Part 5 out of 6
"There isn't. It's only that you're too good--that's why!"
Pierson shook his head. "Don't, Nollie!"
"I will," cried Noel. "You're too gentle, and you're too good.
You're charitable, and you're simple, and you believe in another
world; that's what's the matter with you, Daddy. Do you think they
do, those people who want to chase us out? They don't even begin to
believe, whatever they say or think. I hate them, and sometimes I
hate the Church; either it's hard and narrow, or else it's worldly."
She stopped at the expression on her father's face, the most strange
look of pain, and horror, as if an unspoken treachery of his own had
been dragged forth for his inspection.
"You're talking wildly," he said, but his lips were trembling. "You
mustn't say things like that; they're blasphemous and wicked."
Noel bit her lips, sitting very stiff and still, against a high blue
cushion. Then she burst out again:
"You've slaved for those people years and years, and you've had no
pleasure and you've had no love; and they wouldn't care that if you
broke your heart. They don't care for anything, so long as it all
seems proper. Daddy, if you let them hurt you, I won't forgive you!"
"And what if you hurt me now, Nollie?"
Noel pressed his hand against her warm cheek.
"Oh, no! Oh, no! I don't--I won't. Not again. I've done that
"Very well, my dear! then come home with me, and we'll see what's
best to be done. It can't be settled by running away."
Noel dropped his hand. "No. Twice I've done what you wanted, and
it's been a mistake. If I hadn't gone to Church on Sunday to please
you, perhaps it would never have come to this. You don't see things,
Daddy. I could tell, though I was sitting right in front. I knew
what their faces were like, and what they were thinking."
"One must do right, Nollie, and not mind."
"Yes; but what is right? It's not right for me to hurt you, and I'm
not going to."
Pierson understood all at once that it was useless to try and move
"What are you going to do, then?"
"I suppose I shall go to Kestrel to-morrow. Auntie will have me, I
know; I shall talk to Leila."
"Whatever you do, promise to let me know."
"Daddy, you--look awfully, awfully tired. I'm going to give you some
medicine." She went to a little three-cornered cupboard, and bent
down. Medicine! The medicine he wanted was not for the body;
knowledge of what his duty was--that alone could heal him!
The loud popping of a cork roused him. "What are you doing, Nollie?"
Noel rose with a flushed face, holding in one hand a glass of
champagne, in the other a biscuit.
"You're to take this; and I'm going to have some myself."
"My dear," said Pierson bewildered; "it's not yours."
"Drink it; Daddy! Don't you know that Leila would never forgive me
if I let you go home looking like that. Besides, she told me I was
to eat. Drink it. You can send her a nice present. Drink it!" And
she stamped her foot.
Pierson took the glass, and sat there nibbling and sipping. It was
nice, very! He had not quite realised how much he needed food and
drink. Noel returned from the cupboard a second time; she too had a
glass and a biscuit.
"There, you look better already. Now you're to go home at once, in a
cab if you can get one; and tell Gratian to make you feed up, or you
won't have a body at all; you can't do your duty if you haven't one,
Pierson smiled, and finished the champagne.
Noel took the glass from him. "You're my child to-night, and I'm
going to send you to bed. Don't worry, Daddy; it'll all come right."
And, taking his arm, she went downstairs with him, and blew him a
kiss from the doorway.
He walked away in a sort of dream. Daylight was not quite gone, but
the moon was up, just past its full, and the search-lights had begun
their nightly wanderings. It was a sky of ghosts and shadows,
fitting to the thought which came to him. The finger of Providence
was in all this, perhaps! Why should he not go out to France! At
last; why not? Some better man, who understood men's hearts, who
knew the world, would take his place; and he could go where death
made all things simple, and he could not fail. He walked faster and
faster, full of an intoxicating relief. Thirza and Gratian would
take care of Nollie far better than he. Yes, surely it was ordained!
Moonlight had the town now; and all was steel blue, the very air
steel-blue; a dream-city of marvellous beauty, through which he
passed, exalted. Soon he would be where that poor boy, and a million
others, had given their lives; with the mud and the shells and the
scarred grey ground, and the jagged trees, where Christ was daily
crucified--there where he had so often longed to be these three years
past. It was ordained!
And two women whom he met looked at each other when he had gone by,
and those words 'the blighted crow' which they had been about to
speak, died on their lips.
Noel felt light-hearted too, as if she had won a victory. She found
some potted meat, spread it on another biscuit, ate it greedily, and
finished the pint bottle of champagne. Then she hunted for the
cigarettes, and sat down at the piano. She played old tunes--"There
is a Tavern in the Town," "Once I Loved a Maiden Fair," "Mowing the
Barley," "Clementine," "Lowlands," and sang to them such words as she
remembered. There was a delicious running in her veins, and once she
got up and danced. She was kneeling at the window, looking out, when
she heard the door open, and without getting up, cried out:
"Isn't it a gorgeous night! I've had Daddy here. I gave him some of
your champagne, and drank the rest--" then was conscious of a figure
far too tall for Leila, and a man's voice saying:
"I'm awfully sorry. It's only I, Jimmy Fort."
Noel scrambled up. "Leila isn't in; but she will be directly--it's
He was standing stock-still in the middle of the room.
"Won't you sit down? Oh! and won't you have a cigarette?"
By the flash of his briquette she saw his face clearly; the look on
it filled her with a sort of malicious glee.
"I'm going now," she said. "Would you mind telling Leila that I
found I couldn't stop?" She made towards the divan to get her hat.
When she had put it on, she found him standing just in front of her.
"Noel-if you don't mind me calling you that?"
"Not a bit."
"Don't go; I'm going myself."
"Oh, no! Not for worlds." She tried to slip past, but he took hold
of her wrist.
"Please; just one minute!"
Noel stayed motionless, looking at him, while his hand still held her
wrist. He said quietly:
"Do you mind telling me why you came here?"
"Oh, just to see Leila."
"Things have come to a head at home, haven't they?"
Noel shrugged her shoulders.
"You came for refuge, didn't you?"
"Don't be angry; from the need of hurting your father."
"I knew it would come to that. What are you going to do?"
"Enjoy myself." She was saying something fatuous, yet she meant it.
"That's absurd. Don't be angry! You're quite right. Only, you must
begin at the right end, mustn't you? Sit down!"
Noel tried to free her wrist.
"No; sit down, please."
Noel sat down; but as he loosed her wrist, she laughed. This was
where he sat with Leila, where they would sit when she was gone.
"It's awfully funny, isn't it?" she said.
"Funny?" he muttered savagely. "Most things are, in this funny
The sound of a taxi stopping not far off had come to her ears, and
she gathered her feet under her, planting them firmly. If she sprang
up, could she slip by him before he caught her arm again, and get
"If I go now," he said, "will you promise me to stop till you've seen
"That's foolish. Come, promise!"
Noel shook her head. She felt a perverse pleasure at his
"Leila's lucky, isn't she? No children, no husband, no father, no
She saw his arm go up as if to ward off a blow. "Poor Leila!" he
"Why are you sorry for her? She has freedom! And she has you!"
She knew it would hurt; but she wanted to hurt him.
"You needn't envy her for that."
He had just spoken, when Noel saw a figure over by the door.
She jumped up, and said breathlessly:
"Oh, here you are, Leila! Father's been here, and we've had some of
"Capital! You are in the dark!"
Noel felt the blood rush into her cheeks. The light leaped up, and
Leila came forward. She looked extremely pale, calm, and self-
contained, in her nurse's dress; her full lips were tightly pressed
together, but Noel could see her breast heaving violently. A turmoil
of shame and wounded pride began raging in the girl. Why had she not
flown long ago? Why had she let herself be trapped like this? Leila
would think she had been making up to him! Horrible! Disgusting!
Why didn't he--why didn't some one, speak? Then Leila said:
"I didn't expect you, Jimmy; I'm glad you haven't been dull. Noel is
staying here to-night. Give me a cigarette. Sit down, both of you.
I'm awfully tired!"
She sank into a chair, leaning back, with her knees crossed; and at
that moment Noel admired her. She had said it beautifully; she
looked so calm. Fort was lighting her cigarette; his hand was
shaking, his face all sorry and mortified.
"Give Noel one, too, and draw the curtains, Jimmy. Quick! Not that
it makes any difference; it's as light as day. Sit down, dear."
But Noel remained standing.
"What have you been talking of? Love and Chinese lanterns, or only
At those words Fort, who was drawing the last curtain, turned round;
his tall figure was poised awkwardly against the wall, his face,
unsuited to diplomacy, had a look as of flesh being beaten. If weals
had started up across it, Noel would not have been surprised.
He said with painful slowness:
"I don't exactly know; we had hardly begun, had we?"
"The night is young," said Leila. "Go on while I just take off my
She rose with the cigarette between her lips, and went into the inner
room. In passing, she gave Noel a look. What there was in that
look, the girl could never make clear even to herself. Perhaps a
creature shot would gaze like that, with a sort of profound and
distant questioning, reproach, and anger, with a sort of pride, and
the quiver of death. As the door closed, Fort came right across the
"Go to her;" cried Noel; "she wants you. Can't you see, she wants
And before he could move, she was at the door. She flew downstairs,
and out into the moonlight. The taxi, a little way off, was just
beginning to move away; she ran towards it, calling out:
"Anywhere! Piccadilly!" and jumping in, blotted herself against the
cushions in the far corner.
She did not come to herself, as it were, for several minutes, and
then feeling she 'could no longer bear the cab, stopped it, and got
out. Where was she? Bond Street! She began, idly, wandering down
its narrow length; the fullest street by day, the emptiest by night.
Oh! it had been horrible! Nothing said by any of them--nothing, and
yet everything dragged out--of him, of Leila, of herself! She seemed
to have no pride or decency left, as if she had been caught stealing.
All her happy exhilaration was gone, leaving a miserable
recklessness. Nothing she did was right, nothing turned out well, so
what did it all matter? The moonlight flooding down between the tall
houses gave her a peculiar heady feeling. "Fey" her father had
called her. She laughed. 'But I'm not going home,' she thought.
