- CHAPTER XXIX. SIR JAMES IS ANXIOUS.
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SIR JAMES IS ANXIOUS.
IT is hardly possible in Rhodesia to occupy the interval of an engagement in manifold shopping, as is usually the case in England; and in Bobbie's case it was even less so than with many, seeing that: Sir James had a charming home all ready for her, and she had no money for a trousseau. But this was no disappointment to the prospective bride, who was rather impatient of such things, and who, now the engagement was finally settled, was a great deal more interested in Sir James's political affairs than in frocks and furniture.
Perhaps this was a little owing to her state of mind. Whether Bobbie knew it or not, she had in her the seeds of a certain fanaticism for anything that appealed to her strongly, and she was capable of going to great lengths for the sake of an idea. Telling herself, therefore, that her dream of happiness was for ever shattered, she tried to deaden the memory of it by sacrificing herself upon the altar of usefulness.
Sir James had told her she could be of great help to him in his work, and that together they would achieve much in the interests of Rhodesia. Bobbie had all along nursed a romantic view of the young
She believed Toby was even now crossing the ocean to India, having resolutely killed his love for her, and that with him had gone her chance for that real, deep happiness which she had believed he would bring to her life. Little, indeed, did she dream that he was still at the coast, nursing a heart as hopeless as her own, while he cheered with kindly attentions a forlorn little Portuguese traveller!
To please Sir James, she and Betty paid a visit to Lobenwayo, and stayed two weeks in the beautiful home he had built on the outskirts of the town. Naturally the engagement had caused a considerable stir, and the house was inundated by callers; but,true to his promise, Sir James made no demur when Bobbie chose to hide herself in the garden and fix daily a forbidding "Not at Home" at the front door. She was only to be seen motoring with him, and the curiosity of the town was kept at a keen | | 258 edge. One thing alone was certain. The distinguished politician was gayer and younger than he had been for years, and even if, as the women said,: the prospective bride was "not much to look at," and a mere girl, it was obvious her lover was devoted to her. Perhaps many people were irritated by her reluctance to show herself and her indifference to their distinguished selves, as well as by the fact that she had so triumphantly carried off the most eligible bachelor the country had ever contained. But Bobbie and Betty had a little wisdom of their own, and they both knew that the Misses Glynn, poorly dressed, were quite another matter to Lady Fortescue, poorly dressed, and to pique curiosity was better than to court disdain. So the invitations were declined, and Bobbie threw herself into mastering all the intricacies of Sir James's public, position, numbing the ache in her heart, which would not die, with the doubtful assuaging of a future career. Sir James was pleased that she should be so ready to take up a personal and deep interest in his work, but there were moments when he mused a little painfully that it seemed to absorb her interest in him. He would have liked to see her gay and inconsequent and careless as he had found her, washing her blouses at the huts. And, instead, ever since the tragic night when she had saved him, she seemed to have been so much more grave and thoughtful. In some mysterious way spontaneous gaiety appeared to have deserted her, and where she had laughed so joyously, she now only laughed quietly, and sometimes even that with a mechanical air. It baffled and puzzled him. At first he had put her new gravity down to the shock and bodily | | 259 exhaustion, and afterwards to the anxious state of mind about her engagement; but when, after a week at Lobenwayo, in which he did everything a mortal man might do to please her, he saw no return of the lightness he sought, but rather a growing seriousness, his heart began to misgive him a little. Was it possible some other reason lay behind, of which he knew nothing? His mind went back, probing the past, and he was puzzled again by the belief that she had known something about Blake, in connection with Van Tyl's murderous plan, that she had chosen to hide. If it was weighing on her mind, he wished she would tell him, and let him share the burden with her. In the end he tried to tax her with it gently, but she was instantly on her guard, and gave him no clue at all, except that she was on her guard, which confirmed his suspicion that she had a secret. Curiously enough, it did not occur to him to associate Toby's disappearance with the puzzle. Before him the move had been made light of, and he had only seen enough of Toby to imagine easily that he would be a creature of impulse. So he put it down to impulse, and thought very little about it. The secret, he supposed, was some reason Bobbie had for shielding Blake. He did not mind her shielding him in the least, but he would have been glad if she had trusted him with the truth, as he might then have divined what shadowed her mind. He tried once more, on receiving a brief letter from Blake, saying he would sell the farm. He wrote from some unheard-of place he had gone to near Beira, to shoot elephants, and mentioned that he was having excellent sport. "I have heard accounts of British East Africa that tempt me to | | 260 try the life there, and I shall be willing to accept? the terms we named," he wrote. "I will appoint someone to act for me, if I do not return myself, but this trip will last a week or two longer yet."
