Tommy’s throat worked spasmodically, he made a mighty effort and succeeded in swallowing. Then, through lips that twitched as if he were going to cry, weakly he spoke.
“Hullo—hullo—you old bounder!”
“Hullo!” said Monck in stern rejoinder. “A nice game this! Aren’t you ashamed of yourself? You ought to be. I’m furious with you. Do you know that?”
“Don’t care—a damn,” said Tommy, and forced his quivering lips to a smile.
“You will presently, you—puppy!” said Monck witheringly. “You’re more bother than you’re worth. Come on, Ralston! Give him another dose! Tommy, you hang on, or I’ll know the reason why! There, you little ass! What’s the matter with you?”
For Tommy’s smile had crumpled into an expression of woe in spite of him. He turned his face into Monck’s shoulder, piteously striving to hide his weakness.
“Feel—so beastly—bad,” he whispered.
“All right, old fellow, all right! I know.” Monck’s hand was on his head, soothing, caressing, comforting. “Stick to it like a Briton! We’ll pull you round. Think I don’t understand? What? But you’ve got to do your bit, you know. You’ve got to be game. And here’s your sister waiting to lend a hand, come all the way to this filthy hole on purpose. You are not going to let her see you go under. Come, Tommy lad!”
The tears overflowed down Stella’s cheeks. She dared not show herself. But, fortunately for her, Tommy did not desire it. Monck’s words took effect upon him, and he made a trembling effort to pull himself together.
“Don’t let her see me—like this!” he murmured. “I’ll be better presently. You tell her, old chap, and—I say—look after her, won’t you?”
“All right, you cuckoo,” said Monck.
Day broke upon a world of streaming rain. Stella sat before a meal spread in the dining-room and wanly watched it. Peter hovered near her; she had a suspicion that the meal was somehow of his contriving. But how he had arrived she had not the least idea and was too weary to ask.
Tommy had fallen into natural sleep, and Ralston had persuaded her to leave him in his care for a while, promising to send for her at once if occasion arose. She had left Monck there also, but she fancied Ralston did not mean to let him stay. Her thoughts dwelt oddly upon Monck. He had surprised her; more, in some fashion he had pierced straight through her armour of indifference. Wholly without intention he had imposed his personality upon her. He had made her recognize him as a force that counted. Though Major Ralston had been engaged upon the same task, she realized that it was his effort alone that had brought Tommy back. And—she saw it clearly—it was sheer love and nought else that had obtained the mastery. This man whom she had always regarded as a being apart, grimly