- CHAPTER II. TOBY FITZGERALD.
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BOBBIE clasped her gift ecstatically. "Oh, you dear!" she cried. "And to think we have had nothing but bully beef for a week! A sirloin, too! Not even a scrag end! How perfectly sweet of you, Toby!"
"A scrag end, indeed! As if I were likely to bring you such a thing! Besides, I sold the scrag end and the lights and the tail at top prices to a barmy old nigger who thought he was getting the pick of the whole beast!"
"When was it killed?" asked the housewifely Betty. "Probably we ought to cook it at once. The last piece of fresh meat that came our way had to be given decent burial directly it arrived."
"I call that rather rude," said Bobbie, looking amused. "It sounds somehow like looking a gift horse in the mouth."
"And a very wise precaution, considering the nature of the gift," laughed Toby. "It was killed at daybreak, Mrs. Housekeeper; and as the temperature at the store has been eighty-six degrees in the shade today, I should recommend no delay in cooking. I've a nice little collection growing 'whiffy' already, for which I expect to get extra | | 17 good prices tomorrow. Niggers are always ready to pay an extra sixpence or so if they get a nice odour thrown in."
"We'll have it for dinner," Bobbie decided;" and perhaps it will buck the boys up a little. Of course you will stay?"
"Thanks. I guess I don't need pressing." He turned away to place his bicycle more securely, and both girls began to laugh.
"Really, Toby," exclaimed Betty, "what an amazing patch! Why didn't you let Bobbie or me do it for you?" On the seat of his "shorts" was a large square patch of a darker shade than the original material, and the lower half having come unsewn, it hung down like a little apron.
"It's a perfectly beautiful patch," he asserted in an injured voice, while his eyes twinkled. "I'm very proud of it."
"Is it designed for ventilation?" asked Bobbie.
"Why?" -- and he felt himself carefully, discovering for the first time that many of his stitches had come out. Then he laughed mischievously.
"What a lucky thing it wasn't the top that came undone!"
"As if you would have cared!"--from Bobbie.
"But I really must find you a safety-pin in case the whole patch falls off." And she went away into their hut afterwards securing Toby's garments with a greater degree of safety, while Betty, looking on, wondered what the fashionable lady in London who was his mother would have thought of his general attire.
Perhaps, could she have seen him just as he stood in the afternoon light, with the happy gleam | | 18 in his eyes and the alluring air of reckless inconsequence, she would have realised that he had found a life that suited him infinitely better than worrying along on a limited allowance in an expensive regiment. In truth, she could not have chosen but to be proud of him. Standing six-foot-two in his socks, he was as upright as a young sapling, with broad shoulders, brown, sinewy arms bared above the elbow, and a brown, healthy face that radiated good temper, fearless honesty, and a light-hearted joyousness. Moreover, it was difficult to imagine that anything could be more becoming to him than his present somewhat grotesque costume. It consisted of a brown shirt opened to the second button at the throat, and showing a very distinct line between sunburnt flesh and that which had been covered. The third button would doubtless have been open also, but, as he was paying an afternoon call upon ladies, he had taken the trouble to tie a piece of bootlace in the buttonhole and through the hole left where the button had been torn off, and thus the front of the shirt was partly secured. The "shorts" with the patch have already been described, but it must not be overlooked that they only reached just above the knees, whereas his puttees only reached just below, and therefore a large piece of brown, unclothed knee was visible. The puttees were the most presentable part of his attire, but below them emerged a pair of large, heavy-soled boots, like a plough-boy's, without which he was rarely to be seen. But as it was many months since he had entered a drawing-room, it was of small moment, for all the dining-rooms in that particular neighbourhood had baked mud floors, and | | 19 were accustomed to being trodden by hob-nailed boots. Lastly, his hat, which was tilted on the back his head at a rakish angle, was such as a tramp would barely say "Thank you!" for in England. And yet, with it all, there was not a line of him that not bespeak the gentleman born and bred, from delicate-curved nostrils to the high instep which even plough-boy boots could not hide. He was a splendid type of Kiplig's Lost Legion--the sporting, dare-devil younger sons who go out to conquer the earth in an army that has no leader and no name, and of which the only headquarters is the dear little Island in the northern Pacific, and the only code of laws to "play game."
