The summer twilight was deepening into the summer dusk when Ailsa, acting upo_leek's advice, set forth with his little lordship the following evening, an_urned her steps in the direction of the Park; but although, on her way there,
she observed more than once that a swarthy-skinned man in European dress wh_ore a scarlet flower in his coat, and was so perfect a type of the Asiati_hat he would have passed muster for one even among a gathering of Cingalese,
kept appearing and disappearing at irregular intervals, it spoke well for th_owers of imitation and self-effacement possessed by Dollops, that she neve_nce thought of associating that young man with the dawdling messenger boy wh_trolled leisurely along with a package under his arm and patronised ever_un-shop, winkle-stall, and pork-pie purveyor on the line of march.
For upward of an hour this sort of thing went on without any interruption o_ny solitary thing out of the ordinary, Ailsa strolling along leisurely, wit_he boy's hands in hers and his innocent prattle running on ceaselessly; then,
of a sudden, whilst they were moving along close to the Park railings and i_he shadow of the overhanging trees, the figure of an undersized man in semi-
European costume, but wearing on his head the twisted turban of a Cingalese,
issued from one of the gates, and well-nigh collided with them.
He drew back, murmuring an apology in pidgin-English, then, seeing the child,
he salaamed profoundly and murmured in a voice of deep reverence, "Holy, mos_oly!" and prostrated himself, with his forehead touching the ground, unti_ilsa and the child had passed on. But barely had they taken five steps befor_leek appeared upon the scene, and did exactly the same thing as th_ingalese.
"All right. You may go home now. I've got my man," he whispered, as Ailsa an_he boy passed by. "Look for me at Chepstow House some time to-night." The_ose, as she walked on, and went after the man who first had prostrate_imself before the child.
He had risen and gone on his way, but not before witnessing Cleek's obeisance,
and flashing upon him a sharp, searching look. Cleek quickened his steps an_hortened the distance between them. Now or never was the time to put to th_est that wild thought which last night had hammered on his brain, for it wa_ertain that this man was in very truth a Cingalese, and, as such, must know!
He stretched forth his hand and touched the man, who drew back sharply, hal_ndignantly, but changed his attitude entirely when Cleek, who knew Hindustan_ore than well, spoke to him in the native tongue.
"Unto thee, oh, brother!" Cleek said. "Thou, too, art of us, for thou, too,
dost acknowledge the sacred shrine. These eyes have beheld thee."
All his hopes rested on the slim pillar of that one word, "shrine," and hi_eart almost ceased to beat as he watched to see how it was received. I_roke, however, into a very tumult of disturbance in the next instant, for th_an positively beamed as he gave reply.
"Sacred be the shrine!" he answered in Hindustani. "Clearly thou art of us—no_f those others."
"Others? What others? I am but newly come to this country."
"Walk with me, then, to my abode, sup with me, eat of my salt, and I will tel_hee then, oh, brother. But I forget: thou hast no knowledge of me. Listen,
then. I am Arjeeb Noosrut, father of the High Priest Seydama, and it is amon_he people of my house that the gun is yet preserved. Nor has the blood o_eydama been ever washed from the wood of it. Come."
All in a moment a light seemed to break over Cleek's brain. The missing lin_ad been supplied—the one thing that could make possible the wild though_hich had come to him last night had been given into his hands, and here a_ast was the key to the amazing mystery! He turned without a word and wen_ith Arjeeb Noosrut.
"What an ass!" he said to himself in the soundless words of thought "What a_ss never to have suspected it when it is all so dear!"
Meantime Ailsa and the boy, dismissed from any further need of service, walke_n through the deepening dusk and turned their faces homeward. But they ha_ot gone twenty yards from the spot where Cleek had seen them last when hi_ittle lordship set up a joyful cry and pointed excitedly to a claret-coloure_imousine which at that moment swung in from the middle of the roadway an_lowed down as it neared the kerb.
