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   Chapter 23 No.23

Cleek: the Man of the Forty Faces By Thomas W. Hanshew Characters: 5829

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

It was midnight and after. In the close-curtained library of Chepstow House, Cleek, with his little lordship sleeping in his arms, sat in solemn conclave with Lady Chepstow, Captain Hawksley, and Maverick Narkom; and while they talked, Ailsa, like a restless spirit, wandered to and fro, now lifting the curtains to peep out into the darkness, now listening as if her whole life's hope lay in the coming of some expected sound. And in her veins there burned a fever of suspense.

"So you failed to get the rascals, did you, Mr. Narkom?" Cleek was saying. "I feared as much; but I couldn't get word to you sooner. We injured the machine in that mad race to the mill, and of course we had to come at a snail's pace afterwards. I'm sorry we didn't get Margot-sorrier still that that hound Merode got away. They are bound to make more trouble before the race is run. Not for her ladyship, however, and not for this dear little chap. Their troubles are at an end, and the sacred son will be a sacred son no longer."

"Oh, Mr. Cleek, do tell me what you mean," implored Lady Chepstow. "Do tell me how-"

"Doctor Fordyce, at last!" struck in Ailsa excitedly, as the door-bell and knocker clashed and the butler's swift footsteps went along the hall. "Now we shall know, Mr. Cleek-oh, now we shall know for certain!"

"And so shall all the world," he replied as the door opened and the doctor was ushered into the room. "I don't think you were ever so welcome anywhere or at any time before, doctor," he added with a smile. "Come and look at this little chap. Bonny little specimen of a Britisher, isn't he?"

"Yes; but my dear sir, I-I was under the impression that I was called to a scene of excitement; and you seem as peaceful as Eden here. The constable who came for me said it was something to do with Scotland Yard."

"So it is, doctor. I had Mr. Narkom send for you to perform a very trifling but most important operation upon his little lordship here."

"Upon Cedric!" exclaimed Lady Chepstow, rising in a panic of alarm. "An operation to be performed upon my baby boy? Oh, Mr. Cleek, in the name of Heaven-"

"No, your ladyship, in the name of Buddha. Don't be alarmed. It is only to be a trifling cut-a mere re-opening of that little wound in the thigh which you dressed and healed so successfully at Trincomalee. You made a mistake, all of you, that night when the boy was shot. The native poor Ferralt saw skulking along with the gun was not a mere tribesman and had not the very faintest thought of discharging that weapon at your little son, or, indeed, at anybody else in the world. He was the High Priest Seydama, guardian of the Holy Tooth-the one living being who dared by right to touch it or to lay hands upon the shrine that contained it. Fearful, when the false rumour of that intended loot was circulated, that infidel eyes should look upon it, infidel hands profane the sacred reli

c, he determined to remove it from Dambool to the rock-hewn temple of Galwihara and to enshrine it there. For the purpose of giving no clue to his movements, he chose to abandon his priestly vestments, to disguise himself as a common tribesman, and, the better to defeat the designs of any who might penetrate that disguise and endeavour to take the sacred relic from him and hold it for ransom, he hid the Holy Tooth in the barrel of a gun. That gun was in his hands, your ladyship, when Ferralt rushed out and brained him."

"In his hands? Oh, Mr. Cleek, then-then-" Her voice all but failed her as a sudden realization came. "That relic, that fetish! If it was in that gun at that time, then it is now-"

"Embedded in the fleshy part of the boy's thigh," said Cleek, finishing the sentence for her. "Inclosed, doubtless, in a sac or cyst which Mother Nature has wrapped round it, the tooth is there-in your little son's body; and for five whole years he has been the living shrine that held it!"

It was quite true-as events rapidly and completely proved.

Ten minutes later, the trifling operation was concluded; the boy lay whimpering in his mother's arms and the long-lost relic was on the surgeon's palm.

"Take it, Captain Hawksley," said Cleek, lifting it between his thumb and forefinger and carrying it to him. "There is a man in Soho-one Arjeeb Noosrut-who will know it when he sees it; and there is a vast reward. Five lacs of rupees will pay off no end of debts, my friend; and a man with that balance at his banker's can't be thought a mere fortune-hunter when he asks for the hand of the woman he loves."

The Captain didn't ask for his, however-he simply jumped up and grabbed it.

"By George, you're a brick!" he said, with something uneven in his voice-something that was like laughter and tears all jumbled up together; then he glanced over at Lady Chepstow, and flushed, and floundered, and stammered confusedly, but went on shaking Cleek's hand all the time. "It's ripping of you-it's bully, dear chap, but-I say, you know, it isn't fair. It's jolly uneven. You found out. You ought at least to have a share in the reward."

"Not I," said Cleek, with an airy laugh. "Like the fellow who was born with a third leg, 'I have no use for it,' Captain. But if you really want to give any part of it away, bank a thousand to the credit of my boy Dollops to be turned over to him when he's twenty-one. And you might make Mr. Narkom, and, if she will accept the post, Miss Lorne, his trustees."

Miss Lorne faced round and looked at him; and even from that distance he could see that her mouth was moving tremulously and there was something shining in the corner of her eye.

"I accept that position with pleasure, Mr. Cleek," she said. "It is the act of a man and-a gentleman. Thank you! Thank you." And came down the long length of the room with her hand outstretched to take his.

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