He stood back with dignity that Monck might pass, but Monck stood still. He looked at Peter with a level scrutiny for a few moments. Then: “It is enough,” he said, with brief decision. “When I am not with your mem-sahib, I look to you to guard her.”
Peter made his stately salaam. Without further words, he conveyed the fact that without his permission no man might enter the room behind him and live.
Very softly Monck turned the handle of the door and passed within, leaving him alone in the moonlight.
They walked on the following morning over the pine-clad hill and down into the valley beyond, a place of running streams and fresh spring verdure. Stella revelled in its sweetness. It made her think of Home.
“You haven’t told me anything about your brother,” she said, as they sat together on a grey boulder and basked in the sunshine.
“Haven’t I?” Monck spoke meditatively. “I’ve got a photograph of him somewhere. You must see it. You’ll like my brother,” he added, with a smile. “He isn’t a bit like me.”
She laughed. “That’s a recommendation certainly. But tell me what he is like! I want to know.”
Monck considered. “He is a short, thick-set chap, stout and red, rather like a comedian in face. I think he appreciates a joke more than any one I know.”
“He sounds a dear!” said Stella; and added with a gay side-glance, “and certainly not in the least like you. Have you written yet to break the news of your very rash marriage?”
“Yes, I wrote two days ago. He will probably cable his blessing. That is the sort of chap he is.”
“It will be rather a shock for him,” Stella observed. “You had no idea of changing your state when you saw him last summer.”
There fell a somewhat abrupt silence. Monck was filling his pipe and the process seemed to engross all his thoughts. Finally, rather suddenly, he spoke. “As a matter of fact, I didn’t see him last summer.”
“You didn’t see him!” Stella opened her eyes wide. “Not when you went Home?”
“I didn’t go Home.” Monck’s eyes were still fixed upon his pipe. “No one knows that but you,” he said, “and one other. That is the first secret out of Bluebeard’s chamber that I have confided in you. Keep it close!”
Stella sat and gazed; but he would not meet her eyes. “Tell me,” she said at last, “who is the other? The Colonel?”
He shook his head. “No, not the Colonel, You mustn’t ask questions, Stella, if I ever expand at all. If you do, I shall shut up like a clam, and you may get pinched in the process.”
She slipped her hand through his arm. “I will remember,” she said. “Thank you—ever so much—for telling me. I will bury it very deep. No one shall ever suspect it through me.”
“Thanks,” he said. He pressed her hand, but he kept his eyes lowered. “I know I can trust you. You won’t try to find out the things I keep back.”