It was two hours, after the muezzin had called to evening prayer, and night had canopied Tangier with a million stars. In the little Sok, the bread-sellers, sat cross-legged behind their wares, their candles burning steadily, for there was not so much as, the whisper of a wind blowing. The monotonous strumming of a guitar from a Moorish cafe, the agonised barlak! of a belated donkey-driver bringing his charge down the steep streets which lead to the big bazaar, the shuffle of bare feet on Tangier's cobbles, and the distant hush-hush of the rollers breaking upon the amber shore—these were the only sounds which the night held.
John Maxell sat outside the Continental Cafe, in the condition of bodily content which a good dinner induces. Mental content should have accompanied such a condition, but even the memory of a perfect dinner could not wholly obliterate a certain uneasiness of mind. He had been uneasy when he came to Tangier, and his journey through France and Spain had been accompanied by certain apprehensions and doubts which Cartwright had by no means dispelled.
Rather, by his jovial evasions, his cheery optimism, and at times his irritable outbreaks of temper, he had given the eminent King's Counsel further cause for disquiet.
Cartwright sat at the other side of the table, and was unusually quiet. This was a circumstance which was by no means displeasing to Maxell, for the night was not conducive to talk. There are in North Africa many nights like this, when one wishes to sit in dead silence and let thought take its own course, unchecked and untrammelled. In Morocco such nights are common and, anyway, Maxell had always found it difficult to discuss business matters after dinner.
Cartwright had no temperament and his quiet was due to other causes. It was he who broke the silence, knocking out his pipe on the iron-topped table with a bang which jarred his more sensitive companion to the very spine.
"I'd stake my life and my soul on there being a reef," he said with a suddenness which was almost as jarring. "Why, you've seen the outcrop for yourself, and isn't it exactly the same formation as you see on the Rand?"
Though a common-law man, he had been associated in mining cases and had made a very careful study of the whole problem of gold extraction.
"It looks right enough to me," he said, "but as against that we have the fact that some clever engineers have spent a great deal of time and money trying to locate the reef. That there is gold in Morocco everybody knows, and I should say, Cartwright, that you are right. But where is the reef? It would cost a fortune to bore, even though we had the other borings to guide us."
The other made an impatient noise.
"Of course, if the reef were all mapped out it would be a simple matter, but then we shouldn't get on to it, as we are to-day, at the cost of a few thousands. Hang it all, Maxell, we've got to take a certain amount of risk! I know it's a gamble quite as well as you. There's no sense in arguing that point with me. But other things are gambles too. Law was a gamble to you for many years, and a bigger gamble after you took silk."
This was a sore point with Maxell, as the other knew. A prosperous junior, he had been called within the Bar, and taken upon himself the function and style of King's Counsellor in the hope that his prosperity would still further be expanded. And, like so many other men, he had discovered that the successful junior is not necessarily the successful K.C.
Fortunately for him, he had not long before contested and won a seat in Parliament, and his service to the Government of the day had to some extent ensured his future. But, financially, he had suffered considerably.
"No," he said, "silk isn't any great catch to a man, I agree; and it was certainly a gamble, and a losing gamble."
"Which reminds me," said Cartwright, "there was talk, before I left London, that you would be given Cabinet rank."
"It is extremely unlikely," he said. "Anyway, if they make me Solicitor-General, that doesn't carry Cabinet rank."
"It carries a lot of money," said Cartwright after a pause for a moment, "and it's money that counts just now, Maxell."
Again the lawyer nodded.
He might have added that, but for the need for money, he would long since have dropped his association with Alfred Cartwright, though Cartwright's name stood very high in certain circles of the City of London. They had been at school together, though in that period there had been no very great friendship between them. And Cartwright was marked out for success from the beginning. He inherited a considerable business when his father died, and he enlarged and improved upon it. He had taken up a hundred and one outside interests, and had made most of them pay. A few of them did not pay, and it was whispered that the losses upon his failures took a considerable slice of the balance that accrued from his successes.
