It occasionally happens that a woman whose early life has been directed b_ative silliness and social bias, will submit to a tardy education at th_ands of her own children. Thus was it with Mrs Warricombe.
She came of a race long established in squirearchic dignity amid heaths an_oodlands. Her breeding was pure through many generations of the paternal an_aternal lines, representative of a physical type, fortified in the males b_uch companionship with horse and hound, and by the corresponding countr_ursuits of dowered daughters. At the time of her marriage she had no charm_f person more remarkable than rosy comeliness and the symmetry of suppl_imb. As for the nurture of her mind, it had been intrusted to home- governesses of respectable incapacity. Martin Warricombe married her becaus_he was one of a little circle of girls, much alike as to birth and fortune, with whom he had grown up in familiar communication. Timidity impose_estraints upon him which made his choice almost a matter of accident. A_efalls often enough, the betrothal became an accomplished fact whilst he wa_till doubting whether he desired it or not. When the fervour of early wedloc_as outlived, he had no difficulty in accepting as a matter of course that hi_ife's companion should be hopelessly illogical and at heart indifferent t_verything but the small graces and substantial comforts of provincia_xistence. One of the advantages of wealth is that it allows husband and wif_o keep a great deal apart without any show of mutual unkindness, a conditio_ssential to happiness in marriage. Time fostered in them a calm attachment, independent of spiritual sympathy, satisfied with a common regard for domesti_onour.
Not that Mrs. Warricombe remained in complete ignorance of her husband'_ursuits; social forms would scarcely have allowed this, seeing that she wa_n constant intercourse, as hostess or guest, with Martin's scientifi_riends. Of fossils she necessarily knew something. Up to a certain point the_mused her; she could talk of ammonites, of brachiopods, and would point _riend's attention to the~ Calceola sandalina~ which Martin prized so much.
The significance of palaeontology she dimly apprehended, for in the early day_f their union her husband had felt it explain to her what was meant b_eologic time and how he reconciled his views on that subject with the demand_f religious faith. Among the books which he induced her to read wer_uckland's Bridgewater Treatise and the works of Hugh Miller. The intellectua_esult was chaotic, and Mrs. Warricombe settled at last into a comfortabl_rivate opinion, that though the record of geology might be trustworthy tha_f the Bible was more so. She would admit that there was no impiety i_ccepting the evidence of nature, but held to a secret conviction that it wa_afer to believe in Genesis. For anything beyond a quasi-permissible varianc_rom biblical authority as to the age of the world she was quite unprepared, and Martin, in his discretion, imparted to her nothing of the graver doubt_hich were wont to trouble him.
But as her children grew up, Mrs. Warricombe's mind and temper were insensibl_odified by influences which operated through her maternal affections, influences no doubt aided by the progressive spirit of the time. The thre_oys—Buckland, Maurice, and Louis —were distinctly of a new generation. I_eeded some ingenuity to discover their points of kindred with paternal an_aternal grandparents; nor even with father and mother had they much in commo_hich observation could readily detect. Sidwell, up to at least her fifteent_ear, seemed to present far less change of type. In her Mrs. Warricomb_ecognised a daughter, and not without solace. But Fanny again was _roblematical nature, almost from the cradle. Latest born, she appeared t_evive many characteristics of the youthful Buckland, so far as a girl coul_esemble her brother. It was a strange brood to cluster around Mrs.
Warricombe. For many years the mother was kept in alternation between hope_nd fears, pride and disapproval, the old hereditary habits of mind, and a ne_rder of ideas which could only be admitted with the utmost slowness.
Buckland's Radicalism deeply offended her; she marvelled how such depravit_ould display itself in a child of hers. Yet in the end her ancestra_rejudices so far yielded as to allow of her smiling at sentiments which sh_nce heard with horror. Maurice, whom she loved more tenderly, all but taugh_er to see the cogency of a syllogism—amiably set forth. And Louis, with hi_ndolent good-nature, laughed her into a tolerance of many things which ha_oved her indignation. But it was to Sidwell that in the end she owed most.
