“Ah, dear Howard,” said his aunt, “that is the everlasting question. It is like you to take this all so sweetly and to speak so openly. But further than this no one can help you. You are like the young man whom Jesus loved who had great possessions. You do not know how much! I will not tell you to follow Him; and your possessions are not those which can be given away. But you must follow love. I had a hope, I have a hope—oh, it is more than that, because we all find our way sooner or later—and now that you know the truth, as I see you know it, the light will not be long in coming. God bless you, dearest child; there is pain ahead of you; but I don’t fear that—pain is not the worst thing or the last thing!”
BACK TO CAMBRIDGE
“I had a hope . . . I have a hope,” these words of his aunt’s echoed often through Howard’s brain, in the wakeful night which followed. Nothing was plain to himself except the fact that things were tangled; the anxious exaltation which came to him from his talk with his aunt cleared off like the dying away of the flush of some beaded liquor. “I must see into this—I must understand what is happening—I must disentangle it,” he said again and again to himself. He was painfully conscious, as he thought and thought, of his own deep lack both of moral courage and affection. He liked nothing that was not easy—easy triumph, easy relations. Somehow the threads of life had knotted themselves up; he had slipped so lightly into his place here, he had taken up responsibilities as he might have taken up a flower; he had meant to be what he called frank and affectionate all round, and now he felt that he was going to disappoint everyone. Not till the daylight began to outline the curtain-rifts did he fall asleep; and he woke with that excited fatigue which comes of sleeplessness.
He came down, he breakfasted alone in the early morning freshness. The house was all illumined by the sun, but it spread its beauties in vain before him. The trap came to the door, and when he came out he found to his surprise that Jack was standing on the steps talking to the coachman. “I thought I would like to come to the station with you,” said Jack. Howard was pleased at this. They got in together, and one by one the scenes so strangely familiar fled past them. Howard looked long at the Vicarage as he passed, wondering whether Maud was perhaps looking out. That had been a clumsy, stupid business—his talk with her! Presently Jack said, “Look here, I am going to say again that I was perfectly hateful yesterday. I don’t know what came over me—I was thinking aloud.”
“Oh, it doesn’t matter a bit!” said Howard; “it was my fault really. I have mismanaged things, I think; and it is good for me to find that out.”
“No, but you haven’t,” said Jack. “I see it all now. You came down here, and you made friends with everyone. That was all right; the fact simply is that I have been jealous and mean. I expected to have you all to myself—to run you, in fact; and I was vexed at finding you take an interest in all the others. There, it’s better out. I am entirely in the wrong. You have been awfully good all round, and we shall be precious dull now that you are going. The truth is that we have been squabbling over you.”