Read CHAPTER VI of Cleek: the Man of the Forty Faces, free online book, by Thomas W. Hanshew, on ReadCentral.com.

The stillness, the balm, the soothing influences of the night worked their own spell; and, after a time, rubbed out the mental wrinkles and brought a sense of restfulness and peace. It could not well do otherwise with such a nature as his. The night was all a-musk with mignonette and roses, the sky all a-glitter with stars. A gunshot distant the river ran a silver thing ribboning along between the dark of bending trees; somewhere in the darkness a nightingale shook out the scale of Nature’s Anthem to the listening Night, and, farther afield, others took up the chorus of it and sang and sang with the sheer joy of living.

What a world God, what a world for parricides to exist in, and for the sons of men to forget the Fifth Commandment!

He walked on faster, and made his way to the arbour where Dollops waited. The boy rose to meet him.

“Everythink all ready, sir see!” he said, holding up a kit bag. “Wot’s it now, Gov’nor? the railway station? Good enough. Shall I nip off ahead or keep with you till we get there?”

“Suit yourself, my lad.”

“Thanky, sir; then I’ll walk at your heels, if you don’t mind. I’d like to walk at your heels all the rest of my blessed life. Did I carry it off all right, Gov’nor? Did I do it jist as you wanted of it done?”

“To a T, my lad,” said Cleek, smiling and patting him on the shoulder. “You’ll do, Dollops you’ll do finely. I think I did a good job for the pair of us, my boy, when I gave you those two half-crowns.”

“Advanced, Gov’nor, advanced,” corrected Dollops, with a look of sheer affection. “Let me work ’em off, sir, like you said I might. I don’t want nothin’ but wot I earns, Gov’nor; nothin’ but wot I’ve got a right to have; for when I sees wot wantin’ money as don’t belong to you leads to; when I thinks wot that young Bawdrey chap was willin’ to do for the love of havin’ it ”

“Don’t!” struck in Cleek, a trifle roughly. “Drop the man’s name I can’t trust myself to think of it. That the one world, the one self-same world, could hold two such widely dissimilar creations of God as that monster and ... No matter. Thank God, I’ve been able to do something to-night for a good woman I owe so much to another of her kind. No; don’t speak just walk quietly and” jerking his thumb in the direction of the fluting nightingales “listen to that. God! the man who could think evil things when a nightingale sings, isn’t fit to stand even in the Devil’s presence.”

Dollops looked at him half-puzzled, half-awed. He could not understand the character of the man: there were so many sides to it; and they came and went so oddly. One minute, a very brute-beast in his ferocity, the next, a woman in his tenderness and a poet in his thoughts. But if the boy was puzzled, he was, at least, discreet. He put nothing into words: merely walked on in silence, and left the man to his thoughts and the nightingales to their melody.

And Cleek was unusually thoughtful from that period onward; speaking hardly a word through all the journey home. For now that the events which had occupied his mind for the past two or three days were over and done with, his memory harked back to those things which had to do with his own affairs, and he caught himself wondering how matters had gone with Ailsa Lorne; which of the two positions the English one or the French she had finally elected to apply for; and if time had as yet softened the shock of that disclosure made in the mist and darkness at Hampstead Heath.

He had, of course, heard nothing of her since that time; and the days he had spent at Richmond had utterly precluded the possibility of giving himself that small pleasure so often indulged in of adopting a safe disguise, prowling about the neighbourhood where she lived until she should come forth upon one errand or another, and then following her, unsuspected.

That she could have taken the knowledge of what he once had been in no other way than she had done; that to such a woman, such a man must at the first blush be an object of abhorrence a thing to be put out of her life as completely and as expeditiously as possible he fully realised; yet, at bottom, he was conscious of a hope that Time even so little as had passed might lend a softening influence that should lead eventually to Pity, and from that to a day when the word Forgiveness might be spoken.

He wanted that forgiveness the soul of the man needed it, as parched plants need water. He had not climbed up out of himself without some struggle, some moments when he wavered between what he had become, and what Nature had written that he was meant to be; for no Soul is purged all in a moment, no man may conquer himself with just one solitary fight. He needed her forgiveness, the thought of her, the hope of her, to rivet his armour for the long, brave fight. He needed her Friendship if he might never have her love he needed that. And if she were to pass like this from his life.... If the Light were to go out ... and all the long, dark way of the Future still to be faced.... Something within him seemed to writhe. He took his lower lip between his thumb and forefinger and squeezed it hard.

That he had hoped for some token, some word forwarded through Mr. Narkom he did not quite realise until he got back to Clarges Street and found that there was none.

Followed a sense of despair, a moment of deep dejection, that passed in turn and gave place to a feeling of personal injury, of savage resentment, and of the ferocity which comes when the half-tamed wolf wakes to the realisation that here is nothing before it evermore, but the bars of the cage and the goad of the keeper; and that far and away in the world there are still the free woods, the naked body of Nature, and the savage company of its kind.

Under the stress of that gust of passion, he sent Dollops flying from the room. He wrenched open the drawer of his writing-table, and scooped up in his hands some trifles of faded ribbon and trinkets of gold things that he treasured, none knew why or for what and holding them thus, looked down on them and laughed, bitterly and savagely, as though a devil were within him.

“Me! She scorns me!” he said, and laughed again, and flung them all back and shut the drawer upon them. And presently he knew that he held her all the higher because she did scorn him; because her life was such that she could scorn him; and the bitterness dropped out of him, his eyes softened, and though he still laughed, it was for an utterly different reason, and in a wholly different way.

Some pots of tulips and mignonette stood on the ledge of his window. He walked over to see that they were watered before he went to bed. And between the time when he got down on his knees to fish out his bath-slippers from beneath the bed-stead and the creak of the springs when he lay down for the night, he was so long and so still that one might have believed he was doing something else.

