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Peak lost no time in leaving Exeter. To lighten his baggage, and to get rid of possessions to which hateful memories attached, he sold all his books that had any bearing on theology. The incomplete translation of Bibel und Natur he committed to the flames in Mrs Roots's kitchen, scattering its black remnants with savage thrusts of the poker. Whilst engaged in packing, he debated with himself whether or not he should take leave of the few acquaintances to whom he was indebted for hospitality and other kindness. The question was: Had Buckland Warricombe already warned these people against him? Probably it had seemed to Buckland the wiser course to be content with driving the hypocrite away; and, if this were so, regard for the future dictated a retirement from Exeter which should in no way resemble secret flight. Sidwell's influence with her parents would perhaps withhold them from making his disgrace known, and in a few years he might be glad that he had behaved with all possible prudence. In the end, he decided to write to Mr. Lilywhite, saying that he was obliged to go away at a moment's notice, and that he feared it would be necessary altogether to change the scheme of life which he had had in view. This was the best way. From the Lilywhites, other people would hear of him, and perchance their conjectures would be charitable.
Without much hesitation he had settled his immediate plans. To London he would not return, for he dreaded the temptations to which the proximity of Sidwell would expose him, and he had no mind to meet with Moxey or Earwaker. As it was now imperative that he should find work of the old kind, he could not do better than go to Bristol, where, from the safe ground of a cheap and obscure lodging, he might make inquiries, watch advertisements, and so on. He already knew of establishments in Bristol where he might possibly obtain employment. Living with the utmost economy, he need not fall into difficulties for more than a year, and before then his good repute with the Rotherhithe firm would ensure him some position or other; if not in Bristol, then at Newcastle, St. Helen's--any great centre of fuming and malodorous industry. He was ready to work, would delight in work. idleness was now the intolerable thing.
So to Bristol he betook himself, and there made his temporary abode. After spending a few weeks in fruitless search for an engagement, he at length paid his oft-postponed visit to Twybridge. In the old home he felt completely a stranger, and his relatives strengthened the feeling by declaring him so changed in appearance that they hardly knew his face. With his mother only could he talk in anything like an intimate way, and the falsehoods with which he was obliged to answer her questions all but destroyed the pleasure he would otherwise have found in being affectionately tended. His sister, Mrs Cusse, was happy in her husband, her children, and a flourishing business. Oliver was making money, and enjoyed distinction among the shopkeeping community. His aunt still dealt in millinery, and kept up her acquaintance with respectable families. To Godwin all was like a dream dreamt for the second time. He could not acknowledge any actual connection between these people and himself. But their characteristics no longer gravely offended him, and he willingly recognised the homespun worth which their lives displayed. It was clear to him that by no possible agency of circumstances could he have been held in normal relations with his kinsfolk. However smooth his career, it must have wafted him to an immeasurable distance from Twybridge. Nature had decreed that he was to resemble the animals which, once reared, go forth in complete independence of birthplace and the ties of blood. It was a harsh fate, but in what had not fate been harsh to him? The one consolation was that he alone suffered. His mother was no doubt occasionally troubled by solicitude on his account, but she could not divine his inward miseries, and an assurance that he had no material cares sufficed to set her mind at ease.
'You are very like your father, Godwin,' she said, with a sigh. 'He couldn't rest, however well he seemed to be getting on. There was always something he wanted, and yet he didn't know what it was.'
'Yes, I must be like him,' Godwin replied, smiling.
He stayed five days, then returned to Bristol. A week after that, his mother forwarded to him a letter which had come to Twybridge. He at once recognised the writing, and broke the envelope with curiosity.
'If you should be in London [the note began], I beg you to let me see you. There is something I have to say. To speak to you for a few minutes I would come any distance. Don't accuse me of behaving treacherously; it was not my fault. I know you would rather avoid me, but do consent to hear what I have to say. If you have no intention of coming to London, will you write and let me know where you are living?
What could Marcella have to say to him? Nothing surely that he at all cared to hear. No doubt she imagined that he might be in ignorance of the circumstances which had led to Buckland Warricombe's discovery; she wished to defend herself against the suspicion of 'treachery'. He laughed carelessly, and threw her note aside.
