George Gissing

Born in Exile

Part the Seventh

[I] [II] [III]


At the close of a sultry day in September, when factory fumes hung low over the town of St Helen's, and twilight thickened luridly, and the air tasted of sulphur, and the noises of the streets, muffled in their joint effect, had individually an ominous distinctness, Godwin Peak walked with languid steps to his lodgings and the meal that there awaited him. His vitality was at low ebb. The routine of his life disgusted him; the hope of release was a mockery. What was to be the limit of this effort to redeem his character? How many years before the past could be forgotten, and his claim to the style of honourable be deemed secure? Rubbish! It was an idea out of old-fashioned romances. What he was, he was, and no extent of dogged duration at St Helen's or elsewhere, could affect his personality. What, practically, was to be the end? If Sidwell had no money of her own, and no expectations from her father, how could she ever become his wife? Women liked this kind of thing, this indefinite engagement to marry when something should happen, which in all likelihood never would happen -- this fantastic mutual fidelity with only the airiest reward. Especially women of a certain age.

A heavy cart seemed to be rumbling in the next street. No, it was thunder. If only a good rattling storm would sweep the bituminous atmosphere, and allow a breath of pure air before midnight.

She could not be far from thirty. Of course there prevails much conventional nonsense about women's age; there are plenty of women who reckon four decades, and yet retain all the essential charm of their sex. And as a man gets older, as he begins to persuade himself that at forty one has scarce reached the prime of life ----

The storm was coming on in earnest. Big drops began to fall. He quickened his pace, reached home, and rang the bell for a light.

His landlady came in with the announcement that a gentleman had called to see him, about an hour ago; he would come again at seven o'clock.

'What name?'

None had been given. A youngish gentleman, speaking like a Londoner.

It might be Earwaker, but that was not likely. Godwin sat down to his plain meal, and after it lit a pipe. Thunder was still rolling, but now in the distance. He waited impatiently for seven o'clock.

To the minute, sounded a knock at the house-door. A little delay, and there appeared Christian Moxey.

Godwin was surprised and embarrassed. His visitor had a very grave face, and was thinner, paler, than three years ago; he appeared to hesitate, but at length offered his hand.

'I got your address from Earwaker. I was obliged to see you -- on business.'


'May I take my coat off? We shall have to talk.'

They sat down, and Godwin, unable to strike the note of friendship lest he should be met with repulse, broke silence by regretting that Moxey should have had to make a second call.

'Oh, that's nothing! I went and had dinner. -- Peak, my sister is dead.'

Their eyes met; something of the old kindness rose to either face.

'That must be a heavy blow to you,' murmured Godwin, possessed with a strange anticipation which he would not allow to take clear form.

'It is. She was ill for three months.' Whilst staying in the country last June she met with an accident. She went for a long walk alone one day, and in a steep lane she came up with a carter who was trying to make a wretched horse drag a load beyond its strength. The fellow was perhaps half drunk; he stood there beating the horse unmercifully. Marcella couldn't endure that kind of thing -- impossible for her to pass on and say nothing. She interfered, and tried to persuade the man to lighten his cart. He was insolent, attacked the horse more furiously than ever, and kicked it so violently in the stomach that it fell. Even then he wouldn't stop his brutality. Marcella tried to get between him and the animal -- just as it lashed out with its heels. The poor girl was so badly injured that she lay by the roadside until another carter took her up and brought her back to the village. Three months of accursed suffering, and then happily came the end.'

A far, faint echoing of thunder filled the silence of their voices. Heavy rain splashed upon the pavement.

'She said to me just before her death,' resumed Christian, '"I have ill luck when I try to do a kindness -- but perhaps there is one more chance." I didn't know what she meant till afterwards. Peak, she has left nearly all her money to you.'

Godwin knew it before the words were spoken. His heart leaped, and only the dread of being observed enabled him to control his features. When his tongue was released he said harshly:

'Of course I can't accept it.'

The words were uttered independently of his will. He had no such thought, and the sound of his voice shook him with alarm.

'Why can't you?' returned Christian.

'I have no right -- it belongs to you, or to some other relative -- it would be' ----

His stammering broke off. Flushes and chills ran through him; he could not raise his eyes from the ground.

'It belongs to no one but you,' said Moxey, with cold persistence. 'Her last wish was to do you a kindness, and I, at all events, shall never consent to frustrate her intention. The legacy represents something more than eight hundred a year, as the investments now stand. This will make you independent -- of everything and everybody.' He looked meaningly at the listener. 'Her own life was not a very happy one; she did what she could to save yours from a like doom.'

Godwin at last looked up.

'Did she speak of me during her illness?'

'She asked me once, soon after the accident, what had become of you. As I knew from Earwaker, I was able to tell her.'

A long silence followed. Christian's voice was softer when he resumed.

'You never knew her. She was the one woman in ten thousand -- at once strong and gentle; a fine intellect, and a heart of rare tenderness. But because she had not the kind of face that' ----

He checked himself.

'To the end her mind kept its clearness and courage. One day she reminded me of Heine -- how we had talked of that "conversion" on the mattress-grave, and had pitied the noble intellect subdued by disease. "I shan't live long enough," she said, "to incur that danger. What I have thought ever since I could study, I think now, and shall to the last moment." I buried her without forms of any kind, in the cemetery at Kingsmill. That was what she wished. I should have despised myself if I had lacked that courage.'

'It was right,' muttered Godwin.

'And I wear no mourning, you see. All that kind of thing is ignoble. I am robbed of a priceless companionship, but I don't care to go about inviting people's pity. If only I could forget those months of suffering! Some day I shall, perhaps, and think of her only as she lived.'

'Were you alone with her all the time?'

'No. Our cousin Janet was often with us.' Christian spoke with averted face. 'You don't know, of course, that she has gone in for medical work -- practises at Kingsmill. The accident was at a village called Lowton, ten miles or more from Kingsmill. Janet came over very often.'

Godwin mused on this development of the girl whom he remembered so well. He could not direct his thoughts; a languor had crept over him.

'Do you recollect, Peak,' said Christian, presently, 'the talk we had in the fields by Twybridge, when we first met?'

The old friendliness was reappearing in his manner, He was yielding to the impulse to be communicative, confidential, which had always characterised him.

'I remember,' Godwin murmured.

'If only my words then had had any weight with you! And if only I had acted upon my own advice! Just for those few weeks I was sane; I understood something of life; I saw my true way before me. You and I have both gone after ruinous ideals, instead of taking the solid good held out to us. Of course, I know your story in outline. I don't ask you to talk about it. You are independent now, and I hope you can use your freedom. -- Well, and I too am free.'

The last words were in a lower tone. Godwin glanced at the speaker, whose sadness was not banished, but illumined with a ray of calm hope.

'Have you ever thought of me and my infatuation?' Christian asked.


'I have outlived that mawkish folly. I used to drink too much; the two things went well together. It would shame me to tell you all about it. But, happily, I have been able to go back about thirteen years -- recover my old sane self -- and with it what I then threw away.'

'I understand.'

