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Title: Hilda - A Story of Calcutta
Author: Duncan, Sara Jeannette, 1862?-1922
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Hilda - A Story of Calcutta" ***

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by the Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions
(www.canadiana.org))



                                 HILDA

                          A STORY OF CALCUTTA

             BY SARAH JEANETTE DUNCAN (MRS. EVERARD COTES)

Author of "A Social Departure," "An American Girl in London," "His
Honour and a Lady," "A Voyage of Consolation," "Vernon's Aunt," "A
Daughter of To-day," etc.



NEW YORK
FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY
PUBLISHERS

Copyright, 1898
By Frederick A. Stokes Company



HILDA



CHAPTER I.


Miss Howe pushed the portière aside with a curved hand and gracefully
separated fingers; it was a staccato movement, and her body followed it
after an instant's poise of hesitation, head thrust a little forward,
eyes inquiring, and a tentative smile, although she knew precisely who
was there. You would have been aware at once that she was an actress.
She entered the room with a little stride, and then crossed it quickly,
the train of her morning gown--it cried out of luxury with the cheapest
voice--taking folds of great audacity, as she bent her face in its loose
mass of hair over Laura Filbert, sitting on the edge of a bamboo sofa,
and said--

"You poor thing! Oh, you _poor_ thing!"

She took Laura's hand as she spoke, and tried to keep it; but the hand
was neutral, and she let it go. "It is a hand," she said to herself, in
one of those quick reflections that so often visited her ready-made,
"that turns the merely inquiring mind away. Nothing but passion could
hold it."

Miss Filbert made the conventional effort to rise, but it came to
nothing, or to a mere embarrassed accent of their greeting. Then her
voice showed this feeling to be merely superficial, made nothing of it,
pushed it to one side.

"I suppose you cannot see the foolishness of your pity," she said. "Oh,
Miss Howe, I am happier than you are--much happier." Her bare feet, as
she spoke, nestled into the coarse Mirzapore rug on the floor, and her
eye lingered approvingly upon an Owari vase three foot high, and thick
with the gilded landscape of Japan which stood near it, in the cheap
magnificence of the squalid room.

Hilda smiled. Her smile acquiesced in the world she had found,
acquiesced with the gladness of an explorer in Laura Filbert as a
feature of it.

"Don't be too sure," she cried; "I am very happy. It is such a pleasure
to see you."

Her gaze embraced Miss Filbert as a person and Miss Filbert as a
pictorial fact; but that was because she could not help it. Her eyes
were really engaged only with the latter Miss Filbert.

"Much happier than you are," Laura repeated, slowly moving her head from
side to side, as if to negative contradiction in advance. She smiled
too; it was as if she had remembered a former habit, from politeness.

"Of course you are--of course!" Miss Howe acknowledged. The words were
mellow and vibrant; her voice seemed to dwell upon them with a kind of
rich affection. Her face covered itself with serious sweetness. "I can
imagine the beatitudes you feel--by your clothes."

The girl drew her feet under her, and her hand went up to the only
semi-conventional item of her attire. It was a brooch that exclaimed in
silver letters, "Glory to His Name!" "It is the dress of the Army in
this country," she said; "I would not change it for the wardrobe of any
queen."

"That's just what I mean." Miss Howe leaned back in her chair with her
head among its cushions, and sent her words fluently across the room,
straight and level with the glance from between her half-closed eyelids.
A fine sensuous appreciation of the indolence it was possible to enjoy
in the East clung about her. "To live on a plane that lifts you up like
that--so that you can defy all criticism and all convention, and go
about the streets like a mark of exclamation at the selfishness of the
world--there must be something very consummate in it or you couldn't go
on. At least I couldn't."

"I suppose I do look odd to you." Her voice took a curious soft,
uplifted note. "I wear three garments only--the garments of my sisters
who plant the young shoots in the rice-fields, and carry bricks for the
building of rich men's houses, and gather the dung of the roadways to
burn for fuel. If the Army is to conquer India it must march bare-footed
and bare-headed all the way. All the way," Laura repeated, with a tremor
of musical sadness. Her eyes were fixed in soft appeal upon the other
woman's.

"And if the sun beats down upon my uncovered head, I think, 'it struck
more fiercely upon Calvary'; and if the way is sharp to my unshod feet,
I say, 'At least I have no cross to bear.'" The last words seemed almost
a chant, and her voice glided from them into singing----

    "The blessed Saviour died for me,
       On the cross! On the cross!
     He bore my sins at Calvary,
       On the rugged cross!"

She sang softly, her body thrust a little forward in a tender swaying--

    "Behold His hands and feet and side,
     The crown of thorns, the crimson tide.
     'Forgive them, Father!' loud he cried,
       On the rugged cross!"

"Oh, thank you!" Miss Howe exclaimed. Then she murmured again, "That's
just what I mean."

A blankness came over the girl's face as a light cloud will cross the
moon. She regarded Hilda from behind it with penetrant anxiety. "Did you
really enjoy that hymn?" she asked.

"Indeed I did."

"Then, dear Miss Howe, I think you cannot be very far from the kingdom."

"I? Oh, I have my part in a kingdom." Her voice caressed the idea. "And
the curious thing is that we are all aristocrats who belong to it. Not
the vulgar kind, you understand--but no, you don't understand. You'll
have to take my word for it." Miss Howe's eyes sought a red hibiscus
flower that looked in at the window half drowned in sunlight, and the
smile in them deepened. The flower admitted so naïvely that it had no
business to be there.

"Is it the Kingdom of God and His righteousness?" Laura Filbert's clear
glance was disturbed by a ray of curiosity, but the inflexible quality
of her tone more than counterbalanced this.

"There's nothing about it in the Bible, if that's what you mean. And yet
I think the men who wrote 'The time of the singing of birds has come,'
and 'I will lift mine eyes unto the hills,' must have belonged to it."
She paused, with an odd look of discomfiture. "But one shouldn't talk
about things like that--it takes the bloom off. Don't you feel that way
about your privileges now and then? Don't they look rather dusty and
battered to you after a day's exposure in Bow Bazaar?"

There came a light crunch of wheels on the red kunker drive outside and
a switch past the bunch of sword ferns that grew beside the door. The
muffled crescendo of steps on the stair and the sound of an inquiry
penetrated from beyond the portière, and without further preliminary
Duff Lindsay came into the room.

"Do I interrupt a rehearsal?" he asked; but there was nothing in the way
he walked across the room to Hilda Howe to suggest that the idea abashed
him. For her part, she rose and made one short step to meet him, and
then received him, as it were, with both hands and all her heart.

"How ridiculous you are!" she cried. "Of course not. And let me tell you
it is very nice of you to come this very first day, when one was dying
to be welcomed. Miss Filbert came too, and we have been talking about
our respective walks in life. Let me introduce you. Miss
Filbert--Captain Filbert, of the Salvation Army--Mr. Duff Lindsay of
Calcutta."

She watched with interest the gravity with which they bowed, and
differentiated it; his the simple formality of his class, Laura's a
repressed hostility to such an epitome of the world as he looked,
although any Bond street tailor would have impeached his waistcoat, and
one shabby glove had manifestly never been on. Yet Miss Filbert's first
words seemed to show a slight unbending. "Won't you sit there?" she
said, indicating the sofa corner she had been occupying. "You get the
glare from the window where you are." It was virtually a command,
delivered with a complete air of dignity and authority; and Lindsay, in
some confusion, found himself obeying. "Oh, thank you, thank you," he
said. "One doesn't really mind in the least. Do you--do you object to
it? Shall I close the shutters?"

"If you do," said Miss Howe delightedly, "we shall not be able to see."

"Neither we should," he assented; "the others are closed already. Very
badly built, these Calcutta houses, aren't they? Have you been long in
India, Miss--Captain Filbert?"

"I served a year up-country and then fell ill and had to go home on
furlough. The native food didn't suit me. I am stationed in Calcutta
now, but I have only just come."

"Pleasant time of the year to arrive," Mr. Lindsay remarked.

"Yes; but we are not particular about that. We love all the times and
the seasons, since every one brings its appointed opportunity. Last
year, in Mugridabad, there were more souls saved in June than in any
other month."

"Really?" asked Mr. Lindsay; but he was not looking at her with those
speculations. The light had come back upon her face.

"I will say good-bye now," said Captain Filbert. "I have a meeting at
half-past five. Shall we have a word of prayer before I go?"

She plainly looked for immediate acquiescence; but Miss Howe said,
"Another time, dear."

"Oh, why not?" exclaimed Duff Lindsay. Hilda put the semblance of a
rebuke into her glance at him, and said, "Certainly not."

"Oh," Captain Filbert cried, "don't think you can escape that way! I
will pray for you long and late to-night, and ask my lieutenant to do so
too. Don't harden your heart, Miss Howe--the Lord is waiting to be
compassionate."

The two were silent, and Laura walked toward the door. Just where the
sun slanted into the room and made leaf-patterns on the floor, she
turned and stood for an instant in the full tide of it; and it set all
the loose tendrils of her pale yellow hair in a little flame, and gave
the folds of the flesh-coloured sari that fell over her
shoulder the texture of draperies so often depicted as celestial. The
sun sought into her face, revealing nothing but great purity of line and
a clear pallor, except where below the wide, light-blue eyes two
ethereal shadows brushed themselves. Under the intentness of their gaze
she made as if she would pass out without speaking; and the tender
curves of her limbs, as she wavered, could not have been matched out of
mediæval stained glass. But her courage, or her conviction, came back to
her at the door, and she raised her hand and pointed at Hilda.

"She's got a soul worth saving."

Then the portière fell behind her, and nothing was said in the room
until the pad of her bare feet had ceased upon the stair.

"She came out in the _Bengal_ with us," Hilda told him--this is not a
special instance of it, but she could always gratify Duff Lindsay in
advance--"and she was desperately seedy, poor girl. I looked after her a
little, but it was mistaken kindness, for now she's got me on her mind.
And as the two hundred and eighty million benighted souls of India are
her continual concern, I seem a superfluity. To think of being the two
hundred and eighty-first millionth oppresses one."

Lindsay listened with a look of accustomed happiness.

"You weren't at that end of the ship!" he demanded.

"Of course I was--we all were. And some of us, little Miss Stace, for
instance--thankful enough at the prospect of cold meat and sardines for
tea every night for a whole month. And after Suez ices for dinner on
Sundays. It was luxury."

Lindsay was pulling an aggrieved moustache. "I don't call it fair or
friendly," he said, "when you know how easily it could have been
arranged. Your own sense of the fitness of things should have told you
that the second-class saloon was no place for you. For _you_!"

Plainly she did not intend to argue the point. She poised her chin in
her hand and looked away over his head, and he could not help seeing, as
he had seen before, that her eyes were beautiful. But this had been so
long acknowledged between them that she could hardly have been conscious
that she was insisting on it afresh. Then, by the time he might have
thought her launched upon a different meditation, her mind swept back to
his protest, like a whimsical bird.

"I didn't want to extract anything from the mercantile community of
Calcutta in advance," she said. "It would be most unbusinesslike.
Stanhope has been equal to bringing us out; but I quite see myself, as
leading lady, taking round the hat before the end of the season. Then I
think," she said with defiance, "that I shall avoid you."

"And pray why?"

"Because you would put too much in. According to your last letters you
are getting beastly rich. You would take all the tragedy out of the
situation, and my experience would vanish in your cheque."

"I don't know why my feelings should always be cuffed out of the way of
your experiences," Lindsay said. She retorted, "Oh, yes, you do;" and
they regarded each other through an instant's silence with visible good
fellowship.

"A reasonably strong company this time?" Lindsay asked.

"Thank you. 'Company' is gratifying. For a month we have been a
'troupe'--in the first-class end. Fairish. Bad to middling. Fifteen of
us, and when we are not doing Hamlet and Ophelia we can please with the
latest thing in rainbow chiffon done on mirrors with a thousand
candle-power. Bradley and I will have to do most of the serious work.
But I have improved--oh, a lot. You wouldn't know my Lady Whippleton."

It was a fervid announcement, but it carried an implication which
appeared to prevent Lindsay's kindling.

"Then Bradley is here too?" he remarked.

"Oh, yes," she said; and an instinct sheathed itself in her face. "But
it is much better than it was, really. He is hardly ever troublesome
now. He understands. And he teaches me a great deal more than I can tell
you. You know," she asserted, with the effect of taking an independent
view, "as an artist he has my unqualified respect."

"You have a fine disregard for the fact that artists are men when they
are not women;" Duff said. "I don't believe their behaviour is a bit
more affected by their artistry than it would be by a knowledge of the
higher mathematics."

She turned indignant eyes on him. "Fancy _your_ saying that! Fancy your
having the impertinence to offer me so absurd a sophistry! At what
Calcutta dinner-table did you pick it up?" she said derisively. "Well,
it shows that one can't trust one's best friend loose among the
conventions!"

He had decided that it would be a trifle edged to say that such matters
were not often discussed at Calcutta dinner-tables, when she added, with
apparent inconsistency and real dejection, "It _is_ a hideous bore."

Lindsay saw his point admitted, and even in the way she brushed it aside
he felt that she was generous. Yet something in him--perhaps the
primitive hunting instinct, perhaps a more sophisticated Scotch impulse
to explore the very roots of every matter, tempted him to say, "He gives
up a good deal, doesn't he, for his present gratification?"

"He gives up everything! That is the disgusting part of it. Leander
Morris offered him--but why should I tell you? It's humiliating enough
in the very back of one's mind."

"He is a clever fellow, no doubt."

"Not too clever to act with me! Oh, we go beautifully--we melt, we run
together. He has given me some essential things, and now I can give them
back to him. I begin to think that is what keeps him now. It must be
awfully satisfying to generate artistic life in--in anybody, and watch
it grow."

"Doubtless," said Lindsay, with his eyes on the carpet; and her eyebrows
twitched together, but she said nothing. Although she knew his very
moderate power of analysis, he seemed to look, with his eyes on the
carpet, straight into the subject, to perceive it with a cynical
clearness, and as Hilda watched him a little hardness came about her
mouth. "Well," he said, visibly detaching himself from the matter, "it's
a satisfaction to have you back. I have been doing nothing, literally,
since you went away, but making money and playing tennis. Existence, as
I look back upon it, is connoted by a varying margin of profit and a
vast sward."

She looked at him with eyes in which sympathy stood remotely,
considering the advisability of returning. "It's a pity you can't act,"
she said; "then you could come away and let it all go."

Lindsay smiled at her across the gulf he saw fixed. "How simple life is
to you!" he said. "But any way, I couldn't act."

"Oh, no, you couldn't, you couldn't! You are too intensely absorbent,
you are too rigidly individual. The flame in you would never consent,
even for an instant, to be the flame in anybody else--any of those
people who, for the purpose of the stage, are called imaginary. Never!"

It seemed a punishment, but all Lindsay said was: "I wish you would go
on. You can't think how gratifying it is--after the tennis."

"If I went on I have an idea that I might be disagreeable."

"Oh, then stop. We can't quarrel yet--I've hardly seen you. Are you
comfortable here? Would you like some French novels?"

"Yes, thank you. Yes, please!" She grew before him into a light and
conventional person, apparently on her guard against freedom of speech.
He moved a blind and ineffectual hand about to find the spring she had
detached herself from, and after failing for a quarter of an hour he got
up to go.

"I shan't bother you again before Saturday," he said. "I know what a
week it will be at the theatre. Remember you are to give the man his
orders about the brougham. I can get on perfectly with the cart.
Good-bye! Calcutta is waiting for you."

"Calcutta is never impatient," said Miss Howe. "It is waiting with yawns
and much whiskey and soda." She gave him a stately inclination with her
hand, and he overcame the temptation to lay his own on his heart in a
burlesque of it. At the door he remembered something, and turned. He
stood looking back precisely where Laura Filbert had stood, but the sun
was gone. "You might tell me more about your friend of the altruistic
army," he said.

"You saw, you heard, you know."

"But----"

"Oh," cried she, disregardingly, "you can discover her for yourself, at
the Army Headquarters in Bentinck street--you man!"

Lindsay closed the door behind him without replying, and half-way down
the stairs her voice appealed to him over the bannisters.

"You might as well forget that. I didn't particularly mean it."

"I know you didn't," he returned. "You woman! But you yourself--you're
not going to play with your heavenly visitant?"

Hilda leaned upon the bannisters, her arms dropping over from the
elbows. "I suppose I may look at her," she said; and her smile glowed
down upon him.

"Do you think it really rewards attention--the type, I mean?"

"How you will talk of types! Didn't you see that she was unique? You may
come back, if you like, for a quarter of an hour, and we will discuss
her."

Lindsay looked at his watch. "I would come back for a quarter of an hour
to discuss anything or nothing," he replied, "but there isn't time. I am
dining with the Archdeacon. I must go to church."

"Why not be original and dine with the Archdeacon without going to
church? Why not say on arrival: 'My dear Archdeacon, your sermon and
your mutton the same evening--_c'est trop_! I cannot so impose upon your
generosity. I have come for the mutton!'"

Thus was Captain Laura Filbert superseded, as doubtless often before, by
an orthodox consideration. Duff Lindsay drove away in his cart; and
still, for an appreciable number of seconds, Miss Howe stood leaning
over the bannisters, her eyes fixed full of speculation on the place
where he had stood. She was thinking of a scene--a dinner with an
Archdeacon--and of the permanent satisfaction to be got from it; and she
renounced almost with a palpable sigh the idea of the Archdeacon's
asking her.



CHAPTER II.


"Oh, her gift!" said Alicia Livingstone. "It is the lowest, isn't it--in
the scale of human endowment? Mimicry."

Miss Livingstone handed her brother his tea as she spoke, but turned her
eyes and her delicate chin toward Duff Lindsay with the protest.
Lindsay's cup was at his lips, and his eyebrows went up over it as if
they would answer before his voice was set at liberty.

"Mimicry isn't a fair word," he said. "The mimic doesn't interpret. He's
a mere thief of expression. You can always see him behind his stolen
mask. The actress takes a different rank. This one does, anyway."

"You're mixing her up with the apes and the monkeys," remarked
Surgeon-Major Livingstone.

"Mere imitators!" cried Mrs. Barberry.

Alicia did not allow the argument to pursue her. She smiled upon their
energy, and, so to speak, disappeared. It was one of her little ways,
and since it left seeming conquerors on her track nobody quarrelled with
it.

"I've met them in London," she said. "Oh, I remember one hot little
North Kensington flat full of them, and their cigarettes--and they were
always disappointing. There seemed to be, somehow, no basis--nothing to
go upon."

She looked from one to the other of her party with a graceful,
deprecating movement of her head, a head which people were unanimous in
calling more than merely pretty and more than ordinarily refined. That
was the cursory verdict, the superficial thing to see and say; it will
do to go on with. From the way Lindsay looked at her as she spoke, he
might have been suspected of other discoveries, possible only to the
somewhat privileged in this blind world, where intimacy must lend a lens
to find out anything at all.

"You found that they had no selves," he said, and the manner of his
words was encouraging and provocative. His proposition was obscured to
him for the instant by his desire to obtain the very last of her
comment, and it might be seen that this was habitual with him. "But Miss
Hilda Howe has one."

"Is she a lady?" asked Mrs. Barberry.

"I don't know. She's an individual. I prefer to rest my claim for her on
that."

"Your claim to what?" trembled upon Miss Livingstone's lips, but she
closed them instead and turned her head again to listen to Mrs.
Barberry. The turns of Alicia's head had a way of punctuating the
conversations in which she was interested, imparting elegance and
relief.

"I saw her in _A Woman of Honour_, last cold weather," Mrs. Barberry
said; "I took a dinner-party of five girls and five subalterns from the
Fort, and I said, 'Never again!' Fortunately the girls were just out,
and not one of them understood, but those poor boys didn't know where to
look! And no more did I. So disgustingly real."

Alicia's eyes veiled themselves to rest on a ring on her finger, and a
little smile, which was inconsistent with the veiling, hovered about her
lips.

"I was in England last year," she said; "I--I saw _A Woman of Honour_ in
London. What could possibly be done with it by an Australian scratch
company in a Calcutta theatre! Imagination halts."

"Miss Howe did something with it," observed Mr. Lindsay. "That and one
or two other things carried one through last cold weather. One supported
even the gaieties of Christmas week with fortitude, conscious that there
was something to fall back upon. I remember I went to the State ball,
and cheerfully."

"That's saying a good deal, isn't it?" commented Dr. Livingstone,
vaguely aware of an ironical intention. "By Jove, yes."

"Hamilton Bradley is good, too, isn't he?" Mrs. Barberry said. "Such a
magnificent head. I adore him in Shakespeare."

"He knows the conventions, and uses them with security," Lindsay
replied, looking at Alicia; and she, with a little courageous air,
demanded: "Is the story true?"

"The story of their relations? I suppose there are fifty. One of them
is."

Mrs. Barberry frowned at Lindsay in a manner which was itself a
reminiscence of amateur theatricals. "Their relations!" she murmured to
Dr. Livingstone. "What awful things to talk about."

"The story I mean," Alicia explained, "is to the effect that Mr.
Bradley, who is married, but unimportantly, made a heavy bet, when he
met this girl, that he would subdue her absolutely through her passion
for her art--I mean, of course, her affections----"

"My dear girl, we know what you mean," cried Mrs. Barberry, entering a
protest, as it were, on behalf of the gentlemen.

"And precisely the reverse happened."

"One imagines it was something like that," Lindsay said.

"Oh, did she know about the bet?" cried Mrs. Barberry.

"That's as you like to believe. I fancy she knew about the man," Lindsay
contributed again.

"Tables turned, eh? Dare say it served him right," remarked Dr.
Livingstone. "If you really want to come to the laboratory, Mrs.
Barberry, we ought to be off."

"He is going to show me a bacillus," Mrs. Barberry announced with
enthusiasm. "Plague, or cholera, or something really bad. He caught it
two days ago, and put it in jelly for me--wasn't it dear of him?
Good-bye, you nice thing,"--Mrs. Barberry addressed Alicia--"Good-bye,
Mr. Lindsay. Fancy a live bacillus from Hong Kong! I should like it
better if it came from fascinating Japan, but still--good-bye."

With the lady's departure an air of wontedness seemed to repossess the
room and the two people who were left. Things fell into their places,
one could observe relative beauty, on the walls and on the floor, in
Alicia's hair and in her skirt. Little meanings attached themselves--to
oval portraits of ladies, evidently ancestral, whose muslin sleeves were
tied with blue ribbon, to Byzantine-looking Persian paintings, to odd
brass bowls and faint-coloured embroideries. The air became full of
agreeable exhalations, traceable to inanimate objects, or to a rose in a
vase of common country glass; and if one turned to Alicia, one could
almost observe the process by which they were absorbed in her and given
forth again with a delicacy more vague. Lindsay sometimes thought of the
bee and flowers and honey, but always abandoned the simile as a trifle
gross and material. Certainly, as she sat there in her grace and
slenderness and pale clear tints--there was an effect of early morning
about her that made the full tide of other women's sunlight
vulgar--anyone would have been fastidious in the choice of a figure to
present her in. With suspicion of haughtiness she was drawn for the
traditional marchioness; but she lifted her eyes and you saw that she
appealed instead. There was an art in the doing of her hair, a dainty
elaboration that spoke of the most approved conventions beneath, yet it
was impossible to mistake the freedom of spirit that lay in the lines of
her blouse. Even her gracefulness ran now and then into a downrightness
of movement which suggested the assertion of a primitive sincerity in a
personal world of many effects. Into her making of tea, for example, she
put nothing more sophisticated than sugar, and she ordered more bread
and butter in the worst possible Hindustani without a thought except
that the bread and butter should be brought. Lindsay liked to think that
with him she was particularly simple and direct, that he was of those
who freed her from the pretty consciousness, the elegant restraint that
other people fixed upon her. It must be admitted that this conviction
had reason in establishing itself, and it is perhaps not surprising
that, in the security of it, he failed to notice occasions when it would
not have held, of which this was plainly one. Alicia reflected, with her
cheek against the Afghan wolf-skins on the back of the chair. It was
characteristic of her eyes that one could usually see things being
turned over in them. She would sometimes keep people waiting while she
thought. She thought perceptibly about Hilda Howe, slanting her absent
gaze between sheltering eyelids to the floor. Presently she re-arranged
the rose in its green glass vase and said: "Then it's impossible not to
be interested."

"I thought you would find it so."

Alicia was further occupied in bestowing small fragments of cress
sandwich upon a terrier. "Fancy your being so sure," she said, "that you
could present her entertainingly!" She looked past him toward the soft
light that came in at the draped window, and he was not aware that her
regard held him fast by the way.

"Anyone could," he said cheerfully; "she presents herself. One is only
the humblest possible medium. And the most passive."

Alicia's eyes still rested upon the light from the window. It
silhouetted a rare fern from Assam, it certainly rewarded them.

"I like to hear you talk about her. Tell me some more."

"Haven't I exhausted metaphor in describing her?"

"Yes," said Miss Livingstone, with conviction; "but I'm not a bit
satisfied. A few simple facts sometimes--sometimes are better. Wasn't it
a little difficult to make her acquaintance?"

"Not in the very least. I saw her in _A Woman of Honour_ and was
charmed. Charmed in a new way. Next day I discovered her address--it's
obscure--and sent up my card for permission to tell her so. I explained
to her that one would have hesitated at home, but here one was protected
by _dustur_.[1] And she received me warmly. She gave me to understand
that she was not overwhelmed with tribute of that kind from Calcutta.
The truthful ring of it was pathetic, poor dear."

[Footnote 1: Custom.]

"That was in--"

"In February."

"In February we were at Nice," Alicia said, musingly. Then she took up
her divining-rod again. "One can imagine that she was grateful. People
of that kind--how snobbish I sound, but you know what I mean--are rather
stranded in Calcutta, aren't they? They haven't any world here;" and
with the quick glance which deprecated her timid clevernesses, she
added, "The arts conspire to be absent."

"Ah, don't misunderstand. If there was any gratitude it was all mine.
But we met as kindred, if I may vaunt myself so much. A mere theory of
life will go a long way, you know, toward establishing a claim of that
sort. And, at all events, she is good enough to treat me as if she
admitted it."

"What is her theory of life?" Alicia demanded, quickly. "I should be
glad of a new one."

Lindsay's communicativeness seemed to contract a little, as at the touch
of a finger light but cold.

"I don't think she has ever told me," he said. "No, I am sure she has
not." His reflection was, "It is her garment--and how could it fit
another woman?"

"But you have divined it--she has let you do that! You can give me your
impression."

He recognised her bright courage in venturing upon impalpabilities, but
not without a shade of embarrassment.

"Perhaps. But having perceived to pass on--it doesn't follow that one
can. I don't seem able to lay my hand upon the signs and symbols."

The faintest look of disappointment, the slightest cloud of submission,
appeared upon Miss Livingstone's face.

"Oh, I know!" she said. "You are making me feel dreadfully out of it,
but I know. It surrounds her like a kind of atmosphere, an intellectual
atmosphere. Though I confess that is the part I don't understand in
connection with an actress."

There was a sudden indifference in this last sentence. Alicia lay back
upon her wolf-skins like a long-stemmed flower cast down among them, and
looked away from the subject at the teacups. Duff picked up his hat. He
had the subtlest intimations with women.

"It's an intoxicating atmosphere," he said. "My continual wonder is that
I'm not in love with her. A fellow in a novel, now, in my situation,
would be embroiled with half his female relations by this time, and
taking his third refusal with a haggard eye."

Alicia still contemplated the teacups, but with intentness. She lifted
her head to look at them; one might have imagined a beauty suddenly
revealed.

"Why aren't you?" she said. "I wonder, too."

"I should like it enormously," he laughed. "I've lain awake at nights
trying to find out why it isn't so. Perhaps you'll be able to tell me. I
think it must be because she's such a confoundedly good fellow."

Alicia turned her face toward him sweetly, and the soft grey fur made a
shadow on the whiteness of her throat. Her buffeting was over; she was
full of an impulse to stand again in the sun.

"Oh, you mustn't depend on me," she said. "But why are you going? Don't
go. Stay and have another cup of tea."



CHAPTER III.


The fact that Stephen Arnold and Duff Lindsay had spent the same terms
at New College, and now found themselves again together in the social
poverty of the Indian capital, would not necessarily explain their
walking in company through the early dusk of a December evening in
Bentinck street. It seems desirable to supply a reason why any one
should be walking there, to begin with, any one, at all events, not a
Chinaman or a coolie, a dealer in second-hand furniture or an
able-bodied seaman luxuriously fingering wages in both trouser pockets,
and describing an erratic line of doubtful temper toward the nearest
glass of country spirits. Or, to be quite comprehensive, a draggled
person with a Bulgarian, a Levantine or a Japanese smile, who no longer
possessed a carriage, to whom the able-bodied seamen represented the
whole port. The cramped, twisting thoroughfare was full of people like
this; they overflowed from the single narrow border of pavement to the
left and walked indifferently upon the road among the straw-scatterings
and the dung-droppings; and when the tramcar swept through and past with
prodigious whistlings and ringings, they swerved as little as possible
aside, for three parts of the tide of them were neither white nor black,
but many shades of brown, written down in the census as "of mixed blood"
and wearing still, through the degenerating centuries, an eyebrow, a
nostril of the first Englishmen who came to conjugal ties of Hindustan.
The place sent up to the stars a vast noise of argument and anger and
laughter, of the rattling of hoofs and wheels; but the babel was ordered
in its exaggeration, the red turban of a policeman here and there
denoted little more than a unit in the crowd. There were gas-lamps, and
they sent a ripple of light like a sword-thrust along the gutter beside
the banquette, where a pariah dog nosed a dead rat and was silhouetted.
They picked out, too, the occasional pair of Corinthian columns, built
into the squalid stucco sheer with the road that made history for
Bentinck street, and explained that whatever might be the present colour
of the little squat houses and the tall lean ones that loafed together
into the fog round the first bend, they were once agreeably pink and
yellow, with the magenta cornice, the blue capital, that fancy dictated.
There, where the way narrowed with an out-jutting balcony high up, and
the fog thickened and the lights grew vague, the multitude of heads
passed into the blur beyond with an effect of mystery, pictorial,
remote; but where Arnold and Lindsay walked the squalor was warm, human,
practical. A torch flamed this way and that stuck in the wall over the
head of a squatting bundle and his tray of three-cornered leaf-parcels
of betel, and an oiled rag in a tin pot sent up an unsteady little
flame, blue and yellow, beside a sweetmeat seller's basket, and showed
his heap of cakes that they were well-browned and full of butter. From
the "Cape of Good Cheer," where many bottles glistened in rows inside,
came a braying upon the conch, and a flame of burnt brandy danced along
the bar to the honour and propitiation of Lakshmi, that the able-bodied
seaman might be thirsty when he came, for the "Cape of Good Cheer" did
not owe its prosperity, as its name might suggest, to any Providence of
Christian theology. But most of the brightness abode in the Chinamen's
shoe-shops, where many lamps shone on the hammering and the stitching.
There were endless shoe-shops, and they all belonged to Powson or
Singson or Samson, while one signboard bore the broad impertinence,
"Macpherson." The proprietors stood in the door, the smell came out in
the street--that smell of Chinese personality steeped in fried oil and
fresh leather that out-fans even the south wind in Bentinck street. They
were responsible but not anxious, the proprietors; they buried their fat
hands in their wide sleeves and looked up and down, stolid and smiling.
They stood in their alien petticoat trousers for the commercial
stability of the locality, and the rows of patent-leather slippers that
glistened behind them testified to it further. Everything else shifted
and drifted, with a perpetual change of complexion, a perpetual
worsening of clothes. Only Powson bore a permanent yoke of prosperity.
It lay round his thick brown neck with the low clean line of his blue
cotton smock, and he carried it without offensive consciousness, looking
up and down by no means in search of customers, rather in the exercise
of the opaque, inscrutable philosophy tied up in his queue.

Lindsay liked Bentinck street as an occasional relapse from the scenic
standards of pillared and verandahed Calcutta, and made personal
business with his Chinaman for the sake of the racial impression thrown
into the transaction. Arnold, in his cassock, waited in the doorway with
his arms crossed behind him, and his thin face thrust as far as it would
go into the air outside. It is possible that some intelligence might
have seen in this priest a caricature of his profession, a figure to be
copied for the curate of burlesque, so accurately did he reproduce the
common signs of the ascetic school. His face would have been womanish in
its plainness but for the gravity that had grown upon it, only
occasionally dispersed by a smile of scholarliness and sweetness which
had the effect of being permitted, conceded. He had the long thin nose
which looked as if, for preference, it would be for ever thrust among
the pages of the Fathers; and anyone might observe the width of his
mouth without perhaps detecting the patience and decision of the upper
lip. The indignity of spectacles he did not yet wear, but it hovered
over him; it was indispensable to his personality in the long run. In
figure he was indifferently tall and thin and stooping, made to pass
unobservedly along a pavement, or with the directness of humble but
important business among crowds. At Oxford he had interested some of his
friends and worried others by wistful inclinations toward the shelter of
that Mother Church which bids her children be at rest and leave to her
the responsibility. Lindsay, with his robust sense of a right to exist
on the old unmuddled fighting terms, to be a sane and decent animal,
under civilised moral governance a miserable sinner, was among those who
observed his waverings without prejudice, or anything but an
affectionate solicitude that whichever way Arnold went he should find
the satisfactions he sought. The conviction that settled the matter was
accidental, the work of a moment, a free instinct and a thing made with
hands--the dead Shelley where the sea threw him and the sculptor fixed
him, under his memorial dome in the gardens of University College. Here
one leafy afternoon Arnold came so near praying that he raised his head
in some confusion at the thought of the profane handicraftsman who might
claim the vague tribute of his spirit. Then fell the flash by which he
saw, deeply concealed in his bosom and disguised with a host of
spiritual wrappings, what he uncompromisingly identified as the artistic
bias, the æsthetic point of view. The discovery worked upon him so that
he spent three days without consummated prayer at all, occupied in the
effort to find out whether he could yet indeed worship in purity of
spirit, or how far the paralysis of the ideal of mere beauty had crept
upon his devotions. In the end he cast the artistic bias, the æsthetic
point of view, as far from him as his will would carry, and walked away
in another direction from which, if he turned his head, he could see the
Church of Rome sitting with her graven temptations gathered up in her
skirts, looking mournfully after him. He had been a priest of the Clarke
Mission to Calcutta, a "Clarke Brother," six years when he stood in the
door of Ahsing's little shop in Bentinck street while Lindsay explained
to Ahsing his objection to patent-leather toe caps; six years which had
not worn or chilled him, because, as he would have cheerfully admitted,
he had recognised the facts and lowered his personal hopes of
achievement--lowered them with a heroism which took account of himself
as no more than a spiritual molecule rightly inspired and moving to the
great future, already shining behind coming æons, of the universal
Kingdom. Indeed, his humility was scientific; he made his deductions
from the granular nature of all change, moral and material. He never
talked or thought of the Aryan souls that were to shine with peculiar
oriental brightness as stars in the crown of his reward; he saw rather
the ego and the energy of him merged in a wave of blessed tendency in
this world, thankful if, in that which is to come, it was counted worthy
to survive at all. It should be understood that Arnold did not hope to
attain the simplicity of this by means equally simple. He held vastly,
on the contrary, to fast days and flagellations, to the ministry of
symbols, the use of rigours. The spiritual consummation which the eye of
faith enabled him to anticipate upon the horizon of Bengal should be
hastened, however imperceptibly, by all that he could do to purify and
intensify his infinitesimal share of the force that was to bring it
about. Meanwhile he made friends with the fathers of Bengali schoolboys,
who appreciated his manners, and sent him with urbanity flat baskets of
mangoes and nuts and oranges, pomegranates from Persia, and little round
boxes of white grapes in sawdust from Kabul. He seldom dwelt upon the
converts that already testified to the success of the mission; it might
be gathered that he had ideas about premature fruition.

As they stepped out together into the street, Lindsay thrust his hand
within Arnold's elbow. It was an impulse, and the analysis of it would
show elements like self-reproach, and a sense of value continually
renewed, and a vain desire for an absolutely common ground. The physical
nearness, the touch, was something, and each felt it in the remoteness
of his other world with satisfaction. There was absurdly little in what
they had to say to each other; they talked of the Viceroy's attack of
measles and the sanitary improvements in the cloth-dealers' quarter.
Their bond was hardly more than a mutual decency of nature, niceness of
sentiment, clearness of eye. Such as it was, it was strong enough to
make both men wish it were stronger, a desire which was a vague
impatience on Lindsay's part with a concentration of hostility to
Arnold's _soutane_. It made its universal way for them, however, this
garment. Where the crowd was thickest people jostled and pressed with
one foot in the gutter for the convenience of the padre-sahib. He, with
his eyes cast down, took the tribute with humility; as meet, in a way
that made Lindsay blaspheme inwardly at the persistence of
ecclesiastical tradition.

Suddenly, as they passed, the irrelevant violence of tongues, the
broken, half-comprehensible tumult, was smitten and divided by a wave of
rhythmic sound. It pushed aside the cries of the sweetmeat sellers, and
mounted above the cracked bell that proclaimed the continual auction of
Krist, Dass and Friend, dealers in the second-hand. In its vivid
familiarity it seemed to make straight for the two Englishmen, to
surround and take possession of them, and they paused. The source of it
was plain--an open door under a vast white signboard dingily lettered
"The Salvation Army." It loomed through the smoke and the street lights
like a discovery.

"Our peripatetic friends," said Arnold, with his rare smile; and, as if
the music seized and held them, they stood listening.

    "I've got a Saviour that's mighty to keep
       All day on Sunday, and six days a week!
     I've got a Saviour that's mighty to keep
       Fifty-two weeks in the year."

It was immensely vigourous; the men looked at each other with fresh
animation. Responding to the mere physical appeal of it, they picked
their steps across the street to the door, and there hesitated, revolted
in different ways. Perhaps I have forgotten to say that Lindsay came to
Calcutta out of an Aberdeenshire manse, and had a mother before whose
name people wrote "The Hon." Besides, the singing had stopped, and
casual observation from the street was checked by a screen.

"I have wondered sometimes what their methods really are," said Arnold.

Their methods were just on the other side of the screen. A bullet-headed
youth, in a red coat with gold letters on the shoulder, fingering a
forage-cap, slunk out round the end of this impediment, passing the two
men beside the door, and a light, clear voice seemed to call after him--

"Ah! don't go away!"

Lindsay was visited by a flash of memory and a whimsical speculation
whether now, at the week's end, the soul of Hilda Howe was still
pursuing the broad road to perdition. The desire to enter sprang up in
him; he was reminded of a vista of some interest which had recently
revealed itself by an accident, and which he had not explored. It had
almost passed out of his memory; he grasped at it again with something
like excitement, and fell adroitly upon the half-inclination in Arnold's
voice.

"I suppose I can't expect you to go in?" he said.

"Precisely why not?" Stephen retorted. "My dear fellow, we make broad
our sympathies, not our phylacteries."

At any other time Lindsay would have reflected how characteristic was
the gentle neatness of that, and might have resented with amusement the
pulpit tone of the little epigram. But this moment found him only aware
of the consent in it. His hand on Arnold's elbow clinched the agreement;
he half pushed the priest into the room, where they dropped into seats.
Stephen's hand went to his breast instinctively--for the words in the
air were holy by association--and stopped there, since even the breadth
of his sympathies did not enable him to cross himself before General
Booth. Though absent in body, the room was dominated by General Booth;
he loomed so large and cadaverous, so earnest and aquiline and bushy,
from a frame on the wall at the end of it. The texts on the other walls
seemed emanations from him; and the man in the short, loose, collarless
red coat, with "Salvation Army" in crooked black letters on it, who
stood talking in high, rapid tones with his hands folded, had the look
of a puppet whose strings were pulled by the personality in the frame
above him. It was only by degrees that they observed the other objects
in the room--the big drum on the floor in the empty space where the
exhorters stood, the dozen wooden benches and the possible score of
people sitting on them, the dull kerosene lamps on the walls, lighting
up the curtness of the texts. There were half-a-dozen men of the Duke's
Own packed in a row like a formation, solid on their haunches; and three
or four unshaven and loose-garmented, from crews in the Hooghly, who
leaned well forward, their elbows on their knees, twirling battered
straw hats, with a pathetic look of being for the instant off the
defensive. One was a Scandinavian, another a Greek, with earrings. There
was a ship's cook, too, a full-blooded negro, very respectable with a
plaid tie and a silk hat; and beside, two East Indian girls of different
shades, tittering at the Duke's Own in an agony of propriety; a Bengali
boy, who spelled out the English on the cover of a hymn-book; and a very
clean Chinaman, who greatly appreciated his privilege, since it included
a seat, a lamp, and a noise, though his perception of it possibly went
no further. The other odds and ends were of the mixed country blood,
like the girls, dingy, undecipherable. They made a shadow for the rest,
lying along the benches, shifting unnoticeably.

Three people, two of them women, sat in the open space at the end of the
room where the smoky fog from outside thickened and hung visibly in
mid-air, and there was the empty seat of the man who was talking. Laura
Filbert was one of the women. She might have been flung upon her chair;
her head drooped over the back, buried in the curve of one arm. A
tambourine hung loosely from the hand nearest her face; the other lay,
palm outward in its abandonment, among the folds that covered her limbs.
The folds hung from her waist, and the short close bodice that she wore
above them, like a Bengali woman, left visible the narrow gap of flesh
which nobody notices when it is brown. Her head covering had slipped and
clung only to the knot of hair at the nape of her neck; she lacked,
pathetically, the conscious hand to draw it forward. She was unaware
even of the gaze of the Duke's Own, though it had fixity and absorption.

The man with folded hands went on talking. He seemed to have caught as a
text the refrain of the hymn that had been sung. "Yes indeed," he said,
"I can tell every one 'ere this night, h'every one, that the Saviour is
mighty to keep. I've got it out of my own personal experience, I 'ave.
Jesus don't only look after you on a Sunday but six days a week, my
friends, six days a week. Fix your eye on Him and He'll keep His eye on
you--that's all your part of it. I don't mean to say I don't stumble an'
fall into sin. There's times when the Devil will get the upper 'and, but
oh, my friends, I ask you each an' every one of you, is that the fault
of Jesus? No, it is not 'is fault, it is the fault of the person. The
person 'as been forgetting Jesus, forgetting 'is Bible an' his prayers;
what can you expect? And now I ask you, my friends, is Jesus a-keeping
you? And if he is not, oh, my friends, ain't it foolish to put off any
longer? 'Ere we are met together to-night; we may never all meet
together again. You and I may never 'ear each other speaking again or
see each other sitting there. Thank God," the speaker continued, as his
eye rested on Arnold and Lindsay, "the vilest sinner may be saved, the
respectable sinner may be saved. We've got God's word for that. Now just
a little word of prayer from Ensign Sand 'ere--she's got God's ear, the
Ensign 'as, and she'll plead with 'im for all unconverted souls inside
these four walls to-night."

Laura lifted her head at this and dropped with the other exhorters on
her knees on the floor. As she moved she bent upon the audience a
preoccupied gaze, by which she seemed to observe numbers, chances, from
a point remote and emotionally involved. Lindsay's impression was that
she looked at him as from behind a glass door. Then her eyes closed as
the other woman began, and through their lids, as it were, he could see
that she was again caught up, though her body remained abased, her hands
interlocked between her knees, swaying in unison with the petition. The
Ensign was a little, meagre, freckled woman, whose wisps of colourless
hair and tight drawn-down lips suggested that in the secular world she
would have been bedraggled and a nagger. She gained an elevation, it was
plain, from the Bengali dress; it kept her away from the temptation of
cheap plush and dirty cotton lace; and her business gave her a
complacency which was doubtless accepted as sanctification by her
fellow-officers, especially by her husband, who had announced her
influence with the Divine Being, and who was himself of an inferior
commission. She prayed in a complaining way, and in a strained minor key
that assumed a spiritual intimacy with all who listened, her key to
hearts. She told the Lord in confidence that however appearances might
be against it, every soul before him was really longing to be gathered
within His Almighty arms, and when she said this, Laura Filbert, on the
floor, threw back her head and cried "Hallelujah!" and Duff started. The
others broke in upon the Ensign with like exclamations. They had a
recurrent, perfunctory sound, and passed unnoticed; but when Laura again
cried "Praise the Lord!" Lindsay found himself holding in check a hasty
impulse to leave the premises. Then she rose, and he watched with the
Duke's Own, to see what she would do next. The others looked at her too,
as she stood surprisingly fair and insistant among them, Ensign Sand
with humble eyes and disapproving lips. As she began to speak the
silence widened for her words, the ship's cook stopped shuffling his
feet. "Oh come," she said, "Come and be saved." Her voice seemed to
travel from her without effort, and to penetrate every corner and every
consciousness. There was a sudden dip in it like the fall of water, that
thrilled along the nerves. "Who am I that ask you? A poor weak woman,
ignorant, unknown. Never mind. It is not my voice, but the voice in your
heart that entreats you, 'Come and be saved!' You know that voice, it
speaks in the watches of the night; it began to speak when you were a
little, little child, with little joys and sorrows, and little prayers
that you have forgotten now. Oh, it is a sweet voice, a tender
voice"--her own had dropped to the cooing of doves--"It is hard to know
why all the winds do not carry it, and all the leaves whisper it!
Strange, strange! But the world is full of the clamour of its own
foolishness, and the Voice is lost in it, except in places where people
come to pray, as here to-night, and in those night watches. You hear it
now in the echo from my lips, 'Come and be saved.' Why must I beg of
you? Why do you not come hastening, running? Are you too wise? But when
did the wisdom of this world satisfy you about the next? Are you too
much occupied? But in the day of judgment what will you do?"--

    "When you come to Jordan's flood,
     How will you do? How will you do?"

It was the voice and tambourine of Ensign Sand, quick upon her
opportunity. Laura gave her no glance of surprise--perhaps she was
disciplined to interruptions--but caught up her own tambourine, singing,
and instantly the chorus was general, the big drum thumping out the
measure, all the tambourines shaking together.

    "You who now contemn your God,
     How will you do? How will you do?"

The Duke's Own sang lustily, with a dogged enjoyment that made little of
the words. Some of them assumed a vacuity to counteract the sentiment,
but most of the sheepish countenances expressed that the tune was the
thing, one or two with a smile of jovial cynicism, and kept time with
their feet. Through the medley of voices--everybody sang except Arnold
and Lindsay and the Chinaman--Laura's seemed to flow, separate and
clear, threading the jangle upon melody, and turning the doggerel into
an appeal, direct, intense. When Lindsay presently saw it addressed to
him, in the unmistakable intention of her eyes, he caught his breath.

    "Death will be a solemn day
     When the soul is forced away,
     It will be too late to pray;
            How will you do?"

It was simple enough. All her supreme desire, to convince, to turn, to
make awfully plain, had centred upon the single person in the room with
whom she had the advantage of acquaintance, whose face her own could
seek with a kind of right to response. But the sensation Duff Lindsay
tried to sit still under was not simple. It had the novelty, the shock,
of a plunge into the sea; behind his decorous countenance he gasped and
blinked, with unfamiliar sounds in his ears. His soul seemed
shudderingly repelling Laura's, yet the buffets themselves were
enthralling. In the strangeness of it he made a mechanical movement to
depart, picked up his stick, but Arnold was sitting holding his chin,
wrapped in quiet interest, and took no notice. The hymn stopped, and he
found a few minutes' respite, during which Ensign Sand addressed the
meeting, unveiling each heart to its possessor; while Laura turned over
the leaves of the hymn-book, looking, Lindsay was profoundly aware, for
airs and verses most likely to help the siege of the Army to his
untaken, sinful citadel. There was time to bring him calmness enough to
wonder whether these were the symptoms of emotional conversion, the sort
of thing these people went in for, and he resolved to watch his state
with interest. Then, before he knew it, they were all down on their
knees' again, and Laura was praying; and he was not aware of the meaning
of a single word that she said, only that her voice was threading itself
in and out of his consciousness burdened with a passion that made it
exquisite to him. Her appeal lifted itself in the end into song, low and
sweet.

    "Down at the Cross where my Saviour died,
     Down where for cleansing from sin I cried,
     There to my heart was the blood applied,
                  Glory to His name!"

They let her sing it alone, even the tempting chorus, and when it was
over Lindsay was almost certain that his were not the preliminary pangs
of conversion by the methods of the Salvation Army. Deliberately,
however, he postponed further analysis of them until after the meeting
was over. He would be compelled then to go away, back to the club to
dinner, or something; they would put out the lights and lock the place
up; he thought of that. He glanced at the lamps with a perception of the
finality that would come when they were extinguished--she would troop
away with the others into the darkness--and then at his watch to see how
much time there was left. More exhortation followed and more prayer; he
was only aware that she did not speak. She sat with her hand over her
eyes, and Lindsay had an excited conviction that she was still occupying
herself with him. He looked round almost furtively to detect whether any
one else was aware of it, this connection that she was blazoning between
them, and then relapsed, staring at his hat, into a sense of
ungrammatical iterations beating through a room full of stuffy smells.
When Laura spoke again his eye leaped to hers in a rapt effort to tell
her that he perceived her intention. That he should be grateful, that he
should approve, was neither here nor there; the indispensable thing was
that she should know him conscious, receptive. She read three or four
sacred verses, a throb of tender longing from the very Christ-heart,
"Come unto me ..." The words stole about the room like tears. Then she
would ask "all present," she said, to engage for a moment in silent
prayer. There was a wordless interval, only the vague street noises
surging past the door. A thrill ran along the benches as Laura brought
it to an end with sudden singing. She was on her feet as the others
raised their heads, breaking forth clear and jubilant.

    "I am so wondrously saved from sin,
     Jesus so sweetly abides within;
     There at the Cross where he took me in,
                      Glory to His Name."

She smiled as she sang. It was a happy, confident smile, and it was
plain that she longed to believe it the glad reflection of spiritual
experience of many who heard her. Lindsay's perception of this was
immediate and keen, and when her eyes rested for an instant of glad
inquiry upon his in the chartered intimacy of her calling, he felt a
pang of compunction. It was a formless reproach, too vague for anything
like a charge, but it came nearest to defining itself in the idea that
he had gone too far--he who had not left his seat. When the hymn was
finished, and Ensign Sand said, "The meeting is now open for
testimonies," he knew that all her hope was upon him, though she looked
at the screen above his head, and he sat abashed, with a prodigal sense
surging through him of what he would rejoice to do for her in
compensation. In the little chilly silence that followed he surprised
his own eyes moist with disappointment--it had all been so anxious and
so vain--and he felt relief and gratitude when the man who beat the drum
stood up and announced that he had been saved for eleven years, with
details about how badly he stood in need of it when it happened.

