Part 4 out of 6
seemed to think that she might be willing to part from this wonderful
creature! Sunlight fell through the plum blossom, in an extra
patchwork quilt over the bundle lying there, touched the baby's nose
and mouth, so that he sneezed. Noel laughed, and put her lips close
to his face. 'Give you up!' she thought: 'Oh, no! And I'm going to
be happy too. They shan't stop me:
In answer to the letter she said simply that she was coming up; and a
week later she went, to the dismay of her uncle and aunt. The old
nurse went too. Everything had hitherto been so carefully watched
and guarded against by Thirza, that Noel did not really come face to
face with her position till she reached home.
Gratian, who had managed to get transferred to a London Hospital, was
now living at home. She had provided the house with new maids
against her sister's return; and though Noel was relieved not to meet
her old familiars, she encountered with difficulty the stolid
curiosity of new faces. That morning before she left Kestrel, her
aunt had come into her room while she was dressing, taken her left
hand and slipped a little gold band on to its third finger.
"To please me, Nollie, now that you're going, just for the foolish,
who know nothing about you."
Noel had suffered it with the thought: 'It's all very silly!' But
now, when the new maid was pouring out her hot water, she was
suddenly aware of the girl's round blue eyes wandering, as it were,
mechanically to her hand. This little hoop of gold, then, had an
awful power! A rush of disgust came over her. All life seemed
suddenly a thing of forms and sham. Everybody then would look at
that little ring; and she was a coward, saving herself from them!
When she was alone again, she slipped it off, and laid it on the
washstand, where the sunlight fell. Only this little shining band of
metal, this little yellow ring, stood between her and the world's
hostile scorn! Her lips trembled. She took up the ring, and went to
the open window; to throw it out. But she did not, uncertain and
unhappy--half realising the cruelty of life. A knock at the door
sent her flying back to the washstand. The visitor was Gratian.
"I've been looking at him," she said softly; "he's like you, Nollie,
except for his nose."
"He's hardly got one yet. But aren't his eyes intelligent? I think
they're wonderful." She held up the ring: "What shall I do about
Gratian flushed. "Wear it. I don't see why outsiders should know.
For the sake of Dad I think you ought. There's the parish."
Noel slipped the ring back on to her finger. "Would you?"
"I can't tell. I think I would."
Noel laughed suddenly. "I'm going to get cynical; I can feel it in
my bones. How is Daddy looking?"
"Very thin; Mr. Lauder is back again from the Front for a bit, and
taking some of the work now."
"Do I hurt him very much still?"
"He's awfully pleased that you've come. He's as sweet as he can be
"Yes," murmured Noel, "that's what's dreadful. I'm glad he wasn't in
when I came. Has he told anyone?"
Gratian shook her head. "I don't think anybody knows; unless--
perhaps Captain Fort. He came in again the other night; and
Noel flushed. "Leila!" she said enigmatically. "Have you seen
"I went to her flat last week with Dad--he likes her."
"Delilah is her real name, you know. All men like her. And Captain
Fort is her lover."
Gratian gasped. Noel would say things sometimes which made her feel
the younger of the two.
"Of course he is," went on Noel in a hard voice. "She has no men
friends; her sort never have, only lovers. Why do you think he knows
"When he asked after you he looked--"
"Yes; I've seen him look like that when he's sorry for anything. I
don't care. Has Monsieur Lavendie been in lately?"
"Yes; he looks awfully unhappy."
"His wife drugs."
"Oh, Nollie! How do you know?"
"I saw her once; I'm sure she does; there was a smell; and she's got
wandering eyes that go all glassy. He can paint me now, if he likes.
I wouldn't let him before. Does be know?"
"Of course not."
"He knows there was something; he's got second sight, I think. But I
mind him less than anybody. Is his picture of Daddy good?"
"Powerful, but it hurts, somehow."
"Let's go down and see it."
The picture was hung in the drawing-room, and its intense modernity
made that old-fashioned room seem lifeless and strange. The black
figure, with long pale fingers touching the paler piano keys, had a
frightening actuality. The face, three-quarters full, was raised as
if for inspiration, and the eyes rested, dreamy and unseeing, on the
face of a girl painted and hung on a background of wall above the
"It's the face of that girl," said Gratian, when they had looked at
the picture for some time in silence:
"No," said Noel, "it's the look in his eyes."
"But why did he choose such a horrid, common girl? Isn't she
fearfully alive, though? She looks as if she were saying:
"She is; it's awfully pathetic, I think. Poor Daddy!"
"It's a libel," said Gratian stubbornly.
"No. That's what hurts. He isn't quite--quite all there. Will he
be coming in soon?"
Gratian took her arm, and pressed it hard. "Would you like me at
dinner or not; I can easily be out?"
Noel shook her head. "It's no good to funk it. He wanted me, and
now he's got me. Oh! why did he? It'll be awful for him."
Gratian sighed. "I've tried my best, but he always said: 'I've
thought so long about it all that I can't think any longer. I can
only feel the braver course is the best. When things are bravely and
humbly met, there will be charity and forgiveness.'"
"There won't," said Noel, "Daddy's a saint, and he doesn't see."
"Yes, he is a saint. But one must think for oneself--one simply
must. I can't believe as he does, any more; can you, Nollie?"
"I don't know. When I was going through it, I prayed; but I don't
know whether I really believed. I don't think I mind much about
that, one way or the other."
"I mind terribly," said Gratian, "I want the truth."
"I don't know what I want," said Noel slowly, "except that sometimes
I want--life; awfully."
And the two sisters were silent, looking at each other with a sort of
Noel had a fancy to put on a bright-coloured blue frock that evening,
and at her neck she hung a Breton cross of old paste, which had
belonged to her mother. When she had finished dressing she went into
the nursery and stood by the baby's cot. The old nurse who was
sitting there beside him, got up at once and said:
"He's sleeping beautiful--the lamb. I'll go down and get a cup o'
tea, and come up, ma'am, when the gong goes." In the way peculiar to
those who have never to initiate, but only to support positions in
which they are placed by others, she had adopted for herself the
theory that Noel was a real war-widow. She knew the truth perfectly;
for she had watched that hurried little romance at Kestrel, but by
dint of charity and blurred meditations it was easy for her to
imagine the marriage ceremony which would and should have taken
place; and she was zealous that other people should imagine it too.
It was so much more regular and natural like that, and "her" baby
invested with his proper dignity. She went downstairs to get a "cup
o' tea," thinking: 'A picture they make--that they do, bless his
little heart; and his pretty little mother--no more than a child, all
said and done.'
Noel had been standing there some minutes in the failing light,
absorbed in the face of the sleeping baby, when, raising her eyes,
she saw in a mirror the refection of her father's dark figure by
the door. She could hear him breathing as if the ascent of the
stairs had tired him; and moving to the head of the cot, she rested
her hand on it, and turned her face towards him. He came up and
stood beside her, looking silently down at the baby. She saw him
make the sign of the Cross above it, and the movement of his lips in
prayer. Love for her father, and rebellion against this intercession
for her perfect baby fought so hard in the girl's heart that she felt
suffocated, and glad of the dark, so that he could not see her eyes.
Then he took her hand and put it to his lips, but still without a
word; and for the life of her she could not speak either. In
silence, he kissed her forehead; and there mounted in Noel a sudden
passion of longing to show him her pride and love for her baby. She
put her finger down and touched one of his hands. The tiny sleeping
fingers uncurled and, like some little sea anemone, clutched round
it. She heard her father draw his breath in; saw him turn away
quickly, silently, and go out. And she stayed, hardly breathing,
with the hand of her baby squeezing her finger.
When Edward Pierson, afraid of his own emotion, left the twilit
nursery, he slipped into his own room, and fell on his knees beside
his bed, absorbed in the vision he had seen. That young figure in
Madonna blue, with the halo of bright hair; the sleeping babe in the
fine dusk; the silence, the adoration in that white room! He saw,
too; a vision of the past, when Noel herself had been the sleeping
babe within her mother's arm, and he had stood beside them, wondering
and giving praise. It passed with its other-worldliness and the fine
holiness which belongs to beauty, passed and left the tormenting
realism of life. Ah! to live with only the inner meaning, spiritual
and beautifed, in a rare wonderment such as he had experienced just
His alarum clock, while he knelt in his narrow, monkish little room--
ticked the evening hour away into darkness. And still he knelt,
dreading to come back into it all, to face the world's eyes, and the
sound of the world's tongue, and the touch of the rough, the gross,
the unseemly. How could he guard his child? How preserve that
vision in her life, in her spirit, about to enter such cold, rough
waters? But the gong sounded; he got up, and went downstairs.
But this first family moment, which all had dreaded, was relieved, as
dreaded moments so often are, by the unexpected appearance of the
Belgian painter. He had a general invitation, of which he often
availed himself; but he was so silent, and his thin, beardless face,
which seemed all eyes and brow, so mournful, that all three felt in
the presence of a sorrow deeper even than their own family grief.
During the meal he gazed silently at Noel. Once he said: "You will
let me paint you now, mademoiselle, I hope?" and his face brightened
a little when she nodded. There was never much talk when he came,
for any depth of discussion, even of art, brought out at once too
wide a difference. And Pierson could never avoid a vague irritation
with one who clearly had spirituality, but of a sort which he could
not understand. After dinner he excused himself, and went off to his
study. Monsieur would be happier alone with the two girls! Gratian,
too, got up. She had remembered Noel's words: "I mind him less than
anybody." It was a chance for Nollie to break the ice.
"I have not seen you for a long time, mademoiselle," said the
painter, when they were alone.
Noel was sitting in front of the empty drawing-room hearth, with her
arms stretched out as if there had been a fire there.
"I've been away. How are you going to paint me, monsieur?"
"In that dress, mademoiselle; Just as you are now, warming yourself
at the fire of life."
"But it isn't there."
"Yes, fires soon go out. Mademoiselle, will you come and see my
wife? She is ill."
"Now?" asked Noel, startled.
"Yes, now. She is really ill, and I have no one there. That is what
I came to ask of your sister; but--now you are here, it's even
better. She likes you."