Beneath the surface of ordinary and rather backward girlhood, whic_iscouraged her father's hopes, Sidwell was quietly developing a personalit_istinguished by the refinement of its ethical motives. Her orthodoxy seeme_s unimpeachable as Mrs Warricombe could desire, yet as she grew int_omanhood, a curiosity, which in no way disturbed the tenor of her quietl_ontented life, led her to examine various forms of religion, ancient an_odern, and even systems of philosophy which professed to establish a mora_ode, independent of supernatural faith. She was not of studiou_isposition—that is to say, she had never cared as a schoolgirl to do mor_ental work than was required of her, and even now it was seldom that she rea_or more than an hour or two in the day. Her habit was to dip into books, an_editate long on the first points which arrested her thoughts. Of continuou_pplication she seemed incapable. She could read French, but did not attemp_o pursue the other languages of which her teachers had given her _mattering. It pleased her best when she could learn from conversation. I_his way she obtained some insight into her father's favourite sciences, occasionally making suggestions or inquiries which revealed a subtle if not a_cute intelligence.
Little by little Mrs. Warricombe found herself changing places with th_aughter whom she had regarded as wholly subject to her direction. Sidwel_egan to exercise an indeterminate control, the proofs of which were at lengt_anifest in details of her mother's speech and demeanour. An exquisite socia_act, an unfailing insensibly as the qualities of pure air: these were th_oints of sincerity of moral judgment, a gentle force which operated a_haracter to which Mrs. Warricombe owed the humanisation observable when on_ompared her in 1885 with what she was, say, in 1874, when the sight o_rofessor. Walsh moved her to acrimony, and when she conceived a pique agains_rofessor Gale because the letter P has alphabetical precedence of W. He_imitations were of course the same as ever, and from her sons she had onl_earnt to be ashamed of announcing them too vehemently. Sidwell it was who ha_ed her to that degree of genuine humility, which is not satisfied with hidin_ fault but strives to amend it.
Martin Warricombe himself was not unaffected by the growth about him of youn_en and maidens who looked upon the world with new eyes, whose world, indeed, was another than that in which he had spent the better part of his life. I_is case contact with the young generation tended to unsettlement, to _roublesome persistency of speculations which he would have preferred t_ismiss altogether. At the time of his marriage, and for some years after, h_as content to make a broad distinction between those intellectual pursuit_hich afforded him rather a liberal amusement than the pleasures of earnes_tudy and the questions of metaphysical faith which concerned his heart an_onscience. His native prejudices were almost as strong, and much the same, a_hose of his wife; but with the vagueness of emotional logic natural to hi_onstitution, he satisfied himself that, by conceding a few inessentia_oints, he left himself at liberty to follow the scientific movements of th_ay without damage to his religious convictions. The tolerant smile s_requently on his countenance was directed as often in the one quarter as i_he other. Now it signified a gentle reproof of those men of science who, lik_rofessor Walsh, 'went too far', whose zeal for knowledge led them 'to forge_he source of all true enlightenment'; now it expressed a forbearing sympath_ith such as erred in the opposite direction, who were 'too literal in thei_nterpretation of the sacred volume'. Amiable as the smile was, it betraye_eakness, and at moments Martin became unpleasantly conscious of indispositio_o examine his own mind on certain points. His life, indeed, was one of debat_ostponed. As the realm of science extended, as his intercourse with men wh_rankly avowed their 'infidelity' grew more frequent, he ever and again sai_o himself that, one of these days, he must sit down and 'have it out' in _olemn self-searching. But for the most part he got on very well amid hi_nconsistencies. Religious faith has rarely any connection with reasoning.
Martin believed because he believed, and avoided the impact of disagreeabl_rguments because he wished to do so.
The bent of his mind was anything but polemical; he cared not to spend tim_ven over those authors whose attacks on the outposts of science, or whos_laborate reconcilements of old and new, might have afforded him some support.
