In spite of newspapers and letters and tape-machines and telegrams and such like aids to the speedy diffusion of news, the same travels quicker in villages than in cities. Word of mouth can spread gossip with marvelous rapidity in sparsely inhabited communities, since it is obvious that in such places every person knows the other — as the saying goes — inside out. In every English village walls have ears and windows have eyes, so that every cottage is a hot-bed of scandal, and what is known to one is, within the hour, known to the others. Even the Sphinx could not have preserved her secret long in such a locality.
Gartley could keep up its reputation in this respect along with the best, therefore it was little to be wondered at, that early next morning every one knew that Professor Braddock had found his long-lost mummy in Mrs. Jasher’s garden, and had removed the same to the Pyramids without unnecessary delay. It was not particularly late when the hand-cart, with its uncanny burden, had passed along the sole street of the place, and several men had emerged from the Warrior Inn ostensibly to offer help, but really to know what the eccentric master of the great house was doing. Braddock brusquely rejected these offers; but the oddly shaped mummy case, stained green, having been seen, it needed little wit for those who had caught a sight of it to put two and two together, especially as the weird object had been described at the inquest and had been talked over ever since in every cottage. And as the cart had been seen coming out of the widow’s garden, it naturally occurred to the villagers that Mrs. Jasher had been concealing the mummy. Shortly the rumor spread that she had also murdered Bolton, for unless she had done so, she certainly — according to village logic — could not have been possessed of the spoil. Finally, as Mrs. Jasher’s doors and windows were small and the mummy was rather bulky, it was natural to presume that she had hidden it in the garden. Report said she had buried it and had dug it up just in time to be pounced upon by its rightful owner. From which it can be seen that gossip is not invariably accurate.
However this may be, the news of Professor Braddock’s good fortune shortly came to Don Pedro’s ears through the medium of the landlady. As she revealed what she had heard in the morning, the Peruvian gentleman was spared a sleepless night. But as soon as he learned the truth — which was surprising enough in its unexpectedness — he hastily finished his breakfast and hurried to the Pyramids. As yet he had not intended to see Braddock so promptly, or at least not until he had made further inquiries at Pierside, but the news that Braddock possessed the royal ancestor of the De Gayangoses brought him immediately into the museum. He greeted the Professor in his usual grave and dignified manner, and no one would have guessed from his inherent calmness that the unexpected news of Braddock’s arrival, and the still more unexpected information about the green mummy, had surprised him beyond measure. Being somewhat superstitious, it also occurred to Don Pedro that the coincidence meant good fortune to him in the recovery of his long-lost ancestor.
Braddock, already knowing a great deal about Don Pedro from Lucy and Archie Hope, was only too pleased to see the Peruvian, hoping to find in him a kindred spirit. As yet the Professor was not aware of the contents of the ancient Latin manuscript, which revealed the fact of the hidden emeralds, since Hope had decided to leave it to the Peruvian to impart the information. Archie knew very well that Don Pedro — as he had plainly stated — wished to purchase the mummy, and it was only right that Braddock should know what he was selling. But Hope forgot one important fact perhaps from the careless way in which Don Pedro had told his story — namely, that the Professor in a second degree was a receiver of stolen goods. Therefore it was more than probable that the Peruvian would claim the mummy as his own property. Still, in that event he would have to prove his claim, and that would not be easy.
The plump little professor had not yet unsealed the case, and when Don Pedro entered, he was standing before it rubbing his fat hands, with a gloating expression in his face. However, as Cockatoo had brought in the Peruvian’s card, Braddock expected his visitor and wheeled to face him.
“How are you, sir?” said he, extending his hand. “I am glad to see you, as I hear that you know all about this mummy of Inca Caxas.”
“Well, I do,” answered De Gayangos, sitting down in the chair which his host pushed forward. “But may I ask who told you that this mummy was that of the last Inca?”
Braddock pinched his plump chin and replied readily, enough.
