HotFreeBooks.com
Hilda - A Story of Calcutta
by Sara Jeannette Duncan
1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

HILDA

A STORY OF CALCUTTA

BY SARAH JEANETTE DUNCAN (MRS. EVERARD COTES)

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



NEW YORK FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY PUBLISHERS

Copyright, 1898 By Frederick A. Stokes Company



HILDA



CHAPTER I.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Indeed I did."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"She's got a soul worth saving."

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

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

Lindsay listened with a look of accustomed happiness.

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

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

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

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

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

"And pray why?"

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

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

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

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

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

"Then Bradley is here too?" he remarked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"He is a clever fellow, no doubt."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You saw, you heard, you know."

"But——"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER II.

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

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

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

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

"Mere imitators!" cried Mrs. Barberry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And precisely the reverse happened."

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I thought you would find it so."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Footnote 1: Custom.]

"That was in—"

"In February."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER III.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Ah! don't go away!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER IV.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"A statue?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Introduced whom?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Not yet!" Alicia cried.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And next week?" cried Alicia.

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

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

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

"Oh, quite."

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

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

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

"It pays! It pays!"



CHAPTER V.

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

1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse