The Green Mummy, by Fergus Hume

Chapter 8

The Baronet

Sir Frank Random was an amiable young gentleman with — as the saying goes — all his goods in the shop window. Fair-haired and tall, with a well-knit, athletic figure, a polished manner, and a man-of-the-world air, he strictly resembled the romantic officer of Bow Bells, Family Herald, Young Ladies’ Journal fiction. But the romance was all in his well-groomed looks, as he was as commonplace a Saxon as could be met with in a day’s march. Fond of sport, attentive to his duties as artillery captain, and devoted to what is romantically known as the fair sex, he sauntered easily through life, very well contented with himself and with his agreeable surroundings. He read fiction when he did read, and those weekly papers devoted to sport; troubled his head very little about politics, save when they had to do with a possible German invasion, and was always ready to do any one a good turn. His brother-officers declared that he was not half a bad sort, which was high praise from the usually reticent service man. His capacity may be accurately gauged by the fact that he did not possess a single enemy, and that every one spoke well of him. A mortal who possesses no quality likely to be envied by those around him is certain to belong to the rank and file of humanity. But these unconsidered units of mankind can always console themselves with the undoubted fact that mediocrity is invariably happy.

Such a man as Random would never set the Thames on fire, and certainly he had no ambition to perform that astounding feat. He was fond of his profession and intended to remain in the army as long as he could. He desired to marry and beget a family, and retire, when set free from soldiering, to his country seat, and there perform blamelessly the congenial role of a village squire, until called upon to join the respectable corpses in the Random vault. Not that he was a saint or ever could be one. Neither black nor white, he was simply gray, being an ordinary mixture of good and bad. As theology has provided no hereafter for gray people, it is hard to imagine where the bulk of humanity will go. But doubts on this point never troubled Random. He went to church, kept his mouth shut and his pores open and vaguely believed that it would be all right somehow. A very comfortable if superficial philosophy indeed.

It can easily be guessed that Random’s somewhat colorless personality would never attract Lucy Kendal, since the hues of her own character were deeper. For this reason she was drawn to Hope, who possessed that aggressive artistic temperament, where good and bad, are in violent contrast. Random took opinions from books, or from other people, and his mind, like a looking-glass, reflected whatever came along; but Hope possessed opinions of his own, both right and wrong, and held to these in the face of all verbal opposition. He could argue and did argue, when Random simply agreed. Lucy had similar idiosyncrasies, inherited from a clever father, so it was just as well that she preferred Archie to Frank. Had the latter young gentleman married her, he would have dwindled to Lady Random’s husband, and would have found too late that he had domesticated a kind of imitation George Eliot. When he congratulated Archie on his engagement somewhat ruefully, he little thought what an escape he had had.

But Professor Braddock, who did not belong to the gray tribe, knew nothing of this, as his Egyptological studies did not permit him time to argue on such commonplace matters. He therefore failed in advance when he set out to persuade Random into renewing his suit. As the fiery little man afterwards expressed himself, “I might as well have talked to a mollusc,” for Random politely declined to be used as an instrument to forward the Professor’s ambition at the cost of Miss Kendal’s unhappiness. The interview took place in Sir Frank’s quarters at the Fort on the day after Hervey had called to propose a search for the corpse. And it was during this interview that Braddock learned something which both startled and annoyed him.

Random, at three o’clock, had just changed into mufti, when the Professor was announced by his servant. Braddock, determined to give his host no chance of denying himself, followed close on the man’s heels, and was in the room almost before Sir Frank had read the card. It was a bare room, sparsely furnished, according to the War Office’s idea of comfort, and although the baronet had added a few more civilized necessities, it still looked somewhat dismal. Braddock, who liked comfort, shook hands carelessly with his host and cast a disapproving eye on his surroundings.

“Dog kennel! dog kennel!” grumbled the polite Professor. “Bare desolation like a damned dungeon. You might as well live in the Sahara.”

“It would certainly be warmer,” replied Random, who knew the scientist’s snappy ways very well. “Take a chair, sir!”

“Hard as bricks, confound it! Hand me over a cushion. There, that’s better! No, I never drink between meals, thank you. Smoke? Hang it, Random, you should know by this time that I dislike making a chimney of my throat! There! there! don’t fuss. Take a seat and listen to what I have to say. It’s important. Poke the fire, please: it’s cold.”

Random placidly did as he was told, and then lighted a cigar, as he sat down quietly.

“I am sorry to hear of your trouble, sir.’”

“Trouble! trouble! What particular trouble?”

“The death of your assistant.”

“Oh yes. Silly young ass to get killed. Lost my mummy, too: there’s trouble if you like.”

“The green mummy.” Random looked into the fire, “Yes. I have heard of the green mummy.”

“I should think you have,” snapped Braddock, warming his plump hands. “Every penny-a-liner has been talking about it. When did you return?”

“On the same day that that steamer with the mummy on board arrived,” was Random’s odd reply.

The Professor stared suspiciously. “I don’t see why you should date your movements by my mummy,” he retorted.

“Well, I had a reason in doing so.”

“What reason?”

