The Green Mummy, by Fergus Hume

Chapter 3

A Mysterious Tomb

One member of the Braddock household was not included in the general staff, being a mere appendage of the Professor himself. This was a dwarfish, misshapen Kanaka, a pigmy in height, but a giant in breadth, with short, thick legs, and long, powerful arms. He had a large head, and a somewhat handsome face, with melancholy black eyes and a fine set of white teeth. Like most Polynesians, his skin was of a pale bronze and elaborately tattooed, even the cheeks and chin being scored with curves and straight lines of mystical import. But the most noticeable thing about him was his huge mop of frizzled hair, which, by some process, known only to himself, he usually dyed a vivid yellow. The flaring locks streaming from his head made him resemble a Peruvian image of the sun, and it was this peculiar coiffure which had procured for him the odd name of Cockatoo. The fact that this grotesque creature invariably wore a white drill suit, emphasized still more the suggestion of his likeness to an Australian parrot.

Cockatoo had come from the Solomon Islands in his teens to the colony of Queensland, to work on the plantations, and there the Professor had picked him up as his body servant. When Braddock returned to marry Mrs. Kendal, the boy had refused to leave him, although it was represented to the young savage that he was somewhat too barbaric for sober England. Finally, the Professor had consented to bring him over seas, and had never regretted doing so, for Cockatoo, finding his scientific master a true friend, worshipped him as a visible god. Having been captured when young by Pacific black-birders, he talked excellent English, and from contact with the necessary restraints of civilization was, on the whole, extremely well behaved. Occasionally, when teased by the villagers and his fellow-servants, he would break into childish rages, which bordered on the dangerous. But a word from Braddock always quieted him, and when penitent he would crawl like a whipped dog to the feet of his divinity. For the most part he lived entirely in the museum, looking after the collection and guarding it from harm. Lucy — who had a horror of the creature’s uncanny looks — objected to Cockatoo waiting at the table, and it was only on rare occasions that he was permitted to assist the harassed parlormaid. On this night the Kanaka acted excellently as a butler, and crept softly round the table, attending to the needs of the diners. He was an admirable servant, deft and handy, but his blue-lined face and squat figure together with the obtrusively golden halo, rather worried Mrs. Jasher. And, indeed, in spite of custom, Lucy also felt uncomfortable when this gnome hovered at her elbow. It looked as though one of the fantastical idols from the museum below had come to haunt the living.

“I do not like that Golliwog,” breathed Mrs. Jasher to her host, when Cockatoo was at the sideboard. “He gives me the creeps.”

“Imagination, my dear lady, pure imagination. Why should we not have a picturesque animal to wait upon us?”

“He would wait picturesquely enough at a cannibal feast,” suggested Archie, with a laugh.

“Don’t!” murmured Lucy, with a shiver. “I shall not be able to eat my dinner if you talk so.”

“Odd that Hope should say what he has said,” observed Braddock confidently to the widow. “Cockatoo comes from a cannibal island, and doubtless has seen the consumption of human flesh. No, no, my dear lady, do not look so alarmed. I don’t think he has eaten any, as he was taken to Queensland long before he could participate in such banquets. He is a very decent animal.”

“A very dangerous one, I fancy,” retorted Mrs. Jasher, who looked pale.

“Only when he loses his temper, and I’m always able to suppress that when it is at its worst. You are not eating your meat, my dear lady.”

“Can you wonder at it, and you talk of cannibals?”

“Let us change the conversation to cereals,” suggested Hope, whose appetite was of the best —“wheat, for instance. In this queer little village I notice the houses are divided by a field of wheat. It seems wrong somehow for corn to be bunched up with houses.”

“That’s old Farmer Jenkins,” said Lucy vivaciously; “he owns three or four acres near the public-house and will not allow them to be built over, although he has been offered a lot of money. I noticed myself, Archie, the oddity of finding a cornfield surrounded by cottages. It’s like Alice in Wonderland.”

“But fancy any one offering money for land here,” observed Hope, toying with his claret glass, which had just been refilled, by the attentive Cockatoo, “at the Back-of-Beyond, as it were. I shouldn’t care to live here — the neighborhood is so desolate.”

“All the same you do live here!” interposed Mrs. Jasher smartly, and with a roguish glance at Lucy.

Archie caught the glance and saw the blush on Miss Kendal’s face.

