Thinking that her lover had failed her, she married another—and then faced the dreadful thought that maybe she had made a mistake
BY THE TIME the ship passed Suez, the sense of unreality left Monica. She no longer felt that she was dreaming, but realized that England and Trewyn were behind her irrevocably and she was at sea, halfway to Africa to be married to her Donald.
She came on deck next morning to a smart breeze, with the sun glittering on white-crested combers, and her spirits rose. She was just twenty; tall, rangily built, with long, restrained curves. Her creamy skin, wide coral mouth and amber eyes composed a face not beautiful but rare and vital, not to be ignored.
Going down to breakfast, she found in the seat next to her that had been vacant the huge tahned man whom she had noticed when he came on board at Suez. As she sat down he said, "Good morning,” in a husky bass and met her gaze with grave grey eyes. She saw a flush rise slowly underneath his bronze. His eyes, and the gentleness of his mouth under the clipped mustache, queerly belied the grim appearance of the rest of him.
He said: "It’s good to be at sea, after Suez. It’s stifling there."
"Isn’t it wonderful?” she replied. "I never dreamed anything could be so blue as it is now.”
"One of the things you don't tire of. They’re few enough. This is your first trip, then?”
"My very first. I w'as never out of Devon before this. I’m going to Mombasa.”
His brows went up. “So am I. I live in Kenya Colony.” Her face was eager. “In Kenya? Do you happen to know a place called Jingari?”
"Very well. That’s the town nearest to my district. Are you bound for there?”
Her heart was racing now. "There’s a—Did you ever meet Donald Holbrook in Jingari?”
"Holbrook? With Stone and Dennison’s? Fair chap with a smile? Yes. He a friend of yours?”
"Yes. He is. Tell me about him, won’t you?”
"Oh. I know him only slightly and I’ve been away three months. Last time I saw him was in the club, the day 1 left.”
Her heart gave a violent jump. "But you’couldn’t have,” she ejaculated. "He wasn’t there.”
Limbrey lx)ked down at her sharply, noting the wide gaze with its utter candor, its fear and its loneliness. He saw the bloom on her skin, the liquid depth of her eyes, the poignancy and wonder in her wide, mobile lips, and he realized her extreme inexperience and youthfulness.
So he said, with careful nonchalance: “Of course, I could easily have been mistaken. 1 hardly know the chap. When you asked. I just thought I remembered seeing him with some fellows at the club.”
She had collect«! herself by now. wondering how his words could have so disconcerted her when she knew he must be wrong.
"You see,” she said in a burst of unpremeditated confidence. “we’re engaged to be married. I;nald went out to Africa to a better job so that we could be. I knew you could not have seen him. because three months ago he went on a long trip into the interior, out of reach of the mails. Of course I haven’t heard since then. And my grandfather died.” Her lips shook and tears glistened in her eyes. "He was my only relative and now I’m all alone. But he left some money, so I just came out at once to Donald. He doesn’t know a thing about it. Won’t he be surprised when he comes back to Jingari and finds me waiting there? That is, of course, if he hasn’t got back while I’ve been on the way.”
Limbrey did not answer but gazed straight ahead, nibbling at his underlip. By and by he said: "It will be wonderful for him. And you are a brave girl to start out alone.”
She did think he might have said something more about her romance, but he plunged into a vivid and absorbing talk about life in East Africa.
Thereafter it transpired that most of her time was spent with Limbrey, who, she had learned, was an official of the Kenya Civil Service. As soon as she came on deck he would turn up unobtrusively, diffident yet with an air of inviolable strength. At deck tennis he displayed a fierce agility startling in one of his magnificent stature. She found that in his society she invariably had repose. It was as though she had known him always, as if he had been in the background all the days of her life.
The sense of grandeur and
remoteness she had felt in him at first took on a flavor of intimacy and benign and cordial refuge. Sometimes she surprised in his eyes a strange look, puzzled, incredulous, anxious; and sometimes she sensed that he hovered on the brink of speaking words which, though she waited for them, never came. He talked little; and his silence was more eloquent than his words. Except when he spoke of Africa. Then, by and by he would forget himself and his speech flowed forceful and vivid, painting broad, blazing pictures till, suddenly aware of his unguardedness, he would stop, flushing, and lapse into silence.
As her journey’s end grew imminent, she lived in gathering tension and intolerance of the time still to pass.
r\N THE last day of the voyage they came on deck after dinner to a sea of long, slow-heaving, oily swells. The sun was low and cloud -banked, and the sleek undulations gleamed like copper in the lurid glow.
