Chapter XXII. A Wedding Present

Mrs. Jasher had thought Random exceedingly clever in acting as he had done to trap her. She would have thought him still more clever had she known that he trusted to the power of suggestion to prevent her from trying to escape. Sir Frank had not the slightest intention of setting his soldier-servant to watch, as such was not the duty for which such servants are hired. But having impressed firmly on the adventuress's mind that he would act in this way, he departed, quite certain that the woman would not attempt to run away. Although no one was watching the cottage, Mrs. Jasher, believing what had been told her, would think that sharp eyes were on her doors and windows day and night, and would firmly believe that if she tried to get away she would be captured forthwith by the Pierside police, or perhaps by the village constable. Like an Eastern enchanter, the baronet had placed a spell on the cottage, and it acted admirably. Mrs. Jasher, although longing to escape and hide herself, remained where she was, cowed by a spy who did not exist.

The next day Random went to the Pyramids as soon as his duties permitted and saw the Professor. To the prospective bridegroom he explained all that had happened, and displayed the anonymous letter, with an account of how he had proved Mrs. Jasher to be the writer. Braddock's hair could not stand on end, as he had none, but he lost his temper completely, and raged up and down the museum in a way which frightened Cockatoo out of his barbaric wits. When more quiet he sat down to discuss the matter, and promptly demanded that Mrs. Jasher should be handed over to the police. But he might have guessed that Sir Frank would refuse to follow this extreme advice.

"She has acted badly, I admit," said the young man. "All the same, I think she is a better woman than you may think, Professor."

"Think! think! think!" shouted the fiery little man, getting up once more to trot up and down like an infuriated poodle. "I think she is a bad woman, a wicked woman. To deceive me into thinking her rich and - "

"But surely, Professor, you wished to marry her also for love?"

"Nothing of the sort, sir: nothing of the sort. I leave love and such-like trash to those like yourself and Hope, who have nothing else to think about."

"But a marriage without love - "

"Pooh! pooh! pooh! Don't argue with me, Random. Love is all moonshine. I did not love my first wife - Lucy's mother - and yet we were very happy. Had I made Mrs. Jasher my second, we should have got on excellently, provided the money was forthcoming for my Egyptian expedition. What am I to do now, I ask you, Random? Even the thousand pounds you pay for the mummy goes back to that infernal Hope because of Lucy's silly ideas. I have nothing - absolutely nothing, and that tomb is amongst those Ethiopian hills, I swear, waiting to be opened. Oh, what a chance I have missed! - what a chance! But I shall see Mrs. Jasher myself. She knows about this murder."

"She declares that she does not."

"Don't tell me! don't tell me!" vociferated the Professor. "She would not have written that letter had she known nothing."

"That was bluff. I explained all that."

"Bluff be hanged!" cried Braddock, only he used a more vigorous word. "I do not believe that she would have dared to act on such a slight foundation. I shall see her myself this very afternoon and force her to confess. In one way or another I shall find the assassin and make him disgorge those emeralds under the penalty of being hanged. Then I can sell them and finance my Egyptian expedition."

"But you forget, Professor, that the emeralds, when found, belong to Don Pedro."

"They don't," rasped the little man, turning purple with rage. "I refuse to let him have them. I bought the mummy, and the contents of the mummy, including those emeralds. They are, mine."

"No," said Random sharply. "I buy the mummy, from you, so they pass into my possession and belong to De Gayangos. I shall give them to him."

"You'll have to find them first," said Braddock savagely; "and as to the mummy, you shan't have it. I decline to sell it. So there!"

"If you don't," said Random very distinctly, "Don Pedro will bring an action against you, and Captain Hervey will be called as a witness to prove that the mummy was stolen."

"Don Pedro hasn't the money," said Braddock triumphantly; "he can't pay lawyer's fees."

"But I can," rejoined the young man very dryly. "As I am going to marry Donna Inez, it is only just that I should help my future father-in-law in every way. He has a romantic feeling about this relic of poor humanity and wishes to take it back to Peru. He shall do so."

"And what about me? - what about me?"

Well," said Random, speaking slowly with the intention of still further irritating the little man, whose selfishness annoyed him, "if I were you I should marry Mrs. Jasher and settle down quietly in this house to live on what income you have."

Braddock turned purple again and spluttered.

"How dare you make a proposition like that to me, sir?" he bellowed. "You ask me to marry this low woman, this adventuress, this - this - this - " Words failed him.

Of course Random had no intention of advising such a marriage, although he did not think so badly of Mrs. Jasher as did the Professor. But the little man was so venomous that the young man took a delight in stirring him up, using the widow's name as a red rag to this particular bull.

"I do not think Mrs. Jasher is a bad woman," he remarked.

"What! what! what! After what she has done? Blackmail! blackmail! blackmail!"

