In this raging self-contempt and misery, he drew near to the still pool in the valley; he would sit there and bleed awhile, like the old warrior, but with no hope of revisiting the fight: he would just abandon himself to listless despair for an hour or two, while the pleasant drama of life went on behind him. Why had he not at least spoken to Maud, while he had time, and secured her loyalty? It was his idiotic deliberation, his love of dallying gently with his emotions, getting the best he could out of them.
Suddenly he saw that there was some one on the stone seat by the spring, and in a moment he saw that it was Maud—and that she had observed him. She looked troubled and melancholy. Had she stolen away here, had she even appointed a place of meeting with the wretched boy? was she vexed at his intrusion? Well, it would have to be faced now. He would go on, he would say a few words, he would at least not betray himself. After all, she had done no wrong, poor child—she had only found her mate; and she at least should not be troubled.
She rose up at his approach; and Howard, affecting a feeble heartiness, said, "Well, so you have stolen away like me! This is a sweet place, isn't it; like an old fairy-tale, and haunted by a Neckan? I won't disturb you—I am going on to the hill—I want a breath of air."
Maud looked at him rather pitifully, and said nothing for a moment. Then she said, "Won't you stay a little and talk to me?—I don't seem to have seen you—there has been so much going on. I want to tell you about my book, you know—I am going on with that—I shall soon have some more chapters to show you."
She sate down at one end of the bench, and Howard seated himself wearily at the other. Maud glanced at him for a moment, but he said nothing. The sight of her was a sort of torture to him. He longed with an insupportable longing to fling himself down beside her and claim her, despairingly and helplessly. He simply could not frame a sentence.
"You look tired," said Maud. "I don't know what it is, but it seems as if everything had gone wrong since we came to Cambridge. Do tell me what it all is—you can trust me. I have been afraid I have vexed you somehow, and I had hoped we were going to be friends." She leaned her head on her hand, and looked at him. She looked so troubled and so frail, that Howard's heart smote him—he must make an effort; he must not cloud the child's mind; he must just take what she could give him, and not hamper her in any way. The one thing left him was a miserable courtesy, on which he must somehow depend. He forced a sort of smile, and began to talk—his own voice audible to him, strained and ugly, like the voice of some querulous ghost.
"Ah," he said, "as one gets older, one can't always command one's moods. Vexed? Of course, I am not vexed—what put that into your head? It's this—I can tell you so much! It seems to me that I have been drawn aside out of my old, easy, serene life, into a new sort of life here—and I am not equal to it. I had got so used, I suppose, to picking up other lives, that I thought I could do the same here—and I seem to have taken on more than I could manage. I forgot, I think, that I was getting older, that I had left youth behind. I made the mistake of thinking I could play a new role—and I cannot. I am tired—yes, I am deadly tired; and I feel now as if I wanted to get out of it all, and just leave things to work themselves out. I have meddled, and I am being punished for meddling. I have been playing with fire, and I have been burnt. I had thought of a new sort of life. Don't you remember," he added with a smile, "the monkey in Buckland's book, who got into the kettle on the hob, and whenever he tried to leave it, found it so cold outside, that he dared not venture out—and he was nearly boiled alive!"
"No, I DON'T understand," said Maud, with so sudden an air of sorrow and unhappiness that Howard could hardly refrain from taking her into his arms like a tired child and comforting her. "I don't understand at all. You came here, and you fitted in at once, seemed to understand everyone and everything, and gave us all a lift. It is miserable—that you should have brought so much happiness to us, and then have tired of it all. I don't understand it in the least. Something must have happened to distress you—it can't all go to pieces like this!"
"Oh," said Howard, "I interfered. It is my accursed trick of playing with people, wanting to be liked, wanting to make a difference. How can I explain? . . . Well, I must tell you. You must forgive me somehow! I tried—don't look at me while I say it—I have tried to interfere with YOU. I tried to make a friend of you; and then when you came to Cambridge, I saw I had claimed too much; that your place was not with such as myself—the old, stupid, battered generation, fit for nothing but worrying along. I saw you were young, and needed youth about you. God forgive me for my selfish plans. I wanted to keep your friendship for myself, and when I saw you were attracted elsewhere, I was jealous—horribly, vilely jealous. But I have the grace to despise myself for it, and I won't hamper you in any way. You must just give me what you can, and I will be thankful."
As he spoke he saw a curious light pass into the girl's face—a light of understanding and resolution. He thought that she would tell him that he was right; and he was unutterably thankful to think that he had had the courage to speak—he could bear anything now.
Suddenly she made a swift gesture, bending down to him. She caught his hand in her own, and pressed her lips to it. "Don't you SEE?" she said. "Attracted by someone . . . by whom? . . . by that wretched little boy? . . . why he amuses me, of course, . . . and you would stand aside for that! You have spoken and I must speak. Why you are everything, everything, all the world to me. It was last Sunday in church . . . do you remember . . . when they said, 'Whom have I in heaven but thee, and there is none upon earth' . . . I looked up and caught your eye, and wondered if you DID understand. But it is enough—I won't hamper you either. If you want to go back to the old life and live it, I won't say a word. I will be just your most faithful friend—you will allow that?"
The heaven seemed to open over Howard, and the solid earth reeled round him where he sate. It was so, then! He sate for a moment like a man stunned, and then opened his eyes on bliss unutterable. She was close to him, her breath on his cheek, her eyes full of tears. He took her into his arms, and put his lips to hers. "My dearest darling child," he said, "are you sure? . . . I can't believe it. . . . Oh my sweetest, it can't be true. Why, I have loved you with all my soul since that first moment I saw you—indeed it was before; and I have thought of nothing else day and night. . . . What does it all mean . . . the well of life?"
They sate holding each other close. The whole soul of the girl rose to clasp and to greet his, in that blest fusion of life which seems to have nothing hidden or held back. She made him tell her over and over again the sweet story of his love.
"What COULD I do?" she said. "Why, when I was at Cambridge that week, I didn't dare to claim your time and thought. Why CAN'T one make oneself understood? Why, my one hope, all that time, was just for the minutes I got with you; and yet I thought it wasn't fair not to try to seem amused; then I saw you were vexed at something—vexed that I should want to talk to you—what a WRETCHED business!"
"Never mind all that now, child," said Howard, "it's a perfect nightmare. Why can't one be simple? Why, indeed? and even now, I simply can't believe it—oh, the wretched hours when I thought you were drifting away from me; do men and women indeed miss their chances so? If I had but known! Yet, I must tell you this—when I first came to this spring here, I thought it held a beautiful secret for me—something which had been in my life from everlasting. It was so, and this was what it held for me."
The afternoon sped swiftly away, and the shadow of the western downs fell across the pool. An immense and overpowering joy filled Howard's heart, and the silent world took part in his ecstasy.
"You remember that first day?" said Maud. "I had felt that day as if some one was coming to me from a long way off drawing nearer. . . . I saw you drive up in the carriage, and I wondered if we should be friends."
"Yes," said Howard, "it was you on the lawn—that was when I saw you first!"
"And now we must go back and face the music," said Howard. "What do you think? How shall we make it all known? I shall tell Aunt Anne to-night. I shall be glad to do that, because there has fallen a veil between us. Don't forget, dear child, how unutterably wretched and intolerable I have been. She tried to help me out, but I was running with my head down on the wrong track. Oh, what a miserable fool I was! That comes of being so high-minded and superior. If you only knew how solemn I have been! Why couldn't I just speak?"
"You might have spoken any time," said Maud. "Why, I would have walked barefoot to Dorchester and back to please you! It does seem horrible to think of our being apart all that time, out of such beautiful consideration—and you were my own, my very own all the time, every moment."
"I will come and tell your father to-morrow," said Howard presently. "How will Master Jack take it? Will he call you Miss?"
"He may call me what he likes," said Maud. "I shan't get off easily."
"Well, we have an evening and a night and a morning for our secret," said Howard. "I wish it could be longer. I should like to go on for ever like this, no one knowing but you and me."
"Do just as you like, my lord and master," said Maud.
"I won't have you talk like that," said Howard; "you don't know what you give me. Was ever anyone in the world so happy before?"
"There's one person who is as happy," said Maud; "you can't guess what I feel. Does it sound absurd to say that if you told me to stand still while you cut me into little bits, I should enjoy it?"
