“Steady, old man!” he said. “It’s a misfortune. But if I were you I should feel: ’She’s done a wild, silly thing, but, hang it, if anybody says a word against her, I’ll wring his neck.’ And what’s more, you’ll feel much the same, when it comes to the point.” He emitted a huge puff of smoke, which obscured his brother’s face, and the blood, buzzing in his temples, seemed to thicken the sound of Edward’s voice.
“I don’t know; I’ve tried to see clearly. I have prayed to be shown what her duty is, and mine. It seems to me there can be no peace for her until she has atoned, by open suffering; that the world’s judgment is her cross, and she must bear it; especially in these days, when all the world is facing suffering so nobly. And then it seems so hard-so bitter; my poor little Nollie!”
There was a silence, broken only by the gurgling of Robert’s pipe, till he said abruptly:
“I don’t follow you, Ted; no, I don’t. I think a man should screen his children all he can. Talk to her as you like, but don’t let the world do it. Dash it, the world’s a rotten gabbling place. I call myself a man of the world, but when it comes to private matters—well, then I draw the line. It seems to me it seems to me inhuman. What does George Laird think about it? He’s a knowing chap. I suppose you’ve—no, I suppose you haven’t—” For a peculiar smile had come on Edward’s face.
“No,” he said, “I should hardly ask George Laird’s opinion.”
And Robert realised suddenly the stubborn loneliness of that thin black figure, whose fingers were playing with a little gold cross. ‘By Jove!’ he thought, ’I believe old Ted’s like one of those Eastern chaps who go into lonely places. He’s got himself surrounded by visions of things that aren’t there. He lives in unreality—something we can’t understand. I shouldn’t be surprised if he heard voices, like—’who was it? Tt, tt! What a pity!’ Ted was deceptive. He was gentle and—all that, a gentleman of course, and that disguised him; but underneath; what was there—a regular ascetic, a fakir! And a sense of bewilderment, of dealing with something which he could not grasp, beset Bob Pierson, so that he went back to the table, and sat down again beside his port.
“It seems to me,” he said rather gruffly, “that the chicken had better be hatched before we count it.” And then, sorry for his brusqueness, emptied his glass. As the fluid passed over his palate, he thought: ’Poor old Ted! He doesn’t even drink—hasn’t a pleasure in life, so far as I can see, except doing his duty, and doesn’t even seem to know what that is. There aren’t many like him—luckily! And yet I love him—pathetic chap!’
The “pathetic chap” was still staring at the flames. 3
And at this very hour, when the brothers were talking—for thought and feeling do pass mysteriously over the invisible wires of space Cyril Morland’s son was being born of Noel, a little before his time.