Limbrey gazed down at her in his sidelong way. with the soft light in his eyes and the small smile on his lips. “Care to come for’ard?”
I le had taken her sometimes to the
eyes of the ship, there delightedly to gaze downward at the prow cutting black water, with flying fish skittering ahead. She led on down the ladder and past the cargo winches to the bows, where they leaned on the rail in silence, while the wind snored past their ears and rhythmically the deck beneath them heaved and sank. The sun went down quickly, its light changing to a violet hue that veiled everything like smoke. The rich effulgence burnished Limbrey’s hair and threw into high relief the sculptured
repose of his face. Suddenly his head went up. and he stood as if listening intently. Then he breathed long and deep and, it appeared, with gratitude “D'you smell that?” he said. ‘‘That's Africa!”
She was aware of a new subtle perfume on the wind that was at once sweet and acrid, conveying sensations both glamorous and sinister, like a lovely but evil woman, an exquisite dagger or the fierce head of a hawk.
Though Limbrey was silent, she sensed a great unrest in him. The gold of the West changed to blood, while dusk settled over the sea and the Lascar lookout wailed his melancholy. “ Huuu dectaiii.” Limbrey bulked stark and black against the sunset. To her he seemed in an extraordinary way to be a living part of all of it, as was the sea and the sultry wind of Africa.
Suddenly he turned to her. “Monica!”
She looked up quickly, for it was the first time he had addressed her so. In the ruddy and fantastic light still remaining, her face against her rippling hair was like ripe apricots in a carved ebony bowl.
“All my life I’ve been looking for something I knew was waiting for me, something splendid. I’ve known always that it would come, though I never dreamed what it might be. But now I know. It was you. That seems incredible for I’ve known you just ten days. Yet it is so. I love you. I want you to marry me tomorrow in Mombasa.”
She stared in complete amazement at his face above her in the gloom and said lamely, “But I’m going to be married in Jingari.”
He nodded. “You mustn’t. Some things in this world are ordained from the first, accomplished in fact before our beginnings. This of you and me is like that. Can’t you see, can’t you feel, how real it is; how we belong, how utterly right everything is when we are together? In all my life
I’ve experienced nothing like it.” Suddenly his voice was
ardent. “Don’t think, don’t question. Do what 1 ask, I beg of you.”
“But it’s impossible. I don’t understand this. I simply had no idea. I’ve known you only a few days. Donald and I have been waiting to get married for years and years.” Limbrey’s great frame bent lower. "I understand that, too. That’s why I ask you not to think but to do what I ask. Though whether you marry him or not can make no difference. We were meant for each other. That I know, as I have always known certain things when they appeared. You will come to see it one day, too; of that also I am sure. Sooner or later we shall be together. But I want to waste no years between.” He seized her arms with a swift, certain movement, and at his grip an unfamiliar pang stabbed through her.
“We belong to each other, Monica. Tomorrow, in Mombasa.”
She wrenched herself free, almost with loathing, suddenly hostile and defensive. “Will you please stop. It isn’t fair. You know I’m going to Donald, and he’s waiting for me.” “Dear ...”
She stamped her foot. “No! Let me go!” She darted past him and across the forecastle to the passenger deck. He following quietly.
The next day the Arab Chief dropped anchor in the Kilindini roads.
TT WAS NIGHT when the train reached Jingari. Limbrey drove her from the station through darkness, odorous and strange and peopled with fantastic things, to Vazzos’ hotel on Rigby Street, and left her there with the assurance of his good offices next day.
Feeling at this juncture desperately scared and lonely,
Monica went to bed in a room bare but clean, with pinkflowered wall paper and a battered bed of wnite iron with brass knobs.
Next morning, right after breakfast, she climbed into the rickshaw which Vazzos called for her. The Greek directed the huge Kavirondo drawing it. who, after a short drive through green-bo we red streets, drew up before the sheet-iron warehouse of Stone and Dennison. In an office reeking of sweet sim-sim oil a fat man with a red face, dressed in sloppy ducks, stared at the startling vision of Monica, immaculate in white, with her clear, tawny skin and wide coral lips slightly parted. At this moment, so near to the fulfillment of years of dreaming and hunger, there was a light on her that was not all earthly.
“May I come in?”
The man came to life and jumixxl to his feet. "Excuse me. Of course. Have a chair, won't you?” He dragged one up, and when she had taken it sat down and faced her enquiringly.
