- CHAPTER XXXV. TOBY TELLS HIS STORY.
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TOBY TELLS HIS STORY.
Just at first, after arriving at Sir James's camp, Toby was too hungry to discuss very much beyond the large dish of fried eggs and bacon, and the delight of fresh bread, in a practical manner, and Sir James watched him with a quiet smile, urging upon him as much as he could possibly eat.
"I'm down this way on some legislative business," he told him, "and as I wanted to visit outlying farms and settlers, I decided to drive. It's much pleasanter than the train."
"I should think so. I hate the beastly train! That's partly why I'm 'foot-slogging.' Couldn't stand the hanging about in Umtali and Salisbury. I--I wanted to feel I was moving nearer all the time, and, even if I go slow, I am at least Doing that."
"Then you are hurrying back as energetically as you seemed to hurry away?"--with a little smile.
"Yes. That was a fool's trick. I misunderstood something, and was asinine enough not to wait for an explanation. I heard it by chance from Blake, of all people in the world."
Sir James gave him a keen glance. "A good deal has happened since you left. I suppose Blake told you."| | 300
"Yes. By gad, I was quite forgetting! Some rotten low Dutchman tried to murder you. I ought to have told you at once how awfully glad I am that nothing serious resulted--at least, nothing serious to you"--with a little half smile--"but I'm my first thoughts were on the breakfast. It's not too late now, I hope. I don't know what we should have done without you up here. You are the best friend the settlers ever had."
"I am glad to hear you say that. I owe my escape to Miss Glynn. I dare say Blake told you?"
"Yes. Splendid, wasn't it? I--I'm just feverish to see her! I--oh, Heavens, I can't keep it myself-I just worship her"-and all Toby's was in his words. Sir James seemed suddenly to turn a little pale under his sunburn, as he darted a quick, questioning glance at him. Toby was too immersed in his own thoughts, and did not see it. "It was because of her I ran away. There was a misunderstanding. May I tell you? I'm longing to speak of it. I can think of nothing else and day."
Sir James rose suddenly from the table and a little behind him. "Go on," he said, and Toby noticed nothing of the sudden change in his voice.
"It had to do with your rescue," Toby told him eagerly, as if sure of his immediate interested sympathy. "It seems it was because of that she went to Blake's alone that day. Of course, I didn't know anything, and when I saw her there--"
"You saw her at Blake's the day of Van Tyl's attempt?"--in low, amazed tones.
"Yes. I haven't quite got the hang of the story yet, but it doesn't seem to matter now. The point is | | 301 that Bobbie and I were engaged between ourselves." The man behind his chair turned paler now, and looked down at him with a startled expression. "We couldn't very well be openly engaged because --well, you see, I was only earning about five pounds a month at the moment." His eyes twinkled. "But it was much the same thing"--running on. "I've always felt doubtful about Blake, and disliked him pretty warmly, and I thought he was hanging about Bobbie too much, so I asked her to choke him off thoroughly. I didn't really doubt her, of course, but I so hated to see him hanging round under the circumstances. She gave me her promise readily, and I thought no more about it; but the very next day--I think it was the next day--I had to go to his place to borrow a bicycle pump, and there she was sitting on the lounge with him, after having lunch there."
Sir James went a few paces off, and then came back.
"I--I don't understand why she went to Blake's that day. I thought--" He stopped short.
"I'm not very clear myself"-running on in the same heedless manner--"but I know it had to do with the attempt upon you. I believe she followed the Dutchman to a spot near to watch his movements, and then went on to pump Blake. Of course, if I hadn't been in such a mad hurry, she would have explained; but the sight of her sitting there with Blake, after-after her promise, seemed to numb my brain. I couldn't think. I couldn't do anything except run away to the ends of the earth. I worshipped her then, you see. Nothing could be anything any more without her, or so it seemed, | | 302 and I just flung away. Now I only want to see her. I cannot rest until I've confessed myself an utter fool and wretch, and implored her to forgive me!"
"And you are confident she will?"
"Yes, quite!"--with a frankness that was utterly disarming. "Bobbie has the most generous soul on earth."
"And, having forgiven, what then? Perhaps she has changed to you."
"No, I think not"--with a grave air, utterly free of conceit. "Bobbie is not the sort to change. It was as if some dreadful black cloud was between us, and we could not find each other; but now--" He brightened suddenly. "I could get a good billet at Cape Town to-morrow, if she cared to go there. But I don't think she will; she hates towns. What we both long for is a farm. If I can get hold of one cheaply, I think my guv'nor will lend me A enough capital to work it. He was chary before because--well, because I wasn't married, and he thought me a rolling stone. But if--" He paused, and for a moment had almost a shy expression.
