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´╗┐Title: The Path of a Star
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 "The Path of a Star" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



THE PATH OF A STAR


By Mrs. Everard Cotes

(AKA Sara Jeannette Duncan)


1899



CHAPTER I


She pushed the portiere 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 feeling 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 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 feet high, and thick
with the gilded landscape of Japan, which stood near it, in the cheap
magnificence of the 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 a 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 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.

"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 Bazar?"

There came a light crunch of wheels on the red soorkee 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 portiere, 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 the
difference in 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 mediaeval 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 portiere 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 millionth and first 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
light comedy, or the latest thing in rainbow chiffon done on mirrors
with a thousand candlepower. 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 cried 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 anyway 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 state, 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 whisky 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 banisters.

"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 banisters, 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 banisters, 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 satisfactions 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 up to 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? Daresay 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--goodbye."

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 a 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 rendering of her servants' tongue,
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 rearranged 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 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 were still attracted by the light from the window. It
silhouetted a rare fern from Assam which 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 the custom. 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."

"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--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 lightest 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 anyone should
be walking there, to begin with, anyone, 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 seaman 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. 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 Mood," 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
our 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 sign-board 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 intelligences 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 forever 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 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 aesthetic 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 aesthetic
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 aeons 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 Kristo 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 streetlights
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 vigorous; 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 had a mother before
whose name, while she lived, 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 shoulders, fingering a
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 forwards 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 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 she wore above them a short close
bodice like a Bengali woman. 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 heveryone 'ere this night, heveryone, that the Saviour is
mighty to keep. I 'ave 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' hevery 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' 'is 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 mothers 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 insistent 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
anyone 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 Christheart,
"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 the last
ten minutes' 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 fingered an old felt
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 mantelpiece--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
Celine at her--with such a foundation to work upon what could Celine
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 bazar 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."

"Pysychology 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 wineglasses. "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 wineglass 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 go there."

"Do you think she is going?" 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 for ever. 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 had 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 byways where one finds the colour of the
sun. The successful London actress, my dear--what existence 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 for ever 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 even in the profession--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 women 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--" and 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 mike 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 glace. "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
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 hepatic 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, from her hair or her 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 very far from insistent; but Alicia's crude
blush--everything else about her was so 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 I'll pretend it belongs to me." 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 portiere.

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 bow, 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 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 sign
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'Opera.

"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. Goodbye,
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 portiere.

"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 stayed, 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 less conventional 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 look-out for 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 anyone 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 farthest 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 unspeakable 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? 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, 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, 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 like 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 bazar. 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 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 the
well-known passage with Pilate, about which the newspapers absurdly
reported later that if Miss Howe had not been a Protestant, and so
impervious the Pope 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 yawped 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 Caesar, 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 whenever 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 rebelled against 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 shock of the woman's earthly passion with its
divine object 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 lay
bound and delivered, 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 of the playwright--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--"

"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 mast-head 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 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 farthest back and 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 his kneeling Laura, 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 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. Lindsay 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"* lived. There were three
tamasho-mems, he continued, responding to Lindsay'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
storey. 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 farther, but lifted up his voice in the Indian
way to summon a servant, "Qui hai?"# he called, "Qui hai?"


     * Festival-making women.

     # "Whoever is there?"


He heard somewhere within the noise of a chair pushed back, and a door
farther 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 cheap little 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 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 eyes could
permanently rest, "where, if you remember, Ensigns are the smallest
officer we have."

"The commission is, I think, abolished," replied Lindsay, governing 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 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 Mrs. 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 humorous. 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 cheap little 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 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
tram-car held on its course in conscious invincibility. A pariah tore
along beside the vehicle barking; crows flew up from the rubbish heaps
in the road by half-dozens, protesting shrilly; a pedlar of blue bead
necklaces just escaped being knocked down. Little groups of native
clerks and money-lenders 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 farther 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 crash 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 bazar, 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 vague possibility of
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.

"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 was held in a frightened silence.
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 explained. 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
suede 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, golden-tongued Kali, half
visible through the door of a mud hut--where all the dealers in brass
dishes and glass armlets 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 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 Number Three, 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 whisky 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 whisky! 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 on 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. 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 out-sitting 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'm 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 looked with careful criticism at the violets in his
buttonhole.

