But on the same afternoon, just about
that hour, Noel was sitting on the river-bank with
her arms folded tight across her chest, and by her
side Cyril Morland, with despair in his face, was
twisting a telegram “Rejoin tonight. Regiment
What consolation that a million such
telegrams had been read and sorrowed over these last
two years! What comfort that the sun was daily
blotted dim for hundreds of bright eyes; the joy of
life poured out and sopped up by the sands of desolation!
“How long have we got, Cyril?”
“I’ve engaged a car from
the Inn, so I needn’t leave till midnight.
I’ve packed already, to have more time.”
“Let’s have it to ourselves,
then. Let’s go off somewhere. I’ve
got some chocolate.”
Morland answered miserably:
“I can send the car up here
for my things, and have it pick me up at the Inn,
if you’ll say goodbye to them for me, afterwards.
We’ll walk down the line, then we shan’t
And in the bright sunlight they walked
hand in hand on each side of a shining rail.
About six they reached the Abbey.
“Let’s get a boat,”
said Noel. “We can come back here when it’s
moonlight. I know a way of getting in, after the
They hired a boat, rowed over to the
far bank, and sat on the stern seat, side by side
under the trees where the water was stained deep green
by the high woods. If they talked, it was but
a word of love now and then, or to draw each other’s
attention to a fish, a bird, a dragon-fly. What
use making plans for lovers the chief theme?
Longing paralysed their brains. They could do
nothing but press close to each other, their hands
enlaced, their lips meeting now and then. On Noel’s
face was a strange fixed stillness, as if she were
waiting expecting! They ate their
chocolates. The sun set, dew began to fall; the
river changed, and grew whiter; the sky paled to the
colour of an amethyst; shadows lengthened, dissolved
slowly. It was past nine already; a water-rat
came out, a white owl flew over the river, towards
the Abbey. The moon had come up, but shed no
light as yet. They saw no beauty in all this too
young, too passionate, too unhappy.
Noel said: “When she’s
over those trees, Cyril, let’s go. It’ll
be half dark.”
They waited, watching the moon, which
crept with infinite slowness up and up, brightening
ever so little every minute.
“Now!” said Noel. And Morland rowed
They left the boat, and she led the
way past an empty cottage, to a shed with a roof sloping
up to the Abbey’s low outer wall.
“We can get over here,” she whispered.
They clambered up, and over, to a
piece of grassy courtyard, and passed on to an inner
court, under the black shadow of the high walls.
“What’s the time?” said Noel.
“Already! Let’s sit here in the dark,
and watch for the moon.”
They sat down close together.
Noel’s face still had on it that strange look
of waiting; and Morland sat obedient, with his hand
on her heart, and his own heart beating almost to
suffocation. They sat, still as mice, and the
moon crept up. It laid a first vague greyness
on the high wall, which spread slowly down, and brightened
till the lichen and the grasses up there were visible;
then crept on, silvering the dark above their heads.
Noel pulled his sleeve, and whispered: “See!”
There came the white owl, soft as a snowflake, drifting
across in that unearthly light, as if flying to the
moon. And just then the top of the moon itself
looked over the wall, a shaving of silvery gold.
It grew, became a bright spread fan, then balanced
there, full and round, the colour of pale honey.
“Ours!” Noel whispered.
From the side of the road Noel listened
till the sound of the car was lost in the folds of
the valley. She did not cry, but passed her hands
over her face, and began to walk home, keeping to the
shadow of the trees. How many years had been
added to her age in those six hours since the telegram
came! Several times in that mile and a half she
stepped into a patch of brighter moonlight, to take
out and kiss a little photograph, then slip it back
next her heart, heedless that so warm a place must
destroy any effigy. She felt not the faintest
compunction for the recklessness of her love it
was her only comfort against the crushing loneliness
of the night. It kept her up, made her walk on
with a sort of pride, as if she had got the best of
Fate. He was hers for ever now, in spite of anything
that could be done. She did not even think what
she would say when she got in. She came to the
avenue, and passed up it still in a sort of dream.
Her uncle was standing before the porch; she could
hear his mutterings. She moved out of the shadow
of the trees, went straight up to him, and, looking
in his perturbed face, said calmly:
“Cyril asked me to say good-bye to you all,
Uncle. Good night!”
“But, I say, Nollie look here you!”
She had passed on. She went up
to her room. There, by the door, her aunt was
standing, and would have kissed her. She drew
“No, Auntie. Not to-night!” And,
slipping by, she locked her door.
Bob and Thirza Pierson, meeting in
their own room, looked at each other askance.
Relief at their niece’s safe return was confused
by other emotions. Bob Pierson expressed his
“Phew! I was beginning
to think we should w have to drag the river. What
girls are coming to!”
“It’s the war, Bob.”
“I didn’t like her face,
old girl. I don’t know what it was, but
I didn’t like her face.”
Neither did Thirza, but she would
not admit it, and encourage Bob to take it to heart.
He took things so hardly, and with such a noise!
She only said: “Poor young
things! I suppose it will be a relief to Edward!”
“I love Nollie!” said
Bob Pierson suddenly. “She’s an affectionate
creature. D-nit, I’m sorry about this.
It’s not so bad for young Morland; he’s
got the excitement though I shouldn’t
like to be leaving Nollie, if I were young again.
Thank God, neither of our boys is engaged. By
George! when I think of them out there, and myself
here, I feel as if the top of my head would come off.
And those politician chaps spouting away in every
country how they can have the cheek!”
Thirza looked at him anxiously.
“And no dinner!” he said
suddenly. “What d’you think they’ve
been doing with themselves?”
“Holding each other’s
hands, poor dears! D’you know what time
it is, Bob? Nearly one o’clock.”
“Well, all I can say is, I’ve
had a wretched evening. Get to bed, old girl.
You’ll be fit for nothing.”
He was soon asleep, but Thirza lay
awake, not exactly worrying, for that was not her
nature, but seeing Noel’s face, pale, languid,
passionate, possessed by memory.