Chapter XLI
 

"That is Gibraltar," said Marcus Stepney, pointing ahead to a grey shape that loomed up from the sea.

He was unshaven for he had forgotten to bring his razor and he was pinched with the cold. His overcoat was turned up to his ears, in spite of which he shivered.

Jean did not seem to be affected by the sudden change of temperature. She sat on the top of the cabin, her chin in the palm of her hand, her elbow on her crossed knee.

"You are not going into Gibraltar?" she asked.

He shook his head.

"I think not," he said, "nor to Algeciras. Did you see that fellow on the quay yelling for the craft to come back after we left Malaga? That was a bad sign. I expect the police have instructions to detain this boat, and most of the ports must have been notified."

"How long can we run?"

"We've got enough gas and grub to reach Dacca," he said. "That's roughly an eight-days' journey."

"On the African coast?"

He nodded, although she could not see him.

"Where could we get a ship to take us to South America?" she asked, turning round.

"Lisbon," he said thoughtfully. "Yes, we could reach Lisbon, but there are too many steamers about and we're certain to be sighted. We might run across to Las Palmas, most of the South American boats call there, but if I were you I should stick to Europe. Come and take this helm, Jean."

She obeyed without question, and he continued the work which had been interrupted by a late meal, the painting of the boat's hull, a difficult business, involving acrobatics, since it was necessary for him to lean over the side. He had bought the grey paint at Malaga, and happily there was not much surface that required attention. The stumpy mast of the Jungle Queen had already gone overboard--he had sawn it off with great labour the day after they had left Cap Martin.

She watched him with a speculative eye as he worked, and thought he had never looked quite so unattractive as he did with an eight-days' growth of beard, his shirt stained with paint and petrol. His hands were grimy and nobody would have recognised in this scarecrow the elegant habitué of those fashionable resorts which smart society frequents.

Yet she had reason to be grateful to him. His conduct toward her had been irreproachable. Not one word of love had been spoken, nor, until now, had their future plans, for it affected them both, been discussed.

"Suppose we reach South America safely?" she asked. "What happens then, Marcus?"

He looked round from his work in surprise.

"We'll get married," he said quietly, and she laughed.

"And what happens to the present Mrs. Stepney?"

"She has divorced me," said Stepney unexpectedly. "I got the papers the day we left."

"I see," said Jean softly. "We'll get married----" then stopped.

He looked at her and frowned.

"Isn't that your idea, too?" he asked.

"Married? Yes, that's my idea, too. It seems a queer uninteresting way of finishing things, doesn't it, and yet I suppose it isn't."

He had resumed his work and was leaning far over the bow intent upon his labour. Suddenly she spun the wheel round and the launch heeled over to starboard. For a second it seemed that Marcus Stepney could not maintain his balance against that unexpected impetus, but by a superhuman effort he kicked himself back to safety, and stared at her with a blanched face.

"Why did you do that?" he asked hoarsely. "You nearly had me overboard."

"There was a porpoise lying on the surface of the sea, asleep, I think," she said quietly. "I'm very sorry, Marcus, but I didn't know that it would throw you off your balance."

He looked round for the sleeping fish but it had disappeared.

"You told me to avoid them, you know," she said apologetically. "Did I really put you in any danger?"

He licked his dry lips, picked up the paint-pot, and threw it into the sea.

"We'll leave this," he said, "until we are beached. You gave me a scare, Jean."

"I'm dreadfully sorry. Come here, and sit by me."

She moved to allow him room, and he sat down by her, taking the wheel from her hand.

On the horizon the high lands of northern Africa were showing their saw-edge outlines.

"That is Morocco," he pointed out to her. "I propose giving Gibraltar a wide berth, and following the coast line to Tangier."

"Tangier wouldn't be a bad place to land if there weren't two of us," he went on. "It is our being together in this yacht that is likely to cause suspicion. You could easily pretend that you'd come over from Gibraltar, and the port authorities there are pretty slack."

"Or if we could land on the coast," he suggested. "There's a good landing, and we could follow the beach down, and turn up in Tangier in the morning--all sorts of oddments turn up in Tangier without exciting suspicion."

She was looking out over the sea with a queer expression in her face.

"Morocco!" she said softly. "Morocco--I hadn't thought of that!"

They had a fright soon after. A grey shape came racing out of the darkening east, and Stepney put his helm over as the destroyer smashed past on her way to Gibraltar.

He watched the stern light disappearing, then it suddenly turned and presented its side to them.

