But for her small worshipper she would have been both lonely and anxious. For he was often absent, sometimes for hours at a stretch wholly without warning, giving no explanation upon his return. She asked no questions. She schooled herself to patience. She tried to be content with the close holding of his arms when they were together and the certainty that all the desire of his heart was for her alone. But she could not wholly, drive away the conviction that at the very gates of her paradise the sword she dreaded had been turned against her. They were back in the desert again, and the way to the tree of life was barred.
Perhaps it was natural that she should turn to Tessa for consolation and distraction. The child was original in all her ways. Her ideas of death were wholly devoid of tragedy, and she was too accustomed to her father’s absence to feel any actual sense of loss.
“Do you think Daddy likes Heaven?” she said to Stella one day. “I hope Mother will be quick and go there too. It would be better for her than staying behind with the Rajah. I always call him ‘the slithy tove.’ He is so narrow and wriggly. He wanted me to kiss him once, but I wouldn’t. He looked so—so mischievous.” Tessa tossed her golden-brown head. “Besides, I only kiss white men.”
“Hear, hear!” said Tommy, who was cleaning his pipe on the verandah. “You stick to that, my child!”
“Mother said I was very silly,” said Tessa. “She was quite cross. But the Rajah only laughed in that nasty, slippy way he has and took her cigarette away and smoked it himself. I hated him for that,” ended Tessa with a little gleam of the tiger-cat in her blue eyes. “It—it was a liberty.”
Tommy’s guffaw sounded from the verandah. It went into a greeting of Monck who came up unexpectedly at the moment and sat down on a wicker-chair to examine a handful of papers. Stella, working within the room, looked up swiftly at his coming, but if he had so much as glanced in her direction he was fully engrossed with the matter in hand ere she had time to observe it. He had been out since early morning and she had not seen him for several hours.
Tessa, who possessed at times an almost uncanny shrewdness, left her and went to stand on one leg in the doorway. “Most people,” she observed, “say ‘Hullo!’ to their wives when they come in.”
“Very intelligent of ’em,” said Tommy. “Do you think the Rajah does?”
“I don’t know,” said Tessa seriously. “I went to the palace at Bhulwana once to see them. But the Rajah wasn’t there. They were very kind,” she added dispassionately, “but rather silly. I don’t wonder the Rajah likes white men’s wives best.”
“Oh, quite natural,” agreed Tommy.
“He gave Mother a beautiful ring with a diamond in it,” went on Tessa, delighted to have secured his attention and watching furtively for some sign of interest from Monck also. “It was worth hundreds and hundreds of pounds. That was the last thing Daddy was cross about. He was cross.”