Title:TheLampintheDesert Author:EthelM.Dell ReleaseDate:October16,2004[eBook#13763] Mostrecentlyupdated:July28,2011 Language:English Charactersetencoding:ISO-8859-1 ***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE LAMP IN THE DESERT***
AgreatroarofBritishvoicespiercedthejewelledcurtainoftheIndiannight.A toastwithmusicalhonourswasbeingdrunkintheswelteringdining-roomofthe officers' mess. The enthusiastic hubbub spread far, for every door and window wasflungwide.Thoughtheseasonwasyetinitsinfancy,theheatwasintense. Markestan had the reputation in the Indian Army for being one of the hottest corners in the Empire in more senses than one, and Kurrumpore, the military centre, had not been chosen for any especial advantages of climate. So few indeed did it possess in the eyes of Europeans that none ever went there save those whom an inexorable fate compelled. The rickety, wooden bungalows scattered about the cantonment were temporary lodgings, not abiding-places. The women of the community, like migratory birds, dwelt in them for barely fourmonthsintheyear,flittingwiththecomingofthepitilessheattoBhulwana, theirlittleparadiseintheHills.Butthatwasatwenty-fourhours'journeyaway, andthemenhadtobecontentwithanoccasionalweek'sleavefromthedepths oftheirinferno,unless,asTommyDenversputit,theywereluckyenoughtogo sick,inwhichcasetheirsojourninparadisewasprolonged,muchtothedelight oftheangels. Butonthathotnighttheannualflittingoftheangelshadnotyetcometopass, andnotwithstandingtheheatthelastdanceoftheseasonwastotakeplaceatthe Club House. The occasion was an exceptional one, as the jovial sounds that issued from the officers' mess-house testified. Round after round of cheers followedthenoisytoast,fillingthenightwiththemerryuproarthatechoedfar andwide.Aconfusionofvoicessucceededthese;andthenbydegreesthebabel died down, and a single voice made itself heard. It spoke with easy fluency to theevidentappreciationofitslisteners,andwhenitceasedtherecameanother heartycheer.ThenwithjokesandcarelesslaughterthelittlecompanyofBritish officersbegantodisperse.Theycameforthinlounginggroupsontothestepsof
themess-house,theforemostofthem—TommyDenvers—holdingthearmofhis captain,whosufferedthefamiliarityashesufferedmostthings,withtheutmost indifference. None but Tommy ever attempted to get on familiar terms with EverardMonck.Hewasessentiallyamanwhostoodalone.Buttheslim,fairhaired young subaltern worshipped him openly and with reason. For Monck it waswho,grimlyresolute,hadpulledhimthroughtheworstillnesshehadever known,accomplishingbysheerforceofwillwhatRalston,thedoctor,hadfailed to accomplish by any other means. And in consequence and for all time the youngestsubalterninthemesshadbecomeMonck'sdevotedadherent. TheystoodtogetherforamomentatthetopofthestepswhileMonck,hisdark, leanfacewhollyunresponsiveandinscrutable,tookoutacigar.Thenightwasa wonderland of deep spaces and glittering stars. Somewhere far away a native tom-tomthrobbedlikethebeatingofafeveredpulse,quickeningspasmodically at intervals and then dying away again into mere monotony. The air was scentless,still,andheavy. "It'sgoingtobedeucedwarm,"saidTommy. "Haveasmoke?"saidMonck,profferinghiscase. Theboysmiledwithswiftgratification."Oh,thanksawfully!Butit'sashameto hurryoveragoodcigar,andIpromisedStellatogostraightback." "Apromiseisapromise,"saidMonck."Haveitlater!"Headdedrathercurtly, "I'mgoingyourwaymyself." "Good!"saidTommyheartily."Butaren'tyougoingtoshowattheClubHouse? Aren'tyougoingtodance?" Monck tossed down his lighted match and set his heel on it. "I'm keeping my dancingforto-morrow,"hesaid."Thebestmanalwayshasmorethanenoughof that." Tommy made a gloomy sound that was like a groan and began to descend the stepsbyhisside.Theywalkedseveralpacesalongthedimroadinsilence;then quitesuddenlyheburstintoimpulsivespeech. "I'lltellyouwhatitis,Monck!" "Ishouldn't,"saidMonck.
