"Oh, not that!" said Mrs. Graves. "I think it is very interesting. But I rather agree with the minister who advised his flock to pray for good ancestors."
"Ha! ha!" said Mr. Sandys, "excellent, that; but it is really very curious you know, that the further one goes back the more one's ancestors increase. Talk of over-population; why if one goes back thirty or forty generations, the world would be over-populated with the ancestors of any one of us. I remember posing a very clever mathematician with that once; but, as a fact, it's quite the reverse, one finds. Are you interested in neolithic men, Howard? There are graves of them all over the down—it is not certain if they were neolithic, but they had very curious burial customs. Knees up to the chin, you know. Well, well, it's all very fascinating, and I should like to drive you over to Dorchester to look at the museum there—there are some questions I should like to ask you. But we must be off. A delightful evening, cousin Anne; a delightful evening, Howard. I feel quite rejuvenated—such a lot to ponder over."
Howard went to the door to see them off, and was rewarded by a parting smile from Maud, which made him feel curiously elated. He went back to the drawing-room with that faint feeling of flatness which comes of parting with lively guests; and yet it somehow gave him a pleasant sense of being at home.
"Well," said Mrs. Graves, "so now you have seen the Sandys interior. Dear Frank, how he does chatter, to be sure! but he is all alive too in his own way, and that is what matters. What did you think of Maud? I want you to like her—she is a great friend of mine, and really a fine creature. Not very happy just now, perhaps. But while dear old Frank never sees past the outside of things—what a lot of things he does see!—she sees inside, I think. But I am tired to death. I always feel after talking to Frank as if I had been driving in a dog-cart over a ploughed field!"
Howard woke early, after sweet and wild dreams of great landscapes and rich adventures; as his thoughts took shape, he began to feel as if he had passed some boundary yesterday; escaped, as a child escapes from a familiar garden into great vague woodlands. There was his talk with Mrs. Graves first—that had opened up for him a new region, indeed, of the mind and soul, and had revealed to him an old force, perhaps long within his grasp, but which he had never tried to use or wield. And the vision too of Maud crossed his mind—a perfectly beautiful thing, which had risen like a star. He did not think of it as love at all—that did not cross his mind—it was just the thought of something enchantingly and exquisitely beautiful, which disturbed him, awed him, threw his mind off its habitual track. How extraordinarily lovely, simple, sweet, the girl had seemed to him in the dim room, in the faint light; and how fearless and frank she had been! He was conscious only of something adorable, which raised, as beautiful things did, a sense of something unapproachable, some yearning which could not be satisfied. How far away, how faded and dusty his ordinary contented Cambridge life now seemed to him!
He breakfasted alone, read a few letters which had been forwarded to him, and went to the library. A few minutes later Miss Merry tapped at the door, and came in.
"Mrs. Graves asked me to say—she was sorry she forgot to mention it—that if you care for shooting or fishing, the keeper will come in and take your orders. She thinks you might like to ask Jack to luncheon and go out with him; she sends you her love, and wants you to do what you like."
"Thank you very much!" said Howard, "I rather expect Jack will be round here and I will ask him. I know he would like it, and I should too—if you are sure Mrs. Graves approves."
"Oh, yes," said Miss Merry, smiling, "she always approves of people doing what they like."
Miss Merry still hesitated at the door. "May I ask you another question, Mr. Kennedy—I hope I am not troublesome—I wonder if you could suggest some books for us to read? I read a good deal to Mrs. Graves, and I am afraid we get rather into a groove. We ought to read some of the new books; we want to know what people are saying and thinking—we don't want to get behind."
"Why, of course," said Howard, "I shall be delighted—but I am afraid I am not likely to be of much use; I don't read as much as I ought; but if you will tell me the sort of things you care about, and what you have been reading, we will try to make out a list. Won't you sit down and see what we can do?"
"Oh, I don't like to interrupt you," said Miss Merry. "But if you would be so kind."
She sat down at the far end of the table, and Howard was dimly and amusedly conscious that this tete-a-tete was of the nature of a romantic adventure to the little lady. He was surprised, when they came to talk, to find how much they appeared to have read of a solid kind. He asked if they had any plan.
"No, indeed," said Miss Merry, "we just wander on; one thing suggests another. Mrs. Graves likes LONG books; she says she likes to get at a subject quietly—that there ought not to be too many good things in books; she likes them slow and spacious."
"I am afraid one has to go back a good way for that!" said Howard. "People can't afford now to know more than a manual of a couple of hundred pages can tell them about a subject. I can tell you some good historical books, and some books of literary criticism and biography. I can't do much about poetry or novels; and philosophy, science, and theology I am no use at all for. But I could get you some advice if you like. That's the best of Cambridge, there are so many people about who are able to tell what to read."
While they were making out a list, Jack arrived breathlessly, and Miss Merry shamefacedly withdrew. Howard said: "Perhaps that will do to go on with—we will have another talk to-morrow. I begin to see the sort of thing you want."
Jack was in a state of high excitement.
"What on earth were you doing," he said, as the door closed, "with that sedate spinster?"
"We were making out a list of books!"
"Ah," said Jack with a profound air, "books are dangerous things—that's the intellectual way of making love! You must be a great excitement here, with all your ideas!—but now," he went on, "here I am—I hurried back the moment breakfast was over. I have been horribly bored—a lawn-tennis party yesterday, the females much to the fore—it's no good that, it's not the game; at least it's not lawn-tennis; it's a game all right, but I much suspect it has to do with love-making rather than exercise."
"You seem very suspicious this morning," said Howard; "you accuse me of flirting to begin with, and now you suspect lawn-tennis."
Jack shook his head. "I do hate love-making!" he said, "it spoils everything—it gets in the way, and makes fools of people; the longer I live, the more I see that most of the things that people do are excuses for doing something else! But never mind that! I said I had got to get back to be coached; I said that one of our dons was staying in the village and had his eye on me. What I want to know is whether you have made any arrangements about shooting or fishing? You said you would if you could."
"The keeper is coming in," said Howard, "and we will have a talk to him; but mind, on one condition—work in the morning, exercise in the afternoon; and you are to stop to lunch."
"Cousin Anne is bursting into hospitality," said Jack, "because Maud is coming in for the afternoon. I haven't had time to pump Maud yet about you, but, by George, I'm going to pump you about her and father. Did you have a very thick time last night? I could see father was rather licking his lips."
"Now, no more chatter," said Howard; "you go and get some books, and we will set to work at once." Jack nodded and fled.
When he came back the keeper was waiting, a friendly old man, who seemed delighted at the idea of some sport. Jack said, "Look here, I have arranged it all. Shooting to-day, and you can have father's gun; he hardly ever uses it, and I have my own. Fishing to-morrow, and so on alternately. There are heaps of rabbits up the valley—the place crawls with them."
Howard taught Jack for an hour, as clearly and briskly as he could, making him take notes. He found him quick and apt, and at the end, Jack said, "Now if I could only do this every day at Cambridge, I should soon get on. My word, you do do it well! It makes me shudder to think of all the practice you must have had."
Howard set Jack down to prepare some further work by himself, and attacked his own papers; and very soon it was time for lunch.
Mrs. Graves greeted Jack with much affectionateness, and asked what they had arranged for the afternoon. Howard told her, and added that he hoped she did not object to shooting.
"No, not at all," said Mrs. Graves, "if YOU can do it conscientiously—I couldn't! As usual I am hopelessly inconsistent. I couldn't kill things myself, but as long as I eat meat, I can't object. It's no good arguing about these things. If one begins to argue about destroying life, there are such excellent reasons for not eating anything, or wearing anything, or even crossing the lawn! I have long believed that plants are conscious, but we have got to exist somehow at each other's expense. Instinct is the only guide for women; if they begin to reason, they get run away with by reason; that is what makes fanatics. I won't go so far as to wish you good sport, but you may as well get all the rabbits you can; I'll send them round the village, and try to salve my conscience so."
They talked a little about the books Howard had been recommending, but Mrs. Graves was bent on making much of Jack.
"I don't get you here often by yourself," she said. "I daren't ask a modern young man to come and see two old frumps—one old frump, I mean! But I gather that you have views of your own, Jack, and some day I shall try to get at them. I suppose that in a small place like this we all know a great deal more about each other than we suspect each other of knowing. What a comfort that we have tongues that we can hold! It wouldn't be possible to live, if we knew that all the absurdities we pride ourselves on concealing were all perfectly well known and canvassed by all our friends. However, as long as we only enjoy each other's faults, and don't go in for correcting them, we can get on. I hope you don't DISAPPROVE of people, Jack! That's the hopeless attitude."
"Well, I hate some people," said Jack, "but I hate them so much that it is quite a pleasure to meet them and to think how infernal they are; and when it's like that, I should be sorry if they improved."
"I won't go as far as that," said Howard. "The most I do is to be thankful that their lack of improvement can still entertain me. One can never be thankful enough for really grotesque people. But I confess I don't enjoy seeing people spiteful and mean and vicious. I want to obliterate all that."
"I want it to be obliterated," said Mrs. Graves; "but I don't feel equal to doing it. Oh, well, we mustn't get solemn over it; that's the mischief! But I mustn't keep you gentlemen from more serious pursuits—'real things,' I believe, Jack?"
"Mr. Kennedy has been sneaking on me," said Jack. "I don't like to see people mean and spiteful. It gives me pain. I want all that obliterated."
"This is what happens to my pupils," said Howard. "Come on, Jack, you shall not expose my methods like this."
They went off with the old keeper, who carried a bag of writhing ferrets, and was accompanied by a boy with a spade and a line and a bag of cartridges. As they went on, Jack catechised Howard closely.
"Did my family behave themselves?" he said. "Did you want them obliterated? I expect you had a good pull at the Governor, but don't forget he is a good chap. He is so dreadfully interested, but you come to plenty of sense last of all. I admit it is last, but it's there. It's no joke facing him if there's a row! he doesn't say much then, and that makes it awful. He has a way of looking out of the window, if I cheek him, for about five minutes, which turns me sick. Up on the top he is a bit frothy—but there's no harm in that, and he keeps things going."
