“Why do you use that odious word?” Alicia explained. “You are not my maid! Don’t do it again—don’t dream of doing it again!”
“I—I don’t know.” The girl was still plainly covered with confusion at being found in the house uninvited. “I suppose I forget. Well, good evening,” and she turned to the door.
“Don’t go,” Alicia commanded. “Don’t. You never come to see me now. Sit down.” She dragged a chair forward and almost pushed Laura into it. “I will sit down, too—what am I thinking of?”
Laura reflected for a moment, looking at her folded hands. “I might as well tell you,” she said, “that I have not been praying that Mr. Lindsay should get better. Only that he should be given time to find salvation and die in Jesus.”
“Don’t—don’t say those things to me. How light you are—it’s wicked!” Alicia returned with vehemence, and then, as Captain Filbert stared, half comprehending, “Don’t you care?” she added curiously.
It was so casual that it was cruel. The girl’s eyes grew wider still during the instant she fixed them upon Alicia in the effort of complete understanding. Then her lip trembled.
“How can I care?” she cried, “how can I?” and burst into weeping. She drew her sari over her face and rocked to and fro. Her dusty bare foot protruded from her cotton skirt. She sat huddled together, her head in its coverings sunk between weak, shaking shoulders. Alicia considered her for an instant as a pitiable and degraded spectacle. Then she went over and touched her.
“You are completely worn out,” she said, “and it is almost dinner time. The ayah will bring you a hot bath, and then you will come down and have some food quietly with me. My brother is dining out somewhere. I will go away for a little while and then I know you will feel better. And after dinner,” she added gently, “you may come up if you like and pray again for Mr. Lindsay. I am sure he would——”
The faintest break in her own voice warned her, and she hurried out of the room.
It was a foolish thing and the Livingstones’ old Karim Bux much deplored it, but the Miss-sahib had forgotten to give information that the dinner of eight commanded a fortnight ago would not take place—hence everything was ready in its sequence for this event, with a new fashion of stuffing quails and the first strawberries of the season from Dinapore. The feelings of Karim Bux in presenting these things to a woman in the dress of a coolie are not important; but Alicia, for some reason, seemed to find the trivial incident gratifying.