For the next five or six weeks life ran on merrily enough for Cleek; s_errily, in fact, that Dollops came to be quite accustomed to hear hi_histling about the house and to see him go up the stairs two steps at a tim_henever he had occasion to mount them for any purpose whatsoever.
It would not have needed any abnormally acute mind, any process of subtl_easoning, to get at the secret of all this exuberance, this perennial flow o_igh 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 th_ostman 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 regardin_t into the mournfully-uttered sentence: "A skirt's got him!" But, after on_iolent pang of fierce and rending jealousy, was grateful to that "skirt" fo_ringing happiness to the man he loved above all other things upon earth an_hose welfare was the dearest of his heart's desires. Indeed, he grew, i_ime, to watch as eagerly for the coming of those letters as did his maste_imself; and he could have shouted with delight whenever he heard th_ostman's knock, and saw one of the regulation blue-grey envelopes dro_hrough the slit into the wire cage on the door.
Cleek, too, was delighted when he saw them. It was nothing to him that th_otes they contained were of the briefest—mere records of the state of th_eather, the progress of his little lordship, the fact that Lady Chepsto_ished 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 littl_ufficed him in return; and the knowledge that he had been in her mind for th_ive 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 mos_requent one. For a warm, strong friendship—first sown in those ante-Derb_ays—had sprung up between Sir Henry Wilding and himself and had deepene_teadily into a warm feeling of comradeship and mutual esteem. Frequen_etters passed between them; and the bond of fellowship had become so strong _hing that Sir Henry never came to town without their meeting and dinin_ogether.
"Gad! you know, I can't bring myself to think of you as a police-officer, ol_hap!" was the way Sir Henry put it on the day when he first invited him t_unch with him at his club. "I'd about as soon think of sitting down with on_f my grooms as breaking bread with one of that lot; and I shall never get i_ut of my head that you're a gentleman going in for this sort of thing as _obby—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 trut_bout me," replied Cleek, with a smile. "Take my word for it, won't you?—thi_hing is my profession. I don't do it as a mere hobby: I live by it—I have n_ther 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 b_one with it? You can't tell a fish that another fish is a turnip—at least yo_an't and expect him to believe it. Own up, old chap. I know a man of birt_hen 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 Fort_aces, if you prefer it; but just 'Cleek' and nothing more. Don't get t_uilding romances about me merely because I have the _instincts_ of _entleman, Sir Henry. Just simply remember that Nature _does_ make mistake_ometimes; that she has been known to put a horse's head on a sheep'_houlders 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, h_iked and he respected the man, and made no visit to town without meeting an_ntertaining him.
So matters stood between them when on a certain Thursday in mid September h_ame 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 o_rriving to find that, in this instance, dinner was to be served in a littl_rivate room and that a third party was also to partake of it.
"Dear chap, pardon me for taking you unawares," said Sir Henry, as Clee_ntered the private room and found himself in the presence of a decidedl_ilitary-looking man long past middle life, "but the fact is that immediatel_fter I had telephoned you, I encountered a friend and a—er—peculia_ircumstance arose which impelled me to secure a private room and to—er—thro_yself 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 a_ast 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 hear_our praises sung so continuously the past two hours that I feel as if _lready knew you."
"Ah, you mustn't mind all that Sir Henry says," replied Cleek, as he shoo_ands with him. "He makes mountains out of millstones, and would panegyriz_he most commonplace of men if he happened to take a fancy to him. You mustn'_elieve 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 th_rrival of the waiter and the serving of dinner.
It was not until the meal was over and coffee and cigars had been served an_he too attentive waiter had taken his departure that Cleek understood tha_emark or realised what it portended. But even then, it was not the Major wh_xplained.
"My dear Cleek," said Sir Henry, lowering his voice and leaning over th_able, "I hope you will not think I have taken a mean advantage of you, but _ave brought the Major here to-night for a purpose. He has, in fact, come t_onsult 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 i_othing you might ask of me that I would not at least attempt to do, dea_hap."
"Thanks very much. Well then, the Major has come, my dear Cleek, to ask you t_elp in unravelling a puzzle of singular and mystifying interest. Now you ma_r may not have heard of a Music Hall artiste—a sort of conjurer an_mpersonator combined—called Zyco the Magician, who was once very popular an_as assisted in his illusions by a veiled but reputedly beautiful Turkish lad_ho was billed on the programmes and posters as 'Zuilika, the Caliph'_aughter.'"
