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Title: The Living Mummy
Author: Pratt, Ambrose
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Living Mummy" ***

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[Illustration:

The Living Mummy

I swear by the King of Heaven & of Earth--

_Frontispiece_   _Page 244_]



_The_ Living Mummy

BY
AMBROSE PRATT

_With Four Illustrations in Color by_
LOUIS D. FANCHER

[Illustration: Decoration]

_SECOND EDITION_

NEW YORK
FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY
PUBLISHERS


Copyright, 1910, by FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY

_All rights reserved_

[Illustration: Logo _February, 1910_]



THE LIVING MUMMY



CONTENTS

CHAPTER                                       PAGE
     I. CONCERNING THE SON OF HAP                1

    II. A PATIENT OF THE DESERT                 13

   III. TWO LIES                                25

    IV. THE SARCOPHAGUS'S PERFUME               29

     V. THE SHADOW IN THE CAVE                  42

    VI. ENTER DOCTOR BELLEVILLE                 53

   VII. THE ONE GODDESS                         62

  VIII. OTTLEY SHOWS HIS HAND                   75

    IX. A COOL DEFIANCE                         90

     X. THE CAPTURE OF THE COFFIN               96

    XI. GOOD-BYE TO THE NILE                   104

   XII. THE MEETING                            111

  XIII. HUBBARD IS JEALOUS                     124

   XIV. THE PUSHFUL MAN                        131

    XV. A QUAINT LOVE PACT                     138

   XVI. LADY HELEN PRESCRIBES FOR HER HUSBAND  145

  XVII. THE SÉANCE                             155

 XVIII. THE UNSEEN                             173

   XIX. THE FIRST VICTIM                       184

    XX. LADY HELEN'S MEDICINE OPERATES         193

   XXI. HUBBARD'S PHILOSOPHY OF LIFE           204

  XXII. THE DEAD HAND                          211

 XXIII. I SET OUT FOR THE EAST                 220

  XXIV. THE GIN IS SPRUNG                      226

   XXV. THE MUMMY TALKS                        238

  XXVI. A PLEASANT CHAT WITH A MURDERER        246

 XXVII. UNBOUND                                262

XXVIII. THE STRUGGLE IN THE CHAMBER            275

  XXIX. SAVED BY FIRE                          293

   XXX. THE LAST                               305



THE LIVING MUMMY



Chapter I

Concerning the Son of Hap


I was hard at work in my tent. I had almost completed translating
the inscription of a small stele of Amen-hotep III, dated B. C.,
1382, which with my own efforts I had discovered, and I was feeling
wonderfully self-satisfied in consequence, when of a sudden I heard a
great commotion without. Almost immediately the tent flap was lifted,
and Migdal Abu's black face appeared. He looked vastly excited for an
Arab, and he rolled his eyes horribly. "What do you want?" I demanded
irritably. "Did I not tell you I was not to be disturbed?"

He bent almost double. "Excellency--a white sheik has come riding on an
ass, and with him a shameless female, also white."

"The dickens!" I exclaimed, for I had not seen a European for nine
weeks.

Migdal Abu advanced with hand outstretched. "Excellency, he would have
me give you this."

I took "this," and swore softly underbreath at the humourless
pomposity of my unknown countryman. It was a pasteboard
carte-de-visite. And we--in the heart of the Libyan desert!

With a laugh I looked at the thing and read his name--"Sir Robert
Ottley."

"What!" I said, then sprang a-foot. Ottley the great Egyptologist.
Ottley the famous explorer. Ottley the eminent decipherer of cuneiform
inscriptions. Ottley the millionaire whose prodigality in the cause of
learning had in ten short years more than doubled the common stock of
knowledge of the history of the Shepherd kings of the Nile. I had been
longing since a lad to meet him, and now he had come unasked to see me
out on the burning sands of Yatibiri.

Trembling with excitement, I caught up a jacket, and hardly waiting to
thrust my arms into the sleeves, rushed out of the tent.

Before me, sitting on an ass that was already sound asleep, despite a
plague of flies that played about its eyes, was a little bronze-faced,
grizzled old man attired from head to foot in glistening white duck
and wearing on his head an enormous pith helmet. My Arabs, glad of an
excuse to cease work, squatted round him in a semi-circle.

"Sir Robert Ottley!" I cried. "A thousand welcomes."

"You are very good," he drawled. "I presume you are Dr. Pinsent."

"At your service."

He stooped a little forward and offered me his hand.

"Will you not dismount?" I asked.

"Thank you, no. I have come to ask a favour." Then he glanced round him
and began deliberately to count my Arabs.

I surveyed him in blank astonishment. He possessed a large hawk-like
nose, a small thin-lipped mouth and little eyes twinkling under brows
that beetled.

"Twelve, and two of them are good for nothing; mere weeds," said Sir
Robert.

Then he turned to me with a smile. "You will forgive me?" he asked,
adding quickly, "but then Arabs are cattle. There was no personal
reflection."

"A cup of coffee," I suggested. "The sun is dreadful. It would refresh
you."

"The sun is nothing," he replied, "and I have work to do. I am camped
on the southern slope of the Hill of Rakh. It is twelve miles. I have
found the tomb for which I have been searching seven years. I thought I
had enough Arabs. I was mistaken."

"You may have the use of mine and welcome," I observed.

He gave a queer little bow. "He gives twice who gives quickly. The
sarcophagus is in a rock hole forty feet beneath the level of the
desert. I simply must have it up to-night."

"They shall start at once, and I shall go with them; I am as strong
as six," I replied. Then I shouted some orders to Migdal Abu. When I
turned it was to gasp. A woman had materialised from the sunbeams. I
had completely forgotten that Sir Robert had a female companion. All
my eyes had been for him. I swung off my hat and stammered some tardy
words of welcome and invitation.

Sir Robert interrupted me. "My daughter--Dr. Pinsent," he drawled in
slow, passionless tones. "My daughter does not require any refreshment,
thank you, Doctor."

"I am too excited," said a singularly sweet voice. "Father's discovery
has put me into a fever. I really could not eat, and coffee would choke
me. But if you could give me a little water."

I rushed into my tent and returned with a brimming metal cup. "The
Arabs have broken all my glass ware," I said apologetically.

She lifted her veil and our eyes met. She was lovely. She smiled and
showed a set of dazzling teeth. The incisors were inlaid with gold. I
remarked the fact in a sort of self-defensive panic, for the truth is
I am a shy idiot with pretty women. Thank goodness she was thirsty and
did not notice my confusion. Two minutes afterwards I was mounted on
my donkey, and we were off on the long tramp to the Hill of Rakh, the
Arabs trailing behind us in a thin ill-humoured line. We maintained
the silence of bad temper and excessive heat until the sun sank into
the sand. Then, however, we wiped our foreheads, said a cheerful
good-bye to the flies that had been tormenting us, and woke up.

"I am immensely obliged to you, Dr. Pinsent," said Sir Robert.

"So am I," said Miss Ottley.

"The boot is on the other foot," I replied. "It's kind of you to permit
me to be present at your triumph. Is it a king?"

"No," said Miss Ottley, "a priest of Amen of the eighteenth dynasty."

"Oh, a priest."

Miss Ottley bridled at my tone. "No king was ever half as interesting
as _our_ priest," she declared. "He was a wonderful man in every way, a
prophet, a magician, and enormously powerful. Besides, he is believed
to have committed suicide for the sake of principle, and he predicted
his own resurrection after a sleep of two thousand years."

"He has been dead 3285 years," sighed Sir Robert.

"Is that his fault?" cried the girl.

"It falsifies his prophecy."

She shrugged her shoulders.

"Ptahmes was his name," said Sir Robert, turning to me. "He was the
right-hand man of Amen-hotep IV; but when that king changed his
religion and his name and became Akhenaten and a devotee of the old
worship of Heliopolis, Ptahmes apparently killed himself as a protest
against the deposition of Amen, his particular divinity."

"Read that," said Miss Ottley.

She handed me a page of type-written manuscript.

It ran as follows:

"Hearken to the orders which are put upon you by Ptahmes, named
Tahutimes, son of Mery, son of Hap.

"All my ways were regulated even as the pace of an ibis. The
Hawk-headed Horus was my protector like amulets upon my body. I trained
the troops of my lord. I made his pylon 60 cubits long in the noble
rock of quartzite, most great in height and firm as heaven. I did
not imitate what had been done before. I was the royal scribe of the
recruits. Mustering was done under me. I was appointed Judge of the
Palace; overseer of all the prophets of the south and of the north. I
was appointed High Priest of Amen in the Capital--King of all the Gods.
I was made the eyes and ears of the king: keeper of my lord's heart and
fan-bearer at the King's right hand. Great men have come from afar to
bow themselves before me, bringing presents of ivory and gold, copper,
silver and emery, lazuli, malachite, green felspar and vases of mern
wood inlaid with white precious stones sometimes bearing gold at one
time 1000 deben (200 pounds weight). For my fame was carried abroad
even as the fame of the king, 'lord of the sweet wind.' And there
was spoken of me by the son of Paapis that my wisdom was of a divine
nature, because of my knowledge of futurities. Yet on the sixth day of
the month of Pakhons in the 18th year I desire to rest. My lord, at the
solicitation of the great royal wife and mother Nefertiti, has put off
the worship of his predecessors. The name of Amen is proscribed from
the country. Ra is proscribed from the country. Horus is proscribed
from the country. Aten is set up in their place and worshipped in the
land. My lord has even changed his name. Apiy is the high priest of the
new God that is from the Mesopotamian wilderness. Amen, king of the
Gods, dandled my lord and is forsaken and proscribed. I am an old man
and would rest: although my lord has not forsaken me. He has appointed
me overseer of all his works. Therefore, shall you carry me to the
temple of Kak, and give my body to the hands of the priests of Amen who
will wrap me in the linen sheets of Horus without removing my heart, my
entrails or my lungs. Then you shall carry me to Khizebh and enclose
me in the place prepared for me; and cover my tomb to a depth of five
fathoms with the sand of the desert at that hour when no man looks or
listens. Do this even as I command, and as royal scribe I trace the
order with my pen. But you shall place my papyri and the sign by which
I shall be known, and the stele of ivory engraved with the directions
to the priests of Amen who are to wake me from my sleep at the distant
hour, in the tomb that is prepared for my body in the temple of
Merenptah and in such manner that I shall there appear to sleep. And
all these things you shall do, or my curse shall pursue you and your
children and their children for the space of four hundred lives. Nor
shall you remove the endowment of my gifts nor touch them where they
lie under a penalty of great moment."

I strained my eyes to catch the last words, for the darkness was
already setting down upon the desert; and I was profoundly interested.

"Wonderful!" I said, as I returned her the document. "A papyrus, of
course?"

"Yes, one of several. Father found it seven years ago at Dier el
Batiri."

"I had not heard."

Sir Robert coughed. "No," said he, "nor anyone else. I have never
published it. It did not come to me in the usual way. I bought it from
an Arab who had rifled the tomb in which it was discovered."

"And the other papyri and the ivory stele?" I questioned.

"They are in my possession, too."

"They enabled you doubtless to locate the real tomb that holds the
body?"

"They helped."

Then silence supervened. To me it was filled with wonder. I could not
help asking myself what circumstances could possibly have induced
Ottley to withhold so valuable an historic treasure for so many years
from the world. Such a course of action was utterly opposed to all
practice, and the unwritten but immutable laws of scientific research.
It seemed strangely at odds, too, with the man's reputed character. It
would have covered him with glory to have placed his discovery before
the Society to which we both belonged. And a dozen incidents related
of him far and wide, proved that he was not indifferent to praise and
fame. He read my thoughts probably, for at length he cleared his throat
and spoke.

"There were reasons why I should not blazon the find abroad," he said.

"No doubt," I observed, with unintentioned dryness.

"One papyrus speaks of a golden treasure," he went on quietly. "If
published, it would have set thousands looking for the tomb. In that
case the chances are that the body of Ptahmes would have been destroyed
by some vandal intent solely on pillage."

"You assumed a great responsibility," I remarked. I simply had to say
it, for I was angry, and his explanation appeared puerile to me.

"Do you dispute my right?" he demanded coldly.

I shrugged my shoulders. "It is not for me to say, Sir Robert.
Doubtless when the time comes you will be able to satisfy the Society
and the world that you have acted rightly."

"I admit no responsibility," he answered; "and permit me to observe
that you are talking nonsense. I owe no duty to communicate the results
of my purchases or discoveries to any Society or to the world."

"True, Sir Robert. An action for damages could not lie against you."

"Sir!" he cried.

"Father," said Miss Ottley, "how can Dr. Pinsent's foolish sarcasm
affect you? Besides, we need his Arabs."

"Quite so," said Sir Robert. "We need his Arabs. How brightly the stars
shine to-night, Dr. Pinsent."

The cool impudence of the pair struck me dumb. I shook with passion.
For a moment I thought of calling a halt and returning the way we had
come to my own camp with my Arabs. But for my curiosity to see the
tomb of Ptahmes very probably I should have done so. In a few seconds,
however, my rage cooled, and my uppermost feeling was admiration mixed
with mirth. I had never been treated with such open and absurd contempt
before. It was a refreshing experience. I burst of a sudden into a peal
of laughter. Miss Ottley joined me in the exercise. But Sir Robert rode
on like a hook-nosed Sphinx.

"I knew I could not be mistaken," said Miss Ottley. "You should thank
God for your sense of humour, Dr. Pinsent."

"And who is benefiting from it at this moment, I should like to know?"
I retorted. "The thanks are due from you, I fancy."

"Deo gratias!" she flashed. "In sober truth, we need your Arabs sadly."

"I repeat, I am glad to be of use."

"We shall use you, but not necessarily in the cause of your Society.
Understand that fully."

"You mean?"

"That you must not expect to share our secrets."

"In plain words, you will not let me help you open the sarcophagus."

"Your penetration is remarkable."

"And if----"

"And if," she interrupted quickly, "you require a reward for the
courtesy we asked and you accorded or have promised to accord, you have
but to name a sum in cash to have it paid."

"Or----" said I, stung to the quick.

"Or," she flashed, "return! You are at liberty to make your choice.
Yours are not the only Arabs in Egypt. At a pinch we can wait a day or
two. It is for you to say."

I tore off my hat. "Miss Ottley--my Arabs are yours for as long as you
require them!" I furiously announced. "Good day to you. Sir Robert,
good day!"

Then I dragged the head of my ass round and set his face to my
camp. The beast, however, would hardly budge, and I had to belabour
him unmercifully to induce him to trot. Never did man make a more
undignified exit from circumstances of indignity. And it did not need
Miss Ottley's mocking laughter to assure me that I looked ridiculous.
I could have strangled her with all the cheerfulness in life; and from
that moment I have cherished an ineradicable hatred of donkeys. Sir
Robert did not open his lips. He did not even return my angry salute.
Almost choking with rage, I finally got out of range of Miss Ottley's
laughter. Then I dismounted and told the desert just what I thought of
her and her father. It was almost midnight when I reached my camp, for,
to crown all, I neglected the stars in my passion, and for two hours
lost my way.



Chapter II

A Patient of the Desert


I spent the next two days in absolute solitude, and got through a
tremendous quantity of toil. In fact, I added two whole chapters to my
treatise on the Nile monuments and I arranged the details of a third.
By the end of that time, however, I was ravenously hungry. I had been
too engrossed in labour to think of eating anything but biscuits. And
appetite at last turned me out of the tent. I looked around for my
Arabs and saw sand and sky--no living thing--oh, yes, there was my
donkey. The little beast had eaten his way through a truss of straw,
and was asleep. Strolling over to the ruined pylon, I glanced down into
the hole my Arabs had excavated. It was empty. "Gad!" I exclaimed.
"They must still be working for Ottley." I had to build a fire and turn
cook, willy nilly. Later, fortified with the pleasant conviction of a
good dinner, I turned my telescope on the Hill of Rakh. An Arab stood
on the treeless summit leaning on a rifle whose barrel glittered in the
sunlight. I was puzzled. He was manifestly posted there as sentinel,
but why? I watched him till dark, but he did not move. That night I
shot a jackal--omen of disaster. It was long before I slept. Yet I
seemed only to have slumbered a moment or two when I awoke. A voice
called my name aloud. "Dr. Pinsent! Dr. Pinsent!" I started upright and
listened, nerves on edge.

"Dr. Pinsent!"

"Who calls?" I shouted.

"I--May Ottley."

"Miss Ottley!" I hopped out of my bag bed like a cricket. "Just a
moment." I struck a light and, grabbing at my clothes, proceeded to
dress like mad. Thus for thirty seconds; then I remembered how I had
been treated, and went slower. Then I thought--"Pinsent, you're a
cad--she's a woman, and perhaps in trouble." So I got up steam again
and called out, "Nothing wrong, I hope?"

"Yes," said Miss Ottley. Well, here was a woman of business, at any
rate. She seemed to know the use of words, and valued them accordingly.
Waste not, want not. I drew on my jacket and lifted the flap. An Arab
rustled past me.

"Hello!" said I. "Not so fast, my man."

But it was Miss Ottley. I stepped back, bewildered. Her hair was tucked
away in a sort of turban, and she was wrapped from head to heel in
a burnous that had once been white--very long ago. But the costume,
though dirty, was becoming. She sank upon a camp stool and asked at
once for water. She seemed very tired. My bag was empty. I hurried
off without a word to the barrel in the temple. When I returned she
was asleep where she sat. I touched her shoulder and she started
up, suppressing a scream. "Now," said I, as she put down the cup.
Miss Ottley stood up. "A bad thing has happened," she began. "The
sarcophagus was filled with treasure, gold and silver in bars, and
other things. The Arabs went mad. My father fought like a paladin and
held them off for a day and a half. But soon after dark this evening a
caravan arrived. The fight was renewed and my father was wounded. The
Arabs secured the treasure and fled into the desert. The dragoman only
kept faith with us. He has gone by the river to Khonsu for troops. I
hurried here for you. I ran almost all the way. Will you come? Father
is very ill. He has lost a lot of blood. He was shot in the shoulder."

I nodded, caught up my revolver and surgical pack and rushed out of the
tent. In two minutes I had saddled the donkey. Miss Ottley was standing
by the door of the tent. I lifted her on the beast and we started off
in silence. An hour later she spoke.

"There is one thing I like about you," she announced. "You haven't much
to say for yourself, but you are a worker."

"Tu quoque," I replied. "You must have done that twelve miles in record
time. It is not yet two o'clock."

"I made it in two hours, I think."

"You are an athlete, by Jove!"

"I am no bread-and-butter miss, at any rate. This donkey has a bad
pace, don't you think?"

I kicked the brute into a trot and ran beside it. The Hill of Rakh soon
began to loom large among the stars on the horizon. "I suppose you were
pretty wild at our cavalier treatment of you the other evening," said
Miss Ottley.

"Well, yes," I admitted.

"We were sorry when the fight came."

"No doubt," said I.

"It served us right, eh?"

"That is my opinion."

"Do you bear malice still?"

"I am thinking of your father's wound."

"That atones?"

"Your twelve-mile run helps."

"But you are still angry with us?"

"Does it matter? I am serving you."

"Be generous," said Miss Ottley. "We have been sufficiently punished.
Not only have we lost the treasure, but there was no mummy in the
sarcophagus."

"Be a lady and apologise," I retorted.

"No," said she, with a most spirited inflection. "It is not a woman's
place."

"Then be silent or change the topic," I growled.

She was silent. We arrived an hour later at the mountain. I was bathed
in perspiration and as tired as a dog. But Miss Ottley had no time
to notice my condition. She slipped off the donkey and hurried away
through the smaller of the three pylons that fronted a small temple
hollowed out of the rock face of the hill. There was no sign of tent,
so I concluded that Sir Robert had made his camp within the temple. I
hitched the ass to a stake and cooled off, thanking Providence for a
cool breeze that swept up from the placid surface of the Nile. Day was
already showing signs of breaking, and a broad flight of long-legged
flamingoes hurried its coming with a flash of scarlet just above the
eastern horizon. The distant howling of a hyena was borne to me in
fitful snatches on the wind. The earth was wrapped in mystery and
melancholy. Oh, Egypt! Egypt, land of sun-lit spaces and illimitable
shadows; of grandeur and of squalor without peer; of happy dreams and
sad awakenings; of centuries ingloriously oblivious of glory; of sleep
and sphinx-browed, age-bound silences; of darkly smiling and impotent
despair. What a mistress for a man of curiosity and of imagination!
Little wonder that since I had been caught in her magic and most
jealous spell the face of no human being had possessed the power to
threaten her supremacy or cancel my allegiance to the mystic desert
queen.

"Dr. Pinsent!"

I awoke from my reverie with a start. "This way," said Miss Ottley. I
bowed and followed her into the temple, through a broad but low stone
doorway, past a row of broken granite columns. A light within showed
us the path. The chamber was about eighteen feet square; there was
another of equal size beyond it, in the heart of the hill. An immense
sarcophagus composed entirely of lead almost blocked the door. The lid,
carved to represent the figure and face of a tall grave-featured man,
was propped up on end against a pillar. The sarcophagus was empty.
Beyond stood a trestle cot, a table and a lamp. Sir Robert Ottley
lay upon the cot. He was awake, but evidently unconscious, and in a
high fever. I examined his wound and prepared for action. There was
an oil stove in the room. I lighted it and set water to boil. Miss
Ottley watched me with an expression I shall not forget easily. Her
face was as wan as that of a ghost; and her big red-brown eyes glowed
like coals, and were ringed with purple hollows. She was manifestly
worn out and on the verge of a breakdown. But although I begged her
to retire, she curtly refused. Judging by her eyes, she was my enemy,
and a critical enemy at that. When everything was ready I walked over
to her, picked her up in my arms and carried her struggling like a
wildcat to the door. Then I put her out and blocked the entrance with
the lid of the sarcophagus. She panted--"I hate you," from behind it.
Then she began to cry. I said nothing. It seemed one of those occasions
wherein silence was golden. I tied Sir Robert to the cot and set to
work. Half an hour later I found the bullet under his clavicle, and
then dressed the wound and bound him up. He came out of the influence
of the anæsthetic in his sober senses; but he was so eager to tell me
all his disappointment that I gave him a hypodermic dose of morphia,
and he dropped asleep in the middle of a rabid diatribe against Arabs
in general and our Arabs in particular.

I found Miss Ottley reclining against a ruined pillar in an angle of
the pylon. She had cried herself to sleep and was breathing like a
child. I slipped out and found the Arab's store-house and kitchen.
Luckily the gold had exhausted their cupidity. The stores were
untouched. I lighted a fire and prepared a meal--coffee and curry
for Miss Ottley and myself; beef tea and arrowroot for the invalid.
By that time the sun was riding high in the heavens, but Miss Ottley
still slept. Willing to assist her rest I secured a cushion from the
chamber and pushed it gently beneath her head. She sighed and turned
over, allowing me to see her face. I examined it and found it good.
The features were well-nigh perfect, from the little Grecian nose to
the round chin. But it was a face instinct with pride, the pride of a
female Lucifer. And her form was in keeping. "God save her husband,"
was my conclusion. And I ate a hearty breakfast, watching her and
pitying him, whoever he should be.

Sir Robert woke about noon, and although a little feverish, I was quite
satisfied with his progress. After eating a dish of what he feelingly
described as "muck" he went to sleep again. I prepared a second meal
and brought it on a box to where Miss Ottley still lay sleeping. Then
I sat down and coughed. Her eyes opened at once and she looked at me.
It is marvellous what a woman's glance can do. I became instantly
conscious of a dirty face, unkempt hair, and a nine-weeks' growth of
beard. In order to conceal my appreciation of my ugliness I grinned.

"Ugh!" murmured Miss Ottley, and she got up.

"Sir Robert is asleep," I observed. "I found the bullet. He has had
lunch and is going on nicely. You had better eat something."

She gave me a glance of scorn and glided into the temple. I helped her
to a plate of curry, poured out a cup of coffee and made myself scarce.
Returning a quarter of an hour later, I found the plate bare, the cup
empty and not a crumb left on the box. I took the things away and
washed them, and my own face. Then I shaved with a pocket amputation
knife, using for mirror a pot of soapy water; and I brushed my too
abundant locks into something like order with a bunch of stubble which
I converted into a hair brush with a tomahawk and a piece of twine.
Feeling prodigiously civilised and almost respectable, I strolled back
to the pylon, sat down on Miss Ottley's cushion, and lighted my pipe.

About two minutes later Miss Ottley appeared.

"Patient awake?" I asked.

"No," said Miss Ottley. "What an objectionable smell of tobacco!"

War to the knife evidently. I stood up. "When you need me shout," I
remarked, and strolled off, puffing stolidly. But I saw her face as I
turned, and it was crimson, perhaps with surprise that I could be as
rude as she, perhaps with mortification that I had dared. If ever a
girl needed a dressing down it was she who stood in the pylon staring
after me. I squatted in the shadow of a rock and spent the afternoon
stupefying over-friendly flies with the fumes of prime Turkish. She
shouted just before sundown. Her father was delirious, she said. I
found him raving and tearing at his bandages. He was haunted with an
hallucination of phantom cats. The whole cavern, he declared, was
filled with cats; black as Erebus with flaming yellow eyes. I shooed
them away and after some trouble calmed the poor old man. But it
was going to be a bad case, that was plain. Luckily the cave temple
was, comparatively speaking, cool. I spent the evening disinfecting
every cranny, and quietly dispersing the suspicious dust of vanished
centuries. When I had finished it smelt carbolically wholesome and was
as clean as a London hospital, even to the ceiling. Miss Ottley sat
all the while by her father's cot, and occasionally sneezed to relieve
her feelings. I had very little sympathy for her distress. I said to
her, "You will take first watch, I'll sleep in the pylon. Call me at
midnight." Then I placed my watch on the edge of the sarcophagus and
went out. She said nothing. I woke at dawn. She was sitting like a
statue beside her father's bedside. Her face was grey. Sir Robert was
asleep, but breathing stertorously. I beckoned her out to the pylon.
"See here, Miss Ottley," I said, in a cold rage, "I'm not going to beat
about the bush with you. I told you to call me at midnight. Kindly
explain your disobedience."

"I am not your servant to obey your orders," she retorted icily.

"No," said I, "you prefer to serve your own prickly pride to behaving
sensibly. But let me tell you this--your father's life depends on
careful nursing. And that is impossible unless we apportion the work
properly between us. You'll be fit for nothing today, and my task will
be doubled in consequence. A little more of such folly and you'll
break down altogether. You are strung up to more than concert pitch.
As for me--I am not a machine, and though I am prepared to do my best
out of mere humanity, I don't pretend to do the impossible. Nor shall
I answer for your father's life if you force me to nurse two patients
single-handed."

She looked me straight in the eye. "Very well, sir, I shall henceforth
rigidly obey you."

"You must," I said and strode into the open. When I had prepared
breakfast, she did not want to eat. But I had only to frown and she
succumbed. Afterwards I made her lie down, and she slept through Sir
Robert's groaning. It was a hideous day. The patient grew steadily
worse, and so great was his strength, despite his diminutive size, that
our struggles wore me out at last and I was obliged to strap him down.
By nightfall he was a maniac, and his yells could be heard, I make no
doubt, a mile around. And the worst of it was that my stock of bromide
was gone. I had to dose him with morphia. But I had not to speak to
Miss Ottley again. She woke me out of a delicious sleep at a quarter to
the hour. She was quite composed, but as pale as a sheet.

"My father is going to die, I think," she whispered.

I went in and looked at him. He was straining like a tiger at his
bonds. "Not to-night, at any rate," I observed. "He has the strength of
six. You go straight to bed!"

She went off as meek as any lamb, and I began to talk to Sir Robert.
Our conversation was somewhat entertaining. He was Ixion chained to the
wheel. I was Sisyphus with a day off duty. We commiserated one another
on our penalties, and bitterly assailed King Pluto's unsympathetic
government. Finally we conspired to dethrone him and give the crown of
Hades to Proserpine, whose putatively tender heart might be reckoned
on occasionally to mitigate the anguish of our punishment. He fell
into a fitful doze at last with his hand in mine, but he soon awoke,
and with a yell announced the return of the imaginary plague of cats.
On the whole, the night was worse than the day. And morning was no
blessing. Sir Robert had shed five and forty years. He was once again
at college, and if his unwilling confessions are to be relied upon, and
his language, he must have been a precious handful for his masters. But
now he steadily lost strength, and the flame of fever ate him up before
our eyes. As the shadows lengthened into afternoon I began to look for
the crisis.



Chapter III

Two Lies


Sleep was not to be dreamed of that night for either of us well people.
I had thought of a plan. Leaving Miss Ottley to watch the unconscious
but ceaselessly babbling patient, I scoured out the sarcophagus, and
then built an enormous fire before the pylon. Over this I hung the
Arab's cauldron. By nightfall I had the sarcophagus nigh abrim with
hot water. It formed a huge but most admirable bath. It was a heroic
experiment to make; but the dark angel was in the cavern and I had
little chance left. Kill or cure. It seemed a toss of the coin either
way, for Sir Robert was dying fast. After the bath he slipped into a
state of blank insensibility. Miss Ottley thought him asleep, and she
took heart to hope. I did not deceive her. For four hours I waited,
my finger continually on his pulse. It grew continually weaker. I
administered nitro-glycerine every half hour, but at length even that
spur failed.

"Miss Ottley," said I, "you must prepare for the worst."

She showed me a face of more than mortal courage. Pride is not always
amiss in characters like hers. "I have felt it all along," she said
quietly. "Will he regain his senses?"

"Yes. At least I think he will--before the end."

"Is there no hope?"

"None--unless he can be miraculously aroused. Pardon me--is he very
much attached to you?"

"No--his heart and soul are wrapped up in his work. He died, to all
intents and purposes, the hour he was shot. His terrible disappointment
had deprived him of his best support."

"The robbery, you mean?"

"No--the knowledge of his failure. He made certain of finding the body
of Ptahmes."

"Ah!" said I--and gave myself to thought. When I looked up next Miss
Ottley was gazing at her father with a marble countenance, but tears
were streaming from her eyes.

"You love him," I whispered.

"More than all the world," she answered simply. Her voice rang as true
and unbroken as the chiming of a bell. I began in spite of myself to
admire Miss Ottley.

Ten minutes passed; minutes of hideously oppressive silence. Then,
without warning, Sir Robert's eyelids flickered and opened. There was
the light of reason in them. I bent over him and his glance encountered
mine. I pressed his hand and said in brisk, cheerful tones, "You must
hurry up and get well, Sir Robert, or I shall not be able to restrain
my curiosity. This Ptahmes of yours is the most extraordinary mummy I
have ever seen; and I am simply dying to take him from his shroud."

The dim eyes of the dying man actually glowed. His fingers clutched at
my wrist, and with a superhuman effort he gasped forth, "No--No."

"Be easy," I returned, "I'll not touch him till you are well. But you
must hurry. Remember we are of a trade, you and I."

He smiled and very slowly his eyes closed. His breathing was absolutely
imperceptible; but his pulse, though faint, was regular. I made sure
and then put down his hand.

"He is dead," said Miss Ottley, and her voice thrilled me to the core.

"No," said I, "he is sleeping like a babe. The crisis is over. He will
live."

"Oh! my God!" she cried, and fell on her knees beside the bed shaken
with a storm of sobbing.

I sneaked out of the temple and smoked my first pipe in three days. I
was only half through it when I felt her at my side.

"No, please continue smoking," she said, "I like it, really. I have
come to try and thank you."

"You can't," I replied; "I'm not a man to overestimate his own
services, but this is the sort of thing that cannot be repaid by either
gold or words."

"Oh!" she said.

"You see," I went on, "I lied. It was to save his life--for your sake.
The sight of your distress touched me. I am glad that he will live, of
course. Glad to have served you. But the fact remains, I am a liar."

"Dr. Pinsent!" she cried.

"Oh, I daresay I'll grow used to it," I interrupted cheerfully.
"Perhaps I have only shed a superstition, after all. I confess to
an unwonted feeling of freedom, too. Undoubtedly I was shackled, in
a sense. Yet a convict chained for years feels naked, I am told,
when he gets, suddenly, his liberty. I can easily believe it. My own
experience--but enough; we leave the patient too long alone."

She flitted off like a phantom and as noiselessly. I refilled my pipe.
An hour later I found them both asleep, she seated on the camp-stool
leaning back against the tomb. Nature had been too strong for her,
poor girl. I felt towards her the brotherhood of vice. She, too, had
lied--in pretending a little while before--a hatred of tobacco.

I took her quietly and gently in my arms and carried her to her own cot
in the inner cabin. She did not wake.



Chapter IV

The Sarcophagus's Perfume


Towards morning my mind grew much easier. Sir Robert awoke and took a
few mouthfuls of liquid nourishment. But although too weak to speak,
he was sensible and the fever had left him. He fell asleep again
immediately. Soon afterwards my eyes fell on the sarcophagus. Its
great size affected me with wonder--and its construction. Why should
imperishable treasures, gold, silver, and precious stones be enclosed
in lead? Why not in stone? And the sarcophagus had been hermetically
sealed too, witness the chisel and saw marks on the lid, of Ottley's
making. I examined them attentively, then sat down and stared at the
sarcophagus again. It was coffin shaped. Why? If it had been intended
for a mere treasure chest surely--I was struck suddenly by a fact and
a remembrance. The sarcophagus manifestly measured four feet high
at least. And I remembered that in filling it with water for Sir
Robert's bath I had only had to fill eighteen inches in depth. What
if underneath the treasure it contained another chamber overlaid with
lead? There was room. I got afoot and measured the depth of water
on my arm. Eighteen, well, certainly not more than nineteen inches.
I seized a bucket and began to bail the water out, having need to be
noiseless for the sleepers' sake. The task occupied the better part
of half an hour. By then morning had begun to pale the lamplight,
and I was weary. But I kept on, and finally mopped the interior of
the huge basin dry with a towel. Thereupon I examined the bottom
with the lamp. It did not show a single crevice. The lead was in a
solid and impervious sheet. Curious. But the difference between the
eighteen inches and the four feet remained to be accounted for. Was the
interspace filled with lead? If so--why such uneconomic expenditure of
a valuable mineral? The mystery interested me so much that my weariness
was forgotten. I felt that at any cost it must be solved forthwith.
Casting about, I found a fine-pointed and razor-sharp chisel in the
drawer of Sir Robert Ottley's camp table. With this, I set to work.
Climbing into the sarcophagus, I selected a spot, and using the weight
of my body in place of a hammer, I forced the chisel into the lead.
It bit into the metal slowly but surely. One inch. One inch and a
half. Suddenly it slipped. I fell forward and was brought up by the
handle. The mystery was solved. I recovered my position and wiped my
forehead. Instantly a thin but strangely overpowering perfume filled my
nostrils. It resembled camphor, and violets, and lavender, and oil of
almonds, and a hundred other scents, but was truly like none of them.
It created and compelled, however, a confused train of untranslatable
reflections which might have been memories. But God knows what they
were. I experienced a mysterious sensation of immeasurable antiquity.
And wildly absurd as the idea appears set forth in sober language,
something assured me that I was thousands of years old or had lived
before--so long--so very long ago. I saw lights--the sound of chanting
voices and of rushing waters filled my ears. I seemed to be assisting
at a solemn ritual. Ghostly forces and dim spirit figures filled the
cave. The air was thick with incense fumes. My reason rocked and swung.
Just in time I realised that I was becoming mysteriously anæsthetised.
I held my breath and with a powerful effort leaped to the floor. Then
I carefully blocked up the chisel hole with my kerchief and staggered
into the open air. Very soon I was my own man again. Returning filled
with apprehension for the patient, I found nothing to alarm me. The
perfume had absolutely disappeared. Sir Robert was sleeping like a
babe. I took a nip of brandy and sitting down, gave myself to dreams
watching the sarcophagus. What was its secret? And what the secret
of Sir Robert Ottley's passionate interest in the corpse of Ptahmes
that had been potent enough to call him back to life from the very
brink of dissolution? But plainly I must wait to learn. For it would
not do to trifle with the perfume in the cavern. In that confined
space it might bring about the destruction of us all. Already it
had affected me. My head ached fearfully, and I knew that my blood
vessels were distended, and that my heart was still violently excited.
My agitation was not all painful. There was an insidious pleasure
mingled with it, an intangible titillation of the nerves; but that
only alarmed me the more. The poisons that are most to be feared are
those which captivate the senses; they convey no warning to the body,
and betray the mind, however watchful, by effecting a paralysis of
will. Perhaps--unwittingly--I had been very near death. The notion
was disturbing. I began to regard the sarcophagus much in the light
of an infernal machine possessing dangerous potentialities for ill.
I determined as soon as possible--that is to say, as soon as help
arrived--to have it removed from the sick room to the pylon. There at
least it would be less manifestly perilous; having the play of the
whole wide desert atmosphere in which to dissipate its noxious energies.

A rustling sound dissolved my meditations. I glanced up and saw Miss
Ottley bending over her father. I slipped out and sought the Arab's
quarters. Soon I had a good fire alight and water on to boil. I rather
spread myself that morning. I cooked some tinned asparagus, boiled a
tinned chicken, and opened a jar of prunes. Breakfast spread on the lid
of a brandy box looked and smelled very good. I carried it up to the
pylon and whistled "Come into the garden, Maude."

Miss Ottley appeared at once, round eyed with surprise.

"Your father has already eaten," I observed. "In all likelihood he will
sleep for hours yet. Kindly sit down. You'll excuse my novel breakfast
call. It is the only invitational air I am acquainted with."

She stared at me.

"May one not be lighthearted when all goes well?" I asked.

"One may," she answered. Then her eyes fell and she coloured painfully.
"But not two. I slept at my post. Oh! how could I?" Her voice was quite
despairing and bitterly contemptuous.

I bit at the leg of a chicken which I held in my fingers. "After all,
you are a woman, you know," I commented, with my mouth full. "This
chick's prime--done to a turn."

"How tired you must be!"

"I'm not complaining. Nor do I grudge you the extra rest. You look
better. Hungry?"

"Y-yes," she admitted.

"Then don't be a ninny spending time in vain regrets. Fall to and
repair your waste tissues. In plain English--eat."

She sat down on a ruined column and I handed her a plate.

"You look--positively merry!" she said. "You are nursing
some--pleasant--or profitable reflection." She considered the words
with care.

"I have discovered that I may have--told the truth to your father last
night after all. By accident."

"I beg your pardon."

"I believe I have found your friend Ptahmes, Miss Ottley."

The plate slid off her lap and broke. Chicken and gravy littered the
pavement. But she had no idea of it. "Impossible!" she cried.

I explained my examination of the sarcophagus and the result in detail.
She sat gazing at me like a graven image. When she had finished she
arose and vanished--without a word. I followed and found her standing
beside the great lead coffin, my kerchief in her hand. She had reopened
the chisel hole, and the cavern was already saturated with the infernal
gas. I snatched my handkerchief away and once more blocked the vent.
Then I exerted all my strength and with a prodigious effort placed the
lid on the sarcophagus. With a woman's curiosity to reckon with, such a
precaution seemed a vital safeguard. I found her standing in the pylon,
breathing like a spent runner.

"You might have taken my word," I said coldly. "You'd have saved
yourself an ugly headache at the least."

Her face was crimson; her eyes burned like stars. The fumes of that
uncanny perfume had made her drunk. She swayed and leaned dizzily
against a pillar. I went up and took her hand. The pulse was beating
like a miniature steam hammer.

"Sit down," I said.

She laughed and sank at my feet in a heap. "Oh! Oh!" she cried and fell
to sobbing half hysterically though tearlessly.

"Lord!" I said aloud. "What a bundle of hysterical humours it is, and
how plain to look on when its resolution takes a holiday."

That is the way to treat hysteria.

Miss Ottley sat up and withered me with a glance. "I--I
am. It--it's not hysteria," she stammered, between gasps.
"Besides--you--confessed--it--overcame--you, too."

Then she fainted. I sprang up, but even as I moved I heard a loud sigh
in the cavern. "The sick man first," I muttered, and let the girl lie.
But at the door of the cavern chamber I stood transfixed. A dark shape
bent over the patient's cot, hiding Sir Robert Ottley's face from view.
It seemed to be a man, but its back was presented to my gaze. "What the
deuce are you doing here, whoever you are?" I cried out, and started
forward. The shape melted on the instant into thinnest air. "Nothing
but a shadow," I said to myself. It was necessary to say something.
I was shocked to my soul. I stood for a moment shaking and dismayed.
The shadow had been so thick and bodily and had fled so like a spirit
that I had work to do to readjust my scattered faculties. Of course a
shadow--and my eyes, dazzled by the sunlight without, had momentarily
failed to pierce it. A reasonable and quite ample scientific
explanation. But what had cast the shadow? Pish--what but myself? And
yet: and yet: I was shivering like a blancmange. Never had my nerves
used me so ill. Perhaps, however, that accursed perfume had affected
them. Ah! there was a reassuring solution of the puzzle. Reassuring to
my reason, be it understood, for the fleshy part of me was taken with
an ague and refused for many seconds to return to its subjection to
my will. Sometimes now I doubt but that the flesh has an intelligence
apart from the brain cells and nerve structures that usually control
it. Indeed, I have never met a man of intellect whose memory does
not register experience of some occasion in which his flesh took
independent fright--like a startled hare--at some bogie which made his
sober reason subsequently smile; nay, contemptuously at times. "Well,
well," I said at length and pushed forward--to receive another shock.
Sir Robert Ottley was almost nude. The bed clothes had been pushed
down past his waist. His fingers convulsively gripped the paillasse.
His face was livid. His eyes were open and upturned. His whole form
was stiff and rigid. A fit? It seemed so. His pulse was still. He
did not breathe. But a cataleptic fit then, for at a lance prick the
blood flowed. I forced him to his right side and tried massage. No
use. Strychnine and nitro-glycerine equally refused to act. Finally I
saturated a cloth with amyl nitrate, placed it over his open mouth and
tried artificial respiration. A whole hour had passed already, but I
refused to give in. It was well. In another twenty minutes my efforts
were rewarded with a sigh. I kept on and the man began to breathe. When
it seemed safe to leave off, I disposed him easily and watched events.
First his normal colouring returned. Then his mouth closed. Finally his
eyes revolved. The lids closed and opened several times, then rested
closed. His pulse beat feverishly, but in spite of that he slept. I
walked to the door. Miss Ottley--whom I had completely forgotten--still
lay insensible where she had fallen. I picked her up and brought her
into the cavern. She awoke to consciousness in transit. I forced her
to drink a stiff nobbler of brandy, and very soon she was in her old,
cold, bright, proud, self-reliant state--armed cap-a-pie with insolence
and egotism.

"Is your father subject to fits?" I asked.

