- CHAPTER IX. BOBBIE MAKES PLANS
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BOBBIE MAKES PLANS
As soon as Blake's form had vanished in the distance, and Bobbie found herself alone, some of her bravado failed her. The scarp of conversation she had overheard might mean so much or so little information to impart, would he not secretly think she must be mad to come upon such an errand? The one thing necessary seemed to her that she should endeavour to find out what the Dutchman said to Blake at their morning interview and afterwards, if necessary, act promptly.
Then a great dread seized her. How should she, a mere girl, accomplish such an end? She wished passionately that they had not all chanced to go away that day, of all days, and leave her to face the dangerous situation alone. If only even Toby had not gone, she could have walked to his store in plenty of time, and he would have advised and helped her. But Toby had said he should go to town with others, and if she went on but a slender chance | | 84 of finding him, she might only waste valuable time, to no purpose. It was this coming night that Sir James was to camp at Shagann's kraal, and tomorrow might be too late to thwart his enemies. Standing irresolute and distressed in the hut door, Bobbie felt herself for the moment overwhelmingly alone. For miles all round her she knew there were no habitations except those of natives. Wherever she looked blue mists of heat and smoke hung over bush and veldt that was mostly uninhabited country. Somewhere away to the north there were wilderness towns of mushroom growth, where people dwelt in some numbers in a civilised community. Somewhere down south, many days' journey, was the great country of South Africa and the majestic sea. Between them, appallingly alone, she seemed to stand as some midget upon a vast island of uncultivated veldt. Around the island flowed the spreading ocean of civilisation, filling in ' slowly the creeks and inlets, but in this great hour of need it was too far off to be of any help to her, its very farness producing the desperate situation in which she found herself.
For she well knew that, if she attempted to foil the plans of Blake and Van Tyl and failed, their situation would be such, through the fact of her knowledge, that they might well wreak vengeance upon her also. If she contrived to gain enough information to hang them both, and was discovered before she could act upon it, what mercy could she expect from two ruffians knowing their game was up, and that it was her doing? But even while, with a natural shrinking, she remembered this, her will never faltered in its determination | | 85 to try and baulk any possible attempt to harm Sir James. She looked out over the far blue kopjes she had learnt to love, and she knew in her heart that she was willing, if necessary, to give her life for them. And she knew also that, in saving Sir James, she might indeed be doing this, for the land needed him. At this hour, of all others, Rhodesia had need of upright, fearless, clear-seeing men. Big questions in her life and history loomed ahead, were drawing nearer month by month, and only such men as these might save from becoming the prey of the speculator, the financier, the time-server, and the mean-souled man of self-interests. Those who should have guarded her welfare first and fore-most in England-- what had they done that was not tainted with the commercial spirit? What would they do in the future, unless more power was given to the hardy settler community? As far as they were concerned, who could honestly declare a day dawn when, for their own ends, they would not hand her over to the South African union to have the Dutch language taught in her schools, and the lowest class of Dutch settler Gil established over her wide reaches? In very truth, every strong man possible, who genuinely loved the country, was needed now, and, above them all, the man who was born to lead.
