ARTHUR CHRISTOPHER BENSON
"For in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert"
I. THE SCENE II. RESTLESSNESS III. WINDLOW IV. THE POOL V. ON THE DOWN VI. THE HOME CIRCLE VII. COUNTRY LIFE VIII. THE INHERITANCE IX. THE VICAR X. WITH MAUD ALONE XI. JACK XII. DIPLOMACY XIII. GIVING AWAY XIV. BACK TO CAMBRIDGE XV. JACK'S ESCAPADE XVI. THE VISIT XVII. SELF-SUPPRESSION XVIII. THE PICNIC XIX. DESPONDENCY XX. HIGHMINDEDNESS XXI. THE AWAKENING XXII. LOVE AND CERTAINTY XXIII. THE WEDDING XXIV. DISCOVERIES XXV. THE NEW KNOWLEDGE XXVI. LOVE IS ENOUGH XXVII. THE NEW LIFE XXVIII. THE VICAR'S VIEW XXIX. THE CHILD XXX. CAMBRIDGE AGAIN XXXI. MAKING THE BEST OF IT XXXII. HOWARD'S PROFESSION XXXIII. ANXIETY XXXIV. THE DREAM-CHILD XXXV. THE POWER OF LOVE XXXVI. THE TRUTH
The bright pale February sunlight lay on the little court of Beaufort College, Cambridge, on the old dull-red smoke-stained brick, the stone mullions and mouldings, the Hall oriel, the ivied buttresses and battlements, the turrets, the tiled roofs, the quaint chimneys, and the lead-topped cupola over all. Half the court was in shadow. It was incredibly picturesque, but it had somehow the look of a fortress rather than of a house. It did not exist only to be beautiful, but had a well-worn beauty of age and use. There was no domestic adornment of flower-bed or garden-border, merely four squares of grass, looking like faded carpets laid on the rather uncompromising pebbles which floored the pathways. The golden hands of the clock pointed to a quarter to ten, and the chimes uttered their sharp, peremptory voices. Two or three young men stood talking at the vaulted gateway, and one or two figures in dilapidated gowns and caps, holding books, fled out of the court.
A firm footstep came down one of the stairways; a man of about forty passed out into the court—Howard Kennedy, Fellow and Classical Lecturer of the College. His thick curly brown hair showed a trace of grey, his short pointed beard was grizzled, his complexion sanguine, his eyebrows thick. There were little vague lines on his forehead, and his eyes were large and clear; an interesting, expressive face, not technically handsome, but both clever and good-natured. He was carelessly dressed in rather old but well-cut clothes, and had an air of business-like decisiveness which became him well, and made him seem comfortably at home in the place; he nodded and smiled to the undergraduates at the gate, who smiled back and saluted. He met a young man rushing down the court, and said to him, "That's right, hurry up! You'll just be in time," a remark which was answered by a gesture of despair from the young man. Then he went up the court towards the Hall, entered the flagged passage, looked for a moment at the notices on the screen, and went through into the back court, which was surrounded by a tiny cloister.
Here he met an elderly man, clean-shaven, fresh-coloured, acute-looking, who wore a little round bowler hat perched on a thick shock of white hair. He was dressed in a black coat and waistcoat, with a black tie, and wore rather light grey trousers. One would have taken him for an old-fashioned country solicitor. He was, as a matter of fact, the Vice-Master and Senior Fellow of the College—Mr. Redmayne, who had spent his whole life there. He greeted the younger man with a kindly, brisk, ironical manner, saying, "You look very virtuous, Kennedy! What are you up to?"
"I am going for a turn in the garden," said Howard; "will you come with me?"
"You are very good," said Mr. Redmayne; "it will be quite like a dialogue of Plato!"
They went down the cloister to a low door in the corner, which Howard unlocked, and turned into a small old-fashioned garden, surrounded on three sides by high walls, and overlooking the river on the fourth side; a gravel path ran all round; there were a few trees, bare and leafless, and a big bed of shrubs in the centre of the little lawn, just faintly pricked with points of green. A few aconites showed their yellow heads above the soil.
"What are those wretched little flowers?" said Mr. Redmayne, pointing at them contemptuously.
"Oh, don't say that," said Howard; "they are always the first to struggle up, and they are the earliest signs of spring. Those are aconites."
"Aconites? Deadly poison!" said Mr. Redmayne, in a tone of horror. "Well, I don't object to them,—though I must say that I prefer the works of man to the works of God at all times and in all places. I don't like the spring—it's a languid and treacherous time; it always makes me feel that I wish I were doing something else."
They paced for some minutes round the garden gossiping, Redmayne making very trenchant criticisms, but evidently enjoying the younger man's company. At something which he said, Howard uttered a low laugh, which was pleasant to hear from the sense of contented familiarity which it gave.
"Ah, you may laugh, my young friend," said Redmayne, "but when you have reached my time of life and see everything going to pieces round you, you have occasionally to protest against the general want of backbone, and the sentimentality of the age."
"Yes, but you don't REALLY object," said Howard; "you know you enjoy your grievances!"
"Well, I am a philosopher," said Mr. Redmayne, "but you are overdoing your philanthropics. Luncheon in Hall for the boys, dinner at seven-thirty for the boys, a new cricket-ground for the boys; you pamper them! Now in my time, when the undergraduates complained about the veal in Hall, old Grant sent for us third-year men, and said that he understood there were complaints about the veal, of which he fully recognised the justice, and so they would go back to mutton and beef and stick to them, and then he bowed us out. Now the Bursar would send for the cook, and they would mingle their tears together."
Howard laughed again, but made no comment, and presently said he must go back to work. As they went in, Mr. Redmayne put his hand in Howard's arm, and said, "Don't mind me, my young friend! I like to have my growl, but I am proud of the old place, and you do a great deal for it."
Howard smiled, and tucked the old man's hand closer to his side with a movement of his arm. "I shall come and fetch you out again some morning," he said.
He got back to his rooms at ten o'clock, and a moment afterwards a young man appeared in a gown. Howard sat down at his table, pulled a chair up to his side, produced a corrected piece of Latin prose, made some criticisms and suggestions, and ended up by saying, "That's a good piece! You have improved a good deal lately, and that would get you a solid mark." Then he sat for a minute or two talking about the books his pupil was reading, and indicating the points he was to look out for, till at half-past ten another youth appeared to go through the same process. This went on until twelve o'clock. Howard's manner was kindly and business-like, and the undergraduates were very much at their ease. One of them objected to one of his criticisms. Howard turned to a dictionary and showed him a paragraph. "You will see I am right," he said, "but don't hesitate to object to anything I say—these usages are tricky things!" The undergraduate smiled and nodded.
Just before twelve o'clock he was left alone for five minutes, and a servant brought in a note. Howard opened it, and taking a sheet of paper, began to write. At the hour a youth appeared, of very boyish aspect, curly-haired, fresh-looking, ingenuous. Howard greeted him with a smile. "Half a minute, Jack!" he said. "There's the paper—not the Sportsman, I'm afraid, but you can console yourself while I just finish this note." The boy sat down by the fire, but instead of taking the paper, drew a solemn-looking cat, which was sitting regarding the hearth, on to his knee, and began playing with it. Presently Howard threw his pen down. "Come along," he said. The boy, still carrying the cat, came and sat down beside him. The lesson proceeded as before, but there was a slight difference in Howard's manner of speech, as of an uncle with a favourite nephew. At the end, he pushed the paper into the boy's hand, and said, "No, that isn't good enough, you know; it's all too casual—it isn't a bit like Latin: you don't do me credit!" He spoke incisively enough, but shook his head with a smile. The boy said nothing, but got up, vaguely smiling, and holding the cat tucked under his arm—a charming picture of healthy and indifferent youth. Then he said in a rich infantile voice, "Oh, it's all right. I didn't do myself justice this time. You shall see!"
At this moment the old servant came in and asked Howard if he would take lunch.
"Yes; I won't go into Hall," said Howard. "Lunch for two—you can stay and lunch with me, Jack; and I will give you a lecture about your sins."
The boy said, "Yes, thanks very much; I'd love to."
Jack Sandys was a pupil of Howard's in whom he had a special interest. He was the son of Frank Sandys, the Vicar of the Somersetshire parish where Mrs. Graves, Howard's aunt, lived at the Manor-house. Frank Sandys was a cousin of Mrs. Graves' deceased husband. She had advised the Vicar to send Jack to Beaufort, and had written specially commending him to Howard's care. But the boy had needed little commendation. From the first moment that Jack Sandys had appeared, smiling and unembarrassed, in Howard's room, a relation that was almost filial and paternal had sprung up between them. He had treated Howard from the outset with an innocent familiarity, and asked him the most direct questions. He was not a particularly intellectual youth, though he had some vague literary interests; but he was entirely healthy, good, and quite irresistibly charming in his naivete and simplicity. Howard had a dislike of all sentimentality, but the suppressed paternal instinct which was strong in him had been awakened; and though he made no emotional advances, he found himself strangely drawn to the boy, with a feeling for which he could not wholly account. He did not care for Jack's athletic interests; his tastes and mental processes were obscure to him. Howard's own nature was at once intellectual and imaginative, but he felt an extreme delight in the fearless and direct confidence which the boy showed in him. He criticised his work unsparingly, he rallied him on his tastes, he snubbed him, but all with a sense of real and instinctive sympathy which made everything easy. The boy never resented anything that he said, asked his advice, looked to him to get him out of any small difficulties that arose. They were not very much together, and mostly met only on official occasions. Howard was a busy man, and had little time, or indeed taste, for vague conversation. Jack was a boy of natural tact, and he treated all the authorities with the same unembarrassed directness. Undergraduates are quick to remark on any sort of favouritism, but only if they think that the favoured person gets any unfair advantage by his intimacy. But Howard came down on Jack just as decisively as he came down on anyone else whose work was unsatisfactory. It was known that they were a sort of cousins; and, moreover, Jack Sandys was generally popular, though only in his first year, because he was free from any touch of uppishness, and of an imperturbable good-humour.
