- CHAPTER XXX. TOBY CHANGES HIS MIND.
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TOBY CHANGES HIS MIND.
THE morning after Toby and his little Portuguese companion had stayed late in the piazza at Lorenco Marques. to listen to the band, and afterwards sat on deck to enjoy the cool night air, he found her manner held a new constraint to him. She appeared to make an effort to seem quite as friendly, and yet all the time to be conscious of herself and him in a new way. He was sorry about it, and strove to set her at her ease and break down what threatened to develop into a barrier. Perhaps, if he had not been so much wrapped up in his own trouble, he would have divined more quickly what was disturbing her; but, as it was, he was content to stop short at the belief that she returned to her husband unwillingly, and was vexed that she had let him see it. That a new and overpowering love for him had sprung into being that careless day at Lorenco Marques did not enter his mind. Had he not told her his trouble, and how no one could ever take Bobbie's place? How, then, should she fall in love with him ? But Toby was not very wise in the ways of women, and what seemed to him a safeguard and barrier might very well have been the incentive. First he appealed to her because | | 264 he was kind in her loneliness, then because seemed joyous and made her laugh, last and strongest because, underneath, he was in great trouble himself, and all her tender woman's sympathy enlisted for him her love. Her warm southern blood was hot against the woman who had failed him, who had been so blind not to perceive all he was and all he had to give. That he loved her still did not make him any the less attractive to her. She only wanted to heal the wound and pour the balm of a deeper love upon his soreness.
But, somewhere away in Portuguese East Africa, Alfonse was even now journeying down to the coast to meet her, and, with the simplicity of greatness, she set herself to avoiding Toby's warmth of friendliness because of what she owed her husband. She did not let herself probe and question, She sat very still, with her large, soft eyes often on the' horizon, nerving herself for the ordeal life demanded of her. Yet, when Toby came and sat beside her, she could not send him away, and for the little time that remained she drank half unconsciously of the sweetness of his presence.
At Inambane, a lovely little tropical place where the ship anchored for a few hours, they again went ashore and spent a gay, happy time together. It was as though, by tacit consent, both had agreed. to leave whatever troubles they had behind them, and make the most of their shore excursion. So Toby laughed and "fooled" again, and Lucia laughed with him, and the time slipped by with lightning speed until they found themselves once more side by side on deck, revelling in the cool night air. And once more the fascination of the | | 265 hour and the allurement of her seductive youth and freshness seemed to draw him whether he would or no, and he longed to take her in his arms. He placed his hand over hers, and, when she started as if to draw away, he said: "No, don't do that. We are such great friends, and we understand each other."
She yielded to him, and sat very still, with her tiny hands fast clasped in his.
"I wish you were coming across to Bombay," he said simply. "I shall miss you horribly. I would rather you had not been on the ship at all than have you go away and leave me alone."
She smiled wistfully. He little knew what the parting meant to her.
"We cannot go ashore together any more," he ran on, "and it has been so jolly having your company."
"Not at Beira?" she asked, with a little anxious note in her voice. "I thought it was a nice place to see, because of the sea-wall and the grass golf links."
She saw his face harden suddenly. "No," he said, "I shall not go ashore at Beira."
"You don't like it?" she ventured, after a pause.
"I neither like nor dislike it, but nothing will induce me to go ashore."
She was puzzled and slightly chilled. How little her pleasure was to him, after all! Even if she had set her heart on going, he would not take her. She did not know that Beira is only a day's journey from Rhodesia--that a train would probably be standing in the station, which, should he choose, | | 266 would carry him quickly back to the country he had loved and forsworn.
Toby himself could not have explained his feelings about it. He only knew that he was determined not to leave the ship at Rhodesia's east coast port. Then, as if divining her disappointment, he rallied her with a manner of playful tenderness.
"There's nothing there but sand and heat and flies, and little tin shacks built on mud heaps. We can be much more comfortable on board."
She did not answer him, but a little later remarked: "And the next place will be Chinde."
His hand tightened over hers, and she caught ; her breath sharply. "You poor little soul! "he said, as if divining her dread. "But it probably will be lots better than you expect. Anyhow, you will have good natives to do all the work, and not dirty Mashonas. I believe most households up there have about twelve servants, and they are all good."
She smiled bravely as she answered: "That is nice."
Toby felt, rather than saw, the underlying sadness of her smile, and his kind heart was touched. He half turned and looked into her eyes. "I'm afraid you hate the thought of it like Hades; but what a brave little creature you are to go! I think it is splendid of you; others would, too. Doesn't it help a little to know that?"
"I go because I must. Is that any great thing to do?"
"Yes, I think it is. You might have found a way to stay--somewhere else."
"I do not think I want to stay anywhere else." | | 267 Her voice was trembling a shade, and she turned her head away from him.
"Not even in Bombay, with me?"--rallying her lightly.
To his surprise, her eyes filled suddenly with tears.
"Now I've made you cry again!"--in quick self-condemnation. "What a fool I am! Don't be vexed with me, dear."