Bored with the street's length; she turned off, and was suddenly in
Hanover Square. There was the Church, grey-white, where she had been
bridesmaid to a second cousin, when she was fifteen. She seemed to
see it all again--her frock, the lilies in her hand, the surplices of
the choir, the bride's dress, all moonlight-coloured, and unreal.
'I wonder what's become of her!' she thought. 'He's dead, I expect,
like Cyril!' She saw her father's face as he was marrying them,
heard his voice: "For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in
sickness and in health, till death do you part." And the moonlight
on the Church seemed to shift and quiver-some pigeons perhaps had
been disturbed up there. Then instead of that wedding vision, she
saw Monsieur Barra, sitting on his chair, gazing at the floor, and
Chica nursing her doll. "All mad, mademoiselle, a little mad.
Millions of men with white souls, but all a little tiny bit mad, you
know." Then Leila's face came before her, with that look in her
eyes. She felt again the hot clasp of Fort's fingers on her wrist,
and walked on, rubbing it with the other hand. She turned into
Regent Street. The wide curve of the Quadrant swept into a sky of
unreal blue, and the orange-shaded lamps merely added to the
unreality. 'Love and Chinese lanterns! I should like some coffee,'
she thought suddenly. She was quite close to the place where
Lavendie had taken her. Should she go in there? Why not? She must
go somewhere. She turned into the revolving cage of glass. But no
sooner was she imprisoned there than in a flash Lavendie's face of
disgust; and the red-lipped women, the green stuff that smelled of
peppermint came back, filling her with a rush of dismay. She made
the full circle in the revolving cage; and came out into the street
again with a laugh. A tall young man in khaki stood there: "Hallo!"
he said. "Come in and dance!" She started, recoiled from him and
began to walk away as fast as ever she could. She passed a woman
whose eyes seemed to scorch her. A woman like a swift vision of ruin
with those eyes, and thickly powdered cheeks, and loose red mouth.
Noel shuddered and fled along, feeling that her only safety lay in
speed. But she could not walk about all night. There would be no
train for Kestrel till the morning--and did she really want to go
there, and eat her heart out? Suddenly she thought of George. Why
should she not go down to him? He would know what was best for her
to do. At the foot of the steps below the Waterloo Column she stood
still. All was quiet there and empty, the great buildings whitened,
the trees blurred and blue; and sweeter air was coming across their
flowering tops. The queer "fey" moony sensation was still with her;
so that she felt small and light, as if she could have floated
through a ring. Faint rims of light showed round the windows of the
Admiralty. The war! However lovely the night, however sweet the
lilac smelt-that never stopped! She turned away and passed out under
the arch, making for the station. The train of the wounded had just
come in, and she stood in the cheering crowd watching the ambulances
run out. Tears of excited emotion filled her eyes, and trickled
down. Steady, smooth, grey, one after the other they came gliding,
with a little burst of cheers greeting each one. All were gone now,
and she could pass in. She went to the buffet and got a large cup of
coffee, and a bun. Then, having noted the time of her early morning
train, she sought the ladies' waiting-room, and sitting down in a
corner, took out her purse and counted her money. Two pounds
fifteen-enough to go to the hotel, if she liked. But, without
luggage--it was so conspicuous, and she could sleep in this corner
all right, if she wanted. What did girls do who had no money, and no
friends to go to? Tucked away in the corner of that empty, heavy,
varnished room, she seemed to see the cruelty and hardness of life as
she had never before seen it, not even when facing her confinement.
How lucky she had been, and was! Everyone was good to her. She had
no real want or dangers, to face. But, for women--yes, and men too--
who had no one to fall back on, nothing but their own hands and
health and luck, it must be awful. That girl whose eyes had scorched
her--perhaps she had no one--nothing. And people who were born ill,
and the millions of poor women, like those whom she had gone visiting
with Gratian sometimes in the poorer streets of her father's parish--
for the first time she seemed to really know and feel the sort of
lives they led. And then, Leila's face came back to her once more--
Leila whom she had robbed. And the worst of it was, that, alongside
her remorseful sympathy, she felt a sort of satisfaction. She could
not help his not loving Leila, she could not help it if he loved
herself! And he did--she knew it! To feel that anyone loved her was
so comforting. But it was all awful! And she--the cause of it! And
yet--she had never done or said anything to attract him. No! She
could not have helped it.
She had begun to feel drowsy, and closed her eyes. And gradually
there came on her a cosey sensation, as if she were leaning up
against someone with her head tucked in against his shoulder, as she
had so often leaned as a child against her father, coming back from
some long darkening drive in Wales or Scotland. She seemed even to
feel the wet soft Westerly air on her face and eyelids, and to sniff
the scent of a frieze coat; to hear the jog of hoofs and the rolling
of the wheels; to feel the closing in of the darkness. Then, so
dimly and drowsily, she seemed to know that it was not her father,
but someone--someone--then no more, no more at all.
She was awakened by the scream of an engine, and looked around her
amazed. Her neck had fallen sideways while she slept, and felt
horridly stiff; her head ached, and she was shivering. She saw by
the clock that it was past five. 'If only I could get some tea!' she
thought. 'Anyway I won't stay here any longer!' When she had
washed, and rubbed some of the stiffness out of her neck, the tea
renewed her sense of adventure wonderfully. Her train did not start
for an hour; she had time for a walk, to warm herself, and went down
to the river. There was an early haze, and all looked a little
mysterious; but people were already passing on their way to work.
She walked along, looking at the water flowing up under the bright
mist to which the gulls gave a sort of hovering life. She went as
far as Blackfriars Bridge, and turning back, sat down on a bench
under a plane-tree, just as the sun broke through. A little pasty
woman with a pinched yellowish face was already sitting there, so
still, and seeming to see so little, that Noel wondered of what she
could be thinking. While she watched, the woman's face began
puckering, and tears rolled slowly, down, trickling from pucker to
pucker, till, summoning up her courage, Noel sidled nearer, and said:
"Oh! What's the matter?"
The tears seemed to stop from sheer surprise; little grey eyes gazed
round, patient little eyes from above an almost bridgeless nose.
"I'ad a baby. It's dead.... its father's dead in France.... I was
goin' in the water, but I didn't like the look of it, and now I never
That "Now I never will," moved Noel terribly. She slid her arm along
the back of the bench and clasped the skinniest of shoulders.
"It was my first. I'm thirty-eight. I'll never 'ave another. Oh!
Why didn't I go in the water?"
The face puckered again, and the squeezed-out tears ran down. 'Of
course she must cry,' thought Noel; 'cry and cry till it feels
better.' And she stroked the shoulder of the little woman, whose
emotion was disengaging the scent of old clothes.
"The father of my baby was killed in France, too," she said at last.
The little sad grey eyes looked curiously round.
"Was 'e? 'Ave you got your baby still?"
"Yes, oh, yes!"
"I'm glad of that. It 'urts so bad, it does. I'd rather lose me
'usband than me baby, any day." The sun was shining now on a cheek
of that terribly patient face; its brightness seemed cruel perching
"Can I do anything to help you?" Noel murmured.
"No, thank you, miss. I'm goin' 'ome now. I don't live far. Thank
you kindly." And raising her eyes for one more of those half-
bewildered looks, she moved away along the Embankment wall. When she
was out of sight, Noel walked back to the station. The train was in,
and she took her seat. She had three fellow passengers, all in
khaki; very silent and moody, as men are when they have to get up
early. One was tall, dark, and perhaps thirty-five; the second
small, arid about fifty, with cropped, scanty grey hair; the third
was of medium height and quite sixty-five, with a long row of little
coloured patches on his tunic, and a bald, narrow, well-shaped head,
grey hair brushed back at the sides, and the thin, collected features
and drooping moustache of the old school. It was at him that Noel
looked. When he glanced out of the window, or otherwise retired
within himself, she liked his face; but when he turned to the ticket-
collector or spoke to the others, she did not like it half so much.
It was as if the old fellow had two selves, one of which he used when
alone, the other in which he dressed every morning to meet the world.
They had begun to talk about some Tribunal on which they had to sit.
Noel did not listen, but a word or two carried to her now and then.
"How many to-day?" she heard the old fellow ask, and the little
cropped man answering: "Hundred and fourteen."
Fresh from the sight of the poor little shabby woman and her grief,
she could not help a sort of shrinking from that trim old soldier,
with his thin, regular face, who held the fate of a "Hundred and
fourteen" in his firm, narrow grasp, perhaps every day. Would he
understand their troubles or wants? Of course he wouldn't! Then,
she saw him looking at her critically with his keen eyes. If he had
known her secret, he would be thinking: 'A lady and act like that!
Oh, no! Quite-quite out of the question!' And she felt as if she
could, sink under the seat with shame. But no doubt he was only
thinking: 'Very young to be travelling by herself at this hour of the
morning. Pretty too!' If he knew the real truth of her--how he
would stare! But why should this utter stranger, this old
disciplinarian, by a casual glance, by the mere form of his face,
make her feel more guilty and ashamed than she had yet felt? That
puzzled her. He was, must be, a narrow, conventional old man; but he
had this power to make her feel ashamed, because she felt that he had
faith in his gods, and was true to them; because she knew he would
die sooner than depart from his creed of conduct. She turned to the
window, biting her lips-angry and despairing. She would never--never
get used to her position; it was no good! And again she had the
longing of her dream, to tuck her face away into that coat, smell the
scent of the frieze, snuggle in, be protected, and forget. 'If I had
been that poor lonely little woman,' she thought, 'and had lost
everything, I should have gone into the water. I should have rushed
and jumped. It's only luck that I'm alive. I won't look at that old
man again: then I shan't feel so bad.'