On the other hand, he altogether lacked that breadth of intellect which seek_o comprehend all the results of speculation, to discern their tendency, t_erive from them a consistent theory of the nature of things. Though a man b_ell versed in a science such as palaeontology it does not follow that he wil_iew it in its philosophical relations. Martin had kept himself informed o_ll the facts appertaining to his study which the age brought forth, bu_ithout developing the new modes of mental life requisite for the recognitio_f all that such facts involved. The theories of evolution he did not ventur_penly to resist, but his acceptance of them was so half-hearted tha_ractically he made no use of their teaching. He was no man of science, but a_dler among the wonders which science uses for her own purposes.
He regarded with surprise and anxiety the tendencies early manifested in hi_on Buckland. Could he have had his way the lad would have grown up with a_mpossible combination of qualities, blending the enthusiasm of moder_esearch with a spirit of expansive teleology. Whilst Buckland was still o_oyish years, the father treated with bantering good-humour such outbreaks o_rreverence as came immediately under his notice, weakly abstaining from an_ttempt at direct argument or influence. But, at a later time, there too_lace serious and painful discussions, and only when the young man had rubbe_ff his edges in the world's highways could Martin forget that stage of mos_nwelcome conflict.
At the death of his younger boy, Maurice, he suffered a blow which had result_ore abiding than the melancholy wherewith for a year or two his genial natur_as overshadowed. From that day onwards he was never wholly at ease among th_ursuits which had been wont to afford him an unfailing resource agains_hatever troubles. He could no longer accept and disregard, in a spirit o_heerful faith, those difficulties science was perpetually throwing in hi_ay. The old smile of kindly tolerance had still its twofold meaning, but i_as more evidently a disguise of indecision, and not seldom touched wit_adness. Martin's life was still one of postponed debate, but he could no_egard the day when conclusions would be demanded of him as indefinitel_emote. Desiring to dwell in the familiar temporary abode, his structure o_ncongruities and facile reconcilements, he found it no longer weather-proof.
The times were shaking his position with earthquake after earthquake. His sons (for he suspected that Louis was hardly less emancipated than Buckland) stoo_ar aloof from him, and must in private feel contemptuous of his old-fashione_eliefs. In Sidwell, however, he had a companion more and more indispensable, and he could not imagine that~ her~ faith would ever give way before th_nvading spirit of agnosticism. Happily she was no mere pietist. Though he di_ot quite understand her attitude towards Christianity, he felt assured tha_idwell had thought deeply and earnestly of religion in all its aspects, an_t was a solace to know that she found no difficulty in recognising the larg_laims of science. For all this, he could not deliberately seek he_onfidence, or invite her to a discussion of religious subjects. Some day, n_oubt, a talk of that kind would begin naturally between them, and so stron_as his instinctive faith in Sidwell that he looked forward to this futur_ommuning as to a certain hope of peace.
That a figure such as Godwin Peak, a young man of vigorous intellect, preparing to devote his life to the old religion, should excite Mr.
Warricombe's interest was of course to be anticipated; and it seemed probabl_nough that Peak, exerting all the force of his character and aided b_ircumstances, might before long convert this advantage to a means o_scendency over the less self-reliant nature. But here was no instance of _otard becoming the easy prey of a scientific Tartufe. Martin's intellect ha_uffered no decay. His hale features and dignified bearing expressed the min_hich was ripened by sixty years of pleasurable activity, and which wa_earning to regard with steadier view the problems it had hitherto shirked. H_ould not change the direction nature had given to his thoughts, an_repossession would in some degree obscure his judgment where the merits an_rustworthiness of a man in Peak's circumstances called for scrutiny; bu_elf-respect guarded him against vulgar artifices, and a fine sensibility mad_t improbable that he would become the victim of any man in whom base motive_redominated.
Left to his own impulses, he would still have proceeded with all caution i_is offers of friendly services to Peak. A letter of carefully-worde_dmonition, which he received from his son, apprising him of Peak's resolve t_ransfer himself to Exeter, scarcely affected his behaviour when the young ma_ppeared. It was but natural—he argued—that Buckland should look askance on _ase of 'conversion'; for his own part, he understood that such a step migh_e prompted by interest, but he found it difficult to believe that to a man i_eak's position, the Church would offer temptation thus coercive. Nor could h_iscern in the candidate for a curacy any mark of dishonourable purpose.
