The Green Mummy, by Fergus Hume

Chapter 5

Mystery

After that one cry of agony from Widow Anne, there was silence for quite one minute. The terrible contents of the packing case startled and terrified all present. Faint and white, Lucy clung to the arm of her lover to keep herself from sinking to the ground, as Mrs. Bolton had done. Archie stared at the grotesque rigidity of the body, as though he had been changed into stone, while Professor Braddock stared likewise, scarcely able to credit the evidence of his eyes. Only the Kanaka was unmoved and squatted on his hams, indifferently surveying the living and the dead. As a savage he could not be expected to have the nerves of civilized man.

Braddock, who had dropped chisel and hammer in the first movement of surprise, was the quickest to recover his powers of speech. The sole question he asked, revealed the marvelous egotism of a scientist, nominated by one idea. “Where is the mummy of Inca Caxas?” he murmured with a bewildered air.

Widow Anne, groveling on the floor, pulled her gray locks into wild confusion, and uttered a cry of mingled rage and grief. “He asks that? he asks that?” she cried, stammering and choking, “when he has murdered my poor boy Sid.”

“What’s that?” demanded Braddock sharply, and recovering from a veritable stupor, which the disappearance of the mummy and the sight of his dead assistant had thrown him into. “Kill your son: how could I kill your son? What advantage would it have been to me had I killed your son?”

“God knows! God knows!” sobbed the old woman, “but you —”

“Mrs. Bolton, you are raving,” said Hope hastily, and strove to raise her from the floor. “Let Miss Kendal take you away. And you go, Lucy: this sight is too terrible for your eyes.”

Lucy, inarticulate with nervous fear, nodded and tottered towards the door of the museum; but Widow Anne refused to be lifted to her feet.

“My boy is dead,” she wailed; “my boy Sid is a corp as I saw him in my dream. In the coffin, too, cut to pieces —”

“Rubbish! rubbish!” interrupted Braddock, peering into the depths of the packing case. “I can see no wound.”

Mrs. Bolton leaped to her feet with an agility surprising in so aged a woman. “Let me find the wound,” she screamed, throwing herself forward.

Hope caught her back and forced her towards the door. “No! The body must not be disturbed until the police see it,” he said firmly.

“The police — ah, yes, the police,” remarked Braddock quickly, “we must send for the police to Pierside and tell them my mummy has been stolen.”

“That my boy has been murdered,” screeched Widow Anne, waving her skinny arms, and striving to break from Archie. “You wicked old devil to kill my darling Sid. If he hadn’t gone to them furren parts he wouldn’t be a corp now. But I’ll have the lawr: you’ll be hanged, you — you —”

Braddock lost his patience under this torrent of unjust accusations and rushed towards Mrs. Bolton, dragging Cockatoo by the arm. In less time than it takes to tell, he had swept both Archie and the widow out into the hall, where Lucy was trembling, and Cockatoo, by his master’s order, was locking the door.

“Not a thing shall be touched until the police come. Hope, you are, a witness that I have not meddled with the dead: you were present when I opened the packing case: you have seen that a useless body has been substituted for a valuable mummy. And yet this old witch dares — dares —” Braddock stamped and grew incoherent from sheer rage.

Archie soothed him, leaving go of Widow Anne’s arm to do so. “Hush! hush!” said the young man quietly, “the poor woman does not know what she is saying. I’ll go for the police and —”

“No,” interrupted the Professor sharply; “Cockatoo can go for the inspector of Pierside. I shall call in the village constable. Meanwhile you keep the key of the museum,” he dropped it into Hope’s breast-pocket, “so that you and the police may be sure the body has not been touched. Widow Anne, go home,” he turned angrily on the old creature, who was now trembling after her burst of rage, “and don’t dare to come here again until you ask pardon for what you have said.”

“I want to be near my poor boy’s corp,” wailed Widow Anne, “and I’m very sorry, Perfesser. I didn’t mean to —”

“But you have, you witch. Go away!” and he stamped.

But by this time Lucy had recovered her self-possession, which had been sorely shaken by the sight of the dead. “Leave her to me,” she observed, taking Mrs. Bolton’s arm, and leading her towards the stairs. “I shall take her to my room and give her some brandy. Father, you must make some allowance for her natural grief, and —”

Braddock stamped again. “Take her away! take her away!” he cried testily, “and keep her out of my sight. Is it not enough to have lost an invaluable assistant, and a costly mummy of infinite historical and archaeological value, without my being accused of — of — oh!” The Professor choked with rage and shook his hand in the air.