"I won't forget that," said Howard; "anything to please you—you need not mind mentioning any little wishes you may have of that kind."
They laughed like children, and when they came to the village, they became very ceremonious. At the Vicarage gate they shook hands, and Howard raised his hat. "You will have to make up for this dignified parting some time," said Howard. "Sleep well, my darling child! If you ever wake, you will know that I am thinking of you; not far apart! Good-night, my sweet one, my only darling."
Maud put one hand on his shoulder, but did not speak—and then slipped in light-footed through the gate. Howard walked back to the Manor, through the charmed dusk and the fragrance of hidden flowers, full of an almost intolerable happiness, that was akin to pain. The evening star hung in liquid, trembling light above the dark down, the sky fading to a delicious green, the breeze rustled in the heavy-leaved sycamores, and the lights were lit in the cottage windows. Did every home, every hearth, he wondered, mean THAT? Was THAT present in dim and dumb lives, the spirit of love, the inner force of the world? Yes, it was so! That was the secret hidden in the Heart of God.
LOVE AND CERTAINTY
The weeks that followed were a time for Howard of very singular happiness—happiness of a quality of which he had not thought himself capable, and in the very existence of which he was often hardly able to believe. He had never known what intimate affection was before; and it was strange to him, when he had always been able to advance so swiftly in his relations with others to a point of frankness and even brotherliness, to discover that there was a whole world of emotion beyond that. He was really deeply reserved and reticent; but he admitted even comparative strangers so easily and courteously to his house of life, that few suspected the existence of a secret chamber of thought, with an entrance contrived behind the pictured arras, which was the real fortress of his inner existence, and where he sate oftenest to contemplate the world. That chamber of thought was a place of few beliefs and fewer certainties; if he adopted, as he was accustomed to do, conventional language and conventional ideas, it was only to feel himself in touch with his fellows; for Howard's mind was really a place of suspense and doubt; his scepticism went down to the very roots of life; his imagination was rich and varied, but he did not trust his hopes or even his fears; all that he was certain of was just the actual passage of his thought and his emotion; he formed no views about the future, and he abandoned the past as one might abandon the debris of the mine.
It was delicious to him to be catechised, questioned, explored by Maud, to have his reserve broken through and his reticence disregarded; but what oftenest brought the great fact of his love home to him with an overpowering certainty of joy was the girl's eager caresses and endearing gestures. Howard had always curiously shrunk from physical contact with his fellows; he had an almost childishly observant eye, and his senses were abnormally alert; little bodily defects and uglinesses had been a horror to him; and the way in which Maud would seek his embrace, clasp his hand, lay her cheek to his, as if nestling home, gave him an enraptured sense of delight that transcended all experience. He was at first in these talks very tender of what he imagined her to believe; but he found that this did not in the least satisfy her, and he gradually opened his mind more and more to her fearless view.
"Are you certain of nothing?" she asked him one day, half mirthfully.
"Yes, of one thing," he said, "of YOU! You are the only real and perfect thing and thought in the world to me—I have always been alone hitherto," he added, "and you have come near to me out of the deep—a shining spirit!"
Howard never tired of questioning her in these days as to how her love for him had arisen.
"That is the mystery of mysteries!" he said to her once; "what was it in me or about me to make you care?"
Maud laughed. "Why, you might as well ask a man at a shop," she said, "which particular coin it was that induced him to part with his wares—it's just the price! Why, I cared for you, I think, before I ever saw you, before I ever heard of you; one thinks—I suppose everyone thinks—that there must be one person in the world who is waiting for one—and it seems to me now as if I had always known it was you; and then Jack talked about you, and then you came; and that was enough, though I didn't dare to think you could care for me; and then how miserable I was when you began by seeming to take an interest in me, and then it all drifted away, and I could do nothing to hold it. Howard, why DID you do that?"
"Oh, don't ask me, darling," he said. "I thought—I thought—I don't know what I did think; but I somehow felt it would be like putting a bird that had sate to sing to me into a cage, if I tried to capture you; and yet I felt it was my only chance. I felt so old. Why you must remember that I was a grown-up man and at work, when you were in long clothes. And think of the mercy of this—if I had come here, as I ought to have done, and had known you as a little girl, you would have become a sort of niece to me, and all this could never have happened—it would all have been different."
"Well, we won't think of THAT," said Maud decisively. "I was rather a horrid little girl, and I am glad you didn't see me in that stage!"
One day he found her a little sad, and she confessed to having had a melancholy dream. "It was a big place, like a square in a town, full of people," she said. "You came down some steps, looking unhappy, and went about as if you were looking for me; and I could not attract your attention, or get near you; once you passed quite close to me and our eyes met, and I saw you did not recognise me, but passed on."
Howard laughed. "Why, child," he said, "I can't see anyone else but you when we are in the same room together—my faculty of observation has deserted me. I see every movement you make, I feel every thought you think; you have bewitched me! Your face comes between me and my work; you will quite ruin my career. How can I go back to my tiresome boys and my old friends?"
"Ah, I don't want to do THAT!" said Maud. "I won't be a hindrance; you must just hang me up like a bird in a cage—that's what I am—to sing to you when you are at leisure."
The way in which the people at Windlow took the news was very characteristic. Howard frankly did not care how they regarded it. Mr. Sandys was frankly and hugely delighted. He apologised to Howard for having mentioned the subject of Guthrie to him.
"The way you took it, Howard," he said, "was a perfect model of delicacy and highmindedness! Why, if I had dreamed that you cared for my little girl, I would have said, and truly said, that the dearest wish of my heart had been fulfilled. But one is blind, a parent is blind; and I had somehow imagined you as too sedate, as altogether too much advanced in thought and experience, for such a thing. I would rather have bitten out my tongue than spoken as I did to you. It is exactly what my dear girl needs, some one who is older and wiser than herself—she needs some one to look up to, to revere; she is thoughtful and anxious beyond her years, and she is made to repose confidence in a mind more mature. I do not deny, of course, that your position at Windlow makes the arrangement a still more comfortable one; but I have always said that my children must marry whom they would; and I should have welcomed you, my dear Howard, as a son-in-law, under any circumstances."
Jack, on the contrary, was rather more cautious in his congratulations. "I am all for things being fixed up as people like," he said, "and I am sure it's a good match for Maud, and all that. But I can't put the two ends together. I never supposed that you would fall in love, any more than that my father would marry again; and when it comes to your falling in love with Maud—well, if you knew that girl as I do, you would think twice! I can't conceive what you will ever have to talk about, unless you make her do essays. It is really rather embarrassing to have a Don for a brother-in-law. I feel as if I should have to say 'we' when I talked to the other Dons, and I shall be regarded with suspicion by the rest of the men. But of course you have my blessing, if you will do it; though if you like to cry off, even now, I will try to keep the peace. I feel rather an ass to have said that about Fred Guthrie; but of course he is hard hit, and I can't think how I shall ever be able to look him in the face. What bothers me is that I never saw how things were going. Well, may it be long before I find myself in the same position! But you are welcome to Missy, if you think you can make anything of her."
Mrs. Graves did little more than express her delight. "It was what I somehow hoped from the first for both of you," she said.
"Well," said Howard, "the only thing that puzzles me is that when you saw—yes, I am sure you saw—what was happening, you didn't make a sign."
"No," said Mrs. Graves, "that is just what one can't do! I didn't doubt that it would come right, I guessed what Maud felt; but you had to find the way to her yourself. I was sure of Maud, you see; but I was not quite sure of you. It does not do to try experiments, dear Howard, with forces as strong as love; I knew that if I told you how things stood, you would have felt bound out of courtesy and kindness to speak, and that would have been no good. If it is illegal to help a man to commit suicide, it is worse, it is wicked to push a man into marriage; but I am a very happy woman now—so happy that I am almost afraid."
Howard talked over his plans with Mrs. Graves; there seemed no sort of reason to defer his wedding. He told her, too, that he had a further plan. There was a system at Beaufort by which, after a certain number of years' service, a Fellow could take a year off duty, without affecting his seniority or his position. "I am going to do this," he said. "I do not think it is unwise. I am too old, I think, both to make Maud's acquaintance as I wish, and to keep my work going at the same time. It would be impossible. So I will settle down here, if you will let me, and try to understand the place and the people; and then if it seems well, I will go back to Cambridge in October year, and go on with my work. I hope you will approve of that?"
