Back to the Index Page

 
 
 

Marjorie May, A Wilful Young Woman by Evelyn Everett-Green

 

“How perfectly delightful! Just fancy riding along those lovely sands, and seeing real live Bedouins on their horses or camels! I declare I see camels padding along now! I wish it wouldn't get dark so fast. But the city will look lovely when the moon is up.”

“Is it quite safe?” asked a lady passenger, eager for the proposed excursion, but a little timid in such strange surroundings. For Mogador seemed like the ends of the earth to her. She had never been for a sea voyage before.

“Oh, yes; safe enough, or Captain Taylor would never have arranged it. Of course, it might not be safe to go quite alone; but a party together—why, it's as safe as Regent Street.”

“What is this excursion they are all talking about?” asked Marjorie May, who had been standing apart in the bow of the boat, trying to dash in the effect of the sunset lights upon the solemn, lonely African mountains, with the white city sleeping on the edge of the sea, surrounded by its stretch of desert. It was too dark for further sketching, and the first bell had sounded for dinner. She joined the group of passengers, eagerly discussing the proposed jaunt for the morrow. Several voices answered her.

“Oh, the captain is going to arrange a sort of picnic for us to-morrow. We have all day in harbour, you know, and part of the next. So to-morrow we are to go ashore and take donkeys, and ride out along the shore there for several miles, to some queer place or other, where they will arrange lunch for us; and we can wander about and see the place, and get back on board in time for dinner; and next day we can see the town. That only takes an hour or so. We leave after lunch, but it will give plenty of time.”

“I think the town sounds more interesting than the donkey-rides,” said Marjorie. “I had not time to sketch in Tangiers, except just a few figures dashed off anyhow. I must make some studies of the Arabs and Nubians and Bedouins here. I shan't get another chance. This is the last African port we stop at.”

“Oh, I daresay you'll have plenty of time for sketching,” answered her cabin companion to whom she had spoken; “but I wouldn't miss the ride if I were you. It'll be quite a unique experience.”

The dinner-bell rang, and the company on board the Oratava took their seats in the pleasant upper deck saloon, where there was fresh air to be had, and glimpses through the windows of the darkening sky, the rising moon and brightening stars.

Marjorie's next-door neighbours were, on one side, the lady whose cabin she shared, on the other a Mr. Stuart, with whom she waged a frequent warfare. He was an experienced traveller, whilst she was quite inexperienced; and sometimes he had spoken to her with an air of authority which she resented, had nipped in the bud some pet project of hers, or had overthrown some cherished theory by the weight of his knowledge of stern facts.

But he had been to Mogador before, and Marjorie condescended to-night to be gracious and ask questions. She was keenly interested in what she heard. There was a Jewish quarter in the city as well as the Arab one. There was a curious market. The whole town was very curious, being all built in arcades and squares. It was not the least like Tangiers, he told her, which was the only African town Marjorie had yet visited. This cruise of the Oratava had been a little unfortunate. The surf had been so heavy along the coast, that the passengers had not been able to land at any port of call since leaving Tangiers. They had had perforce to remain upon the vessel whilst cargo was being taken on and shipped off. But the sea had now calmed down. The restless Atlantic was quieting itself. The vessel at anchor in the little harbour scarcely moved. The conditions were all favourable for good weather, and the passengers were confident of their pleasure trip on the morrow.

As Marjorie heard Mr. Stuart's description of the old town—one of the most ancient in Africa—she was more and more resolved not to waste precious moments in a stupid donkey-ride across the desert. Of course it would be interesting in its way; but she had had excellent views of the desert at several ports, whereas the interior of the old city was a thing altogether new.

“I suppose it's quite a safe place?” she asked carelessly; and Mr. Stuart answered at once:

“Oh, yes, perfectly safe. There are several English families living in it. I lived there a year once. Of course, a stranger lady would not walk about there alone; she might get lost in the perplexing arcades, and Arab towns are never too sweet or too suitable for a lady to go about in by herself. But I shall go and look up my friends there. It's safe enough in that sense.”

