Sidwell had fallen into conversation with Mr. Moorhouse. Miss Moorhouse, Mrs.
Warricombe, and Louis were grouped in animated talk. Observing that Fann_hrew glances towards him from a lonely corner, Peak went over to her, and wa_leased with the smile he met. Fanny had watched eyes, much brighter tha_idwell's; her youthful vivacity blended with an odd little fashion o_choolgirl pedantry in a very piquant way. Godwin's attempts at conversatio_ith her were rather awkward; he found it difficult to strike the suitabl_ote, something not too formal yet not deficient in respect.
'Do you think,' he asked presently, 'that I should disturb your father if _ent to him?'
'Oh, not at all! I often go and sit in the study at this time.'
'Will you show me the way?'
Fanny at once rose, and together they crossed the hall, passed through a sor_f anteroom connecting with a fernery, and came to the study door. A tap wa_nswered by cheerful summons, and Fanny looked in.
'Well, my ladybird? Ah, you are bringing Mr. Peak; come in, come in!'
It was a large and beautiful room, its wide windows, in a cushioned recess, looking upon the lawn where the yew tree cast solemn shade. One wall presente_n unbroken array of volumes, their livery sober but handsome; detache_ookcases occupied other portions of the irregular perimeter. Cabinets, close_nd open, were arranged with due regard to convenience. Above the mantelpiec_ung a few small photographs, but the wall-space at disposal was chiefl_ccupied with objects which illustrated Mr. Warricombe's scientific tastes. O_ stand in the light of the window gleamed two elaborate microscopes, provocative of enthusiasm in a mind such as Godwin's.
In a few minutes, Fanny silently retired. Her father, by no means forward t_peak of himself and his pursuits, was led in that direction by Peak'_xpressions of interest, and the two were soon busied with matters which had _harm for both. A collection of elvans formed the starting-point, and whe_hey had entered upon the wide field of palaeontology it was natural for Mr.
Warricombe to invite his guest's attention to the species of homalonotus whic_e had had the happiness of identifying some ten years ago—a discovery no_ecognised and chronicled. Though his sympathy was genuine enough, Godwi_truggled against an uneasy sense of manifesting excessive appreciation. Neve_blivious of himself, he could not utter the simplest phrase of admiratio_ithout criticising its justice, its tone. And at present it behoved him t_ear in mind that he was conversing with no half-bred sciolist. Mr Warricomb_bviously had his share of human weakness, but he was at once a gentleman an_ student of well-stored mind; insincerity must be very careful if it woul_ot jar upon his refined ear. So Godwin often checked himself in the utteranc_f what might sound too much like flattery. A young man talking with one muc_lder, a poor man in dialogue with a wealthy, must under any circumstance_uard his speech; for one of Godwin's aggressive idiosyncrasy the task o_iscretion had peculiar difficulties, and the attitude he had assumed a_uncheon still further complicated the operations of his mind. Only at moment_ould he speak in his true voice, and silence meant for the most part _tudious repression of much he would naturally have uttered.
Resurgent envy gave him no little trouble. On entering the room, he could no_ut exclaim to himself, 'How easy for a man to do notable work amid suc_urroundings! If I were but thus equipped for investigation!' And as often a_is eyes left a particular object to make a general survey, the same though_urned in him. He feared lest it should be legible on his countenance.
Taking a pamphlet from the table, Mr. Warricombe, with a humorous twinkle i_is eyes, inquired whether Peak read German; the answer being affirmative:
'Naturally,' he rejoined, 'you could hardly have neglected so important _anguage. I, unfortunately, didn't learn it in my youth, and I have never ha_erseverance enough to struggle with it since. Something led me to take dow_his brochure the other day—an old attempt of mine to write about th_eathering of rocks. It was printed in '76, and no sooner had it seen th_ight than friends of mine wanted to know what I meant by appropriating, without acknowledgement, certain facts quite recently pointed out by Professo_faff of Erlangen! Unhappily, Professor Pfaff's results were quite unknown t_e, and I had to get them translated. The coincidences, sure enough, were ver_oticeable. Just before you came in, I was reviving that old discomfiture.'
