“Daddy’s a darling; but I don’t always believe what he believes, you know. Besides, I’m not making a mistake, Auntie! I love Cyril ever so.”
Thirza gave her waist a squeeze.
“You mustn’t make a mistake. We love you too much, Nollie. I wish we had Gratian here.”
“Gratian would back me up,” said Noel; “she knows what the war is. And you ought to, Auntie. If Rex or Harry wanted to be married, I’m sure you’d never oppose them. And they’re no older than Cyril. You must understand what it means to me Auntie dear, to feel that we belong to each other properly before—before it all begins for him, and—and there may be no more. Daddy doesn’t realise. I know he’s awfully good, but—he’s forgotten.”
“My dear, I think he remembers only too well. He was desperately attached to your mother.”
Noel clenched her hands.
“Was he? Well, so am I to Cyril, and he to me. We wouldn’t be unreasonable if it wasn’t—wasn’t necessary. Talk, to Cyril, Auntie; then you’ll understand. There he is; only, don’t keep him long, because I want him. Oh! Auntie; I want him so badly!”
She turned; and slipped back into the house; and Thirza, conscious of having been decoyed to this young man, who stood there with his arms folded, like Napoleon before a battle, smiled and said:
“Well, Cyril, so you’ve betrayed me!”
Even in speaking she was conscious of the really momentous change in this sunburnt, blue-eyed, lazily impudent youth since the day he arrived, three weeks ago, in their little wagonette. He took her arm, just as Noel had, and made her sit down beside him on the rustic bench, where he had evidently been told to wait.
“You see, Mrs. Pierson,” he said, “it’s not as if Noel were an ordinary girl in an ordinary time, is it? Noel is the sort of girl one would knock one’s brains out for; and to send me out there knowing that I could have been married to her and wasn’t, will take all the heart out of me. Of course I mean to come back, but chaps do get knocked over, and I think it’s cruel that we can’t take what we can while we can. Besides, I’ve got money; and that would be hers anyway. So, do be a darling, won’t you?” He put his arm round her waist, just as if he had been her son, and her heart, which wanted her own boys so badly, felt warmed within her.
“You see, I don’t know Mr. Pierson, but he seems awfully gentle and jolly, and if he could see into me he wouldn’t mind, I know. We don’t mind risking our lives and all that, but we do think we ought to have the run of them while we’re alive. I’ll give him my dying oath or anything, that I could never change towards Noel, and she’ll do the same. Oh! Mrs. Pierson, do be a jolly brick, and put in a word for me, quick! We’ve got so few days!”
“But, my dear boy,” said Thirza feebly, “do you think it’s fair to such a child as Noel?”