“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.
This was flattering and sweet. Times were sad, and pleasure scarce, but—! The roving instinct which had kept him, from his youth up, rolling about the world, shied instinctively at bonds, however pleasant, the strength and thickness of which he could not gauge; or, was it that perhaps for the first time in his life he had been peeping into fairyland of late, and this affair with Leila was by no means fairyland? He had another reason, more unconscious, for uneasiness. His heart, for all his wanderings, was soft, he had always found it difficult to hurt anyone, especially anyone who did him the honour to love him. A sort of presentiment weighed on him while he walked the moonlit streets at this most empty hour, when even the late taxis had ceased to run. Would she want him to marry her? Would it be his duty, if she did? And then he found himself thinking of the concert, and that girl’s face, listening to the tales he was telling her. ‘Deuced queer world,’ he thought, ’the way things go! I wonder what she would think of us, if she knew—and that good padre! Phew!’
He made such very slow progress, for fear of giving way in his leg, and having to spend the night on a door-step, that he had plenty of time for rumination; but since it brought him no confidence whatever, he began at last to feel: ’Well; it might be a lot worse. Take the goods the gods send you and don’t fuss!’ And suddenly he remembered with extreme vividness that night on the stoep at High Constantia, and thought with dismay: ’I could have plunged in over head and ears then; and now—I can’t! That’s life all over! Poor Leila! Me miserum, too, perhaps—who knows!’
When Leila opened her door to Edward Pierson, her eyes were smiling, and her lips were soft. She seemed to smile and be soft all over, and she took both his hands. Everything was a pleasure to her that day, even the sight of this sad face. She was in love and was loved again; had a present and a future once more, not only her own full past; and she must finish with Edward in half an hour, for Jimmy was coming. She sat down on the divan, took his hand in a sisterly way, and said: