“Nothing particular; but I presume your sister has.” There was just a hint of irony in the quiet rejoinder.
Tommy winced. “Stella! Great Scott, no! She doesn’t care the toss of a halfpenny for him. I know that now. She only accepted him because she found herself in such a beastly anomalous position, with all the spiteful cats of the regiment arrayed against her, treating her like a pariah.”
“Did she tell you so?” There was no irony in Monck’s tone this time. It fell short and stern.
Again Tommy glanced at him as one uncertain. “Not likely,” he said.
“Then why do you make the assertion? What grounds have you for making the assertion?” Monck spoke with insistence as one who meant to have an answer.
And the boy answered him, albeit shamefacedly. “I really can’t say, Monck. I’m the sort of fool that sees things without being able to explain how. But that Stella has the faintest spark of real love for that fellow Dacre,—well, I’d take my dying oath that she hasn’t.”
“Some women don’t go in for that sort of thing,” commented Monck dryly.
“Stella isn’t that sort of woman.” Hotly came Tommy’s defence. “You don’t know her. She’s a lot deeper than I am.”
Monck laughed a little. “Oh, you’re deep enough, Tommy. But you’re transparent as well. Now your sister on the other hand is quite inscrutable. But it is not for us to interfere. She probably knows what she is doing—very well indeed.”
“That’s just it. Does she know? Isn’t she taking a most awful leap in the dark?” Keen anxiety sounded in Tommy’s voice. “It’s been such horribly quick work, you know. Why, she hasn’t been out here six weeks. It’s a shame for any girl to marry on such short notice as that. I said so to her, and she—she laughed and said, ’Oh, that’s beggar’s choice! Do you think I could enjoy life with your angels in paradise in unmarried bliss? I’d sooner stay down in hell with you.’ And she’d have done it too, Monck. And it would probably have killed her. That’s partly how I came to know.”
“Haven’t the women been decent to her?” Monck’s question fell curtly, as if the subject were one which he was reluctant to discuss.
Tommy looked at him through the starlight. “You know what they are,” he said bluntly. “They’d hunt anybody if once Lady Harriet gave tongue. She chose to eye Stella askance from the very outset, and of course all the rest followed suit. Mrs. Ralston is the only one in the whole crowd who has ever treated her decently, but of course she’s nobody. Everyone sits on her. As if,” he spoke with heat, “Stella weren’t as good as the best of ’em—and better! What right have they to treat her like a social outcast just because she came out here to me on her own? It’s hateful! It’s iniquitous! What else could she have done?”
“It seems reasonable—from a man’s point of view,” said Monck.
“It was reasonable. It was the only thing possible. And just for that they chose to turn the cold shoulder on her,—to ostracize her practically. What had she done to them? What right had they to treat her like that?” Fierce resentment sounded in Tommy’s voice.