This simple compliment produced a curious effect on Howard. He realised as he had not done before the singular change in his position that his aunt’s announcement had produced: a country squire, a proprietor—he could not think of himself in that light— it was like a curious dream.
After luncheon, Mr. Sandys excused himself for a few minutes; he had to step over and speak to the sexton. Maud would take Howard round the garden, show him her room, “just our simple background— we want you to realise that!”
As soon as they were alone together, Howard said to Maud, “We seem to have settled Jack’s affairs very summarily. I hope you do agree with me?”
“Yes,” said Maud, “I do indeed. It is wonderful to me that you should know so much about him, with all your other pupils to know. He isn’t a boy who talks much about himself, though he seems to; and I don’t think my father understood what he was feeling. Jack doesn’t like being interfered with, and he was getting to resent programmes being drawn up. Papa is so tremendously keen about anything he takes up that he carries one away; and then you come and smooth out all the difficulties. It isn’t always easy—” she broke off suddenly, and added, “That is what Jack wants, what he calls something real. He is bored with the life here, and yet he is always good about it.”
“Do you like the life here?” said Howard. “I can’t tell you what an effect it all produces on me; it all seems so simple and beautiful. But I know that one mustn’t trust first impressions. People in picturesque surroundings don’t always feel picturesque. It is very pleasant to make a drama out of one’s life and to feel romantic— but one can’t keep it up—at least I can’t. That must come of itself.”
Howard felt that the girl was watching him with a look of almost startled interest. She said in a moment, “Yes, that’s quite true, and it is a difficulty. I should like to be able to talk to you about those things—I hear so much about you, you know, from Jack, that you are not like a stranger at all. Now papa has got the gift of romance; every bit of his life is interesting and exciting to him—it’s perfectly splendid—but Jack has not got that at all. I seem to understand them both, and yet I can’t explain them to each other. I don’t mean they don’t get on, but neither can quite see what the other is aiming at. And I have felt that I ought to be able to do something. I can’t understand how you have cleared it up; but I am very glad and grateful about it: it has been a trouble to me. Cousin Anne is wonderful about it, but she seems able to let things alone in a way I can’t dare to.”
“Oh, one learns that as one gets older,” said Howard. “One can’t argue things straight. One can only go on hoping and wishing, and if possible understanding. I used to make a great mess of it with my pupils at one time, by thinking one could talk them round; but one can’t persuade people of things, one can only just suggest, and let it be; and after all no one ever resents finding himself interesting to some one else; only it has got to be interest, and not a sense of duty.”