Part 3 out of 6
it; all was so cold and wintry in her heart. And the firelight
flickered on her face, where shadows lay thick under her eyes, for
all the roundness of her cheeks, and on her slim pale hands, and the
supple grace of her young body. And out in the night, clouds raced
over the moon, which had come full once more.
Pierson went back to his study, and wrote to Gratian.
"If you can get leave for a few days, my dear, I want you at home. I
am troubled about Nollie. Ever since that disaster happened to her
she has been getting paler; and to-day she fainted. She won't see a
doctor, but perhaps you could get her to see George. If you come up,
he will surely be able to run up to us for a day or two. If not, you
must take her down to him at the sea. I have just seen the news of
your second cousin Charlie Pierson's death; he was killed in one of
the last attacks on the Somme; he was nephew of my cousin Leila whom,
as you know, Noel sees every day at her hospital. Bertram has the
D. S. O. I have been less hard-pressed lately; Lauder has been home
on leave and has taken some Services for me. And now the colder
weather has come, I am feeling much fresher. Try your best to come.
I am seriously concerned for our beloved child.
"Your affectionate father
Gratian answered that she could get week-end leave, and would come on
Friday. He met her at the station, and they drove thence straight to
the hospital, to pick up Noel. Leila came to them in the waiting-
room, and Pierson, thinking they would talk more freely about Noel's
health if he left them alone, went into the recreation room, and
stood watching a game of bagatelle between two convalescents. When
he returned to the little sitting-room they were still standing by
the hearth, talking in low voices. Gratian must surely have been
stooping over the fire, for her face was red, almost swollen, and her
eyes looked as if she had scorched them.
Leila said lightly:
"Well, Edward, aren't the men delightful? When are we going to
another concert together?"
She, too, was flushed and looking almost young.
"Ah! If we could do the things we want to.
"That's very pretty, Edward; but you should, you know--for a tonic."
He shook his head and smiled.
"You're a temptress, Leila. Will you let Nollie know, please, that
we can take her back with us? Can you let her off to-morrow?"
"For as long as you like; she wants a rest. I've been talking to
Gratian. We oughtn't to have let her go on after a shock like that
--my fault, I'm afraid. I thought that work might be best."
Pierson was conscious of Gratian walking past him out of the room.
He held out his hand to Leila, and followed. A small noise occurred
behind him such as a woman makes when she has put a foot through her
own skirt, or has other powerful cause for dismay. Then he saw Noel
in the hall, and was vaguely aware of being the centre of a triangle
of women whose eyes were playing catch-glance. His daughters kissed
each other; and he became seated between them in the taxi. The most
unobservant of men, he parted from them in the hall without having
perceived anything except that they were rather silent; and, going to
his study, he took up a Life of Sir Thomas More. There was a passage
therein which he itched to show George Laird, who was coming up that
Gratian and Noel had mounted the stairs with lips tight set, and eyes
averted; both were very pale. When they reached the door of
Gratian's room the room which had been their mother's--Noel was for
passing on, but Gratian caught her by the arm, and said: "Come in."
The fire was burning brightly in there, and the two sisters stood in
front of it, one on each side, their hands clutching the mantel-
shelf, staring at the flames. At last Noel put one hand in front of
her eyes, and said:
"I asked her to tell you."
Gratian made the movement of one who is gripped by two strong
emotions, and longs to surrender to one or to the other.
"It's too horrible," was all she said.
Noel turned towards the door.
Noel stopped with her hand on the door knob. "I don't want to be
forgiven and sympathised with. I just want to be let alone."
"How can you be let alone?"
The tide of misery surged up in Noel, and she cried out passionately:
"I hate sympathy from people who can't understand. I don't want
anyone's. I can always go away, and lose myself."
The words "can't understand" gave Gratian a shock.
"I can understand," she said.
"You can't; you never saw him. You never saw--" her lips quivered so
that she had to stop and bite them, to keep back a rush of tears.
"Besides you would never have done it yourself."
Gratian went towards her, but stopped, and sat down on the bed. It
was true. She would never have done it herself; it was just that
which, for all her longing to help her sister, iced her love and
sympathy. How terrible, wretched, humiliating! Her own sister, her
only sister, in the position of all those poor, badly brought up
girls, who forgot themselves! And her father--their father! Till
that moment she had hardly thought of him, too preoccupied by the
shock to her own pride. The word: "Dad!" was forced from her.
"That boy!" said Gratian suddenly; "I can't forgive him. If you
didn't know--he did. It was--it was--" She stopped at the sight of
"I did know," she said. "It was I. He was my husband, as much as
yours is. If you say a word against him, I'll never speak to you
again: I'm glad, and you would be, if you were going to have one.
What's the difference, except that you've had luck, and I--haven't."
Her lips quivered again, and she was silent.
Gratian stared up at her. She had a longing for George--to know what
he thought and felt.
"Do you mind if I tell George?" she said.
Noel shook her head. "No! not now. Tell anybody." And suddenly the
misery behind the mask of her face went straight to Gratian's heart.
She got up and put her arms round her sister.
"Nollie dear, don't look like that!"
Noel suffered the embrace without response, but when it was over,
went to her own room.
Gratian stayed, sorry, sore and vexed, uncertain, anxious. Her pride
was deeply wounded, her heart torn; she was angry with herself. Why
couldn't she have been more sympathetic? And yet, now that Noel was
no longer there, she again condemned the dead. What he had done was
unpardonable. Nollie was such--a child! He had committed sacrilege.
If only George would come, and she could talk it all out with him!
She, who had married for love and known passion, had insight enough
to feel that Noel's love had been deep--so far as anything, of
course, could be deep in such a child. Gratian was at the mature age
of twenty. But to have forgotten herself like that! And this boy!
If she had known him, that feeling might have been mitigated by the
personal element, so important to all human judgment; but never
having seen him, she thought of his conduct as "caddish." And she
knew that this was, and would be, the trouble between her and her
sister. However she might disguise it, Noel would feel that judgment
She stripped off her nurse's garb, put on an evening frock, and
fidgeted about the room. Anything rather than go down and see her
father again before she must. This, which had happened, was beyond
words terrible for him; she dreaded the talk with him about Noel's
health which would have to come. She could say nothing, of course,
until Noel wished; and, very truthful by nature, the idea, of having
to act a lie distressed her.
She went down at last, and found them both in the drawing-room
already; Noel in a frilly evening frock, sitting by the fire with her
chin on her hand, while her father was reading out the war news from
the evening paper. At sight of that cool, dainty, girlish figure
brooding over the fire, and of her father's worn face, the tragedy of
this business thrust itself on her with redoubled force. Poor Dad!
Poor Nollie! Awful! Then Noel turned, and gave a little shake of
her head, and her eyes said, almost as plainly as lips could have
said it: 'Silence!' Gratian nodded, and came forward to the fire.
And so began one of those calm, domestic evenings, which cover
sometimes such depths of heartache.
Noel stayed up until her father went to bed, then went upstairs at
once. She had evidently determined that they should not talk about
her. Gratian sat on alone, waiting for her husband! It was nearly
midnight when he came, and she did not tell him the family news till
next morning. He received it with a curious little grunt. Gratian
saw his eyes contract, as they might have, perhaps, looking at some
bad and complicated wound, and then stare steadily at the ceiling.
Though they had been married over a year, she did not yet know what
he thought about many things, and she waited with a queer sinking at
her heart. This skeleton in the family cupboard was a test of his
affection for herself, a test of the quality of the man she had
married. He did not speak for a little, and her anxiety grew. Then
his hand sought hers, and gave it a hard squeeze.
"Poor little Nollie! This is a case for Mark Tapleyism. But cheer
up, Gracie! We'll get her through somehow."
"But father! It's impossible to keep it from him, and impossible to
tell him! Oh George! I never knew what family pride was till now.
It's incredible. That wretched boy!"
"'De mortuis.' Come, Gracie! In the midst of death we are in life!
Nollie was a plumb little idiot. But it's the war--the war! Your
father must get used to it; it's a rare chance for his Christianity."
"Dad will be as sweet as anything--that's what makes it so horrible!"
George Laird redoubled his squeeze. "Quite right! The old-fashioned
father could let himself go. But need he know? We can get her away
from London, and later on, we must manage somehow. If he does hear,
we must make him feel that Nollie was 'doing her bit.'"
Gratian withdrew her hand. "Don't!" she said in a muffled voice.
George Laird turned and looked at her. He was greatly upset himself,
realising perhaps more truly than his young wife the violence of this
disaster; he was quite capable, too, of feeling how deeply she was
stirred and hurt; but, a born pragmatist, confronting life always in
the experimental spirit, he was impatient of the: "How awful!"
attitude. And this streak of her father's ascetic traditionalism in
Gratian always roused in him a wish to break it up. If she had not
been his wife he would have admitted at once that he might just as
well try and alter the bone-formation of her head, as break down such
a fundamental trait of character, but, being his wife, he naturally
considered alteration as possible as putting a new staircase in a
house, or throwing two rooms into one. And, taking her in his arms,
he said: "I know; but it'll all come right, if we put a good face on
it. Shall I talk to Nollie?"
Gratian assented, from the desire to be able to say to her father:
"George is seeing her!" and so stay the need for a discussion. But
the whole thing seemed to her more and more a calamity which nothing
could lessen or smooth away.
George Laird had plenty of cool courage, invaluable in men who have
to inflict as well as to alleviate pain, but he did not like his
mission "a little bit" as he would have said; and he proposed a walk
because he dreaded a scene. Noel accepted for the same reason. She
liked George, and with the disinterested detachment of a sister-in-
law, and the shrewdness of extreme youth, knew him perhaps better
than did his wife. She was sure, at all events, of being neither
condemned nor sympathised with.
They might have gone, of course, in any direction, but chose to make
for the City. Such deep decisions are subconscious. They sought, no
doubt, a dry, unemotional region; or perhaps one where George, who
was in uniform, might rest his arm from the automatic-toy game which
the military play. They had reached Cheapside before he was
conscious to the full of the bizarre nature of this walk with his
pretty young sister-in-law among all the bustling, black-coated mob
of money-makers. 'I wish the devil we hadn't come out!' he thought;
'it would have been easier indoors, after all.'
