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

THE AFFAIR OF THE MAN WHO HAD BEEN CALLED HAMILTON CLEEK

I

“Note for you, sir messenger just fetched it. Addressed to ’Captain Burbage,’ so it’ll be from The Yard,” said Dollops, coming into the room with a doughnut in one hand and a square envelope in the other.

Cleek, who had been sitting at his writing-table, with a litter of folded documents, bits of antique jewellery, and what looked like odds and ends of faded ribbon lying before him, swept the whole collection into the table drawer as Dollops spoke and stretched forth his hand for the letter.

It was one of Narkom’s characteristic communications, albeit somewhat shorter than those communications usually were a fact which told Cleek at once that the matter was one of immense importance.

“My dear Cleek,” it ran. “For the love of goodness don’t let anything tempt you into going out to-night. I shall call about ten. Foreign government affair reward simply enormous. Look out for me. Yours, in hot haste MAVERICK NARKOM.”

“Be on the lookout for the red limousine,” said Cleek, glancing over at Dollops, who stood waiting for orders. “It will be along about ten. That’s all. You may go.”

“Right you are, Gov’nor. I’ll keep my eyes peeled, sir. Lor’! I do hope it’s summink to do with a restaurant or a cookshop this time. I could do with a job of that sort my word, yes! I’m fair famishin’. And, beggin’ pardon, but you don’t look none too healthy yourself this evening, Gov’nor. Ain’t et summink wot’s disagreed with you, have you, sir?”

“I? What nonsense! I’m as fit as a fiddle. What could make you think otherwise?”

“Oh, I dunno, sir only Well, if you don’t mind my sayin’ of it, sir, whenever you gets to unlocking of that draw and lookin’ at them things you keep in there wotever they is you always gets a sort of solemncholy look in the eyes; and you gets white about the gills, and your lips has a pucker to ’em that I don’t like to see.”

“Tommy rot! Imagination’s a splendid thing for a detective to possess, Dollops, but don’t let yours run away with you in this fashion, my lad, or you’ll never rise above what you are. Toddle along now, and look out for Mr. Narkom’s arrival. It’s after nine already, so he’ll soon be here.”

“Anybody a-comin’ with him, sir?”

“I don’t know he didn’t say. Cut along, now; I’m busy!” said Cleek. Nevertheless, when Dollops had gone and the door was shut and he had the room to himself again, and, if he really did have any business on hand, there was no reason in the world why he should not have set about it, he remained sitting at the table and idly drumming upon it with his finger tips, a deep ridge between his brows and a far-away expression in his fixed, unwinking eyes. And so he was still sitting when, something like twenty minutes later, the sharp “Toot-toot!” of a motor horn sounded.

Narkom’s note lay on the table close to his elbow. He took it up, crumpled it into a ball, and threw it into his waste basket. “A foreign government affair,” he said with a curious one-sided smile. “A strange coincidence, to be sure!” Then, as if obeying an impulse, he opened the drawer, looked at the litter of things he had swept into it, shut it up again and locked it securely, putting the key into his pocket and rising to his feet. Two minutes later, when Narkom pushed open the door and entered the room, he found Cleek leaning against the edge of the mantelpiece and smoking a cigarette with the air of one whose feet trod always upon rose petals, and who hadn’t a thought beyond the affairs of the moment, nor a care for anything but the flavour of Egyptian tobacco.

“Ah, my dear fellow, you can’t think what a relief it was to catch you. I had but a moment in which to dash off the note, and I was on thorns with fear that it would miss you; that on a glorious night like this you’d be off for a pull up the river or something of that sort,” said the superintendent, as he bustled in and shook hands with him. “You are such a beggar for getting off by yourself and mooning.”

“Well, to tell you the truth, Mr. Narkom, I came within an ace of doing the very thing you speak of,” replied Cleek. “It’s full moon, for one thing, and it’s primrose time for another. Happily for your desire to catch me, however, I er got interested in the evening paper, and that delayed me.”

“Very glad, dear chap; very glad, indeed,” began Narkom. Then, as his eye fell upon the particular evening paper in question lying on the writing-table, a little crumpled from use, but with a certain “displayed-headed” article of three columns length in full view, he turned round and stared at Cleek with an air of awe and mystification. “My dear fellow, you must be under the guardianship of some uncanny familiar. You surely must, Cleek!” he went on. “Do you mean to tell me that is what kept you at home? That you have been reading about the preparations for the forthcoming coronation of King Ulric of Mauravania?”

“Yes; why not? I am sure it makes interesting reading, Mr. Narkom. The kingdom of Mauravania has had sufficient ups and downs to inspire a novelist, so its records should certainly interest a mere reader. To be frank, I found the account of the amazing preparations for the coronation of his new Majesty distinctly entertaining. They are an excitable and spectacular people, those Mauravanians, and this time they seem bent upon outdoing themselves.”

“But, my dear Cleek, that you should have chosen to stop at home and read about that particular affair! Bless my soul man, it’s it’s amazing, abnormal, uncanny! Positively uncanny, Cleek!”

