The Fortieth Door
By Mary Hastings Bradley
Public Domain Books
MISS JEFFRIES MAKES A CALL
That morning Miss Jeffries ate two eggs. She ate them successively, with increasing deliberation, and afterwards she lingered interminably over her toast and marmalade.
Still Ryder made no appearance and since the Arab waiter had informed her that he had not yet breakfasted she concluded that he was not at the hotel but had spent the night with some friend of his–probably that Andrew McLean to whom he was always running off.
Nor was he in to luncheon. That was rank extravagance because he was paying at pension rates. His extravagance, however, was no affair of hers. Neither, she informed herself frigidly, was his appearance or his non-appearance. It was only rather dull of Jack to lose so many, well, opportunities.
She was not going to be in Cairo forever. Not much longer, in fact. There were adages about gathering rosebuds while ye may and making hay while the sun shone that Jack Ryder would do well to observe.
Other men did, reflected Jinny Jeffries with a proud lift of her ruddy head. Only somehow, the other men–
Well, Jack was provokingly attractive! Only of course, if he was going to rely upon his attraction and not upon his attentions–
Deliberately Miss Jeffries smiled upon a stalwart tourist from New York and promised her society for a foursome at bridge in the hotel lounge that evening.
Later, when Jack still failed to materialize and behold her inaccessibility, the exhibition seemed hardly to have been worth while.... And there were difficulties getting rid of the New Yorker the next day. He had ideas about excursions.
It was during the forenoon of the next day that the first twinge of genuine worry shot across the sustained resentment which she was pleased to call her complete indifference. She recalled the vigor of Ryder’s warnings about mentioning his adventure and the grave dangers of disclosure, and she began to wonder.
She wished, rather, that he had gone safely out of the house before she went away.
Of course nothing could happen. He had done nothing to give himself away. He was simply a veiled shadow, moving humbly as befitted a lowly stranger among the high and hospitable surroundings.
But still, it would have been better if he had gone....
Those turbaned women had looked queerly at them when they were talking so long in the window. Perhaps it was not simply at the intimacy between a young American and a veiled Oriental. Perhaps their voices had been unguarded or Jack’s tones had awakened suspicion. Perhaps he had given himself away in his long talk with the bride. She remembered a Frenchwoman who had come to interrupt that talk who had looked rather sharply at Jack.... And that dreadful eunuch was always staring....
She thought of a great many things now, more and more things every minute.
And still she told herself that she was absurd, that Jack would be the first to ridicule her alarm. He was probably enjoying himself, staying on with his friends, forgetting all about herself.... Still his room at the hotel had not been slept in for two nights now nor had he called at the hotel and he certainly didn’t have an extensive supply of clothes and linen upon him beneath the mantle.
Particularly she remembered that he had exhibited some funny black tennis shoes which he had thought would go appropriately with a woman’s robes. Absurd, to think of him as spending two days in tennis shoes, and absurd to say that he would go to the shops and buy more when he had plenty of footgear in his hotel room.
Unless he wore McLean’s.
She had always regarded the unknown McLean as a most unnecessary absorbent of Jack Ryder’s time and attention and now that view was deeply reinforced.
By noon she decided to do something. She would telephone that Andrew McLean and see if Jack had been there. The Agricultural Bank, that was the place. An obliging hotel clerk–clerks were always obliging to Miss Jeffries–gave her the number and she slipped into the booth feeling a ridiculous amount of excitement and suspense.
She had never telephoned in Cairo–only been telephoned to–and she was not prepared for the fact that the telephone company was French. At the phone girl’s ’Numero?–Quel numero, s’il vous plait?_” Jinny hastily choked back the English response and clutched violently at French numerals.
“_Huit cent–no, quatre vingt–un moment!_” she demanded desperately and hanging up the receiver, sat down to write out her number in French correctly.
And then she got the Bank, and, still clinging to her French, she requested to speak to Monsieur McLean and was informed that it was Monsieur McLean himself.
“_Je suis–oh, how absurd! Of course you speak English,” she exclaimed. “This French telephone upset me.... I wanted to speak to Mr. Ryder if he is there–or else leave a message for him, if you know when he will come in.”
“Ryder?” There was a faint intonation of surprise in the voice. “I’ve no idea really when he’ll be in,” said McLean, “but you may leave the message if you like.”
“Hasn’t he–haven’t you seen him for some time?” stammered Jinny, feeling that McLean must be taking her for a pursuing adventuress.
