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Chapter 4

  • Immediately upon his uncle's departure, Godwin disappeared; Mrs. Peak caugh_nly a glimpse of him as he went by the parlour window. In a short time Olive_ame home, and, having learned what had happened, joined his mother and siste_n a dull, intermittent conversation on the subject of Godwin's futur_ifficulties.
  • 'He won't go back to Whitelaw,' declared the lad. 'He said he wouldn't.'
  • 'People must be above such false shame,' was Charlotte's opinion. 'I can't se_hat it will make the slightest difference in his position or his prospects.'
  • Whereupon her mother's patience gave way.
  • 'Don't talk such nonsense, Charlotte! You understand perfectly well ho_erious it will be. I never knew anything so cruel.'
  • 'I was never taught,' persisted the girl, with calm obstinacy, 'that one ough_o be ashamed of one's relatives just because they are in a humble position.'
  • Oliver brought the tedious discussion to an end by clamouring for supper. Th_able was laid, and all were about to sit down when Godwin presented himself.
  • To the general astonishment, he seemed in excellent spirits, and ate mor_eartily than usual. Not a word was spoken of Uncle Andrew, until Mrs. Pea_nd her elder son were left alone together; then Godwin remarked in a tone o_atisfied decision:
  • 'Of course, this is the end of my work at Whitelaw. We must make new plans, mother.'
  • 'But how can we, dear? What will Lady Whitelaw say?'
  • 'I have to think it out yet. In a day or two I shall very likely write _etter to Lady Whitelaw. There's no need, you know, to go talking about thi_n Twybridge. Just leave it to me, will you?'
  • 'It's not a subject I care to talk about, you may be sure. But I do hope yo_on't do anything rash, Godwin.'
  • 'Not I. To tell you the truth, I'm not at all sorry to leave. It was a mistak_hat I went in for the Arts course—Greek, and Latin, and so on, you know; _ught to have stuck to science. I shall go back to it now. Don't be afraid.
  • I'll make a position for myself before long. I'll repay all you have spent o_e.'
  • To this conclusion had he come. The process of mind was favoured by his defea_n all the Arts subjects; in that direction he could see only the triumphan_hilvers, a figure which disgusted him with Greeks, Romans, and all the way_f literature. As to his future efforts he was by no means clear, but it ease_im greatly to have cast off a burden of doubt; his theorising intellect love_he sensation of life thrown open to new, however vague, possibilities. A_resent he was convinced that Andrew Peak had done him a service. In thi_here was an indication of moral cowardice, such as commonly connects itsel_ith intense pride of individuality. He desired to shirk the combat wit_hilvers, and welcomed as an excuse for doing so the shame which anothe_emper would have stubbornly defied.
  • Now he would abandon his B.A. examination,—a clear saving of money. Presentl_t might suit him to take the B.Sc. instead; time enough to think of that. Ha_e but pursued the Science course from the first, who at Whitelaw could hav_ome out ahead of him? He had wasted a couple of years which might have bee_ost profitably applied: by this time he might have been ready to obtain _osition as demonstrator in some laboratory, on his way perhaps to _rofessorship. How had he thus been led astray? Not only had his boyis_nstincts moved strongly towards science, but was not the tendency of the ag_n the same direction? Buckland Warricombe, who habitually declaimed agains_lassical study, was perfectly right; the world had learned all it could fro_hose hoary teachers, and must now turn to Nature. On every hand, the futur_as with students of the laws of matter. Often, it was true, he had bee_empted by the thought of a literary career; he had written in verse an_rose, but with small success. An attempt to compose the Prize Poem was soo_bandoned in discouragement; the essay he sent in had not been mentioned.
  • These honours had fallen to Earwaker, with whom it was not easy to compete o_uch ground. No, he was not born a man of letters. But in science, grante_air opportunity, he might make a name. He might, and he would!
  • On the morrow, splendour of sunshine drew him forth to some distance from th_own. He went along the lanes singing; now it was holiday with him, and fo_he first time he could enjoy the broad golden daylight, the genial warmth. I_ hollow of grassy fields, where he least expected to encounter a_cquaintance, it was his chance to come upon Christian Moxey, stretched a_ull length in the company of nibbling sheep. Since the dinner at Mr. Moxey's, he had neither seen nor heard of Christian, who, it seemed probable, was bac_t his work in Rotherhithe. As their looks met, both laughed.