“My dear Narkom, I don’t see where the uncanny element comes in, I must confess,” replied Cleek with an indulgent smile. “Surely an Englishman must always feel a certain amount of interest in Mauravian affairs. Have the goodness to remember that there should be an Englishman upon that particular throne. Aye, and there would be, too, but for one of those moments of weak-backed policy, of a desire upon the part of the ‘old-woman’ element which sometimes prevails in English politics to keep friendly relations with other powers at any cost. Brush up your history, Mr. Narkom, and give your memory a fillip. Eight-and-thirty years ago Queen Karma of Mauravania had an English consort and bore him two daughters, and one son. You will perhaps recall the mad rebellion, the idiotic rising which disgraced that reign. That was the time for England to have spoken. But the peace party had it by the throat; they, with their mawkish cry for peace peace at any price! drowned the voices of men and heroes, and the end was what it was! Queen Karma was deposed she and her children fled, God knows how, God knows where fled and left a dead husband and father, slain like a hero and an Englishman, fighting for his own, and with his face to the foe. Avenge his death? Nonsense, declared the old women. He had no right to defy the will of Heaven, no right to stir up strife with a friendly people and expect his countrymen to embroil themselves because of his lust for power. It would be a lasting disgrace to the nation if England allowed a lot of howling, bloodthirsty meddlers to persuade it to interfere.

“The old women had their way. Queen Karma and her children vanished; her uncle Duke Sforza came to the throne as Alburtus III., and eight months ago his son, the present King Ulric, succeeded him. The father had been a bad king, the son a bad crown-prince. Mauravania has paid the price. Let her put up with it! I don’t think in the light of these things, Mr. Narkom, there is any wonder that an Englishman finds interest in reading of the affairs of a country over which an Englishman’s son might, and ought to, have ruled. As for me, I have no sympathy, my friend, with Mauravania or her justly punished people.”

“Still, my dear fellow, that should not count when the reward for taking up this case is so enormous and I dare say it will not.”

“Reward? Case?” repeated Cleek. “What do you mean by that?”

“That I am here to enlist your services in the cause of King Ulric of Mauravania,” replied Narkom, impressively. “Something has happened, Cleek, which, if not cleared up before the coronation day now only one month hence, as you must have read will certainly result in his Majesty’s public disgrace, and may result in his overthrow and death! His friend and chief adviser, Count Irma, has come all the way from Mauravania, and is at this moment downstairs in this house, to put the case in your hands and to implore you to help and to save his royal master!”

“His royal master? The son of the man who drove an Englishman’s wife and an Englishman’s children into exile poverty misery despair?” said Cleek, pulling himself up. “I won’t take it, Mr. Narkom! If he offers me millions, I’ll lift no hand to help or to save Mauravania’s king!”

The response to this came from an unexpected quarter.

“But to save Mauravania’s queen, monsieur? Will you do nothing for her?” said an excited and imploring voice. And as Cleek, startled by the interruption, switched round and glanced in the direction of the sound, the half-dosed door swung inward and a figure, muffled to the very eyes, moved over the threshold into the room. “Have pardon, monsieur I could not but overhear,” went on the newcomer, turning to Narkom. “I should scarcely be worthy of his Majesty’s confidence and favour had I remained inactive. I simply had to come up unbidden. Had to, monsieur” turning to Cleek “and so ” His words dropped off suddenly. A puzzled look first expanded and then contracted his eyes, and his lips tightened curiously under the screen of his white, military moustache. “Monsieur,” he said, presently putting into words the sense of baffling familiarity which perplexed him. “Monsieur, you then are the great, the astonishing Cleek? You, monsieur? Pardon, but surely I have had the pleasure of meeting monsieur before? No, not here, for I have never been in England until to-day; but in my own country in Mauravania. Surely, monsieur, I have seen you there?”

“On the contrary,” said Cleek, speaking the simple truth. “I have never set foot in Mauravania in all my life, sir. And as you have overheard my words you may see that I do not intend to even now. The difficulties of Mauravania’s king do not in the least appeal to me.”

“Ah, but Mauravania’s queen, monsieur Mauravania’s queen.”

“The lady interests me no more than does her royal spouse.”

“But, monsieur, she must she really must if you are honest in what you say, and your sympathies are all with the deposed and exiled ones the ex-queen Karma and her children. Surely, monsieur, you who seem to know so well the history of that sad time cannot be ignorant of what has happened since to her ex-Majesty and her children?”

“I know only that Queen Karma died in France, in extreme poverty, befriended to the last by people of the very humblest birth and of not too much respectability. What became of her son I do not know; but her daughters, the two princesses, mere infants at the time, were sent, one to England, where she subsequently died, and the other to Persia, where, I believe, she remained up to her ninth year, and then went no one seems to know where.”

