- CHAPTER XIX. SIR JAMES DREAMS.
|<< chapter 18||< chapter 1||chapter 20 >||chapter 37 >>|
SIR JAMES DREAMS.
THUS the night wore on. The moon climbed up from the east, until it shone brightly overhead, lighting up the country round with silvery radiance. Over all there was a great stillness. The very trees were motionless, only murmuring to each other at intervals in softest undertones. Other stars looked down now, wondering, perhaps, at those two dark spots where something lay silent under a blanket; but the stars which understood had mostly gone below the horizon.
Almost as motionless as the dead bodies, Sir James sat just inside his tent. A shaded light burned near the little bed where the sleeping figure still slept on. Preparations stood all in readiness for tea-making on the small camp-table. For the rest, it seemed, for the time being, that life had stood still. Sir James hardly knew whether he was thinking or not.
Slowly, unconsciously, all his being had become wrapped up in the still form on the bed. Nothing mattered but that, when she woke, he should be waiting to do for her anything that mortal man might do.
A spasm crossed his face once, as he remembered | | 176 their deadly peril when he stooped over her before the tent, and when he tried to shelter her behind the rock. If anything had happened then--if he had failed! If she had been fatally shot, and he still saved by Jim, what would his life have been to him any more without her? Would it be anything without her now?
He roused himself from his dream to grapple with a force of practical common-sense that seemed to be deserting him, and apostrophised himself severely for a fool. Three days ago he had not known of her existence, and he was twice her age. He tried to smile at himself, sitting there in the shadow. Evidently he was not quite as level-headed as he had supposed. He must get himself in hand again quickly. No doubt the startling events of the night had shaken him. So he apostrophised himself once more and watched the silver moonlight.
Then the dream came back. He had a beautiful house at Lobenwayo, but no woman reigned there. In his fancy his unruly thoughts pictured to him a tall, slim girl moving with a fresh grace among his treasures--a girl, whose face seemed to have a power of radiating brightness and illuminating the very atmosphere it moved in. When political factions worried and harassed, what a revivifying spirit for a jaded politician's home!
With an effort he thrust aside the alluring picture and reminded himself of those fifty years, with their attendant grey hairs. No wonder the dream was full of sweetness for him; but what for her, with the splendid years of her prime all before her?
But still the thought came back. After all, how much more he could give her than the man | | 177 nearer her own age! With that other there would probably be a long, wearying struggle, those years of prime shadowed by a remorseless uphill fight. With him, though political factions might disturb, she would at least be safe from the harass of any need for money; wealth and position would be hers from the very beginning. But would that weigh anything with a girl like Bobbie Glynn? Alas, he feared not! She did not look the woman to desire ease without raising a finger to win it, to step into ready-made success and know no glow of personal achievement.
If he had met her when he was thirty, and together they had stormed the Olympic heights, what a rich satisfaction they might have won from the trials and exigencies of being! With her at his side during the last twenty years, doubtless he would have done far better work, and escaped some incidents that he would fain had never been. But what use to regret now? What good in idle wishing? There was still the future. Who could tell? At fifty a man is still in his prime. Why should he not win her yet, and, through that winning, achieve better work down all the years to come?
Whether he would or no, a little hope grew up in his heart and glimmered brightly. He reflected, with gladness, that if she could but care for him, there were many ways in which he might serve her. He could help her brothers on, and probably obtain a good post for her sister's fiancé, which would enable them to marry at once. When one put all this in the balance, the fifty years seemed to shrink in significance. Provided she was fancy free, the advantages might easily help him to win her heart.| | 178
He drew near to the little bed again, and stood looking at her with great tenderness in his face. He was still gazing thus, when once more she open her eyes and looked round her anxiously. But her mind was clearer now, and she tried immediately to sit up, only to fall back with a low moan from the pain of the bullet wound in her shoulder and the sprained wrist.
"Don't try to move for a little," he said tenderly. "You will feel better when you have had something to eat."
