Mrs. Goddard became an institution, and in the course of the first year of her residence in the cottage it came to be expected that she should dine at the vicarage at least once a week; and once a week, also, Mr. and Mrs. Ambrose went up and had tea with her and little Eleanor at the cottage. It came to pass also that Mrs. Goddard heard a vast deal of talk about John Short and his successes at Trinity, and she actually developed a lively interest in his career, and asked for news of him almost as eagerly as though he had been already a friend of her own. In very quiet places people easily get into the sympathetic habit of regarding their neighbours’ interests as very closely allied to their own. The constant talk about John Short, the vicar’s sanguine hopes for his brilliant future, and Mrs. Ambrose’s unlimited praise of his moral qualities, repeated day by day and week by week produced a vivid impression on Mrs. Goddard’s mind. It would have surprised her and even amused her beyond measure had she had any idea that she herself had for a long time absorbed the interest of this same John Short, that he had written hundreds of Greek and Latin verses in her praise, while wholly ignorant of her name, and that at the very time when without knowing him, she was constantly mentioning him as though she knew him intimately well, he himself was looking back to the one glimpse he had had of her, as to a dream of unspeakable bliss.
It never occurred to Mr. Ambrose’s mind to tell John in the occasional letters he wrote that Mrs. Goddard had settled in Billingsfield. John, he thought, could take no possible interest in knowing about her, and moreover, Mrs. Goddard herself was most anxious never to be mentioned abroad. She had come to Billingsfield to live in complete obscurity, and the good vicar had promised that as far as he and his wife were concerned she should have her wish. To tell even John Short, his own beloved pupil, would be to some extent a breach of faith, and there was assuredly no earthly reason why John should be told. It might do harm, for of course the young fellow had made acquaintances at Cambridge; he had probably read about the Goddard case in the papers, and might talk about it. If he should happen to come down for a day or two he would probably meet her; but that could not be avoided. It was not likely that he would come for some time. The vicar himself intended to go up to Cambridge for a day or two after Christmas to see him; but the winter flew by and Mr. Ambrose did not go. Then came Easter, then the summer and the Long vacation. John wrote that he could not leave his books for a day, but that he hoped to run down next Christmas. Again he did not come, but there came the news of his having won another and a more important scholarship; the news also that he was already regarded as the most promising man in the university, all of which exceedingly delighted the heart of the Reverend Augustin Ambrose, and being told with eulogistic comments to Mrs. Goddard, tended to increase the interest she felt in the existence of John Short, so that she began to long for a sight of him, without exactly knowing why.