His brother still watched him. “One might almost say his death was providential,” he observed. “Of course—your wife—never knew of this?”
“No.” Everard lifted the glass to his lips with a perfectly steady hand and drank. “She never will know,” he said, as he set it down.
“Certainly not. You can trust me never to tell her.” Bernard moved to his side, and laid a kindly hand on his shoulder. “You know you can trust me, old fellow?”
Everard did not look at him. “Yes, I know,” he said.
His brother’s hand pressed upon him a little. “Since they are both gone,” he said, “there is nothing more to be said on the subject. But, oh, man, stick to the truth, whatever else you let go of! You never lied to me before.”
His tone was very earnest. It held urgent entreaty. Everard turned and met his eyes. His dark face was wholly emotionless. “I am sorry, St. Bernard,” he said.
Bernard’s kindly smile wrinkled his eyes. He grasped and held the younger man’s hand. “All right, boy. I’m going to forget it,” he said. “Now what about turning in?”
They parted for the night immediately after, the one to sleep as serenely as a child almost as soon as he lay down, the other to pace to and fro, to and fro, for hours, grappling—and grappling in vain—with the sternest adversary he had ever had to encounter.
For upon Everard Monck that night the wrath of the gods had descended, and against it, even his grim fortitude was powerless to make a stand. He was beaten before he could begin to defend himself, beaten and flung aside as contemptible. Only one thing remained to be fought for, and that one thing he swore to guard with the last ounce of his strength, even at the cost of life itself.
All through that night of bitter turmoil he came back again and again to that, the only solid foothold left him in the shifting desert-sand. So long as his heart should beat he would defend that one precious possession that yet remained,—the honour of the woman who loved him and whom he loved as only the few know how to love.
“It’s a pity,” said Sir Reginald.
“It’s a damnable pity, sir,” Colonel Mansfield spoke with blunt emphasis. “I have trusted the fellow almost as I would have trusted myself. And he has let me down.”
The two were old friends. The tie of India bound them both. Though their ways lay apart and they met but seldom, the same spirit was in them and they were as comrades. They sat together in the Colonel’s office that looked over the streaming parade-ground. A gleam of morning sunshine had pierced the clouds, and the smoke of the Plains went up like a furnace.
“I shouldn’t be too sure of that,” said Sir Reginald, after a thoughtful moment. “Things are not always what they seem. One is apt to repent of a hasty judgment.”