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!”
Stooping, he picked up the head of the mummy. Very cleanly and scientifically it had been unwrapped and severed from the trunk. It smelt strongly of bitumen, and the shrivelled features reminded me of nothing so much as of Mr. Mark Pettigrew.
“Did you ever hear of a more senseless thing?” he asked. “Come over and look at the window where he got in.”
We crossed the dark apartment, and the collector drew my attention to a round hole which had been drilled in the glass of one of the French windows opening on a kind of miniature prairie which once had been a lawn.
“I am having shutters fitted,” he went on. “It is so easy to cut a hole in the glass and open the catch of these windows.”
“Very easy,” I agreed. “Was any one disturbed?”
“No one,” he replied excitedly; “that’s the insane part of the thing. The burglar, with all the night before him and with cases containing portable and really priceless objects about him, contented himself with decapitating the priestess. What on earth did he want her head for? Whatever he wanted it for, why the devil didn’t he take it.”
We stared at one another blankly.
“I fear,” said Pettigrew, “I have been guilty of injustice to my horsey visitor, the centaur. You look as stupid as the worst of us!”
“I feel stupid,” I said.
“You are!” Pettigrew assured me with cheerful impertinence. “So am I, so are the police; but the biggest fool of the lot is the fool who came here last night and cut off the head of my mummy.”
That, then, is all which I have occasion to relate regarding the first of these mysterious outrages. I was quite unable to propound any theory covering the facts, to Pettigrew’s evident annoyance; he assured me that I was very stupid, and insisted upon opening a magnum of champagne. I then returned to my rooms, and since reflection upon the subject promised to be unprofitable, had dismissed it from my mind, when some time during the evening Inspector Grimsby rang me up from the Yard.
“Hullo, Mr. Searles,” he said; “I hear you called on Mr. Pettigrew this morning?”
I replied in the affirmative.
“Did anything strike you?”
“No; were you on the case?”
“I wasn’t on the case then, but I’m on it now.”
“Well, there’s been another mummy beheaded in Sotheby’s auction rooms!”
I knew quite well what was expected of me.
“Where are you speaking from?” I asked.
“I will meet you there in an hour,” I said, “and bring Moris Klaw if I can find him.”
“Good,” replied Grimsby, with much satisfaction in his voice, “this case ought to be right in his line.”
I chartered a taxi and proceeded without delay to the salubrious neighbourhood of Wapping Old Stairs. At the head of the blind alley which harbours the Klaw emporium I directed the man to wait. The gloom was very feebly dispelled by a wavering gaslight in the shed-like front of the shop. River noises were about me. Somewhere a drunken man was singing. An old lady who looked like a pantomime dame was critically examining a mahogany chair with only half a back, which formed one of the exhibits displayed before the establishment.
A dilapidated person whose nose chronically blushed for the excesses of its owner hovered about the prospective purchaser. This was William, whose exact position in the Klaw establishment I had never learned, but who apparently acted during his intervals of sobriety as a salesman.
“Good-evening,” I said. “Is Mr. Moris Klaw at home?”
“He is, sir,” husked the derelict; “but he’s very busy, sir, I believe, sir.”
“Tell him Mr. Searles has called.”
“Yes, sir,” said William; and, turning to the dame, “Was you thinking of buyin’ that chair, mum, after you’ve done muckin’ it about?”
He retired into the cavernous depths of the shop, and I followed him as far as the dimly seen counter.
“Moris Klaw, Moris Klaw! the devil’s come for you!”
Thus the invisible parrot hailed my entrance. Indescribable smells, zoo-like, with the fusty odour of old books and the unclassifiable perfume of half-rotten furniture, assailed my nostrils; and mingling with it was the distinct scent of reptile life. Scufflings and scratchings sounded continuously about me, punctuated with squeals. Then came the rumbling voice of Moris Klaw.
“Ah, Mr. Searles—good-evening, Mr. Searles! It is the Pettigrew mummy, is it not?”
He advanced through the shadows, his massive figure arrayed for travelling, in the caped coat, his toneless beard untidy as ever, his pince-nez glittering, his high bald brow yellow as that of a Chinaman.
“There has been a second outrage,” I said, “at Sotheby’s.”
“So?” said Moris Klaw, with interest; “another mummy is executed!”
“Yes, Inspector Grimsby has asked us to join him there.”
