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

For the next five or six weeks life ran on merrily enough for Cleek; so merrily, in fact, that Dollops came to be quite accustomed to hear him whistling about the house and to see him go up the stairs two steps at a time whenever he had occasion to mount them for any purpose whatsoever.

It would not have needed any abnormally acute mind, any process of subtle reasoning, to get at the secret of all this exuberance, this perennial flow of high spirits; indeed, one had only to watch the letter box at Number 204, Clarges Street, to get at the bottom of it instantly; for twice a week the postman dropped into it a letter addressed in an undoubtedly feminine “hand” to Captain Horatio Burbage, and invariably postmarked “Lynhaven, Devon.”

Dollops had made that discovery long ago and had put his conclusions regarding it into the mournfully-uttered sentence: “A skirt’s got him!” But, after one violent pang of fierce and rending jealousy, was grateful to that “skirt” for bringing happiness to the man he loved above all other things upon earth and whose welfare was the dearest of his heart’s desires. Indeed, he grew, in time, to watch as eagerly for the coming of those letters as did his master himself; and he could have shouted with delight whenever he heard the postman’s knock, and saw one of the regulation blue-grey envelopes drop through the slit into the wire cage on the door.

Cleek, too, was delighted when he saw them. It was nothing to him that the notes they contained were of the briefest mere records of the state of the weather, the progress of his little lordship, the fact that Lady Chepstow wished to be remembered and that the writer was well “and hoped he, too, was.” They were written by her that was enough. He gave so much that very little sufficed him in return; and the knowledge that he had been in her mind for the five or ten minutes which it had taken to write the few lines she sent him, made him exceedingly happy.

But she was not his only correspondent in these days not even his most frequent one. For a warm, strong friendship first sown in those ante-Derby days had sprung up between Sir Henry Wilding and himself and had deepened steadily into a warm feeling of comradeship and mutual esteem. Frequent letters passed between them; and the bond of fellowship had become so strong a thing that Sir Henry never came to town without their meeting and dining together.

“Gad! you know, I can’t bring myself to think of you as a police-officer, old chap!” was the way Sir Henry put it on the day when he first invited him to lunch with him at his club. “I’d about as soon think of sitting down with one of my grooms as breaking bread with one of that lot; and I shall never get it out of my head that you’re a gentleman going in for this sort of thing as a hobby never b’Gad! if I live to be a hundred.”

“I hope you will come nearer to doing that than you have to guessing the truth about me,” replied Cleek, with a smile. “Take my word for it, won’t you? this thing is my profession. I don’t do it as a mere hobby: I live by it I have no other means of living but by it. I am what I am, and nothing more.”

“Oh, gammon! Why not tell me at once that you are a winkle stall-keeper and be done with it? You can’t tell a fish that another fish is a turnip at least you can’t and expect him to believe it. Own up, old chap. I know a man of birth when I meet him. Tell me who you are, Cleek I’ll respect it.”

“I don’t doubt that the addition is superfluous.”

“Then who are you? What are you, Cleek? Eh?”

“What you have called me ’Cleek.’ Cleek the detective, Cleek of the Forty Faces, if you prefer it; but just ‘Cleek’ and nothing more. Don’t get to building romances about me merely because I have the instincts of a gentleman, Sir Henry. Just simply remember that Nature does make mistakes sometimes; that she has been known to put a horse’s head on a sheep’s shoulders and to make a navvy’s son look more royal than a prince. I am Cleek, the detective simply Cleek. Let it go at that.”

And as there was no alternative, Sir Henry did.

It made no difference in their friendship, however. Police officer or not, he liked and he respected the man, and made no visit to town without meeting and entertaining him.

So matters stood between them when on a certain Thursday in mid September he came up unexpectedly from Wilding Hall and ’phoned through to Clarges Street, asking Cleek to dine with him that night at the Club of the Two Services.

Cleek accepted the invitation gladly and was not a little surprised on arriving to find that, in this instance, dinner was to be served in a little private room and that a third party was also to partake of it.

“Dear chap, pardon me for taking you unawares,” said Sir Henry, as Cleek entered the private room and found himself in the presence of a decidedly military-looking man long past middle life, “but the fact is that immediately after I had telephoned you, I encountered a friend and a er peculiar circumstance arose which impelled me to secure a private room and to er throw myself upon your good graces as it were. Let me have the pleasure, dear chap, of introducing you to my friend, Major Burnham-Seaforth. Major, you are at last in the presence of the gentleman of whom I spoke Mr. Cleek.”

