It began to look as if Calcutta were not wholly irredeemable. A ticca-gharry deposited a sea captain; three carriages arrived in succession; an indefinite number of the Duke's Own, hardly any of them drunk, filed in to the rupee seats under the gallery; an overflow from Jimmy Finnigan, who could no longer give his patrons even standing room. When this occurred, Llewellyn turned and swung indifferently away in the direction of the dressing-rooms. When Jimmy Finnigan closed his doors so early there was no further cause for anxiety. Calcutta was abroad and stirring, and would turn for amusement even to The Offence of Galilee.
Eventually—that is, five minutes before the curtain rose—the representatives of the leading Calcutta journals decided that they were justified in describing the house as a large and fashionable audience. The Viceroy had taken a box and sent an Aide-de-Camp to sit in it, also a pair of M.P.s from the North of England, whom he was expected to attend to in Calcutta, and the governess. The Commander-in-Chief had not been solicited to be present, the theatrical season demanding an economy in such personalities if they were to go round; but a Judge of the High Court had a party in the front row, and a Secretary to the Bengal Government sat behind him. To speak of unofficials, there must have been quite forty lakhs of tea and jute and indigo in the house, very genial and prosperous, to say nothing of hides and seeds, and the men who sold money and bought diamonds with the profits, which shone in their wives' hair. A duskiness prevailed in the bare arms and shoulders; much of the hair was shining and abundant, and very black. A turn of the head showed a lean Greek profile, an outline bulbous and Armenian, the smooth creamy mask of a Jewess, while here and there glimmered something more opulent and inviting still, which proclaimed, if it did not confess, the remote motherhood of the zenana and the origin of the sun. An audience of fluttering fans and wrinkled shirt collars—the evening was warm under the gas-lights—sensuous, indolent, already amused with itself. Not an old woman in it from end to end, hardly a man turned fifty, and those who were had the air and looked to have the habits of twenty-five—an audience that might have got up and stretched itself but for good manners, and walked out in childish boredom at having to wait for the rise of the curtain, but sat on instead, diffusing an atmosphere of affluence and delicate scents, and suggesting, with imperious chins, the use of quick orders in a world of personal superiority.
Thus the stalls—they were spindling cane-bottomed chairs—and the boxes, in one of which the same spindling cane-bottomed chairs supported, in more expensive seclusion, Surgeon-Major and Miss Livingstone, the Reverend Stephen Arnold, and two or three other people. The Duke's Own sat under the gallery, cheek by jowl with all the flotsam and jetsam of an Eastern port, well on the lookout for any offensive personalities from the men of the ships, and spitting freely. Here, too, was an ease of shoulder and a freedom from the cares of life—at a venture the wives were taking in washing in Brixton, and the children sent to Board School at the expense of the nation. And in a climate like this it was a popular opinion that a man must either enjoy himself or commit suicide.
The Sphinx on the crooked curtain looked above and beyond them all. It was a caricature of the Sphinx, but could not confine her gaze.
Hilda's audience that night knew all about The Offence of Galilee from the English illustrated papers. The illustrated papers had a great way of ministering to the complacency of Calcutta audiences; they contained photographs of almost every striking scene, composed at the leisure of the cast, but so vividly supplemented with descriptions of the leading lady's clothes that it hardly required any effort of the imagination to conjure up the rest. The postures and the chief garments of Pilate—he was eating pomegranates when the curtain rose and listening to scandal from his slave maidens about Mary Magdalene—were at once recognised in their resemblance to those of the photographs, and in the thrill of this satisfaction any discrepancies in cut and texture passed generally unobserved. A silent curiosity settled upon the house, half reverent, as if with the Bible names came thronging a troop of sacred associations to cluster about personalities brusquely torn out of church, and people listened for familiar sentences with something like the composed gravity with which they heard on Sundays the reading of the second lesson. But as the stage-talk went on, the slave-maidens announcing themselves without delay comfortably modern and commonplace, and Pilate a cynic and a decadent, though as distinctively from Melbourne, it was possible to note the breaking up of this sentiment. It was plain, after all, that no standard of ideality was to be maintained or struggled after. The relief was palpable; nevertheless, when Pilate's wife cast a shrewish gibe at him over the shoulder of her exit, the audience showed but a faint inclination to be amused. It was to be a play evidently like any other play, the same coarse fibre, the same vivid and vulgar appeals. It is doubtful whether this idea was critically present to any one but Stephen Arnold, but people unconsciously tasted the dramatic substance offered them, and leaned back in their chairs with the usual patient acknowledgment that one mustn't expect too much of a company that found it worth while to come to Calcutta. The house grew submissive and stolid, but one could see half-awakened prejudices sitting in the dress-circle. The paper-chasing Secretary said to the most intelligent of his party that on the whole he liked his theology neat, forgetting that the preference belonged to Mr. Andrew Lang in connection with a notable lady novelist; and the most intelligent—it was Mrs. Barberry—replied that it did seem strange. The depths under the gallery were critically attentive, though Llewellyn Stanhope felt them hostile and longing for verbal brick-bats; and the Reverend Mr. Arnold shrank into the furthest corner of Surgeon-Major Livingstone's box, and knew all the misery of outrage. Pilate and the slave-maidens, Pilate's fat wife and an unspeakably comic centurion, offered as yet hardly more than a prelude, but the monstrosity of the whole performance was already projected upon Arnold's suffering imagination. This, then, was what Patullo had done with it. But what other, he asked himself in quiet anger, could Patullo have been expected to do—the fellow he remembered? Arnold tilted his chair back and stared, with arms folded and sombre brows, at the opposite wall. He looked once at the door, but some spirit of self-torture kept him in his seat. If so much offence could be made with the mere crust and envelope, so to speak, of the sacred story, what sacrilege might not be committed with the divine personalities concerned—with Our Lord and His Mother? He remembered, with the touch of almost physical nausea that assailed him when he saw them, one or two pictures in recent Paris exhibitions where the coveted accent of surprise had been produced by representing the sacred figure in the trivial monde of the boulevards, and fixed upon them as the source of Patullo's intolerable inspiration. Certain muscles felt responsive at the thought of Patullo which Arnold had forgotten he possessed; it was so seldom that a missionary priest, even of athletic traditions, came in contact with anybody who required to be kicked.
Alicia was in front with the Yardleys, dropping her unfailing plummet into the evening's experience. Arnold, hesitating over the rudeness of departure, thought she was sufficiently absorbed; she would hardly mind. The centurion slapped his tin armour, and made a jest about the King of the Jews which reached Stephen over his hostess's shoulder and seemed to brand him where he sat. He looked about for his hat and some excuse that would serve, and while he looked the sound of applause rose from the house. It was a demonstration without great energy, hardly more than a flutter from stall to stall, with a vague, fundamental noise from the gallery; but it had the quality which acclaimed something new. Arnold glanced at the stage and saw that while Pilate and the hollow-chested slaves and the tin centurion were still on they had somehow lost significance and colour, had faded into the impotent figures of a tapestry, and that all the meaning and the dominance of the situation had gathered into the person of a woman of the East who danced. She was almost discordant in her literalness, in her clear olive tints and the kol smudges under her eyes, the string of coins in the mass of her fallen hair, and her unfettered body. Beside her the slave-girls, crouching, looked liked painted shells. She danced before Pilate in strange Eastern ways, in plastic weavings and gesturings that seemed to be the telling of a tale; and from the orchestra only one unknown instrument sobbed out to help her. The women of the people have ever bought in Palestine, buy to-day in the Mousky, the coarse, thick grey-blue cotton that fell about her limbs, and there was audacity in the poverty of her beaten silver anklets and armlets. These shone and twinkled with her movements; but her softly splendid eyes and reddened lips had the immobility of the bazaar. People looked at their playbills to see whether it was really Hilda Howe or some nautch-queen borrowed from a native theatre. By the time she sank before Pilate and placed his foot upon her head a new spirit had breathed upon the house. Under the unexpectedness of the representation it sat up straight, and there was a keenness of desire to see what would happen next which plainly curtailed the applause, as it does with the children at a pantomime.
