- CHAPTER XV. BLAKE'S ANGER.
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IN the meantime, away at Blake's pretty bungalow, a strange fury had possessed the man, who found himself suddenly thwarted in the very hour of triumph.
When he gave in to Bobbie's request, and promised to leave her to rest unmolested for an hour, he had done so believing his victory was won. Although she baffled him, his vanity would never have allowed him seriously to suppose it was anything but a woman's trick to make him more keen. He believed women were at heart tricksters first and foremost, getting the things they wanted by feminine wiles instead of masculine strength. And he rather approved of the spirit than otherwise. Certainly, in Bobbie's case, he approved of an action which would add to his own pleasure. If she had given in too suddenly from her uncompromising attitude of the past months, he would have thought far less of her than in this unaccountable bewildering mood. So he recognised that she really did look very tired, and would be all the fresher and more entertaining after a rest. He decided to give her a full hour, and then, after a cosy cup of tea, he would take her leisurely home, and ride to his appointment with | | 140 Van Tyl afterwards. His horse would do the ten miles in little over an hour, and he could easily ride across veldt to avoid leaving tell-tale tracks.
After which decision he went off to his tobacco beds, feeling the dream of his life might soon be realised. To do him justice, he was not indifferent to the ugly features of his past, nor how it might appear to Bobbie. He wished with all his heart that it had been very different, for her sake. But since wishing did no good, he told himself that, if he was careful where he took her, she need never know, and the one and only obstacle he need truly fear was the one about to be removed--namely, Sir James Fortescue. Once secure from him, and sure of Bobbie, he would try to atone for some of his evil deeds by being a generous, faithful slave to his wife. After all, everything in Nature was preying upon something else. Were men so very different to animals? Strength, or wile, or desperate ruse-- the victory was to the most daring and fearless, as a rule, and who cared about the means?
"God! Who was God? What was God?" he asked in his self-gratification. A superstition at best, which men of brains and might laughed at. The victory was to the strong and daring, and he was of them. He would be a fool to let himself be baffled now. If one last crime would give him the thing he desired more than he had ever desired anything in his life before, what was one last crime to a record like his? And, after all, the idea had not originated with him. He dwelt upon that thought not a little as he sowed his tobacco beds. Van Tyl was the murderer, not he; in self-defence he had only said he would not interfere. Had he done | | 141 otherwise, Van Tyl was capable of a double murder. But first and foremost still was his desire of Bobbie. If Sir James had a chance to speak, he knew he must certainly lose her for ever. Perhaps, if she had remained obdurate, things might have looked different; but now that she had relented to him, nothing in heaven or earth should stop him. He thought of her resting on his verandah, for all the world as if she belonged there, and it was all he could do to restrain his impatience to return to her. When he did go back, and she was refreshed, what a perfect hour they would have before returning to the huts! His eyes gleamed under the low brim of his hat. Surely she was too sensible a girl to be squeamish with a nan who adored her? Surely-- His thoughts ran on tempestuously. He started up from his work, thinking he would go back now. Why waste time on tobacco beds? He need not interrupt her rest, if he sat quietly where he could see her. He walked a short distance up the path and then stopped. Probably she would be vexed with him for coming, and he would lose ground again. Evidently she was a young woman who expected her wishes to be regarded as law. He smiled at the thought. Hitherto he had been the one to expect that. Hitherto women had had to bend to his decree. But with Bobbie the strange thing was that he did not even want that condition of affairs. It pleased him better, at any rate at present, that he should bow to her decree. It meant novelty, and it amused him. So finally he turned back to his beds. He would not vex her by appearing before the stipulated hour was up.
Then his thoughts turned to Toby, and he laughed | | 142 a little cruelly. Evidently Toby's discovery had knocked him backwards. No doubt he thought she had been serious in encouraging him, and had built castles in the air for the future. Of course, it would be a great shock to find her spending the day alone with such a man as he. He could hardly mistake the purport of the visit, nor all it portended in the future. He laughed again when he remembered their familiar attitude. That had been admirably stage-managed by Fate. He could not have done it better himself. No doubt, from the doorway, he would appear to be embracing Bobbie from behind. And Toby would think himself mercilessly gulled, and likely enough fling away from the neighbourhood altogether. He was just the sort of youth to throw everything to the winds at a moment's notice. Well, for his part, he hoped he would. He certainly did not want him, in his anger, to commence making investigations with a hope of damaging him in Bobbie's eyes. If he only went far enough, and stayed long enough, he hoped to be securely married before his return, and then it would be useless to make trouble between them. He rather wondered Bobbie should have seemed so taken aback, but doubtless it was the suddenness and surprise. She could not seriously mind whether Toby were offended or not. He would chaff her about it afterwards, and pretend she had been frightened.
