The Mystery of the Shriveled Hand
The Mystery of the Shriveled Hand
THE STRANGE STORY OF THE VENGEANCE OF THE WHITE SHEIK OF TANTA
By Sax Rohmer
WE were back in Cairo again, and the conversation drifted into many channels. All sorts of topics were discussed, from racing to the latest feminine fashions, from ballroom dances to the mysteries of the Great Pyramid.
"What became of Adderley?" Jennings suddenly asked.
Several men in the party had been cronies during the time we were stationed in Cairo, and at Jennings's words a sort of hush seemed to fall on those who had known Adderley. I cannot say whether Jennings noticed this, but it was perfectly evident to me that Dr. Matheson, the big-hearted, boyish American, had perceived it, for he glanced swiftly across in my direction in an oddly significant way.
"T don't know," replied Burton, who was an irrigation man. "He was rather an unsavory sort of character in some ways, but I heard that he came to a sticky end."
"You mean Sidney Adderley, the man who was so indecently rich?" some one interjected. "Had a place out at Gezireh, and was always talking about his father's millions?"
"That's the fellow," said Jennings. "There was some scandal, I know, but it was after my time here. Was there really anything in that story, or was it suggested by Adderley's unpleasant reputation?"
"Well" replied Burton, "it's really a sort of fairy tale, unless Marriott"—he glanced across in my direction—"can confirm it. But there was a story current during the latter part of Adderley's stay in Cairo to the effect that he had made the acquaintance of the wife, or some member of the household, of an old gentleman out Tanta way—a sort of Moslem saint, or welee."
"I can settle any doubts upon the point," said I.
I immediately became a focus of general curiosity.
"I met Adderley," I began, "here in this very hotel, one evening in the winter of 1917. He had been drinking rather heavily—a fact which he was quite unable to disguise. He was never by any means a real friend of mine. In fact, I doubt if he had a true friend in the world. However, I could see that he was lonely, and as I chanced to be at a loose end I accepted an invitation to go over to what he termed his 'little place' at Gezireh."
"I even thought the place was something of a myth," declared Jennings.
"It proved to be a veritable palace," I replied, "The man privately—or secretly, to be more exact—kept up a sort of pagan state. He had any number of servants—he became a millionaire after the death of his father, as you will remember. Given more congenial company, I must confess that I might have spent a most enjoyable evening there.
"Adderley insisted upon priming me with champagne. After a while I may as well admit that I lost something of my former reserve, and began to feel that I was having a fairly good time. By the way, my host was now quite drunk. He got into that objectionable and dangerous mood which some of you will recall, and I could see by the light in his eyes that there was mischief brewing, although at the time I did not know its nature.
"I should explain that we were amusing ourselves in a room which was nearly as large as the lounge of this hotel, and furnished in a somewhat similar style. There were carved pillars and stained glass domes, a little fountain, and other peculiarities of an Eastern household.
"Presently Adderley gave an order to one of his servants, and glanced at me with that sort of mocking, daredevil look in his eyes which I loathed—which everybody loathed who ever met the man. Of course I had no idea what all this portended, but I was shortly to learn.
"While he was still looking at me, but stealing sidelong glances at a doorway before which was draped a most wonderful curtain of what one might call flamingo color, the curtain was suddenly pulled aside, and a girl came in.
"You must remember that at the time of which I am speaking the scandal respecting the Sheik of Tanta had not yet come to light. I could not guess, therefore, who the girl might be; but of her striking beauty there could be no doubt whatever. She was dressed in magnificent robes, and she literally glittered with jewels. She even wore jewels upon the toes of her little bare feet; but the first thing that struck me, at the moment of her appearance, was that her presence there was contrary to her wishes and inclinations. I have never seen a similar expression in any woman's eyes. She looked at Adderley as if she would gladly have slain him.
"Seeing this look, his mocking smile—in which there was something of triumph, of the joy of possession—turned to a scowl of positive brutality. He sprang to his feet—or lurched to his feet, rather—clenched his fists in a way that set me bristling, and advanced toward the girl. Although the width of the room divided them, she recoiled, and the significance of her expression and gesture was unmistakable. Adderley paused.
"'So you have made up your mind to dance, after all?' he shouted.
"The look in the girl's dark eyes was pitiful, and she turned to me with a glance of dumb entreaty.
"'No, no!' she cried. 'No, no! Why do you bring me here?'
"'Dance!' roared Adderley. 'Dance! That's what I want you to do.'
