That evening he talked to his aunt about Maud. He told her all about their walk and talk. “I am very glad you gave her something to do,” she said—“that is so like a man! That is just where I fail. She is a very interesting and delightful girl, Howard; and she is not quite happy at home. Living with Cousin Frank is like living under a waterfall; and Jack is beginning to have his own plans, and doesn’t want anyone to share them. Well, you amaze me! I suppose you get a good deal of practice in these things, and become a kind of amateur father-confessor. I think of you at Cambridge as setting the lives of young men spinning like little tops—small human teetotums. It’s very useful, but it is a little dangerous! I don’t think you have suffered as yet. That’s what I like in you, Howard, the mixture of practical and unpractical. You seem to me to be very busy, and yet to know where to stop. Of course we can’t make other people a present of experience; they have to spin their own webs; but I think one can do a certain amount in seeing that they have experience. It would not suit me; my strength is to sit still, as the Bible says. But in a place like this with Frank whipping his tops—he whips them, while you just twirl them— someone is wanted who will listen to people, and see that they are left alone. To leave people alone at the right minute is a very great necessity. Don’t you know those gardens that look as if they were always being fussed and slashed and cut about? There’s no sense of life in them. One has to slash sometimes, and then leave it. I believe in growth even more than in organisation. Still, I don’t doubt that you have helped Maud, and I am very glad of it. I wanted you to make friends with her. I think the lack in your life is that you have known so few women; men and women can never understand each other, of course; but they have got to live together and work together; and one ought to live with people whom one does not understand. You and your undergraduates don’t yield any mysteries. You, no doubt, know exactly what they are thinking, and they know what you are thinking. It’s all very pleasant and wholesome, but one can’t get on very far that way. You mustn’t think Maud is a sort of undergraduate. Probably you think you know a great deal about her already—but she isn’t the least what you imagine, any more than I am. Nor are you what I imagine; but I am quite content with my mistaken idea of you.”
The next day’s dinner was a disappointment. The Vicar expatiated, Jack counted, and became so intent on his counting that he hardly said a word; indeed Howard was not sure that he was wholly pleased with the turn affairs had taken; he was rather touched by this than otherwise, because it seemed to him that Jack was really, if unconsciously, a little jealous. His whole visit had been rather too much of a success: Jack had expected to act as showman of his menagerie, and to play the principal part; and Howard felt that Jack suspected him of having taken the situation too much into his own hands. He felt that Jack was not pleased with his puppets; his father had needed no apologies or explanations, Maud had been forward, he himself had been donnish.