He hung back protesting; but she would take no refusal, gently but firmly overruling all his scruples.
“Why was the doctor not sent for?” she said. “I ought to have thought of it myself.”
She insisted upon washing and bandaging his wound anew. It was a deep one. Necessity had been stern, and Everard had not spared. It had bled freely, and there was no sign of any poisonous swelling. With tender hands Stella treated it, Peter standing dumbly submissive the while.
When she had finished, she arranged the injured arm in a sling, and looked him in the eyes.
“Peter, where is the captain sahib?”
“He went to his room, my mem-sahib,” said Peter. “Bernard sahib carried the little missy sahib back, and Denvers sahib went with him. I did not see the captain sahib again.”
He spoke wistfully, as one who longed to help but recognized his limitations.
Stella received his news in silence, her face still and white as the face of a marble statue. She felt no resentment against Peter. He had acted almost under compulsion. But she could not discuss the matter with him.
At length: “You may go, Peter,” she said. “Please let no one come to my door to-night! I wish to be undisturbed.”
Peter salaamed low and withdrew. The order was a very definite one, and she knew she could rely upon him to carry it out. As the door closed softly upon him, she turned towards her window. It opened upon the verandah. She moved across the room to shut it; but ere she reached it, Everard Monck came noiselessly through on slippered feet and bolted it behind him.
THE CONSUMING FIRE
As he turned towards her, there came upon Stella, swift as a stab through the heart, the memory of that terrible night more than a year before when he had drawn her into his room and fastened the window behind her—against whom? His wild words rushed upon her. She had deemed them to be directed against the unknown intruder on the verandah. She knew now that the madness that had loosed his tongue had moved him to utter his fierce threat against a man who was dead—against the man whom he had—She stopped the thought as she would have checked the word half-spoken. She turned shivering away. The man on the verandah, that vision of the night-watches, she saw it all now—she saw it all. And he had loved her before her marriage. And he had known—and he had known—that, given opportunity, he could win her for his own.
Like a throbbing undersong—the fiendish accompaniment to the devils’ chorus—the gossip of the station as detailed by Tessa ran with glib mockery through her brain. Ah, they only suspected. But she knew—she knew! The door of that secret chamber had opened wide to her at last, and perforce she had entered in.
He had moved forward, but he had not spoken. At least she fancied not, but all her senses were in an uproar. And above it all she seemed to hear that dreadful little thrumming instrument down by the river at Udalkhand—the tinkling, mystic call of the vampire goddess,—India the insatiable who had made him what he was.