“There is no hurry,” Sir Reginald answered in the same gentle voice. “And you are telling it very well.”
She smiled again—her faint, sad smile. “You are very kind. It makes it much easier. You know how clever he is in native disguise. I never recognized him. I came back, as I thought, a widow. And then—it was nearly a year after—I married Everard, because I loved him. It was just before Captain Ermsted’s murder. We had to come back here in a hurry because of it. Then when the summer came we had to separate. I went to Bhulwana for the birth of my baby. And while I was there, he heard that Ralph Dacre’s wife had died in England only a few days before his marriage to me. That meant of course that I was not Everard’s legal wife, that the baby was illegitimate. But—I was very ill at the time—he kept it from me.”
“Of course he did,” said Sir Reginald.
“Of course he did,” said Bernard.
“Yes,” she assented. “He couldn’t help himself then. But he ought to have told me afterwards—when—when I began to have that horrible suspicion that everyone else had, that he had murdered Ralph Dacre.”
“A difficult point,” said Sir Reginald.
“I told him he was making a mistake,” said Bernard.
Stella glanced down at him. “It was a mistake,” she said. “But he made it out of love for me, because he thought—he thought—that my pride was dearer to me than my love. I don’t wonder he thought so. I gave him every reason. For I wouldn’t listen to him, wouldn’t believe him. I sent him away.” Her breath caught suddenly, and she put a quick hand to her throat. “That is what hurts me most,” she said after a moment,—“just to remember that,—to remember what I made him suffer—how I failed him—when Tommy, even Tommy, believed in him—went after him to tell him so.”
“But we all make mistakes,” said Sir Reginald gently, “or we shouldn’t be human.”
She controlled herself with an effort. “Yes. He said that, and told me to forget it. I don’t know if I can, but I shall try. I shall try to make up to him for it for as long as I live. And I thank God—for giving me the chance.”
Her deep voice quivered, and Bernard’s hand tightened upon hers. “Yes,” he said, looking at Sir Reginald. “Ralph Dacre is dead. He was the unknown man who was shot in the jungle two nights ago.”
“Indeed!” said Sir Reginald sharply.
“Yes,” Stella said. “He too had found out—about the death of his first wife. And he was on his way to me. But—” she suddenly covered her eyes—“I couldn’t have borne it. I would have killed myself first.”
Bernard reached up and thrust his arm about her, without speaking.
She leaned against him for a few seconds as if the story had taxed her strength too far. Then Sir Reginald came to her and with a fatherly gesture drew her hand away from her face.
“My dear,” he said very kindly, “thank you a thousand times for telling me this. I know it’s been infernally hard. I admire you for it more than I can say. It hasn’t been too much for you I hope?”