Of all the surprises in connection with the tragedy of the green mummy, this was surely the greatest. Sidney Bolton had undoubtedly been murdered for the sake of the emeralds, and the assassin had escaped with the spoil, for which he had sold his soul. Yet here was one of the jewels returned anonymously to Random, who could pass on the same to its rightful owner. In the midst of his amazement Sir Frank could not help chuckling when he thought how enraged Professor Braddock would be at Don Pedro’s good fortune. At the eleventh hour, as it were, the Peruvian had got back his own, or at least a portion of his own.
Placing the emerald in his drawer, Random gave orders to his servant that the sentry, when off duty, should be brought before him. Just as Random finished dressing for mess — and he dressed very early, so as to devote his entire attention to solving this new problem — the soldier who had been on guard appeared. But he could tell nothing more than he had already related. When doing sentry-go immediately outside the gate of the Fort, the packet had been slipped into the box, while the man was at the far end of his beat. It was quite dark when this was done, and the soldier confessed that he had not heard a sound, much less had he seen anyone. The person who had brought the glorious gem had watched his opportunity, and, soft-footed as a cat, had stolen forward in the darkness to drop the precious parcel on the floor of the sentry box. There the man had found it by the feel of his feet, when he stepped in some time later to escape a shower. But what time had elapsed from the placing of the parcel to its discovery by the sentry it was impossible to say. It must, however, as Random calculated, have been within the hour, since, before then, it would not have been dark enough to hide the approach of the person, whether male or female, who carried a king’s ransom in the brown paper parcel.
At first Random was inclined to place the sentry under arrest for having failed so much in his duty as to allow anyone to approach so near the Fort; but, as he had already reprimanded the man, and, moreover, wished to keep the fact of the recovered jewel quiet, he simply dismissed him. When alone, he sat down before the fire, wondering who could have dared so very greatly, and for what reason the emerald had been handed to him. If it had been sent to Don Pedro, or even to Professor Braddock, it would have been much more reasonable.
It first occurred to him that Mrs. Jasher, out of gratitude for the way in which he had treated her, had sent him the jewel. Remembering his former experience, he smelt the parcel, but could detect no sign of the famous Chinese scent which had proved a clue to the letter. Of course the direction on the packet and the inscribed slip of paper were in feigned handwriting, so he could gather nothing from that. Still, he did not think that Mrs. Jasher had sent the emerald. She was desperately hard up, and if she had become possessed of the gem by murder — presuming her to have been the woman who talked to Bolton through the window — she assuredly would have sold it to supply her own needs. Certainly, if guilty, she would still possess the other emerald, of equal value; but undoubtedly, had she risked her neck to gain a fortune, she would have kept the entire plunder which was likely to cost her so dear. No; whomsoever it was who had repented at the eleventh hour, Mrs. Jasher was not the person.
Perhaps Widow Anne was the woman who had talked through the window, and who had restored the emerald. But that was impossible, since Mrs. Bolton habitually took more liquor than was good for her, and would not have the nerve to deliver the jewel, much less commit the crime, the more especially as the victim was her own son. Of course she might have found out Sidney’s scheme to run away with the jewels, and so would have claimed her share. But if she had been in Pierside on that evening — and her presence in Gartley had been sworn to by three or four cronies — she would have guessed who had strangled her boy. If so, not all the jewels in the world would have prevented her denouncing the criminal. With all her faults — and they were many — Mrs. Bolton was a good mother, and looked upon Sidney as the pride and joy of her somewhat dissipated life. Mrs. Bolton was certainly as innocent as Mrs. Jasher.
There remained Hervey. Random laughed aloud when the name came into his puzzled head. That buccaneer was the last person to surrender his plunder or to feel compunction in committing a crime. Once the skipper got his grip on two jewels, worth endless money, he would never let them go — not even one of them. Arguing thus, it seemed that Hervey was out of the running, and Random could think of no one else. In this dilemma he remembered that two heads were better than one, and, before going into dinner, he sent a note to Archie Hope, asking him to come to the Fort as speedily as possible.
Sir Frank was somewhat dull at dinner on that evening, and scarcely responded to the joking remarks of his brother officers. These jocularly put his preoccupation down to love, for it was an open secret that the baronet admired the fair Peruvian, although no one as yet knew that Random was legally engaged with Don Pedro’s consent. The young man good-humoredly stood all the chaff hurled at him, but seized the opportunity to slip away to his quarters as soon as coffee came on the table and the smoking began. It was nine o’clock before he returned to his room, and here he found Hope waiting for him impatiently.
“I see you have been dining at the Pyramids,” said Random, seeing that Hope was in evening dress.
“Yes. I don’t put on this kit to have my humble chop at my lodgings. But the Professor asked me to dinner to talk over matters.”