"I do entirely approve," said Mrs. Graves. "I will make over to you at once what you will in any case ultimately inherit—and I believe your young lady is not penniless either? Well, money has its uses sometimes."
Howard did this. Mr. Redmayne wrote him a letter in which affection and cynicism were curiously mingled.
"There will be two to please now instead of one," he wrote. "I do not, of course, approve of Dons marrying. The tender passion is, I believe, inimical to solid work; this I judge from observation rather than from experience. But you will get over all that when you are settled; and then if you decide to return—and we can ill spare you—I hope you will return to work in a reasonable frame of mind. Pray give my respects to the young lady, and say that if she would like a testimonial to your honesty and sobriety, I shall be happy to send her one."
All these experiences, shared by Maud, were absurdly delightful to Howard. She was rather alarmed by Redmayne's letter.
"I feel as if I were doing rather an awful thing," she said, "in taking you away like this. I feel like Hotspur's wife and Enid rolled into one. I shouldn't DARE to go with you at once to Cambridge—I should feel like a Pomeranian dog on a lead."
And so it came to pass that on a certain Monday in the month of September a very quiet little wedding took place at Windlow. The bells were rung, and a hideous object of brushwood and bunting, that looked like the work of a bower-bird, was erected in the road, and called a triumphal arch. Mr. Redmayne insisted on coming, and escorted Monica from Cambridge, "without in any way compromising my honour and virtue," he said: "it must be plainly understood that I have no INTENTIONS." He made a charming speech at the subsequent luncheon, in which he said that, though he personally regretted the turn that affairs had taken, he could not honestly say that, if matrimony were to be regarded as advisable, his friends could have done better.
The strange thing to Howard was the contrast between his own acute and intolerable nervousness, and the entire and radiant self-possession of Maud. He had a bad hour on the morning of the wedding-day itself. He had a sort of hideous fear that he had done selfishly and perversely, and that it was impossible that Maud could really continue to love him; that he had sacrificed her youth to his fancy, and his vivid imagination saw himself being wheeled in a bath-chair along the Parade of a health-resort, with Maud in melancholy attendance.
But when he saw his child enter the church, and look up to catch his eye, his fears melted like a vapour on glass; and his love seemed to him to pour down in a sudden cataract, too strong for a human heart to hold, to meet the exquisite trustfulness and sweetness of his bride, who looked as though the gates of heaven were ajar. After that he saw and heard nothing but Maud. They went off together in the afternoon to a little house in Dorsetshire by a lonely sea-cove, which Mr. Sandys had spent many glorious and important hours in securing and arranging. It was only an hour's journey. If Howard had needed reassuring he had his desire; for as they drove away from Windlow among the thin cries of the village children, Howard put his arm round Maud, and said "Well, child?" upon which she took his other hand in both of her own, and dropping her head on his shoulder, said, "Utterly and entirely and absolutely proud and happy and content!" And then they sate in silence.
It was a time of wonderful discoveries for Howard, that month spent in the little house under the cliff and beside the cove. It was a tiny hamlet with half a dozen fishermen's cottages and two or three larger houses, holiday-dwellings for rich people; but there was no one living there, except a family of children with a governess. The house they were in belonged to an artist, and had a big studio in which they mostly sate. An elderly woman and her niece were the servants, and the life was the simplest that could be imagined. Howard felt as if he would have liked it prolonged for ever. They brought a few books with them, but did little else except ramble through the long afternoons in the silent bays. It was warm, bright September weather, still and hazy; and the sight of the dim golden-brown promontories, with pale-green grass at the top, stretching out one beyond another into the distance, became for Howard a symbol of all that was most wonderful and perfect in life.
He could not cease to marvel at the fact that this beautiful young creature, full of tenderness and anxious care for others, and with love the one pre-occupation of her life, should yield herself thus to him with such an entire and happy abandonment. Maud seemed for the time to have no will of her own, no thought except to please him; he could not get her to express a single preference, and her guileless diplomacy to discover what he preferred amused and delighted him. At the same time the exploration of Maud's mind and thought was an entire surprise to him—there was so much she did not know, so many things in the world, which he took for granted, of which she had never heard; and yet in many ways he discovered that she knew and perceived far more than he did. Her judgment of people was penetrating and incisive, and was formed quite instinctively, without any apparent reason; she had, too, a charming gift of humour, and her affection for her own circle did not in the least prevent her from perceiving their absurdities. She was not all loyalty and devotion, nor did she pretend to be interested in things for which she did not care. There were many conventions, which Howard for the first time discovered that he himself unconsciously held, which Maud did not think in the least important. Howard began to see that he himself had really been a somewhat conventional person, with a respect for success and position and dignity and influence. He saw that his own chief motive had been never to do anything disagreeable or unreasonable or original or decisive; he began to see that his unconscious aim had been to fit himself without self-assertion into his circle, and to make himself unobtrusively necessary to people. Maud had no touch of this in her nature at all; her only ambition seemed to be to be loved, which was accompanied by what seemed to Howard a marvellous incapacity for being shocked by anything; she was wholly innocent and ingenuous, but yet he found to his surprise that she knew something of the dark corners of life, and the moral problems of village life were a matter of course to her. He had naturally supposed that a girl would have been fenced round by illusions; but it was not so. She had seen and observed and drawn her conclusions. She thought very little of what one commonly called sins, and her indignation seemed aroused by nothing but cruelty and treachery. It became clear to Howard that Mr. Sandys and Mrs. Graves had been very wise in the matter, and that Maud had not been brought up in any silly ignorance of human frailty. Her religion was equally a surprise to him. He had thought that a girl brought up as Maud had been would be sure to hold a tissue of accepted beliefs which he must be careful not to disturb. But here again she seemed to have little but a few fine principles, set in a simple Christian framework. They were talking about this one day, and Maud laughed at something he said.
"You need not be so cautious," she said, "though I like you to be cautious—you are afraid of hurting me; but you won't do that! Cousin Anne taught me long ago that it was no use believing anything unless you understood more or less where it was leading you. It's no good pretending to know. Cousin Anne once said to me that one had to choose between science and superstition. I don't know anything about science, but I'm not superstitious."
"Yes," said Howard, "I see—I won't be fussy any more; I will just speak as I think. You are wiser than the aged, child! You will have to help me out. I am a mass of crusted prejudices, I find; but you are melting them all away. What beats me is how you found it all out."
Thus the hours they spent together became to Howard not only a source of joy, but an extraordinary simplification of everything. Maud seemed to have lived an absolutely uncalculating life, without any idea of making any position for herself at all; and it sickened Howard to think how so much of his own existence had been devoted to getting on the right side of people, driving them on a light rein, keeping them deftly in his own control. Maud laughed at this description of himself, and said, "Yes, but of course that was your business. I should have been a very tiresome kind of Don; we don't either of us want to punish people, but I want to alter them. I can't bear stupid people, I think. I had rather people were clever and unsatisfactory than dull and good. If they are dull there's no reason for their being good. I like people to have reasons!"
They talked—how often they did that!—about the complications that had beset them.
"The one thing I can't make out," said Maud, "is how or why you ever thought I cared for that little boy. He was such a nice boy; but he had no reasons. Oh, dear, how wretched he made me!"
"Well," said Howard, "I must ask you this—what did really happen on that awful afternoon at the Folly?"
Maud covered her face with her hands. "It was too dreadful!" she said. "First of all, you were looking like Hamlet—you don't know how romantic you looked! I did really believe that you cared for me then—I couldn't help it—but there was some veil between us; and the number of times I telegraphed from my brain to you that day, 'Can't you understand?' was beyond counting. I suppose it was very unmaidenly, but I was past that. Then there was that horrible imitation; such a disgusting parody! and then I was prouder of you than ever, because you really took it so well. I was too angry after that for anything, and when you went off with father, and Monica sketched and Jack lay down and smoked, Freddy Guthrie walked off with me, and I said to him, 'I really cannot think how you dared to do that—I think it was simply shameful!' Well, he got quite white, and he did not attempt to excuse himself; and I believe I said that if he did not put it straight with you, I would never speak to him again: and then I rather repented; and then he began making love to me, and said the sort of things people say in books. Howard, I believe that people really do talk like books when they get excited—at all events it was like a bad novel! But I was very stern—I can be very stern when I am angry—and said I would not hear another word, and would go straight back if he said any more; and then he said something about wanting to be friends, and wanting to have some hope; and then I got suddenly sorry about it all—it seemed such a waste of time—and shook hands with him, feeling as if I was acting in an absurd play, and said that of course we were friends; and I think I insisted again on his apologising to you, and he said that I seemed to care more for your peace of mind than his; and I simply walked away and he followed, and I shouldn't be surprised if he was crying; it was all like a nightmare; but I did somehow contrive to make it up with him later, and told him that I thought him a very nice boy indeed."