Two months passed, and his efforts to find employment were still vain, though he had received conditional promises The solitude of his life grew burdensome. Several times he began a letter to Sidwell, but his difficulty in writing was so great that he destroyed the attempt. In truth, he knew not how to address her. The words he penned were tumid, meaningless. He could not send professions of love, for his heart seemed to be suffering a paralysis, and the laborious artificiality of his style must have been evident. The only excuse for breaking silence would be to let her know that he had resumed honest work; he must wait till the opportunity offered. It did not distress him to be without news of her. If she wished to write, and was only withheld by ignorance of his whereabouts, it was well; if she had no thought of sending him a word, it did not matter. He loved her, and consciously nourished hope, but for the present there was nothing intolerable in separation. His state of mind resulted partly from nervous reaction, and in part from a sense that only by silent suffering could his dignity in Sidwell's eyes be ultimately restored. Between the evil past and the hopeful future must be a complete break.
His thoughts kept turning to London, though not because Sidwell might still be there. He felt urgent need of speaking with a friend. Moxey was perhaps no longer to be considered one; but Earwaker would be tolerant of human weaknesses. To have a long talk with Earwaker would help him to recover his mental balance, to understand himself and his position better. So one morning in March, on the spur of the moment, he took train and was once more in the metropolis. On his way he had determined to send a note to Earwaker before calling at Staple Inn. He wrote it at a small hotel in Paddington, where he took a room for the night, and then spent the evening at a theatre, as the best way of killing time.
By the first post next morning came a card, whereon Earwaker had written: 'Be here, if you can, at two o'clock. Shall be glad to see you.'
'So you have been new-furnishing!' Godwin remarked, as he was admitted to the chambers. 'You look much more comfortable.'
'I'm glad you think so. It is the general opinion.'
They had shaken hands as though this were one of the ordinary meetings of old time, and their voices scarcely belied the appearance. Peak moved about the study, glancing at pictures and books, Earwaker eyeing him the while with not unfriendly expression. They were sincerely glad to see each other, and when Peak seated himself it was with an audible sigh of contentment.
'And what are you doing?' he inquired.
The journalist gave a brief account of his affairs, and Peak brightened with pleasure.
'This is good news. I knew you would shake off the ragamuffins before long. Give me some of your back numbers, will you? I shall be curious to examine your new style.'
'And you?--Come to live in London?'
'No; I am at Bristol, but only waiting. There's a chance of an analyst's place in Lancashire; but I may give the preference to an opening I have heard of in Belgium. Better to go abroad, I think.'
'I have a question to ask you. I suppose you talked about that Critical article of mine before you received my request for silence?'
'That's how it was,' Earwaker replied, calmly.
'Yes; I understood. It doesn't matter.'
The other puffed at his pipe, and moved uneasily.
'I am taking for granted,' Peak continued, 'that you know how I have spent my time down in Devonshire.'
'In outline. Need we trouble about the details?'
'No. But don't suppose that I should feel any shame in talking to you about them. That would be a confession of base motive. You and I have studied each other, and we can exchange thoughts on most subjects with mutual understanding. You know that I have only followed my convictions to their logical issue. An opportunity offered of achieving the supreme end to which my life is directed, and what scruple could stand in my way? We have nothing to do with names and epithets. Here are the facts of life as I had known it; there is the existence promised as the reward of successful artifice. To live was to pursue the object of my being. I could not feel otherwise; therefore, could not act otherwise. You imagine me defeated, flung back into the gutter.' His words came more quickly, and the muscles of his face worked under emotion. 'It isn't so. I have a great and reasonable hope. Perhaps I have gained everything I really desired. I could tell you the strangest story, but there a scruple does interpose. If we live another twenty years--but now I can only talk about myself.'
'And this hope of which you speak,' said Earwaker, with a grave smile, 'points you at present to sober work among your retorts and test-tubes?'
'Yes, it does.'
'Good. Then I can put faith in the result.'
'Yet the hope began in a lie,' rejoined Peak, bitterly. 'It will always be pleasant to look back upon that, won't it? You see: by no conceivable honest effort could I have gained this point. Life utterly denied to me the satisfaction of my strongest instincts, so long as I plodded on without cause of shame; the moment I denied my faith, and put on a visage of brass, great possibilities opened before me. Of course I understand the moralist's position. It behoved me, though I knew that a barren and solitary track would be my only treading to the end, to keep courageously onward. If I can't believe that any such duty is imposed upon me, where is the obligation to persevere, the morality of doing so? That is the worst hypocrisy. I have been honest, inasmuch as I have acted in accordance with my actual belief.'
'M--m--m,' muttered Earwaker, slowly. 'Then you have never been troubled with a twinge of conscience?'
