“He hasn’t told you anything?” questioned Bernard, still closely surveying the flushed countenance.
“No!” said Tommy, and his voice rang on a note of indignant pride. “Why the devil should he tell me anything? I’m his friend. Thank the gods, I can trust him without.”
Bernard held out his hand suddenly. The interest had turned to something warmer. He looked at the boy with genuine admiration. “I take off my hat to you, Tommy,” he said. “Everard is a deuced lucky man.”
“What?” said Tommy, and turned deep crimson. “Oh, rot, sir! That’s rot!” He gripped the extended hand with warmth notwithstanding. “It’s all the other way round. I can’t tell you what he’s been to me. Why, I—I’d die for him, if I had the chance.”
“Yes,” Bernard said with simplicity. “I’m sure you would, boy. And it’s just that I like about you. You’re just the sort of friend he needs—the sort of friend God sends along to hold up the lamp when the night is dark. There! You want to be off. I won’t keep you. But you’re a white man yourself, Tommy, and I shan’t forget it.”
“Oh, rats—rats—rats!” said Tommy rudely, and escaped through the window at headlong speed.
“It really isn’t my fault,” said Netta fretfully. “I don’t see why you should lecture me about it, Mary. I can’t help being attractive.”
“My dear,” said Mrs. Ralston patiently, “that was not my point. I am only urging you to show a little discretion. You do not want to be an object of scandal, I am sure. The finger of suspicion has been pointed at the Rajah a good many times lately, and I do think that for Tessa’s sake, if not for your own, you ought to put a check upon your intimacy with him.
“Bother Tessa!” said Netta. “I don’t see that I owe her anything.”
Mrs. Ralston sighed a little, but she persevered. “The child is at an age when she needs the most careful training. Surely you want her to respect you!”
Netta laughed. “I really don’t care a straw what she does. Tessa doesn’t interest me. I wanted a boy, you know. I never had any use for girls. Besides, she gets on my nerves at every turn. We shall never be kindred spirits.”
“Poor little Tessa!” said Mrs. Ralston gently. “She has such a loving heart.”
“She doesn’t love me,” said Tessa’s mother without regret. “I suppose you’ll say that’s my fault too. Everything always is, isn’t it?”
“I think—in fact I am sure—that love begets love,” said Mrs. Ralston. “Perhaps when you and she get to England together, you will become more to each other.”
“Out of sheer ennui?” suggested Netta. “Oh, don’t let’s talk of England—I hate the thought of it. I’m sure I was created for the East. Hence the sympathy that exists between the Rajah and myself. You know, Mary, you really are absurdly prejudiced against him. Richard was the same. He never had any cause to be jealous. They simply didn’t come into the same category.”