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Chapter 4

  • Sidwell took no one into her confidence. The case was not one for counsel; whatever her future action, it must result from the maturing of self- knowledge, from the effect of circumstance upon her mind and heart. For th_resent she could live in silence.
  • 'We hear,' she wrote from London to Sylvia Moorhouse, 'that Mr. Peak has lef_xeter, and that he is not likely to carry out his intention of bein_rdained. You, I daresay, will feel no surprise.' Nothing more than that; an_ylvia's comments in reply were equally brief.
  • Martin Warricombe, after conversations with his wife and with Buckland, fel_t impossible not to seek for an understanding of Sidwell's share in th_atastrophe. He was gravely perturbed, feeling that with himself lay the chie_esponsibility for what had happened. Buckland's attitude was that of the ma_ho can only keep repeating 'I told you so'; Mrs. Warricombe could only lamen_nd upbraid in the worse than profitless fashion natural to women of he_tamp. But in his daughter Martin had every kind of faith, and he longed t_peak to her without reserve. Two days after her return from Exeter, he too_idwell apart, and, with a distressing sense of the delicacy of the situation, tried to persuade her to frank utterance.
  • 'I have been hearing strange reports,' he began, gravely, but without show o_ispleasure. 'Can you help me to understand the real facts of the case, Sidwell?—What is your view of Peak's behaviour?'
  • 'He has deceived you, father,' was the quiet reply.
  • 'You are convinced of that?—It allows of no——?'
  • 'It can't be explained away. He pretended to believe what he did not and coul_ot believe.'
  • 'With interested motives, then?'
  • 'Yes.—But not motives in themselves dishonourable.'
  • There was a pause. Sidwell had spoken in a steady voice, though with eyes cas_own. Whether her father could understand a position such as Godwin's, sh_elt uncertain. That he would honestly endeavour to do so, there could be n_oubt, especially since he must suspect that her own desire was to distinguis_etween the man and his fault. But a revelation of all that had passed betwee_er and Peak was not possible; she had the support neither of intellect nor o_assion; it would be asking for guidance, the very thing she had determine_ot to do. Already she found it difficult to recover the impulses which ha_irected her in that scene of parting; to talk of it would be to see he_ction in such a doubtful light that she might be led to some premature an_rretrievable resolve. The only trustworthy counsellor was time; on what tim_rought forth must depend her future.
  • 'Do you mean, Sidwell,' resumed her father, 'that you think it possible for u_o overlook this deception?'
  • She delayed a moment, then said:
  • 'I don't think it possible for you to regard him as a friend.'
  • Martin's face expressed relief.
  • 'But will he remain in Exeter?'
  • 'I shouldn't think he can.'
  • Again a pause. Martin was of course puzzled exceedingly, but he began to fee_ome assurance that Peak need not be regarded as a danger.
  • 'I am grieved beyond expression,' he said at length. 'So deliberate a fraud—i_eems to me inconsistent with any of the qualities I thought I saw in him.'
  • 'Yes—it must.'
  • 'Not—perhaps—to you?' Martin ventured, anxiously.
  • 'His nature is not base.'
  • 'Forgive me, dear.—I understand that you spoke with him after Buckland's cal_t his lodgings——?'
  • 'Yes, I saw him.'
  • 'And—he strove to persuade you that he had some motive which justified hi_onduct?'
  • 'Excused, rather than justified.'
  • 'Not—it seems—to your satisfaction?'
  • 'I can't answer that question, father. My experience of life is too slight. _an only say that untruthfulness in itself is abhorrent to me, and that _ould never try to make it seem a light thing.'
  • 'That, surely, is a sound view, think as we may on speculative points. Bu_llow me one more question, Sidwell. Does it seem to you that I have no choic_ut to break off all communication with Mr Peak?'
  • It was the course dictated by his own wish, she knew. And what could be gaine_y any middle way between hearty goodwill and complete repudiation? Time—tim_lone must work out the problem.
  • 'Yes, I think you have no choice,' she answered.
  • 'Then I must make inquiries—see if he leaves the town.'
  • 'Mr. Lilywhite will know, probably.'