"I daresay that was a great comfort to him," said Howard.
"I meant it to be," said Maud, "but I did not feel I could go on acting in a sort of melodrama."
"Now, I am very inquisitive," said Howard, "and you needn't answer me if you don't like—but that day that I met you going away from Aunt Anne—oh, what a pig I was! I was at the top of my highminded game—what had happened then?"
"Of course I will tell you," said Maud, "if you want to know. Well, I rather broke down, and said that things had gone wrong; that you had begun by being so nice to me, and we seemed to have made friends; and that then a cloud had come between us: and then Cousin Anne said it would be all right, she KNEW; and she said some things about you I won't repeat, to save your modesty; and then she said, 'Don't be AFRAID, Maud! don't be ashamed of caring for people! Howard is used to making friends with boys, and he is puzzled by you; he wants a friend like you, but he is afraid of caring for people. You are not afraid of him nor he of you, but he is afraid of his own fear.' She did not seem to know how I cared, but she put it all right somehow; she prayed with me, for courage and patience; and I felt I could afford to wait and see what happened."
"And then?" said Howard.
"Why, you know the rest!" said Maud. "I saw as we sate by the wall, in a flash, that you did indeed care for me, and I thought to myself, 'Here is the best thing in the world, and we can't be going to miss it out of politeness;' and then it was all over in a moment!"
"Politeness!" said Howard, "yes, it was all politeness; that's my greatest sin. Yes," he added, "I do thank God with all my heart for your sweet courage that day!" He drew Maud's hand into his own, as they sate together on the grass just above the shingle of the little bay, where the sea broke on the sands with crisp wavelets, and ran like a fine sheet of glass over the beach. "Look at this little hand," he said, "and let me try to believe that it is given me of its own will and desire!"
"Yes," said Maud, smiling, "and you may cut it off at the wrist if you like—I won't even wince. I have no further use for it, I believe!" Howard folded it to his heart, and felt the little pulse beat in the slender wrist; and presently the sun went down, a ball of fire into the opalescent sea-line.
THE NEW KNOWLEDGE
But the weeks which followed Howard's marriage were a great deal more than a refreshing discovery of companionable and even unexpected qualities. There was something which came to him, of which the words, the gestures, the signs of love seemed like faint symbols; the essence of it was obscure to him; it reminded him of how, as a child, a laughing group of which he was one had joined hands to receive a galvanic shock; the circle had dislinked again in a moment, with cries of surprise and pleasure; but to Howard it had meant much more than that; the current gave him a sense of awful force and potency, the potency of death. What was this strange and fearful essence which could pass instantaneously through a group—swifter even than thought—and leave the nerves for a moment paralysed and tingling? Even so it was with him now. What was happening to him he did not know—some vast and cloudy presence, at which he could not even dare to look, seemed winging its way overhead, the passage of which he could only dimly discern, as a man might discern the flight of an eagle in a breeze-ruffled mountain pool.
He had come in contact with a force of incalculable energy and joy, which was different, not in degree but in kind, from all previous emotional experiences. He understood for the first time the meaning of words like "mystical" and "spiritual," words which he had hitherto almost derided as unintelligent descriptions of subjective impressions. He had thought them to be terms expressive of vague and even muddled emotions of which scientific psychology would probably dispose. It was a new element and a new force, of which he felt overwhelmingly certain, though he could offer no proof, tangible or audible, of its existence. He had before always demanded that anyone who attempted to uphold the existence of any psychic force should at the same time offer an experimental test of its actuality. But he was here faced with an experience transcendental and subjective, of which he could give no account that would not sound like some imaginative exaggeration. He was not even sure that Maud felt it, or rather he suspected that the experience of wedded love was to her the heightening and emphasizing of something which she had always known.
The essence of it was that it was like the inrush of some moving tide through an open sluice-gate. Till then it seemed to him that his emotions had been tranquilly discharging themselves, like the water which drips from the edge of a fountain basin; that now something stronger and larger seemed to flow back upon him, something external and prodigious, which at the same time seemed, not only to invade and permeate his thought but to become one with himself; that was the wonder; it did not seem to him like something added to his spirit, but as though his soul were enlarged and revived by a force which was his own all the time, an unclaimed, unperceived part of himself.
He said something of this to Maud, speaking of the happiness that she had brought him. She said, "Ah, you can't expect me to realise that! I feel as though you were giving everything and receiving nothing, as if I were one more of the duties you had adopted. Of course, I hope that I may be of some use, some time; but I feel at present as if you had been striding on your way somewhere, and had turned aside to comfort and help a little child by the roadside who had lost his way!"
"Oh," said Howard, "it's not that; it isn't only that you are the joy and light of my life; it is as if something very far away and powerful had come nearer to both of us, and had lifted us on its wings—what if it were God?"
"Yes," said Maud musingly, "I think it is that!"
LOVE IS ENOUGH
The days slipped past, one by one, with an incredible swiftness. For the first time in his life Howard experienced the extraordinary sensation of having nothing to do, no plans ahead, nothing but the delight of the hour to taste. One day he said to Maud, "It seems almost wicked to be so deliciously idle—some day I suppose we must make some plans. But I do not seem ever to have lived before; and all that I ever did and thought of seems as small and trivial as a little town seen from the top of a tower—one can't conceive what the little creatures are about in their tiny slits of streets and stuffy houses, crawling about like beetles on some ridiculous business. The first thing I shall do when I get back will be to burn my old book; such wretched, stodgy, unenlightened stuff as it all is; like the fancies of a blind man about the view of a landscape."
"Oh no, you mustn't do that," said Maud. "I have set my heart on your writing a great book. You must do that—you must finish this one. I am not going to keep you all to myself, like a man pushing about a perambulator."
"Well, I will begin a new book," said Howard, "and steal an old title. It shall be called Love is Enough."
On the last night before they left the cottage they talked long about things past, present, and to come.
"Now," said Maud, "I am not going to be a gushing and sentimental young bride any more. I am not sentimental, best-beloved! Do you believe that? The time we have had here together has been the best and sweetest time of my whole life, every minute worth all the years that went before. But you must write that down, as Dr. Johnson said, in the first page of your pocket-book, and never speak of it again. It's all too good and too sacred to talk about—almost to think about. And I don't believe in looking BACK, Howard—nor very much, I think, in looking forward. I know that I wasted ever so much time and energy as a girl—how long ago that seems!—in wishing I had done this and that; but it's neither useful nor pleasant. Now we have got things to do. There is plenty to do at Windlow for a little for you and me. We have got to know everybody and understand everybody. And I think that when the year is out, we must go back to Cambridge. I can't bear to think I have stopped that. I am not going to hoard you, and cling round you. You have got things to do for other people, young men in particular, which no one else can do just like you. I am not a bit ambitious. I don't want you to be M.P., LL.D., F.R.S., &c., &c., &c., but I do want you to do things, and to help you to do things. I don't want to be a sort of tea-table Egeria to the young men—I don't mean that—and I don't wish to be an interesting and radiant object at dinner-tables; but I am sure there is trouble I can save you, and I don't intend you to have any worries except your own. I won't smudge my fingers over the accounts, like that wretched Dora in David Copperfield. Understand that, Howard; I won't be your girl-bride. I won't promise that I won't wear spectacles and be dowdy—anything to be prosaic!"
"You may adorn yourself as you please," said Howard, "and of course, dearest child, there are hundreds of things you can do for me. I am the feeblest of managers; I live from hand to mouth; but I am not going to submerge you either. If you won't be the girl-bride, you are not to be the professional sunbeam either. You are to be just yourself, the one real, sweet, and perfect thing in the world for me. Chaire kecharitoenae—do you know what that means? It was the angel's opinion long ago of a very simple mortal. We shall affect each other, sure enough, as the days go on. Why what you have done for me already, I dare hardly think—you have made a man out of a machine—but we won't go about trying to revise each other; that will take care of itself. I only want you as you are—the best thing in the world."
