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Chapter 3

  • 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.'
  • '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?'
  • 'Yes.'
  • '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.'
  • 'Though?'
  • '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.'
  • 'No doubt.'
  • '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.'
  • 'It does.'
  • '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?'
  • 'You not?'
  • '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?'
  • 'Several.'
  • 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.'
  • 'And detestable?'
  • '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.