"Yes," said Howard, "I felt that, and I may tell you plainly I liked him very much, and thought him a thoroughly good sort."
"Well, what about Maud?" said Jack.
Howard felt a tremor. He did not want to talk about Maud, and he did not want Jack to talk about her. It seemed like laying hands on something sacred and secluded. So he said, "Really, I don't know as yet—I only had one talk with her. I can't tell. I thought her delightful; like you with your impudence left out."
"The little cat!" said Jack; "she is as impudent as they make them. I'll be bound she has taken the length of your foot. What did she talk about? stars and flowers? That's one of her dodges."
"I decline to answer," said Howard; "and I won't have you spoiling my impressions. Just leave me alone to make up my mind, will you?"
Jack looked at him,—he had spoken sharply—nodded, and said, "All right! I won't give her away. I see you are lost; but I'll get it all out of you some time."
They were by this time some way up the valley. There were rabbit burrows everywhere among the thickets. The ferrets were put in. Howard and Jack were posted below, and the shooting began. The rabbits bolted well, and Howard experienced a lively satisfaction, quite out of proportion, he felt, to the circumstances, at finding that he could shoot a great deal better than his pupil. The old knack came back to him, and he toppled over his rabbits cleanly and in a masterly way.
"You are rather good at this!" said Jack. "Won't I blazon it abroad up at Beaufort. You shall have all the credit and more. I can't see how you always manage to get them in the head."
"It's a trick," said Howard; "you have got to get a particular swing, and when you have got it, it's difficult to miss—it's only practice; and I shot a good deal at one time."
Howard was unreasonably happy that afternoon. It was a still, sunny day, and the steep down stretched away above them, an ancient English woodland, with all its thorn-thickets and elder-clumps. It had been like this, he thought, from the beginning of history, never touched by the hand of man. The expectant waiting, the quick aim, the sudden shot, took off the restlessness of his brain; and as they stood there, often waiting for a long time in silence, a peculiar quality of peace and contentment enveloped his spirit. It was all so old, so settled, so quiet, that all sense of retrospect and prospect passed from his mind. He was just glad to be alive and alert, glad of his friendly companion, robust and strong. A few pictures passed before his mind, but he was glad just to let his eyes wander over the scene, the steep turf ramparts, the close-set dingles, the spring sunshine falling softly over all, as the sun passed over and the shadows lengthened. At last a ferret got hung up, and had to be dug out. Howard looked at his watch, and said they must go back to tea. Jack protested in vain that there was plenty of light left. Howard said they were expected back. They left the keeper to recover the ferret, and went back quickly down the valley. Jack was in supreme delight.
"Well, that's an honest way of spending time!" he said. "My word, how I dangle about here; it isn't good for my health. But, by George, I wish I could shoot like you, Mr. Kennedy, Sir."
"Why this sudden obsequiousness?" said Howard.
"Oh, because I never know what to call you," said Jack. "I can't call you by your Christian name, and Mr. Kennedy seems absurd. What do you like?"
"Whatever comes naturally," said Howard.
"Well, I'll call you Howard when we are together," said Jack. "But mind, not at Beaufort! If I call you anything, it will have to be Mr. Kennedy. I hate men fraternising with the Dons. The Dons rather encourage it, because it makes them feel youthful and bucks them up. The men are just as bad about Christian names. Gratters on getting your Christian name, you know! It's like a girls' school. I wonder why Cambridge is more like a girls' school than a public school is? I suppose they are more sentimental. I do loathe that."
When they got back they found Maud at tea; she had been there all the afternoon; she greeted Howard very pleasantly, but there was a touch of embarrassment created by the presence of Jack, who regarded her severely and called her "Miss."
"He's got some grudge against me," said Maud to Howard. "He always has when he calls me Miss."
"What else should I call you?" said Jack; "Mr. Kennedy has been telling me that one should call people by whatever name seems natural. You are a Miss to-day, and no mistake. You are at some game or other!"
"Now, Jack, be quiet!" said Mrs. Graves; "that is how the British paterfamilias gets made. You must not begin to make your womankind uncomfortable in public. You must not think aloud. You must keep up the mysteries of chivalry!"
"I don't care for mysteries," said Jack, "but I'll behave. My father says one mustn't seethe the kid in its mother's milk. I will leave Miss to her conscience."
"Did you enjoy yourself?" said Mrs. Graves to Howard.
"Yes, I'm afraid I did," said Howard, "very much indeed."
"Some book I read the other day," said Mrs. Graves, "stated that men ought to do primeval things, eat under-done beef, sleep in their clothes, drink too much, kill things. It sounds disgusting; but I suppose you felt primeval?"
"I don't know what it was," said Howard. "I felt very well content."
"My word, he can shoot!" said Jack to Mrs. Graves; "I'm a perfect duffer beside him; he shot four-fifths of the bag, and there's a perfect mountain of rabbits to come in."
"Horrible, horrible!" said Mrs. Graves, "but are there enough to go round the village?"
"Two apiece," said Jack, "to every man a damsel or two! Now, Maud, come on—ten o'clock, to-morrow, Sir—and perhaps a little fishing later?"
"You had better stay to lunch, whenever you come and work in the morning, Jack," said Mrs. Graves; "and I'll turn you inside out before very long."
Howard went off to his work with a pleasant sense of the open air. They dined together quietly; after dinner he went and sate down by Mrs. Graves.
"Jack's a nice boy," she said, "very nice—don't make him pert!"
"I am afraid I shan't MAKE him anything," said Howard. "He will go his own way, sure enough; but he isn't pert—he comes to heel, and he remembers. He is like the true gentleman—he is never unintentionally offensive."
Mrs. Graves laughed, and said, "Yes, that is so."
Howard went on, "I have been thinking a great deal about our talk yesterday, and it's a new light to me. I do not think I fully understand, but I feel that there is something very big behind it all, which I want to understand. This great force you speak of—is it an AIM?"
"That's a good question," said Mrs. Graves. "No, it's not an aim at all. It's too big for that; an aim is quite on a lower level. There's no aim in the big things. A man doesn't fall ill with an aim—he doesn't fall in love with an aim. It just comes upon him."
"But then," said Howard, "is it more than a sort of artistic gift which some have and many have not? I have known a few real artists, and they just did not care for anything else in the world. All the rest of life was just a passing of time, a framework to their work. There was an artist I knew, who was dying. The doctor asked him if he wanted anything. 'Just a full day's work,' he said."
"Yes," said Mrs. Graves, "it is like that in a way; it is the one thing worth doing and being. But it isn't a conscious using of minutes and opportunities—it isn't a plan; it is just a fulness of life, rejoicing to live, to see, to interpret, to understand. It doesn't matter what life you live—it is how you live it. Life is only the cup for the liquor which must else be spilled. I can only use an old phrase—it is being 'in the spirit': when you ask whether it is a special gift, of course some people have it more strongly and consciously than others. But it is the thing to which we are all tending sooner or later; and the mysterious thing about it is that so many people do not seem to know they have it. Yet it is always just the becoming aware of what is there."
"How do you account for that?" said Howard.
"Why," said Mrs. Graves, "to a great extent because religion is in such an odd state. It is as if the people who knew or suspected the secret, did all they could to conceal it—just as parents try to keep their children ignorant of the ideas of sex. Religion has got so horribly mixed up with other things, with respectability, social order, conventions, doctrines, metaphysics, ceremony, music—it has become so specialised in the hands of priests who have a great institution to support, that dust is thrown in people's eyes—and just as they begin to think they perceive the secret, they are surrounded by tiresome dogmatists saying, 'It is this and that—it is this doctrine, that tradition.' Well, that sort of religion IS a very special accomplishment—ecclesiastical religion. I don't deny that it has artistic qualities, but it is a poor narrow product; and then the technically religious make such a fuss if they see the shoal of fish escaping the net, and beat the water so vehemently that the fish think it safer to stay where they are, and so you get sardines in tins!" said Mrs. Graves with a smile—"by which I mean the churches."
"Yes," said Howard, "that is perfectly true! Christianity was at first the most new, radical, original, anarchical force in the world—it was the purest individualism; it was meant to over-ride all human combinations by simply disregarding them; it was not a social reform, and still less a political reform; it was a new spirit, and it was meant to create a new kind of fellowship, the mere existence of which would do away with the need for organisation; it broke meekly, like water, through all human partitions, and I suppose it has been tamed."
"Yes," said Mrs. Graves, "it is not now the world against religion. It is organised religion against real religion, because religion is above and apart from all institutions. Christ said, 'When they persecute you in one city, flee into another'; and the result of that is the Monroe doctrine!"
"But are you not a Christian?" said Howard.
"I believe myself to be one," said Mrs. Graves; "and no doubt you will say, 'Why do you live in wealth and comfort?' That's a difficulty, because Christ meant us to be poor. But if one hands over one's money to Christian institutions now, one is subsidising the forces of the world—at least so I think. It's very difficult. Christ said that we should bestow our goods upon the poor; but if I were to divide my goods to-morrow among my neighbours, they would be only injured by it—it would not be Christian of them to take them—they have enough. If they have not, I give it them. It does less harm to me than to them. But this I know is very irrational; and the point is not to be affected by that. I could live in a cottage tomorrow, if there was need."
"Yes, I believe you could," said Howard.
"As long as one is not dependent upon money," said Mrs. Graves, "it doesn't very much matter. The real point is to take the world as it comes, and to be sure that one is on the side of what is true and simple and sincere; but I do not pretend to have solved everything, and I am hoping to learn more. I do learn more every day. One can't interfere with the lives of people; poverty is not the worst evil. It is nice to be clean, but I sometimes think that the only good I get from money is cleanliness—and that is only a question of habit! The real point is to be in life, to watch life, to love it, to live it; to be in direct relations with everyone, not to be superior, not to be KIND—that implies superiority. I just plod along, believing, fearing, hoping, loving, glad to live while I may, not afraid to die when I must. The only detachment worth having is the detachment from the idea of making things one's own. I can't appropriate the sunset and the spring, the loves and cares of others; it is all divided up, more fairly than we think. I have had many sorrows and sufferings; but I am more interested than ever in life, glad to help and be helped, ready to change, desiring to change. It isn't a great way of living; but one must not want that—and believe me, dear Howard, it is the only way."