'With a thousand! I have been racked, martyred. What has that to do with it? Do you suppose I attach any final significance to those torments? Conscience is the same in my view as an inherited disease which may possibly break out on any most innocent physical indulgence.--What end have I been pursuing? Is it criminal? Is it mean? I wanted to win the love of a woman--nothing more. To do that, I have had to behave like the grovelling villain who has no desire but to fill his pockets. And with success!--You understand that, Earwaker? I have succeeded! What respect can I have for the common morality, after this?'
'You have succeeded?' the other asked, thoughtfully. 'I could have imagined that you had been in appearance successful'----
He paused, and Peak resumed with vehemence:
'No, not in appearance only. I can't tell you the story'----
'I don't wish you to'----
'But what I have won is won for ever. The triumph no longer rests on deceit. What I insist upon is that by deceit only was it rendered possible. If a starving man succeeds in stealing a loaf of bread, the food will benefit him no less than if he had purchased it; it is good, true sustenance, no matter how he got it. To be sure, the man may prefer starvation; he may have so strong a metaphysical faith that death is welcome in comparison with what he calls dishonour. I --I have no such faith; and millions of other men in this country would tell the blunt truth if they said the same. I have used means, that's all. The old way of candour led me to bitterness and cursing; by dissimulation I have won something more glorious than tongue can tell.'
It was in the endeavour to expel the subtlest enemy of his peace that Godwin dwelt so defiantly upon this view of the temptation to which he had yielded. Since his farewell interview with Sidwell, he knew no rest from the torment of a mocking voice which bade him bear in mind that all his dishonour had been superfluous, seeing that whilst he played the part of a zealous Christian, Sidwell herself was drifting further and further from the old religion. This voice mingled with his dreams, and left not a waking hour untroubled. He refused to believe it, strove against the suggestion as a half-despairing man does against the persistent thought of suicide. If only he could obtain Earwaker's assent to the plan he put forward, it would support him in disregard of idle regrets.
'It is impossible,' said the journalist, 'for anyone to determine whether that is true or not--for you, as much as for anyone else. Be glad that you have shaken off the evil and retained the good, no use in saying more than that.'
'Yes,' declared the other, stubbornly, 'there is good in exposing false views of life. I ought to have come utterly to grief and shame, and instead'----
'What I have told you.'
'Which I interpret thus: that you have permission to redeem your character, if possible, in the eyes of a woman you have grievously misled.'
'Who suggested this to you, Earwaker?'
'You; no one else. I don't even know who the woman is of whom you speak.'
'Grant you are right. As an honest man, I should never have won her faintest interest.'
'It is absurd for us to talk about it. Think in the way that is most helpful to you,--that, no doubt, is a reasonable rule. Let us have done with all these obscurities, and come to a practical question. Can I be of any use to you? Would you care, for instance, to write an article now and then on some scientific matter that has a popular interest? I think I could promise to get that kind of thing printed for you. Or would you review an occasional book that happened to be in your line?'
'Thank you,' he replied, at length. 'I should be glad of such work --if I can get into the mood for doing it properly. That won't be just yet; but perhaps when I have found a place'----
'Think it over. Write to me about it.'
Peak glanced round the room.
'You don't know how glad I am,' he said, 'that your prosperity shows itself in this region of bachelordom. If I had seen you in a comfortable house, married to a woman worthy of you--I couldn't have been sincere in my congratulations: I should have envied you so fiercely.'
'You're a strange fellow. Twenty years hence--as you said just now --you will one way or another have got rid of your astounding illusions. At fifty--well, let us say at sixty--you will have a chance of seeing things without these preposterous sexual spectacles.'
'I hope so. Every stage of life has its powers and enjoyments. When I am old, I hope to perceive and judge without passion of any kind. But is that any reason why my youth should be frustrated? We have only one life, and I want to live mine throughout.'
Soon after this Peak rose. He remembered that the journalist's time was valuable, and that he no longer had the right to demand more of it than could be granted to any casual caller. Earwaker behaved with all friendliness, but their relations had necessarily suffered a change. More than a year of separation, spent by the one in accumulating memories of dishonour, had given the other an enviable position among men; Earwaker had his place in the social system, his growing circle of friend, his congenial labour; perhaps-- notwithstanding the tone in which he spoke of marriage--his hopes of domestic happiness. All this with no sacrifice of principle. He was fortunate in his temper, moral and intellectual; partly directing circumstances, partly guided by their pressure, he advanced on the way of harmonious development. Nothing great would come of his endeavours, but what he aimed at he steadily perfected. And this in spite of the adverse conditions under which he began his course. Nature had been kind to him; what more could one say?
