- CHAPTER XVIII. SIR JAMES IS MYSTIFIED.
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SIR JAMES IS MYSTIFIED.
THERE was a mistiness about Sir James's eyes as he straightened the huddled form and covered up the wound. Few men cared for a black servant as he had cared for Jim. That he should have given his life for him touched him to the very depths of his being.
Having done all he could for the moment, he turned to look upon the face of his murderer. "Van Tyl!" he murmured in an awe-struck voice. "So you found me here, did you, and sought the revenge you always swore to take?" Then for a moment he gazed silently at the prostrate body. By what amazing chance was he in Rhodesia at all? By what fatality had he known that he, Sir James, would camp alone in that desolate spot tonight? The mystery was too great for him. He could not unravel it, and moved to go back to the tent and get dressed before he tried again to restore Bobbie.
When he went to her, he found her lying just as he had left her, apparently in a dead sleep. Evidently, in her terrible exhaustion, she had been unconscious both of her deadly peril and of the brave deed that saved her. With the utmost tenderness he carried her into the tent and laid | | 166 her down on his little stretcher bed, lighting his candle and holding it high above her head to look at her.
"Poor little woman!" he breathed. "Dead beat! I can leave her a little longer; it is better than waking her now."
Then he took Jim's blankets and went back to reverently wrap them round the brave boy's dead body. As he did so, a large tear gathered and fell --a soldier's tear for a fine deed meeting with death.
Then a noise in the bushes roused him, and he stood up, peering sharply into the gloom. "Who is it?" he asked. And, in answer, the boy who had come with Bobbie dragged himself forward, seemingly half stunned with fright.
"Who are you?" Sir James asked brusquely, and the boy stammered that he had come with the Inkosikaas. Sir James realised at once that he must have accompanied Bobbie, and represented a help rather than a danger.
"Help me carry this," the white man ordered; and together they raised the body of the black boy and tenderly carried him back to the tent. Then he took another blanket, and, telling the native to follow him, went to cover up the hideous, distorted face of the Dutchman. Anything further natives might do for him; the white man would reserve his services for the black one who had died for him. Then it was that Bobbie's boy Twilight, in a frightened voice, told Sir James there was a dead white man below the bank.
"Another?" Sir James asked sternly, not believing his tale. But the boy insisted, and, intimating the dead body of the Dutchman, said | | 167 that he had killed him. Finally Sir James went with him to make a search, and came upon Blake, still lying stunned, just as he had fallen.
"He tried to stop him," the boy explained, again intimating Van Tyl, and by signs made Sir James understand that, at the first shpt, Blake had caught at Van Tyl, and Van Tyl had hit him on the head and killed him.
"He is not dead, only stunned." And for some moments Sir James was very thoughtful. Could it be that Blake also had come to the rescue, knowing of Van Tyl's undying hate and thirst for revenge? Or--dark thought, indeed--had he been an accomplice? Probably Bobbie would know something. In the meantime the man must be revived. He went back to the tent, reassured himself that Bobbie was still sleeping off her utter exhaustion, and then returned with his flask to Blake. After he had succeeded in making him swallow a little brandy, he came round, and, opening his eyes, asked weakly:
"Who are you? Where am I?"
"I am Fortescue," Sir James answered. "An attack has been made on my camp tonight, and a white man and a native have been killed. Can you help me?" He watched Blake keenly as he spoke, and saw him start and turn an ashen grey, lowering his eyes to the ground.
There was a moment's dead silence between them, then Sir James said very quietly: "This native says you tried to stop the man who attempted to murder me. It was good of you. I hope you are not hurt. I owe my life to a faithful black servant, who died saving me."| | 168
Still with ashen face and lowered eyes, Blake said nothing.
"Miss Glynn--" began Sir James, and noted that Blake caught his breath and winced visibly. He waited a moment to make the other speak, and presently Blake muttered:
"Is she-is she-safe?"
"I hardly know. The first bullet hit her. I have done all I can for the moment, and she is now sleeping off a dead exhaustion in my tent. I shall be glad of your help to get her home."
Another tense silence followed. Blake was asking: "What does he know? What does he suspect?" And Sir James was asking: "How came he to be here? Is it possible he was an accomplice?" But, whatever the answer, he knew he badly needed his help, and that, at any rate, he was not likely to be dangerous any more at present.