"That is bad, I admit, but she has failed to get what she wanted, and, after all, you indirectly are the cause of her writing that blackmailing letter."

"I am? - I am? How dare you?"

"You see, she wanted to get five thousand out of me as her dowry."

"Yes, and told me lies about her damned brother who was a Pekin merchant, when after all he never existed."

"Oh, I don't defend that," said Random coolly. "Mrs. Jasher has behaved badly on the whole. Still, Professor, I think there is good in her, as I said before. She evidently had bad parents and a bad husband; but, so far as I can gather, she is not an immoral woman. The poor wretch only came here to try and drag herself out of the mire. If she had married you I feel sure that she would have made you a most excellent wife."

The Professor was in such a rage that he suddenly became calm.

"Of course you talk absolute rubbish," he said caustically. "Had I my way this woman would be whipped at a cart's tail for the shameful way in which she has deceived us all. However, I shall see her to-day and make her confess who murdered Bolton."

"Don Pedro will be greatly obliged if you do. He wants those emeralds."

"So do I, and if I get them I shall keep them," snapped Braddock; "and if you haven't anything more to say you can leave me. I'm busy."

As there was nothing more to be done with the choleric little man, Sir Frank took the hint and departed. He went forthwith to the Warrior Inn to see Don Pedro and also Donna Inez. But it so happened that the girl had gone to the Pyramids on a visit to Miss Kendal, and Random was sorry that he had missed her. However, it was just as well, as he could now talk freely to De Gayangos. To him he related the whole story of Mrs. Jasher, and discovered that the Peruvian also, as Braddock had done, insisted that Mrs. Jasher knew the truth.

"She would not have written that letter if she did not know it," said Don Pedro.

"Then you think that she should be arrested?"

"No. We can deal with this matter ourselves. At present she is quite safe, as she certainly will not leave her cottage, seeing that she thinks it is being watched. Let us permit Braddock to interview her, and see what he can learn. Then we can discuss the matter and come to a decision."

Random nodded absently.

"I wonder if Mrs. Jasher was the woman who talked to Bolton through the window?" he remarked.

"It is not impossible. Although that does not explain why Bolton borrowed a female disguise from this mother."

"Mrs. Jasher might have worn it."

"That would argue some understanding between Bolton and Mrs. Jasher, and a knowledge of the manuscript before Bolton left for Malta. We know that he could only have seen the manuscript for the first time at Malta. It was evidently stowed away in the swathings of the mummy by my father, who forgot all about it when he gave me the original."

"Hervey forgot also. I wonder if that is true?"

"I am certain it is," said Don Pedro emphatically, "for, if Hervey, or Vasa, or whatever you like to call him, had found that manuscript and had got it translated, he certainly would have opened the mummy and have secured the emeralds. No, Sir Frank, I believe that his theory is partly true. Bolton intended to run away with the emeralds, and send the empty mummy to Professor Braddock; for, if you remember, he arranged that the landlord of the Sailor's Rest should forward the case next morning, even if he happened to be away. Bolton intended to be away - with the emeralds."

"Then you do not believe that Hervey placed the manuscript in my room?"

"He declared most emphatically that he did not," said Don Pedro, "when at Pierside yesterday I went to the Sailor's Rest and saw him. He told Braddock only the other day that he had lost his chance of a sailing vessel, and, as yet, had not got another one. But when he returned to Pierside he found a letter waiting him - so he told me - giving him command of a four thousand ton tramp steamer called The Firefly. He is to sail at once - to-morrow, I believe."

"Then what is he going to do about this murder business?"

"He can do nothing at present, as, if he remains in Pierside, he will lose his new command. To-morrow he drops down stream, but meantime he intends to write out the whole story of the theft of the mummy. I have promised to give him fifty pounds for doing so, as I want to get back the mummy, free of charge, from Braddock."

"I think Braddock will stick to the mummy in any event," said Random grimly.

"Not when Hervey writes out his evidence. He will not have it completed by the time he sails, as he is very busy. But he has promised to send off a boat to the jetty near the Fort to-morrow evening, when he is dropping down stream. I shall be there with fifty pounds in gold."

"Supposing he fails to stop or send the boat?"

"Then he will not get his fifty pounds," retorted Don Pedro. "The man is a rascal, and deserves prison rather than reward, but since the mummy was stolen by him thirty years back, he alone can prove my ownership."

"But why take all this trouble?" argued the baronet. "I can buy the mummy from Braddock."

"No," said Don Pedro. "I have a right to my own property."

Random lingered until late in the afternoon and until darkness fell, as he was anxious to see Donna Inez. But she did not appear until late. Meanwhile Archie Hope put in an appearance, having come to see Don Pedro with an account of his interview with Widow Anne. Before coming to the inn he had called on Professor Braddock, and from him had heard all about the wickedness of Mrs. Jasher. His surprise was very great.

