For a few seconds she stopped speaking, but she held them with her eyes from the mistake of supposing she had done. Lindsay, who was watching her closely and hanging with keen pleasure on the sweetness and precision of what she found to say, noted a swift constriction pass upon her face. There was a half-tone of difference, too, in her voice, when she raised it again, a firmer vibration, as if she passed, deliberate and aware, out of one phase into another.
“No,” she went on, “I am not shy on this occasion; indeed, I feel that I should like to keep your eyes upon me for a long time to-night, and go on talking far past your patience or my wit. For I cannot think it likely that our ways will cross again.” Here her words grew suddenly low and hurried. “If I may trespass upon your interest so much further, I have to tell you that my connection with the stage closes with this evening’s performance. To-morrow I join the Anglican Order of the Sisters of St. Paul—the Baker Institution—in Calcutta, as a novice. They have taken me without much question because—because the plague hospitals of this cheerful country”—she contrived a smile—“have made a great demand upon their body. That is all. I have nothing more to say.”
It was, after all, ineffective, the denouement, or perhaps it was too effective. In any case it was received in silence, the applause that was ready falling back on itself, inconsistent and absurd. The incredulity of Llewellyn Stanhope might have been electric had it found words, but that gentleman’s protests were made in violent whispers, to which Hilda, who sat playing with a faded rose, seemed to pay no attention whatever. One might have thought her more overcome than anyone. She seemed to make one or two unsuccessful efforts to raise her head. There was a moment of waiting for someone to reply; eyes were turned towards Mr. Bradley, and when it became plain that no one would, broken murmurs of talk began with a note of deprecation and many shakes of the head. The women, especially, looked tragically at their neighbours with very wide-open eyes. Presently a chair was drawn back, and then another, and people began to filter, in slow embarrassment, towards the door. Lindsay came with Hilda’s cloak. “You won’t mind my coming with you,” he said, “I should like to hear the details.” Beryl Stace made as if to embrace her, pouring out abusive disbelief, but Hilda waved her away with a gesture almost of irritation. Some of the others said a perfunctory word or two, and went away with lingering backward looks. In a quarter of an hour, Mr. Lindsay’s brougham had followed the other vehicles into the lamp-lit ways of Calcutta, and only the native table-servants remained in somewhat resentful possession of what was left.