“Oh, nothing. I saw Stephen yesterday. I thought him looking rather wretched.”
A shadow of grave consideration winged itself across Hilda’s eyes.
“He works so much too hard,” she said. “It is an appalling waste. But he will offer himself up.”
Alicia looked unsatisfied. She had hoped for something that would throw more light upon the paramount stupidity. “He brought Mr. Lappe to tea,” she said.
The shadow went. “Should you think Brother Lappe,” Miss Howe demanded, “specially fitted for the cure of souls? Never, never, could I allow the process of my regeneration to come through Brother Lappe. He has such a little nose, and such wide pink cheeks, and such fat sloping shoulders. Dear succulent Brother Lappe!”
A Sister passed through the dormitory on a visit of inspection. Alicia bowed sweetly, and the Sister inclined herself briefly with a cloistered smile. As she disappeared Hilda threw a black skirt over her head, making a veil of it flowing backward, and rendered the visit, the noiseless measured step, the little deprecating movements of inquiry, the benevolent recognition of a visitor from a world where people carried parasols and wore spotted muslins. She even effaced herself at the door on the track of the other to make it perfect, and came back in the happy expansion of an artistic effort to find Alicia’s regard penetrated with the light of a new conviction.
“Hilda,” she said, “I should like to know what this last year has really been to you.”
“It has been very valuable,” Miss Howe replied. Then she turned quickly away to hang up the black petticoat, and stood like that, shaking out its folds, so that Alicia might not see anything curious in her face as she heard her own words and understood what they meant. Very valuable! She did understand, suddenly, completely. Very valuable! A year of the oddest experiences, a pictorial year, which she would look back upon, with its core in a dusty priest. . . .
A probationer came rapidly along the dormitory to where Hilda stood. She had the olive cheeks and the liquid eyes of the country; her lips were parted in a smile.
“Miss Howe,” she said, in the quick clicking syllables of her race, “Sister Margaret wishes you to come immediately to the surgical ward. A case has come in, and Miss Gonsalvez is there, but Sister Margaret will not be bothered with Miss Gonsalvez. She says you are due by right in five minutes,”—the messenger’s smile broadened irresponsibly, and she put a fondling touch upon Hilda’s apron string,—“so will you please to make haste!”
“What’s the case?” asked Hilda; “I hope it isn’t another ship’s hold accident.” But Alicia, a shade paler than before, put up her hand. “Wait till I’m gone,” she said, and went quickly. The girl had opened her lips, however, but to say that she didn’t know, she had only been seized to take the message, though it must be something serious since they had sent for both the resident surgeons.