“What does he say?” asked Random, looking for the cigarette box.
“Oh, he is very angry with Mrs. Jasher, and considers that she has swindled him. He called to see her this afternoon, and — so he says — had a stormy interview with her.”
“I don’t wonder at that, if he speaks as he generally does,” said the other grimly, and pushing along the cigarettes, “There you are! The whisky and soda are on yonder table. Make yourself comfortable, and tell me what the Professor intends to do.”
“Well,” said Archie, turning half round from the side table where he was pouring out the whisky, “he had already started action, by sending Cockatoo to live at the Sailor’s Rest and spy on Hervey.”
“What rubbish! Hervey is, going away tomorrow in The Firefly, bound for Algiers. Nothing is to be learned from him.”
“So I told the Professor,” said Hope, returning to the armchair near the fire, “and I mentioned that Don Pedro had induced the skipper to write out a full account of the theft of the mummy from Lima thirty years ago. I also said that the signed paper would be handed in at the Gartley jetty when The Firefly came down stream tomorrow night.”
“Humph! And what did Braddock say to that?”
“Nothing much. He merely stated that whatever Hervey said toward proving the ownership of your future father-inlaw, that he intended to stick to the embalmed corpse of Inca Caxas, and also that he intended to claim the emeralds when they turned up.”
Random rose and went to the drawer of his desk.
“I am afraid he has lost one emerald, at all events,” he said, unlocking the drawer.
“What’s that?” said Hope sharply. “Why did you — oh, gosh!” He jumped up with an amazed look as Random held up the magnificent gem, from which streamed vividly green flames in the mellow lamplight. “Oh, gosh!” gasped the artist again. “Where the devil did you get that?”
“I sent for you to tell you,” said Sir Frank, giving the jewel into his friend’s hand and coming back to his seat. “It was found in the sentry box.”
Hope stared at the great jewel and then at the soldier.
“What do you mean by that?” he demanded. “How the dickens could it be found in a sentry box? You must be making a mistake.”
“Not a bit of it. It was found on the floor of the box by the sentry, as I tell you, and I have sent to consult with you as to how the deuce it got there.”
“Hervey,” muttered Archie, fascinated by the gem.
Random shrugged his square shoulders.
“Catch that Yankee Shylock returning anything he got his grip on, even as a wedding present.”
“A wedding present,” said Hope, more at sea than ever. “If you don’t mind giving me details, old chap, my head would buzz less.”
“I rather think that it will buzz more,” said Random dryly, and, producing the brown paper in which the gem had been wrapped, and the inscribed paper found within, he related all that had happened.
Archie listened quietly and did not interrupt, but the puzzled look on his face grew more pronounced.
“Well,” ended Random, seeing that no remark was made when he had finished, “what do you think?”
“Lord knows! I’ll go out of my mind if these sort of things come along. I am a simple sort of chap, and have no use for mysteries which beat all the detective stories I have ever read. That sort of thing is all very well in fiction, but in real life — humph! What are you going to do?”
“Give back the emerald to Don Pedro.”
“Of course, though, it is given to you for a wedding present. And then?”
“Then”— Random stared into the fire —“I don’t know. I asked you in to assist me.”
“Willingly; but how?”
Random pondered for a few moments.
“Who sent that emerald to me, do you think?” he asked, looking squarely at the artist.
Hope meditatively turned the jewel in his long fingers.
“Why not ask Mrs. Jasher?” he suggested suddenly.
“No!” Sir Frank shook his head. “I fancied it might be her, but it cannot be. If she is guilty — as she must be, should she have sent the emerald — she would not part with her plunder when she is so hard up. I am beginning to believe, Hope, that what she said was true about the letter.”
“How do you mean exactly?”
“That the letter was mere bluff and that she really knows nothing about the crime. By the way, did Braddock learn anything?”
“Not a thing. He merely said that the two of them fought. I expect Braddock stormed and Mrs. Jasher retorted. Both of them have too much tongue-music to come to any understanding. By the way — to echo, your own phrase — you had better put away this gem or I shall be strangling you myself in order to gain possession of it. The mere sight of that gorgeous color tempts me beyond my strength.”
Random laughed and locked the jewel in his drawer. Hope suggested that with such a flimsy lock it was unsafe, but the baronet shook his head.
“It is safer here than in a woman’s jewel case,” he asserted. “No one looks to my drawer, and certainly no one would expect to find a crown jewel of this description in my quarters. Well,” he came back to his seat, slipping his keys into his trouser pocket, “the whole thing puzzles me.”
“Why not do as I suggest and go to Mrs. Jasher? In any case you are going there to-night, are you not?”
“Yes. I want to decide what to do about the woman. I had intended to go alone, but as you are here you may as well come also.”
“I shall be delighted. What do you intend to do?”
