The Fortieth Door
By Mary Hastings Bradley
Public Domain Books
TO McLEAN’S ASTONISHMENT
“It is no end of good of you, Jack, to take this trouble,” Andrew McLean remarked appreciatively, looking up from his scrutiny of the packet which his unexpected luncheon guest had pushed over to his plate.
“Uncommon thoughtful. It’s undoubtedly a twin to that locket, the portrait of the man’s wife–whatever his name was.”
“Delcassé,” said Jack Ryder promptly.
Gratefully he drained the second lemon squash which the silent-footed Mohammed had placed at his elbow. It had been a hard morning’s trip, this coming in from camp in high haste, and he was hot and dusty.
“You might have sent the thing,” McLean mentioned. “I daresay that special agent chap has left the country, for I recollect he said he was at the end of his search.... And, of course, this isn’t much of a clue–eh, what?”
“It’s everything of a clue,” insisted Ryder. “It shows where this Frenchman was working, for the first thing–”
“Unless it had been stolen by some native who lost it in that tomb.”
“Natives don’t lose gold lockets. Of course it might have been stolen and hidden–but that’s far-fetched. It’s much more likely that this was the very tomb where Delcassé was working at the time of his death. For one thing, the place showed signs of previous excavation up to the inner corridor, and there I’ll swear no modern got ahead of me. And for another thing, it’s a perfect specimen of the limestone carving of the Tomb of Thi which Delcassé wrote his book about–looks very much as if it might be by the same artist. There’s a flock of hippopotami in a marsh scene with the identical drawing, and there’s the same lovely boat in full sail–but there, you bounder, you don’t know the Tomb of Thi from a thyroid gland. You’re here to administer financial justice, the middle, the high, and the low; your soul is with piasters, not the past. But take my word for it, it’s exactly the spot where an enthusiast of the Thi Tomb would be grubbing away.... Lord, they could choose their find in those days!”
“It’s uncommonly likely,” McLean conceded, abandoning his demolished cherry tart and pulling out his briar. “And if the locket proves the duplicate of the other it indicates that it’s a portrait of Madame Delcassé, but it doesn’t indicate what has become of Madame Delcassé.... Though in a general way,” McLean deduced with Scotch judicialness, “it supports the theory of foul play. The woman would hardly have lost her miniature, or have sold it, except under pressing conditions. In fact–”
Ryder was brusque with his facts.
“That doesn’t matter–Madame Delcassé doesn’t matter. The thing that matters is–”
As brusquely he broke off. His tongue balked before the revelation but he goaded it on.
“That there is a girl–the living image of that picture.”
“I say!” McLean looked up at that, distinctly intrigued. “That’s getting on.... You mean you’ve seen her?”
Ryder nodded, suddenly busy with his cigarette.
“Where is she, now? In Cairo? That’s luck, man!... And you say she’s like?”
“You’d think it her picture.”
“It’s an uncommon face.” McLean bent over it again. “I fancied the artist had just been making a bit of beauty, but if there’s a girl like that–! Fancy stumbling on that!... But where is she? And what name does she go by?”
“Oh, her name–she doesn’t know her own, of course.” Ryder paused uncertainly. “She’s in Cairo,” he began again vaguely. “She’d be just about the right age–eighteen or so. She–she’s had awf’ly hard, luck.” Distressfully he hesitated.
The shrewd eyes of McLean dwelt upon him in sorrowful silence. “Eh, Jock,” he said at last, with mock scandal scarcely veiling rebuke. “I did not know that you knew any of that sort–the poor, wee lost thing.... Tell me, now–”
“Tell you you’re off your chump,” said Jack rudely. “She’s no lost lamb. Fact is, she’s never spoken to a man–except myself.” He rather enjoyed the start this gave McLean after his insinuations. It helped him on with his story.
“The girl doesn’t know her own name at all, I gather. She thinks she’s the daughter of Tewfick Pasha. Her mother married the Turk and died very soon afterwards and he brought up this girl as his own. She says she’s his only child.”
He paused, ostensibly to blow an elaborate smoke ring, but actually to enjoy McLean’s astonishment. As astonishment, it was distinctly vivid. It verged upon a genuine horror as Ryder’s meaning sank into his friend’s mind.
McLean knew–slightly–Tewfick Pasha. He knew–supremely–the inviolable seclusion of a daughter of such a household. He knew the utter impossibility of any man’s speech with her.
Yet here was Ryder telling him–
Ryder’s telling him was a sketchy performance. He mentioned the girl’s appearance at the masquerade and their acquaintance. He touched lightly upon her attempted flight and his pursuit. Even more lightly he passed over those lingering moments at her garden gate and the exchange of confidences.
“She said that her dead mother had been French. And that her name was her mother’s–Aimée. So there is–”
“But the likeness, man–her face? She never unveiled to you?”