And Bobbie, on one knee beside him, securing his patch with a safety-pin, and Betty, looking on, were true types of the fine women's battalion of the same army. Well bred, gently-nurtured, English gentlewomen, throwing in their lot with the pioneers' leaderless legion, doing most of their own washing and cooking, braving all kinds of annoyances and dangers, and all the time living contentedly in wattle-and- daub huts, while they trained themselves to laugh at incidents over which most women would cry, Bobbie, the younger, was slim and tall, and, without being exactly pretty, possessed a frank,engaging manner and a joyous laugh that were more attractive than perfect features, and made her a favourite every where Betty was of a quieter disposition, and was the prettier of the two; but whereas Bobbie would fearlessly have braved the life alone, the elder girl had only the courage to brave it in her sister's company. She was engaged to young doctor trying to win renown, and at the | | 20 same time a post that would enable him to keep a wife, with the plucky body of men investigating the sleeping-sickness area. Bobbie would some day be engaged to Toby Fitzgerald, but as at present the profits of his store and butchery only totalled five pounds a month, no binding promise had been asked or given.
When the patch had been duly secured, and Twilight carefully instructed how to cook the precious sirloin, Toby suddenly remembered that some letters had come to his store, brought from the post-office forty miles away by a neighbour farming close by named Harry Blake. There was one each for the two girls, and one for the brothers, which looked like a bill, and, as Bobbie said, could very well wait. Betty's was from her fiancé, Dr. Philip Stanhope, and she smiled as she read the opening sentences. "He says the only address he could give me would be the latitude and longitude, which probably would not convey any more to me than it does to him, but that it is the thirstiest spot he has ever known." Then, after reading a little further, she added: "He says they have heard a rumour of a rich gold vein on some property in our direction belonging to Sir James Fortescue. The rumour came through from someone belonging to the Exploration Company in Johannesburg."
"Oh, by Jove, yes!" exclaimed Toby. "I was nearly forgetting all about it. Blake knew all the latest. He had heard it in Geegi. Some ore crushed from Sir James Fortescue's claim has yielded an ounce to the ton after several crushings taken haphazard. It is about ten miles off. He said he had heard he was on his way from Lobenwayo to | | 21 investigate, and will pass through here. He may come any day."
"Isn't Sir James Fortescue the man who has formed the Independence League?" Bobbie asked.
"Yes. The senior member for Lobenwayo. Splendid fellow! He is a cousin of Lord Nevel, the Viceroy of India, and the best politician in country. In fact, some people think he is the only one."
"And will he come here?" asked Betty with interest.
"Sure to. I hope I shall be near. I should like to meet him. He and my father were once in the Guards together."
"How thrilling to have a real live politician and magnate to see us!" exclaimed Bobbie."I know quite well I shall have on my old morning frock and shabby shoes and probably a grimy face!" How disgusting not to know when to expect him! I would like at least to be clean."
"If he passes the store first, and he is almost sure to, I will send a boy flying on to tell you."
"You bird!"--gratefully. "Is he a married man?"
"Not a bit of it, and awfully good-looking. You really must have your best bib and tucker on." Then he added, with a little wistful humour: "But I don't let him cut me out.Perhaps I should be wiser to waylay him and direct him by some other route."
"I don't think you need worry"--and Bobbie laughed frankly. "Sir James Fortescue, cousin of somebody who is Viceroy of India, once in the guards and now a Rhodesian magnate, is not very | | 22 likely to be interested in her ladyship, Bobbie Glynn, generally engaged in household work with smudges on her face."
"Like Cinderella," put in Betty, "and Sir James might be the prince."
