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22. The Strangle-Hold
Less than a month later Rita was in a state of desperation again. Kazmah's prices
had soared above anything that he had hitherto extorted. Her bank account, as
usual, was greatly overdrawn, and creditors of all kinds were beginning to press for
payment. Then, crowning catastrophe, Monte Irvin, for the first time during their
married life, began to take an interest in Rita's reckless expenditure. By a
combination of adverse circumstances, she, the wife of one of the wealthiest
aldermen of the City of London, awakened to the fact that literally she had no
She pawned as much of her jewellery as she could safely dispose of, and
temporarily silenced the more threatening tradespeople; but Kazmah declined to
give credit, and cheques had never been acceptable at the establishment in old
Bond Street.
Rita feverishly renewed her old quest, seeking in all directions for some less
extortionate purveyor. But none was to be found. The selfishness and
secretiveness of the drug slave made it difficult for her to learn on what terms
others obtained Kazmah's precious goods; but although his prices undoubtedly
varied, she was convinced that no one of all his clients was so cruelly victimized as
Mollie Gretna endeavored to obtain an extra supply to help Rita, but Kazmah
evidently saw through the device, and the endeavor proved a failure.
She demanded to see Kazmah, but Rashid, the Egyptian, blandly assured her that
"the Sheikh-el-Kazmah" was away. She cast discretion to the winds and wrote to
him, protesting that it was utterly impossible for her to raise so much ready money
as he demanded, and begging him to grant her a small supply or to accept the
letter as a promissory note to be redeemed in three months. No answer was
received, but when Rita again called at old Bond Street, Rashid proposed one of
the few compromises which the frenzied woman found herself unwilling to accept.
"The Sheikh-el-Kazmah say, my lady, your friend Mr. Gray never come to him. If
you bring him it will be all right."
Rita found herself stricken dumb by this cool proposal. The degradation which
awaits the drug slave had never been more succinctly expounded to her. She was
to employ Gray's foolish devotion for the commercial advantage of Kazmah. Of
course Gray might any day become one of the three wealthiest peers in the realm.
She divined the meaning of Kazmah's hitherto incomprehensible harshness (or
believed that she did); she saw what was expected of her. "My God!" she
whispered. "I have not come to that yet."
Rashid she knew to be incorruptible or powerless, and she turned away, trembling,
and left the place, whose faint perfume of frankincense had latterly become hateful
to her.