“Then, monsieur, let me tell you what became of her. The late King Alburtus discovered her whereabouts, and, to prevent any possible trouble in the future, imprisoned her in the Fort of Sulberga up to the year before his death. Eleven months ago she became the Crown Prince Ulric’s wife. She is now his consort. And by saving her, monsieur, you who feel so warmly upon the subject of the rights of her family’s succession, will be saving her, helping Mauravania’s queen, and defeating those who are her enemies.”

Cleek sucked in his breath and regarded the man silently, steadily, for a long time. Then:

“Is that true, Count?” he asked. “On your word of honour as a soldier and a gentleman, is that true?”

“As true as Holy Writ, monsieur. On my word of honour. On my hopes of heaven!”

“Very well, then,” said Cleek quietly. “Tell me the case, Count. I’ll take it.”

“Monsieur, my eternal gratitude. Also the reward is ”

“We will talk about that afterward. Sit down, please, and tell me what you want me to do.”

“Oh, monsieur, almost the impossible,” said the Count despairfully. “The outwitting of a woman who must in very truth be the devil’s own daughter, so subtle, so appalling are the craft and cunning of her. That, for one thing. For another, the finding of a paper, which, if published as the woman swears it shall be if her terms are not acceded to will be the signal for his Majesty’s overthrow. And, for the third” emotion mastered him; his voice choked up and failed; he deported himself for a moment like one afraid to let even his own ears hear the thing spoken of aloud, then governed his cowardice and went on “For the third thing, monsieur,” he said, lowering his tone until it was almost a whisper, “the recovery the restoration to its place of honour before the coronation day arrives of that fateful gem, Mauravania’s pride and glory ’the Rainbow Pearl!’”

Cleek clamped his jaws together like a bloodhound snapping and over his hardening face there came a slow-creeping, unnatural pallor.

“Has that been lost?” he said in a low, bleak voice. “Has he, this precious royal master of yours, this usurper has he parted with that thing the wondrous Rainbow Pearl?”

“Monsieur knows of the gem, then?”

“Know of it? Who does not? Its fame is world-wide. Wars have been fought for it, lives sacrificed for it. It is more valuable than England’s Koh-i-noor, and more important to the country and the crown that possess it. The legend runs, does it not, that Mauravania falls when the Rainbow Pearl passes into alien hands. An absurd belief, to be sure, but who can argue with a superstitious people or hammer wisdom into the minds of babies? And that has been lost that gem so dear to Mauravania’s people, so important to Mauravania’s crown?”

“Yes, monsieur ah, the good God help my country! yes!” said the Count brokenly. “It has passed from his Majesty’s hands; it is no longer among the crown jewels of Mauravania a Russian has it.”

“A Russian?” Cleek’s cry was like to nothing so much as the snarl of a wild animal. “A Russian to hold it a Russian? the sworn enemy of Mauravania the race most hated of her people! God help your wretched king, Count Irma, if this were known to his subjects.”

“Ah, monsieur, it is that we dread it is that against which we struggle,” replied the Count. “If that jewel were missing on the coronation day, if it were known that a Russian holds it Dear God! the populace would rise rise, monsieur, and tear his Majesty to pieces.”

“He deserves no better!” said Cleek, through his close-shut teeth. “To a Russian a Russian! As heaven hears me, but for his queen Well, let it pass. Tell me, how did this Russian get the jewel, and when?”

“Oh, long ago, monsieur long ago; many months before King Alburtus died.”

“Was it his hand that gave it up?”

“No, monsieur. He died without knowing of its loss, without suspecting that the stone in the royal parure is but a sham and an imitation,” replied the count. “It all came of the youth, the recklessness, the folly of the crown prince. Monsieur may have heard of his his many wild escapades his thoughtless acts, his his ”

“Call them dissipations, Count, and give them their real name. His acts as crown prince were a scandal and a disgrace. To whom did he part with this gem a woman?”

“Monsieur, yes! It was during the time he was stopping in Paris incognito to all but a trusted few. He he met the woman there, became fascinated with her bound to her an abject slave to her.”

“A slave to a Russian? Mauravania’s heir and a Russian?”

“Monsieur, he did not know that until afterward. In a mad freak there was to be a masked ball he yielded to the lady’s persuasions to let her wear the famous Rainbow Pearl for that one night. He journeyed back to Mauravania and abstracted it from among the royal jewels putting a mere imitation in its place so that it should not be missed until he could return the original. Monsieur, he was never able to return it at any time, for, once she had got it, the Russian made away with it in some secret manner and refused to give it up. Her price for returning it was his royal father’s consent to ennoble her, to receive her at the Mauravanian Court, and so to alter the constitution that it would be possible for her to become the crown prince’s wife.”

“The proposition of an idiot. The thing could not possibly be done.”

“No, monsieur, it could not. So the crown prince broke from her and bent all his energies upon the recovery of the pearl and the keeping of its loss a secret from the king and his people. Bravos, footpads, burglars all manner of men were employed before he left Paris. The woman’s house was broken into, the woman herself waylaid and searched, but nothing came of it no clue to the lost jewel could be found.”

“Why then did he not appeal to the police?”

