Meantime—he prepared to shrug his shoulders over the inevitable. Things might have been much worse. And perhaps on the whole it was safer to obey Monck’s command and go. An open scandal would really be a good deal worse for him than for Stella, who had little to lose, and there was no knowing what might happen if he took the risk and remained. Emphatically he had no desire to face a personal reckoning at some future date with the she-devil who had been the bane of his existence. It was an unlikely contingency but undoubtedly it existed, and he hated unpleasantness of all kinds. So, philosophically, he resolved to adjust himself to this burden. There was something of the adventurer in his blood and he had a vast belief in his own ultimate good luck. Fortune might frown for awhile, but he knew that he was Fortune’s favourite notwithstanding. And very soon she would smile again.
But for Monck he had only the bitter hate of the conquered. He cast a malevolent look upon him with eyes that were oddly narrowed—a measuring, speculative look that comprehended his strength and registered the infallibility thereof with loathing. “I wonder what happened to the serpent,” he said, “when the man and woman were thrust out of the garden.”
Monck had readjusted his disguise. He looked back with baffling, inscrutable eyes, his dark face masklike in its impenetrability. But he spoke no word in answer. He had said his say. Like a mantle he gathered his reserve about him again, as a man resuming a solitary journey through the desert which all his life he had travelled alone.
THE FORBIDDEN PARADISE
Looking back later upon that fateful night, it seemed to Stella that she must indeed have slept the sleep of the lotus-eater, for no misgivings pierced the numb unconsciousness that held her through the still hours. She lay as one in a trance, wholly insensible of the fact that she was alone, aware only of the perpetual rush and fall of the torrent below, which seemed to act like a narcotic upon her brain.
When she awoke at length broad daylight was all about her, and above the roar of the stream there was rising a hubbub of voices like the buzzing of a swarm of bees. She lay for awhile listening to it, lazily wondering why the coolies should bring their breakfast so much nearer to the tent than usually, and then, suddenly and terribly, there came a cry that seemed to transfix her, stabbing her heavy senses to full consciousness.
For a second or two she lay as if petrified, every limb struck powerless, every nerve strained to listen. Who had uttered that dreadful wail? What did it portend? Then, her strength returning, she started up, and knew that she was alone. The camp-bed by her side was empty. It had not been touched. Fear, nameless and chill, swept through her. She felt her very heart turn cold.