A few days later the term drew to an end, and both dons and undergraduates, whose tempers had been wearing a little thin, got suddenly more genial, like guests when a visit draws to a close, and disposed to think rather better of each other.
Howard had made no plans; he did not wish to stay on at Cambridge, but he did not want to go away: he had no relations to whose houses he naturally drifted; he did not like the thought of a visit; as a rule he went off with an undergraduate or two to some lonely inn, where they fished or walked and did a little work. But just now he had a vague feeling that he wanted to be alone; that he had something to face, some reckoning to cast up, and yet he did not know what it was.
One afternoon—the spring was certainly advancing, and there was a touch of languor in the air, that heavenly languor which is so sweet a thing when one is young and hopeful, so depressing a thing when one is living on the edge of one’s nervous force—he paid a call, which was not a thing he often did, on a middle-aged woman who passed for a sort of relation; she was a niece of his aunt’s deceased husband, Monica Graves by name. She was a woman of independent means, who had done some educational work for a time, but had now retired, lived in her own little house, and occupied herself with social schemes of various sorts. She was a year or two older than Howard. They did not very often meet, but there was a pleasant camaraderie between them, an almost brotherly and sisterly relation. She was a small, quiet, able woman, whose tranquil manner concealed great clear-headedness and decisiveness. Howard always said that it was a comfort to talk to her, because she always knew what her own opinion was, and did what she intended to do. He found her alone and at tea. She welcomed him drily but warmly. Presently he said, “I want your advice, Monnie; I want you to make up my mind for me. I have a feeling that I need a change. I don’t mean a little change, but a big one. I am suddenly aware that I am a little stale, and I wish to be freshened up.”
Monica looked at him and said, “Yes, I expect you are right! You know I think we ought all to have one big change in our lives, about your age, I mean. Why don’t you put in for a head-mastership? I have often thought you have rather a gift that way.”