Faults, no doubt, were observable, among them a tendency to spiritua_ride—which seemed (Martin could admit) an argument for, rather than against, his sincerity. The progress of acquaintance decidedly confirmed his favourabl_mpressions; they were supported by the remarks of those among his friends t_hom Peak presently became known.
It was not until Whitsuntide of the next year, when the student had bee_iving nearly five months at Exeter, that Buckland again came down to visi_is relatives. On the evening of his arrival, chancing to be alone wit_idwell, he asked her if Peak had been to the house lately.
'Not many days ago,' replied his sister, 'he lunched with us, and then sa_ith father for some time.'
'Does he come often?'
'Not very often. He is translating a German book which interests father ver_uch.'
'Oh, what book?'
'I don't know. Father has only mentioned it in that way.'
They were in a little room sacred to the two girls, very daintily furnishe_nd fragrant of sweet-brier, which Sidwell loved so much that, when the seaso_llowed it, she often wore a little spray of it at her girdle. Buckland opene_ book on the table, and, on seeing the title, exclaimed with a disparagin_augh:
'I can't get out of the way of this fellow M'Naughten! Wherever I go, there h_ies about on the tables and chairs. I should have thought he was thoroughl_mashed by an article that came out in~ The Critical~ last year.'
Sidwell smiled, evidently in no way offended.
'That article could "smash" nobody,' she made answer. 'It was too violent; i_vershot the mark.'
'Not a bit of it!—So you read it, eh? You're beginning to read, are you?'
'In my humble way, Buckland.'
'M'Naughten, among other things. Humble enough, that, I admit.'
'I am not a great admirer of M'Naughten,' returned his sister, with a look o_musement.
'No? I congratulate you.—I wonder what Peak thinks of the book?'
'I really don't know.'
'Then let me ask another question. What do you think of Peak?'
Sidwell regarded him with quiet reflectiveness.
'I feel,' she said, 'that I don't know him very well yet. He is certainl_nteresting.'
'Yes, he is. Does he impress you as the kind of man likely to make a goo_lergyman?'
'I don't see any reason why he should not.'
Her brother mused, with wrinkles of dissatisfaction on his brow.
'Father gets to like him, you say?'
'Yes, I think father likes him.'
'Well, I suppose it's all right.'
'It's the most astounding thing that ever came under my observation,'
exclaimed Buckland, walking away and then returning.
'That Mr. Peak should be studying for the Church?'
'But do reflect more modestly!' urged Sidwell, with something that was no_uite archness, though as near it as her habits of tone and feature woul_llow. 'Why should you refuse to admit an error in your own way of looking a_hings? Wouldn't it be better to take this as a proof that intellect isn'_ecessarily at war with Christianity?'
'I never stated it so broadly as that,' returned her brother, with impatience.
'But I should certainly have maintained that ~Peak's~ intellect wa_ecessarily in that position.'
'And you see how wrong you would have been,' remarked the girl, softly.
'Well—I don't know.'
'You don't know?'
'I mean that I can't acknowledge what I can't understand.'
'Then do try to understand, Buckland!—Have you ever put aside your prejudic_or a moment to inquire what our religion really means? Not once, I think—a_ll events, not since you reached years of discretion.'
'Allow me to inform you that I studied the question thoroughly at Cambridge.'
'Yes, yes; but that was in your boyhood.'
'And when does manhood begin?'
'At different times in different persons. In your case it was late.'
Buckland laughed. He was considering a rejoinder, when they were interrupte_y the appearance of Fanny, who asked at once:
'Shall you go to see Mr. Peak this evening, Buckland?'
'I'm in no hurry,' was the abrupt reply.
The girl hesitated.
'Let us all have a drive together—with Mr. Peak, I mean—like when you wer_ere last.'
'We'll see about it.'
Buckland went slowly from the room.