"Hallelujah!" said Ensign Sand cheerfully, with a meretricious air of
hearing it for the first time. "Any more?" And a Norwegian sailor
lurched shamefacedly upon his feet. He had a couple of inches of
straggling yellow beard all round his face, and twirled a battered straw
hat.

"I haf to say only dis word. I goin' sdop by Jesus. Long time I subbose
I sdop by Jesus. I subbose----"

"Glory be to God!" remarked Ensign Sand again, spiking the guns of the
Duke's Own, who were inclined to be amused. "That will do, thank you.
Now, is there nobody else? Speak up, friends. It'll do you no harm, none
whatever; it'll do you that much good you'll be surprised. Now, who'll
be the next to say a word for Jesus?" She was nodding encouragement at
the negro cook as if she knew him for a wavering soul, and he, sunk in
his gleaming white collar, was aware, in silent, smiling misery, that
the expectations of the meeting were toward him. Laura had again hidden
her eyes in her hand. The negro fingered his watch-chain foolishly, and
the prettiest of the East Indian half-castes tried hard to disguise her
perception that an African, in his best clothes, under conviction of
sin, was the funniest thing in the world. The silence seemed to focus
itself upon the cook, who fumbled at his coat collar and cleared his
voice. It was a shock to all concerned when Stephen Arnold, picking up
his hat, got upon his feet instead.

"I also," he said, "would offer my humble testimony to the grace of
God--with all my heart."

It was as if he had repeated part of the creed in the performance of his
office. Then he turned and bent gravely to Lindsay. "Shall we go now?"
he whispered, and the two made their way to the door, leaving a silence
behind them which Lindsay imagined, on the part of Ensign Sand at least,
to be somewhat resentful. As they passed out, a voice recovered itself
and cried, "Hallelujah!" It was Laura's. And all the way to the
club--Arnold was dining with him there--Lindsay listened to his friend's
analysis of religious appeal to the emotions, but chiefly heard that
clear music above a sordid din, "Hallelujah!" "Hallelujah!"



CHAPTER IV.


When Alicia Livingstone, almost believing she liked it, drove to Number
Three, Lal Behari's Lane and left cards upon Miss Hilda Howe, she was
only partially rewarded. Through the plaster gate-posts, badly in want
of repair and bearing, sunk in one of them, a marble slab announcing
"Residence with Board," she perceived the squalid attempt the place made
at respectability, the servants in dirty livery salaaming curiously, the
over-fed squirrel in a cage in the door, the pair of damaged wicker
chairs in the porch suggesting the easiest intercourse after dinner, the
general discoloration. She observed with irritation that it was a
down-at-heels shrine for such a divinity, in spite of its six dusty
crotons in crumbling plaster urns, but the irritation was rather at her
own repulsion to the place than at any inconsistency it presented. What
she demanded and expected of herself was that Number Three, Lal Behari's
Lane should be pleasing, interesting, acceptable on its merits as a
cheap Calcutta boarding-house. She found herself so unable to perceive
its merits that it was almost a relief to see nothing of Miss Howe
either; Hilda had gone to rehearsal, to the "dance-house," the servant
said, eyeing the unusual landau. Alicia rolled back into streets with
Christian names distressed by an uncertainty as to whether her visit had
been a disappointment or an escape. By the next day, however, she was
well pulled together in favour of the former conclusion--she could
nearly always persuade herself of such things in time--and wrote a
frank, sweet little note in her picturesque hand--she never joined more
than two syllables--to say how sorry she had been, and would Miss Howe
come to lunch on Friday. "I should love to make it dinner," she said to
herself, as she sealed the envelope, "but before one knows how she will
behave in connection with the men--I suppose one must think of the other
people."

It was Friday, and Hilda was lunching. The two had met among the
faint-tinted draperies of Alicia's drawing-room--there was something
auroral even about the mantlepiece--a little like diplomatists using a
common tongue native to neither of them. Perhaps Alicia drew the
conventions round her with the greater fluency; Hilda had more to cover,
but was less particular about it. The only thing she was bent upon
making imperceptible was her sense of the comedy of Miss Livingstone's
effort to receive her as if she had been anybody else. Alicia was hardly
aware of what she wanted to conceal, unless it was her impression that
Miss Howe's dress was cut a trifle too low in the neck, that she was
almost too effective in that cream and yellow to be quite right. Alicia
remembered afterwards, to smile at it, that her first ten minutes of
intercourse with Hilda Howe were dominated by a lively desire to set
Céline at her--with such a foundation to work upon, what could Céline
not have done? She remembered her surprise, too, at the ordinary things
Hilda said in that rich voice, even in the tempered drawing-room tones
of which resided a hint of the seats nearest the exit under the gallery,
and her wonder at the luxury of gesture that went with them, movements
which seemed to imply blank verse and to be thrown away upon two women
and a little furniture. A consciousness stood in the room between them,
and their commonplaces about the picturesqueness of the bazaar rode on
long absorbed regards, one reading, the other anxious to read; yet the
encounter was so conventionally creditable to them both that they might
have smiled past each other under any circumstances next day and
acknowledged no demand for more than the smile.

The cutlets had come before Hilda's impression was at the back of her
head, her defences withdrawn, her eyes free and content, her elbow on
the table. They had found a portrait-painter.

"He has such an eye," said Alicia, "for the possibilities of character."

"Such an eye that he develops them. I know one man he painted. I
suppose when the man was born he had an embryo soul, but in the meantime
he and everybody else had forgotten about it. All but Salter. Salter
re-created it on the original lines, and brought it up, and gave it a
lodging behind the man's wrinkles. I saw the picture. It was
fantastic--psychologically."

"Psychology has a lot to say to portrait-painting, I know," Alicia said.
"Do let him give you a little more. It's only Moselle." She felt quite
direct, and simple, too, in uttering her postulate. Her eyes had a
friendly, unembarrassed look; there was nothing behind them but the joy
of talking intelligently about Salter.

Hilda did not even glance away. She looked at her hostess instead, with
an expression of candour so admirable that one might easily have
mistaken it to be insincere. It was part of her that she could swim in
any current, and it was pleasant enough, for the moment, to swim in
Alicia's. Both the Moselle and the cutlets, moreover, were of excellent
quality.

"It's everything to everything, don't you think? And especially, thank
Heaven, to my trade." Her voice softened the brusqueness of this; the
way she said it gave it a right to be said in any terms. That was the
case with flagrancies of hers sometimes.

"To discover motives and morals and passions and ambitions and to make a
picture of them with your own body--your face and hands and
voice--compare our plastic opportunity with the handling of a brush to
do it, or a pen or a chisel!"

"I know what you mean," said Alicia. She had a little flush, and an
excited hand among the wine-glasses. "No, I don't want any; please don't
bother me!" to the man at her elbow with something in aspic. "It's much
more direct--your way."

"And, I think, so much more primitive, so much earlier sanctioned,
abiding so originally among the instincts! Oh, yes! if we are lightly
esteemed it is because we are bad exponents. The ideal has dignity
enough. They charge us, in their unimaginable stupidity, with failing to
appreciate our lines, especially when they are Shakespeare's--with being
unliterary. You might--good Heavens!--as well accuse a painter of not
being a musician? Our business lies behind the words--they are our mere
medium! Rosalind wasn't literary--why should I be? But don't indulge me
in my shop, if it bores you," Hilda added lightly, aware as she was that
Miss Livingstone was never further from being bored.

"Oh, please go on! If you only knew," her lifted eyebrows confessed the
tedium of Calcutta small-talk. "But why do you say you are lightly
esteemed? Surely the public is a touchstone--and you hold the public in
the hollow of your hand!"

Hilda smiled. "Dear old public! It does its best for us, doesn't it? One
loves it, you know, as sailors love the sea, never believing in its
treachery in the end. But I don't know why I say we are lightly
esteemed, or why I dogmatise about it at all. I've done nothing--I've no
right. In ten years perhaps--no, five--I'll write signed articles for
the _New Review_ about modern dramatic tendencies. Meanwhile you'll have
to consider that the value of my opinions is prospective."

"But already you have succeeded--you have made a place."

"In Coolgardie, in Johannesburg. I think they remember me in
Trichinopoly too, and--yes, it may be so--in Manila. But that wasn't
legitimate drama," and Hilda smiled again in a way that coloured her
unspoken reminiscence, to Alicia's eyes, in rose and gold. She waited an
instant for these tints to materialise, but Miss Howe's smile slid
discreetly into her wine-glass instead.

"There's immense picturesqueness in the Philippines," she went on, her
look of thoughtful criticism contrasting in the queerest way with her
hat. "Real ecclesiastical tyranny with pure traditions. One wonders what
America will do with those friars, when she does take hold there."

"Do you think she is going to?" asked Alicia, vaguely. It was the merest
politeness--she did not wait for a reply. With a courageous air which
became her charmingly she went on, "Don't you long to submit yourself to
London? I should."

"Oh, I must. I know I must. It's in the path of duty and
conscience--it's not to be put off forever. But one dreads the chained
slavery of London"--she hesitated before the audacity of adding, "the
sordid hundred nights," but Alicia divined it, and caught her breath as
if she watched the other woman make a hazardous leap.

"You are magnificently sure," she said. Alicia herself felt curiously
buoyed up and capable, conscious of vague intuitions of immediate
achievement. The lunch-table still lay between the two, but it had
become in a manner intangible; the selves of them had drawn together,
and regarded each other with absorbent eyes. In Hilda's there was an
instant of consideration before she said:

"I might as well tell you--you won't misunderstand--that I am sure. I
expect things of myself. I hold a kind of mortgage on my success; when I
foreclose it will come, bringing the long, steady, grasping chase of
money and fame, eyes fixed, never a day to live in, only to accomplish,
every moment straddled with calculation, an end to all the byeways where
one finds the colour of the sun. The successful London actress, my
dear--what excursion has she? A straight flight across the Atlantic in a
record-breaker, so many nights in New York, so many in Chicago, so many
in a Pullman car, and the net result in every newspaper--an existence of
pure artificiality infested by reporters. It's like living in the shell
of your personality. It's the house forever on your back; at the last
you are buried in it, smirking in your coffin with a half-open eye on
the floral offerings. There never was reward so qualified by its
conditions."

"Surely there would be some moments of splendid compensation?"

"Oh, yes; and for those in the end we are all willing to perish! But
then you know all, you have done all; there is nothing afterwards but
the eternal strain to keep even with yourself. I don't suppose I could
begin to make you see the joys of a strolling player--they aren't much
understood in the proscenium--but there are so many, honestly, that
London being at the top of the hill, I'm not panting up. My way of going
has twice wound round the world already. But I'm talking like an
illustrated interview. You will grant the impertinence of all I've been
saying when I tell you that I've never yet had an illustrated
interview."

"Aren't they almost always vulgar?" Alicia asked. "Don't they make you
sit the wrong way on a chair, in tights?"

Hilda threw her head back and laughed almost, Alicia noted, like a man.
She certainly did not hide her mouth with her hands or her handkerchief,
as woman often do in bursts of hilarity; she laughed freely, and as much
as she wanted to, and it was as clear as possible that tights presented
themselves quite preposterously to any discussion of her profession.
They were things to be taken for granted, like the curtain and the
wings; they had no relation to clothing in the world.

Alicia laughed too. After all, they were absurd--her outsider's
prejudices. She said something like that, and Hilda seemed to soar again
for her point of view about the illustrated interviews. "They _are_
atrocities," she said. "On their merits they ought to be cast out of
even the suburbs of art and literature. But they help to make the
atmosphere that gives us power to work, and if they do that, of
course"----the pursed seriousness of her lips gave Alicia the impression
that, though the whole world took offence, the expediency of the
illustrated interview was beyond discussion.

The servant brought them coffee. "Shall we smoke here," said Miss
Livingstone, "or in the drawing-room?"

"Oh, do you want to? Are you quite sure you like it? Please don't on my
account--you really mustn't. Suppose it should make you ill?" If Hilda
felt any tinge of amusement she kept it out of her face. Nothing was
there but cheerful concern.

"It won't make me ill." Alicia lifted her chin with delicate
assertiveness. "I suppose you do smoke, don't you?"

"Occasionally--with some people. Honestly, have you ever done it
before?"

"Four times," said Alicia, and then turned rose-colour with the
apprehension that it sounded amateurish to have counted them. "I thought
it was one of your privileges to do it always, just as you--"

"Go to bed with our boots on and put ice down the back of some Serene
Highness's neck. I suppose it is, but now and then I prefer to dispense
with it. In my bath, for instance, and almost always in omnibuses."

"How absurd you are! Then we'll stay here."

Miss Howe softly manipulated her cigarette and watched Alicia sacrifice
two matches.

"There's Rosa Norton of our company," she went on. "Poor dear old Rosy.
She's fifty-three--grey hair smooth back, you know, and a kind of look
of anxious mamma. And it gets into her eyes and chokes her, poor dear;
but blow her if she won't be as Bohemian as anybody. I've seen her smoke
in a bonnet with strings tied under her chin. I got up and went away."

"But I can't possibly affect you in that way," said Alicia, putting her
cigarette down to finish, as an afterthought, a marron glacée. "I'm not
old and I'm not grotesque."

"No, but--oh, all right. After you with the matches, please."

"I _beg_ your pardon. How thoughtless of me! Dear me, mine has gone out.
Do you suppose anything is wrong with them? Perhaps they're damp."

"Trifle dry, if anything," Hilda returned, with the cigarette between
her lips, "but in excellent order, really." She took it between her
first and second finger for a glance at the gold letters at the end,
leaned back and sent slow, luxurious spirals through her nostrils. It
was rather, Alicia reflected, like a horse on a cold day--she hoped Miss
Howe wouldn't do it again. But she presently saw that it was Miss Howe's
way of doing it.

"No, you're not old and grotesque," Hilda said, contemplatively; "you're
young and beautiful." The freedom seemed bred, imperceptibly and
enjoyably, from the delicate cloud in the air. Alicia flushed ever so
little under it, but took it without wincing. She had less than the
common palate for flattery of the obvious kind, but this was something
quite different--a mere casual and unprejudiced statement of fact.

"Fairly," she said, not without surprise at her own calmness; and there
was an instant of silence, during which the commonplace seemed to be
dismissed between them.

"You made a vivid impression here last year," said Alicia. She felt
delightfully terse and to the point.

"You mean Mr. Lindsay. Mr. Lindsay is very impressionable. Do you know
him well?"

Alicia closed her lips, and a faint line graved itself on each side of
them. Her whole face sounded a retreat, and her eyes were cold--it would
have annoyed her to know how cold--with distance.

"He is an old friend of my brother's," she said. Hilda had the sensation
of coming unexpectedly, through the lightest loam, upon a hard surface.
She looked attentively at the red heart of her cigarette, crisped over
with grey, in its blackened calyx.

"Most impressionable," she went on, as if Alicia had not spoken. "As to
the rest of the people--bah, you can't rouse Calcutta. It is sunk in its
torpid liver, and imagines itself superior. It's really funny, you know,
the way pancreatic influences can be idealised--made to serve ennobling
ends. But Mr. Lindsay is--different."

"Yes?" Miss Livingstone's intention was neutral, but, in spite of her,
the asking note was in the word.

"We have done some interesting things together here. He has shown me the
queerest places. Yesterday he made me go with him to Wellesley Square to
look at his latest enthusiasm standing in the middle of it."

"A statue?"

"No, a woman, preaching and warbling to the people. She wasn't new to
me--I knew her before he did--but the picture was and the performance.
She stood poised on a coolie's basket in the midst of a rabble of all
colours, like a fallen angel--I mean a dropped one. Light seemed to come
from her hair or eyes or something. I almost expected to see her sail
away over the palms into the sunset when it was ended."

"It sounds most unusual," Alicia said, with a light smile. Her interest
was rather obviously curbed.

"It happens every day, really, only one doesn't stop and look; one
doesn't go round the corner."

There was another little silence, full of the unwillingness of Miss
Livingstone's desire to be informed.

Hilda knocked the ash of her cigarette into her finger bowl and waited.
The pause grew so stiff with embarrassment that she broke it herself.

"And I regret to say it was I who introduced them," she said.

"Introduced whom?"

"Mr. Lindsay and Miss Laura Filbert of the Salvation Army. They met at
Number Three; she had come after my soul. I think she was disappointed,"
Hilda went on tranquilly, "because I would only lend it to her while she
was there."

"Of the Salvation Army! I can't imagine why you should regret it. He is
always grateful to be amused."

"Oh, there is no reason to doubt his gratitude. He is rather intense
about it. And--I don't know that my regret is precisely on Mr. Lindsay's
account. Did I say so?" They were simple, amiable words, and their
pertinence was far from insistent: but Alicia's crude blush--everything
else about her was perfectly worked out--cried aloud that it was too
sharp a pull up. "Perhaps, though," Hilda hurried on with a pang, "we
generalise too much about the men."

What Miss Livingstone would have found to say--she had certainly no
generalisation to offer about Duff Lindsay--had not a servant brought
her a card at that moment, is embarrassing to consider. The card saved
her the necessity. She looked at it blankly for an instant, and then
exclaimed, "My cousin, Stephen Arnold! He's a reverend--a Clarke Mission
priest, and he will come straight in here. What shall we do with our
cigarettes?"

Miss Howe had a pleasurable sense that the situation was developing.

"Yours has gone out again, so it doesn't much matter, does it? Drown the
corpse in here, and he won't guess it belongs to you." She pushed the
finger bowl across, and Alicia's discouraged remnant went into it.

"Don't ask me to sacrifice mine," she added, and there was no time for
remonstrance; Arnold's voice was lifting itself at the door.

"Pray may I come in?" he called from behind the portière.

Hilda, who sat with her back to it, smiled in enjoying recognition of
the thin, high academic note, the prim finish of the inflection. It
reminded her of a man she knew who "did" curates beautifully. Arnold
walked past her with his quick, humble, clerical gait, and it amused her
to think that he bent over Alicia's hand as if he would bless it.

"You can't guess how badly I want a cup of coffee." He flavoured what he
said, and made it pretty, like a woman. "Let me confess at once, that is
what brought me." He stopped to laugh; there was a hint of formality and
self-sacrifice even in that. "It is coffee time, isn't it?" Then he
turned and saw Hilda, and she was, at the moment, flushed with the
luxury of her sensations, a vision as splendid as she must have been to
him unusual. But he only closed his lips and thrust his chin out a
little, with his left hand behind him in one of his intensely clerical
attitudes, and so stood waiting. Hilda reflected afterwards that she
could hardly have expected him to exclaim, "Whom have we here?" with
upraised hands, but she had to acknowledge her flash of surprise at his
self-possession. She noted, too, his grave bow when Alicia mentioned
them to each other, that there was the habit of deference in it, yet
that it waved her courteously, so to speak, out of his life. It was all
as interesting as the materialisation of a quaint tradition, and she
decided not, after all, to begin a trivial comedy for herself and
Alicia, by asking the Reverend Stephen Arnold whether he objected to
tobacco. She had an instant's circling choice of the person she would
represent to this priest in the little intermingling half-hour of their
lives that lay shaken out before them, and dropped unerringly. It really
hardly mattered, but she always had such instants. She was aware of the
shadow of a regret at the opulence of her personal effect; her hand went
to her throat and drew the laces closer together there. An erectness
stole into her body as she sat, and a look into her eyes that divorced
her at a stroke from anything that could have spoken to him of too
general an accessibility, too unthinking a largesse. She went on
smoking, but almost immediately her cigarette took its proper note of
insignificance. Alicia, speaking of it once afterwards to Arnold, found
that he had forgotten it.

"Even in College street you have heard of Miss Howe," Alicia said, and
the negative very readable in Arnold's silent brow brought Hilda a
flicker of happiness at her hostess's expense.

"I don't think the posters carry us as far as College street," she said,
"but I am not difficult to explain, Mr. Arnold. I act with Mr.
Stanhope's Company. If you lived in Chowringhee you couldn't help
knowing all about me, the letters are so large." The bounty of her
well-spring of kindness was in it under the candour and the simplicity;
it was one of those least of little things which are enough.

Arnold smiled back at her, and she saw recognition leap through the
armour-plate of his ecclesiasticism. He glanced away again quickly, and
looked at the floor as he said he feared they were terribly out of it in
College street, for which, however, he had evidently no apology to
offer. He continued to look at the floor with a careful air, as if it
presented points pertinent to the situation. Hilda felt herself--it was
an odd sensation--too sunny upon the nooked, retiring current that
flowed in him. He might have turned to the cool accustomed shadow that
Alicia made, but she was aware that he did not, that he was struggling
through her strangeness and his shyness for something to say to her. He
stirred his coffee, and once or twice his long upper lip trembled as if
he thought he had found it; but it was Alicia who talked, making light
accusations against the rigours of the Mission House, complaining of her
cousin that he was altogether given over to bonds and bands, that she
personally would soon cease to hold him in affection at all; she saw so
little of him it wasn't really worth while.

This was old fencing ground between them, and Stephen parried her
pleasantly enough, but his eyes strayed speculatively to the other end
of the table, where, however, they rose no higher than the firm,
lightly-moulded hand that held the cigarette.

"If I could found a monastic order," Hilda said, "one of the rules
should be a week's compulsory retirement into the world four times a
year." She spoke with a kind of grave brightness: it was difficult to
know whether she was altogether in jest.

"There would be a secession all over the place," Arnold responded, with
his repressed smile. "You would get any number of probationers; I wonder
whether you would keep them!"

"During that week," Hilda went on, "they should be compelled to dine and
dance every night, to read a 'Problem' novel every morning before
luncheon, to marry and be given in marriage, and to go to all the
variety entertainments. Think of the austere bliss of the return to the
cloisters! All joy lies in a succession of sensations, they say. Do you
remember how Lord Ormont arranged his pleasures? Oh, yes, my brotherhood
would be popular, as soon as it was understood."

Alicia hurried in with something palliating--she could remember
flippancies of her own that had been rebuked--but there was no sigh or
token of disapproval in Arnold's face. What she might have observed
there, if she had been keen enough in vision, was a slight
disarrangement, so to speak, of the placid priestly mask, and something
like the original undergraduate looking out from beneath.

Hilda began to put on her gloves. The left one gaped at two finger-ends;
she buttoned it with the palm thrown up and outward, as if it were the
daintiest spoil of the Avenue de l'Opéra.

"Not yet!" Alicia cried.

"Thanks, I must. To-night is our last full rehearsal, and I have to
dress the stage for the first act before six o'clock. And after pulling
all that furniture about, I shall want an hour or two in bed."

"You! But it's monstrous. Is there nobody else?"

"I wouldn't let anybody else," Hilda laughed. "Don't forget, please,
that we are only strolling players, odds and ends of people, mostly from
the Antipodes. Don't confound our manners and customs with anything
you've heard about the Lyceum. Good-bye. It has been charming. Good-bye,
Mr. Arnold."

But Alicia held her hand. "The papers say it is to be _The Offence of
Galilee_, after all," she said.

"Yes. Hamilton Bradley is all right again, and we've found a pretty fair
local Judas--amateur. We couldn't possibly put it on without Mr.
Bradley. He takes the part of"--Hilda glanced at the hem of the
listening priestly robe--"of the chief character, you know."

"That was the great Nonconformist success at home last year, wasn't it?"
Arnold asked; "Leslie Patullo's play? I knew him at Oxford. I can't
imagine--he's a queer chap to be writing things like that."

"It works out better than you--than one might suppose," Hilda returned,
moving toward the door. "Some of the situations are really almost novel,
in spite of all your centuries of preaching." She sent a disarming smile
with that, looking over her shoulder in one of her most effective
hesitations, one hand holding back the portière.

"And next week?" cried Alicia.

"Oh, next week we do _L'Amourette de Giselle_--Frank Golding's re-vamp.
Good-bye! Good-bye!"

"I wonder very much what Patullo has done with _The Offence of
Galilee_," Arnold said, after she had gone.

"Come and see, Stephen. We have a box, and there will be heaps of room.
It's--suitable, isn't it?"

"Oh, quite."

"Then dine with us--the Yardleys are coming--and go on. Why not?"

"Thanks, very much indeed. It is sure to reward one. I think I shall be
able to give myself that pleasure."

Arnold made a longer visit than usual; his cup of coffee, indeed, became
a cup of tea; and his talk, while he staid, seemed to suffer less from
the limitations of his Order than it usually did. He was fluent and
direct; he allowed it to appear that he read more than his prayers, that
his glance at the world had still a speculation in it; and when he went
away, he left Alicia with flushed cheeks and brightened eyes, murmuring
a vague inward corollary upon her day--

"It pays! It pays!"



CHAPTER V.


Mr. Llewellyn Stanhope's Company was not the only combination that
offered itself to the entertainment of Calcutta that December Saturday
night. The ever-popular Jimmy Finnigan and his "Surprise Party"--he
sailed up the Bay as regularly as the Viceroy descended from the
hills--had been advertising "Side-splitting begins at 9:30. Prices as
usual," with reference to this particular evening for a fortnight. In
the Athenian Theatre--it had a tin roof, and nobody could hear the
orchestra when it rained--the Midgets were presenting the earlier
collaborations of Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan, every Midget guaranteed
under nine years of age. Colonel Pike's Great Occidental Circus had been
in full blast on the Maidan for a week. It became a great occidental
circus when Colonel Pike married the proprietress. They were both
staying at the Grand Oriental Hotel at Singapore when she was made a
relict through cholera, and he had more time than he knew what to do
with, to say nothing of moustaches that predestined him to a box-office.
And certainly circumstances justified the lady's complaisance, for while
hitherto hers had been but a fleeting show, it was now, in the excusably
imaginative terms of Colonel Pike, an architectural feature of the cold
weather. There was the mystic bower, too, in an octagonal tent under a
pipal tree, which gave you, by an arrangement of looking-glasses, the
most unaccountable sensations for one rupee; and a signboard cried "Know
Thyself!" where a physiological display lurked from the eyes of the
police behind a perfectly respectable skeleton at one end of Peri
Chandra's Gully. Llewellyn Stanhope saw that there was competition,
sighed to think how much, as he stood in the foggy vestibule of the
Imperial Theatre wrapped in the impressive folds of his managerial cape,
and pulled his moustache and watched the occasional carriage that rolled
his way up the narrow lane from Chowringhee. He thought bitterly,
standing there, of Calcutta's recognition of the claims of legitimate
drama, for the dank darkness was full of the noise of wheels and the
flashing of lamps on the way to accord another season's welcome to Jimmy
Finnigan. "I might've learned this town well enough by now," he
reflected, "to know that a bally minstrel show's about the size of it."
Mr. Stanhope had not Mr. Finnigan's art of the large red lips and the
twanging banjo; his thought was scornful rather than envious. He
aspired, moreover, to be known as the pilot of stars, at least in the
incipience of their courses, to be taken seriously by association, since
nature had arranged that he never could be on his intrinsic merits. His
upper lip was too short for that, his yellow moustache too curly, while
the perpetual bullying he underwent at the hands of leading ladies gave
him an air of deference to everybody else which was sometimes painfully
misunderstood. The stars, it must be said regretfully, in connection
with so laudable an ambition, nearly always betrayed him, coming down
with an unmistakably meteoric descent, stony-broke in the uttermost ends
of the earth, with a strong inclination to bring the cause of that
misfortune before the Consular Courts. They seldom succeeded in this
design, since Llewellyn was usually able to prove to them in advance
that it would be fruitless and expensive, but the paths of Eastern
capitals were strewn with his compromises, in Japanese yen, Chinese
dollars, Indian rupees, for salaries which no amount of advertising
could wheedle into the box-office. When the climax came Llewellyn
usually went to hospital and received the reporters of local papers in
pathetic audience there, which counteracted the effect of the astounding
statements the stars made in letters to the editor, and yet gave the
public clearly to understand that owing to its coldness and neglect a
number of ladies and gentlemen of very superior talents were subsisting
in their midst mainly upon brinjals and soda water. "I'm in hospital,"
Mr. Stanhope would say to the reporters, "and I'm d---- glad of it."--he
always insisted on the oath going in, it appealed so sympathetically to
the domiciled Englishman grown cold to superiority--"for, upon my soul,
I don't know where I'd turn for a crust if I weren't." In the end the
talented ladies and gentlemen usually went home by an inexpensive line
as the voluntary arrangement of a public to whom plain soda was a
ludicrous hardship, and native vegetables an abomination at any price.
Then Llewellyn and Rosa Norton--she had a small inalienable income, and
they were really married, though they preferred for some inexplicable
reason to be thought guilty of more improper behaviour--would depart in
another direction full of gratification for the present and of
confidence for the future. Llewellyn usually made a parting statement to
the newspapers that, although his aims were unalterably high, he was not
above profiting by experience, and that next season he could be relied
upon to hit the taste of the community with precision. This year, as we
know, he had made a serious effort by insisting that at least a
proportion of his ladies and gentlemen should be high kickers, and equal
to an imitation, good enough for the Orient, of most things done by the
illustrious Mr. Chevalier. But the fact that Mr. Stanhope had selected
_The Offence of Galilee_ to open with tells its own tale. He was
convinced, but not converted, and he stood there with his little legs
apart, chewing a straw above the three uncut emeralds that formed the
chaste decoration of his shirt-front, giving the public of Calcutta one
more chance to redeem itself.

It began to look as if Calcutta were not wholly irredeemable. A
ticca-gharry deposited a sea captain; three carriages arrived in
succession; an indefinite number of the Duke's Own, hardly any of them
drunk, filed in to the rupee seats under the gallery; an overflow from
Jimmy Finnigan, who could no longer give his patrons even standing room.
When this occurred, Llewellyn turned and swung indifferently away in the
direction of the dressing-rooms. When Jimmy Finnigan closed his doors so
early there was no further cause for anxiety. Calcutta was abroad and
stirring, and would turn for amusement even to _The Offence of Galilee_.

Eventually--that is, five minutes before the curtain rose--the
representatives of the leading Calcutta journals decided that they were
justified in describing the house as a large and fashionable audience.
The Viceroy had taken a box and sent an Aide-de-Camp to sit in it, also
a pair of M.P.s from the North of England, whom he was expected to
attend to in Calcutta, and the governess. The Commander-in-Chief had not
been solicited to be present, the theatrical season demanding an economy
in such personalities if they were to go round; but a Judge of the High
Court had a party in the front row, and a Secretary to the Bengal
Government sat behind him. To speak of unofficials, there must have been
quite forty lakhs of tea and jute and indigo in the house, very genial
and prosperous, to say nothing of hides and seeds, and the men who sold
money and bought diamonds with the profits, which shone in their wives'
hair. A duskiness prevailed in the bare arms and shoulders; much of the
hair was shining and abundant, and very black. A turn of the head showed
a lean Greek profile, an outline bulbous and Armenian, the smooth creamy
mask of a Jewess, while here and there glimmered something more opulent
and inviting still, which proclaimed, if it did not confess, the remote
motherhood of the zenana and the origin of the sun. An audience of
fluttering fans and wrinkled shirt collars--the evening was warm under
the gas-lights--sensuous, indolent, already amused with itself. Not an
old woman in it from end to end, hardly a man turned fifty, and those
who were had the air and looked to have the habits of twenty-five--an
audience that might have got up and stretched itself but for good
manners, and walked out in childish boredom at having to wait for the
rise of the curtain, but sat on instead, diffusing an atmosphere of
affluence and delicate scents, and suggesting, with imperious chins, the
use of quick orders in a world of personal superiority.

Thus the stalls--they were spindling cane-bottomed chairs--and the
boxes, in one of which the same spindling cane-bottomed chairs
supported, in more expensive seclusion, Surgeon-Major and Miss
Livingstone, the Reverend Stephen Arnold, and two or three other people.
The Duke's Own sat under the gallery, cheek by jowl with all the flotsam
and jetsam of an Eastern port, well on the lookout for any offensive
personalities from the men of the ships, and spitting freely. Here, too,
was an ease of shoulder and a freedom from the cares of life--at a
venture the wives were taking in washing in Brixton, and the children
sent to Board School at the expense of the nation. And in a climate like
this it was a popular opinion that a man must either enjoy himself or
commit suicide.

The Sphinx on the crooked curtain looked above and beyond them all. It
was a caricature of the Sphinx, but could not confine her gaze.

Hilda's audience that night knew all about _The Offence of Galilee_ from
the English illustrated papers. The illustrated papers had a great way
of ministering to the complacency of Calcutta audiences; they contained
photographs of almost every striking scene, composed at the leisure of
the cast, but so vividly supplemented with descriptions of the leading
lady's clothes that it hardly required any effort of the imagination to
conjure up the rest. The postures and the chief garments of Pilate--he
was eating pomegranates when the curtain rose and listening to scandal
from his slave maidens about Mary Magdalene--were at once recognised in
their resemblance to those of the photographs, and in the thrill of this
satisfaction any discrepancies in cut and texture passed generally
unobserved. A silent curiosity settled upon the house, half reverent, as
if with the Bible names came thronging a troop of sacred associations to
cluster about personalities brusquely torn out of church, and people
listened for familiar sentences with something like the composed gravity
with which they heard on Sundays the reading of the second lesson. But
as the stage-talk went on, the slave-maidens announcing themselves
without delay comfortably modern and commonplace, and Pilate a cynic and
a decadent, though as distinctively from Melbourne, it was possible to
note the breaking up of this sentiment. It was plain, after all, that no
standard of ideality was to be maintained or struggled after. The relief
was palpable; nevertheless, when Pilate's wife cast a shrewish gibe at
him over the shoulder of her exit, the audience showed but a faint
inclination to be amused. It was to be a play evidently like any other
play, the same coarse fibre, the same vivid and vulgar appeals. It is
doubtful whether this idea was critically present to any one but Stephen
Arnold, but people unconsciously tasted the dramatic substance offered
them, and leaned back in their chairs with the usual patient
acknowledgment that one mustn't expect too much of a company that found
it worth while to come to Calcutta. The house grew submissive and
stolid, but one could see half-awakened prejudices sitting in the
dress-circle. The paper-chasing Secretary said to the most intelligent
of his party that on the whole he liked his theology neat, forgetting
that the preference belonged to Mr. Andrew Lang in connection with a
notable lady novelist; and the most intelligent--it was Mrs.
Barberry--replied that it did seem strange. The depths under the gallery
were critically attentive, though Llewellyn Stanhope felt them hostile
and longing for verbal brick-bats; and the Reverend Mr. Arnold shrank
into the furthest corner of Surgeon-Major Livingstone's box, and knew
all the misery of outrage. Pilate and the slave-maidens, Pilate's fat
wife and an unspeakably comic centurion, offered as yet hardly more than
a prelude, but the monstrosity of the whole performance was already
projected upon Arnold's suffering imagination. This, then, was what
Patullo had done with it. But what other, he asked himself in quiet
anger, could Patullo have been expected to do--the fellow he remembered?
Arnold tilted his chair back and stared, with arms folded and sombre
brows, at the opposite wall. He looked once at the door, but some spirit
of self-torture kept him in his seat. If so much offence could be made
with the mere crust and envelope, so to speak, of the sacred story, what
sacrilege might not be committed with the divine personalities
concerned--with Our Lord and His Mother? He remembered, with the touch
of almost physical nausea that assailed him when he saw them, one or two
pictures in recent Paris exhibitions where the coveted accent of
surprise had been produced by representing the sacred figure in the
trivial monde of the boulevards, and fixed upon them as the source of
Patullo's intolerable inspiration. Certain muscles felt responsive at
the thought of Patullo which Arnold had forgotten he possessed; it was
so seldom that a missionary priest, even of athletic traditions, came in
contact with anybody who required to be kicked.

Alicia was in front with the Yardleys, dropping her unfailing plummet
into the evening's experience. Arnold, hesitating over the rudeness of
departure, thought she was sufficiently absorbed; she would hardly mind.
The centurion slapped his tin armour, and made a jest about the King of
the Jews which reached Stephen over his hostess's shoulder and seemed to
brand him where he sat. He looked about for his hat and some excuse that
would serve, and while he looked the sound of applause rose from the
house. It was a demonstration without great energy, hardly more than a
flutter from stall to stall, with a vague, fundamental noise from the
gallery; but it had the quality which acclaimed something new. Arnold
glanced at the stage and saw that while Pilate and the hollow-chested
slaves and the tin centurion were still on they had somehow lost
significance and colour, had faded into the impotent figures of a
tapestry, and that all the meaning and the dominance of the situation
had gathered into the person of a woman of the East who danced. She was
almost discordant in her literalness, in her clear olive tints and the
_kol_ smudges under her eyes, the string of coins in the mass of her
fallen hair, and her unfettered body. Beside her the slave-girls,
crouching, looked liked painted shells. She danced before Pilate in
strange Eastern ways, in plastic weavings and gesturings that seemed to
be the telling of a tale; and from the orchestra only one unknown
instrument sobbed out to help her. The women of the people have ever
bought in Palestine, buy to-day in the Mousky, the coarse, thick
grey-blue cotton that fell about her limbs, and there was audacity in
the poverty of her beaten silver anklets and armlets. These shone and
twinkled with her movements; but her softly splendid eyes and reddened
lips had the immobility of the bazaar. People looked at their playbills
to see whether it was really Hilda Howe or some nautch-queen borrowed
from a native theatre. By the time she sank before Pilate and placed his
foot upon her head a new spirit had breathed upon the house. Under the
unexpectedness of the representation it sat up straight, and there was a
keenness of desire to see what would happen next which plainly curtailed
the applause, as it does with the children at a pantomime.

"Have you ever seen anything like it before?" Alicia asked Captain
Yardley; and he said he thought he had once, in Algiers, but not nearly
so well done. Arnold rose again to go, but the Magdalene had begun to
use her arts upon Pilate in the well-known scene about which the
newspapers reported long afterwards how the Pope had declared that if
Miss Howe had not been a Protestant and so impervious he would have
excommunicated her--and as he looked his movement imperceptibly changed
to afford him a better place. He put an undecided hand upon a prop of
the box that rose behind Alicia's shoulder, and so stood leaning and
looking, more conspicuous in the straight lines and short shoulder-cape
of the frock of his Order than he knew. Hilda, in one of those
impenetrable regards which she threw straight in front of her while
Pilate yawned and posed nearer and nearer the desire of the Magdalene to
be admitted to his household, was at once aware of him. Presently he sat
down again--it was still the profane, the fabulous, the horrible
Patullo, but a strain of pure gold had come into the fabric worth
holding in view, impossible, indeed, to close the eyes upon. Far enough
it was from any semblance to historical fact, but almost possible,
almost admissible, in the form of the woman, as historical fiction. She
dared to sit upon the floor now, in the ungraceful, huddled Eastern
fashion, clasping her knees to her breast, with her back half turned to
her lord the friend of Cæsar, so that he could not see the design that
sat behind the mask of her sharp indifference. She rested her chin upon
her knees, and let the blankness of her beauty exclaim upon the subtlety
of her replies, plainly measuring the power of her provocation against
the impoverished quality that camp and grove, court and schools, might
leave upon august Roman sensibilities. It was the old, old
sophistication, so perfect in its concentration behind the _kol_-brushed
eyes and the brown breasts, the igniting, flickering, raging of an
instinct upon the stage. Alicia, when it was over, said to Mrs. Yardley,
"How the modern woman goes off upon side issues?" to which that lady
nodded a rather suspicious assent.

Long before Hilda had begun to act for Arnold, to play to his special
consciousness, he was fastened to his chair, held down, so to speak, by
a whirlpool of conflicting impulses. She did so much more than "lift"
the inventive vulgarisation of the Bible story in the common sense; she
inspired and transfused it so that wherever she appeared people
irresistibly forgot the matter for her, or made private acknowledgments
to the effect that something was to be said even for an impious fantasy
which gave her so unique an opportunity. To Arnold her vivid embodiment
of an incident in that which was his morning and evening meditation made
special appeal, and though it was in a way as if she had thrust her
heathen torch into his Holy of Holies, he saw it lighted with
fascination, and could not close the door upon her. The moment of her
discovery of this came early, and it is only she, perhaps, who could
tell how the strange bond wove itself that drew her being--the
Magdalene's--to the priest who sat behind a lady in swansdown and
chiffon in the upper box nearest to the stage on the right. The
beginnings of such things are untraceable, but the fact may be
considered in connection with this one that Hamilton Bradley, who
represented, as we have been told he would, the Chief Character, did it
upon lines very recognisably those of the illustrations of sacred books,
very correct as to the hair and beard and pictured garment of the
Galilean; with every accent of hollow-eyed pallor and inscrutable
remoteness, with all the thin vagueness, too, of a popular engraving,
the limitations and the depression. Under it one saw the painful
inconsistency of the familiar Hamilton Bradley of other presentations,
and realised with irritation, which must have been tenfold in Hilda, how
he hated the part. Perhaps this was enough in itself to send her
dramatic impulse to another focus, and the strangeness of the adventure
was a very thing she would delight in. Whatever may be said about it,
while yet the hideousness of the conception and display of a woman's
natural passion for the man Christ Jesus was receding from Arnold's mind
before the exquisite charm and faithfulness of the worshipping
Magdalene, he became aware that in some special way he sat judging and
pitying her. She had hardly lifted her eyes to him twice, yet it was he,
intimately he, who responded, as if from afar off, to the touch of her
infinite solicitude and abasement, the joy and the shame of her love. As
he watched and knew his lips tightened and his face paled with the throb
of his own renunciation, he folded his celibate arms in the habit of his
brotherhood and was caught up into a knowledge and an imitation of how
the spotless Original would have looked upon a woman suffering and
transported thus. The poverty of the play faded out; he became almost
unaware of the pinchbeck and the fustian of Patullo's invention and its
insufferable mixture with the fabric of which every thread was precious
beyond imagination. He looked down with tender patience and compassion
upon the development of the woman's intrigue in the palace, through the
very flower of her crafts and guiles, to save him who had transfigured
her from the hands of the rabble and the high priests; he did not even
shrink from the inexpressibly grating note of the purified Magdalene's
final passionate tendering of her personal sacrifice to the enamoured
Pilate as the price of His freedom, and when at the last she wept at His
feet, where He was bound waiting for His cross, and wrapped them, in the
agony of her abandonment, in the hair of her head, the priest's lips
almost moved in words other than those the playwright had given his
Christ to say--words that told her he knew the height and the depth of
her sacrifice and forgave it, "Neither do I condemn thee...." In his
exultation he saw what it was to perform miracles, to remit sins. The
spark of divinity that was in him glowed to a white heat; the woman on
the stage warmed her hands at it in two consciousnesses. She was stirred
through all her artistic sense in a new and delicious way, and wakened
in some dormant part of her to a knowledge beautiful and surprising. She
felt in every nerve the exquisite quality of that which lay between
them, and it thrilled her through all her own perception of what she
did, and all the applause at how she did it. It was as if he, the
priest, was borne out upon a deep, broad current that made toward solar
spaces, toward infinite bounds, and as if she, the actress, piloted
him....

The Sphinx on the curtain--it had gone down in the old crooked
lines--again looked above and beyond them all. I have sometimes fancied
a trace of malignancy about her steady eyeballs, but perhaps that is the
accident or the design of the scene-painter; it does not show in
photographs. The audience was dispersing a trifle sedately; the
performance had been, as Mrs. Barberry told Mr. Justice Horne,
interesting but depressing. "I hope," said Alicia to Stephen, fastening
the fluffy-white collar of the wrap he put round her, "that I needn't be
sorry I asked you to come. I don't quite know. But she did redeem it,
didn't she? That last scene, where she knows what they are doing to
Him----"

"Can you not be silent?" Arnold said, almost in a whisper; and her look
of astonishment showed her that there were tears in his eyes. He left
the theatre and walked light-headedly across Chowringhee and out into
the starlit empty darkness of the Maidan, where presently he stumbled
upon a wooden bench under a tree. There, after a little, sleep fell upon
his amazement, and he lay unconscious for an hour or two, while the
breeze stole across the grass from the river, and the masthead lights
watched beside the city. He woke chilled and normal, and when he reached
the Mission House in College street his servant was surprised at the
unusual irritation of a necessary rebuke.



CHAPTER VI.


While Alicia Livingstone fought with her imagination in accounting for
Duff Lindsay's absence from the theatre on the first night of a notable
presentation by Miss Hilda Howe, he sat with his knees crossed on the
bench furthest back in the corner obscurest of the Salvation Army
Headquarters in Bentinck street. It had become his accustomed place;
sitting there he had begun to feel like the adventurer under Niagara, it
was the only spot from which he could observe, try to understand, and
cope with the torrential nature of his passion. Nearer to the fair charm
of her presence in the uncertain flare of the kerosene lamp and the
sound of the big drum, he grew blind, lost count, was carried away. His
persistent refusal of a better place also profited him in that it
brought to Ensign Sand and the other "officers" the divination that he
was one of those shyly anxious souls who have to be enticed into the
Kingdom of Heaven with wariness, and they made a great pretence of not
noticing him, going on with the exercises just as if he were not there,
a consideration which he was able richly to enhance when the plate came
round. After his first contribution Mrs. Sand regarded his spiritual
interests with almost superstitious reverence, according them the
fullest privacy of which she was capable. The gravity which the
gentleman attached to his situation was sufficiently testified by the
"amount"; Mrs. Sand never wanted better evidence than the amount. Even
Laura, acting doubtless under instructions, seemed disposed to hold away
from him in her prayers and exhortations; only a very occasional
allusion passed her lips which Duff could appropriate. These, when they
fell he gathered and set like flowers in his tenderest consciousness, to
visit and water them after the sun went down and for twenty-four hours
he would not see her again. Her intonation went with them and her face,
they lived on that. They stirred him, I mean, least of all in the manner
of their intention. After the first quarter of an hour it is to be
feared Lindsay suffered no more apprehensions on the score of emotional
hypnotism. He recognised his situation plainly enough, and there was no
appeal in it of which the Reverend Stephen Arnold for example could
properly suspect the genuineness or the permanence.

On this Saturday night he sat through the meeting as he had sat through
other meetings, absorbed in his exquisite experience, which he meditated
mostly with his eyes on the floor. His attitude was one quite adapted to
deceive Ensign Sand; if he had been occupied with the burden of his
transgressions it was one he might very well have fallen into. When
Laura knelt or sang he sometimes looked at her, at other times he looked
at the situation in the brightness of her presence at the other end of
the room. She gave forth there, for Lindsay, an illumination by which he
almost immediately began to read his life, and it was because he thought
he had done this with accuracy and intelligence that he came up behind
her that evening when the meeting was over as she followed the rest,
with her _sari_ drawn over her head, out into the darkness of Bentinck
street, and said with directness, "I should like to come and see you.
When may I? Any time that suits you. Have you half an hour to spare
to-morrow?"

It was plain that she was tired, and that the brightness with which she
welcomed his advance was a trifle taught and perfunctory. Not the
frankness, though, or the touch of "Now we are getting to business,"
that stood somehow in her expression. She looked alert and pleased.

"You would like to have a little talk, wouldn't you?" she said. Her
manner took Lindsay a trifle aback, it suggested that she conferred this
privilege so freely. "To-morrow--let me see, we march in the morning,
and I have an open-air at four in the afternoon--the Ensign takes the
evening meeting. Yes, I could see you to-morrow about two or about
seven, after I get back from the Square." It was not unlike a
professional appointment.

Lindsay considered. "Thanks," he said, "I'll come at about seven--if you
are sure you won't be too exhausted to have me after such a day."

He saw that her lids as she raised them to answer were slightly reddened
at the edges, testifying to the acridity of Calcutta's road dust, and a
dry crack crept into the silver voice with which she said
matter-of-factly, "We are never too exhausted to attend to our Master's
business."

Lindsay's face expressed an instant's hesitation, he looked gravely the
other way. "And the address?" he said.

"Almost next door--we all live within bugle-call. The entrance is in
Crooked lane. Anybody will tell you."

At the door Ensign Sand was conspicuously waiting. Arnold said "Thanks"
again and passed out--she seemed to be holding it for him--and picked
his way over the gutters to the shop of his Chinaman opposite. From
there he watched the little company issue forth and turn into Crooked
lane, where the entrance was. It gave him a sense that she had her part
in this squalor, which was not altogether distressful in that it also
localised her in the warm, living, habitable world, and helped to make
her thinkable and attainable. Then he went to his room at the club and
found there a note from Miss Howe, written apparently to forgive him in
advance, to say that she had not expected him. "Friendly creature!" he
said as he turned out the lamp, and smiled in the dark to think that
already there was one who guessed, who knew.

One gropes in Crooked lane after the lights of Bentinck street have done
all that can be expected of them. There are various things to avoid,
washer-men's donkeys and pariah dogs, unyoked ticca-gharries, heaps of
rubbish, perhaps a leprous beggar. Lindsay, when he had surmounted
these, found himself at the entrance to a quadrangle which was
positively dark. He waylaid a sweeper slinking out; and the man showed
him where an open staircase ran down against the wall in one corner. It
was up there, he said, that the "tamasho-mems"[2] lived. There were
three tamasho-mems, he continued, responding to Arnold's trivial coin,
and one sahib, but this was not the time for the tamasho--it was
finished. Lindsay mounted the first flight by faith, and paused at the
landing to avoid collision with a heavy body descending. He inquired
Miss Filbert's whereabouts from this person, who providentially lighted
a cigar, disclosing himself a bald Armenian in tusser silk trousers and
a dirty shirt, presumably, Lindsay thought, the landlord. At all events,
he had the information. Lindsay was to keep straight on; it was the
third story, "and a lovelie airie flat, too, sir, for this part of the
town." Duff kept straight on in a spirit of caution and just missed
treading upon the fattest rat in the heathen parish of St. John's. At
the top he saw a light and hastened; it shone from an open door at the
side of a passage. The partition in which the door was came considerably
short of the ceiling, and from the top of it to the window opposite
stretched a line of garments to dry, of pungent odour and infantile
pattern. Lindsay dared no further, but lifted up his voice in the Indian
way to summon a servant. "_Qui hai!_"[3] he called; "_Qui hai!_"

[Footnote 2: Festival-making women.]

[Footnote 3: "Whoever is there!"]

He heard somewhere within the noise of a chair pushed back, and a door
further down the passage opened outwards, disclosing Laura Filbert with
her hand upon the handle. She made a supple, graceful picture. "Good
evening, Mr. Lindsay," she said as he advanced. "Won't you come in?" She
clung to the handle until he had passed into the room, then she closed
the door after him. "I was expecting you," she said. "Mr. Harris, let me
make you acquainted with Mr. Lindsay. Mr. Lindsay, Mr. Harris."

Mr. Harris was sitting sideways on one of the three cane-bottomed
chairs. He was a clumsily built youth, and he wore the private's garb of
the Salvation Army. It was apparent that he had been reading a
newspaper; he had a displeasing air of possession. At Laura's formula he
looked up and nodded without amiability, folded his journal the other
side out and returned to it.

