Down the Coast of Barbary/Chapter 2
“Hardy he was, and wys to undertake;
With many a tempest hadde his berd ben shake.”
THE three men, after hearing Spence’s story, sat drinking coffee and discussing it.
“Arzew,” said the divine, “is the ancient Arsenaria, twenty miles east of Oran. Since the Spanish siege, the Moorish provincial government is located at Arzew, under a proper Turkish rascal named Hassan Bey. Of this astrologer I never heard. Eh, Ned?”
Holden shook his head. “Zounds! I wish I knew what net is spread for that cursed Ripperda!”
“But who is my man of the Golden Fleece?” demanded Patrick Spence.
“We come to that,” said Dr. Shaw. “Most men are mad upon some point; you upon ships; I upon old ruins; Mulai Ali, like many Moors, upon the stars. This Mulai Ali is of the Idrisi blood, Morocco’s royal line. His cousin is the sherif. He has been in hiding here—”
“But my man of the Golden Fleece—”
“Ah! That man, Patrick, is more than a little mad. He landed this morning, and departs to-night. Because of his coming I was so hastily summoned—all the consulates are in turmoil! Unless he goes the way of all flesh soon, that man will set the world by the ears—”
“But who is he?” cried Spence testily.
“The politest man in Europe. Born a Roman Catholic baron of Holland, he became a Protestant in order to go to Madrid as ambassador. At Madrid he again shifted religions, and his allegiance likewise. He became a Spaniard. He destroyed Alberoni, became a duke, a minister, then absolute ruler of Spain! It was he, the most astute politician since Richelieu, who handled the Vienna treaty. But regard the maggot of madness in his brain, Patrick!
“In a moment of reverse, this man lost his head. He deserted his family, fled with a Castilian girl, and finally came to Morocco a fugitive. Again he changed his faith. He was made a pasha, then prime minister of Morocco—and now rules that country as he ruled Spain. His errand here is to form a coalition of the Barbary States against Christendom; his name is William Lewis de Ripperda.”
Spence started. “Ripperda! What connection has he with Mulai Ali, then?”
Both men shook their heads. “We know not, Captain Spence,” said the consul. “We do know that, unless we destroy Ripperda, this Ripperda will destroy Spain and Christendom! His ability—”
There was a knock at the door. A slave entered, gave Holden a low message.
Holden, looking astonished, nodded. Into the room came a cloaked and hooded figure. The man stood silent until the door had closed, then uncovered his face; he was Mulai Ali.
“Señores! I must speak swiftly.” He lifted a warning hand. “You know Ripperda is here?”
The consul nodded in puzzled silence. The Moor spoke with harsh, driving energy.
“Captain Spence has told you of the box I gave him? A month ago Ripperda sent me that box. In it were things he obtained through his agents in Spain—documents relating to the old Moorish kings of Seville and Granada, certain of their relics, and copies of treaties which Spain has made with other nations.
“Knowing that I was of the Idrisi blood, Ripperda proposed to set me on the throne of Morocco, by aid of these relics and my own power, and then to publish the Spanish treaties. Their publication would make Spain isolated, hated by her neighbors, distrusted. Ripperda hopes to unite the Barbary States and Egypt, means to conquer Spain again for the Moors—”
“This is madness!” exclaimed the consul.
“The madness of a great man and a great traitor. Now, finding himself more secure in Morocco than he had thought, the dog has betrayed me. I must flee or be slain. Ripperda commands the Moslem armies before Oran; the Dey dare not offend him. Do you wish to destroy this man Ripperda?”
The consul frowned, but Dr. Shaw disregarded the frown and spoke curtly.
“Then go to Morocco with me, by way of Tlemcen and the caravan route.”
Mulai Ali spoke rapidly, excitedly.
“The Dey will provide an escort. I must go to Arzew in disguise, and shall meet you there. Hassan Bey, who commands at Arzew, is my friend.
“You are Christians; I can trust you. Once at Udjde, over the Moroccan frontier, I am safe. The Governor of Udjde is my kinsman and supports me. All Morocco will rise for me; the Sherif Abdallah is much hated. Speak quickly! Will you go or not?”
“I will go, for one,” spoke up Spence eagerly. “Why do you wish our company?”
“Because you are true men. And through you I can make treaties with England; also, I need your advice and help. If I win, Ripperda is overthrown!”
“I will go,” said Dr. Shaw quietly.