Bobbie said nothing, but lay still, looking at the opening of the tent, where the stars shone through. Sir James busied himself making tea, leaving her to recover her clearness of mind undisturbed. Then he poured a little brandy into her cup and persuaded her to drink it. After a few minutes she made another unsuccessful effort to sit up, and then Sir James came and sat close beside her.
"I wouldn't try to sit up; you will feel better lying still. Your shoulder is hurt, as well as your wrist. But my carriers will be here soon, and then I shall take you home, and the doctor from Geegi has been sent for."
"Tell me what happened?" she asked faintly.
"I don't think it is wise for you to talk much at present, but, as you know, Van Tyl fired at me, and the shot struck you. I am thankful to say it is not a bad wound."
"And after that?"
"After that he fired again, but I had carried you behind a rock, and he could not hit us."
He paused, and she asked quietly: "And then?"
"Then my boy Jim crept round through the | | 179 brushwood and sprang upon Van Tyl with a native axe in his hand."
She started. "A native axe!"
"Yes. I suppose it belonged to one of my carriers, and he was lucky enough to find it."
"Was--was Van Tyl killed with a native axe?"
"Yes," he answered, wondering a little at her manner.
"Ah!" She closed her eyes and was silent a moment. At last she said: "I am glad he was killed that way. It is what he meant for you."
It was Sir James's turn to mutter an exclamation. He longed to ask her how she knew, but felt it was too harrowing for her to speak of now, and strove to possess his soul in patience.
Then suddenly Bobbie asked: "Was Van Tyl alone?"
"As far as I know he was." Sir James was silent a moment, then he added: "Mr. Blake, your neighbour, was near him when he first fired, and tried to stop him, your boy says. Van Tyl hit him on the head and made him unconscious instantly."
Bobbie stared at the tent-opening with an expression in her eyes that he could not fathom, but she only said: "Where is he now, then?"
"He has ridden to tell the police and send someone here. He happened, fortunately, to have his horse with him. I do not know where he came from, nor how he chanced to be here."
He waited, but she made no further comment, only continuing to gaze out at the stars. She was still too tired to probe deeply. She did not understand yet what part Blake had played in the end.| | 180
Then suddenly she said: "I sent a note to Mr. Hulatt, asking him to come."
"Mr. Hulatt?" inquired Sir James.
"Yes. He was to come to the huts for the night to keep me company. I sent the piccanin with a note to ask him to come here quickly, instead."
"Then you only knew late in the day?"
"I found out--by accident. I overheard something. There was no one to send to you; I was afraid to trust a boy. It seemed as if I could never get here in time."
"How am I ever to thank you or repay you?" he asked, in a voice of deep feeling. " I have been sitting here thinking about it as you slept. It was a splendid deed. I shall be indebted to you all my life."
She smiled a little. "You matter so much. The country needs you. I felt that nothing else mattered at all except saving you."
"Few could have done what you did," he replied, his warmth deepening, "all through the heat of the afternoon in those rocky kopjes! I admire you more than anyone I have ever known. It would not have been much for a man, safe-guarded with a gun, but for a girl, with only a frightened native--"
"How do you know he was frightened?" said Bobbie, glancing at him with a lurking gleam in her eyes.
"He told me so himself. He was afraid of the crocodiles in the river and the lions in the kopjes. He said you were not afraid of anything."
"I hadn't time to be. When we made the mistake just at the last, after seeing your camp | | 181 fire, and came out above the sheer rock, I cried. It was too dreadful to have lost a whole half hour. I was so vexed I had to cry to relieve my feelings. Then, when we came near, I kept calling to you, and I could not make you hear. I thought every moment I should see the natives creep into the tent. It was awful!"
"The natives?" he asked wonderingly.
"Yes. I don't think Van Tyl meant to shoot. He wanted to make it look as if only natives had done it."
"Of course. I can quite believe that. He would have got innocent natives hanged at any time, if it suited his purpose, or have persuaded them to work his will with promises he never meant to keep. He was a desperate character before he went to prison, and probably he came out worse. I was the cause of his being found out and sentenced for various crimes, and he always swore to kill me."