Marjorie's eyes began to sparkle under their long lashes. A plan was fermenting in her brain.

“I think I shall spend my day there sketching,” she said.

“All right; only you mustn't be alone,” answered Mr. Stuart in his rather imperious way. “You'd better take Colquhoun and his sister along with you. They're artists, and he knows something of the language and the ways of the Arabs.”

A mutinous look came over Marjorie's face. She was not going to join company with Mr. and Miss Colquhoun any more. She had struck up a rather impulsive friendship with them at the outset of the voyage, but now she could not bear them. It was not an exceptional experience with her. She was eager to be friends with all the world; but again and again she discovered that too promiscuous friendship was not always wise. It had been so in this case, and Mr. Colquhoun had gone too far in some of his expressions of admiration. Marjorie had discovered that his views were much too lax to please her. She had resolved to have very little more to do with them for the future. To ask to join them on the morrow, even if they were going sketching, was a thing she could not and would not condescend to.

No, her mind was quickly made up. It was all nonsense about its not being safe. Why, there were English families and agents living in the place, and she would never be silly and lose herself or her head. She would land with the rest. There were about five-and-twenty passengers, and all of them would go ashore, and most would probably go for the donkey-ride into the desert. But she would quietly slip away, and nobody would be anxious. Some would think she had gone with the Colquhouns, who always sketched, or perhaps with Mr. Stuart, who had taken care of her in Tangiers. She was an independent member of society—nobody's especial charge. In the crowded streets of an Arab town nothing would be easier than to slip away from the party soon after landing; and then she would have a glorious day of liberty, wandering about, and making her own studies and sketches, and joining the rest at the appointed time, when they would be going back to the ship.

So Marjorie put her paints and sketching pad up, provided herself with everything needful, and slept happily in her narrow berth, eagerly waiting for the morrow, when so many new wonders would be revealed.

The morning dawned clear and fair, and Marjorie was early on deck, watching with delight the beautiful effects of light as the sun rose over the solemn mountains and lighted up the wide, lonely desert wastes. She could see the caravans of camels coming citywards, could watch the sunbeams falling upon the white walls, domes, and flat roofs of the ancient town. She watched the cargo boats coming out with their loads, and the familiar rattle of the steam crane and the shouts of the men were in her ears. The deck was alive with curious forms of Arabs come to display their wares. A turbaned man in one of the boats below was eagerly offering a splendid-looking, sable-black Nubian for sale, and Mr. Colquhoun was amusing himself by chaffering as though he meant to buy, which he could have done for the sum of eight pounds; for there is a slave market yet in Mogador, where men and women are driven in like cattle to be bought and sold.

A duck had escaped from the steward's stores and was triumphantly disporting himself in the green water. The steward had offered a reward of half a dozen empty soda-water bottles to the person who would recapture the bird, and two boats were in hot pursuit, whilst little brown Arab boys kept diving in to try to swim down the agile duck, who, however, succeeded in dodging them all with a neatness and sense of humour that evoked much applause from the on-lookers. Marjorie heard afterwards that it took three hours to effect the capture, and that at least a dozen men or boys had taken part in it, but the reward offered had amply contented them for their time and trouble.

Breakfast was quickly despatched that morning. Marjorie was almost too excited to eat. She was full of delightful anticipations of a romantic, independent day. Mr. Stuart's voice interrupted the pleasant current of her thoughts.

“Would you like to come with me, Miss May? My friends would be very pleased, I am sure. We could show you the town, and you would be sure of a good lunch.” He added the last words a little mischievously, because Marjorie was often annoyed at the persistent way in which people made everything subservient to meals. A bit of bread and a few dates or an orange seemed to her quite sufficient sustenance between a ship's breakfast and dinner.

But such a commonplace way of spending a day was not in the least in accord with Marjorie's views. She thought she knew exactly what it would be like to go with Mr. Stuart—a hurried walk through the town, an introduction to a family of strangers, who would wish her anywhere else, the obligation to sit still in a drawing-room or on a verandah whilst Mr. Stuart told all the news from England, and then the inevitable lunch, with only time for a perfunctory examination of the city. She would not have minded seeing one of the houses where the English families lived, but she could not sacrifice her day just for that.

