THE DESIRE OF GANDELA.
“What on earth have you been
doing to Jim Steele, Clare?” said Mrs Fullerton,
as she came into her drawing-room, and sank into a
cane chair. “He passed me in the gate
looking as black as thunder. He made a lug at
his hat, growled like a dog, and was off like a shot.
Look! there he goes,” pointing to a fast-receding
figure pounding down the strip of dusty road that
fronted the straggling line of unpretentious bungalows.
“I only refused him,”
was the half-laughing, half-sad reply. “What
else was I to do when I don’t care two brass
buttons about the man? Really, Lucy, there are
drawbacks attendant on life in a country where there
are not enough women to go round. He is only
the fifth since I’ve been up here.”
Even had there been enough women to go round, as the
speaker put it, assuredly she herself would not have
come in last among them, if there are any powers of
attraction in an oval face and straight features,
a profusion of golden-brown hair, deep blue Irish eyes
thickly fringed with dark lashes, and a mouth of the
Cupid-bow order. Add to this a beautifully proportioned
figure, rather tall than short, and it is hardly to
be wondered that most of the men in the township of
Gandela and all the region round about went mad over
Clare Vidal. Her married sister, Lucy Fullerton,
formed a complete contrast, in that she was short
and matronly of build, but she was a bright, pretty,
winsome little thing, and correspondingly popular.
“Well, you shouldn’t be
so dangerous, you queenly Clare,” she retorted,
unpinning her hat and flinging it across the room.
“Really it was an act of deadly hostility towards
all our good friends to have brought you up here to
play football with their hearts and their peace of
mind. Not that Jim Steele is any great catch,
“Oh, he’ll get over it,” said Clare.
“They all do.”
From this it must not be imputed to
her that she was vain and heartless. For the
first, she was wonderfully free from vanity considering
her powers of attraction. For the last, her
own heart had never been touched, wherefore she was
simply unable to understand the feeling in the case
of other people, apart from the fact that her words
were borne out by the results of her own observation.
“There was Captain Isard,”
went on Mrs Fullerton, “and Mr Slark, who they
say has good prospects, and will be a baronet at his
father’s death. You sent them to the right-about
“For the first life
in the Matabeleland Mounted Police doesn’t strike
me as ideal,” laughed Clare. “For
the second fancy going through life labelled
Slark. Even, eventually, Lady Slark wouldn’t
palliate it. Besides, I don’t care twopence
“Who do you care twopence for,
among all this throwing of handkerchiefs? There’s
“He never made a fool of himself
in that way. He hasn’t got it in him,”
struck in Clare, speaking rather more quickly.
Her sister smiled to herself at this
kindling of animation.
“Hasn’t got it in him?”
she repeated, innocently mischievous. “You
mean he’s too great a fool?”
“I mean just the reverse. He’s got
too much in him.”
“But you know, dear,
what they say about him that he’s er a
bit of a funkstick.”
“Bit of a funkstick! Pooh!
Look at his face, Lucy. How can a man with
a face like that have an atom of cowardice in his composition?
Why, it’s too ridiculous.” And
the whole-souled contempt which Clare infused into
this vindication would have inspired wild exultation
in the breast of any one of her multifold adorers
near and far, had it been uttered in his own behalf.
Yet her acquaintance with the object thereof was of
the slightest. “Well, you know they say
that one evening there was a bit of a row on over
at the hotel horrid, quarrelsome, fighting
creatures men are and someone insulted
Lamont, or trod on his toes, or something, and, when
he objected, the other wanted him to fight; and he
quite climbed down.”
“I don’t believe it or,
at any rate, the motive they put upon it,” said
Clare decidedly. “People have a way of
piling on to their stories in the most recklessly
top-heavy manner. In all probability he was more
than the other’s match, and kept out of it on
“You make an effective champion,
Clare,” laughed the other, mischievously.
“Well I don’t know the ins and outs of
it. Dick knows more about it than I do.”
