Three or four days after I had called on Miss Hennessey I decided to avail myself of Maundeville’s invitation. I went to his house on Courtenay Street, only to meet Captain Maxwell on the doorstep.
He greeted me courteously enough, though I think he was not altogether pleased to see me. He looked sallow and unwell.
“I’m afraid Maundeville isn’t home,” he informed me.
“That’s all right. I’m going to bury myself in his library for the afternoon.” When he did not respond, did not appear to even hear, I added, “Perhaps I’ll commune with the Mummy. She could surely answer a question or two if she chose.”
He did not answer my smile. “I didn’t realize you had become such close friends.”
I presumed he meant me and Maundeville and not me and the Mummy.
“I doubt if I’m counted amongst his close friends. Which makes his generosity all the more remarkable.”
“He can be very generous,” Maxwell agreed. “He can also—” He broke off, biting his lip and closing his eyes. The knuckles of the hand clutching the head of his walking stick whitened.
“My dear boy,” I said quietly. “Will you not allow me to help you?”
His lashes lifted. His eyes looked almost black with bitterness. “I’ve had all the help from doctors I require.” He raised his hat in brusque farewell and hobbled painfully down the steps.
I was chilled by the undisguised loathing in his voice. I stared after him and then turned and rang the bell.
Once ensconced in Maundeville’s library, I did my best to forget Maxwell’s uncharacteristic hostility. In fact, I did my best to forget Maxwell himself—which was the only sensible course open to me. Especially since I was quite sure Maxwell did not spend time thinking of me.
I roamed about the room trying to get some general idea of the books there. Remembering what Maundeville had said on the subject of middle age, I was amused to see that he had several books dealing with the prolongation of life. There were the works of Metchnikoff, Brown-Sequard and others, with one or two scrapbooks of press-cuttings relating to centenarians. That particular shelf ended with works on occultism, and I wondered whether Maundeville classed the two subjects together, and whether he considered both seriously or otherwise.
I passed on to other shelves, dipping into a book here and there, and I was deep in one on Egypt, most beautifully illustrated with drawings and photographs, when Maundeville’s man, without asking if I wanted it, brought in a tea-tray.
The result was that I stayed on, without seeing anything of Maundeville, until about eight o’clock. Passing down the stairs I met the servant again, and asked whether I could go into the museum without disturbing Maundeville. He said that his master would not be home at all that evening, and that his orders were to admit me whenever I came to any room I wished.
He switched on the lights in the museum for me, and I sat there perhaps a quarter of an hour looking idly at the mummy case, and speculating vaguely about it and its contents. Every now and again, the scent of camphor and cedar reached me, like the very peculiar perfume of a woman just out of my range of vision.
I considered the blue beetle paintings running up and down the peeling case. What did they signify? Maxwell and Perceval had spoken of Khepri’s priestess. While I was not up on my Egyptian mythology, even I had heard of Osiris, great god of the dead, and his sister-wife Isis. Who was Khepri?
Intentionally I did not try to think hard, but just looked at the case and let my brain work or play as it would.
As I was strolling absentmindedly out of the room I kicked against something hard, and nearly fell. Looking down when I had got my balance, I saw that I had come on a large tortoise, which was half-hidden under a table.
In the hall I spoke of this to the man, who was lounging there, saying I hoped I hadn’t injured the beast, for I had really kicked it severely. This provoked the only smile I ever saw on Bates’s solemn visage, but he merely said he thought the thing could stand more than that, and very likely had stood more, since he had heard his master say he knew it to be older than any man.
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