“Oh, thank you, but I have made my plans,” she answered quickly; “I must do some sketching. I've not done half as much as I intended when I started. I am a professional woman, you know, Mr. Stuart; I can't amuse myself all day like you.”

This was Marjorie's little bit of revenge for some of Mr. Stuart's remarks to her at different times, when she had chosen to think that he was making game of her professional work.

Marjorie was not exactly dependent upon her pencil and brush. She had a small income of her own; but she would not have been able to live as she did, or to enjoy the occasional jaunts abroad in which her soul delighted, had it not been that she had won for herself a place as illustrator upon one or two magazines. This trip was taken partly with a view to getting new subjects for the illustration of a story, a good deal of which was laid abroad and in the East. An Eastern tour was beyond Marjorie's reach; but she had heard of these itinerary trips by which for the modest sum of twenty guineas, she could travel as a first-class passenger and see Gibraltar, Tangiers, several African ports, including Mogador, the Canary Islands, and Madeira, and be back again in London within the month. She was a good sailor, and even the Bay had no terrors for her; so she had enjoyed herself to the full the whole time. But she had not done as much work upon Arab subjects as she had hoped, and she was resolved not to let this day be wasted.

Mr. Stuart would have offered advice; but Marjorie was in one of her contrary moods, and was afraid of his ending by joining her, and sacrificing his own day for her sake. She had a vaguely uneasy feeling that what she intended to do would not be thought quite “proper,” and that Mr. Stuart would disapprove rather vehemently. She was quite resolved not to allow Mr. Stuart's prejudices to influence her. What was he to her that she should care for his approval or good opinion? After the conclusion of the voyage she would never see him again. She never wanted to, she said sometimes to herself, rather angrily; he was an interfering kind of autocratic man, for whom she felt a considerable dislike—and yet, somehow, Marjorie was occasionally conscious that she thought more about Mr. Stuart than about all the rest of the passengers put together.

It was very interesting getting off in the boats, and being rowed to the city by the shouting, gesticulating Arabs. Marjorie liked the masterful way of the captain and ship's officers with these dusky denizens of the desert. They seemed to be so completely the lords of creation, yet were immensely popular with the swarms of natives, who hung about the ship the whole time she was in harbour. The quay was alive with picturesque figures as they approached; but they did not land there. They passed under an archway into a smaller basin, and were rowed across this to another landing-place, where the same swarms of curious spectators awaited them.

Marjorie's fingers were itching after brush and pencil. Everything about her seemed a living picture, but for the moment she was forced to remain with her fellow-passengers; and Mr. Stuart walked beside her, vainly offering to carry her impedimenta.

“No, thank you,” answered Marjorie briskly; “I like to have my own things myself. I am not used to being waited on. Besides, you are going to your friends. Oh, what a curious place! what big squares! And it's so beautifully clean too! Call Arab towns dirty? Why, there's no dirt anywhere; and oh, look at those people over yonder! What are they doing?”

“Washing their clothes by treading on them. They always chant that sort of sing-song whilst they are trampling them in the water. That is the custom-house yonder, where they are taking the cargo we have just sent off. Now we must go through the gate, and so into the town; but you will find it all like this—one square or arcade leading into another by gateways at the end. That's the distinguishing feature of Mogador, and you will find some of them pretty dirty, though it's more dust than mud this time of year.”

Marjorie was enchanted by everything she saw. She only wished Mr. Stuart would take himself off, for she saw no chance of slipping away unobserved if he were at her side. Luckily for her, a young man came hurriedly to meet them from somewhere in the opposite direction, and, greeting Mr. Stuart with great effusion, carried him off forthwith, whilst Marjorie hurried along after the rest of the party.