Tommycheckedabruptly,lookingathimoddly,uncertainly."Howdoyouknow whatIwasgoingtosay?"hedemanded. "Idon't,"saidMonck. "Ibelieveyoudo,"saidTommy,unconvinced. Monck blew forth a cloud of smoke and laughed in his brief, rather grudging way."You'regettingquitecleverforachildofyourage,"heobserved."Butdon't overdoit,myson!Don'tgetprecocious!" Tommy's hand grasped his arm confidentially. "Monck, if I don't speak out to someone,Ishallbust!Surelyyoudon'tmindmyspeakingouttoyou!" "Notifthere'sanythingtobegainedbyit,"saidMonck. He ignored the friendly, persuasive hand on his arm, but yet in some fashion Tommyknewthatitwasnotunwelcome.Hekeptitthereashemadereply. "There isn't. Only, you know, old chap, it does a fellow good to unburden himself.AndI'mbotheredtodeathaboutthisbusiness." "Abitlateintheday,isn'tit?"suggestedMonck. "Oh yes, I know; too late to do anything. But," Tommy spoke with force, "the neareritgets,theworseIfeel.I'mdownrightsickaboutit,andthat'sthetruth. Howwouldyoufeel,Iwonder,ifyouknewyouroneandonlysisterwasgoing tomarryarotter?Wouldyoubesatisfiedtoletthingsdrift?" Monckwassilentforaspace.Theywalkedonoverthedustyroadwiththefree swingoftheconqueringrace.Oneortwo'rickshawsmetthemastheywent,and a woman's voice called a greeting; but though they both responded, it scarcely servedasadiversion.Thesilencebetweenthemremained. Monck spoke at last, briefly, with grim restraint. "That's rather a sweeping assertionofyours.Ishouldn'trepeatitifIwereyou." "It'strueallthesame,"maintainedTommy."Youknowit'strue." "Iknownothing,"saidMonck."I'venothingwhateveragainstDacre." "You'venothinginfavourofhimanyway,"growledTommy. "Nothingparticular;butIpresumeyoursisterhas."Therewasjustahintofirony
inthequietrejoinder. Tommywinced."Stella!GreatScott,no!Shedoesn'tcarethetossofahalfpenny for him.Iknowthatnow.Sheonlyacceptedhimbecause shefound herselfin such a beastly anomalous position, with all the spiteful cats of the regiment arrayedagainsther,treatingherlikeapariah." "Didshetellyouso?"TherewasnoironyinMonck'stonethistime.Itfellshort andstern. AgainTommyglancedathimasoneuncertain."Notlikely,"hesaid. "Thenwhydoyoumaketheassertion?Whatgroundshaveyouformakingthe assertion?"Monckspokewithinsistenceasonewhomeanttohaveananswer. Andtheboyansweredhim,albeitshamefacedly."Ireallycan'tsay,Monck.I'm thesortoffoolthatseesthingswithoutbeingabletoexplainhow.ButthatStella hasthefaintestsparkofrealloveforthatfellowDacre,—well,I'dtakemydying oaththatshehasn't." "Somewomendon'tgoinforthatsortofthing,"commentedMonckdryly. "Stellaisn'tthatsortofwoman."HotlycameTommy'sdefence."Youdon'tknow her.She'salotdeeperthanIam." Moncklaughedalittle."Oh,you'redeepenough,Tommy.Butyou'retransparent aswell.Nowyoursisterontheotherhandisquiteinscrutable.Butitisnotforus tointerfere.Sheprobablyknowswhatsheisdoing—verywellindeed." "That'sjustit.Doessheknow?Isn'tshetakingamostawfulleapinthedark?" Keen anxiety sounded in Tommy's voice. "It's been such horribly quick work, youknow.Why,shehasn'tbeenoutheresixweeks.It'sashameforanygirlto marry on such short notice as that. I said so to her, and she—she laughed and said,'Oh,that'sbeggar'schoice!DoyouthinkIcouldenjoylifewithyourangels inparadiseinunmarriedbliss?I'dsoonerstaydowninhellwithyou.'Andshe'd have done it too, Monck. And it would probably have killed her. That's partly howIcametoknow." "Haven'tthewomenbeendecenttoher?"Monck'squestionfellcurtly,asifthe subjectwereonewhichhewasreluctanttodiscuss. Tommylookedathimthroughthestarlight."Youknowwhattheyare,"hesaid
bluntly. "They'd hunt anybody if once Lady Harriet gave tongue. She chose to eyeStellaaskancefromtheveryoutset,andofcoursealltherestfollowedsuit. Mrs. Ralston is the only one in the whole crowd who has ever treated her decently,butofcourseshe'snobody.Everyonesitsonher.Asif,"hespokewith heat,"Stellaweren'tasgoodasthebestof'em—andbetter!Whatrighthavethey to treat her like a social outcast just because she came out here to me on her own?It'shateful!It'siniquitous!Whatelsecouldshehavedone?" "Itseemsreasonable—fromaman'spointofview,"saidMonck. "Itwasreasonable.Itwastheonlythingpossible.Andjustforthattheychoseto turnthecoldshoulderonher,—toostracizeherpractically.Whathadshedoneto them?Whatrighthadtheytotreatherlikethat?"Fierceresentmentsoundedin