Noel got up. "Wait one minute!" she said, and ran upstairs. Her
baby was asleep, and the old nurse dozing. Putting on a cloak and
cap of grey rabbit's fur, she ran down again to the hall where the
painter was waiting; and they went out together.
"I do not know if I am to blame," he said, "my wife has been no real
wife to me since she knew I had a mistress and was no real husband to
Noel stared round at his face lighted by a queer, smile.
"Yes," he went on, "from that has come her tragedy. But she should
have known before I married her. Nothing was concealed. Bon Dieu!
she should have known! Why cannot a woman see things as they are?
My mistress, mademoiselle, is not a thing of flesh. It is my art.
It has always been first with me, and always will. She has never
accepted that, she is incapable of accepting it. I am sorry for her.
But what would you? I was a fool to marry her. Chere mademoiselle,
no troubles are anything beside the trouble which goes on day and
night, meal after meal, year, after year, between two people who
should never have married, because one loves too much and requires
all, and the other loves not at all--no, not at all, now, it is long
dead--and can give but little."
"Can't you separate?" asked Noel, wondering.
"It is hard to separate from one who craves for you as she craves her
drugs--yes, she takes drugs now, mademoiselle. It is impossible for
one who has any compassion in his soul. Besides, what would she do?
We live from hand to mouth, in a strange land. She has no friends
here, not one. How could I leave her while this war lasts? As well
could two persons on a desert island separate. She is killing
herself, too, with these drugs, and I cannot stop her."
"Poor madame!" murmured Noel. "Poor monsieur!"
The painter drew his hand across his eyes.
"I cannot change my nature," he said in a stifled voice, "nor she
hers. So we go on. But life will stop suddenly some day for one of
us. After all, it is much worse for her than for me. Enter,
mademoiselle. Do not tell her I am going to paint you; she likes
you, because you refused to let me."
Noel went up the stairs, shuddering; she had been there once before,
and remembered that sickly scent of drugs. On the third floor they
entered a small sitting-room whose walls were covered with paintings
and drawings; from one corner a triangular stack of canvases jutted
out. There was little furniture save an old red sofa, and on this
was seated a stoutish man in the garb of a Belgian soldier, with his
elbows on his knees and his bearded cheeks resting on his doubled
fists. Beside him on the sofa, nursing a doll, was a little girl,
who looked up at Noel. She had a most strange, attractive, pale
little face, with pointed chin and large eyes, which never moved from
this apparition in grey rabbits' skins.
"Ah, Barra! You here!" said the painter:
"Mademoiselle, this is Monsieur Barra, a friend of ours from the
front; and this is our landlady's little girl. A little refugee,
too, aren't you, Chica?"
The child gave him a sudden brilliant smile and resumed her grave
scrutiny of the visitor. The soldier, who had risen heavily, offered
Noel one of his podgy hands, with a sad and heavy giggle.
"Sit down, mademoiselle," said Lavendie, placing a chair for her: "I
will bring my wife in," and he went out through some double doors.
Noel sat down. The soldier had resumed his old attitude, and the
little girl her nursing of the doll, though her big eyes still
watched the visitor. Overcome by strangeness, Noel made no attempt
to talk. And presently through the double doors the painter and his
wife came in. She was a thin woman in a red wrapper, with hollow
cheeks, high cheek-bones, and hungry eyes; her dark hair hung loose,
and one hand played restlessly with a fold of her gown. She took
Noel's hand; and her uplifted eyes seemed to dig into the girl's
face, to let go suddenly, and flutter.
"How do you do?" she said in English. "So Pierre brought you, to
see me again. I remember you so well. You would not let him paint
you. Ah! que c'est drole! You are so pretty, too. Hein, Monsieur
Barra, is not mademoiselle pretty?"
The soldier gave his heavy giggle, and resumed his scrutiny of the
"Henriette," said Lavendie, "sit down beside Chica--you must not
stand. Sit down, mademoiselle, I beg."
"I'm so sorry you're not well," said Noel, and sat down again.
The painter stood leaning against the wall, and his wife looked up at
his tall, thin figure, with eyes which had in them anger, and a sort
"A great painter, my husband, is he not?" she said to Noel. "You
would not imagine what that man can do. And how he paints--all day
long; and all night in his head. And so you would not let him paint
you, after all?"
Lavendie said impatiently: "Voyons, Henriette, causez d'autre chose."
His wife plucked nervously at a fold in her red gown, and gave him
the look of a dog that has been rebuked.
"I am a prisoner here, mademoiselle, I never leave the house. Here I
live day after day--my husband is always painting. Who would go out
alone under this grey sky of yours, and the hatreds of the war in
every face? I prefer to keep my room. My husband goes painting;
every face he sees interests him, except that which he sees every
day. But I am a prisoner. Monsieur Barra is our first visitor for a
The soldier raised his face from his fists. "Prisonnier, madame!
What would you say if you were out there?" And he gave his thick
giggle. "We are the prisoners, we others. What would you say to
imprisonment by explosion day and night; never a minute free. Bom!
Bom! Bom! Ah! les tranchees! It's not so free as all that,
"Every one has his own prison," said Lavendie bitterly.
"Mademoiselle even, has her prison--and little Chica, and her doll.
Every one has his prison, Barra. Monsieur Barra is also a painter,
"Moi!" said Barra, lifting his heavy hairy hand. "I paint puddles,
star-bombs, horses' ribs--I paint holes and holes and holes, wire and
wire and wire, and water--long white ugly water. I paint splinters,
and men's souls naked, and men's bodies dead, and nightmare--
nightmare--all day and all night--I paint them in my head." He
suddenly ceased speaking and relapsed into contemplation of the
carpet, with his bearded cheeks resting on his fists. "And their
souls as white as snow, les camarades," he added suddenly and loudly,
"millions of Belgians, English, French, even the Boches, with white
souls. I paint those souls!"
A little shiver ran through Noel, and she looked appealingly at
"Barra," he said, as if the soldier were not there, "is a great
painter, but the Front has turned his head a little. What he says is
true, though. There is no hatred out there. It is here that we are
prisoners of hatred, mademoiselle; avoid hatreds--they are poison!"
His wife put out her hand and touched the child's shoulder.
"Why should we not hate?" she said. "Who killed Chica's father, and
blew her home to-rags? Who threw her out into this horrible England-
-pardon, mademoiselle, but it is horrible. Ah! les Boches! If my
hatred could destroy them there would not be one left. Even my
husband was not so mad about his painting when we lived at home. But
here--!" Her eyes darted at his face again, and then sank as if
rebuked. Noel saw the painter's lips move. The sick woman's whole
"It is mania, your painting!" She looked at Noel with a smile.
"Will you have some tea, mademoiselle? Monsieur Barra, some tea?"
The soldier said thickly: "No, madame; in the trenches we have tea
enough. It consoles us. But when we get away--give us wine, le bon
vin; le bon petit vin!"
"Get some wine, Pierre!"
Noel saw from the painter's face that there was no wine, and perhaps
no money to get any; but he went quickly out. She rose and said:
"I must be going, madame."
Madame Lavendie leaned forward and clutched her wrist. "Wait a
little, mademoiselle. We shall have some wine, and Pierre shall take
you back presently. You cannot go home alone--you are too pretty.
Is she not, Monsieur Barra?"
The soldier looked up: "What would you say," he said, "to bottles of
wine bursting in the air, bursting red and bursting white, all day
long, all night long? Great steel bottles, large as Chica: bits of
bottles, carrying off men's heads? Bsum, garra-a-a, and a house
comes down, and little bits of people ever so small, ever so small,
tiny bits in the air and all over the ground. Great souls out there,
madame. But I will tell you a secret," and again he gave his heavy
giggle, "all a little, little mad; nothing to speak of--just a little
bit mad; like a watch, you know, that you can wind for ever. That is
the discovery of this war, mademoiselle," he said, addressing Noel
for the first time, "you cannot gain a great soul till you are a
little mad." And lowering his piggy grey eyes at once, he resumed
his former attitude. "It is that madness I shall paint some day," he
announced to the carpet; "lurking in one tiny corner of each soul of
all those millions, as it creeps, as it peeps, ever so sudden, ever
so little when we all think it has been put to bed, here--there, now
--then, when you least think; in and out like a mouse with bright
eyes. Millions of men with white souls, all a little mad. A great
subject, I think," he added heavily. Involuntarily Noel put her hand
to her heart, which was beating fast. She felt quite sick.
"How long have you been at the Front, monsieur?"
"Two years, mademoiselle. Time to go home and paint, is it not? But
art--!" he shrugged his heavy round shoulders, his whole bear-like
body. "A little mad," he muttered once more. "I will tell you a
story. Once in winter after I had rested a fortnight, I go back to
the trenches at night, and I want some earth to fill up a hole in the
ground where I was sleeping; when one has slept in a bed one becomes
particular. Well, I scratch it from my parapet, and I come to
something funny. I strike my briquet, and there is a Boche's face
all frozen and earthy and dead and greeny-white in the flame from my
"Oh! but yes, mademoiselle; true as I sit here. Very useful in the
parapet--dead Boche. Once a man like me. But in the morning I could
not stand him; we dug him out and buried him, and filled the hole up
with other things. But there I stood in the night, and my face as
close to his as this"--and he held his thick hand a foot before his
face. "We talked of our homes; he had a soul, that man. 'Il me
disait des choses', how he had suffered; and I, too, told him my
sufferings. Dear God, we know all; we shall never know more than we
know out there, we others, for we are mad--nothing to speak of, but
just a little, little mad. When you see us, mademoiselle, walking
the streets, remember that." And he dropped his face on to his fists
A silence had fallen in the room-very queer and complete. The little
girl nursed her doll, the soldier gazed at the floor, the woman's
mouth moved stealthily, and in Noel the thought rushed continually to
the verge of action: 'Couldn't I get up and run downstairs?' But she
sat on, hypnotised by that silence, till Lavendie reappeared with a
bottle and four glasses.
"To drink our health, and wish us luck, mademoiselle," he said.
Noel raised the glass he had given her. "I wish you all happiness."
