Leila had pluck, but little patience. Her one thought was to get away and she at once began settling up her affairs and getting a permit to return to South Africa. The excitements of purchase and preparation were as good an anodyne as she could have taken. The perils of the sea were at full just then, and the prospect of danger gave her a sort of pleasure. ‘If I go down,’ she thought, ’all the better; brisk, instead of long and dreary.’ But when she had the permit and her cabin was booked, the irrevocability of her step came to her with full force. Should she see him again or no? Her boat started in three days, and she must decide. If in compunction he were to be affectionate, she knew she would never keep to her decision, and then the horror would begin again, till again she was forced to this same action. She let the hours go and go till the very day before, when the ache to see him and the dread of it had become so unbearable that she could not keep quiet. Late that afternoon—everything, to the last label, ready—she went out, still undecided. An itch to turn the dagger in her wound, to know what had become of Noel, took her to Edward’s house. Almost unconsciously she had put on her prettiest frock, and spent an hour before the glass. A feverishness of soul, more than of body, which had hung about her ever since that night, gave her colour. She looked her prettiest; and she bought a gardenia at a shop in Baker Street and fastened it in her dress. Reaching the old Square, she was astonished to see a board up with the words: “To let,” though the house still looked inhabited. She rang, and was shown into the drawing-room. She had only twice been in this house before; and for some reason, perhaps because of her own unhappiness, the old, rather shabby room struck her as pathetic, as if inhabited by the past. ‘I wonder what his wife was like,’ she thought: And then she saw, hanging against a strip of black velvet on the wall, that faded colour sketch of the slender young woman leaning forward, with her hands crossed in her lap. The colouring was lavender and old ivory, with faint touches of rose. The eyes, so living, were a little like Gratian’s; the whole face delicate, eager, good. ‘Yes,’ she thought, ’he must have loved you very much. To say good-bye must have been hard.’ She was still standing before it when Pierson came in.
“That’s a dear face, Edward. I’ve come to say good-bye. I’m leaving for South Africa to-morrow.” And, as her hand touched his, she thought: ’I must have been mad to think I could ever have made him love me.’
“Are you—are you leaving him?”
“That’s very brave, and wonderful.”
“Oh! no. Needs must when the devil drives—that’s all. I don’t give up happiness of my own accord. That’s not within a hundred miles of the truth. What I shall become, I don’t know, but nothing better, you may be sure. I give up because I can’t keep, and you know why. Where is Noel?”