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suitably grateful for the consideration shown them."

Grim nodded to me from behind the Syrians' backs, and I jumped at the
offer. Payment was refused. The man explained that he had the room by
the week and the loan of it to me for one night would cost him nothing.
In fact, he acted courteously and with considerable evidence of
breeding, merely requesting my permission to lock the big closet where
he kept his personal belongings and to take the key away with him. Even
if we had been in a mood to cavil it would have been difficult to find
fault, for it was a spacious, clean and airy room - three characteristics
each of which is as scarce as the other in that part of the world.

The beds stood foot to foot along the right wall as you entered. Against
the opposite wall was a cheap wooden wash-stand and an enormous closet
built of olive wood sunk into a deep recess. The thing was about eight
feet wide and reached to the ceiling; you couldn't tell the depth
because he locked it at once and pocketed the key, and it fitted into
the recess so neatly that a knife-blade would hardly have gone into the
crack.

Outside the bedroom door, in a lobby furnished with odds and ends, was a
wickerwork sofa that would do finely for Narayan Singh, and that old
soldier didn't need to have it pointed out to him. Without word or sign
from us he threw his kit on the floor, unrolled his blankets, removed
his boots, curled up on the sofa, and if he didn't go to sleep at once,
gave such a perfect imitation of it that somebody's fox terrier came and
sniffed him, and, recognizing a campaigner after his own wandering
heart, jumped on his chest and settled down to sleep too.

As soon as our host had left the room, all bows and toothy smiles,
Jeremy with his back to me drew from one pocket the letter he was
supposed to have stolen from me, flourished it in Yussuf Dakmar's face,
and concealed it carefully in another. Then a new humorous notion
occurred to him. He pulled it out again, folded it in the pocket wallet
in which he had carried it from the first, wrapped the whole in a
handkerchief, which he knotted carefully and then handed it to me.

"Effendi," he said, "you are a fierce master and a mighty drunkard, but
a man without guile. Keep that till the morning. Then, if Omar wants to
steal it he will have to murder you instead of me, and I would rather
sleep than die. But you must give it back at dawn, because the prayers
are in it that a very holy ma'lim wrote for me, and unless I read those
prayers properly tomorrow's train will come to grief before we reach
Damascus."

He acted the part perfectly of one of those half-witted, wholly shrewd
mountebanks, who pick up a living by taking advantage of tolerance and
good nature. You've all seen the type. It's commonest at race-meetings
but you'll find it anywhere in the world where vagrant men of means
foregather.

Again Yussuf Dakmar's face became a picture of suppressed emotion. I
pocketed the wallet with the same matter-of-fact air with which I have
accepted a servant's money to keep safe for him scores of times. He
believed me to be a drunkard, who had been thoroughly doped that day and
would probably drink hard that night to drown the after-taste. It ought
to be easy to rob me while I slept. Any fool could have read his
thoughts.

He came down and ate supper with us at a trestle table in the dimly
lighted dining-room, and I encouraged his new-born optimism by ordering
two bottles of whisky to take upstairs. Jeremy, who can't be happy
unless playing his part for all it's worth, became devoutly religious
and made a tremendous fuss because ham was put on the table. He accused
the proprietor of using pig's fat to smear all the cooking utensils,
demanded to see the kitchen, and finally refused to eat anything but
leban, which is a sort of curds. If Yussuf Dakmar had entertained
suspicions of Jeremy's real nationality they were all resolved by the
time that meal was finished.

But the five' men who had followed us from the station sat in the dark
at a table in the far corner of the room and watched every move we made.
When the coffee was brought I sat smoking and surly over it, as if my
head ached from the day's drink; Grim and Jeremy, aching for sleep but
refusing like good artists to neglect a detail of their part, went to
another table and played backgammon, betting quarrelsomely; and at last
one of the five men walked over and touched Yussuf Dakmar's shoulder.
At once he followed all five of them out of the room, whereat Grim and
Jeremy promptly went to bed. It was so obviously my turn to stay awake
that Grim didn't even trouble to remind me of it.

So I took the whisky upstairs, noticed that Narayan Singh was missing
from the couch where he had gone to sleep, although the fox-terrier was
snoring so loud in his blankets that I had to look twice in the dim
light. I mentioned that fact to Grim who merely smiled as he got
between the sheets. Then I went down to the street to get exercise and
fresh air. I didn't go far, but strode up and down in front of the
hotel a quarter of a mile or so in each direction, keeping in the middle
of the street.