But his own feeling for the boy surprised Howard. He did not think him very interesting, nor had they much in common except a perfect goodwill. It was to Howard as if Jack represented something beyond and further than himself, for which Howard cared—as one might love a house for the sake of someone that had inhabited it, or because of events that had happened there. He tried vaguely to interest Jack in some of the things he cared about, but wholly in vain. That cheerful youth went quietly on his own way—modest, handsome, decided, knowing exactly what he liked, with very material tastes and ambitions, not in the least emotional or imaginative, and yet with a charm of which all were conscious. He was bored by any violent attempts at friendship, and quite content in almost anyone's company, naturally self-contained and temperate, making no claims and giving no pledges; and yet Howard was deeply haunted by the sense that Jack stood for something almost bewilderingly fine which he himself could not comprehend or interpret, and of which the boy himself was wholly and radiantly unconscious. It gave him, indeed, a sudden warmth about the heart to see Jack in the court, or even to think of him as living within the same walls; but there was nothing jealous or exclusive about his interest, and when they met, there was often nothing particular to say.
Presently lunch was announced, and Howard led the way to a little panelled parlour which looked out on the river. They both ate with healthy appetites; and presently Jack, looking about him, said, "This room is rather nice! I don't know how you make your rooms so nice?"
"Mostly by having very little in them except what I want," said Howard. "These panelled rooms don't want any ornaments; people spoil rooms by stuffing them, just as you spoil my cat,"—Jack was feeding the cat with morsels from his plate.
"It's a nice cat," said Jack; "at least I like it in your rooms. I wouldn't have one in my rooms, not if I were paid for it—it would be what the Master calls a serious responsibility." Presently, after a moment's silence, Jack said, "It's rather convenient to be related to a don, I think. By the way, what sort of screw do they give you—I mean your income—I suppose I oughtn't to ask?"
"It isn't usually done," said Howard, "but I don't mind your asking, and I don't mind your knowing. I have about six hundred a year here."
"Oh, then I was right," said Jack. "Symonds said that all the dons had about fifteen hundred a year out of the fees; he said that it wouldn't be worth their while to do it for less. But I said it was much less. My father only gets about two hundred a year out of his living, and it all goes to keep me at Cambridge. He says that when he is vexed about things; but he must have plenty of his own. I wish he would really tell me. Don't you think people ought to tell their sons about their incomes?"
"I am afraid you are a very mercenary person," said Howard.
"No, I'm not," said Jack; "only I think one ought to know, and then one could arrange. Father's awfully good about it, really; but if ever I spend too much, he shakes his head and talks about the workhouse. I used to be frightened, but I don't believe in the workhouse now."
When luncheon was over, they went back to the other room. It was true that, as Jack had said, Howard managed to make something pleasant out of his rooms. The study was a big place looking into the court; it was mostly lined with books, the bookcases going round the room in a band about three feet from the floor and about seven feet high. It was a theory of Howard's that you ought to be able to see all your books without either stooping or climbing. There was a big knee-hole table and half a dozen chairs. There was an old portrait in oils over the mantelpiece, several arm-chairs, one with a book-rest. Half a dozen photographs stood on the mantelpiece, and there was practically nothing else in the room but carpets and curtains. Jack lit a cigarette, sank into a chair, and presently said, "You must get awfully sick of the undergraduates, I should think, day after day?"
"No, I don't," said Howard; "in fact I must confess that I like work and feel dull without it—but that shows that I am an elderly man."
"Yes, I don't care about my work," said Jack, "and I think I shall get rather tired of being up here before I have done with it. It's rather pointless, I think. Of course it's quite amusing; but I want to do something real, make some real money, and talk about business. I shall go into the city, I think."
"I don't believe you care about anything but money," said Howard; "you are a barbarian!"
"No, I don't care about money," said Jack; "only one must have enough—what I like are REAL things. I couldn't go on just learning things up till I was twenty-three, and then teaching them till I was sixty-three. Of course I think it is awfully good of you to do it, but I can't think why or how you do it."
"I suppose I don't care about real things," said Howard.
"No, I can't quite make you out," said Jack with a smiling air, "because of course you are quite different from the other dons—nobody would suppose you were a don—everyone says that."
"It's very kind of you to say so," said Howard, "but I am not sure that it is a compliment—a tradesman ought to be a tradesman, and not to be ashamed of it. I'm a sophist, of course."
"What's a sophist?" said Jack. "Oh, I know. You lectured about the sophists last term. I don't remember what they were exactly, but I thought the lecture awfully good—quite amusing! They were a sort of parsons, weren't they?"
"You are a wonderful person, Jack!" said Howard, laughing. "I declare I have never had such extraordinary things said to me as you have said in the last half-hour."
"Well, I want to know about people," said Jack, "and I think it pays to ask them. You don't mind, do you? That's the best thing about you, that I can say what I think to you without putting my foot in it. But you said you were going to lecture me about my sins—come on!"
"No," said Howard, "I won't. You are not serious enough to-day, and I am not vexed enough. You know quite well what I think. There isn't any harm in you; but you are idle, and you are inquisitive. I don't want you to be very different, on the whole, if only you would work a little more and take more interest in things."
"Well," said Jack, "I do take interest—that's the mischief; there isn't time to work—that's the truth! I shall scrape through the Trip, and then I shall have done with all this nonsense about the classics; it really is humbug, isn't it? Such a fuss about nothing. The books I like are those in which people say what they might say, not those in which they say what they have had days to invent. I don't see the good of that. Why should I work, when I don't feel interested?"
"Because whatever you do, you will have to do things in which you are not interested," said Howard.
"Well, I think I will wait and see," said Jack. "And now I must be off. I really have said some awful things to you to-day, and I must apologise; but I can't help it when I am with you; I feel I must say just what comes into my head; I must fly; thank you for lunch; and I truly will do better, but mind only for YOU, and not because I think it's any good." He put down the cat with a kiss. "Good-bye, Mimi," he said; "remember me, I beseech you!" and he hurried away.
Howard sat still for a minute or two, looking at the fire; then he gave a laugh, got up, stretched himself, and went out for a walk.
Even so quiet a thing as a walk was not unattended by a certain amount of ceremonial. Howard passed some six or seven men of his acquaintance, some of whom presented a stick or raised a stiff hand without a smile or indeed any sign of recognition; one went so far as to say, "Hullo, Kennedy!" and one eager conversationalist went so far as to say, "Out for a walk?" Howard pushed on, walking lightly and rapidly, and found himself at last at Barton, one of those entirely delightful pastoral villages that push up so close to Cambridge on every side; a vague collection of quaint irregular cottages, whitewashed and thatched, with bits of green common interspersed, an old manorial farm with its byres and ricks, surrounded by a moat fringed with little pollarded elms. The plain ancient tower of the church looked gravely out over all. In the distance, over pastoral country, rose low wolds, pleasantly shaped, skirted with little hamlets, surrounded by orchards; the old untroubled necessary work of the world flows on in these fields and villages, peopled with lives hardly conscious of themselves, with no aims or theories, just toiling, multiplying, dying, existing, it would seem, merely to feed and clothe the more active part of the world. Howard loved such little interludes of silence, out in the fresh country, when the calm life of tree and herb, the delicate whisper of dry, evenly-blowing breezes, tranquillised and hushed his restless thoughts. He lost himself in a formless reverie, exercising no control over his trivial thoughts.
By four o'clock he was back, made himself some tea, put on a cap and gown, and walked out to a meeting. In a high bare room in the University offices the Committee sat. The Vice-Chancellor, a big, grave, solid man, Master of St. Benedict's, sat in courteous state. Half a dozen dons sat round the great tables, ranged in a square. The business was mostly formal. The Vice-Chancellor read the points from a paper in his resonant voice, comments and suggestions were made, and the Secretary noted down conclusions. Howard was struck, as he often had been before, to see how the larger questions of principle passed almost unnoticed, while the smaller points, such as the wording of a notice, were eagerly and humorously debated by men of acute minds and easy speech. It was over in half an hour. Howard strolled off with one of the members, and then, returning to his rooms, wrote some letters, and looked up a lecture for the next day, till the bell rang for Hall.
Beaufort was a hospitable and sociable College, and guests often appeared at dinner. On this night Mr. Redmayne was in the chair, at the end of a long table; eight or ten dons were present. A gong was struck; an undergraduate came up and scrambled through a Latin Grace from a board which he held in his hand. The tables filled rapidly with lively young men full of talk and appetite. Howard found himself sitting next one of his colleagues, on the other side of him being an ancient crony of Mr. Redmayne's, the Dean of a neighbouring College. The talk was mainly local and personal, diverging at times into politics. It was brisk, sensible, good-natured conversation, by no means unamusing. Mr. Redmayne was an unashamed Tory, and growled denunciations at a democratic Government, whom he credited with every political vice under the sun, depicting the Cabinet as men fishing in troubled seas with philanthropic baits to catch votes. One of the younger dons, an ardent Liberal, made a mild protest. "Ah," said Mr. Redmayne, "you are still the prey of idealistic illusions. Politics are all based, not on principles or programmes, but on the instinctive hatred of opponents." There was a laugh at this. "You may laugh," said Mr. Redmayne, "but you will find it to be true. Peace and goodwill are pretty words to play with, but it is combativeness which helps the world along; not the desire to be at peace, but the wish to maul your adversary!"
