Peter was leaning against a post of the verandah. “Missy sahib is quite safe,” he said, but his voice sounded odd, curiously lifeless.
The shadow that had approached behind him swept forward into the light. The lanterns shone upon a strange figure, bent, black-bearded, clothed in a long, dingy garment that seemed to envelop it from head to foot.
Peter gave a violent start and spoke a few rapid words in his own language.
The other made answer even more swiftly, and in a second there was the flash of a knife in the fitful glare. Bernard and Tommy both started forward, but Peter only thrust out one arm with a grunt. It was a gesture of submission, and it told its own tale.
“The poor devil’s bitten!” gasped Tommy.
Bernard turned to Tessa and lifted the little limp body in his arms.
He thought that Stella would follow him as he bore the child into the room behind, but she did not.
The place was in semi-darkness, for they had turned down the lamps to see the fireworks. He laid her upon a sofa and turned them up again.
The light upon her face showed it pinched and deathly. Her breathing seemed to be suspended. He left her and went swiftly to the dining-room in search of brandy.
Returning with it, he knelt beside her, forcing a little between the rigid white lips. His own mouth was grimly compressed. The sight of his little playfellow lying like that cut him to the soul. She was uninjured, he knew, but he asked himself if the awful fright had killed her. He had never seen so death-like a swoon before.
He had no further thought for what was passing on the verandah outside. Tommy had said that Peter was bitten, but there were three people to look after him, whereas Tessa—poor brave mite—had only himself. He chafed her icy cheeks and hands with a desperate sense of impotence.
He was rewarded after what seemed to him an endless period of suspense. A tinge of colour came into the white lips, and the closed eyelids quivered and slowly opened. The bluebell eyes gazed questioningly into his.
“Where—where is Scooter?” whispered Tessa.
“Not far away, dear,” he made answer soothingly. “We will go and find him presently. Drink another little drain of this first!”
She obeyed him almost mechanically. The shadow of a great horror still lingered in her eyes. He gathered her closely to him.
“Try and get a little sleep, darling! I’m here. I’ll take care of you.”
She snuggled against him. “Am I going to stay all night!” she asked.
“Perhaps, little one, perhaps!” He pressed her closer still. “Quite comfy?”
“Oh, very comfy; ever—so—comfy,” murmured Tessa, closing her eyes again. “Dear—dear Uncle St. Bernard!”
She sank down in his hold, too spent to trouble herself any further, and in a very few seconds her quiet breathing told him that she was fast asleep.