“Good night,” she murmured; “thank you awfully.”
And, in the dark cab again, he remembered thinking: ’Fancy that child! A jolly lucky boy, out there! Too bad! Poor little fairy princess!’
To wash up is not an exciting operation. To wash up in August became for Noel a process which taxed her strength and enthusiasm. She combined it with other forms of instruction in the art of nursing, had very little leisure, and in the evenings at home would often fall asleep curled up in a large chintz-covered chair.
George and Gratian had long gone back to their respective hospitals, and she and her father had the house to themselves. She received many letters from Cyril which she carried about with her and read on her way to and from the hospital; and every other day she wrote to him. He was not yet in the firing line; his letters were descriptive of his men, his food, or the natives, or reminiscent of Kestrel; hers descriptive of washing up, or reminiscent of Kestrel. But in both there was always some little word of the longing within them.
It was towards the end of August when she had the letter which said that he had been moved up. From now on he would be in hourly danger! That evening after dinner she did not go to sleep in the chair, but sat under the open window, clenching her hands, and reading “Pride and Prejudice” without understanding a word. While she was so engaged her father came up and said:
“Captain Fort, Nollie. Will you give him some coffee? I’m afraid I must go out.”
When he had gone, Noel looked at her visitor drinking his coffee. He had been out there, too, and he was alive; with only a little limp. The visitor smiled and said:
“What were you thinking about when we came in?”
“Only the war.”
“Any news of him?”
Noel frowned, she hated to show her feelings.
“Yes! he’s gone to the Front. Won’t you have a cigarette?”
“Thanks. Will you?”
“I want one awfully. I think sitting still and waiting is more dreadful than anything in the world.”
“Except, knowing that others are waiting. When I was out there I used to worry horribly over my mother. She was ill at the time. The cruelest thing in war is the anxiety of people about each other—nothing touches that.”
The words exactly summed up Noel’s hourly thought. He said nice things, this man with the long legs and the thin brown bumpy face!
“I wish I were a man,” she said, “I think women have much the worst time in the war. Is your mother old?” But of course she was old why he was old himself!
“She died last Christmas.”
“Oh! I’m so sorry!”
“You lost your mother when you were a babe, didn’t you?”