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   Chapter 15 No.15

Cleek: the Man of the Forty Faces By Thomas W. Hanshew Characters: 10675

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

It was late on the afternoon of the day following when he turned up at Clarges Street and threw Dollops into a very transport of delight at the bare sight of him.

"Crumbs, Gov'nor, but I am glad to see you, sir!" said the boy, with a look of positive adoration. "A fish out o' water ain't a patch to wot I've felt like-Lord, no! Why, sir, it's the first time you've ever been away from me since you took me on; and the dreams I've had is enough to drive a body fair dotty. I've seen parties a-stickin' knives in your back and puttin' poison in your food and doin' the Lord knows wot not to you, sir; and every blessed nerve in my body has been a doin' of a constant shake-like a jelly-fish on a cold day."

Cleek laughed, and catching him by the shoulder whirled him round, looked at him, and then clapped him on the back.

"Look here, don't you get to worrying and to developing nerves, young man," he said, "or I shall have to ship you off somewhere for a long rest; and I'm just beginning to feel as if I couldn't do without you. What you want is a change; and what I want is the river, so, if there is no message from The Yard-"

"There isn't, sir."

"Good. Then 'phone through to Mr. Narkom and tell him that you and I are going for a few days up the river as far as Henley, and that we are going to break it on Wednesday to go to the Derby."

"Gov'nor! Gawd's truth, sir, you aren't never a-goin' to give me two sich treats as that? From now till Thursday with jist you-jist you, sir? I'll go balmy on the crumpet-I'll get to stickin' straws in my bloomin' 'air!"

"You 'get to' the telephone and send that message to The Yard, if you know when you're well off," said Cleek, laughing. "And, after that, out with the kit bag and in with such things as we shall need; and-Hullo! what's this thing?"

"A necktie and a rose bush wot I took the liberty of buyin' for you, sir, bein' as you give me ten shillin's for myself," said Dollops sheepishly. "I been a-keepin' of my eye on that rose bush and that necktie for a week past, sir. I 'ope you'll take 'em, Gov'nor, and not think me presumin', sir."

Cleek faced round and looked at him-a long look-without saying anything, then he screwed round on his heel and walked to the window.

"It is very nice and very thoughtful of you, Dollops," he said presently, his voice a little thick, his tones a little uneven. "But don't be silly and waste your money, my lad. Lay it by. You may need it one day. Now toddle on and get things ready for our outing." But afterwards-when the boy had gone and he was alone in the room-he walked back to the potted rose bush and touched its buds lovingly, and stood leaning over it and saying nothing for a long time. And though the necktie that hung on its branches was a harlequin thing of red and green and violent purple, when he came to dress for that promised outing he put it on and adjusted it as tenderly, wore it as proudly as ever knight of old wore the colours of his lady.

"You look a fair treat in it, sir," said Dollops, delightedly and admiringly, when he came in later and saw that he had it on. And if anything had been wanting to make him quite, quite happy, it was wanting no more. Or, if it had been, the night that came down and found them housed in a little old-world inn, with a shining river at its door and the hush and the odorous darkness of the country lanes about it, must of itself have supplied the omission; for when all the house was still and all the lights were out, he crept from his bed and curled up like a dog on the mat before Cleek's door, and would not have changed places with an emperor.

They were up and on the river, master and man, almost as soon as the dawn itself; taking their morning plunge under a sky that was but just changing the tints of rose to those of saffron before they merged into the actual light of day; and to the boy the man seemed almost a god in that dim light, which showed but an ivory shoulder lifting now and again as he struck outwards and deft his way through a yielding, yellow-grey waste that leaped in little lilac-hued ripples to his chin, and thence wavered off behind him in dancing lines of light. And once, when he heard him lift up his voice and sing as he swam, he felt sure that he must be a god-that that alone could explain why he had found him so different from other men, and cared for him as he had never cared for any human thing before.

From dawn to dark that day was one of unalloyed delight to him. Never before had the starved soul of him-fed, all his life, when it was fed at all, from the drippings of the flesh-pots and the "leavings" of the City-found any savour in the insipid offerings of the Country; never before had he known what charms lie on a river's breast, what spells of magic a blossoming hedge and the white "candles" of a horse-chestnut tree may weave, and never before had a meadow been anything to him but a simple grass-grown field. To-day Nature-through this man who was so essentially bred in the very womb of her-spoke to his understanding and found her words not lost on air. The dormant things within the boy had awakened. Life spoke; Hope sang; and between them all the world was changed. Yesterday, he had looked upon this day of idling in the country as a pleasant interlude, as a happy prologue to t

hose greater delights that would come when he at last went to Epsom and really saw the famous race for the Derby. To-day, he was sorry that anything-even so great a thing as that-must come to disturb such placid happiness as this.

