“Have you indeed?” Bernard’s eyes screwed up for a moment, but were hastily restored to an expression of becoming gravity. “I don’t know much about it myself,” he said. “You see, I’m an old bachelor.”
“Haven’t you—ever—been in love?” asked Tessa incredulously.
He held out his hand to her. “Yes, I’m in love at the present moment—quite the worst sort too—love at first sight.”
“You are rather old, aren’t you?” said Tessa dispassionately, but she laid her hand in his notwithstanding.
“Quite old enough to be kissed,” he assured her, drawing her gently to him. “Shall I tell you a secret? I’m rather fond of kissing little girls.”
Tessa went into the circle of his arm with complete confidence. “I don’t mind kissing white men,” she said, and held up her red lips. “But I wouldn’t kiss an Indian—not even Peter, and he’s a darling.”
“A very wise rule, Princess,” said Bernard. “And I feel duly honoured.”
“How is my darling Aunt Stella this morning?” demanded Tessa suddenly. “You made me forget. Ayah said she would be all right, but Ayah says just anything. Is she all right?”
“She is better,” Bernard said. “But wait a minute!” He caught her arm as she made an impetuous movement to leave him. “I believe she’s asleep just now. You don’t want to wake her?”
Tessa turned upon him swiftly—wide horror in her eyes. “Is that your way of telling me she is dead?” she said in a whisper.
“No, no, child!” Bernard’s reply came with instant reassurance. “But she has been—she still is—ill. She was upset, you know. Someone in a car startled her.”
“I know I was there.” Tessa came close to him again, speaking in a tense undertone; her eyes gleamed almost black. “It was the Rajah that frightened her so—the Rajah—and my mother. I’m never going to ask God to bless her again. I—hate her! And him too!”
There was such concentrated vindictiveness in her words that even Bernard, who had looked upon many bitter things, was momentarily startled.
“I think God would be rather sorry to hear you say that,” he remarked, after a moment. “He likes little girls to pray for their mothers.”
“I don’t see why,” said Tessa rebelliously, “not if He hasn’t given them good ones. Mine isn’t good. She’s very, very bad.”
“Then there’s all the more reason to pray for her,” said Bernard. “It’s the least you can do. But I don’t think you ought to say that of your mother, you know, even if you think it. It isn’t loyal.”
“What’s loyal?” said Tessa.
“Loyalty is being true to any one—not telling tales about them. It’s about the only thing I learnt at school worth knowing.” Bernard smiled at her in his large way. “Never tell tales of anyone, Princess!” he said. “It isn’t cricket. Now look here! I’ve an awfully interesting piece of news for you. Come quite close, and I’ll whisper. Do you know—last night—when Aunt Stella was lying ill, something happened. An angel came to see her.”