"Please take a seat," Laura said, and Lindsay took one. He had a demon
of self-consciousness that possessed him often, here he felt dumb. Nor
did he in the very least expect Mr. Harris. He crossed his legs in
greater discomfort than he had dreamed possible, looking at Laura, who
sat down like a third stranger, curiously detached from any sense of
hospitality.

"Mr. Lindsay is anxious about his soul, Mr. Harris," she said
pleasantly. "I guess you can tell him what to do about it as well as I
can."

"Oh!" Lindsay began, but Mr. Harris had the word. "Is he?" said Mr.
Harris, without looking up from his paper. "Well, what I've got to say
on that subject I say at the evenin' meetin', which is a proper an' a
public place. He can hear it there any day of the week."

"I think I have already heard," remarked Lindsay, "what you have to
say."

"Then that's all right," said Mr. Harris, with his eyes still upon his
newspaper. He appeared to devour it. Laura looked from one to the other
of them and fell upon an expedient.

"If you'll excuse me," she said, "I'll just get you that bicycle story
you were kind enough to lend me, Mr. Harris, and you can take it with
you. The Ensign's got it," and she left the room. Lindsay glanced round
and promptly announced to himself that he could not come there again. It
was taking too violent an advantage. The pursuit of an angel does not
imply that you may trap her in her corner under the Throne. The place
was divided by a calico curtain, over which plainly showed the top of a
mosquito curtain--she slept in there. On the walls were all tender texts
about loving and believing and bearing others' burdens, interspersed
with photographs, mostly of women with plain features and enthusiastic
eyes, dressed in some strange costume of the Army in Madras, Ceylon,
China. A little wooden table stood against the wall holding an album, a
Bible and hymn-books, a work-basket and an irrelevant Japanese doll
which seemed to stretch its absurd arms straight out in a gay little
ineffectual heathen protest. There was another more embarrassing table;
it had a coarse cloth and was garnished with a loaf and butter-dish, a
plate of plantains and a tin of marmalade, knives and teacups for a
meal evidently impending. It was atrociously, sordidly intimate, with
its core in Harris, who when Miss Filbert had well gone from the room
looked up. "If you're here on private business," he said to Lindsay,
fixing his eyes, however, on a point awkwardly to the left of him,
"maybe you ain't aware that the Ensign"--he threw his head back in the
direction of the next room--"is the person to apply to. She's in command
here. Captain Filbert's only under her."

"Indeed?" said Lindsay. "Thanks."

"It ain't like it is in the Queen's army," Harris volunteered, still
searching Lindsay's vicinity for a point upon which his eye could
permanently rest, "where, if you remember, ensigns are the smallest
officer we have."

"The commission is, I think, abolished," replied Lindsay, trying to
govern a deep and irritated frown.

"Maybe so. This Army don't pretend to pattern very close on the
other--not in discipline, anyhow," said Mr. Harris with ambiguity. "But
you'll find Ensign Sand very willing to do anything she can for you.
She's a hard-working officer."

A sharp wail smote the air from a point suspiciously close to the lath
and canvas partition on the other side, followed by hasty hushings and
steps in the opposite direction. It enabled Lindsay to observe that Mr.
Sand seemed at present to be sufficiently engaged, at which Mr. Harris
shifted one heavy limb over the other, and lapsed into silence, looking
sternly at an advertisement. The air was full of their mutual annoyance,
although Duff tried to feel amused. They were raging as primitively,
under the red flannel shirt and the tan-coloured waistcoat with white
silk spots, as two cave-men on an Early British coast; their only
sophistication lay in Harris's newspaper and Lindsay's idea that he
ought to find this person humourous. Then Laura came back and resolved
the situation.

"Here it is," she said, handing the volume to Mr. Harris; "we have all
enjoyed it. Thank you very much." There was in it the oddest mixture of
the supreme feminine and the superior officer. Harris, as he took the
book, had no alternative.

"Good-evening, then, Captain," said he, and went stumbling at the door.

"Mr. Harris," said Laura, equably, "found salvation about a month ago.
He is a very steady young man--foreman in one of the carriage works
here. He is now struggling with the tobacco habit, and he often drops in
in the evening."

"He seems to be a--a member of the corps," said Lindsay.

"He would be, only for the carriage works. He says he doesn't find
himself strong enough in grace to give up his situation yet. But he
wears the uniform at the meetings to show his sympathy, and the Ensign
doesn't think there's any objection."

Laura was sitting straight up in one of the cane-bottomed chairs, her
_sari_ drawn over her head, her hands folded in her lap. The native
dress clung to her limbs in sculpturable lines, and her consecrated
ambitions seemed more insistent than ever. She had nothing to do with
anything else, nothing to do with her room or its arrangements, nothing,
Lindsay felt profoundly, to do with him. Her personal zeal for him
seemed to resolve itself, at the point of contact, into something
disappointingly thin; he saw that she counted with him altogether as a
unit in a glorious total, and that he himself had no place in her
knowledge or her desire. This brought him, with something like a shock,
to a sense of how far he had depended on her interest for his soul's
sake to introduce her to a wider view of him.

"But you have come to tell me about yourself," she said, suddenly, it
seemed to Lindsay, who was wrapped in the contemplation of her profile.
"Well, is there any special stumbling-block?"

"There are some things I should certainly like you to know," replied
Lindsay; "but you can't think how difficult"----he glanced at the lath
and plaster partition, but she, to whom publicity was a condition
salutary, if not essential, to spiritual experience, naturally had no
interpretation for that.

"I know it's sometimes hard to speak," she said; "Satan ties our
tongues."

The misunderstanding was almost absurd, but he saw only its
difficulties, knitting his brows.

"I fear you will find my story very strange and very mad," he said. "I
cannot be sure that you will even listen to it."

"Oh," Laura said, simply, "do not be afraid! I have heard confessions! I
work at home, you see, a good deal among the hospitals, and--we do not
shrink, you know, in the Army from things like that."

"Good God!" he exclaimed, staring, "you don't think--you don't
suppose----"

"Ah! don't say that! It's so like swearing."

As he sat in helpless anger, trying to formulate something intelligible,
the curtain parted, and a sallow little Eurasian girl of eighteen, also
in the dress of the Army, came through from the bedroom part. She smiled
in a conscious, meaningless way, as she sidled past them. At the door
her smile broadened, and as she closed it after her she gave them a
little nod.

"That's my lieutenant," said Laura.

"The place is like a warren," Lindsay groaned. "How can we talk here?"

Laura looked at him gravely, as one making a diagnosis. "Do you think,"
she said, "a word of prayer would help you?"

"No," said Lindsay. "No, thank you. What is making me miserable," he
added, quietly, "is the knowledge that we are being overheard. If you go
into the next room, I am quite certain you will find Mrs. Sand listening
by the wall."

"She's gone out! She and the Captain and Miss De Souza, to take the
evening meeting. Nobody is in there except the two children, and they
are asleep." Her smile, he thought, made a Madonna of her. "Indeed, we
are quite alone, you and I, in the flat now. So please don't be afraid,
Mr. Lindsay! Say whatever is in your heart, and the mere saying----"

"Oh," Lindsay cried, "stop! Don't, for Heaven's sake, look at me in that
light any longer. I'm not penitent. I'm not--what do you call it?--a
soul under conviction. Nothing of the sort." He waited with
considerateness for this to have its effect upon her; he could not go on
until he saw her emerge, gasping, from the inundation of it. But she was
not even staggered by it. She only looked down at her folded hands with
an added seriousness and a touch of sorrow.

"Aren't you?" she said. "But at least you feel that you ought to be. I
thought it had been accomplished. But I will go on praying."

"Shall you be very angry, if I tell you that I'd rather you didn't? I
want to come into your life differently--sincerely."

She looked at him with such absolute blankness that his resolution was
swiftly overturned, and showed him a different face.

"I won't tell you anything about what I feel and what I want to-night
except this--I find that you are influencing all my thoughts and all my
days in what is to me a very new and a very happy way. You hear as much
as that often, and from many people, don't you? So there is nothing in
it that need startle you or make you uncomfortable." He paused, and she
nodded in a visible effort to follow him.

"So I am here to-night to ask you to let me do something for you just
for my own pleasure--there must be some way of helping you, and being
your friend----"

"As Mr. Harris is," she interrupted. "I do influence Mr. Harris for
good, I know. He says so."

"Influence me," he begged, "in any way you like."

"I will pray for you," she said. "I promise that."

"And you will let me see you sometimes?" he asked, conceding the point.

"If I thought it would do you any good"--she looked at him doubtfully,
clasping and unclasping her hands--"I will see; I will ask for guidance.
Perhaps it is one of His own appointed ways. If you have no objection, I
will give you this little book, _Almost Persuaded_. I am sure you are
almost persuaded. Above all, I hope, you will go on coming to the
meetings."

And in the course of the next two or three moments Lindsay found
himself, somewhat to his astonishment, again in the night of the
staircase, dismissed exactly as Mr. Harris had been, by the agency of a
printed volume. Only in his case, a figure of much angelic beauty stood
at the top, holding a patent kerosene lamp high to illumine his way. He
refrained from looking back lest she should see something too human in
his face and vanish, leaving him in darkness which would be indeed
impenetrable.



CHAPTER VII.


There was a panic in Dhurrumtolla; a "ticca-gharry"--the shabby oblong
box on wheels, dignified in municipal regulations as a hackney
carriage--was running away. Coolie mothers dragged naked children up on
the pavement with angry screams; drivers of ox-carts dug their lean
beasts in the side and turned out of the way almost at a trot; only the
tramcar held on its course in conscious invincibility. A pariah tore
along beside the vehicle barking; crows flew up from the dung in the
road by half-dozens, protesting shrilly; a pedlar of blue bead necklaces
just escaped being knocked down. Little groups of baboos[4] and
bunnias[5] stood looking after, laughing and speculating; a native
policeman, staring also, gave them sharp orders to disperse, and they
said to him, "Peace, brother." To each other they said, "Behold, the
driver is a 'mut-wallah,'" (or drunken person); and presently, as the
thing whirled further up the emptied perspective, "Lo! the syce has
fallen." The driver was certainly very drunk; his whip circled
perpetually above his head; the syce clinging behind was stiff with
terror, and fell off like a bundle of rags. Inside, Hilda Howe, with a
hand in the strap at each side and her feet against the opposite seat,
swayed violently, and waited for what might happen, breathing short.
Whenever the gharry thrashed over the tram-lines, she closed her eyes.
There was a point near Cornwallis street where she saw the off front
wheel make sickeningly queer revolutions; and another, electrically
close, when two tossing roan heads with pink noses appeared in a gate to
the left, heading smartly out, all unawares, at precisely right angles
to her own derelict equipage. That was the juncture of the Reverend
Stephen Arnold's interference, walking and discussing with Amiruddin
Khan, as he was, the comparative benefits of Catholic and Mohammedan
fasting. It would be easy to magnify what Stephen did in that
interruption of the considerate hearing he was giving to Amiruddin. The
ticca-gharry ponies were almost spent, and any resolute hand could have
impelled them away from the carriage-pole with which the roans
threatened to impale their wretched sides. The front wheel, however,
made him heroic, going off at a tangent into a cloth-merchant's shop,
and precipitating a clash while he still clung to the reins. The door
flew open on the under side and Hilda fell through, grasping at the dust
of the road; while the driver, discovering that his seat was no longer
horizontal, entered suddenly upon sobriety, and clamoured with tears
that the cloth-merchant should restore his wheel--was he not a poor man?
Hilda, struggling with her hat-pins, felt her dress brushed by various
lean hands of the bazaar, and observed herself the central figure in yet
another situation. When she was in a condition to see, she saw Arnold
soothing the ponies; Amiruddin, before the possibility of vague police
complication, having slipped away. Stephen had believed the gharry
empty. The sight of her, in her disordered draperies, was a revelation
and a reproach.

[Footnote 4: Clerks.]

[Footnote 5: Small dealers.]

"Is it possible?" he exclaimed, and was beside her. "You are not hurt?"

"Only scraped, thanks. I am lucky to get off with this." She held up her
right palm, broadly abraded round the base, where her hand had struck
the road. Arnold took it delicately in his own thin fingers to examine
it; an infinity of contrast rested in the touch. He looked at it with
anxiety so obviously deep and troubled that Hilda silently smiled. She
who had been battered, as she said, twice round the world, found it
disproportionate.

"It's the merest scratch," she said, grave again to meet his glance.

"Indeed, I fear not." The priest made a solicitous bandage with his
handkerchief, while the circle about them solidified. "It is quite
unpleasantly deep. You must let me take you at once to the nearest
chemist's and get it properly washed and dressed, or it may give you a
vast amount of trouble--but I am walking."

"I will walk, too," Hilda said, readily. "I should prefer it, truly."
With her undamaged hand she produced a rupee from her pocket, where a
few coins chinked casually, looked at it, and groped for another. "I
really can't afford any more," she said. "He can get his wheel mended
with that, can't he?"

"It is three times his fare," Arnold said, austerely, "and he deserved
nothing--but a fine, perhaps." The man was suppliant before them,
cringing, salaaming, holding joined palms open. Hilda lifted her head
and looked over the shoulders of the little rabble, where the sun stood
golden upon the roadside and two naked children played with a torn pink
kite. Something seemed to gather into her eyes as she looked, and when
she fixed them softly upon Arnold, to speak, as it had spoken before.

"Ah," she said. "Our deserts."

It was the merest echo and she had done it on purpose, but he could not
know that, and as she dropped the rupees into the craving hands and
turned and walked away with him, he had nothing to say. There was
nothing, perhaps, that he wanted to talk of more than of his experience
at the theatre; he longed to have it simplified and explained; yet in
that space of her two words the impossibility of mentioning it had
sprung at him and overcome him. He hoped, with instant fervour, that she
would refrain from any allusion to _The Offence of Galilee_. And for the
time being she did refrain. She said, instead, that her hand was
smarting absurdly already, and did Arnold suppose the chemist would use
a carbolic lotion? Stephen, with a guarded look, said very possibly not
but one never knew; and Hilda, thinking of the far-off day when the
little girl of her was brought tactfully to disagreeable necessities,
covered a preposterous impulse to cry with another smile.

A thudding of bare feet overtook them. It was the syce, with his arms
full of thin paper bags, the kind that hold cheap millinery. "Oh, the
good man!" Hilda exclaimed, "My parcels!" and looked on equably, while
Arnold took them by their puckered ends. "I have been buying gold lace
and things from Chunder Dutt for a costume," she exclaimed. The bags
dangled helplessly from Arnold's fingers; he looked very much aware of
them. "Let me carry at least one," she begged. "I can perfectly with my
parasol hand;" but he refused her even one. "If I may be permitted to
take the responsibility," he said, happily, and she rejoined, "Oh, I
would trust you with things more fragile." At which, such is the
discipline of these orders, he looked steadily in front of him and
seemed deaf with modesty.

"But are you sure," said Hilda, suddenly considerate, "that it looks
well?"

"Is the gold lace, then, so very meretricious?"

"It goes doubtfully with your cloth," she laughed, and instantly looked
stricken with the conviction that she might better have said something
else. But Arnold appeared to take it simply and to see no gibe in it,
only a pleasant commonplace.

"It might look queer in Chowringhee," he said, "but this is not a
censorious public." Then, as if to palliate the word, he added, "They
will think me no more mad to carry paper bags than to carry myself, when
it is plain that I might ride--and they see me doing that every day."

All the same the paper bags swinging beside the girdled black skirt did
impart a touch of comedy, which was in a way a pity, since humour goes
so far to destroy the picturesque. Hilda without the paper bags would
have been vastly enough for contrast. She walked--one is inclined to
dwell upon her steps and face the risk of being unintelligible--in a
wide-sleeved gown of peach-coloured silk, rather frayed at the seams, a
trifle spent in vulnerable places, surmounted by an extravagant collar
and a Paris hat. The dress was of artistic intention, inexpensively
carried out, the hat had an accomplished _chic_; it had fallen to her in
the wreck and ruin of a too ambitious draper of Coolgardie. As a matter
of fact it was the only one she had. The wide sleeves ended a little
below the elbow, and she carried in compensation a pair of long suède
gloves, a compromise which only occasionally discovered itself
buttonless, and a most expensive umbrella, the tribute of a gentleman in
that line of business in Cape Town, whose standing advertisement is now
her note of appreciation. Arnold in his unvarying gait paced beside her;
he naturally shrank, so close to her opulence, into something less
impressive than he was; a mere intelligence he looked, in a quaint
uniform, with his long lip drawn down and pursed a little in this
accomplishment of duty, and his eyes steadily in front of him. Hilda's
lambent observation was everywhere but most of all on him; a fleck of
the dust from the road still lay upon the warm bloom of her cheek, a
perpetual happy curve clung about her mouth. So they passed in streets
of the thronging people, where yards of new dyed cotton, purple and
yellow, stretched drying in the sun, where a busy tom-tom called the
pious to leave coppers before a blood-red, goldened-tongued Kali, half
visible through the door of a mud hut--where all the dealers in brass
dishes and glass armlets, nine-yard turban cloths, blue and gold, and
silver gilt stands for the comfortable hubble-bubble, squatted in line
upon their thresholds and accepted them with indifference. So they
passed, worthy of a glance from that divinity who shapes our ends.

They talked of the accident. "You stopped the horses, didn't you?" Hilda
said, and the speculation in her eyes was concerned with the extent to
which a muscular system might dwindle, in that climate, under sacerdotal
robes worn every day.

"I told them to stop, poor things," Arnold said; "they had hardly to be
persuaded."

"But you didn't save my life or anything like that, did you?" she
adventured; like a vagrant in the sun. The blood was warm in her. She
did not weigh her words. "I shouldn't like having my life saved. The
necessity for feeling such a vast emotion--I shouldn't know how to cope
with it."

"I will claim to have saved your other hand," he smiled. "You will be
quite grateful enough for that."

She noted that he did not hasten, behind pyramidal blushes, into the
shelter of a general disavowal. The cassock seemed to cover an
obligation to acknowledge things.

"I see," she said, veering round. "You are quite right to circumscribe
me. There is nothing so boring as the gratitude that will out. It is
only the absence of it, too plainly expressed, that is unpleasant. But
you won't find that in me either." She gave him a smile as she lowered
her parasol to turn into the shop of Lahiri Dey, licensed to sell
European drugs, that promised, infinite possibilities of friendship; and
he, following, took pleased and careful possession of it.

An hour later, as they approached No. 3, Lal Behari's Lane, Miss Howe
looked pale, which is not surprising, since they had walked and talked
all the way. Their talk was a little strenuous too; it was as if they
had fallen upon an opportunity, and mutually, consciously, made the most
of it.

"You must have some tea immediately," Arnold said, before the battered
urns and the dusty crotons of her dwelling.

"A little whiskey and soda, I think. And you will come up, please, and
have some, too. You must."

"Thanks," he said, looking at his watch. "If I do--"

"You'll have the soda without the whiskey! All right!" she laughed, and
led the way.

"This is vicious indulgence," Arnold said of his beverage, sitting under
the inverted Japanese umbrellas. "I haven't been pitched out of a
ticca-gharry."

It is doubtful whether the indulgence was altogether in the soda, which
is, after all, ascetic in its quality, and only suitably effervescent,
like ecclesiastical humour. It may very probably be that there was no
indulgence; indeed one is convinced that the word, like so many words,
says too much. The springs of Arnold's chair were bursting through the
bottom, and there were stains on its faded chintz-arms, but it was
comfortable, and he leaned back in it, looking up at the paper
umbrellas. You know the room; I took you into it with Duff Lindsay, who
did not come there from rigidities and rituals, and who had a qualified
pleasure in it. But there were lines in the folds of the flowered window
curtains dragging half a yard upon the floor which seemed to disband
Arnold's spirit, and a twinkle in the blue bead of a bamboo screen where
the light came through that released it altogether. The shabby,
violent-coloured place encompassed him like an easy garment, and the
lady, with her feet tucked up in a sofa and a cushion under her tumbled
head, was an unembarrassing invitation to the kind of happy things he
had not said for years. They sat in the coolness of the room for half an
hour, and then, after a little pause, Hilda said suddenly,

"I am glad you saw me in _The Offence of Galilee_ on Saturday night. We
shall not play it again."

"It has been withdrawn?"

"Yes. The rights, you know, really belong to Mr. Bradley; and he can't
endure his part."

"Is there no one else to--"

"He objects to anyone else. We generally play together." This was
inadvertent, but Stephen had no reason to imagine that she contracted
her eyebrows in any special irritation. "It is an atrocious piece," she
added.

"Is it?" he said, absently, and then, "Yes, it is an atrocious piece.
But I am glad, too, that I saw you." He looked away from her, reddening
deeply, and stood up. His bands fell upon him again, he bade her a
measured and precise farewell. It seemed as if he hurried. She only half
rose to give him her unwounded hand, and when he was gone she sank back
again thoughtfully.



CHAPTER VIII.


"I have outstayed all the rest," Lindsay said, with his hat and stick in
his hand, in Alicia Livingstone's drawing-room, "because I want
particularly to talk to you. They have left me precious little time," he
added, glancing at his watch.

She had wondered when he came early in the formal Sunday noon hour for
men's calls, since he had more casual privileges; and wondered more when
he sat on with composure, as one who is master of the situation, while
Major-Generals and Deputy Secretaries came and went. There was a mist in
her brain as she talked to the Major-Generals and Deputy Secretaries--it
did not in the least obscure what she found to say--and in the midst of
it the formless idea that he must wish to attach a special importance to
his visit. This took shape and line when they were alone, and he spoke
of outsitting the others. It impelled her to walk to the window and open
it. "You might stay to lunch," she said, addressing a pair of crows in
altercation on the verandah.

"There is nearly half-an-hour before lunch," he said. "Can I convince
you, in that time, I wonder, that I am not an absolute fool."

Alicia turned and came back to her sofa. She may have had a prevision of
the need of support. "I hardly think," she said, drawing the long breath
with which we try to subdue a tempest within, "that it would take so
long." She tried to look at him, but her eyes would not carry above the
violets in his button-hole.

"I've had a supreme experience," he said, "very strange and very lovely.
I am living in it, moving in it, speaking in it," he added quickly,
watching her face; "so don't, for God's sake, touch it roughly."

She lifted her hand in nervous, involuntary deprecation. "Why should you
suppose I would touch it roughly?" There was that in her voice which
cried put that she would rather not touch it at all; but Lindsay, on the
brink of his confidence, could not suppose it--did not hear it. He knew
her so well.

"A great many people will," he said. "I can't bear the thought of their
fingers. That is one reason that brings me to you."

She faced him fully at this; her eyelids quivered, but she looked
straight at him. It nerved her to be brought into his equation, even in
the form which should finally be eliminated. She contrived a smile.

"I believe you know already," Lindsay cried.

"I have heard something. Don't be alarmed--not from people, from Miss
Howe."

"Wonderful woman! I haven't told her."

"Is that always necessary? She has intuitions. In this case," Alicia
went on, with immense courage, "I didn't believe them."

"Why?" he asked, enjoyingly. Anything to handle his delight--he would
even submit it to analysis.

She hesitated--her business was in great waters, the next instant might
engulf her. "It's so curiously unlike you," she faltered. "If she had
been a duchess--a very exquisite person, or somebody very
clever--remember I haven't seen her."

"You haven't, so I must forgive you invidious comparisons." Lindsay
visaged the words with a smile, but they had an articulated hardness.

Alicia raised her eyebrows.

"What do you expect one to imagine?" she asked, with quietness.

"A miracle," he said, sombrely.

"Ah, that's difficult!"

There was silence for a moment between them, then she added, perversely,

"And, you know, faith is not what it was."

Duff sat biting his lips. Her dryness irritated him. He was accustomed
to find in her fields of delicately blooming enthusiasms, and running
watercourses where his satisfactions were ever reflected. Suddenly she
seemed to emerge to her own consciousness, upon a summit from which she
could look down upon the turmoil in herself and beyond it, to where he
stood.

"Don't make a mistake," she said, "don't." She thrust her hand for a
fraction of an instant toward him, and then swiftly withdrew it,
gathering herself together to meet what he might say.

What he did say was simple, and easy to hear. "That's what everybody
will tell me; but I thought you might understand." He tapped the toe of
his boot with his stick as if he counted the strokes. She looked down
and counted them too.

"Then you won't help me to marry her," he said definitely, at last.

"What could I do?" She twisted her sapphire ring. "Ask somebody else."

"Don't expect me to believe there is nothing you could do. Go to her as
my friend. It isn't such a monstrous thing to ask. Tell her any good you
know of me. At present her imagination paints me in all the lurid
colours of the lost."

The face she turned upon him was all little sharp white angles, and the
cloud of fair hair above her temples stood out stiffly, suggesting
Céline and the curling tongs. She did not lose her elegance; the poise
of her chin and shoulders was quite perfect, but he thought she looked
too amusedly at his difficulty. Her negative, too, was more
unsympathetic than he had any reason to expect.

"No," she said; "it must be somebody else. Don't ask me. I should become
involved--I might do harm." She had surmounted her emotion; she was able
to look at the matter with surprising clearness and decision. "I should
do harm," she repeated.

"You don't count with her effect on you."

"You can't possibly imagine her effect on me. I'm not a man."

"But won't you take anything--about her--from me? You know I'm really
not a fool--not even very impressionable."

"Oh, no!" she said impatiently, "no--of course not."

"Pray, why?"

"There are other things to reckon with." She looked coldly beyond him
out of the window. "A man's intelligence when he is in love--how far can
one count on it?"

There was nothing but silence for that or perhaps the murmured "Oh, I
don't agree," with which Lindsay met it. He rode down her logic with a
simple appeal. "Then after all," he said, "you're not my friend."

It goaded her into something like an impertinence. "After you have
married her," she said, "you'll see."

"You will be hers then," he declared.

"I will be yours." Her eyes leaped along the prospect and rested on a
brass-studded Tartar shield at the other end of the room.

"And I thought you broad in these views," Lindsay said, glancing at her
curiously. Her opportunity for defense was curtailed by a heavy step in
the hall, and the lifted portière disclosed Surgeon-Major Livingstone,
looking warm. He, whose other name was the soul of hospitality, made a
profound and feeling remonstrance against Lindsay's going before tiffin,
though Alicia, doing something to a bowl of nasturtiums, did not hear
it. Not that her added protest would have detained Lindsay, who took his
perturbations away with him as quickly as might be. Alicia saw the cloud
upon him as he shook hands with her, and found it but slightly consoling
to reflect that his sun would without doubt re-emerge in all effulgence
on the other side of the door.



CHAPTER IX.


That same Sunday Alicia had been able to say to Lindsay about Hilda
Howe, "We have not stood still--we know each other well now," and when
he commented with some reserve upon this, to follow it up. "But these
things have so little to do with mere length of time or number of
opportunities," she declared. "One springs at some people."

A Major-General, interrupting, said he wished he had the chance; and
they talked about something else. But perhaps this is enough to explain
a note which went by a messenger from the Livingstones' pillared palace
in Middleton street to No. 3, La Behari's Lane on Monday morning. It was
a short note, making a definite demand with an absence of colour and
softness and emotion which was almost elaborate. Hilda, at breakfast,
tore off the blank half sheet, and wrote in pencil--

"I think I can arrange to get her here about five this afternoon. No
rehearsal--they're doing something to the gas-pipes at the theatre, so
you will find me, anyway. And I'll be delighted to see you."

She twisted it up and addressed it, reconsidered that, and made the
scrap more secure in a yellow envelope. It had an embossed post-office
stamp, which she sacrificed with resignation. Then she went back to an
extremely uninteresting vegetable curry, with the reflection, "Can she
possibly imagine that one doesn't see it yet?"

Alicia came before five. She brought a novel of Gissing's, in order
apparently that they might without fail talk about Gissing. Hilda was
agreeable; she would talk about Gissing, or about anything, tipped on
the edge of her bed--Alicia had surmounted that degree of intimacy at a
bound by the declaration that she could no longer endure the blue
umbrellas--and clasping one knee, with an uncertain tenure of a chipped
bronze slipper deprived of its heel. Wonderful tusser silk draperies
fell about her, with ink-spots on the sleeves; her hair was magnificent.

"It's so curious to me," she was saying of the novel, "that any one
should learn all that life as you do, at a distance, in a book. It's
like looking at it through the little end of an opera-glass."

"I fancy that the most desirable way," said Alicia, glancing at the
door.

"Don't you believe it. The best way is to come out of it, to grow out of
it. Then all the rest has the charm of novelty and the value of
contrast, and the distinction of being the best. You, poor dear, were
born an artificial flower in a cardboard box. But you couldn't help it."

"Everybody doesn't grow out of it." The concentration in Alicia's eyes
returned again with vacillating wings.

"She can't be here for a quarter of an hour yet."

The slipper dropped at this point, and Hilda stooped to put it on again.
She kept her foot in her hands and regarded it pensively.

"Shoes are the one thing one shouldn't buy in the native quarter," she
said; "At all events, ready-made."

"You have an audacity----" Alicia ended abruptly in a wan smile.

"Haven't I? Are you quite sure he wants to marry her?"

"I know it."

"From him?"

"From him."

"Oh"--Hilda deliberated a moment, nursing her slipper--"Really? Well, we
can't let that happen."

"Why not?"

"You have a hardihood! Is no reason plain to you? Don't you see
anything?"

Alicia smiled again painfully, as if against a tension of her lips. "I
see only one thing that matters--he wants it," she said.

"And won't be happy till he gets it? Rubbish, my dear! We are an
intolerably self-sacrificing sex." Hilda felt around for pillows, and
stretched her length along the bed. "They've taught us well, the men;
it's a blood disease now, running everywhere in the female line. You may
be sure it was a barbarian princess that hesitated between the lady and
the tiger. A civilised one would have introduced the lady and given her
a _dot_, and retired to the nearest convent. Bah! It's a deformity, like
the dachshund's legs."

Alicia looked as if this would be a little troublesome, and not quite
worth while to follow.

"The happiness of his whole life is involved," she said, simply.

"Oh dear yes--the old story! And what about the happiness of yours? Do
you imagine it's laudable, admirable, this attitude? Do you see yourself
in it with pleasure? Have you got a sacred satisfaction of self-praise?"

Contempt accumulated in Miss Howe's voice and sat in her eyes. To mark
her climax, she kicked her slipper over the end of the bed.

"It is idiotic--it's disgusting," she said.

Alicia caught a flash from her. "My attitude!" she cried. "What in the
world do you mean? Do you always think in poses? I take no attitude. I
care for him, and in that proportion I intend that he shall have what he
wants--so far as I can help him to it. You have never cared for
anybody--what do you know about it?"

Hilda took a calm, unprejudiced view of the ceiling. "I assure you I'm
not an angel," she cried. "Haven't I cared? Several times."

"Not really--not lastingly."

"I don't know about really; certainly not lastingly. I've never thought
the men should have a monopoly of nomadic susceptibilities. They entail
the prettiest experiences."

"Of course, in your profession----"

"Don't be nasty, sweet lady. My affections have never taken the
opportunities of our profession. They haven't even carried me into
matrimony, though I remember once, at Sydney, they brought me to the
brink. _Quelle escape!_ We must contrive one like it for Duff Lindsay."

"You assume too much--a great deal too much. She must be beautiful--and
good."

"Give me a figure. She's a lily, and she draws the kind of beauty that
lilies have from her personal chastity and her religious enthusiasm.
Touch those things and bruise them, as--as marriage would touch and
bruise them--and she would be a mere fragment of stale vegetation. You
want him to clasp that to his bosom for the rest of his life?"

"I won't believe you. You're coarse and you're cruel."

Tears flashed into Miss Livingstone's eyes with this. Hilda, still
regarding the ceiling, was aware of them, and turned an impatient
shoulder while they should be brushed undetected away.

"I'm sorry, dear," she said. "I forgot. You are usually so intelligent,
one can be coarse and cruel with comfort, talking to you. Go into the
bath-room and get my salts--they're on the washhand-stand--will you? I'm
quite faint with all I'm about to undergo."

Laura Filbert came in as Alicia emerged with the salts. Ignoring the
third person with the bottle, she went directly to the bedside and laid
her hand on Hilda's head.

"Oh, Miss Howe, I am so sorry you are sick--so sorry," she said. It was
a cooing of professional concern, true to an ideal, to a necessity.

"I am not very bad," Hilda improvised. "Hardly more than a headache."

"She makes light of everything," Miss Filbert said, smiling toward
Alicia, who stood silent, the prey of her impression. Discovering the
blue salts bottle, Laura walked over to her and took it from her hands.

"And what," said the barefooted Salvation Army girl, "might your name
be?"

There was an infinite calm interest in it--it was like a conventionality
of the other world, and before its assurance Alicia stood helpless.

"Her name is Livingstone," called Hilda from the bed, "and she is as
good as she is beautiful. You needn't be troubled about _her_ soul--she
takes Communion every Sunday morning at the Cathedral."

"Hallelujah!" said Captain Filbert, in a tone of dubious congratulation.

"Much better," said Hilda, cheerfully, "to take it at the Cathedral, you
know, than nowhere."

Miss Filbert said nothing to this, but sat down upon the edge of the
bed, looking serious, and stroked Hilda's hair.

"You don't seem to have much fever," she said. "There was a poor fellow
in the Military Hospital this morning with a temperature of 107. I could
hardly bear to touch him."

"What was the matter?" asked Hilda idly, occupied with hypotheses about
the third person in the room.

"Oh, I don't know exactly. Some complication, I suppose, of the wages
the body pays to sin."

"Divinest Laura!" Hilda exclaimed, drawing her head back. "Do take a
chair. It will be even more soothing to see you comfortable."

Captain Filbert spoke again to Alicia, as she obeyed. "Miss Howe is more
thoughtful for others than some of our converted ones," she said, with
vast kindness. "I have often told her so. I have had a long day."

"It may improve me in that character," Hilda said, "to suggest that if
you will go about such people, a little carbolic disinfectant is a good
thing, or a crystal or two of permanganate of potash in your bath. Do
you use those things?"

Laura shook her head. "Faith is better than disinfectants. I never get
any harm. My Master protects me."

"My goodness!" Hilda said. And in the silence that occurred, Captain
Filbert remarked that the only thing she used carbolic acid for was a
decayed tooth. Presently Alicia made a great effort. She laid hands on
Hilda's previous references as a tangibility that remained with her.

"Do you ever go to the Cathedral?" she said.

The faintest shade of dogmatism crossed Captain Filbert's features, as
when, on a day of cloud fleeces, the sun withdraws for an instant from a
flower. Since her sect is proclaimed beyond the boundaries of dogma it
may have been some other obscurity, but my appraisement fails.

"No, I never go there. We raise our own Ebenezer; we are a tabernacle to
ourselves."

"Isn't it exquisite--her way of speaking!" cried Hilda from the bed, and
Laura glanced at her with a deprecating, reproachful smile, in reproof
of an offence admittedly incorrigible. But she went on as if she were
conscious of a stimulus.

"Wherever the morning sky bends or the stars cluster is sanctuary
enough," she said: "a slum at noonday is as holy for us as daisied
fields; the Name of the Lord walks with us. The Army is His Army. He is
Lord of our hosts."

"A kind of chant," murmured Hilda, and Miss Livingstone became aware
that she might if she liked play with the beginnings of magnetism. Then
that impression was carried away, as it were, on a puff of air, and it
is hardly likely that she thought of it again.

"I suppose all the _élite_ go to the Cathedral," Laura said. The
sanctity of her face was hardly disturbed, but a curiosity rested upon
it, and behind the curiosity a far-off little leaping tongue of some
other thing. Hilda on the bed named it the constant feminine and
narrowed her eyes.

"Dear me, yes," she said for Alicia. "His Excellency, the Viceroy, and
all his beautiful A.D.C.'s, no end of military and their ladies,
Secretaries to the Government of India in rows, fully choral, Under
Secretaries so thick they're kept in the vestibule till the bell stops.
'_And make thy chosen people joyful!_'" she intoned. "Not forgetting
Surgeon-Major and Miss Alicia Livingstone, who occupy the fourth pew to
the right of the main aisle, advantageously near the pulpit."

"You know already what a humbug she is!" Alicia said, but Captain
Filbert's inner eye seemed retained by that imaginary congregation.

"Well, it would not be any attraction for me," she said, rising to go
through the little accustomed function of her departure. "I'll be going
now, I think. Ensign Sand has fever again and I have to take her place
at the Believers' Meeting." She took Hilda's hand in hers and held it
for an instant. "Good-bye, and God bless you--in the way you most need,"
she said, and turned to Alicia, for whose ears Hilda's protests against
the girl's going broke meaninglessly about the room. "Good-bye. I am
glad to know that we will be one in the glad hereafter, though our paths
may diverge"--her eye rested with acknowledgment upon Alicia's
embroidered sleeves--"in this world. To look at you I should have
thought you were of the bowed down ones, not yet fully assured, but
perhaps you only want a little more oxygen in the blood of your
religion. Remember the word of the Lord--'Rejoice! again I say unto you,
rejoice!' Good-bye."

She drew her head-covering further forward and moved to the door. It
sloped to her shoulders and made them droop: her native clothes clung
about her breast and her hips, disclosing, confessing, insisting upon
her sex in the cringing oriental way. Miss Howe looked after her guest
with a curl of the lip as uncontrollable as it was unreasonable. "A
saved soul, perhaps. A woman--oh, assuredly," she said in the depths of
her hair.

The door had almost closed upon Captain Filbert when Alicia made
something like a dash at an object about to elude her. "Oh," she
exclaimed, "Wait a minute. Will you come and see me? I think--I think
you might do me good. I live at No. 10, Middleton street. Will you
come?"

Laura came back into the room. There was a little stiffness in her air,
as if she repressed something.

"I have no objection," she said.

"To-morrow afternoon--at five? Or--my brother is dining at the
club--would you rather come to dinner?"

"Whichever is agreeable to you will suit me." She spoke carefully, after
an instant's hesitation.

"Then do come and dine--at eight," Alicia said; and it was agreed.

She stood staring at the door when Laura finally closed it, and only
turned when Hilda spoke.

"You are going to have him to meet her," she said. "May I come too?"

"Certainly not." Alicia's grasp was also by this time on the door
handle.

"Are you going too? You daren't talk about her!" Hilda cried.

"I'm going too. I've got the brougham. I'll drive her home," said
Alicia, and went out swiftly.

"My goodness!" Hilda remarked again. Then she got up and found her
slippers and wrote a note, which she addressed to the Reverend Stephen
Arnold, Clarke Mission House, College street. "Thanks immensely," it
ran, "for your delightful offer to introduce me to Father Jordan and
persuade him to show me the astronomical wonders he keeps in his tower
at St. Simeon's. An hour with a Jesuit is an hour of milk and honey, and
belonging to that charming Order he won't mind my coming on a Sunday
evening--the first clear one."

Miss Howe signed her note and bit consideringly at the end of her pen.
Then she added: "If you have any influence with Duff Lindsay, it may be
news to you that you can exert it with advantage to keep him from
marrying a cheap, ethereal little _religieuse_ of the Salvation Army
named Filbert. It may seem more fitting that you should expostulate with
her, but I don't advise that."



CHAPTER X.


The door of Ensign Sand's apartment stood open with a purposeful air
when Captain Filbert reached headquarters that evening; but in any case
it is likely that she would have gone in. Mrs. Sand walked the floor,
carrying a baby, a pale, sticky baby with blotches, which had inherited
from its maternal parent a conspicuous lack of buttons. Mrs. Sand's room
was also ornamented with texts, but they had apparently been selected at
random, and they certainly hung that way. The piety of the place seemed
at the control of an older infant, who sat on the floor and played with
his father's regimental cap. On the other side of the curtain Captain
Sand audibly washed himself and brushed his hair.

"What kind of meetin' did you have?" asked Mrs. Sand. "There--there now;
he shall have his bottle, so he shall!"

"A beautiful meeting. Abraham Lincoln White, the Savannah negro, you
know, came as a believer for the first time, and so did Miss Rozario
from Whiteway and Laidlaw's. We had such a happy time."

"What sort of collection?"

Laura opened a knotted handkerchief and counted out some copper coins.

"Only seven annas three pice! And you call that a good meeting! I don't
believe you exhorted them to give!"

"Oh, I think I did!" Laura returned mechanically.

"Seven annas and three pice! And you know what the Commissioner wrote
out about our last quarter's earnings! What did you say?"

"I said--I said the collection would now be taken up," Laura faltered.

"Oh dear! oh dear! Leopold, stop clawing me! Couldn't you think of
anythin' more tellin' or more touchin' than that? Fever or no fever, it
does not do for me to stay away from the regular meetin's. One thing is
plain--_he_ wasn't there!"

"Who?"

"Well, you've never told me his name, but I expect you've got your
reasons." Mrs. Sand's tone was not arch, but slightly resentful. "I mean
the gentleman that attends so regular and sits behind, under the window.
A society man, I should say, to look at him, though the officers of this
Army are no respecters of persons, and I don't suppose the Lord takes
any notice of his clothes."

"His name is Mr. Lindsay. No, he wasn't there."

The girl's tone was distant and cold. The rebuke about the collection
had gone home to a place raw with similar reproaches.

"I hope you haven't been discouraging him?"

Captain Filbert looked at her superior officer with astonishment.

"I have entreated him to come to the meetings. But he never attends a
Believers' Rally. Why should he?"

"What's his state of mind? He came to see you, didn't he, the other
night?"

"Yes, he did. I don't think he's altogether careless."

"Ain't he seeking?"

"He wouldn't admit it, but he may not know himself. The Lord has
different ways of working. What else should bring him night after
night?"

Mrs. Sand glanced meaningly at a point on the floor, with lifted
eyebrows, then at her officer, and finally hid a badly disciplined smile
behind her baby's head. When she looked back again Laura had flushed all
over, and an embarrassment stood between them, which she felt was
absurd.

"My!" she said--scruples in breaking it could hardly perhaps have been
expected of her--"you do look nice when you've got a little colour. But
if you can't see that it's you that brings him to the meetin's you must
be blind, that's all."

Captain Filbert's confusion was dispelled, as by the wave of a wand.

"Then I hope I may go on bringing him," she said. "He couldn't come to a
better place."

"Well, you'll have to be careful," said Mrs. Sand, as if with severe
intent. "But I don't say discourage him; I wouldn't say that. You may be
an influence for good. It may be His will that you should be pleasant to
the young man. But don't make free with him. Don't, on any account, have
him put his arm round your waist."

"Nobody has done that to me," Laura replied, austerely, "since I left
Putney, and so long as I am in the Army nobody will. Not that Mr.
Lindsay" (she blushed again) "would ever want to. The class he belongs
to look down on it."

"The class he belongs to do worse things. The Army doesn't look down on
it. It's only nature, and the Army believes in working with nature. If
it was Mr. Harris that wanted such a thing, I wouldn't say a word--he
marches under the Lord's banner."

Captain Filbert listened without confusion; her expression was even
slightly complacent.

"Well," she said, "I told Mr. Harris last evening that the Lieutenant
and I couldn't go on giving him so much of our time, and he seemed to
think he'd been keeping company with me. I had to tell him I hadn't any
such idea."

"Did he seem much disappointed?"

"He said he thought he would have more of the feeling of belonging to
the Army if he was married in it; but I told him he would have to learn
to walk alone."

Mrs. Sand speculatively bit her lip. Some faint reflection of the
interview with Mr. Harris made her, as far as possible, button up her
dressing-gown.

"I don't know but what you did right," she said. "By the grace of God
you converted him, and he hadn't ought to ask more of you. But I have a
kind of feeling that Mr. Lindsay'll be harder to convince."

"I dare say."

"It would be splendid, though, to garner him in. He might be willing to
march with us and subscribe half his pay, like poor Captain Corby, of
the Queen's Army, did in Rangoon."

"He might be proud to."

"We must all try and bring sin home to him," Mrs. Sand remarked with
rising energy; "and don't you go saying anything to him hastily. If he's
gone on you----"

"Oh, Ensign; let us hope he is thinking of higher things! Let us both
pray for him. Let Captain Sand pray for him, too, and I'll ask the
Lieutenant. Now that she's got Miss Rozario safe into the Kingdom, I
don't think she has any special object."

"Oh, yes, we'll pray for him," Ensign Sand returned, as if that might
have gone without saying, "but you----"

"And give me that precious baby. You must be completely worn out. I
should enjoy taking care of him; indeed I should."

"It's the first--the very first--time she ever took that draggin' child
out of my arms for an instant," the Ensign remarked to her husband and
next in command later in the evening, but she resigned the infant
without protest at the time. Laura carried him into her own room with
something like gaiety, and there repeated to him more nursery rhymes,
dating from secular Putney, than she would have believed she remembered.

The Believers' Rally, as will be understood, was a gathering of some
selectness. If the Chinaman came, it was because of the vagueness of his
reception of the privileges he claimed; and his ignorance of all tongues
but his own left no medium for turning him out. Qualms of conscience,
however, kept all Miss Rozario's young lady friends away, and these
also, doubtless, operated to detain Duff Lindsay. One does not attend a
Believers' Rally unless one's personal faith extends beyond the lady in
command of it, and one specially refrains if one's spiritual condition
is a delicate and debatable matter with her. In Wellesley square, later
in the evening, the conditions were different. It would not be easy to
imagine a scene that suggested greater liberality of sentiment. The moon
shed her light upon it, and the palms threw fretted shadows down. Beyond
them, on four sides, lines of street-lamps shone, and tram-drivers
whistled bullock carts off the lines, and street pedlars lifted their
cries. A torch marked the core of the group of exhorters; it struck pale
gold from Laura's hair, and made glorious the buttons of the man who
beat the drum. She talked to the people in their own language; the "open
air" was designed for the people. "Kiko! Kiko!" (Why! Why!) Lindsay
heard her cry, where he stood in the shadow, on the edge of the crowd.
He looked down at a coolie woman with shrivelled breasts crouched on her
haunches upon the ground, bent with the bricks of half a century, and
back at the girl beside the torch. "Do not delay until to-morrow!" Laura
besought them. "_Kul-ka dari mut karo!_" A sensation of disgust assailed
him; he turned away. Then, in an impulse of atonement--he felt already
so responsible for her--he went back and dropped a coin into the coolie
creature's lap. But he grew more miserable as he stood, and finally
walked deliberately to a wooden bench at a distance, where he could not
hear her voice. Only the hymn pursued him; they sang presently a hymn.
In the chorus the words were distinguishable, borne in the robust
accents of Captain Sand--

    "_Us ki ho tarif,
     Us ki ho tarif!_"

The strange words, limping on the familiar air, made a barbarous jangle,
a discordance of a special intolerable sort.

Lindsay wondered, with a poignancy of pity, whether the coolie woman
were singing too, and found something like relief in the questionable
reflection that if she wasn't, in view of the rupee, she ought to be.

"Glory to His name!" "Glory to His name!"

His "Good evening!" when the meeting was over was a cheerful, general
salutation, and the familiarity of the sight of him was plain in the
response he got, equally general and equally cheerful. Lieutenant Da
Cruz's smile was even further significant, if he had thought of
interpreting it, and there was overt amiability in the manner in which
Ensign Sand put her hymn-books together and packed everybody, including
her husband, whose arm she took, out of the way.

"Wait for me," Laura said, to whom a Eurasian beggar made elaborate
appeal, as they moved off.

"I guess you've got company to see you home," Mrs. Sand called put, and
they did not wait. As Lindsay came closer, the East Indian paused in his
tale of the unburied wife for whom he could not afford a coffin, and
slipped away.

"The Ensign knows she oughtn't to talk like that," Laura said. Lindsay
marked with a surge of pleasure that she was flushed and seemed
perturbed.

"What she said was quite true," he ventured.

"But--anybody would think----"

"What would anybody think? Shall we keep to this side of the road? It's
quieter. What would anybody think?"

"Oh, silly things." Laura threw up her head with a half-laugh. "Things I
needn't mention."

Lindsay was silent for an instant. Then "Between us?" he asked, and she
nodded.

Their side of the street, along the square, was nearly empty. He found
her hand and drew it through his arm. "Would you mind so very much," he
said, "if those silly things were true?" He spoke as if to a child. His
passion was never more clearly a single object to him, divorced from all
complicating and non-essential impressions of her. "I would give all I
possess to have it so," he told her, catching at any old foolish phrase
that would serve.

"I don't believe you mean anything like all you say, Mr. Lindsay." Her
head was bent and she kept her hand within his arm. He seemed to be a
circumstance that brought her reminiscences of how one behaved
sentimentally toward a young man with whom there was no serious
entanglement. It is not surprising that he saw only one thing, walls
going down before him, was aware only of something like invitation.
Existence narrowed itself to a single glowing point; as he looked it
came so near that he bounded to meet it.

"Dear," he said, "you can't know--there is no way of telling you--what I
mean. I suppose every man feels the same thing about the woman he loves;
but it seems to me that my life had never known the sun until I saw you.
I can't explain to you how poor it was, and I won't try; but I fancy God
sends every one of us, if we know it, some one blessed chance, and He
did more for me--He lifted the veil of my stupidity and let me see it,
passing by in its halo, trailing clouds of glory. I don't want to make
you understand, though--I want to make you promise. I want to be
absolutely sure from to-night that you'll marry me. Say that you'll
marry me--say it before we get to the crossing. Say it, Laura." She
listened to his first words with a little half-controlled smile, then
made as if she would withdraw her hand, but he held it with his own, and
she heard him through, walking beside him formally in her bare feet, and
looking carefully at the asphalt pavement as they do in Putney.

"I don't object to your calling me by my given name," she said when he
had done, "but it can't go any further than that, Mr. Lindsay, and you
ought not to bring God into it--indeed you ought not. You are no son or
servant of His--you are among those whose very light is darkness, and
how great is your darkness!"

"Don't," he said shortly, "never mind about that--now. You needn't be
afraid of me, Laura--there are decent chaps, you know, outside the
Kingdom of Heaven, and one of them wants you to marry him, that's how it
is. Will you?"

"I don't wish to judge you, Mr. Lindsay, and I'm very much obliged, but
I couldn't dream of it."

"Don't dream of it; consider it, accept it. Why, darling, you are half
mine already--don't you feel that?"

Her arm was certainly warm within his and he had the possession of his
eyes in her. Her tired body even clung to him. "Are you quite sure you
haven't begun to think of loving me?" he demanded.

"It isn't a question of love, Mr. Lindsay, it's a question of the Army.
You don't seem to think the Army counts for anything."

One is convinced that it wasn't a question of love, the least in the
world; but Lindsay detected an evasion in what she said, and the flame
in him leaped up.

"Sweet, when love is concerned there is no other question."

"Is that a quotation?" she asked. She spoke coldly, and this time she
succeeded in withdrawing her hand. "I dare say you think the Army very
common, Mr. Lindsay, but to me it is marching on a great and holy
crusade, and I march with it. You would not ask me to give up my
life-work?"