“Mr. Cleek, I am delighted,” said the Major, offering his hand. “I have heard your praises sung so continuously the past two hours that I feel as if I already knew you.”

“Ah, you mustn’t mind all that Sir Henry says,” replied Cleek, as he shook hands with him. “He makes mountains out of millstones, and would panegyrize the most commonplace of men if he happened to take a fancy to him. You mustn’t believe all that Sir Henry says and thinks, Major.”

“I shall be happy, Mr. Cleek, if I can really hope to believe the half of it,” replied the Major, enigmatically and was prevented from saying more by the arrival of the waiter and the serving of dinner.

It was not until the meal was over and coffee and cigars had been served and the too attentive waiter had taken his departure that Cleek understood that remark or realised what it portended. But even then, it was not the Major who explained.

“My dear Cleek,” said Sir Henry, lowering his voice and leaning over the table, “I hope you will not think I have taken a mean advantage of you, but I have brought the Major here to-night for a purpose. He has, in fact, come to consult you professionally; and upon my recommendation. Do you object to that, or may I go on?”

“Go on by all means,” replied Cleek. “I fancy you know very well that there is nothing you might ask of me that I would not at least attempt to do, dear chap.”

“Thanks very much. Well then, the Major has come, my dear Cleek, to ask you to help in unravelling a puzzle of singular and mystifying interest. Now you may or may not have heard of a Music Hall artiste a sort of conjurer and impersonator combined called Zyco the Magician, who was once very popular and was assisted in his illusions by a veiled but reputedly beautiful Turkish lady who was billed on the programmes and posters as ‘Zuilika, the Caliph’s Daughter.’”

“I remember the pair very well indeed,” said Cleek. “They toured the Music Halls for years, and I saw their performance frequently. They were among the first, I believe, to produce that afterwards universal illusion known as ‘The Vanishing Lady.’ As I have not heard anything of them nor seen their names billed for a couple of years past, I fancy they have either retired from the profession or gone to some other part of the world. The man was not only a very clever magician, but a master of mimicry. I always believed, however, that in spite of his name he was of English birth. The woman’s face I never saw, of course, as she was always veiled to the eyes after the manner of Turkish ladies. But although a good many persons suspected that her birthplace was no nearer Bagdad than Peckham, I somehow felt that she was, after all, a genuine, native-born Turk.”

“You are quite right in both suspicions, Mr. Cleek,” put in the Major agitatedly. “The man was an Englishman; the lady is a Turk.”

“May I ask, Major, why you speak of the lady in the present tense and of the man in the past? Is he dead?”

“I hope so,” responded the Major fervently. “God knows I do, Mr. Cleek. My every hope in life depends upon that.”

“May I ask why?”

“I am desirous of marrying his widow!”

“My dear Major, you cannot possibly be serious! A woman of that class?”

“Pardon me, sir, but you have, for all your cleverness, fallen a victim to the prevailing error. The lady is in every way my social equal in her own country my superior. She is a caliph’s daughter. The title which the playgoing public imagined was of the usual bombastic, just-on-the-programme sort, is hers by right. Her late father, Caliph Al Hamid Sulaiman, was one of the richest and most powerful Mohammedans in existence. He died five months ago, leaving an immense fortune to be conveyed to England to his exiled but forgiven child.”

“Ah, I see. Then, naturally, of course ”

“The suggestion is unworthy of you, Sir Henry, and anything but complimentary to me. The inheritance of this money has had nothing whatever to do with my feelings for the lady. That began two years ago, when, by accident, I was permitted to look upon her face for the first, last, and only time. I should still wish to marry her if she were an absolute pauper. I know what you are saying to yourself, sir: ’There is no fool like an old fool.’ Well, perhaps there isn’t. But ” he turned to Cleek “I may as well begin at the beginning and confess that even if I did not desire to marry the lady I should still have a deep interest in her husband’s death, Mr. Cleek. He is or was, if dead the only son of my cousin, the Earl of Wynraven, who is now over ninety years of age. I am in the direct line, and if this Lord Norman Ulchester, whom you and the public know only as ‘Zyco the Magician,’ were in his grave there would only be that one feeble old man between me and the title.”

“Ah, I see!” said Cleek, in reply; then, seating himself at the table, he arranged the shade of the lamp so that the light fell full upon the Major’s face while leaving his own in the shadow. “Then your interest in the affair, Major, may be said to be a double one.”