And yet, when the wondrous "Wednesday" came and he was actually on his way to Epsom Downs at last … Ah, well, Joy is elastic; Youth is a time of many dreams, and who blames a boy for being delighted that one of them is coming true at last?

Cleek did not, at all events. Indeed, Cleek aided and abetted him in all his boisterous outbursts from first to last; and was quite as excited as he when the event of the meeting-the great race for the famous Derby Stakes-was put up at last. Indeed, he was a bit wilder, if anything, than the boy himself when the flag fell and the whole field swept by in one thunderous rush, with Minnow in the lead and Black Riot far and away behind. Nor did his excitement abate when, as the whole cavalcade swung onwards over the green turf with the yelling thousands waving and shouting about it, Sir Henry Wilding's mare began to lessen that lead, and foot by foot to creep up towards the head.

He shouted then-as wildly as Dollops himself, as wildly as any man present. He jumped up on his seat and waved his hat; he thumped Dollops on the back and cried: "She's creeping up! She's creeping up! Stick to it, old chap, stick to it! Give her her head, you fool! She'll do it-by God, she'll do it! Hurrah! Hurrah!" And was shouted down, and even seized and pulled down by others whose view he obstructed, and whose interest and excitement were as great as his.

Onwards they flew, horses and riders, the whole pounding, mixing, ever-changing mass of them; jackets and caps of every hue flashing here and there-now in a huddled mass, now with this one in the lead, and again with that: a vast, ever-moving, ever-altering kaleidoscope that was, presently, hidden entirely from the main mass of the onlookers, by the surging crowd, the mass of drags and carriages of all sorts in the huge square of the central enclosure, and most of all by the people who stood up on seats and wheels and even the tops of the vehicles. Then, for a little time, the roars came from a distance only-from those in the enclosure who alone could see-then neared and neared and grew in volume, as the unseen racers pounded onward and came pelting up the long stretch toward Tattenham Corner. And by and bye they swung into view again-still a huddled mass, still so closely packed together that the positions of the individual horses was a matter of uncertainty-but always the roaring sound went on and always it came nearer and nearer, until a thousand voices took it up at the foot of the grand stand, and other thousands bellowed it up and up from tier to tier to the very roof.

For, of a sudden, that blaze of caps and jackets, that huddle of horses red and horses grey, horses black and horses roan, piebald, white-every colour that a horse may be-had come at last to Tattenham Corner and burst into the full view of everybody. Yet, as they came, a black mare, hugging the railed enclosure on the inner side of the sweep, arrowed forward with a sudden spurt, came like a rocket to the fore, and all the earth and all the sky seemed to ring with the cry: "Wilding! Wilding! Black Riot leads! Black Riot leads!"

She did-and kept it to the end!

In half a minute her number was up, yelling thousands were tumbling out upon the field to cheer her, to cheer her rider, to cheer her proud owner when he came out to lead her to the paddock and the weighing room, and to feel in that moment the proudest and the happiest man in England; and of those, not the least excited and delighted was Cleek.

Carried away by enthusiasm, he had risen again in his seat and, with his hat held aloft upon a walking stick, was waving and stamping and shouting enthusiastically: "Black Riot wins! Black Riot! Black Riot! Bully boy! Bully boy!"

And so he was still shouting when he felt a hand touch him, and looking round saw Mr. Narkom.

"Ripping, wasn't it, old chap?" said the superintendent. "No wonder you are excited, considering what interest you have. Been looking for you, my dear fellow. Knew of course, from your telling me, that you would be here to-day, but shouldn't have been able to identify you but for the presence of young Dollops here. I say: you're not going to stop now that the great race is over, are you? The rest won't amount to anything."

"No, I shall not stop," said Cleek. "Why? Do you want me?"

"Yes. Lennard's outside with the limousine. Hop into it, will you, and meet me at the Fiddle and Horseshoe, between Shepherd's Bush and Acton? It's only half-past three and the limousine can cover the distance in less than no time. Can't go with you. Got to round up my men here, first. Join you shortly, however. McTavish has a sixty-horse-power Mercedes, and he'll rush me over almost on your heels. Let Dollops go home by train, and you meet me as I've asked, will you?"

"Yes," said Cleek.

And so the joyous holiday came to an unexpected end.

Parting from Dollops, and leaving the boy to journey on to Clarges Street alone, he fared forth to find Lennard and the red limousine, and was whirled away in record time to the inn of the Fiddle and Horseshoe.

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