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   Chapter 29 No.29

Cleek: the Man of the Forty Faces By Thomas W. Hanshew Characters: 14181

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

The promise was so vague, so mystifying, indeed, so seemingly absurd, that the Major did not allow himself to dwell upon it. As a matter of fact, it passed completely out of his mind; nor did it again find lodgment there until it was forced back upon his memory in a most unusual manner.

Whatsoever had been the result of what Cleek had called his "night prowling," he took nobody into his confidence when he and the Major and the Major's son and Se?orita Rosario met at breakfast the next day (Zuilika, true to her training and the traditions of her people, never broke morning bread save in the seclusion of her own bed-chamber, and then on her knees with her face towards the east) nor did he allude to it at any period throughout the day.

He seemed, indeed, purposely, to avoid the Major, and to devote himself to the Spanish woman with an ardour that was positively heartless, considering that as they two sang and flirted and played several sets of singles on the tennis court, Zuilika, like a spirit of misery, kept walking, walking, walking through the halls and the rooms of the house, her woeful eyes fixed on the carpet, her henna-stained fingers constantly locking and unlocking, and moans of desolation coming now and again from behind her yashmak as her swaying body moved restlessly to and fro. For to-day was memorable. Five weeks ago this coming nightfall Ulchester had flung himself out of this house in a fury of wrath, and this time of bitter regret and ceaseless mourning had begun.

"She will go out of her mind, poor creature, if something cannot be done to keep her from dwelling on her misery like this," commented the housekeeper, coming upon that restless figure pacing the darkened hall, moaning, moaning-seeing nothing, hearing nothing, doing nothing but walk and sorrow, sorrow and walk, hour in and hour out. "It's enough to tear a body's heart to hear her, poor dear. And that good-for-nothing Spanish piece racing and shrieking round the tennis court like a she tom-cat, the heartless hussy. Her and that simpering silly that's trotting round after her had ought to be put in a bag and shaken up, that they ought. It's downright scandalous to be carrying on like that at such a time."

And so both the Major and his son thought too, and tried their best to solace the lonely mourner and to persuade her to sit down and rest.

"Zuilika, you will wear yourself out, child, if you go on walking like this," said the Major solicitously. "Do rest and be at peace for a little time at least."

"I can never have peace in this land-I can never forget the day!" she answered drearily. "Oh, my beloved! Oh, my lord, it was I who sent thee to it-it was I, it was I! Give me my own country-give me the gods of my people; here there is only memory and pain, and no rest, no rest ever!"

She could not be persuaded to sit down and rest until Anita herself took the matter into her own hands and insisted that she should. That was at tea-time. Anita, showing some little trace of feeling now that Cleek had gone to wash his hands and was no longer there to occupy her thoughts, placed a deep, soft chair near the window, and would not yield until the violet-clad figure of the mourner sank down into the depths of it and leaned back with its shrouded face drooping in silent melancholy.

And it was while she was so sitting that Cleek came into the room and did a most unusual, a most ungentlemanly thing, in the eyes of the Major and his son.

Without hesitating, he walked to within a yard or two of where she was sitting, and then, in the silliest of silly tones, blurted out suddenly: "I say, don't you know, I've had a jolly rum experience. You know that blessed room at the angle just opposite the library-the one with the locked door?"

The drooping, violet figure straightened abruptly, and the Major felt for the moment as if he could have kicked Cleek with pleasure. Of course they knew the room. It was there that the two mummy cases were kept, sacred from the profaning presence of any but this stricken woman. No wonder that she bent forward, full of eagerness, full of the dreadful fear that Frankish feet had crossed the threshold, Frankish eyes looked within the sacred shrine.

"Well, don't you know," went on Cleek, without taking the slightest notice of anything, "just as I was going past that door I picked up a most remarkable thing. Wonder if it's yours, madam?" glancing at Zuilika. "Just have a look at it, will you? Here, catch!" And not until he saw a piece of gold spin through the air and fall into Zuilika's lap did the Major remember that promise of last night.

"Oh, come, I say, St. Aubyn, that's rather thick!" sang out young

Burnham-Seaforth indignantly, as Zuilika caught the coin in her lap.