“Oho! What does Dick know
more about than you do?” hailed a voice outside
the window, and its owner immediately entered, accompanied
by another man. “Anyhow, that’s
a big bit of news to start with that Dick
should know more about anything under the sun than
you do. Here’s Driffield, and he’s
going to stay lunch.”
“Dick, don’t be silly.
How do you do, Mr Driffield,” greeting the
Native Commissioner. “We were talking about
Mr Lamont, and what they say about him. Clare
says she doesn’t believe a word of it, and I
was saying you knew more about it than I do, Dick.”
“Do you mean the breeze at Foster’s?”
“Well, he did climb down.
There’s no doubt about it. And the funny
part of it is, that with the gloves on there’s
hardly a man anywhere in these parts who can touch
“There you are, Lucy,”
cried Clare triumphantly. “Didn’t
I tell you it was because he was more than the other’s
“Well, it hadn’t got a
look that way at the time, and that was what struck
everybody who saw it. Certainly it struck me,”
replied Fullerton. “But the next time
you girls start taking away your neighbours’
characters, don’t do it at the top of your voices
with window and door wide open. We could hear
you all down the road. Couldn’t we, Driffield?”
“Mr Driffield sets a higher
value on his immortal soul than you do on yours, Dick,”
retorted Mrs Fullerton loftily. “Consequently
he isn’t going to back you in your ahem! unveracity.”
“No. But he’s dying of thirst, Lucy.
So am I.”
She laughed, and took the hint. Then as the two men put down their
glasses, Fullerton went on
“Talking of the gloves that
reminds me of another time when Lamont climbed down.
That time he put on the gloves with Voss. It
was a beautiful spar, and really worth seeing.
Then, just as the fun was at its height, Lamont suddenly
turned quite white as white as such a swarthy
beggar can turn, that is and chucked up
the sponge then and there.”
“Yes. I remember that.
It looked rum certainly but all the same
I’ll maintain that Lamont’s no coward.
He showed no sign of it in the war of ’93 anyway.
If anything rather the reverse.”
“Ah!” exclaimed Clare significantly.
“May have lost his nerve since,”
said her brother-in-law, also significantly.
“Well, I like Lamont,” said Driffield
“I don’t,” said Fullerton, equally
“Mind you, he’s a chap
who wants knowing a bit,” went on the Native
Commissioner. “Then he’s all right.”
“Is he coming to the race meeting, Mr Driffield?”
“Yes. He didn’t
intend to, though, until I gave him your message, Miss
Vidal. We pointed out to him that he couldn’t
stop away after that.”
“Message! But I sent him no message.”
“Oh, Miss Vidal! Come now think
“Really, Mr Driffield, I ought
to be very angry with you for twisting my words like
that,” laughed Clare. “But you
mean well, so let it pass. You are forgiven.”
“Talking of Lamont,” struck
in Fullerton, who had a wearisome way of harking back
to a subject long after everybody else had done with
it, “there’s a yarn going about that he
had to leave his own neighbourhood in England for
showing the white feather. And it looks like
it, remembering what a close Johnny he is about himself.”
Driffield looked up quickly.
“I believe I know who put that
yarn about,” he said. “Wasn’t
it Ancram that new man who’s putting
up at Foster’s?”
“Most likely,” said Fullerton.
“I never heard it myself till a day or two
“Why, what a sweep the fellow
must be,” declared Driffield. “Lamont
has been putting him up since Peters picked him up
in the mopani veldt, nearly dead with thirst.
Saved his life, in fact. I know it’s Ancram,
because he pitched me the same yarn of course
`in strict confidence.’ Confidence indeed!”
“What a cur!” pronounced
Clare. “Oh, what a completely loathsome
“Hear hear!” ejaculated Driffield.
“Cur or not,” said Fullerton,
who over and above his dislike of Lamont was naturally
of a contradictious temperament, “cur
or not, the story has a good deal of bearing on what
we know out here
“If it’s true,” interjected Clare,
with curling lips.
“ He left a kid to
drown. Said he wasn’t going to risk his
life for a gutter kid and wouldn’t
go in after it even when the girl he was engaged to
implored him to. She called him a coward then
and there, and gave him the chuck. This chap
Ancram saw it all. He was there.”
