Laura was sitting straight up in one of the cheap little chairs, her sari drawn over her head, her hands folded in her lap. The native dress clung to her limbs in sculpturable lines, and her consecrated ambitions seemed more insistent than ever. She had nothing to do with anything else, nothing to do with her room or its arrangements, nothing, Lindsay felt profoundly, to do with him. Her personal zeal for him seemed to resolve itself, at the point of contact, into something disappointingly thin; he saw that she counted with him altogether as a unit in a glorious total, and that he himself had no place in her knowledge or her desire. This brought him, with something like a shock, to a sense of how far he had depended on her interest for his soul’s sake to introduce her to a wider view of him.
“But you have come to tell me about yourself,” she said, suddenly it seemed to Lindsay, who was wrapped in the contemplation of her profile. “Well, is there any special stumbling-block?”
“There are some things I should certainly like you to know,” replied Lindsay; “but you can’t think how difficult—” he glanced at the lath and plaster partition, but she to whom publicity was a condition salutary, if not essential, to spiritual experience, naturally had no interpretation for that.
“I know it’s sometimes hard to speak,” she said; “Satan ties our tongues.”
The misunderstanding was absurd, but he saw only its difficulties, knitting his brows.
“I fear you will find my story very strange and very mad,” he said. “I cannot be sure that you will even listen to it.”
“Oh,” Laura said simply, “do not be afraid! I have heard confessions! I work at home, you see, a good deal among the hospitals, and—we do not shrink, you know, in the Army, from things like that.”
“Good God!” he exclaimed, staring, “you don’t think—you don’t suppose—”
“Ah! don’t say that! It’s so like swearing.”
As he sat in helpless anger, trying to formulate something intelligible, the curtain parted, and a sallow little Eurasian girl of eighteen, also in the dress of the Army, came through from the bedroom part. She smiled in a conscious, meaningless way, as she sidled past them. At the door her smile broadened, and as she closed it after her she gave them a little nod.
“That’s my lieutenant,” said Laura.
“The place is like a warren,” Lindsay groaned. “How can we talk here?”
Laura looked at him gravely, as one making a diagnosis. “Do you think,” she said, “a word of prayer would help you?”
“No,” said Lindsay. “No, thank you. What is making me miserable,” he added quietly, “is the knowledge that we are being overheard. If you go into the next room, I am quite certain you will find Mrs. Sand listening by the wall.”
“She’s gone out! She and the Captain and Miss De Souza, to take the evening meeting. Nobody is in there except the two children, and they are asleep.” Her smile, he thought, made a Madonna of her. “Indeed, we are quite alone, you and I, in the flat now. So please don’t be afraid, Mr. Lindsay! Say whatever is in your heart, and the mere saying—”