"Have you ever seen anything like it before?" Alicia asked Captain Yardley; and he said he thought he had once, in Algiers, but not nearly so well done. Arnold rose again to go, but the Magdalene had begun to use her arts upon Pilate in the well-known scene about which the newspapers reported long afterwards how the Pope had declared that if Miss Howe had not been a Protestant and so impervious he would have excommunicated her—and as he looked his movement imperceptibly changed to afford him a better place. He put an undecided hand upon a prop of the box that rose behind Alicia's shoulder, and so stood leaning and looking, more conspicuous in the straight lines and short shoulder-cape of the frock of his Order than he knew. Hilda, in one of those impenetrable regards which she threw straight in front of her while Pilate yawned and posed nearer and nearer the desire of the Magdalene to be admitted to his household, was at once aware of him. Presently he sat down again—it was still the profane, the fabulous, the horrible Patullo, but a strain of pure gold had come into the fabric worth holding in view, impossible, indeed, to close the eyes upon. Far enough it was from any semblance to historical fact, but almost possible, almost admissible, in the form of the woman, as historical fiction. She dared to sit upon the floor now, in the ungraceful, huddled Eastern fashion, clasping her knees to her breast, with her back half turned to her lord the friend of 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 wherever she appeared people irresistibly forgot the matter for her, or made private acknowledgments to the effect that something was to be said even for an impious fantasy which gave her so unique an opportunity. To Arnold her vivid embodiment of an incident in that which was his morning and evening meditation made special appeal, and though it was in a way as if she had thrust her heathen torch into his Holy of Holies, he saw it lighted with fascination, and could not close the door upon her. The moment of her discovery of this came early, and it is only she, perhaps, who could tell how the strange bond wove itself that drew her being—the Magdalene's—to the priest who sat behind a lady in swansdown and chiffon in the upper box nearest to the stage on the right. The beginnings of such things are untraceable, but the fact may be considered in connection with this one that Hamilton Bradley, who represented, as we have been told he would, the Chief Character, did it upon lines very recognisably those of the illustrations of sacred books, very correct as to the hair and beard and pictured garment of the Galilean; with every accent of hollow-eyed pallor and inscrutable remoteness, with all the thin vagueness, too, of a popular engraving, the limitations and the depression. Under it one saw the painful inconsistency of the familiar Hamilton Bradley of other presentations, and realised with irritation, which must have been tenfold in Hilda, how he hated the part. Perhaps this was enough in itself to send her dramatic impulse to another focus, and the strangeness of the adventure was a very thing she would delight in. Whatever may be said about it, while yet the hideousness of the conception and display of a woman's natural passion for the man Christ Jesus was receding from Arnold's mind before the exquisite charm and faithfulness of the worshipping Magdalene, he became aware that in some special way he sat judging and pitying her. She had hardly lifted her eyes to him twice, yet it was he, intimately he, who responded, as if from afar off, to the touch of her infinite solicitude and abasement, the joy and the shame of her love. As he watched and knew his lips tightened and his face paled with the throb of his own renunciation, he folded his celibate arms in the habit of his brotherhood and was caught up into a knowledge and an imitation of how the spotless Original would have looked upon a woman suffering and transported thus. The poverty of the play faded out; he became almost unaware of the pinchbeck and the fustian of Patullo's invention and its insufferable mixture with the fabric of which every thread was precious beyond imagination. He looked down with tender patience and compassion upon the development of the woman's intrigue in the palace, through the very flower of her crafts and guiles, to save him who had transfigured her from the hands of the rabble and the high priests; he did not even shrink from the inexpressibly grating note of the purified Magdalene's final passionate tendering of her personal sacrifice to the enamoured Pilate as the price of His freedom, and when at the last she wept at His feet, where He was bound waiting for His cross, and wrapped them, in the agony of her abandonment, in the hair of her head, the priest's lips almost moved in words other than those the playwright had given his Christ to say—words that told her he knew the height and the depth of her sacrifice and forgave it, "Neither do I condemn thee...." In his exultation he saw what it was to perform miracles, to remit sins. The spark of divinity that was in him glowed to a white heat; the woman on the stage warmed her hands at it in two consciousnesses. She was stirred through all her artistic sense in a new and delicious way, and wakened in some dormant part of her to a knowledge beautiful and surprising. She felt in every nerve the exquisite quality of that which lay between them, and it thrilled her through all her own perception of what she did, and all the applause at how she did it. It was as if he, the priest, was borne out upon a deep, broad current that made toward solar spaces, toward infinite bounds, and as if she, the actress, piloted him....
The Sphinx on the curtain—it had gone down in the old crooked lines—again looked above and beyond them all. I have sometimes fancied a trace of malignancy about her steady eyeballs, but perhaps that is the accident or the design of the scene-painter; it does not show in photographs. The audience was dispersing a trifle sedately; the performance had been, as Mrs. Barberry told Mr. Justice Horne, interesting but depressing. "I hope," said Alicia to Stephen, fastening the fluffy-white collar of the wrap he put round her, "that I needn't be sorry I asked you to come. I don't quite know. But she did redeem it, didn't she? That last scene, where she knows what they are doing to Him——"
"Can you not be silent?" Arnold said, almost in a whisper; and her look of astonishment showed her that there were tears in his eyes. He left the theatre and walked light-headedly across Chowringhee and out into the starlit empty darkness of the Maidan, where presently he stumbled upon a wooden bench under a tree. There, after a little, sleep fell upon his amazement, and he lay unconscious for an hour or two, while the breeze stole across the grass from the river, and the masthead lights watched beside the city. He woke chilled and normal, and when he reached the Mission House in College street his servant was surprised at the unusual irritation of a necessary rebuke.
While Alicia Livingstone fought with her imagination in accounting for Duff Lindsay's absence from the theatre on the first night of a notable presentation by Miss Hilda Howe, he sat with his knees crossed on the bench furthest back in the corner obscurest of the Salvation Army Headquarters in Bentinck street. It had become his accustomed place; sitting there he had begun to feel like the adventurer under Niagara, it was the only spot from which he could observe, try to understand, and cope with the torrential nature of his passion. Nearer to the fair charm of her presence in the uncertain flare of the kerosene lamp and the sound of the big drum, he grew blind, lost count, was carried away. His persistent refusal of a better place also profited him in that it brought to Ensign Sand and the other "officers" the divination that he was one of those shyly anxious souls who have to be enticed into the Kingdom of Heaven with wariness, and they made a great pretence of not noticing him, going on with the exercises just as if he were not there, a consideration which he was able richly to enhance when the plate came round. After his first contribution Mrs. Sand regarded his spiritual interests with almost superstitious reverence, according them the fullest privacy of which she was capable. The gravity which the gentleman attached to his situation was sufficiently testified by the "amount"; Mrs. Sand never wanted better evidence than the amount. Even Laura, acting doubtless under instructions, seemed disposed to hold away from him in her prayers and exhortations; only a very occasional allusion passed her lips which Duff could appropriate. These, when they fell he gathered and set like flowers in his tenderest consciousness, to visit and water them after the sun went down and for twenty-four hours he would not see her again. Her intonation went with them and her face, they lived on that. They stirred him, I mean, least of all in the manner of their intention. After the first quarter of an hour it is to be feared Lindsay suffered no more apprehensions on the score of emotional hypnotism. He recognised his situation plainly enough, and there was no appeal in it of which the Reverend Stephen Arnold for example could properly suspect the genuineness or the permanence.
On this Saturday night he sat through the meeting as he had sat through other meetings, absorbed in his exquisite experience, which he meditated mostly with his eyes on the floor. His attitude was one quite adapted to deceive Ensign Sand; if he had been occupied with the burden of his transgressions it was one he might very well have fallen into. When Laura knelt or sang he sometimes looked at her, at other times he looked at the situation in the brightness of her presence at the other end of the room. She gave forth there, for Lindsay, an illumination by which he almost immediately began to read his life, and it was because he thought he had done this with accuracy and intelligence that he came up behind her that evening when the meeting was over as she followed the rest, with her sari drawn over her head, out into the darkness of Bentinck street, and said with directness, "I should like to come and see you. When may I? Any time that suits you. Have you half an hour to spare to-morrow?"
It was plain that she was tired, and that the brightness with which she welcomed his advance was a trifle taught and perfunctory. Not the frankness, though, or the touch of "Now we are getting to business," that stood somehow in her expression. She looked alert and pleased.
"You would like to have a little talk, wouldn't you?" she said. Her manner took Lindsay a trifle aback, it suggested that she conferred this privilege so freely. "To-morrow—let me see, we march in the morning, and I have an open-air at four in the afternoon—the Ensign takes the evening meeting. Yes, I could see you to-morrow about two or about seven, after I get back from the Square." It was not unlike a professional appointment.
Lindsay considered. "Thanks," he said, "I'll come at about seven—if you are sure you won't be too exhausted to have me after such a day."
He saw that her lids as she raised them to answer were slightly reddened at the edges, testifying to the acridity of Calcutta's road dust, and a dry crack crept into the silver voice with which she said matter-of-factly, "We are never too exhausted to attend to our Master's business."
Lindsay's face expressed an instant's hesitation, he looked gravely the other way. "And the address?" he said.
"Almost next door—we all live within bugle-call. The entrance is in Crooked lane. Anybody will tell you."
At the door Ensign Sand was conspicuously waiting. Arnold said "Thanks" again and passed out—she seemed to be holding it for him—and picked his way over the gutters to the shop of his Chinaman opposite. From there he watched the little company issue forth and turn into Crooked lane, where the entrance was. It gave him a sense that she had her part in this squalor, which was not altogether distressful in that it also localised her in the warm, living, habitable world, and helped to make her thinkable and attainable. Then he went to his room at the club and found there a note from Miss Howe, written apparently to forgive him in advance, to say that she had not expected him. "Friendly creature!" he said as he turned out the lamp, and smiled in the dark to think that already there was one who guessed, who knew.
One gropes in Crooked lane after the lights of Bentinck street have done all that can be expected of them. There are various things to avoid, washer-men's donkeys and pariah dogs, unyoked ticca-gharries, heaps of rubbish, perhaps a leprous beggar. Lindsay, when he had surmounted these, found himself at the entrance to a quadrangle which was positively dark. He waylaid a sweeper slinking out; and the man showed him where an open staircase ran down against the wall in one corner. It was up there, he said, that the "tamasho-mems" lived. There were three tamasho-mems, he continued, responding to Arnold's trivial coin, and one sahib, but this was not the time for the tamasho—it was finished. Lindsay mounted the first flight by faith, and paused at the landing to avoid collision with a heavy body descending. He inquired Miss Filbert's whereabouts from this person, who providentially lighted a cigar, disclosing himself a bald Armenian in tusser silk trousers and a dirty shirt, presumably, Lindsay thought, the landlord. At all events, he had the information. Lindsay was to keep straight on; it was the third story, "and a lovelie airie flat, too, sir, for this part of the town." Duff kept straight on in a spirit of caution and just missed treading upon the fattest rat in the heathen parish of St. John's. At the top he saw a light and hastened; it shone from an open door at the side of a passage. The partition in which the door was came considerably short of the ceiling, and from the top of it to the window opposite stretched a line of garments to dry, of pungent odour and infantile pattern. Lindsay dared no further, but lifted up his voice in the Indian way to summon a servant. "Qui hai!" he called; "Qui hai!"
[Footnote 2: Festival-making women.]
[Footnote 3: "Whoever is there!"]
He heard somewhere within the noise of a chair pushed back, and a door further down the passage opened outwards, disclosing Laura Filbert with her hand upon the handle. She made a supple, graceful picture. "Good evening, Mr. Lindsay," she said as he advanced. "Won't you come in?" She clung to the handle until he had passed into the room, then she closed the door after him. "I was expecting you," she said. "Mr. Harris, let me make you acquainted with Mr. Lindsay. Mr. Lindsay, Mr. Harris."
