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    Chapter 58

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    Chapter 58
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    The Face at the Window

    Sadi was waiting for him in the smoking-room, and so absorbed was the Moor in his thoughts that he did not hear Hamon until his name was called.

    "Eh?" he said, looking up. "Allah, you frightened me. Yes, yes, she is a pretty woman--not the Moorish kind, and too thin for my liking. But you Aryans prefer them that way; I have never understood why."

    Hamon was not deceived; the girl had made a tremendous impression upon the Moor and he was watchful and alert.

    "Do you like her better than Lydia?" he asked humorously, as he poured out a drink from the decanter.

    The Moor shrugged his shoulders.

    "In some ways Lydia is impossible," he said.

    That was a bad sign and Hamon knew it. The thought of Lydia had absorbed this man to the exclusion of all else, and now he could talk of her critically and without heat--a very bad sign.

    "Shall you go back to Tangier to-morrow?" he asked, and his eyes narrowed when the Moor shook his head.

    "No, I have decided to stay on for a little while. I need the change. It has been a nervous time for me."

    "But you promised to bring Bannockwaite?"

    "He will come without any assistance from me. I've told one of my men. Besides, your English agent could arrange to bring him. He'll come if you pay him."

    "Do you know him very well?" asked Hamon.

    "I've seen him. He has become quite a character in Tangier," said Sadi Hafiz. "He arrived during the war and the story I have heard is that he got drunk on the eve of the Battle of the Somme and deserted. He is a man entirely without principle, surely he could not perform the marriage ceremony? You told me he was unfrocked."

    Ralph shook his head.

    "His name appeared in the official list of clergymen of the Established Church until he was reported missing on the Somme. I have an idea it is still in the list; but even if it isn't, that would not invalidate the marriage."

    "Why marry at all?" asked the Moor, looking up suddenly. "You are a stickler for the conventions, my friend."

    Ralph smiled.

    "Not so much as you think," he said. "I've a reason. The Creith title will descend through my wife to her children."

    Again the Moor shrugged.

    "It is a freakish idea," he said, "but then, freakishness has been responsible for your downfall, Hamon."

    "I have not fallen yet," snarled Hamon.

    "But you will," said the other, "unless," he went on quickly, seeing the look of distrust and suspicion in the man's eyes, "unless you elect to remain here in Morocco, outside the jurisdiction of the embassies."

    He stretched his arms and yawned.

    "I'm going to bed," he said. "You will be pleased to learn that I've decided to go back to Tangier in the morning."

    He saw the look of relief in the other's face and smiled inwardly.

    "And I will send along your Bannockwaite under escort."

    When Hamon woke the next morning, he learnt that the Shereef had departed, and was thankful. He did not go in to Joan, though he saw her, from his room, walking in the garden.

    Hamon's plan was not wholly dictated by a desire to break into the peerage. As Creith's son-in-law he would be possessed of powerful influence. It was not likely that the Earl would kick once the girl was married; and he knew her well enough to be satisfied that, if she bore his name, she would at least be outwardly loyal.

    He mounted a horse and went down the hillside, and his way took him past the camp of the old beggar. The scarecrow horse raised his head to view him for a moment, and resumed its grazing, but the old man was not in sight. A fantastic idea came to him and he grinned at the thought. There was something about Ralph Hamon that was not quite normal.

    In the evening his servant reported that a party was approaching the house, and, taking his glasses, he inspected the three men who were riding across the wild country in his direction. Two were Moors; the third, who rolled about on his horse like somebody drunk, he recognised, though he had never seen him except by match light, and, hastily running from the house, he was waiting at the open gates when the Rev. Aylmer Bannockwaite arrived.

    The man almost fell from his horse, but recovered himself with the aid of the Moor who was with him and who evidently expected some such accident, for he had sprung off his horse the moment the party halted and run to the clergyman's side.

    Bannockwaite turned his bloated face to his host, but, ignoring the outstretched hand, he fumbled in his dilapidated waistcoat and produced a glass, which he fixed in his eye.

    "Who are you and what are you?" he said irritably. "You have brought me across this wretched country, you have interfered with my proper and pleasant recreations--now what the devil do you mean by it?"

    "I'm sorry if I have inconvenienced you, Mr. Bannockwaite," said Ralph, humouring the man.

    "Handsomely said."

    A big, flabby paw gripped Ralph Hamon's feebly.

    "Handsomely said, my boy. Now if you can give me a little time to rest, and a pipe of that seductive hemp to steady my nerves and stimulate my imagination I'm your friend for life. And if you will add a glass of the priceless Marsala and a scented cigarette, I am your slave body and soul!"

    Watching from her window, Joan saw the obscene figure, and immediately guessed his identity. Could that be Bannockwaite, the tall, dapper ascetic? She had only seen him twice, and yet ... there was a likeness; something in his walk, in the roll of his head. She stared open-mouthed until he had passed out of view, then sat, her head in her hands, trying to bring into order that confusion of her thoughts.

    It was Bannockwaite. Then he was not dead: Bannockwaite, the fastidious, half-mad parson, the idol of Hulston, the inventor of bizarre secret societies was this gross and uncleanly creature whose rags and dirt were an offence to the eye.

    How had Ralph Hamon found him, she wondered, and changed the current of her thoughts as she realised the unprofit of speculation.

    Bannockwaite would marry her, whatever were her protests; that she knew instinctively. Even if he had been his old, sane self--if he ever were sane--the queer situation would have so appealed to him that he would not have hesitated.

    Ralph made no appearance that night, although she expected him to bring the besotted parson to meet her. The bedroom led from the principal apartment, a large room, furnished in the Empire style. The window here was barred, with less elegance but as effectively as the bigger room. She waited until twelve, and then, undressing, she put over the night attire that the Moorish girl had brought her a long fleecy cloak, and, pulling a chair to the window and having extinguished the light, pulled back the curtain. As she did, she screamed and almost dropped with fright. A face was staring at her through the bars, long-bearded, hook-nosed, red-eyed, hideous! It was the wandering mendicant and in his teeth he held a long knife that glittered in the moonlight.
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