The sound of his “What!” gave her quite a stab. It was so utterly horrified.
She said stubbornly: “She came and told me all about it. The boy is dead, as you know. Yes, terrible, isn’t it?” And she looked at him. His face was almost comic, so wrinkled up with incredulity.
“That lovely child! But it’s impossible!”
“The impossible is sometimes true, Jimmy.”
“I refuse to believe it.”
“I tell you it is so,” she said angrily.
“What a ghastly shame!”
“It was her own doing; she said so, herself.”
“And her father—the padre! My God!”
Leila was suddenly smitten with a horrible doubt. She had thought it would disgust him, cure him of any little tendency to romanticise that child; and now she perceived that it was rousing in him, instead, a dangerous compassion. She could have bitten her tongue out for having spoken. When he got on the high horse of some championship, he was not to be trusted, she had found that out; was even finding it out bitterly in her own relations with him, constantly aware that half her hold on him, at least, lay in his sense of chivalry, aware that he knew her lurking dread of being flung on the beach, by age. Only ten minutes ago he had uttered a tirade before the cage of a monkey which seemed unhappy. And now she had roused that dangerous side of him in favour of Noel. What an idiot she had been!
“Don’t look like that, Jimmy. I’m sorry I told you.”
His hand did not answer her pressure in the least, but he muttered:
“Well, I do think that’s the limit. What’s to be done for her?”
Leila answered softly: “Nothing, I’m afraid. Do you love me?” And she pressed his hand hard.
But Leila thought: ’If I were that meercat he’d have taken more notice of my paw!’ Her heart began suddenly to ache, and she walked on to the next cage with head up, and her mouth hard set.
Jimmy Fort walked away from Camelot Mansions that evening in extreme discomfort of mind. Leila had been so queer that he had taken leave immediately after supper. She had refused to talk about Noel; had even seemed angry when he had tried to. How extraordinary some women were! Did they think that a man could hear of a thing like that about such a dainty young creature without being upset! It was the most perfectly damnable news! What on earth would she do—poor little fairy princess! Down had come her house of cards with a vengeance! The whole of her life—the whole of her life! With her bringing-up and her father and all—it seemed inconceivable that she could ever survive it. And Leila had been almost callous about the monstrous business. Women were hard to each other! Bad enough, these things, when it was a simple working girl, but this dainty, sheltered, beautiful child! No, it was altogether too strong—too painful!