Late the same evening he sat with his father in the study. Mr Warricombe kne_ot the solace of tobacco, and his son, though never quite at ease withou_ipe or cigar, denied himself in this room, with the result that he shifte_requently upon his chair and fell into many awkward postures.
'And how does Peak impress you?' he inquired, when the subject he most wishe_o converse upon had been postponed to many others. It was clear that Marti_ould not himself broach it.
'Not disagreeably,' was the reply, with a look of frankness, perhaps over- emphasised.
'What is he doing? I have only heard from him once since he came down, and h_ad very little to say about himself.'
'I understand that he proposes to take the London B.A.'
'Oh, then, he never did that? Has he unbosomed himself to you about hi_ffairs of old time?'
'No. Such confidences are hardly called for.'
'Speaking plainly, father, you don't feel any uneasiness?'
Martin deliberated, fingering the while an engraved stone which hung upon hi_atch-guard. He was at a disadvantage in this conversation. Aware tha_uckland regarded the circumstances of Peak's sojourn in the neighbourhoo_ith feelings allied to contempt, he could neither adopt the tone of eas_onfidence natural to him on other occasions of difference in opinion, no_xpress himself with the coldness which would have obliged his son to quit th_ubject.
'Perhaps you had better tell me,' he replied, 'whether you are really uneasy.'
It was impossible for Buckland to answer as his mind prompted. He could no_ithout offence declare that no young man of brains now adopted a clerica_areer with pure intentions, yet such was his sincere belief. Made tolerant i_any directions by the cultivation of his shrewdness, he was hopelessl_iassed in judgment as soon as his anti-religious prejudice came into play—_oint of strong resemblance between him and Peak. After fidgeting for _oment, he exclaimed:
'Yes, I am; but I can't be sure that there's any cause for it.'
'Let us come to matters of fact,' said Mr. Warricombe, showing that he was no_orry to discuss this side of the affair. 'I suppose there is no doubt tha_eak had a position till lately at the place he speaks of?'
'No doubt whatever. I have taken pains to ascertain that. His account o_imself, so far, is strictly true.'
Martin smiled, with satisfaction he did not care to disguise.
'Have you met some acquaintance of his?'
'Well,' answered Buckland, changing his position, 'I went to work in rather a_nderhand way, perhaps—but the results are satisfactory. No, I haven't com_cross any of his friends, but I happened to hear not long ago that he was o_ntimate terms with some journalists.'
His father laughed.
'Anything compromising in that association, Buckland?'
'I don't say that—though the fellows I speak of are hot Radicals.'
'I mean,' replied the young man, with his shrewder smile, 'that they are no_xactly the companions a theological student would select.'
'I understand. Possibly he has journalised a little himself?'
'That I can't say, though I should have thought it likely enough. I might, o_ourse, find out much more about him, but it seemed to me that to hav_ssurance of his truthfulness in that one respect was enough for the present.'
'Do you mean, Buckland,' asked his father, gravely, 'that you have bee_etting secret police at work?'
'Well, yes. I thought it the least objectionable way of getting information.'
Martin compressed his lips and looked disapproval.
'I really can't see that such extreme measures were demanded. Come, come; wha_s all this about? Do you suspect him of planning burglaries? That was an ill- judged step, Buckland; decidedly ill-judged. I said just now that Pea_mpressed me by no means disagreeably. Now I will add that I am convinced o_is good faith —as sure of it as I am of his remarkable talents and aptitud_or the profession he aims at. In spite of your extraordinary distrust, _an't feel a moment's doubt of his honour. Why, I could have told you mysel_hat he has known Radical journalists. He mentioned it the other day, an_xplained how far his sympathy went with that kind of thing. No, no; that wa_ardly permissible, Buckland.'
The young man had no difficulty in bowing to his father's reproof when th_oint at issue was one of gentlemanly behaviour.
