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- The Green Mummy - 3/58 -
"Oh, what does it matter what I said. I am going to marry you on three hundred a year, so there it is. I suppose when Bolton returns, my father will be glad to see the back of me, and then will go to Egypt with Sidney to explore this secret tomb he is always talking about."
"That expedition will require more than a thousand pounds," said Archie dryly. "The Professor explained the obstacles to me. However, his doings have nothing to do with us, darling. Let Professor Braddock fumble amongst the dead if he likes. We live!"
"Apart," sighed Lucy.
"Only for the next six months; then we can get our cottage and live on love, my dearest."
"Plus three hundred a year," said the girl sensibly then she added, "Oh, poor Frank Random!"
"Lucy," cried her lover indignantly.
"Well, I was only pitying him. He's a nice man, and you can't expect him to be pleased at our marriage."
"Perhaps," said Hope in an icy tone, "you would like him to be the bridegroom. If so, there is still time."
"Silly boy!" She took his arm. "As I have been bought, you know that I can't run away from my purchaser."
"You denied being bought just now. It seems to me, Lucy, that I am to marry a weather-cock."
"That is only an impolite name for a woman, dear. You have no sense of humor, Frank, or you would call me an April lady."
"Because you change every five minutes. H'm! It's puzzling."
"Is it? Perhaps you would like me to resemble Widow Anne, who is always funereal. Here she is, looking like Niobe."
They were strolling through Gartley village by this time, and the cottagers came to their doors and front gates to look at the handsome young couple. Everyone knew of the engagement, and approved of the same, although some hinted that Lucy Kendal would have been wiser to marry the soldier-baronet. Amongst these was Widow Anne, who really was Mrs. Bolton, the mother of Sidney, a dismal female invariably arrayed in rusty, stuffy, aggressive mourning, although her husband had been dead for over twenty years. Because of this same mourning, and because she was always talking of the dead, she was called "Widow Anne," and looked on the appellation as a compliment to her fidelity. At the present moment she stood at the gate of her tiny garden, mopping her red eyes with a dingy handkerchief.
"Ah, young love, young love, my lady," she groaned, when the couple passed, for she always gave Lucy a title as though she really and truly had become the wife of Sir Frank, "but who knows how long it may last?"
"As long as we do," retorted Lucy, annoyed by this prophetic speech.
Widow Anne groaned with relish. "So me and Aaron, as is dead and gone, thought, my lady. But in six months he was knocking the head off me."
"The man who would lay his hand on a woman save in the way of--"
"Oh, Archie, what nonsense, you talk!" cried Miss Kendal pettishly.
"Ah!" sighed the woman of experience, "I called it nonsense too, my lady, afore Aaron, who now lies with the worms, laid me out with a flat-iron. Men's fit for jails only, as I allays says."
"A nice opinion you have of our sex," remarked Archie dryly.
"I have, sir. I could tell you things as would make your head waggle with horror on there shoulders of yours."
"What about your son Sidney? Is he also wicked?"
"He would be if he had the strength, which he hasn't," exclaimed the widow with uncomplimentary fervor. "He's Aaron's son, and Aaron hadn't much to learn from them as is where he's gone too," and she looked downward significantly.
"Sidney is a decent young fellow," said Lucy sharply. "How dare you miscall your own flesh and blood, Widow Anne? My father thinks a great deal of Sidney, else he would not have sent him to Malta. Do try and be cheerful, there's a good soul. Sidney will tell you plenty to make you laugh, when he comes home."
"If he ever does come home," sighed the old woman.
"What do you mean by that?"
"Oh, it's all very well asking questions as can't be answered nohow, my lady, but I be all of a mubble-fubble, that I be."
"What is a mubble-fubble?" asked Hope, staring.
"It's a queer-like feeling of death and sorrow and tears of blood and not lifting your head for groans," said Widow Anne incoherently, "and there's meanings in mubble-fumbles, as we're told in Scripture. Not but what the Perfesser's been a kind gentleman to Sid in taking him from going round with the laundry cart, and eddicating him to watch camphorated corpses: not as what I'd like to keep an eye on them things myself. But there's no more watching for my boy Sid, as I dreamed."
"What did you dream?" asked Lucy curiously.
Widow Anne threw up two gnarled hands, wrinkled with age and laundry work, screwing up her face meanwhile.
"I dreamed of battle and murder and sudden death, my lady, with Sid in his cold grave playing on a harp, angel-like. Yes!" she folded her rusty shawl tightly round her spare form and nodded, "there was Sid, looking beautiful in his coffin, and cut into a hash, as you might say, with--"
"Ugh! ugh!" shuddered Lucy, and Archie strove to draw her away.
"With murder written all over his poor face," pursued the widow. "And I woke up screeching with cramp in my legs and pains in my lungs, and beatings in my heart, and stiffness in my--"
"Oh, hang it, shut up!" shouted Archie, seeing that Lucy was growing pale at this ghoulish recital, "don't be fool, woman. Professor Braddock says that Bolton'll be back in three days with the mummy he has been sent to fetch from Malta. You have been having nightmare! Don't you see how you are frightening Miss Kendal?"
"'The Witch' of Endor, sir--"
"Deuce take the Witch of Endor and you also. There's a shilling. Go and drink yourself into a more cheery frame of mind."
Widow Anne bit the shilling with one of her two remaining teeth, and dropped a curtsey.
"You're a good, kind gentleman," she smirked, cheered at the idea of unlimited gin. "And when my boy Sid do come home a corpse, I hope you'll come to the funeral, sir."
"What a raven!" said Lucy, as Widow Anne toddled away in the direction of the one public-house in Gartley village.
"I don't wonder that the late Mr. Bolton laid her out with a flat-iron. To slay such a woman would be meritorious."
"I wonder how she came to be the mother of Sidney," said Miss Kendal reflectively, as they resumed their walk, "he's such a clever, smart, and handsome young man."
"I think Bolton owes everything to the Professor's teaching and example, Lucy," replied her lover. "He was an uncouth lad, I understand, when your step-father took him into the house six years ago. Now he is quite presentable. I shouldn't wonder if he married Mrs. Jasher."
"H'm! I rather think Mrs. Jasher admires the Professor."
"Oh, he'll never marry her. If she were a mummy there might be a chance, of course, but as a human being the Professor will never look at her."
"I don't know so much about that, Archie. Mrs. Jasher is attractive."
Hope laughed. "In a mutton-dressed-as-lamb way, no doubt."
"And she has money. My father is poor and so--"
"You make up a match at once, as every woman will do. Well, let us get back to the Pyramids, and see how the flirtation is progressing."
Lucy walked on for a few steps in silence. "Do you believe in Mrs. Bolton's dream, Archie?"
"No! I believe she eats heavy suppers. Bolton will return quite safe; he is a clever fellow, not easily taken advantage of. Don't bother any more about Widow Anne and her dismal prophecies."
"I'll try not to," replied Lucy dutifully. "All the same, I wish she had not told me her dream," and she shivered.
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