"Only to take it into another sphere," Duff said, unreflectively. He was
checked but not discouraged, impatient, but in no wise cast down. She
had not flown, she walked beside him placidly. She had no intention of
flight. He tried to resign himself to the task of beating down her
trivial objections, curbing his athletic impulse to leap over them.

"Another sphere"--he caught a subtle pleasure in her enunciation. "I
suppose you mean high society; but it would never be the same."

"Not quite the same. You would have to drive to see your sinners in a
carriage and pair, and you might be obliged to dine with them in--what
do ladies generally dine in?--white satin and diamonds, or pearls. I
think I would rather see you in pearls." He was aware of the
inexcusableness of the points he made, but he only stopped to laugh
inwardly at their impression, watching the absorbed turn of her head.

"We might think it well to be a little select in our sinners--most of
them would be on Government House list, just as most of your present
ones are on the lists of the charitable societies or the district
magistrates. But you would find just as much to do for them."

"I should not even know how to act in such company."

"You can go home for a year, if you like, to be taught, to some people I
know; delightful people, who will understand. A year! You will learn in
three months--what odds and ends there are to know. I couldn't spare you
for a year."

Lindsay stopped. He had to. Captain Filbert was murmuring the cadences
of a hymn. She went through two stanzas, and--covered her eyes for a
moment with her hand. When she spoke it was in a quiet, level, almost
mechanical way. "Yes," she said. "The Cross and the Crown, the Crown and
the Cross. Father in Heaven, I do not forget Thy will and Thy purpose,
that I should bring the word of Thy love to the poor and the lowly, the
outcast and those despised. And what I say to this man, who offers me
the gifts and the gladness of a world that had none for Thee, is the
answer Thou hast put in my heart--that the work is Thine and that I am
Thine, and he has no part or lot in me, nor can ever have. Here is
Crooked lane. Good-night, Mr. Lindsay."

She had slipped into the devious darkness of the place before he could
find any reply, before he quite realised, indeed, that they had reached
her lodging. He could only utter a vague "Good-night" after her,
formulating more definite statements to himself a few minutes later in
Bentinck street.



CHAPTER XI.


Miss Howe was walking in the business quarter of Calcutta. It was the
business quarter, and yet the air was gay with the dimpling of piano
notes, and looking up one saw the bright sunlight fall on yellow
stuccoed flats above the shops and the offices. There the pleasant north
wind blew banners of muslin curtains out of wide windows, and little
gardens of palms in pots showed behind the balustrades of the flat roofs
whenever a story ran short. Everywhere was a subtle contagion of
momentary well-being, a sense of lifted burden. The stucco streets were
too slovenly to be purely joyous, but a warm satisfaction brooded in
them, the pariahs blinked at one genially, there was a note of cheer
even in the cheeling of the kites where they sat huddled on the
roof-cornices or circled against the high blue sky. It was enjoyable to
be abroad, in the brushing fellowship of the pavements, in touch with
brown humility, half-clad and going afoot, since even brown humility
seemed well affected toward the world, alert and content. The air was
full of the comfortable flavour of food-stuffs and spiced luxuries and
the incense of wayside trees; it was as if the sun laid a bland
compelling hand upon the city, bidding strange flowers bloom and strange
fruits increase. Brokers' gharries rattled past, each holding a pale
young man preoccupied with a note-book; where the bullock-carts gathered
themselves together and blocked the road the pale young men put excited
heads out of the gharry windows and used remarkable imprecations. One of
them, as Hilda turned into the compound of the _Calcutta Chronicle_,
leaned out to take off his hat, and sent her up to the office of that
journal in the pleasant reflection of his infinite interest in life.
"Upon my word," she said to herself, as she ascended the stairs behind
the lean legs of a Mussulman servant in a dirty shirt and an embroidered
cap, "he's so light-hearted, so general, that one doubts the very
tremendous effect even of a failure like the one he contemplates."

She sent her card in to the manager-sahib by the lean Mussulman, and
followed it past the desks of two or three Bengali clerks, who hardly
lifted their well-oiled heads from their account-books to look at
her--so many memsahibs to whose enterprises the _Chronicle_ gave
prominence came to see the manager-sahib and they were so much alike. At
all events they carried a passport to indifference in the fact that they
all wanted something, and it was clear to the meanest intelligence that
they appeared to be more magnificent than they were, visions in dazzling
complexions and long kid gloves, rattling up in third-class
ticca-gharries, with a wisp of fodder clinging to their skirts. It was
less interesting still when they belonged to the other class, the shabby
ladies, nearly always in black, with husbands in the Small Cause Court,
or sons before the police magistrate, who came to get it, if possible,
"kept out of the paper." Successful or not, these always wept on their
way out, and nothing could be more depressing. The only gleam of
entertainment to be got out of a lady visitor to the manager-sahib
occurred when the female form enshrined the majestic personality of a
boarding-house madam, whose asylum for respectable young men in leading
Calcutta firms had been maliciously traduced in the local columns of the
_Chronicle_--a lady who had never known what a bailiff looked like in
the lifetime of her first husband, or her second either. Then at the
sound of a pudgy blow upon a table or high abusive accents in the rapid,
elaborate cadences of the domiciled East Indian tongue, Hari Babu would
glance at Gobind Babu with a careful smile, for the manager-sahib who
dispensed so much _galli_[6] was now receiving the same, and
defenceless.

[Footnote 6: Abuse.]

The manager sat at his desk when Hilda went in. He did not rise--he was
one of those highly sagacious little Scotchmen that Dundee exports in
such large numbers to fill small posts in the East, and she had come on
business. He gave her a nod, however, and an affectionate smile, and
indicated with his blue pencil a chair on the other side of the table.
He had once made three hundred rupees in tea shares, and that gave him
the air of a capitalist and speculator gamely shrewd. Tapping the table
with his blue pencil, he asked Miss Howe how the world was using _her_.

"Let me see," said Hilda, a trifle absent-mindedly, "were you here last
cold weather--I rather imagine you were, weren't you?"

"I was; I had the pleasure of--"

"To be sure. You got the place in December, when that poor fellow Baker
died. Baker was a country-bred, I know, but he always kept his
contracts, while you got your polish in Glesca, and your name is
Macphairson--isn't it?"

"I was never in Glasscow in my life, and my name is Macandrew," said the
manager, putting with some aggressiveness a paper-weight on a pile of
bills.

"Never mind," said Hilda, again wrapped in thought, "don't
apologise--it's near enough. Well, Mr. Macandrew"--her tone came to a
point--"what is the Stanhope Company's advertisement worth a month to
the _Chronicle_?"

"A hundred rupees, maybe--there or thereabouts," and Mr. Macandrew, with
a vast show of indifference, picked up a letter and began to tear at the
end of it.

"One hundred and fifty-five, I think, to be precise. That communication
will wait, won't it? What is it--Kally Nath Mitter's paper and stores
bill? You won't be able to pay it any quicker if we withdraw our
advertisement."

"Why should ye withdraw it?"

"It was given to you on the understanding that notices should appear of
every Wednesday and Saturday's performance. For two Wednesdays there has
been no notice, and last Saturday night you sent a fool."

"So Muster Stanhope thinks o' withdrawin' his advertisement?"

"He is very much of that mind."

The manager put his thumbs in the armholes of his waistcoat, leaned back
in his chair, and demonstrated the principle that had given him a gold
watch chain--"Never be bluffed."

"Ye can withdraw it," he said, with a warily experimental eye upon her.

"How reasonable of you not to make a fuss! We'll have the order to
discontinue in writing, please. If you give me a pen and
paper--thanks--and I'll keep a copy."

"Stanhope has wanted to transfer it to the _Market Gazette_ for some
time," she went on as she wrote.

"That's not a newspaper. You'll get no notices there."

"Cheaper on that account, probably."

"They charge like the very deevil. D'ye know the rates of them?"

"I can't say I do."

"There's a man on our staff that doesn't like your show. We'll be able
to send him every night now."

"When we withdraw our advertisement?"

"Just then."

"All right," said Hilda. "It will be interesting to point out in the
_Indian Empire_ the remarkable growth of independent criticism in the
_Chronicle_ since Mr. Stanhope no longer uses the space at his disposal.
I hope your man will be very nasty indeed. You might as well hand over
the permanent passes--the gentleman will expect, I suppose, to pay."

"They'll be in the yeditorial department," said Mr. Macandrew, but he
did not summon a messenger to go for them. Instead he raised his
eyebrows in a manner that expressed the necessity of making the best of
it, and humourously scratched his head.

"We have four hundred pounds of new type coming out in the
_Almora_--she's due on Thursday," he said. "Entirely for the
advertisements. We'll have a fine display next week. It's grand
type--none of your Calcutta-made stuff."

"Pays to bring it out, does it?" asked Hilda, inattentively, copying her
letter.

"Pays the advertisers." There were ingratiating qualities in the
managerial smile. Hilda inspected them coldly.

"There's your notice of withdrawal," she said. "Good-morning."

"Think of that new type, and how lovely Jimmy Finnigan's ad. will look
in it."

"That's all right. Good-morning." Miss Howe approached the door, the
blue glance of Macandrew pursuant.

"No notices for two Wednesdays, eh? We'll have to see about that. I was
thinkin' of transferrin' your space to the third page; it's a more
advantageous position--and no extra charge--but ye'll not mention it to
Jimmy."

Miss Howe lifted an arrogant chin. "Do I understand you'll do that, and
guarantee regular notices, if we leave the advertisement with you?"

Mr. Macandrew looked at her expressively and tore, with a gesture of
moderated recklessness, the notice of withdrawal in two.

"Rest easy," he said, "I'll see about it. I'd go the len'th of attendin'
myself to-night, if ye could spare three extra places."

"Moderate Macandrew!"

"Moderate enough. I've got some frien's stayin' in the same place with
me from Behar--indigo people. I was thinkin' I'd give them a treat, if
three places c'd be spared next to the _Chronicle_ seats."

"We do _Lady Whippleton_ to-night and the booking's been heavy. Five is
too many, Mr. Macandrew, even if you promise not to write the notice
yourself."

"I might pay for one--" Macandrew drew red cartwheels on his
blotting-pad.

"Those seats are sure to be gone. I'll send you a box. Stanhope's as bad
as he can be with dysentery--you might make a local out of that. Be sure
to mention he can't see anybody--it's absurd the way Calcutta people
want to be paid."

"A box'll be grand," said Mr. Macandrew. "I'll see ye get plenty of
ancores. Can ye manage the door? Good-day, then."

Hilda stepped out on the landing. The heavy, regular thud of the presses
came up from below. They were printing the edition that took the world's
news to planters' bungalows in the jungle of Assam and the lonely
policemen on the edge of Manipore. The smell of the newspaper of to-day
and of yesterday and of a year ago stood in the air; through an open
door she saw the dusty, uneven piles of them, piled on the floor. Three
or four messengers squatted beside the wall, with slumbrous heads
between their knees. Occasionally a shout came from the room inside, and
one of them, crying "_Hazur!_" with instant alacrity, stretched himself
mightily, loafed upon his feet and went in, emerging a moment later
carrying written sheets, with which he disappeared into the regions
below. The staircase took a lazy curve and went up: under it, through an
open window, the sun glistened upon the shifting white and green leaves
of a pipal tree and a crow sat on the sill and thrust his grey head in
with caws of indignant expostulation. A Government peon in scarlet and
gold ascended the stair at his own pace, bearing a packet with an
official seal. The place, with its ink-smeared walls and high ceilings,
spoke between dusty yawns of the langour and the leisure which might
attend the manipulation of the business of life, and Hilda paused for an
instant to perceive what it said. Then she walked behind her card into
the next room, where a young gentleman, reading proofs in his
shirt-sleeves, flung himself upon his coat and struggled into it at her
approach. He seemed to have the blackest hair and the softest eyes and
the neatest moustache available, all set in a complexion frankly olive,
amiable English cut, in amiable Oriental colour, and the whole
illumined, when once the coat was on and the collar perfectly turned
down, by the liveliest, most engaging smile. Standing with his head
slightly on one side and one hand resting on the table while the other
saw that nothing was disarranged between collar and top waistcoat
button, he was an interjection-point of imitation and attention.

"The editor of the _Chronicle_?" Hilda asked with diffident dignity, and
very well informed to the contrary.

"_Not_ the editor--I am sorry to say." The confession was delightfully
vivid--in the plentitude of his candour it was plain that he didn't care
who knew that he was sorry he was not the editor. "In journalistic
parlance the sub-editor," he added. "Will you be seated, Miss Howe?" and
with a tasteful silk pocket handkerchief he whisked the bottom of a
chair for her.

"Then you are Mr. Molyneux Sinclair," Hilda declared. "You have been
pointed out to me on several first nights. Oh, I know very well where
the _Chronicle_ seats are!"

Mr. Sinclair bowed with infinite gratification and tucked the silk
handkerchief back so that only a fold was visible. "We members of the
Fourth Estate are fairly well known, I'm afraid, in Calcutta," he said.
"Personally, I could sometimes wish it were otherwise. But certainly not
in this instance."

Hilda gave him a gay little smile. "I suppose the editor," she said,
with a casual glance about the room, "is hammering out his leader for
to-morrow's paper. Does he write half and do you write half, or how do
you manage?"

A seriousness overspread Mr. Sinclair's countenance, which he
nevertheless irradiated, as if he could not help it, with beaming eyes.
"Ah, those are the secrets of the prison-house, Miss Howe.
Unfortunately, it is not etiquette for me to say in what proportion I
contribute the leading articles of the _Chronicle_. But I can tell you
in confidence that if it were not for the editor's prejudices--rank
prejudices--it would be a good deal larger."

"Ah, his prejudices! Why not be quite frank, Mr. Sinclair, and say that
he is just a little tiny bit jealous of his staff. All editors are, you
know." Miss Howe shook her head in philosophical deprecation of the
peccadillo, and Mr. Sinclair cast a smiling, embarrassed glance at his
smart brown leather boot. The glance was radiant with what he couldn't
tell her as a sub-editor of honour about those cruel prejudices, but he
gave it no other medium.

"I'm afraid you know the world, Miss Howe," he said, with a noble
reserve, and that was all.

"A corner of it here and there. But you are responsible for the whole of
the dramatic criticism"--Hilda charged him roundly--"the editor can't
claim any of _that_."

An inquiring brown face under an embroidered cap appeared at the door; a
brown hand thrust in a bunch of printed slips. Mr. Sinclair motioned
both away, and they vanished in silence.

"That I can't deny," he said. "It would be useless if I wished to do
so--my style betrays me--I must plead guilty. It is not one of my
legitimate duties--if I held this position on the _Times_ or, say, the
_Daily Telegraph_, our London contemporaries, it would not be required
of me. But in this country everything is piled upon the sub-editor. Many
a night, Miss Howe, I send down the last slips of a theatre notice at
midnight and am here in this chair"--Mr. Sinclair brought his open palm
down upon the arm of it--"by eleven the following day!" Mr. Sinclair's
chin was thrust passionately forward, moisture dimmed the velvety
brightness of those eyes which, in more dramatic moments, he confessed
to have inherited from a Nawab great grandfather. "But I don't
complain," he said, and drew in his chin. It seemed to bring his
argument to a climax over which he looked at Hilda in warm, frank
expansion.

"Overworked, too, I dare say," she said, and then went on a trifle
hurriedly: "Well, I must tell you, Mr. Sinclair, how kind your criticism
always is, and how much I personally appreciate it. None of the little
points and effects one tries to make seem to escape you, and you are
always generous in the matter of space too."

Molyneux impartially slapped his leg. "I believe in it!" he exclaimed.
"Honour where honour is due, Miss Howe, and the Stanhope Company has
given me some very enjoyable evenings. And you'll hardly believe me, but
it is a fact, I assure you; I seldom get a free hand with those notices.
Suicidal to the interests of the paper as it is, the editor insists as
often as not on cutting down my theatre copy!"

"Cuts it down, does he? The brute!" said Miss Howe.

"I've known him sacrifice a third of it for an indigo market report.
Now, I ask you, who reads an indigo market report? Nobody. Who wants to
know how Jimmy Finnigan's--how the Stanhope Company's latest novelties
went off? Everybody. Of course, when he does that sort of thing, I make
it warm for him next morning."

The door again opened and admitted a harassed little Babu in spectacles,
bearing a sheaf of proof slips, who advanced timidly into the middle of
the room and paused.

"In a few minutes, Babu," said Mr. Sinclair; "I am engaged."

"It iss the Council isspeech of the Legal Member, sir, and it iss to go
at five p. m. to his house for last correction."

"Presently, Babu. Don't interrupt. As I was saying, Miss Howe, I make it
warm for him till he apologises. I must say he always apologises, and I
don't often ask more than that. But I was obliged to tell him the last
time that if it happened again one of us would have to go."

"What did he say to that?"

"I don't exactly remember. But it had a tremendous effect--tremendous.
We became good friends almost immediately."

"Quite so. We miss you when you don't come, Mr. Sinclair--last Saturday
night, for example."

"I _had_ to go to the Surprise Party. Jimmy came here with tears in his
eyes that morning. 'My show is tumbling to pieces,' he said. 'Sinclair,
you've got to come to-night.' Made me dine with him--wouldn't let me out
of his sight. We had to send a reporter to you and Llewellyn that
night."

"Mr. Sinclair, the notice made me weep."

"I know. All that about the costumes. But what can you expect? The man
is as black as your hat."

"We have to buy our own costumes," said Hilda, with a glance at the
floor, "and we haven't any too much, you know, to do it on."

"The toilettes in _Her Second Son_ were simply magnificent. Not to be
surpassed on the boards of the Lyceum in tasteful design or richness of
material. They were _ne plus ultra_!" cried Mr. Sinclair. "You will
remember I said so in my critique."

"I remember. If I were you I wouldn't go so far another time. There's a
lot of cotton velvet and satin about it, you know, between ourselves,
and Finnigan's people will be getting the laugh on us. That's one of the
things I wanted to mention. Don't be quite so good to us. See?
Otherwise--well, you know how Calcutta talks, and what a pretty girl
Beryl Stacey is, for example. Mrs. Sinclair mightn't like it, and I
don't blame her."

"As I said before, Miss Howe, you know the world."

Mr. Sinclair replied with infinite mellow humour, and as Miss Howe had
risen, he rose too, pulling down his waistcoat.

"There was just one other thing," Hilda said, holding out her hand.
"Next Wednesday, you know, Rosa Norton takes her benefit. Rosy's as well
known here as the Ochterlony monument; she's been coming every cold
weather for ten years, poor old Rosy. Don't you think you could do her a
bit of an interview for Wednesday's paper? She'll write up very
well--get her on variety entertainments in the Australian bush."

Mr. Molyneux Sinclair looked pained to hesitate. "Personally," he said,
confidentially, "I should like it immensely, and I dare say I could get
it past the editor. But we're so short-handed."

Miss Howe held up a forefinger which seemed luminous with solution.
"Don't you bother," she said, "I'll do it for you; I'll write it myself.
My 'prentice hand I'll try on Rosy, and you shall have the result ready
to print on Tuesday morning. Will that do?"

That would do supremely. Mr. Sinclair could not conceal the admiration
he felt for such a combination of talents. He did not try; he
accompanied it to the door, expanding and expanding until it seemed more
than ever obvious that he found the sub-editorial sphere unreasonably
contracted. Hilda received his final bow from the threshold of what he
called his "sanctum," and had hardly left the landing in descent when a
square-headed, collarless, red-faced male in shirt-sleeves came down,
descending, as it seemed, in bounds from parts above. "Damn it,
Sinclair," she heard as he shot into the apartment she had left, "here's
the whole council-meeting report set up and waiting three-quarters of an
hour--press blocked; and the printer-Babu says he can get nothing out of
you. What the devil.... If the _dak's_[7] missed again, by thunder!...
paid to converse with itinerant females ... seven columns ... infernal
idiocy."

[Footnote 7: Country post.]

Hilda descended in safety and at leisure, reflecting with some amusement
as she made her way down that Mr. Sinclair was doubtless waiting until
his lady visitor was well out of earshot to make it warm for the editor.



CHAPTER XII.


I find myself wondering whether Calcutta would have found anything very
exquisitely amusing in the satisfactions which exchanged themselves
between Mr. Llewellyn Stanhope's leading lady and the Reverend Stephen
Arnold, had if been aware of them, and I conclude reluctantly that it
would not. Reluctantly because such imperviousness argues a lack of
perception, of _flair_, in directions which any continental centre would
recognise as vastly tickling, regrettable in a capital of such vaunted
sophistication as that which sits beside the Hooghly. It may as well be
shortly admitted, however, that to stir Calcutta's sense of comedy you
must, for example, attempt to corner, by shortsightedness or faulty
technical equipment, a civet cat in a jackal hunt, or, coming out from
England to assume official duties, you must take a larger view of your
dignities than the clubs are accustomed to admit. For the sex that does
not hunt jackals it is easier--you have only to be a little frivolous
and Calcutta will invent for you the most side-shaking nickname, as in
the case of three ladies known in a viceroyalty of happy legend as the
World, the Flesh and the Devil. I should be sorry to give the impression
that Calcutta is therefore a place of gloom. The source of these things
is perennial, and the noise of laughter is ever in the air of the Indian
capital. Between the explosions, however, it is natural enough that the
affairs of a priest of College street and an actress of no address at
all should slip unnoticed, especially as they did not advertise it.
Stephen mostly came, on afternoons when there was no rehearsal, to tea.
He, Stephen, had a perception of contrasts which answered fairly well
the purposes of a sense of humour, and nobody could question hers; it
operated obscurely to keep them in the house.

She told him buoyantly once or twice that he had been sent to her to
take the place of Duff Lindsay, who had fallen to the snare of beauty,
although she mentioned herself that he took it with a difference, a vast
temperamental difference which she was aware of not having yet quite
sounded. The depths of his faith, of course--there she could only scan
and hesitate, but this was a brink upon which she did not often find
herself, away from which, indeed, he sometimes gently guided her. The
atmospheres of their talk were the more bracing ones of this world, and
it was here that Hilda looked when she would make him a parallel for
Lindsay, and here that she found her measure of disappointment. He
warmed himself and dried his wings in the opulence of her spirit, and
she was not, on the whole, the poorer by any exchange they made, but she
was sometimes pricked to the reflection that the freemasonry between
them was all hers, and the things she said to him had still the flavour
of adventure. She found herself inclined--and the experience was new--to
make an effort for a reward which was problematical and had to be
considered in averages, a reward put out in a thin and hesitating hand
under a sacerdotal robe, with a curious, concentrated quality and a
strange flavour of incense and the air of cold churches. There was also
the impression--was it too fantastic--of words carried over a medium, an
invisible wire which brought the soul of them and left the body by the
way. Duff Lindsay, so eminently responsive and calculable, came running
with open arms; in his rejoiceful eye-beam one saw almost a midwife to
one's idea. But the comparison was subtly irritating, and after a time
she turned from it. She awoke once in the night, moreover, to declare to
the stars that she was less worried by the consideration of Arnold's sex
than she would have thought it possible to be--one hardly paused to
consider that he was a man at all; a reflection which would certainly
not have occurred to her about poor dear Duff. With regard to Stephen
Arnold, it was only, of course, another way of saying that she was less
oppressed, in his company, by the consideration of her own. Perhaps it
is already evident that this was her grievance with life, when the joy
of if left her time to think of a grievance, the attraction of her
personal curves, the reason of the hundred fetiches her body claimed of
her and found her willing to perform: the fact that it meant more to
her, for all her theories, that she should be looking her best when she
got up in the morning than was justifiable from any point of view except
the biological. She had no heroic quarrel with these conditions--her
experience had not been upon that plan--but she bemoaned them with
sincerity as too fundamental, too all-pervading; one came upon them at
every turn, grinning in their pretty chains. It was absurd, she
construed, that a world of mankind and womankind with vastly interesting
possibilities should be so essentially subjected to a single end. So
primitive, it was, she argued in her vivid candour, and so
interfering--so horribly interfering! Personally she did not see herself
one of the fugitive half of the race; she had her defences; but the
necessity of using them was matter for complaint when existence might
have been so delightful a boon without it, full of affinities and
communities in every direction. She had not, I am convinced, any of the
notions of a crusader upon this popular subject, nor may I portray her
either shocked or revolted, only rather bored, being a creature whom it
was unkind to hamper; and she would have explained quite in these simple
terms the reason why Stephen Arnold's saving neutrality of temperament
was to her a pervasive charm of his society.

She had not yet felt at liberty to tell him that she could not classify
him, that she had never known any one like him before; and there was in
this no doubt a vague perception that the confession showed a limitation
of experience on her part for which he might be inclined to call her to
account, since cultured young Oxonians with an altruistic bias, if they
do not exactly abound, are still often enough to be discovered if one
happens to belong to the sphere which they haunt, they and their ideals.
Not that any such consideration led her to gloss or to minimise the
disabilities of her own. She sat sometimes in gravest wonder, pinching
her lips, and watched the studiously modified interest of his glance
following her into its queer by-ways--her sphere's--full of spangles and
lime-light, and the first-class hysteria of third-class rival artistry.
There was a fascination in bringing him out of his remoteness near to
those things, a speculation worth making as to what he might do. This
remained ungratified, for he never did anything. He only let it appear
by the most indefinite signs possible that he saw what she saw, peering
over his paling, and she in the picturesque tangle outside found it
enough.

He was there when she came back from the _Chronicle_ office, patient
under the blue umbrellas; he had brought her a book, and they had told
him she would not be long in returning. He had gone so far as to order
tea for her, and it was waiting with him. "Make it," she commanded; "why
haven't you had some already?" and while he bent over the battered
Britannia metal spout she sank into the nearest seat and let her hat
make a frame for her face against the back of it. She was too tired, she
said, to move, and her hands lay extended, one upon each arm of her
chair, with the air of being left there to be picked up at her
convenience. Arnold, over the tea-pot, agreed that walking in Calcutta
was an insidious pleasure--one gathered a lassitude--and brought her
cup. She looked at him for an instant as she took it.

"But I am not too tired to hear what you have on your mind," she said.
"Have Kally Nath Mitter's relations prevailed over his convictions?
Won't your landlord let you have your oratory on the roof after all?"

"You get these things so out of perspective," Stephen said, "that I
don't think I should tell you if they were so. But they're not. Kally
Nath is to be baptised to-morrow. We are certain to get our oratory."

"I am very glad," Hilda interrupted. "When one prays for so long a time
together it must be better to have fresh air. It will certainly be
better for Brother Colquhoun. He seems to have such a weak chest."

"It will be better for us all." Arnold seemed to reflect, across his
tea-cup, how much better it would be. Then he added, "I saw Lindsay last
night."

"Again? And----"

"I think it is perfectly hopeless. I think he is making way."

"Sickening! I hoped you would not speak to him again. After all--another
man--it's naturally of no use!"

"I spoke as a priest!"

"Did he swear at you?"

"Oh dear no! He was rather sympathetic. And I went very far. But I could
get him to see nothing--to feel nothing."

"How far did you go?"

"I told him that she was consecrated, that he proposed to commit
sacrilege. He seemed to think he could make it up to her."

"If anyone else had said that to me I should have laughed--you don't
suspect the irony in it," Hilda said. "Pray who is to make it up to
him?"

"I suppose there is that point of view."

"I should think so, indeed! But taking it, I despair with you. I had her
here the other day and tried to make the substance of her appear before
him. I succeeded, too--he gave me the most uncomfortable looks--but I
might as well have let it alone. The great purpose of nature," Hilda
went on, putting down her cup, "reasonable beings in their normal state
would never lend themselves to. So she invents these temporary
insanities. And therein is nature cruel, for they might just as well be
permanent. That's a platitude, I know," she added, "but it's
irresistibly suggested."

Stephen looked with some fixedness at a point on the other side of the
room. The platitude brought him, by some process of inversion, the
vision of a drawing-room in Addison gardens, occupied by his mother and
sisters, engaged with whatever may be Kensington's substitutes at the
moment for the spinet and the tambour frame; and he had a disturbed
sense that they might characterise such a statement differently, if,
indeed, they would consent to characterise it at all. He looked at the
wall as if, being a solid and steadfast object, it might correct the
qualm--it was really something like that--which the wide sweep of her
cynicism brought him.

"From what he told me last week I thought we shouldn't see it. He seemed
determined enough, but depressed and not hopeful. I fancied she was
being upheld--I thought she would easily pull through. Indeed, I wasn't
sure that there was any great temptation. Somebody must be helping him."

"The Devil, no doubt," Hilda replied, concisely; "and with equal
certainty, Miss Alicia Livingstone."

Arnold gave her a look of surprise. "Surely not my cousin!" he
protested. "She can't understand."

"Oh, I beg of you, don't speak to _her_! I think she understands. I
think she's only too tortuously intelligent."

Stephen kept an instant of nervous silence. "May I ask----?" he began
formally.

"Oh, yes! It is almost an indecent thing to say of anyone so exquisitely
self-contained, but your cousin is very much in love with Mr. Lindsay
herself. It seems almost a liberty, doesn't it, to tell you such a thing
about a member of your family?" she went on, at Arnold's blush; "but you
asked me, you know. And she is making it her ecstatic agony to bring
this precious union about. I think she is taking a kindergarten method
with the girl--having her there constantly, and showing her little
scented, luxurious bits of what she is so possessed to throw away.
People in Alicia's condition have no sense of immorality."

"That makes it all the more painful," said Arnold; but the interest in
his tone was a little remote, and his gesture, too, which was not quite
a shrug, had a relegating effect upon any complication between Alicia
and Lindsay. He sat for a moment without saying more, covering his eyes
with his hand.

"Why should you care so much?" Hilda asked gently. "You are at the very
antipodes of her sect. You can't endorse her methods--you don't trust
her results."

"Oh, all that! It's of the least consequence." He spoke with a curious,
governed impulse coming from beneath his shaded eyes. "It's seeing
another ideal pulled down, gone under, something that held, as best it
could, a ray from the source. It's another glimpse of the strength of
the tide--terrible. It's a cruel hint that one lives above it in the
heaven of one's own hopes, by some mere blind accident. To have set
one's feeble hand to the spiritualising of the world, and to feel the
possibility of that----"

"I see," said Hilda, and perhaps she did. But his words oppressed her.
She got up with a movement which almost shook them off, and went to a
promiscuous looking-glass to remove her hat. She was refreshed and
vivified--she wanted to talk of the warm world. She let a decent
interval elapse, however; she waited till he took his hand from his
eyes. Even then, to make the transition easier, she said, "You ought to
be lifted up to-day, if you are going to baptise Kally Nath to-morrow."

"The Brother Superior will do it. And I don't know--I don't know. The
young woman he is to marry withdraws, I believe, if he comes over to
us----"

"The young woman he is to marry! Oh, my dear and reverend friend! _Avec
ces gens la!_ I have had a most amusing afternoon," she went on,
quickly. "I have taken off my hat, now let me remove your halo." She was
safe with her conceit; Arnold would always smile at any imputation of
saintship. He held himself a person of broad indulgences, and would
point openly to his consumption of tea cakes. But this afternoon a miasm
hung over him. Hilda saw it and bent herself, with her graphic recital,
to dispel it, perceived it thicken and settle down upon him, and went
bravely on to the end. Mr. Macandrew and Mr. Molyneux Sinclair lived and
spoke before him. It was comedy enough, in essence, to spread over a
matinée.

"And that is the sort of thing you store up and value," he said, when
she had finished. "These persons will add to your knowledge of life."

"Extremely," she replied to all of it.

"I suppose they will in their measure. But personally I could wish you
had not gone. Your work has no right to make such demands."

"Be reasonable," she said, flushing. "Don't talk as if personal dignity
were within the reach of everybody. It's the most expensive of
privileges. And nothing to be so very proud of--generally the product of
somebody else's humiliations, handed down. But the humiliations must
have been successful, handed down in cash. My father drove a cab and
died in debt. His name was Murphy. I shall be dignified some day--some
day! But you see I must make it possible myself, since nobody has done
it for me."

"Well, then, I'll alter my complaint. Why should you play with your
sincerity?"

"I didn't play with it," she flashed; "I abandoned it. I am an actress."

They often permitted themselves such candours; to all appearance their
discussion had its usual equable quality, and I am certain that Arnold
was not even aware of the tension upon his nerves. He fidgeted with the
tassel of his ceinture, and she watched his moving fingers. Presently
she spoke, quietly, in a different key.

"I sometimes think," she said, "of a child I knew in the other years.
She had the simplest nature, the finest instincts. Her impulses, within
her little limits, were noble--she was the keenest, loyalist little
person; her admirations rather made a fool of her. When I look at the
woman as she is now I think the uses of life are hard, my friend--they
are hard."

He missed the personal note; he took what she said on its merits as an
illustration.

"And yet," he replied, "they can be turned to admirable purpose."

"I wonder!" Hilda exclaimed brightly. She had turned down the leaf of
that mood. "But we are not cheerful--let us be cheerful. For my part, I
am rejoicing as I have not rejoiced since the first of December. Look at
this!"

She opened a small black leather bag and poured money out of it, notes
and currency, into her lap.

"Is it a legacy?"

"It's pay," she cried, with pleasure dimpling about her lips. "I have
been paid--we have all been paid! It's so unusual--it makes me feel
quite generous. Let me see. I'll give you this, and this, and this"--she
counted into her open palm ten silver rupees--"all those I will give you
for your mission. _Prends!_" and she clinked them together and held them
out to him.

He had risen to go, and his face looked grey and small. Something in him
had mutinied at the levity, the quick change of her mood. He could only
draw into his shell; doubtless he thought that a legitimate and
inoffensive proceeding.

"Thanks, no," he said, "I think not. We desire people's prayers, rather
than their alms."

He went away immediately, and she glossed over his scandalous behaviour
and said farewell to him as usual, in spite of the unusual look of
consciousness in her eyes. Then she went to her room and deliberately
loosened her garments and lay down upon her bed, first to sob like that
little child she remembered, and afterwards to think, until the world
came and knocked at her door and bade her come out of herself and earn
money.



CHAPTER XIII.


The compulsion which took Stephen Arnold to Crooked lane is hardly ours
to examine. It must have been strong, since going up to Mrs. Sand
involved certain concessions, doubtless intrinsically trifling, but of
exaggerated discomfort to the mind spiritually cloistered, whatever its
other latitude. Among them was a distinctly necessary apology, difficult
enough to make to a lady of rank so superior and authority so _voyant_
in the Church Militant, by a mere fighting soul without such straps and
buttons as might compel recognition upon equal terms. It is impossible
to know how far Stephen envisaged the visit as a duty--the priestly
horizon is perhaps not wholly free from mirage--or to what extent he
confessed it an indulgence. He was certainly aware of a stronger desire
than he could altogether account for that Captain Filbert should not
desert her post. The idea had an element of imitation oddly personal; he
could not bear to reflect upon it. It may be wondered whether in any
flight of venial imagination Arnold saw himself in a parallel situation
with a lady. I am sure he did not. It may be considered, however, that
among mirages there are unaccountable resemblances--resemblances without
shape or form. He might fix his gaze, at all events, upon the supreme
argument that those who were given to holy work, under any condition, in
any degree, should make no rededication of themselves. This had to
support him as best it could against the conviction that had Captain
Filbert been Sister Anastasia, for example, of the Baker Institution,
and Ensign Sand the Mother Superior of its Calcutta branch, it was
improbable that he would have ventured to announce his interest in the
matter by his card, or in any other way.

It was a hesitating step, therefore, that carried him up to the
quarters, and a glance of some nervous distress that made him aware, as
he stood bowing upon her threshold, clasping with both hands his soft
felt hat to his breast, that Mrs. Sand was not displeased to see him.
She hastened, indeed, to give him a chair; she said she was very glad
he'd dropped in, if he didn't mind the room being so untidy--where there
were children you could spend the whole day picking up. They were out at
present, with Captain Sand, in the perambulator--not having more
servants than they could help. A sweeper and a cook they did with; it
would surprise the people in this country, who couldn't get along with
less than twenty, she often said.

Mrs. Sand's tone was casual; her manner had a quality somewhat
aggressively democratic. It said that under her welcome lay the right to
criticise, which she would have exercised with equal freedom had her
visitor been the Lord Bishop John Calcutta himself; and it made short
work of the idea that she might be over-gratified to receive Holy Orders
in any form. She was not unwilling, however, to show, as between Ensign
and man, reasonable satisfaction; presently, in fact, she went so far as
to say, still vaguely remarking upon his appearance there, that she
often thought there ought to be more sociability between the different
religious bodies; it would be better for the cause. There was nothing
narrow, she said, about her, nor yet about Captain Sand. And then, with
the distinct intimation that that would do, that she had gone far
enough, she crossed her hands in her lap and waited. It became her to
have it understood this visit need have no further object than an
exchange of amiabilities; but there might be another, and Mrs. Sand's
folded hands seemed to indicate that she would not necessarily meet it
with opposition.

Stephen made successive statements of assent. He sat grasping his hat
between his knees, his eyes fixed upon an infant's sock which lay upon
the floor immediately in front of him, looking at Mrs. Sand as seldom
and as briefly as possible, as if his glance took rather an unfair
advantage, which he would spare her.

"Yes, yes," he said. "Yes, certainly," revolving his hat in his hands.
And when she spoke of the fraternity that might be fostered by such
visits, he looked for an instant as if he had found an opening, which
seemed, however, to converge and vanish in Mrs. Sand's folded hands. He
flushed to think afterwards, that it was she who was obliged to bring
his resolution to a head, her scent of his embarrassment, sharpening her
curiosity.

"And is there anything we Army officers can do for you, Mr. Arnold?" she
inquired.

There was a hint in her voice that, whatever it was, they would have
done it more willingly if she had not been obliged to ask.

"I am afraid," he said; "my mission is not quite so simple. I could wish
it were. It is so easy to show our poor needs to one another; and I
should have confidence----" he paused, amazed at the duplicity that
grinned at him in his words. At what point more remote within the poles
was he likely to show himself with a personal request?

"I have nothing to ask for myself," he went on, with concentration
almost harsh. "I am here to see if you will consent to speak with me
about a matter which threatens your--your community--about your possible
loss of Miss Filbert."

Mrs. Sand looked blank. "The Captain isn't leavin' us, as far as I
know," she said.

"Oh--is it possible that you are not aware that--that very strong
efforts are being made to induce her to do so?"

Mrs. Sand looked about her as if she expected to find an explanation
lying somewhere near her chair. Light came to her suddenly and brought
her a conscious smile; it only lacked force to be a giggle. She glanced
at her lap as she smiled; her air was deprecating and off-putting, as if
she had detected in what Arnold said some suggestion of a gallant nature
aimed at herself. Happily, he was not looking.

"You mean Mr. Lindsay," she exclaimed, twisting her wedding-ring and its
coral guard.

"I hope--I beg--that you will not think me meddlesome or impertinent. I
have the matter very much at heart. It seems to lie in my path. I must
see it. Surely you perceive some way of averting the disaster in it!"

"I'm sure I don't know what you refer to." Mrs. Sand's tone was prudish
and offended. "She hasn't said a word to me--she's a great one for
keeping things to herself--but if Mr. Lindsay don't mean marriage with
her----"

"Why, of course!" Arnold, startled, turned furiously red, but Mrs. Sand
in her indignation did not reflect the tint. "Of course! Is not that,"
he went on after an instant's pause, "precisely what is to be
lamented--and prevented?"

Mrs. Sand looked at her visitor with dry suspicion. "I suppose you are a
friend of his," she said.

"I have known him for years. Pray don't misunderstand me. There is
nothing against him--nothing whatever."

"Oh, I don't suppose there is, except that he is not on the Lord's side.
But I don't expect any of his friends are anxious for him to marry an
officer in the Salvation Army. Society people ain't fond of the Army,
and never will be."

"His people--he has only distant relatives living--are all at home,"
Stephen said, vaguely. The situation had become slightly confused.

"Then you speak for them, I suppose."

"Indeed not, I am in no communication with them whatever. I fancy they
know nothing about it. I am here entirely--_entirely_ of my own accord.
I have come to place myself at your disposition if there is anything I
can do, any word I can say, to the end of preventing this catastrophe in
a spiritual life so pure and devoted; to ask you at all events to let me
join my prayers to yours that it shall not come about."

The squalor of the room seemed to lift before his eyes and be suffused
with light. At last he had made himself plain. But Mrs. Sand was not
transfigured. She seemed to sit, with her hands folded, in the midst of
a calculation.

"Then he _has_ proposed. I told her he would," she said.

"I believe he has asked her to marry him and she has refused, more than
once. But he is importunate, and I hear she needs help."

"Mr. Lindsay," said Mrs. Sand, "is a very takin' young man."

"I suppose we must consider that. There is position, too, and wealth.
These things count--we are all so human--even against the Divine
realities into possession of which Miss Filbert must have so perfectly
entered."

"I thought he must be pretty well off. Would he be one of them
Government officials?"

"He is a broker."

"Oh, is he indeed?" Mrs. Sand's enlightenment was evidently doubtful.
"Well, if they get married Captain Filbert'll have to resign. It's
against the regulations for her to marry outside of the Army."

"But is she not vowed to her work; isn't her life turned forever into
that channel? Would it not be horrible to you to see the world
interfere?"

"I won't say but what I'd be sorry to see her leave us. But I wouldn't
stand in her way either, and neither would Captain Sand."

"Stand in her way! In her way to material luxury, poverty of spirit, the
shirking of all the high alternatives, the common moral mediocrity of
the world. I would to God I could be that stumbling block! I have heard
her--I have seen the light in her that may so possibly be extinguished."

"I don't deny she has a kind of platform gift, but she's losin' her
voice. And she doesn't understand briskin' people up, if you know what I
mean."

"She will be pulled down--she will go under!" Arnold repeated in the
depths of his spirit. He stood up, fumbling with his hat. Mrs. Sand and
her apartment, her children out of doors in the perambulator, and the
whole organisation to which she appertained, had grown oppressive and
unnecessary. He was aware of a supreme desire to put his foot again in
his own world, where things were seen, were understood. He thought there
might be solace in relating the affair to Brother Colquhoun.

"It's a case," said Mrs. Sand, judicially, "where I wouldn't think
myself called on to say one word. Such things everyone has a right to
decide for themselves. But you oughtn't to forget that a married
woman"--she looked at Arnold's celibate habit as if to hold it
accountable for much--"can have a great influence for good over him that
she chooses. I am pretty sure Captain Filbert's already got Mr. Lindsay
almost persuaded. I shouldn't be at all surprised if he joined the Army
himself when she's had a good chance at him."

Arnold put on his hat with a groan and began the descent of the stairs.
"Good-afternoon, then," Mrs. Sand called out to him from the top. He
turned mechanically and bared his head. "I beg your pardon," he said,
"Good-afternoon."



CHAPTER XIV.


Mrs. Sand found it difficult to make up her mind upon several points
touching the visit of the Reverend Stephen Arnold. Its purport, of which
she could not deny her vague, appreciation, drew a cloud across a rosy
prospect, and in this light his conduct showed unpardonable; on the
other hand, it implied a compliment to the corps, it made the spiritual
position of an officer of the Army, a junior too, a matter of moment in
a wider world than might be suspected; and before this consideration
Mrs. Sand expanded. She reflected liberally that salvation was not
necessarily frustrated by the laying-on of hands; she had serene fancies
of a republic of the redeemed. She was a prey to further hesitations
regarding the expediency of mentioning the interview to Laura, and as
private and confidential it ministered for two days to her satisfactions
of superior officer. In the end, however, she had to sacrifice it to the
girl's imperturbable silence. She chose an intimate and a private hour
and shut the door carefully upon herself and her captain, but she had
not at all decided, when she sat down on the edge of the bed, what
complexion to give to the matter, nor had she a very definite idea, when
she got up again, of what complexion she had given it. Laura, from the
first word, had upset her by an intense eagerness, a determination not
to lose a syllable. Captain Filbert insisted upon hearing all before she
would acknowledge anything; she hung upon the sentences Mrs. Sand
repeated, and joined them together as if they were parts of a puzzle;
she finally had possession of the conversation much as I have already
written it down. As Mrs. Sand afterward told her husband, Miss Filbert
sat there growing whiter and whiter, more and more worked up, and it was
impossible to take any comfort in talking to her. It seemed as if she,
the Ensign, might save herself the trouble of giving an opinion one way
or the other, and not a thing could she get the girl to say except that
it was true enough that the gentleman wanted to marry her, and she was
ashamed of having let it go so far. But she would never do it--never.
She declared she would write to this Mr. Arnold and thank him, and ask
him to pray for her, "and she as much as ordered me to go and do the
same," concluded Mrs. Sand with an inflection which made its own comment
upon such a subversion of discipline.

Stephen, under uncomfortable compulsion, sent Laura's letter--she did
write--to Lindsay. "I cannot allow you to be in the dark about what I am
doing in the matter," he explained; "though if I had not this necessity
for writing you might reasonably complain of an intrusive and
impertinent letter. But I must let you know that she has appealed to me,
and that as far as I can I will help her."

Duff read both communications--Laura's to the priest was brief and very
technical--between the business quarters of Ralli Brothers and the Delhi
and London Bank, with his feet in the opposite seat of his office-gharry
and his forehead puckered by an immediate calculation forward in rupee
paper. His irritation spoiled his transaction--there was a distinct edge
in the manager's manner when they parted, and it was perhaps a
pardonable weakness that led him to dash in blue pencil across the page
covered with Arnold's minute handwriting, "Then you have done with pasty
compromises--you have gone over to the Jesuits. I congratulate you," and
re-addressed the envelope to College street. The brown tide of the crowd
brought him an instant messenger, and he stood in the doorway for a
moment afterwards frowning upon the yellow turbans that swung along in
the sunlight against the white wall opposite, across the narrow
commercial road. The flame of his indignation set forth his features
with definiteness and relief, consuming altogether the soft amused
_bien-être_ which was nearly always there. His lips set themselves
together, and Mrs. Sand would have been encouraged in any scheme of
practical utility by the lines that came about his mouth. A brother in
finance of some astuteness, who saw him scramble into his gharry,
divined that with regard to a weighty matter in jute-mill shares
pending, Lindsay had decided upon a _coup_, and made his arrangements
accordingly. He also went upon his way with a fresh impression of
Lindsay's undeniable good looks, as sometimes in a coin new from the
mint one is struck with the beauty of a die dulled by use and
familiarity.

Stephen Arnold, receiving his answer, composed himself to feel distress,
but when he had read it, that emotion was somewhat lightened in him by
another sentiment.

"A community admirable in many ways," he murmured, refolding the page.
"Does he think he is insulting me!"

Whatever degree of influence, Jesuitical or other, Lindsay was inclined
to concede to Stephen's intermediary, he was compelled to recognise
without delay that Captain Filbert, in the exercise of her profession,
had not neglected to acquire a knowledge of defensive operations. She
retired effectively into camp; the quarters in Crooked lane became her
fortified retreat, whence she issued only under escort and upon service
strictly obligatory. Succour from Arnold doubtless reached her by the
post; and Lindsay felt it an anomaly in military tactics that the same
agency should bring back upon him with a horrid recoil the letters with
which he strove to assault her position. Nor could Alicia induce any
_sortie_ to Middleton street. Her notes of invitation to quiet teas and
luncheons were answered on blue-lined paper, the pen dipped in reticence
and the palest ink, always with the negative of a formal excuse. They
loosed the burden of her complicity from Miss Livingstone's shoulders,
these notes which bore so much the atmosphere of Crooked lane, and at
the same time they formed the indictment against her which was, perhaps,
best calculated to weigh upon her conscience. She saw it, holding them
at arm's length, in enormous characters that ever stamped and blotted
out the careful, taught-looking writing, and the invariable "God bless
you, yours truly," at the end. They were all there, aridly complete, the
limitations of the lady to whom she was helping Lindsay to bind himself
without a gleam of possibility of escape or a rift through which tiniest
hope could creep to emerge smiling upon the other side. When she saw
him, in fatalistic reverie, going about ten years hence attached to the
body of this petrifaction, she was almost satisfied to abandon the pair,
to let them take their wretched chance. But this was a climax which did
not occur often; she returned, in most of her waking moments, to
devising schemes by which Laura might be delivered into the hands she
was so likely to encumber. The new French poet, the American novelist of
the year, and a work by Mr. John Morley lay upon Alicia's table many
days together for this reason. She sometimes remembered what she
expected of these volumes, what _plein air_ sensations, or what profound
plunges, and did not quite like her indifference as to whether her
expectations were fulfilled. She discovered herself intellectually
jaded--there had been tiring excursions--and took to daily rides which
carried her far out among the rice-fields, and gave her sound nights to
sustain the burden of her dreaming days. She had ideas about her
situation; she believed she lived outside of it. At all events, she took
a line; the new Arab was typical, and there were other measures which
she arranged deliberately with the idea that she was making a physical
fight. Life might weigh one down with a dragging ball and chain, but one
could always measure the strength of one's opinions against these
things. She made it her sorry and remorseless task to separate from her
impulses those that she found lacking in philosophy, hinting of the
foolish woman, and to turn a cruel heel upon them. She stripped her
meditations of all colour and atmosphere; she would not accept from her
grief the luxury of a rag to wrap herself in. If this gave her a
skeleton to live with, she had what gratification there was in observing
that it was anatomically as it should be. The result that one saw from
the outside was chiefly a look of delicate hardness, of tissue a little
frayed, but showing a quality in the process. We may hope that some
unconfessed satisfaction was derivable from her continued reception of
Duff's confidences, her unflinching readiness to consult with him;
granting the analytic turn we may almost suppose it. Starvation is so
monotonous a misery that a gift of personal diagnosis might easily lend
attraction to poisoned food as an alternative, if one may be permitted a
melodramatic simile in a case which Alicia kept conventional enough. She
did not even abate the usual number of Duff's invitations to dinner,
when there was certainly nothing to repay her for regarding him across a
gulf of flowers and silver and a tide of conversation about the season's
paper-chasing except the impoverished complexion which people acquire
who sit much in Bentinck street, desirous and unsatisfied.

It may very well be that she regretted her behaviour in this respect,
for it was effectively after one of these parties that Surgeon-Major
Livingstone, pressing upon his departing guest in the hall the usual
whiskey and soda, found it necessary instead to give him another kind of
support, and to put him immediately and authoritatively to bed. Lindsay
was very well content to submit; he confessed to fever off and on for
four and five days past, and while the world went round the pivotal
staircase, as Dr. Livingstone gave him an elbow up, he was indistinctly
convinced that the house of a friend was better than a shelf at the
club. The next evening's meeting saw his place empty under the window of
the hall in Crooked lane, noticeably for the first time in weeks of
these exercises. The world shrank, for Laura, to the compass of the
kerosene lamps; there was no gaze from its wider sphere against which
she must key herself to indifference. When on the second and third
evenings she was equally undisturbed, it was borne in upon her that
either she or Mr. Arnold, or both, had prevailed, and she offered up
thanks. On the fourth she reflected recurrently and anxiously that it
was not after all a very glorious victory if the Devil had carried off
the wounded; if Lindsay, after all the opportunities that had been his,
should slip back without profit to the level from which she had
striven--they had all striven--to lift him. Mrs. Sand, not satisfied to
be buffeted by such speculations, sent a four-anna bit to the head
bearer at the club on her own account and obtained information.