He cleared his throat, however, and squeezing her arm gently, began:
"Gratian's told me, Nollie. The great thing is to keep your spirit
up, and not worry."
"I suppose you couldn't cure me."
The words, in that delicate spurning voice, absolutely staggered
George; but he said quickly:
"Out of the question, Nollie; impossible! What are you thinking of?"
The words: "D--n Daddy!" rose to his teeth; he bit them off, and
said: "Bless him! We shall have to see to all that. Do you really
want to keep it from him? It must be one way or the other; no use
concealing it, if it's to come out later."
He stole a look at her. She was gazing straight before her. How
damnably young she was, how pretty! A lump came up in his throat.
"I shouldn't do anything yet," he said; "too early. Later on, if
you'd like me to tell him. But that's entirely up to you, my dear;
he need never know."
He could not follow her thought. Then she said:
"Gratian condemns Cyril. Don't let her. I won't have him badly
thought of. It was my doing. I wanted to make sure of him."
George answered stoutly:
"Gracie's upset, of course, but she'll soon be all right. You
mustn't let it come between you. The thing you've got to keep
steadily before you is that life's a huge wide adaptable thing. Look
at all these people! There's hardly one of them who hasn't got now,
or hasn't had, some personal difficulty or trouble before them as big
as yours almost; bigger perhaps. And here they are as lively as
fleas. That's what makes the fascination of life--the jolly irony of
it all. It would do you good to have a turn in France, and see
yourself in proportion to the whole." He felt her fingers suddenly
slip under his arm, and went on with greater confidence:
"Life's going to be the important thing in the future, Nollie; not
comfort and cloistered virtue and security; but living, and pressure
to the square inch. Do you twig? All the old hard-and-fast
traditions and drags on life are in the melting-pot. Death's boiling
their bones, and they'll make excellent stock for the new soup. When
you prune and dock things, the sap flows quicker. Regrets and
repinings and repressions are going out of fashion; we shall have no
time or use for them in the future. You're going to make life--well,
that's something to be thankful for, anyway. You've kept Cyril
Morland alive. And--well, you know, we've all been born; some of us
properly, and some improperly, and there isn't a ha'porth of
difference in the value of the article, or the trouble of bringing it
into the world. The cheerier you are the better your child will be,
and that's all you've got to think about. You needn't begin to
trouble at all for another couple of months, at least; after that,
just let us know where you'd like to go, and I'll arrange it
She looked round at him, and under that young, clear, brooding gaze
he had the sudden uncomfortable feeling of having spoken like a
charlatan. Had he really touched the heart of the matter? What good
were his generalities to this young, fastidiously nurtured girl,
brought up to tell the truth, by a father so old-fashioned and
devoted, whom she loved? It was George's nature, too, to despise
words; and the conditions of his life these last two years had given
him a sort of horror of those who act by talking. He felt inclined
to say: 'Don't pay the slightest attention to me; it's all humbug;
what will be will be, and there's an end of it:
Then she said quietly:
"Shall I tell Daddy or not?"
He wanted to say: "No," but somehow couldn't. After all, the
straightforward course was probably the best. For this would have to
be a lifelong concealment. It was impossible to conceal a thing for
ever; sooner or later he would find out. But the doctor rose up in
him, and he said:
"Don't go to meet trouble, Nollie; it'll be time enough in two
months. Then tell him, or let me."
She shook her head. "No; I will, if it is to be done."
He put his hand on hers, within his arm, and gave it a squeeze.
"What shall I do till then?" she asked.
"Take a week's complete rest, and then go on where you are."
Noel was silent a minute, then said: "Yes; I will."
They spoke no more on the subject, and George exerted himself to talk
about hospital experiences, and that phenomenon, the British soldier.
But just before they reached home he said:
"Look here, Nollie! If you're not ashamed of yourself, no one will
be ashamed of you. If you put ashes on your own head, your fellow-
beings will, assist you; for of such is their charity."
And, receiving another of those clear, brooding looks, he left her
with the thought: 'A lonely child!'
Noel went back to her hospital after a week's rest. George had done
more for her than he suspected, for his saying: "Life's a huge wide
adaptable thing!" had stuck in her mind. Did it matter what happened
to her? And she used to look into the faces of the people she met,
and wonder what was absorbing them. What secret griefs and joys were
they carrying about with them? The loneliness of her own life now
forced her to this speculation concerning others, for she was
extraordinarily lonely; Gratian and George were back at work, her
father must be kept at bay; with Leila she felt ill at ease, for the
confession had hurt her pride; and family friends and acquaintances
of all sorts she shunned like the plague. The only person she did
not succeed in avoiding was Jimmy Fort, who came in one evening after
dinner, bringing her a large bunch of hothouse violets. But then, he
did not seem to matter--too new an acquaintance, too detached.
Something he said made her aware that he had heard of her loss, and
that the violets were a token of sympathy. He seemed awfully kind
that evening, telling her "tales of Araby," and saying nothing which
would shock her father. It was wonderful to be a man and roll about
the world as he had, and see all life, and queer places, and people
--Chinamen, and Gauchos, and Boers, and Mexicans. It gave her a kind
of thirst. And she liked to watch his brown, humorous face; which
seemed made of dried leather. It gave her the feeling that life and
experience were all that mattered, doing and seeing things; it made
her own trouble seem smaller; less important. She squeezed his hand
when she said good night: "Thank you for my violets and for coming;
it was awfully kind of you! I wish I could have adventures!" And he
answered: "You will, my dear fairy princess!" He said it queerly and
Fairy Princess! What a funny thing to call her! If he had only
There were not many adventures to be had in those regions where she
washed up. Not much "wide and adaptable life" to take her thoughts
off herself. But on her journeys to and from the hospital she had
more than one odd little experience. One morning she noticed a
poorly dressed woman with a red and swollen face, flapping along
Regent Street like a wounded bird, and biting strangely at her hand.
Hearing her groan, Noel asked her what the matter was. The woman
held out the hand. "Oh!" she moaned, "I was scrubbin' the floor and
I got this great needle stuck through my 'and, and it's broke off,
and I can't get it out. Oh! Oh!" She bit at the needle-end, not
quite visible, but almost within reach of teeth, and suddenly went
very white. In dismay, Noel put an arm round her, and turned her
into a fine chemist's shop. Several ladies were in there, buying
perfumes, and they looked with acerbity at this disordered dirty
female entering among them. Noel went up to a man behind the
counter. "Please give me something quick, for this poor woman, I
think she's going to faint. She's run a needle through her hand, and
can't get it out." The man gave her "something quick," and Noel
pushed past two of the dames back to where the woman was sitting.
She was still obstinately biting at her hand, and suddenly her chin
flew up, and there, between her teeth, was the needle. She took it
from them with her other hand, stuck it proudly in the front of her
dress, and out tumbled the words: "Oh! there--I've got it!"
When she had swallowed the draught, she looked round her, bewildered,
"Thank you kindly, miss!" and shuffled out. Noel paid for the
draught, and followed; and, behind her, the shining shop seemed to
exhale a perfumed breath of relief.
"You can't go back to work," she said to the woman. "Where do you
"You must take a 'bus and go straight home, and put your hand at once
into weak Condy's fluid and water. It's swelling. Here's five
"Yes, miss; thank you, miss, I'm sure. It's very kind of you. It
does ache cruel."
"If it's not better this afternoon, you must go to a doctor.
"Oh, dear, yes. 'Ere's my 'bus. Thank you kindly, miss."
Noel saw her borne away, still sucking at her dirty swollen hand.
She walked on in a glow of love for the poor woman, and hate for the
ladies in the chemist's shop, and forgot her own trouble till she had
almost reached the hospital.
Another November day, a Saturday, leaving early, she walked to Hyde
Park. The plane-trees were just at the height of their spotted
beauty. Few--very few-yellow leaves still hung; and the slender
pretty trees seemed rejoicing in their freedom from summer foliage.
All their delicate boughs and twigs were shaking and dancing in the
wind; and their rain-washed leopard-like bodies had a lithe
un-English gaiety. Noel passed down their line, and seated herself
on a bench. Close by, an artist was painting. His easel was only
some three yards away from her, and she could see the picture; a
vista of the Park Lane houses through, the gay plane-tree screen. He
was a tall man, about forty, evidently foreign, with a thin, long,
oval, beardless face, high brow, large grey eyes which looked as if
he suffered from headaches and lived much within himself. He cast
many glances at her, and, pursuant of her new interest in "life" she
watched him discreetly; a little startled however, when, taking off
his broad-brimmed squash hat, he said in a broken accent:
"Forgive me the liberty I take, mademoiselle, but would you so very
kindly allow me to make a sketch of you sitting there? I work very
quick. I beg you will let me. I am Belgian, and have no manners,
you see." And he smiled.
"If you like," said Noel.
"I thank you very much:"
He shifted his easel, and began to draw. She felt flattered, and a
little fluttered. He was so pale, and had a curious, half-fed look,
which moved her.
"Have you been long in England?" she said presently.
"Ever since the first months of the war."
"Do you like it?"
"I was very homesick at first. But I live in my pictures; there are
wonderful things in London."
"Why did you want to sketch me?"
The painter smiled again. "Mademoiselle, youth is so mysterious.
Those young trees I have been painting mean so much more than the old
big trees. Your eyes are seeing things that have not yet happened.
There is Fate in them, and a look of defending us others from seeing
it. We have not such faces in my country; we are simpler; we do not
defend our expressions. The English are very mysterious. We are
like children to them. Yet in some ways you are like children to us.
You are not people of the world at all. You English have been good
to us, but you do not like us."
"And I suppose you do not like us, either?"
He smiled again, and she noticed how white his teeth were.
"Well, not very much. The English do things from duty, but their
hearts they keep to themselves. And their Art--well, that is really
"I don't know much about Art," Noel murmured.
"It is the world to me," said the painter, and was silent, drawing
with increased pace and passion.
"It is so difficult to get subjects," he remarked abruptly. "I
cannot afford to pay models, and they are not fond of me painting out
of doors. If I had always a subject like you! You--you have a
grief, have you not?"
At that startling little question, Noel looked up, frowning.
"Everybody has, now."
The painter grasped his chin; his eyes had suddenly become tragical.
