“You’re to take this; and I’m going to have some myself.”
“My dear,” said Pierson bewildered; “it’s not yours.”
“Drink it; Daddy! Don’t you know that Leila would never forgive me if I let you go home looking like that. Besides, she told me I was to eat. Drink it. You can send her a nice present. Drink it!” And she stamped her foot.
Pierson took the glass, and sat there nibbling and sipping. It was nice, very! He had not quite realised how much he needed food and drink. Noel returned from the cupboard a second time; she too had a glass and a biscuit.
“There, you look better already. Now you’re to go home at once, in a cab if you can get one; and tell Gratian to make you feed up, or you won’t have a body at all; you can’t do your duty if you haven’t one, you know.”
Pierson smiled, and finished the champagne.
Noel took the glass from him. “You’re my child to-night, and I’m going to send you to bed. Don’t worry, Daddy; it’ll all come right.” And, taking his arm, she went downstairs with him, and blew him a kiss from the doorway.
He walked away in a sort of dream. Daylight was not quite gone, but the moon was up, just past its full, and the search-lights had begun their nightly wanderings. It was a sky of ghosts and shadows, fitting to the thought which came to him. The finger of Providence was in all this, perhaps! Why should he not go out to France! At last; why not? Some better man, who understood men’s hearts, who knew the world, would take his place; and he could go where death made all things simple, and he could not fail. He walked faster and faster, full of an intoxicating relief. Thirza and Gratian would take care of Nollie far better than he. Yes, surely it was ordained! Moonlight had the town now; and all was steel blue, the very air steel-blue; a dream-city of marvellous beauty, through which he passed, exalted. Soon he would be where that poor boy, and a million others, had given their lives; with the mud and the shells and the scarred grey ground, and the jagged trees, where Christ was daily crucified—there where he had so often longed to be these three years past. It was ordained!
And two women whom he met looked at each other when he had gone by, and those words ‘the blighted crow’ which they had been about to speak, died on their lips.
Noel felt light-hearted too, as if she had won a victory. She found some potted meat, spread it on another biscuit, ate it greedily, and finished the pint bottle of champagne. Then she hunted for the cigarettes, and sat down at the piano. She played old tunes—“There is a Tavern in the Town,” “Once I Loved a Maiden Fair,” “Mowing the Barley,” “Clementine,” “Lowlands,” and sang to them such words as she remembered. There was a delicious running in her veins, and once she got up and danced. She was kneeling at the window, looking out, when she heard the door open, and without getting up, cried out: