“Of course not.”
“He knows there was something; he’s got second sight, I think. But I mind him less than anybody. Is his picture of Daddy good?”
“Powerful, but it hurts, somehow.”
“Let’s go down and see it.”
The picture was hung in the drawing-room, and its intense modernity made that old-fashioned room seem lifeless and strange. The black figure, with long pale fingers touching the paler piano keys, had a frightening actuality. The face, three-quarters full, was raised as if for inspiration, and the eyes rested, dreamy and unseeing, on the face of a girl painted and hung on a background of wall above the piano.
“It’s the face of that girl,” said Gratian, when they had looked at the picture for some time in silence:
“No,” said Noel, “it’s the look in his eyes.”
“But why did he choose such a horrid, common girl? Isn’t she fearfully alive, though? She looks as if she were saying: ‘Cheerio!’”
“She is; it’s awfully pathetic, I think. Poor Daddy!”
“It’s a libel,” said Gratian stubbornly.
“No. That’s what hurts. He isn’t quite—quite all there. Will he be coming in soon?”
Gratian took her arm, and pressed it hard. “Would you like me at dinner or not; I can easily be out?”
Noel shook her head. “It’s no good to funk it. He wanted me, and now he’s got me. Oh! why did he? It’ll be awful for him.”
Gratian sighed. “I’ve tried my best, but he always said: ’I’ve thought so long about it all that I can’t think any longer. I can only feel the braver course is the best. When things are bravely and humbly met, there will be charity and forgiveness.’”
“There won’t,” said Noel, “Daddy’s a saint, and he doesn’t see.”
“Yes, he is a saint. But one must think for oneself—one simply must. I can’t believe as he does, any more; can you, Nollie?”
“I don’t know. When I was going through it, I prayed; but I don’t know whether I really believed. I don’t think I mind much about that, one way or the other.”
“I mind terribly,” said Gratian, “I want the truth.”
“I don’t know what I want,” said Noel slowly, “except that sometimes I want—life; awfully.”
And the two sisters were silent, looking at each other with a sort of wonder.
Noel had a fancy to put on a bright-coloured blue frock that evening, and at her neck she hung a Breton cross of old paste, which had belonged to her mother. When she had finished dressing she went into the nursery and stood by the baby’s cot. The old nurse who was sitting there beside him, got up at once and said: