In the spring of 1882 Mr. Jarvis Runcorn, editor and coproprietor of the London Weekly Post, was looking about for a young man of journalistic promise whom he might associate with himself in the conduct of that long established Radical paper. The tale of his years warned him that he could not hope to support much longer a burden which necessarily increased with the growing range and complexity of public affairs. Hitherto he had been the autocrat of the office, but competing Sunday papers exacted an alertness, a versatile vigour, such as only youth can supply; for there was felt to be a danger that the Weekly Post might lose its prestige in democratic journalism. Thus on the watch, Mr. Runcorn — a wary man of business, who had gone through many trades before he reached that of weekly literature — took counsel one day with a fellow-campaigner, Malkin by name, who owned two or three country newspapers, and had reaped from them a considerable fortune; in consequence, his attention was directed to one John Earwaker, then editing the Wattleborough Courier. Mr. Malkin’s eldest son had recently stood as Liberal candidate for Wattleborough, and though defeated was loud in his praise of the Courier; with its editor he had come to be on terms of intimate friendship. Earwaker was well acquainted with journalistic life in the provinces. He sprang from a humble family living at Kingsmill, had studied at Whitelaw College, and was now but nine-and-twenty: the style of his ‘leaders’ seemed to mark him for a wider sphere of work. It was decided to invite him to London, and the young man readily accepted Mr. Runcorn’s proposals. A few months later he exchanged temporary lodgings for chambers in Staple Inn, where he surrounded himself with plain furniture and many books.
In personal appearance he had changed a good deal since that prize-day at Whitelaw when his success as versifier and essayist foretold a literary career. His figure was no longer ungainly; the big head seemed to fit better upon the narrow shoulders. He neither walked with extravagant paces, nor waved his arms like a windmill. A sufficiency of good food, and the habit of intercourse with active men; had given him an every-day aspect; perhaps the sole peculiarity he retained from student times was his hollow chuckle of mirth, a laugh which struggled vainly for enlargement. He dressed with conventional decency, even submitting to the chimney-pot hat. His features betrayed connection with a physically coarse stock; but to converse with him was to discover the man of original vigour and wide intellectual scope. With ordinary companions, it was a rare thing for him to speak of his professional interests. But for his position on The Weekly Post it would not have been easy to surmise how he stood with regard to politics, and he appeared to lean as often towards the conservative as to the revolutionary view of abstract questions.
The newspaper left him time for other literary work, and it was known to a few people that he wrote with some regularity for reviews, but all the products of his pen were anonymous. A fact which remained his own secret was that he provided for the subsistence of his parents, old people domiciled in a quiet corner of their native Kingsmill. The strict sobriety of life which is indispensable to success in such a career as this cost him no effort. He smoked moderately, ate and drank as little as might be, could keep his health on six hours of sleep, and for an occasional holiday liked to walk his twenty or thirty miles. Earwaker was naturally marked for survival among the fittest.
On an evening of June in the year ‘84, he was interrupted whilst equipping himself for dinner abroad, by a thunderous rat-tat-tat.
‘You must wait, my friend, whoever you are,’ he murmured placidly, as he began to struggle with the stiff button-holes of his shirt.
The knock was repeated, and more violently.
‘Now there’s only one man of my acquaintance who knocks like that,’ he mused, elaborating the bow of his white tie. ‘He, I should imagine, is in Brazil; but there’s no knowing. Perhaps our office is on fire. — Anon, anon!’
He made haste to don waistcoat and swallow-tail, then crossed his sitting-room and flung open the door of the chambers.
‘Ha! Then it is you! I was reminded of your patient habits.’
A tall man, in a light overcoat and a straw hat of spacious brim, had seized both his hands, with shouts of excited greeting.
‘Confound you! Why did you keep me waiting? I thought I had missed you for the evening. How the deuce are you? And why the devil have you left me without a line from you for more than six months?’
Earwaker drew aside, and allowed his tumultuous friend to rush into the nearest room.
‘Why haven’t you written? — confound you!’ was again vociferated, amid bursts of boyish laughter. ‘Why hasn’t anybody written?’
‘If everybody was as well informed of your movements as I, I don’t wonder,’ replied the journalist. ‘Since you left Buenos Ayres, I have had two letters, each containing twenty words, which gave me to understand that no answer could by possibility reach you.’