  • 'I will write before long.'
  • So the dialogue ended, and neither sought to renew it.
  • Martin enjoined upon his wife a discreet avoidance of the subject. The younge_embers of the family were to know nothing of what had happened, and, i_ossible, the secret must be kept from friends at Exeter. When a fortnight ha_lapsed, he wrote to Mr. Lilywhite, asking whether it was true that Peak ha_one away. 'It seems that private circumstances have obliged him to give u_is project of taking Orders. Possibly he has had a talk with you?' Th_lergyman replied that Peak had left Exeter. 'I have had a letter from him, explaining in general terms his change of views. It hardly surprises me tha_e has reconsidered the matter. I don't think he was cut out for clerica_ork. He is far more likely to distinguish himself in the world of science. _uspect that conscientious scruples may have something to do with it; if so, all honour to him!'
  • The Warricombes prolonged their stay in London until the end of June. On thei_eturn home, Martin was relieved to find that scarcely an inquiry was made o_im concerning Peak. The young man's disappearance excited no curiosity in th_ood people who had come in contact with him, and who were so far fro_uspecting what a notable figure had passed across their placid vision. On_erson only was urgent in his questioning. On an afternoon when Mrs Warricomb_nd her daughters were alone, the Rev. Bruno Chilvers made a call.
  • 'Oh!' he exclaimed, after a few minutes' conversation, 'I am so anxious to as_ou what has become of Mr. Peak. Soon after my arrival in Exeter, I went t_ee him, and we had a long talk—a most interesting talk. Then I heard all a_nce that he was gone, and that we should see no more of him. Where is he?
  • What is he doing?'
  • There was a barely appreciable delay before Mrs. Warricombe made answer.
  • 'We have quite lost sight of him,' she said, with an artificial smile. 'W_now only that he was called away on some urgent business —family affairs, _uppose.'
  • Chilvers, in the most natural way, glanced from the speaker to Sidwell, an_nstantly, without the slightest change of expression, brought his eyes bac_gain.
  • 'I hope most earnestly,' he went on, in his fluty tone, 'that he will return.
  • A most interesting man! A man of large intellectual scope, and really broa_ympathies. I looked forward to many a chat with him. Has he, I wonder, bee_ed to change his views? Possibly he would find a secular sphere more adapte_o his special powers.'
  • Mrs. Warricombe had nothing to say. Sidwell, finding that Mr Chilvers' smil_ow beamed in her direction, replied to him with steady utterance:
  • 'It isn't uncommon, I think, nowadays, for doubts to interfere with the cours_f study for ordination?'
  • 'Far from uncommon!' exclaimed the Rector of St. Margaret's, with almos_oyous admission of the fact. 'Very far from uncommon. Such students have m_rofound sympathy. I know from experience exactly what it means to be overcom_n a struggle with the modern spirit. Happily for myself, I was enabled t_ecover what for a time I lost. But charity forbid that I should judge thos_ho think they must needs voyage for ever in sunless gulfs of doubt, or eve_bsolutely deny that the human intellect can be enlightened from above.'
  • At a loss even to follow this rhetoric, Mrs. Warricombe, who was delighted t_elcome the Rev. Bruno, and regarded him as a gleaming pillar of the Church, made haste to introduce a safer topic. After that, Mr. Chilvers was seen a_he house with some frequency. Not that he paid more attention to th_arricombes than to his other acquaintances. Relieved by his curate from th_ncongenial burden of mere parish affairs, he seemed to regard himself as a_postle at large, whose mission directed him to the households of well-to-d_eople throughout the city. His brother clergymen held him in slight esteem.
  • In private talk with Martin Warricombe, Mr. Lilywhite did not hesitate to cal_im 'a mountebank', and to add other depreciatory remarks.
  • 'My wife tells me—and I can trust her judgment in such things— that his sol_bject just now is to make a good marriage. Rather disagreeable stories see_o have followed him from the other side of England. He makes love to al_nmarried women—never going beyond what is thought permissible, but doing _ood deal of mischief, I fancy. One lady in Exeter—I won't mention names— ha_lready pulled him up with a direct inquiry as to his intentions; at he_ouse, I imagine, he will no more be seen.'
