“I suppose I shall have to go,” she said, “if only to pacify Tommy.”
“A very good and sufficient reason,” commented Monck enigmatically.
He lingered on beside her for a while, but nothing further of an intimate nature passed between them. She felt that he had gained his objective and would say no more. The truce between them was to be observed until the psychological moment arrived to break it, and that moment would occur some time on Christmas Eve in the moonlit solitudes of Khanmulla.
Later she reflected that perhaps it was as well to go and get it over. She could not deny him his opportunity, and it would not take long—she was sure it would not take long to convince him that they were better as they were.
Had he been younger, less wedded to his work, less the slave of his ambition, things might have been different. Had she never been married to Ralph Dacre, never known the bondage of those few strange weeks, she might have been more ready to join her life to his.
But Fate had intervened between them, and their paths now lay apart. He realized it as well as she did. He would not press her. Their eyes were open, and if the oasis in the desert had seemed desirable to either for a space, yet each knew that it was no abiding-place.
Their appointed ways lay in the waste beyond, diverging ever more and more, till presently even the greenness of that oasis in which they had met together would be no more to either than a half-forgotten dream.
The moon was full on Christmas Eve. It shone in such splendour that the whole world was transformed into a fairyland of black and silver. Stella stood on the verandah of the Green Bungalow looking forth into the dazzling night with a tremor at her heart. The glory of it was in a sense overwhelming. It made her feel oddly impotent, almost afraid, as if some great power menaced her. She had never felt the ruthlessness of the East more strongly than she felt it that night. But the drugged feeling that had so possessed her in the mountains was wholly absent from her now. She felt vividly alive, almost painfully conscious of the quick blood pulsing through her veins. She was aware of an intense longing to escape even while the magic of the night yet drew her irresistibly. Deep in her heart there lurked an uncertainty which she could not face. Up to that moment she had been barely aware of its existence, but now she felt it stirring, and strangely she was afraid. Was it the call of the East, the wonder of the moonlight? Or was it some greater thing yet, such as had never before entered into her life? She could not say; but her face was still firmly set towards the goal of liberty. Whatever was in store for her, she meant to extricate herself. She meant to cling to her freedom at all costs. When next she stood upon that verandah, the ordeal she had begun to dread so needlessly, so unreasonably, would be over, and she would have emerged triumphant.