“You beastly little cad,” began Mrs. Athelstone, anger flaming in her face again. Then she stopped short, and her expression went to one of terror.
The change was not lost on Simpkins. “That’s better,” he said. “If a fellow has to condone murder to meet your standards of what’s a perfect little gentleman, you can count me out. Now, just you make up your mind that repartee won’t take us anywhere, and let’s get down to cases. There may be, I believe there are, extenuating circumstances. Tell him the whole truth and you’ll find Simp. your friend, cad or no cad.”
As he talked, Mrs. Athelstone regained her composure, and when he was through she asked calmly enough: “And because you’ve blundered on something you don’t understand, something that has aroused your silly suspicions, you would turn me over to the police?”
“It’s not a silly suspicion, Mrs. Athelstone, but a cinch. I know your husband was murdered there,” and he pointed to the altar. “And you’re not innocent, though how guilty morally I’m not ready to say. There may be something behind it all to change my present determination; that depends on whether you care to talk to me, or would rather wait and take the third degree at headquarters.”
“But you really have made a frightful mistake,” she protested, not angrily now, but rather soothingly.
“Then I’ll have to call an officer; perhaps he can set us straight.” And he stood up.
“Sit down,” she implored. “Let me explain.”
“That’s the way to talk; you’ll find it’ll do you good to loosen up,” and Simpkins sat down, exulting that he was not to miss the most striking feature of his story. Until it was on the wire for Boston, and the New York papers had gone to press, he had as little use for officers as Mrs. Athelstone. “Remember,” he added, as he leaned back to listen, “that I know enough now to pick out any fancy work.”
“It’s really absurdly simple. The cemented surface of this mummy had been damaged, as you can see”——Mrs. Athelstone began, but Simpkins broke in roughly:
“Come, come, there’s no use doping out any more of that stuff to me. I want the facts. Tell me how Doctor Athelstone was killed or the Tombs for yours.” He was on his feet now, shaking his fist at the woman, and he noticed with satisfaction that she had shrunk back in her chair till the linen bandages hung loosely across her breast.
“Yes—yes—I’ll tell,” was the trembling answer; “only do sit down,” and then after a moment’s pause, in which she seemed to be striving to compose herself, she began:
“I, sir, was a queen, Nefruari, whom they called the good and glorious woman.” And she threw back her head proudly and paused.
This was better than he had dared hope. Yet it was what he had half-believed; she was quite mad. He felt relieved at this final proof of it. After all, it would have hurt him to send this woman to “the chair”; but there would be no condemned cell for her; only the madhouse. It might be harder for her; but it made it easier for him. He nodded a grave encouragement for her to continue.