Peak lost no time in leaving Exeter. To lighten his baggage, and to get rid o_ossessions to which hateful memories attached, he sold all his books that ha_ny bearing on theology. The incomplete translation of Bibel und Natur h_ommitted to the flames in Mrs Roots's kitchen, scattering its black remnant_ith savage thrusts of the poker. Whilst engaged in packing, he debated wit_imself whether or not he should take leave of the few acquaintances to who_e was indebted for hospitality and other kindness. The question was: Ha_uckland Warricombe already warned these people against him? Probably it ha_eemed to Buckland the wiser course to be content with driving the hypocrit_way; and, if this were so, regard for the future dictated a retirement fro_xeter which should in no way resemble secret flight. Sidwell's influence wit_er parents would perhaps withhold them from making his disgrace known, and i_ few years he might be glad that he had behaved with all possible prudence.
In the end, he decided to write to Mr. Lilywhite, saying that he was oblige_o go away at a moment's notice, and that he feared it would be necessar_ltogether to change the scheme of life which he had had in view. This was th_est way. From the Lilywhites, other people would hear of him, and perchanc_heir conjectures would be charitable.
Without much hesitation he had settled his immediate plans. To London he woul_ot return, for he dreaded the temptations to which the proximity of Sidwel_ould expose him, and he had no mind to meet with Moxey or Earwaker. As it wa_ow imperative that he should find work of the old kind, he could not d_etter than go to Bristol, where, from the safe ground of a cheap and obscur_odging, he might make inquiries, watch advertisements, and so on. He alread_new of establishments in Bristol where he might possibly obtain employment.
Living with the utmost economy, he need not fall into difficulties for mor_han a year, and before then his good repute with the Rotherhithe firm woul_nsure him some position or other; if not in Bristol, then at Newcastle, St.
Helen's—any great centre of fuming and malodorous industry. He was ready t_ork, would delight in work. idleness was now the intolerable thing.
So to Bristol he betook himself, and there made his temporary abode. Afte_pending a few weeks in fruitless search for an engagement, he at length pai_is oft-postponed visit to Twybridge. In the old home he felt completely _tranger, and his relatives strengthened the feeling by declaring him s_hanged in appearance that they hardly knew his face. With his mother onl_ould he talk in anything like an intimate way, and the falsehoods with whic_e was obliged to answer her questions all but destroyed the pleasure he woul_therwise have found in being affectionately tended. His sister, Mrs Cusse, was happy in her husband, her children, and a flourishing business. Oliver wa_aking money, and enjoyed distinction among the shopkeeping community. Hi_unt still dealt in millinery, and kept up her acquaintance with respectabl_amilies. To Godwin all was like a dream dreamt for the second time. He coul_ot acknowledge any actual connection between these people and himself. Bu_heir characteristics no longer gravely offended him, and he willingl_ecognised the homespun worth which their lives displayed. It was clear to hi_hat by no possible agency of circumstances could he have been held in norma_elations with his kinsfolk. However smooth his career, it must have wafte_im to an immeasurable distance from Twybridge. Nature had decreed that he wa_o resemble the animals which, once reared, go forth in complete independenc_f birthplace and the ties of blood. It was a harsh fate, but in what had no_ate been harsh to him? The one consolation was that he alone suffered. Hi_other was no doubt occasionally troubled by solicitude on his account, bu_he could not divine his inward miseries, and an assurance that he had n_aterial cares sufficed to set her mind at ease.
'You are very like your father, Godwin,' she said, with a sigh. 'He couldn'_est, however well he seemed to be getting on. There was always something h_anted, and yet he didn't know what it was.'
'Yes, I must be like him,' Godwin replied, smiling.
He stayed five days, then returned to Bristol. A week after that, his mothe_orwarded to him a letter which had come to Twybridge. He at once recognise_he writing, and broke the envelope with curiosity.
'If you should be in London [the note began], I beg you to let me see you.
There is something I have to say. To speak to you for a few minutes I woul_ome any distance. Don't accuse me of behaving treacherously; it was not m_ault. I know you would rather avoid me, but do consent to hear what I have t_ay. If you have no intention of coming to London, will you write and let m_now where you are living?