“Well–not for some time.”
Her heart sank.
“Not–not for two days?”
“It might be that,” said the Scotchman cautiously.
Two days. Forty-eight hours, almost, since she had left him in that harem! And McLean had not seen him. Of course there might be other friends who had and McLean might know of them.
“I’m afraid I’ll have to see you,” she said desperately. “It’s rather important about Jack Ryder–and if I could just talk with you a minute–this afternoon–?”
“I have no appointment for three fifteen,” McLean told her concisely.
Evidently he expected her to call at the Bank.... He was used to being called on.... “Shall I come–?” she began.
“I can see you at three fifteen,” McLean reassured her, and she repeated “Three fifteen,” with an odd vibration in her voice.
“I wonder,” she murmured, “if I came at three ten–or three twenty–?”
But she didn’t. She was humorously careful to make it exactly a quarter past the hour when she left her cab before McLean’s official looking residence and stepped into the tiled entrance.
She had no very clear notion of Andrew McLean except that he was, as Jack had said, Scotch, single, and skeptical, that he was Jack’s intimate friend and an official sort of banker–and the word banker had unconsciously prepared her for stout dignity and middle age.
She was not at all prepared for the lean, sandy-haired, rather abrupt young man who came forward from the depths of the gratefully cool reception room, and after a nervous hand clasp waved her to a chair.
He was still holding her card, and as he glanced covertly at it she recalled that she had given him no name over the telephone and that he had known her only by the time of her appointment. Decidedly she must have made an odd impression!
Well, he could see for himself now, she thought, a trifle defiantly. Certainly he was taking stock of her out of those shrewd swift gray eyes of his. He could see that she was, well–certainly a nice girl!
As a matter of fact McLean could see that she was considerably more. Rather disconcertingly more! It was not often that such white-clad apparitions, piquant of face and coppery of hair, teased the eyes in his receiving room.
“You wanted to see me–?” he offered mechanically.
“Perhaps you have heard Jack Ryder speak of me–of Jinny Jeffries?" began the girl, determined to put the affair on a sound social footing as soon as possible.
McLean considered and, in honesty, shook his head. “He very seldom mentioned young ladies.”
“Oh–!” Jinny tried not to appear dashed. “We are very old friends–in America–and of course I’ve seen a good deal of him since I’ve been in Cairo. In fact, he is stopping now at the same hotel with us–with my aunt and uncle and myself.”
McLean smiled. “He said it was a tooth,” he mentioned dryly.
In Jinny’s eyes a little flicker answered him, but her words were ingenuous. “Oh, of course he has been having a time with the dentist. That’s why he couldn’t return to his camp. What I meant was, that at the hotel we have been seeing him every day until–he has just disappeared since day before yesterday and we–that is, I–am very much concerned about it.”
“Disappeared? You mean, he–”
“Just disappeared, that’s all. He hasn’t been at the hotel–he hasn’t been anywhere that I know of, and I haven’t heard a word from him–so I telephoned you and then when I found he hadn’t been here–”
McLean looked off into space. “Eh, well, he’ll turn up,” he said comfortingly. “Jack’s erratic, you may say, in his comings and goings. He means nothing by it.... I’ve known him do the same to me.... Any time, now; you’re likely to hear–”
Miss Jeffries sat up a little straighter and her cheeks burned with brighter warmth.
“It isn’t just that I want to see him, Mr. McLean,” she took quietly distinct pains to explain. “It’s because I am anxious–”
“Not a need, not a need in the world. Jack knows his way about.... He may have been called back to the diggings, you know–if they dug up a bit porcelain there or a few grains of corn the boy would forget the sun was shining.”
Perhaps his caller’s burnished hair had shaped that thought. “Jack knows his way about,” he repeated encouragingly, as one who demolishes the absurd fears of women and children.
“You don’t quite understand.” Jinny’s tones were silken smooth. “You see, I left him in rather unusual circumstances. It was a place where he had no business in the world to be–”
At McLean’s unguardedly startled gaze her humor overtook her wrath.
“Oh, it was quite all right for me_” she replied mischievously to that look. “Only not for him. You see, he was masquerading–”
“Again?” thought McLean, involuntarily. Lord, what a hand for the lassies that lad was–and he had thought him such an aloof one!
“Masquerading as a woman–so he could take me to a reception.”
Jinny began to falter. Just putting that escapade into words portrayed its less commendable features.