“I’m Donald Holbrook’s fiancée. Would you be kind enough to tell me when you expect him back? He is overdue already several weeks.”
The man said: “I’m afraid we don’t know anything of Holbrook since he left us.”
“Yes. Four months ago. He was here in town for quite a while, but just recently he pulled out. Went inside on safari, some one said. Though I don’t know.”
She said with great deliberation, in a voice remote and still: “You say lie lived in this town till recently, after leaving you months ago?”
“Why, yes. Apparently when he was twenty-five lie came into some money under an uncle’s will. That was when he left us. Didn’t need to grind in an office any more.
he said. Er—if there’s anything I can do . . .?”
But Monica had heard enough. She stood up looking straight before her, her eyes sunk and enormous and her face like old dead ivory now that the blood had left it. "Thank you very much,” she said, and left him standing mystified. She went out with leaden feet into the rickshawsaying to the slim brown native, “Vazzozi Hotel.” as Vazzos had told her to do.
As the light carriage threaded the falsettojabbering negro throng, she was not thinking Her mind seemed to have stopped.
When she crossed the hotel verandah, Limbrey rose from a seat by the door. He was well-groomed and dressed in white. His crisp brown hair was w'ell brushed, and he looked intensely masculine and virile as he waited, rather diffidently, his lean head bent a little and his gentle, steady eyes on her. She met them in silence while her lips shook.
“I wanted to lx* here when you came back,” hi said simply.
Her gorge rose in resentment at the intimacy of his knowltxlge. "Then you knew all the time?'
He nfxlded miserably.
“And you let me go on believing, let me gc to that office
“Would you have thanked me on the ship, or Ix'lieved me in your heart, if I had spoken? Would it have done you any grxxi if I had spoiled those days, and would you not have had to find out for yourself, just as you have tfxiay? I knew I liad seen him at the club, as I said first. But when 1 realized how it was with you I thought it better to keep silent. Oh. please don’t go. I>et me be with you for a little while. I promise not to talk or bother you. I’ve a car outside. Ixt me take you for a drive. Please. It will be better than being alone at such a time.”
Indifferently Monica let him put her into a worn roadster and drive in silence out of the town to a rolling plain, knee deep in grass, spangled with wild gladioli and dotted with clumps of gaunt, sprawling trees. By no sign did lie betray that he was conscious of her presence, driving steadily till by and by they left the main road for a deeply rutted dirt trail that wound intimately through the undulations of the country.
A feeling of remoteness and unreality closed in on her. Hot, dry puffs of aromatically pungent air came from the long grass, on whose spears small birds in clouds hung pendant. Once in a while a covey of grouse broke, wrhirring, before their progress. Limbrey drove, one elbow' slung over the door, looking straight before him with eyes creased against the fierce sun. Monica was huddled in the corner, drawn and pale, her eyes haunted and a sullen droop to her usually laughing lips.
Presently the car came to a stop at a break in a clump of trees, beyond which in gentle slopes the ground fell away to an infinitely distant skyline. Limbrey did not break the silence. The dry wind stirred the grass and the tiny birds swayed its spears downward, vultures wheeled splendidly in
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the blue vault above, and a half dozen monkeys, curious, edged closer through the trees.
After a while he laid his hand over hers as it rested on her knee. She made to withdraw it, but he restrained her with a strong though gentle pressure till she gave in. At last he said: “What will you do? You told me you are alone and have very little money.”
“What does it matter?”
“Tomorrow I must go back to my country, for my leave is up. I’m asking you to come with me, because I love you.” “I don’t believe in love. Nothing that was true could ever hurt one as loving has hurt me.”
“Have it your way. But if nothing matters to you, then why not come with me? Come just because I ask and you don’t care, come for refuge because you have no money, come because it would be no more distasteful than any other course, come for any reason whatsoever so long as you do come. I promise that you shall be free to leave whenever you wish, and that unless you choose there never shall be anything between us that is not between us now. If it were possible I would not even ask that you marry me. But because of my position that would be necessary.”
By no sign did she betray that she had even heard him, and he talked on steadily, bringing to bear every force of will, suggestion, art or subterfuge to achieve his end, while she crouched in her cold and ivory pallor as far from him as she could cram herself, angry, bitter and indifferent. But at last, while still his pressure showed no sign of tiring, she moved in her seat very wearily and looked at him with an expression curious, distant and distasteful.
“Oh, very well, if you want it so. But I think you must be mad.”
