- CHAPTER XXVII. TOBY MAKES A NEW FRIEND.
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TOBY MAKES A NEW FRIEND.
THE voyage to Durban was uneventful, except that he won more money, and again reached a journey's end with bank-notes where he had previously carried gold. He won three first prizes in the "sweeps," and had unvarying good luck at cards. It made him smile ironically. Surely the old adage was true indeed: "Lucky at cards, unlucky in love."
At Durban he stayed at the Marine Hotel, and amused himself shark-fishing while he waited for the day when the Bombay boat would sail. This time he felt less inclined to be sociable, and avoided any overtures from other visitors. All his thoughts were bent upon India. Surely, as far away as that, with entirely fresh surroundings, he would at length forget?
The only visitor he noticed at all was a little Portuguese lady, sitting alone at the next table to him, and looking very forlorn. She appeared to be hardly more than twenty-five, and shy of speaking to anyone, though her large dark eyes wandered often to Toby's face. All day she sat alone on the wide verandah of the hotel, overlooking the bay, and at last Toby's kind heart was touched, and he paused by her chair to ask her how she liked Durban. She | | 244 flushed charmingly, and looked pleased as she answered: "I am only waiting here for my ship. I do not like being alone, and I am shy--do you call it? --of my English."
"I am only waiting for my ship also. I am taking the German ship to Bombay."
"Ah"--and her eyes lit up- "I take that one also! I am going to Chinde, where my husband will meet me, and then we go up country, where he is a Government official."
"I thought these boats did not stop at Chinde."
"They do not generally, but he has obtained special permission, and he will meet me there. I am frightened he will not come," she added confidingly. "He has so far to journey to the coast. I shall be miserable alone. My father put me on board the ship to come here, and the captain brought me to the hotel; but now I must go on board alone, and if my husband is not at Chinde, I shall be terrified."
"You must let me help you. I believe we start tomorrow morning early. They are small ships, and not very comfortable, I'm afraid."
Her whole face expressed her relief and gratitude, and Toby sat down beside her, because she seemed to him piquant and artless, and rather to be pitied. She told him she was full of nervous dread about going to live at an outpost, but her husband had sent for her, and so she was going.
"Perhaps you will like it better than you expect," he suggested.
"No"--and she shook her head decidedly--"I do not like the quiet places, with no people, and no shops, and no bands. Alfonse does not like them | | 245 either, and that will make him cross and bad-tempered."
"Then why doesn't he get a job somewhere else?"
"He cannot"--with a dismal air. "We had money when we married. His father was English, and we went to England, and we were so happy there, we spent all we had. When there was only a little left, he tried to sell motor-cars to make m re, but it was not a success. Then we had nothing, and we had to go to my father in Portugal. Alfonse is half English, and he does not like Portugal; but as he had nothing, when my father get him this post, he had to take it. And it is so far away, and there are many lions, and I know I shall be for ever frightened."
"Couldn't you have stayed with your father?"
"Portuguese wives do not like to stay with their fathers as if their husbands could not afford to keep them. And, besides, Alfonse wrote and said I was to come. He will be waiting for me at Chinde."
Toby looked into the small, lovely face, and he thought to himself how it was from all countries the demand was made--the demand upon the women to go out into the wilderness with the men. There w as something infinitely pathetic to him about the thought of such a frail, delicate-looking little creature in the wilds of Portuguese East Africa, with her frank love of bands and shops and people; and he thought the husband must be rather a poor creature to bring her to it so quickly by running through his money. It was a small easement of his own sense of loneliness to take care of her, and he was glad they were starting their journey on the same steamer.| | 246
They went down to the quay together the next morning, and all her forlornness vanished in the joy of having a protector. A travelling circus and menagerie was going up the coast to Delagoa Bay and she watched with quite a gleeful interest while the various animals were swung aboard and lowered into the hold. Then nothing would do but Toby must help her to ascertain that they all had water and by the time they steamed out of the harbour, she seemed to have adopted him as an old friend. Toby was surprised to find how interesting she could be, and once more gave himself up to the solace of an attractive companionship.
There were very few passengers on board, and these few of a nondescript nature, so it fell about naturally that they should spend the whole day together, and sit up late to get the cool night air on deck.
At Delagoa Bay they went ashore, and explored the town of Lorenco Marques, staying late to hear the band in the piazza, and returning reluctantly to their hot and stuffy cabins.