“It was a woman’s reception,” she began again, “at a Turkish house. A marriage reception–”
She had certainly secured McLean’s whole-hearted attention.
“A marriage reception–a Turkish marriage reception?” he said very sharply and amazedly as his caller continued to pause. “Do you mean to say that Jack Ryder went into a Turkish house dressed as a woman–?”
There was a pronounced angularity of feature about the young Scotchman which now took on a chiseled sternness.
Swiftly Jinny interposed. “Oh, you mustn’t blame him, Mr. McLean! You see, I wanted very much to go to a Turkish reception and I didn’t have the courage to go alone or drag some other tourist as inexperienced as myself, and so Jack–why, there didn’t seem any harm in his dressing up. Just for fun, you know. He put on a Turkish mantle and a veil up to his eyes and he was sure he’d never be found out. I ought not to have let him, I know–it was my fault–”
She looked so flushed and innocent and distressed that McLean’s chivalry rose swiftly to her need.
“Indeed you mustn’t blame yourself Miss–Miss Jeffries. You don’t know Egypt–and Jack does. He knew that if he had been discovered there would have been no help for him–and no questions asked afterwards. And it might have been very dangerous for you. The blame is just his now,” he said decisively, yet not without a certain weak-kneed sympathy with the culprit.
For if the girl had looked like this ... he could see that she would be a difficult little piece to withstand ... though any man with an ounce of sense in his head would have behaved as a responsible protector and not as a reckless school boy.
“What happened?” he said quickly.
“Oh, nothing happened–nothing that I know of. We got along very well, I thought, although now I remember that some people didstare.... But I wasn’t worried at the time. I thought it was just because I was an American and he was apparently a Turkish woman, but there was no reason why an American might not get a Turkish woman to act as a guide, was there?... And then Jack told me to go home first–he said it would be simpler that way and that he would slip over to some friend’s or to some safe place and take his disguise off. He wore a gray suit beneath it, and the only funny thing was some black tennis shoes.... So I left him. And he hasn’t been back since.”
She added as McLean was silent, “He told me that he had some engagement for that evening, so I did not begin to worry until the next day.”
“Now just how long ago was this?”
“Two days ago. Day before yesterday afternoon.”
She looked anxiously at McLean’s face and took alarm at his careful absence of expression.
“Oh, Mr. McLean, do you think–”
He brushed that aside. “And where was it–this reception?”
“At an old palace, forever away on the edge of the city. I don’t remember the street–we drove and I had the cab wait. But it belonged to a Turkish general. Hamdi Bey,” she brought out triumphantly. “General Hamdi Bey.”
McLean did not correct her idea of the title. His expression was more carefully non-committal than ever, while behind its quiet guard his thoughts were breaking out like a revolution.
Hamdi Bey.... A wedding reception.... The daughter of Tewfick Pasha....
In the secret depths of his soul he uttered profane and troubled words. That French girl, again.... So Ryder had not forgotten that affair, although he had kept silent about it of late. He had bided his time and taken that rash means of seeing the girl again–and he had involved this unknowing young American in a risk of scandal and deceived her into believing herself responsible for this caprice while all the time she had been a mere cloak and it had been his own diabolical desire....
Miss Jeffries was surprised to see a sudden sorry softness dawn in the young man’s look upon her. And she was surprised, too, at his next question.
“I wonder, now, if you were the young lady who took him to a masquerade ball–some time ago?”
Lightly she acknowledged it. “You’ll think I’m always taking him to things,” she said brightly, but McLean’s troubled gaze did not quicken with a smile.
He was experiencing a vast compassion. She was so innocent, so unconscious of the quicksands about her.... Probably she had never heard a breath of that first adventure.
And it was this fair Christian creature whom Jack Ryder had abandoned for a veiled girl from a Turk’s harem!
McLean filled with cold, antagonistic wonder. He forgot the lovely image of the French miniature, and remembering Tewfick’s rounded eyes and olive features he thought of the veiled girl–most illogically, for he knew that Tewfick was not her father–as some bold-eyed, warm-skinned image of base allure.
Sorrowfully he shook his head over his friend. He determined to protect him and to protect this girl’s innocence of his behavior. He would help her to save him.... She could do it yet–if only she did not learn the truth and turn from him. If ever she had been able to make Jack go to a masquerade–that cursed masquerade!–she could work other, more beneficent, miracles.