It was the talk of busy men who met together, not to discuss, but to eat, and conversed only to pass the time. But it was all good-humoured enough, and even the verbal sharpness which was employed was evidence of much mutual confidence and esteem.
Howard thought, looking down the Hall, when the meal was in full fling, what a picturesque, cheerful, lively affair it all was. The Hall was lighted only by candles in heavy silver candlesticks, which flared away all down the tables. In the dark gallery a couple of sconces burned still and clear. The dusty rafters, the dim portraits above the panelling, the gleam of gilded cornices were a pleasant contrast to the lively talk, the brisk coming and going, the clink and clatter below. It was noisy indeed, but noisy as a healthy and friendly family party is noisy, with no turbulence. Once or twice a great shout of laughter rang out from the tables and died away. There was no sign of discipline, and yet the whole was orderly enough. The carvers carved, the waiters hurried to and fro, the swing-doors creaked as the men hurried out. It was a very business-like, very English scene, without any ceremony or parade, and yet undeniably stately and vivid.
The undergraduates finished their dinners with inconceivable rapidity, and the Hall was soon empty, save for the more ceremonious and deliberate party at the high table. Presently these adjourned in procession to the Parlour, a big room, comfortably panelled, opening off the Hall, where the same party sat round the fire at little tables, sipped a glass of port, and went on to coffee and cigarettes, while the talk became more general. Howard felt, as he had often felt before, how little attention even able and intellectual Englishmen paid to the form of their talk. There was hardly a grammatical sentence uttered, never an elaborate one; the object was, it seemed, to get the thought uttered as quickly and unconcernedly as possible, and even the anecdotes were pared to the bone. A clock struck nine, and Mr. Redmayne rose. The party broke up, and Howard went off to his rooms.
He settled down to look over a set of compositions. But he was in a somewhat restless frame of mind to-night, and a not unpleasant mood of reflection and retrospect came over him. What an easy, full, lively existence his was! He seemed to himself to be perfectly contented. He remembered how he, the only son of rather elderly parents, had gone through Winchester with mild credit. He had never had any difficulties to contend with, he thought. He had been popular, not distinguished at anything—a fair athlete, a fair scholar, arousing no jealousies or enmities. He had been naturally temperate and self-restrained. He had drifted on to Beaufort as a Scholar, and it had been the same thing over again—no ambitions, no failures, friends in abundance. Then his father had died, and it had been so natural for him, on being elected to a Fellowship, just to carry on the same life; he had to settle to work at once, as his mother was not well off and much invalided. She had not long survived his father. He had taught, taken pupils, made a fair income. He had had no break of travel, no touch with the world; a few foreign tours in the company of an old friend had given him nothing but an emotional tincture of recollections and associations—a touch of varnish, so to speak. Suddenly the remembrance of some of the things which Jack Sandys had said that morning came back to him; "real things" the boy had said, so lightly and yet so decisively. He wondered; had he himself ever had any touch with realities at all? He had been touched by no adversity or tragedy, he had been devastated by no disappointed ambitions, shattered by no emotions. His whole life had been perfectly under his control, and he had grown into a sort of contempt for all unbalanced people, who were run away with by their instincts or passions. It had been a very comfortable, sheltered, happy life; he was sure of that; he had enjoyed his work, his relations with others, his friendships; but had he ever come near to any fulness of living at all? Was it not, when all was said and done, a very empty affair—void of experience, guarded from suffering? "Suffering?" he hardly knew the meaning of the word. Had he ever felt or suffered or rebelled? Yes, there was one little thing. He had had a small ambition once; he had studied comparative religion very carefully at one time to illustrate some lectures, and a great idea had flashed across him. It was a big, a fruitful thought; he had surveyed that strange province of human emotion, the deepest strain of which seemed to be a disgust for mingling with life, a loathing of bodily processes and instincts, which drove its votaries to a deliberate sexlessness, and set them at variance with the whole solid force of Nature, the treacherous and alluring devices by which she drove men to reproduction with an insatiable appetite; that mystical strain, which appeared at all times and in all places, a spiritual rebellion against material bondage, was not that the desperate cry of the fettered spirit? The conception of sin, by which Nature traversed her own activities and made them void—there was a great secret hidden here. He had determined to follow this up, and to disguise with characteristic caution and courtesy a daring speculation under the cloak of orthodox research.
He had begun his work in a great glow of enthusiasm; but it had been suspended time after time. He had sketched his theory out; but it lay there in one of his table-drawers, a skeleton not clothed with words. Why had he let this all drop? Why had he contented himself with the easy, sociable life? Effective though he was as a teacher, he had no real confidence in the things which he taught. They only seemed to him a device of reason for expending its energies, just as men deprived by complex life of manual labour sought to make up for the loss by the elaborate pursuit of games. He did not touch the springs of being at all. He had collapsed, he felt, into placid acquiescence; Nature had been too strong for him. He had fitted so easily into the pleasant scheme of things, and he was doing nothing in the world but helping to prolong the delusion, just as men set painted glass in a window to shut out the raincloud and the wind. He was a conformist, he felt, in everything—in religion, intellect, life—but a sceptic underneath. Was he not perhaps missing the whole object and aim of life and experience, in a fenced fortress of quiet? The thought stung him suddenly with a kind of remorse. He was doing no part of the world's work, not sharing its emotions or passions or pains or difficulties; he was placidly at ease in Zion, in the comfortable city whose pleasures were based on the toil of those outside. That was a hateful thought! Had not the boy been right after all? Must one not somehow link one's arm with life and share its pilgrimage, even in weariness and tears?
There came a tap at the door, and one of his shyest pupils entered—a solitary youth, poor and unfriended, who was doing all he could to get a degree good enough to launch him in the world. He came to ask some advice about work. Howard entered into his case as well as he could, told him it was important that he should get certain points clear, gave him an informal lecture, distinctly and emphatically, and made a few friendly remarks. The man beamed with unexpressed gratitude.
"What solemn nonsense I have been talking!" thought Howard to himself as the young man slipped away. "Of course he must learn all this—but what for? To get a mastership, and to retail it all over again! It's a vicious circle, this education which is in touch with nothing but the high culture of a nation which lived in ideas; while with us culture is just a plastering of rough walls—no part of the structure! Why cannot we put education in touch with life, try to show what human beings are driving at, what arrangements they are making that they may live? It is all arrangements with us—the frame for the picture, the sheath for the sword—and we leave the picture and the sword to look after themselves. What a wretched dilettante business it all is, keeping these boys practising postures in the anteroom of life! Cannot we get at the real thing, teach people to do things, fill their minds with ideas, break down the silly tradition of needless wealth and absurd success? And I must keep up all this farce, simply because I am fit for nothing else—I cannot dig, to beg I am ashamed. Oh, hold your tongue, you ass!" said Howard, apostrophising his rebellious mind. "Don't you see where you are going? You can't do anything—it is all too big and strong for you. You must just let it alone."
A few days later the term drew to an end, and both dons and undergraduates, whose tempers had been wearing a little thin, got suddenly more genial, like guests when a visit draws to a close, and disposed to think rather better of each other.
Howard had made no plans; he did not wish to stay on at Cambridge, but he did not want to go away: he had no relations to whose houses he naturally drifted; he did not like the thought of a visit; as a rule he went off with an undergraduate or two to some lonely inn, where they fished or walked and did a little work. But just now he had a vague feeling that he wanted to be alone; that he had something to face, some reckoning to cast up, and yet he did not know what it was.
One afternoon—the spring was certainly advancing, and there was a touch of languor in the air, that heavenly languor which is so sweet a thing when one is young and hopeful, so depressing a thing when one is living on the edge of one's nervous force—he paid a call, which was not a thing he often did, on a middle-aged woman who passed for a sort of relation; she was a niece of his aunt's deceased husband, Monica Graves by name. She was a woman of independent means, who had done some educational work for a time, but had now retired, lived in her own little house, and occupied herself with social schemes of various sorts. She was a year or two older than Howard. They did not very often meet, but there was a pleasant camaraderie between them, an almost brotherly and sisterly relation. She was a small, quiet, able woman, whose tranquil manner concealed great clear-headedness and decisiveness. Howard always said that it was a comfort to talk to her, because she always knew what her own opinion was, and did what she intended to do. He found her alone and at tea. She welcomed him drily but warmly. Presently he said, "I want your advice, Monnie; I want you to make up my mind for me. I have a feeling that I need a change. I don't mean a little change, but a big one. I am suddenly aware that I am a little stale, and I wish to be freshened up."
Monica looked at him and said, "Yes, I expect you are right! You know I think we ought all to have one big change in our lives, about your age, I mean. Why don't you put in for a head-mastership? I have often thought you have rather a gift that way."
"I might do that," said Howard vaguely, "but I don't want a change of work so much as a change of mind. I have got suddenly bored, and I am a little vexed with myself. I have always rather held with William Morris that people ought to live in the same place and do the same things; and I had no intention of being bored—I have always thought that very feeble! But I have fallen suddenly into the frame of mind of knowing exactly what all my friends here are going to say and think, and that rather takes the edge off conversation; and I have learned the undergraduate mind too. It's an inconsequent thing, but there's a law in inconsequence, and I seem to have acquired a knowledge of their tangents."