"It is so hot down there!" Lucia moaned plaintively, and looked at the cool, inviting deck under the stars.
"Don't let's go down yet," he said impulsively. "Come to our old seat for a little." And he took her arm and drew her along.
He felt her tremble and shrink a little, but she made no protest, suffering herself to be led to the: secluded corner where their chairs were.
For a few moments they sat in silence, and then, half-unconsciously, a sigh broke from Toby's lips.
"You sigh," she said softly. "You are not | | 247 happy. I have seen it. You laugh and you joke, but all the time, underneath, you sigh."
He glanced at her in the dim light in some surprise. It astonished him that she had had the perspicacity to perceive it. Was she, then, not such a child, after all?
"Oh, I don't know," he said a little callously. "I suppose we all get the blues occasionally."
"I think it is more than that"--and her voice was very winsome. "The blues, as you call it, dues not mean sadness, and sometimes you are sad."
"How did you discover it?" His voice had a softer note. "You have not had much time for sadness."
"You think not?"--with a little plaintive smile. Then she added timidly: "Sympathy is good. Will not you tell me?"
Toby ran his fingers through his hair restlessly, and Lucia waited, with a soft allurement in her whole attitude.
Then suddenly the luxury of speaking seemed to cry to him, and in a few terse sentences he told her all.
"Ah," she said, when he ceased, "were you not a little quick to decide? Perhaps there was an explanation."
"I should have thought so if she had not promised. But she had only just given the promise. She could not have forgotten already. I was fooled!" he finished bitterly. "I thought she cared, and she did not--that is all. I shall not make the same silly mistake again."
"She was very foolish," murmured the soft little voice beside him. "She should have known you | | 248 were a man worth--" She stopped suddenly in some confusion, and he saw her interlace her fingers tightly.
"A man worth loving, were you going to say?" --speaking a little harshly. "Oh, no--just a silly boy to make a fool of!"
"Other women will not make a fool of you."
"I don't know. I think it is very unlikely I shall give them the chance."
"No, no!"--with a tremulous note in her voice. "They will be ready to die for you, to suffer for you what you are suffering for her!"
He turned to her with a laugh on his lips, and saw in the dim light that her long lashes were shining with tears. Once more she seemed to have that infinitely pathetic, forlorn appearance, and his heart smote him. 'Why, I have brought tears to your eyes telling you of my troubles! That must never be. Don't be so sorry, little woman. I have learnt my lesson--I shall not be a fool again."And he clasped his big hand over the tiny ones lying in her lap, with a warm pressure.
She drew in her breath sharply and sat very still for a moment. Then, as if she had been waiting to steady her voice, she said: "I cannot bear you to talk like that. Some day"--another pause--"you will love again, and then you will not feel bitter any more, and you will forget."
"Never! She was not like other girls. I cannot tell you what she was like, but no one will ever take her place. But you are a dear little soul to be so sympathetic, and to listen to me, and I thank you very much." With that he raised the two little hands to his lips and kissed them. She sat | | 249 as if spellbound, and, as if to rally her, he said: "Now you must confide in me. What sadness have you to make you read so quickly when another is not happy?"
"I may not tell my sadness," she breathed, "except to the stars, when no one can hear."
He looked at her with keen, kindly eyes. "Not even to Alfonse?" he asked.
"Ah, no, no"--with a quick, almost frightened tone--"never to Alfonse!" Then she added, with a child-like dignity: "Alfonse sends for me, so I come." Something in her strained, white face made him suddenly thoughtful. The simple declaration revealed side-lights. Was it not the desolation only that she dreaded ahead? Was she, perhaps, going to the silent martyrdom of the woman alone at an outpost with a man she did not love? He felt it was too delicate a subject to speak of, and yet, just because he was so lonely and sore himself, her loneness appealed overpoweringly to him. Suddenly he wanted to take her in his arms and comfort her, just for the healing touch of her soft, warm little body in his grasp. He moved nearer, and his hand upon hers tightened.
"Poor little girl!" he whispered, wondering if he might take her in his arms.
But, as if she half divined his thoughts, she seemed suddenly to force herself to her feet.
"You must not be too kind, Mr. Fitzgerald," she said, in a voice that was not very steady. "It does not always make sadness easier. I think I will go to bed. Good night!" And she glided noiselessly away, to sob herself to sleep, in her little hot cabin, under the bedclothes.
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