- CHAPTER XXXIV. THE DISPUTED CLAIM.
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THE DISPUTED CLAIM.
IN the meantime there was gladness at the Glynns' hut home for all except she to whom the gladness was due. Bay and Ken were full of plans and hopes and Betty was quietly radiant because Dr. Stanhope was even now returning in safety from the sleeping sickness investigation expedition, and there was not the slightest doubt the Government, with Sir James to push his case, would find a good post for him. The only anxiety left was concerning the gold claim that had been disputed with them, and which they were very keen to win. They had worked too hard and lost too much capital to be content to hold only a managership, if they could help it, and their great wish was to have their own property in reserve, to work again when times were propitious.
So, when the date drew near upon which the claim should be thrown open, to become the property of whoever pegged it first after sunrise, there was much planning and arranging in the huts. A sealed watch had been procured from Cape Town, giving the exact, Cape Town time; so, if the same idea had not occurred to their antagonist, they felt they were safe to win, for it gave them some minutes start of | | 293 him, the Cape Town time of sunrise being the one permitted.
The evening before the arranged date they had a final consultation, making plans to be called at dawn and have some coffee before starting.
"But why not have it there?" said Betty. "It will taste so good if we have won."
"Or why not both? " suggested Ken.
"Are you coming with us?" Bay asked her, in some surprise.
"Of course I am. I could not possibly sit still here and wait."
Ken glanced at Bobbie, and there was a lurking anxiety in his eyes. She had said nothing about accompanying them, and it depressed him a little, for a short time back she would have been the first to insist upon coming. But many little things had changed in Bobbie lately, and he began to have anxious doubts about her. Like Sir James, he noticed that her laugh had lost its old ring, and that she no longer kept them all gay in spite of disappointments. True, the disappointments and worries had miraculously vanished; but, whereas that should have made her gayer, it seemed, on the contrary, that she was sadder.
He spoke to Bay about it, and Bay believed it was only the thought of her approaching marriage making her serious. After that Ken kept his own counsel, but he began to be more puzzled than he had been before about Toby's sudden disappearance, and to feel more keenly how they missed him. He and Bobbie had always been special chums, and, under ordinary circumstances, he would far rather she were engaged to Toby; but, as things were, it | | 294 seemed doubtful if the gay young storekeeper would ever have been able to earn enough to keep her, even if he had not gone off in such mysterious haste.
"Are you coming, too?" he asked her, as she said nothing.
She seemed to hesitate, and then answered: "I think I will stay behind to prepare an extra special breakfast to celebrate the occasion."
It was arranged so, and an early move was made for bed, that they might rise the fresher.
"Oh, I hope they will win!" Betty breathed enthusiastically, glancing from the door of their hut out into the lovely starlit night. "It means so very much to them."
"Not as much as it did," Bobbie suggested, sitting on the edge of her little bed and brushing out her long bright hair.
"Not in some ways, but in others. You know" --thoughtfully-- "I think they feel they owe the managership of the Loka mine entirely to you; but if they win this claim, and can work it presently, it will be off their own bat."
Bobbie smiled a little wistfully. "I think they owe it to being just the dear, hard-working boys they are. Sir James would not have trusted his mine to them otherwise. He thinks the world of them both."
"And this world, and the next, and all possible worlds of you!"--with an affectionate glance.
Bobbie's eyes grew more wistful, hidden behind the veil of her hair. "We all seem to have great hopes in our lives now," she said, with an attempt at brightness, "and before there was chiefly economy | | 295 and worry. Yet how gay we used to be sometimes, and how happy, in spite of the drawbacks!"
"But it could not have lasted. I do not know what would have become of us without Sir James. You--you are not sorry about things, are you, Bobbie?"--and now Betty's voice was wistful.
"Oh, no!"--hastily. "I was only thinking we seemed so much less gay, considering our prospects were so much better."
"We want Toby." And Betty again looked into the night. "He was really our gay spirit."
Bobbie brushed her hair in silence, and this time the kindly veil hid glistening tear-drops.
