Howard sat alone in the drawing-room. He had an almost painful faculty of minute observation, and the storage of new impressions was a real strain to him. To-day it seemed that they had poured in upon him in a cataract, and he felt dangerously wakeful; why had he been such a fool as to have missed this beautiful house, and this home atmosphere of affection? He could not say. A stupid persistence in his own plans, he supposed. Yet this had been waiting for him, a home such as he had never owned. He thought with an almost terrified disgust of his rooms at Beaufort, as the logs burned whisperingly in the grate, and the smoke of his cigarette rose on the air. Was it not this that he had been needing all along? At last he rose, put out the candles, and made his way to the big panelled bedroom which had been given him. He lay long awake, wondering, in a luxurious repose, listening to the whisper of the breeze in the shrubberies, and the faint murmur of the water in the full-fed stream.
Very early in the morning Howard woke to hear the faint twittering of the birds begin in bush and ivy. It was at first just a fitful, drowsy chirp, a call “are you there? are you there?” until, when all the sparrows were in full cry, a thrush struck boldly in, like a solo marching out above a humming accompaniment of strings. That was a delicious hour, when the mind, still unsated of sleep, played softly with happy, homelike thoughts. He slept again, but the sweet mood lasted; his breakfast was served to him in solitude in a little panelled parlour off the Hall; and in the fresh April morning, with the sunlight lying on the lawn and lighting up the old worn detail of the carved cornices, he recovered for a time the boyish sense of ecstasy of the first morning at home after the return from school. While he was breakfasting, a scribbled note from Jack was brought in.
“Just heard you arrived last night; it’s an awful bore, but I have to go away to-day—an old engagement made, I need hardly say, for me and not by me; I shall turn up to-morrow about this time. No work, I think. A day of calm resolution and looking forward manfully to the future! My father and sister are going to dine at the Manor to-night. I shall be awfully interested to hear what you think of them. He has been looking up some things to talk about, and I can tell you, you’ll have a dose. Maud is frightened to death.—Yours “Jack.
“P.S.—I advise you to begin counting at once.”
A little later, Miss Merry turned up, to ask Howard if he would care to look round the house. “Mrs. Graves would like,” she said, “to show it you herself, but she is easily tired, and can’t stand about much.” They went round together, and Howard was surprised to find that it was not nearly as large a house as it looked. Much space was agreeably wasted in corridors and passages, and there