LOVE AND CERTAINTY
The weeks that followed were a time for Howard of very singular happiness—happiness of a quality of which he had not thought himself capable, and in the very existence of which he was often hardly able to believe. He had never known what intimate affection was before; and it was strange to him, when he had always been able to advance so swiftly in his relations with others to a point of frankness and even brotherliness, to discover that there was a whole world of emotion beyond that. He was really deeply reserved and reticent; but he admitted even comparative strangers so easily and courteously to his house of life, that few suspected the existence of a secret chamber of thought, with an entrance contrived behind the pictured arras, which was the real fortress of his inner existence, and where he sate oftenest to contemplate the world. That chamber of thought was a place of few beliefs and fewer certainties; if he adopted, as he was accustomed to do, conventional language and conventional ideas, it was only to feel himself in touch with his fellows; for Howard’s mind was really a place of suspense and doubt; his scepticism went down to the very roots of life; his imagination was rich and varied, but he did not trust his hopes or even his fears; all that he was certain of was just the actual passage of his thought and his emotion; he formed no views about the future, and he abandoned the past as one might abandon the debris of the mine.
It was delicious to him to be catechised, questioned, explored by Maud, to have his reserve broken through and his reticence disregarded; but what oftenest brought the great fact of his love home to him with an overpowering certainty of joy was the girl’s eager caresses and endearing gestures. Howard had always curiously shrunk from physical contact with his fellows; he had an almost childishly observant eye, and his senses were abnormally alert; little bodily defects and uglinesses had been a horror to him; and the way in which Maud would seek his embrace, clasp his hand, lay her cheek to his, as if nestling home, gave him an enraptured sense of delight that transcended all experience. He was at first in these talks very tender of what he imagined her to believe; but he found that this did not in the least satisfy her, and he gradually opened his mind more and more to her fearless view.
“Are you certain of nothing?” she asked him one day, half mirthfully.
“Yes, of one thing,” he said, “of you! You are the only real and perfect thing and thought in the world to me—I have always been alone hitherto,” he added, “and you have come near to me out of the deep—a shining spirit!”
Howard never tired of questioning her in these days as to how her love for him had arisen.
“That is the mystery of mysteries!” he said to her once; “what was it in me or about me to make you care?”