Ghost Hunters And Psychic Detectives / Ghost Hunters and Psychic Detectives Part 4

“Yes, sir,” said William; and, turning to the dame, “Was you thinking of buyin’ that chair, mum, after you’ve quite done muckin’ it about?”

He retired into the cavernous depths of the shop, and I followed him as far as the dimly seen counter.

“Moris Klaw, Moris Klaw! the devil’s come for you!”

Thus the invisible parrot hailed my entrance. Indescribable smells, zoo-like, with the fusty odor of old books and the unclassifiable perfume of half-rotten furniture, assailed my nostrils; and mingling with it was the distinct scent of reptile life. Scufflings and scratchings sounded continuously about me, punctuated with squeals. Then came the rumbling voice of Moris Klaw.

“Ah, Mr. Searles a” good-evening, Mr. Searles! It is the Pettigrew mummy, is it not?”

He advanced through the shadows, his massive figure arrayed for traveling, in the caped coat, his toneless beard untidy as ever, his pince-nez glittering, his high bald brow yellow as that of a Chinaman.

“There has been a second outrage,” I said, “at Sotheby’s.”

“So?” said Moris Klaw, with interest; “another mummy is executed!”

“Yes, Inspector Grimsby has asked us to join him there.”

Moris Klaw stooped, and from beneath the counter took out his flat-topped brown bowler. From its lining he extracted a cylindrical scent-spray and mingled with the less pleasing perfumes that of verbena.

“A cooling Roman custom, Mr. Searles,” he rumbled, “so refreshing when one lives with rats. So it is Mr. Grimsby who is puzzled again? It is Mr. Grimsby who needs the poor old fool to hold the lantern for him, so that he, the clever Grimsby, can pick up the credit out of the darkness. And why not, Mr. Searles, and why not? It is his business. It is my pleasure.”

He raised his voice. “Isis! Isis!

Out into the light of the fluttering gas-lamp, out from that nightmare abode, stepped Isis Klaw a” looking more grotesque than a French fashion-plate in an ironmonger’s catalogue. She wore a costume of lettuce-green silk, absolutely plain and unrelieved by any ornament, which rendered it the more remarkable. It was cut low at the neck, and at the point of the V, suspended upon a thin gold chain, hung a big emerald. Her darkly beautiful face was one to inspire a painter seeking a model for the Queen of Sheba, but an ultra modern note was struck by a hat of some black, gauzy material which loudly proclaimed its Paris origin. She greeted me with her wonderful smile.

“What, then,” I said. “Were you about to go out?”

“When I hear who it is,” rumbled Moris Klaw, I know that we are about to go out; and behold we are ready!”

He placed the quaint bowler on his head and passed through to the front of the shop.

“William,” he admonished the ripe-nosed salesman, “there is here a smell of fourpenny ale. It will be your ruin, William. You will close at half-past nine, and be sure you do not let the cat in the cupboard with the white mice. See that the goat does not get at the Dutch bulbs. They will kill him, that goat a” those bulbs; he has for them a passion.”

The three of us entered the waiting cab; and within half-an-hour we arrived at the famous auction rooms. The doors were closed and barred, but a constable who was on duty there evidently had orders to admit us.

The thing we had come to see lay upon the table with an electric lamp burning directly over it. The effect was indescribably weird. All about in the shadows fantastic “lots” seemed to, leer at us. A famous private collection was to be sold in the morning and a rank of mummies lined one wall, whilst, from another, stony Pharaohs, gods and goddesses, scorned us through the gloom. We were a living group in a place of long-dead things. And yellow on the table beneath the white light, with partially unwrapt coils of discolored linen hanging gruesomely from it, lay a headless mummy!

I heard the spurt of Moris Klaw’s scent-spray behind me, and a faint breath of verbena stole to my nostrils.

“Pah!” came the rumbling voice; “this air is full of deadness!”

“Good evening, Mr. Klaw,” said Grimsby, appearing from somewhere out of the gloom, “I’m glad you have come.” He bowed to Isis. “How do you do, Miss Klaw?”

The bright green figure moved forward into the pool of light. I think I had never seen a more singular picture than that of Isis Klaw bending over the decapitated mummy. Indeed the whole scene had delighted Rembrandt.

“I am pleased to meet you, Mr. Klaw,” said a middle-aged gentleman, stepping up to the curio dealer; “the Inspector has been telling me about you.”

Moris Klaw bowed, and his daughter turned to him with a little nod of the head.

