Dr. Livingstone’s concern was personal, that was plain in the way he stood looking at the floor of the corridor with his hands in his pockets, before Hilda reached him. Regret was written all over the lines of his pausing figure with the compressed irritation which saved that feeling in the Englishman’s way from being too obvious.
“This is a bad business, Miss Howe.”
“I’ve just come over—I haven’t heard. Who is it?”
“It’s my cousin, poor chap—Arnold, the padre. He’s been badly knifed in the bazar.”
The news passed over her and left her looking with a curious face at chance. It was lifted a little, with composed lips, and eyes which refused to be taken by surprise. There was inquiry in them, also a defence. Chance, looking back, saw an invincible silent readiness, and a pallor which might be that of any woman. But the doctor was also looking, so she said, “That is very sad,” and moved near enough to the wall to put her hand against it. She was not faint, but the wall was a fact on which one could, for the moment, rely.
“They’ve got the man—one of those Cabuli money-lenders. The police had no trouble with him. He said it was the order of Allah— the brute! Stray case of fanaticism, I suppose. It seems Arnold was walking along as usual, without a notion, and the fellow sprang on him, and in two seconds the thing was done. Hadn’t a chance, poor beggar.”
“Where is it?”
“Root of the left lung. About five inches deep. The artery pretty well cut through, I fancy.”
“Oh no—we can’t do anything. The haemorrhage must be tremendous. But he may live through the night. Are you going to Sister Margaret?”
His nod took it for granted, and he went on. Hilda walked slowly forward, her head bent, with absorbed uncertain steps. A bar of evening sunlight came before her, she looked up and stepped outside the open door. She was handling this thing that had happened, taking possession of it. It lay in her mind in the midst of a suddenly stricken and tenderly saddened consciousness. It lay there passively; it did not rise and grapple with her, it was a thing that had happened—in Burra Bazar. The pity of it assailed her. Tears came into her eyes, and an infinite grieved solicitude gathered about her heart. “So?” she said to herself, thinking that he was young and loved his work, and that now his hand would be stayed from the use it had found. One of the ugly outrages of life, leaving nothing on the mouth but that brief acceptance. It came to hers with a note of the profound and of the supreme. She turned resolutely from searching her heart for any wild despair. She would not for an instant consider what she ought to feel. “So,” she said, and pressed her lips till they stopped trembling, and went into the hospital.