"I must consider," said Monica with a smile, "but one can't do these things offhand—that is worse than doing nothing. I'll tell you what to do NOW. Why not go and stay with Aunt Anne? She would like to see you, I know, and I have always thought it rather lazy of you not to go there—she is rather a remarkable woman, and it's a pretty country. Have you ever been there?"
"No," said Howard, "not to Windlow; I stayed with them once when I was a boy, when Uncle John was alive—but that was at Bristol. What sort of a place is Windlow? I suppose Aunt Anne is pretty well off?"
"I'm not very good at seeing the points of a place," said Monica; "but it's a beautiful old house, though it is rather too low down for my taste; and she lives very comfortably, so I think she must be rich; I don't know about that; but she is an interesting woman—one of the few really religious people I know. I am not very religious myself, but she makes it seem rather interesting to me—she has experiences—I don't quite know what they are; but she is a sort of artist in religion, I think. That's a bad description, because it sounds self-conscious; and she isn't that—she has a sense of humour, and she doesn't rub things in. You know how if one meets a real artist in anything—a writer, a painter, a musician—and finds them at work, it seems almost the only thing worth doing. Well, Aunt Anne gives me the same sort of sense about religion when I am with her; and yet when I come away, and see how badly other people handle it, it seems a very dull business."
"That's interesting," said Howard musingly; "but I am really ashamed to suggest going there. She has asked me so often, and I have sent such idiotic excuses."
"Oh, you needn't mind that," said Monica; "she isn't a huffy person. I know she would like to see you—she said to me once that the idea of coming didn't seem to amuse you, but she seemed disposed to sympathise with you for that. Just write and say you would like to go."
"I think I will," said Howard, "and I have another reason why I should like to go. You know Jack Sandys, your cousin, now my pupil. He is rather a fascinating youth. His father is parson there, isn't he?"
"Yes," said Monica; "there are two hamlets, Windlow and Windlow Malzoy, both in the same parish. The church and vicarage are at Malzoy; but Frank is rather a terror—my word, how that man talks! But I like Jack, though I have only seen him half a dozen times—that reminds me that I must have him to dinner or something—and I like his sister even better. But I am afraid that Jack may turn out a bore too—he is rather charming at present, because he says whatever comes into his head; and it's all quite fresh; but that is what poor Cousin Frank does—only it's not at all fresh! However, there's nothing like living with a bore to teach one the merits of holding one's tongue. Poor old Frank! I thought he would be the death of us all one evening at Windlow. He simply couldn't stop, and he had a pathetic look in his eye, as if he was saying, 'Can't anyone assist me to hold my tongue?'"
Howard laughed and got up. "Well," he said, "I'll take your advice. I don't know anyone like you, Monnie, for making up one's mind. You crystallise things. I shall like to see Aunt Anne, and I shall like to see Jack at home; and meanwhile will you think the matter over, and give me a lead? I don't want to leave Cambridge at all, but I would rather do that than go sour, as some people do!"
"Yes," said Monica, "when you get beneath the surface, Cambridge is rather a sad place. There are a good many disappointed men here—people who wake up suddenly in middle life, and realise that if they had gone out into the world they would have done better; but I like Cambridge; you can do as you like here—and then the rainfall is low."
Howard went back to his rooms and wrote a short note to Mrs. Graves to suggest a visit; he added that he felt ashamed of himself for never coming, "but Monica says that you would like to see me, and Monica is generally right."
That evening Jack came in to say good-bye. He did not look forwards to the vacation at all, he said; "Windlow is simply the limit! I believe it's the dullest place in the kingdom!"
"What would you feel if I told you that we shall probably meet?" said Howard. "I am going to stay with Mrs. Graves—that is, if she will have me. I don't mind saying that the fact that you are close by is a considerable reason why I think of going."
"That's simply splendid!" said Jack; "we will have no end of a time. Do you DO anything in particular—fish, I mean, or shoot? There's some wretched fishing in the river, and there is some rabbit-shooting on the downs. Mrs. Graves has a keeper, a shabby old man who shoots, as they say, for the house. I believe she objects to shooting; but you might persuade her, and we could go out together."
"Yes," said Howard, "I do shoot and fish in a feeble way. We will see what can be done."
"There are things to see, I believe," said Jack, "churches and houses, if you like that sort of thing—I don't; but we might get up some expeditions—they are rather fun. I think you won't mind my sister. She isn't bad for a woman. But women don't understand men. They are always sympathising with you or praising you. They think that is what men like, but it only means that it is what they would like. Men like to be left alone—but I daresay she thinks I don't understand her. Then there's my father! He is quite a good sort, really; but by George, how he does talk! I often think I'd like to turn him loose in the Combination Room. No one would have a chance. Redmayne simply wouldn't be in it with my father. I've invented rather a good game when he gets off. I try to see how many I can count before I am expected to make a remark. I have never quite got up to a thousand, but once I nearly let the cat out by saying nine hundred and fifty, nine hundred and fifty-one, when my father stopped for breath. He gave me a look, I can tell you, but I don't think he saw what I was after. Maud was seized with hysterics. But he isn't a bad sort of parent, as they go; he fusses, but he lets one do as one wants. I suppose I oughtn't to give my people away; but I never can see why one shouldn't talk about one's people just as if they were anybody else. I don't think I hold things sacred, as the Dean says: 'Reticence, reticence, the true characteristic of the English gentleman and the sincere Christian!'" and Jack delivered himself of some paragraphs of the Dean's famous annual sermon to freshmen.
"It's abominable, the way you talk," said Howard; "you will corrupt my ingenuous mind. How shall I meet your father if you talk like this about him?"
"You'll have to join in my game," said Jack. "By George, what sport; we shall sit there counting away alternately, and we will have some money on the run. You have got to say all the figures quite distinctly to yourself, you know!"
Presently Jack said, "Why shouldn't we go down together? No, I suppose you would want to go first? I can't run to that. But you must come as soon as you can, and stay as long as you can. I had half promised to go and stay a week with Travers. But now I won't. By George, there isn't another don I would pay that compliment to! It would simply freeze my blood if the Master turned up there. I shouldn't dare to show my face outside the house; that man does make me sweat! The very smell of his silk gown makes me feel faint."
"I'll tell you what I will do," said Howard, "I'll give you some coaching in the mornings. If anyone ever wanted coaching, it is you!"
Jack looked rather blue at this, but he said, "It will have to be gratis, though! I haven't a cent. Besides, I am going to do better. I have a growing sense of duty!"
"It's not growing very FAST!" said Howard, "and it's a feeble motive at best, you will find; you will have to get a better reason than that—it won't carry you far. Why not do it to please me?"
"All right," said Jack; "will you scribble me a list of books to take down? I had meant to have a rest; but I would do a good deal of work to get a reasonable person down at Windlow. I simply daren't ask my friends there; my father would talk their hindlegs off but he isn't a bad old bird."
Mrs. Graves wrote back by return of post that she was delighted to think that Howard was coming. "I am getting an old woman," she said, "and fond of memories: and what I hear of you from your enthusiastic pupil Jack makes me wish to see my nephew, and proud of him too. This is a quiet house, but I think you would enjoy it; and it's a real kindness to me to come. I am sure I shall like you, and I am not without hopes that you may like me. You need not tie yourself down to any dates; just come when you can, and go when you must."
Howard liked the simplicity of the letter, and determined to go down at once. He started two days later. It was a fine spring day, and it was pleasant to glide through the open country all quickening into green. He arrived in the afternoon at the little wayside station. It was in the south-east corner of Somersetshire, and Howard liked the look of the landscape, the steep green downs, with their wooded dingles breaking down into rich undulating plains, dappled with hedgerow trees and traversed by gliding streams. He was met at the station by an old-fashioned waggonette, with an elderly coachman, who said that Mrs. Graves had hoped to come herself, but was not very well, and thought that Mr. Kennedy would prefer an open carriage.
Howard was astonished at the charm of the whole countryside. They passed through several hamlets, with beautiful old houses, built of a soft orange stone, weathering to a silvery grey, with evidences of careful and pretty design in their mullioned windows and arched doorways. The churches, with their great richly carved towers, pierced stone shutters, and clustered pinnacles, pleased him extremely, and he liked the simple and courteous greetings of the people who passed them. He had a sense, long unfamiliar to him, as though he were somehow coming home. The road entered a green valley among the downs. To the left, an outstanding bluff was crowned with the steep turfed bastions of an ancient fort, and as they went in among the hills, the slopes grew steeper, rich with hanging woods and copses, and the edges of the high thickets were white with bleached flints. At last they passed into a hamlet with a church, and a big vicarage among shrubberies; this was Windlow Malzoy, the coachman said, and that was Mr. Sandys' house. Howard saw a girl wandering about on the lawn—Jack's sister, he supposed, but it was too far off for him to see her distinctly; five minutes later they drove into Windlow. It lay at the very bottom of the valley; a clear stream ran beneath the bridge. There were but half a dozen cottages, and just ahead of them, abutting on the road, appeared the front of a beautiful simple house of some considerable size, with a large embowered garden behind it bordering on the river; Howard was astonished to see what a large and ancient building it was. The part on the road was blank of windows, with the exception of a dignified projecting oriel; close to which was a high Tudor archway, with big oak doors standing open. There were some plants growing on the coping—snapdragon and valerian—which gave it a look of age and settled use. The carriage drove in under the arch, and a small courtyard appeared. There was a stable on the right, with a leaded cupola; the house itself was very plain and stately, with two great traceried windows which seemed to belong to a hall, and a finely carved outstanding porch. The whole was built out of the same orange stone of which the churches were built, stone-tiled, all entirely homelike and solid.
