“After our last dance I went straight off’—I couldn’t go in. I went down to the river, and walked along the bank; it was beautiful, all grey and hazy, and the trees whispered, and the cows looked holy; and I walked along and thought of you. And a farmer took me for a lunatic, in my dress clothes. Dear Leila, you were so pretty last night, and I did love our dances. I hope you are not tired, and that I shall see you soon again:
“Your affectionate cousin,
And then he had gone and become a parson, and married, and been a widower fifteen years. She remembered the death of his wife, just before she left for South Africa, at that period of disgrace when she had so shocked her family by her divorce. Poor Edward—quite the nicest of her cousins! The only one she would care to see again. He would be very old and terribly good and proper, by now.
Her wheel of Regent’s Park was coming full circle, and the sun was up behind the houses, but still no sound of traffic stirred. She stopped before a flower-bed where was some heliotrope, and took a long, luxurious sniff: She could not resist plucking a sprig, too, and holding it to her nose. A sudden want of love had run through every nerve and fibre of her; she shivered, standing there with her eyes half closed, above the pale violet blossom. Then, noting by her wrist-watch that it was four o’clock, she hurried on, to get to her bed, for she would have to be on duty again at noon. Oh! the war! She was tired! If only it were over, and one could live!...
Somewhere by Twickenham the moon had floated down; somewhere up from Kentish Town the sun came soaring; wheels rolled again, and the seven million sleepers in their million houses woke from morning sleep to that same thought....
Edward Pierson, dreaming over an egg at breakfast, opened a letter in a handwriting which he did not recognise.
“V. A. D. Hospital,
“Mulberry Road, St. John’s Wood N. W.
“Dear cousin Edward,
“Do you remember me, or have I gone too far into the shades of night? I was Leila Pierson once upon a time, and I often think of you and wonder what you are like now, and what your girls are like. I have been here nearly a year, working for our wounded, and for a year before that was nursing in South Africa. My husband died five years ago out there. Though we haven’t met for I dare not think how long, I should awfully like to see you again. Would you care to come some day and look over my hospital? I have two wards under me; our men are rather dears.
“Your forgotten but still affectionate cousin
“P. S. I came across a little letter you once wrote me; it brought back old days.”
No! He had not forgotten. There was a reminder in the house. And he looked up at Noel sitting opposite. How like the eyes were! And he thought: ’I wonder what Leila has become. One mustn’t be uncharitable. That man is dead; she has been nursing two years. She must be greatly changed; I should certainly like to see her. I will go!’ Again he looked at Noel. Only yesterday she had renewed her request to be allowed to begin her training as a nurse.