Strive as he might, Tommy could not forget that evening at the mess—the historic occasion, as he had lightly named it—when like an evil magic at work he had witnessed the smirching of his hero’s honour. He had sought to bury the matter deep, to thrust it out of all remembrance, but the evil wrought was too subtle and too potent. It reared itself against him and would not be trampled down.
Had any of his brother-officers dared to mention the affair to him, he would have been furious, would strenuously have defended that which apparently his friend did not deem it worth his while to defend. But no one ever spoke of it. It dwelt among them, a shameful thing, ignored yet ever present.
Everard came and went as before, only more reticent, more grim, more unapproachable than he had ever been in the old days. His utter indifference to the cold courtesy accorded him was beyond all scorn. He simply did not see when men avoided him. He was supremely unaware of the coldness that made Tommy writhe in impotent rebellion. He had never mixed very freely with his fellows. Upon Tommy alone had he bestowed his actual friendship, and to Tommy alone did he now display any definite change of front. His demeanour towards the boy was curiously gentle. He never treated him confidentially or spoke of intimate things. That invincible barrier which Tommy strove so hard to ignore, he seemed to take for granted. But he was invariably kind in all his dealings with him, as if he realized that Tommy had lost the one possession he prized above all others and were sorry for him.
Whatever Tommy’s mood, and his moods varied considerably, he was never other than patient with him, bearing with him as he would never have borne in the byegone happier days of their good comradeship. He never rebuked him, never offered him advice, never attempted in any fashion to test the influence that yet remained to him. And his very forbearance hurt Tommy more poignantly than any open rupture or even tacit avoidance could have hurt him. There were times when he would have sacrificed all he had, even down to his own honour, to have forced an understanding with Monck, to have compelled him to yield up his secret. But whenever he braced himself to ask for an explanation, he found himself held back. There was a boundary he could not pass, a force relentless and irresistible, that checked him at the very outset. He lacked the strength to batter down the iron will that opposed him behind that unaccustomed gentleness. He could only bow miserably to the unspoken word of command that kept him at a distance.
He was too loyal ever to discuss the matter with Bernard, though he often wondered how the latter regarded his brother’s attitude. At least there was no strain in their relationship though he was fairly convinced that Everard had not taken Bernard into his confidence. This fact held a subtle solace for him, for it meant that Bernard, who was as open as the day, was content to be in the dark, and satisfied that it held nothing of an evil nature. This unquestioning faith on Bernard’s part was Tommy’s one ray of light. He knew instinctively that Bernard was not a man to compromise with evil. He carried his banner that all might see. He was not ashamed to confess his Master before all men, and Tommy mutely admired him for it.