Tommy'svoice. "I'lltellyouifyouwanttoknow,"saidMonckabruptly."It'sthelawofthepack torendanoutsider.Andyoursisterwillalwaysbethat—marriedorotherwise. They may fawn upon her later, Dacre being one to hold his own with women. Buttheywillalwayshateherintheirhearts.Yousee,sheisbeautiful." "Isshe?"saidTommyinsurprise."Doyouknow,Ineverthoughtofthat!" Moncklaughed—acold,sardoniclaugh."Quiteso!Youwouldn't!ButDacrehas —andafewmoreofus." "Oh, confound Dacre!" Tommy's irritation returned with a rush. "I detest the man!Hebehavesasifhewereconferringa favour.Whenhewasmakingthat speechto-night,Iwantedtoflingmyglassathim." "Ah,butyoumustn'tdothosethings."Monckspokereprovingly."Youmaybe young,butyou'repasttheschoolboystage.Dacreismoreofawoman'sfavourite thanaman's,youmustremember.Ifyoursisterisnotinlovewithhim,sheis abouttheonlywomaninthestationwhoisn't." "That's the disgusting part of it," fumed Tommy. "He makes love to every womanhemeets." Theyhadreachedashadowycompoundthatborderedthedustyroadforafew yards.Alittleeddyingwindmadeamysteriouswhisperamongitsthirstyshrubs. The bungalow it surrounded showed dimly in the starlight, a wooden structure witharaisedverandahandaflightofstepsleadinguptoit.Alightthrownbya red-shaded lamp shone out from one of the rooms, casting a shaft of ruddy
brillianceintothenightasthoughitdefiedthesplendourwithout.Itshoneupon Tommy'sfaceashepaused,showingittroubledandanxious. "Youmayaswellcomein,"hesaid."Sheissuretobeready.Comeinandhave adrink!" Monckstoodstill.Hisdarkfacewasinshadow.Heseemedtobedebatingsome pointwithhimself. Finally, "All right. Just for a minute," he said. "But, look here, Tommy! Don't you let your sister suspect that you've been making a confidant of me! I don't fancy it would please her. Put on a grin, man! Don't look bowed down with familycares!Sheisprobablyquitecapableoflookingafterherself—liketherest of'em." He clapped a careless hand on the lad's shoulder as they turned up the path togethertowardsthestreamingredlight. "You'reabitofawoman-hater,aren'tyou?"saidTommy. AndMoncklaughedagainhisshort,ratherbitterlaugh;buthesaidnowordin answer.
Intheroomwiththecrimson-shadedlampStellaDenverssatwaiting.Thered glowcompassedherwarmly,strikingwonderfulcoppergleamsintheburnished coils of her hair. Her face was bent over the long white gloves that she was pulling over her wrists, a pale face that yet was extraordinarily vivid, with featuresthatweredelicateandproud,andlipsthathadtheexquisitesoftnessand purityofaflower. Sheraisedhereyesfromhertaskatsoundofthestepsbelowthewindow,and their starry brightness under her straight black brows gave her an infinite allurement.Certainlyabeautifulwoman,asMonckhadsaid,andpossessingthe brillianceandthewonderofyouthtoanalmostdazzlingdegree!Perhapsitwas
not altogether surprising that the ladies of the regiment had not been too enthusiastic in their welcome of this sister of Tommy's who had come so suddenly into their midst, defying convention. Her advent had been utterly unexpected—a total surprise even to Tommy, who, returning one day from the polo-ground,hadfoundherawaitinghiminthebachelorquarterswhichhehad shared with three other subalterns. And her arrival had set the whole station buzzing. LedbytheColonel'swife,LadyHarrietMansfield,thewomenoftheregiment had—with the single exception of Mrs. Ralston whose opinion was of no account—risen and condemned the splendid stranger who had come amongst themwithsuchsupremeaudacityandeclipsedthefairestofthem.Stella'sown simpleexplanationthatshehad,uponattaininghermajorityandfiftypoundsa year,decidedtoquitthehomeofsomedistantrelativeswhodidnotwantherand joinTommywhowastheonlynearrelationshehad,hadsatisfiednoone.She wasaninterloper,andassuchtheyunitedtotreather.AsLadyHarrietsaid,no nicegirlwouldhavedreamedoftakingsuchanextraordinarystep,andshehad not the smallest intention of offering her the chaperonage that she so conspicuously lacked. If Mrs. Ralston chose to do so, that was her own affair. Such action on the part of the surgeon's very ordinary wife would make no difference to any one. She was glad to think that all the other ladies were too well-bredtoacceptwithoutreservationsounconventionalatype. ThefactthatshewasTommy'ssisterwastheonlyconsiderationinherfavour. Tommywasquiteaniceboy,andtheycouldnotforhissakeentirelyexcludeher