“Certainly, Don Pedro. I wished to learn the difference in embalming between the Egyptians and the ancient Peruvians, and looked about for a South American corpse. Unexpectedly I saw in several European newspapers and in two English journals that a green Peruvian mummy was for sale at Malta for one thousand pounds. I sent my assistant, Sidney Bolton, to buy it, and he managed to get it, coffin and all, for nine hundred. While in Malta, and before he started back in The Diver with the mummy, he wrote me an account of the transaction. The seller — who was the son of a Maltese collector — told Bolton that his father had picked up the mummy in Paris some twenty and more years ago. It came from Lima some thirty years back, I believe, and, according to the collector in Paris, was the corpse of Inca Caxas. That is the whole story.”
Don Pedro nodded gravely.
“Was there a Latin manuscript delivered along with the mummy?” he asked.
Braddock’s eyes opened widely.
“No, sir. The mummy came thirty years ago from Lima to Paris. It passed twenty years back into the possession of the Maltese collector, and his son sold it to me a few months ago. I never heard of any manuscript.”
“Then Mr. Hope did not repeat to you what I told him the other night?”
The Professor sat down and his mouth grew obstinate.
“Mr. Hope related some story you told him and others about this mummy having been stolen from you.”
“From my father,” corrected the unsmiling Peruvian; keeping a careful eye on his host; “that is really the case. Inca Caxas is, or was, my ancestor, and this manuscript”— Don Pedro produced the same from his inner pocket —“details the funeral ceremonies.”
“Very interesting; most interesting,” fussed Braddock, stretching out his hand. “May I see it?”
“You read Latin,” observed Don Pedro, surrendering the manuscript.
Braddock raised his eyebrows.
“Of course,” he said simply, “every well-educated man reads Latin, or should do so. Wait, sir, until I glance through this document.”
“One moment,” said Don Pedro, as the Professor began to literally devour the discolored page. “You know from Hope, I have no doubt, how I chance upon my own property in Europe?”
Braddock, still with his eyes on the manuscript, mumbled
“Your own property. Quite so: quite so.”
“You admit that. Then you will no doubt restore the mummy to me.”
By this time the drift of Don Pedro’s observations entirely reached the understanding of the scientist, and he dropped the document he was reading to leap to his feet.
“Restore the mummy to you!” he gasped. “Why, it is mine.”
“Pardon me,” said the Peruvian, still gravely but very decisively, “you admitted that it belonged to me.”
Braddock’s face deepened to a fine purple.
“I didn’t know what I was saying,” he protested. “How could I say it was your property when I have bought it for nine hundred pounds?”
“It was stolen from me.”
“That has got to be proved,” said Braddock caustically.
Don Pedro rose, looking more like, Don Quixote than ever.
“I have the honor to give you my word and —”
“Yes, yes. That is all right. I cast no imputation on your honor.”
“I should think not,” said the other coldly but strongly.
“All the same, you can scarcely expect me to part with so valuable an object,” Braddock waved his hand towards the case, “without strict inquiry into the circumstances. And again, sir, even if you succeed in proving your ownership, I am not inclined to restore the mummy to you for nothing.”
“But it is stolen property you are keeping from me.”
“I know nothing about that: I have only your bare word that it is so, Don Pedro. All I know is that I paid nine hundred pounds for the mummy and that it cost the best part of another hundred to bring it to England. What I have, I keep.”
“Like your country,” said the Peruvian sarcastically.
“Precisely,” replied the Professor suavely. “Every Englishman has a bull-dog tenacity of purpose. Brag is a good dog, Don Pedro, but Holdfast is a better one.”
“Then I understand,” said the Peruvian, stretching out his hand to pick up the fallen manuscript, “that you will keep the mummy.”
“Certainly,” said Braddock coolly, “since I have paid for it. Also, I shall keep the jewels, which the manuscript tells me — from the glance I obtained of it — were buried with it.”
