“Have one yourself,” she said. “The pipe of peace.”
Fort lit the cigarettes, and sat down on the edge of the bed; and his mind at once went back to Noel.
“Yes,” she said suddenly; “I wonder where she’s gone. Can you see her? She might do something reckless a second time. Poor Jimmy! It would be a pity. And so that monk’s been here, and drunk champagne. Good idea! Get me some, Jimmy!”
Again Fort went, and with him the image of the girl. When he came back the second time; she had put on that dark silk garment in which she had appeared suddenly radiant the fatal night after the Queen’s Hall concert. She took the wineglass, and passed him, going into the sitting-room.
“Come and sit down,” she said. “Is your leg hurting you?”
“Not more than usual,” and he sat down beside her.
“Won’t you have some? ‘In vino veritas;’ my friend.”
He shook his head, and said humbly: “I admire you, Leila.”
“That’s lucky. I don’t know anyone else who, would.” And she drank her champagne at a draught.
“Don’t you wish,” she said suddenly, “that I had been one of those wonderful New Women, all brain and good works. How I should have talked the Universe up and down, and the war, and Causes, drinking tea, and never boring you to try and love me. What a pity!”
But to Fort there had come Noel’s words: “It’s awfully funny, isn’t it?”
“Leila,” he said suddenly, “something’s got to be done. So long as you don’t wish me to, I’ll promise never to see that child again.”
“My dear boy, she’s not a child. She’s ripe for love; and—I’m too ripe for love. That’s what’s the matter, and I’ve got to lump it.” She wrenched her hand out of his and, dropping the empty glass, covered her face. The awful sensation which visits the true Englishman when a scene stares him in the face spun in Fort’s brain. Should he seize her hands, drag them down, and kiss her? Should he get up and leave her alone? Speak, or keep silent; try to console; try to pretend? And he did absolutely nothing. So far as a man can understand that moment in a woman’s life when she accepts the defeat of Youth and Beauty, he understood perhaps; but it was only a glimmering. He understood much better how she was recognising once for all that she loved where she was not loved.
‘And I can’t help that,’ he thought dumbly; ‘simply can’t help that!’ Nothing he could say or do would alter it. No words can convince a woman when kisses have lost reality. Then, to his infinite relief, she took her hands from her face, and said:
“This is very dull. I think you’d better go, Jimmy.”
He made an effort to speak, but was too afraid of falsity in his voice.
“Very nearly a scene!” said Leila. “My God!
“How men hate them! So do I. I’ve had too many in my time; nothing comes of them but a headache next morning. I’ve spared you that, Jimmy. Give me a kiss for it.”