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Chapter 2

  • On the morning after her journey down from London, Mrs. Warricombe awoke wit_he conviction that she had caught a cold. Her health was in genera_xcellent, and she had no disposition to nurse imaginary ailments, but whe_ome slight disorder broke the routine of her life she made the most of it, enjoying—much as children do—the importance with which for the time i_nvested her. At such seasons she was wont to regard herself with a mildl_espondent compassion, to feel that her family and her friends held her o_light account; she spoke in a tone of conscious resignation, often with _orgiving smile. When the girls redoubled their attentions, and soothed he_ith gentle words, she would close her eyes and sigh, seeming to remind the_hat they would know her value when she was no more.
  • 'You are hoarse, mother,' Sidwell said to her, when they met at breakfast.
  • 'Am I, dear? You know I felt rather afraid of the journey. I hope I shan't b_aid up.'
  • Sidwell advised her not to leave the house to-day. Having seen the invali_omfortably established in an upper room, she went into the city on busines_hich could not be delayed. On her way occurred the meeting with Peak, but o_his, on her return, she made no mention. Mother and daughter had luncheo_pstairs, and Sidwell was full of affectionate solicitude.
  • 'This afternoon you had better lie down for an hour or two,' she said.
  • 'Do you think so? Just drop a line to father, and warn him that we may kep_ere for some time.'
  • 'Shall I send for Dr Endacott?'
  • 'Just as you like, dear.'
  • But Mrs. Warricombe had eaten such an excellent lunch, that Sidwell could no_eel uneasy.
  • 'We'll see how you are this evening. At all events, it will be safer for yo_ot to go downstairs. If you lie quiet for an hour or two, I can look fo_hose pamphlets that father wants.'
  • 'Just as you like, dear.'
  • By three o'clock the invalid was calmly slumbering. Having entered the bedroo_n tiptoe and heard regular breathing, Sidwell went down and for a few minute_ingered about the hall. A servant came to her for instructions on som_omestic matter; when this was dismissed she mentioned that, if anyone called, she would be found in the library.
  • The pamphlets of which her father had spoken were soon discovered. She lai_hem aside, and seated herself by the fire, but without leaning back. At an_ound within or outside the house she moved her head to listen. Her look wa_nxious, but the gleam of her eyes expressed pleasurable agitation.
  • At half-past three she went into the drawing-room, where all the furniture wa_raped, and the floor bare. Standing where she could look from a distanc_hrough one of the windows, at which the blind had been raised, she waited fo_ quarter of an hour. Then the chill atmosphere drove her back to th_ireside. In the study, evidences of temporary desertion were less oppressive, but the windows looked only upon a sequestered part of the garden. Sidwel_esired to watch the approach from the high-road, and in a few minutes she wa_gain in the drawing-room. But scarcely had she closed the door behind he_hen a ringing of the visitors' bell sounded with unfamiliar distinctness. Sh_tarted, hastened from the room, fled into the library, and had time to sea_erself before she heard the footsteps of a servant moving in answer to th_ummons.
  • The door opened, and Peak was announced.
  • Sidwell had never known what it was to be thus overcome with emotion. Shame a_er inability to command the calm features with which she would naturall_eceive a caller flushed her cheeks and neck; she stepped forward wit_owncast eyes, and only in offering her hand could at length look at him wh_tood before her. She saw at once that Peak was unlike himself; he too ha_nusual warmth in his countenance, and his eyes seemed strangely large, luminous. On his forehead were drops of moisture.
  • This sight restored her self-control, or such measure of it as permitted he_o speak in the conventional way.
  • 'I am sorry that mother can't leave her room. She had a slight cold thi_orning, but I didn't think it would give her any trouble.'
  • Peak was delighted, and betrayed the feeling even whilst he constrained hi_ace into a look of exaggerated anxiety.
  • 'It won't be anything serious, I hope? The railway journey, I'm afraid.'
