Thrice during the next twenty-four hours Cleek, who seemed to have become s_ttached to the mongrel dog that he kept it under his arm continually, ha_eason to leave the house, and thrice was he seized by madame's henchmen, bundled unceremoniously into a convenient room, and searched to the very ski_efore he was suffered to pass beyond the threshold. And if so much as a pi_ad been hidden upon his person, it must have been discovered.
"You see, monsieur, how hopeless it is!" said the Count despairfully. "On_are not rebel: one dare not lift a finger, or the woman speaks and hi_ajesty's ruin falls. Oh, the madness of that boast of yours! Only anothe_wenty-four hours—only another day—and then God help his Majesty!"
"God has helped him a great deal better than he deserves, Count," replie_leek. "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 _etachment of the Royal Guard, and his Majesty's cheque for the reward I am t_eceive."
"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 wher_oth pearl and letter were. To-morrow night—ah, well, let to-morrow tell it_wn tale. Only be in the square at the hour I mention, and when I lift _ighted candle and pass it across the salon window, send the guard here wit_he passports. Let them remain outside—within sight, but not within range o_earing 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 yo_oint 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 las_ight."
"Monsieur!" The Count fell back from him as if from some supernatura_resence. "You found them? You held them? You took possession of them las_ight? 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 he_uards? Can you, monsieur—can you?"
"Watch for the light at the window, Count. It will not be waved unless it i_afe 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 an_adame, that will surprise you both," then twisted round on his heel an_alked hurriedly away.
And all that day and all that night he danced attendance upon madame, and san_o 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 t_ight he was at her side, at her beck and call, doing nothing that wa_ifferent from the doings of yesterday, save that at evening he locked th_ongrel dog up in his room instead of carrying him about. And the dog, feelin_ts loneliness, or, possibly, famishing—for he had given it not a morsel o_ood 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 madam_ettishly. "The howling of the wretched thing gets on my nerves. Give it som_ood for pity's sake."
"Not I," said Cleek. "Do you remember what I said, madame? I am getting i_ungry enough to eat one—or perhaps all—of Clopin's wretched littl_arakeets."
"You think they have to do with the hiding of the paper or the pearl, che_mi? Eh?"
"I am sure of it. He would not carry the beastly little things about fo_othing."
"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 be_n another hour and a half, as always, and then your last hope he i_one—z-zic! like that; for it will be the end of the second day, monsieur, an_our promise not yet kept. Pestilence, monsieur," with a little outburst o_emper, "do stop the little beast his howl. It is unbearable! I would you t_ing 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 t_he stable and tie him up there, so we may have the song undisturbed. Your me_ill not want to search me of course, when I am merely popping out and poppin_n again like that, I am sure?"
Nevertheless they did, for although they had heard and did not stir when h_eft the room and ran up for the dog, when he came down with it under his ar_nd made to leave the house, he was pounced upon, dragged into an adjoinin_partment 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 t_eave the house. There was neither a sign of a pearl nor a scrap of a lette_o 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 h_eturned 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, you_oor little parakeets are safe for the night—unless monsieur grows desperat_nd eats them for himself."
"Even that, if it were necessary to get the pearl, madame," said Cleek, wit_he utmost sang-froid. "Faugh!" looking at his watch, "a good twenty minute_asted by the zealousness of those idiotic searchers of yours. Ten minutes t_en! 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 neve_omes up again!" Then, throwing himself upon the piano-seat, he ran hi_ingers across the keys and broke into the stately measures of the nationa_nthem. And, of a sudden, while the song was yet in progress, the clock in th_orridor 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 th_antelpiece, and catching up a lighted candle, flashed it twice across th_indow's width, and broke again into the national hymn.
"Monsieur," cried out madame, "monsieur, what is the meaning of that? Have yo_ost your wits? You give a signal! For what? To whom?"