Mr. Harris was sitting sideways on one of the three cane-bottomed chairs. He was a clumsily built youth, and he wore the private's garb of the Salvation Army. It was apparent that he had been reading a newspaper; he had a displeasing air of possession. At Laura's formula he looked up and nodded without amiability, folded his journal the other side out and returned to it.
"Please take a seat," Laura said, and Lindsay took one. He had a demon of self-consciousness that possessed him often, here he felt dumb. Nor did he in the very least expect Mr. Harris. He crossed his legs in greater discomfort than he had dreamed possible, looking at Laura, who sat down like a third stranger, curiously detached from any sense of hospitality.
"Mr. Lindsay is anxious about his soul, Mr. Harris," she said pleasantly. "I guess you can tell him what to do about it as well as I can."
"Oh!" Lindsay began, but Mr. Harris had the word. "Is he?" said Mr. Harris, without looking up from his paper. "Well, what I've got to say on that subject I say at the evenin' meetin', which is a proper an' a public place. He can hear it there any day of the week."
"I think I have already heard," remarked Lindsay, "what you have to say."
"Then that's all right," said Mr. Harris, with his eyes still upon his newspaper. He appeared to devour it. Laura looked from one to the other of them and fell upon an expedient.
"If you'll excuse me," she said, "I'll just get you that bicycle story you were kind enough to lend me, Mr. Harris, and you can take it with you. The Ensign's got it," and she left the room. Lindsay glanced round and promptly announced to himself that he could not come there again. It was taking too violent an advantage. The pursuit of an angel does not imply that you may trap her in her corner under the Throne. The place was divided by a calico curtain, over which plainly showed the top of a mosquito curtain—she slept in there. On the walls were all tender texts about loving and believing and bearing others' burdens, interspersed with photographs, mostly of women with plain features and enthusiastic eyes, dressed in some strange costume of the Army in Madras, Ceylon, China. A little wooden table stood against the wall holding an album, a Bible and hymn-books, a work-basket and an irrelevant Japanese doll which seemed to stretch its absurd arms straight out in a gay little ineffectual heathen protest. There was another more embarrassing table; it had a coarse cloth and was garnished with a loaf and butter-dish, a plate of plantains and a tin of marmalade, knives and teacups for a meal evidently impending. It was atrociously, sordidly intimate, with its core in Harris, who when Miss Filbert had well gone from the room looked up. "If you're here on private business," he said to Lindsay, fixing his eyes, however, on a point awkwardly to the left of him, "maybe you ain't aware that the Ensign"—he threw his head back in the direction of the next room—"is the person to apply to. She's in command here. Captain Filbert's only under her."
"Indeed?" said Lindsay. "Thanks."
"It ain't like it is in the Queen's army," Harris volunteered, still searching Lindsay's vicinity for a point upon which his eye could permanently rest, "where, if you remember, ensigns are the smallest officer we have."
"The commission is, I think, abolished," replied Lindsay, trying to govern a deep and irritated frown.
"Maybe so. This Army don't pretend to pattern very close on the other—not in discipline, anyhow," said Mr. Harris with ambiguity. "But you'll find Ensign Sand very willing to do anything she can for you. She's a hard-working officer."
A sharp wail smote the air from a point suspiciously close to the lath and canvas partition on the other side, followed by hasty hushings and steps in the opposite direction. It enabled Lindsay to observe that Mr. Sand seemed at present to be sufficiently engaged, at which Mr. Harris shifted one heavy limb over the other, and lapsed into silence, looking sternly at an advertisement. The air was full of their mutual annoyance, although Duff tried to feel amused. They were raging as primitively, under the red flannel shirt and the tan-coloured waistcoat with white silk spots, as two cave-men on an Early British coast; their only sophistication lay in Harris's newspaper and Lindsay's idea that he ought to find this person humourous. Then Laura came back and resolved the situation.
"Here it is," she said, handing the volume to Mr. Harris; "we have all enjoyed it. Thank you very much." There was in it the oddest mixture of the supreme feminine and the superior officer. Harris, as he took the book, had no alternative.
"Good-evening, then, Captain," said he, and went stumbling at the door.
"Mr. Harris," said Laura, equably, "found salvation about a month ago. He is a very steady young man—foreman in one of the carriage works here. He is now struggling with the tobacco habit, and he often drops in in the evening."
"He seems to be a—a member of the corps," said Lindsay.
"He would be, only for the carriage works. He says he doesn't find himself strong enough in grace to give up his situation yet. But he wears the uniform at the meetings to show his sympathy, and the Ensign doesn't think there's any objection."
Laura was sitting straight up in one of the cane-bottomed chairs, her sari drawn over her head, her hands folded in her lap. The native dress clung to her limbs in sculpturable lines, and her consecrated ambitions seemed more insistent than ever. She had nothing to do with anything else, nothing to do with her room or its arrangements, nothing, Lindsay felt profoundly, to do with him. Her personal zeal for him seemed to resolve itself, at the point of contact, into something disappointingly thin; he saw that she counted with him altogether as a unit in a glorious total, and that he himself had no place in her knowledge or her desire. This brought him, with something like a shock, to a sense of how far he had depended on her interest for his soul's sake to introduce her to a wider view of him.
"But you have come to tell me about yourself," she said, suddenly, it seemed to Lindsay, who was wrapped in the contemplation of her profile. "Well, is there any special stumbling-block?"
"There are some things I should certainly like you to know," replied Lindsay; "but you can't think how difficult"——he glanced at the lath and plaster partition, but she, to whom publicity was a condition salutary, if not essential, to spiritual experience, naturally had no interpretation for that.
"I know it's sometimes hard to speak," she said; "Satan ties our tongues."
The misunderstanding was almost absurd, but he saw only its difficulties, knitting his brows.
"I fear you will find my story very strange and very mad," he said. "I cannot be sure that you will even listen to it."
"Oh," Laura said, simply, "do not be afraid! I have heard confessions! I work at home, you see, a good deal among the hospitals, and—we do not shrink, you know, in the Army from things like that."
"Good God!" he exclaimed, staring, "you don't think—you don't suppose——"
"Ah! don't say that! It's so like swearing."
As he sat in helpless anger, trying to formulate something intelligible, the curtain parted, and a sallow little Eurasian girl of eighteen, also in the dress of the Army, came through from the bedroom part. She smiled in a conscious, meaningless way, as she sidled past them. At the door her smile broadened, and as she closed it after her she gave them a little nod.
"That's my lieutenant," said Laura.
"The place is like a warren," Lindsay groaned. "How can we talk here?"
Laura looked at him gravely, as one making a diagnosis. "Do you think," she said, "a word of prayer would help you?"
"No," said Lindsay. "No, thank you. What is making me miserable," he added, quietly, "is the knowledge that we are being overheard. If you go into the next room, I am quite certain you will find Mrs. Sand listening by the wall."
"She's gone out! She and the Captain and Miss De Souza, to take the evening meeting. Nobody is in there except the two children, and they are asleep." Her smile, he thought, made a Madonna of her. "Indeed, we are quite alone, you and I, in the flat now. So please don't be afraid, Mr. Lindsay! Say whatever is in your heart, and the mere saying——"
"Oh," Lindsay cried, "stop! Don't, for Heaven's sake, look at me in that light any longer. I'm not penitent. I'm not—what do you call it?—a soul under conviction. Nothing of the sort." He waited with considerateness for this to have its effect upon her; he could not go on until he saw her emerge, gasping, from the inundation of it. But she was not even staggered by it. She only looked down at her folded hands with an added seriousness and a touch of sorrow.
"Aren't you?" she said. "But at least you feel that you ought to be. I thought it had been accomplished. But I will go on praying."
"Shall you be very angry, if I tell you that I'd rather you didn't? I want to come into your life differently—sincerely."
She looked at him with such absolute blankness that his resolution was swiftly overturned, and showed him a different face.
"I won't tell you anything about what I feel and what I want to-night except this—I find that you are influencing all my thoughts and all my days in what is to me a very new and a very happy way. You hear as much as that often, and from many people, don't you? So there is nothing in it that need startle you or make you uncomfortable." He paused, and she nodded in a visible effort to follow him.
"So I am here to-night to ask you to let me do something for you just for my own pleasure—there must be some way of helping you, and being your friend——"
"As Mr. Harris is," she interrupted. "I do influence Mr. Harris for good, I know. He says so."
"Influence me," he begged, "in any way you like."
"I will pray for you," she said. "I promise that."
"And you will let me see you sometimes?" he asked, conceding the point.
"If I thought it would do you any good"—she looked at him doubtfully, clasping and unclasping her hands—"I will see; I will ask for guidance. Perhaps it is one of His own appointed ways. If you have no objection, I will give you this little book, Almost Persuaded. I am sure you are almost persuaded. Above all, I hope, you will go on coming to the meetings."
And in the course of the next two or three moments Lindsay found himself, somewhat to his astonishment, again in the night of the staircase, dismissed exactly as Mr. Harris had been, by the agency of a printed volume. Only in his case, a figure of much angelic beauty stood at the top, holding a patent kerosene lamp high to illumine his way. He refrained from looking back lest she should see something too human in his face and vanish, leaving him in darkness which would be indeed impenetrable.
