Ghost Hunters And Psychic Detectives / Ghost Hunters and Psychic Detectives Part 5

“This mummy hunter,” replied Klaw, “can perform it with ease; but because we shall all be waiting for him, he cannot perform it undetected.”

“I shouldn’t think there is much likelihood of any attempt during the day?” I said.

“There is no likelihood,” agreed Klaw; “but I like to see that Grimsby busy! The man with the knife to decapitate mummies will come tonight. Without fear he will come, for how is he to know that an old fool from Wapping anticipates his arrival?”

We quitted the Museum together. The affair brought back, to my mind the gruesome business of the Greek Room murders, and for the second time in my life I made arrangements to watch in the Menzies Museum at night.

On several occasions during the day I found myself thinking of this most singular affair and wondering in what way the Book of the Lamps, mentioned by Moris Klaw, could be associated with it. I was quite unable to surmise, too, how Klaw had divined that the Menzies Museum would become the scene of the next outrage.

We had arranged to dine with Coram in his apartments, which adjoined the Museum buildings, and an oddly mixed party we were, comprising Coram, his daughter, Moris Klaw, Isis Klaw, Grimsby and myself.

A man had gone on duty in the Egyptian Room directly the doors were closed to the public, and we had secretly arranged to watch the place from nightfall onward. The construction of the room greatly facilitated our plan; for there was a long glass skylight in the center of its roof, and by having the blinds drawn back we could look down into the room from a landing window of a higher floor a” a portion of the curator’s house.

Dinner over, Isis and Klaw departed.

“You will not remain, Isis,” said her father. It is so unnecessary. Good night, my child!”

Accordingly, the deferential and very admiring Grimsby descended with Coram to see Isis off in a taxi. I marveled to think of her returning to that tumble-down, water-logged ruin in Wapping.

Now, Mr. Grimsby,” said Moris Klaw, when we four investigators had gathered together again, “you will hide in the case with the mummies!”

“But I may find myself helpless. How do we know that any particular case is going to be opened? Besides I don’t know what to expect!”

“Blessed is he that expecteth little, my friend. It is quite possible that no attempt will be made tonight. In that event you will have to be locked in again to-morrow night!”

Grimsby accordingly set out. He held a key to the curator’s private door, which opened upon the Greek Room, and also the key of a wall-case. Moris Klaw had especially warned him against making the slightest noise. In fact he had us all agog with curiosity and expectation. As he and Coram and I, having opened, very carefully, the landing window, looked down through the skylight into the Egyptian Room, Grimsby appeared beneath us. He was carrying an electric pocket torch.

Opening the wall-case nearest to the lower end of the room, he glanced up rapidly, then stepped within, reclosing the glass door. As Klaw had pointed out earlier in the evening, an ideal hiding-place existed between the side of the last sarcophagus and the angle of the wall.

“I hope he has refastened the catch,” said our eccentric companion; “but not with noisiness.”

“Why do you fear his making a noise?” asked Coram, curiously.

“Outside, upon the landing,” replied Moris Klaw, is a tall piece of a bas-relief; it leans back against the wall. You know it?

“Certainly.”

“Tonight, you did not look behind it, in the triangular space so formed.”

“There’s no occasion. A man could not get in there.”

“He could not, you say? No? That exploits to me, Mr. Coram, that you have no eye for capacity! But if you are wrong, what then?”

Any one hiding there would have to remain in hiding until the morning. He could not gain access to any of the rooms; all are locked, and he could not go downstairs, because of the night attendant in the hallway.”

“No? Yes? You are two times wrong! First, some one is concealed there!”

“Mr. Klaw!” began Coram, excitedly.

“Ssh!” Moris Klaw raised his hand. “No excitement. It is noisy and a tax upon the nerves. Second a” you are wrong, because presently that bidden one will come into the Egyptian Room!”

“How? How in Heaven’s name is he going to get in?”

“We shall see.”

Utterly mystified, Coram and I stared at Moris Klaw. For we stood one on either side of him; but he merely wagged his finger enjoining us to silence, and silent perforce we became.

The view was a cramped one, and standing there looking out at the clear summer night, for one grew very weary of the business. But I was sustained by the anticipation that the mystery of the headless mummies was about to come to a climax. I felt very sorry for poor Grimsby, cramped in the corner of the Egyptian Room, for I knew him to be even more hopelessly in the dark respecting the purpose of these maneuvers than I was myself. In vain I racked my brain in quest of the link which united the ancient Book of the Lamps with the singular case which had brought us there that night.

Coram began to fidget, and I knew intuitively that he was about to speak.

