Monck realized it, and it affected him deeply, depriving him of the power to respond. He had not expected this from Tommy, had not believed him capable of it. But there was no doubting the boy’s sincerity. Through those tears which Tommy had forgotten to hide, he saw the old loving trust shine out at him, the old whole-hearted admiration and honour offered again without reservation and without stint.
He opened his lips to speak, but something rose in his throat, preventing him. He held out his hand in silence, and in that wordless grip the love which is greater than death made itself felt between them—a bond imperishable which no earthly circumstance could ever again violate—the Power Omnipotent which conquers all things.
The orange light of the morning was breaking over the jungle when two horsemen rode out upon the Kurrumpore road and halted between the rice fields.
“I say, come on a bit further!” Tommy urged. “There’s plenty of time.”
But the other shook his head. “No, I can’t. I promised Barnes to be back early. Good-bye, Tommy my lad! Keep your end up!”
“I will,” Tommy promised, and thrust out a hand. “And you’ll hang on, won’t you? Promise!”
“All right; for the present. My love to Bernard.” Everard spoke with his usual brevity, but his handclasp was remembered by Tommy for a very long time after.
“And to Stella?” he said, pushing his horse a little nearer till it muzzled against its fellow.
Everard’s eyes, grave and dark, looked out to the low horizon. “I think not,” he said. “She has—no further use for it.”
“She will have,” said Tommy quickly.
But Everard passed the matter by in silence. “You must be getting on,” he said, and relaxed his grip. “Good-bye, old chap! You’ve done me good, if that is any consolation to you.”
“Oh, man!” said Tommy, and coloured like a girl. “Not—not really!”
Everard uttered his curt laugh, and switched Tommy’s mount across the withers. “Be off with you, you—cuckoo!” he said.
And Tommy grinned and went.
Half-an-hour later he was sounding an impatient tatto upon his sister’s door.
She came herself to admit him, but the look upon her face checked the greeting on his lips.
“What on earth’s the matter?” he said instead.
She was shivering as if with cold, though the risen sun had filled the world with spring-like warmth. It occurred to him as he entered, that she was looking pinched and ill, and he put a comforting arm around her.
“What is it, Stella girl? Tell me!”
She relaxed against him with a sob. “I’ve been—horribly anxious about you,” she said.
“Oh, is that all?” said Tommy. “What a waste of time! I was only over at Khanmulla. I spent the night at Barnes’s bungalow because they wouldn’t trust me in the jungle after dark.”