“And the rules, Hilda? I can’t imagine you, somehow, under rules.”
“I am attached to the rules; I think about them all day long. They make the thing simple and—possible. It is a little like living for the first time in a house all right angles after—after a lifelong voyage in a small boat.”
“Isn’t the house rather empty?”
Alicia put out her hand and tucked an irrelevant bit of lace into Hilda’s bosom. “I can tell you who is interested,” she cried. “The Archdeacon—the Archdeacon and Mrs. Barberry. They both dined here last night; and you lasted from the fish to the pudding. I got so bored with you, my dear, in your new capacity.”
A new ray of happiness came into the smile of the novice. “What did they say? Do tell me what they said.”
“There was a difference of opinion. The Archdeacon held that with God all things were possible. He used an expression more suitable to a dinner-party; but I think that is what he meant. Mrs. Barberry thought it wouldn’t last. Mrs. Barberry was very cynical. She said anyone could see that you were as emotional as ever you could be.”
The eyes of the two women met, and they laughed frankly. A sense of expansion came between them, in which for an instant they were silent.
“Tell me about the hospital,” Alicia said presently. “Ah, the hospital!” Hilda’s face changed; there came into her eyes the moved look that always waked a thrill in Alicia Livingstone, as if she were suddenly aware that she had stepped upon ground where feet like hers passed seldom.
“There is nothing to tell you that is not—sad. Such odds and ends, of life, thrown together!”
“Have you had any experiences yet?”
Hilda stared for a moment absently in front of her, and then turned her head aside to answer as if she closed her eyes on something.
“Experiences? Delightful Alicia, speaking your language, no. You are thinking of the resident surgeon, the medical student, the interesting patient. My resident surgeon is fifty years old; the medical student is a Bengali in white cotton and patent leather shoes. I am occupied in a ward full of deck hands. For these I hold the bandage and the bottle; they are hardly aware of me.”
“You are sure to have them,” Alicia said. “They crop up wherever you go in this world, either before you or behind you.”
Hilda fixed her eyes attentively upon her companion. “Sometimes,” she said, “you say things that are extremely true in their general bearing. A fortuneteller with cards gives one the same shock of surprise. Well, let me tell you, I have been promoted to temperatures. I took thirty-five to-day. Next week I am to make poultices; the week after, baths and fomentations.”
“What are the others like—the other novices?”
“Nearly all Eurasians, one native, a Hindu widow—the Sisters are almost demonstrative to her—and one or two local European girls: the commissariat sergeant class, I should think.”