Neither Lucy nor Archie Hope had ever seen the mummy, but they knew the appearance which it would present, as Professor Braddock, with the enthusiasm of an archaeologist, had often described the same to them. It appeared, according to Braddock, that on purchasing the precious corpse in Malta, his dead assistant had written home a full description of the treasure trove. Consequently, being advised beforehand, Hope had no difficulty in recognizing the oddly shaped case, which was made somewhat in the Egyptian form. On the impulse of the moment he had proclaimed this to be the long-lost mummy, and when a closer examination by the light of a lucifer match revealed the green hue of the coffin wood, he knew that he was right.
But what was the mummy in its ancient case doing in Mrs. Jasher’s arbor? That was the mute question which the two young people asked themselves and each other, as they stood in the chilly moonlight, staring at the grotesque thing. The mummy had disappeared from the Sailor’s Rest at Pierside some weeks ago, and now unexpectedly appeared in a lonely garden, surrounded by marshes. How it had been brought there, or why it should have been brought there, or who had brought it to such an unlikely place, were questions hard to answer. However, the most obvious thing to do was to question Mrs. Jasher, since the uncanny object was lying within a stone-throw of her home. Lucy, after a rapid word or two, went to ring the bell, and summon the lady, while Archie stood by the arbor, wondering how the mummy came to be there. In the same way George III had wondered how the apples got into the dumplings.
Far and wide spread the marshes, flatly towards the shore of the river on one side, but on the other sloping up to Gartley village, which twinkled with many lights on the rising ground. Some distance away the Fort rose black and menacing in the moonlight, and the mighty stream of the Thames glittered like polished steel as it flowed seaward. As there were only a few leafless trees dotted about the marshy ground, and as that same ground, lightly sprinkled with powdery snow, revealed every moving object for quite a mile or so, Hope could not conceive how the mummy case, which seemed heavy, could have been brought into the silent garden without its bearers being seen. It was not late, and soldiers were still returning through Gartley to the Fort. Then, again, some noise must have been caused by so bulky an object being thrust through the narrow wicket, and Mrs. Jasher, inhabiting a wooden house, which was a very sea-shell for sound, might have heard footsteps and voices. If those who had brought the mummy here — and there was more than one from the size of the case — could be discovered, then the mystery of Sidney Bolton’s death would be solved very speedily. It was at this moment of his reflections that Lucy returned to the arbor, leading Mrs. Jasher, who was attired in a tea-gown and who looked bewildered.
“What are you talking about, my dear?” she said, as Lucy led her towards the arbor. “I declare I was ever so much astonished, when Jane told me that you wished to speak to me. I was just writing a letter to the lawyer who has my poor brother’s property in hand, announcing my engagement to the Professor. Mr. Hope? You here also. Well, I’m sure.”
Lucy grew impatient at all this babble.
“Did you not hear what I said, Mrs. Jasher?” she cried irritably. “Can’t you use your eyes? Look! The green mummy is in your arbor.”
“The — green — mummy — in-my — arbor,” repeated Mrs. Jasher, like a child learning words of one syllable, and staring at the black object before which the three were standing.
“As you see,” said Archie abruptly. “How did it come here?”
He spoke harshly. Of course, it was absurd to accuse Mrs. Jasher of knowing anything about the matter, since she had been writing letters. Still, the fact remained that a mummy, which had been thieved from a murdered man, was in her arbor, and naturally she was called upon to explain.
Some suspicion in his tone struck the little woman, and she turned on him with indignation.
“How did it come here?” she repeated. “Now, how can I tell, you silly boy. I have been writing to my lawyer about my engagement to Mr. Braddock. I daresay he has told you.”
“Yes,” chimed in Miss Kendal, “and we came here to congratulate you, only to find the mummy.”
“Is that the horrid thing?” Mrs. Jasher stared with all her eyes, and timidly touched the hard green-stained wood.
“It’s the case — the mummy is inside.”
“But I thought that the Professor opened the case to find the body of poor Sidney Bolton,” argued Mrs. Jasher.
“That was a packing case in which this”— Archie struck the old-world coffin —“was stored. But this is the corpse of Inca Caxas, about which Don Pedro told us the other night. How does it come to be hidden in your garden?”