"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 Heaven'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 out 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
Celine 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 defence was curtailed by a heavy step in
the hall, and the lifted portiere 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
perturbation 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 messenger from the Livingstones' pillared palace in
Middleton Street to Number Three, Lal 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 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 anyone
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
continued; "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 about 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 slippers 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! We must contrive an escape 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
bathroom 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 to Miss Livingstone,
"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 one hundred
and seven. 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 Satan's
tribute--"

"Divinest Laura!" Hilda interposed quickly, 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 reference 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 that was the effect.

"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 elite 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 bells stop. '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 wouldn't 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, "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!' Goodbye."

She drew her head-covering farther 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 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 Number Ten, 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 Whiteaway 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 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 lips.

"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 daresay."

"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 perception 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 toil
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 specially intolerable sort.


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


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.

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 out, 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 on 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 your
particular 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, dear creature, you are
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 daresay 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 unreflectingly. 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 police
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 "Goodnight," 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, 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 storey 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 notebook; 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
lighthearted, so genial, 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 mem sahibs 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* was now receiving the same, and defenceless.


     * 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 po-lish in Glesca, and your name is
Macphairson--isn't it?"

"I was never in Glasgow 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'll 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 humorously 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 two 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 promised 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
policeman 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 edges of files 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 languor 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 invitation 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 plenitude 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 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 daresay," 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 threw out his hand. "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 toilets 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 Stace 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 daresay 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* missed
again, by thunder!... paid to converse with itinerant females... seven
columns... infernal idiocy...."


     * Country post.


Hilda descended in safety and at leisure, reflecting with 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 it 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 to 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 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 it left her time to think of a grievance, the attraction
of her personal lines, 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 plane--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 woman kind with
vastly interesting possibilities should be so essentially subjected.
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 anyone 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 byways--her sphere's--full of spangles and
limelight, 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 teapot, 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 baptized 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
teacup, 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 end 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 baptize 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
miasma 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 matinee.

"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 Cassidy. 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 small limits, were noble--she was the keenest, loyalest little
person; her admirations rather made a fool of her. When I look at the
woman 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, in
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 she always did, in spite of the unusual
look of consciousness in her eyes. She continued to hold the ten
rupees carefully and separately, as if she would later examine them in
diagnosing her pain. It was keener and profounder than any humiliation,
the new voice, crying out, of a trampled tenderness. She stood and
looked after him for a moment with startled eyes and her hand, in a
familiar gesture of her profession, upon her heart. 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 irritation 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 that 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 put the question. 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 for ever
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 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
readdressed 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
well-being 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 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, 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 petrification, she was almost disposed 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 pinions 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 hers 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--it has long been evident that he found her persuadable--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 eventually after one of these parties that Surgeon-Major
Livingstone, pressing upon his departing guest in the hall the usual
whisky 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 or five days past, and while the world went round the pivotal
staircase, as Dr. Livingstone gave him an elbows 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 evening 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 farther
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
enteric 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, 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 tiptoe, 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 astonishment, but the sense that was strongest
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, farther 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 ebony 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 forgot. 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 Number Ten, 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 habituated 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."

"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 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 impulse, 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 urge 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 towards 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
simple, honester 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 what he sometimes thought of wine
and death and roses.

"I would go farther," 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. Her thought turned inward absently; it embraced with
sweet irony, a picture of poverty, chastity, obedience. As if she knew
her betrayal already complete, "I wish I had such a chance," she said.

"You wish you had such a chance!"

"I didn't mean to tell you--you have enough to do to work out your own
problem; but--"

She seemed to find a joy in hesitating, to keep back the words as a
miser might keep back gold. She let her secret escape through her eyes
instead. She was deliberately radiant and silent. 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. Halfway 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 finally 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 afterwards? 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 afterwards 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. 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 doorkeeper yawned and
stretched himself before an open door, and a sweeper made a cloud of
dust beneath a commercial verandah. The first hoarding 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 posters 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.