Whereupon he fell silent, gazing unblinkinglv at the far purple hills; and only by the grip of his hand did he betray awareness of her presence.
SIX MONTHS after she had got out of a men-litter before Dick Limbrey’s bungalow and allowed him to lead her up, Monica came down the steps, mounted the grey Arab he had given her and loped off along the river trail for her afternoon ride. Events had set their mark on her. Her face was thinner, carved more boldly. More marked than anything, the pristine freshness of her girlhood had ripened to that glamor which her adolescence had promised. Limbrey was away on one of his long tours of inspection of his district.
As she came to the ford a safari was just crossing, a straggling file of natives bearing big loads on their heads, from the mass of new scars on their legs and the condition of their loads returning from long travel in bad country. On the far side of the stream a white man sat on an ant hill, counting them across. She pulled up and waited as the men, Giryamas mostly, almost naked, huge and brawny, wallowed through the muddy shallows and panted, sweating, past her up the bank. When all were over, the white man vaulted on to the back of his gun-bearer to lie carried dryshod across. Then he too came laboring up toward her; a slim, active man, with a fine figure and an air of trenchant competence, dressed in faded khaki shirt, shorts, puttees and sun helmet. The exposed parts of him were burned deep bronze. Monica was aware of a vague trouble in her breast, and was wondering at this when he looked up. She noticed how his fair mustache stood out against the tan. And then her heart turned over and the blood flooded her face. For it was Don.
Till that moment she had been concealed from him by a bush, but now, coming suddenly upon the smart horsewoman, his hand went to his topi. For a moment he held a manner of pleasantly surprised address. Then he started and his eyes widened.
Her throat was tight with fury. The mare felt this and began to fight, and Don reached up for the bridle. Then her arm moved, seemingly of its own volition, and brought down the crop savagely on his outstretched hand. The mare reared and whirled, and Don. angrily clutching an agonizing fist, watched Monica spur wildly up the slope and gallop down the river trail.
TT WAS just before dinner, the sun sinking. Monica had declined an invitation to dine at the doctor’s. She was not hungry, being consumed by an intolerable restlessness and anger. Down in the kraals by the ford, drums beat and women chanted. The evening smokes rose straight and still. Slim canoes drifted on the river, gleaming like polished steel. White egrets and black crows beat slowly homeward in great flocks, low overhead.
Fcrid appeared with cherry and appej tizers, but she motioned him away impatiently. Then footsteps sounded on the | drive, familiar footsteps which she had known would surely come some time that evening. Don had changed into ducks, very smart and debonair as he came up the steps. The callow boy who had left her in England had become a man. lean. hard, assured and purposeful, with the wild light burning brighter in keen eyes, and the | winning smile grown most intense and vital. !
He came with an easy manner to where she stood, silent and pale, her eyes deep : burning in her hollow face, one hand on a chair back. She said: “Please go away.
I don’t want to see you.”
He smiled without humor and his eyes challenged her. “You can’t get out of things as easily as that.”
She struggled to control her surging anger. “What do you mean?”
He indicated the bungalow Dick Limbrey’s bungalow with a deprecatory hand. “Dombey told me. It was a bit of a surprise, you’ll understand.”
“It can’t concern you at all.”
“Can’t concern me? I left you in England. • with the promise between us that nothing, J no misunderstanding nor misfortune, could ; ever change what we felt toward each other. I Now I run into you here in Africa, married ! to another man. And you say it can't concern me.”
Her words poured out torrentially. “I waited and waited, without a word from you. Then grandfather died and left me some money and I came straight out, never doubting you for a moment, to be waiting when you came back from the interior. And then I found you’d been in Jingari all that time. All that time I had been lonely, j waiting and waiting and waiting, and you ; hadn’t written me. You’d come into money j and left the firm, and you'd gone, away from ¡ Jingari just before I aime, and never ! written even then.”
“So you married another man inside a I week, to make the best of a bad job?”
The icy truth of this struck her dumb. ] and lie proceeded:
“You didn’t care much, did you. if that j was all it t(X)k to break you down, after ] what we’d said so often? You see. after | I got out here and had time to think, it came to me that perhaps I’d taken a pretty ; mean advantage of you - -just a kid really. ; hid away there at Trewyn with no one but me about, by tying you down as I had. And that the sporting thing to do would be to drop out till I could afford to marry you. let you find out if I really meant so much, and give you a chance to fill the gap I’d left and forget me. If I kept writing I knew that would hold you pinned, and I wanted to feel right with myself about it when the time really came when I could send for you. So I wrote that I should be away for a long time, out of reach of the mails. That way you’d have time to find out in your heart how you really felt. Under uncle’s will, when I was twenty-five I got a little money, and I left the firm to dig out on my own.