The night wore on, but Bobbie could not sleep again for the pain in her arm, and Sir James tended her with the greatest solicitude. He went down to the river for cold water, and re-bandaged the sprained wrist with the touch of a professional.
"I have rendered first-aid many times," he told her simply, as she praised his skill.
Later he told her how Jim had saved them, and about his brother, and how, when Jim was dying, he managed to ask for a watch.
"Poor Jim!" he murmured, a little brokenly. "He has been with me for ten years. I shall never be able to replace him."
Tears shone in Bobbie's eyes. "I like to hear of a boy like that," she said. "They are not all | | 182 thieves and scoundrels. Twilight is a good boy,' but I could not make him understand what was the matter. I could only insist that he came on."
"I think you were wonderful to reach me unaided. Did you even know the way?"
"I knew that there was a path, supposed to be a short cut, but it is so rough, I doubt if one saves anything. I was afraid to take the other track, lest I was seen by--by "--she hesitated a moment, and then said--" Van Tyl."
Sir James noticed the hesitation, but did not like to press her for particulars.
"It must have been a terrible ordeal," he said. "How am I ever to thank you?" Suddenly he leant forward and placed his strong, brown hand on hers. "I owe you my life, Miss Glynn. Believe me, the day will never come when I am not ready to serve you."
Her eyes faltered and fell before the expression in his, and he drew himself up a little suddenly, as if afraid his feelings would entrap him into saying more than he felt was fair at such a time.
"You won't forget, I hope?" he asked softly. "You will at least let me try to pay my debt?"
"I would rather you did not think of it that way," she answered, in a low voice. "Anyone would have done what I did."
Sir James got up and moved to the entrance to look out a moment. He was afraid of harassing her unnecessarily, and determined to keep himself in hand.
At daybreak they were disturbed by the sound of feet treading the dry twigs, and the carriers arrived, led by their capitao, in considerable con- | | 183 sternation. Sir James went outside and, drawing them aside, told them how an ancient enemy had made an attack on his life, and how Jim had died saving him.
Bobbie heard the boys exclaiming in low, awe-stricken murmurs, as she lay inside the little tent. Then Sir James went on to tell them how she had come to save him, and had been hurt, and that they were to make a machila quickly to carry her home. Being mostly northern boys, they knew how to set to work immediately, cutting poles and manipulating the blankets he gave them. When he re-entered the tent, he looked at her anxiously. "I wish we could start at once," he said, "if it were not for leaving Jim."
"Couldn't the boys bring the body to our huts?" she asked. "Let him be buried near us, and we will take care of his grave." "That is good of you," said Sir James earnestly. "I should be very glad. I should like to put up a headstone where any of his tribe passing might see it. I can leave my capitao in charge here until a policeman arrives to take over the case."
A few minutes later the boys came to say a white man was approaching, and Hulatt, looking thoroughly mystified, arrived upon the scene. Sir James told him in a few words what had happened, and explained why Bobbie had sent for him, and asked him to remain until the police arrived, while he hastened home with the invalid. Then he lifted Bobbie into the machila himself, and the little party got ready to start.
Bobbie glanced once at the little tent, and the dark object where a blanket hid something on the | | 184 ground, and a shiver ran through her. She felt that life had suddenly called her into a strange are cleaving the monotony of the long, silent, anxious months with so tragic a scene. Twenty-four hours before the monotony had still held sway, and now--
Suddenly, with a shock of recollection, she saw her mind Toby's face as he had looked at her the doorway in Blake's house, saw its mingling horror and despair and anger, as he flung away with his parting words. A wave of anguish swept over her. Sir James was safe now. The dark deed was foiled, and the murderer would plan no more; but what remained for her? If Toby had indeed flung away into the wide world, how could she ever reach him and explain? Weakened thoroughly all she had gone through, she felt only swift hopelessness crushing down upon her, and fainted away in the machila.
|<< chapter 18||< chapter 1||chapter 20 >||chapter 37 >>|