from the regimental society, but to no intimate gathering was she ever invited, norfromthefemaleportionofthecommunitywasthereanywelcomeforherat theClub. Theattitudeoftheofficersoftheregimentwasofatotallydifferentnature.They hadacceptedherwithenthusiasm,possiblyallthemoremarkedonaccountof thealoofnessoftheirwomenfolk,andinaveryshorttimetheywerepayingher homageasoneman.ThesubalternswhohadsharedtheirquarterswithTommy turned out to make room for her, treating her like a queen suddenly come into herown,andlikeaqueensheenteredintopossession,acceptingallcourtesyjust assheignoredallslightswithadelicateself-possessionthatyetknewhowtobe graciouswhenoccasiondemanded. Mrs.Ralstonwouldhaveofferedherharbouragehadshedesiredit,buttherewas prideinStella—apridethatsurgedandrebelledveryfarbelowherserenity.She
receivedfavoursfromnone. Andso,unshackledandunchaperoned,shehadgoneherwayamonghercritics, and no one—not even Tommy—suspected how deep was the wound that their barely-veiledhostilityhadinflicted.Inbitternessofsoulshehiditfromallthe world, and only her brother and her brother's grim and somewhat unapproachablecaptainwereevenvaguelyawareofitsexistence. EverardMonckwasoneoftheveryfewmenwhohadnotlaidthemselvesdown before her dainty feet, and she had gradually come to believe that this man sharedthesilent,side-longdisapprovalmanifestedbythewomen.Verystrangely thatbeliefhurtherevenmoredeeply,inasubtle,incomprehensiblefashion,than anyslightsinflictedbyherownsex.PossiblyTommy'swarmenthusiasmforthe manhadmadehermoresensitiveregardinghisgoodopinion.Andpossiblyshe was over ready to read condemnation in his grave eyes. But—whatever the reason—shewouldhavegivenmuchtohavehadhimonherside.Somehowit matteredtoher,andmatteredvitally. But Monck had never joined her retinue of courtiers. He was never other than courteoustoher,buthedidnotseekherout.Perhapshehadbetterthingstodo. Aloof,impenetrable,cold,hepassedherby,andshewouldhavebeenevenmore amazedthanTommyhadsheheardhimdescribeherasbeautiful,soconvinced wasshethathesawinhernocharm. It had been a disheartening struggle, this hewing for herself a way along the rockypathsofprejudice,andmanyhadbeenthethornsunderherfeet.Though she kept a brave heart and never faltered, she had tired inevitably of the perpetual effort it entailed. Three weeks after her arrival, when the annual exodusoftheladiesoftheregimenttotheHillswasdrawingnear,shebecame engaged to Ralph Dacre, the handsomest and most irresponsible man in the mess. With him at least her power to attract was paramount. He was blindly, almost fulsomely, in love. Her beauty went to his head from the outset; it fired his blood.Heworshippedherhotly,andpursuedheruntiringly,caringlittlewhether she returned his devotion so long as he ultimately took possession. And when finally, half-disdainfully, she yielded to his insistence, his one all-mastering thoughtbecametoclinchthebargainbeforeshecouldrepentofit.Itwasamad andheadlongpassionthatdrovehim—notforthefirsttimeinhislife;andthe subtle pride of her and the soft reserve made her all the more desirable in his
eyes. Hehad wonher;hedidnotstoptoaskhimselfhow.Thewomensaidthatthe luck was all on her side. The men forebore to express an opinion. Dacre had attained his captaincy, but he was not regarded with great respect by any one. His fellow-officers shrugged their shoulders over him, and the commanding officer,ColonelMansfield,hadbeenheardtocallhim"thecraziestmadmanit hadeverbeenhisfatetomeet."Noone,exceptTommy,activelydislikedhim, andhehadnogroundsforsodoing,asMonckhadpointedout.Monck,whotill thenhadoccupiedthesamebungalow,declaredhehadnothingagainsthim,and he was surely in a position to form a very shrewd opinion. For Monck was neither fool nor madman, and there was very little that escaped his silent observation. Hewasactingasbestmanatthemorrow'sceremony,thefunctionhavingbeen almost thrust upon him by Dacre who, oddly enough, shared something of Tommy's veneration for his very reticent brother-officer. There was scant friendshipbetweenthem.Eachhadbeenaccustomedtogohisownwaywholly independentoftheother.Theywerenomorethancasualacquaintances,andthey were content to remain such. But undoubtedly Dacre entertained a certain