  • The genial parson chuckled over his narrative, and Martin, by no mean_redisposed in the Rev. Bruno's favour, took care to report these matters t_is wife.
  • 'I don't believe a word of it!' exclaimed Mrs. Warricombe. 'All the clergy ar_ealous of Mr. Chilvers.'
  • 'What? Of his success with ladies?'
  • 'Martin! It is something new for you to be profane!—They are jealous of hi_igh reputation.'
  • 'Rather a serious charge against our respectable friends.'
  • 'And the stories are all nonsense,' pursued Mrs. Warricombe. 'It's very wron_f Mr. Lilywhite to report such things. I don't believe any other clergyma_ould have done so.'
  • Martin smiled—as he had been accustomed to do all through his married life—an_et the discussion rest there. On the next occasion of Mr. Chilvers being a_he house, he observed the reverend man's behaviour with Sidwell, and was no_t all pleased. Bruno had a way of addressing women which certainly wen_eyond the ordinary limits of courtesy. At a little distance, anyone woul_ave concluded that he was doing his best to excite Sidwell's affectionat_nterest. The matter of his discourse might be unobjectionable, but the manne_f it was not in good taste.
  • Mrs. Warricombe was likewise observant, but with other emotions. To her i_eemed a subject for pleasurable reflection, that Mr. Chilvers should sho_nterest in Sidwell. The Rev. Bruno had bright prospects. With the colour o_is orthodoxy she did not concern herself. He was ticketed 'broad', a ter_hich carried with it no disparagement; and Sidwell's sympathies wer_ltogether with the men of 'breadth'. The time drew near when Sidwell mus_arry, if she ever meant to do so, and in comparison with such candidates a_r Walsh and Godwin Peak, the Rector of St. Margaret's would be an idea_usband for her. Sidwell's attitude towards Mr. Chilvers was not encouraging, but Mrs. Warricombe suspected that a lingering regard for the impostor, s_ately unmasked, still troubled her daughter's mind: a new suitor, even i_ejected, would help the poor girl to dismiss that shocking infatuation.
  • Sidwell and her father nowadays spent much time together, and in the autum_ays it became usual for them to have an afternoon ramble about the lanes.
  • Their talk was of science and literature, occasionally skirting very clos_pon those questions which both feared to discuss plainly—for a twofol_eason. Sidwell read much more than had been her wont, and her choice o_uthors would alone have indicated a change in her ways of thinking, even i_he had not allowed it to appear in the tenor of her talk. The questions sh_ut with reference to Martin's favourite studies were sometimes embarrassing.
  • One day they happened to meet Mr. Chilvers, who was driving with his eldes_hild, a boy of four. The narrowness of the road made it impossible—as Marti_ould have wished—to greet and pass on. Chilvers stopped the carriage an_umped out. Sidwell could not but pay some attention to the youthful Chilvers.
  • 'Till he is ten years old,' cried Bruno, 'I shall think much more of his bod_han of his mind. In fact, at this age the body is the mind. Books, books—oh, we attach far too much importance to them. Over-study is one of the morbifi_endencies of our time. Some one or other has been trying to frown down wha_e calls the excessive athleticism of our public schools. No, no! Let u_ejoice that our lads have such an opportunity of vigorous physica_evelopment. The culture of the body is a great part of religion.' He alway_ttered remarks of this kind as if suggesting that his hearers should not_hem in a collection of aphorisms. 'If to labour is to pray, so also is th_ractice of open-air recreation.
  • When they had succeeded in getting away, father and daughter walked for som_inutes without speaking. At length Sidwell asked, with a smile:
  • 'How does this form of Christianity strike you?'
  • 'Why, very much like a box on the ear with a perfumed glove,' replied Martin.
  • 'That describes it very well.'
  • They walked a little further, and Sidwell spoke in a more serious tone.
  • 'If Mr. Chilvers were brought before the ecclesiastical authorities an_ompelled to make a clear statement of his faith, what sect, in all th_istory of heresies, would he really seem to belong to?'
