- CHAPTER VII. BLAKE IS PLEASED WITH HIMSELF.
|<< chapter 6||< chapter 1||chapter 8 >||chapter 37 >>|
BLAKE IS PLEASED WITH HIMSELF.
BOBBIE had not many minutes to wait in her vegetable garden before she heard Blake's step beside her and, looking up in feigned astonishment, she exclaimed: "Hullo I You here?"
Blake coloured the tiniest bit as he answered "glibly: "I came over hoping to catch Sir James before he left. I wanted to ask him if he could give me the address of a man who served under him at the same time I did, whom I have since lost sight of. I find I am too late. The bird has flown. No matter--I can see him as he comes back."
"I wonder you did not see him as you came; he could not have got far."
"I was probably looking the other way, to point out the direction to a man who stopped me. He was looking for Loma. I brought him on to your place and pointed out the road from your stoep, as it is so plainly visible. I never imagined they would all have gone so early."
All the time he was speaking, Bobbie was conscious of a bold admiration growing in his eyes, and because she believed he dared to look at her so because he had found her alone, her soul grew hot with resentment. Yet, for the sake of the sentences she had | | 63 overheard, she dare not show it, but felt constrained rather to show him encouragement, in hopes that it might prove a weapon to help her to thwart his scheme. In the few minutes that she awaited him in the garden, her mind had swiftly gripped the ill purport of the muttered conversation. Evidently some harm or some wrong was intended to Sir James, and the nature of it was to be discussed at Blake's place at half-past eleven that morning. To discover their plans, she must needs overhear that conversation. But how achieve such an object as that? How could she possibly conceal herself anywhere near enough to hear a word? And yet with every second the certainty grew that it was all-important she should know what was said at that final discussion. Then Blake came, and his sinister eyes boldly looked their admiration, and she knew instinctively that she must use him as her tool.
"So you are going to be alone all day?" he said, coming a step nearer. "I'm afraid you will be very lonely."
"But I've been alone before," she answered lightly. "It isn't a new thing."
"That needn't make you like it any better," he retorted, adding: "It is getting rather hot for you to garden. Don't you think it would be wiser to come in?"
"I was just coming." And she turned towards the huts. "It means daily warfare with pests to grow any vegetables here, doesn't it"
"I've given up trying," said Blake, as they walked along together. "I spent pounds on seeds, and never grew anything at all. Now I buy all my | | 64 vegetables from a coolie. He brings them once a week."
"Oh, we manage to grow something! It is only that they need a great deal of attention." They reached the huts, and Bobbie sat down on the, shady seat where Sir James had sat on his arrival, and though she purposely took up as much room as she could, as a hint to Blake to take a chair, he coolly seated himself beside her. Then he leaned his arm on the back of the seat and looked hard into her face. Bobbie felt herself inwardly shrinking, but bravely held her ground and assumed as indifferent an air as she could muster. Under ordinary circumstances she would have openly flouted him ; but the strange presentiment still held her, and she felt herself fighting an unseen foe that would need all her skill and resource.
Blake was perfectly aware that she shunned him less than usual, and, knowing nothing of what was in her mind, judged that, like most women, when he made up his mind to conquer them, she was beginning to feel the force of his will. It made him smile a little to himself. To him women were all such feeble creatures before a man with strong, virile personality. If he took the trouble to look back, he saw conquest most of the way, strong and weak alike coming into his net eventually, to be cast ruthlessly aside when he wearied of them. Yet up to that moment he had felt that Bobbie Glynn was different from the rest. She had more of the man in her than most women, and met him more on his own ground. Sometimes he had even wondered concerning his success in the end, and that was a very new experience for him; and for that very | | 65 reason he only coveted her the more, awaking to a new zest in life, because there was something he eagerly desired still left to conquer. That Toby was a serious obstacle scarcely entered his mind. He knew perfectly well that they were special friends, and for that very reason delighted to annoy Toby by paying Bobbie every possible attention when he was present. But he also knew that the aristocratic young store-keeper had only the barest means of livelihood, and could not hope for much from home. He gave Bobbie credit for too much sense seriously to consider waiting for him, and half thought she was playing with Toby a little, to amuse herself and possibly to annoy him. Presently, of course, she would get tired of living in huts in the wilderness, and then she would be ready to go back his own hour of conquest to dawn, in which he would carry her off in triumph to his own nice house. That his intentions towards her were honest was no small thing. They had never been honest to any woman before. True, he had promised marriage more than once, but always he had managed to slip away at the crucial moment, and gaily changed his name and began afresh elsewhere. But if Bobbie gave him the chance to make any promises to her, he meant to keep them. He wanted to marry her. In some way she had touched a spot in his adamantine heart that no other woman had touched, and he was surprised at his own desire to possess her by all the bonds possible. He liked her slim, boyish grace, her quickness of repartee, her courage and determination. He even in some paradoxical way liked her distrust an indifference to himself. It | | 66 added a savour to the chase. It marked her as an original to a certain extent. She not only was not' conquered by his admitted attractiveness, but she made no attempt to hide that she was not. Yet he felt dimly that, once won, she would be no light lover, but would be such a life companion as no man need mind being bound to. But withal he was in no hurry. To appear too keen would have seemed to him a sign of weakness. He would win her in his own way, playing a little, as she, and then sweeping her off her feet at the right moment.