'I admit it,' he replied. 'I wish I had gone to Rotherhithe and made simpl_nquiries in my own name. That, all things considered, I might have allowe_yself; at all events, I shouldn't have been at ease without getting tha_ssurance. If Peak had heard, and had said to me, "What the deuce do yo_ean?" I should have told him plainly, what I have strongly hinted to hi_lready, that I don't understand what he is doing in this galley.'
'And have placed yourself in a position not easy to define.'
'All this arises, my boy,' resumed Martin, in a tone of grave kindness, 'fro_our strange inability to grant that on certain matters you may be wholl_isled.'
'Well, well; that is forbidden ground. But do try to be less narrow. Are yo_nable then to meet Peak in a friendly way?'
'Oh, by no means! It seems more than likely that I have wronged him.'
'Well said! Keep your mind open. I marvel at the dogmatism of men who are se_n overthrowing dogma. Such a position is so strangely unphilosophic that _on't know how a fellow of your brains can hold it for a moment. If I were no_fraid of angering you,' Martin added, in his pleasantest tone, 'I would quot_he Master of Trinity.'
'A capital epigram, but it is repeated too often.'
Mr. Warricombe shook his head, and with a laugh rose to say good-night.
'It's a great pity,' he remarked next day to Sidwell, who had been saying tha_er brother seemed less vivacious than usual, 'that Buckland is defective o_he side of humour. For a man who claims to be philosophical he takes thing_ith a rather obtuse seriousness. I know nothing better than humour as _rotection against the kind of mistake he is always committing.'
The application of this was not clear to Sidwell.
'Has something happened to depress him?' she asked.
'Not that I know of. I spoke only of his general tendency to intemperate zeal.
That is enough to account for intervals of reaction. And how much sounder hi_udgment of men would be if he could only see through a medium of humour no_nd then! You know he is going over to Budleigh Salterton this afternoon?'
Sidwell smiled, and said quietly:
'I thought it likely he would.'
At Budleigh Salterton, a nook on the coast some fifteen miles away, Sylvi_oorhouse was now dwelling. Her mother, a widow of substantial means, ha_ecently established herself there, in the proximity of friends, and th_athematical brother made his home with them. That Buckland took ever_pportunity of enjoying Sylvia's conversation was no secret; whether th_redilection was mutual, none of his relatives could say, for in a matter suc_s this Buckland was by nature disposed to reticence. Sidwell's intimacy wit_iss Moorhouse put her in no better position than the others for forming a_pinion; she could only suspect that the irony which flavoured Sylvia's tal_ith and concerning the Radical, intimated a lurking kindness. Buckland'_reference was easily understood, and its growth for five or six years seeme_o promise stability.
Immediately after luncheon the young man set forth, and did not reappear unti_he evening of the next day. His spirits had not benefited by the excursion; at dinner he was noticeably silent, and instead of going to the drawing-roo_fterwards he betook himself to the studio up on the roof, and smoked i_olitude. There, towards ten o'clock, Sidwell sought him. Heavy rain wa_eating upon the glass, and a high wind blended its bluster with the cheerles_ound.
'Don't you find it rather cold here?' she asked, after observing her brother'_ountenance of gloom.
'Yes; I'm coming down.—Why don't you keep up your painting?'
'I have lost interest in it, I'm afraid.'
'That's very weak, you know. It seems to me that nothing interests yo_ermanently.'
Sidwell thought it better to make no reply.
'The characteristic of women,' Buckland pursued, with some asperity, throwin_way the stump of his cigar. 'It comes, I suppose, of their ridiculou_ducation—their minds are never trained to fixity of purpose. They neve_nderstand themselves, and scarcely ever make an effort to understand any on_lse. Their life is a succession of inconsistencies.'
'This generalising is so easy,' said Sidwell, with a laugh, 'and so worthless.
I wonder you should be so far behind the times.'
'What light have the times thrown on the subject?'
'There's no longer such a thing as woman in the abstract. We are individuals.'
'Don't imagine it! That may come to pass three or four generations hence, bu_s yet the best of you can only vary the type in unimportant particulars. B_he way, what is Peak's address?'
'Longbrook Street; but I don't know the number. Father can give it you, _hink.'
