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- The Green Mummy - 2/58 -
"And old age its experience. The law of compensation, my dearest. But I don't see," he added reflectively, "what your remark and my answer have to do with the view," whereat Lucy declared that his wits wandered.
Within the last five minutes they had emerged from a sunken lane where the hedges were white with dust and dry with heat to a vast open space, apparently at the World's-End. Here the saltings spread raggedly towards the stately stream of the Thames, intersected by dykes and ditches, by earthen ramparts, crooked fences, sod walls, and irregular lines of stunted trees following the water-courses. The marshes were shaggy with reeds and rushes, and brown with coarse, fading herbage, although here and there gleamed emerald-hued patches of water-soaked soil, fit for fairy-rings. Beyond a moderately high embankment of turf and timber, the lovers could see the broad river, sweeping eastward to the Nore, with homeward-bound and outward-faring ships afloat on its golden tide. Across the gleaming waters, from where they lipped their banks to the foot of low domestic Kentish hills, stretched alluvial lands, sparsely timbered, and in the clear sunshine clusters of houses, great and small, factories with tall, smoky chimneys, clumps of trees and rigid railway lines could be discerned. The landscape was not beautiful, in spite of the sun's profuse gildings, but to the lovers it appeared a Paradise. Cupid, lord of gods and men, had bestowed on them the usual rose-colored spectacles which form an important part of his stock-in-trade, and they looked abroad on a fairy world. Was not SHE there: was not HE there: could Romeo or Juliet desire more?
From their feet ran the slim, straight causeway, which was the King's highway of the district--a trim, prim line of white above the picturesque disorder of the marshes. It skirted the low-lying fields at the foot of the uplands and slipped through an iron gate to end in the far distance at the gigantic portal of The Fort. This was a squat, ungainly pile of rugged gray stone, symmetrically built, but aggressively ugly in its very regularity, since it insulted the graceful curves of Nature everywhere discernible. It stood nakedly amidst the bare, bleak meadows glittering with pools of still water, with not even the leaf of a creeper to soften its menacing walls, although above them appeared the full-foliaged tops of trees planted in the barrack-yard. It looked as though the grim walls belted a secret orchard. What with the frowning battlements, the very few windows diminutive and closely barred, the sullen entrance and the absence of any gracious greenery, Gartley Fort resembled the Castle of Giant Despair. On the hither side, but invisible to the lovers, great cannons scowled on the river they protected, and, when they spoke, received answer from smaller guns across the stream. There less extensive forts were concealed amidst trees and masked by turf embankments, to watch and guard the golden argosies of London commerce.
Lucy, always impressionable, shivered with her hand in that of Archie's, as she stared at the landscape, melancholy even in the brilliant sunshine.
"I should hate to live in Gartley Fort," said she abruptly. "One might as well be in jail."
"If you marry Random you will have to live there, or on a baggage wagon. He is R.G.A. captain, remember, and has to go where glory calls him, like a good soldier."
"Glory can call until glory is hoarse for me," retorted the girl candidly. "I prefer an artist's studio to a camp."
"Why?" asked Hope, laughing at her vehemence.
"The reason is obvious. I love the artist."
"And if you loved the soldier?"
"I should mount the baggage wagon and make him Bovril when he was wounded. But for you, dear, I shall cook and sew and bake and--"
"Stop! stop! I want a wife, not a housekeeper."
"Every sensible man wants the two in one."
"But you should be a queen, darling."
"Not with my own consent, Archie: the work is much too hard. Existence on six pounds a week with you will be more amusing. We can take a cottage, you know, and live, the simple life in Gartley village, until you become the P.R.A., and I can be Lady Hope, to walk in silk attire."
"You shall be Queen of the Earth, darling, and walk alone."
"How dull! I would much rather walk with you. And that reminds me that dinner is waiting. Let us take the short cut home through the village. On the way you can tell me exactly how you bought me from my step-father for one thousand pounds."
Archie Hope frowned at the incurable obstinacy of the sex. "I didn't buy you, dearest: how many times do you wish me to deny a sale which never took place? I merely obtained your step-father's consent to our marriage in the near future."
"As if he had anything to do with my marriage, being only my step-father, and having, in my eyes, no authority. In what way did you get his consent--his unnecessary consent," she repeated with emphasis.
Of course it was waste of breath to argue with a woman who had made up her mind. The two began to walk towards the village along the causeway, and Hope cleared his throat to explain-- patiently as to a child.
"You know that your step-father--Professor Braddock--is crazy on the subject of mummies?"
Lucy nodded in her pretty wilful way. "He is an Egyptologist."
"Quite so, but less famous and rich than he should be, considering his knowledge of dry-as-dust antiquities. Well, then, to make a long story short, he told me that he greatly desired to examine into the difference between the Egyptians and the Peruvians, with regard to the embalming of the dead."
"I always thought that he was too fond of Egypt to bother about any other country," said Lucy sapiently.
"My dear, it isn't the country he cares about, but the civilization of the past. The Incas embalmed their dead, as did the Egyptians, and in some way the Professor heard of a Royal Mummy, swathed in green bandages--so he described it to me."
"It should be called an Irish mummy," said Lucy flippantly. "Well?"
"This mummy is in possession of a man at Malta, and Professor Braddock, hearing that it was for sale for one thousand pounds--"
"Oh!" interrupted the girl vivaciously, "so this was why father sent Sidney Bolton away six weeks ago?"
"Yes. As you know, Bolton is your step-father's assistant, and is as crazy as the Professor on the subject of Egypt. I asked the Professor if he would allow me to marry you--"
"Quite unnecessary," interpolated Lucy briskly.
Archie passed over the remark to evade an argument.
"When I asked him, he said that he wished you to marry Random, who is rich. I pointed out that you loved me and not Random, and that Random was on a yachting cruise, while I was on the spot. He then said that he could not wait for the return of Random, and would give me a chance."
"What did he mean by that?"
"Well, it seems that he was in a hurry to get this Green Mummy from Malta, as he feared lest some other person should snap it up. This was two months ago, remember, and Professor Braddock wanted the cash at once. Had Random been here he could have supplied it, but as Random was away he told me that if I handed over one thousand pounds to purchase the mummy, that he would permit our engagement now, and our marriage in six months. I saw my chance and took it, for your step-father has always been an obstacle in our path, Lucy, dear. In a week Professor Braddock had the money, as I sold out some of my investments to get it. He then sent Bolton to Malta in a tramp steamer for the sake of cheapness, and now expects him back with the Green Mummy."
"Has Sidney bought it?"
"Yes. He got it for nine hundred pounds, the Professor told me, and is bringing it back in The Diver--that's the same tramp steamer in which he went to Malta. So that's the whole story, and you can see there is no question of you being bought. The thousand pounds went to get your father's consent."
"He is not my father," snapped Lucy, finding nothing else to say.
"You call him so."
"That is only from habit. I can't call him Mr. Braddock, or Professor Braddock, when I live with him, so `father' is the sole mode of address left to me. And after all," she added, taking her lover's arm, "I like the Professor; he is very kind and good, although extremely absent-minded. And I am glad he has consented, for he worried me a lot to marry Sir Frank Random. I am glad you bought me."
"But I didn't," cried the exasperated lover.
"I think you did, and you shouldn't have diminished your income by buying what you could have had for nothing."
Archie shrugged his shoulders. It was vain to combat her fixed idea.
"I have still three hundred a year left. And you were worth buying."
"You have no right to talk of me as though I had been bought."
The young man gasped. "But you said--"
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