"They're looking for us," said Marcus.

The darkness had come down, and he headed straight for the east.

There was no question that the destroyer was on an errand of discovery. A white beam of light shot out from her decks, and began to feel along the sea. And then when they thought it had missed them, it dropped on the boat and held. A second later it missed them and began a search. Presently it lit the little boat, and it did something more--it revealed a thickening of the atmosphere. They were running into a sea fog, one of those thin white fogs that come down in the Mediterranean on windless days. The blinding glare of the searchlight blurred.

"Bang!"

"That's the gun to signal us to stop," said Marcus between his teeth.

He turned the nose of the boat southward, a hazardous proceeding, for he ran into clear water, and had only just got back into the shelter of the providential fog bank when the white beam came stealthily along the edge of the mist. Presently it died out, and they saw it no more.

"They're looking for us," said Marcus again.

"You said that before," said the girl calmly.

"They've probably warned them at Tangier. We dare not take the boat into the bay," said Stepney, whose nerves were now on edge.

He turned again westward, edging toward the rocky coast of northern Africa. They saw little clusters of lights on the shore, and he tried to remember what towns they were.

"I think that big one is Cutra, the Spanish convict station," he said.

He slowed down the boat, and they felt their way gingerly along the coast line, until the flick and flash of a lighthouse gave them an idea of their position.

"Cape Spartel," he identified the light. "We can land very soon. I was in Morocco for three months, and if I remember rightly the beach is good walking as far as Tangier."

She went into the cabin and changed, and as the nose of the Jungle Queen slid gently up the sandy beach she was ready.

He carried her ashore, and set her down, then he pushed off the nose of the boat, and manoeuvred it so that the stern was against the beach, resting in three feet of water. He jumped on board, lashed the helm, and started the engines going, then wading back to the shore he stood staring into the gloom as the little Jungle Queen put out to sea.

"That's that," he said grimly. "Now my dear, we've got a ten mile walk before us."

But he had made a slight miscalculation. The distance between himself and Tangier was twenty-five miles, and involved several detours inland into country which was wholly uninhabited, save at that moment it held the camp of Muley Hafiz, who was engaged in negotiation with the Spanish Government for one of those "permanent peaces" which frequently last for years.

Muley Hafiz sat drinking his coffee at midnight, listening to the strains of an ornate gramophone, which stood in a corner of his square tent.

A voice outside the silken fold of his tent greeted him, and he stopped the machine.

"What is it?" he asked.

"Lord, we have captured a man and a woman walking along by the sea."

"They are Riffi people--let them go," said Muley in Arabic. "We are making peace, my man, not war."

"Lord, these are infidels; I think they are English."

Muley Hafiz twisted his trim little beard.

"Bring them," he said.

So they were brought to his presence, a dishevelled man and a girl at the sight of whose face, he gasped.

"My little friend of the Riviera," he said wonderingly, and the smile she gave him was like a ray of sunshine to his heart.

He stood up, a magnificent figure of a man, and she eyed him admiringly.

"I am sorry if my men have frightened you," he said. "You have nothing to fear, madame. I will send my soldiers to escort you to Tangier."

And then he frowned. "Where did you come from?"

She could not lie under the steady glance of those liquid eyes.

"We landed on the shore from a boat. We lost our way," she said.

He nodded.

"You must be she they are seeking," he said. "One of my spies came to me from Tangier to-night, and told me that the Spanish and the French police were waiting to arrest a lady who had committed some crime in France. I cannot believe it is you--or if it is, then I should say the crime was pardonable."

He glanced at Marcus.

"Or perhaps," he said slowly, "it is your companion they desire."

Jean shook her head.

"No, they do not want him," she said, "it is I they want."

He pointed to a cushion.

"Sit down," he said, and followed her example.

Marcus alone remained standing, wondering how this strange situation would develop.

"What will you do? If you go into Tangier I fear I could not protect you, but there is a city in the hills," he waved his hand, "many miles from here, a city where the hills are green, mademoiselle, and where beautiful springs gush out of the ground, and there I am lord."

She drew a long breath.

"I will go to the city of the hills," she said softly, "and this man," she shrugged her shoulders, "I do not care what happens to him," she said, with a smile of amusement at the pallid Marcus.

"Then he shall go to Tangier alone."

But Marcus Stepney did not go alone. For the last two miles of the journey he had carried a bag containing the greater part of five million francs that the girl had brought from the boat. Jean did not remember this until she was on her way to the city of the hills, and by that time money did not interest her.

THE END.