“Monsieur, he he dared not. In one of his moments of madness he she that is Oh, monsieur, remember his youth! It appears that the woman had got him to put into writing something which, if made public, would cause the people of Mauravania to rise as one man and to do with him as wolves do with things that are thrown to them in their fury.”

“The dog! Some treaty with a Russian, of course!” said Cleek indignantly. “Oh, fickle Mauravania, how well you are punished for your treasonable choice! Well, go on, Count. What next?”

“Of a sudden, monsieur, the woman disappeared. Nothing was heard of her, no clue to her whereabouts discovered for two whole years. She was as one dead and gone until last week.”

“Oho! She returned, then?”

“Yes, monsieur. Without hint or warning she turned up in Mauravania, accompanied by a disreputable one-eyed man who has the manner and appearance of one bred in the gutters of Paris, albeit he is well clothed, well-looked after, and she treats him and his wretched collection of parakeets with the utmost consideration.”

“Parakeets?” put in Narkom excitedly. “My dear Cleek, couldn’t a parakeet be made to swallow a pearl?”

“Perhaps; but not this one, Mr. Narkom,” he made reply. “It is quite the size of a pigeon’s egg, I believe; is it not, Count?”

“Yes, monsieur, quite. To see it is to remember it always. It has the changing lights of the rainbow, and ”

“Never mind that; go on with the story, please. This woman and this one-eyed man appeared last week in Mauravania, you say?”

“Yes, monsieur; and with them a bodyguard of at least ten servants. Her demand now is that his Majesty make her his morganatic wife; that he establish her at the palace under the same roof with his queen; and that she be allowed to ride with them in the state carriage on the coronation day. Failing that, she swears that she will not only publish the contents of that dreadful letter, but send the original to the chief of the Mauravanian police and appear in public with the Rainbow Pearl upon her person.”

“The Jezebel! What steps have you taken, Count, to prevent this?”

“All that I can imagine, monsieur. To prevent her from getting into close touch with the public, I have thrown open my own house to her, and received her and her retinue under my own roof rather than allow them to be quartered at an hotel. Also, this has given me the opportunity to have her effects and those of her followers secretly searched; but no clue to the letter, no due to the pearl has anywhere been discovered.”

“Still she must have both with her, otherwise she could not carry out her threat. No doubt she suspects what motive you had in taking her into your own house, Count a woman like that is no fool. But tell me, does she show no anxiety, no fear of a search?”

“None, monsieur. She knows that my people search her effects; indeed, she has told me so. But it alarms her not a whit. As she told me two days ago, I shall find nothing; but if I did it would be useless, for, on the moment anything of hers was touched, her servants would see that the finder never carried it from the house.”

“Oho!” said Cleek, with a strong rising inflection. “A little searching party of her own, eh? The lady is clever, at all events. The moment either pearl or letter should be removed from its hiding-place her servants would allow nobody to leave the house without being searched to the very skin?”

“Yes, monsieur. So if by any chance you were to discover either ”

“My friend, set your mind at rest,” interposed Cleek. “If I find either, or both, they will leave the house with me, I promise you. Mr. Narkom ” he turned to the superintendent “keep an eye on Dollops for me, will you? There are reasons why I can’t take him can’t take anybody with me in the working out of this case. I may be a couple of days or I may be a week I can’t say as yet; but I start with Count Irma for Mauravania in the morning. And, Mr. Narkom!”

“Yes, old chap?”

“Do me a favour, please. Be at Charing Cross station when the first boat-train leaves to-morrow morning, will you, and bring me a small pot of extract of beef a very small pot, the smallest they make not bigger than a shilling nor thicker than one if they make them that size. What’s that? Hide the pearl in it? What nonsense! I don’t want one half big enough for that. Besides, they’d be sure to find it when they searched me if I tried any such fool’s trick as that. Dollops isn’t the only creature in the world that gets hungry, my friend, and beef extract is very sustaining, very, I assure you, sir.”

II

“A beautiful city, Count an exceedingly beautiful city,” said Cleek, as the carriage which had been sent to meet them at the station rolled into the broad Avenue des Arcs, which is at once the widest and most ornate thoroughfare the capital city of Mauravania boasts. “Ah, what a heritage! No wonder King Ulric is so anxious to retain his sovereignty; no wonder this er Madame Tcharnovetski, I think you said the name is ”

“Yes, monsieur. It is oddly spelled, but it is pronounced a little broader than you give it quite as though it were written Shar-no-vet-skee, in fact, with the accent on the third syllable.”

“Ah, yes. Thanks very much. No wonder she is anxious to become a power here. Mauravania is a fairyland in very truth; and this beautiful avenue with its arches, its splendid trees, its sculpture, its Ah! cocher, pull up at once. Stop, if you please, stop!”

“Oui, monsieur,” replied the driver, reining in his horses and glancing round. “Dix mille pardons, M’sieur, there is something amiss?”