“Ssh!” whispered Moris Klaw.

A beam of light shone out beneath us, across the Egyptian Room!

I concluded that something had attracted the attention of Grimsby. I leaned forward in tense expectancy, and Coram was keenly excited.

The beam of light moved; it shone upon the door of the very case in the comer of which Grimsby was hiding, but upon the nearer end, fully upon the face of a Mummy.

A small figure was dimly discernible, now, the figure of the man who carried the light. Cautiously he crossed the room. Evidently he held the key of the wall-case, for in an instant he had swung the door back and was hauling the mummy on to the floor.

Then out upon the midnight visitor leapt Grimsby. The light was extinguished a” and Moris Klaw, drawing back from the window, seized Coram by the arm, crying, “The key of the door! The key of the door!”

We were down and into the Egyptian Room in less than half a minute. Coram switched on all the lights; and there with his back to the open door of the wall case, handcuffed and wild-eyed, was … Mr. Mark Pettigrew!

Coram’s face was a study a” for the famous archeologist whom we now saw manacled before us was a trustee of the Menzies Museum!

“Mr. Pettigrew!” he said hoarsely. “Mr. Pettigrew! there must be some mistakea””

“There is no mistake, my good sir,” rumbled Moris Klaw. “Look, he has with him a sharp knife to cut off the head of the priest!”

It was true. An open knife lay upon the floor beside the fallen mummy!

Grimsby was breathing very heavily and looking in rather a startled way at his captive, who seemed unable to realize what had happened. Coram cleared his throat nervously. It was one of the strangest scenes in which I had ever anticipated.

“Mr. Pettigrew,” he began, “it is incomprehensible to me.”

“I will make you to comprehend,” interrupted Moris Klaw. “You ask” a” he raised a long finger” why should Mr. Pettigrew cut off the head of his own mummy? I answer for the same reason that he cut off the head of the one at Sotheby’s. You ask why did he cut off the head of the one at Sotheby’s? I answer for the same reason that he cut off the head of the one at my house, and for the same reason that he came to cut off the head of this one! What is he looking for? He is looking for the Book of the Lamps!” He paused, gazing around upon us. Probably, excepting the prisoner, I alone amongst his listeners understood what he meant.

“I have related to Mr. Searles,” he continued, “some of the history of that book. It contained the ritual of the ancient Egyptian ceremonial magic. It was priceless; it gave its possessors a power above the power of kings. And when the fine of Pankhaur became extinct it vanished. Where did it go? According to a very rare record a” of which there are only two copies in existence a” one of them in my possession and one in Mr. Pettigrew’s a” was hidden in the skull of the mummy of a priest or Priestess of the temple!”

Pettigrew was staring at him like a man fascinated. “Mr. Pettigrew had only recently acquired that valuable manuscript work in which the fact is recorded; and being an enthusiast, gentlemena”” (he spread wide his hands continentally) “all we poor collectors are enthusiasts a” he set to work upon the first available mummy of a priest of that temple. It was his own. The skull did not contain the priceless papyrus! But all these mummies are historic; there are only five in Europe.”

“Five?” blurted Pettigrew.

“Five,” replied Klaw; “you thought there were only four, eh? But as a blind you called in the police and showed them how your mummy had been mutilated. It was good. It was clever. No one suspected you of the outrages after that a” no one but the old fool who knew that you had secured the second copy of that valuable work of guidance.

“So you did not hesitate to use the keys you had procured in your capacity as trustee, to gain access to this fourth mummy here.” He turned to Grimsby and Coram. “Gentlemen,” he said, “there will be no prosecution. The fever of research is a disease: never a crime.”

“I agree,” said Coram; “most certainly there must be no prosecution; no scandal. Mr. Pettigrew, I am very, very sorry for this.”

Grimsby, with a rather wry face, removed the handcuffs. A singular expression proclaimed itself upon Pettigrew’s shriveled countenance.

“The thing I’m most sorry for,” he said, dryly, but with the true fever of research burning in his eyes, “if you will excuse me saying it, Coram, for I’m very deeply indebted to you a” is that I can’t cut off the head of this fourth mummy!”

Mr. Mark Pettigrew was a singularly purposeful and rudely truculent man.

“It would be useless,” rumbled Moris Klaw. “I found the fifth mummy in Egypt two years ago! And beholda”” He swept his hand picturesquely through the aira”” I beheaded him!

“What!” screamed Pettigrew, and leapt upon Klaw with blazing eyes.

“Ah,” rumbled Klaw, massive and unruffled, “that is the question a” what? And I shall not tell you!”

From his pocket he took out the scent-spray and squirted verbena into the face of Mr. Pettigrew.

