Some weeks had now elapsed since the death and burial of Sidney Bolton, and the excitement had simmered down to a gentle speculation as to who had killed him. This question was discussed in a half-hearted manner round the winter fires of Gartley, but gradually people were ceasing to interest themselves in a crime, the mystery of which would apparently never be solved. Life went on in the village and at the Pyramids much in the same way, save that the Professor attended along with Cockatoo to his museum and did not engage another assistant.
Archie and Lucy were perfectly happy, as they looked forward to being married in the spring, and Braddock showed no desire to interfere with their engagement. They knew, of course, that he had called upon Sir Frank, but were ignorant of what had taken place. Random himself called at the Pyramids to congratulate Miss Kendal on her engagement, and seemed so very pleased that she was going to marry the man of her choice, that, woman-like, she grew rather annoyed. As the baronet had been her lover, she thought that he should wear the willow for her sake. But Random showed no disposition to do so, therefore Lucy shrewdly guessed that his broken heart had been mended by another woman. The Professor could have confirmed the truth of this from the hints which Random had given him, but he said nothing about his interview with the young man, nor did he mention that a Spanish gentleman from Peru was seeking for the famous green mummy.
Considerably vexed that Random should be so cheerful, Lucy cast round to learn the truth. She could scarcely ask the baronet himself, and Archie professed himself unable to explain. Miss Kendal did not dream of cross-examining Braddock, as it never entered her mind that the dry-as-dust scientist would know anything. It then occurred to this inquisitive young lady that Mrs. Jasher might be aware of Random’s secret, which made him so cheerful. Sir Frank was a great friend of the plump widow, and frequently went to take afternoon tea at her small house, which was situated no great distance from the Fort. In fact, Mrs. Jasher entertained the officers largely, as she was hospitable by nature, and liked to have presentable men about her for flirting purposes. With good-looking youth she assumed the maternal air, and in the role of a clever woman of the world professed to be the adviser of one and all. In this way she became quite a favorite, and her little parlor — she liked the old English word — was usually, well filled at the hour of afternoon tea.
Twice already Lucy had called on Mrs. Jasher after the commotion caused by the crime, as she wished to speak to her about the same; but on each occasion the widow proved to be absent in London. However, the third visit proved to be more lucky, for Mrs. Jasher was at home, and expressed herself happy to see the girl.
“So good of you to come and see me in my little wooden hut,” said the widow, kissing her guest.
And Mrs. Jasher’s cottage really was a little wooden hut, being what was left of an old-fashioned farmhouse, built before the stone age. It lay on the verge of the marshes in an isolated position and was placed in the middle of a square garden, protected from the winter floods by a low stone wall solidly built, but of no great height. The road to the Fort ran past the front part of the garden, but behind the marshes spread towards the embankment, which cut off the view of the Thames. The situation was not an ideal one, nor was the cottage, but money was scarce with Mrs. Jasher, and she had obtained the whole place at a surprisingly small rental. The house and grounds were dry enough in summer, but decidedly damp in winter. Therefore, the widow went to a flat in London, as a rule, for the season of fogs. But this winter she had made up her mind — so she told Lucy — to remain in her own little castle and brave the watery humors of the marshes.
“I can always keep fires burning in every room,” said Mrs. Jasher, when she had removed her guest’s hat and had settled her for a confidential talk on the sofa. “And after all, my dear, there is no place like home.”
The room was small, and Mrs. Jasher was small, so she suited her surroundings excellently. Also, the widow had the good taste to furnish it sparsely, instead of crowding it with furniture; but what furniture there was could not be improved upon. There were Chippendale chairs, a Louis Quinze table, a Sheridan cabinet, and a satin-wood desk, hand-painted, which was said to have been the property of the unhappy Marie Antoinette. Oil-paintings adorned the rose-tinted walls, chiefly landscapes, although one or two were portraits. Also, there were water-colored pictures, framed and signed caricatures, many plates of old china, and rice-paper adornments from Canton. The room was essentially feminine, being filled with Indian stuffs, with silver oddments, with flowers, and with other trifles. The walls, the carpet, the hangings, and the upholstery of the arm-chairs were all of a rosy hue, so that Mrs. Jasher looked as young as Dame Holda in the Venusberg. A very pretty room and a very charming hostess, was the verdict of the young gentlemen from the Fort, who came here to flirt when they were not serving their country.
