CASE OF THE HEADLESS MUMMIES
The mysteries which my eccentric friend, Moris Klaw, was most successful in handling undoubtedly were those which had their origin in kinks of the human brain or in the mysterious history of some relic of ancient times.
I have seen his theory of the Cycle of Crime proven triumphantly time and time again; I have known him successfully to demonstrate how the history of a valuable gem or curio automatically repeats itself, subject, it would seem, to that obscure law of chance into which he had made particular inquiry. Then his peculiar power—assiduously cultivated by a course of obscure study—of recovering from the atmosphere, the ether, call it what you will, the thought-forms—the ideas thrown out by the scheming mind of the criminal he sought for—enabled him to succeed where any ordinary investigator must inevitably have failed.
“They destroy,” he would say in his odd, rumbling voice, “the clumsy tools of their crime; they hide away the knife, the bludgeon; they sop up the blood, they throw it, the jemmy, the dead man, the suffocated poor infant, into the ditch, the pool—and they leave intact the odic negative, the photograph of their sin, the thought-thing in the air!” He would tap his high yellow brow significantly. “Here upon this sensitive plate I reproduce it, the hanging evidence! The headless child is buried in the garden, but the thought of the beheader is left to lie about. I pick it up. Poof! he swings—that child-slayer! I triumph. He is a dead man. What an art is the art of the odic photograph.”
But I propose to relate here an instance of Moris Klaw’s amazing knowledge in matters of archaeology—of the history of relics. In his singular emporium at Wapping, where dwelt the white rats, the singing canary, the cursing parrot, and the other stock-in-trade of this supposed dealer in oddities, was furthermore a library probably unique. It contained obscure works on criminology; it contained catalogues of every relic known to European collectors with elaborate histories of the same. What else it contained I am unable to say, for the dazzling Isis Klaw was a jealous librarian.
You who have followed these records will have made the acquaintance of Coram, the curator of the Menzies Museum; and it was through Coram that I first came to hear of the inexplicable beheading of mummies, which, commencing with that of Mr. Pettigrew’s valuable mummy of the priestess Hor-ankhu, developed into a perfect epidemic. No more useless outrage could well be imagined than the decapitation of an ancient Egyptian corpse; and if I was surprised when I heard of the first case, my surprise became stark amazement when yet other mummies began mysteriously to lose their heads. But I deal with the first instance, now, as it was brought under my notice by Coram.
He rang me up early one morning.
“I say, Searles,” he said; “a very odd thing has happened. You’ve heard me speak of Pettigrew the collector; he lives out Wandsworth way; he’s one of our trustees. Well, some demented burglar broke into his house last night, took nothing, but cut off the head of a valuable mummy!”
“Good Heavens!” I cried. “What an original idea!”
“Highly so,” agreed Coram. “The police are hopelessly mystified, and as I know you are keen on this class of copy I thought you might like to run down and have a chat with Pettigrew. Shall I tell him you are coming?”
“By all means,” I said, and made an arrangement forthwith.
Accordingly, about eleven o’clock I presented myself at a gloomy Georgian house standing well back from the high road, and screened by an unkempt shrubbery. Mr. Mark Pettigrew, a familiar figure at Sotheby auctions, was a little shrivelled man, clean shaven and with the complexion of a dried apricot. His big spectacles seemed to occupy a great proportion of his face, but his eyes twinkled merrily and his humour was as dry as his appearance.
“Glad to see you, Mr. Searles,” he said. “You’ve had some experience of the outré, I believe, and where two constables, an imposing inspector, and a plain-clothes gentleman who looked like a horse, have merely upset my domestic arrangements, you may be able to make some intelligent suggestion.”
He conducted me to a large gloomy room in which relics, principally Egyptian, were arranged and ticketed with museum-like precision. Before a wooden sarcophagus containing the swathed figure of a mummy he stopped, pointing. He looked as though he had come out of a sarcophagus himself.
“Hor-ankhu,” he said, “a priestess of Sekhet; a very fine specimen, Mr. Searles. I was present when it was found. See—here is her head!”Public Domain, Sax Rohmer, sfw