THE GREY HOUSE.

[Psychic sleuth: Flaxman Low].

E. and H. Heron.

One summer Mr. Flaxman Low happened to be slaying in a lonely village on the coast of Devon. He was deeply immersed in some antiquarian work connected with the old Norse calendars, and therefore limited his acquaintance in the neighborhood to one individual, a Dr. Fremantle, who, beside being a medical man, was a botanist of some note.

One afternoon, when driving together, Mr. Low and Dr. Fremantle passed through a valley which nestled cup-like in the higher ground a few miles inland. As they passed along a deep, steep lane with overhanging hedges they caught a glimpse, through a break in the leaves, of a gray gable peeping out between the horizontal branches of a cedar.

Flaxman Low pointed it out to his companion.

“That’s young Montesson’s house,” answered Fremantle, “and it bears a very sinister reputation. Nothing in your line, though,” with a smile. “Indeed, no ghost would lend the same hideous associations to the place it now possesses as the result of a succession of mysterious murders that have occurred there.”

“The ground seems neglected. I don’t recall to have seen such rank growth, not inside the British Isles!” returned Fremantle, “The estate is left to take care of itself, partly because Montesson won’t live there, partly because it is impossible to find laborers to work near the house. Our warm, damp climate and this sheltered position give rise to extraordinary luxuriance of growth. A stream runs along the bottom, and I expect all the low-lying land, where you see that belt of yellow African grass, is little better than a morass now.

Fremantle drew up as they gained the top of the slope. From there they could overlook the tangle of vegetation, dimmed by a rising mist, which surrounded and almost hid the roof of the Grey House.

“Yes,” said Fremantle, in answer to an observation of Mr. Low, “Montesson’s guardian, who lived here and looked after the property for him, turned the place into a subtropical garden. It used to be one of my chief pleasures to wander about here, but since my marriage my wife objects to my doing so. On account of the tales she has heard.”

“What is the danger?”

“Death!” replied Fremantle shortly.

“What form of death? Malaria?”

“No disease at all, my dear fellow. The persons, who die at the Grey House, are hanged by the neck until they are dead!”

“Hanged?” repeated Flaxman Low in surprise.

“Yes, hanged! Not only strangled but suspended, as the marks on the necks show. If there were any hint of a ghost in it, you might investigate a” Montesson would be only too grateful if you could fathom the mystery.”

“Tell me something more definite!”

“I’ll tell you what has happened in my own knowledge. Montesson’s father died some fifteen years ago and left him to the guardianship of a cousin named Lampurt, who, as I told you, was a horticulturist, and planted the place with a wonderful variety of foreign shrubs and flowers.

Lampurt had a bad name in the country, and his appearance was certainly against him a” a squint-eyed, pig-faced fellow, who sidled along like a crab, and could not look you in the face. He died first.”

“Was he hanged? Or did he hang himself?” Low asked.

“Neither, in this case. He dropped in a kind of fit, right up in front of the house, while he was engaged in planting some new acquisition. Had it not been for the evidence of the persons who were present at the time, I should have said his death resulted from some tremendous mental shock. But the gardener and his relation, Mrs. Montesson, agreed in saying that he was not exerting himself unduly, and that he had had no disturbing news. He was a healthy man and I could see no sufficient reason for his death. He was simply gardening, and had apparently pricked himself with a nail for he had a spot of blood upon his forefinger.

“After that all went well for a couple of years, when, during the summer holidays, the trouble began. Montesson must have been about sixteen at the time, and had a tutor with him. His mother and sister a” a pretty girl rather older than himself a” were also here. One morning the girl was found lying on the gravel under her window, quite dead. I was sent for, and, upon examination, discovered the extraordinary fact that she had been hanged!”

“Murder.”

“Of course, though we could find no trace of the murderer. The girl had been taken from her bedroom and hanged. Then the rope was removed and she was thrown in a heap under her window. The crime caused a tremendous sensation in the neighborhood, and the police were busy for a long time, but nothing came of their inquiries. About a fortnight later, Platt, the tutor, sat up smoking at the open study window. In the morning he was found lying out over the sill. There could be no mistake as to how he met his death, for in addition to the deep line round his throat, his neck was broken as neatly as they could have done it at Newgate! But for all that as in the other case, there was nothing to show how he came by his death, no rope, no trace of footsteps or any struggle to lead one to suspect the presence of another person or persons. I tell you, though, from the facts it could not have been suicide!”

“I see you had some suspicion of your own,” said Flaxman Low.

