The Blue Ushabti
Another Treadgold detective story—The strange case of the statuette that vanished
FEW CUSTOMERS of Bowl, Treadgold & Flack, tailors of Savile Row, ever get as far as the small and dingy office at the back of the fitting rooms whence, under the owl-like stare of old Josiah Bowl, founder of the business in the early nineteenth century, his great-grandson, Horace Bowl Treadgold, directs the fortunes of the firm. As a tailor, H.B., as his friends call him, asks nothing better than to merge his personality in the family business which is his pride, and you would never divine his growing prowess as a criminologist from the surroundings of his working hours. Some ancient examples of military millinery and a faded scarlet tunic in a wall-case, bundles of patterns stacked on a side table, the tray of pins and tailor’s flat chalks on the roll-top desk which almost fills the little room, remind the visitor that, five days a week from ten to six and on Saturdays from ten to one, Mr. Treadgold, whose deductive powers command the respect of Scotland Yard and Centre Street alike, is a tailor and nothing more.
As Mr. Treadgold’s legal adviser, I have the entry to his sanctum. On this morning when 1 walked in on him he was opening his mail—a dignified figure with his grey hair and mustache. Handing me a letter from a tray, “Who’s Marcus Webber, George?” he remarked. “He says he’s a friend of yours.”
“I dropped in to tell you about him,” was my reply. “It’s Professor Webber, the Egyptologist.”
H.B. dandled his head. “Of course. I thought I knew the name.”
“He’s a great authority. He’s been excavating for years. At his house at Roehampton he has one of the best private collections of Egyptian antiquities in the country.”
“He seems worried—look at the way his signature droops. What does he want? His letter merely says he wishes to consult me on an urgent and delicate matter.”
“I can’t tell you. He tackled me at the club yesterday, said he wanted to write to you and might he mention my name.”
H.B. glanced at the clock. “He speaks of calling here at eleven. It’s that now. You’d better wait and see what he wants.”
ARCUS WEBBER is not the type of man I have much use for, especially after playing bridge with him—a jximpous fellow with a strident voice and aggressive manner. It was evident he had come prepared to patronize Mr. Treadgold.
“The only reason I’ve decided to consult you.” he told him self-importantly after I had introduced them to one another, “is because I’m loath to appeal to the—ahem— more regular authorities. It must therefore be understood, clearly understood, Mr. Treadgold, that I’m counting on your absolute discretion”—he turned a gooseberry eye on me—“yours, too, Duckett.”
Mr. Treadgold, idly stabbing the blotter with his letteropener, said nothing and the professor went on :
“I possess, as you may know, a small but valuable collection of Egyptian antiquities. Mr. Treadgold, in circumstances as mysterious as they are distressing, one of the móst prized pieces in my collection has disappeared.” H.B. raised his head sharply—he reminded me of an old dog pointing.
“A blue glass ushabti of Thoueris, the hippopotamusheaded goddess,” Webber proceeded. “It appears to have been clandestinely abstracted and a replica left in its place.”
“A ushabti, that’s a small figure, isn’t it?” Mr. Treadgold questioned.
“A figurine or statuette. Two evenings ago—on Tuesday, to be exact—I had some friends to dinner and bridge to meet Professor Larned, the American Egyptologist, who published that remarkable report on the graffiti of the Nubian rock tombs. I saw a lot of him in Egypt last winter. My collection is housed in a museum specially built onto my house at Roehampton, and after dinner I took Larned and the rest of my guests to see it. We were there for perhaps an hour and then went to the drawingroom for our bridge. It’s my habit to work in the museum with my secretary in the mornings—I’m writing a book on the scarabs of the Eighteenth Dynasty—and yesterday morning by pure chance I went to the case where the ushabti stands to get out a certain scarab I wanted to describe. I perceived immediately that the ushabti was not the original —it was a replica.”
“The original’s valuable, I suppose?”