  • 'I won't get up,' said Christian; 'the effort would be too great. Sit down an_et us have a talk.'
  • 'I disturb your thoughts,' answered Godwin.
  • 'A most welcome disturbance; they weren't very pleasant just then. In fact, _ave come as far as this in the hope of escaping them. I'm not much of _alker, are you?'
  • 'Well, yes, I enjoy a good walk.'
  • 'You are of an energetic type,' said Christian, musingly. 'You will d_omething in life. When do you go up for Honours?'
  • 'I have decided not to go in at all.'
  • 'Indeed; I'm sorry to hear that.'
  • 'I have half made up my mind not to return to Whitelaw.'
  • Observing his hearer's look of surprise, Godwin asked himself whether i_ignified a knowledge of his footing at Whitelaw. The possibility of thi_alled him; but it was such a great step to have declared, as it were i_ublic, an intention of freeing himself, that he was able to talk on wit_omething of aggressive confidence.
  • 'I think I shall go in for some practical work of a scientific kind. It was _istake for me to pursue the Arts course.'
  • Christian looked at him earnestly.
  • 'Are you sure of that?'
  • 'Yes, I feel sure of it.'
  • There was silence. Christian beat the ground with his stick.
  • 'Your state of mind, then,' he said at length, 'is more like my own than _magined. I, too, have wavered for a long time between literature and science, and now at last I have quite decided— quite—that scientific study is the onl_afe line for me. The fact is, a man must concentrate himself. Not only fo_he sake of practical success, but—well, for his own sake.'
  • He spoke lazily, dreamily, propped upon his elbow, seeming to watch the shee_hich panted at a few yards from him.
  • 'I have no right,' he pursued, with a shadow of kindly anxiety on hi_eatures, 'to offer you advice, but—well, if you will let me insist on what _ave learned from my own experience. There's nothing like having a specia_ine of work and sticking to it vigorously. I, unfortunately, shall never d_nything of any account,—but I know so well the conflict between divergin_astes. It has played the deuce with me, in all sorts of ways. At Zurich _tterly wasted my time, and I've done no better since I came back to England.
  • Don't think me presumptuous. I only mean— well, it is so important to—to g_head in one line.'
  • His air of laughing apology was very pleasant. Godwin felt his heart open t_he kind fellow.
  • 'No one needs the advice more than I,' he replied. 'I am going back to th_ine I took naturally when I first began to study at all.'
  • 'But why leave Whitelaw?' asked Christian, gently.
  • 'Because I dislike it—I can't tell you why.'
  • With ready tact Moxey led away from a subject which he saw was painful.
  • 'Of course there are many other places where one can study just as well.'
  • 'Do you know anything of the School of Mines in London?' Godwin inquired, abruptly.
  • 'I worked there myself for a short time.'
  • 'Then you could tell me about the—the fees, and soon?'
  • Christian readily gave the desired information, and the listener mused ove_t.
  • 'Have you any friends in London?' Moxey asked, at length.
  • 'No. But I don't think that matters. I shall work all the harder.' 'Perhap_o,' said the other, with some hesitation. And he added thoughtfully, 'I_epends on one's temperament. Doesn't answer to be too much alone—I speak fo_yself at all events. I know very few people in London—very few that I car_nything about. That, in fact, is one reason why I am staying here longer tha_ intended.' He seemed to speak rather to himself than to Godwin; the half- smile on his lips expressed a wish to disclose circumstances and motives whic_ere yet hardly a suitable topic in a dialogue such as this. 'I like th_tmosphere of a—of a comfortable home. No doubt I should get on better—wit_hings in general—if I had a home of my own. I live in lodgings, you know; m_ister lives with friends. Of course one has a sense of freedom, but then'—
  • His voice murmured off into silence, and again he beat the ground with hi_ane. Godwin was strongly interested in this broken revelation; he found i_ifficult to understand Moxey's yearning for domesticity, all his own impulse_eading towards quite a contrary ideal. To him, life in London lodgings mad_ich promise; that indeed would be freedom, and full of all manner of hig_ossibilities!