“Well, yes, I had. But time has passed, and I now think I must have been mistaken. I must explain that the branches of the cedar you saw jut to within a few feet of the windows of the rooms occupied by Miss Montesson and Platt respectively at the time of death. I told you there were no traces of any one having approached the house. It therefore struck me that some active person might have leaped from the cedar into the open windows and escaped in the same way, for the windows open vertically, and when both leaves are thrown back there is a large aperture. But the murders were so purposeless and disconnected that they suggested irresponsible agency.

I recollected Poe’s story of the Rue Morgue, where, you remember, the crimes were committed by an orangutan. It seemed to me possible that Lampurt, who was of a morose and strange temper, meet, among other things, have secretly imported an ape and turned it, loose in the woods. I had a thorough search made in the park and grounds, but we found nothing, and I have long ago abandoned the theory.”

Low thought silently over the story for some time; then he asked for the dates of the three deaths. Fremantle answered categorically, and it appeared that all had taken place about the same season of the year a” during summer, in fact. Upon this, Mr. Low made an offer to investigate the affair on Psychical lines, if Montesson made no objection. In answer to this message, Montesson took the next train down to Devon, and begged to be allowed to accompany Mr. Low in his inquiries.

Flaxman Low quickly saw that Montesson might prove a very useful companion. He was a blonde, heavily-built man, and plainly possessed of a strong will and temper. Low put aside his books and went off at once with Montesson to have a closer look at ‘the Gray House while the day-light lasted’. It is difficult to give any adequate impression of the teeming exuberance of wild and tangled growth through which they had to cut their way. Young, lush, sappy leafage overlay and half-disguised the dank rottenness of the older vegetation beneath. After wading more than breast-high through the matted weeds, below which the spreading stream was fast reducing the land to swamp, they emerged into a fairly open space that had once been the lawn around the house.

There brambles and lusty weeds now grew abundantly under the untended trees. Curious shrubs and plants flourished here and there. As they came up, a stoat sneaked away by a narrow footpath, nettlegrown and caked with damp, which led past blackened bushes round the house. Otherwise the place was deserted; not a leaf seemed to move in the windless heat of the afternoon. The squat, gray face of the house was scarred across by a dark-leafed creeper, hung with orchid-like blossoms, a little to the left of which Low noticed the cedar mentioned by Dr. Fremantle.

Low drew up at the weed-twisted, sunken little gate that gave upon the lawns and spoke for the first time.

“Tell me about it,” he said, and nodded towards the house.

Montesson repeated the story already told, but added further details. “From here,” went on Montesson, “you can see the exact spot where all these things took place. The upper of these two windows, surrounded by the creeper and under the shadow of the cedar, belonged to my sister’s room; the lower is that of the study where Platt died. The gravel path below ran the whole length of the house, but it is now overgrown. Has Fremantle told you of Lawrence?”

Low shook his head. “No,” he said.

“I hate the very sight of the place!” said Montesson hoarsely; “the mystery and the horror of it all seem in my blood. I can’t forget! My mother left on the day of Platt’s death and has never been here since.

“But when I came of age, I resolved to make another attempt to live here, meaning to sift the past if I got the chance of doing so. I had the grounds cleared about the house, and, after leaving Oxford, came down with a man of my own year, called Lawrence. We spent the Easter vacation here reading, and all went right enough. Meanwhile I had the house examined, thinking there might be a secret entrance or room, but nothing of the kind exists. This house is not haunted. Nothing has ever been seen or heard of a supernatural character a” nothing but the same awful repetition of blind murder!”

After a few seconds, he resumed, “During the following summer Lawrence came down with me again. One hot evening, we were smoking as we walked up and down the gravel under the windows. It was bright moonlight, and I remember the heavy scent of those red flowersa”” Montesson glanced round him strangely, “I went in to fetch a cigar. It took me some minutes to find the box I wanted, and to light the cigar. When I came out Lawrence lay crumpled up as if he had fallen from a height and he was dead. Round his neck was the same bluish line I had seen in the two other cases. You can understand what it was to leave the man not five minutes before, in health and strength, and to come back to find him dead a” hanged a” to judge from appearances! But as usual, no trace of rope or struggle or murderer!”

After some further talk, Mr. Low pro, posed to go into the house. It had evidently been deserted in haste. In the room once occupied by Miss Montesson, her girlish treasures still lay about, dusty, motheaten, and discolored.

Montesson paused on the threshold. “Poor little Fan! It’s just as she left it!” he said hurriedly.

The cedar outside threw a gloomy shade into the room, and the fantastic red blossoms drooped motionless in the stagnant air.

“Was the window open when your sister was found?” inquired Low after he had examined the room.

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