Pierson took this letter out with him into the Square Garden, for painful cogitation. No man can hold a position of spiritual authority for long years without developing the habit of judgment. He judged Noel’s conduct to be headlong and undisciplined, and the vein of stubbornness in his character fortified the father and the priest within him. Thirza disappointed him; she did not seem to see the irretrievable gravity of this hasty marriage. She seemed to look on it as something much lighter than it was, to consider that it might be left to Chance, and that if Chance turned out unfavourable, there would still be a way out. To him there would be no way out. He looked up at the sky, as if for inspiration. It was such a beautiful day, and so bitter to hurt his child, even for her good! What would her mother have advised? Surely Agnes had felt at least as deeply as himself the utter solemnity of marriage! And, sitting there in the sunlight, he painfully hardened his heart. He must do what he thought right, no matter what the consequences. So he went in and wrote that he could not agree, and wished Noel to come back home at once.
But on the same afternoon, just about that hour, Noel was sitting on the river-bank with her arms folded tight across her chest, and by her side Cyril Morland, with despair in his face, was twisting a telegram “Rejoin tonight. Regiment leaves to-morrow.”
What consolation that a million such telegrams had been read and sorrowed over these last two years! What comfort that the sun was daily blotted dim for hundreds of bright eyes; the joy of life poured out and sopped up by the sands of desolation!
“How long have we got, Cyril?”
“I’ve engaged a car from the Inn, so I needn’t leave till midnight. I’ve packed already, to have more time.”
“Let’s have it to ourselves, then. Let’s go off somewhere. I’ve got some chocolate.”
Morland answered miserably:
“I can send the car up here for my things, and have it pick me up at the Inn, if you’ll say goodbye to them for me, afterwards. We’ll walk down the line, then we shan’t meet anyone.”
And in the bright sunlight they walked hand in hand on each side of a shining rail. About six they reached the Abbey.
“Let’s get a boat,” said Noel. “We can come back here when it’s moonlight. I know a way of getting in, after the gate’s shut.”
They hired a boat, rowed over to the far bank, and sat on the stern seat, side by side under the trees where the water was stained deep green by the high woods. If they talked, it was but a word of love now and then, or to draw each other’s attention to a fish, a bird, a dragon-fly. What use making plans—for lovers the chief theme? Longing paralysed their brains. They could do nothing but press close to each other, their hands