‘Humbug! You could have written to half-a-dozen likely places. Did I really say that? Ha, ha, ha! — Shake hands again, confound you! How do you do? Do I look well? Have I a tropical colour? I say, what a blessed thing it was that I got beaten down at Wattleborough! All this time I should have been sitting in the fog at Westminster. What a time I’ve had! What a time I’ve had!’
It was more than twelve months since Malkin’s departure from England. Though sun and sea had doubtless contributed to his robustness, he must always have been a fair example of the vigorous Briton. His broad shoulders, upright bearing, open countenance, and frank resonant voice, declared a youth passed amid the wholesome conditions which wealth alone can command. The hearty extravagance of his friendliness was only possible in a man who has never been humiliated by circumstances, never restricted in his natural needs of body and mind. Yet he had more than the heartiness of a contented Englishman. The vivacity which made a whirlwind about him probably indicated some ancestral mingling with the blood of a more ardent race. Earwaker examined him with a smile of pleasure.
‘It’s unfortunate,’ he said, ‘that I have to go out to dinner.’
‘Dinner! Pooh! we can get dinner anywhere.’
‘No doubt, but I am engaged.’
‘The devil you are! Who is she? Why didn’t you write to tell me?’
‘The word has a less specific meaning, my dear fellow,’ replied Earwaker, laughing. ‘Only you of all men would have rushed at the wrong one. I mean to say — if your excitement can take in so common a fact — that I have promised to dine with some people at Notting Hill, and mustn’t disappoint them.’
Malkin laughed at his mistake, then shouted:
‘Notting Hill! Isn’t that somewhere near Fulham? We’ll take a cab, and I can drop you on my way.’
‘It wouldn’t be on the way at all.’
The journalist’s quiet explanation was cut short by a petulant outcry.
‘Oh, very well! Of course if you want to get rid of me! I should have thought after sixteen months’—
‘Don’t be idiotic,’ broke in the other. ‘There’s a strong feminine element in you, Malkin; that’s exactly the kind of talk with which women drive men to frenzy.’
‘Feminine element!’ shouted the traveller with hot face. ‘What do you mean? I propose to take a cab with you, and you’—
Earwaker turned away laughing. ‘Time and distance are nothing to you, and I shall be very glad of your company. Come by all means.’
His friend was instantly appeased.
‘Don’t let me make you late, Earwaker. Must we start this moment? Come along, then. Can I carry anything for you? Lord! if you could only see a tropical forest! How do you get on with old Runcorn? Write? What the devil was the use of my writing, when words are powerless to describe —? What a rum old place this seems, after experiences like mine; how the deuce can you live here? I say, I’ve brought you a ton of curiosities; will make your rooms look like a museum. Confound it! I’ve broken my shin against the turn in the staircase! Whew! Who are you going to dine with? — Moxey? Never heard the name.’
In Holborn a hansom was hailed, and the friends continued their dialogue as they drove westward. Having at length effervesced, Malkin began to exchange question and answer with something of the calm needful for mutual intelligibility.
‘And how do you get on with old Runcorn?’
‘As well as can be expected where there is not a single subject of agreement,’ Earwaker replied. ‘I have hopes of reducing our circulation.’
‘What the deuce do you mean?’
‘In other words, of improving the paper. Runcorn is strong on the side of blackguardism. We had a great fight the other day over a leader offered by Kenyon — a true effusion of the political gutter-snipe. I refused point-blank to let it go in; Runcorn swore that, if I did not, I should go out. I offered to retire that moment. “We must write for our public,” he bellowed. “True,” said I, “but not necessarily for the basest among them. The standard at the best is low enough.” “Do you call yourself a Radical?” “Not if this be Radicalism.” “You ought to be on the Morning instead of the Weekly Post.” I had my way, and probably shall end by sending Mr Kenyon back to his tinker’s work shop. If not, I must look out for cleaner occupation.’
‘Go it, my boy! Go it!’ cried Malkin, slapping his companion’s knee violently. ‘Raise the tone! To the devil with mercenary considerations! Help the proletariat out of its grovelling position.’
They approached the street where Earwaker had to alight. The other declared his intention of driving on to Fulham in the hope of finding a friend who lived there.
