“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