"And you, mademoiselle," the two men murmured.
She drank a little, and rose.
"And now, mademoiselle," said Lavendie, "if you must go, I will see
Noel took Madame Lavendie's hand; it was cold, and returned no
pressure; her eyes had the glazed look that she remembered. The
soldier had put his empty glass down on the floor, and was regarding
it unconscious of her. Noel turned quickly to the door; the last
thing she saw was the little girl nursing her doll.
In the street the painter began at once in his rapid French:
'I ought not to have asked you to come, mademoiselle; I did not know
our friend Barra was there. Besides, my wife is not fit to receive a
lady; vous voyez qu'il y a de la manie dans cette pauvre tote. I
should not have asked you; but I was so miserable."
"Oh!" murmured Noel, "I know."
"In our home over there she had interests. In this great town she
can only nurse her grief against me. Ah! this war! It seems to me
we are all in the stomach of a great coiling serpent. We lie there,
being digested. In a way it is better out there in the trenches;
they are beyond hate, they have attained a height that we have not.
It is wonderful how they still can be for going on till they have
beaten the Boche; that is curious and it is very great. Did Barra
tell you how, when they come back--all these fighters--they are going
to rule, and manage the future of the world? But it will not be so.
They will mix in with life, separate--be scattered, and they will be
ruled as they were before. The tongue and the pen will rule them:
those who have not seen the war will rule them."
"Oh!"' cried Noel, "surely they will be the bravest and strongest in
The painter smiled.
"War makes men simple," he said, "elemental; life in peace is neither
simple nor elemental, it is subtle, full of changing environments, to
which man must adapt himself; the cunning, the astute, the adaptable,
will ever rule in times of peace. It is pathetic, the belief of
those brave soldiers that the-future is theirs."
"He said, a strange thing," murmured Noel; "that they were all a
"He is a man of queer genius--Barra; you should see some of his
earlier pictures. Mad is not quite the word, but something is
loosened, is rattling round in them, they have lost proportion, they
are being forced in one direction. I tell you, mademoiselle, this
war is one great forcing-house; every living plant is being made to
grow too fast, each quality, each passion; hate and love, intolerance
and lust and avarice, courage and energy; yes, and self-sacrifice--
all are being forced and forced beyond their strength, beyond the
natural flow of the sap, forced till there has come a great wild
luxuriant crop, and then--Psum! Presto! The change comes, and these
plants will wither and rot and stink. But we who see Life in forms
of Art are the only ones who feel that; and we are so few. The
natural shape of things is lost. There is a mist of blood before all
eyes. Men are afraid of being fair. See how we all hate not only
our enemies, but those who differ from us. Look at the streets too
--see how men and women rush together, how Venus reigns in this
forcing-house. Is it not natural that Youth about to die should
yearn for pleasure, for love, for union, before death?"
Noel stared up at him. 'Now!' she thought: I will.'
"Yes," she said, "I know that's true, because I rushed, myself. I'd
like you to know. We couldn't be married--there wasn't time. And--
he was killed. But his son is alive. That's why I've been away so
long. I want every one to know." She spoke very calmly, but her
cheeks felt burning hot.
The painter had made an upward movement of his hands, as if they had
been jerked by an electric current, then he said quite quietly:
"My profound respect, mademoiselle, and my great sympathy. And your
"It's awful for him."
The painter said gently: "Ah! mademoiselle, I am not so sure.
Perhaps he does not suffer so greatly. Perhaps not even your trouble
can hurt him very much. He lives in a world apart. That, I think,
is his true tragedy to be alive, and yet not living enough to feel
reality. Do you know Anatole France's description of an old woman:
'Elle vivait, mais si peu.' Would that not be well said of the
Church in these days: 'Elle vivait, mais si peu.' I see him always
like a rather beautiful dark spire in the night-time when you cannot
see how it is attached to the earth. He does not know, he never will
Noel looked round at him. "What do you mean by Life, monsieur? I'm
always reading about Life, and people talk of seeing Life! What is
it--where is it? I never see anything that you could call Life."
The painter smiled.
"To 'see life'!" he said. "Ah! that is different. To enjoy
yourself! Well, it is my experience that when people are 'seeing
life' as they call it, they are not enjoying themselves. You know
when one is very thirsty one drinks and drinks, but the thirst
remains all the same. There are places where one can see life as it
is called, but the only persons you will see enjoying themselves at
such places are a few humdrums like myself, who go there for a talk
over a cup of coffee. Perhaps at your age, though, it is different."
Noel clasped her hands, and her eyes seemed to shine in the gloom.
"I want music and dancing and light, and beautiful things and faces;
but I never get them."
"No, there does not exist in this town, or in any other, a place
which will give you that. Fox-trots and ragtime and paint and powder
and glare and half-drunken young men, and women with red lips you can
get them in plenty. But rhythm and beauty and charm never. In
Brussels when I was younger I saw much 'life' as they call it, but
not one lovely thing unspoiled; it was all as ashes in the mouth.
Ah! you may smile, but I know what I am talking of. Happiness never
comes when you are looking for it, mademoiselle; beauty is in Nature
and in real art, never in these false silly make believes. There is
a place just here where we Belgians go; would you like to see how
true my words are?
"Tres-bien! Let us go in?"
They passed into a revolving doorway with little glass compartments
which shot them out into a shining corridor. At the end of this the
painter looked at Noel and seemed to hesitate, then he turned off
from the room they were about to enter into a room on the right. It
was large, full of gilt and plush and marble tables, where couples
were seated; young men in khaki and older men in plain clothes,
together or with young women. At these last Noel looked, face after
face, while they were passing down a long way to an empty table. She
saw that some were pretty, and some only trying to be, that nearly
all were powdered and had their eyes darkened and their lips
reddened, till she felt her own face to be dreadfully ungarnished: Up
in a gallery a small band was playing an attractive jingling hollow
little tune; and the buzz of talk and laughter was almost deafening.
"What will you have, mademoiselle?" said the painter. "It is just
nine o'clock; we must order quickly."
"May I have one of those green things?"
"Deux cremes de menthe," said Lavendie to the waiter.
Noel was too absorbed to see the queer, bitter little smile hovering
about his face. She was busy looking at the faces of women whose
eyes, furtively cold and enquiring, were fixed on her; and at the
faces of men with eyes that were furtively warm and wondering.
"I wonder if Daddy was ever in a place like this?" she said, putting
the glass of green stuff to her lips. "Is it nice? It smells of
"A beautiful colour. Good luck, mademoiselle!" and he chinked his
glass with hers.
Noel sipped, held it away, and sipped again.
"It's nice; but awfully sticky. May I have a cigarette?"
"Des cigarettes," said Lavendie to the waiter, "Et deux cafes noirs.
Now, mademoiselle," he murmured when they were brought, "if we
imagine that we have drunk a bottle of wine each, we shall have
exhausted all the preliminaries of what is called Vice. Amusing,
isn't it?" He shrugged his shoulders.
His face struck Noel suddenly as tarnished and almost sullen.
"Don't be angry, monsieur, it's all new to me, you see."
The painter smiled, his bright, skin-deep smile.
"Pardon! I forget myself. Only, it hurts me to see beauty in a
place like this. It does not go well with that tune, and these
voices, and these faces. Enjoy yourself, mademoiselle; drink it all
in! See the way these people look at each other; what love shines in
their eyes! A pity, too, we cannot hear what they are saying.
Believe me, their talk is most subtle, tres-spirituel. These young
women are 'doing their bit,' as you call it; bringing le plaisir to
all these who are serving their country. Eat, drink, love, for
tomorrow we die. Who cares for the world simple or the world
beautiful, in days like these? The house of the spirit is empty."
He was looking at her sidelong as if he would enter her very soul.
Noel got up. "I'm ready to go, monsieur."
He put her cloak on her shoulders, paid the bill, and they went out,
threading again through the little tables, through the buzz of talk
and laughter and the fumes of tobacco, while another hollow little
tune jingled away behind them.
"Through there," said the painter, pointing to another door, "they
dance. So it goes. London in war-time! Well, after all, it is
never very different; no great town is. Did you enjoy your sight of
"I think one must dance, to be happy. Is that where your friends
"Oh, no! To a room much rougher, and play dominoes, and drink coffee
and beer, and talk. They have no money to throw away."
"Why didn't you show me?"
"Mademoiselle, in that room you might see someone perhaps whom one
day you would meet again; in the place we visited you were safe
enough at least I hope so."
Noel shrugged. "I suppose it doesn't matter now, what I do."
And a rush of emotion caught at her throat--a wave from the past--the
moonlit night, the dark old Abbey, the woods and the river. Two
tears rolled down her cheeks.
"I was thinking of--something," she said in a muffled voice. "It's
"Chere mademoiselle!" Lavendie murmured; and all the way home he was
timid and distressed. Shaking his hand at the door, she murmured:
"I'm sorry I was such a fool; and thank you awfully, monsieur. Good
"Good night; and better dreams. There is a good time coming--Peace
and Happiness once more in the world. It will not always be this
Forcing-House. Good night, chere mademoiselle!"
Noel went up to the nursery, and stole in. A night-light was
burning, Nurse and baby were fast asleep. She tiptoed through into
her own room. Once there, she felt suddenly so tired that she could
hardly undress; and yet curiously rested, as if with that rush of
emotion, Cyril and the past had slipped from her for ever.
Noel's first encounter with Opinion took place the following day.
The baby had just come in from its airing; she had seen it
comfortably snoozing, and was on her way downstairs, when a voice
from the hall said:
"How do you do?" and she saw the khaki-clad figure of Adrian Lauder,
her father's curate! Hesitating just a moment, she finished her
descent, and put her fingers in his. He was a rather heavy, dough-
coloured young man of nearly thirty, unsuited by khaki, with a round
white collar buttoned behind; but his aspiring eyes redeemed him,
proclaiming the best intentions in the world, and an inclination
towards sentiment in the presence of beauty.
"I haven't seen you for ages," he said rather fatuously, following
her into her father's study.
"No," said Noel. "How--do you like being at the Front?"
