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She looked round to meet the scowling gaze of Marcus Stepney.
"I must say you're the limit," he said violently. "There are lots of things I imagine you'd do, but to stand there in broad daylight talking to a nigger----"
"If I stand in broad daylight and talk to a card-sharper, Marcus, I think I'm just low enough to do almost anything."
"A damned Moorish nigger," he spluttered, and her eyes narrowed.
"Walk up the road with me, and if you possibly can, keep your voice down to the level which gentlemen usually employ when talking to women," she said.
She was in better condition than he, and he was a little out of breath by the time they reached the Café de Paris, which was crowded at that hour with the afternoon tea people.
He found a quiet corner, and by this time his anger, and a little of his courage, had evaporated.
"I've only your interest at heart, Jean," he said almost pleadingly, "but you don't want people in our set to know you've been hobnobbing with this infernal Moor."
"When you say 'our set,' to which set are you referring?" she asked unpleasantly. "Because if it is the set I believe you mean, they can't think too badly of me for my liking. It would be a degradation to me to be admired by your set, Marcus."
"Oh, come now," he began feebly.
"I thought I had made it clear to you and I hoped you would carry the marks to your dying day"--there was malice in her voice, and he winced--"that I do not allow you to dominate my life or to censor my actions. The 'nigger' you referred to was more of a gentleman than you can ever be, Marcus, because he has breed, which the Lord didn't give to you."
The waiter brought the tea at that moment, and the conversation passed to unimportant topics till he had gone.
"I'm rather rattled," he apologised. "I lost six thousand louis last night."
"Then you have six thousand reasons why you should keep on good terms with me," said Jean smiling cheerfully.
"That cave man stuff?" he asked, and shook his head. "She'd raise Cain."
Jean was laughing inside herself, but she did not show her merriment.
"You can but try," she said. "I've already told you how it can be done."
"I'll try to-morrow," he said after a thought. "By heavens, I'll try to-morrow!"
It was on the tip of her tongue to say "Not to-morrow," but she checked herself.
Mordon came round with the car to pick her up soon after. Mordon! Her little chin jerked up with a gesture of annoyance, which she seldom permitted herself. And yet she felt unusually cheered. Her meeting with the Moor was a milestone in her life from which memory she could draw both encouragement and comfort.
"You met Muley?" said Lydia. "How thrilling! What is he like, Jean? Was he a blackamoor?"
"No, he wasn't a blackamoor," said the girl quietly. "He was an unusually intelligent man."
"H'm," grunted her father. "How did you come to meet him, my dear?"
"I picked him up on the beach," said Jean coolly, "as any flapper would pick up any nut."
Mr. Briggerland choked.
"I hate to hear you talking like that, Jean. Who introduced him?"
"I told you," she said complacently. "I introduced myself. I talked to him on the beach and he talked to me, and we sat down and played with the sand and discussed one another's lives."
"But how enterprising of you, Jean," said the admiring Lydia.
Mr. Briggerland was going to say something, but thought better of it.
There was a concert at the theatre that night and the whole party went. They had a box, and the interval had come before Lydia saw somebody ushered into a box on the other side of the house with such evidence of deference that she would have known who he was even if she had not seen the scarlet fez and the white robe.
"It is your Muley," she whispered.
Jean looked round.
Muley Hafiz was looking across at her; his eyes immediately sought the girl's, and he bowed slightly.
"What the devil is he bowing at?" grumbled Mr. Briggerland. "You didn't take any notice of him, did you, Jean?"
"I bowed to him," said his daughter, not troubling to look round. "Don't be silly, father; anyway, if he weren't nice, it would be quite the right thing to do. I'm the most distinguished woman in the house because I know Muley Hafiz, and he has bowed to me! Don't you realise the social value of a lion's recognition?"
Lydia could not see him distinctly. She had an impression of a white face, two large black spaces where his eyes were and a black beard. He sat all the time in the shadow of a curtain.
Jean looked round to see if Marcus Stepney was present, hoping that he had witnessed the exchange of courtesies, but Marcus at that moment was watching little bundles of twelve thousand franc notes raked across to the croupier's end of the table--which is the business end of Monte Carlo.
Jean was the last to leave the car when it set them down at the Villa Casa. Mordon called her respectfully.
"Excuse me, mademoiselle," he said, "I wish you would come to the garage and see the new tyres that have arrived. I don't like them."
It was a code which she had agreed he should use when he wanted her.
"Very good, Mordon, I will come to the garage later," she said carelessly.
"What does Mordon want you for?" asked her father, with a frown.
"You heard him. He doesn't approve of some new tyres that have been bought for the car," she said coolly. "And don't ask me questions. I've got a headache and I'm dying for a cup of chocolate."
"If that fellow gives you any trouble he'll be sorry," said Briggerland. "And let me tell you this, Jean, that marriage idea of yours----"
She only looked at him, but he knew the look and wilted.
"I don't want to interfere with your private affairs," he mumbled, "but the very thought of it gets me crazy."
The garage was a brick building erected by the side of the carriage drive, built much nearer the house than is usually the case.
Jean waited a reasonable time before she slipped away. Mordon was waiting for her before the open doors of the garage. The place was in darkness; she did not see him standing in the entrance until she was within a few paces of the man.
"Come up to my room," he said briskly.
"What do you want?" she asked.
"I want to speak to you and this is not the place."
"This is the only place where I am prepared to speak to you at the moment, François," she said reproachfully. "Don't you realise that my father is within hearing, and at any moment Madame Meredith may come out? How would I explain my presence in your room?"
He did not answer for the moment, then:
"Jean, I am worried," he said, in a troubled voice. "I cannot understand your plans--they are too clever for me, and I have known men and women of great attainment. The great Bersac----"
"The great Bersac is dead," she said coldly. "He was a man of such great attainments that he came to the knife. Besides, it is not necessary that you should understand my plans, François."
She knew quite well what was troubling him, but she waited.
"I cannot understand the letter which I wrote for you," said Mordon. "The letter in which I say Madame Meredith loved me. I have thought this matter out, Jean, and it seems to me that I am compromised."
She laughed softly.
"Poor François," she said mockingly. "With whom could you be compromised but with your future wife? If I desire you to write that letter, what else matters?"
Again he was silent.
"I cannot speak here," he said almost roughly. "You must come to my room."
She hesitated. There was something in his voice she did not like.
"Very well," she said, and followed him up the steep stairs.
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