- CHAPTER XXVIII. BOBBIE'S ANSWER.
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WHEN Bobbie handed Toby's message to Bay, directly he came up from the mine, she laughed with that new hard ring in her voice and said: "I didn't bring it straight back, because I knew you wouldn't be here; and in the meantime I seem to have sat on it."
Noting particularly the foreign note in her voice, Betty went to her brother and leaned over his shoulder as he smoothed out the crumpled paper and read the telegram.
"Well," she exclaimed, "I never thought Toby would have treated friends in this unceremonious way! Surely he could have written before he sailed? A letter from Bombay will not reach us for weeks."
Bay looked puzzled and unhappy. "Perhaps he will post somewhere on the coast. I can't believe he would go to India and never send us more than this. He is probably on his way across already. How is anyone to know when and where a wireless started? The date and the name of the ship reveal nothing at all to us."
"Except that he has gone," said Bobbie. She seemed to be holding her head a little higher than | | 251 usual, with a half-defiant air. All her generous instincts of justice were outraged. What right had Toby to condemn her so utterly without giving her one chance to explain--to jump instantly to the conclusion that she was treacherous and base-- to let all that had gone before go for nothing at all, and be influenced solely by the one fateful hour? Did he truly forget everything they had ever said to each other of truth and honour and loyalty? Was it possible he credited her with nothing but lying,lying, lying? She clenched her teeth together in a swift whirl of feeling. If the fateful hour were to all appearances utterly damning, for the sake of what had gone before, he owed it to her to hear what she had to say before judging. At first she had felt only bitter sorrow that such a shock should have come upon him, and she not there to comfort him. All her motherliness and tenderness had yearned over him, knowing well how his life would in the first unreasoning hours seem torn up by the roots; but at the back of it all had been an invincible belief that truth would triumph, and he would come back and let her explain.
But that he should go away to another country like this came upon her as a blow. It was inconceivable, monstrous, that he should calmly put an ocean between them, and bury himself so that not even a letter could reach him! It struck at the very roots of her pride and honour. Surely he could never really have loved her to treat her so!
"I don't understand it at all," Bay continued. "Something must have happened to make him behave so strangely. What in the world is he going to India for?"| | 252
He looked at his sister questioningly, but Bobbie had already turned away, and something in the resolute expression of her face and poise of her head forbade questioning. Of course, the two brothers had known that she and Toby were special friends, but they had not imagined any serious love-making, partly because of Toby's utter lack of the where-withal to contemplate marriage, and because both were full young. They thought they were but helping each other to be gay and pass the time where such a dearth of ordinary pleasuring prevailed. If something serious had come of the friendship in a few years, they would have been very glad, but in the meantime it certainly did not occur to either that Bobbie was not entirely free to marry Sir James if she chose. And naturally now they could but hope that she would. Although, in his readiness to help them in every possible way, Sir James had insistently implied that it was a privilege and delight to make some return for Bobbie's great service to him, they could not choose but perceive the real bent of his feelings, and how in a quiet way he was paying her earnest attentions. And if in the end he won her, they could only rejoice exceedingly that her future happiness should seem so safely secured.
Betty suspected differently--perhaps she had seen more of Bobbie and Toby together--but since she knew nothing of the episode at Blake's, and could not in any way account for Toby's strange behaviour, she only felt a vague anger against him. When she saw the change in Bobbie after the telegram arrived, her anger grew more tangible, though at the same time she had a tinge of worldliness that made her glad at the prospect that he would not now | | 253 come between her sister and Sir James. It was this worldly wisdom that later caused her to leave Sir James and Bobbie alone after dinner. Bay and Kenneth had gone to their little office to settle some boy's pay, and the others were sitting out in the starlight, on a rustic bench a little distance from the huts, where the night air came up from the veldt. Bobbie was talking much more gaily than she had done of late, and laughing more freely, though with a ring that had not the old sincerity. Sir James seemed gayer, too. He was keenly aware of the change in Bobbie, without having any clue to a special cause, and hoped it only meant that her week of indecision was over, and she intended to make him happy. Accordingly, he was grateful to Betty when she got up and said she was going in to write a letter to catch the English mail, leaving them alone with the sweet scents, the familiar sounds, and all the alluring mystery of the night.
"My dear," he said simply, "in two days I must start back to Lobenwayo. I have been away over-long already. Are you going to send me back happy?"
She did not answer, and he drew her hand into his. "You will give me my answer to-night, won't you, dear?" he continued. "If I seem too old, and you cannot love me, tell me so now, and I will try to take it as well as possible. Life cannot be quite the same again. I feel I shall always love you. But I will work harder, if anything, for your sake."
"It is not that you are too old--you do not seem old to me at all-but I am so young and--and inexperienced, and I am afraid I should not--" She paused nervously.| | 254
"Ah, my dear little girl, do you think I am afraid of any single thing except your not loving me? If you can care for me enough to be my wife, I am not afraid of your youthfulness. Indeed, I love it. Together we can do a great deal for Rhodesia, I hope. In that, this youthfulness of yours may be a special help. When I am inclined to grow prosy and a bore, you can laugh at me and keep me young."
"I should be very glad to help you," she told him simply. "I think I care more about that than anything. I think it might make my life seem so much better worth while if I could feel I had been of real use to such a man as you."
He looked at her a little sadly. He recognised that she spoke no word of loving him.
"Yet I hope there is love also," he said gravely, "else you might live bitterly to regret that we ever met."
"I do not think so. From the moment I saw you I was drawn to you. Perhaps I have hardly known you long enough for love, but, ever since we met, you have seemed to me the personification of all that a man should be. I only hesitated because --because it seemed hardly enough to give you."
"I think the other will follow. I love you so much, it seems as if my love must draw yours. I think it will draw it. God knows, I will devote my life to you!"
The voices of Ken and Bay sounded in the distance, and they both stood up.
Sir James put his arm round her, and she did not seek to stay him.
"Bobbie, are you going to give me your promise?" he asked.| | 255
"Yes," she answered bravely, "I will marry you and be the best wife I can; but you mustn't expect too much at first"--and her voice broke a little.
For answer, he took her in his arms and kissed her again and again.
Then, before they turned away he said: "I have practically settled with Blake to buy his farm, and, if I do, I should like to give it to you. Will it please you to have it?"
She shuddered, as if a cold wind had struck her, and her face placed in the darkness, but she only said: "What am I to do with it?"
"You can decide that later. We shall like to come here sometimes for the sake of our memories, and somehow Blake is not a neighbour one wants. Do you think he is?"
"No," she answered steadily.
"We shall both prefer his farm to his company?" --with a little smile.
"I think so."
"He would not decide to-day, and he is leaving early to-morrow. He said he wanted to think it over, and would write to me."
Then they returned slowly to the huts, and Bobbie looked round upon the old familiar scene, feeling that some part of her was dead and buried, and its place taken by a new being who would never laugh with quite the old relish, nor hope with the old hope. But Ken and Bay and Betty all looked glad beyond telling when they heard from Sir James that the engagement was settled, and Bobbie told herself that henceforth she must try to find her gladness in them and in service, even if, deep down in her heart, she cherished Toby's image for ever.
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