- CHAPTER XXVI. TOBY IS GAY.
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TOBY IS GAY.
WHEN Toby found himself once more amid the haunts of men, an unnatural recklessness seized him. He gambled heavily in the train with a chance acquaintance who proved to have known one of his brothers, and won steadily. Instead of reaching Johannesburg with a few sovereigns in his pocket, he owned bank-notes.
They had met in the dining-car, and, talking "sport," had quickly set up an acquaintance. Hereford was in the same regiment as Toby's second brother, and had been on a shooting-trip in North-West Rhodesia with a brother-officer. The latter had gone to see friends in Salisbury, and Hereford was returning alone. He seemed to have plenty of money, and to lose it cheerfully, while Toby's luck only increased his reckless spirit. When they were not playing, he entertained Toby with tales of their adventures in the Kafue Valley with buffalo and rhino, and the sport they had had shooting crocodiles.
"They vanish into the water like a flash," he said, "so you have to be pretty nippy with your shot to get one."
As far as Toby could gather, they had had endless discomforts through their boys, but did not appear | | 237 to have minded much. The individual recommended to them as a cook-boy had apparently never seen a frying-pan or a saucepan before; and the head boy,or "capitao"--supposed to do all the arranging and talking-had a fatal weakness for Kaffir beer, and was usually speechlessly drunk. According to Here-ford, they cuffed the cook-boy into finding out how to cook, and brought the capitao to his senses by leaving him behind fast asleep, upon one occasion, with a dead snake lying across his body. They guessed he would not run away because they owed him money, and was likely to get a big enough fright to impress even his thick head.
This proved the case, for when the boy eventually caught them up, still looking thoroughly scared, they expressed amazement at seeing him.
"Me come quick," the boy exclaimed shudderingly.
"But we told the snake to eat you because you are no good," one said to him seriously. "How is it you are still alive?"
"So much 'no good,' even a snake wouldn't bother to eat you!" said the other. "Better go to kraal for beer and stay there."
But the boy had had his lesson, and he shunned the kraals in future, particularly after Hereford said to him: "Go and drink beer, if you like, but another snake eat you to-night."
"We tried to improve the cook-boy by making him eat some bad meat with creosote sprinkled on it. We thought that was something he would never forget. But would you belie re it?"--plaintively-- "the devil positively liked it--ate it up and asked for more!"
Hereford had still a week's leave to spend some- | | 238 where before returning to Potschestrom, so he persuaded Toby to go to Johannesburg with him. In Toby's reckless mood it was an ill move, and at the end of a week of perpetual riot, he had to spend a few days recovering before he dare present himself to his uncle at Cape Town.
Mr. Fitzgerald was very glad to see him, and Toby found himself made a little hero because he had been keeping a store in some unheard-of part of Rhodesia. His cousins and their friends persisted in treating it as a great joke, and were never tired of teasing him on the subject. No one took his work seriously, or seemed to think it odd that he should suddenly have thrown it up and come south. They apparently thought he had gone for a joke, and, when the joke wore thin, had given it up. It was a gay time of the year, and once more he found himself dragged into a whirl of gaieties that left him little time to think. And this was just what Toby wanted. When there was a pause, and he had time to remember, his goaded mind immediately pictured Bobbie as Blake's wife, and he felt as if it might drive him mad. For, in spite of all he was suffering, and all the things he believed against her, he loved her still with all his strength. He flirted with his pretty cousins and their pretty friends, played tennis, rode, golfed, fished, motored, always with one or more pairs of bright eyes only too ready to smile on him, and yet nothing eased the soreness underlying his gay exterior. He found himself wondering if Bobbie would like this sort of life, and then dwelling in thought upon her clever adaptability, her boundless courage, and her ready cheerfulness in spite of the wilderness trials. Could any of these girls | | 239 face such a life as hers, and remain gay and bright and charming in spite of it? Toby might be boyish in many things, but his nature held real depth, and he knew that only a fine character could face the things Bobbie and Betty had faced without losing one ounce of their inborn gaiety and sweetness. Perhaps he could not have expressed it in words, but in his heart he knew that they had made a fine fight; whether, in the end, Bobbie had proved treacherous or not.
