“I am very angry,” pouted the maid.
“In heaven’s name, why?” questioned the bachelor.
“You have, so to speak, bought me.”
“Impossible: your price is prohibitive.”
“Indeed, when a thousand pounds —”
“You are worth fifty and a hundred times as much. Pooh!”
“That interjection doesn’t answer my question.”
“I don’t think it is one which needs answering,” said the young man lightly; “there are more important things to talk about than pounds, shillings, and sordid pence.”
“Oh, indeed! Such as —”
“Love, on a day such as this is. Look at the sky, blue as your eyes; at the sunshine, golden as your hair.”
“Warm as your affection, you should say.”
“Affection! So cold a word, when I love you.”
“To the extent of one thousand pounds.”
“Lucy, you are a — woman. That money did not buy your love, but the consent of your step-father to our marriage. Had I not humored his whim, he would have insisted upon your marrying Random.”
Lucy pouted again and in scorn.
“As if I ever would,” said she.
“Well, I don’t know. Random is a soldier and a baronet; handsome and agreeable, with a certain amount of talent. What objection can you find to such a match?”
“One insuperable objection; he isn’t you, Archie — darling.”
“H’m, the adjective appears to be an afterthought,” grumbled the bachelor; then, when she merely laughed teasingly after the manner of women, he added moodily:
“No, by Jove, Random isn’t me, by any manner of means. I am but a poor artist without fame or position, struggling on three hundred a year for a grudging recognition.”
“Quite enough for one, you greedy creature.”
“And for two?” he inquired softly.
“More than enough.”
“Oh, nonsense, nonsense, nonsense!”
“What! when I am engaged to you? Actions speak much louder than remarks, Mr. Archibald Hope. I love you more than I do money.”
“You said that I was a woman just now. What do, you mean?”
“This,” and he kissed her willing lips in the lane, which was empty save for blackbirds and beetles. “Is any explanation a clear one?”
“Not to an angel, who requires adoration, but to a woman who — Let us walk on, Archie, or we shall be late for dinner.”
The young man smiled and frowned and sighed and laughed in the space of thirty seconds — something of a feat in the way of emotional gymnastics. The freakish feminine nature perplexed him as it had perplexed Adam, and he could not understand this rapid change from poetry to prose. How could it be otherwise, when he was but five-and-twenty, and engaged for the first time? Threescore years and ten is all too short a time to learn what woman really is, and every student leaves this world with the conviction that of the thousand sides which the female of man presents to the male of woman, not one reveals the being he desires to know. There is always a deep below a deep; a veil behind a veil, a sphere within a sphere.
“It’s most remarkable,” said the puzzled man in this instance.
“What is?” asked the enigma promptly.
To avoid an argument which he could not sustain, Archie switched his on to the weather.
“This day in September; one could well believe that it is still the month of roses.”
“What! With those wilted hedges and falling leaves and reaped fields and golden haystacks, and — and —”
She glanced around for further illustrations in the way of contradiction.
“I can see all those things, dear, and the misplaced day also!”
“July day slipped into September. It comes into the landscape of this autumn month, as does love into the hearts of an elderly couple who feel too late the supreme passion.”
Lucy’s eyes swept the prospect, and the spring-like sunshine, revealing all too clearly the wrinkles of aging Nature, assisted her comprehension.
“I understand. Yet youth has its wisdom.”
“And old age its experience. The law of compensation, my dearest. But I don’t see,” he added reflectively, “what your remark and my answer have to do with the view,” whereat Lucy declared that his wits wandered.
Within the last five minutes they had emerged from a sunken lane where the hedges were white with dust and dry with heat to a vast open space, apparently at the World’s-End. Here the saltings spread raggedly towards the stately stream of the Thames, intersected by dykes and ditches, by earthen ramparts, crooked fences, sod walls, and irregular lines of stunted trees following the water-courses. The marshes were shaggy with reeds and rushes, and brown with coarse, fading herbage, although here and there gleamed emerald-hued patches of water-soaked soil, fit for fairy-rings. Beyond a moderately high embankment of turf and timber, the lovers could see the broad river, sweeping eastward to the Nore, with homeward-bound and outward-faring ships afloat on its golden tide. Across the gleaming waters, from where they lipped their banks to the foot of low domestic Kentish hills, stretched alluvial lands, sparsely timbered, and in the clear sunshine clusters of houses, great and small, factories with tall, smoky chimneys, clumps of trees and rigid railway lines could be discerned. The landscape was not beautiful, in spite of the sun’s profuse gildings, but to the lovers it appeared a Paradise. Cupid, lord of gods and men, had bestowed on them the usual rose-colored spectacles which form an important part of his stock-intrade, and they looked abroad on a fairy world. Was not SHE there: was not HE there: could Romeo or Juliet desire more?
