She had begun to feel drowsy, and closed her eyes. And gradually there came on her a cosey sensation, as if she were leaning up against someone with her head tucked in against his shoulder, as she had so often leaned as a child against her father, coming back from some long darkening drive in Wales or Scotland. She seemed even to feel the wet soft Westerly air on her face and eyelids, and to sniff the scent of a frieze coat; to hear the jog of hoofs and the rolling of the wheels; to feel the closing in of the darkness. Then, so dimly and drowsily, she seemed to know that it was not her father, but someone—someone—then no more, no more at all.
She was awakened by the scream of an engine, and looked around her amazed. Her neck had fallen sideways while she slept, and felt horridly stiff; her head ached, and she was shivering. She saw by the clock that it was past five. ‘If only I could get some tea!’ she thought. ’Anyway I won’t stay here any longer!’ When she had washed, and rubbed some of the stiffness out of her neck, the tea renewed her sense of adventure wonderfully. Her train did not start for an hour; she had time for a walk, to warm herself, and went down to the river. There was an early haze, and all looked a little mysterious; but people were already passing on their way to work. She walked along, looking at the water flowing up under the bright mist to which the gulls gave a sort of hovering life. She went as far as Blackfriars Bridge, and turning back, sat down on a bench under a plane-tree, just as the sun broke through. A little pasty woman with a pinched yellowish face was already sitting there, so still, and seeming to see so little, that Noel wondered of what she could be thinking. While she watched, the woman’s face began puckering, and tears rolled slowly, down, trickling from pucker to pucker, till, summoning up her courage, Noel sidled nearer, and said:
“Oh! What’s the matter?”
The tears seemed to stop from sheer surprise; little grey eyes gazed round, patient little eyes from above an almost bridgeless nose.
“I’ad a baby. It’s dead.... its father’s dead in France.... I was goin’ in the water, but I didn’t like the look of it, and now I never will.”
That “Now I never will,” moved Noel terribly. She slid her arm along the back of the bench and clasped the skinniest of shoulders.
“It was my first. I’m thirty-eight. I’ll never ’ave another. Oh! Why didn’t I go in the water?”
The face puckered again, and the squeezed-out tears ran down. ’Of course she must cry,’ thought Noel; ‘cry and cry till it feels better.’ And she stroked the shoulder of the little woman, whose emotion was disengaging the scent of old clothes.
“The father of my baby was killed in France, too,” she said at last. The little sad grey eyes looked curiously round.