'Do you? Marcella knew of it, just before her death, and it made her glad. But the waste of years, the best part of a lifetime! It's incredible to me as I look back. Janet called on us one day in London. Heaven be thanked that she was forgiving enough to do so! What would have become of me now?'

'How are you going to live, then?' Godwin asked, absently.

'How? My income is sufficient' ----

'No, no; I mean, where and how will you live in your married life?'

'That's still uncertain. Janet mustn't go on with professional work. In any case, I don't think she could for long; her strength isn't equal to it. But I shouldn't wonder if we settle in Kingsmill. To you it would seem intolerable? But why should we live in London? At Kingsmill Janet has a large circle of friends; in London we know scarcely half-a-dozen people -- of the kind it would give us any pleasure to live with. We shall have no lack of intellectual society; Janet knows some of the Whitelaw professors. The atmosphere of Kingsmill isn't illiberal, you know; we shan't be fought shy of because we object to pass Sundays in a state of coma. But the years that I have lost! The irrecoverable years!'

'There's nothing so idle as regretting the past,' said Godwin, with some impatience. 'Why groan over what couldn't be otherwise? The probability is, Janet and you are far better suited to each other now than you ever would have been if you had married long ago.'

'You think that?' exclaimed the other, eagerly. 'I have tried to see it in that light. If I didn't feel so despicable!'

'She, I take it, doesn't think you so,' Godwin muttered.

'But how can she understand? I have tried to tell her everything, but she refused to listen. Perhaps Marcella told her all she cared to know.'

'No doubt.'

Each brooded for a while over his own affairs, then Christian reverted to the subject which concerned them both.

'Let us speak frankly. You will take this gift of Marcella's as it was meant?'

How was it meant? Critic and analyst as ever, Godwin could not be content to see in it the simple benefaction of a woman who died loving him. Was it not rather the last subtle device of jealousy? Marcella knew that the legacy would be a temptation he could scarcely resist -- and knew at the same time that, if he accepted it, he practically renounced his hope of marrying Sidwell Warricombe. Doubtless she had learned as much as she needed to know of Sidwell's position. Refusing this bequest, he was as far as ever from the possibility of asking Sidwell to marry him. Profiting by it, he stood for ever indebted to Marcella, must needs be grateful to her, and some day, assuredly, would reveal the truth to whatever woman became his wife. Conflict of reasonings and emotions made it difficult to answer Moxey's question.

'I must take time to think of it,' he said, at length.

'Well, I suppose that is right. But -- well, I know so little of your circumstances' ----

'Is that strictly true?' Peak asked.

'Yes. I have only the vaguest idea of what you have been doing since you left us. Of course I have tried to find out.'

Godwin smiled, rather gloomily.

'We won't talk of it. I suppose you stay in St Helen's for the night?'

'There's a train at 10.20. I had better go by it.'

'Then let us forget everything but your own cheerful outlook. At ten, I'll walk with you to the station.'

Reluctantly at first, but before long with a quiet abandonment to the joy that would not be suppressed, Christian talked of his future wife. In Janet he found every perfection. Her mind was something more than the companion of his own. Already she had begun to inspire him with a hopeful activity, and to foster the elements of true manliness which he was conscious of possessing, though they had never yet had free play. With a sense of luxurious safety, he submitted to her influence, knowing none the less that it was in his power to complete her imperfect life. Studiously he avoided the word 'ideal'; from such vaporous illusions he had turned to the world's actualities; his language dealt with concretes, with homely satisfactions, with prospects near enough to be soberly examined.

A hurry to catch the train facilitated parting. Godwin promised to write in a few days.

He took a roundabout way back to his lodgings. The rain was over, the sky had become placid. He was conscious of an effect from Christian's conversation which half counteracted the mood he would otherwise have indulged, -- the joy of liberty and of an outlook wholly new. Sidwell might perchance be to him all that Janet was to Christian. Was it not the luring of 'ideals' that prompted him to turn away from his long hope?

There must be no more untruthfulness. Sidwell must have all the facts laid before her, and make her choice.

Without a clear understanding of what he was going to write, he sat down at eleven o'clock, and began, 'Dear Miss Warricombe'. Why not 'Dear Sidwell'? He took another sheet of paper.

'Dear Sidwell, -- To-night I can remember only your last
word to me when we parted. I cannot address you coldly, as
though half a stranger. Thus long I have kept silence about
everything but the outward events of my life; now, in telling
you of something that has happened, I must speak as I think.

'Early this evening I was surprised by a visit from Christian
Moxey -- a name you know. He came to tell me that his sister
(she of whom I once spoke to you) was dead, and had
bequeathed to me a large sum of money. He said that it
represented an income of eight hundred pounds.

'I knew nothing of Miss Moxey's illness, and the news of her
will came to me as a surprise. In word or deed, I never
sought more than her simple friendship -- and even
that I believed myself to have forfeited.

'If I were to refuse this money, it would be in consequence of
a scruple which I do not in truth respect. Christian Moxey
tells me that his sister's desire was to enable me to live the
life of a free man; and if I have any duty at all in the matter,
surely it does not constrain me to defeat her kindness. No
condition whatever is attached. The gift releases me from the
necessity of leading a hopeless existence -- leaves me at
liberty to direct my life how I will.

'I wish, then, to put aside all thoughts of how this
opportunity came to me, and to ask you if you are willing to
be my wife.

'Though I have never written a word of love, my love is
unchanged. The passionate hope of three years ago still rules
my life. Is your love strong enough to enable you to
disregard all hindrances? I cannot of course know whether,
in your sight, dishonour still clings to me, or whether you
understand me well enough to have forgiven and forgotten
those hateful things in the past. Is it yet too soon? Do you
wish me still to wait, still to prove myself? Is your interest in
the free man less than in the slave? For my life has been one
of slavery and exile -- exile, if you know what I mean by it,
from the day of my birth.

'Dearest, grant me this great happiness! We can live where
we will. I am not rich enough to promise all the comforts and
refinements to which you are accustomed, but we should be
safe from sordid anxieties. We can travel; we can make a
home in any European city. It would be idle to speak of the
projects and ambitions that fill my mind -- but surely I may
do something worth doing, win some position among
intellectual men of which you would not be ashamed. You
yourself urged me to hope that. With you at my side --
Sidwell, grant me this chance, that I may know the joy of satisfied
love! I am past the age which is misled by vain fancies. I
have suffered unspeakably, longed for the calm strength, the
pure, steady purpose which would result to me from a happy
marriage. There is no fatal divergence between our minds;
did you not tell me that? You said that if I had been truthful
from the first, you might have loved me with no misgiving.
Forget the madness into which I was betrayed. There is no
soil upon my spirit. I offer you love as noble as any man is
capable of. Think -- think well -- before replying to me; let
your true self prevail. You did love me, dearest. ----

Yours ever,
Godwin Peak.'

At first he wrote slowly, as though engaged on a literary composition, with erasions, insertions. Facts once stated, he allowed himself to forget how Sidwell would most likely view them, and thereafter his pen hastened: fervour inspired the last paragraph. Sidwell's image had become present to him, and exercised all -- or nearly all -- its old influence.

