Nearer and nearer drew the unseen one, came close to him, seemed to pause,—and passed. Max was holding his breath. His hands were clenched. He was strung for vigorous resistance.
But as he realized that the danger—if danger there had been—was over, his muscles relaxed. A moment later with absolute noiselessness he rose and leaned over the verandah-rail, intently watching.
Seconds passed thus and nothing happened. The rustling sound grew fainter, faded imperceptibly at length into the stillness of the night. Could it have been a jackal, Max asked himself?
He stood up and looked once more along the verandah. Nick’s room was just round the corner of the bungalow. The nocturnal visitor had gone in that direction. With noiseless tread he followed.
He reached the corner. The soft glow of a night-lamp lay across the verandah. The window was open. He paused a second, then strode softly up and looked in.
A bamboo-screen was pulled across the room, hiding the bed. The lamp was burning behind it. As Max stood at the window, a turbaned figure came silently round the screen. It was the figure of an old man, grey-bearded, slightly bent, clad in a long native garment. For a moment he stood, then stepped to the window and closed it swiftly in Max’s face. So sudden and so noiseless was the action that Max was taken wholly by surprise. He did not so much as know whether his presence had been observed.
Then the blind came down with the same noiseless rapidity, and he was left in darkness.
Mindful of the mysterious visitor in the compound, he turned about and felt his way back to the corner of the bungalow, deciding that the lighted drawing-room was preferable to the dark verandah.
Reaching the corner and within sight of the lamplight, he stopped again and listened. But the compound was still and to all appearance deserted. He waited for a full minute, but heard no sound beyond a faint stirring of the night-wind in the cypresses. Slowly at length he turned and retraced his steps, contemptuously wondering if the mysterious East had tampered with his nerves.
It was evident that his host had retired for the night with the assistance of his bearer, and he decided to follow his example. He closed and bolted the windows and went to his own room.
SMOKE FROM THE FIRE
“It always used to be regarded as anything but a model State,” smiled Major Hunt-Goring, as he lay in a long chair and watched Daisy’s busy fingers at work on a frock for Peggy. “I suppose our friend Nicholas Ratcliffe has changed all that, however. A queer little genius—Nick.”
“He is my husband’s and my greatest friend,” said Daisy.
“Really!” Hunt-Goring laughed silkily. “Do you know, Mrs. Musgrave, that’s the fifth time you have mentioned your husband in as many minutes? If I remember aright, he used not to be so often on your lips.”