'I shall have to drop him a note. I must get back to town early in th_orning.'
'Really? We hoped to have you for a week.'
'Longer next time.'
They descended together. Now that Louis no longer abode here (he had decide_t length for medicine, and was at work in London), the family as a rule spen_ery quiet evenings. By ten o'clock Mrs Warricombe and Fanny had retired, an_idwell was left either to talk with her father, or to pursue the cal_editations which seemed to make her independent of companionship as often a_he chose.
'Are they all gone?' Buckland asked, finding a vacant room.
'Father is no doubt in the study.'
'It occurs to me—. Do you feel satisfied with this dead-alive existence?'
'Satisfied? No life could suit me better.'
'You really think of living here indefinitely?'
'As far as I am concerned, I hope nothing may ever disturb us.'
'And to the end of your life you will scent yourself with sweetbrier? Do try _it of mint for a change.'
'Certainly, if it will please you.'
'Seriously, I think you might all come to town for next winter. You ar_usting, all of you. Father was never so dull, and mother doesn't seem to kno_ow to pass the days. It wouldn't be bad for Louis to be living with yo_nstead of in lodgings. Do just think of it. It's ages since you heard _oncert, or saw a picture.'
Sidwell mused, and her brother watched her askance.
'I don't know whether the others would care for it,' she said, 'but I am no_empted by a winter of fog.'
'Fog? Pooh! Well, there is an occasional fog, just now and then, but it's muc_xaggerated. Who ever thinks of the weather in England? Fanny might have _ime at Bedford College or some such place-she learns nothing here. Think i_ver. Father would be delighted to get among the societies, and so on.'
He repeated his arguments in many forms, and Sidwell listened patiently, unti_hey were joined by Mr. Warricombe, whereupon the subject dropped; to b_esumed, however, in correspondence, with a persistency which Buckland seldo_xhibited in anything which affected the interests of his relatives. As th_ummer drew on, Mrs Warricombe began to lend serious ear to this suggestion o_hange, and Martin was at all events moved to discuss the pros and cons o_alf a year in London. Sidwell preserved neutrality, seldom making an allusio_o the project; but Fanny supported her brother's proposal with sprightl_eal, declaring on one occasion that she began distinctly to feel the need of
'a higher culture', such as London only could supply.
In the meantime there had been occasional interchange of visits between th_amily and their friends at Budleigh Salterton. One evening, when Mrs.
Moorhouse and Sylvia were at the Warricombes', three or four Exeter peopl_ame to dine, and among the guests was Godwin Peak—his invitation being due i_his instance to Sylvia's express wish to meet him again.
'I am studying men,' she had said to Sidwell not long before, when the latte_as at the seaside with her. 'In our day this is the proper study o_omankind. Hitherto we have given serious attention only to one another. Mr.
Peak remains in my memory as a type worth observing; let me have a chance o_alking to him when I come next.'
She did not neglect her opportunity, and Mrs. Moorhouse, who also converse_ith the theologian and found him interesting, was so good as to hope that h_ould call upon her if ever his steps turned towards Budleigh Salterton.
After breakfast next morning, Sidwell found her friend sitting with a boo_eneath one of the great trees of the garden. At that moment Sylvia wa_vercome with laughter, evidently occasioned by her reading.
'Oh,' she exclaimed, 'if this man isn't a great humorist! I don't think I eve_ead anything more irresistible.'
The book was Hugh Miller's Testimony of the Rocks, a richly bound cop_elonging to Mrs. Warricombe.
'I daresay you know it very well; it's the chapter in which he discusses, wit_erfect gravity, whether it would have been possible for Noah to collec_xamples of all living creatures in the ark. He decides that it wouldn't—tha_he deluge must have spared a portion of the earth; but the details of hi_rgument are delicious, especially this place where he says that all th_nsects could have been brought together only "at enormous expense o_iracle"! I suspected a secret smile; but no—that's out of the question. "A_normous expense of miracle"!'
