He went away immediately, and she glossed over his scandalous behaviour and said farewell to him as usual, in spite of the unusual look of consciousness in her eyes. Then she went to her room and deliberately loosened her garments and lay down upon her bed, first to sob like that little child she remembered, and afterwards to think, until the world came and knocked at her door and bade her come out of herself and earn money.
The compulsion which took Stephen Arnold to Crooked lane is hardly ours to examine. It must have been strong, since going up to Mrs. Sand involved certain concessions, doubtless intrinsically trifling, but of exaggerated discomfort to the mind spiritually cloistered, whatever its other latitude. Among them was a distinctly necessary apology, difficult enough to make to a lady of rank so superior and authority so voyant in the Church Militant, by a mere fighting soul without such straps and buttons as might compel recognition upon equal terms. It is impossible to know how far Stephen envisaged the visit as a duty—the priestly horizon is perhaps not wholly free from mirage—or to what extent he confessed it an indulgence. He was certainly aware of a stronger desire than he could altogether account for that Captain Filbert should not desert her post. The idea had an element of imitation oddly personal; he could not bear to reflect upon it. It may be wondered whether in any flight of venial imagination Arnold saw himself in a parallel situation with a lady. I am sure he did not. It may be considered, however, that among mirages there are unaccountable resemblances—resemblances without shape or form. He might fix his gaze, at all events, upon the supreme argument that those who were given to holy work, under any condition, in any degree, should make no rededication of themselves. This had to support him as best it could against the conviction that had Captain Filbert been Sister Anastasia, for example, of the Baker Institution, and Ensign Sand the Mother Superior of its Calcutta branch, it was improbable that he would have ventured to announce his interest in the matter by his card, or in any other way.
It was a hesitating step, therefore, that carried him up to the quarters, and a glance of some nervous distress that made him aware, as he stood bowing upon her threshold, clasping with both hands his soft felt hat to his breast, that Mrs. Sand was not displeased to see him. She hastened, indeed, to give him a chair; she said she was very glad he’d dropped in, if he didn’t mind the room being so untidy—where there were children you could spend the whole day picking up. They were out at present, with Captain Sand, in the perambulator—not having more servants than they could help. A sweeper and a cook they did with; it would surprise the people in this country, who couldn’t get along with less than twenty, she often said.