What could Marcella have to say to him? Nothing surely that he at all cared t_ear. No doubt she imagined that he might be in ignorance of the circumstance_hich had led to Buckland Warricombe's discovery; she wished to defend hersel_gainst the suspicion of 'treachery'. He laughed carelessly, and threw he_ote aside.
Two months passed, and his efforts to find employment were still vain, thoug_e had received conditional promises The solitude of his life grew burdensome.
Several times he began a letter to Sidwell, but his difficulty in writing wa_o great that he destroyed the attempt. In truth, he knew not how to addres_er. The words he penned were tumid, meaningless. He could not sen_rofessions of love, for his heart seemed to be suffering a paralysis, and th_aborious artificiality of his style must have been evident. The only excus_or breaking silence would be to let her know that he had resumed honest work; he must wait till the opportunity offered. It did not distress him to b_ithout news of her. If she wished to write, and was only withheld b_gnorance of his whereabouts, it was well; if she had no thought of sendin_im a word, it did not matter. He loved her, and consciously nourished hope, but for the present there was nothing intolerable in separation. His state o_ind resulted partly from nervous reaction, and in part from a sense that onl_y silent suffering could his dignity in Sidwell's eyes be ultimatel_estored. Between the evil past and the hopeful future must be a complet_reak.
His thoughts kept turning to London, though not because Sidwell might still b_here. He felt urgent need of speaking with a friend. Moxey was perhaps n_onger to be considered one; but Earwaker would be tolerant of huma_eaknesses. To have a long talk with Earwaker would help him to recover hi_ental balance, to understand himself and his position better. So one mornin_n March, on the spur of the moment, he took train and was once more in th_etropolis. On his way he had determined to send a note to Earwaker befor_alling at Staple Inn. He wrote it at a small hotel in Paddington, where h_ook a room for the night, and then spent the evening at a theatre, as th_est way of killing time.
By the first post next morning came a card, whereon Earwaker had written: 'B_ere, if you can, at two o'clock. Shall be glad to see you.'
'So you have been new-furnishing!' Godwin remarked, as he was admitted to th_hambers. 'You look much more comfortable.'
'I'm glad you think so. It is the general opinion.'
They had shaken hands as though this were one of the ordinary meetings of ol_ime, and their voices scarcely belied the appearance. Peak moved about th_tudy, glancing at pictures and books, Earwaker eyeing him the while with no_nfriendly expression. They were sincerely glad to see each other, and whe_eak seated himself it was with an audible sigh of contentment.
'And what are you doing?' he inquired.
The journalist gave a brief account of his affairs, and Peak brightened wit_leasure.
'This is good news. I knew you would shake off the ragamuffins before long.
Give me some of your back numbers, will you? I shall be curious to examin_our new style.'
'And you?—Come to live in London?'
'No; I am at Bristol, but only waiting. There's a chance of an analyst's plac_n Lancashire; but I may give the preference to an opening I have heard of i_elgium. Better to go abroad, I think.'
'I have a question to ask you. I suppose you talked about that Critica_rticle of mine before you received my request for silence?'
'That's how it was,' Earwaker replied, calmly.
'Yes; I understood. It doesn't matter.'
The other puffed at his pipe, and moved uneasily.
'I am taking for granted,' Peak continued, 'that you know how I have spent m_ime down in Devonshire.'
'In outline. Need we trouble about the details?'
'No. But don't suppose that I should feel any shame in talking to you abou_hem. That would be a confession of base motive. You and I have studied eac_ther, and we can exchange thoughts on most subjects with mutua_nderstanding. You know that I have only followed my convictions to thei_ogical issue. An opportunity offered of achieving the supreme end to which m_ife is directed, and what scruple could stand in my way? We have nothing t_o with names and epithets. Here are the facts of life as I had known it; there is the existence promised as the reward of successful artifice. To liv_as to pursue the object of my being. I could not feel otherwise; therefore, could not act otherwise. You imagine me defeated, flung back into the gutter.'
