- CHAPTER XXXVI. "I CANNOT LET YOU GO!"
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"I CANNOT LET YOU GO!"
IT was the Tuesday fixed for the celebration dinner when Toby arrived at his journey's end, and saw he welcome sight of the Glynns' huts ahead of him.
Betty and Bobbie had been busy cooking in the morning, but, just as they were finishing, a note came through from the police camp to say neither of the men stationed there would be able to come, after all, as an urgent message had summoned them in the opposite direction.
"Well, how absurd to have a dinner just for Hulatt!" cried Betty. "Isn't it vexing after our preparations?"
Bobbie laughed and rubbed the pastry from her fingers. "Poor Hulatt will be quite nervous to find himself the only guest. I wonder what has prevented them? Does the note say?"
"A message from headquarters to go at once to Menti, about a raid of some sort. Of course, they couldn't very well put it off."
"Poor dears I They'll miss their good dinner."
"What shall we do?" And Betty wore a rueful air. "Shouldn't we put Hulatt off for the present? It is bound to fall very flat with only him."
"Horribly. I vote for putting off."| | 308
"Let's do it on our own. This messenger can leave a note on the way back to the police camp. We'll just tell him it is postponed because the police cannot come."
"Very well." And Bobbie's face expressed instant relief in spite of herself. She had tried to throw herself into the plan willingly, but it had been an effort from the first, and she had secretly dreaded the evening, when she would have to seem gay glad whatever she felt, And in her heart she knew she must inevitably miss Toby more than on any ordinary occasion. It would be the first rejoicing they had ever had without him, and the fact would be present to all, however they strove to forget it.
"We'll just enjoy the good things without fuss," she said, "and the fruit salad can go now. They are such a fag to make."
Betty went off to scribble the note, and, when she came back, her sister was already handing various cooking accessories to the cook-boy to take away, preparatory to moving the table back into the kitchen, and the last traces of their busy morning.
"I believe you are quite glad," said Betty reproachfully.
"Well, it mightn't have been a success with few of us, and that would have been most trying."
"Without Toby, I suppose you mean," Betty remarked thoughtfully, and Bobbie found herself colouring suddenly before her sister's eyes.
"If you like," she said carelessly. "He was always the life of these sorts of gatherings, wasn't he?"
"He and you together. Yes, perhaps it would | | 309 have been a failure. But I'm afraid the boys will be disappointed."
But when the boys came in to lunch, they did not express any great regret, merely saying: "Well, we'll drink the champagne, anyhow. Good luck like ours ought to be christened."
After lunch the girls rested a little, and then, possessed with a restlessness she could not entirely understand, Bobbie decided to go for a walk. Betty said she was too tired, and, not sorry for the solitude, Bobbie went off alone through a little wood which led to an open space commanding a lovely view of the country.
Here she sat down and gazed with an expression of growing sadness upon the far blue kopjes. She did not try to analyse her thoughts. Of what use to do that now? Toby had gone out of her life for ever, and she would soon be married to Sir James, It seemed that life simply asked her to go straight on, without overmuch probing, doing her best in the path mapped out. And yet--
Sometimes she was a little afraid lest it should prove beyond her powers to forget Toby as she ought. She knew she would owe it to Sir James to root him out of her mind, except as an old friend of the past, and never let him shake her serenity in the present. But would she be able? Would she ever forget all they had been to each other in the sunny days that had gone? Well, she could but try, and with all her strength she would do that, because of Sir James's goodness.
But the sadness deepened in her eyes, for there were times when the future frightened her vaguely, and she was afraid she might not be equal to the | | 310 demands it made upon her. Thus it was that Toby his heart bursting with joy at all the old familiar landmarks about him, came upon her totally unawares, and stood a moment watching her for the delight of it. He saw that she was thinner and paler than when he had last seen her, and perceived that her eyes were wistful; but it sounded no warning to his rejoicing heart. Had he not come back to clear up all the misunderstanding, and win her forgiveness, and make her glad again? His heart beat fast as he approached and stood beside her unperceived.
"Bobbie!" he said at last, in a voice full of a wordless plea and unutterable tenderness.
She gave a violent start, and, turning, gazed into his face with a blank expression, as if she did not believe her eyes.
He smiled and came a step nearer. "I've come back, Bobbie. It's been just hell without you!. I know you'll try to forgive me. If you'll let me, I'll worship you all my life!"
It was as though a veil dropped suddenly from her eyes, and she saw that it was indeed he. Joy came swiftly to her face and lit it with unspeakable gladness. She rose to her feet and held out her hands to him, forgetting everything in heaven and earth, but that he indeed stood there before her.
"Toby--oh, Toby!" she breathed, with a note of passionate joy, and the next moment he had half smothered her in his arms.
