Everything went as usual at Kurrumpore, and no one’s nerves seemed to feel any strain. Even Tommy betrayed no hint of irritation. A new manliness had come upon Tommy of late. He was keeping himself in hand with a steadiness which even Bertie Oakes could not ruffle and which Major Ralston openly approved. He had always known that Tommy had the stuff for great things in him.
A species of bickering friendship had sprung up between them, founded upon their tacit belief in the honour of a man who had failed. They seldom mentioned his name, but the bond of sympathy remained, oddly tenacious and unassailable. Tommy strongly suspected, moreover, that Ralston knew Everard’s whereabouts, and of this even Bernard was ignorant at that time. Ralston never boasted his knowledge, but the conviction had somehow taken hold of Tommy, and for this reason also he sought the surgeon’s company as he had certainly never sought it before.
Ralston on his part was kind to the boy partly because he liked him and admired his staunchness, and partly because his wife’s unwilling departure had left him lonely. He and Major Burton for some reason were not so friendly as of yore, and they no longer spent their evenings in strict seclusion with the chess-board. He took to walking back from the Mess with Tommy, and encouraged the latter to drop in at his bungalow for a smoke whenever he felt inclined. It was but a short distance from The Green Bungalow, and, as he was wont to remark, it was one degree more cheerful for which consideration Tommy was profoundly grateful. Notwithstanding Bernard’s kind and wholesome presence, there were times when the atmosphere of The Green Bungalow was almost more than he could bear. He was powerless to help, and the long drawn-out misery weighed upon him unendurably. He infinitely preferred smoking a silent pipe in Ralston’s company or messing about with him in his little surgery as he was sometimes permitted to do.
On the evening before the day fixed for the execution at Khanmulla, they were engaged in this fashion when the khitmutgar entered with the news that a sahib desired to speak to him.
“Oh, bother!” said Ralston crossly. “Who is it? Don’t you know?”
The man hesitated, and it occurred to Tommy instantly that there was a hint of mystery in his manner. The sahib had ridden through the jungle from Khanmulla, he said. He gave no name.
“Confounded fool!” said Ralston. “No one but a born lunatic would do a thing like that. Go and see what he wants like a good chap, Tommy! I’m busy.”
Tommy rose with alacrity. His curiosity was aroused. “Perhaps it’s Monck,” he said.
“More likely Barnes,” said Ralston. “Only I shouldn’t have thought he’d be such a fool. Keep your eyes skinned!” he added, as Tommy went to the door. “Don’t get shot or stuck by anybody! If I’m really wanted, I’ll come.”
Tommy grinned at the caution and departed. He had ceased to anticipate any serious trouble in the State, and nothing really exciting ever came his way.