“Yes. That’s her portrait.” At the end of the room, hanging on a strip of black velvet was a pastel, very faint in colouring, as though faded, of a young woman, with an eager, sweet face, dark eyes, and bent a little forward, as if questioning her painter. Fort went up to it.
“It’s not a bit like you. But she must have been a very sweet woman.”
“It’s a sort of presence in the room. I wish I were like her!”
Fort turned. “No,” he said; “no. Better as you are. It would only have spoiled a complete thing.”
“She was good.”
“And aren’t you?”
“Oh! no. I get a devil.”
“You! Why, you’re out of a fairy-tale!”
“It comes from Daddy—only he doesn’t know, because he’s a perfect saint; but I know he’s had a devil somewhere, or he couldn’t be the saint he is.”
“H’m!” said Fort. “That’s very deep: and I believe it’s true—the saints did have devils.”
“Poor Daddy’s devil has been dead ages. It’s been starved out of him, I think.”
“Does your devil ever get away with you?”
Noel felt her cheeks growing red under his stare, and she turned to the window:
“Yes. It’s a real devil.”
Vividly there had come before her the dark Abbey, and the moon balancing over the top of the crumbling wall, and the white owl flying across. And, speaking to the air, she said:
“It makes you do things that you want to do.”
She wondered if he would laugh—it sounded so silly. But he did not.
“And damn the consequences? I know. It’s rather a jolly thing to have.”
Noel shook her head. “Here’s Daddy coming back!”
Fort held out his hand.
“I won’t stay. Good night; and don’t worry too much, will you?”
He kept her hand rather a long time, and gave it a hard squeeze.
Don’t worry! What advice! Ah! if she could see Cyril just for a minute!
In September, 1916, Saturday still came before Sunday, in spite of the war. For Edward Pierson this Saturday had been a strenuous day, and even now, at nearly midnight, he was still conning his just-completed sermon.
A patriot of patriots, he had often a passionate longing to resign his parish, and go like his curate for a chaplain at the Front. It seemed to him that people must think his life idle and sheltered and useless. Even in times of peace he had been sensitive enough to feel the cold draughty blasts which the Church encounters in a material age. He knew that nine people out of ten looked on him as something of a parasite, with no real work in the world. And since he was nothing if not conscientious, he always worked himself to the bone.