Hilda Howe, approaching the end of her probation at the Baker Institution, threw the dormitory window wide to them, went out to seek them. They gave her a new stirring of vitality, something deep within her leaped up responding to the voucher the evenings brought that presently they would bring something new and different. She vibrated to an irrepressible pulse of accord with that; it made her hand strong and her brain clear for the unimportant matters that remained within the scope of the monotonous moment. There had come upon her a stimulating assurance that it would be only a moment—now. She did not consider this, she could hardly be said to be intelligently aware of it, but it underlay all that she said and did. Her spirits gained an enviable lightness, she began again to see beautiful, touching things in the life that carried her on with it. She explained to Stephen Arnold that she was immensely happy at having passed the last of her nursing examinations.
“I hardly dare ask you,” he said, “what you are going to do now.”
He looked furtive and anxious; she saw that he did, and the perception irritated her. She had to tell herself that she had given him the right to look in any way he pleased—indeed yes.
“I hardly dare ask myself,” she answered, and was immediately conscious that for the first time in the history of their relations she had spoken to him that which was expedient.
“I hope the Sisters are not trying to influence you,” he said firmly.
“Fancy!” she cried irrelevantly. “I heard the other day that Sister Ann Frances had described me as the pride of the Baker Institution!” She laughed with delight at the humour of it, and he smiled too. When she laughed, he had nearly always now confidence enough to smile too.
“You might ask for another six months.”
“Heavens, no! No—I shall make up my mind.”
“Then you may go away,” Arnold said. They were standing at the crossing of the wide red road from which they would go in different directions. She saw that the question was momentous to him. She also saw how curiously the sun sallowed him, and how many more hollows he had in his face than most people. She had a pathetic impression of the figure he made in his coarse gown and shoes. “God’s wayfarer,” she murmured. There was pity in her mind, infinite pity. Her thought had no other tinge. It was a curiously simple feeling, and seemed to bring her an inconsistent lightness of heart.
“Come too,” she said aloud, “come and be a Clarke Brother where the climatic conditions suit you better. The world wants Clarke Brothers everywhere.”
He looked at her and tried to smile, but his lips quivered. He opened them in an effort to speak, gave it up, and turned away silently, lifting his hat. Hilda watched him for an instant as he went. His figure took strange proportions through the tears that sprang to her eyes, and she marvelled at the gaiety with which she had touched, had almost revealed, her heart’s desire.