respectforMonckandobservedawarinessofbehaviourinhispresencethathe nevertroubledtoassumeforanyotherman.Hewascarefulinhisdealingswith him,beingatalltimesnotwhollycertainofhisground. Other men felt the same uncertainty in connection with Monck. None—save Tommy—was sure what manner of man he was. Tommy alone took him for granted with whole-hearted admiration, and at his earnest wish it had been arrangedbetweenthemthatMonckshouldtakeuphisabodewithhimwhenthe forthcomingmarriagehaddeprivedeachofacompanion.Tommywasdelighted withtheidea,andhehadagratifyingsuspicionthatMonckhimselfwasinclined tobepleasedwithitalso. The Green Bungalow had become considerably more homelike since Stella's arrival,andTommymeanttokeepitso.HewassurethatMonckandhewould havethesametastes. And so on that eve of his sister's wedding, the thought of their coming companionshipwasthesoleredeemingfeatureofthewholeaffair,andheturned inhisimpulsivefashiontosaysojustastheyreachedtheverandahsteps. Butthewordsdidnotleavehislips,fortheredglowflungfromthelamphad
foundMonck'supturnedface,andsomething—somethingaboutit—checkedall speech for the moment. He was looking straight up at the lighted window and thefaceofabeautifulwomanwhogazedforthintothenight.Andhiseyeswere no longer cold and unresponsive, but burning, ardent, intensely alive. Tommy forgotwhathewasgoingtosayandonlystared. Themomentpassed;itwasscarcelysomuchasamoment.AndMonckmoved oninhiscalm,unfalteringway. "Yoursisterisreadyandwaiting,"hesaid. Theyascendedthestepstogether,andthegirlwhosatbytheopenwindowrose withastatelymovementandsteppedforwardtomeetthem. "Hullo,Stella!"wasTommy'sgreeting."HopeI'mnotawfullylate.Theywasted suchaconfoundedtimeovertoastsatmessto-night.Yourswasoneof'em,andI had to reply. I hadn't a notion what to say. Captain Monck thinks I made an awfulhashofitthoughheistooconsideratetosayso." "On the contrary I said 'Hear, hear!' to every stutter," said Monck, bowing slightlyashetookthehandsheoffered. She was wearing a black lace dress with a glittering spangled scarf of Indian gauzefloatingabouther.Herneckandshouldersgleamedinthesoftredglow. Shewassuperbthatnight. ShesmiledatMonck,andhersmilewasasashiningcloakhidinghersoul."So youhavestarteduponyourofficialdutiesalready!"shesaid."Itisthebestman's businesstoencourageandconsoleeveryoneconcerned,isn'tit?" The faint cynicism of her speech was like her smile. It held back all intrusive curiosity. And the man's answering smile had something of the same quality. Reservemetreserve. "IhopeIshallnotfinditveryarduousinthatrespect,"hesaid."Ididnotcome hereinthatcapacity." "Iamgladofthat,"shesaid."Won'tyoucomeinandsitdown?" Shemotionedhimwithinwithaqueenlygesture,butherinvitationwaswholly lackinginwarmth.ItwasTommywhopressedforwardwitheagerhospitality. "Yes,andhaveadrink!It'sathirstyright.It'sgettinginfernallyhot.Stella,you're
luckytobegoingoutofit." "Oh,Iamverylucky,"Stellasaid. Theyenteredthelightedroom,andTommywentinsearchofrefreshment. "Won'tyousitdown?"saidStella. Hervoicewasdeepandpure,andthemusicinitmadehimwonderifshesang. Hesatfacingherwhileshereturnedwithapparentabsorptiontothefasteningof hergloves.Shespokeagainafteramomentwithoutraisinghereyes."Areyou proposingtotakeupyourabodehereto-morrow?" "That'stheidea,"saidMonck. "IhopeyouandTommywillbequitecomfortable,"shesaid."Nodoubthewill beagooddealhappierwithyouthanhehasbeenforthepastfewweekswith me." "Idon'tknowwhyheshouldbe,"saidMonck. "No?"Shewasfrowningslightlyoverherglove."Yousee,mysojournherehas notbeen—agreatsuccess.IthinkpoorTommyhasfeltitratherbadly.Helikesa genialatmosphere." "Hewon'tgetmuchofthatinmycompany,"observedMonck. She smiled momentarily. "Perhaps not. But I think he will not be sorry to be relievedoffamilycares.Theyhaveweighedratherheavilyuponhim." "Hewillbesorrytoloseyou,"saidMonck. "Oh,ofcourse,inaway.Buthewillsoongetoverthat."Shelookedupathim suddenly. "You will all be rather thankful when I am safely married, Captain Monck,"shesaid. There was a second or two of silence. Monck's eyes looked straight back into herswhileitlasted,buttheyheldnowarmth,scarcelyeveninterest. "Ireallydon'tknowwhyyoushouldsaythat,MissDenvers,"hesaidstifflyat length. Stella'sglovedhandsclaspedeachother.Shewasbreathingsomewhathard,yet herbearingwaswhollyregal,evendisdainful.