"Yes," he said, "everybody. Tragedy is daily bread. I have lost my
family; they are in Belgium. How they live I do not know."
"I'm sorry; very sorry, too, if we aren't nice to you, here. We
ought to be."
He shrugged his shoulders. "What would you have? We are different.
That is unpardonable. An artist is always lonely, too; he has a skin
fewer than other people, and he sees things that they do not. People
do not like you to be different. If ever in your life you act
differently from others, you will find it so, mademoiselle."
Noel felt herself flushing. Was he reading her secret? His eyes had
such a peculiar, secondsighted look.
"Have you nearly finished?" she asked.
"No, mademoiselle; I could go on for hours; but I do not wish to keep
you. It is cold for you, sitting there."
Noel got up. "May I look?"
She did not quite recognise herself--who does?--but she saw a face
which affected her oddly, of a girl looking at something which was,
and yet was not, in front of her.
"My name is Lavendie," the painter said; "my wife and I live here,"
and he gave her a card.
Noel could not help answering: "My name is Noel Pierson; I live with
my father; here's the address"--she found her case, and fished out a
card. "My father is a clergyman; would you care to come and see him?
He loves music and painting."
"It would be a great pleasure; and perhaps I might be allowed to
paint you. Alas! I have no studio."
Noel drew back. "I'm afraid that I work in a hospital all day, and--
and I don't want to be painted, thank you. But, Daddy would like to
meet you, I'm sure."
The painter bowed again; she saw that he was hurt.
"Of course I can see that you're a very fine painter," she said
quickly; "only--only--I don't want to, you see. Perhaps you'd like
to paint Daddy; he's got a most interesting face."
The painter smiled. "He is your father, mademoiselle. May I ask you
one question? Why do you not want to be painted?"
"Because--because I don't, I'm afraid." She held out her hand. The
painter bowed over it. "Au revoir, mademoiselle."
"Thank you," said Noel; "it was awfully interesting." And she walked
away. The sky had become full of clouds round the westerly sun; and
the foreign crinkled tracery of the plane-tree branches against that
French-grey, golden-edged mass, was very lovely. Beauty, and the
troubles of others, soothed her. She felt sorry for the painter, but
his eyes saw too much! And his words: "If ever you act differently
from others," made her feel him uncanny. Was it true that people
always disliked and condemned those who acted differently? If her
old school-fellows now knew what was before her, how would they treat
her? In her father's study hung a little reproduction of a tiny
picture in the Louvre, a "Rape of Europa," by an unknown painter--
a humorous delicate thing, of an enraptured; fair-haired girl mounted
on a prancing white bull, crossing a shallow stream, while on the
bank all her white girl-companions were gathered, turning half-sour,
half-envious faces away from that too-fearful spectacle, while one of
them tried with timid desperation to mount astride of a sitting cow,
and follow. The face of the girl on the bull had once been compared
by someone with her own. She thought of this picture now, and saw
her school fellows-a throng of shocked and wondering girls. Suppose
one of them had been in her position! 'Should I have been turning my
face away, like the rest? I wouldn't no, I wouldn't,' she thought;
'I should have understood!' But she knew there was a kind of false
emphasis in her thought. Instinctively she felt the painter right.
One who acted differently from others, was lost.
She told her father of the encounter, adding:
"I expect he'll come, Daddy."
Pierson answered dreamily: "Poor fellow, I shall be glad to see him
if he does."
"And you'll sit to him, won't you?"
"He's lonely, you know, and people aren't nice to him. Isn't it
hateful that people should hurt others, because they're foreign or
She saw his eyes open with mild surprise, and went on: "I know you
think people are charitable, Daddy, but they aren't, of course."
"That's not exactly charitable, Nollie."
"You know they're not. I think sin often just means doing things
differently. It's not real sin when it only hurts yourself; but that
doesn't prevent people condemning you, does it?"
"I don't know what you mean, Nollie."
Noel bit her lips, and murmured: "Are you sure we're really
The question was so startling, from his own daughter, that Pierson
took refuge in an attempt at wit. "I should like notice of that
question, Nollie, as they say in Parliament."
"That means you don't."
Pierson flushed. "We're fallible enough; but, don't get such ideas
into your head, my child. There's a lot of rebellious talk and
writing in these days...."
Noel clasped her hands behind her head. "I think," she said, looking
straight before her, and speaking to the air, "that Christianity is
what you do, not what you think or say. And I don't believe people
can be Christians when they act like others--I mean, when they join
together to judge and hurt people."
Pierson rose and paced the room. "You have not seen enough of life
to talk like that," he said. But Noel went on:
"One of the men in her hospital told Gratian about the treatment of
conscientious objectors--it was horrible. Why do they treat them
like that, just because they disagree? Captain Fort says it's fear
which makes people bullies. But how can it be fear when they're
hundreds to one? He says man has domesticated his animals but has
never succeeded in domesticating himself. Man must be a wild beast,
you know, or the world couldn't be so awfully brutal. I don't see
much difference between being brutal for good reasons, and being
brutal for bad ones."
Pierson looked down at her with a troubled smile. There was
something fantastic to him in this sudden philosophising by one whom
he had watched grow up from a tiny thing. Out of the mouths of babes
and sucklings--sometimes! But then the young generation was always
something of a sealed book to him; his sensitive shyness, and, still
more, his cloth, placed a sort of invisible barrier between him and
the hearts of others, especially the young. There were so many
things of which he was compelled to disapprove, or which at least he
couldn't discuss. And they knew it too well. Until these last few
months he had never realised that his own daughters had remained as
undiscovered by him as the interior of Brazil. And now that he
perceived this, he was bewildered, yet could not imagine how to get
on terms with them.
And he stood looking at Noel, intensely puzzled, suspecting nothing
of the hard fact which was altering her--vaguely jealous, anxious,
pained. And when she had gone up to bed, he roamed up and down the
room a long time, thinking. He longed for a friend to confide in,
and consult; but he knew no one. He shrank from them all, as too
downright, bluff, and active; too worldly and unaesthetic; or too
stiff and narrow. Amongst the younger men in his profession he was
often aware of faces which attracted him, but one could not confide
deep personal questions to men half one's age. But of his own
generation, or his elders, he knew not one to whom he could have
Leila was deep in her new draught of life. When she fell in love it
had always been over head and ears, and so far her passion had always
burnt itself out before that of her partner. This had been, of
course, a great advantage to her. Not that Leila had ever expected
her passions to burn themselves out. When she fell in love she had
always thought it was for always. This time she was sure it was,
surer than she had ever been. Jimmy Fort seemed to her the man she
had been looking for all her life. He was not so good-looking as
either Farie or Lynch, but beside him these others seemed to her now
almost ridiculous. Indeed they did not figure at all, they shrank,
they withered, they were husks, together with the others for whom she
had known passing weaknesses. There was only one man in the world
for her now, and would be for evermore. She did not idealise him
either, it was more serious than that; she was thrilled by his voice,
and his touch, she dreamed of him, longed for him when he was not
with her. She worried, too, for she was perfectly aware that he was
not half as fond of her as she was of him. Such a new experience
puzzled her, kept her instincts painfully on the alert. It was
perhaps just this uncertainty about his affection which made him seem
more precious than any of the others. But there was ever the other
reason, too-consciousness that Time was after her, and this her last
grand passion. She watched him as a mother-cat watches her kitten,
without seeming to, of course, for she had much experience. She had
begun to have a curious secret jealousy of Noel though why she could
not have said. It was perhaps merely incidental to her age, or
sprang from that vague resemblance between her and one who
outrivalled even what she had been as a girl; or from the occasional
allusions Fort made to what he called "that little fairy princess."
Something intangible, instinctive, gave her that jealousy. Until the
death of her young cousin's lover she had felt safe, for she knew
that Jimmy Fort would not hanker after another man's property; had he
not proved that in old days, with herself, by running away from her?
And she had often regretted having told him of Cyril Morland's death.
One day she determined to repair that error. It was at the Zoo,
where they often went on Sunday afternoons. They were standing
before a creature called the meercat, which reminded them both of old
days on the veldt. Without turning her head she said, as if to the
little animal: "Do you know that your fairy princess, as you call
her, is going to have what is known as a war-baby?"
The sound of his "What!" gave her quite a stab. It was so utterly
She said stubbornly: "She came and told me all about it. The boy is
dead, as you know. Yes, terrible, isn't it?" And she looked at him.
His face was almost comic, so wrinkled up with incredulity.
"That lovely child! But it's impossible!"
"The impossible is sometimes true, Jimmy."
"I refuse to believe it."
"I tell you it is so," she said angrily.
"What a ghastly shame!"
"It was her own doing; she said so, herself."
"And her father--the padre! My God!"
Leila was suddenly smitten with a horrible doubt. She had thought it
would disgust him, cure him of any little tendency to romanticise
that child; and now she perceived that it was rousing in him,
instead, a dangerous compassion. She could have bitten her tongue
out for having spoken. When he got on the high horse of some
championship, he was not to be trusted, she had found that out; was
even finding it out bitterly in her own relations with him,
constantly aware that half her hold on him, at least, lay in his
sense of chivalry, aware that he knew her lurking dread of being
flung on the beach, by age. Only ten minutes ago he had uttered a
tirade before the cage of a monkey which seemed unhappy. And now she
had roused that dangerous side of him in favour of Noel. What an
idiot she had been!
"Don't look like that, Jimmy. I'm sorry I told you."
His hand did not answer her pressure in the least, but he muttered:
"Well, I do think that's the limit. What's to be done for her?"
Leila answered softly: "Nothing, I'm afraid. Do you love me?" And
she pressed his hand hard.
But Leila thought: 'If I were that meercat he'd have taken more
notice of my paw!' Her heart began suddenly to ache, and she walked
on to the next cage with head up, and her mouth hard set.
