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- The Green Mummy - 5/58 -
looked at her as though she had just entered. "Of course, Mrs. Jasher. Do you wish to see me about anything particular?"
The widow frowned at his inattention, and then laughed. It was impossible to be angry with this dreamer.
"I have come to dinner, Professor. Do try and wake up; you are half asleep and half starved, too, I expect."
"I certainly feel unaccountably hungry," admitted Braddock cautiously.
"Unaccountably, when you have eaten nothing since breakfast. You weird man, I believe you are a mummy yourself."
But the Professor had again returned to examine the scarabeus, this time with a powerful magnifying glass.
"It certainly belongs to the twentieth dynasty," he murmured, wrinkling his brows.
Mrs. Jasher stamped and flirted her fan pettishly. The creature's soul, she decided, was certainly not in his body, and until it came back he would continue to ignore her. With the annoyance of a woman who is not getting her own way, she leaned back in Braddock's one comfortable chair--which she had unerringly selected--and examined him intently. Perhaps the gossips were correct, and she was trying to imagine what kind of a husband he would make. But whatever might be her thoughts, she eyed Braddock as earnestly as Braddock eyed the scarabeus.
Outwardly the Professor did not appear like the savant he was reported to be. He was small of stature, plump of body, rosy as a little Cupid, and extraordinarily youthful, considering his fifty-odd years of scientific wear and tear. With a smooth, clean-shaven face, plentiful white hair like spun silk, and neat feet and hands, he did not look his age. The dreamy look in his small blue eyes was rather belied by the hardness of his thin- lipped mouth, and by the pugnacious push of his jaw. The eyes and the dome-like forehead hinted that brain without much originality; but the lower part of this contradictory countenance might have belonged to a prize-fighter. Nevertheless, Braddock's plumpness did away to a considerable extent with his aggressive look. It was certainly latent, but only came to the surface when he fought with a brother savant over some tomb-dweller from Thebes. In the soft lamplight he looked like a fighting cherub, and it was a pity--in the interests of art--that the hairless pink and white face did not surmount a pair of wings rather than a rusty and ill-fitting dress suit.
"He's nane sa dafty as he looks," thought Mrs. Jasher, who was Scotch, although she claimed to be cosmopolitan. "With his mummies he is all right, but outside those he might be difficult to manage. And these things," she glanced round the shadowy room, crowded with the dead and their earthly belongings. "I don't think I would care to marry the British Museum. Too much like hard work, and I am not so young as I was."
The near mirror--a polished silver one, which had belonged, ages ago, to some coquette of Memphis--denied this uncomplimentary thought, for Mrs. Jasher did not look a day over thirty, although her birth certificate set her down as forty-five. In the lamplight she might have passed for even younger, so carefully had she preserved what remained to her of youth. She assuredly was somewhat stout, and never had been so tall as she desired to be. But the lines of her plump figure were still discernible in the cunningly cut gown, and she carried her little self with such mighty dignity that people overlooked the mortifying height of a trifle over five feet. Her features were small and neat, but her large blue eyes were so noticeable and melting that those on whom she turned them ignored the lack of boldness in chin and nose. Her hair was brown and arranged in the latest fashion, while her complexion was so fresh and pink that, if she did paint --as jealous women averred--she must have been quite an artist with the hare's foot and the rouge pot and the necessary powder puff.
Mrs. Jasher's clothes repaid the thought she expended upon them, and she was artistic in this as in other things. Dressed in a crocus-yellow gown, with short sleeves to reveal her beautiful arms, and cut low to display her splendid bust, she looked perfectly dressed. A woman would have declared the wide-netted black lace with which the dress was draped to be cheap, and would have hinted that the widow wore too many jewels in her hair, on her corsage, round her arms, and ridiculously gaudy rings on her fingers. This might have been true, for Mrs. Jasher sparkled like the Milky Way at every movement; but the gleam of gold and the flash of gems seemed to suit her opulent beauty. Her slightest movement wafted around her a strange Chinese perfume, which she obtained--so she said--from a friend of her late husband's who was in the British Embassy at Pekin. No one possessed this especial perfume but Mrs. Jasher, and anyone who had previously met her, meeting her in the darkness, could have guessed at her identity. With a smile to show her white teeth, with her golden-hued dress and glittering jewels, the pretty widow glowed in that glimmering room like a tropical bird.