Bobbie did not have time to stop and think all this,but it was in her mind, engrafted by a thoughtful nature, and she was conscious of it as she made her plans. Once only she faltered again, and that was at the recollection of Toby. To achieve anything at all she must break her word to him. She knew, of course, that he could only exonerate her absolutely, | | 86 but a vague dread made her wish she could have served Sir James in any other way. Toby would understand, but it might lie between them, and she would have to endure Blake's hateful attentions under circumstances that could but make them more unendurable than ever. How strange it seemed that, away there in the wilderness, this thing should have come into her life, breaking through the monotony, scattering the sameness, with so sudden and unexpected a blow! Well, the sameness, when it hurt most, had found her with a warrior spirit to combat its depression. This sudden hour of swift happening must find her no less armed for whatever it required of her. So, finally, her plans were made. She would go to lunch with Blake, as she had half promised, but she would arrive before time,and would endeavour to conceal herself where she could overhear their conversation. Provided she got there unnoticed, she knew this would not be difficult, for the house was surrounded by low, bushy trees, in which one could easily hide, and voices, either from the stoep or sitting-room, would carry there. Moreover, Blake's kitchen was well away and well hidden, so there was small risk of a boy detecting her if she approached through the trees. She would then watch her opportunity to appear as if she had just arrived, for she felt she dared not risk returning at once, lest he came to look for her and discovered where she had been. Without giving herself time to change her mind, she went in at once and put on a green linen dress, least likely to be distinguishable among trees, and started away through the bush unattended.| | 87
In the meantime, still with his mind full of her visit, Blake tidied up his little Kia and gathered some roses for the table. When Van Tyl arrived he found him spotless in white drill, and smirked with a meaning grin:
"Is the fair one coming into the lion's den?"--glancing from the white garments to the roses. "She must be a pretty fly young woman."
"What do you mean?" Blake inquired angrily. "Kindly leave Miss Glynn out of the conversation."
"No harm meant" --still grinning. "But, lord, this game of mine must suit your plans uncommonly well! I seem to have come at an opportune time to look at my claims. But I assure you it was quite unitentional. I had far more notion of giving you a stray bullet!"
"I can quite believe it, But don't forget two can play at the game, Where there's one stray bullet, there are easily two."
"Yes,but I guess the first one matters most, and it is the most likely to swing a man. How's that going to help you?"
Blake shrugged his shoulders. "Well, what do you want to say to me? Get on with it. I'm going out at half-past twelve."
"So am I, my friend. I'm slipping across country to have a casual yarn with the police at Loma. I'm going to bicycle like the devil to within a mile, and then stroll up casually. During the yarn I shall tell them I don't like the tone of Shagann's kraal, and that a few nights back I believe they meant to murder me, if I hadn't been too sharp for them. I shall bluster a bit about the bad policy of a kraal like that being left in such an unprotected | | 88 district, and suggest that, as gold is likely soon to be worked there, they had better find out from headquarters if one of them should have a camp handy. Do you see my drift? Afterwards, I shall allow myself the luxury of saying: 'I told you so.'"
Even as he talked, Blake felt a deepening loathing i of the man and everything about him; but, like a beast in a trap, he could only snarl--his loathing availed him nothing. For to thwart van Tyl now was to lose Bobbie at the very hour when he saw success in sight, and believed she had changed to him at last. And that belief only fed the reckless, merciless traits of his nature--those traits which all his life had led him to seize the thing he wanted, careless of right and wrong. At that moment if Sir James should come between him and Bobbie, he felt he could strangle him with his own hands. He knew he would stop at nothing to render such a climax impossible once and for all. If he hated the man less in his day of prosperity than he had done in his days of desperate lawlessness, the balance was more than made up now by his dread that, in some way or other, Sir James might come between himself and this girl whom he had grown to want beyond everything in heaven and earth. So he hardened his heart to hear what Van Tyl had to say, and to let him work his villainy unmolested.
"Get on," he said shortly. "If you've to be seen at Loma, you've precious little time to waste." It was just as Blake said this that a figure dressed all in green stole through the bushes and crouched against a leafy shrub near the open window of the room in which the two men talked. Silent and still | | 89 as a mouse, Bobbie bent her head forward, and realised with unutterable relief that she could hear every word said. It ended her anxious fear of failure for the moment, for, had she not succeeded in overhearing this conversation, she had no plan as yet to serve her instead.
"You're right there," Van Tyl answered. "But, unless the darned bike busts up, I shall be seen at Loma, telling those police a few useful things, which they can call to mind later on, and wish they had thought of sooner. I shall then start away in the direction of Geegi, saying I mean to camp a night on the way; and, when I am well out of sight, I shall slip round to the spot where I left my bike and make tracks for Shagann's kraal like hell."
