He heard Ralston returning and wondered what he could have been doing in that interminable interval. Then, reluctant but horribly fascinated, his look went back to the upturned, dreadful face. The malignancy had gone out of it. The eyes rolled no longer, but gazed with a great fixity at something that seemed to be infinitely far away. As Tommy looked, a terrible rattling breath went through the heavy, inert form. It seemed to rend body and soul asunder. There followed a brief palpitating shudder, and the head on his arm sank sideways. A great stillness fell....
Ralston knelt and freed him from his burden. “Get up!” he said.
Tommy obeyed though he felt more like collapsing. He leaned upon the table and stared while Ralston laid the big frame flat and straight upon the floor.
“Is he dead?” he asked in a whisper, as Ralston stood up.
“Yes,” said Ralston.
“It wasn’t my fault, was it?” said Tommy uneasily. “I couldn’t stop him talking.”
“He’d have died anyhow,” said Ralston. “It’s a wonder he ever got here if he was shot in the jungle as he must have been. That means—probably—that the brutes have started their games to-night. Odd if he should be the first victim!”
Tommy shuddered uncontrollably.
Ralston gripped his arm. “Don’t be a fool now! Death is nothing extraordinary, after all. It’s an experience we’ve all got to go through some time or other. It doesn’t scare me. It won’t you when you’re a bit older. As for this fellow, it’s about the best thing that could happen for everyone concerned. Just rememer that! Providence works pretty near the surface at times, and this is one of ’em. You won’t believe me, I daresay, but I never really felt that Ralph Dacre was dead—until this moment.”
He led Tommy from the room with the words. It was not his custom to express himself so freely, but he wanted to get that horror-stricken look out of the boy’s eyes. He talked to give him time.
“And now look here!” he said. “You’ve got to keep your head—for you’ll want it. I’ll give you something to steady you, and after that you’ll be on your own. You must cut back to The Green Bungalow and find Bernard Monck and tell him just what has happened—no one else mind, until you’ve seen him. He’s discreet enough. I’m going round to the Colonel. For if what I think has happened, those devils are ahead of us by twenty-four hours, and we’re not ready for ’em. They’ve probably cut the wires too. When you’ve done that, you report down at the barracks! Your sister will probably have to be taken there for safety. And there may be some tough work before morning.”
These last words of his had a magical effect upon Tommy. His eyes suddenly shone. Ralston had accomplished his purpose. Nevertheless, he took him back to the surgery and made him swallow some sal volatile in spite of protest.
“And now you won’t be a fool, will you?” he said at parting. “I should be sorry if you got shot to no purpose. Monck would be sorry too.”