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THE CITY IN THE CLOUDS

BY C. RANGER GULL

Author of "The Air Pirate"



NEW YORK
HARCOURT, BRACE AND COMPANY

COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY
HARCOURT, BRACE AND COMPANY, INC.

PRINTED IN THE U. S. A. BY
THE QUINN & BODEN COMPANY
RAHWAY. N. J.




TO

SIR GRIFFITH BOYNTON, Bt.


MY DEAR BOYNTON,

We have had some strange adventures together, though not as strange and
exciting as the ones treated of in this story. At any rate, accept it as
a souvenir of those gay days before the War, which now seem an age away.
Recall a Christmas dinner in the Villa Sanglier by the Belgian Sea, a
certain moonlit midnight in the Grand' Place of an ancient, famous city,
and above all, the stir and ardors of the Masked Ball at Vieux
Bruges. - Haec olim meminisse juvabit!

YOURS,
C. R. G.




NOTE

BY SIR THOMAS KIRBY, BT.


The details of this prologue to the astounding occurrences which it is
my privilege to chronicle, were supplied to me when my work was just
completed.

It forms the starting point of the story, which travels straight
onwards.




THE CITY IN THE CLOUDS




PROLOGUE


Under a gay awning of red and white which covered a portion of the
famous roof-garden of the Palacete Mendoza at Rio, reclined Gideon
Mendoza Morse, the richest man in Brazil, and - it was said - the third
richest man in the world.

He lay in a silken hammock, smoking those little Brazilian cigarettes
which are made of fragrant black tobacco and wrapped in maize leaf.

It was afternoon, the hour of the siesta. From where he lay the
millionaire could look down upon his marvelous gardens, which surrounded
the white palace he had built for himself, peerless in the whole of
South America.

The trunks of great trees were draped with lianas bearing
brilliantly-colored flowers of every hue. There were lawns edged with
myrtle, mimosa, covered with the golden rain of their blossoms, immense
palms, lazily waving their fans in the breeze of the afternoon, and set
in the lawns were marble pools of clear water from the center of which
fountains sprang. There was a continual murmur of insects and flashes
of rainbow-colored light as the tiny, brilliant humming birds whirred
among the flowers. Great butterflies of blue, silver, and vermilion,
butterflies as large as bats, flapped languidly over the ivory ferns,
and the air was spicy and scented with vanilla.

Beyond the gardens was the Bay of Rio de Janeiro, the most beautiful bay
in all the world, dominated by the great sugar-loaf mountain, the Pão de
Azucar, and studded with green islands.

Gideon Morse took a pair of high-powered field-glasses from a table by
his side and focused them upon the harbor.

A large white yacht, lying off Governador, swam into the circle, a
five-thousand-ton boat driven by turbines and oil fuel, the fastest and
largest private yacht in existence.

Gideon Morse gave a little quiet, patient sigh, as if of relief.

He was a man of sixty odd, with a thick thatch of white hair which came
down upon his wrinkled forehead in a peak. His face was tanned to the
color of an old saddle, his nose beaked like a hawk, and his mouth was a
mere lipless cut which might have been made by a knife. A strong jaw
completed an impression of abnormal quiet, and long enduring strength.
Indeed the whole face was a mask of immobility. Beneath heavy black
brows were eyes as dark as night, clear, but without expression. No one
looking at them could ever tell what were the thoughts behind. For the
rest, he was a man of medium height, thick-set, wiry, and agile.

A brief sketch of Gideon Mendoza Morse's career must be given here. His
mother was a Spanish lady of good family, resident in Brazil; his father
an American gentleman of Old Virginia, who had settled there after the
war between North and South. Morse was born a native of Brazil. His
parents left him a moderate fortune which he proceeded to expand with
extraordinary rapidity and success. When the last Emperor, Dom Pedro
II., was deposed in 1889, Gideon Mendoza Morse was indeed a rich man,
and a prominent politician.

He took a great part in establishing the Republic, though in his earlier
years he had leaned towards the Monarchy, and he shared in the immense
prosperity which followed the change.

His was not a paper fortune. The fluctuations of stocks and shares could
hardly influence it. He owned immense coffee plantations in Para, and
was practically the monopolist of the sugar regions of Maranhao, but his
greatest revenues came from his immense holdings in gold, manganese, and
diamond mines. He had married a Spanish lady early in his career and was
now a widower with one daughter.

