as he long before he sympathised with Mr Gunnery's distaste. Though too youn_o grasp the arguments at issue, his prejudices were strongly excited by th_onventional Theism which pervades Figuier's work. Already it was the habit o_is mind to associate popular dogma with intellectual shallowness; herein, a_t every other point which fell within his scope, he had begun to scor_verage people, and to pride himself intensely on views which he foun_enerally condemned. Day by day he grew into a clearer understanding of th_emories bequeathed to him by his father; he began to interpret remarks, details of behaviour, instances of wrath, which, though they had stampe_hemselves on his recollection, conveyed at the time no precise significance.
The issue was that he hardened himself against the influence of his mother an_is aunt, regarding them as in league against the free progress of hi_ducation.
As women, again, he despised these relatives. It is almost impossible for _right-witted lad born in the lower middle class to escape this stage o_evelopment. The brutally healthy boy contemns the female sex because he see_t incapable of his own athletic sports, but Godwin was one of those upo_hose awaking intellect is forced a perception of the brain-defect so genera_n women when they are taught few of life's graces and none of its seriou_oncerns,—their paltry prepossessions, their vulgar sequaciousness, thei_nvincible ignorance, their absorption in a petty self. And especially is thi_hase of thought to be expected in a boy whose heart blindly nourishes th_eeds of poetical passion. It was Godwin's sincere belief that he held girls, as girls, in abhorrence. This meant that he dreaded their personal criticism, and that the spectacle of female beauty sometimes overcame him with a despai_hich he could not analyse. Matrons and elderly unmarried women were truly th_bjects of his disdain; in them he saw nothing but their shortcomings. Toward_is mother he was conscious of no tenderness; of as little towards his sister, who often censured him with trenchant tongue; as for his aunt, whos_dmiration of him was modified by reticences, he could never be at ease in he_ompany, so strong a dislike had he for her look, her voice, her ways o_peech.
He would soon be fifteen years old. Mrs. Peak was growing anxious, for sh_ould no longer consent to draw upon her sister for a portion of the schoo_ees, and no pertinent suggestion for the lad's future was made by any of th_eople who admired his cleverness. Miss Cadman still clung in a fitful way t_he idea of making her nephew a cleric; she had often talked it over with th_isses Lumb, who of course held that 'any sacrifice' was justifiable with suc_ motive, and who suggested a hope that, by the instrumentality of Lad_hitelaw, a curacy might easily be obtained as soon as Godwin was old enough.
But several years must pass before that Levitical stage could be reached; an_hen, after all, perhaps the younger boy, Oliver, placid of temper and notabl_liant in mind, was better suited for the dignity of Orders. It was lamentabl_hat Godwin should have become so intimate with that earth-burrowing Mr.
Gunnery, who certainly never attended either church or chapel, and who seeme_o have imbued his pupil with immoral theories concerning the date o_reation. Godwin held more decidedly aloof from his aunt, and had been hear_y Charlotte to speak very disrespectfully of the Misses Lumb. In short, ther_as no choice but to discover an opening for him in some secular pursuit.
Could he, perhaps, become an assistant teacher? Or must he 'go into a_ffice'?
No common lad. A youth whose brain glowed like a furnace, whose heart throbbe_ith tumult of high ambitions, of inchoate desires; endowed with knowledg_ltogether exceptional for his years; a nature essentially militant, displaying itself in innumerable forms of callow intolerance—apt, assuredly, for some vigorous part in life, but as likely as not to rush headlong o_raverse roads if no judicious mind assumed control of him. What is to be don_ith the boy?
All very well, if the question signified, in what way to provide for th_ealthy development of his manhood. Of course it meant nothing of the sort, but merely: What work can be found for him whereby he may earn his dail_read? We—his kinsfolk even, not to think of the world at large—can have n_oncern with his growth as an intellectual being; we are hard pressed t_upply our own mouths with food; and now that we have done our recognised dut_y him, it is high time that he learnt to fight for his own share o_rovender. Happily, he is of the robust sex; he can hit out right and left, and make standing-room. We have armed him with serviceable weapons, and now h_ust use them against the enemy—that is to say, against all mankind, who wil_uickly enough deprive him of sustenance if he fail in the conflict. W_either know, nor in great measure care, for what employment he is naturall_arked. Obviously he cannot heave coals or sell dogs' meat, but with negativ_ertainty not much else can be resolved, seeing how desperate is th_ompetition for minimum salaries. He has been born, and he must eat. By wha_icensed channel may he procure the necessary viands?
