She was busy installing the new ayah whom Peter with the air of a magician who has but to wave his wand had presented to her half an hour before. The woman was old and bent and closely veiled—so closely that Stella strongly suspected her disfigurement to be of a very ghastly nature, but her low voice and capable manner inspired her with instinctive confidence. She realized with relief from the very outset that her faithful Peter had not made a mistake. She was sure that the new-comer had nursed sickly English children before. She went to the Colonel, leaving the strange woman in charge of her baby and Peter hovering reassuringly in the background.
His first greeting of her had a touch of diffidence, but when he saw the weary suffering of her eyes this was swallowed up in pity. He took her hands and held them.
“My poor girl!” he said.
She smiled at him. Pity from an outsider did not penetrate to the depths of her. “Thank you for coming,” she said.
He coughed and cleared his throat. “I hope it isn’t an intrusion,” he said.
“But of course not!” she made answer. “How could it be? Won’t you sit down?”
He led her to a chair; but he did not sit down himself. He stood before her with something of the air of a man making a confession.
“Mrs. Monck,” he said, “I think I ought to tell you that it was by my advice that your husband resigned his commission.”
Her brows drew together a little as if at a momentary dart of pain. “Has he resigned it?” she said.
“Yes. Didn’t he tell you?” He frowned. “Haven’t you seen him? Don’t you know where he is?”
She shook her head. “I can only think of my baby just now,” she said.
He swung round abruptly upon his heel and paced the room. “Oh yes, of course. I know that. Ralston told me. I am very sorry for you, Mrs. Monck,—very, very sorry.”
“Thank you,” she said.
He continued to tramp to and fro. “You haven’t much to thank me for. I had to think of the Regiment; but I considered the step very carefully before I took it. He had rendered invaluable service—especially over this Khanmulla trial. He would have been decorated for it if—” he pulled up with a jerk—“if things had been different. I know Sir Reginald Bassett thought very highly of him, was prepared to give him an appointment on his personal staff. And no doubt eventually he would have climbed to the top of the tree. But—this affair has destroyed him.” He paused a moment, but he did not look at her. “He has had every chance,” he said then. “I kept an open mind. I wouldn’t condemn him unheard until—well until he refused flatly to speak on his own behalf. I went over to Khanmulla and talked to him—talked half the night. I couldn’t move him. And if a man won’t take the trouble to defend his own honour, it isn’t worth—that!” He snapped his fingers with a bitter gesture; then