She came up upon the roof-garden now, a tall slip of a girl with an
immense quantity of lustrous, dead-black hair, and a voice as clear as
an evening bell.

"Father," she said in English - she had been at school at Eastbourne, and
had no trace of Spanish accent - "what is the exact hour that we sail?"

Morse slipped out of the hammock and took her arm in his.

"At ten to-night, Juanita," he replied, patting her hand. "Are you glad,
then?"

"Glad! I cannot tell you how much."

"To leave all this" - he waved his hand at what was probably the most
perfect prospect earth has to offer - "to leave all this for the fogs and
gloom of London?"

"I don't mind the fogs, which, by the way, are tremendously exaggerated.
Of course I love Rio, father, but I long to be in London, the heart of
the world, where all the nicest people are and where a girl has freedom
such as she never has here."

"Freedom!" he said. "Ah!" - and was about to continue when a native
Indian servant in a uniform of white linen with gold shoulder knots,
advanced towards them with a salver upon which were two calling cards.

Morse took the cards. A slight gleam came into his eyes and passed,
leaving his face as impassive as before.

"You must run away, darling," he said to Juanita. "I have to see some
gentlemen. Are all your preparations made?"

"Everything. All the luggage has gone down to the harbor except just a
couple of hand-bags which my maid has."

"Very well then, we will have an early meal and leave at dusk."

The girl flitted away. Morse gave some directions to the servant, and,
shortly after, the rattle of a lift was heard from a little cupola in
one corner of the roof.

Two men stepped out and came among the palms and flowers to the
millionaire.

One was a thin, dried-up, elderly man with a white mustache - the Marquis
da Silva; his companion, powerful, black-bearded and yellow-faced,
obviously with a touch of the half-caste in him - Don Zorilla y Toro.

"Pray be seated," said Morse, with a low bow, though he did not offer to
shake hands with either of them. "May I ask to what I owe the pleasure
of this visit?"

"It is very simple, señor," said the marquis, "and you must have
expected a visit sooner or later."

The old man, speaking in the pure Spanish of Castille, trembled a little
as he sat at a round table of red lima-wood encrusted with
mother-of-pearl.

"We are, in short," said the burly Zorilla, "ambassadors."

They were now all seated round the table, under the shade of a palm
whose great fans clicked against each other in the evening breeze which
began to blow from the cool heights of the sugar-loaf mountain. The face
of Gideon Morse was inscrutable as ever. It might have been a mask of
leather; but the old Spanish nobleman was obviously ill at ease, and the
bulging eyes of the well-dressed half-caste, with his diamond cuff links
and ring, spoke of suppressed and furious passion.

In a moment tragedy had come into this paradise.

"Yes, we are ambassadors," echoed the marquis with a certain eagerness.

"A grand and full-sounding word," said Gideon Morse. "I may be permitted
to ask - from whom?"

Quick as lightning Don Zorilla held out his hand over the table, opened
it, and closed it again. There was a little glint of light from his palm
as he did so.

Morse leant back in his chair and smiled. Then he lit one of his pungent
cigarettes.

"So! Are you playing with those toys still, gentlemen?"

The marquis flushed. "Mendoza," he said, "this is idle trifling. You
must know very well - "

"I know nothing, I want to know nothing."

The marquis said two words in a low voice, and then the heads of the
three men drew very close together. For two or three minutes there was a
whispering like the rustle of the dry grasses of the Brazilian campos,
and then Morse drew back his chair with a harsh noise.

"Enough!" he said. "You are madmen, dreamers! You come to me after all
these years, to ask me to be a party in destroying the peace and
prosperity our great country enjoys and has enjoyed for more than thirty
years. You ask me, twice President of the Republic which I helped to
make - "

Zorilla lifted his hand and the great Brazilian diamonds in his rings
shot out baleful fires.

"Enough, señor," he said in a thick voice. "That is your unalterable
decision?"

Morse laughed contemptuously. "While Azucar stands," he said, "I stand
where I am, and nothing will change me."

"You stand where you are, Mendoza," said the marquis with a new gravity
and dignity in his voice, "but I assure you it will not be for long. You
have two years to run, that's true. But at the end of them be sure, oh,
be very sure, that the end will come, and swiftly."

