“Yes, I know; but we do.”
“You can’t tell that, my dear; no one could in three weeks.”
“But these aren’t ordinary times, are they? People have to do things in a hurry. Oh, Daddy! Be an angel! Mother would have understood, and let me, I know!”
Pierson drew away his hand; the words hurt, from reminder of his loss, from reminder of the poor substitute he was.
“Look, Nollie!” he said. “After all these years since she left us, I’m as lonely as ever, because we were really one. If you marry this young man without knowing more of your own hearts than you can in such a little time, you may regret it dreadfully; you may find it turn out, after all, nothing but a little empty passion; or again, if anything happens to him before you’ve had any real married life together, you’ll have a much greater grief and sense of loss to put up with than if you simply stay engaged till after the war. Besides, my child, you’re much too young.”
She sat so still that he looked at her in alarm. “But I must!”
He bit his lips, and said sharply: “You can’t, Nollie!”
She got up, and before he could stop her, was gone. With the closing of the door, his anger evaporated, and distress took its place. Poor child! What to do with this wayward chicken just out of the egg, and wanting to be full-fledged at once? The thought that she would be lying miserable, crying, perhaps, beset him so that he went out into the passage and tapped on her door. Getting no answer, he went in. It was dark but for a streak of moonlight, and in that he saw her, lying on her bed, face down; and stealing up laid his hand on her head. She did not move; and, stroking her hair, he said gently:
“Nollie dear, I didn’t mean to be harsh. If I were your mother, I should know how to make you see, but I’m only an old bumble-daddy.”
She rolled over, scrambling into a cross-legged posture on the bed. He could see her eyes shining. But she did not speak; she seemed to know that in silence was her strength.
He said with a sort of despair:
“You must let me talk it over with your aunt. She has a lot of good sense.”
He bent over and kissed her hot forehead.
“Good night, my dear; don’t cry. Promise me!”
She nodded, and lifted her face; he felt her hot soft lips on his forehead, and went away a little comforted.
But Noel sat on her bed, hugging her knees, listening to the night, to the emptiness and silence; each minute so much lost of the little, little time left, that she might have been with him.
Pierson woke after a troubled and dreamful night, in which he had thought himself wandering in heaven like a lost soul.