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    Chapter 47

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    Chapter 47
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    The voyage passed without event until the morning of the day they reached Cadiz. Something aroused Joan from deepest sleep to most complete wakefulness. There was no sound but the sough of wind and sea, and the peculiar monotony of the "creak-creak" at intervals which is a ship's own noise. The grey light showed against the porthole and faintly illuminated the cabin. Sitting up in bed, she looked around.

    A movement by the door attracted her attention; it was slowly closing, and, jumping to the floor, she ran and pulled it open. She caught a glimpse of a big figure disappearing in the gloom of the alleyway, and then a strange thing happened. He had almost reached the end of this narrow passage when something rose from under his feet and tripped him. Even amidst the sea noises she heard the thud as he struck the hard deck. He was on his feet in an instant and then, for some reason, he fell again. Straining her eyes, Joan saw a man stand over him and pull him upright. In another instant they were out of sight.

    She locked her door and went back to bed, but not to sleep. It may have been an accident; it may have been that one of the crew was a thief--few crews, even a yacht's crew, but may include one of those pests of the sea. Perhaps the thief had been detected by a watchful quartermaster, and that was the explanation of the little fight she had witnessed. She did not wish to worry her father, but as soon as she was up and dressed, she went in search of the chief steward and reported what had happened. He was genuinely concerned.

    "I don't know who it could have been, Miss. The watch were on deck, scrubbing down, at daybreak, and there's a night steward on duty in the alleyway. What was the man like?"

    "As far as I could see, he wore a white singlet and a pair of blue trousers."

    "Was he tall or short?"

    "He was very big," she said, and the man passed the crew under review.

    "I'll speak to the chief officer," he said.

    "I don't want to make any trouble."

    "Your Ladyship will probably make more trouble if you don't report this," he retorted.

    Lord Creith, who generally found the most comfortable explanation, suggested that she had been dreaming--a suggestion which she indignantly rejected.

    "Then, my dear," he said, "probably the man was walking in his sleep! You should have locked your cabin door."

    She spent two full and delightful days at Cadiz, that city of languid, beautiful women and unshaven men; drove out to Jerez to see the wine pressed, and learnt--though she had a dim idea that she had already learnt this at school--that Jerez had been corrupted into English as "sherry" and had given its name to a wine. The bad weather had passed; the sky was a delightful blue, and if the wind that blew down from the sierras had a nip that made the men of Cadiz wear their high-collared blue cloaks, it was to the girl a tonic and a stimulant.

    They left Cadiz at midnight on the third day, and at daybreak the stopping of the engines woke her. She heard the rattle of a hawser and splash as the anchor fell into the water, and, looking out of her porthole, saw a twinkle of lights near at hand. It was her first glimpse of Africa, and the mystery and wonder of it thrilled her. In daylight, much of the enchantment was gone. She saw a straggle of white houses fringing a lemon-coloured beach; beyond, the blue of hills. In the cold, cheerless light of morning the mystery had gone. She shivered.

    The stewardess came in answer to her ring of the bell.

    "Where are we?" she asked.

    "At Suba, a little coast village."

    At that moment a lowered boat came into view through the porthole and disappeared. She heard the splash of it as it struck the water.

    "The crew are going ashore to bring out some cases of curios that Mr. Hamon wishes to be brought home," explained the stewardess, and through the porthole Joan watched the boat draw away.

    Lord Creith knocked at the door at that moment and came in in his dressing-gown.

    "This is Suba," he explained unnecessarily. "Put your coat on and come up on deck, Joan."

    She slipped into her fur coat and followed him up the companion-way. Except for one sailor, the deck was deserted. On the bridge was a solitary officer, leaning over the bridge and regarding the retreating boat without interest.

    "There aren't many people left on the ship," she said, glancing round.

    Lord Creith looked up at the clouds with a nautical eye.

    "A man and a boy could navigate this ship on a day like this," he said. "There is no wind."

    And then, looking across to the port side, he saw a tall, white, billowing sail moving slowly toward them.

    "There is wind enough," she smiled. "Aren't they coming rather close?"

    "Bless you no!" said his lordship cheerfully. "These fellows can handle a boat better than any Europeans. Moors are born seamen, and by the cut of his sail I should think it is a Moorish craft. This coast is the home of the Barbary pirates."

    She glanced nervously round at the approaching sail, but he went on, oblivious to the impression he was creating.

    "For hundreds of years they levied a tax on every ship that passed. Why, the word 'tariff' comes from Tarifa, a little village on the other side of the Straits----"

    He stopped as the girl turned quickly. They had both heard that deep "oh!" of pain.

    "What was that?" asked Lord Creith. "It sounded like somebody hurt."

    There was nobody in sight, and he went forward to the bridge. As he did so, a big man crept up the companion ladder, and Joan immediately recognised the figure she had seen in the alleyway. Barefooted, the man approached the unconscious officer leaning over the taffrail.