There was a panic in Dhurrumtolla; a "ticca-gharry"—the shabby oblong box on wheels, dignified in municipal regulations as a hackney carriage—was running away. Coolie mothers dragged naked children up on the pavement with angry screams; drivers of ox-carts dug their lean beasts in the side and turned out of the way almost at a trot; only the tramcar held on its course in conscious invincibility. A pariah tore along beside the vehicle barking; crows flew up from the dung in the road by half-dozens, protesting shrilly; a pedlar of blue bead necklaces just escaped being knocked down. Little groups of baboos and bunnias stood looking after, laughing and speculating; a native policeman, staring also, gave them sharp orders to disperse, and they said to him, "Peace, brother." To each other they said, "Behold, the driver is a 'mut-wallah,'" (or drunken person); and presently, as the thing whirled further up the emptied perspective, "Lo! the syce has fallen." The driver was certainly very drunk; his whip circled perpetually above his head; the syce clinging behind was stiff with terror, and fell off like a bundle of rags. Inside, Hilda Howe, with a hand in the strap at each side and her feet against the opposite seat, swayed violently, and waited for what might happen, breathing short. Whenever the gharry thrashed over the tram-lines, she closed her eyes. There was a point near Cornwallis street where she saw the off front wheel make sickeningly queer revolutions; and another, electrically close, when two tossing roan heads with pink noses appeared in a gate to the left, heading smartly out, all unawares, at precisely right angles to her own derelict equipage. That was the juncture of the Reverend Stephen Arnold's interference, walking and discussing with Amiruddin Khan, as he was, the comparative benefits of Catholic and Mohammedan fasting. It would be easy to magnify what Stephen did in that interruption of the considerate hearing he was giving to Amiruddin. The ticca-gharry ponies were almost spent, and any resolute hand could have impelled them away from the carriage-pole with which the roans threatened to impale their wretched sides. The front wheel, however, made him heroic, going off at a tangent into a cloth-merchant's shop, and precipitating a clash while he still clung to the reins. The door flew open on the under side and Hilda fell through, grasping at the dust of the road; while the driver, discovering that his seat was no longer horizontal, entered suddenly upon sobriety, and clamoured with tears that the cloth-merchant should restore his wheel—was he not a poor man? Hilda, struggling with her hat-pins, felt her dress brushed by various lean hands of the bazaar, and observed herself the central figure in yet another situation. When she was in a condition to see, she saw Arnold soothing the ponies; Amiruddin, before the possibility of vague police complication, having slipped away. Stephen had believed the gharry empty. The sight of her, in her disordered draperies, was a revelation and a reproach.
[Footnote 4: Clerks.]
[Footnote 5: Small dealers.]
"Is it possible?" he exclaimed, and was beside her. "You are not hurt?"
"Only scraped, thanks. I am lucky to get off with this." She held up her right palm, broadly abraded round the base, where her hand had struck the road. Arnold took it delicately in his own thin fingers to examine it; an infinity of contrast rested in the touch. He looked at it with anxiety so obviously deep and troubled that Hilda silently smiled. She who had been battered, as she said, twice round the world, found it disproportionate.
"It's the merest scratch," she said, grave again to meet his glance.
"Indeed, I fear not." The priest made a solicitous bandage with his handkerchief, while the circle about them solidified. "It is quite unpleasantly deep. You must let me take you at once to the nearest chemist's and get it properly washed and dressed, or it may give you a vast amount of trouble—but I am walking."
"I will walk, too," Hilda said, readily. "I should prefer it, truly." With her undamaged hand she produced a rupee from her pocket, where a few coins chinked casually, looked at it, and groped for another. "I really can't afford any more," she said. "He can get his wheel mended with that, can't he?"
"It is three times his fare," Arnold said, austerely, "and he deserved nothing—but a fine, perhaps." The man was suppliant before them, cringing, salaaming, holding joined palms open. Hilda lifted her head and looked over the shoulders of the little rabble, where the sun stood golden upon the roadside and two naked children played with a torn pink kite. Something seemed to gather into her eyes as she looked, and when she fixed them softly upon Arnold, to speak, as it had spoken before.
"Ah," she said. "Our deserts."
It was the merest echo and she had done it on purpose, but he could not know that, and as she dropped the rupees into the craving hands and turned and walked away with him, he had nothing to say. There was nothing, perhaps, that he wanted to talk of more than of his experience at the theatre; he longed to have it simplified and explained; yet in that space of her two words the impossibility of mentioning it had sprung at him and overcome him. He hoped, with instant fervour, that she would refrain from any allusion to The Offence of Galilee. And for the time being she did refrain. She said, instead, that her hand was smarting absurdly already, and did Arnold suppose the chemist would use a carbolic lotion? Stephen, with a guarded look, said very possibly not but one never knew; and Hilda, thinking of the far-off day when the little girl of her was brought tactfully to disagreeable necessities, covered a preposterous impulse to cry with another smile.
A thudding of bare feet overtook them. It was the syce, with his arms full of thin paper bags, the kind that hold cheap millinery. "Oh, the good man!" Hilda exclaimed, "My parcels!" and looked on equably, while Arnold took them by their puckered ends. "I have been buying gold lace and things from Chunder Dutt for a costume," she exclaimed. The bags dangled helplessly from Arnold's fingers; he looked very much aware of them. "Let me carry at least one," she begged. "I can perfectly with my parasol hand;" but he refused her even one. "If I may be permitted to take the responsibility," he said, happily, and she rejoined, "Oh, I would trust you with things more fragile." At which, such is the discipline of these orders, he looked steadily in front of him and seemed deaf with modesty.
"But are you sure," said Hilda, suddenly considerate, "that it looks well?"
"Is the gold lace, then, so very meretricious?"
"It goes doubtfully with your cloth," she laughed, and instantly looked stricken with the conviction that she might better have said something else. But Arnold appeared to take it simply and to see no gibe in it, only a pleasant commonplace.
"It might look queer in Chowringhee," he said, "but this is not a censorious public." Then, as if to palliate the word, he added, "They will think me no more mad to carry paper bags than to carry myself, when it is plain that I might ride—and they see me doing that every day."
All the same the paper bags swinging beside the girdled black skirt did impart a touch of comedy, which was in a way a pity, since humour goes so far to destroy the picturesque. Hilda without the paper bags would have been vastly enough for contrast. She walked—one is inclined to dwell upon her steps and face the risk of being unintelligible—in a wide-sleeved gown of peach-coloured silk, rather frayed at the seams, a trifle spent in vulnerable places, surmounted by an extravagant collar and a Paris hat. The dress was of artistic intention, inexpensively carried out, the hat had an accomplished chic; it had fallen to her in the wreck and ruin of a too ambitious draper of Coolgardie. As a matter of fact it was the only one she had. The wide sleeves ended a little below the elbow, and she carried in compensation a pair of long 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, goldened-tongued Kali, half visible through the door of a mud hut—where all the dealers in brass dishes and glass armlets, nine-yard turban cloths, blue and gold, and silver gilt stands for the comfortable hubble-bubble, squatted in line upon their thresholds and accepted them with indifference. So they passed, worthy of a glance from that divinity who shapes our ends.
They talked of the accident. "You stopped the horses, didn't you?" Hilda said, and the speculation in her eyes was concerned with the extent to which a muscular system might dwindle, in that climate, under sacerdotal robes worn every day.
"I told them to stop, poor things," Arnold said; "they had hardly to be persuaded."
"But you didn't save my life or anything like that, did you?" she adventured; like a vagrant in the sun. The blood was warm in her. She did not weigh her words. "I shouldn't like having my life saved. The necessity for feeling such a vast emotion—I shouldn't know how to cope with it."
"I will claim to have saved your other hand," he smiled. "You will be quite grateful enough for that."
She noted that he did not hasten, behind pyramidal blushes, into the shelter of a general disavowal. The cassock seemed to cover an obligation to acknowledge things.
"I see," she said, veering round. "You are quite right to circumscribe me. There is nothing so boring as the gratitude that will out. It is only the absence of it, too plainly expressed, that is unpleasant. But you won't find that in me either." She gave him a smile as she lowered her parasol to turn into the shop of Lahiri Dey, licensed to sell European drugs, that promised, infinite possibilities of friendship; and he, following, took pleased and careful possession of it.
An hour later, as they approached No. 3, Lal Behari's Lane, Miss Howe looked pale, which is not surprising, since they had walked and talked all the way. Their talk was a little strenuous too; it was as if they had fallen upon an opportunity, and mutually, consciously, made the most of it.
"You must have some tea immediately," Arnold said, before the battered urns and the dusty crotons of her dwelling.
"A little whiskey and soda, I think. And you will come up, please, and have some, too. You must."
"Thanks," he said, looking at his watch. "If I do—"
"You'll have the soda without the whiskey! All right!" she laughed, and led the way.
"This is vicious indulgence," Arnold said of his beverage, sitting under the inverted Japanese umbrellas. "I haven't been pitched out of a ticca-gharry."
It is doubtful whether the indulgence was altogether in the soda, which is, after all, ascetic in its quality, and only suitably effervescent, like ecclesiastical humour. It may very probably be that there was no indulgence; indeed one is convinced that the word, like so many words, says too much. The springs of Arnold's chair were bursting through the bottom, and there were stains on its faded chintz-arms, but it was comfortable, and he leaned back in it, looking up at the paper umbrellas. You know the room; I took you into it with Duff Lindsay, who did not come there from rigidities and rituals, and who had a qualified pleasure in it. But there were lines in the folds of the flowered window curtains dragging half a yard upon the floor which seemed to disband Arnold's spirit, and a twinkle in the blue bead of a bamboo screen where the light came through that released it altogether. The shabby, violent-coloured place encompassed him like an easy garment, and the lady, with her feet tucked up in a sofa and a cushion under her tumbled head, was an unembarrassing invitation to the kind of happy things he had not said for years. They sat in the coolness of the room for half an hour, and then, after a little pause, Hilda said suddenly,
"I am glad you saw me in The Offence of Galilee on Saturday night. We shall not play it again."
"It has been withdrawn?"
"Yes. The rights, you know, really belong to Mr. Bradley; and he can't endure his part."
"Is there no one else to—"
"He objects to anyone else. We generally play together." This was inadvertent, but Stephen had no reason to imagine that she contracted her eyebrows in any special irritation. "It is an atrocious piece," she added.
"Is it?" he said, absently, and then, "Yes, it is an atrocious piece. But I am glad, too, that I saw you." He looked away from her, reddening deeply, and stood up. His bands fell upon him again, he bade her a measured and precise farewell. It seemed as if he hurried. She only half rose to give him her unwounded hand, and when he was gone she sank back again thoughtfully.