"To the guards of Mauravania's king, madame, in honour of his safe escape fro_ou!" he made reply; then twitched back the window curtains until the whol_xpanse of glass was bared. "Look! do you see them—do you, madame? His Majest_f Mauravania sends Madame Tcharnovetski a command to leave his kingdom, sinc_e 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 Clopi_till sat with his jabbering parakeets, then flashed back to Cleek, and—sh_aughed 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, welcom_ thousand times. The paper, my friend; you have brought it? Good! Give it t_e. Madame, your passport—yours and your associates'. You leave Mauravania b_he midnight train, and you have but little time to pack your effects. You_assport, madame, and—your bedroom candle. Oh, yes, the paper is still roun_t—see!" slipping off a sheet of note paper that was wrapped round the ful_ength 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 whe_ put this in its place."
"You what?" she snapped; then caught the tube-shaped covering he had strippe_rom the candle, uncurled it, and—screamed.
"Blank, madame, quite blank, you see," said Cleek serenely. "For one so cleve_n other things, you should have been more careful. A little pinch of powde_n the punch at dinner-time—just that—and on the first night, too! It was s_asy afterward to get into your room, remove the real paper, and wrap th_andle 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 excit_ourself—don't pull at the poor wretch like that. The glass eye will come ou_uite easily, but—I assure you there is only a small lump of beeswax in th_ocket now. I removed the Rainbow Pearl from poor Monsieur Clopin's blind ey_en minutes after I burnt the letter, madame, and—it passed out of this hous_o-night! A clever idea to pick up a one-eyed pauper, madame, and hide th_earl in the empty socket of the lost eye, but—it was too bad, you had t_upply a glass eye to keep it in, after the lid and the socket had withere_nd 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 i_ut; and, what is an added misfortune for your plans, the glass shell did no_llow you to see the change when the pearl vanished and the bit of beeswa_ook its place. Madame Tcharnovetski, your passport. I know enough of the Kin_f Mauravania to be sure that your life will not be safe if you are not pas_he frontier before daybreak!"
* * * * *
"Monsieur le comte—no! I thank you, but I cannot wait to be presented to hi_ajesty, for I, too, leave Mauravania to-night, and, like Madame yonder, return to other and more promising fields," said Cleek, an hour later, as h_tood on the terrace of the Villa Irma and watched the slow progress down th_oonlit avenue of the carriage which was bearing Madame Tcharnovetski and he_ffects to the railway station. "Give me the cheque, please; I have earne_hat, and—there is good use for it. I thank you, Count. Now do an act o_harity, my friend: give the little dog in the stable a good meal, and the_ave a surgeon chloroform him into a peaceful and merciful death. They wil_ind the Rainbow Pearl in his intestines when they come to dissect the body. _tarved him, Count—starved him purposely, poor little wretch, so that he coul_e 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 o_eef extract over the surface of the pearl was sufficient; he swallowed it i_ gulp! For a double reason, Count, there should be a cur quartered on th_oyal arms of this country after to-night."
His voice dropped off into silence. The carriage containing madame had swun_ut through the gateway, and its shadow no longer blotted the broad, unbroke_pace of moonlit avenue. He turned and looked far out, over the square of th_quisola, along the light-lined esplanade, to the palace gates and th_luttering flag that streamed against the sky above and beyond them.
"Oh, Mauravania!" he said. "An Englishman's heritage! Dear country, ho_eautiful! My love to your Queen—my prayers for you."
"Monsieur!" exclaimed the Count, "monsieur, what juggle is this? Your face i_gain the face of that other night—the face that stirs memory yet does no_ivet 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 o_esolated hopes, dear grave of murdered joys!"
"Hush! Let me alone. There are things too sacred; and this—" His hands reache_utward 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 looke_own, 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 i_auravania before, my friend."
"I know—I know. How should you. Majesty, when it was as a child at Quee_arma'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 you_ospitality. You are a little upset to-night, but no doubt you will be al_ight again in the morning. I will walk to the station and—alone, if it is al_he same to you."
"Dreams, Count, dreams. The riddle is solved, my friend. Good luck to you_ountry 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—t_ngland—and to those things which are higher than crowns and better tha_ceptres and more precious than thrones and ermine.