The letter must be copied, because of that laboured beginning. Copying one's own words is at all times a disenchanting drudgery, and when the end was reached Godwin signed his name with hasty contempt. What answer could he expect to such an appeal? How vast an improbability that Sidwell would consent to profit by the gift of Marcella Moxey!

Yet how otherwise could he write? With what show of sincerity could he offer to refuse the bequest? Nay, in that case he must not offer to do so, but simply state the fact that his refusal was beyond recall. Logically, he had chosen the only course open to him, -- for to refuse independence was impossible.

A wheezy clock in his landlady's kitchen was striking two. For very fear of having to revise his letter in the morning, he put it into its envelope, and went out to the nearest pillar-post.

That was done. Whether Sidwell answered with 'Yes' or with 'No', he was a free man.

On the morrow he went to his work as usual, and on the day after that. The third morning might bring a reply -- but did not. On the evening of the fifth day, when he came home, there lay the expected letter. He felt it; it was light and thin. That hideous choking of suspense -- Well, it ran thus:

'I cannot. It is not that I am troubled by your accepting the
legacy. You have every right to do so, and I know that your
life will justify the hopes of her who thus befriended you. But
I am too weak to take this step. To ask you to wait yet longer,
would only be a fresh cowardice. You cannot know how it
shames me to write this. In my very heart I believe I love
you, but what is such love worth? You must despise me, and
you will forget me. I live in a little world; in the greater world
where your place is, you will win a love very different.

S. W.'

Godwin laughed aloud as the paper dropped from his hand.

Well, she was not the heroine of a romance. Had he expected her to leave home and kindred -- the 'little world' so infinitely dear to her -- and go forth with a man deeply dishonoured? Very young girls have been known to do such a thing; but a thoughtful mature woman ----! Present, his passion had dominated her: and perhaps her nerves only. But she had had time to recover from that weakness.

A woman, like most women of cool blood, temperate fancies. A domestic woman; the ornament of a typical English home.

Most likely it was true that the matter of the legacy did not trouble her. In any case she would not have consented to marry him, and therefore she knew no jealousy. Her love! why, truly, what was it worth?

(Much, much! of no less than infinite value. He knew it, but this was not the moment for such a truth.)

A cup of tea to steady the nerves. Then thoughts, planning, world-building.

He was awake all night, and Sidwell's letter lay within reach. -- Did she sleep calmly? Had she never stretched out her hand for his letter, when all was silent? There were men who would not take such a refusal. A scheme to meet her once more -- the appeal of passion, face to face, heart to heart -- the means of escape ready -- and then the 'greater world' ----

But neither was he cast in heroic mould. He had not the self-confidence, he had not the hot, youthful blood. A critic of life, an analyst of moods and motives; not the man who dares and acts. The only important resolve he had ever carried through was a scheme of ignoble trickery -- to end in frustration.

'The greater world'. It was a phrase that had been in his own mind once or twice since Moxey's visit. To point him thither was doubtless the one service Sidwell could render him. And in a day or two, that phrase was all that remained to him of her letter.

On a Sunday afternoon at the end of October, Godwin once more climbed the familiar stairs at Staple Inn, and was welcomed by his friend Earwaker. The visit was by appointment. Earwaker knew all about the legacy; that it was accepted; and that Peak had only a few days to spend in London, on his way to the Continent.

'You are regenerated,' was his remark as Godwin entered.

'Do I look it? Just what I feel. I have shaken off a good (or a bad) ten years.'

The speaker's face, at all events in this moment, was no longer that of a man at hungry issue with the world. He spoke cheerily.

'It isn't often that fortune does a man such a kind turn. One often hears it said: If only I could begin life again with all the experience I have gained! That is what I can do. I can break utterly with the past, and I have learnt how to live in the future.'

'Break utterly with the past?'

'In the practical sense. And even morally to a great extent.'

Earwaker pushed a box of cigars across the table. Godwin accepted the offer, and began to smoke. During these moments of silence, the man of letters had been turning over a weekly paper, as if in search of some paragraph; a smile announced his discovery.

'Here is something that will interest you -- possibly you have seen it.'

He began to read aloud:

'"On the 23rd inst. was celebrated at St Bragg's, Torquay, the marriage of the Rev. Bruno Leathwaite Chilvers, late Rector of St Margaret's, Exeter, and the Hon. Bertha Harriet Cecilia Jute, eldest daughter of the late Baron Jute. The ceremony was conducted by the Hon. and Rev. J. C. Jute, uncle of the bride, assisted by the Rev. F. Miller, the Very Rev. Dean Pinnock, the Rev. H. S. Crook, and the Rev. William Tomkinson. The bride was given away by Lord Jute. Mr Horatio Dukinfield was best man. The bridal dress was of white brocade, draped with Brussels lace, the corsage being trimmed with lace and adorned with orange blossoms. The tulle veil, fastened with three diamond stars, the gifts of" ---- Well, shall I go on?'

'The triumph of Chilvers!' murmured Godwin. 'I wonder whether the Hon. Bertha is past her fortieth year?'

'A blooming beauty, I dare say. But Lord! how many people it takes to marry a man like Chilvers! How sacred the union must be! -- Pray take a paragraph more: "The four bridesmaids -- Miss -- etc., etc. -- wore cream crépon dresses trimmed with turquoise blue velvet, and hats to match. The bridegroom's presents to them were diamond and ruby brooches."'

'Chilvers in excelsis! -- So he is no longer at Exeter; has no living, it seems. What does he aim at next, I wonder?'

Earwaker cast meaning glances at his friend.

'I understand you,' said Godwin, at length. 'You mean that this merely illustrates my own ambition. Well, you are right, I confess my shame -- and there's an end of it.'

He puffed at his cigar, resuming presently:

'But it would be untrue if I said that I regretted anything. Constituted as I am, there was no other way of learning my real needs and capabilities. Much in the past is hateful to me, but it all had its use. There are men -- why, take your own case. You look back on life, no doubt, with calm and satisfaction.'

'Rather, with resignation.'

Godwin let his cigar fall, and laughed bitterly.

'Your resignation has kept pace with life. I was always a rebel. My good qualities -- I mean what I say -- have always wrecked me. Now that I haven't to fight with circumstances, they may possibly be made subservient to my happiness.'

'But what form is your happiness to take?'

'Well, I am leaving England. On the Continent I shall make no fixed abode, but live in the places where cosmopolitan people are to be met. I shall make friends; with money at command, one may hope to succeed in that. Hotels, boarding-houses, and so on, offer the opportunities. It sounds oddly like the project of a swindler, doesn't it? There's the curse I can't escape from! Though my desires are as pure as those of any man living, I am compelled to express myself as if I were about to do something base and underhand. Simply because I have never had a social place. I am an individual merely; I belong to no class, town, family, club' ----

'Cosmopolitan people,' mused Earwaker. 'Your ideal is transformed.'

'As you know. Experience only could bring that about. I seek now only the free, intellectual people -- men who have done with the old conceptions -- women who' ----

His voice grew husky, and he did not complete the sentence.