Moris Klaw stooped, and from beneath the counter took out his flat-topped brown bowler. From its lining he extracted a cylindrical scent-spray and mingled with the less pleasing perfumes that of verbena.
“A cooling Roman custom, Mr. Searles,” he rumbled, “so refreshing when one lives with rats. So it is Mr. Grimsby who is puzzled again? It is Mr. Grimsby who needs the poor old fool to hold the lantern for him, so that he, the clever Grimsby, can pick up the credit out of the darkness! And why not, Mr. Searles, and why not? It is his business; it is my pleasure.”
He raised his voice. “Isis! Isis!”
Out into the light of the fluttering gas-lamp, out from that nightmare abode, stepped Isis Klaw—looking more grotesque than a French fashion-plate in an ironmonger’s catalogue. She wore a costume of lettuce-green silk, absolutely plain and unrelieved by any ornament, which rendered it the more remarkable. It was cut low at the neck, and at the point of the V, suspended upon a thin gold chain, hung a big emerald. Her darkly beautiful face was one to inspire a painter seeking a model for the Queen of Sheba, but an ultra modern note was struck by a hat of some black, gauzy material which loudly proclaimed its Paris origin. She greeted me with her wonderful smile.
“What, then,” I said. “Were you about to go out?”
“When I hear who it is,” rumbled Moris Klaw, “I know that we are about to go out; and behold we are ready!”
He placed the quaint bowler on his head and passed through to the front of the shop.
“William,” he admonished the ripe-nosed salesman, “there is here a smell of fourpenny ale. It will be your ruin, William. You will close at half-past nine, and be sure you do not let the cat in the cupboard with the white mice. See that the goat does not get at the Dutch bulbs. They will kill him, that goat—those bulbs; he has for them a passion.”
The three of us entered the waiting cab; and within half-an-hour we arrived at the famous auction rooms. The doors were closed and barred, but a constable who was on duty there evidently had orders to admit us.
The thing we had come to see lay upon the table with an electric lamp burning directly over it. The effect was indescribably weird. All about in the shadows fantastic “lots” seemed to leer at us. A famous private collection was to be sold in the morning and a rank of mummies lined one wall, whilst, from another, stony Pharaohs, gods and goddesses, scorned us through the gloom. We were a living group in a place of long-dead things. And yellow on the table beneath the white light, with partially unwrapt coils of discoloured linen hanging gruesomely from it, lay a headless mummy!
I heard the spurt of Moris Klaw’s scent-spray behind me, and a faint breath of verbena stole to my nostrils.
“Pah!” came the rumbling voice; “this air is full of deadness!”
“Good-evening, Mr. Klaw,” said Grimsby, appearing from somewhere out of the gloom. “I am so glad you have come.” He bowed to Isis. “How do you do, Miss Klaw?”
The bright green figure moved forward into the pool of light. I think I had never seen a more singular picture than that of Isis Klaw bending over the decapitated mummy. Indeed the whole scene had delighted Rembrandt.
“I am pleased to meet you, Mr. Klaw,” said a middle-aged gentleman, stepping up to the curio dealer; “the Inspector has been telling me about you.”
Moris Klaw bowed, and his daughter turned to him with a little nod of the head.
“It is the same period,” she said, “as Mr. Pettigrew’s mummy. Possibly this was a priest of the same temple. Certainly both are of the same dynasty.”
“It is instructive,” rumbled Moris Klaw, “but so confusing.”
“It’s amazing, Mr. Klaw,” said Grimsby. “If I understand Miss Klaw rightly, this is the mummy of some one who lived at the same period as the priestess whose mummy is in Mr. Pettigrew’s possession?”
“I do not trouble to look,” rumbled Moris Klaw, who, in fact, was staring all about the room. “If Isis has said so, it is so.”
“If I happened to be superstitious,” said Grimsby, “I should think this was a sort of curse being fulfilled, or some fantastic thing of that sort.”
“You should call a curse fantastic, eh, my friend?” said Moris Klaw. “Yet here in your own country you have seen a whole family that was cursed to be wiped out mysteriously. Am I with you?”
Grimsby looked very perplexed.
“There’s nothing very mysterious about how the thing was done,” he said. “Some madman got in here with a knife early in the evening. It’s always pretty dark even during the daytime. But the mystery is his object.”