Paternal relatives Godwin had as good as none. In quitting London, Nichola_eak had ceased to hold communication with any of his own stock save th_ounger brother Andrew. With him he occasionally exchanged a letter, bu_ndrew's share in the correspondence was limited to ungrammatical and ofte_nintelligible hints of numerous projects for money-making. Just after th_emoval of the bereaved family to Twybridge, they were surprised by a visi_rom Andrew, in answer to one of whose letters Mrs. Peak had sent news of he_usband's death. Though her dislike of the man amounted to loathing, the wido_ould not refuse him hospitality; she did her best, however, to prevent hi_oming in contact with anyone she knew. Andrew declared that he was at lengt_rospering; he had started a coffee-shop at Dalston, in north-east London, an_ositively urged a proposal (well-meant, beyond doubt) that Godwin should b_llowed to come to him and learn the business. Since then the Londoner ha_nce again visited Twybridge, towards the end of Godwin's last school-year.
This time he spoke of himself less hopefully, and declared a wish to transfe_is business to some provincial town, where he thought his metropolita_xperience might be of great value, in the absence of serious competition. I_as not difficult to discover a family likeness between Andrew's instabilit_nd the idealism which had proved the ruin of Nicholas.
On this second occasion Godwin tried to escape a meeting with his uncle.
Unable to do so, he sat mute, replying to questions monosyllabically. Mrs.
Peak's shame and annoyance, in face of this London-branded vulgarian, were bu_eeble emotions compared with those of her son. Godwin hated the man, and wa_n dread lest any school-fellow should come to know of such a connection. Ye_elicacy prevented his uttering a word on the subject to his mother. Mr_eak's silence after Andrew's departure made it uncertain how she regarded th_bligation of kindred, and in any such matter as this the boy was far to_ensitive to risk giving pain. But to his brother Oliver he spoke.
'What is the brute to us? When I'm a man, let him venture to come near me, an_ee what sort of a reception he'll get! I hate low, uneducated people! I hat_hem worse than the filthiest vermin!— don't you?'
Oliver, aged but thirteen, assented, as he habitually did to any questio_hich seemed to await an affirmative.
'They ought to be swept off the face of the earth!' pursued Godwin, sitting u_n bed—for the dialogue took place about eleven o'clock at night. 'All th_rown-up creatures, who can't speak proper English and don't know how t_ehave themselves, I'd transport them to the Falkland Islands,'—thi_eographic precision was a note of the boy's mind,—'and let them die off a_oon as possible. The children should be sent to school and purified, i_ossible; if not, they too should be got rid of.'
'You're an aristocrat, Godwin,' remarked Oliver, simply; for the elder brothe_ad of late been telling him fearful stories from the French Revolution, wit_omething of an anti-popular bias.
'I hope I am. I mean to be, that's certain. There's nothing I hate lik_ulgarity. That's why I can't stand Roper. When he beat me in mathematics las_idsummer, I felt so ashamed I could hardly bear myself. I'm working like _igger at algebra and Euclid this half, just because I think it would almos_ill me to be beaten again by a low cad.'
This was perhaps the first time that Godwin found expression for the prejudic_hich affected all his thoughts and feelings. It relieved him to have spoke_hus; henceforth he had become clear as to his point of view. By dubbing hi_ristocrat, Oliver had flattered him in the subtlest way. If indeed the titl_ere justly his, as he instantly felt it was, the inference was plain that h_ust be an aristocrat of nature's own making—one of the few highly favoure_eings who, in despite of circumstance, are pinnacled above mankind. In hi_gnorance of life, the boy visioned a triumphant career; an aristocrat de jur_ight possibly become one even in the common sense did he but pursue that en_ith sufficient zeal. And in his power of persistent endeavour he had no lac_f faith.
The next day he walked with exalted head. Encountering the objectionabl_oper, he smiled upon him contemptuously tolerant.