Jimmy Fort walked away from Camelot Mansions that evening in extreme
discomfort of mind. Leila had been so queer that he had taken leave
immediately after supper. She had refused to talk about Noel; had
even seemed angry when he had tried to. How extraordinary some women
were! Did they think that a man could hear of a thing like that
about such a dainty young creature without being upset! It was the
most perfectly damnable news! What on earth would she do--poor
little fairy princess! Down had come her house of cards with a
vengeance! The whole of her life--the whole of her life! With her
bringing-up and her father and all--it seemed inconceivable that she
could ever survive it. And Leila had been almost callous about the
monstrous business. Women were hard to each other! Bad enough,
these things, when it was a simple working girl, but this dainty,
sheltered, beautiful child! No, it was altogether too strong--too
painful! And following an impulse which he could not resist, he made
his way to the old Square. But having reached the house, he nearly
went away again. While he stood hesitating with his hand on the
bell, a girl and a soldier passed, appearing as if by magic out of
the moonlit November mist, blurred and solid shapes embraced, then
vanished into it again, leaving the sound of footsteps. Fort jerked
the bell. He was shown into what seemed, to one coming out of that
mist, to be a brilliant, crowded room, though in truth there were but
two lamps and five people in it. They were sitting round the fire,
talking, and paused when he came in. When he had shaken hands with
Pierson and been introduced to "my daughter Gratian" and a man in
khaki "my son-in-law George Laird," to a tall thin-faced, foreign-
looking man in a black stock and seemingly no collar, he went up to
Noel, who had risen from a chair before the fire. 'No!' he thought,
'I've dreamed it, or Leila has lied!' She was so perfectly the self-
possessed, dainty maiden he remembered. Even the feel of her hand
was the same-warm and confident; and sinking into a chair, he said:
"Please go on, and let me chip in."
"We were quarrelling about the Universe, Captain Fort," said the man
in khaki; "delighted to have your help. I was just saying that this
particular world has no particular importance, no more than a
newspaper-seller would accord to it if it were completely destroyed
tomorrow--''Orrible catastrophe, total destruction of the world--six
o'clock edition-pyper!' I say that it will become again the nebula
out of which it was formed, and by friction with other nebula re-form
into a fresh shape and so on ad infinitum--but I can't explain why.
My wife wonders if it exists at all except in the human mind--but she
can't explain what the human mind is. My father-in-law thinks that
it is God's hobby--but he can't explain who or what God is. Nollie
is silent. And Monsieur Lavendie hasn't yet told us what he thinks.
What do you think, monsieur?" The thin-faced, big-eyed man put up
his hand to his high, veined brow as if he had a headache, reddened,
and began to speak in French, which Fort followed with difficulty.
"For me the Universe is a limitless artist, monsieur, who from all
time and to all time is ever expressing himself in differing forms--
always trying to make a masterpiece, and generally failing. For me
this world, and all the worlds, are like ourselves, and the flowers
and trees--little separate works of art, more or less perfect, whose
little lives run their course, and are spilled or powdered back into
this Creative Artist, whence issue ever fresh attempts at art. I
agree with Monsieur Laird, if I understand him right; but I agree
also with Madame Laird, if I understand her. You see, I think mind
and matter are one, or perhaps there is no such thing as either mind
or matter, only growth and decay and growth again, for ever and ever;
but always conscious growth--an artist expressing himself in millions
of ever-changing forms; decay and death as we call them, being but
rest and sleep, the ebbing of the tide, which must ever come between
two rising tides, or the night which comes between two days. But the
next day is never the same as the day before, nor the tide as the
last tide; so the little shapes of the world and of ourselves, these
works of art by the Eternal Artist, are never renewed in the same
form, are never twice alike, but always fresh-fresh worlds, fresh
individuals, fresh flowers, fresh everything. I do not see anything
depressing in that. To me it would be depressing to think that I
would go on living after death, or live again in a new body, myself
yet not myself. How stale that would be! When I finish a picture it
is inconceivable to me that this picture should ever become another
picture, or that one can divide the expression from the mind-stuff it
has expressed. The Great Artist who is the whole of Everything, is
ever in fresh effort to achieve new things. He is as a fountain who
throws up new drops, no two ever alike, which fall back into the
water, flow into the pipe, and so are thrown up again in fresh-shaped
drops. But I cannot explain why there should be this Eternal Energy,
ever expressing itself in fresh individual shapes, this Eternal
Working Artist, instead of nothing at all--just empty dark for
always; except indeed that it must be one thing or the other, either
all or nothing; and it happens to be this and not that, the all and
not the nothing."
He stopped speaking, and his big eyes, which had fixed themselves on
Fort's face, seemed to the latter not to be seeing him at all, but to
rest on something beyond. The man in khaki, who had risen and was
standing with his hand on his wife's shoulder, said:
"Bravo, monsieur; Jolly well put from the artist's point of view.
The idea is pretty, anyway; but is there any need for an idea at all?
Things are; and we have just to take them." Fort had the impression
of something dark and writhing; the thin black form of his host, who
had risen and come close to the fire.
"I cannot admit," he was saying, "the identity of the Creator with
the created. God exists outside ourselves. Nor can I admit that
there is no defnite purpose and fulfilment. All is shaped to His
great ends. I think we are too given to spiritual pride. The world
has lost reverence; I regret it, I bitterly regret it."
"I rejoice at it," said the man in khaki. "Now, Captain Fort, your
turn to bat!"
Fort, who had been looking at Noel, gave himself a shake, and said:
"I think what monsieur calls expression, I call fighting. I suspect
the Universe of being simply a long fight, a sum of conquests and
defeats. Conquests leading to defeats, defeats to conquests. I want
to win while I'm alive, and because I want to win, I want to live on
after death. Death is a defeat. I don't want to admit it. While I
have that instinct, I don't think I shall really die; when I lose it,
I think I shall." He was conscious of Noel's face turning towards
him, but had the feeling that she wasn't really listening.
"I suspect that what we call spirit is just the fighting instinct;
that what we call matter is the mood of lying down. Whether, as Mr.
Pierson says, God is outside us, or, as monsieur thinks, we are all
part of God, I don't know, I'm sure."
"Ah! There we are!" said the man in khaki. "We all speak after our
temperaments, and none of us know. The religions of the world are
just the poetic expressions of certain strongly marked temperaments.
Monsieur was a poet just now, and his is the only temperament which
has never yet been rammed down the world's throat in the form of
religion. Go out and proclaim your views from the housetops,
monsieur, and see what happens."
The painter shook his head with a smile which seemed to Fort very
bright on the surface, and very sad underneath.
"Non, monsieur," he said; "the artist does not wish to impose his
temperament. Difference of temperament is the very essence of his
joy, and his belief in life. Without difference there would be no
life for him. 'Tout casse, tout lasse,' but change goes on for ever:
We artists reverence change, monsieur; we reverence the newness of
each morning, of each night, of each person, of each expression of
energy. Nothing is final for us; we are eager for all and always for
more. We are in love, you see, even with-death."
There was a silence; then Fort heard Pierson murmur:
"That is beautiful, monsieur; but oh! how wrong!" "And what do you
think, Nollie?" said the man in khaki suddenly. The girl had been
sitting very still in her low chair, with her hands crossed in her
lap, her eyes on the fire, and the lamplight shining down on her fair
hair; she looked up, startled, and her eyes met Fort's.
"I don't know; I wasn't listening." Something moved in him, a kind
of burning pity, a rage of protection. He said quickly:
"These are times of action. Philosophy seems to mean nothing
nowadays. The one thing is to hate tyranny and cruelty, and protect
everything that's weak and lonely. It's all that's left to make life
worth living, when all the packs of all the world are out for blood."
Noel was listening now, and he went on fervently: "Why! Even we who
started out to fight this Prussian pack, have caught the pack feeling
--so that it's hunting all over the country, on every sort of scent.
It's a most infectious thing."
"I cannot see that we are being infected, Captain Fort."
"I'm afraid we are, Mr. Pierson. The great majority of people are
always inclined to run with the hounds; the pressure's great just
now; the pack spirit's in the air."
Pierson shook his head. "No, I cannot see it," he repeated; "it
seems to me that we are all more brotherly, and more tolerant."
"Ah! monsieur le cure," Fort heard the painter say very gently, "it
is difficult for a good man to see the evil round him. There are
those whom the world's march leaves apart, and reality cannot touch.
They walk with God, and the bestialities of us animals are fantastic
to them. The spirit of the pack, as monsieur says, is in the air. I
see all human nature now, running with gaping mouths and red tongues
lolling out, their breath and their cries spouting thick before them.
On whom they will fall next--one never knows; the innocent with the
guilty. Perhaps if you were to see some one dear to you devoured
before your eyes, monsieur le cure, you would feel it too; and yet I
do not know."
Fort saw Noel turn her face towards her father; her expression at
that moment was very strange, searching, half frightened. No! Leila
had not lied, and he had not dreamed! That thing was true!
When presently he took his leave, and was out again in the Square, he
could see nothing but her face and form before him in the moonlight:
its soft outline, fair colouring, slender delicacy, and the brooding
of the big grey eyes. He had already crossed New Oxford Street and
was some way down towards the Strand, when a voice behind him
murmured: "Ah! c'est vous, monsieur!" and the painter loomed up at
"Are you going my way?" said Fort. "I go slowly, I'm afraid."
"The slower the better, monsieur. London is so beautiful in the
dark. It is the despair of the painter--these moonlit nights. There
are moments when one feels that reality does not exist. All is in
dreams--like the face of that young lady."
Fort stared sharply round at him. "Oh! She strikes you like that,
"Ah! What a charming figure! What an atmosphere of the past and
future round her! And she will not let me paint her! Well, perhaps
only Mathieu Maris." He raised his broad Bohemian hat, and ran his
fingers through his hair.
"Yes," said Fort, "she'd make a wonderful picture. I'm not a judge
of Art, but I can see that."
The painter smiled, and went on in his rapid French:
"She has youth and age all at once--that is rare. Her father is an
interesting man, too; I am trying to paint him; he is very difficult.