His words came more quickly, and the muscles of his face worked under emotion.
'It isn't so. I have a great and reasonable hope. Perhaps I have gaine_verything I really desired. I could tell you the strangest story, but there _cruple does interpose. If we live another twenty years—but now I can onl_alk about myself.'
'And this hope of which you speak,' said Earwaker, with a grave smile, 'point_ou at present to sober work among your retorts and test-tubes?'
'Yes, it does.'
'Good. Then I can put faith in the result.'
'Yet the hope began in a lie,' rejoined Peak, bitterly. 'It will always b_leasant to look back upon that, won't it? You see: by no conceivable hones_ffort could I have gained this point. Life utterly denied to me th_atisfaction of my strongest instincts, so long as I plodded on without caus_f shame; the moment I denied my faith, and put on a visage of brass, grea_ossibilities opened before me. Of course I understand the moralist'_osition. It behoved me, though I knew that a barren and solitary track woul_e my only treading to the end, to keep courageously onward. If I can'_elieve that any such duty is imposed upon me, where is the obligation t_ersevere, the morality of doing so? That is the worst hypocrisy. I have bee_onest, inasmuch as I have acted in accordance with my actual belief.'
'M—m—m,' muttered Earwaker, slowly. 'Then you have never been troubled with _winge of conscience?'
'With a thousand! I have been racked, martyred. What has that to do with it?
Do you suppose I attach any final significance to those torments? Conscienc_s the same in my view as an inherited disease which may possibly break out o_ny most innocent physical indulgence.—What end have I been pursuing? Is i_riminal? Is it mean? I wanted to win the love of a woman—nothing more. To d_hat, I have had to behave like the grovelling villain who has no desire bu_o fill his pockets. And with success!—You understand that, Earwaker? I hav_ucceeded! What respect can I have for the common morality, after this?'
'You have succeeded?' the other asked, thoughtfully. 'I could have imagine_hat you had been in appearance successful'——
He paused, and Peak resumed with vehemence:
'No, not in appearance only. I can't tell you the story'——
'I don't wish you to'——
'But what I have won is won for ever. The triumph no longer rests on deceit.
What I insist upon is that by deceit only was it rendered possible. If _tarving man succeeds in stealing a loaf of bread, the food will benefit hi_o less than if he had purchased it; it is good, true sustenance, no matte_ow he got it. To be sure, the man may prefer starvation; he may have s_trong a metaphysical faith that death is welcome in comparison with what h_alls dishonour. I —I have no such faith; and millions of other men in thi_ountry would tell the blunt truth if they said the same. I have used means, that's all. The old way of candour led me to bitterness and cursing; b_issimulation I have won something more glorious than tongue can tell.'
It was in the endeavour to expel the subtlest enemy of his peace that Godwi_welt so defiantly upon this view of the temptation to which he had yielded.
Since his farewell interview with Sidwell, he knew no rest from the torment o_ mocking voice which bade him bear in mind that all his dishonour had bee_uperfluous, seeing that whilst he played the part of a zealous Christian, Sidwell herself was drifting further and further from the old religion. Thi_oice mingled with his dreams, and left not a waking hour untroubled. H_efused to believe it, strove against the suggestion as a half-despairing ma_oes against the persistent thought of suicide. If only he could obtai_arwaker's assent to the plan he put forward, it would support him i_isregard of idle regrets.
'It is impossible,' said the journalist, 'for anyone to determine whether tha_s true or not—for you, as much as for anyone else. Be glad that you hav_haken off the evil and retained the good, no use in saying more than that.'
'Yes,' declared the other, stubbornly, 'there is good in exposing false view_f life. I ought to have come utterly to grief and shame, and instead'——
'What I have told you.'
'Which I interpret thus: that you have permission to redeem your character, i_ossible, in the eyes of a woman you have grievously misled.'
'Who suggested this to you, Earwaker?'
'You; no one else. I don't even know who the woman is of whom you speak.'
'Grant you are right. As an honest man, I should never have won her faintes_nterest.'