And Blake, in spite of his weak state, was ruminating anxiously: "How much did she know? If she knows all, will she denounce me at once?"
But he, too, saw that more urgent things called at the moment, and, putting on the best face he could, he tried to rise to his feet. Sir James helped him, and, after a little, he found he could stand alone, and made a move for the tent. As they passed Van Tyl's body, with the blanket over it, he seemed to reel a little, but Sir James pretended not to notice.
"We must get word to the police as quickly as possible," he said. "I must send for my carriers to come back from Loka."
"I have my horse here. I could go the quickest," said Blake, seizing the chance to get away before he met Bobbie's accusing eyes.| | 169
"If you feel well enough," said Sir James politely, only anxious that the message should go as quickly as possible, and a policeman arrive, so that he could start to take Bobbie to her home. He would have to get a message to his carriers somehow, and the two who had gone to the beer-drink had never returned. Doubtless they were too intoxicated to walk. This left only Twilight, who, fortunately, was fast recovering his presence of mind, and seemed ready and capable of doing what was needed. So, finally, after a strong whisky and soda and some dry biscuits, Blake pronounced himself equal to the ride, and, after Twilight had brought his horse, prepared to mount and ride away.
"Where is the nearest doctor?" Sir James asked, noting his furtive, uneasy manner.
"There is one at Geegi."
"Fifty miles away?"
"Yes, but I think I could reach him tomorrow evening. I had better go on from the Loma police camp."
"If you wouldn't mind. I shall get Miss Glynn to her home tomorrow, and, as I have a little skill in surgery myself, I can help to take care of her until he arrives."
"I will travel as fast as possible," was all Blake answered. "Probably I can get a fresh horse at the camp."
Then he rode away in the moonlight, for the moon was now climbing the sky to light up the tragic scene, and Sir James was alone with Bobbie and her attendant native.
He tried to question the boy, but could not learn much from him, except that the Inkosikaas | | 170 went away for lunch, and came back afterwards, and made him start with her at once for Shagann's kraal. He told, in the native's short, graphic way,how they had struggled along through the kopjes, and at the last had shouted several times; how, at the river where the crocodiles were, he had to turn her back, and she would not heed him; how she had fallen and hurt her arm, and he run to dip the bandage in the river, and they tied it up and hurried on; finally how, just at last, when they thought to take a short cut where they saw the gleam of his camp-fire, they had come out on the verge of a sheer strip of rock it was impossible to descend, and been obliged retrace their steps to the path, and so lost time.
"When the Inkosikaas was hurt, why did run away and hide?" Sir James asked sternly. But the boy only hung his head and refused answer. "The Mashonas are not brave like Angonis," Sir James told him, and the boy look sullen. "Now you must go at once to Loka," continued, " and bring all my carriers back. If yo do not know the way, go to the kraal, where two of my boys are, and make some of them guide you. Bring them back at once as fast as you can come."
Twilight started off, glad enough to get away from the scene, and Sir James was left alone with; the two silent objects under the spread blankets and the wounded girl, sleeping her heavy sleep upon the stretcher bed. With a heart full of thanksgiving that she was alive, and only slightly hurt, he sat down beside her and gazed long and earnestly into her face.
"You brave child!" he said at last, in a low, | | 171 reverent voice. "How am I ever to repay you?" One limp hand hung over the coverlet beside him, bending forward with a swift, spontaneous movement, he brushed it lightly with his lips. As though the brief contact aroused some fire in his blood, he sat up and became taut and rigid, staring out into the night.
Presently, as one waking from sleep, he began heavily to review the events of the night and try to piece them together. Where had Bobbie gone to lunch? Could she have gone anywhere but to Blake's? If it had been Fitzgerald's, he would most certainly have accompanied her. If Blake's, how was it that she and Blake had apparently arrived at different times by different routes? Could they possibly have discovered the Dutchman's wicked plot, independent of each other, after separating, and each lost no time in starting at once to warn him ? Or, supposing she had not gone to Blake's at all, might he not have been returning home from some ride he had taken to a distant settler, and so have chanced upon the scene all unconsciously?