The first day or two of Howard's stay at Windlow seemed like a week, the succeeding week seemed like a day, as soon as he had settled down to a certain routine of life. He became aware of a continued sympathetic and quite unobtrusive scrutiny of him, his ways, his tastes, his thoughts, on the part of his aunt—her questions were subtle, penetrating, provocative enough for him to wish to express an opinion. He did not dislike it, and used no diplomacy himself; he found his aunt's mind shrewd, fresh, unaffected, and at the same time inspiring. She habitually spoke with a touch of irony—not bitter irony, but the irony that is at once a compliment and a sign of affection, such as Socrates used to the handsome boys that came about him. She was not in the smallest degree cynical, but she was very decidedly humorous. Howard thought that she did people even more than justice, while she was frankly delighted if they also provided her with amusement. She held nothing inconveniently sacred, and Howard admired the fine balance of interest and detachment which she showed, her delight in life, her high faith in something large, eternal, and advancing. Her health was evidently very frail, but she made light of it—it was almost the only thing she did not seem to find interesting. How could this clever, vivacious woman, Howard asked himself, retain this wonderful freshness and sweetness of mind in such solitude and dulness of life? He could imagine her the centre of a salon—she had all the gifts of a saloniste, the power of keeping a talk in hand, of giving her entire thought to her neighbour, and yet holding the whole group in view. Solitary, frail, secluded as she was, she was like an unrusted sword, and lavished her wit and her affection on all alike, callers, villagers, servants; and yet he never saw her tired or depressed. She took life as she found it, and was delighted with its simplest combinations. He found her company entirely absorbing and inspiring. He told her, in answer to her frank interest—she seemed to be interested on her own account, and not to please him—more about his own life than he had ever told a human being. She always wanted facts, impressions, details: "Enlarge that—describe that—tell me some more particulars," were phrases often on her lips. And he was delighted, too, by the belief that her explorations into his mind and life pleased and satisfied her. It dawned on him gradually that she was a woman of rich experience, and that her tranquillity was an aftergrowth, a development—"That was in my discontented days," she said once. "It is impossible to think of you as discontented," he had said. "Ah," she said lightly, "I had my dreams, like everyone else; but I saw at last that one must TAKE life—one can't MAKE it—and accept its limitations with enjoyment."
One morning, when he was called, the butler gave him a letter—he had been there about a fortnight—from his aunt. He opened it, expecting that it was to say that she was ill. He found that it ran as follows:
"MY DEAR BOY,—I always think that business is best done by letter and not by conversation. I am getting an old woman and my life is uncertain. I want to make a statement of intentions. I may tell you that I am a comparatively wealthy woman; my dear husband left me everything he had; including what he spent on this place, it came to about sixty thousand pounds. Now I intend to leave that back to his family; there are several sisters of his alive, and they are not wealthy people; but I have saved money too; and it is my wish to leave you this house and the residue of my fortune, after arranging for some small legacies. The estate is not worth very much—a great deal of it is wild downland. But you would have the place, when I died, and about twelve hundred a year. It would be understood that you should live here a certain amount—I don't believe in non-resident landlords. But I do not mean to tie you down to live here altogether. It is only my wish that you should do something for your tenants and neighbours. If you stayed on at Cambridge you could come here in vacations. But my hope would be that you might marry. It is a house for a family. If you do not care to live here, I would rather it were sold. While I live, I hope you will be content to spend some time here, and make acquaintance with our neighbours, by which I mean the village people. I shall tell Cousin Frank my intentions, and that will probably suffice to make it known. I have a very great love for the place, and as far as I can see, you will be likely to have the same.
"You need not feel overburdened with gratitude. You are my only near relation; and indeed I may say that if I were to die before I have signed my will, you would inherit all my fortune as next-of-kin. So you will see that instead of enriching you, I am to a great extent disinheriting you! Just tell me simply if you acquiesce. I want no pledges, nor do I want to bind you in any way. I will not say more, except that it has been a very deep delight to me to find a son in my old age. I had always hoped it would turn out so; and in my experience, God is very careful to give us our desires, just or unjust, great or small.—Your loving Aunt,
Howard was stupefied for a moment by this communication, but he was more affected by the love and confidence it showed than by the prospect of wealth—wealth was not a thing he had ever expected, or indeed thought much about; but it was a home that he had found. The great lack of his life had been a local attachment, a place where he had reason to live. Cambridge with all its joys had never been quite that. A curious sense of emotion at the thought that the sweet place, the beautiful old house, was to be his own, came over him; and another far-off dream darted into his mind as well, which he did not dare to shape. He got up and wrote a short note.
"MY DEAR AUNT,—Your letter fills me with astonishment. I can only say that I accept in love and gratitude what you offer me. The feeling that I have found a home and a mother, so suddenly and so unexpectedly, fills me with joy and happiness. I think with sadness of all the good years I have missed, by a sort of stupid perversity; but I won't regard that now. I will only thank you once more with all my heart for the proof of affection which your letter gives me.—Your grateful and affectionate nephew,
The old house had a welcoming air as he passed through it that morning; it seemed to hold him in its patient embrace, to ask for love. He spent the morning with Jack, but in a curiously distracted mood.
"What has happened to you?" said Jack at the end of the morning. "You have not been thinking about what you are doing. You seem like a man who has been stroking a winning crew. Has the Master been made a Dean, and have you been elected Master? They say you have a chance."
Howard laughed and said, "You are very sharp, Jack! I have NOT been attending. Something very unexpected has happened. I mustn't tell you now, but you will soon know. I have drawn a prize. Now don't pump me!"
"Here's another prize!" said Jack. "You are to lunch with us to-morrow, and to discuss my future career. There's glory for you! I am not to be present, and father is scheming to get me invited to luncheon here. If he fails, I am to take out some sandwiches and to eat them in the kitchen garden. Maud is to be present, and 'CONFER,' he says, 'though without a vote'!"
Howard met Mrs. Graves in the drawing-room; she kissed him, and holding his hand for a moment said, "Thank you for your note, my dear boy. That's all settled, then! Well, it's a great joy to me, and I get more than I give by the bargain. It's a shameless bribe, to secure the company of a charming nephew for a sociable old woman. Some time I shall want to tell you more about the people here—but I won't bore you; and let us just get quietly used to it all. One must not be pompous about money; it is doing it too much honour; and the best of it is that I have found a son." Howard smiled, kissed the hand which held his, and said no more.
The Vicar turned up in the afternoon, and apologised to Mrs. Graves for asking Howard to luncheon on the following day. "The fact is," he said, "that I am anxious to have the benefit of his advice about Jack's future. I think we ought to look at things from all sorts of angles, and Howard will be able, with his professional knowledge of young men, to correct the tendency to parental bias which is so hard to eliminate. I am a fond father—fond, but I hope not foolish—and I trust we shall be able to arrive at some conclusion."
"Then Jack and Maud can come and lunch with me," said Mrs. Graves; "you won't want them, I am sure."
"You are a sorceress," said Mr. Sandys, "in the literary sense of course—you divine my thought!"—but it was evident that he had much looked forward to using a little diplomacy, and was somewhat disappointed. He went on, "It will be very kind of you to have Jack, but I think I shall want Maud's assistance. I have a great belief in the penetration—in the observation of the feminine mind; more than I have, if you will excuse my frankness, in their power of dealing with a practical situation. Woman to interpret events, men to foresee contingencies. Woman to indicate, man to predicate—perhaps I mean predict! No matter; the thought, I think, is clear. Well, then, that is settled! I claim Howard for luncheon—a very simple affair—and for a walk; and by five o'clock we shall have settled this important matter, I don't doubt."
"Very well," said Mrs. Graves; "but before you go, I must claim YOU for a short stroll. I have something to tell you; and as Howard and Jack are dying to get away to deprive some innocent creatures of the privilege of life, they had better go and leave us."
That evening Howard had a long, quiet talk to his aunt. She said, "I am not going to talk business. Our lawyer is coming over on Saturday, and you had better get all the details from him. You must just go round the place with him, and see if there is anything you would like to see altered. It will be an immense comfort to put all that in your hands. Mind, dear boy," she said, "I want you to begin at once. I shall be ready to do whatever is necessary." Then she went on in a different strain. "But there is one other thing I want to say now, and that is that I should above all things like to see you married—don't, by the way, fall in love with dear Jane, who worships the ground you tread on! I have been observing you, and I feel little doubt that marriage is what you most need. I don't expect it has been in your mind at all! Perhaps you have not had enough to marry on, but I am not sorry for that, for a special reason; and I think, too, that men who have the care of boys and young men have their paternal instinct to a large extent satisfied; but that is only a small part of marriage! It isn't only that I want this house to be a home—that's merely a sentimental feeling—but you need to love and be loved, and to have the anxious care of someone close to you. There is nothing like marriage. It probably is not quite as transcendental an affair as you think. That's the mistake which intellectual people so often make—it's a very natural and obvious thing—and of course it means far more to a woman than to a man. But life is not complete without it. It is the biggest fact which happens to us. I only want you just to keep it in your mind as a possibility. Don't be afraid of it! My husband was your age when he married me, and though I was very unreasonable in those days, I am sure it was a happy thing for him, though he thought he was too old. There, I don't want to press you, in this or in anything. I do not think you will be happy living here without a wife, even if you go on with Cambridge. But one can't mould things to one's wishes. My fault is to want to organise everything for everybody, and I have made all my worst blunders so. I hope I have given up all that. But if I live to see it, the day when you come and tell me that you have won a wife will be the next happiest day to the day when I found a son of my heart. There, dear boy, I won't sentimentalise; but that's the truth; I shall wake up to-morrow and for many days, feeling that some good fortune has befallen me; but we should have found each other some time, even if I had been a poor and miserable old woman. You have given me all that I desired; give me a daughter too, if you can!"
