“I’ll tell you if you want to know,” said Monck abruptly. “It’s the law of the pack to rend an outsider. And your sister will always be that—married or otherwise. They may fawn upon her later, Dacre being one to hold his own with women. But they will always hate her in their hearts. You see, she is beautiful.”
“Is she?” said Tommy in surprise. “Do you know, I never thought of that!”
Monck laughed—a cold, sardonic laugh. “Quite so! You wouldn’t! But Dacre has—and a few more of us.”
“Oh, confound Dacre!” Tommy’s irritation returned with a rush. “I detest the man! He behaves as if he were conferring a favour. When he was making that speech to-night, I wanted to fling my glass at him.”
“Ah, but you mustn’t do those things.” Monck spoke reprovingly. “You may be young, but you’re past the schoolboy stage. Dacre is more of a woman’s favourite than a man’s, you must remember. If your sister is not in love with him, she is about the only woman in the station who isn’t.”
“That’s the disgusting part of it,” fumed Tommy. “He makes love to every woman he meets.”
They had reached a shadowy compound that bordered the dusty road for a few yards. A little eddying wind made a mysterious whisper among its thirsty shrubs. The bungalow it surrounded showed dimly in the starlight, a wooden structure with a raised verandah and a flight of steps leading up to it. A light thrown by a red-shaded lamp shone out from one of the rooms, casting a shaft of ruddy brilliance into the night as though it defied the splendour without. It shone upon Tommy’s face as he paused, showing it troubled and anxious.
“You may as well come in,” he said. “She is sure to be ready. Come in and have a drink!”
Monck stood still. His dark face was in shadow. He seemed to be debating some point with himself.
Finally, “All right. Just for a minute,” he said. “But, look here, Tommy! Don’t you let your sister suspect that you’ve been making a confidant of me! I don’t fancy it would please her. Put on a grin, man! Don’t look bowed down with family cares! She is probably quite capable of looking after herself—like the rest of ’em.”
He clapped a careless hand on the lad’s shoulder as they turned up the path together towards the streaming red light.
“You’re a bit of a woman-hater, aren’t you?” said Tommy.
And Monck laughed again his short, rather bitter laugh; but he said no word in answer.
THE PRISONER AT THE BAR
In the room with the crimson-shaded lamp Stella Denvers sat waiting. The red glow compassed her warmly, striking wonderful copper gleams in the burnished coils of her hair. Her face was bent over the long white gloves that she was pulling over her wrists, a pale face that yet was extraordinarily vivid, with features that were delicate and proud, and lips that had the exquisite softness and purity of a flower.