“You have answered your question yourself, Mrs. Jasher,” he — said, smiling. “I have the inducement you hint at to remain here, and certainly, as a landscape painter, I admire the marshes and sunsets. As an artist and an engaged man I stop in Gartley, otherwise I should clear out. But I fail to see why a lady of your attractions should —”

“I may have a sentimental reason also,” interrupted the widow, with a sly glance at the absent-minded Professor, who was drawing hieroglyphics on the table-cloth with a fork; “also, my cottage is cheap and very comfortable. The late Mr. Jasher did not leave me sufficient money to live in London. He was a consul in China, you know, and consuls are never very well paid. I will come in for a large income, however.”

“Indeed,” said Lucy politely, and wondering why Mrs. Jasher was so communicative. “Soon I hope.”

“It may be very soon. My brother, you know — a merchant in Pekin. He has come home to die, and is unmarried. When he does die, I shall go to London. But,” added the widow, meditatively and glancing again at the Professor, “I shall be sorry to leave dear Gartley. Still, the memory of happy hours spent in this house will always remain with me. Ah me! ah me!” and she put her handkerchief to her eyes.

Lucy telegraphed to Archie that the widow was a humbug, and Archie telegraphed back that he quite agreed with her. But the Professor, whom the momentary silence had brought back to the present century, looked up and asked Lucy if the dinner was finished.

“I have to do some work this evening,” said the Professor.

“Oh, father, when you said that you would take a holiday,” said Lucy reproachfully.

“I am doing so now. Look at the precious minutes I am wasting in eating, my dear. Life is short and much remains to be done in the way of Egyptian exploration. There is the sepulchre of Queen Tahoser. If I could only enter that,” and he sighed, while helping himself to cream.

“Why don’t you?” asked Mrs. Jasher, who was beginning to give up her pursuit of Braddock, for it was no use wooing a man whose interests centered entirely in Egyptian tombs.

“I have yet to discover it,” said the Professor simply; then, warming to the congenial theme, he glanced around and delivered a short historical lecture. “Tahoser was the chief wife and queen of a famous Pharaoh — the Pharaoh of the Exodus, in fact.”

“The one who was drowned in the Red Sea?” asked Archie idly.

“Why, yes — but that happened later. Before pursuing the Hebrews — if the Mosaic account is to be believed — this Pharaoh marched far into the interior of Africa — the Libya of the ancients — and conquered the natives of Upper Ethiopia. Being deeply in love with his queen, he took her with him on this expedition, and she died before the Pharaoh returned to Memphis. From records which I discovered in the museum of Cairo, I have reason to believe that the Pharaoh buried her with much pomp in Ethiopia, sacrificing, I believe, many prisoners at her gorgeous funeral rites. From the wealth of that Pharaoh — for wealthy he must have been on account of his numerous victories — and from the love he bore this princess, I am confident — confident,” added Braddock, striking the table vehemently, “that when discovered, her tomb will be filled with riches, and may also contain documents of incalculable value.”

“And you wish to get the money?” asked Mrs. Jasher, who was rather bored.

The Professor rose fiercely. “Money! I care nothing for money. I desire to obtain the funeral jewelry and golden masks, the precious images of the gods, so as to place them in the British Museum. And the scrolls of papyrus buried with the mummy of Tahoser may contain an account of Ethiopian civilization, about which we know nothing. Oh, that tomb — that tomb!” Braddock began to walk the room, quite forgetting that he had not finished his dinner. “I know the mountains whose entrails were pierced to form the sepulchre. Were I able to go to Africa, I am certain that I should discover the tomb. Ah, with what glory would my name be covered, were I so fortunate!”

“Why don’t you go to Africa, sir, and try?” asked Hope.

“Fool!” cried the Professor politely. “To fit out an expedition would take some five thousand pounds, if not more. I would have to penetrate through a hostile country to reach the chain of mountains I speak of, where I know this precious tomb is to be found. I need supplies, an escort, guns, camels, and all the rest of it. A leader must be obtained to manage the fighting men necessary to pass through this dangerous zone. It is no easy task to find the tomb of Tahoser. And yet if I could — if I could only get the money,” and he walked up and down with his head bent on his breast.

Mrs. Jasher was used to Braddock’s vagaries by this time, and merely continued to fan herself placidly.