Alicia saw no immediate privilege in the complication, though the
circumstances taken together did present a vulgar opportunity which Mrs.
Barberry came for hours to take advantage of. There were the usual two
nurses as well as Mrs. Barberry; Alicia could take the Arab further
afield than ever, and she did. One can imagine her cantering fast and
far with a sense of conscious possession in spite of Mrs. Barberry and
the two nurses. There may be a certain solace in the definite and
continuous knowledge available about a person hovering on the brink of
typhoid under your own roof tree. It was as grave as that; Surgeon-Major
Livingstone could not make up his mind. Alicia knew only of this
uncertainty; other satisfactions were reserved for the nurses and Mrs.
Barberry. She could see that her brother was anxious, he was so
uniformly cheerful, so brisk and fresh and good-tempered coming from
Lindsay's room in the morning, to say at breakfast that the temperature
was the same, hadn't budged a point, must manage to get it down somehow
in the next twenty-four hours, and forthwith to envelop himself in the
newspapers. Those arbitrary and obstinate figures, which stood for
apprehension to the most casual ear, stamped themselves on most things
as the day wore on, and at tea-time Mrs. Barberry gave her other
details, thinking her rather cold in the reception of them. But she
plainly preferred to be out of it, avoiding the nurses on the stairs,
refraining from so much as a glance at the boiled-milk preparations of
the butler. "And you know," said Mrs. Barberry, recountant, "how these
people have to be watched." To Mrs. Barberry she was really a conundrum,
only to be solved on the theory of a perfectly preposterous delicacy.
There was so little that was preposterous in Miss Livingstone's conduct
as a rule that it is not quite fair to explain her attitude either by
this exaggeration or by an equally hectic scruple about her right to
take care of her guest, such a right dwindling curiously when it has
been given in the highest to somebody else. These pangs and penalties
may have visited her in their proportion, but they did not take the
importance of motives. She rather stood aside with folded hands, and in
an infinite terror of prejudicing fate, devoured her heart by way of
keeping its beating normal. Perhaps, too, she had a vision of a final
alternative to Lindsay's marriage, and one can imagine her forcing
herself to look at it.

Remove herself as she chose, Alicia could not avoid passing Lindsay's
room, for her own lay beyond it. In the seven o'clock half light of a
February evening, in the middle of the week, she went along the matted
upper hall on tip-toe, and stumbled over a veiled form squatted in the
native way, near his door, profoundly asleep. "Ayah!" she exclaimed, but
the face that looked confusedly up at her was white, whiter than common,
Captain Filbert's face. Alicia drew her hand away and made an
imperceptible movement in the direction of her skirts. She stood silent,
stricken in the dusk with fear and wonder, but the sense that was
strangest in her was plainly that of having made a criminal discovery.
Laura stumbled upon her feet, and the two faced each other for an
instant; words held from them equally by the authority of the sickroom
door. Then Alicia beckoned as imperiously as if the other had in fact
been the servant she took her for, and Laura followed to where, further
on, a bedroom door stood open, which presently closed upon them both. It
was a spacious room, with pale, high-hung draperies, a scent of flowers,
such things as an etching of Greuze, an ivory and ebon crucifix over the
bed. Captain Filbert remembered the crucifix afterward with a feeling
almost intense, also some silver-backed brushes on the toilet table.
Across the open window a couple of bars of sunset glowed red and gold,
and a tall palm of the garden cut all its fronds sharply against the
light.

"Well?" said Alicia, when the door was shut.

Captain Filbert put out a deprecating hand.

"I intended to ask if you had any objection, miss, but you had gone out.
And the nurse was in the room; I couldn't get to her. There was nobody
but the servants about."

"Objection to what?"

"To my being there. I came to pray for Mr. Lindsay."

"Did you make any noise?"

Miss Filbert looked professionally touched. "It was silent prayer, of
course," she said.

Alicia, standing with one hand upon the toilet table, had an air of
eagerness, of successful capture. The yellow sky in the window behind
her made filmy lights round her hair and outlined her tall figure in the
gracefulness of which there was a curious crisped effect, like a
conventional pose taken easily, from habit. Laura Filbert thought she
looked like a princess.

"I seem to hear of nothing but petitions," she said. "Isn't somebody
praying for you?"

The blood of any saint would have risen in false testimony at such a
suggestion. Laura blushed so violently that for an instant the space
between them seemed full of the sound of her protest.

"I hope so, miss," she said, and looked as if for calming over Alicia's
shoulder away into the after-sunset bars along the sky. The colour sank
back out of her face, and the light from the window rested on it
ethereally. The beautiful mystery drew her eyes to seek, and their blue
seemed to deepen and dilate, as if the old splendour of the uplifted
golden gates rewarded them.

"Why do you use that odious word?" Alicia explained. "You are not my
maid! Don't do it again--don't dream of doing it again!"

"I--I don't know." The girl was still plainly covered with confusion at
being found in the house uninvited. "I suppose I forget. Well, good
evening," and she turned to the door.

"Don't go," Alicia commanded. "Don't. You never come to see me now. Sit
down." She dragged a chair forward and almost pushed Laura into it. "I
will sit down, too--what am I thinking of?"

Laura reflected for a moment, looking at her folded hands. "I might as
well tell you," she said, "that I have not been praying that Mr. Lindsay
should get better. Only that he should be given time to find salvation
and die in Jesus."

"Don't--don't say those things to me. How light you are--it's wicked!"
Alicia returned with vehemence, and then, as Captain Filbert stared,
half comprehending, "Don't you care?" she added curiously.

It was so casual that it was cruel. The girl's eyes grew wider still
during the instant she fixed them upon Alicia in the effort of complete
understanding. Then her lip trembled.

"How can I care?" she cried, "how can I?" and burst into weeping. She
drew her _sari_ over her face and rocked to and fro. Her dusty bare foot
protruded from her cotton skirt. She sat huddled together, her head in
its coverings sunk between weak, shaking shoulders. Alicia considered
her for an instant as a pitiable and degraded spectacle. Then she went
over and touched her.

"You are completely worn out," she said, "and it is almost dinner time.
The ayah will bring you a hot bath, and then you will come down and have
some food quietly with me. My brother is dining out somewhere. I will go
away for a little while and then I know you will feel better. And after
dinner," she added gently, "you may come up if you like and pray again
for Mr. Lindsay. I am sure he would----"

The faintest break in her own voice warned her, and she hurried out of
the room.

It was a foolish thing and the Livingstones' old Karim Bux much deplored
it, but the Miss-sahib had forgotten to give information that the dinner
of eight commanded a fortnight ago would not take place--hence
everything was ready in its sequence for this event, with a new fashion
of stuffing quails and the first strawberries of the season from
Dinapore. The feelings of Karim Bux in presenting these things to a
woman in the dress of a coolie are not important; but Alicia, for some
reason, seemed to find the trivial incident gratifying.



CHAPTER XV.


Under the Greek porch of No. 10, Middleton street, in the white sunlight
between the shadows of the stucco pillars, stood a flagrant
ticca-gharry. The driver lay extended on the top of it, asleep, the syce
squatted beneath the horse's nose and fed it perfunctorily with hay from
a bundle tied under the vehicle behind. A fringe of palms and ferns in
pots ran between the pillars, and orchids hung from above, shutting out
the garden, where heavy scents stood in the sun and mynas chattered on
the drive. The air was full of ease, warm, _fretillante_, abandoned to
the lavish energy of growing things; beyond the discoloured wall of the
compound rose the tender cloud of a leafing tamarisk against the blue. A
long time already the driver had slept immovably, and the horse,
uncomplaining but uninterested, had dragged at the wisps of hay.

Inside there was no longer a hint of Mrs. Barberry, even a dropped
handkerchief agreeably scented. The night nurse had realised herself
equally superfluous and had gone, the other, a person of practical
views, could hardly retain her indignation at being kept from day to day
to see her patient fed and hand him books and writing materials. She had
not even the duty of debarring visitors, but sat most of the time in the
dressing-room, where echoes fell about her of the stories with which
riotous young men, in tea and wheat and jute, hastened Mr. Lindsay's
convalescence. There she tapped her energetic fat foot on the floor in
vain, to express her views upon such waste of scientific training. She
had Surgeon-Major Livingstone's orders, and he on this occasion had his
sister's.

There was an air of relief, of tension relaxed, between the two women in
the drawing-room; it was plain that Alicia had communicated these things
to her visitor, in their main import. Hilda was already half-disengaged
from the subject, her eye wandered as if in search for the avenue to
another. By a sudden inclination Alicia began the story of Laura Filbert
on her knees at Lindsay's door. She told it in a quiet, steady,
colourless way, pursuing it to the end--it came with the ease of
frequent private rehearsals--and then with her elbows on her knees and
her chin in her palms she stopped and gazed meditatively in front of
her. There was something in the gaze to which Hilda yielded an attention
unexpectedly serious, something of the absolute in character and life
impervious to her inquiry. Yet to analysis it was only the grey look of
eyes habited to regard the future with penetration and to find nothing
there.

"Have you told him?" Hilda asked after an instant's pause, during which
she conceded something, she hardly knew what; she meant to find out
later.

"I haven't seen him. But I will tell him, I promise you."

"I have no doubt you will! But don't promise _me_. I won't even witness
the vow!" Hilda cried.

"What does it matter? I shall certainly tell him." The words fell
definitely like pebbles. Hilda thoughtfully picked them up.

"On the whole," she said, "perhaps it would be as well. Yes, it is my
advice. It is quite likely that he will be revolted. It may be
curative."

Alicia turned away her head to hide the faint frown that nevertheless
crept into her voice. "I don't think so," she said. "How you do juggle
with things! I don't know why I talk to you about this--this matter. I
am sure I ought not."

"I was going to say," pursued Hilda, indifferent to her scruple, "that I
shouldn't be at all surprised if his illness leaves him quite
emotionally sane. The poison has worked itself out of his blood--perhaps
the passion and the poison were the same. In such a case it's all so
physical. It must be."

"I wonder!" Alicia said. She said it mechanically, as the easiest
comment.

"When I knew you first your speculation would have been more active, my
dear. You would have looked into the possibility and disputed it. What
has become of your modernity?"

It was the tenderest malice, but it obtained no concessive sign. Alicia
seemed to weigh it. "I think I like theories better than illustrations,"
she said in defence.

"One can look at theories as one looks at the sky, but an illustration
wants a careful point of view. For this one perhaps you are a little
near."

"Perhaps," Alicia assented, "I am a little near." She glanced quickly
down as she spoke, but when she raised her eyes they were dry and clear.

"I can see it better," Hilda went on, with immense audacity, "much
better."

"Isn't it safer to feel?"

"_Jamais de la vie!_ The nerves lie always."

They were on the edge of the vortex of the old dispute. Alicia leaned
back among the cushions and regarded the other with an undecided eye.

"You are not sure," said Hilda, "that you won't ask me, at this point,
to look at the pictures in that old copy of the Persian classic--I
forget its lovely name--or inquire what sort of house we had last night.
Well, don't be afraid of hurting my feelings. Only, you know, between
us, as between more doubtful people, the door must be either open or
shut. I fancy you take cold easily; perhaps you had better shut the
door."

"Not for worlds," Alicia said, with promptitude. Then she added rather
cleverly, "That would be my spoiling my one view of life."

Hilda smiled. "Isn't there any life where you live?" She glanced round
her, at the tapestried elegance of the room, with sudden indifference.
"After all," she said, "I don't know what I am doing here, in your
affairs. As the world swings no one could be more remote from them or
you. I belong to its winds and its highways--how have you brought me
here, a tramp-actress, to your drawing-room?"

Alicia laid a detaining hand upon Miss Howe's skirt. "Don't go away,"
she said. Hilda sat at the other end of the sofa; there was hardly a
foot between them. She went on with a curious excitement.

"My kind of life is so primitive, so simple; it is one pure pulse, you
don't know. One only asks the things that minister--one goes and finds
and takes them; one's feet in the straw, one's head under any roof. What
difference does it make? The only thing that counts, that rules, is the
chance of seeing something else, feeling something more, doing something
better."

Alicia only looked at her and tightened the grasp of her fingers on the
actress's skirt. Hilda made the slightest, most involuntary movement. It
comprehended the shaking off of hindrance, the action of flight. Then
she glanced about her again with a kind of appraisement, which ended
with Alicia and embraced her. What she realised seemed to push her, I
think, in some weak place of her sex, to go on intensely, almost
fiercely.

"Everything here is aftermath. You are a gleaner, Alicia Livingstone. We
leave it all over the world for people of taste, like you, in the glow
of their illusions. I couldn't make you understand our harvest; it is of
the broad sun and the sincerity of things."

"I know I must seem to you dreadfully out of it," Alicia said, wearing,
as it were, across her heaviness a lighter cloud of trouble.

But the other would not be stayed; she followed by compulsion her
impulse to the end. "Shall I be quite candid?" she said. "I find the
atmosphere about you, dear, a trifle exhausted."

Alicia, with a face of astonishment, made a half-movement toward the
window before she understood. There was some timidity in her glance at
Hilda and in her mechanical smile. "Oh," she said, "I see what you mean;
and I don't wonder. I am so literal--I have so little imagination."

"Don't talk of it as if it were money or fabric--something you could add
up or measure," Hilda cried remorselessly. "You have none!"

As if something slipped from her Alicia threw out locked hands. "At
least I had enough to know you when you came!" she cried. "I felt you,
too, and it's not my fault if there isn't enough of me to--to respond
properly. And I can't give you up. You seem to be the one valuable thing
that I can have--the only permanent fact that is left."

Hilda had a rebound of immense discomfort. "Who said anything about
giving up?" she interrupted.

"Why, you did! But I'm quite willing to believe you didn't mean it, if
you say so." She turned the appeal of her face and saw a sudden pitiful
consideration in Hilda's, and, as if it called them forth, two tears
sprang to her eyes and fell, as she lowered her delicate head, upon her
lap.

"Dear thing! I didn't indeed. If I meant anything it was that I'm
overstrung. I've been horribly harried lately." She possessed herself of
one of Alicia's hands and stroked it. Alicia kept her head bent for a
moment and then let it fall, in sudden abandonment, upon the other
woman's shoulder. Her defences crumbled so utterly that Hilda felt
guilty of using absurdly heavy artillery. They sat together for a moment
or two in silence with only that supervening sense of successful
aggression between them, and the humiliation was Hilda's. Presently it
grew heavy, embarrassing. Alicia got up and began a slow, restless
pacing up and down before the alcove they sat in. Hilda watched her--it
was a rhythmic progress--and when she came near with a sound of brushing
silk and a faint fragrance which seemed a personal emanation, drew a
long breath, as if she were an essence to be inhaled, and so, in a
manner, obtained, assimilated.

"Oh, yes," Miss Livingstone said, rehabilitating herself with a smile,
"I must keep you. I'll do anything you like to make myself more--worth
while. I'll read for the pure idea. I think I'll take up modelling.
There's rather a good man here just now."

"Yes," Hilda assented. "Read for the pure idea--take up modelling. It is
most expedient, especially if you marry. Women who like those things
sometimes have geniuses for sons. But for me, so far as I count--oh, my
dear, do nothing more. You are already an achieved effect--a
consummation of the exquisite in every way. Generations have been chosen
among for you; your person holds the inheritance of all that is gracious
and tender and discriminating in a hundred years. You are as rare as I
am, and if there is anything you would take from me, I would make more
than one exchange for the mere niceness of your fibre--the feeling you
have for fine shades of morality and taste--all that makes you a lady,
my dear."

"Such niminy piminy things," said Alicia, contradicting the light of
satisfaction in her eyes. The sound of a step came from the room
overhead, and the light died out. "And what good do they do me!" she
cried in soft misery. "What good do they do me!"

"Considerably less than they ought. Why aren't you up there now? What
more simple, honest opportunity do you want than a sick room in your own
house?"

Alicia, with a frightened glance at the ceiling, flew to her side. "Oh,
hush!" she cried. "Go on!"

"It ought to be there beside him, the charm of you. The room should be
full of cool refreshing hints of what you are. Your profile should come
between him and the twilight with a scent of violets."

"It sounds like a plot," Alicia murmured.

"It _is_ a plot. Why quibble about it? If you smile at him it's a plot.
If you put a rose in your hair it's a deep-laid scheme, deeper than you
perceive--the scheme the universe is built on. We wouldn't have lent
ourselves to the arrangement, we women, if we had been consulted; we're
naturally too scrupulous, but nobody asked us. 'Without our aid He did
us make,' you know."

"But--deliberately--to go so far! I couldn't, I couldn't, even if I
could."

Hilda leaned back in her corner with her arms extended along the back
and the end of the sofa. Her hands drooped in their vigour, her knees
were crossed, and her skirts draped them in long simple lines. In her
symmetry and strength and the warm cloud of her hair and the soul that
sat behind the shadows of her eyes Vedder might have drawn her as a
tragic symbol for the poet who sang in the King's garden of wine and
death and roses.

"I would go further," she said, and looked as if some other thing
charged with sweetness had come before her.

"And even if one gained, one would never trust one's success," Alicia
faltered.

"Ah, if one gained one would hold," Hilda said; and while she smiled on
her pupil in the arts of life, the tenderness grew in her eyes and came
upon her lips. As if she knew her betrayal already complete, "I wish I
had such a chance," she said.

Alicia looked at her as they might have looked, across the desert, at a
mirage of the Promised Land.

"Then after all he has prevailed," she said.

"Who?"

"Hamilton Bradley."

Hilda laughed--the laugh was full and light and spontaneous, as if all
the training of the notes of her throat came unconsciously to make it
beautiful.

"How you will hold me to my _metier_," she said. "Hamilton Bradley has
given up trying."

"Then----"

"Then think! Be clever. Be very clever."

Alicia dropped her head in the joined length of her hands. A turquoise
on one of them made them whiter, more transparent than usual. Presently
she drew her face up from her clinging fingers and searched the other
woman with eyes that nevertheless refused confirmation for their
astonishment.

"Well?" said Hilda.

"I can think of no one--there _is_ no one--except--oh, it's too absurd!
Not Stephen--poor dear Stephen!"

The faintest shadow drifted across Hilda's face, as if for an instant
she contemplated a thing inscrutable. Then the light came back, dashed
with a gravity, a gentleness.

"I admit the absurdity. Stephen--poor dear Stephen. How odd it seems,"
she went on, while Alicia gazed, "the announcement of it--like a thing
born. But it is that--a thing born."

"I don't understand--in the least," Alicia exclaimed.

"Neither do I. I don't indeed. Sometimes I feel like a creature with its
feet in a trap. The insane, _insane_ improbability of it!" She laughed
again. It was delicious to hear her.

"But--he is a priest!"

"Much more difficult. He is a saint."

Alicia glanced at the floor. The record of another lighter moment
twitched itself out of a day that was forgotten.

"Are you quite certain?" she said. "You told me once that--that there
had been other times."

"They are useful, those foolish episodes. They explain to one the
difference." The tone of this was very even, very usual, but Alicia was
aware of a suggestion in it that accused her of aggression, that almost
ranged her hostile. She hurried out of that position.

"If it were possible," she said, frowning at her embarrassment. "I see
nothing--nothing _really_--against it."

"I should think not! Can't you conceive what I could do for him?"

"And what could he do for you?" Alicia asked, with a flash of curiosity.

"I don't think I can let you ask me that."

"There are such strange things to consider! Would he withdraw from the
Church? Would you retire from the stage? I don't know which seems the
more impossible!"

Hilda got up.

"It would be a criminal choice, wouldn't it?" she said. "I haven't made
it out. And he, you know, still dreams only of Bengali souls for
redemption, never of me at all."

A servant of the house, with the air of a messenger, brought Alicia a
scrap of paper. She glanced at it, and then, with hands that trembled,
began folding it together.

"He has been allowed to get up and sit in a chair," she murmured, "and
he wants me to come and talk to him."

"Well," said Hilda, "come."

She put her arm about Alicia and drew her out of the room to the foot of
the stairs. They went in silence, saying nothing even when they parted,
and Alicia, of her own accord, began to ascend. Half way up she paused
and looked down. Hilda turned to meet her glance, and something of
primitive puissance passed, conscious, comprehended, between the eyes of
the two women.



CHAPTER XVI.


For three days there had certainly been, with the invalid, no sign of
anything but convalescence. An appetite to cry out upon, a chartered
tendency to take small liberties, to make small demands; such
indications offered themselves to the eye that looked for other
betrayals. There had been opportunities--even the day nurse had gone and
Lindsay came to tea in the drawing-room--but he seemed to prefer to talk
about the pattern in the carpet, or the corpulence of the khansamah, or
things in the newspapers. Alicia once, at a suggestive point, put almost
a visible question into a silent glance, and Lindsay asked her for some
more sugar. Surgeon-Major Livingstone, coming into his office
unexpectedly one morning, found his sister in the act of replacing a
volume upon its professional shelf. It was somebody on the pathology of
Indian fevers. Hilda's theory lacked so little to approve it--only
technical corroboration. It might also be considered that, although
Laura had expressly received the freedom of the city for intercessional
or any other purpose, she did not come again. They may have heard in
Crooked lane that Duff was better. We may freely imagine that Mrs. Sand
was informed; it looked as if the respite to disinterested anxiety
afforded by his recovery had been taken advantage of. Lindsay was to be
given time for more dignified repentance; they might now very well hand
him over, Alicia thought, smiling, to the Archdeacon.

As a test, as something to reckon by, the revelation to Lindsay, still
in prospect, of the single visit Captain Filbert did make was perhaps
lacking in essentials. It would be an experiment of some intricacy, it
might very probably work, out in shades. So much would infallibly have
to be put down for surprise and so much reasonably for displeasure,
without any prejudice to the green hope budding underneath; the key to
Hilda's theory might very well be lost in contingencies. Nevertheless,
Alicia postponed her story from day to day and from hour to hour. If her
ideas about it--she kept them carefully in solution--could have been
precipitated they might have appeared in a formula favourite with her
brother, the Surgeon-Major, who often talked of giving nature a chance.

She told him finally on the morning of his first drive. They went
together and alone, Alicia taking her brother's place in the carriage at
a demand for him from the hospital. It was seven o'clock, and the
morning wind swept soft and warm from over the river. There was a white
light on all the stucco parapets, and their shadows slanted clear and
delicately purple to the west. The dust slept on the broad roads of the
Maidan, only a curling trace lifted itself here and there at the heel of
a cart-bullock, and nothing had risen yet of the lazy tumult of the
streets that knotted themselves in the city. From the river, curving
past the statue of an Indian administrator, came a string of country
people with baskets on their heads. The sun struck a vivid note with the
red and the saffron they wore, turned them into an ornamentation, in the
profuse Oriental taste, of the empty expanse. There was the completest
freedom in the wide, tree-dotted spaces round which the city gathered
her shops and her palaces, the fullest invitation to disburden any
heaviness that might oppress, to give the wings of words to any joy that
might rebel in prison. The advantage of the intimacy of the landau for
purposes of observation was so obvious that one imagines Alicia must
have been aware of it, though, as a matter of fact, when she told
Lindsay she did not look at him at all, but beyond the trees of the Eden
Gardens, where the yellow dome of the Post Office swelled against the
morning sky, and so lost it.

He heard without exclamation, but stopped her now and then with a
question. On what day precisely? And how long? And afterward? The yellow
dome was her anchor; she turned her head a little, as the road trended
the other way, to keep her eyes upon it. There was an endless going
round of wheels, and trees passed them in mechanical succession; a tree,
and another tree; some of them had flowers on them. When he broke the
silence afterward, she started as if in apprehension, but it was only to
say something that anybody might have said, about the self-sacrificing
energy of the organisation to which Miss Filbert belonged. Her assent
was little and meagre; nothing would help her to expand it. The
Salvation Army rose before her as a mammoth skeleton, without a
suggestive bone.

Presently he said in a different way, as if he uttered an unguarded
thought, "I had so little to make me think she cared." There was in it
that phantom of speculation and concern which a sick man finds under
pressure, and it penetrated Alicia that he abandoned himself to his
invalid's privileges as if he valued them. He lay extended beside her
among his cushions and wraps; she tried to look at him, and got as far
as the hand nearest her, ungloved and sinewy, on the plaid of the rug.

"She told me it was not for your life she had been praying--only that if
you died you might be saved first." Her eyes were still on his hand, and
she saw the fingers close into the palm as if by an impulse to some kind
of action. Then they relaxed again, and he said, "Oh, well," and smiled
at the balancings of a crow drinking at a city conduit.

That was all. Alicia made an effort, odd and impossible enough, to
postpone her impressions, even her emotions. In the meantime it was
something to have got it over, and she was able at a bound to talk about
the commonplaces of the roadside. In her escape from this oppression,
she too gathered a freshness, a convalescent pleasure in what they saw;
everything had in some way the likeness of the leafing teak trees,
tender and curative. In the broad early light that lay over the tanks
there was a vague allurement, almost a presage, and the wide spaces of
the Maidan made room for hope. She asked Lindsay presently if he would
mind driving to the market; she wanted some flowers for that night. I
think she wanted some flowers for that hour. Her thought broke so easily
into the symbol of a rose.

They turned into Chowringhee, where the hibiscus bushes showed pink and
crimson over the stucco walls, and at the gates of the pillared houses
servants with brown and shining backs sat on their haunches in the sun
and were shaved. Where the street ran into shops there was still a
shuttered blankness, but here and there a _durwan_[8] yawned and
stretched himself before an open door, and a sweeper made a cloud of
dust beneath a commercial verandah. The first boarding in a side street
announced the appearance of Miss Hilda Howe for one night only as Lady
Macbeth, under the kind patronage of His Excellency the Viceroy, with
Jimmy Finnigan in the close proximity of professional jealousy,
advertising five complete novelties for the same evening. It made a
cheerful note which appealed to them both; it was a pictorial
combination, Hilda and Jimmy Finnigan and the Viceroy; there was
something of gay burlesque in the metropolitan poster against the
crumbling plaster of the outer mosque wall where Mussulmans left their
shoes. Talking of Hilda, they smiled; it was a way her friends had, a
testimony to the difference of her. In Alicia's smile there was a
satisfaction rather subtle and in a manner superior; she knew of things.

[Footnote 8: Doorkeeper.]

The life of the market, the bazaar, was all awake and moving. They
rolled up though a crowd of inferior vehicles, empty for the moment and
abandoned, where the leisurely crowd, with calculation under its
turbans, swayed about the market-house, and the pots of a palm-dealer
ran out of bounds and made a little grove before the stall of the man
who sold pith helmets. The warm air held the smell of all sorts of
commodities; there was a great hum of small transactions, clink of small
profits. "It makes one feel immensely practical and acquisitive," Duff
said, looking at the loaded baskets on the coolies' heads; and he
insisted on getting out. "I am dying to buy an enormous number of
desirable things very cheap. But not combs or shirt-buttons, thank you,
nor any ribbons or lace--is that good lace, Miss Livingstone? Nor even a
live duck--really I am difficult. We might inquire the price of the
duck, though."

The sense of being contributory to his holiday satisfaction reigned in
her. She abandoned herself to it with a little smile that played
steadily about her lips, as if it would tell him, without her sanction,
how continually she rejoiced in his regained well-being. They made their
way slowly toward the flower-corner; there were so many things he wanted
to stop before as they went, leaning on his stick to examine them and
delighting in opportunities for making himself quite ridiculous. The
country tobacco-dealer laughed too, squatting behind his basket; it was
a mad sahib, but not madder than the rest, and there was no hurry.
Alicia saw the pink glow of the roses beyond, where the sun struck
across them over the shoulders of the crowd, and was content to reach
them by degrees. They would be in their achieved sweetness a kind of
climax to the hour's experience, and after that she was not entirely
sure that the day would be as grey as other days.

This was the flood-time of roses and it was exquisite in the
flower-corner with the soft wind picking up their fragrance and squares
of limpid sunlight standing on the wet flagstones. Some of the
stall-keepers had little glass cases, and in these there was room only
for the Gloire de Dijons and the La Frances and the velvety Jacks, the
rest over-ran the tables and the floor in anything that would hold them.
The place rioted with the joy and the passion of roses, for buying and
selling. There were other flowers, nasturtiums, cornbottles, mignonette,
but they had a diminished, insignificant look in their tied-up bunches
beside the triumph of the roses. Further on, beyond the cage of the
money-changer, the country people were hoarse with crying their
vegetables, in two green rows, and beyond that, where the jostling crowd
divided, shone a glimpse of oranges and pomegranates. In this part there
were many comers and goers, lean Mussulman table servants and fat
Eurasian ladies who kept boarding-houses, Armenian women with
embroidered shawls drawn over their heads, sailors of the port. They
came to pass that way, through the sweetness of it, and this made a
coign of vantage for the men with trays, who were very persecuting
there. Lindsay and Alicia stood together beside the roses, her hands
were deep in them; he perceived with pleasure that their glow was
reflected in her face. "No," she exclaimed with dainty aplomb to the man
who sat cross-legged in muslin draperies on the table. "These are
certainly of yesterday. There is no scent left in them--and look!" she
held up the bunch and shook it. A shower of pink petals and drops of
water fell upon the round of her arm above the wrist, where the laces of
her sleeve slipped back. Lindsay had something like a poetic
appreciation of her, observing her put the bunch down tenderly, as if
she would not, if she could help it, find fault with any rose. The
dealer drew put another and handed it to her; a long-stemmed, wide-open,
perfect thing, and it was then that her glance of delight, wandering,
fell upon Laura Filbert. Lindsay looked instantly, curiously, in the
same direction, and Alicia was aware that he also saw. There ensued a
terse moment with a burden of silence and the strangest misgivings, in
which he may have imagined that he had his part alone, but which was the
heavier for her because of him. These two had seen the girl before only
under circumstances that suggested projection, that made excuse, on a
platform receiving the respect of attention, marching with her fellows
under common conventions, common orders. Here, alone, slipping in and
out among the crowd, she looked abandoned; the sight of her in her bare
white feet and the travesty of her dress was a wound. Her humility
screamed its violation, its debasement of her race; she woke the impulse
to screen her and hurry her away as if she were a woman walking in her
sleep. She had on her arm a sheaf of the _War Cry_. This was another
indignity; she offered them right and left, and no one had a pice for
her except one man, a sailor who refused the paper. When he rejoined his
companions there was a hoarse laugh, and the others turned their heads
to look after her.

The flower-dealer eyed his customers with contemptuous speculation,
seeing what had claimed their eyes. There was nothing new, the "mem"
passed every day at this hour. She did no harm and no good. He, too,
looked at her as she came closer, offering her paper to Alladiah Khan, a
man impatient in his religion, who refused it, mumbling in his beard.
With a gesture of appeal she pressed it on him, saying something. Then
Alladiah's green turban shook, his beard, dyed red in Mecca, waggled; he
raised his arm, and Laura, in white astonishment, darted from under it.
They seldom did that.

Alicia caught at the stall table and clung to it as Lindsay made his
stride forward. She saw him twist his hand in the beard of Mecca and
fling the man into the road; she was aware of a vague thankfulness that
it ended there, as if she expected bloodshed. More plainly she saw the
manner of Duff's coming back to the girl, and the way in which, with a
look of half-frightened satisfaction, Laura gave herself up to him. He
was hurrying her away without a word. Her surrender was as absolute and
final as if she had been one of those desirable things he said he wanted
to buy. Alicia intercepted, as it were, the indignity of being
forgotten, stepping up to them. "Take her home in the carriage," she
said to Duff, "and send it back for me. I shall be here a long time
still--quite a long time." She stared at Captain-Filbert as she spoke,
but made no answer to the "Good-morning! God bless you!" with which the
girl perfunctorily addressed her. When they left her she looked down at
the long-stemmed rose, the perfect one, and drove a thorn of it deep
into her palm, as other creatures will sometimes hurt themselves more to
suffer less. It was not in the least fantastic of her, for she was not
aware that she still held it, but that was the only rose she brought
away.



CHAPTER XVII.


Hilda left the road, with a trace of its red dust on the hem of her
skirt, and struck out into the Maidan. It spread before her green where
the slanting sun searched through the short blades, brown and yellow in
the distance, where the light lay on the top of the withered grass. It
was like a great English park, with something of the village common,
only the trees, for the most part, made avenues over it, running an
arbitrary half-mile this way or that, with here and there a group dotted
about in the open; and the brimming tank-ponds were of India and of
nowhere else in the world. The sun was dipping behind the masts that
showed where the straight border of the river ran, and the shadows of
the pipals and the banyans were richly purple over the roads. The light
struck on the stuccoed upper verandahs of the houses in Chowringhee
which made behind their gardens the other border, and seemed to push
them back, to underline their scattered insignificance, hinting that the
Maidan at its pleasure might surge over them altogether. Calcutta, the
teeming capital, lived in the streets and gullies behind that chaste
frontage and quarrelled over drainage schemes; but out here cattle
grazed in quiet companies, and squirrels played on the boles of the
trees. Calcutta, the capital, indeed, was superimposed; one felt that
always at this time, when the glow came and stood in the air among the
tamarinds, and there was nothing anywhere but luminous space and
indolent stillness, and the wrangling and winging of crows. What
persisted, then, under the span of the sky was the old India of rich
traditions, and a thinking bullock beneath the yoke, jogging through the
evening to his own place where the blue haze hid the little huts on the
rim of the city, the real India, and the rest was fiction and
fabrication.

The grass was crisp and pleasant. Hilda deliberately sought its solace
for her feet, letting their pressure linger. All day long the sun had
been drawing the sweetness and the life out of it, and now the air had a
sweet, warm, and grateful scent, like that of harvests. The crickets had
been at it since five o'clock, and though the city rose not half a mile
across the grass, it was the crickets she heard and listened to. In
making private statements of things, the crickets offered a chorus of
agreement and they never interrupted. Not that she had much to consider,
poor girl, which lent itself to a difference of opinion. One might have
thought her, to meet a situation at any point like her own, not badly
equipped. She had all the arguments--which is like saying all the
arms--and the most accurate understanding; but the only practical
outcome of these things had been an intimate object-lesson in the small
value of the intelligence, that flavoured her state with cynicism and
made it more piquant. She did not altogether scorn her own intelligence
at the result, because it had always admitted the existence of
dominating facts that belonged to life and not to reason; it was only
the absurd unexpectedness of coming across one herself. One might think
round such a fact and talk round it--there were less exquisite
satisfactions--but it was not to be cowed or abated, and in the end the
things one said were only words.

Out there in the grassy spaces she let her thoughts flow through her
veins, with her blood, warm and free. The primitive things she saw
helped her to a fulness of life; the south wind brought her profound
sweet presciences. A coolie woman, carrying a basket on her head,
stopped and looked at her with full, glistening eyes; they smiled at
each other and passed on. She found herself upon a narrow path, worn
smooth by other barefooted coolie-folk; it made in its devious way
toward the rich mists where the sun had gone down and Hilda followed it,
breasting the glow and the colour and wide, flat expanse, as if in the
India of it there breathed something exquisitely sensuous and
satisfying. It struck sharp on her senses; she almost consciously
thanked heaven for such a responsive set of nerves. Always and
everywhere she was intensely conscious of what she saw, and of how she
saw it; and it was characteristic of her that she found in that saffron
February evening, spreading to a purple rim with wandering points of
colour in a soldier's coat or a coachman's turban, an atmosphere and a
_mise en scène_ for her own complication. She could take a tenderly
artistic view of that, more soothing a good deal than any result that
came of examining it in other lights. And she did, aware, with smiling
eyes, of how colourable, how dramatic it was.

Nevertheless, she had hardly closed with it; any material outcome seemed
a great way off, pursuable by conjecture when there was time for that.
For the present, there on the Maidan with the south wind, she took it
with her head thrown up, in her glad, free fashion, as something that
came in the way of life--the delightful way of life--with which it was
absurd to quarrel because of a slight inconvenience or incongruity,
things which helped, after all, to make existence fascinating.

A marigold lay in the path, an orange-coloured scrap with a broken stem,
dropped from some coolie's necklace. Hilda picked it up and drew in the
crude, warm pungency of its smell. She closed her eyes and drifted on
the odour, forgetting her speculations, losing her feet. All India and
all her passion was in that violent, penetrating fragrance; it brought
her, as she gave her senses up to it, a kind of dual perception of being
near the core, the throbbing centre of the world's meaning.

Her awakened glance fell upon Duff Lindsay. He hastened to meet her, in
his friendly way; and she was glad of the few yards that lay between
them, and gave transit to her senses from that other plane. They
encountered each other in full recognition of the happiness of the
accident, and he turned back with her as a matter of course. It was a
kind of fruition of all that light and colour and passive delight that
they should meet and take a path together, he at least was aware. Hilda
asked him if he was quite all right now, and he said "Absolutely" with a
shade of emphasis. She charged him with having been a remarkable case,
and he piled up illustrations of what he felt able to do in his
convalescence. There was something in the way he insisted upon his
restoration which made her hasten to take her privilege of intimacy.

"And I hear I may congratulate you," she said. "You have got what you
wanted."

"Someone has told you," he retorted, "who is not friendly to it."

"On the contrary, someone who has given it the most cordial
support--Alicia Livingstone."

He mused upon this for an instant, as if it presented Alicia for the
first time under such an aspect.

"She has been immensely kind," he asserted, "but she wasn't at first. At
first she was hostile, like you, only that her hostility was different,
just as she is different. She had to be converted," he went on
hopefully, "but it was less difficult than I imagined. I think she takes
a kind of pride in conquering her prejudices, and being true to the real
breadth of her nature."

"I am sure she would like her nature to be broad. She might very well be
content that it is charming. And what is the difference between her
hostility and mine?"

"The main difference," Lindsay said, with a gay half round upon her, "is
that hers has sweetly vanished, while yours"--he made a dramatic
gesture--"walks between us."

"I know. I tried to stiffen her. I appealed to the worst in her on your
behalf. But it wasn't any use. She succumbed, as you say, to her nobler
instincts."

Hilda stabbed a great crisp fallen teak leaf with her parasol, and spent
the grimness of this in twirling it.

"One can so easily get an affair of one's own out of all
proportion--" Duff said. "And I should be sorry--do you really want me
to talk about this?"

"Don't be stupid. Of course."

He took her permission with plain avidity.

"Well, it grew plain to Miss Livingstone, as it will to everybody else
who knows or cares," he said; "I mean chiefly Laura's tremendous
desirability. Her beauty would go for something anywhere, but I don't
want to insist on that. What marks her even more is the wonderful purity
and transparency of her mind; one doesn't find it often now, women's
souls are so clouded with knowledge. I think that sort of thing appeals
especially to me because my own design isn't in the least esoteric. I'm
only a man. Then she was so ludicrously out of her element. A creature
like that should be surrounded by the softest refinement in her daily
life. That was my chance. I could offer her her place. It's not much to
counterbalance what she is, but it helps, roughly speaking, to equalise
matters."

Hilda looked at him with sudden critical interest, missing an emanation
from him. It was his enthusiasm. A cheerfulness had come upon him
instead. Also what he said had something categorical in it, something
crisp and arranged. He himself received benefit from the consideration
of it, and she was aware that if this result followed, her own
"conversion" was of very secondary importance.

"So!" she said meditatively, as they walked.

"After it happens, when it is an accomplished fact, it will be so
plainly right that nobody will think twice about it," Duff went on in an
encouraged voice. "It's odd how one's ideas materialise. I want her
drawing-room to be white and gold, with big yellow silk cushions."

"When its it to happen?"

"Beginning of next cold weather--in not quite a year."

"Ah! then there will be time. Time to get the white and gold furniture.
It wouldn't be my taste quite. Is it Alicia's?"

"It's our own at present, Laura's and mine. We have talked it over
together. And I don't think she would ask Miss Livingstone. In matters
of taste women are rather rivals, aren't they?"

"Oh, Lord!" Hilda exclaimed, and bit her lip. "Where is Miss Filbert
now?"

"At No. 10, Middleton street."

"With the Livingstones?"

"Is it so astonishing? Miss Livingstone has been most practical in her
kindness. I have gone back, of course, to my perch at the club, and
Laura is to stay with them until she sails."

"She sails?"

"In the _Sutlej_, next Wednesday. She's got three months' leave. She
really hasn't been well, and her superior officer is an accommodating
old sort. She resigns at home, and I'm sending her to some dear old
friends of mine. She hasn't any particular people of her own. She's got
a notion of taking lessons of some kind--perfectly unnecessary, but if
it amuses her--during the summer. And of course she will have to get her
outfit together."

"And in December," said Hilda, "she comes out and marries you."

"Not a Calcutta wedding. I meet her in Madras and we come up together."

"Ideal," said Hilda; "and is Calcutta much scandalised?"

"Calcutta doesn't know. If I had had my way in the beginning I fancy I
would have trumpeted it. But now I suppose it's wiser--why should one
offer her up at their dinner-tables?"

"Especially when they would make so little of her," said Hilda absently.

The coolie-track had led them into the widest part of the Maidan, where
it slopes to the south, and the huts of Bowanipore. There was nothing
about them but a spreading mellowness and the baked turf under-foot. The
cloudy yellow twilight disclosed that a man little way off was a man and
not a horse but did hardly more. "I'm tired," Hilda said suddenly, "let
us sit down," and sank comfortably on the fragrant grass. Lindsay
dropped beside her and they sat for a moment in silence. A cricket
chirped noisily a few inches from them. Hilda put out her hand in that
direction and it ceased. Sounds wandered across from the encircling
city, evening sounds, softened in their vagrancy, and lights came out,
topaz points in the level glow.

"She is making a tremendous sacrifice," Lindsay went on; "I seem to see
its proportions more clearly now."

Hilda glanced at him with infinite kindness. "You are an awfully good
sort, Duff," she said, "I wish you were out of Asia."

"Oh, a magnificent sort." The irony was contemplative, as if he examined
himself to see.

"You can make her life delightful to her. The sacrifice will not endure,
you know."

"One can try. It will be worth doing." He said it as if it were a maxim,
and Hilda, perceiving this, had no answer ready. As they sat without
speaking, the heart of the after-glow drew away across the river and
left something chill and empty in the spaces about them. Things grew
hard of outline, the Maidan became an unlimited expanse of commonplace,
grey and unyielding; the lines of gas-lamps on the roads came very near.
"What a difference it makes!" Lindsay exclaimed, looking after the
vanished light, "and how suddenly it goes!"

Hilda turned concerned eyes upon him, and then looked with keen sadness
far into the changed landscape. "Ah, well, my dear," she said with
apparent irrelevance, "we must take hold of life with both hands." She
made a movement to rise, and he, jumping to his feet, helped her. As if
the moment had some special significance, something to be underlined, he
kept her hand while he said, "You will always represent something in
mine. I can depend upon you--I shall know that you are there."

"Yes," she said, sincerely, "Yes, indeed;" and it seemed to her that he
looked thin and intense as he stood beside her--unless it was only
another effect of atmosphere. "After all," she said, as they turned to
walk back again across the withered grass, "your fever has taken a good
deal out of you."



CHAPTER XVIII.


Finally the days of Laura Filbert's sojourn under the Livingstones' roof
followed each other into the past that is not much pondered. Alicia at
one time valued the impression that life in Calcutta disappeared
entirely into this kind of history, that one's memory there was a
rubbish heap of which one naturally did not trouble to stir up the dust.
It gave a soothing wistulness to discontent to think this, which a
discerning glance might often have seen about her lips and eyebrows as
she lay back among her carriage cushions under the flattery of the south
wind in the course of her evening drive. She had ceased latterly,
however, to note particularly that or any impression. Such things
require range and atmosphere, and she seemed to have no more command
over these; her outlook was blocked by crowding, narrowing facts. There
was certainly no room for perceptions creditable to one's intellect or
one's taste. Also it may be doubted whether Alicia would have tried the
days of her hospitality to Captain Filbert by her general standard of
worthlessness. She turned away from them more actively than from the
rest, but it was because they bristled, naturally enough, with dilemmas
and distresses which she made a literal effort to forget. As a matter of
fact, there were not very many days, and they were largely filled with
millinery. Even the dilemmas and distresses, when they asserted
themselves, were more or less overswept, as if for the sake of decency,
by billows of spotted muslin, with which Céline, who felt the romance of
the situation, made herself marvellously clever. Céline, indeed, was
worth in this exigency many times her wages. Alicia hastened to "lend"
her to the fullest extent, and she spent hours with Miss Filbert
contriving and arranging, a kind of conductor of her mistress's
beneficence. It became plain that Laura preferred the conductor to the
source, and they stitched together while she, with careful reserves,
watched for the casual sidelights upon modes and manners that came from
the lips of the maid. At other times she occupied herself with her
Bible--she had adopted, as will be guessed, the grateful theory of Mrs.
Sand, that she had only changed the sphere of her ministrations. She had
several times felt, seated beside Céline, how grateful she ought to be
that her spiritual paths for the future would be paths of such
pleasantness, though Céline herself seemed to stand rather far from
their border, probably because she was a Catholic. Mrs. Sand came
occasionally to upbuild her, and after that Laura had always a fresh
remembrance of how much she had done in giving so generous a friend as
Duff Lindsay to the Army in Calcutta. It was reasonable enough that
there should be a falling off in Mr. Lindsay's attendance just now in
Laura's absence, but when they were united, Mrs. Sand hoped there would
be very few evening services when she, the Ensign, would miss their
bright faces. Lindsay himself came every afternoon, and Laura made his
tea for him with precision, and pressed upon him, solicitously,
everything there was to eat. He found her submissive and wishful to be
pleasant. She sat up straight and said it was much hotter than they had
it this time of year up-country but nothing at all to complain of yet.
He also discovered her to be practical; she showed him the bills for the
muslins, and explained one or two bargains. She seemed to wish to make
it clear to him that it need not be, after all, so very expensive to
take a wife. In the course of a few days one of the costumes was
completed, and when he came she had it on, appearing before him for the
first time in secular dress. The stays insisted a little cruelly on the
lines of her figure, and the tight bodice betrayed her narrow-chested.
Above its frills her throat protruded unusually, with a curve outward
like that of some wading birds, and her arms, in their unaccustomed
sleeves, hung straight at her sides. She had put on a hat that matched:
it was the kind of pretty, disorderly hat with waving flowers that
demands the shadow of short hair along the forehead, and she had not
thought of that way of making it becoming. Among these accessories the
significance of her face retreated to a point vague and distant; its
lightly-pencilled lines seemed half erased. She made no demand upon him
for admiration on this occasion, she seemed sufficiently satisfied with
herself; but after a time, when they were sitting together on the sofa,
and he still pursued the lines of her garment with questioning eyes, she
recalled him to the conventionalities of the situation.

"You needn't be afraid of mussing it," she said.

The ship she took her departure in sailed from its jetty in the river at
six o'clock in the morning. Preparations for her comfort had been
completed over night; indeed, she slept on board, and Duff had only the
duty and the sentiment of actual parting in the morning. He found her in
a sequestered corner of the fresh-swabbed quarter-deck. She wore her
Army clothes--she had come on board in one of the muslins--and she was
softly crying. From the jetty on the other side of the ship arose, amid
tramping feet and shouted orders and the creaking of the luggage-crane,
the overruling sound of a hymn. Ensign Sand and a company had come
apparently to pay the last rites to a fellow-officer whom they should no
more meet on earth, bearing her heavenly commission.

    "Farewell, faithful friend, we must now bid adieu
     To those joys and pleasures we've tasted with you.
     We've laboured together, united in heart,
     But now we must close, and soon we must part."

They had said good-bye to her and God bless you, all of them, but they
evidently meant to sing the ship out of port. Lindsay sat down beside
the victim of the demonstration and quietly took her hand. There was a
consciousness newly guilty in his discomfort, which he owed perhaps to a
ghost of futility that seemed to pace up and down before him, between
the ranks of the steamer-chairs. Nevertheless, as she presently turned a
calmed face to him with her pale apology, he had the sensation of a
rebound toward the ideal that had finally perished in the spotted
muslin, and when a little later he watched the long backward trail of
smoke as the steamer moved down the clear morning river, he remembered
that it was a satisfaction to have prevailed.

The _Sutlej_ had gone far on her tranquil course by the evening of a
dinner in Middleton street, at which the guests, it was understood, were
to proceed later to a party given at Government House by his Excellency
the Viceroy. Alicia, when she included Duff in her invitations, felt an
assurance that the steamer must by that time have reached Aden, and rose
almost with buoyancy to the illusion you can make, if you like, with the
geographical mile. She could hardly have left him out in any case--he
could almost have demanded an explanation--since it was one of those
parties which she gave every now and then, undiscouraged, with the focus
of Hilda Howe. It had to be every now and then, because Calcutta society
was so little adapted to appreciate meeting talented actresses--there
were so many people whom Alicia had to consider as to whether they would
"mind." Hilda marvelled at the sanguine persistence of Miss
Livingstone's efforts in this direction, the results were so
fragmentary, so dislocated and indecisive, but she also rejoiced. She
took life, as may have appeared, at a broad and generous level, it quite
comprehended the salient points of a Calcutta dinner party; and it was
seldom that she failed, metaphorically speaking, to carry away a bone
from the feast. If you found this reprehensible, she would have told you
she had observed that they do it in Japan, where manners are the best in
the world.