  • 'Yes, the journey. She has a slight hoarseness, but I think we shall preven_t from'——
  • Their eyes kept meeting, and with more steadfastness. They were conscious o_utual scrutiny, and, on both sides, of changes since they last met. When tw_eople have devoted intense study to each other's features, a three months'
  • absence not only revives the old impressions but subjects them to sudde_odification which engrosses thought and feeling. Sidwell continued to utte_ommonplaces, simply as a means of disguising the thoughts that occupied her; she was saying to herself that Peak's face had a purer outline than she ha_elieved, and that his eyes had gained in expressiveness. In the same wa_odwin said and replied he knew not what, just to give himself time to observ_nd enjoy the something new—the increased animation or subtler facia_ovements—which struck him as often as he looked at his companion. Eac_ondered what the other had been doing, whether the time had seemed long o_hort.
  • 'I hope you have kept well?' Sidwell asked.
  • Godwin hastened to respond with civil inquiries.
  • 'I was very glad to hear from Mr. Warricombe a few days ago, he continued.
  • Sidwell was not aware that her father had written, but her pleased smil_eemed to signify the contrary.
  • 'She looks younger,' Peak said in his mind. 'Perhaps that London dress and th_ew way of arranging her hair have something to do with it. But no, she look_ounger in herself. She must have been enjoying the pleasures of town.'
  • 'You have been constantly occupied, no doubt,' he added aloud, feeling at th_ame time that this was a clumsy expression of what he meant. Though he ha_nbuttoned his overcoat, and seated himself as easily as he could, the absur_all hat which he held embarrassed him; to deposit it on the floor demanded a_ffort of which he was yet incapable.
  • 'I have seen many things and heard much talk,' Sidwell was replying, in a ga_one. It irritated him; he would have preferred her to speak with more of th_ld pensiveness. Yet perhaps she was glad simply because she found hersel_gain talking with him?
  • 'And you?' she went on. 'It has not been all work, I hope?'
  • 'Oh no! I have had many pleasant intervals.'
  • This was in imitation of her vivacity. He felt the words and the manner to b_idiculous, but could not restrain himself. Every moment increased hi_neasiness; the hat weighed in his hands like a lump of lead, and he wa_onvinced that he had never looked so clownish. Did her smile signif_riticism of his attitude?
  • With a decision which came he knew not how, he let his hat drop to the floo_nd pushed it aside. There, that was better; he felt less of a bumpkin.
  • Sidwell glanced at the glossy grotesque, but instantly averted her eyes, an_sked rather more gravely:
  • 'Have you been in Exeter all the time?'
  • 'Yes.'
  • 'But you didn't spend your Christmas alone, I hope?'
  • 'Oh, I had my books.'
  • Was there not a touch of natural pathos in this? He hoped so; then mocked a_imself for calculating such effects.
  • 'I think you don't care much for ordinary social pleasures, Mr Peak?'
  • He smiled bitterly.
  • 'I have never known much of them,—and you remember that I look forward to _ife in which they will have little part. Such a life,' he continued, after _ause, 'seems to you unendurably dull? I noticed that, when I spoke of i_efore.'
  • 'You misunderstood me.' She said it so undecidedly that he gazed at her wit_uzzled look. Her eyes fell.
  • 'But you like society?'
  • 'If you use the word in its narrowest meaning,' she answered, 'then I not onl_islike society, but despise it.'
  • She had raised her eyebrows, and was looking coldly at him. Did she mean t_ebuke him for the tone he had adopted? Indeed, he seemed to himsel_resumptuous. But if they were still on terms such as these, was it not bette_o know it, even at the cost of humiliation? One moment he believed that h_ould read Sidwell's thoughts, and that they were wholly favourable to him; a_nother he felt absolutely ignorant of all that was passing in her, an_isposed to interpret her face as that of a conventional woman who had neve_egarded him as on her own social plane. These uncertainties, these frequen_eversions to a state of mind which at other times he seemed to have lon_utgrown, were a singular feature of his relations with Sidwell. Could suc_xperiences consist with genuine love? Never had he felt more willing t_nswer the question with a negative. He felt that he was come here to act _art, and that the end of the interview, be it what it might, would onl_ffect him superficially.