“The mummy —”

“What about it? — do you know where it is?” Braddock started to his feet, and looked eagerly at the calm face of his host.

“No, I wish I did. How much did you pay for it, Professor?”

“What’s that to you?” snapped the other, resuming his seat.

“Nothing at all. But it is a great deal to Don Pedro de Gayangos.”

“And who the deuce is he? Some Spanish Egyptologist?”

“I don’t think he is an Egyptologist, sir.”

“He must be, if he wants my mummy.”

“You forget, Professor, that the green mummy comes from Peru.”

“Who denied that it did, sir? You are illogical — infernally so.” The little man rose and straddled on the hearth-rug, with his back to the fire and his hands under his coat-tails. “Now, sir,” he said, glaring at the young man like a school-master —“what the deuce are you talking about? Out with it: no evasion.”

“Oh, hang it, Professor, don’t jump down my throat, spurs and all,” said Random, rather annoyed by this dictatorial tone.

“I never wear spurs: go on, sir, and don’t argue.”

Sir Frank could not help laughing, although he knew that it was useless to induce Braddock to be civil. Not that the Professor, meant to be rude, especially as he desired to conciliate Random. But long years of fighting with other scientists and of having his own scientific way had turned him into a kind of school-master, and every one knows that they are the most domineering of the human race.

“It’s a long story,” said the baronet, with a shrug and a smile.

“Story! story! What story?”

“‘That which I am about to tell you.” And then

Random began hurriedly, so as to prevent further arguments of an unprofitable kind. “I was at Genoa with my yacht, and there stopped on shore at the Casa Bianca.”

“What place is that?”

“An hotel. I there met with a certain Don Pedro de Gayangos and his daughter, Donna Inez, He was a gentleman from Lima, and had come to Europe in search of the green mummy.”

Braddock stared.

“And what did this confounded Spaniard want with my green mummy?” he demanded indignantly. “How did he know of its existence? — what reason had he to try and obtain it? Answer, sir.”

“I shall let Don Pedro answer himself,” said Random dryly. “He arrives in a couple of days, and intends to take rooms at the Warrior Inn along with his daughter. Then you can question him, Professor.”

“I question you,” snapped Braddock angrily.

“And I am answering to the best of my ability. Don Pedro told me nothing beyond the fact that he wanted the mummy, and had come to Europe to get it. In some way he learned that it was in Malta and was for sale.”

“Quite so: quite so,” rasped the Professor. “He saw the advertisement in the newspapers, as I did, and wanted to buy it over my head.”

“Oh, he wanted to buy it right enough, and wired to Malta,” said Random, “but in reply he received a letter stating that it had been sold to you and was being taken to England on The Diver. I followed The Diver in my yacht and arrived at Pierside an hour after she did.”

“Ah!” Braddock glared. “I begin to see light. This infernal Spaniard was on board, and wanted my mummy. He knew that Bolton had taken it to the Sailor’s Rest and went there to kill the poor lad and get my —”

“Nothing of the sort,” interrupted Sir Frank impatiently. “Don Pedro remained behind in Genoa, intending to write and ask if you would sell him the mummy. I wrote and told him of the murder of your assistant and related all that had happened. He wired to me that he was coming to England at once, as — as I told you. He will be in Gartley in a couple of days. That is the whole story.”

“It is a sufficiently strange one,” grumbled Braddock, frowning. “What does he want with my mummy?”

“I cannot tell you. But if you will sell —”

“Sell! sell! sell!” vociferated Braddock furiously.

“Don Pedro will give you a good price,” finished Random calmly.

“I haven’t got the mummy,” said the Professor, sitting down and wiping his pink head, “and if I had, I certainly would not sell. However, I’ll hear what this gentleman has to say when he arrives. Perhaps he can throw some light on the mystery of this crime.”

“I am perfectly certain that he cannot, sir. Don Pedro — as I said — was left behind in Genoa.”

“Humph!” said the Professor, unconvinced. “He could easily employ a third party.”

Random rose, looking and feeling annoyed.

“I assure you that Don Pedro is a gentleman and a man of honor. He would not stoop to —”

“There! there!” Braddock waved his hands. “Sit down: sit down.”

“You shouldn’t say such things, Professor.”

“I say what I desire to say,” retorted the old gentleman tartly; “but we can dismiss the subject for the time being.”

“I am only too glad to do so,” said Random, who was ruffled out of his usual calm by the veiled accusation which Braddock had brought against his foreign friend, “and to get to a more agreeable subject, tell me how Miss Kendal is keeping.”

“She is ill, very ill,” said the Professor solemnly.

“Ill? Why, Hope, whom I met the other day, said that she was feeling very well and very happy.”

“So Hope thinks, because he has forced her into an engagement.”

Random started to his feet.

“Forced her? Nonsense!”

“It isn’t nonsense, and don’t dare to speak like that to me, sir. I repeat that Lucy — poor child — is breaking her heart for you.”

The young man stared and then broke into a hearty laugh.

“Pardon me, sir, but that is impossible.”

“It isn’t, confound you!” said Braddock, who did not like being laughed at. “I know women.”

