His professional instinct taught him to treat the situation with simplicity, but he guessed that Joanna would not appreciate the quiet dealings of the confessional. He had always liked Joanna, always admired her, and he liked and admired her no less now, but he really knew very little of her—her life had crossed his only on three different brief occasions, when she was engaged to his brother, when she was anxious to appoint a Rector to the living in her gift, and now when as a broken-hearted woman she relieved herself of a burden of sorrow.
“Lawrence—tell me what to do.”
“Dear Jo—I’m not quite sure.... I don’t know what you want, you see. What I should want first myself would be absolution.”
“Oh, don’t you try none of your Jesoot tricks on me—I couldn’t bear it.”
“Very well. Then I think there’s only one thing you can do, and that is to go home and take up your life where you left it, with a very humble heart. ‘I shall go softly all my days in the bitterness of my soul.’”
“And be very thankful, too.”
“For your repentance.”
“Well, reckon I do feel sorry—and reckon, too, I done something to be sorry for.... Oh, Lawrence, what a wicked owl I’ve been! If you’d told me six year ago as I’d ever have come to this I’d have had a fit on the ground.”
Lawrence looked round him nervously. Whatever Joanna’s objections to private penance, she was curiously indifferent to confessing her sins to all mankind in Charing Cross station. The platform was becoming crowded again, and already their confessional had been invaded—a woman with a baby was sitting on the end of it.
“Your train will be starting soon,” said Lawrence—“let’s go and find you something to eat.”
Joanna felt better after she had had a good cup of coffee and a poached egg. She was surprised afterwards to find she had eaten so much. Lawrence sat with her while she ate, then took her to find her porter, her luggage and her train.
“But won’t you lose your train to Africa?” asked Joanna.
“I’m only going as far as Waterloo this morning, and there’s a train every ten minutes.”
“When do you start for Africa?”
“I think to-night.”
“I wish you weren’t going there. Why are you going?”
“Because I’m sent.”
“When will you come back?”
“I don’t know—perhaps never.”
“I’m middling sorry you’re going. What a place to send you to!—all among niggers.”
She was getting more like herself. He stood at the carriage door, talking to her of indifferent things till the train started. The whistle blew, and the train began to glide out of the station. Joanna waved her hand to the grey figure standing on the platform beside the tramp’s bundle which was all that would go with it to the ends of the earth. She did not know whether she pitied Lawrence or envied him.