His hand strayed caressingly up her arm. Just across the stretch of sea the coast-line showed faintly in the dim light of the stars. Just behind the coast-line, only a day's journey, was Rhodesia. He could not look at it nor think of it. His very pain made him merciless, reckless, cruel. She was so dainty, so soft, so alluring, and she did not love her husband.
"If I caused the tears, I must take them away. See, little woman, we've both got rather a dreary time ahead. Let's be happy while we may, or, at any rate, as near to it as we can get."
She grew very white, and drew herself up, but she did not speak.
He slipped his arm round her, and her breath came unevenly.
"Kiss me, Lucia!" he whispered. "Only the stars will know!"
Only the stars! It seemed to sound some clarion call to her, and suddenly she drew away, disengaged herself from his arm, and stood up.
"Somewhere under the stars Alfonse is perhaps trekking to the coast for me. I love the stars. I do not want them to see. What is it you English say, 'One must play the game'? I've heard | | 268 Alfonse say it. You mustn't kiss me, and I mustn't' kiss you. It wouldn't be 'playing the game.'"
He looked at her curiously and a little ashamed.' She was showing a force of character he had not I credited her with.
"I'm sorry!" he breathed, as she stood a moment beside him.
"So am I," she whispered. "I--I should like to kiss you--I want to--but it wouldn't be playing fair. And one has to try, however much it hurts."
Suddenly he seized her hand and pressed it to. his lips. "Bless you! I'd have felt an unmitigated cad afterwards, and you've saved me. Perhaps it is a good thing we have to part."
"Perhaps. Good night!" And, trying bravely to smile, she went away and left him.
But the next day she was not shy with him, and he was grateful to her. He knew that she was showing him she trusted him, in spite of what he had done. It filled him with a wish to do something , for her to prove his gratitude, and he was sorry that they must soon reach Chinde, and her husband would come out in a tug to fetch her from the steamer. There was only Beira to stop at first, and here he would not land. But soon after the ship was at anchor, and they were leaning over the rail together, watching the port and the shipping, a steward came to her with a telegram. She paled a little when she saw it, and opened it with awkward, nervous fingers. When she had read it, an exclamation broke from her lips, and she looked up blankly to the horizon.
"What is it? Not bad news, I hope?" he asked.| | 269
For answer, she gave him the flimsy paper, and he read aloud--
"Unavoidably prevented going to Chinde. Land at Beira and take train to Salisbury. I will trek there and fetch you.Love.--ALFONSE."
"Good gracious!" he exclaimed.
"What am I to do?" she asked in bewilderment. "We only stay here an hour or two."
"I think you will be obliged to follow his instructions."
She gazed at the telegram, and the frightened look in her eyes that had so appealed to him at Durban came back in full force. "To go alone," she murmured, "to Beira--to Salisbury! I don't feel as if I dare."
"It will be quite simple," he told her reassuringly. "I'll help you get your things together, and then the captain will send you ashore, and you must take the train."
She looked at him piteously. "Must I go ashore alone?"
Toby glanced away a moment, and unconsciously knitted his forehead into a frown. Of course, he ought to take her, if there was time. And yet-- and yet--
She waited, dimly divining his struggle. She could not ask him to go, and yet, with all her soul, she prayed that he would. Then he remembered how he had wished for a way to prove his thanks to her for not letting him show himself an unmitigated cad. And here, at the first opportunity, he sought to cry off.| | 270
Suddenly he turned to her. "You were a little brick last night. I felt I'd do anything for I'll change my mind and go ashore with you. I can see you safely into the train, and I'll wire to someone I know in Salisbury and ask him to meet you."
"Oh, thank you, thank you!" she breathed, and seemed unable to say any more.
"You run and begin your packing," he told her, "and I'll find out about the train, and how long we have, and all that."
A little later he returned to her cabin to tell her she had only an hour, as the train left at seven, and there was no other for two days, and he though she had better try to catch it, as it was an unhealthy time in Beira, and she would be more comfortable in Salisbury. She looked into his eyes a moment blankly, and he knew the thought in hers. Only one hour more together, and then--silence. The pain of her expression went straight to his heart, and he turned away with a lump in his throat. But a second later he was rallying her with a gay laugh, as he began to thrust things into her cabin trunk.
"I guess you never packed so quickly before. What a sight your clothes will be when you see them again! Here, what's this? Does it matter if your shoe cream runs out all over it? I'm thankful men don't have to carry so many finnicky things about. I could pack my things in five minutes, and nothing be any the worse. Mind I don't pack you among your clothes by mistake, such a little bit of a thing you are! Do you know we have to be carried through the mud to get ashore? If your | | 271 carrier drops you, I shall wire to Heatherington to meet a mud pie. We have to sit on niggers' shoulders, so I bet my chap will go a header with me. Is this a hat or a shoe? Does it matter if it is squashed up? " And so he ran on gaily, bravely, heartening her in spite of herself, and making her laugh, though tears shone in her eyes, until at last the trunks were packed and locked, and a steward came to fetch them on deck.
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