"He has never had, till this, a day's illness in his life," she
responded--with a touch of indignation.

I nodded. "Well, his period of disease indemnity has passed. While you
swooned he had a fit. I use the expression colloquially. You would
probably have so described his condition had you seen him. As for me I
don't know. The symptoms were unique. I restored him by treating him
as a drowned man. He was in a sort of trance. From this moment he must
never be left, even for a second."

"He was insensible?"

"He was inanimate."

"That perfume!" she cried.

I shrugged my shoulders. "No doubt."

We glanced at the sarcophagus, then at each other.

"Was there need?" she asked, colouring. Then her eyes sparkled. "Oh,
for such strength!" she cried. "It took six Arabs to lift that coffin
lid. You must be a Samson."

"Fortunately," I observed.

Her brows drew together and her lips. "You treat me in a way that I
resent," she said. "I am as reasonable a being as yourself."

I retired to a corner and stretched myself upon the floor without
replying.

"When do you wish to be aroused?" she asked.

"An hour before sunset. We must eat--that is I. You appear to thrive on
air."

She bit her lips and I stared at the ceiling. I was dog-tired, but
could not sleep. I counted a thousand and then glanced at Miss Ottley.
Her gaze was fixed on me.

"You are overtired," she said, and her tone was pure womanly.

It irritated and amused me to find she could so unaffectedly assume it.
I smiled.

She interpreted the smile aloud. "What sound reason have you for
despising me?" she asked. "You pretend to be a scientist. Answer me as
such, rejecting bias."

"I don't," said I.

"Then you dislike me; why?"

"I don't."

Her lip curled. "Oh, indeed." She arose and brought me a cushion. I
took it and our hands touched. "I must conclude, then, that you like
me?" She drew her hand swiftly away and returned to her seat.

I smiled again. "Undoubtedly, Miss Ottley."

"Thank you." The tone was instinct with sarcasm.

"Confess that you are craving for a little human sympathy."

"I!" she exclaimed and started haughtily.

"Being a woman and in a simply damnable position."

"Ah!" she cried, "you admit that."

"My dear girl, whenever I think of it your pluck amazes me."

To my astonishment her eyes closed and her bosom heaved. Then I
saw such a struggle as I do not wish ever to witness again. Pride
prevented her from raising her hand to hide her face. And pride put up
a superhuman fight with human weakness. Her features were distorted.
One could see that soul and body were engaged in mortal combat. That
spectacle was poignantly fascinating. I thrilled to see it and yet
hated myself for not being able to look away. Why--who knows? But at
length I could stand it no longer. I got up and shook her gently. She
stiffened into marble, but did not offer to resist me.

"Peace, peace," I said. "You foolish, foolish child, you are wasting
forces that were given you for quite another purpose."

Suddenly her eyes opened and looked straight in mine. "What?" she
questioned, and two great tears rolled down her cheeks.

"Why do you hate your sex?" I asked. "God knows it is more valuable
than mine."

"Man," she muttered--and shuddered from me--bitterly defiant.

"Woman," I retorted. "And each of us with a fateful mission to fulfil,
not to fight against."

"Yours to sting, to hurt, to crush."

"And yours to foster and create a better, finer-natured breed."

"Generous?" she sneered. "Is it possible?"

"My dear girl," said I, "I haven't a temper to lose; I am a sober,
cold-blooded man of the world. Of thirty."

I laughed out heartily, then stopped, remembering the patient. He
stirred and we both hurried to his side. But he did not wake.

I looked up and offered Miss Ottley my right hand.

"We started badly," I whispered, "but still we may be friends."

Her eyes darkened with anger. She stood like a statue regarding me, her
expression sphinx-like and brooding. "Instinct says one thing and pride
another!" I hazarded.

She coloured to her chin, but her firm glance did not falter.

"Ah, well," said I, and made off to my stone couch, convinced that a
man who argues with a woman is a fool. And I was punished properly. She
haunted my dreams.



Chapter V

The Shadow in the Cave


We ate heartily, the pair of us, that evening. The effect on me was
comforting and humanising. I felt well disposed to my fellow man--and
woman, and inclined to sanguine expectations. Miss Ottley, however,
was, as usual, impenetrable. She belonged of right to the age of iron.
A female anachronism. To cheer her I suggested a game of chess. She
consented, and mated me in fourteen moves. We played again, and once
more she beat me. My outspoken admiration of her skill--I rather fancy
my own play at chess--left her perfectly imperturbable. In the third
game she predicted my defeat at the eleventh move on making her own
fourth. I did my best, but her prophecy was fulfilled. "Enough!" said
I, and retiring to the door way, I lighted a cigarette.

"Hassan Ali, our dragoman, should be here to-morrow," she presently
remarked, "with troops."

"They will never catch our rascal Arabs," I replied. "With five clear
days' start those beggars might be anywhere."

"Just so," said she, "but they will be of some use none the less--if
only to drag that sarcophagus out of the temple."

"Eh!" I exclaimed--and looked at her sharply. "What is the matter with
the thing--here?"

She shrugged her shoulders, then of a sudden smiled. "Do you wish to be
amused?"

"Of all things."

"Then prepare to laugh at me. While you slept this afternoon----" She
paused.

"Yes," I said.

"My father awoke."

"Oh!"

"And conversed."

"Good," I murmured. "He was sensible."

"I do not know. He seemed so. But he did not speak to me."

"You said that he conversed."

"Ay--but with a shadow."

Miss Ottley compressed her lips and looked at me defiantly.

"A shadow," she repeated. "I saw it distinctly. It moved across the
room and stood beside the cot. It was the shadow of a man. But you are
not laughing."

"Not yet," said I. "Had this shadow a voice?"

"No."

"What did your father say to it?"

"He implored it to be patient."

"And the shadow?"

"Vanished."

"And you?"

"I told myself I dreamed. I tried not to die of terror, and succeeded."

"Why did you not wake me?"

"I wished to, but the shadow intervened."

"It reappeared?"

"For a second that reduced me to a state of trembling imbecility."

"That infernal perfume has simply shattered your nerves," I commented
cheerfully. "You'll be better after a good rest. Overstrain and anxiety
of course are to a degree responsible. Indeed, they might be held
accountable for the hallucination alone. But I blame the perfume to a
great extent, because it similarly affected me."

"What!" she cried, "you saw a shadow, too?"

I laughed softly. "My own--no other. But its appearance shocked me
horribly. In my opinion that coffin perfume works powerfully upon the
optic nerve. How are you feeling now?"

"As well as ever in my life."

"No fears?"

"None. But I admit a distrust of that sarcophagus--or rather of the
perfume it contains. Are you sure that you stopped up the chisel hole
securely?"

"Quite. But pardon me, Miss Ottley, you are looking weary. Take my
advice and retire now."

"Thanks. I shall," she said, and with a cool bow she went into the
inner chamber. An hour later Sir Robert awoke. He was quite sensible
and appeared much better. I fed him and we exchanged a few cheerful
remarks. He declared that he had turned the corner and expressed a
strong desire to be up and about his work again. He also asked after
his daughter, and thanked me warmly for my services. Soon afterwards he
dropped off into a tranquil slumber, and I spent the remainder of my
watch reading a _Review_. As I was not very tired I gave Miss Ottley
grace, and it was a quarter to one when I awakened her. She came out
looking as fresh as a rose, her cheeks scarlet from their plunge in
cool water and consequent towelling. She invited me to use her couch,
but I declined, and sought my accustomed corner. I slept like the
dead--for (I subsequently discovered) just about an hour. But then I
awoke choking and gasping for breath. I had an abominable sensation of
strong fingers clutched about my throat. At first all was dark before
me. But struggling afoot, the shadows receded from my eyes, and I saw
the lamp--a second afterwards, Miss Ottley. She stood with her back
against the further wall of the chamber, her hands outstretched as if
to repel an impetuous opponent; and her face was cast in an expression
of unutterable terror.

"Miss Ottley!" I cried.

She uttered a strangled scream, then staggered towards me. "Oh! thank
God--you were too strong--for him," she gasped. "He tried to kill
you--and I could not move nor cry."

"Who?" I demanded.

"The--the shadow." She caught my arms and gripped them with hysterical
vigour.

I forced her to sit down and hurried to her father. He was sleeping
like a babe. I thought of the asphyxiating sensation I had experienced
and stepped gently to my sleeping corner. Kneeling down, I struck a
match. The flame burned steadily. Not carbonic acid gas then at all
events; but I tried the whole room to make sure, also the interior of
the sarcophagus, but without result. So far baffled, I stood up and
thought. What agency had been at work to disturb us? I made a tour of
the walls and examined the stones of their construction one by one.
It seemed just possible that there might be a secret entrance to the
chamber; and some robber Arab acquainted with it might be employing
it for evil ends. But I was forced to abandon that idea like the
other. And no one had entered through the pylon, for the dust about
the doorway was absolutely impressionless. What then? I turned to Miss
Ottley. She was watching me with evidently painful expectation, her
hands tightly clasped.

"What made you think the shadow wished to kill me?" I inquired.

"I saw its face."

"Oh! it has a face now, eh?"

"The face of a devil; and long thin hands. It fastened them about your
throat."

"My dear girl."

"Don't be a fool," she retorted stormily; "what aroused you? Did you
hear me call?"

I was confounded. "Very good," I said, "I admit the hands at least, for
the nonce, for truly I was half strangled. But what do you infer?"

"Can human creatures make themselves invisible at will?"

"My good Miss Ottley, no. But they can run away."

"Do you want to see the shadow's face?"

"Yes."

"Then look on the lid of the sarcophagus and see its portrait in a
gentle mood."

"Ptahmes!" I cried.

"Ay, Ptahmes," she said slowly. "We are haunted by his spirit."

I sat down on the edge of the sarcophagus and lit a cigarette.

"I am quite at a present loss to explain my throttling," I observed,
"but that is the only mystery. I reject your shadow with the contempt
that it deserves. What you saw was some wandering Arab who hopped in
here without troubling to tread through the dust in the doorway and who
departed in the same fashion. Pish! There, too, is the mystery of my
throttling solved."

"Perhaps," said she, "indeed I hope so." She was still trembling in
spasms.

"Are you minded for the experiment?" I asked.

"What is it?"

"I wish to drive this foolish fancy from your mind." I took out my
revolver and showed it to her. "Spirits are said to love the dark best.
Let us put out the lamp. It's their element. How, then, can we better
tempt old Ptahmes from his tomb?" I wound up with a laugh. "I can
promise him a warm reception."

Miss Ottley shivered and grew if possible paler than before. But her
pride was equal to the challenge. "Very well," she said.

I drew up a stool near hers, put out the lamp and sat down. When my
cigarette had burned out the darkness was blacker than the blackest
ebony.

"An idea runs in my head that spirits respond most surely to silent
wooers," I murmured. "But I have no experience. Have you?"

"N-no," said Miss Ottley.

The poor girl was shivering with fear and too proud to admit it. I
sought about for a pretext to comfort her and found one presently.

"Don't they join hands at a séance?" I inquired.

"I--I--t-think so," said Miss Ottley.

"Well, then."

Our hands encountered. Hers was pitifully cold. I enclosed it firmly in
my left and held it on my knee. She sighed but ever so softly, trying
to prevent my hearing it. Thereafter we were silent for very long,
listening to the sick man's quiet breathing. No other sound was to be
heard. But soon Miss Ottley's hand grew warm, and the fingers twined
around mine. It felt a nice good little hand. It was very small, yet
firm and silken-smooth, and it possessed a strange electric quality.
It made mine tingle--a distinctly pleasurable sensation. I fell into a
dreamy mood and I think I must have indulged in forty winks, when all
of a sudden Miss Ottley's hand aroused me. Her fingers were gripping
mine with the force of a vice. She was breathing hard.

"What is it?" I whispered.

"There is some--presence in the room," she gasped. "Don't you feel it?"

[Illustration: The Living Mummy

Three paces off a man's face glowered at us

_Face Page 48_]

And as I live, I did. I struck a match and sprang afoot. Three
paces off a man's face glowered at us in the fitful glimmer of the
lucifer. Its characteristics were so unusual that it is not possible
ever to forget them. The eyes were large, dark and singularly dull.
They were set at an extraordinary distance apart in the skull, six
inches, I should say, at least. But the head, though abnormally broad
thereabouts, tapered to a point in the chin and was cone-shaped above
the wide receding temples. The cheek bones were high and prominent.
They shone in the match light almost white in contrast with the dark
skin of the more shaded portions of the countenance. The nose was
long and aquiline, but the nostrils were broad and compressed at the
base, pointing at negroid ancestry. The mouth, wide and thin-lipped,
was tightly shut. The chin was long, sharp and hairless. The ears were
bat-shaped.

Recovering from my first shock of amazement, I addressed the intruder
in Arabic.

"What are you doing here? What do you want?" I cried.

He did not answer. Enraged, I started forward and hit out from the
shoulder. Striking air. The match went out. I lit another. The man had
vanished. I relighted the lamp and carefully examined the chamber. But
our visitor had not left the slightest sign of his intrusion.

I shook my head and went over to Miss Ottley. She was leaning against
the wall with her eyes shut, her bosom heaving painfully.

I touched her and she started--suppressing a shriek. Her lips were
trickling blood where she had bitten them. Her face was ghastly and she
seemed about to swoon.

"Pish!" I cried, "there is nothing to be frightened of. A rascally
Arab--knows some secret way of entering this cavern, that is all."

She swayed towards me. I caught her as she fell and bore her to a
stool. But though quite overcome she was not unconscious. Yet her
fortitude was broken down at last and she was helpless. She could not
even sit up unassisted. Placing her on the floor a while, I made her
drink some spirit and then, lifting her upon my knee, I rocked her in
my arms like a child and did my best to soothe her fears. Heavens, how
she cried! My handkerchief was soon as wet as if I had soused it in
a basin of water, and yet she still cried on. I spoke to her all the
time. I told her that I would answer for her safety with my life, and
all sorts of things. And thinking of her as a poor little child, I
called her "dear" continually and "darling"--and I let her weep herself
into an exhausted sleep upon my breast. And when that happened I did
not need anyone to tell me that science was no longer the mistress of
my fate or that I, a comparative pauper, had committed the unutterable
folly of falling in love with the daughter of a millionaire--whose
religion was Pride with a capital P. I held her so till dawn, staring
dumbly at her face, and thus when her eyes opened they looked straight
into mine. She did not move, and half-unwillingly my arms tightened
round her. "The bad dream is over, little girl," I whispered. "See--the
golden sunlight."

"May--May," said Sir Robert's voice.

She started up, her face aflame. I followed her to the bedside. The
patient was awake, and strong and hungry. Also querulous. He complained
of the pain of the wound and ordered me to dress it. He had seen
nothing. But I knew Miss Ottley would not forgive me on that account.
I read it in her eyes. After I had dressed the patient's wound and we
had fed him, she followed me to the door.

"You had no right to let me sleep--like that," she said imperiously.

There was nothing for it but to insult her or to prove myself an
adventurer. I had no mind for the latter course. "Quite right," I
returned, "when you behaved like an idiot I should have treated you
as such and left you to recover from your own silly terror instead of
acting the soft fool and losing my own rest in serving you. I'll do it,
too--next time. What will you have for breakfast?"

She swung on her heel and left me.



Chapter VI

Enter Dr. Belleville


While waiting for the kettle to boil I happened to glance in the
direction of the Nile. A column of moving smoke at once attracted my
attention. A launch, of course, and what more likely than that it
should contain soldiers, Arabs, servants, and a surgeon. "I shall
soon be free to return to my work, it seems!" I said aloud, and it is
wonderful what a lot of dissatisfaction the reflection gave me. I came
within an ace, indeed, of consigning the Nile Monuments to literary
perdition. But only temporarily. For I felt that I should need as
engrossing mental occupation soon. Work is a fine consoler. The party
arrived a few minutes before noon. It consisted of Sir Robert Ottley's
dragoman, half a company of Egyptian camel corps under command of a
fussy little English-French lieutenant named Thomas Dubois, some twenty
swart-faced fellaheen labourers, and two English friends of Sir Robert
and his daughter. The latter were rather singular personages. One was
middle-aged, short and thick and "bearded like the pard" up to his very
eyes. He rejoiced in the name of William Belleville and was a Fellow
of the Royal College of Surgeons. The other one was tall and thin and
marvellously good-looking. He called himself Captain Frankfort Weldon,
and I soon discovered was an Honourable. Preparatory to discharging
myself in toto of my responsibilities, I took charge of the entire
crowd. I have been assured by my best friends that I am a natural
autocrat. Those who are not my friends have sometimes described me
as an arrogant and self-assertive egotist. I contend, however, that
I was eminently well qualified to judge what was best to be done, in
that instance, at all events, and it is not my fault that Weldon and
Belleville chose to consider themselves slighted because I did not ask
their advice. Within ten minutes I had sent the camel soldiers packing
across the desert in the direction taken by the Arab robbers. They did
not want to go in the least, but I put my foot down hard, and they
went. Without losing a moment thereafter I made the fellaheen erect a
large double tent in a shaded cleft in the mountain at some distance
from the temple. It did not take them long, for I directed their
operations personally. I then marched them to the temple. Miss Ottley
was talking to the Englishmen in the pylon. I bowed and passed her,
followed by the fellaheen. I gave to each man a task, the carriage of
some piece of furniture. The two strongest I appointed as bearers of
Sir Robert Ottley's cot. The baronet was awake. He questioned me.

"What are you doing, Pinsent?"

"I'm going to move you to a tent for better air, to hasten your
recovery," I said.

He only sighed and wearily closed his eyes.

Then the procession started. When Miss Ottley saw her father being
carried out, she was so surprised that she stood dumb. Turning round a
little later I saw that she and her friends were conversing amiably.
Arrived at the tents, I fixed the patient comfortably, then arranged
the furniture in both apartments; the outer, of course, was to be Miss
Ottley's room.

When all was done, I dismissed the fellaheen to other tasks and walked
up to Ottley's cot. "Sir Robert," said I.

His eyes opened and he looked at me.

"You know that your friend, Dr. Belleville, has come?"

"Yes--we have had a chat."

"So. Well, I now propose to turn the case over to him. Your recovery
should be rapid. You are already practically convalescent."

"You are leaving me?"

"You no longer need my services."

"How can I ever repay you, Pinsent, for your extreme kindness to me?"

"Easily; let me be present when you open the coffin of Ptahmes."

"What?"

"Ah!" said I, "I forgot." I then told him of my experiment with the
sarcophagus, and the perfume. He listened with the most passionate
attention. Finally he said:

"You are not certain the sarcophagus does contain the body, though?"

"Not certain, Sir Robert."

"Yet you told me, if I remember aright, that, that----"

"You were dying," I interrupted. "I had to arouse you. But, after all,
I feel sure your desire will be gratified. I have no sort of doubt but
that a body lies in the coffin."

"Nor I," said he. "The papyrus speaks of an essential oil the mere
scent of which arrests decay. Ptahmes alone knew the secret of its
preparation. But the sarcophagus must be guarded, Pinsent."

"I'll fix a watch," I said, and held out my hand. "Good-bye, sir."

"You are returning to your camp?"

"Yes."

"Then au revoir, Pinsent. I shall send for you as soon as I am well
enough to investigate the coffin."

"Thank you."

But he continued to hold my hand and looked me in the eyes earnestly.
"Be careful of yourself," he murmured.

"Careful," I repeated, puzzled.

"Ay," he murmured still lower, "you have incurred the curse
unwittingly--but still you have incurred it."

"What curse?"

"The curse which Ptahmes directed against all desecrators of his tomb."

I thought he raved, and felt his pulse. But it was steady as a
rock. "Come, come," I said with a smile. "I shall be thinking you a
superstitious man, Sir Robert, presently."

"Do you believe in God?" he asked.

"Yes," I cried, astounded.

"Then are you not superstitious, too? But there, I have warned you.
I'll say no more. Good-bye. Kindly send my daughter to me."

I found Miss Ottley and the two Englishmen at the door of the outer
tent. "Sir Robert wants you, Miss Ottley," I observed, and passed on. I
had hardly gone a dozen yards, however, when I found I had a companion
on either side of me.

Dr. Belleville immediately opened fire. "You have been taking time by
the forelock, Dr. Pinsent," he said softly. "I should hardly have moved
the patient for a day or two. He is very weak."

"My name is Frankfort Weldon--Captain Weldon," said the handsome
soldier--introducing himself. "I think you have annoyed Miss Ottley,
Dr. Pinsent. Seems to me you should have consulted her before acting,
at least."

I glanced from one to the other and shrugged my shoulders. "The
thing is done," said I. "Gentlemen, good-day." My long legs left
them quickly in the rear. There seemed no good reason to waste time
in explaining myself to them. They would soon enough find out the
reasonableness of my actions for themselves, if possessed of ordinary
human curiosity. But a second later I stopped and turned. "Dr.
Belleville," I shouted, "I shall fix a watch at the temple. Ottley
wishes it maintained. Miss Ottley will tell you why."

I found the fellaheen collected in a group near the old store house.
They eyed me approaching with open sullenness. I chose two among their
number and directed them to stand guard before the pylon for four
hours. The two I had picked moved off obediently enough, but they
were stopped almost on instant by their leader, a big ruffian with
a scarred, black face and wild, fiercely scowling eyes. Sir Robert
Ottley's dragoman hurried to my side. "Softly, Excellency, or there
will be trouble," he muttered. "Let me speak to them. Yazouk is a
chief--he will not be commanded. His term of service does not start
till to-morrow. He is angry."

"Silence, you," I responded in the same tone. "There is but one way to
crush a nigger mutiny."

I stepped smilingly forward, looking into Yazouk's eyes. The black
giant--he stood six feet four in his bare feet and was a splendid
physical specimen--put his hand on the knife in his belt. But before
he could guess at my intention he was sprawling on the sand. He
uttered the yell of an angry wild beast and, springing up, rushed at
me with bare blade. I stepped aside and kicked him in the stomach. He
collapsed, howling dismally. I marched up to the rest, who were all
handling their knives, and showed them my revolver. Two minutes later
they were all disarmed and I was a walking arsenal. I turned to the
dragoman. "I am going away, Mehemet--to my own camp. But so that you
will have no trouble with this scum, I shall take their chief with me.
I need a servant."

Mehemet bowed to the very ground. "Your Excellency knows best," he
muttered reverently.

"Yazouk," said I, "yonder is my ass. Go saddle him for me."

Yazouk went. He returned with the ass saddled and bridled before I
was half through a cigarette. I mounted forthwith and started towards
my long-deserted camp. "Come, Yazouk!" I called out carelessly, and
I took good care not to look back. There is no means surer of making
an African obey you than to act as if you are certain he has no
alternative. Perhaps Yazouk hesitated for a moment, torn with fear and
hate, but he followed me. Soon I heard the patter of his footsteps on
the sand. Then I said to myself, "Now, if this man is to remain with
me and be my servant I must make him fear me as he would the plague.
But how?" I solved the riddle at the end of five miles. I must show him
that I despised him utterly. So I stopped. He stopped. Twenty paces
separated us. "Yazouk," I said, "come here!"

He approached, eyeing me like a wolf. "From this day for a month,
Yazouk, you shall be my slave," I observed calmly. "If you prove a good
slave I shall pay you when the term ends at the rate of fifty piasters
a day. If you offend me by so much as winking an eyelash I shall not
only pay you nothing, but I shall ask Poseidon to transform you into a
hyena. Will you like that?"

Yazouk did not remark on my dreadful threat, but there was murder in
his eyes. I smiled at him, and, always looking him full in the face, I
took one by one the knives I had taken from his fellows, from my belt
and cast them on the sand at his feet. "It is not fit for a lord to
carry such trash when he has a slave," I said. "Pick up those knives."

Yazouk obeyed me. When he stood upright again there was a great doubt
in his eyes. I thought to myself, it would be quite easy for this
ruffian to murder me at any time in my sleep, and already I am a wreck
for want of sleep. I threw my revolver on the sand. "Carry that,
too!" I commanded loftily--and spurred my ass on. Probably a volume
might be written on the state of Yazouk's mind as he trudged along
behind me to my camp--a whole compendium of psychology. But I cannot
write it, because I never once glanced at him, and, therefore, I can
only guess at the turmoil of his thoughts. But the event justified my
expectations. I was so mortally wearied when I reached my camp that
I had no heart left even to discover whether my precious manuscripts
had been disturbed by some chance wayfarer of the wilderness. It
sufficed me that my tent was standing and that it contained a cot. I
cast myself down, without even troubling to remove my boots, and I
slept like the dead for sixteen solid hours. When I awoke it was high
noon. A steaming bowl of coffee stood upon my table and a mess of
baked rice and fish. Beside the plate lay my revolver, and every one
of the knives I had given Yazouk to carry. Yazouk himself stood at
the flap of the tent, a monstrous, stolid sentinel. When I arose he
bent almost double. I swept the armoury into a drawer and attacked my
breakfast with the relish of a famished man. Then I set to work with
the energy of a giant refreshed; and with short intervals for meals,
sleep and exercise, I toiled at my book thereafter till it was roughly
finished. So twenty days sped by. Throughout Yazouk waited upon me
like the slave of Aladdin's lamp. I had not a fault to find with him.
Indeed, he was a perfect jewel of a servant, and he stood in such
abject terror of my every movement, nod or smile or frown, that I could
have wished to retain his services for ever. But that was not to be.
On the twenty-first morning he accidentally dropped a cup and broke
it. I heard the smash and looked up. It was to see Yazouk flying like
a panic-stricken deer into the desert. I shouted to recall him, but he
only sped the faster.



Chapter VII

The One Goddess


I spent the rest of the day covering up the stele I had unearthed with
sand. There was no use thinking of attempting to transport it to Cairo
under existing circumstances. But I had no mind to be deprived of
the credit attached to its discovery. So I hid it well. Afterwards I
gathered up my portable possessions, including my tent, and packed them
in a load for my ass's back ready for the morrow. For I had resolved to
set out on the morrow for the Hill of Rakh. Surely, I thought, Ottley
will be quite recovered by this. I wondered why he had not sent for
me before--in accordance with his pledge. Had he forgotten it? The
desert was exceptionally still that evening. There was a new moon,
and although it gave but little light, it seemed to have chained the
denizens of the wilderness to cover. I lay upon the sand gazing up at
the stars and listening in vain for sounds, for hours, then, at length,
I fell into a quiet doze. The howling of a jackal awakened me. It was
very far off, therefore I must have slept lightly. A long sleep, for
the moon had disappeared. The darkness that lay upon the land was
like the impenetrable gloom of a rayless cave. But the heavens were
spangled with twinkling eyes, that beamed upon me very friendly wise.
I had lost all desire to repose, but I had found a craving for a pipe.
I took out my old briar-wood, therefore, charged it to the brim and
struck a match. "My God!" I gasped and scrambled afoot. The tall Arab
who had terrified Miss Ottley in the cave temple at Rakh stood about
three paces off intently regarding me. I struck a second match before
the first had burned out, then felt for my revolver.

"Tell me what it is you want," I cried in Arabic, "and quickly, or I
fire."

He did not speak, but very slowly he moved towards me. I raised the
pistol. "Stop," I said. He did not stop. "Then have it!" I cried, and
pulled the trigger.

He did not flinch from the blistering flash of the discharge. It
seemed to me that it should have seared his face and that the bullet
should have split his skull. I had a momentary glimpse of a ghastly,
brownish-yellow visage and of two dull widely separated eyes peering
into mine. Then all was dark again and I was struggling as never I had
struggled in my life before. Long, stiff fingers clutched my throat.
A rigid wood-like form was pressed against my own and my nostrils
were filled with a sickly penetrating odour which I all too sharply
recognised. It was the perfume that had issued from the sarcophagus of
Ptahmes when I drove my chisel through the lead. At first I grasped
nothing but air. But clutching wildly at the things that gripped my
throat, I caught hands at last composed of bone. There was no flesh
on them, or so it seemed to me. Yet it was good to grip something.
It gave me heart. I had a horrible feeling for some awful seconds of
contending with the supernatural. But those hands were hard and firm.
They compressed my windpipe. Back and fro we writhed. I heard nothing
but my own hard breathing. I was being slowly strangled. It was very
hard to drag those hands apart. But I am strong, stronger than many men
who earn their living by exhibiting to the vulgar feats of strength.
Impelled by fear of death, I exerted my reserve of force, and driving
will and muscle into one supreme united effort I tore the death grip
from my neck and flung the Arab off. Uttering a sobbing howl of relief
and rage, I followed him and caught him by the middle. Then stooping
low, I heaved him high and dashed him to the ground. There came a sound
of snapping wood or bones, but neither sigh nor cry of any sort. "We'll
see," I growled, and struck a match. The sand before me was dinted,
but deserted. The Arab had vanished. My senses rocked in horrified
astonishment. My flesh crept. A cold chill of vague unreasoning terror
caught me. I listened, all my nerves taut strained, peering wildly
round into the dark. But the silence was unbroken. Nothing was to be
heard, nothing was to be seen. Were it not for the dinted sand and the
marks of feet other than my own where we had stepped and struggled, I
could have come to the conclusion I had dreamed. After a while spent
in soothing panic fears, I sneaked off to my baggage and extracted
from the pile a candle lamp. This I lighted and, returning, searched
the sands on hands and knees. The stranger's footprints were longer
than my own and they were toe-marked. Plainly, then, he had stolen on
me naked-footed. Looking wide around the dint made by his falling body
I came presently upon some more of them. They were each a yard apart,
and led towards the Hill of Rakh. Yet only for a little while. Soon
they grew fainter and fainter. Finally they disappeared. Tortured by
the mystery of it all, I halted where the footprints vanished and,
putting out the lamp, squatted on the ground to wait for dawn. It came
an hour later, but it told me nothing fresh. Indeed, it only rendered
the riddle more intolerably maddening. Where had my Arab gone? And how
had he come? For there was not a single footprint leading to the camp.
Of course he might have thrown a cloak before him on which to walk;
and thus he might have progressed and left no trace. But wherefore
such extraordinary caution? And why should he be so anxious to conceal
himself? It was hard to give up the riddle, but easier to abandon
than to solve it. Calling philosophy to my aid and imagination, I
determined that my Arab was some mad hermit upon whose solitude Ottley
had intruded in the first instance, and I in the second. And that he
had conceived a particular animosity for some unknown reason against
my humble self and wished to kill me. Without a doubt, he had some
secret hiding-place and feared lest I should seek to discover it.
Perhaps he had found some treasure of which he had constituted himself
the jealous guardian. I felt sure, at any rate, that he was mad. His
actions had always been so peculiar and his speechlessness so baffling
and astonishing and crassly unreasonable. But he or someone had killed
my donkey. I found the poor beast lying in a hollow, dead as Cæsar. A
knife had been employed, a long, sharp-pointed knife--perhaps a sword.
It had searched out the creature's heart and pierced it. I made a hasty
autopsy in order to be sure. The circumstance was most exasperating. It
condemned me to the task of being my own beast of burthen. And the load
was not a light one. I made, however, the best of a bad job, and having
fortified myself with a good breakfast, I started off laden like a
pack-horse for the Hill of Rakh. Having covered four miles, I stopped.
Miss Ottley and Captain Frankfort Weldon had suddenly come into view.
They were mounted. I sat down on my baggage, lighted a cigarette and
waited. Common elementary Christian charity would compel them to offer
me a lift. It was a good thought. It is not right that a man should
work like a beast. And, besides, it was cheering to see Miss Ottley
again. She came up looking rather care-worn and a good deal surprised.
I arose and doffed my hat like a courtier. Captain Weldon touched his
helmet with his whip by way of salute. He might have just stepped out
of a bandbox. I felt he did not like me. The girl looked at me with
level brows.

"Sir Robert well and strong again?" I asked.

"Quite," said Miss Ottley.

"We were on our way to pay you a visit," observed the Captain.

"Sir Robert wants me," I hazarded.

Miss Ottley shrugged her shoulders. "Does he?" she asked, then added
with a tinge of irony, "You seem content to be one of those who are
always neglected until a need arises for their services. Does it appear
impossible that we might have contemplated a friendly call?"

"I have no parlour tricks," I explained.

Her lip curled. "You need not tell me. You left without troubling to
bid me as much as a good-day. How long ago? Three weeks. Why?" Her tone
was really imperious.

"But I left a benediction on the doorstep," I responded. "You looked
cross and I was in a hurry."

Her eyes blazed; they were beautiful to see. "Where are you going?" she
demanded.

"To call on your father."

"You have a load," observed the Captain.

"A mere nothing."

"Is not that a tent?"

"I am shifting camp."

"That nigger chap--Yazouk--came along last evening. But he vanished
during the night. We fancied something might have happened."

"Oh, Yazouk. He broke a cup and feared I would turn him into a hyena,
so he ran away."

"What!" shouted the Captain.

"A superstitious creature," I shrugged.

The Captain shook with laughter. "We wondered how you had tamed him,"
he chuckled presently--"after the bout. 'Pon honour, you served him
very prettily. Straight from the shoulder and savate, too. The dragoman
declares you have the evil eye."

"Have you lost your donkey, Dr. Pinsent?" demanded Miss Ottley.

"He expired suddenly last evening."

Captain Weldon frowned and sat up very straight in his saddle.

"Eh?" he said and looked a question.

"I had an Arab visitor. My visitor or another killed my donkey with a
knife. I should like to have caught him in the act."

"My dream," said Miss Ottley, and caught her breath.

"By Jove," said the Captain, "it is really wonderful--but wait--you had
a visitor, Doctor?"

"I believe it."

"Did he offer to attack you?"

"The spirit of the cavern!" cried the girl.

"A lunatic of an Arab," I retorted, "and so little of a spirit that I
had hard work to prevent him throttling me."

"But the face. Did you see the face?"

"Our friend of the cavern," I admitted.

Miss Ottley glanced at the Captain, then back at me. She was as white
as a lily.

"I knew it," she said. "I saw him kill the donkey and steal upon
you--in a dream. His hands were bloody--and, look, there is blood still
on your throat."

"My cask was empty, so perforce I could not wash," I murmured. The
Captain looked thunderstruck. "It's the most wonderful thing," he kept
repeating, "the most wonderful thing in the world."

"And I never thought of looking in the mirror. It was packed up," I
went on. I took out a rather grimy kerchief and began to rub at my neck.

"Has that wretched Arab--worried you at all--since I left, Miss Ottley?"

"I have seen him twice--and once more" (she shuddered) "in my dream."

"And where did you see him out of dreams?"

"Once in the cavern and once in my father's tent. Each time at night.
Each time he vanished like a shadow."

"Did anyone else see him?"

"My father and Captain Weldon."

"The most hideous brute I ever saw," commented the Captain; "you could
put a good-sized head between his eyes. And such eyes. Dull as mud, but
horribly intelligent."

"Well, well," said I. "We'll know more about him some day soon,
perhaps, that is, if we stay long enough at the Hill of Rakh. He has a
hiding thereabouts--without a doubt. Your father is pining to open the
tomb of Ptahmes, I suppose, Miss Ottley?"

"He has opened it," she answered.

"Oh!" I exclaimed--and stopped dead in the act of naming Sir Robert a
thankless perjurer.

The girl was looking at me hard. "You are surprised?"

"Curious," I growled. It was hard to say, for I was furious.

"I cannot enlighten your curiosity," she said.

"No?"

"He permitted no one to be present to assist him. It took place the day
before yesterday in the cave temple. And the tomb is now closed again."

"You are then unaware what is discovered?"

"Perfectly."

"And Sir Robert?"

"You will find my father greatly changed, Dr. Pinsent."

"Indeed."

"He seems to be quite strong, but he has aged notably, and he will
hardly condescend to converse with anyone, even me. Moreover, the
subject of Ptahmes is tabooed. The very name enrages him. Dr.
Belleville has forbidden it to be mentioned in his hearing."

"Humph!" said I. "If my donkey were alive I should go to Kwansu
straight. But as it is I shall have to trespass for a stretch on your
preserves at Rakh. I hate it, too, for your father has broken faith
with me."

"Ah!" cried the girl. "He promised that you should help him open the
tomb."

"Exactly."

"You must not be hard on him. I believe that he is not quite himself."

"Oh! I am accustomed to that sort of treatment from the Ottleys," I
replied.

It was brutal beyond question, but I was past reckoning on niceties
with rage. Captain Weldon turned scarlet and raised his whip. "Dr.
Pinsent," he cried, "you forget yourself. For two pins----" then he
stopped--having met my eyes. I laughed in his face. "Why not?" I
queried jibingly. "It would be not only chivalrous--a lady looking
on--but safe. Have you ever seen a St. Bernard hurt a spaniel?"

He went deathly and slashed me with his whip. Poor boy. I never blamed
him. I'd have done the same myself. As for me, the blow descended and
cooled my beastly temper, which was an unmitigated blessing. I took
his whip away and gave it back to him. Then I laughed out, tickled at
the humour of the situation, though it only told against myself. "I
had intended accepting your offer of your mule for my belongings," I
chuckled. "You haven't offered him, but that's a detail. And now I
can't." I shook with laughter.

Weldon leaped on instant to the ground. "Do, do!" he almost groaned.

He was a generous youngster. "And forgive me!" he said. "If you can--it
was a coward blow."

"Gladly I'll forgive you," I replied, and we clasped hands.

"I'll help you load the beast," said he.

But I put my foot on my baggage. "That mule," I said, "belongs to Sir
Robert Ottley. I'll not risk the breaking of his back."

We looked at one another and I saw the Captain understood me. He turned
rather sheepishly away, but did not mount immediately.

Miss Ottley was gazing over the desert. "You must know you are behaving
like a child," she cuttingly remarked.

I shook my head at the Captain. "That means you are keeping a lady
waiting," I observed.

He smiled wrily in spite of himself. "Scottish, are you not?" he asked.

"From Aberdeen."

He climbed on the mule's back. "I'm thinking Dr. Pinsent would like to
be alone," he said.

Miss Ottley nodded and they rode off together. I picked up my swag and
trudged after them. It was dry work. About twenty minutes later Miss
Ottley rode back alone. She did not beat about the bush at all.

"I want you to put your things on my donkey," she said; and slipping
afoot, she stood in my path.

"Not to-day," said I.

"But I'm in trouble, I need your help," she muttered.

"With such a cavalier as Frankfort Weldon?" I inquired.

She coloured.

"And Dr. Belleville. Old friends both, I am led to fancy."

She bit her lips.

"And both of them in love with you," I went on bluntly.

"Dr. Pinsent," said Miss Ottley, "it is my opinion that my father is
not quite right in his mind."

"Dr. Belleville is a F. R. C. S.," said I.

"I am afraid of him--my own father," she said, in a tragic tone. "I
have a feeling that he hates me, that he wants to--to destroy me."

"Captain Weldon would lay down his life for you, I think," said I.

She put a hand on my breast and looked me straight in the eye. "I could
not tell this to Dr. Belleville, nor to the other," she half whispered.

I thrilled all over. "All right," I said, cheerily. "Just stand aside
till I load your little beastie, will you?"

Her whole face lighted up. "Ah! I knew you would not desert me," she
said.

But we did not speak again all the way to the Hill of Rakh. We were too
busy thinking; the two of us. When we arrived she flitted off, still
silent. Captain Weldon came to me. "I want you to share my tent," said
he. "I have a tub for you in waiting, and some fresh linen laid out, if
you'll honour me by wearing it."

"You are a brick," I replied, and took his arm. But at the door of
the biggest tent in the whole camp to which he brought me I paused in
wonder. It was a sort of lady's bower within. The floor was laid with
rugs, and the sloped canvas walls were hung with silken frills; and
women's photographs littered the fold-up dressing-table. They were all
of the same face, though, those latter; the face of Miss Ottley.

"Sybarite!" I cried.

He winced, then squared his shoulders. "Well--perhaps so," he said with
a smile.

"But your gallery has only one goddess," I commented, pointing to a
picture.

He gave a shame-faced little laugh. "You see, Doctor, I have the
happiness to be engaged to marry Miss Ottley," he explained. Then he
left me to my tub.



Chapter VIII

Ottley Shows His Hand


The Captain's linen he had laid out for my use on his damask-covered
cot was composed of the very finest silk. Even the socks were silk. I
was positively ashamed to draw my stained and work-worn outer garments
over them; and I thought, with a sigh, of my two decent suits of tweed
lying, like the Dutchman's anchor, far away--in a Cairo lodging-house,
to be precise. I shaved with the Captain's razor and wondered why I did
not in the least mind resting indebted to his courtesy. The removal of
my beard laid bare the weal the Captain's whip had raised. Perhaps that
was the reason. He came in just as I had finished and he saw the weal
on instant. "I wish to the Lord you'd just blacken one of my eyes," he
said remorsefully. "The sight of that makes me feel an out-and-out cad.
Not ten minutes before it happened Miss Ottley had been telling me the
angel of goodness you had been to her."

I sat down on the edge of the cot and grinned. "It gives me quite a
distinguished appearance," I replied, "and, say, didn't it give me back
my temper nicely, too."

"Little wonder you were wild," said he. "But why didn't you break me up
while you were about it? You could have, easily enough. Lord! how big
and strong you are."

"And ugly," I supplemented.

He flushed all over his face. "You make me feel a silly girl-man by
comparison," he cried. "A man ought to be ugly and strong-looking like
you. I'd give half my fortune to possess that jaw."

"What a boy it is!" I said delightedly, for I was proud of my jaw, and
I love flattery.

"I'm having a cot made now; it will be put over there for you. You'll
share my diggings, won't you? I want us to be friends," beamed the
Captain.

There was something so ingenuous and charming in his frankness that I
assented at once.

"It's funny," he said afterwards. "But I detested you at first. Have
a cigar. This box of Cabanas is for you. They're prime. I've more
in my kit when they are finished. Lie down and rest while you smoke
one, won't you? Lunch won't be ready for an hour yet, and you must be
fagged."

I wasn't a bit, but I lay back and puffed a mouthful of delicious smoke
with a long-drawn sigh of luxury.

"You needn't talk. Miss Ottley says you don't like talking," said
the Captain. He lit a cigar and sat down on his kit box. "I'm a real
gabbler, though," he confessed. "Do you mind?"

"No, fire away, sonny!"

He fired. It was all about himself and Miss Ottley: how they had been
brought up together, predestined sweethearts: how they had quarrelled
and made up and quarrelled again: how really and truly in their hearts
they adored each other: and how--if it had not been for the girl's
intense devotion for her father, they would have been married long
ago. He characterised Sir Robert as an extremely selfish man, who,
ever since his wife's death, had used his daughter as a servant and
secretary because he could get no other to serve him as well and
intelligently. "But he doesn't really care for her a straw," concluded
the Captain. "And he would sacrifice her without remorse to his beastly
mummy hobby for ever if I'd let him. But I won't. I'm going to put my
foot down presently. I've waited long enough. He has done nothing but
drag her all over Europe translating papyri for him for the last six
years. And she has worked for him like a slave. It's high time she had
a little peace and happiness."

