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Chapter 38

  • 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!"
  • "Monsieur!"
  • "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."
  • "Majesty!"
  • "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.