“His object is a mystery, yes,” agreed Klaw. “I would sleep here in order to procure a mental negative of what he hoped or what he feared, this lunatic headsman, only that I know he is a man possessed.”
“Possessed!” I cried; and even Isis looked surprised.
“I said possessed,” continued Klaw, impressively. “He is some madman with a one idea. His mad brain will have charged the ether”—he waved his long arms right and left—“with mad thoughts. The room of Mr. Pettigrew also will be filled with these grotesque thought-forms. Certainly he is insane, this butcher of mummies. In this case I shall rely not upon the odic photography, not upon that great science the Cycle of Crime, but upon my library.”
None of us, I am sure, entirely understood his meaning; and following a brief silence, during which in a curiously muffled way the sounds of the traffic in Wellington Street came to us as we stood there around that modern bier with its 4000-year-old burden, Grimsby asked with hesitancy:
“Don’t you want to make any investigations, Mr. Klaw?”
Then Moris Klaw startled us all.
“I have a thought!” he cried, loudly. “Name of a dog! I have a thought!”
Grabbing his brown bowler, which he had laid on the table beside the headless mummy, “Come, Isis!” he cried, and grasped the girl by the arm. “I have yet another thought, most disturbing! Mr. Searles, would you be so good as also to come?”
Wondering greatly whence we were bound and upon what errand, I hastened down the room after them, leaving Inspector Grimsby staring blankly. I think he was rather disappointed with the result of Moris Klaw’s inquiry—if inquiry this hasty visit may be termed. He was disappointed, too, at having spent so short a time in the company of the charming Isis.
The middle-aged gentleman came running to let us out.
“Good-night, Inspector Grimsby!” called Moris Klaw.
“Good-night! good-night, Miss Klaw!”
“Good-night, Mr. Some One who has not been introduced!” said Klaw.
“My name is Welby,” smiled the other.
“Good-night, Mr. Welby!” said Moris Klaw.
During the whole of the journey back to Wapping, Moris Klaw regaled me with anecdotes of travels in the Yucatan Peninsula. I had never met a man before who had ventured fully to explore those deadly swamps; but Moris Klaw chatted about the Izamal temples as unconcernedly as another man might chat about the Paris boulevards. Isis took no part in the conversation, from which I gathered that, although she seemed to accompany her father everywhere, she had not accompanied him into the jungles of Yucatan.
“In the heart of those forests, Mr. Searles,” he whispered, “are stranger things than these headless mummies. Do you know that the secret of those great temples buried in the swamps and the jungles and guarded only by serpents and slimy, crawling things, is a door which science has yet to unlock? What people built them, and what god was worshipped in them? Suppose”—he bent to my ear—“I hold the key to that riddle; am I assured to be immortal? Yes? No?”
His conversation, although it often seemed to be studiously eccentric, was always that of a man of powerful and unusual mind, a man of vast and unique experience. I was rather sorry when we arrived at our destination.
As the cab drew up at the head of the court, I saw that the shop of Moris Klaw was in darkness; but again telling the man to wait, we walked down past the warehouse, beyond whose bulk tided muddy Thames, and, my eccentric companion producing a key from one of the bulging pockets of his caped coat, he inserted it into the lock of a door which looked less like a door than a section of a dilapidated hoarding.
The door swung open.
“Ah!” he hissed. “It was not locked!”
Klaw struck a match and peered into the odorous darkness.
“William!” he rumbled. “William!”
But there was no reply. Isis suddenly laid her hand upon my arm, and it occurred to me that for once her wonderful composure was shaken.
“Something has happened!” she whispered.
Her father lighted a gas-burner, and the yellow light flared up, reclaiming from the gloom, furniture, pictures, cages, glass cases, statuettes, heaps of cheap jewellery and false teeth, books, and a hundred-and-one other items of that weird stock-in-trade.
Then, under the littered counter we found William lying flat on his back with his arms spread widely.
“Ah! cochon!” muttered Klaw; “beer-swilling pig!”
He stooped to raise the head of the prostrate man, and then to my surprise dropped upon his knees beside him, stooped yet lower, and sniffed suspiciously. Again Isis Klaw seized my arm, and her dark eyes were opened very widely as she leaned forward watching her father. He stood up, holding a glass in his hand which yet contained some drops of what was apparently beer. At this, too, he sniffed. He walked over to the gaslight and examined the fluid closely, whilst Isis and I watched him, together. Finally Moris Klaw inserted a long white forefinger into the dirty glass and applied the tip to his tongue.