'It is absurd for us to talk about it. Think in the way that is most helpfu_o you,—that, no doubt, is a reasonable rule. Let us have done with all thes_bscurities, and come to a practical question. Can I be of any use to you?
Would you care, for instance, to write an article now and then on som_cientific matter that has a popular interest? I think I could promise to ge_hat kind of thing printed for you. Or would you review an occasional boo_hat happened to be in your line?'
'Thank you,' he replied, at length. 'I should be glad of such work —if I ca_et into the mood for doing it properly. That won't be just yet; but perhap_hen I have found a place'——
'Think it over. Write to me about it.'
Peak glanced round the room.
'You don't know how glad I am,' he said, 'that your prosperity shows itself i_his region of bachelordom. If I had seen you in a comfortable house, marrie_o a woman worthy of you—I couldn't have been sincere in my congratulations: _hould have envied you so fiercely.'
'You're a strange fellow. Twenty years hence—as you said just now —you wil_ne way or another have got rid of your astounding illusions. At fifty—well, let us say at sixty—you will have a chance of seeing things without thes_reposterous sexual spectacles.'
'I hope so. Every stage of life has its powers and enjoyments. When I am old, I hope to perceive and judge without passion of any kind. But is that an_eason why my youth should be frustrated? We have only one life, and I want t_ive mine throughout.'
Soon after this Peak rose. He remembered that the journalist's time wa_aluable, and that he no longer had the right to demand more of it than coul_e granted to any casual caller. Earwaker behaved with all friendliness, bu_heir relations had necessarily suffered a change. More than a year o_eparation, spent by the one in accumulating memories of dishonour, had give_he other an enviable position among men; Earwaker had his place in the socia_ystem, his growing circle of friend, his congenial labour; perhaps— notwithstanding the tone in which he spoke of marriage—his hopes of domesti_appiness. All this with no sacrifice of principle. He was fortunate in hi_emper, moral and intellectual; partly directing circumstances, partly guide_y their pressure, he advanced on the way of harmonious development. Nothin_reat would come of his endeavours, but what he aimed at he steadil_erfected. And this in spite of the adverse conditions under which he bega_is course. Nature had been kind to him; what more could one say?
When he went forth into the street again, Godwin felt his heart sink. Hi_olitude was the more complete for this hour of friendly dialogue. No othe_ompanionship offered itself; if he lingered here, it must be as one of th_rifting crowd, as an idle and envious spectator of the business and pleasur_ife about him. He durst not approach that quarter of the town where Sidwel_as living —if indeed she still remained here. Happily, the vastness of Londo_nabled him to think of her as at a great distance; by keeping to the distric_n which he now wandered he was practically as remote from her as when h_alked the streets of Bristol.
Yet there was one person who would welcome him eagerly if he chose to visi_er. And, after all, might it not be as well if he heard what Marcella had t_ay to him? He could not go to the house, for it would be disagreeable t_ncounter Moxey; but, if he wrote, Marcella would speedily make a_ppointment. After an hour or two of purposeless rambling, he decided to as_or an interview. He might learn something that really concerned him; in an_ase, it was a final meeting with Marcella, to whom he perhaps owed this muc_ourtesy.
The reply was as prompt as that from Earwaker. By the morning post came _etter inviting him to call upon Miss Moxey as soon as possible before noon.
She added, 'My brother is away in the country; you will meet no one here.'
By eleven o'clock he was at Notting Hill; in the drawing-room, he sat alon_or two or three minutes. Marcella entered silently, and came towards hi_ithout a smile; he saw that she read his face eagerly, if not with a light o_riumph in her eyes. The expression might signify that she rejoiced at havin_een an instrument of his discomfiture; perhaps it was nothing more tha_ladness at seeing him again.
'Have you come to live in London?' she asked, when they had shaken hand_ithout a word.
'I am only here for a day or two.'
'My letter reached you without delay?'
'Yes. It was sent from Twybridge to Bristol. I didn't reply then, as I had n_rospect of being in London.'
'Will you sit down? You can stay for a few minutes?'
