Read CHAPTER VII of The Riddle of the Spinning Wheel, free online book, by Thomas W. Hanshew, on ReadCentral.com.

THE SUMMONS

Cleek left that house of anger in a strange frame of mind, rather glad to be back again in his own sunny room at the Three Fishers, and away from an influence which seemed somehow horribly malign. The pitched battle that had taken place between father and son egged on by a designing woman who did not mind to what depths she stooped so that her ends were eventually reached, gave him an eery feeling. There was something venomous about the whole affair, something that reminded him of an asp about to strike. He could not shake that feeling from him. The premonition held firm hold of his faculties.

A walk with Dollops over the moors certainly acted as a refresher, for the lad’s ready humour had the true Cockney bite in it and he had seen, with his keen eyes, how the master he loved and reverenced was brooding under the shadow of something he sensed although he could not see. And so his comical faculties were put to good work. Until tea-time at length reached Cleek returned to the Inn of the Three Fishers, a little less clouded in heart and brain, and with some of the moody depression shaken from him.

He spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening reading and thinking by the open window of his room, looking out now and then at the whole massive structure of Aygon Castle, with its great gateway, above which Rhea du Macduggan stood everlasting guard. Gad! anything might happen there and the world be no wiser! It was an appalling thought at best. What secrets had that place held in the past and never revealed to the light of day? What secrets might it not hold in the future?

And those dungeons. The thing he had seen there.... And that handkerchief so obviously belonging to Ross Duggan, and which now lay in his inner pocket. He fumbled for it and brought it out to the light, examining it minutely. Fine linen, finely monogrammed. Very obviously the handkerchief of an extravagant gentleman. But what on earth he should be doing down there, amidst that, was something which sent the grim lines fleeting about Cleek’s mouth and eyes. It couldn’t be he the son of a proud old house like this one! The thing seemed impossible. And yet there was the handkerchief to prove that fact; and then this electricity business, which obviously ate up a good many private funds. H’m. It would want close looking into, if nothing further proceeded with Miss Duggan’s part of the affair.

For an hour or two he sat pondering and dreaming there, the book he had caught up absent-mindedly from the billiard-room book-case lying open in his lap.

The dinner-gong sounding through that quiet house brought him quickly to his feet, a sense of sharpened appetite lending pleasing colour to the thought of what the dining-hall afforded, for mine host believed in setting a good table, and his hospitality was by no means frugal.

Dollops was already standing by his table, expectant eye upon the trim maid who waited upon them, for during this little sojourn in the Highlands Cleek had expressed a wish for the lad’s company during meals, and old Fairnish had told his spouse that “Misthair Deland were an unco’ queer pairrson tu wish the company of his mon wi’ ’im at meal-time, but so lang as he paid his bill prampt, ’twere nought of hees business.”

And that was why Dollops was waiting now with that hungry eye of his upon the plate of steaming soup which the maid was bringing to the table. Only his respect for the man who had raised him to his present status kept him from dropping into his seat and gulping the stuff down straightaway.

Cleek smiled as he saw the lad’s eager eye.

“Sit down, sit down, Dollops, and set to,” he said with a laugh, laying a hand upon the boy’s sleeve with something of tenderness in the gesture. “Your eyes are like hard-boiled eggs, they’re popping out of your head so. Hungry, I’ll be bound.”

“’Ungry I means hungry, sir? ... starved’s more like it!” gave back Dollops between mouthfuls of hot soup. “Why, I’m that ’ungry me backbone’s well-nigh come rahnd to me front! Nuffink since tea although I must say as I nabbed a roll from the kitchen table when the cook wasn’t lookin’, and there was a cold sossidge fairly talkin’ ter me from the plate in the larder. And so, as there weren’t no one around, I just whistled to ’im, and he ’opped off his platter quite tame-like. But fer anything else!...” The last spoonful went down with a gulp.

“Dollops, Dollops! You’ll be eating the wake up at your own funeral, you young gourmand!” threw in Cleek laughingly. “You’ve a constitution like an ostrich. I’m sure, if you were actually starving, you’d manage to gnaw an umbrella spokes and all!... Heigho! This is a queer world, isn’t it? Here’s me sitting here in this little inn-place, on the top of the Highlands, with the heart of me wandering away in other places, and the soul of me sometimes hungry for the sight of other worlds across the sea to which I’ve closed the door of my own accord and shut the sight of their dear blessedness forever from me! And there’s those people up at Aygon Castle. Bitter, cruel, hard to each other. Pulling this way and that, until their hearts must break with the strain of the fray and with the whole structure of their dear inheritance forever with them, so that they need never hunger and thirst for a sight of it as as others do. Heigho! but it’s a topsy-turvy, crazy sort of a world we live in, isn’t it?”

Something in the tone of Cleek’s voice caused Dollops instantly to pause. Eyes wide, mouth open, face gone suddenly pale, he set down his knife and fork and reaching a shaking hand across the table laid it upon Cleek’s.

“Guv’nor,” he said, in a scared, hushed sort of voice, “you ain’t a-wishin’ ter go back to all them Maurevanian royalties, are yer? Wiv a throne an’ a crahn and a bloomin’ spectur in yer ’and? You ain’t a-pinin’ fer the Crash Pots, I ’opes? For as sure as I know anyfink of anybody, they’d never let sich folks as Mr. Narkom an’ an’ me come within twenty miles of yer. And you ain’t ain’t wishin’ ter l-lose us, are yer, sir? It would fair break my ’eart if I thought that.”