  • 'I know too little of him, and too little of heresies.'
  • 'Do you suppose for a moment that he sincerely believes the dogmas of hi_hurch?'
  • Martin bit his lip and looked uneasy.
  • 'We can't judge him, Sidwell.'
  • 'I don't know,' she persisted. 'It seems to me that he does his best to giv_s the means of judging him. I half believe that he often laughs in himself a_he success of his audacity.'
  • 'No, no. I think the man is sincere.'
  • This was very uncomfortable ground, but Sidwell would not avoid it. Her eye_lashed, and she spoke with a vehemence such as Martin had never seen in her.
  • 'Undoubtedly sincere in his determination to make a figure in the world. But _hristian, in any intelligible sense of that much-abused word,—no! He is on_ype of the successful man of our day. Where thousands of better and stronge_en struggle vainly for fair recognition, he and his kind are glorified. I_omparison with a really energetic man, he is an acrobat. The crowd stares a_im and applauds, and there is nothing he cares for so much as that kind o_dmiration.'
  • Martin kept silence, and in a few minutes succeeded in; broaching a wholl_ifferent subject.
  • Not long after this, Mr. Chilvers paid a call at the conventional hour.
  • Sidwell, hoping to escape, invited two girls to step out with her on to th_awn. The sun was sinking, and, as she stood with eyes fixed upon it, the Rev.
  • Bruno's voice disagreeably broke her reverie. She was perforce involved in _ialogue, her companions moving aside.
  • 'What a magnificent sky!' murmured Chilvers. '"There sinks the nebulous star."
  • Forgive me, I have fallen into a tiresome trickof quoting. How differently _unset is viewed nowadays from what it was in old times! Our impersona_motions are on a higher plane— don't you think so? Yes, scientific discover_as done more for religion than all the ages of pious imagination. A theory o_alileo or Newton is more to the soul than a psalm of David.'
  • 'You think so?' Sidwell asked, coldly.
  • In everyday conversation she was less suave than formerly. This summer she ha_ever worn her spray of sweet-brier, and the omission might have been deeme_ignificant of a change in herself. When the occasion offered, she no longe_esitated to express a difference of opinion; at times she uttered her dissen_ith a bluntness which recalled Buckland's manner in private.
  • 'Does the comparison seem to you unbecoming?' said Chilvers, with genia_ondescension. 'Or untrue?'
  • 'What do you mean by "the soul"?' she inquired, still gazing away from him.
  • 'The principle of conscious life in man—that which understands and worships.'
  • 'The two faculties seem to me so different that'——She broke off. 'But _ustn't talk foolishly about such things.'
  • 'I feel sure you have thought of them to some purpose. I wonder whether yo_ver read Francis Newman's book on ~The Soul~?'
  • 'No, I never saw it.'
  • 'Allow me to recommend it to you. I believe you would find it deepl_nteresting.'
  • 'Does the Church approve it?'
  • 'The Church?' He smiled. 'Ah! what Church? Churchmen there are, unfortunately, who detest the name of its author, but I hope you have never classed me amon_hem. The Church, rightly understood, comprehends every mind and heart that i_triving upwards. The age of intolerance will soon be as remote from us a_hat of persecution. Can I be mistaken in thinking that this broader view ha_our sympathy, Miss Warricombe?'
  • 'I can't sympathise with what I don't understand, Mr. Chilvers.'
  • He looked at her with tender solicitude, bending slightly from his usua_quare-shouldered attitude.
  • 'Do let me find an opportunity of talking over the whole matter with you—by n_eans as an instructor. In my view, a clergyman may seek instruction from th_umblest of those who are called his flock. The thoughtful and high-minde_mong them will often assist him materially in his endeavour at self- development. To my "flock",' he continued, playfully, 'you don't belong; bu_ay I not count you one of that circle of friends to whom I look for th_igher kind of sympathy?'
  • Sidwell glanced about her in the hope that some one might be approaching. He_wo friends were at a distance, talking and laughing together.
  • 'You shall tell me some day,' she replied, with more attention to courtesy,
  • 'what the doctrines of the Broad Church really are. But the air grows too coo_o be pleasant; hadn't we better return to the drawing-room?'
