“Don’t you know I love you before any one else in the world?” Bernard said, giving him a mighty grip.
“Yes,” Everard looked him straight in the face, “I do. And it means more to me than perhaps you think. In fact—it’s everything to me just now. That’s why I want you to promise me—whatever happens—whatever I decide to do—that you will stay within reach of—that you will take care of—my—my—of Stella.” He ended abruptly, with a quick gesture that held entreaty.
And Bernard’s reply came instantly, almost before he had ceased to speak. “Before God, old chap, I will.”
“Thanks,” Everard said again. He stood for a few moments as if debating something further, but in the end he freed himself and turned away. “She will be all right, with you,” he said. “You’re—safe anyhow.”
“Quite safe,” said Bernard steadily.
GREATER THAN DEATH
“If you ask me,” said Bertie Oakes, propping himself up in an elegant attitude against a pillar of the Club verandah, “it’s my belief that there’s going to be—a bust-up.”
“Nobody did ask you,” observed Tommy rudely.
He generally was rude nowadays, and had been haled before a subalterns’ court-martial only the previous evening for that very reason. The sentence passed had been of a somewhat drastic nature, and certainly had not improved his temper or his manners. To be stripped, bound scientifically, and “dipped” in the Club swimming-bath till, as Oakes put it, all the venom had been drenched out of him, was an experience for which only one utterly reckless would qualify twice.
Tommy had come through it with a dumb endurance which had somewhat spoilt the occasion for his tormentors, had gone back to The Green Bungalow as soon as his punishment was over, and for the first time had drunk heavily in the privacy of his room.
He sat now in a huddled position on the Club verandah, “looking like a sick chimpanzee” as Oakes assured him, “ready to bite—if he dared—at a moment’s notice.”
Mrs. Ralston was seated near. She had a motherly eye upon Tommy.
“Now what exactly do you mean by a ‘bust-up,’ Mr. Oakes?” she asked with her gentle smile.
Oakes blew a cloud of smoke upwards. He liked airing his opinions, especially when there were several ladies within earshot.
“What do I mean?” he said, with a pomposity carefully moulded upon the Colonel’s mode of delivery on a guest-night. “I mean, my dear Mrs. Ralston, that which would have to be suppressed—a rising among the native element of the State.”
“Ape!” growled Tommy under his breath.
Oakes caught the growl, and made a downward motion with his thumb which only Tommy understood.
Mrs. Burton’s soft, false laugh filled the pause that followed his pronouncement. “Surely no one could openly object to the conviction of a native murderer!” she said. “I hear that the evidence is quite conclusive. Captain Monck has spared no pains in that direction.”