“But—he is a priest!”
“Much more difficult. He is a saint.”
Alicia glanced at the floor. The record of another lighter moment twitched itself out of a day that was forgotten.
“Are you quite certain?” she said. “You told me once that—that there had been other times.”
“They are useful, those foolish episodes. They explain to one the difference.” The tone of this was very even, very usual, but Alicia was aware of a suggestion in it that accused her of aggression, that almost ranged her hostile. She hurried out of that position.
“If it were possible,” she said, frowning at her embarrassment. “I see nothing—nothing really against it.”
“I should think not! Can’t you conceive what I could do for him?”
“And what could he do for you?” Alicia asked, with a flash of curiosity.
“I don’t think I can let you ask me that.”
“There are such strange things to consider! Would he withdraw from the Church? Would you retire from the stage? I don’t know which seems the more impossible!”
Hilda got up.
“It would be a criminal choice, wouldn’t it?” she said. “I haven’t made it out. And he, you know, still dreams only of Bengali souls for redemption, never of me at all.”
A servant of the house with the air of a messenger brought Alicia a scrap of paper. She glanced at it, and then, with hands that trembled, began folding it together.
“He has been allowed to get up and sit in a chair,” she murmured, “and he wants me to come and talk to him.”
“Well,” said Hilda. “Come.”
She put her arm about Alicia, and drew her out of the room to the foot of the stairs. They went in silence, saying nothing even when they parted, and Alicia, of her own accord, began to ascend. Halfway up she paused and looked down. Hilda turned to meet her glance, and something of primitive puissance passed, conscious, comprehended, between the eyes of the two women.
For three days there had certainly been, with the invalid, no sign of anything but convalescence. An appetite to cry out upon, a chartered tendency to take small liberties, to make small demands; such indications offered themselves to the eye that looked for other betrayals. There had been opportunities—even the day nurse had gone, and Lindsay came to tea in the drawing-room—but he seemed to prefer to talk about the pattern in the carpet, or the corpulence of the khansamah, or things in the newspapers. Alicia, once, at a suggestive point, put almost a visible question into a silent glance, and Lindsay asked her for some more sugar. Surgeon-Major Livingstone, coming into his office, unexpectedly one morning, found his sister in the act of replacing a volume upon its professional shelf. It was somebody on the pathology of Indian fevers. Hilda’s