“Did you want Doctor and Mrs. Laird, sir? East Bungalow their address is; it’s a little way out on the North Road. Anyone will tell you.”
With a sigh of relief Fort looked gratefully at the old lady who had called Noel as pretty as life. “Good afternoon, ma’am.”
“Good afternoon.” The needles clicked, and little movements occurred at the corners of her mouth. Fort went out. He could not find a vehicle, and was a long time walking. The Bungalow was ugly, of yellow brick pointed with red. It lay about two-thirds up between the main road and cliffs, and had a rock-garden and a glaring, brand-new look, in the afternoon sunlight. He opened the gate, uttering one of those prayers which come so glibly from unbelievers when they want anything. A baby’s crying answered it, and he thought with ecstasy: ‘Heaven, she is here!’ Passing the rock-garden he could see a lawn at the back of the house and a perambulator out there under a holm-oak tree, and Noel—surely Noel herself! Hardening his heart, he went forward. In a lilac sunbonnet she was bending over the perambulator. He trod softly on the grass, and was quite close before she heard him. He had prepared no words, but just held out his hand. The baby, interested in the shadow failing across its pram, ceased crying. Noel took his hand. Under the sunbonnet, which hid her hair, she seemed older and paler, as if she felt the heat. He had no feeling that she was glad to see him.
“How do you do? Have you seen Gratian; she ought to be in.”
“I didn’t come to see her; I came to see you.”
Noel turned to the baby.
“Here he is.”
Fort stood at the end of the perambulator, and looked at that other fellow’s baby. In the shade of the hood, with the frilly clothes, it seemed to him lying with its head downhill. It had scratched its snub nose and bumpy forehead, and it stared up at its mother with blue eyes, which seemed to have no underlids so fat were its cheeks.
“I wonder what they think about,” he said.
Noel put her finger into the baby’s fist.
“They only think when they want some thing.”
“That’s a deep saying: but his eyes are awfully interested in you.”
Noel smiled; and very slowly the baby’s curly mouth unclosed, and discovered his toothlessness.
“He’s a darling,” she said in a whisper.
‘And so are you,’ he thought, ‘if only I dared say it!’
“Daddy is here,” she said suddenly, without looking up. “He’s sailing for Egypt the day after to-morrow. He doesn’t like you.”
Fort’s heart gave a jump. Why did she tell him that, unless—unless she was just a little on his side?
“I expected that,” he said. “I’m a sinner, as you know.”
Noel looked up at him. “Sin!” she said, and bent again over her baby. The word, the tone in which she said it, crouching over her baby, gave him the thought: ’If it weren’t for that little creature, I shouldn’t have a dog’s chance.’ He said, “I’ll go and see your father. Is he in?”