Peak, in glancing over the pages, murmured with a smile:
'Pereant qui ante nos nostra dixerunt!'
'Even so!' exclaimed Mr. Warricombe, laughing with a subdued heartiness whic_as one of his pleasant characteristics. And, after a pause, he inquired, 'D_ou find any time to keep up your classics?'
'By fits and starts. Sometimes I return to them for a month or two.'
'Why, it's pretty much the same with me. Here on my table, for instance, lie_acitus. I found it mentioned not long ago that the first sentence of th_nnals is a hexameter—did you know it?— and when I had once got hold of th_ook I thought it a shabby thing to return it to the dust of its shelf withou_eading at least a few pages. So I have gone on from day to day, with n_ittle enjoyment. Buckland, as you probably know, regards these old fellow_ith scorn.'
'We always differed about that.'
'I can't quite decide whether he is still sincere in all he says about them.
Time, I suspect, is mellowing his judgment.'
They moved to the shelves where Greek and Latin books stood in serried order, and only the warning dinner-bell put an end to their sympathetic discussion o_he place such authors should hold in modern educational systems.
'Have they shown you your room?' Mr. Warricombe asked.
But, as he spoke, the face of his eldest son appeared at the door.
'Your traps have safely arrived, Peak.'
The bedroom to which Godwin was conducted had a delicious fragrance, of sourc_ndeterminable. When he had closed the door, he stood for a few moment_ooking about him; it was his first experience of the upper chambers of house_uch as this. Merely to step upon the carpet fluttered his senses: merely t_reathe the air was a purification. Luxury of the rational kind, dictated b_egard for health of body and soul, appeared in every detail. On the wall_ere water-colours, scenery of Devon and Cornwall; a hanging book-case hel_bout a score of volumes poets, essayists, novelists. Elsewhere, not to_rominent, lay a Bible and a Prayer-book.
He dressed, as never before, with leisurely enjoyment of the process. When th_irror declared him ready, his eyes returned frequently to an inspection o_he figure he presented, and it seemed to him that he was not unworthy to tak_is place at the dinner-table. As for his visage, might he not console himsel_ith the assurance that it was of no common stamp? 'If I met that man in _oom, I should be curious about him; I should see at once that he didn'_elong to the vulgar; I should desire to hear him speak.' And the Warricombe_ere not lacking in discernment. He would compare more than favourably wit_r. Moorhouse, whose aspect, bright and agreeable enough, made no promise o_riginality.—It must be time to go down. He left the room with an air of grav_elf-confidence.
At dinner he was careful to attempt no repetition of the display which ha_one very well at luncheon; it must not be thought that he had the habit o_alking for effect. Mrs. Warricombe, unless he mistook, had begun to view hi_ore favourably; her remarks made less distinction between him and the othe_uests. But he could not like his hostess; he thought her unworthy to be th_other of Sidwell and Fanny, of Buckland and Louis; there was a marked strai_f the commonplace in her. The girls, costumed for the evening, affected hi_ith a return of the awe he had all but overcome. Sidwell was exquisite i_ark colours, her sister in white. Miss Moorhouse (addressed by her friends as
'Sylvia') looked older than in the day-time, and had lost something of he_nimation; possibly the country routine had begun to weary her a little.
Peak was at a vast distance from the hour which saw him alight at Exeter an_egin his ramble about the city. He no longer felt himself alone in the world; impossible to revive the mood in which he deliberately planned to consume hi_conomies in a year or two of desert wandering; far other were th_nticipations which warmed his mind when the after-dinner repose attuned hi_o unwonted hopefulness. This family were henceforth his friends, and i_epended only upon himself to make the connection lasting, with all manner o_enefits easily imagined. Established in the country, the Warricombes stood t_im in quite a different relation from any that could have arisen had he me_ith them in London. There he would have been nothing more than a casua_inner-guest, welcomed for the hour and all but forgotten when he had sai_ood-night. For years he had understood that London offered him no prospect o_ocial advancement. But a night passed under this roof practically raised hi_o a level whence he surveyed a rich field of possible conquest. With th_enial geologist he felt himself on excellent terms, and much of this wa_scribable to a singular chance which had masked his real being, an_epresented him, with scarce an effort of his own, in a light peculiarl_ttractive to Mr. Warricombe. He was now playing the conscious hypocrite; no_ pleasant thing to face and accept, but the fault was not his—fate ha_rought it about. At all events, he aimed at no vulgar profit; his one desir_as for human fellowship; he sought nothing but that solace which every cod_f morals has deemed legitimate. Let the society which compelled to such a_xpedient bear the burden of its shame.
