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    Chapter 48

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    Chapter 48
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    The Man on the Beach

    Joan screamed and tugged at the door.

    "The key, the key, Father!" she said wildly. "It is Jim!"

    But he dragged her back.

    "My dear, you're not going to help Jim Morlake or yourself by putting yourself in the hands of these beasts," he said, and presently her struggles ceased and she hung heavily in his arms.

    He laid her on the settee and ran to the porthole. The boats were nearing the yacht, and he could see, by the attitude of the Captain, who stood in the stern, revolver in hand, that news of the mutiny had reached him. There was no noise from the alleyway nor overhead on the deck; only the whining of the wounded man outside the door broke the complete stillness. In another minute they heard the boats bump against the side of the ship, and the rattle of booted feet above them. And then came the Captain's voice.

    "Is anybody here?" he called.

    Lord Creith unlocked the cabin door and stepped out over the prostrate figure.

    "Thank God you're safe!" said Captain Green fervently. "The young lady, is she all right?"

    Joan had recovered, and though she lay without movement she was conscious. Then realising that she alone knew the secret of the "cook's" identity, she staggered to her feet.

    "Jim! They have taken Jim!" she said wildly.

    "Your cook." Lord Creith supplied the startling information.

    "My cook!" said the puzzled captain, and then a light dawned on him. "You mean the assistant cook--the man I took on at Southampton? Is he the fellow who did this?" He looked down at the motionless figure in the alleyway. "If they have taken him, he is on the dhow," said the Captain. "It pushed off as we came on board."

    He ran up to the deck, and the girl did her best to imitate his alacrity, but her limbs were shaking and she was curiously weak. The dhow was already a dozen yards from the ship, and was heeling over under the fresh land breeze, her big leg-o'-mutton sail filling.

    "Are you sure they've taken him on board?" asked the Captain. "He may be amongst the----" He did not finish the sentence.

    One of the crew was dead, another so badly injured that his life was despaired of, and search parties were sent to discover other casualties, but no sign of Jim was reported.

    "We can overtake them," said Lord Creith, and the Captain nodded.

    "I'll get up anchor, but it is by no means certain we can do much unless they are fools enough to keep to the open sea. I think they'll run round the point, and there I shan't be able to follow them, except with boat crews."

    The dhow was gaining way every minute. The white wake at her stern was significant.

    The wireless operator, in his little cabin on the upper deck, had been overlooked by the boarders, and it was he who had signalled the Captain back. He had done something more: he had got in touch with an American destroyer that was cruising some twenty miles away, and a blur of smoke showed on the horizon.

    "Whether she can come up before the dhow gets to safety is a question," said the Captain.

    At that moment the white-sailed vessel changed her course, and the Captain grunted.

    "She is going inshore round the point. I thought she would," he said.

    "What will they do with him?" asked the girl, and for a moment he did not know to whom she referred.

    "Oh, the cook? I don't suppose he'll come to much harm. If they thought he was a man of substance they would hold him to ransom. As it is, he'll probably be fairly well treated. The Moor isn't particularly vindictive to the enemies he takes in fair fight."

    The wind had freshened and was blowing strongly when the yacht's bow turned in pursuit of the Moorish craft, but by this time he was rounding the promontory that ran out to sea for two miles, and by his tactics the Captain guessed what plan was being followed.

    "We shall never get up to them," he said, "and if we do, we shan't find the man we want."

    "Why?" asked Joan, but he did not supply the gruesome information.

    In his days he had been a member of the Royal Navy, engaged in the suppression of slave traffic on the East Coast of Africa, and he had seen slaves dropped overboard, with a bar of iron about their necks, in order that the incriminating evidence against the captors should be removed. And he did not doubt that the skipper of the dhow would follow the same procedure.

    When they rounded the point, the dhow was so close inshore that it seemed to have grounded.

    "They're landing," said Captain Green, watching the boat through his glasses, "and there goes my cook!"

    The girl almost snatched the binoculars from him and focussed them on the beach. Her hand trembled so violently that all she saw was a blur of white figures and yellow sand, but presently she mastered her emotion and held the glasses upon the tall, dark form that walked leisurely up the beach.

    "That is he," she whispered. "Oh, Jim, Jim!"

    "Do you know him?"

    She nodded.

    "Then there is no need for me to pretend ignorance," said the Captain, "and I will ask you to keep this matter from my owners. Captain Morlake and I are old acquaintances. I knew him when he was at Tangier. He came to me in a great hurry on the Friday night before we sailed, and begged me to ship him on board the yacht as an extra hand. Knowing that he has always been mixed up in queer adventures--he was an intelligence officer, and may be still, for all I know--I took him on as a cook. He warned me of what would happen, and, like a fool, I thought he was romancing."

    "He warned you of this attack?" said Lord Creith in astonishment. "How could he know?"

    The Captain shook his head.

    "That I can't tell you, but he did know, though I imagine he wasn't sure where the attempt would be made, because he said nothing before I went ashore to pick up those darned packing-cases--which were not there!"

    The destroyer was now visible to the naked eye.

    "She is useless to us," said the Captain, shaking his head. "Before she can land a party, these fellows will be well away into the desert." He bit his lip thoughtfully. "They won't hurt Captain Morlake. He speaks the language, and there is hardly a big man in Morocco who doesn't know him. I should imagine that at this moment the captain of the dhow is scared to death to find who is his prisoner."

    He focussed his glasses again.

    "Two Europeans!" he gasped. "What other man have they taken? Do you know, Johnson?" He turned to his second officer.

    "I've been looking at him and I can't make him out," he said.

    He steadied his telescope against a stanchion and looked again.

    "He is certainly a European, and he is certainly not a sailor. He is wearing a civilian overcoat."

    "May I look?"

    Assisted by the officer, the girl brought the telescope to bear upon the figure that was walking with a white-gowned Moor. Jim had disappeared over the crest of a sandhill, and these two walked alone, the Moor gesticulating, the other emphasising some point with his clenched fist.

    She shook her head.

    "I don't know him," she said. "I never expected I would."

    It was a humiliating confession for her to make, did she but know it, for she had once boasted that she would know Ralph Hamon anywhere and in any garb! And it was Ralph Hamon who strode angrily side by side with the master of the dhow.
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