Stella was silent. The boy’s faith was genuine, she knew, but, remembering what Ralph Dacre had told her on their last night together, she could not stifle the wonder as to whether Tommy had ever grasped the actual quality of his friend’s character. It seemed to her that Tommy’s worship was of too humble a species to afford him a very comprehensive view of the object thereof. She was sure that unlike herself—he would never presume to criticize, would never so much as question any action of Monck’s. Her own conception of the man, she was aware, had altered somewhat since that night. She regarded him now with a wholly dispassionate interest. She had attracted him, but she much doubted if the attraction had survived her marriage. For herself, that chapter in her life was closed and could never, she now believed, be reopened. Monck had gone his way, she hers, and they had drifted apart. Only by the accident of circumstance would they meet again, and she was determined that when this meeting took place their relations should be of so impersonal a character that he should find it well-nigh impossible to recall the fact that any hint of romance had ever hovered even for a fleeting moment between them. He had his career before him. He followed the way of ambition, and he should continue to follow it, unhindered by any thought of her. She was dependent upon no man. She would pick up the threads of her own life and weave of it something that should be worth while. With the return of health this resolution was forming within her. Mrs. Ralston’s influence was making itself felt. She believed that the way would open out before her as she went. She had made one great mistake. She would never make such another. She would be patient. It might be in time that to her, even as to her friend, a blossoming might come out of the barren soil in which her life was cast.
During those months spent at Bhulwana with the surgeon’s wife a measure of peace did gradually return to Stella. She took no part in the gaieties of the station, but her widow’s mourning made it easy for her to hold aloof. Undoubtedly she earned Lady Harriet’s approval by so doing, but Mrs. Ermsted continued to look at her askance, notwithstanding the fact that her small daughter had developed a warm liking for the sister of her beloved Tommy.
“Wait till she gets back to Kurrumpore,” said Mrs. Ermsted. “We shall see her in her true colours then.”
She did not say this to Mrs. Ralston. She visited The Grand Stand less and less frequently. She was always full of engagements and seldom had a moment to spare for the society of this steady friend of hers. And Mrs. Ralston never sought her out. It was not her way. She was ready for all, but she intruded upon none.
Mrs. Ralston’s affection for Stella had become very deep. There was between them a sympathy that was beyond words. They understood each other.