"I remember the pair very well indeed," said Cleek. "They toured the Musi_alls for years, and I saw their performance frequently. They were among th_irst, I believe, to produce that afterwards universal illusion known as 'Th_anishing Lady.' As I have not heard anything of them nor seen their name_illed for a couple of years past, I fancy they have either retired from th_rofession or gone to some other part of the world. The man was not only _ery 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 neve_aw, of course, as she was always veiled to the eyes after the manner o_urkish ladies. But although a good many persons suspected that her birthplac_as no nearer Bagdad than Peckham, I somehow felt that she was, after all, _enuine, native-born Turk."
"You are quite right in both suspicions, Mr. Cleek," put in the Majo_gitatedly. "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 th_an in the past? Is he dead?"
"I hope so," responded the Major fervently. "God knows I do, Mr. Cleek. M_very 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 th_revailing error. The lady is in every way my social equal—in her own countr_y superior. She _is_ a caliph's daughter. The title which the playgoin_ublic imagined was of the usual bombastic, just-on-the-programme sort, i_ers by right. Her late father, Caliph Al Hamid Sulaiman, was one of th_ichest and most powerful Mohammedans in existence. He died five months ago, leaving an immense fortune to be conveyed to England to his exiled bu_orgiven child."
"Ah, I see. Then, naturally, of course—"
"The suggestion is unworthy of you, Sir Henry, and anything but complimentar_o me. The inheritance of this money has had nothing whatever to do with m_eelings for the lady. That began two years ago, when, by accident, I wa_ermitted to look upon her face for the first, last, and only time. I shoul_till wish to marry her if she were an absolute pauper. I know what you ar_aying to yourself, sir: 'There is no fool like an old fool.' Well, perhap_here isn't. But—" he turned to Cleek—"I may as well begin at the beginnin_nd confess that even if I did not desire to marry the lady I should stil_ave a deep interest in her husband's death, Mr. Cleek. He is—or was, i_ead—the only son of my cousin, the Earl of Wynraven, who is now over ninet_ears of age. I am in the direct line, and if this Lord Norman Ulchester, who_ou and the public know only as 'Zyco the Magician,' were in his grave ther_ould 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, h_rranged the shade of the lamp so that the light fell full upon the Major'_ace 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 _ave always hesitated to confess my own desires to him for fear of th_onsequences. He is almost a madman in his outbursts of temper; and wher_uilika is concerned—Perhaps you will understand, Mr. Cleek, when I tell yo_hat once when he thought her husband had ill-used her, he came within an ac_f 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 o_ynraven's son come to meet this singularly fascinating lady, and where?"
"In Turkey—or Arabia—I forget which. He was doing his theatrical nonsense i_he East with some barn-storming show or other, having been obliged to get ou_f England to escape arrest for some shady transaction a year before. He wa_lways a bad egg—always a disgrace to his name and connections. That's why hi_ather turned him off and never would have any more to do with him. As a bo_e was rather clever at conjuring tricks and impersonations of all sorts—h_ould mimic anything or anybody he ever saw, from the German Emperor down to _aiety chorus girl, and do it to absolute perfection. When his father kicke_im out he turned these natural gifts to account, and, having fallen in wit_ome professional dancing-woman, joined her for a time and went on the stag_ith her.
"It was after he had parted from this dancer and was knocking about London an_eading a disgraceful life generally that he did the thing which caused him t_urry off to the East and throw in his lot with the travelling company I hav_lluded to. He was always a handsome fellow and had a way with him that wa_onderfully taking with women, so I suppose that that accounts as much a_nything for Zuilika's infatuation and her doing the mad thing she did. _on't know when nor where nor how they first met; but the foolish girl simpl_ent off her head over him, and he appears to have been as completel_nfatuated 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 a_omething appalling, something akin to sacrilege; and when they found that he_ather had got wind of it and that the fellow's life would not be safe if h_emained within reach another day, they flew to the coast together, shippe_or England, and were married immediately after their arrival."
"A highly satisfactory termination for the lady," commented Cleek. "One coul_ardly have expected that from a man so hopelessly unprincipled as yo_epresent him to have always been. But there's a bit of good in even th_evil, we are told."
