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    Chapter 54

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    Chapter 54
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    The Lady from Lisbon

    "What on earth are you doing here?"

    "Inviting an attack of rheumatism," grunted Welling. "You're in a hurry: anything wrong?"

    "Lady Joan has disappeared," said Jim, and briefly told as much of the story of the girl's abduction as he knew.

    The old man listened thoughtfully.

    "That is bad," he said. "I heard there'd been a shindy in the town, but didn't get the hang of it. My Spanish is very rusty, and my Arabic is nil. Not that Arabic is ever necessary to a traveller in Morocco," he said. "Lady Joan. By gosh, that's bad! Where are you off to?"

    "I'm going to look for her," said Jim briefly.

    "I won't stop you. No sign of Hamon?"

    Jim shook his head.

    "He is in Morocco, of course. You know that? I trailed him down as far as Cadiz. He came across on the Peleago to Gibraltar. There I missed him. He flitted from Gibraltar, leaving no trace."

    The news took Jim's breath away. He had not seen Hamon on the dhow or subsequently, and he made a quick calculation.

    "He may have got here," he said, "but I haven't seen him. I've gone on the supposition that Sadi Hafiz has been responsible for all the arrangements made to date, but it is quite possible that Hamon is somewhere in the background, putting in the fine touches."

    He was turning away when a thought struck him.

    "I wish you'd go in and see Lord Creith. He is rather under the weather. He will be able to tell you what happened at Suba," and, with a hasty word of farewell, he ran down the steps and hurried toward the gates of the city.

    Near the Street of the Mosque is a small and unpretentious house, the door of which is reached by a flight of stone steps flush with the house. He mounted the steps, knocked at the door and was instantly admitted. Nodding to the Moorish tailor who sat cross-legged at his craft, he went into the inner room, taking off his coat as he went. Presently he appeared in the doorway.

    "You have made all the arrangements?" he asked.

    "Yes," said the tailor, not looking up from his work or ceasing to ply his busy needle. "They will wait for you on the road near the English doctor's."

    Jim was stripping off his waistcoat when he heard a snore that seemed to shake the ancient house. He looked up to the square opening against which the top of a worn ladder rested.

    "Who is there?" he asked from the doorway.

    The tailor threaded a needle near-sightedly, but with extraordinary quickness, before he answered.

    "A man lives there," he said unconcernedly. "He has the roof which the water-seller had. Yassin the Jew could not find a tenant because the water-seller had smallpox, so he gave it to the Inglezi for six pesetas a month. I pay fifty, but Yassin knows that I can find no other shop, and my fathers lived here since the days of Suliman."

    There was a stir up above and the sound of a grumbling voice.

    "He smokes," said the tailor. "He will go now to a café where the hashish pipe costs ten centimos."

    Jim wondered whether it was the characteristic of all lodgers to be addicted to unnatural cravings, and as he wondered, a ragged shoe felt tremulously for the top rung of the ladder. The ankle above the shoe was bare, the ragged trouser leg reached half-way down the calf. Slowly the man descended, and Jim paused, taking stock of him. His hair was a dirty grey and hung over the collar of his shiny coat; the nose thick and red; the mouth a slit that drooped at each end.

    He wore a stubbly and uneven red beard as though he had trimmed it himself, and he turned his pale blue eyes upon the visitor with an insolent stare.

    "Good evening," he said wheezily.

    "English?" said Jim in surprise, and disgusted by the unwholesome appearance of the man.

    "Britannic--don't look so infernally sick, my good man. Honesta mors turpi vita potior! I can see that noble sentiment in your eyes! By your damnable accent you are either a Colonial or an American, and what the devil you're doing here I don't know. Lend me five pesetas, dear old boy; I'm getting a remittance from home to-morrow."

    Jim dropped a Spanish doura into the outstretched paw and watched him hobble out into the night.

    "Faugh!" said Jim Morlake. "How long has he been here?"

    "Five years," said the tailor, "and he owes me five pesetas."

    "What is his name?"

    "I don't know--what does it matter?"

    Jim agreed.

    The dingy man had scarcely left the shop when a woman came slowly up the road, guided by a native boy in a narrow brown jellab. He carried a candle lantern in his hand, and if this method of illumination was unnecessary in the main streets, it became vitally essential when they struck the labyrinth of narrow alleys and crooked streets which lay at the back of the post office.

    Behind her a porter carried two large grips, for Lydia Hamon had come ashore from the Portuguese West African packet that occasionally sets down passengers at Tangier. Presently they came to the well-lighted guests' entrance of the Continental Hotel, and she dismissed her guide and porter and, after a second's hesitation, wrote her name in the register.

    "There is a letter for you, Miss Hamon," said the reception clerk, and took down an envelope from the rack.

    It was in Ralph's handwriting, and she dreaded to read the message. In the seclusion of the writing-room she tore open the envelope and took out the sheet of paper it contained.

