“I would simply give anything to be there,” Miss Livingstone said, with a look of sincere desire.
“I should love to have you, but it isn’t possible. You might meet men you knew who had been invited by particular lady friends among the company.”
“Oh, well, that of course would be odious.”
“Very, I should think,” Hilda agreed. “You must be satisfied with a faithful report of it. I promise you that.”
“You have asked Mr. Lindsay,” Alicia complained.
“That’s quite a different thing. And if I hadn’t, Llewellyn Stanhope would; Stanhope cherishes Duff as he cherishes the critic of the Chronicle. He refers to him as a pillar of the legitimate. Whenever he begs me to turn the Norwegian crank, he says, ’I’m sure Mr. Lindsay would come.’”
Miss Howe was at the top of the staircase in Middleton Street, on the point of departure. It was to be the night of her last appearance for the season and her benefit, followed by a supper in her honour, at which Mr. Stanhope and his company would take leave of those whose acquaintance, as he expressed it, business and pleasure had given them during the months that were past. It was this function that Alicia, at the top of the staircase, so ardently desired to attend.
“No, I won’t kiss you,” Hilda said, as the other put her cool cheek forward; “I’m so divinely happy—some of it might escape.”
Alicia’s voice pursued her as she ran downstairs. “Remember,” she said, “I don’t approve. I don’t at all agree either with my reverend cousin or with you. I think you ought to find some other way, or let it go. Go home instead; go straight to London and insist on your chance. After six weeks you will have forgotten the name of his Order.”
Hilda looked back with a smile. Her face was splendid with the dawn and the promise of success. “Don’t say that,” she cried.
Alicia, leaning down, was visited by a flash of quotation. “Well,” she said, “nothing in this life becomes you like the leaving of it,” and went back to her room to write to Laura Filbert in Plymouth. She wrote often to Miss Filbert, at Duff’s request. It gratified her that she was able, without a pang, to address four pages of pleasantly colourless communication to Mr. Lindsay’s fiancee. Her letters stood for a medicine surprisingly easy to take, aimed at the convalescence which she already anticipated in the future immediately beyond Duff’s miserable marriage. If that event had promised felicitously she would have faced it, one fancies, with less sanguine anticipations for herself: but the black disaster that rode on with it brought her certain aids to the spirit, certain hopes of herself. Laura’s prompt replies, with their terrible margins and painstaking solecisms, came to be things Miss Livingstone looked forward to. She read them with a beating heart, however, in the unconscious apprehension of some revelation of improvement. She was quite unaware of it, but she entertained towards the Simpsons an attitude of misgiving in this regard.