"Only because I realize that I have been a great anxiety to all the respectable portion of the community," she made careless reply. "I think I am right in classingyouunderthatheading,amInot?" He heard the challenge in her tone, delicately though she presented it, and somethinginhimthatwasfierceandunrestrainedspranguptomeetit.Buthe forceditback.Hisexpressionremainedwhollyinscrutable. "I don't think I can claim to be anything else," he said. "But that fact scarcely makesmeinanysenseoneofacommunity.IthinkIprefertostandalone." Herblueeyessparkledalittle."Strangely,Ihavethesamepreference,"shesaid. "It has never appealed to me to be one of a crowd. I like independence— whatever the crowd may say. But I am quite aware that in a woman that is consideredadangeroustaste.Awomanshouldalwaysconformtorule." "Ihaveneverstudiedthesubject,"saidMonck. Hespokebriefly.Tommy'sconfidenceshadstirredwithinhimthatwhichcould not be expressed. The whole soul of him shrank with an almost angry repugnancefromdiscussingthematterwithher.Nodiscussioncouldmakeany differenceatthisstage. Againforasecondhesawherslightfrown.Thensheleanedbackinherchair, stretching up her arms as if weary of the matter. "In fact you avoid all things feminine,"shesaid."Howdiscreetofyou!" Alargewhitemothfloatedsuddenlyinandbegantobeatitselfagainstthelampshade. Monck's eyes watched it with a grim concentration. Stella's were halfclosed. She seemed to have dismissed him from her mind as an unimportant detail.Thesilencewidenedbetweenthem. Suddenlytherewasamovement.Theflutteringcreaturehadfoundtheflameand fallendazeduponthetable.AlmostinthesamesecondMonckstoopedforward swiftlyandsilently,andcrushedthethingwithhisclosedfist. Stelladrewaquickbreath.Hereyeswerewideopenagain.Shesatup. "Whydidyoudothat?" Helookedatheragain,asmoulderinggleaminhiseyes."Itwasonitswayto destruction,"hesaid.
"Andsoyouhelpedit!" Henodded."Yes.Long-drawn-outagoniesdon'tattractme." Stellalaughedsoftly,yetwithatouchofmockery."Oh,itwasanactofmercy, wasit?Youdidn'tlookparticularlymerciful.Infact,thatisaboutthelastquality Ishouldhaveattributedtoyou." "Idon'tthink,"Moncksaidveryquietly,"thatyouareinapositiontojudgeme." She leaned forward. He saw that her bosom was heaving. "That is your prerogative,isn'tit?"shesaid."I—Iamjusttheprisoneratthebar,and—likethe moth—Ihavebeencondemned—withoutmercy." Heraisedhisbrowssharply.Forasecondhehadthelookofamanwhohasbeen stabbedintheback.Thenwithaswiftefforthepulledhimselftogether. InthesamemomentStellarose.Shewassmiling,andtherewasaredflushin hercheeks.Shetookherfanfromthetable. "Andnow,"shesaid,"Iamgoingtodance—allnightlong.Everyofficerinthe mess—saveone—hasaskedmeforadance." Hewasonhisfeetinaninstant.Hehadcheckedone impulse,buteventohis endurancetherewerelimits.Hespokeasonegoaded. "Willyougivemeone?" Shelookedhimsquarelyintheeyes."No,CaptainMonck." Hisdarkfacelookedsuddenlystubborn."Idon'toftendance,"hesaid."Iwasn't goingtodanceto-night.But—Iwillhaveone—Imusthaveone—withyou." "Why?" Her question fell with a crystal clearness. There was something of crystalhardnessinhereyes. Butthemanwasundaunted."Becauseyouhavewrongedme,andyouoweme reparation." "I—havewronged—you!"Shespokethewordsslowly,stilllookinghiminthe eyes. He made an abrupt gesture as of holding back some inner force that strongly urgedhim."Iamnotoneofyourpersecutors,"hesaid."Ihaveneverinmylife presumedtojudgeyou—farlesscondemnyou."