Seeing that he was unable to speak, Lucy seized the opportunity of the lull in the storm, and hurried the old woman, sobbing and moaning, up the stairs. By this time the shrieks of Mrs. Bolton, and the wordy wrath of Braddock, had drawn the cook and her husband, along with the housemaid, from the basement to the ground floor. The sight of their surprised faces only added to their master’s anger, and he advanced furiously.

“Go downstairs again: go down, I tell you!”

“But if there’s anything wrong, sir,” ventured the gardener timidly.

“Everything is wrong. My mummy has been lost: Mr. Bolton has been murdered. The police are coming, and — and —” He choked again.

But the servants waited to hear no more. The mere mention of the words “murder” and “police” sent them, pale-faced and startled, down to the basement, where they huddled like a flock of sheep. Braddock looked around for Hope, but found that he had opened the front door, and had vanished. But he was too distracted to think why Archie had gone, and there was much to do in putting things straight. Beckoning to Cockatoo, he stalked into a side room, and scribbled a pencil note to the inspector of police at Pierside, telling him of what had happened, and asking him to come at once to the Pyramids with his underlings. This communication he dispatched by Cockatoo, who flew to get his bicycle. In a short time he was riding at top speed to Brefort, which was on this side of the river; facing Pierside. There he could ferry across to the town and deliver his terrible message.

Having done all that he could until the police came, Braddock walked out of the front door and into the roadway to see if Archie was in sight. He could not see the young man, but, as luck would have it, and by one of those coincidences which are much more common than is suspected, he saw the Gartley doctor walking briskly past.

“Hi!” shouted the Professor, who was purple in the face and perspiring profusely. “Hi, there, Dr. Robinson! I want you. Come! come! hurry, man, hurry!” he ended in a testy rage, and the doctor, knowing Braddock’s eccentricities, advanced with a smile. He was a slim, dark, young medical practitioner with an amiable countenance, which argued of no mighty intelligence.

“Well, Professor,” he remarked quietly, “do you want me to attend you for apoplexy? Take your time, my dear sir — take your time.” He patted the scientist on the shoulder to soothe his clamorous rage. “You are already purple in the face. Don’t let your blood rush to your head.”

“Robinson, you’re a — a — a fool!” shouted Braddock, glaring at the suave looks of the doctor. “I am in perfect health, damn you, sir.”

“Then Miss Kendal —?”

“She is quite well also. But Bolton —?”

“Oh!” Robinson looked interested. “Has he returned with your mummy?”

“Mummy,” bellowed Braddock, stamping like an insane Cupid —“the mummy hasn’t arrived.”

“Really, Professor, you surprise me,” said the doctor mildly.

“I’ll surprise you more,” growled Braddock, dragging Robinson into the garden and up the steps.

“Gently! gently! my dear sir,” said the doctor, who really began to think that much learning had made the Professor mad. “Didn’t Bolton —?”

“Bolton is dead, you fool.”

“Dead!” The doctor nearly tumbled backward down the steps.

“Murdered. At least I think he is murdered. At all events he arrived here today in the packing case, which should have contained my green mummy. Come in and examine the body at once. No,” Braddock pushed back the doctor just as fiercely as he had dragged him forward, “wait until the constable comes. I want him to see the body first, and to observe that nothing has been touched. I have sent for the Pierside inspector to come. There will be all sorts of trouble,” cried Braddock despairingly, “and my work — most important work — will be delayed, just because this silly young ass Sidney Bolton chose to be murdered,” and the Professor stormed up and down the hall, shaking impotent arms in the air.

“Good heavens!” stammered Robinson, who was young in years and somewhat new to his profession, “you — you must be mistaken.”

“Mistaken! mistaken!” shouted Braddock with another glare. “Come and see that poor fellow’s body then. He is dead, murdered.”

“By whom?”

“Hang you, sir, how should I know?”

“In what way has he been murdered? Stabbed, shot, or —”

“I don’t know — I don’t know! Such a nuisance to lose a man like Bolton — an invaluable assistant. What I shall do without him I really don’t know. And his mother has been here, making no end of a fuss.”