That must indeed have been a circle of great intellects amid which Godwin Pea_elt himself subordinate. He had never known that impression, and in th_arricombe family was no one whom he could regard even as his equal. Buckland, doubtless, had some knowledge of the world, and could boast of a free mind; but he lacked subtlety: a psychological problem would easily puzzle him. Mr.
Warricombe's attainments were respectable, but what could be said of a man wh_ad devoted his life to geology, and still (in the year 1884) remained a_rthodox member of the Church of England? Godwin, as he sat in the drawing- room and enjoyed its atmosphere of refinement, sincerely held himself of fa_ore account as an intellectual being than all the persons about him.
But if his brain must dwell in solitude his heart might compass worth_lliances—the thing most needful to humanity. One may find the associates o_is intellect in libraries—the friend of one's emotions must walk in flesh an_lood. Earwaker, Moxey—these were in many respects admirable fellows, and h_ad no little love for them, but the world they represented was womanless, an_o of flagrant imperfection. Of Marcella Moxey he could not think emotionally; indeed she emphasised by her personality the lack which caused his suffering.
Sidwell Warricombe suggested, more completely than any woman he had ye_bserved, that companionship without which life must to the end taste bitter.
His interest in her was not strictly personal; she moved and spoke before hi_s a typical woman, not as the daughter of Martin Warricombe and the sister o_uckland. Here at last opened to his view that sphere of female society whic_e had known as remotely existing, the desperate aim of ambition.
Conventional women—but was not the phrase tautological? In the few females wh_ave liberated their souls, was not much of the woman inevitably sacrificed, and would it not be so for long years to come? On the other hand, such a on_s Sidwell might be held a perfect creature, perfect in relation to a certai_tage of human development. Look at her, as she sat conversing with Moorhouse, soft candle-light upon her face; compare her on the one hand with an averag_mancipated girl, on the other with a daughter of the people. How unsatisfyin_as the former; the latter, how repulsive! Here one had the exquisite mean, the lady as England has perfected her towards the close of this nineteent_entury. A being of marvellous delicacy, of purest instincts, of unsurpassabl_weetness. Who could not detail her limitations, obvious and, in certai_oods, irritating enough? These were nothing to the point, unless one woul_oam the world a hungry idealist; and Godwin was weary of the famine_ilgrimage.
The murmur of amiable voices softened him to the reception of all that wa_ood in his present surroundings, and justified in the light of sentiment hi_wn dishonour. This English home, was it not surely the best result o_ivilisation in an age devoted to material progress? Here was peace, here wa_cope for the kindliest emotions. Upon him—the born rebel, the scorner o_verage mankind, the consummate egoist—this atmosphere exercised an influenc_ore tranquillising, more beneficent, than even the mood of disintereste_tudy. In the world to which sincerity would condemn him, only the wors_lements of his character found nourishment and range; here he was humanised, made receptive of all gentle sympathies. Heroism might point him to a_nending struggle with adverse conditions, but how was heroism possibl_ithout faith? Absolute faith he had none; he was essentially a negativist, guided by the mere relations of phenomena. Nothing easier than to contemn th_ode of life represented by this wealthy middle class; but compare it wit_ther existences conceivable by a thinking man, and it was emphatically good.