"Ah!" he said, "they're wonderful!" And his eyes shone. "It's so
nice to see you again."
He seemed puzzled by that answer; stammered, and said:
"I didn't know your sister had a baby. A jolly baby."
Lauder's mouth opened. 'A silly mouth,' she thought.
"Oh!" he said. "Is it a protegee--Belgian or something?"
"No, it's mine; my own." And, turning round, she slipped the little
ring off her finger. When she turned back to him, his face had not
recovered from her words. It had a hapless look, as of one to whom
such a thing ought not to have happened.
"Don't look like that," said Noel. "Didn't you understand? It's
mine-mine." She put out her left hand. "Look! There's no ring."
He stammered: "I say, you oughtn't to--you oughtn't to--!"
"Joke about--about such things; ought you?"
"One doesn't joke if one's had a baby without being married, you
Lauder went suddenly slack. A shell might have burst a few paces
from him. And then, just as one would in such a case, he made an
effort, braced himself, and said in a curious voice, both stiff and
heavy: "I can't--one doesn't--it's not--"
"It is," said Noel. "If you don't believe me, ask Daddy."
He put his hand up to his round collar; and with the wild thought
that he was going to tear it off, she cried: "Don't!"
"You!" he said." You! But--"
Noel turned away from him to the window: She stood looking out, but
saw nothing whatever.
"I don't want it hidden," she said without turning round, "I want
every one to know. It's stupid as it is--stupid!" and she stamped
her foot. "Can't you see how stupid it is--everybody's mouth falling
He uttered a little sound which had pain in it, and she felt a real
pang of compunction. He had gripped the back of a chair; his face
had lost its heaviness. A dull flush coloured his cheeks. Noel had
a feeling, as if she had been convicted of treachery. It was his
silence, the curious look of an impersonal pain beyond power of
words; she felt in him something much deeper than mere disapproval--
something which echoed within herself. She walked quickly past him
and escaped. She ran upstairs and threw herself on her bed. He was
nothing: it was not that! It was in herself, the awful feeling, for
the first time developed and poignant, that she had betrayed her
caste, forfeited the right to be thought a lady, betrayed her secret
reserve and refinement, repaid with black ingratitude the love
lavished on her up bringing, by behaving like any uncared-for common
girl. She had never felt this before--not even when Gratian first
heard of it, and they had stood one at each end of the hearth, unable
to speak. Then she still had her passion, and her grief for the
dead. That was gone now as if it had never been; and she had no
defence, nothing between her and this crushing humiliation and
chagrin. She had been mad! She must have been mad! The Belgian
Barra was right: "All a little mad" in this "forcing-house" of a war!
She buried her face deep in the pillow, till it almost stopped her
power of breathing; her head and cheeks and ears seemed to be on
fire. If only he had shown disgust, done something which roused her
temper, her sense of justice, her feeling that Fate had been too
cruel to her; but he had just stood there, bewilderment incarnate,
like a creature with some very deep illusion shattered. It was
horrible! Then, feeling that she could not stay still, must walk,
run, get away somehow from this feeling of treachery and betrayal,
she sprang up. All was quiet below, and she slipped downstairs and
out, speeding along with no knowledge of direction, taking the way
she had taken day after day to her hospital. It was the last of
April, trees and shrubs were luscious with blossom and leaf; the dogs
ran gaily; people had almost happy faces in the sunshine. 'If I
could get away from myself, I wouldn't care,' she thought. Easy to
get away from people, from London, even from England perhaps; but
from oneself--impossible! She passed her hospital; and looked at it
dully, at the Red Cross flag against its stucco wall, and a soldier
in his blue slops and red tie, coming out. She had spent many
miserable hours there, but none quite so miserable as this. She
passed the church opposite to the flats where Leila lived, and
running suddenly into a tall man coming round the corner, saw Fort.
She bent her head, and tried to hurry past. But his hand was held
out, she could not help putting hers into it; and looking up hardily,
"You know about me, don't you?"
His face, naturally so frank, seemed to clench up, as if he were
riding at a fence. 'He'll tell a lie,' she thought bitterly. But he
"Yes, Leila told me."
And she thought: 'I suppose he'll try and pretend that I've not been
"I admire your pluck," he said.
"I haven't any."
"We never know ourselves, do we? I suppose you wouldn't walk my pace
a minute or two, would you? I'm going the same way."
"I don't know which way I'm going."
"That is my case, too."
They walked on in silence.
"I wish to God I were back in France," said Fort abruptly. "One
doesn't feel clean here."
Noel's heart applauded.
Ah! to get away--away from oneself! But at the thought of her baby,
her heart fell again. "Is your leg quite hopeless?" she said.
"That must be horrid."
"Hundreds of thousands would look on it as splendid luck; and so it
is if you count it better to be alive than dead, which I do, in spite
of the blues."
"How is Cousin Leila?"
"Very well. She goes on pegging away at the hospital; she's a
brick." But he did not look at her, and again there was silence,
till he stopped by Lord's Cricket-ground.
"I mustn't keep you crawling along at this pace."
"Oh, I don't mind!"
"I only wanted to say that if I can be of any service to you at any
time in any way whatever, please command me."
He gave her hand a squeeze, took his hat off; and Noel walked slowly
on. The little interview, with its suppressions, and its
implications, had but exasperated her restlessness, and yet, in a
way, it had soothed the soreness of her heart. Captain Fort at all
events did not despise her; and he was in trouble like herself. She
felt that somehow by the look of his face, and the tone of his voice
when he spoke of Leila. She quickened her pace. George's words came
back to her: "If you're not ashamed of yourself, no one will be of
you!" How easy to say! The old days, her school, the little half
grown-up dances she used to go to, when everything was happy. Gone!
But her meetings with Opinion were not over for the day, for turning
again at last into the home Square, tired out by her three hours'
ramble, she met an old lady whom she and Gratian had known from
babyhood--a handsome dame, the widow of an official, who spent her
days, which showed no symptom of declining, in admirable works. Her
daughter, the widow of an officer killed at the Marne, was with her,
and the two greeted Noel with a shower of cordial questions: So she
was back from the country, and was she quite well again? And working
at her hospital? And how was her dear father? They had thought him
looking very thin and worn. But now Gratian was at home--How
dreadfully the war kept husbands and wives apart! And whose was the
dear little baby they had in the house?
"Mine," said Noel, walking straight past them with her head up. In
every fibre of her being she could feel the hurt, startled, utterly
bewildered looks of those firm friendly persons left there on the
pavement behind her; could feel the way they would gather themselves
together, and walk on, perhaps without a word, and then round the
corner begin: "What has come to Noel? What did she mean?" And
taking the little gold hoop out of her pocket, she flung it with all
her might into the Square Garden. The action saved her from a
breakdown; and she went in calmly. Lunch was long over, but her
father had not gone out, for he met her in the hall and drew her into
"You must eat, my child," he said. And while she was swallowing down
what he had caused to be kept back for her, he stood by the hearth in
that favourite attitude of his, one foot on the fender, and one hand
gripping. the mantel-shelf.
"You've got your wish, Daddy," she said dully: "Everybody knows now.
I've told Mr. Lauder, and Monsieur, and the Dinnafords."
She saw his fingers uncrisp, then grip the shelf again. "I'm glad,"
"Aunt Thirza gave me a ring to wear, but I've thrown it away."
"My dearest child," he began, but could not go on, for the quivering
of his lips.
"I wanted to say once more, Daddy, that I'm fearfully sorry about
you. And I am ashamed of myself; I thought I wasn't, but I am--only,
I think it was cruel, and I'm not penitent to God; and it's no good
trying to make me."
Pierson turned and looked at her. For a long time after, she could
not get that look out of her memory.
Jimmy Fort had turned away from Noel feeling particularly wretched.
Ever since the day when Leila had told him of the girl's misfortune
he had been aware that his liaison had no decent foundation, save a
sort of pity. One day, in a queer access of compunction, he had made
Leila an offer of marriage. She had refused; and he had respected
her the more, realising by the quiver in her voice and the look in
her eyes that she refused him, not because she did not love him well
enough, but because she was afraid of losing any of his affection.
She was a woman of great experience.
To-day he had taken advantage of the luncheon interval to bring her
some flowers, with a note to say that he could not come that evening.
Letting himself in with his latchkey, he had carefully put those
Japanese azaleas in the bowl "Famille Rose," taking water from her
bedroom. Then he had sat down on the divan with his head in his
Though he had rolled so much about the world, he had never had much
to do with women. And there was nothing in him of the Frenchman, who
takes what life puts in his way as so much enjoyment on the credit
side, and accepts the ends of such affairs as they naturally and
rather rapidly arrive. It had been a pleasure, and was no longer a
pleasure; but this apparently did not dissolve it, or absolve him.
He felt himself bound by an obscure but deep instinct to go on
pretending that he was not tired of her, so long as she was not tired
of him. And he sat there trying to remember any sign, however small,
of such a consummation, quite without success. On the contrary, he
had even the wretched feeling that if only he had loved her, she
would have been much more likely to have tired of him by now. For
her he was still the unconquered, in spite of his loyal endeavour to
seem conquered. He had made a fatal mistake, that evening after the
concert at Queen's Hall, to let himself go, on a mixed tide of desire
His folly came to him with increased poignancy after he had parted
from Noel. How could he have been such a base fool, as to have
committed himself to Leila on an evening when he had actually been in
the company of that child? Was it the vague, unseizable likeness
between them which had pushed him over the edge? 'I've been an ass,'
he thought; 'a horrible ass.' I would always have given every hour
I've ever spent with Leila, for one real smile from that girl.'
This sudden sight of Noel after months during which he had tried
loyally to forget her existence, and not succeeded at all, made him
realise as he never had yet that he was in love with her; so very
much in love with her that the thought of Leila was become
nauseating. And yet the instincts of a gentleman seemed to forbid
him to betray that secret to either of them. It was an accursed
coil! He hailed a cab, for he was late; and all the way back to the
War Office he continued to see the girl's figure and her face with
its short hair. And a fearful temptation rose within him. Was it
not she who was now the real object for chivalry and pity? Had he
not the right to consecrate himself to championship of one in such a
deplorable position? Leila had lived her life; but this child's
life--pretty well wrecked--was all before her. And then he grinned
from sheer disgust. For he knew that this was Jesuitry. Not
chivalry was moving him, but love! Love! Love of the unattainable!