  • Each communed with his thoughts. Happening to glance at Christian, Godwin wa_truck with the graceful attitude in which the young man reclined; he himsel_quatted awkwardly on the grass, unable to abandon himself in natural repose, even as he found it impossible to talk with the ease of unconsciousness. Th_ontrast, too, between his garments, his boots, and those of the Londoner wa_ainful enough to him. Without being a dandy, Christian, it was evident, gav_ good deal of thought to costume. That kind of thing had always excite_odwin's contempt, but now he confessed himself envious; doubtless, to be wel_ressed was a great step towards the finished ease of what is called _entlemanly demeanour, which he knew he was very far from having attained.
  • 'Well,' exclaimed Christian, unexpectedly, 'if I can be of ever so little us_o you, pray let me. I must get back to town in a few days, but you know m_ddress. Write to me, I beg, if you wish for any more information.'
  • The talk turned to less difficult topics. Godwin made inquiries about Zurich, then about Switzerland in general.
  • 'Did you see much of the Alps?'
  • 'Not as a climber sees them. That sort of thing isn't in my way; I haven't th_nergy—more's the pity. Would you like to see a lot of good photographs _rought back? I have them here; brought them to show the girls.'
  • In spite of the five Miss Moxeys and Christian's sister, Peak accepted th_nvitation to walk back with his companion, and presently they began to strol_owards Twybridge.
  • 'I have an absurd tendency to dream—to lose myself amid ideals— I don't quit_now how to express it,' Christian resumed, when both had been silent for som_inutes. 'That's why I mean to go in earnestly for science—as a corrective.
  • Fortunately, I have to work for my living; otherwise, I should moon my lif_way—no doubt. My sister has ten times as much energy—she knows much more tha_ do already. What a splendid thing it is to be of an independent character! _ad rather be a self-reliant coal-heaver than a millionaire of uncertain will.
  • My uncle—there's a man who knows his own mind. I respect those stron_ractical natures. Don't be misled by ideals. Make the most of you_ircumstances. Don't aim at—but I beg your pardon; I don't know what right _ave to lecture you in this way.' And he broke off with his pleasant, kind- hearted laugh, colouring a little.
  • They reached Mr. Moxey's house. In a garden chair on the lawn sat Miss Janet, occupied with a book. She rose to meet them, shook hands with Godwin, and sai_o her cousin:
  • 'The postman has just left a letter for you—forwarded from London.'
  • 'Indeed? I'm going to show Mr. Peak my Swiss photographs. You wouldn't care t_ome and help me in the toil of turning them over?'
  • 'O lazy man!'
  • Her laugh was joyous. Any one less prejudiced than Peak would have recognise_he beauty which transformed her homely features as she met Christian's look.
  • On the hall table lay the letter of which Janet had spoken. Christian took i_p, and Godwin, happening at that moment to observe him, caught the tremor o_ sudden emotion on lip and eyelid. Instantly, prompted by he knew not wha_erception, he turned his gaze to Janet, and in time to see that she also wa_ware of her cousin's strong interest in the letter, which was at once pu_way in Christian's pocket.
  • They passed into the sitting-room, where a large portfolio stood against th_ack of a chair. The half-hour which ensued was to Godwin a time o_neasiness. His pleasure in the photographs suffered disturbance from a subtl_tress on his nerves, due to something indeterminable in the situation, o_hich he formed a part. Janet's merry humour seemed to be subdued. Christia_as obviously forcing himself to entertain the guest whilst his thoughts wer_lsewhere. As soon as possible, Godwin rose to depart. He was just sayin_ood-bye to Janet, when Marcella entered the room. She stood still, an_hristian said, hurriedly:
  • 'It's possible, Marcella, that Mr. Peak will be coming to London before long.
  • We may have the pleasure of seeing him there.'
  • 'You will be glad, I'm sure,' answered his sister. Then, as if forcing hersel_o address Peak directly, she faced to him and added, 'It isn't easy to fin_ympathetic companions.'
  • 'I, at all events, haven't found very many,' Godwin replied, meaning to spea_n a tone only half-serious, but conscious at once that he had made what migh_eem an appeal for sympathy. Thereupon his pride revolted, and in a momen_rove him from the room.
  • Christian followed, and at the front door shook hands with him. Nervou_mpatience was unmistakable in the young man's look and words. Again Godwi_peculated on the meaning of this, and wondered, in connection therewith, wha_ere the characteristics which Marcella Moxey looked for in a 'sympatheti_ompanion'.