‘Not care to live here! But you’ll get tired of us; we might quarrel.’
’No; we shall never quarrel. You will be doing me a great favour by remaining. Just fancy living alone in this great house, not a soul to speak to all day! I’m sure I should end by going out and hanging myself on one of those trees.’
‘You wouldn’t do that, would you?’
Hubert laughed. ’You and Mrs. Bentley will be doing me a great favour by remaining. If you go away I shall be robbed right and left, the gardens will go to rack and ruin, and when you come down here you won’t know the place, and then, perhaps, we shall quarrel.’
’I shouldn’t like Ashwood to go to rack and ruin—and my poor flowers! And I’m sure you’d forget to feed the swans. If you did that, I could not forgive you.’
‘Well, let these grave considerations decide you to remain.’
‘Are you really serious?’
‘I never was more serious in my life.’
‘Well then, may I run and tell Julia?’
’Certainly, and I’ll—no, I won’t. I’ll look up the housemaids and tell them to restore this interesting collection of antiquities to their original dust.’
He was, perhaps, a little too conscious of his happiness; and he feared to do anything that would endanger the pleasure of his present life. It seemed to him like a costly thing which might slip from his hand or be broken; and day by day he appreciated more and more the delicate comfort of this well-ordered house—its brightness, its ample rooms, the charm of space within and without, the health of regular and wholesome meals, the presence of these two women, whose first desire was to minister to his least wish or caprice. These, the first spoilings he had received, combined to render him singularly happy. Bohemianism, he often thought, had been forced upon him—it was not natural to him, and though spiritual belief was dead, he experienced in church a resurrection of influences which misfortune had hypnotised, but which were stirring again into life. He was conscious again of this revival of his early life in the evenings when Mrs. Bentley went to the piano; and when playing a game of chess or draughts, remembrances of the old Shropshire rectory came back, sudden, distinct, and sweet. In these days the disease of fame and artistic achievement only sang monotonously, plaintively, like the wind in the valleys where the wind never wholly rests.
Sometimes, when moved by the novel he was reading, he would discuss its merits and demerits with the two women who sat by him in the quiet of the dim drawing-room, their work on their knees, thinking of him. In the excitement of criticism his thoughts wandered to his own work, and the women’s eyes filled with reveries, and their hands folded languidly over their knees. He spoke without emphasis, his words seeming to drop from the thick obsession of his dream.