I heard of a sporting opportunity and went
i after it, feeling sure of you in my heart all the time and happy that, even, so I was giving you the chance to free yourself of what, after all, might have been only an infatuation. I’ve made my killing. Everything would have been possible for us now, and I was hurrying back to you as hard as I could go. And this is what I find.”
By now her face expressed complete bewilderment and consternation. Before she could speak he went on:
“We promised that nothing, no misunderstanding nor misfortune—” His gaze went round the room and he shrugged. "Well, it’s just as well I did find out, isn’t it?”
“Oh, Don! You shan’t say that. It wasn’t as you say. I never dreamed of such a thing. I couldn’t imagine any reason why you’d been in Jingari all that time and never written, when I was waiting and so lonely. Oh. don’t look at me like that!” “Well, maybe I was a fool to do it. But that’s how I felt at the time. And all you’ve said doesn’t explain Limbrey, does it?”
She hung her head. Ferid came in, rolling his big eyes from one to the other. "Potio, bu ana!" She looked up distressed, doubting, a picture of dismayed and forlorn loveliness. "Won’t you-stay with me for dinner?”
; TT WAS a week later; with Limbrey still I away, but overdue returning. Donald j and Monica sat on the verandah after dinner, finishing their coffee. Down by the river the drums beat their eternal rhythm. The fires twinkled. Above the black line of the Sadias hills against the jade-green west, a* lone star hung, while from the river drifted through the bungalow gusts of dark, chill odor, alternating with sweet, salty fragrance from the flowers outside.
Don turned in his chair and leaned deliberately across the table in the translucent light, taking her hand. “What’s the use of struggling against the tide like this? We couldn't help what’s happened. It just broke that way. We both made mistakes. But you’re still you and I’m still me. I want you, and you know in your heart that you want me. It’s madness, going against it. It’s imperative that I break camp and go down to the coast. Come with me. I’ve worked and waited for you and I want •you. It’ll be just hell to leave you with another man; and a man, at that, whom you don’t love. Why, even now, from what you tell me, he’s a stranger to you.”
She had a vision of Limbrey, huge, lean, a little stooped, towering above her. with lurking smile and his grey gentle eyes; and ' behind him she saw that vision of a mountain that thoughts of him always brought her.
Don came swiftly round the table and dropped on his knee beside her, his young brown face upturned, his eyes fired and eager. “You’re more beautiful than ever. Monica. I’ve waited and I’ve worked for i you.”
Vividly she remembered days long ago ! at Trewyn, when in the ancient garden she ! had worshipped Galahad and Ix>hengrin and Jason, and Don with his yellow hair and radiant smile came whistling for the first time down the road, to make visual the splendor of those long-dead paladins. As if he read her thoughts, he whispered: “Have you forgotten those days at Trewyn, what we dreamed on the little lawn by the sundial? It’s all coming true, isn’t it?” There was a lump in her throat, choking her. stifling the “Yes," that she was trying to say. If only that lump would go. she knew she would be filled with surging ecstasy. But it remained, clammy within her, holding her dumb. And suddenly Don’s face changed, and he stood up abruptly, a little white round the lips. “I’m making a fool of myself. I might have known if I’d meant anything at all to you. you couldn’t have married Limbrey. Good night!” He turned his back on her, and as she sprang up with a cry of protest, ran swiftly down the steps into the compound.
"Don’t!’’ she called recurrently, “Don’t! Come back, please!”
But as she grojied toward him in the dark there came the clatter of his horse’s
hoofs and he flashed past her down the drive to the river path.
She went with dragging feet back to the verandah and sat down, feeling unutterably lonely. It was night now, the sky clear and star-powdered. Insects and reptiles shrilled a full sibilant orchestra. The never-ceasing drums beat on, and on the far side of the stream hyraxes and hyenas drooled, shrieked and jabbered.