She had bought some chocolate at the station, and nibbled it, gazing
steadily at the fields covered with daisies and the first of the
buttercups and cowslips. The three soldiers were talking now in
carefully lowered voices. The words: "women," "under control,"
"perfect plague," came to her, making her ears burn. In the
hypersensitive mood caused by the strain of yesterday, her broken
night, and the emotional meeting with the little woman, she felt as
if they were including her among those "women." 'If we stop, I'll
get out,' she thought. But when the train did stop it was they who
got out. She felt the old General's keen veiled glance sum her up
for the last time, and looked full at him just for a moment. He
touched his cap, and said: "Will you have the window up or down?"
and lingered to draw it half-way up.' His punctiliousness made her
feel worse than ever. When the train had started again she roamed up
and down her empty carriage; there was no more a way out of her
position than out of this rolling cushioned carriage! And then she
seemed to hear Fort's voice saying: 'Sit down, please!' and to feel
his fingers clasp her wrist, Oh! he was nice and comforting; he
would never reproach or remind her! And now, probably, she would
never see him again.
The train drew up at last. She did not know where George lodged, and
would have to go to his hospital. She planned to get there at half
past nine, and having eaten a sort of breakfast at the station, went
forth into the town. The seaside was still wrapped in the early
glamour which haunts chalk of a bright morning. But the streets were
very much alive. Here was real business of the war. She passed
houses which had been wrecked. Trucks clanged and shunted, great
lorries rumbled smoothly by. Sea--and Air-planes were moving like
great birds far up in the bright haze, and khaki was everywhere. But
it was the sea Noel wanted. She made her way westward to a little
beach; and, sitting down on a stone, opened her arms to catch the sun
on her face and chest. The tide was nearly up, with the wavelets of
a blue bright sea. The great fact, the greatest fact in the world,
except the sun; vast and free, making everything human seem small and
transitory! It did her good, like a tranquillising friend. The sea
might be cruel and terrible, awful things it could do, and awful
things were being done on it; but its wide level line, its never-
ending song, its sane savour, were the best medicine she could
possibly have taken. She rubbed the Shelly sand between her fingers
in absurd ecstasy; took off her shoes and stockings, paddled, and sat
drying her legs in the sun.
When she left the little beach, she felt as if someone had said to
'Your troubles are very little. There's the sun, the sea, the air;
enjoy them. They can't take those from you.'
At the hospital she had to wait half an hour in a little bare room
before George came.
"Nollie! Splendid. I've got an hour. Let's get out of this
cemetery. We'll have time for a good stretch on the tops. Jolly of
you to have come to me. Tell us all about it."
When she had finished, he squeezed her arm. 348
"I knew it wouldn't do. Your Dad forgot that he's a public figure,
and must expect to be damned accordingly. But though you've cut and
run, he'll resign all the same, Nollie."
"Oh, no!" cried Noel.
George shook his head.
"Yes, he'll resign, you'll see, he's got no worldly sense; not a
"Then I shall have spoiled his life, just as if--oh, no!"
"Let's sit down here. I must be back at eleven."
They sat down on a bench, where the green cliff stretched out before
them, over a sea quite clear of haze, far down and very blue.
"Why should he resign," cried Noel again, "now that I've gone? He'll
be lost without it all."
"Found, my dear. He'll be where he ought to be, Nollie, where the
Church is, and the Churchmen are not--in the air!"
"Don't!" cried Noel passionately.
"No, no, I'm not chaffing. There's no room on earth for saints in
authority. There's use for a saintly symbol, even if one doesn't
hold with it, but there's no mortal use for those who try to have
things both ways--to be saints and seers of visions, and yet to come
the practical and worldly and rule ordinary men's lives. Saintly
example yes; but not saintly governance. You've been his
"But Daddy loves his Church."
George frowned. "Of course, it'll be a wrench. A man's bound to
have a cosey feeling about a place where he's been boss so long; and
there is something about a Church--the drone, the scent, the half
darkness; there's beauty in it, it's a pleasant drug. But he's not
being asked to give up the drug habit; only to stop administering
drugs to others. Don't worry, Nollie; I don't believe that's ever
suited him, it wants a thicker skin than he's got."
"But all the people he helps?"
"No reason he shouldn't go on helping people, is there?"
"But to go on living there, without--Mother died there, you know!"
George grunted. "Dreams, Nollie, all round him; of the past and the
future, of what people are and what he can do with them. I never see
him without a skirmish, as you know, and yet I'm fond of him. But I
should be twice as fond, and half as likely to skirmish, if he'd drop
the habits of authority. Then I believe he'd have some real
influence over me; there's something beautiful about him, I know that
"Yes," murmured Noel fervently.
"He's such a queer mixture," mused George. "Clean out of his age;
chalks above most of the parsons in a spiritual sense and chalks
below most of them in the worldly. And yet I believe he's in the
right of it. The Church ought to be a forlorn hope, Nollie; then we
should believe in it. Instead of that, it's a sort of business that
no one can take too seriously. You see, the Church spiritual can't
make good in this age--has no chance of making good, and so in the
main it's given it up for vested interests and social influence.
Your father is a symbol of what the Church is not. But what about
you, my dear? There's a room at my boarding-house, and only one old
lady besides myself, who knits all the time. If Grace can get
shifted we'll find a house, and you can have the baby. They'll send
your luggage on from Paddington if you write; and in the meantime
Gracie's got some things here that you can have."
"I'll have to send a wire to Daddy."
"I'll do that. You come to my diggings at half past one, and I'll
settle you in. Until then, you'd better stay up here."
When he had gone she roamed a little farther, and lay down on the
short grass, where the chalk broke through in patches. She could
hear a distant rumbling, very low, travelling in that grass, the long
mutter of the Flanders guns. 'I wonder if it's as beautiful a day
there,' she thought. 'How dreadful to see no green, no butterflies,
no flowers-not even sky-for the dust of the shells. Oh! won't it
ever, ever end?' And a sort of passion for the earth welled up in
her, the warm grassy earth along which she lay, pressed so close that
she could feel it with every inch of her body, and the soft spikes of
the grass against her nose and lips. An aching sweetness tortured
her, she wanted the earth to close its arms about her, she wanted the
answer to her embrace of it. She was alive, and wanted love. Not
death--not loneliness--not death! And out there, where the guns
muttered, millions of men would be thinking that same thought!
Pierson had passed nearly the whole night with the relics of his
past, the records of his stewardship, the tokens of his short married
life. The idea which had possessed him walking home in the moonlight
sustained him in that melancholy task of docketing and destruction.
There was not nearly so much to do as one would have supposed, for,
with all his dreaminess, he had been oddly neat and businesslike in
all parish matters. But a hundred times that night he stopped,
overcome by memories. Every corner, drawer, photograph, paper was a
thread in the long-spun web of his life in this house. Some phase of
his work, some vision of his wife or daughters started forth from
each bit of furniture, picture, doorway. Noiseless, in his slippers,
he stole up and down between the study, diningroom, drawing-room, and
anyone seeing him at his work in the dim light which visited the
staircase from above the front door and the upper-passage window,
would have thought: 'A ghost, a ghost gone into mourning for the
condition of the world.' He had to make this reckoning to-night,
while the exaltation of his new idea was on him; had to rummage out
the very depths of old association, so that once for all he might
know whether he had strength to close the door on the past. Five
o'clock struck before he had finished, and, almost dropping from
fatigue, sat down at his little piano in bright daylight. The last
memory to beset him was the first of all; his honeymoon, before they
came back to live in this house, already chosen, furnished, and
waiting for them. They had spent it in Germany--the first days in
Baden-baden, and each morning had been awakened by a Chorale played
down in the gardens of the Kurhaus, a gentle, beautiful tune, to
remind them that they were in heaven. And softly, so softly that the
tunes seemed to be but dreams he began playing those old Chorales,
one after another, so that the stilly sounds floated out, through the
opened window, puzzling the early birds and cats and those few humans
who were abroad as yet.....
He received the telegram from Noel in the afternoon of the same day,
just as he was about to set out for Leila's to get news of her; and
close on the top of it came Lavendie. He found the painter standing
disconsolate in front of his picture.
"Mademoiselle has deserted me?"
"I'm afraid we shall all desert you soon, monsieur."
"You are going?"
"Yes, I am leaving here. I hope to go to France."
"She is at the sea with my son-in-law."
The painter ran his hands through his hair, but stopped them half-
way, as if aware that he was being guilty of ill-breeding.
"Mon dieu!" he said: "Is this not a calamity for you, monsieur le
cure?" But his sense of the calamity was so patently limited to his
unfinished picture that Pierson could not help a smile.
"Ah, monsieur!" said the painter, on whom nothing was lost. "Comme
je suis egoiste! I show my feelings; it is deplorable. My
disappointment must seem a bagatelle to you, who will be so
distressed at leaving your old home. This must be a time of great
trouble. Believe me; I understand. But to sympathise with a grief
which is not shown would be an impertinence, would it not? You
English gentlefolk do not let us share your griefs; you keep them to
Pierson stared. "True," he said. "Quite true!"
"I am no judge of Christianity, monsieur, but for us artists the
doors of the human heart stand open, our own and others. I suppose
we have no pride--c'est tres-indelicat. Tell me, monsieur, you would
not think it worthy of you to speak to me of your troubles, would
you, as I have spoken of mine?"
Pierson bowed his head, abashed.
"You preach of universal charity and love," went on Lavendie; "but
how can there be that when you teach also secretly the keeping of
your troubles to yourselves? Man responds to example, not to
teaching; you set the example of the stranger, not the brother. You
expect from others what you do not give. Frankly, monsieur, do you
not feel that with every revelation of your soul and feelings, virtue
goes out of you? And I will tell you why, if you will not think it
an offence. In opening your hearts you feel that you lose authority.
You are officers, and must never forget that. Is it not so?"
Pierson grew red. "I hope there is another feeling too. I think we
feel that to speak of our sufferings or, deeper feelings is to
obtrude oneself, to make a fuss, to be self-concerned, when we might
be concerned with others."
"Monsieur, au fond we are all concerned with self. To seem selfless
is but your particular way of cultivating the perfection of self.