He got down at the door, which stood open. An old man-servant appeared, and he found himself in a flagged passage, with a plain wooden screen on his left, opening into the hall. It had a collegiate air which he liked. Then he was led out at the opposite end of the vestibule, the servant saying, "Mrs. Graves is in the garden, sir." He stepped out on to a lawn bordered with trees; opposite him was a stone-built Jacobean garden-house, with stone balls on the balustraded coping. Two ladies were walking on the gravel path; the older of the two, who walked with a stick, came up to him, put her hand on his shoulder, and gave him a kiss in a simple and motherly way, saying, "So here you actually are, my dear boy, and very much welcome." She then presented the other lady, a small, snub-nosed, middle-aged woman, saying, "This is Miss Merry, who lives with me, and keeps me more or less in order; she is quite excited at meeting a don; she has a respect for learning and talent, which is unhappily rare nowadays." Miss Merry shook hands as a spaniel might give its paw, and looked reverentially at Howard. His aunt put her hand through his arm, and said, "Let us walk about a little. I live by rule, you must know—that is, by Miss Merry's rule; and we shall have tea in a few minutes."
She pointed out one or two of the features of the house, and said, in answer to Howard's loudly expressed admiration, "Yes, it is a nice old house. Your uncle had a great taste for such things in days when people did not care much about them. He bought this very cheap, I believe, and was much attached to it; but he did not live long to enjoy it, you know. He died nearly thirty years ago. I meant to sell it, but somehow I did not, and now I hope to end my days here. It is not nearly as big as it looks, and a good deal of it consists of unused granaries and farm buildings. I sometimes think it is selfish of me to go on occupying it—it's a house that wants CHILDREN; but one isn't very consistent; and somehow the house is used to me, and I to it; and, after all, it is only waiting, which isn't the worst thing in the world!"
When Howard found an opportunity of scrutinising his aunt, which he did as she poured out tea, he saw a very charming old lady, who was not exactly handsome, but was fresh-coloured and silvery-haired, and had a look of the most entire tranquillity and self-possession. She looked as if she had met and faced trouble at some bygone time; there were traces of sorrow about the brow and eyes, but it was a face which seemed as if self had somehow passed out of it, and was yet strong with a peculiar kind of fearless strength. She had a lazy and contented sort of laugh, and yet gave an impression of energy, and of a very real and vivid life. Her eyes had a great softness and brilliancy, and Howard liked to feel them dwelling upon him. As they sat at tea she suddenly put her hand on his and said, "My dear boy, how you remind me of your mother! I suppose you hardly even remember her as a young woman; but though you are half hidden in that beard of yours, you are somehow just like her, and I feel as if I were in the schoolroom again at Hunsdon in the old days. No, I am not sentimental. I don't want it back again, and I don't hate the death that parts us. One can't go back, one must go forward—and, after all, hearts were made to love with, and not to break!"
They spent a quiet evening in the still house. Mrs. Graves said to Howard, "I know that men always want to go and do something mysterious after tea; but to-night you must just sit here and get used to me. You needn't be afraid of having to see too much of me. I don't appear before luncheon, and Jane looks after me; and you must get some exercise in the afternoons. I don't go further than the village. I expect you have lectures to write; and you must do exactly what you like." They sat there, in the low panelled room, and talked easily about old recollections. They dined in simple state in the big hall with its little gallery, at a round table in the centre, lighted by candles. The food was simple, the wine was good.
"Marengo chicken," said Mrs. Graves as a dish was handed round. "That's one of Jane's historical allusions. If you don't know why it is called Marengo, Jane will rejoice to enlighten you." After the meal she begged him to smoke. "I like it," said Mrs. Graves; "I have even smoked myself in seclusion, but now I dare not—it would be all over the parish to-morrow."
After dinner they went back to the drawing-room, and Miss Merry turned out to be quite a good pianist, playing some soft old music at the end of the gently lighted room. Mrs. Graves went off early. "You had better stop and smoke here," she said to Howard. "There's a library where you can work and smoke to-morrow; and now good night, and let me say how I delight to have you here—I really can't say how much!"
Howard sat alone in the drawing-room. He had an almost painful faculty of minute observation, and the storage of new impressions was a real strain to him. To-day it seemed that they had poured in upon him in a cataract, and he felt dangerously wakeful; why had he been such a fool as to have missed this beautiful house, and this home atmosphere of affection? He could not say. A stupid persistence in his own plans, he supposed. Yet this had been waiting for him, a home such as he had never owned. He thought with an almost terrified disgust of his rooms at Beaufort, as the logs burned whisperingly in the grate, and the smoke of his cigarette rose on the air. Was it not this that he had been needing all along? At last he rose, put out the candles, and made his way to the big panelled bedroom which had been given him. He lay long awake, wondering, in a luxurious repose, listening to the whisper of the breeze in the shrubberies, and the faint murmur of the water in the full-fed stream.
Very early in the morning Howard woke to hear the faint twittering of the birds begin in bush and ivy. It was at first just a fitful, drowsy chirp, a call "are you there? are you there?" until, when all the sparrows were in full cry, a thrush struck boldly in, like a solo marching out above a humming accompaniment of strings. That was a delicious hour, when the mind, still unsated of sleep, played softly with happy, homelike thoughts. He slept again, but the sweet mood lasted; his breakfast was served to him in solitude in a little panelled parlour off the Hall; and in the fresh April morning, with the sunlight lying on the lawn and lighting up the old worn detail of the carved cornices, he recovered for a time the boyish sense of ecstasy of the first morning at home after the return from school. While he was breakfasting, a scribbled note from Jack was brought in.
"Just heard you arrived last night; it's an awful bore, but I have to go away to-day—an old engagement made, I need hardly say, FOR me and not BY me; I shall turn up to-morrow about this time. No WORK, I think. A day of calm resolution and looking forward manfully to the future! My father and sister are going to dine at the Manor to-night. I shall be awfully interested to hear what you think of them. He has been looking up some things to talk about, and I can tell you, you'll have a dose. Maud is frightened to death.—Yours
"P.S.—I advise you to begin COUNTING at once."
A little later, Miss Merry turned up, to ask Howard if he would care to look round the house. "Mrs. Graves would like," she said, "to show it you herself, but she is easily tired, and can't stand about much." They went round together, and Howard was surprised to find that it was not nearly as large a house as it looked. Much space was agreeably wasted in corridors and passages, and there were huge attics with great timbered supports, needed to sustain the heavy stone tiling, which had never been converted into living rooms. There was the hall, which took up a considerable part of one side; out of this, towards the road, opened the little parlour where he had breakfasted, and above it was a library full of books, with its oriel overhanging the road, and two windows looking into the garden. Then there was the big drawing-room. Upstairs there were but a half a dozen bedrooms. The offices and the servants' bedrooms were in the wing on the road. There was but little furniture in the house. Mr. Graves had had a preference for large bare rooms; and such furniture as there was, was all for use and not for ornament, so that there was a refreshing lack of any aesthetic pose about it. There were but few pictures, but most of the rooms were panelled and needed no other ornament. There was a refreshing sense of space everywhere, and Howard thought that he had never seen a house he liked so well. Miss Merry chirped away, retailing little bits of history. Howard now for the first time learned that Mr. Graves had retired early from business with a considerable fortune, and being fond of books and leisure, and rather delicate in health, had established himself in the house, which had taken his fancy. There were some fifteen hundred acres of land attached, divided up into several small farms.
Miss Merry was filled with a reverential sort of adoration of Mrs. Graves; "the most wonderful person, I assure you! I always feel she is rather thrown away in this remote place."
"But she likes it?" said Howard.
"Yes, she likes everything," said Miss Merry. "She makes everyone feel happy: she says very little, but you feel somehow that all is right if she is there. It's a great privilege, Mr. Kennedy, to be with her; I feel that more and more every day."
This artless praise pleased Howard. When he was left alone he got out his papers; but he found himself restless in a pleasant way; he strolled through the garden. It was a singular place, of great extent; the lawn was carefully kept, but behind the screen of shrubs the garden extended far up the valley beside the river in a sort of wilderness; and he could see by the clumps of trees and the grassy mounds that it must have once been a great formal pleasaunce, which had been allowed to follow its own devices; at the far end of it, beside the stream, there was a long flagged terrace, with a stone balustrade looking down upon the stream, and beyond that the woods closed in. He left the garden and followed the stream up the valley; the downs here drew in and became steeper, till he came at last to one of the most lovely places he thought he had ever set eyes upon. The stream ended suddenly in a great clear pool, among a clump of old sycamores; the water rose brimming out of the earth, and he could see the sand fountains rising and falling at the bottom of the basin; by the side of it was a broad stone seat, with carved back and ends. There was not a house in sight; beyond there was only the green valley-end running up into the down, which was here densely covered with thickets. It was perfectly still; and the only sound was the liquid springing of the water in the pool, and the birds singing in the bushes. Howard had a sudden sense that the place held a significance for him. Had he been there before, in some dream or vision? He could not tell; but it was strangely familiar to him. Even so the trees had leaned together, and the clear ripples pulsed upon the bank. Something strange and beautiful had befallen him there. What was it? The mind could not unravel the secret.