‘But I must see you again. When shall you be home to-night?’
‘About half-past eleven, I dare say.’
‘Right! If I am free I’ll come out to Staple Inn, and we’ll talk till three or four.’
The house at which the journalist presented himself was such as might be inhabited by a small family of easy means. As he was taking off his overcoat, a door opened and Christian Moxey came forward to greet him. They shook hands like men who stood on friendly, but not exactly on intimate, terms.
‘Will you come up to the laboratory for a moment?’ said Moxey. ‘I should like to show you something I have under the microscope.’
The room he spoke of was at the top of the house; two chambers had been made into one, and the fittings were those required by a student of physical science. Various odours distressed the air. A stranger to the pursuits represented might have thought that the general disorder and encumberment indicated great activity, but the experienced eye perceived at once that no methodical work was here in progress. Mineralogy, botany, biology, physics, and probably many other sciences, were suggested by the specimens and apparatus that lay confusedly on tables, shelves, or floor.
Moxey looked very slim and elegant in his evening costume. When he touched any object, his long, translucent fingers seemed soft and sensitive as a girl’s. He stepped with peculiar lightness, and the harmonious notes of his voice were in keeping with these other characteristics. Ten years had developed in him that graceful languor which at four-and-twenty was only beginning to get mastery over the energies of a well-built frame.
‘This stuff here,’ he said, pointing to an open box full of mud, ‘is silt from down the Thames. It’s positively loaded with diatomaceoe — you remember our talking about them when you were last here? I am working at the fabric of the valves. Now, just look!’
Earwaker, with attentive smile, followed the demonstration.
‘Peak is busy with them as well,’ said Christian, presently. ‘Has he told you his theory of their locomotion? Nobody has found out yet how the little beggars move about. Peak has a bright idea.’
They spent ten minutes in the laboratory, then went downstairs. Two other guests had meanwhile arrived, and were conversing with the hostess, Miss Moxey. The shy, awkward, hard-featured girl was grown into a woman whose face made such declaration of intellect and character that, after the first moment, one became indifferent to its lack of feminine beauty. As if with the idea of compensating for personal disadvantages, she was ornately dressed; her abundant tawny hair had submitted to much manipulation, and showed the gleam of jewels; expense and finished craft were manifest in every detail of her garb. Though slightly round-shouldered, her form was well-proportioned and suggested natural vigour. Like Christian, she had delicate hands.
‘Do you know a distinguished clergyman, named Chilvers?’ she asked of Earwaker, with a laugh, when he had taken a place by her.
‘Chilvers? — Is it Bruno Chilvers, I wonder?’
‘That’s the name!’ exclaimed one of the guests, a young married lady of eager face and fidgety manners.
‘Then I knew him at College, but I had no idea he was become distinguished.’
Miss Moxey again laughed.
‘Isn’t it amusing, the narrowness of a great clerical reputation? Mrs. Morton was astonished that I had never heard his name.’
‘Please don’t think,’ appealed the lady, looking anxiously at Earwaker, ‘that I consider it shameful not to know him. I only happened to mention a very ridiculous sermon of his, that was forced upon me by a distressingly orthodox friend of mine. They tell me, he is one of the newest lights of the Church.’
Earwaker listened with amusement, and then related anecdotes of Bruno Chilvers. Whilst he was talking, the door opened to admit another arrival, and a servant’s voice announced ‘Mr. Peak’. Miss Moxey rose, and moved a step or two forward; a change was visible on her countenance, which had softened and lightened.
‘I am very sorry to be late,’ said the new-comer, in a dull and rather husky voice, which made strong contrast with the humorous tones his entrance had interrupted.
He shook hands in silence with the rest of the company, giving merely a nod and a smile as reply to some gracious commonplace from Mrs. Morton.
‘Has it come to your knowledge,’ Earwaker asked of him, ‘that Bruno Chilvers is exciting the orthodox world by his defence of Christianity against neo-heathenism?’
‘Chilvers? — No.’
‘Mrs. Morton tells us that all the Church newspapers ring with his name.’
‘Please don’t think,’ cried Mrs. Morton, with the same anxious look as before, ‘that I read such papers. We never have such a thing in our house, Mr. Peak. I have only been told about it.’