And with a heavy heart, indeed, he entered the great building, where,
in a small room, companioned by the telephone, and surrounded by
sheets of paper covered with figures, he passed his days. The war
made everything seem dreary, hopeless. No wonder he had caught at
any distraction which came along--caught at it, till it had caught
To find out the worst is, for human nature, only a question of time.
But where the "worst" is attached to a family haloed, as it were, by
the authority and reputation of an institution like the Church, the
process of discovery has to break through many a little hedge. Sheer
unlikelihood, genuine respect, the defensive instinct in those
identified with an institution, who will themselves feel weaker if
its strength be diminished, the feeling that the scandal is too good
to be true--all these little hedges, and more, had to be broken
through. To the Dinnafords, the unholy importance of what Noel had
said to them would have continued to keep them dumb, out of self-
protection; but its monstrosity had given them the feeling that there
must be some mistake, that the girl had been overtaken by a wild
desire to "pull their legs" as dear Charlie would say. With the hope
of getting this view confirmed, they lay in wait for the old nurse
who took the baby out, and obtained the information, shortly
imparted: "Oh, yes; Miss Noel's. Her 'usband was killed--poor lamb!"
And they felt rewarded. They had been sure there was some mistake.
The relief of hearing that word "'usband" was intense. One of these
hasty war marriages, of which the dear Vicar had not approved, and so
it had been kept dark. Quite intelligible, but so sad! Enough
misgiving however remained in their minds, to prevent their going to
condole with the dear Vicar; but not enough to prevent their roundly
contradicting the rumours and gossip already coming to their ears.
And then one day, when their friend Mrs. Curtis had said too
positively: "Well, she doesn't wear a wedding-ring, that I'll swear,
because I took very good care to look!" they determined to ask Mr.
Lauder. He would--indeed must--know; and, of course, would not tell
a story. When they asked him it was so manifest that he did know,
that they almost withdrew the question. The poor young man had gone
the colour of a tomato.
"I prefer not to answer," he said. The rest of a very short
interview was passed in exquisite discomfort. Indeed discomfort,
exquisite and otherwise, within a few weeks of Noel's return, had
begun to pervade all the habitual congregation of Pierson's church.
It was noticed that neither of the two sisters attended Service now.
Certain people who went in the sincere hope of seeing Noel, only fell
off again when she did not appear. After all, she would not have the
face! And Gratian was too ashamed, no doubt. It was constantly
remarked that the Vicar looked very grave and thin, even for him. As
the rumours hardened into certainty, the feeling towards him became a
curious medley of sympathy and condemnation. There was about the
whole business that which English people especially resent. By the
very fact of his presence before them every Sunday, and his public
ministrations, he was exhibiting to them, as it were, the seamed and
blushing face of his daughter's private life, besides affording one
long and glaring demonstration of the failure of the Church to guide
its flock: If a man could not keep his own daughter in the straight
path--whom could he? Resign! The word began to be thought about,
but not yet spoken. He had been there so long; he had spent so much
money on the church and the parish; his gentle dreamy manner was
greatly liked. He was a gentleman; and had helped many people; and,
though his love of music and vestments had always caused heart-
burnings, yet it had given a certain cachet to the church. The
women, at any rate, were always glad to know that the church they
went to was capable of drawing their fellow women away from other
churches. Besides, it was war-time, and moral delinquency which in
time of peace would have bulked too large to neglect, was now less
insistently dwelt on, by minds preoccupied by food and air-raids.
Things, of course, could not go on as they were; but as yet they did
The talked-about is always the last to hear the talk; and nothing
concrete or tangible came Pierson's way. He went about his usual
routine without seeming change. And yet there was a change, secret
and creeping. Wounded almost to death himself, he felt as though
surrounded by one great wound in others; but it was some weeks before
anything occurred to rouse within him the weapon of anger or the
And then one day a little swift brutality shook him to the very soul.
He was coming home from a long parish round, and had turned into the
Square, when a low voice behind him said:
"Wot price the little barstard?"
A cold, sick feeling stifled his very breathing; he gasped, and spun
round, to see two big loutish boys walking fast away. With swift and
stealthy passion he sprang after them, and putting his hands on their
two neighbouring shoulders, wrenched them round so that they faced
him, with mouths fallen open in alarm. Shaking them with all his
force, he said:
"How dare you--how dare you use that word?" His face and voice must
have been rather terrible, for the scare in their faces brought him
to sudden consciousness of his own violence, and he dropped his
hands. In two seconds they were at the corner. They stopped there
for a second; one of them shouted "Gran'pa"; then they vanished. He
was left with lips and hands quivering, and a feeling that he had not
known for years--the weak white empty feeling one has after yielding
utterly to sudden murderous rage. He crossed over, and stood leaning
against the Garden railings, with the thought: 'God forgive me! I
could have killed them--I could have killed them!' There had been a
devil in him. If he had had something in his hand, he might now have
been a murderer: How awful! Only one had spoken; but he could have
killed them both! And the word was true, and was in all mouths--all
low common mouths, day after day, of his own daughter's child! The
ghastliness of this thought, brought home so utterly, made him
writhe, and grasp the railings as if he would have bent them.
>From that day on, a creeping sensation of being rejected of men,
never left him; the sense of identification with Noel and her tiny
outcast became ever more poignant, more real; the desire to protect
them ever more passionate; and the feeling that round about there
were whispering voices, pointing fingers, and a growing malevolence
was ever more sickening. He was beginning too to realise the deep
and hidden truth: How easily the breath of scandal destroys the
influence and sanctity of those endowed therewith by vocation; how
invaluable it is to feel untarnished, and how difficult to feel that
when others think you tarnished.
He tried to be with Noel as much as possible; and in the evenings
they sometimes went walks together, without ever talking of what was
always in their minds. Between six and eight the girl was giving
sittings to Lavendie in the drawing-room, and sometimes Pierson would
come there and play to them. He was always possessed now by a sense
of the danger Noel ran from companionship with any man. On three
occasions, Jimmy Fort made his appearance after dinner. He had so
little to say that it was difficult to understand why he came; but,
sharpened by this new dread for his daughter, Pierson noticed his
eyes always following her. 'He admires her,' he thought; and often
he would try his utmost to grasp the character of this man, who had
lived such a roving life. 'Is he--can he be the sort of man I would
trust Nollie to?' he would think. 'Oh, that I should have to hope
like this that some good man would marry her--my little Nollie, a
child only the other day!'
In these sad, painful, lonely weeks he found a spot of something like
refuge in Leila's sitting-room, and would go there often for half an
hour when she was back from her hospital. That little black-walled
room with its Japanese prints and its flowers, soothed him. And
Leila soothed him, innocent as he was of any knowledge of her latest
aberration, and perhaps conscious that she herself was not too happy.
To watch her arranging flowers, singing her little French songs, or
to find her beside him, listening to his confidences, was the only
real pleasure he knew in these days. And Leila, in turn, would watch
him and think: 'Poor Edward! He has never lived; and never will;
now!' But sometimes the thought would shoot through her: 'Perhaps
he's to be envied. He doesn't feel what I feel, anyway. Why did I
fall in love again?'
They did not speak of Noel as a rule, but one evening she expressed
her views roundly.
"It was a great mistake to make Noel come back. Edward. It was
Quixotic. You'll be lucky if real mischief doesn't come of it.
She's not a patient character; one day she'll do something rash.
And, mind you, she'll be much more likely to break out if she sees
the world treating you badly than if it happens to herself. I should
send her back to the country, before she makes bad worse."
"I can't do that, Leila. We must live it down together."
"Wrong, Edward. You should take things as they are."
With a heavy sigh Pierson answered:
"I wish I could see her future. She's so attractive. And her
defences are gone. She's lost faith, and belief in all that a good
woman should be. The day after she came back she told me she was
ashamed of herself. But since--she's not given a sign. She's so
proud--my poor little Nollie. I see how men admire her, too. Our
Belgian friend is painting her. He's a good man; but he finds her
beautiful, and who can wonder. And your friend Captain Fort.
Fathers are supposed to be blind, but they see very clear sometimes."
Leila rose and drew down a blind.
"This sun," she said. "Does Jimmy Fort come to you--often?"
"Oh! no; very seldom. But still--I can see."
'You bat--you blunderer!' thought Leila: 'See! You can't even see
this beside you!'
"I expect he's sorry for her," she said in a queer voice.
"Why should he be sorry? He doesn't know:"
"Oh, yes! He knows; I told him."
"You told him!"
"Yes," Leila repeated stubbornly; "and he's sorry for her."
And even then "this monk" beside her did not see, and went blundering
"No, no; it's not merely that he's sorry. By the way he looks at
her, I know I'm not mistaken. I've wondered--what do you think,
Leila. He's too old for her; but he seems an honourable, kind man."
"Oh! a most honourable, kind man." But only by pressing her hand
against her lips had she smothered a burst of bitter laughter. He,
who saw nothing, could yet notice Fort's eyes when he looked at Noel,
and be positive that he was in love with her! How plainly those eyes
must speak! Her control gave way.
"All this is very interesting," she said, spurning her words like
Noel, "considering that he's more than my friend, Edward." It gave
her a sort of pleasure to see him wince. 'These blind bats!' she
thought, terribly stung that he should so clearly assume her out of
the running. Then she was sorry, his face had become so still and
wistful. And turning away, she said:
"Oh! I shan't break my heart; I'm a good loser. And I'm a good
fighter, too; perhaps I shan't lose." And snapping off a sprig of
geranium, she pressed it to her lips.
"Forgive me," said Pierson slowly; "I didn't know. I'm stupid. I
thought your love for your poor soldiers had left no room for other
Leila uttered a shrill laugh. "What have they to do with each other?
Did you never hear of passion, Edward? Oh! Don't look at me like
that. Do you think a woman can't feel passion at my age? As much as
ever, more than ever, because it's all slipping away."