I had made the fourth or fifth turn when Narayan Singh came out and
accosted me under the lamplight.

"Pardon," he called aloud in English, "does the sahib know where I can
find a druggist's open at this hour? I have a toothache and need
medicine."

"Come and I'll show you a place," said I with the patronizing air of a
tourist showing off his knowledge, and we strode along together down the
street, he holding one hand to his jaw.

"Thus and so it happened, sahib," he began as soon as we had gone a safe
distance. "I lay sleeping, having kept my belly empty that I might wake
easily. There came Yussuf Dakmar and five men brushing by me, and they
all went into a room four doors beyond the sahib's. The room next
beyond that one is occupied by an officer sahib, who fought at El-Arish
alongside my battalion. Between him and me is a certain understanding
based on past happenings in which we both had a hand. He is not as some
other sahibs, but a man who opens both ears and his heart, and when I
knocked on his door he opened it and recognized me.

"'Well?' said he. 'Why not come and see me in the morning?

"'Sahib,' said I, 'for the sake of El-Arish, let me in quickly, and
close the door!'

"So he did, wondering and not pleased to be disturbed by a Sikh at such
an hour. And I said to him:

"'Sahib,' said I, 'am I a badmash? A scoundrel?'

"'No,' said he, 'not unless you changed your morals when you left the
service.'

"Said I, 'I am still in the service.'

"'Good,' said he. 'What then?'

"'I go listening again in no-man's land,' said I, and he whistled
softly. 'Is there not a roof below your window?' I asked him, and he
nodded.

"'Then let me use it, sahib, and return the same way presently.'

"So he threw back the shutter, asking no more questions, and I climbed
out. The window of the room where Yussuf Dakmar and the five were stood
open, but the lattice shutter was closed tight, so that I could stand up
on the flat roof of the kitchen and listen without being seen. And,
sahib, I could recognize the snarl of Yussuf Dakmar's voice even before
my ear was laid to the open lattice. He was like a dog at bay. The
other five were angry with him. They were accusing him of playing
false. They swore that a great sum could be had for that letter, which
they should share between them. Said a voice I did not recognize: 'If
the French will pay one price they will pay another; what does money
matter to them, if they can make out a case against Feisul? Will they
not have Syria? The thing is simple as twice two,' said he. 'The
huntsman urges on the hounds, but unless he is cleverer than they, who
eats the meat? The French regard us as animals, I tell you! Very well;
let us live up to the part and hunt like animals, since he who has the
name should have the game as well; and when we have done the work and
they want booty let them be made aware that animals must eat! We will
set our own price on that document.'

"'And as for this Yussuf Dakmar,' said another man, 'let him take a back
seat unless he is willing to share and share alike with us. He is not
difficult to kill!'

"And at that, sahib, Yussuf Dakmar flew into a great rage and called
them fools of complicated kinds.

"'Like hounds without a huntsman, ye will overrun the scent!' said he;
and he spoke more like a man than any of them, although not as a man to
be liked or trusted. 'Who are ye to clap your fat noses on the scent I
found and tell me the how and whither of it? It may be that I can get
that letter tonight. Surely I can get it between this place and
Damascus; and no one can do that, for I, and I only, know where it is.
Nor will I tell!' And they answered all together, 'We will make you
tell!'

"But he said, 'All that ye five fools can do is to interfere. Easy to
kill me, is it? Well, perhaps. It has been tried. But, if so, then
though ye are jackals, kites and vultures all in one with the skill of
chemists added, ye can never extract secret knowledge from a dead man's
brain. Then that letter will reach Feisul tomorrow night; and the
French, who speak of you now as of animals, will call you what?
Princes? Noblemen?'

"I suppose they saw the point of that, sahib, for they changed their
tone without, however, becoming friendly to Yussuf Dakmar. Thieves of
that sort know one another, and trust none, and it is all a lie, sahib,
about there being any honor among them. Fear is the only tie that binds
thieves, and they proceeded to make Yussuf Dakmar afraid.

"There seems to be one among them, sahib, who is leader. He has a thin
voice like a eunuch's, and unlike the others swears seldom.

