“It seems to knock everything on the head,” he went on; “these country idylls are all very well in their way; but when it comes to entertaining parties day by day, who ’sit simply chatting in a rustic row,’ it becomes intolerable. It doesn’t mean anything; one can’t get to know these people; if there is anything to know, they seem to think it polite to conceal it; it can’t be a duty to waste all the time that this takes up?”
Maud laughed and said, “Oh, you must forgive them; they haven’t much to do or talk about, and you are a great excitement; and you are really very good to them!”
Howard made a grimace. “It’s my wretched habit of civility!” he said. “But really, Maud, you can’t like them?”
“Yes, I believe I do,” said Maud. “But then I am more or less used to the kind of thing. I like people, I think!”
“Yes, so do I, in a sort of way,” said Howard; “but, really, with some of these caravans it is more like having a flock of sheep in the place!”
“Well, I like sheep, then,” said Maud; “I don’t really see how we can stop it.”
“I suppose it’s the seamy side of marriage!” said Howard.
Maud looked at him for a moment, and then, getting up from her chair and coming across to him, she put her hands on his shoulders and looked in his face.
“Are you vexed?” she said in rather a tragic tone.
“No, of course, not vexed,” said Howard, catching her round the waist. “What an idea! I am only jealous of everything which seems to come in between us, and I have seemed to see you lately through a mist of oddly dressed females. It’s a system, I suppose, a social system, to enable people to waste their time. I feel as if I had got caught in a sort of glue—wading in glue. One ought to live life, or the best part of it, on one’s own lines. I feel as if I was on show just now, and it’s a nuisance.”
“Well,” said Maud, “I am afraid I do rather like showing you off and feeling grand; but it won’t go on for ever. I’ll try to contrive something. I don’t see why you need be drawn in. I’ll talk to Cousin Anne about it.”
“But I am not going to mope alone,” said Howard. “Where thou goest, I will go. I can’t bear to let you out of my sight, you little witch! But I feel it is casting pearls before swine—your pearls, I mean.”
“I don’t see what to do,” said Maud, looking rather troubled. “I ought to have seen that you hated it.”
“No, it’s my own stupid fault,” said Howard. “You are right, and I am wrong. I see it is my business at present to go about like a dancing bear, and I’ll dance, I’ll dance! It’s priggish to think about wasting one’s sweetness. What I really feel is this. ’Here’s an hour,’ I say, ’when I might have had Maud all to myself, and she and I have been talking about the weather to a pack of unoccupied females.’”
“Something comes of it,” said Maud. “I don’t know what it is, but it’s a kind of chain. I don’t think it matters much what they talk about, but there is a sort of kindness about it which I like— something which lies behind ideas. These people don’t say anything, but they think something into one—it’s alive, and it moves.”