Cleek put back his head and laughed, laughed heartily, with his eyes wet. There was a sob in the boy’s voice as he spoke, and the look of injured worship in his eyes would have wrung tears from a stone. Cleek stopped laughing suddenly, and sat forward and looked straight at the boy.

“Dollops,” he said quietly, “I wouldn’t barter this inheritance of Love which the good Lord has given me, for all the thrones and ‘specturs’ and ‘crash-pots’ that the world could hold. For true friendship is the best inheritance of all. But there are times when a man must be allowed to go down into the deeps of his memory and take a maudlin joy in counting over the hidden pearls there. I’ve no doubt you do it yourself, lad and shed a tear in solitude for the days when you had a mother to care for you, and you weren’t just a frightened little sinner of an orphan boy.”

“An’ that’s where you’re dead wrong, sir,” gave back Dollops with a vigorous nod of the head. “Fer I never does anyfink of the sort. Me muvver Gawd ’elp ‘er! were a bruiser an’ a footballer in one, an’ there weren’t an inch o’ me poor little body which didn’t ’ave a score of bruises upon it. As for me farver well, I doesn’t remember ’im, and no doubt it’s a good fing, too.... No, sir, you’ve bin and gone and missed the bull’s eye this time. I ain’t no Wistful Willie, I ain’t. You’ve been Muvver and Farver and Big Bruvver and all the whole darn Fambly ter me, an’ if ever I finks o’ the blinkin’ parst, it’s just that I didn’t live clean and strite an’ an’ decent, so’s I could be a bit more worvy uv yer precious kindness.... Lord! listen ter me a-torkin’ like a bloomin’ sermonizer! But them’s my sentiments strite! An’ so long as yer ain’t wishin ter go back to them

“No, I’m not wishing that at all, boy,” said Cleek quietly, with an odd little smile. “So don’t you worry your ginger head over such fool notions as that. The day I want to get rid of you all Miss Lorne, yourself, and Mr. Narkom is the day that sees me in my grave. And then I’ll only be waiting to wring your hands across the Big Beyond. And if you ever mention royalties and ‘specturs’ and ‘crash-pots’ to me again, Dollops, I’ll I’ll cut you out of my will.... Finished?”

“Yessir.”

“Well, then, come along upstairs and smoke a weed with me. Unless you’ve something better to do. I’ve need of a man’s company to-night, for my mood’s maudlin, and a chat over old times will straighten things out for me.”

Rarver!” Then to himself: “Missin’ Miss Ailsa, like any uvver bloomin’ lovesick strain,” thought Dollops to himself, with a shake of the head. “Well, orl I kin s’y is, Dollops me lad, it’s a good thing you ain’t in love yerself. You love yer tummy better’n the gels and a fairer deal it is, too. Fer yer can tell when you’re proper fed up, and starve a bit in consequence. But the lydies! well, they never lets yer leave ’em alone! ’E ain’t ’ad no letter this mornin’ that’s wot the trouble is, bless ’is ’eart!”

So Dollops followed Cleek upstairs to his room, and in the short twilight of the summer evening sat with him, curled up on a cushion at his feet, and smoked and talked and gazed at the great Castle in front of them, almost lost in the twilight mists, like the true little gamin he was, until the lonesomeness had gone from Cleek’s soul, and the night had thrown her mantle over the sky.

Then:

“Time for you to be getting into your little ‘downy’, old chap,” he said, with a stretch and a yawn and a smile down into the eager young face that rested against his knee, as a dog might do, faithfulness in the attitude. “Or we’ll be having no salmon-fishing to-morrow, for you’ll be over-sleeping yourself, and the fish will have swum to other waters, getting tired of waiting for you. Cut along now, there’s a good boy.”

“Orl right, Guv’nor. Thank yer, sir, for this this rippin’ fine evenin’. And fer lettin’ me pertend I was for the moment, like, a real pal to yer. I shan’t never ferget that. Good-night, sir, and pleasant dreams.”

“Good-night, Dollops. Close the door softly behind you. There’s an old lady in the room beyond, and I fancy she’s just gone off to bed. I’ll sit here a few minutes longer, and then nip in between the sheets myself.”

But the few minutes lengthened into an hour before Cleek, about to rise from his chair by the open window to knock out the ashes of his pipe upon the sill, happened to glance up and out of it. Then he stopped of a sudden, sucked in his breath, and stood stock-still, staring out in front of him as though he had gone suddenly mad.

For the darkness of that dark night had been cut suddenly by a ray of red light swung to and fro several times from the particular bit of darkness which Cleek knew was Aygon Castle; extinguished; re-lit; sent swinging across the darkness again like an arc of crimson light; and when this was done for a third time, Cleek knew that it was a signal a signal from Maud Duggan to him a signal, too, which meant distress. Something had happened out there in that grim darkness beyond the rim of hill and valley in that great, gaunt edifice of mediaeval stone, something so serious that she had signalled for him to come, as she said she would.

He drew out his spot light, and sent it zigzagging in the direction of the red light, just to let her know she had been seen and understood. Then, swinging round swiftly, he caught up his dark overcoat, slipped his arms into it, drew a cap low down over his head, and was off into the shadows and pelting away down the narrow tortuous lane as fast as his swift feet could carry him.