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.