He sits lost in some kind of vacancy of his own; a man whose soul has
gone before him somewhere, like that of his Church, escaped from this
age of machines, leaving its body behind--is it not? He is so kind;
a saint, I think. The other clergymen I see passing in the street
are not at all like him; they look buttoned-up and busy, with faces
of men who might be schoolmasters or lawyers, or even soldiers--men
of this world. Do you know this, monsieur--it is ironical, but it is
true, I think a man cannot be a successful priest unless he is a man
of this world. I do not see any with that look of Monsieur Pierson,
a little tortured within, and not quite present. He is half an
artist, really a lover of music, that man. I am painting him at the
piano; when he is playing his face is alive, but even then, so far
away. To me, monsieur, he is exactly like a beautiful church which
knows it is being deserted. I find him pathetic. Je suis
socialiste, but I have always an aesthetic admiration for that old
Church, which held its children by simple emotion. The times have
changed; it can no longer hold them so; it stands in the dusk, with
its spire to a heaven which exists no more, its bells, still
beautiful but out of tune with the music of the streets. It is
something of that which I wish to get into my picture of Monsieur
Pierson; and sapristi! it is difficult!" Fort grunted assent. So
far as he could make out the painter's words, it seemed to him a
"To do it, you see," went on the painter, "one should have the proper
background--these currents of modern life and modern types, passing
him and leaving him untouched. There is no illusion, and no
dreaming, in modern life. Look at this street. La, la!"
In the darkened Strand, hundreds of khaki-clad figures and girls were
streaming by, and all their voices had a hard, half-jovial vulgarity.
The motor-cabs and buses pushed along remorselessly; newspaper-
sellers muttered their ceaseless invitations. Again the painter made
his gesture of despair: "How am I to get into my picture this modern
life, which washes round him as round that church, there, standing in
the middle of the street? See how the currents sweep round it, as if
to wash it away; yet it stands, seeming not to see them. If I were a
phantasist, it would be easy enough: but to be a phantasist is too
simple for me--those romantic gentlemen bring what they like from
anywhere, to serve their ends. Moi, je suis realiste. And so,
monsieur, I have invented an idea. I am painting over his head while
he sits there at the piano a picture hanging on the wall--of one of
these young town girls who have no mysteriousness at all, no youth;
nothing but a cheap knowledge and defiance, and good humour. He is
looking up at it, but he does not see it. I will make the face of
that girl the face of modern life, and he shall sit staring at it,
seeing nothing. What do you think of my idea?"
But Fort had begun to feel something of the revolt which the man of
action so soon experiences when he listens to an artist talking.
"It sounds all right," he said abruptly; "all the same, monsieur, all
my sympathy is with modern life. Take these young girls, and these
Tommies. For all their feather-pated vulgarity and they are damned
vulgar, I must say--they're marvellous people; they do take the rough
with the smooth; they're all 'doing their bit,' you know, and facing
this particularly beastly world. Aesthetically, I daresay, they're
deplorable, but can you say that on the whole their philosophy isn't
an advance on anything we've had up till now? They worship nothing,
it's true; but they keep their ends up marvellously."
The painter, who seemed to feel the wind blowing cold on his ideas,
shrugged his shoulders.
"I am not concerned with that, monsieur; I set down what I see;
better or worse, I do not know. But look at this!" And he pointed
down the darkened and moonlit street. It was all jewelled and
enamelled with little spots and splashes of subdued red and green-
blue light, and the downward orange glow of the high lamps--like an
enchanted dream-street peopled by countless moving shapes, which only
came to earth-reality when seen close to. The painter drew his
breath in with a hiss.
"Ah!" he said, "what beauty! And they don't see it--not one in a
thousand! Pity, isn't it? Beauty is the holy thing!"
Fort, in his turn, shrugged his shoulders. "Every man to his
vision!" he said. "My leg's beginning to bother me; I'm afraid I
must take a cab. Here's my address; any time you like to come. I'm
often in about seven. I can't take you anywhere, I suppose?"
"A thousand thanks, monsieur; but I go north. I loved your words
about the pack. I often wake at night and hear the howling of all
the packs of the world. Those who are by nature gentle nowadays feel
they are strangers in a far land. Good night, monsieur!"
He took off his queer hat, bowed low, and crossed out into the
Strand, like one who had come in a dream, and faded out with the
waking. Fort hailed a cab, and went home, still seeing Noel's face.
There was one, if you liked, waiting to be thrown to the wolves,
waiting for the world's pack to begin howling round her--that lovely
child; and the first, the loudest of all the pack, perhaps, must be
her own father, the lean, dark figure with the gentle face, and the
burnt bright eyes. What a ghastly business! His dreams that night
were not such as Leila would have approved.
When in the cupboard there is a real and very bony skeleton,
carefully kept from the sight of a single member of the family, the
position of that member is liable to become lonely. But Pierson, who
had been lonely fifteen years, did not feel it so much, perhaps, as
most men would have. In his dreamy nature there was a curious self-
sufficiency, which only violent shocks disturbed, and he went on with
his routine of duty, which had become for him as set as the pavements
he trod on his way to and from it. It was not exactly true, as the
painter had said, that this routine did not bring him into touch with
life. After all he saw people when they were born, when they
married, when they died. He helped them when they wanted money, and
when they were ill; he told their children Bible stories on Sunday
afternoons; he served those who were in need with soup and bread from
his soup kitchen. He never spared himself in any way, and his ears
were always at the service of their woes. And yet he did not
understand them, and they knew that. It was as though he, or they,
were colour-blind. The values were all different. He was seeing one
set of objects, they another.
One street of his parish touched a main line of thoroughfare, and
formed a little part of the new hunting-grounds of women, who, chased
forth from their usual haunts by the Authorities under pressure of
the country's danger, now pursued their calling in the dark. This
particular evil had always been a sort of nightmare to Pierson. The
starvation which ruled his own existence inclined him to a
particularly severe view and severity was not his strong point. In
consequence there was ever within him a sort of very personal and
poignant struggle going on beneath that seeming attitude of rigid
disapproval. He joined the hunters, as it were, because he was
afraid-not, of course, of his own instincts, for he was fastidious, a
gentleman, and a priest, but of being lenient to a sin, to something
which God abhorred: He was, as it were, bound to take a professional
view of this particular offence. When in his walks abroad he passed
one of these women, he would unconsciously purse his lips, and frown.
The darkness of the streets seemed to lend them such power, such
unholy sovereignty over the night. They were such a danger to the
soldiers, too; and in turn, the soldiers were such a danger to the
lambs of his flock. Domestic disasters in his parish came to his
ears from time to time; cases of young girls whose heads were turned
by soldiers, so that they were about to become mothers. They seemed
to him pitiful indeed; but he could not forgive them for their
giddiness, for putting temptation in the way of brave young men,
fighting, or about to fight. The glamour which surrounded soldiers
was not excuse enough. When the babies were born, and came to his
notice, he consulted a Committee he had formed, of three married and
two maiden ladies, who visited the mothers, and if necessary took the
babies into a creche; for those babies had a new value to the
country, and were not--poor little things!--to be held responsible
for their mothers' faults. He himself saw little of the young
mothers; shy of them, secretly afraid, perhaps, of not being
censorious enough. But once in a way Life set him face to face with
On New Year's Eve he was sitting in his study after tea, at that hour
which he tried to keep for his parishioners, when a Mrs. Mitchett was
announced, a small bookseller's wife, whom he knew for an occasional
Communicant. She came in, accompanied by a young dark-eyed girl in a
loose mouse-coloured coat. At his invitation they sat down in front
of the long bookcase on the two green leather chairs which had grown
worn in the service of the parish; and, screwed round in his chair at
the bureau, with his long musician's fingers pressed together, he
looked at them and waited. The woman had taken out her handkerchief,
and was wiping her eyes; but the girl sat quiet, as the mouse she
somewhat resembled in that coat.
"Yes, Mrs. Mitchett?" He said gently, at last.
The woman put away her handkerchief, sniffed resolutely, and began:
"It's 'Ilda, sir. Such a thing Mitchett and me never could 'ave
expected, comin' on us so sudden. I thought it best to bring ,'er
round, poor girl. Of course, it's all the war. I've warned 'er a
dozen times; but there it is, comin' next month, and the man in
France." Pierson instinctively averted his gaze from the girl, who
had not moved her eyes from his face, which she scanned with a
seeming absence of interest, as if she had long given up thinking
over her lot, and left it now to others.
"That is sad," he said; "very, very sad."
"Yes," murmured Mrs. Mitchett; "that's what I tell 'Ilda."
The girl's glance, lowered for a second, resumed its impersonal
scrutiny of Pierson's face.
"What is the man's name and regiment? Perhaps we can get leave for
him to come home and marry Hilda at once."
Mrs. Mitchett sniffed. "She won't give it, sir. Now, 'Ilda, give it
to Mr. Pierson." And her voice had a real note of entreaty. The
girl shook her head. Mrs. Mitchett murmured dolefully: "That's 'ow
she is, sir; not a word will she say. And as I tell her, we can only
think there must 'ave been more than one. And that does put us to
But still the girl made no sign.
"You speak to her, sir; I'm really at my wit's end."
"Why won't you tell us?" said Pierson. "The man will want to do the
right thing, 'I'm sure."
The girl shook her head, and spoke for the first time.
"I don't know his name."
Mrs. Mitchett's face twitched.
"Oh, dear!" she said: "Think of that! She's never said as much to
"Not know his name?" Pierson murmured. "But how--how could you--"
he stopped, but his face had darkened. "Surely you would never have
done such a thing without affection? Come, tell me!"
"I don't know it," the girl repeated.
"It's these Parks," said Mrs. Mitchett, from behind her
handkerchief. "And to think that this'll be our first grandchild and
all! 'Ilda is difficult; as quiet, as quiet; but that stubborn--"
Pierson looked at the girl, who seemed, if anything, less interested
than ever. This impenetrability and something mulish in her attitude
annoyed him. "I can't think," he said, "how you could so have
forgotten yourself. It's truly grievous."
Mrs. Mitchett murmured: "Yes, sir; the girls gets it into their heads
that there's going to be no young men for them."
"That's right," said the girl sullenly.
Pierson's lips grew tighter. "Well, what can I do for you, Mrs.
Mitchett?" he said. "Does your daughter come to church?"
Mrs. Mitchett shook her head mournfully. "Never since she had her
Pierson rose from his chair. The old story! Control and discipline
undermined, and these bitter apples the result!
"Well," he said, "if you need our creche, you have only to come to
me," and he turned to the girl. "And you--won't you let this
dreadful experience move your heart? My dear girl, we must all
master ourselves, our passions, and our foolish wilfulness,
especially in these times when our country needs us strong, and self-
disciplined, not thinking of ourselves. I'm sure you're a good girl
The girl's dark eyes, unmoved from his face, roused in him a spasm of
nervous irritation. "Your soul is in great danger, and you're very
unhappy, I can see. Turn to God for help, and in His mercy
everything will be made so different for you--so very different!
