After regaining his room last night nothing had struck him more forcibly than the needlessness of his words: “Don’t cry, Nollie!” for he had realised with uneasiness that she had not been near crying. No; there was in her some emotion very different from the tearful. He kept seeing her cross-legged figure on the bed in that dim light; tense, enigmatic, almost Chinese; kept feeling the feverish touch of her lips. A good girlish burst of tears would have done her good, and been a guarantee. He had the uncomfortable conviction that his refusal had passed her by, as if unspoken. And, since he could not go and make music at that time of night, he had ended on his knees, in a long search for guidance, which was not vouchsafed him.
The culprits were demure at breakfast; no one could have told that for the last hour they had been sitting with their arms round each other, watching the river flow by, talking but little, through lips too busy. Pierson pursued his sister-in-law to the room where she did her flowers every morning. He watched her for a minute dividing ramblers from pansies, cornflowers from sweet peas, before he said:
“I’m very troubled, Thirza. Nollie came to me last night. Imagine! They want to get married—those two!”
Accepting life as it came, Thirza showed no dismay, but her cheeks grew a little pinker, and her eyes a little rounder. She took up a sprig of mignonette, and said placidly:
“Oh, my dear!”
“Think of it, Thirza—that child! Why, it’s only a year or two since she used to sit on my knee and tickle my face with her hair.”
Thirza went on arranging her flowers.
“Noel is older than you think, Edward; she is more than her age. And real married life wouldn’t begin for them till after—if it ever began.”
Pierson experienced a sort of shock. His sister-in-law’s words seemed criminally light-hearted.
“But—but—” he stammered; “the union, Thirza! Who can tell what will happen before they come together again!”
She looked at his quivering face, and said gently:
“I know, Edward; but if you refuse, I should be afraid, in these days, of what Noel might do. I told you there’s a streak of desperation in her.”
“Noel will obey me.”
“I wonder! There are so many of these war marriages now.”
Pierson turned away.
“I think they’re dreadful. What do they mean—Just a momentary gratification of passion. They might just as well not be.”
“They mean pensions, as a rule,” said Thirza calmly.
“Thirza, that is cynical; besides, it doesn’t affect this case. I can’t bear to think of my little Nollie giving herself for a moment which may come to nothing, or may turn out the beginning of an unhappy marriage. Who is this boy—what is he? I know nothing of him. How can I give her to him—it’s impossible! If they had been engaged some time and I knew something