Noel shrugged. “I suppose it doesn’t matter now, what I do.”
And a rush of emotion caught at her throat—a wave from the past—the moonlit night, the dark old Abbey, the woods and the river. Two tears rolled down her cheeks.
“I was thinking of—something,” she said in a muffled voice. “It’s all right.”
“Chere mademoiselle!” Lavendie murmured; and all the way home he was timid and distressed. Shaking his hand at the door, she murmured:
“I’m sorry I was such a fool; and thank you awfully, monsieur. Good night.”
“Good night; and better dreams. There is a good time coming—Peace and Happiness once more in the world. It will not always be this Forcing-House. Good night, chere mademoiselle!”
Noel went up to the nursery, and stole in. A night-light was burning, Nurse and baby were fast asleep. She tiptoed through into her own room. Once there, she felt suddenly so tired that she could hardly undress; and yet curiously rested, as if with that rush of emotion, Cyril and the past had slipped from her for ever.
Noel’s first encounter with Opinion took place the following day. The baby had just come in from its airing; she had seen it comfortably snoozing, and was on her way downstairs, when a voice from the hall said:
“How do you do?” and she saw the khaki-clad figure of Adrian Lauder, her father’s curate! Hesitating just a moment, she finished her descent, and put her fingers in his. He was a rather heavy, dough-coloured young man of nearly thirty, unsuited by khaki, with a round white collar buttoned behind; but his aspiring eyes redeemed him, proclaiming the best intentions in the world, and an inclination towards sentiment in the presence of beauty.
“I haven’t seen you for ages,” he said rather fatuously, following her into her father’s study.
“No,” said Noel. “How—do you like being at the Front?”
“Ah!” he said, “they’re wonderful!” And his eyes shone. “It’s so nice to see you again.”
He seemed puzzled by that answer; stammered, and said:
“I didn’t know your sister had a baby. A jolly baby.”
Lauder’s mouth opened. ‘A silly mouth,’ she thought.
“Oh!” he said. “Is it a protegee—Belgian or something?”
“No, it’s mine; my own.” And, turning round, she slipped the little ring off her finger. When she turned back to him, his face had not recovered from her words. It had a hapless look, as of one to whom such a thing ought not to have happened.
“Don’t look like that,” said Noel. “Didn’t you understand? It’s mine-mine.” She put out her left hand. “Look! There’s no ring.”
He stammered: “I say, you oughtn’t to—you oughtn’t to—!”
“Joke about—about such things; ought you?”