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

By this time he had concluded the alteration in his toilet which was necessary to assure his entrance into the hotel without occasioning comment; and as Dollops had followed suit they readily passed muster, when they alighted, for an ordinary English gentleman accompanied by an ordinary English manservant.

“What was the charge at the garage?” inquired Cleek of Dollops just previously to alighting.

“I dunno wot it runs to in this ’ere rum lingo of francs and sous, sir,” said Dollops, “but the garage gent he said it would amount to two pounds ten in English money, so I’ll have to leave you to work it out for yourself. The shuvver, he said sommink about ’poor boars’ which I’ve heard is wot you has to give ’em as a tip to themselves, Gov’nor so I promised him ’arf a crown to stop at ‘tother end of that passage leadin’ up from The Twisted Arm till he was wanted, sir. Made it a good tip because I wanted him to be there sure it would have been a case of ‘nab’ for us if he hadn’t. Wasn’t too much, was it, sir?”

“No,” said Cleek and let him see that it wasn’t by giving the chauffeur a pourboire of ten francs and sending him back to the garage with the impression that he had had dealings with a millionaire.

Ten minutes later the hotel register bore the record of the arrival of “Mr. Philip Barch and servant”; and one attendant was engaged in showing the servant into a neat little bedroom which was to be his resting-place until morning while another was ushering the master into the suite engaged by the Baron de Carjorac.

Three persons were there: the Baron, his daughter, and his daughter’s companion; but Cleek saw but one and that the only one who made no movement, uttered no sound, when he came into the room. Curiously pale and curiously quiet, she stood with one arm resting on the mantelpiece and the other hanging by her side, looking at him looking for him, in fact but not saying one word, not making one sound. That she left wholly to the baron and his daughter.

They, too, maintained, although with an effort, an appearance of composure so long as the hotel servant was present; but in the moment the door closed and the man was gone an overpowering excitement seized and mastered them.

“Monsieur, for the love of God, don’t tell me you have failed,” implored the baron. “I have died a hundred deaths of torture and suspense since your card was carried up. But if I am to hear bad news ... Oh, my country!”

“Don’t cross bridges, baron, until you come to them,” said Cleek composedly. “I gave Miss Lorne my promise that I would not leave France until I had done what she asked me to do; and I am returning to England to-morrow by the noon boat. I have had an exciting evening, but it has had its compensation. Here is something for you. I had a bit of a fight for it, baron look out that it doesn’t get into the wrong hands again.”

He had taken a small packet of torn papers from his pocket while he was speaking; now he put it into the baron’s hand not wholly without a certain sense of gratification, however, in the excitement and delight which the act called forth; for no man is utterly devoid of personal vanity, personal pride in his achievements, and this man was no less human than his kind.

He let the tumult of excitement and joy wear itself out; he suffered the baron’s embraces even the two rapturous kisses the man planted upon first one and then the other of his cheeks he endured Mlle. Athalie’s exuberant hand-clapping and hand-shaking and the cyclonic and wholly Gallic manner in which she deported herself when comparison with the fragments which the baron had still retained proved beyond all question that these were indeed the missing portions of the all-important document; and not until these things were over did he so much as look at Ailsa Lorne again.

She had taken no part in the general excitement, moved not one foot from where she had been standing from the first. Even when Athalie danced over and hugged her and showed the important fragments; even when she reproved her with a wondering, “Ah, you strange Anglais you stone-cold Anglais! Is it possible that you can have blood in your veins and yet take wondrous things like this so calmly?” even then, she merely smiled and remained standing just as she still was; her pallor not one whit lessened, her reserve but the merest shadow less apparent than it had been before.

Cleek chose that moment to walk over to her, to lift his eyes to hers, and to stand looking at her questioningly. For now that he was close to her he could see that she was trembling nervously; that her calmness was merely an outward thing, and that under it nerves writhed and a frightened heart was beating thick and fast.

Was even the fancied moment in Paradise to be denied him then? That such a woman could not, all in a moment could not by just one act of heroism on his part be won over and lured into complete forgetfulness of such a past as his, he realized to the fullest extent. Always he had been conscious of that; but even so ... Ah, well, the meanest may hope, the lowest may at least look up; and even saints and angels were not above saying, “Well done!” to a soul that had struggled, to a sinner that had done his best.

“I managed it, you see, Miss Lorne,” he said, in a slightly lowered voice, while the baron busied himself in looking for his cheque-book and Athalie bustled about in quest of ink and a pen. “It wasn’t an easy night’s work, and I’m a bit fagged out. So, as I leave in the morning, it will be good-bye as well as good-night.”

She moved for the first time. The hand that lay upon the shelf of the mantelpiece shook and closed quickly. She lifted up her head and looked at him. Her eyes were misty and faint clouds of color were coming and going over her face.

“What is it?” he asked. “Surely, Miss Lorne, you are not afraid of me?”