  • 'No,' he replied, with deliberation; 'I never supposed that you had an_nterest in the most foolish class of wealthy people. I meant that yo_ecognise your place in a certain social rank, and regard intercourse wit_our equals as an essential of happiness.'
  • 'If I understood why you ask'—she began abruptly, but ceased as she met hi_lance. Again he thought she was asserting a distant dignity.
  • 'The question arose naturally out of a train of thought which always occupie_e when I talk with you. I myself belong to no class whatever, and I can'_elp wondering how—if the subject ever occurred to you—you would place me.'
  • He saw his way now, and, having said thus much, could talk on defiantly. Thi_our must decide his fortune with Sidwell, yet his tongue utterly refused an_f the modes of speech which the situation would have suggested to an ordinar_ind. He could not 'make love'. Instead of humility, he was prompted t_isplay a rough arrogance; instead of tender phrases, he uttered what sounde_ike deliberate rudeness. His voice was less gently tuned than Sidwell ha_een wont to hear it. It all meant that he despaired of wooing successfully, and more than half wished to force some word from Sidwell which would spar_im the necessity of a plain avowal.
  • But before he had finished speaking, her face changed. A light of sudde_nderstanding shone in her eyes; her lips softened to a smile of exquisit_entleness.
  • 'The subject never did occur to me,' she answered. 'How should it? A friend i_ friend.'
  • It was not strictly true, but in the strength of her emotion she could forge_ll that contradicted it.
  • 'A friend—yes.'
  • Godwin began with the same note of bluntness. But of a sudden he felt th_nfluence of Sidwell's smile. His voice sank into a murmur, his heart leapt, _hrill went through his veins.
  • 'I wish to be something more than a friend.'
  • He felt that it was bald, inadequate. Yet the words had come of their ow_ccord, on an impulse of unimpaired sincerity. Sidwell's head was bent.
  • 'That is why I can't take simple things for granted,' he continued, his gaz_ixed upon her. 'If I thought of nothing but friendship, it would see_ational enough that you should accept me for what I am —a man of education, talking your own language. Because I have dared to hope something more, _uffer from the thought that I was not born into your world, and that you mus_e always remembering this difference.'
  • 'Do you think me so far behind the age?' asked Sidwell, trying to laugh.
  • 'Classes are getting mixed, confused. Yes, but we are so conscious of th_rocess that we talk of class distinctions more than of anything else,—tal_nd think of them incessantly. You have never heard me make a profession o_adicalism; I am decidedly behind the age. Be what I may—and I have spiritua_ride more than enough—the fact that I have relatives in the lower, even th_owest, social class must necessarily affect the whole course of my life. _ertain kind of man declares himself proud of such an origin —and most ofte_ies. Or one may be driven by it into rebellion against social privilege. T_e, my origin is simply a grave misfortune, to be accepted and, if possible, overcome. Does that sound mean-spirited? I can't help it; I want you to kno_e.'
  • 'I believe I know you very well,' Sidwell replied.
  • The consciousness that she was deceived checked the words which were rising t_is lips. Again he saw himself in a pitiful light, and this self-contemp_eflected upon Sidwell. He could not doubt that she was yielding to him; he_ttitude and her voice declared it; but what was the value of love won b_mposture? Why had she not intelligence enough to see through his hypocrisy, which at times was so thin a veil? How defective must her sympathy be!
  • 'Yet you have seen very little of me,' he said, smiling.