You admit that not to obtrude self is the way to perfect yourself.
Eh bien! What is that but a deeper concern with self? To be free of
this, there is no way but to forget all about oneself in what one is
doing, as I forget everything when I am painting. But," he added,
with a sudden smile, "you would not wish to forget the perfecting of
self--it would not be right in your profession. So I must take away
this picture, must I not? It is one of my best works: I regret much
not to have finished it."
"Some day, perhaps--"
"Some day! The picture will stand still, but mademoiselle will not.
She will rush at something, and behold! this face will be gone. No;
I prefer to keep it as it is. It has truth now." And lifting down
the canvas, he stood it against the wall and folded up the easel.
"Bon soir, monsieur, you have been very good to me." He wrung
Pierson's hand; and his face for a moment seemed all eyes and spirit.
"Good-bye," Pierson murmured. "God bless you!"
"I don't know if I have great confidence in Him," replied Lavendie,
"but I shall ever remember that so good a man as you has wished it.
To mademoiselle my distinguished salutations, if you please. If you
will permit me, I will come back for my other things to-morrow." And
carrying easel and canvas, he departed.
Pierson stayed in the old drawing-room, waiting for Gratian to come
in, and thinking over the painter's words. Had his education and
position really made it impossible for him to be brotherly? Was this
the secret of the impotence which he sometimes felt; the reason why
charity and love were not more alive in the hearts of his
congregation? 'God knows I've no consciousness of having felt myself
superior,' he thought; 'and yet I would be truly ashamed to tell
people of my troubles and of my struggles. Can it be that Christ, if
he were on earth, would count us Pharisees, believing ourselves not
as other men? But surely it is not as Christians but rather as
gentlemen that we keep ourselves to ourselves. Officers, he called
us. I fear--I fear it is true.' Ah, well! There would not be many
more days now. He would learn out there how to open the hearts of
others, and his own. Suffering and death levelled all barriers, made
all men brothers. He was still sitting there when Gratian came in;
and taking her hand, he said:
"Noel has gone down to George, and I want you to get transferred and
go to them, Gracie. I'm giving up the parish and asking for a
"Giving up? After all this time? Is it because of Nollie?"
"No, I think not; I think the time has come. I feel my work here is
"Oh, no! And even if it is, it's only because--"
Pierson smiled. "Because of what, Gracie?"
"Dad, it's what I've felt in myself. We want to think and decide
things for ourselves, we want to own our consciences, we can't take
things at second-hand any longer."
Pierson's face darkened. "Ah!" he said, "to have lost faith is a
"We're gaining charity," cried Gratian.
"The two things are not opposed, my dear."
"Not in theory; but in practice I think they often are. Oh, Dad!
you look so tired. Have you really made up your mind? Won't you
"For a little. I shall find myself, out there."
But the look on his face was too much for Gratian's composure, and
she turned away.
Pierson went down to his study to write his letter of resignation.
Sitting before that blank sheet of paper, he realised to the full how
strongly he had resented the public condemnation passed on his own
flesh and blood, how much his action was the expression of a purely
mundane championship of his daughter; of a mundane mortification.
'Pride,' he thought. 'Ought I to stay and conquer it?' Twice he set
his pen down, twice took it up again. He could not conquer it. To
stay where he was not wanted, on a sort of sufferance--never! And
while he sat before that empty sheet of paper he tried to do the
hardest thing a man can do--to see himself as others see him; and met
with such success as one might expect--harking at once to the
verdicts, not of others at all, but of his own conscience; and coming
soon to that perpetual gnawing sense which had possessed him ever
since the war began, that it was his duty to be dead. This feeling
that to be alive was unworthy of him when so many of his flock had
made the last sacrifice, was reinforced by his domestic tragedy and
the bitter disillusionment it had brought. A sense of having lost
caste weighed on him, while he sat there with his past receding from
him, dusty and unreal. He had the queerest feeling of his old life
falling from him, dropping round his feet like the outworn scales of
a serpent, rung after rung of tasks and duties performed day after
day, year after year. Had they ever been quite real? Well, he had
shed them now, and was to move out into life illumined by the great
reality-death! And taking up his pen, he wrote his resignation.
The last Sunday, sunny and bright! Though he did not ask her to go,
Gratian went to every Service that day. And the sight of her, after
this long interval, in their old pew, where once he had been wont to
see his wife's face, and draw refreshment therefrom, affected Pierson
more than anything else. He had told no one of his coming departure,
shrinking from the falsity and suppression which must underlie every
allusion and expression of regret. In the last minute of his last
sermon he would tell them! He went through the day in a sort of
dream. Truly proud and sensitive, under this social blight, he
shrank from all alike, made no attempt to single out supporters or
adherents from those who had fallen away. He knew there would be
some, perhaps many, seriously grieved that he was going; but to try
and realise who they were, to weigh them in the scales against the
rest and so forth, was quite against his nature. It was all or
nothing. But when for the last time of all those hundreds, he
mounted the steps of his dark pulpit, he showed no trace of finality,
did not perhaps even feel it yet. For so beautiful a summer evening
the congregation was large. In spite of all reticence, rumour was
busy and curiosity still rife. The writers of the letters, anonymous
and otherwise, had spent a week, not indeed in proclaiming what they
had done, but in justifying to themselves the secret fact that they
had done it. And this was best achieved by speaking to their
neighbours of the serious and awkward situation of the poor Vicar.
The result was visible in a better attendance than had been seen
since summer-time began.
Pierson had never been a great preacher, his voice lacked resonance
and pliancy, his thought breadth and buoyancy, and he was not free
from, the sing-song which mars the utterance of many who have to
speak professionally. But he always made an impression of goodness
and sincerity. On this last Sunday evening he preached again the
first sermon he had ever preached from that pulpit, fresh from the
honeymoon with his young wife. "Solomon in all his glory was not
arrayed like one of these." It lacked now the happy fervour of that
most happy of all his days, yet gained poignancy, coming from so worn
a face and voice. Gratian, who knew that he was going to end with
his farewell, was in a choke of emotion long before he came to it.
She sat winking away her tears, and not till he paused, for so long
that she thought his strength had failed, did she look up. He was
leaning a little forward, seeming to see nothing; but his hands,
grasping the pulpit's edge, were quivering. There was deep silence
in the Church, for the look of his face and figure was strange, even
to Gratian. When his lips parted again to speak, a mist covered her
eyes, and she lost sight of him.
"Friends, I am leaving you; these are the last words I shall ever
speak in this place. I go to other work. You have been very good to
me. God has been very good to me. I pray with my whole heart that
He may bless you all. Amen! Amen!"
The mist cleared into tears, and she could see him again gazing down
at her. Was it at her? He was surely seeing something--some vision
sweeter than reality, something he loved more dearly. She fell on
her knees, and buried her face in her hand. All through the hymn she
knelt, and through his clear slow Benediction: "The peace of God,
which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the
knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and
the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy
Ghost, be amongst you and remain with you always." And still she
knelt on; till she was alone in the Church. Then she rose and stole
home. He did not come in; she did not expect him. 'It's over,' she
kept thinking; 'all over. My beloved Daddy! Now he has no home;
Nollie and I have pulled him down. And yet I couldn't help it, and
perhaps she couldn't. Poor Nollie!...'
Pierson had stayed in the vestry, talking with his choir and wardens;
there was no hitch, for his resignation had been accepted, and he had
arranged with a friend to carry on till the new Vicar was appointed.
When they were gone he went back into the empty Church, and mounted
to the organ-loft. A little window up there was open, and he stood
leaning against the stone, looking out, resting his whole being.
Only now that it was over did he know what stress he had been
through. Sparrows were chirping, but sound of traffic had almost
ceased, in that quiet Sunday hour of the evening meal. Finished!
Incredible that he would never come up here again, never see those
roof-lines, that corner of Square Garden, and hear this familiar
chirping of the sparrows. He sat down at the organ and began to
play. The last time the sound would roll out and echo 'round the
emptied House of God. For a long time he played, while the building
darkened slowly down there below him. Of all that he would leave, he
would miss this most--the right to come and play here in the
darkening Church, to release emotional sound in this dim empty space
growing ever more beautiful. From chord to chord he let himself go
deeper and deeper into the surge and swell of those sound waves,
losing all sense of actuality, till the music and the whole dark
building were fused in one rapturous solemnity. Away down there the
darkness crept over the Church, till the pews, the altar-all was
invisible, save the columns; and the walls. He began playing his
favourite slow movement from Beethoven's Seventh Symphony--kept to
the end, for the visions it ever brought him. And a cat, which had
been stalking the sparrows, crept in through the little window, and
crouched, startled, staring at him with her green eyes. He closed
the organ, went quickly down, and locked up his Church for the last
time. It was warmer outside than in, and lighter, for daylight was
not quite gone. He moved away a few yards, and stood looking up.
Walls, buttresses, and spire were clothed in milky shadowy grey. The
top of the spire seemed to touch a star. 'Goodbye, my Church!' he
thought. 'Good-bye, good-bye!' He felt his face quiver; clenched his
teeth, and turned away.
When Noel fled, Fort had started forward to stop her; then, realising
that with his lameness he could never catch her, he went back and
entered Leila's bedroom.
She had taken off her dress, and was standing in front of her glass,
with the cigarette still in her mouth; and the only movement was the
curling of its blue smoke. He could see her face reflected, pale,
with a little spot of red in each cheek, and burning red ears. She
had not seemed to hear him coming in, but he saw her eyes change when
they caught his reflection in the mirror. From lost and blank, they
became alive and smouldering.
"Noel's gone!" he said.
She answered, as if to his reflection in the glass
"And you haven't gone too? Ah, no! Of course--your leg! She fled,
I suppose? It was rather a jar, my coming in, I'm afraid."
"No; it was my coming in that was the jar."
Leila turned round. "Jimmy! I wonder you could discuss me. The
rest--"She shrugged her shoulders--"But that!"