“Can you blame her?” said the doctor, recovering his breath. “She is his mother, after all, and poor Bolton was her only son.”

“I am not denying the relationship, confound you!” snapped the Professor, ruffling his hair until it stood up like the crest of a parrot. “But she needn’t — ah!” He glanced through the open door, and then rushed to the threshold. “Here is Hope and Painter. Come in-come in. I have the doctor here. Hope, you have the key. You observe, constable, that Mr. Hope has the key. Open the door: open the door, and let us see the meaning of this dreadful crime.”

“Crime, sir?” queried the constable, who had heard all that was known from Hope, but now wished to hear what Braddock had to say.

“Yes, crime: crime, you idiot! I have lost my mummy.”

“But I thought, sir, that a murder —”

“Oh, of course — of course,” gabbled the Professor, as if the death was quite a minor consideration. “Bolton’s dead — murdered, I suppose, as he could scarcely have nailed himself down in a packing case. But it’s my precious mummy I am thinking of, Painter. A mummy — if you know what a mummy is — that cost me nine hundred pounds. Go in, man. Go in and don’t stand there gaping. Don’t you see that Mr. Hope has opened the door. I have sent Cockatoo to Pierside to notify the police. They will soon be here. Meanwhile, doctor, you can examine the body, and Painter here can give his opinion as to who stole my mummy.”

“The assassin stole the mummy,” said Archie, as the four men entered the museum, “and substituted the body of the murdered man.”

“That is all A B C,” snapped Braddock, issuing into the vast room, “but we want to know the name of the assassin, if we are to revenge Bolton and get back my mummy. Oh, what a loss! — what a loss! I have lost nine hundred pounds, or say one thousand, considering the cost of bringing Inca Caxas to England.”

Archie forebore to remind the Professor as to who had really lost the money, as the scientist was not in a fit state to be talked to reasonably, and seemed much more concerned because his Peruvian relic of humanity had been lost than for the terrible death of Sidney Bolton. But by this time Painter — a fair-haired young constable of small intelligence — was examining the packing case and surveying the dead. Dr. Robinson also looked with a professional eye, and Braddock, wiping his purple face and gasping with exhaustion, sat down on a stone sarcophagus. Archie, folding his arms, leaned against the wall and waited quietly to hear what the experts in crime and medicine would say.

The packing case was deep and wide and long, made of tough teak and banded at intervals with iron bands. Within this was a case of tin, which, when it held the mummy, had been soldered up; impervious to air and water. But the unknown person who had extracted the mummy, to replace it by a murdered man’s body, had cut open the tin casing with some sharp instrument. There was straw round the tin casing and straw within, amongst which the body of the unfortunate young man was placed. Rigor mortis had set in, and the corpse, with straight legs and hands placed stiffly by its side, lay against the back of the tin casing surrounded more or less by the straw packing, or at least by so much as the Professor had not torn away. The face looked dark, and the eyes were wide open and staring. Robinson stepped forward and ran his hand round the neck. Uttering an ejaculation, he removed the woollen scarf which the dead man had probably worn to keep himself from catching cold, and those who looked on saw that a red-colored window cord was tightly bound about the throat of the dead.

“The poor devil has been strangled,” said the doctor quietly. “See: the assassin has left the bow-string on, and had the courage to place over it this scarf, which belonged to Bolton.”

“How do you know that, sir?” asked Painter heavily.

“Because Widow Anne knitted that scarf for Bolton before he went to Malta. He showed it to me, laughingly, remarking that his mother evidently thought that he was going to Lapland.”

“When did he show it to you, sir?”

“Before he went to Malta, of course,” said Robinson in mild surprise. “You don’t suppose he showed it to me when he returned. When did he return to England?” he asked the Professor, with an afterthought.

“Yesterday afternoon, about four o’clock,” replied Braddock.

“Then, from the condition of the body”— the doctor felt the dead flesh —“he must have been murdered last night. H’m! With your permission, Painter, I’ll examine the corpse.”

The constable shook his head. “Better wait, sir, until the inspector comes,” he said in his unintelligent way. “Poor Sid! Why, I knew him. He was at school with me, and now he’s dead. Who killed him?”

None of his listeners could answer this question.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hume/fergus/h93gr/chapter5.html

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