"Translating papyri," I repeated. "A scholar, then?"

"Between ourselves," replied the Captain, "Sir Robert's fame as
a scholar and an Egyptologist rests entirely upon his daughter's
labours. Without her he would be unknown. She did all the real work. He
reaped the credit. She is three times the scholar he is, and I know a
Frenchman who regards her knowledge of cuneiform as simply marvellous.
He is a professor of ancient languages, too, at the Sorbonne, so he
ought to know."

"Queer she never mentioned a word of it to me," said I.

"Oh!" cried the Captain, "she is the modestest, sweetest creature
in the universe. I sometimes think she is positively ashamed of her
extraordinary ability. Whenever I speak of it she apologises--and says
she only learned the things she knows to be a help to her dear old
father. Dear old father, indeed! The selfish old swine ought to be
suppressed. He loathes me because he fears I'll persuade her to leave
him. If she wasn't so useful she could go to the deuce for all he'd
care. But it's got to end soon or I'll know the reason why. Don't you
think I'm right? We've been engaged now seven years."

"I consider you a model of patience," I replied.

"Besides," said the Captain, starting off on a new tack, "the old man
is positively uncanny. It's my belief he has an underhanded motive in
his love for mummies, especially for his latest find, this Ptahmes.
He's a spook-hunter, you know--and he told me one day in an unguarded
moment that he expected to live a thousand years."

"What's a spook-hunter, Captain?"

"Oh! I mean a spiritualist. He has a medium chap, he keeps in London--a
rascally beggar who bleeds thousands a year out of him. They have
séances. The medium scamp pretends to go into a trance and tells him
all sorts of rubbish about the Nile kings and prophets and wizards
and magicians and the elixir of life. It is dashed unpleasant for me,
I can tell you. There's always some wild yarn going round the clubs.
And as I'm known to be Ottley's prospective son-in-law, I have the
life chaffed out of me in consequence. The latest was that the medium
chap--Oscar Neitenstein is his name--put Ottley in the way of finding
an old Theban prophet's tomb--this very Ptahmes, don't you know. And
though he has been underground 4000 years, Neitenstein has fooled
Ottley into expecting to find the prophet still alive. It's too idiotic
to speak seriously about, of course; but on my honour the yarn drove me
out of England. It got into the comic papers. Ugh! you know what that
means. But I'm not sorry in one way. So I've come here to have it out
with Ottley. And I'm going to--by Gad."

"You haven't spoken to him yet?"

"I have, but he treated me like a kid. Told me to run away and play and
allow serious people to work. I stormed a bit, but it was no use. It
made him so angry that he nearly took a fit--and I had to leave. Since
then he has been shut up with his infernal mummy, in that cave temple
over there--and he won't even let his daughter go within yards of the
door. That's curious, isn't it?"

"Very."

"And there's that business about the mysterious Arab," went on the
Captain. "The ugly horror that tried to throttle you and has been
frightening Miss Ottley. She thinks it's a ghost. But I reckon not."

"Ah!"

"I reckon Sir Robert knows all about that Arab, though he pretends he
does not know. In my opinion it's another of those spook mediums of
his, and he is keeping the ugly beast hidden away somewhere. Probably
the fellow is some awful criminal who has got to hide. Sir Robert would
shelter Hill or even that Australian wife-murderer Deeming if he said
he was a medium."

"You extend my mental horizon," I remarked. "The Arab mystery is
clearing up."

The Captain simply beamed. "So glad you catch on," he said. "Do you
know, I am depending heaps upon you in this business."

"How?"

The monosyllable disconcerted the Captain. He stuttered and hawed for
a while. But, finally, he blurted out, "Well, you see, she won't leave
her father under existing circumstances on any account, that's the
trouble. But I'm hoping if we can convince the old man he is being
fooled by a pack of scoundrels he will return to his sober senses and
live Sensibly, and then----" he paused.

"And then--wedding bells," I suggested.

"Exactly," replied the Captain. "And see here, I have a plan."

"Ah!"

"It's to lay for that Arab, as a first step--and catch the brute."

"And what then?"

The Captain looked rather foolish. "Well," he said, "well--oh!--we'd
be guided by circumstances then, of course. We might induce him to
confess--don't you think?"

I could not help laughing. "If you want to know what I think," I said,
"it is, that you are in the position of a man who knows what he wants
but does not in the least understand how to get it. Still count on my
help. If we can lay the Arab by the heels we shall not harm anyone
deserving of consideration, and we will put Miss Ottley's mind at rest,
at all events; I hate to think that she is worried by the rascal. What
do you propose?"

"I thought of hiding by the temple to-night. I passed it late last
evening, and though Sir Robert was ostensibly alone, I could swear I
heard voices. What do you say?"

"Certainly."

"Shake," said the Captain. We shook. "Now let's go to lunch," said he.
We went.

"That's Belleville's shanty," observed the Captain, pointing to a
neighbouring tent. "I don't like the fellow, do you?"

"I don't know him."

"He's a spook-hunter like Sir Robert."

"Ah!"

"The beggar is in love with Miss Ottley."

"Oh!"

"He had the impudence to tell her to her face one day that she would
never marry me. He declared that it was written--by spooks, I suppose.
One of these days I'll have to break his head for him. But he is not a
man you can easily quarrel with. You simply can't insult him. He comes
up smiling every time."

"An unpleasant person."

"A bounder," said the Captain with intense conviction. "Lord, how hot
it is!"

We entered the eating tent as he spoke. The table was already laid. Dr.
Belleville stood near the head of it talking to Miss Ottley. A couple
of Soudanese flitted about affecting to be busy, but effecting very
little. At sight of me both shuddered back against the canvas and stood
transfixed. One held a spoon, the other a plate. They looked extremely
absurd. I told them in Arabic that only the dishonest had occasion to
fear the evil eye, and took a seat. Instantly both rushed to serve me.
My companions, not possessing the evil eye, were forced to wait. Miss
Ottley became satirical, but I was hungry and her shafts glanced off
the armour of my appetite. When I had finished my first helping of
currie she sat down. "There's no use waiting for father," she sighed.
"I shall take his lunch to him by-and-by."

Dr. Belleville echoed the sigh. "My dear young lady," said he, "permit
me now," and he vanished a minute later carrying a tray.

"You see," said the Captain, sotto voce, to me.

"More currie," I said, addressing, not the Captain, but the tent.
Immediately one of the Soudanese slipped and sprawled on the floor in
his eagerness to serve. The other leaped over his fellow's prostrate
body and whisked away my plate. He returned it loaded in about five
seconds. Miss Ottley broke into a half-hysterical laugh. It kept up so
long that at last I looked at her in surprise. She had a knife and fork
before her, but nothing else; also the Captain. "What is the matter?" I
demanded.

"Look," she gurgled. Following her finger I turned and saw both
Soudanese standing like statues behind me. "Wretches," I cried, "have
you nothing else to do?"

They uttered a joint howl of terror and fled from the tent. But the
joke had staled. I took after them hot foot, caught them and drove them
back to work, to find that my companions in the meanwhile had helped
themselves. Dr. Belleville, however, entered a moment later, and at a
nod from me the trembling Soudanese became his abject slaves.

Dr. Belleville had something to say. "The negroes are frightened of
you," he began.

"They fancy I have the evil eye."

"Humph!" cried the Doctor. "Talk German--they understand English. It's
not that."

"What then?"

"Sir Robert Ottley sent one of them to you--with a message--last night.
He returned this morning with three ribs broken. He is lying in the
hospital tent now--in a high fever."

"A tall, thin man--the eyes set far apart in the skull?" I asked.

Dr. Belleville shook his head. "No. Short, thick-set, snub-featured,
but a giant in strength."

"How did he explain his accident?"

"That unwittingly he angered you."

"The man is a liar," I declared indignantly. "I had a set-to with
a skulking rogue last night. That is true enough. But the fellow I
encountered and threw was taller than myself."

The Doctor shrugged his shoulders. "It was a dark night, I believe."
Then a minute later--"Ottley is much annoyed. This Meeraschi was an
excellent subject. Ottley was experimenting with him."

"How?"

"Hypnotically."

I glanced at the others, but they were talking apart.

"Ottley sent me a message?" I asked, returning to the Doctor.

"Yes," replied Belleville between mouthfuls. He was gulping down his
lunch like a wolf in a hurry. "He wants you," he went on.

"Needless to say I received no message."

"Needless?" repeated Belleville. "And you here?"

The tone was so insulting that I arose and walked quietly out of the
tent. The sun was blazing hot. I thought of the cool cave temple and
wandered towards it. Why not see Sir Robert at once? Why not, indeed.
Two black sentinels guarded the middle pylon, skulking in the shadow of
a column. When I approached they stood bolt upright. They were armed
with rifles. They barred the way.

"Ottley!" I shouted. "Ottley!" and once again "Ottley!"

At the third the little baronet's face appeared in the stone doorway.

"Oh! Pinsent," he said, and stared at me. I read doubt in his glance,
some fear and anger and uneasiness. But there was much else I could not
read. His skin was as yellow as old parchment, and he did not look a
well man by any means.

"It is roasting--here," I observed.

He swallowed audibly, as a woman does recovering from tears. "Ah,
well," he said. "Come in--here."

The blacks vastly relieved, it appeared, lowered their arms and gave me
passage. Sir Robert, however, still blocked the door. I traversed the
pylon and stood before him. "We can talk here," said he.

But I had no mind to be treated like that. I looked him in the face
and talked to him like this: "I am not welcome. I can see it. But it
matters nothing to me. I have rights. I gave you back your life. You
made me a promise. You broke your promise. That relieves me of any need
to be conventional. I am curious. I intend to satisfy my curiosity.
Invite me into the cavern and show me what you have there to be seen.
Or I shall put you aside and help myself. I can do so. Your blacks do
not frighten me, armed or unarmed. As for you, pouf! Now choose!"

"Dr. Pinsent," said Sir Robert. (He was shaking like an aspen.) "In
about ten minutes my dragoman is setting out for Cairo. If you will
be good enough to bear him company he will hand you at the end of the
journey my cheque for a thousand pounds."

"I ought to have told you," I murmured, "that it is a point of honour
with me to keep my word."

"Two thousand," said Sir Robert.

"At all costs," said I.

"Five thousand!" he cried.

"You rich little cad!" I growled, and looked into the muzzle of a
revolver.

Sir Robert's eyes, seen across the sights, glittered like a maniac's.
"Go away!" he whispered. "Go--or----"

I thought of an old, old policeman trick and assumed an expression of
sudden horror. "Take care," I cried. "Look out--he will get you."

The baronet swung around, gasping and ghastly. In a second I had him by
the wrist.

"What was it?" he almost shrieked.

"A policeman's trick," I answered coldly, and disarmed him.

"Curse you! Curse you!" he howled, and doubling his fists, he rushed
at me, calling on his blacks the while. The latter gave me momentary
trouble. But it was soon over. I propped them up like lay figures
against the columns, facing each other, afterwards, and extracted the
charges from their guns. Looking over the sand, I saw Miss Ottley
and Dr. Belleville and the Captain walking under umbrellas towards
the tanks. I felt glad not to have disturbed them. Sir Robert had
disappeared within the cavern. I followed him. He had put on a large
masque which entirely covered his face, and he was fumbling with
the screw stopper of a huge glass jar at the farthest corner of the
cavern. The sarcophagus had been overturned. It now rested in the
centre of the cavern, bottom upwards. And on the flat, leaden surface
of the bottom was stretched out, stiff and stark, the naked body of a
tall, brown-skinned man. The body glistened as if it had been rubbed
with oil. It was almost fleshless, but sinews and tendons stood out
everywhere like tightened cords. One might almost have taken it for a
mummy. It had, however, an appearance of life--or rather, of suspended
animation, for it did not move. I wondered and stepped closer to
examine it. I looked at the face, and recognised the Arab who had
attacked me on the previous night, the Arab who had frightened Miss
Ottley and myself more than once. His mouth was tight shut; his eyes
were, however, open slightly. He did not seem to breathe. I put my
finger on his cheek, and pressed. The flesh did not yield. I ran
my eyes down his frame and uttered a cry. Three of his ribs were
broken. Then I felt his pulse; it was still. The wrist was as rigid as
steel--the arm, too--nay, the whole man. "He is dead," I exclaimed at
last, and looked at Sir Robert. The little baronet was re-stoppering
the glass jar, but he held a glass in one hand half filled with some
sort of liquid. Presently he approached me--but most marvellously
slowly.

[Illustration: The Living Mummy

I felt his pulse

_Face Page 88_]

"This man is dead," I said to him. "He attacked me last night. I threw
him and perhaps broke his ribs. But I did not kill him, for he fled.
How comes it he is dead?"

Sir Robert, for answer, threw at my feet the contents of the jar. Then
I understood why he wore the masque. The cavern was filled with the
fumes of the deadly perfume of the sarcophagus on instant. One sniff
and my senses were rocking. I held my breath, but in spite of that the
cavern swung round me with vertiginous rapidity.

It seemed best to retire. I did so, but how I hardly know. Somehow
or another I reached the pylon, passed the blacks and stepped upon
the sand. About fifty paces off I saw a beautiful grove of palm trees
suddenly spring up out of the desert. Such magic was most astonishing.
I said to myself, "They cannot be real, of course. I am merely
imagining them." But their shade was so deliciously inviting that I
simply had to accept its challenge. I entered the grove and sat down
beside a little purling stream of crystal water. It was very pleasant
to dip my hands in it. Presently a lovely Naiad rose up out of the
pool, seized my hands and pressed them to her lips. That was pleasant,
too. Then she came and sat quite near me on the banks of the rill and
drew my head upon her lap and stroked cool fingers through my hair,
crooning a tender love song all the while. That was pleasantest of all.
But her crooning made me drowsy. Like the Lorelei's song, it charmed
away my senses, and I slept.



Chapter IX

A Cool Defiance


Of course, I had swooned, and equally, of course, not on the bank of a
rivulet and under the cool shade of palm trees, but in the full blaze
of the mid-day sun and on the smooth, unprotected burning surface of
the desert. It was the accursed sarcophagus perfume that had worked the
mischief. Fortunately Miss Ottley saw me fall; otherwise I might have
had a sunstroke. Belleville and the Captain carried me between them to
the shade of one of the pylons, and Belleville opened a vein in my left
arm--a proceeding I am prevented from commenting on by considerations
of professional etiquette. Happily, I recovered consciousness in time
to save a little of my precious blood. I told Belleville my opinion of
him in one comprehensive scowl, which he interpreted correctly, I am
glad to say, and then got up. I bandaged my arm myself and made off for
the Captain's tent. That gentleman followed me. There arrived, I cast
myself upon the cot and swore at ease. Weldon listened in spellbound
admiration. He afterwards assured me that he had never before
encountered such proficient fluency in objurgation and invective. I
was madder than a hatter, and the more because I was as weak as a cat,
and I wanted to be strong, with all my soul. Yet, five days passed
before I felt well enough to be able to attack the task in front of me.
Meanwhile, I told the Captain very little and Miss Ottley nothing. How
could I let her know I knew her father to be a confounded old rascal?
She was very good. She visited me every day and spent hours reading
aloud by my bedside, while the Captain and I watched her face and
thought much the same thoughts; though I took care, for my own part,
not to let my features reflect the fatuous devotion of the Captain's.
On the sixth morning I found I could lift that young man shoulder-high
with one hand without wanting to sit down and pant afterwards, so I got
up. It was just after daylight. The Captain wanted to accompany me, but
I thought differently. He was annoyed, but I let him watch me from the
tent flap. I found Sir Robert talking to Dr. Belleville at the door of
the cave temple. His greeting was quite affectionate. "So glad you are
better again, my dear young friend," he said, and he warmly invited me
into the chamber. It was almost empty. The jar of perfume had gone; the
sarcophagus had disappeared. It contained only a table and a cot. "Sit
down," said Sir Robert.

"Where is the sarcophagus?" I demanded.

The old rascal grinned. "I had it quietly transferred last night on a
truck to a punt," he replied, "while you were enjoying your beauty
sleep. Dr. Belleville and I have not been to bed at all. It is now on
the road to Cairo--and England."

I sat down on the cot. "And the dead Arab?" I questioned.

Dr. Belleville choked back a laugh. Sir Robert smiled.

"The dead Arab you saw was the mortal casket of Ptahmes," said he.
"I am not surprised at your mistake. The body is in a perfect state
of preservation. It is not a mummy in any sense of the expression. I
regret very much that your sudden indisposition prevented you from
examining it closely and me from explaining the circumstances of its
preservation and discovery on the spot. However, I can tell you this
much now. We found it steeped in an essential oil which an hermetic
process had defended from evaporation. The oil began to evaporate
immediately it was exposed to the air: but I contrived to save a
certain quantity with which, later, I purpose to experiment in London.
The Egyptian authorities have been very good to me. They have given
me all necessary powers to deal with my discovery as I please. I tell
you this lest professional jealousy should lead you to attempt any
interference with my actions."

"In plain words, Sir Robert, you wish me to understand that your
discovery is for you and not for the world."

"Hardly that, my dear Pinsent. Merely that I propose to choose my
own time for taking the world into my confidence--and that of Dr.
Belleville," he added, bowing to his friend.

"An unusual course for a professed scientist to adopt."

"I have very little sympathy with conventionality," cooed Sir Robert.

"And I," said Belleville.

"The point of view of two burglars," I observed. I scowled at
Belleville.

"You shall be as rude as you please. You saved my life," said Sir
Robert.

Dr. Belleville cleared his throat. "Ahem--Ahem," said he, "the
discourtesy of the disappointed is--ahem--is a tribute to the merits of
the more successful."

In my rage I descended to abuse. "You are a nasty old swindler," I said
to Sir Robert, "but your grey hair protects you for the present. But,
as for you, sir," I turned to Belleville, "you black bull-dog--if you
dare so much as to open your lips to me again, I'll wring your flabby
nose off."

The baronet turned scarlet; the Doctor went livid; but neither of them
said a word.

I strode to the door intending to quit, but there rage mastered me
again. I swung on heel and once more faced them. "One word more,"
I grated out; "you're not done with me yet, either of you. I'm a
peaceful man by nature, but no man treads on my toes with impunity.
Spiritualists or spirit-summoners you are, I hear. Weldon calls you
spook-hunters--a very proper term. You'll need all the money you
possess between you and all the spirits' help you'll buy from your
rascal spirit-rappers to keep me from your trail. Looking for the
elixir of life, I'm told. It will go hard if I don't help you find it.
The elixir of public ridicule, that I'll turn upon you, will hand your
names down to posterity. I'll help you to that much immortality, at
least, and gratis, too. Good-day to you!"

"Dr. Pinsent!" shouted Ottley.

I paused and glanced at him across my shoulder. He gazed at me with
eyes that simply blazed.

"Be warned," he hissed, "if you value your life, let me and mine alone.
I'll send a cheque to your tent to-day; keep it, call quits, and I'm
done with you. I owe you that consideration, but no more."

"And suppose, on the other hand----"

"Cross me and you shall see. You sleep sometimes, I suppose. My
emissary will not always find you wakeful. He never sleeps."

"Your rascal Arab!" I shouted.

"Pah!" he cried.

"Murderer, it was to you I owe that rough and tumble a week ago at my
own camp in the desert."

"To me," he mumbled. "To me. Whom else? My agents are spirits and
invisible. They do not love you for despising them. They have tortures
in reserve for you when you are dead and you, too, are a spirit. But I
would be merciful--I shall send you a cheque. Return it at your peril.
Now go, go, go."

On a sudden I was cold as ice. The man was evidently insane. He seemed
on the brink of a fit. He was frothing at the mouth.

"Softly, softly, Sir Robert," I said soothingly. "No need for
excitement. Calm yourself; after all this is a business transaction."

"Oh!" he gasped, then broke into a wild laugh. "A mere matter of price.
I should have known it; a Scotchman!"

"Exactly," said I. "And my price is a million. Good-morning."

The whole camp was astir. The negroes' tents were all down and rolled.
The mules and asses were being loaded heavily. Evidently Sir Robert
was about to flit after the corpse of Ptahmes. I found Miss Ottley and
the Captain talking over the apparent move. The girl was agitated. She
had not been consulted. It was not a time to mince matters. I told her
frankly everything that had passed between her father and myself, and
hardly had I finished, when she rushed off hot foot to visit him. The
Captain went with her. I made a passably good breakfast.



Chapter X

The Capture of the Coffin


About noon--I saw no one but blacks in the meanwhile--the Captain came
with a letter. "From Sir Robert--catch!" said he. I tore it open. A
single sheet of note enclosed a cheque signed in blank. "Dear Dr.
Pinsent," ran the letter. "You will find that my signature will be
honoured for any sum it may please you to put upon my life in your
esteem. Permit me to express a hope that you will not hurt my vanity in
your selection of numerals.

"Sincerely yours, ROBERT OTTLEY."

I handed the note to Weldon. He read it and whistled loud and long.

"You might beggar him!" he cried. "The man is stark mad."

"Either that or he has made a truly wonderful discovery," I rejoined.
"And there is Belleville to consider. That man, I fancy, is a
rascal--but also a sane one."

"It has me beat," said the handsome Captain. "The whole thing from
start to finish. Ottley is up there now spooning his daughter like
a lover. He was as sweet as pie to me, too. I feel like a stranded
jelly-fish. What will you do?"

I enclosed the cheque in a blank cover, sealed it and gave it to the
Captain.

"Will you be my courier?"

"Of course," said he, and swung off.

He returned at the end of my third cigar, with a second letter. It ran,
"My dear young friend, Your refusal has deeply pained me. The more,
because it deprives me of the pleasure of your company on the road to
Cairo. I beg you, nevertheless, to choose from my stores all that you
may require that may serve you during your continued sojourn at Rakh.
We start at sunset for the Nile and north.

"Ever yours attachedly,
"R. OTTLEY."

When the Captain had mastered this precious effusion, he collapsed upon
a stool. "He intends to leave you here alone in the desert. It's--it's
marooning, nothing less!" he gasped.

I lighted a fourth cigar and lay back thinking hard. In ten minutes I
had made up my mind. I sat up. The Captain was anxiously watching me.
"See here, my lad," I said, "in that bundle yonder is the manuscript
of a book I have been working hard upon for three years and more. It
is the very heart of me. Take good care of it. One of these days--if I
live--I'll call for it at your diggings in London. I have your address
in my notebook."

"Oh! Oh! Oh!" said the Captain. "But what's the game?"

"Diamond cut diamond. I'm going a journey. But I'll say no more. Mad
or sane, you are eating Ottley's salt, and are beholden to him for his
paternity of the exceptionally gifted young woman you propose to marry.
Good-bye to you."

I held out my hand. He sprang up and wrung it hard. "You are sure you
are doing right?" he asked.

I filled my pockets with his cigars. "I am sure of nothing," I replied,
as I did so, "except this--I have been abominably ill-used by a man who
under Heaven owes his life to me--and this--I resent it."

I put on my helmet, nodded and left the tent.

The Captain cried out, "Good luck!" Five minutes later I turned and
waved my hand to him. He was still standing by the tent flap gazing
after me. I thought to myself, "He is as honest as he is good to look
upon. He will make May Ottley a gallant husband." I am a reasonably
bad Christian, and quite as selfish as many worse, but somehow or
another the reflection brought no aftermath of bitterness. The
handsome, happy-hearted boy--he was little else for all his three and
thirty years--had crept into my heart, and I felt somehow the chamber
he occupied was next door to that wherein May Ottley's visage was
enshrined. But I had work to do; so I turned the key on both. The sun
was so hideously hot that I was forced to hasten slowly. But I reached
the Nile under two hours, and found, as I expected, Sir Robert Ottley's
steam launch moored to the bank. Her smoking funnel had been the
beacon of my march. She was in charge of an old French pilot, a Turkish
engineer, and four Levantines, piratical-looking stokers, mongrels all.
I stalked aboard with an air of paramount authority. The Frenchman came
forward, bowing. He wore a sort of uniform. "Steam up, Captain?" I
asked.

"Since morning, monsieur!" he replied.

"Then kindly push off at once. I must overtake the punt that started
last night without delay."

His mouth opened. "But monsieur," he protested, "I----"

"You waste time," I interrupted.

He rubbed his hands nervously together. "But monsieur is unknown to me.
I have my written orders from Sare Roberrrrt. Doubtless monsieur has
authority. But monsieur vill perrceive----"

"That you are a punctilious old fool," I retorted. "Here is my
authority!" What I showed him was a revolver. He jumped, I vow, two
feet in the air, and hastily retreated. But I followed more quickly
still, and forced him to the bridge. There he became very voluble,
however; so much so, indeed, that I was constrained to cock my pistol.
That settled him. He thundered out his orders and we were soon racing
at ten knots an hour down stream. When rounding the nearest bend to
the Hill of Rakh the temptation was very strong in me to sound the
steamer's whistle. But I am proud to say that I refrained. It would
have been a little-minded thing to do. About midnight, feeling weary,
I ran the steamer's nose gently into a mud bank, drove the captain
down to the deck and locked him with the rest of the crew in the
engine-house. Then I foraged round for eatables, made a hearty supper
and snatched about five hours' sleep. When morning came I awoke as
fresh and strong as a young colt. After bath and breakfast, I released
my prisoners, made them eat and then push off the bank. We lost an
hour at that job, but, at length, it was accomplished, and our race
for the punt recommenced. We overhauled it about four o'clock the same
afternoon. It was just an ordinary flat-bottomed Nile abomination,
towed by a tiny, panting, puffing-billy, with twenty yards of good
Manilla. Twelve Arabs squatted round the sarcophagus. Seated on the
sarcophagus, under a double awning, was a burly-looking Englishman.
He was smoking a pipe, and one look at his face told me exactly why
he had been entrusted with Sir Robert Ottley's priceless treasure. He
was, as plain as daylight, a gentleman if one ever lived, a brave man,
too, shrewd and self-reliant and as incorruptibly devoted to his duty
as a bull-dog with a thief's hand between his jaws. I wondered if I
would get the better of him. As a first step towards that desideratum,
I assured the French captain that I entertained too much regard for him
to put him to a lingering death should he disobey me. I had previously
locked the rest of the crew in the engine-house. Then we bore down
on the punt and I shouted for the tug to be stopped. This was done.
As it lost way, we nosed up, going easy until we were alongside the
punt. Then I ordered half speed astern until we, too, were stationary.
Some power of suction or attraction began immediately to draw the two
crafts together. The tug, however, continued to remain, say thirty
feet off. The Englishman ordered out rope fenders and asked me what
the blazes I was doing. I answered that I had come after him from Sir
Robert Ottley--which was in a sense perfectly true--and that he could
hardly expect me to shout out urgent private business before listeners,
which was also a reasonably veracious statement of the facts. The
Englishman--I never learned his name--observed, with some heat, that he
would not leave his charge for a second for any man living except Sir
Robert Ottley; and that if I had something to tell him I must go aboard
the punt.

I said "Very well," and as the crafts touched I helped myself to the
punt with a rope.

"Well, what is it?" he demanded, and he eyed me most suspiciously, one
hand in his breast. Doubtless he had there a revolver. Had he been
warned? And of me? It is a thing I have still my doubts about. But I
looked him frankly in the eyes and told him the truth to the very best
of my ability.

"It has lately come to Sir Robert Ottley's knowledge," I began, "that
one of his guests--a man named Pinsent" (he started at the name) "has
conceived a bold design of relieving you of this very charge of yours,
which you are guarding with such praiseworthy solicitude."

"Oh!" said the Englishman, "and how would he go about it?" The idea
appeared to tickle him. He laughed.

"He would follow you and attack you," said I.

The Englishman put his hands on his thighs and simply roared. "He would
have to swim after me," he chuckled. "There is not another launch save
these two between here and Ham!"

"I am honestly glad to hear it," I replied, and, indeed, I was.

"It's a mare's nest," declared the Englishman.

"Oh!" said I. "This Pinsent is a desperate fellow and resourceful. Do
you know, he actually tried single-handed to seize that launch."

"The _Swallow_!" cried the Englishman. "Impossible."

"On the contrary!" I retorted. "He succeeded. He stands before you. My
name is Pinsent. Permit me!"

He was a trifle slow-witted, I fancy. He still looked puzzled, when his
face emerged above the Nile water, after his dive. But I would not let
him return to the punt. Immediately I discovered that the Arabs were
only armed with knives. I had taken the trouble to throw overboard all
the firearms that I could find on the _Swallow_; so I just drove them
aboard the launch and ordered the Frenchman to sheer off and return to
Rakh. He was charmed at the permission.

The Englishman fired at me twice from the water, but he had to keep
himself afloat, so he naturally missed. When he was well-nigh drowned
I hauled him up with a boat hook. It was easy to disarm him in that
condition. I had intended to put him on the tug, but I waited too long.
The tug cut the tow rope before my eyes and without so much as by your
leave puffed after the _Swallow_. The Englishman and I were thus left
lonely on the punt; in middle stream. The current was fairly strong at
that point and making towards a long, low-lying sweep of reedy flats.
I had no mind to land there, however, so after tying up the Englishman
neck and crop, I contrived to hoist a sail and steered for the opposite
bank.

The Englishman and I had nothing to say to each other. No doubt he
recognised the futility of conversation in the circumstances; as for
me, I never felt less inclined to talk. About five o'clock we grounded
under the lee of a pretty little promontory. It was populated with
crocodiles. Nice companions--at a distance--crocodiles--musky-smelling
brutes.



Chapter XI

Good-bye to the Nile


The Englishman was evidently something of a gourmet. I found foie gras,
camembert cheese, pressed sheep's tongues and bottled British ale in
his private locker. But he was as sullen as a sore-headed grizzly. He
sourly declined to eat even though I offered to free his hands, and he
strove to make my dinner unpleasant by volunteering pungent information
on the punishment provided by law for the crimes of piracy, robbery
under arms, burglary, assault and battery, and false imprisonment.
Those, it seems, were the titular heads of some of my delinquencies.
He felt sure that I would get ten years' hard labour, at least. I did
not argue the point with him. After dinner I examined the sarcophagus.
The lid was fastened on with crosswise-running bands of hinged steel,
padlocked in the centre. But it was, strange to say, wedged at one
end with iron bolts about an inch ajar, as if on purpose to allow air
to pass into the coffin. After a little search I discovered a toolbox
in the shallow hold of the punt; and I attacked the bands with cold
chisels and a mallet. Ten minutes' work sufficed. I tossed the broken
bands aside and levered off the lid. My heart beat like a trip-hammer
as I looked into the coffin. I was prepared for a surprise. I received
one. My Arab gazed up at me. The mysterious Arab with the three broken
ribs, who had frightened Miss Ottley and tried to throttle me and
whom I had last seen lying--a corpse--in the cave temple at Rakh. Of
course, Sir Robert Ottley had declared the corpse in the temple to
be identical with that of Ptahmes, the four thousand years dead High
Priest of Amen-Ra. But that was ridiculous. I had only had time to make
a cursory examination of the dead Arab in the cave temple, it is true,
but I am a surgeon, and I had convinced myself that the fellow, so
far from being a mummy, had not been long dead. I had yet to discover
an essential error in my cave temple investigation. My very first
impression had been not death, but suspended animation. And I must have
been right. The later speedy diagnosis had, in sober truth, misled me.
The man was not dead. It had been a case of suspended animation. The
Arab lying in the sarcophagus before me was alive. His broken ribs
were neatly set and bandaged. Otherwise he was swathed from head to
foot in oiled rags. He was lying in an easy position on his back--upon
a doubled feather tick. He was breathing softly but unmistakably. And
he was awake. His extraordinary eyes--they were set fully five inches
apart in his abnormally broad skull--were wide open and staring at me
in a way to make the flesh creep. They were horrible eyes. The whites
were sepia-coloured, the pupils were yellowish, and the iris of each a
different shade of black flecked with scarlet spots. His cone-shaped
forehead was moist and glistening with oil or perspiration. His mouth
was held open by two small rubber-tipped metal bars joined together,
against which his teeth--great brown fangs--pressed with manifest
spasmodic energy.

Now what was Ottley's purpose in taking such extraordinary pains to
transport a living Arab in a dead man's coffin from Rakh to Cairo, and,
perhaps, London?

Perhaps the Arab could tell me. Burning with curiosity, I stooped down
and took from his mouth the mechanical contrivances which held the
jaws apart. The Arab uttered on the instant a deep, raucous sigh. His
eyeballs rolled upwards and became fixed. He appeared to have fainted.
I rushed away to procure some water. That water was in the hold.
Seizing a dipper, I sprang down the steps, hurried to the cask and
filled it. The whole business occupied only a few seconds. I certainly
could not have been away from the deck half a minute, but when I
returned the sarcophagus was empty. The Arab had disappeared. Utterly
astounded, I gazed about me. Had the whole thing been a dream? It
appeared so, but no--I caught sight of a tall, dark figure making off
hot foot across the promontory. He had leaped ashore, a distance of
twelve feet or more, and was running towards the desert. In a second
I was after him. I thought of the crocodiles while in mid air; but it
was too late to turn back at that juncture. My feet landed in a patch
of oozy sand. I scrambled out of it and up the slope among the reeds.
A loud rustle and a stink of musk warned me of a saurian neighbour. I
gave a mighty leap and cleared the reeds. Then I ran as I had never run
before, for my Arab was in front, and a hungry monster came hard upon
my heels. A log lay in my path. It was another crocodile. I cleared it
with a bound and gained the desert. I was hunted for some seconds, I
believe, but I never looked back, so I do not know at what point the
saurian gave up the chase. The Arab was a marvel. He had a lead of one
hundred yards and he maintained it. He had three broken ribs and I was
as sound as a bell. Yet, at the end of twenty minutes not his breath
but mine gave out. I was forced to pause for a spell. He ran on. His
lead doubled. Setting my teeth, I resumed the chase. But I might have
spared myself the trouble. He gradually grew farther and farther away
from me. I did my best, but at last I was compelled to admit myself
beaten. The Arab's tall form grew less and less distinguishable against
the stars. Finally it melted into the mists of the horizon. I was alone
on the desert. I sat down to rest and took counsel with myself. I had
turned pirate and committed, technically, a number of other atrocious
crimes for absolutely nothing. Plainly I could not return to the punt.

First of all, in order to reach it I should have to face the
crocodiles. And even should I escape their jaws again, what could I
do on the river? Sooner or later I should be caught. And I had a very
strong suspicion that Sir Robert Ottley would not hesitate, once I was
in his power, to plunge me into an Egyptian prison. He had evidence
enough to get me a long term of hard labour, and I felt little doubt
but that he would go to a lot of trouble for that, and _con amore_
after the way that I had served him. It did not, therefore, take me
long to resolve to risk the desert rather than rot in an Egyptian gaol.
I had spilt a lot of milk. I was foodless, waterless, and Gods knows
where. Also, I was as thirsty as a lime kiln. But no use crying. What
to do? That was the question. For a start, I lay down and pressed my
cheek against the ground. The horizon thus examined showed a faintly
circled unbroken level line in all directions except the northwest.
There it was interrupted for a space by a mound that was either a
cloud-bank or a grove of trees. It proved to be the latter. I found
there water to drink and dates to eat. Next morning I took my bearings
from the sun, and giving the river a wide berth I pressed on north for
two days and nights on an empty stomach. Then I shot an ibis with my
revolver in a reedy marsh and ate it raw. Next day I climbed into the
mountains and looked back on Assuan and Philæ. But it is not my purpose
to describe my wanderings minutely. It would take too long. Suffice it
to say that I changed clothes with an Arab near Redesieh and entered
Eonah dyed as a Nubian a week later, after crossing the river at El-Kab
in a fisherman's canoe. The Nile was still ringing with my doings, so
I judged it best to proceed on foot to Luqsor. But there I got a job
in a dahabeah that was conveying a party of French savants back from
Elephantine to Abydos. I stayed with them three weeks, hearing much
talk, meanwhile, of a certain rascally Scotch doctor named Pinsent. It
was supposed he had perished in the desert. One day, however, hearing
that Sir Robert Ottley, who had been lying at Thebes, had been seen
at Lykopolis, I deserted from my employ, and walked back to Farschat.
There I bought a passage on a store-boat and came by easy stages
to Beni Hassan. Thence I tramped to Abu Girgeh, where I lay for a
fortnight, ill of a wasting fever, in the house of a man I had formerly
befriended. A large reward had been offered for my arrest, but he
was an Arab of the better sort. So far from betraying me to outraged
justice, he cashed my cheque for a respectable amount and procured me
a passage to Cairo on a river steamer. I entered the ancient city of
Memphis one day at dusk, a wreck of my old self and as black as the
ace of spades. Not daring to reclaim my goods at my lodging-house, I
proceeded forthwith to Alexandria with no wardrobe save the clothes
upon my back, and so anxious was I to escape from Egypt that I shipped
as stoker on a French steamer bound for Marseilles. I could find none
that would take a negro as passenger. The dye pretty well wore off my
face and hands during the voyage, but the circumstance only excited
remark among the motley scum of the stokehole, and I was permitted
to land without dispute. Heavens! how beautiful it was to dress once
more as a European, to eat European food, to sleep on a European bed,
and not to be afraid to look a European in the face. In Europe I did
not care a pin for Sir Robert Ottley and all that he could do to hurt
me. In Egypt his money and influence would have left me helpless to
resist him; but I felt myself something more than his match in the
centre of modern civilisation. He had the law of me, of course, but I
had a weapon to bring him to book. I could hold him up to public scorn
and ridicule. Were he to prosecute me I could put him in the pillory
as a wretch ungrateful for his life saved by my care and skill, a
promise-breaker and something of a lunatic. On the whole, I decided he
would not venture to put me in the dock. And so sure did I feel on that
head that I proceeded to London as fast as steam could carry me.



Chapter XII

The Meeting


Whenever in London my practice for years had been to put up at
my friend Dixon Hubbard's rooms in Bruton Street. We had been
schoolfellows. He was one of the most fortunate and unfortunate
creatures in the world. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he
had inherited from some cross-grained ancestor a biting tongue and
a gloomy disposition. He was an incurable misanthrope and unpopular
beyond words. At college he had been detested. Being a sickly lad,
his tongue had earned him many a thrashing which he had had to endure
without other reprisal than sarcasm. Yet he had never spared that. His
spirit was unconquerable. I believe that he would have taunted his
executioners while they burned him at the stake. I used to hate him
myself once. But one day after giving him a fairly good hammering I
fell so in love with the manly way in which he immediately thereafter
gave me a sound excuse for wringing his neck that I begged his pardon
for being a hulking bully in having lifted hand against a weaker
body but a keener brain and more untamable spirit than my own. That
conquered him. From that moment we were inseparable chums, and on an
average the privilege cost me at least two hard fights a week, for my
code was--hit my chum and you hit me. His gratitude lay in jibing at
me if I lost the fight, and if I won informing me that I was a fool
for my pains. But we understood each other, and our friendship bravely
withstood the test of time and circumstance. I found him nursing an
attack of splenitic rheumatism before a fire in his study, and we were
still only in the middle of July. His man, Miller, had just broken
a Sévres vase, and Hubbard was telling Miller in a gentle, measured
way his views of clumsiness in serving-men. Miller--a meek, dog-like
creature usually--stood before his master glowing but inarticulate
with rage. His fists were clenched and his lips were drawn back from
his teeth. Hubbard was evidently enjoying himself. He watched the
effect of his placid exhortation with a sweet smile--and he applied
his mordant softly uttered gibes with the pride of a sculptor at work
upon an image. Each one produced some trifling but significant change
in Miller's expression. Probably Hubbard was experimenting--seeking
to discover either how far he could go with safety or exactly what it
would be necessary to say in order to make Miller spring at his throat.
They were both so engrossed that I entered without disturbing them. I
listened for a moment and then created a diversion. Miller's tension
was positively dangerous. I walked over, took him by the collar and
propelled him from the room. "You'll find my bag downstairs," I said.
"I've come to stay."

Miller gave me the look of a dog that wants but does not dare to lick
your hand. His gratitude was pathetic. I shut the door in his face.

Hubbard did not rise. He did not even offer to shake hands. He half
closed his eyes and murmured in a tired voice: "The bad penny is back
again, and uglier than ever."

I crossed the room and threw open a window. Then I marched into his
bedroom, seized a water jug, returned and put out the fire.

"You've been coddling yourself too long," I remarked. "Get up and
put on your hat. It's almost one. You are going to lunch with me at
Verrey's."

"I have a stiff leg," he remonstrated.

"Fancy! Mere fancy," I returned.

The room was full of steam and smoke. Hubbard said a wicked thing and
got afoot, coughing. I found his hat, crammed it on his skull and
crooked my arm in his. He declined to budge and wagged a blistering
tongue, but I laughed and, picking him up, I carried him bodily
downstairs to a cab. He called me forty sorts of cowardly bully in his
gentle sweetly courteous tones, but before two blocks were passed his
ill-humour had evaporated. He remembered he had news to give me. We
had not met for eighteen months. Of a sudden he stopped beshrewing me
and leaned back in the cushions. I knew his ways and talked about the
weather. He endured it until we were seated within the grill-room. Then
he begged me very civilly to let God manage His own affairs.

"I am very willing," I said.

He impaled an oyster on a fork and sniffed at it with brutal
indifference to the waiter's feelings. Satisfied it was a good oyster,
he swallowed it.

"I am no longer a bachelor," said he. "I have taken unto myself a wife."

"The deuce!" I cried.

"Exactly," he said. "But the prettiest imp imaginable."

"My dear Hubbard, I assure you----"

"My dear Pinsent, you have blundered on the truth."

"But----"

He held up a warning finger. "It occurred a year ago. We lived together
for six weeks. Then we compromised. I gave her my house in Park Lane
and returned myself to Bruton Street. Pish! man, don't look so shocked.
Helen and I are friends--I see her once a week now at least, sometimes
more often. I assure you I enjoy her conversation. She has a natural
genius for gossip and uses all her opportunities. She has already
become a fixed star in the firmament of society's smartest set and
aspires to found a new solar system. I allow her fifteen thousand
pounds a year. She spends twenty. My compensation is that I am never
at a loss for a subject of reflection. We shall call on her this
afternoon. A devil, but diverting. You will be amused."

"Do I know her, Hubbard?"

"No; you are merely acquainted. Her maiden name was Arbuthnot."

"Lady Helen Arbuthnot!" I cried.

He smiled and shrugged his shoulders. "You will find her changed.
Marriage has developed her. I remember before you went away--was it to
Egypt?--she tried her blandishments on you. But then she was a mere
apprentice. Heaven help you now--if she marks you for her victim."