'I shall find them in Paris, Rome. -- Earwaker, think of my being able to speak like this! No day-dreams, but actual sober plans, their execution to begin in a day or two. Paris, Rome! And a month ago I was a hopeless slave in a vile manufacturing town. -- I wish it were possible for me to pray for the soul of that poor dead woman. I don't speak to you of her; but do you imagine I am brutally forgetful of her to whom I owe all this?'

'I do you justice,' returned the other, quietly.

'I believe you can and do.'

'How grand it is to go forth as I am now going!' Godwin resumed, after a long pause. 'Nothing to hide, no shams, no pretences. Let who will inquire about me. I am an independent Englishman, with so and so much a year. In England I have one friend only -- that is you. The result, you see, of all these years savage striving to knit myself into the social fabric.'

'Well, you will invite me some day to your villa at Sorrento,' said Earwaker, encouragingly.

'That I shall!' Godwin's eyes flashed with imaginative delight. 'And before very long. Never to a home in England!'

'By-the-bye, a request. I have never had your portrait. Sit before you leave London.'

'No. I'll send you one from Paris -- it will be better done.'

'But I am serious. You promise?'

'You shall have the thing in less than a fortnight.'

The promise was kept. Earwaker received an admirable photograph, which he inserted in his album with a curious sense of satisfaction. A face by which every intelligent eye must be arrested; which no two observers would interpret in the same way.

'His mate must be somewhere,' thought the man of letters, 'but he will never find her.'


In his acceptance of Sidwell's reply, Peak did not care to ask himself whether the delay of its arrival had any meaning one way or another. Decency would hardly have permitted her to answer such a letter by return of post; of course she waited a day or so.

But the interval meant more than this.

Sylvia Moorhouse was staying with her friend. The death of Mrs Moorhouse, and the marriage of the mathematical brother, had left Sylvia homeless, though not in any distressing sense; her inclination was to wander for a year or two, and she remained in England only until the needful arrangements could be concluded.

'You had better come with me,' she said to Sidwell, as they walked together on the lawn after luncheon.

The other shook her head.

'Indeed, you had better. -- What are you doing here? What are you going to make of your life?'

'I don't know.'

'Precisely. Yet one ought to live on some kind of plan. I think it is time you got away from Exeter; it seems to me you are finding its atmosphere morbific.'

Sidwell laughed at the allusion.

'You know,' she said, 'that the reverend gentleman is shortly to be married?'

'Oh yes, I have heard all about it. But is he forsaking the Church?'

'Retiring only for a time, they say.'

'Forgive the question, Sidwell -- did he honour you with a proposal?'

'Indeed, no!'

'Some one told me it was imminent, not long ago.'

'Quite a mistake,' Sidwell answered, with her grave smile. 'Mr Chilvers had a singular manner with women in general. It was meant, perhaps, for subtle flattery; he may have thought it the most suitable return for the female worship he was accustomed to receive.'

Mr Warricombe was coming towards them. He brought a new subject of conversation, and as they talked the trio drew near to the gate which led into the road. The afternoon postman was just entering; Mr Warricombe took from him two letters.

'One for you, Sylvia, and -- one for you, Sidwell.'

A slight change in his voice caused Sidwell to look at her father as he handed her the letter. In the same moment she recognised the writing of the address. It was Godwin Peak's, and undoubtedly her father knew it.

With a momentary hesitation Mr Warricombe continued his talk from the point at which he had broken off, but he avoided his daughter's look, and Sidwell was too well aware of an uneasiness which had fallen upon him. In a few minutes he brought the chat to an end, and walked away towards the house.

Sidwell held her letter tightly. Conversation was no longer possible for her; she had a painful throbbing of the heart, and felt that her face must be playing traitor. Fortunately, Sylvia found it necessary to write a reply to the missive she had received, and her companion was soon at liberty to seek solitude.

For more than an hour she remained alone. However unemotional the contents of the letter, its arrival would have perturbed her seriously, as in the two previous instances; what she found on opening the envelope threw her into so extreme an agitation that it was long before she could subdue the anguish of disorder in all her senses. She had tried to believe that Godwin Peak was henceforth powerless to affect her in this way, write what he would. The romance of her life was over; time had brought the solution of difficulties to which she looked forward; she recognised the inevitable, as doubtless did Godwin also. But all this was self-deception. The passionate letter delighted as much as it tortured her; in secret her heart had desired this, though reason suppressed and denied the hope. No longer need she remember with pangs of shame the last letter she had written, and the cold response; once again things were as they should be -- the lover pleading before her -- she with the control of his fate. The injury to her pride was healed, and in the thought that perforce she must answer with a final 'No', she found at first more of solace than of distress.

Subsidence of physical suffering allowed her to forget this emotion, in its nature unavowable. She could think of the news Godwin sent, could torment herself with interpretations of Marcella Moxey's behaviour, and view in detail the circumstances which enabled Godwin to urge a formal suit. Among her various thoughts there recurred frequently a regret that this letter had not reached her, like the other two, unobserved. Her father had now learnt that she was in correspondence with the disgraced man; to keep silence would be to cause him grave trouble; yet how much better if fortune had only once more favoured her, so that the story might have remained her secret, from beginning to end.

For was not this the end? ----

At the usual time she went to the drawing-room, and somehow succeeded in conversing as though nothing had disturbed her. Mr Warricombe was not seen till dinner. When he came forth, Sidwell noticed his air of preoccupation, and that he avoided addressing her. The evening asked too much of her self-command; she again withdrew, and only came back when the household was ready for retiring. In bidding her father goodnight, she forced herself to meet his gaze; he looked at her with troubled inquiry, and she felt her cheek redden.

'Do you want to get rid of me?' asked Sylvia, with wonted frankness, when her friend drew near.

'No. Let us go to the glass-house.'

Up there on the roof Sidwell often found a retreat when her thoughts were troublesome. Fitfully, she had resumed her water-colour drawing, but as a rule her withdrawal to the glass-house was for reading or reverie. Carrying a small lamp, she led the way before Sylvia, and they sat down in the chairs which on one occasion had been occupied by Buckland Warricombe and Peak.

The wind, rarely silent in this part of Devon, blew boisterously from the south-west. A far-off whistle, that of a train speeding up the valley on its way from Plymouth, heightened the sense of retirement and quietude always to be enjoyed at night here under the stars.

'Have you been thinking over my suggestion?' asked Sylvia, when there had been silence awhile.

'No,' was the murmured reply.

'Something has happened, I think.'

'Yes. I should like to tell you, Sylvia, but' ----

'But' ----

'I must tell you! I can't keep it in my own mind, and you are the only one' ----

Sylvia was surprised at the agitation which suddenly revealed itself in her companion's look and voice. She became serious, her eyes brightening with intellectual curiosity. Feminine expressions of sympathy were not to be expected from Miss Moorhouse; far more reassuring to Sidwell was the kind attentiveness with which her friend bent forward.

'That letter father handed me to-day was from Mr Peak.'

'You hear from him?'

'This is the third time -- since he went away. At our last meeting' -- her voice dropped -- 'I pledged my faith to him. -- Not absolutely. The future was too uncertain' ----

The gleam in Sylvia's eyes grew more vivid. She was profoundly interested, and did not speak when Sidwell's voice failed.