“Yes; very much amiss from the dog’s point of view,” replied Cleek, indicating by a wave of the hand a mongrel puppy which crouched, forlorn and hungry, in the shadow of an imposing building. “He should be a Socialist among dogs, that little fellow, Count. The mere accident of birth has made him what he is, and that poodled monstrosity the lady yonder is leading the pet and pride of a thoughtless mistress. I want that little canine outcast, Count, and with your permission I will appropriate him, and give him his first carriage ride.” With that, he stepped down from the vehicle, whistled the cur to him, and taking it up in his arms, returned with it to his seat.

“Monsieur, you are to me the most astonishing of men,” said the Count, noticing how he patted the puppy and settled it in his lap as the carriage resumed its even rolling down the broad, beautiful avenue. “One moment upholding the rights of birth, the next rebelling against the injustice of it. Are your sympathies with the unfortunate so keen, monsieur, that even this stray cur may claim them?”

“Perhaps,” replied Cleek enigmatically. “You must wait and see, Count. Just now I pity him for his forlornity; to-morrow next day a week hence I may hold it a better course to put an end to his hopeless lot by chloroforming him into a painless and peaceful death.”

“Monsieur, I cannot follow you you speak in riddles.”

“I deal in riddles, Count; you must wait for the solution of them, I’m afraid.”

“I wish I could grasp the solution of one which puzzles me a great deal, monsieur. What is it that has happened to your countenance? You have done nothing to put on a disguise; yet, since we left the train and entered the landau, some subtle change has occurred. What is it? How has it come about? The night before last, when I saw you for the first time, your face was one that impressed me with a sense of familiarity now, monsieur, you are like a different man.”

“I am a different man, Count. Like puppy, here, I am a waif and a stray; yet, at the same time, I have my purpose and am part of a carefully-laid scheme.”

The Count made no reply. He could not comprehend the man at all, and at times but for the world-wide reputation of him he would have believed him insane. Not a question as to the great and important case he was on, but merely incomprehensible remarks, trifling fancies, apparently aimless whims! Two nights ago a pot of beef extract; to-day a mongrel puppy; and all the time the hopes of a kingdom, the future of a monarch resting in his hands!

For twenty minutes longer the landau rolled on; then it came to a halt under the broad porte cochère of the Villa Irma, and two minutes after that Cleek and the Count stood in the presence of Madame Tcharnovetski, her purblind associate, and her retinue of servant-guards.

A handsome woman, this madame, a woman of about two-and-thirty, with the tar-black eyes and the twilight coloured tresses of Northern Russia; bold as brass, flippant as a French cocotte, steel-nerved and calm-blooded as a professional gambler. It had been her whim that all the women of the Count’s family should be banished from the house during her stay; that the great salon of the villa a wondrous apartment, hung in blue and silver, and lit by a huge crystal chandelier should be put at her disposal night and day; that the electric lights should be replaced with dozens of wax candles (after the manner of the ballrooms of her native Russia), and that her one-eyed companion, with his wicker cage of screeching parakeets, should come and go when and where and how he listed, and that an electric alarm bell be connected with her sleeping apartment and his.

“Your hirelings will tamper with his birds and his effects in the night I know that, Monsieur lé Comte,” she had said when she demanded this. “He is a nervous fellow, this poor Clopin; I wish him to be able to ring for help if you and your men go too far.”

Clopin was sitting by the window chattering to his birds when Cleek entered, and a glance at him was sufficient to decide two points: first, he was not disguised, nor was his partial blindness in any way a sham, for an idiot could have seen that the droop of the left eyelid over the staring, palpably artificial eye which glazed over the empty socket beneath was due to perfectly natural causes; and, second, that the man was indeed what the Count had said he resembled, namely, a gutter-bred outcast.

“French!” was Cleek’s silent comment upon him. “One of those charlatans who infest the streets of Paris with their so-called ’fortune-telling birds,’ who, for ten centimes, pick out an envelope with their beaks as a means of telling you what the future is supposed to hold. What has made a woman like this pick up a fellow of his stamp? Hum-m-m! Puppy, I think you are a good move,” stroking the ears of the mongrel dog; “a very much better move than a cage of useless parakeets that are meant to throw suspicion in the wrong direction and have a seed-cup so large and so obviously overfilled that it is safe to say there is nothing hidden in it and never has been! And madame has a fancy for waxlights,” his gaze travelling upward to the glittering chandelier. “Hum-m-m! How well they know, these women whose beauty is going off, that waxlights show less of Time’s ravages than gas or electricity. Candles in the chandelier; candles in the sconces, candles on the mantelpieces. This room should be very charming when it is lighted at night.”

It was as he learned later. Just now things not quite so charming filled the bill, for madame was jeering at him in a manner not to be understood.

“A police spy that is what you are, monsieur!” she said, coming up to him and impudently snapping her fingers under his nose. “Such a fool, this white-headed old dotard of a Count, to think that he can take me in with a silly yarn about going to visit a nephew and bringing him back here to stay. Monsieur, you are a police spy. Well, good luck to you. Get what the Mauravanian king wants, if you can!”

