“Queer world, Mr. Pierson! Fancy those boys having to go back to barrack life after listening to that! What’s your feeling? Are we moving back to the apes? Did we touch top note with that Sonata?”
Pierson turned and contemplated his questioner shrewdly.
“No, Captain Fort, I do not think we are moving back to the apes; if we ever came from them. Those boys have the souls of heroes!”
“I know that, sir, perhaps better than you do.”
“Ah! yes,” said Pierson humbly, “I forgot, of course.” But he still looked at his neighbour doubtfully. This Captain Fort, who was a friend of Leila’s, and who had twice been to see them, puzzled him. He had a frank face, a frank voice, but queer opinions, or so it seemed to, Pierson—little bits of Moslemism, little bits of the backwoods, and the veldt; queer unexpected cynicisms, all sorts of side views on England had lodged in him, and he did not hide them. They came from him like bullets, in that frank voice, and drilled little holes in the listener. Those critical sayings flew so much more poignantly from one who had been through the same educational mill as himself, than if they had merely come from some rough diamond, some artist, some foreigner, even from a doctor like George. And they always made him uncomfortable, like the touch of a prickly leaf; they did not amuse him. Certainly Edward Pierson shrank from the rough touches of a knock-about philosophy. After all, it was but natural that he should.
He and Noel left after the first part of the concert, parting from the other two at the door. He slipped his hand through her arm; and, following out those thoughts of his in the concert-hall, asked:
“Do you like Captain Fort, Nollie?”
“Yes; he’s a nice man.”
“He seems a nice man, certainly; he has a nice smile, but strange views, I’m afraid.”
“He thinks the Germans are not much worse than we are; he says that a good many of us are bullies too.”
“Yes, that is the sort of thing I mean.”
“But are we, Daddy?”
“A policeman I talked to once said the same. Captain Fort says that very few men can stand having power put into their hands without being spoiled. He told me some dreadful stories. He says we have no imagination, so that we often do things without seeing how brutal they are.”
“We’re not perfect, Nollie; but on the whole I think we’re a kind people.”
Noel was silent a moment, then said suddenly:
“Kind people often think others are kind too, when they really aren’t. Captain Fort doesn’t make that mistake.”
“I think he’s a little cynical, and a little dangerous.”
“Are all people dangerous who don’t think like others, Daddy?”
Pierson, incapable of mockery, was not incapable of seeing when he was being mocked. He looked at his daughter with a smile.