When he went forth into the street again, Godwin felt his heart sink. His solitude was the more complete for this hour of friendly dialogue. No other companionship offered itself; if he lingered here, it must be as one of the drifting crowd, as an idle and envious spectator of the business and pleasure rife about him. He durst not approach that quarter of the town where Sidwell was living --if indeed she still remained here. Happily, the vastness of London enabled him to think of her as at a great distance; by keeping to the district in which he now wandered he was practically as remote from her as when he walked the streets of Bristol.
Yet there was one person who would welcome him eagerly if he chose to visit her. And, after all, might it not be as well if he heard what Marcella had to say to him? He could not go to the house, for it would be disagreeable to encounter Moxey; but, if he wrote, Marcella would speedily make an appointment. After an hour or two of purposeless rambling, he decided to ask for an interview. He might learn something that really concerned him; in any case, it was a final meeting with Marcella, to whom he perhaps owed this much courtesy.
The reply was as prompt as that from Earwaker. By the morning post came a letter inviting him to call upon Miss Moxey as soon as possible before noon. She added, 'My brother is away in the country; you will meet no one here.'
By eleven o'clock he was at Notting Hill; in the drawing-room, he sat alone for two or three minutes. Marcella entered silently, and came towards him without a smile; he saw that she read his face eagerly, if not with a light of triumph in her eyes. The expression might signify that she rejoiced at having been an instrument of his discomfiture; perhaps it was nothing more than gladness at seeing him again.
'Have you come to live in London?' she asked, when they had shaken hands without a word.
'I am only here for a day or two.'
'My letter reached you without delay?'
'Yes. It was sent from Twybridge to Bristol. I didn't reply then, as I had no prospect of being in London.'
'Will you sit down? You can stay for a few minutes?'
He seated himself awkwardly. Now that he was in Marcella's presence, he felt that he had acted unaccountably in giving occasion for another scene between them which could only end as painfully as that at Exeter. Her emotion grew evident; he could not bear to meet the look she had fixed upon him.
'I want to speak of what happened in this house about Christmas time,' she resumed. 'But I must know first what you have been told.'
'What have you been told?' he replied, with an uneasy smile. 'How do you know that anything which happened here had any importance for me?'
'I don't know that it had. But I felt sure that Mr. Warricombe meant to speak to you about it.'
'Yes, he did.'
'But did he tell you the exact truth? Or were you led to suppose that I had broken my promise to you?'
Unwilling to introduce any mention of Sidwell, Peak preferred to simplify the story by attributing to Buckland all the information he had gathered.
'I understood,' he replied, 'that Warricombe had come here in the hope of learning more about me, and that certain facts came out in general conversation. What does it matter how he learned what he did? From the day when he met you down in Devonshire, it was of course inevitable that the truth should sooner or later come out. He always suspected me.'
'But I want you to know,' said Marcella, 'that I had no willing part in it. I promised you not to speak even to my brother, and I should never have done so but that Christian somehow met Mr. Warricombe, and heard him talk of you. Of course he came to me in astonishment, and for your own interest I thought it best to tell Christian what I knew. When Mr. Warricombe came here, neither Christian nor I would have enlightened him about--about your past. It happened most unfortunately that Mr. Malkin was present, and he it was who began to speak of the Critical article--and other things. I was powerless to prevent it.'
'Why trouble about it? I quite believe your account.'
'You do believe it? You know I would not have injured you?'
'I am sure you had no wish to,' Godwin replied, in as unsentimental a tone as possible. And, he added after a moment's pause, 'Was this what you were so anxious to tell me?'
'Yes. Chiefly that.'
'Let me put your mind at rest,' pursued the other, with quiet friendliness. 'I am disposed to turn optimist; everything has happened just as it should have done. Warricombe relieved me from a false position. If he hadn't done so, I must very soon have done it for myself. Let us rejoice that things work together for such obvious good. A few more lessons of this kind, and we shall acknowledge that the world is the best possible.'
He laughed, but the tense expression of Marcella's features did not relax.
'You say you are living in Bristol?'
'For a time.'
'Have you abandoned Exeter?'
The word implied something that Marcella could not utter more plainly. Her face completed the question.
'And the clerical career as well,' he answered.
But he knew that she sought more than this, and his voice again broke the silence.
'Perhaps you have heard that already? Are you in communication with Miss Moorhouse?'