It aimed at placidity, at benevolence, at supreme cleanliness, —things whic_ore than compensated for the absence of higher spirituality. We can be bu_hat we are; these people accepted themselves, and in so doing becam_stimable mortals. No imbecile pretensions exposed them to the rebuke of _ocial satirist; no vulgarity tainted their familiar intercourse. Thei_llegiance to a worn-out creed was felt as an added grace; thus only coul_heir souls aspire, and the imperfect poetry of their natures be developed.
He took an opportunity of seating himself by Mrs. Warricombe, with whom as ye_e had held no continuous dialogue.
'Has there been anything of interest at the London theatres lately?' sh_sked.
'I know so little of them,' Godwin replied, truthfully. 'It must be severa_ears since I saw a play.'
'Then in that respect you have hardly become a Londoner.'
'Nor in any other, I believe,' said Peak, with a smile. 'I have lived ther_en years, but am far from regarding London as my home. I hope a few month_ore will release me from it altogether.'
'Indeed!—Perhaps you think of leaving England?'
'I should be very sorry to do that—for any length of time. My wish is t_ettle somewhere in the country, and spend a year or two in quiet study.'
Mrs. Warricombe looked amiable surprise, but corrected herself to approvin_nterest.
'I have heard some of our friends say that their minds get unstrung, if the_re long away from town, but I should have thought that country quietnes_ould be much better than London noise. My husband certainly finds it so.'
'People are very differently constituted,' said Godwin. 'And then it depend_uch on the nature of one's work.'
Uttering these commonplaces with an air of reflection, he observed that the_id not cost him the self-contempt which was wont to be his penalty fo_oncession to the terms of polite gossip; rather, his mind accepted wit_ratitude this rare repose. He tasted something of the tranquil self-conten_hich makes life so enjoyable when one has never seen a necessity for shapin_riginal remarks. No one in this room would despise him for a platitude, wer_t but recommended with a pleasant smile. With the Moxeys, with Earwaker, h_urst not thus have spoken.
When the hour of separation was at hand, Buckland invited his guest to retir_ith him to a part of the house where they could smoke and chat comfortably.
'Moorhouse and Louis are fagged after their twenty mile stretch this morning; I have caught both of them nodding during the last few minutes. We can sen_hem to bed without apology.'
He led the way upstairs to a region of lumber-rooms, whence a narrow flight o_teps brought them into a glass-house, octangular and with pointed tops, ou_pon the roof. This, he explained, had been built some twenty years ago, at _ime when Mr. Warricombe amused himself with photography. A few indications o_ts original purposes were still noticeable; an easel and a box of oil-colour_howed that someone—doubtless of the younger generation—had used it as _ainting-room; a settee and deep cane chairs made it an inviting lounge on _arm evening like the present, when, by throwing open a hinged wall, on_ooked forth into the deep sky and tasted the air from the sea.
'Sidwell used to paint a little,' said Buckland, as his companion bent t_xamine a small canvas on which a landscape was roughed in. It lay on a sid_able, and was half concealed by an ordnance map, left unfolded. 'For the las_ear or two I think she has given it up. I'm afraid we are not strong i_atters of art. Neither of the girls can play very well, though of course the_oth tinkle for their own amusement. Maurice—the poor lad who was killed—gav_ good deal of artistic promise; father keeps some little water-colours o_is, which men in that line have praised—perhaps sincerely.'
'I remember you used to speak slightingly of art,' said Godwin, as he took a_ffered cigar.
'Did I? And of a good many other things, I daresay. It was my habit at on_ime, I believe, to grow heated in scorn of Euclid's definitions. What a_nteresting book Euclid is! Half a year ago, I was led by a talk wit_oorhouse to go through some of the old "props", and you can't imagine ho_hey delighted me. Moorhouse was so obliging as to tell me that I had a_minently deductive mind.'
He laughed, but not without betraying some pleasure in the remark.
'Surprising,' he went on, 'how very little such a mind as Moorhouse's suggest_tself in common conversation. He is really profound in mathematics, a man o_riginal powers, but I never heard him make a remark of the slightest value o_ny other subject. Now his sister—she has studied nothing in particular, ye_he can't express an opinion that doesn't bear the stamp of originality.'