"Well," said Howard, smiling, "I have no theory on the subject. I never regarded marriage as either impossible or possible. It seemed to me that one was either caught away in a fiery chariot, or else was left under one's juniper tree; and I have been very comfortable there. I thought I had all I wanted; and I feel a little dizzy now at the way in which my cup of life has suddenly been seized and filled with wine to the brim. One doesn't find a home and a mother and a wife in a fortnight!"
"I don't know!" said Mrs. Graves, smiling at him. "Some of the best marriages I know have been made in haste. I remember talking to a girl the other day who was engaged to a man within ten days of the time they had met. I said, 'Well, you have not wasted time.' 'Oh,' she said, apparently rather hurt, 'I kept Henry waiting a long time. I had to think it all over. I wasn't by any means sure I wanted to marry him.' I quoted a saying of an old friend of mine who when he was asked why he had proposed to a girl he had only known three days, said, 'I don't know! I liked her, and thought I should like to see more of her!'"
"I think I must make out a list of possible candidates," said Howard, smiling. "I dare say your Jane would help me. I could mark them for various qualities; we believe in marks at Cambridge. But I must have time to get used to all my new gifts."
"Oh, one doesn't take long to get used to happiness," said Mrs. Graves. "It always seems the most natural thing in the world. Tennyson was all wrong about sorrow. Sorrow is always the casual mistress, and not the wife. One recovers from everything but happiness; that is one's native air."
The Vicarage was a pleasant house, with an air of comfort and moderate wealth about it. It was part of Frank Sandys' sense, thought Howard, that he was content to live so simple and retired a life. He did not often absent himself, even for a holiday. Howard was shown into the study which Mr. Sandys had improved and enlarged. It was a big room, with an immense, perfectly plain deal table in the middle, stained a dark brown; and the Vicar showed Howard with high glee how each of the four sides of the table was consecrated to a different avocation. "My accounts end!" he said, "my sermon side! my correspondence end! my genealogical side!" There were a number of small dodges, desks for holding books, flaps which could be let up and down, slits in the table through which papers could be dropped into drawers, a cord by which the bell could be rung without rising from his place, a cord by which the door could be bolted. "Not very satisfactory, that last," said the Vicar, "but I am on the track of an improvement. The worst of it is," said the good man, "that I have so little time. I make extracts from the books I read for my sermons, I cut out telling anecdotes from the papers. I like to raise questions every now and then in the Guardian, and that lets me in for a lot of correspondence. I even, I must confess, sometimes address questions to important people about their public utterances, and I have an interesting volume of replies, mostly from secretaries. Then I am always at work on my Somersetshire genealogies, and that means a mass of letters. The veriest trifles, of course, they will seem to a man like yourself; but I fail in mental grasp—I keep hammering away at details; that is my line; and after all it keeps one alert and alive. You know my favourite thesis—it is touch with human nature that I value, and I am brought into contact with many minds. I don't exaggerate the importance of my work, but I enjoy it; and after all, that is the point! I daresay it would be more dignified if I pretended to be a disappointed man," said the Vicar, with a smile which won Howard's heart, "but I am not—I am a very happy man, as busy as the fabled bee! I shouldn't relish a change. There was some question, I may tell you, at one time, of my becoming Archdeacon, but it was a relief to me when it was settled and when Bedington was appointed. I woke up in the morning, I remember, the day after his appointment was announced, and I said to myself—'Why, it's a relief after all!' I don't mean that I shouldn't have enjoyed it, but it would have meant giving up some part of my work. I really have the life I like, and if my dear wife had been spared to me, I should be the happiest of men; but that was not to be—and by the way, I must recollect to show you some of her drawings. But I must not inflict all this upon you—and by the way," said the Vicar, "Mrs. Graves did me the honour of telling me yesterday her intentions with regard to yourself, and I told her I was heartily glad to hear it. It is an immense thing for the place to have some one who will look into things a little, and bring a masculine mind to bear on our simple problems. For myself, it will be an untold gain to be brought in touch with a more intellectual atmosphere. I foresee a long perspective of stimulating discussions. I will venture to say that you will be warmly welcomed here, and indeed you seem quite one of us already. But now we must go and get our luncheon—we have much to discuss; and you will not mind Maud being present, I know; the children are devoted to each other, and though I have studied their tastes and temperaments very closely, yet 'crabbed age and youth' you know, and all that—she will be able, I think, to cast some light on our little problem."
They went together into the drawing-room, a pleasant old-fashioned room—"a temple of domestic peace," said the Vicar, "a pretty phrase of Carlyle's that! Maud has her own little sitting-room—the old schoolroom in fact—which she will like to show you. I think it very necessary that each member of a family should if possible have a sanctum, a private uninvaded domain—but in this room the separate strains unite."
Maud was sitting near the window when the two came in. She got up and came quickly forward, with a smile, and shook hands with Howard. She had just the same look of virginal freshness and sweetness in the morning light—a little less mysterious, perhaps; but there came upon Howard a strange feeling, partly of intense admiration, partly a sort of half-jealousy that he should know so little of the girl's past, and a half-terror of all other influences and relations in the unknown background of her life. He wanted to know whom and what she cared about, what her hopes were, what her thoughts rested upon and concerned themselves with. He had never felt any such emotion before, and it was not wholly agreeable to him. He felt thrown off his balance, interfered with, diverted from his normal course. He wanted to do and say something which could claim her attention and confidence; and the frank and almost sisterly regard she gave him was not wholly to his mind. This was mingled, too, with a certain fear of he knew not what; he feared her criticism, her disapproval; he felt his own dulness and inelasticity. He seemed to himself empty, heavy, awkward, disconcerted by her quiet and expectant gaze. This came and went like a flash, and gave him an almost physical uneasiness.
"Well, here we are," said the Vicar. "I must say this is very comfortable—a sort of family council, with matters of importance to discuss." Maud led the way to the dining-room. "I said we would have everything put on the table," said the Vicar, "and wait on ourselves; that will leave us quite free to talk. It's not a lack of any respect, Howard—quite the contrary; but these honest people down here pick up all sorts of gossip—in a quiet life, you know, a little gossip goes a long way; and even my good maids are human—I should be so in their place! Howard, a bit of this chicken—our own chickens, our own vegetables, our country cider—everything home-grown; and now to business, and we will settle Master Jack in a turn. My own belief is, in choosing a profession, to think of all possibilities and eliminate them one by one."
"Yes," said Howard, "but we are met by this initial difficulty; that one might settle a dozen professions for Jack, and there is not the smallest guarantee that he would choose any of them. I think he will take his own line. I never knew anyone who knew so definitely what he intended to do, and what he did not intend to do!"
"You have hit it," said the Vicar, "and I do not think you could have said anything which could please me more. He is independent; it is my own temperament over again! You will forgive a touch of vanity, Howard, but that is me all over. And that simplifies our plan of action very considerably, you know!"
"Yes," said Howard, "it undoubtedly does. I have no doubt from what Jack told me that he intends to make money. It isn't, in him, just the vague desire to have the command of money, which most young men have. I have to talk over their careers with a good many young men, and it generally ends in their saying they would like a secretaryship, which would give them interesting work and long holidays and the command of much of their time, and lead on to something better, with a prospect of early retirement on a pension."
The Vicar laughed loudly at this. "Excellent!" he said, "a very human view; that's a real bit of human nature."
"But Jack," said Howard, "isn't like that. He enjoys his life and gets what fun out of it he can; but he thinks Cambridge a waste of time. I don't know any young man who is so perfectly clear that he wants real work. He is not idle as many young men are idle, prolonging the easy days as long as they can. He is an extraordinary mixture; he enjoys himself like a schoolboy, and yet he wants to get to work."
"Well, I think that a very encouraging picture!" said the Vicar; "there is something very sensible about that. I confess I have mostly seen the schoolboy side of Jack, and it delights one to know that there is a serious side! Let us hear what Maud thinks; this kind of talk is really very enjoyable."
"Yes," said Maud, looking up. "I am sure that Mr. Kennedy is quite right. I believe that Jack would like to go into an office to-morrow."
"There," said the Vicar, "you see she agrees with you. It is really a pleasure to find oneself mistaken. I confess I had not discerned this quality in Jack; he had seemed to me much set on amusement."
"Oh yes," said Howard, "he likes his fun, and he is active enough; but it is all passing the time."
"Well, this is really most satisfactory," said the Vicar. "So you really think he is cut out for business; something commercial? Well, I confess I had rather hankered after something more definitely academic and scholastic—something more intellectual! But I bow to your superior knowledge, Howard, and we must think of possible openings. Well, I shall enjoy that. My own money, what there is of it, was made by my grandfather in trade—the manufacture of cloth, I believe. Would cloth now, the manufacture of cloth, appear to provide the requisite opening? I have some cousins still in the firm."
"I think it would do as well as anything else," said Howard, "and if you have any interest in a particular business, it would be worth while to make inquiries."
"Before I go to bed to-night," said the Vicar, "I will send a statement of the case to my cousin; that will set the ball rolling."
"Won't you have a talk with Jack first?" said Howard. "You may depend upon it he will have some views."
"The very thing," said the Vicar. "I will put aside all my other work, and talk to Jack after tea; if any difficulty should arise, I may look to you for further counsel. This is really most satisfactory. This matter has been in my mind in a nebulous way for a long time; and you enter the scene with your intellectual grip, and your psychological penetration—if that is not too intricate a word—and the situation is clear at once. Well, I am most grateful to you."
The talk then became general, or rather passed into the Vicar's hands. "I have ventured," he said, "to indicate to Maud what Cousin Anne was good enough to tell me last night—she laid no embargo on the news—and a few particulars about your inheritance will not be lacking in interest—and on our walk this afternoon, to which I am greatly looking forward, we will explore your domains."