“Good! To-morrow the Dey will give you safe conduct, and an escort of Spahis. I meet you at Arzew, if Allah wills! And bring the casket, and beware of a black burnoose.”
With a brief salute he turned and was gone in haste.
The three men regarded one another in silence. Spence was smiling, the consul frowned gravely, Dr. Shaw was lost in abstracted thought.
“Zounds!” said Holden suddenly. “This is madness! Why do you go, gentlemen?”
“Because I want to see the ruins and Roman remains in the west,” said Dr. Shaw. “I shall find much of interest. We must carefully compare Ptolemy and Abulfeda as we journey, Patrick! Besides, we go the errands of Christendom, if you want a better reason.”
“And I,” said Spence with a shrug, “because my fortune drifts that way, Mr. Holden. I am curious about that astrologer of Arzew; and I like this Moor! He is a real man.”
The consul laughed shortly. “Have your own way. Pray heaven you bear luck with you—this Ripperda will menace all Europe if he be not pulled down!”
Spence, remembering that dark and tormented man, could well agree with such an assertion.
The situation seethed with intrigue. Ripperda was the actual ruler of Morocco. The Dey of Algiers, now allied with him, was furtively helping Mulai Ali. The dey was a sly fox. The Spaniards were tightly besieged in Oran. At sea, the Moorish fleet was supreme, under Admiral Perez. This renegade Carthusian, Ripperda’s one actual friend in the world, was a great seaman.
It was typical of Ripperda that he should first intrigue to put Mulai Ali on the throne, then should turn against his puppet. Such madness had already ruined Ripperda in two countries.
With morning the three men went into the city. Holden and Shaw set off to interview the dey. Patrick Spence and a consulate guard went to the market to buy native garments.
Not far from the slave mart Spence halted before an open-fronted shop where an old Moor sat smoking a water pipe. Down the narrow street surged natives, soldiers, arrogant Spahis and Janissaries, horses and camels, shouting and disputing. The clamor was deafening. Spence let the Negro bargain for the clothes he wanted.
Suddenly he became aware of a man in a black burnoose watching him. Remembering the warning of Mulai Ali, he turned; but the man was gone. Spence had a memory of a twisted face that was marked by a purplish birthmark about the right eye.
“Devil take it!” muttered Spence. “I’ll suspect every black burnoose, unless I get myself in hand! That fellow was only staring at a Christian.”
Upon returning to the consulate he had come within a few hundred feet of his destination; he was passing a low-arched doorway carved with the hand which spells the name of Allah. From the shadowed depths two figures darted out, plunged bodily upon him. Spence fell backward, the two men on top of him; as he fell, he glimpsed that twisted face with the birthmark.
He crashed down. A knife clashed on the stone beside his ear, but already his long arms were busy. He jerked one man over his head, heaved, twisted himself. He pulled clear, rolled over, and leaped to his feet in time to meet the rush of the man in the black burnoose. Spence drove his fist into the misshapen features, and the man reeled away.
At this instant the consulate Negro dashed up, scimitar bared. A dozen other men converged on the scene. The two assassins paused not, but took to their heels, with a crowd streaming after them. Two minutes later, Patrick Spence was safe in the consulate.
He told Dr. Shaw of the incident, but the worthy divine related it to Holden in the light of an attempted robbery. Shaw feared lest the consul forbid the journey as too dangerous, and was taking no chances. So the matter was passed off without great comment.
That night, the safe conduct having been provided, Dr. Shaw and Patrick Spence packed up. The consul provided them with letters of credit upon a Jew of Mequinez, while Shaw lingered lovingly over his rapier, maps and instruments—particularly the latter.
“This brass quadrant,” he discoursed, “I had from Mr. Professor Bradley at Wanstead. It is so well graduated that I can even distinguish the division upon the limb to at least one-twelfth part of a degree. And this compass hath the needle well touched—”
The good divine seemed quite oblivious to the fact that he was entering an almost unknown land, measuring wits against the most unscrupulous man of the age. Yet Dr. Shaw, as Spence knew well, was a shrewd comrade, reliable to the full, and quite able to use his sword as effectively as his instruments.
At dawn Spence wakened to the shrill cries of muezzins, lifting into the gray morning, calling the faithful to prayer. From all around they came; from the grand mosque, El Khebir, from the Mosque of Hassan, from the Zaouia, from the palace mosque, and others.
And in the courtyard the escort of twenty Spahis knelt at prayer, their gorgeous uniforms glittering in the new sunlight.