And the deeps of his nature seemed to widen now when he suddenly found himself faced with so dark an awakening. A crispness of thought took the place of his usual laissez-faire, and the man began to eliminate the boy. If he was bitter, it was not altogether a blemish. It gave him force where he had needed force, and made him a strikingly attractive man, instead of merely a delightful youth. But it also made him obdurate in his merciless judgment of Bobbie. He looked round and said: "If all men are liars, all women are deceitful. They are too religious to lie outright, but they get all they want by other underhand ways that seem to them more excusable." Believing this in his bitterness, he moved heartwhole amid the bevy of admiring maidens, trifling with them a little shamelessly, and doing many things that he might later regret, to deaden thought and feeling.
But, after a very little time, even these kinds of amusement failed him as an antidote, and bred only a spirit of disgust, which showed that the old, upright, honest-hearted Toby was by no means dead.
He turned about in his mind for some other plan, and began to think seriously of Bombay. His uncle, | | 240 who had always been fond of him, conceived an even greater liking, and urged him to remain in Cape Town.
"I like you, Toby, and I can get you a good enough billet for a start, and you can live with us until you are able to pay your way."
"You are very good," Toby answered gratefully, "but I've been in the wilderness too long to settle in a town any more. I don't mind towns for two or three weeks, but after that I get the cramp-- I can't breathe freely. This Society life you all live here would just about drive me crazy after a few months."
"Yet you seem to take to it very well," said his uncle, with a kindly smile.
"You have given me an excellent time"--and Toby spoke warmly-"and I'm awfully grateful, and all that, to you and Aunt Mary; but I'm getting restive now, and I must move on."
"But not back to Rhodesia?"--with an inquiring, slightly puzzled air.
Toby coloured. "No. I want to try a new country-something quite different."
"You know what they say about a rolling stone?"
"Yes. But I don't want any moss; it would only be an encumbrance."
"Perhaps you feel like that about it now; but presently, when you want to get married--"
"I shall never want to get married." He chose a flippant note to hide his feelings. " If I'm ever married, it will be because some woman was too clever for me; and then she'll have to find the 'moss'!"
"Ah, well, you're young enough to change your | | 241 mind a good many times yet. Where do you think of going?"
"Basil has often urged me to go and see him in India. He says he can put me up and give me some splendid tiger-shooting. It doesn't cost much by these small German boats to Bombay, and I've rather a hankering after those tigers."
His uncle looked grave. "And at the end of a year or two you will be no more forward than you were at twenty-one. I think you had better have stayed at your store."
"I wasn't much 'forrader' with five pounds a month profits"--smiling slightly. "Anyhow, there's time enough for work. If the governor sends me the remittance I asked for, I shall go and have a look at India, and perhaps get a billet in some outlandish place there."
There was a chorus of disapproval when his intentions became known, among both maids and matrons; for though he possessed no money, he was, at least, General Fitzgerald's son, and the nephew of an influential Government man. He might have chosen more than one bride with a small fortune; but a tall, slim girl with a regally-carried head, dressed generally in a short, business-like khaki skirt, and much occupied with odd occupations, such as carpentering and even building, filled all the background of his mind, whether he would or no, and made him long to get away from the country, where her presence threatened his peace of mind continually. So he laughed at the maids and the matrons, and watched anxiously for his father's letter. When it came, containing the desired remittance, he made no attempt to conceal his relief, | | 242 and sallied forth to inquire when a ship would next leave Durban for Bombay.
He found he must hasten to catch the first steamer between Cape Town and Durban to be in time for it, and hurriedly got his few things together. He was glad there was not much time for leave-taking, and almost none for reproaches, which, in a sense, he deserved, for had he not lightly taken advantage of lips that smiled invitingly? He felt a sudden longing for the rise and sweep of the mighty billows of the Southern Pacific, and the sting of the salt breezes on board ship. Thus the first evening found him pacing the deck with a revivified consciousness and a ray of hope that life might yet hold something to make it worth while, even if it were only tiger-shooting in India. Spurred by this feeling, he sought the "wireless" operator, and sent his curt request to the Glynn brothers to dispose of his store.
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