Peak smiled gravely, but made no other answer. Then he turned to Earwaker.
‘Where is he?’
‘I can’t say. Perhaps Mrs. Morton’—
‘They tell me he is somewhere in Norfolk,’ replied the lady. ‘I forget the town.’
A summons to dinner broke off the conversation. Moxey offered his arm to the one lady present as guest, and Earwaker did the same courtesy to the hostess. Mr. Morton, a meditative young man who had been listening with a smile of indifference, sauntered along in the rear with Godwin Peak.
At the dinner-table Peak was taciturn, and seemed to be musing on a disagreeable subject. To remarks, he answered briefly and absently. As Moxey, Earwaker, and Mrs. Morton kept up lively general talk, this muteness was not much noticed, but when the ladies had left the room, and Peak still frowned over his wineglass, the journalist rebuked him.
‘What’s the matter with you? Don’t depress us.’
The other laughed impatiently, and emptied his glass.
‘Malkin has come back,’ pursued Earwaker. ‘He burst in upon me, just as I was leaving home — as mad as a March hare. You must come and meet him some evening.’
‘As you please.’
Returned to the upper room, Peak seated himself in a shadowy corner, crossed his legs, thrust his hands into his pockets, and leaned back to regard a picture on the wall opposite. This attitude gave sufficient proof of the change that had been wrought in him by the years between nineteen and nine-and-twenty; even in a drawing-room, he could take his ease unconcernedly. His face would have led one to suppose him an older man; it was set in an expression of stern, if not morose, thoughtfulness.
He had small, hard lips, indifferent teeth (seldom exhibited), a prominent chin, a long neck; his body was of firm, not ungraceful build. Society’s evening uniform does not allow a man much scope in the matter of adornments; it was plain, however, that Godwin no longer scorned the tailor and haberdasher. He wore a suit which confidently challenged the criticism of experts, and the silk socks visible above his shoes might have been selected by the most fastidious of worldlings.
When he had sat there for some minutes, his eyes happened to stray towards Miss Moxey, who was just then without a companion. Her glance answered to his, and a smile of invitation left him no choice but to rise and go to a seat beside her.
‘You are meditative this evening,’ she said, in a voice subdued below its ordinary note.
‘Not very fit for society, to tell the truth,’ Godwin answered, carelessly. ‘One has such moods, you know. But how would you take it if, at the last moment, I sent a telegram, “Please excuse me. Don’t feel able to talk”?’
‘You don’t suppose I should be offended?’
‘Certainly you would.’
‘Then you know less of me than I thought.’
Her eyes wandered about the room, their smile betokening an uneasy self-consciousness.
‘Christian tells me,’ she continued, ‘that you are going to take your holiday in Cornwall.’
‘I thought of it. But perhaps I shan’t leave town at all. It wouldn’t be worth while, if I go abroad at the end of the year.’
‘Abroad?’ Marcella glanced at him. ‘What scheme is that?’
‘Haven’t I mentioned it? I want to go to South America and the Pacific islands. Earwaker has a friend, who has just come back from travel in the tropics; the talk about it has half decided me to leave England. I have been saving money for years to that end.’
‘You never spoke of it — to me, Marcella replied, turning a bracelet on her wrist. ‘Should you go alone?’
‘Of course. I couldn’t travel in company. You know how impossible it would be for me to put up with the moods and idiosyncrasies of other men.’
There was a quiet arrogance in his tone. The listener still smiled, but her fingers worked nervously.
‘You are not so unsocial as you pretend,’ she remarked, without looking at him.
‘Pretend! I make no pretences of any kind,’ was his scornful answer.
‘You are ungracious this evening.’
‘Yes — and can’t hide it.’
‘Don’t try to, I beg. But at least tell me what troubles you.’
‘That’s impossible,’ Peak replied, drily.
‘Then friendship goes for nothing,’ said Marcella, with a little forced laugh.
‘Yes — in all but a very few human concerns. How often could you tell me what it is that prevents your taking life cheerfully?’
He glanced at her, and Marcella’s eyes fell; a moment after, there was a suspicion of colour in her cheek.
‘What are you reading?’ Peak asked abruptly, but in a voice of more conventional note.
‘I envy your power of abstraction.’
