He walked slowly away from the bungalow, with his head down, sore, angry, and yet-relieved. He knew where he stood; nor did he feel that he had been worsted—those strictures had not touched him. Convicted of immorality, he remained conscious of private justifications, in a way that human beings have. Only one little corner of memory, unseen and uncriticised by his opponent, troubled him. He pardoned himself the rest; the one thing he did not pardon was the fact that he had known Noel before his liaison with Leila commenced; had even let Leila sweep him away on, an evening when he had been in Noel’s company. For that he felt a real disgust with himself. And all the way back to the station he kept thinking: ’How could I? I deserve to lose her! Still, I shall try; but not now—not yet!’ And, wearily enough, he took the train back to town.
Both girls rose early that last day, and went with their father to Communion. As Gratian had said to George: “It’s nothing to me now, but it will mean a lot to him out there, as a memory of us. So I must go.” And he had answered: “Quite right, my dear. Let him have all he can get of you both to-day. I’ll keep out of the way, and be back the last thing at night.” Their father’s smile when he saw them waiting for him went straight to both their hearts. It was a delicious day, and the early freshness had not yet dried out of the air, when they were walking home to breakfast. Each girl had slipped a hand under his arm. ’It’s like Moses or was it Aaron?’ Noel thought absurdly Memory had complete hold of her. All the old days! Nursery hours on Sundays after tea, stories out of the huge Bible bound in mother-o’pearl, with photogravures of the Holy Land—palms, and hills, and goats, and little Eastern figures, and funny boats on the Sea of Galilee, and camels—always camels. The book would be on his knee, and they one on each arm of his chair, waiting eagerly for the pages to be turned so that a new picture came. And there would be the feel of his cheek, prickly against theirs; and the old names with the old glamour—to Gratian, Joshua, Daniel, Mordecai, Peter; to Noel Absalom because of his hair, and Haman because she liked the sound, and Ruth because she was pretty and John because he leaned on Jesus’ breast. Neither of them cared for Job or David, and Elijah and Elisha they detested because they hated the name Eliza. And later days by firelight in the drawing-room, roasting chestnuts just before evening church, and telling ghost stories, and trying to make Daddy eat his share. And hours beside him at the piano, each eager for her special hymns—for Gratian, “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” “Lead, Kindly Light,” and “O God Our Help”; for Noel, “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” the one with “The Hosts of Midian” in it, and “For Those in Peril on the Sea.” And carols! Ah! And Choristers! Noel had loved one deeply—the word “chorister”