"Oh, look, Miss Lorne; here's mummie's motor car; and I do believe that'_imbi peeping out of it!" exclaimed the child—"Bimbi" being his pet name fo_aptain Hawksley—then broke, in wild excitement, from Ailsa's detaining han_nd fled to a tall, military-looking man with a fair beard and moustache wh_ad just that moment alighted from the vehicle. "It is Bimbi—it is!—it is!" h_houted as he ran. "Oh, Bimbi, I _am_ glad!"
"Ceddie, dear, you mustn't be so boisterous!" chided Ailsa, coming up with hi_t the kerb. "How fond he is of you to be sure, Captain Hawksley. You've com_or us, I suppose? Ceddie recognised the car at once."
"Yes; jump in," he answered. "Lady Chepstow sent me after you. She's nervous,
poor soul, every moment the boy's away from her. Jump in, old chap!"—catchin_p his little lordship and swinging him inside. "Better take the back seat,
Miss Lorne; it's more comfortable. Quite settled, both of you? That's good.
All right, chauffeur—Home!"
Then he jumped in after them, closed the door, dropped into a seat, and th_otor, making a wide curve out into the road, pelted away into the fast-
"Bimbi says maybe he's going to be my daddy one day—didn't you, Bimbi?" sai_is little lordship, climbing up on to "Bimbi's" knee and snuggling close t_im.
"I say, you know, you mustn't tell secrets, old chap!" was the laughin_esponse. "Miss Lorne will hand you over to Nursie with orders to put you t_ed if you do, _I_ know—won't you, Miss Lorne?"
"He ought to be in bed, anyhow," responded Ailsa gaily; and then, this givin_he conversation a merry turn, they talked and laughed and kept up such _hatter that three-quarters of an hour went like magic and nobody seemed awar_f it. But suddenly Ailsa thought, and then put her thoughts into words.
"What a long time we are in getting home," she said, and bent forward so tha_he light from the window might fall upon the dial of her wrist watch, the_ave a little startled cry and half rose from her seat. For the darkness wa_ow tempered by moonlight, and she could see that they were no longer in th_opulous districts of the town, but were speeding along past woodlands an_pen fields in the very depths of the country. "Good gracious! Johnston mus_ave lost his senses!" she exclaimed agitatedly. "Look where we are, Captai_awksley!—out in the country with only a farmhouse or two in sight. Johnston!
Johnston!" She bent forward and rapped wildly on the glass panel. "Johnston,
stop!—turn round!—are you out of your head? Captain Hawksley, stop him—sto_im for pity's sake!"
"Sit down, Miss Lorne." He made reply in a low, level voice, a voice in whic_here was something that made her pluck the child to her and hold him right t_er breast. "You are not going home to-night. You are going for a ride wit_e; and if—Oh, that's your little game, is it?" lurching forward as she made _rantic clutch at the handle of the door. "Sit down, do you hear me?—or i_ill be worse for you! There!"—the cold bore of a revolver barrel touched he_emple and wrung a quaking gasp of terror from her—"Do you feel that? Now yo_it down and be quiet! If you make a single move, utter a single cry, I'l_low your brains out before you've half finished it. Look here, do you kno_ho you're dealing with now? See!"
His hand reached up and twitched away the fair beard and moustache; he ben_orward so that the moonlight through the glass could fall on his face. It ha_hanged as his voice had now changed, and she saw that she was looking at th_an who in those other days of stress and trial had posed as "Gaston Merode,"
brother to the fictitious "Countess de la Tour."
"You!" she said in a bleak voice of desolation and fright. "Dear heaven, tha_orrible Margot's confederate, the King of the Apaches!"
"Yes!" he rapped out. "You and that fellow Cleek came between us in on_romising game, but I'm hanged if you shall do it in this one! I want thi_oy, and—I've got him. Now, you call off Cleek and tell him to drop thi_ase—to make no effort to follow us or to come between us and the kid—or I'l_lit your throat after I've done with his little lordship here.
Lanisterre!"—to the chauffeur—"Lanisterre, do you hear?"
" _Oui, monsieur_."
"Give her her head—full speed—and get to the mill as fast as you can. Margo_ill be with us in another two hours' time."