"I have outstayed all the rest," Lindsay said, with his hat and stick in his hand, in Alicia Livingstone's drawing-room, "because I want particularly to talk to you. They have left me precious little time," he added, glancing at his watch.
She had wondered when he came early in the formal Sunday noon hour for men's calls, since he had more casual privileges; and wondered more when he sat on with composure, as one who is master of the situation, while Major-Generals and Deputy Secretaries came and went. There was a mist in her brain as she talked to the Major-Generals and Deputy Secretaries—it did not in the least obscure what she found to say—and in the midst of it the formless idea that he must wish to attach a special importance to his visit. This took shape and line when they were alone, and he spoke of outsitting the others. It impelled her to walk to the window and open it. "You might stay to lunch," she said, addressing a pair of crows in altercation on the verandah.
"There is nearly half-an-hour before lunch," he said. "Can I convince you, in that time, I wonder, that I am not an absolute fool."
Alicia turned and came back to her sofa. She may have had a prevision of the need of support. "I hardly think," she said, drawing the long breath with which we try to subdue a tempest within, "that it would take so long." She tried to look at him, but her eyes would not carry above the violets in his button-hole.
"I've had a supreme experience," he said, "very strange and very lovely. I am living in it, moving in it, speaking in it," he added quickly, watching her face; "so don't, for God's sake, touch it roughly."
She lifted her hand in nervous, involuntary deprecation. "Why should you suppose I would touch it roughly?" There was that in her voice which cried put that she would rather not touch it at all; but Lindsay, on the brink of his confidence, could not suppose it—did not hear it. He knew her so well.
"A great many people will," he said. "I can't bear the thought of their fingers. That is one reason that brings me to you."
She faced him fully at this; her eyelids quivered, but she looked straight at him. It nerved her to be brought into his equation, even in the form which should finally be eliminated. She contrived a smile.
"I believe you know already," Lindsay cried.
"I have heard something. Don't be alarmed—not from people, from Miss Howe."
"Wonderful woman! I haven't told her."
"Is that always necessary? She has intuitions. In this case," Alicia went on, with immense courage, "I didn't believe them."
"Why?" he asked, enjoyingly. Anything to handle his delight—he would even submit it to analysis.
She hesitated—her business was in great waters, the next instant might engulf her. "It's so curiously unlike you," she faltered. "If she had been a duchess—a very exquisite person, or somebody very clever—remember I haven't seen her."
"You haven't, so I must forgive you invidious comparisons." Lindsay visaged the words with a smile, but they had an articulated hardness.
Alicia raised her eyebrows.
"What do you expect one to imagine?" she asked, with quietness.
"A miracle," he said, sombrely.
"Ah, that's difficult!"
There was silence for a moment between them, then she added, perversely,
"And, you know, faith is not what it was."
Duff sat biting his lips. Her dryness irritated him. He was accustomed to find in her fields of delicately blooming enthusiasms, and running watercourses where his satisfactions were ever reflected. Suddenly she seemed to emerge to her own consciousness, upon a summit from which she could look down upon the turmoil in herself and beyond it, to where he stood.
"Don't make a mistake," she said, "don't." She thrust her hand for a fraction of an instant toward him, and then swiftly withdrew it, gathering herself together to meet what he might say.
What he did say was simple, and easy to hear. "That's what everybody will tell me; but I thought you might understand." He tapped the toe of his boot with his stick as if he counted the strokes. She looked down and counted them too.
"Then you won't help me to marry her," he said definitely, at last.
"What could I do?" She twisted her sapphire ring. "Ask somebody else."
"Don't expect me to believe there is nothing you could do. Go to her as my friend. It isn't such a monstrous thing to ask. Tell her any good you know of me. At present her imagination paints me in all the lurid colours of the lost."
The face she turned upon him was all little sharp white angles, and the cloud of fair hair above her temples stood out stiffly, suggesting 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."
"There are other things to reckon with." She looked coldly beyond him out of the window. "A man's intelligence when he is in love—how far can one count on it?"
There was nothing but silence for that or perhaps the murmured "Oh, I don't agree," with which Lindsay met it. He rode down her logic with a simple appeal. "Then after all," he said, "you're not my friend."
It goaded her into something like an impertinence. "After you have married her," she said, "you'll see."
"You will be hers then," he declared.
"I will be yours." Her eyes leaped along the prospect and rested on a brass-studded Tartar shield at the other end of the room.
"And I thought you broad in these views," Lindsay said, glancing at her curiously. Her opportunity for defense was curtailed by a heavy step in the hall, and the lifted 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 perturbations away with him as quickly as might be. Alicia saw the cloud upon him as he shook hands with her, and found it but slightly consoling to reflect that his sun would without doubt re-emerge in all effulgence on the other side of the door.
That same Sunday Alicia had been able to say to Lindsay about Hilda Howe, "We have not stood still—we know each other well now," and when he commented with some reserve upon this, to follow it up. "But these things have so little to do with mere length of time or number of opportunities," she declared. "One springs at some people."
A Major-General, interrupting, said he wished he had the chance; and they talked about something else. But perhaps this is enough to explain a note which went by a messenger from the Livingstones' pillared palace in Middleton street to No. 3, La Behari's Lane on Monday morning. It was a short note, making a definite demand with an absence of colour and softness and emotion which was almost elaborate. Hilda, at breakfast, tore off the blank half sheet, and wrote in pencil—
"I think I can arrange to get her here about five this afternoon. No rehearsal—they're doing something to the gas-pipes at the theatre, so you will find me, anyway. And I'll be delighted to see you."
She twisted it up and addressed it, reconsidered that, and made the scrap more secure in a yellow envelope. It had an embossed post-office stamp, which she sacrificed with resignation. Then she went back to an extremely uninteresting vegetable curry, with the reflection, "Can she possibly imagine that one doesn't see it yet?"
Alicia came before five. She brought a novel of Gissing's, in order apparently that they might without fail talk about Gissing. Hilda was agreeable; she would talk about Gissing, or about anything, tipped on the edge of her bed—Alicia had surmounted that degree of intimacy at a bound by the declaration that she could no longer endure the blue umbrellas—and clasping one knee, with an uncertain tenure of a chipped bronze slipper deprived of its heel. Wonderful tusser silk draperies fell about her, with ink-spots on the sleeves; her hair was magnificent.
"It's so curious to me," she was saying of the novel, "that any one should learn all that life as you do, at a distance, in a book. It's like looking at it through the little end of an opera-glass."
"I fancy that the most desirable way," said Alicia, glancing at the door.
"Don't you believe it. The best way is to come out of it, to grow out of it. Then all the rest has the charm of novelty and the value of contrast, and the distinction of being the best. You, poor dear, were born an artificial flower in a cardboard box. But you couldn't help it."
"Everybody doesn't grow out of it." The concentration in Alicia's eyes returned again with vacillating wings.
"She can't be here for a quarter of an hour yet."
The slipper dropped at this point, and Hilda stooped to put it on again. She kept her foot in her hands and regarded it pensively.
"Shoes are the one thing one shouldn't buy in the native quarter," she said; "At all events, ready-made."
"You have an audacity——" Alicia ended abruptly in a wan smile.
"Haven't I? Are you quite sure he wants to marry her?"
"I know it."
"Oh"—Hilda deliberated a moment, nursing her slipper—"Really? Well, we can't let that happen."
"You have a hardihood! Is no reason plain to you? Don't you see anything?"
Alicia smiled again painfully, as if against a tension of her lips. "I see only one thing that matters—he wants it," she said.
"And won't be happy till he gets it? Rubbish, my dear! We are an intolerably self-sacrificing sex." Hilda felt around for pillows, and stretched her length along the bed. "They've taught us well, the men; it's a blood disease now, running everywhere in the female line. You may be sure it was a barbarian princess that hesitated between the lady and the tiger. A civilised one would have introduced the lady and given her a dot, and retired to the nearest convent. Bah! It's a deformity, like the dachshund's legs."
Alicia looked as if this would be a little troublesome, and not quite worth while to follow.
"The happiness of his whole life is involved," she said, simply.
"Oh dear yes—the old story! And what about the happiness of yours? Do you imagine it's laudable, admirable, this attitude? Do you see yourself in it with pleasure? Have you got a sacred satisfaction of self-praise?"
Contempt accumulated in Miss Howe's voice and sat in her eyes. To mark her climax, she kicked her slipper over the end of the bed.
"It is idiotic—it's disgusting," she said.
Alicia caught a flash from her. "My attitude!" she cried. "What in the world do you mean? Do you always think in poses? I take no attitude. I care for him, and in that proportion I intend that he shall have what he wants—so far as I can help him to it. You have never cared for anybody—what do you know about it?"
Hilda took a calm, unprejudiced view of the ceiling. "I assure you I'm not an angel," she cried. "Haven't I cared? Several times."
"Not really—not lastingly."
"I don't know about really; certainly not lastingly. I've never thought the men should have a monopoly of nomadic susceptibilities. They entail the prettiest experiences."
"Of course, in your profession——"
"Don't be nasty, sweet lady. My affections have never taken the opportunities of our profession. They haven't even carried me into matrimony, though I remember once, at Sydney, they brought me to the brink. Quelle escape! We must contrive one like it for Duff Lindsay."
"You assume too much—a great deal too much. She must be beautiful—and good."
"Give me a figure. She's a lily, and she draws the kind of beauty that lilies have from her personal chastity and her religious enthusiasm. Touch those things and bruise them, as—as marriage would touch and bruise them—and she would be a mere fragment of stale vegetation. You want him to clasp that to his bosom for the rest of his life?"
"I won't believe you. You're coarse and you're cruel."
Tears flashed into Miss Livingstone's eyes with this. Hilda, still regarding the ceiling, was aware of them, and turned an impatient shoulder while they should be brushed undetected away.
"I'm sorry, dear," she said. "I forgot. You are usually so intelligent, one can be coarse and cruel with comfort, talking to you. Go into the bath-room and get my salts—they're on the washhand-stand—will you? I'm quite faint with all I'm about to undergo."