“Opium!” he said. “Many drops of pure opium were put in this beer.”
He turned to me with a curious expression upon his parchment-coloured face.
“Mr. Searles,” he said, “my second idea was a good idea. I shall now surprise you.”
He led the way through that neat and businesslike office which opened out of the unutterably dirty and untidy shop. Although within the shop and in front of it, only gaslight was used, in the office he switched on an electric lamp. But we did not delay long in Moris Klaw’s sanctum, lined with its hundreds of books, its obscure works of criminology, its records of strange things: we proceeded through another door and up a thickly carpeted stair.
I had never before penetrated thus far into the habitable portion of Moris Klaw’s establishment; the book-lined office hitherto had marked the limit of my explorations. But now as more electric lights were switched on, I saw that we stood upon a wide landing panelled in massive black oak. Armoured figures stood sentinel-like against the walls, and several magnificent specimens of Chinese porcelain met my gaze. I might have thought myself in some old English baronial hall. Next we entered a big, rectangular room, which I wholly despair of describing. Apparently it was used as a study, a library, a laboratory, and a warehouse for all sorts of things, from marble Buddhas to innumerable pairs of boots. Also there was in it a French stove; and upon a Persian coffee-table stood a frying-pan containing a cooked sausage solidified in its own fat. There was clear evidence, moreover, in the form of a rolled-up hammock, that the place served as a bedroom.
Altogether there were four mummies in the apartment. One of these, partly unwrapped, lay amongst the litter on the floor… headless!
“Mon Dieu!” cried Isis, clasping her hands; “it is uncanny, this!”
She was evidently excited, for her French accent suddenly asserted itself to a marked degree. Moris Klaw, from somewhere amongst the rubbish at his feet, picked up the severed head of the mummy and stared at it intently. In the stillness I could hear the river noises very distinctly, and a sort of subterranean lapping and creaking which suggested that at high tide the cellars of the establishment became flooded. Moris Klaw dropped the head from his hands. It fell with a dull thud to the floor.
From the lining of his hat he took out the inevitable scent-spray and moistened his brow with verbena.
‘‘I need the cool brain, Mr. Searles,” he said. “I, the old cunning, the fox, the wily, am threatened with defeat. This slaughter of mummies it surpasses my experience. I am nonplussed; I am a stupid old fool. Let me think!”
Isis was looking about her in a startled way.
“It is horribly uncanny, Miss Klaw,” I said. “But the drugging of the man downstairs points to very human agency. Perhaps if we could revive him—”
“He will not revive,” interrupted Moris Klaw, “for twelve hours at least. In his beer was enough opium to render unconscious the rhinoceros!”
“Is there anything missing?” I asked.
“Nothing,” rumbled Klaw. “He came for the mummy. Isis, will you prepare for us those cooling drinks that help the fevered mind, and from downstairs bring me the seventh volume of the Books of the Temples.”
Isis Klaw immediately walked forward to the door.
“And Isis, my child,” added her father, “remove the tall cage to the top end of the shop. Presently that William’s snores will awake the Borneo squirrel.”
As the girl departed, Klaw opened an inner door and ushered me into a dainty white room, an amazing apartment indeed, a true Parisian boudoir. The air was heavy with the scent of roses for bowls of white and pink roses were everywhere. Klaw lighted a silver table-lamp with an unique silver gauze shade apparently lined with pale rose-coloured silk. Evidently this apartment belonged to Isis, and was as appropriate for her, exquisite Parisian that she seemed to be, as the weird barn through which we had come was an appropriate abode for her father.
When presently Isis returned I saw her for the first time in her proper setting, a dainty green figure in a white frame. Moris Klaw opened the bulky leather-bound volume which she had handed to him, and whilst I sat sipping my wine and watching him, he busily turned over the pages (apparently French MS.) in quest of the reference he sought.