The life of the market, the bazar, was all awake and moving. They
rolled up through 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 contributive 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. Farther 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 out 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 protection, 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, 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-pots 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
tradition, and a 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 fragrance 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 argument--which is like saying all
the arms--and the most accurate understanding; but the only practical
outcome of these things had been an intimate 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 as 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, breasting the glow and
the colour and the 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 scene
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 full
of colour, 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; she 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
her paradox 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 is 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 Number Ten, 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 underfoot. The
cloudy yellow twilight disclosed that a man a 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 wistfulness 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 Celine, who felt the romance
of the situation, made herself marvellously clever. Celine, 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 Celine, how grateful she ought to
be that her spiritual paths for the future would be paths of such
pleasantness, though Celine 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 tea, 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
bird's, and her arms, in their unaccustomed sleeves, hung straight
at her sides. She had put on the 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 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 over-ruling 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 reflected
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 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. There was also a
civilian who had written a few years before an article in the Nineteenth
Century about the aboriginal tribes of the Central Provinces, 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 A.D.C. 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 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, 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 A.D.C. was also
empresse, one would have thought that he himself was acting, 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 afterwards 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 oddly stimulated 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 a tendency to remain
seated. The A.D.C. 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
Barberry's glistening brougham whisking them off, and then the battered
vehicle in Hilda's hire. It had an air of ludicrous forlornness, 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 dogcart, 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 cloakroom. 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 hairpin--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
ballroom--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
women, men in civilian black and men in uniform, up and down the
pillared spaces of the ballroom. 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 towards 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 shoulders 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 had a great name 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 towards the secretaries' wives
settled upon them, from 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
afterwards 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 gross."

"I daresay, my dear. You didn't come out of a cab, and you never are. I
like being gross, 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."

"Why should you 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 deplorable--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 he must 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 teapot,
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. 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 Offence 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 bazar 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 Lindsay,
"brought you a letter, I know." It was extraordinary how detached she
could be from her vital personal concern in him. It seemed relegated
to some background of her nature while she occupied herself with the
immediate play of circumstance 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 third; 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
third,'--you see it was the third,--'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 those 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. "I think it's
rather--nice."

"And her impressions of the Simpsons--and Plymouth?"

"She goes on to that." He reconsulted 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, 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 with a difference, 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 that was so
whimsical, and the mystery of her secret which was so solely hers.
Alicia knew, of course; but that was 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; 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 of her own among its features if she could
help it. It was a trick she played upon her 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
matinee, 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. When the time arrived she sat under the blue umbrellas
devising 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. She 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 Father 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 hired scribe of the
bazar:--


"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 pigtail 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 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 reaped at actual personation of
the Chinaman, 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 bazar--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 mediaeval 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. Cassidy." Arnold had never
ignored the name 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 adding 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
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 of one particular 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 footstool
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 unmoved definitely enough, yet some vibration
in it reached 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 hands,
pressed one on each side of him to the seat of the sofa for support, and
he looked in fixed silence at hers, upon 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 childlike
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--" 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
floodgate 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 thrilled 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 towards
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 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 chose 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
good from 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 the 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 endowed with the courage to face this problem,
and his head, as it rose in the twilight against the window, was grave
and calm. Without a word a great tenderness of understanding 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. It was a frail adventure upon a gaze,
but it carried them infinitely far. The moment died away, neither of
them could have measured it, and when it had finally ebbed--they were
conscious of every subsiding throb--the silence remained, like a margin
for the beauty of it. They sat immovable, while the light faded. 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 unforgiveable sin, she could explain it, and
obtain justification rather than pardon. Her horizon had narrowed, she
sought now only that it should enfold them both. She begged that
he would wipe out her insanity, that he would not send her away. He
listened and melted to conviction.

"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 bazar
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 altarpiece 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 bazar. 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 vigorous 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, 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 aesthetic 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
naivete, 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, 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 had 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
Offence of Galilee. I don't wonder that you do not wish to disturb that
impression."

Stephen fixed his eyes upon a small pyramid of crystallised 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 fifteenth. 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-Lieut.-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 got's 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,
things highly appreciative of bodices, the role 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 love 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 disdained 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 by and
by, 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 the 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 than 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 simplicity 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 accentuated the
swell of her bosom. It was a vivid, a staccato attitude; it expressed
a temperament, a character, fifty other things; but especially it
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 to keep its current and direction through
the floating debris 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 cliche
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 movement 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 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 teakwood 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 women 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 downstairs. "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
the promise of success. "Don't say that," 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 fiancee. 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 felicitously 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, however, in the
unconscious apprehension of some revelation of improvement. She was
quite unaware of it, but she entertained towards 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
bazar 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 Gazelle, was a judge. He said it to Hagge, of the Bank of
Hindostan, 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
Musquito, 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 Musquito has been seen jumping by
moonlight"--the sort of 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 Musquito 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 dogcarts 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 others 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 pate, 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 of 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. Stahhope, 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 plainly 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. 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 trespass 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 towards 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, and then another, and people
began to filter, in slow embarrassment, towards the door. Lindsay came
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 vehicles 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 all, 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 has 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 lace 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 Light 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 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 a 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 Mother 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
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 anaemic
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 Mother
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 Mother 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 obviously 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 Mother 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 Mother Superior remarked cautiously that she hoped Miss Howe would
develop one for making bandages, otherwise--And there for the time being
the matter rested.