This simple compliment produced a curious effect on Howard. He realised as he had not done before the singular change in his position that his aunt's announcement had produced: a country squire, a proprietor—he could not think of himself in that light—it was like a curious dream.
After luncheon, Mr. Sandys excused himself for a few minutes; he had to step over and speak to the sexton. Maud would take Howard round the garden, show him her room, "just our simple background—we want you to realise that!"
As soon as they were alone together, Howard said to Maud, "We seem to have settled Jack's affairs very summarily. I hope you do agree with me?"
"Yes," said Maud, "I do indeed. It is wonderful to me that you should know so much about him, with all your other pupils to know. He isn't a boy who talks much about himself, though he seems to; and I don't think my father understood what he was feeling. Jack doesn't like being interfered with, and he was getting to resent programmes being drawn up. Papa is so tremendously keen about anything he takes up that he carries one away; and then you come and smooth out all the difficulties. It isn't always easy—" she broke off suddenly, and added, "That is what Jack wants, what he calls something REAL. He is bored with the life here, and yet he is always good about it."
"Do you like the life here?" said Howard. "I can't tell you what an effect it all produces on me; it all seems so simple and beautiful. But I know that one mustn't trust first impressions. People in picturesque surroundings don't always feel picturesque. It is very pleasant to make a drama out of one's life and to feel romantic—but one can't keep it up—at least I can't. That must come of itself."
Howard felt that the girl was watching him with a look of almost startled interest. She said in a moment, "Yes, that's quite true, and it IS a difficulty. I should like to be able to talk to you about those things—I hear so much about you, you know, from Jack, that you are not like a stranger at all. Now papa has got the gift of romance; every bit of his life is interesting and exciting to him—it's perfectly splendid—but Jack has not got that at all. I seem to understand them both, and yet I can't explain them to each other. I don't mean they don't get on, but neither can quite see what the other is aiming at. And I have felt that I ought to be able to do something. I can't understand how you have cleared it up; but I am very glad and grateful about it: it has been a trouble to me. Cousin Anne is wonderful about it, but she seems able to let things alone in a way I can't dare to."
"Oh, one learns that as one gets older," said Howard. "One can't argue things straight. One can only go on hoping and wishing, and if possible understanding. I used to make a great mess of it with my pupils at one time, by thinking one could talk them round; but one can't persuade people of things, one can only just suggest, and let it be; and after all no one ever resents finding himself interesting to some one else; only it has got to be interest, and not a sense of duty."
"That is what Cousin Anne says," said Maud, "and when I am with her, I think so too; and then something tiresome happens and I meddle, I meddle! Jack says I like ruling lines, but that it is no good, because people won't write on them."
WITH MAUD ALONE
They were suddenly interrupted by the inrush of the Vicar. "Maud," he said with immense zest, "I find old Mrs. Darby very ill—she had a kind of faint while I was there. I have sent off Bob post haste for Dr. Grierson." The Vicar was evidently in the highest spirits, like a general on the eve of a great battle. "There isn't a moment to be lost," he continued, his eye blazing with energy. "Howard, my dear fellow, I fear our walk must be put off. I must go back at once. There she lies, flat on her back, just where I laid her! I believe," said the Vicar, "it's a touch of syncope. She is blue, decidedly blue! I charged them to do nothing, but if I don't get back, there's no knowing what they won't pour down her throat—decoction of pennyroyal, I dare say; and if the woman coughs, she is lost. This is the sort of thing I enjoy—of course it is very sad—but it is a tussle with death. I know a good deal about medicine, and Grierson has more than once complimented me on my diagnosis—he said it was masterly—forgive a touch of vanity! But you mustn't lose your walk. Maud, dear, you take Howard out—I am sure he won't mind for once. You could walk round the village, or you could go and find Jack. Now then, back to my post! You must forgive me, Howard, but my flock are paramount."
"But won't you want me, papa?" said Maud. "Couldn't I be of use?"
"Certainly not," said the Vicar; "there's nothing whatever to be done till Grierson arrives—just to ward off the ministrations of the relatives. There she must lie—I feel no doubt it is syncope; every symptom points to syncope—poor soul! A very interesting case."
He fled from the room like a whirlwind, and they heard him run down the garden. The two looked at each other and smiled. "Poor Mrs. Darby!" said Maud, "she is such a nice old woman; but papa will do everything that can be done for her; he really knows all about it, and he is splendid in illness—he never loses his head, and he is very gentle; he has saved several lives in the village by knowing what to do. Would you really like to go out with me? I'll be ready in a minute."
"Let us go up on the downs," said Howard, "I should like that very much. I daresay we shall hear Jack shooting somewhere."
Maud was back in a moment; in a rough cloak and cap she looked enchanting to Howard's eyes. She walked lightly and quickly beside him. "You must take your own pace," said Howard, "I'll try to keep up—one gets very lazy at Cambridge about exercise—won't you go on with what you were saying? I know your father has told you about my aunt's plan. I can't realise it yet; but I want to feel at home here now—indeed I do feel that already—and I like to know how things stand. We are all relations together, and I must try to make up for lost time. I seem to know my aunt so well already. She has a great gift for letting one see into her mind and heart—and I know your father too, and Jack, and I want to know you; we must be a family party, and talk quite simply and freely about all our concerns."
"Oh, yes, indeed I will," said Maud—"and I find myself wondering how easy it is to talk to you. You do seem like a relation; as if you had always been here, indeed; but I must not talk too much about myself—I do chatter very freely to Cousin Anne; but I don't think it is good for one to talk about oneself, do you? It makes one feel so important!"
"It depends who one talks to," said Howard, "but I don't believe in holding one's tongue too much, if one trusts people. It seems to me the simplest thing to do; I only found it out a few years ago—how much one gained by talking freely and directly. It seems to me an uncivilised, almost a savage thing to be afraid of giving oneself away. I don't mind who knows about my own concerns, if he is sufficiently interested. I will tell you anything you like about myself, because I should like you to realise how I live. In fact, I shall want you all to come and see me at Cambridge; and then you will be able to understand how we live there, while I shall know what is going on here. And I am really a very safe person to talk to. One gets to know a lot of young men, year by year—and I'm a mine of small secrets. Don't you know the title so common in the old Methodist tracts—'The life and death and Christian sufferings of the Rev. Mr. Pennefather.' That's what I want to know about people—Christian sufferings and all."
Maud smiled at him and said, "I am afraid there are not many Christian sufferings in my life; but I shall be glad to talk about many things here. You know my mother died more than ten years ago—when I was quite a little girl—and I don't remember her very well; I have always said just what I thought to Jack, and he to me—till quite lately; and that is what troubles me a little. Jack seems to be rather drifting away from me. He gets to know so many new people, and he doesn't like explaining; and then his mind seems full of new ideas. I suppose it is bound to happen; and of course I have very little to do here; papa likes doing everything, and doing it in his own way. He can't bear to let anything out of his hands; so I just go about and talk to the people. But I am not a very contented person. I want something, I think, and I don't know what it is. It is difficult to take up anything serious, when one is all alone. I should like to go to Newnham, but I can't leave father by himself; books don't seem much use, though I read a great deal. I want something real to do, like Jack! Papa is so energetic; he manages the house and pays all the bills; and there doesn't seem any use for me—though if I were of use, I should find plenty of things to do, I believe."
"Yes," said Howard, "I quite understand, and I am glad you have told me. You know I am a sort of doctor in these matters, and I have often heard undergraduates say the same sort of thing. They are restless, they want to go out into life, they want to work; and when they begin to work all that disquiet disappears. It's a great mercy to have things to do, whether one likes it or not. Work is an odd thing! There is hardly a morning at Cambridge when, if someone came to me and offered me the choice of doing my ordinary work or doing nothing for a day, I shouldn't choose to do nothing. And yet I enjoy my work, and wouldn't give it up for anything. It is odd that it takes one so long to learn to like work, and longer still to learn that one doesn't like idleness. And yet it is to win the power of being idle that makes most people work. Idleness seems so much grander and more dignified."
"It IS curious," said Maud, "but I seem to have inherited papa's taste for occupation, without his energy. I wish you would advise me what to do. Can't one find something?"
"What does my aunt say?" said Howard.
"Oh, she smiles in that mysterious way she has," said Maud, "and says we have to learn to take things as they come. She knows somehow how to do without things, how to wait; but I can't do that without getting dreary."
"Do you ever try to write?" said Howard.
"Yes," said Maud, laughing, "I have tried to write a story—how did you guess that? I showed it to Cousin Anne, and she said it was very nice; and when I showed it to Jack, and told him what she had said, he read a little, and said that that was exactly what it was."
"Yes," said Howard, smiling, "I admit that it was not very encouraging! But I wish you would try something more simple. You say you know the people here and talk to them. Can't you write down the sort of things they say, the talks you have with them, the way they look at things? I read a book once like that, called Country Conversations, and I wondered that so few people ever tried it. Why should one try to write improbable stories, even NICE stories, when the thing itself is so interesting? One doesn't understand these country people. They have an idea of life as definite as a dog or a cat, and it is not in the least like ours. Why not take a family here; describe their house and possessions, what they look like, what they do, what their history has been, and then describe some talks with them? I can't imagine anything more interesting. Perhaps you could not publish them at present; but they wouldn't be quite wasted, because you might show them to me, and I want to know all about the people here. You mustn't pass over things because they seem homely and familiar—those are just the interesting things—what they eat and drink and wear, and all that. How does that strike you?"
"I like the idea very much indeed," said Maud. "I will try—I will begin at once. And even if nothing comes of it, it will be nice to think it may be of use to you, to know about the people."
"Very well," said Howard, "that is a bargain. It is exactly what I want. Do begin at once, and let me have the first instalment of the Chronicles of Windlow."