There being no hope of effective assistance from relatives, Mrs. Peak turne_or counsel to a man of business, with whom her husband had made acquaintanc_n his farming days, and who held a position of influence at Twybridge. Thi_as Mr. Moxey, manufacturing chemist, famous in the Midlands for his 'shee_nd cattle dressings', and sundry other products of agricultural enterprise.
His ill-scented, but lucrative, works were situated a mile out of the town; and within sight of the reeking chimneys stood a large, plain house, uncomfortably like an 'institution' of some kind, in which he dwelt with hi_ive daughters. Thither, one evening, Mrs. Peak betook herself, having learn_hat Mr. Moxey dined at five o'clock, and that he was generally to be foun_igging in his garden until sunset. Her reception was civil. Th_anufacturer—sparing of words, but with no unkindly face—requested that Godwi_hould be sent to see him, and promised to do his best to be of use. A tal_ith the boy strengthened his interest. He was surprised at Godwin's knowledg_f chemistry, pleased with his general intelligence, and in the end offered t_ake a place for him at the works, where, though for a year or two hi_arnings must be small, he would gain experience likely to be of substantia_se to him. Godwin did not find the proposal distasteful; it brought a chang_nto his life, and the excitement of novelty; it flattered him with the sho_f release from pupilage. To Mr. Moxey's he went.
The hours were not long, and it was understood that his theoretical studie_hould continue in the evening. Godwin's home was a very small house in _onotonous little street; a garret served as bedroom for the two boys, also a_he elder one's laboratory. Servant Mrs. Peak had none. She managed everythin_erself, as in the old Greenwich days, leaving Charlotte free to work at he_mbroidery. Godwin took turns with Oliver at blacking the shoes.
As a matter of course the boys accompanied their mother each Sunday morning t_he parish church, and this ceremony was becoming an insufferable tax o_odwin's patience. It was not only that he hated the name of religion, an_corned with much fierceness all who came in sympathetic contact therewith; the loss of time seemed to him an oppressive injury, especially now that h_egan to suffer from restricted leisure. He would not refuse to obey hi_other's wish, but the sullenness of his Sabbatic demeanour made the whol_amily uncomfortable. As often as possible he feigned illness. He tried th_ffect of dolorous sighs and groans; but Mrs. Peak could not dream o_onceding a point which would have seemed to her the condonation of deadl_in. 'When I am a man!' muttered Godwin. 'Ah! when I am a man!'
A year had gone by, and the routine to which he was bound began to have _ervile flavour. His mind chafed at subjugation to commercial interests. Sic_f 'sheep and cattle dressings', he grew tired of chemistry altogether, an_resently of physical science in general. His evenings were given to poetr_nd history; he took up the classical schoolbooks again, and found a charm i_atin syntax hitherto unperceived. It was plain to him now how he had bee_ronged by the necessity of leaving school when his education had but jus_egun.
Discontent becoming ripe for utterance, he unbosomed himself to Mr Gunnery. I_appened that the old man had just returned from a visit to Kingsmill, wher_e had spent a week in the museum, then newly enriched with geologi_pecimens. After listening in silence to the boy's complaints, and ponderin_or a long time, he began to talk of Whitelaw College.
'Does it cost much to study there?' Godwin asked, gloomily.
'No great sum, I think. There are scholarships to be had.'
Mr. Gunnery threw out the suggestion carelessly. Knowing the hazards of life, he could not quite justify himself in encouraging Godwin's restiveness.
'Scholarships? For free study?'
'Yes; but that wouldn't mean free living, you know. Students don't live at th_ollege.'
'How do you go in for a scholarship?'
The old man replied, meditatively, 'If you were to pass the Cambridge Loca_xamination, and to get the first place in the Kingsmill district, you woul_ave three years of free study at Whitelaw.'
'Three years?' shouted Godwin, springing up from his chair.
'But how could you live, my boy?'
Godwin sat down again, and let his head fall forward.
How to keep oneself alive during a few years of intellectual growth? —_uestion often asked by men of mature age, but seldom by a lad of sixteen. N_atter. He resolved that he would study for this Cambridge Local Examination, and have a try for the scholarship. His attainments were already up to th_tandard required for average success in such competitions. On obtaining a se_f 'papers', he found that they looked easy enough. Could he not come ou_irst in the Kingsmill district?
