“Is it very horrid in the trenches, Captain Fort?”
“Yes, Miss Pierson; it is very horrid, as a rule.”
“Is it dangerous all the time?”
“Do officers run more risks than the men?”
“Not unless there’s an attack.”
“Are there attacks very often?”
It had seemed to him so strangely primitive a little catechism, that he had smiled. And, though it was so dark, she had seen that smile, for her face went proud and close all of a sudden. He had cursed himself, and said gently:
“Have you a brother out there?”
She shook her head.
Someone! He had heard that answer with a little shock. This child—this fairy princess of a child already to have someone! He wondered if she went about asking everyone these questions, with that someone in her thoughts. Poor child! And quickly he said:
“After all, look at me! I was out there a year, and here I am with only half a game leg; times were a lot worse, then, too. I often wish I were back there. Anything’s better than London and the War Office.” But just then he saw the padre coming, and took her hand. “Good night, Miss Pierson. Don’t worry. That does no good, and there isn’t half the risk you think.”
Her hand stirred, squeezed his gratefully, as a child’s would squeeze.
“Good night,” she murmured; “thank you awfully.”
And, in the dark cab again, he remembered thinking: ’Fancy that child! A jolly lucky boy, out there! Too bad! Poor little fairy princess!’
To wash up is not an exciting operation. To wash up in August became for Noel a process which taxed her strength and enthusiasm. She combined it with other forms of instruction in the art of nursing, had very little leisure, and in the evenings at home would often fall asleep curled up in a large chintz-covered chair.
George and Gratian had long gone back to their respective hospitals, and she and her father had the house to themselves. She received many letters from Cyril which she carried about with her and read on her way to and from the hospital; and every other day she wrote to him. He was not yet in the firing line; his letters were descriptive of his men, his food, or the natives, or reminiscent of Kestrel; hers descriptive of washing up, or reminiscent of Kestrel. But in both there was always some little word of the longing within them.