Read CHAPTER XXVIII of Cleek: the Man of the Forty Faces, free online book, by Thomas W. Hanshew, on ReadCentral.com.

When, next morning, Major Burnham-Seaforth announced the dilemma in which, through his own house being temporarily closed, he found himself owing to the proposed visit of Lieutenant Rupert St. Aubyn, son of an old army friend, Zuilika was the first to suggest the very thing he was fishing for.

“Ah, let him come here, dear friend,” she said in that sad, sweetly modulated voice which so often wrung this susceptible old heart. “There is plenty of room! plenty, alas now and any friend of yours can only be a friend of mine. He will not annoy. Let him come here.”

“Yes, let him,” supplemented young Burnham-Seaforth, speaking with his eyes on Senorita Rosario, who seemed nervous and ill-pleased by the news of the expected arrival. “He won’t have to be entertained by us if he only comes to see the pater; and we can easily crowd him aside if he tries to thrust himself upon us a fellow with a name like ’Rupert St. Aubyn’ is bound to be a silly ass.” And when, in the late afternoon, “Lieutenant Rupert St. Aubyn,” in the person of Cleek, arrived with his snubnosed manservant, a kit-bag, several rugs and a bundle of golf sticks, young Burnham-Seaforth saw no reason to alter that assertion. For, a “silly ass” albeit an unusually handsome one with his fair, curling hair and his big blonde moustache he certainly was; a lisping “ha-ha-ing” “don’t-cher-knowing” silly ass, whom the presence of ladies seemed to cover with confusion and drive into a very panic of shy embarrassment.

“Dios! but he is handsome, this big, fair lieutenant!” whispered the Spaniard to young Burnham-Seaforth. “A great, handsome fool all beauty and no brains, like a doll of wax!” Then she bent over and murmured smilingly to Zuilika: “I shall make a bigger nincompoop of this big, fair sap-head than Heaven already has done before he leaves here, just for the sake of seeing him stammer and blush!”

Only the sad expression of Zuilika’s eyes told that she so much as heard, as she rose to greet the visitor. Garbed from head to foot in the deep violet-coloured stuff which is the mourning of Turkish women, her little pointed slippers showing beneath the hem of her frock, and only her dark, mournful eyes visible between the top of the shrouding yashmak and the edge of her sequined snood, she made a pathetic picture as she stood there waiting to greet the unknown visitor.

“Sir, you are welcome you are most welcome,” she said in a voice whose modulations were not lost upon Cleek’s ears as he put forth his hand and received the tips of her little, henna-stained fingers upon his palm. “Peace be with you, who are of his people he that I loved and mourn!” Then, as if overcome with grief at the recollection of her widowhood, she plucked away her hand, covered her eyes, and moved staggeringly out of the room. And Cleek saw no more of her that day; but he knew when she performed her orisons before the mummy case as she did each morning and evening by the strong, pungent odour of incense drifting through the house and filling it with a sickly scent.

Her absence seemed to make but little impression upon him, however; for, following up a well-defined plan of action, he devoted himself wholly to the Spanish woman, and both amazed her and gratified her vanity by allowing her to learn that a man may be the silliest ass imaginable and yet quite understand how to flirt and to make love to a woman. And so it fell out that instead of “Lieutenant Rupert St. Aubyn” being elbowed out by young Burnham-Seaforth, it was “Lieutenant St. Aubyn” who elbowed him out; and without being in the least aware of it, the flattered Anita, like an adroitly hooked trout, was being “played” in and out and round about the eddies and the deeps until the angler had her quite ready for the final dip of the net at the landing point.

All this was to accomplish exactly what it did accomplish, namely, the ill temper, the wrath, the angry resentment of young Burnham-Seaforth. And when the evening had passed and bedtime arrived, Cleek took his candle and retired in the direction of the rooms set apart for him, with the certainty of knowing that he had done that which would this very night prove beyond all question the guilt or innocence of one person at least who was enmeshed in this mysterious tangle. He was not surprised, therefore, at what followed his next step.

Reaching the upper landing he blew out the light of his candle, slammed the door to his own room, noisily turned the key, and shot the bolt of another, then tiptoed his way back to the staircase and looked down the well-hole into the lower hall.

Zuilika had retired to her room, the Major had retired to his, and now Anita was taking up her candle to retire to hers. She had barely touched it, however, when there came a sound of swift footsteps and young Burnham-Seaforth lurched out of the drawing-room door and joined her. He was in a state of great excitement and was breathing hard.

