She put her own weakness from her with a resolution born of expediency, for the need for strength was great. She crossed the room to the bed, felt for and found the key, returned to the door and inserted it in the lock. Then she paused.
He had not moved. He was not watching her. He sat as one sunk deep in dejection, bowed beneath a burden that crushed him to the earth. But there was even in his abasement a certain terrible patience that sent an icy misgiving to her heart. She did not dare to leave him so.
It needed all the strength she could muster to approach him, but she compelled herself at last. She came to him. She stood before him.
“Captain Monck!” she said.
Her voice sounded small and frightened even in her own ears. She clenched her hands with the effort to be strong.
He scarcely stirred. His eyes remained downcast. He spoke no word.
She bent a little. “Captain Monck, if you have fever, you had better go to bed.”
He moved slightly, influenced possibly by the increasing steadiness of her voice. But still he did not look at her or speak.
She saw that his hold upon the revolver had tightened to a grip, and, prompted by an inner warning that she could not pause to question, she bent lower and laid her hand upon his arm. “Please give that to me!” she said.
He started at her touch; he almost recoiled. “Why?” he said.
His voice was harsh and strained, even savage. But the needed strength had come to Stella, and she did not flinch.
“You have no use for it just now,” she said. “Please be sensible and let me have it!”
“Sensible!” he said.
His eyes sought hers suddenly, involuntarily, and she had a sense of shock which she was quick to control; for they held in their depths the torment of hell.
“You are wrong,” he said, and the deadly intention of his voice made her quiver afresh. “I have a use for it. At least I shall have—presently. There are one or two things to be attended to first.”
It was then that a strange and new authority came upon Stella, as if an unknown force had suddenly inspired her. She read his meaning beyond all doubting, and without an instant’s hesitation she acted.
“Captain Monck,” she said, “you have made a mistake. You have done nothing that is past forgiveness. You must take my word for that, for just now you are ill and not in a fit state to judge for yourself. Now please give me that thing, and let me do what I can to help you!”
Practical and matter-of-fact were her words. She marvelled at herself even as she stooped and laid a steady hand upon the weapon he held. Her action was purposeful, and he relinquished it. The misery in his eyes gave place to a dumb curiosity.
“Now,” Stella said, “get to bed, and I will bring you some of Tommy’s quinine.”
She turned from him, revolver in hand, but paused and in a moment turned back.