Morse rose.

"I will endeavor to put the remaining two years to good use," he said,
with grim and almost contemptuous mockery.

"Do so, señor," said Zorilla, "but remember that in our forests the
traveler may press onward for days and weeks, and all the time in the
tree-tops, the silent jaguar is following, following, waiting - "

"I have traveled a good deal in our forests in my youth, Don Zorilla. I
have even slain many jaguars."

The three men looked at each other steadily and long, then the two
visitors bowed and turned to go. But, just as they were moving off
towards the lift dome, Zorilla turned back and held out a card to Don
Mendoza. It was an ordinary visiting card with a name engraved upon it.

Morse took it, looked at the name, and then stood still and frozen in
his tracks.

He did not move until the whirr of the bell and the clang of the gate
told him the roof-garden was his own again.

Then he staggered to the table like a drunken man, sank into a chair and
bowed his head upon the gleaming pearl and crimson.




CHAPTER ONE


When my father died and left me his large fortune I also inherited that
very successful London newspaper, the _Evening Special_. I decided to
edit it myself.

To be six-and-twenty, to live at high pressure, to go everywhere, see
everything, know everybody, and above all to have Power, this is success
in life. I would not have changed my position in London for the
Premiership.

On the evening of Lady Brentford's dance, I dined alone in my Piccadilly
flat. There was nothing much doing in the way of politics and I had been
playing golf at Sandown the whole of the day. I hadn't seen the paper
until now, when Preston brought it in - the last edition - and I opened it
over my coffee.

There were, and are, few things that I love better than the _Evening
Special_. I claim for it that it is the most up-to-date evening
newspaper in England, bright and readable from the word "go," and
singularly accurate in all its information.

There was a long time yet before I need dress, and I sat by the balcony,
with the mellow noises of Piccadilly on an early summer's evening
pouring into the room, and read the rag through.

On one of the last pages, where the society gossip and women's chat
appear, I saw something that interested me. Old Miss Easey, who writes
the society news, was one of my most valued contributors. With her
hooked nose, her beady black eyes and marvelous coffee-colored wig, she
went everywhere by right of birth, for she was connected with half the
peerage. Her news was accurate and real. She faked nothing, because she
got all her stuff from the inside, and this was known all over London.
She was well worth the thousand a year I paid her, and the daily column
signed "Vera" was an accepted fact in the life of London society.

To-day the old girl had let herself go. It seemed - of course there had
been paragraphs in the papers for some days - that the great Brazilian
millionaire, Gideon Mendoza Morse, had exploded in society like a bomb.
He had taken a whole floor of the Ritz Hotel, and it was rumored that he
was going to buy an empty palace in Park Lane and astonish town. Every
one was saying that he had wealth beyond the dreams of avarice - which
is, of course, awful rot when you come to think of it, because there are
no bounds whatever to avarice.

"Vera" was not expatiating upon the Brazil Nut's wealth, but upon his
only daughter. It was put in a veiled way, and that with well-bred
reticence for which we paid Miss Easey a thousand a year - no cheap gush,
thank you, in the _Evening Special_ - that Miss Morse was a young girl of
such superlative loveliness that there was not a débutante to come
within a mile of her. I gathered, also, that the young lady's first very
public appearance was to be made to-night at the house of the
Marchioness of Brentford in Belgrave Square.

The news certainly gave an additional interest to the prospect of the
evening, and I wondered what the girl was really like.

I had motored up from Sandown and sat down to dinner as I was. Perhaps I
was rather tired, but as I sat by the window and dusk came over the
Green Park while all the lights of Piccadilly were lit, I sank into a
sort of doze, assisted by the deep, organ-like hum of the everlasting
traffic.

Yes, I must really have fallen asleep, for I was certainly in the middle
of some wild and alluring adventure, when I woke with a start to find
all the lights in my dining-room turned on, Preston standing by the
door, and Pat Moore shaking me violently by the shoulder.

"Confound you, don't do that!" I shouted, jumping up - Pat Moore was six
feet two in height, and the heaviest man in the Irish Guards. "Hallo,
what are you doing here?"

"It's myself that has looked in for a drink," he said. "I thought we'd
go to the ball together."

