“I know.” The Colonel spoke with his eyes upon the rising cloud of steam outside. “But this fellow has always had my confidence, and I can’t get over what he himself admits to have been a piece of double-dealing. I suppose it was a sudden temptation, but he had always been so straight with me; at least I had always imagined him so. He has rendered some invaluable services too.”
“That is partly why I say, don’t be too hasty,” said Sir Reginald. “We can’t afford—India can’t afford—to scrap a single really useful man.”
“Neither can she afford to make use of rotters,” rejoined the Colonel.
Sir Reginald smiled a little. “I am not so sure of that, Mansfield. Even the rotters have their uses. But I am quite convinced in my own mind that this man is very far from being one. I feel inclined to go slow for a time and give him a chance to retrieve himself. Perhaps it may sound soft to you, but I have never floored a man at his first slip. And this man has a clean record behind him. Let it stand him in good stead now!”
“It will take me some time to forget it,” the Colonel said. “I can forgive almost anything except deception. And that I loathe.”
“It isn’t pleasant to be cheated, certainly,” Sir Reginald agreed. “When did this happen? Was he married at the time?”
“No.” The Colonel meditated for a few seconds “He only married last spring. This was considerably more than a year ago. It must have been the spring of the preceding year. Yes, by Jove, it was! It was just at the time of poor Dacre’s marriage. Dacre, you know, married young Denvers’ sister—the girl who is now Monck’s wife. Dacre was killed on his honeymoon only a fortnight after the wedding. You remember that, Burton?” He turned abruptly to the Major who had entered while he was speaking.
Burton came to a stand at the table. His eyes were set very close together, and they glittered meanly as he made reply. “I remember it very well indeed. His death coincided with this mysterious leave of Monck’s, and also with the unexpected absence of our man Rustam Karin just at a moment when Barnes particularly needed him.”
“Who is Rustam Karin?” asked Sir Reginald.
“A police agent. A clever man. I may say, an invaluable man.” Colonel Mansfield was looking hard at the Major’s ferret-like face as he made reply. “No one likes the fellow. He is suspected of being a leper. But he is clever. He is undoubtedly clever. I remember his absence. It was at the time of that mission to Khanmulla, the mission I wanted Monck to take in hand.”
“Exactly.” Major Burton rapped out the word with a sound like the cracking of a nut. “We—or rather Barnes—tried to pump Hafiz about it, but he was a mass of ignorance and lies. I believe the old brute turned up again before Monck’s return, but he wasn’t visible till afterwards. He and Monck have always been thick as thieves—thick as thieves.” He paused, looking at Sir Reginald. “A very fishy transaction, sir,” he observed.