“Help her,” said Random briefly.
“She doesn’t deserve it,” replied Hope, lighting a fresh cigarette.
“Does anyone ever deserve anything?” asked Sir Frank cynically. “What does Miss Kendal think of the business? I suppose Braddock told her. He has too long a tongue to keep anything to himself.”
“He told her at dinner, when I was present. Lucy is quite on your side. She says that she had known Mrs. Jasher for months and that there is good in her, although I am bound to say that Lucy was a trifle shocked.”
“Does she want Mrs. Jasher to marry her father now?”
“Her step-father,” corrected Archie immediately. “No, that is out of the question. But she would like Mrs. Jasher to be helped out of her difficulties and have a fair start. It was only by the greatest diplomacy that I prevented Lucy going to see the wretched woman this evening.”
“Why did you prevent her?”
“I daresay I am a trifle prudish,” he replied, “but after what has happened I do not wish Lucy to associate with Mrs. Jasher. Do you blame me?”
“No, I don’t. All the same, I don’t think that Mrs. Jasher is an immoral woman by any means.”
“Perhaps not; but we needn’t discuss her character, as we know precious little of her past, and she no doubt told you the story that best suited herself. I think it will be best to make her tell all she knows this evening, and then send her away with a sum of money in her pocket to begin a new life.”
“I shall help her certainly,” said Random, with his eyes on the fire, “but can’t say exactly how. It is my opinion that the poor wretch is more sinned against than sinning.”
“You are a soldier with a conscience, Random.”
The other laughed.
“Why shouldn’t a soldier have a conscience? Do you take your idea of officers from the lady novelist, who makes us out to be all idle idiots?”
“Not exactly. All the same, many a man would not take the trouble to behave as you are doing to this unlucky woman.”
“Any man, who was a man, whether soldier or civilian, would help such a poor creature. And I believe, Hope, that you will help her also.”
The artist leaped to his feet impulsively.
“Of course. I’m with you right along, as Hervey would say. But first, before deciding what we shall do to set Mrs. Jasher on her legs again, let us hear what she has to say.”
“She can say nothing more than she has said,” remonstrated Random.
“I don’t believe that,” replied Hope, reaching for his overcoat. “You may choose to believe that the letter was the outcome of bluff. But I really and truly think that Mrs. Jasher is in the know. What is more, I believe that Bolton got her those clothes, and that she was the woman who talked to him — went there to see how the little scheme was progressing.”
“If I thought that,” said Random coldly, “I would not help Mrs. Jasher.”
“Oh, yes, you would. The greater the sinner the more need she or he has of help, you know, my dear fellow. But get your coat on, and let us toddle. I don’t suppose we need pistols.”
Sir Frank laughed, as, aided by the artist, he struggled into his military greatcoat.
“I don’t suppose that Mrs. Jasher will be dangerous,” he remarked. “We’ll get what we can out of her, and then arrange what is best to be done to recoup her fallen fortunes. Then she can go where she chooses, and we can — as the French say — return to our muttons.”
“I think Donna Inez and Lucy would be annoyed to hear themselves called muttons,” laughed Archie, and the two men left the room.
The night was darker than ever, and a fine rain was falling incessantly. When they left the dimly lighted archway of the fort through the smaller, gate set in the larger one they stepped into midnight blackness such as must have been spread over the land of Egypt. In accordance with the primitive customs of Gartley inhabitants, one of them at least should have been furnished with a lantern, as it was no easy task to pick a clean way through the mud. —— However, Archie, knowing the surroundings better even than Random, led the way, and they walked slowly through the iron gate on the hard high road which led to the Fort. Immediately beyond this they turned towards the narrow cinder path which led through the marshes to Mrs. Jasher’s cottage, and toiled on cautiously through the misty rain, which fell continuously. The fog was drifting up from the mouth of the river and was growing so thick that they could not see the somewhat feeble lights of the cottage. However, Archie’s instincts led him aright, and they blundered finally upon the wooden gate. Here they paused in shocked surprise, for a woman’s scream rang out wildly and suddenly.
“What, in heaven’s name, is that?” asked Hope, aghast.
“We must find out,” breathed Random, and raced through the white cotton-wool of the fog up the path. As he reached the veranda the door opened and a woman came running out screaming. But other screams inside the cottage still continued.
“What is the matter?” cried Random, seizing the woman.
She proved to be Jane.
“Oh, sir, my mistress is being murdered —”
Hope plunged past her into the corridor, not waiting to hear more. The cries had died down to a low moaning, and he dashed into the pink parlor to find it in smoky darkness. Striking a match, he held it above his head. It showed Mrs. Jasher prone on the floor, and a dark figure smashing its way through the flimsy window. There was a snarl and the figure vanished as the match went out.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09