- CHAPTER XI. TOBY AS SALESMAN.
|<< chapter 10||< chapter 1||chapter 12 >||chapter 37 >>|
TOBY AS SALESMAN.
To explain Toby's appearance at Blake's house, when he was supposed to have joined Betty and Bay and Ken on their journey to Geegi, it is necessary to o back to the early hours of the morning, and discover the young store-keeper splashing in his bath on the most secluded side of his verandah--at any rate, the side he could not be seen from the store, and only by such chance black customers as might come to buy, from M'Tambo's kraal, a not very probable contingency at the hour of the morning bath. Dusky belles on a shopping expedition, however, are extremely self-accommodating as to time, arriving at almost any hour that happens to please them. As, however, they do not mind sitting on the ground outside for possibly half a day waiting, it is not as inconvenient to the store-keeper as it might be. Serving them, when once they come to close quarters, is far more troublesome, and the greatest patience is needed on the part of the seller. They have to be allowed to rove round and round the store, giggling and chattering while they finger everything; and just when the store-keeper thinks they have made up their minds, and are coming to tell him what they want, they merely ask for change | | 106 for a two-shilling piece by way of an interlude, and start voyaging once more. Toby had not a special amount of patience, but he had a great deal of cheeriness that appealed to them; and often, by making them laugh, he would succeed in selling them an entirely different article to the one they had set out to buy, which probably he did not possess, and send them away perfectly happy.
His home beside the store consisted of one large circular hut with a stoep all round it. This answer the purpose of dining-room, drawing-room, bedroom larder, pantry, and general storehouse of all odds and ends he possessed, including such trifles as a sack or two of mealies overflowing from the store, and sundry evil smelling lumps of Kaffir tobacco. The roof was blackened with the smoke from his chimney, which nearly burnt down his entire residence every time he indulged in a fire ; but as the fireplace was used chiefly to store his groceries, this, fortunately, was only resorted to on the rare occasions of a hard frost, when he could not get warm without it. Of course, as a reasonable human being of natural habits, he ought to have built himself a second hut at a trifling cost, but, having once established himself in his present fashion, he was too lazy to make any change. "Why should I change?" he asked of the Glynns, when they twitted him. "I can reach almost anything I want without moving at any time, and think what a lot of trouble that saves!" In the hot weather, however, he had his bed carried outside, and slept under the stars. "It saves washing," he said; "I only have to wipe the dew off my face!"
That he was extraordinarily happy in his "kennel," | | 107 no one could doubt for a moment. He was, indeed, so happy that he radiated his joy all round him, and was therefore almost the greatest asset of the neighbourhood. The white men loved him, and the niggers loved him, and one white woman was ready to lose the world for him should occasion arise. So he sang gaily at the top of his voice, as he splashed in the bath on his stoep that sunny morning when he meant to go to Geegi with the Glynns. Although he boasted that he could reach almost anything he wanted in his Kia without moving, it appeared no easy matter to find his one clean white suit for his trip. In fact, for ten minutes, clad only in a vest, he rummaged through the entire contents of the hut, and then remembered it was in his trunk on the stoep. Thus, lightly clad, he went out to get it, still singing lustily, and proceeded to finish his dressing in the open air. Then he shouted for breakfast, and took a look at his bicycle, to find both tyres perfectly flat.
"Damme!" he muttered, "if I didn't go and bust 'em both last week, and clean forgot all about it! I must have breakfast first, and then go through the kopjes and catch the others up."
While he was having breakfast, four ladies arrived with baskets of meal on their heads, which they wanted to trade for salt and limbo and a blanket.
"Tell them the great white chief is having breakfast," he instructed his boy, "and he cannot do any trading today, because--because--well, because it is Tuesday."
A great deal of palaver proceeded outside, and Smoke, the boy, came back to say the ladies had journeyed a long way, and their husbands would | | 108 probably beat them if they stayed away too long or returned without having done the trading.
"Tell them to tell their husbands that the great white chief will beat them if they expect him to hurry over his breakfast, and get indigestion on their account, and invite the ladies to sit down on the ground."
Smoke went out for another long indaba, and returned to say the ladies had taken root, and would give the message to their husbands. Toby went leisurely on with his breakfast, and then prepared to open his store. "But there's the bally bike to mend!" he exclaimed, remembering it suddenly. "I must make a start. If I do one wheel, the solution can be setting while my customers get on with their harangue."
So he lightly sauntered out in view of the squatting ladies, and strolled round the stoep to his bicycle. After ten minutes he returned to view, and condescended to glance at the contents of the squander baskets the buyers had brought to pay for their goods. He made a few remarks that set them off giggling, and then went back to his bicycle. Having finished one wheel, he went a little further with the purchasing, and invited his customers to walk into the store and look round. Smoke was told off to keep guard, and the other wheel started upon. Presently Smoke was summoned, to know how things were progressing, and as he hinted at a very peaceful state of affairs, they were allowed to take their course a little longer. Then a boy arrived with a note from a white man some twenty miles away, asking for a few things, and the early comers were regaled with the spectacle of Smoke and the | | 109 distinguished store-keeper rummaging leisurely round together to see if they had any single one of the things the poor white man begged for. Finally Toby made the order up out of his own personal store of provisions, saying he could order more at Geegi if he ever arrived there. It was well past ten o'clock, and the wheel was not nearly finished, when he finally attended to the patient traders, and then it took him nearly half an hour to satisfy them before the meal was weighed, or anything. By eleven the bicycle was still unmended, and he knew that if he did not go to Geegi today, he would miss the magistrate, Mr. Shute, whom he particularly wished to see. So he tried to hurry on a little, and succeeded in spilling a cup of very hot tea down his clean white suit, and both burning himself as well as spoiling his attire. This involved another hunt for respectable garments, and an old pair of grey flannel trousers were at last unearthed from the back of the fireplace, behind the groceries. The white ants had eaten a few holes in them, but "nothing to shock," as Toby put it, so he arrayed himself once more, and then loitered about in the store a little longer, giving directions before he went back to blow up his bicycle.