Doubtless Hilda would have dwelt longer upon such a dinner-party than I,
with no consolatory bone to gnaw in private, find myself inclined to do.
To me it is depressing, and a little cruel, to be compelled to betray
the inadequacy of the personal element at Alicia's banquets, especially
in connection with the conspicuous excellence of the cooking. A poverty
of cuisine would have provoked no contrast, and one irony the less would
have been offered up to the gods that season. The limitations of her
resources were, of course, arbitrary, that is plain in the fact that she
asked such a person as the Head of the Department of Education, with no
better reason than that he had laid almost the whole of Shelley under
critical notes for the benefit of Calcutta University, and the necessary
item, his wife, who did even less harm by making exquisite lampshades.
There was a civilian who had written a few years before an article in
the _Nineteenth Century_ about the aboriginal tribes of Madras, and the
lady attached to him, who had been at one time the daughter of a
Lieutenant-Governor. The Barberrys were there because Mrs. Barberry
loved meeting anybody that was clever, admired brains beyond anything;
and an Aide-de-Camp who had to be asked because Mrs. Barberry was, and
Captain Salter Symmes, who took leading male parts in Mr. Pinero's plays
when they were produced in Simla, and was invariably considered up there
to have done them better than any professional they have at home, though
he was even more successful as a contortionist when the entertainment
happened to be a burlesque. Taking Hilda and Lindsay and Stephen Arnold
as a basis, Alicia had built up her party, with the contortionist, as it
were, at the apex, on his head. The Livingstones had family connection
with a leading London publishing firm, and Alicia may possibly have
reflected, as she surveyed her completed work, how much better than
capering captains she could have done in Chelsea, though it cannot be
admitted likely that she would harbour, at that particular instant, so
ungracious a thought. And indeed it was a creditable party; it would
almost unanimously call itself, next day, a delightful one. Miss Howe
made the most agreeable excitement--you might almost have heard the
heart-beats of the wife of the literary and on one occasion current
civilian, as she just escaped being introduced, and so availed herself
of the dinner's opportunity for intimate observation without letting
herself in a particle--most clever. Mrs. Barberry, of course, rushed
upon the spear, as she always did, and made a gushing little speech,
with every eye upon her, in the middle of the room, without a thought of
consequences. The Aide-de-Camp was also _empressé_, one would have
thought that he was acting himself, the way he bowed and picked up
Hilda's fan--a grace lingered in it from the minuet he had danced the
week before, in ruffles and patches, with the daughter of the
Commander-in-Chief. Duff got out of the way to enable the
newly-introduced Head of the Department of Education to inform Miss Howe
that he never went to the theatre in Calcutta himself, it was much too
badly ventilated; and Stephen Arnold, arriving late, shot like an
embarrassed arrow through the company to Alicia's side, and was still
engaged there in grieved explanation when dinner was announced.

There were pink water-lilies, and Stephen said grace--those were the
pictorial features. Half of the people had taken their seats when he
began; there was a hasty scramble, and a decorous, half-checked smile.
Hilda, at the first word of the brief formula, blushed hotly; then she
stood while he spoke, with bowed head and clasped hands, like a
reverently inclining statue. Her long lashes brushed her cheek; she drew
a kind of isolation from the way her manner underlined the office. The
civilian's wife, with a side-glance, settled it off-hand that she was
absurdly affected; and, indeed, to an acuter intelligence it might have
looked as if she took, with the artistry of habit, a cue that was not
offered.

That was the one instant, however, in which the civilian's wife,
observing the actress, was gratified; and it was so brief that she
complained afterward that Miss Howe was disappointing. She certainly
went out of her way to be normal. Since it was her daily business to
personate exceptional individuals, it seemed to be her pleasure that
night to be like everybody else. She did it on opulent lines; there was
a richness in her agreement that the going was as hard as iron on the
Ellenborough course, and a soft ingenuousness in her inquiries about
punkahs and the brain-fever bird that might have aroused suspicion, but
after a brief struggle to respond to the unusualness she ought to have
represented, Alicia's guests gratefully accepted her on their own terms
instead. She expanded in the light and the glow and the circumstance;
she looked with warm pleasure at the orchids the men wore and the
jewelled necks of the women. The social essence of Alicia's little
dinner-party passed into her, and she moved her head like the civilian's
wife. She felt the champagne investing her chatter and the chatter of
the Head of the Department of Education with the most satisfying
qualities, which were only very slightly dashed when she glanced over
the brim of her glass at Stephen, sitting at the turn of the oval,
giving a gravely humble but perfunctory attention to Mrs. Barberry and
drinking water. The occasion grew before her into a gorgeous flower,
living, pulsating, and in the heart of its light and colour the petals
closed over her secret, over him, the unconscious priest with the
sloping shoulders, thinking of abstinence and listening to Mrs.
Barberry.

It transpired, when the men came up, that there was no unanimity about
going to Government House. The Livingstones craved the necessity of
absence, if anyone would supply it by staying on; it would be a boon,
they said, and cited the advancement of the season. "One gets to bed so
much earlier," Surgeon-Major Livingstone urged, at which Alicia raised
her eyebrows and everybody laughed. Lindsay elected to gratify them,
with the proclaimed purpose of seeing how long Livingstone could be kept
up, and the civilian pair agreed, apparently from an inert tendency to
remain seated. The Aide-de-Camp had, of course, to go; duty called him;
and he declared a sense of slighted hospitality that anybody should
remain behind. "Besides," he cried, with ingenuous privilege, "who's
goin' to chaperone Miss Howe?"

Hilda stood in the midst. Tall in violet velvet, she had a flush that
made her magnificent; her eyes were deep and soft. It was patent that
she was out of proportion to the other women, body and soul; there was
altogether too much of her; and it was only the men, when Captain Corby
spoke, who looked silently responsive.

"We're coming away so early," said Mrs. Barberry, buttoning her glove.
Hilda had begun to smile, and, indeed, the situation had its humour, but
there was also behind her eyes an appreciation of another sort. "Don't,"
she said to Alicia, in the low, quick reach of her prompting tone, as if
the other had mistaken her cue, but the moment hardly permitted retreat,
and Alicia turned an unflinching, graceful front to the lady in the
Department of Education. "Then I think I must ask you," she said.

The educational husband was standing so near Hilda that she got the very
dregs of the glance of consternation his little wife gave him as she
replied, a trifle red and stiff, that she was sure she would be
delighted.

"Nobody suggests _me_!" exclaimed Captain Corby, resentfully. They were
gathered in the hall, the carriages were driving to the open door, the
Barberrys' glistening brougham whisking them off, and then the battered
vehicle in Hilda's hire. It had an air of ludicrous forlornity, with its
damaged paint and its tied-up harness. Hilda, when its door closed upon
the purple vision of her, might have been a modern Cinderella in
mid-stage of backward transformation.

"I could chaperone you all!" she cried gaily back at them as she passed
down the steps; and in the relief of the general exclamation it seemed
reasonable enough that Stephen Arnold should lean into the gharry to see
that she was quite comfortable. The unusual thing, which nobody else
heard, was that he said to her then with shamed discomfort, "It doesn't
matter--it doesn't matter," and that Hilda, driving away, found herself
without a voice to answer the good-nights they chorussed after her.

Arnold begged a seat in Captain Corby's dog-cart, and Hilda, with her
purple train in her lap, heard the wheels following all the way. She
re-encountered the lady to whom she had been entrusted, whose name it
occurs to me was Winstick, in the cloak-room. They were late; there was
hardly anybody else but the attendants; and Mrs. Winstick smiled freely
and said she loved the colour of Hilda's dress; also that she would give
worlds for an invisible hair-pin--oh, thank you!--and that it was simply
ducky of her Excellency to have pink powder as well as white put out.
She did hope Miss Howe would enjoy the evening--they would meet again
later on; she must not forget to look at the chunam pillars in the
ball-room--perfectly lovely. So she vanished; but Hilda went with
certainty into the corridor to find Arnold pacing up and down the red
strip of carpet, with his hands clasped behind him and his head thrust
forward, waiting for her.

They dropped together into the crowd and walked among well-dressed
woman, men in civilian black and men in uniform, up and down the
pillared spaces of the ball-room. People had not been asked to dance,
and they seemed to walk about chiefly for observation. There was, of
course, the opportunity of talking and of listening to the band which
discoursed in a corner behind palms, but the distraction which is the
social Nemesis of bureaucracy was in the air, visibly increasing in the
neighbourhoods of the Viceroy and the Commander-in-Chief, and made the
commonplaces people uttered to each other disjointed and fragmentary,
while it was plain that few were aware whether music was being rendered
or not. Anyone sensitive to pervading mental currents in gatherings of
this sort would have found the relief of concentration and directness
only near the buffet that ran along one side of the room, where the
natural instinct played, without impediment, upon soup and sandwiches.

They did not look much at Hilda, even on the arm of her liveried priest.
She was a strange vessel, sailing in from beyond their ken, and her
pilot was almost as novel, yet they were incurious. Their interests were
not in any way diffused: they had one straight line and it led upward,
pausing at the personalities clerked above them, with an ultimate point
in the head of a department. The Head of the Department was the only
person unaware, when addressed, of a travelling eye in search over his
shoulder of somebody with whom it would be more advantageous to
converse. Yet there were a few people apparently not altogether
indifferent to the presence of Miss Howe. She saw them here and there,
and when Arnold said, "It must seem odd to you, but I know hardly
anybody here. We attempt no social duties," she singled out this one and
that, whom Alicia had asked to meet her, and mentioned them to him with
a warm pleasure in implying one of the advantages of belonging to the
world rather than to the cloister. Stephen knew their names and their
dignities. He received what she said with suitably impressed eyebrow and
nods of considerate assent. Hilda carried him along, as it were, in
their direction. She was full that night of a triumphant sense of her
own vitality, her success and value as a human unit. There was that in
her blood which assured her of a welcome; it had logic in it, with the
basis of her rarity, her force, her distinction among other women. She
pressed forward to human fellowship with a smile on her lips, as a
delightful matter of course, going toward the people who were not
indifferent to the fact that she was there, who could not be entirely,
since they had some sort of knowledge of her.

In no case did they ignore her, but they were so cheerfully engaged in
conversation that they were usually quite oblivious of her. She
encountered this animated absorption two or three times, then, turning,
she found that the absorbed ones had changed their places--were no
longer in her path. One lady put herself at a safe distance and then
bowed with much cordiality. It was extraordinary in a group of five how
many glistening backs would be presented, quite without offence, to her
approach. Mrs. Winstick had hidden behind the Superintendent of Stamps
and Stationery, to whom she was explaining, between spoonfuls of
strawberry ice her terrible situation. And from the lips of another
lady, whose face she knew, she heard after she had passed, "Don't you
think it's rather an _omnium gatherum_?"

It was like Hilda Howe to note at that moment, with serious interest,
how the little world about them had the same negative attitude for the
missionary priest beside her, presenting it with a hardly perceptible
difference. Within its limits there was plainly no room for him either.
His acquaintances--he had a few--bowed with the kind of respect which
implies distance, and in the wandering eyes of the others it was plain
that he did not exist. She saw, too, with a very delicate pleasure, that
he carried himself in his grave humility untouched and unconscious.
Expecting nothing, he was unaware that he received nothing. It was odd,
and in its way charming, that she who saw and knew drew from their
mutual grievance a sense of pitiful protection for him, the unconscious
one. For herself, the tide that bore her on was too deep to let these
things hurt her; she looked down and saw the soreness and humiliation of
them pictorially, at the bottom, gliding smoothly over. They brought no
stereotype to her smile, no dissonance to what she found to say. When at
last she and Arnold sat down together her standpoint was still superior,
and she herself was so aloof from it all that she could talk about it
without bitterness, divorcing the personal pang from a social
manifestation of some dramatic value. In offering up her egotism that
way she really only made more subtle sacrifices to it, but one could
hardly expect such a consideration, just then, to give her pause. She
anointed his eyelids, she made him see, and he was relieved to find in
her light comment that she took the typical Mrs. Winstick less seriously
than he had supposed when they drove away from the Livingstones'. It
could not occur to him to correct the impression he had then by the
sound of his own voice uttering sympathy.

"But I know now what a wave feels like dashing against a cliff," she
said. "Fancy my thinking I could impose myself! That is the wave's
reflection."

"It goes back into the sea, which is its own; and there," said the
priest, whom nature had somehow cheated by the false promise of high
moralities out of an inheritance of beauty, "and there, I think, is
depth and change and mystery, with joy in the obedience of the tides and
a full beating upon many shores----"

"Ah, my sea! I hear it calling always, even," she said
half-reflectively, "when I am talking to you. But sometimes I think I am
not a wave at all, only a shell, to be stranded and left, always with
the calling in my ears"--she seemed to have dropped altogether into
reverie, and then looked up suddenly, laughing, because he could not
understand.

"After all," she said practically, "what has that to do with it? One
doesn't blame these people. They are stupid--that's all. They want the
obvious. The leading lady of Mr. Llewellyn Stanhope--without the
smallest diamond--who does song and dance on Saturday nights--what can
you expect. If I were famous they would be pleased enough to see me. It
is one of the rewards of the fame." She was silent for a moment, and
then she added, "They are very poor."

"Those rewards! I have sometimes thought," Arnold said, "that you were
not devoured by thirst for them."

"When we are together, you and I," she answered simply, "I never am."

He took it at its face value. They had had some delightful
conversations. If her words awakened anything in him it was the
remembrance of these. The solace of her companionship presented itself
to him again, and her statement gave their mutual confidence another
seal; that was all. They sat where they were for half an hour, and
something like antagonism and displeasure toward the secretaries' wives
settled upon them, for which Hilda, interrupting a glance or two from
the ladies purring past, drew suspicion. "I am going now," she said.
"It--it isn't quite suitable here," and there was just enough suggestion
in the point of her fan to make him think of his frock. "It is an
unpardonable truth that if we stay any longer I shall make people talk
about you."

He turned astonished eyes upon her, eyes in which she remembered
afterward there was absolutely nothing but a literal and pained
apprehension of what she said. "You are a good woman," he exclaimed.
"How could such a thing be possible?"

The faintest embarrassment, the merest suggestion of distress, came into
her face and concentrated in her eyes, which she fixed upon him as if
she would bring his words to the last analysis and answer him as she
would answer a tribunal.

"A good woman?" she repeated. "I don't know--isn't that a refinement of
virtue? No, standing on my sex, I make no claim, but as _people_ go I am
good. Yes, I am good."

"In my eyes you are splendid," he replied, content, and gave her his
arm. They went together through the reception-rooms, and the
appreciation of her grew in him. If in the bright and silken distance he
had not seen his Bishop it might have glowed into a cordiality of speech
with his distinctive individual stamp on it. But he saw his Bishop, his
ceinture tightened on him, and he uttered only the trite saying about
the folly of counting on the sensibility of swine.

"Yes," she laughed into her good-night to him, "but I'm not sure that it
isn't better to be the pig than the pearl."



CHAPTER XIX.


"Not long ago," said Hilda, "I had a chat with him. We sat on the grass
in the middle of the Maidan, and there was nothing to interfere with my
impressions?"

"What were your impressions? No!" Alicia cried. "No! Don't tell me. It
is all so peaceful now, and simple, and straightforward. You think such
extraordinary things. He comes here quite often, to talk about her. He
is coming this afternoon. So I have impressions too--and they are just
as good."

"All right." Hilda crossed her knees more comfortably. "_What_ did you
say the Surgeon-Major paid for those Teheran tiles?"

"Something absurd--I've forgotten. He writes to her regularly, diary
letters, by every mail."

"Do you tell him what to put into them?"

"Hilda, sometimes--you're positively coarse."

"I dare say, my dear. You didn't come out of a cab, and you never are. I
like being coarse, I feel nearer to nature then, but I don't say that as
an excuse. I like the smell of warm kitchens and the talk of
bus-drivers, and bread and herrings for my tea--all the low
satisfactions appeal to me. Beer, too, and hand-organs."

"I don't know when to believe you. He talks about her quite freely,
and--and so do I. She is really interesting in her way."

"And in perspective."

"Don't be odiously smart. He and Stephen"--her glance was
tentative--"have made it up."

"Oh!"

"He admits now that Stephen was justified, from his point of view. But
of course that is easy enough when you have come off best."

"Of course."

"Hilda, what do you _think_?"

"Oh, I think it's damnable--you have always known what I think. Have you
seen him lately--I mean your cousin?"

"He lunched with us yesterday. He was more enthusiastic than ever about
you."

"I wish you could tell me that he hadn't mentioned my name. I don't want
his enthusiasm. The pit gives one that."

"Hilda, tell me; what is your idea of--of what it ought to be? What is
the principal part of it? Not enthusiasm--adoration?"

"Goodness, no! Something quite different and quite simple--too simple to
explain. Besides, it is a thing that requires the completest ignorance
to discuss comfortably. Do you want me to vivisect my soul? You
yourself, can you talk about what most possesses you?"

"Oh," protested Alicia, "I wasn't thinking about myself," and at the
same moment the door opened and Hilda said, "Ah, Mr. Lindsay!"

There was a hint of the unexpected in Duff's response to Miss Howe's
greeting, and a suggestion in the way he sat down that this made a
difference, and that it would be necessary to find other things to say.
He found them with facility, while Hilda decided that she would finish
her tea before she went. Alicia, busy with the urn, seemed satisfied to
abandon them to each other, to take a decorative place in the
conversation, interrupting it with brief inquiries about cream and
sugar. Alicia waited; it was her way; she sank almost palpably into the
tapestries until some reviving circumstance should bring her out again,
a process which was quite compatible with her little laughs and
comments. She waited, offering repose, and unconscious even of that. You
know Hilda Howe as a creature of bold reflections. Looking at Alicia
Livingstone behind the tea-pot, the conviction visited her that a sex
three-quarters of this fibre explained the monastic clergy.

"It is reported that you have performed the wonderful, the impossible,"
Lindsay said; "that Llewellyn Stanhope goes home solvent."

"I don't know how he can help it now. But I have to be very firm with
him. He's on his knees to me to do Ibsen. I tell him I will if he'll
combine with Jimmy Finnigan and bring the _Surprise Party_ on between
the acts. The only way it would go, in this capital."

"Oh, do produce Ibsen," Alicia exclaimed. "I've never seen one of his
plays--doesn't it sound terrible?"

"If people will elect to live upon a coral strand--oh, I should like to,
for you and Duff here, but Ibsen is the very last man to deliver to a
scratch company. He must have equal merit, or there's no meaning. You
see, he makes none of the vulgar appeals. It would be a tame
travesty--nobody could redeem it alone. You must keep to the old
situations, the reliable old dodges, when you play in any part of Asia."

"I never shall cease to regret that I didn't see you in _The Reproach of
Galilee_" Duff said; "everyone who knows the least bit about it said you
were marvellous in that."

"Marvellous," said Alicia.

Hilda gazed straight before her for an instant without speaking. The
others looked at her absent eyes. "A bazaar trick or two helped me," she
said, and glanced with vivacity at any other subject that might be
hanging on the wall or visible out of the window.

"And are you really invincible about not putting it on again in
Calcutta?" Duff asked.

"Not in Calcutta, or anywhere. The rest hate it--nobody has a chance but
me," Hilda said, and got up.

"Oh, I don't know," Alicia began, but Miss Howe was already half way out
of the discussion in the direction of the door. There was often a
brusqueness in her comings and goings, but she usually left a flavour of
herself behind. One turned with facility to talk about her, this being
the easiest way of applying the stimulus that came of talking to her. It
was more conspicuous than either of these two realised that they
accepted her retreat without a word, that there was even between them a
consciousness of satisfaction that she had gone.

"This morning's mail," said Alicia, smiling brightly at him, "brought
you a letter, I know." It was extraordinary how detached she was from
her vital personal concern in him. It seemed relegated to some
background of her nature while she occupied herself with the play of
circumstances or was lost in her observation of him.

"How kind of you to think of it," Lindsay said. "This was the first by
which I could possibly hear from England."

"Ah, well, now you will have no more anxiety. Letters from on board ship
are always difficult to write and unsatisfactory," Alicia said. Miss
Filbert's had been postcards, with a wide unoccupied margin at the
bottom.

"The _Sutlej_ seems to have arrived on the 3rd; that's a day later,
isn't it, than we made out she would be?"

Alicia consulted her memory and found she couldn't be sure. Lindsay was
vexed by a similar uncertainty, but they agreed that the date was early
in the month.

"Did they get comfortably through the Canal? I remember being tied up
there for forty-eight hours once."

"I don't think she says, so I fancy it must have been all right. The
voyage is bound to do her good. I've asked the Simpsons to watch
particularly for any sign of malaria later, though. One can't possibly
know what she may have imported from that slum in Bentinck street."

"And what was it like after Gibraltar?" Alicia asked, with a barely
perceptible glance at the envelope edges showing over his breast pocket.

"I'll look," and he sorted one out. It was pink and glossy, with a
diagonal water-stripe. Lindsay drew out the single sheet it contained,
and she could see that every line was ruled and faintly pencilled. "Let
me see," said he. "To begin at the beginning: 'We arrived home on the
3rd'--you see it was the 3rd--'making very slow progress the last day on
account of a fog in the Channel'--ah, a fog in the Channel!--'which was
a great disappointment to some on board who were impatient to meet their
loved ones. One lady had not seen her family of five for seven years.
She said she would like to get out and swim, and you could not wonder.
She was my s--stable companion.'".

"Quaint!" said Alicia.

"She has picked up the expression on board, 'So--so she told me this.'
Oh, yes. 'Now that it is all over I have written the voyage down among
my mercies in spite of three days' sickness, when you could keep nothing
on'--What are these two words, Miss Livingstone? I can't quite make them
out."

"'Your'--cambric?--stom--'stomach'--'your stomach.'"

"Oh, quite so. Thanks!--'in the Bay of Biscay.' You see, it _was_ rough
after Gib. 'Everybody was'--Yes. 'The captain read Church of England
prayers on Sunday mornings, in which I had no objection to join, and we
had mangoes every day for a week after leaving Ceylon.'"

"Miss Filbert was so fond of mangoes," Alicia said.

"Was she? 'The passengers got up two dances, and quite a number of
gentlemen invited me, but I declined with thanks, though I would not say
it is wrong in itself.'" Lindsay seemed to waver; her glance went near
enough to him to show her that his face had a red tinge of
embarrassment. He looked at the letter uncertainly, on the point of
folding it up.

"You see she hasn't danced for so long," Alicia put in quickly; "she
would naturally hesitate about beginning again with anybody but you. I
shouldn't wonder," she added gently, "if she never does, with anybody
else."

"I know it's an idea some women have," he replied, gratefully
attributing it to her of whom they spoke. "I think it's rather--nice."

"And her impressions of the Simpsons--and Plymouth?"

"She goes on to that." He re-consulted the letter. "'Mr. and Mrs.
Simpson met me as expected and welcomed me very affably.' She has got
hold of a wrong impression there, I fancy; the Simpsons couldn't be
'affable.' 'They seem very kind and pleasant for such stylish people,
and their house is lovely, with electric light in the parlour and hot
and cold water throughout. They seem very earnest people and have family
prayers regularly, but I have not yet been asked to lead. Four servants
come in to prayers. Mr. and Mrs. Simpson are deeply interested in the
work of the Army, though I think Plymouth, as a whole, is more taken up
with the C. M. S.; but we cannot have all things.' Dear me, yes! I
remember those evangelical teas and the disappointment that I could not
speak more definitely about the work among the Sontalis."

"Fancy her having caught the spirit of the place already!" exclaimed
Alicia. He went on: "'Mr. and Mrs. Simpson have a beautiful garden and
grow most of their own vegetables. We sit in it a great deal and I think
of all that has passed. I hope ever that it has been for the best and
pray for you always. Oh, that your feet may be set in the right path and
that we may walk hand in hand upon the way to Zion!'"

Lindsay lowered his voice and read the last sentences rapidly, as if the
propulsion of the first part of the letter sent him through them. Then
he stopped abruptly, and Alicia looked up.

"That's all, only," he added with an awkward smile, "the usual formula."

"'God bless you'?" she asked, and he nodded.

"It has a more genuine ring than most formulas," she observed.

"Yes, hasn't it? May I have another cup?" He restored the pink sheet to
its pink envelope and both to his breast pocket while she poured out the
other cup, but Miss Filbert was still present with them. They went on
talking about her, and entirely in the tone of congratulation--the
suitability of the Simpsons, the suitability of Plymouth, the
probability that she would entirely recover, in its balmy atmosphere,
her divine singing voice. Plymouth certainly was in no sense a tonic,
but Miss Filbert didn't need a tonic; she was too much inclined to be
strung up as it was. What she wanted was the soothing, quieting
influence of just Plymouth's meetings and just Plymouth's teas. The
charms that so sweetly and definitely characterised her would expand
there; it was a delightful flowery environment for them, and she
couldn't fail to improve in health. Devonshire's visitors got
tremendously well fed, with fish items of especial excellence.



CHAPTER XX.


Nobody could have been more impressed with Hilda's influence upon Mr.
Llewellyn Stanhope's commercial probity than Mr. Llewellyn Stanhope
himself. He was a prey to all noble feelings; they ruled his life and
spoiled his bargains; and gratitude, when it had a chance, which was
certainly seldom in connection with leading ladies, dominated him
entirely. He sat in the bar of the Great Eastern Hotel with tears in his
eyes, talking about what Miss Howe had done for him, and gave
unnecessary backsheesh to coolies who brought him small bills--so long,
that is, as they were the small bills of this season. When they had
reference to the liabilities of a former and less prosperous year he
waved them away with a bitter levity which belonged to the same period.
His view of his obligations was strictly chronological, and in taking it
he counted, like the poet, only happy hours. The bad debt and the bad
season went consistently together to oblivion; the sun of to-day's
remarkable receipts could not be expected to penetrate backwards. He had
only one fault to find with Miss Howe--she had no artistic conscience,
none whatever, and he found this with the utmost leniency, basking in
the consciousness that it made his own more conspicuous. She was
altogether in the grand style, if you understood Mr. Stanhope, but
nothing would induce her to do herself justice before Calcutta; she
seemed to have taken the measure of the place and to be as indifferent!
Try to ring in anything worth doing and she was off with the bit between
her teeth, and you simply had to put up with it. The second lead had a
great deal more ambition, and a very good little woman in her way, too,
but of course not half the talent. He was obliged to confess that Miss
Howe wasn't game for risks, especially after doing her Rosalind the
night the circus opened to a twenty-five rupee house. It was monstrous.
She seemed to think that nothing mattered so much as that everybody
should be paid on the first of the month. There was one other grievance,
which Llewellyn mentioned only in confidence with a lowered voice. That
was Bradley. Hilda wasn't lifting a finger to keep Bradley. Result was,
Bradley was crooking his elbow a great deal too often lately and going
off every way. He, Llewellyn, had put it to her if that was the way to
treat a man the _Daily Telegraph_ had spoken about as it had spoken
about Hamilton Bradley. Where was she--where was he--going to find
another? No, he didn't say marry Bradley; there were difficulties, and
after all that might be the very way to lose him. But a woman had an
influence, and that influence could never be more fittingly exercised
than in the cause of dramatic art, based on Mr. Stanhope's combinations.
Mr. Stanhope expressed himself more vaguely, but it came to that.

Perhaps if you pursued Llewellyn, pushed him, as it were, along the
track of what he had to put up with, you would have come upon the
further fact that as a woman of business Miss Howe had no parallel for
procrastination. Next season was imminent in his arrangements, as
Christmas numbers are imminent to publishers at midsummer, and here she
was shying at a contract as if they had months for consideration. It
wasn't, either, as if she complained of anything in the terms--that
would be easy enough fixed--but she said herself that it was a bigger
salary than he, Llewellyn, would ever be able to pay unless she went
round with the hat. Nor had she any objection to the tour--a fascinating
one--including the Pacific Slope and Honolulu. It stumped him,
Llewellyn, to know what she did object to and why she couldn't bark it
out at once, seeing she must understand perfectly well it was no use his
going to Bradley without first settling with her.

Hilda, alone in her own apartment--it was difficult to keep Llewellyn
Stanhope away from even that door in his pursuit of her
signature--considered the vagary life had become for her, it was so
whimsical, and the mystery of her secret which was so solely hers.
Alicia knew, of course; but that was much as if she had written it down
on a sheet of perfect notepaper and locked it up in a drawer. Alicia did
not speculate about it, and the whole soul of it was tangled now in a
speculation. There had been a time filled with the knowledge and the joy
of this new depth in her, like a buoyant sea, and she had been content
to float in it, imagining desirable things. Stanhope's waiting contract
made a limit to the time--a limit she brought up against without
distress or shock, but with a kind of recognising thrill in contact at
last with the necessity for action, decision, a climax of high
heart-beats. She saw with surprise that she had lived with her passion
these weeks and months half consciously expecting that a crucial moment
would dissolve it, like a person aware that he dreams and will presently
awake. She had not faced till now any exigency of her case. But the
crucial moment had leapt upon her, pointing out the subjection of her
life, and she, undefended, sought only how to accomplish her bonds.

Certainly she saw no solution that did not seem monstrous; yet every
pulse in her demanded a solution; there was no questioning the imperious
need. She had the fullest, clearest view of the situation, and she
looked at it without flinching and without compromise. Above all, she
had true vision of Stephen Arnold, glorifying nowhere, extenuating
nothing. It was almost cruel to be the victim of such circumstance and
be denied the soft uses of illusion; but if that note of sympathy had
been offered to Hilda she would doubtless have retorted that it was
precisely because she saw him that she loved him. His figure, in its
poverty and austerity, was always with her; she made with the fabric of
her nature a kind of shrine for it, enclosing, encompassing, and her
possession of him, by her knowledge, was deep and warm and protecting. I
think the very fulness of it brought her a kind of content with which,
but for Llewellyn and his contract, she would have been willing to go on
indefinitely. It made him hers in a primary and essential way, beside
which any mere acknowledgment or vow seemed chiefly decorative, like the
capital of a pillar firmly rooted. There may be an appearance that she
took a good deal for granted; but if there is, I fear that in the
baldness of this history it has not been evident how much and how
variously Arnold depended on her, in how many places her colour and her
vitality patched out the monkish garment of his soul--this with her
enthusiasm and her cognisance. It may be remembered, too, that there was
in the very tenderness of her contemplation of the priest in her path an
imperious tinge born of the way men had so invariably melted there.
Certainly they had been men and not priests; but the little flickering
doubt that sometimes leaped from this source through the glow of her
imagination she quenched very easily with the reflection that such a
superficies was after all a sophistry, and that only its rudiments were
facts. She proposed, calmly and lovingly, to deal with the facts.

She told herself that she would not be greedy about the conditions under
which she should prevail; but her world had always, always shaped itself
answering her hand, and if she cast her eyes upon the ground now, and
left the future, even to-morrow, undevisaged, it was because she would
not find any concessions among its features if she could help it. It was
a trick she played upon her own consciousness; she would not look; but
she could see without looking. She saw that which explained itself to be
best, fittest, most reasonable, and thus she sometimes wandered with
Arnold anticipatively, on afternoons when there was no matinée, through
the perfumed orange orchards of Los Angeles, on the Pacific slope.

She would not search to-morrow; but she took toward it one of those
steps of vague intention, at the end of which we beckon to
possibilities. She wrote to Stephen and asked him to come to see her
then. She had not spoken to him since the night of the Viceroy's party,
when she put her Bohemian head out of the ticca-gharry to wish him
good-night, and he walked home alone under the stars, trying to remember
a line of Horace, a chaste one, about woman's beauty. She sent the note
by post. There was no answer but that was as usual; there never was an
answer unless something prevented him; he always came, and ten minutes
before the time. Hilda sat under the blue umbrellas when the hour
arrived, devising with full heart-beats what she would say, creating
fifty different forms of what he would say, while the hands slipped
round the clock past the moment that should have brought his step to the
door. Hilda noted it and compared her watch. A bowl of roses stood on a
little table near a window; she got up and went to it, bending over and
rearranging the flowers. The light fell on her and on the roses; it was
a beautiful attitude, and when at a footfall she looked up expectantly
it was more beautiful. But it was only another boarder--a Mr. Gonzalves,
with a highly-varnished complexion, who took off his hat elaborately as
he passed the open door. Hilda became conscious of her use of the roses
and abandoned them. Presently she sat down on a Bentwood rocking-chair
and swayed to and fro, aware of an ebbing of confidence. Half an hour
later she was still sitting there. Her face had changed, something had
faded in it; her gaze at the floor was profoundly speculative, and when
she glanced at the empty door it was with timidity. Arnold had not come
and did not come.

The evening passed without explanation, and next morning the post
brought no letter. It was simplest to suppose that her own had not
reached him, and Hilda wrote again. The second letter she sent by hand,
with a separate sheet of paper addressed for signature. The messenger
brought back the sheet of paper with strange initials, "J. L. for S.
A.," and there was no reply. There remained the possibility of absence
from Calcutta, of illness. That he should have gone away was most
unlikely, that he had fallen ill was only too probable. Hilda looked
from her bedroom window across the varying expanse of parapeted flat
roofs and mosque bubbles that lay between her and College street, and
curbed the impulse in her feet that would have resulted in the curious
spectacle of Llewellyn Stanhope's leading lady calling in person at a
monastic gate to express a kind of solicitude against which precisely it
was barred. A situation, after all, could be too pictorial, looked at
from the point of view of the Order, a consideration which flashed with
grateful humour across her anxiety. Alicia would have known; but both
the Livingstones had gone for a short sea change to Ceylon with Duff
Lindsay and some touring people from Surrey. They were most anxious,
Hilda remembered, that Arnold should accompany them. Could he in the end
have gone? There was, of course, the accredited fount and source of all
information, the Brother Superior; but with what propriety could Hilda
Howe apply for it? Llewellyn might write for her: but it was glaringly
impossible that the situation should lay itself so far open to
Llewellyn. Looking in vain for resources she came upon an expedient. She
found a sheet of cheap notepaper, and made it a little greasy. On it
she wrote with red ink in the cramped hand of the bazaar _Kerani_:[9]

[Footnote 9: Hired writer.]

     "Sir:--Will you please to inform to me if Mr. Arnold has gone
     mofussil or England as I have some small business with him. Yours
     obedient servant,

     "Wun Sing."

"It can't be forgery," she reflected, "since there isn't a Wun Sing,"
and added an artistic postscript, "Boots and shoes verry much cheap for
cash." She made up the envelope to match and addressed it, with
consistent illiteracy, to the head of the mission. The son of the
Chinese basketmaker, who dwelt almost next door, spoke neither English
nor Hindustani, but showed an easy comprehension of her promise of
backsheesh when he should return with an answer. She had a joyful
anticipation, while she waited, of the terms in which she should tell
Arnold how she passed, disguised as a Chinese shoemaker, before the
receptive and courteous consciousness of his spiritual senior; of how
she penetrated, in the suggestion of a pig-tail and an unpaid bill,
within the last portals that might be expected to receive her in the
form under which, for example, certain black and yellow posters were
presenting her to the Calcutta public at that moment. She saw his
scruples go swiftly down before her laughter and the argument of her
tender anxiety, which she was quite prepared to learn foolish and
unnecessary. There was even an adventurous instant in which she leaped
at actual personation, and she looked in rapture at the vivid risk of
the thing before she abandoned it as involving too much. She sent no
receipt-form this time--that was not the practice of the bazaar--and
when, hours after, her messenger returned with weariness, and dejection
written upon him in the characters of a perfunctory Chinese smile, she
could only gather from his negative head and hands that no answer had
been given him, and that her expedient had failed.

Hilda stared at her dilemma. Its properties were curiously simple. His
world and hers, with the same orbit, had no point of contact. Once
swinging round their eastern centre, they had come close enough for
these two, leaning very far out, to join hands. When they loosed it
seemed they lost.

The more she gazed at it the more it looked a preposterous thing that in
a city vibrant with human communication by all the methods which make it
easy, it should be possible for one individual thus to drop suddenly and
completely from the knowledge of another--a mediæval thing. Their
isolation as Europeans of course accounted for it; there was no medium
in the brown population that hummed in the city streets. Hilda could not
even bribe a servant without knowing how to speak to him. She ravaged
the newspapers; they never were more bare of reference to consecrated
labours. The nearest approach to one was a paragraph chronicling a
social evening given by the Wesleyans in Sudder street, with an
exhibition of the cinematograph. In a moment of defiance and
determination she sent a telegram studiously colourless. "Unable find
you wish communicate please inform. A. Murphy." He had never forgotten
the incongruity she was born to: in occasional scrupulous moments he
addressed her by it; he would recognise and understand. There was no
reply.

The enigma pressed upon her days, she lived in the heaviness of it,
waiting. His silence added itself up, brought her a kind of shame for
the exertions she had made. She turned with obstinacy from the further
schemes her ingenuity presented. Out of the sum of her unsuccessful
efforts grew a reproach of Arnold; every one of them increased it. His
behaviour she could forgive, arbitrarily putting against it twenty
potential explanations, but not the futility of what she had done. Her
resentment of that undermined all the fairness of her logic, and even
triumphed over the sword of her suspense. She never quite gave up the
struggle, but in effect she passed the week that intervened pinioned in
her unreason--bands that vanished as she looked at them, only to tie her
thrice in another place.

Life became a permanent interrogation-point. Waiting under it, with a
perpetual upward gaze, perhaps she grew a little dizzy. The sun of March
had been increasing, and the air that Saturday afternoon had begun to
melt and glow and hang in the streets with a kind of inertia, like a
curtain that had to be parted to be penetrated. Hilda came into the
house and faced the stairs with an inclination to leave her body on the
ground floor and mount in spirit only. When she glanced in at the
drawing-room door and saw Arnold sitting under the blue umbrellas, a
little paler, a thought more serene than usual, she swept into the room
as if a tide carried her, and sank down upon a foot-stool close to him,
as if it had dropped her there. He had risen at her appearance. He was
all himself but rather more the priest; his face of greeting had exactly
its usual asking intelligence, but to her the fact that he was normal
was lost in the fact that he was near. He held out his hand, but she
only sought his face speechless, hugging her knees.

"You are overcome by the sun," he said. "Lie down for a moment," and
again he offered her a hand to help her to rise. She shook her head but
took his hand, enclosing it in both of hers with a sort of happy
deliberation, and drew herself up by it, while her eyes, shining like
dark surfaces of some glorious consciousness within, never left his
face. So she stood beside him with her head bowed, still dumb. It was
her supreme moment; life never again brought her anything like it. It
was not that she confessed so much as that she asserted, she made a
glowing thing plain, cried out to him, still standing silent, the
deep-lying meaning of the tangle of their lives. She was shaken by a
pure delight, as if she unclosed her hand to show him a strange jewel in
her palm, hers and his for the looking. The intensity of her
consciousness swept round him and enclosed him, she knew this
profoundly, and had no thought of the insulation he had in his robe. The
instant passed; he stood outside it definitely enough, yet some
vibration in it touched him, for there was surprise in his involuntary
backward step.

"You must have thought me curiously rude," he said, as if he felt about
for an explanation, "but your letters were only given to me an hour ago.
We have all been in retreat, you know."

"In _retreat_!" Hilda exclaimed. "Ah, yes. How foolish I have been! In
retreat," she repeated, softly, flicking a trace of dust from his
sleeve. "Of course."

"It was held in St. Paul's College," Stephen went on, "by Father Neede.
Shall we sit down? And of course at such times no communications reach
us, no letters or papers."

"No letters or papers," Hilda said, looking at him softly, as it were,
through the film of the words. They sat down, he on the sofa, she on a
chair very near it. There was another placed at a more usual distance,
but she seemed incapable of taking the step or two toward it, away from
him. Stephen gave himself to the grateful sense of her proximity. He had
come to sun himself again in the warmth of her fellowship; he was
stirred by her emphasis of their separation and reunion. "And what,
please," he asked, "have you been doing? Account to me for the time?"

"While you have been praying and fasting? Wondering what you were at,
and waiting for you to finish. Waiting," she said, and clasped her knees
with her intent look again, swaying a little to and fro in her content,
as if that which she waited for had already come, full and very
desirable.

"Have you been reading----?"

"Oh, I have been reading nothing? You shall never go into retreat
again," she went on, with a sudden change of expression. "It is well
enough for you, but I am not good at fasting. And I have an indulgence,"
she added, unaware of her soft, bright audacity, "that will cover both
our cases."

His face uttered aloud his reflection that she was extravagant, that it
was a pity, but that what was not due to her profession might be
ascribed to the simple, clear impulse of her temperament--that
temperament which he had found to be a well of rare sincerity.

"I am not to go any more into retreat?" he said, in grave interrogation;
but the hint of rebuke in his voice was not in his heart, and she knew
it.

"No!" she cried. "You shall not be hidden away like that. You shall not
go alive into the tomb and leave me at the door. Because I cannot bear
it."

She leaned toward him, and her hand fell lightly on his knee. It was a
claiming touch, and there was something in the unfolded sweetness of her
face that was not ambiguous. Arnold received the intelligence. It came
in a vague, grey, monitory form, a cloud, a portent, a chill menace; but
it came, and he paled under it. He seemed to lean upon his own hands,
pressed one on each side of him to the seat of the sofa for support, and
he looked in fixed silence at the shapely white thing on his knee. His
face seemed to wither, new lines came upon it as the impression grew in
him, and the glamour faded out of hers as she was sharply reminded,
looking at him, that he had not traversed the waste with her, that she
had kept her vigils alone. Yet it was all said and done, and there was
no repentance in her. She only gathered herself together, and fell back,
as it were, upon her magnificent position. As she drew her hand away, he
dropped his face into the cover of his own, leaning his elbow on his
knee, and there was a pulsing silence. The instant prolonged itself.

"Are you praying?" Hilda asked, with much gentleness, almost a
child-like note; and he shook his head. There was another instant's
pause, and she spoke again.

"Are you so grieved, then," she said, "that this has come upon us?"

Again he held his eyes away from her, clasping his hands and looking at
the thing nearest to him, while at last blood from the heart of the
natural man in him came up and stained his face, his forehead under the
thin ruffling of colourless hair, his neck above the white band that was
his badge of difference from other men.

"I--fear--I hardly understand," he said. The words fell cramped and
singly, and his lip twitched. "It--it is impossible to think----"

His eyes went in her direction, but lacked courage to go all the way. He
looked as if he dared not lift his head.

One would not say that Hilda hesitated, for there was no failing in the
wings of her high confidence, but she looked at him in a brave silence.
Her glance had tender investigation in it; she stood on the brink of her
words just long enough to ask whether they would hurt him. Seeing that
they would, she nevertheless plunged, but with infinite compassion and
consideration. She spoke like an agent of Fate, conscious and grieved.

"_I_ understand," she said simply. "Sometimes, you know, we are quicker.
And you in your cell, how should you find out? That is why I must tell
you, because, though I am a woman, you are a priest. Partly for that
reason I may speak, partly because I love you, Stephen Arnold, better
and more ardently than you can ever love me, or anybody, I think,
except, perhaps, your God. And I am tired of keeping silence."

She was so direct, so unimpassioned, that half his distress turned to
astonishment, and he faced her as if a calm and reasoned hand had been
laid upon the confusion in him. Meeting his gaze, she unbarred a
flood-gate of happy tenderness in her eyes.

"Love!" he gasped in it, "I have nothing to do with that."

"Oh," she said, "you have everything to do with it."

Something leaped in him without asking his permission, assuring him that
he was a man, until then a placid theory with an unconscious basis. It
was therefore a blow to his saintship, or it would have been, but he
warded it off, flushed and trembling. It was as if he had been
ambuscaded. He had to hold himself from the ignominy of flight; he rose
to cut his way out, making an effort to strike with precision.

"Some perversity has seized you," he said. The muscles about his mouth
quivered, giving him a curious aspect. "You mean nothing of what you
say."

"Do you believe that?"

"I--I cannot think anything else. It is the only way I can--I can--make
excuse."

"Ah, don't excuse me!" she murmured, with an astonishing little gay
petulance.

"You cannot have thought"--in spite of himself he made a step toward the
door.

"Oh, I did think--I do think. And you must not go." She, too, stood up
and stayed him. "Let us at least see clearly." There was a persuading
note in her voice; one would have thought, indeed, that she was dealing
with a patient, or a child. "Tell me," she clasped her hands behind her
back and looked at him in marvellous, simple candour, "do I really
announce this to you? Was there not in yourself anywhere--deep down--any
knowledge of it?"

"I did not guess--I did not dream!"

"And--now?" she asked.

A heavenly current drifted from her, the words rose and fell on it with
the most dazing suggestion in their soft hesitancy. It must have been by
an instinct of her art that her hand went up to the cross on Arnold's
breast and closed over it, so that he should see only her. The familiar
vision of her stood close, looking things intolerably new and different.
Again came out of it that sudden liberty, that unpremeditated rush and
shock in him. He paled with indignation, with the startled resentment of
a woman wooed and hostile. His face at last expressed something
definite--it was anger. He stepped back and caught at his hat. "I am
sorry," he said, "I am sorry. I thought you infinitely above and beyond
all that."

Hilda smiled and turned away. If he choose, it was his opportunity to
go, but he stood regarding her, twirling his hat. She sat down, clasping
her knees, and looked at the floor. There was a square of sunlight on
the carpet, and motes were rising in it.

"Ah well, so did I," she said meditatively, without raising her eyes.
Then she leaned back in the chair and looked at him, in her level simple
way.

"It was a foolish theory," she said, "and--now--I can't understand it at
all. I am amazed to find that it even holds good with you."

It was so much in the tone of their usual discussions that Arnold was
conscious of a lively relief. The instinct of flight died down in him,
he looked at her with something like inquiry.

"It will always be to me curious," she went on, "that you could have
thought your part in me so limited, so poor. That is enough to say. I
find it hard to understand, anybody would, that you could take so much
pleasure in me and not--so much more." She opened her lips again, but
kept back the words. "Yes," she added, "that is enough to say."

But for her colourless face and the tenseness about her lips it might
have been thought that she definitely abandoned what she had learned she
could not have. There was a note of acquiescence and regret in her
voice, of calm reason above all; and this sense reached him, induced him
to listen, as he generally listened, for anything she might find that
would explain the situation. His fingers went from habit, as a man might
play with his watch-chain, to the symbol of his faith; her eyes followed
them, and rested mutely on the cross. There was a profundity of feeling
in them, wistful, acknowledging, deeply speculative. "You could not
forget that?" she said, and shook her head as if she answered herself.
He looked into her upturned face and saw that her eyes were swimming.

"Never!" he said, "Never," but he walked to the nearest chair and sat
down. He seemed suddenly aware that he need not go away, and his head,
as it rose in the twilight against the window, was grave and calm.
Without a word a great tenderness filled the space between them; an
interpreting compassion went to and fro. Suddenly a new light dawned in
Hilda's eyes; she leaned forward and met his in an absorption which
caught them out of themselves into some space where souls wander, and
perhaps embrace. The moment died away, neither of them could have
measured it, and when it had finally ebbed--they were conscious of every
subsiding throb--a silence came instead, like a margin for the beauty of
it. After a time the woman spoke. "Once before," she began, but he put
up his hand and she stopped. Then, as if she would no longer be
restrained, "That is all I want," she whispered. "That is enough."

For a time they said very little, looking back upon their divine moment;
the shadows gathered in the corners of the room and made quiet
conversation which was almost audible in the pauses. Then Hilda began to
speak, steadily, calmly. You, too, would have forgotten her folly in
what she found to say, as Arnold did; you, too, would have drawn faith
and courage from her face. One would not be irreverent, but if this
woman were convicted of the unforgivable sin she could explain it and
obtain justification rather than pardon.

"Then I may stay?" she said at the end.

"I am satisfied--if a way can be found."

"I will find a way," she replied.

After which he went back through the city streets to his disciples in
new humility and profounder joy, knowing that virtue had gone out of
him. She in her room where she lodged also considered the miracle, twice
wonderful in that it asked no faith of her.



CHAPTER XXI.


It is difficult to be precise about such a thing, but I should think
that Hilda gave herself to the marvellous aspect of what had come and
gone between them for several hours after Arnold left her. It was not
for some time, at all events, that she arrived at the consideration--the
process was naturally downward--that the soul of the marvel lay in the
exact moment of its happening. Nothing could have been more heaven-sent
than her precious perception, exactly then, that before the shining gift
of Arnold's spiritual sympathy, all her desire for a lesser thing from
him must creep away abashed for ever. Even when the lesser thing, by
infinitely gradual expansion, again became the greater, it remained
permanently leavened and lifted in her by the strange and lovely
incident that had taken, for the moment, such command of her and of him.
She would not question it or reason about it, perhaps with an instinct
to avert its destruction; she simply drew it deeply into her content.
Only its sweet deception did not stay with her, and she let that go with
open hands. She wanted, more than ever, the whole of Stephen Arnold, all
that was so openly the Mission's and all that was so evidently God's. It
will be seen that she felt in no way compelled to advise him of this,
her backsliding. I doubt whether such a perversion of her magnificent
course of action ever occurred to her. It was magnificent, for it
entailed a high disregarding stroke; it implied a sublime confidence of
what the end would be, a capacity to wait and endure. She smiled
buoyantly, in the intervals of arranging it, at the idea that Stephen
Arnold stood beyond her ultimate possession.

There were difficulties, but the moment was favourable to her, more
favourable than it would have been the year before, or any year but
this. Before ten days had passed she was able to write to Arnold
describing her plan, and she was put to it to keep the glow of success
out of her letter. She kept it out, that, and everything but a calm and
humble statement--any Clarke Brother might have dictated it--of what she
proposed to do. Perhaps the intention was less obvious than the desire
that he should approve it.

The messenger waited long by the entrance to the Mission House for an
answer, exchanging, sitting on his feet, the profane talk of the bazaar
with the gatekeeper of the Christians. Stephen was in chapel. There was
no service; he had half an hour to rest in and he rested there. He was
speculating, in the grateful dimness, about the dogma--he had never
quite accepted it, though Colquhoun had--of the intercessory power of
the souls of saints. A converted Brahmin, an old man, had died the day
before. Arnold luxuriated in the humility of thinking that he would be
glad of any good word dear old Nourendra Lal could say for him. The
chapel was deliciously refined. The scent of fresh-cut flowers floated
upon the continual presence of the incense; a lily outlined its head
against the tall carved altar-piece the Brothers had brought from
Damascus. The seven brass lamps that hung from the rafters above the
altar rails were also Damascene, carved and pierced so that the light in
them was a still thing like a prayer; and the place breathed vague
meanings which did not ask understanding. It was a refuge from the riot
and squalor of the whitewashed streets with a double value and a treble
charm, I. H. S. among plaster gods, a sanctuary in the bazaar. Stephen
sat in it motionless, with his lean limbs crossed in front of him, until
the half hour was up; then he bent his knee before the altar and went
out to meet a servant at the door with Hilda's letter. The chapel opened
upon an upper verandah; he crossed it to get a better light and stood to
read with his back half turned upon the comers and goers.

It was her first communication since they parted, and in spite of its
colourlessness, it seemed to lay strong, eager hands upon him, turning
his shoulder that way, upon the world, bending his head over the page.
He had not dwelt much upon their strange experience in the days that
followed. It had retreated for him behind the veil of tender mystery
with which he shrouded, even from his own eyes, the things that lay
between his soul and God. The space from that day to this had been more
than usually full of ministry; its pure uses had fallen like snow,
blotting and deadening the sudden wonder that blossomed then. Latterly
he had hardly thought of it.

So far was he removed, so deeply drawn again within his familiar
activities, that he regarded Hilda's letter for an instant with a lip of
censure, as if, for some reason, it should not have been admitted. It
was, in a manner, her physical presence, the words expanded into her,
through it she walked back into his life, with an interrogation.
Standing there by the pillar he became gradually aware of the weight of
the interrogation.

A passing Brother cast at him the sweet smile of the cloister. Arnold
stopped him and transferred an immediate duty, which the other accepted
with a slightly exaggerated happiness. They might have been girls
together, with their apologies and protestations. The other Brother went
on in a little glow of pleasure, Arnold turned back into the chapel,
carrying, it seemed to him, a woman's life in his hand.