"He does not appear to have heard of our engagement," Sir James said to Bobbie, as he handed her the letter. He saw her change colour as she read it, and noticed that she did not meet his eyes, but wore rather a troubled expression as she folded it up.
"I suppose he is some way from civilisation," she suggested, "and would not hear any news."
"I expect he will not be very surprised"--and Sir James smiled. "What do you think?"
"I don't know "--and a lovely colour showed in her cheeks a moment.
"Well, I am glad we are to have the farm. We will re-name it, I think. I don't care much for the site of his house, either. Shall we build another higher up, where the view is wider?"
"Yes, I think it would be much nicer."
She still looked away from him out of the window, and, now that the flush had died away, he fancied she appeared unusually pale.
"It is to be yours," he said lightly, "so, of course, you must decide on the new name, and new site, and style of house, and everything. I think you will have to have a manager there. He can live in Blake's old house. What a pity we can't get Fitzgerald!" He paused a moment, but she made no comment. "How long do you think he will stay in India?"
"I don't think he will come back at all. His brother often urged him to go."| | 261
"I'm sorry. I liked him, and I liked the way he made you laugh, little woman. You mustn't grow too serious. I don't want even a shadow of my burdens to fall upon you." She clenched her hands suddenly on the arms of her chair, and was silent, unable to trust herself to speak. "You know you are much graver than you were that day I found you washing blouses," he ran on, leaning over the back of her chair and touching her hair softly. "It makes me feel as if in some way I had brought you a shadow instead of only sunlight."
She bit her teeth together, fearing every moment tears would spring to her eyes, but after a moment she managed to say fairly naturally: "Perhaps it is the responsibility of the new position. I was such a nobody before. By and by, when I am used to it --"
"Don't look at it in that light. Leave all the responsibility to me. There need be only happiness for you."
"You are very good "--and she slipped her hand confidingly into his. The thought crossed her mind if only there had been no Toby--had never been any Toby at all-what richness of happiness he might have given her! But all her efforts yet had done little to banish the memory of Toby's sunny hair and sunny eyes, and big, robust, laughter-loving personality. The romance of her soul cried out for him. Power and place were nothing. Rather the store in the wilderness with him than the perfectly-appointed residence and the eminence of Sir James's position. But she had placed her hand to the plough ; there could be no turning back. That was not her way.| | 262
And, besides, of what use to retract now and disappoint everyone? Was not Toby steaming away in the sunshine across the ocean to India?
At the end of the fortnight, at her special wish, she and Betty returned to their home. There was to be a speedy marriage--what object in delay?--and she thought she would like to spend the last few weeks with Betty and her brothers at the huts.
So Lobenwayo awoke one day to the fact that the birds had flown, and that this strange young woman positively wanted to return to her huts to have as much of them as possible before she came to dwell in the town's most attractive house. No fuss about pretty new clothes, no happy displaying of wedding-presents, no joyful planning in the pretty house--just huts in the wilderness, at some unheard-of outpost, until she must needs say good-bye to them for a home half the women in the country would envy her.
Of a truth she was eccentric, and voices began privately to commiserate with Sir James that he had been "caught" by so unaccountable an individual.
"But there--it is continually the way," nodded the wiseacres. "The choice of lovely and charming women galore for years, and then, in middle age, to fall absurdly in love with a lanky girl of no particular distinction whatever!"
Bobbie would have laughed to have heard the epithet "lanky." It was the description she always used herself, but one which others scorned because her best feature was her slim, graceful figure and perfect poise. Of a truth she would hold her own in the charming bungalow, even among those of greater personal beauty.
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