“Madame,” replied Cleek, with a deeply deferential bow and with an accent that seemed born of Paris, “madame, that is what I mean to do, I assure you.”

“Ah, do you?” she answered, with a scream of laughter. “You hear that, Clopin? You hear that, my good servitors? This silly French noodle is going to get the things in spite of us. Oho, but you have a fine opinion of yourself, monsieur. You need work fast, too, pretty boaster, I can tell you. For the royal jewellers will require the Rainbow Pearl very soon to fix it in its place in the crown for the coronation ceremony, and if that thing his Majesty holds is offered to them, how long, think you, will it be before all Mauravania knows that it is an imitation? Look you,” waxing suddenly vicious, “I’ll make it shorter still, the time you have to strive. Monsieur lé Comte, take this message to his Majesty from me: If in three days he does not promise to accede to my demands and give me a public proof of it over his royal seal, I leave Mauravania the pearl and letter leave with me, and they shall not come back until I return with them for the coronation.”

“For the love of God, madame,” said the Count, “don’t make it harder still. Oh, wait, wait, I beseech you!”

“Not an hour longer than I have now said!” she flung back at him. “I have waited until I am tired of it, and my patience is worn out. Three days, Count; three days, monsieur with the puppy dog; three days, and not an instant longer, do you hear?”

“Quite enough, madame,” replied Cleek, with a courtly bow, “I promise to have them in two!”

She threw back her head and fairly shook with laughter.

“Of a truth, monsieur, you are a candid boaster!” she cried. “Look you, my good fellows, and you too, my poor dumb Clopin, pretty monsieur here will have the letter and the pearl in two days’ time. Look to it that he never leaves this house at any minute from this time forth that you do not search him from top to toe. If he resists ah, well, a pistol may go off accidentally, and things that Mauravania’s king would give his life to keep hidden will come to light if any charge of murder is preferred. Monsieur the police spy, I wish you joy of your task.”

“Madame, I shall take joy in it,” Cleek replied. “But why should we talk of unpleasant things when the future looks so bright? Come, may we not give ourselves a pleasant evening? Look, there is a piano, and Count, hold my puppy for me, and please see that no one feeds him at any time. I am starving him so that he may devour some of Clopin’s parakeets, because I hate the sight of the little beasts. Thank you. Madame, do you like music? Listen, then: I’ll sing you Mauravania’s national anthem: ‘God guard the throne; God shield the right!’” and, dropping down upon the seat before the open instrument, he did so.

That night was ever memorable at the Villa Irma, for the detective seemed somehow to have given place to the courtier, and so merry was his mood, so infectious his good nature, that even madame came under the spell of it. She sang with him, she even danced a Russian polka with him; she sat with him at dinner, and flirted with him in the salon afterward; and when the time came for her to retire, it was he who took her bedroom candle from the shelf and put it into her hand.

“Of a truth, you are a charming fellow, monsieur,” she said, when he bent and kissed her hand. “What a pity you should be a police spy and upon so hopeless a case.”

“Hopeless cases are my delight, madame. Believe me, I shall not fail.”

“Only three days, remember, cher ami only three days!”

“Madame is too kind. I have said it: two will do. On the morning of the third madame’s passport will be ready and the Rainbow Pearl be in the royal jeweller’s hands. A thousand pleasant dreams bon soir!” And bowed her out and kissed his hand to her as she went up the stairs to bed.

III

Thrice during the next twenty-four hours Cleek, who seemed to have become so attached to the mongrel dog that he kept it under his arm continually, had reason to leave the house, and thrice was he seized by madame’s henchmen, bundled unceremoniously into a convenient room, and searched to the very skin before he was suffered to pass beyond the threshold. And if so much as a pin had been hidden upon his person, it must have been discovered.

“You see, monsieur, how hopeless it is!” said the Count despairfully. “One dare not rebel: one dare not lift a finger, or the woman speaks and his Majesty’s ruin falls. Oh, the madness of that boast of yours! Only another twenty-four hours only another day and then God help his Majesty!”

“God has helped him a great deal better than he deserves, Count,” replied Cleek. “By to-morrow night at ten o’clock be in the square of the Aquisola, please. Bring with you the passports of madame and her companions, also a detachment of the Royal Guard, and his Majesty’s cheque for the reward I am to receive.”

“Monsieur! You really hope to get the things? You really do?”

“Oh, I do more than ‘hope,’ Count I have succeeded. I knew last night where both pearl and letter were. To-morrow night ah, well, let to-morrow tell its own tale. Only be in the square at the hour I mention, and when I lift a lighted candle and pass it across the salon window, send the guard here with the passports. Let them remain outside within sight, but not within range of hearing what is said and done. You are alone to enter remember that.”

“To receive the jewel and the letter?” eagerly. “Or, at least, to have you point out the hiding-place of them?”

“No; we should be shot down like dogs if I undertook a mad thing like that.”

“Then, monsieur, how are we to seize them? How get them into our possession, his Majesty and I?”

“From my hand, Count; this hand which held them both before I went to bed last night.”