    "Look out!" yelled Lord Creith.

    The officer spun round and the blow just missed his head, but caught him on the shoulder and he fell with a cry of pain. In another instant the big man had turned, and the girl saw with horror that in his hand he carried a huge hammer.

    That diversion saved the officer's life. Injured as he was, he thrust himself forward and tobogganed down the steep ladder, falling on to the deck. In an instant he was on his feet and climbed down the companion-way, the big, white-faced Moor in pursuit.

    "Down the companion, quick!" cried Lord Creith, and she obeyed.

    As she flew down the ladder, she saw over her shoulder the high white sail of the dhow rising sheer above the ship's side, and heard the jabber of excited, guttural voices.

    "Run along the alleyway into my cabin," cried Lord Creith.

    She sat panting on the sofa, whilst her father shot the bolt in the door. He opened his bag and made a search.

    "My revolver is gone," he said.

    "What is wrong?" she asked. She was calm now.

    "It looks precious like mutiny," said his lordship grimly.

    She heard a patter of feet on the deck above, and again a babble of talk.

    "They've boarded us from the dhow," said her father quietly, and the sound of somebody swearing softly came to them from the next cabin.

    "Is anybody there?" Lord Creith called.

    The partition dividing the cabins did not extend to the upper deck, and a space of three or four inches made conversation possible. It was the wounded officer, they discovered. No bones were broken, he told them, but he was in considerable pain.

    "Have you any kind of firearm on your side?" he asked anxiously.

    Lord Creith had to confess sadly that he was unarmed.

    "What has happened?" he asked.

    "I don't know," was the reply. "Most of the crew are ashore. The Captain and the first and second officers have gone to collect some packing-cases."

    "How many of the crew are left on the ship?"

    There was a silence as the officer calculated, and then:

    "Six, including the steward. One deckhand, two chefs and a cook's mate, and, of course, the Moor we took on at Southampton. He is the fellow who bowled me over. I think they must have got the deckhands, and the chef wouldn't fight. That leaves us with the cook's mate."

    He laughed bitterly.

    "And the cook's mate is going to have a bad time," he said after a pause. "He beat up the Moor a few days ago. I only heard about it in the early watch. You remember your daughter complained--she is with you, I suppose?"

    "Yes," said Lord Creith. "Was it the Moor who opened the door?"

    "That's the man. I suppose he was looking for loose guns," said the officer. "The cook's mate happened to be on duty and saw the fellow, and there was trouble! And there's worse trouble ahead--here they come."

    There was a patter of bare feet in the alleyway, and somebody hammered on the cabin door.

    "You come out, you not be hurt, mister," said a husky voice.

    Lord Creith made no reply.

    Crash! The door shivered under the blow, but it was obvious that the narrow alleyway did not give sufficient play to the hammer, for the lock remained intact. Again the blow fell, and a long crack appeared in one of the panels of the door.

    Lord Creith looked round helplessly.

    "There is no kind of weapon here," he said in a slow voice to the girl. "Even my wretched razor is a safety!"

    He looked at the porthole.

    "Do you think you could squeeze through that?"

    She shook her head.

    "I won't leave you, Daddy," she said, and he patted her shoulder.

    "I don't think you could get through," he said, eyeing the porthole dubiously.

    Crack! Bang! The panel broke, but it was not the sound of its smashing they heard. Outside in the alleyway there was a quick scurry of feet, a shot was fired, and another. Then, from the other end of the alleyway came three shots in quick succession. Somebody fell heavily against the wall with a hideous howl, and then there was a momentary silence.

    "What was that?"

    It was the officer's voice from the next cabin.

    "I think it was somebody shooting," said Lord Creith. He peered through the splintered panel. The man on the floor was still howling dismally, but there was no other sound.

    "Look, Daddy," cried the girl excitedly. "The boat is returning."

    She pointed through the porthole, and over her shoulder he saw the two boats rowing furiously toward the yacht.

    And now the alleyway pandemonium broke out. Again came the rush of feet and the deafening staccato of the automatic.

    "Who is it? It must be one of the deckhands. Where did he get his gun?"

    The questions were fired across the top of the partition, but Lord Creith was too intent upon the struggle outside. The firing had ceased, but the screaming fury of the fighters went on. Presently there was an exultant yell and somebody was dragged along the alleyway.

    "They've got him," said Lord Creith, a little hoarsely. "I wonder who he is."

    Then, as the leader of the mob came parallel with the door, a voice hailed them in English.

    "Don't open your door until the crew come aboard. They are returning."

    The girl stood petrified at the sound of the voice, and pushing her father aside she stooped to peer through the broken panel. She saw a man struggling in the hands of his white-robed captors; a tall man in the soiled white garb of a cook. It was Jim Morlake!
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