Crouched big-eyed in her chair, staring into the night, she could not hide from herself the face of Don as he had knelt before her, bringing her visions of the summer days at Trewyn, they two in the ancient garden, dreaming, the ineffable and poignant sweetness of it all. In contrast, the cold bitterness of his voice as he left lier was gall. She lay back and relaxed, abandoning herself to dreams of precious days in Devon, till she could smell the thyme and roses and the pinks, and hear the doves coo and the breeze sigh through the elms. It dawned on her how far she had departed from her promises, and all at once, with knife-edge clarity, she realized that she had failed, she had betrayed, while Don had held faithfully to the truth. He had waited and worked, denied himself, thinking only of her. He had made good. Now he was cheated of his reward. And he was Don, her Don, whom in secret in her tiny room at Trewyn she had clothed in Galahad’s shining armor. He had gone, steeped in bitterness, because of her. It couldn’t be. They belonged. She must, she would, go to him. And Limbrey must make the best of it. She had married him against her will, she told herself defiantly, because he wanted it on any terms. He could not rightly look to her for anything, and in his rugged and inviolable aloofness he would not miss her.
Suddenly she was on her feet, at her writing desk, lighting candles. She ran through her room, shaking awake Lalli, her ayah, in the little cubbyhole outside, and hustling her off to order her horse saddled. Then she sat down with near hysterical haste and wrote:
“You have been more kind than I can say. You have kept your promises to the letter, and for these I thank you from the bottom of my heart. But Donald is here. Everything that went wrong between us was a mistake—my fault—I did not trust him enough. I have done him a great injustice. I love him and I’m going to him. If I am doing you any hurt, I ask you to forgive me.”
She sealed and addressed the envelope, then, picking up the lamp, went to a door that she had never passed—that of Dick Limbrey’s room. She opened it with a straight arm, slowly as if she feared it might be occupied. Holding the lamp high, she stepped almost fearfully within. The place was spacious and airy, neat, simple; a single white iron bed under its mosquito bar, a long cane chair, table against the wall with a mirror above, with excellent silver appointments laid out on it. There was a row of treed boots, a long shelf of beautifully bound books, native grass mats on the cool stone floor, a few old sporting prints on the walls. Almost a naked chamber, yet adequate and in a strange way caressing. As she tiptoed toward the dresser an unfamiliar poignancy moved in her heart. She propped the letter before the mirror, snatched it up and replaced it in a panic as it fell, turned and fled swiftly to her own room. While feverishly she changed into riding kit she heard the jingle of the bridle of her horse, waiting under the acacias, and soon she ran down the steps into the starlight, mounted, and at once was wrestling with the mare in the deep sand of the river path, leaving behind forever Dick Limbrey, huge, silent and tender, who had come out of nowhere to her succor in her hour of need and sheltered her these few months, and now silently was fading into the void from which he came. Even now she felt his presence, as since the day they met she had done unceasingly, as it were looming above and behind her, something clean and elemental and eternal, impartial and impassive, as a mountain or a desert or the sea.
The station lights were lost among the trees and the drumming in the kraal grew faint, as the mare felt her way down the steep bank to the ford, across which Donald had returned to her. Then she was cantering through velvet dark under the unbroken vault of stars, incredible in number and in brilliance.
The mare went steadily, breathing like a man asleep, on a trail winding through tall grass in which wild things fled frantically before her progress with tramplings and sports. She topped a rise by and by and below her lay Don’s camp—the fires of his boys beside which the drums were throbbing, his white tents, and his own fire apart from the rest.
When she came near a dog dashed out. barking, and Don started from a camp chair under the tent-fly, calling peremptorily. “ Hodi!" which meant, “Who goes there?” In mosquito boots over ducks, with white, sleeve-rolled shirt, he came striding out into the dark till, seeing the fire gleam golden on the fretting mare, with Monica, erect and lissom, curbing her, he broke into a run and caught the bridle, with a delighted cry of “Monica!” As he led the horse to the tent he yelled for a black boy, who came running and when she had dismounted took the beast away.
DON SAID, “I was sitting here thinking about you, and then you came, riding into the firelight.”
“You said I’d failed you, Don. It’s not too late to make that good, is it?”
His voice was so fervid as to startle her. “Too late!” He took her in his arms, kissing her avidly, calling her beautiful, while she lay limp and submissive, and wondering at the coldness at her heart. His lips were at her ear, his breath hot. “No! You’re wonderful. And to think I almost let you go!” Suddenly he stooped and swept her off her feet, and before she knew what was happening had run in a few steps carrying her. and ducked through the tent door. The leaping firelight was replaced by a dim, lurid glow filtering through canvas. Now, looking into his face bent close to hers, she saw it blazing with a light she had not seen on any man’s. It was vulpine, rapacious and, more than anything to her, was that of a stranger, an unclean and hateful man whom she had never seen before.