    If you get this before registering, you had better sign the book by an assumed name [it ran]. The moment you arrive, come up to the house of Sadi Hafiz. I wish to see you urgently. Under no circumstances will you tell anybody that I am here.

    She read the letter and, walking across to the fire, dropped it into the blazing coal and watched it till it was consumed. Then, with a sigh, she went back to the reception clerk.

    "I want a boy to guide me up to the Sok," she said.

    "Has madam had dinner?"

    She nodded.

    "Yes, I dined on the ship."

    He bustled out into the street. Presently he returned with a diminutive boy, carrying a lantern. Apparently the clerk had told the boy where she wanted to go, for he asked no questions, leading her back to the little market place where the bread sellers sat like sheeted mummies, a candle advertising their wares.

    "I want the house of Sadi Hafiz," she said when they were nearing the top of the hill, and without a word he turned off and, coming to a stop before the forbidding door, hammered with his clenched fists.

    It was a long time before the call was answered.

    "Wait for me here," she said in Spanish. "I shall be returning."

    He grunted, blew out his candle, being of an economical turn of mind, and squatted down, pulling his ragged hood over his head.

    The door opened, and the keeper of the door scrutinised her for a moment by the light of her lantern, and then shuffled in front of her to the house. Before she could reach the door, Sadi, resplendent in a blue silk robe, was coming down to meet her.

    "This is a great honour you have done to my poor house, Miss Hamon," he said in English.

    "Is Ralph here?" she asked, cutting short the complimentary flow.

    "No, he has been called out of Tangier, but I expect him back very soon."

    He led her into the room where Jim Morlake had searched, and clapped his hands vigorously. Half-a-dozen servants came running to obey the summons.

    "Sweetmeats for the lady and English tea," he said. "Also bring cigarettes, quickly!"

    The room was very dimly illuminated. One electric lamp, heavily shaded in a pseudo-oriental lantern, supplied all the light, and more than half of the apartment was in shadow.

    "You will sit down and refresh yourself after your long journey?" he said. "Your brother will be with us soon."

    "Are you sure he is coming?" she asked suspiciously. "I'm not staying here--you understand that?"

    "Naturally," he said with a touch of asperity in his voice. "My wretched home is not good enough for your ladyship."

    "It isn't that, only I prefer the hotel," she said shortly.

    Was he deceiving her, she wondered? And then she caught her breath, for she heard Ralph's voice outside. She looked at him in amazement. She had never seen him in Moorish costume before. He kicked off his yellow slippers and came toward her, pulling back the hood of his jellab.

    "You got here, then?" he said surlily. "I thought you were arriving yesterday?"

    "We were held up at Lisbon. There has been some political trouble there. What did you want?" she said.

    At the last minute Ralph had changed his plans and had gone on ahead of her, leaving her to come overland to Lisbon, whilst he went on to Gibraltar.

    At a signal from Hamon, Sadi Hafiz withdrew noiselessly, pulling the curtains to hide the ugliness of the prison-like door before he made his exit.

    "Lydia, you've got to know I'm in bad," said Hamon. "If what this girl tells me is true, I've made a very bad mistake."

    "This girl?" she asked quickly.

    "I'm talking about Joan."

    "Joan? Is she here? Where?"

    "Never mind where she is--she is here."

    "Oh, yes!" The tension in her face relaxed. "How you frightened me, Ralph! Of course, the yacht is in the bay: they pointed it out to me as we came in. You have seen her?"

    "She is not on the yacht, if that is what you mean," said Ralph roughly. "She is in one of Sadi's houses, twenty miles from here. She is doubly necessary to me now. She is my hostage, for one thing. Morlake is in Tangier."

    She did not speak; she was staring wildly at him as though she could not believe her ears.

    "You have Joan Carston! What do you mean--have you taken her--by force?"

    He nodded.

    "Oh, my God! Ralph, are you mad?"

    "I'm very sane," said Hamon. He fumbled in the pocket of his clothes and, finding his case, lit a cigarette. "Yes, I'm very sane."

    "You--you haven't hurt her?"

    "Don't be a fool," he said roughly. "Why should I hurt her? She is going to be my wife."

    "But, Ralph, how can you hope to escape punishment?" she almost wailed.

    "It isn't so much hope as knowledge," he said. "There is no law in Morocco: fix that in your mind. The country is chronically at war, and the European governments have no more power than that." He snapped his finger. "They're so jealous that they will not move for fear of giving one another an advantage. You needn't worry about me. And, Lydia, I'm here for good."

    "In Morocco?" she said in horror.

    He nodded.

    "I'm friends with most of the big clansmen," he said, "and after a while, when matters have blown over and Joan has settled down to the new life, I might think of moving, but for the moment I'm here."

    "You want me to go back, of course?" she said nervously. "Somebody must settle your affairs in London."