He slept long, and rose in the morning soothed and subdued in spirit better and brighter in every way; for now no affair, for The Yard hampered his movements and claimed his time. He was free; he was back in the Town beautiful because it contained her and he might hark back to the old trick of watching and following and being close to her without her knowledge.

It was a vain hope that, however. For, although he dressed and went out and haunted the neighbourhood of Sir Horace Wyvern’s house for hours on end, he saw nothing of her that day. Nor did he see her the next, nor the next, nor yet the next again. At first, he began to think that she must come out and return during the times when he was obliged to go off guard and get his meal for he could not bring himself to play the part of the spy or the common policeman, and filch news from the servants but when a week had gone by in this manner, he set all question upon that point at rest by remaining at his post from sunrise to ten o’clock at night. She did not appear. He wondered what that meant whether it indicated that she had already accepted one of the two positions, or had gone to stop with her friend on the other side of Hampstead Heath.

The result of that wondering was that, for the next five days, the gentleman who was known in Clarges Street as “Captain Horatio Burbage,” became a regular visitor to the neighbourhood of the house in Bardon Road. The issue was exactly the same. Miss Lorne did not appear.

He could no longer doubt that she had accepted one or other of the two positions; but steadfastly refrained from making any personal inquiry. She would hear of it if anybody called to inquire her whereabouts; and she would guess who had done it. He would not have her feel that he was thrusting himself upon her, inquiring about her as one might inquire about a common servant. If it was her will that he should know, then that knowledge should come from her, not be picked up as one picks up clues to missing people of the criminal class.

So then, it was good-bye to Bardon Road, just as it had been good-bye to Mayfair. He turned his back upon it in the very moment he came to that conclusion, and had just set his face in the direction of the heath when he was brought to a standstill by the sound of someone calling out sharply: “Burbage I say, Captain Burbage: stop a moment, please.” And, screwing round instantly, he saw a red limousine pelting toward him, and an excited chauffeur waving a gloved hand.

He knew that red limousine, and he knew that chauffeur. Both belonged to Mr. Maverick Narkom.

He stood waiting until the motor was abreast of him had, in fact, come to a standstill then spoke in a guarded tone:

“What is it, Lennard?” he asked. “The Yard?”

“Yessir. Young Dollops told us where to look for you. Hop in quickly, sir. Superintendent inside.”

Cleek opened the door of the vehicle at once, stepped in, shut it after him, and sat down beside Mr. Narkom with the utmost composure.

“My dear fellow, I have had a chase!” said the superintendent, with a long deep breath of relief, as the limousine swung out into the roadway, and pelted off westward at a pace that brushed the very fringes of the speed limit. “I made certain I should find you at home. Fairly floored when I discovered that you weren’t. If it hadn’t been for that boy, Dollops bright young button, that Dollops, Cleek; exceedingly bright, b’gad.”

“Yes,” agreed Cleek, quietly. “Bright, faithful, and inventive.”

“Really? What has the young beggar invented, then?”

“An original appliance which may possibly be of a good deal of service one of these days. But, never mind that at present. It is fair to suppose, from your rushing out here in quest of me, that you’ve got something on hand, isn’t it?”

“Yes rather! An amazing ‘something,’ old chap. It’s a letter. Arrived at headquarters about an hour and a half ago. Not an affair for The Yard this time, Cleek, but a thing you must take up on your own, if you take it up at all; and I tell you frankly, I don’t like it.”

“Why?”

“For one thing, it’s from Paris; and well, you know what dangers Paris would have for you. There’s that she-devil you broke with that woman Margot. You know what she swore, what she wrote when you sent her that letter telling her that you were done with her and her lot, and warning her never to set foot on English soil again? If you were to run foul of her if she were ever to get any hint of your real identity ”

“She can’t. She knows no more of my real history than you do; no more than I actually know of hers. Our knowledge of each other began when we started to ‘pal’ together it ended when we split, eighteen months ago. But about that letter? What is it? Why do you say that you don’t like it?”

“Well, to begin with, I’m afraid it is some trap of hers to decoy you over there get you into some unknown place ”

“There are no ‘unknown places’ in Paris so far as I am concerned. I know every hole and corner of it, from the sewers on. I know it as well as I know London, as well as I know Berlin New York Vienna Edinburgh Rome. You couldn’t lose me or trap me in any one of them. Is that the letter in your hand? Good then read it, please.”

“To the Superintendent of Police, Scotland Yard,” read Narkom, obeying the request.

“’DISTINGUISHED MONSIEUR:

“’Of your grace and pity, I implore you to listen to the prayer of an unhappy man whose honour, whose reason, whose very life are in deadly peril, not alone of “The Red Crawl,” but of things he may not even name, dare not commit to writing, lest this letter should go astray. It shall happen, monsieur, that the whole world shall hear with amazement of that most marvellous “Cleek” that great reader of riddles and unmasker of evil-doers who, in the past year, has made the police department of England the envy of all nations; and it shall happen also that I who dare not appeal to the police of France appeal to the mercy, the humanity, of this great man, as it is my only hope. Monsieur, you have his ear, you have his confidence, you have the means at your command. Ah! ask him, pray him, implore him for the love of God, and the sake of a fellow-man, to come alone to the top floor of the house number 7 of the Rue Toison d’Or, Paris, at nine hours of the night of Friday, the 26th inst., to enter into the darkness and say but the one word “Cleek” as a signal it is he, and I may come forward and throw myself upon his mercy. Oh, save me, Monsieur Cleek save me! save me!’

“There, that’s the lot, and there’s no signature,” said Narkom, laying down the letter. “What do you make of it, Cleek?”