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Chapter 14

Fort had been lying there about an hour, sleeping and awake, before that visit: He had dreamed a curious and wonderfully emotionalising dream. A long grey line, in a dim light, neither of night nor morning, the whole length of the battle-front in France, charging in short drives, which carried the line a little forward, with just a tiny pause and suck-back; then on again irresistibly, on and on; and at each rush, every voice, his own among them, shouted "Hooray! the English! Hooray! the English!" The sensation of that advancing tide of dim figures in grey light, the throb and roar, the wonderful, rhythmic steady drive of it, no more to be stopped than the waves of an incoming tide, was gloriously fascinating; life was nothing, death nothing. "Hooray, the English!" In that dream, he was his country, he was every one of that long charging line, driving forward in. those great heaving pulsations, irresistible, on and on. Out of the very centre of this intoxicating dream he had been dragged by some street noise, and had closed his eyes again, in the vain hope that he might dream it on to its end. But it came no more; and lighting his pipe, he lay there wondering at its fervid, fantastic realism. Death was nothing, if his country lived and won. In waking hours he never had quite that single-hearted knowledge of himself. And what marvellously real touches got mixed into the fantastic stuff of dreams, as if something were at work to convince the dreamer in spite of himself--"Hooray!" not "Hurrah!" Just common "Hooray!" And "the English," not the literary "British." And then the soft flower had struck his forehead, and Leila's voice cried: "Jimmy!"

When she left him, his thought was just a tired: 'Well, so it's begun again!' What did it matter, since common loyalty and compassion cut him off from what his heart desired; and that desire was absurd, as little likely of attainment as the moon. What did it matter? If it gave her any pleasure to love him, let it go on! Yet, all the time that he was walking across under the plane trees, Noel seemed to walk in front of him, just out of reach, so that he ached with the thought that he would never catch her up, and walk beside her.

Two days later, on reaching his rooms in the evening, he found this letter on ship's note-paper, with the Plymouth postmark--

    "Fare thee well, and if for ever,
     Then for ever fare thee well"

He read it with a really horrible feeling, for all the world as if he had been accused of a crime and did not know whether he had committed it or not. And, trying to collect his thoughts, he took a cab and drove to her fiat. It was closed, but her address was given him; a bank in Cape Town. He had received his release. In his remorse and relief, so confusing and so poignant, he heard the driver of the cab asking where he wanted to go now. "Oh, back again!" But before they had gone a mile he corrected the address, in an impulse of which next moment he felt thoroughly ashamed. What he was doing indeed, was as indecent as if he were driving from the funeral of his wife to the boudoir of another woman. When he reached the old Square, and the words "To let" stared him in the face, he felt a curious relief, though it meant that he would not see her whom to see for ten minutes he felt he would give a year of life. Dismissing his cab, he stood debating whether to ring the bell. The sight of a maid's face at the window decided him. Mr. Pierson was out, and the young ladies were away. He asked for Mrs. Laird's address, and turned away, almost into the arms of Pierson himself. The greeting was stiff and strange. 'Does he know that Leila's gone?' he thought. 'If so, he must think me the most awful skunk. And am I? Am I?' When he reached home, he sat down to write to Leila. But having stared at the paper for an hour and written these three lines--


"I cannot express to you the feelings with which I received your letter--"

he tore it up. Nothing would be adequate, nothing would be decent. Let the dead past bury its dead--the dead past which in his heart had never been alive! Why pretend? He had done his best to keep his end up. Why pretend?

John Galsworthy