“Hidden.” Mrs. Jasher repeated the word with a laugh. “There is not much hiding about it. Why, every one can see it from the path.”
“And from the door of your house,” remarked Hope significantly. “Did you not see it when you took leave of Braddock?”
“No,” snapped the widow. “If I had I should certainly have come to look. Also Professor Braddock, who is so anxious to recover it, would not have allowed it to remain here.”
“Then the case was not here when the Professor left you to-night?”
“No! He left me at eight o’clock to go home to dinner.”
“When did he arrive here?” questioned Hope quickly.
“At seven. I am sure of the time, for I was just sitting down to my supper. He was here an hour. But he said nothing, when he entered, of any mummy being in the arbor; nor when he left me at the door and I came to say good-bye to him — did either of us see this object. To be sure,” added Mrs. Jasher meditatively, “we did not look particularly in the direction of this arbor.”
“I scarcely see how any one entering or leaving the garden could fail to see it, especially as the snow reflects the moonlight so brightly.”
Mrs. Jasher shivered, and taking the skirt of her tea-gown, flung it over her carefully attired head,
“It is very cold,” she remarked irritably. “Don’t you think we had better return to the house, and talk there?”
“What!” said Archie grimly, “and leave the mummy to be carried away as mysteriously as it has been brought. No, Mrs. Jasher. That mummy represents one thousand pounds of my money.”
“I understood that the Professor bought it himself.”
“So he did, but I supplied the purchase money. Therefore I do not intend that this should be lost sight of again. Lucy, my dear, you run home again and tell your father what we have found. He had better bring men, to take it to his museum. When it is there, Mrs. Jasher can then explain how it came to be in her garden.”
Without a word Lucy set off, walking quickly, anxious to fulfill her mission and gladden the heart of her step-father with the amazing news.
Archie and Mrs. Jasher were left alone, and the former lighted a cigarette, while he tapped the mummy case, and examined it as closely as the pale gleam of the moonlight permitted. Mrs. Jasher made no move to enter the house, much as she had complained of the cold. But perhaps she found the flimsy skirt of the tea-gown sufficient protection.
“It seems to me, Mr. Hope,” said she very tartly, “that you suspect my having a hand in this,” and she tapped the mummy coffin also.
“Pardon me,” observed Hope very politely, “but I suspect nothing, because I have no grounds upon which to base my suspicions. But certainly it is odd that this missing mummy should be found in your garden. You will admit that much.”
“I admit nothing of the sort,” she rejoined coolly. “Only myself and Jane live in the cottage, and you don’t expect that two delicate women could move this huge thing.” She tapped the case again. “Moreover, had I found the mummy I should have taken it to the Pyramids at once, so as to give Professor Braddock some pleasure.”
“It will certainly be an acceptable wedding present,” said Archie sarcastically.
“Pardon me,” said Mrs. Jasher in her turn, “but I have nothing to do with it as a present or otherwise. How the thing came into my arbor I really cannot say. As I told you, Professor Braddock made no remark about it when he came; and when he left, although I was at the door, I did not notice anything in this arbor. Indeed I cannot say if I ever looked in this direction.”
Archie mused and glanced at his watch.
“The Professor told Lucy that he came by the six train: you say that he was here at seven.”
“Yes, and he left at eight. What is the time now?”
“Ten o’clock, or a few minutes after. Therefore, since neither you nor Braddock saw the mummy, I take it that the case was brought here by some unknown people between eight o’clock and a quarter to ten, about which time I arrived here with Lucy.”
Mrs. Jasher nodded.
“You put the matter very clearly,” she observed dryly. “You have mistaken your vocation, Mr. Hope, and should have been a criminal lawyer. I should turn detective were I you.”
“Why?” asked Archie with a start.
“You might ascertain my movements on the night when the crime was committed,” snapped the little widow. “A woman muffled in a shawl, in much the same way as my head is now muffled in my skirt, talked to Bolton through the bedroom window of the Sailor’s Rest, you know.”
“My dear lady, how you run on! I assure you that I would as soon suspect Lucy as you.”
“Thank you,” said the widow very dryly and very tartly.
