- CHAPTER XXI. THE INQUIRY.
|<< chapter 20||< chapter 1||chapter 22 >||chapter 37 >>|
MEANWHILE, as Blake rode out across country in the moonlight, to inform the police and fetch the doctor,his mind was full of acute and anxious misgiving. His instinct was to take to flight at once; but if he did so, he inevitably condemned himself, whereas wise discretion might yet save him, failing any accuser. Evidently the boy Twilight was prepared to testify that he saw him try to stop Van Tyl firing, before he was knocked senseless, but that evidence might not go for much before Bobbie's knowledge. The question was, what did Bobbie know? He thought it out in every aspect as he rode along, and gradually came to a glimmering of the truth. He decided that she must have overheard something said at his house, and feigned a headache in order to get away and warn Sir James. He could not bring himself to believe that she had heard the whole conversation, yet not, in her horror, revealed the fact.
He cursed himself that he had yielded to the temptation to persuade her to come to lunch, little dreaming that her motive in coming had been to overhear the conversation. But if she had indeed acted upon something said at his house, he mused, what chance had he to clear himself? It seemed he | | 194 might as well get away while he could. And then, again, he argued, the evidence of the boy who saw him try to stop Van Tyl was strongly in his favour, and might, at any rate, win him the benefit of the doubt. Possibly afterwards the neighbourhood might be an unpleasant place for him to live in, and the notoriety might bring other things to light, but that was less serious, on the whole, than damning himself by running away. Van Tyl's revengeful motive for the crime was so obvious that it would save much attention being directed to him, Blake, who had no such motive. The idea of removing the pegs on the claim would never leak out at all.
Then he thought of how his part had mainly been undertaken to make himself secure with Bobbie, and how, instead, he must certainly have lost her friendship for ever. He gnashed his teeth at the trick he felt Fate had played him. Had good luck been his, he might easily have been the one to save Sir James's life, instead of the boy Jim, and so have made both him and Bobbie his debtors. And instead--
He rode on with compressed lips and a grim expression, more shaken than he cared to own about the future.
There were two British South Africa policemen at the police camp, and, in view of the seriousness of the affair, they decided that they would both go to the scene of the tragedy and wait there until the doctor arrived, for the necessary formula before burying the Dutchman. They lent Blake one of their mules to go on to Geegi, in exchange for his horse, which could easily return to Loka after a f and a rest. Thus, in a wonderfully short time, considering the distance, Dr. Jennings was on his | | 195 way to the Glynns' mine. Betty and her two brothers had already left on their homeward journey, and arrived some hours before him, all unconscious of the news that awaited them concerning what had transpired during their absence. Betty, full of anxious alarm, hastened to Bobbie, who was still feeling too exhausted to talk much, and continued very reticent. Only once she seemed to become alert, and that was when Betty exclaimed:
"Where was Toby all the time? He never came to Geegi, after all."
"Didn't he follow you there?" Bobbie asked.
"No, he did not come at all. But where is he? If he were at the store, he must have heard by now, and, of course, he would come at once to see you."
Bobbie turned her head away again with an air of weariness, and Betty did not press the subject.
But, later on, after the doctor had paid his visit and gone on to Loka, she came to Bobbie again with an anxious, worried expression, and said: "Toby seems to have suddenly taken leave of his senses. Ken went to look for him at the store, in case he was laid up with fever, and his boy says he has gone away altogether."
She paused wonderingly, but, as Bobbie made no comment, ran on: "Sixpence told Kenneth he went to Mr. Blake's, and then came back and packed up a few things in a bag, and went off on his bicycle. He told him to go on trading with the things left in the store, and he would send him a message by a white man soon. Isn't it extraordinary? What in the world has made him go off like that, without saying good-bye to anyone?"
She waited, and Bobbie tried to say quite naturally, | | 196 "I suppose he had a message by runner, and had not time to say good-bye. Perhaps a cable came from England, and was sent on from Geegi. If he had to catch Friday's train, he would have to hurry tremendously."
"I think, if he were going to England, he would have managed to say good-bye to you," Betty said significantly. "Probably you will get a note in a day or two."
When she was alone Bobbie turned her face to the wall in great bitterness. So he had indeed gone! When would he come back to let her explain? Would he ever come back?
For a moment she almost wished the shot had killed her. If he never came back he would never hear the true explanation of her conduct, but would go on thinking all his life that she was faithless. If she wrote to him, where could she send the letter? How could she be sure he would believe it? She felt that one interview would have sufficed to clear up everything; but how could she ever attain even that, if he had indeed flung away in such bitter anger that he would never come back any more? She felt almost glad of the pain in her wrist and shoulder, because it prevented her dwelling long upon anything, and also provided an excuse for her to remain in her hut, instead of having cheerfully to face the others and answer more questions.
