And so Noel walked there with him, for Gratian had gone down to George, for the week-end. She slipped quietly up the side aisle to their empty pew, under the pulpit. Never turning her eyes from the chancel, she remained unconscious of the stir her presence made, during that hour and twenty minutes. Behind her, the dumb currents of wonder, disapproval, and resentment ran a stealthy course. On her all eyes were fixed sooner or later, and every mind became the play ground of judgments. From every soul, kneeling, standing, or sitting, while the voice of the Service droned, sang, or spoke, a kind of glare radiated on to that one small devoted head, which seemed so ludicrously devout. She disturbed their devotions, this girl who had betrayed her father, her faith, her class. She ought to repent, of course, and Church was the right place; yet there was something brazen in her repenting there before their very eyes; she was too palpable a flaw in the crystal of the Church’s authority, too visible a rent in the raiment of their priest. Her figure focused all the uneasy amazement and heart searchings of these last weeks. Mothers quivered with the knowledge that their daughters could see her; wives with the idea that their husbands were seeing her. Men experienced sensations varying from condemnation to a sort of covetousness. Young folk wondered, and felt inclined to giggle. Old maids could hardly bear to look. Here and there a man or woman who had seen life face to face, was simply sorry! The consciousness of all who knew her personally was at stretch how to behave if they came within reach of her in going out. For, though only half a dozen would actually rub shoulders with her, all knew that they might be, and many felt it their duty to be, of that half-dozen, so as to establish their attitude once for all. It was, in fact, too severe a test for human nature and the feelings which Church ought to arouse. The stillness of that young figure, the impossibility of seeing her face and judging of her state of mind thereby; finally, a faint lurking shame that they should be so intrigued and disturbed by something which had to do with sex, in this House of Worship—all combined to produce in every mind that herd-feeling of defence, which so soon becomes, offensive. And, half unconscious, half aware of it all, Noel stood, and sat, and knelt. Once or twice she saw her father’s eyes fixed on her; and, still in the glow of last night’s pity and remorse, felt a kind of worship for his thin grave face. But for the most part, her own wore the expression Lavendie had translated to his canvas—the look of one ever waiting for the extreme moments of life, for those few and fleeting poignancies which existence holds for the human heart. A look neither hungry nor dissatisfied, but dreamy and expectant, which might blaze into warmth and depth at any moment, and then go back to its dream.
When the last notes of the organ died away she continued to sit very still, without looking round.