The girl said with a sort of surprising quietness: "I don't want the
The remark staggered him, almost as if she had uttered a hideous
'Ilda was in munitions," said her mother in an explanatory voice:
"earnin' a matter of four pound a week. Oh! dear, it is a waste an'
all!" A queer, rather terrible little smile curled Pierson's lips.
"A judgment!" he said. "Good evening, Mrs. Mitchett. Good evening,
Hilda. If you want me when the time comes, send for me."
They stood up; he shook hands with them; and was suddenly aware that
the door was open, and Noel standing there. He had heard no sound;
and how long she had been there he could not tell. There was a
singular fixity in her face and attitude. She was staring at the
girl, who, as she passed, lifted her face, so that the dark eyes and
the grey eyes met. The door was shut, and Noel stood there alone
"Aren't you early, my child?" said Pierson. "You came in very
"Yes; I heard."
A slight shock went through him at the tone of her voice; her face
had that possessed look which he always dreaded. "What did you
hear?" he said.
"I heard you say: 'A judgment!' You'll say the same to me, won't
you? Only, I do want my baby."
She was standing with her back to the door, over which a dark curtain
hung; her face looked young and small against its stuff, her eyes
very large. With one hand she plucked at her blouse, just over her
Pierson stared at her, and gripped the back of the chair he had been
sitting in. A lifetime of repression served him in the half-realised
horror of that moment. He stammered out the single word
"It's quite true," she said, turned round, and went out.
Pierson had a sort of vertigo; if he had moved, he must have fallen
down. Nollie! He slid round and sank into his chair, and by some
horrible cruel fiction of his nerves, he seemed to feel Noel on his
knee, as, when a little girl, she had been wont to sit, with her fair
hair fluffing against his cheek. He seemed to feel that hair
tickling his skin; it used to be the greatest comfort he had known
since her mother died. At that moment his pride shrivelled like a
flower held to a flame; all that abundant secret pride of a father
who loves and admires, who worships still a dead wife in the children
she has left him; who, humble by nature, yet never knows how proud he
is till the bitter thing happens; all the long pride of the priest
who, by dint of exhortation and remonstrance has coated himself in a
superiority he hardly suspects--all this pride shrivelled in him.
Then something writhed and cried within, as a tortured beast cries,
at loss to know why it is being tortured. How many times has not a
man used those words: "My God! My God! Why hast Thou forsaken me!"
He sprang up and tried to pace his way out of this cage of confusion:
His thoughts and feelings made the strangest medley, spiritual and
worldly--Social ostracism--her soul in peril--a trial sent by God!
The future! Imagination failed him. He went to his little piano,
opened it, closed it again; took his hat, and stole out. He walked
fast, without knowing where. It was very cold--a clear, bitter
evening. Silent rapid motion in the frosty air was some relief. As
Noel had fled from him, having uttered her news, so did he fly from
her. The afflicted walk fast. He was soon down by the river, and
turned West along its wall. The moon was up, bright and nearly full,
and the steel-like shimmer of its light burnished the ebbing water.
A cruel night! He came to the Obelisk, and leaned against it,
overcome by a spasm of realisation. He seemed to see his dead wife's
face staring at him out of the past, like an accusation. "How have
you cared for Nollie, that she should have come to this?" It became
the face of the moonlit sphinx, staring straight at him, the broad
dark face with wide nostrils, cruel lips, full eyes blank of pupils,
all livened and whitened by the moonlight--an embodiment of the
marvellous unseeing energy of Life, twisting and turning hearts
without mercy. He gazed into those eyes with a sort of scared
defiance. The great clawed paws of the beast, the strength and
remorseless serenity of that crouching creature with human head, made
living by his imagination and the moonlight, seemed to him like a
temptation to deny God, like a refutation of human virtue.
Then, the sense of beauty stirred in him; he moved where he could see
its flanks coated in silver by the moonlight, the ribs and the great
muscles, and the tail with tip coiled over the haunch, like the head
of a serpent. It was weirdly living; fine and cruel, that great man-
made thing. It expressed something in the soul of man, pitiless and
remote from love--or rather, the remorselessness which man had seen,
lurking within man's fate. Pierson recoiled from it, and resumed his
march along the Embankment, almost deserted in the bitter cold. He
came to where, in the opening of the Underground railway, he could
see the little forms of people moving, little orange and red lights
glowing. The sight arrested him by its warmth and motion. Was it
not all a dream? That woman and her daughter, had they really come?
Had not Noel been but an apparition, her words a trick which his
nerves had played him? Then, too vividly again, he saw her face
against the dark stuff of the curtain, the curve of her hand plucking
at her blouse, heard the sound of his own horrified: "Nollie!" No
illusion, no deception! The edifice of his life was in the dust.
And a queer and ghastly company of faces came about him; faces he had
thought friendly, of good men and women whom he knew, yet at that
moment did not know, all gathered round Noel, with fingers pointing
at her. He staggered back from that vision, could not bear it, could
not recognise this calamity. With a sort of comfort, yet an aching
sense of unreality, his mind flew to all those summer holidays spent
in Scotland, Ireland, Cornwall, Wales, by mountain and lake, with his
two girls; what sunsets, and turning leaves, birds, beasts, and
insects they had watched together! From their youthful
companionship, their eagerness, their confidence in him, he had known
so much warmth and pleasure. If all those memories were true, surely
this could not be true. He felt suddenly that he must hurry back, go
straight to Noel, tell her that she had been cruel to him, or assure
himself that, for the moment, she had been insane: His temper rose
suddenly, took fire. He felt anger against her, against every one he
knew, against life itself. Thrusting his hands deep into the pockets
of his thin black overcoat, he plunged into that narrow glowing
tunnel of the station booking-office, which led back to the crowded
streets. But by the time he reached home his anger had evaporated;
he felt nothing but utter lassitude. It was nine o'clock, and the
maids had cleared the dining table. In despair Noel had gone up to
her room. He had no courage left, and sat down supperless at his
little piano, letting his fingers find soft painful harmonies, so
that Noel perhaps heard the faint far thrumming of that music through
uneasy dreams. And there he stayed, till it became time for him to
go forth to the Old Year's Midnight Service.
When he returned, Pierson wrapped himself in a rug and lay down on
the old sofa in his study. The maid, coming in next morning to "do"
the grate, found him still asleep. She stood contemplating him in
awe; a broad-faced, kindly, fresh-coloured girl. He lay with his
face resting on his hand, his dark, just grizzling hair unruffled, as
if he had not stirred all night; his other hand clutched the rug to
his chest, and his booted feet protruded beyond it. To her young
eyes he looked rather appallingly neglected. She gazed with interest
at the hollows in his cheeks, and the furrows in his brow, and the
lips, dark-moustached and bearded, so tightly compressed, even in.
sleep. Being holy didn't make a man happy, it seemed! What
fascinated her were the cindery eyelashes resting on the cheeks, the
faint movement of face and body as he breathed, the gentle hiss of
breath escaping through the twitching nostrils. She moved nearer,
bending down over him, with the childlike notion of counting those
lashes. Her lips parted in readiness to say: "Oh!" if he waked.
Something in his face, and the little twitches which passed over it,
made her feel "that sorry" for him. He was a gentleman, had money,
preached to her every Sunday, and was not so very old--what more
could a man want? And yet--he looked so tired, with those cheeks.
She pitied him; helpless and lonely he seemed to her, asleep there
instead of going to bed properly. And sighing, she tiptoed towards
"Is that you, Bessie?"
The girl turned: "Yes, sir. I'm sorry I woke you, sir. 'Appy New
"Ah, yes. A Happy New Year, Bessie."
She saw his usual smile, saw it die, and a fixed look come on his
face; it scared her, and she hurried away. Pierson had remembered.
For full five minutes he lay there staring at nothing. Then he rose,
folded the rug mechanically, and looked at the clock. Eight! He
went upstairs, knocked on Noel's door, and entered.
The blinds were drawn up, but she was still in bed. He stood looking
down at her. "A Happy New Year, my child!" he said; and he trembled
all over, shivering visibly. She looked so young and innocent, so
round-faced and fresh, after her night's sleep, that the thought
sprang up in him again: 'It must have been a dream!' She did not
move, but a slow flush came up in her cheeks. No dream--dream! He
said tremulously: "I can't realise. I--I hoped I had heard wrong.
Didn't I, Nollie? Didn't I?"
She just shook her head.
"Tell me--everything," he said; "for God's sake!"
He saw her lips moving, and caught the murmur: "There s nothing more.
Gratian and George know, and Leila. It can't be undone, Daddy.
Perhaps I wouldn't have wanted to make sure, if you hadn't tried to
stop Cyril and me--and I'm glad sometimes, because I shall have
something of his--" She looked up at him. "After all, it's the
same, really; only, there's no ring. It's no good talking to me now,
as if I hadn't been thinking of this for ages. I'm used to anything
you can say; I've said it to myself, you see. There's nothing but to
make the best of it."
Her hot hand came out from under the bedclothes, and clutched his
very tight. Her flush had deepened, and her eyes seemed to him to
"Oh, Daddy! You do look tired! Haven't you been to bed? Poor
That hot clutch, and the words: "Poor Daddy!" brought tears into his
eyes. They rolled slowly down to his beard, and he covered his face
with the other hand. Her grip tightened convulsively; suddenly she
dragged it to her lips, kissed it, and let it drop.
"Don't!" she said, and turned away her face.
Pierson effaced his emotion, and said quite calmly:
"Shall you wish to be at home, my dear, or to go elsewhere?"
Noel had begun to toss her head on her pillow, like a feverish child
whose hair gets in its eyes and mouth.
"Oh! I don't know; what does it matter?"
"Kestrel; would you like to go there? Your aunt--I could write to
her." Noel stared at him a moment; a struggle seemed going on within
"Yes," she said, "I would. Only, not Uncle Bob."
"Perhaps your uncle would come up here, and keep me company."
She turned her face away, and that tossing movement of the limbs
beneath the clothes began again. "I don't care," she said;
"anywhere--it doesn't matter."