He seated himself awkwardly. Now that he was in Marcella's presence, he fel_hat he had acted unaccountably in giving occasion for another scene betwee_hem which could only end as painfully as that at Exeter. Her emotion gre_vident; he could not bear to meet the look she had fixed upon him.
'I want to speak of what happened in this house about Christmas time,' sh_esumed. 'But I must know first what you have been told.'
'What have you been told?' he replied, with an uneasy smile. 'How do you kno_hat anything which happened here had any importance for me?'
'I don't know that it had. But I felt sure that Mr. Warricombe meant to spea_o you about it.'
'Yes, he did.'
'But did he tell you the exact truth? Or were you led to suppose that I ha_roken my promise to you?'
Unwilling to introduce any mention of Sidwell, Peak preferred to simplify th_tory by attributing to Buckland all the information he had gathered.
'I understood,' he replied, 'that Warricombe had come here in the hope o_earning more about me, and that certain facts came out in genera_onversation. What does it matter how he learned what he did? From the da_hen he met you down in Devonshire, it was of course inevitable that the trut_hould sooner or later come out. He always suspected me.'
'But I want you to know,' said Marcella, 'that I had no willing part in it. _romised you not to speak even to my brother, and I should never have done s_ut that Christian somehow met Mr. Warricombe, and heard him talk of you. O_ourse he came to me in astonishment, and for your own interest I thought i_est to tell Christian what I knew. When Mr. Warricombe came here, neithe_hristian nor I would have enlightened him about—about your past. It happene_ost unfortunately that Mr. Malkin was present, and he it was who began t_peak of the Critical article—and other things. I was powerless to preven_t.'
'Why trouble about it? I quite believe your account.'
'You do believe it? You know I would not have injured you?'
'I am sure you had no wish to,' Godwin replied, in as unsentimental a tone a_ossible. And, he added after a moment's pause, 'Was this what you were s_nxious to tell me?'
'Yes. Chiefly that.'
'Let me put your mind at rest,' pursued the other, with quiet friendliness. '_m disposed to turn optimist; everything has happened just as it should hav_one. Warricombe relieved me from a false position. If he hadn't done so, _ust very soon have done it for myself. Let us rejoice that things wor_ogether for such obvious good. A few more lessons of this kind, and we shal_cknowledge that the world is the best possible.'
He laughed, but the tense expression of Marcella's features did not relax.
'You say you are living in Bristol?'
'For a time.'
'Have you abandoned Exeter?'
The word implied something that Marcella could not utter more plainly. He_ace completed the question.
'And the clerical career as well,' he answered.
But he knew that she sought more than this, and his voice again broke th_ilence.
'Perhaps you have heard that already? Are you in communication with Mis_oorhouse?'
She shook her head.
'But probably Warricombe has told your brother——?'
'Oh, of his success in ridding Exeter of my objectionable presence.'
'Christian hasn't seen him again, nor have I.'
'I only wish to assure you that I have suffered no injury. My experiment wa_oomed to failure. What led me to it, how I regarded it, we won't discuss; _m as little prepared to do so now as when we talked at Exeter. That chapte_n my life is happily over. As soon as I am established again in a place lik_hat I had at Rotherhithe, I shall be quite contented.'
'Contented?' She smiled incredulously. 'For how long?'
'Who can say? I have lost the habit of looking far forward.'
Marcella kept silence so long that he concluded she had nothing more to say t_im. It was an opportunity for taking leave without emotional stress, and h_ose from his chair.
'Don't go yet,' she said at once. 'It wasn't only this that I'——
Her voice was checked.
'Can I be of any use to you in Bristol?' Peak asked, determined to avoid th_rial he saw approaching.
'There is something more I wanted to say,' she pursued, seeming not to hea_im. 'You pretend to be contented, but I know that is impossible. You talk o_oing back to a dull routine of toil, when what you most desire is freedom. _ant—if I can—to help you.'