When the hour was up he gathered together his seed bags, gave some final instructions to the natives working near, and returned to the house. Instead of entering at the front, he took a detour in order to approach at the side where Bobbie was resting. He thought, if she had fallen asleep and not yet | | 143 awakened, he would kiss her, and watch her flushed surprise.
He crept up to the pretty creeper-covered trellis- work and peered through. The chair was there in which she had reclined, but it was empty. He was surprised, but decided she had gone inside to tidy her dishevelled hair, perhaps. He stole softly on to the verandah and crept round to the front of the bungalow and into the sitting-room. Emptiness here also. How strange! Had she gone into one of the other rooms? A note lay on the table, but he did not for the moment pay any heed to it. He went into the other rooms in search of her. And still he found only emptiness, and, with growing wonder, returned to the sitting-room. This time he observed the note more closely, and recognised her handwriting. With a dull feeling, half of wonder and half of anger, he picked it up and read it. Then he read it through again, and an ominous blackness came over his face. As has been seen, Bobbie had merely said that she felt so feverish she thought it wisest to get away home at once, in case she were in for an attack of malaria, and urged him not to follow her.
Blake stared at the note, and back into his mind came the baffled, non comprehending sense, mingling with his angry disappointment.
If she were really feverish, why go home alone? Why not have sent a boy to fetch him? Was she really feverish? Then across his mind came the thought--what if she were playing with him as well as Toby? She had wanted an adventure, and had sought to make him her tool, perhaps. At the notion he was conscious of a dull fury against her. She | | 144 should find she could not play with such as he with impunity--with Toby, perhaps, not with Harry Blake I He turned to the door, prepared to go after her at once and have it out there and then. The only thing that deterred him was the fear of losing control of himself, and saying things that he might afterwards regret, using words that would horrify her possibly, and frightening her by a knowledge of what his temper was. Of course, once they were married, that sort of thing would not matter. She was bound to find out some day that he had a fiendish temper when roused, but there was no sense in letting her know it before he was sure of her. So, for a little, he raved round his house, beside himself with mortification. He felt a longing to shake her. He felt he must vent his fury on someone, and looked round for a suitable object. From the open door he saw a boy who should have been herding cattle approaching. He went outside and thundered to him to know what he wanted at the house at that hour. The boy, terrified at his manner, stammered out that a calf had got bogged, and was sick. Without a moment's warning, Blake snatched up his heavy riding-crop and flew at him. "I'll teach you to let calves get bogged!" he said savagely, and proceeded to thrash the boy till he screamed for mercy. When he had finished with him, he strode back into the house, and, finding the house-boy laying the tea-table for two, swore at him in foul language and almost kicked him out of the room.
But the sight of the tea-cups for two brought back a memory of lunch, and steadied him a little. After all, perhaps she had been afraid of malaria; | | 145 and, of course, to be laid up in his house would have been seriously compromising. But then, why not have sent for him? Surely, if she were learning to care for him, she would naturally have sent at once. It was madness to walk back alone feeling ill. What if she had turned ill and faint on the way? He read through the note again, and gathered she was only afraid of an attack. Still, it might have come on quickly. He had better go and look for her at once. It was nonsense to tell him not to come until the morrow. It was not likely he could leave her alone if she were ill. As an after-thought, he sent for the cook-boy, who is always the head of an establishment. He asked him what time the Inkosikaas had left. The boy, in view of his recent outburst, looked confused and frightened, and stammered he did not know she had gone. As house-boys generally retire to their huts in the afternoon for a laze, there was nothing unusual in their not being aware of her departure, and, in a mollified voice, Blake asked him if he had gone to his kia after lunch. The boy admitted that he had, and Blake decided that Bobbie had tried to find someone to bring a message to him, and, failing any house-boys, had finally gone off alone. Still, he thought he had better go and see how she was, and gave orders for his horse to be brought round, when a native arrived with a scribbled message from Van Tyl.
"Come at six o'clock instead of seven o'clock," it ran, and was unsigned, except for a mark in the corner, which he had known Blake would understand, for they had used it often in the old days.
