- CHAPTER XIII. SIR JAMES IS THOUGHTFUL.
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SIR JAMES IS THOUGHTFUL.
WHEN Sir James Fortescue left the home huts of the Glynns, it was with the pleasurable sensation of having encountered a wholly unexpected treat. No one could know better than he about those surprises Rhodesia delights in, and yet he was astonished anew to find two girls as charming as Betty and Bobbie living in huts with their brothers at such an out-of-the-way mine. As a matter of fact, he had not expected to find any civilisation at all after he left Geegi; and even the information he received there concerning the Glynns had only suggested to him two rough working young men, with two equally uncouth sisters. He knew the neighbourhood was a lonely, uninhabited one, because when shooting there, at the time he pegged his claim upon Loka kopje, he had found no white people at all. He knew a Dutchman, also on a shooting expedition, had pegged the next claim to his, but he did not know his name, nor anything about him. The ore he had had crushed, which had given such promising results, had been lying by for some little time, as he was too much occupied elsewhere to attend to it. He had known that it was probably good, but, as another claim he owned | | 124 was working out extraordinarily well, he could afford to let it remain idle a while. The recent report of a prospector, a few miles east of Loka, had caused him to produce his samples and consider the advisability of commencing operations. His nerves being out of order, as the result of overwork, he decided upon taking another trip after big game to the same neighbourhood, before arranging finally to begin mining. He wanted a few more samples, and he wanted the holiday. Thus he journeyed in person to Loka.
Sir James was one of those men who almost always shoot alone. He had seen so many friends permanently estranged under the trying conditions of veldt and bush life, and upon one or two occasions had felt the strain of a continued companionship so severely himself, that he began to take trips unaccompanied. A devoted personal native went with him, to look after his camp and kitchen, and he found two or three weeks thus in the wilderness more refreshing to jaded nerves than anything else. If he felt inclined, he sought for fine specimens of big buck, and shot them for their horns, but he had never been one of those misnamed sportsmen who shot for the mere lust of killing, and left a track of wounded creatures or unnecessary carcases behind him. On many days he merely walked in the cool of the mornings and evenings for the love of walking and the love of the kopjes and vleis of the land to which he had given his life, resting through the long, hot hours in the shade, perfectly content with his pipe and his dreams. Too modest by nature to take to himself much credit for the splendid advance of Rhodesia, he was yet undoubtedly one of her | | 125 greatest benefactors; and first among those who came for sport and stayed for work, came to take and stayed to give. Never having been in the employ of the British South Africa Company, he was enabled to take up an independent attitude of infinite value to the settler community; and only the more so that his relationship to various great personages in England gave him a power to hold his own even with the very powerful company that governed the country. So from step to step he piloted the growing community of hardy colonists who came out to make new homes for themselves in the wilderness, obtaining benefits and concessions and advances they might never have been powerful enough to obtain alone. And the settler population took all he had to give, and, in spite of their indebtedness, often worried and hindered and maligned him out of sheer perversity, which is a way of populations all the world over towards the strong man who stands out from the crowd to lead them. But since, surely, the mere fact of being the strong man is a source of deep, inward satisfaction in hours of insight, the other hours--those hours of depression inevitably wrought by the attitude of the crowd--may be summarily dismissed and thrust aside as of no real import at all.
It was on such an expedition as this of Sir James's to Loka that he found he could best banish all memory of spite and bitterness and chagrin, away from men and civilisation, alone with the glorious veldt. Perhaps the fact that he was unmarried, and at the same time a great parti, added a spice of romance to his reputation, for he was undoubtedly rich as well as well-born and good to look upon.| | 126
No one seemed to know why he was not married. If he had a story, he kept it secret. If twitted with his bachelorhood, in the face of so many fair aspirants to share his work, he would only smile a slow, quiet smile, and say he considered himself wedded to Rhodesia, and could not commit bigamy.