'You never suspected this?' asked the latter, in a few moments.

'Not exactly that. What I did suspect was that Mr Peak's departure resulted from -- your rejection of him.'

'There is more to be told,' pursued Sidwell, in tremulous accents. 'You must know it all -- because I need your help. No one here has learnt what took place between us. Mr Peak did not go away on that account. But -- you remember being puzzled to explain his orthodoxy in religion?'

She paused. Sylvia gave a nod, signifying much.

'He never believed as he professed,' went on Sidwell, hurriedly. 'You were justified in doubting him. He concealed the truth -- pretended to champion the old faiths' ----

For an instant she broke off, then hastened through a description of the circumstances which had brought about Peak's discovery. Sylvia could not restrain a smile, but it was softened by the sincere kindliness of her feeling.

'And it was after this,' she inquired impartially, 'that the decisive conversation between you took place?'

'No; just before Buckland's announcement. We met again, after that. -- Does it seem incredible to you that I should have let the second meeting end as it did?'

'I think I understand. Yes, I know you well enough to follow it. I can even guess at the defence he was able to urge.'

'You can?' asked Sidwell, eagerly. 'You see a possibility of his defending himself?'

'I should conjecture that it amounted to the old proverb, "All's fair in love and war". And, putting aside a few moral prejudices, one can easily enough absolve him. -- The fact is, I had long ago surmised that his motives in taking to such a career had more reference to this world than the next. You know, I had several long talks with him; I told you how he interested me. Now I can piece together my conclusions.'

'Still,' urged Sidwell, 'you must inevitably regard him as ignoble -- as guilty of base deceit. I must hide nothing from you, having told so much. Have you heard from anyone about his early life?'

'Your mother told me some old stories.'

Sidwell made an impatient gesture. In words of force and ardour, such as never before had been at her command, she related all she knew of Godwin's history prior to his settling at Exeter, and depicted the mood, the impulses, which, by his own confession, had led to that strange enterprise. Only by long exercise of an impassioned imagination could she thus thoroughly have identified herself with a life so remote from her own. Peak's pleading for himself was scarcely more impressive. In listening, Sylvia understood how completely Sidwell had cast off the beliefs for which her ordinary conversation seemed still to betray a tenderness.

'I know,' the speaker concluded, 'that he cannot in that first hour have come to regard me with a feeling strong enough to determine what he then undertook. It was not I as an individual, but all of us here, and the world we represented. Afterwards, he persuaded himself that he had felt love for me from the beginning. And I, I tried to believe it -- because I wished it true; for his sake, and for my own. However it was, I could not harden my heart against him. A thousand considerations forbade me to allow him further hope; but I refused to listen -- no, I could not listen. I said I would remain true to him. He went away to take up his old pursuits, and if possible to make a position for himself. It was to be our secret. And in spite of everything. I hoped for the future.'

Silence followed, and Sidwell seemed to lose herself in distressful thought.

'And now,' asked her friend, 'what has come to pass?'

'Do you know that Miss Moxey is dead?'

'I haven't heard of it.'

'She is dead, and has left Mr Peak a fortune. -- His letter of today tells me this. And at the same time he claims my promise.'

Their eyes met. Sylvia still had the air of meditating a most interesting problem. Impossible to decide from her countenance how she regarded Sidwell's position.

'But why in the world,' she asked, 'should Marcella Moxey have left her money to Mr Peak?'

'They were friends,' was the quick reply. 'She knew all that had befallen him, and wished to smooth his path.'

Sylvia put several more questions, and to all of them Sidwell replied with a peculiar decision, as though bent on making it clear that there was nothing remarkable in this fact of the bequest. The motive which impelled her was obscure even to her own mind, for ever since receiving the letter she had suffered harassing doubts where now she affected to have none.

'She knew, then,' was Sylvia's last inquiry, 'of the relations between you and Mr Peak?'

'I am not sure -- but I think so. Yes, I think she must have known.'

'From Mr Peak himself, then?'

Sidwell was agitated.

'Yes -- I think so. But what does that matter?'

The other allowed her face to betray perplexity.

'So much for the past,' she said at length. 'And now?' ----

'I have not the courage to do what I wish.'

There was a long silence.

'About your wish,' asked Sylvia at length, 'you are not at all doubtful?'

'Not for one moment. -- Whether I err in my judgment of him could be proved only by time; but I know that if I were free, if I stood alone' ----

She broke off and sighed. 'It would mean, I suppose,' said the other, 'a rupture with your family?'

'Father would not abandon me, but I should darken the close of his life. Buckland would utterly cast me off; mother would wish to do so. -- You see, I cannot think and act simply as a woman, as a human being. I am bound to a certain sphere of life. The fact that I have outgrown it, counts for nothing. I cannot free myself without injury to people whom I love. To act as I wish would be to outrage every rule and prejudice of the society to which I belong. You yourself -- you know how you would regard me.'

Sylvia replied deliberately.

'I am seeing you in a new light, Sidwell. It takes a little time to reconstruct my conception of you.'

'You think worse of me than you did.'

'Neither better nor worse, but differently. There has been too much reserve between us. After so long a friendship, I ought to have known you more thoroughly. To tell the truth, I have thought now and then of you and Mr Peak; that was inevitable. But I went astray; it seemed to me the most unlikely thing that you should regard him with more than a doubtful interest. I knew, of course, that he had made you his ideal, and I felt sorry for him.'

'I seemed to you unworthy?' ----

'Too placid, too calmly prudent. -- In plain words, Sidwell, I do think better of you.'

Sidwell smiled.

'Only to know me henceforth as the woman who did not dare to act upon her best impulses.'

'As for "best" -- I can't say. I don't glorify passion, as you know; and on the other hand I have little sympathy with the people who are always crying out for self-sacrifice. I don't know whether it would be "best" to throw over your family, or to direct yourself solely with regard to their comfort.'

Sidwell broke in.

'Yes, that is the true phrase -- "their comfort". No higher word should be used. That is the ideal of the life to which I have been brought up. Comfort, respectability. -- And has he no right? If I sacrifice myself to father and mother, do I not sacrifice him as well? He has forfeited all claim to consideration -- that is what people say. With my whole soul, I deny it! If he sinned against anyone, it was against me, and the sin ended as soon as I understood him. That episode in his life is blotted out; by what law must it condemn to imperfection the whole of his life and of my own? Yet because people will not, cannot, look at a thing in a spirit of justice, I must wrong myself and him.'

'Let us think of it more quietly,' said Sylvia, in her clear, dispassionate tones. 'You speak as though a decision must be taken at once. Where is the necessity for that? Mr Peak is now independent. Suppose a year or two be allowed to pass, may not things look differently?'

'A year or two!' exclaimed Sidwell, with impatience. 'Nothing will be changed. What I have to contend against is unchangeable. If I guide myself by such a hope as that, the only reasonable thing would be for me to write to Mr Peak, and ask him to wait until my father and mother are dead.'

'Very well. On that point we are at rest, then. The step must be taken at once, or never.'