Blake cursed under his breath, glanced at the clock, and knew that he must get ready to start for | | 146 Shagann's almost immediately. Bobbie must have her way, and be left until the morrow. Anyhow. Hulatt would be there for the night.
Half an hour later saw him cantering across the veldt--where he would leave no tell-tale spoor-- towards the spot on the far side of Fortescue's camp just below Shagann's kraal, where he was to meet Van Tyl. There he was to remain in hiding until the time came to hasten to Loka kopje and move the pegs, so that half the summit of the hill came into Van Tyl's claim. Van Tyl had not asked him to go to the camp at all. It was unnecessary, and also unwise for any footmarks that might look suspicious to be found there. He himself would watch events from a safe hiding-place at hand, and report when the hour came for them to move.
When Blake found him, a gloating, villainous satisfaction made his face more evil than usual, All his plans had worked satisfactorily, and he felt victory was in his hands. The old score would be wiped out, and the gold his, before the sinking sun reappeared to herald a new day.
In their hiding-place he related to Blake the good fortune of Sir James's carriers going on ahead and leaving only three boys with him, of whom two would soon be at the kraal beer drinking with the rest.
"They've been at it two days," he said, leering. "Old Shagann saw to it that the supply should be unlimited, and almost the whole kraal, women as well, are dead drunk. You could cart half of them away already, and put them anywhere without their knowing they were being moved. The strongest beer has been saved for the two carriers, and they'll probably be as drunk as the rest in an hour or so."| | 147
"And after we've moved the pegs?"
"I've made a short cut for myself down the far side of Loka hill. It's like a precipice, but I've been down it once, and I can get down again, especially now I've cut away one or two trees. But Sherlock Holmes himself wouldn't expect a man to have gone down there in the night; and they'll never suspect anyone was up there tampering with the pegs, for any tracks we make as we go, we'll cover over. At the bottom of the precipice I've hidden my bicycle. I'll have to wheel it across veldt about two miles, and then I strike the Chinanga track to Geegi and travel like the devil, so that I ride into the Loma police camp from the opposite direction, and later on go to Geegi and down to the Transvaal until the inquiry has blown over."
"And you think it is wise for me to stay here?" Blake asked a little doubtfully.
"Of course it is. You'll get sharp back home, and be asleep in bed when your boy brings the morning tea. Do you want me to take a solemn oath as I won't give you away?"--with his evil smile.
"Damn your oaths!" Blake replied. "Have you ever kept one yet?"
Van Tyl looked amused. "Well, I guess there's more reasons than one why you'll want me to keep my mouth shut in future. The fair lady might not. believe my word like she would believe Sir James's, but she wouldn't much like the notion as I was a friend of yours before I was told off to serve fourteen years. But there--it'll suit us both to keep quiet in future, and that's the best safeguard of all. I dunno as I shan't be getting 'spliced' myself, and it wouldn't suit me to have Fortescue for a | | 148 neighbour any more'n it would you. I can get a slick-up, well-educated young woman with all the oof we're goin' to dig, and, if any man gets in my way, he's got to go." And he spat on the ground to emphasise his declaration.
"And if the scheme miscarries?" Blake asked, more from curiosity than anything.
"How can it miscarry? Who's going to crop up and interfere at the last moment in this God-forsaken district? With one policeman to patrol about sixty square miles, how's he goin' to know half the kraals in his beat? Who is there else, besides them two young idiots with their empty gold mine, who've both gone off to Geegi most conveniently, that blamed fool with his Kaffir store, and the chap over at Zieman's-Hellatt, or Hulatt, or some such name? If Fortescue don't want trouble, he shouldn't go lookin' for it in a wild part of the country like this. He's got gold enough elsewhere. He should have left this find to me an' a few pals. I expect he's the bloke who gave away my brother for setting the niggers on to track and kill the big buck, so that he could trade the meat. He gave 'em beads and limbo in exchange for the meat, and sold it at the kraals nearer civilisation. Made a rare good thing of it, too, what with a few cattle thrown in! I only heard of it after I came out o' quod. Mighty sick about it he was. Why can't the darned fool mind his own business? I guess we're goin' to teach him to in future! Miscarry!" and he laughed. "By God, no! When I lay traps, I lay 'em well. And when I pay off old scores, I pay well. And Fortescue is to get his share of my skill to-night."
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