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   Chapter 22 THE ARRIVAL

The Lamp in the Desert By Ethel M. Dell Characters: 11927

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Two months later, on a dripping evening in August, Monck stood alone on the verandah of his bungalow at Udalkhand with a letter from Stella in his hand. He had hurried back from duty on purpose to secure it, knowing that it would be awaiting him. She had become accustomed to the separation now, though she spoke yearningly of his next leave. Mrs. Ralston had joined her, and she wrote quite cheerfully. She was very well, and looking forward-oh, so much-to the winter. There was certainly no sadness to be detected between the lines, and Monck folded up the letter and looked across the dripping compound with a smile in his eyes.

When the winter came, he would probably have taken up his new appointment. Sir Reginald Bassett-a man of immense influence and energy-was actually in Udalkhand at that moment. He was ostensibly paying a friendly visit at the Colonel's bungalow, but Monck knew well what it was that had brought him to that steaming corner of Markestan in the very worst of the rainy season. He had come to make some definite arrangement with him. Probably before that very night was over, he would have begun to gather the fruit of his ambition. He had started already to climb the ladder, and he would raise Stella with him, Stella and that other being upon whom he sometimes suffered his thoughts to dwell with a semi-humorous contemplation as-his son. A fantastic fascination hung about the thought. He could not yet visualize himself as a father. It was easier far to picture Stella as a mother. But yet, like a magnet drawing him, the vision seemed to beckon. He walked the desert with a lighter step, and Tommy swore that he was growing younger.

There was an enclosure in Stella's letter from Tessa, who called him her darling Uncle Everard and begged him to come soon and see how good she was getting. He smiled a little over this also, but with a touch of wonder. The child's worship seemed extraordinary to him. His conquest of Tessa had been quite complete, but it was odd that in consequence of it she should love him as she loved no one else on earth. Yet that she did so was an indubitable fact. Her devotion exceeded even that of Tommy, which was saying much. She seemed to regard him as a sacred being, and her greatest pleasure in life was to do him service.

He put her letter away also, reflecting that he must manage somehow to make time to answer it. As he did so, he heard Tommy's voice hail him from the compound, and in a moment the boy raced into sight, taking the verandah steps at a hop, skip, and jump.

"Hullo, old chap! Admiring the view eh? What? Got some letters? Have you heard from your brother yet?"

"Not a word for weeks." Monck turned to meet him. "I can't think what has happened to him."

"Can't you though? I can!" Tommy seized him impetuously by the shouders; he was rocking with laughter. "Oh, Everard, old boy, this beats everything! That brother of yours is coming along the road now. And he's travelled all the way from Khanmulla in a-in a bullock-cart!"

"What?" Monck stared in amazement. "Are you mad?" he inquired.

"No-no. It's true! Go and see for yourself, man! They're just getting here, slow and sure. He must be well stocked with patience. Come on! They're stopping at the gate now."

He dragged his brother-in-law to the steps. Monck went, half-suspicious of a hoax. But he had barely reached the path below when through the rain there came the sound of wheels and heavy jingling.

"Come on!" yelled Tommy. "It's too good to miss!"

But ere they arrived at the gate it was blocked by a massive figure in a streaming black mackintosh, carrying a huge umbrella. "I say," said a soft voice, "what a damn' jolly part of the world to live in!"

"Bernard!" Monck's voice sounded incredulous, yet he passed Tommy at a bound.

"Hullo, my boy, hullo!" Cheerily the newcomer made answer. "How do you open this beastly gate? Oh, I see! Swelled a bit from the rain. I must see to that for you presently. Hullo, Everard! I chanced to find myself in this direction so thought I would look up you and your wife. How are you, my boy?"

An immense hand came forth and grasped Monck's. A merry red face beamed at him from under the great umbrella. Twinkling eyes with red lashes shone with the utmost good-will.

Monck gripped the hand as if he would never let it go. But "My good man, you're mad to come here!" were the only words of welcome he found to utter.

"Think so?" A humorous chuckle accompanied the words. "Well, take me indoors and give me a drink! There are a few traps in the cart outside. Had we better collect 'em first?"

"I'll see to them," volunteered Tommy, whose sense of humour was still somewhat out of control. "Take him in out of the rain, Everard! Send the khit along!"

He was gone with the words, and Everard, with his brother's hand pulled through his arm, piloted him up to the bungalow.

In the shelter of the verandah they faced each other, the one brother square and powerful, so broad as to make his height appear insignificant; the other, brown, lean, muscular, a soldier in every line, his dark, resolute face a strange contrast to the ruddy open countenance of the man who was the only near relation he possessed in the world.

"Well,-boy! I believe you've grown." The elder brother, surveyed the younger with his shrewd, twinkling eyes. "By Jove, I'm sure you have! I used not to have to look up to you like this. Is it this devilish climate that does it? And what on earth do you live on? You look a positive skeleton."

"Oh, that's India, yes." Everard brushed aside all personal comment as superfluous. "Come along in and refresh! What particular star have you fallen from? And why in thunder didn't you say you were coming?"

The elder man laughed, slapping him on the shoulder with hearty force. His clean-shaven face was as free from care as a boy's. He looked as if life had dealt kindly with him.