She took her hand from her lips, but a geranium petal was left
clinging there, like a bloodstain. "What has your life been all
these years," she went on vehemently--"suppression of passion,
nothing else! You monks twist Nature up with holy words, and try to
disguise what the eeriest simpleton can see. Well, I haven't
suppressed passion, Edward. That's all."
"And are you happier for that?"
"I was; and I shall be again."
A little smile curled Pierson's lips. "Shall be?" he said. "I hope
so. It's just two ways of looking at things, Leila."
"Oh, Edward! Don't be so gentle! I suppose you don't think a person
like me can ever really love?"
He was standing before her with his head down, and a sense that,
naive and bat-like as he was, there was something in him she could
not reach or understand, made her cry out:
"I've not been nice to you. Forgive me, Edward! I'm so unhappy."
"There was a Greek who used to say: 'God is the helping of man by
man.' It isn't true, but it's beautiful. Good-bye, dear Leila, and
don't be sorrowful"
She squeezed his hand, and turned to the window.
She stood there watching his black figure cross the road in the
sunshine, and pass round the corner by the railings of the church.
He walked quickly, very upright; there was something unseeing even
about that back view of him; or was it that he saw-another world?
She had never lost the mental habits of her orthodox girlhood, and in
spite of all impatience, recognised his sanctity. When he had
disappeared she went into her bedroom. What he had said, indeed, was
no discovery. She had known. Oh! She had known. 'Why didn't I
accept Jimmy's offer? Why didn't I marry him? Is it too late?' she
thought. 'Could I? Would he--even now?' But then she started away
from her own thought. Marry him! knowing his heart was with this
She looked long at her face in the mirror, studying with a fearful
interest the little hard lines and markings there beneath their light
coating of powder. She examined the cunning touches of colouring
matter here and there in her front hair. Were they cunning enough?
Did they deceive? They seemed to her suddenly to stare out. She
fingered and smoothed the slight looseness and fulness of the skin
below her chin. She stretched herself, and passed her hands down
over her whole form, searching as it were for slackness, or
thickness. And she had the bitter thought: 'I'm all out. I'm doing
all I can.' The lines of a little poem Fort had showed her went
thrumming through her head:
"Time, you old gipsy man
Will you not stay
Put up your caravan
Just for a day?"
What more could she do? He did not like to see her lips reddened.
She had marked his disapprovals, watched him wipe his mouth after a
kiss, when he thought she couldn't see him. 'I need'nt!' she
thought. 'Noel's lips are no redder, really. What has she better
than I? Youth--dew on the grass!' That didn't last long! But long
enough to "do her in" as her soldier-men would say. And, suddenly
she revolted against herself, against Fort, against this chilled and
foggy country; felt a fierce nostalgia for African sun, and the
African flowers; the happy-go-lucky, hand-to-mouth existence of those
five years before the war began. High Constantia at grape harvest!
How many years ago--ten years, eleven years! Ah! To have before her
those ten years, with him! Ten years in the sun! He would have
loved her then, and gone on loving her! And she would not have tired
of him, as she had tired of those others. 'In half an hour,' she
thought, 'he'll be here, sit opposite me; I shall see him struggling
forcing himself to seem affectionate! It's too humbling! But I
don't care; I want him!'
She searched her wardrobe, for some garment or touch of colour,
novelty of any sort, to help her. But she had tried them all--those
little tricks--was bankrupt. And such a discouraged, heavy mood came
on her, that she did not even "change," but went back in her nurse's
dress and lay down on the divan, pretending to sleep, while the maid
set out the supper. She lay there moody and motionless, trying to
summon courage, feeling that if she showed herself beaten she was
beaten; knowing that she only held him by pity. But when she heard
his footstep on the stairs she swiftly passed her hands over her
cheeks, as if to press the blood out of them, and lay absolutely
still. She hoped that she was white, and indeed she was, with
finger-marks under the eyes, for she had suffered greatly this last
hour. Through her lashes she saw him halt, and look at her in
surprise. Asleep, or-ill, which? She did not move. She wanted to
watch him. He tiptoed across the room and stood looking down at her.
There was a furrow between his eyes. 'Ah!' she thought, 'it would
suit you, if I were dead, my kind friend.' He bent a little towards
her; and she wondered suddenly whether she looked graceful lying
there, sorry now that she had not changed her dress. She saw him
shrug his shoulders ever so faintly with a puzzled little movement.
He had not seen that she was shamming. How nice his face was--not
mean, secret, callous! She opened her eyes, which against her will
had in them the despair she was feeling. He went on his knees, and
lifting her hand to his lips, hid them with it.
"Jimmy," she said gently, "I'm an awful bore to you. Poor Jimmy!
No! Don't pretend! I know what I know!" 'Oh, God! What am I
saying?' she thought. 'It's fatal-fatal. I ought never!' And
drawing his head to her, she put it to her heart. Then,
instinctively aware that this moment had been pressed to its
uttermost, she scrambled up, kissed his forehead, stretched herself,
"I was asleep, dreaming; dreaming you loved me. Wasn't it funny?
Come along. There are oysters, for the last time this season."
All that evening, as if both knew they had been looking over a
precipice, they seemed to be treading warily, desperately anxious not
to rouse emotion in each other, or touch on things which must bring a
scene. And Leila talked incessantly of Africa.
"Don't you long for the sun, Jimmy? Couldn't we--couldn't you go?
Oh! why doesn't this wretched war end? All that we've got here at
home every scrap of wealth, and comfort, and age, and art, and music,
I'd give it all for the light and the sun out there. Wouldn't you?"
And Fort said he would, knowing well of one thing which he would not
give. And she knew that, as well as he.
They were both gayer than they had been for a long time; so that when
he had gone, she fell back once more on to the divan, and burying her
face in a cushion, wept bitterly.
It was not quite disillusionment that Pierson felt while he walked
away. Perhaps he had not really believed in Leila's regeneration.
It was more an acute discomfort, an increasing loneliness. A soft
and restful spot was now denied him; a certain warmth and allurement
had gone out of his life. He had not even the feeling that it was
his duty to try and save Leila by persuading her to marry Fort. He
had always been too sensitive, too much as it were of a gentleman,
for the robuster sorts of evangelism. Such delicacy had been a
stumbling-block to him all through professional life. In the eight
years when his wife was with him, all had been more certain, more
direct and simple, with the help of her sympathy, judgment; and
companionship. At her death a sort of mist had gathered in his soul.
No one had ever spoken plainly to him. To a clergyman, who does? No
one had told him in so many words that he should have married again--
that to stay unmarried was bad for him, physically and spiritually,
fogging and perverting life; not driving him, indeed, as it drove
many, to intolerance and cruelty, but to that half-living dreaminess,
and the vague unhappy yearnings which so constantly beset him. All
these celibate years he had really only been happy in his music, or
in far-away country places, taking strong exercise, and losing
himself in the beauties of Nature; and since the war began he had
only once, for those three days at Kestrel, been out of London.
He walked home, going over in his mind very anxiously all the
evidence he had of Fort's feeling for Noel. How many times had he
been to them since she came back? Only three times--three evening
visits! And he had not been alone with her a single minute! Before
this calamity befell his daughter, he would never have observed
anything in Fort's demeanour; but, in his new watchfulness, he had
seen the almost reverential way he looked at her, noticed the extra
softness of his voice when he spoke to her, and once a look of sudden
pain, a sort of dulling of his whole self, when Noel had got up and
gone out of the room. And the girl herself? Twice he had surprised
her gazing at Fort when he was not looking, with a sort of brooding
interest. He remembered how, as a little girl, she would watch a
grown-up, and then suddenly one day attach herself to him, and be
quite devoted. Yes, he must warn her, before she could possibly
become entangled. In his fastidious chastity, the opinion he had
held of Fort was suddenly lowered. He, already a free-thinker, was
now revealed as a free-liver. Poor little Nollie! Endangered again
already! Every man a kind of wolf waiting to pounce on her!
He found Lavendie and Noel in the drawing-room, standing before the
portrait which was nearing completion. He looked at it for a long
minute, and turned away:
"Don't you think it's like me, Daddy?"
"It's like you; but it hurts me. I can't tell why."
He saw the smile of a painter whose picture is being criticised come
on Lavendie's face.
"It is perhaps the colouring which does not please you, monsieur?"
"No, no; deeper. The expression; what is she waiting for?"
The defensive smile died on Lavendie's lips.
"It is as I see her, monsieur le cure."
Pierson turned again to the picture, and suddenly covered his eyes.
"She looks 'fey,"' he said, and went out of the room.
Lavendie and Noel remained staring at the picture. "Fey? What does
that mean, mademoiselle ?"
"Possessed, or something."
And they continued to stare at the picture, till Lavendie said:
"I think there is still a little too much light on that ear."
The same evening, at bedtime, Pierson called Noel back.
"Nollie, I want you to know something. In all but the name, Captain
Fort is a married man."
He saw her flush, and felt his own face darkening with colour.
She said calmly: "I know; to Leila."
"Do you mean she has told you?"
Noel shook her head.
"I guessed. Daddy, don't treat me as a child any more. What's the
He sat down in the chair before the hearth, and covered his face with
his hands. By the quivering of those hands, and the movement of his
shoulders, she could tell that he was stifling emotion, perhaps even
crying; and sinking down on his knees she pressed his hands and face
to her, murmuring: "Oh, Daddy dear! Oh, Daddy dear!"
He put his arms round her, and they sat a long time with their cheeks
pressed together, not speaking a word.
The day after that silent outburst of emotion in the drawing-room was
a Sunday. And, obeying the longing awakened overnight to be as good
as she could to her father; Noel said to him:
"Would you like me to come to Church?"
"Of course, Nollie."
How could he have answered otherwise? To him Church was the home of
comfort and absolution, where people must bring their sins and
troubles--a haven of sinners, the fount of charity, of forgiveness,
and love. Not to have believed that, after all these years, would
have been to deny all his usefulness in life, and to cast a slur on
the House of God.