It was some minutes later, and after Toby had hastily told her of his meeting with Blake and Sir | | 311 James, that the present, knocking vainly at her heart, made itself heard at last, and blanched her cheeks to a swift pallor and dimmed her eyes to swift dread. Toby saw it, and the swift dread communicated itself.
"What is the matter?" he cried. "Oh, Bobbie, is anything the matter?"
"The matter!" she repeated dully. "Oh, how could I have forgotten even for a moment? No, no" --as he tried to take her in his arms again--"you must not do that any more--never any more at all! Oh, how could I let you! How could I forget!" And her face grew whiter and whiter.
"What is it, Bobbie? Tell me, dear--I can't bear this suspense."
"Didn't Sir James tell you?" For she was just grasping the fact that the two had met the previous day.
"He did not tell me anything that need make any difference between you and me."
"Not make any difference between you and me?" she echoed, and she could almost have laughed.
"Oh, Toby, Toby, I thought you had gone away for ever, and I have promised to marry Sir James!"
He drew away from her as if he had received a shock. "You promised to marry Sir James Fortescue?" he repeated slowly, as if he could not believe his own ears.
"Yes." She was calmer now. The present was obliterating all else.
Toby suddenly sat down on the fallen tree where she had been seated, and buried his face in his hands with a groan.| | 312
"Why didn't someone tell me?" he exclaimed at last, half fiercely. "Why didn't Blake? didn't Sir James? They might have let me go in the misery I had, instead of coming back to have it intensified a hundred times."
"I expect Mr. Blake did not know," she answered in a voice she hardly recognised as her own, "and Sir James would not."
"But I cannot let you go, Bobbie" He was on his feet again now, towering above her, his whole being expressing fierce resolve. "You belong to me! You belonged to me before you ever set eyes on him! It isn't likely he can take you from me. It isn't likely I can let you go."
But she only stood very still, as upright as he, with her eyes looking far away to some distant horizon.
"I have promised," was all she said, unable to look into his face.
"But you promised under a misunderstanding!" he cried. "Sir James will be the first to see it I can't let you go, Bobbie!" And he crushed her hands in his, until she could have cried out with the, pain, had it not been sweet to her,
Then a new phase seemed to strike him. "But if you marry him, you will be Lady Fortescue, and rich, and successful, and--and--" A hunted look came into his eyes. "Of course, I can't expect you to give up all that. Why did I come back? Oh, why did I come back? The other was bad enough, but this is worse. To see you again, and dream as I have dreamt ever since I met Blake, and then to lose you! Could the gods desire a crueller torture?" He walked away | | 313 from her a few paces, and stood gazing blankly ahead, his face grey with the swift downfall of all his hopes and dreams.
Bobbie stood silently watching him. What could she do? What could she say?
At last he turned. "I must go away again; can't stay on here. Of course, I couldn't come between you and such a future, even if--even if--"
"Even if what?"--bravely.
"Even if you still cared," he muttered.
"You need not put it like that. Of course I care. I tried to be angry with you, and that helped me to make the decision; but it could not last. If we must part, Toby--and I see no other way-- at least you may know that I did not change--in --in spite of all."
"God bless you I" he murmured brokenly "I deserve a good deal, but not quite this--surely, not quite this--to lose you for ever!"
"I think we must go back now. Will you come just for this evening? If we must part, let it be to-morrow. I suppose we can bear it! Others have parted before, but, oh, Toby, Toby I" A sob drowned her voice, and she turned away.
He set his teeth together fiercely.
"Come along," he said. "I will see the others. They need not know much. Don't cry, Bobbie.I feel it will drive me mad! I must think. Perhaps there is a way. I wonder why Fortescue did not tell me himself?"
"Yes, I wonder about that. Did you say anything about yourself and me?"
"I told him the whole story."| | 314
"The whole story! You told him why you had run away, and all about everything?"
Bobbie was silent. A light began to dawn. If Sir James knew of their previous secret engagement, it might change the aspect of things.
"How strange you should have told him all that!"
"I was bursting with it. How could I help telling him? It never entered my head that he--that he would have a personal interest."
"Perhaps it will make things a little easier," she said thoughtfully. "I feel so dazed I hardly know what one ought to do or say."
When they reached the huts, there was a great rejoicing over his return, and no one said much about the change in him nor Bobbie's engagement.
They told him of their good luck, and talked fast of all that had happened since he left, each conscious vaguely of some crisis in the air, each afraid to face it.
He told them the chance meeting with Blake had caused him to delay his departure and run up to say good-bye in person, but that he should still go on to India, and probably stay with his brother. He invented an excuse about a good billet waiting for him there, and no one questioned it. But they saw that he was aged and grey, and very different to the gay youth who had left them, and the evening ended with a sense of shadow and depression upon all.
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