Hisvoicevibratedasthoughsomeemotionfoughtfiercelyforthemastery.They stood facing each other in what might have been open antagonism but for that deepquiverintheman'svoice. Stellaspokeafterthelapseofseconds.Shehadbeguntotremble. "Thenwhy—whydidyouletmethinkso?Whydidyoualwaysstandaloof?" There was a tremor in her voice also, but her eyes were shining with the light half-eager,half-anxious,ofonewhoseeksforburiedtreasure. Monck'sanswerwaspitchedverylow.Itwasasifthesoulofhimgaveutterance tothewords."Itismynaturetostandaloof.Iwaswaiting." "Waiting?" Her two hands gripped suddenly hard upon her fan, but still her shiningeyesdidnotflinchfromhis.Stillwithaquiveringheartshesearched. Almostinawhispercamehisreply."Iwaswaiting—tillmyturnshouldcome." "Ah!"Thefansnappedbetweenherhands;shecastitfromherwithamovement thatwasalmostviolent. Monck drew back sharply. With a smile that was grimly cynical he veiled his soul. "I was a fool, of course, and I am quite aware that my foolishness is nothing to you. But at least you know now how little cause you have to hate me." Shehadturnedfromhimandgonetotheopenwindow.Shestoodtherebending slightly forward, as one who strains for a last glimpse of something that has passedfromsight. Monck remained motionless, watching her. From another room near by there camethesoundofTommy'shummingandthecheerypopofawithdrawncork. Stella spoke at last, in a whisper, and as she spoke the strain went out of her attitudeandshedroopedagainstthewood-workofthewindowasifspent."Yes; butIknow—toolate." Thewordsreachedhimthoughhescarcelyfeltthattheywereintendedtodoso. Hesufferedthemtogointosilence;thetimeforspeechwaspast. Thesecondsthrobbedawaybetweenthem.Stelladidnotmoveorspeakagain, and at last Monck turned from her. He picked up the broken fan, and with a
curiousreverencehelaiditoutofsightamongsomebooksonthetable. Thenhestoodimmovableasgraniteandwaited. There came the sound of Tommy's footsteps, and in a moment the door was flungopen.Tommyadvancedwithallahost'ssolicitude. "Oh,Isay,I'mawfullysorrytohavekeptyouwaitingsolong.Thatsillyassofa khithadclearedoffandleftusnothingtodrink.Stella,weshallmissallthefun ifwedon'thurryup.Comeon,Monck,oldchap,saywhen!" Hestoppedatthetable,andStellaturnedfromthewindowandmovedforward. Herfacewaspale,butshewassmiling. "CaptainMonckiscomingwithus,Tommy,"shesaid. "What?"Tommylookedupsharply."Really?Isay,Monck,I'mpleased.It'lldo yougood." Monck was smiling also, faintly, grimly. "Don't mix any strong waters for me, Tommy!" he said. "And you had better not be too generous to yourself! Remember,youwillhavetodancewithLadyHarriet!" Tommygrimacedabovetheglasses."Allright.Havesomelime-juice!Youwill havetodancewithhertoo.That'ssomeconsolation!" "I?"saidMonck.HetooktheglassandhandedittoStella,thenassheshookher headheputittohisownlipsanddrankasamandrinkstoamemory."No,"he saidthen."Iamdancingonlyonedanceto-night,andthatwillnotbewithLady HarrietMansfield." "Whothen?"questionedTommy. ItwasStellawhoansweredhim,inhervoiceanotethatsoundedhalf-reckless, half-defiant. "It isn't given to every woman to dance at her own funeral," she said:"CaptainMonckhaskindlyconsentedtoassistattheorgyofmine." "Stella!"protestedTommy,flushing."Ihatetohearyoutalkinglikethat!" Stellalaughedalittle,softly,asthoughatthevagariesofachild."PoorTommy!" shesaid."Whatitistobesoyoung!" "I'dsoonerbeababeinarmsthanacynic,"saidTommybluntly.
