Discovery that there was still a barrier between him and them came but slowly in the next two days. He would not acknowledge it, yet it was there, in their voices, in their movements—rather an absence of something old than the presence of something new. It was as if each had said to him: “We love you, but you are not in our secrets—and you must not be, for you would try to destroy them.” They showed no fear of him, but seemed to be pushing him unconsciously away, lest he should restrain or alter what was very dear to them. They were both fond of him, but their natures had set foot on definitely diverging paths. The closer the affection, the more watchful they were against interference by that affection. Noel had a look on her face, half dazed, half proud, which touched, yet vexed him. What had he done to forfeit her confidence—surely she must see how natural and right his opposition had been! He made one great effort to show the real sympathy he felt for her. But she only said: “I can’t talk of Cyril, Daddy; I simply can’t!” And he, who easily shrank into his shell, could not but acquiesce in her reserve.
With Gratian it was different. He knew that an encounter was before him; a struggle between him and her husband—for characteristically he set the change in her, the defection of her faith, down to George, not to spontaneous thought and feeling in herself. He dreaded and yet looked forward to this encounter. It came on the third day, when Laird was up, lying on that very sofa where Pierson had sat listening to Gratian’s confession of disbelief. Except for putting in his head to say good morning, he had not yet seen his son-in-law: The young doctor could not look fragile, the build of his face, with that law and those heavy cheekbones was too much against it, but there was about him enough of the look of having come through a hard fight to give Pierson’s heart a squeeze.
“Well, George,” he said, “you gave us a dreadful fright! I thank God’s mercy.” With that half-mechanical phrase he had flung an unconscious challenge. Laird looked up whimsically.
“So you really think God merciful, sir?”
“Don’t let us argue, George; you’re not strong enough.”
“Oh! I’m pining for something to bite on.”
Pierson looked at Gratian, and said softly:
“God’s mercy is infinite, and you know it is.”