  • The greater part of the winter went by before she had again to submit to _ete-a-tete with the Rev. Bruno. It was seldom that she thought of him sav_hen compelled to do so by his exacting presence, but in the meantime h_xercised no small influence on her mental life. Insensibly she was confirme_n her alienation from all accepted forms of religious faith. Whether sh_ished it or not, it was inevitable that such a process should keep he_onstantly in mind of Godwin Peak. Her desire to talk with him at times becam_o like passion that she appeared to herself to love him more truly than ever.
  • Yet such a mood was always followed by doubt, and she could not say whethe_he reaction distressed or soothed her. These months that had gone by brough_ne result, not to be disguised. Whatever the true nature of her feeling fo_odwin, the thought of marrying him was so difficult to face that it seemed t_nvolve impossibilities. He himself had warned her that marriage would mea_everance from all her kindred. It was practically true, and time would onl_ncrease the difficulty of such a determination.
  • The very fact that her love (again, if love it were) must be indulged i_efiance of universal opinion tended to keep emotion alive. A woman i_isposed to cling to a lover who has disgraced himself, especially if she ca_elieve that the disgrace was incurred as a result of devotion to her. Coul_ove be separated from thought of marriage, Sidwell would have encourage_erself in fidelity, happy in the prospect of a life-long spiritual communion —for she would not doubt of Godwin's upward progress, of his eventua_urification. But this was a mere dream. If Godwin's passion were steadfast, the day would come when she must decide either to cast in her lot with his, o_o bid him be free. And could she imagine herself going forth into exile?
  • There came a letter from him, and she was fortunate enough to receive i_ithout the knowledge of her relatives. He wrote that he had obtaine_mployment. The news gave her a troubled joy, lasting for several days. Tha_o emotion appeared in her reply was due to a fear lest she might be guilty o_isleading him. Perhaps already she had done so. Her last whisper—'Som_ay!'—was it not a promise and an appeal? Now she had not the excuse o_rofound agitation, there must be no word her conscience could not justify.
  • But in writing those formal lines she felt herself a coward. She was drawin_ack—preparing her escape.
  • Often she had the letter beneath her pillow. It was the first she had eve_eceived from a man who professed to love her. So long without romance in he_ife, she could not but entertain this semblance of it, and feel that she wa_till young.
  • It told much in Godwin's favour that he had not ventured to write before ther_as this news to send her. It testified to the force of his character, th_urity of his purpose. A weaker man, she knew, would have tried to excite he_ompassion by letters of mournful strain, might even have distressed her wit_ttempts at clandestine meeting. She had said rightly—his nature was not base.
  • And she loved him! She was passionately grateful to him for proving that he_ove had not been unworthily bestowed.
  • When he wrote again, her answer should not be cowardly.
  • The life of the household went on as it had been wont to do for years, bu_ith the spring came events. An old lady died whilst on a visit to the house (she was a half-sister of Mrs. Warricombe), and by a will executed a few year_reviously she left a thousand pounds, to be equally divided between th_hildren of this family. Sidwell smiled sadly on finding herself in possessio_f this bequest, the first sum of any importance that she had ever held in he_wn right. If she married a man of whom all her kith and kin so strongl_isapproved that they would not give her even a wedding present, two hundre_nd fifty pounds would be better than no dowry at all. One could furnish _ouse with it.
  • Then Fanny had an attack of bronchitis, and whilst she was recovering Bucklan_ame down for a few days, bringing with him a piece of news for which no on_as prepared. As if to make reparation to his elder sister for the harshnes_ith which he had behaved in the affair of Godwin Peak, he chose her for hi_irst confidante.
  • 'Sidwell, I am going to be married. Do you care to hear about it?'
  • 'Certainly I do.'
  • Long ago she had been assured of Sylvia Moorhouse's sincerity in rejectin_uckland's suit. That was still a grief to her, but she acknowledged he_riend's wisdom, and was now very curious to learn who it was that the Radica_ad honoured with his transferred affections.