"Blest if I know what you call manners, but to throw things at a lady is

a new way of passing them in this part of the world, I can assure you."

"Awfully sorry, old chap, no offence, I assure you," said Cleek, more asinine than ever, as Zuilika, having picked up the piece and looked at it, disclaimed all knowledge of it, and laid it on the edge of the table without any further interest in it or him. "Just to show, you know, that I-er-couldn't have meant anything disrespectful, why-er-you all know, don't you know, how jolly much I respect Se?orita Rosario, by Jove! and so-Here, se?orita, you catch, too, and see if the blessed thing's yours." And, picking up the coin, tossed it into her lap just as he had done with Zuilika.

She, too, caught it and examined it, and laughingly shook her head.

"No-not mine!" she said. "I have not seen him before. To the finder shall be the keep. Come, sit here. Will you have the tea?"

"Yes, thanks," said Cleek; then dropped down on the sofa beside her, and took tea as serenely as though there were no such things in the world as murder and swindling and puzzling police-riddles to solve.

And the Major, staring at him, was as amazed as ever. He had said, last night, that when the coin fell the answer would be given-and yet it had fallen, and nothing had happened, and he was laughing and flirting with Se?orita Rosario as composedly and as persistently as ever. More than that; after he had finished his second cup of tea, and immediately following the sound of someone just beyond the verandah rail whistling the lively, lilting measures of "There's a Girl Wanted There"-the "silly ass" seemed to become a thousand times sillier than ever; for he forthwith set down his cup, and, turning to Anita, said with an inane sort of giggle, "I say, you know, here's a lark. Let's have a game of 'Slap Hand,' you and I-what? Know it, don't you? You try to slap my hands, and I try to slap yours, and whichever succeeds in doing it first gets a prize. Awful fun, don't you know. Come on-start her up."

And, Anita agreeing, they fell forthwith to slapping away at the backs of each other's hands with great gusto, until, all of a sudden, the whistler outside gave one loud, shrill note, and-there was a great and mighty change.

Those who were watchin

g saw Anita's two hands suddenly caught, heard a sharp, metallic "click," and saw them as suddenly dropped again to the accompaniment of a shrill little scream from her ashen lips, and the next moment Cleek had risen and jumped away from her side-clear across to where Zuilika was; and those who were watching saw Anita jump up with a pair of steel handcuffs on her wrists, just as Dollops vaulted up over the verandah rail and appeared at one window, whilst Petrie appeared at another, Hammond poked his body through a third, and the opening door gave entrance to Superintendent Narkom.

"The police!" shrilled out Anita in a panic of fright. "Madre de Dios, the police!"

The Major and his son were on their feet like a shot; Zuilika, with a faint, startled cry, bounded bolt upright, like an imp shot through a trap-door; but before the little henna-stained hands could do more than simply move, Cleek's arms went round her from behind, tight and fast as a steel clamp, there was another metallic "click," another shrill cry, and another pair of wrists were in gyves.

"Come in, Mr. Narkom; come in, constables," said Cleek, with the utmost composure. "Here are your promised prisoners-nicely trussed, you see, so that they can't get at the little popguns they carry-and a worse pair of rogues never went into the hands of Jack Ketch!"

"And Jack Ketch will get them, Cleek, if I know anything about it. Your hazard was right. I've examined the caliph's mummy-case; the mummy itself has been removed-destroyed-done away with utterly-and the poor creature's body is there!"

And here the poor, dumfounded, utterly bewildered Major found voice to speak at last.

"Mummy-case! Body! Dear God in heaven, Mr. Cleek, what are you hinting at?" he gasped. "You-you don't mean that she-that Zuilika-killed him?"

"No, Major, I don't," he made reply. "I simply mean that he killed her! The body in the mummy-case is the body of Zuilika, the caliph's daughter! This is the creature you have been wasting your pity on-see!"

With that he laid an intense grip on the concealing yashmak, tore it away, and so revealed the close-shaven, ghastly-hued countenance of the cornered criminal.