He sat there long in the sun, his eyes fixed upon the pool, in a blissful content that was beyond thought. Then he slowly retraced his steps, full of an intense inner happiness.
He found his aunt in the garden, sitting out in the sun. He bent down to kiss her, and she detained his hand for a moment. "So you are at home?" she said, "and happy?—that is what I had wished and hoped. You have been to the pool—yes, that is a lovely spot. It was that, I think, which made your uncle buy the place; he had a great love of water—and in my unhappy days here, when I had lost him, I used often to go there and wish things were otherwise. But that is all over now!"
After luncheon, Miss Merry excused herself and said she was going to the village to see a farm-labourer's wife, who had lost a child and was in great distress. "Poor soul!" said Mrs. Graves. "Give her my love, and ask her to come and see me as soon as she can." Presently as they sat together, Howard smoking, she asked him something about his work. "Will you tell me what you are doing?" she said. "I daresay I should not understand, but I like to know what people are thinking about—don't use technical terms, but just explain your idea!"
Howard was just in the frame of mind, trying to revive an old train of thought, in which it is a great help to make a statement of the range of a subject; he said so, and began to explain very simply what was in his mind, the essential unity of all religion, and his attempt to disentangle the central motive from outlying schemes and dogmas. Mrs. Graves heard him attentively, every now and then asking a question, which showed that she was following the drift of his thought.
"Ah, that's very interesting and beautiful," she said at last. "May I say that it is the one thing that attracts me, though I have never followed it philosophically. Now," she went on, "I am going to reduce it all to practical terms, and I don't want to beat about the bush—there's no need for that! I want to ask you a plain question. Have you any religion or faith of your own?"
"Ah," said Howard, "who can say? I am a conformist, certainly, because I recognise in religion a fine sobering, civilising force at work, and if one must choose one's side, I want to be on that side and not on the other. But religion seems to me in its essence a very artistic thing, a perception of effects which are hidden from many hearts and minds. When a man speaks of definite religious experience, I feel that I am in the presence of a perception of something real—as real as music and painting. But I doubt if it is a sense given to all, or indeed to many; and I don't know what it really is. And then, too, one comes across people who hold it in an ugly, or a dreary, or a combative, or a formal way; and then sometimes it seems to me almost an evil thing."
"Yes," said Mrs. Graves, "I understand that. May I give you an instance, and you will see if I perceive your thought. The good Vicar here, my cousin Frank, Jack's father—you will meet him to-night—is a man who holds a rigid belief, or thinks he holds it. He preaches what he calls the sinew and bone of doctrine, and he is very stern in the pulpit. He likes lecturing people in rows! But in reality he is one of the kindest and vaguest of men. He preached a stiff sermon about conversion the other day—I am pretty sure he did not understand it himself—and he disquieted one of my good maids so much that she went to him and asked what she could do to get assurance. He seems to have hummed and hawed, and then to have said that she need not trouble her head about it—that she was a good girl, and had better be content with doing her duty. He is the friendliest of men, and that is his real religion; he hasn't an idea how to apply his system, which he learned at a theological college, but he feels it his duty to preach it."
"Yes," said Howard, "that is just what I mean; but there must be some explanation for this curious outburst of forms and doctrines, so contradictory in the different sects. Something surely causes both the form of religion and the force of it?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Graves, "just as in an engine something causes both the steam and the piston-rod; it's an intelligence somewhere that fits the one to the other. But then, as you say, what is the cause of all this extravagance and violence of expression?"
"That is the human element," said Howard—"the cautious, conservative, business-like side that can't bear to let anything go. All religion begins, it seems to me, by an outburst of moral force, an attempt to simplify, to get a principle; and then the people who don't understand it begin to make it technical and defined; uncritical minds begin to attribute all sorts of vague wonders to it—things unattested, natural exaggerations, excited statements, impossible claims; and then these take traditional shape and the poor steed gets hung with all sorts of incongruous burdens."
"Yes," said Mrs. Graves, "but the force is there all the time; the old hard words, like regeneration and atonement, do not mean DEFINITE things—that is the mischief; they are the receipts made up by stupid, hard-headed people who do not understand; but they stand for large and wonderful experiences and are like the language of children telling their dreams. The moral genius who sees through it all and gives the first impulse is trying to deal with life directly and frankly; and the difficulty arises from people who see the attendant circumstances and mistake them for the causes. But I do not see it from that side, of course! I understand what you are aiming at. You are trying to disentangle all the phenomena, are you not, and referring them to their real causes, instead of lumping them all together as the phenomena of religion?"
"Yes," said Howard, "that is what I am doing. I suppose I am naturally sceptical; but I want to put aside all that stands on insecure evidence, and all the sham terminology that comes from a muddled delight in the supernatural. I want to give up and clear away all that is not certain—material things must be brought to the test of material laws—and to see what is left."
"Well," said Mrs. Graves, "now I will tell you my own very simple experience. I began, I think, with a very formal religion, and I tried in my youth to attach what was really instinctive to religious motives. It got me into a sad mess, because I did not dare to go direct to life. I used to fret because your uncle seemed so indifferent to these things. He was a wise and good man, and lived by a sort of inner beauty of character that made all mean cruel spiteful petty things impossible to him. Then when he died, I had a terrible time to go through. I felt utterly adrift. My old system did not give me the smallest help. I was trying to find an intellectual solution. It was then that I met Miss Gordon, the great evangelist. She saw I was unhappy, and she said to me one day: 'You have no business to be unhappy like this. What you want is STRENGTH, and it is there all the time waiting for you! You are arguing your case with God, complaining of the injustice you have received, trying to excuse yourself, trying to find cause to blame Him. Your life has been broken to pieces, and you are trying to shelter yourself among the fragments. You must cast them all away, and thank God for having pierced through the fortress in which you were imprisoned. You must just go straight to Him, and open your heart, as if you were opening a window to the sun and air.' She did not explain, or try to give me formulas or phrases, she simply showed me the light breaking round me.
"It came to me quite suddenly one morning in my room upstairs. I was very miserable indeed, missing my dear husband at every turn, quite unable to face life, shuddering and shrinking through the days. I threw it all aside, and spoke to God Himself. I said, 'You made me, You put me here, You sent me love, You sent me prosperity. I have cared for the wrong things, I have loved in the wrong way. Now I throw everything else aside, and claim strength and light. I will sorrow no more and desire no more; I will take every day just what You send me, I will say and do what You bid me. I will make no pretences and no complaints. Do with me what You will.'
"I cannot tell you what happened to me, but a great tide of strength and even joy flowed into my whole being; it was the water of life, clear as crystal; and yet it was myself all the time! I was not different, but I was one with something pure and wise and loving and eternal.
"That has never left me. You will ask why I have not done more, bestirred myself more; because that is just what one cannot do. All that matters nothing. The activities which one makes for oneself, they are the delusions which hide God from us. One must not strive or rebuke or arrange; one must simply love and be. Let me tell you one thing. I was haunted all my early life with a fear of death. I liked life so well, every moment of it, every incident, that I could not bear to think it should ever cease; now, though I shrink from pain as much as ever, I have no shrinking whatever from death. It is the perfectly natural and simple change, and one is with God there as here. The soul and God—those are the two imperishable things; one has not either to know or to act—one has only to feel."
She ceased speaking, and sat for a moment upright in her chair. Then she went on. "Now the moment I saw you, my dear boy, I loved you—indeed I have always loved you, I think, and I have always felt that some day in His good time God would bring us together. But I see too that you have not found the strength of God. You are not at peace. Your life is full and active and kind; you are faithful and pure; but your self is still unbroken, like a crystal wall all round you. I think you will have to suffer; but you will believe, will you not, that you have not seen a half of the wonder of life? You are full of happy experience, but you have begun to feel the larger need. And I knew that when you began to feel that need, you would be brought to me, not to be given it, but to be shown it. That is all I can say to you now, but you will know the fulness of life. It is not experience, action, curiosity, ambition, desire, as many think, that is fulness of life; those are delusions, things through which the soul has to pass, just that it may learn not to rest in them. The fulness of life is the stillest, quietest, inner joy, which nothing can trouble or shadow; love is a part of it, but not quite all—for there is a shadow even in love; and this is the larger peace."
Howard sat amazed at the fire and glow of the words that came to him. He did not fully understand all that was said, but he had a sense of being brought into touch with a very tremendous and overwhelming force indeed. But he could not for the moment revise his impressions; he only perceived that he had come unexpectedly upon a calm and radiating centre of energy, and it seemed in his mind that the pool which he had seen that morning was an allegory of what he had now heard. The living water, breaking up so clearly from underground in the grassy valley, and passing downwards to gladden the earth! It would be used, be tainted, be troubled, but he saw that no soil or stain, no scattering or disruption, could ever really intrude itself into that elemental purity. The stream would reunite itself, the impregnable atom would let the staining substance fall unheeded. He would have to consider all that, scrutinise his life in a new light. He felt that he had been living on the surface of things, relying on impression, living in impression, missing the strong central current all the time. He rose, and taking his aunt's hand, kissed her cheek.
"Those are my thanks!" he said smiling. "I can't express my gratitude, but you have given me so much to think about and to ponder over that I can say no more now. I do indeed feel that I have missed what is perhaps the greatest thing in the world. But I ask myself, Can I attain to this, is it for me? Am I not condemned by temperament to live in the surface-values?"