“Ah!” he cried in sudden triumph; “vaguely I had it in my memory, but here it is, the clue. I will translate for you, Mr. Searles, what is written here: ‘The Book of the Lamps, which was revealed to the priest, Pankhaur, and by him revealed only to the Queen’ (it was the ancient Egyptian Queen, Hatshepsu, Mr. Searles), ‘was kept locked in the secret place beneath the altar and each high priest of the temple—all of whom were of the family of Pankhaur—held the key and alone might consult the magic writing. In the 14th dynasty, Seteb was high priest, and was the last of the family of Pankhaur. At his death the newly appointed priest, receiving the key of the secret place, complained to Pharaoh that the Book of the Lamps was missing.’ ”
He closed the volume, and placed it on a little table beside him.
“Isis,” he rumbled, looking across at his daughter, “does the mystery become clear to you? Am I not an old fool? Mr. Searles, there is only one other copy of this work”—he laid a long white hand upon the book—“known to European collectors. Do I know where that copy is? Yes? No? I think so!”
There was triumph in his hoarse voice. Personally I was quite unable to see in what way the history of the Book of the Lamps bore upon the case of the headless mummies; but Moris Klaw evidently considered that it afforded a clue. He stood up.
“Isis,” he said, “bring me my catalogue of the mummies of the Bubastite priests.”
That imperious beauty departed in meek obedience. “Mr. Searles,” said Moris Klaw, “this will be for Inspector Grimsby another triumph; but without these records of a poor old fool, who shall say if the one that beheads mummies had ever been detected? I neglected to secure the odic negative because I thought I had to deal with a madman; but I was more stupid than an owl. This decapitating of mummies is no madman’s work, but is done with a purpose, my friend—with a wonderful purpose.”
The Menzies Museum (scene of my first meeting with Moris Klaw) was not yet opened to the public when Coram (the curator), Moris Klaw, Grimsby and I stood in the Egyptian Room before a case containing mummies. The room adjoining—the Greek Room—had been the scene of the dreadful tragedies which first had acquainted me with the wonderful methods of the eccentric investigator.
“Whoever broke into Sotheby’s last night, Mr. Klaw,” said Grimsby, “knew the ins and outs of the place; knew it backwards. It’s my idea that he was known to the people there. After having cut off the head of the mummy he probably walked out openly. Then, again, it must have been somebody who knew the habits of Mr. Pettigrew’s household that got at his mummy. Of course”—his eyes twinkled with a satisfaction which he could not conceal—“I’m very sorry to hear that our man has proved too clever for you! Think of a burglar breaking into Mr. Moris Klaw’s house!”
“Think of it, my friend,” rumbled the other; “if it makes you laugh go on thinking of it, and you will grow fat!”
Grimsby openly winked at me. He was out of his depth himself, and was not displeased to find the omniscient Moris Klaw apparently in a similar position.
“I am not resentful,” continued Klaw, “and I will capture for you the mummy man.”
“What?” cried Grimsby. “Are you on the track?”
“I will tell you something, my laughing friend. You will secretly watch this Egyptian Room like the cat at the mouse-hole, and presently—I expect it will be at night—he will come here, this hunter of mummies!”
Grimsby stared incredulously.
“I don’t doubt your word, Mr. Klaw,” he said; “but I don’t see how you can possibly know that. Why should he go for the mummies here rather than for those in one of the other museums or in private collections?”
“Why do you order a bottle of Bass,” rasped Klaw, “in a saloon, rather than a bottle of water or a bottle of vinegar? It is because what you want is a bottle of Bass. Am I a damn fool? There are others. I am not alone in my foolishness!”
The group broke up: Grimsby, very puzzled, going off to make arrangements to have the Egyptian Room watched night and day, and Coram, Klaw, and I walking along in the direction of the Greek Room.
“I have no occasion to remind you, Mr. Klaw,” said Coram, “that the Menzies Museum is a hard nut for any burglar to crack. We have a night watchman, you will remember, who hourly patrols every apartment. For any one to break into the Egyptian Room, force one of the cases and take out a mummy, would be a task extremely difficult to perform undetected.”
“This mummy hunter,” replied Klaw, “can perform it with ease; but because we shall all be waiting for him he cannot perform it undetected.”
“I shouldn’t think there is much likelihood of any attempt during the day?” I said.
“There is no likelihood,” agreed Klaw; “but I like to see that Grimsby busy! The man with the knife to decapitate mummies will come to-night. Without fear he will come, for how is he to know that an old fool from Wapping anticipates his arrival?”
