But Merryon had already burst into the bungalow; so he resumed his patient watch on the veranda, wholly undisturbed, supremely patient.
The khitmutgar came forward at his master’s noisy entrance. There was a trace—just the shadow of a suggestion—of anxiety on his dignified face under the snow-white turban. He presented him with a note on a salver with a few murmured words and a deep salaam.
“For the sahib’s hands alone,” he said.
Merryon snatched up the note and opened it with shaking hands.
It was very brief, pathetically so, and as he read a great emptiness seemed to spread and spread around him in an ever-widening desolation.
“Good-bye, my Billikins!” Ah, the pitiful, childish scrawl she had made of it! “I’ve come to my senses, and I’ve gone back to him. I’m not worthy of any sacrifice of yours, dear. And it would have been a big sacrifice. You wouldn’t like being dragged through the mud, but I’m used to it. It came to me just that moment that you said, ‘Yes, of course,’ when Mr. Harley came to call you back to duty. Duty is better than a worthless woman, my Billikins, and I was never fit to be anything more than a toy to you—a toy to play with and toss aside. And so good-bye, good-bye!”
The scrawl ended with a little cross at the bottom of the page. He looked up from it with eyes gone blind with pain and a stunned and awful sense of loss.
“When did the mem-sahib go?” he questioned, dully.
The khitmutgar bent his stately person. “The mem-sahib went in haste,” he said, “an hour before midnight. Your servant followed her to the dak-bungalow to protect her from budmashes, but she dismissed me ere she entered in. Sahib, I could do no more.”
The man’s eyes appealed for one instant, but fell the next before the dumb despair that looked out of his master’s.
There fell a terrible silence—a pause, as it were, of suspended vitality, while the iron bit deeper and deeper into tissues too numbed to feel.
Then, “Fetch me a drink!” said Merryon, curtly. “I must be getting back to duty.”
And with soundless promptitude the man withdrew, thankful to make his escape.
THE SACRED FIRE
“Well? Is she all right?” Almost angrily the colonel flung the question as his second-in-command came back heavy-footed through the rain. He had been through a nasty period of suspense himself during Merryon’s absence.
Merryon nodded. His face was very pale and his lips seemed stiff.
“She has—gone, sir,” he managed to say, after a moment.
“Gone, has she?” The colonel raised his brows in astonished interrogation. “What! Taken fright at last? Well, best thing she could do, all things considered. You ought to be very thankful.”