“Was it in connection with some Secret Service requirement?” The Colonel’s tone was strictly judicial now; he had banished all feeling from face and manner.
And again, like a machine, Monck made his curt reply. “No, sir.”
“There was nothing official about it?”
“I am to conclude then—” again the rasp was in the Colonel’s voice, but it sounded harsher now—“that the business upon which you absented yourself was strictly private and personal?”
“It was, sir.”
The commanding officer’s brows contracted heavily. “Am I also to conclude that it was something of a dishonourable nature?” he asked.
Monck made a scarcely perceptible movement. It was as if the point had somehow pierced his armour. But he covered it instantly. “Your deductions are of your own making, sir,” he said.
“I see.” The Colonel’s tone was openly harsh. “You are ashamed to tell me the truth. Well, Captain Monck, I cannot compel you to do so. But it would have been better for your own sake if you had taken up a less reticent attitude. Of course I realize that there are certain shameful occasions regarding which any man must keep silence, but I had not thought you capable of having a secret of that description to guard. I think it very doubtful if General Bassett will now require your services upon his staff.”
He paused. Monck’s hands were clenched and rigid, but he spoke no word, and gave no other sign of emotion.
“You have nothing to say to me?” the Colonel asked, and for a moment the official air was gone. He spoke as one man to another and almost with entreaty.
But, “Nothing, sir,” said Monck firmly, and the moment passed.
The Colonel turned aside. “Very well,” he said briefly.
Monck swung round and opened the door for him, standing as stiffly as a soldier on parade.
He went out without a backward glance.
THE WRATH OF THE GODS
It was nearly an hour later that Everard Monck and his brother left the mess together and walked back through the dripping darkness to the bungalow on the hill overlooking the river. The rush of the swollen stream became audible as they drew near. The sound of it was inexpressibly wild and desolate.
“It’s an interesting country,” remarked Bernard, breaking a silence. “I don’t wonder she has got hold of you, my son. What does your wife think of it? Is she too caught in the toils?”
Not by word or look had he made the smallest reference to the episode at the mess-table. It was as if he alone of those present had wholly missed its significance.
Everard answered him quietly, without much emphasis. “I believe my wife hates it from beginning to end. Perhaps it is not surprising. She has been through a good deal since she came out. And I am afraid there is a good deal before her still.”