“Well, my dear?”
Nedda pressed his hand with a little coaxing squeeze.
“Daddy, darling, I do love you!”
And, though Felix knew that she had grasped what he was feeling, a sort of warmth spread in him. She had begun counting his fingers with one of her own, sitting close beside him. The warmth in Felix deepened, but he thought: ‘She must want a good deal out of me!’ Then she began:
“Why did we come down again? I know there’s something wrong! It’s hard not to know, when you’re anxious.” And she sighed. That little sigh affected Felix.
“I’d always rather know the truth, Dad. Aunt Clara said something about a fire at the Mallorings’.”
Felix stole a look at her. Yes! There was a lot in this child of his! Depth, warmth, and strength to hold to things. No use to treat her as a child! And he answered:
“My dear, there’s really nothing beyond what you know—our young man and Sheila are hotheads, and things over there are working up a bit. We must try and smooth them down.”
“Dad, ought I to back him whatever he does?”
What a question! The more so that one cannot answer superficially the questions of those whom one loves.
“Ah!” he said at last. “I don’t know yet. Some things it’s not your duty to do; that’s certain. It can’t be right to do things simply because he does them—that’s not real—however fond one is.”
“No; I feel that. Only, it’s so hard to know what I do really think—there’s always such a lot trying to make one feel that only what’s nice and cosey is right!”
And Felix thought: ’I’ve been brought up to believe that only Russian girls care for truth. It seems I was wrong. The saints forbid I should be a stumbling-block to my own daughter searching for it! And yet—where’s it all leading? Is this the same child that told me only the other night she wanted to know everything? She’s a woman now! So much for love!’ And he said:
“Let’s go forward quietly, without expecting too much of ourselves.”
“Yes, Dad; only I distrust myself so.”
“No one ever got near the truth who didn’t.”
“Can we go over to Joyfields to-morrow? I don’t think I could bear a whole day of Bigwigs and eating, with this hanging—”
“Poor Bigwigs! All right! We’ll go. And now, bed; and think of nothing!”
Her whisper tickled his ear:
“You are a darling to me, Dad!”
He went out comforted.
And for some time after she had forgotten everything he leaned out of his window, smoking cigarettes, and trying to see the body and soul of night. How quiet she was—night, with her mystery, bereft of moon, in whose darkness seemed to vibrate still the song of the cuckoos that had been calling so all day! And whisperings of leaves communed with Felix.