Mrs. Jasher in a tea-rose tea-gown for afternoon tea — she always liked to be in keeping — rang for that beverage dear to the feminine heart, and lighted a rose-shaded lamp. When a glow as of dawn spread through the dainty room, she settled Lucy on the sofa near the fire, and drew up an arm-chair on the other side of the hearth-rug. Outside it was cold and foggy, but the rose-hued curtains shut out all that was disagreeable in the weather, and in the absence of male society, the two women talked more or less confidentially. Lucy did not dislike Mrs. Jasher, even though she fancied that the lively widow was planning to become the mistress of the Pyramids.
“Well, my dear girl,” said Mrs. Jasher, shading her face from the fire with a large fan, “and how is your dear father after his late terrible experiences?”
“He is perfectly well, and rather cross,” replied Lucy, smiling.
“Of course. He has lost that wretched mummy.”
“And poor Sidney Bolton.”
“Oh, I don’t think he cares for poor Sidney’s death beyond the fact that he misses his services. But the mummy cost nine hundred pounds, and father is much annoyed, especially as Peruvian mummies are somewhat hard to obtain. You see, Mrs. Jasher, father wishes to see the difference between the Peruvian and Egyptian modes of embalming.”
“Ugh! How gruesome!” Mrs. Jasher shuddered. “But has anything been discovered likely to show who killed this poor lad?”
“No, the whole thing is a mystery.”
Mrs. Jasher looked into the fire over the top of the fan.
“I have read the papers,” she said slowly, “and have gathered what I could from what the reporters explained. But I intend to call on the Professor and hear all that evidence which did not get into the papers.”
“I think that everything has been made public. The police have no clue to the murderer. Why do you want to know?”
Mrs. Jasher made a movement of surprise.
“Why, I am the Professor’s friend, of course, my dear, and naturally I want to help him to solve this mystery.”
“There is no chance, so far as I can see, of it ever being solved,” said Lucy. “It’s very sweet of you, of course, but were I you I should not talk about it to my father.”
“Why?” asked Mrs. Jasher quickly.
“Because he thinks of nothing else, and both Archie and I are trying to get him off the subject. The mummy is lost and poor Sidney is buried. There is no more to be said.”
“Still, if a reward was offered —”
“My father is too poor to offer a reward, and the Government will not do so. And as people will not work without money, why —” Lucy completed her sentence with a shrug.
“I might offer a reward if the dear Professor will let me,” said the widow unexpectedly.
“You! But I thought that you were poor, as we are.”
“I was, and I am not very rich now. All the same, I have come in for some thousands of pounds.”
“I congratulate you. A legacy?”
“Yes. You remember how I told you about my brother who was a Pekin merchant. He is dead.”
“Oh, I am so sorry.”
“My dear, what is the use of being sorry. I never cry over spilt milk, or assume a virtue which I have not. My brother and I were almost strangers, as we lived apart for so many years. However, he came home to die at Brighton, and a few weeks ago — just after this murder took place, in fact — I was summoned to his death-bed. He lingered on until last week and died in my arms. He left me nearly all his money, so I will be able to help the Professor.”
“I don’t see why you should,” said Lucy, wondering why Mrs. Jasher did not wear mourning for the dead.
“Oh yes, you do see,” remarked the widow, raising her eyes and rubbing her plump hands together. “I want to marry your father.”
Lucy did not express astonishment, as she had understood this for a long time.
“I guessed as much.”