But they had no intention of exploring the wonderful old town that day. They turned into a little side street, where there was nothing particular to see, but where, outside the agent's office, a number of donkeys were waiting. Marjorie caught hold of Miss Craven, her cabin companion, and said hastily:

“I'm not going this ride; I don't care for being jolted on a donkey, with only a pack of straw for a saddle and a rope for a bridle. I must get some sketches done. The Colquhouns are going to sketch. I can find them if I want. Don't let anybody bother about me. I'll join you in time to go back to the boat at five.”

“Well, take care of yourself,” said Miss Craven, “and don't wander about alone, for it's a most heathenish-looking place. But you will be all right with the Colquhouns.”

“Oh, yes,” answered Marjorie, turning away with a burning face. She felt rather guilty, as though she had gone near to speaking an untruth, although no actual falsehood had passed her lips. Nobody heeded her as she slipped through the crowd of donkey boys and onlookers. Some offered her their beasts, but she smiled and shook her head, and hurried back to the main route through the larger arcades. Once there, she went leisurely, eagerly looking into shop doors, watching the brass-beating, the hand-loom weaving, and dashing off little pencil sketches of the children squatting at their tasks, or walking to or fro as they performed some winding operations for an older person seated upon the floor.

Nobody molested her in any way or seemed to notice her much. Sometimes a shopkeeper would offer her his wares in dumb show; but Marjorie had very little money with her, and, knowing nothing of the value of these things, was not to be tempted.

The sun poured down hot and strong, but there was shade to be had in these arcaded streets; and though some of them were anything but clean or sweet, Marjorie forgave everything for the sake of the beauty and picturesqueness of the scene. She wandered here, there, and all over; she found herself in the long, straggling market, and made hasty sketches of the men and women chaffering at their stalls; of camels, with their strange, sleepy, or vicious faces, padding softly along, turning their heads this way and that. She watched the lading of the beasts, and heard their curious grunts of anger or remonstrance when the load exceeded their approval. Everything was full of attraction for her, and she only waited till she had explored the place to set herself down and make some coloured sketches.

She soon had a following of small boys and loiterers, all interested in the doings of the strange lady with her sketchbook, but Marjorie did not mind that. She made some of the children stand to her, and got several rather effective groups.

Then she set herself to work in greater earnest. She obtained a seat in one or two places, and dashed in rapid coloured studies which she could work upon afterwards. Her forte was for bold effects rather than for detail, and the strange old city gave her endless subjects. She did not heed the flight of time. She passed from spot to spot, with her following growing larger and larger, more and more curious: and so engrossed was she in her task, that the lengthening of the shadows and the dipping of the sun behind the walls did not attract her attention. It was only when she suddenly found herself enveloped in the quick-coming, semi-tropical shades of darkness that she realised the necessity to beat a retreat.

She rose quickly and put up her things. There was a ring many deep about her of curious natives, Arabs, Moors, Jews, Turks—she knew not how many nationalities were gathered together in that circle. In the broad light of day she had felt no qualm of uneasiness at the strange dusky faces. Nobody had molested her, and Marjorie, partly through temperament, partly through ignorance, had been perfectly fearless in this strange old city. But with the dimness of evening gathering, she began to wish herself safe on board the Oratava again; and though she retained her air of serene composure, she felt a little inward tremor as she moved away.

The crowd did not attempt to hold her back, but walked with her in a sort of compact bodyguard; and amongst themselves there was a great deal of talking and gesticulating, which sounded very heathenish and a little threatening to Marjorie.

She had realised before that Mogador was a larger place than she had thought, and now she began to discover that she had no notion of the right way to the quay. The arcades hemmed her in. She could see nothing but walls about her and the ever-increasing crowd dogging her steps. Her heart was beating thick and fast. She was tired and faint from want of food, and this sudden and unfamiliar sense of fear robbed her of her customary self-command and courage. She felt more like bursting into tears than she ever remembered to have done before.

It was no good going on like this, wandering helplessly about in the darkening town; she must do something and that quickly. Surely some of these people knew a few words of English.