We quitted the Museum together. The affair brought back to my mind the gruesome business of the Greek Room murders, and for the second time in my life I made arrangements to watch in the Menzies Museum at night.
On several occasions during the day I found myself thinking of this most singular affair and wondering in what way the Book of the Lamps, mentioned by Moris Klaw, could be associated with it. I was quite unable to surmise, too, how Klaw had divined that the Menzies Museum would become the scene of the next outrage.
We had arranged to dine with Coram in his apartments, which adjoined the Museum buildings, and an oddly mixed party we were, comprising Coram, his daughter, Moris Klaw, Isis Klaw, Grimsby and myself.
A man had gone on duty in the Egyptian Room directly the doors were closed to the public, and we had secretly arranged to watch the place from night-fall onward. The construction of the room greatly facilitated our plan; for there was a long glass skylight in the centre of its roof, and by having the blinds drawn back we could look down into the room from a landing window of a higher floor—a portion of the curator’s house.
Dinner over, Isis Klaw departed.
“You will not remain, Isis,” said her father. “It is so unnecessary. Good-night, my child!”
Accordingly, the deferential and very admiring Grimsby descended with Coram to see Isis off in a taxi. I marvelled to think of her returning to that tumble-down, water-logged ruin in Wapping.
“Now, Mr. Grimsby,” said Moris Klaw, when we four investigators had gathered together again, “you will hide in the case with the mummies!”
“But I may find myself helpless! How do we know that any particular case is going to be opened? Besides I don’t know what to expect!”
“Blessed is he that expecteth little, my friend. It is quite possible that no attempt will be made to-night. In that event you will have to be locked in again to-morrow night!”
Grimsby accordingly set out. He held a key to the curator’s private door, which opened upon the Greek Room, and also the key of a wall-case. Moris Klaw had especially warned him against making the slightest noise. In fact he had us all agog with curiosity and expectation. As he and Coram and I, having opened, very carefully, the landing window, looked down through the skylight into the Egyptian Room, Grimsby appeared beneath us. He was carrying an electric pocket torch.
Opening the wall-case nearest to the lower end of the room, he glanced up rapidly, then stepped within, reclosing the glass door. As Klaw had pointed out earlier in the evening, an ideal hiding-place existed between the side of the last sarcophagus and the angle of the wall.
“I hope he has refastened the catch,” said our eccentric companion; “but not with noisiness.”
“Why do you fear his making a noise?” asked Coram, curiously.
“Outside, upon the landing,” replied Moris Klaw, “is a tall piece of a bas-relief; it leans back against the wall. You know it?”
“To-night, you did not look behind it, in the triangular space so formed.”
“There’s no occasion. A man could not get in there.”
“He could not, you say? No? That exploits to me, Mr. Coram, that you have no eye for capacity. But if you are wrong, what then?”
“Any one hiding there would have to remain in hiding until the morning. He could not gain access to any of the rooms; all are locked, and he could not go downstairs, because of the night attendant in the hall-way.”
“No? Yes? You are two times wrong! First—some one is concealed there!”
“Mr. Klaw!” began Coram, excitedly.
“Ssh!” Moris Klaw raised his hand. “No excitement. It is noisy and a tax upon the nerves. Second—you are wrong, because presently that hidden one will come into the Egyptian Room!”
“How? How in Heaven’s name is he going to get in?”
“We shall see.”
Utterly mystified, Coram and I stared at Moris Klaw, for we stood one on either side of him; but he merely wagged his finger enjoining us to silence, and silent perforce we became.
The view was a cramped one, and standing there looking out at the clear summer night, I for one grew very weary of the business. But I was sustained by the anticipation that the mystery of the headless mummies was about to come to a climax. I felt very sorry for poor Grimsby, cramped in the corner of the Egyptian room, for I knew him to be even more hopelessly in the dark respecting the purpose of these manoeuvres than I was myself. In vain I racked my brain in quest of the link which united the ancient Book of the Lamps with the singular case which had brought us there that night.
Coram began to fidget, and I knew intuitively that he was about to speak.
“Ssh!” whispered Moris Klaw. A beam of light shone out beneath us, across the Egyptian Room!
I concluded that something had attracted the attention of Grimsby. I leaned forward in tense expectancy, and Coram was keenly excited.
The beam of light moved; it shone upon the door of the very case in the corner of which Grimsby was hiding, but upon the nearer end, fully upon the face of a mummy.