Laura Filbert came in as Alicia emerged with the salts. Ignoring the third person with the bottle, she went directly to the bedside and laid her hand on Hilda's head.
"Oh, Miss Howe, I am so sorry you are sick—so sorry," she said. It was a cooing of professional concern, true to an ideal, to a necessity.
"I am not very bad," Hilda improvised. "Hardly more than a headache."
"She makes light of everything," Miss Filbert said, smiling toward Alicia, who stood silent, the prey of her impression. Discovering the blue salts bottle, Laura walked over to her and took it from her hands.
"And what," said the barefooted Salvation Army girl, "might your name be?"
There was an infinite calm interest in it—it was like a conventionality of the other world, and before its assurance Alicia stood helpless.
"Her name is Livingstone," called Hilda from the bed, "and she is as good as she is beautiful. You needn't be troubled about her soul—she takes Communion every Sunday morning at the Cathedral."
"Hallelujah!" said Captain Filbert, in a tone of dubious congratulation.
"Much better," said Hilda, cheerfully, "to take it at the Cathedral, you know, than nowhere."
Miss Filbert said nothing to this, but sat down upon the edge of the bed, looking serious, and stroked Hilda's hair.
"You don't seem to have much fever," she said. "There was a poor fellow in the Military Hospital this morning with a temperature of 107. I could hardly bear to touch him."
"What was the matter?" asked Hilda idly, occupied with hypotheses about the third person in the room.
"Oh, I don't know exactly. Some complication, I suppose, of the wages the body pays to sin."
"Divinest Laura!" Hilda exclaimed, drawing her head back. "Do take a chair. It will be even more soothing to see you comfortable."
Captain Filbert spoke again to Alicia, as she obeyed. "Miss Howe is more thoughtful for others than some of our converted ones," she said, with vast kindness. "I have often told her so. I have had a long day."
"It may improve me in that character," Hilda said, "to suggest that if you will go about such people, a little carbolic disinfectant is a good thing, or a crystal or two of permanganate of potash in your bath. Do you use those things?"
Laura shook her head. "Faith is better than disinfectants. I never get any harm. My Master protects me."
"My goodness!" Hilda said. And in the silence that occurred, Captain Filbert remarked that the only thing she used carbolic acid for was a decayed tooth. Presently Alicia made a great effort. She laid hands on Hilda's previous references as a tangibility that remained with her.
"Do you ever go to the Cathedral?" she said.
The faintest shade of dogmatism crossed Captain Filbert's features, as when, on a day of cloud fleeces, the sun withdraws for an instant from a flower. Since her sect is proclaimed beyond the boundaries of dogma it may have been some other obscurity, but my appraisement fails.
"No, I never go there. We raise our own Ebenezer; we are a tabernacle to ourselves."
"Isn't it exquisite—her way of speaking!" cried Hilda from the bed, and Laura glanced at her with a deprecating, reproachful smile, in reproof of an offence admittedly incorrigible. But she went on as if she were conscious of a stimulus.
"Wherever the morning sky bends or the stars cluster is sanctuary enough," she said: "a slum at noonday is as holy for us as daisied fields; the Name of the Lord walks with us. The Army is His Army. He is Lord of our hosts."
"A kind of chant," murmured Hilda, and Miss Livingstone became aware that she might if she liked play with the beginnings of magnetism. Then that impression was carried away, as it were, on a puff of air, and it is hardly likely that she thought of it again.
"I suppose all the 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 bell stops. 'And make thy chosen people joyful!'" she intoned. "Not forgetting Surgeon-Major and Miss Alicia Livingstone, who occupy the fourth pew to the right of the main aisle, advantageously near the pulpit."
"You know already what a humbug she is!" Alicia said, but Captain Filbert's inner eye seemed retained by that imaginary congregation.
"Well, it would not be any attraction for me," she said, rising to go through the little accustomed function of her departure. "I'll be going now, I think. Ensign Sand has fever again and I have to take her place at the Believers' Meeting." She took Hilda's hand in hers and held it for an instant. "Good-bye, and God bless you—in the way you most need," she said, and turned to Alicia, for whose ears Hilda's protests against the girl's going broke meaninglessly about the room. "Good-bye. I am glad to know that we will be one in the glad hereafter, though our paths may diverge"—her eye rested with acknowledgment upon Alicia's embroidered sleeves—"in this world. To look at you I should have thought you were of the bowed down ones, not yet fully assured, but perhaps you only want a little more oxygen in the blood of your religion. Remember the word of the Lord—'Rejoice! again I say unto you, rejoice!' Good-bye."
She drew her head-covering further forward and moved to the door. It sloped to her shoulders and made them droop: her native clothes clung about her breast and her hips, disclosing, confessing, insisting upon her sex in the cringing oriental way. Miss Howe looked after her guest with a curl of the lip as uncontrollable as it was unreasonable. "A saved soul, perhaps. A woman—oh, assuredly," she said in the depths of her hair.
The door had almost closed upon Captain Filbert when Alicia made something like a dash at an object about to elude her. "Oh," she exclaimed, "Wait a minute. Will you come and see me? I think—I think you might do me good. I live at No. 10, Middleton street. Will you come?"
Laura came back into the room. There was a little stiffness in her air, as if she repressed something.
"I have no objection," she said.
"To-morrow afternoon—at five? Or—my brother is dining at the club—would you rather come to dinner?"
"Whichever is agreeable to you will suit me." She spoke carefully, after an instant's hesitation.
"Then do come and dine—at eight," Alicia said; and it was agreed.
She stood staring at the door when Laura finally closed it, and only turned when Hilda spoke.
"You are going to have him to meet her," she said. "May I come too?"
"Certainly not." Alicia's grasp was also by this time on the door handle.
"Are you going too? You daren't talk about her!" Hilda cried.
"I'm going too. I've got the brougham. I'll drive her home," said Alicia, and went out swiftly.
"My goodness!" Hilda remarked again. Then she got up and found her slippers and wrote a note, which she addressed to the Reverend Stephen Arnold, Clarke Mission House, College street. "Thanks immensely," it ran, "for your delightful offer to introduce me to Father Jordan and persuade him to show me the astronomical wonders he keeps in his tower at St. Simeon's. An hour with a Jesuit is an hour of milk and honey, and belonging to that charming Order he won't mind my coming on a Sunday evening—the first clear one."
Miss Howe signed her note and bit consideringly at the end of her pen. Then she added: "If you have any influence with Duff Lindsay, it may be news to you that you can exert it with advantage to keep him from marrying a cheap, ethereal little religieuse of the Salvation Army named Filbert. It may seem more fitting that you should expostulate with her, but I don't advise that."
The door of Ensign Sand's apartment stood open with a purposeful air when Captain Filbert reached headquarters that evening; but in any case it is likely that she would have gone in. Mrs. Sand walked the floor, carrying a baby, a pale, sticky baby with blotches, which had inherited from its maternal parent a conspicuous lack of buttons. Mrs. Sand's room was also ornamented with texts, but they had apparently been selected at random, and they certainly hung that way. The piety of the place seemed at the control of an older infant, who sat on the floor and played with his father's regimental cap. On the other side of the curtain Captain Sand audibly washed himself and brushed his hair.
"What kind of meetin' did you have?" asked Mrs. Sand. "There—there now; he shall have his bottle, so he shall!"
"A beautiful meeting. Abraham Lincoln White, the Savannah negro, you know, came as a believer for the first time, and so did Miss Rozario from Whiteway and Laidlaw's. We had such a happy time."
"What sort of collection?"
Laura opened a knotted handkerchief and counted out some copper coins.
"Only seven annas three pice! And you call that a good meeting! I don't believe you exhorted them to give!"
"Oh, I think I did!" Laura returned mechanically.
"Seven annas and three pice! And you know what the Commissioner wrote out about our last quarter's earnings! What did you say?"
"I said—I said the collection would now be taken up," Laura faltered.
"Oh dear! oh dear! Leopold, stop clawing me! Couldn't you think of anythin' more tellin' or more touchin' than that? Fever or no fever, it does not do for me to stay away from the regular meetin's. One thing is plain—he wasn't there!"
"Well, you've never told me his name, but I expect you've got your reasons." Mrs. Sand's tone was not arch, but slightly resentful. "I mean the gentleman that attends so regular and sits behind, under the window. A society man, I should say, to look at him, though the officers of this Army are no respecters of persons, and I don't suppose the Lord takes any notice of his clothes."
"His name is Mr. Lindsay. No, he wasn't there."
The girl's tone was distant and cold. The rebuke about the collection had gone home to a place raw with similar reproaches.
"I hope you haven't been discouraging him?"
Captain Filbert looked at her superior officer with astonishment.
"I have entreated him to come to the meetings. But he never attends a Believers' Rally. Why should he?"
"What's his state of mind? He came to see you, didn't he, the other night?"
"Yes, he did. I don't think he's altogether careless."
"Ain't he seeking?"
"He wouldn't admit it, but he may not know himself. The Lord has different ways of working. What else should bring him night after night?"
Mrs. Sand glanced meaningly at a point on the floor, with lifted eyebrows, then at her officer, and finally hid a badly disciplined smile behind her baby's head. When she looked back again Laura had flushed all over, and an embarrassment stood between them, which she felt was absurd.
"My!" she said—scruples in breaking it could hardly perhaps have been expected of her—"you do look nice when you've got a little colour. But if you can't see that it's you that brings him to the meetin's you must be blind, that's all."
Captain Filbert's confusion was dispelled, as by the wave of a wand.
"Then I hope I may go on bringing him," she said. "He couldn't come to a better place."
"Well, you'll have to be careful," said Mrs. Sand, as if with severe intent. "But I don't say discourage him; I wouldn't say that. You may be an influence for good. It may be His will that you should be pleasant to the young man. But don't make free with him. Don't, on any account, have him put his arm round your waist."