"No, dear child," said Mrs. Graves, looking at him, so that for an instant he felt like a child indeed at a mother's knee; "we all come home thus, sooner or later; and the time has come for you. I knew it the moment I opened your letter. He is at the gate, I said, and I may have the joy of being beside him when the door is opened."
ON THE DOWN
Howard was very singularly impressed by this talk. It seemed to him, not certainly indeed, but possibly, that he had stumbled, almost as it were by accident, upon a great current of force and emotion running vehemently through the world, under the calm surface of things. How many apparently unaccountable events it might explain! one saw frail people doing fine things, sensitive people bearing burdens of ill-health or disappointment, placidly and even contentedly, men making gallant, unexpected choices, big expansive natures doing dull work and living cheerfully under cramped conditions. He had never troubled to explain such phenomena, beyond thinking that for some reason such a course of action pleased and satisfied people. Of course everyone did not hide the struggle; there were men he knew who had a grievance against the world, for ever parading a valuation of themselves with which no one concurred. But there were many people who had the material for far worse grievances, who never seemed to nourish them. Had they fought in secret and prevailed? Had they been floated into some moving current of strength by a rising tide? Were they, like the man in the Gospel, conscious of a treasure hidden in a field which made all other prizes tame by comparison? Was the Gospel in fact perhaps aiming at that—the pearl of price? To be born again—was that what had happened? The thought cast a light upon his own serene life, and showed him that it was essentially a pagan sort of life, temperate perhaps and refined, but still unlit by any secret fire. It was not that his life was wrong, or that an abjuration was needed; it was still to be lived, and lived more intently, but no longer merely self-propelled. . . .
He needed to be alone, to consider, to focus his thought; he went off for a walk by himself among the hills, past the spring, up the valley, till he came to a place where the down ran out into the plain, the bluff crowned with a great earthwork. An enormous view lay spread out before him. To left and right the smooth elbows of the uplands ran down into the plain, their skirts clothed with climbing woods and orchards, hamlets half-hidden, with the smoke going up from their chimneys; further out the cultivated plain rose and fell, field beyond field, wood beyond wood, merging at last in a belt of deep rich colour, and beyond that, blue hills of hope and desire, and a pale gleam of sea beyond all. The westering sun filled the air with a golden haze, and enriched the land with soft rich shadows. There was life spread out before him, just so and not otherwise, life organised and constructed into toil and a certain order, out of what dim concourse and strife! For whatever reason, it was there to be lived; one could not change the conditions of it, the sun and the rain, the winter and the spring; but behind all that definite set of forces, was there perhaps a stronger and larger force still, a brimming tide of energy, that clasped life close and loved it, and yet regarded something through it and beyond it that was not yet? His heart seemed full of a great longing, not to avoid life, but to return and live it in a larger way, at once more engaged in it, and more detached from it, each quality ministering to the other. It seemed to him that afternoon that there was something awaiting him greater than anything which had yet befallen him—an open door, through which he might pass to see strange things.
THE HOME CIRCLE
He returned somewhat late, to find tea over and Mrs. Graves gone to her room; but there was tea waiting for him in the library; he went there, and for a while turned over his book, which seemed to him now to be illumined with a new light. It was this that he had been looking for, this gift of power; it was that which lay behind his speculations; he had suspected it, inferred it, but not perceived it; he saw now whither his thought had been conducting him, and why he had flagged in the pursuit.
He went up to dress for dinner, and came down as soon as the bell rang. He found that Jack's father and sister had arrived. He went into the dimly lighted room. Mr. Sandys, a fine-looking robust man, clean-shaven, curly-haired, carefully and clerically dressed, was standing by Mrs. Graves; he came forward and shook hands. "I am delighted to make your acquaintance, Mr. Kennedy," he said, "though indeed I seem to know a great deal about you from Jack. You are quite a hero of his, you know, and I want to thank you for all your kindness to him. I am looking forward to having a good talk with you about his future. By the way, here is my daughter, Maud, who is quite as anxious to see you as I am." A figure sitting in a corner, talking to Miss Merry, rose up, came forward into the light, and held out her hand with rather a shy smile.
Howard was amazed at what he saw. Maud had an extraordinary likeness to her brother, but with what a difference! Howard saw in an instant what it was that had haunted him in the aspect of Jack. This was what he seemed to have discerned all the time, and what had been baffling him. He knew that she was nineteen, but she looked younger. She was not, he thought, exactly beautiful—but how much more than beautiful; she was very finely and delicately made, and moved with an extraordinary grace; pale and fair, but with a look of perfect health; her features were very small, and softly rather than finely moulded; she had the air of some flower—a lily he thought—which was emphasised by her simple white dress. The under-lip was a little drawn in, which gave the least touch of melancholy to the face; but she had clear blue trustful eyes, the expression of which moved him in a very singular manner, because they seemed to offer a sweet and frank confidence. Her self-possession gave the least little sense of effort. He took the small firm and delicate hand in his, and was conscious of something strong and resolute in the grasp of the tiny fingers. She murmured something about Jack being so sorry to be away; and Howard to recover himself said: "Yes, he wrote to me to explain—we are going to do some work together, I believe."
"Yes, it's most kind of you," said Mr. Sandys, putting his arm within his daughter's with a pleasant air of fatherliness. "I am afraid industry isn't Jack's strong point? Of course I am anxious about his future—you must be used to that sort of thing! but we will defer all this until after dinner, when Mrs. Graves will allow us to have a good talk."
"We will see," said Mrs. Graves, rising; "Howard is here for a holiday, you know. Howard, will you lead the way; you don't know how my ceremonial soul enjoys having a real host to preside!"
Maud took Howard's arm, and the touch gave him a quite unreasonable thrill of pleasure; but he felt too quite insupportably elderly. What could he find to talk to this enchanting child about? He wished he had learned more about her tastes and ideas. Was this the creature of whom Jack had talked so patronisingly? He felt almost angry with his absent pupil for not having prepared him for what he would meet.
As soon as they were seated Mr. Sandys launched into the talk, like an eagle dallying with the wind. He struck Howard as an extremely good-natured, sensible, buoyant man, with a perpetual flow of healthy interests. Nothing that he said had the slightest distinction, and his power of expression was quite unequal to the evident vividness of his impressions. He had a taste for antithesis, but no grasp of synonyms. Every idea in Mr. Sandys' mind fell into halves, but the second clause was produced, not to express any new thought, but rather to echo the previous clause. He began at once on University topics. He had himself been a Pembroke man, and it had cost him an effort, he said, to send Jack elsewhere. "I don't take quite the orthodox view of education," he said, "in fact I am decidedly heterodox about its aims and the object that it has. It ought not to fall behind its object, and all this specialisation seems to me to be dangerous, and in fact decidedly perilous. My own education was on the old classical lines—an excellent gymnastic, I think, and distinctly fortifying. The old masterpieces, you know, Thucydides and so forth—they should be the basis—the foundation so to speak. But we must not forget the superstructure, the house of thought, if I may use the expression. You must forgive my ventilating these crude ideas, Mr. Kennedy. I went in myself, after taking my degree, for a course of general reading. Goethe and Schiller, you know. Yes, how fine that all is, though I sometimes feel it is a little Teutonic? One needs to correct the Teutonic bias, and it is just there that the gymnastic of the classics comes in; it gives one a standard—a criterion in fact. One must have a criterion, mustn't one, or it is all loose, and indeed, so to speak, illusive? I am all for formative education; and it is there that women—I speak frankly in the presence of three intelligent women—it is there that they suffer. Their education is not formative enough—not formal enough, in fact! Now, I have tried with dear Maud to communicate just that touch of formality. You would be surprised, Mr. Kennedy, to know what Maud has read under my guidance. Not learned, you know—I don't care for that—but with a standard, or if I may revert to my former expression, a criterion."
He paused for a moment, saw that he was belated, and finished his soup hastily.
"Yes," said Howard, "of course that is the real problem of education—to give a standard, and not to extinguish the taste for intellectual things, which is too often what we contrive to do."
"Now we must not be too serious all at once," said Mrs. Graves. "If we exhaust ourselves about education, we shall have nothing to fall back upon—we shall be afraid to condescend. I am deplorably ill-educated myself. I have no standard whatever. I have to consult dear Jane, have I not? Jane is my intellectual touchstone, and saves me from entire collapse."
"Well, well," said Mr. Sandys good-humouredly, "Mr. Kennedy and I will fight it out together sometime. He will forgive an old Pembroke man for wanting to know what is going forward; for scenting the battle afar off, in fact."
Mr. Sandys found no lack of subjects to descant upon; but voluble, and indeed absurd as he was, Howard could not help liking him; he was a good fellow, he could see, and managed to diffuse a geniality over the scene. "I am interested in most things," he said, at the end of a breathless harangue, "and there is something in the presence of a real live student, from the forefront of the intellectual battle, which rouses all my old activities—stimulates them, in fact. This will be a memorable evening for me, Mr. Kennedy, and I have abundance of things to ask you." He did indeed ask a good many things, but he was content to answer them himself. Once indeed, in the course of an immense tirade, in which Mr. Sandys' intellectual curiosity took a series of ever-widening sweeps, Howard caught his neighbour regarding him with a half-amused look, and became aware that she was wondering if he were playing Jack's game. Their eyes met, and he knew that she knew that he knew. He smiled and shook his head. She gave him a delighted little smile, and Howard had that touch of absurd ecstasy, which visits men no longer young, when they find themselves still in the friendly camp of the young, and not in the hostile camp of the middle-aged.
