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ANONYMOUS

ON HIS MAJESTY'S SERVICE

Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover 2017©



Place of first publication not ascertained
(presumably Answers, the Amalgamated Press, London, 1909)
Reprinted under syndication, e.g., in
The Taranaki Daily News, New Zealand, 9 January 1909
The Manawatu Times, New Zealand, 19 January 1909
(this version)

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2017
Version Date: 2017-06-12
Produced by Roy Glashan

The text of this book is in the public domain in Australia.
All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

Click here for more Sexton Blake stories



I.

IT was a dark and sultry night in August. In one of the rooms of the British Legation at Tangier a young man sat in his shirt-sleeves, with a code-book at his elbow, a pen in his hand, and a sheaf of documents in front of him. There were two French windows in the room, and both of them were open to their widest extent; but, in spite of this, the heat of the room was positively stifling. The young man was the Honourable Percival Fitzgerald, and he occupied the responsible post of Second Secretary of the Legation. Important despatches had arrived from England that evening, and it was his duty to decode them. He had been at work on them since eight o'clock, and now it was nearly midnight. Presently he threw down his pen with a sigh of relief. He had finished, He mopped his perspiring brow and strolled off to one of the windows for a breath of air. Then, donning his coat, he gathered up the despatches, and left the room with the intention of taking them to the Ambassador.

As he opened the door he saw the Minister coming down the corridor.

"Finished?" inquired the latter.

"Yes, sir," said Fitzgerald, advancing to meet him, and handing him the documents. "I was just coming to—"

Suddenly he paused, for at that moment he heard, or fancied he heard, a stealthy footstep in the room he had just quitted. At the same instant it flashed into his mind that he had left the code-book on the desk.

Quick as thought, he spun round on his heel and darted back into the room, where he was just in time to see a man in Moorish costume disappearing through one of the windows, with the code-book in his hand.

Fitzgerald recognised the man at a glance. It was a Moor named Hamed, who had formerly been employed at the Legation as dragoman and interpreter, and who, consequently, knew all about code-books and their value, and who knew, too, that any one of the other Legations in Tangier would gladly pay a thumping sum for the key to the official cipher of the British Diplomatic Service.

How, and for what purpose, Hamed had gained admittance to the grounds of the British Legation at this late hour of the night, Fitzgerald could not guess. It was obvious, however, that Hamed had seen him quit the room, leaving the code-book on the desk, and had taken advantage of his momentary absence to enter the room through the open window and steal the book.

With a shout of alarm to the Ambassador, Fitzgerald leaped through the window, and dashed away in hot and furious pursuit. Dark as it was, it was not too dark for him to see the white-clad figure of the thief, who was making, not for the gates, where the sentries were posted, but for a low stone wall on the north side of the grounds. Fast as Fitzgerald ran, Hamed easily gained the wall first and, vaulting over, took to his heels down the dark, deserted: road which led to the souk, or market-place.

It should here be explained that all the Legations at Tangier—and there are many—are situated outside the town, The souk, or market-place, is, also outside tho town walls, and is a big, open space surrounded on three sides by native shops and cafés. There are four or five roads leading out of the souk, and one of them, after running past the British Legation—which is about half a mile from the souk—leads to the neighbouring village of Baranis.

It was down this road, towards the souk, that Hamed fled, with Fitzgerald in hot pursuit. The road, as previously mentioned, was deserted, but presently Fitzgerald, who was gaining on the fugitive at every stride, saw a solitary Moor, mounted on a mule, ambling up the road from the direction of the souk.

Fitzgerald excitedly yelled to this man, in Arabic, to bar the fugitive's progress. In response to his appeal, the man sprang down from his mule, and, as Hamed attempted to dash past him, rushed at him and encircled him with his arms. For a moment, but only for a moment, he held him fast; then Hamed broke away and continued his flight in the direction of the souk.

The brief delay, however, had enabled Fitzgerald to lessen the distance between himself and Hamed, and a few minutes later, as Hamed, after racing across the deserted souk, turned into one of the other roads, Fitzgerald leaped upon him from behind and dragged him to the ground.

"You villain!" he panted, as he knelt on Hamed's chest and thrust the muzzle of a revolver into his face. "Give me the book at once!"

The look of innocence on Hamed's face would have done credit to a newborn babe.

"Book?" he repeated. "What book?"

"The code-book you stole off my desk," said Fitzgerald. "Quick! Give it up at once, or it will be worse for you!"

"I know not what you mean," said Hamed stolidly. "I stole no book! I have no book!"

The latter part of the statement was most certainly true, for, although Fitzgerald searched him from head to foot, no trace of the book could he find.

A moment later the Ambassador and two of the Legation guards, who had followed Fitzgerald, arrived on the scene. Fitzgerald told them, briefly what had happened, and again Hamed was searched, but with no more result than before.

