He stopped the words upon her lips with his own, but his kiss was terrible. She shrank from it trembling, appalled.
In a moment he let her go, and she sank upon her couch, hiding her quivering face with convulsive weeping.
“You are cruel! You are cruel!” she sobbed.
He remained beside her, looking down at her till some of the sternness passed from his face.
He bent at last and touched her. “I’m not cruel,” he said. “I’m just in earnest, that’s all. You be careful for the future! There’s a bit of the devil in me too when I’m goaded.”
She drew herself away from him, half-frightened still and half petulant. “You used to be—ever so much nicer than you are now,” she said, keeping her face averted.
He answered her sombrely as he turned away, “I used to have a wife that I honoured before all creation.”
She sprang to her feet. “Dick! How can you be so horrid?”
He shrugged his shoulders as he walked to the door. “I was—a big fool,” he said very bitterly.
The door closed upon him. Netta stood staring at it, tragic and tear-stained.
Suddenly she stamped her foot and whirled round in a rage. “I won’t be treated like a naughty child! I won’t—I won’t! I’ll write to my Arabian Knight—I’ll write now—and tell him how wretched I am! If Dick objects to our friendship I’ll just leave him, that’s all. I was a donkey ever to marry him. I always knew we shouldn’t get on.”
She paused, listening, half-fearing, half-hoping, that she had heard him returning. Then she heard his voice in the next room. He was talking to Tessa.
She set her lips and went to her writing-table. “Oh yes, he can make it up with his child when he knows he has been brutal; but never a single kind word to his wife—not one word!”
She took up a pen with fingers that trembled with indignation, and began to write.
For two months Tommy possessed his impulsive soul in patience. For two months he watched Monck go his impassive and inscrutable way, asking no further question. The gaieties of the station were in full swing. Christmas was close at hand.
Stella was making definite plans for departure in the New Year. She could not satisfy herself with an idle life, though Tommy vehemently opposed the idea of her going. Monck never opposed it. He listened silently when she spoke of it, sometimes faintly smiling. She often saw him. He came to the Green Bungalow in Tommy’s company at all hours of the day. She met him constantly at the Club, and he never failed to come to her side there and by some means known only to himself to banish the crowd of subalterns who were wont to gather round her. He asserted no claim, but the claim existed and was mutely recognized. He never spoke to her intimately. He never attempted to pass the bounds of ordinary friendship. Only very rarely did he make her aware that her company was a pleasure to him. But the fact remained that she was the only woman that he ever sought, and the tongues of all the rest were busy in consequence.