"Poor wretch!" I commented. "I suppose you can't help it. But you ought
to make an effort, Hubbard, really."

"An effort. What for?"

"To conceal how crudely in love with your wife you are."

He bit his lips and frowned. "Children and fools speak the truth,"
he murmured. Then he set to work on the champagne and drank much
more than was good for him. The wine, however, only affected his
appearance. It brought a flush to his pallid cheeks and made his dull
eyes sparkle. He deluged me with politics till three o'clock. Then we
drove to Park Lane. Lady Helen kept us waiting for twenty minutes.
In the meantime, two other callers joined us. Men. In order to show
himself at home Hubbard smoked a cigarette. The men looked pensively
appalled. They were poets. They wore long hair and exotic gardens in
their buttonholes. And they rolled their eyes. They must have been
poets. Also they carried bouquets. Certainly they were poets. When Lady
Helen entered they surged up to her, uttering little artistic foreign
cries. And they kissed her hand. She gave their bouquets to the footman
with an air of fascinating disdain. Their dejection was delightful.
But she consoled them with a smile and advanced to us. Certainly she
had changed. I had known her as a somewhat unconventional and piquant
débutante. She was now a brilliant siren, an accomplished coquette and
a woman of the world. Her tiny stature made her attractive, for she
was perfectly proportioned and her costume ravishingly emphasised the
petite and dainty grace of her figure. Her face was reminiscent of one
of those wild flowers of torrid regions which resemble nothing grown in
an English garden, but which, nevertheless, arrest attention and charm
by their bizarrerie. It was full of eerie wisdom, subtle wilfulness
and quaint, half-humorous diablerie. In one word, she was a sprite.
She greeted her husband with an unctuous affectation of interest which
would have made me, in his place, wish to box her ears. Hubbard,
however, was as good an actor as herself. He protested he was grateful
for the audience and claimed credit for introducing me. Lady Helen
looked me up and down and remembered that I had owed her a letter for
nearly thirty-seven months. She gave me the tips of her fingers and
then rushed away to kiss on both cheeks a lady who had just entered.
"Oh, you darling!" she twittered. "This is just too lovely of you. I
have longed for you to come."

It was May Ottley. She did not see me at once. Lady Helen utterly
engrossed her. I had, therefore, time to recover from the unexpected
shock of her appearance. I was ridiculously agitated. I slipped into an
alcove and picked up a book of plates. At first my hands shook so that
I could hardly turn the pages. Hubbard glided to my side. I felt his
smile without seeing it. "I smell a brother idiot," he whispered.

I met his eyes and nodded.

"In Egypt, of course?"

"Yes."

"She marries a guardsman next month, I hear."

"Indeed."

"The poor man," murmured Hubbard. "Come out and let us drink his
health."

"No, thank you."

"You'd rather stay and singe your wings, poor moth."

"And you?"

"Mine," said he, "were amputated in St. James Church. She is a lovely
creature, Pinsent."

"Which?"

He chuckled without replying. A footman pompously announced: "Mrs.
Carr--Lord Edward Dutton."

"Bring the tea, please," said Lady Helen's voice.

"She is staring this way at you," murmured Hubbard. "She recognises
your back. No, not quite, she is puzzled."

"She has never seen me in civilised apparel," I explained.

"Are you afraid of her, my boy?"

"Yes."

"Well, you are honest."

I began to listen for her voice. The air was filled with scraps of
conversation.

"Three thousand, I tell you. He cannot go on like that. Shouldn't
wonder if he went abroad. Like father, like son. Old Ranger had the
same passion for bridge."

"You can say what you like, names tell one nothing. In my opinion the
man is a Jew. What if he does call himself Fortescue? Consider his
nose. I am tired of these rich colonials. I have no time for them.
Heaven knows what they are after."

"She will spoil her lower register completely if she keeps on. Her
voice is a mezzo and nothing else. You should have seen the way old
Delman sneered when he listened to her last night."

"My test of a really fine soprano is the creepy feeling the high C
gives one in the small of the back. Delicious. She never thrills me at
all."

"Oh! Lord Edward, how malicious. What has the poor man done to you?"

"He plays billiards too well to have been anything but a marker in his
youth. I believe he kept a saloon somewhere in the States."

"They say it will end in the divorce court. That is what comes of
marrying a milkmaid. And, after all, she did not present him with a
son. Ah, well, it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good. Young
Carnarvon is his heir still, and his chances of succeeding grow rosier
every day."

"My dear Mrs. Belvigne, if it was not for her red hair, she would be as
commonplace as--as my dear friend Mrs. Sorenson. What you men see in
red hair----"

"Conscience, Lady Helen, is a composition of indulgences. It is a
marriage de convenance between the conventional instinct and the
appetite."

"Dr. Pinsent," said Miss Ottley, "is it really you?"

I turned and looked into her eyes. They were all aglow and her cheeks
were suffused with colour. She gave me both her hands. The room
was already crowded. People entered every minute. Hubbard pointed
significantly at the tea-cups. Miss Ottley and I drifted to the divan.
We watched the crowd through the parted curtains, sipping our tea. We
might as well have been in a box at the theatre watching the play.

"I knew you would escape," she murmured, presently. "The others
believe you to have perished in the desert."

"They consoled themselves, no doubt?"

"My father especially."

"Did he recover his Arab?"

"What Arab?"

"The creature he had imprisoned in the sarcophagus."

"The mummy, you mean. The body of Pthames? Oh, yes, that was safe
enough, but he was in a fearful state until we found the punt. He
feared that you would either steal or destroy the mummy, I believe."

"Miss Ottley!" I cried.

"You must not blame him too much," she murmured; "you know how he had
set heart----"

"Look here!" I interrupted. "Do you mean to tell me that you found the
mummy in the sarcophagus?"

"Certainly. Why?"

"Did you see it?"

"Yes."

"The mummy?"

"Why, of course."

"A dead body, a mummy?"

"Dr. Pinsent, how strangely you insist."

"I'll tell you the reason. When I opened the sarcophagus----"

"Yes."

"It contained not a mummy, but a living man."

"Impossible."

"You think so? The Arab was the very man who frightened you so often in
the temple at the Hill of Rakh."

"Dr. Pinsent!"

"When I removed the lid he leaped out of the sarcophagus, sprang ashore
and fled to the desert. I followed him for several miles. But I could
not catch him. I was compelled to give up the chase. And now you tell
me that you afterwards found a mummy in the coffin which I had left
empty."

"One of us is dreaming," said the girl.

"What was this mummy like?"

"A tall man--with a curious conical-shaped head--and eyes set hideously
far apart in its skull--but you have seen the Arab who frightened
me--and indeed he attacked you at your camp. His mummified counterpart."

"And some of his ribs were broken?"

"I do not know."

"But his body was bandaged. Otherwise he was almost nude."

"Good heavens!" she exclaimed. She put down her cup. "You make me very
unhappy. You force me to recall my horror--in the cave temple. The
wretched uncanny sense of the supernatural that oppressed me there. You
make me remember that I was tortured into a fancy that the mummy was a
ghost--that we were haunted--that--oh! oh! And father has been so kind
to me lately, kinder than ever before."

"He is in London?"

"Yes."

"And the mummy?"

"Yes."

"And Dr. Belleville?"

"He is staying with us."

"Captain Weldon?"

She turned aside her head. "He is in London, too."

"You are shortly to be married, I am informed."

She stood up. "I must really be going," she observed constrainedly;
then she held out her hand. I watched her pick her way through the
crowd to our hostess. It was a well-bred crowd, but it stared at her.
She was worth looking at. She walked just as a woman should and she
bore herself with the proper touch of pride that is at the same time a
personal protection and a provocative of curiosity. Some people call
it dignity. Hubbard materialised from the shadow of a neighbouring
curtain. "My wife has invited me to dinner," he announced. "You, too.
I have made her your excuses because I have a money matter to discuss
that should not be postponed."

"You have my deepest sympathy," I answered, and left him as puzzled to
know what I meant as I was. Something was whispering over and over
in my ear--"Work! work! work!" and whispering in the imperative mood.
I determined to call upon Captain Weldon and procure from him my
manuscript, at once. I remembered he lived in Jermyn Street. I walked
thither as fast as I was able.



Chapter XIII

Hubbard Is Jealous


I encountered the Captain on his doorstep. He was just going out,
hatted and gloved, but on seeing me he abandoned his intention.
His delight was that of a child, and so manifestly genuine, so
transparently sincere, that it warmed my heart. He dragged me into
his sitting-room and wrung my hands again and again, expressing his
pleasure in tones that made the windows rattle. One cannot help
liking a man so simple and at the same time so kind. There are too
many complex people in the world. He had grieved for my supposed loss
more than at his own brother's death, he said, and I believed him.
Very few men care much for their brothers. Then he told me all about
his approaching marriage. It was to take place in five weeks and he
was dreading the ordeal already. He had just finished furnishing his
Wexford country house from top to bottom. They were to settle there
after a honeymoon in Italy and adopt the life and manners of country
magnates, only coming to town for the season. It was Miss Ottley's
desire; she did not care for London smart society, it seemed, and
although he did, he was quite willing to give it up or anything
else indeed to please her. It was pleasant to hear him rhapsodise
concerning her and to watch his happy face. Its spirit made him ten
times handsomer, and although his speech was boyish it did not detract
him from his exuberant virility. He was a man from the crown of his
head to the soles of his feet,--a splendid animal, with just enough
brains to be a force to command respect, and a heart big enough to
fill the whole world with his affection. There was not a single bitter
drop in the cup of his happiness. He was about to marry the woman he
adored. He was enormously wealthy, and his wife-to-be was the only
daughter of a millionaire. His plans for the future were Utopian. He
dreamed of enlarging his estates and providing for at least the welfare
of a hundred families. Wealth was given one in trust for others, he
declared, and he was resolved to make every one around him happy and
contented. As a wedding present to his tenants he had already ordered
the rebuilding of their homes and cottages on a scale of almost lavish
grandeur. Each farmhouse would be a model of luxury; each labourer's
cottage would be a miniature castle with tiled walls, and hot and
cold water attachments. Other landlords were annoyed with him and had
not hesitated to express their resentment. He was spoiling his own
tenants and making them dissatisfied, they said. But the Captain asked
me with eyes aglow how could one want to keep all the good things of
life to benefit a single class? It was monstrous, impossible, absurd.
He only wished he could at one stroke make all the poor in the world
comfortable. "You ought to hear May on the subject," he cried out in a
burst of confidence. "You'd think she was a socialist. But she is only
an angel." Thence he wandered to her father. Sir Robert had given up
all his old stupid ways. He had reformed and was as sane as any man
in England. He had repudiated his ancient attachment to "spooks" and
spirit-rapping, and Mahatmas, and had sent his famous medium, Navarro,
to the right about, much to that gentleman's disgust and indignation.
Sir Robert was now engaged with Dr. Belleville in compiling a history
of the dynasty from papyri they had found in the tomb of Ptahmes. The
Captain still thought that Ottley had treated me very badly, but he
begged me to forgive the old man as he had evidently not been quite
in his mind at the time. "You excited his professional jealousy,
don't you know, old chap," said Weldon. "Sir Robert has one fault--he
is dreadfully vain and he wanted to get all the credit out of his
discovery. He told me so himself. He quite opened up to me on the
voyage home."

A vision of Sir Robert Ottley "opening up" to the Captain occurred to
me. The little, old, inscrutable, shut-in face of the baronet peering
slyly into the frank and unsuspicious countenance of the handsome,
simple-minded guardsman and making a confession of his faults the
while! For why? I could not guess, but I had a feeling that it was
for no straightforward purpose. We dined together, and while we ate I
questioned him about Dr. Belleville. For the first time I saw a shade
on his face. He did not like the doctor. I pursued the investigation.
For a while he fenced with my questions but finally it all came out.
"I have an idea," said he, "that Belleville annoys May. He is in love
with her. Of course one can't blame him for that, but as a guest in her
father's house and her father's closest friend, he has opportunities to
force his attentions, and I believe the brute abuses them. She does not
complain and will tell me nothing--but all the same I have my opinion.
You see, she worships her father so much that she will run no risk of
hurting his feelings. She would put up with almost anything rather
than distress him, and Belleville knows it. He has Sir Robert under
his thumb far more than I like. I hate to think I may be wronging the
fellow--but upon my soul I cannot help distrusting him."

"But you have nothing definite to go upon?"

"Nothing--except this: One day about two weeks ago I went in
unannounced and found her--in tears. I had passed Belleville in the
hall a second earlier. He looked as black as night. And she--well, she
told me, weeping, that she would marry me when I pleased. Up till then
she had always put off naming the day. What would you make of it,
Pinsent?"

"What did you?"

"I concluded that he had been persecuting her and that--well, that she
felt safer with me than with her father. Don't rag me for being vain,
old chap. If you'd seen her cry. She is not that sort of a girl either.
It was the first time I ever knew her to break down, and I've known her
all my life."

"Did you speak to Belleville about it?"

"She forbade me to--but all the same I did. I behaved like an idiot, of
course. Lost my temper and all that sort of thing. He was as cool as a
cucumber. He denied nothing and admitted nothing. He pretended to think
I had been drinking, and that enraged me the more. I was fool enough
to strike him. He got all the best of it. He picked himself up smiling
sweetly and said that nothing could induce him to resent anything
addressed by a person in whom Miss Ottley was interested. The inference
was that he loved her in an infinitely superior way to me. I felt like
choking him for a bit. And would you believe it--he actually offered to
shake hands."

"A dangerous man, my lad. Beware of him."

"He gives me the creeps," said the Captain. "But let's talk of
something else pleasanter."

We talked of Miss Ottley, or rather he did, while I listened, till
midnight. Then he strolled with me to Bruton Street and we parted at
Dixon Hubbard's doorstep as the clocks were striking one.

I found Hubbard seated before the fire, smoking, and staring dreamily
up at a portrait of his wife that rested on the mantel.

"I've found out why I married her, Pinsent," he said slowly. "It was
to benefit a Jew named Maurice Levi--the most awful bounder in London.
She had been borrowing from him at twenty-five per cent. to pay some of
her brother's gambling debts. Levi wanted to marry her, and would have,
too, if I had not stepped in to save him. She is the dearest little
woman in the world. She shed some tears. They cost me about a thousand
pounds apiece."

"Good-night, Dixon," I said gently.

"Tears, idle tears," he murmured. "The poet, mark you, did not speak of
woman's tears." Then he closed his eyes and heaved a deep sigh. "You
find me changed, Pinsent?"

"A little."

"For better or worse? Be frank with me."

"For the better. This afternoon for the first time in our acquaintance
I beheld you in a lady's drawing-room. You are growing tolerant of your
kind."

"I am no longer a misanthrope, but I am rapidly becoming a misogynist.
Yes, I am altered, old friend, greatly altered. At the bottom of my
former misanthropy was a diseased conviction born of vanity that I was
the only person in the world really worth thinking badly about. But
marriage has compelled me to think more badly still of somebody else.
The less selfish outlook thus induced has broadened my mind. I begin to
look forward to a time when my perversion will be complete and I shall
be able without blushing to look any woman in the face and acknowledge
her superiority in innate viciousness."

"I begin to pity your wife, Dixon."

"A waste of sentiment. She has married five and twenty thousand pounds
per annum, and she would be the last to tell you that the institution
is a failure. Few women contrive to dispose as advantageously of the
sort of goods they have to sell. Lady Helen would have made a fortune
as a bagman. But there, I do not want to prejudice you against her. She
likes you, I believe. Perhaps--who knows--but there--good-night."

I was glad to get away.



Chapter XIV

The Pushful Man


A day or two afterwards, while spending an hour in the rooms of the
Egyptology Society I was introduced to a new Fellow, who had been
appointed during my absence from England. His name was Louis Coen. He
was in private life a broker, but his heart and soul were wrapped in
the Cause. He evidently spelt it with a capital, in sympathy, perhaps,
with the vast sums in cash he had already put at the disposal of the
Society for exploration work. He was intensely entertaining. He took me
aside and confided that it was his ambition to transform the Society
into a sort of club. We needed a liquor license and more commodious
premises, it seemed. Then we would _boom_. He offered to provide all
the money requisite and he begged me to use my influence with other
members to get his views adopted. He was one of those men whose
mission in life is to "run" every concern into which they can manage
to insinuate themselves. I was afraid I disappointed him, although I
did my best to be polite. But he was nothing daunted. He declared he
would galvanise the "old fogies" into fresh activity and make us see
things from his point of view or die in the attempt. We might be as
serious as we pleased, but he would force us to be sociable. He had a
nose like a parrot, and was already on the committee of management. He
even proposed to change our name. The Royal Egyptian Club seemed to
him a "real smart monniker." He saved me from an impending mental and
physical collapse by mentioning the name of Sir Robert Ottley. Ottley,
it appeared, was his latest convert. Ottley agreed with him that we
wanted new blood, that our methods were too conservative. Ottley
thought it was ridiculous that everything a member did or discovered
should have to be reported to, and judged about, by a lot of old
fossils. What right had those old "stick-at-homes" to appropriate the
credit of the exertions of the energetic? "Would you believe it," cried
Mr. Coen, "they have had the impudence to demand from him an account
of his recent find--the tomb of an old johnny named Ptahmes--which he
unearthed at his own expense entirely! They have had the 'hide' to
insist that he shall immediately hand over the mummy to the British
Museum and place the papyri before them--them--them--for the purpose of
translation, et-cetera! I never heard a more cheeky proposition in my
life. My friend Ottley would act rightly if he told them to go to the
deuce!"

"What has he told them?" I inquired.

"Oh, he is temporising. He has written to say that he will place his
discoveries at their disposal when he has satisfied himself of their
authenticity, et-cetera. Of course that's all '_gyver_.' The mummy is
genuine enough, so are the papyri. But he naturally wants to have first
'go' at them, and he is fighting for time. Meanwhile, I am organising
the progressives. We can never hope to get this show properly on the
move till we shake things up and reform on sound commercial lines. I
tell you, sir, before I've done with it, I'll make this Society a power
in the land. I'm going to take it up in both hands and chuck it right
in the eyes of the B. P., that means the British Public. And you take
it from me, it's going to stay there. Good-day to you. I'm glad to have
met you. You are a bit antiquated in your notions; but you're a young
man yet, and you'll find you'll have to join my crowd. S'long!"

He shook my hand very energetically and bustled off. I sank into a
chair and began to fan myself. A moment later the president, Lord
Ballantine, entered the room. The poor old gentleman was purple in the
face, spluttering: "Has-has-has that man Coen been can-can-canvassing
you?" he thundered.

I nodded.

"I-I-I'll resign--by God!" cried Lord Ballantine. "It-it-it's too much.
I-I-I," he stopped----gasping for a word, the picture of impotent rage
and misery.

But I felt no sympathy for him. "Why did you let him in?" I asked.

"We-we-we were short of funds."

"And now?"

"He's bought us, or thinks he has, body and soul."

"Who nominated him?"

"Ottley."

I was not surprised to hear it. "He--he's Ottley's broker. Ottley
and he are running the market-change--together. Have you heard. They
have cornered South Africans. They made half a million between them
yesterday. All London is talking about it. And they want to turn us
into a beer garden."

"You'll have to turn them out."

"How can we? We owe them, Lord knows how much."

"Then if you cannot," I said calmly, rising as I spoke, "you'll have to
grin and bear the infliction you have brought upon yourselves. After
all, it's a question of voting."

"You'll stand by us, Pinsent?" he implored.

"My resignation is at any time at your disposal, Ballantine. All the
same, I don't pity you a scrap. You are getting little more than you
deserve. I have been working for three years for the Society without
remuneration, and I am a poor man. Many of your older members are as
rich as Croesus, and yet you must needs import a vulgar semitic broker
to help you out of a hole. Good-afternoon."

I left the poor old fellow helpless and speechless, staring after me
with anguished eyes and mouth agape. That evening I received a letter
from Louis Coen offering to finance my book on the Nile Monuments. He
said he felt sure it would prove a work of rare educational value,
and on that account he was willing to furnish every library in the
English-speaking world with a free copy. Aware, however, that I was
not a business man, he would conduct all the business arrangements
himself. On receipt of the manuscript, therefore, he would forward
me a cheque for £1000 as an instalment in advance of my share of the
profits--fifteen per cent. he proposed to allow me--and he wound up as
follows: "Your acceptance of my offer will commit you to nothing as
regards our chat of this morning. My good friend, Sir Robert Ottley,
put me up to this venture. He has the brightest opinion of your ability
and he is sure your book will prove a success. I am going blind on his
say so. Let me have an answer right away."

I thought a good deal over this precious epistle, but in the end I
did not see why I should not make a little money. I knew very well
that under ordinary circumstances it would be impossible for me to
make £100, let alone a thousand, out of the Nile Monuments. But I felt
little doubt that Mr. Coen had a plan to make even more--somehow or
other. But I had done the man injustice--it was not money he was after.
Reading the _Times_ two mornings later I came upon the following
announcement:


                      "A PATRON OF LEARNING"

     "We are informed that Mr. Louis Coen, F. R. E. S., has induced
     the well-known Egyptologist, Dr. Hugh Pinsent, to commit the
     results of his recent archæological researches on the Nile to the
     enduring care of the printer's ink. Mr. Coen has purchased the
     rights in advance for a large sum of the projected volume, which
     it is said will take the form of an exhaustive treatise on the
     Nile Monuments. It is not, however, Mr. Coen's object to direct
     his enterprise to his own financial benefit. It is his intention
     to produce a splendidly illustrated edition of the book for
     presentation to educational establishments all over the United
     Kingdom in the hope of thus fixing public attention upon the
     enormous historical importance of the work now being carried on
     by the Royal Egyptologist Society, of which Society Mr. Coen is a
     member, and a generous supporter. Mr. Coen is to be congratulated
     upon his latest effort in the interest of popular education.
     It will be remembered that last year he endowed a chair in the
     University of Newcome for study of the ancient Egyptian tongue;
     but it may be confidently expected that his exploitation of Dr.
     Pinsent's history will go much further in popularising a subject
     which is now practically confined to the ranks of leisured
     scholars."


It was not pleasant to think that I had been idiot enough to allow Mr.
Coen to use me as a stepping-stone to notoriety. But it was too late
to object. The thing was done. My consolation was a bigger banking
account than I had had for years. Not even the fact that during the day
I received a score of sarcastic congratulatory telegrams from members
of the Society, could rob me of that satisfaction. But I sent in my
resignation all the same. I felt that I had no right to belong to any
institution run by Mr. Coen. I might meet him there--and if I did, a
police court case of assault and battery would infallibly result.



Chapter XV

A Quaint Love Pact


One evening after a hard morning's work on my book, and a particularly
fatiguing afternoon spent in vainly trying to lift Hubbard out of
a funereal mood, I thought I should make myself a present of a few
minutes' conversation with Miss Ottley. I argued that she would be sure
to spend the evening out somewhere, so I knocked at her father's door a
few minutes before eight o'clock. A gloomy-looking footman opened the
door. Yes, Miss Ottley was at home. He would give her my card. Would I
wait? I would, though I wondered. I heard Dr. Belleville's voice. It
issued from a room that opened on the hall. He was talking shrilly as
though he were angered, and in French, perhaps to spare the feelings
of the servants. He kept repeating that he had made up his mind and
that he would not wait another day for God Almighty. All of a sudden
the door opened and he stalked out looking like the baffled villain in
a melodrama. We came face to face. He stopped dead and glared at me.
"You!" he gasped. "What are you doing here; what do you want?"

I glanced beyond him and saw Miss Ottley. He had been speaking to her,
then, and like that. My blood began to boil. I advanced upon him trying
to smile. I had seen Miss Ottley's face. "I want you to go right back
into that room and pretend you are a gentleman," I said. The girl had
put a kerchief to her eyes. "Quickly!" I added.

Dr. Belleville returned into the room. I followed and closed the door.

"Dr. Pinsent----" he began as I turned. But I cut him short.

"On your knees," I commanded. He went livid. "Dr. Pinsent," said Miss
Ottley, "I beg you not to interfere. You will only make it the harder
for me."

She might as well have spoken to a fence. I never took my eyes from
Belleville. "You know what you ought to do," I murmured. "If you compel
me to teach you, you'll repent the object lesson in a hospital."

He fell on his knees before the girl. "I apologise," he groaned out in
a choking voice.

I bowed him out of the room as deferentially as if he were a woman. He
vanished silently. Miss Ottley was dressed for the opera.

"You are going out?" I asked.

"Y-yes," she said. She was powdering her face before a mirror.

"To the opera?"

"Yes. To meet there Mrs. Austin."

"Dare you walk there--with me for a companion?"

"Oh, yes," she said.

A moment later we found ourselves in Curzon Street. She took my arm.
We walked for two blocks in absolute silence, save that every now and
then she choked back a sob. She was her own mistress again at length,
however. "Why did you come--of all times to-night?" she asked.

"I do not know."

"Did you wish to see my father?"

"No. You."

"Why?"

"I had a subconscious conviction that you might be needing me."

"Truly?" she cried--and pressed my arm.

"That or something else. At any rate, I felt obliged to call. It may
have been from a desire to reassure myself about the colour of your
eyes."

"Ah! I suppose you are wondering--because--Dr.
Belleville--because--I----," she paused.

"I am human," I observed.

"I want you to forget it. Will you, Dr. Pinsent?"

"On the spot."

"That is good of you." Her tone was crisp with disappointment. "You are
indeed a friend."

"But not in need a friend, eh? Come, come, Miss Ottley, you are in
trouble. I am strong and trustworthy and capable. There are times when
a man may tell the truth about himself, and this, I think, is one of
them. Can I help you?"

"No one can help me," she said sadly, "you least of all."

"And why least of all?"

"Because you hate my father."

"Is he in trouble, too?"

"He is the willing but unwitting victim of a wicked, wicked man--but,
oh, what am I saying? Dr. Pinsent, please, please let us talk of
something else."

"You are trembling--May."

"Oh!" she said--and looked at me.

"It slipped out--unconsciously," I stammered. "I did not mean to
be impertinent. I think of you--by that name. Is it impertinent to
think----"

"No, no."

"Then you'll forgive me?"

"What is there to forgive?"

"All that the circumstance implies. Come, after all, I am not sorry for
the slip. Why should I twist its meaning either, like a coward. It is
only the weak who need the shelter of hypocrisy. Look straight before
you--May--and do not turn your eyes. May again, you see."

"You have something to tell me," she said gravely.

"The old, old story, May," I answered with a short but reckless laugh.

"Should you--Dr. Pinsent--do you think?"

"Yes, because the husband you have chosen is a gallant fellow and my
friend. I am too fond of him to wish to do him an ill turn, even in
my own adventure. Why, look you, May, were you to turn to me and say,
'I love you, Hugo Pinsent,' I would answer, 'Yes--and we both love
Frankfort Weldon.'"

"Yes," said Miss Ottley. She stopped and we looked deep into each
other's eyes.

"Yes," she said again. "And we both love Frankfort Weldon."

"God help us," I exclaimed.

"It is a good prayer. God will hear it," she said softly.

"What made you?" I asked a little later; we were walking on again--but
now apart.

"You," she said.

"It is very wonderful."

"And sad," said she.

"But grand and beautiful."

"I shall not go to the opera to-night," she said. "Will you put me in a
cab?"

"You will go home?"

"Yes."

"And Belleville?"

"He will be at work. I shall not see him."

"He threatened you?"

"Not me, but Captain Weldon. He demands that I shall marry him. My
father also wishes it. You see I tell you everything--now. You will
help me, will you not?"

"Of course. But you must teach me how. In what fashion does Belleville
threaten Weldon?"

"He vows--that unless I do as he demands within this week--Captain
Weldon will be found dead in his bed."

"Murder!" I cried.

"He does not scruple to conceal the fact. He declares he has nothing
to fear. He pretends to possess a secret which gives him as great a
power over life and death as Providence. An esoteric power, of course.
It is connected with the discovery of Ptahmes. He claims to have
already tested it. My father has used it in other ways. He has been
experimenting on the Stock Exchange. In ten days he has already doubled
his fortune. Surely of that you must have heard."

"I have heard that he has been speculating with extravagant success.
But that his luck was due to supernatural agency I decline to believe.
In my opinion Belleville is simply putting up a scoundrelly game of
bluff."

"I wish I could think so, too. But I cannot."

"But, my dear girl, consider the probabilities. Belleville's story
belongs to the Middle Ages."

"Yes--but he believes it. I am as sure of that as that I live."

"And is that a reason why you should believe it, too? The man is
perhaps a lunatic."

"Ah!" she said. "I knew that you would take this view. That was partly
why I felt you could not help me."

But her distress cut me to the quick. "It does not matter what view I
take," I muttered hastily. "I'll do anything you wish."

"Anything?"

"Did you doubt it?"

"No."

"Then----"

"Then go and stay with Captain Weldon. He will welcome you, for he
likes you out of mention. Spend the week with him. Do not let him from
your sight at night. Especially guard him while he sleeps. Is it too
much to ask?"

"No."

"There is a cab--stop it, please! Thanks. Now say good-bye to me."

"Good-bye--May." I helped her into the vehicle. "Would it be
permissible to kiss your hand?"

"No!" she said, "but give me yours."

I felt her lips upon my fingers, and with a sort of groan I snatched
them away from her grasp. That was our good-bye.



Chapter XVI

Lady Helen Prescribes for Her Husband


Next morning early I picked a quarrel with Hubbard, and left him biting
his finger nails. I went straight to Jermyn Street with my valise.
Weldon was in bed. I told him I had had a fight with Hubbard and asked
to be put up for a few days. He agreed with acclamation, though I am
sure he was perfectly astounded at my strange request. I proceeded
to astound him further. I mendaciously informed him that my nerves
were in rags and that I was obsessed with a horrible hallucination of
a mysteriously threatened life at night. Would, then, he give me a
shakedown in his own bedroom, just for a week? It is wonderful how easy
lying comes to one after the first plunge. I did the thing thoroughly.
Mind you, I felt all along the utmost scorn for Dr. Belleville's
threats against young Weldon's life. But Miss Ottley had asked me to
look after him, and I was determined to fulfil the trust to the very
foot of the letter. He was a splendid fellow to live with. It gives
me a heartache to remember the anxiety to make me comfortable, the
almost absurd cordiality of his welcome, the unselfish sincerity of
his desire to please. One would have thought me a superior creation,
a sort of divinity in disguise, the way he treated me. I had never
awakened such affection in any living thing before, except in a mongrel
retriever which once upon a time followed me home and which I had to
turn away after it had licked my hand. And the amazing thing was, I
had done nothing in the world to deserve it. I had never put myself
out of my way in the smallest particular to serve the Captain. When we
first met I had treated him with the scantest courtesy and afterwards
with a sort of good-natured contempt. Even now I cannot understand it
properly. It may have arisen from a secret disposition to hero-worship.
Some men are like that. They are fond of investing a sentient
figure-head with exaggerated attributes of majesty and bowing down
before it. It is the survival of an aboriginal instinct to glorify the
insubordinate. Weldon admired two things above all others: strength of
body and strength of mind. In both these gifts he felt himself inferior
to me, therefore he must needs put me on a pedestal. His gratitude
in finding me willing to stoop to ask a favour of him was unbounded.
It resembled that of an Eton fag to a monitor kind enough to take an
interest in his doings. I have said before that he was essentially a
boy at heart. But what an honest, clean-minded, fresh, wholehearted
boy! I found myself liking and admiring him more and more each day. He
taught me one of the greatest truths a man may learn. It is this--there
is a more admirable thing in the world than intellect. Weldon's
intellect was not of the first order. That is why I began by very
nearly despising him. But he was the straightest, truest, manliest and
simplest-minded man I have ever met. And I ended by half-humorously but
none the less sincerely, reverencing him. If it were only for his sake
I shall while I live regard the highest type of brain as incomplete
without a paramount ideal of morality. And the best thing about Weldon
was that he was utterly unconscious of his goodness. He was perfectly
incapable of posing, but he had a fine, robust vanity of sorts, and he
liked to regard himself as a bit of a "sad dog!" Romance was at the
bottom of this. He envied the more than questionable experience of some
of his acquaintances. It was because of the glamour of their perfumed
wickedness. But their callous self-extrication from entanglements after
growing weary of their chains made him long to wring their necks. For
his own part, a certain shop girl had once fallen in love with him. He
twirled his moustache and cast furtive glances at the mirror near him.
It appears he had dallied with the temptation for a while--the "sad
dog"--but Miss Ottley's portrait had saved him. He had kissed the shop
girl once--horror of horrors!--in the Park after dark. He apologised
to her father with a thousand pounds and fled to South America. When
he came back she was married. He had confessed the whole of his truly
dreadful criminality to Miss Ottley in a letter--and she had kept him
waiting three miserable days for a reply. He believed he would have
gone to the dogs headlong if she had refused to pardon him. But she
did not. Vanity told him the reason. But it was beautiful to see the
colour flush his cheeks and his eyes sparkle as he protested that he
couldn't understand why she ever brought herself to speak to him again.
I believe that was as far as Weldon ever got to telling a downright
falsehood; the dear, great gander.

On the third afternoon of my stay at Jermyn Street I was busily at work
writing, when a knock sounded. Weldon was out; he had gone to take
Miss Ottley for a drive in his newest dogcart. His man, too, had a day
off, so I was quite alone. I said "Come in," and there entered Lady
Helen--Hubbard's wife. She was a vision of lace fripperies and arch,
mincing daintiness.

"So! run to earth!" she cried.

I sprang up and offered her a chair.

She settled into it with a swish and a sigh. "Been searching for you
everywhere! I had thought of applying to the police."

I suppose I looked astonished, for she laughed.

I stammered, "Why have you been searching for me?"

She gave me a glance of scorn. "Should a dutiful wife regard with
indifference the sudden desertion of her husband by the only friend he
possesses? Just tell me that."

"You take my breath away."

"No," she flashed, "the 'dutiful wife' did that. Confess!"

"Well, since you insist--I admit that Helen becomes you better than
Joan," I said audaciously.

Her eyes glittered. "May be, my fine gentleman--but would you say
'Dixon' was synonymous with 'Darby'?"

"Not quite. Still, they both commence with a 'D.' That is something,
eh?"

"So does another word which rhymes with lamb," she retorted cuttingly.
"Oh! I might have known that you would take his part. You men always
stick together."

"I beg your pardon, Lady Helen. I consider that you deserve well of
your country. You have improved Hubbard past belief. He is worth
improving."

She smiled. "I have humanised him, just a little, don't you think?"

I nodded.

She leaned forward suddenly and looked me in the eye. "It's only the
commencement, the thin edge of the wedge."

"Oh!"

She began speaking through her teeth. "I'll make a man of him yet if I
have to beggar him in the process."

"I beg you to excuse me."

She fell back and began to laugh. "Oh, how solemn you are. You
disapprove of me. Ha! ha! ha! You don't even begin to hide it."

"You see I do not understand you."

"Yet you disapprove?"

"No. I wonder."

"You are a man, Doctor, that one can't help trusting!" She stood up
and began to move about the room. "I am going to confide in you," she
announced, stopping suddenly.

"A dangerous experiment," I observed.

"One risks death every time one crosses a car-crowded thoroughfare.
I'll take the risk."

I shrugged my shoulders.

She frowned. "You used to like me once. What stopped you?"

"I haven't stopped."

She smiled bewitchingly and, gliding forward, placed her hand upon
my arm. "He wanted to take me away to South America--he owns a ranch
there--and to bury us two for ever from the world. That was his idea of
marriage. It all came of a rooted disbelief in his own ability to keep
me interested in himself while I possessed an opportunity to contrast
him with his social equals. He saw a rival in every man I looked at or
who looked at me. He should have been born a Turk. I should then have
been the queen of his zenana. But no, I must do him justice--he is not
polygamously inclined. Still, he would have shut me up."

"The poor devil," I muttered. "It is his disposition. He cannot help
himself."

"But he may be cured of it," said Lady Helen. "He thinks every woman
is a rake at heart. But he is mad. I for one am not. Mind you, I love
society. I like men. I live for admiration. But as to--pshaw!"--she
spread out her hands.

"You quarrelled?" I inquired.

"No, we argued the matter out and came to an arrangement. We are good
friends. But he does not conceal his opinion that some day or another I
will go to the devil. He thinks it inevitable. Pride, however, forbids
him from looking on except at a distance. That is why he separated from
me. He imagines that no woman can keep true to one man unless she is
immured. The fool, the utter fool! As if walls and locks and keys were
ever an encumbrance. Love is the only solid guarantee of a woman's
faith."

"But my dear Lady Helen, your husband has not the faintest idea that
you love him!"

She drew back gasping. "You--you--you!" she cried. She was scarlet.
Then she said, "How dare you!" She looked so lovely that I no longer
wondered at Hubbard's infatuation.

"You should not have kept it from him," I said severely. "But there,
it's wonderful. How did you ever manage it? He is not an attractive
man. And you--a butterfly. It is a miracle. There must be depths in
you. Are marriages made in Heaven? I thought--he thinks--you married
him for his money. And you love him! I shall never get over this. Lady
Helen, you are a most amazing woman!"

She rushed at me panting with rage and, seizing my arm, shook it with
both hands. "If ever you tell him--I'll--I'll kill you!" she hissed.

"But why?"

"He must find out himself. He must suffer. He deserves it. He has
bitterly insulted me. He has shamed my sex. He must gnaw out his heart.
In no other way can he be made like other men. I'll teach him. I'll
teach him. Oh, if you dare to interfere! But you shan't--you would not
dare."

"No," I said, "I would not dare."

Next second she was in another mood. Her anger melted to pathos and the
little siren began to plead to me. "You know what I really want you to
do is to help me," she murmured, oh! so prettily. "And it is all for
Dixon's sake, or really and truly I would not ask. You see, Doctor, I
am working on a system. Goodness, how I am trusting you! And you can
help, oh! ever so much."

"Only tell me how."

"Do not lose a chance to revile me."

I was staggered. "I beg your pardon, Lady Helen!" I cried.

"Ah! I thought you would understand. Don't you see you are his only
friend? More than that, you are the only man he ever speaks to. He is
a hermit. Well, then, who else is there to reproach me to his ears? To
put his own thoughts of me into words?"

"But what on earth do you want that done for?"

"It will compel him to defend me, first by lip, then by heart."

I confess I whistled.

"I felt it to be necessary to have this talk with you," went on Lady
Helen. "Hitherto he has done all the reviling and you the defending of
me. Is it not so?"

"You little witch."

"And that is not right, since it is he, and not you, who is my husband."

"Lady Helen, you are surely the cleverest woman in the world."

"I have thought the matter out," she answered, with a sad little smile.
"Is it wonderful that a woman should wish to be happy and that she
should fight for that with every weapon she can find?" She rose and
held out her hand. "You will go and make friends soon, will you not? He
is fretting because you have deserted him."

"In a very few days, Lady Helen. I wish I could this moment, but I
cannot."

"You are very busy, eh?"

"I have a task to carry out. It will be finished at the end of the
week."

"So!" she said and shrugged her shoulders. "And are you quite engaged?
Could you not come to me to-night? Your friend Captain Weldon comes,
and some others. We are to have our fortunes told. Signor Navarro has
promised us a séance. Miss Ottley has arranged it. She tells me he is a
truly marvellous clairvoyant, medium, et-cetera. Have you a curiosity
to know your future? Do come! Dixon will be there."

"Thank you very much; yes, I shall be glad to go."

I opened the door for her and she blew me a kiss from the stairs. I
returned to my work, but it was very little I was able to do the rest
of that afternoon. What could have induced Miss Ottley to arrange this
séance? Were her nerves giving way under the strain of Dr. Belleville's
threats? Did she really believe this rascal Navarro capable of
predicting events? Was she becoming superstitious? These reflections
profoundly disturbed me.



Chapter XVII

The Séance


Navarro evidently belonged to the highest and most ingenious order
of charlatanry. He had no assistant, no machinery, no accomplice.
It was almost impossible to suspect any of the audience. There were
only Lady Helen, Miss Ottley, Mrs. Greaves (wife of a Parliamentary
Undersecretary), the Countess von Oeltzen (the Austrian Ambassador's
wife), Weldon, Hubbard, the Count von Oeltzen and myself present. And
the medium scouted the idea of turning down the lights. He left such
devices to impostors, he remarked. He was a tall, thin fellow, with
big, black eyes and a thick-lipped mouth. He had the most beautiful
hands and feet. His fingers were covered with valuable diamond rings.
He had a big bulbous nose and he wore a _tire-boucheau_ moustache and
beard consisting of about sixteen coarse stiff black hairs; four on
each side of his upper lip and eight on his chin. He plucked at the
latter continually in order to display his hands and his rings. It
would have been a difficult matter to find his match in vulgarity, in
ugliness, and impudence. But he was certainly impressive. He talked
of himself in a booming baritone, like a Barnum praising an elephant.
He adored himself and expected to be adored. He spoke with a strong
Irish-Spanish accent. Probably he was an Irishman who had lived in
Spain. But he posed as a full-blooded Castilian who had learned English
from a Cork philomath.

After he had exhausted his vocabulary in describing some of his
clairvoyant achievements he needlessly directed us to be silent. He
had permitted none of us a chance to speak thitherto. We were to wait,
he said, till he began to breathe in a peculiar heavy manner, and then
who so wished to experiment, must take his hands and hold them firmly
for a little while, thinking of the matter next the experimenter's
heart; and then we should see what we should see. With a smile of
lordly self-confidence he reposed his limbs upon a couch and sank back
on the cushions. I glanced around the throng and saw they were all
staring at Navarro--Miss Ottley with parted lips and rapt intentness.
Her expression irritated me. Soon afterwards I met Hubbard's eyes. He
gave me a scowl. I looked at Weldon. He turned and frowned at me. I
directed my attention to Lady Helen. She grew restless and, presently
moving in her chair, glanced rapidly about. She started when our eyes
encountered and impulsively placed a finger on her lips. I hadn't
thought of speaking. I was disgusted. Mrs. Greaves, the Countess and
the Ambassador all in turn gave me scowling glances. It was as if
everybody recognised and resented my secret scepticism. It appeared I
was the only sane person in the room. Oh! no, there was Navarro. He was
sane enough undoubtedly; the rogue. He was making his living. It was
his business to make fools of people. I returned to contemplating him
with a sense of positive relief. At least I could hope to be amused.
He had closed his eyes and was therefore uglier than ever. His whole
body was tense with silent effort. I wondered if some of his audience
were unconsciously imitating him. They all were, except myself. I felt
inclined to get up and shake them for a pack of self-delivered dupes,
lambs self-abandoned to the sacrificial rites of this High Priest of
Thomas-rot. Soon, friend Navarro began to breathe stertorously. So did
his audience, for a minute or two. Then they turned and looked at one
another and at me; and I rejoice to say my calm smile disconcerted
them. But I refrained from glancing at Miss Ottley. I could not bear to
see her look foolish. Perhaps she did not. They pointed at one another.
They feared, it seemed, to speak. Who would be the first? And who would
dare the oracle? The Count von Oeltzen arose. Brave, noble man! He
approached the couch and took Navarro's hand in his own. The medium
was now in a trance. His body was quite limp. A breathless silence
fell upon the gathering. It lasted about four minutes. Then Navarro
began to speak, not in his ordinary booming baritone, but in a high
falsetto--his spirit organ, no doubt. The language employed was German.