And so Noel walked there with him, for Gratian had gone down to
George, for the week-end. She slipped quietly up the side aisle to
their empty pew, under the pulpit. Never turning her eyes from the
chancel, she remained unconscious of the stir her presence made,
during that hour and twenty minutes. Behind her, the dumb currents
of wonder, disapproval, and resentment ran a stealthy course. On her
all eyes were fixed sooner or later, and every mind became the play
ground of judgments. From every soul, kneeling, standing, or
sitting, while the voice of the Service droned, sang, or spoke, a
kind of glare radiated on to that one small devoted head, which
seemed so ludicrously devout. She disturbed their devotions, this
girl who had betrayed her father, her faith, her class. She ought to
repent, of course, and Church was the right place; yet there was
something brazen in her repenting there before their very eyes; she
was too palpable a flaw in the crystal of the Church's authority, too
visible a rent in the raiment of their priest. Her figure focused
all the uneasy amazement and heart searchings of these last weeks.
Mothers quivered with the knowledge that their daughters could see
her; wives with the idea that their husbands were seeing her. Men
experienced sensations varying from condemnation to a sort of
covetousness. Young folk wondered, and felt inclined to giggle. Old
maids could hardly bear to look. Here and there a man or woman who
had seen life face to face, was simply sorry! The consciousness of
all who knew her personally was at stretch how to behave if they came
within reach of her in going out. For, though only half a dozen
would actually rub shoulders with her, all knew that they might be,
and many felt it their duty to be, of that half-dozen, so as to
establish their attitude once for all. It was, in fact, too severe a
test for human nature and the feelings which Church ought to arouse.
The stillness of that young figure, the impossibility of seeing her
face and judging of her state of mind thereby; finally, a faint
lurking shame that they should be so intrigued and disturbed by
something which had to do with sex, in this House of Worship--all
combined to produce in every mind that herd-feeling of defence, which
so soon becomes, offensive. And, half unconscious, half aware of it
all, Noel stood, and sat, and knelt. Once or twice she saw her
father's eyes fixed on her; and, still in the glow of last night's
pity and remorse, felt a kind of worship for his thin grave face.
But for the most part, her own wore the expression Lavendie had
translated to his canvas--the look of one ever waiting for the
extreme moments of life, for those few and fleeting poignancies which
existence holds for the human heart. A look neither hungry nor
dissatisfied, but dreamy and expectant, which might blaze into warmth
and depth at any moment, and then go back to its dream.
When the last notes of the organ died away she continued to sit very
still, without looking round.
There was no second Service, and the congregation melted out behind
her, and had dispersed into the streets and squares long before she
came forth. After hesitating whether or no to go to the vestry door,
she turned away and walked home alone.
It was this deliberate evasion of all contact which probably clinched
the business. The absence of vent, of any escape-pipe for the
feelings, is always dangerous. They felt cheated. If Noel had come
out amongst all those whose devotions her presence had disturbed, if
in that exit, some had shown and others had witnessed one knows not
what of a manifested ostracism, the outraged sense of social decency
might have been appeased and sleeping dogs allowed to lie, for we
soon get used to things; and, after all, the war took precedence in
every mind even over social decency. But none of this had occurred,
and a sense that Sunday after Sunday the same little outrage would
happen to them, moved more than a dozen quite unrelated persons, and
caused the posting that evening of as many letters, signed and
unsigned, to a certain quarter. London is no place for parish
conspiracy, and a situation which in the country would have provoked
meetings more or less public, and possibly a resolution, could
perhaps only thus be dealt with. Besides, in certain folk there is
ever a mysterious itch to write an unsigned letter--such missives
satisfy some obscure sense of justice, some uncontrollable longing to
get even with those who have hurt or disturbed them, without
affording the offenders chance for further hurt or disturbance.
Letters which are posted often reach their destination.
On Wednesday morning Pierson was sitting in his study at the hour
devoted to the calls of his parishioners, when the maid announced,
"Canon Rushbourne, sir," and he saw before him an old College friend
whom he had met but seldom in recent years. His visitor was a short,
grey-haired man of rather portly figure, whose round, rosy, good-
humoured face had a look of sober goodness, and whose light-blue eyes
shone a little. He grasped Pierson's hand, and said in a voice to
whose natural heavy resonance professional duty had added a certain
"My dear Edward, how many years it is since we met! Do you remember
dear old Blakeway? I saw him only yesterday. He's just the same.
I'm delighted to see you again," and he laughed a little soft nervous
laugh. Then for a few moments he talked of the war and old College
days, and Pierson looked at him and thought: 'What has he come for?'
"You've something to say to me, Alec," he said, at last.
Canon Rushbourne leaned forward in his chair, and answered with
evident effort: "Yes; I wanted to have a little talk with you,
Edward. I hope you won't mind. I do hope you won't."
"Why should I mind?"
Canon Rushbourne's eyes shone more than ever, there was real
friendliness in his face.
"I know you've every right to say to me: 'Mind your own business.'
But I made up my mind to come as a friend, hoping to save you from
--er" he stammered, and began again: "I think you ought to know of
the feeling in your parish that--er--that--er--your position is very
delicate. Without breach of confidence I may tell you that letters
have been sent to headquarters; you can imagine perhaps what I mean.
Do believe, my dear friend, that I'm actuated by my old affection for
you; nothing else, I do assure you."
In the silence, his breathing could be heard, as of a man a little
touched with asthma, while he continually smoothed his thick black
knees, his whole face radiating an anxious kindliness. The sun shone
brightly on those two black figures, so very different, and drew out
of their well-worn garments the faint latent green mossiness which.
underlies the clothes of clergymen.
At last Pierson said: "Thank you, Alec; I understand."
The Canon uttered a resounding sigh. "You didn't realise how very
easily people misinterpret her being here with you; it seems to them
a kind--a kind of challenge. They were bound, I think, to feel that;
and I'm afraid, in consequence--" He stopped, moved by the fact that
Pierson had closed his eyes.
"I am to choose, you mean, between my daughter and my parish?"
The Canon seemed, with a stammer of words, to try and blunt the edge
of that clear question.
"My visit is quite informal, my dear fellow; I can't say at all. But
there is evidently much feeling; that is what I wanted you to know.
You haven't quite seen, I think, that--"
Pierson raised his hand. "I can't talk of this."
The Canon rose. "Believe me, Edward, I sympathise deeply. I felt I
had to warn you." He held out his hand. "Good-bye, my dear friend,
do forgive me"; and he went out. In the hall an adventure befell him
so plump, and awkward, that he could barely recite it to Mrs.
Rushbourne that night.
"Coming out from my poor friend," he said, "I ran into a baby's
perambulator and that young mother, whom I remember as a little
thing"--he held his hand at the level of his thigh--"arranging it for
going out. It startled me; and I fear I asked quite foolishly: 'Is
it a boy?' The poor young thing looked up at me. She has very large
eyes, quite beautiful, strange eyes. 'Have you been speaking to
Daddy about me?' 'My dear young lady,' I said, 'I'm such an old
friend, you see. You must forgive me.' And then she said: 'Are they
going to ask him to resign?' 'That depends on you,' I said. Why do
I say these things, Charlotte? I ought simply to have held my
tongue. Poor young thing; so very young! And the little baby!"
"She has brought it on herself, Alec," Mrs, Rushbourne replied.
The moment his visitor had vanished, Pierson paced up and down the
study, with anger rising in his, heart. His daughter or his parish!
The old saw, "An Englishman's house is his castle!" was being
attacked within him. Must he not then harbour his own daughter, and
help her by candid atonement to regain her inward strength and peace?
Was he not thereby acting as a true Christian, in by far the hardest
course he and she could pursue? To go back on that decision and
imperil his daughter's spirit, or else resign his parish--the
alternatives were brutal! This was the centre of his world, the only
spot where so lonely a man could hope to feel even the semblance of
home; a thousand little threads tethered him to his church, his
parishioners, and this house--for, to live on here if he gave up his
church was out of the question. But his chief feeling was a
bewildered anger that for doing what seemed to him his duty, he
should be attacked by his parishioners.
A passion of desire to know what they really thought and felt--these
parishioners of his, whom he had befriended, and for whom he had
worked so long--beset him now, and he went out. But the absurdity of
his quest struck him before he had gone the length of the Square.
One could not go to people and say: "Stand and deliver me your inmost
judgments." And suddenly he was aware of how far away he really was
from them. Through all his ministrations had he ever come to know
their hearts? And now, in this dire necessity for knowledge, there
seemed no way of getting it. He went at random into a stationer's
shop; the shopman sang bass in his choir. They had met Sunday after
Sunday for the last seven years. But when, with this itch for
intimate knowledge on him, he saw the man behind the counter, it was
as if he were looking on him for the first time. The Russian
proverb, "The heart of another is a dark forest," gashed into his
mind, while he said:
"Well, Hodson, what news of your son?"
"Nothing more, Mr. Pierson, thank you, sir, nothing more at
And it seemed to Pierson, gazing at the man's face clothed in a
short, grizzling beard cut rather like his own, that he must be
thinking: 'Ah! sir, but what news of your daughter?' No one would
ever tell him to his face what he was thinking. And buying two
pencils, he went out. On the other side of the road was a bird-
fancier's shop, kept by a woman whose husband had been taken for the
Army. She was not friendly towards him, for it was known to her that
he had expostulated with her husband for keeping larks, and other
wild birds. And quite deliberately he crossed the road, and stood
looking in at the window, with the morbid hope that from this
unfriendly one he might hear truth. She was in her shop, and came to
"Have you any news of your husband, Mrs. Cherry?"
"No, Mr. Pierson, I 'ave not; not this week."
"He hasn't gone out yet?"
"No, Mr. Pierson; 'e 'as not."
There was no expression on her face, perfectly blank it was--Pierson
had a mad longing to say 'For God's sake, woman, speak out what's in
your mind; tell me what you think of me and my daughter. Never mind
my cloth!' But he could no more say it than the woman could tell him
what was in her mind. And with a "Good morning" he passed on. No
man or woman would tell him anything, unless, perhaps, they were
drunk. He came to a public house, and for a moment even hesitated
before it, but the thought of insult aimed at Noel stopped him, and
he passed that too. And then reality made itself known to him.