“The sole jewels buried are two large emeralds which the mummy holds in its hands,” explained Don Pedro, restoring the manuscript to his pocket, “and I wish for them so that I may get money to restore the fortunes of my family.”
“No! no! no!” said Braddock forcibly. “I have bought the mummy and the jewels with it. They will sell to supply me with money to fit out my expedition to the tomb of Queen Tahoser.”
“I shall dispute your claim,” cried De Gayangos, losing his calmness.
Braddock waved his hand with supreme content.
“I can give you the address of my lawyers,” he retorted; “any steps you choose to take will only result in loss, and from what you hint I should not think that you had much money to spend on litigation.”
Don Pedro bit his lip, and saw that it was indeed a more difficult task than he had anticipated to make Braddock yield up his prize.
“If you were in Lima,” he muttered, speaking Spanish in his excitement, “you would then learn that I speak truly.”
“I do not doubt your truth,” answered the Professor in the same language.
De Gayangos wheeled and faced his host, much surprised.
“You speak my tongue, senor?” he demanded.
“I have been in Spain, and I have been in Peru,” he answered dryly, “therefore I know classical Spanish and its colonial dialects. As to being in Lima, I was there, and I do not wish to go there again, as I had quite enough of those uncivilized parts thirty years ago, when the country was much disturbed after your civil war.”
“You were in Lima thirty years ago,” echoed Don Pedro; “then you were there when Vasa stole this mummy.”
“I don’t know who stole it, or even if it was stolen,” said the Professor obstinately, “and I don’t know the name of Vasa. Ah! now I remember. Young Hope did say something about the Swedish sailor who you said stole the mummy.”
“Vasa did, and brought it to Europe to sell — probably to that man in Paris, who afterwards sold it to your Malteses collector.”
“No doubt,” rejoined Braddock calmly; “but what has all this to do with me, Don Pedro?”
“I want my mummy,” raged the other, and looked dangerous.
“Then you won’t get it,” retorted Braddock, adopting a pugnacious attitude and quite composed. “This mummy has caused one death, Don Pedro, and from your looks I should think you would like it to cause another.”
“Will you not be honest?”
“I’ll knock your head off if you bring my honesty into question,” cried the Professor, standing on tip-toe like a bantam. “The best thing to do will be to take the matter into court. Then the law can decide, and I have little doubt but what it will decide in my favor.”
The Englishman and the Peruvian glared at one another, and Cockatoo, who was crouching on the floor, glanced from one angry face to another. He guessed that the white men were quarreling and perhaps would come to blows. It was at this moment that a knock came to the door, and a minute later Archie entered. Braddock glanced at him, and took a sudden resolution as he stepped forward.
“Hope, you are just in time,” he declared. “Don Pedro states that the mummy belongs to him, and I assert that I have bought it. We shall make you umpire. He wants it: I want it. What is to be done?”
“The mummy is my own flesh and blood, Mr. Hope,” said Don Pedro.
“Precious little of either about it,” said Braddock contemptuously.
Archie twisted a chair round and straddled his long legs across it, with his arms resting on its back. His quick brain had rapidly comprehended the situation, and, being acquainted with both sides of the question, it was not difficult to come to a decision. If it was hard that Don Pedro should lose his ancestor’s mummy, it was equally hard that Braddock — or rather himself — should lose the purchase money, seeing that it had been paid in good faith to the seller in Malta for a presumably righteously acquired object. On these premises the young Solon proceeded to deliver judgment.
“I understand,” said he judiciously, “that Don Pedro had the mummy stolen from him thirty years ago, and that you, Professor, bought it under the impression that the Maltese owner had a right to possess it.”
“Yes,” snapped Braddock, “and I daresay the Maltese owner thought so too, since he bought it from that collector in Paris.”
“And if Vasa sold it to the man in Paris,” said he calmly, “he certainly would not tell the purchaser that he had looted the mummy in Lima, and the poor man would not know that he was receiving stolen goods. Is that right, Don Pedro?”