"I see," said he, "a short fat man in the uniform of an Austrian
courier. He is seated in a railway train. He is smoking a cheroot.
He has on his knees a small, flat iron box. It is a despatch box. It
contains letters and despatches. He is coming to England----"

"Ah!" sighed the Count.

"Ah! Ah!" sighed the Countess.

"He is on his way to you," went on Navarro. "The despatches are for
you. One of them is in a cipher. It relates to your recall. It----"

But the Count on that instant dropped Navarro's hands as if they had
burnt him and abruptly rose up, the picture of agitation. He turned and
looked at the Countess. She stood up, most agitated, too. "My friends,"
he began. But the Countess said "Hush!" He bowed to her, bowed to Lady
Helen and offered his wife a shaking arm. They forthwith left the room.
It was most dramatic. For a little while everybody sat under a sort of
spell. I was glad, because I felt disinclined to break up the party
by expressing my views on Navarro's revelation, and if any one had
said a word I should have been compelled to speak, I was so angry that
sensible people could allow themselves to be imposed upon so easily.
Moreover, I wished to learn what Miss Ottley's object was. When,
therefore, Mrs. Greaves quietly arose and moved to the couch, I said a
little prayer of thankfulness.

Presently the high falsetto squeaked forth in Irish-Spanish-English.
"I see--a large building, square, very tall. It is made of
steel and stone. It is in America--in New York. It is a
hotel. I see in it a room. There are tables and chairs. Then
one--two--three--four--five--six are there. They play cards. The game
is poker. One loses. He is young. He is English. He has a little cast
in his left eye. His name is Julian Greaves. The floor is littered with
cards. Julian Greaves is annoyed because he loses. He----"

The voice ceased.

Mrs. Greaves was returning to us. She was smiling. She said to Lady
Helen in her calm, slow way, "I believe, my dear, that my naughty son
is at present occupied exactly as you have heard described. Signor
Navarro has a great gift. Good-night, my dear--No, I cannot stay--I
promised the Bexleys. Do not trouble----"

She had gone.

Dixon Hubbard walked over to the couch. I glanced at Lady Helen. She
was biting her lower lip--and holding her breath. I stole across the
room on tip-toe and sat down beside her.

"I see," said Navarro, after the proper interval, "a woman. She is
young and very beautiful. (Oh! artful Navarro.) Her mind is deeply
troubled. The person she cares most for despises her. On that account
she is wretchedly unhappy, although she permits no one to suspect it.
She is not far away. She----"

But Hubbard had dropped the medium's hand like hot potatoes.

"It is your turn, Captain Weldon," he said, with a poor attempt at
jocularity. "Step forward and have the secret of your life laid bare."

He gave his wife a scorching glance and sauntered out of the room.

"How much did you pay Navarro for that last?" I whispered in Lady
Helen's ear.

She gave me a radiant smile. "Nothing to call me beautiful," she
whispered back.

Weldon had taken the medium's hands. Immediately he did so, Navarro
heaved a portentous sigh. I watched his face very narrowly, and
somewhat to my surprise I observed it to turn to a horrid, fishy,
whitish-yellow colour. Presently his eyelids slightly opened,
disclosing the whites. The eyes were fixed upwards rigidly. He looked
simply monstrous. For the first time I doubted his mala fides. There
were many signs of cataleptic trance about him. I stole over to the
foot of the couch and inserted a pin into the calf of his leg. Not a
muscle twitched. Evidently he had hypnotised himself. I tried the other
leg, with an equal result. I became furious. It seemed just possible
that the fellow had some esoteric faculty after all. Science, of
course, scouts the phenomena of clairvoyancy, but in my younger days
I had witnessed so many experiments with hypnotised subjects in Paris
that I had ever since kept an open mind on the question. This time we
waited for quite a while for the medium to begin his manifestations.
Perhaps ten minutes passed and he was still silent. But by that time I
felt convinced of his unconsciousness. "Ask him some question, Weldon,"
I said quietly. "He is not shamming, I believe. In my opinion he is in
hypnotic sleep and cannot act as his own Barnum."

Weldon laughed, but before he could adopt my hint Miss Ottley glided to
the couch and standing at the head of it put her fingers lightly on the
medium's eyes.

"I know what to do," she said, looking at me. "I have seen him in this
state before. He is not a charlatan, Dr. Pinsent, at least when he is
like this. Presently you will see. He will astonish you, I think."

"I wish you'd ask him where the lost key of my saratoga is, May,"
whispered Weldon.

Navarro answered the question instantly, and in his natural
reverberating baritone.

"It is lying on the top of the canopy of your bed in your bedroom in
Jermyn Street."

"By Gad!" cried Weldon. "That's where it is as sure as I stand here. I
tossed it up there a month ago and more--and forgot all about it."

"Hush!" said Miss Ottley. "Think of Dr. Belleville, Frankfort, please."

Weldon frowned. "You might have chosen a pleasanter topic," he muttered.

"Hush!" said the girl again.

A moment later she bent over the medium. "Speak!" she commanded. "Tell
us what you see!"

Navarro sighed. "I see a large room," he began. "It is half library,
half laboratory. One part of it is filled with racks of books and
parchments. At the other end is a dispensary made up of shelves
containing jars of different oils and phials filled with drugs. In the
middle of the room is a table spread with maps and papyri. The papyri
are inscribed with hieroglyphics. Beside the table, standing on two
steel trestles, is a large sarcophagus of lead and iron lined with
silver. The lid is propped against the wall near by. It is ornamented
with the leaden cast of a man. An inscription states that this man is
Ptahmes, a high priest of Amen-Ra. His body was once enclosed within
the sarcophagus. It is now, however, reclining on a couch at a little
distance from the table----"

"Describe it!" said Miss Ottley.

"It is apparently the body of a man of latter middle age. It is of
great proportions. It is almost seven feet in length. But the body is
very lank and shrunken and ill nourished. The head is of extraordinary
shape and dimensions. It is very large and long, and broad. It is
surmounted by a crown of jet-black hair that has recently been cut.
It tapers like a cone above the temples and again like an inverted
cone from the cheek bones to the chin. The nose is long and hooked
like the beak of an eagle. The eyes are closed; I cannot see them. But
they are almond shaped and set far apart in the skull. The mouth is
shrivelled and almost shapeless. The chin is long and pointed. The skin
is dark brown, almost black. It looks unhealthy. The body is clothed
in ordinary European garments. One arm is fastened in a sling. The
chest is, underneath the clothes, swathed in bandages. On the feet
are fastened rubber shoes, on the soles of which are particles of
fresh-dried mud. That is all."

"Proceed!" said Miss Ottley. "There are living people in the room, are
there not?"

"Two," replied the medium after a short pause. "One is seated before
the table poring over a torn piece of papyrus. Beside him on the table
is a dictionary of hieroglyphics to which he constantly refers. He is
a big, thick-set man with black eyes, strongly marked features, and a
black bushy beard. In his hand is a pen. He writes with this pen upon
the paper before him. He is engaged in translating the papyrus. Ha! he
stops. He is looking up at his companion. He is speaking."

"What does he say?"

"He says, 'I cannot altogether reconcile our subject's statements
with the records, Ottley. Either in his long sleep his memory has
somewhat failed him, or in his sleep he has learnt more than he knew
before. It is most annoying; we shall have to question him again.' The
other--a little old man, with white hair and very bright small grey
eyes--replies, 'You are too damned pernicketty, Doctor. Haven't we the
formula, and hasn't it nobly stood the test of practical experience?
What more do you want? Your infernal curiosity would ruin everything if
I let you have your way. Once for all I tell you that Ptahmes belongs
to me, not to you. Damn your science! You've had enough out of him.
I'll not allow him to be used again except for my purposes. He has
disappointed me with the elixir. Well, he'll have to atone by making
me the richest man in the universe. I'll not be satisfied till every
shilling in the world belongs to me--every shilling--every shilling.'
The little man is now laughing like a lunatic. The big man watches him
with a frown, bending his big black brows together. 'But you fool!'
he says very angrily, 'do you forget that these things here--' he
points to the body of Ptahmes--'will soon wear out? Every time that
you drive it to work the friction sheds into dust a portion of its
matter. Is it not better to use its brain than its body? Remember that
we cannot repair his tissues. Unless we make absolutely certain of the
composition of the invisible oil while we have the chance, we may be
left stranded in the end. His body is of secondary importance after
all. It serves you now, but you can just as well serve yourself by
using the oil and doing your own dirty business. But the thing is to
make sure of learning how to replenish the oil when our stock gives
out. That is the all-important matter. And that is why his brain is of
paramount interest to me, and should be to you.'

"The little man says,--'I won't have it, I tell you, we know enough!'
The big man replies,--'Be sensible, Ottley! Remember he lost five
pounds in weight yesterday! He is melting away before our eyes. Come!
I'll make you a proposal. Let me do what I like with Ptahmes and I'll
take his place for your money-making purposes. I'll be the ghost of
the Stock Exchange and find out all you want to know. Now, what can be
fairer than that?'

"The little man is biting his lip. He seems to be thinking," (there was
a pause in the narration). Presently Navarro went on. "The little man
speaks again; he says:--'That is all very well, Doctor, but you know
as well as I do--that you intend to use Ptahmes to destroy your rival.
You haven't the courage to do it yourself.' The big man answers very
quickly, 'And are you brave enough to tackle Pinsent? Yet his existence
threatens all our plans. I firmly believe he has a notion of our ideas
already. He is no fool and an adept at putting two and two together.
Do you suppose he hasn't guessed at the reason of the success of your
enormous transactions on 'Change?' The little man grinds his teeth.
'Curse him!' he shouts. 'Curse him to Hell!' The big man smiles. 'With
all my heart,' he says, 'may he rot there for ever and ever! But all
this proves to us how careful we should be of the waning strength of
our magician. Remember the last time he tried odds with Pinsent on the
Nile he got all the worst of the encounter. Three broken ribs! It's
true we are more advanced in knowledge since then, and now we can make
him quite invisible. But all the same we cannot afford to trifle with
the strength of our subject, considering the two great tasks before
him.'--Ah!----"

The last expression was a groan. The medium moved restlessly, then
groaned again.

"Proceed! I command you!" said Miss Ottley in a trembling voice.

But Navarro for a third time groaned, and he began to struggle on the
couch.

"Oh, God! he is waking up!" cried the girl. "Hold his hands tightly,
Frankfort. He must tell us more! He must, he must!"

But Navarro with a sudden spasmodic writhe and twist, broke away and
sat erect. He was shaking like a man in an ague, and he began to pant
and groan like a wounded animal.

Miss Ottley gasped "Too late!" and wrung her hands.

I handed the medium a glass of water, but he was trembling too
violently to take it of himself. He spilt half the contents on his
knee. I forced the rest into his mouth. It revived him. A little later
he stood up. He was bathed in perspiration, and looked sick. But he
rejected all offers of assistance. He seemed to be very angry. He
declared that we had treated him most cruelly, and that we might have
killed him. He would not be appeased, and he went off in the care of a
footman filled with petulant resentment and mouthing stupid threats.
It may have been a pose, part of his "business" intended for effect to
impress his clients;--probably it was. But I am not sure. He certainly
seemed to be in a highly over-wrought, nervous condition; he could not
easily have affected that.

After he had gone we all sat back in our chairs and stared at one
another. Nobody was in the least haste to speak; we had so much to
think about; and it was plain that "Fancy"--"Well, I never!" and
ejaculations of that ilk did not even begin to meet the conversational
demands of the occasion. Lady Helen was the first to speak.

She said, "Well, I am trying hard to be an ideal hostess and not ask
any questions that might seem impertinent. But will someone tell me, is
it Sir Robert Ottley and Dr. Belleville who are making preparations
for Dr. Pinsent's funeral. I wish to know real badly, because I want
him to do quite a lot of things for me before he crosses over the
divide, and if necessary I shall go to Sir Robert and ask him for my
sake to give Dr. Pinsent a little time to say his prayers."

It was just the flippant tone needed to bring us back to earth again.
Everybody laughed. Everybody was so relieved that the laugh was
unconventionally loud, and it had a tendency to overdo itself.

Then we trotted out the "well-I-nevers!"

"Did you ever hear such a lot of rubbish talk?" demanded Lady Helen.

"It quite took my breath away," said Miss Ottley with a gallant effort
to attain the correct, approved, sociably foolish affectation of
brainlessness.

"The fellow deserves three months without the option for his villainous
slanders," said the Captain heartily. He was honest, anyhow. "Lord
knows I can't stand Belleville at any price," he continued. "But
Navarro went a bit too far, by Gad! I never heard anything more
malicious in my life than his vile insinuations."

"A discharged servant," I observed. "Malice was to be expected from one
of Navarro's type."

"And a foreigner to boot," said the Captain, in the manner of one
absolutely clinching an argument. "Ah, well!" he suppressed a yawn, "he
entertained us--and that's something. Seen the 'Japanese Marriage'
yet, Lady Helen? Miss Ottley and I did an act or two last night. It's
ripping. So--ah! so jolly unusual, don't you know. You get left every
time you think something is going to happen; and when you least expect
it one of the funny little beggars ups and wants to make his friend
a present of his liver on a plate, or cut off his rival's head, or
something."

"Miss Ottley's carriage," announced a footman.

"I asked for it," said the girl to Lady Helen. "My father has been very
poorly all day."

Weldon went away with her. She did not even spare me a glance.

Lady Helen consoled me with the best cigar I have ever received at the
hands of a woman.

She lit a cigarette for herself and curled up on a pile of cushions.

"That man Navarro is a rapacious rascal," she observed presently. "He
wouldn't take a penny less than a hundred to say what he did say to
Dixon. But I did not tell him to call me beautiful," she added.

"I am glad to be certain that the fellow is a rascal," I muttered half
underbreath. But she heard me.

"Surely you knew. His ravings did not take you in," she cried
scornfully. "Everyone knows he simply loathes Sir Robert Ottley. He
used to be the little old millionaire's tin god. Sir Robert hardly
dared to breathe without consulting his oracle. And they say the man
bled him of thousands. No wonder he went mad to find that Sir Robert
had escaped his influence. Ever since then he has been saying the most
awful things. Lots of people believe them, I know, but I never thought
you would."

"I don't." I smiled. I could smile now, for I felt wonderfully
relieved. "But tell me, Lady Helen, just why you employed him to say
that to your husband?"

She puffed out a cloud of smoke. "Dixon is superstitious at heart,"
she replied. "He will not want to, but he will end by believing what
Navarro told him."

"What! that you care for him despising you?"

"Silly!" she cried. "No--not that I care for him--but for another man
despising me--the man for whom _I care_. Have you forgotten Navarro's
words?"

"But why on earth deceive your husband?"

"To make him jealous."

"Of a chimera?"

"No, my friend," said Lady Helen, smiling very strangely. "Of you!
Remember, you have promised to revile me to him. That alone would fix a
suspicious mind like his on you. But to make assurance doubly sure, I
told him this afternoon that it hurt me very much to find that he had
given you a poor opinion of me."

I sprang to my feet, aghast. "But look here--my girl," I cried. "This
is a dangerous game you are playing."

"Are you afraid--are you then a coward?" she flashed.

"Hubbard is my oldest friend. You will make him hate me!" I protested.

"And you will refuse to risk that for his happiness and mine?" she
asked. "Remember, he is my husband, and soured, twisted creature that
he is, I love him!"

"Ah!" said I.

"I could have made you serve me in ignorance," she cried, "but I am
incapable of playing you or any other--save him--a trick like that.
However, say the word and the play ends--this instant. I have no
claim upon you. I'll save you the trouble of telling me that. I am
only a woman fellow-creature, and knight-errants are out of fashion
now-a-days. Well--what is it to be?"

Her words stung like nettles. Such a little spitfire I had never seen
before. But that was the proper way to treat me, and I believe she knew
it. She was as sharp as any needle, that young woman.

"I am not in the habit of breaking my word once given," I growled out.
"Good-night!" Then I stalked off most indignant. But she caught me at
the door, flung her arms round my neck and kissed me on both cheeks.

"You are a darling," she whispered. "And--well--Dixon will have to
hurry and reform--or else--but there--go!"

That is the way clever women bind foolish men to the furtherance of
their caprices. A cuff, a kiss, a piece of subtle, thrilling flattery,
and the trick is done. I was heart and soul in love with another
woman, and yet from that moment Lady Helen Hubbard possessed the right
to walk over me, if she wished to do it. And, mind you, I am not an
out-of-the-way brand of idiot as fools go. It's just a matter of armour
and the weak spot. No suit of armour ever existed that hadn't one. Some
women are born with the faculty of being able to put their soft little
fingers on those places right away.



Chapter XVIII

The Unseen


"For my sake, watch! It is but for two days longer,--the fatal week
will then be over. Oh! I implore you not to let your scepticism make
you careless. I trust you and depend upon you." Weldon gave me the note
himself. It was not signed. He watched me curiously as I read it. I
tore it up and threw the pieces in the grate.

"Miss Ottley is afraid that your friend Belleville meditates doing you
an injury," I said carelessly, "and knowing that I am your guest, she
has appointed me your guardian angel. Evidently she imagines that you
are a more sensible person than I am. She said nothing about it to you?"

"No," replied the Captain. "But she made me promise not to leave your
side for the next two days." He gave a sheepish laugh. "I'm afraid she
has let you in for a lot of boredom, old man. But don't you bother to
be polite! If you feel like kicking me at any time to relieve your
feelings I'll take it lying down. You see, I couldn't help my self.
She has such a way with her--and although I argued and protested and
begged her to consider you--it was no use. I had to give in."

"You needn't apologise, Weldon. I believe I am strong enough to survive
the infliction, and I promise not to kick you. How is Miss Ottley?"

"She is well, although she seems nervous and depressed. That is
probably because her father is ill and she has been nursing him. You
have heard, I suppose, of his latest doings?"

"No. As you are aware, I have not been out of doors for two days, and I
have carefully refrained from newspapers."

"He has cornered the copper market. They say his fortune is increasing
at the rate of half a million a day. But he is not strong enough to
bear the excitement. In my opinion it is killing him. I saw him this
afternoon. He looks ghastly. He was a little delirious, I fancy.
They left me alone with him for a moment or two and he took the
opportunity to warn me not to sleep to-night if I valued my life. He
said a terrible danger is hanging over my head. But Dr. Belleville
came in just then, and it was surprising how sensible he got again,
immediately. Naturally I said nothing of this to May. It would only
have made her miserable. It is wonderful how she dotes on the poor old
fellow. I don't know what she would do if he were to die."

"How did Belleville treat you?"

"For a wonder with the greatest courtesy. He took me aside and begged
me to forget any occasion of offence. He appealed to me as the
successful one--and he gave me his word, unasked, that he would never
again do anything to hurt May's feelings or mine. After all, he's not
such a bad fellow, Pinsent. One must make allowances. It's not his
fault that he is in love with May. He can't help that. My wonder is
that every man who knows her is not."

"I suppose you forgave him?"

"We shook hands, certainly. You wouldn't have me bear malice, would
you? Remember! I'm in a position to be generous--and he made the
advance."

"My dear lad," I answered slowly, "I wouldn't have an atom of you
changed for worlds. You are an absolute ass and all that sort of thing,
but somehow or other you make me want to be the same sort of idiot, and
I feel positively ashamed at times that I cannot."

You should have seen his face flush, and the hangdog way he tried to
pass over the compliment by cursing an untied shoestring and me at the
same time for trying to "pull a fellow's leg."

We went for a ride in the park that afternoon, and just to be pleasant
the Captain forced on me the gift of his finest Arab and a permanent
stall in his stable in which to keep the animal. He knew, the dear
fool, that I could not afford to keep it myself. I believe he would
have suffered tortures had I refused him. But indeed I had no thought.
The gift completely captivated me; I felt like a child with a new
toy, and as proud as any peacock. The horse was a noble creature.
I named him forthwith "Abd-el-Kadir," and the pair of us spent the
evening petting him, until it was time to dine. We had the gayest
possible meal and afterwards went to the Empire, reaching home a little
before midnight like reputable bachelors. The Captain, as usual with
him, fell asleep almost as soon as his head touched the pillow. But
I had a trust to fulfil and, ridiculous as it may seem, as soon as I
heard young Weldon's quiet breathing it began to weigh upon me. All
sorts of mad questions began to ask themselves over in my mind. What
if Sir Robert Ottley and Dr. Belleville had really discovered some
wonderful secret of Nature? What if Belleville had really determined
to assassinate his rival? What if--in that act--he purposed to make
me appear to be the criminal? What if--as the medium had hinted--they
had found a way to make themselves invisible? It was no use calling
myself names, and saying mentally: "Pinsent, for Heaven's sake be
reasonable." Something had come over me. For the first time in my life
I was nervous. Mysterious fears obsessed me. For an hour I lay on my
side and watched the Captain. Then I could stand it no longer. I got up
and stole over to the door. It was locked securely. I looked under both
beds and peered into wardrobes and cupboards. When I had perfectly
convinced myself that Weldon and I were the only occupants of the room
I felt a little better. But only a very little. I resolved to spend
the night watching. I lighted a cigar and then threw myself into an
armchair, fixing my eyes on the Captain. He slept like a babe. I do
not know when it was exactly that I became actually aware of a third
presence in the room. Probably the idea had been gradually growing
upon me, for I experienced no sudden shock of surprise when conviction
displaced doubt. I said to myself, "This person, whoever he may be,
has come here intending to strangle or smother Weldon in his sleep.
But my watchfulness has baffled him. What will he do?" I was soon to
be informed. A slight, a very slight, noise drew my attention to the
farthest corner of the room. Over a little cupboard hung the Captain's
sword in his scabbard. The sword, but not the scabbard, was moving.
The blade was gradually appearing; and my flesh crept to see that it
was, apparently of its own volition, moving, not downwards, but upwards
along the wall.

I distinctly saw its shadow appear and lengthen on the wall. But
no other shadow was cast to explain the cause. For a moment I was
petrified--paralysed by an abhorrence of the supernatural. Then the
sword entirely left the scabbard. It advanced slowly, point downwards,
borne on air into the room. As it moved it swished slightly to and fro.
The invisible hand that held it must have been trembling. The thought
recovered me. I stood up. The sword stopped. I flashed a glance around
the room. The poker in the fireplace attracted my attention. I gave a
sudden bound and reached it. The sword flashed across the room towards
Captain Weldon's bed. God knows how I got there in time to save him,
but I did. The point was quivering at his throat when I dashed it aside
and with the return blow crashed the poker upon a hard thickness of
transparent matter. The clang of steel awoke Weldon, but I had no time
for him. The sword was in retreat. I followed it. It was making for
the door. I raised the poker for another blow, but on the instant the
blade fell crashing to the boards and I heard the key turning in the
lock. I hurled myself against the panels and was brought up against a
body. Thank God, though I could not see it I could feel it. It was a
man. "Weldon!" I shouted, and was locked in a deadly struggle. Over and
over we rolled; the invisible man and I. Weldon stood over us, looking
on like one in a dream. He could only see me, and he thought I had gone
mad and was behaving as maniacs sometimes do. The invisible man was
strong--strong. He twined his hands around my throat and I could not
prevent him. But slowly, steadily, surely, I forced his chin back. I
wished to break his neck. I have an impression he was nude, but cannot
be sure. I twined my right hand in his hair, with my left around his
neck. I drew him to me. I was undermost. To save himself he began to
beat my skull against the boards. It was then that Weldon intervened.
He seized my wrists and tried to lift me up, to save me, as he thought,
from doing myself an injury. But all he did was to save the life of the
invisible man. Weldon's grasp on my wrists forced mine in some measure
to relax. I put forth all my strength, but in vain. The invisible man
used his chance and writhed away from me. I struggled afoot, casting
Weldon off, but too late. The door opened before our eyes and our
enemy, unseen, fled, banging the door behind him. I heard the patter of
feet as he departed. The Captain uttered an oath. "Oh! you fool, you
fool!" I cried at him.

"By George!" gasped Weldon. "Did you see that door?" He rushed forward
and opened it again, peering out into the passage.

I fell into a chair spent and panting.

Presently Weldon came back. He picked up his sword and examined it.
There was a great gap in the edge near the point where I had struck it
with the poker. "What is the meaning of all this?" he cried. I told
him as soon as I was able. But from the first he did not believe me,
and he was honest enough to say so. How could I blame him? The story
sounded incredible, even to me, while I was telling it. Weldon adopted
the most charitable possible view. I had dreamed everything and acted
the somnambulist. He admitted that it was a queer circumstance, the
door opening and shutting so unexpectedly. But no doubt one of the
other lodgers in the house had tried it in passing--some late bird
a bit under the weather, Weldon thought--and finding it yield had
banged it shut again. It was no use retorting that the door had been
locked--Weldon merely laughed and asked what more likely than that I
had turned the latch before smashing his best blade? He was quite upset
about his sword. It had been carried by his grandfather at Waterloo.
He plainly considered the damage I had done to it was the only serious
occurrence of the night. But he strove, like a hero, to keep me from
realising just how bad he did feel about it. I ceased protesting
at last, and abandoned the vain task of trying to convince him of
the deadly peril that had menaced him. He returned the sword to its
scabbard and with a subdued sigh got back into bed again. Within ten
minutes he was fast asleep. As for me, I paced the floor till morning,
thinking, thinking, thinking. I have no shame in confessing that I was
horribly afraid; not of the immediate present, but the future. I did
not expect our mysterious assailant to return that night. But what of
the morrow? I am not a believer in the supernatural or I must have set
down the unseen marauder as a spirit. But I had felt and wrestled with
the thing, and knew it for a man. I had heard the patter of its feet.
Moreover, the memory of the séance and Navarro's dramatic recitation
supplied me with a sort of clue. What if Navarro had not been acting,
but had really been clairvoyant? Who shall dare to define the limits of
the possible? Was it more marvellous that he should have heard and seen
things really happening in a trance, than that I--in full possession of
all my faculties--had wrestled with a man invisible in the bright glare
of an incandescent lamp? I said to myself: "It is necessary to assume
that Navarro is a true medium, if only for the sake of argument. Well,
in that case it is clear that Dr. Belleville and Sir Robert Ottley
had found in the tomb of Ptahmes a papyrus containing a tremendous
scientific secret. This secret is one which teaches its possessors
how to control forces of Nature, in a manner which my imagination
can only guess at, for the production of a physical result which I
have actually experienced. They have learned how to override the laws
of light. They have discovered a means of not only rendering opaque
objects transparent, but positively invisible. And they are using their
secret knowledge to further their nefarious designs. Sir Robert Ottley
is using it to increase his fortune by spying out the financial secrets
of his business rivals. Dr. Belleville is using it to accomplish
the destruction of Captain Weldon, his rival in love. And, in all
probability, they both intend it to remove me from their path because
they fear that I suspect them."

It must not be supposed that I adopted these conclusions with any sort
of confidence. They entered my mind and remained there. But I received
them churlishly and treated them as unwelcome guests. And the only
reason that I did not expel them was because I could not discover, try
as I would, any more substantial or sensible explanation of an event
which they pretended to explain.

When the dawn broke and the light of day began to steal into the room
between the shutters I looked around and shook my head. After all, had
I fallen asleep against my will and dreamed the whole thing, as Weldon
believed? It might be so. The intellect is a strange, elusive, shadowy
affair. It slips from one's control at times. The memory easily clogs.
The imagination is easily overheated. And one is not the best judge of
one's own experiences. Science had taught me so much, at least, that
one cannot always accept the evidence of sense. I began to doubt, to
cast about me, and to vote myself absurd. With the rising of the sun,
I flung back the shutters and looked forth on a vista of chimneys
and leaded roofs. They were so manifestly real and solid and prosaic
that all my brain expanded to a sense of ridicule except one small
part, which began to shrivel up under the douche I poured upon it,
of what I called cold common-sense. But it did not entirely shrivel
up. It insisted on certain reservations. It said to me, "Pinsent, my
man, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of
in your philosophy. You have no right to ill-treat a part of your
intelligence which--even though it may have erred--served you to the
best of its ability. And can you be sure it erred? If it hap that it
did not, you would never forgive yourself for flouting it. Be wise in
time! Don't prejudge the case! Wait and watch! Take precautions! Guard
yourself--and, above all, guard your charge!"

I determined to suspend judgment. Above all, I determined to guard my
charge. But I confess it was with a curling lip I made the resolution.
There is something in sunlight, some all-subduing power which
irresistibly dries up the fountain springs of the imagination. I cannot
conceive a novelist writing a fanciful story in the sunlight. Can you?
And the sunlight was pouring into the room when I came to my resolve.



Chapter XIX

The First Victim


When Weldon woke he did one of the three things of which only gentlemen
of the finest sensitiveness are capable. He gave me one quick, laughing
glance, but perceiving in my solemn visage a predisposition to resent
badinage, he immediately said, "Good-morning, old chap. Hope you rested
well. As usual, I slept like a log--all night." Now, who could help
liking a man of that stamp? Not I, most certainly. And not satisfied
with pretending to have forgotten everything, he resolutely refrained
from so much as glancing at his treasured sword, which I had broken.
My heart went out to him in such a flood of feeling that in order to
conceal how fond of him I was and how grateful, I simply had to be
insulting.

"You needn't tell me you slept," I growled. "You snored like a whole
sty-full of hogs" (which was a lie). "It's a wonder to me you did not
wake yourself."

"Why didn't you shy a boot at my head?" he asked. "I'm awfully sorry,
Pinsent. I can see I kept you awake. You look quite washed out."

"Oh! I'm alright, or will be after a hot bath," I replied ungraciously,
and left the room.

When I returned he had a bottle of champagne ready for me, as a
pick-me-up; and he was hard at work polishing my boots--all this by
way of apology. I swallowed some wine and allowed myself to unbend.
I suggested a ride to work up an appetite for breakfast. He joyously
agreed, so we dressed and went out. A gallop in the park made us as
jolly as a pair of sand boys. We had déjeuner at Verrey's, and then
went to call on Miss Ottley. She was out, however, so I dragged my
charge to an eye specialist in Harley Street. I pretended an eyeache
and had my eyes thoroughly examined. The specialist could find nothing
wrong with them. On the contrary, he congratulated me on a singularly
perfect vision. After that we went to Weldon's club, dawdled there for
a hour and then on the suggestion of Lord William Hurlingham, commonly
known as "Bill," we ran down to Maidenhead for a row on the river.
It was a perfect day and we enjoyed ourselves amazingly, so much so
that we lost count of time and were obliged to dine at a Maidenhead
hotel. It thus came about that it was after nine when we strolled
to the station to return to town. There was a considerable crowd of
holiday-makers on the platform, and one party gave us much amusement.
These details are important to explain what followed. The party
consisted of half a dozen Jews and as many Jewesses. They were all as
gorgeously attired as if they had been attending a regal audience. But
their conversation, conducted in tones loud enough to provoke general
attention, informed us that they had been spending the day on the
houseboat of a certain well-known nobleman of notorious impecuniousness.

Lord Bill, a bit of a wag, made a remark that I did not catch, about
the Jews and their nobleman, which sent Weldon into a convulsion of
laughter. He then turned to me and began to repeat it for my benefit.
Just at that moment the train came rushing into the station. Weldon
stood near the edge of the platform with his back to the line, glancing
sideways at the Jews and trying to restrain his mirth. I had bent my
head the better to hear Lord Bill, who was a short man, but my eyes
were on Weldon. Conceive my surprise to observe him stagger backwards
of a sudden, as though he had been struck on the forehead. He uttered a
startled cry and clawed the air with both hands. For a brief second he
tottered at an angle as though he held on to something which supported
him. But next instant, as if carried off his feet by a great rush of
wind, he went back, back--over the edge of the platform, and before I
could move a muscle or utter a word he had fallen and was lying on the
rails under the very wheels of the onrushing engine. Men shouted, women
shrieked. I sprang forward, and hardly aware of the peril would have
leaped upon the line, but that a dozen hands restrained me. It would
have meant infallibly my death as well as Weldon's, for the train was
not more than a dozen feet off. But I was incapable of reasoning at
the moment. I struggled like a madman with my captors and broke away
from them at last--to stand dazedly staring at the engine for some
horrid seconds. It had stopped. But had it----? With a great effort I
dragged myself forward. The edge of the platform was lined with a crowd
of white-faced, silent people. They made room for me. Several railway
officials were stooping over a frightful object lying between the
pavement and the nearest iron rail. One of them shouted for a doctor,
and there was an immediate movement in the crowd. Two or three men set
off through the station at a run. I closed my eyes. I had never been
so shaken in my life. I had never lost my self-control so utterly.
The wheels of the engine had completely amputated both poor Weldon's
legs midway between the knee and trunk. There followed a hiatus in my
reckoning. When I came properly to my senses I was hard at work tying
up the arteries, assisted by a medical student who had been a passenger
in the fatal train, and a nurse who had apparently been holiday-making
on the river. I remember how anxious she was to save her pretty
muslin gown from the spouting blood. Presently a surgeon who had been
called, appeared armed with proper instruments. With his aid I hastily
replaced the imperfect tourniquets I had improvised out of kerchiefs
and neckcloths with gutta percha bandages, and we removed poor Weldon
from the station to the villa of a gentleman who had charitably placed
his house at our disposal. From the very first I felt that there was
no hope. Not only had my luckless friend lost his limbs and an immense
quantity of blood, but he had suffered internal injuries and a severe
occipital concussion. Within an hour, in spite of all we could do,
symptoms of lung congestion supervened. When it became manifest that
no human skill could save, I wrote a note to Miss Ottley and sent Lord
Bill to London to escort her to her lover's bedside.

After that there was nothing to do but wait. Weldon was deep in a state
of coma. I sat down beside him and watched his poor, wan face. Every
few minutes I administered a stimulant, yet each time asked myself what
use? And were it not better to let him cross the bar in painless sleep
than try to bring him back for a few moments to the agony of suffering
and hopeless separation? Yet I was plagued with the most hateful doubts
and ideas, and so, beyond expression miserable that when two hours had
gone and I marked his pulse failing visibly with the fleeting minutes,
I did that at length which, perhaps, I should have postponed till Miss
Ottley's arrival. But then, it might have been too late. Who knows?
He opened his eyes and looked at me. I could hardly see for sudden
womanish tears.

"Give me your hand!" he whispered. I did so, and he pressed within
it a hard, bulbous object. "Put in--in your pocket. Keep it safe!" he
gasped. "It will--ah."

I obeyed him without glancing at what he had given me. Then I got
up and rang the bell. A great change had come over him. The surgeon
responded to my call.

"It is the end!" he said.

Weldon broke into a fit of coughing and beat the bedclothes with his
hands. We bent over him, seeking to help and soothe him. The paroxysm
passed and for a moment he seemed to sleep. Soon, however, he gave a
strong shudder and opened his eyes again. "Pinsent--you will avenge
me--you have the clue," he said. It was but a breath, but I heard.
Yet I cannot say I comprehended. Indeed, I thought he wandered. But I
answered softly: "Trust me, lad!" And at that he smiled and lay still,
gazing up at me with eyes of deep affection.

"I have sent for her," I whispered.

"Yes," he sighed. "I know; but she will be too late. Tell her--not to
fret!" and at the last word the light faded from his eyes and he was
dead.

Long afterwards Miss Ottley came into the room. She was pale, but
invincibly composed. I gave her his message and left her alone with
the dead. The owner of the house, Lord Bill and the surgeon led me
out into the garden. They spoke to me in decorous hushed voices for a
while, then let me be. I walked up and down the pathway till break of
day, and what I thought about I cannot tell. I remember being closely
questioned by a policeman. Then Miss Ottley took my arm and we walked
to the station. I thought it my place to be kind to her, yet she was
kind to me.

"One might think you cared," she said, and smiled into my face. We got
into a train and as soon as it started Lord Bill broke out crying.
He declared that Weldon was the best fellow in the world and that he
would miss him dreadfully. Then he said in the midst of life we are
in death, and laughed, and without asking permission, he began to
smoke a cigarette. It is strange how differently people are affected
by emotion. I was mentally dazed, and I fancy part of my brain was
benumbed. Miss Ottley was poignantly awake, but her pride, and her
strength of mind served her for a mask. Lord Bill, on the other hand,
acted as responsively to his feelings as an infant. And yet each of us
behaved naturally. I reflected on these things all the way to town.
Lord Bill bade us farewell at the station. Miss Ottley and I drove to
her home in a hansom. During the drive she spoke about the funeral
quite calmly and mentioned poor Weldon's love for big, red roses. His
coffin should be smothered in roses, she declared.

When I helped her to the pavement, she pointed up at a window that was
open. "Dr. Belleville's room," she said, and smiled. "He is enjoying
his triumph. He kept his word to the letter. It is the seventh day. The
seventh day, Hugh Pinsent; that is a terrible man. How shall I possibly
withstand him?"

I shook my head. "You are wrong," I answered dully. "He is not
responsible for this. It was an accident."

"Are you sure?" she asked.

"I am sure of nothing," I replied. "But it seems to me an accident--and
yet. But there. I am incapable of reasoning in my present mood. I shall
see you again. In the meanwhile--think of Weldon's last words to you
and do not grieve too much!"

"And you?"

I shrugged my shoulders. "I have never felt more miserable. And already
I am beginning to fancy I might have saved him."

"How?"

"By going yesterday to your father and Dr. Belleville and forcing them
at the muzzle of a revolver to tell me things they know and which I
want to know."

"You rave," she muttered coldly, and slowly climbed the steps.

I followed her and rang the bell.

"If you persist in thinking my father a bad man, I never want to speak
to you again," she whispered.

There were steps in the passage. I took off my hat to her. "I must
mend my thoughts," I said.

The door opened and Dr. Belleville appeared upon the threshold.

The girl gave him a quick look before which he quailed. But he
recovered quickly. "I sincerely trust you bring good news," he said, in
tones of deep concern.

"The best," answered Miss Ottley, and drawing in her gown she swept
past him with a glance of bitter hate, into the house.

Belleville looked after her, then turned to me, plucking at his jetty
beard and frowning heavily.

"Weldon is better?" he inquired.

"He is dead," I said.

"Poor, poor fellow," sighed Dr. Belleville. "I am greatly pained to
hear it. You were his friend, were you not, Pinsent? I can see that you
are upset. Won't you come in and have a glass of brandy? you look quite
done up."

"No, thank you," I answered. "I must get home and change these
bloodstained clothes--there is to be an inquest this afternoon.
Good-morning."

"Good-morning!" he replied. He was staring at the bloodstains to which
I had purposely directed his attention. But he did not give a sign of
agitation. His face remained as expressionless as wood.



Chapter XX

Lady Helen's Medicine Operates


On arrival at Jermyn Street I changed my clothes and, having collected
all my belongings, I repaired at once to Dixon Hubbard's flat. I could
not endure the thought of spending one unnecessary moment in my poor
dead friend's abode. I saw his honest face and gay, mirth-filled eyes
in every corner; and he smiled at me from every dark nook and shadow
of the trophy-covered walls. Hubbard received me with his usual frozen
politeness. He was still in bed. But I felt an overmastering desire for
human sympathy, so I ignored his manner and told him what had passed.
He was sorry, I think. He had only met Weldon twice, and had merely
exchanged a word or two with him, but he admitted having felt drawn to
the bright and manly lad; and though he said little, it could be seen
that he was shocked to hear of a death so untimely and on all accounts
so utterly regrettable. And he strove to cheer me in his way. After a
long silence, he suddenly remarked on the iron-bound remorselessness of
fate. "There," he said, "was a young fellow just about to taste his cup
of long-anticipated happiness. A man with many friends and no enemies;
universally liked and respected. Yet destiny, without warning, dashed
the cup for ever from his lips. And one cannot console oneself with the
reflection that he has been spared the pain and shame of finding the
contents bitter-sweet and mixed with dregs; for the girl loved him, I
am told, and she was good to look upon, and honest-hearted. What is the
meaning of it all? Omar laughingly declares that the Potter is a Good
Fellow and 'twill all be well. But how many pots have encountered that
experience? Have I--though still I'm here? And you? I'm all awry. The
Potter's hand shook in making me. As for you, you started straight,
but you grow more crooked every day and it's not your fault; you are a
helpless dough puppet in the hands of destiny."

"You think I grow crooked?" I asked, surprised. "Mentally?"

"Morally," he answered, with a sneer. "You picked a foolish quarrel to
leave me, and now you are back again. Why?"

"Can you tell me?"

"I have a theory," he said, with kindly eyes. "Tell me if I am wrong.
My wife has become interested in you. She has marked you for a victim.
At first you were unwilling. You could not even bear to be near me. But
now you are more callous."

"You are wrong," I replied--then suddenly remembered that I had given a
solemn promise to Lady Helen.

No doubt Hubbard marked the change in my expression. His sneer grew
more pronounced. But I had a task to get through somehow.

"Lady Helen, with all due deference to you, Hubbard," I said slowly,
"is not a woman I could ever care about. I feel certain she is even
less interested in me than I am in her. But even were the reverse the
case with her, as you suspect, what odds? I have the utmost contempt
for her; and I think that she deserves--but there, you have the
misfortune to be her husband, so I'll say no more."

His face was scarlet. "What reason have you to despise her?" he
demanded.

"Is it not enough that she has most unwarrantably caused you a great
deal of unhappiness?" I retorted. "Besides, you have told me sufficient
of her character to convince me that she is one of those flighty
butterfly women whom all honest men regard with only one step short of
loathing."

"And you are an honest man?" he sneered.

"I try to be," I answered modestly.

He was furious. In order to hide it, he sprang out of bed, flung on his
dressing-gown and rushed to the bath. I thought of Lady Helen's acute
prevision of the event, and almost contrived to smile. Hubbard had come
within an ace of defending his defamed wife with naked fists on my
impertinent face, according to the simple rules of the Supreme Court of
Appeals of primeval unlettered aborigines.

We tabooed the subject by tacit consent for the remainder of the
forenoon, but Hubbard announced his intention of accompanying me to
the inquest, and as soon as we were seated in the train he opened fire
again.