The wind roared, and for some minutes no other sound was audible. By this, all the inmates of the house save the two friends were in bed, and most likely sleeping.

'You must think it strange,' said Sidwell, 'that I have chosen to tell you all this, just when the confession is most humiliating to me. I want to feel the humiliation, as one only can when another is witness of it. I wish to leave myself no excuse for the future.'

'I'm not sure that I quite understand you. You have made up your mind to break with him?'

'Because I am a coward.'

'If my feeling in any matter were as strong as that, I should allow it to guide me.'

'Because your will is stronger. You, Sylvia, would never (in my position) have granted him that second interview. You would have known that all was at an end, and have acted upon the knowledge. I knew it, but yielded to temptation -- at his expense. I could not let him leave me, though that would have been kindest. I held him by a promise, basely conscious that retreat was always open to me. And now I shall have earned his contempt' ----

Her voice failed. Sylvia, affected by the outbreak of emotion in one whom she had always known so strong in self-command, spoke with a deeper earnestness.

'Dear, do you wish me to help you against what you call your cowardice? I cannot take it upon me to encourage you until your own will has spoken. The decision must come from yourself. Choose what course you may, I am still your friend. I have no idle prejudices, and no social bonds. You know how I wish you to come away with me; now I see only more clearly how needful it is for you to breathe new air. Yes, you have outgrown these conditions, just as your brothers have, just as Fanny will -- indeed has. Take to-night to think of it. If you can decide to travel with me for a year, be frank with Mr Peak, and ask him to wait so long -- till you have made up your mind. He cannot reasonably find fault with you, for he knows all you have to consider. Won't this be best?'

Sidwell was long silent.

'I will go with you,' she said at last, in a low voice. 'I will ask him to grant me perfect liberty for a year.'

When she came down next morning it was Sidwell's intention to seek a private interview with her father, and make known her resolve to go abroad with Sylvia; but Mr Warricombe anticipated her.

'Will you come to the library after breakfast, Sidwell?' he said, on meeting her in the hall.

She interpreted his tone, and her heart misgave her. An hour later she obeyed the summons. Martin greeted her with a smile, but hardly tried to appear at ease.

'I am obliged to speak to you,' were his first words. 'The letter you had yesterday was from Mr Peak?'

'Yes, father.'

'Is he' -- Mr Warricombe hesitated -- 'in these parts again?'

'No; in Lancashire.'

'Sidwell, I claim no right whatever to control your correspondence; but it was a shock to me to find that you are in communication with him.'

'He wrote,' Sidwell replied with difficulty, 'to let me know of a change that has come upon his prospects. By the death of a friend, he is made independent.'

'For his own sake, I am glad to hear that. But how could it concern you, dear?'

She struggled to command herself.

'It was at my invitation that he wrote, father.'

Martin's face expressed grave concern.

'Sidwell! Is this right?'

She was very pale, and kept her eyes unmovingly directed just aside from her father.

'What can it mean?' Mr Warricombe pursued, with sad remonstrance. 'Will you not take me into your confidence, Sidwell?'

'I can't speak of it,' she replied, with sudden determination.

'Least of all with you, father.'

'Least of all? -- I thought we were very near to each other.'

'For that very reason, I can't speak to you of this. I must be left free! I am going away with Sylvia, for a year, and for so long I must be absolutely independent. Father, I entreat you not to' ----

A sob checked her. She turned away, and fought against the hysterical tendency; but it was too strong to be controlled. Her father approached, beseeching her to be more like herself. He held her in his arms, until tears had their free course, and a measure of calmness returned.

'I can't speak to you about it,' she repeated, her face hidden from him. 'I must write you a long letter, when I have gone. You shall know everything in that way.'

'But, my dearest, I can't let you leave us under these circumstances. This is a terrible trial to me. You cannot possibly go until we understand each other!'

'Then I will write to you here -- to-day or to-morrow.'

With this promise Martin was obliged to be contented, Sidwell left him, and was not seen, except by Sylvia, during the whole day.

Nor did she appear at breakfast on the morning that followed. But when this meal was over, Sylvia received a message, summoning her to the retreat on the top of the house. Here Sidwell sat in the light and warmth, a glass door wide open to the west, the rays of a brilliant sun softened by curtains which fluttered lightly in the breeze from the sea.

'Will you read this?' she said, holding out a sheet of notepaper on which were a few lines in her own handwriting.

It was a letter, beginning -- 'I cannot.'

Sylvia perused it carefully, and stood in thought.

'After all?' were the words with which she broke silence. They were neither reproachful nor regretful, but expressed grave interest.

'In the night,' said Sidwell, 'I wrote to father, but I shall not give him the letter. Before it was finished, I knew that I must write this. There's no more to be said, dear. You will go abroad without me -- at all events for the present.'

'If that is your resolve,' answered the other, quietly, 'I shall keep my word, and only do what I can to aid it.' She sat down shielding her eyes from the sunlight with a Japanese fan. 'After all, Sidwell, there's much to be said for a purpose formed on such a morning as this; one can't help distrusting the midnight.'

Sidwell was lying back in a low chair, her eyes turned to the woody hills on the far side of the Exe.

'There's one thing I should like to say,' her friend pursued. 'It struck me as curious that you were not at all affected, by what to me would have been the one insuperable difficulty.'

'I know what you mean -- the legacy.'

'Yes. It still seems to you of no significance?'

'Of very little,' Sidwell answered wearily, letting her eyelids droop.

'Then we won't talk about it. From the higher point of view, I believe you are right; but -- still let it rest.'

In the afternoon, Sidwell penned the following lines which she enclosed in an envelope and placed on the study table, when her father was absent.

'The long letter which I promised you, dear father, is
needless. I have to-day sent Mr Peak a reply which closes our
correspondence. I am sure he will not write again; if he were
to do so, I should not answer.

'I have given up my intention of going away with Sylvia.
Later, perhaps, I shall wish to join her somewhere on the
Continent, but by that time you will be in no concern about

To this Mr Warricombe replied only with the joyous smile which greeted his daughter at their next meeting. Mrs Warricombe remained in ignorance of the ominous shadow which had passed over her house. At present, she was greatly interested in the coming marriage of the Rev. Bruno Chilvers, whom she tried not to forgive for having disappointed her secret hope.

Martin had finally driven into the background those uneasy questionings, which at one time it seemed likely that Godwin Peak would rather accentuate than silence. With Sidwell, he could never again touch on such topics. If he were still conscious of a postponed debate, the adjournment was sine die. Martin rested in the faith that, without effort of his own, the mysteries of life and time would ere long be revealed to him.


Earwaker spent Christmas with his relatives at Kingsmill. His father and mother both lived; the latter very infirm, unable to leave the house; the former a man of seventy, twisted with rheumatism, his face rugged as a countenance picked out by fancy on the trunk of a big old oak, his hands scarred and deformed with labour. Their old age was restful. The son who had made himself a 'gentleman', and who in London sat at the tables of the high-born, the wealthy, the famous, saw to it that they lacked no comfort.