They had met again when Maxell was a junior and Cartwright the defendant in a case which, had he lost, would have made him some thirty thousand pounds the poorer. When Maxell thought back upon that event, he had to confess that it was not a pleasant case, being one in which Cartwright had been charged with something which was tantamount to misrepresentation; and, although he had won, and won brilliantly, he had never felt any great pride in his achievement.
"No," he said (the pauses were frequent and long), "I should hardly imagine that the Prime Minister loves me to that extent. In Parliament you have to be an uncomfortable quantity to be really successful. You must be strong enough to have a national following, and sufficiently independent to keep the Whips guessing. I am known as a safe man, and I hold a safe seat, which I couldn't lose if I tried. That doesn't make for promotion. Of course, I could have had an Under-Secretaryship for the asking, and that means a couple of thousand a year, but it also means that you last out the life of the administration in a subordinate capacity, and that, by the time you have made good, your party is in the cold shade of opposition, and there are no jobs going."
He shook his head, and returned immediately to the question of the missing reef, as though he wished to take the subject from his own personal affairs.
"You say that it would cost us a lot of money if the reef was proved," he said. "Isn't it costing us a lot now?"
"Yes, it is. As a matter of fact," he confessed, "the actual reef is costing nothing, or next to nothing, because El Mograb is helping me. In our own business—that is to say, in the Syndicate—our expenses are more or less small; but I am doing a little independent buying, and that has meant the spending of money. I am taking up all the ground to the south of the Angera—a pretty expensive business."
Maxell shifted uneasily in his chair.
"That is rather worrying me, you know, Cartwright," he said; "your scheme is ever so much too ambitious. I was figuring it out this afternoon as I was sitting in my room, and I came to the conclusion that, if the scheme as you outlined it to me yesterday went through, it would mean your finding two millions."
"Three," corrected the other cheerfully, "but think what it means, Maxell! Supposing it went through. Supposing we struck a reef, and the reef continued, as I believe it will, through the country I am taking up! Why, it may mean a hundred millions to me!"
The other sighed.
"I have reached the point where I think a hundred thousand is an enormous sum," he said. "However, you know your own business best, Cartwright. But I want to be satisfied in the matter in which we are associated together, that my liability does not exceed my power to pay. And there is another matter."
Cartwright guessed the "other matter."
"Well?" he asked.
"I was looking over your titles this afternoon," said Maxell, "and I see no reference to the old Spanish working. I remember that you told me a Spaniard had taken up a considerable stretch of country and had exhausted his capital trying to prove the reef—Senor Brigot, wasn't that his name?"
The other nodded curtly.
"A drunkard—and a bad lot," he said. "He's broke."
"His moral character doesn't count so far as the details go; what does matter is that if your theory is correct, the reef must run through his property. What are you going to do about that?"
"Buy him out," said the other.
He rose abruptly.
"I'm walking up to the Sok," he said. "Come along?"
They tramped up the long, steep hill-street together, and they did not speak till they had passed through the ancient gate into the unrelieved gloom which lies outside the city.
"I don't understand you, Maxell—you take an old man's view of things," said Cartwright irritably. "You're comparatively young, you're a good-looker. Why the devil don't you marry, and marry money?"
"Have you ever tried to marry money?" he asked dryly.
"No," said the other after a pause, "but I should think it is pretty simple."
"Try it," said the laconic Maxell. "It is simple in books, but in real life it is next to impossible. I go about a great deal in society of all kinds, and I can tell you that I have never yet met an eligible spinster wit money—that is to say, large money. I agree with you," he went on after a while, "a man like myself should marry. And he should marry well. I could give a woman a good position, but she's got to be the right kind of woman. There are some times when I'm just frantic about my position. I am getting older—I am forty-seven next birthday—and every day that slips past is a day lost. I ought to be married, but I can't afford a wife. It is a blackguardly thing to talk about money in connection with marriage and yet somehow I can think of nothing else—whenever the thought arises in my mind I see an imaginary beauty sitting on a bag of gold!" He chuckled to himself. "Let's go back," he said, "the big Sok always gives me the creeps."
Something lumbered past him in the darkness, some big, overpowering beast with an unpleasant smell, and a guttural voice cried in Arabic: "Beware!"
"Camels!" said Cartwright briefly. "They're bringing in the stuff for the morning market. The night's young yet, Maxell. Let us go up to the theatre."