Godwin was contented to muse, his eyes fixed on a brilliant star in th_estern heaven.
'There's only one inconsistency in her that annoys and puzzles me,' Bucklan_ursued, speaking with the cigar in his mouth. 'In religion, she seems to b_rthodox. True, we have never spoken on the subject, but—well, she goes t_hurch, and carries prayer-books. I don't know how to explain it. Hypocrisy i_he last thing one could suspect her of. I'm sure she hates it in every form.
And such a clear brain!—I can't understand it.'
The listener was still star-gazing. He had allowed his cigar, after the firs_ew puffs, to smoulder untasted; his lips were drawn into an expression ver_nlike the laxity appropriate to pleasurable smoking. When the murmur of th_ines had for a moment been audible, he said, with a forced smile:
'I notice you take for granted that a clear brain and religious orthodoxy ar_ncompatible.'
The other gave him a keen look.
'Hardly,' was Buckland's reply, spoken with less ingenuousness of tone tha_sual. 'I say that Miss Moorhouse has undeniably a strong mind, and that it i_mpossible to suspect her of the slightest hypocrisy.'
'Whence the puzzle that keeps you occupied,' rejoined Peak, in a voice tha_ounded like assumption of superiority, though the accent had an agreeabl_oftness.
Warricombe moved as if impatiently, struck a match to rekindle his weed, ble_umultuous clouds, and finally put a blunt question:
'What do you think about it yourself?'
'From my point of view, there is no puzzle at all,' Godwin replied, in a ver_lear voice, smiling as he met the other's look.
'How am I to understand that?' asked Buckland, good-naturedly, though with _nitting of his brows.
'Not as a doubt of Miss Moorhouse's sincerity. I can't see that a belief i_he Christian religion is excluded by any degree of intellectual clearness.'
'No—your views have changed, Peak?'
'On many subjects, this among them.'
The words fell as if involuntarily from Warricombe's lips. He gazed at th_loor awhile, then, suddenly looking up, exclaimed:
'It would be civil to accept this without surprise, but it is too much for me.
How has it come about?'
'That would take me a long time to explain.'
'Then,' pursued his companion, watching him closely, 'you were quite i_ympathy with that exposition you gave at lunch today?'
'Quite. I hope there was nothing in my way of speaking that made you thin_therwise?'
'Nothing at all. I couldn't help wondering what it meant. You seemed perfectl_n earnest, yet such talk had the oddest sound on your lips—to me, I mean. O_ourse I thought of you as I used to know you.'
'Naturally.' Peak was now in an attitude of repose, his legs crossed, thum_nd forefinger stroking his chin. 'I couldn't very well turn aside to commen_n my own mental history.'
Here again was the note of something like genial condescension. Bucklan_eemed sensible of it, and slightly raised his eyebrows.
'I am to understand that you have become strictly orthodox in matters o_eligious faith?'
'The proof is,' replied Godwin, 'that I hope before long to take Orders.'
Again there was silence, and again the sea-breath made its whispering in th_ines. Warricombe, with a sudden gesture, pointed towards the sky.
'A shooting star—one of the brightest I ever saw!'
'I missed it,' said Peak, just glancing in that direction.
The interruption enabled Buckland to move his chair; in this new position h_as somewhat further from Peak, and had a better view of his face.
'I should never have imagined you a clergyman,' he said, thoughtfully, 'but _an see that your mind has been developing powers in that direction.—Well, s_e it! I can only hope you have found your true work in life.'
'But you doubt it?'
'I can't say that I doubt it, as I can't understand you. To be sure, we hav_een parted for many years. In some respects I must seem much changed'—
'Greatly changed,' Godwin put in, promptly.
'Yes,' pursued the other, correctively, 'but not in a way that would see_ncredible to anyone whatever. I am conscious of growth in tolerance, but m_ttitude in essentials is unchanged. Thinking of you—as I have often enoug_one—I always kept the impression you made on me when we were both lads; yo_eemed most distinctly a modern mind—one of the most modern that ever cam_nder my notice. Now, I don't find it impossible to understand my father, whe_e reconciles science with religion; he was born sixty years ago. But Godwi_eak as a—a—'
'Parson,' supplied Peak, drily.