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,
not 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 Ten, 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 under-study 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 vigorous 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 light
blue muslin 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 comforts of life--don't you miss them?"

"I never had them, my dear--I never had them. Life has never given
me very many luxuries--I don't miss them. An occasional hour to one's
self--and that we get even at the Institution. The conventions 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 lifelong 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 bottle;
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 fortuneteller 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 Mother
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,
when she and Sister Ann Frances were asked to eat ices on the same terms
as 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 lot,
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 Mother Superior--he would go all the way. It was late in
May and late in the afternoon; all the treetops 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 toward 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.

"But 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 Mother Superior afterwards
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. Ones 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 inevitable strains of the Salvation Army rising aft. Laura
immediately cried, "I shall have friends among the passengers," and Mrs.
Simpson so far 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 the
gravest matters; and persons unprepared to give satisfaction upon this
point--one fears there are some 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 inspire
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 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 towards 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 afterwards, and
pleased," he took 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 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 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
porthole 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 insuperable 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 towards
your gentleman, towards 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 strengthen, their mutual
satisfactions to expand, in the close confines of life on board ship,
and as if to seal and sanctify the voyage 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 south-east 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 farthermost 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 the hand-steering gear. 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, one or two lesser
fantasies.

"Jewellery!" 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 know no good works, 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 jewellery. 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
towards 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 Sunderbunds; instead
of it, one met round 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 gave 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. There had come upon her a stimulating
assurance that it would be only a moment--now. She did not consider
this, she could hardly be said to be intelligently aware of it, but
it underlay all that she said and did. 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, and the perception
irritated her. She had to tell herself that she had given him the right
to look in any way he pleased--indeed yes.

"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 had nearly always now 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 coarse gown and shoes. "God's wayfarer," she murmured. There
was pity in her mind, infinite pity. Her thought had no other tinge. It
was a curiously simple feeling, and seemed to bring her an inconsistent
lightness of heart.

"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 that sprang to her eyes,
and she marvelled at the gaiety 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 archidiaconal
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 snowflake 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. "The paramount stupidity." She did not repeat it
aloud, 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. She had hoped for something that would throw
more light upon the paramount stupidity. "He brought Mr. Lappe to tea,"
she said.

The shadow went. "Should you think Brother Lappe," Miss Howe 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 back
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. Very valuable!
She did understand, suddenly, completely. Very valuable! A year of the
oddest experiences, a pictorial year, which she would look back upon,
with its core in a dusty priest....

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


Dr. 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 bazar."

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. 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 money-lenders. 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 haemorrhage 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 Burra Bazar.
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 hers with a note of the profound and of the supreme. She turned
resolutely from searching her heart for any wild despair. She would
not for an instant consider what she ought to feel. "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 Two. She went more and more slowly toward Private Ward Number
Two.

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 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 Six 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,
his impotent love. 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 a regret--for you."

"Ah!" Hilda cried, with a vivid note of pain. "Would you? I am sorry for
that! 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--the price of the year that
had been very valuable.

"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--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 Mother 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 the 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. Suddenly, then, a harsh
quarrelling of dogs--Christian dogs--arose in the distance and died
away, and again there was night and silence. Night for hours. Time for
reflection, alone with death and the lamp, upon the year that had
been very valuable. "I would have married you," she whispered. "Yes,
I would." Later her lips moved again. "I would have taken the
consequence;" and again, "I would have paid any penalty." There he lay,
a burden that she would never bear, a burden that would be gone in the
morning. There were moments when she cried out on Fate for doing her
this kindness.

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 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 charge 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. "I would have married you," she whispered
passionately as if that could stay him. "Yes, I would."

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 her reference to their joint indebtedness.

"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 earlier. 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 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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