For, though it looked dangerously as if Blake had been an accomplice, Sir James was at a loss to find sufficient reason to account for such an action upon his part. With Van Tyl it was different. Through Sir James's agency he had served a term of imprisonment, and he had sworn quite openly that some day he would "do for" the man who had caused him to be found out. Of the wheels within wheels, the adjoining gold claim to his own, and the plot to move the pegs, the plan to use Shagann's natives, Blake's fear that his evidence of his past life would damn | | 172 him for ever with Bobbie, he knew nothing. Sitting there in the deep stillness, he knew only that an ancient enemy had sought a dastardly revenge, and that, in some mysterious way, Bobbie Glynn had discovered the plot, and, helped by the faithful Jim, had saved his life. Of course, Blake had hated him almost as much in the old days, but it was long ago now, and his manner had been most friendly the previous day.
Then, with a sudden start, he remembered that it was by Blake's advice he was camped at that particular spot. The recollection made him set his teeth grimly and peer out into the moonlight, probing further into the line of thought conjured up. If he had not taken Blake's advice and stayed there, he would have gone on with his carriers, and been protected by a bodyguard of boys, who would probably have seized Van Tyl at the first alarm. But then Blake could not possibly know that his carriers would go on! Still, it might not have been difficult for Van Tyl to shoot him at dusk, and then lay the blame upon natives. Men had disappeared that way before now, and it was afterwards recorded as a gun accident or the work of a lawless band of blacks. And, at that, across his mind flashed the recollection that they had said, at the Glynns', Shagann's was a bad kraal, one of the worst remaining, and Blake had pooh-poohed the idea. Doubtless Van Tyl knew it, and meant to fit the circumstance into his plot. But that did not help him in unravelling the mystery surrounding Blake. This baffled him more and more. The men were certainly not friends after the trial fifteen years ago. In fact, Van Tyl had sworn to have | | 173 Blake's life as well as Sir James's. So it would hardly be through him that he had come to the neighbourhood. Perhaps, as there had been no secret about his destination when he left Lobenwayo, Van Tyl had followed him down and came across Blake, as he had, by accident. He glanced at the spot where the moonlight shone on the blanket that covered his would-be murderer, and he felt that the world was indeed well rid of him.
Then he went outside and stood under the stars a little while, thanking God that he was yet alive, and that the plot to take his life had failed. A wave of deep feeling passed over him as he glanced round at the outline of kopjes, familiar to all Rhodesian dwellers who trek afar from the towns, and an unspoken vow filled his heart to devote himself yet more whole-heartedly and disinterestedly to the country's welfare. "And," was his final thought, "for the sake of Bobbie Glynn, I will do anything that lies in my power to make the life easier for the women of the land." Then he went back into the tent and stood beside the little stretcher bed.
As if feeling his presence in her sleep, Bobbie opened her eyes with an uneasy murmur, and with a strained expression tried to look round. "Where am I?" she said; and then, half awake and half dreaming, added: "I must go on! I can't stay--I shall never be in time!" And she tried to get up.
Sir James pushed her gently back. "Don't move just yet," he said. "Your work is accomplished. You can lie still now."
"Where am I?" she asked again, scrutinising his face half fearfully.| | 174
"I am Fortescue, and you are in my tent. You came to save me, and you succeeded. Through you I am safe."
A more restful expression came into her eyes "I was so afraid I should never reach you in time she breathed."
"But you did, and now you are worn out. Lie still, and I will make you a cup of tea. You will feel better for a little food. Your boy has go to fetch my carriers, and, as soon as possible, we will make a machila and take you home."
She closed her eyes and lay silently while he made his preparations. Then suddenly she opened them wide and asked, with acute anxiety: "Where is Van Tyl? He fired at you. If he is still at' large, he is dangerous. We must not stay here!"
"We are quite safe now" --gently-- "thanks to your heroism and my boy Jim."
"Is he--is he--" She paused, looking at him. with searching eyes.
"He is dead," he told her simply.
"Ah, I am glad! Otherwise you would never have been safe." Then, as if some continually fretting fear, that had marred the restfulness of her' sleep, had passed away, she dozed off again before he could give her the tea he was preparing, and was. soon once more dead to everything around her.
Sir James could only continue his watch in patience, gazing ever and anon, with great tenderness, at the unconscious head upon his pillow.
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