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    Chapter 59

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    Chapter 59
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    The Marriage

    He heard the scream and dropped quickly out of sight and she stood, holding on to the window-ledge, her heart thumping painfully. Who was he, and what did he want? How did he come into the garden? In the house complete silence reigned. Nobody had heard the scream, for the walls were thick.

    It took an effort to thrust open the window and look out as far as the bars would allow her. The little garden looked peaceful and mysterious in the moon's rays. Long shadows ran across the ground; strange shapes seemed to appear and disappear. And then she saw him, moving cautiously toward the wall. In another instant he was beyond her view.

    Why did she associate this midnight prowler in her mind with Sadi Hafiz? And yet she did. Was he some agent of this cunning Moor? The knife had not been intended for her; of that she was sure.

    It was daylight before she went to bed and she was sleeping heavily when Zuleika brought in coffee and fruit and drew aside the curtains.

    "Zuleika," she said in her halting Spanish, which had improved since she had had an opportunity of talking to the girl, "do you remember the old beggar we saw, the mendicant on the horse?"

    "Yes, Lady," said the girl, nodding.

    "Who is he?"

    The girl smiled.

    "There are many in Morocco. Some say they are the spies of the chieftains."

    A spy of Sadi Hafiz! Put there to watch her arrival--why? Again that fear of the Moor swept through her, but she was left little time that morning to meditate, either upon her terrifying experience of the night or the intentions of Sadi. She had hardly dressed and finished her breakfast when Ralph came in. He was brisk and gave her a cheerful and smiling good-morning.

    "Joan, I want you to meet the Rev. Aylmer Bannockwaite," he said. "I think you've met him before. Anyway, you'll find him changed. This gentleman has consented to perform the necessary ceremony that will mark, I hope, the beginning of a happier and a brighter time for both of us."

    She did not reply.

    "Are you going to be sensible, Joan? I'm trying to do the right thing by you. You're absolutely alone here, and there is nobody within a hundred miles who'd raise their hand if I killed you."

    "When do you wish----" she hesitated.

    "To-day, immediately," he said.

    She was panic-stricken.

    "You must give me time to think this matter over, Mr. Hamon," she said. "To-morrow----"

    "To-day," he insisted. "I'm not going to let another day pass. I think I know my friend Sadi Hafiz. Sadi has enough respect for the law and the sanctity of married life," he sneered, "to leave you alone if you're married. But if I wait until to-morrow----" He shrugged his shoulders.

    But there was no yielding in her determined face.

    "I absolutely refuse to marry you," she said, "and if Mr. Bannockwaite has a lingering remnant of decency he will refuse to perform the ceremony."

    "You can make up your mind on one point," said Hamon, "that he hasn't even the dregs of decency. You'd better meet him. He is more or less exhilarated now and is more bearable than he will be."

    In the morning sunlight, Aylmer Bannockwaite looked even more horrible than he had in the kindly blue of the dusk. She shuddered. It seemed as though some horrible incarnation of evil had come into the room as he strutted forward with his plump hand outstretched.

    "It is my dear little Carston girl!" he said jovially. "Well, this is the most amazing coincidence--that I should marry you twice is an especial privilege!"

    One glance she gave at his face and shuddered. Thereafter, she never looked beyond the second button of his stained waistcoat.

    "I am not going to be married, Mr. Bannockwaite. I want you to understand that distinctly; if you marry me, it is against my will."

    "Tut, tut!" said Bannockwaite loudly. "This will never do. A shy bride! 'Standing with reluctant feet where the brook and river meet,' eh? God bless my life! Marriage is the natural state of mankind. It has ever been a matter for regret to me----"

    "I won't marry him, I won't, I won't," she flamed. "If I am to be married, I'll be married decently by a clean man to a clean man!"

    She stood erect, her eyes blazing, her finger outstretched in accusation.

    "I know you now. You look what you are, what you always have been, and all your posturing and posing does not disguise you. You are corruption in human form--Ada called you 'The Beast with the silver tongue,' and she was right."

    That was her curious and hateful gift--to touch the raw places of human vanity. The man's thick underlip stuck out; there was an insane fury in his eyes that momentarily frightened her.

    "You Jezebel!" he boomed. "I'll marry you, if they hang me for it! And it will be legal and binding on you, woman! I posture, do I? I pose? You, you----"

    Hamon gripped his arm.

    "Steady," he whispered, and then, to the girl: "Now, Joan, what is the use of this foolishness? He was good enough a parson to marry you before."

    "I won't marry you, I won't!" She stamped her foot. "I would sooner marry the beggar I saw on the roadside. I'd sooner marry the meanest slave in your household than marry you, a thief and a murderer--a man to whom no crime is too mean. I'd rather marry----"

    "A burglar?" he said, white with passion.

    "Ten thousand times yes--if you mean Jim Morlake. I love him, Hamon. I'll go on loving him till I die!"

    "You will, will you?" he muttered. And then, turning, he ran out of the room, leaving her alone with the clergyman.

    "How can you, Mr. Bannockwaite? How have you brought yourself to this low level?" she asked sternly. "Is there nothing in you that is wholesome to which a woman could appeal?"

    "I don't want the heads of a sermon from you," he growled. "I will have you understand that I am intellectually your superior, socially your equal----"

    "And morally the mud under my feet," she said scornfully.

    For a moment she thought he would strike her. His bloated face grew first purple with passion, then faded to a pasty white.

    "Intellectually your superior and socially your equal," he muttered again. "I am superior to your insults. Telum imbelle sine ictu!"

    And then came a half-mad Hamon, dragging behind him a man, at the sight of whom Joan reeled backward. It was the beggar, a grinning, fawning toothless old man, horrible to look upon as he came cringing into this lovely room.

    "Here is your husband!" almost shrieked the demented man. "Look at him! You'd sooner marry a beggar, would you, damn you! Well, you shall marry him and you shall have the desert for your honeymoon!"

    She looked from the beggar to Bannockwaite and, even in her distress, she could not help thinking that she had never seen two more hideous men in her life.

    "Get your book, Bannockwaite!" yelled Hamon. He was frothing at the mouth, so utterly beside himself that he seemed inhuman.

    From his pocket, Bannockwaite produced a small book and opened it.

    "You'll want witnesses," he said, and again Hamon dashed out, returning with half-a-dozen servants.

    And there, under the curious eyes of the tittering Moors, Lady Joan Carston was married to Abdul Azim. Hamon muttered something in Arabic to the man, and then the girl felt herself caught by the arm and pulled and led through the hall into the garden.

    Hamon dragged her to the open gates and flung her out with such violence that she nearly fell.

    "Take your husband back to Creith!" he howled. "By God, you'll be glad to come back to me!"
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