    "They're settled," he said. "I sold the house before I left. In fact, I sold everything except Creith. I want to keep that for my children."

    "But I have affairs that need settling, Ralph," she said desperately. "I can't stay here. I'll come back if you wish me to----"

    "You are not going," he said. "Now listen, Lydia." He sprang to her side as she reeled, and shook her violently. "I want none of that nonsense," he growled. "The success of my scheme depends on Sadi Hafiz. It is absolutely vital that I should retain his friendship and his support. My life may depend upon it--get that! I don't know how much Welling knows and how much was bluff on Joan's part, but if he knows half as much as she says he does, I'm booked for the drop."

    "You--you haven't killed anybody?" she whispered.

    "I've been responsible for at least two deaths," he said, and she sank under the shock. "You've been living your artistic life in Paris, getting acquainted with Count this and Countess that--on my money. Did it worry you how it came, or where I got it from? Not that I ever gained a penny from Cornford's death," he said moodily, "but I shall--I shall! That is what decided me to stay here. It doesn't matter what they know then."

    She got up unsteadily.

    "Ralph, I'm going home," she said. "I can't stand any more."

    She held out her hand, but he did not take it, and then, with a little sigh, she walked to the curtains and pulled them back, turning the handle of the door. It did not move.

    "Locked," said her brother laconically. "You're going home, are you? Well, this is your home, Lydia--this and Sadi's house in the hills. I've made a good match for you."

    She stared at him incredulously.

    "You mean ... you want me to marry a Moor? Ralph, you don't mean that?"

    "Well, I don't know what else I mean," he said. "Lydia, you've got to make the best of things. This house is rotten, I admit, but the other place in the hills is wonderful. And it'll be good for Joan to have a woman handy like you." He chuckled. "That'll swamp a little of her pride, having Sadi Hafiz as a brother-in-law."

    The thought seemed to please him, for he chuckled.

    She was trapped--as much trapped as Joan Carston. She knew that it was useless to make any appeal to him. Ralph Hamon had never shrunk from the sacrifice of his relatives, and would not do so now.

    She was about to speak when the door was unlocked and flung open, and Sadi Hafiz ran in.

    "Quick!" he cried earnestly. "Get out--through the little gate! The house is surrounded by the basha's soldiers. They may be coming to arrest me: I shall know soon, but nothing can happen to me. Take her away!"

    Ralph seized her by the arm and led her at a run into the courtyard. He seemed to know his way without guidance, for he came to the little gate that led to the Street of Schools. The door had already been unlocked. As they passed through, the door was slammed on them by Hafiz himself, and they were a long way from the house before the sound of the heavy knocking on the front gates died away.

    The sight of a Moorish man and a European woman excited no comment. Ralph, his face shaded by his hood, shuffled along by her side, never once relaxing his hold of her arm. They came to the Sok, deserted at this hour of the night, and she turned instinctively to the hill which would take her back to the Continental.

    "Oh no, you don't," he said between his teeth. "I know a little place where you can stay the night."

    "Ralph, for God's sake let me go!" she begged.

    And then, out of the shadows, came a man who was wearing a long fur-lined coat. The collar was turned up to his ears, and between its ends protruded the stump of a glowing cigar.

    "Can I be of any assistance, madam?"

    Ralph heard the voice and, dropping the girl's arm, turned and ran into the night.

    There were many people he expected to meet in Tangier, but Julius Welling was not one of them.

    Hamon raced across the dark market place and along a narrow, twisting lane, hedged with cactus, and was slowing to a walk when he saw somebody coming toward him and stepped aside to avoid the passer. Unfortunately, the unknown made a similar movement and they came into violent collision.

    "Curse you!" snapped Ralph in English. "Look where you are going!"

    He was startled when the reply came in the same language.

    "Blundering hound! Have you eyes, oaf? To barge against a gentleman--you're drunk, sir!"

    Arrested by the tone of the man's voice, Ralph struck a match and nearly dropped it again when he saw the blotched face and the red beard.

    "E tenebris oritur lux," murmured the smoker of hashish. "Forgive me if my language was a little unrefined--excuse me!"

    He threw back his head and searched the moonlit heavens.

    "Would it be too much to ask you to point out the Gemma in the Constellation of Orion? I live somewhere underneath. In a foul den, sir, above a beastly Moorish tailor's shop. And what am I, dear friend? A gentleman of the cloth! No unfrocked priest--but a gentleman of the cloth--a reverend gentleman! And an officer holding the supreme decoration of the world, the Victoria Cross, sir! Aylmer Bernando Bannockwaite, sir--could you of your amazing kindness lend me five pesetas ... my remittance arrives to-morrow...."

    Like a man in a dream Ralph Hamon pushed a note into the man's hand.

    Bannockwaite--the man who had made Joan and Ferdie Farringdon husband and wife!
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