“No,” she said, averting her face again. “Not of you but of myself. That is I ” trying to laugh, but making a parody of it “I was always more or less of a coward, Mr. Cleek, but...” She faced round again sharply and held out her hand to him. “Will you let me thank you? Will you let me say that I must be merely a little child in intellect since it is only now that I have begun to understand how natural it is that a pound of gold should inevitably outweigh an ounce of dirt? And will you please understand that I am trying to thank you, trying to let you know that I am very, very sorry if I ever hurt your feelings. I don’t think I meant to. I couldn’t see then so clearly as I do now. Please forgive me.”

He took the hand she held out to him; and so had his moment in Paradise after all.

“Hurt me as often as you like, if it will always end like this,” he said with a queer little laugh that seemed to come from the very depths of his chest. “As for that other time ... How could I have expected that you would take it in any other way, being what you are and I what I had been? I am glad I told you. You could never have respected me for an instant if you had found it out in any other way; and I want your respect: I want it very, very earnestly, Miss Lorne. If you can ever give it to me I’ll do my best to be worthy of it.”

She had withdrawn her hand from his and was drumming with her finger-tips upon the mantelshelf. A little pucker was between her eyebrows, she was biting her under lip perplexedly, and appeared to be hesitating. But of a sudden she twitched round her head sharply and a sweep of red went up over her face.

“Shall I show you how much I do respect you, then?” she said. “One may ask of a friend things one would not dream of asking of a mere acquaintance, and so Mr. Cleek, this night of horror has been too much for me. I know now that I can no longer remain in this position in this dreadful city. I have already resigned my post, and will return to England, and if I am not too late for it make an effort to secure the post of governess to Lady Chepstow’s little son. I shall start in the morning. Will you play the part of friend and guide and see me safely across the Channel?”

“Do you mean that?” he asked, his face alight, his eyes shining. “You will let me have the privilege, the honour? What a queen you are! You give largesse with both hands when a simple coin would have been enough. Shall I secure your tickets? When will you have your luggage ready? Is there anything you will need before you leave?”

She smiled at his enthusiasm, coloured anew, and again held out her hand.

“We will talk of all that in the morning,” she said. “There will be plenty of time. Mlle. de Carjorac has promised to look after my effects and to see that they are shipped on to me in due course. But now it really must be good-night. I shall see you again at breakfast.”

“At breakfast?” repeated Cleek, with a happy laugh. “I wonder if you understand that I shall be kicking my heels on my bedside until it is ready? that I shan’t sleep a wink all night?”

And as events proved he came respectably close to living up to that exuberant assertion merely napping now and again, to wake up suddenly and “moon” for an hour or so; and, between periodical inspections of his watch, to wonder if God ever made a night so long and slow-dragging as this one.

It had its recompense, however; for all or nearly all the next day was passed in company with her; and more than that he would not have asked of Heaven. Long before she rose he had made all arrangements for the journey to Calais; and she was not a little gratified yes, and touched if the truth must be told on arriving at the train, to find that he had made no effort to secure accommodations which would compel her to endure his companionship alone from the Gare du Nord to the steamer, but had considerately reserved seats in a compartment containing other travellers, and had done everything in his power to relieve her of any possible embarrassment and to insure her all possible comforts. Even magazines and pictorial papers were not omitted, but were there for her in plenty lest she might prefer an excuse for not indulging much in conversation; and there was also a huge bunch of La France roses bought at the temporary flower market beside the Madeleine at daybreak that morning.

“They are beautiful, aren’t they?” he said, as he laid them in her lap. “Will it surprise you to learn that flowers are a passion with me, and that I am a living refutation of the fallacy that ’there can be nothing very wrong about a man who can cultivate a garden’?”

She looked up at him and smiled.

“I think nothing about you will surprise me you are so many-sided and if you will pardon me saying it so different from what one imagines men of of your calling to be,” she said; and laughed a little, colouring divinely until her face was like the roses themselves. “You treat me as if I were a queen; and I am not used to Court manners. Where, if you please, did you acquire yours?”

“In the vast Kingdom of the World,” he made answer, with just a momentary change of countenance a mere suspicion of embarrassment: laughed off before she could be quite sure that it had had any real existence. “Please remember that to appear to be what one is not, and to ape manners foreign to one’s real self is part of what you have so nicely, so euphemistically, termed ‘my calling.’ I am an Actor on the World’s Stage, Miss Lorne; I should be but a very poor one if I could not accommodate myself to many roles.”

“If you play them all so well as you do that of the preux chevalier, it is no wonder you are a success,” she replied gaily, slipping thus into easy conversation with him.

And so it fell out that the magazines and the illustrated papers were not so much of a boon as both had fancied they might be when Cleek brought them to her; for they had not even been opened when the train ran up to the quay side at Calais and brought them almost abreast of the channel steamer.