“One doesn’t joke if one’s had a baby without being married, you know.”
Lauder went suddenly slack. A shell might have burst a few paces from him. And then, just as one would in such a case, he made an effort, braced himself, and said in a curious voice, both stiff and heavy: “I can’t—one doesn’t—it’s not—”
“It is,” said Noel. “If you don’t believe me, ask Daddy.”
He put his hand up to his round collar; and with the wild thought that he was going to tear it off, she cried: “Don’t!”
“You!” he said. “You! But—”
Noel turned away from him to the window: She stood looking out, but saw nothing whatever.
“I don’t want it hidden,” she said without turning round, “I want every one to know. It’s stupid as it is—stupid!” and she stamped her foot. “Can’t you see how stupid it is—everybody’s mouth falling open!”
He uttered a little sound which had pain in it, and she felt a real pang of compunction. He had gripped the back of a chair; his face had lost its heaviness. A dull flush coloured his cheeks. Noel had a feeling, as if she had been convicted of treachery. It was his silence, the curious look of an impersonal pain beyond power of words; she felt in him something much deeper than mere disapproval—something which echoed within herself. She walked quickly past him and escaped. She ran upstairs and threw herself on her bed. He was nothing: it was not that! It was in herself, the awful feeling, for the first time developed and poignant, that she had betrayed her caste, forfeited the right to be thought a lady, betrayed her secret reserve and refinement, repaid with black ingratitude the love lavished on her up bringing, by behaving like any uncared-for common girl. She had never felt this before—not even when Gratian first heard of it, and they had stood one at each end of the hearth, unable to speak. Then she still had her passion, and her grief for the dead. That was gone now as if it had never been; and she had no defence, nothing between her and this crushing humiliation and chagrin. She had been mad! She must have been mad! The Belgian Barra was right: “All a little mad” in this “forcing-house” of a war! She buried her face deep in the pillow, till it almost stopped her power of breathing; her head and cheeks and ears seemed to be on fire. If only he had shown disgust, done something which roused her temper, her sense of justice, her feeling that Fate had been too cruel to her; but he had just stood there, bewilderment incarnate, like a creature with some very deep illusion shattered. It was horrible! Then, feeling that she could not stay still, must walk, run, get away somehow from this feeling of treachery and betrayal, she sprang up. All was quiet below, and she slipped downstairs and out, speeding along with no knowledge of direction, taking the way she had taken day after day to her hospital. It was the last of April, trees and shrubs were luscious