'Yes, as a parson—I shall have to meditate much before I grasp the notion.'
'Perhaps you have dropped your philosophical studies?' said Godwin, with _mile of courteous interest.
'I don't know. Metaphysics have no great interest for me, but I philosophis_n a way. I thought myself a student of human nature, at all events.'
'But you haven't kept up with philosophical speculation on the points involve_n orthodox religion?'
'I confess my ignorance of everything of the kind—unless you include Bisho_lougram among the philosophers?'
Godwin bore the gaze which accompanied this significant inquiry. For a momen_e smiled, but there followed an expression of gravity touched with pain.
'I hadn't thought of broaching this matter,' he said, with slow utterance, bu_till in a tone of perfect friendliness. 'Let us put it aside.'
Warricombe seemed to make an effort, and his next words had the accent o_ell-bred consideration which distinguished his ordinary talk.
'Pray forgive my bad joke. I merely meant that I have no right whatever t_rgue with anyone who has given serious attention to such things. They ar_ltogether beyond my sphere. I was born an agnostic, and no subtlety o_emonstration could incline me for a moment to theological views; my intellec_efuses to admit a single preliminary of such arguments. You astonish me, an_hat's all I am justified in saying.'
'My dear Warricombe, you are justified in saying whatever your mind suggests.
That is one of the principles which I hold unaltered— let me be quite fran_ith you. I should never have decided upon such a step as this, but for th_act that I have managed to put by a small sum of money which will make m_ndependent for two or three years. Till quite lately I hadn't a thought o_sing my freedom in this way; it was clear to me that I must throw over th_ld drudgery at Rotherhithe, but this resolve which astonishes you had not ye_ipened—I saw it only as one of the possibilities of my life. Well, now, it'_nly too true that there's something of speculation in my purpose; I look t_he Church, not only as a congenial sphere of activity, but as a means o_ubsistence. In a man of no fortune this is inevitable; I hope there i_othing to be ashamed of. Even if the conditions of the case allowed it, _houldn't present myself for ordination forthwith; I must study and prepar_yself in quietness. How the practical details will be arranged, I can't say; I have no family influence, and I must hope to make friends who will open _ay for me. I have always lived apart from society; but that isn't natural t_e, and it becomes more distasteful the older I grow. The probability is tha_ shall settle somewhere in the country, where I can live decently on a smal_ncome. After all, it's better I should have let you know this at once. I onl_ealised a few minutes ago that to be silent about my projects was in a way t_e guilty of false pretences.'
The adroitness of this last remark, which directed itself, with such show o_andour, against a suspicion precisely the opposite of that likely to b_ntertained by the listener, succeeded in disarming Warricombe; he looked u_ith a smile of reassurance, and spoke encouragingly.
'About the practical details I don't think you need have any anxiety. It isn'_very day that the Church of England gets such a recruit. Let me suggest tha_ou have a talk with my father.'
Peak reflected on the proposal, and replied to it with grave thoughtfulness:
'That's very kind of you, but I should have a difficulty in asking Mr.
Warricombe's advice. I'm afraid I must go on in my own way for a time. It wil_e a few months, I daresay, before I can release myself from my engagements i_ondon.'
'But I am to understand that your mind is really made up?'
'Well, no doubt we shall have opportunities of talking. We must meet in town, if possible. You have excited my curiosity, and I can't help hoping you'll le_e see a little further into your mind some day. When I first got hold o_ewman's Apologia, I began to read it with the utmost eagerness, flatterin_yself that now at length I should understand how a man of brains could trave_uch a road. I was horribly disappointed, and not a little enraged, when _ound that he began by assuming the very beliefs I thought he was going t_ustify. In you I shall hope for more logic.'
'Newman is incapable of understanding such an objection,' said Peak, with _ook of amusement.
'But you are not.'
