- CHAPTER XX. TOBY'S DESPAIR.
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WHEN Bobbie, overthrown by the poignant recollection of her last sight of Toby, succumbed to the pain and anxiety and exhaustion of the hour, he, Toby, was likewise out under the open skies, with haggard eyes watching the dawn. She had been right when she judged by instinct that the shock would, in a sense, throw him temporarily off his balance.
Toby had so built on her, so believed in her, so hoped through her, that, with the eclipsing of her influence, he became like an anchorless ship driven at the mercy of the wind and waves. He felt he would rather have died than lived to find her faithless and unreliable. It shattered all his world at a blow. What use any more to put up with the tiresome details of Rhodesian life, and worry with a store in the wilderness, in order to buy a farm and make a comfortable home? Without Bobbie these things were but idle folly to him. He might as well go into that expensive regiment and fritter away his time at home, or start off across the world,without any definite aim, as a soldier of fortune.
If only she had not given her promise that very week to have nothing to do with Blake that she could avoid, he might not have taken the discovery | | 186 so violently to heart all in a moment. What would have seemed to him black in any case was infinitely blacker because of that unfortunate promise. Without that she might not have known how bitterly he disliked Blake, and how much he would resent her going to his house. Without that he might have waited to give her a chance to explain. But, in the face of that promise, no loophole remained. On the contrary, it opened the way to accusations and suppositions that otherwise would not have entered his head. He believed now that she had purposely commended his proposition to go to Geegi with the others that she might have an entirely free day. His warped mind ran from accusation to accusation with alarming ease. Perhaps Blake had been playing with her, and she, in her turn, had been playing with him, Toby, to gain ground with Blake. It was Blake's charming house and farm and money she had in her mind all along, and he had been a mere tool.
When he tried to pull himself together, and remember how tremendously she had helped him with her friendship and sympathy, and was just succeeding in softening his heart, the damning evidence of the scene in Blake's sitting-room would return with redoubled force, blotting out all else. He now persuaded himself that he had seen Blake's arm round her, and that, as he appeared, Blake had been kissing her. Her utter silence and dumbness were easily explained now. What explanation could she possibly offer of the smallest use at such a moment? What explanation that he could listen to for an instant? Besides, what need of any explanation? The perfidy was there in all its naked | | 187 effrontery. He felt she had damned his faith in all women for ever-taken the sun out of his heaven, and the daylight from his life.
In the first overwhelming shock, he had only been conscious that somehow or other he must get away. It was during the hours that followed he let himself build up so black a case against her, aided by his warped reason. When he rushed blindly down the steps of the verandah, instant flight was the chief thought in his mind--how to get away so that he need see her face no more, nor the triumphant scorn that had dominated Blake's countenance.
In a sharp, short tone, utterly unlike his usual pleasant manner, he told his boy he was going back to the store, and he must follow him quickly. Here, without allowing himself time to think, he threw a few things into a bag, changed into a respectable grey-flannel suit, and prepared to start on his hundred-mile journey to the nearest railway station.He strapped the bag on to the back of the bicycle, filled his whisky flask, stuffed his pocket with dry biscuits, while his boy looked on in astonishment, and then told him he was going away for some time. He gave him the key of the store, and told him to go on trading, and account for stock when he came back. The boy asked him how long he would be, and he said he did not know, but he would send him a message by a white man presently. Finally,without one backward look, with a strangled sensation in his throat, and a deadly sense of injury in his heart, he mounted his bicycle and rode away.
The first night he spent out on the veldt, under the stars, little indeed dreaming, as he sat by his lonely fire nursing the bitterness in his heart, that | | 188 Bobbie was even then in peril of her life for Sir James Fortescue's sake. He tried not to think of her at all, for, if he did, he was only conscious of a black, despairing sensation that urged temptingly: "What is the good of anything? Why go on at all? Why not finish with it all here under the stars, in the sweet night air?"
Once he even took his revolver from his belt and looked at it. But a memory seemed to strike him of the many men who had committed suicide in Rhodesia for one reason or another, and how weak and paltry it always seemed. He would not be as weak as that if he could help it. After all, he was the son of a distinguished soldier. He would not disgrace his father that way. He would take the more manly method of reckless daring and careless devilry. Once get away from the country where she had been so much to him--had, indeed, been all his world--and he would find a way to drown memory and fling despair to the winds. His plans had been speedily made as he cycled through the hot afternoon. He would go down to the colony where an uncle of his held a high position, and accept a constantly repeated and always open invitation.
From there, if his father wired him a remittance, he would take the east coast steamer to Bombay, and visit his brother in India. Probably he could find a post there that would keep him in food and clothes while he considered future plans. Of one thing he felt resolute--nothing should bring him back to Rhodesia, that fair, lovely country where he had been so happy until Fate dealt the blow that laid him in the dust.
If Bobbie married Blake, at least he would never set eyes on her as Blake's wife, nor hear her spoken | | 189 of by his name. He was persuaded in his mind that, after his unexpected appearance, they would get married at once, and, with a strange insistence, he was determined to shake the dust of Rhodesia from his feet before the event took place. Rhodesia for him had long meant Bobbie Glynn. When the country no longer held anyone of that name, he would have done with it. Both memories must be killed in his heart together. He would strive to blot out that year of his life that had been so carelessly happy, and go on as if it had never existed.