Again she failed to command her voice. Godwin raised his eyes, and wa_stonished at the transformation she had suddenly undergone. Her face, instea_f being colourless and darkly vehement, had changed to a bright warmth, _miling radiance such as would have become a happy girl. His look seemed t_ive her courage.
'Only hear me patiently. We are such old friends—are we not? We have so ofte_roclaimed our scorn of conventionality, and why should a conventional fea_inder what I want to say? You know— don't you?—that I have far more mone_han I need or am ever likely to. I want only a few hundreds a year, and _ave more than a thousand.' She spoke more and more quickly, fearful of bein_nterrupted. 'Why shouldn't I give you some of my superfluity? Let me help yo_n this way. Money can do so much. Take some from me, and use it as yo_ill—just as you will. It is useless to me. Why shouldn't someone whom I wis_ell benefit by it?'
Godwin was not so much surprised as disconcerted. He knew that Marcella'_ature was of large mould, and that whether she acted for good or evil it_romptings would be anything but commonplace. The ardour with which sh_leaded, and the magnitude of the benefaction she desired to bestow upon him, so affected his imagination that for the moment he stood as if doubting wha_eply to make. The doubt really in his mind was whether Marcella ha_alculated upon his weakness, and hoped to draw him within her power by th_orce of such an obligation, or if in truth she sought only to appease he_eart with the exercise of generosity.
'You will let me?' she panted forth, watching him with brilliant eyes. 'Thi_hall be a secret for ever between you and me. It imposes no debt o_ratitude—how I despise the thought! I give you what is worthless t_e,—except that it can do you good. But you can thank me if you will. I am no_bove being thanked.' She laughed unnaturally. 'Go and travel at first, as yo_ished to. Write me a short letter every month—every two months, just that _ay know you are enjoying your life. It is agreed, isn't it?'
She held her hand to him, but Peak drew away, his face averted.
'How can you give me the pain of refusing such an offer?' he exclaimed, wit_emonstrance which was all but anger. 'You know the thing is utterl_mpossible. I should be ridiculous if I argued about it for a moment.'
'I can't see that it is impossible.'
'Then you must take my word for it. But I have no right to speak to you i_hat way,' he added, more kindly, seeing the profound humiliation which fel_pon her. 'You meant to come to my aid at a time when I seemed to you lonel_nd miserable. It was a generous impulse, and I do indeed thank you. I shal_lways remember it and be grateful to you.'
Marcella's face was again in shadow. Its lineaments hardened to an expressio_f cold, stern dignity.
'I have made a mistake,' she said. 'I thought you above common ways o_hinking.'
'Yes, you put me on too high a pedestal,' Peak answered, trying to spea_umorously. 'One of my faults is that I am apt to mistake my own position i_he same way.'
'You think yourself ambitious. Oh, if you knew really great ambition! Go bac_o your laboratory, and work for wages. I would have saved you from that.'
The tone was not vehement, but the words bit all the deeper for thei_nimpassioned accent. Godwin could make no reply.
'I hope,' she continued, 'we may meet a few years hence. By that time you wil_ave learnt that what I offered was not impossible. You will wish you ha_ared to accept it. I know what your ambition is. Wait till you are old enoug_o see it in its true light. How you will scorn yourself! Surely there wa_ever a man who united such capacity for great things with so mean an ideal.
You will never win even the paltry satisfaction on which you have set you_ind—never! But you can't be made to understand that. You will throw away al_he best part of your life. Meet me in a few years, and tell me the story o_he interval.'
'I will engage to do that, Marcella.'
'You will? But not to tell me the truth. You will not dare to tell the truth.'
'Why not?' he asked, indifferently. 'Decidedly I shall owe it you in retur_or your frankness to-day. Till then—good-bye.'
She did not refuse her hand, and as he moved away she watched him with a smil_f slighting good-nature.
On the morrow Godwin was back in Bristol, and there he dwelt for another si_onths, a period of mental and physical lassitude. Earwaker corresponded wit_im, and urged him to attempt the work that had been proposed, but such effor_as beyond his power.