"I am afraid I have given you an exaggerated idea of Lady Helen's
shortcomings," he commenced, looking anywhere but at me. "I am afraid
I have created a false impression in your mind. I don't want you to
consider her entirely blameworthy, Pinsent; if she were that I should
long ago have ceased to care a pin for her."

I shrugged my shoulders and looked out of the window.

He went on presently. "I'm afraid, Pinsent, I have done a foolish
thing, perhaps even a caddish thing, in telling you anything about
our private quarrel. It did not occur to me at the time that I might
prejudice you against her. To be honest, there were faults on both
sides, and if you knew all you might consider me the more deserving of
censure, her the more deserving of pity."

"My dear old chap," I answered solemnly, "have I known you all these
years for nothing? All you have said only the more assures me of your
chivalry and generosity and tenderness of heart, and makes me feel the
angrier at her insensate incapacity to appreciate your qualities. I
grant you that you hide yourself at times behind a mask of surliness,
but do you mean to tell me that any true woman, any woman, indeed,
even such a frivolous creature as she has proved herself to be, could
have failed to penetrate so transparent a disguise? I can't believe it,
my boy. In my opinion, Lady Helen knows you perfectly for what you are.
But instead of responding with an equal or similar nobility of mind, at
the instance of her innate selfishness she is using her knowledge to
put upon you, to hurt you, to trifle with you, and to drain your purse,
all that she may pass the sort of existence she prefers without the
wheel-brake of your tutelage."

Hubbard moved uncomfortably in his seat. He frowned and bit his lip.
Then he coughed and put up a hand to his brow.

"Damme!" at length he blurted out. "You're as wrong as you can be. It
was I who insisted on the separation."

"But she forced you to it. She broke her marriage vow of obedience, by
refusing to accept the rules of life that you had planned."

"I prescribed conditions which she characterised as grossly
unreasonable and unfair. I am by no means sure now that she was not
right."

"Nonsense, Hubbard. It's a woman's first duty to obey and cleave to
her husband at all costs and whatever be the consequences or fancied
consequences to her comfort or convenience. Marriage imposes that
obligation on the woman in its sacramental character. It is a sacred
obligation and it cannot be violated without the guilt of crime. I
could have no mercy on such a criminal."

Hubbard unbuttoned his coat and threw back the lapels. He seemed hot.
He puffed out his cheeks and began to fan himself with a newspaper.

"Lord!" he muttered. "What strait-laced ideas you have of matrimony.
Upon my soul I cannot follow you. They are out of date. There was a
time, perhaps, when they were necessary. But now! My dear Hugh, you
should reconsider the matter. Your views are somewhat narrow. For years
past the world has been allowing an ever-increasing license to woman.
And who shall say that it is wrong! Woman is a reasoning, responsible
being. I----"

"Nonsense, Hubbard," I interrupted. "Woman is the weaker vessel, and
the more she is restricted the better for her own protection. Look at
the Divorce Court! Thousands of marriages are every year dissolved.
That is all owing to the greater freedom which men have conceded woman
of latter years. Divorce was, comparatively speaking, an unknown
quantity when men asserted the right to confine their wives in proper
bounds and forced them to observe and practise the domestic virtues
both for occupation and amusement. Look around you and consider what
has been brought about by the unwise relaxation of the old, sound laws!
A race of social moths and drones and gad-flies has been created, whose
chief business in life it is to amuse themselves; whose pleasure it
is to spend money often earned with difficulty by devoted fools; whose
delight it is to ensnare and to deceive their former tyrants; whose
estimate of motherhood is an avoidable and loathsome human incident;
whose morality is a resolution to preserve their immorality from public
criticism; whose faith is a shibboleth composed of superstitious
formulæ, and whose religion is occasionally to attend divine service in
some fashionable church arrayed in the latest thing in headgear and a
chic French gown."

Hubbard straightened his shoulders. His expression had grown quite
superior during my tirade, and when it was over, it was plain that he
looked down on me from the heights of a philosophic Aconcagua.

"I would not advertise those opinions if I were you," he observed with
a slight sneer. "They have a grain of truth in them, but not enough to
conceal the brand of special advocate. I suppose you do not wish to be
regarded as a social reformer?"

"I shall be content to reform one woman--if ever I marry," I answered,
with a straight face, though it was hard to keep it straight.

"She has my unmeasured sympathy," said Hubbard. "Once upon a time I was
a woman-hater--but in my most uncharitable moments I was never such a
fool as you. You will forgive my plain speaking?"

"Certainly, Hubbard, certainly. You are not responsible. It is plain
to me that Lady Helen has bewitched you. One of these days you'll be
lauding her as a creature of incomparable excellences--a very paragon
of merit and a pattern of the virtues. I can see it coming. I am sorry,
for, of course, I know what she is."

Hubbard turned crimson. He snapped his teeth together and rapped out:
"See here, Pinsent, we are very old friends, but I'll be damned if I
allow you to disparage my wife. Is that plain?"

I took out my cigarette case. "Perfectly," I murmured.

He glared at me for a moment, then scowled still more blackly and
growled deep in throat: "I can't think what has come over you. You
haven't the least right or cause to hate her. It's positively unmanly.
Especially as she thinks of you far more highly than you deserve. She
feels it, too. You must have shown her how you regard her. She made me
feel a brute."

"Look here, Hubbard," I cried, with a nicely assumed show of
indignation, "I want to oblige you and I want to keep the peace between
us, but I shan't be able to if you keep on defending her when you know
as well as I----"

"What?" he thundered.

"That she is a butterfly!" I thundered back.

"She is not!" he shouted.

"She is!" I said.

"You, you, you imbecile!" spluttered my poor friend. "I tell you
once and for all that is only one phase of her. I don't like it, I
admit," (he began to cool off), "but still it is only a phase. She is
in reality a woman of great depth of character." (He was quite cool by
this.) "I had a conversation with her the other night that astonished
me. Of course, I have always known that she is an educated woman,
but the extent of her knowledge had previously escaped me. She has
a much more than superficial acquaintance with the modern forms of
speculative philosophy. She has read Kant and Spencer and Nietzsche
with understanding: and she is now engaged in the study of Egyptian
history. You have interested her deeply in the subject."

I shrugged my shoulders. "And from all this you conclude?"

"That I have been an idiot not to recognise long ago that she is
my intellectual equal. And I have treated her as if she were an
irresponsible child."

"But she is a woman."

"Quite so," replied this converted woman-hater, "and because she is a
woman, and such a woman, she has the power to bless the man fortunate
enough to win her--her affection--as few men are blessed. Now you can
appreciate my position. I have blindly sacrificed my chance. I----"

"Pish!" I interrupted. "Tell her what you have told me and be blessed!
You'll repent it all your life through."

"It is too late," he groaned. "I have been weighed in the balance and
found wanting. Pride, if nothing else, would always prevent her from
forgiving me. She--liked me once, I think--but now----" He cleared his
throat and forced a wry smile. "She looks upon me as her treasurer and
friend. It was my own choice. I have no right to grumble." Then he
burst out suddenly, "But it's damnable, Pinsent, damnable!"

Lady Helen's medicine was working like a charm. I thought it best
to let well enough alone. So I made a rude effort and changed the
conversation. We soon reached our journey's end.

The inquest was a nightmare dreamed by day. The courtroom was filled
with poor Weldon's relatives. His father, the old baron, ostentatiously
turned his back on me. He seemed to think me in some way responsible
for his son's fate. Weldon's sisters, too, whom I knew slightly,
vouchsafed me no sign of recognition. His younger brother--now the
heir--was the only member of the family who extended the slightest
token of civility. He was so manifestly delighted at the unlooked-for
promotion of his prospects that I read in his warm hand-grip a secret
pæan of joy. He had been intended for that limbo of younger sons and
blue-blooded incompetents, the bar. Happily, the inquest was soon
over. I was only in the box five minutes, and a quarter-hour later the
verdict was recorded: "Accidental death."

Hubbard and I returned at once to London. There arrived, I plunged
into work upon my book and for a space of two days I managed to forget
that the world contained anything but steles and obelisks and mural
hieroglyphic inscriptions which, though always half obliterate with
time, had somehow or other to be made sense of and translated into
English prose.



Chapter XXI

Hubbard's Philosophy of Life


Weldon's funeral was held on the afternoon of the third day following
his death. His body was interred in the vault of his family at their
seat at Sartley, in Norfolk. I was not invited to attend, but I felt I
had to go. Miss Ottley was there with her father and Dr. Belleville.
She was clad in deep mourning, and her face was thickly veiled. One
of Weldon's sisters sobbed throughout the ceremony, yet I do not
think she felt her brother's loss half as deeply as I did. I heard
her whisper to her neighbour once--between sobs--(I knelt immediately
behind her)--"Have you ever seen such callousness--not a tear, not
a sigh?" She was referring to Miss Ottley. I spent the rest of the
afternoon on the cliffs beside the sea. I did not wish to return by
the same train as the Ottleys, but destiny ruled otherwise, although
I waited for the last. It seemed that Sir Robert had overtaxed his
strength and had been obliged to rest. I had hardly taken my seat when
he was helped into the same compartment by Belleville and the porter.
They made him comfortable with cushions, without observing me; but
Miss Ottley started as she entered, and raised her veil. "You!" she
muttered, then paused as if in doubt, eyeing Belleville. A second later
she let fall her veil again and sat beside me. Without asking anyone's
permission, Belleville turned down the light, leaving the compartment
in comparative obscurity. The porter muttered thanks for the tip and,
departing, locked the door.

Plainly my presence had passed unnoticed. But an exclamation from
Belleville soon showed he had discovered me. "Excuse me, sir," he said,
"this carriage has been specially reserved." Then he recognised me.
"Oh!" he cried. "You--but----"

But the train had begun to move. I sank back in my corner. Belleville
took the corner opposite. In a few minutes Sir Robert complained of the
light, in the manner of a sick man. Belleville sprang up and put it out
altogether. The darkness now was absolute.

"If you will take this side, I can make you comfortable; there is a
cushion to spare," said Belleville's voice. He was not addressing me.

"I prefer to remain where I am, thank you," said Miss Ottley, in a
frigid tone.

Belleville sat down silently. Now and then I caught the glimmer of
his eyes from the reflection of passing lights, or the glow of the
engine smoke and steam, wind-blown beside the train. He was staring
into the corner which I occupied. I felt his hatred wrap and heat
me like a coat composed of nettles. And the man had occasion, for
ere long Miss Ottley's hand stole to mine, and she sighed when mine
enclosed and pressed it close. Belleville could not have known, yet
he must have felt we were in sympathy opposed to him--just as I felt
his hostile influence. It was a silent ride, but not uninteresting.
Twice Belleville unexpectedly struck a match and flashed it in our
faces. But my rug covered the occupation of our hands. Once instinct
warned me that he was bending forward, peering and prying. I raised my
foot and brushed it in his beard. He fell back, coughing, to prevent
himself from cursing. It was in that moment probably that he resolved
upon my death, for I was unable to restrain a low, grim laugh. Sir
Robert slept always, even when we paused at stations on the road. At
those times Belleville and I exchanged pretty courtesies. He would
offer me his flask, or I would offer him a cigarette. We both refused
these charming civilities, but our manner was so densely sugar-coated
that there might have been detected by a skilled psychometrist a scent
of honey in the air. And our eyes beamed upon each other with the
sweetest friendliness. Needless to say, whenever the engine whistled
or the train slowed down Miss Ottley's hand left mine. She only spoke
to me once, and that was on the London platform, while Belleville was
assisting her father from the car.

"Do not go out ever between three and five!" she muttered behind her
veil, without looking at me. "I shall come as soon as I can. Do not
call on me! Do not reply! Just say good-bye!"

"Well--if you'll allow me, I'll say good-bye, Miss Ottley," I announced
in ordinary tones. "You might be good enough to let me know your
opinion of my book at your leisure, for I value your opinion. You will
have an advance copy in a week or two."

"Most certainly, Dr. Pinsent. It is kind of you to remember your
promise. Good-bye!"

I lifted my hat and left her; nodding to Belleville as I passed. He
looked surprised, also distrustful, but he said something polite. Sir
Robert saw me, but chose to ignore my existence.

I walked home to Bruton Street and found Hubbard ensconced before the
fire. The night was chilly enough to warrant one, despite the season.
He was staring gloomily into the heart of the glowing coals.

I helped myself to a glass of whisky and took an armchair beside him.

"I can't stand this. I'll go abroad," he announced at the end of a good
half hour.

"What's the matter, Hubbard?"

"Oh! I've been there again. I couldn't keep away. She was alone, for a
wonder."

"You refer to your wife, I suppose. Well?"

He allowed me to finish my cigar before replying, then he said: "I have
no business to tell you, but I shall. She is in love, and I believe
with you."

"Nonsense."

"I wish it were," he answered dreamily, "but it is not. She has
practically admitted it."

"That--she cares for me?" I cried.

"No--but for someone. And I am not so great a fool that I cannot
read between the lines, although she thinks so. Her thoughts dwell
constantly on you."

"Impossible!"

He turned and gazed at me. "It's so, old man, upon my honour."

"You are mistaken, Dixon."

"I know you are as true as steel," he muttered. "That is why I do not
even feel a wish to thwart the fates. I am nothing but an interloper,
a marplot. I ought to efface myself. When I am strong enough I shall.
But I wish you'd be frank with me--Hugh, entirely frank. You think you
despise her now, but you are sure you have no other feeling deep at
heart? Think well before you answer, Hugh!"

"Why?"

"Because if I were sure that you cared, too, I would find my happiness
in helping. You are worthy of her--and she--as God hears me, is worthy
of the best man living."

"Dixon! Dixon!"

"Oh! I know this must sound oddly from my lips. But though I've been
a fool, I'm wiser now. I hold a purer, finer faith; a human faith.
And it is now my deep belief that the greatest crime of all is the
prevention of the fullest union of predestined mates--and all that
sin entails--the birth of children generated by the fires of lust and
hate upon the copperplate of physical and psychical indifference;
the production of a race prenatally ordained to be degenerates;
the determination of unhappy souls galled into madness by their
chains,--their ultimate destruction."

He got suddenly afoot and raised his hands on high. "I tell you, Hugh!"
he cried, with eyes afire, "there is no surer way to damnation, no
surer path. We are born into this world for one strong purpose which is
told us by our hearts if we will hear them. And this concerns ourselves
not half so much as our potentialities of helping by their proper use
the unborn spirits placed by Providence at our control and mercy. It
is then for us to choose if we will be servants of the good, to assist
in their perfection, or the servants of the evil to promote their
desolation and to advance the stages of their ruin. No human being has
the right to bring any but a love child into the world. That which is
not a love child is a child of hate. There is no course between. And
because the father of a child of hate is a criminal for whom there is
no punishment conceivable, to a finite mind, acute enough on earth his
expiation of his crime will but begin at death. You laugh at me."

"On the contrary," I answered gravely, "I accord with you."

"Then you admit my duty. I should stand aside?"

"Ay--but first be sure, my friend! You love your wife; she may love
you."

"I am sure that she does not. But you? It is time, Hugh, that you
answered me."

I stood up and put a hand on his shoulder. "I love with all my strength
another woman," I said slowly. "And just as sure I am that I love her
am I that she loves me. Are you answered?"

He stared at me, and in the moment that my eyes held his, his face grew
dull and grey. "My poor Helen," he muttered, "I had hoped to help her
to her happiness."

"At--any cost?" I demanded.

"Yes, yes," he said.

"Death?"

"I would have welcomed it," he groaned, and turning, he went slowly
from the room. He walked like an old, old man. I had never admired him
so little, nor liked and pitied him so much. Straightway I wrote a
note to Lady Helen and, going out, posted it myself. It contained only
these three words: "It is time." I could trust a woman of her proven
cleverness to understand.



Chapter XXII

The Dead Hand


I expected Miss Ottley next afternoon, and Hubbard, as though aware I
wished to be alone, went out soon after three. But she did not come.
Hubbard returned an hour after midnight. He kept me awake by tramping
about his room until far into the small hours. Next morning I found the
library filled with corded boxes and Hubbard's man padlocking the last
of them. "Master's gone to France, and I'm to follow," he announced
with an air of suppressed exultation. "He left this letter for you."

The letter contained these lines: "I know you at length for the
cunning scamp you are. How you must have laughed at me. But I forgive
you. We shall be away a year, at least. As always, everything I have
is yours. Let us find you here on our return. I cannot write more.
My heart is too full. Pinsent, she loves me! D. H." The last three
words were deeply underlined. By the end of that week I had completed
the revision of my book and forwarded the manuscript to Mr. Coen.
Afterwards, I was uncomfortably lonely and unoccupied. I waited in
from three to five every afternoon, but no one came. The rest of the
days I spent wandering about the streets nursing the long sickness
of too much thinking. The end of it was, I disobeyed Miss Ottley and
went one afternoon to call on her. I might as well have saved myself
the trouble. She was "out," likewise her father and Dr. Belleville.
Two days later I called again. Again everyone was out. Then I wrote
a guarded note and sent it with an advance copy of my book, asking
for an expression of her opinion. After much waiting, I received a
long typewritten disquisition challenging on apocryphal authority my
attribution of a stele superscribed by Amen-aken to the fourteenth
dynasty. It was signed by Miss Ottley, but I failed to recognise it as
her composition. One evening, however, having nothing else to do, I
applied to its verbiage the simple rules of a well-known cipher. This
gave me an astonishing result. "Impossible see you without endangering
your life. Constant supervision." But it was worth testing the matter
further. I therefore composed a formal reply to the challenge, showing
my reasons for concluding that Amen-aken had unwarrantably altered for
purposes of his own glorification the historic record of a predecessor.
I used the same cipher and embodied the following message by its aid:
"Shall pass the house before midnight Friday. Throw letter from window
explaining all! I live to serve you." This document I forwarded to Miss
Ottley enclosed in a letter in which I took pains to show that I had
been disappointed by her criticism, and that I was not anxious for the
correspondence to be continued. Then I waited as patiently as possible
for Friday to come round. The hours passed with leaden feet, but they
passed--and midnight found me in the lane walking slowly by the house.
It was wrapped in gloom from roof to basement, but her window was open.
As the clocks began to chime, a white thing flashed out and fluttered
to my feet. It was a kerchief weighted with a golden bracelet. I felt
a paper crinkle in its folds. Hastily concealing it within my coat, I
pressed on and returned by a circuitous route to Bruton Street. Soon
I was poring over my treasure. It was typewritten like the challenge.
It read: "I have been obliged to typewrite this, because I am a close
prisoner and am forbidden the use of pen or pencil. But they make
me work as their stenographer some hours each day--and I was forced
to seize the opportunity so presented. Thank God you understood the
cipher. If you love me give out that you proceed immediately to Egypt.
Then go to Paris and return to London under another name and well
disguised. Take lodgings East; and wait until you see in Personal
Column of _Daily Wire_ directions addressed to 'D. Menchikoff!' Follow
them implicitly! Am in power of fiends. Open opposition perilous. Must
allay suspicion. Otherwise forced immediate marriage B." Here the
missive ended.

I sat down before the fire and thought hard for some minutes. The paper
was crunched up in my hand. Suddenly the door opened. I turned my head
at the sound of the creak, but could see no one. What could have opened
the door? I heard the sound of caught breath, a foot on the door and a
sigh. In a flash I understood. I had been seen by my enemies picking up
the letter in the street, and they had sent their invisible messenger
to win it from me. Quick as thought I thrust the paper in the flames
and sprang afoot. There followed a deep-voiced oath and a rush of air
fanned my face. I struck out with all my strength right and left, half
beside myself with rage and fear. But my blows encountered nothing
tangible, and a second later the door banged shut. I was so unnerved
that I simply walked over and locked it. How can a man fight with an
enemy he cannot see? or even follow him? When my hands stopped shaking
I began to pack up my trunks. I resolved to follow Miss Ottley's
bidding to the letter. To-morrow I would announce my departure for
Egypt and cross the Channel in order to put Belleville off the track.
Meanwhile I ransacked my wardrobe. Presently I received a shock. From
an unremembered corner in a chest I brought out the clothes I had
worn on the day of poor Weldon's death. They were covered with dyed
bloodstains, the blood of my dead friend. I placed them on the table
and eyed them, shuddering. My mind, as if spell-compelled, reviewed
all the details of Weldon's death. I saw him stagger back, back, and
fall beneath the wheels of the onrushing locomotive. I heard his dying
shriek. Once more I struggled desperately, but alas! how vainly with
the dark angel, for his life. Once more, as the end approached, I saw
his glazed eyes open and look into mine. Once more I heard his dying
words--"Give me your hand!"

And but--God in Heaven! How could I ever have forgotten it! Had he not
given me something--something I had put in my pocket half unconsciously
without looking to see what it was--something he had implored me to
"keep safe."

I felt my senses rock at the recollection; and then I went hot all
over with shame, to think of my neglect, my inattention. Until that
moment--despite his dying direction, I had utterly forgotten his sad
trust. And the thing he had given me to keep--where was it now? Where,
indeed, but in the pocket of that coat where I had placed it. Oh! It
was safe enough, no doubt--but that did not absolve me. For weeks I had
been a recreant trustee. I had, I saw it now, I had been a coward. I
felt his death so much that I had resolutely put all thoughts of him
aside, smothered them with work, fearing the misery which they must
bring. And I had been his friend!

I took up the coat and felt in the pocket. Yes, it was there. What
was it? I drew it out before the light and saw nothing! Yet I held
something heavy and hard. Was I going mad? Was my sight diseased or
what? I rubbed my eyes and looked again. Nothing! I strode over to the
gas jet and held the thing between my visual organs and the flame. Ah!
something now! But how describe it? I saw a small light blur; a sort of
shapeless haze off which the rays, the jet of light diffused, recoiled
obliquely. It was not transparent, but neither was it in the true sense
visible. It seemed to defy the light rays, to repulse them rather than
absorb them. When held directly before the flame I could not see the
gas jet through it, and yet itself I could not truly see. It confused
and disarranged my vision as a watery mote does floating on the surface
of an eyeball. Slowly and surely experimenting with the thing, I found
that the farther I withdrew it from the lamp the less sensibly my sense
became aware of its existence. But when I placed it directly against
the lamp the flame became mysteriously obscured. I say mysteriously,
because the thing cast no discoverable shadow, and although solid to
the sense of touch, it was not otherwise apparently opaque. The flame
still burned behind it, and I still saw the flame, yet not through,
but over and around an intermediate blur. In that connection the thing
did not resemble glass. Had the reverse been the case I should have
seen the flame through it directly. As it was, as far as I can make
out, the impression of the flame was conveyed to my retina by rays of
light that did not travel in a straight path. They climbed over and
surrounded the interposed object first, and thus gave me a slightly
distorted image of the flame; and instead of revealing the obstacle
which they had to overcome in transit, all they did was to indicate
vaguely its situation. Thus, above and below the indiscernible point
where their straight and proper course was interfered with I perceived
a misty, indefinable haze. And at the point where the rays seemed to
reassemble and readjust themselves to the resumption of their ordinary
business there was a blur. Perhaps the best way to depict the effect
was to present the hypothesis of a weak flame held up before a stronger
one. This does not exactly describe the phenomenon I witnessed and
investigated, but it approximates as closely as I can manage. The chief
points of difference are, that every flame casts a shadow, and this
thing did not, unless a blur of light be a shadow; and furthermore, a
flame may be seen even confronted with a stronger flame, and this thing
I held was destitute of a perceptible outline. The pity was that I was
then working without a single clue to any comprehension of the thing;
and the greater pity is that though my knowledge became fuller, I am
still ignorant of the action of the properties which made the thing
visually impalpable. I can only guess at them. But I think I guess
correctly when I conjecturally assert that it was surface coated with
some essence which had the power to compel the great majority of the
light rays to travel along its sides and surface and to resume their
original direction afterwards. I do not pretend to understand how this
essence could so interfere with and control the laws of light. But
granting that it could, the explanation is a natural one. And though
scientists may frown at me for advancing a theory which I am unable
to substantiate, I prefer to incur their scorn rather than adopt the
alternative--supernatural agency. I simply decline to believe in the
supernatural. It is my profound conviction that nothing has ever
happened on this planet, however mysterious and inexplicable, which
has not been produced by a purely and perfectly natural cause. And the
longer I live the more certain do I become that, deep and wonderful as
our scientific acquaintance with Nature undoubtedly is, we have not yet
even thoroughly explored the porch of her palace of secrets, her vast
treasure-house of wonders.

But I stray from my subject. It is my present business to relate
events, not to discuss their basic principles.

To resume then, after a great while spent in experimenting with the
thing which poor Weldon had given me, before the light, I was obliged
to confess myself baffled. I then fell back upon my other four senses.
I got out a pair of scales and weighed the thing. It weighed exactly
seven ounces. Then I smelt it. The thing was odourless. I bit it, but
it was tasteless. Yet it yielded to my teeth like stiff rubber or
leather. Next I placed it on a sheet of paper and traced its outlines
with a pencil. That was the first really definite result I got. The
tracing showed a bulbous object four inches wide by five long. It was
shaped something like a pear. Its base contained four indentations with
corresponding rounded protuberances like knuckles. The apex was ragged.
Next I took a knife and with the blade scratched its surface. A moment
later a long streak of dark, dry tissue was revealed. I could see it
plainly. I shook all over with excitement. The mystery seemed to be
clearing up. But even as I took up the knife again I paused, convulsed
with a wild, improbable idea. What if?--but there. I held my breath and
took the thing before the fire to think its problem out. I sat down.
My nerves were all jangled. The fire needed replenishing. It was low
and I was cold. I stooped down and heaped on some coal. Then came a
thought. I put the thing on a shovel and held it over the grate. Heat!
Yes, heat! The greatest of great resolvents. Fool not to have thought
of it before. Fool, indeed! One minute--two--three. There was a shadow
on the shovel. I bent forward. Instantly my nostrils were assailed
with the unforgettable perfume of the tomb of Ptahmes! Ah! the flood
of recollections that came surging at its bidding to my brain! But I
fought them back. I bent right over the fire--and I made out presently,
lying on the shovel, the dim form of a tight-clenched human hand.



Chapter XXIII

I Set Out for the East


It was the hand of a mummy. It had been half snapped, half torn from
the forearm, just above the wrist. Thus the edges of the stock were
ragged and the tendons were drawn out and torn; the bone, however, had
fractured clearly, just as glass breaks, leaving a hard, smooth edge.
But the hand was not an ordinary mummy's hand. The bones were covered
with mummified flesh truly, but, although dry, it was neither stiff
nor brittle. On the contrary, it possessed the tough consistency of
leather and was resilient and kneadable like rubber. The phalanges,
when pulled straight, returned to their ordinary and original position,
like springs, immediately the pressure was removed. The colour of the
skin was a very dark chocolate. It was marvellously preserved. The very
pores were still discernible, and the veins and arteries beneath the
epidermis, which had been converted by age into fine black cords, could
be traced with ease. Now, whose hand was it? From what mummy torn? And
how had Weldon become possessed of it? I gave up the attempt to solve
the first two problems as soon as I had mentally propounded them. The
third, however, answered itself. I knew Weldon too thoroughly to admit
a doubt that he would ever have carried about with him such a ghastly
trophy. Like most healthy young Englishmen, he had a horror of such
things. Well, then he must have snatched the hand, then invisible,
from the grasp of someone--in the very moment in which he had been
falling to his death. But no one had been near him. That is, no one
visible to us or him. But since the hand had been practically invisible
until I had subjected it to the influence of heat, was it not just
as likely that it might have been--nay, must have been--carried by
an invisible person? But that invisible person must have been very
near Weldon. He must have been close enough to have saved Weldon had
he chosen. Why had he not chosen? Why, indeed, unless he had wished
Weldon to die? And if he had wished Weldon to die, would it not have
been easy for him--because invisible--to help Weldon to die? Easy!
Good heavens, how easy! How appallingly easy! And then I remembered
how astonished I had been to see Weldon stagger back, step after step,
to the platform's edge--three steps at least. I understood it now--and
his startled outcry. He had been assailed by an invisible adversary.
He had been forced back. He had been hurled over the platform--and as
he fell he had clutched out wildly and seized the mummy's hand. He had
been foully murdered; and we had watched his murder, comprehending
nothing. My flesh began to creep as the light of understanding broke
in upon my brain. For I realised in the same instant that Weldon's
murderer was, in all probability, the man who had had most occasion
to desire his death--Belleville--my enemy and the enemy, although
the lover, of the woman I loved; the wretch in whose power she was
at that moment. He had warned Miss Ottley that unless she broke off
her engagement with Weldon her fiancé would die within the week. He
had died--murdered in cold blood--on the evening of the seventh day.
Belleville had been most terribly faithful to his awful promise. To
the very letter he had kept his dreadful vow. And now--Miss Ottley
was his prisoner in her own father's house; and, no doubt, Sir Robert
Ottley, sick, enfeebled in body and intellect, was Belleville's puppet
instrument to the furtherance of his atrocious purposes. What chance
had I--fighting a man so utterly unscrupulous, so strong-willed and
remorseless, and endowed with a power so tremendous and far-reaching
as the possession of a chemical agent capable of rendering himself
imperceptible to mortal sight whenever it should please him to make
use of it? How could I or anybody bring such a man to justice? Why,
even if I should foil his scheme for my undoing, and were it possible,
as well, to get the better of him to the extent of satisfying myself
beyond doubt as to his guilt, what court on earth would believe the
evidence I could bring forward? A tissue of absurdities; a network
of hypotheses and chimeras! I should be laughed at as a madman, a
foolish visionary; and he would go scot free with undamaged reputation,
free to work his evil will upon an unconscious and defenceless world.
Belleville's advantage over me was so manifestly overwhelming that I
confess the prospect of entering into a trial of strength and cunning
with him daunted me. And yet, if I did not, Weldon's death would surely
go unavenged, and Miss Ottley's fate would be sealed. She would be
forced into a marriage--somehow or other--with a man she loathed--the
murderer of her dead lover. I felt so sure of this that towards morning
I resumed my packing. I did not go to bed at all. After breakfast I
went out and called at half a dozen newspaper offices. I saw as many
journalists, who all promised to paragraph my departure for the East.
I then wrote a letter to the Society stating, guardedly, my intention
of again visiting the Nile; and I caught the afternoon train to Dover.
That night I slept at Calais. On the following day I went to Paris and
put myself in the hands of a hairdresser and costumier, who carried on
a peculiar business at Montmartre under the secret surveillance and
government of the police. For a respectable consideration he effected a
complete metamorphosis in my appearance. He speckled my black eyebrows
with silver. He shaved off my moustache and beard and dyed my skin a
jejeune saffron, my hair a bilious iron-brown. He forbade me to wear
a starched collar. He taught me how to walk like an elderly man; and,
finally, he provided me with a suit of clothes that fitted fairly
well, but which could not be said to possess any other virtue. But
the fellow was well worthy of his hire. When he had finished with me
I could not recognise myself. The mirror showed me a gaunt piece of
human wreckage. I was to the life a decayed gentleman; an unobtrusively
rakish, elderly degenerate. I was remarkable in nothing except height,
and even that singularity departed as I learned to stoop. In such guise
I returned to London by way of Boulogne and Folkestone, and I took
up residence immediately in a tenement-house in Soho, to which I had
been recommended by my friend, the costumier. It was a curious place.
It was populated by Frenchmen, Italians, and a sprinkling of Swiss,
and a number of Russian political refugees. I found them a decent lot
of law-abiding miserables. The majority were derelicts of fortune,
who lived like parasites on the toil of some few hardworking, foolish
artisans among them. And yet, despite their deplorable estate, they
always had a cheerful word and a smile to spare for a stranger. They
were a picturesque, interesting people, and I should have liked to
study them under other circumstances. But placed as I was, I conceived
it best to keep my room as much as possible, and I only went abroad to
buy a paper and to eat and drink. On the fourth morning the expected
summons came to hand. It was the first advertisement in the column.
"D. Menchikoff. Fearless. Doorfront. Twelve. Unfailing. Noiseless.
Open. Mizpah." And this I interpreted to mean, "Fearlessly approach
the front door at midnight this evening! You will find it open. Enter
without noise! God be with you till we meet!"



Chapter XXIV

The Gin Is Sprung


I set out wearing rubber shoes and armed with a loaded revolver. This I
concealed in my breast pocket. I timed myself so nicely that I arrived
at Sir Robert Ottley's mansion on the fifth stroke of twelve. Forthwith
I mounted the steps and softly tried the door. It was ajar. I pushed
it back and entered, closing it noiselessly behind me. I locked it,
too. The hall was unlighted and black as Erebus. I stood for a moment
or two listening breathlessly. Then I thought I heard a sigh. "May!" I
whispered.

I was answered by a sibilant soft "S-Sh!" Then a hand was laid upon
my sleeve and I felt myself drawn forward. I gave myself up to be
guided the more willingly that I hardly knew the place. We came to
a staircase. My guide breathed "S-Sh" again, and muttered "stairs."
We climbed them step by step. Heavens, how dark it was! Afterwards I
was drawn like a shadow through a maze of thickly carpeted corridors.
Finally, we stopped. The hand left my arm and I heard a door creak
open. "Come!" whispered my guide. I stepped towards a dim, dim glow,
and as I crossed the threshold, the door, shutting on my entrance,
grazed my arm.

"At last!" the voice whispered.

It was a signal. Hardly was it uttered than a blaze of white light
stabbed the darkness. I found myself in an immense apartment, blinking
foolishly into the muzzle of a revolver presented at my forehead by Dr.
Belleville. Our eyes met presently across the sights. His were smiling
coldly.

"An excellent disguise, Dr. Pinsent; my sincere congratulations," he
observed. "It is evident you have obeyed my instructions to the letter."

"Your instructions," I said.

"Ay. Mine."

"Then you----"

"The cipher was my idea entirely. Ah! but you must not blame Miss
Ottley. She signed the first letter without understanding. Later,
however, she would not write. She knew. I was obliged to use the
typewriter, and in order to convince you of the authenticity of the
letter I threw at your feet last Thursday night--my emissary followed
you home and pretended to wish to wrest it from you. You fell into the
snare. And now you are here, and no one knows, eh? No one knows?"

"You think so?" I asked. I was beginning to get back my wits.

But he only laughed. "It does not matter. The great thing is, you are
here and in my power. That was all I wanted. Now, Ottley! Now!"

It was another signal. Something hard and heavy crashed against my
skull. For a second I fought for breath against a horrible feeling of
sickness and impotence, then came blank night and nothingness. I had
been sandbagged.

I recovered to find that my captors had strapped me hand and foot in
a huge iron chair. I could not move an inch in any one direction, but
otherwise my situation was tolerably comfortable. Belleville sat facing
me some feet away. He was plucking thoughtfully at his big, black
beard. There was no one else in the room. Perceiving I was awake, he
arose and took from a table near him a glass of water, which he brought
to me.

"It is not poisoned," he remarked. "I have considerable need of you for
some time yet." He placed the glass to my lips then, and I drank with
confidence. I felt better afterwards, but my head ached bravely still.

Belleville resumed his chair and again began to pluck at his beard. "No
doubt your head aches," he observed. "I regret having been obliged to
use you so discourteously, but we have had so much experience of your
muscular vigour that to have risked a physical encounter would have
been absurd. We might have been forced to kill you, and that would not
have suited my plans."

"Indeed," said I. It cost me a painful effort to speak at all.

"I desire to be perfectly candid with you," said Belleville. "But
before we get down to business it were as well to prove to you how
completely at my mercy you are." He took, as he spoke, a revolver from
his pocket and aimed carelessly at the opposite wall. "This apartment
used to be a shooting gallery," he observed. "All the walls are
padded." He then discharged the weapon six times in rapid succession.
The bullets spattered on a plate of steel. The sound of the reports
was simply deafening. A full minute passed before the echoes and
reverberations ceased. All the while Belleville smiled at me. "No one
heard but you and I," he said. "The futility, therefore, of wasting
your breath in shouting for help will appeal to you."

I glanced about and found that all the walls I could see were
windowless. The room was lighted by electricity. The door was thickly
coated with padded cushioned leather. The floor was carpeted with one
vast sheet of rubber. The place was fitted up as a chemical laboratory.
I counted half a dozen glass tables littered with retorts and dynamos,
testing tubes and other instruments. There were big glass cases filled
with porcelain boxes and phials of drugs and large jars containing
acids. And finally there was one object my eyes rested on with a little
shock of recognition. This was the sarcophagus of Ptahmes. It was
raised about three feet from the ground upon two steel trestles. The
great sculptured lid was propped on end against a neighbouring wall.
But although the coffin was open I could not see within it because the
edge was almost on a level with my eyes.

"Are you satisfied?" asked Belleville presently. He had followed the
direction of my glances with a sort of half-contemptuous, half-amused
curiosity, reloading his revolver the while. The man evidently
cherished an immense opinion of himself--but he was as cautious as a
sage: witness the reloading of his weapon--despite the fact that I was
as helpless as a trussed fowl.

"Yes. I am satisfied," I answered.

"And cool? What I mean is are you perfectly collected? Do you feel able
to engage in conversation? Or are you too dazed--or perhaps too angry?"

"I can promise at least to listen and try to understand you."

He gave me a sardonic smile. "The under dog is a fool to be sarcastic,"
he said drily. "However, please yourself. Listen then! You are no doubt
aware that it is one of my ambitions to marry Miss Ottley?"

"Yes."

"Captain Weldon stood some time since in my road."

"Yes."

"Peace to his ashes," smiled the Doctor. Then he frowned. "But to my
astonishment I now find that the lady did not care for the gallant
Captain."

"Indeed."

"Indeed and indeed." Belleville bit his lip. "But for you," he snarled.

I was silent.

"It is almost incredible, but it is true."

"She has confided in you?" I asked.

"As a preliminary step to defying me," replied Belleville. "It was
rather silly of her, but perhaps she could not help herself. Women,
even the wisest, are slaves to their emotions of the moment. I was
willing to make all sorts of concessions, too. I even offered her your
life."

"My life."

"I offered to permit you to live if she would marry me."

"And she?"

Belleville bared his teeth just as I have seen a jackal grin. "You
know how women love to glorify the objects of their admiration," he
said slowly. "In their opinion the men they--they love--are always
the wisest, the strongest, the most astute and the best. I am free to
admit, my dear Pinsent, that you are by no means a fool. You have no
doubt a fairly keen intelligence--but Miss Ottley has placed you on an
alabaster pedestal--pedestal do I say? A pinnacle! She has actually
ventured to contrast your ability with mine to my disparagement. She
rejected my offer with disdain and challenged me to measure wits with
you. And when I accepted the challenge she calmly predicted that you
would defeat and destroy me. It thus became my duty to show her how
mistaken and fallible in truth is her estimate of me. Weldon's death
taught her nothing, absolutely nothing. She protested that if I was
really the _deus ex machina_ it only proved me to be an ordinary sort
of heartless murderer. Weldon's particular order of intellect never
impressed her, it appears. But yours, in her eyes, is little short of
divine. There was no help then but to dispose of you in such a way as
to open her eyes. It is no boast to say that I could have killed you
at any time of the day or night I pleased for weeks past. Had I done
so, however, I should have been constrained so to arrange matters--as
in Weldon's case--as to make your end appear natural; and I'm afraid
Miss Ottley would on that account have been inclined to consider, for
a second time, me a lucky prophet and you the second victim of an
inscrutable Providence. That is her present attitude toward Weldon's
final exit from the stage of life. I was obliged then so to arrange
matters as to get you into my power, but, _bien entendu_, without the
fanfare of trumpets. I flatter myself that I have managed very well.
You may pretend the contrary if you choose, but you'll not convince
me. I have had your every movement carefully followed, and I believe
that outside of this house there is not a soul in England of your
acquaintance who has a doubt but that you are on your way to Egypt.
And I have neglected no precautions that could ever give rise to such
a doubt. Immediately you quitted your lodgings in Soho this evening,
my emissary entered your room by means of a master key and brought away
your trunks. No one saw him, for he was invisible; and no one saw your
trunks depart, for he made them invisible, too. They are at this moment
in this house. You doubt me?"

"Yes," I cried. "I doubt you; produce them!"

"I am too comfortable to move," smiled Belleville. "But here is
something I found at the bottom of one of them."

As he spoke he took from his breast pocket the mummy hand poor Weldon
had given me. I could not suppress an exclamation. He had spoken truly
then. Belleville tossed the hand upon a table. "I was rather glad to
get it back," he said. "Not that it really mattered; but I wondered who
had found it. Did Weldon still cling to it after he was dead?"

"You scoundrel!" I cried. "It was you--really then? You pushed him over
the platform?"

He laughed. "In person, no, but by direction, yes." Then he
became serious. "But let us avoid personalities, if you please.
We each possess an ugly temper, I believe; and mine is sometimes
uncontrollable. Do you agree?"

"Proceed!" said I.

He bowed ironically. "There is but little more to tell you now. You
know almost all you need to know, and enough, I feel sure, to enable
you to anticipate your fate."

"You intend to murder me, I suppose?"

"Exactly. But it depends on yourself whether you shall have a painless
death or no. If you will do what I require you shall have the choice
between aconite and morphia. If you refuse, well,"--he pursed up his
lips--"you'll live longer, Pinsent; yes, you'll live longer--but
frankly, old chap, you won't like it. I hate you, you know, and I am
a surgeon, and you are there and I am here; I repeat, I hate you. And
I am not only a surgeon, I am a skilful surgeon. I am, besides, a
vivisectionist. That is one of my hobbies. And I'll keep you alive as
long as possible. For let me yet again assure you I _hate--you--hate
you, hate you_!"

There was no doubt of it. He hated me. The emotion was infectious. I
hated him. I had before; but I now realised how much. After one long
glance into his gloating eyes I lowered mine and asked in a voice I
strove to render civil: "What is it you want me to do for you?"

"I want you to play the part of a friendly disembodied ghostly
match-maker."

"I fail to understand you."

"Naturally. But listen. I intend to render you invisible. When that is
done I shall bring Miss Ottley here. She knows your voice. You will
speak to her. Do you see daylight now?"

"I begin."

"That is well. You will inform the lady that you are dead, but that
your spirit is held in durance vile at my command. Like all other
women, she is at heart deeply superstitious. She will believe what
you say and she will conceive a prodigious respect for my power and
ability. You will assure her that I control your fate and that you can
only obtain deliverance from unimaginably awful tortures at the price
of her consenting to become immediately my wife. Well?"

"A pretty plot," said I.

"I felt certain it would earn your admiration," he returned.

"I marvel at your candour!"

"My dear Pinsent," he said, smiling, "complete candour is the privilege
of the all-powerful, and that am I--at least in your regard. I can
perfectly afford to be perfectly frank with you, because I can compel
you to serve me even should you decide to disobey me."

