- CHAPTER XXV THE MESSAGE.
|<< chapter 24||< chapter 1||chapter 26 >||chapter 37 >>|
THE next day Blake came to say good-bye to all of them, choosing the luncheon hour because he felt it would look less as if any change had come over their former friendly relationship. He and Toby had often dropped in to lunch, and lazed for a little afterwards during the heat. He knew it would be an ordeal to explain his sudden move, but feared to shirk the ordeal, lest his going off without saying anything should give rise to suspicions.
So he rode up, looking unusually spick and span in riding-breeches and gaiters and soft white shirt; but his sinister eyes were a little more furtive, and the line of his thin lips was very hard.
"Sir James told us you were going away," Ken remarked, throwing himself into a comfortable chair with a tired air. "What a chap you are for sudden changes of plans!" He was in his working overalls, and had a generally all-over dusty appearance, with face and hands none too clean, yet he somehow made a pleasing contrast to the successful farmer.
There was nothing furtive about Ken's blue eyes, and, though his face was not clean, it was exceedingly attractive. He had just the dogged, determined air of the best type of young British colonist, and | | 231 one knew that even the relentless, hard work and ill-luck of the past years had not in the smallest degree beaten him. If he had worn a depressed air at times, it was largely because it seemed that the home might have to be given up and the girls go out to paid posts. Directly the prospect brightened, he was all hope and determination again, ready to sow more dreams into the sometimes pitiless soil of Rhodesia. Bay was of a quieter and more thoughtful nature, and often longed for the companionship of educated, thoughtful men and a path of life where there were new books and papers, and one could meet oftener with original thinkers.
But he, too, was blessed with his share of British determination, and, if he ever attained the home he longed for, he meant to win it by genuine hard work. There have been some writers of newspaper articles who pin their faith upon the Scotsman as the best type of colonist, but one can only wonder in what actual field of labour, and among what settlers the writers formed their impression--probably, as is so often the case, a very superficial one of passing observation. If the Scotsman is content with oatmeal where the Englishman demands roast beef, at least the Englishman does not hoard his money or his roast beef, and with them he acquires a cheerful attitude towards many trials.
It is not merely economy and hard work that are needed to make a colonist a success. In many senses, the man who laughs and is ever hopeful is a greater asset to his colony, for he will probably stay there and spend his money there, while the frugal man will often take his savings away. In Rhodesia,Irishmen have done well, and many thoughtless, | | 232 idle "Paddys" have proved their metal astonishingly, to the unending surprise of various "home" folk, who believed them incapable of sustained endeavour. Scotsmen have done well, too, but not better than others; and any man is a good colonist who is not afraid of work, and can manage to be hopeful in spite of difficulties.
Perhaps Ken and Bay Glynn owed more to their sisters than they knew, for the man who "messes" along on indifferent food, and with almost no home comforts, has a smaller chance of keeping fit and well than the man with a woman to "boss him up." The expression is Rhodesian, and not pretty, but more expressive than any other, for it includes the care of all his welfare generally, even to representing an excellent reason for cleanliness.
And every year now women appear in greater numbers, spreading far and wide over the lonely districts, and this is one of the country's surest hopes of a great future. For the man, alone, almost always "pigs" it--another Rhodesian expression--be he English, Scotch, Irish, Dutch or South African,and the natives employed in his housework take advantage of him in many ways until a woman takes him in hand and stirs things up generally. Sometimes the men think they prefer peace and quietness; but, in the long run, they know that it was in the hurricane period that they flourished best and felt the fittest.