"The theatre?" said Maxell. "I didn't even know the theatre was open."
"It is called theatre by courtesy," explained Cartwright; "the inhabitants refer to it as the circus. It's a big wooden place on the sea edge—"
"I know it, I know it," said Maxell. "What is being played? The only people I have ever seen there have been Spanish artistes—and pretty bad artistes, too."
"Well, there's a treat for you. It is an English company, or rather, a variety company with a number of English turns," said Cartwright. "We might do worse—at least, I might," he added ominously.
When they reached the theatre they found it sparsely filled. Cartwright took one of the open boxes, and his companion settled himself into a corner to smoke. The turns were of the kind which are usually to be met with on the Levant; a tawdrily attired lady sang a humorous song in Spanish, the humour being frankly indecent. There were a juggler and a man with performing dogs, and then "Miss O'Grady" was announced.
"English," said Cartwright, turning to the programme.
"She may even be Irish," said Maxell dryly.
The wheezy little orchestra played a few bars and the girl came on. She was pretty—there was no doubt about that—and of a prettiness which satisfied both men. She was also British or American, for the song she sang was in French with which both men were familiar.
"It is horrible to see an English girl in a place like this and in such company," said Maxell.
"I wonder where she's staying," he asked, half to himself, and a contemptuous little smile curled Maxell's lips.
"Are you going to rescue her from infamous surroundings?" he asked, and Cartwright snapped round on him.
"I wish to heaven you wouldn't be sarcastic, Maxell. That's twice this evening—"
"Sorry," said the other, snicking off the ash of his cigar. "I am in a cynical mood to-night."
He raided his hands to applaud the girl as she bowed herself from the stage, and glanced round the house. Three boxes away was a small party of men, whom he judged were the sons of prosperous members of the Spanish colony. Their fingers flashed with diamonds, their cigarettes burnt from jewelled holders. Cartwright followed the direction of the other's eyes.
"She's made a hit, that Miss O'Grady," he said. "These fellows will be tumbling over one another to present her with verbal bouquets. I wonder where she lives!" he said again.
Presently the young men rose in a body and left the box, and Cartwright grinned.
"Do you mind hanging on here whilst I go outside?"
"Not a bit," said the other. "Where are you off to? To find out where she lives?"
"There you go again," grumbled Cartwright. "I think Tangier makes you liverish."
When he had got on to the promenade, the men had disappeared, but a question directed to the head attendant revealed, as he had expected, the objective of the little party at the stage door.
The stage door was reached from the outside of the theatre and involved a journey over rubble and brick heaps. Presently he came to an open doorway, where sat a solitary half-caste smoking a pipe and reading an old Heraldo.
"Oh, hombre," said Cartwright in Spanish, "have you seen my three friends come in here?"
"Yes, Senor," nodded the man; "they have just entered."
He indicated the direction, which lay through a dark and smelly passage.
Cartwright walked along this stuffy hallway, and, turning the corner, came upon an interesting group gathered about a closed door, against which one, and the least sober, of the party was hammering. Near by stood a small, stout man in soiled evening dress, grinning his approval, and it was clear that the visitors were at once known and welcome.
"Open the door, my dream of joy," hiccupped the young man, hammering at the panel. "We have come to bring you homage and adoration—tell her to open the door, Jose," he addressed the manager of Tangier's theatre, and the small man minced forward and spoke in English.
"It is all right, my dear. Some friends of mine wish to see you."
A voice inside, which Cartwright recognised, answered: "I will not see them. Tell them to go away."
"You hear?" said the manager, shrugging his shoulders. "She will not see you. Now go back to your seats and let me persuade her."
"Senor!" He raised his eyebrows to the unexpected apparition of Cartwright. "What are you doing here?"
"I have come to see my friend," said Cartwright, "Miss O'Grady."
"It is forbidden to enter the theatre through the saloon of artistes," said the small man pompously. "If Miss O'Grady is your friend, you must wait for her until the performance is over."
Cartwright took no notice. He was a tall man of athletic build, and shouldering his way past the others with no difficulty, he tapped on the panel.