"Nobody has done that to me," Laura replied, austerely, "since I left Putney, and so long as I am in the Army nobody will. Not that Mr. Lindsay" (she blushed again) "would ever want to. The class he belongs to look down on it."
"The class he belongs to do worse things. The Army doesn't look down on it. It's only nature, and the Army believes in working with nature. If it was Mr. Harris that wanted such a thing, I wouldn't say a word—he marches under the Lord's banner."
Captain Filbert listened without confusion; her expression was even slightly complacent.
"Well," she said, "I told Mr. Harris last evening that the Lieutenant and I couldn't go on giving him so much of our time, and he seemed to think he'd been keeping company with me. I had to tell him I hadn't any such idea."
"Did he seem much disappointed?"
"He said he thought he would have more of the feeling of belonging to the Army if he was married in it; but I told him he would have to learn to walk alone."
Mrs. Sand speculatively bit her lip. Some faint reflection of the interview with Mr. Harris made her, as far as possible, button up her dressing-gown.
"I don't know but what you did right," she said. "By the grace of God you converted him, and he hadn't ought to ask more of you. But I have a kind of feeling that Mr. Lindsay'll be harder to convince."
"I dare say."
"It would be splendid, though, to garner him in. He might be willing to march with us and subscribe half his pay, like poor Captain Corby, of the Queen's Army, did in Rangoon."
"He might be proud to."
"We must all try and bring sin home to him," Mrs. Sand remarked with rising energy; "and don't you go saying anything to him hastily. If he's gone on you——"
"Oh, Ensign; let us hope he is thinking of higher things! Let us both pray for him. Let Captain Sand pray for him, too, and I'll ask the Lieutenant. Now that she's got Miss Rozario safe into the Kingdom, I don't think she has any special object."
"Oh, yes, we'll pray for him," Ensign Sand returned, as if that might have gone without saying, "but you——"
"And give me that precious baby. You must be completely worn out. I should enjoy taking care of him; indeed I should."
"It's the first—the very first—time she ever took that draggin' child out of my arms for an instant," the Ensign remarked to her husband and next in command later in the evening, but she resigned the infant without protest at the time. Laura carried him into her own room with something like gaiety, and there repeated to him more nursery rhymes, dating from secular Putney, than she would have believed she remembered.
The Believers' Rally, as will be understood, was a gathering of some selectness. If the Chinaman came, it was because of the vagueness of his reception of the privileges he claimed; and his ignorance of all tongues but his own left no medium for turning him out. Qualms of conscience, however, kept all Miss Rozario's young lady friends away, and these also, doubtless, operated to detain Duff Lindsay. One does not attend a Believers' Rally unless one's personal faith extends beyond the lady in command of it, and one specially refrains if one's spiritual condition is a delicate and debatable matter with her. In Wellesley square, later in the evening, the conditions were different. It would not be easy to imagine a scene that suggested greater liberality of sentiment. The moon shed her light upon it, and the palms threw fretted shadows down. Beyond them, on four sides, lines of street-lamps shone, and tram-drivers whistled bullock carts off the lines, and street pedlars lifted their cries. A torch marked the core of the group of exhorters; it struck pale gold from Laura's hair, and made glorious the buttons of the man who beat the drum. She talked to the people in their own language; the "open air" was designed for the people. "Kiko! Kiko!" (Why! Why!) Lindsay heard her cry, where he stood in the shadow, on the edge of the crowd. He looked down at a coolie woman with shrivelled breasts crouched on her haunches upon the ground, bent with the bricks of half a century, and back at the girl beside the torch. "Do not delay until to-morrow!" Laura besought them. "Kul-ka dari mut karo!" A sensation of disgust assailed him; he turned away. Then, in an impulse of atonement—he felt already so responsible for her—he went back and dropped a coin into the coolie creature's lap. But he grew more miserable as he stood, and finally walked deliberately to a wooden bench at a distance, where he could not hear her voice. Only the hymn pursued him; they sang presently a hymn. In the chorus the words were distinguishable, borne in the robust accents of Captain Sand—
"Us ki ho tarif, Us ki ho tarif!"
The strange words, limping on the familiar air, made a barbarous jangle, a discordance of a special intolerable sort.
Lindsay wondered, with a poignancy of pity, whether the coolie woman were singing too, and found something like relief in the questionable reflection that if she wasn't, in view of the rupee, she ought to be.
"Glory to His name!" "Glory to His name!"
His "Good evening!" when the meeting was over was a cheerful, general salutation, and the familiarity of the sight of him was plain in the response he got, equally general and equally cheerful. Lieutenant Da Cruz's smile was even further significant, if he had thought of interpreting it, and there was overt amiability in the manner in which Ensign Sand put her hymn-books together and packed everybody, including her husband, whose arm she took, out of the way.
"Wait for me," Laura said, to whom a Eurasian beggar made elaborate appeal, as they moved off.
"I guess you've got company to see you home," Mrs. Sand called put, and they did not wait. As Lindsay came closer, the East Indian paused in his tale of the unburied wife for whom he could not afford a coffin, and slipped away.
"The Ensign knows she oughtn't to talk like that," Laura said. Lindsay marked with a surge of pleasure that she was flushed and seemed perturbed.
"What she said was quite true," he ventured.
"But—anybody would think——"
"What would anybody think? Shall we keep to this side of the road? It's quieter. What would anybody think?"
"Oh, silly things." Laura threw up her head with a half-laugh. "Things I needn't mention."
Lindsay was silent for an instant. Then "Between us?" he asked, and she nodded.
Their side of the street, along the square, was nearly empty. He found her hand and drew it through his arm. "Would you mind so very much," he said, "if those silly things were true?" He spoke as if to a child. His passion was never more clearly a single object to him, divorced from all complicating and non-essential impressions of her. "I would give all I possess to have it so," he told her, catching at any old foolish phrase that would serve.
"I don't believe you mean anything like all you say, Mr. Lindsay." Her head was bent and she kept her hand within his arm. He seemed to be a circumstance that brought her reminiscences of how one behaved sentimentally toward a young man with whom there was no serious entanglement. It is not surprising that he saw only one thing, walls going down before him, was aware only of something like invitation. Existence narrowed itself to a single glowing point; as he looked it came so near that he bounded to meet it.
"Dear," he said, "you can't know—there is no way of telling you—what I mean. I suppose every man feels the same thing about the woman he loves; but it seems to me that my life had never known the sun until I saw you. I can't explain to you how poor it was, and I won't try; but I fancy God sends every one of us, if we know it, some one blessed chance, and He did more for me—He lifted the veil of my stupidity and let me see it, passing by in its halo, trailing clouds of glory. I don't want to make you understand, though—I want to make you promise. I want to be absolutely sure from to-night that you'll marry me. Say that you'll marry me—say it before we get to the crossing. Say it, Laura." She listened to his first words with a little half-controlled smile, then made as if she would withdraw her hand, but he held it with his own, and she heard him through, walking beside him formally in her bare feet, and looking carefully at the asphalt pavement as they do in Putney.
"I don't object to your calling me by my given name," she said when he had done, "but it can't go any further than that, Mr. Lindsay, and you ought not to bring God into it—indeed you ought not. You are no son or servant of His—you are among those whose very light is darkness, and how great is your darkness!"
"Don't," he said shortly, "never mind about that—now. You needn't be afraid of me, Laura—there are decent chaps, you know, outside the Kingdom of Heaven, and one of them wants you to marry him, that's how it is. Will you?"
"I don't wish to judge you, Mr. Lindsay, and I'm very much obliged, but I couldn't dream of it."
"Don't dream of it; consider it, accept it. Why, darling, you are half mine already—don't you feel that?"
Her arm was certainly warm within his and he had the possession of his eyes in her. Her tired body even clung to him. "Are you quite sure you haven't begun to think of loving me?" he demanded.
"It isn't a question of love, Mr. Lindsay, it's a question of the Army. You don't seem to think the Army counts for anything."
One is convinced that it wasn't a question of love, the least in the world; but Lindsay detected an evasion in what she said, and the flame in him leaped up.
"Sweet, when love is concerned there is no other question."
"Is that a quotation?" she asked. She spoke coldly, and this time she succeeded in withdrawing her hand. "I dare say you think the Army very common, Mr. Lindsay, but to me it is marching on a great and holy crusade, and I march with it. You would not ask me to give up my life-work?"
"Only to take it into another sphere," Duff said, unreflectively. He was checked but not discouraged, impatient, but in no wise cast down. She had not flown, she walked beside him placidly. She had no intention of flight. He tried to resign himself to the task of beating down her trivial objections, curbing his athletic impulse to leap over them.
"Another sphere"—he caught a subtle pleasure in her enunciation. "I suppose you mean high society; but it would never be the same."
"Not quite the same. You would have to drive to see your sinners in a carriage and pair, and you might be obliged to dine with them in—what do ladies generally dine in?—white satin and diamonds, or pearls. I think I would rather see you in pearls." He was aware of the inexcusableness of the points he made, but he only stopped to laugh inwardly at their impression, watching the absorbed turn of her head.
"We might think it well to be a little select in our sinners—most of them would be on Government House list, just as most of your present ones are on the lists of the charitable societies or the district magistrates. But you would find just as much to do for them."
"I should not even know how to act in such company."
"You can go home for a year, if you like, to be taught, to some people I know; delightful people, who will understand. A year! You will learn in three months—what odds and ends there are to know. I couldn't spare you for a year."
Lindsay stopped. He had to. Captain Filbert was murmuring the cadences of a hymn. She went through two stanzas, and—covered her eyes for a moment with her hand. When she spoke it was in a quiet, level, almost mechanical way. "Yes," she said. "The Cross and the Crown, the Crown and the Cross. Father in Heaven, I do not forget Thy will and Thy purpose, that I should bring the word of Thy love to the poor and the lowly, the outcast and those despised. And what I say to this man, who offers me the gifts and the gladness of a world that had none for Thee, is the answer Thou hast put in my heart—that the work is Thine and that I am Thine, and he has no part or lot in me, nor can ever have. Here is Crooked lane. Good-night, Mr. Lindsay."