At dawn the next morning the trio set off to walk the two miles, leaving Bobbie still in bed. They were full of hope, and walked gaily on, arriving, as they expected, just ahead of their opponent. They could see him coming over the veldt, and, when he came within earshot, he shouted to them that they were too early, for no rim of the sun was visible. But its rays were, and, just as he hurried up, Ken and Bay drove in their pegs and claimed the property before his eyes. In great excitement, he commenced a vigorous protest, only to be confronted with the special watch, which proclaimed the hour of sunrise already passed at Cape Town.
He owned himself beaten, but with an ill grace, which the others could well afford to overlook.
"I'm going to make some coffee--will you have some?" Betty asked, with a pleasant smile, and the scowl died a little from his face. In the end, he relaxed sufficiently to ask them to consider a partnership; but the brothers were not disposed to bind themselves to any proposition yet, and declined his | | 296 overtures. But at the same time it made them glad. I for they knew he was an expert on gold-mining matters, and guessed he had great faith in the probable value of the reef. Later on they returned gaily to Bobbie, hailing each other as future millionaires with something of their old hilarity.
"We must have a little dinner to celebrate ours win," Bay suggested. "I think I had better go to Geegi and register the claim, and bring back a bottle of champagne."
"Why put off the celebration so long?" asked Betty. "Let us manufacture something special, to-night."
Ken glanced at Bobbie, asking: "What do you, think, Bobs?"
"Let us wait. Bay can get back on Monday. Why not make our dinner Tuesday, and ask police and Mr. Hulatt?"
In the end it was agreed to wait until Tuesday, and in great spirits Bay made ready for his journey.
"If only Toby were here," he said, while he ran over the list of what he would bring back, "how he would have loved it! What a row he would have made!
The remark caused a momentary shadow, but Betty laughed it aside, and presently Bay started off. Only Bobby felt the force of the absence still, realising their celebration dinner was practically; foredoomed to failure because of one vacant seat.
She little imagined that even now he was hastening towards them, cutting recklessly across country with all the mad, impatient ardour of the most devoted of lovers!
Indeed, his recklessness had proved a hindrance more than once, by getting him and his boy into | | 297 difficulties of marsh and kopjes and impassable rivers, but he was at last beginning to listen to a little reason, and be guided by his carrier, who knew the route, if he were but allowed to lead, and was getting along faster in consequence.
About two days after he started the native told him a white man was camped near a certain small kopje beside a river.
"He has an ambulance cart and twelve mules," the boy told him, "and he is a big baas, to do with the Government."
Toby had no special wish to see any "big baas," to do with the Government or otherwise; but he had brought very little food, and was beginning to feel rather hungry, so he finally decided to go out of his way to call upon this favoured individual with his mules and ambulance, in the hope of getting a good meal. So he washed his hands and face in the river, and had a shave by way of a toilet, and struck across the piece of veldt to where the top of the cart was visible above the bush.
As he came in sight, he descried a tall man just about to sit down to a small camp-table for a late breakfast, and hastened his steps with a sense of pleasurable anticipation. As he drew nearer, something struck him as familiar in the figure of the traveller, and he walked up wondering a little who he was. A minute later, hearing the sound of a booted step, the traveller turned round, and Toby found himself face to face with Sir James Fortescue.
For one moment there was a puzzled expression on Sir James's face, and then he said:
" Surely you are Fitzgerald?"
"The same," answered Toby gaily, "and you are | | 298 Sir James Fortescue. What luck to meet you! I'm trekking across to the Glynns' place, and I'm as hungry as a navvy. Couldn't carry much imparshli, you see, as I'm in rather a hurry."
"I'm delighted to see you! "--with a frank smile. "Come and have a good square meal. I thought you had shipped off to India or somewhere in that direction. Did you change your mind? What a thing it must be, to be able to rearrange one's plans so easily as you seem able to do!"
"I should have been steaming ahead there now, but for an extraordinary coincidence at Beira. I met Blake--you know, the chap who called at the Giynns' the evening you were there--and he told me something that changed my whole life."
"Really?" And Sir James felt suddenly interested for no ordinary reason, though he could not have explained why. "Well, come and have breakfast first, and then we can tell each other all the latest news."
"Rather!" was Toby's ready reply, as he proceeded to make a seat for himself out of a packing-case stood up on end, while he viewed the well-spread table with undisguised relish.
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