"I was not discussing you. I merely said you were not to be envied
for having me. Are you?"
The moment he had spoken, he was sorry. The anger in her eyes
changed instantly, first to searching, then to misery. She cried
"I was to be envied. Oh! Jimmy; I was!" and flung herself face down
on the bed.
Through Fort's mind went the thought: 'Atrocious!' How could he
soothe--make her feel that he loved her, when he didn't--that he
wanted her, when he wanted Noel. He went up to the bedside and
touched her timidly:
"Leila, what is it? You're overtired. What's the matter? I
couldn't help the child's being here. Why do you let it upset you?
She's gone. It's all right. Things are just as they were."
"Yes!" came the strangled echo; "just!"
He knelt down and stroked her arm. It shivered under the touch,
seemed to stop shivering and wait for the next touch, as if hoping it
might be warmer; shivered again.
"Look at me!" he said. "What is it you want? I'm ready to do
She turned and drew herself up on the bed, screwing herself back
against the pillow as if for support, with her knees drawn under her.
He was astonished at the strength of her face and figure, thus
"My dear Jimmy!" she said, "I want you to do nothing but get me
another cigarette. At my age one expects no more than one gets!" She
held out her thumb and finger: "Do you mind?"
Fort turned away to get the cigarette. With what bitter restraint
and curious little smile she had said that! But no sooner was he out
of the room and hunting blindly for the cigarettes, than his mind was
filled with an aching concern for Noel, fleeing like that, reckless
and hurt, with nowhere to go. He found the polished birch-wood box
which held the cigarettes, and made a desperate effort to dismiss the
image of the girl before he again reached Leila. She was still
sitting there, with her arms crossed, in the stillness of one whose
every nerve and fibre was stretched taut.
"Have one yourself," she said. "The pipe of peace."
Fort lit the cigarettes, and sat down on the edge of the bed; and his
mind at once went back to Noel.
"Yes," she said suddenly; "I wonder where she's gone. Can you see
her? She might do something reckless a second time. Poor Jimmy! It
would be a pity. And so that monk's been here, and drunk champagne.
Good idea! Get me some, Jimmy!"
Again Fort went, and with him the image of the girl. When he came
back the second time; she had put on that dark silk garment in which
she had appeared suddenly radiant the fatal night after the Queen's
Hall concert. She took the wineglass, and passed him, going into the
"Come and sit down," she said. "Is your leg hurting you?"
"Not more than usual," and he sat down beside her.
"Won't you have some? 'In vino veritas;' my friend."
He shook his head, and said humbly: "I admire you, Leila."
"That's lucky. I don't know anyone else who, would." And she drank
her champagne at a draught.
"Don't you wish," she said suddenly, "that I had been one of those
wonderful New Women, all brain and good works. How I should have
talked the Universe up and down, and the war, and Causes, drinking
tea, and never boring you to try and love me. What a pity!"
But to Fort there had come Noel's words: "It's awfully funny, isn't
"Leila," he said suddenly, "something's got to be done. So long as
you don't wish me to, I'll promise never to see that child again."
"My dear boy, she's not a child. She's ripe for love; and--I'm too
ripe for love. That's what's the matter, and I've got to lump it."
She wrenched her hand out of his and, dropping the empty glass,
covered her face. The awful sensation which visits the true
Englishman when a scene stares him in the face spun in Fort's brain.
Should he seize her hands, drag them down, and kiss her? Should he
get up and leave her alone? Speak, or keep silent; try to console;
try to pretend? And he did absolutely nothing. So far as a man can
understand that moment in a woman's life when she accepts the defeat
of Youth and Beauty, he understood perhaps; but it was only a
glimmering. He understood much better how she was recognising once
for all that she loved where she was not loved.
'And I can't help that,' he thought dumbly; 'simply can't help that!'
Nothing he could say or do would alter it. No words can convince a
woman when kisses have lost reality. Then, to his infinite relief,
she took her hands from her face, and said:
"This is very dull. I think you'd better go, Jimmy."
He made an effort to speak, but was too afraid of falsity in his
"Very nearly a scene!" said Leila. "My God!
"How men hate them! So do I. I've had too many in my time; nothing
comes of them but a headache next morning. I've spared you that,
Jimmy. Give me a kiss for it."
He bent down and put his lips to hers. With all his heart he tried
to answer the passion in her kiss. She pushed him away suddenly, and
"Thank you; you did try!"
Fort dashed his hand across his eyes. The sight of her face just
then moved him horribly. What a brute he felt! He took her limp
hand, put it to his lips, and murmured:
"I shall come in to-morrow. We'll go to the theatre, shall we? Good
But, in opening the door, he caught sight of her face, staring at
him, evidently waiting for him to turn; the eyes had a frightened
look. They went suddenly soft, so soft as to give his heart a
She lifted her hand, blew him a kiss, and he saw her smiling.
Without knowing what his own lips answered, he went out. He could
not make up his mind to go away, but, crossing to the railings, stood
leaning against them, looking up at her windows. She had been very
good to him. He felt like a man who has won at cards, and sneaked
away without giving the loser his revenge. If only she hadn't loved
him; and it had been a soulless companionship, a quite sordid
business. Anything rather than this! English to the backbone, he
could not divest himself of a sense of guilt. To see no way of
making up to her, of straightening it out, made him feel intensely
mean. 'Shall I go up again?' he thought. The window-curtain moved.
Then the shreds of light up there vanished. 'She's gone to bed,' he
thought. 'I should only upset her worse. Where is Noel, now, I
wonder? I shall never see her again, I suppose. Altogether a bad
business. My God, yes! A bad-bad business!'
And, painfully, for his leg was hurting him, he walked away.
Leila was only too well aware of a truth that feelings are no less
real, poignant, and important to those outside morality's ring fence
than to those within. Her feelings were, indeed, probably even more
real and poignant, just as a wild fruit's flavour is sharper than
that of the tame product. Opinion--she knew--would say, that having
wilfully chosen a position outside morality she had not half the case
for brokenheartedness she would have had if Fort had been her
husband: Opinion--she knew--would say she had no claim on him, and
the sooner an illegal tie was broken, the better! But she felt fully
as wretched as if she had been married. She had not wanted to be
outside morality; never in her life wanted to be that. She was like
those who by confession shed their sins and start again with a clear
conscience. She never meant to sin, only to love, and when she was
in love, nothing else mattered for the moment. But, though a
gambler, she had always so far paid up. Only, this time the stakes
were the heaviest a woman can put down. It was her last throw; and
she knew it. So long as a woman believed in her attraction, there
was hope, even when the curtain fell on a love-affair! But for Leila
the lamp of belief had suddenly gone out, and when this next curtain
dropped she felt that she must sit in the dark until old age made her
indifferent. And between forty-four and real old age a gulf is
fixed. This was the first time a man had tired of her. Why! he had
been tired before he began, or so she felt. In one swift moment as
of a drowning person, she saw again all the passages of their
companionship, knew with certainty that it had never been a genuine
flame. Shame ran, consuming, in her veins. She buried her face in
the cushions. This girl had possessed his real heart all the time.
With a laugh she thought: 'I put my money on the wrong horse; I ought
to have backed Edward. I could have turned that poor monk's head.
If only I had never seen Jimmy again; if I had torn his letter up, I
could have made poor Edward love me!' Ifs! What folly! Things
happened as they must!
And, starting up, she began to roam the little room. Without Jimmy
she would be wretched, with him she would be wretched too! 'I can't
bear to see his face,' she thought; 'and I can't live here without
him! It's really funny!' The thought of her hospital filled her
with loathing. To go there day after day with this despair eating at
her heart--she simply could not. She went over her resources. She
had more money than she thought; Jimmy had given her a Christmas
present of five hundred pounds. She had wanted to tear up the
cheque, or force him to take it back; but the realities of the
previous five years had prevailed with her, and she had banked it.
She was glad now. She had not to consider money. Her mind sought to
escape in the past. She thought of her first husband, Ronny Fane; of
their mosquito-curtained rooms in that ghastly Madras heat. Poor
Ronny! What a pale, cynical young ghost started up under that name.
She thought of Lynch, his horsey, matter-of-fact solidity. She had
loved them both--for a time. She thought of the veldt, of
Constantia, and the loom of Table Mountain under the stars; and the
first sight of Jimmy, his straight look, the curve of his crisp head,
the kind, fighting-schoolboy frankness of his face. Even now, after
all those months of their companionship, that long-ago evening at
grape harvest, when she sang to him under the scented creepers, was
the memory of him most charged with real feeling. That one evening
at any rate he had longed for her, eleven: years ago, when she was in
her prime. She could have held her own then; Noel would have come in
vain. To think that this girl had still fifteen years before she
would be even in her prime. Fifteen years of witchery; and then
another ten before she was on the shelf. Why! if Noel married Jimmy,
he would be an old man doting on her still, by the time she had
reached this fatal age of forty-four: She felt as if she must scream,
and; stuffing her handkerchief into her mouth, turned out the light.
Darkness cooled her, a little. She pulled aside the curtains, and
let in the moon light. Jimmy and that girl were out in it some
where, seeking each other, if not in body, then in thought. And
soon, somehow, somewhere, they would come together--come together
because Fate meant them to! Fate which had given her young cousin a
likeness to herself; placed her, too, in just such a hopeless
position as appealed to Jimmy, and gave him a chance against younger
men. She saw it with bitter surety. Good gamblers cut their losses!