She shook her head.
'But probably Warricombe has told your brother----?'
'Oh, of his success in ridding Exeter of my objectionable presence.'
'Christian hasn't seen him again, nor have I.'
'I only wish to assure you that I have suffered no injury. My experiment was doomed to failure. What led me to it, how I regarded it, we won't discuss; I am as little prepared to do so now as when we talked at Exeter. That chapter in my life is happily over. As soon as I am established again in a place like that I had at Rotherhithe, I shall be quite contented.'
'Contented?' She smiled incredulously. 'For how long?'
'Who can say? I have lost the habit of looking far forward.'
Marcella kept silence so long that he concluded she had nothing more to say to him. It was an opportunity for taking leave without emotional stress, and he rose from his chair.
'Don't go yet,' she said at once. 'It wasn't only this that I'----
Her voice was checked.
'Can I be of any use to you in Bristol?' Peak asked, determined to avoid the trial he saw approaching.
'There is something more I wanted to say,' she pursued, seeming not to hear him. 'You pretend to be contented, but I know that is impossible. You talk of going back to a dull routine of toil, when what you most desire is freedom. I want--if I can--to help you.'
Again she failed to command her voice. Godwin raised his eyes, and was astonished at the transformation she had suddenly undergone. Her face, instead of being colourless and darkly vehement, had changed to a bright warmth, a smiling radiance such as would have become a happy girl. His look seemed to give her courage.
'Only hear me patiently. We are such old friends--are we not? We have so often proclaimed our scorn of conventionality, and why should a conventional fear hinder what I want to say? You know-- don't you?--that I have far more money than I need or am ever likely to. I want only a few hundreds a year, and I have more than a thousand.' She spoke more and more quickly, fearful of being interrupted. 'Why shouldn't I give you some of my superfluity? Let me help you in this way. Money can do so much. Take some from me, and use it as you will--just as you will. It is useless to me. Why shouldn't someone whom I wish well benefit by it?'
Godwin was not so much surprised as disconcerted. He knew that Marcella's nature was of large mould, and that whether she acted for good or evil its promptings would be anything but commonplace. The ardour with which she pleaded, and the magnitude of the benefaction she desired to bestow upon him, so affected his imagination that for the moment he stood as if doubting what reply to make. The doubt really in his mind was whether Marcella had calculated upon his weakness, and hoped to draw him within her power by the force of such an obligation, or if in truth she sought only to appease her heart with the exercise of generosity.
'You will let me?' she panted forth, watching him with brilliant eyes. 'This shall be a secret for ever between you and me. It imposes no debt of gratitude--how I despise the thought! I give you what is worthless to me,--except that it can do you good. But you can thank me if you will. I am not above being thanked.' She laughed unnaturally. 'Go and travel at first, as you wished to. Write me a short letter every month--every two months, just that I may know you are enjoying your life. It is agreed, isn't it?'
She held her hand to him, but Peak drew away, his face averted.
'How can you give me the pain of refusing such an offer?' he exclaimed, with remonstrance which was all but anger. 'You know the thing is utterly impossible. I should be ridiculous if I argued about it for a moment.'
'I can't see that it is impossible.'
'Then you must take my word for it. But I have no right to speak to you in that way,' he added, more kindly, seeing the profound humiliation which fell upon her. 'You meant to come to my aid at a time when I seemed to you lonely and miserable. It was a generous impulse, and I do indeed thank you. I shall always remember it and be grateful to you.'
Marcella's face was again in shadow. Its lineaments hardened to an expression of cold, stern dignity.
'I have made a mistake,' she said. 'I thought you above common ways of thinking.'
'Yes, you put me on too high a pedestal,' Peak answered, trying to speak humorously. 'One of my faults is that I am apt to mistake my own position in the same way.'
'You think yourself ambitious. Oh, if you knew really great ambition! Go back to your laboratory, and work for wages. I would have saved you from that.'
The tone was not vehement, but the words bit all the deeper for their unimpassioned accent. Godwin could make no reply.
'I hope,' she continued, 'we may meet a few years hence. By that time you will have learnt that what I offered was not impossible. You will wish you had dared to accept it. I know what your ambition is. Wait till you are old enough to see it in its true light. How you will scorn yourself! Surely there was never a man who united such capacity for great things with so mean an ideal. You will never win even the paltry satisfaction on which you have set your mind--never! But you can't be made to understand that. You will throw away all the best part of your life. Meet me in a few years, and tell me the story of the interval.'