The last morning at Lydstone they were very silent; they took one long walk together, visiting all the places where they had sate and lingered. Then in the afternoon they drove away. The old maidservant gave them, with almost tearful apologies, two little ill-tied posies of flowers, and Maud kissed her, thanked her, made her promise to write. As they drove away Maud waved her hand to the little cove—"Good-bye, Paradise!" she said.
"No," said Howard, "don't say that; the swallow doesn't make the summer; and I am carrying the summer away with me."
THE NEW LIFE
The installation at Windlow seemed as natural and obvious as any other of the wonderful steps of Howard's new life. The only thing which bothered him was the incursions of callers, to which his marriage seemed to have rendered the house liable. Howard loved monotony, and in the little Windlow party he found everything that he desired. At first it all rather amused him, because he felt as though he were acting in a charming and absurd play, and he was delighted to see Maud act her wedded part. Mrs. Graves frankly enjoyed seeing people of any sort or kind. But Howard gradually began to find that the arrival of county and clerical neighbours was a really tiresome thing. Local gossip was unintelligible to him and did not interest him. Moreover, the necessity of going out to luncheon, and even to dinner, bored him horribly. He said once rather pettishly to Maud, after a week of constant interruptions and little engagements, that he hoped that this sort of thing would not continue.
"It seems to knock everything on the head," he went on; "these country idylls are all very well in their way; but when it comes to entertaining parties day by day, who 'sit simply chatting in a rustic row,' it becomes intolerable. It doesn't MEAN anything; one can't get to know these people; if there is anything to know, they seem to think it polite to conceal it; it can't be a duty to waste all the time that this takes up?"
Maud laughed and said, "Oh, you must forgive them; they haven't much to do or talk about, and you are a great excitement; and you are really very good to them!"
Howard made a grimace. "It's my wretched habit of civility!" he said. "But really, Maud, you can't LIKE them?"
"Yes, I believe I do," said Maud. "But then I am more or less used to the kind of thing. I like people, I think!"
"Yes, so do I, in a sort of way," said Howard; "but, really, with some of these caravans it is more like having a flock of sheep in the place!"
"Well, I like SHEEP, then," said Maud; "I don't really see how we can stop it."
"I suppose it's the seamy side of marriage!" said Howard.
Maud looked at him for a moment, and then, getting up from her chair and coming across to him, she put her hands on his shoulders and looked in his face.
"Are you VEXED?" she said in rather a tragic tone.
"No, of course, not vexed," said Howard, catching her round the waist. "What an idea! I am only jealous of everything which seems to come in between us, and I have seemed to see you lately through a mist of oddly dressed females. It's a system, I suppose, a social system, to enable people to waste their time. I feel as if I had got caught in a sort of glue—wading in glue. One ought to live life, or the best part of it, on one's own lines. I feel as if I was on show just now, and it's a nuisance."
"Well," said Maud, "I am afraid I do rather like showing you off and feeling grand; but it won't go on for ever. I'll try to contrive something. I don't see why you need be drawn in. I'll talk to Cousin Anne about it."
"But I am not going to mope alone," said Howard. "Where thou goest, I will go. I can't bear to let you out of my sight, you little witch! But I feel it is casting pearls before swine—your pearls, I mean."
"I don't see what to do," said Maud, looking rather troubled. "I ought to have seen that you hated it."
"No, it's my own stupid fault," said Howard. "You are right, and I am wrong. I see it is my business at present to go about like a dancing bear, and I'll dance, I'll dance! It's priggish to think about wasting one's sweetness. What I really feel is this. 'Here's an hour,' I say, 'when I might have had Maud all to myself, and she and I have been talking about the weather to a pack of unoccupied females.'"
"Something comes of it," said Maud. "I don't know what it is, but it's a kind of chain. I don't think it matters much what they talk about, but there is a sort of kindness about it which I like—something which lies behind ideas. These people don't say anything, but they think something into one—it's alive, and it moves."
"Oh, yes," said Howard, "it's alive, no doubt. It would amuse me a good deal to see these people at home, if I could just be hidden in the curtains, and hear what they really talked about, and what they really felt. It's when they have their armour on that they bore me. It is not a pretty armour, and they don't wear it well; they don't fight in it—they only wear it that you mayn't touch them. If they would give themselves away and talk like Miss Bates, I could stand it."
"Well," said Maud, "I am going to say something rather bold. It comes, I think, of living at Cambridge with clever people, and having real things to talk about, that makes your difficulty. You care about people's minds more than about themselves, perhaps? But I'm on their level, and they seem to me to be telling something about themselves all the time. Of course it must be GHASTLY for you, and we will try to arrange things better."
"No, dearest, you won't, and you mustn't," said Howard. "That's the best of marriage, that one does get a glimpse into different things. You are perfectly and entirely right. It simply means that I can't talk their language, and I will learn it. I am a prig; your husband is a prig—but he will try to do better. It isn't a duty, and it isn't a pleasure, and it isn't a question of minds at all. It is just living life on ordinary terms. I won't have anything different at all. I'm ashamed of myself for my moans. When I have anything in the way of work to do, it may be different. But now I see what I have to do. I am suffering from the stupidity of so-called clever people; and you mustn't mind it. Only don't, for Heaven's sake, try to contrive, or to spare me things. That is how the ugly paterfamilias is made. You mustn't spoil me or manage me; if I ever suspect you of doing that, I'll just go back to Cambridge alone. I hate even to have made you look at me as you did just now—you must forgive me that and many other things; and now you must promise just this, that if I am snappish you won't give way; you must not become a slipper-warmer."
"Yes, yes, I promise," said Maud, laughing; "here's my hand on it! You shall be diligently henpecked. But I am always rather puzzled about these things; all these old ideas about mutual consolation and advice and improvement and support ought to be THERE—they all mean something—they mean a great deal! But the moment they are spoken about, or even thought about, they seem so stuffy and disgusting. I don't understand it! I feel that one ought to be able to talk plainly about anything; and yet the more plainly you talk about such things as these, the more hateful you are, and the meaner you feel!"
THE VICAR'S VIEW
Another small factor which caused Howard some discomfort was the conversation of the Vicar. This, at the first sight of Windlow, had been one of the salient features of the scene. It had been amusing to see the current of a human mind running so frankly open to inspection; and, moreover, the Vicar's constantly expressed deference for the exalted quality of Howard's mind and intellectual outfit, though it had not been seriously regarded, had at least an emollient effect. But it is one thing to sit and look on at a play and to be entertained by the comic relief of some voluble character, and quite another to encounter that volubility at full pressure in private life. There was a certain charm at first in the Vicar's inconsequence and volatility; but in daily intercourse the good man's lack of proportion, his indiscriminate interest in things in general, proved decidedly fatiguing. Given a crisis, and the Vicar's view was interesting, because it was, as a rule, exactly the view which the average man would be likely to take, melodramatic, sentimental, commonplace, with this difference, that whereas the average man is tongue-tied and has no faculty of expression, the Vicar had an extraordinarily rich and emphatic vocabulary; and it was thus an artistic presentment of the ordinary standpoint. But in daily life the Vicar talked with impregnable continuity about any subject in which he happened to be interested. He listened to no comment; he demanded no criticism. If he conversed about his parishioners or his fellow-parsons or his country neighbours, it was not uninteresting; but when it was genealogy or folklore or prehistoric remains, it was merely a tissue of scraps, clawed out of books and imperfectly remembered. Howard found himself respecting the Vicar more and more; he was so kindly, so unworldly, so full of perfectly guileless satisfaction: he was conscious too of his own irrepressibility. He said to Howard one day, as they were walking together, "Do you know, Howard, I often think how many blessings you have brought us—I assure you, quiet and modest as you are, you are felt, your influence permeates to the very ends of the parish; I cannot exactly say what it is, but there's a sense of something that has to be dealt with, to be reckoned with, a mind of force and energy in the background; your approval is valued, your disapproval is feared. There is a consciousness, not perhaps expressed or even actually realised, of condescension, of gratification at one from so different a sphere coming among us, sharing our problems, offering us, however unobtrusively, sympathy and fellow-feeling. It's very human, very human," said the Vicar, "and that's a large word! But among all the blessings which I say you have brought us, of course my dear girl's happiness must come first in my regard; and there I hardly know how to express what a marvellous difference you have made! And then I feel that I, too, have come in for some crumbs from the feast, like the dogs under the table mentioned so eloquently in Scripture—sustenance unregarded and unvalued, no doubt, by yourself—cast out inevitably and naturally as light from the sun! It is not only the actual dicta," said the Vicar, "though these alone are deeply treasured; it's the method of thought, the reserve, the refinement, which I find insensibly affecting my own mental processes. Before I was a mere collector of details. Now I find myself saying, 'What is the aim of all this? What is the synthesis? Where does it come in? Where does it tend to?' I have not as yet found any very definite answer to these self-questionings, but the new spirit, the synthetic spirit, is there; and I find myself too concentrating my expression; I have become conscious in your presence of a certain diffuseness of talk—I used, I think, to indulge much in synonyms and parallel clauses—a characteristic, I have seen it said, of our immortal Shakespeare himself—but I have found myself lately considering the aim, the effect, the form of my utterances, and have practised—mainly in my sermons—a certain economy of language, which I hope has been perceptible to other minds besides my own."