Though he had come out to hear what they were thinking, he did not
really want to hear it, could not endure it if he did. He had been
too long immune from criticism, too long in the position of one who
may tell others what he thinks of them. And standing there in the
crowded street, he was attacked by that longing for the country which
had always come on him when he was hard pressed. He looked at his
memoranda. By stupendous luck it was almost a blank day. An omnibus
passed close by which would take him far out. He climbed on to it,
and travelled as far as Hendon; then getting down, set forth on foot.
It was bright and hot, and the May blossom in full foam. He walked
fast along the perfectly straight road till he came to the top of
Elstree Hill. There for a few moments he stood gazing at the school
chapel, the cricket-field, the wide land beyond. All was very quiet,
for it was lunch-time. A horse was tethered there, and a strolling
cat, as though struck by the tall black incongruity of his figure,
paused in her progress, then, slithering under the wicket gate,
arched her back and rubbed herself against his leg, crinkling and
waving the tip of her tail. Pierson bent down and stroked the
creature's head; but uttering a faint miaou, the cat stepped daintily
across the road, Pierson too stepped on, past the village, and down
over the stile, into a field path. At the edge of the young clover,
under a bank of hawthorn, he lay down on his back, with his hat
beside him and his arms crossed over his chest, like the effigy of
some crusader one may see carved on an old tomb. Though he lay quiet
as that old knight, his eyes were not closed, but fixed on the blue,
where a lark was singing. Its song refreshed his spirit; its
passionate light-heartedness stirred all the love of beauty in him,
awoke revolt against a world so murderous and uncharitable. Oh! to
pass up with that song into a land of bright spirits, where was
nothing ugly, hard, merciless, and the gentle face of the Saviour
radiated everlasting love! The scent of the mayflowers, borne down
by the sun shine, drenched his senses; he closed his eyes, and, at
once, as if resenting that momentary escape, his mind resumed debate
with startling intensity. This matter went to the very well-springs,
had a terrible and secret significance. If to act as conscience bade
him rendered him unfit to keep his parish, all was built on sand, had
no deep reality, was but rooted in convention. Charity, and the
forgiveness of sins honestly atoned for--what be came of them?
Either he was wrong to have espoused straightforward confession and
atonement for her, or they were wrong in chasing him from that
espousal. There could be no making those extremes to meet. But if
he were wrong, having done the hardest thing already--where could he
turn? His Church stood bankrupt of ideals. He felt as if pushed
over the edge of the world, with feet on space, and head in some
blinding cloud. 'I cannot have been wrong,' he thought; 'any other
course was so much easier. I sacrificed my pride, and my poor girl's
pride; I would have loved to let her run away. If for this we are to
be stoned and cast forth, what living force is there in the religion
I have loved; what does it all come to? Have I served a sham? I
cannot and will not believe it. Something is wrong with me,
something is wrong--but where--what?' He rolled over, lay on his
face, and prayed. He prayed for guidance and deliverance from the
gusts of anger which kept sweeping over him; even more for relief
from the feeling of personal outrage, and the unfairness of this
thing. He had striven to be loyal to what he thought the right, had
sacrificed all his sensitiveness, all his secret fastidious pride in
his child and himself. For that he was to be thrown out! Whether
through prayer, or in the scent and feel of the clover, he found
presently a certain rest. Away in the distance he could see the
spire of Harrow Church.
The Church! No! She was not, could not be, at fault. The fault was
in himself. 'I am unpractical,' he thought. 'It is so, I know.
Agnes used to say so, Bob and Thirza think so. They all think me
unpractical and dreamy. Is it a sin--I wonder?' There were lambs in
the next field; he watched their gambollings and his heart relaxed;
brushing the clover dust off his black clothes, he began to retrace
his steps. The boys were playing cricket now, and he stood a few
minutes watching them. He had not seen cricket played since the war
began; it seemed almost otherworldly, with the click of the bats, and
the shrill young 'voices, under the distant drone of that sky-hornet
threshing along to Hendon. A boy made a good leg hit. "Well
played!" he called. Then, suddenly conscious of his own incongruity
and strangeness in that green spot, he turned away on the road back
to London. To resign; to await events; to send Noel away--of those
three courses, the last alone seemed impossible. 'Am I really so far
from them,' he thought, 'that they can wish me to go, for this? If
so, I had better go. It will be just another failure. But I won't
believe it yet; I can't believe it.'
The heat was sweltering, and he became very tired before at last he
reached his omnibus, and could sit with the breeze cooling his hot
face. He did not reach home till six, having eaten nothing since
breakfast. Intending to have a bath and lie down till dinner, he
Unwonted silence reigned. He tapped on the nursery door. It was
deserted; he passed through to Noel's room; but that too was empty.
The wardrobe stood open as if it had been hastily ransacked, and her
dressing-table was bare. In alarm he went to the bell and pulled it
sharply. The old-fashioned ring of it jingled out far below. The
parlour-maid came up.
"Where are Miss Noel and Nurse, Susan?"
"I didn't know you were in, sir. Miss Noel left me this note to give
Pierson stopped her with his hand. "Thank you, Susan; get me some
tea, please." With the note unopened in his hand, he waited till she
was gone. His head was going round, and he sat down on the side of
Noel's bed to read:
"The man who came this morning told me of what is going to happen. I
simply won't have it. I'm sending Nurse and baby down to Kestrel at
once, and going to Leila's for the night, until I've made up my mind
what to do. I knew it was a mistake my coming back. I don't care
what happens to me, but I won't have you hurt. I think it's hateful
of people to try and injure you for my fault. I've had to borrow
money from Susan--six pounds. Oh! Daddy dear, forgive me.
He read it with unutterable relief; at all events he knew where she
was--poor, wilful, rushing, loving-hearted child; knew where she was,
and could get at her. After his bath and some tea, he would go to
Leila's and bring her back. Poor little Nollie, thinking that by
just leaving his house she could settle this deep matter! He did not
hurry, feeling decidedly exhausted, and it was nearly eight before he
set out, leaving a message for Gratian, who did not as a rule come in
from her hospital till past nine.
The day was still glowing, and now, in the cool of evening, his
refreshed senses soaked up its beauty. 'God has so made this world,'
he thought, 'that, no matter what our struggles and sufferings, it's
ever a joy to live when the sun shines, or the moon is bright, or the
night starry. Even we can't spoil it.' In Regent's Park the lilacs
and laburnums were still in bloom though June had come, and he gazed
at them in passing, as a lover might at his lady. His conscience
pricked him suddenly. Mrs. Mitchett and the dark-eyed girl she had
brought to him on New Year's Eve, the very night he had learned of
his own daughter's tragedy--had he ever thought of them since? How
had that poor girl fared? He had been too impatient of her
impenetrable mood. What did he know of the hearts of others, when he
did not even know his own, could not rule his feelings of anger and
revolt, had not guided his own daughter into the waters of safety!
And Leila! Had he not been too censorious in thought? How powerful,
how strange was this instinct of sex, which hovered and swooped on
lives, seized them, bore them away, then dropped them exhausted and
defenceless! Some munition-wagons, painted a dull grey, lumbered
past, driven by sunburned youths in drab. Life-force, Death-force--
was it all one; the great unknowable momentum from which there was
but the one escape, in the arms of their Heavenly Father? Blake's
little old stanzas came into his mind:
"And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love;
And these black bodies and this sunburnt face
Are but a cloud, and like a shady grove.
"For when our souls have learned the heat to bear,
The cloud will vanish, we shall hear His voice,
Saying: Come out from the grove, my love and care,
And round my golden tent like lambs rejoice!"
Learned the heat to bear! Those lambs he had watched in a field that
afternoon, their sudden little leaps and rushes, their funny
quivering wriggling tails, their tiny nuzzling black snouts--what
little miracles of careless joy among the meadow flowers! Lambs, and
flowers, and sunlight! Famine, lust, and the great grey guns! A
maze, a wilderness; and but for faith, what issue, what path for man
to take which did not keep him wandering hopeless, in its thicket?
'God preserve our faith in love, in charity, and the life to come!'
he thought. And a blind man with a dog, to whose neck was tied a
little deep dish for pennies, ground a hurdy-gurdy as he passed.
Pierson put a shilling in the dish. The man stopped playing, his
whitish eyes looked up. "Thank you kindly, sir; I'll go home now.
Come on, Dick!" He tapped his way round the corner, with his dog
straining in front. A blackbird hidden among the blossoms of an
acacia, burst into evening song, and another great grey munition-
wagon rumbled out through the Park gate.
The Church-clock was striking nine when he reached Leila's flat, went
up, and knocked. Sounds from-a piano ceased; the door was opened by
Noel. She recoiled when she saw who it was, and said:
"Why did you come, Daddy? It was much better not."
"Are you alone here?"
"Yes; Leila gave me her key. She has to be at the hospital till ten
"You must come home with me, my dear."
Noel closed the piano, and sat down on the divan. Her face had the
same expression as when he had told her that she could not marry
"Come, Nollie," he said; "don't be unreasonable. We must see this
"My dear, that's childish. Do you think the mere accident of your
being or not being at home can affect my decision as to what my duty
"Yes; it's my being there that matters. Those people don't care, so
long as it isn't an open scandal"
"But it is so, Daddy. Of course it's so, and you know it. If I'm
away they'll just pity you for having a bad daughter. And quite
right too. I am a bad daughter."
Pierson smiled. "Just like when you were a tiny."
"I wish I were a tiny again, or ten years older. It's this half
age--But I'm not coming back with you, Daddy; so it's no good."
Pierson sat down beside her.
"I've been thinking this over all day," he said quietly. "Perhaps in
my pride I made a mistake when I first knew of your trouble. Perhaps
I ought to have accepted the consequences of my failure, then, and
have given up, and taken you away at once. After all, if a man is
not fit to have the care of souls, he should have the grace to know
"But you are fit," cried Noel passionately; "Daddy, you are fit!"
"I'm afraid not. There is something wanting in me, I don't know
exactly what; but something very wanting."