There were great rejoicings at the vicarage. John had never been forgotten for a day since he had left, each successive step in his career had been hailed with hearty delight, and now that at last he was coming back to rest himself for a week before the final effort Mrs. Ambrose was as enthusiastic as her husband. Even Mrs. Goddard, who was not quite sure whether she had ever seen John or not, and the squire who had certainly never seen him, joined in the general excitement. Mrs. Goddard asked the entire party to tea at the cottage and the squire asked them to come and skate at the Hall and to dine afterwards; for the weather was cold and the vicar said John was a very good skater. Was there anything John could not do? There was nothing he could not do much better than anybody else, answered Mr. Ambrose; and the good clergyman’s pride in his pupil was perhaps not the less because he had at first received him on charitable considerations, and felt that if he had risked much in being so generous he had also been amply rewarded by the brilliant success of his undertaking.
When John arrived, everybody said he was “so much improved.” He had got his growth now, being close upon one and twenty years of age; his blue eyes were deeper set; his downy whiskers had disappeared and a small moustache shaded his upper lip; he looked more intellectual but not less strong, though Mrs. Ambrose said he was dreadfully pale—perhaps he owed some of the improvement observed in his appearance to the clothes he wore. Poor boy, he had been but scantily supplied in the old days; he looked prosperous, now, by comparison.
“We have had great additions to our society, since you left us,” said the vicar. “We have got a squire at the Hall, and a lady with a little girl at the cottage.”
“Such a nice little girl,” remarked Mrs. Ambrose.
When John found out that the lady at the cottage was no other than the lady in black to whom he had lost his heart two years and a half before, he was considerably surprised. It would be absurd to suppose that the boyish fancy which had made so much romance in his life for so many months could outlast the excitements of the University. It would be absurd to dignify such a fancy by any serious name. He had grown to be a man since those days and he had put away childish things. He blushed to remember that he had spent hours in writing odes to the beautiful unknown, and whole nights in dreaming of her face. And yet he could remember that as much as a year after he had left Billingsfield he still thought of her as