"I always think your sermons very good," said Howard, quite sincerely; "they seem to me arrows deliberately aimed at a definite target—they have the grace of congruity, as the articles say."
"You are very good," said the Vicar. "I am really overwhelmed; but I must admit that your presence—the mere chance of your presence—has made me exercise an unwonted caution, and indeed introduce now and then an idea which is perhaps rather above the comprehension of my flock!"
"But may I go back for one moment?" said Howard. "You will forgive my asking this—but what you said just now about Maud interested me very much, and of course pleased me enormously. I would do anything I could to make her happy in any way—I wish you would tell me how and in what you think her more content. I want to learn all I can about her earlier days—you must remember that all that is unknown to me. Won't you exercise your powers of analysis for my benefit?"
"You are very kind," said the Vicar in high delight; "let me see, let me see! Well, dear Maud as a girl had always a very high and anxious sense of responsibility and duty. She conceived of herself—perhaps owing to some chance expressions of my own—as bound as far as possible to fill the place of her dear mother—a gap, of course, that it was impossible to fill,—my own pursuits are, you will realise, mere distractions, or, to be frank, were originally so designed, to combat my sense of loss. But I am personally not a man who makes a morbid demand for sympathy—I have little use for sympathy. I face my troubles alone; I suffer alone," said the Vicar with an incredible relish. "And then Jack is an independent boy, and has no taste for being dominated. So that I fear that dear Maud's most touching efforts hardly fell on very responsive soil. She felt, I think, the failure of her efforts; and kind as Cousin Anne is, there is, I think, a certain vagueness of outline about her mind. I would not call her a fatalist, but she has little conception of the possibility of moulding character;—it's a rich mind, but perhaps an indecisive mind? Maud needed a vocation—she needed an aim. And then, too, you have perhaps observed—or possibly," said the Vicar gleefully, "she has effaced that characteristic out of deference to your own great power of amiable toleration—but she had a certain incisiveness of speech which had some power to wound? I will give you a small instance. Gibbs, the schoolmaster, is a very worthy man, but he has a certain flightiness of manner and disposition. Dear Maud, talking about him one day at our luncheon-table, said that one read in books how some people had to struggle with some underlying beast in their constitution, the voracious man, let us say, with the pig-like element, the cruel man with the tiger-like quality. 'Mr. Gibbs,' she said, 'seems to me to be struggling not with a beast, but with a bird.' She went on very amusingly to say that he reminded her of a wagtail, tripping along with very short steps, and only saved by adroitness from overbalancing. It was a clever description of poor Gibbs—but I felt it somehow to be indiscreet. Well, you know, poor Gibbs came to me a few days later—you realise how gossip spreads in these places—and said that he was hurt in his mind to think that Miss Maud should call him a water-wagtail. Servants' tattle, I suppose. I was considerably annoyed at this, and Maud insisted on going to apologise to Gibbs, which was a matter of some delicacy, because she could not deny that she had applied the soubriquet—or is it sobriquet?—to him. That is just a minute instance of the sort of thing I mean."
"I confess," said Howard, "that I do recognise Maud's touch—she has a strong sense of humour."
"A somewhat dangerous thing," said Mr. Sandys. "I have a very strong sense of humour myself, or rather what might be called risibility. No one enjoys a witty story or a laughable incident more than I do. But I keep it in check. The indulgence of humour is a risky thing; not very consistent with the pastoral office. But that is a small point; and what I am leading up to is this, that dear Maud's restlessness, and even morbidity, has entirely disappeared; and this, my dear Howard, I attribute entirely to your kind influence and discretion, of which we are all so conscious, and to the consciousness of which it is so pleasant to be able to give leisurely expression."
But the Vicar was not always so fruitful a talker as this. The difficulty with him was to shift the points. There were long walks in Mr. Sandys' company which were really of an almost nightmare quality. He had a way of getting into a genealogical mess, in which he used to say that it cleared the air to be able to state the difficulties.
Howard used to grumble a little over this to Mrs. Graves. "Yes," she said, "if Frank were not so really unselfish a man, he would be a bore of purest ray serene; but his humanity breaks through. I made a compact with him long ago, and told him plainly that there were certain subjects he must not talk to me about. I suppose you couldn't do that?"
"No," said Howard, "I can't do that. It's my greatest weakness, I believe, that I can't say a good-natured decisive thing, until I am really brought to bay—and then I say much more than I need, and not at all good-naturedly. I must get what fun out of Frank I can. There's a good deal sprinkled about; and one comfort is that Maud understands."
"Yes," said Mrs. Graves, "she understands! I know no one who sees weaknesses in so absolutely clear a light as Maud, and who can at the same time so wholly neglect them in the light of love."
"That's good news for me," said Howard, "and it is absolutely true."
The day on which Howard learned that Maud would bear him a child was a day of very strangely mixed emotions. He saw how the hope dawned on the spirit of Maud like the rising of a star, and he could rejoice in that with whole-hearted joy, in the mere sharing of a beautiful secret; but it was strange to him to see how to Maud it seemed like the realisation and fulfilling of all desire, the entering into a kingdom; it was not only the satisfaction of all the deepest vital processes, but something glorious, unthinkable, the crowning of destiny, the summit of life. There was no reasoning about it; it was the purest and finest instinct. But with Howard it was not thus. He could not look beyond Maud; and it seemed to him like the dawning of a new influence, a new fealty, which would almost come in between him and his wife, a division of her affections. She seemed to him, in the few tremulous words they spoke, to have her eyes fixed on something beyond him; it was not so much a gift that she was bringing him as a claim of further devotion. He realised with a shock of surprise that in the books he had read, in the imagined crises of life, the thought of the child, the heir, the offshoot, was supposed to come as the crown of father's and mother's hopes alike, and that it was not so with him. Was he jealous of the new claim? It was something like that. He found himself resolving and determining that no hint of this should ever escape him; he even felt deeply ashamed that such a thought should even have crossed his mind. He ought rather to rejoice wholly and completely in Maud's happiness; but he desired her alone, and so passionately that he could not bear to have any part of the current of her soul diverted from him. As he looked forward through the years, it was Maud and himself, in scene after scene; other relations, other influences, other surroundings might fade and decay—but children, however beautiful and delightful, making the house glad with life and laughter, he was not sure that he wanted them. Yet he had always thought that he possessed a strong paternal instinct, an interest in young life, in opening problems. Had that all, he wondered, been a mere interest, a thing to exercise his energy and amiability upon, and had his enjoyment of it all depended upon his real detachment, upon the fact that his responsibility was only a temporary one? It was all very bewildering to him. Moreover, his quiet and fertile imagination flashed suddenly through pictures of what his beloved Maud might have to endure, such a frail child as she was—illness, wretchedness, suffering. Would he be equal to all that? Could he play the role of tranquil patience, of comforting sympathy? He determined not to anticipate that, but it blew like a cold wind on his spirit; he could not bear that the sunshine of life should be clouded.