"Ah, I know you," h

e said. "Wouldn't you have written off post-haste-if you hadn't cabled-and said, 'Wait till the rains are over?' But I had raised my anchor and I didn't mean to wait. So I dispensed with your brotherly counsel, and here I am! You won't find me in the way at all. I'm dashed good at effacing myself."

"My dear good chap," Everard said, "you're about the only man in the world who need never think of doing that."

Bernard's laugh was good to hear. "Who taught you to turn such a pretty compliment? Where is your wife? I want to see her."

"You don't suppose I keep her in this filthy place, do you?" Everard was pouring out a drink as he spoke. "No, no! She has been at Bhulwana in the Hills for the past three months. Now, St. Bernard, is this as you like it?"

The big man took the glass, looking at him with a smile of kindly criticism. "Well, you won't bore each other at that rate, anyhow," he remarked. "Here's to you both! I drink to the greatest thing in life!" He drank deeply and set down the glass. "Look here! You're just off to mess. Don't let me keep you! All I want is a cold bath. And then-if you've got a spare shakedown of any sort-going to bed is mere ritual with me. I can sleep on my head-anywhere."

"You'll sleep in a decent bed," declared Everard. "But you're coming along to mess with me first. Oh yes, you are. Of course you are! There's an hour before us yet though. Hullo, Tommy! Let me introduce you formally to my brother! St. Bernard,-my brother-in-law Tommy Denvers."

Tommy came in through the window and shook hands with much heartiness.

"The khit is seeing to everything. Pleased to meet you, sir! Beastly wet for you, I'm afraid, but there's worse things than rain in India. Hope you had a decent voyage."

Bernard laughed in his easy, good-humoured fashion. "Like the niggers, I can make myself comfortable most anywheres. We had rather a foul time after leaving Aden. Ratting in the hold was our main excitement when we weren't sweating at the pumps. Oh no, I didn't come over in one of your majestic liners. I have a sailor's soul."

A flicker of admiration shot through the merriment in Tommy's eyes. "Wish I had," he observed. "But the very thought of the sea turns mine upside down. If you're keen on ratting, there's plenty of sport of that kind to be had here. The brutes hold gymkhanas on the verandah every, night. I sit up with a gun sometimes when Everard is out of the way."

"Yes, he's a peaceful person to live with," remarked Everard. "Have something to eat, St. Bernard!"

"No, no, thanks! My appetite will keep. A cold bath is my most pressing need. Can I have that?"

"Sure!" said Tommy. "You 're coming to mess with us of course? Old Reggie Bassett is honouring us with his presence to-night. It will be a historic occasion, eh, Everard?"

He smiled upon the elder brother with obvious pleasure at the prospect. Bernard Monck always met with a welcome wherever he went, and Tommy was prepared to like any one belonging to Everard. It was good too to see Everard with that eager light in his eyes. During the whole of their acquaintance he had never seen him look so young.

Bernard held a somewhat different opinion, however, and as he found himself alone again with his brother he took him by the shoulders, and held him for a closer survey.

"What has India been doing to you, dear fellow?" he said. "You look about as ancient as the Sphinx. Been working like a dray-horse all this time?"

"Perhaps." Everard's smile held something of restraint. "We can't all of us stand still, St. Bernard. Perpetual youth is given only to the favoured few."

"Ah!" The older man's eyes narrowed a little. For a moment there existed a curious, wholly indefinite, resembance between them. "And you are happy?" he asked abruptly.

Everard's eyes held a certain hardness as he replied, "Provisionally, yes. I haven't got all I want yet-if that's what you mean. But I am on the way to getting it."

Bernard Monck looked at him a moment longer, and let him go. "Are you sure you're wanting the right thing?" he said.

It was not a question that demanded an answer, and Everard made none. He turned aside with a scarcely perceptible lift of the shoulders.

"You haven't told me yet how you come to be here," he said. "Have you given up the Charthurst chaplaincy?"

"It gave me up." Bernard spoke quietly, but there was deep regret in his voice. "A new governor came-a man of curiously rigid ideas. Anyway, I was not parson enough for him. We couldn't assimilate. I tried my hardest, but we couldn't get into touch anywhere. I preached the law of Divine liberty to the captives. And he-good man! preferred to keep them safely locked in the dungeon. I was forced to quit the position. I had no choice."

"What a fool!" observed Everard tersely.

Bernard's ready smile re-appeared. "Thanks, old chap!" he said. "That's just the point of view I wanted you to take. Now I have other schemes on hand. I'll tell you later what they are. I think I'd better have that cold bath next if you're really going to take me along to mess with you. By Jove, how it does rain! Does it ever leave off in these parts?"

"Not very often this time of the year. I'm not going to let you stay here for long." Everard spoke with his customary curt decision. "It's no place for fellows like you. You must go to Bhulwana and join my wife."

"Many thanks!" Bernard made a grotesque gesture of submission. "What sort of woman is your wife, my son? Do you think she will like me?"

Everard turned and smote him on the shoulder. "Of course she will! She will adore you. All women do."

"Oh, not quite!" protested Bernard modestly. "I'm not tall enough to please everyone of the feminine gender. But you think your wife will overlook that?"

"I know," said Everard, with conviction.

His brother laughed with cheery self-satisfaction. "In that case, of course I shall adore her," he said.

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