"Rebellion leaped again to the wonderful eyes, and she started back with a perfectly splendid gesture of defiance. At that my brutal and drunken host lunged in her direction. I was on my feet now, but before I could act the girl said something that checked him, sobered him, pulled him up short, as if he had encountered a stone wall.
"'Ah, God!' she cried. She was speaking, of course, in Arabic. 'His hand! His hand! Look! His hand!"
"To me her words were meaningless, but, following the direction of her agonized glance, I saw that she was watching what seemed to me to be the shadow of some one moving behind the flame-like curtain. It produced an effect not unlike that of a huge, outstretched hand, the fingers crooked, claw fashion.
"'Marriott, Marriott!' whispered Adderley, grasping me by the shoulder, and pointing with a quivering finger toward this indistinct shadow upon the curtain. 'Do you see it—do you see it?' he said huskily, 'It is his hand—it is his hand!'
"Of the pair I think the man was the more frightened; but the girl, uttering a frightful shriek, ran out of the room as if pursued by a demon. As she did so, whoever had been moving behind the curtain evidently withdrew. The shadow disappeared, and Adderley, still staring as if hypnotized at the spot where it had been, continued to hold my shoulder as in a vise. Then, sinking down upon a heap of cushions beside me, he loudly and shakily ordered more champagne.
"Utterly mystified by the incident, I finally left him in a state of stupor, and returned to my quarters, wondering whether I had dreamed half of the episode or the whole of it, whether he really owned that wonderful palace at Gezireh or had borrowed it to impress me."
I ceased speaking. My story was received in stony silence.
"And this is all you know?" said Burton at last.
"Absolutely all. I left Egypt soon afterward."
"Yes, I remember. It was while you were away that the scandal arose about the Sheik of Tanta. Extraordinary story, Marriott! I should like to know what it all meant, and what the end of it was."
At this point Dr. Matheson broke his long silence.
"Although I am afraid I cannot enlighten you respecting the end of the story," he said quietly, "perhaps I can carry it a step further."
"Really, doctor? What do you know about the matter?"
"I became connected with it accidentally," replied the American. "As you know, I was doing some work near Cairo at the time. One evening, presumably about the period of which Marriott is speaking, I was returning from the hospital at Gezireh, at which I sometimes acted as anesthetist, to my quarters in Cairo. I was just drifting along leisurely by the edge of the gardens, admiring the beauty of the night and the deceitful peace of the Nile.
"The hour was fairly late, and not a soul was about. Nothing disturbed the silence except those vague sounds of the river which are so characteristic of the country. Presently, as I rambled on, with my thoughts wandering back, to the dim ages, I literally fell over a man who lay in my path.
"I was naturally startled, but I carried an electric pocket torch, and by its light I discovered that the person over whom I had stumbled was a dignified-looking Arab somewhat past middle age. His clothes, which were of good quality, were covered with dirt and blood, and he bore all the appearance of having recently been engaged in a very tough struggle. His face was notable for its possession of a jet-black mustache and a snow-white beard. He had swooned from loss of blood."
"Why, was he wounded?" exclaimed Jennings.
"His hand had been nearly severed from the wrist."
"Realizing the impossibility of carrying him so far as the hospital, I extemporized a rough tourniquet and left him under a tree by the path until I could obtain assistance. Later, at the hospital, following a consultation, we found it necessary to amputate."
"I suppose he objected fiercely, being a Moslem?"
"He was past objecting to anything; and if I sacrificed his chance of heaven, at least I gave him a chance of earth. He was under my care for some time, but I doubt if he was properly grateful. He had an iron constitution, however, and I finally allowed him to depart. One queer stipulation he had made—that the severed hand should be given to him when he left the hospital; and this bargain I faithfully carried out."
"Most extraordinary!" I said. "Did you ever learn the identity of the old gentleman?"
"He was very reticent, but I made a number of inquiries, and finally learned—with absolute certainty, I think—that he was the Sheik Abdulla Something-or-Other, an Arab of some repute in the neighborhood, and rather a big man in the religious world. Indeed, he was a minor prophet of some sort, and was known locally as the White Sheik."
"Did you learn how he came by his injury, doctor?"
Matheson smiled in his quiet fashion, and selected a fresh cigar with great deliberation.
