- CHAPTER V. A LITTLE LOVE-MAKING.
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A LITTLE LOVE-MAKING.
AFTER Blake had left, and Sir James was once more discussing gold-mining and the affairs of the nation generally with Kenneth and Bay, it was only in the natural order of affairs that Bobbie should pay an evening visit to the span of donkeys which did their transport, and that Toby should accompany her; and, still further, that, no sooner were they hidden from view, the young giant should slip his arm round Bobbie's shoulders and lean his fair head down to hers to steal a kiss.
"You mustn't do that," she said, though with small pretence of firmness. "At the present moment I'm in love with Sir James!"
"So am I," he replied, unheeding her. "He's a ripper, isn't he? I've always heard he was a fine man, but he's even better than I imagined."
They walked on arm in arm, enjoying the cool, delicious night air and all the familiar sounds of grasshoppers and crickets and frogs which enliven the night just before the wet season, and have so homely a note for the veldt dwellers.
"I don't think Mr. Blake likes him," Bobbie continued thoughtfully. "Did you know that they had met before?"| | 45
"They were quite likely to have done in one of the rebellions. Why don't you think Blake likes him?"
"I can hardly say, but when Sir James was here this morning, Mr. Blake spoke of him in a very sneering tone. He was quite different to his face this afternoon."
"Was Blake here this morning?" asked Toby, with a sudden, quick note.
"Yes. He came to bring a paper and asked for a book. He said Sir James was not in the least likely to come our way. He also said he was sure there was no gold on his claim, and tonight he tells him he is sure there is."
"Oh, that is only Blake's way! He never likes to admit anyone else has found anything good. Still, I think it is great cheek coming twice in one day. Of course, it is only to see you, really. I wish you would stop him"--and there was a cloud in his sunny eyes.
"How can I stop him?"--laughing a little. "Shall I tell him you object?"
"It would only be the truth. I do object most distinctly. He may be all right as an occasional guest. In these parts we can't ask much about a man's antecedents, but, all the same, we all know Blake is a pretty hard case, to put it mildly, and there are some queer tales about him in the past. Probably Sir James knows of them, and that is why he seemed to greet him coldly. Sometimes, when he is watching you, I feel as if I could kill him. Of course he is in love with you; any child could see that. But he must know there is something between you and me, and it is thundering bad taste to stare at you as he does."| | 46
"A cat may look at a king," she quoted lightly. "And why should he know there is anything between us? I have never told him, and I am sure Betty has not. She likes him even less than you do, if anything."
"Still, he might very well guess." And there was a little smile on his lips, for he knew he wanted all the world to be aware of his devotion, and made no attempt to hide it.
"You know,"he continued, in a happier voice, "if there turns out to be gold here, as we all hope, it will be a splendid thing for my store. I've got quite the pick of the positions on the spot, and if there are lots of natives brought up to work the gold, I shall literally coin money. Directly we hear anything definite I will apply for land; and as soon as I have saved a little for stock and implements and a small house, I'll get the dear old governor to lend me some of the money he is going to leave me some day, and then we can get married and farm."
"How jolly! I know I should love a farm. I shall want all the baby things for pets."
"I wish it needn't seem so far off!" For a moment he was gloomy again. "I hate Blake to be paying you attentions meanwhile. He is so prosperous, drat him! His farm is one of the best in the country, and they say he has made a lot of money one way and another out here."
"His attentions won't hurt me much"--seeking to rally him.
"Perhaps not. But he's devilish clever, and he cares a good deal--any fool could see that." He paused a moment, then added half shyly: "I wish you'd promise me not to have anything to do with | | 47 him. I feel a beast to ask it, but I really should feel happier. He is such an unscrupulous devil, and at the same time so attractive. I don't know what it is, but women are always taken with him."
"And so you are afraid I shall forget everything I have said to you, and fall a victim to his charm and his devilry? Really, Toby!" said Bobbie, with feigned displeasure.
"No, I am not afraid of you, Bobbie. I am afraid of him. But if I had your promise not to have anything to do with him-- Last week you and Betty went to tea at his place. I simply hated it. I wished so much that you had made an excuse and stayed away."
"Aren't you carrying it a little too far?"asked Bobbie, in a more serious tone. "After all, Betty and I are not what you call gay here in the wilderness, and even going out to tea is a sort of treat. Besides, we've often bee before."
"I know you have. I can't tell you what a selfish beast I feel. But, before, Blake's admiration was not so pronounced; it is only lately it has become noticeable. I wish you wouldn't go. Any-how, promise me not to have anything more to do with him than you can help." His voice was very persuasive.