  • There was a short silence; then he exclaimed in a voice of emotion:
  • 'How I wish we had known each other ever since that day when your brothe_rought me to your house near Kingsmill! If we had met and talked through al_hose years! But that was impossible for the very reason which makes m_narticulate now that I wish to say so much. When you first saw me I was _awky schoolboy, learning to use my brains, and knowing already that life ha_othing to offer me but a false position. Whether I remained with my kith an_in, or turned my back upon them in the hope of finding my equals, I wa_ondemned to a life of miserable incompleteness. I was born in exile. It too_ long time before I had taught myself how to move and speak like one of th_lass to which I belonged by right of intellect. I was living alone in London, in mean lodging-houses. But the day came when I felt more confidence i_yself. I had saved money, and foresaw that in a year or two I should be abl_o carry out a plan, make one serious attempt to win a position among educate_eople.'
  • He stopped. Had he intended a full confession, it was thus he might have begu_t. Sidwell was regarding him, but with a gentle look, utterly unsuspecting.
  • She was unable to realise his character and his temptations.
  • 'And have you not succeeded?' she asked, in a low voice.
  • 'Have I? Let me put it to the test. I will set aside every thought o_resumption; forget that lam a penniless student looking forward to a countr_uracy; and say what I wished to when we had our last conversation. Never min_ow it sounds. I have dared to hope that some day I shall ask you to be m_ife, and that you won't refuse.'
  • The word 'wife' reverberated on his ears. A whirl of emotion broke the defian_alm he had supported for the last few minutes. The silence seemed to b_ndless; when he looked at Sidwell, her head was bent, the eyes concealed b_heir drooping lids. Her expression was very grave.
  • 'Such a piece of recklessness,' he said at length, 'deserves no answer.'
  • Sidwell raised her eyes and spoke gently, with voice a little shaken.
  • 'Why should you call it recklessness? I have never thought of the things tha_eem to trouble you so much. You were a friend of ours. Wasn't that enough?'
  • It seemed to him an evasive reply. Doubtless it was much that she showe_either annoyance nor prudish reserve. He had won the right of addressing he_n equal terms, but she was not inclined to anticipate that future day t_hich he pointed.
  • 'You have never thought of such things, because you have never thought of m_s I of you. Every day of your absence in London has caused me torments whic_ere due most often to the difference between your social position and mine.
  • You have been among people of leisure and refinement and culture. Each evenin_ou have talked with men whom it cost no effort to make themselves liked an_espected. I think of that with bitterness.'
  • 'But why? I have made many acquaintances; have met very interesting people. _m glad of it; it enables me to understand you better than I could before.'
  • 'You are glad on that account?'
  • 'Yes; indeed I am.'
  • 'Dare I think you mean more than a civil phrase?'
  • 'I mean quite simply all that my words imply. I have thought of you, thoug_ertainly without bitterness. No one's conversation in London interested me s_uch as yours.'
  • Soothed with an exquisite joy, Godwin felt his eyes moisten. For a moment h_as reconciled to all the world, and forgot the hostilities of a lifetime.
  • 'And will it still be so, now, when you go back?' he asked, in a soft tone.
  • 'I am sure it will.'
  • 'Then it will be strange if I ever feel bitterly again.'
  • Sidwell smiled.
  • 'You could have said nothing that could please me more. Why should your lif_e troubled by these dark moods? I could understand it if you were stil_truggling with—with doubts, with all manner of uncertainties about you_ourse'——
  • She hesitated, watching his face.
  • 'You think I have chosen well?' said Godwin, meeting her look.
  • Sidwell's eyes were at once averted.
  • 'I hope,' she said, 'we may talk of that again very soon. You have told m_uch of yourself, but I have said little or nothing of my own—difficulties. I_on't be long before we come back from London, and then'——
  • Once more their eyes met steadily.
  • 'You think,' Godwin asked, 'that I am right in aiming at a life o_etirement?'
  • 'It is one of my doubts. Your influence would be useful anywhere; but mos_seful, surely, among people of active mind.'
  • 'Perhaps I shan't be able to choose. Remember that lam seeking for _ivelihood as well as for a sphere of usefulness.'
  • His eyes fell as he spoke. Hitherto he had had no means of learning whethe_idwell would bring her husband a dowry substantial enough to be considered.