Yet, as they sat by the huts that morning, he observed instantly that her manner was less defensive than usual. She sat very still and did not repulse him, and the blood began to flow a little quicker in his veins. It crossed his mind that her more amenable mood might have something to do with a disagreement with Toby, but in any case he saw that he might make capital out of it, and meant not to be behindhand.
"You are not so busy this morning as usual?" he questioned lightly; for usually she told him she had too much to do to waste time gossiping with him in the morning.
"No," she answered frankly. "There is no food to worry about, for one thing. An egg will suit me as well as anything for lunch, and that does not require much preparation."
"Why not lunch with me?" The invitation escaped him suddenly. For the moment he had almost forgotten the Dutchman. His swift brain saw a golden opportunity, and with characteristic speed he grasped it.| | 67
For an instant Bobbie was a little taken aback.Past circumstances made the invitation so daring.She had never for one moment given him any reason to suppose that she would visit him alone at his house under any pretext whatever. At the same time in a flash she saw that it might be a means to her end which she dare not ignore.
" What would Betty say, and the boys?" she asked, speaking in a half-flippant way. "What a startling confession to have to make!"
"What confession? What has it to do with them? Surely a woman of your character has grit enough to act for herself?"
"I don't know about that. Besides, I don't know that I want to come. I've a few things I want to do this morning."
"Well, do them first," said Blake persuasively. "I have a little business to attend to also. I must get back at half-past eleven, but I shall be free by half past twelve. Come then; it will be a change. God knows you get little enough in these damn mud huts!"
Bobbie attempted to smile naturally. "Don't make rude remarks about my home. I am very fond of it."
"Rats! As If Any Girl Of Your Spirit Is Going To Be Content To Live in a mud hut in a God-forsaken spot like this, beside a God-forsaken mine that doesn't even pay well enough to buy a bottle of whisky!"
"There's a bottle in the sitting-room now, if it is whisky you are wanting," she retorted. "It's a little early, but there is no accounting for tastes. Shall I get you some?"| | 68
"You know I didn't mean that. Why do you always twist my meaning? It is only your happiness I am thinking of. And I say it is all bosh to suppose a reasonable young woman of spirit can stand a life like this. An old frump with half a dozen children, who might as well be dressed in sackcloth as anything else, is all right, but it's monstrous to expect it of you."
"And who does expect it? I'm here absolutely of my own free will. I'm here because I like it, so is Betty."
"If you had a good horse to ride, and a motor to get to town, and a decent cook, it would be different," he argued, running on. "I think you really would like it then; but now you are just acting."
She turned and looked at him, smiling with an effort at frankness. "You seem suddenly very interested in my affairs. Why all this palaver?"
"I've always been interested." It was on his tongue to say more, but he realised that he might easily lose the ground he seemed to have gained, and he badly wanted her to come to lunch. "I've been interested in you and your sister ever since you arrived. I think you're about the pluckiest girls I know. But at the same time I say it isn't natural. Well, will you come and have lunch today?"
"What will Mrs. Grundy say?"
"Bother Mrs. Grundy I As if anyone cared for her out here! She's pretty out of date in England, but here she hasn't even been born, and she never will be. People doing the work of the outposts have quite enough trials to cope with, without | | 69 bothering their heads about conventions and all that rot. Come, show your independence, and take enjoyment where you can get it, like a sensible woman."
"But having never tried it, how do I know that it will prove enjoyment?"
All the time that Bobbie was purposely prevaricating she was trying to make up her mind what to do. She saw instantly that the invitation offered her a chance to unravel the mysterious scheme she had accidentally lit upon, but she remembered also the promise she had given to Toby not to have anything to do with Blake that she could possibly help. If she actually went to lunch with him, and there proved no good reason for it, would have the same faith in her again? Would he even forgive her? She knew that, in any case, the incident could not be hidden from him, for in their little community everything was quickly known. And, after all, what was Sir James Fortescue to her, that she should run any risk for him whatever? Was not perhaps the whole matter a figment of her own imaginings, and she the prey of fancy? While she sat there beside the man she hated and just a little dreaded, outwardly calm and collected, her whole mind was seething inwardly, and her will driven this way and that.
"I think you will enjoy it all right," said Blake meaningly, in reply to her challenge. "I'll take care of that." Then he tried to twit her. "I believe you're afraid. You're imagining dangers of wild beasts or something of that kind. Or perhaps it is I you dread?" He gave a low laugh | | 70 that almost nettled her out of her coolness. "Say,little girl, are you afraid of me?"
"Horribly!" She spoke with a slight sneer purposely, which he rather enjoyed. "But I never thought you would find it out!"
They both laughed, and he added: "Since,obviously, you are not afraid of me, what is it? There is no one else there, and I won't allow you could be so feeble as to be afraid of Mrs. Grundy."
"I'm not yet convinced that I want to come--that it is worth while. Now, if Sir James there--"
The man's face darkened instantly, and the suddenness of the remark threw him off his guard."Sir James!" he echoed, with a note of derision. "And what do you want with a smooth-spoken lady-killer like that? Goodness knows, they're common enough--and dull enough. I give you credit for better taste. Success hasn't improved him. We always thought him a bit soft in the early days, but now he's a positive old woman!"
"You seemed very affable to him, if he is"--with a swift flash.
"Only because it obviously pleased him and didn't hurt me. I always give people what they want--and seem to expect--if it is no trouble and no inconvenience. Why, the man simply mops up adulation--anyone can see!"
"I wonder he isn't tired of it," said Bobbie with sarcasm. "He seems to get more than most people in Rhodesia."
"That's only because some of them are afraid of him. He happens to be rather popular just now. | | 71 But he isn't really a strong man; anyone will tell you that."
"I thought he appeared decidedly a strong man. Why do you sneer at him so? Are you jealous, or have you an old score against him?"
Blake flushed angrily. "Of course I'm not jealous. I wouldn't be a nincompoop like that for anything. I could tell you things about him in the war"
She waited, and he added darkly: "I don't like the man, because I think he's a self-satisfied, sanctimonious hypocrite; but he'll strike a snag before long that will burst his gas-bag for him, and then let's hope a better man will step into his shoes." For a moment he stared away from her to the horizon, and Bobbie, seeing the hate in his eyes, felt all her misgivings come back with redoubled force. She felt more certain than ever that there was some plan of harm, and immediately her mental questioning concerning her part in the matter ceased. For Rhodesia's sake, for Sir James's own sake, for everyone's sake, she would use every means in her power to thwart the ill if she could. She rose to her feet with a careless air, half of dismissal, remarking, "Well, I suppose certain household things require to be done, even if I am alone, and you have business to attend to."
"Yes," replied Blake, with almost a fierce note. "But what about our little luncheon?"
Suddenly he felt he wanted her overwhelmingly, and that she should come. He was not a man to be thwarted, and he would not be thwarted now.
Bobbie tossed her head lightly. "Oh, well, | | 72 perhaps I'll consider it when the household things are done!"
"You're the coolest young woman I ever met!" he exclaimed, not without a note of admiration.
"But, now you have gone so far, you had better turn up. If not, I shall come' back and fetch you."
She laughed lightly. "That sounds as if you proposed to drag me by the hair. Don't do that. I haven't much. It comes out so in this country."
"Then say you'll come," he urged, with a resolute look in his eyes.
"All right," said Bobbie, turning away, with a slight shrug of her shoulders. "I'll come, if I don't change my mind again before twelve o'clock."
|<< chapter 6||< chapter 1||chapter 8 >||chapter 37 >>|