But the morning that he left the Glynns' wilderness camp he was conscious of a pleasure that had been more than an ordinary one in his short stay there. He liked the brothers--well-read, honest-eyed, clean young Englishmen, fighting a desperate uphill fight, as chiefly Englishmen know how.
He liked Toby, the irresponsible young aristocrat, with his ridiculous store and butchery, while his mother was leader of a distinguished coterie at home, and his father a well-known soldier. Lastly, the two girls, with their frankness and naturalness, gracing their unusual surroundings with all the clever adaptability of the Englishwoman, pleased him extremely. As he tramped on through the sun -soaked atmosphere, noting, with half-unconscious pleasure, the lovely colouring of the spring leaves, and the wonderful sky effects, as the heralding clouds of the rainy season sailed across the blue, he found Bobbie was often in his mind. He liked the set of her head upon her shoulders, her slim grace, her upright carriage, her delightful absence of all affectation. He remembered how frankly she had greeted him, and with what friendliness she had hoped he would come again, as they said good-bye. He would hasten his departure from Loka, and stay two nights instead of one on the return journey, that he might get to know them all still better. The fact that Bobbie had vanished | | 127 with Toby during the evening he was at the huts did not convey anything to him but that they were great friends; for somehow, to his fifty years, Toby seemed the merest boy, and boyish even for that.
The fact that he had encountered Harry Blake, though it rather vexed him to find he was actually living in the neighbourhood, caused him no qualms whatever. The old feud was dead enough now. He was not the man to throw stones when it could be avoided. If Blake had turned over a new leaf, and become a respectable member of the community, so much the better. As long as there was nothing against him now, Sir James would be the last to reveal his past. Then rather suddenly came the thought of any connection he might have with Bobbie. He had noticed that he watched her a good deal, but it had not seemed to have any meaning until, trekking through the sunshine, their names involuntarily came together to his mind.
He had gathered from the brothers that Blake was successful--was, in fact, almost a rich man. What if he turned his eyes to Bobbie Glynn? Sir James quickened his steps a little. Suddenly the idea appeared preposterous, yet with equal suddenness he saw that it was extremely probable. Immediately he asked himself, what was he to do? Bobbie was nothing to him--he scarcely knew her. Under such circumstances, could he interfere? Then his thoughts raced on. Could he not interfere? If she had been his sister, he felt he could have shot Blake dead for daring to look at her. He almost felt he would like to do as much for Bobbie. The man was a felon, a murderer, an outlaw. There | | 128 was a certain district in South Africa where he would never dare to show his face for a moment. He had left the district, got his chance to begin again in a new country, taken it manfully, and succeeded. But did that blot out all memory of the past? Certainly not. Whatever happened, the Glynns must be warned. Either he must speak to Bobbie herself or to her brothers. Buried away there in the back veldt, how should they ever hear anything? Where a girl could count the men she knew on the fingers of one hand, how should she have a fair chance to judge and discriminate? Blake was a smooth-spoken enough villain when he liked. How should she--how should any of them--suspect that black, stained past? Curious that in that little acreage of wilderness, with its sea of untrodden country around, this man, of all others, should have crossed Bobbie's path. Of course, there were many outlaws in all young countries; but where some had risen from a bad fall and got splendidly back into the running again, this man had but changed his ground, finding villainy did not pay. The deeds he was guilty of were not those which could be put behind and lived out of memory. They were the deeds of a man whose soul was black. Finding villainy did not pay, he might go straight in future, but nothing could ever justify him raising his eyes to a pure-souled, fresh-natured English girl, and to link her life with his in ignorance would be the greatest villainy of all. Yet that Blake would do it, if it suited him and he found himself able, Sir James never doubted for one moment. When had Blake ever not done the thing that suited him, if he could find a way?
Yet how strange that it should be he--Sir James-- | | 129 once more to cross his path and threaten his schemes! He smiled a little grimly to himself. How would Blake take it a second time? It was well known he had threatened to take his life on the previous occasion. Well, he could but go on his way, and do what seemed the best thing, as at other difficult times. Anyhow, Blake should not marry Bobbie Glynn while he could prevent it, come what might afterwards.