He took his seat and folded his arms almost eagerly; there was a light
of concentration in his eye and a line of compression about his lips
which had not marked his meditation upon Nourendra Lal. The vigour in
his face suggested that he found a kind of athletic luxury in what he
had to think about. Brother Colquhoun, with his flat hat clasped before
his breast, passed down the aisle. Stephen looked up with a trace of
impatience. Presently he rose hurriedly, as if he remembered something,
and went and knelt before one of several paintings that hung upon the
chapel walls. They were old copies of great works, discoloured and
damaged. They had sailed round the Cape to India when the century was
young, and a lady friend of the Mission had bought them at the sale of
the effects of a ruined Begum. Arnold was one of those who could
separate them from their incongruous history and consecrate them over
again. He often found them helpful when he sought to lift his spirit,
and in any special matter a special comfort. He bent for ten minutes
before a Crucifixion, and then hastened back to his place. Only one
reflection corrected the vigourous satisfaction with which he thought
out Hilda's proposition. That disturbed him in the middle of it, and
took the somewhat irrelevant form of a speculation as to whether the
events of their last meeting should have had any place in his Thursday
confession. He was able to find almost at once a conscientious negative
for it, and it did not recur again.

He got up reluctantly when the Mission bell sounded, and indeed he had
come to the end of a very absorbing interest. His decision was final
against Hilda's scheme. His worn experience cried out at the sacrifice
in it without the illumination--which it would certainly lack--of
religious faith. She confessed to the lack, and that was all she had to
say about her motive, which, of course, placed him at an immense
disadvantage in considering it. But the question then descended to
another plane, became merely a doubt as to the most useful employment of
energy, and that doubt nobody could entertain long, nobody of reasonable
breadth of view, who had ever seen her expressing the ideals of the
stage. Arnold did his best to ward off all consideration which he could
suspect of a personal origin, but his inveterate self-sacrifice slipped
in and counted, naturally enough, under another guise, counted against
her staying.

He went to his room and wrote to Hilda at once, the kindest, simplest of
letters, but conveying a definitely negative note. He would have been
perhaps more guarded, but it was so plainly his last word to her;
Llewellyn Stanhope was proclaiming the departure of his people in ten
days' time upon every blank wall. So he gave himself a little latitude,
he let in an undercurrent of gentle reminiscence, of serious assurance
as to the difference she had made. And when he had finally bade her
begone to the light and fulness of her own life and fastened up his
letter, he deliberately lifted it to his lips, and placed a trembling,
awkward kiss upon it, like the kiss of an old man, perfunctory, yet
bearing a tender intention.

The Livingstones and Duff Lindsay had come back, the people from Surrey
having been sped upon their way to the Far East. Stephen remembered with
more than his usual relish an engagement to dine that evening in
Middleton street. He involuntarily glanced at his watch. It was
half-past one. The afternoon looked arid, stretching between. Consulting
his tablets, he found that he had nothing that was really of any
consequence to do. There were items, but they were unimportant,
transferable. He had dismissed Hilda Howe, but a glow from the world she
helped to illumine showed seductively at the end of his day. He made an
errand involving a long walk, and came back at an hour which left
nothing but evensong between him and eight o'clock.

He was suddenly aware, as he talked to her later, of a keener edge to
his appreciation of the charm of Alicia Livingstone. Her voyage, he
assured her, had done her all the good in the world. Her delicate bloom
had certainly been enhanced by it, and the graceful spring of her neck
and her waist seemed to have its counterpart in a freshened poise of the
agreeable things she found to say. It was delightful the way she
declared herself quite a different being and the pleasure with which she
moved, dragging fascinating skirts behind her, about the room. She made
more of an impression upon him on the æsthetic side than she had ever
done before; she seemed more highly vitalised, her fineness had greater
relief and her charm more freedom. Lindsay was there, and Arnold glanced
from one to the other of them, first with a start, then with a smile, at
the recollection of Hilda's conception of their relations. If this were
a type and instance of hopeless love he had certainly misread all the
songs and sayings. He kept the idea in his mind and went on regarding
her in the light of it with a pondering smile, turning it over and
finding a lively pleasure in his curious acumen in such an unwonted
direction. It was a very flower of emotional _naiveté_, though a moment
later he cast it from him as a weed, grown in idleness; and indeed it
might have abashed him to say what concern it had in the mind of the
Order of St. Barnabas. It was gratifying, nevertheless, to have his
observation confirmed by the way in which Alicia leaned across him
toward Lindsay with occasional references to Laura Filbert, apparently
full of light-heartedness, references which Duff received in the
square-shouldered, matter-of-course fashion of his countrymen
approaching their nuptials in any quarter of the globe. It was
gratifying, and yet it enhanced in Stephen this evening the indrawing of
his under-lip, a plaintive twist of expression which spoke upon the
faces of quite half the Order of patience under privation.

The atmosphere was one of congratulation; the week's _Gazette_ had
transformed Surgeon-Major Livingstone into Surgeon-Lieutenant-Colonel.
The officer thus promoted, in a particularly lustrous shirt bosom--he
had them laundried in England and sent out with the mails--made a
serious social effort to correspond, and succeeded in producing more
than one story of the Principal Medical Officer with her Majesty's
forces in India which none of them heard before. They were all delighted
at Herbert's step, he was just the kind of person to get a step, and to
get it rather early; a sense of the propriety of it mingled with the
general gratification. There was a feeling of ease among them, too, of
the indefeasibly won, which the event is apt to bring even when the
surgeon-lieutenant-colonelcy is most strikingly deserved. With no strain
imaginable one could see the relaxation.

"We can't do much in celebration," Lindsay was saying, "but I've got a
box at the theatre, if you'll come. Our people had some pomfret and
oysters over on ice from Bombay this morning, and I've sent my share to
Bonsard to see what he can do with it for supper. Jack Cummins and Lady
Dolly are coming. By the way, what do you think the totalizator paid
Lady Dolly on Saturday--six thousand!"

"Rippin'," Herbert agreed. "We'll all come--at least--I don't know. What
do you say, Arnold?"

"Of course Stephen will come," Alicia urged. "Why not?" It was putting
him and his gown at once beyond the operation of vulgar prejudice,
intimating that they quite knew him for what he was.

"What's the piece?" Herbert inquired.

"Oh, the piece isn't up to much, I'm afraid, only that Hilda Howe is
worth seeing in almost anything."

"Thanks," Stephen put in, "but I think, thanks very much, I would rather
not."

"I remember," Alicia said, "you were with us the night she played in
_The Reproach of Galilee_. I don't wonder that you do not wish to
disturb that impression."

Stephen fixed his eyes upon a small pyramid of crystallized cherries
immediately in front of him and appeared to consider, austerely, what
form his reply should take. There was an instant's perceptible pause,
and then he merely bowed toward Alicia as if vaguely to acknowledge the
kindness of her recollection. "I think," he said again, "that I will not
accompany you to-night, if you will be good enough to excuse me."

"You must excuse us both," Alicia said, definitely, "I should much
rather stay at home and talk to Stephen."

At this they all cried out, but Miss Livingstone would not change her
mind. "I haven't seen him for three weeks," she said, with gentle
effrontery, making nothing of his presence, "and he's much more
improving than either of you. I also shall choose the better part."

"How you can call it that, with Hilda in the balance----" Duff
protested.

"But then you've invited Lady Dolly. After winning six thousand there
will be no holding Lady Dolly. She'll be capable of cat-calls! How I
should love," Alicia went on, "to have Hilda meet her. She would be a
mine to Hilda."

"For pity's sake," cried her brother, "stop asking Hilda and people who
are a mine to Hilda! It's too perceptible, the way she digs in them."

"You dear old thing, you're quite clever to-night! What difference does
it make? They never know--they never dream! I wish I could dig." Alicia
looked pensively at the olive between her finger and thumb.

"Thank heaven you can't," Duff said warmly. It was a little odd, the
personal note. Alicia's eyes remained upon the olive.

"It's all she lives for."

"Well," Duff declared, "I can imagine higher ends."

"You're not abusing Hilda!" Alicia said, addressing the olive.

"Not at all. Only vindicating you."

It did single them out, this fencing. Herbert and Arnold sat as
spectators, pushed, in a manner, aside.

"I suppose she will be off soon," Livingstone said.

"Oh, dreadfully soon. On the 15th. I had a note from her to-day."

"Did she say she was going?" Stephen asked quickly.

"She mentioned the company--she is the company, surely."

"Oh, undoubtedly. May I--might I ask for a little more soda-water,
Alicia?" He made the request so formally that she glanced at him with
surprise.

"Please do--but isn't it very odious, by itself, that way? I suppose we
shouldn't leave out Hamilton Bradley--he certainly counts."

"For how much?" inquired her brother. "He's going to pieces."

"Hilda can pull him together again," Lindsay said incautiously.

"Has she an influence for good--over him?" Stephen inquired and cleared
his throat. He caught a glance exchanged and frowned.

"Oh, yes," Duff said, "I fancy it is for good. For good, certainly. The
odd part of it is that he began by having an influence over her which
she declares improved her acting. So that was for good, too, as it
turned out. I think she makes too much of him. To my mind, he speaks
like a bit of consecrated stage tradition and looks like a bit of
consecrated stage furniture--he, and his thin nose, and his thin lips,
and his thin eyebrows. Personally, I'm sick of his eyebrows."

"They'll end by marrying," said Surgeon-Lieutenant-Colonel Livingstone.

"_Herbert!_ How little you know her!"

"It's possible enough," Duff said, "especially if she finds him in any
way necessary to her production of herself. Hilda has knocked about too
much to have many illusions. One is pretty sure she would place that
first."

"You are saying a thing which is monstrous!" cried Alicia.

Unperturbed, her brother supported his conviction. "She'll have to marry
him to get rid of him," he said. "Fancy the opportunities of worrying
her the brute will have in those endless ocean voyages!"

"Oh, if you think Hilda could be _worried_ into anything!" Miss
Livingstone exclaimed derisively. "If the man were irritating, do you
suppose she wouldn't arrange--wouldn't find means--?"

"She would have him put in irons, no doubt," Herbert retorted, "or
locked up with the other sad dogs, in charge of the ship's butcher."

The three laughed immoderately, and Stephen, looking up, came in at the
end with a smile. Alicia pronounced her brother too absurd, and unfitted
by nature to know anything about creatures like Hilda Howe. "A mere man
to begin with," she said. "You haven't the ghost of a temperament,
Herbert, you know you haven't."

"He's got a lovely bedside manner," Lindsay remarked, "and that's the
next thing to it."

"Rubbish! I don't want to hurry you," Alicia glanced at the watch on her
wrist, "but unless you and Herbert want to miss half the first act you
had better be off. Stephen and I will have our coffee comfortably in the
drawing-room and find what excuses we can for you."

But Stephen put out his hand with a movement of slightly rigid
deprecation.

"If it is not too vacillating of me," he said, "and I may be forgiven, I
think I will change my mind and go. I have no business to break up your
party, and besides, I shall probably not have another opportunity--I
should rather like to go. To the theatre, of course, that is. Not to
Bonsard's, thanks very much."

"Oh, do come on to Bonsard's," Lindsay said, and Alicia protested that
he would miss the best of Lady Dolly, but Stephen was firm. Bonsard's
was beyond the limit of his indulgence.



CHAPTER XXII.


Only the Sphinx confronted them, after all, when they arrived at the
theatre, the Sphinx and Lady Dolly. The older feminine presentment sent
her belittling gaze over their heads and beyond them from the curtain;
Lady Dolly turned a modish head to greet them from the front of the box.
Lady Dolly raised her eyes but not her elbows, which were assisting her
a good deal with the house in exploring and being explored, enabling
Colonel John Cummins, who sat by her side, to observe how very perfect
and adorable the cut of her bodice was. Since Colonel Cummins was
accustomed to say in moments when his humour escaped his discretion,
that there was more in a good fit than meets the eye, the _rôle_ of Lady
Dolly's elbows could hardly be dismissed as unimportant. Moreover, the
husband attached to the elbows belonged to the Department of which
Colonel John was the head, so that they rested, one may say, upon a very
special plane.

Alicia disturbed it with the necessity of taking Colonel Cummins' place,
which Lady Dolly accepted with admirable spirit, assuring the usurper,
with the most engaging candour, that she simply ought never to be seen
without turquoises. "Believe it or not as you like, but I like you
better every time I see you in that necklace." Lady Dolly clasped her
hands, with her fan in them, in the abandonment of her affection, and
"love you better" floated back and dispersed itself among the men.
Alicia smiled the necessary acknowledgment. All the women she knew made
compliments to her; it was a kind of cult among them. The men had
sometimes an air of envying their freedom of tongue. "Don't say that,"
she returned lightly, "or Herbert will never give me any diamonds." She,
too, looked her approval of Lady Dolly's bodice but said nothing. It was
doubtless precisely because she distained certain forms of feminine
barter that she got so much for nothing.

"And where," demanded Lady Dolly, in an electric whisper, "did you find
that dear, sweet little priest? Do introduce him to me--at least, bye
and bye, when I've thought of something to say. Let me see, wasn't it
Good Friday last week? I'll ask him if he had hot-cross buns--or do
people eat those on Boxing Day? Pancakes come in somewhere, if one could
only be sure!"

Stephen clung persistently to the back of the box. His senses were
filled for the moment by its other occupants, the men in the fresh
correctness of their evening dress, whose least gesture seemed to spring
from an indefinite fulness of life, the two women in front, a kind of
lustrous tableau of what it was possible to choose and to enjoy. They
were grouped and shut off in a high light which seemed to proceed partly
from the usual sources and partly from their own personalities; he saw
them in a way which underlined their significance at every point. It
seemed to Stephen that in a manner he profaned this temple of what he
held to be poorest and cheapest in life, a paradox of which he was but
dimly aware in his dejection. A sharp impression of his physical
inferiority to the other men assailed him; his appreciation of their
muscular shoulders had a rasp in it. For once the poverty of spirit to
which he held failed to offer him a refuge. His eye wandered restlessly
as if attempting futile reconciliations, and the thing most present with
him was the worn-all-day feeling about the neck of his cassock. He fixed
his attention presently in a climax of passive discomfort on the
curtain, where, unconsciously, his gaze crept with a subtle
interrogation in it to the wide eyeballs of the Sphinx.

The stalls gradually filled, although it was a second production in the
middle of the week, and although the gallery and rupee seats under it
were nearly empty. The piece accounted for both. When Duff Lindsay said
at dinner that it wasn't "up to much," he spoke, I fancy, from the
nearest point of view he could take to that of the Order of St.
Barnabas. As a matter of fact, _The Victim of Virtue_ was up to a very
great deal, but its points were so delicate that one must have been
educated rather broadly to grasp them, which is again, perhaps, a
foolish contrariety of terms. At all events, they carried no appeal to
the theatre-goers from the sailing ships in the river or the regiments
in the fort, who turned as one man that night to Jimmy Finnigan.

Stephen was aware, in the abstract, of what he might expect. He savoured
the enterprises of the London theatres weekly in the _Saturday Review_;
he had cast a remotely observing eye upon the productions of this
particular playwright through that medium for a long time. They formed a
manifestation of the outer world fit enough to draw a glance of
speculation from the inner; their author was an acrobat of ideas.
Doubtless we are all clowns in the eyes of the angels, yet we have the
habit of supposing that they sometimes look down upon us. It was thus,
if the parallel is not exaggerated, that Arnold regarded the author of
_The Victim of Virtue_. His attitude was quite taken before the
orchestra ceased playing; it was made of negation rather than criticism,
on the basis that he had no concern with, and no knowledge of, such
things. Deliberately he gave his mind a surface which should shed
promiscuous invitation, and folded his lips, as it were, against the
rising of the curtain. He thought of Hilda separately, and he looked for
her upon the boards with the _naiveté_ of a desire to see the woman he
knew.

When finally he did see her she made before him a picture that was to
remain with him always as his last impression of an art from which in
all its manifestations on that night he definitely turned. From the
aigrette in her hair to the paste buckle on her shoe she was _mondaine_.
Her dress, of some indefinite, slight white material, clasped at the
waist with a belt that gave the beam of turquoises and the gleam of
silver, ministered as much to the capricious ideal of the moment as to
the lines and curves of the person it adorned. The set was the
inevitable modern drawing-room, and she sat well out on a sofa with her
hands, in long black gloves, resting stiffly, palm downward, on each
side of her. It was as if she pushed her body forward in an impulse to
rise: her rigid arms thrust her shoulders up a little and accented the
swell of her bosom. It was a vivid, a staccato attitude. It expressed a
temperament, a character, fifty other things, but especially epitomised
the restraints and the licenses of a world of drawing-rooms. In that
first brief mute instant of disclosure she was all that she presently,
by voice and movement, proclaimed herself to be, so dazzling and
complete that Stephen literally blinked at the revelation. He made an
effort, for a moment or two, to pursue and detect the woman who had been
his friend; then the purpose of his coming gradually faded from his
mind, and he stood with folded arms and absorbed eyes watching the
other, the Mrs. Halliday on the sofa, setting about the fulfilment of a
purple destiny.

The play proceeded and Stephen did not move--did not wince. When Mrs.
Halliday, whose mate was exacting, exclaimed, "The greatest apostle of
expediency was St. Paul. He preached 'wives, love your husbands,'" he
even permitted himself the ghost of a smile. At one point he wished
himself familiar with the plot; it was when Hamilton Bradley came
jauntily on as Lord Ingleton, assuring Mrs. Halliday that immorality was
really only shortsightedness. Lady Dolly, in front, repeated Lord
Ingleton's phrase with ingenuous wonder. "I know it's clever," she
insisted, "but what does it mean? Now that other thing--what was
it?--'Subtract vice, and virtue is what is left'--that's an easy one.
Write it down on your cuff for me, will you, Colonel Cummins? I _shall_
be so sick if I forget it."

Stephen was perhaps the only person in the box quite oblivious of Lady
Dolly. He looked steadily over her animated shoulders at the play,
wholly involved in an effort which the author would doubtless have
resented, to keep its current and direction through the floating débris
of constrained sayings with which it was encumbered, to know in advance
whither it was carrying its Mrs. Halliday, and how far Lord Ingleton
would accompany. When Lord Ingleton paused, as it were, to beg four
people to "have nothing to do with sentiment--it so often leads to
conviction," and the house murmured its amusement, Arnold shifted his
shoulders impatiently. "How inconsistent," Lord Ingleton reproached Mrs.
Halliday a moment later, "to wear gloves on your hands and let your
thoughts go candid." Arnold turned to Duff. "There's no excuse for
that," he said, but Lindsay was hanging upon Hilda's rejoinder and did
not hear him.

At the end of the first act, where, after introducing Mrs. Halliday to
her husband's divorced first wife, Lord Ingleton is left rubbing his
hands with gratification at having made two such clever women "aware of
each other," Stephen found himself absolutely unwilling to discuss the
piece with the rest of the party. As he left the box to walk up and down
the corridor outside where it was cooler, he heard the voice of Colonel
Cummins lifted in further quotation: "'To be good _and_ charming--what a
sinful superfluity!' I'm sure nobody ever called you superfluous, Lady
Dolly," and was vividly aware of the advisability of taking himself and
his Order out of the theatre. He had not been gratified, or even from
any point appealed to. Hilda's production of Mrs. Halliday was so
perfect that it failed absolutely to touch him, almost to interest him.
He had no means of measuring or of valuing that kind of woman, the
restless brilliant type that lives upon its emotions and tilts at the
problems of its sex with a curious comfort in the joust. He was too far
from the circle of her modern influence to consider her with anything
but impatience if he had met her original person, and her reflection,
her reproduction, seemed to him frivolous and meaningless. If he went
then, however, he would go as he came, in so far as the play was
concerned; the first act, relying altogether upon the jugglery of its
dialogue, gave no clue to anything. He owed it to Hilda, after all, to
see the piece out. It was only fair to give her a chance to make the
best of it. He decided that it was worth a personal sacrifice to give it
her and went back.

He was sufficiently indignant with the leading idea of the play, and
sufficiently absorbed in its progress, at the end of the second act, to
permit Lady Dolly to capture him before it occurred to him that he had
the use of his legs. Her enthusiasm was so great that it reduced him to
something like equivocation. She wanted to know if anything could be
more splendid than Mr. Bradley as Lord Ingleton; she confided to Stephen
that that was what she called _real_ wickedness, the kind that did the
most harm, and invited him, by inference, to a liberal judgment of
stupid sinners. He sat emitting short unsmiling sentences with eyes
nervously fugitive from Lady Dolly's too proximate opulence until the
third act began. Then he gave place with embarrassed alacrity to Colonel
Cummins, and folded his arms again at the back of the box.

Before it was finished he had the gratification of recognising at least
one Hilda that he knew. The newspapers found in her interpretation the
development of a soul, and one remembered, reading them, that a _cliché_
is a valuable thing in a hurry. A phrase which spoke of a soul bruised
out of life and rushing to annihilation would have been more precise.
The demand upon her increased steadily as the act went on, and as she
met it, there slipped into her acting some of her own potentialities of
motive and of passion. She offered to the shaping circumstance rich
material and abundant plasticity, and when the persecution of her
destiny required her to throw herself irretrievably away, she did it
with a splendid appreciation of large and definite movements that was
essentially of herself.

The moment of it had a bold gruesomeness that caught the breath--a
disinterment on the stage in search of letters that would prove the
charge against the second year of Mrs. Halliday's married life, her
letters buried with the poet. It was an advantage which only the husband
of Mrs. Halliday would have claimed to bring so helpless a respondent
before even the informal court at the graveyard; but it gave Hilda a
magnificent opportunity of wild, mad apostrophe to the skull, holding it
tenderly with both hands, while Lord Ingleton smiled appreciatively in
advance of the practical benevolence which was to sustain the lady
through the divorce court and in the final scene offer to her and to the
prejudices of the British public the respectability of his name.

It was over with a rush at the end, leaving the audience uncertain
whether, after all, enough attention had been paid to that tradition of
the footlights which insists on so nice a sense of opprobrium and
compensation, but convinced of its desire to applaud. Duff Lindsay
turned, as the wave of clapping spent itself, to say to Stephen that he
had never respected Hamilton Bradley's acting so much. He said it to
Herbert Livingstone instead; the priest had disappeared.

The outgoers looked at Arnold curiously as he made his way among them in
a direction which was not that of the exit. He went with hurried
purpose, in the face of them all, toward the region, badly lighted and
imperfectly closed, which led to the rear of the stage. He opened doors
into dark closets, and one which gave upon the road, retraced his
unfamiliar steps and asked a question, to which--it was so unusual from
one in his habit--he received a hesitating but correct reply. A moment
later he passed Mr. Llewellyn Stanhope, who stood in his path with a
hostile stare and got out of it with a deferential bow, and knocked at a
door upon which was pasted the name, in large red letters cut from a
poster, of Miss Hilda Howe. It was a little ajar, so he entered, when
she cried, "Come in!" with the less hesitation. Hilda sat on the single
chair the place contained in the dress and make-up of the last scene. A
Mohammedan servant, who looked up incuriously, was unlacing her shoes.
Various garments hung about on nails driven into the unpainted walls,
others overflowed from a packing-box in one corner. A common teak-wood
dressing-table held make-up saucers and powder-puffs and some remnants
of cold fowl which had not been partaken of, apparently, with the
assistance of a knife, and fork. A candle stood in an empty soda-water
bottle on each side of the looking-glass, and there was no other light.
On the floor a pair of stays, old and soiled, sprawled with unconcern.
The place looked sordid and miserable, and Hilda, sitting in the middle
of it, still in the yellow wig and painted face of Mrs. Halliday, all
wrong at that range, gave it a note of false artifice, violent and
grievous. Stephen stood in the doorway grasping the handle, saying
nothing, and an instant passed before she knew with certainty, in the
wretched light, that it was he. Then she sprang up and made a step
toward him as if toward victory and reward, but checked herself in time.
"Is it possible?" she exclaimed. "I did not know you were in the
theatre."

"Yes," he said, with moderation, "I have seen this--this damnable play."

"Damnable? Oh!----"

"It has caused me," he went on, "to regret the substance of my letter
this morning. I failed to realise that this was the kind of work you
devote your life to. I now see that you could not escape its malign
influence--that no woman could. I now think that the alternative that
has been revealed to you, of remaining in Calcutta, is a chance of
escape offered you by God himself. Take it. I withdraw my foolish,
ignorant opposition."

"Oh," she cried, "do you really think----"

"Take it," he repeated and closed the door.

Hilda sat still for some time after the servant had finished unlacing
her shoes. A little tender smile played oddly about her carmined lips.
"Dear heart," she said aloud, "I was going to."



CHAPTER XXIII.


"I would simply give anything to be there," Miss Livingstone said, with
a look of sincere desire.

"I should love to have you, but it isn't possible. You might meet men
you knew who had been invited by particular lady friends among the
company."

"Oh, well, that of course would be odious."

"Very, I should think," Hilda agreed. "You must be satisfied with a
faithful report of it. I promise you that."

"You have asked Mr. Lindsay," Alicia complained.

"That's quite a different thing--and if I hadn't Llewellyn Stanhope
would. Stanhope cherishes Duff as he cherishes the critic of the
_Chronicle_. He refers to him as a pillar of the legitimate. Whenever he
begs me to turn the Norwegian crank, he says, 'I'm sure Mr. Lindsay
would come.'"

Miss Howe was at the top of the staircase in Middleton street, on the
point of departure. It was to be the night of her last appearance for
the season and her benefit, followed by a supper in her honour, at which
Mr. Stanhope and his company would take leave of those whose
acquaintance, as he expressed it, business and pleasure had given them
during the months that were past. It was this function that Alicia, at
the top of the staircase, so ardently desired to attend.

"No, I won't kiss you," Hilda said, as the other put her cool cheek
forward; "I'm so divinely happy--some of it might escape."

Alicia's voice pursued her as she ran down stairs. "Remember," she said,
"I don't approve. I don't at all agree either with my reverend cousin or
with you. I think you ought to find some other way or let it go. Go home
instead; go straight to London and insist on your chance. After six
weeks you will have forgotten the name of his Order."

Hilda looked back with a smile. Her face was splendid with the dawn and
promise of success. "Don't blaspheme," she cried. Alicia, leaning down,
was visited by a flash of quotation. "Well," she said, "'nothing in this
life becomes you like the leaving of it,'" and went back to her room to
write to Laura Filbert in Plymouth. She wrote often to Miss Filbert, at
Duff's request. It gratified her that she was able, without a pang, to
address four pages of pleasantly colourless communication to Mr.
Lindsay's _fiancée_. Her letters stood for a medicine surprisingly easy
to take, aimed at the convalescence which she already anticipated in the
future immediately beyond Duff's miserable marriage. If that event had
promised fortuitously she would have faced it, one fancies, with less
sanguine anticipations for herself; but the black disaster that rode on
with it brought her certain aids to the spirit, certain hopes of
herself. Laura's prompt replies, with their terrible margins and
painstaking solecisms, came to be things Miss Livingstone looked forward
to. She read them with a beating heart in the unconscious apprehension
of some revelation of improvement. She was quite unaware of it, but she
entertained toward the Simpsons an attitude of misgiving in this regard.

Hilda went on about her business. As usual, her business was important
and imperative; nothing was lightened for her this last day. She drove
about from place to place in the hot, slatternly city, putting more than
her usual vigour and directness into all she did. It seemed to her that
the sunlight burning on the tiles, pouring through the crowded streets,
had more than ever a vivid note; and so much spoke to her, came to her,
from the profuse and ingenuous life which streamed about her, that she
leaned a little forward to meet it with happy eyes and tender lips that
said, "I know. I see." She was living for the moment which should exhale
itself somewhere about midnight, after the lights had gone out on her
last appearance, living for it as a Carmelite might live for the climax
of her veil and her vows if it were conceivable that beyond the cell and
the grating she saw the movement and the colour and the passion of a
wider life. All Hilda's splendid vitality went into her intention, of
which she was altogether mistress, riding it and reining it in a
straight course through the encumbered hours. It keyed her to a finer
and more eager susceptibility; and the things she saw stayed with her,
passing into a composite day which the years were hardly to dim for her.

She could live like that, for the purposes of a period, wrought up to
immense keenness of sense and brilliancy of energy, making steadily for
some point of feeling or achievement flashing gloriously on the horizon.
It is already plain, perhaps, that she rejoiced in such strokes, and
that life as she found it worth living was marked by a succession of
them.

She had kept, even from Lindsay, what she meant to do. When she stepped
from his brougham, flushed after the indubitable triumph of the evening,
with her arms full of real bouquets from Chatterjee's--no eight-anna
bazaar confections edged with silver tinsel--it occurred to her that
this reticence was not altogether fair to so constant a friend. He was
there, keen and eager as ever in all that concerned her, foremost with
his congratulations on the smiling fringe of the party assembled to do
her honour. It was a party of some brilliance in its way, though its way
was diverse; there was no steady glow. Fillimore said of the company
that it comprised all the talent, and Fillimore, editor of the _Indian
Sportsman and Racing Gazette_, was a judge. He said it to Hagge, of the
Bank of Hindustan, who could hardly have been an owner on three hundred
rupees a month without conspicuous ability disconnected with his
ledgers; and Hagge looked gratified. Though so promising, he was young.
Lord Bobby was there from Government House. Lord Bobby always
accompanied the talent, who were very kind to him. He was talking, when
Hilda arrived, to the editor of the _Indian Empire_, who wanted to find
out the date of Her Excellency's fancy-dress party for children, in
order that he might make a leaderette of it; but Lord Bobby couldn't
remember--had to promise to drop him a line. Gianacchi was there, trying
to treat Fillimore with coldness because the _Sportsman_ had discovered
too many virtues in his _Gadfly_, exalted her, indeed, into a favourite
for Saturday's hurdle race, a notability for which Gianacchi felt
himself too modest. "They say," Fillimore had written, "that the
_Gadfly_ has been seen jumping by moonlight"--the sort of the thing to
spoil any book. Fillimore was an acute and weary-looking little man with
a peculiarly sweet smile and an air of cynicism which gave to his
lightest word a dangerous and suspicious air. It was rumoured in
official circles that he had narrowly escaped beheading, for pointing
out too ironically the disabilities of a Viceroy who insisted on
reviewing the troops from a cushioned carriage with the horses taken
out. Fillimore seemed to think that if nature had not made such a
nobleman a horseman, the Queen-Empress should not have made him
Governor-General of India. Fillimore was full of prejudices. Gianacchi,
however, found it impossible to treat him coldly. His smoothness of
temperament stood in the way. Instead, he imparted the melodious
information that the _Gadfly_ had pecked badly twice at Tollygunge that
morning, and smiled with pathetic philosophy. "Always let 'em use their
noses," said Fillimore, and there seemed to be satire in it. Fillimore
certainly had a flair, and when Beryl Stace presently demanded of him,
"What's the dead bird going to be on Saturday, Filly?" he put it
generously at her service. Among the friends of Mr. Stanhope and his
company were also several gentlemen, content, for their personal effect,
with the lustre they shed upon the Stock Exchange--gentlemen of high
finance, who wrote their names at the end of directors' reports, but
never in the visitors' book at Government House, who were little more to
the Calcutta world than published receipts for so many lakhs, except
when they were seen now and then driving in fleet dog-carts across the
Maidan toward comfortable suburban residences where ladies were not
entertained. They were extremely, curiously devoted to business; but if
they allowed themselves any amusement other than company promoting it
was the theatre, of which their appreciation had sometimes an odd
relation to the merits of performance. This supper, on the part of Miss
Beryl Stace and one or two other of Mr. Stanhope's artistes, might have
been considered a return of hospitality to these gentlemen, since the
suburban residences stood lavishly open to the profession.

Altogether, perhaps, there were fifty people, and an eye that looked for
the sentiment, the pity of things, would have distinguished at once on
about half the faces, especially those of the women, the used underlined
look that spoke of the continual play of muscle and forcing of feeling.
It gave them a shabbily complicated air, contrasting in a strained and
sorry way even with the countenances of the brokers and bankers, where
nature had laid on a smooth wash and experience had not interfered. They
were all gay and enthusiastic as Miss Howe entered; they loafed forward,
broad shirt-fronts lustrous, fat hands in financial pockets, with their
admiration, and Fillimore put out his cigarette. Hilda came down among
them from the summit of her achievement, clasping their various hands.
They were all personally responsible for her success, she made them feel
that, and they expanded in the conviction. She moved in a kind of tide
of infectious vitality, subtly drawing from every human flavour in the
room the power to hold and show something akin to it in herself, a
fugitive assimilation floating in the lamplight with the odour of the
flowers and the soup, to be extinguished with the occasion. They looked
at her up and down the table with an odd smiling attraction; they told
each other that she was in great form. Mr. Fillimore was of the opinion
that she couldn't be outclassed at the Lyceum, and Mr. Hagge responded
with vivacity that there were few places where she wouldn't stretch the
winner's neck. The feast was not, after all, one of great bounty, Mr.
Stanhope justly holding that the opportunity, the little gathering, was
the thing, and it was not long before the moment of celebration arrived
for which the gentlemen of the Stock Exchange, to judge from their
undrained glasses, seemed to be reserving themselves. There certainly
had been one tin of paté, and it circulated at that end; on the other
hand, the ladies had all the fondants. So that when Mr. Llewellyn
Stanhope rose with the sentiment of the evening, he found satisfaction,
if not repletion, in the regards turned upon him.

Llewellyn got up with modest importance, and ran a hand through his
yellow hair, not dramatically, but with the effect of collecting his
ideas. He leaned a little forward; he was extremely, happily
conspicuous. The attention of the two lines of faces seemed to overcome
him, for an instant, with dizzy pleasure; Hilda's beside him was bent a
little, waiting.

"Ladies and gentlemen," said Mr. Stanhope, looking with precision up and
down the table to be still more inclusive, "we have met together
to-night in honour of a lady who has given this city more pleasure in
the exercise of her profession than can be said of any single performer
during the last twenty years. Cast your eye back over the theatrical
record of Calcutta for that space of time, and you yourselves will admit
that there has been nobody that could be said to have come within a mile
of her shadow, if I may use the language of metaphor. [Applause, led by
Mr. Fillimore.] I would ask you to remember, at the same time, that this
pleasure has been of a superior class. I freely admit that this is a
great satisfaction to me personally. Far be it from me to put myself
forward on this auspicious occasion, but, ladies and gentlemen, if I
have one ambition more than another, it is to promote the noble cause of
the unfettered drama. To this I may say I have been vowed from the
cradle, by a sire who was well known in the early days of the metropolis
of Sydney as a pioneer in the great movement which has made the dramatic
talent of Australia what it is. To-day a magnificent theatre rises on
the site forever consecrated to me by those paternal labours, but--but I
can never forget it. In Miss Hilda Howe I have found a great coadjutor,
and one who is willing to consecrate her royal abilities in the same
line as myself, so that we have been able to maintain a high standard of
production among you, prices remaining as usual. I have to thank you, as
representing the public of the Indian capital, for the kind support
which has been so encouraging to Miss Howe, the company, and myself
personally, during the past season. Many a time ladies and gentlemen of
my profession have said to me, 'Mr. Stanhope, why do you go to Calcutta?
That city is a death-trap for professionals,' and now the past season
proves that I was right and they were wrong; and the magnificent houses,
the enthusiasm, and the appreciation that have greeted our efforts,
especially on the Saturday evening performances, show plain enough that
when a good thing is available, the citizens of Calcutta won't be happy
till they get it. Ladies and gentlemen, I invite you to join me in
drinking the health, happiness, and prosperity of Miss Hilda Howe."

"Miss Howe!" "Miss Howe!" "Miss Hilda Howe!" In the midst of a pushing
back of chairs and a movement of feet, the response was quick and
universal. Hilda accepted their nods and becks and waving glasses with a
slow movement of her beautiful eyes and a quiet smile. In the subsidence
of sound Mr. Stanhope's voice was heard again: "We can hardly expect a
speech from Miss Howe, but perhaps Mr. Hamilton Bradley, whose
international reputation need hardly be referred to, will kindly say a
few words on her behalf."

Then, with deliberate grace, Hilda rose from her chair, a tall figure
among them, looking down with a hint of compassionateness on the little
man at her left. She stood for an instant without speaking, as if the
flushed silence, the expectation, the warm magnetism that drew all their
eyes to her were enough. Then out of something like reverie she came to
the matter. She threw up her beautiful face with one of the supreme
gestures which belonged to her. "I think," she said, with a little
smiling bow in his direction, "that I will not trouble my friend Mr.
Bradley. He has rendered me so many kind services already that I am sure
I might count upon him again, but this is a thing I should like to do
for myself. I would not have my thanks chilled by even the passage from
my heart to his." There was something like bravado in the glance that
rested lightly on Bradley with this. One would have said that parley of
hearts between them was not a thing that as a rule she courted. "I can
only offer you my thanks, poor things to which we can give neither life
nor substance, yet I beg that you will somehow take them and remember
them. It is to me, and will always be, a kind of crowning satisfaction
that you were pleased to come together to-night to tell me I had done
well. You know yourselves, and I know, how much too flattering your
kindness is, but perhaps it will hurt nobody if to-night I take it as it
is generously offered, and let it make me as happy as you intend me to
be. At all events, no one could disturb me in believing that in
obtaining your praise and your good wishes I have done well enough."

For a few seconds she stopped speaking, but she held them with her eyes
from the mistake of supposing she had done. Lindsay, who was watching
her closely and hanging with keen pleasure on the sweetness and
precision of what she found to say, noted a swift constriction pass upon
her face, and was ready to swear to himself in astonishment that tears
were in her eyes. There was a half-tone of difference, too, in her voice
when she raised it again, a firmer vibration, as if she passed,
deliberate and aware, out of one phase into another.

"No," she went on, "I am not shy on this occasion; indeed, I feel that I
should like to keep your eyes upon me for a long time to-night, and go
on talking far past your patience or my wit. For I cannot think it
likely that our ways will cross again." Here her words grew suddenly low
and hurried. "If I may tresspass upon your interest so much further, I
have to tell you that my connection with the stage closes with this
evening's performance. To-morrow I join the Anglican Order of the
Sisters of St. Paul--the Baker Institution--in Calcutta, as a novice.
They have taken me without much question because--because the plague
hospitals of this cheerful country"--she contrived a smile--"have made a
great demand upon their body. That is all. I have nothing more to say."

It was, after all, ineffective, the denouement, or perhaps it was too
effective. In any case it was received in silence, the applause that was
ready falling back on itself, inconsistent and absurd. The incredulity
of Llewellyn Stanhope might have been electric had it found words, but
that gentleman's protests were made in violent whispers, to which Hilda,
who sat playing with a faded rose, seemed to pay no attention whatever.
One might have thought her more overcome than anyone, she seemed to make
one or two unsuccessful efforts to raise her head. There was a moment of
waiting for someone to reply: eyes were turned toward Mr. Bradley, and
when it became plain that no one would, broken murmurs of talk began
with a note of deprecation and many shakes of the head. The women
especially looked tragically at their neighbours with very wide-open
eyes. Presently a chair was drawn back, then another, and people began
to filter, in slow embarrassment, toward the door. Lindsay came up with
Hilda's cloak. "You won't mind my coming with you," he said; "I should
like to hear the details." Beryl Stace made as if to embrace her,
pouring out abusive disbelief, but Hilda waved her away with a gesture
almost of irritation. Some of the others said a perfunctory word or two
and went away with lingering backward looks. In a quarter of an hour Mr.
Lindsay's brougham had followed the other vehicle into the lamp-lit ways
of Calcutta and only the native table servants remained in somewhat
resentful possession of what was left.



CHAPTER XXIV.


If Duff Lindsay had apprehended that the reception of Miss Filbert by
the Simpsons would involve any strain upon the affection his friends
bore him, the event must have relieved him in no small degree. He was
soon made aware of its happy character and constantly kept assured.
Indeed, it seemed that whenever Mrs. Simpson had nothing else to do she
laid her pen to the task of telling him once again how cherished a
satisfaction they found in Laura and how reluctant they would be to lose
it. She wrote in that strain of facile sympathy which seems part of an
Englishwoman's education, and often begged him to believe that the more
she knew of their sweet and heavenly-minded guest the more keenly she
realised how dreary for him must have been the pang of parting and how
arid the months of separation. Mrs. Simpson herself was well acquainted
with these trials of the spirit. She and her husband had been divided by
those wretched thousands of miles of ocean for three years, one week,
and five days, all told, during their married life; she knew what it
meant. But if Duff could only see how well and blooming his beloved one
was--she had gained twelve pounds already--Mrs. Simpson was sure the
time of waiting would pass less heavily. For herself, it was cruel, but
she smiled upon the deferred reunion of hearts: she would keep Laura
till the very last day, and hoped to establish a permanent claim on her.
She was just the daughter Mrs. Simpson would have liked, so unspotted,
so pure, so wrapped in high ideals, and then the page would reflect
something of the adoring awe in which Mrs. Simpson would have held such
a daughter. It will be seen that Mrs. Simpson knew how to express
herself, but there was a fine sincerity behind the mask of words; Miss
Filbert had entered very completely into possession.

It had its abnormal side, the way she entered into possession.
Everything about Laura Filbert had its abnormal side, none the less
obvious because it was inward and invisible. Nature, of course, worked
with her--one might say that nature really did it, since in the end she
was practically unconscious, except for the hope that certain souls had
been saved, that anything of the sort had happened. She conquered the
Simpsons and their friends chiefly by the simple impossibility that they
should conquer her, walking immobile among them even while she admired
Mr. Simpson's cauliflowers and approved the quality of Mrs. Simpson's
house linen. It must be confessed that nothing in her surroundings spoke
to her more loudly or more subtly than these things. In view of what
happened, poor dear Alicia Livingstone's anticipation that the Simpsons
and their circle would have a radical personal effect upon Laura
Filbert, became ludicrous. They had no effect at all. She took no tint,
no curve. She appeared not to see that these precious things were to be
had for the assimilation. Her grace remained exclusively that of
holiness and continued to fail to have any relation to the common little
things she did and said.

The Simpsons were more plastic. Laura had been with them hardly a week
before Mrs. Simpson, with touching humility, was trying to remodel her
spiritual nature upon the form so fortuitously, if the word is
admissible, presented. The dear lady had never before realised, by her
own statement, how terribly her religious feelings were mingled with
domestic and social considerations, how firmly her spiritual edifice was
based upon the things of this world. She felt that her soul was
honeycombed--that was her word--with conventionality and false
standards, and she made confessions like these to Laura, sitting in the
girl's bedroom in the twilight. They were very soothing, these
confessions. Laura would take Mrs. Simpson's thin, veined, middle-aged
hand in hers and seem to charge herself for the moment with the
responsibility of the elder lady's case. She did not attempt to conceal
her pity or even her contempt for Mrs. Simpson's state of grace: she
made short work of special services and ladies' Bible classes. The world
was white with harvest, and Mrs. Simpson's chief activity was a
recreation society for shop-girls. But it was something, it was
everything, to be uneasy, to be unsatisfied, and they would uplift
themselves in prayer, and Laura would find words of such touching
supplication in which to represent the matter that the burden of her
friend and hostess would at once be lessened by the weight of tears.
Mrs. Simpson had never wept so much without perceived cause for grief as
since Laura arrived, and this alone would testify, such was the gentle
paradox of her temperament, how much she enjoyed Miss Filbert's
presence.

Laura's room was a temple, for which the gardener daily gave up his
choicest blooms, the tenderest interest watched upon her comings and
goings, and it was the joy of both the Simpsons to make little
sacrifices for her, to desert their beloved vicar on a Sunday evening,
for instance, and accompany her to the firemen's halls and skating rinks
lent to the publishing of the Word in the only manner from which their
guest seemed to derive benefit.

With all this, the Simpsons were sometimes troubled by the impression
that they could not claim to be making their angel in the house
completely happy. The air, the garden, the victoria, the turbot and the
whitebait, these were all that had been vaunted, and even to the modesty
of the Simpsons it was evident that the intimacy they offered their
guest should count for something. There were other friends, too, young
friends who tried to teach her to play tennis, robust and silent young
persons who threw shy, flushed glances at her in the pauses of the
games, and wished supremely, without daring to hint it, that she would
let fall some word about her wonderful romance--a hope ever renewed,
ever to be disappointed. And physically Laura expanded before their
eyes. The colour that came into her cheek gave her the look of a person
painted by Bouguereau. That artist would have found in her a model whom
he could have represented with sincerity. Yet something was missing to
her, her friends were dimly aware. Her desirable surroundings kindled
her to but a perfunctory interest in life: the electric spark was
absent. Mrs. Simpson relied strategically upon the wedding preparations
and hurried them on, announcing in May that it was quite time to think
about various garments of which the fashion is permanent, but the issue
was blank. No ripple stirred the placid waters, unless, indeed, we take
that way of describing Laura's calm demand, when the decision lay
between Valenciennes and Torchon for under-bodies, to hear whether Mrs.
Simpson had ever known Duff Lindsay to be anxious about his eternal
future. The girl continued to give forth a mere pale reflection of her
circumstances, and Mrs. Simpson was forced into the deprecation that
perhaps one would hardly call her a joyous Christian.

But for the Zenana Mission Society this impression of Miss Filbert might
have deepened. The committee of that body was almost entirely composed
of Mrs. Simpson's friends, and naturally came to learn much about her
guest. The matter was vastly considered, but finally Miss Filbert was
asked to speak at one of the monthly meetings the ladies held among
themselves to keep the society "in touch" with the cause. Laura brought
them, as one would imagine, surprisingly in touch. She made pictures for
them, letting her own eyelashes close deliberately while they stared.
She moved these ladies, inspired them, carried them away, and the fact
that none of them found themselves able afterward to quote the most
pathetic passages seemed rather to add to the enthusiasm with which they
described the address. The first result was a shower of invitations to
tea, occasions when Laura was easily led into monologue. Miss Filbert
became a cult of the evangelistic drawing-rooms, and the same kind of
forbearance was extended to her little traces of earlier social
experiences as is offered, in salons of another sort, to the
eccentricities of persons of genius. Very soon other applications had to
be met and considered, and Mrs. Simpson freely admitted that Laura would
not be justified in refusing to the Methodists and Baptists what she had
given elsewhere. She reasserted her platform influence over audiences
that grew constantly larger, and her world began to revolve again in
that great relation to the infinities which it was her life to perceive
and point out. Mrs. Simpson charged her genially with having been
miserable in Plymouth until she was allowed to do good in her own way,
and saw that she had beef-tea after every occasion of doing it. She
became, in a way, of public character, and a lady journalist sent an
account of her, with a photograph, to a well-known London fashion-paper.
Perhaps the strongest effect she made was as the voice of the Purity
Association, when she delivered an address, in the picturesque costume
she had abandoned, attacking measures contemplated by Government for the
protection of the health of the army in India. This was reported in full
in the local paper, and Mr. Simpson sent a copy to Duff Lindsay, who
received it, I regret to say, with an unmistakable imprecation. But
Laura rejoiced. Deprived of her tambourine she nevertheless rejoiced
exceedingly.



CHAPTER XXV.


The Sister Superior had a long upper lip, which she was in the habit of
drawing still further down; it gave her an air of great diplomatic
caution, almost of casuistry. Her face was pale and narrow. She had eyes
that desired to be very penetrating, and a flat little stooping figure
with a suggestion of extreme neutrality within her voluminous draperies.
She carried about with her all the virtues of a monastic order, patience
was written upon her, and repression, discipline and the love of
administration, written and underlined, so that the Anglican Sister whom
no Pope blessed was more priestly in her personal effect than any
Jesuit. It was difficult to remember that she had begun as a woman; she
was now a somewhat anæmic formula making for righteousness. Sister Ann
Frances, who in her turn suggested the fat capons of an age of friars
more indulgent to the flesh, and whose speech was of the crispest in
this world, where there was so much to do, thought poorly of the
executive ability of the Sister Superior, and resented the imposition,
as it were, of the long upper lip. Out of this arose the only
irritations that vexed the energetic flow of duty at the Baker
Institution, slight official raspings which the Sister Superior
immediately laid before Heaven at great length. She did it with
publicity, too, kneeling on the chunam floor of the chapel for an hour
at a time explaining matters. The bureaucracy of the country was
reflected in the Baker Institution: it seemed to Sister Ann Frances that
her superior officer took undue advantage of her privilege of direct
communication with the Supreme Authority, giving any colour she liked to
the incident. And when the Sister Superior's lumbago came on in direct
consequence of the cold chunam, the annoyance of Sister Ann Frances was
naturally not lessened.

There were twenty or thirty of them, with their little white caps tied
close under their chins, their long veils and their girdled black robes.
They were the most self-sacrificing women in Asia, the most devout, the
most useful. Government gave hospitals and doctors into their hands;
they took the whole charge of certain schools. They differed in
complexion, some of the newly arrived being delightfully fresh and pink
under their starched bandeaux. But they were all official, they all
walked discreetly and directly about their business, with a jangle of
keys in the folds of their robes, immensely organised, immensely under
orders. Hilda, when she had time, had the keenest satisfaction in
contemplating them. She took the edge off the fact that she was not
quite one, in aim and method, with these dear women, as they supposed
her to be, with the reflection that, after all, it might be worth while
to work out a solution of life in those terms, standing aside from the
world--the world was troublesome--and keeping an unfaltering eye upon
the pity of things, an unfaltering hand at its assuagement. It was
simple and fine and indisputable, this work of throwing the clear shadow
of the Cross upon the muddy sunlight of the world. It carried the boon
of finality in itself. One might be stopped and put away at any moment,
and nothing would be spoiled, broken, unfinished; and it absolutely
barred out such considerations as were presented by Hamilton Bradley.
There was a time early in her probation when she thought seriously that
if it were not Stephen Arnold it should be this.

She begged to be put on hospital work and was sent for her indiscretion
to teach in the Orphanage for Female Children of British Troops. The
first duty of a novice was to be free of preference, to obey without a
sigh of choice. On the third day, however, Sister Ann Frances,
supervising, stopped at the open schoolroom door to hear the junior
female orphans repeating in happy chorus after their instructress the
statement that seven times nine were fifty-six. I think Hilda saw Sister
Ann Frances in the door. That couldn't go on, even in the name of
discipline, and Miss Howe was placed at the disposal of the chief
nursing Sister at the General Hospital next day. Sister Ann Frances was
inclined to defend Hilda's imperfect acquaintance with primary
arithmetic.