“It is the same period,” she said, “as Mr. Pettigrew’s mummy. Possibly this was a priest of the same temple. Certainly both are of the same dynasty.”

“It is instructive,” rumbled Moris Klaw, “but so confusing.”

“It’s amazing, Mr. Klaw,” said Grimsby. “If I understand Miss Klaw rightly, this is the mummy of someone who lived at the same period as the priestess whose mummy is in Mr. Pettigrew’s possession?”

“I do not trouble to look,” rumbled Moris Klaw, who, in fact, was staring all about the room. “If Isis has said so, it is so.”

“If I happened to be superstitious,” said Grimsby, “I should think this was a sort of curse being fulfilled, or some fantastic thing of that sort.”

“You should call a curse fantastic, eh, my friend? said Moris Klaw. “Yet here in your own country you have seen a whole family that was cursed to be wiped out mysteriously. Am I with you?

Grimsby looked very perplexed, “There’s nothing very mysterious about how the thing was done,” he said. “Some madman got in here with a knife early in the evening. It’s always pretty dark even during the daytime. But the mystery is his object.”

“His object is a mystery, yes,” agreed Klaw. “I would sleep here in order to procure a mental negative of what he hoped or what he feared, this lunatic headsman, only that I know he is a man possessed.”

“Possessed!” I cried; and even Isis looked surprised.

“I said possessed,” continued Klaw, impressively.

He is some madman with a one idea. His mad brain will have charged the ether ” a” he waved his long arms right and lefta”” with mad thoughts. The room of Mr. Pettigrew also will be filled with these grotesque thought-forms. Certainly he is insane, this butcher of mummies. In this case I shall rely, not upon the odic photography, not upon that great science the Cycle of Crime, but upon my library.”

None of us, I am sure, entirely understood his meaning; and following a brief silence during which in a curiously muffled way the sounds of the traffic in Wellington Street came to us as we stood there around that modern bier with its 4000-year-old burden, Grimsby asked with hesitancy: “Don’t you want to make any investigations, Mr. Klaw?”

Then Moris Klaw startled us all.

“I have a thought!” he cried, loudly. “Name of a dog! I have a thought!

Grabbing his brown bowler, which he had laid on the table beside the headless mummy, “Come, Isis!” he cried, and grasped the girl by the arm. “I have yet another thought, most disturbing. Mr. Searles, would you be so good as also to come?”

Wondering greatly whence we were bound and upon what errand, I hastened down the room after them, leaving Inspector Grimsby staring blankly. I think he was rather disappointed with the result of Moris Klaw’s inquiry a” if inquiry this hasty visit may be termed. He was disappointed, too, at having spent so short a time in the company of the charming Isis.

The middle-aged gentleman came running to let us out.

“Good night, Inspector Grimsby!” called Moris Klaw.

“Good night! Good night, Miss Klaw.”

“Good night, Mr. Some One who has not been introduced!” said Klaw.

“My name is Welby,” smiled the other.

“Good night, Mr. Welby!” said Moris Klaw.

III.

During the whole of the journey back to Wapping, Moris Klaw regaled me with anecdotes of travels in the Yucatan Peninsula. I had never met a man before who had ventured fully to explore those deadly swamps; but Moris Klaw chatted about the Izamal temples as unconcernedly as another man might chat about the Paris boulevards. Isis took no part in the conversation, from which I gathered that, although she seemed to accompany her father everywhere, she had not accompanied him into the jungles of Yucatan.

“In the heart of those forests, Mr. Searles,” he whispered, “are stranger things than these headless mummies. Do you know that the secret of those great temples buried in the swamps and the jungles and guarded only by serpents and slimy, crawling things, is a door which science has yet to unlock? What people built them, and what god was worshipped in them? Suppose ” a” he bent to my eara”” I hold the key to that riddle; am I assured to be immortal? Yes? No?”

His conversation, although it often seemed to be studiously eccentric, was always that of a man of powerful and unusual mind, a man of vast and unique experience. I was rather sorry when we arrived at our destination.

As the cab drew up at the head of the court, I saw that the shop of Moris Klaw was in darkness; but again telling the man to wait, we walked down past the warehouse, beyond whose bulk tided muddy Thames, and, my eccentric companion producing a key from one of the bulging pockets of his caped coat, he inserted it into the lock of a door which looked less like a door than a section of a dilapidated boarding.

The door swung open.

“Ah!” he hissed. “It was not locked!” Klaw struck a match and peered into the odorous darkness.