“Anita Miss Rosario!” he began, plucking her by the sleeve and uplifting a pale, boyish face he was not yet twenty-two to hers with a look of abject misery. “I want to speak to you I simply must speak to you. I’ve been waiting for the chance, and now that it’s come Look here! You’re not going back on me, are you?”

“Going back on you?” repeated Anita, showing her pretty white teeth in an amused smile. “What shall you mean by that ’going back on you’ eh? You are a stupid little donkey, to be sure. But then I do not care to get on the back of one so why?”

“Oh, you know very well what I mean,” he rapped out angrily. “It is not fair the way you have been treating me ever since that yellow-headed bounder came. I’ve had a night of misery Zuilika never showing herself; you doing nothing, absolutely nothing, although you promised you know you did! and I heard you, I absolutely heard you persuade that St. Aubyn fool to stop at least another night.”

“Yes, of course you did. But what of it? He is good company he talks well, he sings well, he is very handsome and well, what difference can it make to you? You are not interested in me, amigo?”

“No, no; of course I’m not. You are nothing to me at all you Oh, I beg your pardon; I didn’t quite mean that. I I mean you are nothing to me in that way. But you you’re not keeping to your word. You promised, you know, that you’d use your influence with Zuilika; that you’d get her to be more kind to me to see me alone and and all that sort of thing. And you’ve not made a single attempt not one. You’ve just sat round and flirted with that tow-headed brute and done nothing at all to help me on; and and it’s jolly unkind of you, that’s what!”

Cleek heard Anita’s soft rippling laughter; but he waited to hear no more. Moving swiftly away from the well-hole of the staircase he passed on tiptoe down the hall to the Major’s rooms, and, opening the door, went in. The old soldier was standing, with arms folded, at the window looking silently out into the darkness of the night. He turned at the sound of the door’s opening and moved toward Cleek with a white, agonised face and a pair of shaking, outstretched hands.

“Well?” he said with a sort of gasp.

“My dear Major,” said Cleek quietly. “The wisest of men are sometimes mistaken that is my excuse for my own short-sightedness. I said in the beginning that his was either a case of swindling or a case of murder, did I not? Well, I now amend my verdict. It is a case of swindling and murder; and your son has had nothing to do with either!”

“Oh, thank God! thank God!” the old man said; then sat down suddenly and dropped his face between his hands and was still for a long time. When he looked up again his eyes were red, but his lips were smiling.

“If you only knew what a relief it is,” he said. “If you only knew how much I have suffered, Mr. Cleek. His friendship with that Spanish woman; his going with her to identify the body even assisting in its hurried burial! These things all seemed so frightfully black so utterly without any explanation other than personal guilt.”

“Yet they are all easily explained, Major. His friendship for the Spanish woman is merely due to a promise to intercede for him with Zuilika. She is his one aim and object, poor little donkey! As for his identification of the body well, if the widow herself could find points of undisputed resemblance, why not he? A nervous, excitable, impetuous boy like that and anxious, too, that the lady of his heart should be freed from the one thing, the one man, whose existence made her everlastingly unattainable why, in the hands of a clever woman like Anita Rosario such a chap could be made to identify anything and to believe it as religiously as he believes. Now, go to bed and rest easy, Major. I’m going to call up Dollops and do a little night prowling. If it turns out as I hope, this little riddle will be solved to-morrow.”

“But how, Mr. Cleek? It seems to me that it is as dark as ever. You put my poor old head in a whirl. You say there is swindling; you hint one moment that the body was not that of Ulchester, and in the next that murder has been done. Do, pray, tell me what it all means what you make of this amazing case.”

“I’ll do that to-morrow, Major; not to-night. The answer to the riddle the answer that’s in my mind, I mean is at once so simple and yet so appallingly awful that I’ll hazard no guess until I’m sure. Look here” he put his hand into his pocket and pulled out a gold piece “do you know what that is, Major?”

“It looks like a spade guinea, Mr. Cleek.”

“Right; it is a spade guinea a pocket piece I’ve carried for years. You’ve heard, no doubt, of vital things turning upon the tossing of a coin. Well, if you see me toss this coin to-morrow, something of that sort will occur. It will be tossed up in the midst of a riddle, Major; when it comes down it will be a riddle no longer.”

Then he opened the door, closed it after him, and, before the Major could utter a word, was gone.