“I merely wish to point out,” went on Archie in a conciliatory tone, “that, as the mummy in its case — as appears probable — was brought into your garden between the hours of eight and ten, less fifteen minutes, that you may have heard the voices or footsteps of those who carried it here.”
“I heard nothing,” said Mrs. Jasher, turning towards the path. “I had my supper, and played a game or two of patience, and then wrote letters, as I told you before. And I am not going to stand in the cold, answering silly questions, Mr. Hope. If you wish to talk you must come inside.”
Hope shook his head and lighted a fresh cigarette.
“I stand guard over this mummy until its rightful owner comes,” said he determinedly.
“Ho!” rejoined Mrs. Jasher scornfully: she was now at the door. “I understood that you bought the mummy and therefore were its owner. Well, I only hope you’ll find those emeralds Don Pedro talked about,” and with a light laugh she entered the cottage.
Archie looked after her in a puzzled way. There was no reason to suspect Mrs. Jasher, so far as he saw, even though a woman had been seen talking to Bolton on the night of the crime. And yet, why should the widow refer to the emeralds, which were of such immense value, according to Don Pedro? Hope glanced at the case and shook the primitive coffin, anxious for the moment to open it and ascertain if the jewels were still clutched grimly in the mummy’s dead hands. But the coffin was fastened tightly down with wooden pegs, and could only be opened with extreme care and difficulty. Also, as Hope reflected, even did he manage to open this receptacle of the dead, he still could not ascertain if the emeralds were safe, since they would be hidden under innumerable swathings of green-dyed llama wool. He therefore let the matter rest there, and, staring at the river, wondered how the mummy had been brought to the garden in the marshes.
Hope recollected that experts had decided the mode in which the mummy had been removed from the Pierside public-house. It had been passed through the window, according to Inspector Date and others, and, when taken across the narrow path which bordered the river, had been placed in a waiting boat. After that it had vanished until it had re-appeared in this arbor. But if taken by water once, it could have been taken by water again. There was a rude jetty behind the embankment, which Hope could easily see from where he stood. In all probability the mummy had been landed there and carried to the garden, while Mrs. Jasher was busy with her supper and her game of cards and her letters. Also, the path from the shore to the house was very lonely, and if any care had been exercised, which was probable, no one from the Fort road or from the village street could have seen the stealthy conspirators bringing their weird burden. So far Hope felt that he could argue excellently. But who had brought the mummy to the garden and why had it been brought there? These questions he could not answer so easily, and indeed not at all.
While thus meditating, he heard, far away in the frosty air, a puffing and blowing and panting like an impatient motor-car. Before he could guess what this was, Braddock appeared, simply racing along the marshy causeway, followed closely by Cockatoo, and at some distance away by Lucy. The little scientist rushed through the gate, which he flung open with a noise fit to wake the dead, and lunged forward, to fall with outstretched arms upon the green case. There he remained, still puffing and blowing, and looked as though he were hugging a huge green beetle. Cockatoo, who, being lean and hard, kept his breath more easily, stood respectfully by, waiting for his master to give orders, and Lucy came in quietly by the gate, smiling at her father’s enthusiasm. At the same moment Mrs. Jasher, well wrapped up in a coat of sables, emerged from the cottage.
“I heard you coming, Professor,” she called out, hurrying down the path.
“I should think the whole Fort heard the Professor coming,” said Hope, glancing at the dark mass. “The soldiers must think it is an invasion.”
But Braddock paid no heed to this jocularity, or even to Mrs. Jasher, to whom he had been so lately engaged. All his soul was in the mummy case, and as soon as he recovered his breath, he loudly proclaimed his joy at this miraculous recovery of the precious article.
“Mine! mine!” he roared, and his words ran violently through the frosty air.
“Be calm, sir,” advised Hope —“be calm.”
“Calm! calm!” bellowed Braddock, struggling to a standing position. “Oh, confound you, sir, how can I be calm when I find what I have lost? You have a mean, groveling soul, Hope, not the soaring spirit of a collector.”
“There is no need to be rude to Archie, father,” corrected Lucy sharply.