So now he asked, very cautiously, his mind on divided paths, “Do you say there was nothing to draw suspicion–he did not talk to any one, the guests or the bride–?”
“Oh, yes, he did talk to the bride,” said Miss Jeffries with such utter unconsciousness that McLean’s heart hardened against the renegade.
“He talked quite a while to her,” she said.
“Did you notice anything–?”
“Oh, I couldn’t hear what was said. He was the last in line and he stayed for some time. He said afterward that it was all right. She was very nice to him,” said Jinny earnestly, producing every scrap of incident for McLean’s judgment. “She showed him some of her presents–something about her neck.”
In mid-speech McLean changed a startled “God!” to “Good!”
“She wasn’t suspicious, then?” he said weakly.
“Not as far as I could see. Oh, nothing seemed to be wrong. But I did feel uneasy until I got away and then, Jack hasn’t come back–”
Again she looked at the young Scotchman for confirmation of her fear and again she saw that careful expressionless calm.
“It’s no need for alarm,” he told her slowly, “since nothing went wrong. I see no reason why Jack couldn’t have walked out of that reception. If we only knew where he was going later–”
“Yes, something might have happened later,” Jinny took up. “I thought of that. He might have wanted some more fun and felt more reckless–Oh, I am worried,” she confessed, her gray eyes very round and childlike.
And if anything had happened she would always blame herself, thought McLean ironically.... The unthinking deviltry of the young scoundrel!... When he found him he’d have a few things to say!
“That’s why I came to you,” Jinny went on. “I hesitated, for he had warned me so against telling any one, but no one else knows–”
“And no one must know,” McLean assured her crisply. “I daresay it’s a mare’s nest and Jack will be found safe and sound at his diggings or off on a lark with some friend or other, but it’s well to make sure and you did quite right in coming to me.”
Jinny thought she had done quite right, too.
There was a satisfying strength about McLean. She resented a trifle his masculine way of trying to keep the dark side from her; she was not greatly misled by that untroubled look of his and yet she was unconsciously reassured by it.... And although he refused to be stampeded by alarm he was not incredulous of it, for his manner was frankly grave.
“I’ll send out at once,” he said decisively, “and see if I can pick up any gossip of that reception. I’ve a very clever clerk with brothers in the bazaars who is a perfect wireless for information. He has told me the night before a man was to be murdered.”
He paused, reflecting that was not a happy suggestion.
“Then I’ll send out to Jack’s diggings. That express doesn’t stop to-night, but I’ll find a way. And I’ll let you know as soon as I can.”
“You’re very kind,” said Jinny gratefully.
His competent manner brought her a light-hearted sensation of difficulties already solved. Jack was as good as found, she felt in swift reaction. If he was in any trouble this forceful young man would settle it.
But probably he wasn’t in any trouble. Probably he was just at his diggings–rushing off from her in the exasperating way he seemed to do whenever they were getting on particularly well.... She remembered how he had bolted from that masquerade which had begun so happily. He had said he was ill, but she had never completely slain the suspicion that his illness sprang from ennui and disinclination.
She rose. “I mustn’t take any more of your time, Mr. McLean–and you probably have a four fifteen engagement.”
But her light raillery failed of its mark.
“Eh? No, I have not,” seriously he assured her. “You are quite the last one I took on–the last before tea.”
He paused confused with a strange suggestion.... Tea.... His servant did it rather well.... And it was time–
Usually he had it in the garden. It was a charming garden, full of roses, with a nice view of the Citadel–and his strange suggestion expanded with a rosy vision of Jinny among the roses, beside his wicker table.... Would she possibly care to–?
He struggled with his idea–and with his shyness. And then the sense that it wasn’t quite decent, somehow, to be offering tea to this girl whom anxiety for Ryder’s unknown lot had brought to him overcame that unwonted impulse.
He dismissed the idea. And like all shy men he was oddly relieved at the passing of the necessity for initiative, even while he felt his mild hope’s expiring pang.
He stepped before her to open the doors to which she was now taking herself.
In the entrance he saw his clerk–the clever one–going out, and excusing himself he went forward to detain the man. For a moment there ensued a low-toned colloquy. Then the clerk, a dark-browned keen-featured fellow in European clothes with a red fez, began to relate something.
When McLean turned back to Jinny Jeffries she saw that his look was sharply altered. There was a transfixed air about him and when he spoke his voice told her that he had had a shock.
“My man tells me,” he said, “that Hamdi Bey’s bride is dead. He buried her yesterday.”