She stopped and faced them, and asked if nobody could take her to the ship. Instantly they crowded round her, pointing and gesticulating; but whether they understood, and what they meant, Marjorie could not imagine. She remembered the name of the ship's agents, and spoke that aloud several times, and there were more cries and more crowding and gesticulation. Each man seemed struggling to get possession of her, and Marjorie grew so frightened at the strange sounds, and the fierce faces—as they seemed to her—and the gathering darkness, that she completely lost her head. She looked wildly round her, gave a little shrill cry of terror, and seeing the ring thinner in one place than another, she made a dart through it, and began to run as if for her very life. It was the maddest thing to do. Hitherto there had been no real danger. Nobody had any thought of molesting the English lady, though her behaviour had excited much curiosity. Anybody would have taken her down to the quay, as they all knew where she came from. But this head-long flight first startled them, and then roused that latent demon of savagery which lies dormant in every son of the desert. Instantly, with yells which sounded terrific in Marjorie's ears, they gave chase. Fear lent her wings, but she heard the pursuit coming nearer and nearer. She knew not where she was flying, whether towards safety or into the heart of danger. Her breath came in sobbing gasps, her feet slipped and seemed as though they would carry her no farther. The cries behind and on all sides grew louder and fiercer. She was making blindly for the entrance to the arcade. Each moment she expected to feel a hand grasping her from the rear. There was no getting away from her pursuers in these terrible arcades. Oh, why had she ever trusted herself alone in this awful old city!

She darted through the archway, and then, uttering a faint cry, gave herself up for lost, for she felt herself grasped tightly in a pair of powerful arms, and all the terrible stories she had heard from fellow-passengers about Europeans taken captive in Morocco, and put up for ransom recurred to her excited fancy. She had nobody to ransom her. She would be left to languish and die in some awful Moorish prison. Perhaps nobody would ever know of her fate. That was what came of always doing as one chose, and making one's friends believe a falsehood.

Like a lightning flash all this passed through Marjorie's mind. The next instant she felt herself thrust against the wall. Some tall, dark figure was standing in front of her, and a masterful English voice speaking fluent Arabic was haranguing her pursuers in stern and menacing accents.

A sob of wonder and relief escaped Marjorie's white lips. She had not fallen into the hands of the Moors. Mr. Stuart had caught her, was protecting her, and when the mists cleared away from her eyes she saw that the crowd was quickly melting away, and she knew that she was safe.

“Take my arm, Miss May,” said Mr. Stuart; “they have sent back a boat for you from the ship. Captain Taylor is making inquiries for you too. Had you not been warned that a lady was not safe alone in Mogador—at least, not after nightfall?”

Marjorie hung her head; tears were dropping silently. She felt more humiliated than she had ever done in her life before. Suppose Mr. Stuart had not come? It was a thought she could not bear to pursue.

They reached the boat. The captain listened to the story, and he spoke with some grave severity to Marjorie, as he had a right to do; for he had done everything to provide for the safety of his passengers, and it was not right to him, or the company, for a wilful girl to run into needless peril out of the waywardness of her heart.

Marjorie accepted the reproof with unwonted humility, and Mr. Stuart suddenly spoke up for her:

“She will not do it again, captain; I will answer for her.”

“All right, Mr. Stuart; I don't want to say any more. All's well that's ends well; but——”

He checked further words, but Marjorie's cheeks whitened. She seemed to see again those strange, fierce faces, and hear the cries of her pursuers. In the gathering darkness Mr. Stuart put out his hand and took firm hold of hers. She started for a moment, and then let it lie in his clasp. Indeed, she felt her own fingers clinging to that strong hand, and a thrill went through her as she felt his clasp tighten upon them.

They reached the side of the vessel; officers and passengers were craning over to get news of the missing passenger.

“Here she is, all safe!” cried the captain rather gruffly, and a little cry of relief went up, followed by a cheer.

Mr. Stuart leant forward in the darkness and whispered:

“You see what a commotion you have made, Marjorie, I think you will have to let me answer for you, and take care of you in the future.”

“I think I shall,” she answered, with a little tremulous laugh that was half a sob, and in the confusion of getting the boat brought up alongside Marjorie felt a lover's kiss upon her cheek.

 
 
 

Back to the Index Page