“You are very brave, my child!” he said.
“There’s nothing else to be, is there?”
“Isn’t there anything I can do for you, Nollie?”
“When did you see it?”
“Last night.” She had already known for twenty-four hours without telling him!
“Have you prayed, my darling?”
“It would be ridiculous, Daddy; you don’t know.”
Grievously upset and bewildered, Pierson moved away from her, and said:
“You look dreadfully tired. Would you like a hot bath, and your dinner in bed?”
“I’d like some tea; that’s all.” And she went out.
When he had seen that the tea had gone up to her, he too went out; and, moved by a longing for woman’s help, took a cab to Leila’s flat.
On leaving the concert Leila and Jimmy Fort had secured a taxi; a vehicle which, at night, in wartime, has certain advantages for those who desire to become better acquainted. Vibration, sufficient noise, darkness, are guaranteed; and all that is lacking for the furtherance of emotion is the scent of honeysuckle and roses, or even of the white flowering creeper which on the stoep at High Constantia had smelled so much sweeter than petrol.
When Leila found herself with Fort in that loneliness to which she had been looking forward, she was overcome by an access of nervous silence. She had been passing through a strange time for weeks past. Every night she examined her sensations without quite understanding them as yet. When a woman comes to her age, the world-force is liable to take possession, saying:
“You were young, you were beautiful, you still have beauty, you are not, cannot be, old. Cling to youth, cling to beauty; take all you can get, before your face gets lines and your hair grey; it is impossible that you have been loved for the last time.”
To see Jimmy Fort at the concert, talking to Noel, had brought this emotion to a head. She was not of a grudging nature, and could genuinely admire Noel, but the idea that Jimmy Fort might also admire disturbed her greatly. He must not; it was not fair; he was too old—besides, the girl had her boy; and she had taken care that he should know it. So, leaning towards him, while a bare-shouldered young lady sang, she had whispered:
And he had whispered back:
“Tell you afterwards.”
That had comforted her. She would make him take her home. It was time she showed her heart.
And now, in the cab, resolved to make her feelings known, in sudden shyness she found it very difficult. Love, to which for quite three years she had been a stranger, was come to life within her. The knowledge was at once so sweet, and so disturbing, that she sat with face averted, unable to turn the precious minutes to account. They arrived at the flat without having done more than agree that the streets were dark, and the moon bright. She got out with a sense of bewilderment, and said rather desperately: