He made several attempts, with Mr. Sandys and with his aunt—even with Miss Merry—to get encouragement for his plan; but he could obtain no sympathy.
“I’m sick of the very word ‘ideal,’” he said to Maud. “I feel like a waiter handing about tumblers on a tray, pressing people to have ideals—at least that is what I seem to be supposed to be doing. I haven’t any ideals myself—the only thing I demand and practise is civility.”
“Yes, I don’t think you need bother about ideals,” said Maud, “it’s wonderful the depressing power of words; there are such a lot of fine and obvious things in the world, perfectly distinct, absolutely necessary, and yet the moment they become professional, they deprive one of all spirit and hope—Jane has that effect on me, I am afraid. I am sure she is a fine creature, but her view always makes me feel uncomfortable—now Cousin Anne takes all the things one needs for granted, and isn’t above making fun of them; and then they suddenly appear wholesome and sensible. She is quite clear on the point; now if she wanted you to stay, it would be different.”
“Very well, so be it!” said Howard; “I feel I am caught in feminine toils. I am like a child being taught to walk—every step applauded, handed on from embrace to embrace. I yield! I will take my beautiful mind back to Cambridge, I will go on moulding character, I will go on suggesting high motives. But the responsibility is yours, and if you turn me into a prig, it will not be my fault.”
“Ah, I will take the responsibility for that,” said Maud, “and, by the way, hadn’t we better begin to look out for a house? I can’t live in College, I believe, not even if I were to become a bedmaker?”
“Yes,” said Howard, “a high-minded house of roughcast and tile, with plenty of white paint inside, Chippendale chairs, Watts engravings. I have come to that—it’s inevitable, it just expresses the situation; but I mustn’t go on like this—it isn’t funny, this academic irony—it’s dreadfully professional. I will be sensible, and write to an agent for a list. It had better just be ‘a house’ with nothing distinctive; because this will be our home, I hope, and that the official residence. And now, Maud, I won’t be tiresome any more; we can’t waste time in talking about these things. I haven’t done with making love to you yet, and I doubt if I ever shall!”
The months moved slowly on, a time full of deepening strain and anxiety to Howard. Maud herself seemed serene enough at first, full of hope; she began to be more dependent on him; and Howard perceived two things which gave him some solace; in the first place he found that, sharp as the tension of anxiety in his mind often was, he did not realise it as a burden of which he would be merely glad to be rid. He had an instinctive dislike of all painful straining things—of responsibilities, disagreeable