"He must have thrown the book away while you were chasing him," said the Ambassador. "He calculated, no doubt, that you would let him go when you found he hadn't the book, and he then intended to go back to the spot where he had thrown the book away, and secure it. We must search every inch of the road between here and the Legation."

He turned to one of the guards: "Take him up to the Legation," he said, pointing to Hamed, "and lock him up in the of the cells."

Other countries, other manner's. In England, of course, even an Ambassador would not dare to arrest a man on his own responsibility, and forcibly detain him. But Morocco is not England. In Morocco might is right; and Hamed was accordingly hauled off to the Legation and placed under lock and key.

The Ambassador, Fitzgerald, and the other guard then set to work to search for the book, There is no need to describe their proceedings in detail. It is enough to say that, although they searched every foot of the road, and the bushes on each side, and although the search was repeated by all the Legation guards at daybreak next day, no trace of the book could be found, And Hamed, when questioned in his cell, merely raised his eyes to heaven and swore by Allah and his prophet that he had never seen the book, and knew nothing about it.


II.

SOME DAY, perhaps, the history may be published of certain mysterious happenings at Gibraltar which caused the British Government to send out Sexton Blake to investigate the case. But the time for that is not yet. For the present, it must suffice to say that Sexton Blake was staying with the Governor of Gibraltar at the latter's official residence, the Convent, when the Governor received a cablegram from the British Minister at Tangier, marked "urgent and important," and requesting him to send Sexton Blake, detective, to Tangier by the boat which left Gibraltar at half-past eleven that morning.

And that was all that Sexton Blake knew of the case when, after a three-hours' voyage across the straits of Gibraltar, he arrived at Tangier. But Fitzgerald met him at the landing-stage, and as they walked to the Legation—there are no conveyances in Tangier—he put the detective in possession of all the facts recorded above.

On reaching the Legation, the Ambassador welcomed the detective with effusive cordiality.

"Mr. Fitzgerald, no doubt, has told you why I have sent for you?" he said.

"He has told me what happened last night," said Sexton Blake; "but I am still in the dark as to what you expect me to do."

"I want you to find out what has become of the code-book, of course, and I want you to recover it before it passes into the possession of any other of the Legations. It was most certainly stolen by Hamed last night, but it wasn't in his possession when we captured him, and, although we have searched every inch of the road between here and the spot where he was captured, we have failed to find any trace of it. Then what has become of it? How did the scoundrel dispose of it? Where is it now?"

"I think I can guess how Hamed disposed of it," said Sexton Blake. "In the meantime, is he still here?"

"Yes."

"May I see him?"

"Certainly. But I don't think you'll get much out of him."

The Ambassador was right, for, although the detective interviewed Hamed at considerable length, the cunning scoundrel would say nothing except that he had never seen the book and knew nothing about it.

"Well?" said the Ambassador, when they returned to the drawing-room. "What do you make of it? Where, and how, did the rascal get rid of the book?"

"There's only one possible answer to that question," said Sexton Blake. "Mr. Fitzgerald tells me that, whilst he was pursuing Hamed, he saw another Moor, mounted on a mule, coming from the direction of the souk. He shouted to this Moor to stop Hamed. The man dismounted and collared Hamed, but was only able to hold him for a moment or two."

"That is so," said Fitzgerald.

"Well," said Sexton Blake, "it seems to me that there cannot be any doubt that when this unknown Moor collared Hamed, the latter—who probably knew him—gave him the book and hurriedly promised him a share of the plunder if he would let him go and take care of the hook until he—Hamed—was able to come for it."

The Ambassador glanced at Fitzgerald.

"What idiots we were not to think of that!" he said. "Of course, that's what happened! And I saw the man and you saw him, and we let him ride away with the book in his possession!"

"You saw the man?" said Sexton Blake. "Do you know him?"

"No."

"Well, I think I might possibly find him, if you're willing to do as I suggest."

"What's that?"

"You have another copy of the code-book, no doubt?"

"Yes."

"Exactly like the one that was stolen last night?"

"Exactly."

"Suppose you were to flourish it in Hamed's face and pretend it was the one he stole? Suppose you were to make him believe that the man to whom he gave the book had brought it back and given it up in response to a reward which you had offered? Suppose, after telling Hamed this, you contemptuously kicked him out of the house, saying that you weren't going to trouble to prosecute him, now that the book had been recovered? What would Hamed think and do?"

"He would think the man had betrayed him, and, if I know Hamed, he would go straight to the man's house and murder him!"

"Putting the question of murder aside, you have no doubt that he would go straight to the house of the man to whom he gave the book?"

"None whatever."

"And suppose I happened to be lying in wait outside the Legation gates when you kicked Hamed out? Suppose I shadowed him?"

The Ambassador sprang to his feet.

"I see the idea!" he said excitedly. "Your plan is to trick Hamed into leading you to the house of the man to whom he gave the book."

