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- The Green Mummy - 50/58 -
incessantly. When they left the dimly lighted archway of the fort through the smaller, gate set in the larger one they stepped into midnight blackness such as must have been spread over the land of Egypt. In accordance with the primitive customs of Gartley inhabitants, one of them at least should have been furnished with a lantern, as it was no easy task to pick a clean way through the mud.---However, Archie, knowing the surroundings better even than Random, led the way, and they walked slowly through the iron gate on the hard high road which led to the Fort. Immediately beyond this they turned towards the narrow cinder path which led through the marshes to Mrs. Jasher's cottage, and toiled on cautiously through the misty rain, which fell continuously. The fog was drifting up from the mouth of the river and was growing so thick that they could not see the somewhat feeble lights of the cottage. However, Archie's instincts led him aright, and they blundered finally upon the wooden gate. Here they paused in shocked surprise, for a woman's scream rang out wildly and suddenly.
"What, in heaven's name, is that?" asked Hope, aghast.
"We must find out," breathed Random, and raced through the white cotton-wool of the fog up the path. As he reached the veranda the door opened and a woman came running out screaming. But other screams inside the cottage still continued.
"What is the matter?" cried Random, seizing the woman.
She proved to be Jane.
"Oh, sir, my mistress is being murdered--"
Hope plunged past her into the corridor, not waiting to hear more. The cries had died down to a low moaning, and he dashed into the pink parlor to find it in smoky darkness. Striking a match, he held it above his head. It showed Mrs. Jasher prone on the floor, and a dark figure smashing its way through the flimsy window. There was a snarl and the figure vanished as the match went out.
Jane was still being held by Sir Frank at the floor, and was still screaming, fully convinced that her captor was a burglar, in spite of having recognized him by his voice. Random was so exasperated by her stupidity that he shook her.
"What is the matter, you fool?" he demanded. "Don't you know that I am a friend?"
"Y-e-s, s-i-r," gasped Jane, fetching her breath again after the shaking; "but go for the police. My mistress is being murdered."
"Mr. Hope is looking after that, and the screams have ceased. Who was with your mistress?"
"I don't know, sir," sobbed the servant. "I didn't know anyone had called, and then I heard the screaming. I looked into the parlor to see what was the matter, but the lamp had been thrown over and had gone out, and there was a dreadful struggle going on in the darkness, so I screamed and ran out and then I--oh--oh" Jane showed symptoms of renewed hysteria, and clutched Random tightly, as a man came cautiously round the corner.
"Are you there, Random?" asked Hope's voice.
"It's so infernally dark and foggy that I have missed him."
"The man who was trying to murder Mrs. Jasher, He got her down when I entered and struck a match. Then he dashed through the window before I could catch him or even recognize him. He's vanished in the mist."
"It's no use looking for him anyhow," said Random, peering into the dense blackness, which was thick with damp. "We had better see after Mrs. Jasher."
"Whom have you got there?"
"Jane--who seems to have lost her head."
"It's a mercy I haven't lost my life, sir, with burglars and murderers all about the place," sobbed the girl, dropping on to the veranda.
Random promptly hauled her to her feet.
"Go and get a candle, and keep calm if you can," he said in an abrupt military voice. "This is no time to play the fool."
His sharpness had great effect on the girl, and she became much more her usual self. Hope lighted another match, and the trio proceeded through the passage towards the kitchen, where Jane had left a lamp burning. Seizing this from its bracket, Sir Frank retraced his way along the passage to the pink parlor, followed closely by Hope and timorously by Jane. A dreadful scene presented itself. The dainty little room was literally smashed to pieces, as though a gigantic bull had been wallowing therein. The lamp lay on the floor, surrounded by several extinguished candles. It was a mercy that all the lights had been put out when overturned, else the gim-crack cottage would have been long since in a blaze. Chairs and tables and screens were also overturned, and the one window had its rose-hued curtains torn down and its glass broken, showing only too clearly the way in which the murderer had escaped. And that the man who had attacked Mrs. Jasher was a murderer could be seen from the stream of blood that ran slowly from Mrs. Jasher's breast. Apparently she had been stabbed in the lungs, for the wound was on the right side. There she lay, poor woman, in her tawdry finery, crumpled up, battered and bruised, dead amongst the ruins of her home. Jane immediately began to scream again.
"Stop her, Hope," cried Random, who was kneeling by the body and feeling the heart. "Mrs. Jasher is not dead. Hold your noise, woman, and go for a doctor." This was to Jane, who, prevented from screaming, took to whimpering.
"I had better go," said Hope quickly; "and I'll go to the Fort and alarm the men. Perhaps they may catch the man."
"Can you describe him?"
"Of course not," said Archie indignantly. "I only caught a glimpse of him by the feeble light of a lucifer match. Then he leaped through the window and I after him. I made a grab at him, but lost him in the mist. I don't know in the least what he is like."
"Then how can anyone arrest him?" snapped Random, raising Mrs. Jasher's head. "Give what alarm you like, but race for Robinson up the village. We must save this poor woman's life, if only to learn who killed her."
"But she isn't dead yet--she isn't dead yet," wailed Jane, clapping her hands, while Hope, knowing the value of time, promptly ran out of the house to get further assistance.
"She soon will be," said Sir Frank, whose temper was not of the best at so critical a moment in dealing with a fool. "Go and bring me brandy at once, and afterwards linen and hot water. We must do our best to staunch this wound and revive her."
For the next quarter of an hour the man and the woman labored hard to save Mrs. Jasher's life. Random bound up the wound in a rough and ready fashion, and Jane fed the pale lips of her mistress with sips of brandy. Mrs. Jasher gradually became more alive, and a faint sigh escaped from her lips, as her wounded bosom rose and fell with recovered breath. When Sir Frank was in hopes that she would speak, she suddenly relapsed again into a comatose state. Luckily at that moment Archie returned with young Dr. Robinson at his heels, and also was followed by Painter, the village constable, who had luckily been picked up in the fog.
Robinson whistled as he looked at the insensible woman.
"She's had a narrow squeak," he muttered, lifting the body with the assistance of Random.
"Will she recover?" questioned Hope anxiously.
"I can't tell you yet," answered the doctor; and with Sir Frank he carried the heavy body of the widow into her bedroom. "How did it happen?"
"That is my business," said Painter, who had followed, and who was now filled with importance. "You look after the body, sir, and I'll question these gentlemen and the servant."
"Servant yourself! Such sauce!" muttered Jane, with an angry toss of her cap at the daring young policeman. "I know nothing. I left my mistress in the parlor writing letters, and never heard anyone come in. The bell didn't sound anyhow. The first thing I knew that anything was wrong was on hearing the screams. When I looked into the parlor the candles and the lamp were out, and there was a struggle going on in the dark. Then I cried out, very naturally, I'm sure, and ran straight into the arms of these gentlemen, as soon as I could get the front door open."
After delivering this address, Jane was called away to assist the doctor in the bedroom, and along with Archie and Random the constable repaired to the pink parlor to hear what they had to say. Of course they could tell him even less than Jane had told, and Archie protested that he was quite unable to describe the man who had dashed out of the window.
"Ah," said Painter sapiently, "he got out there; but how did he enter?"
"No doubt by the door," said Random sharply.
"We don't know that, sir. Jane says she did not hear the bell."
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