When Noel fled, Fort had started forward to stop her; then, realising that with his lameness he could never catch her, he went back and entered Leila’s bedroom.
She had taken off her dress, and was standing in front of her glass, with the cigarette still in her mouth; and the only movement was the curling of its blue smoke. He could see her face reflected, pale, with a little spot of red in each cheek, and burning red ears. She had not seemed to hear him coming in, but he saw her eyes change when they caught his reflection in the mirror. From lost and blank, they became alive and smouldering.
“Noel’s gone!” he said.
She answered, as if to his reflection in the glass
“And you haven’t gone too? Ah, no! Of course—your leg! She fled, I suppose? It was rather a jar, my coming in, I’m afraid.”
“No; it was my coming in that was the jar.”
Leila turned round. “Jimmy! I wonder you could discuss me. The rest—” She shrugged her shoulders—“But that!”
“I was not discussing you. I merely said you were not to be envied for having me. Are you?”
The moment he had spoken, he was sorry. The anger in her eyes changed instantly, first to searching, then to misery. She cried out:
“I was to be envied. Oh! Jimmy; I was!” and flung herself face down on the bed.
Through Fort’s mind went the thought: ‘Atrocious!’ How could he soothe—make her feel that he loved her, when he didn’t—that he wanted her, when he wanted Noel. He went up to the bedside and touched her timidly:
“Leila, what is it? You’re overtired. What’s the matter? I couldn’t help the child’s being here. Why do you let it upset you? She’s gone. It’s all right. Things are just as they were.”
“Yes!” came the strangled echo; “just!”
He knelt down and stroked her arm. It shivered under the touch, seemed to stop shivering and wait for the next touch, as if hoping it might be warmer; shivered again.
“Look at me!” he said. “What is it you want? I’m ready to do anything.”
She turned and drew herself up on the bed, screwing herself back against the pillow as if for support, with her knees drawn under her. He was astonished at the strength of her face and figure, thus entrenched.
“My dear Jimmy!” she said, “I want you to do nothing but get me another cigarette. At my age one expects no more than one gets!” She held out her thumb and finger: “Do you mind?”
Fort turned away to get the cigarette. With what bitter restraint and curious little smile she had said that! But no sooner was he out of the room and hunting blindly for the cigarettes, than his mind was filled with an aching concern for Noel, fleeing like that, reckless and hurt, with nowhere to go. He found the polished birch-wood box which held the cigarettes, and made a desperate effort to dismiss the image of the girl before he again reached Leila. She was still sitting there, with her arms crossed, in the stillness of one whose every nerve and fibre was stretched taut.