"This father of a thin voice accepted the situation. He said: "'Well
and good. Let Yussuf Dakmar do the hunting for us. It is sufficient
that we hunt Yussuf Dakmar. Two of us occupy the room next to
Ramsden's. If Yussuf Dakmar needs aid in the night, let him summon us
by scratching with his nails on the closet door. The rest will be
simple. There are four in this besides us five; so if we count Yussuf
Dakmar that makes ten who share the reward. Shall Yussuf Dakmar grow
fat, while nine of us starve? I think not! Let him get the letter, and
give it to me. We will hide it, and I will deal with the French. If he
fails tonight, let him try again tomorrow on the train. But we five
will also take that train to Damascus, and unless that letter is in my
hands before the journey's end, then Yussuf Dakmar dies. Is that
agreed?'

"All except Yussuf Dakmar agreed to it. He was very angry and called
them leeches, whereat they laughed, saying that leeches only suck enough
and then fall off, whereas they would take all or kill. They made him
understand it, taking a great oath together to slay him without mercy
unless he should get the letter and give it to them before the train
reaches Damascus tomorrow evening.

"Well, sahib, he agreed presently, not with any effort at good grace,
but cursing while he yielded.

"In truth, sahib, it is less fear than lack of sleep that Yussuf Dakmar
feels. I could hear him yawn through the window lattice. Now a man in
that condition is likely to act early in the night for fear that sleep
may otherwise get the better of him, and the sahib will do well to be
keenly alert from the first. I shall be asleep on that couch outside
the door and will come if called, so the sahib would better not lock the
door but should call loud in case of need, because I also have been long
awake and may sleep heavily."

"Suppose I walk the streets all night?" said I. "Wouldn't that foil
them?"

"Nay, sahib, but the reverse; for if Yussuf Dakmar should miss you
after midnight he would go in search of you, with those five in turn
tracking him. And as for finding you, that would be a simple matter,
for every night thief and beggar waiting for the dawn would give
attention to such a big man as you and would report your movements. All
six would come on you in the dark and would kill you surely. Then, as
if that were not bad enough, having searched you they would learn that
the letter in your possession is not the right one; and the trail of
the right one would be that much easier to detect."

"Then come with me," said I, "and we'll make a night of it together.
You and I can defend ourselves against those six."

"Doubtless, sahib. But my place is within hail of Jimgrim. No, it is
best that you see this matter through tonight between four walls. Only
remember, sahib, that though a man on duty may feign sleep, it is wiser
not to, because sleep steals on us unawares!"

So I returned to the bedroom where Grim and Jeremy were snoring a
halleluja chorus; but Yussuf Dakmar hadn't returned yet. I took
advantage of the Syrian's absence to open Grim's valise, remove the
bottle of doped whisky and set it on the table close to the window
beside the two bottles that I had bought downstairs - one of which, for
the sake of appearances, I opened just as Yussuf Dakmar entered, smiling
to conceal anxiety.




CHAPTER X

"You made a bad break that time"


Grim was in Mephistophelian humor. He can sleep cat-fashion, for sixty
seconds at a time, with all his wits about him in the intervals, and
likes to feel in the crook of his own forefinger the hidden hair-trigger
of events. I don't think Jeremy was awake when I first entered the
room, although it suited Grim's humor that he should be presently; but
you would have sworn they were both unconscious, judging by the see-saw,
bass and baritone snoring.

I poured out whisky, drank a little of it grouchily, and watched Yussuf
Dakmar into bed. He didn't take many of his clothes off and even by
candle-light you could see the shape of the knife concealed under his
shirt. He sat cross-legged on the bed, presumably praying, and as I
didn't like the look of him I blew out the candle.

Instantly, pinched and prompted by James Schuyler Grim, Jeremy sat up
and yammered profanely at the darkness, vowing he couldn't see to sleep
without a light in the room. I tinkled a tumbler against a whisky
bottle, and Jeremy instantly swore that he heard burglars. Sitting up
and whirling his pillow he knocked Yussuf Dakmar off the bed on to the
floor.

So I lit the candle again, after emptying my glass of whisky into a
spittoon; whereat Jeremy quoted the Koran about the fate of drunkards
and, getting out of bed, apologized to Yussuf Dakmar like a courtier
doing homage to a king.

"Your honor was born under a lucky star," he assured him. "I usually
shoot or stab, but the pillow was the first thing handy."