He worked vigorously at special subjects; aid was needless, but he wished fo_ore leisure. Not a word to any member of his household. When his mothe_iscovered that he was reading in the bedroom till long past midnight, sh_ade serious objection on the score of health and on that of gas bills. Godwi_uietly asserted that work he must, and that if necessary he would buy candle_ut of his pocket-money. He had unexpectedly become more grave, mor_estrained; he even ceased to grumble about going to church, having found tha_ervice time could be utilised for committing to memory lists of dates and th_ike, jotted down on a slip of paper. When the time for the examination dre_ear, he at length told his mother to what end he had been labouring, an_sked her to grant him the assistance necessary for his journey and th_ojourn at Kingsmill; the small sum he had been able to save, after purchas_f books, would not suffice. Mrs. Peak knew not whether to approve her son'_mbition or to try to repress it. She would welcome an improval in hi_rospects, but, granting success, how was he to live whilst profiting by _cholarship? And again, what did he propose to make of himself when he ha_pent three years in study?
'In any case,' was Godwin's reply, 'I should be sure of a good place as _eacher. But I think I might try for something in the Civil Service; there ar_ll sorts of positions to be got.'
It was idle to discuss the future whilst the first step was still speculative.
Mrs. Peak consented to favour the attempt, and what was more, to keep it _ecret until the issue should be known. It was needful to obtain leave o_bsence from Mr. Moxey, and Godwin, when making the request, stated for wha_urpose he was going to Kingsmill, though without explaining the hope whic_ad encouraged his studies. The project seemed laudable, and his employer mad_o difficulties.
Godwin just missed the scholarship; of candidates in the prescribed district, he came out second.
Grievous was the disappointment. To come so near success exasperated hi_mpatient temper, and for a few days his bondage at the chemical works seeme_ntolerable; he was ready for almost any venture that promised release and ne_cope for his fretting energies. But at the moment when nervous irritation wa_ost acute, a remarkable act of kindness suddenly restored to him all th_opes he had abandoned. One Saturday afternoon he was summoned from his surl_etreat in the garret, to speak with a visitor. On entering the sitting-room, he found his mother in company with Miss Cadman and the Misses Lumb, and fro_he last-mentioned ladies, who spoke with amiable alternation, he learnt tha_hey were commissioned by Sir Job Whitelaw to offer for his acceptance _hree-years' studentship at Whitelaw College. Affected by her son's chagrin, Mrs. Peak had disclosed the story to her sister, who had repeated it to th_isses Lumb, who in turn had made it the subject of a letter to Lady Whitelaw.
It was an annual practice with Sir Job to discover some promising lad whom h_ould benefit by the payment of his fees for a longer or shorter period o_ollege study. The hint from Twybridge came to him just at the suitable time, and, on further inquiry, he decided to make proffer of this advantage t_odwin Peak. The only condition was that arrangements should be made by th_tudent's relatives for his support during the proposed period.
This generosity took away Godwin's breath. The expenditure it represented wa_rifling, but from a stranger in Sir Job's position it had something whic_ecalled to so fervent a mind the poetry of Medicean patronage. For the momen_o faintest doubt gave warning to his self-respect; he was eager to accep_obly a benefaction nobly intended.
Miss Cadman, flattered by Sir Job's attention to her nephew, now came forwar_ith an offer to contribute towards Godwin's livelihood. Her supplement woul_ke into adequacy such slender allowance as the widow's purse could afford.
Details were privately discussed, resolves were taken. Mr. Moxey, when it wa_ade known to him, without explanation, that Godwin was to be sent to Whitela_ollege, behaved with kindness; he at once released the lad, and added _resent to the salary that was due. Proper acknowledgment of the Baronet'_indness was made by the beneficiary himself, who wrote a letter giving true_estimony of his mental calibre than would have been offered had he expresse_imself by word of mouth. A genial reply summoned him to an interview as soo_s he should have found an abode in Kingsmill. The lodging he had occupie_uring the examination was permanently secured, and a new period of Godwin'_ife began.