  • 'The lady's name,' Buckland began, 'is Miss Matilda Renshaw. She is the secon_aughter of a dealer in hides, tallow, and that kind of thing. Both he_arents are dead; she has lived of late with her married sister a_lackheath.'
  • Sidwell listened with no slight astonishment, and her countenance looked wha_he felt.
  • 'That's the bald statement of the cause,' pursued her brother, seeming t_njoy the consternation he had excited. 'Now, let me fill up the outline. Mis_enshaw is something more than good-looking, has had an admirable education, is five-and-twenty, and for a couple of years has been actively engaged i_umanitarian work in the East End. She has published a book on socia_uestions, and is a very good public speaker. Finally, she owns propert_epresenting between three and four thousand a year.'
  • 'The picture has become more attractive,' said Sidwell.
  • 'You imagined a rather different person? If I persuade mother to invite he_own here presently, do you think you could be friendly with her?'
  • 'I see no reason why I should not be.'
  • 'But I must warn you. She has nothing to do with creeds and dogmas.'
  • He tried to read her face. Sidwell's mind was a mystery to him.
  • 'I shall make no inquiry about her religious views,' his sister replied, in _ispassionate tone, which conveyed no certain meaning.
  • 'Then I feel sure you will like her, and equally sure that she will like you.'
  • His parents had no distinct fault to find with this choice, though they woul_oth greatly have preferred a daughter-in-law whose genealogy could be mor_reely spoken of. Miss Renshaw was invited to Exeter, and the first week o_une saw her arrival. Buckland had in no way exaggerated her qualities. Sh_as a dark-eyed beauty, perfect from the social point of view, a ver_nteresting talker,— in short, no ordinary woman. That Buckland should hav_allen in love with her, even after Sylvia, was easily understood; it seeme_ikely that she would make him as good a wife as he could ever hope to win.
  • Sidwell was expecting another letter from the north of England. The silenc_hich during those first months had been justifiable was now a source o_nxiety. But whether fear or hope predominated in her expectancy, she stil_ould not decide. She had said to herself that her next reply should not b_owardly, yet she was as far as ever from a courageous resolve.
  • Mental harassment told upon her health. Martin, watching her with solicitude, declared that for her sake as much as for Fanny's they must have a thoroug_oliday abroad.
  • Urged by the approaching departure, Sidwell overcame her reluctance to writ_o Godwin before she had a letter to answer. It was done in a mood o_ntolerable despondency, when life looked barren before her, and the desire o_ove all but triumphed over every other consideration. The letter written an_osted, she would gladly have recovered it—reserved, formal as it was.
  • Cowardly still; but then Godwin had not written.
  • She kept a watch upon the postman, and again, when Godwin's reply wa_elivered, escaped detection.
  • Hardly did she dare to open the envelope. Her letter had perchance been mor_ignificant than she supposed; and did not the mere fact of her writing invit_ lover's frankness?
  • But the reply was hardly more moving than if it had come from a tota_tranger. For a moment she felt relieved; in an hour's time she suffere_ndescribable distress. Godwin wrote—so she convinced herself after repeate_erusals—as if discharging a task; not a word suggested tenderness. Had th_etter been unsolicited, she could have used it like the former one; but i_as the answer to an appeal. The phrases she had used were still present i_er mind. 'I am anxious … it is more than half a year since you wrote … I hav_een expecting … anything that is of interest to you will interest me… .' Ho_ould she imagine that this was reserved and formal? Shame fell upon her; sh_ocked herself from all companionship, and wept in rebellion against the law_f life.
  • A fortnight later, she wrote from Royat to Sylvia Moorhouse. It was a lon_pistle, full of sunny descriptions, breathing renewed vigour of body an_ind. The last paragraph ran thus:
  • 'Yesterday was my birthday; I was twenty-eight. At this age, it is wisdom in _oman to remind herself that youth is over. I don't regret it; let it go wit_ll its follies! But I am sorry that I have no serious work in life; it is no_heerful to look forward to perhaps another eight-and-twenty years of elegan_eisure—that is to say, of wearisome idleness. What can I do? Try and think o_ome task for me, something that will last a lifetime.'