"Oh, be sure that he didn't marry her from any principle of honour, my dea_ir," replied the Major. "If it were merely a question of that, he'd have cu_oose from her as soon as the vessel touched port. Consideration of self rule_im in that as in all other things. He knew that the girl's father fairl_dolised 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 an_arriage—would be moved to settle a large sum upon her so that she might neve_e in want. But let me get on with my story. Having nothing when he returne_o England, and being obliged to cover up his identity by assuming anothe_ame, Ulchester, after vainly appealing to his father for help on the ple_hat he was now honourably married and settled down, turned again to th_tage, and, repugnant though such a thing was to the delicately-nurtured woma_e had married, compelled Zuilika to become his assistant and to go on th_oards 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 succes_rom the first, not a little of that success being due to the myster_urrounding the identity and appearance of Zuilika; for, true to th_raditions of her native land, she never appeared, either in public or i_rivate, without being closely veiled. Only her 'lord' was ever permitted t_ook upon her uncovered face; all that the world at large might ever hope t_ehold of it was the low, broad forehead and the two brilliant eyes tha_ppeared above the close-drawn line of her yashmak. Of course she shrank fro_he life into which she was forced; but it had its reward, for it kept her i_lose contact with her husband, whom she almost worshipped. So, for a time, she was proportionately happy; although, as the years passed by and her fathe_howed no inclination to bestow the coveted 'rich allowance' upon hi_aughter, Ulchester's ardour began to cool. He no longer treated her with th_ame affectionate deference; he neglected her, in fact, and, in the end, eve_egan to ill-use her.
"About two years ago, matters assumed a worse aspect. He again met Anit_osario, the Spanish dancer, under whose guidance he had first turned to th_alls for a livelihood, and once more took up with her. He seemed to have los_ll thought or care for the feelings of his wife, for, after torturing he_ith jealousy over his attentions to the dancer, he took a house adjoining m_wn—on the borders of the most unfrequented part of the common a_imbledon—established himself and Zuilika there, and brought the woman Anit_ome 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 _isgraceful extent. Broken-hearted over the treatment she was receiving, Zuilika appealed to me and to my son to help her in her distress—to devis_ome plan to break the spell of Ulchester's madness and to get that woman ou_f the house. It was then that I first beheld her face. In her excitement sh_anaged, somehow, to snap or loosen the fastening which held her yashmak, an_t fell—fell, and let my son realise, as I realised, how wondrously beautifu_t is possible for the human face to be!"
"Steady, Major, steady! I can quite understand your feelings—can realis_etter than most men!" said Cleek with a sort of sigh. "You looked int_eaven, 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 o_is own medicine—to attempt to excite his jealousy by pretending to fin_nterests elsewhere. At any rate, she began to show him a great deal o_ttention—or, at least, so he says, although I never saw it. All I know i_hat she—she—well, sir, she deliberately led _me_ on until I was half insan_ver her, and—that's all!"
"What do you mean by 'that's all'? The matter couldn't possibly have ende_here, 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, forgivin_er, as Ulchester had hoped, but doing more than his wildest dreams could hav_iven him cause to imagine possible. In a word, sir, the caliph not onl_estowed his entire earthly possessions upon her, but had them conveyed t_ngland by trusted allies and placed in her hands. There were coffers of gol_ieces, jewels of fabulous value—sufficient, when converted into Englis_oney, as they were within the week, and deposited to her credit in the Ban_f England, to make her the sole possessor of nearly three million pounds."
"Phew!" whistled Cleek. "When these Orientals do it they certainly do i_roperly. 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 o_epulsion. "There was a gruesome, ghastly, appalling addition in the shape o_wo mummy cases—one empty, the other filled. A parchment accompanying thes_tated that the caliph could not sleep elsewhere but in the land of hi_athers, nor sleep _there_ until his beloved child rested beside him. They ha_een 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 hi_fter death, to send the mummy to Zuilika, and with it a case in which, whe_er own death should occur, _her_ body should be deposited; and followers o_he prophet had taken oath to see that both were carried to their native lan_nd entombed side by side. Until death came to relieve her of this ghastl_uty, Zuilika was charged to be the guardian of the mummy and daily to mak_he orisons of the faithful before it, keeping it always with its face toward_he 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 o_is father-in-law and the eventual coffin of his wife? Or was he willing t_tand for anything so long as he got possession of the huge fortune the ol_an left?"
"He never did get it, Mr. Cleek—he never touched so much as one farthing o_t. Zuilika took nobody into her confidence until everything had bee_onverted into English gold and deposited in the bank to her credit. Then sh_ent straight to him and to Anita, showed them proof of the deposit, revile_hem for their treatment of her, and swore that not one farthing's benefi_hould accrue to Ulchester until Anita was turned out of the house in th_resence of their guests and the husband took oath on his knees to join th_ife in those daily prayers before the caliph's mummy. Furthermore, Ulcheste_as to embrace the faith of the Mohammedans that he might return with her a_nce to the land and the gods she had offended by marriage with a Frankis_nfidel."
"Which, of course, he declined to do?"
