She extricated herself with a gentle aloofness more difficult to combat than any open opposition, and he went away to express himself more strongly to Bernard Monck from whom he was sure at least of receiving sympathy if not support.
Stella returned to her baby with a stunned feeling of having been struck, and yet without consciousness of pain. Perhaps she had suffered so much that her faculties were getting numbed. She knew that the Colonel was surprised that his news concerning Everard had affected her so little. She was in a fashion surprised herself. Was she then so absorbed that she had no room for him in her thoughts? And yet only the previous night how she had yearned for him!
It was the end of everything for him—the end of his ambition, of his career, of all his cherished hopes. He was a broken man and he would drop out as other men had dropped out. His love for her had been his ruin. And yet her brain seemed incapable of grasping the meaning of the catastrophe. The bearing of her burden occupied the whole of her strength.
The rest of the Colonel’s news scarcely touched her at all, save that the thought flashed upon her once that if the danger were indeed so great Everard would certainly come to her. That sent a strange glow through her that died as swiftly as it was born. She did not really believe in the danger, and Everard was probably far away already.
She went back to her baby and the ayah, Hanani, over whom Peter was mounting guard with a queer mixture of patronage and respect. For though he had procured the woman and obviously thought highly of her, he seemed to think that none but himself could be regarded as fully qualified to have the care of his mem-sahib’s fondly cherished baba.
Stella heard him giving some low-toned directions as she entered, and she wondered if the new ayah would resent his lordly attitude. But the veiled head bent over the child expressed nothing but complete docility. She answered Peter in few words, but with the utmost meekness.
Her quietness was a great relief to Stella. There was a self-reliance about it that gave her confidence. And presently, tenderly urged by Peter, she went to the adjoining room to rest, on the understanding that she should be called immediately if occasion arose. And that was the first night of many that she passed in undisturbed repose.
In the early morning, entering, she found Peter in sole possession and very triumphant. They had divided the night, he said, and Hanani had gone to rest in her turn. All had gone well. He had slept on the threshold and knew. And now his mem-sahib would sleep through every night and have no fear.