“Good heavens above, Merryon!” The colonel’s voice held a species of irritated derision. “Do you tell me you can’t manage—a—a piece of thistledown like that?”
Merryon was silent, grimly, implacably silent. Plainly he had no intention of making such an admission.
“It’s madness—criminal madness!” Colonel Davenant looked at him aggressively, obviously longing to pierce that stubborn calm with which Merryon had so long withstood the world.
But Merryon remained unmoved, though deep in his private soul he knew that the colonel was right, knew that he had decided upon a course of action that involved a risk which he dreaded to contemplate.
“Oh, look here, Merryon!” The colonel lost his temper after his own precipitate fashion. “Don’t be such a confounded fool! Take a fortnight’s leave—I can’t spare you longer—and go back to the Hills with her! Make her settle down with my wife at Shamkura! Tell her you’ll beat her if she doesn’t!”
Merryon’s grim face softened a little. “Thank you very much, sir! But you can’t spare me even for so long. Moreover, that form of punishment wouldn’t scare her. So, you see, it would come to the same thing in the end. She is determined to face what I face for the present.”
“And you’re determined to let her!” growled the colonel.
Merryon shrugged his shoulders.
“You’ll probably lose her,” the colonel persisted, gnawing fiercely at his moustache. “Have you considered that?”
“I’ve considered everything,” Merryon said, rather heavily. “But she came to me—through that inferno. I can’t send her away again. She wouldn’t go.”
Colonel Davenant swore under his breath. “Let me talk to her!” he said, after a moment.
The ghost of a smile touched Merryon’s face. “It’s no good, sir. You can talk. You won’t make any impression.”
“But it’s practically a matter of life and death, man!” insisted the colonel. “You can’t afford any silly sentiment in an affair like this.”
“I am not sentimental,” Merryon said, and his lips twitched a little with the words. “But all the same, since she has set her heart on staying, she shall stay. I have promised that she shall.”
“You are mad,” the colonel declared. “Just think a minute! Think what your feelings will be if she dies!”
“I have thought, sir.” The dogged note was in Merryon’s voice again. His face was a mask of impenetrability. “If she dies, I shall at least have the satisfaction of knowing that I made her happy first.”
It was his last word on the subject. He departed, leaving the colonel fuming.
That evening the latter called upon Mrs. Merryon. He found her sitting on her husband’s knee smoking a Turkish cigarette, and though she abandoned this unconventional attitude to receive her visitor, he had a distinct impression that the two were in subtle communion throughout his stay.