The next day the doctor and the two policemen came to the huts, and she had to screw up her courage for the most trying ordeal of all. Van Tyl had been buried where he lay as speedily as possible, and a long deposition of all that had happened had been taken on the spot from Sir James. Only Bobbie's | | 197 evidence and her native servant's and Blake's were wanting. Bobbie tried to excuse herself; but Sir James told her she need only say that she overheard the Dutchman speak of killing him, and, if she could find the strength for that, it was possible he could spare her appearing any more. In the end she proved herself a very clever witness, for she satisfied both policemen that what she had overheard in the morning was the clue she had acted upon, making the time tally with her late start, instead of admitting that it had been at an early hour. Afterwards Sir James had a quiet talk with the police, and urged upon them that there was nothing to gain by publicity, as it was obviously a case of private revenge against himself. That Shagann's natives were inculpated he did not doubt in his private mind; but there was no direct evidence, and he intended to deal with them himself. To this end, he had kept the axe that Jim used, and meant to find its owner later on. If the police had their suspicions that the affair was being hushed up, they let them rest. Sir James was known and respected throughout the country, and many times he had proved himself a good friend to the police force. It was more his affair than anyone else's, and, if he wished it hushed up, they might very well humour him. The fact of Van Tyl being an ex-convict, with a record that proclaimed him a desperate character, made it easier; and the general opinion of all was that, since Sir James was safe, the country was well rid of him.
The police said they would go on to Blake's place for the night, and see if he had any further information to add before they drew up their report.
Dr. Jennings remained at the Glynns' camp, to | | 198 dress Bobbie's wound and see her well on her way to recovery before he departed to his home, forty miles away.
It was with an anxious heart that Blake watched from his verandah the approach of the two policemen, whose report of Bobbie's evidence must mean so much to him. His thin, bronzed face had a grey look as he made them welcome with as nonchalant a manner as he could command, and asked them how matters had progressed. Their first words and their manner were sufficient to tell him he was safe for the present; and instantly he felt his courage revive, for he knew he could still hope to "bluff" his way to acquittal.
"I don't suppose you want much evidence from me," he said, with a light air. "My chief part seems to be to suffer an endless regret that the murderer knocked me unconscious, so that I could not render the help that Sir James's native servant did."
"I suppose you knew it was intended murder?" the senior asked.
"I guessed it. As soon as I realised Van Tyl was in the neighbourhood as well as Sir James, I knew he meant mischief. He came here with a long rigmarole about his claim on Loka kopje which he had inherited from a brother, but I did not believe much of his story. I knew too well what he was. I had heard him swear--not once, but fifty times-- to 'do for' Sir James; and, seeing that Sir James was trekking with only black boys, and in such a lonely neighbourhood, I put two and two together, and drew my own conclusions."
"I believe you saw him on the day of the attempt"| | 199
"Yes, I saw him in the morning, and, by the way he spoke of Sir James, I expected he was bent on following him that very night. He knew all about Shagann's natives having such a bad name, and I am confident he meant to shelter himself behind it, and make the deed appear to be theirs. I should have reached Sir James sooner, only I went to Loka first, and lost a lot of time finding him."
"And when you came to the camp, you found this man Van Tyl already there."
"I saw Miss Glynn in the firelight before Sir James's tent, looking as if she were so done up she could hardly stand. Then Van Tyl cursed furiously, and raised his gun to fire either at her or at Sir James when he came out from the tent. I sprang at him and tried to reach his uplifted arms, but he stood above me on the bank, and I only caught him below the shoulders. He fired instantly, and, before I could recover my footing, he knocked me senseless down the bank."
They had a little more talk, and then the senior policeman said: "Sir James seems anxious not to have any more publicity than can be helped. He feels it is a personal affair, and no good will be gained by a lot of discussion in public."
"Quite right, too. I thoroughly agree with him. Nothing is to be gained by outsiders hearing of attempted murders in lonely districts. It gives a country a bad name. Why shouldn't we keep it to ourselves down here, if he is willing? I am sure Miss Glynn is not one to like notoriety."
"I understand she particularly wishes to be left out altogether, if possible. But, for my part, I think she ought to have a special medal for the | | 200 splendid way in which she managed to get to Sir James. Not many women would have faced that journey on foot through the kopjes in the heat of the afternoon."
"Indeed, no." He paused, then asked: "Has she given her evidence? Was she--was she well enough to do so?"
"She only said that she overheard some remarks of Van Tyl's when he went to their place for a drink of water, and was frightened lest he meant harm to Sir James that very night, when he was camped near Shagann's kraal."
"Did she tell you what she overheard?" In spite of himself, Blake could not refrain from asking questions. He felt instinctively that his fate must rest on Bobbie's evidence.
"No, I don't think she did;" and the policeman puckered his forehead somewhat. "She looks pretty ill, and Doctor Jennings told me to get the interview over as quickly as possible, so we did not press her. I dare say she will tell more later."
Blake turned the conversation then to the Dutchman, telling them what he knew of him in the Transvaal, and keeping their attention fixed upon him instead of upon the event which had brought them there. He gave them a good dinner, and finally sent them both to bed slightly hilarious and well pleased with their host.
But, when he was alone, a restless sense of uncertainty possessed him. There was something about the inquiry that he did not understand. As Bobbie had baffled him when she came to see him, so she baffled him now in her actions and her account of them. There was a mystery about her part all | | 201 through that he could not grasp. It perplexed and worried him deeply, for, until he knew her real attitude, he could not feel safe. Was it possible she knew all and chose to shield him? It so, why? Or did she in truth know nothing concerning his share, and only believe the same as the others?
"I must try to see her," he decided. "And I must find out what has become of Toby Fitzgerald, for if he chose to reveal that she was at my house for lunch, things would look black for me, and her story would be discredited."
|<< chapter 20||< chapter 1||chapter 22 >||chapter 37 >>|