She turned her face away, and that tossing movement of the limbs beneath the clothes began again. “I don’t care,” she said; “anywhere—it doesn’t matter.”
Pierson put his chilly hand on her forehead. “Gently!” he said, and knelt down by the bed. “Merciful Father,” he murmured, “give us strength to bear this dreadful trial. Keep my beloved child safe, and bring her peace; and give me to understand how I have done wrong, how I have failed towards Thee, and her. In all things chasten and strengthen her, my child, and me.”
His thoughts moved on in the confused, inarticulate suspense of prayer, till he heard her say: “You haven’t failed; why do you talk of failing—it isn’t true; and don’t pray for me, Daddy.”
Pierson raised himself, and moved back from the bed. Her words confounded him, yet he was afraid to answer. She pushed her head deep into the pillow, and lay looking up at the ceiling.
“I shall have a son; Cyril won’t quite have died. And I don’t want to be forgiven.”
He dimly perceived what long dumb processes of thought and feeling had gone on in her to produce this hardened state of mind, which to him seemed almost blasphemous. And in the very midst of this turmoil in his heart, he could not help thinking how lovely her face looked, lying back so that the curve of her throat was bared, with the short tendrils of hair coiling about it. That flung-back head, moving restlessly from side to side in the heat of the soft pillow, had such a passion of protesting life in it! And he kept silence.
“I want you to know it was all me. But I can’t pretend. Of course I’ll try and not let it hurt you more than I possibly can. I’m sorry for you, poor Daddy; oh! I’m sorry for you!” With a movement incredibly lithe and swift, she turned and pressed her face down in the pillow, so that all he could see was her tumbled hair and the bedclothes trembling above her shoulders. He tried to stroke that hair, but she shook her head free, and he stole out.
She did not come to breakfast; and when his own wretched meal was over, the mechanism of his professional life caught him again at once. New Year’s Day! He had much to do. He had, before all, to be of a cheerful countenance before his flock, to greet all and any with an air of hope and courage.
Thirza Pierson, seeing her brother-in-law’s handwriting, naturally said: “Here’s a letter from Ted.”
Bob Pierson, with a mouth full of sausage, as naturally responded:
“What does he say?”
In reading on, she found that to answer that question was one of the most difficult tasks ever set her. Its news moved and disturbed her deeply. Under her wing this disaster had happened! Down here had been wrought this most deplorable miracle, fraught with such dislocation of lives! Noel’s face, absorbed and passionate, outside the door of her room on the night when Cyril Morland went away—her instinct had been right!