"I suppose it is scarcely a case of betraying a professional secret," he said; "but while my patient was recovering from the effects of the anesthetic he unconsciously gave me several clues to the nature of the episode. Putting two and two together, I gathered that some one, although the name of this person never once passed the sheik's lips, had abducted his favorite wife. The sheik had traced the abductor, and presumably the girl, to some house which I gathered to be in the neighborhood of Gezireh. In an attempt to force an entrance—doubtless with the amiable purpose of slaying them both—he had been detected by the prime object of his hatred. In hurriedly descending from a window he had been attacked with some weapon, possibly a sword, and had only made good his escape in the condition in which I found him. How far he had gone after being wounded I cannot say, but I do not think the house can have been at any great distance from the spot where I found him,"
"Comment is really superfluous," remarked Burton. "He was looking for Adderley."
"I agree," said Jennings.
"And," I added, "it was evidently after this episode that I had the privilege of visiting that interesting establishment!"
Fully six months elapsed, and on returning from Egypt I had forgotten all about Adderley, till one evening, strolling aimlessly along St. James's Street, and wondering how I was going to kill time—for London can be infinitely more lonely than any desert—I saw a thick-set figure approaching along the other side of the street. The swing of the shoulders, the aggressive turn of the head, were vaguely familiar. While I was searching my memory and endeavoring to obtain a view of the man's face, he stared across in my direction.
He looked even more debauched than I remembered him. In Egypt he had bad a sun-tanned skin, but now he looked unhealthily pallid and blotchy. He raised his hand.
"Marriott!" he cried, and ran across to greet me.
His boisterous manner and coarse geniality had made him popular with a certain set in former days, but I had never been deceived by it. Most people found Adderley out sooner or later, but I had detected the man's true nature from the very beginning. His eyes alone were danger signals for any amateur psychologist.
However, I returned his greeting civilly enough.
"Bless my soul, you are looking as fit as a fiddle!" he cried. "Where have you been, and what have you been doing since I saw you last?"
"Nothing much," I replied,
"Come along to my place," he suggested. "We'll have a cup of tea—or a whisky and soda, if you prefer it."
Probably I should have refused, but even as he spoke I was mentally translated to the lounge of Shepheard's Hotel, and, prompted by a very human curiosity, I determined to accept his invitation. I wondered if fate had thrown an opportunity in my way of learning the end of the peculiar story which I had heard in Cairo.
I accompanied Adderley to his chambers, which were within a stone's throw of the spot where I had met him. That his gift for making himself unpopular with all and sundry, high and low, had not deserted him, was illustrated by the attitude of the liftman as we entered the hall of the chambers. He was barely civil to Adderley, and even regarded me with evident disfavor.
We were admitted by Adderley's man, whom I had not seen before, but who was some kind of foreigner—I think a Portuguese.
I had never felt at ease in his company, and now, as I sat staring wonderingly at the strange and costly ornaments with which the room was overladen, I bethought me of the object of my visit. How I should have brought the conversation back to our Cairo days I know not, but a suitable opening was presently offered by Adderley himself.
"Do you ever see any of the old gang?" he inquired.
"I was in Cairo about six months ago," I replied, "and I met some of them again."
"What? Had they drifted back to Egypt after all?"
"Two or three of them were taking what Dr. Matheson described as a busman's holiday."
At mention of Dr. Matheson's name, Adderley visibly started.
"So you know Matheson!" he murmured. "I didn't know you had ever met him."
Plainly to hide bis confusion, he drew my attention to a rather fine silver bowl of early Persian ware. He was displaying its peculiar virtues, and showing a certain acquaintance with his subject, when he was interrupted. A door opened suddenly and a girl came in. Adderley put down the bowl and turned rapidly as I rose from my seat.
It was the lady of Gezireh!
I recognized her at once, although she wore a very up-to-date gown. While it did not suit her dark beauty so well as the native dress which she had worn at Cairo, yet it could not conceal the fact that in a barbaric way she was a very handsome woman.
"Oh!" she said, speaking in Arabic. "Why did you not tell me there was some one here?"
Adderley's reply—also spoken in Arabic—was characteristically brutal.
"Get out, you fool!" he said.
I turned to go, for I was conscious of an intense desire to attack my host.
"Don't go, Marriott, don't go!" he cried. "I am sorry for this—I am damned sorry. I—"
He paused and looked at me in a queer sort of appealing way. The girl, her big eyes widely open, retreated again to the door with curious lithe steps, characteristically oriental. The door regained, she paused for a moment and extended one small hand in Adderley's direction.
"I hate you!" she said slowly. "I hate you!"
She went out, quietly closing the door behind her. Adderley turned to me with an embarrassed laugh,
"I know you think I'm a brute and an outsider," he said; "and perhaps I am. Everybody says? I am, so I suppose there must be something in it; but if ever man paid for his mistakes I have paid for mine, Marriott. Good God, I haven't a friend in the world!"