The Professor raised his dreamy eyes and laid the beetle on one side, when his brain fully grasped that this charming vision was waiting to be entertained. She was better to look upon even than the beloved scarabeus, and he advanced to shake hands as though she had just entered the room. Mrs. Jasher--knowing his ways-- rose to extend her hand, and the two small, stout figures looked absurdly like a pair of chubby Dresden ornaments which had stepped from the mantelshelf.
"Dear lady, I am glad to see you. You have--you have"--the Professor reflected, and then came back with a rush to the present century--"you have come to dinner, if I mistake not."
"Lucy asked me a week ago," she replied tartly, for no woman likes to be neglected for a mere beetle, however ancient.
"Then you will certainly get a good dinner," said Braddock, waving his plump white hands. "Lucy is an excellent housekeeper. I have no fault to find with her--no fault at all. But she is obstinate--oh, very obstinate, as her mother was. Do you know, dear lady, that in a papyrus scroll which I lately acquired I found the recipe for a genuine Egyptian dish, which Amenemha-- the last Pharaoh of the eleventh dynasty, you know--might have eaten, and probably did eat. I desired Lucy to serve it to-night, but she refused, much to my annoyance. The ingredients, which had to do with roasted gazelle, were oil and coriander seed and--if my memory serves me--asafoetida."
"Ugh!" Mrs. Jasher's handkerchief went again to her mouth. "Say no more, Professor; your dish sounds horrid. I don't wish to eat it, and be turned into a mummy before my time."
"You would make a really beautiful mummy," said Braddock, paying what he conceived was a compliment; "and, should you die, I shall certainly attend to your embalming, if you prefer that to cremation."
"You dreadful man!" cried the widow, turning pale and shrinking. "Why, I really believe that you would like to see me packed away in one of those disgusting coffins."
"Disgusting!" cried the outraged Professor, striking one of the brilliantly tinted cases. "Can you call so beautiful a specimen of sepulchral art disgusting? Look at the colors, at the regularity of the hieroglyphics--why, the history of the dead is set out in this magnificent series of pictures." He adjusted his pince-nez and began to read, "The Osirian, Scemiophis that is a female name, Mrs. Jasher--who--"
"I don't want to have my history written on my coffin," interrupted the widow hysterically, for this funereal talk frightened her. "It would take much more space than a mummy case upon which to write it. My life has been volcanic, I can tell you. By the way," she added hurriedly, seeing that Braddock was on the eve of resuming the reading, "tell me about your Inca mummy. Has it arrived?"
The Professor immediately followed the false trail. "Not yet," he said briskly, rubbing his smooth hands, "but in three days I expect The Diver will be at Pierside, and Sidney will bring the mummy on here. I shall unpack it at once and learn exactly how the ancient Peruvians embalmed their dead. Doubtless they learned the art from--"
"The Egyptians," ventured Mrs. Jasher rashly.
Braddock glared. "Nothing of the sort, dear lady," he snorted angrily. "Absurd, ridiculous! I am inclined to believe that Egypt was merely a colony of that vast island of Atlantis mentioned by Plato. There--if my theory is correct-- civilization begun, and the kings of Atlantis--doubtless the gods of historical tribes--governed the whole world, including that portion which we now term South America."
"Do you mean to say that there were Yankees in those days?" inquired Mrs. Jasher frivolously.
The Professor tucked his hands under his shabby coattails and strode up and down the room warming his rage, which was provoked by such ignorance.
"Good heavens, madam, where have you lived?" he exclaimed explosively--"are you a fool, or merely an ignorant woman? I am talking of prehistoric times, thousands of years ago, when you were probably a stray atom embedded in the slime."
"Oh, you horrid creature!" cried Mrs. Jasher indignantly, and was about to give Braddock her opinion, if only to show him that she could hold her own, when the door opened.
"How are you, Mrs. Jasher?" said Lucy, advancing.
"Here am I and here is Archie. Dinner is ready. And you--"
"I am very hungry," said Mrs. Jasher. "I have been called an atom of the slime," then she laughed and took possession of young Hope.
Lucy wrinkled her brow; she did not approve of the widow's man-annexing instinct.
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