“Monsieur!” The Count fell back from him as if from some supernatural presence. “You found them? You held them? You took possession of them last night? How did you get them out of the house?”

“I have not done so yet.”

“But can you? Oh, monsieur, wizard though you are, can you get them past her guards? Can you, monsieur can you?”

“Watch for the light at the window, Count. It will not be waved unless it is safe for you to come and the pearl is already out of the house.”

“And the letter, monsieur the damning letter?”

Cleek smiled one of his strange, inscrutable smiles.

“Ask me that to-morrow, Count,” he said. “You shall hear something, you and madame, that will surprise you both,” then twisted round on his heel and walked hurriedly away.

And all that day and all that night he danced attendance upon madame, and sang to her, and handed her bedroom candle to her as he had done the night before, and gave back jest for jest and returned her merry badinage in kind.

Nor did he change in that when the fateful to-morrow came. From morning to night he was at her side, at her beck and call, doing nothing that was different from the doings of yesterday, save that at evening he locked the mongrel dog up in his room instead of carrying him about. And the dog, feeling its loneliness, or, possibly, famishing for he had given it not a morsel of food since he found it howled and howled until the din became unbearable.

“Monsieur, I wish you would silence that beast or else feed it,” said madame pettishly. “The howling of the wretched thing gets on my nerves. Give it some food for pity’s sake.”

“Not I,” said Cleek. “Do you remember what I said, madame? I am getting it hungry enough to eat one or perhaps all of Clopin’s wretched little parakeets.”

“You think they have to do with the hiding of the paper or the pearl, cher ami? Eh?”

“I am sure of it. He would not carry the beastly little things about for nothing.”

“Ah, you are clever you are very, very clever, monsieur,” she made answer, with a laugh. “But he must begin his bird-eating quickly, that nuisance-dog, or it will be too late. See, it is already half-past nine; I retire to my bed in another hour and a half, as always, and then your last hope he is gone z-zic! like that; for it will be the end of the second day, monsieur, and your promise not yet kept. Pestilence, monsieur,” with a little outburst of temper, “do stop the little beast his howl. It is unbearable! I would you to sing to me like last night, but the noise of the dog is maddening.”

“Oh, if it annoys you like that, madame,” said Cleek, “I’ll take him round to the stable and tie him up there, so we may have the song undisturbed. Your men will not want to search me of course, when I am merely popping out and popping in again like that, I am sure?”

Nevertheless they did, for although they had heard and did not stir when he left the room and ran up for the dog, when he came down with it under his arm and made to leave the house, he was pounced upon, dragged into an adjoining apartment by half a dozen burly fellows, stripped to the buff, and searched, as the workers in a diamond mine are searched, before they suffered him to leave the house. There was neither a sign of a pearl nor a scrap of a letter to be found upon him they made sure of that before they let him go.

“An enterprising lot, those lackeys of yours, madame,” he said, when he returned from tying the dog up in the stable and rejoined her in the salon. “It will be an added pleasure to get the better of them, I can assure you.”

“Oui! if you can!” she answered, with a mocking laugh. “Clopin, cher ami, your poor little parakeets are safe for the night unless monsieur grows desperate and eats them for himself.”

“Even that, if it were necessary to get the pearl, madame,” said Cleek, with the utmost sang-froid. “Faugh!” looking at his watch, “a good twenty minutes wasted by the zealousness of those idiotic searchers of yours. Ten minutes to ten! Just time for one brief song. Let us make hay while the sun lasts, madame, for it goes down suddenly in Mauravania; and for some of us it never comes up again!” Then, throwing himself upon the piano-seat, he ran his fingers across the keys and broke into the stately measures of the national anthem. And, of a sudden, while the song was yet in progress, the clock in the corridor jingled its musical chimes and struck the first note of the hour.

He jumped to his feet and lifted both hands above his head.

“Mauravania!” he cried. “Oh, Mauravania! For you! For you!” Then jumped to the mantelpiece, and catching up a lighted candle, flashed it twice across the window’s width, and broke again into the national hymn.

“Monsieur,” cried out madame, “monsieur, what is the meaning of that? Have you lost your wits? You give a signal! For what? To whom?”

“To the guards of Mauravania’s king, madame, in honour of his safe escape from you!” he made reply; then twitched back the window curtains until the whole expanse of glass was bared. “Look! do you see them do you, madame? His Majesty of Mauravania sends Madame Tcharnovetski a command to leave his kingdom, since he no longer has cause to fear a wasp whose sting has been plucked out.”

Her swift glance flashed to the fireplace, then to the corner where Clopin still sat with his jabbering parakeets, then flashed back to Cleek, and she laughed in his face.

“I think not, monsieur,” she said, with a swaggering air. “Truly, I think not, my excellent friend.”