With a tigerish writhe she was out of his arms and on her feet, her hands pressed fiercely against his chest, holding him off, while she searched the countenance straining so close to hers. A sudden but profound conviction burst upon her that he had been lying since the day they met at Tenjje; that his story of events at Jingari was false, and his wooing since then merely the attempt of a selfish and unscrupulous adventurer to reap the fruits of opportunity. The boy she had known at Trewyn was not here, and never existed even, being but the creation of her own imagination inspired by years of lonely dreaming. This was a stranger and hateful.
Searching her eyes, amber and wide and liquid, Don saw the fear that grew there. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “This had to come. Kiss me, Monica.”
She exploded into furious resistance. “No! Let me go! Dt me go!”
He chuckled and his hard arms drew her to him. With her free hand she struck him savagely on the face, so that he recoiled in pain and surprise. Then she was out of the tent, running silently into the soft, friendly dark.
“At the boys’ fires some fifty yards away, she caught the gleam of the mare, being led to and fro. She fled toward it, hearing Don panting behind her, had snatched the bridle and was in the saddle just as he dashed up. In ten seconds the fires were behind her, the mare going like a hunted stag up the soft trail. She fled toward the vision of a mountain, cool, chaste, impassive, that offered her sure and inviolable sanctuary.
Till the mare showed signs of exhaustion she did not draw rein; then she pulled up, listening between the beast’s breathing for sounds of pursuit. But she heard only the
full-chorused shrilling of night things and. putting her mount into a free lope, headed homeward.
Now, by and by. a new fear gripped her. Suppose by some malignant chance Limbrey had returned while she was absent and found her letter. Then there would be no place for her at Tenjje. no cool and blissful haven such as she had known in the months past.
At once distressed again after the brief respite, she spurred to a gallop, thundering desperately through the dark, at last to splash through the ford, labor up the steep trail on the other side and leap from the exhausted beast before the bungalow.
It was shadowy and silent. Almost ominously so, it seemed to her distorted mind. But the oil lamp burned on the verandah table, just as she had left it and, leaving the drooping mare to make her way alone round to the stable, she went up the steps and, diffidently, into the big living room.
There she stood, poised and tense, listening. There was no sound. She went back to the verandah, picked up the lamp and tiptoed with it to Dick Limbrey’s door. There again she stopped with checked breath, listening, at last slowly to push it open and, holding the lamp high, peer fearfully within. All was as she had last seen it, and the white square of the letter propped beneath the mirror sprang up to ! her sight. With a leap of gratefulness at her heart, she hurried across, snatched it up and thrust it deep into her bosom.
Now that all was safe, suddenly she felt weak and sick. She set down the lamp and subsided into Limbrey’s chair, where at once she gave way to tears.
At last her sobs ceased. She dried her eyes, sniffling, and stood up, and was at once aware of that unfamiliar movement at her heart which first had come to her in this room. She stood still, turning her head and gazing about her. She walked to the dressing table w'here his things, scissors and brushes and boot hooks of plain solid silver, all lay gleaming. She touched them with a speculative fingertip. When would he come back? She wished it would be soon. She wanted him near, to feel again the vastness of his serenity and strength. He would stand over her with his little smile as she lay in her chair and touch her shoulder with his fingertips, as he always did.
But it must be three o’clock. He would not come tonight. She must rest, compose herself, so that in the morning there would be no sign in her face of so tempestuous a night. For she must be beautiful for Limbrey in the morning. All at once it was imperative that she should be beautiful for Limbrey. She picked up the lamp, hurried to her room and went to bed, though no sleep came and she lay rigid, her mind racing, till the East turned to jade, the | jade to rose, and the rose to the white heat j of an African dawning.
She rose very early, with one thought only in her mind—when would he return? She hoped desperately that it would be that day, feeling quite incapable of waiting to discover if her night’s madness would have changed the tranquillity and the beauty of the days she had come to know. Everything must be ready for him when he did come. Perhaps he would kiss her, as on rare occasions he had done, stooping to put his lips to her forehead gently. All at once desperately she wanted him to kiss her. I But not on the brow. On the mouth. At the thought of those firm, sweet lips on hers, a fierce, delicious thrill ran through her.
After breakfast she filled the place with flowers and drove the house boys to and fro relentlessly till the place was impeccable. She was in his room polishing his boot hooks with a piece of silk, when she heard horses’ hoofs outside and, dashing out, breathless and scarlet, saw him canter on his big grey i horse into the compound.
