“Yes—it depends. Sometimes I think it will be, but oftener I think it will take longer.”
“I should be inclined to leave it entirely with the Sisters.”
“I am so undisciplined,” murmured Hilda, “I fear I shall cling to my own opinion. Now we must overtake the others and you must walk the rest of the way with Sister Ann—no, Sister Margaret, she is senior.”
“I don’t at all see the necessity,” Stephen protested. He was wilful and wayward; he adopted a privileged air, and she scolded him. In their dispute they laughed so imprudently that Sister Ann Frances turned her draped head to look back at them. Then they quickened their steps and joined the elder ladies, and Stephen walked with Sister Margaret to the door of the Institution. She mentioned to the Mother Superior afterwards that young Mr. Arnold was really a delightful conversationalist.
They talked a great deal in Plymouth about the way the time was passing in Calcutta during those last three months before Laura should return, the months of the rains. “Now,” said Mrs. Simpson, early in July, “it will be pouring every day, with great patches of the Maidan under water, and rivers, my dear, rivers, in the back streets”; and Laura had a reminiscence about how, exactly at that time, a green mould used to spread itself fresh every morning on the matting under her bed in Bentinck Street. Later on they would agree that perhaps by this time there was a “break in the rains,” and that nothing in the world was so trying as a break in the rains, the sun grilling down and drawing up steam from every puddle. In September, things, they remembered, would be at their very worst and most depressing; one had hardly the energy to lift a finger in September. Mrs. Simpson looked back upon the discomfort she had endured in Bengal at this time of year with a kind of regret that it was irretrievably over; she lingered upon a severe illness which had been part of the experience. She seemed to think that with a little judicious management she might have spent more time in that climate, and less in England. There was in her tone a suggestion of gentle envy of Laura, going forth to these dismal conditions with her young life in her hands all tricked out for the sacrifice, which left Duff Lindsay and his white and gold drawing-room entirely out of consideration. Any sacrifice to Mrs. Simpson was alluring, she would be killed all day long, in a manner, for its own sake.
The victim had taken her passage early in October, and during the first week of that month Plymouth gathered itself into meetings to bid her farewell. A curiously sacred character had fastened itself upon her; it was not in the least realised that she was going out to be married to an altogether secular young broker moving in fashionable circles in one of the gayest cities in the world. Ones or two reverend