“It will be a bore,” said Jack, making a grimace; “it wrecks my health to take people round to King’s and Trinity. It simply knocks me up; but I expect you are right, and I will ask them. You won’t fail me? When I go off duty, you will go on? If that is clearly understood, they shall come. I know Maud would like to realise my background, as she says; and my father will rush to the ’Varsity Library, and break the spirit of the Pemmer Dons. He’ll have the time of his life; but he deserves a treat—he really wrote me a very decent letter. By George, though, these emotional experiences are not in my line, though they reveal the worth of suffering, as the Chaplain said in his Hospital Sermon last Sunday.”
Howard wrote a further note, saying that he hoped that Mr. Sandys and Maud would be able to come; and it was soon arranged that they should spend the inside of a week at Cambridge, before the May week, as the Vicar said he had little taste for social pleasures, and had some matters of considerable importance to turn up in the Library, to say nothing of the intellectual stimulus he anticipated.
The visit began on the usual lines of such visits, the home team, so to speak—Howard and Jack—having to fit a round of festivities into a life which under normal circumstances was already, if anything, too full, with the result that, at all events, Howard’s geniality was tense, and tended to be forced. Only in youth can one abandon oneself to high spirits; as one grows older one desires more to contemplate one’s own mirth, and assure oneself that it is genuine.
Jack met them at the station, and they had tea in his rooms, Howard refusing firmly to come.
“You must just give them a chance of a private word or two!” he said.
“Why, that’s exactly what I want to avoid!” said Jack. “Besides, my family is never private—we haven’t any company manners. But I expect you are right. Father will want one innings, and I think it’s fair he should have it!”
They were, however, to dine with Howard, who, contrary to his wont, lavished some care on flowers and decorations, to make the place unobtrusively pretty and home-like, and he determined that he would be as quiet and straightforward as he could, but promised himself at least one afternoon with Maud strolling round the place. But this was all to happen as if by chance, and with no scheming or diplomacy.
They came; and Howard saw at once that Maud was timid and somewhat out of spirits; she looked tired, and this, so far from diminishing her charm, seemed to Howard to make it almost intolerably appealing to him. He would have desired to take her in his arms, like a child, to pet and caress her into happiness. Jack was evidently feeling the weight of his responsibilities, and was frankly bored; but never had Howard been more grateful for Mr. Sandys’ flow of spirits than