“William!” he rumbled. “William!” But there was no reply. Isis suddenly laid her hand upon my arm, and it occurred to me that for once her wonderful composure was shaken.

“Something has happened!” she whispered.

Her father lighted a gas-burner, and the yellow light flared up, reclaiming from the gloom, furniture, pictures, cages, glass cases, statuettes, heaps of cheap jewelry and false teeth, books, and a hundred-and-one other items of that weird stock-in-trade.

Then, under the littered counter we found William lying flat on his back with his arms spread widely.

“Ah! cochon,” muttered Klaw; “beer-swilling pig!”

He stooped to raise the head of the prostrate man, and then to my surprise dropped upon his knees beside him, stooped yet lower, and sniffed suspiciously. Again Isis Klaw seized my arm, and her dark eyes were opened very widely as she leaned forward watching her father. He stood up, holding a glass in his hand which yet contained some drops of what was apparently beer. At this, too, he sniffed. He walked over to the gaslight and examined the fluid closely, whilst Isis and I watched him, together. Finally Moris Klaw inserted a long white forefinger into the dirty glass and applied the tip to his tongue.

“Opium!” he said. “Many drops of pure opium were put in this beer.”

He turned to me with a curious expression upon his parchment-colored face.

“Mr. Searle’s,” he said, “my second idea was a good idea. I shall now surprise you.”

He led the way through that neat and businesslike office which opened out of the unutterably dirty and untidy shop. Although within the shop and in front of it, only gaslight was used, in the office he switched on an electric lamp. But we did not delay long in Moris Klaw’s sanctum, lined with its hundreds of books, its obscure works of criminology, its records of strange things: we proceeded through another door and up a thickly carpeted stair.

I had never before penetrated thus far into the habitable portion of Moris Klaw’s establishment; the book-lined office hitherto had marked the limit of my explorations. But now as more electric lights were switched on, I saw that we stood upon a wide landing paneled in massive black oak. Armored figures stood sentinel-like against the walls, and several magnificent specimens of Chinese porcelain met my gaze. I might have thought myself in some old English baronial hall. Next we entered a big, rectangular room, which I wholly despair of describing. Apparently it was used as a study, a library, a laboratory, and a warehouse for all sorts of things, from marble Buddhas to innumerable pairs of boots. Also, there was in it a French stove; and upon a Persian coffee table stood a frying-pan containing a cooked sausage solidified in its own fat. There was clear evidence, moreover, in the form of a rolled-up hammock, that the place served as a bedroom.

Altogether there were four mummies in the apartment. One of these, partly unwrapped, lay amongst the litter on the floor … headless!

“Mon Dieu!” cried Isis, clasping her hands; it is uncanny, this!”

She was evidently excited, for her French accent suddenly asserted itself to a marked degree. Moris Klaw, from somewhere amongst the rubbish at his feet, picked up the severed head of the mummy and stared at it intently. In the stillness I could hear the river noises very distinctly, and a sort of subterranean lapping and creaking which suggested that at high tide the cellars of the establishment became flooded. Moris Klaw dropped the head from his hands. It fell with a dull thud to the floor.

From the lining of his hat he took out the inevitable scent-spray and moistened his brow with verbena.

“I need the cool brain, Mr. Searles,” he said. “I, the old cunning, the fox, the wily, am threatened with defeat. This slaughter of mummies it surpasses my experience. I am nonplussed; I am a stupid old fool. Let me think!”

Isis was looking about her in a startled way.

“It is horribly uncanny, Miss Klaw,” I said. “But the drugging of the man downstairs points to very human agency. Perhaps if we could revive him?”

“He will not revive,” interrupted Moris Klaw, for twelve hours at least. In his beer was enough opium to render unconscious the rhinoceros!

“Is there anything missing?” I asked.

“Nothing,” rumbled Klaw. “He came for the mummy. Isis, will you prepare for us those cooling drinks that help the fevered mind, and from downstairs bring me the seventh volume of the Books of the Temples.”

Isis Klaw immediately walked forward to the door.

“And Isis, my child,” added her father, “remove the tall cage to the top end of the shop. Presently that William’s snores will awake the Borneo squirrel.”

As the girl departed, Klaw opened an inner door and ushered me into a dainty white room, an amazing apartment indeed, a true Parisian boudoir. The air was heavy with the scent of roses, for bowls of white and pink roses were everywhere. Klaw lighted a silver table-lamp with a unique silver gauze shade apparently lined with pale rose-colored silk.

Evidently this apartment belonged to Isis, and was as appropriate for her, exquisite Parisian that she seemed to be, as the weird barn through which we had come was an appropriate abode for her father.

