Peter felt a little flattered. He liked Rodney, who was in his third year and had never before taken any particular notice of him. Rodney was a rather brilliant science man; he was also an apostle, a vegetarian, a fine football player, an ex-Fabian, and a few other things. He was a large, emaciated-looking person, with extraordinarily bright grey eyes, inspiring a lean, pale, dark-browed face—the face of an ascetic, lit by a flame of energising life. He looked as if he would spend and be spent by it to the last charred fragment, in pursuit of the idea. There was nothing in his vivid aspect of Peter Margerison’s gentle philosophy of acquiescence; he looked as if he would to the end dictate terms to life rather than accept them—an attitude combined oddly with a view which regarded the changes and chances of circumstance as more or less irrelevant to life’s vital essence.
Peter didn’t know why Rodney wanted him to be a travelling pedlar—except that, as he had anyhow once been a Socialist, he presumably disliked the rich (ignorant or otherwise) and included Leslie among them. Peter always had a vague feeling that Rodney did not wholly appreciate his cousin Urquhart, for this same reason. A man of means, Rodney would no doubt have held, has much ado to save his soul alive; better, if possible, be a bricklayer or a mendicant friar.
“Some day,” said Peter politely, “I may have to be a travelling pedlar. This is only an experiment, to see if it works.”
He was conscious suddenly of two opposing principles that crossed swords with a clash. Rodney and Urquhart—poverty and wealth—he could not analyse further.
But Rodney was newly friendly to him for the rest of that term. Urquhart commented on it.
“Stephen always takes notice of the destitute. The best qualification for his regard is to commit such a solecism that society cuts you, or such a crime that you get a month’s hard. Short of that, it will do to have a hole in your coat, or paint a bad picture, or produce a yesterday’s handkerchief. He probably thinks you’re on the road to that. When you get there, he’ll swear eternal friendship. He can’t away with the prosperous.”
“What a mistake,” Peter said. It seemed to him a singularly perverse point of view.
It was rather fun shopping for Leslie. Leslie was a stout, quiet, ponderous person between thirty and forty, and he really did not bound at all; Urquhart had done him less than justice in his description. There was about him the pathos of the very rich. He was generous in the extreme, and Peter’s job proved lucrative as well as pleasant. He grew curiously fond of Leslie; his attitude towards him was one of respect touched with protectiveness. No one should any more “do” Leslie, if he could help it.