“Ideal,” said Hilda; “and is Calcutta much scandalised?”
“Calcutta doesn’t know. If I had had my way in the beginning I fancy I would have trumpeted it. But now I suppose it’s wiser—why should one offer her up at their dinner-tables?”
“Especially when they would make so little of her,” said Hilda absently.
The coolie track had led them into the widest part of the Maidan, where it slopes to the south, and the huts of Bowanipore. There was nothing about them but a spreading mellowness and the baked turf underfoot. The cloudy yellow twilight disclosed that a man a little way off was a man, and not a horse, but did hardly more. “I’m tired,” Hilda said suddenly, “let us sit down,” and sank comfortably on the fragrant grass. Lindsay dropped beside her and they sat for a moment in silence. A cricket chirped noisily a few inches from them. Hilda put out her hand in that direction and it ceased. Sounds wandered across from the encircling city, evening sounds, softened in their vagrancy, and lights came out, topaz points in the level glow.
“She is making a tremendous sacrifice,” Lindsay went on; “I seem to see its proportions more clearly now.”
Hilda glanced at him with infinite kindness. “You are an awfully good sort, Duff,” she said; “I wish you were out of Asia.”
“Oh, a magnificent sort.” The irony was contemplative, as if he examined himself to see.
“You can make her life delightful to her. The sacrifice will not endure, you know.”
“One can try. It will be worth doing.” He said it as if it were a maxim, and Hilda, perceiving this, had no answer ready. As they sat without speaking, the heart of the after-glow drew away across the river, and left something chill and empty in the spaces about them. Things grew hard of outline, the Maidan became an unlimited expanse of commonplace, grey and unyielding; the lines of gas-lamps on the roads came very near. “What a difference it makes!” Lindsay exclaimed, looking after the vanished light, “and how suddenly it goes!”
Hilda turned concerned eyes upon him, and then looked with keen sadness far into the changed landscape. “Ah, well, my dear,” she said, with apparent irrelevance, “we must take hold of life with both hands.” She made a movement to rise, and he, jumping to his feet, helped her. As if the moment had some special significance, something to be underlined, he kept her hand while he said, “you will always represent something in mine. I can depend upon you—I shall know that you are there.”
“Yes,” she said sincerely. “Yes indeed,” and it seemed to her that he looked thin and intense as he stood beside her—unless it was only another effect of atmosphere. “After all,” she said, as they turned to walk back again across the withered grass, “your fever has taken a good deal out of you.”