Chapter XXXI
 

A letter from Jack Glover arrived the next morning. He had had an easy journey, was glad to have had the opportunity of seeing Lydia, and hoped she would think over the will. Lydia was not thinking of wills, but of an excuse to get back to London. Of a sudden the loveliness of Monte Carlo had palled upon her, and she had almost forgotten the circumstances which had made the change of scene and climate so welcome.

"Go back to London, my dear?" said Mrs. Cole-Mortimer, shocked. "What a--a rash notion! Why it is freezing in town and foggy and ... and I really can't let you go back!"

Mrs. Cole-Mortimer was agitated at the very thought. Her own good time on the Riviera depended upon Lydia staying. Jean had made that point very clear. She, herself, she explained to her discomforted hostess, was ready to go back at once, and the prolongation of Mrs. Cole-Mortimer's stay depended upon Lydia's plans. A startling switch of cause and effect, for Mrs. Cole-Mortimer had understood that Jean's will controlled the plans of the party.

Lydia might have insisted, had she really known the reason for her sudden longing for the grimy metropolis. But she could not even convince herself that the charms of Monte Carlo were contingent upon the presence there of a man who had aroused her furious indignation and with whom she had spent most of the time quarrelling. She mentioned her unrest to Jean, and Jean as usual seemed to understand.

"The Riviera is rather like Turkish Delight--very sweet, but unsatisfying," she said. "Stay another week and then if you feel that way we'll all go home together."

"This means breaking up your holiday," said Lydia in self-reproach.

"Not a bit," denied the girl, "perhaps I shall feel as you do in a week's time."

A week! Jean thought that much might happen in a week. In truth events began to move quickly from that night, but in a way she had not anticipated.

Mr. Briggerland, who had been reading the newspaper through the conversation, looked up.

"They are making a great fuss of this Moor in Nice," he said, "but if I remember rightly, Nice invariably has some weird lion to adore."

"Muley Hafiz," said Lydia. "Yes, I saw him the day I went to lunch with Mr. Stepney, a fine-looking man."

"I'm not greatly interested in natives," said Jean carelessly. "What is he, a negro?"

"Oh, no, he's fairer than--" Lydia was about to say "your father," but thought it discreet to find another comparison. "He's fairer than most of the people in the south of France," she said, "but then all very highly-bred Moors are, aren't they?"

Jean shook her head.

"Ethnology means nothing to me," she said humorously. "I've got my idea of Moors from Shakespeare, and I thought they were mostly black. What is he then? I haven't read the papers."

"He is the Pretender to the Moorish throne," said Lydia, "and there has been a lot of trouble in the French Senate about him. France supports his claims, and the Spaniards have offered a reward for his body, dead or alive, and that has brought about a strained relationship between Spain and France."

Jean regarded her with an amused smile.

"Fancy taking an interest in international politics. I suppose that is due to your working on a newspaper, Lydia."

Jean discovered that she was to take a greater interest in Muley Hafiz than she could have thought was possible. She had to go into Monte Carlo to do some shopping. Mentone was nearer, but she preferred the drive into the principality.

The Rooms had no great call for her, and whilst Mordon went to a garage to have a faulty cylinder examined, she strolled on to the terrace of the Casino, down the broad steps towards the sea. The bathing huts were closed at this season, but the little road down to the beach is secluded and had been a favourite walk of hers in earlier visits.

Near the huts she passed a group of dark-looking men in long white jellabs, and wondered which of these was the famous Muley. One she noticed with a particularly negro type of face, wore on his flowing robe the scarlet ribbon of the Legion of Honour. Somehow or other he did not seem interesting enough to be Muley, she thought as she went on to a strip of beach.

A man was standing on the sea shore, a tall, commanding man, gazing out it seemed across the sunlit ocean as though he were in search of something. He could not have heard her footfall because she was walking on the sand, and yet he must have realised her presence, for he turned, and she almost stopped at the sight of his face. He might have been a European; his complexion was fair, though his eyebrows and eyes were jet black, as also was the tiny beard and moustache he wore. Beneath the conventional jellab he wore a dark green jacket, and she had a glimpse of glittering decorations before he pulled over his cloak so that they were hidden. But it was his eyes which held her. They were large and as black as night, and they were set in a face of such strength and dignity that Jean knew instinctively that she was looking upon the Moorish Pretender.