As he dismounted and came up the steps in his trail-worn khaki, with his old cracked and spurred butcher boots, she stood fearfully in the centre of the room, for it did not seem possible that he could be unaware of the tempest that had swept over her last j night. ¡
"DUT he came to her, huge, diffident, with !
his gentle eyes and lurking smile, exactly as he had always done. "G(xt;d morning, my dear.” He glanced round at the flowers. "You have excelled yourself. Some one’s birthday?”
“Beautiful,” he then said.
“Yes. Aren’t they?”
"Not the flowers—you!” Ile came close and looked down on her, flushed with the turmoil at her heart, dewy-eyed, lovely. I íe bent above her. She put back her head, offering her lips, closed her eyes, waiting for ecstasy.
His lips touched hers ever so gently, and i she wanted to take his head between her j hands and press her mouth to his forever.
But instead she stcxd rigid, and he straightened with one hand caressingly on her shoulder. 11er pleasure in that moment transcended anything she had ever known.
Limbrey said: “I’ve been up all night. I’m filthy and dog tired. Will you excuse me while I take a tub before I have some breakfast?” His great figure stalked into his room and shut the door. Monica SUXKI where he had left her, her eyes ujxm it. Then she turned away and walked about the bungalow, putting finishing touches on her flowers.
It had become a different place for her now, infinitely lx*autiful, alive with pulsing forces that caressed her spirit. She went to the door and looked across the river and the stupendous rolling sweep of landscape to the violet hills in the far distance. She was suffused with joy, both sensuous and spiritual.
With awe she realized how narrowly she had escaped disaster and, indeed, destruction. For if the truth of Don had held itself concealed from her even for one day she would by now be halfway to Jingari with him, and Limbrey would have read the note and known the truth of her. There would have been no refuge here, no ecstasy such as now ravished her, no glorious vista of the years to come such as she now enjoyed.
Then, following on that thought another came, sending the hot blood to her face to ebb and leave her cold. She was despising Donald, hating him, for what he had done to her. Yet she herself was no whit better, for she had done to Limbrey that same thing. When she had conceived that it served her turn, she had left him unhesitatingly. without thought for him. Only when she found herself betrayed, scared and alone, had she lied to shelter with him. If he had found her letter, there would be no place for her here. Hers was a position of unutterable falseness. Shame and despair enveloped her. The bungalow was a grey and dreary place. She went slowly to her room and sat down, dwelling ujxm this thing which now had come to her. She felt degraded, soiled. Limbrey had befriended her. served her, borne with her with complete unselfishness, and in the end brought her ecstasy. She had twice wronged him, once when she left him, once when she returned. Her feelings were intolerable. She could not endure them for a single moment.
Leaving her room deliberately she knocked on his door. "Dick!”
“May 1 come in?” It was only last night, for the first time, that she had passed that doorway.
“But I’m shaving. I won’t be very long.”
"I want to talk to you at once. Please let me in.”
"Well, if you must. But I’m not just presentable. Come along.”
She opened the door and went in. He stood in his breeches, boots and undershirt, half his face lathered, razor in hand. His chest was arched and rugged, his white arms gnarled with muscle.
She st(xxl before him, very straight and splendid, her face a little wan and hollow from the strain of days past, her eyes larger still by contrast and alive with the emotion that possessed her.
She said. “Last night I ran away to Donald Holbrook. He’s been in camp close by for a week. I left a letter telling you
I liad gone forever. I didn’t care what happened to you. I went to his camp and let him make love to me. and then 1 found I didn’t care for him at all. 1 realized he had never from the first been what I thought: that he was something I had created for myself in my own mind. So I ran back to you. because you gave me food and shelter when I was destitute. But I can’t stand it now. after treating you so. I've been too beastly.” Her lips shook, but she steadied and went on. "I’m going back to him. I’ll pack my things and be ready in an hour. Will you send me as far as Jingari?” She turned to go.
But a long arm shot out and seized her
shoulder. He turned her about and forced up her chin with a big finger. His smile and his eyes were just as always they had been. He said. "I'm glad you told me —though I knew some day you would. I got back here last night while you were gone. I was reading the note when I heard the mare come back. So long as you had come back. I didn't care, so I just slipped out again to make it appear as if I couldn't know.”
"You remember what I said on board the ship? It’s come true, hasn’t it? Say it’s all come true’"
She reached up and took his head between her hands, drew it down to her. put up her lips and pressed his mouth upon them.