Pierson put his chilly hand on her forehead. "Gently!" he said, and
knelt down by the bed. "Merciful Father," he murmured, "give us
strength to bear this dreadful trial. Keep my beloved child safe,
and bring her peace; and give me to understand how I have done wrong,
how I have failed towards Thee, and her. In all things chasten and
strengthen her, my child, and me."
His thoughts moved on in the confused, inarticulate suspense of
prayer, till he heard her say: "You haven't failed; why do you talk
of failing--it isn't true; and don't pray for me, Daddy."
Pierson raised himself, and moved back from the bed. Her words
confounded him, yet he was afraid to answer. She pushed her head
deep into the pillow, and lay looking up at the ceiling.
"I shall have a son; Cyril won't quite have died. And I don't want
to be forgiven."
He dimly perceived what long dumb processes of thought and feeling
had gone on in her to produce this hardened state of mind, which to
him seemed almost blasphemous. And in the very midst of this turmoil
in his heart, he could not help thinking how lovely her face looked,
lying back so that the curve of her throat was bared, with the short
tendrils of hair coiling about it. That flung-back head, moving
restlessly from side to side in the heat of the soft pillow, had such
a passion of protesting life in it! And he kept silence.
"I want you to know it was all me. But I can't pretend. Of course
I'll try and not let it hurt you more than I possibly can. I'm sorry
for you, poor Daddy; oh! I'm sorry for you!" With a movement
incredibly lithe and swift, she turned and pressed her face down in
the pillow, so that all he could see was her tumbled hair and the
bedclothes trembling above her shoulders. He tried to stroke that
hair, but she shook her head free, and he stole out.
She did not come to breakfast; and when his own wretched meal was
over, the mechanism of his professional life caught him again at
once. New Year's Day! He had much to do. He had, before all, to be
of a cheerful countenance before his flock, to greet all and any with
an air of hope and courage.
Thirza Pierson, seeing her brother-in-law's handwriting, naturally
said: "Here's a letter from Ted."
Bob Pierson, with a mouth full of sausage, as naturally responded:
"What does he say?"
In reading on, she found that to answer that question was one of the
most difficult tasks ever set her. Its news moved and disturbed her
deeply. Under her wing this disaster had happened! Down here had
been wrought this most deplorable miracle, fraught with such
dislocation of lives! Noel's face, absorbed and passionate, outside
the door of her room on the night when Cyril Morland went away--her
instinct had been right!
"He wants you to go up and stay with him, Bob."
"Why not both of us?"
"He wants Nollie to come down to me; she's not well."
"Not well? What's the matter?"
To tell him seemed disloyalty to her sex; not to tell him, disloyalty
to her husband. A simple consideration of fact and not of principle,
decided her. He would certainly say in a moment: 'Here! Pitch it
over!' and she would have to. She said tranquilly:
"You remember that night when Cyril Morland went away, and Noel
behaved so strangely. Well, my dear; she is going to have a child at
the beginning of April. The poor boy is dead, Bob; he died for the
She saw the red tide flow up into his face.
"Poor Edward is dreadfully upset. We must do what we can. I blame
myself." By instinct she used those words.
"Blame yourself? Stuff! That young--!" He stopped.
Thirza said quietly: "No, Bob; of the two, I'm sure it was Noel; she
was desperate that day. Don't you remember her face? Oh! this war!
It's turned the whole world upside down. That's the only comfort;
Bob Pierson possessed beyond most men the secret of happiness, for he
was always absorbed in the moment, to the point of unself-
consciousness. Eating an egg, cutting down a tree, sitting on a
Tribunal, making up his accounts, planting potatoes, looking at the
moon, riding his cob, reading the Lessons--no part of him stood aside
to see how he was doing it, or wonder why he was doing it, or not
doing it better. He grew like a cork-tree, and acted like a sturdy
and well-natured dog. His griefs, angers, and enjoyments were simple
as a child's, or as his somewhat noisy slumbers. They were notably
well-suited, for Thirza had the same secret of happiness, though her,
absorption in the moment did not--as became a woman--prevent her
being conscious of others; indeed, such formed the chief subject of
her absorptions. One might say that they neither of them had
philosophy yet were as philosophic a couple as one could meet on this
earth of the self-conscious. Daily life to these two was still of
simple savour. To be absorbed in life--the queer endless tissue of
moments and things felt and done and said and made, the odd
inspiriting conjunctions of countless people--was natural to them;
but they never thought whether they were absorbed or not, or had any
particular attitude to Life or Death--a great blessing at the epoch
in which they were living.
Bob Pierson, then, paced the room, so absorbed in his dismay and
concern, that he was almost happy.
"By Jove!" he said, "what a ghastly thing!
"Nollie, of all people! I feel perfectly wretched, Thirza; wretched
beyond words." But with each repetition his voice grew cheerier, and
Thirza felt that he was already over the worst.
"Your coffee's getting cold!" she said.
"What do you advise? Shall I go up, heh?"
"I think you'll be a godsend to poor Ted; you'll keep his spirits up.
Eve won't get any leave till Easter; and I can be quite alone, and
see to Nollie here. The servants can have a holiday--, Nurse and I
will run the house together. I shall enjoy it."
"You're a good woman, Thirza!" Taking his wife's hand, he put it to
his lips. "There isn't another woman like you in the world."
Thirza's eyes smiled. "Pass me your cup; I'll give you some fresh
It was decided to put the plan into operation at mid-month, and she
bent all her wits to instilling into her husband the thought that a
baby more or less was no great matter in a world which already
contained twelve hundred million people. With a man's keener sense
of family propriety, he could not see that this baby would be the
same as any other baby. "By heaven!" he would say, "I simply can't
get used to it; in our family! And Ted a parson! What the devil
shall we do with it?"
"If Nollie will let us, why shouldn't we adopt it? It'll be
something to take my thoughts off the boys."
"That's an idea! But Ted's a funny fellow. He'll have some doctrine
of atonement, or other in his bonnet."
"Oh, bother!" said Thirza with asperity.
The thought of sojourning in town for a spell was not unpleasant to
Bob Pierson. His Tribunal work was over, his early, potatoes in, and
he had visions of working for the Country, of being a special
constable, and dining at his Club. The nearer he was to the front,
and the more he could talk about the war, the greater the service he
felt he would be doing. He would ask for a job where his brains
would be of use. He regretted keenly that Thirza wouldn't be with
him; a long separation like this would be a great trial. And he
would sigh and run his fingers through his whiskers. Still for the
Country, and for Nollie, one must put up with it!
When Thirza finally saw him into the train, tears stood in the eyes
of both, for they were honestly attached, and knew well enough that
this job, once taken in hand, would have to be seen through; a three
months' separation at least.
"I shall write every day."
"So shall I, Bob."
"You won't fret, old girl?"
"Only if you do."
"I shall be up at 5.5, and she'll be down at 4.50. Give us a kiss--
damn the porters. God bless you! I suppose she'd mind if--I--were
to come down now and then?"
"I'm afraid she would. It's--it's--well, you know."
"Yes, Yes; I do." And he really did; for underneath, he had true
Her last words: "You're very sweet, Bob," remained in his ears all
the way to Severn Junction.
She went back to the house, emptied of her husband, daughter, boys,
and maids; only the dogs left and the old nurse whom she had taken
into confidence. Even in that sheltered, wooded valley it was very
cold this winter. The birds hid themselves, not one flower bloomed,
and the red-brown river was full and swift. The sound of trees being
felled for trench props, in the wood above the house resounded all
day long in the frosty air. She meant to do the cooking herself; and
for the rest of the morning and early afternoon she concocted nice
things, and thought out how she herself would feel if she were Noel
and Noel she, so as to smooth out of the way anything which would
hurt the girl. In the afternoon she went down to the station in the
village car, the same which had borne Cyril Morland away that July
night, for their coachman had been taken for the army, and the horses
were turned out.
Noel looked tired and white, but calm--too calm. Her face seemed to
Thirza to have fined down, and with those brooding eyes, to be more
beautiful. In the car she possessed herself of the girl's hand, and
squeezed it hard; their only allusion to the situation, except Noel's
"Thank you so much, Auntie, for having me; it's most awfully sweet of
you and Uncle Bob."
"There's no one in the house, my dear, except old Nurse. It'll be
very dull for you; but I thought I'd teach you to cook; it's rather
The smile which slipped on to Noel's face gave Thirza quite a turn.
She had assigned the girl a different room, and had made it
extraordinarily cheerful with a log fire, chrysanthemums, bright
copper candlesticks, warming-pans, and such like.
She went up with her at bedtime, and standing before the fire, said:
"You know, Nollie, I absolutely refuse to regard this as any sort of
tragedy. To bring life into the worlds in these days, no matter-
how, ought to make anyone happy. I only wish I could do it again,
then I should feel some use. Good night dear; and if you want
anything, knock on the wall. I'm next door. Bless you!" She saw
that the girl was greatly moved, underneath her pale mask; and went
out astonished at her niece's powers of self-control.
But she did not sleep at all well; for in imagination, she kept on
seeing Noel turning from side to side in the big bed, and those great
eyes of hers staring at the dark.
The meeting of the brothers Pierson took place at the dinner-hour,
and was characterised by a truly English lack of display. They were
so extremely different, and had been together so little since early
days in their old Buckinghamshire home, that they were practically
strangers, with just the potent link of far-distant memories in
common. It was of these they talked, and about the war. On this
subject they agreed in the large, and differed in the narrow. For
instance, both thought they knew about Germany and other countries,
and neither of course had any real knowledge of any country outside
their own; for, though both had passed through considerable tracts of
foreign ground at one time or another, they had never remarked
anything except its surface,--its churches, and its sunsets. Again,
both assumed that they were democrats, but neither knew the meaning
of the word, nor felt that the working man could be really trusted;
and both revered Church and, King: Both disliked conscription, but
considered it necessary. Both favoured Home Rule for Ireland, but
neither thought it possible to grant it. Both wished for the war to
end, but were for prosecuting it to Victory, and neither knew what
they meant by that word. So much for the large. On the narrower
issues, such as strategy, and the personality of their country's
leaders, they were opposed. Edward was a Westerner, Robert an
Easterner, as was natural in one who had lived twenty-five years in
Ceylon. Edward favoured the fallen government, Robert the risen.
