He was again conscious that he had somehow hurt the girl. She looked at him with a troubled face, and then said, “Yes, that is the advantage which men have. I sometimes wonder if it would not be better for me to have some work away from here. But there is nothing I could do; and I can’t leave papa.”
“Oh, it will all come right!” said Howard feebly; “there are fifty things that might happen. And now I must be off! Mind, you must let me have the book some time; that will serve to remind me of Windlow in the intervals of Greek prose.”
He got up and shook hands. He felt he was behaving stupidly and unkindly. He had meant to tell Maud how much he liked the feeling of having made friends, and to have talked to her frankly and simply about everything. He had an intense desire to say that and more; to make her understand that she was and would be in his thoughts; to ascertain how she felt towards him; to assure himself of their friendship. But he would be wise and prudent; he would not be sentimental or priggish or Jesuitical. He would just leave the impression that he was mildly interested in Windlow, but that his heart was in his work. He felt sustained by his delicate consideration, and by his judicious chilliness. And so he turned and left her, though an unreasonable impulse seized him to take the child in his arms, and tell her how sweet and delicious she was. She had held the little book in her hand as they sate, as if she had hoped he would ask to look at it; and as he closed the door, he saw her put it down on the table with a half-sigh.
He was to go off the next day; that night he had his last talk to his aunt. She said that she would say good-bye to him then, and that she hoped he would be back in June. She did not seem quite as serene as usual, but she spoke very affectionately and gently of the delight his visit had been. Then she said, “But I somehow feel— I can’t give my reasons—as if we had got into a mess here. You are rather a disturbing clement, dear Howard! I may speak plainly to you now, mayn’t I? I think you have more effect on people than you know. You have upset us! I am not criticising you, because you have exceeded all my hopes. But you are too diffident, and you don’t realise your power of sympathy. You are very observant, very quick to catch the drift of people’s moods, and you are not at all formidable. You are so much interested in people that you lead them to reveal themselves and to betray themselves; and they don’t find quite what they expect. You are afraid, I think, of caring for people; you want to be in close relation with everyone, and yet to preserve your own tranquillity. You are afraid of emotion; but one can’t care for people like that! It doesn’t cost you enough! You are like a rich man who can afford to pay for things, and I think you rather pauperise people. Here