In the weeks which succeeded Pierson’s departure, Gratian and George often discussed Noel’s conduct and position by the light of the Pragmatic theory. George held a suitably scientific view. Just as he would point out to his wife—in the physical world, creatures who diverged from the normal had to justify their divergence in competition with their environments, or else go under, so in the ethical world it was all a question of whether Nollie could make good her vagary. If she could, and grew in strength of character thereby, it was ipso facto all right, her vagary would be proved an advantage, and the world enriched. If not, the world by her failure to make good would be impoverished, and her vagary proved wrong. The orthodox and academies—he insisted—were always forgetting the adaptability of living organisms; how every action which was out of the ordinary, unconsciously modified all the other actions together with the outlook, and philosophy of the doer. “Of course Nollie was crazy,” he said, “but when she did what she did, she at once began to think differently about life and morals. The deepest instinct we all have is the instinct that we must do what we must, and think that what we’ve done is really all right; in fact the—instinct of self-preservation. We’re all fighting animals; and we feel in our bones that if we admit we’re beaten—we are beaten; but that every fight we win, especially against odds, hardens those bones. But personally I don’t think she can make good on her own.”
Gratian, whose Pragmatism was not yet fully baked, responded doubtfully:
“No, I don’t think she can. And if she could I’m not sure. But isn’t Pragmatism a perfectly beastly word, George? It has no sense of humour in it at all.”
“It is a bit thick, and in the hands of the young, deuced likely to become Prigmatism; but not with Nollie.”
They watched the victim of their discussions with real anxiety. The knowledge that she would never be more sheltered than she was with them, at all events until she married, gravely impeded the formation of any judgment as to whether or no she could make good. Now and again there would come to Gratian who after all knew her sister better than George—the disquieting thought that whatever conclusion Noel led them to form, she would almost certainly force them to abandon sooner or later.
Three days after her father’s departure Noel had declared that she wanted to work on the land. This George had promptly vetoed.
“You aren’t strong enough yet, my dear: Wait till the harvest begins. Then you can go and help on the farm here. If you can stand that without damage, we’ll think about it.”