Yes, and proud women did not keep unwilling lovers! If she had even
an outside chance, she would trail her pride, drag it through the
mud, through thorns! But she had not. And she clenched her fist,
and struck out at the night, as though at the face of that Fate which
one could never reach--impalpable, remorseless, surrounding Fate with
its faint mocking smile, devoid of all human warmth. Nothing could
set back the clock, and give her what this girl had. Time had "done
her in," as it "did in" every woman, one by one. And she saw herself
going down the years, powdering a little more, painting a little
more, touching up her hair, till it was all artifice, holding on by
every little device--and all, to what end? To see his face get
colder and colder, hear his voice more and more constrained to
gentleness; and know that underneath, aversion was growing with the
thought 'You are keeping me from life, and love!' till one evening,
in sheer nerve-break, she would say or do some fearful thing, and he
would come no more. 'No, Jimmy!' she thought; 'find her, and stay
with her. You're not worth all that!' And puffing to the curtains,
as though with that gesture she could shut out her creeping fate, she
turned up the light and sat down at her writing table. She stayed
some minutes motionless, her chin resting on her hands, the dark silk
fallen down from her arms. A little mirror, framed in curiously
carved ivory, picked up by her in an Indian bazaar twenty-five years
ago, hung on a level with her face and gave that face back to her.
'I'm not ugly,' she thought passionately, 'I'm not. I still have
some looks left. If only that girl hadn't come. And it was all my
doing. Oh, what made me write to both of them, Edward and Jimmy?'
She turned the mirror aside, and took up a pen.
"MY DEAR JIMMY," she wrote: "It will be better for us both if you
take a holiday from here. Don't come again till I write for you.
I'm sorry I made you so much disturbance to-night. Have a good time,
and a good rest; and don't worry.
So far she had written when a tear dropped on the page, and she had
to tear it up and begin again. This time she wrote to the end--"Your
Leila." 'I must post it now,' she thought, 'or he may not get it
before to-morrow evening. I couldn't go through with this again.'
She hurried out with it and slipped it in a pillar box. The night
smelled of flowers; and, hastening back, she lay down, and stayed
awake for hours, tossing, and staring at the dark.
Leila had pluck, but little patience. Her one thought was to get
away and she at once began settling up her affairs and getting a
permit to return to South Africa. The excitements of purchase and
preparation were as good an anodyne as she could have taken. The
perils of the sea were at full just then, and the prospect of danger
gave her a sort of pleasure. 'If I go down,' she thought, 'all the
better; brisk, instead of long and dreary.' But when she had the
permit and her cabin was booked, the irrevocability of her step came
to her with full force. Should she see him again or no? Her boat
started in three days, and she must decide. If in compunction he
were to be affectionate, she knew she would never keep to her
decision, and then the horror would begin again, till again she was
forced to this same action. She let the hours go and go till the
very day before, when the ache to see him and the dread of it had
become so unbearable that she could not keep quiet. Late that
afternoon--everything, to the last label, ready--she went out, still
undecided. An itch to turn the dagger in her wound, to know what had
become of Noel, took her to Edward's house. Almost unconsciously she
had put on her prettiest frock, and spent an hour before the glass.
A feverishness of soul, more than of body, which had hung about her
ever since that night, gave her colour. She looked her prettiest;
and she bought a gardenia at a shop in Baker Street and fastened it
in her dress. Reaching the old Square, she was astonished to see a
board up with the words: "To let," though the house still looked
inhabited. She rang, and was shown into the drawing-room. She had
only twice been in this house before; and for some reason, perhaps
because of her own unhappiness, the old, rather shabby room struck
her as pathetic, as if inhabited by the past. 'I wonder what his
wife was like,' she thought: And then she saw, hanging against a
strip of black velvet on the wall, that faded colour sketch of the
slender young woman leaning forward, with her hands crossed in her
lap. The colouring was lavender and old ivory, with faint touches of
rose. The eyes, so living, were a little like Gratian's; the whole
face delicate, eager, good. 'Yes,' she thought, 'he must have loved
you very much. To say good-bye must have been hard.' She was still
standing before it when Pierson came in.
"That's a dear face, Edward. I've come to say good-bye. I'm leaving
for South Africa to-morrow." And, as her hand touched his, she
thought: 'I must have been mad to think I could ever have made him
"Are you--are you leaving him?"
"That's very brave, and wonderful."
"Oh! no. Needs must when the devil drives--that's all. I don't give
up happiness of my own accord. That's not within a hundred miles of
the truth. What I shall become, I don't know, but nothing better,
you may be sure. I give up because I can't keep, and you know why.
Where is Noel?"
"Down at the sea, with George and Gratian."
He was looking at her in wonder; and the pained, puzzled expression
on his face angered her.
"I see the house is to let. Who'd have thought a child like that
could root up two fossils like us? Never mind, Edward, there's the
same blood in us. We'll keep our ends up in our own ways. Where are
"They'll give me a chaplaincy in the East, I think."
For a wild moment Leila thought: 'Shall I offer to go with him--the
two lost dogs together?'
"What would have happened, Edward, if you had proposed to me that May
week, when we were--a little bit in love? Which would it have been,
worst for, you or me?"
"You wouldn't have taken me, Leila."
"Oh, one never knows. But you'd never have been a priest then, and
you'd never have become a saint."
"Don't use that silly word. If you knew--"
"I do; I can see that you've been half burned alive; half burned and
half buried! Well, you have your reward, whatever it is, and I mine.
Good-bye, Edward!" She took his hand. "You might give me your
blessing; I want it."
Pierson put his other hand on her shoulder and, bending forward,
kissed her forehead.
The tears rushed up in Leila's eyes. "Ah me!" she said, "it's a sad
world!" And wiping the quivering off her lips with the back of her
gloved hand, she went quickly past him to the door. She looked back
from there. He had not stirred, but his lips were moving. 'He's
praying for me!' she thought. 'How funny!'
The moment she was outside, she forgot him; the dreadful ache for
Fort seemed to have been whipped up within her, as if that figure of
lifelong repression had infuriated the love of life and pleasure in
her. She must and would see Jimmy again, if she had to wait and seek
for him all night! It was nearly seven, he would surely have
finished at the War Office; he might be at his Club or at his rooms.
She made for the latter.
The little street near Buckingham Gate, where no wag had chalked
"Peace" on the doors for nearly a year now, had an arid look after a
hot day's sun. The hair-dresser's shop below his rooms was still
open, and the private door ajar: 'I won't ring,' she thought; 'I'll
go straight up.' While she was mounting the two flights of stairs,
she stopped twice, breathless, from a pain in her side. She often
had that pain now, as if the longing in her heart strained it
physically. On the modest landing at the top, outside his rooms, she
waited, leaning against the wall, which was covered with a red paper.
A window at the back was open and the confused sound of singing came
in--a chorus "Vive-la, vive-la, vive-la ve. Vive la compagnie." So
it came to her. 'O God!' she thought: 'Let him be in, let him be
nice to me. It's the last time.' And, sick from anxiety, she opened
the door. He was in--lying on a wicker-couch against the wall in the
far corner, with his arms crossed behind his head, and a pipe in his
mouth; his eyes were closed, and he neither moved, nor opened them,
perhaps supposing her to be the servant. Noiseless as a cat, Leila
crossed the room till she stood above him. And waiting for him to
come out of that defiant lethargy, she took her fill of his thin,
bony face, healthy and hollow at the same time. With teeth clenched
on the pipe it had a look of hard resistance, as of a man with his
head back, his arms pinioned to his sides, stiffened against some
creature, clinging and climbing and trying to drag him down. The
pipe was alive, and dribbled smoke; and his leg, the injured one,
wriggled restlessly, as if worrying him; but the rest of him was as
utterly and obstinately still as though he were asleep. His hair
grew thick and crisp, not a thread of grey in it, the teeth which
held the pipe glinted white and strong. His face was young; so much
younger than hers. Why did she love it--the face of a man who
couldn't love her? For a second she felt as if she could seize the
cushion which had slipped down off the couch, and smother him as he
lay there, refusing, so it seemed to her, to come to consciousness.
Love despised! Humiliation! She nearly turned and stole away. Then
through the door, left open, behind her, the sound of that chorus:
"Vive-la, vive-la, vive-la ve!" came in and jolted her nerves
unbearably. Tearing the gardenia from her breast, she flung it on to
his upturned face.
Fort struggled up, and stared at her. His face was comic from
bewilderment, and she broke into a little nervous laugh.
"You weren't dreaming of me, dear Jimmy, that's certain. In what
garden were you wandering?"
"Leila! You! How--how jolly!"
"How--how jolly! I wanted to see you, so I came. And I have seen
you, as you are, when you aren't with me. I shall remember it; it
was good for me--awfully good for me."
"I didn't hear you."
"Far, far away, my dear. Put my gardenia in, your buttonhole. Stop,
I'll pin it in. Have you had a good rest all this week? Do you like
my dress? It's new. You wouldn't have noticed it, would you?"
"I should have noticed. I think it's charming.
"Jimmy, I believe that nothing--nothing will ever shake your
"Chivalry? I have none."
"I am going to shut the door, do you mind?" But he went to the door
himself, shut it, and came back to her. Leila looked up at him.
"Jimmy, if ever you loved me a little bit, be nice to me today. And
if I say things--if I'm bitter--don't mind; don't notice it.
She took off her hat and sat leaning against him on the couch, so
that she could not see his face. And with his arm round her, she let
herself go, deep into the waters of illusion; down-down, trying to
forget there was a surface to which she must return; like a little
girl she played that game of make-believe. 'He loves me-he loves me-
he loves me!' To lose herself like that for, just an hour, only an
hour; she felt that she would give the rest of the time vouchsafed to
her; give it all and willingly. Her hand clasped his against her
heart, she turned her face backward, up to his, closing her eyes so
as still not to see his face; the scent of the gardenia in his coat
hurt her, so sweet and strong it was.
When with her hat on she stood ready to go, it was getting dark. She
had come out of her dream now, was playing at make-believe no more.
And she stood with a stony smile, in the half-dark, looking between
her lashes at the mortified expression on his unconscious face.
"Poor Jimmy!" she said; "I'm not going to keep you from dinner any
longer. No, don't come with me. I'm going alone; and don't light
up, for heaven's sake."
She put her hand on the lapel of his coat. "That flower's gone brown
at the edges. Throw it away; I can't bear faded flowers. Nor can
you. Get yourself a fresh one tomorrow."
She pulled the flower from his buttonhole and, crushing it in her
hand, held her face up.