"Indeed, and how?"

"The thing is as simple as A, B, C. If you are so foolish as to
refuse to play the part I have assigned, I shall render you three
parts--instead of entirely invisible. I shall make your bonds, however,
entirely invisible. You will then be put to certain electrical tortures
of my invention, and I shall invite Miss Ottley to observe the
spectacle of a soul in pain. I confess I should prefer you to behave
like a sensible ghost and talk to her in the manner I have indicated;
but you must admit that in the alternative she will, nevertheless, be
forced to a conclusion flattering alike to my ambition and my pride."

"Is it possible that you are all the heartless scoundrel you pretend?
Can you really find pleasure in the notion of winning the woman you are
presumed to love--by a trick so infamous and despicable?"

"Yes, Pinsent, yes."

"You must be animated by a devil."

"On the contrary, my dear enemy, I am just an ordinary human being who
has been seduced by the most extraordinary temptation that has ever
been offered to a living being. A power has been placed at my disposal
which puts me on a level with the immortal gods of ancient Greece. In
deciding to make use of it, I have adopted their ideas of morality,
almost, as it were, perforce. I now make a cult of my convenience,
and a religion of the indulgence of my instincts. I intend henceforth
to kill always what I hate, to possess what I love, to seize what I
covet, and to enjoy what I desire. Miss Ottley dislikes and despises
me. That has irritated my vanity to such an extent that it is necessary
to my happiness that I should convert her dislike into subjection, her
contempt into the unbounded reverence of fear. When she becomes my wife
I shall be the master of her millions--her father is on the point of
dissolution--and I shall be the tyrant of her person. I shall rule her
with a rod of iron terror. That domination will give me a far greater
joy than the vulgar pleasure of reciprocated passion. And not the least
part of it will dwell in the reflection that you, my dear enemy, will
have so largely and so unwillingly contributed to the gratification of
my sweet will. Now you have all the facts before you. My cards are all
exposed. It is for you to make up your mind what you will do. Don't
decide immediately! There is no hurry. Think the matter over. As I am
rather weary" (he yawned in my face), "I shall now leave you to your
meditations till the morning. Good-night."

He rose, bowed to me with mock politeness and moved over to the door. A
moment later he had gone, and with him the light vanished. I was left
in the profoundest darkness, and my thoughts were nearly as colourless
and sombre as the gloom in which I sat.



Chapter XXV

The Mummy Talks


The sensation of awakening informed me of the surprising fact that I
had fallen asleep. I was rather proud under the circumstances that I
had been able to do so. Probably I had slept for a long while, too,
for the laboratory was lighted up, and it was evident that it had been
carefully dusted in the interval. There was a sound of sweeping behind
my chair, but strain as I would I could not turn my head to see who was
my companion. "I say," I called out. "I am thirsty. Fetch me a glass of
water, will you?"

The sweeping stopped. Presently steps approached my chair. They passed
it, and next second I saw the giant Arab of the cave temple at Rakh,
the wretch who had attempted to strangle me at my camp, and whom I had
released from the sarcophagus of Ptahmes on the Nile. He stood before
me, his extraordinary blood-coloured eyes staring at me with the glazed
expressionless regard of an automaton. He was clad in a long, yellow
shapeless garment like a smock, and his feet were shod in leather
sandals. In one hand he held a broom. Very slowly he extended his other
arm before my face, and I saw with a shock of aversion that the hand
had gone. It had been severed from the wrist and nothing but a stump
remained. Involuntarily I thought of the mummy hand which poor Weldon
had given me. It still lay upon the table where Dr. Belleville had
tossed it, full in my view. It was a left hand. The Arab's left hand
had been lost. The connection was obvious. But--but--of course a mummy
hand thousands of years old perhaps, could not have grown upon a still
living, breathing man. Living! Breathing! The words repeated themselves
as I gazed at the Arab. How like a mummy he appeared! His skin was of
exactly the same colour as the mummy hand. It had the same shrivelled
appearance, the same leather-like texture. And, good heavens! unless I
dreamed he did not breathe! Not a movement of his body disclosed the
smallest sign of respiration. I stared at him, appalled. His features
were fixed and set rigidly. His mouth was closed. His nostrils were
fallen in and glued together. How then could he breathe? And yet there
was life in his gaunt frame; some animating spirit that controlled
its mechanism, for slowly his handless arm fell back to his side,
and he continued to regard me with a steadfast, unwinking stare. I
examined his eyes and found that they were lidless. The lids had
shrunken back and disappeared. A closer inspection showed that the
eyes themselves owed all their lustre to reflected light. The cornea
was in each orb nothing but a thin gelatinous-like film filled with
tiny little crinkles that caught up and refracted passing rays from
all directions. The whites were opaque black teguments, dry and dead.
Behind the lenses was no sign of any pupil. There was nothing but an
iris which seemed to be composed of dull red dust.

Living! Breathing! The Arab was a mummy! an animated corpse. Oh! Of
course I dreamed. I must have dreamed. I have told myself that so many
thousand times that it is a marvel the constant reiteration has not
forced me to believe it. But I do not. Nor do I know what to believe. I
am in as great a maze to understand now as I was then.

At first I conceived an almost intolerable horror of the thing before
me. But finding that the Arab did not menace me, I gradually became
accustomed to its most unpleasant and almost ghastly proximity. And
after a time I felt so strong a fever of thirst that I forced myself to
speak to it again.

I asked it for water. It did not move. I became convinced it heard
but did not comprehend the language I employed. I spoke to it in
French and German and in Arabic, but still it did not move. Finally
I said to myself, "If it is a mummy, it will be an Egyptian and will
understand the tongue of ancient Egypt." Then I gasped out such a term
as I believed might have been used by a thirsty Theban asking for
alleviation of his famine. The thing instantly moved off behind me.
Presently I heard the sound of falling water, and a moment later a
glass was pressed to my parched lips. I drained it thankfully, eyeing
the while, with a feeling of deep, unconquerable repulsion, the sinewy
black mummy hand that served me. I then thanked the Arab in the same
tongue which had persuaded him to be my minister. He gazed at me a
while and then moved to the table and looked at it. He appeared to be
writing, but I could not be sure. I heard a curious, raucous scratching
sound. Thus ten minutes sped by. Meanwhile, I shut my eyes and tried
hard to persuade myself that I dreamed. Then a sound disturbed me. I
opened my eyes with a start and saw that the Arab had returned to my
side. He held a slate before me covered with hieroglyphics. Never had I
greater occasion to bless my knowledge of that ancient language and to
gratefully regard the patient years of labour I had spent acquiring it.
But likewise never had I greater occasion to lament the imperfections
of my knowledge and defects in my memory. I could understand a portion
of the message--the greater part indeed--but still a part escaped me.

Briefly translated, the part I comprehended ran:

"It is not meet that Ptahmes--named Tahutimes--son of Mery, son of
Hap, High Priest of Amen-Ra and the Hawk-headed Horus, should be a
wicked unbeliever's slave.... Death explains.... The spirit of a good
man hurried hence accuses me unanswered at the ... throne.... For time
unending.... Fanet.... King of all the Gods.... Thus only shall you
escape the death that threatens. You shall swear to break my stele of
ivory, to commit my papyri to the flames unread, to burn my body and
scatter my ashes to the winds of Heaven. You shall swear by Amen-Ra,
King of Earth and Heaven, to destroy ... the oppressor and your enemy.
He has deciphered the inscriptions. He has mastered their meaning. He
knows. He cannot be permitted to live lest I ... and he the enemy exalt
himself and triumph over you and me.... Swear then, and aid shall be
accorded in your hour of need."

I gathered from this message that the ghost of Ptahmes inhabitated
the mummy before me; that Belleville had possessed himself of some
stupendous wizard power which enabled him to compel the soul and dust
of Ptahmes to obey his infamous behests, but that Ptahmes was his most
unwilling slave. I also gathered that Ptahmes promised me help if I
would take an oath to kill Belleville, to destroy certain papyri and
an ivory stele in Belleville's possession which I must promise not to
attempt to read, and also to burn the mummified remains of Ptahmes,
and so, I suppose, secure the rest of his troubled spirit. I did not
pause to reflect on the wild unreality of the happenings my senses
registered. They did not appear indeed unreal to me at all--then.
On the contrary, I felt that I was confronted with a very grave and
serious proposal, which if I decided to accept would be carried out to
the letter as regards the assistance promised me, a circumstance that
would oblige me as an honest man to keep my part of the contract. The
question remained: Would I be justified in solemnly swearing to compass
Belleville's death? Why not? Surely he deserved capital punishment if
ever a man did. By his own confession he had either murdered Frankfort
Weldon or procured his murder; and he had cold-bloodedly assured me
that he was relentlessly resolved to murder me. And there were other
things to think of. He had given me positive proof of the possession
of some unknown power over the laws of Nature which had enabled him
already to commit crimes without incurring a shadow of legal suspicion.
Were I then to effect my escape from him, it would be my duty as a
citizen of the State to do all in my power to prevent him working
further ill in the community. Yet I could not bring him to justice. I
had no evidence to produce against him which the courts would not scorn
and ridicule. The attempt to convict him of the murder he had confessed
to me, would only result in branding me in all men's eyes as a lunatic.
He would meanwhile be at liberty to go abroad to work his evil will
upon the world. He would very soon revenge himself upon me, and destroy
me in the same diabolically ingenious fashion, perhaps, in which he had
killed poor Weldon. And Miss Ottley would then be at his mercy, with
no man living to defend her. She might continue to resist him for a
time, but in the end a man so unscrupulous and implacably determined
would be sure to have his way. Able to make himself invisible--as I
believed he could--he might as a last resort rob her of her honour and
so bend her proud spirit to his wish. It was this thought that finally
determined me. I looked up and said quietly to the patient, waiting
Arab: "Ptahmes, son of Mery, son of Hap, once High Priest of Amen-Ra,
but now I know not what--I swear by the King of Earth and Heaven to
destroy the stele and papyri unread if I shall find them, to burn your
body and scatter the ashes, and to kill your enemy and mine."

The dark, fixed, corpse-like face of the Arab turned forthwith from
me. He pressed the slate to his bosom with the stump of his left
wrist and with the right hand rubbed out the hieroglyphic writing. He
then glided over to the table and replaced the slate. I followed his
movements with the most passionate attention, expecting him to return
and immediately release me from my bonds. But he did no such thing. In
the contrary, he moved slowly forward to the great sarcophagus and to
my great astonishment I saw him climb over the edge and repose himself
within the tomb. Presently he had entirely vanished from my sight. I
could hardly credit my eyes. What was the meaning of his strange act?
I waited for a few minutes, but he did not reappear. Then I called out
his name aloud: "Ptahmes! Ptahmes!"

Nothing answered me.

I racked my brains to string together an imploring sentence in the
ancient tongue of Egypt, and having fashioned one, I cried it forth
in tones of passionate entreaty, by turns commanding and beseeching
him to keep his pledge. And not once or twice, but a hundred times,
did I address him in these ways. But I might as well have cried out
to the stars. My efforts were all unavailing, and at length, wearied
out with them, I desisted and abandoned my remaining energy to the
bitter task of reactionary self-reviling. I caustically informed myself
that my brain had gone wandering. Thus until I was hot all over with
shame. Then in a more kindly spirit I cast about for excuses to salve
my intellectual vanity. I ascribed the whole wild dream that I had
dreamed to the blow my poor head had received last night. But all the
while, deep at heart, I did not believe I had dreamed. I pretended to,
in order to make sure that I still possessed a critical, scientific
faculty. But I did not believe it really. I could not. And this fact
is one more proof to me that faith in all its forms depends more upon
feeling than intellectual conviction.



Chapter XXVI

A Pleasant Chat With a Murderer


I awoke so much refreshed and free from pain that I must have slept for
many hours. Belleville was pinching my shoulder. His black-visaged face
was curiously bilious-looking, and puffy purple hollows underhung his
eyes.

"You didn't sleep thus on the banks of the Nile," he muttered, with a
sick man's frown. "You were wakeful enough then. One would think you
had been drugged."

"Indeed," said I. "But I had need to be wakeful then."

"Who set on the light," he demanded. "I swear I left you in dark. Who
has been here?"

"Your Arab," I replied. "He swept out the room and gave me a drink.
Then he climbed into the sarcophagus yonder, and unless he went away
while I slept, there you'll find him."

The rascal looked perfectly astounded. "My Arab!" he repeated, staring
sharply into my eyes. Then of a sudden he turned and simply rushed over
to the big lead coffin. Stooping over the edge, he peeped into the
interior and seemed to be shifting something with his hands. His back
was all I saw, but it moved to and fro, and he strained on tiptoe. When
he stood up his face was scarlet and his eyes were troubled. "Swept the
room, you said, and gave you a drink?" he muttered half to himself.
With that he took to examining the floor, crawling on hands and knees.
His peregrinations took him behind me, and what he did there or found
there I do not know; but he rapped out an oath and I heard him pacing
up and down, swearing in an angry undertone. So five minutes passed,
then he stalked into my view and showed me a very troubled and a very
angry countenance.

"You asked my Arab for a drink?" he cried.

"I did," said I.

"In English?"

"What else?"

"Did he answer you?"

"In the kindliest fashion possible. He assuaged my thirst."

"Blast him!" cried Belleville, all of a tremble with rage. "The villain
has been tricking me. Like enough I've loosed a force I'll yet have to
reckon with."

"I don't comprehend," said I.

"Nor need you," he rapped back. "Shut your mouth till I address you or
I'll cut your prying tongue out." The rascal was beside himself, that
was evident. And since I was quite at his mercy I thought it best to
do his bidding. He clapped a hand to his head and rushed once more to
the sarcophagus. He glared over the edge for a minute, then turned and
flung out his arms. "For two pins I'd do it now," he gasped. "Cut him
to pieces and burn the parts. It's doubtful if I'll ever get more good
out of him. But if I do that I'll kill the chance. And yet he's played
me false already. Been laughing in his sleeve at me! But no--he can't
have meant hurt or he'd have freed the prisoner. As easy that as fetch
him a drink. No doubt he was asked. Yet he's not to be trusted now,
that is evident. I'll have to gaol him, too. Let's see!"

He crossed the room and caught hold of the lid of the sarcophagus; but
do what he could he was unable to shift it. I regarded his efforts
with a deal of secret amusement. He emerged from the struggle panting
and with disordered dress, and his temper in a molten glow. But he was
not beaten. Leaving the lid alone, he wheeled a big lounge over to the
sarcophagus and, tipping it on edge, heaved it up athwart the mouth.
Then he piled everything of weight he could find atop of the lounge and
soon he had built up a pyramid which would have taken a Hercules to
shift, if shut up in the sarcophagus beneath. It was then that I began
to feel I had been a notable fool in telling Belleville anything about
the "Arab." But it was little use crying over spilt milk.

His labours over, the rascal sank into a chair before me, and began
fanning his hot face with a piece of cardboard.

"Now for our business," he presently observed. "You've probably come to
some decision, Pinsent. I wait to hear it."

"Well," I said, "the thing is in a nutshell. You've promised me nothing
but a choice of deaths. I may be a fool, but I like life so well that I
prefer a lingering sort to any other, however painless."

"You're a fool," he answered shortly, and pouted out his loose thick
lips beyond his beard, so that he seemed to have the snout of a hairy
pig. "You don't know what a pleasure it will be to me to torture you,"
he continued. "I'll make you suffer like the damned before you die."

"I don't doubt your will; it's your ability which is in question," I
said, as coolly as I was able. "You may think you have me laid here
very nicely by the heels, Dr. Belleville, and so you have in seeming.
But you're not the only man who has a knowledge of the old magic arts
of ancient Egypt. I tell you to your face that I possess a charm no
whit less potent than the one you found the secret of in yonder tomb.
And if you force me to use it, why, I shall use it. Now put that in
your pipe and smoke it."

He stood up at once, greatly surprised, much incredulous, but also a
little troubled and dubious, as I could see.

"You think you can bluff me?" he snarled. But I _had_ bluffed him. I
could read it in his eyes.

I answered him with nothing but a smile.

He assumed a sneer. His eyes glinted. He put his hand in his pocket and
produced a revolver. He cocked the weapon and put it to my temple.

"Well, you've challenged me," he jeered. "In just one minute I'll blow
your brains out. Your charm is now in question!"

For a few seconds a dark haze of blind terror shut off my power of
vision. I felt the villain meant to do what he had threatened. His
nerves had been shaken by what I had said to him about the Arab--though
why, I could not fathom--and my challenge, although the merest bluff,
had completed their disorder. He was in a spell of panic and it had
swept his reason and his resolution to the winds. He intended to kill
me in order to restore his own sense of security, and at once. And I
was impotent to prevent him. He was counting aloud, "One, two, three,
four." He had got up to fifteen before I even partially awoke out of my
trance of craven fear. But in the next five seconds I had lived a whole
series of lifetimes and I had received an inspiration born of wrath and
hate and desperate necessity.

"Look in my eyes," I shrieked at him. "And listen if you want to live."

He looked at me. I put the strength of my existence into my gaze, and
I felt a strange, wild thrill of exultation as I saw his eyes dilate
encountering the glance I threw at him.

"My death means yours," I hissed. "My monitor stands over you. You'll
be shrivelled as by lightning. We'll go together to the throne of
God! Now shoot if you will and damn your soul for all eternity!
Shoot--shoot!"

But Dr. Belleville did not shoot. His hand fell to his side. He
staggered back, staring at me open-mouthed until the chair arrested
him. I saw my advantage and pressed it home.

"Stop!" I shouted. "As you value your dirty life. Stop! Stand still and
do not turn your head. One movement and we both die. I don't want to
die for a dog like you."

He stood like a frozen image. Holding his glance with mine, I began to
mutter in a sing-song way a string of meaningless Egyptian phrases.
Then the more powerfully to impress the superstitious fool-scoundrel,
all of a sudden I uttered a loud heart-rending groan and allowed my
head to fall over on the strap that encircled and sustained my neck.
But though I only affected to swoon, the frightful amount of will
force and nervous energy I had expended in the crisis had induced
a consequential lassitude so enthralling that I came very near to
fainting in reality. And, indeed, it is quite likely that I lost my
senses for a time. Soon, however, I felt water sprinkled on my face and
slowly I raised my head. "A drink!" I gasped.

A glass was pressed to my lips. I drank thirstily and opened my eyes.
Belleville, white-faced but composed now and gloomily frowning, was my
minister.

"I make you my compliments," he said in cold, slow, even tones. "You
have a quick wit and a nerve of iron. I am glad, because they saved
me from a folly. You would cease to be of use to me dead, curse you,
though I wish you carrion, and will make you worm food before I am much
older."

"You'll not live to repent it," I replied. "I've bound your fate with
mine by ties no mortal can unsolve."

"Enough of that rubbish," he retorted harshly. "You cannot haze me
twice. You could not have at all if I had stopped to think or been
quite well. But I'm liverish and out of sorts to-day--the result of
staying up all night nursing Ottley."

"You'll see when the time comes--if you have the courage," I responded
in an acrid tone. "You cannot scare me, Belleville, because you cannot
harm me without hurting yourself--and in your deeps of heart, you
rogue, you know it."

He burst out laughing, but there was a note of nervousness in his
mocking mirth that pleased me passing well.

"Pah!" he said at last. "Would you sit there trussed up like a chooky
skewered for the table if you had the power you pretend?"

"Idiot!" I snapped. "Can electricity unbuckle straps without machinery?
Yet it can splinter rocks without an effort and without assistance."

"Ah!" said he, "ah! So you pretend----"

"Try me!" I interrupted.

"Not I," cried he. "I've encountered so many wonders lately that I'm
now beginning to regard what I of old considered the impossible as the
most likely thing of all to happen. I don't believe you, Pinsent, but
neither do I disbelieve you. Therefore, acting on the kindly hint you
dropped, I'll take all sane precautions. Au revoir."

He marched to the door, passed out and disappeared. I chewed the bitter
cud of thought for some hours. Meanwhile I grew desperately hungry, ay,
and thirsty, too. There came a time when I would have given the last of
my possessions for a beef-steak and a jug of water. And, oh! how tired
I was of my position. The blood gradually ceased to circulate properly
through all my parts. My hands became purple. My legs went to sleep. My
limbs were on a rack of pins and needles and even breathing hurt me.
I did my best by straining at the bonds at intervals to promote the
arterial flow and stop the agony of muscular irritation. But it was a
poor best, and I sank welcomely at length into a benumbed lethargic
state near akin to stupor, from which I knew I could wake to anguish by
the merest movement.

As near as I can guess twelve hours had uncoiled their lethal folds
before my infernal captor returned to the laboratory. One instant I
was sharply sensible and suffering most damnably. The rogue looked
positively sick and he smelt like a gin palace. He had evidently drunk
a deal of spirit, but he was not the least intoxicated. "It is over!"
he cried and threw himself into a chair.

"What?" I questioned.

"Ottley is dead," said he, "and I am glad of it, all said and done,
though I worked like a galley slave to keep him by me. He was a fine
cloak for my doings, but he grew wearisome--the fractious old fool--at
times. And I'm not sure I'd bring him back now--were I able."

"And Miss Ottley?"

"A pretty scene!" He shrugged his shoulders, then grimaced and
whistled. "I'm her father's murderer, it seems!" He stretched out
his arms and yawned. "But she's not responsible, poor thing--grief
demented. The two consulting physicians heartily sympathised with
me. They knew how I had worked, you see, and Sir Philip Lang himself
suggested morphia. They've signed a paper giving me control of
her--under their directions I'm trustee of the estate under the will
besides. Lang thinks she may recover--ultimately, but it is evident
that she must be confined. She raved of mummies, and spirits, and dead
men come to life from the sleep of ages, and so forth. It impressed
Lang, vastly. He tapped his sage old head and muttered 'Too much
learning.' He has a fad that woman's brains are nurtured best on pap,
and I had the tact to humour him. Oh! I'm a devilish clever fellow,
Pinsent. What do you think?"

"There is little doubt of it," I said politely, very politely, indeed,
for I wished to get as much information from him as I could and also
something to eat and drink. "With your brains you might do anything.
I suspect I have hitherto misjudged you. Still, I wonder that you are
not an archbishop. It seems to me the Church would give you the proper
cloak you need to exercise your talents in."

"Gad!" he cried. "There's point in that remark. But between ourselves,
Pinsent, I aim at higher game than spiritual power."

"Temporal," I suggested.

"The highest," he answered, sitting up. "And what's to prevent me?" he
asked defiantly. "No man's life is safe from me."

I was puzzled. "You'd not make yourself eligible for kingship by
killing kings," I said.

"Kingship be damned," he sneered. "My father was an earl's bastard, but
as for me, I'm a pure democrat. No, no, I'm going to abolish royalty.
It has served its turn."

"But where do you come in?"

"The pleasure of the game is mine, the knowledge and the ecstasy of
power unlimited to make and break."

"Oh! oh! my tiger, having tasted blood already, once at least, the
thirst grows on you."

"Once at least--bah!" he jeered, grinning like a fiend.

"Pardon my ignorance," I entreated. "Who was your latest victim."

"Navarro," he answered, grinning still. "The scamp is a true
clairvoyant and had to be shut up. He leaped from London Bridge the
night you came here and stepped like a poor rabbit into the trap I laid
for you."

"Well," said I, in tones husky with throat dryness and apparent
admiration, "that makes two--Weldon and Navarro?"

"There is a third still," he answered, fairly snapping at the bait. "My
old grandfather, the Earl of Havelock."

"And why did you murder him?"

"For his snobbish refusal to receive me as his kin ten years ago."

"Might one ask how?"

"It's a story to entertain," he answered, licking his lips. "He was
over eighty, but he'd kept all his faculties, else ther'd been no joy
in killing him. A week since, I went to him invisible, entering the
house with my blood cousin, now the Earl, soon after midnight returning
from a carousal. He did not see me, of course, and I took care not to
let him hear. But little care was needed, the degenerate was filthy
drunk. It was easy to find the old earl's room, the young man got
so sober passing it. The door was unlocked, too, so I had no trouble
first and last. I went over to the old chap's bed and looked at him
and laughed to see. He slept with his mouth wide and his toothless
gums were hideously funny. His teeth were in a glass of H2O beside the
bed. I pulled his nose to waken him, having first turned on the lights
full. Then I played the ghost of my dead father. 'Your hour is come,'
says I. 'I'm the spirit of your bastard son come to warn you.' He shook
all over, palsied with fear. 'No--no--no,' he gasped, 'I'm not fit to
die.' 'You're not fit to live,' I whispered, stern as fate. 'How have
you treated the son of your bastard son? Have you been kind to him and
helped him in the world.' 'Mercy, mercy!' he whined. 'I know I have
been remiss, but give one more chance--another year--a week--a day--and
I'll do my duty. I'll bar the entail, I'll give him all.'

"'Wretch!' I hissed--and sat me on his chest. It was heaven sweet to
hear his stifled moans. He did not struggle at all. And my only regret
was it was so soon over. He broke a vessel and smothered in his own
blood. The papers announced next day that he had died of the syncope of
senility peacefully while sleeping. Ha, ha, ha!"

I echoed the heartless villain's laugh, croaking out guffaws. The sound
irritated him. "Stop that raucous row!" he ordered.

"Then stop telling me funny stories, or else give me something to
drink!" I snapped.

He sprang afoot at once. "Lord!" he cried, "I'm not proposing to starve
you to death. Why the deuce did you not remind me? You've been--let's
see--sixty hours without food."

"Sixty!" I gasped. "Impossible."

"It's a fact," he said, and stalked out of the room. But he returned
within a few minutes carrying a tray set with cold meats and wine
which he set on a little table and wheeled before me. Then he freed my
right hand and stood over me with a revolver while I ate. But I could
not eat at once, for the good reason that my arm was paralyzed, and
minutes passed before I could make use of it. Even then it pained like
a raw scald. But I suppressed a reference to its condition and at the
earliest instant cleared the board in the fashion of a famished wolf.
Afterwards he bound me up again, standing behind me to do it, out
of respect for my strength, no doubt. Then he put up his pistol and
resumed his chair.

"Upon my soul, I enjoy a chat with you," he assured me. "You see,
I have no one else to confide in"--here he grinned--"and there's a
peculiar pleasure in unbosoming to a helpless enemy."

"The pleasure is mutual," I protested courteously. "No other man has
given me such mental pabulum."

He closed one eye in a very vulgar manner, "Confess you expire with
curiosity to hear more of my beautiful fiancée--the woman you love!"

"The more readily," I responded, "because I know you'll be delighted to
taunt me with the satisfaction of that same curiosity."

"Ah!" said he. "You are a foeman worthy of my steel. My heart warms
with hate for you; respectful hate." He took out a silver pocket flask
of spirit and filled the cup.

At this he began to sip, eyeing me the while with secret delight at my
carefully repressed impatience. But he was too anxious to torture me
directly to keep me waiting long.

"She's in a drugged sleep this moment," he announced. "I'll keep her
like that till after the funeral."

"That's unlike you," I remarked. "It's almost kind."

"Pish!" said he, "I can't afford to let her out of my control even for
a moment."

"So?"

"So."

"But you will have to let her see her relatives, eh?"

"Fortunately she hasn't one blood relation in England. Her mother was
an Australian, a Victorian farmer's daughter, and Ottley took good care
not to marry the family. She has never even seen one of her mother's
people."

"But her father's?"

"She is just as fortunately placed, from my point of view, in this
regard. Ottley was the only son. And although I believe there is an old
maiden aunt twice removed knocking round somewhere in Wales, I'm not
afraid of her. She's bed-ridden and a pensioner. As I'm trustee of the
estate she'll do what I tell her and stay where she is or I'll know the
reason why."

"I'm sure you will," I agreed with pious fervour.

"The Fates seem to have deliberately conspired to assist me in every
possible way," continued Belleville. "The only real woman friend Miss
Ottley had, Lady Helen Hubbard, has gone to South America with her
husband, and the only man friend who might have helped her sits in that
chair. There is not another soul in England who has either the shadow
of a right or interest to question my treatment. I'm her sole trustee
and as well as that her legal guardian, for although she is over age
she does not come into control of her fortune until she is twenty-seven
unless she marries in the meanwhile."

"You propose, of course, that she shall marry you. When?"

"Oh, in a few days' time. It will naturally be a secret marriage
in order to save scandal. But I'm determined it shall take place
immediately."

"And afterwards--how will you treat her?" I had hard work to grind this
question out.

Belleville gave a nasty laugh. "That depends on herself," he answered.
"If she is a dutiful, docile wife she will have little cause to
grumble."

"And--if not?"

"You know me and ask that?" he cried. Then he laughed again, stood up
and shook himself. "I'm going to indulge in a nice comfortable sleep,"
he said. "You may not know it, Pinsent, but it's almost midnight. Take
my advice and go to by-by, too! Pleasant dreams to you and au revoir."
He went out gaping with yawns, but he turned out the lights as he went,
and once more darkness enfolded me.



Chapter XXVII

Unbound


It is not worth while describing the next few days. They were quite or
almost colourless. Once each four and twenty hours, Belleville, taking
sound precautions, released me for a short while from my prison chair
to let me stretch my limbs and in the interests of keeping me alive for
his own purposes. We had very little conversation, for he had fallen
into a morose and gloomy mood, the result of an attack of insomnia. In
answer to direct questions I learned that Sir Robert Ottley's funeral
had passed without incident, but that Miss Ottley's violent grief had
been succeeded by a long stupor. She was being nursed by a creature
of Belleville's, an old Frenchwoman named Elise Lorraine in whom he
evidently reposed a deal of confidence. Belleville spent most of his
time at work in the laboratory, but what he did I could not see, for he
conducted his labours behind my chair. On one occasion he gave way to
a savage fit of passion, and without any cause whatever that I could
perceive, he broke a number of glass implements upon the floor. Another
time, having cut his hand in some experiment, he revenged himself by
flogging me with a piece of whalebone until my flesh wherever he could
reach it was covered with weals and blisters. He was not a nice man to
live with and my hatred of him grew daily more intense. But perforce
I was civil to him. On the eighth day he entered the room with a
chalk-white face. I knew at once that something had happened; but I was
not to learn what it was immediately. He disappeared forthwith behind
my chair and for ten minutes stamped about swearing like a pagan.
Then the lights went out of a sudden and he departed in the dark. He
returned about four hours later, but I did not see him enter, although
he put on the lights immediately. I heard him pass my chair; that
was all. But a few seconds later a sharp and most acridly irritating
odour filled the room, and soon afterwards he came forward and sank
into his accustomed chair, opposite to mine. He looked positively
ghastly. "To-morrow morning England will mourn the loss of her greatest
physician," he announced in quivering tones. "Sir Philip Lang has just
committed suicide."

"What!" I cried in deep astonishment. "Sir Philip Lang!"

He bared his teeth. "The world will think so," he snarled. "But in
reality--but there, you shall judge. This afternoon without giving me
notice the fool came to this house, forced his way into the sick room
and had a long private conversation with May Ottley. I do not know
to what conclusion he came, but she must have persuaded him of her
sanity, for he ordered Elise to take her out for a walk; and if it had
not been that Elise refused to obey him pending my arrival there would
have been a pretty kettle of fish for me to fry. However, he won't
trouble me again."

"You murdered him!" I gasped.

"Like an artist," said Belleville. "I stole upon him while he sat
in his private sitting-room at supper and, standing opposite to him
unseen, I reached out and poured some aconite into his wine. He was
dead inside a quarter hour, and I took care that he made no outcry. The
verdict should be suicide, I think. Don't you?"

With that he got up and left me.

That night while I slept he dosed me with chloroform, and while I was
senseless he drew over my clothes a suit of rubber overalls. He also
did whatever was necessary to render me invisible, and he gagged me
with a piece of steel thrust under my tongue and secured around my
throat and neck with fine wire that bit deep in the flesh. I awoke
groaning with agony to find that I was stretched out on the naked
framework of an iron bed.

Belleville stood over me grasping Miss Ottley by the hand. When I saw
her I stopped groaning as if by instinct. I knew at once that she
did not see anything except the bed. She looked well, but tragically
sorrowful and wild. She was staring as it were through me.

"You see nothing," said Belleville's hollow voice, "but his spirit lies
there for all that. It is in my power and cannot escape without I set
it free. You know my price. It is for you to rule his fate, through me
if so you wish.

"What!" he continued, "do you not believe--well, then, look now!"

Of a sudden he flashed a blue lighted lanthorn into my face and he did
something else which sent a thousand stinging currents of electric
anguish quivering along my nerves. I uttered a shriek, but the gag
stifled it to a hissing wail, and then I fell to breathing groans.
Hell can have no worse torments than that villain had devised for my
undoing. Had my mouth been unfettered I should have besought the woman
I adored for death at any price for rest of pain. As it was I prayed
her with my eyes--and she saw and took a message.

"Let him go!" she sobbed, "and I will marry you. Oh, this is horrible!"

On instant the blue light faded out and a blessed heaven of diminished
torture gave me peace.

Belleville took from his breast a naked dagger which he put into the
girl's hand. "Strike, then!" he said, "Strike here," and he put his
finger on my breast.

The devil proposed to make his innocent victim a murderess. I saw his
purpose, and with every atom of my strength I groaned. It was the only
warning I could send.

But I had played right into Belleville's hands.

"Hear him implore you!" cried Belleville.

"Oh! I can't, I can't," she wailed.

"'Tis only a spirit--and it's the only way," he protested warmly.

Miss Ottley swung around suddenly and drove the dagger at his heart,
but he had been expecting it. He caught her wrist and laughed. Then all
my anguish recommenced. In the midst of it, made desperate, the girl
leaned right across the bed and struck. The blade glanced down upon a
rib and deeply pierced my side. Providence, surely, had directed the
blow. She withdrew the dagger, then screamed aloud to see it dripping
with blood. Belleville caught her in his arms and bore her roughly
back. He bent her body on a table until she was as helpless as a dove,
then took the blade and drew the horrid thing across her lips; so they
were carmined with my blood.

"By this and this you'll remember you are mine," he said, and kissed
her lips till his were bloody, too. Then the two stared deep into each
other's eyes.

"I've killed his body; you, his soul," said Belleville. "We're well
mated, you and I. There--I've no longer any fear you'll hurt yourself.
You'll be henceforth too much afraid of him to die."

He let her go, and stood away from her. She swayed erect, then came
forward till she stood beside me. I held my very breath for fear that
she would hear. I don't know why.

"It is all a trick--a cruel, devilish trick. There's nothing there!"
said the girl, her bosom heaving as she spoke.

Belleville laughed like a hyena. "Feel--if you dare!" he cried.

But she took him at his word. Her hands went out and, guided by a dark
blotch which, as afterwards I learned she saw, she put them on my wound
and drew them swiftly back ensanguined. Then horror settled on her like
a black cloud on a mountain top. She turned about with one loud gasping
sigh and sank down in a lifeless heap at Belleville's feet.

Soon afterwards I swooned, too, from pain and loss of blood. When I
awoke my wound was neatly bandaged, and I was once more seated in my
chair.

Belleville sat opposite smoking a cigar. He was dressed very smartly
in a frock suit and a tall hat was set jauntily on his brow. He wore a
geranium in his buttonhole. His face was wreathed in smiles. A bottle
of champagne was set before him on a table and he sipped at a glass
with an air of triumphant good-humour.

I found that I could speak; my gag had been removed.

"Water!" I implored him.

He started, then pressed forward with his glass. "Where the devil is
your mouth?" he said.

He could not see me, that was plain.

"Here!" said I. "Water."

"It is my wedding morn--and you shall toast me in wine or go
thirsting," he rapped out.

Then he found my lips and I drank life into my veins. I have never
tasted draught one-half so glorious.

"I was married less than an hour ago," he said, "at a registrar's
office. She's no longer Miss Ottley, Pinsent."

I was silent.

"Do you hear me, man?" he demanded.

"I hear," I answered.

He nodded his head and smiled. "I suppose you are wondering why you're
still alive, eh?"

"You'll die when I die," I muttered wearily. "You are afraid to kill
me, that is why."

"Bosh!" he flashed back. "I have a better reason far. To-morrow she
will be my wife indeed--a maid no longer--Pinsent. It was worth keeping
you alive to gloat on that."

"Oh! I see."

"But you don't see everything, Pinsent. She insists upon seeing your
body to-day in order to be sure that you are dead."

"Ah!"

"She still has a lingering doubt that I have tricked her, and she has
sworn on the cross that unless I produce your corpse for her inspection
she will take her own life rather than--you can guess what, Pinsent."

"Yes--I can guess."

"So you see the time draws nigh for you to die."

"God only knows."

The villain frowned. "But before you go you must do something for me."

"And that?"

"You must write her a letter telling her that your only hope of soul
resurrection and salvation lies in her obeying me. She now considers me
a dangerous magician, but I want her to regard me as a sort of deity."

"I will not do it, Belleville. You ought to know me better by this."

"I think you will," said he. "That is if you really care for her. You
see it will save her a lot of--let's call it inconvenience. With such a
weapon as your message I can rule her kindly. But rule her in any case
I shall. If you deny me I'll gag you this moment so you can't make a
sound, then I'll bring her here and beat her as I would a dog. How will
you like that?"

"I'll write the letter," I said huskily.

A few minutes later the thing was done, and I had signed my name to
the atrocious expressions of his demand. To transcribe them I am too
ashamed.

"What now?" I asked.

"The last scene in the last act," said he, as he put the letter in
his pocket. "I may tell you that I intend always to keep your body by
me--for her to look at--if she ever shows a mind to mutiny."

"In spirits?" I questioned.

"The embalming oil of the princes of old Egypt. I found the receipt in
Ptahmes' tomb," he answered. "I propose to convert you into a mummy."

With that he took off his hat and coat, rolled up his sleeves and put
on a huge oil-skin apron. "I'll not kill you till the last moment
necessary," he observed. "In fact, you'll be half-mummy before you
die; I have a curiosity to discover if the process of substitution is
painful. I rather think it must be."

He moved over as he spoke to the sarcophagus and began to shift the
objects that sealed up the mouth. It took him some minutes to do so,
and as he put down the couch, last of all, one of the castors crashed
upon his toe. He cursed the misfortune like a madman and danced
about the floor on one foot like a dervish, winding up by striking
me brutally with closed fist on the lips. That gave him back his
self-control.

"I'll teach you to laugh at me," he growled. Then he returned to his
work and stooping over the great coffin he hauled out the lifeless
mummy that had rested there so long. For an instant I glimpsed the
strange dead features of the dust of Ptahmes which so strikingly
resembled the effigy carven on the lid of the sarcophagus and also the
Arab who had twice in Egypt attempted to destroy me. Then Belleville
carelessly threw the thing upon the couch; and traversed the room to
where stood three glass jars filled with a dark viscous fluid. One by
one he rolled these on end across the floor till all three stood beside
the coffin. Afterwards he disappeared behind my chair, returning soon,
his head covered with a long breathing mask. I watched him--one may
guess with what passionate attention. He unscrewed the stopper of the
nearest jar, seized the thing bodily in his arms and poured out the
contents into the sarcophagus. A curious cloud-like steam arose that
hazed the prospect, but soon it dissipated. The air was filled with the
perfume I had first smelt in the cave temple of the Hill of Rakh. But
it was not altogether overpowering. It made my pulses throb and brought
a great rush of blood to my head and hands and feet much as would the
scent of amyl nitrate. But it did not take away my senses. Belleville,
protected by his mask, was in no way affected. He quickly unstoppered
the second jar, and added its contents to the first. Then he turned and
approached me, taking off his helmet as he came. The action apprised
me that the wonderful perfume had almost died away. There was now a
healthy and stimulating odour in the room that resembled boiling tar.
Evidently the two jars had contained different chemicals. A loud,
seething, bubbling sound was plainly to be heard; it came from the
sarcophagus.

Belleville sat down and wiped his forehead with a handkerchief. "We
must give the stuff ten minutes to mix," he said and, taking out his
watch, he glanced at the time. "It's twenty past eleven," he remarked.
"You'll begin to mummify at the half hour precisely, Pinsent, so if you
are a religious man you'd best compose your soul in prayer."

I am not ashamed to say that I followed his advice. I closed my eyes
and asked the Omnipotent for remission of my sins. And since it seemed
to me that my hour had come, I resolutely put aside my detestation
of the monster who designed to murder me, and I even asked for his
forgiveness, too. Then a great, deep, splendid peace mantled over me,
and for the first time in my life I truly realised the littleness of
man's existence and the majesty of resignation. It was almost worth
while to go through all I had been compelled to endure to experience
at the end that mood of grand, calm dignity. I felt almost sublimely
detached from my surroundings. I opened my eyes at last and said with
perfect calm:

"I am ready, Belleville."

He stood up and stretched out his arms, yawning widely. Then of a
sudden everything was dark.

"What in Hell----?" shouted Belleville. I heard him rush forward
cursing angrily, then he stumbled and fell headlong to the floor amidst
a crash of glass. In the same instant unseen hands fumbled over me. My
bonds suddenly relaxed and I was free. I stood up, stiff but quivering
in every nerve. There followed a rasping sound, a match flickered into
light, and I saw Belleville rising from the ruins of a broken jar. He
held the lucifer above his head, and it showed standing at an angle
between us the tall frame of the Arab of the cave temple at Rakh.

Belleville ripped out an oath. There came a blinding flash of light and
the deafening report of a revolver. I staggered from the chair to the
wall and leaned against it, helpless as a babe. The echoes were still
thundering in rolling waves of brain-dazing sound from wall to wall
when the pitch blackness of the room was again relieved by the glare
of electricity. Belleville had succeeded in turning on the lights. He
stood by the door peering all about him. For a moment I thought all was
up. I was free, certainly, but my muscles were so cramped and tautened
that I could hardly move a finger. I was not fit to contend against
a breath of wind, let alone a burly ruffian like the Doctor. But the
next instant I remembered I was still invisible. I could not see my own
hand held before me, and I had immediate proof that he was unable to
perceive me.

"Where are you, Pinsent? are you hurt?" he cried.

I did not answer, but, following his glance, I looked at the couch and
there I saw what utterly astounded me. The mummy of Ptahmes lay upon
the couch in exactly the same attitude as when Belleville had flung
it there aside from the sarcophagus. Who, then, or what, had set me
free? I examined the apartment eagerly, but saw nothing living save
Belleville, who with cocked revolver thrust out before him now stepped
forward cautiously into the room, waving his arms about him as he
walked, and muttering, as he walked, through clenched teeth a string of
angry blasphemies.



