“Life’s going to be the important thing in the future, Nollie; not comfort and cloistered virtue and security; but living, and pressure to the square inch. Do you twig? All the old hard-and-fast traditions and drags on life are in the melting-pot. Death’s boiling their bones, and they’ll make excellent stock for the new soup. When you prune and dock things, the sap flows quicker. Regrets and repinings and repressions are going out of fashion; we shall have no time or use for them in the future. You’re going to make life—well, that’s something to be thankful for, anyway. You’ve kept Cyril Morland alive. And—well, you know, we’ve all been born; some of us properly, and some improperly, and there isn’t a ha’porth of difference in the value of the article, or the trouble of bringing it into the world. The cheerier you are the better your child will be, and that’s all you’ve got to think about. You needn’t begin to trouble at all for another couple of months, at least; after that, just let us know where you’d like to go, and I’ll arrange it somehow.”
She looked round at him, and under that young, clear, brooding gaze he had the sudden uncomfortable feeling of having spoken like a charlatan. Had he really touched the heart of the matter? What good were his generalities to this young, fastidiously nurtured girl, brought up to tell the truth, by a father so old-fashioned and devoted, whom she loved? It was George’s nature, too, to despise words; and the conditions of his life these last two years had given him a sort of horror of those who act by talking. He felt inclined to say: ’Don’t pay the slightest attention to me; it’s all humbug; what will be will be, and there’s an end of it:
Then she said quietly:
“Shall I tell Daddy or not?”
He wanted to say: “No,” but somehow couldn’t. After all, the straightforward course was probably the best. For this would have to be a lifelong concealment. It was impossible to conceal a thing for ever; sooner or later he would find out. But the doctor rose up in him, and he said:
“Don’t go to meet trouble, Nollie; it’ll be time enough in two months. Then tell him, or let me.”
She shook her head. “No; I will, if it is to be done.”
He put his hand on hers, within his arm, and gave it a squeeze.
“What shall I do till then?” she asked.
“Take a week’s complete rest, and then go on where you are.”
Noel was silent a minute, then said: “Yes; I will.”
They spoke no more on the subject, and George exerted himself to talk about hospital experiences, and that phenomenon, the British soldier. But just before they reached home he said:
“Look here, Nollie! If you’re not ashamed of yourself, no one will be ashamed of you. If you put ashes on your own head, your fellow-beings will, assist you; for of such is their charity.”
And, receiving another of those clear, brooding looks, he left her with the thought: ‘A lonely child!’