"Well, kiss me once more; it won't hurt you."
For one moment her lips clung to his with all their might. She
wrenched them away, felt for the handle blindly, opened the door,
and, shutting it in his face, went slowly, swaying a little, down the
stairs. She trailed a gloved hand along the wall, as if its solidity
could help her. At the last half-landing, where a curtain hung,
dividing off back premises, she stopped and listened. There wasn't a
sound. 'If I stand here behind this curtain,' she thought, 'I shall
see him again.' She slipped behind the curtain, close drawn but for a
little chink. It was so dark there that she could not see her own
hand. She heard the door open, and his slow footsteps coming down
the stairs. His feet, knees, whole figure came into sight, his face
just a dim blur. He passed, smoking a cigarette. She crammed her
hand against her mouth to stop herself from speaking and the crushed
gardenia filled her nostrils with its cold, fragrant velvet. He was
gone, the door below was shut. A wild, half-stupid longing came on
her to go up again, wait till he came in, throw herself upon him,
tell him she was going, beg him to keep her with him. Ah! and he
would! He would look at her with that haggard pity she could not
bear, and say, "Of course, Leila, of course." No! By God, no! "I am
going quietly home," she muttered; "just quietly home! Come along,
be brave; don't be a fool! Come along !" And she went down into the
street: At the entrance to the Park she saw him, fifty yards in
front, dawdling along. And, as if she had been his shadow lengthened
out to that far distance, she moved behind him. Slowly, always at
that distance, she followed him under the plane-trees, along the Park
railings, past St. James's Palace, into Pall Mall. He went up some
steps, and vanished into his Club. It was the end. She looked up at
the building; a monstrous granite tomb, all dark. An emptied cab was
just moving from the door. She got in. "Camelot Mansions, St.
John's Wood." And braced against the cushions, panting, and
clenching her hands, she thought: 'Well, I've seen him again. Hard
crust's better than no bread. Oh, God! All finished--not a crumb,
not a crumb! Vive-la, vive-la, vive-la ve. Vive-la compagnie!'
Fort had been lying there about an hour, sleeping and awake, before
that visit: He had dreamed a curious and wonderfully emotionalising
dream. A long grey line, in a dim light, neither of night nor
morning, the whole length of the battle-front in France, charging in
short drives, which carried the line a little forward, with just a
tiny pause and suck-back; then on again irresistibly, on and on; and
at each rush, every voice, his own among them, shouted "Hooray! the
English! Hooray! the English!" The sensation of that advancing tide
of dim figures in grey light, the throb and roar, the wonderful,
rhythmic steady drive of it, no more to be stopped than the waves of
an incoming tide, was gloriously fascinating; life was nothing, death
nothing. "Hooray, the English!" In that dream, he was his country,
he was every one of that long charging line, driving forward in.
those great heaving pulsations, irresistible, on and on. Out of the
very centre of this intoxicating dream he had been dragged by some
street noise, and had closed his eyes again, in the vain hope that he
might dream it on to its end. But it came no more; and lighting his
pipe, he lay there wondering at its fervid, fantastic realism. Death
was nothing, if his country lived and won. In waking hours he never
had quite that single-hearted knowledge of himself. And what
marvellously real touches got mixed into the fantastic stuff of
dreams, as if something were at work to convince the dreamer in spite
of himself--"Hooray!" not "Hurrah!" Just common "Hooray!" And "the
English," not the literary "British." And then the soft flower had
struck his forehead, and Leila's voice cried: "Jimmy!"
When she left him, his thought was just a tired: 'Well, so it's begun
again!' What did it matter, since common loyalty and compassion cut
him off from what his heart desired; and that desire was absurd, as
little likely of attainment as the moon. What did it matter? If it
gave her any pleasure to love him, let it go on! Yet, all the time
that he was walking across under the plane trees, Noel seemed to walk
in front of him, just out of reach, so that he ached with the thought
that he would never catch her up, and walk beside her.
Two days later, on reaching his rooms in the evening, he found this
letter on ship's note-paper, with the Plymouth postmark
"Fare thee well, and if for ever,
Then for ever fare thee well"
He read it with a really horrible feeling, for all the world as if he
had been accused of a crime and did not know whether he had committed
it or not. And, trying to collect his thoughts, he took a cab and
drove to her fiat. It was closed, but her address was given him; a
bank in Cape Town. He had received his release. In his remorse and
relief, so confusing and so poignant, he heard the driver of the cab
asking where he wanted to go now. "Oh, back again!" But before they
had gone a mile he corrected the address, in an impulse of which next
moment he felt thoroughly ashamed. What he was doing indeed, was as
indecent as if he were driving from the funeral of his wife to the
boudoir of another woman. When he reached the old Square, and the
words "To let" stared him in the face, he felt a curious relief,
though it meant that he would not see her whom to see for ten minutes
he felt he would give a year of life. Dismissing his cab, he stood
debating whether to ring the bell. The sight of a maid's face at the
window decided him. Mr. Pierson was out, and the young ladies were
away. He asked for Mrs. Laird's address, and turned away, almost
into the arms of Pierson himself. The greeting was stiff and
strange. 'Does he know that Leila's gone?' he thought. 'If so, he
must think me the most awful skunk. And am I? Am I?'
When he reached home, he sat down to write to Leila. But having
stared at the paper for an hour and written these three lines
"MY DEAR LEILA,
"I cannot express to you the feelings with which I received your
he tore it up. Nothing would be adequate, nothing would be decent.
Let the dead past bury its dead--the dead past which in his heart had
never been alive! Why pretend? He had done his best to keep his end
up. Why pretend?
In the boarding-house, whence the Lairds had not yet removed, the old
lady who knitted, sat by the fireplace, and light from the setting
sun threw her shadow on the wall, moving spidery and grey, over the
yellowish distemper, in time to the tune of her needles. She was a
very old lady--the oldest lady in the world, Noel thought--and she
knitted without stopping, without breathing, so that the girl felt
inclined to scream. In the evening when George and Gratian were not
in, Noel would often sit watching the needles, brooding over her as
yet undecided future. And now and again the old lady would look up
above her spectacles; move the corners of her lips ever so slightly,
and drop her gaze again. She had pitted herself against Fate; so
long as she knitted, the war could not stop--such was the conclusion
Noel had come to. This old lady knitted the epic of acquiesence to
the tune of her needles; it was she who kept the war going such a
thin old lady! 'If I were to hold her elbows from behind,' the girl
used to think, 'I believe she'd die. I expect I ought to; then the
war would stop. And if the war stopped, there'd be love and life
again.' Then the little silvery tune would click itself once more
into her brain, and stop her thinking. In her lap this evening lay a
letter from her father.
"MY DEAREST NOLLIE,
"I am glad to say I have my chaplaincy, and am to start for Egypt
very soon. I should have wished to go to France, but must take what
I can get, in view of my age, for they really don't want us who are
getting on, I fear. It is a great comfort to me to think that
Gratian is with you, and no doubt you will all soon be in a house
where my little grandson can join you. I have excellent accounts of
him in a letter from your aunt, just received: My child, you must
never again think that my resignation has been due to you. It is not
so. You know, or perhaps you don't, that ever since the war broke
out, I have chafed over staying at home, my heart has been with our
boys out there, and sooner or later it must have come to this, apart
from anything else. Monsieur Lavendie has been round in the evening,
twice; he is a nice man, I like him very much, in spite of our
differences of view. He wanted to give me the sketch he made of you
in the Park, but what can I do with it now? And to tell you the
truth, I like it no better than the oil painting. It is not a
likeness, as I know you. I hope I didn't hurt his feelings, the
feelings of an artist are so very easily wounded. There is one thing
I must tell you. Leila has gone back to South Africa; she came round
one evening about ten days ago, to say goodbye. She was very brave,
for I fear it means a great wrench for her. I hope and pray she may
find comfort and tranquillity out there. And now, my dear, I want
you to promise me not to see Captain Fort. I know that he admires
you. But, apart from the question of his conduct in regard to Leila,
he made the saddest impression on me by coming to our house the very
day after her departure. There is something about that which makes
me feel he cannot be the sort of man in whom I could feel any
confidence. I don't suppose for a moment that he is in your
thoughts, and yet before going so far from you, I feel I must warn
you. I should rejoice to see you married to a good man; but, though
I don't wish to think hardly of anyone, I cannot believe Captain Fort
"I shall come down to you before I start, which may be in quite a
short time now. My dear love to you and Gracie, and best wishes to
"Your ever loving father,
Across this letter lying on her knees, Noel gazed at the spidery
movement on the wall. Was it acquiescence that the old lady knitted,
or was it resistance--a challenge to death itself, a challenge
dancing to the tune of the needles like the grey ghost of human
resistance to Fate! She wouldn't give in, this oldest lady in the
world, she meant to knit till she fell into the grave. And so Leila
had gone! It hurt her to know that; and yet it pleased her.
Acquiescence--resistance! Why did Daddy always want to choose the
way she should go? So gentle he was, yet he always wanted to! And
why did he always make her feel that she must go the other way? The
sunlight ceased to stream in, the old lady's shadow faded off the
wall, but the needles still sang their little tune. And the girl
"Do you enjoy knitting, Mrs. Adam?"
The old lady looked at her above the spectacles.
"Enjoy, my dear? It passes the time."
"But do you want the time to pass?"
There was no answer for a moment, and Noel thought: 'How dreadful of
me to have said that!'
"Eh?" said the old lady.
"I said: Isn't it very tiring?"
"Not when I don't think about it, my dear."
"What do you think about?"
The old lady cackled gently.
"Oh--well!" she said.
