“I have nothing to ask for myself,” he went on, with concentration almost harsh. “I am here to see if you will consent to speak with me about a matter which threatens your—your community—about your possible loss of Miss Filbert.”
Mrs. Sand looked blank. “The Captain isn’t leavin’ us, as far as I know,” she said.
“Oh—is it possible that you are not aware that—that very strong efforts are being made to induce her to do so?”
Mrs. Sand looked about her as if she expected to find an explanation lying somewhere near her chair. Light came to her suddenly, and brought her a conscious smile; it only lacked force to be a giggle. She glanced at her lap as she smiled; her air was deprecating and off-putting, as if she had detected in what Arnold said some suggestion of a gallant nature aimed at herself. Happily, he was not looking.
“You mean Mr. Lindsay!” she exclaimed, twisting her wedding-ring and its coral guard.
“I hope—I beg—that you will not think me meddlesome or impertinent. I have the matter very much at heart. It seems to lie in my path. I must see it. Surely you perceive some way of averting the disaster in it!”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you refer to.” Mrs. Sand’s tone was prudish and offended. “She hasn’t said a word to me—she’s a great one for keeping things to herself—but if Mr. Lindsay don’t mean marriage with her—”
“Why, of course!” Arnold, startled, turned furiously red, but Mrs. Sand in her indignation did not reflect the tint. “Of course! Is not that,” he went on after an instant’s pause, “precisely what is to be lamented—and prevented?”
Mrs. Sand looked at her visitor with dry suspicion. “I suppose you are a friend of his,” she said.
“I have known him for years. Pray don’t misunderstand me. There is nothing against him—nothing whatever.”
“Oh, I don’t suppose there is, except that he is not on the Lord’s side. But I don’t expect any of his friends are anxious for him to marry an officer in the Salvation Army. Society people ain’t fond of the Army, and never will be.”
“His people—he has only distant relatives living—are all at home,” Stephen said vaguely. The situation had become slightly confused.
“Then you speak for them, I suppose?”
“Indeed not. I am in no communication with them whatever. I fancy they know nothing about it. I am here entirely—entirely of my own accord. I have come to place myself at your disposition if there is anything I can do, any word I can say, to the end of preventing this catastrophe in a spiritual life so pure and devoted; to ask you at all events to let me join my prayers to yours that it shall not come about.”
The squalor of the room seemed to lift before his eyes and be suffused with light. At last he had made himself plain. But Mrs. Sand was not transfigured. She seemed to sit, with her hands folded, in the midst of a calculation.