Pierson shuddered. “Thank God you did!”
“Yes; I didn’t like that. I told Mrs. Lynch about that one day when I had the fever. She’s a nice lady; she’s seen a lot of us boys: That mud’s not right, you know.” And again his unwounded arm made that restless movement; while the gramophone struck up: “The boys in brown.” The movement of the arm affected Pierson horribly; he rose and, touching the bandaged shoulder, said:
“Good-bye; I hope you’ll soon be quite recovered.”
The young soldier’s lips twisted in the semblance of a smile; his drooped eyelid seemed to try and raise itself.
“Good day, sir,” he said; “and thank you.”
Pierson went back to the hall. The sunlight fell in a pool just inside the open door, and an uncontrollable impulse made him move into it, so that it warmed him up to the waist. The mud! How ugly life was! Life and Death! Both ugly! Poor boys! Poor boys!
A voice behind him said:
“Oh! There you are, Edward! Would you like to see the other ward, or shall I show you our kitchen?”
Pierson took her hand impulsively. “You’re doing a noble work, Leila. I wanted to ask you: Could you arrange for Noel to come and get trained here? She wants to begin at once. The fact is, a boy she is attracted to has just gone out to the Front.”
“Ah!” murmured Leila, and her eyes looked very soft. “Poor child! We shall be wanting an extra hand next week. I’ll see if she could come now. I’ll speak to our Matron, and let you know to-night.” She squeezed his hand hard.
“Dear Edward, I’m so glad to see you again. You’re the first of our family I’ve seen for sixteen years. I wonder if you’d bring Noel to have supper at my flat to-night—Just nothing to eat, you know! It’s a tiny place. There’s a Captain Fort coming; a nice man.”
Pierson accepted, and as he walked away he thought: ’Dear Leila! I believe it was Providence. She wants sympathy. She wants to feel the past is the past. How good women are!’
And the sun, blazing suddenly out of a cloud, shone on his black figure and the little gold cross, in the middle of Portland Place.
Men, even if they are not artistic, who have been in strange places and known many nooks of the world, get the scenic habit, become open to pictorial sensation. It was as a picture or series of pictures that Jimmy Fort ever afterwards remembered his first supper at Leila’s. He happened to have been all day in the open, motoring about to horse farms under a hot sun; and Leila’s hock cup possessed a bland and subtle strength. The scenic sense derived therefrom had a certain poignancy, the more so because the tall child whom he met there did not drink it, and her father seemed but to wet his lips, so that Leila and he had all the rest. Rather a wonderful little scene it made in his mind, very warm, glowing, yet with a strange dark sharpness to it, which came perhaps from the black walls.