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!
“He wants you to go up and stay with him, Bob.”
“Why not both of us?”
“He wants Nollie to come down to me; she’s not well.”
“Not well? What’s the matter?”
To tell him seemed disloyalty to her sex; not to tell him, disloyalty to her husband. A simple consideration of fact and not of principle, decided her. He would certainly say in a moment: ‘Here! Pitch it over!’ and she would have to. She said tranquilly:
“You remember that night when Cyril Morland went away, and Noel behaved so strangely. Well, my dear; she is going to have a child at the beginning of April. The poor boy is dead, Bob; he died for the Country.”
She saw the red tide flow up into his face.
“Poor Edward is dreadfully upset. We must do what we can. I blame myself.” By instinct she used those words.
“Blame yourself? Stuff! That young—!” He stopped.
Thirza said quietly: “No, Bob; of the two, I’m sure it was Noel; she was desperate that day. Don’t you remember her face? Oh! this war! It’s turned the whole world upside down. That’s the only comfort; nothing’s normal”
Bob Pierson possessed beyond most men the secret of happiness, for he was always absorbed in the moment, to the point of unself-consciousness. Eating an egg, cutting down a tree, sitting on a Tribunal, making up his accounts, planting potatoes, looking at the moon, riding his cob, reading the Lessons—no part of him stood aside to see how he was doing it, or wonder why he was doing it, or not doing it better. He grew like a cork-tree, and acted like a sturdy and well-natured dog. His griefs, angers, and enjoyments were simple as a child’s, or as his somewhat noisy slumbers. They were notably well-suited, for Thirza had the same secret of happiness, though her, absorption in the moment did not—as became a woman—prevent her being conscious