- CHAPTER XXXI. AN ENCOUNTER.
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TOBY'S fears concerning the powers of their carriers to remain upright were not realised, which fortunate, as the mud through which they carried was of a particularly black, slimy, odorous nature. Lucia found herself hoisted on to shoulder of a tall native, and clinging with all might to his woolly head, while he balanced a truly remarkable manner. When he skidded which was not unusual, she screamed; but Toby called to her reassuringly, and finally received.' into his arms on the landing-stage, where his native had practically flung him, staggering beneath his weight.
They succeeded in getting through the Custom House quickly, as Lucia was able to converse the officials in Portuguese, and then Toby her into one of the curious little conveyances run along on rails through the sand, pushed by black boys, and made them hurry to the store.
"I hear you will only be able to get a breakfast at one station, and dinner at another, the whole journey, so you must have some food with you," he said, and at the store, insisted upon having a | | 273 box packed with many things she thought she would like.
Lucia expostulated at first, but, finding it quite useless, subsided into silence, and merely watched him, her large eyes dwelling on his face as if she would imprint it on her mind for ever. He was gay again now, making the anæmic assistant at the store laugh and run about to serve him as if he were the President. Only he avoided looking into Lucia's eyes. Something in their depths hurt him more than he could bear. They were the eyes of a patient dumb animal, suffering because it must. He felt that, small and frail and timid as she was, in some way she embodied a tragedy. The remorseless wheel of fate had gripped her as it swung round, and to cry out was useless. Whether she cried or not, struggled or not, it would grip her still. The only difference was that, in enduring silently, she was true to some dim, heroic ideal, and had no need to be ashamed before the tribunal of her own heart. Toby noted the expression in her eyes above the firm little mouth, and looked away because it tempted him to snatch her up and run off with her bodily, rather than let her go on to what lay ahead. When they reached the station it was dark, and heavy clouds filled the sky, obscuring the stars, and occasionally muttering with the angry growls of distant thunder. There was something uncanny about the wall of dense blackness that rose up in front of the engine, with those occasional menacing growls sounding out of the night. A stronger and more independent woman might have felt qualms if she were starting alone into a dense jungle such as surrounds the first part of the Beira- | | 274 Rhodesia Railway. To poor Lucia it was a nightmare, and her face was deadly pale in the light of the lamps, but the brave little mouth firm still.
Toby sought out the conductor, and, in his pleasantest and most attractive manner, enlisted his attentions for the solitary traveller.
"She ought to have a mosquito net," the conductor said; "the mosquitoes will be very bad indeed to-night."
"I have one, but it is packed in my trunk," Lucia replied nervously. "Could I get it out on' the station?"
"I dare say I can find one for you," he told: her pleasantly, and hurried off.
"He is a nice man, and he will take care of you," Toby said reassuringly. "I have wired to Hetherington, and sent him a letter by this train as well. He will meet you and take you to the hotel where you must wait for your husband."
"Thank you!" she breathed unsteadily, unable to raise her eyes. She was thinking how they were to have had another evening together, and a last long talk under the stars on deck, and instead was this dreadful rush and hurry, the sudden parting, and she herself steaming alone into the black, terrible night ahead.
"You must write and tell me how you get on," he continued, anxious to keep up a conversation. "Send the letter to my brother's address in India, and it will find me somehow. I should like to have seen you safely into your husband's keeping, but no doubt he could not possibly help upsetting the plans. You will like Hetherington. He will look after you well."| | 275
The conductor came back, bringing the net, and proceeded to fix it over the seat, upon which a bed had been made up, and then went away again, leaving them alone, saying the train would start in five minutes.
"You have been very good to me," Lucia murmured tremblingly. "I do not know how to thank you."
"It is you who have been good to me." Toby's face was serious now, as he looked down at her with grave, kindly eyes. "It is I who should thank you. I do, Lucia, and I shall always be glad I met you. You are very brave. It does a man good to meet a woman like you!"
"And yet I am so frightened!"--and she gave a little choking laugh.
"Only of the loneliness and the dark"--speaking tenderly. "In the things that matter you are dauntless. I can only hope everything will be easier and better than you expect." Tears shone on her lashes, and he took her hand, and held it firmly. "You're glad--I'm glad--I met you, anyhow"--with a little smile, trying to rally himself as well as her, for a lump was forming in his throat.
"Yes, I'm glad we met"
A whistle sounded, and he knew he must go. "Good-bye, Lucia! God bless you!"
She looked up, and something in her eyes made him suddenly bend down and kiss her forehead.
"Probably we shall not meet again," he said huskily, "and perhaps I owe you more than I know."
Once more the whistle blew, and he descended to the platform. There was a creaking and groaning | | 276 and the train began to move. As it drew, she leaned out of the window and waved her and smiled. "Good-bye!" she called, with a brave note, as the darkness seemed to swallow her up.
Toby stood still with his hands in his pockets, and watched the red lamp of the guard's van creep away into the gloom, and for some minutes everything was blurred, and he felt a choking sensation. He was full of resentment with her husband not managing better, and full of admiration for her, and regret that they had had to part so soon and suddenly. But he did not yet know just the meeting was to mean to him. "Perhaps owe you more than I know," he had said, thinking of her resolute determination to try and "play the game"; but of the fateful, unsuspected meaning he knew nothing. He walked away from station conscious of a heavy weight in his heart, and wondered vaguely what he could do to pass long evening, as the ship did not leave until day-break. He shrank from going straight back the empty chairs and the empty deck, and yet he hated Beira, with its nearness to the scenes those memories he longed to break away from.
In the end, however, he thought he would go the hotel for a little while in search of companionship, for the large, soft eyes that haunted him with their silent suffering now would only follow him more persistently on the ship. So he turned his steps to the town, and, entering the hotel, made straight for the smoke-room. Only one man was there--a lean, compact figure in khaki, standing at a table, glancing at a newspaper, turned sideways to the door.| | 277
As Toby entered, he looked up casually, as if half expecting someone he knew. But the instant their eyes met, both men changed colour and became suddenly taut.
"Good God! You!" exclaimed Toby, thrown off his guard.
"Fitzgerald!" muttered the other, and in the shock of the moment even Blake himself was taken aback.
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