“You must come up and have a cigarette. It’s quite early, still.”
He went up.
“Wait just a minute,” said Leila.
Sitting there with his drink and his cigarette, he stared at some sunflowers in a bowl—Famille Rose—and waited just ten; smiling a little, recalling the nose of the fairy princess, and the dainty way her lips shaped the words she spoke. If she had not had that lucky young devil of a soldier boy, one would have wanted to buckle her shoes, lay one’s coat in the mud for her, or whatever they did in fairytales. One would have wanted—ah! what would one not have wanted! Hang that soldier boy! Leila said he was twenty-two. By George! how old it made a man feel who was rising forty, and tender on the off-fore! No fairy princesses for him! Then a whiff of perfume came to his nostrils; and, looking up, he saw Leila standing before him, in a long garment of dark silk, whence her white arms peeped out.
“Another penny? Do you remember these things, Jimmy? The Malay women used to wear them in Cape Town. You can’t think what a relief it is to get out of my slave’s dress. Oh! I’m so sick of nursing! Jimmy, I want to live again a little!”
The garment had taken fifteen years off her age, and a gardenia, just where the silk crossed on her breast, seemed no whiter than her skin. He wondered whimsically whether it had dropped to her out of the dark!
“Live?” he said. “Why! Don’t you always?”
She raised her hands so that the dark silk fell, back from the whole length of those white arms.
“I haven’t lived for two years. Oh, Jimmy! Help me to live a little! Life’s so short, now.”
Her eyes disturbed him, strained and pathetic; the sight of her arms; the scent of the flower disturbed him; he felt his cheeks growing warm, and looked down.
She slipped suddenly forward on to her knees at his feet, took his hand, pressed it with both of hers, and murmured:
“Love me a little! What else is there? Oh! Jimmy, what else is there?”
And with the scent of the flower, crushed by their hands, stirring his senses, Fort thought: ‘Ah, what else is there, in these forsaken days?’
To Jimmy Fort, who had a sense of humour, and was in some sort a philosopher, the haphazard way life settled things seldom failed to seem amusing. But when he walked away from Leila’s he was pensive. She was a good sort, a pretty creature, a sportswoman, an enchantress; but—she was decidedly mature. And here he was—involved in helping her to “live”; involved almost alarmingly, for there had been no mistaking the fact that she had really fallen in love with him.