"Of course the niggers'll give us away afterwards," said Blake sneeringly.
"And who's going to take a nigger's word against a white man's? Gor blimey, we haven't come to that yet! Besides, the police had heard they were a dangerous kraal--don't you see?--and they happened to know I was at Loma, on my way to Geegi, that very day."
"Well, it isn't going to serve any reasonable purpose for me to be there," Blake suggested. "I might only shoot you in the dark."
"Shoot!" rejoined Van Tyl scornfully. "Who's talking of shooting? You're like a blamed kid! And nice we'd look when the bullets were proved to be ours, and Shagann was found to possess no firearms at all?"
"Native axes, of course. A blow on the head | | 90 that stuns, if it doesn't finish outright, and the rest is simple."
"It's a beastly idea."
"But it's safe," urged Van Tyl with a leer. "If the blow miscarries, and Fortescue has time to fire, we're going to get clear away while he's settling with the niggers."
"Why can't you leave it to the niggers altogether?"
"Because we've got to move those pegs before morning, and get stones round 'em that don't give away the deal. We can't do it till we know. And we've got to do it sharp, so as to turn up for breakfast a good many miles away, where there's someone who will swear to us. If it's humanly possible, I ought to be at Geegi. You'll be safe enough if you get back here before your boy brings the mornin' tea."
There was disgust on Blake's face, but he only shrugged his shoulders callously, while the other remarked: "I don't see as you need feel squeamish at this time o' day. 'Tain't the first life you've seen taken, nor, for the matter while we'll be rich men also--almighty rich. I guess you like riches as well as most of us." Again a hideous leer filled his face. "I ain't goin' to abduct 'em in future--I'm going to buy 'em!"
"You'll come to the gallows all the same!" said Blake disgustedly.
"In your company, lik' enough," was the quick | | 91 retort." You don't get off scot free again, if I'm caught."
"I've a good mind to warn Fortescue even now."
"And lose the lady? Bah, don't be a sentimental fool! The man scored against us once,and now we're goin' to score against him. What's one man, anyway? Take your chance and get rich, and win the lady and escape my vengeance, for swear, if you fail me now, I'll have your life!"
Blake moved about the room restlessly for some moments, and then the Dutchman got to his feet.
"Well, I'm off. You'd better be by the drift at seven. It 's dark then, and he'll go to his tent The sooner the thing's over, the sooner we can shift those pegs and get well away."
Blake did not reply, but Bobbie heard them both move from the room to the out on to the stoep. Then the heavvy tread of the Dutchman walked away, and Blake went back into the house.
For one breathless moment she stood up, wondering if she dare go back home at once, and then she heard Blake call to his cook-boy: " I'm going to meet the Inkosikaas. If she comes the other way, tell her I shall be back in a few minutes. And if--" But Bobbie waited to hear no more. She felt there was no help for her. The lunch must faced, and then she must find a way to get a warning to Sir James. As she slipped back to the pathway through the trees, a thousand thoughts and plans confused her horror-struck mind. She scarcely believe the infamous words she had heard,and yet through all her being she knew that they were true. And against all this villainy there was only herself--just one mere girl--to save Sir | | 92 James's life! That she would do it, she never' doubted. But how? If only her brain would think clearly! Should she confess to Blake that she had found out everything? And if so, how could she be sure he would not detain her by force--would not wreak his fury upon her, and at the same time leave Sir James to his fate. He might do this, and escape out of Rhodesia into Portuguese territory, for he could easily cover up everything for the next twenty-four hours; and, once across the border, who was ever to find him? No, she must keep her own counsel and devise a, surer plan. After all, Sir James was only ten miles away, and less by the short cut, so that, once she could get away from Blake's, she would have time to get to him. Probably he would try to detain her, but there she must be too clever for him, and arrange her departure at the earliest possible moment.
So, with a beating heart, but upheld, nevertheless, by a great object, she stepped out from the trees and sauntered towards the house.
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