And so, though the Glynns' dining-room consisted of a thatched hut with a baked-mud floor, it had a home-like air such as few mere men could have given to it. The sideboard, made out of old packing-cases by the girls themselves, and painted with the green | | 233 ant-proof paint, was partly covered with a pretty cloth that hid its failings, and had a large "Liberty" bowl of flowers and grasses. On a little home-made table, covered with another pretty cloth, were silver photograph frames, more flowers, and a work-basket. A home-made bookcase was draped with green cloth, so that its lower half formed a cupboard, and there were native mats over the floor. And if the table linen was not particularly fine, at least it was spotlessly clean, and had been starched by Betty herself, and the very curtailed number of spoons and forks shone as when new. The commissariat, now that Sir James was at hand, was no longer the burden to the girls that it had been before, and Blake found himself seated before what, at a Rhodesian outpost, was quite a dainty repast. But his discomfort was great, and he heartily wished his visit over. The good fellowship of Ken and Bay, who believed he had tried to thwart Van Tyl just as truly as Bobbie, and the politeness of Sir James, were as trying to him as Betty's obvious effort to hide her distrust, and Bobbie's silence. When Ken, suddenly speaking of Toby, remarked, "By the way, his boy says he went to your place for a bicycle pump the day he left," he nearly lost his head.
Bobbie rose from the table and went to the sideboard to cut some bread, and, with an effort, Blake pulled himself together.
"So I find," he answered with a forced laugh; "and, wherever he is, my bicycle pump appears to have gone with him."
"Well, if you run into him on your travels, tell him to hurry up and come back, because my small stock of patience will not run to dealing with many | | 234 more Kaffir women on his behalf. One might almost as well trade with monkeys." And Ken's face expressed his disgust. "All the same"--with a sudden gleam--"I got rid of an awful red flannelette nighty to one yesterday!"
"You could never hope to sell as Toby does," Bay told him smilingly. "He just makes his customers laugh, and sells them things without their knowing it. He would have done well here by and by, with the mines opening and the natives with more money to buy. It was silly of him to get the trek fever just now."
After lunch the girls retired to their hut, and the men sat on a little; then Bay and Ken went back to their work, and Sir James strolled a short distance with Blake.
"Well," he said, when they were out of earshot, "are you going to consider naming a price?"
Conscious chiefly of his discomfort during the visit, Blake replied impulsively:
"Would you like to come and look round?"
"I should," said Sir James, and walked on with him.
Thus Sir James was away when, after an early cup of tea, Betty went to her garden and Bobbie was left reading alone. She found she could not keep her attention fixed, and finally laid her book down and rose up to go for a stroll. At a bend in the path, which ran down to the road to Geegi, she stood silently watching the lovely colours in the sky and thinking of Toby. It seemed to her that she was saying good-bye to him. A message could hardly come now, and the merciless wheel of Fate was whirling her on. After to-day she must teach herself to forget him and begin anew.| | 235
Then suddenly she descried a boy approaching on a bicycle, and her heart thumped unevenly in spite of herself. No boy would be coming thus except with a message, either a letter, a note, or a cable.
As he came nearer, she saw that he looked like a civilised boy, and had probably come from the post-office. Cables are not usually delivered, but she knew the brothers had been expecting one from Johannesburg, and had made arrangements that it should be sent, and afterwards had received their reply by letter, so that no cable would be expected.
The boy came on swiftly, and she held her hands tightly clenched behind her, standing very upright and still. Instinct told her the longed-for message had come at last, and, whether it brought her joy or pain, she meant to receive it bravely. Then the boy stopped beside her and took from his coat-pocket the tell-tale yellow envelope. Half mechanically she received it and read the brief address: "Glynn, Geegi."
For a moment she held it in her hand, fearful of opening it. Would it tell her he was coming back, or would it shatter her last hope?
With an effort she turned it over and tore the envelope, feeling a little dizzy as she drew out the flimsy sheet. Finally she opened it and read the message. Then suddenly she grew rigid, and a hard look came into her face.
"You can go to the house for food," she said to the boy, and, as he departed, she crushed the telegram in her hand.
It was a wireless message, sent from a ship, and ran: "Please dispose of store for me. Am sailing for Bombay. Will write later."
|<< chapter 24||< chapter 1||chapter 26 >||chapter 37 >>|