“Well, it grew plain to Miss Livingstone, as it will to everybody else who knows or cares,” he said; “I mean chiefly Laura’s tremendous desirability. Her beauty would go for something anywhere, but I don’t want to insist on that. What marks her even more is the wonderful purity and transparency of her mind; one doesn’t find it often now, women’s souls are so clouded with knowledge. I think that sort of thing appeals especially to me because my own design isn’t in the least esoteric. I’m only a man. Then she was so ludicrously out of her element. A creature like that should be surrounded by the softest refinement in her daily life. That was my chance. I could offer her her place. It’s not much to counterbalance what she is, but it helps, roughly speaking, to equalise matters.”
Hilda looked at him with sudden critical interest, missing an emanation from him. It was his enthusiasm. A cheerfulness had come upon him instead. Also what he said had something categorical in it, something crisp and arranged. He himself received benefit from the consideration of it, and she was aware that if this result followed, her own “conversion” was of very secondary importance.
“So!” she said meditatively, as they walked.
“After it happens, when it is an accomplished fact, it will be so plainly right that nobody will think twice about it,” Duff went on in an encouraged voice. “It’s odd how one’s ideas materialise. I want her drawing-room to be white and gold, with big yellow silk cushions.”
“When is it to happen?”
“Beginning of next cold weather—in not quite a year.”
“Ah! then there will be time. Time to get the white and gold furniture. It wouldn’t be my taste quite. Is it Alicia’s?”
“It’s our own at present, Laura’s and mine. We have talked it over together. And I don’t think she would ask Miss Livingstone. In matters of taste women are rather rivals, aren’t they?”
“Oh Lord!” Hilda exclaimed, and bit her lip. “Where is Miss Filbert now?”
“At Number Ten, Middleton Street.”
“With the Livingstones?”
“Is it so astonishing? Miss Livingstone has been most practical in her kindness. I have gone back, of course, to my perch at the club, and Laura is to stay with them until she sails.”
“In the Sutlej, next Wednesday. She’s got three months’ leave. She really hasn’t been well, and her superior officer is an accommodating old sort. She resigns at home, and I’m sending her to some dear old friends of mine. She hasn’t any particular people of her own. She’s got a notion of taking lessons of some kind— perfectly unnecessary, but if it amuses her—during the summer. And of course she will have to get her outfit together.”
“And in December,” said Hilda, “she comes out and marries you?”
“Not a Calcutta wedding. I meet her in Madras and we come up together.”