"Of course he might," declared Toby. "I shall certainly have to waylay him."
"Only a waste of time, my dear Toby. I don't want a prince, and I'm perfectly certain to be the wife of a Rhodesian magnate would bore me to tears. I'd sooner live on an occasional sirloin near that store of yours. But surely there is some good land to 'peg' near his claim? Why haven't you rushed off on your bicycle?"
"No, there's not a yard unclaimed close at hand. He has most of it himself, and the claim nearest belongs to a Dutchman. There was a find there once before, but it ran out rather quickly. Of course, this new one is very uncertain, but in this amazing country you can never tell where gold will crop up."
"Nor where it will run out, seemingly," said Betty. "How late the boys are this evening!"
"Here they come!" And Toby sprang up just as Bay and Kenneth Glynn emerged from some trees a little way off, where were the adits and machinery of their mine. They were both dressed in brown slacks and shirts, and looked very dirty and very tired, though each face brightened at the sight of Toby's cheery countenance. They had taken half the day each underground, and work under those circumstances, when not enough gold is forthcoming to pay for living expenses, calls for the greatest patience, and is a heavy strain upon the most hopeful of men. And the Glynns had had | | 23 many months of it now, and were seriously losing heart. But Toby was always enlivening, and his news about Sir James Fortescue was encouraging, for it seemed to confirm the fact that, at any rate, they were in a gold belt not by any means yet worked out.
So in the end it was a cheery little party that sat down to enjoy the sirloin in the wattle and daub dining-hut, though a fiasco over the soup nearly spoilt all their appetites beforehand. A small, very slightly-clad nigger brought it in, struggling to look at the plate of each hand at once, in order to avoid spilling, and in consequence losing half the contents of both in turn. This perturbed him to such an extent that he stood a moment in perplexity and looked ready to cry. Then he chanced to catch Toby's eye, and Toby suddenly and unexpectedly pulled a hideous face at him, upon which he shot the soup plates on to the table and fled precipitously. Twilight then took matters in his I own hands, and arrived with the soup plates in one hand and the saucepan of soup in the other, prepared to ladle out a portion to each diner. But when he came to Bobbie, an ungainly object protruded from the soup and got in the way of the ladle.
"What in the world is it?" she exclaimed, peering into the saucepan.
"Looks like a piece of monkey I" suggested Toby joyfully.
"There was a dead nigger in the compound two days ago," volunteered Bay, with a twinkle.
"Oh, Lord!" cried Toby. "Dead nigger two days old, and the thermometer eighty -six in the Shade!"| | 24
"You're perfectly disgusting!" protested Betty, peering anxiously at the saucepan, as all the men began to laugh. "What is it, Twilight?"
The cook-boy grinned with a self-satisfied air. "Mouchli" (nice), said he. And then, in Kaffir the girls only half understood, he explained that he had found a nice nest of field rats that afternoon, and put them all in the soup. Bay and Kenneth swore roundly under their breaths, but Toby became hysterical with amusement, and had to be patted on the back before the mysterious sentence was translated to the girls.
"The damn boy says he has put rats in the soup!" said Bay disgustedly, when Toby gave him a chance to be heard; and then Bobbie became hilarious, too, tears streaming from her eyes, while Betty jumped up in horror and pushed away her plate, declaring she would eat nothing at all that evening.
"Oh, nonsense, Betty!" her sister cried at last. "It's the dear little chap who ran over your face, I expect, and all his family. You haven't tasted any, so it doesn't matter. My dear, it's for the Empire, you really must try and remember." And again she led the chorus of laughter, as the disgraced soup was all poured back into the saucepan and returned ignominiously to the kitchen to be eaten by the enterprising Twilight.
"You're quite sure it really is beef?" asked poor Betty of their guest, when the sirloin arrived.
"Quite," he assured her. "I'd show you the carcase, only I've sold every blooming shred of it, including the skin and teeth."
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