It was getting on towards lunch-time when he discovered that he had lost his pump. Another half hour was wasted looking for it, and at last he said resignedly: "Well, I may as well have lunch now, and then wheel the bike round by Blake's and borrow his." He knew he would be in time if he reached Geegi the following day, and decided he would travel through the cool of the night, as there was plenty of moonlight.| | 110
Smoke opened a tin of meat for him, and he made a good meal off it before he was finally ready to start. Then he locked up everything, took what money he possessed in his pocket, and sallied forth, whistling blithely as he went, while Smoke, who was chef, valet, and faithful bodyguard generally, trundled the bicycle carefully along the path.
Toby remembered, in his bitterness afterwards, that he thought of Bobbie all the way as he went. He wished Shute had not chosen that particular date to be at Geegi, then he could have gone over to keep her company in the afternoon. She of her with great tenderness, his sunny, handsome face softening as he dreamed. What a girl in ten thousand she was! Always so cheery and bright and practical, so ready to see the best in anyone, and to help a fellow to realise his best. If only he could get on and attain that coveted farm, what glorious times they would have! He dreamed of the horse he would buy for her, and how they would gallop across the veldt together, she as keen about the farm as he, and neither of them worrying much about getting rich, so long as they could keep their horses and succeed moderately. He felt a sudden swift envy of Blake. Out of sheer luck-or, at least, it was called such--he now possessed a beautiful farm and plenty of money. Of course, it was rather out of the world, and far from markets, but the road was good, and he could easily afford a motor if he wanted one. Moreover, with the extraordinarily rapid progress of the | | 111 country, what was far today might be almost too near tomorrow, and he and Bobbie would not worry about the loneliness while they had each other and a couple of good horses. He reflected that it was a lucky thing she did not like Blake, otherwise he might have stood but a poor chance beside Blake's advantages. Then his mind wandered to the promise he had asked of her, and he smiled a little at himself. It seemed rather an unnecessary, clumsy thing to have done, and Bobbie might have been offended at his want of trust. But it was not quite that; it was just that he liked to feel assurance doubly sure. And then, of course, Blake was an attractive man--the very man to appeal to a fearless, independent type of woman, and a man a woman might feel gratified in subduing. And that Bobbie had attracted him beyond any ordinary attraction was obvious to the man so deeply attracted himself. Yet she had promised him willingly, and he knew she would not break her promise--would not in any way allow Blake to suppose she had any friendly feelings for him whatever, nor permit him to exhibit any special attention to herself.
When he saw the little creeper-covered house, he could not refrain from yet another pang of envy, it appeared so perfect a nest to take a bride to. He longed as he approached, to see Bobbie come to the door and welcome him.
He climbed the steps of the verandah and walked along, calling gaily to Blake for his bicycle pump, under the impression he was sure to be taking an afternoon siesta in his bedroom.
It was small wonder that the picture he beheld in the doorway struck him dumb. There had been | | 112 no time to move. Bobbie was seated on the couch, bending over a photograph, and Blake, in an affectionate attitude, was leaning over her.
For one dreadful moment Toby wondered if he had become suddenly deranged, or perhaps had a sunstroke. But Bobbie's exclamation and her look of horror seemed to his quickly-distorted mind to confirm the worst, and, without a second's misgiving, he put it down to dismay at being found out. Hot-headed in moments of stress, like so many sweet-tempered men, he immediately gave insane rope to his fancy, and drew the worst conclusions. He did not perceive that, in the swift, agonised tension of her look, it was as though her brain were striving to speak to his brain, if such utterance were possible. He noted only her stillness and silence, the triumphant sneer dawning in Blake's eyes, and his affectionate attitude, and it was as though a black cloud came down and settled upon his brain. Slowly the amazement in his face turned to an expression of dull fury as he glanced round the room. He saw the luncheon table at which two had sat, and his lips curled in a way that made Bobbie shrink. Blake, secretly rejoicing, but conscious that the strain of the situation was becoming too great, sought to relieve it by remarking:
"A bicycle pump, old chap? Why, of course I can!" And, rising, he took his from a table and offered it to Toby. "You are starting rather late." But Toby did not appear to hear him. He only stood there in the door, once more staring at Bobbie. Once she opened her lips to speak, but no sound came.
"Have you nothing to say?" Toby asked, in a
Then Bobbie lost hers a little also. She resented bitterly that he should speak to her in such a tone before Blake, and should so instantly think the worst of her.
"Really, Toby--" she began, a little indignantly.
"No," he interrupted, in a tense voice, "it's no use. I understand. I've been a fool! God, how easily you gulled me! I wondered why you advised me to go to Geegi today with the others. Well, I'm just going. It's not too late--especially when one does--doesn't mean to come back!" And without a word to Blake, he took the bicycle pump and turned away.
Bobbie sprang to her feet and held out her hands.
"Toby!" she cried.
But he did not hear her. Already his back was turned to the familiar kopjes they had climbed together; already, with his wrecked dreams and ruined castles, he was heading for the world at large.
|<< chapter 10||< chapter 1||chapter 12 >||chapter 37 >>|