He had a talk with his aunt on the subject; she had divined, in some marvellous way, the fact that the news had disturbed him; and she said, "Of course, dear Howard, I quite understand that this is not the same thing to you as it is to Maud and me. It is one of the things which divide, and must always divide, men from women. But there is something beyond what you see: I know that it must seem to you as if something almost disconcerting had passed over life—as if such a hope must absorb the heart of a mother; but there is a thing you cannot know, and that is the infinite dearness in which this involves you. You would think perhaps that it could not be increased in Maud's case, but it is increased a hundredfold—it is a splendour, a worship, as of divine creative power. Don't be afraid! Don't look forward! You will see day by day that this has brought Maud's love for you to a point of which you could hardly dream. Words can't touch these things: you must just believe me that it is so. You will think that a childless wife like myself cannot know this. There is a strange joy even in childlessness, but it is the joy that comes from the sharing of a sorrow; but the joy which comes from sharing a joy is higher yet."
"Yes," said Howard, "I know it, and I believe it. I will tell you very frankly that you have looked into my very heart; but you have not seen quite into the depths: I see my own weakness and selfishness clearly. With every part of my mind and reason I see the wonder and strength of this; and I shall feel it presently. What has shocked me is just my lack of the truer instinct; but then," he added, smiling, "that's just the shadow of comfort and ease and the intellectual life: one goes so far on one's way without stumbling across these big emotions; and when one does actually meet them, one is frightened at their size and strength. You must advise and help me. You know, I am sure, that my love for Maud is the strongest, largest, purest thing, beyond all comparison and belief, that has ever happened to me. I am never for a single instant unaware of it. I sometimes think there is nothing else left of me; and then this happens, and I see that I have not gone deep enough yet."
"Yes," said Mrs. Graves, smiling, "life is like the sea, I think. When one is a child, it is just a great plain of waters, with little ships sailing on it: it is pleasant to play by, with breaking waves to wade in, and little treasures thrown up on its rim; then, as one knows more, one realises that it is another world, full of its own urgent life, quite regardless of man, and over which man has no power, except by a little trickery in places. Man is just a tiresome, far-off incident, his ships like little moving shadows, his nets and lines like small fretful devices. But the old wise monsters of the depths live their own lives; never seen perhaps, or even suspected, by men. That's all very silly and fanciful, of course! But old and invalided as I am, I seem to be diving deeper and deeper into life, and finding it full of surprises and mysteries and utterly unexpected things."
"Well," said Howard, "I am still a child on the shore, picking up shells, fishing in the shallows. But I have learned something of late, and it is wonderful beyond thought—so wonderful that I feel sometimes as if I was dreaming, and should wake up to find myself in some other century!"
It did indeed soon dawn upon Howard that there was a change in Maud, that their relations had somehow altered and deepened. The little barrier of age, for one thing, which he had sometimes felt, seemed obliterated. There had been in Howard's mind a sense that he had known a number of hard facts and ugly features about life, had been aware of mean, combative, fierce, cruel elements which were hidden from Maud. Now this all seemed to be purged away; if these things were there, they were not worth knowing, except to be disregarded. They were base material knowledge which one must not even recognise; they were not real forces at all, only ugly, stubborn obstacles, through which life must pass, like water flowing among rocks; they were not life, only the channel of life, through which one passed to something more free and generous. He began to perceive that such things mattered nothing at all to Maud; that her life would have been just as fine in quality if she had lived in the smallest cottage among the most sordid cares. He saw that she possessed the wisdom which he had missed, because she lived in and for emotion and affection, and that all material things existed only to enshrine and subserve emotion.
Their life seemed to take on a new colour and intensity. They talked less; up till now it had been a perpetual delight to Howard to elicit Maud's thoughts and fancies about a thousand things, about books, people, ideas. Her prejudices, ignorances, enthusiasms half charmed, half amused him. But now they could sit or walk silent together in an even more tranquil happiness; nearness was enough, and thought seemed to pass between them without need of speech. Howard began to resume his work; it was enough that Maud should sit by, reading, working, writing. A glance would pass between them and suffice.
One day Howard laid down his pen, and looking up, having finished a chapter, saw that Maud's eyes were fixed upon him with an anxious intentness. She was sitting in a low chair near the fire, and an open book lay disregarded on her knee. He went across to her and sat down on a low chair beside her, taking her hand in his.
"What is it, dear child?" he said. "Am I very selfish and stupid to sit here without a word like this?"
Maud put her lips to his hand, and laughed a contented laugh. "Oh no, no," she said; "I like to see you hard at work—there seems no need to say anything—it's just you and me!"
"Well," said Howard, "you must just tell me what you were thinking—you had travelled a long way beyond that."
"Not out of your reach," said Maud; "I was just thinking how different men and women were, and how I liked you to be different. I was remembering how awfully mysterious you were at first—so full to the brim of strange things which I could not fathom. I always seemed to be dislodging something I had never thought of. I used to wonder how you could find time, in the middle of it all, to care about me: you were always giving me something. But now it has all grown so much simpler and more wonderful too. It's like what you said about Cambridge long ago, the dark secret doorways, the hidden gardens; I see now that all those ideas and thoughts are only things you are carrying with you, like luggage. They are not part of you at all. Don't you know how, when one is quite a child, a person's house seems to be all a mysterious part of himself? One thinks he has chosen and arranged it all, knows where everything is and what it means—everything seems to be a sort of deliberate expression of his tastes and ideas—and, then one gets older, and finds out that people don't know what is in their houses at all—there are rooms into which they never go; and then one finds that they don't even see the things in their own rooms, have forgotten how they came there, wouldn't know if they were taken away. My, I used to feel as if the scents and smells of houses were all arranged and chosen by their owners. It's like that with you; all the things you know and remember, the words you speak, are not YOU at all; I see and feel you now apart from all that."
"I am afraid I have lost what novelists call my glamour," said Howard. "You have found me out, the poor, shivering, timid thing that sits like a wizard in the middle of his properties, only hoping that the stuffed crocodile and the skeleton will frighten his visitors."
Maud laughed. "Well, I am not frightened any more," she said. "I doubt if you could frighten me if you tried. I wonder how I should feel if I saw you angry or chilly. Are you ever angry, I wonder?"
"I think some of my pupils would say that I could be very disagreeable," said Howard. "I don't think that I was ever very fierce, but I have realised that I was on occasions very unpleasant."
"Well, I'll wait and see," said Maud; "but what I was going to say was that you seem to me different—hardly the person I married. I used to wonder a little at first how I had had the impudence . . . and then I used to think that perhaps some day you would wake up, and find you had come to the bottom of the well, but you never seemed disappointed."
"Disappointed!" said Howard; "what terrible rubbish! Why Maud, don't you KNOW what you have done for me? You have put the whole thing straight. It's just that. I was full of vanities and thoughts and bits of knowledge, and I really think I thought them important—they ARE important too, like food and drink—one must have them—at least men must—but they don't matter; at least it doesn't matter what they are. Men have always to be making and doing things—business, money, positions, duties; but the point is to know that they are unimportant, and yet to go on doing them as if they mattered—one must do that—seriously and not solemnly; but you have somehow put all that in the right place; and I know now what matters and what does not. There, do you call that nothing?"
"Perhaps we have found it out together," said Maud; "the only difference is that you have the courage to tell me that you were wrong, while I have never even dared to tell you what a hollow sham I am, and what a mean and peevish child I was before you came on the scene."
"Well, we won't look into your dark past," said Howard. "I am quite content with what they call the net result!" and then they sate together in silence, and had no further need of words.
Howard was summoned to Cambridge in June for a College meeting. He was very glad to see Cambridge and the familiar faces; but he had not been parted from Maud for a day since their marriage, and he was rather amazed to find, not that he missed her, but how continuously he missed her from moment to moment; the fact that he could not compare notes with her about every incident seemed to rob the incidents of their savour, and to produce a curious hampering of his thoughts. A change, too, seemed to have passed over the College; his rooms were just as he had left them, but everything seemed to have narrowed and contracted. He saw a great many of the undergraduates, and indeed was delighted to find how they came in to see him.