‘Yet I hear that you are deeply concerned about the locomotive powers of the diatomaceaoe?’
Their eyes met, and they laughed — not very mirthfully.
‘It preserves me from worse follies,’ said Peak. ‘After all, there are ways more or less dignified of consuming time’—
As he spoke, his ear caught a familiar name, uttered by Christian Moxey, and he turned to listen. Moxey and Earwaker were again talking of the Rev. Bruno Chilvers. Straightway disregarding Marcella, Peak gave attention to the men’s dialogue, and his forehead wrinkled into scornful amusement.
‘It’s very interesting,’ he exclaimed, at a moment when there was silence throughout the company, ‘to hear that Chilvers is really coming to the front. At Whitelaw it used to be prophesied that he would be a bishop, and now I suppose he’s fairly on the way to that. Shall we write letters of congratulation to him, Earwaker?’
‘A joint epistle, if you like.’
Mr. Morton, who had brightened since dinner, began to speak caustically of the form of intellect necessary nowadays in a popular clergyman.
‘He must write a good deal,’ put in Earwaker, ‘and that in a style which would have scandalised the orthodox of the last century. Rationalised dogma is vastly in demand.’
Peak’s voice drew attention.
‘Two kinds of books dealing with religion are now greatly popular, and will be for a long time. On the one hand there is that growing body of people who, for whatever reason, tend to agnosticism, but desire to be convinced that agnosticism is respectable; they are eager for anti-dogmatic books, written by men of mark. They couldn’t endure to be classed with Bradlaugh, but they rank themselves confidently with Darwin and Huxley. Arguments matter little or nothing to them. They take their rationalism as they do a fashion in dress, anxious only that it shall be “good form”. Then there’s the other lot of people — a much larger class — who won’t give up dogma, but have learnt that bishops, priests, and deacons no longer hold it with the old rigour, and that one must be “broad”; these are clamorous for treatises which pretend to reconcile revelation and science. It’s quite pathetic to watch the enthusiasm with which they hail any man who distinguishes himself by this kind of apologetic skill, this pious jugglery. Never mind how washy the book from a scientific point of view. Only let it obtain vogue, and it will be glorified as the new evangel. The day has gone by for downright assaults on science; to be marketable, you must prove that The Origin of Species was approvingly foreseen in the first chapter of Genesis, and that the Apostles’ Creed conflicts in no single point with the latest results of biblical criticism. Both classes seek to avoid ridicule, and to adapt themselves to a standard of respectability. If Chilvers goes in for the newest apologetics, he is bound to be enormously successful. The man has brains, and really there are so few such men who still care to go into the Church.’
There was a murmur of laughing approval. The speaker had worked himself into eloquent nervousness; he leaned forward with his hands straining together, and the muscles of his face quivering.
‘And isn’t it surprising,’ said Marcella, ‘in how short a time this apologetic attitude has become necessary?’
Peak flashed a triumphant look at her.
‘I often rejoice to think of it!’ he cried. ‘How magnificent it is that so many of the solemn jackasses who brayed against Darwin from ten to twenty years ago should live to be regarded as beneath contempt! I say it earnestly: this thought is one of the things that make life tolerable to me!’
‘You have need of charity, friend Peak,’ interposed Earwaker. ‘This is the spirit of the persecutor.’
‘Nothing of the kind! It is the spirit of justified reason. You may say that those people were honestly mistaken; — such honesty is the brand of a brainless obstructive. They would have persecuted, but too gladly! There were, and are, men who would have committed Darwin to penal servitude, if they had had the power. Men like Lyell, who were able to develop a new convolution in their brains, I respect heartily. I only speak of the squalling mass, the obscene herd of idiot mockers.’
‘Who assuredly,’ remarked Earwaker, ‘feel no shame whatever in the retrospect of their idiocy. To convert a mind is a subject for high rejoicing; to confute a temper isn’t worth the doing.’
‘That is philosophy,’ said Marcella, ‘but I suspect you of often feeling as Mr. Peak does. I am sure I do.’