Lady Harriet's lorgnettes were brought piercingly to bear upon the bride-elect thatnight,andherthin,refinedfeaturesneverrelaxedduringtheoperation.She was looking upon such youth and loveliness as seldom came her way; but the sightgavehernopleasure.ShedeemeditextremelyunsuitablethatStellashould danceatallontheeveofherwedding,andwhensherealizedthatnearlyevery manintheroomwashavinghisturn,herdisapprovalbynomeansdiminished. ShewonderedaudiblytooneafteranotherofherfollowerswhatCaptainDacre was about to permit such a thing. And when Monck—Everard Monck of all peoplewhousuallyavoidedallgatheringsattheClubandhadneverbeenknown to dance if he could find any legitimate means of excusing himself—waltzed Stellathroughthethrong,herindignationamountedalmosttoanger.Themess hadyieldedtothelastman. "Icallitalmostbrazen,"shesaidtoMrs.Burton,theMajor'swife."Sheflaunts herunconventionalityinourfaces." "Agravemistake,"agreedMrs.Burton."Itwillnotmakeusthinkanythemore highlyofherwhensheismarried." "I am in two minds about calling on her," declared Lady Harriet. "I am very doubtful as to the advisability of inviting any one so obviously unsuitable into ourinnercircle.OfcourseMrs.Ralston,"sheraisedherlongpointedchinupon thename,"willpleaseherselfinthematter.Shewillprobablybethefirsttotry anddrawherin,butwhatMrs.RalstondoesandwhatIdoaretwoverydifferent things.Sheisnotparticularastothesocietyshekeeps,andtheresultisthather opinionisveryjustlyregardedasworthless." "Oh, quite," agreed Mrs. Burton, sending an obviously false smile in the directionoftheladylastnamedwhowasapproachingtheminthecompanyof Mrs.Ermsted,theAdjutant'swife,alittlesmartwomanwhomTommyhadlong sincesurnamed"TheLizard." Mrs. Ralston, the surgeon's wife, had once been a pretty girl, and there were
occasions still on which her prettiness lingered like the gleams of a fading sunset.Shehadadiffidentmannerinsociety,butyetshewastheonlywomanin thestationwhorefusedtofollowLadyHarriet'slead.AsTommyhadsaid,she was a nobody. Her influence was of no account, but yet with unobtrusive insistenceshetookherownway,andnonecouldturnhertherefrom. Mrs.Ermstedheldheruptoridiculeopenly,andyetverystrangelyshedidnot seemtodisliketheAdjutant'ssharp-tonguedlittlewife.Shehadbeenverygood to her on more than one occasion, and the most appreciative remark that Mrs. Ermsted had ever found to make regarding her was that the poor thing was so fond of drudging for somebody that it was a real kindness to let her. Mrs. Ermstedwasquitewillingtobekindtoanyoneinthatrespect. They approached now, and Lady Harriet gave to each her distinctive smile of royalcondescension. "Iexpectedtoseeyoudancing,Mrs.Ermsted,"shesaid. "Oh, it's too hot," declared Mrs. Ermsted. "You want the temperament of a salamandertodanceonanightlikethis." ShecastabarbedglancetowardsStellaasshespokeasMonckguidedhertothe leastcrowdedcorneroftheball-room.Stella'sdelicatefacewasflushed,butit wastheexquisiteflushofablush-rose.Hereyeswereofastarrybrightness;she hadtheradiantlookofonewhohasachievedherheart'sdesire. "Whatavisionoftriumph!"commentedMrs.Ermsted."It'ssoothinganywayto knowthatthatwild-rosecomplexionwon'tsurvivethesummer.CaptainMonck lookscuriouslyoutofhiselement.Nodoubtheprefersthebazaars." "ButStellaDenversisenchantingto-night,"murmuredMrs.Ralston. LadyHarrietoverheardthemurmur,andheraquilinenosewasinstantlyelevated alittlehigher."Somanypeopleneverseebeyondtheouterhusk,"shesaid. Mrs. Burton smiled out of her slitty eyes. "I should scarcely imagine Captain Moncktobeoneofthem,"shesaid."Heisobviouslyhereasamatterofform to-night.Thebestmanmustbeciviltothebride—whateverhisfeelings." Lady Harriet's face cleared a little, although her estimate of Mrs. Burton's opinion was not a very high one. "That may account for Captain Dacre's extremelycomplacentattitude,"shesaid."Heregardstheattentionspaidtohis