She had slipped into the devious darkness of the place before he could find any reply, before he quite realised, indeed, that they had reached her lodging. He could only utter a vague "Good-night" after her, formulating more definite statements to himself a few minutes later in Bentinck street.
Miss Howe was walking in the business quarter of Calcutta. It was the business quarter, and yet the air was gay with the dimpling of piano notes, and looking up one saw the bright sunlight fall on yellow stuccoed flats above the shops and the offices. There the pleasant north wind blew banners of muslin curtains out of wide windows, and little gardens of palms in pots showed behind the balustrades of the flat roofs whenever a story ran short. Everywhere was a subtle contagion of momentary well-being, a sense of lifted burden. The stucco streets were too slovenly to be purely joyous, but a warm satisfaction brooded in them, the pariahs blinked at one genially, there was a note of cheer even in the cheeling of the kites where they sat huddled on the roof-cornices or circled against the high blue sky. It was enjoyable to be abroad, in the brushing fellowship of the pavements, in touch with brown humility, half-clad and going afoot, since even brown humility seemed well affected toward the world, alert and content. The air was full of the comfortable flavour of food-stuffs and spiced luxuries and the incense of wayside trees; it was as if the sun laid a bland compelling hand upon the city, bidding strange flowers bloom and strange fruits increase. Brokers' gharries rattled past, each holding a pale young man preoccupied with a note-book; where the bullock-carts gathered themselves together and blocked the road the pale young men put excited heads out of the gharry windows and used remarkable imprecations. One of them, as Hilda turned into the compound of the Calcutta Chronicle, leaned out to take off his hat, and sent her up to the office of that journal in the pleasant reflection of his infinite interest in life. "Upon my word," she said to herself, as she ascended the stairs behind the lean legs of a Mussulman servant in a dirty shirt and an embroidered cap, "he's so light-hearted, so general, that one doubts the very tremendous effect even of a failure like the one he contemplates."
She sent her card in to the manager-sahib by the lean Mussulman, and followed it past the desks of two or three Bengali clerks, who hardly lifted their well-oiled heads from their account-books to look at her—so many memsahibs to whose enterprises the Chronicle gave prominence came to see the manager-sahib and they were so much alike. At all events they carried a passport to indifference in the fact that they all wanted something, and it was clear to the meanest intelligence that they appeared to be more magnificent than they were, visions in dazzling complexions and long kid gloves, rattling up in third-class ticca-gharries, with a wisp of fodder clinging to their skirts. It was less interesting still when they belonged to the other class, the shabby ladies, nearly always in black, with husbands in the Small Cause Court, or sons before the police magistrate, who came to get it, if possible, "kept out of the paper." Successful or not, these always wept on their way out, and nothing could be more depressing. The only gleam of entertainment to be got out of a lady visitor to the manager-sahib occurred when the female form enshrined the majestic personality of a boarding-house madam, whose asylum for respectable young men in leading Calcutta firms had been maliciously traduced in the local columns of the Chronicle—a lady who had never known what a bailiff looked like in the lifetime of her first husband, or her second either. Then at the sound of a pudgy blow upon a table or high abusive accents in the rapid, elaborate cadences of the domiciled East Indian tongue, Hari Babu would glance at Gobind Babu with a careful smile, for the manager-sahib who dispensed so much galli was now receiving the same, and defenceless.
[Footnote 6: Abuse.]
The manager sat at his desk when Hilda went in. He did not rise—he was one of those highly sagacious little Scotchmen that Dundee exports in such large numbers to fill small posts in the East, and she had come on business. He gave her a nod, however, and an affectionate smile, and indicated with his blue pencil a chair on the other side of the table. He had once made three hundred rupees in tea shares, and that gave him the air of a capitalist and speculator gamely shrewd. Tapping the table with his blue pencil, he asked Miss Howe how the world was using her.
"Let me see," said Hilda, a trifle absent-mindedly, "were you here last cold weather—I rather imagine you were, weren't you?"
"I was; I had the pleasure of—"
"To be sure. You got the place in December, when that poor fellow Baker died. Baker was a country-bred, I know, but he always kept his contracts, while you got your polish in Glesca, and your name is Macphairson—isn't it?"
"I was never in Glasscow in my life, and my name is Macandrew," said the manager, putting with some aggressiveness a paper-weight on a pile of bills.
"Never mind," said Hilda, again wrapped in thought, "don't apologise—it's near enough. Well, Mr. Macandrew"—her tone came to a point—"what is the Stanhope Company's advertisement worth a month to the Chronicle?"
"A hundred rupees, maybe—there or thereabouts," and Mr. Macandrew, with a vast show of indifference, picked up a letter and began to tear at the end of it.
"One hundred and fifty-five, I think, to be precise. That communication will wait, won't it? What is it—Kally Nath Mitter's paper and stores bill? You won't be able to pay it any quicker if we withdraw our advertisement."
"Why should ye withdraw it?"
"It was given to you on the understanding that notices should appear of every Wednesday and Saturday's performance. For two Wednesdays there has been no notice, and last Saturday night you sent a fool."
"So Muster Stanhope thinks o' withdrawin' his advertisement?"
"He is very much of that mind."
The manager put his thumbs in the armholes of his waistcoat, leaned back in his chair, and demonstrated the principle that had given him a gold watch chain—"Never be bluffed."
"Ye can withdraw it," he said, with a warily experimental eye upon her.
"How reasonable of you not to make a fuss! We'll have the order to discontinue in writing, please. If you give me a pen and paper—thanks—and I'll keep a copy."
"Stanhope has wanted to transfer it to the Market Gazette for some time," she went on as she wrote.
"That's not a newspaper. You'll get no notices there."
"Cheaper on that account, probably."
"They charge like the very deevil. D'ye know the rates of them?"
"I can't say I do."
"There's a man on our staff that doesn't like your show. We'll be able to send him every night now."
"When we withdraw our advertisement?"
"All right," said Hilda. "It will be interesting to point out in the Indian Empire the remarkable growth of independent criticism in the Chronicle since Mr. Stanhope no longer uses the space at his disposal. I hope your man will be very nasty indeed. You might as well hand over the permanent passes—the gentleman will expect, I suppose, to pay."
"They'll be in the yeditorial department," said Mr. Macandrew, but he did not summon a messenger to go for them. Instead he raised his eyebrows in a manner that expressed the necessity of making the best of it, and humourously scratched his head.
"We have four hundred pounds of new type coming out in the Almora—she's due on Thursday," he said. "Entirely for the advertisements. We'll have a fine display next week. It's grand type—none of your Calcutta-made stuff."
"Pays to bring it out, does it?" asked Hilda, inattentively, copying her letter.
"Pays the advertisers." There were ingratiating qualities in the managerial smile. Hilda inspected them coldly.
"There's your notice of withdrawal," she said. "Good-morning."
"Think of that new type, and how lovely Jimmy Finnigan's ad. will look in it."
"That's all right. Good-morning." Miss Howe approached the door, the blue glance of Macandrew pursuant.
"No notices for two Wednesdays, eh? We'll have to see about that. I was thinkin' of transferrin' your space to the third page; it's a more advantageous position—and no extra charge—but ye'll not mention it to Jimmy."
Miss Howe lifted an arrogant chin. "Do I understand you'll do that, and guarantee regular notices, if we leave the advertisement with you?"
Mr. Macandrew looked at her expressively and tore, with a gesture of moderated recklessness, the notice of withdrawal in two.
"Rest easy," he said, "I'll see about it. I'd go the len'th of attendin' myself to-night, if ye could spare three extra places."
"Moderate enough. I've got some frien's stayin' in the same place with me from Behar—indigo people. I was thinkin' I'd give them a treat, if three places c'd be spared next to the Chronicle seats."
"We do Lady Whippleton to-night and the booking's been heavy. Five is too many, Mr. Macandrew, even if you promise not to write the notice yourself."
"I might pay for one—" Macandrew drew red cartwheels on his blotting-pad.
"Those seats are sure to be gone. I'll send you a box. Stanhope's as bad as he can be with dysentery—you might make a local out of that. Be sure to mention he can't see anybody—it's absurd the way Calcutta people want to be paid."
"A box'll be grand," said Mr. Macandrew. "I'll see ye get plenty of ancores. Can ye manage the door? Good-day, then."
Hilda stepped out on the landing. The heavy, regular thud of the presses came up from below. They were printing the edition that took the world's news to planters' bungalows in the jungle of Assam and the lonely policemen on the edge of Manipore. The smell of the newspaper of to-day and of yesterday and of a year ago stood in the air; through an open door she saw the dusty, uneven piles of them, piled on the floor. Three or four messengers squatted beside the wall, with slumbrous heads between their knees. Occasionally a shout came from the room inside, and one of them, crying "Hazur!" with instant alacrity, stretched himself mightily, loafed upon his feet and went in, emerging a moment later carrying written sheets, with which he disappeared into the regions below. The staircase took a lazy curve and went up: under it, through an open window, the sun glistened upon the shifting white and green leaves of a pipal tree and a crow sat on the sill and thrust his grey head in with caws of indignant expostulation. A Government peon in scarlet and gold ascended the stair at his own pace, bearing a packet with an official seal. The place, with its ink-smeared walls and high ceilings, spoke between dusty yawns of the langour and the leisure which might attend the manipulation of the business of life, and Hilda paused for an instant to perceive what it said. Then she walked behind her card into the next room, where a young gentleman, reading proofs in his shirt-sleeves, flung himself upon his coat and struggled into it at her approach. He seemed to have the blackest hair and the softest eyes and the neatest moustache available, all set in a complexion frankly olive, amiable English cut, in amiable Oriental colour, and the whole illumined, when once the coat was on and the collar perfectly turned down, by the liveliest, most engaging smile. Standing with his head slightly on one side and one hand resting on the table while the other saw that nothing was disarranged between collar and top waistcoat button, he was an interjection-point of imitation and attention.