“Then why didn’t he go
in after it himself?” suggested Clare, with
“Says he couldn’t get
there, or something. Anyway Lamont’s girl
chucked him then and there. She was the daughter
of some county big-wig too.”
“Of course I wasn’t there,”
said Clare, “and the man who enjoyed Mr Lamont’s
hospitality, as a stranger in a strange land, was.
Still, I should like to hear the other side of the
“What if it hasn’t got
another side?” said her brother-in-law shortly.
“What if it has? Most
stories have,” answered Clare sweetly.
“Anyway,” struck in Driffield,
“Ancram’s no sort of chap to go around
talking of other people funking. I took him on
patrol with me the other day from Lamont’s.
Thought he’d like to see something of the country
perhaps, and the Matabele. Incidentally, Lamont
lent him a horse and all he wanted for the trip.
Well, the whole time the fellow was in the bluest
of funks. When a lot of the people came to indaba
us, he kept asking whether they might not mean treachery,
or had arms concealed under their blankets.
As to that I told him yes, and legs too.”
Clare went off into a ringing, merry peal.
“Capital!” she cried.
“Oh well ” said Driffield,
looking rather pleased.
“But he was in a terrific funk
all through. The acme of it was reached the
night we slept at the Umgwane drift. Ames voted
him a devil of er, I mean a superlative
nuisance. He kept waking us up at all hours of
the night, wanting to know if we didn’t hear
anything. We had had a big indaba that
day with Tolozi and his people, and this chump kept
swearing he heard footsteps, and they must be stealing
up to murder us in our sleep. I wonder if Peters
had been filling him up with any yarns. But,
anyhow, Ancram’s a nice sort of chap to talk
about other people funking, isn’t he?”
“Why, yes,” said Clare.
“But his behaviour with regard to Mr Lamont
is too contemptible, spreading stories about him behind
his back. Why should he do it, Mr Driffield?
What on earth motive can he have?”
“Cussedness, I suppose sheer
cussedness. A good deal more mischief is made
under that head than is due to mere motive, I imagine.”
“I believe so. By the
way, did you persuade Mr Ames to come over for the
“Persuade! I tried to,
Miss Vidal. But there’s no getting Ames
that far out of his district unless on leave or on
duty. Ames spells conscientiousness exaggerated.”
“That’s a pity,”
said Clare. “He’s one of the nicest
men I know.”
“Except Mr Lamont, Clare,”
appended her sister mischievously.
“They’re so different.
You can’t compare them,” pronounced the
girl, her serenity unruffled. And then they
talked of other things, and had lunch; and after a
digestive smoke the two men went back to their offices Fullerton
being by profession a mining engineer.
The township of Gandela consisted
of a number of zinc-roofed houses, all staringly new,
straggling down what would be the main street when
the town was properly laid out, but at present was
only the coach road. There was a market square,
with at present only three sides
to it; an ugly red-brick building representing the
magistrate’s court; ditto another, representing
the Church of South Africa; a farther block somewhat
more substantially built, which was the gaol, and from
which not more than a dozen or so of prisoners had
escaped since the place was first laid out two years
previously. At a corner of the market square
aforesaid stood the only hotel the place boasted, run
by one Foster, to whom reference has been made; while
away across the veldt, about half a mile distant,
were the barracks of the Matabeleland Mounted Police,
a troop of which useful force watched over the town
and patrolled the neighbourhood. Scenically
Gandela was prettily situated, strategically badly.
It stood on a pleasant undulating plain, dotted with
mimosa, but on one side dominated by a long, thickly-wooded
hill called Ehlatini, the first of a range, likewise
thickly-wooded, extending farther back. Well,
what mattered that? The natives were thoroughly
under control, men said. They had been so knocked
out by the pioneer force and the Chartered Company’s
Maxims during the war of occupation, that they would
not be anxious to kick against the white man’s
rule again in a hurry.
Would they not? We shall see.