A small figure was dimly discernible, now, the figure of the man who carried the light. Cautiously he crossed the room. Evidently he held the key of the wall-case, for in an instant he had swung the door back and was hauling the mummy on to the floor.
Then out upon the midnight visitor leapt Grimsby. The light was extinguished—and Moris Klaw, drawing back from the window, seized Coram by the arm, crying, “The key of the door! The key of the door!”
We were down and into the Egyptian Room in less than half a minute. Coram switched on all the lights; and there with his back to the open door of the wall-case, handcuffed and wild-eyed, was… Mr. Mark Pettigrew!
Coram’s face was a study—for the famous archaeologist whom we now saw manacled before us was a trustee of the Menzies Museum!
“Mr. Pettigrew!” he said hoarsely. “Mr. Pettigrew! There must be some mistake— —”
“There is no mistake, my good sir,” rumbled Moris Klaw. “Look, he has with him a sharp knife to cut off the head of the priest!”
It was true. An open knife lay upon the floor beside the fallen mummy!
Grimsby was breathing very heavily and looking in rather a startled way at his captive, who seemed unable to realise what had happened. Coram cleared his throat nervously. It was one of the strangest scenes in which I had ever anticipated.
“Mr. Pettigrew,” he began, “it is incomprehensible to me— —”
“I will make you to comprehend,” interrupted Moris Klaw. “You ask”—he raised a long finger—“why should Mr. Pettigrew cut off the head of his own mummy? I answer for the same reason that he cut off the head of the one at Sotheby’s. You ask why did he cut off the head of the one at Sotheby’s? I answer for the same reason that he cut off the head of the one at my house, and for the same reason that he came to cut off the head of this one! What is he looking for? He is looking for the Book of the Lamps!” He paused, gazing around upon us. Probably, excepting the prisoner, I alone amongst his listeners understood what he meant.
“I have related to Mr. Searles,” he continued, “some of the history of that book. It contained the ritual of the ancient Egyptian ceremonial magic. It was priceless; it gave its possessors a power above the power of kings! And when the line of Pankhaur became extinct it vanished. Where did it go? According to a very rare record—of which there are only two copies in existence—one of them in my possession and one in Mr. Pettigrew’s!—it was hidden in the skull of the mummy of a priest or a priestess of the temple!”
Pettigrew was staring at him like a man fascinated.
“Mr. Pettigrew had only recently acquired that valuable manuscript work in which the fact is recorded; and being an enthusiast, gentlemen—” (he spread wide his hands continentally), “all we poor collectors are enthusiasts—he set to work upon the first available mummy of a priest of that temple. It was his own. The skull did not contain the priceless papyrus! But all these mummies are historic: there are only five in Europe.”
“Five?” blurted Pettigrew.
“Five,” replied Klaw; “you thought there were only four, eh? But as a blind you called in the police and showed them how your mummy had been mutilated. It was good. It was clever. No one suspected you of the outrages after that—no one but the old fool who knew that you had secured the second copy of that valuable work of guidance!
“So you did not hesitate to use the keys you had procured in your capacity as trustee, to gain access to this fourth mummy here.” He turned to Grimsby and Coram. “Gentlemen,” he said, “there will be no prosecution. The fever of research is a disease; never a crime.”
“I agree,” said Coram; “most certainly there must be no prosecution; no scandal. Mr. Pettigrew, I am very, very sorry for this.”
Grimsby, with a rather wry face, removed the handcuffs. A singular expression proclaimed itself upon Pettigrew’s shrivelled countenance.
“The thing I’m most sorry for,” he said, dryly, but with the true fever of research burning in his eyes, “if you will excuse me saying it, Coram, for I’m very deeply indebted to you—is that I can’t cut off the head of this fourth mummy!”
Mr. Mark Pettigrew was a singularly purposeful and rudely truculent man.
“It would be useless,” rumbled Moris Klaw. “I found the fifth mummy in Egypt two years ago! And behold”—he swept his hand picturesquely through the air—“I beheaded him!”
“What!” screamed Pettigrew, and leapt upon Klaw with blazing eyes.
“Ah,” rumbled Klaw, massive and unruffled, “that is the question—what? And I shall not tell you!”
From his pocket he took out the scent-spray and squirted verbena into the face of Mr. Pettigrew.