- CHAPTER XXIV. BLAKE'S PLANS.
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AFTER his visit to the Glynns' huts, Blake went back to his farm in a curiously mixed frame of mind.Some upheaval seemed to have taken place inside him and changed certain aspects so much he hardly recognised himself. Now that he knew that he was safe, as far as Bobbie was concerned, he was astonished at the intense relief he felt. He had told himself that, in any case, he would "bluff" it out, or get clear away; but, however sanguine he had made himself feel, the fact remained that he was tremendously relieved when he knew Bobbie's attitude. And not only that, but much else that had transpired at the interview gave him food for thought. Because she had accepted his invitation to lunch, he had let himself look upon her in a wholly false light. He had believed she was playing with Toby, and all the time meant to marry him, because he was so much more eligible.
And now he found she had not been playing at all, but, as she herself put it, using desperate means to thwart a desperate end. He marvelled at the skill with which she had carried out her plan, and, in the face of such difficulties, succeeded in thwarting Van Tyl. He thought of the last interview with | | 222 the Dutchman in his house, and of all that had been said between them, and it seemed to him a dreadful thing that she should have overheard such a conversation. The wonder was that she did not now turn from him in unutterable loathing. Perhaps, in her heart, she did. The thought made him clench his teeth together, while his thin, sallow face went a shade paler. Of course, he could not blame her--no one could--neither was it likely he could ever win her to anything but the barest toleration. And to be barely tolerated by the woman he loved seemed to Harry Blake a condition of affairs which he, for one, would never endure. No, of course he must go away as soon as the inquiry was over, and travel for a time. Something had shaken his little world to its foundations. He must try and win back some peaceful equipoise before he could again settle down as before. As he rode slowly across his farm, his eyes dwelt upon the rich acres, ploughed for the mealie planting, and there was a tightness at his heart. It was his own, and he had grown to love it. He thought of the recent dream he had indulged in, and of its utter rout. This land of his, which was so fertile, would be very valuable some day, and he had dreamed that Bobbie would share his good fortune.
And now Bobbie would never again feel anything for him but the barest toleration, and the events of the last week made it advisable for him to go away for some time. Well, it was no use moaning and groaning, and he tried to shrug his shoulders callously. Anyhow, the land would go on getting more valuable, and, if he did not forget her, at least he would contrive to be happy without her. Then | | 223 his thoughts ran on to Toby, and he wondered somewhat at Bobbie's attitude. Was it possible she cared for the boy? Although Toby was twenty-five, Blake always thought of him as a boy, and allowed him little credit for manly depth. He recalled her horrified face when Toby had appeared in his doorway, and how she had seemed distrait and restless after he had flung away. Evidently Toby had cared pretty desperately for her, and the seeming revelation of her double-dealing had driven him wildly away.
"Silly young fool!" was Blake's comment. And then, in softer mood: "But if I run across him anywhere, I'll tell him enough to prove she had not deceived him in the way he thought. I wonder where he is? Heaven send he does not return before the inquiry, or he may hopelessly complicate matters!"
For the next few days it was the inquiry that almost entirely filled Blake's mind, and, until it was safely passed, he knew he could never feel secure. Exactly what Bobbie had overheard, and where, was left so vague that, in view of the obviousness of the murder attempt, he was doubtful if Mr. Shute would let it pass without further unravelling. But in this he underrated Sir James's influence, for as soon as the latter was notified by the police that Mr. Shute would be at Geegi on a certain date, and the case would then be brought before him, Sir James started off to interview the magistrate privately. They had been friends socially for a long time, and, after talking over the whole affair, the magistrate was willing to pass the only verdict necessary--that of attempted murder, foiled by the | | 224 prompt action of Miss Glynn and the timely help of Mr. Blake, who caused the first shot to swerve, and the devoted service of the Angoni native Jim, who lost his life defending his master.
As Bobbie was in no condition to travel forty miles in the great heat of November, her written deposition was accepted, and the case was brought to an end. Very little of it reached the papers, and, in spite of his importance, Sir James contrived afterwards to laugh the matter aside so satisfactorily that it never received serious attention. Hence no rumour reached Toby, in his self-imposed exile, that might have opened his eyes and brought him back. The discovery that Van Tyl owned the claim next to his on Loka kopje explained a good deal more to Sir James, and in his heart he suspected that Van Tyl had nursed some idea of moving the pegs. This was confirmed by something his carriers learnt at Shagann's kraal, but, as he only wanted the case quickly ended, he said nothing about it. His personal visit to the kraal itself only showed him that, if any of its inhabitants had been inculpated, it had been arranged secretly, and probably he would never trace the real offenders, however much he tried. So he contented himself with giving the old chief Shagann a severe talking to, and reducing him to a condition of abject humility before the sturdy Angoni carriers who formed Sir James's bodyguard. The only thing that still puzzled him was Blake's part, and, much as he would have liked to unravel the mystery, he felt a delicacy about probing too far because of Bobbie's attitude. He felt that he must respect her unspoken wish, but he was not in the least surprised when, after the
"I'm sorry you have to go away. This is a busy time for farmers, is it not? How will you get your mealies planted?"
"I have a good head boy," Blake answered brusquely, not caring to meet Sir James's eyes."He will see to them."
"You are fortunate," said Sir James drily. "From the complaints that reach me of the stupidity and cupidity of the natives from my farmer constituents, anyone would think there were no good boys existent."
"He is an Angoni, and he has six northern boys under him. I certainly should not care to leave anything solely to Mashonas."
"I understand Van Tyl had inherited the other claim on Loka kopje from his brother," Sir James went on. "Did you know that?"