They stood for a second staring at one another, and then the Moor stepped aside.

"Pardon," he said in French, "I am afraid I startled you."

Jean was breathing a little quicker. She could not remember in her life any man who had created so immediate and favourable an impression. She forgot her contempt for native people, forgot his race, his religion (and religion was a big thing to Jean), forgot everything except that behind those eyes she recognised something which was kin to her.

"You are English, of course," he said in that language.

"Scottish," smiled Jean.

"It is almost the same, isn't it?" He spoke without any trace of an accent, without an error of grammar, and his voice was the voice of a college man.

He had left the way open for her to pass on, but she lingered.

"You are Muley Hafiz, aren't you?" she asked, and he turned his head. "I've read a great deal about you," she added, though in truth she had read nothing.

He laughed, showing two rows of perfect white teeth. It was only by contrast with their whiteness that she noticed the golden brown of his complexion.

"I am of international interest," he said lightly and glanced round toward his attendants.

She thought he was going and would have moved on, but he stopped her.

"You are the first English speaking person I have talked to since I've been in France," he said, "except the American Ambassador." He smiled as at a pleasant recollection.

"You talk almost like an Englishman yourself."

"I was at Oxford," he said. "My brother was at Harvard. My father, the brother of the late Sultan, was a very progressive man and believed in the Western education for his children. Won't you sit down?" he asked, pointing to the sand.

She hesitated a second, and then sank to the ground, and crossing his legs he sat by her side.

"I was in France for four years," he carried on, evidently anxious to hold her in conversation, "so I speak both languages fairly well. Do you speak Arabic?" He asked the question solemnly, but his eyes were bright with laughter.

"Not very well," she answered gravely. "Are you staying very long?" It was a conventional question and she was unprepared for the reply.

"I leave to-night," he said, "though very few people know it. You have surprised a State secret," he smiled again.

And then he began to talk of Morocco and its history, and with extraordinary ease he traced the story of the families which had ruled that troubled State.

He touched lightly on his own share in the rebellion which had almost brought about a European war.

"My uncle seized the throne, you know," he said, taking up a handful of sand and tossing it up in the air. "He defeated my father and killed him, and then we caught his two sons."

"What happened to them?" asked Jean curiously.

"Oh, we killed them," he said carelessly. "I had them hanged in front of my tent. You're shocked?"

She shook her head.

"Do you believe in killing your enemies?"

She nodded.

"Why not? It is the only logical thing to do."

"My brother joined forces with the present Sultan, and if I ever catch him I shall hang him too," he smiled.

"And if he catches you?" she asked.

"Why, he'll hang me," he laughed. "That is the rule of the game."

"How strange!" she said, half to herself.

"Do you think so? I suppose from the European standpoint----"

"No, no," she stopped him. "I wasn't thinking of that. You are logical and you do the logical thing. That is how I would treat my enemies."

"If you had any," he suggested.

She nodded.

"If I had any," she repeated with a hard little smile. "Will you tell me this--do I call you Mr. Muley or Lord Muley?"

"You may call me Wazeer, if you're so hard up for a title," he said, and the little idiom sounded queer from him.

"Well, Wazeer, will you tell me: Suppose somebody who had something that you wanted very badly and they wouldn't give it to you, and you had the power to destroy them, what would you do?"

"I should certainly destroy them," said Muley Hafiz. "It is unnecessary to ask. 'The common rule, the simple plan'" he quoted.

Her eyes were fixed on his face, and she was frowning, though this she did not know.

"I am glad I met you this afternoon," she said. "It must be wonderful living in that atmosphere, the atmosphere of might and power, where men and women aren't governed by the finicking rules which vitiate the Western world."

He laughed.

"Then you are tired of your Western civilisation," he said as he rose and helped her to her feet (his hands were long and delicate, and she grew breathless at the touch of them). "You must come along to my little city in the hills where the law is the sword of Muley Hafiz."

She looked at him for a moment.

"I almost wish I could," she said and held out her hand.

He took it in the European fashion and bowed over it. She seemed so tiny a thing by the side of him, her head did not reach his shoulder.

"Good-bye," she said hurriedly and turning, walked back the way she had come, and he stood watching her until she was out of sight.