"We all have our gifts," she said. "Miss Howe's is not the
multiplication table, but neither is mine stage-acting." At which the
upper lip lengthened further into an upward-curving smile, and the
Sister Superior remarked cautiously that she hoped Miss Howe would
develop one for making bandages, otherwise----

The depth of what was unusual in Hilda's relation with Alicia
Livingstone--perhaps it has been plain that they were not quite the
ordinary feminine liens--seems to me to be sounded in the tacit
acceptance of Hilda's novitiate on its merits that fell between the two
women. The full understanding of it was an abyss between them, across
which they joined hands, looking elsewhere. Even in the surprise of
Hilda's announcement Alicia had the instinct to glance away, lest her
eyes should betray too many facts that bore upon the situation. It had
never been discussed, but it had to be accepted and occasionally
referred to; and the terms of acceptance and reference made no
implication of Stephen Arnold. In her inmost privacy Alicia gazed
breathless at the conception as a whole; she leaped at it, and caught
it, and held it to look, with a feverish comparison of possibilities. It
was not strange, perhaps, that she took a vivid personal interest in the
essentials that enabled one to execute a flank movement like Hilda's nor
that she should conceive the first of them to be that one must come out
of a cab. She dismissed that impression with indignation as ungenerously
cynical, but it always came back for redismissal. It did not interfere
in the least, however, with her deliberate invitations to Stephen to
come to 10, Middleton street on afternoons or evenings when Hilda was
there. She was like one standing denied in the Street of Abundance; she
had an avidity of the eye for even love's reflection.

That was a little later. At first there was the transformation to
lament, the loss, the break.

"You look," cried Miss Livingstone, the first time Hilda arrived in the
dress of the novice, a kind of understudy of the Sisters' black and
white, "you look like a person in a book, full of salient points, and
yet made so simple to the reader. If you go on wearing those things I
shall end by understanding you perfectly."

"If you don't understand me," Hilda said, dropping into the corner of a
sofa, "_Cela que je m'en doute_, it's because you look for too much
elaboration. I am a simple creature, done with rather a broad
brush--_voila tout!_"

Nevertheless, Miss Livingstone's was a happy impression. The neutrality
of her hospital dress left Hilda in a manner exposed: one saw in a
special way the significance of lines and curves; it was an
astonishingly vigourous human expression.

Alicia leaned forward, her elbow on the arm of her chair, her chin
tucked into her palm, and looked at it. The elbow bent itself in a light
blue muslin sleeve of extreme elegance, trimmed with lace. The colour
found a wistful echo in the eyes that regarded Miss Howe, who was
accustomed to the look and met it with impenetrable commonplace, being
made impatient by nothing in this world so much as by futility, however
charming.

"Just now," Alicia said, "the shadows under your eyes are brushed too
deep."

"I don't believe I sleep well in a dormitory."

"Horrible! All the little privacies of life--don't you miss them?"

"I never had them, my dear--I never had them. Life has never given me
the luxury of curtains--I don't miss them. An occasional blind--a closed
door--and those we got even at the Institution. The decencies are
strictly conserved, believe me."

"One imagines that kind of place is always clean."

"When I have time I think of Number Three, Lal Behari's Lane, and
believe myself in Paradise. The repose is there, the angels also--dear
commanding things--and a perpetual incense of cheap soap. And there is
some good in sleeping in a row. It reminds one that after all one is
very like other women."

"It wouldn't convince me if I were you. And how did the Sisters receive
you--with the harp and the psaltery?"

"That was rather," said Hilda gravely, "what I expected. On the
contrary, they snubbed me--they really did. There were two of them. I
said, 'Reverend ladies, please be a little kind. Convents are strange to
me; I shall probably commit horrible sins without knowing it. Give me
your absolution in advance--at least your blessing."

"Hilda, you didn't!"

"It is delightful to observe the Mother Abbess, or whatever she is,
disguising the fact that she takes any interest in me. Such
diplomacy--funny old thing."

"They must be _devoured_ with curiosity!"

"Well, they ask no questions. One sees an everlasting finger on the lip.
It's a little boring. One feels inclined to speak up and say, 'Mesdames,
_entendez_--it isn't so bad as you think.' But then their fingers would
go into their ears."

"And the rules, Hilda? I can't imagine you, somehow, under rules."

"I am attached to the rules; I think about them all day long. They make
the thing simple and--possible. It is a little like living for the first
time in a house all right angles after--after a life-long voyage in a
small boat."

"Isn't the house rather empty?"

"Oh, well!"

Alicia put out her hand and tucked an irrelevant bit of lace into
Hilda's bosom. "I can tell you who is interested," she cried. "The
Archdeacon--the Archdeacon and Mrs. Barberry. They both dined here last
night; and you lasted from the fish to the pudding. I got so bored with
you, my dear, in your new capacity."

A new ray of happiness came into the smile of the novice. "What did they
say? Do tell me what they said."

"There was a difference of opinion. The Archdeacon held that with God
all things were possible. He used an expression more suitable to a
dinner-party, but I think that is what he meant. Mrs. Barberry thought
it wouldn't last. Mrs. Barberry was very cynical. She said anyone could
see that you were as emotional as ever you could be."

The eyes of the two women met and they laughed frankly. A sense of
expansion came between them, in which for an instant they were silent.

"Tell me about the hospital," Alicia said presently.

"Ah, the hospital!" Hilda's face changed. There came into her eyes the
moved look that always waked a thrill in Alicia Livingstone, as if she
were suddenly aware that she had stepped upon ground where feet like
hers passed seldom.

"There is nothing to tell you that is not--sad. Such odds and ends of
life, thrown together!"

"Have you had any experiences yet?"

Hilda stared for a moment absently in front of her, and then turned her
head aside to answer as if she closed her eyes on something.

"Experiences? Delightful Alicia, speaking your language, no. You are
thinking of the resident surgeon, the medical student, the interesting
patient. My resident surgeon is fifty years old; the medical student is
a Bengali in white cotton and patent-leather shoes. I am occupied in a
ward full of deck hands. For these I hold the bandage and the basin;
they are hardly aware of me."

"You are sure to have them," Alicia said. "They crop up wherever you go
in this world, either before you or behind you."

Hilda fixed her eyes attentively upon her companion. "Sometimes," she
said, "you say things that are extremely true in their general bearing.
A fortune-teller with cards gives one the same shock of surprise. Well,
let me tell you, I have been promoted to temperatures. I took
thirty-five to-day. Next week I am to make poultices; the week after
baths and fomentations."

"What are the others like--the other novices?"

"Nearly all Eurasians, one native, a Hindu widow--the Sisters are almost
demonstrative to her--and one or two local European girls; the
Commissariat-Sergeant class, I should think."

"They don't sound attractive and I am glad. You will depend the more
upon me."

Hilda looked thoughtfully at Miss Livingstone. "I will depend," she
said, "a good deal upon you."

It was Alicia's fate to meet the Archdeacon again that evening at
dinner. "And is she really throwing her heart into the work?" asked that
dignitary, referring to Miss Howe.

"Oh, I think so," Alicia said; "Yes."



CHAPTER XXVI.


The labours of the Baker Institution and of the Clarke Mission were very
different in scope, so much so that if they had been secular bodies
working for profit there would have been hardly a point of contact
between them. As it was, they made one, drawing together in affiliation
for the comfort of mutual support in a heathen country where all the
other Englishmen wrote reports, drilled troops, or played polo, with all
the other Englishwomen in the corresponding female parts. Doubtless the
little communities prayed for each other. One may imagine, not
profanely, their petitions rising on either side of the heedless,
multitudinous, idolatrous city, and meeting at some point in the purer
air above the yellow dust-haze. I am not aware that they held any other
mutual duty or privilege, but this bond was known and enabled people
whose conscience pricked them in that direction to give little garden
teas to which they invited Clarke Brothers and Baker Sisters, secure in
doing a benevolent thing and at the same time embarrassing nobody,
except, possibly, the Archdeacon, who was officially exposed to being
asked as well and had no right to complain. The affiliation was thus a
social convenience, since it is unlikely that without it anybody would
have hit upon so ingenious a way of killing, as it were, a Baker Sister
and a Clarke Brother with one stone. It is not surprising that this
degree of intelligence should fail to see the profound official
difference between Baker Sisters and Baker Novices. As the Sister
Superior said, it did not seem to occur to people that there could be,
in connection with a religious body, such words as discipline and
subordination, which were certainly made ridiculous for the time being,
where she and Sister Ann Frances were asked to eat ices on the same
terms with Miss Hilda Howe. It must have been more than ever painful to
these ladies, regarded from the official point of view, when it became
plain, as it usually did, that the interest of the afternoon centred in
Miss Howe, whether or not the Archdeacon happened to be present. Their
displeasure was so clear, after the first occasion, that Hilda felt
obliged, when the next one came, to fall back on her original talent,
and ate her ice abashed and silent, speaking only when she was spoken
to, and then in short words and long hesitations. Thereupon the Sisters
were of opinion that, after all, poor Miss Howe could not help her
unenviable note--she was perhaps more to be pitied on account of it than
anything else. It came to this, that Sister Ann Frances even had an
exhibitor's pride in her, and Hilda knew the sensations of a barbarian
female captive in the bonds of the Christians. But she could not afford
to risk being cut off from those little garden teas. All told, they were
few; ladies disturbed by ideas of social duties toward missionaries
being so uncommon.

She told Stephen so, frankly, one afternoon when he charged her with
being so unlike herself, and he heard her explanation with a gravity
which contained an element of satisfaction. "It is, of course, a
pleasure to us to meet," he said, "a pleasure to us both." That was part
of the satisfaction, that he could meet her candour with the same
openness. He was not even afraid to mention to her the stimulus she gave
him always and his difficulty in defining it, and once he told her how,
after a talk with her, he had lain awake until the small hours unable to
stop his excited rush of thought. He added that he was now personally
and selfishly glad she had chosen as she did three months before; it
made a difference to him, her being in Calcutta, a sensible and material
difference. He had better hope and heart in his work. It was the last
luxury he would ever have dreamed of allowing himself, a woman friend;
but since life had brought it in the oddest way, the boon should be met
with no grudging of gratitude. A kind of sedate cheerfulness crept into
his manner which was new to him; he went about his duties with the look
of a man to whom life had dictated its terms and who found them
acceptable. His blood might have received some mysterious chemical
complement, so much was his eye clearer, his voice firmer, and the
things he found to say more decisive. Nor did any consideration of their
relations disturb him. He never thought of the oxygen in the air he
breathed, and he seldom thought of Hilda.

They were walking toward the Institution together the day he explained
to her his gratification that she had elected to remain. Sister Ann
Frances and Sister Margaret led; Arnold and Hilda came behind. He had an
errand to the Sister Superior--he would go all the way. It was late in
May and late in the afternoon; all the tree-tops on the Maidan were bent
under the sweep of the south wind, blowing a caressing coolness from the
sea. It spread fragrances about and shook down blossoms from the
gold-mohur trees. One could see nothing anywhere so red and yellow as
they were except the long coat of a Government messenger, a point of
scarlet moving in the perspective of a dusty road. The spreading acres
of turf were baked to every earth colour. Wherever a pine dropped
needles and an old woman swept them up, a trail of dust ran curling
along the ground like smoke. The little party was unusual in walking;
glances of uncomprehending pity were cast at them from victorias and
landaus that rolled past. Even the convalescent British soldiers facing
each other in the clumsy drab cart drawn by humped bullocks, and marked
_Garrison Dispensary_, stared at the black skirts so near the powder of
the road. The Sisters in front walked with their heads slightly bent
toward one another; they seemed to be consulting. Hilda reflected,
looking at them, that they always seemed to be consulting: it was the
normal attitude of that long black veil that flowed behind.

Arnold walked beside his companion, his hands loosely clasped behind
him, with the air of semi-detachment that young clergymen sometimes have
with their wives. Whether it was that, or the trace of custom his
satisfaction carried, the casual glance might easily have taken them for
a married pair.

"There is a kind of folly and stupidity in saying it," he said, "but you
have done--you do--a great deal for me."

She turned her tired face upon him with a wistful, measuring look. It
searched his face for an instant and came back baffled. Arnold spoke
with so much kindness, so much appreciation.

"Very little," she said mechanically, looking at the fresh footprints of
Sister Ann Frances and Sister Margaret.

"But I know. And can't you tell me--it would make me so very happy--that
I have done something for you too--something that you value?"

Hilda's eyes lightened curiously, reverie came into them, and a smile.
She answered as if she spoke to herself, "I should not know how to tell
you."

Then, scenting wonder in him, she added, "You were thinking of
something--in particular."

"You have sometimes made me believe," Stephen returned, "that I may
account myself, under God, the accident which induced you to take up
your blessed work. I was thinking of that."

"Oh," she said, "of that!" and seemed to take refuge in silence.

"Yes," Arnold said, with infinite gentleness.

"Oh, you were profoundly the cause! I might say you are, for without you
I doubt whether I should have the--courage----"

"Oh, no! Oh, no! He who inspired you in the beginning will sustain you
to the end. Think that. Believe that."

"Will He?" Her voice was neutral, as if it would not betray too much,
but there was a listlessness that spoke louder in the bend of her head,
the droop of her shoulder.

"For you perhaps," Arnold said, thoughtfully, "there is only one
assurance of it--the satisfaction your vocation brings you now. That
will broaden and increase," he went on, almost with buoyancy, "growing
more and more your supreme good as the years go on."

"How much you give me credit for!"

"Not nearly enough--not nearly. Who is there like you?" he demanded,
simply.

His words seemed a baptism. She lifted up her face after them, and the
trace of them was on her eyes and lips. "I have passed two examinations,
at all events," she informed him, with sudden gaiety, "and Sister Ann
Frances says that in two or three months I shall probably get through
the others. Sister Ann Frances thinks me more intelligent than might be
expected. And if I do pass those examinations I shall be what they call
a quick-time probationer. I shall have got it over in six months. Do you
think," she asked, as if to please herself, "that six months will be
long enough?"

"It depends. There is so much to consider."

"Yes--it depends. Sometimes I think it will be, but oftener I think it
will take longer."

"I should be inclined to leave it entirely with the Sisters."

"I am so undisciplined," murmured Hilda. "I fear I shall cling to my own
opinion. Now we must overtake the others and you must walk the rest of
the way with Sister Ann--no, Sister Margaret, she is senior."

"I don't at all see the necessity," Stephen protested. He was wilful and
wayward; he adopted a privileged air, and she scolded him. In their
dispute they laughed so imprudently that Sister Ann Frances turned her
draped head to look back at them. Then they quickened their steps and
joined the elder ladies, and Stephen walked with Sister Margaret to the
door of the Institution. She mentioned to the Sister Superior afterward
that young Mr. Arnold was really a delightful conversationalist.



CHAPTER XXVII.


They talked a great deal in Plymouth about the way the time was passing
in Calcutta during those last three months before Laura should return,
the months of the rains. "Now," said Mrs. Simpson, early in July, "it
will be pouring every day, with great patches of the Maidan under water,
and rivers, my dear, _rivers_, in the back streets," and Laura had a
reminiscence about how, exactly at that time, a green mould used to
spread itself fresh every morning on the matting under her bed in
Bentinck street. Later on they would agree that perhaps by this time
there was a "break in the rains," and that nothing in the world was so
trying as a break in the rains, the sun grilling down and drawing up
steam from every puddle. In September things, they remembered, would be
at their very worst and most depressing: one had hardly the energy to
lift a finger in September. Mrs. Simpson looked back upon the discomfort
she had endured in Bengal at this time of year with a kind of regret
that it was irretrievably over; she lingered upon a severe illness which
had been part of the experience. She seemed to think that with a little
judicious management she might have spent more time in that climate and
less in England. There was in her tone a suggestion of gentle envy of
Laura, going forth to these dismal conditions with her young life in her
hands, all tricked out for the sacrifice, which left Duff Lindsay and
his white and gold drawing-room entirely out of consideration. Any
sacrifice to Mrs. Simpson was alluring; she would be killed all day
long, in a manner, for its own sake.

The victim had taken her passage early in October, and during the first
week of that month Plymouth gathered itself into meetings to bid her
farewell. A curiously sacred character had fastened itself upon her. It
was not in the least realised that she was going out to be married to an
altogether secular young broker moving in fashionable circles in one of
the gayest cities in the world. One or two reverend persons, in the
course of commending their young sister to the protection of the
Almighty in her approaching separation from the dear friends who
surrounded her in Plymouth, made references implying that her labours
would continue to the glory of God, taking it as a matter of course.
Miss Filbert was by this time very much impregnated with the idea that
they would, she did not know precisely how, but that would open itself
out. Duff had long been assimilated as part of the programme. All that
money and humility could contribute should be forthcoming from him; she
had a familiar dream of him as her standard-bearer, undistinguished but
for ever safe.

Yet it was with qualified approval that Mrs. Simpson, amid the confusion
of the _Coromandel's_ preparations for departure at London Docks, heard
the familiar strains of the Salvation Army rising aft. Laura immediately
cried, "I shall have friends among the passengers," and Mrs. Simpson so
fair forgot herself as to say, "Yes, if they are nice." The ladies were
sitting on deck beside the pile of Laura's very superior cabin luggage.
Mrs. Simpson glanced at it as if it offered a kind of corroboration of
the necessity of their being nice. "There are always a few delightful
Christian people, if one takes the trouble to find them out, at this end
of the ship," she said, defensively. "I have never failed to find it
so."

"I don't think much of Christians who are so hard to discover," Laura
said, with decision, and Mrs. Simpson, rebuked, thought of the
mischievous nature of class prejudices. Laura herself--had she not been
drawn from what one might call distinctly the other end of the ship; and
who, among those who vaunted themselves ladies and gentlemen, could
compare with Laura? The idea that she had shown a want of sympathy with
those dear people who were so strenuously calling down a blessing on the
_Coromandel_ somewhere behind the smoke-stacks, embittered poor Mrs.
Simpson's remaining tears of farewell, and when the bell rang the signal
for the last good-bye she embraced her young friend with the fervent
request, "Do make friends with them, dear one--make friends with them at
once;" and Laura said, "If they will make friends with me."

By the time the ship had well got her nose down the coast of Spain, Miss
Filbert had created her atmosphere and moved about in it from end to end
of the quarter-deck. It was a recognisable thing, her atmosphere; one
never knew when it would discharge a question relating to eternity. And
persons unprepared to give satisfaction upon this point--one fears there
are always many on a ship bound east of Suez--found it blighting. They
moved their long chairs out of the way, they turned pointedly
indifferent backs, the lady who shared Miss Filbert's cabin--she
belonged to a smart cavalry regiment at Mhow--went about saying things
with a distinct edge. Miss Filbert exhausted all the means. She
attempted to hold a meeting forward of the smoking cabin, standing for
elevation on one of the ship's quoit buckets to preach, but with this
the Captain was reluctantly compelled to interfere on behalf of the
whist-players inside. In the evening after dinner she established
herself in a sheltered corner and sang. Her recovered voice lifted
itself with infinite pathetic sweetness in songs about the poverty of
the world and the riches of Heaven. The notes mingled with the churning
of the screw and fell in the darkness beyond the ship's lights abroad
upon the sea. The other passengers listened aloof. The _Coromandel_ was
crowded, but you could have drawn a wide circle round her chair. On the
morning of the fourth day out--she had not felt quite well enough for
adventures before--she found her way to the second-class saloon, being
no doubt fully justified of her conscience in abandoning the first to
the flippancies of its preference.

In the second-class end the tone was certainly more like that of
Plymouth. Laura had a grateful sense of this in coming, almost at once,
upon a little group gathered together for praise and prayer, of which
four or five persons of both sexes, labelled "S. A.," naturally formed
the centre. They were not only praying and praising without
discouragement, they had attracted several other people who had brought
their chairs into near and friendly relation, and even joined sometimes
in the chorus of the hymns. There was a woman in mourning who cried a
good deal--her tears seemed to refresh the salvationists and inspired
them to louder and more cheerful efforts. There was a man in a wide,
soft felt hat with the malaria of the Terai in the hollows under his
eyes; there was a Church Missionary with an air of charity and
forbearance, and the bushy-eyed colonel of a native regiment, looking
vigilant against ridicule, with his wife, whose round, red little face
continually waxed and waned in a smile of true contentment. It was not
till later that Laura came to know them all so very well, but her eye
rested on them one after another with approval as she drew near. Without
pausing in his chant--it happened to be one of triumph--without even
looking at her, the leader indicated an empty chair. It was his own
chair. "Colonel Markin, S. A.," was printed in black letters on its
striped canvas back; Laura noticed that.

After it was over, the little gathering, Colonel Markin specially
distinguished her. He did it delicately. "I hope you won't mind my
expressin' my thanks for the help you gave us in the singin'," he said.
"Such a voice I've seldom had the pleasure to join with. May I ask where
you got it trained?"

He was a narrow-chested man with longish sandy hair and thin features.
His eyes were large, blue, and protruding, his forehead very high and
white. There was a pinkness about the root of his nose and a scanty
yellow moustache upon his upper lip, while his chin was partly hidden by
a beard equally scanty and even more yellow. He had extremely long white
hands: one could not help observing them as they clasped his book of
devotion.

Laura looked at him with profound appreciation of these details. She
knew Colonel Markin by reputation--he had done a great work among the
Cingalese. "It was trained," she said, casting down her eyes, "on the
battlefields of our Army."

Colonel Markin attempted to straighten his shoulders and to stiffen his
chin. He seemed vaguely aware of a military tradition which might make
it necessary for him, as a very senior officer indeed, to say something.
But the impression was transitory. Instead of using any rigour he held
out his hand. Laura took it reverently, and the bones shut up, like the
sticks of a fan, in her grasp. "Welcome, comrade!" he said, and there
was a pause, as there should be after such an apostrophe.

"When you came among us this afternoon," Colonel Markin resumed, "I
noticed you. There was something about the way you put your hand over
your eyes when I addressed our Heavenly Father in prayer that spoke to
me. It spoke to me and said, 'Here we have a soul that knows what
salvation means--there's no doubt about that.' Then when, you raised a
Hallelujah, I said to myself, 'That's got the right ring to it.' And so
you're a sister in arms!"

"I was," Laura murmured.

"You was--you were. Well, well--I want to hear all about it. It is now,"
continued Colonel Markin, as two bells struck and a steward passed them
with a bugle, "the hour for our dinner, and I suppose that you, too," he
bent his head respectfully toward the other half of the ship, "partake
of some meal at this time. But if you will seek us out again at the
meeting between four and five I shall be at your service afterward, and
pleased," he look her hand again, "_pleased_ to see you."

Laura went back to the evening meeting, and after that missed none of
these privileges. In due course she was asked to address it, and then
her position became enviable from all points of view, for people who did
not draw up their chairs and admire her inspirations sat at a distance
and admired her clothes. Very soon, at her special request, she was
allowed to resign her original place at the table and take a revolving
chair at the nine o'clock breakfast, one o'clock dinner, and six o'clock
tea which sustained the second saloon. Daily ascending the
companion-ladder to the main-deck aft, she gradually faded from
cognisance forward. There they lay back in their long cabin chairs and
sipped their long drinks, and with neutral eyes and lips they let the
blessing go.

In the intervals between the exercises Miss Filbert came and went in the
cabin of three young Salvationists of her own sex. They could always
make room for her, difficult as it may appear; she held for them an
indefinite store of fascination. Laura would extend herself on a top
berth beside the round-eyed Norwegian to whom it belonged, with the
cropped head of the owner pillowed on her sisterly arm, and thus they
passed hours, discussing conversions as medical students might discuss
cases, relating, comparing. They talked a great deal about Colonel
Markin. They said it was a beautiful life. More beautiful, if possible,
had been the life of Mrs. Markin, who was his second wife, and who had
been "promoted to glory" six months before. She had gained promotion
through jungle fever, which had carried her off in three days. The first
Mrs. Markin had died of drink--that was what had sent the Colonel into
the Army, she, the first Mrs. Markin, having willed her property away
from him. Colonel Markin had often rejoiced publicly that the lady had
been of this disposition, the results to him had been so blessed.
Apparently he spoke without reserve of his domestic affairs in
connection with his spiritual experiences, using both the Mrs. Markins
when it was desirable as "illustrations." The five had reached this
degree of intimacy by the time the _Coromandel_ was nearing Port Said,
and every day the hemispheres of sea and sky they watched through the
port-hole above the Norwegian girl's berth grew bluer.

From the first Colonel Markin had urged Miss Filbert's immediate return
to the Army. He found her sympathetic to the idea, willing, indeed, to
embrace it with open arms, but there were difficulties. Mr. Lindsay, as
a difficulty, was almost inseparable to anything like a prompt step in
that direction. Colonel Markin admitted it himself. He was bound to
admit it, he said, but nothing, since he joined the Army, had ever been
so painful to him. "I wish I could deny it," he said with frankness,
"but there is no doubt that for the present your first duty is toward
your gentleman, toward him who placed that ring upon your finger." There
was no sarcasm in his describing Lindsay as a gentleman; he used the
term in a kind of extra special sense, where a person less accustomed to
polite usages might have spoken of Laura's young man. "But remember, my
child," he continued, "it is only your poor vile body that is yours to
dispose of. Your soul belongs to God Almighty, and no earthly husband,
especially as you say he is still in his sins, is going to have the
right to interfere." This may seem vague as the statement of a position,
but Laura found it immensely fortifying. That and similar arguments
built her up in her determination to take up what Colonel Markin called
her life-work again at the earliest opportunity. She had forfeited her
rank, that she accepted humbly as a proper punishment, ardently hoping
it would be found sufficient. She would go back as a private, take her
place in the ranks, and nothing in her married life should interfere
with the things that cried out to be done in Bentinck street. Somehow
she had less hope of securing Lindsay as a spiritual companion in arms
since she had confided the affair to Colonel Markin. As he said, they
must hope for the best, but he could not help admitting that he took a
gloomy view of Lindsay.

"Once he has secured you," the Colonel said, with an appreciative glance
at Laura's complexion, "what will he care about his soul? Nothing."

Their enthusiasm had ample opportunity to expand, their mutual bond to
strengthen, in the close confines of life on board ship, and as if to
seal it and sanctify it permanently, a conversion took place in the
second saloon, owning Laura's agency. It was the maid of the lady in the
cavalry regiment, a hardened heart, as two stewards and a bandmaster on
board could testify. When this occurred, the time that was to elapse
between Laura's marriage and her return to the ranks was shortened to
one week. "And quite long enough," Colonel Markin said, "considering how
much more we need you than your gentleman does, my dear sister."

It was plain to them all that Colonel Markin had very special views
about his dear sister. The other dear sisters looked on with pleasurable
interest, admitting the propriety of it, as Colonel Markin walked up and
down the deck with Laura, examining her lovely nature, "drawing her out"
on the subject of her faith and her assurance. It was natural, as he
told her, that in her peculiar situation she should have doubts and
difficulties. He urged her to lay bare her heart, and she laid it bare.
One evening--it was heavenly moonlight on the Indian Ocean, and they
were two days past Aden, on the long southeast run to Ceylon--she came
and stood before him with a small packet in her hand. She was all in
white, and more like an angel than Markin expected ever to see anything
in this world, though as to the next his anticipations may have been
extravagant.

"Now I wonder," said he, "where you are going to sit down?"

A youngster in the Police got up and pushed his chair forward, but Laura
shook her head.

"I am going out there," she said, pointing to the furthermost stern,
where passengers were not encouraged to sit, "and I want to consult
you."

Markin got up. "If there's anything pressin' on your mind," he said,
"you can't do better."

Laura said nothing until they were alone with the rushing of the screw,
two Lascars, some coils of rope, and a couple of brass compasses. Then
she opened the packet. "These," she said, "these are pressing on my
mind."

She held out a string of pearls, a necklace of pearls and turquoises, a
heavy band bracelet, studded, Delhi fashion, with gems, and one or two
lesser fantasies.

"Jewelry!" said Markin. "Real or imitation?"

"So far as that goes, they are good. Mr. Lindsay gave them to me. But
what have I to do with jewels, the very emblem of the folly of the
world, the desire that itches in palms that crucify Him afresh daily,
the price of sin?" She leaned against the masthead as she spoke. The
wind blew her hair and her skirt out toward the following seas. With
that look in her eyes she seemed a creature who had alighted on the ship
but who could not stay.

Colonel Markin held the pearls up in the moonlight.

"They must have cost something to buy," he said.

Laura was silent.

"And so they're a trouble to you. Have you taken them to the Lord in
prayer?"

"Oh, many times."

"Couldn't seem to hear any answer?"

"The only answer I could hear was, 'So long as you have them I will not
speak with you.'"

"That seems pretty plain and clear. And yet," said the Colonel, fondling
the turquoises, "nobody can say there's any harm in such things,
especially if you don't, wear them."

"Colonel, they are my great temptation. I don't know that I wouldn't
wear them. And when I wear them I can think of nothing sacred, nothing
holy. When they were given to me I used--I used to get up in the night
to look at them."

"Shall I lay it before the Almighty? That bracelet's got a remarkably
good clasp."

"Oh no--no! I must part with them. To-night I can do it, to-night----"

"There's nobody on this ship that will give you any price for them."

"I would not think of selling them. It would be sending them from my
hands to do harm to some other poor creature, weaker than I!"

"You can't return them to-night."

"I wouldn't return them. That would be the same as keeping them."

"Then what--oh, I see--" exclaimed Markin. "You want to give them to the
Army! Well, in my capacity, on behalf of General Booth----"

"No," cried Laura, with sudden excitement, "not that either. I will give
them to nobody. But this is what I will do!" She seized the bracelet and
flung it far out into the opaline track of the vessel, and the smaller
objects, before her companion could stop her, followed it. Then he
caught her wrist.

"Stop!" he cried. "You've gone off your head--you've got fever. You're
acting wicked with that jewelry. Stop and let us reason it out
together."

She already had the turquoises, and with a jerk of her left hand she
freed it and threw them after the rest. The necklace caught the handrail
as it fell, and Markin made a vain spring to save it. He turned and
stared at Laura, who stood fighting the greatest puissance of feeling
she had known, looking at the pearls. As he stared, she kissed them
twice, and then, leaning over the ship's side, let them slowly slide out
of her fingers and fall, into the waves below. The moonlight gave them a
divine gleam as they fell. She turned to Markin with tears in her eyes.
"Now," she faltered, "I can be happy again. But not to-night."



CHAPTER XXVIII.


While the _Coromandel_ was throbbing out her regulation number of knots
toward Colombo, October was passing over Bengal. It went with lethargy,
the rains were too close on its heels; but at the end of the long hot
days, when the resplendent sun struck down on the glossy trees and the
over-lush Maidan, there often stole through Calcutta a breath of the
coming respite of December. The blue smoke of the people's cooking fires
began to hang again in the streets, the pungent smell of it was pleasant
in the still air. The south wind turned back at the Sunder-bunds;
instead of it, one met around corners a sudden crispness that stayed
just long enough to be recognised and melted damply away. A week might
have two or three of such promises and foretastes.

Hilda Howe, approaching the end of her probation at the Baker
Institution, threw the dormitory window wide to them, went out to seek
them. They brought her a new stirring of vitality, something deep within
her leaped up responding to the voucher the evenings brought that
presently they would bring something new and different. She vibrated to
an irrepressible pulse of accord with that: it made her hand strong and
her brain clear for the unimportant matters that remained within the
scope of the monotonous moment. Her spirits gained an enviable
lightness, she began again to see beautiful, touching things in the life
that carried her on with it. She explained to Stephen Arnold that she
was immensely happy at having passed the last of her nursing
examinations.

"I hardly dare ask you," he said, "what you are going to do now."

He looked furtive and anxious; she saw that he did.

"I hardly dare ask myself," she answered, and was immediately conscious
that for the first time in the history of their relations she had spoken
to him that which was expedient.

"I hope the Sisters are not trying to influence you," he said firmly.

"Fancy!" she cried irrelevantly. "I heard the other day that Sister Ann
Frances had described me as the pride of the Baker Institution!" She
laughed with delight at the humour of it, and he smiled too. When she
laughed he seemed nearly always now to have confidence enough to smile
too.

"You might ask for another six months."

"Heavens, no! No--I shall make up my mind."

"Then you may go away," Arnold said. They were standing at the crossing
of the wide red road from which they would go in different directions.
She saw that the question was momentous to him. She also saw how
curiously the sun sallowed him and how many more hollows he had in his
face than most people. She had a pathetic impression of the figure he
made, in his dusty gown and shoes. "God's wayfarer," she murmured.

"Come too," she said aloud. "Come and be a Clarke Brother where the
climatic conditions suit you better. The world wants Clarke Brothers
everywhere."

He looked at her and tried to smile, but his lips quivered. He opened
them in an effort to speak, gave it up, and turned away silently,
lifting his hat. Hilda watched him for an instant as he went. His figure
took strange proportions through the tears in her eyes, and she
marvelled at the lightness with which she had touched, had almost
revealed, her heart's desire.



CHAPTER XXIX.


"I knew it would happen in the end," Hilda said, "and it has happened.
The Archdeacon has asked me to tea."

She was speaking to Alicia Livingstone in the dormitory, changing at the
same time for a "turn" at the hospital. It was six o'clock in the
afternoon. Alicia's landau stood at the door of the Baker Institution.
She had come to find that Miss Howe was just going on duty and could not
be taken for a drive.

"When?" asked Alicia, staring out of the window at the crows in a
tamarind tree.

"Last Saturday. He said he had promised some friends of his the pleasure
of meeting me. They had besieged him, he said, and they were his best
friends, on all his committees."

"Only ladies?" The crows, with a shriek of defiance at nothing in
particular, having flown away, Miss Livingstone transferred her
attention.

"Bless me, yes. What Archdeacon has dear men friends! And _lesquelles
pense-tu, mon Dieu!_"

"_Lesquelles?_"

"Mrs. Jack Forrester, Mrs. Fitz--what you may call him up on the
frontier, the Brigadier gentleman--Lady Dolly!"

"You were well chaperoned."

"And--my dear--he didn't ask a single Sister!" Hilda turned upon her a
face which appeared still to glow with the stimulus of the Archdiaconal
function. "And--it was wicked considering the occasion--I dropped the
character. I let myself out!"

"You didn't shock the Archdeacon?"

"Not in the least. But, my dear love, did you ever permit yourself the
reflection that the Venerable Gambell is a bachelor?"

"Hilda, you shall not! We all love him--you shall not lead him astray!"

"You would not think of--the altar--?"

Miss Livingstone's pale small smile fell like a snow-flake upon Hilda's
mood and was swallowed up. "You are very preposterous," she said. "Go
on. You always amuse one." Then as if Hilda's going on were precisely
the thing she could not quite endure, she said quickly, "The
_Coromandel_ is telegraphed from Colombo to-day."

"Ah!", said Hilda.

"He leaves for Madras to-morrow. The thing is to take place there, you
know."

"Then nothing but shipwreck can save him."

"Nothing but--what a horrible idea! Don't you think they may be happy? I
really think they may."

"There is not one of the elements that give people, when they commit the
paramount stupidity of marrying, reason to hope that they may not be
miserable. Not one. If he were a strong man I should pity him less. But
he's not. He's immensely dependent on his tastes, his friends, his
circumstances."

Alicia looked at Hilda; her glance betrayed an attention caught upon an
accidental phrase. She did not repeat it, she turned it over in her
mind.

"You are thinking," Hilda said accusingly. "What are you thinking
about?"

"Oh, nothing. I saw Stephen yesterday, I thought him looking rather
wretched."

A shadow of grave consideration winged itself across Hilda's eyes.

"He works so much too hard," she said. "It is an appalling waste. But he
will offer himself up."

Alicia looked unsatisfied. "He brought Mr. Lappe to tea," Miss Howe
said.

The shadow went. "Should you think Brother Lappe," she demanded,
"specially fitted for the cure of souls? Never, never, could I allow the
process of my regeneration to come through Brother Lappe. He has such a
little nose, and such wide pink cheeks, and such fat, sloping shoulders.
Dear succulent Brother Lappe!"

A Sister passed through the dormitory on a visit of inspection. Alicia
bowed sweetly and the Sister inclined herself briefly with a cloistered
smile. As she disappeared, Hilda threw a black skirt over her head,
making a veil of it flowing backward, and rendered the visit, the
noiseless measured, step, the little deprecating movements of inquiry,
the benevolent recognition of a visitor from a world where people
carried parasols and wore spotted muslins. She even effaced herself at
the door on the track of the other to make it perfect, and came tack in
the happy expansion of an artistic effort to find Alicia's regard
penetrated with the light of a new conviction.

"Hilda," she said, "I should like to know what this last year has really
been to you."

"It has been very valuable," Miss Howe replied. Then she turned quickly
away to hang up the black petticoat, and stood like that, shaking out
its folds, so that Alicia might not see anything curious in her face as
she heard her own words and understood what they meant.

A probationer came rapidly along the dormitory to where Hilda stood. She
had the olive cheeks and the liquid eyes of the country; her lips were
parted in a smile.

"Miss Howe," she said in the quick, clicking syllables of her race,
"Sister Margaret wishes you to come immediately to the surgical ward. A
case has come in, and Miss Gonsalvez is there, but Sister Margaret will
not be bothered with Miss Gonsalvez. She says you are due by right in
five minutes"--the messenger's smile broadened irresponsibly, and she
put a fondling touch upon Hilda's apron string--"so will you please to
make haste?"

"What's the case?" asked Hilda, "I hope it isn't another ship's-hold
accident." But Alicia, a shade paler than before, put up her hand. "Wait
till I'm gone," she said, and went quickly. The girl had opened her
lips, however, but to say that she didn't know, she had only been seized
to take the message, though it must be something serious, since they had
sent for both the resident surgeons.



CHAPTER XXX.


Doctor Livingstone's concern was personal, that was plain in the way he
stood looking at the floor of the corridor with his hands in his
pockets, before Hilda reached him. Regret was written all over the lines
of his pausing figure, with the compressed irritation which saved that
feeling, in the Englishman's way, from being too obvious.

"This is a bad business, Miss Howe."

"I've just come over--I haven't heard. Who is it?"

"It's my cousin, poor chap--Arnold, the padre. He's been badly knifed in
the bazaar."

The news passed over her and left her looking with a curious face at
chance. It was lifted a little, with composed lips, and eyes which
refused to be taken by surprise. There was inquiry in them, also a
defence, a retreat. Chance looking back saw an invincible silent
readiness and a pallor which might be that of any woman. But the doctor
was also looking, so she said, "That is very sad," and moved near enough
to the wall to put her hand against it. She was not faint, but the wall
was a fact on which one could, for the moment, rely.

"They've got the man--one of those Cabuli moneylenders. The police had
no trouble with him. He said it was the order of Allah--the brute. Stray
case of fanaticism, I suppose. It seems Arnold was walking along as
usual, without a notion, and the fellow sprang on him and in two seconds
the thing was done. Hadn't a chance, poor beggar."

"Where is it?"

"Root of the left lung. About five inches deep. The artery pretty well
cut through, I fancy."

"Then----"

"Oh no--we can't do anything. The hæmorrhage must be tremendous. But he
may live through the night. Are you going to Sister Margaret?"

His nod took it for granted and he went on. Hilda walked slowly forward,
her head bent, with absorbed, uncertain steps. A bar of evening sunlight
came before her, she looked up and stepped outside the open door. She
was handling this thing that had happened, taking possession of it. It
lay in her mind in the midst of a suddenly stricken and tenderly
saddened consciousness. It lay there passively; it did not rise and
grapple with her, it was a thing that had happened--in Bura Bazaar. The
pity of it assailed her. Tears came into her eyes, and an infinite
grieved solicitude gathered about her heart. "So?" she said to herself,
thinking that he was young and loved his work, and that now his hand
would be stayed from the use it had found. One of the ugly outrages of
life, leaving nothing on the mouth but that brief acceptance. It came to
her with a note of the profound and of the supreme. "So," she said, and
pressed her lips till they stopped trembling, and went into the
hospital.

She asked a question or two, in search of Sister Margaret and the new
case. It was "located," an assistant surgeon told her, in Private Ward
Number 2. She went more and more slowly toward Private Ward Number 2.

The door was open. She stood in it for an instant with eyes nerved to
receive the tragedy. The room seemed curiously empty of any such thing.
A door opposite was also open, with an arched verandah outside; the low
sun streamed through this upon the floor with its usual tranquillity.
Beyond the arches, netted to keep the crows away, it made pictures with
the tops of the trees. There was the small iron bed with the confused
outline under the bedclothes, very quiet, and the Sister--the
whitewashed wall rose sharp behind her black draperies--sitting with a
book in her hands. Some scraps of lint were on the floor beside the bed
and hardly anything else, except the silence, which had almost a
presence, and a faint smell of carbolic acid, and a certain feeling of
impotence and abandonment and waiting which seemed to be in the air.
Arnold moved on the pillow and saw her standing in the door. The bars of
the bed's foot were in the way. He tried to lift his head to surmount
the obstruction, and the Sister perceived her too.

"I think absolutely still was our order, wasn't it, Mr. Arnold?" she
said, with her little pink smile. "And I'm afraid Miss Howe isn't in
time to be of much use to us, is she?" It was the bedside pleasantry
that expected no reply, that indeed forbade one.

"I'm sorry," Hilda said. As she moved into the room she detached her
eyes from Arnold's, feeling as she did so that it was like tearing
something.

"There was so little to do," Sister Margaret said. "Surgeon-Major Wills
saw at once where the mischief lay. Nothing disagreeable was necessary,
was it, Mr. Arnold? Perfect quiet, perfect rest--that's an easy
prescription to take." She had rather prominent, very blue eyes, and an
aquiline nose and a small firm mouth, and her pink cheeks were beginning
to be a little pendulous with age. Hilda gazed at her silently, noting
about her authority and her flowing draperies something classical. Was
she like one of the Fates? She approached the bed to do something to the
pillow--Hilda had an impulse to push her away with the cry, "It is not
time yet--Atropos!"

"I must go now for an hour or so," the Sister went on. "That poor
creature in Number 6 needs me; they daren't give her any more morphia.
You don't need it--happy boy!" she said to Stephen, and at the look he
sent her for answer she turned rather quickly to the door. Dear Sister,
she was none of the Fates. She was obliged to give directions to Hilda,
standing in the door with her back turned. Happily for a deserved
reputation for self-command they were few. It was chief and absolute
that no one should be admitted. A bulletin had been put up at the
hospital door for the information of inquiries; later on, when the
doctor came again, there would be another.

She went away and they were left alone. The sun on the floor had
vanished; a yellowness stood in its place with a grey background, the
background gaining, coming on. Always his eyes were upon her, she had
given hers back to him and he seemed satisfied. She moved closer to the
bed and stood beside him. Since there was nothing to do there was
nothing to say. Stephen put out his hand and touched a fold of her
dress.

The room filled itself with something that had not been there before. In
obedience to it Hilda knelt down beside the bed and pressed her forehead
against the hand upon the covering, the hand that had so little more to
do. Then Arnold spoke.

"You dear woman!" he said. "You dear woman!"

She kept her head bowed like that and did not answer. It was his
happiest moment. One might say he had lived for this. Her tears fell
upon his hand, a kind of baptism for his heart. He spoke again.

"We must bear this," he panted. "It is--less cruel--than it seems. You
don't know how much it is for the best."

She lifted her wet face. "You mustn't talk," she faltered.

"What difference--" he did not finish the sentence. His words were too
few to waste. He paused and made another effort.

"If this had not happened I would have been--counted--among the
unfaithful," he said. "I know now. I would have abandoned--my post. And
gladly--without regret--for you."

"Ah!" Hilda cried with a vivid note of pain, "I am sorry! I am sorry!"

She gazed with a face of real tragedy at the form of her captive,
delivered to her in the bonds of death. A fresh pang visited her with
the thought that in the mystery of the ordering of things she might have
had to do with the forging of those shackles.

"My God is a jealous God," Arnold said. "He has delivered me--into His
own hands--for the honour of His name. I acknowledge--I am content."

"No, indeed no! It was a wicked, horrible chance! Don't charge your God
with it."

His smile was very sweet, but it paid the least possible attention. "You
did love me," he said. He spoke as if he were already dead.

"I did indeed," Hilda replied, and bent her shamed head upon her hands
again in the confession. It is not strange that he heard only the
affirmation in it.

He stroked her hair. "It is good to know that," he said, "very good. I
should have married you." He went on with sudden boldness and a new note
of strength in his voice. "Think of that! You would have been mine--to
protect and work for. We should have gone together to England--where I
could easily have got a curacy--easily."

Hilda looked-up. "Would you like to marry me now?" she asked eagerly,
but he shook his head. "You don't understand," he said. "It is the dear
sin God has turned my back upon."

Then it came to her that he had asked for no caress. He was going
unassoiled to his God, with the divine indifference of the dying. Only
his imagination looked backward and forward. And she thought, "It is a
little light flame that I have lit with my own taper that has gone out,
and presently the grave will extinguish that." She sat quiet and sombre
in the growing darkness and presently Arnold slept.

He slept through the bringing of a lamp, the arrival of flowers, subdued
knocks of inquirers who would not be stayed by the bulletin--the visit
of Surgeon-Major Wills, who felt his pulse without wakening him.
"Holding out wonderfully," the doctor said. "Don't rouse him for the
soup. He'll go out in about six hours without any pain. May not wake at
all."

The door opened again to admit the probationer come to relieve Miss
Howe. Hilda beckoned her into the corridor. "You can go back," she said;
"I will take your turn."

"But the Sister Superior--you know how particular about the rules--"

"Say nothing about it. Go to bed. I am not coming."

"Then, Miss Howe, I shall be obliged to report it."

"Report and be--report, if you like. There is nothing for you to do here
to-night," and Hilda softly closed the door. There was a whispered
expostulation when Sister Margaret came back, but Miss Howe said, "It is
arranged," and with a little silent nod of appreciation the Sister
settled into her chair, her finger marking a place in her Church
Service. Hilda sat nearer to the bed, her elbow on the table, shading
her eyes from the lamp, and watched.

"Is it not odd?" whispered Sister Margaret, as the night wore on. "He
has refused to be confessed before he goes. He will not see the Brother
Superior--or any of them. Strange, is it not?"

Together they watched the quick, short breathing. It seemed strangely
impossible to sleep against such odds. They saw the lines of the face
grow sharper and whiter, the dark eye-sockets sink to a curious
roundness, a greyness gather about the mouth. There were times when they
looked at each other in the last surmise. Yet the feeble pulse
persisted--persisted.

"I believe now," said Sister Margaret, "that he may go on like this
until the morning. I am going to take half an hour's nap. Rouse me at
once if he wakes," and she took an attitude of casual repose, turning
the prayer-book open on her knee for readier use, open at "Prayers for
the Dying."

The jackals had wailed themselves out, and there was a long, dark period
when nothing but the sudden cry of a night bird in the hospital garden
came between Hilda and the very vivid perception she had at that hour of
the value and significance of the earthly lot. She lifted her head and
listened to that; it seemed a comment. Then a harsh quarrelling of
dogs--Christian dogs--arose in the distance and died away, and again
there was night and silence. Suddenly the long singing drone of a
steamer's signal came across the city from the river, once, twice,
thrice; and presently the sparrows began their twittering in the bushes
near the verandah, an unexpected unanimous bird talk that died as
suddenly and as irrelevantly away. A conservancy cart lumbered past,
creaking, the far shrill whistle of an awakening factory cut the air
from Howrah, the first solitary foot smote through the dawn upon the
nearest pavement. The light showed grey beyond the scanty curtains. A
noise of something being moved reverberated in the hospital below, and
Arnold opened his eyes. They made him in a manner himself again, and he
fixed them upon Hilda as if they could never alter. She leaned nearer
him and made a sign of inquiry toward the sleeping Sister, with the
farewells, the commendations of poor mortality speeding itself forth,
lying upon her lap. Arnold comprehended, and she was amazed to see the
mask of his face change itself with a faint smile as he shook his head.
He made a little movement; she saw what he wanted and took his hand in
hers. The smile was still in his eyes as he looked at her and then at
the cheated Sister.

So in the end he trusted the new wings of his mortal love to bear his
soul to its immortality. They carried their burden buoyantly, it was
such a little way. The lamp was still holding its own against the
paleness from the windows when the meaning finally went out of his clasp
of Hilda's hand, without a struggle to stay, and she saw that in an
instant when she was not looking he had closed his eyes, upon the world.
She sat on beside him for a long time after that, watching tenderly, and
would not withdraw her hand--it seemed an abandonment.

       *       *       *       *       *

Three hours later Miss Howe, passing out of the hospital gate, was
overtaken by Duff Lindsay, riding, with a look of singular animation and
vigour. He flung himself off his horse to speak to her, and as he
approached he drew from his inner coat-pocket the brown envelope of a
telegram.

"Good-morning," he said. "You do look fagged. I have a--curious--piece
of news."

"Alicia told me that you were starting early this morning for Madras!"

"I should have been but for this."

"Read it to me," Hilda said, "I'm tired."

"Oh, do you very much mind? I would rather----"

She took the missive; it was dated the day before, Colombo, and read:

     "Do not expect me. Was married this morning to Colonel Markin. S.
     A. We may not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. Glory
     be to God.

     "Laura Markin."

She raised her eyes to his with the gravest, saddest irony.

"Then you--you also are delivered," she said. But he said, "What?"
without special heed; and I doubt whether he ever took the trouble to
understand.

"One hopes he isn't a brute," Lindsay went on with most impersonal
solicitude, "and can support her. I suppose there isn't any way one
could do anything for her. I heard a story only yesterday about a girl
changing her mind on the way out. By Jove, I didn't suppose it would
happen to me!"

"If you are hurt anywhere," Hilda said, absently, "it is only your
vanity, I fancy."

"Ah, my vanity is very sore." He paused for an instant, wondering to
find so little expansion in her. "I came to ask after Arnold," he said.
"How is he?"

"He is dead. He died at half-past five this morning."

She left him with even less than her usual circumstance, and turned in
at the gate of the Baker Institution. It happened to be the last day of
her probation.

       *       *       *       *       *

There has never been any difficulty in explaining Lindsay's marriage
with Alicia Livingstone even to himself. The reasons for it, indeed,
were so many and so obvious that he wondered often why they had not
struck him before. But it is worth noting, perhaps, that the immediate
precipitating cause arose in one evening service at the Cathedral, where
it had its birth in the very individual charm of the nape of Alicia's
neck, as she knelt upon her hassock in the fitting and graceful act of
the responses. His instincts in these matters seem to have had a
generous range, considering the tenets he was born to, but it was to him
then a delightful reflection, often since repeated, that in the
sheltered garden of delicate perfumes where this sweet person took her
spiritual pleasure there was no rank vegetation.

It is much to Miss Hilda Howe's credit that amid the overwhelming
distractions of her most successful London season she never quite
abandons these two to the social joys that circle round the Ochterlony
Monument and the arid scenic consolations of the Maidan. Her own
experience there is one of the things, I fancy, that make her fond of
saying that the stage is the merest cardboard presentation, and that one
day she means to leave it, to coax back to her bosom the life which is
her heritage in the wider, simpler ways of the world. She never mentions
that experience more directly or less ardently. But I fear the promise I
have quoted is one that she makes too often.





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