Across this letter lying on her knees, Noel gazed at the spidery movement on the wall. Was it acquiescence that the old lady knitted, or was it resistance—a challenge to death itself, a challenge dancing to the tune of the needles like the grey ghost of human resistance to Fate! She wouldn’t give in, this oldest lady in the world, she meant to knit till she fell into the grave. And so Leila had gone! It hurt her to know that; and yet it pleased her. Acquiescence—resistance! Why did Daddy always want to choose the way she should go? So gentle he was, yet he always wanted to! And why did he always make her feel that she must go the other way? The sunlight ceased to stream in, the old lady’s shadow faded off the wall, but the needles still sang their little tune. And the girl said:
“Do you enjoy knitting, Mrs. Adam?”
The old lady looked at her above the spectacles.
“Enjoy, my dear? It passes the time.”
“But do you want the time to pass?”
There was no answer for a moment, and Noel thought: ’How dreadful of me to have said that!’
“Eh?” said the old lady.
“I said: Isn’t it very tiring?”
“Not when I don’t think about it, my dear.”
“What do you think about?”
The old lady cackled gently.
“Oh—well!” she said.
And Noel thought: ‘It must be dreadful to grow old, and pass the time!’
She took up her father’s letter, and bent it meditatively against her chin. He wanted her to pass the time—not to live, not to enjoy! To pass the time. What else had he been doing himself, all these years, ever since she could remember, ever since her mother died, but just passing the time? Passing the time because he did not believe in this life; not living at all, just preparing for the life he did believe in. Denying himself everything that was exciting and nice, so that when he died he might pass pure and saintly to his other world. He could not believe Captain Fort a good man, because he had not passed the time, and resisted Leila; and Leila was gone! And now it was a sin for him to love someone else; he must pass the time again. ’Daddy doesn’t believe in life,’ she thought; ’it’s monsieur’s picture. Daddy’s a saint; but I don’t want to be a saint, and pass the time. He doesn’t mind making people unhappy, because the more they’re repressed, the saintlier they’ll be. But I can’t bear to be unhappy, or to see others unhappy. I wonder if I could bear to be unhappy to save someone else—as Leila is? I admire her! Oh! I admire her! She’s not doing it because she thinks it good for her soul; only because she can’t bear making him unhappy. She must love him very much. Poor Leila! And she’s done it all by herself, of her own accord.’ It was like what George said of the soldiers; they didn’t know why they were heroes, it was not because they’d been told to be, or because they believed in a future life.