For two years, that is to say until his age drew towards nineteen, Pea_ursued the Arts curriculum at Whitelaw. His mood on entering decided hi_hoice, which was left free to him. Experience of utilitarian chemistry ha_or the present made his liberal tastes predominant, and neither the splendi_aboratories of Whitelaw nor the repute of its scientific Professors tempte_im to what had once seemed his natural direction. In the second year, however, he enlarged his course by the addition of one or two classes no_ncluded in Sir Job's design; these were paid for out of a present made to hi_y Mr. Gunnery.
It being customary for the regular students of Whitelaw to graduate at Londo_niversity, Peak passed his matriculation, and worked on for the preliminar_est then known as First B.A. In the meanwhile he rose steadily, achievin_istinction in the College. The more observant of his teachers remarked hi_ven where he fell short of academic triumph, and among his fellow-students h_ad the name of a stern 'sweater', one not easily beaten where he had set hi_ind on excelling. He was not generally liked, for his mood appeared unsocial, and a repelling arrogance was sometimes felt in his talk. No doubt—said th_ore fortunate young men—he came from a very poor home, and suffered from th_arrowness of his means. They noticed that he did not subscribe to the Colleg_nion, and that he could never join in talk regarding the diversions of th_own. His two or three intimates were chosen from among those contemporarie_ho read hard and dressed poorly.
The details of Godwin's private life were noteworthy. Accustomed hitherto to _omestic circle, at Kingsmill he found himself isolated, and it was not eas_or him to surrender all at once the. comforts of home. For a time he felt a_hough his ambition were a delinquency which entailed the punishment o_oneliness. Nor did his relations with Sir Job Whitelaw tend to mitigate thi_eeling. In his first interview with the Baronet, Godwin showed to littl_dvantage. A deadly bashfulness forbade him to be natural either in attitud_r speech. He felt his dependence in a way he had not foreseen; the ver_lothes he wore, then fresh from the tailor's, seemed to be the gift o_harity, and their stiffness shamed him. A man of the world, Sir Job coul_ake allowance for these defects. He understood that the truest kindness woul_e to leave a youth such as this to the forming influences of the College. S_odwin barely had a glimpse of Lady Whitelaw in her husband's study, an_hereafter for many months he saw nothing of his benefactors. Subsequently h_as twice invited to interviews with Sir Job, who talked with kindness an_ommendation. Then came the Baronet's death. Godwin received an assurance tha_his event would be no check upon his career, but he neither saw nor hear_irectly from Lady Whitelaw.
Not a house in Kingsmill opened hospitable doors to the lonely student; no_as anyone to blame for this. With no family had he friendly acquaintance.
When, towards the end of his second year, he grew sufficiently intimate wit_uckland Warricombe to walk out with him to Thornhaw, it could be nothing mor_han a scarcely welcome exception to the rule of solitude. Impossible for hi_o cultivate the friendship of such people as the Warricombes, with thei_arge and joyous scheme of life. Only at a hearth where homeliness an_ordiality united to unthaw his proud reserve could Godwin perchance hav_ound the companionship he needed. Many such homes existed in Kingsmill, bu_o kindly fortune led the young man within the sphere of their warmth.
His lodgings were in a very ugly street in the ugliest outskirts of the town; he had to take a long walk through desolate districts (brick-yard, sordi_asture, degenerate village) before he could refresh his eyes with the rura_cenery which was so great a joy to him as almost to be a necessity. Th_mmediate vicinage offered nothing but monotone of grimy, lower middle-clas_wellings, occasionally relieved by a public-house. He occupied two rooms, no_nreasonably clean, and was seldom disturbed by the attentions of hi_andlady.
An impartial observer might have wondered at the negligence which left him t_rrange his life as best he could, notwithstanding youth and utte_nexperience. It looked indeed as if there were no one in the world who care_hat became of him. Yet this was merely the result of his mother'_ircumstances, and of his own character. Mrs Peak could do no more than mak_er small remittances, and therewith send an occasional admonition regardin_is health. She did not, in fact, conceive the state of things, imagining tha_he authority and supervisal of the College extended over her son's dail_xistence, whereas it was possible for Godwin to frequent lectures or not, t_tudy or to waste his time, pretty much as he chose, subject only to officia_nquiry if his attendance became frequently irregular. His independent temper, and the seeming maturity of his mind, supplied another excuse for th_mprudent confidence which left him to his own resources. Yet the perils o_he situation were great indeed. A youth of less concentrated purpose, more a_he mercy of casual allurement, would probably have gone to wreck amid trial_o exceptional.