The Syrian had hard work to keep his temper, for he had fallen on the
haft of the hidden knife and it hurt him between two ribs, where a
poorly conditioned man is extra sensitive. However, he mumbled
something and crawled between the sheets.

Then Grim vowed that he couldn't sleep with a light so I blew out the
candle, and in about two minutes the steady seesaw snoring resumed. I
took the opportunity to empty half the contents of a whisky bottle into
the spittoon, and after lighting a pipe proceeded to clink a tumbler at
steady intervals as evidence of debauch well under way.

Except for the clink and bump of the tumbler, and once when I filled and
relit the pipe, all was quiet for half an hour, when Yussuf Dakmar piped
up suddenly and asked me whether I didn't intend to come to bed.

"I will not trouble you, effendi. I will keep over to my side. There is
plenty of room in the bed for the two of us."

As he spoke I heard a movement of the bedclothes as Grim pinched Jeremy
awake again. I answered before Jeremy could horn in.

"Hic! You 'spect me 'nto bed full o' snakes? Never sleep 'slong as
venomous reptiles waiting! Hic! You stay 'n bed an keep 'em 'way from
me!"

Well, Jeremy didn't want any better cue than that. He got up, lit the
candle and explained to me with great wealth of Arabic theosophy that
the snakes I saw were mere delusions because Allah never made them; and
I tried to look utterly drunk, staring at him with dropped jaw and
droopy eyelids, knocking an empty bottle over with my elbow by way of
calling attention to it.

"Get into bed, effendi," Jeremy advised me, feeding the cue back, since
I was in the middle of the stage.

"Not into that bed!" I answered, shaking my head solemnly. "That f'ler
put snakes in on purpose. Why's he sober when I'm drunk? I won't sleep
in bed with sober man. Let him get drun' too, an' both see snakes.
Then I'll sleep with him!"

Jeremy's roving eye fell on the small doped bottle that I had taken from
Grim's valise. Looking preternaturally wise, he walked over to Yussuf
Dakmar's bed, sat down on it with his back toward me and proceeded to
unfold a plan.

"Allah makes all things easy," he began. "It is lawful to take all
precautions to confound the infidel. We shall never get that drunkard
to bed as long as there's any whisky, so let's encourage him to drink it
all. When it's gone he'll sleep on the floor and we'll get some peace.
It's a good chance for us to drink whisky without committing sin! We
needn't take much - just one drink each, and then he'll swallow the rest
like a hog to prevent our getting any more. You look as if a glass of
whisky would do you good. That fellow Omar is asleep and won't see us,
so nobody can tell tales afterwards. It's a good opportunity. Come
on!"

I had sat so that Yussuf Dakmar couldn't see what I was doing and poured
out the liquor in advance, arranging the glasses so that Yussuf Dakmar
would take the doped stuff - a perfectly un-Christian proceeding, I
admit. Christians are scarce when you get right down to cases. Most of
us in extremity prefer Shakespeare's adage about hoisting engineers. It
gets results so much more quickly than turning the other cheek. At any
rate, I own up.

Yussuf Dakmar, smirking in anticipation of an easy victory, took the
nearest tumbler and tossed off the contents in imitation of Jeremy's
free and easy air; and the drug acted as swiftly as the famous "knock-
out-drops" they used to administer in the New York Tenderloin.

He knew what had happened before he lost consciousness, for he tried to
give the alarm to his friends. He lay on the floor opening and shutting
his mouth, and I think he believed he was shouting for help; but after
a minute or two you could hardly detect his breathing, and his face
changed colour as if he had been poisoned.

Grim didn't even trouble to get out of bed, but listened without comment
to my version of Narayan Singh's report, and Jeremy went back to sleep
chuckling; so I held a silent wake over Yussuf Dakmar, keeping some
more of the doped whisky ready in case he should look like recovering
too soon. I even searched him, finding nothing worthy of note, except
that he had remarkably little money. I expect the poor devil was a
penny ante villain scheming for a thousand-dollar jackpot. I felt
really sorry for him and turned him over with my boot to let him breathe
better.

A little before dawn I awakened Grim and Jeremy and we left the room
quietly after I had scratched on the closet door with my fingernails.
Pausing outside to listen, we heard the closet door being opened
stealthily from the far side. I caught Grim's eye, thinking he would
smile back, but he looked as deadly serious as I have ever seen him.