'I will engage to do that, Marcella.'
'You will? But not to tell me the truth. You will not dare to tell the truth.'
'Why not?' he asked, indifferently. 'Decidedly I shall owe it you in return for your frankness to-day. Till then--good-bye.'
She did not refuse her hand, and as he moved away she watched him with a smile of slighting good-nature.
On the morrow Godwin was back in Bristol, and there he dwelt for another six months, a period of mental and physical lassitude. Earwaker corresponded with him, and urged him to attempt the work that had been proposed, but such effort was beyond his power.
He saw one day in a literary paper an announcement that Reusch's Bibel und Natur was about to be published in an English translation. So someone else had successfully finished the work he undertook nearly two years ago. He amused himself with the thought that he could ever have persevered so long in such profitless labour, and with a contemptuous laugh he muttered 'Thohu wabohu.'
Just when the winter had set in, he received an offer of a post in chemical works at St. Helen's, and without delay travelled northwards. The appointment was a poor one, and seemed unlikely to be a step to anything better, but his resources would not last more than another half year, and employment of whatever kind came as welcome relief to the tedium of his existence. Established in his new abode, he at length wrote to Sidwell. She answered him at once in a short letter which he might have shown to anyone, so calm were its expressions of interest, so uncompromising its words of congratulation. It began 'Dear Mr. Peak', and ended with 'Yours sincerely'. Well, he had used the same formalities, and had uttered his feelings with scarcely more of warmth. Disappointment troubled him for a moment, and for a moment only. He was so far from Exeter, and further still from the life that he had led there. It seemed to him all but certain that Sidwell wrote coldly, with the intention of discouraging his hopes. What hope was he so foolish as to entertain? His position poorer than ever, what could justify him in writing love-letters to a girl who, even if willing to marry him, must not do so until he had a suitable home to offer her?
Since his maturity, he had never known so long a freedom from passion. One day he wrote to Earwaker: 'I begin to your independence with regard to women. It would be a strange thing if I became a convert to that way of thinking, but once or twice of late I have imagined that it was happening. My mind has all but recovered its tone, and I am able to read, to think--I mean really to think, not to muse. I get through big and solid books. Presently, if your offer still hold good, I shall send you a scrap of writing on something or other. The pestilent atmosphere of this place seems to invigorate me. Last Saturday evening I took train, got away into the hills, and spent the Sunday geologising. And a curious experience befell me,--one I had long, long ago, in the Whitelaw days. Sitting down before some interesting strata, I lost myself in something like nirvana, grew so subject to the idea of vastness in geological time that all human desires and purposes shrivelled to ridiculous unimportance. Awaking for a minute, I tried to realise the passion which not long ago rent and racked me, but I was flatly incapable of understanding it. Will this philosophic state endure? Perhaps I have used up all my emotional energy? I hardly know whether to hope or fear it.'
About midsummer, when his short holiday (he would only be released for a fortnight) drew near, he was surprised by another letter from Sidwell.
'I am anxious [she wrote] to hear that you are well. It is more than half a year since your last letter, and of late I have been constantly expecting a few lines. The spring has been a time of trouble with us. A distant relative, an old and feeble lady who has passed her life in a little Dorsetshire village, came to see us in April, and in less than a fortnight she was seized with illness and died. Then Fanny had an attack of bronchitis, from which even now she is not altogether recovered. On her account we are all going to Royat, and I think we shall be away until the end of September. Will you let me hear from you before I leave England, which will be in a week's time? Don't refrain from writing because you think you have no news to send. Anything that interests you is of interest to me. If it is only to tell me what you have been reading, I shall be glad of a letter.'
It was still 'Yours sincerely'; but Godwin felt that the letter meant more. In re-reading it he was pleasantly thrilled with a stirring of the old emotions. But his first impulse, to write an ardent reply, did not carry him away; he reflected and took counsel of the experience gained in his studious solitude. It was evident that by keeping silence he had caused Sidwell to throw off something of her reserve. The course dictated by prudence was to maintain an attitude of dignity, to hold himself in check. In this way he would regain what he had so disastrously lost, Sidwell's respect. There was a distinct pleasure in this exercise of self-command; it was something new to him; it flattered his pride. 'Let her learn that, after all, I am her superior. Let her fear to lose me. Then, if her love is still to be depended upon, she will before long find a way to our union. It is in her power, if only she wills it.'
So he sat down and wrote a short letter which seemed to him a model of dignified expression.
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