Chapter XXVIII

The Struggle in the Chamber


The advantage I possessed was dangerously minimised by my physical
incapacity, but I hoped, given time, to get back some measure of
strength. The great thing was to preserve my liberty until I had
acquired force enough to use it. I speedily realised that I could not
remain where I was, for Belleville was making towards me and reflection
would soon teach him that weakness would compel me to seek a prop
for my support. But I feared to move lest the sound should betray my
whereabouts. For the same reason I almost feared to breathe. I thought
to myself, "Oh, that he would fire again so that I could move elsewhere
under cover of the noise."

Once or twice he seemed to look me in the eye. He made a zigzag to my
chair. There he paused and listened. I ceased to breathe. Only six feet
separated us. But impatience consumed him. "Tell me where you are!"
he growled, "or by the Lord when I catch you I'll tear you limb from
limb." I breathed while he spoke and ceased when he stopped.

"You can't escape me!" he snarled. "I've only to light my blue lamp
and I'll find you in a minute. But if you put me to that trouble and
make me waste my precious oil besides, well, look out, that's all!"

I clenched and unclenched my hands; the use of them was coming back to
me.

"Very well," said Belleville. He passed my chair and stalked to the
other end of the room, where he opened a cabinet. I moved slowly
and painfully to the very centre of the room. Then I stood stock
still. Belleville, returning, paused within a foot of me. He carried
a bull's-eye lanthorn. This he put upon the table, and presently he
struck a match. A moment later a round shaft of intense blue radiance
shot across the room and marked a moon-shaped sphere on the wall. It
began to flit along the wall, up and down from the very floor to the
height of a man's chest, until it touched the corner. Then it flashed
back twice over the same path, and afterwards attacked the next wall.
Sooner or later it would be bound to encounter and, perhaps, discover
me. But Belleville was only a few feet off. Perhaps if I sank down
the shaft would pass over me without touching. At least I could try.
Suppressing a shriek of agony, I crouched upon my hands and knees. Then
came another thought. Slowly and laboriously I began to crawl nearer
and nearer to my enemy. The blue shaft was now shooting right over my
head. I crept behind him and, breathing noiselessly, stood up. If
I had possessed a tithe of my strength I might have reached out and
caught his neck and strangled him with ease. But I dared not risk it.
All on a sudden he uttered an oath. The lamp had gone out. "Damn the
thing!" he growled. Putting down his revolver on the table, he opened
the lamp and peered in at the smoking wick. We were now face to face
and his cocked weapon lay within eighteen inches of my hand. I tried
my fingers and found that they were reasonably supple. The blood was
streaming through the puffy veins and vesicles. The operation hurt
horribly; in fact, I was one mass of crude, raw, painful man flesh. But
now I was full of hope and despite the muscular torments of returning
animation I felt that my vigour was returning. Belleville snuffed the
wick and struck a match along the table. The head came off. He took
another and rubbed it on the sole of his shoe, stooping slightly to do
so. As he moved I reached out and twined my fingers round the hilt of
his revolver. But I had not the strength to lift it up. I cannot paint
the agony of that experience. I exerted every atom of my will, but my
hand was like a putty puppet. Tantalus never suffered torture half as
keen. Withdrawing my hand, I put the fingers in my mouth and sucked
the still half-lifeless digits. Meanwhile, the lamp flickered alight;
Belleville took up his revolver and resumed his task. I watched him
hungrily. The blue shaft once more began to play and stab the walls.
It darted hither and thither, like an incandescent elf, dancing up
and down and round and round, and into every hole and cranny of the
room. But it did not find me out, because moving round and round the
table as Belleville moved I always kept behind him. But this could not
last for ever, and, indeed, the end came too soon. Belleville uttered
suddenly a savage curse and swung round full upon me. Perhaps I had
made some sound that had betrayed me to his nerve-strained senses. I do
not know. He cried, "Ha! at last," and fired point blank. The bullet
whistled past my temple. The smoke of the discharge flamed blue in the
rays of the lanthorn. I fell upon the table and thrust it like a ram
with all my force against my adversary. He fired again and once more
missed, but ere he could repeat his tactics the table struck him and
the lanthorn fell. He staggered back and the lanthorn rolled underneath
the table. I pushed the table forward and kicked the lanthorn with my
foot. It went out. Belleville, recovering his equilibrium, stood like
an image peering straight at me and listening. Yet he did not see me:
and for the moment I was safe, for the table was between us. But the
man had brains. Judging swiftly where I was most likely to be, he gave
an unexpected spring and vaulted clear across the obstacle. I had just
time to step back ere he landed. He swung his arms about like flails,
but failing immediately to find me, his ugly temper must needs flare
up in curses. It was just what I needed to cover the sound of my
movements. I evaded him and returned to the table, and then he knew
not where I was. In a few moments he realised his folly and, once more
relapsing into silence, he took up his lamp. But the oil had either
been wasted or was exhausted. The wick refused to catch. He groaned
out a blasphemous oath on this discovery, and rushed down to the
cabinet, from which first he had procured the lanthorn. I followed him
as swiftly as I could, having care to make no sound, and while he was
filling the lamp with oil from a beautifully carven vase of solid gold
Egyptian ware of the fifteenth dynasty, I once more put my hand upon
the hilt of his revolver, which he had momentarily laid upon the edge
of the cabinet. But this time I found I could hold and use it, too.
Shadow-like, I caught it up and put my finger on the trigger. Then I
backed away a yard or two and leaned upon a case of glass and steel.

"Belleville!" said I.

He started as though an adder had stung him, then seeing his pistol
gone, he let both vase and lanthorn fall in his dismay and swung on
heel to face my voice.

"It's my turn now," I muttered. "Hands above your head--up, man,
up--higher--higher!" He saw the muzzle pointing at his breast and
sullenly obeyed. I made him walk backwards to the chair that formerly
had prisoned me and sit in it. And then, the steel pressed to his ear
to keep him still, I managed, with one hand, to pass a strap around
his throat and buckle it. Afterwards I similarly bound his wrists
and ankles. When all was done I was so sore spent, so hideously full
of weary pain, that I lay upon the floor and sank immediately into a
troubled sleep. Belleville woke me with his struggles to get free.
Somehow or other he had pryed himself on tiptoe backward, and the heavy
chair, overbalancing, had dragged him over in its fall. That I had
not heard, but the weight of iron and his own body was all curiously
pressed upon one forearm, and the pain of it set him groaning like a
wounded bull. The strangest thing of all was that this arm was free.
Somehow or other he had writhed it loose. After I had tied it up again
I sat down to think what I should do. I was not, however, in the mood
to sit in judgment on him then, for although much stronger from my
sleep, the exertion hurt, and every pang I suffered was too powerful
an advocate of vengeance to let me try the rascal soberly. I needed
food and drink. Not finding any in the room, I tried the door and
after some short search, made out its fastening--a simple but clever
slip of prodigious strength. I found the key to it in Belleville's
pocket. He was madly anxious to be made acquainted with his fate, but I
turned a deaf ear to all his questions, and slipping out of the room,
I slammed the door on his solicitations. I found myself in a long,
blind passage, lighted with a single jet, with another padded door
set in its farthest end. This opened to the same key as the first. It
gave me egress on a second passage, which led by three right angles
to a big velvet-draped arch and a bifurcated maze of broad-balconied
corridors. Here I saw the natural light of day for the first time in
more than a week. Ah! how I revelled in it. I stopped before an open
window and peered forth on a walled courtyard and the blank, tall wall
of a neighbouring mansion beyond. Street sounds percolated to my ears.
It was like coming back to life from the grave. Drawing back from the
window, after some deep, delicious moments, I looked to find my body
and my hands and feet. But I could not see aught but vague, delusive
shadows, though the sunbeams glistened on me. The phenomenon filled
me with a new sense of marvel and uncertainty. I had to pinch myself
to make sure I was not a disembodied phantom--such stuff as dreams
are made of. Yet I was real enough to touch, thank Heaven. Reassured,
I made for the nearest door and softly tried it. Within was a man's
bedroom--Belleville's, perhaps. It was untenanted. The next apartment
was a sitting-room. It was also untenanted, but it contained a table,
cover-spread for two. With a sigh of joy, I entered and hurried to the
table. Under the first cover was a cold partridge pie. I did not touch
the others, but, Lord, how I enjoyed that pie! I might have been a
wolf--and then champagne! Later, seduced by an open cigar-box on the
mantel, I threw myself upon a lounge and lit a weed. In ten minutes I
was my own man again, and almost comfortable, for the torments that had
racked my wretched muscles on reawakening from their tethered lethargy,
were disappearing fast. But I was not permitted longer rest. Warned by
a tap on the door, I had barely time to toss my cigar into the grate,
when the door opened and a short, squat negro stepped into the room.
He carried a salver of sweetmeats to the table; he stopped short and
uttered a guttural exclamation of surprise. Next instant he was joined
by a companion, but no negro, an Arab, a tall, thin Arab, who was the
living counterpart of the mummified corpse of Ptahmes I had left in the
laboratory, and of the mysterious scoundrel who had attempted my life
in the cave temple at Rakh, and at my camp on the banks of the Nile. I
was so utterly astounded that I wonder I did not shout out my amazement.

The negro spoke in Arabic. "By Allah, he has eaten and alone," he
cried. "Now tell me, Ptahmes, how a man shall serve a master with so
little feeling for his servants."

The Arab stalked solemnly over to the table and eyed the ruined pie.

"He hungered. He ate. May his shadow increase," he drawled.

"For my part," retorted the Nubian, with an ill-natured scowl, "his
shadow may wither and I shall not grieve. It is impossible to please
him."

"His gold is good and hard and yellow and much," said the Arab, in a
sort of sing-song.

"Add to that ill-got," replied the negro, "and I shall be an echo to
your speech. Natamkin tells me that the lady weeps still, though no
more a prisoner, and he took her forth into his whirling Babel town
this morning. He has put a spell on her to deprive her of her gold."

"What matter if he shares it with his slaves?" demanded the Arab.

"I fear him," said the Nubian.

"I also," drawled the Arab. "But guard your idle tongue Uromi! He may
be listening to us now."

The negro shuddered and made as if to hastily depart. But the Arab
laughed, and he stopped looking both angry and ashamed.

"Allah!" he exclaimed, "you laugh, but you may have spoken true."

"Ugh!" said the Arab, "he has bigger fish to fry--the white man you
enticed into the room of wonders dies to-day."

"You--know that, Ptahmes!"

"Ay--I am to help him to embalm the body. Now I think of it, I wonder
he has eaten. I was to stir the pot while he made merry with the lady
over wine--the unbelieving dog. At one of the clock he ordered me to go
to him. 'Tis almost time."

"Will you not fear to stay alone in that great room of magic, Ptahmes?"

"Like enough, Uromi, but I shall think me of the pay and work with
tight-shut eyes till he returns."

"What has he promised you?"

"Five pieces of gold, Uromi. Do you covet them?"

"I would not cross the threshold of that room for ten times five."

"You have a chicken's heart, Uromi."

"And you a miser's gizzard."

The Arab uttered a sardonic laugh. "Get to your woman's work!" he
sneered. "And clear those things away! You had better tell Natamkin to
serve the lady in her room!"

"And you--oh, great Lord!" growled the Nubian, with elephantine sarcasm.

The Arab, however, did not trouble himself to answer. With a mien of
princely dignity he stalked in silence to the door and vanished.

I said to myself, "There, without doubt, goes the man who, in the nick
of time, released me from my bonds. He is my friend." The reflection
gave me substantial satisfaction, for much against my will I had
hitherto been compelled to ascribe my salvation to a supernatural
agency. But now all was changed. Without doubt the Arab had been
secretly watching over me, and when the time came he turned out
the lights, rushed into the laboratory and unfastened my straps.
Afterwards, he had adroitly managed to escape before Belleville could
turn on the lights again. No doubt, too, this Arab was the man of
my dream, who had bargained with me to kill Belleville when I got
free, to destroy the mummy of Ptahmes, the Priest of Amen-Ra--and his
papyri and steles. Why he should have driven such a bargain I could
not fathom. And why, moreover, he should have taken the trouble to
impersonate the mummy and pretend he could not speak, I was also at a
loss to understand. Suddenly I remembered that the animated mummy of my
dream had conversed with me in the tongue of Ancient Egypt per medium
of a slate and had seemed not to understand modern Arabic. Also, his
left hand had been removed--and this Arab enjoyed the undiminished
use of his. My head whirled at the contemplation of these essential
contradictions. Were they one and the same man or not? Was it possible
that Belleville's Arab servant could be a professor of the language
of Sesostris? And I recollected, too, how closely I had scrutinised
the ghostly mummy's face and realised its utter deadness. The mystery,
after all, was not to be as easily solved as my first warm flush of
fancy had conceived. Realising this, I put it out of mind and arose to
address myself to the practical affair that lay before me. The Nubian
was in the act of quitting the room, laden with a heavy tray of dishes.
I followed him out into the corridor and leisurely made back to the
laboratory. I met nobody en route, but once inside the blind passage,
which opened on my old prison chamber, I became aware that something
had gone wrong. The air was heavy with the mysterious scent of the
sarcophagus. Moreover, the door of the laboratory which I had been
careful to shut close was now ajar. Instinctively, I slipped the key I
had just used on the outer door, into my mouth and hurried softly up
the passage. There a bewildering surprise awaited me. The laboratory
was apparently untenanted by living beings. The mummy of Ptahmes still
lay upon the couch. The straps which had fastened Belleville to the
chair were all unfastened and Belleville himself had disappeared. Yet
there were noises in the room, noises of footfalls and the tinkling
of glass. Presently I saw a large glass phial move quietly from a
marble slab and stand poised in air. A second later the stopper,
which had been laid beside it, sprang up, too, and settled neatly in
the phial's mouth. Then the bottle leaped up high into the air and
settled, with mysterious precision, on a shelf. I stared at these
wonders half-understanding, half-dazed. But soon I comprehended all.
Belleville's voice speaking in Arabic came to me through the hush.

"That will do, I think. There only remains for us to steal upon him now
and take him by surprise. Serve me well in this, Ptahmes, and I shall
treble your reward."

"The man is of iron strength, master," answered the Arab's voice. "It
is true that we are two to one and he is unsuspicious, but I should
like well to have a knife."

"Nonsense," retorted Belleville. "I cannot make steel invisible. We
must needs trust to the sandbags. Now lead on to the lady's room and
take care from this moment that you make no sound."

On this I left the doorway and, slipping into the opposite corner,
pressed flat against the wall. Presently the door creaked open and I
heard the noise of breathing. I followed it as gently as a shadow,
halting sharply when I could not hear it or it grew too near. I was
weaponless--for I had left Belleville's revolver in the laboratory
ere for the first time leaving it. But still, I dared not arm myself,
for to have done so would have given my adversaries, sooner or later,
a certain clue to my position; and my only hope of worsting them now
consisted in preserving my absolute invisibility and at the same
time knowing where, in the general sense, they were. My first great
difficulty arose in the passage of the outer door. I dared not slip
out with them, and since they locked it after them, I was forced to
wait some time before I deemed it safe to open it again. Thus, when I
reached the outer passage there was absolutely nothing left to guide
my steps. However, I hurried to the arch and thence looked forth along
the bifurcated corridor. Seeing and hearing nothing, I sank to the
floor, and like an Indian pressed my ear against the boards. One
far-off panel a little later creaked distinctly. Wood, though carpeted,
is a fine sound conductor. This gave me the direction. Hot foot I
followed it. But soon I came to a corner and beyond a short, wide
cul-de-sac, with three closed doors. Here I stopped with straining ears
and listened with a beating heart and bated breath. The conspirators
were there, beyond the scope of doubt; and presently I knew the door
they wished to pass. I saw the handle turn and heard a sigh. "Locked,"
murmured a voice in English--then in Arabic it breathed. "Keep closely
by me, Ptahmes, hold my coat!" Three sharp raps followed on the panels.
A voice that thrilled me, asked within the room, "Who is there?"

A voice, the cleverly twisted voice of Belleville, answered in a sharp
falsetto from without, "It is I, my dear young lady, Sir Philip Lang."

The door was immediately opened and I saw the sad face of my sweetheart.

"Sir Philip!" she cried--then, seeing no one, she stopped, dismayed. Of
a sudden she uttered a shriek and fell back into the room, back, back,
clasping her hands to her neck and struggling to cry out. I guessed the
reason instantly--Belleville had seized her by the throat. I sprang
to her assistance, but paused again--by a miracle, in time--just
across the threshold. Miss Ottley--I shall not, cannot call her Mrs.
Belleville, though, indeed, she was--went spinning across the room,
free, I saw. I slipped along the wall beside the lintel and waited,
holding breath. What next? The door slammed and the bolt shot in answer
to my question. Then came a long silence. Miss Ottley stood beside the
farthest wall, supporting herself on the back of a saddle-bag chair,
a picture of horror and fear personified. I would have given all the
world for liberty to soothe her fears, to take her in my arms and
comfort her. But it was not to be. Everything depended on my cunning
and my silence. Tearing my glances from her ashen face, I looked around
the room. It was her bedroom. The bed occupied one corner. Beside the
canopy was an open window through which the light streamed in, striking
full upon the door. Against another wall stood a Duchesse toilet table
and a huge bemirrored clothes chest of carven ivory and ebony. The
floor was covered with a thick pile carpet of dark crimson hue. The
window curtains were of purple velvet. The bed's canopy of crimson
silk. The walls were painted black and gold. It was, indeed, a mourning
chamber.

"Who is it--who is it?" gasped the white-faced, black-robed mourner. I
glanced at her again and saw that one hand was pressed tightly to her
side.

No answer coming, she repeated her demand with more composure. Then a
curious thing happened. A board creaked, and looking swiftly at the
floor, I saw the imprint of a foot marked in the pile. It vanished
and the pile sprang up again resiliently, but, twenty inches farther
onward towards the girl, a second sole-shaped hollow formed itself
and there remained. An instant's flashing search disclosed three
others. I now knew for certain the position of my enemies, and with a
wild heart-throb of joy I nerved myself for action. The shape of the
footmarks showed me that both men faced the girl, and that they were
standing about a yard apart. With two noiseless strides, I stepped
behind the rearmost. Then I stooped and seized a pair of hard, lean
thighs and heaved a body up and sent it hurling through the air above
the second set of footprints. "I've got you again, you dog!" I cried;
then stepped back swift and noiseless to my former place. The trick
was perfectly successful. Silent, save for their heavy breathing and
the trembling of their feet, the rascals writhed and stamped about the
room, locked, doubtless, in a close embrace, although I could not see
them. As for me, I slipped presently to a chair, caught it up, and
guided by a sound, I brought it crashing down upon the head of one of
them. There followed a heavy groan, then a dagger blade flashed out of
nothingness and once, twice, thrice, it rose and fell. Murder was being
done before my eyes, but I had only half a mind to stay it, and indeed,
before I could the knife had vanished into mist again, and all to be
seen was a dark flow of scarlet fluid that welled in air and sank upon
the carpet. I waited spellbound. Which was alive--which was dead?

Belleville's voice put the question at rest suddenly. "Well done,
Ptahmes," he gasped in Arabic. "He had me throttled when you struck.
You shall have fifty pounds for this day's work."

"Thanks, good master." I returned and edged towards his voice. But at
that moment Miss Ottley fell in a swoon, and death could hardly have
availed to keep me from her side. With a bound I was across the room,
and in another second she was in my arms.

Belleville must have seen, but thinking me the Arab, instead of
chiding, he commended me. "Carry her to the laboratory," he commanded.
"I'll follow with this carrion. We must dispose of it. Nay, wait. I'll
go first. Damn him, how he bleeds!" he added in English. Then a little
later, "He is wonderfully light for so tall and strong a man."

By then he must have had the Arab's body in his arms. I heard heavy
footfalls stamping to the door. Carrying my burden, I followed them.
The door opened and we both passed out. I hated the thought of taking
my sweetheart to that room of horror, but I could not bear to leave
her where she had been so terrified, to recover by herself. And in the
next place I did not dare to let Belleville even for a moment out of
my reach. He would soon be bound to discover his mistake and then the
fight would be renewed with the advantage all on his side, since he
was armed with a weapon, which, it was evident, he could conceal till
the time came for using it. Prudence demanded that I should seize and
disarm Belleville before his suspicions became excited. Prudence also
demanded that I should leave my sweetheart somewhere on the journey.
But I could not bring myself to do the latter, her face so near to
mine, her breath upon my lips. That is why I went to the laboratory,
and why I took her with me.



Chapter XXIX

Saved by fire


Belleville's first act, after tossing the Arab's corpse upon the floor
and bolting the laboratory door, was to rush over to the couch and
remove therefrom the mummy of Ptahmes. This he placed with careful
haste upon a marble slab, and he commanded me, in Arabic, meanwhile, to
carry the lady to the couch. I obeyed him in silence. He then ordered
me to take up the body of the Englishman, Pinsent, and bring it to the
sarcophagus. This gave me an opportunity to examine the Arab. I did
so, and found him quite dead. Belleville's dagger had twice pierced
his heart. I then raised the corpse and carried it to the great lead
coffin. "What next, master?" I asked in guttural Arabic.

Belleville's voice answered from behind me. "Lift the carrion up! That
is well. Now let it slip into the bath! Gently, Ptahmes, gently--or the
stuff will splash. Here--I will help you."

"Where?" I demanded. I was trying to locate him.

"Wait," he replied--then "Here!" His voice sounded from across the
sarcophagus.

A second later his hand brushed one of mine and passed. "I'll take
the shoulders," he said. "You take the feet! Be careful, man--gently,
gently!"

It was maddening to be so near and yet so far. But there was nothing
for it except to follow his directions. I, therefore, grasped the
corpse firmly by the ankles, when the greater weight of it had
been transferred, and then I watched the great blood clot upon its
chest--the only visible sign of its existence--sink down, down to the
liquid contents of the coffin. Soon it rested there like a crimson
lily on the surface of a pond. I let my fingers loose their hold and
the unseen limbs of the corpse subsided on the liquid with an oily
swish. The whole corpse seemed to be floating. Belleville realised
this as soon as I. "Wait here!" he said to me--then added in English,
speaking to himself, "Where the deuce did I put that glass rod? Ah! I
remember." Then I heard the thud of his retreating steps, and a little
later I saw waveringly approaching me from across the room, apparently
of its own volition, a long, glass, solid bar, about four feet long and
an inch thick. I was overjoyed at the sight, for my hands were free,
Belleville could not see me, and the glass rod informed me exactly of
his whereabouts. Quick as thought, I slipped around the sarcophagus and
making a little detour, got behind the murderer. He went straight to
the coffin and plunged the rod within it. Doubtless he was using it to
submerge the corpse. I heard a hissing, bubbling sound, and Belleville
saying, "Watch me closely, Ptahmes--for this is what you must do."

I crept upon him until I could hear his breathing quite distinctly,
although he was not greatly exerting himself. Then came the time to
act. "My God!" he suddenly exclaimed--"not Pinsent--Ptahmes--what's
this?"

The glass rod was still. It stood bolt upright in the sarcophagus, and
so rigidly motionless that I guessed Belleville's weight was leaning
on it. I gave a swift glance into the coffin and almost shrieked with
surprise. The liquid had made the dead Arab visible again, and his
death-mask grinned up at us with a fixed and blood-curdling stare. On
instant I opened my arms wide and threw them round my unseen enemy.
He uttered a howl of rage and terror and turned within my grasp to
fight me, biting and clawing like a savage beast. But very soon I
mastered him. Disregarding his animal-like efforts, I seized him by
the throat and beat his skull upon the edge of the sarcophagus until
he had quite ceased to struggle. Then, anxious, of all things, to make
sure of him by seeing him, I heaved him up and allowed him to slide
headforemost down into the bath beside the Arab he had murdered in
mistake for me. I reasoned that since the liquid there had made the
Arab visible, it should produce a like effect on Belleville. But I
was utterly unprepared for the result. The stuff must have been an
acid of tremendous power. It awakened the senseless wretch to almost
instant tortured consciousness. A series of dreadful shrieks filled
the room with strange detonating echoes. Belleville was no sooner in
the coffin than out of it and visible in part. His face and hands were
plainly to be seen. They came out white and dripping wet, but a few
seconds' contact with the air turned them red as blood. I seized the
glass rod to defend myself, expecting an attack. But there was no need
to use it. The shrieking wretch staggered down the room to the first
dispensing cabinet. He tore the door open and clutched at a big phial,
the contents of which he poured upon his hands and splashed upon his
face, wailing all the while like a lost soul in the depths of Hell.
Happily he did not keep this up for long. The drug that he applied to
his hurts, whatever it was, must have salved them, for in a moment or
two his heart-rending outcries subsided to a deep, low sobbing. Even
that, however, was more than I could stand. I wanted Belleville dead,
but I could not endure the sight and sound of his agony--agony that I,
unwittingly, had caused.

"Belleville," I called out, "can I help you?"

He gasped and caught his breath, turning his face towards me. To my
surprise it was no longer scarlet. It had caught the hue of leather,
and the eyes were mantling purple at the whites.

"I did not know the stuff was acid," I continued. "If there is
anything I can do to soothe your suffering, I shall and gladly."

"You dog!" said he. "You've ruined me and now you are gloating over
your handiwork."

With that, he put his hand in his bosom and began to steal in my
direction. I remembered his concealed dagger and called out, "Be
warned, Belleville--I can see you. Your dagger will not help you."

"Oh! Oh! Oh!" he groaned, and stopped short.

"Hugh Pinsent's voice--oh, Heaven!" cried Miss Ottley--behind me. She
had awakened from her swoon.

I swung on heel and watched her rise. "Hugh!" she sighed. "Hugh--where
are you, dear?" Then she saw Belleville, and the hideous apparition
he presented, a black pain-tortured face hovering in mid-air, with
two dark, ghostly hands outstretched before it, froze her blood.
Mercifully, she swooned again and fell back senseless on the lounge.
Belleville recommenced his moaning, and began walking up and down
wringing his hands. I stood silent, lost in thought and wondering what
I ought to do. Belleville told me. He stopped on a sudden and called my
name twice, "Pinsent, Pinsent."

[Illustration: _The_ Living Mummy

A black pain-tortured face hovering in mid-air

_Face Page 296_]

"Here!" said I.

"I am at your mercy now," he muttered, in a broken voice. "I'm blind."

"What!" I cried.

"Ay," said he, "and my facial extremities are dying fast--pah! my nose
is already dead; look." He put up one hand to his face and before my
eyes broke off his nose and tossed it on the floor. It snapped like a
piece of tinder, leaving a black, ugly stump.

Next he plucked the dagger from his breast--or rather, from where his
bosom seemed to be--and cast it on the floor. I was speechless with
horror and surprise.

"Now that you have naught to fear from me," he groaned, "if you have a
heart in your breast you will help to end my pain."

"Anything, anything--only tell me how!" I cried, advancing towards him
as I spoke. But hearing me approaching, he shouted out for me to stop.
"Don't come near me!" he wailed. "Don't touch me--or I shall try to
murder you--I'll not be able to prevent myself--and I want to undo some
of the ill I've done before I die."

I halted. "But what then shall I do?" I asked.

"Light the asbestos fire. You'll find matches in the table drawer. I am
perishing of cold, that is the only thing that will soothe the anguish
I am going through. Oh! be quick, be quick!"

I flew to obey him, and in a moment I had set the stove ablaze.
Belleville found his way to it as if by instinct, and stooping down,
he pressed his awful-looking face against the bars, groaning in a
way that made my very flesh creep. "Yes--yes, I'm blind," he kept
muttering, between his moans. "And very soon I shall be dead. I must
atone. I must atone."

"Belleville," I said at last--I forced myself to say it, for his face
had grown ink-black, "are you not wasting precious time? Is there not
something I can get to counteract the acid? It appears to----"

"Hush!" he interrupted. "There is nothing. It is eating into my brain.
Besides, I am blind and do not wish to live. But let me think. This
pain--I cannot use my wits--it dazes me! Ah! now! I must. I must. How
can I die with all--Pinsent! Pinsent!"

His voice was a piercing scream.

"Yes--yes," I answered. I was shaking like a reed.

"Is there not a big jar of yellow spirit near the coffin somewhere?"

"Yes."

"Then, for God's sake, lead me to it."

I caught him by the hand and guided him forthwith to the jar.

"Take out the stopper," he entreated. I did so and thereupon he plunged
his hands into the vessel and began to lave his neck and face, sobbing
raucously the while. The odour of the stuff, however, was so nauseous
to me that I stepped back in order to escape it.

Belleville seemed to know at once. "Pinsent!" he cried, "where are you?"

"Here," said I.

"Go and wake her, my wife!" he muttered suddenly. "I have something to
tell you both before I go. I am dying fast."

I hastened to do his bidding, but before I reached Miss Ottley's side
I was arrested by a loud thudding crash. Turning swiftly, I saw that
Belleville had overturned the jar. Its contents had already flooded the
floor. He hovered over with a lighted vesta in one of his black hands.

"What are you doing?" I demanded.

He stooped floorwards with the match and instantly a mighty flame shot
up that licked the very roof. "Revenge!" he shrieked. "Revenge! I've
fooled you, Pinsent, fooled you. Now we all shall die together. Look!"
With that, he steeped both hands in the burning fluid and, flitting
like a salamander through the flames, he made for the sarcophagus.
I could not have stayed him had I wished, for there was a sea of
fire between us. But in good truth I was too dazed for the while, at
least, to move a muscle. Reaching the great lead tomb, the dreadful
flaming object that had once been Belleville thrust his lambent hands
into the coffin. There followed an explosion of appalling fury. A
mass of brilliant, white, combustible shot up with a mighty roar from
the sarcophagus to the ceiling. It pierced the padded lining like a
thunderbolt and flashed into the room above. But on its impact with
the ceiling it also splashed a rain of fire about the great laboratory.
In two seconds the whole place ran with flames. By a miracle I was not
touched. But it was not so with Miss Ottley. Her skirt was ablaze.
I rushed forward and tore the thing off in strips before it burnt
her--then seizing her in my arms, I made like a madman to the door. A
hideous burning object lay before it shrieking sulphurous curses. It
was Belleville. But he had come to the end of his strength and he could
not stay me. The catch yielded to my hand and I dashed into the passage
half blinded with fire and smoke, but safe. I did not rest until I
had reached the staircase. Miss Ottley was then awake. She struggled
in my arms, so I set her down and faced her. But she did not see me.
Her dress was smouldering in places. She seemed utterly bewildered.
A woman ran up to her and began to put out the burning patches with
her hands. The house was in an uproar. Servants--they were all either
Arabs or Nubians--ran hither and thither shouting and screaming in a
panic. The woman, evidently a nurse, who attended to Miss Ottley, was
the only white person to be seen. She was evidently terrified, but
she did not lose her head. She kept asking Miss Ottley in French to
explain what had happened. Nobody seemed aware that the house was on
fire. They had all been merely alarmed by the noises they had heard.
Miss Ottley in the middle of it all began to weep. She was thoroughly
upset and ill, and I perceived at once that she was on the verge of a
mental and physical collapse. In the circumstances, I judged it best to
remain a silent onlooker of events and not to take any action unless
there arose a real necessity. It was plain that I was still invisible.
And as for the house being on fire, I deemed it utterly desirable that
it should burn down to the last shaving and thus fittingly entomb
in its destruction the ghastly tragedy of the laboratory. The issue
tallied largely with my wishes. The fire was seen first from the
street. There followed a veritable pandemonium. The coloured servants
fled like cowards for their lives, and in an incredibly short space
of time the house was in the hands of firemen and police. Miss Ottley
was taken by the nurse out into the street and there questioned by a
sergeant. But she was quite unable to answer his insistent queries
satisfactorily. All she could say was that she had been a long time
ill. She had fainted in her room that afternoon, and Dr. Belleville
or someone had carried her to the laboratory. When she woke up she
had heard a frightful noise. She supposed it was one of the Doctor's
experiments. She thought she had fainted again, but she remembered
nothing more until she found herself with her dress on fire at the foot
of the staircase. She could not explain how she got there. The sergeant
was civil enough to her, but the fool, in his fussy officiousness,
overlooked her weak condition, and the girl broke down and utterly
collapsed before he realised his quite unnecessary cruelty. The worst
of it was that the French nurse had disappeared during the colloquy.
There was, therefore, no woman at hand to attend to my poor sweetheart.
Fortunately, however, a physician appeared opportunely on the scene,
and at his direction she was immediately conveyed to a hospital. After
she had gone, I did not tarry very long. Choosing a place where the
cordoned crowd was thinnest, I slipped back through the park railings,
over which I climbed and dropped into the park, feeling the weight
of my invisibility acutely. From this vantage point I watched the
conflagration for a while. The house was manifestly doomed. Indeed,
the efforts of the firemen were entirely directed to save adjoining
buildings. A hundred jets of water played upon the walls of these in
thin continuous streams. Men about me were talking the matter over as
if it personally appealed to them. They mostly viewed it with a sort of
half-secret satisfaction. The misfortunes of millionaires do not excite
much sympathy in the hearts of the mob.

One man glibly quoted, "Lay not up unto yourselves treasures in this
world!" on the occasion of a grimy fireman bringing out a magnificent
but half-destroyed silver-framed canvas of Velasquez. But the crowd
cheered the fireman for his pluck all the same. At length I realised
that I was very tired, and hungry, too, so I slunk off and made my way
to Dixon Hubbard's rooms. They were locked, of course, and I had not
the key. I had left it with the porter of the building. But I could not
go to him and ask him to give it up to an apparently fleshless voice.
Wondering what to do, I crept into the passage, sat down in a corner
underneath the stairs and waited for an inspiration. Waiting there, I
fell asleep.



Chapter XXX

The Last


I awoke in the grey light of dawn, stiff with cold and aching in every
limb. Arising, I left my hiding-place and went into the vestibule. The
night porter sat on a stool in his little office toasting his toes
before the stove and reading one of the morning papers. I stepped
up to the door at once. Hearing my footsteps, he looked around.
"Good-morning, Michael," I said, as well as my chattering teeth would
let me. "Do you want all that fire?" I had forgotten that I was
completely invisible. The fellow sprang to his feet with a start and
stared at me aghast. "What's the matter with you?" I demanded, testily.

"'Ere--you keep off. I've done nothing to 'arm you!" he whined, and
he backed before my advance against the wall of the office, the very
picture of abject terror. His appearance recalled me to my senses. But
it was too late to cry over spilt milk. I thought it better to make a
confidant of the man if he would let me.

"Don't be frightened, Michael; there is no need. I'm not a ghost, feel
my hands!" I said.

But panic seized the fellow. He uttered a wild shriek and fled for
his life into the passage. I could hardly help laughing, but I saw a
chance in the contretemps to end my immediate difficulty--so I went
straight to the desk, and fortunately found it open. In Hubbard's
pigeon-hole was the key I wanted. I took it out, caught up a _Times_
and hurried up the stairs. In another moment I was safe in Hubbard's
room with the door locked against intrusion. My first care was to set
the asbestos ablaze and warm myself. Then I opened the paper and found
at once the news I sought under great cross headlines in the main
sheet. Miss Ottley's house had been completely gutted by fire. Some of
the walls still stood, but with the exception of a few pictures, the
whole of the valuable art furniture and the late Sir Robert Ottley's
splendid collection of Egyptian coins, manuscripts and curios had
been destroyed. It was supposed that Dr. Belleville had perished in
the flames, but no sign of his remains had been discovered. The fire,
as far as it was possible to ascertain, had arisen from an accident
due to the unsuccessful conduct of a chemical experiment. It was well
known in scientific circles, said the journal, that the Doctor had been
engaged in a series of experiments, the object of which had been kept
a close secret, but a city firm of manufacturing chemists had recently
supplied him with large quantities of a certain highly inflammable
liquid compound possessing radio activities which had been prepared at
enormous cost, under his directions. The manager of the firm, on being
interviewed, stated that in his opinion, this compound was principally
responsible for the tragic disaster. There was always a danger in
handling it of spontaneous combustion, it appeared, and if it once took
fire, by no means could it be extinguished except by the shutting off
of all supplies of oxygen. Failing this, it would burn to the last with
the most explosive energy. According to Miss Ottley's statement, when
first interrogated by an officer from Scotland Yard, she had been in
the laboratory with Dr. Belleville at the time of the catastrophe. She
had lately been very ill and it seems she had fainted. It was extremely
probable that the Doctor, in his anxiety to revive her, had neglected
his usual caution and had done some careless thing which had led to
his destruction. Probably he had been killed outright by the first
explosion. It was, however, a matter of general relief that Miss Ottley
had managed to escape, and that there had been no further sacrifice of
life. Everyone would sympathise with the unfortunate young lady in her
sad position. Only a few weeks ago the gallant young officer to whom
she had been engaged to be married, had come to an untimely end in a
railway accident on the very eve of his wedding day. Then, a little
later, the dark angel had deprived her of a loving and beloved father,
the great millionaire archæologist, whose recent operations on 'Change
had startled the world, and made of him the richest man in the United
Kingdom. And now, she had lost by death the kind and learned guardian
to whom her late father had entrusted her future and the management
of her enormous fortune. Nobody would be surprised to learn that
this great accumulation of calamities had reduced the fate-stricken
young lady to a state of utter physical prostration. She had been
taken yesterday evening, after her rescue from the burning mansion,
to the Albert Hospital, but she had subsequently been removed to the
Walsingham Hotel, where the management had placed a suite of rooms
at her disposal. She was there being treated under the care of Drs.
Fiaschi and Mason, the well-known heart and nerve specialists. These
gentlemen express themselves hopeful of her ultimate recovery, but they
do not conceal the fact that she is at present in a very low condition,
and it is significant that the road in front of the hotel was, in the
small hours of the morning, thickly overspread with tan.

This last paragraph, as may easily be conceived, filled me with
anxiety. I resolved to go at once to the Walsingham Hotel and find out
exactly how she was for myself. But, fortunately, in moving towards the
door to put my purpose into execution, I had to pass the mirror-backed
door of a clothes press. I did not pass it then. I stopped, spellbound.
I was no longer invisible. That is to say, my face and hands were
not--although my body was. The mirror showed me a head floating
apparently in mid-air and a pair of hands hanging mysteriously from
nothing. My eyes were curiously goggled with a thin, gelatinous-like
film, with a glassy surface that was bound about my head. This I
tore off forthwith and curiously examined. It was actually composed
of gelatine. Tossing it aside, I ran my fingers over my clothing and
discovered, from the sense of touch, that I was clad to the neck in one
unbroken combination suit of rubber overalls, which included footgear.
I soon made out the secret of its fastening, and tearing it open, I
stepped forth into the light of day and perfect visibility, to find
that I still had on all the clothes I had worn when Dr. Belleville
trapped me, except my boots. The overalls, however, remained visible,
or rather partially so, for their inner surface viewed from the opening
was discernible. I put them carefully aside for future investigation
and proceeded to make a toilet. My first care was a hot bath. The hall
porter, whom I had frightened so desperately a little while before,
answered my ring. He was astounded to see me, but I did not choose to
make him any explanations, and he was too overcome to ask me for any.
A little later I was luxuriating in a steaming bath, which removed the
last vestige of my Parisian disguise. Most of the paint, however, had
worn off before, so it was the easier to become myself again. But not
quite my old, familiar self. My experiences had permanently aged me.
There were lines upon my face that I was stranger to, and with which I
made reluctant acquaintance. And my hair was liberally streaked with
grey. I had put on ten years, at least. I felt old, too, that was the
worst of it--old, ill and thick-blooded and infinitely world-weary.
I felt a hunger for the desert and big open spaces; a need to hasten
from the grinding, selfish life of cities, with their secret crimes
and gilded vices and dull-herded groping after sordid happiness. But
I did not wish to go alone. At a little after eight o'clock I entered
the Walsingham and demanded to see Miss Ottley's head nurse. She was
at breakfast, but the waiter told me that Miss Ottley had spent a good
night and was still asleep, so I was content to wait. Afterwards, I had
to lie to the nurse in order to be permitted to see the invalid. I told
her that I was Miss Ottley's nearest living relative, and I suppressed
the fact of my medical qualifications. The woman, otherwise, would
have referred me to the physicians, who had employed her, and I should
have been put off for hours. As it was, it required all my powers of
persuasion to induce her to admit me to the sick room. But I prevailed
on her at last, with a show of stern authority, and a curt intimation
that her position depended on my complaisance. The falsehood is not
one that I feel any shame at, for I knew what an effect my appearance
would make in the patient, and I was determined, at all costs, to be
with her at the moment of her waking. I shall pass over the preliminary
period that I spent beside her bed. It is too full of sorrow to recall
with anything but misery. The poor girl was as frail and wan as any
spirit. They had cut off all her glorious hair, and the hand I kissed,
which lay so weakly on the coverlid, was whiter than a snowflake, and
almost as destitute of vigour. She slept as gently as a weary babe, and
it was hard at first to believe thoroughly she lived. But at length she
sighed and her great eyes slowly opened and looked up questioningly
into mine. She thought that she was dead and that my ghost had sought
her out. "Hugh!" she whispered, and a soft smile lighted her face and
made it infinitely lovely, though so wan. "I knew that I should find
you, dear," she sighed. "And so I could not help but pray to die. Will
God punish us for that?"

But I kissed her on the lips--the first long kiss of love that I had
known--or she--and she came back warm with quickened hope and will to
live within my arms. And all was well with us.

There is little more to tell. As soon as she was strong again we
married quietly, and now we live in a place where crowded cities are
unknown--far from old England's shores. I never again saw Belleville's
Arab servant, who so marvellously resembled the old High Priest of
Amen-Ra; nor his companion, the Nubian, Uromi. They disappeared
after the fire, and not all the efforts of the police could trace
their hiding-place. The invisible suit of overalls is still in my
possession--but it had lost its old mysterious properties, and although
I expended months of patient labour to explore its secret, it was all
in vain. To this day I cannot tell who released me from the chair in
which Belleville had bound me in the murderer's laboratory. And I
am still unable to explain the many other little mysteries that so
involved us in the period of our contention with the wretch, the fatal
termination of whose wicked scheming I have set forth in these pages.
The greater part of Sir Robert Ottley's fortune has been given to the
poor. The rest we settled on my wife's sole living blood relation,
the old bed-ridden aunt, whom she has never seen. We both felt that
we should be doing well to dispose of riches that--to an extent, at
least--must have been acquired by arts of sinister significance. Still,
we have never wanted, and we are not likely to. My profession yields
us a comfortable living in these grand but sparsely settled wilds.
And, although we sometimes think regretfully upon the delight we once
experienced in searching out the lettered past of long-dead centuries,
we have other interests now to fill our lives and banish vain regrets.
We have our growing children to attend to and provide for. We are
of real service to the people who surround us, for my wife is the
schoolmistress of the district, and I am the only surgeon in a radius
of one hundred miles. Then, we have our books and our long evenings
together in the splendid twilight of the endless plains. We have given
up the past for the future. And we are happy in our labour and our love.


THE END





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