“Well, the next night–”
“The next night?”
It was at this point that Ryder began to lose his relish of McLean’s astonishment.
“Yes, the next night,” he repeated with careful carelessness.... “I told the girl I would come and see if she got in all right–there had been some footsteps the night before–”
“And you went? And she came?”
“Do you suppose she sent her father?”
“You’re lucky she didn’t send her father’s eunuch,” McLean retorted grimly. “Well, get on with your damning story. The girl took off her veil–”
“Nothing of the kind,” said Jack a trifle testily–so soon does conventional masculinity champion the conservatism of the other sex! “That was just as I was going–gone, in fact. I looked back and she had drawn her veil aside. The moon was bright on her face–I saw her as clear as daylight, and I tell you that this miniature is a picture of her. She is Delcassé’s daughter and she doesn’t know it. Her mother was stolen by that disgusting old Turk–”
“Hold on a bit. Fifteen years ago Tewfick could hardly have been thirty and he has the rep of a Don Juan. It may have been a love affair or it may have been plunder.... The girl remembers her?”
“Very little. She was so young when her mother died. She said that the father was so in love that he never married again.”
“H’m ... It seems to me that I’ve heard tales of our Tewfick and of pretty ladies in apartments. Cairo is a city of secrets and tattlers. However–as to this Delcassé inheritance, I’ll just notify the French legation–”
“We’ll have to look sharp,” said Ryder quickly. “There’s no time to lose. The girl is to be married.”
“Married?... But she’ll inherit the money just the same.”
“But she doesn’t want to be married,” Ryder insisted anxiously. “Her father–her alleged father–has just sprung this on her. Says there are political or financial reasons. He’s been caught in some dirty work by this Hamdi Bey and he’s stopping Hamdi’s mouth with the girl.... And we’ve got to stop that.”
“I wonder if we can,” said McLean thoughtfully.
“If we can? When the girl is French? When she’s been lied to and deceived?”
“She seems to have been taken jolly well care of. Brought up as his own and all that. Keep your shirt on, Jack,” McLean advised dryly with a shrewd glance from his gray eyes at the other’s unguarded heat.
Then his eyes dropped to the miniature again. A lovely face. A lovely unfortunate creature.... And if the daughter looked like that, small wonder that Jack was touched.... Beauty in distress.
Some men had all the luck, McLean reflected. He had never taken Jack for the gallivanting kind, either, yet here he was going to masquerades with one girl and coming home with another....
Jack was too good looking, that was the trouble with the youngster. Good looking and gay humored. The kind that attracted women.... Women and romance were never fluttering about lank, light-eyed, uninteresting old Scotchmen of twenty-nine!
A mild and wistful pang, which McLean refused to name, made itself known.
“I’ll see the legation,” he began.
“At once. I’ll wait,” urged Ryder.
And at once McLean went.
The result was what he had foreseen. The legation was appreciative of his interest. That special agent had returned to France but his address was left, and undoubtedly the family of Delcassé would be grateful for any information which Monsieur McLean could send.
“Send!” repudiated Ryder hotly. “Write to France and back–wait for somebody to come over! Can’t the legation do something now?”
“The legation has no authority. They can’t take the girl away from the man who is, at any rate, her step-father.”
“They can put the fear of God into him about this marriage. They can deny his right to hand her over to one of his pals. They can threaten him with an inquiry into the circumstances of her mother’s marriage.”
“And why should they? They may regard it as a very natural marriage. And remember, my dear Jack, that the legation has no desire to alienate the affections of influential Turks, or criticize fifteen-years-ago romances. You have a totally wrong impression of the responsibilities of foreign representatives.”
“But to let him dispose of a French girl–”
“He is disposing of her, as his daughter, in honorable marriage to a wealthy and aristocratic general. There can be no question of his motives–”
“Of course, if you think that sort of thing is all right–”
Carefully McLean ignored the other’s wrath.
Patiently he explained. “It’s not what I think, my dear fellow, it’s what the legation thinks. There’s not a chance in the world of getting the marriage stopped.”
“Then I’ll do it myself,” declared Ryder. “I’ll see this Tewfick Pasha and talk to him. Tell him the money is to come to the girl only when she is single. Tell him the French law gives the father’s representatives full charge. Tell him that he kidnapped the mother and the government will prosecute unless the girl is given her liberty. Tell him anything. A man with a guilty conscience can always be bluffed.”
In silence McLean gazed upon him, perplexed and clouded, his quizzical twinkle gone. Jack was taking this thing infernally to heart.... And it was a bad business.
“You will let me do the telling,” he stated at last, grimly. “What can be said, I’ll say. Like a fool, I will meddle.”
And so it happened that within another hour two very stiff and constrained young men were ringing the bell at the entrance door of Tewfick Pasha.