She smiled at his solicitude though it touched her almost to tears, and gathered in silence to her breast the little frail body that every day now seemed to feel lighter and smaller. It would not be for very long—their planning and contriving. Very soon now she would be free—quite free—to sleep as long as she would. But her tired heart warmed to Peter and to that silent ayah whom he had enlisted in her service. Through the dark night of her grief the love of her friends shone with a radiance that penetrated even the deepest shadows. Was this the lamp in the desert of which Bernard had spoken so confidently—the Lamp that God had lighted to guide her halting feet? Was it by this that she would come at last into the Presence of God Himself, and realize that the wanderers in the wilderness are ever His especial care?
Certainly, as Peter had intimated, she knew her baby to be safe in their joint charge. As the days slipped by, it seemed to her that Peter had imbued the ayah with something of his own devotion, for, though it was proffered almost silently, she was aware of it at every turn. At any other time her sympathy for the woman would have fired her interest and led her to attempt to draw her confidence. But the slender thread of life they guarded, though it bound them with a tie that was almost friendship, seemed so to fill their minds that they never spoke of anything else. Stella knew that Hanani loved her and considered her in every way, but she gave Peter most of the credit for it, Peter and the little dying baby she rocked so constantly against her heart. She knew that many an ayah would lay down her life for her charge. Peter had chosen well.
Later—when this time of waiting and watching was over, when she was left childless and alone—she would try to find out something of the woman’s history, help her if she could, reward her certainly. It was evident that she was growing old. She had the stoop and the deliberation of age. Probably, she would not have obtained an ayah’s post under any other circumstances. But, notwithstanding these drawbacks, she had a wonderful endurance, and she was never startled or at a loss. Stella often told herself that she would not have exchanged her for another woman—even a white woman—out of the whole of India had the chance offered. Hanani, grave, silent, capable, met every need.
THE FIRST VICTIM
An ominous calm prevailed at Khanmulla during the week that followed the conviction of Ermsted’s murderer and the disappearance of the Rajah. All Markestan seemed to be waiting with bated breath. But, save for the departure of the women from Kurrumpore, no sign was given by the Government of any expectation of a disturbance. The law was to take its course, and no official note had been made of the absence of the Rajah. He had always been sudden in his movements.