Trials not only of his moral nature. The sums of money with which he wa_urnished fell short of a reasonable total for bare necessities. In th_alculation made by Mrs. Peak and her sister, outlay on books had practicall_een lost sight of; it was presumed that ten shillings a term would cover thi_tem. But Godwin could not consent to be at a disadvantage in his armoury fo_cademic contest. The first mouth saw him compelled to contract his diet, tha_e might purchase books; thenceforth he rarely had enough to eat. His landlad_upplied him with breakfast, tea, and supper—each repast of the very simples_ind; for dinner it was understood that he repaired to some public table, where meat and vegetables, with perchance a supplementary sweet when natur_emanded it, might be had for about a shilling. That shilling was not often a_is disposal. Dinner as it is understood by the comfortably clad, the 'regula_eal' which is a part of English respectability, came to be represented by _mall pork-pie, or even a couple of buns, eaten at the little shop ove_gainst the College. After a long morning of mental application this was poo_efreshment; the long afternoon which followed, again spent in rigorous study, could not but reduce a growing frame to ravenous hunger. Tea and buttere_read were the means of appeasing it, until another four hours' work calle_or reward in the shape of bread and cheese. Even yet the day's toil was no_nded. Godwin sometimes read long after midnight, with the result that, whe_t length he tried to sleep, exhaustion of mind and body kept him for a lon_ime feverishly wakeful.
These hardships he concealed from the people at Twybridge. Complaint, i_eemed to him, would be ungrateful, for sacrifices were already made on hi_ehalf. His father, as he well remembered, was wont to relate, with a kind o_ngry satisfaction, the miseries through which he had fought his way t_ducation and the income-tax. Old enough now to reflect with compassionat_nderstanding upon that life of conflict, Godwin resolved that he too woul_ear the burdens inseparable from poverty, and in some moods was even glad t_uffer as his father had done. Fortunately he had a sound basis of health, an_unger and vigils would not easily affect his constitution. If, thus hampered, he could outstrip competitors who had every advantage of circumstance, th_ore glorious his triumph.
Sunday was an interval of leisure. Rejoicing in deliverance fro_abbatarianism, he generally spent the morning in a long walk, and the rest o_he day was devoted to non-collegiate reading. He had subscribed to _irculating library, and thus obtained new publications recommended to him i_he literary paper which again taxed his stomach. Mere class-work did no_atisfy him. He was possessed with throes of spiritual desire, impelling hi_owards that world of unfettered speculation which he had long indistinctl_magined. It was a great thing to learn what the past could teach, to se_imself on the common level of intellectual men; but he understood tha_ollege learning could not be an end in itself, that the Professors to whom h_istened either did not speak out all that was in their minds, or, if the_id, were far from representing the advanced guard of modern thought. Wit_agerness he at length betook himself to the teachers of philosophy and o_eology. Having paid for these lectures out of his own pocket, he felt as i_e had won a privilege beyond the conventional course of study, an initiatio_o a higher sphere of intellect. The result was disillusion. Not even in thes_lass-rooms could he hear the word for which he waited, the bold annunciatio_f newly discovered law, the science which had completely broken wit_radition. He came away unsatisfied, and brooded upon the possibilities whic_ould open for him when he was no longer dependent.
His evening work at home was subject to a disturbance which would have led hi_o seek other lodgings, could he have hoped to find any so cheap as these. Th_andlady's son, a lank youth of the clerk species, was wont to amuse himsel_rom eight to ten with practice on a piano. By dint of perseverance he ha_earned to strum two or three hymnal melodies popularised by America_vangelists; occasionally he even added the charm of his voice, which had _ietistic nasality not easily endured by an ear of any refinement. Not onl_as Godwin harassed by the recurrence of these performances; the tunes worke_hemselves into his brain, and sometimes throughout a whole day their burde_langed and squalled incessantly on his mental hearing. He longed to entrea_orbearance from the musician, but an excess of delicacy—which always rule_is behaviour—kept him silent. Certain passages in the classics, and many a_laborate mathematical formula, long retained for him an association with th_adences of revivalist hymnody.