"All right," she replied, giving him a playful pat. "The dear boy shall be a tyrant and give his orders, if it pleases him. I'll try and bring myself into a becomimgly obedient frame of mind."
He held her close, and kissed her again and again.
"If only I felt I might persuade you to be openly engaged to me! But, even if you were willing, I | | 48 know I mustn't do that. Why, I'm not even sure of sixty pounds a year!" And he tried to laugh lightly.
"It doesn't make any difference," she said simply, looking with clear eyes into his. "I don't mind waiting for you, Toby. I happen to think it is worth while, you see. And I'll bear in mind your unchristian hatred of your neighbour, and keep him at arm's length."
"You dear!" And he folded her in such an embrace that she was lost to sight until he released her.
"We must go back now," said Bobbie, smoothing her hair with a low, happy laugh. "Really, Toby, you seem to get bigger every day, or I get smaller. How awful if you turn into a giant!"
When they got back to the huts, they found great discussion in progress concerning the plans for the next day. The two brothers and Betty had already arranged to go to Geegi one day in the week; but some information Sir James had given them about a visit of the magistrate, whom the men wanted to consult about their disputed claim, decided them that it would be wiser to try and get away the next day. Betty was going to get some necessaries for the household, and they would be obliged to go one day and return the next. It had already been arranged that a young colonial "occupying" land close by should sleep at the huts to guard Bobbie, and it only meant sending him a message to come the evening before the one appointed. Bobbie was not in the least afraid, but the unwritten law of South Africa sets its face resolutely against any white woman being left alone at night. Some white | | 49 man living near is always requisitioned to come over for the night, and, for various reasons, Kenneth and Bay preferred Hulatt to come, and not Toby or Blake.
"As Sir James wants to make an early start, if you don't mind, Bobbie," Kenneth said to her, "we'll get away tomorrow, too. We ought to be back the next evening, and it is better for us to see Mr. Shute, if possible."
"I don't mind in the least," Bobbie assured them. "I certainly think you are wise not to miss Mr. Shute, if you can help it."
"I rather want to see him, too," said Toby. "If my bally bike will renovate sufficiently, I think I'll come in with you. I want to bespeak any new trading license going when the mines start."
Finally it was arranged. They would all breakfast about daybreak, and then depart on their several journeys very early, leaving Bobbie in possession for the day. After which, they all turned in, Sir James sleeping in his own tent, and Toby upon the floor of the men's hut. He amused them considerably at the last moment by suddenly exclaiming: "By Jove, I forgot to lock the blooming store before I left! Lordy, what if it gets raided in the night!" Then he added, with a shrug of his shoulders : "Oh, well, it can't be helped! There's one thing, none of the niggers would suppose I should be such a bally idiot as to go away and leave it open, so I don't suppose they'll try the door."
"I'm not so sure," was Bobbie's verdict. "It has been left open a good many times before, Toby."
"Only in the daytime, and then it is left open for any likely buyer."| | 50
"Does the buyer serve himself?" asked Sir James, looking amused.
"Yes. He leaves the money on the counter. It's a splendid tip, because he can't get change."
"I expect you leave the till open, too," put in Betty.
"I dare say I should, if I had one"--laughing. "I haven't, as a matter of fact, run to one yet. If I make another five pounds this month I really must."
"I'll send my carriers to buy from you," Sir James promised him. "They are northern boys, who like to spend, so you may make ten pounds instead of only five. How does your mother like the store?" he asked as an afterthought, remembering dimly the handsome, dignified lady General Fitzgerald had once introduced to him as his wife. "I hope you are not an only son ?"
"She doesn't like it at all!" Toby laughed affectionately at the remembrance. "But she tries hard to see the humour of it; and anyhow, I am Benjamin. There are three of us, and I am odd man out--neither the beloved eldest nor the precious youngest. The dear old governor confines himself to hoping I sell good stuff and deal honestly with my black brothers."
"I hope you didn't tell him about the cart grease you sold for medicine," Bobbie laughed. "Sixpence for a small bottleful," she added to Sir James, " for external use only! There was such a run on it that we had to let him have a little machine oil to eke it out. That's how we came to know."
"I hope no one died ?" suggested Sir James.
"Died!" echoed Toby. "They all got well too | | 51 fast. That was the trouble. By the time I had procured another large tin of cart grease, they were all cured, and didn't want any more. But I dare say I'll get rid of it somehow," he added cheerfully. "I shall say it is another kind of medicine, and makes muscle in babies, well rubbed in."
"Or why not brains in adults!" laughed Bay, as they passed into their hut for the night.
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