“More, sir a triple one. I have a rival in the shape of my own son. He, too, wishes to marry Zuilika is madly enamoured of her, in fact; so wildly that I have always hesitated to confess my own desires to him for fear of the consequences. He is almost a madman in his outbursts of temper; and where Zuilika is concerned Perhaps you will understand, Mr. Cleek, when I tell you that once when he thought her husband had ill-used her, he came within an ace of killing the man. There was bad blood between them always even as boys and, as men, it was bitterer than ever because of her.”

“Suppose you begin at the beginning and tell me the whole story, Major,” suggested Cleek, studying the man’s face narrowly. “How did the Earl of Wynraven’s son come to meet this singularly fascinating lady, and where?”

“In Turkey or Arabia I forget which. He was doing his theatrical nonsense in the East with some barn-storming show or other, having been obliged to get out of England to escape arrest for some shady transaction a year before. He was always a bad egg always a disgrace to his name and connections. That’s why his father turned him off and never would have any more to do with him. As a boy he was rather clever at conjuring tricks and impersonations of all sorts he could mimic anything or anybody he ever saw, from the German Emperor down to a Gaiety chorus girl, and do it to absolute perfection. When his father kicked him out he turned these natural gifts to account, and, having fallen in with some professional dancing-woman, joined her for a time and went on the stage with her.

“It was after he had parted from this dancer and was knocking about London and leading a disgraceful life generally that he did the thing which caused him to hurry off to the East and throw in his lot with the travelling company I have alluded to. He was always a handsome fellow and had a way with him that was wonderfully taking with women, so I suppose that that accounts as much as anything for Zuilika’s infatuation and her doing the mad thing she did. I don’t know when nor where nor how they first met; but the foolish girl simply went off her head over him, and he appears to have been as completely infatuated with her. Of course, in that land, the idea of a woman of her sect, of her standing, having anything to do with a Frank was looked upon as something appalling, something akin to sacrilege; and when they found that her father had got wind of it and that the fellow’s life would not be safe if he remained within reach another day, they flew to the coast together, shipped for England, and were married immediately after their arrival.”

“A highly satisfactory termination for the lady,” commented Cleek. “One could hardly have expected that from a man so hopelessly unprincipled as you represent him to have always been. But there’s a bit of good in even the devil, we are told.”

“Oh, be sure that he didn’t marry her from any principle of honour, my dear sir,” replied the Major. “If it were merely a question of that, he’d have cut loose from her as soon as the vessel touched port. Consideration of self ruled him in that as in all other things. He knew that the girl’s father fairly idolised her; knew that, in time, his wrath would give way to his love, and, sooner or later, the old man who had been mad at the idea of any marriage would be moved to settle a large sum upon her so that she might never be in want. But let me get on with my story. Having nothing when he returned to England, and being obliged to cover up his identity by assuming another name, Ulchester, after vainly appealing to his father for help on the plea that he was now honourably married and settled down, turned again to the stage, and, repugnant though such a thing was to the delicately-nurtured woman he had married, compelled Zuilika to become his assistant and to go on the boards with him. That is how the afterwards well-known music-hall ‘team’ of ‘Zyco and the Caliph’s Daughter’ came into existence.

“The novelty of their ‘turn’ caught on like wild fire, and they were a success from the first, not a little of that success being due to the mystery surrounding the identity and appearance of Zuilika; for, true to the traditions of her native land, she never appeared, either in public or in private, without being closely veiled. Only her ‘lord’ was ever permitted to look upon her uncovered face; all that the world at large might ever hope to behold of it was the low, broad forehead and the two brilliant eyes that appeared above the close-drawn line of her yashmak. Of course she shrank from the life into which she was forced; but it had its reward, for it kept her in close contact with her husband, whom she almost worshipped. So, for a time, she was proportionately happy; although, as the years passed by and her father showed no inclination to bestow the coveted ‘rich allowance’ upon his daughter, Ulchester’s ardour began to cool. He no longer treated her with the same affectionate deference; he neglected her, in fact, and, in the end, even began to ill-use her.

