“A mistake,” Bernard said. “You should always face your bogies. They have a trick of swelling out of all proportion to their actual size if you don’t.”
“Yes, I know. I know.” Stella pressed his hand and withdrew her own. “You are very good,” she said. “I couldn’t have said this to any one but you. I can’t speak to Everard. It isn’t entirely my own weakness. He holds me off. He makes me feel that it would be a mistake to speak.”
“Will you let me?” Bernard suggested, taking out his pipe and frowning over it.
She shook her head instantly. “No!—no! I am sure he wouldn’t answer you, and—and it would hurt him to know that I had turned to any one else, even to you. It would only make things more difficult to bear.” She stopped short with a nervous gesture. “He is coming now,” she said.
There was a sound of horse’s hoofs at the gate, and in a moment Everard Monck came into view, riding his tall Waler which was smothered with dust and foam.
He waved to his wife as he rode up the broad path. His dark face was alight with a grim triumph. A saice ran forward to take his animal, and he slid to the ground and stamped his feet as if stiff.
Then without haste he mounted the steps and came to them.
“I am not fit to come near you,” he said, as he drew near. “I have been right across the desert to Udalkhand, and had to do some hard riding to get back in time.” He pulled off his glove and just touched Stella’s cheek in passing. “Hullo, Bernard! About time for a drink, isn’t it?”
He looked momentarily surprised when Stella swiftly turned her head and kissed the hand that had so lightly caressed her. He stopped beside her and laid it on her shoulder.
“I am afraid you won’t approve of me when I tell you what I have been doing,” he said.
She looked up at him. “I know. Tommy came in and told us. You—seem to have done something rather great. I suppose we ought to congratulate you.”
He smiled a little. “It is always satisfactory when a murderer gets his deserts,” he said, “though I am afraid the man who does the job is not in all cases the prime malefactor.”
“Ah!” Stella said. She folded up her work with hands that were not quite steady; her face was very pale.
Everard stood looking down at the burnished coils of her hair. “Are you going to the dance at the Club to-night?” he asked, after a moment.
She shook her head instantly. “No.”
“Why not?” he questioned.
She leaned back in her chair, and looked up at him. “As you know, I never was particularly fond of the station society.”
He frowned a little. “It’s better than nothing. You are too given to shutting yourself up. Bernard thinks so too.”
Stella glanced towards her brother-in-law with a slight lift of the eyebrows. “I don’t think he does. But in any case, we are engaged to-night. It is Tessa’s birthday, and she and Scooter are coming to dine.”