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Chapter 20

  • 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-
  • gathering darkness.
  • "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."