In the morning she got up from her sleepless bed, seemed to eat her breakfast, and went off to her hospital. There she washed up plates and dishes, with a stony face, dark under the eyes.
The news came to Pierson in a letter from Thirza, received at lunch-time. He read it with a dreadful aching. Poor, poor little Nollie! What an awful trouble for her! And he, too, went about his work with the nightmare thought that he had to break the news to her that evening. Never had he felt more lonely, more dreadfully in want of the mother of his children. She would have known how to soothe, how to comfort. On her heart the child could have sobbed away grief. And all that hour, from seven to eight, when he was usually in readiness to fulfil the functions of God’s substitute to his parishioners, he spent in prayer of his own, for guidance how to inflict and heal this blow. When, at last, Noel came, he opened. the door to her himself, and, putting back the hair from her forehead, said: “Come in here a moment, my darling!” Noel followed him into the study, and sat down. “I know already, Daddy.” Pierson was more dismayed by this stoicism than he would have been by any natural out burst. He stood, timidly stroking her hair, murmuring to her what he had said to Gratian, and to so many others in these days: “There is no death; look forward to seeing him again; God is merciful” And he marvelled at the calmness of that pale face—so young.
“You are very brave, my child!” he said.
“There’s nothing else to be, is there?”
“Isn’t there anything I can do for you, Nollie?”
“When did you see it?”
“Last night.” She had already known for twenty-four hours without telling him!
“Have you prayed, my darling?”
“It would be ridiculous, Daddy; you don’t know.”
Grievously upset and bewildered, Pierson moved away from her, and said:
“You look dreadfully tired. Would you like a hot bath, and your dinner in bed?”
“I’d like some tea; that’s all.” And she went out.
When he had seen that the tea had gone up to her, he too went out; and, moved by a longing for woman’s help, took a cab to Leila’s flat.
On leaving the concert Leila and Jimmy Fort had secured a taxi; a vehicle which, at night, in wartime, has certain advantages for those who desire to become better acquainted. Vibration, sufficient noise, darkness, are guaranteed; and all that is lacking for the furtherance of emotion is the scent of honeysuckle and roses, or even of the white flowering creeper which on the stoep at High Constantia had smelled so much sweeter than petrol.
When Leila found herself with Fort in that loneliness to which she had been looking forward, she was overcome by an access of nervous silence. She had been passing through a strange time for weeks past. Every night she examined her sensations without quite understanding them as yet. When a woman comes to her age, the world-force is liable to take possession, saying: