- CHAPTER VIII. THE VILLAINY OF VAN TYL.
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THE VILLAINY OF VAN TYL.
WHEN William Van Tyl slouched away from the Glynns' huts, leaving Blake behind, the scowl upon his face, that had seemed to Bobbie ugly enough; grew uglier still, and he gave voice to some mutterings that were curses upon the head of Sir James Fortescue. And when a desperate Dutchman curses an English-man, it is likely enough that trouble is in store for the latter. For some fifteen years now Van Tyl had borne in his heart a great hatred of the brave soldier, who had not only stopped a monstrous game which he contrived to carry on during the war, but had brought him to boot and had him punished for it. Wrongful looting, carried on systematically, had been the chief part of it; but he had also cleverly obtained information, which he sold to the Boers, had ill-treated unoffending natives, and had finally been caught in the act of abducting a young English girl. It was Sir James's opinion, and that of several others at the trial, that he ought to be shot, but the failure to discover one important witness resulted in a term of fourteen years' imprisonment. A year previously he had been released and had gone back into the world vowing vengeance upon the man who caused his capture, and upon | | 74 the accomplice who, at the time of the trial, had given some information against him to save himself. That accomplice was Harry Blake.
The circumstances that brought Van Tyl into the neighbourhood of these two men he hated, in a lonely part of Rhodesia, at this particular time, were curious. While he had been in prison, his brother and only relative had died. This brother had been prospecting in Rhodesia, and, among other claims, by a strange chance had pegged one adjoining sir James's on Loka Kopje. before he he had written an account of his claims for his brother , who would inherit them when he came out of prison. Concerning the Loka one he had written:
"There is every indication of gold, but most of it lies on the next claim, which takes all the top of the hill." Then, being scarcely less of a villain than his brother, he had added the significant sentence, knowing that he would understand: "If the lower claim is worked first the other may be undermined unconsciously."
Because William Van Tyl possessed a positive relish for dark dealing, the idea of secretly undermining the adjoining claim and taking the other man's gold had a greater attraction for him than that of legitimately working a less valuable claim, and perhaps putting in a great deal of labour for very small returns. So he journeyed to Loka to investigate his property. Here two great surprises awaited him--one that the other claim belonged to the man he regarded as his greatest enemy, and hated more than anything else in the world; and the other that Harry Blake was a prosperous farmer in the vicinity. To say that both discoveries gave him | | 75 great joy were to put it too mildly. It is probable that nothing could have given him greater. For some little time he camped near his claim, fraternising with the low class of niggers at Shagann's kraal, and meditating on what form of revenge he would like best to take. Then one day, on the hill-top, old Shagann himself--a nigger chief with one of the worst reputations in Mashonaland--gave him his cue. He pointed to the pegs distinguishing the boundaries, and said:
"Why not move pegs? Bring the pegs of the Inkaas to the top of the hill, and half the gold is his, and no further trouble."
"That's all very well," said the Dutchman, "but the other man must know where he put his pegs." Nevertheless, a sudden gleam came into his eyes as, with an ugly leer, he added: "Unless the other man were safely out of the way for good--eh?"
He went back to his camp meditating on the new line of thought the lawless old nigger had given him, and before very long he came to see a line of revenge that might not only satisfy his hatred, but make him a rich man into the bargain, if circumstances made it possible for him to carry it out.
With Blake he remained undecided a little longer as to what course he would pursue; but in the end he saw that he might need an accomplice to carry out the larger vengeance, and decided to blackmail him into being his tool. To this end he gave Blake the worst half-hour of his life by presenting himself suddenly and stating that he had come back to settle old scores. Blake was perfectly aware that he had a desperate character to deal with, | | 76 and, though he made a brave show of indifference, he was instantly all alert to the situation. How in the world Van Tyl had managed to find him remained a mystery until the Loka claim was mentioned, and Blake grasped the fact that he had inherited the property from the dead prospector, who chanced to be his brother. It was thus that Sir James Fortescue's name was brought up.
Now, as it happened, Blake knew something the Dutchman did not know, and that was that Sir James had been aware of his, Blake's, complicity in the crimes for which the other was sentenced, but that, through the clever and timely removal of the necessary witness, he was unable to prove what he knew according to a court of law. Consequently the Englishman got off scot free, though, like the condemned man, to carry in his heart a deadly hatred of the man who had found him out. Very little was said between them, and Blake had been acquitted, but he knew perfectly well that Sir James could even now give information that would turn every honest man against him, though it might not interfere with his liberty. After some years of prosperity in Rhodesia, finding they did not clash,nor were likely to do so, his active hatred fell fell somewhat into abeyance, until he fell in love with Bobbie Glynn, and presently realised that one word from the eminent politician should they chance to meet, might certainly turn her against him for ever.
It was just at this juncture that Van Tyl appeared upon the scene, not only to increase greatly his danger of detection, but to fan into a new flame his slowly-awakening hate. After the first half- | | 77 hour, however, he realised that he had not much to fear from the Dutchman himself, except a shot in the back, for a girl like Bobbie was very unlikely to believe the word of a released criminal of such a type, without the proofs which he lacked. But Sir James was quite another matter, and he foresaw that danger lay ahead. He knew that he was unlikely ever to tell unless he had a special reason; and, to thwart this, Blake determined to play a bold game if he ever came their way, en route for his property at Loka, and thus met Bobbie Glynn upon friendly terms.
Then Van Tyl came, and a common hatred won for the Dutchman the help he wanted, without the need to blackmail for the present. Moreover, even if Van Tyl achieved his evil project, he possessed very little money to work his claim, and it might prove a dangerous move to let an outsider come in as partner. If Blake were willing to put up the money he needed, and take a share, it relieved him of a great deal of worry; and in view of this he would be willing to let bygones be bygones as far as he was concerned.
For the rest, the claims lay in so lonely and remote a district, that it was probable no one but Sir James himself actually knew the position of his pegs, and therefore, if he were once out of the way, the road was practically clear for the accomplices to take all the gold and become rich men. And, still further, the remoteness of the district rendered possible a secret crime, even in the case of a well-known man. Van Tyl knew perfectly how to work upon the credulity of raw Mashonas, especially of such a type as those in Shagann's kraal, and, while | | 78 promising them all sorts of benefits, he would in reality take care that the entire blame fell upon them, and work to get the whole kraal punished, while the real perpetrator got off unsuspected. He knew well enough that, in the early days, crimes had been laid to the charge of natives, of which they were wholly innocent; and afterwards it would be stated that a white man had vanished, for no better reason perhaps than a drunken brawl among some notoriously lawless blacks.
Of course, things were no longer possible as then, near any civilised centre, but out in the wilds a clever, unscrupulous man might yet work his will and nothing be brought home to him at all.
In the midst of all this dark planning, came the news that Sir James was even then on his way to Loka kopje, attended only by native carriers. Van Tyl was in his camp at the time, but the message he received from Blake brought him over at night to ascertain the truth of the news. That evening there had been a memorable scene between the two accomplices. At the last moment Blake found he had more conscience than he supposed, and announced his intention of drawing back. "We must find some other way," he declared. "The days for deeds of that sort are past."
"H'm! Showing the white feather!" sneered the Dutchman. "Or have you suddenly grown pious?"
"Neither," said Blake curtly. "This is your dirty work. Do it yourself."
Van Tyl spat upon the floor and gave an evil grin.
"Perhaps you'd like it better if I had a little private talk with Sir James Fortescue and this Miss Glynn | | 79 here first? Gor bless me, d'ye think I aint' got eyes in me head?"--and his grin widened. "I might make you the mouse first, and have me bit o' fun with you, then settle up with his lordship later."
"You're a damn cur!" snarled Blake, knowing himself in a trap.
"I don't know as I'm any worse than I was fifteen years ago, and you grabbed your share of the swag all right then."
"I needed it then."
"Well, and I need it now. What's more, Mr. High-and-Mighty, you're going to help me, or I'll cook your little hash for you all right."
"I've told you I will put up the money."
"And what's the good o' that if all the bloomin' gold belongs to the top claim? It's 'alf the top o' that hill we want, before there's talk of money."