I was a little more awake by this time and saw that Pat was in full
evening kit, and very grand he looked. He was supposed to be the
handsomest man in London, on the large swaggering side, and certainly,
whether in uniform or mufti, he was a very splendid figure.
Nevertheless, he had no more idea of side than a spaniel dog, and he was
just about as kind and faithful as the sportsman's friend. He possessed
a certain downright honesty and common sense that endeared him to every
one, though his own mother would hardly have called him clever. At an
earlier period of our lives he had caned me a good deal at Eton, and it
was difficult to get out of his dear, stupid old head that he had not
some vague rights over me in that direction still.

"Now, Tom," he said, pouring himself out a mighty drink - for his head
was cast-steel, "you go and make yourself look pretty and then come back
here, 'cos I have something to tell you."

I went obediently away, bathed, shaved, was assisted by Preston into
evening clothes and returned to the dining-room about a quarter to ten.

"What have you got to tell me, Pat?"

He thought for a moment. I believe that he always had to summon his
words out of some cupboard in his brain - "Tom, I've seen the most
beautiful girl in the world."

"Then leg it, Pat, hare away from temptation, or she'll have you!" - Pat
had ten thousand a year and had been a dead mark for all sorts of
schemes for the last two years.

"Don't be a silly ass, Tom, you don't know what you're talking about.
This is serious."

"I don't know who _you're_ talking about."

He was heaving himself out of his chair to explain, when the door opened
and Preston announced "Lord Arthur Winstanley."

"Hallo, what brings you here?" I said.

"Thought I'd come in for a drink. Saw you were going to mother's
to-night, Tom, thought we might as well be going together. Hallo, Pat.
You coming along too?"

"Thought of doin' so," said Captain Moore.

Arthur threw himself into a chair - slim, clean shaved, with curly black
hair and dark blue eyes, his clean-cut, clever face alive with youth and
vitality.

"Tom," he said to me, "to-night you are going to see the most beautiful
girl in the world."

"Hallo!" Pat shouted, "you've seen her too?"

"Seen her? Of course I have. Mother's giving the dance for her
to-night."

Then I understood.

"Oh, Miss Morse?" I said.

"Jooaneeta!" said Pat in his rich, Irish voice.

"Generally pronounced 'Whanita' soft - like tropic moonlight, my old
geranium," said Arthur.

"Sure, your pronunciation won't do at all, at all."

Pat twirled the end of his huge mustache, then he heaved a cushion. "You
and your talk!" he said.

"Well, I've not seen her," I remarked, "but I'm quite willing to take
the word of two experts. Isn't it about time we went?"

Winstanley produced a platinum watch no thicker than a half-crown from
the pocket of his white waistcoat.

"Well, perhaps it might be," he said. "We can take up strategic
positions, and get there before the crush. Although I don't live at
home, I've got a snug little couple of rooms they keep for me, and
mother will see that - "

He smiled to himself.

"Now look here," I said, "fair does! You are already half-way up the
course with the fair Brazilian, but do let your pals have a chance. I
suppose all the world will be round her, but do see that Pat and I have
a small look in."

"Of course I will. We've done too much hunting together, we three. I
tell you, Tom, you will be bowled clean over at the very sight of her.
There never was such a girl since Cleopatra was a flapper. Now, send old
Preston for a taxi and we'll get to cover side."

It was about half-past ten as we entered the hospitable portals of
Brentford House in Belgrave Square. There was a tremendous crush; I
never remember seeing so many people at Lady Brentford's, for, though
everybody went to her parties, they were never overcrowded, owing to the
immense size of the famous old London House.

Pat Moore and I kept close to Arthur, who, as a son of the house, knew
his way a great deal better than we did, and we soon found ourselves at
the top of the staircase and close to the alcove where Lady Brentford
and her daughter, Lady Joan Winstanley, were standing, while I saw the
bald head of the marquis, who was as innocent of hair as a new laid egg,
shining in the background.

Dear Lady Brentford greeted Pat - who had formed a sort of battering-ram
for us on the staircase - with marked kindness. It was thought that she
saw in him a prospective husband for Arthur's sister. After greeting his
mother and asking a question, Arthur went off at once and my turn came.

"My dear Sir Thomas, I am so glad to see you. Are you like all the other
young men in London to-night?"

"I sincerely hope not," I told her, though I knew very well what she
meant.

We were old friends, and she was not deceived for a moment. "I
understand you perfectly, you wicked boy."