He saw one day in a literary paper an announcement that Reusch's Bibel un_atur was about to be published in an English translation. So someone else ha_uccessfully finished the work he undertook nearly two years ago. He amuse_imself with the thought that he could ever have persevered so long in suc_rofitless labour, and with a contemptuous laugh he muttered 'Thohu wabohu.'
Just when the winter had set in, he received an offer of a post in chemica_orks at St. Helen's, and without delay travelled northwards. The appointmen_as a poor one, and seemed unlikely to be a step to anything better, but hi_esources would not last more than another half year, and employment o_hatever kind came as welcome relief to the tedium of his existence.
Established in his new abode, he at length wrote to Sidwell. She answered hi_t once in a short letter which he might have shown to anyone, so calm wer_ts expressions of interest, so uncompromising its words of congratulation. I_egan 'Dear Mr. Peak', and ended with 'Yours sincerely'. Well, he had used th_ame formalities, and had uttered his feelings with scarcely more of warmth.
Disappointment troubled him for a moment, and for a moment only. He was so fa_rom Exeter, and further still from the life that he had led there. It seeme_o him all but certain that Sidwell wrote coldly, with the intention o_iscouraging his hopes. What hope was he so foolish as to entertain? Hi_osition poorer than ever, what could justify him in writing love-letters to _irl who, even if willing to marry him, must not do so until he had a suitabl_ome to offer her?
Since his maturity, he had never known so long a freedom from passion. One da_e wrote to Earwaker: 'I begin to your independence with regard to women. I_ould be a strange thing if I became a convert to that way of thinking, bu_nce or twice of late I have imagined that it was happening. My mind has al_ut recovered its tone, and I am able to read, to think—I mean really t_hink, not to muse. I get through big and solid books. Presently, if you_ffer still hold good, I shall send you a scrap of writing on something o_ther. The pestilent atmosphere of this place seems to invigorate me. Las_aturday evening I took train, got away into the hills, and spent the Sunda_eologising. And a curious experience befell me,—one I had long, long ago, i_he Whitelaw days. Sitting down before some interesting strata, I lost mysel_n something like nirvana, grew so subject to the idea of vastness i_eological time that all human desires and purposes shrivelled to ridiculou_nimportance. Awaking for a minute, I tried to realise the passion which no_ong ago rent and racked me, but I was flatly incapable of understanding it.
Will this philosophic state endure? Perhaps I have used up all my emotiona_nergy? I hardly know whether to hope or fear it.'
About midsummer, when his short holiday (he would only be released for _ortnight) drew near, he was surprised by another letter from Sidwell.
'I am anxious [she wrote] to hear that you are well. It is more than half _ear since your last letter, and of late I have been constantly expecting _ew lines. The spring has been a time of trouble with us. A distant relative, an old and feeble lady who has passed her life in a little Dorsetshir_illage, came to see us in April, and in less than a fortnight she was seize_ith illness and died. Then Fanny had an attack of bronchitis, from which eve_ow she is not altogether recovered. On her account we are all going to Royat, and I think we shall be away until the end of September. Will you let me hea_rom you before I leave England, which will be in a week's time? Don't refrai_rom writing because you think you have no news to send. Anything tha_nterests you is of interest to me. If it is only to tell me what you hav_een reading, I shall be glad of a letter.'
It was still 'Yours sincerely'; but Godwin felt that the letter meant more. I_e-reading it he was pleasantly thrilled with a stirring of the old emotions.
But his first impulse, to write an ardent reply, did not carry him away; h_eflected and took counsel of the experience gained in his studious solitude.
It was evident that by keeping silence he had caused Sidwell to throw of_omething of her reserve. The course dictated by prudence was to maintain a_ttitude of dignity, to hold himself in check. In this way he would regai_hat he had so disastrously lost, Sidwell's respect. There was a distinc_leasure in this exercise of self-command; it was something new to him; i_lattered his pride. 'Let her learn that, after all, I am her superior. Le_er fear to lose me. Then, if her love is still to be depended upon, she wil_efore long find a way to our union. It is in her power, if only she will_t.'
So he sat down and wrote a short letter which seemed to him a model o_ignified expression.