Peak, meeting an amused glance from the journalist, left his seat and took up a volume that lay on one of the tables. It was easy to see that his hands shook, and that there was perspiration on his forehead. With pleasant tact, Moxey struck into a new subject, and for the next quarter of an hour Peak sat apart in the same attitude as before his outburst of satire and invective. Then he advanced to Miss Moxey again, for the purpose of taking leave. This was the signal for Earwaker’s rising, and in a few minutes both men had left the house.
‘I’ll go by train with you,’ said Earwaker, as they walked away. ‘Farringdon Street will suit me well enough.’
Peak vouchsafed no reply, but, when they had proceeded a little distance, he exclaimed harshly:
‘I hate emancipated women!’
His companion stopped and laughed loudly.
‘Yes, I hate emancipated women,’ the other repeated, with deliberation. ‘Women ought neither to be enlightened nor dogmatic. They ought to be sexual.’
‘That’s unusual brutality on your part.’
‘Well, you know what I mean.’
‘I know what you think you mean,’ said Earwaker. ‘But the woman who is neither enlightened nor dogmatic is only too common in society. They are fools, and troublesome fools.’
Peak again kept silence.
‘The emancipated woman,’ pursued his friend, ‘needn’t be a Miss Moxey, nor yet a Mrs. Morton.’
‘Miss Moxey is intolerable,’ said Peak. ‘I can’t quite say why I dislike her so, but she grows more antipathetic to me the better I know her. She has not a single feminine charm — not one. I often feel very sorry for her, but dislike her all the same.’
‘Sorry for her,’ mused Earwaker. ‘Yes, so do I. I can’t like her either. She is certainly an incomplete woman. But her mind is of no low order. I had rather talk with her than with one of the imbecile prettinesses. I half believe you have a sneaking sympathy with the men who can’t stand education in a wife.’
‘It’s possible. In some moods.’
‘In no mood can I conceive such a prejudice. I have no great attraction to women of any kind, but the uneducated woman I detest.’
‘Well, so do I,’ muttered Peak. ‘Do you know what?’ he added, abruptly. ‘I shall be off to the Pacific. Yes, I shall go this next winter. My mind is made up.’
‘I shan’t try to dissuade you, old fellow, though I had rather have you in sight. Come and see Malkin. I’ll drop you a note with an appointment.’
They soon reached the station, and exchanged but few more words before Earwaker’s leaving the train at Farringdon Street. Peak pursued his journey towards the south-east of London.
On reaching home, the journalist flung aside his foolish coat of ceremony, indued a comfortable jacket, lit a pipe with long stem, and began to glance over an evening newspaper. He had not long reposed in his arm-chair when the familiar appeal thundered from without. Malkin once more shook his hand effusively.
‘Had my journey to Fulham for nothing. Didn’t matter; I ran over to Putney and looked up my old landlady. The rooms are occupied by a married couple, but I think we shall succeed in persuading them to make way for me. I promised to find them lodgings every bit as good in two days’ time.’
‘If that is so easy, why not take the new quarters yourself?’
‘Why, to tell you the truth, I didn’t think of it! — Oh, I had rather have the old crib; I can do as I like there, you know. Confound it! Now I shall have to spend all tomorrow lodging-hunting for other people. Couldn’t I pay a man to do it? Some confidential agent — private police — you know what I mean?’
‘A man of any delicacy,’ replied Earwaker, with grave countenance, ‘would feel bound by such a promise to personal exertion.’
‘Right; quite right! I didn’t mean it; of course I shall hunt conscientiously. Oh, I say; I have brought over a couple of armadilloes. Would you like one?’
‘Stuffed, do you mean?’
‘Pooh! Alive, man, alive! They only need a little care. I should think you might keep the creature in your kitchen; they become quite affectionate.’
The offer was unhesitatingly declined, and Malkin looked hurt. There needed a good deal of genial explanation before Earwaker could restore him to his sprightly mood.
‘Where have you been dining?’ cried the traveller. ‘Moxey’s — ah, I remember. But who is Moxey? A new acquaintance, eh?’
‘Yes; I have known him about six months. Got to know him through Peak.’
‘Peak? Peak? What, the fellow you once told me about — who disappeared from Whitelaw because of his uncle, the cat’s-meat man?’
‘The man’s-meat man, rather.’
‘Yes, yes — the eating-house; I remember. You have met him again? Why on earth didn’t you tell me in your letters? What became of him? Tell me the story.’