“What a pity you only think so, madame! As for me Ah, welcome, Count, welcome a thousand times. The paper, my friend; you have brought it? Good! Give it to me. Madame, your passport yours and your associates’. You leave Mauravania by the midnight train, and you have but little time to pack your effects. Your passport, madame, and your bedroom candle. Oh, yes, the paper is still round it see!” slipping off a sheet of note paper that was wrapped round the full length of the candle from top to bottom, “but if you will examine it, madame, you will find it is blank. I burned the real letter the night before last when I put this in its place.”

“You what?” she snapped; then caught the tube-shaped covering he had stripped from the candle, uncurled it, and screamed.

“Blank, madame, quite blank, you see,” said Cleek serenely. “For one so clever in other things, you should have been more careful. A little pinch of powder in the punch at dinner-time just that and on the first night, too! It was so easy afterward to get into your room, remove the real paper, and wrap the candle in a blank piece while you slept.”

“You you dog!” she snapped out viciously. “You drugged me?”

“Yes, madame; you and the one-eyed man as well! Oh, don’t excite yourself don’t pull at the poor wretch like that. The glass eye will come out quite easily, but I assure you there is only a small lump of beeswax in the socket now. I removed the Rainbow Pearl from poor Monsieur Clopin’s blind eye ten minutes after I burnt the letter, madame, and it passed out of this house to-night! A clever idea to pick up a one-eyed pauper, madame, and hide the pearl in the empty socket of the lost eye, but it was too bad, you had to supply a glass eye to keep it in, after the lid and the socket had withered and shrunk from so many years of emptiness. It worried the poor man, madame; he was always feeling it, always afraid that the lump behind would force it out; and, what is an added misfortune for your plans, the glass shell did not allow you to see the change when the pearl vanished and the bit of beeswax took its place. Madame Tcharnovetski, your passport. I know enough of the King of Mauravania to be sure that your life will not be safe if you are not past the frontier before daybreak!”

“Monsieur lé comte no! I thank you, but I cannot wait to be presented to his Majesty, for I, too, leave Mauravania to-night, and, like Madame yonder, return to other and more promising fields,” said Cleek, an hour later, as he stood on the terrace of the Villa Irma and watched the slow progress down the moonlit avenue of the carriage which was bearing Madame Tcharnovetski and her effects to the railway station. “Give me the cheque, please; I have earned that, and there is good use for it. I thank you, Count. Now do an act of charity, my friend: give the little dog in the stable a good meal, and then have a surgeon chloroform him into a peaceful and merciful death. They will find the Rainbow Pearl in his intestines when they come to dissect the body. I starved him, Count starved him purposely, poor little wretch, so that he could be hungry enough to snap at anything in the way of food and bolt it instantly. To-night, when I went up to take him out to the stable, a thick smearing of beef extract over the surface of the pearl was sufficient; he swallowed it in a gulp! For a double reason, Count, there should be a cur quartered on the royal arms of this country after to-night.”

His voice dropped off into silence. The carriage containing madame had swung out through the gateway, and its shadow no longer blotted the broad, unbroken space of moonlit avenue. He turned and looked far out, over the square of the Aquisola, along the light-lined esplanade, to the palace gates and the fluttering flag that streamed against the sky above and beyond them.

“Oh, Mauravania!” he said. “An Englishman’s heritage! Dear country, how beautiful! My love to your Queen my prayers for you.”

“Monsieur!” exclaimed the Count, “monsieur, what juggle is this? Your face is again the face of that other night the face that stirs memory yet does not rivet it. Monsieur, speak, I beg of you. What are you? Who are you?”

“Cleek,” he made answer. “Just Cleek! It will do. Oh, Mauravania, dear land of desolated hopes, dear grave of murdered joys!”

“Monsieur!”

“Hush! Let me alone. There are things too sacred; and this ” His hands reached outward as if in benediction; his face, upturned, was as a face transfigured, and something that shone as silver gleamed in the corner of his eye. “Mauravania!” he said. “Oh, Mauravania! My country my people good-bye!”

“Monsieur! Dear Heaven Majesty!”

Then came a rustling sound, and when Cleek had mastered himself and looked down, a figure with head uncovered knelt on one knee at his feet.

“Get up, Count,” he said, with a little shaky laugh. “I appreciate the honour, but your fancy is playing you a trick. I tell you I never set foot in Mauravania before, my friend.”

“I know I know. How should you. Majesty, when it was as a child at Queen Karma’s breast Mauravania last saw Don’t leave like this! Majesty! Majesty! ’God guard the right’ the pearl and the kingdom are here.”

“Wrong, my good friend. The kingdom is there where you found me in England; and so, too, is the pearl. For there is no kingdom like the kingdom of love, no pearl like a good woman. Good night, Count, and many thanks for your hospitality. You are a little upset to-night, but no doubt you will be all right again in the morning. I will walk to the station and alone, if it is all the same to you.”

“Majesty!”

“Dreams, Count, dreams. The riddle is solved, my friend. Good luck to your country and good-bye!”

And, setting his back to the palace and the lights and the fluttering flag, and his face to the land that held her, turned and went his way to the West to England and to those things which are higher than crowns and better than sceptres and more precious than thrones and ermine.