"You probably don't deserve one," I retorted.
"I know I don't, and that's the tragedy of it," he replied. "You may not believe it, Marriott—I don't expect anybody to believe me—but for more than a year I have been walking on the edge of hell. Do you know where I have been since I saw you last?"
I shook my head in answer,
"I have been half-way around the world, Marriott, trying to find peace."
"You don't know where to look for it," I said.
"If only you knew!" he whispered. If only you knew!"
He sank down upon a settee, ruffling his hair with his hands and looking the picture of haggard misery.
"Hold on a bit, Marriott," he implored, seeing that I was still set upon departure. "Don't go yet. There is something I want to ask you—something very important."
He crossed to a sideboard and mixed himself a stiff whisky and soda. He asked me in to join him, but I refused.
"Won't you sit down again?"
I shook my head,
"You came to my place at Gezireh, once," he began abruptly, "I was drunk—I admit it; but something happened. Do you remember?"
"This is what I want to ask you—did you, or did you not, see—that shadow?"
I stared him hard in the face.
"I remember the episode to which you refer," I replied. "I certainly saw a shadow."
"But what sort of shadow?"
"To me it seemed an indefinite, shapeless thing, as if caused by some one moving behind the curtain."
"It didn't look to you like—like the shadow of a hand?"
"It might have been, but I could not be positive."
"Marriott," he said, "money is a curse. It has been a curse to me."
I was suffering the man's society only because of the intense curiosity which now possessed me on learning that the lady of Gezireh was still in Adderley's company. Whether my repugnance for his society would have permitted me to remain any longer I cannot say: but as if fate had deliberately planned that I should be a witness of the concluding phases of this secret drama, we were now interrupted a second time, and again in a dramatic fashion,
Adderley's nondescript valet came in with some letters. He also brought in a rather large brown-paper parcel sealed and fastened with great care.
"Surely that is from Egypt!" muttered Adderley as the man went out.
Taking up the parcel, he seemed to become oblivious of my presence, and his face grew even more haggard as he studied the writing upon the wrapper. With unsteady fingers he untied it. I lingered, watching curiously. Presently, out from the wrappings he took a very beautiful casket of ebony and ivory, cunningly carved and standing upon four claw-like legs.
"What the devil does this mean?" he muttered.
He opened the box, which was lined with sandalwood. Instantly he started back with a great cry, recoiling from the casket as if it had contained an adder.
My former sentiments forgotten, I stepped forward and peered into the interior. Then I, in turn, recoiled.
In the box lay a shriveled brown hand, neatly severed at the wrist. Upon one finger was a talismanic silver ring, having seven studs, such as one often sees upon the hands of desert Arabs.
Adderley sank down again upon the settee.
"My God!" he whispered. "His hand! His hand! He has sent me his hand!"
He began laughing. I could see that the man was practically hysterical because of his mysterious fears.
"Stop that!" I said sharply. "Pull yourself together, Adderley! What the deuce is the matter with you?"
"Take it away!" he moaned. "Take it away, Marriott! Take the accursed thing away!"
"I admit it is an unpleasant gift to send to anybody," I said; "but probably you know more about it than I do."
"Take it away!" he repeated. "Take it away, for God's sake! Take it away, Marriott!"
He was quite beyond reason.
"Very well," I said, and wrapped the casket in the brown paper in which it had come. "But what do you want me to do with it?"
"Throw it into the river," he answered. "Burn it—do anything you like with it—but take it out of my sight!"
As I descended to the street, the liftman regarded me in a curious and rather significant way. Just as I was about to step out into the hall, he apparently decided that I was a fit person to converse with.
"Excuse me, sir," he said, "but are you a friend of Mr. Adderley's?"
"Why do you ask?"
"Well, sir, I hope you will excuse me, but at times I have thought the gentleman was just a little bit queer, like."
"You mean insane?" I asked sharply.
"Well, sir, I don't know, but he is always asking me if I can see shadows and things in the lift. Sometimes, when he comes in late of a night, he absolutely gives me the cold shivers, he does!"
I lingered, the box under my arm, reluctant to obtain confidences from a servant, but at the same time keenly interested.
"Then there's a lady friend of his who is always coming here," the man continued. "She's haunted by shadows, too." He paused, watching me narrowly, "There's nothing better in this world than a clear conscience, sir!" he concluded.