A bright, dry morning invited the old man and the young to go forth together. They walked from the suburb countrywards, and their conversation was of the time when a struggle was being made to bear the expense of those three years at Whitelaw -- no bad investment, as it proved. The father spoke with a strong Midland accent, using words of dialect by no means disagreeable to the son's ear -- for dialect is a very different thing from the bestial jargon which on the lips of the London vulgar passes for English. They were laughing over some half grim reminiscence, when Earwaker became aware of two people who were approaching along the pavement, they also in merry talk. One of them he knew; it was Christian Moxey.

Too much interested in his companion to gaze about him, Christian came quite near before his eyes fell on Earwaker. Then he started with a pleasant surprise, changed instantly to something like embarrassment when he observed the aged man. Earwaker was willing to smile and go by, had the other consented; but a better impulse prevailed in both. They stopped and struck hands together.

'My father,' said the man of letters, quite at his ease.

Christian was equal to the occasion; he shook hands heartily with the battered toiler, then turned to the lady at his side.

'Janet, you guess who this is. -- My cousin, Earwaker, Miss Janet Moxey.'

Doubtless Janet was aware that her praises had suffered no diminution when sung by Christian to his friends. Her eyes just fell, but in a moment were ready with their frank, intelligent smile. Earwaker experienced a pang -- ever so slight -- suggesting a revision of his philosophy.

They talked genially, and parted with good wishes for the New Year.

Two days later, on reaching home, Earwaker found in his letter-box a scrap of paper on which were scribbled a few barely legible lines. 'Here I am!' he at length deciphered. 'Got into Tilbury at eleven this morning. Where the devil are you? Write to Charing Cross Hotel.' No signature, but none was needed. Malkin's return from New Zealand had been signalled in advance.

That evening the erratic gentleman burst in like a whirlwind. He was the picture of health, though as far as ever from enduing the comfortable flesh which accompanies robustness in men of calmer temperament. After violent greetings, he sat down with abrupt gravity, and began to talk as if in continuance of a dialogue just interrupted.

'Now, don't let us have any misunderstanding. You will please remember that my journey to England is quite independent of what took place two years and a half ago. It has nothing whatever to do with those circumstances.'

Earwaker smiled.

'I tell you,' pursued the other, hotly, 'that I am here to see you -- and one or two other old friends; and to look after some business matters. You will oblige me by giving credit to my assertion!'

'Don't get angry. I am convinced of the truth of what you say.'

'Very well! It's as likely as not that, on returning to Auckland, I shall marry Miss Maccabe -- of whom I have written to you. I needn't repeat the substance of my letters. I am not in love with her, you understand, and I needn't say that my intercourse with that family has been guided by extreme discretion. But she is a very sensible young lady. My only regret is that I didn't know her half-a-dozen years ago, so that I could have directed her education. She might have been even more interesting than she is. But -- you are at leisure, I hope, Earwaker?'

'For an hour or two.'

'Oh, confound it! When a friend comes back from the ends of the earth! -- Yes, yes; I understand. You are a busy man; forgive my hastiness. Well now, I was going to say that I shall probably call upon Mrs Jacox.' He paused, and gave the listener a stern look, forbidding misconstruction. 'Yes, I shall probably go down to Wrotham. I wish to put my relations with that family on a proper footing. Our correspondence has been very satisfactory, especially of late. The poor woman laments more sincerely her -- well, let us say, her folly of two years and a half ago. She has outlived it; she regards me as a friend. Bella and Lily seem to be getting on very well indeed. That governess of theirs -- we won't have any more mystery; it was I who undertook the trifling expense. A really excellent teacher, I have every reason to believe. I am told that Bella promises to be a remarkable pianist, and Lily is uncommonly strong in languages. But my interest in them is merely that of a friend; let it be understood.'

'Precisely. You didn't say whether the girls have been writing to you?'

'No, no, no! Not a line. I have exchanged letters only with their mother. Anything else would have been indiscreet. I shall be glad to see them, but my old schemes are things of the past. There is not the faintest probability that Bella has retained any recollection of me at all.'

'I daresay not,' assented Earwaker.

'You think so? Very well; I have acted wisely. Bella is still a child, you know -- compared with a man of my age. She is seventeen and a few months; quite a child! Miss Maccabe is just one-and-twenty; the proper age. When we are married, I think I shall bring her to Europe for a year or two. Her education needs that; she will be delighted to see the old countries.'

'Have you her portrait?'

'Oh no! Things haven't got so far as that. What a hasty fellow you are, Earwaker! I told you distinctly' ----

He talked till after midnight, and at leave-taking apologised profusely for wasting his friend's valuable time.

Earwaker awaited with some apprehension the result of Malkin's visit to Wrotham. But the report of what took place on that occasion was surprisingly commonplace. Weeks passed, and Malkin seldom showed himself at Staple Inn; when he did so, his talk was exclusively of Miss Maccabe; all he could be got to say of the young ladies at Wrotham was, 'Nice girls; very nice girls. I hope they'll marry well.' Two months had gone by, and already the journalist had heard by letter of his friend's intention to return to New Zealand, when, on coming home late one night, he found Malkin sitting on the steps.

'Earwaker, I have something very serious to tell you. Give me just a quarter of an hour.'

What calamity did this tone portend? The eccentric man seated himself with slow movement. Seen by a good light, his face was not gloomy, but very grave.

'Listen to me, old friend,' he began, sliding forward to the edge of his chair. 'You remember I told you that my relations with the Maccabe family had been marked throughout with extreme discretion.'

'You impressed that upon me.'

'Good! I have never made love to Miss Maccabe, and I doubt whether she has ever thought of me as a possible husband.'


'Don't be impatient. I want you to grasp the fact. It is important, because -- I am going to marry Bella Jacox.'

'You don't say so?'

'Why not?' cried Malkin, suddenly passing to a state of excitement. 'What objection can you make? I tell you that I am absolutely free to choose' ----

The journalist calmed him, and thereupon had to hear a glowing account of Bella's perfections. All the feeling that Malkin had suppressed during these two months rushed forth in a flood of turbid eloquence.

'And now,' he concluded, 'you will come down with me to Wrotham. I don't mean to-night; let us say the day after tomorrow, Sunday. You remember our last joint visit! Ha, ha!'

'Mrs Jacox is reconciled?'

'My dear fellow, she rejoices! A wonderful nobility in that poor little woman! She wept upon my shoulder! But you must see Bella! I shan't take her to New Zealand, at all events not just yet. We shall travel about Europe, completing her education. Don't you approve of that?'

On Sunday, the two travelled down into Kent. This time they were received by Lily, now a pretty, pale, half-developed girl of fifteen. In a few minutes her sister entered. Bella was charming; nervousness made her words few, and it could be seen that she was naturally thoughtful, earnest, prone to reverie; her beauty had still to ripen, and gave much promise for the years between twenty and thirty. Last of all appeared Mrs Jacox, who blushed as she shook hands with Earwaker, and for a time was ill at ease; but her vocatives were not long restrained, and when all sat down to the tea-table she chattered away with astonishing vivacity. After tea the company was joined by a lady of middle age, who, for about two years, had acted as governess to the girls. Earwaker formed his conclusions as to the 'trifling expense' which her services represented; but it was probably a real interest in her pupils which had induced a person of so much refinement to bear so long with the proximity of Mrs Jacox.