He lay on his back, with his hands behind his head, and looked up at the stars-those same stars gazing with their cold, unseeing eyes upon the scene of the tragedy near Loka. He told himself he was but an atom, after all, and despair was foolish. Let him seize what gaiety and excitement he could out of life, and resolutely tear from his mind all that had passed. He had been weak in caring so much. Why let oneself care at all, in a universe where one is such an atom? He would be wiser in future--he would love lightly, and sip pleasure as a bee sips honey. He saw the first streak of light in the east, and watched it with a hard look on his usually sunny face that changed his whole appearance. Already he seemed years older, and as if some boyishness that had been his greatest charm had fallen from him. He might in future appear more striking, more interesting, as an extremely good-looking man of the world, but it was doubtful if the freshness and glory of his morning manhood could ever return.
And Bobbie saw that first streak of light also, as Sir James helped her, with his tender solicitude, into the machila; and because a pitiless instinct told | | 190 her of her lover's unrelenting, bitter condemnation, her strength flowed from her utterly for the first time
But consciousness returned all too quickly, and with a faint, pain-wrung smile, she told her protector she felt able to make another attempt to start. A very little later the cavalcade set out, the boys carrying the machila as steadily as they could, and Sir James pacing along beside it. When they reached the huts, he persuaded her to go to bed, saying he would keep watch outside until the doctor arrived from Geegi, probably accompanied by Betty and the brothers, whom Blake was to tell if he found them.
Bobbie was glad to take his advice, and soon fell into a deep sleep, refreshed by the feeling that anyone as kind and thoughtful as Sir James was taking everything in hand to save her whatever exhausting arranging or explaining he could. When she awoke, he sent a tray to her with eggs that he had poached himself, and an appetising little milk-pudding, later coming to the door of her hut to inquire if she were eating it, and to persuade her to make a special effort.
"I have taken the liberty of setting up my camp close by," he told her, in his pleasant, sympathetic voice, "as I hope to be able to spare you a good deal of worrying work over the inquiry."
Bobbie thanked him and lay back with a slightly perplexed expression. Of course, there would be an inquiry. She had forgotten that. And what was she to say about Blake?
After a time Sir James came to her with some tea, remarking that the others might arrive at any moment, and he thought it would refresh her and stimulate her a little.
Glancing away to the horizon, he then related | | 191 quietly how they had buried the brave Jim in a lovely spot high up on a kopje, about five hundred yards from the huts.
"It was a very impressive little ceremony," he told her, and she knew by his voice how keenly he had felt it. "The boys dug a grave, and we lined it with ferns and flowers, and then lowered the body, wrapped in the sort of bright-coloured blanket a boy loves. Then my carriers all gathered round, and I had a little talk with them about Jim's bravery, and how splendidly he had always served me, and how, because of it, he had gone to heaven. Then I said I should have a headstone put up, telling of his deed in their language, and that I should also have it inscribed in a watch, to be presented to his kraal. They hung on every word, and I am sure they all mentally resolved to try and follow his example. Then I said the Lord's Prayer, and after that we filled in the grave. I had a mound made, and now they are collecting blocks of granite from the kopje to fence it round."
"I am glad you treated him like that," she murmured; "his brothers will appreciate it very much."
"Some objection may be raised at the inquiry," Sir James told her, "but I think I can smooth it over all right. They are likely to think both bodies should have been left until the police arrived."
"Is there bound to be an inquiry?" she asked a little anxiously.
"Something of the kind, but I think we can keep it quiet. For my part, I should like to keep it as quiet as possible. Is that your wish?" And he looked at her questioningly.
"Oh, yes, please. Need I come in at all?"
"I am afraid you are the only one who can prove | | 192 it was attempted murder, unless--unless-- How much do you think Blake knew?"
The question was so direct that it startled her, and Sir James was quick to see its effect. He was not at all sure, in his own mind, concerning what part Blake had played, and was curious to know what she knew about it. Bobbie, however, was still troubled and undecided. Evidently there was no direct evidence against Blake. It rested with her to win for him the benefit of the doubt, or to damn him for ever. And, though for a woman, Bobbie was not very religious in the church-going sense, she was yet a Christian in a true spirit--the spirit of mercy and kindness and forgiveness--and she would never willingly damn any soul alive of her own act.
"I think," she said at last, with a little hesitation not lost upon Sir James, "that possibly a native may have warned him there was something wrong, and he rode over to make sure."
"But a native did not warn you?" asked Sir James significantly.
"No, I overheard something that Van Tyl said."
"He came here and asked for a drink of water, and I was behind the palisade, and he did not know."
She turned her head away wearily, and, with quick compassion, Sir James murmured: "I am a brute to worry you now! Get strong first, little woman. I will try and manage everything as quickly and quietly as possible."
To himself, as he stood alone outside, looking along the track in the direction of Geegi, he said thoughtfully: "There is something about Blake's part in the affair that she does not want to give away."
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