“And what do you say?”
Miss Kendal shrugged her shoulders.
“If my step-father,” she emphasized the word —“if my step-father consents, why should I mind? I am going to marry Archie, and no doubt the Professor will be lonely.”
“Then you do not disapprove of me as a mother.”
“My dear Mrs. Jasher,” said Lucy, coldly, “there is no relationship between me and my step-father beyond the fact that he married my mother. Therefore you can never be my mother. Were I stopping on at the Pyramids, that question might arise, but as I become Mrs. Hope in six months, we can be friends — nothing more.”
“I am quite content with that,” said Mrs. Jasher in a businesslike way. “After all, I am no sentimentalist. But I am glad that you do not mind my marrying the Professor, as I don’t want you to prevent the match, my dear.”
“I assure you that I have no influence with my father, Mrs. Jasher. He will marry you if he thinks fit and without consulting me. But,” added the girl with emphasis, “I do not see what you gain in becoming Mrs. Braddock.”
“I may become Lady Braddock,” said the widow, dryly. Then, in answer to the open astonishment on Lucy’s face, she hastened to remark: “Do you mean to say that you don’t know your father is heir to a baronetcy?”
“Oh, I know that,” rejoined Miss Kendal. “The Professor’s brother, Sir Donald Braddock, is an old man and unmarried. If he dies without heirs, as it seems likely, the Professor will certainly take the title.”
“Well, then, there you are!” cried Mrs. Jasher, in her liveliest tone. “I want to give my legacy for the title and preside over a scientific salon in London.”
“I understand. But you will never get my father to live in London.”
“Wait until I marry him,” said the little woman shrewdly. “I’ll make a man of him. I know, of course, that mummies and sepulchral ornaments and those sort of horrid things are dull, but the Professor will become Sir Julian Braddock, and that is enough for me. I don’t love him, of course, as love between two elderly people is absurd, but I shall make him a good wife, and with my money he can take his proper position in the scientific world, which he doesn’t occupy at present. I would rather he had been artistic, as science is so dull. However, I am getting on in years and wish to have some amusement before I die, so I must take what I can get. What do you say?”
“I am quite agreeable, as, when I leave, someone must look after my father, else he will be shamefully robbed by everyone in household matters. We are good friends, so why not you as well as another.”
“You are a dear girl,” said Mrs. Jasher with a sigh of relief, and kissed Lucy fondly. “I am sure we shall get on excellently.”
“At a distance. The artistic world doesn’t touch on the scientific, you know. And you forget, Mrs. Jasher, that my father wishes to go to Egypt to explore this mysterious tomb.”
Mrs. Jasher nodded.
“Yes, I promised, when I came in for my brother’s money, to help the Professor to fit out his expedition. But it seems to me that the money will be better spent in offering a reward so that the mummy can be found.”
“Well,” said Lucy, laughing, “you can give the Professor his choice.”
“Before marriage, not after. He needs to be managed, like all men.”
“You will not find him easy to manage,” said Lucy dryly. “He is a very obstinate man, and quite feminine in his persistency.”
“H’m! I recognize that he is a difficult character, and between you and me dear, I should not marry him but for the title. It sounds rather like an adventuress talking in this way, but, after all, if he makes me Lady Braddock I can give him enough money to let him realize his desire of getting the mummy back. It’s six of one and half a dozen of the other. And I’ll be good to him: you need not fear.”
“I am quite sure that, good or bad, the Professor will have his own way. It is not his happiness I am thinking of so much as yours.”
“Really. Here is the tea. Put the table near the fire, Jane, between Miss Kendal and myself. Thank you. The muffins on the fender. Thank you. No, there is nothing more. Close the door when you go out.”
The tea equippage having been arranged, Mrs. Jasher poured out a cup of Souchong, and handed it to her guest, resuming the subject of her proposed marriage meanwhile.