"Miss O'Grady," he said, "here is an English visitor wants to see you!"
"English?" said the voice. "Come in for the love of Mike!"
The door was opened, and a girl with a silk kimono pulled over her stage dress, offered him a smiling welcome. The young Spaniard who had been hammering on the panel of the door would have followed, but Cartwright's arm barred him.
"Do you want this fellow?" he asked.
"Do I want him—" said Miss O'Grady bitterly, "do I want the scarlet fever or measles? You bet I don't want him. He's been pestering me ever since I've been here."
"Do you hear what the lady says?" said Cartwright, speaking in Spanish. "She does not desire your acquaintance."
"My father owns this theatre," said the young man loudly.
"Then he's got a rotten property," replied the calm Cartwright.
The Spaniard turned in a rage to his soiled satellite.
"You will put this man out at once, Jose, or there will be trouble for you,"
The little man shrugged his helplessness.
"Sir," he said in English, "you see my unhappy position. The senor is the son of my proprietor and it will be bad for me if you stay. I ask you as a friend and caballero to go at once and spare me misfortune."
Cartwright looked at the girl.
"Must you go on again in this infernal place?" he asked.
She nodded, laughter and admiration in her eyes.
"What happens if you chuck this infernal job?"
"I'm fired," said the girl. "I've a ten weeks' contract with these people."
"What do you get?"
"Two hundred and fifty pesetas a week," she said contemptuously. "It's a wonderful salary, isn't it?"
"How many more weeks have you to go before your contract is finished?"
"Another four," she said; "we're playing in Cadiz next week, in Seville the week after, then Malaga, then Granada."
"Do you like it?"
"Like it!" the scorn in her voice was her answer.
"The dresses belong to the troupe, I guess," he said. "Get into your street clothes and I'll wait for you."
"What are you going to do?" she asked, eyeing him narrowly.
"I'll make good your lost contract," he said.
He shrugged his shoulders. "I don't like to see an English girl—"
"Irish," she corrected.
"I mean Irish," he laughed. "I don't like to see an Irish girl doing this kind of thing with a lot of horrible half-breeds. You've talent enough for London or Paris. What about Paris? I know any number of people there."
"Could you get me a good engagement?" she asked eagerly.
"What's your name, anyway?" she demanded.
"Never mind about my name. Smith, Brown, Jones, Robinson—anything you like."
It was the agitated little manager who interfered.
"Sir," he said, "you must not persuade this lady to leave the theatre. I have her under heavy penalties. I can bring her before the judge—"
"Now just forget that!" said Cartwright, "there is no judge in Tangier. She is a British subject, and the most you can do is to take her before the British Consul."
"When she returns to Spain——" said the little man growing apoplectic.
"She will not return to Spain. She will go to Gibraltar if she goes anywhere," said Cartwright, "and from Gibraltar she will be on the sea until she reaches a British port."
"I will go to the Spanish Consul," screamed the little manager, clawing the air. "I will not be robbed. You shall not interfere with my business, you—"
Much of this, thought Cartwright, was intended for the glowering young Spaniard who stood in the background. He went outside, closed the door and stood with his back toward it. On a whispered instruction from his employer's son, whose hands were now flickering fire as he gesticulated in his excitement. Jose the manager disappeared, and returned a few minutes later with two stalwart stage hands.
"Will you leave this theatre at once and quietly?" demanded the foaming manager.
"I will not leave the theatre until I am ready," said Cartwright, "and if I leave otherwise, I shall certainly not leave quietly."
The manager stood back with a melodramatic gesture.
"Eject the caballero," he said finally.
The two men hesitated. Then one came forward.
"The senor must leave," he said.
"In good time, my friend," replied Cartwright.
A hand gripped his arm, but instantly he had shaken free, and had driven with all his strength at the man's jaw. The stage hand dropped like a log. He pushed at the door behind him.
"Put your kimono over your things," he said quickly. "You can send the stage kit back tomorrow. There is going to be a rough house."
"All right," said a voice behind him, and the girl slipped out, still in her kimono and carrying a bundle of clothes under her arm.
"You know the way out? I'll follow you. Now, Jose," he said flippantly. "I'm going—quietly."