When presently Isis returned I saw her for the first time in her proper setting, a dainty green figure in a white frame. Moris Klaw opened the bulky leather-bound volume which she had handed to him, and whilst I sat sipping my wine and watching him, he busily turned over the pages (apparently French MS.) in quest of the reference he sought.

“Ah!” he cried in sudden triumph; “vaguely I had it in my memory, but here it is, the clue. I will translate for you, Mr. Searles, what is written here: ‘The Book of the Lamps, which was revealed to the priest, Pankhaur, and by him revealed only to the Queen’ (it was the ancient Egyptian Queen, Hatshepsu, Mr. Searles), ‘was kept locked in the secret place beneath the altar, and each high priest of the temple a” all of whom were of the family of Pankhaur a” held the key and alone might consult the magic writing. In the 14th dynasty, Seteb was high priest, and was the last of the family of Pankhaur. At his death the newly appointed priest, receiving the key of the secret place, complained to Pharaoh that the Book of the Lamps was missing.'”

He closed the volume, and placed it on a little table beside him.

“Isis,” he rumbled, looking across at his daughter, does the mystery become clear to you? Am I not an old fool? Mr. Searles, there is only one other copy of this work” a” he laid a long white hand upon the book a” “known to European collectors. Do I know where that copy is? Yes? No? I think so!”

There was triumph in his hoarse voice. Personally I was quite unable to see in what way the history of the Book of the Lamps bore upon the case of the headless mummies; but Moris Klaw evidently considered that it afforded a clue. He stood up.

“Isis,” he said, “bring me my catalogue of the mummies of the Bubastite priests.”

That imperious beauty departed in meek obedience.

“Mr. Searles,” said Moris Klaw, “this will be for Inspector Grimsby another triumph; but without these records of a poor old fool, who shall say if the one that beheads mummies had ever been detected? I neglected to secure the odic negative because I thought I had to deal with a madman; but I was more stupid than an owl. This decapitating of mummies is no madman’s work, but is done with a purpose, my friend a” with a wonderful purpose.

IV.

The Menzies Museum (scene of my first meeting with Moris Klaw) was not yet opened to the public when Coram (the curator), Moris Klaw, Grimsby and I stood in the Egyptian Room before a case containing mummies. The room adjoining a” the Greek Room a” had been the scene of the dreadful tragedies which first had acquainted me with the wonderful methods of the eccentric investigator.

“Whoever broke into Sotheby’s last night, Mr. Klaw,”‘ said Grimsby, “knew the ins and outs of the place; knew it backwards. It’s my idea that he was known to the people there. After having cut off the head of the mummy he probably walked out openly. Then, again, it must have been somebody who knew the habits of Mr. Pettigrew’s household that got at his mummy. Of course” a” his eyes twinkled with a satisfaction which he could not conceal a” “I’m very sorry to hear that our man has proved too clever for you. Think of a burglar breaking into Mr. Moris Klaw’s house!”

“Think of it, my friend,” rumbled the other; if it makes you laugh go on thinking of it, and you will grow fat!”

Grimsby openly winked at me. He was out of his depth himself, and was not displeased to find the omniscient Moris Klaw apparently in a similar position.

“I am not resentful,” continued Klaw, “and I will capture for you the mummy man.”

“What?” cried Grimsby. “Are you on the track?”

“I will tell you something, my laughing friend. You will secretly watch this Egyptian Room like the cat at the mouse-hole, and presently a” I expect it will be at night a” he will come here, this hunter of mummies!

Grimsby stared incredulously.

“I don’t doubt your word, Mr. Klaw,” he said; but I don’t see how you can possibly know that. Why should he go for the mummies here rather than for those in one of the other museums or in private collections?

“Why do you order a bottle of Bass,” rasped Klaw, in a saloon, rather than a bottle of water or a bottle of vinegar? It is because what you want is a bottle of Bass. Am I a damn fool? There are others. I am not alone in my foolishness!”

The group broke up: Grimsby, very puzzled, going off to make arrangements to have the Egyptian Room watched night and day, and Coram, Klaw, and I walking along in the direction of the Greek Room.

“I have no occasion to remind you, Mr. Klaw,” said Coram, “that the Menzies Museum is a hard nut for any burglar to crack. We have a man a” a watchman, you will remember a” who hourly patrols every apartment. For any one to break into the Egyptian Room, force one of the cases and take out a mummy, would be a task extremely difficult to perform undetected.”

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