“About two years ago, matters assumed a worse aspect. He again met Anita Rosario, the Spanish dancer, under whose guidance he had first turned to the halls for a livelihood, and once more took up with her. He seemed to have lost all thought or care for the feelings of his wife, for, after torturing her with jealousy over his attentions to the dancer, he took a house adjoining my own on the borders of the most unfrequented part of the common at Wimbledon established himself and Zuilika there, and brought the woman Anita home to live with them. From that period matters went from bad to worse. Evidently having tired of the stage, both Ulchester and Anita abandoned it, and turned the house into a sort of club where gambling was carried on to a disgraceful extent. Broken-hearted over the treatment she was receiving, Zuilika appealed to me and to my son to help her in her distress to devise some plan to break the spell of Ulchester’s madness and to get that woman out of the house. It was then that I first beheld her face. In her excitement she managed, somehow, to snap or loosen the fastening which held her yashmak, and it fell fell, and let my son realise, as I realised, how wondrously beautiful it is possible for the human face to be!”

“Steady, Major, steady! I can quite understand your feelings can realise better than most men!” said Cleek with a sort of sigh. “You looked into heaven, and well, what then? Let’s have the rest of the story.”

“I think my son must have put it into her head to give Ulchester a taste of his own medicine to attempt to excite his jealousy by pretending to find interests elsewhere. At any rate, she began to show him a great deal of attention or, at least, so he says, although I never saw it. All I know is that she she well, sir, she deliberately led me on until I was half insane over her, and that’s all!”

“What do you mean by ‘that’s all’? The matter couldn’t possibly have ended there, or else why this appeal to me?”

“It ended for me, so far as her affectionate treatment of me was concerned; for in the midst of it the unexpected happened. Her father died, forgiving her, as Ulchester had hoped, but doing more than his wildest dreams could have given him cause to imagine possible. In a word, sir, the caliph not only bestowed his entire earthly possessions upon her, but had them conveyed to England by trusted allies and placed in her hands. There were coffers of gold pieces, jewels of fabulous value sufficient, when converted into English money, as they were within the week, and deposited to her credit in the Bank of England, to make her the sole possessor of nearly three million pounds.”

“Phew!” whistled Cleek. “When these Orientals do it they certainly do it properly. That’s what you might call ‘giving with both hands,’ Major, eh?”

“The gift did not end with that, sir,” the Major replied with a gesture of repulsion. “There was a gruesome, ghastly, appalling addition in the shape of two mummy cases one empty, the other filled. A parchment accompanying these stated that the caliph could not sleep elsewhere but in the land of his fathers, nor sleep there until his beloved child rested beside him. They had been parted in life, but they should not be parted in death. An Egyptian had, therefore, been summoned to his bedside, had been given orders to embalm him after death, to send the mummy to Zuilika, and with it a case in which, when her own death should occur, her body should be deposited; and followers of the prophet had taken oath to see that both were carried to their native land and entombed side by side. Until death came to relieve her of this ghastly duty, Zuilika was charged to be the guardian of the mummy and daily to make the orisons of the faithful before it, keeping it always with its face towards the East.”

“By George! it sounds like a page from the ‘Arabian Nights,’” exclaimed Cleek. “Well, what next? Did Ulchester take kindly to this housing of the mummy of his father-in-law and the eventual coffin of his wife? Or was he willing to stand for anything so long as he got possession of the huge fortune the old man left?”

“He never did get it, Mr. Cleek he never touched so much as one farthing of it. Zuilika took nobody into her confidence until everything had been converted into English gold and deposited in the bank to her credit. Then she went straight to him and to Anita, showed them proof of the deposit, reviled them for their treatment of her, and swore that not one farthing’s benefit should accrue to Ulchester until Anita was turned out of the house in the presence of their guests and the husband took oath on his knees to join the wife in those daily prayers before the caliph’s mummy. Furthermore, Ulchester was to embrace the faith of the Mohammedans that he might return with her at once to the land and the gods she had offended by marriage with a Frankish infidel.”

“Which, of course, he declined to do?”

“Yes. He declined utterly. But it was a case of the crushed worm, with Zuilika. Now was her turn; and she would not abate one jot or tittle. There was a stormy scene, of course. It ended by Ulchester and the woman Anita leaving the house together. From that hour Zuilika never again heard his living voice, never again saw his living face! He seems to have gone wild with wrath over what he had lost and to have plunged headlong into the maddest sort of dissipation. It is known positively known, and can be sworn to by reputable witnesses that for the next three days he did not draw one sober breath. On the fourth, a note from him a note which he was seen to write in a public house was carried to Zuilika. In that note he cursed her with every conceivable term; told her that when she got it he would be at the bottom of the river, driven there by her conduct, and that if it was possible for the dead to come back and haunt people he’d do it. Two hours after he wrote that note he was seen getting out of the train at Tilbury and going towards the docks; but from that moment to this every trace of him is lost.”