“I don’t see why you should be anxious about me, dear. I am quite able to look after myself. And the Professor seems to be kind-hearted enough.”
“Oh, he is kind-hearted when he gets his own way. Give him his hobby and he will never bother you. But he won’t live in London, and he will not consent to this salon you wish to institute.”
“Why not? It means fame to him. I shall gather round me all the scientists of London and make my house a centre of interest. The Professor can stop in his laboratory if he likes. As his wife, I can do all that is necessary. Well, my dear”— Mrs. Jasher took a cup of tea —“we need not talk the subject threadbare. You do not disapprove of my marriage with your step-father, so you can leave the rest to me. If you can give me a hint of how to proceed to bring about this marriage, of course I am not above taking it.”
Lucy glanced at the tea-gown.
“As you will have to tell the Professor that your brother is dead to account for possessing the money,” she said pointedly, “I should advise you to go into mourning. Professor Braddock will be shocked otherwise.”
“Dear me, what a tender heart he must have!” said Mrs. Jasher flippantly. “My brother was very little to me, poor man, so he cannot be anything to the Professor. However, I shall adopt your advice, and, after all, black suits me very well. There”— she swept her hands across the tea-table —“that is settled. Now about yourself?”
“Archie and I marry in the springtime.”
“And your other admirer, who has come back?”
“Sir Frank Random?” said Lucy, coloring.
“Of course. He called to see me a day or so ago, and seems less broken-hearted than he should be.”
Lucy nodded and colored still deeper.
“I suppose some other woman has consoled him.”
“Of course. Catch a modern man wearing the willow for any girl, however dear. Are you angry?”
“Oh no, no.”
“Oh yes, yes, I think,” said the widow, laughing, “else you are no woman, my dear. I know I should be angry to see a man get over his rejection so rapidly.”
“Who is she?” asked Lucy abruptly.
“Donna Inez de Gayangos.”
“I believe so — a colonial Spaniard, at least — from Lima. Her father, Don Pedro de Gayangos, met Sir Frank in Genoa by chance.”
“Well?” demanded Lucy impatiently.
Mrs. Jasher shrugged her plump shoulders.
“Well, my dear, can’t you put two and two together. Of course Sir Frank fell in love with this dark-hued angel.”
“Dark-hued! and I am light-haired. What a compliment!”
“Perhaps Sir Frank wanted a change. He played on white and lost, and therefore stakes his money on black to win. That’s the result of having been at Monte Carlo. Besides, this young lady is rich, I understand, and Sir Frank — so he told me — lost much more money at Monte Carlo than he could afford. Well, you don’t look pleased.”
Lucy roused herself from a fit of abstraction.
“Oh yes, I am pleased, of course. I suppose, as any woman would, I felt rather hurt for the moment in being forgotten so soon. But, after all, I can’t blame Sir Frank for consoling himself. If I am married first, he shall dance at my wedding: if he is married first, I shall dance at his.”
“And you shall both dance at mine,” said Mrs. Jasher. “Why, there is quite an epidemic of matrimony. Well, Donna Inez arrives here with her father in a day, or so. They stop at the Warrior Inn, I believe.”
“That horrid place?”
“Oh, it is clean and respectable. Besides, Sir Frank can hardly ask them to stop in the Fort, and I have no room in this bandbox of mine. However, the two of them — Donna Inez and Frank, I mean — can come here and flirt; so can you and Archie if you like.”
“I fear four people in this room would not do,” laughed Lucy, rising to take her leave. “Well, I hope Sir Frank will marry this lady and that you will become Mrs. Braddock. Only one thing I should like to know.”
“And that is?”
“Why was the mummy stolen. It was not valuable save to a scientist.”
“By that argument a scientist must be the murderer and thief,” said Mrs. Jasher. “However, we shall see. Meanwhile, live every moment of love’s golden hours: they never return.”
“That is good advice; I shall take it and my leave,” said Lucy, and departed in a very happy frame of mind.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09