"I should not have believed it," he declared. "Poor woman!"

"Ah," said Random, rather pleased, "you are more merciful than the Professor, Hope. He calls her a bad woman."

"Humph! I don't think that Braddock is so good that he can afford to throw a stone," said Archie rather sourly. "Mrs. Jasher has not behaved well, but I should like to hear her complete story before judging. There must be a lot of good in her, or Lucy, who has been with her a great deal, would have found her out long ago. I go by a woman's judgment of a woman. But Mrs: Jasher must have been anxious to marry."

"She was; as Professor Braddock knows," said Random quickly.

"I am not thinking of that so much as of what Widow Anne told me."

"Oh," said Don Pedro, looking up from where he was seated, "so you have seen that old woman? What does she say about the clothes?"

"She sticks to her story. Sidney, she declares, borrowed the clothes to give to me for a model. Now, I never asked Bolton to do this, so I fancy the disguise must have been intended for himself, or for Mrs. Jasher."

"But what had Mrs. Jasher to do with him?" demanded Random sharply.

"Well, it's odd," replied Hope slowly, "but Mrs. Bolton declares that her son was in love with Mrs. Jasher, and when he returned from Malta intended to marry her."

"Impossible!" cried Sir Frank. "She engaged herself to Braddock.

"But only after Bolton's death, remember."

Don Pedro nodded.

"That is true. But what you say, Mr. Hope, proves the truth of Hervey's theory."

"In what way?"

"Mrs. Jasher, as we know from what Random told us, wanted money. She would not marry a man who was poor. Bolton was poor, but of course the emeralds would make him wealthy, as they are of immense value. Probably he intended to steal them in order to marry this woman. This implicates Mrs. Jasher in the crime."

"Yes," assented Sir Frank, nodding. "But as Bolton did not know that the emeralds existed before he bought the mummy in Malta, I do not see why he should borrow a disguise beforehand for Mrs. Jasher to meet him at the Sailor's Rest."

"The thing is easily settled," said Hope impatiently. "Let us both go to Mrs. Jasher's this evening, and insist upon the truth being told. If she confesses about her secret engagement to Sidney Bolton, she may admit that the clothes were borrowed for her."

"And she may admit also that she placed the manuscript in my room," said Sir Frank after a pause. "Hervey did not place it there, but it is just possible that Mrs. Jasher, having got it from Bolton when she Talked to him through the window, may have done so."

"Nonsense!" said Hope with vigorous commonsense. "Mrs. Jasher would be spotted in a moment if she had gone to your quarters. She had to pass the sentry, remember. Then, again, we have not yet proved that she was the woman in Mrs. Bolton's clothes who spoke through the window. That can all be settled if we speak to her this evening."

"Very good." Random glanced at his watch. "I must get back. Don Pedro, will you tell Inez that I shall come in this evening? We can then talk further about these matters. Hope?"

"I shall stop here, as I wish to consult Don Pedro."

Random nodded and took a reluctant departure. He dearly wished, as an engaged lover should, to remain on the chance that Donna Inez might return, but duty called him and he was forced to obey.

The night was very dark, although it was not particularly late. But there was no rain, and Random walked rapidly through the village and down the road to the Fort. He caught a glimpse of the lights of Mrs. Jasher's cottage twinkling in the distance, and smiled grimly as he thought of the invisible spell he had placed thereon. No doubt Mrs. Jasher was shivering in her Louis Quinze shoes at the idea of being watched. But then, she deserved that much punishment at least, as Random truly thought.

When entering the Fort, the sentry saluted as usual, and Random was about to pass, when the man stepped forward, holding out a brown paper package.

"Please, sir, I found this in my sentry box," he said, saluting.

Sir Frank took the packet.

"Who placed it there? and why do you give it to me?" he demanded in surprise.

"Please, sir, it's directed to you, sir, and I don't know who put it in my box, sir. I was on duty, sir, and I 'spose someone must have dropped it on the floor of the box, sir, when I was at the other end of my beat, sir. It was as dark as this, sir, and I saw nothing and heard nothing. When I come back, sir, I stepped into the box out of the rain and felt it with my, feet. I struck a light, sir, and found it was for you."

Sir Frank slipped the package into his pocket and went away after a grim word or so to the sentry, advising him to be more on the alert. He was puzzled to think who had left the packet in the sentry box, and curious to know what it contained. As soon as he got to his own room, he cut the string which bound loosely the brown paper. Then, in the lamplight, there rolled out from the carelessly-tied parcel a glorious sea-green emerald of great size, radiating light like a sun. A scrap of white paper lay in the brown wrapping. On it was written, "A wedding gift for Sir Frank Random."