“Ah, I see!” said Cleek reflectively. “And you want to find out if he really carried out that threat and did put an end to himself, I suppose? That’s why you have come to me, eh? Frankly, I don’t believe that he did, Major. That sort of a man never commits suicide upon so slim a pretext as that. If he commits it at all, it’s because he is at the end of his tether and our friend ‘Zyco’ seems to have been a long way from the end of his. How does the lady take it? Seriously?”

“Oh, very, sir, very. Of course, to a woman of her temperament and with her Oriental ideas regarding the supernatural, et cetera, that threat to haunt her was the worst he could have done to her. At first she was absolutely beside herself with grief and horror; swore that she had killed him by her cruelty; that there was nothing left her but to die, and all that sort of thing; and for three days she was little better than a mad woman. At the end of that time, after the fashion of her people, she retired to her own room, covered herself with sackcloth and ashes, and remained hidden from all eyes for the space of a fortnight, weeping and wailing constantly and touching nothing but bread and water.”

“Poor wretch! She suffers like that, then, over a rascally fellow not worth a single tear. It’s marvellous, Major, what women do see in men that they can go on loving them. Has she come out of her retirement yet?”

“Yes, Mr. Cleek. She came out of it five days ago, to all appearances a thoroughly heart-broken woman. Of course as she was all alone in the world, my son and I considered it our duty, during the time of her wildness and despair, to see that a thoroughly respectable female was called in to take charge of the house and to show respect for the proprieties, and for us to take up our abode there in order to prevent her from doing herself an injury. We are still domiciled there, but it will surprise you to learn that a most undesirable person is there also. In short, sir, that the woman Anita Rosario, the cause of all the trouble, is again an inmate of the house; and what is more remarkable still, this time by Zuilika’s own request.”

“What’s that? My dear Major, you amaze me! What can possibly have caused the good lady to do a thing like that?”

“She hopes, she says, to appease the dead and to avert the threatened ‘haunting.’ At all events, she sent for Anita some days ago. Indeed, I believe it is her intention to take the Spaniard with her when she returns to the East.”

“She intends doing that, then? She is so satisfied of her husband’s death that she deems no further question necessary. Intends to take no further step toward proving it?”

“It has been proved to her satisfaction. His body was recovered the day before yesterday.”

“Oho! then he is dead, eh? Why didn’t you say so in the beginning? When did you learn of it?”

“This very evening. That is what brings me here. I learned from Zuilika that a body answering the description of his had been fished from the water at Tilbury and carried to the mortuary. It was horribly disfigured by contact with the piers and passing vessels but she and Anita and and my son ”

“Your son, Major? Your son?”

“Yes!” replied the Major in a sort of half-whisper. “They they took him with them when they went, unknown to me. He has become rather friendly with the Spanish woman of late. All three saw the body; all three identified it as being Ulchester’s beyond a doubt.”

“And you? Surely when you see it you will be able to satisfy any misgivings you may have?”

“I shall never see it, Mr. Cleek. It was claimed when identified and buried within twelve hours,” said the Major, glancing up sharply as Cleek, receiving this piece of information, blew out a soft, low whistle. “I was not told anything about it until this evening, and what I have done in coming to you, I mean I have done with nobody’s knowledge. I I am so horribly in the dark I have such fearful thoughts and and I want to be sure. I must be sure or I shall go out of my mind. That’s the ‘case,’ Mr. Cleek tell me what you think of it.”

“I can do that in a very few words, Major,” he replied. “It is either a gigantic swindle or it is a clear case of murder. If a swindle, then Ulchester himself is at the bottom of it and it will end in murder just the same. Frankly, the swindle theory strikes me as being the more probable; in other words, that the whole thing is a put-up game between Ulchester and the woman Anita; that they played upon Zuilika’s fear of the supernatural for a purpose; that a body was procured and sunk in that particular spot for the furtherance of that purpose; and if the widow attempts to put into execution this plan no doubt instilled into her mind by Anita of returning with her wealth to her native land, she will simply be led into some safe place and then effectually put out of the way for ever. That is what I think of the case if it is to be regarded in the light of a swindle; but if Ulchester is really dead, murder, not suicide, is at the back of his taking off, and Oh, well, we won’t say anything more about it just yet awhile. I shall want to look over the ground before I jump to any conclusions. You are still stopping in the house, you and your son, I think you remarked? If you could contrive to put up an old army friend’s son there for a night, Major, give me the address. I’ll drop in on you to-morrow and have a little look round.”