But the weather was wet and harvest late, and Noel had nothing much to do but attend to her baby, already well attended to by Nurse, and dream and brood, and now and then cook an omelette or do some housework for the sake of a gnawing conscience. Since Gratian and George were away in hospital all day, she was very much alone. Several times in the evenings Gratian tried to come at the core of her thoughts, Twice she flew the kite of Leila. The first time Noel only answered: “Yes, she’s a brick.” The second time, she said: “I don’t want to think about her.”
But, hardening her heart, Gratian went on: “Don’t you think it’s queer we’ve never heard from Captain Fort since he came down?”
In her calmest voice Noel answered: “Why should we, after being told that he wasn’t liked?”
“Who told him that?”
“I told him, that Daddy didn’t; but I expect Daddy said much worse things.” She gave a little laugh, then softly added: “Daddy’s wonderful, isn’t he?”
“The way he drives one to do the other thing. If he hadn’t opposed my marriage to Cyril, you know, that wouldn’t have happened, it just made all the difference. It stirred me up so fearfully.” Gratian stared at her, astonished that she could see herself so clearly. Towards the end of August she had a letter from Fort.
“Dear Mrs. Laird, “You know all about things, of course, except the one thing which to me is all important. I can’t go on without knowing whether I have a chance with your sister. It is against your father’s expressed wish that she should have anything to do with me, but I told him that I could not and would not promise not to ask her. I get my holiday at the end of this month, and am coming down to put it to the touch. It means more to me than you can possibly imagine. “I am, dear Mrs. Laird, “Your very faithful servant, “James Fort.”
She discussed the letter with George, whose advice was: “Answer it politely, but say nothing; and nothing to Nollie. I think it would be a very good thing. Of course it’s a bit of a make-shift—twice her age; but he’s a genuine man, if not exactly brilliant.”
Gratian answered almost sullenly: “I’ve always wanted the very best for Nollie.”
George screwed up his steel-coloured eyes, as he might have looked at one on whom he had to operate. “Quite so,” he said. “But you must remember, Gracie, that out of the swan she was, Nollie has made herself into a lame duck. Fifty per cent at least is off her value, socially. We must look at things as they are.”
“Father is dead against it.”
George smiled, on the point of saying: ’That makes me feel it must be a good thing!’ But he subdued the impulse.
“I agree that we’re bound by his absence not to further it actively. Still Nollie knows his wishes, and it’s up to her and no one else. After all, she’s no longer a child.”