The Dark Tower is a historical novel by award-winning author Christina Koning set in South Africa in 1879. Koning brilliantly analyses a doomed love affair set against the events leading to the defeat of the British army by the Zulus at Isandhlwana.
She had intrigued him from the start. She was reserved -- but then most Englishwomen were. This was more than just maidenly bashfulness. He'd never had the slightest trouble overcoming that. A remark about the brightness of someone's eyes, or the whiteness of someone's hand, usually sufficed in such cases, he'd found.
Septimus was not unduly prone to vanity, but he knew that he generally passed muster with the female sex. Women liked him; they noticed him.
Only this woman failed to notice him.
He'd called the morning after Cora De Villiers's party, hoping to see her once more, but had found only the mistress of the house, looking sallow and greasy-faced after a late night and too much champagne.
`Oh, it's you,' she said, as he walked into the room. `I thought it was that old bore Schermbrucker. He's got it into his head that he's in love with me...'
`The way you looked last night in that pretty red dress, I can't say I blame him at all.'
Cora raised an eyebrow at this. `Flatterer. I know it's not my charms which draw you here.' He was startled. What had she guessed? Then he saw that she
was laughing. `Confess it,' she said. `You've fallen in love with Laura Brooke.
Don't think I didn't see you, whispering away in the corner together...'
It was easy to parry absurdity with further absurdity.
`I can tell you straight out -- she isn't my type. I like a woman with a bit more `go'...'
Miss Leibbrandt, who was mending a stocking in an obscure part of the room, gave a small cough.
`You Americans and your barbarous expressions,' said Mrs De Villiers lightly. But he could tell he had pleased her, by the amorous look she threw him. `You'll be joining us for luncheon, I suppose?'
He'd opened his mouth to refuse when the sound of voices drifting through the open veranda doors alerted him to the return of the two English ladies. `Why, that'd be swell,' he said, and was rewarded with another soft look from his mistress.
When Laura Brooke walked in, he was struck again by the graceful way she held herself; she had none of Cora De Villiers's imperious style, and yet she drew the eye. He thought she seemed glad to see him, although she threw him only a brief smile. But maybe that was on account of Cora being there, with a face like a cat watching a mouse. There wasn't much love lost between those two -- that much was plain to see.
`Ah, there you are, Miss Brooke!' said Cora. `So thoughtful of you to join us at last! And dear Emiline, too,' she added, as that lady came in. `You are looking very pale, my dear. I hope you are not tired out from all your rambling about the garden...'
`Not in the least,' said Mrs Reynolds. `The air has done me good.'
`Miss Brooke does so insist on her walks -- do you not, Miss Brooke?' went on Mrs De Villiers. `I have never met such a one for walking. Only the other day I had to send the boy to find her, because she had got lost in the woods at Newlands...'
Laura smiled. `I was not lost. I had forgotten the time.' `I have warned her and warned her of the dangers of snakes and scorpions,' said Cora De Villiers. `But do you think she will listen?'
`I always have a good stick with me,' said Laura. `And my boots are quite stout.'
`Indeed,' said her hostess, barely suppressing a shudder.
`If you like walking, you must certainly climb the Lion's Head,' said Septimus, aware as he spoke that his intervention could only add fuel to the fires of his mistress's jealousy. `There's a remarkably fine view to be had from the top of it. I could take you, if you like...'
It was worth any amount of sulking on Cora's part to see the look that Laura Brooke gave him. As if he had offered her the dearest wish of her heart.
`Would you?' At once her expression clouded. `But it would be an imposition...'
`Not a bit,' he replied, amused by the furious looks that Cora was directing at him. `We could go tomorrow, if you like. The climb itself takes little more than two hours. Early morning is the best time -- to avoid the worst of the heat, you know.'
`I should like that very much,' said Laura. `That is -- if you can spare me,' she added to Mrs Reynolds.
`Oh, my dear, of course you must go,' said that lady. `Since Mr Doyle is so kind as to offer to accompany you...'
`Why don't we all go?' interjected Mrs De Villiers, with a triumphant glance at her lover. `Emiline will enjoy the drive -- will you not, dear? There is a pleasant enough view from Signal Hill. And Gertrude likes a walk--do you not, Gertrude? She can go with you on your climb, whilst Emiline and I have a nice long gossip. We can take a picnic!' she cried, her good humour quite restored, it seemed, by her annexation of the plan.