From their feet ran the slim, straight causeway, which was the King’s highway of the district — a trim, prim line of white above the picturesque disorder of the marshes. It skirted the low-lying fields at the foot of the uplands and slipped through an iron gate to end in the far distance at the gigantic portal of The Fort. This was a squat, ungainly pile of rugged gray stone, symmetrically built, but aggressively ugly in its very regularity, since it insulted the graceful curves of Nature everywhere discernible. It stood nakedly amidst the bare, bleak meadows glittering with pools of still water, with not even the leaf of a creeper to soften its menacing walls, although above them appeared the full-foliaged tops of trees planted in the barrack-yard. It looked as though the grim walls belted a secret orchard. What with the frowning battlements, the very few windows diminutive and closely barred, the sullen entrance and the absence of any gracious greenery, Gartley Fort resembled the Castle of Giant Despair. On the hither side, but invisible to the lovers, great cannons scowled on the river they protected, and, when they spoke, received answer from smaller guns across the stream. There less extensive forts were concealed amidst trees and masked by turf embankments, to watch and guard the golden argosies of London commerce.
Lucy, always impressionable, shivered with her hand in that of Archie’s, as she stared at the landscape, melancholy even in the brilliant sunshine.
“I should hate to live in Gartley Fort,” said she abruptly. “One might as well be in jail.”
“If you marry Random you will have to live there, or on a baggage wagon. He is R.G.A. captain, remember, and has to go where glory calls him, like a good soldier.”
“Glory can call until glory is hoarse for me,” retorted the girl candidly. “I prefer an artist’s studio to a camp.”
“Why?” asked Hope, laughing at her vehemence.
“The reason is obvious. I love the artist.”
“And if you loved the soldier?”
“I should mount the baggage wagon and make him Bovril when he was wounded. But for you, dear, I shall cook and sew and bake and —”
“Stop! stop! I want a wife, not a housekeeper.”
“Every sensible man wants the two in one.”
“But you should be a queen, darling.”
“Not with my own consent, Archie: the work is much too hard. Existence on six pounds a week with you will be more amusing. We can take a cottage, you know, and live, the simple life in Gartley village, until you become the P.R.A., and I can be Lady Hope, to walk in silk attire.”
“You shall be Queen of the Earth, darling, and walk alone.”
“How dull! I would much rather walk with you. And that reminds me that dinner is waiting. Let us take the short cut home through the village. On the way you can tell me exactly how you bought me from my step-father for one thousand pounds.”
Archie Hope frowned at the incurable obstinacy of the sex. “I didn’t buy you, dearest: how many times do you wish me to deny a sale which never took place? I merely obtained your step-father’s consent to our marriage in the near future.”
“As if he had anything to do with my marriage, being only my step-father, and having, in my eyes, no authority. In what way did you get his consent — his unnecessary consent,” she repeated with emphasis.
Of course it was waste of breath to argue with a woman who had made up her mind. The two began to walk towards the village along the causeway, and Hope cleared his throat to explain — patiently as to a child.
“You know that your step-father — Professor Braddock — is crazy on the subject of mummies?”
Lucy nodded in her pretty wilful way. “He is an Egyptologist.”
“Quite so, but less famous and rich than he should be, considering his knowledge of dry-as-dust antiquities. Well, then, to make a long story short, he told me that he greatly desired to examine into the difference between the Egyptians and the Peruvians, with regard to the embalming of the dead.”
“I always thought that he was too fond of Egypt to bother about any other country,” said Lucy sapiently.
“My dear, it isn’t the country he cares about, but the civilization of the past. The Incas embalmed their dead, as did the Egyptians, and in some way the Professor heard of a Royal Mummy, swathed in green bandages — so he described it to me.”
“It should be called an Irish mummy,” said Lucy flippantly. “Well?”
“This mummy is in possession of a man at Malta, and Professor Braddock, hearing that it was for sale for one thousand pounds —”
“Oh!” interrupted the girl vivaciously, “so this was why father sent Sidney Bolton away six weeks ago?”
“Yes. As you know, Bolton is your step-father’s assistant, and is as crazy as the Professor on the subject of Egypt. I asked the Professor if he would allow me to marry you —”
“Quite unnecessary,” interpolated Lucy briskly.
Archie passed over the remark to evade an argument.
