“Was ’e? ’Ave you got your baby still?”
“Yes, oh, yes!”
“I’m glad of that. It ’urts so bad, it does. I’d rather lose me ’usband than me baby, any day.” The sun was shining now on a cheek of that terribly patient face; its brightness seemed cruel perching there.
“Can I do anything to help you?” Noel murmured.
“No, thank you, miss. I’m goin’ ’ome now. I don’t live far. Thank you kindly.” And raising her eyes for one more of those half-bewildered looks, she moved away along the Embankment wall. When she was out of sight, Noel walked back to the station. The train was in, and she took her seat. She had three fellow passengers, all in khaki; very silent and moody, as men are when they have to get up early. One was tall, dark, and perhaps thirty-five; the second small, and about fifty, with cropped, scanty grey hair; the third was of medium height and quite sixty-five, with a long row of little coloured patches on his tunic, and a bald, narrow, well-shaped head, grey hair brushed back at the sides, and the thin, collected features and drooping moustache of the old school. It was at him that Noel looked. When he glanced out of the window, or otherwise retired within himself, she liked his face; but when he turned to the ticket-collector or spoke to the others, she did not like it half so much. It was as if the old fellow had two selves, one of which he used when alone, the other in which he dressed every morning to meet the world. They had begun to talk about some Tribunal on which they had to sit. Noel did not listen, but a word or two carried to her now and then.
“How many to-day?” she heard the old fellow ask, and the little cropped man answering: “Hundred and fourteen.”
Fresh from the sight of the poor little shabby woman and her grief, she could not help a sort of shrinking from that trim old soldier, with his thin, regular face, who held the fate of a “Hundred and fourteen” in his firm, narrow grasp, perhaps every day. Would he understand their troubles or wants? Of course he wouldn’t! Then, she saw him looking at her critically with his keen eyes. If he had known her secret, he would be thinking: ’A lady and act like that! Oh, no! Quite-quite out of the question!’ And she felt as if she could, sink under the seat with shame. But no doubt he was only thinking: ’Very young to be travelling by herself at this hour of the morning. Pretty too!’ If he knew the real truth of her—how he would stare! But why should this utter stranger, this old disciplinarian, by a casual glance, by the mere form of his face, make her feel more guilty and ashamed than she had yet felt? That puzzled her. He was, must be, a narrow, conventional old man; but he had this power to make her feel ashamed, because she felt that he had faith in his gods, and was true to them; because she knew he would die sooner than depart from his creed of conduct. She turned to the window, biting