Two months later, on a dripping evening in August, Monck stood alone on the verandah of his bungalow at Udalkhand with a letter from Stella in his hand. He had hurried back from duty on purpose to secure it, knowing that it would be awaiting him. She had become accustomed to the separation now, though she spoke yearningly of his next leave. Mrs. Ralston had joined her, and she wrote quite cheerfully. She was very well, and looking forward—oh, so much—to the winter. There was certainly no sadness to be detected between the lines, and Monck folded up the letter and looked across the dripping compound with a smile in his eyes.
When the winter came, he would probably have taken up his new appointment. Sir Reginald Bassett—a man of immense influence and energy—was actually in Udalkhand at that moment. He was ostensibly paying a friendly visit at the Colonel’s bungalow, but Monck knew well what it was that had brought him to that steaming corner of Markestan in the very worst of the rainy season. He had come to make some definite arrangement with him. Probably before that very night was over, he would have begun to gather the fruit of his ambition. He had started already to climb the ladder, and he would raise Stella with him, Stella and that other being upon whom he sometimes suffered his thoughts to dwell with a semi-humorous contemplation as—his son. A fantastic fascination hung about the thought. He could not yet visualize himself as a father. It was easier far to picture Stella as a mother. But yet, like a magnet drawing him, the vision seemed to beckon. He walked the desert with a lighter step, and Tommy swore that he was growing younger.
There was an enclosure in Stella’s letter from Tessa, who called him her darling Uncle Everard and begged him to come soon and see how good she was getting. He smiled a little over this also, but with a touch of wonder. The child’s worship seemed extraordinary to him. His conquest of Tessa had been quite complete, but it was odd that in consequence of it she should love him as she loved no one else on earth. Yet that she did so was an indubitable fact. Her devotion exceeded even that of Tommy, which was saying much. She seemed to regard him as a sacred being, and her greatest pleasure in life was to do him service.
He put her letter away also, reflecting that he must manage somehow to make time to answer it. As he did so, he heard Tommy’s voice hail him from the compound, and in a moment the boy raced into sight, taking the verandah steps at a hop, skip, and jump.
“Hullo, old chap! Admiring the view eh? What? Got some letters? Have you heard from your brother yet?”
“Not a word for weeks.” Monck turned to meet him. “I can’t think what has happened to him.”
“Can’t you though? I can!” Tommy seized him impetuously by the shouders; he was rocking with laughter. “Oh, Everard, old boy, this beats everything! That brother of yours is coming along the road now. And he’s travelled all the way from Khanmulla in a—in a bullock-cart!”