Sylvia's eyes winked as she laughed, a peculiarity which enhanced the charm o_er frank mirth. Her dark, pure complexion, strongly-marked eyebrows, subtl_ips, were shadowed beneath a great garden hat, and a loose white gown, wit_o oppressive moulding at the waist, made her a refreshing picture in th_lare of mid-summer.
'The phrase is ridiculous enough,' assented Sidwell. 'Miracle can be bu_iracle, however great or small its extent.'
'Isn't it strange, reading a book of this kind nowadays? What a leap we hav_ade! I should think there's hardly a country curate who would be capable o_ringing this argument into a sermon.'
'I don't know,' returned Sidwell, smiling. 'One still hears remarkabl_ermons.'
'What will Mr. Peak's be like?'
They exchanged glances. Sylvia wore a look of reflective curiosity, and he_riend answered with some hesitation, as if the thought were new to her:
'They won't deal with Noah, we may take that for granted.'
'Most likely not with miracles, however little expensive.'
'Perhaps not. I suppose he will deal chiefly with the moral teaching o_hristianity.'
'Do you think him strong as a moralist?' inquired Sylvia.
'He has very decided opinions about the present state of our civilisation.'
'So I find. But is there any distinctly moral force in him?'
'Father thinks so,' Sidwell replied, 'and so do our friends the Lilywhites.'
Miss Moorhouse pondered awhile.
'He is a great problem to me,' she declared at length, knitting her brows wit_ hint of humorous exaggeration. 'I wonder whether he believes in the dogma_f Christianity.'
Sidwell was startled.
'Would he think of becoming a clergyman?'
'Oh, why not? Don't they recognise nowadays that the spirit is enough?'
There was silence. Sidwell let her eyes wander over the sunny grass to th_ed-flowering creeper on the nearest side of the house.
'That would involve a great deal of dissimulation,' she said at length. '_an't reconcile it with what I know of Mr. Peak.'
'And I can't reconcile anything else,' rejoined the other.
'He impresses you as a rationalist?'
'I confess I have taken his belief for granted. Oh, think! He couldn't keep u_uch a pretence. However you justify it, it implies conscious deception. I_ould be dishonourable. I am sure he would think it so.'
'How does your brother regard him?' Sylvia asked, smiling very slightly, bu_ith direct eyes.
'Buckland can't credit anyone with sincerity except an aggressive agnostic.'
'But I think he allows honest credulity.'
Sidwell had no answer to this. After musing a little, she put a question whic_ndicated how her thoughts had travelled.
'Have you met many women who declared themselves agnostics?'
Sylvia removed her hat, and began to fan herself gently with the brim. Here, in the shade, bees were humming; from the house came faint notes of _iano—Fanny practising a mazurka of Chopin.
'But never, I suppose, one who found a pleasure in attacking Christianity?'
'A girl who was at school with me in London,' Sylvia replied, with an air o_mused reminiscence. 'Marcella Moxey. Didn't I ever speak to you of her?'
'I think not.'
'She was bitter against religion of every kind.'
'Because her mother made her learn collects, I dare say?' suggested Sidwell, in a tone of gentle satire.
'No, no. Marcella was about eighteen then, and had neither father no_other.—(How Fanny's touch improves!)—She was a born atheist, in the fulles_ense of the word.'
'Not to me—I rather liked her. She was remarkably honest, and I have sometime_hought that in morals, on the whole, she stood far above most women. Sh_ated falsehood—hated it with all her heart, and a story of injustice maddene_er. When I think of Marcella it helps me to picture the Russian girls wh_ropagate Nihilism.'
'You have lost sight of her?'
'She went abroad, I think. I should like to have known her fate. I rathe_hink there will have to be many like her before women are civilised.'
'How I should like to ask her,' said Sidwell, 'on what she supported he_orality?'
'Put the problem to Mr. Peak,' suggested the other, gaily. 'I fancy h_ouldn't find it insoluble.'
Mrs. Warricombe and Mrs. Moorhouse appeared in the distance, walking hithe_nder parasols. The girls rose to meet them, and were presently engaged i_ess interesting colloquy.