“You don’t know your daughter.”

“Step-daughter, you mean.”

“Ah, perhaps the more distant relationship accounts for your ignorance of her character,” said Random dryly. “You are quite wrong. I was in love with Miss Kendal, and asked her to be my wife before I went on leave. She refused me, saying that she loved Hope, and because of her refusal I took my broken heart to Monte Carlo, where I lost much more money than I had any right to lose.”

“Your broken heart seems to have mended quickly,” said Braddock, who was trying to suppress his wrath at this instance of Lucy’s duplicity, for so he considered it.

“Oh, pooh, it’s only my way of speaking,” laughed the young man. “If my heart had been really broken I should not have mentioned the fact.”

“Then you did not love Lucy, and you dared to play fast and loose with her affections,” raged Braddock, stamping.

“You are quite wrong,” said Sir Frank sharply; “I did love Miss Kendal, or I should certainly not have asked her to be my wife. But when she told me that she loved another man, I stood aside as any fellow would.”

“You should have insisted on —”

“On nothing, sir. I am not the man to force a woman to give me a heart which belongs to another person. I am very glad that Miss Kendal is engaged to Hope, as he is a capital fellow, and will make her a better husband than I ever could have made her. Besides,” Random shrugged his shoulders, “one nail drives another out.”

“Humph! That means you love another.”

“I am not bound to tell you my private affairs, Professor.”

“Quite so: quite so; but Inez is a pretty and romantic name.”

“I don’t know what you are talking about, sir,” said Random stiffly.

Braddock chuckled, having read the truth in the flush which had crept over Random’s tanned face.

“I ask your pardon,” he said elaborately. “I am an old man, and I was your father’s friend. You must not mind if I have been a trifle inquisitive.”

“Say no more, sir: that is all right.”

“I don’t agree with you, Random. Things are not all right and never will be until my mummy is discovered. Now you can help me.”

“In what way?” asked the other uneasily.

“With money. Understand, my boy,” added the Professor in a genial way which he knew well how to assume, “I should have preferred Lucy becoming your wife. However, since she prefers Hope, there’s no more to be said on that score. I therefore will not make the offer I came here to make.”

“An offer, sir?”

“Yes! I fancied that you loved Lucy and were broken-hearted by the news of her engagement to Hope. I therefore intended to ask you to give me, or rather lend me, five hundred pounds on condition that I helped you to —”

“Stop, Professor,” said Random, coloring, “I should never have bought Miss Kendal as my wife on those terms.”

“Of course! of course! and — as I say — there is no more to be said. I shall therefore agree to Lucy’s engagement to Hope”— Braddock carefully omitted to say that he had already agreed and had been paid one thousand pounds to agree —“and will congratulate you when you lead Donna Inez to the altar.”

“I never said anything about Donna Inez, Professor Braddock.”

“Of course not: modern reticence. However, I can see through a brick wall as well as most people. I understand, so let us drop the subject, my boy. And this five hundred pounds —”

“I cannot lend it to you, Professor. The fact is, I lost heaps of coin at Monte Carlo, and am not in a position to —”

“Very good, let us shelve that also,” said Braddock with apparent heartiness, although he was really very angry at his failure. “I am sorry, though, as I wish to get back the mummy and to revenge poor Sidney Bolton’s death.”

“How can the five hundred do that?” asked Random with interest.

“Well,” drawled the Professor with his eyes on the young man’s attentive face, “Captain Hervey of The Diver came to me yesterday and proposed to search for the assassin and his plunder on condition that I paid him five hundred pounds. I am, as you know, very poor for a scientist, and so I wished to borrow the five hundred from you on condition that Lucy —”

“We won’t talk of that again,” said Random hurriedly; “but do you mean to say that this Captain Hervey knows of anything likely to solve this mystery?”

“He says that he does not, and merely proposes to search. From what I have seen of the man I should think that he had all the capacities of a good bloodhound and would certainly succeed. But he will not move a step without money.”

“Five hundred pounds,” murmured Random thoughtfully, while the Professor watched him closely. “I can tell you how to obtain it.”

“How? In what way?”

“Don Pedro seems to be rich, and he wants the mummy,” said the baronet. “So when he comes here ask him to —”

“Certainly not: certainly not,” raged Braddock, clapping on his hat in a fury. “How dare you make such a proposition to me, Random! If this Don Pedro offers the reward and Hervey finds the mummy, he will simply hand it over to your friend.”

“He can scarcely do that, since you have bought the mummy. But Don Pedro is willing to purchase it from you.”

“Humph!” Braddock moved to the door, thinking. “I shall reserve my decision until this man arrives. Good day,” and he departed.

Random did not attempt to detain him, as he was somewhat weary of the Professor’s vagaries. He knew very well that Braddock would call on Don Pedro when he came to the Warrior Inn, and join forces with him in searching for the lost goods. And the train of thought initiated by the Professor’s visit led Random to a certain drawer, whence he took the photograph of a splendid-looking beauty. To this he pressed his lips. “I wonder if your father will give you to me in exchange for that mummy,” he thought, and kissed the pictured face again.

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