They had arrived by this time at a point high on the downs. The rough white road, full of flints, had taken them up by deep-hedged cuttings, through coverts where the spring flowers were just beginning to show in the undergrowth, and out on to the smooth turf of the downs. They were near the top now, and they could see right down into Windlow Malzoy, lying like a map beneath them; the top of the Church tower, its leaden roof, the roofs of the Vicarage, the little straggling street among its orchards and gardens; farther off, up the valley, they could see the Manor in its gardens; beyond the opposite ridge, a far-off view of great richness spread itself in a belt of dark-blue colour. It was a still day; on the left hand there was a great smooth valley-head, with a wood of beeches, and ploughed fields in the bottom. They directed their steps to an old turfed barrow, with a few gnarled thorn trees, wind-swept and stunted round it.
"I love this place," said Maud; "it has a nice name, the 'Isle of Thorns.' I suppose it is a burial-place—some old chief, papa says—and he is always threatening to have him dug up; but I don't want to disturb him! He must have had a reason for being buried here, and I suppose there were people who missed him, and were sorry to lay him here, and wondered where he had gone. I am sure there is a sad old story about it; and yet it makes one happy in a curious way to think about it all."
"Yes," said Howard, "'the old, unhappy, far-off things,' that turn themselves into songs and stories! That is another puzzle; one's own sorrows and tragedies, would one like to think of them as being made into songs for other people to enjoy? I suppose we ought to be glad of it; but there does not seem anything poetical about them at the time; and yet they end by being sweeter than the old happy things. The 'Isle of Thorns'! Yes, that IS a beautiful name."
Suddenly there came a faint musical sound on the air, as sweet as honey. Howard held up his hand. "What on earth or in heaven is that?" he said.
"Those are the chimes of Sherborne!" said Maud. "One hears them like that when the wind is in this quarter. I like to hear them—they have always been to me a sort of omen of something pleasant about to happen. Perhaps it is in your honour to-day, to welcome you!"
"Well," said Howard, "they are beautiful enough by themselves; and if they will bring me greater happiness than I have, I shall not object to that!"
They smiled at each other, and stood in silence for a little, and then Maud pointed out some neighbouring villages. "All this," she said, "is Cousin Anne's—and yours. I think the Isle of Thorns is yours."
"Then the old chief shall not be disturbed," said Howard.
"How curious it is," said Maud, "to see a place of which one knows every inch laid out like a map beneath one. It seems quite a different place! As if something beautiful and strange must be happening there, if only one could see it!"
"Yes," said Howard, "it is odd how we lose the feeling that a place is romantic when we come to know it. When I first went up to Cambridge, there were many places there that seemed to me to be so interesting: walls which seemed to hide gardens full of thickets, strange doorways by which no one ever passed out or in, barred windows giving upon dark courts, out of which no one ever seemed to look. But now that I know them all from the inside, they seem commonplace enough. The hidden garden is a place where Dons smoke and play bowls; the barred window is an undergraduate's gyp-room; there's no mystery left about them now. This place as I see it to-day—well, it seems the most romantic place in the world, full of unutterable secrets of life and death; but I suppose it may all come to wear a perfectly natural air to me some day."
"That is what I like so much about Cousin Anne," said Maud; "nothing seems to be commonplace to her, and she puts back the mystery and wonder into it all. One must learn to do that for oneself somehow."
"Yes, she's a great woman!" said Howard; "but what shall we do now?"
"Oh, I am sorry," said Maud, "I have been keeping you all this time—wouldn't you like to go and look for Jack? I think I heard a shot just now up the valley."
"No," said Howard, looking at her and smiling, "we won't go and look for Jack to-day; he has quite enough of my company. I want your company to-day, and only yours. I want to get used to my new-found cousin."
"And to get rid of the sense of romance about her?" said Maud with a smile; "you will soon come to the end of me."
"I will take my chance of that," said Howard. "At present I feel on the other side of the wall."
"But I don't," said Maud, laughing; "I can't think how you slip in and fit in as you do, and disentangle all our little puzzles as you have done. I thought I should be terrified of you—and now I feel as if I had known you ever so long. You are like Cousin Anne, you know."
"Perhaps I am, a little," said Howard, "but you are not very much like Jack! Show me Mrs. Darby's house, by the way. I wonder how things are going."
"There it is," said Maud, pointing to a house not far from the Vicarage, "and there is Dr. Grierson's dogcart. I am afraid I had not been thinking about her; but I do hope it's all right. I think she will get over this. Don't you always have an idea, when people are ill, whether they will get well or not?"
"Yes," said Howard, "I do; but it doesn't always come right!"
They lingered long on the hill, and at last Maud said that she must return for tea. "Papa will be sure to bring Dr. Grierson in."
They went down the hill, talking lightly and easily; and to Howard it was more delightful than anything he had known to have a peep into the girl's frank and ingenuous mind. She was full of talk—spontaneous, inconsequent talk—like Jack; and yet with a vast difference. Hers was not a wholly happy temperament, Howard thought; she seemed oppressed by a sense of duty, and he could not help feeling that she needed some sort of outlet. Neither the Vicar nor Jack were people who stood in need of sympathy or affection. He felt that they did not quite understand the drift of the girl's mind, which seemed clear enough to him. And yet there fell on him, for all his happiness, a certain dissatisfaction. He would have liked to feel less elderly, less paternal; and the girl's frank confidence in him, treating him as she might have treated an uncle or an elder brother, was at once delightful and disconcerting. The day began to decline as they walked, and the light faded to a sombre bleakness. Howard went back to the Vicarage with her, and, at her urgent request, went in to tea. They found the Vicar and Dr. Grierson already established. Mrs. Darby was quite comfortable, and no danger was apprehended. The Vicar's diagnosis had been right, and his precautions perfect. "I could not have done better myself!" said Dr. Grierson, a kindly, bluff Scotchman. Howard became aware that the Vicar must have told the Doctor the news about his inheritance, and was subtly flattered at being treated by him with the empressement reserved for squires. Jack came in—he had been shooting all afternoon—and told Howard he was improving. "I shall catch you up," he said. He seemed frankly amused at the idea of Howard having spent the afternoon with Maud. "You have got the whole family on your back, it seems," he said. Maud was silent, but in her heightened colour and sparkling eye Howard discerned a touch of happiness, and he enjoyed the quiet attention she gave to his needs. The Vicar seemed sorry that they had not made a closer inspection of the village. "But you were right to begin with a general coup d'oeil," he said; "the whole before the parts! First the conspectus, then the details," he added delightedly. "So you have been to the Isle of Thorns?" he went on. "I want to rake out the old fellow up there some day—but Cousin Anne won't allow it—you must persuade her; and we will have a splendid field-day there, unearthing all the old boy's arrangements; I am sure he has never been disturbed."
"I am afraid I agree with my aunt," said Howard, shaking his head.
"Ah, Maud has been getting at you, I perceive," said the Vicar. "A very feminine view! Now in the interests of ethnology we ought to go forward—dear me, how full the world is of interesting things!"
They parted in great good-humour. The whole party were to dine at the Manor next day; and Howard, as he said good-bye to Maud, contrived to add, "Now you must tell me to-morrow that you have made a beginning." She gave him a little nod, and a clasp of the hand that made him feel that he had a new friend.
That evening he talked to his aunt about Maud. He told her all about their walk and talk. "I am very glad you gave her something to do," she said—"that is so like a man! That is just where I fail. She is a very interesting and delightful girl, Howard; and she is not quite happy at home. Living with Cousin Frank is like living under a waterfall; and Jack is beginning to have his own plans, and doesn't want anyone to share them. Well, you amaze me! I suppose you get a good deal of practice in these things, and become a kind of amateur father-confessor. I think of you at Cambridge as setting the lives of young men spinning like little tops—small human teetotums. It's very useful, but it is a little dangerous! I don't think you have suffered as yet. That's what I like in you, Howard, the mixture of practical and unpractical. You seem to me to be very busy, and yet to know where to stop. Of course we can't make other people a present of experience; they have to spin their own webs; but I think one can do a certain amount in seeing that they have experience. It would not suit me; my strength is to sit still, as the Bible says. But in a place like this with Frank whipping his tops—he whips them, while you just twirl them—someone is wanted who will listen to people, and see that they are left alone. To leave people alone at the right minute is a very great necessity. Don't you know those gardens that look as if they were always being fussed and slashed and cut about? There's no sense of life in them. One has to slash sometimes, and then leave it. I believe in growth even more than in organisation. Still, I don't doubt that you have helped Maud, and I am very glad of it. I wanted you to make friends with her. I think the lack in your life is that you have known so few women; men and women can never understand each other, of course; but they have got to live together and work together; and one ought to live with people whom one does not understand. You and your undergraduates don't yield any mysteries. You, no doubt, know exactly what they are thinking, and they know what you are thinking. It's all very pleasant and wholesome, but one can't get on very far that way. You mustn't think Maud is a sort of undergraduate. Probably you think you know a great deal about her already—but she isn't the least what you imagine, any more than I am. Nor are you what I imagine; but I am quite content with my mistaken idea of you."
The next day's dinner was a disappointment. The Vicar expatiated, Jack counted, and became so intent on his counting that he hardly said a word; indeed Howard was not sure that he was wholly pleased with the turn affairs had taken; he was rather touched by this than otherwise, because it seemed to him that Jack was really, if unconsciously, a little jealous. His whole visit had been rather too much of a success: Jack had expected to act as showman of his menagerie, and to play the principal part; and Howard felt that Jack suspected him of having taken the situation too much into his own hands. He felt that Jack was not pleased with his puppets; his father had needed no apologies or explanations, Maud had been forward, he himself had been donnish.
The result was that Howard hardly got a word with Maud; she did indeed say to him that she had made a beginning, and he was aware of a pleasant sense of trustfulness about her; but the party had been involved in vague and general talk, with a disturbing element somewhere. Howard found himself talking aimlessly and flatly, and the net result was a feeling of dissatisfaction.
When they were gone, Mrs. Graves said to Howard, "Jack is rather a masterful young man, I think. He has no sense of respect in his composition. Were you aware of the fact that he had us all under his thumb this evening?"
"Yes," said Howard, "it was just what I was thinking!"