And Noel thought: 'It must be dreadful to grow old, and pass the
She took up her father's letter, and bent it meditatively against her
chin. He wanted her to pass the time--not to live, not to enjoy! To
pass the time. What else had he been doing himself, all these years,
ever since she could remember, ever since her mother died, but just
passing the time? Passing the time because he did not believe in
this life; not living at all, just preparing for the life he did
believe in. Denying himself everything that was exciting and nice,
so that when he died he might pass pure and saintly to his other
world. He could not believe Captain Fort a good man, because he had
not passed the time, and resisted Leila; and Leila was gone! And now
it was a sin for him to love someone else; he must pass the time
again. 'Daddy doesn't believe in life,' she thought; 'it's
monsieur's picture. Daddy's a saint; but I don't want to be a saint,
and pass the time. He doesn't mind making people unhappy, because
the more they're repressed, the saintlier they'll be. But I can't
bear to be unhappy, or to see others unhappy. I wonder if I could
bear to be unhappy to save someone else--as Leila is? I admire her!
Oh! I admire her! She's not doing it because she thinks it good for
her soul; only because she can't bear making him unhappy. She must
love him very much. Poor Leila! And she's done it all by herself,
of her own accord.' It was like what George said of the soldiers;
they didn't know why they were heroes, it was not because they'd been
told to be, or because they believed in a future life. They just had
to be, from inside somewhere, to save others. 'And they love life as
much as I do,' she thought. 'What a beast it makes one feel!' Those
needles! Resistance--acquiescence? Both perhaps. The oldest lady
in the world, with her lips moving at the corners, keeping things in,
had lived her life, and knew it. How dreadful to live on when you
were of no more interest to anyone, but must just "pass the time" and
die. But how much more dreadful to "pass the time" when you were
strong, and life and love were yours for the taking! 'I shan't
answer Daddy,' she thought.
The maid, who one Saturday in July opened the door to Jimmy Fort, had
never heard the name of Laird, for she was but a unit in the
ceaseless procession which pass through the boarding-houses of places
subject to air-raids. Placing him in a sitting-room, she said she
would find Miss 'Allow. There he waited, turning the leaves of an
illustrated Journal, wherein Society beauties; starving Servians,
actresses with pretty legs, prize dogs, sinking ships, Royalties,
shells bursting, and padres reading funeral services, testified to
the catholicity of the public taste, but did not assuage his nerves.
What if their address were not known here? Why, in his fear of
putting things to the test, had he let this month go by? An old lady
was sitting by the hearth, knitting, the click of whose needles
blended with the buzzing of a large bee on the window-pane. 'She may
know,' he thought, 'she looks as if she'd been here for ever.' And
approaching her, he said:
"I can assure you those socks are very much appreciated, ma'am."
The old lady bridled over her spectacles.
"It passes the time," she said.
"Oh, more than that; it helps to win the war, ma'am."
The old lady's lips moved at the corners; she did not answer.
'Deaf!' he thought.
"May I ask if you knew my friends, Doctor and Mrs. Laird, and Miss
The old lady cackled gently.
"Oh, yes! A pretty young girl; as pretty as life. She used to sit
with me. Quite a pleasure to watch her; such large eyes she had."
"Where have they gone? Can you tell me?"
"Oh, I don't know at all."
It was a little cold douche on his heart. He longed to say: 'Stop
knitting a minute, please. It's my life, to know.' But the tune of
the needles answered: 'It's my life to knit.' And he turned away to
"She used to sit just there; quite still; quite still."
Fort looked down at the window-seat. So, she used to sit just here,
"What a dreadful war this is!" said the old lady. "Have you been at
"To think of the poor young girls who'll never have husbands! I'm
sure I think it's dreadful."
"Yes," said Fort; "it's dreadful--" And then a voice from the
"Did you want Doctor and Mrs. Laird, sir? East Bungalow their
address is; it's a little way out on the North Road. Anyone will
With a sigh of relief Fort looked gratefully at the old lady who had
called Noel as pretty as life. "Good afternoon, ma'am."
"Good afternoon." The needles clicked, and little movements occurred
at the corners of her mouth. Fort went out. He could not find a
vehicle, and was a long time walking. The Bungalow was ugly, of
yellow brick pointed with red. It lay about two-thirds up between
the main road and cliffs, and had a rock-garden and a glaring, brand-
new look, in the afternoon sunlight. He opened the gate, uttering
one of those prayers which come so glibly from unbelievers when they
want anything. A baby's crying answered it, and he thought with
ecstasy: 'Heaven, she is here!' Passing the rock-garden he could see
a lawn at the back of the house and a perambulator out there under a
holm-oak tree, and Noel--surely Noel herself! Hardening his heart,
he went forward. In a lilac sunbonnet she was bending over the
perambulator. He trod softly on the grass, and was quite close
before she heard him. He had prepared no words, but just held out
his hand. The baby, interested in the shadow failing across its
pram, ceased crying. Noel took his hand. Under the sunbonnet, which
hid her hair, she seemed older and paler, as if she felt the heat.
He had no feeling that she was glad to see him.
"How do you do? Have you seen Gratian; she ought to be in."
"I didn't come to see her; I came to see you."
Noel turned to the baby.
"Here he is."
Fort stood at the end of the perambulator, and looked at that other
fellow's baby. In the shade of the hood, with the frilly clothes, it
seemed to him lying with its head downhill. It had scratched its
snub nose and bumpy forehead, and it stared up at its mother with
blue eyes, which seemed to have no underlids so fat were its cheeks.
"I wonder what they think about," he said.
Noel put her finger into the baby's fist.
"They only think when they want some thing."
"That's a deep saying: but his eyes are awfully interested in you."
Noel smiled; and very slowly the baby's curly mouth unclosed, and
discovered his toothlessness.
"He's a darling," she said in a whisper.
'And so are you,' he thought, 'if only I dared say it!'
"Daddy is here," she said suddenly, without looking up. "He's
sailing for Egypt the day after to-morrow. He doesn't like you."
Fort's heart gave a jump. Why did she tell him that, unless--unless
she was just a little on his side?
"I expected that," he said. "I'm a sinner, as you know."
Noel looked up at him. "Sin!" she said, and bent again over her
baby. The word, the tone in which she said it, crouching over her
baby, gave him the thought: 'If it weren't for that little creature,
I shouldn't have a dog's chance.' He said, "I'll go and see your
father. Is he in?"
"I think so."
"May I come to-morrow?"
"It's Sunday; and Daddy's last day."
"Ah! Of course." He did not dare look back, to see if her gaze was
following him, but he thought: 'Chance or no chance, I'm going to
fight for her tooth and nail.'
In a room darkened against the evening sun Pierson was sitting on a
sofa reading. The sight of that figure in khaki disconcerted Fort,
who had not realised that there would be this metamorphosis. The
narrow face, clean-shaven now, with its deep-set eyes and compressed
lips, looked more priestly than ever, in spite of this brown garb.
He felt his hope suddenly to be very forlorn indeed. And rushing at
the fence, he began abruptly:
"I've come to ask you, sir, for your permission to marry Noel, if she
will have me."
He had thought Pierson's face gentle; it was not gentle now. "Did
you know I was here, then, Captain Fort?"
"I saw Noel in the garden. I've said nothing to her, of course. But
she told me you were starting to-morrow for Egypt, so I shall have no
"I am sorry you have come. It is not for me to judge, but I don't
think you will make Noel happy."
"May I ask you why, sir?"
"Captain Fort, the world's judgment of these things is not mine; but
since you ask me. I will tell you frankly. My cousin Leila has a
claim on you. It is her you should ask to marry you."
"I did ask her; she refused."
"I know. She would not refuse you again if you went out to her."
"I am not free to go out to her; besides, she would refuse. She
knows I don't love her, and never have."
"Because I'm a man, I suppose, and a fool"
"If it was simply, 'because you are a man' as you call it, it is
clear that no principle or faith governs you. And yet you ask me to
give you Noel; my poor Noel, who wants the love and protection not of
a 'man' but of a good man. No, Captain Fort, no!"
Fort bit his lips. "I'm clearly not a good man in your sense of the
word; but I love her terribly, and I would protect her. I don't in
the least know whether she'll have me. I don't expect her to,
naturally. But I warn you that I mean to ask her, and to wait for
her. I'm so much in love that I can do nothing else."
"The man who is truly in love does what is best for the one he
loves." Fort bent his head; he felt as if he were at school again,
confronting his head-master. "That's true," he said. "And I shall
never trade on her position. If she can't feel anything for me now
or in the future, I shan't trouble her, you may be sure of that. But
if by some wonderful chance she should, I know I can make her happy,
"She is a child."
"No, she's not a child," said Fort stubbornly.
Pierson touched the lapel of his new tunic. "Captain Fort, I am
going far away from her, and leaving her without protection. I trust
to your chivalry not to ask her, till I come back."
Fort threw back his head. "No, no, I won't accept that position.
With or without your presence the facts will be the same. Either she
can love me, or she can't. If she can, she'll be happier with me.
If she can't, there's an end of it."
Pierson came slowly up to him. "In my view," he said, "you are as
bound to Leila as if you were married to her."
"You can't, expect me to take the priest's view, sir."
Pierson's lips trembled.
"You call it a priest's view; I think it is only the view of a man of
Fort reddened. "That's for my conscience," he said stubbornly.
"I can't tell you, and I'm not going to, how things began. I was a
fool. But I did my best, and I know that Leila doesn't think I'm
bound. If she had, she would never have gone. When there's no
feeling--there never was real feeling on my side--and when there's
this terribly real feeling for Noel, which I never sought, which I
tried to keep down, which I ran away from
"Yes. To go on with the other was foul. I should have thought you
might have seen that, sir; but I did go on with it. It was Leila who
made an end."
"Leila behaved nobly, I think."
"She was splendid; but that doesn't make me a brute.".
Pierson turned away to the window, whence he must see Noel.
"It is repugnant to me," he said. "Is there never to be any purity
in her life?"
"Is there never to be any life for her? At your rate, sir, there
will be none. I'm no worse than other men, and I love her more than
For fully a minute Pierson stood silent, before he said: "Forgive me
if I've spoken harshly. I didn't mean to. I love her intensely; I
wish for nothing but her good. But all my life I have believed that
for a man there is only one woman--for a woman only one man."