Pierson smiled; the smile which always made her sorry for him.
“Good-bye, Leila; you’re very good and kind to me. Good-bye.”
Her bosom swelled with relief and compassion; and—she let him out.
Running upstairs again she thought: ’I’ve just time. What shall I put on? Poor Edward, poor Noel! What colour does Jimmy like? Oh! Why didn’t I keep him those ten years ago—what utter waste!’ And, feverishly adorning herself, she came back to the window, and stood there in the dark to watch, while some jasmine which grew below sent up its scent to her. ‘Would I marry him?’ she thought, ’if he asked me? But he won’t ask me—why should he now? Besides, I couldn’t bear him to feel I wanted position or money from him. I only want love—love—love!’ The silent repetition of that word gave her a wonderful sense of solidity and comfort. So long as she only wanted love, surely he would give it.
A tall figure turned down past the church, coming towards her. It was he! And suddenly she bethought herself. She went to the little black piano, sat down, and began to sing the song she had sung to him ten years ago: “If I could be the falling dew and fall on thee all day!” She did not even look round when he came in, but continued to croon out the words, conscious of him just behind her shoulder in the dark. But when she had finished, she got up and threw her arms round him, strained him to her, and burst into tears on his shoulder; thinking of Noel and that dead boy, thinking of the millions of other boys, thinking of her own happiness, thinking of those ten years wasted, of how short was life, and love; thinking—hardly knowing what she thought! And Jimmy Fort, very moved by this emotion which he only half understood, pressed her tightly in his arms, and kissed her wet cheeks and her neck, pale and warm in the darkness.
Noel went on with her work for a month, and then, one morning, fainted over a pile of dishes. The noise attracted attention, and Mrs. Lynch was summoned.
The sight of her lying there so deadly white taxed Leila’s nerves severely. But the girl revived quickly, and a cab was sent for. Leila went with her, and told the driver to stop at Camelot Mansions. Why take her home in this state, why not save the jolting, and let her recover properly? They went upstairs arm in arm. Leila made her lie down on the divan, and put a hot-water bottle to her feet. Noel was still so passive and pale that even to speak to her seemed a cruelty. And, going to her little sideboard, Leila stealthily extracted a pint bottle of some champagne which Jimmy Fort had sent in, and took it with two glasses and a corkscrew into her bedroom. She drank a little herself, and came out bearing a glass to the girl. Noel shook her head, and her eyes seemed to say: “Do you really think I’m so easily mended?”