"Yes. He told me it was the reason for his coming up here." Blake had suddenly discovered that his gaiter had come unfastened, and stooped low to fix it again, so that Sir James could not see his face. In spite of his will, he knew a tell-tale flush had shown on his usual pallor.
"Did he meet you amicably? Down in the Transvaal, if I remember rightly, his threatenings were breathed against you also."
"They were; but he seemed to have thought better of it. Probably he conceived I might be | | 226 useful to him. All the same, had he carried out his designs against you, I do not doubt my turn would have come next."
"His claim was not much good," said Sir James, watching his companion narrowly, "unless he could have succeeded in moving the pegs and getting some of mine. I had the top of the hill."
Blake winced very slightly, but he had himself well in hand now, and succeeded in answering coolly: "I dare say that was his intention. He was not the man to stick at a little matter like stealing a claim."
"But you would have known?" asked Sir James pointedly.
"No, I don't think anyone would have known. It's a nasty hill to climb, and no one has given it much attention. Do you think there is gold there worth digging?" replied Blake, changing his voice.
"I am sure there is. I shall commence operations very shortly. I am sorry you are going away, as one is always so glad of a farm near a mine. I-I suppose you wouldn't sell it?"
Blake gave a low, harsh laugh. What was Sir James driving at now? Was he giving him a chance to quit the neighbourhood, or did he merely want to be rid of him?
"I might, at a fancy price."
"Well, let me know if you will. It is not very healthy at Loka, and I should not mind my manager having his home here, provided, of course, the mine pays to work. He could have a motor-bicycle, and do the distance in about fifteen minutes."
"I'm fond of the farm," Blake said, a trifle shortly.
"I'm sure you are," replied Sir James, in a bland voice; "but, still, a price is a price, and one often | | 227 changes one's mind. I must be getting back now, as Miss Glynn will be anxious to hear how things have passed off. Of course, you will be coming in to say good-bye before you depart. She is nearly well now."
Once more Fortescue saw Blake's thin face twitch and a hunted look come into his eyes, and the idea in his mind gained ground rapidly. He began to think that Blake had indeed been near Shagann's kraal the night of the tragedy as an accomplice, and that Bobbie knew it. Why she should shield him, if so, he scarcely asked. His belief in her judgment was such that he was quite content if it were her wish. All the same, he considered that the neighbourhood of his new mine would be well rid of the pioneer farmer, and decided to acquire the farm if Blake would listen to reasonable terms.
He told Bobbie later on of the offer he had made, and he saw that in some way it pleased her, though she said very little. As a matter of fact, it rejoiced her, for she knew that if he came back to his store, Toby would be glad, and it seemed to her better altogether that Blake should leave the neighbourhood.
"If I get it, I think I must give it to you for a wedding present," Sir James told her lightly. "A little token of gratitude, eh? You might put our friend Toby Fitzgerald there to manage it for you. He told me he was hankering for a farm," he ran on, not noticing the pallor of her face. "As a matter of fact, all the men out here are. Gold mines sound all right in England, but, once get here, and it's a farm, or a plot of land which is the nearest approach to it. I'm sure Fitzgerald would make a most | | 228 original manager, and he could run his store as well. You must say ' Yes ' to me to-morrow, little girl"--gently teasing her-"then I shall make a special effort to bring Blake to terms."
His reference to the morrow meant that the week for which Bobbie had stipulated was not yet over, though it seemed to her that every day brought a fresh coil to enslave her will--so much had been arranged since he asked her to marry him, and she had pleaded that week's delay.
Bay and Ken were to take over the management of the new mine at once, and if, when the time came, they won their disputed claim, Sir James had offered to finance the working of it for them; and while one of them worked their own property, the other could still manage the Loka mine. This would enable them to stay in their pretty hut-home for the present, and would give Bobbie many opportunities to visit the neighbourhood she had grown to love. Sir James further held out hopes of a Civil Service appointment, not too far away, for Betty's fiancé, and the depression they had all tried to hide from Bobbie had melted away.
She knew they took it for granted she had made up her mind to marry Sir James, and that her lassitude was purely physical, and for them it seemed that the day of ill-fortune had indeed passed by.
Yet, even at this late hour, she believed one word from Toby would give her the courage to tell Sir James the truth, and trust to his generosity not to disappoint them all now--one word that let her dare to hope that Toby still loved her and believed in her, and would presently come back.
But day followed day, and there was no sign out | | 229 of the silence and blankness, and a chill hopelessness gained ground in her heart. Of course, if Toby were never coming, it mattered little whether she married Sir James or not. She almost wondered if anything would ever matter again. She would at least have the happy satisfaction of having turned the tide of affairs for her brothers and Betty, and, if Sir James were willing to take her under the circumstances, she might as well follow the obvious course. Perhaps even the town life would not matter now. After all, it was Toby who had made their lovely wilderness joyous. Without him she felt that the trees and the veldt would flower in vain for her. She would have to put the dear, foolish, inconsequent days behind her, and grow up--that was all--as well in one place as another, provided she had the satisfaction of having turned that tide of ill-fortune bearing down upon them.
So, on the sixth day of her week's delay, she hardened her heart; and if her laugh was a little harsh as it had never been before, at least it was more frequent.
Sir James noted it and was glad, and became emboldened to talk further of giving her Blake's rich farm for a wedding present. But the allusions to Toby almost undid her. Ah, if they could have been there together, how happy they might have been!
"Tell me to-day," Sir James had urged gently.
"No." And she turned her head away to hide the pain in her eyes. "You must play fair. I will tell you tomorrow."
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