"But even if Miss Glynn forgives you, she may no longer wish to marry you," Sir James suggested.
"Well, in that case, I will finish my journey to India, and leave Rhodesia for ever. But somehow I am not afraid. She will understand when I explain."
"A good deal has changed since you left"-- meaningly.
"So I suppose. Fancy Blake selling his farm, and you buying it! I was surprised. And he told me Ken and Bay were to manage your new mine. That is splendid news. They are such good chaps,and it will make them thundering glad!"| | 303
"Is that all Blake told you?" There was a grey look about Sir James now, as he stood a little apart in the shadow. He seemed almost to have aged in the last half hour. Explanations were forcing themselves upon him also, and revelations undermining all the happiness of the past weeks. He felt momentarily stunned with all that this chance meeting might mean to him.
"Yes, I think that is all. He was extraordinarily reticent about the murder attempt. I couldn't quite make out his part. It seems so odd Bobbie did not tell him what she had overheard, and send him after you, instead of going herself."
"Very odd"--drily. Sir James began to find a clue. "No doubt she had a good reason, but she also is very reticent about that part. Of course, Blake did not like me. He had a personal grudge also." He watched Toby, and saw that the idea in his own mind was forming in his. "Miss Glynn may have discovered that, and been doubtful of him as a messenger."
"I see"--thoughtfully. "And, of course, his record--"
"Exactly. If Blake had anything to gain, he was never one to trouble much with qualms."
"You surely don't think--"
"I don't think, because it appears to be Miss Glynn's wish that I should not. For a reason best known to herself, she has given no evidence against Blake. That is enough for me. But we thought the neighbourhood would be pleasanter without him, and, rather curiously, he has proved quite willing to concur. I made him an offer for his farm, and he has accepted it."| | 304
"He adored that farm," commented Toby.
"I believe so. There must have been pressure--you understand?"
Toby signified his assent, and relapsed into a short silence, overcome by all that was implied
"Did Bobbie shield him, do you think?" he asked at last.
"I am certain of it, and I think she was right. He will probably be a better man all his life. No doubt he was a bit driven by Van Tyl, who the most unscrupulous villain unhung. But, of course, it was better he should leave the neighbourhood, so I gave him the chance."
"It's a grand farm," said Toby, with an unconscious note of longing.
Sir James seemed to struggle with himself for a moment, then he cleared his throat and remarked, trying to speak naturally: "I am greatly hoping Miss Glynn will honour me by accepting it for very own, as-as a small token of my gratitude and regard."
"You are going to give it to Bobbie?"--in eyed astonishment.
"If she will accept it. It was for her I acquired it."
Toby was struck dumb. He felt suddenly in grip of something vague that was a little overwhelming.
Sir James gave a forced laugh. He to long to be alone. An upheaval had rut torn the very ground from under his feet. He hardly knew where he stood. He was conscious of but one certainty--he must let Toby go on ignorance. To tell him the truth might be to turn | | 305 him back once more towards India, and, in doing that, he might rob Bobbie of her birthright of happiness. What was unhappiness for him, compared with all he owed to her? It was she who must decide the future, and she must see Toby before deciding.
"You rather take my breath away," Toby said at last. "It is such a magnificent gift. I hardly think she will like to accept it."
"Well, you must try and persuade her to." Sir James braced himself up for a last effort. "Tell her, with my love, that I rely on her to give me the pleasure of making the gift, and not to let anything whatever persuade her otherwise. You will be wanting to hurry on now; but you can hardly get there before to-morrow, so you must let me reload your carrier with a few tins of food stuff." He turned away to give an order. "It was an amazing coincidence that you should run into Blake at Beira, but I think it is a still more amazing one that you should have chanced across me out here on the veldt. They say real life is stranger than fiction. I suppose it is. There have been some strange happenings for some of us in the last few weeks, and some rather bitter awakenings. But if Bobbie Glynn gets her full measure of happiness in the end, I for one will grudge nothing that gave it to her." He saw a perplexed, questioning expression in Toby's face, and hastened to add: "But I must send her my congratulations later. You will be in a hurry to be off. You can quite well take the lower path; none of the swamps or rivers are much affected by the rains yet."
Toby was only too glad to hasten on his journey, | | 306 and, without stopping to probe or question further, said good-bye, expressed his warm thanks, and strode gaily away over the sun-bathed veldt. Only for Sir James were there shadows now--shadows and clouds of an approaching darkness.
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