“Rude! Rude! I am never rude. But this mummy.” Braddock peered closely at it and rapped the wood to assure himself it was no phantom. “Yes! it is my mummy, the mummy of Inca Caxas. Now I shall learn how the Peruvians embalmed their royal dead. Mine! mine! mine!” He crooned like a mother over a child, caressing the coffin; then suddenly drew himself upright and fixed Mrs. Jasher with an indignant eye. “So it was you, madam, who stole my mummy,” he declared venomously, “and I thought of making you my wife. Oh, what an escape I have had. Shame, woman, shame!”
Mrs. Jasher stared, then her face grew redder than the rouge on her cheeks, and she stamped furiously in the neat Louis Quinze slippers in which she had in judiciously come out.
“How dare you say what you have said?” she cried, her voice shrill and hard with anger. “Mr. Hope has been saying the same thing. Are you both mad? I never set eyes on the horrid thing in my life. And only to-night you told me that you loved —”
“Yes, yes, I said many foolish things, I don’t doubt, madam. But that is not the question. My mummy! my mummy!” he rapped the wood furiously —“how does my mummy come to be here?”
“I don’t know,” said Mrs. Jasher, still furious, “and I don’t care.”
“Don’t care: don’t care, when I look forward to your helping me in my lifework! As my wife —”
“I shall never be your wife,” cried the widow, stamping again. “I wouldn’t be your wife for a thousand or a million pounds. Marry your mummy, you horrid, red-faced, crabbed little —”
“Hush! hush!” whispered Lucy, taking the angry woman round the waist, “you must make allowances for my father. He is so excited over his good fortune that he —”
“I shall not make allowance,” interrupted Mrs. Jasher angrily. “He practically accuses me of stealing the mummy. If I did that, I must have murdered poor Sidney Bolton.”
“No, no,” cried the Professor, wiping his red face. “I never hinted at such a thing. But the mummy is in your garden.”
“What of that? I don’t know how it came there. Mr. Hope, surely you do not support Professor Braddock in his preposterous accusation?”
“I bring no accusation,” stuttered the Professor.
“Neither do I, Mrs. Jasher. You are excited now. Go in and sleep, and tomorrow you will talk reasonably.” This brilliant speech was from Hope, and wrought Mrs. Jasher into a royal rage.
“Well,” she gasped, “he asks me to be calm, as it I wasn’t the very calmest person here. I declare: oh, I shall be ill! Lucy,” she seized the girl’s hand and dragged her towards the cottage, “come in and give me red lavender. I shall be in bed for days and days and days. Oh, what brutes men can be! But listen, you two horrors,” she indicated Braddock and Hope, as she pushed open the door, “if you dare to say a word against me, I’ll have an action for libel against you. Oh, dear me, how very ill I feel! Lucy, darling, help me, oh, help me, and — and — oh — oh — oh!” She flopped down on the threshold of her home with a cry.
“Archie! Archie! She’s fainted.”
Hope rushed forward, and raised the stout little woman in his arms. Jane, attracted by the clamor, appeared on the scene, and between the three of them they managed to get Mrs. Jasher placed on the sofa of the pink drawing-room. She certainly was in a dead faint, so Hope left her to the administrations of Lucy and the servant, and walked out again into the garden, closing the cottage door after him.
He found the heartless Professor quite oblivious to Mrs. Jasher’s sufferings, so taken up was he with the newly found mummy. Cockatoo had been sent for a hand-cart, and while he was absent Braddock expatiated on the perfections of this relic of Peruvian civilization.
“Will you sell it to Don Pedro?” asked Hope.
“After I have done with it, not before,” snapped Braddock, hovering round his treasure. “I shall want a percentage on my bargain also.”
Archie thought privately that if Braddock unswathed the mummy, he would find the emeralds and would probably stick to them, so that his expedition to Egypt might be financed. It that case Don Pedro would no longer wish to buy the corpse of his ancestor. But while he debated as to the advisability of telling the Professor of the existence of the emeralds, Cockatoo returned with the hand-cart.
“You have lost Mrs. Jasher,” said Hope, while he, assisted the Professor to hoist the mummy on to the cart.
“Never mind! never mind!” Braddock patted the coffin. “I have found something much more to my mind: something ever so much better. Ha! ha!”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:51