“When I asked him, he said that he wished you to marry Random, who is rich. I pointed out that you loved me and not Random, and that Random was on a yachting cruise, while I was on the spot. He then said that he could not wait for the return of Random, and would give me a chance.”
“What did he mean by that?”
“Well, it seems that he was in a hurry to get this Green Mummy from Malta, as he feared lest some other person should snap it up. This was two months ago, remember, and Professor Braddock wanted the cash at once. Had Random been here he could have supplied it, but as Random was away he told me that if I handed over one thousand pounds to purchase the mummy, that he would permit our engagement now, and our marriage in six months. I saw my chance and took it, for your step-father has always been an obstacle in our path, Lucy, dear. In a week Professor Braddock had the money, as I sold out some of my investments to get it. He then sent Bolton to Malta in a tramp steamer for the sake of cheapness, and now expects him back with the Green Mummy.”
“Has Sidney bought it?”
“Yes. He got it for nine hundred pounds, the Professor told me, and is bringing it back in The Diver — that’s the same tramp steamer in which he went to Malta. So that’s the whole story, and you can see there is no question of you being bought. The thousand pounds went to get your father’s consent.”
“He is not my father,” snapped Lucy, finding nothing else to say.
“You call him so.”
“That is only from habit. I can’t call him Mr. Braddock, or Professor Braddock, when I live with him, so ‘father’ is the sole mode of address left to me. And after all,” she added, taking her lover’s arm, “I like the Professor; he is very kind and good, although extremely absent-minded. And I am glad he has consented, for he worried me a lot to marry Sir Frank Random. I am glad you bought me.”
“But I didn’t,” cried the exasperated lover.
“I think you did, and you shouldn’t have diminished your income by buying what you could have had for nothing.”
Archie shrugged his shoulders. It was vain to combat her fixed idea.
“I have still three hundred a year left. And you were worth buying.”
“You have no right to talk of me as though I had been bought.”
The young man gasped. “But you said —”
“Oh, what does it matter what I said. I am going to marry you on three hundred a year, so there it is. I suppose when Bolton returns, my father will be glad to see the back of me, and then will go to Egypt with Sidney to explore this secret tomb he is always talking about.”
“That expedition will require more than a thousand pounds,” said Archie dryly. “The Professor explained the obstacles to me. However, his doings have nothing to do with us, darling. Let Professor Braddock fumble amongst the dead if he likes. We live!”
“Apart,” sighed Lucy.
“Only for the next six months; then we can get our cottage and live on love, my dearest.”
“Plus three hundred a year,” said the girl sensibly then she added, “Oh, poor Frank Random!”
“Lucy,” cried her lover indignantly.
“Well, I was only pitying him. He’s a nice man, and you can’t expect him to be pleased at our marriage.”
“Perhaps,” said Hope in an icy tone, “you would like him to be the bridegroom. If so, there is still time.”
“Silly boy!” She took his arm. “As I have been bought, you know that I can’t run away from my purchaser.”
“You denied being bought just now. It seems to me, Lucy, that I am to marry a weather-cock.”
“That is only an impolite name for a woman, dear. You have no sense of humor, Frank, or you would call me an April lady.”
“Because you change every five minutes. H’m! It’s puzzling.”
“Is it? Perhaps you would like me to resemble Widow Anne, who is always funereal. Here she is, looking like Niobe.”
They were strolling through Gartley village by this time, and the cottagers came to their doors and front gates to look at the handsome young couple. Everyone knew of the engagement, and approved of the same, although some hinted that Lucy Kendal would have been wiser to marry the soldier-baronet. Amongst these was Widow Anne, who really was Mrs. Bolton, the mother of Sidney, a dismal female invariably arrayed in rusty, stuffy, aggressive mourning, although her husband had been dead for over twenty years. Because of this same mourning, and because she was always talking of the dead, she was called “Widow Anne,” and looked on the appellation as a compliment to her fidelity. At the present moment she stood at the gate of her tiny garden, mopping her red eyes with a dingy handkerchief.
“Ah, young love, young love, my lady,” she groaned, when the couple passed, for she always gave Lucy a title as though she really and truly had become the wife of Sir Frank, “but who knows how long it may last?”
“As long as we do,” retorted Lucy, annoyed by this prophetic speech.
Widow Anne groaned with relish. “So me and Aaron, as is dead and gone, thought, my lady. But in six months he was knocking the head off me.”
“The man who would lay his hand on a woman save in the way of —”
“Oh, Archie, what nonsense, you talk!” cried Miss Kendal pettishly.