‘Certainly, if you will cease to shake down plaster from the ceiling. — We met in a restaurant (appropriate scene), happening to sit at the same table. Whilst eating, we stared at each other fitfully. “I’ll be hanged if that isn’t Peak,” I kept saying to myself. And at the same moment we opened our lips to question each other.’
‘Just the same thing happened once to a friend of mine and a friend of his. But it was on board ship, and both were devilish seasick. Walker — you remember my friend Walker? — tells the story in a side-splitting way. I wonder what has become of Walker? The last time I met him he was travelling agent for a menagerie — a most interesting fellow, Walker. — But I beg your pardon. Go on, old fellow!’
‘Well, after that we at once saw a good deal of each other. He has been working for years at a chemical factory down on the river; Moxey used to be there, and got him the place.’
‘Moxey? — Oh yes, the man you dined with. You must remember that these are new names to me. I must know all these new people, I say. You don’t mind?’
‘You shall be presented to the whole multitude, as soon as you like. Peak wants to see you. He thinks of an excursion like this last of yours.’
‘He does? By Jove, we’ll go together! I have always wanted a travelling companion. We’ll start as soon as ever he likes! — well, in a month or two. I must just have time to look round. Oh, I haven’t done with the tropics yet! I must tell him of a rattling good insect-powder I have invented; I think of patenting it. I say, how does one get a patent? Quite a simple matter, I suppose?’
‘Oh, always has been. The simplest and least worrying of all business enterprises.’
‘What? Eh? That smile of yours means mischief.’
In a quarter of an hour they had got back to the subject of Peak’s history.
‘And did he really run away because of the eating-house?’ Malkin inquired.
‘I shall never venture to ask, and it’s not very likely he will admit it. It was some time before he cared to talk much of Whitelaw.’
‘But what is he doing? You used to think he would come out strong, didn’t you? Has he written anything?’
‘A few things in The Liberator, five or six years ago.’
‘What, the atheistic paper?’
‘Yes. But he’s ashamed of it now. That belongs to a bygone stage of development.’
‘I only mean that he is ashamed of the connection with street-corner rationalism.’
‘Quite right. Devilish low, that kind of thing. But I went in for it myself once. Did I ever tell you that I debated with a parson on Mile-end Waste? Fact! That was in my hot-headed days. A crowd of coster-mongers applauded me in the most flattering way. — I say, Earwaker, you haven’t any whisky?’
‘Forgive me; your conversation makes me forget hospitality. Shall I make hot water? I have a spirit-kettle.’
‘Cold for me. I get in such a deuced perspiration when I begin to talk. — Try this tobacco; the last of half a hundred-weight I took in at Bahia.’
The traveller refreshed himself with a full tumbler, and resumed the conversation cheerily.
‘Has he just been wasting his time, then, all these years?’
‘He goes in for science — laboratory work, evolutionary speculations. Of course I can’t judge his progress in such matters; but Moxey, a clever man in the same line, thinks very highly of him.’
‘Just the fellow to travel with. I want to get hold of some solid scientific ideas, but I haven’t the patience to work steadily. A confounded fault of mine, you know, Earwaker — want of patience. You must have noticed it?’
‘Oh — well, now and then, perhaps.’
‘Yes, yes; but of course I know myself better. And now tell me about Moxey. A married man, of course?’
‘No, lives with a sister.’
‘Unmarried sister? — Brains?’
‘Pretty well supplied with that commodity.’
‘You must introduce me to her. I do like women with brains. —
‘Orthodox or enlightened?’
‘Really? Magnificent! Oh, I must know her. Nothing like an emancipated woman! How any man can marry the ordinary female passes my understanding. What do you think?’
‘My opinions are in suspense; not yet precipitated, as Peak might say.’
One o’clock sounded from neighbouring churches, but Malkin was wide awake as ever. He entered upon a detailed narrative of his travels, delightful to listen to, so oddly blended were the strains of conscious and unconscious humour which marked his personality. Two o’clock; three o’clock; — he would have talked till breakfast-time, but at last Earwaker declared that the hour had come for sleep. As Malkin had taken a room at the Inns of Court Hotel, it was easy for him to repair to his quarters. The last his friend heard of him was an unexplained laugh, echoing far down the staircase.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54