Presently he said to her something about Jack, and how much he enjoyed seeing him at Cambridge. "He is really rather a wonderful person," he added. "There isn't anyone at Beaufort who has such a perfectly defined relation to everyone in the college, from the master down to the kitchen-boys. He talks to everyone without any embarrassment, and yet no one really knows what he is thinking! He is very deep, really, and I think he has a fine future before him."
Maud lighted up at this, and said: "Do you really think so?" and added, "You know how much he admires you?"
"I am glad to be assured of it," said Howard; "you would hardly guess it from some of the things he says to me. It's awful, but he can't be checked—and yet he never oversteps the line, somehow."
"He's a queer boy," said Maud. "The way he talked to the Archdeacon the other day was simply fearful; but the Archdeacon only laughed, and said to papa afterwards that he envied him his son. The Archdeacon was giggling half the afternoon; he felt quite youthful, he said."
"It's the greatest gift to be able to do that," said Howard; "it's a sort of fairy wand—the pumpkin becomes a coach and four."
"Jack's right ear must be burning, I think," said Maud, "and yet he never seems to want to know what anyone thinks about him."
That was all the talk that Howard had with her at dinner. After the ladies had gone, Mr. Sandys became very confidential about Jack's prospects.
"I look upon you as a sort of relation, you see," he said, "in fact I shall make bold to drop the Mr. and I hope you will do the same? May we indeed take a bold step into intimacy and be 'Howard' and 'Frank' henceforth? I can't, of course, leave Jack a fortune, but when I die the two dear children will be pretty well off—I may say that. What do you think he had better go in for? I should like him to take holy orders, but I don't press it. It brings one into touch with human beings, and I like that. I find human beings very interesting—I am not afraid of responsibility."
Howard said that he did not think Jack inclined to orders.
"Then I put that aside," cried the good-natured Mr. Sandys. "No compulsion for me—the children may do as they like, live as they like, marry whom they like. I don't believe in checking human nature. Of course if Jack could get a Fellowship, I should like him to settle down at Cambridge. There's a life for you! In the forefront of the intellectual battle! It is what I should have liked myself, of all things. To hear what is going on in the intellectual line, to ventilate ideas, to write, to teach—that's a fine life—to be able to hold one's own in talk and discussion—that's where we country people fail. I have plenty of ideas, you know, myself, but I can't put them into shape, into form, so to speak."
"I think Jack would rather like a commercial career," said Howard. "It's the only thing he has ever mentioned; and I am sure he might do well if he could get an opening; he likes real things, he says."
"He does!" said Mr. Sandys enthusiastically—"that's what he always says. Do you know, if you won't think me very vain, Howard, I believe he gets that from me. Maud is different—she takes after her dear mother—whose loss was so irreparable a calamity—my dear wife was full of imagination; it was a beautiful mind. I will show you some of her sketches when you come to see us—I am looking forward to that—not much technique, perhaps, but a real instinct for beauty; to be just, a little lacking in form, but full of feeling. Well, Jack, as I was saying, likes reality. So do I! A firm hold on reality—that's the best thing; I was not intellectual enough for the life of thought, and I fell back on humanity—vastly engrossing! I assure you, though you would hardly think it, that even these simple people down here are most interesting: no two of them alike. My old friends say to me sometimes that I must find country people very dull, but I always say, 'No two of them alike!' Of course I try to keep my intellectual tastes alive—they are only tastes, of course, not faculties, like yours—but we read and talk and ventilate our ideas, Maud and I; and when we are tired of books, why I fall back on the great book of humanity. We don't stagnate—at least I hope not—I have a horror of stagnation. I said so to the Archdeacon the other day, and he said that there was nothing stagnant about Windlow."
"No, I am quite sure there is not," said Howard politely.
"It's very good of you to say so, Howard," said Mr. Sandys delightedly. "Really quite a compliment! And I assure you, you don't know what a pleasure it is to have a talk like this with a man like yourself, so well-read, so full of ideas. I envy Jack his privileges. I do indeed. Now dear old Pembroke was not like that in my days. There was no one I could talk to, as Jack tells me he talks to you. A man like yourself is a vast improvement on the old type of don, if I may say so. I'm very free, you see! And so you think Jack might do well in commerce? Well, I quite approve. All I want is that he should not be out of touch with human beings. I'm not a metaphysician, but it seems to me that that is what we are here for—touch with humanity—of course on Church of England lines. I'm tolerant, I hope, and can see the good side of other creeds; but give me something comprehensive, and that is the glory of our English Church. Well, you have given me a lot to think of, Howard; I must just take it all away and think it over. It's well to do that, I think? Not to be in a hurry, try to see all round a question? That is my line always!"
They walked into the drawing-room together; and Howard felt curiously drawn to the warm-hearted and voluble man. Perhaps it was for the sake of his children, he thought. There must be something fine about a man who had brought up two such children—but that was not all; the Vicar was enthusiastic; he revelled in life, he adored life; and Howard felt that there was a real fund of sense and even judgment somewhere, behind the spray of the cataract. He was a man whom one could trust, he believed, and whom it was impossible not to like.
When they reached the drawing-room, Mrs. Graves called the Vicar into a corner, and began to talk to him about someone in the village; Howard heard his talk plunge steadily into the silence. Miss Merry flitted about, played a few pieces of music; and Howard found himself left to Maud. He went and sate down beside her. In the dim light the girl sate forward in a big arm-chair; there was nothing languorous or listless about her. She seemed all alert in a quiet way. She greeted him with a smile, and sate turned towards him, her chin on her hand, her eyes upon him. Her shining hair fell over the curves of her young and pure neck. She was holding a flower, which Mrs. Graves had given her, in her other hand, and its fragrance exhaled all about her. Once or twice she checked him with a little gesture of her hand, when Miss Merry began to play, and he could see that she was much affected by the music.
"It seems to me so wrong to talk during music," she said; "perhaps it wasn't polite of me to stop you, but I can't bear to interrupt music—it's like treading on flowers—it can't come again just like that!"
"Yes," said Howard, "I know exactly what you mean; but I expect it is a mistake to think of a beautiful thing being wasted, if we don't happen to hear or see it. It isn't only meant for us. It is the light or the sound or the flower, I think, being beautiful because it is glad."
"Yes," said the girl, "perhaps it is that. That is what Mrs. Graves thinks. Do you know, it seems to me strange that you have never been here before, though you are almost her only relation. She is the most wonderful person I have ever seen. The only person I know who seems always right, and yet never wants anyone else to know she is right."
"Yes," said Howard, "I feel that I have been very foolish—but it has been going on all the time, like the music and the light. It hasn't been wasted. I have had a wonderful talk with her to-day—the most wonderful talk, I think, I have ever had. I can't understand it all yet—but she has given me the sense of some fine purpose—as if I had been kept away for a purpose, because I was not ready; and as if I had come here for a purpose now."
The girl sate looking at him with open eyes, and with some strange sense of surprise. "Yes," she said, "it is just like that; but that you could have seen it so soon amazes me. I have known her all my life, and could never have put that into words. Do you know how things seem to come and go and shift about without any meaning? It is never so with her; she sees what it all means. I cannot explain it."
They sate in silence for a moment, and then Howard said: "It is very curious to be here; you know, or probably you don't know, how much interested I am in Jack; and somehow in talking to him I felt that there was something behind—something more to know. All this"—he waved his hand at the room—"my aunt, your father, yourself—it does not seem to me new and unfamiliar, but something which I have always known. I can't tell you in what a dream I have seemed to be moving ever since I came here. I have been here for twenty-four hours, and yet it seems all old and dear to me."
"I know that feeling," said the girl, "one dips into something that has been going on for ever and ever—I feel like that to-night. It seems odd to talk like this, but you must remember that Jack tells me most things, and I seem to know you quite well. I knew it would be all easy somehow."
"Well, we are a sort of cousins," said Howard lightly. "That's such a comfort; it needn't entail anything, but it can save one all sorts of fencing and ceremony. I want to talk to you about Jack. He is a little mysterious to me still."
"Yes," she said, "he is mysterious, but he really is a dear: he was the most aggravating boy that ever lived, and I sometimes used really to hate him. I am afraid we used to fight a great deal; at least I did, but I suppose he was only pretending, for he never hurt me, and I know I used to hurt him—but then he deserved it!"
"What a picture!" said Howard, smiling; "no wonder that boys go to their private schools expecting to have to fight for their lives. I never had a sister; and that accounts perhaps for my peaceful disposition." He had a sudden sense as he spoke that he was talking as if to an undergraduate in friendly irony. To his surprise and pleasure he saw that his thought had translated itself.
"I suppose that is how you talk to your pupils," said the girl, smiling; "I recognise that—and that's what makes it easy to talk to you as Jack does—it's like an easy serve at lawn-tennis."
"I am glad it is easy," said Howard, "you don't know how many of my serves go into the net!"
"Lawn-tennis!" said Mr. Sandys from the other side of the room. "There's a good game, Howard! I am not much of a hand at it myself, but I enjoy playing. I don't mind making a spectacle of myself. One misses many good things by being afraid of looking a fool. What does it matter, I say to myself, as long as one doesn't FEEL a fool? You will come and play at the vicarage, I hope. Indeed, I want you to go and come just as you like. We are relations, you know, in a sort of way—at least connections. I don't know if you go in for genealogy—it's rather a hobby of mine; it fills up little bits of time, you know. I could reel you off quite a list of names, but Mrs. Graves doesn't care for genealogy, I know."