“Ah!” sighed the woman of experience, “I called it nonsense too, my lady, afore Aaron, who now lies with the worms, laid me out with a flat-iron. Men’s fit for jails only, as I allays says.”
“A nice opinion you have of our sex,” remarked Archie dryly.
“I have, sir. I could tell you things as would make your head waggle with horror on there shoulders of yours.”
“What about your son Sidney? Is he also wicked?”
“He would be if he had the strength, which he hasn’t,” exclaimed the widow with uncomplimentary fervor. “He’s Aaron’s son, and Aaron hadn’t much to learn from them as is where he’s gone too,” and she looked downward significantly.
“Sidney is a decent young fellow,” said Lucy sharply. “How dare you miscall your own flesh and blood, Widow Anne? My father thinks a great deal of Sidney, else he would not have sent him to Malta. Do try and be cheerful, there’s a good soul. Sidney will tell you plenty to make you laugh, when he comes home.”
“If he ever does come home,” sighed the old woman.
“What do you mean by that?”
“Oh, it’s all very well asking questions as can’t be answered nohow, my lady, but I be all of a mubble-fubble, that I be.”
“What is a mubble-fubble?” asked Hope, staring.
“It’s a queer-like feeling of death and sorrow and tears of blood and not lifting your head for groans,” said Widow Anne incoherently, “and there’s meanings in mubble-fumbles, as we’re told in Scripture. Not but what the Perfesser’s been a kind gentleman to Sid in taking him from going round with the laundry cart, and eddicating him to watch camphorated corpses: not as what I’d like to keep an eye on them things myself. But there’s no more watching for my boy Sid, as I dreamed.”
“What did you dream?” asked Lucy curiously.
Widow Anne threw up two gnarled hands, wrinkled with age and laundry work, screwing up her face meanwhile.
“I dreamed of battle and murder and sudden death, my lady, with Sid in his cold grave playing on a harp, angel-like. Yes!” she folded her rusty shawl tightly round her spare form and nodded, “there was Sid, looking beautiful in his coffin, and cut into a hash, as you might say, with —”
“Ugh! ugh!” shuddered Lucy, and Archie strove to draw her away.
“With murder written all over his poor face,” pursued the widow. “And I woke up screeching with cramp in my legs and pains in my lungs, and beatings in my heart, and stiffness in my —”
“Oh, hang it, shut up!” shouted Archie, seeing that Lucy was growing pale at this ghoulish recital, “don’t be fool, woman. Professor Braddock says that Bolton’ll be back in three days with the mummy he has been sent to fetch from Malta. You have been having nightmare! Don’t you see how you are frightening Miss Kendal?”
“‘The Witch’ of Endor, sir —”
“Deuce take the Witch of Endor and you also. There’s a shilling. Go and drink yourself into a more cheery frame of mind.”
Widow Anne bit the shilling with one of her two remaining teeth, and dropped a curtsey.
“You’re a good, kind gentleman,” she smirked, cheered at the idea of unlimited gin. “And when my boy Sid do come home a corpse, I hope you’ll come to the funeral, sir.”
“What a raven!” said Lucy, as Widow Anne toddled away in the direction of the one public-house in Gartley village.
“I don’t wonder that the late Mr. Bolton laid her out with a flat-iron. To slay such a woman would be meritorious.”
“I wonder how she came to be the mother of Sidney,” said Miss Kendal reflectively, as they resumed their walk, “he’s such a clever, smart, and handsome young man.”
“I think Bolton owes everything to the Professor’s teaching and example, Lucy,” replied her lover. “He was an uncouth lad, I understand, when your step-father took him into the house six years ago. Now he is quite presentable. I shouldn’t wonder if he married Mrs. Jasher.”
“H’m! I rather think Mrs. Jasher admires the Professor.”
“Oh, he’ll never marry her. If she were a mummy there might be a chance, of course, but as a human being the Professor will never look at her.”
“I don’t know so much about that, Archie. Mrs. Jasher is attractive.”
Hope laughed. “In a mutton-dressed-as-lamb way, no doubt.”
“And she has money. My father is poor and so —”
“You make up a match at once, as every woman will do. Well, let us get back to the Pyramids, and see how the flirtation is progressing.”
Lucy walked on for a few steps in silence. “Do you believe in Mrs. Bolton’s dream, Archie?”
“No! I believe she eats heavy suppers. Bolton will return quite safe; he is a clever fellow, not easily taken advantage of. Don’t bother any more about Widow Anne and her dismal prophecies.”
“I’ll try not to,” replied Lucy dutifully. “All the same, I wish she had not told me her dream,” and she shivered.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09