"You made a bad break that time," he said when we had gone downstairs.
"Never give away information unless you're getting a return for it! If
you'd left Yussuf Dakmar to scratch that door after he recovered
consciousness, he'd have invented a pack of lies to tell his friends,
and they'd have been no wiser than before. Now they'll know he never
scratched it. They'll deduce, unless they're lunatics, that someone
overheard their conference last night and knew the signal. That'll make
them desperate. They'll waste no more time on finesse. They'll use
violence at the first chance after the train leaves Haifa."

"Rammy's like me; he hates not to have an audience for his tricks," put
in Jeremy by way of consolation.

"We've got to stage a new play, that's all," said Grim. "I'd have the
lot of them arrested, but all the good that would do would be to inform
the man higher up, who'd tip off another gang by wire to wait for us
over the border. Say, suppose we all three bear this in mind: No play
to the gallery! That's where secret service differs from other
business. Applause means failure. The better the work you do, the less
you can afford to admit you did it. You mustn't even smile at a man
you've scored off. Half the game is to leave him guessing who it was
that tripped him up. The safest course is to see that someone else gets
credit for everything you do."

"Consume your own smoke, eh?" suggested Jeremy.

"That and more," Grim answered. "You've got to work like Hell for
what'll do you no good, because the moment it brings you recognition it
destroys your usefulness. You mayn't even amuse yourself; you have to
let the game amuse you, without turning one trick for the sake of an
extra smile; most of the humor comes in anyhow, from knowing more than
the other fellow thinks you do. The more a man lies the less you want
to contradict him, because if you do he'll know that you know he's lying
and that's giving away information, which is the unforgivable sin."

"Golly!" exclaimed Jeremy. "Your trade wouldn't suit me, Jim! When
doing tricks, it's good to watch folks' eyes pop open. What tickles my
wish-bone is what I can see for myself on their silly faces, half of 'em
trying to look as if they know how it's done and the other half all
grins. I did tricks for a Scotchman once, who got so angry I thought
he'd hit me; he said, what I did was impossible, so I did it again and
he still said it was impossible, and he ended by calling me a 'puir
dementit men.' That was my apogee; I've never reached that height
since, not even when I first made a camel say prayers at Abu Keen and
the Arabs hailed me as a prophet! Bread's good, but it's better with
the butter on it right side up!"

"Not in this game, it isn't," answered Grim. "If your bread seems
smeared with butter that's a sure sign it's dangerous. For God's sake,
as long as you stay in the game with me don't play to the gallery,
either of you! Let's order breakfast."

It was the longest lecture and expression of opinion I had ever listened
to from James Schuyler Grim, and though I've turned it over in my mind a
great deal since, I can't discover anything but wisdom in it. I believe
he told Jeremy and me the secret of power that morning.




CHAPTER XI

"They are all right!"


There was no competition for seats on the Damascus train that morning.
Several of the window-panes were smashed, there were bullet-marks and
splinters on the woodwork everywhere - no need to ask questions. But I
found time on the platform to chat with some British officers while
keeping an eye lifting for Yussuf Dakmar and his friends.

"Damascus, eh? You'll have a fine journey if you get through alive.
Nine passengers were shot dead in the last train down."

"No law up there, you know. Feisul's army's all concentrated for a
crack at the French (good luck to 'em! No, I'm not wishing the French
any particular luck this trip). Nobody to watch the Bedouins, so they
take pot shots at every train that passes, just for the fun of it."

"May be war, you know, at any minute. The French are sure to make a
drive for the railway line - you'll be hung up indefinitely - commandeered
for an ambulance train - shot for the sake of argument - anything at all,
in fact. They say those Algerian troops are getting out of hand - paid
in depreciated francs and up against the high cost of debauchery.
You're taking a chance."

"Wish I could go. Haven't seen a healthy scrap sinze Zeitun Ridge.
Hey! Hullo! What's this? Lovely woman! Well, I'll be!"

It was Mabel Ticknor, followed by the six men I was watching for, Yussuf
Dakmar looking sulky and discouraged in their midst, almost like a
prisoner, and the other five wearing palpably innocent expressions.

"Lord!" remarked the officer nearest me. "That gang's got the wind up!
Look at the color of their gills! Booked through, I'll bet you, and
been listening to tales all night!"

The gang drew abreast just as another officer gave tongue to his
opinion. They couldn't help hearing what he said; he had one of those


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