Having returned to my room at the hotel, I sat down to the mysterious parcel, surveying it with much disfavor. That it contained the hand of the White Sheik—the hand which had been amputated by Dr, Matheson—I could not doubt. Its appearance in that dramatic fashion confirmed Matheson's idea that the Arab's injury had been received at the hands of Adderley. What did all this portend, unless that the White Sheik was dead? And if he were dead, why was Adderley more afraid of him dead than living?
I thought of the haunting shadow. I thought of the night at Gezireh. I thought of Dr, Matheson's words when he told us of his discovery of the sheik lying in the path that night beside the Nile.
I felt strangely disinclined to touch the relic, and it was only after some moments' hesitation that I undid the wrappings and raised the lid of the casket. Dusk was very near, and I had not yet lighted the lamps. At first, therefore, I doubted the evidence of my senses; but having lighted up and peered long and anxiously into the sandalwood lining of the casket, I could doubt no longer.
The casket was empty!
It was like a conjuring trick. That the hand had been in the box when I had taken it up from Adderley's table I could have sworn before any jury. When and by whom it had been removed was a puzzle beyond my powers of unraveling.
Vaguely wondering if Adderley had played me a gruesome practical joke, I put the box on a sideboard and contemplated the telephone doubtfully for a moment. It was in my mind to ring him up. Finally, taking all things into consideration, I determined that I would have nothing more to do with the man's unsavory and mysterious affairs.
It was in vain, however, that I endeavored to dismiss the matter from my mind. Throughout the evening, which I spent at a theater with some friends, I found myself constantly thinking of Adderley and the ivory casket, of the Sheik of Tanta, and of the mystery of that shriveled, yellow hand.
I had been back at my room about half an hour, I suppose, and it was long past midnight, when I was startled by a ringing of my telephone-bell. I took up the receiver.
"Marriott, Marriott!" came a choking cry.
"Yes—who is speaking?"
"It is I, Adderley. For God's sake, come over to my place at once!"
His words were scarcely intelligible. Undoubtedly he was in the grip of intense emotion.
"What do you mean? What is the matter?"
"It is here, Marriott—it is here! It is knocking on the door—knocking!"
"You have been drinking," I said sternly. "Where is your man?"
"The cur has bolted. He bolted the moment he heard that damned knocking. I am all alone—I have no one else to appeal to." There came a choking sound. "My God, Marriott, it is getting in! I can see the shadow on the blind!"
Convinced that Adderley's secret fears had driven him mad, I nevertheless felt called upon to comply with his urgent call, and without a moment's delay I hurried to St, James's Street. The liftman was not on duty, the lower hall was in darkness, but I raced up the stairs and found to my astonishment that Adderley's door was wide open.
"Adderley!" I cried. "Adderley!"
There was no reply, and without further ceremony I entered and searched the chambers. They were empty.
Deeply mystified, I was about to go out of the place when there came a ring at the door-bell, I walked to the door, and found that a policeman was standing upon the landing.
"Good evening, sir," he said, and then paused, staring at me curiously.
"Good evening, constable," I replied
"You are not the gentleman who ran out a while ago," he said, a note of suspicion coming into his voice.
I handed him my card and explained what had occurred.
"It must have been Mr. Adderley I saw," muttered the constable.
"Just before you arrived, sir. He came racing out into St, James's Street, and dashed off like a madman."
"In which direction was he going?"
"Toward Pall Mall."
The neighborhood was practically deserted at that hour; but from the guard on duty before St. James's Palace we obtained our first evidence of Adderley's movements. He had raced by some five minutes before, frantically looking back over his shoulder, and behaving like a man flying for his life. No one else had seen him. No one else ever did see him alive.
At two o'clock there was no news, but I had informed Scotland Yard, and official inquiries had been set afoot.
Nothing further came to light that night, but all readers of the daily press will remember that on the following day Adderley's body was taken out of the pond in St, James's Park. Death was due to drowning, but his throat was greatly discolored, as if it had been clutched in a fierce grip. It was I who identified the body.
As many people will know, the mystery of Adderley's death, in spite of the closest inquiries, has not been properly cleared up to this day. The identity of the lady who visited him at his chambers was never discovered. She completely disappeared.
The ebony and ivory casket lies on my table at this present moment, visible evidence of an invisible menace from which Adderley fled around the world.
Doubtless the full truth will never be known now. A significant discovery, however, was made some days after the recovery of Adderley's body. From the bottom of the pond in St. James's Park a patient Scotland Yard official brought up the talismanic silver ring with its seven mystical studs.