“I wish I could help you with the expedition,” she said quietly. “I should like to have some of that lovely Egyptian jewelry myself. But I am quite a pauper, until my brother dies, poor man. Then —” She hesitated.

“What then?” asked Braddock, wheeling.

“I shall aid you with pleasure.”

“It’s a bargain!” Braddock stretched out his hand.

“A bargain,” said Mrs. Jasher, accepting the grasp somewhat nervously, for she had not expected to be taken so readily at her word. A glance at Lucy revealed her nervousness.

“Do sit down, father, and finish your dinner,” said that young lady. “I am sure you will have more than enough to do when the mummy arrives.”

“Mummy — what mummy?” murmured Braddock, again beginning to eat.

“The Inca mummy.”

“Of course. The mummy of Inca Caxas, which Sidney is bringing from Malta. When I strip that corpse of its green bandages I shall find —”

“Find what?” asked Archie, seeing that the Professor hesitated.

Braddock cast a swift look at his questioner.

“I shall find the peculiar mode of Peruvian embalming,” he replied abruptly, and somehow the way in which he spoke gave Hope the impression that the answer was an excuse. But before he could formulate the thought that Braddock was concealing something, Mrs. Jasher spoke frivolously.

“I hope your mummy has jewels,” she said.

“It has not,” replied Braddock sharply. “So far as I know, the Inca race never buried their dead with jewels.”

“But I have read in Prescott’s History that they did,” said Hope.

“Prescott! Prescott!” cried the Professor contemptuously, “a most unreliable authority. However, I’ll promise you one thing, Hope, that if there are any jewels, or jewelry, you shall have the lot.”

“Give me some, Mr. Hope,” cried the widow.

“I cannot,” laughed Archie; “the green mummy belongs to the Professor.”

“I cannot accept such a gift, Hope. Owing to circumstances I have been obliged to borrow the money from you; otherwise the mummy would have been acquired by some one else. But when I find the tomb of Queen Tahoser, I shall repay the loan.”

“You have repaid it already,” said Hope, looking at Lucy.

Braddock’s eyes followed his gaze and his brows contracted. “Humph!” he muttered, “I don’t know if I am right in consenting to Lucy’s marriage with a pauper.”

“Oh, father!” cried the girl, “Archie is not a pauper.”

“I have enough for Lucy and me to live on,” said Hope, although his face had flushed, “and, had I been a pauper I could not have given you that thousand pounds.”

“You will be repaid — you will be repaid,” said Braddock, waving his hand to dismiss the subject. “And now,” he rose with a yawn, “if this tedious feast is at an end, I shall again seek my work.”

Without a word of apology to the disgusted Mrs. Jasher, he trotted to the door, and there paused.

“By the way, Lucy,” he said, turning, “I had a letter today from Random. He returns in his yacht to Pierside in two or three days. In fact, his arrival will coincide with that of The Diver.”

“I don’t see what his arrival has to do with me,” said Lucy tartly.

“Oh, nothing at all — nothing at all,” said Braddock airily, “only I thought — that is, but never mind, never mind. Cockatoo, come down with me. Good night! Good night!” and he disappeared.

“Well,” said Mrs. Jasher, drawing along breath, “for rudeness and selfishness, commend me to a scientist. We might be all mud, for what notice he takes of us.”

“Never mind,” said Miss Kendal, rising, “come to the drawing-room and have some music. Archie, will you stop here?”

“No. I don’t care to sit over my wine alone,” said that young gentleman, rising. “I shall accompany you and Mrs. Jasher. And Lucy,” he stopped her at the door, through which the widow had already passed, “what did your father mean by his hints concerning Random?”

“I think he regrets giving his consent to my marriage with you,” she whispered back. “Did you not hear him talk about that tomb? He desires to get money for the expedition.”

“From Random? What rubbish! Sooner than that — if our marriage is stopped by the beastly business — I’ll sell out and —”

“You’ll do nothing of the sort,” interrupted the girl imperiously; “we must live if we marry. You have given my father enough.”

“But if Random lends money for this expedition?”

“He does so at his own risk. I am not going to marry Sir Frank because of my step-father’s requirements. He has no rights over me, and, whether he consents or not, I marry you.”

“My darling!” and Archie kissed her before they followed Mrs. Jasher into the drawing-room. All the same, he foresaw trouble.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hume/fergus/h93gr/chapter3.html

Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:42