"My God!-Ulchester-Ulchester himself!" said the Major in a voice of fright and surprise.

"Yes, Ulchester himself, Major. In a few more days he'd have withdrawn the money, and got out of the country, body and all, if he hadn't been nabbed, the rascal. There'd have been no tracing the crime then; and he and the Se?orita here would have been in clover for the rest of their natural lives. But there's always that bright little bit of Bobby Burns to be reckoned with. You know: 'The best laid schemes of mice and men,' et cetera-that bit. But the Yard's got them, and-they'll never leave the country now. Take them, Mr. Narkom, they're yours!"

* * * * *

"How did I guess it?" said Cleek, replying to the Major's query, as they sat late that night discussing the affair. "Well, I think the first faint inkling of it came when I arrived here yesterday, and smelt the overpowering odour of the incenses. There was so much of it, and it was used so frequently-twice a day-that it seemed to suggest an attempt to hide other odours of a less pleasant kind. When I left you last night, Dollops and I went down to the mummy-chamber, and a skeleton key soon let us in. The unpleasant odour was rather pronounced in there. But even that didn't give me the cue, until I happened to find in the fireplace a considerable heap of fine ashes, and in the midst of them small lumps of gummy substance, which I knew to result from the burning of myrrh. I suspected from that and from the nature of the ashes that a mummy had been burnt, and as there was only one mummy in the affair, the inference was obvious. I laid hands on the two cases and tilted them. One was quite empty. The weight of the other told me that it contained something a little heavier than any mummy ought to be. I came to the conclusion that there was a body in it, injected full of arsenic, no doubt, to prevent as much as possible the processes of decay, the odour of which the incense was concealing. I didn't attempt to open the thing; I left that until the arrival of the men from The Yard, for whom I sent Dollops this afternoon. I had a vague notion that it would not turn out to be Ulchester's, and I had also a distinct recollection of what you said about his being able to mimic a Gaiety chorus-girl and all that sort of thing, and the more I thought over it, the more I realized what an excellent thing to cover a bearded face a yashmak is. Still, it was all hazard. I wasn't sure-indeed, I never was sure-until tea-time, when I caught this supposed 'Zuilika' sitting at last, and gave the spade guinea its chance to decide it."

"But, Mr. Cleek, how could it have decided it? That's the thing which amazes me most of all. How could the tossing of that coin have decided the sex of the wearer of those garments?"

"My dear Major, it is an infallible test. Did you ever notice that if you throw anything for a man to catch in his lap, he pulls his knees together to make a lap in order to catch it; whereas a woman-used to wearing skirts and, thereby, having a lap already prepared-immediately broadens that lap by the exactly opposite movement, knowing that whatever is thrown has no chance of slipping through and falling to the floor. When I tossed the coin to Ulchester, he instinctively jerked his knees together. That settled it, of course. And now, if you won't mind my saying it, I'm a bit sleepy and it is about time I took myself off to home and bed."

"But not at this late hour, surely? You will never catch a train."

"I shan't need one, Major. They are holding a horse and trap ready for me at the stables of the 'Coach and Horses.' Mr. Narkom promised to look out for that, and-I beg pardon? No, I can't stop over night. Thank you for the invitation, but Dollops would raise half London if I didn't turn up after promising to do so."

"I should have thought you might have simplified matters and obviated that by keeping the boy when you had him here," said the Major. "We could easily have found a place to put him up for the night."

"Thanks very much, but I wouldn't interrupt the course of his studies for the world," replied Cleek. "I've found an old chap-an ex-schoolmaster, down on his luck and glad for the chance to turn an honest penny-who takes him on every night from eight to ten; and the young monkey is so eager and is absorbing knowledge at such a rate that he positively amazes me. But now, really, it must be good-night. The boy will be waiting and I must hear his lessons before I go to bed."

"Not surely when you are so tired as you say?"

"Never too tired for that, Major. It makes me sleep better and sounder to know that the lad's getting on and that I've cheated the Devil in just one more instance. Good-night and good luck to you. It's a bully old world after all, isn't it, Major?" Then laughed and shook hands with him and fared forth into the starlight, whistling.

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