“Can’t he take care of himself?” questioned Bernard. “I thought I had taught him to be fairly independent.”
“Oh, it isn’t that,” she said. “It is—it is—India.”
He leaned nearer to her, the smile gone from his eyes. “I thought so,” he said. “You needn’t be afraid to speak out to me. I am discretion itself, especially where he is concerned. What has India been doing to him?”
With a faint gesture she motioned him nearer still. Her face was very pale, but resolution was shining in her eyes. “Don’t let us be disturbed!” she whispered. “And I—I will tell you—all I know.”
THE SERPENT IN THE DESERT
The battalion was ordered back to Kurrumpore for the winter months, ostensibly to go into a camp of exercise, though whispers of some deeper motive for the move were occasionally heard. Markestan, though outwardly calm and well-behaved, was not regarded with any great confidence by the Government, so it was said, though, officially, no one had the smallest suspicion of danger.
It was with mixed feelings that Stella returned at length to The Green Bungalow, nearly three months after her baby’s birth. During that time she had seen a good deal of her brother-in-law, who, nothing daunted by the discomforts of the journey, went to and fro several times between Bhulwana and the Plains. They had become close friends, and Stella had grown to regard his presence as a safeguard and protection against the nameless evils that surrounded Everard, though she could not have said wherefore.
He it was who, with Peter’s help, prepared the bungalow for her coming. It had been standing empty all through the hot weather and the rains. The compound was a mass of overgrown verdure, and the bungalow itself was in some places thick with fungus.
When Stella came to it, however, all the most noticeable traces of neglect had been removed. The place was scrubbed clean. The ragged roses had been trained along the verandah-trellis, and fresh Indian matting had been laid down everywhere.
The garden was still a wilderness, but Bernard declared that he would have it in order before many weeks had passed. It was curious how, with his very limited knowledge of natives and their ways, he managed to extract the most willing labour from them. Peter the Great smiled with gratified pride whenever he gave him an order, and all the other servants seemed to entertain a similar veneration for the big, blue-eyed sahib who was never heard to speak in anger or impatience, and yet whose word was one which somehow no one found it possible to disregard.
Tommy had become fond of him also. He was wont to say that Bernard was the most likable fellow he had ever met. An indefinable barrier had grown up between him and his brother-in-law, which, desperately though he had striven against it, had made the old easy intercourse impossible. Bernard was in a fashion the link between them. Strangely they were always more intimate in his presence than when alone, less conscious of unknown ground, of reserves that could not be broached.