The dialogue grew chatty. When they exchanged good-night, Peak fancied tha_he pressure of Buckland's hand was less fervent than at their meeting, bu_is manner no longer seemed to indicate distrust. Probably the agnostic's moo_as one of half-tolerant disdain.
Godwin turned the key in his bedroom door, and strayed aimlessly about. He wa_atigued, but the white, fragrant bed did not yet invite him; a turbulence i_is brain gave warning that it would be long before he slept. He wound up hi_atch; the hands pointed to twelve. Chancing to come before the mirror, he sa_hat he was unusually pale, and that his eyes had a swollen look.
The profound stillness was oppressive to him; he started nervously at a_ndefined object in a dim corner, and went nearer to examine it; he wa_rritable, vaguely discontented, and had even a moment of nausea, perhaps th_esult of tobacco stronger than he was accustomed to smoke. After leaning fo_ive minutes at the open window, he felt a soothing effect from the air, an_ould think consecutively of the day's events. What had happened seemed to hi_ncredible; it was as though he revived a mad dream, of ludicrous coherence.
Since his display of rhetoric at luncheon all was downright somnambulism. Wha_atal power had subdued him? What extraordinary influence had guided hi_ongue, constrained his features? His conscious self had had no part in al_his comedy; now for the first time was he taking count of the character h_ad played.
Had he been told this morning that—Why, what monstrous folly was all this?
Into what unspeakable baseness had he fallen? Happily, he had but to tak_eave of the Warricombe household, and rush into some region where he wa_nknown. Years hence, he would relate the story to Earwaker.
For a long time he suffered the torments of this awakening. shame buffeted hi_n the right cheek and the left; he looked about like one who slinks fro_erited chastisement. Oh, thrice ignoble varlet! To pose with unctuou_ypocrisy before people who had welcomed him under their roof, unquestioned, with all the grace and kindliness of English hospitality! To lie shamelessl_n the face of his old fellow-student, who had been so genuinely glad to mee_im again!
Yet such possibility had not been unforeseen. At the times of his profoun_loom, when solitude and desire crushed his spirit, he had wished that fat_ould afford him such an opportunity of knavish success. His imagination ha_layed with the idea that a man like himself might well be driven to thi_xpedient, and might even use it with life-long result. Of a certainty, th_hurch numbered such men among her priests,—not mere lukewarm sceptics wh_ade religion a source of income, nor yet those who had honestly entered th_ortal and by necessity were held from withdrawing, though their conviction_ad changed; but deliberate schemers from the first, ambitious but hungr_atures, keen-sighted, unscrupulous. And they were at no loss to defen_hemselves against the attack of conscience. Life is a terrific struggle fo_ll who begin it with no endowments save their brains. A hypocrite was no_ecessarily a harm-doer; easy to picture the unbelieving priest whos_nfluence was vastly for good, in word and deed.
But he, he who had ever prided himself on his truth-fronting intellect, an_ad freely uttered his scorn of the credulous mob! He who was his ow_riterion of moral right and wrong! No wonder he felt like a whipped cur. I_as the ancestral vice in his blood, brought out by over-temptin_ircumstance. The long line of base-born predecessors, the grovelling hind_nd mechanics of his genealogy, were responsible for this. Oh for a nam_herewith honour was hereditary!
His eyes were blinded by a rush of hot tears. Down, down—into the depths o_ttermost despondency, of self-pity and self-contempt! Had it bee_racticable, he would have fled from the house, leaving its occupants to thin_f him as they would; even as, ten years ago, he had fled from the sham_mpending over him at Kingsmill. A cowardly instinct, this; having once acte_pon it gave to his whole life a taint of craven meanness. Mere bluster, al_is talk of mental dignity and uncompromising scorn of superstitions. A wea_nd idle man, whose best years were already wasted!
He gazed deliberately at himself in the glass, at his red eyelids an_nsightly lips. Darkness was best; perhaps he might forget his shame for a_our or two, ere the dawn renewed it. He threw off his garments heedlessly, extinguished the lamp, and crept into the ready hiding-place.