"Yes. He declined utterly. But it was a case of the crushed worm, wit_uilika. Now was _her_ turn; and she would not abate one jot or tittle. Ther_as a stormy scene, of course. It ended by Ulchester and the woman Anit_eaving the house together. From that hour Zuilika never again heard hi_iving voice, never again saw his living face! He seems to have gone wild wit_rath over what he had lost and to have plunged headlong into the maddest sor_f dissipation. It is known—positively known, and can be sworn to by reputabl_itnesses—that for the next three days he did not draw one sober breath. O_he fourth, a note from him—a note which he was _seen_ to write in a publi_ouse—was carried to Zuilika. In that note he cursed her with ever_onceivable term; told her that when she got it he would be at the bottom o_he river, driven there by her conduct, and that if it was possible for th_ead to come back and haunt people he'd do it. Two hours after he wrote tha_ote he was seen getting out of the train at Tilbury and going towards th_ocks; 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 reall_arried out that threat and did put an end to himself, I suppose? That's wh_ou have come to me, eh? Frankly, I don't believe that he did, Major. Tha_ort of a man never commits suicide upon so slim a pretext as that. If h_ommits 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 lad_ake it? Seriously?"
"Oh, very, sir, very. Of course, to a woman of her temperament and with he_riental ideas regarding the supernatural, _et cetera_ , that threat to haun_er was the worst he could have done to her. At first she was absolutel_eside herself with grief and horror; swore that she had killed him by he_ruelty; that there was nothing left her but to die, and all that sort o_hing; and for three days she was little better than a mad woman. At the en_f 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 eye_or the space of a fortnight, weeping and wailing constantly and touchin_othing but bread and water."
"Poor wretch! She suffers like that, then, over a rascally fellow not worth _ingle tear. It's marvellous, Major, what women do see in men that they can g_n loving them. Has she come out of her retirement yet?"
"Yes, Mr. Cleek. She came out of it five days ago, to all appearances _horoughly heart-broken woman. Of course as she was all alone in the world, m_on 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 o_he house and to show respect for the proprieties, and for us to take up ou_bode there in order to prevent her from doing herself an injury. We are stil_omiciled there, but it will surprise you to learn that a most undesirabl_erson is there also. In short, sir, that the woman Anita Rosario, the caus_f all the trouble, is again an inmate of the house; and what is mor_emarkable still, this time by Zuilika's own request."
"What's that? My dear Major, you amaze me! What can possibly have caused th_ood 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 believ_t is her intention to take the Spaniard with her when she returns to th_ast."
"She intends doing that, then? She is so satisfied of her husband's death tha_he deems no further question necessary. Intends to take no further ste_oward proving it?"
"It has been proved to her satisfaction. His body was recovered the day befor_esterday."
"Oho! then he is dead, eh? Why didn't you say so in the beginning? When di_ou learn of it?"
"This very evening. That is what brings me here. I learned from Zuilika that _ody answering the description of his had been fished from the water a_ilbury and carried to the mortuary. It was horribly disfigured—by contac_ith 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 wit_hem when they went, unknown to me. He has become rather friendly with th_panish woman of late. All three saw the body; all three identified it a_eing Ulchester's beyond a doubt."
"And you? Surely when you see it you will be able to satisfy any misgiving_ou may have?"
"I shall never see it, Mr. Cleek. It was claimed when identified and burie_ithin twelve hours," said the Major, glancing up sharply as Cleek, receivin_his piece of information, blew out a soft, low whistle. "I was not tol_nything about it until this evening, and what I have done—in coming to you, _ean—I have done with nobody's knowledge. I—I am so horribly in the dark—_ave such fearful thoughts and—and I want to be sure. I must be sure or _hall go out of my mind. That's the 'case,' Mr. Cleek—tell me what you thin_f it."
"I can do that in a very few words, Major," he replied. "It is either _igantic swindle or it is a clear case of murder. If a swindle, then Ulcheste_imself 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 othe_ords, that the whole thing is a put-up game between Ulchester and the woma_nita; 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 furtheranc_f that purpose; and if the widow attempts to put into execution this plan—n_oubt instilled into her mind by Anita—of returning with her wealth to he_ative land, she will simply be led into some safe place and then effectuall_ut out of the way for ever. That is what I think of the case if it is to b_egarded 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 sa_nything more about it just yet awhile. I shall want to look over the groun_efore I jump to any conclusions. You are still stopping in the house, you an_our son, I think you remarked? If you could contrive to put up an old arm_riend's son there for a night, Major, give me the address. I'll drop in o_ou to-morrow and have a little look round."