He sat very still, holding her. The awful peril through which she had come had made her tenfold more precious in his eyes. He could not have loved her more tenderly if she had been indeed his own. He fell to dreaming with his cheek against her hair.
How long a time passed he never knew. It could not in actual fact have been more than a few minutes when a sudden sound from the verandah put an end to his reverie.
He laid the child back upon the sofa and got up. She was sleeping off the shock; it would be a pity to wake her. He moved noiselessly to the window.
As he did so, a voice he scarcely recognized—a woman’s voice—spoke, tensely, hoarsely, close to him.
“Tommy, stop that man! Don’t let him go! He is a murderer,—do you hear? He is the man who murdered my husband!”
Bernard stepped over the sill and closed the window after him. The lanterns were still swaying in the night-breeze. By their light he took in the group upon the verandah. Peter was sitting bent forward in the chair from which he had lifted Tessa. His snowy garments were deeply stained with blood. Beside him in a crouched and apelike attitude, apparently on the point of departure, was the shadowy native who had saved his life. Tommy, still fantastic and clown-like in his green and white pyjama-suit, was holding a glass for Peter to drink. And upright before them all, with accusing arm outstretched, her eyes shining like stars out of the shadows, stood Stella.
She turned to Bernard as he came forward. “Don’t let him escape!” she said, her voice deep with an insistence he had never heard in it before. “He escaped last time. And there may not be another chance.”
Tommy looked round sharply. “Leave the man alone!” he said. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, Stella. This affair has upset you. It’s only old Rustam Karin.”
“I know. I know. I have known for a long time that it was Rustam Karin who killed Ralph.” Stella’s voice vibrated on a strange note. “He may be Everard’s chosen friend,” she said. “But a day will come when he will turn upon him too. Bernard,” she spoke with sudden appeal, “you know everything. I have told you of this man. Surely you will help me! I have made no mistake. Peter will corroborate what I say. Ask Peter!”
At sound of his name Peter lifted a ghastly face and tried to rise, but Tommy swiftly prevented him.
“Sit still, Peter, will you? You’re much too shaky to walk. Finish this stuff first anyhow!”
Peter sank back, but there was entreaty in his gleaming eyes. They had bandaged his injured arm across his breast, but with his free hand he made a humble gesture of submission to his mistress.
“Mem-sahib,” he said, his voice low and urgent, “he is a good man—a holy man. Suffer him to go his way!”