"He wants work," said Mrs. Graves; "he ought not to dangle about at home and at Cambridge; he wants tougher material to deal with; it's no use snubbing him, because he is on the right tack; but he must not be allowed to interfere too much. He wants a touch of misfortune to bring him to himself; he has a real influence over people—the influence that all definite, good-humoured, outspoken people have; it is easier for others to do what he likes than to resist him; he is not irritable, and he is pertinacious. He is the sort of man who may get very much spoilt if he doesn't marry the right woman, because he is the sort of person women will tell lies to rather than risk displeasing him. If he does not take care he will be a man of the world, because he will not see the world as it is; it will behave to him as he wishes it to behave."
"I think," said Howard, "that he has got good stuff in him; he would never do anything mean or spiteful; but he would do anything that he thought consistent with honour to get his way."
"Well, we shall see," said Mrs. Graves; "but he is rather a bad influence for Maud just now. Maud doesn't suspect his strength, and I can't have her broken in. Mind, Howard, I look to you to help Maud along. You have a gift for keeping things reasonable; and you must use it."
"I thought you believed in letting people alone!" said Howard.
"In theory, yes," said Mrs. Graves, smiling; "I certainly don't believe in influencing people; but I believe very much in loving them: it's what I call imaginative sympathy that we want. Some people have imagination enough to see what other people are feeling, but it ends there: and some people have unintelligent sympathy, and that is only spoiling. But one must see what people are capable of, and what their line is, and help them to find out what suits them, not try to conform them to what suits oneself; and that isn't as easy as it sounds."
A few days later Howard was summoned back to Cambridge. One of his colleagues was ill, and arrangements had to be made to provide for his work. It astonished him to find how reluctant he was to return; he seemed to have found the sort of life he needed in this quiet place. He had walked with the Vicar, and had been deluged with interesting particulars about the parish. Much of it was very trivial, but Howard saw that the Vicar had a real insight into the people and their ways. He had not seen Maud again to speak to, and it vexed him to find how difficult it was to create occasions for meeting. His mind and imagination had been taken captive by the girl; he thought of her constantly, and recalled her in a hundred charming vignettes; the hope of meeting her was constantly in his mind; he had taught Jack a good deal, but he became more and more aware that for some reason or other his pupil was not pleased with him.
He and Jack were returning one day from fishing, and they had come nearer than Howard had liked to having a squabble. Howard had said something about an undergraduate, a friend of Jack's. Jack had seemed to resent the criticism, and said, "I am not quite sure whether you know so much about him as you think. Do you always analyse people like that? I sometimes feel with you as if I were in a room full of specimens which you were showing off, and that you knew more about them dead than alive."
"That's rather severe!" said Howard; "I simply try to understand people—I suppose we all do that."
"No, I don't," said Jack; "I think it's rather stuffy, if you want to know. I have a feeling that you have been turning everyone inside out here. I think one ought to let people alone."
"Well," said Howard, "it all depends upon what one wants to do with people. I think that, as a matter of fact, you are really more inclined to deal with people, to use them for your own purposes, than I am. You know what you want, and other people have got to follow. Of course, up at Beaufort, it's my business to try to do that to a certain extent; but that is professional, and a matter of business."
"But the worst of doing it professionally," said Jack, "is that you can't get out of the way of doing it unprofessionally. You seem to me to have rather purchased this place. I know you are to be squire, and all that; but you want to make yourself felt. I am not sure that you aren't rather a Jesuit."
"Come," said Howard, "that's going too far—we can't afford to quarrel. I don't mind your saying what you think; but if you have the right to take your own line, you must allow the same right to others."
"That depends!" said Jack, and was silent for a moment. Then he turned to Howard and said, "Yes, you are quite right! I am sorry I said all that. You have done no end for me, and I am an ungrateful little beast. It is rather fine of you not to remind me of all the trouble you have taken; there isn't anyone who would have done so much; and you have really laid yourself out to do what I liked here. I am sorry, I am truly sorry. I suppose I felt myself rather cock of the walk here, and am vexed that you have got the whole thing into your hands!"
"All right," said Howard, "I entirely understand; and look here, I am glad you said what you did. You are not wholly wrong. I have interfered perhaps more than I ought; but you must believe me when I say this—that it isn't with a managing motive. I like people to like me; I don't want to direct them; only one can overdo trying to make people like one, and I feel I have overdone it. I ought to have gone to work in a different way."
"Well, I have put my foot in it again," said Jack; "it's awful to think that I have been lecturing one of the Dons about his duty. I shall be trying to brighten up their lives next. The mischief is that I don't think I do want people to like me. I am not affectionate. I only want things to go smoothly."
They drew near to the Manor, and Jack said, "I promised Cousin Anne I would go in to tea. She has designs on me, that woman! She doesn't approve of me; she says the sharpest things in her quiet way; one hardly knows she has done it, and then when one thinks of it afterwards, one finds she has drawn blood. I am cross, I think! There seems to be rather a set at me just now; she makes me feel as if I were in bed, being nursed and slapped."
"Well," said Howard, "I shall leave you to her mercies. I shall go on to the Vicarage, and say good-bye. I shan't see them again this time. You don't mind, I hope? I will try not to use my influence."
"You can't help it!" said Jack with a grimace. "No, do go. You will touch them up a bit. I am not appreciated there just now."
Howard walked on up to the Vicarage. He was rather disturbed by Jack's remarks; it put him, he thought, in an odious light. Was he really so priggish and Jesuitical? That was the one danger of the life of the Don which he hoped he had successfully avoided. He was all for liberty, he imagined. Was he really, after all, a mild schemer with an ethical outlook? Was he bent on managing and uplifting people? The idea sickened him, and he felt humiliated.
When he arrived at the Vicarage, he found the Vicar out. Maud was alone. This was, he confessed to himself with a strange delight, exactly what he most desired. He would not be paternal or formative. He would just make friends with his pretty cousin as he might with a sensible undergraduate. With this stern resolve he entered the room.
Maud got up hastily from her chair—she was writing in a little note-book on her knee. "I thought I would just come in and say good-bye," he said. "I have to go back to Cambridge earlier than I thought, and I hoped I might just catch you and your father."
"He will be so sorry," said Maud; "he does enjoy meeting you. He says it gives him so much to think about."
"Oh, well," said Howard, "I hope to be here again next vacation—in June, that is. I have got to learn my duties here as soon as I can. I see you are hard at work. Is that the book? How do you get on? You have promised to send it me, you know, as soon as you have enough in hand."
"Yes," said Maud, "I will send it you. It has done me good already, doing this. It is very good of you to have suggested it—and I like to think it may be of some use."
"I have been with Jack all the afternoon," said Howard, "and I am afraid he is rather vexed with me. I can't have that. He drew a rather unpleasant picture of me; he seemed to think I have taken this place rather in hand from the Don's point of view. He thinks I should die if I were unable to improve the occasion."
Maud looked up at him with a troubled and rather indignant air. "Jack is perfectly horrid just now," she said; "I can't think what has come over him; and considering that you have been coaching him every day, and getting him shooting and fishing, it seems to me quite detestable! I oughtn't to say that; but you mustn't be angry with him, Mr. Kennedy. I think he is feeling very independent just now, and he said to me that it made him feel that he was back at school to have to go up with his books to the Manor every morning. But he is all right really. I am sure he is grateful; it would be too shameful if he were not. Please don't be vexed with him."
Howard laughed. "Oh, I am not vexed! Indeed, I am rather glad he spoke out—at my age one doesn't often get the chance of being sincerely scolded by a perfectly frank young man. One does get donnish and superior, no doubt, and it is useful to find it out, though it isn't pleasant at the time. We have made it up, and he was quite repentant; I think it is altogether natural. It often happens with young men to get irritated with one, no doubt, but as a rule they don't speak out; and this time he has got me between the joints of my armour."
"Oh, dear me!" said Maud, "I think the world is rather a difficult place! It seems ridiculous for me to say that in a place like this, when I think what might be happening if I were poor and had to earn my living. It is silly to mind things so; but Jack accuses me of the same sort of thing. He says that women can't let people alone; he says that women don't really want to DO anything, but only to SEEM to have their way."
"Well, then, it appears we are both in the same box," said Howard, "and we must console each other and grieve over being so much misunderstood."
He felt that he had spoken rather cynically, and that he had somehow hurt and checked the girl. He did not like the thought; but he felt that he had spoken sensibly in not allowing the situation to become sentimental. There was a little silence; and then Maud said, rather timidly: "Do you like going back?"
"No," said Howard, "I don't. I have become curiously interested in this place, and I am lazy. Just now the life of the Don seems to me rather intolerable. I don't want to teach Greek prose, I don't want to go to meetings; I don't want to gossip about appointments, and little intrigues, and bonfires, and College rows. I want to live here, and walk on the Downs and write my book. I don't want to be stuffy, as Jack said. But it will be all right, when I have taken the plunge; and after I have been back a week, this will all fade into a sort of impossibly pleasant dream."
He was again conscious that he had somehow hurt the girl. She looked at him with a troubled face, and then said, "Yes, that is the advantage which men have. I sometimes wonder if it would not be better for me to have some work away from here. But there is nothing I could do; and I can't leave papa."
"Oh, it will all come right!" said Howard feebly; "there are fifty things that might happen. And now I must be off! Mind, you must let me have the book some time; that will serve to remind me of Windlow in the intervals of Greek prose."
He got up and shook hands. He felt he was behaving stupidly and unkindly. He had meant to tell Maud how much he liked the feeling of having made friends, and to have talked to her frankly and simply about everything. He had an intense desire to say that and more; to make her understand that she was and would be in his thoughts; to ascertain how she felt towards him; to assure himself of their friendship. But he would be wise and prudent; he would not be sentimental or priggish or Jesuitical. He would just leave the impression that he was mildly interested in Windlow, but that his heart was in his work. He felt sustained by his delicate consideration, and by his judicious chilliness. And so he turned and left her, though an unreasonable impulse seized him to take the child in his arms, and tell her how sweet and delicious she was. She had held the little book in her hand as they sate, as if she had hoped he would ask to look at it; and as he closed the door, he saw her put it down on the table with a half-sigh.