So he came to his mid-day camping-place, and his boys arranged an awning under some shade, where he could lounge through the hot hours. Jim, the personal attendant, contrived an appetising repast of buck and fresh scones, and Sir James lay back on a hammock chair, almost the only luxury he allowed himself, and dreamily watched the lovely view of far blue hills, seen through a framework of branches. It was so lovely a spot, he was loth to move on to the camping-place he had planned for the night; but he disliked changing arrangements for a mere fancy, and, moreover, he would be much delayed on the morrow if he did not interview the chief Shagann at a very early hour. So camp was struck soon after three, and five o'clock saw them making preparations for the night at the spot Blake had recommended. A great noise of tom-toms was coming from the kraal, and Sir James mentally noted there was evidently a big beer drink going forward. It vexed him, for it meant the chief would probably be too drunk to do business for two days, as, with no police resident for many miles, the natives might keep up their beer drink as long as they liked. Yet, soon after they arrived, a handful of evil-looking niggers came up to the camp and asked for salt and matches. Sir James told Jim to give them some, and | | 130 explain that he wished to interview the chief in the morning about buying food for his carriers. The natives asked how many carriers, glancing round at the two or three visible, and were told that the bulk had gone on to Loka, to prepare huts, as Sir James would be staying there a week or two. This seemed to please them, for they glanced at each other in a manner Sir James thought peculiar; but it was only afterwards that he remembered and recorded his thought.
A little more indaba took place, and the natives went off, leaving Sir James to have an early dinner, entirely unsuspicious of harm, and only anxious to hasten the morrow and make an early start.
Neither did his three attendant natives suspect anything. There was no reason why they should. The visitors invited them to come to the kraal later on, and though Jim chose to stay behind with his master, the other two agreed with alacrity. Thus everything fell out to Van Tyl's planning, exceeding, indeed, his best hopes.
He had hardly dared to conclude the bulk of the carriers would go on, and had imagined they would all need to be lured to the beer drink, and probably two or three would remain behind. When the natives reported to him that only three were there, and of these two would come to the kraal at dusk, thus leaving only one with Sir James, he was agreeably surprised. The mine was laid now. Only a touch was wanted to make it explode. He had left nothing to chance. The whole dastardly affair was carefully planned. For his purpose he had chosen the two or three worst and cleverest natives in the kraal. The majority would know nothing. And these two or three, in their turn, realising the | | 131 risk, had carefully arranged to throw the blame upon the shoulders of such of their brothers as best suited their plans. To this end, the big beer drink had been held, for some niggers, thoroughly drunk, are too stupid to know if they are committing murder or not; and, with a little careful manipulation, it would not prove difficult to stamp as the criminals, and give up to justice, natives who had nothing whatever to do with the crime, and had only been guilty of getting too drunk to know what they were doing. They would accordingly be hanged, and the real perpetrators would merely acquire the rich reward Van Tyl had promised. To a bad Mashona the deal was a mere bagatelle. If their brothers were fools, let them die. What did it matter, so they themselves got the reward? All the white man's stores they would hide, and with his money they would buy cattle, and perhaps get two wives apiece.
Yes, in truth the mine was well laid. Long before the crime was discovered, Van Tyl would be chatting unconcernedly to the British South Africa policemen at Loma, on his way to Geegi and Lobenwayo. When the murder was out, and the police arrived, they would find two or three half-drunken natives, who had been secretly brought to Sir James's camp, slowly coming to their senses, holding in their hands the blood-stained axes of the real murderers. What account of themselves these unfortunate scapegoats were able to give was not likely to be of much avail. The only certain thing would be their stupid, confused condition, and the dead bodies of Sir James and his personal boy. It seemed unlikely that anything now could spoil his scheme, and Van Tyl gloated silently over his splendid revenge and the riches that would be his.
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