Guthrie was one of the first to arrive, and Howard was glad to meet him alone. Howard was sorry to see that the cheerful youth had evidently been feeling acutely what had happened; he had not lost his spirits, but he had a rather worn aspect. He inquired about the Windlow party, and they talked of indifferent things; but when Guthrie rose to go, he said, speaking with great diffidence, "I wanted to say one thing to you, and now I do not know how to express it; it is that I don't want you to think I feel in any way aggrieved—that would be simply absurd—but more than that, I want to say that I think you behaved quite splendidly at Windlow—really splendidly! I hope you don't think it is impertinent for me to say that, but I want you to know how grateful I am to you—Jack told me what had happened—and I thought that if I said nothing, you might feel uncomfortable. Please don't feel anything of the kind—I only wish with all my heart that I could think I could behave as you did if I had been in your place, and I want to be friends."
"Yes indeed," said Howard, "I think it is awfully good of you to speak about it. You won't expect me," he added, smiling, "to say that I wish it had turned out otherwise; but I do hope you will be happy, with all my heart; and you will know that you will have a real welcome at Windlow if ever you care to come there."
The young man shook hands in silence with Howard, and went out with a smile. "Oh, I shall be all right," he said.
Jack sate up late with Howard and treated him to a long grumble.
"I do hope to goodness you will come back to Cambridge," he said. "You must simply make Maud come. You must use your influence, your beautiful influence, of which we hear so much. Seriously, I do miss you here very much, and so does everybody else. Your pupils are in an awful stew. They say that you got them through the Trip without boring them, and that Crofts bores them and won't get them through. This place rather gets on my nerves now. The Dons don't confide in me, and I don't see things from their angle, as my father says. I think you somehow managed to keep them reasonable; they are narrow-minded men, I think."
"This is rather a shower of compliments," said Howard. "But I think I very likely shall come back. I don't think Maud would mind."
"Mind!" said Jack, "why you wind that girl round your little finger. She writes about you as if you were an archangel; and look here, I am sorry I took a gloomy view. It's all right; you were the right person. Freddy Guthrie would never have done for Maud—he's in a great way about it still, but I tell him he may be thankful to have escaped. Maud is a mountain-top kind of girl; she could never have got on without a lot of aspirations, she couldn't have settled down to the country-house kind of life. You are a sort of privilege, you know, and all that; Freddy Guthrie would never have been a privilege."
"That's rather a horror!" said Howard; "you mustn't let these things out; you make me nervous!"
Jack laughed. "If your brother-in-law mayn't say this to you, I don't know who may. But seriously, really quite seriously, you are a bigger person than I thought. I'll tell you why. I had a kind of feeling that you ought not to let me speak to you as you do, that you ought to have snapped my head off. And then you seemed too much upset by what I said. I don't know if it was your tact; but you had your own way all the time, with me and with everybody; you seemed to give way at every point, and yet you carried out your programme. I thought you hadn't much backbone—there, the cat's out; and now I find that we were all dancing to your music. I like people to do that, and it amuses me to find that I danced as obediently as anyone, when I really thought I could make you do as I wished. I admire your way of going on: you make everyone think that you value their opinion, and yet you know exactly what you want and get it."
Howard laughed. "I really am not such a diplomatist as that, Jack! I am not a humbug; but I will tell you frankly what happens. What people say and think, and even how they look, does affect me very much at the time; but I have a theory that most people get what they really want. One has to be very careful what one wants in this world, not because one is disappointed, but because Providence hands it one with a smile; and then it often turns out to be an ironical gift—a punishment in disguise."
"Maud shall hear that," said Jack; "a punishment in disguise—that will do her good, and take her down a peg or two. So you have found it out already?"
"My dear Jack," said Howard, "if you say anything of the kind, you will repent it. I am not going to have Maud bothered just now with any nonsense. Do you hear that? The frankness of your family is one of its greatest charms—but you don't quite know how much the frankness of babes and sucklings can hurt—and you are not to experiment on Maud."
Jack looked at Howard with a smile. "Here's the real man at last—the tyrant's vein! Of course, I obey. I didn't really mean it; and I like to hear you speak like that; it's rather fine."
Presently Jack said, "Now, about the Governor—rather a douche, I expect? But I see you can take care of yourself; he's hugely delighted—the intellectual temperature rises in every letter I get from him. But I want to make sure of one thing. I'm not going to stay on here much longer. I don't want a degree—it isn't the slightest use, plain or coloured. I want to get to work. If you come up again next term, I can stand it, not otherwise."
"Very well," said Howard, "that's a bargain. I must just talk things over with Maud. If we come up to Cambridge in October, you will stay till next June. If we don't, you shall be planted in the business. They will take you in, I believe, at any time, but would prefer you to finish your time here."
"Yes, that's it," said Jack, "but I want work: this is all right, in a way, but it's mostly piffle. How all these Johnnies can dangle on, I don't know; it's not my idea of life."
"Well, there's no hurry," said Howard, "but it shall be arranged as you wish."
MAKING THE BEST OF IT
Howard became aware that with his colleagues he had suddenly become rather a person of importance. His "place" in the country was held in some dim way to increase the grandeur of the College. He found himself deferred to and congratulated. Mr. Redmayne was both caustic and affectionate.
"You look very well, I must say," he said. "You have a touch of the landed personage about you which becomes you. I should like you to come back here for our sakes, but I shan't press it. And how is Madam? I hope you have got rid of your first illusions? No? Well you must make haste and be reasonable. I am not learned in the vagaries of feminine temperament, but I imagine that the fair sex like to be dominated, and you will do that. You have a light hand on the reins—I always said that you rode the boys on the snaffle, but the curb is there! and in matrimony—well, well, I am an old bachelor of course, and I have a suspicion of all nooses. Never mind my nonsense, Kennedy—what I like about you, if I may say so, is that you have authority without pretensions. People will do as you wish, just to please you; now I have always to be cracking the whip. These fellows here are very worthy men, but they are not men of the world! They are honest and sober—indeed one can hardly get one of them to join one in a glass of port—but they are limited, very limited. Now if only you could have kept clear of matrimony—no disrespect to Madam—what a comfortable time we might have had here! Man appoints and God disappoints—I suppose it is all for the best."
"Well," said Howard, "I think you will me see back here in October—my wife is quite ready to come, and there isn't really much for me to do at Windlow. I believe I am to be on the bench shortly; but if I live there in the vacations, that will be enough; and I don't feel that I have finished with Beaufort yet."
"Excellent!" said Mr. Redmayne. "I commend Madam's good sense and discretion. Pray give her my regards, and say that we shall welcome her at Cambridge. We will make the best of it—and I confess that in your place—well, if all women were like Madam, I could view marriage with comparative equanimity—though of course, I make the statement without prejudice."
When Howard came back from Cambridge he had a long talk with Maud over the future; it seemed almost tacitly agreed that he should return to his work there, at all events for a time.
"I feel very selfish and pompous about all this," said Howard; "MY work, MY sphere—what nonsense it all is! Why should I come down to Windlow, take possession, and having picked the sweetest flower in the garden, stick it in my buttonhole and march away?"
Maud laughed and said, "Oh, no, it isn't that—it is quite a simple matter. You have learnt a trade, a difficult trade; why should you give it up? We don't happen to need the money, but that doesn't matter. My business is to take off your shoulders, if I can, all the trouble entailed on you by marrying me—it's simply a division of labour. You can't just settle down in the country as a small squire, with nothing much to do. People must do the work they can do, and I should be miserable if I thought I had pulled you out of your place in the world."
"I don't know," said Howard; "there seems to me to be something rather stuffy about it: why can't we just live? Women do; there is no fuss made about their work, and their need to express themselves; yet they do it even more than men, and they do it without priggishness. My work at Cambridge is just what everyone else is doing, and if I don't do it, there will be half a dozen men capable of doing it and glad to do it. The great men of the world don't talk about the importance of their work: they just do whatever comes to hand—it's only the second-rate men who say that their talents haven't full scope. Do you remember poor Chambers, who was at lunch the other day? He told me that he had migrated from a town parish to a country parish, and that he missed the organisation so much. 'There seems nothing to organise down in the country!' he said. 'Now in my town parish there was the whole machine to keep going—I enjoyed that, and I don't feel I am giving effect to the best part of myself.' That seemed to me such a pompous line, and I felt that I didn't want to be like that. One's work! how little it matters! No one is indispensable—the disappearance of one man just gives another his chance."