'A natural question occurs to me,' remarked Earwaker, as they were returning. 'Who and what was Mr Jacox?'

'Ah! Bella was talking to me about him the other day. He must have been distinctly an interesting man. Bella had a very clear recollection of him, and she showed me two or three photographs. Engaged in some kind of commerce. I didn't seek particulars. But a remarkable man, one can't doubt.'

He resumed presently.

'Now don't suppose that this marriage entirely satisfies me. Bella has been fairly well taught, but not, you see, under my supervision. I ought to have been able to watch and direct her month by month. As it is, I shall have to begin by assailing her views on all manner of things. Religion, for example. Well, I have no religion, that's plain. I might call myself this or that for the sake of seeming respectable, but it all comes to the same thing. I don't mind Bella going to church if she wishes, but I must teach her that there's no merit whatever in doing so. It isn't an ideal marriage, but perhaps as good as this imperfect world allows. If I have children, I can then put my educational theories to the test.'

By way of novel experience, Earwaker, not long after this, converted his study into a drawing-room, and invited the Jacox family to taste his tea and cake. With Malkin's assistance, the risky enterprise was made a great success. When Mrs Jacox would allow her to be heard, Bella talked intelligently, and showed eager interest in the details of literary manufacture.

'O Mr Earwaker!' cried her mother, when it was time to go. 'What a delightful afternoon you have given us! We must think of you from now as one of our very best friends. Mustn't we, Lily?'

But troubles were yet in store. Malkin was strongly opposed to a religious marriage; he wished the wedding to be at a registrar's office, and had obtained Bella's consent to this, but Mrs Jacox would not hear of such a thing. She wept and bewailed herself. 'How can you think of being married like a costermonger? O Mr Malkin, you will break my heart, indeed you will!' And she wrote an ejaculatory letter to Earwaker, imploring his intercession. The journalist took his friend in hand.

'My good fellow, don't make a fool of yourself. Women are born for one thing only, the Church of England marriage service. How can you seek to defeat the end of their existence? Give in to the inevitable. Grin and bear it.'

'I can't! I won't! It shall be a runaway match! I had rather suffer the rack than go through an ordinary wedding!'

Dire was the conflict. Down at Wrotham there were floods of tears. In the end, Bella effected a compromise; the marriage was to be at a church, but in the greatest possible privacy. No carriages, no gala dresses, no invitations, no wedding feast; the bare indispensable formalities. And so it came to pass. Earwaker and the girl's governess were the only strangers present, when, on a morning of June, Malkin and Bella were declared by the Church to be henceforth one and indivisible. The bride wore a graceful travelling costume; the bridegroom was in corresponding attire.

'Heaven be thanked, that's over!' exclaimed Malkin, as he issued from the portal. 'Bella, we have twenty-three minutes to get to the railway station. Don't cry!' he whispered to her. 'I can't stand that!'

'No, no; don't be afraid,' she whispered back. 'We have said good-bye already.'

'Capital! That was very thoughtful of you. -- Goodbye, all! Shall write from Paris, Earwaker. Nineteen minutes; we shall just manage it!'

He sprang into the cab, and away it clattered.

A letter from Paris, a letter from Strasburg, from Berlin, Munich -- letters about once a fortnight. From Bella also came an occasional note, a pretty contrast to the incoherent enthusiasm of her husband's compositions. Midway in September she announced their departure from a retreat in Switzerland.

'We are in the utmost excitement, for it is now decided that in
three days we start for Italy! The heat has been terrific, and
we have waited on what seems to me the threshold of
Paradise until we could hope to enjoy the delights beyond.
We go first to Milan. My husband, of course, knows Italy, but
he shares my impatience. I am to entreat you to write to
Milan, with as much news as possible. Especially have you
heard anything more of Mr Peak?'

November the pair spent in Rome, and thence was despatched the following in Malkin's hand:

'This time I am not mistaken! I have seen Peak. He
didn't see me; perhaps wouldn't have known me. It was in
Piale's reading-room. I had sat down to The Times,
when a voice behind me sounded in such a curiously
reminding way that I couldn't help looking round. It was
Peak; not a doubt of it. I might have been uncertain about his
face, but the voice brought back that conversation at your
rooms too unmistakably -- long ago as it was. He was talking
to an American, whom evidently he had met somewhere
else, and had now recognised. "I've had a fever," he said, "and
can't quite shake off the results. Been in Ischia for the last
month. I'm going north to Vienna." Then the two walked
away together. He looked ill, sallow, worn out. Let me know if
you hear.'

On that same day, Earwaker received another letter, with the Roman post-mark. It was from Peak.

'I have had nothing particular to tell you. A month ago I
thought I should never write to you again; I got malarial
fever, and lay desperately ill at the Ospedale Internazionale
at Naples. It came of some monstrous follies there's no need
to speak of. A new and valuable experience. I know what it is
to look steadily into the eyes of Death.

'Even now, I am far from well. This keeps me in low spirits.
The other day I was half decided to start for London. I am
miserably alone, want to see a friend. What a glorious place
Staple Inn seemed to me as I lay in the hospital! Proof how
low I had sunk: I thought longingly of Exeter, of a certain
house there -- never mind!

'I write hastily. An invitation from some musical people has
decided me to strike for Vienna. Up there, I shall get my
health back. The people are of no account -- boarding-house
acquaintances -- but they may lead to better. I never in my
life suffered so from loneliness.'

This was the eighteenth of November. On the twenty-eighth the postman delivered a letter of an appearance which puzzled Earwaker. The stamp was Austrian, the mark 'Wien'. From Peak, therefore. But the writing was unknown, plainly that of a foreigner.

The envelope contained two sheets of paper. The one was covered with a long communication in German; on the other stood a few words of English, written, or rather scrawled, in a hand there was no recognising:

'Ill again, and alone. If I die, act for me. Write to Mrs Peak,

Beneath was added, 'J. E. Earwaker, Staple Inn, London.'

He turned hurriedly to the foreign writing. Earwaker read a German book as easily as an English, but German manuscript was a terror to him. And the present correspondent wrote so execrably that beyond Geehrter Herr, scarcely a word yielded sense to his anxious eyes. Ha! One he had made out -- gestorben.

Crumpling the papers into his pocket, he hastened out, and knocked at the door of an acquaintance in another part of the Inn. This was a man who had probably more skill in German cursive. Between them, they extracted the essence of the letter.

He who wrote was the landlord of an hotel in Vienna. He reported that an English gentleman, named Peak, just arrived from Italy, had taken a bedroom at that house. In the night, the stranger became very ill, sent for a doctor, and wrote the lines enclosed, the purport whereof he at the same time explained to his attendants. On the second day Mr Peak died. Among his effects were found circular notes, and a sum of loose money. The body was about to be interred. Probably Mr Earwaker would receive official communications, as the British consul had been informed of the matter. To whom should bills be sent?

The man of letters walked slowly back to his own abode.

'Dead, too, in exile!' was his thought. 'Poor old fellow!'

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