"Exactly!" said Sexton Blake. "But it couldn't be done in broad daylight. We should have to wait until dusk at any rate. Also, I should have to disguise myself, for a European would have little chance of shadowing a Moor without attracting attention."

"You would disguise yourself as a Moor?"

"Yes. You can doubtless supply me with the necessary clothes, and I can do the rest."

"Oh, yes, I can supply you with all you need in the way of clothes. But do you speak Arabic?"

The detective smiled. "A little," he said modestly. "Enough to serve for my present purpose, anyhow. In the meantime, do yon approve of my plan?"

"Need you ask?" said the Ambassador. "Of course I approve of your plan, which I can only describe as an inspiration of genius!"


III.

THE sun had set, and the shadows of approaching night were creeping across the white-walled town. Outside the gates of the British Legation an apparently decrepit Moor was squatting on his haunches with a wooden begging-bowl in his lap.

"Allah il Allah, Mohammed rasoul!" he repeated at intervals, in the whining tones of the professional beggar, Presently the sound of approaching footsteps was heard, and a moment or two later Hamed strode through the gates, his face inflamed with passion and his fingers working convulsively. The Ambassador had carried out Sexton Blake's suggestion, and after making Hamed believe that the stolen book had been returned, had set him at liberty.

"Allah il Allah, Mohammed rasoul!" whined the beggar, holding out his wooden bowl. Hamed flung a curse at him and strode away in the direction of Baranis. The beggar silently rose to his feet and glided after him; for the beggar, of course, as the reader has doubtless guessed, was Sexton Blake.

Dusk was deepening into darkness when they reached the little village of Baranis. Outside one of the low thatched huts on the outskirts of the village a man was watering a mule. Hamed strode up to this man with a vengeful cry and gripped him fiercely by the arm.

The detective was too far away to hear what Hamed said or what the man replied, But he saw the latter protest with indignant gestures; and presently he saw him lead Hamed into the hut.

Glancing quickly round to make sure that he was unobserved, the detective stole up to the hut and crouched outside the open door.

"Art thou satisfied now?" he heard the man say, in Arabic, of course, "There is the book, and I swear by Allah and his holy prophet that it hath never left my possession since thou gavest it to me. Am I a dog that I should betray thee to the Bashador?" (Bashador, it should be explained, is the Moorish equivalent for Ambassador).

"I have wronged thee," said Hamed humbly. "It is truly the book which I gave to thee last night, and which I asked thee to keep until I came for it."

"If I had minded to betray thee," said the man, "what need to wait until to-day? Could I not have delivered up the book to the Christian dog who was pursuing thee last night, and who bade me stop thee in thy flight? Did I not feign to stop thee, knowing who thou wert, and did I not swear, after thou had toldst me how the matter stood, that I would bring the book here and keep it till thou camest for it? How, then, couldst thou believe that I had betrayed thee to the Bashador?"

"I have wronged thee," said Hamed again; "and yet I do not understand. The Bashador showed me a book, like unto this, and said that thou hadst brought it to him for a reward of a hundred dollars."

"They are all liars, these infidels!" said the man contemptuously.

"That is true," said Hamed. "Yet he loosed my bonds and set me free, Now, why—"

The sentence was never completed for at that moment Sexton Blake—who had overheard every word of the foregoing conversation—sprang into the dimly-lighted hut, snatched the hook from Hamed's hand, and, with two straight-from-the-shoulder blows, one to the right and the other to the left, sent the two men sprawling on their backs. And by the time the startled and outwitted Moors had scrambled to their feet, the detective had darted through the door, had leaped on to the back of the mule, which was still standing outside the hut, and was galloping towards Tangier at a speed which defied pursuit.


IV.

THE Ambassador and Fitzgerald were conversing in the drawing-room of the Legation.

"Oh, I think you may trust Mr. Blake!" said Fitzgerald.

"I do trust him," said the Ambassador. "If I hadn't the greatest confidence in his powers I shouldn't have wired to Gib and asked the Governor to send him over, But I must confess now that I have taken his advice I begin to doubt the wisdom of his plan, Of course, I don't doubt that his theory is correct; it's his ability to cope with Hamed that I doubt.

"You see," he continued, "so long as we kept Hamed under lock and key we were practically certain that the stolen book would not find its way into any of the other Legations. But, now that I have let Hamed go, what guarantee have I that he won't elude Sexton Blake? And if he once gets out of Mr. Blake's sight—Hallo! Who's coming?"

The clatter of hoofs was heard in the drive outside. The Ambassador walked across to the open window and peered out.

"It's a Moor, mounted on a bareback mule!" he said. "Who on earth can it be?"

The "Moor" pulled up outside the window. It was too dark, for the Ambassador to see the man's face.

"Is that the book you want?" said a well-known voice. Then a small book flew from the "Moor's" hand and dropped at the Ambassador's feet.

It was the stolen code-book!


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is in the Australian public domain.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.