He was to go off the next day; that night he had his last talk to his aunt. She said that she would say good-bye to him then, and that she hoped he would be back in June. She did not seem quite as serene as usual, but she spoke very affectionately and gently of the delight his visit had been. Then she said, "But I somehow feel—I can't give my reasons—as if we had got into a mess here. You are rather a disturbing clement, dear Howard! I may speak plainly to you now, mayn't I? I think you have more effect on people than you know. You have upset us! I am not criticising you, because you have exceeded all my hopes. But you are too diffident, and you don't realise your power of sympathy. You are very observant, very quick to catch the drift of people's moods, and you are not at all formidable. You are so much interested in people that you lead them to reveal themselves and to betray themselves; and they don't find quite what they expect. You are afraid, I think, of caring for people; you want to be in close relation with everyone, and yet to preserve your own tranquillity. You are afraid of emotion; but one can't care for people like that! It doesn't cost you enough! You are like a rich man who can afford to pay for things, and I think you rather pauperise people. Here you have been for three weeks; and nobody here will be able to forget you; and yet I think you may forget us. One can't care without suffering, and I think that you don't suffer. It is all a pleasure and delight to you. You win hearts, and don't give your own. Don't think I am ungrateful. You have made a great difference already to my life; but you have made me suffer too. I know that like Telemachus in Tennyson's poem you will be 'decent not to fail in offices of tenderness'—I know I can depend on you to do everything that is kind and considerate and just. You won't disappoint me. You will do out of a natural kindliness and courtesy what many people can only do by loving. You don't claim things, you don't lay hands on things; and it looks so like unselfishness that it seems detestable of me to say anything. But you will have to give yourself away, and I don't think you have ever done that. I can say all this, my dear, because I love you, as a mother might; you are my son indeed; but there is something in you that will have to be broken; we have all of us to be broken. It isn't that you have anything to repent of. You would take endless trouble to help anyone who wanted help, you would be endlessly patient and tender and strong; but you do not really know what love means, because it does not hurt or wound you. You are like Achilles, was it not, who had been dipped in the river of death, and you are invulnerable. You won't, I know, resent my saying this? I know you won't—and the fact that you will not makes it harder for me to say it—but I almost wish it WOULD wound you, instead of making you think how you can amend it. You can't amend it, but God and love can; only you must dare to let yourself go. You must not be wise and forbearing. There, dear, I won't say more!"
Howard took her hand and kissed it. "Thank you," he said, "thank you a hundred times for speaking so. It is perfectly true, every word of it. It is curious that to-day I have seen myself three times mirrored in other minds. I don't like what I see—I am not complacent—I am not flattered. But I don't know what to do! I feel like a patient with a hopeless disease, who has been listening to a perfectly kind and wise physician. But what can I do? It is just the vital impulse which is lacking. I will be frank too; it is quite true that I live in the surface of things. I am so much interested in books, ideas, thoughts, I am fascinated by the study of human temperament; people delight me, excite me, amuse me; but nothing ever comes inside. I don't excuse myself, but I say: 'It is He that hath made us and not we ourselves.' I am just so, as you have described, and I feel what a hollow-hearted sort of person I am. Yet I go on amusing myself with friendships and interests. I have never suffered, and I have never loved. Well, I would like to change all that, but can I?"
"Ah, dear Howard," said his aunt, "that is the everlasting question. It is like you to take this all so sweetly and to speak so openly. But further than this no one can help you. You are like the young man whom Jesus loved who had great possessions. You do not know how much! I will not tell you to follow Him; and your possessions are not those which can be given away. But you must follow love. I had a hope, I have a hope—oh, it is more than that, because we all find our way sooner or later—and now that you know the truth, as I see you know it, the light will not be long in coming. God bless you, dearest child; there is pain ahead of you; but I don't fear that—pain is not the worst thing or the last thing!"
BACK TO CAMBRIDGE
"I HAD a hope . . . I have a hope," these words of his aunt's echoed often through Howard's brain, in the wakeful night which followed. Nothing was plain to himself except the fact that things were tangled; the anxious exaltation which came to him from his talk with his aunt cleared off like the dying away of the flush of some beaded liquor. "I must see into this—I must understand what is happening—I must disentangle it," he said again and again to himself. He was painfully conscious, as he thought and thought, of his own deep lack both of moral courage and affection. He liked nothing that was not easy—easy triumph, easy relations. Somehow the threads of life had knotted themselves up; he had slipped so lightly into his place here, he had taken up responsibilities as he might have taken up a flower; he had meant to be what he called frank and affectionate all round, and now he felt that he was going to disappoint everyone. Not till the daylight began to outline the curtain-rifts did he fall asleep; and he woke with that excited fatigue which comes of sleeplessness.
He came down, he breakfasted alone in the early morning freshness. The house was all illumined by the sun, but it spread its beauties in vain before him. The trap came to the door, and when he came out he found to his surprise that Jack was standing on the steps talking to the coachman. "I thought I would like to come to the station with you," said Jack. Howard was pleased at this. They got in together, and one by one the scenes so strangely familiar fled past them. Howard looked long at the Vicarage as he passed, wondering whether Maud was perhaps looking out. That had been a clumsy, stupid business—his talk with her! Presently Jack said, "Look here, I am going to say again that I was perfectly hateful yesterday. I don't know what came over me—I was thinking aloud."
"Oh, it doesn't matter a bit!" said Howard; "it was my fault really. I have mismanaged things, I think; and it is good for me to find that out."
"No, but you haven't," said Jack. "I see it all now. You came down here, and you made friends with everyone. That was all right; the fact simply is that I have been jealous and mean. I expected to have you all to myself—to run you, in fact; and I was vexed at finding you take an interest in all the others. There, it's better out. I am entirely in the wrong. You have been awfully good all round, and we shall be precious dull now that you are going. The truth is that we have been squabbling over you."
"Well, Jack," said Howard, smiling, "it's very good of you to say this. I can't quite accept it, but I am very grateful. There WAS some truth in what you said—but it wasn't quite the whole truth; and anyhow you and I won't squabble—I shouldn't like that!"
Jack nodded and smiled, and they went on to talk of other things; but Howard was pleased to see that the boy hung about him, determined to make up for his temper, looked after his luggage, saw him into the train, and waved him a very ingenuous farewell, with a pretence of tears.
The journey passed in a listless dream for Howard, but everything faded before the thought of Maud. What could he do to make up for his brutality? He could not see his way clear. He had a sense that it was unfair to claim her affection, to sentimentalise; and he thought that he had been doubly wrong—wrong in engaging her interest so quickly, wrong in playing on her unhappiness just for his own enjoyment, and doubly wrong in trying to disengage their relation so roughly. It was a mean business; and yet though he did not want to hold her, he could not bear to let her go.
As he came near Cambridge and in sight of the familiar landscape, the wide fields, the low lines of far-off wolds, he was surprised to find that instead of being depressed, a sense of comfort stole over him, and a feeling of repose. He had crammed too many impressions and emotions into his visit; and now he was going back to well-known and peaceful activities. The sight of his rooms pleased him, and the foregathering with the three or four of his colleagues was a great relief. Mr. Redmayne was incisive and dogmatic, but evidently pleased to see him back. He had not been away, and professed that holidays and change of scene were distracting and exhausting. "It takes me six weeks to recover from a holiday," he said. He had had an old friend to stay with him, a country parson, and he had apparently spent his time in elaborate manoeuvres to see as little of his guest as possible. "A worthy man, but tedious," he said, "wonderfully well preserved—in body, that is; his mind has entirely gone to pieces; he has got some dismal notions in his head about the condition of the agricultural poor; he thinks they want uplifting! Now I am all for the due subordination of classes. The poor are there, if I may speak plainly, to breed—that is their first duty; and their only other duty that I can discover, is to provide for the needs of men of virtue and intelligence!"
Later on, Howard was left alone with him, and thought that it would please the old man to tell him of the change in his own position.
"I am delighted to hear it," said Mr. Redmayne: "a landed proprietor, that's a very comfortable thing! Now how will that affect your position here? Ah yes, I see—only the heir-apparent at present. Well, you will probably find that the estate has all been run on very sentimental lines by your worthy aunt. You take my advice, and put it all on a business-like footing. Let it be clear from the first that you won't stand any nonsense. Ideas!" said Mr. Redmayne in high disdain, "that's the curse of the country. Ideas everywhere, about the empire, about civic rights and duties, about religion, about art"—he made a long face as though he had swallowed medicine. "Let us all keep our distance and do our work. Let us have no nonsense about the brotherhood of man. I hope with all my heart, Howard, that you won't permit anything of that kind. I don't feel as sure of you as I should like; but this will be a very good thing for you, if it shows you that all this stuff will not do in practice. I'm an honest Whig. Let everyone have a vote, and let them give their votes for the right people, and then we shall get on very well."
The college slowly filled; the term began; Howard went back to his work, and the perplexities of Windlow rather faded into the background. He would behave very differently when he went there next. It should all be cool, friendly, unemotional. But in spite of everything, his aunt's words came sometimes into his mind, troubling it with a sudden thrill. "Power, spirit, the development of life,"—were these real things, had one somehow to put oneself into touch with them? Was the life of serene and tranquil work but marking time, wasting opportunity? Had one somehow to be stirred into action and reality? Was there something in the background, which did not insist or drive or interfere with one's inclinations, because it knew that it would be obeyed and yielded to some time? Was it just biding its time, waiting, impelling but not forcing one to change? It gave him an impulse to look closer at his own views and aims, to consider what his motives really were, how far he could choose, how much he could prevail, to what extent he could really do as he hoped and desired. He was often haunted by a sense of living in a mechanical unreality, of moving simply on lines of easy habit. That was a tame, a flat business, perhaps; but it was what seemed to happen.