Like all proud natures condemned to solitude, he tried to convince himsel_hat he had no need of society, that he despised its attractions, and could b_elf-sufficing. So far was this from the truth that he often regarded wit_itter envy those of his fellow-students who had the social air, who converse_reely among their equals, and showed that the pursuits of the College wer_nly a part of their existence. These young men were either preparing for th_niversity, or would pass from Whitelaw to business, profession, officia_raining; in any case, a track was marked out for them by the zealous care o_elatives and friends, and their efforts would always be aided, applauded, b_ kindly circle. Some of them Godwin could not but admire, so healthful wer_hey, so bright of intellect, and courteous in manner,—a type distinct fro_ny he had formerly observed. Others were antipathetic to him. Thei_ggressive gentility conflicted with the wariness of his self-esteem; such _ne, for instance, as Bruno Chilvers, the sound of whose mincing voice, as h_ead in the class, so irritated him that at times he had to cover his ears.
Yet, did it chance that one of these offensive youths addressed a civil wor_o him, on the instant his prejudice was disarmed, and his emotions flowe_orth in a response to which he would gladly have given free expression. Whe_e was invited to meet the relatives of Buckland Warricombe, shynes_repossessed him against them; but the frank kindness of his reception move_im, and on going away he was ashamed to have replied so boorishly t_ttentions so amiably meant. The same note of character sounded in wha_ersonal intercourse he had with the Professors. Though his spirit o_riticism was at times busy with these gentlemen, he had for most of them _rofound regard; and to be elected by one or other for a word of commendation, a little private assistance, a well-phrased inquiry as to his progress, alway_ade his heart beat high with gratitude. They were his first exemplars o_inished courtesy, of delicate culture; and he could never sufficiently regre_hat no one of them was aware how thankfully he recognised his debt.
In longing for the intimacy of refined people, he began to modify hi_entiments with regard to the female sex. His first prize-day at Whitelaw wa_he first occasion on which he sat in an assembly where ladies (as h_nderstood the title) could be seen and heard. The impression he received wa_eep and lasting. On the seat behind him were two girls whose intermitten_alk held him with irresistible charm throughout the whole ceremony. He ha_ot imagined that girls could display such intelligence, and the swee_learness of their intonation, the purity of their accent, the grace of thei_abitual phrases, were things altogether beyond his experience. This was no_he English he had been wont to hear on female lips. His mother and his aun_poke with propriety; their associates were soft-tongued; but here wa_omething quite different from inoffensiveness of tone and diction. Godwi_ppreciated the differentiating cause. These young ladies behind him had bee_rained from the cradle to speak for the delight of fastidious ears; that the_hould be grammatical was not enough—they must excel in the art o_onversational music. Of course there existed a world where only such speec_as interchanged, and how inestimably happy those men to whom the sphere wa_ative!
When the proceedings were over, he drew aside and watched the two girls a_hey mingled with acquaintances; he kept them in view until they left th_ollege. An emotion such as this he had never known; for the first time in hi_ife he was humiliated without embitterment.
The bitterness came when he had returned to his home in the back street o_wybridge, and was endeavouring to spend the holidays in a hard 'grind'. H_oathed the penurious simplicity to which his life was condemned; all familia_ircumstances were become petty, coarse, vulgar, in his eyes; the contras_ith the idealised world of his ambition plunged him into despair: Even Mr.
Gunnery seemed an ignoble figure when compared with the Professors o_hitelaw, and his authority in the sciences was now subjected to doubt.
However much or little might result from the three years at College, it wa_lear to Godwin that his former existence had passed into infinite remoteness; he was no longer fit for Twybridge, no longer a companion for his kindred.
Oliver, whose dulness as a schoolboy gave no promise of future achievements, was now learning the business of a seedsman; his brother felt ashamed when h_aw him at work in the shop, and had small patience with the comrades to who_liver dedicated his leisure. Charlotte was estranged by religiou_ifferences. Only for his mother did the young man show increase_onsideration. To his aunt he endeavoured to be grateful, but his behaviour i_er presence was elaborate hypocrisy. Hating the necessity for this, he lai_he blame on fortune, which had decreed his birth in a social sphere where h_ust ever be an alien.