  • Though he could not feel that she had betrothed herself to him, their talk wa_o nearly that of avowed lovers that perchance she would disclose whateve_ight help to put his mind at rest. The thought revived his painful self- consciousness; it was that of a schemer, yet would not the curse of povert_ave suggested it to any man?
  • 'Perhaps you won't be able to choose—at first,' Sidwell assented, thereb_eeming to answer his unspoken question. 'But I am sure my father will us_hatever influence he has.'
  • Had he been seated near enough, he would have been tempted to the boldness o_aking her hand. What more encouragement did he await? But the distanc_etween them was enough to check his embarrassed impulses. He could not eve_all her 'Sidwell'; it would have been easier a few minutes ago, before sh_ad begun to speak with such calm friendliness. Now, in spite of everything, he felt that to dare such a familiarity must needs call upon him the reproo_f astonished eyes.
  • 'You return to-morrow?' he asked, suddenly.
  • 'I think so. You have promised me to be cheerful until we are home again.'
  • 'A promise to be cheerful wouldn't mean much. But it does mean much that I ca_hink of what you have said to-day'
  • Sidwell did not speak, and her silence seemed to compel him to rise. It wa_trange how remote he still felt from her pure, grave face, and the flowin_utlines of her figure. Why could he not say to her, 'I love you; give me you_ands; give me your lips'? Such words seemed impossible. Yet passion thrille_n him as he watched the grace of her movements, the light and shadow upon he_eatures. She had risen and come a step or two forward.
  • 'I think you look taller—in that dress.'
  • The words rather escaped him than were spoken. His need was to talk of commo_hings, of trifles, that so he might come to feel humanly.
  • Sidwell smiled with unmistakable pleasure.
  • 'Do I? Do you like the dress?'
  • 'Yes. It becomes you.'
  • 'Are you critical in such things?'
  • 'Not with understanding. But I should like to see you every day in a new an_eautiful dress.'
  • 'Oh, I couldn't afford it!' was the laughing reply.
  • He offered his hand; the touch of her warm, soft fingers fired his blood.
  • 'Sidwell!'
  • It was spoken at last, involuntarily, and he stood with his eyes on hers, he_and crushed in his.
  • 'Some day!' she whispered.
  • If their lips met, the contact was so slight as to seem accidental; it was th_ere timorous promise of a future kiss. And both were glad of the somethin_hat had imposed restraint.
  • When Sidwell went up to her mother's sitting-room, a servant had just brough_ea.
  • 'I hear that Mr. Peak has been,' said Mrs. Warricombe, who looked puffy an_ncomfortable after her sleep. 'Emma was going to take tea to the study, but _hought it unnecessary. How could he know that we were here?'
  • 'I met him this morning on my way into the town.'
  • 'Surely it was rather inconsiderate of him to call.'
  • 'He asked if he might.'
  • Mrs. Warricombe turned her head and examined Sidwell.
  • 'Oh! And did he stay long?'
  • 'Not very long,' replied Sidwell, who was in quiet good-humour.
  • 'I think it would have been better if you had told him by the servant that _as not well enough to see callers. You didn't mention that he might b_oming.'
  • Mrs. Warricombe's mind worked slowly at all times, and at present she wa_uffering from a cold.
  • 'Why didn't you speak of it, Sidwell?'
  • 'Really—I forgot,' replied the daughter, lightly.
  • 'And what had he to say?'
  • 'Nothing new, mother. Is your head better, dear?'
  • There was no answer. Mrs. Warricombe had conceived a vague suspicion which wa_o alarming that she would not press inquiries alluding to it. Th_ncouragement given by her husband to Godwin Peak in the latter's socia_rogress had always annoyed her, though she could not frame solid objections.
  • To be sure, to say of a man that he is about to be ordained meets ever_ossible question that society can put; but Mrs. Warricombe's uneasiness wa_n part due to personal dislike. Oftener than not, she still thought of Pea_s he appeared some eleven years ago—an evident the story of his relative wh_ad opened a shop in Kingsmill; plebeian, without manners, without a redeemin_race. She knew thinking of that now, she shuddered.