I thought it was chiefly vengeance," said Blake sneering in his turn.
"To get 'em both, and all, so to speak, at once," answered Van Tyl coolly, "is like what the good folks call a direct dispensation of Providence-- ha, ha!"
"It would give me greater pleasure to send you to the devil."
"I dare say. But too much pleasure ain't good for us, and that's a journey I'm not taking at present. If it suited my book, I dare say I could send you to the devil without much trouble," he added pointedly; "but if I can get that top claim, and settle old scores with Fortescue, I'd as soon see you decking Miss Glynn out in jewels as anyone else."
Blake stared out of the window of his sitting- | | 80 room gloomily, and, after once more expectorating forcibly, Van Tyl went on: "All I want you to do ' at present, as far as I know, is to work things so that Fortescue camps by the river near Shagann's kraal, on his way to the claims. Surely you can do that to oblige an old pal?"--leering.
" And how is it going to help you if I do?"
"You can leave the rest to me. Those pegs haven't been inspected for a longish time, and I dare bet my bottom Kruger shilling that no one but Fortescue knows where they are. It suits me to move them and say nothing about it. Therefore Fortescue has got to get out of the way before ever he sets foot on Loka kopje. What's more, it's got to be done very neatly, so as to look as if them scoundrel niggers did it, and that's where you've got to help."
"Has it entered this clever head of yours that, if anything happened to a man like Fortescue,there'd be a hue and cry throughout the land? He's a leader, and all the settler community swears by him. They're pretty dangerous devils when roused."
"Yes," replied Van Tyl, cynically. "They'll probably raze the kraal to the ground, with the niggers in it"--and he laughed. "But, for me, it's only another good reason to finish him. What business has he to thwart my race and say they shan't have Rhodesia? To pour ridicule on my native tongue, and give it as a reason for keeping Rhodesia out of the Union? We're top dog now. We're God's chosen people, and if we want this d--d country for all our poor settlers and for our people generally, what right 'as 'e got to get up an' tell the people,
"And do you think I want to hand the country over to a lot of lazy Boers?"
"I don't think you care a d-- about the country either way." And that Blake knew he was probably right. At the moment he did not care about anything much except winning Bobbie Glynn. As if he could read exactly what was passing in Blake's mind, Van Tyl continued:
"All you darned well care about just now is that Miss Glynn; and what you've got to do is to clear Fortescue out of the way before matters come to a head and give him a chance to tell her what he knows about you. Sure as he comes up here, he'll go to their shanty. And, maybe, when he is there, he will cut you out," he finished, grinning. "Anyhow,its up to us_, both, if we're any bloomin' good, to clear him out of our paths."
A good deal more of similar eloquence fell from discharged criminal's lips, and in the end Blake agreed to run into Sir James Fortescue somewhere on his route, find out his plans, and recommend him to camp at Shagann's kraal. Thereby his own private hatred would be satisfied, his risk of detection for bygone sins greatly diminished, and nothing | | 82 between himself and Bobbie except the boyish, impecunious Toby, and her own indifference-- both of which--such was Blake's conceit--seemed to him but trifles easily to be overcome.
So it chanced that Blake haunted the Glynns' camp during Sir James's short visit, and was hovering round again, when Van Tyl found him, the morning of the general exodus. As he went towards his home after winning Bobbie's casual consent to lunch with him, he wished to goodness Van Tyl had told him what he wanted to, then and there, instead of coming to see him again at half-past eleven. His haste was only due to his careful plans to be seen in certain directions, upon some vague pretext which, in case of trouble, would more or less help him to prove an alibi; but, as it did not happen to fit in with Blake's plans, he failed to see the good of it. "However," as he assured himself, "I can easily get him started away again by half-past twelve, and then--"
His cogitation stopped short. The mere notion that Bobbie was coming alone to his Kia almost transfixed him, so sudden a change it was from her usual indifferent treatment of him. His blood quickened and glowed as his mind ran backwards and forwards over every aspect of the case, and he told himself it was his lucky star, that made it possible to get rid of his enemy on the very eve of her relenting. Then, with a fiendish chuckle, he muttered: "How I wish Fitzgerald would just walk in and find us!"
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