Neither had any particular reasons for their partisanship except what
he had read in the journals. After all--what other reasons could
they have had? Edward disliked the Harmsworth Press; Robert thought
it was doing good. Robert was explosive, and rather vague; Edward
dreamy, and a little didactic. Robert thought poor Ted looking like
a ghost; Edward thought poor Bob looking like the setting sun. Their
faces were indeed as curiously contrasted as their views and voices;
the pale-dark, hollowed, narrow face of Edward, with its short,
pointed beard, and the red-skinned, broad, full, whiskered face of
Robert. They parted for the night with an affectionate hand-clasp.
So began a queer partnership which consisted, as the days went on, of
half an hour's companionship at breakfast, each reading the paper;
and of dinner together perhaps three times a week. Each thought his
brother very odd, but continued to hold the highest opinion of him.
And, behind it all, the deep tribal sense that they stood together in
trouble, grew. But of that trouble they never spoke, though not
seldom Robert would lower his journal, and above the glasses perched
on his well-shaped nose, contemplate his brother, and a little frown
of sympathy would ridge his forehead between his bushy eyebrows. And
once in a way he would catch Edward's eyes coming off duty from his
journal, to look, not at his brother, but at--the skeleton; when that
happened, Robert would adjust his glasses hastily, damn the newspaper
type, and apologise to Edward for swearing. And he would think:
'Poor Ted! He ought to drink port, and--and enjoy himself, and
forget it. What a pity he's a parson!'
In his letters to Thirza he would deplore Edward's asceticism. "He
eats nothing, he drinks nothing, he smokes a miserable cigarette once
in a blue moon. He's as lonely as a coot; it's a thousand pities he
ever lost his wife. I expect to see his wings sprout any day; but-
dash it all I--I don't believe he's got the flesh to grow them on.
Send him up some clotted cream; I'll see if I can get him to eat it."
When the cream came, he got Edward to eat some the first morning, and
at tea time found that he had finished it himself. "We never talk
about Nollie," he wrote, "I'm always meaning to have it out with him
and tell him to buck up, but when it comes to the point I dry up;
because, after all, I feel it too; it sticks in my gizzard horribly.
We Piersons are pretty old, and we've always been respectable, ever
since St. Bartholomew, when that Huguenot chap came over and founded
us. The only black sheep I ever heard of is Cousin Leila. By the
way, I saw her the other day; she came round here to see Ted. I
remember going to stay with her and her first husband; young Fane, at
Simla, when I was coming home, just before we were married. Phew!
That was a queer menage; all the young chaps fluttering round her,
and young Fane looking like a cynical ghost. Even now she can't help
setting her cap a little at Ted, and he swallows her whole; thinks
her a devoted creature reformed to the nines with her hospital and
all that. Poor old Ted; he is the most dreamy chap that ever was."
"We have had Gratian and her husband up for the week-end," he wrote a
little later; "I don't like her so well as Nollie; too serious and
downright for me. Her husband seems a sensible fellow, though; but
the devil of a free-thinker. He and poor Ted are like cat and dog.
We had Leila in to dinner again on Saturday, and a man called Fort
came too. She's sweet on him, I could see with half an eye, but poor
old Ted can't. The doctor and Ted talked up hill and down dale. The
doctor said a thing which struck me. 'What divides us from the
beasts? Will power: nothing else. What's this war, really, but a
death carnival of proof that man's will is invincible?' I stuck it
down to tell you, when I got upstairs. He's a clever fellow. I
believe in God, as you know, but I must say when it comes to an
argument, poor old Ted does seem a bit weak, with his: 'We're told
this,' and 'We're told that: Nobody mentioned Nollie. I must have
the whole thing out with Ted; we must know how to act when it's all
But not till the middle of March, when the brothers had been sitting
opposite each other at meals for two months, was the subject broached
between them, and then not by Robert. Edward, standing by the hearth
after dinner, in his familiar attitude, one foot on the fender, one
hand grasping the mantel-shelf, and his eyes fixed on the flames,
said: "I've never asked your forgiveness, Bob."
Robert, lingering at the table over his glass of port, started,
looked at Edward's back in its parson's coat, and answered:
"My dear old chap!"
"It has been very difficult to speak of this."
"Of course, of course!" And there was a silence, while Robert's eyes
travelled round the walls for inspiration. They encountered only the
effigies of past Piersons very oily works, and fell back on the
dining-table. Edward went on speaking to the fire:
"It still seems to me incredible. Day and night I think of what it's
my duty to do."
"Nothing!" ejaculated Robert. "Leave the baby with Thirza; we'll
take care of it, and when Nollie's fit, let her go back to work in a
hospital again. She'll soon get over it." He saw his brother shake
his head, and thought: 'Ah! yes; now there's going to be some d--d
Edward turned round on him: "That is very sweet of you both, but it
would be wrong and cowardly for me to allow it."
The resentment which springs up in fathers when other fathers dispose
of young lives, rose in Robert.
"Dash it all, my dear Ted, that's for Nollie to say. She's a woman
A smile went straying about in the shadows of his brother's face. "A
woman? Little Nollie! Bob, I've made a terrible mess of it with my
girls." He hid his lips with his hand, and turned again to the
flames. Robert felt a lump in his throat. "Oh! Hang it, old boy, I
don't think that. What else could you have done? You take too much
on yourself. After all, they're fine girls. I'm sure Nollie's a
darling. It's these modern notions, and this war. Cheer up! It'll
all dry straight." He went up to his brother and put a hand on his
shoulder. Edward seemed to stiffen under that touch.
"Nothing comes straight," he said, "unless it's faced; you know that,
Robert's face was a study at that moment. His cheeks filled and
collapsed again like a dog's when it has been rebuked. His colour
deepened, and he rattled some money in a trouser pocket.
"Something in that, of course," he said gruffly. "All the same, the
decision's with Nollie. We'll see what Thirza says. Anyway, there's
no hurry. It's a thousand pities you're a parson; the trouble's
enough without that:"
Edward shook his head. "My position is nothing; it's the thought of
my child, my wife's child. It's sheer pride; and I can't subdue it.
I can't fight it down. God forgive me, I rebel."
And Robert thought: 'By George, he does take it to heart! Well, so
should I! I do, as it is!' He took out his pipe, and filled it,
pushing the tobacco down and down.
"I'm not a man of the world," he heard his brother say; "I'm out of
touch with many things. It's almost unbearable to me to feel that
I'm joining with the world to condemn my own daughter; not for their
reasons, perhaps--I don't know; I hope not, but still, I'm against
Robert lit his pipe.
"Steady, old man!" he said. "It's a misfortune. But if I were you
I should feel: 'She's done a wild, silly thing, but, hang it, if
anybody says a word against her, I'll wring his neck.' And what's
more, you'll feel much the same, when it comes to the point." He
emitted a huge puff of smoke, which obscured his brother's face, and
the blood, buzzing in his temples, seemed to thicken the sound of
"I don't know; I've tried to see clearly. I have prayed to be shown
what her duty is, and mine. It seems to me there can be no peace for
her until she has atoned, by open suffering; that the world's
judgment is her cross, and she must bear it; especially in these
days, when all the world is facing suffering so nobly. And then it
seems so hard-so bitter; my poor little Nollie!"
There was a silence, broken only by the gurgling of Robert's pipe,
till he said abruptly:
"I don't follow you, Ted; no, I don't. I think a man should screen
his children all he can. Talk to her as you like, but don't let the
world do it. Dash it, the world's a rotten gabbling place. I call
myself a man of the world, but when it comes to private matters--
well, then I draw the line. It seems to me it seems to me inhuman.
What does George Laird think about it? He's a knowing chap. I
suppose you've--no, I suppose you haven't--" For a peculiar smile
had come on Edward's face.
"No," he said, "I should hardly ask George Laird's opinion."
And Robert realised suddenly the stubborn loneliness of that thin
black figure, whose fingers were playing with a little gold cross.
'By Jove!' he thought, 'I believe old Ted's like one of those Eastern
chaps who go into lonely places. He's got himself surrounded by
visions of things that aren't there. He lives in unreality--
something we can't understand. I shouldn't be surprised if he heard
voices, like--'who was it? Tt, tt! What a pity!' Ted was deceptive.
He was gentle and--all that, a gentleman of course, and that
disguised him; but underneath; what was there--a regular ascetic, a
fakir! And a sense of bewilderment, of dealing with something which
he could not grasp, beset Bob Pierson, so that he went back to the
table, and sat down again beside his port.
"It seems to me," he said rather gruffly, "that the chicken had
better be hatched before we count it." And then, sorry for his
brusqueness, emptied his glass. As the fluid passed over his palate,
he thought: 'Poor old Ted! He doesn't even drink--hasn't a pleasure
in life, so far as I can see, except doing his duty, and doesn't even
seem to know what that is. There aren't many like him--luckily! And
yet I love him--pathetic chap!'
The "pathetic chap" was still staring at the flames.
And at this very hour, when the brothers were talking--for thought
and feeling do pass mysteriously over the invisible wires of space
Cyril Morland's son was being born of Noel, a little before his time.
Down by the River Wye, among plum-trees in blossom, Noel had laid her
baby in a hammock, and stood reading a letter:
"MY DEAREST NOLLIE,
"Now that you are strong again, I feel that I must put before you my
feeling as to your duty in this crisis of your life. Your aunt and
uncle have made the most kind and generous offer to adopt your little
boy. I have known that this was in their minds for some time, and
have thought it over day and night for weeks. In the worldly sense
it would be the best thing, no doubt. But this is a spiritual
matter. The future of our souls depends on how we meet the
consequences of our conduct. And painful, dreadful, indeed, as they
must be, I am driven to feel that you can only reach true peace by
facing them in a spirit of brave humility. I want you to think and
think--till you arrive at a certainty which satisfies your
conscience. If you decide, as I trust you will, to come back to me
here with your boy, I shall do all in my power to make you happy
while we face the future together. To do as your aunt and uncle in
their kindness wish, would, I am sore afraid, end in depriving you of
the inner strength and happiness which God only gives to those who do
their duty and try courageously to repair their errors. I have
confidence in you, my dear child.
"Ever your most loving father,
She read it through a second time, and looked at her baby. Daddy