Though Simpkins could find no clew to the mechanism of the statue, he determined that he had sprung it with his feet, and that during his struggles a lucky kick had touched the spring which relaxed the arms. “Did any one beside himself know their strength?” he asked himself, as he stepped out into the hall again. Mrs. Athelstone was bent over her desk writing; Brander was yawning over a novel in his corner, and neither paid any attention to him. So he busied himself going over the mummy-cases, and by the time he had worked around to the two beside Mrs. Athelstone he had himself well in hand, outwardly. But he was still so shaken internally that he knocked the black case rather roughly as he dusted.
“What way is that to treat a king?” demanded Mrs. Athelstone; and the anger in her voice was so real that Simpkins, startled, blundered out:
“I really meant no disrespect. Very careless of me, I’m sure.” He looked so distressed that Mrs. Athelstone’s anger melted into a delicious little laugh, as she answered:
“Really, Simpkins, you musn’t be so bungling. These mummies are priceless.” And she got up and made a careful inspection of the case.
Simpkins, rather crestfallen, went back to his desk and began to address circulars, his brain busy with the shadow which had crept into it. But there was nothing to make it more tangible, everything to dispel it, and he was forced to own as much. “It’s a lovely little cozy corner,” was his final conclusion; “but keep out of it, Simp., old boy. These mechanical huggers are great stuff, but they’re too strong for a fellow that’s been raised on Boston girls.”
Mrs. Athelstone was not in the office when he came down the next day—she had gone to Washington on the Society’s affairs, Brander said—and so he moped about, finding the place dreary without her brightening presence. In fact, when Brander went out, he slipped into the sunlit ante-chamber, for companionship, he told himself; but in his heart he knew that he did not want to be alone with that thing behind the altar. He had satisfactorily explained its mechanism to himself, but there was something else about it which he could not explain.
Naylor had telegraphed that very morning: “Get story. Come home. What do you think you’re doing?” and he tried to make up his mind to end the whole affair by taking the night train to Boston. But he hated to go back empty-handed from a four days’ assignment. Besides, though he knew himself a fool for it, he wanted to see Mrs. Athelstone once more.
So it happened that he was lingering on in the outer office when the postman threw the afternoon mail on the desk. Simpkins was alone at the moment, and he ran over the letters carelessly until he came to one addressed to Brander in Mrs. Athelstone’s writing. The blue card of the palace car company was in a corner of the envelope.