"Well then, Lady Brentford" - I lowered my voice - "has she come?"

Her eyes gleamed.

"Not yet, but I am expecting her every moment. Now, I am going to be
kind to you. You wait here, just a little behind me, and I'll introduce
you at once."

I hope I looked as grateful as I felt, for I confess my curiosity was
greatly aroused, and besides it would be such a score over Pat and
Arthur. There's something in power after all! Had I been merely Tom
Kirby whose father had received a baronetcy for, say, soap, Lady
Brentford would not have been nearly as nice, even though Arthur and I
had been bosom friends at Oxford. But you see I was the _Evening
Special_ and that meant much, especially in a political house like this.

I waited, and talked a little with Lord Brentford, that sterling,
old-fashioned member of more Cabinets than one would care to count. He
said "hum," and then "ha," and then "hum" again, which was the extent of
his conversation on every occasion except that of a specially good
dinner, when he added "ho."

And then, I suppose it was about eleven o'clock, there was a stir and a
movement all down the grand staircase. Except that the band in the
ballroom did not burst into the strains of the National Anthem, it was
exactly like the arrival of royalty. Coming up the staircase was a
thick-set man of medium height with white hair, a brown face, and good
features, but of such immobility that they might have been carved in
sandstone. By his side, very simply dressed, and wearing no ornament but
one rope of great pearls, came Juanita Morse.

If I live for a thousand years I shall never forget that first vision of
her. I have seen all the beauties of London, Paris and Rome, danced with
many of them, spoken at least to the majority, but never before or since
have I seen such luminous and compelling loveliness. It is almost
impossible for me to describe her, a presumption indeed, when so many
abler pens than mine have hymned her praises. The poets of two
Continents have lain their garlands of song at her little feet. She has
been the theme of innumerable articles in the Press, the heroine of a
dozen novels. And yet I must give some impression of her, I suppose. She
was slender and tall, though not too tall. Her hair, which must have
fallen to her feet and enveloped her like a cloud of night, was dead
black. But it was not the coarse, lifeless black of so many women of the
Latin race. It was as fine as spun silk, gleaming, vital and full of
electricity - a live thing of itself, so it seemed to me. Her father's
eyes were unpolished jet, but hers were of a deep blue-black, large,
lustrous, and of unfathomable depth. They were never the same for two
moments together and the light within them was forever new. But what's
the good of a catalogue - after all, it expresses very little. There was
not a feature of her face, not a line of her form that was not perfect,
and her smile was the last real enchantment left in the modern world....

In two minutes, I, I - Tom Kirby, was walking towards the ballroom with
her hand upon my arm. How all the women stared, nodded and whispered!
how all the men hated me! I caught sight of Pat and Arthur, and, lo!
their faces were as those who lie in wait, who grin like dogs and run
about the city - as I told them some hours afterwards.

Thank heavens that all the vulgar modern dances were not only perishing
of their own inanity at that time, but had never been allowed in
Brentford House. The best band in town had begun a delightful waltz, and
we slipped into it together as if passing through curtains into
dreamland.

I don't remember that we said very much to each other - certainly I was
not going to ask her how she liked London and so forth. She did not seem
the sort of girl to appreciate the farthing change of talk.

But, somehow or other, we conversed with our eyes. I was as certain of
this as of the fact that I was dancing with her, and, long after, in a
situation and moment of the most deadly peril, she confessed it to me.

Towards the end of the dance, when the flutes and violins glided into
the last movement, I said this - "Miss Morse, I know that I am doing the
most dreadful thing. All London wants to dance with you to-night, and I
have had the great privilege of being the very first. But could you, do
you think you possibly could, give me just one more dance later on in
the evening?"

"Of course I will, Sir Thomas," she said, and her voice was as clear as
an evening bell. "I think you dance beautifully."

We circled round the room for the last time and then I resigned her to
Lady Brentford, who was looking after the girl, with an eloquent look of
thanks. Immediately she became swallowed up by a regiment of black
coats, and I saw her no more for a time.

I am extremely fond of dancing, but I sought out no other damsel now,
but went to a buffet and drank a long glass of iced hock-cup - as if that
was going to quench the fever within! Then I found my way to a lonely
spot in one of the conservatories and sat thinking hard. I will say
nothing as to the nature of my reverie - it may very easily be guessed.


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