“Yes, sir,” said the Peruvian, who had recovered his temper and his gravity; “but I declare solemnly that the mummy was stolen from my father and should belong to me.”
“No one disputes that,” said Archie cheerfully; “but it ought to belong to the Professor also, since he has bought it. Now, as it can’t possibly belong to two people, we must split the difference. You, Professor, must sell back the mummy to Don Pedro for the price you paid for it, and then, Don Pedro, you must recompense Professor Braddock for his loss.”
“I have not much money,” said Don Pedro gravely; “still, I am willing to do as you say.”
“I don’t know that I am,” protested Braddock noisily. “There are the two emeralds which are of immense value, as Don Pedro says, and they belong to me, since the mummy is my property.”
“Professor,” said Archie solemnly, “you must do right, even if you lose by it. I believe the story of Senor De Gayangos; and the mummy with its jewels belongs to him. Besides, you only wish to see the way in which the Inca race embalmed their dead. Well, then, unpack the mummy here in the presence of Don Pedro. When you have satisfied your curiosity, and when Senor De Gayangos signs a check for one thousand pounds, he can take away the corpse. You have had so much trouble over it, that I wonder your are not anxious to see the last of it.”
“But the emeralds would sell for much money and would defray the expenses of my expedition into Egypt to search for that Queen’s tomb.”
“I understood from Lucy that Mrs. Jasher intended to finance that expedition when she became your wife.”
“Humph!” muttered Braddock, stroking his fat chin. “I said a few foolish things to her last night when I was heated up. She may not forgive me, Hope.”
“A woman will forgive anything to the man she loves,” said Archie.
Braddock was no fool, and could not help casting a glance at his tubby figure, which was reflected in a near mirror. It seemed incredible that Mrs. Jasher could love him for his looks, and the fact that he might some day be a baronet did not strike him at the moment as a consideration. However, he foresaw trouble and expense should Don Pedro go to law, as he seemed determined to do. Taking all things into consideration, Braddock thought that Archie’s judgment was a good one, and yielded.
“Well,” he said after reflection, “let us agree. I shall open the case and examine the mummy, which after all is the reason why I bought it. When I have satisfied myself as to the difference between the modes of embalming, Don Pedro can give me a check and take away the mummy. I only hope that he will have less trouble with it than I have had,” and, so speaking, Braddock, signing to Cockatoo to bring all the necessary tools, laid hands on the case.
“I am content,” said Don Pedro briefly, and seated himself in a chair beside the young Daniel who had delivered judgment.
Hope offered to assist the Professor to open the case, but was dismissed with an abrupt refusal.
“Though I am glad you are present to see the mummy unpacked,” said Braddock, laboring at the lid of the case, “for if the emeralds are missing, Don Pedro might accuse me of stealing them.”
“Why should the emeralds be missing?” asked Hope quickly.
Braddock shrugged his shoulders.
“Sidney Bolton was killed,” said he in a low voice, “and it was not likely that any one would commit a murder for the sake of this mummy, and then leave it stranded in Mrs. Jasher’s garden. I have my doubts about the safety of the emeralds, else I would not have consented to sell the thing back again.”
With this honest speech, the Professor vigorously attacked the lid of the case, and inserted a steel instrument into the cracks to prize up the covering. The lid was closed with wooden pegs in an antique but perfectly safe manner, and apparently had not been opened since the dead Inca had been laid to rest therein hundreds of years ago among the Andean mountains. Don Pedro winced at this desecration of the dead, but, as he had given his consent, there was nothing left to do but to grin and bear it. In a wonderfully short space of time, considering the neatness of the workmanship and the holding power of the wooden pegs, the lid was removed. Then the four on-lookers saw that the mummy had been tampered with. Swathed in green-stained llama wool, it lay rigid in its case. But the swathings had been cut; the hands protruded and the emeralds were gone — torn rudely from the hard grip of the dead.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09