  • Sidwell began to talk of indifferent matters, and Peak was not agai_entioned.
  • Her throat being still troublesome, Mrs. Warricombe retired very soon afte_inner. About nine o'clock Sidwell went to the library, and sat down at he_ather's writing-table, purposing a letter to Sylvia. She penned a line o_wo, but soon lapsed into reverie, her head on her hands. Of a sudden the doo_as thrown open, and there stood Buckland, fresh from travel.
  • 'What has brought you?' exclaimed his sister, starting up anxiously, fo_omething in the young man's look seemed ominous.
  • 'Oh, nothing to trouble about. I had to come down—on business. Mother gone t_ed?'
  • Sidwell explained.
  • 'All right; doesn't matter. I suppose I can sleep here? Let them get me _outhful of something; cold meat, anything will do.'
  • His needs were quickly supplied, and before long he was smoking by the librar_ire.
  • 'I was writing to Sylvia,' said his sister, glancing at her fragmentar_etter.
  • 'Oh!'
  • 'You know she is at Salisbury?'
  • 'Salisbury? No, I didn't.'
  • His carelessness proved to Sidwell that she was wrong in conjecturing that hi_ourney had something to do with Miss Moorhouse. Buckland was in no mood fo_onversation; he smoked for a quarter of an hour whilst Sidwell resumed he_riting.
  • 'Of course you haven't seen Peak?' fell from him at length.
  • His sister looked at him before replying.
  • 'Yes. He called this afternoon.'
  • 'But who told him you were here?'
  • His brows were knitted, and he spoke very abruptly. Sidwell gave the sam_xplanation as to her mother, and had further to reply that she alone receive_he caller.
  • 'I see,' was Buckland's comment.
  • Its tone troubled Sidwell.
  • 'Has your coming anything to do with Mr. Peak?'
  • 'Yes, it has. I want to see him the first thing to-morrow.
  • 'Can you tell me what about?'
  • He searched her face, frowning.
  • 'Not now. I'll tell you in the morning.'
  • Sidwell saw herself doomed to a night of suspense. She could not confess ho_early the mystery concerned her. Had Buckland made some discovery tha_rritated him against Peak? She knew he was disposed to catch at anything tha_eemed to tell against Godwin's claims to respectful treatment, and it surel_ust be a grave affair to hurry him on so long a journey. Though she coul_magine no ground of fear, the situation was seriously disturbing.
  • She tried to go on with her letter, but failed. As Buckland smoked in silence, she at length rose and said she would go upstairs.
  • 'All right! Shall see you at breakfast. Good-night!'
  • At nine next morning Mrs. Warricombe sent a message to Buckland that sh_ished to see him in her bedroom. He entered hurriedly.
  • 'Cold better, mother? I have only just time to drink a cup of coffee. I wan_o catch Peak before he can have left home.'
  • 'Mr. Peak? Why? I was going to speak about him.'
  • 'What were you going to say?' Buckland asked, anxiously.
  • His mother began in a roundabout way which threatened long detention. In _inute or two Buckland had gathered enough to interrupt her with the direc_nquiry:
  • 'You don't mean that there's anything between him and Sidwell?'
  • 'I do hope not; but I can't imagine why she should—really, almost make _rivate appointment. I am very uneasy, Buckland. I have hardly slept. Sidwel_s rather—you know'——
  • 'The deuce! I can't stop now. Wait an hour or two, and I shall have seen th_ellow. You needn't alarm yourself. He will probably have disappeared in a fe_ays.'
  • 'What do you mean?' Mrs. Warricombe asked, with nervous eagerness.
  • 'I'll explain afterwards.'
  • He hurried away. Sidwell was at the breakfast-table. Her eyes seemed t_eclare that she had not slept well. With an insignificant word or two, th_oung man swallowed his cup of coffee, and had soon left the house.