The professor seemed to explode. “It’s unique, my dear sir! It’s from the tomb of Queen Ty. For color and design it’s unequalled—an exquisite thing. It’s no more than six inches high, but it gave me more satisfaction than almost any other piece in my collection.”
“What’s it actually worth?”
He spread his hands. “That’s hard to say. Personally I wouldn’t take two thousand pounds for it—it’s insured for a thousand. Any dealer, I imagine, would buy it blind for three or four hundred pounds.”
“The collection’s insured, then?”
“For sixty thousand pounds.”
Mr. Treadgold whistled. “Then the ushabti wasn’t the most valuable piece, I take it?”
“In actual value, no. Some of the jewellery I have is worth a great deal more, for instance. But I’m not concerned with the cash value. I want my ushabti back. Otherwise, I could go to the insurance company. But they’ll insist on my calling in the police. And that I’m resolved not to do. I should prefer to give the thief a chance to make restitution.”
“And if you can’t discover the thief?”
Webber was a fat man and his sigh was like air escaping from a cushion. “Then I must take my loss. The facts must not come out.”
“Because I should be the laughingstock of all my colleagues. You see, I was instrumental in giving the thief his chance to effect this substitution.”
Mr. Treadgold leaned back in his chair. “Don’t you think you’d better explain?”
WITH A PLUMP hand the professor nervously pawed his thinning hair. “I bought this ushabti in Egypt two winters ago from a leading Luxor dealer. In the Gebbel above Luxor, lives an exceedingly adept forger of Egyptian antiquities. In an idle moment I let this fellow make me a copy of the ushabti. It stood on an open shelf over my desk in the museum. The first thing I did on discovering the substitution was to go to the shelf where the copy stood. It had vanished.”
“Have you any idea how the substitution was carried out?”
The fat man sighed again. “It’s only too evident, unfortunately. Going round the collection, I showed Larned the ushabti and, I suppose, rhapsodized about it a bit—at any rate, he asked permission to take it out of the case. I opened the case—”
“Are the cases usually kept locked?”
“Always. There’s only one key, a master key to all the cases and the room as well, and it never leaves me.” He drew a key-chain from his pocket and showed, on a bunch of keys attached to it, a small gilt key. “The ushabti passed from hand to hand, and when it eventually came back to me I restored it to its place and locked the case again.”
“And, as far as you know, the case remained locked until the next morning when you went to it?”
“Then, instead of the original, you were obviously handed the replica to return to the case?”
He spread his hands. “I suppose so. And yet I can’t think how I failed to detect it. The copy is remarkably faithful, but it’d never deceive an expert—not at close quarters, at any rate.”
“Do you remember who handed the ushabti back to you?”
He shook his head dolefully. “I’m afraid I don’t. There was such a crowd of us, laughing and talking.”
“Do you suspect anyone in particular?”
With a haggard air our visitor ruffled his hair. “Yes and no. Suppose I tell you about my guests. We were nine, including my wife—two tables of bridge; Mrs. Webber doesn’t play. The party consisted of Professor Larned; Colonel and Mrs. Allerton, neighbors of ours at Roehampton; Charles Cavander, the art dealer, and a friend of his, Mrs. Fleming; young Bewlish, who was out with me as draughtsman on my last expedition; and my secretary, Mercia Day, who lives in the house.”
“All old friends, were they?”
“Mrs. Fleming had not been to the house before. Cavander brought her.”
“What type of person is she?”
“Pretty and frivolous, a social butterfly.” Mr. Treadgold winced at the bromide. “She’s living apart from her husband—Pm told that Cavander wants to marry her. I should explain that I don’t know Cavander very well. He consults me sometimes in matters appertaining to Egyptian art.”
“He’d be liable to appreciate the merits of the ushabti, wouldn’t he?”
Webber cast him an admiring glance. “Oh, definitely. But so would Bewlish—Bewlish even more so. He’s been working at Egyptology ever since he was at Oxford.”
“That gives us three of the party, then, with what you
might call a professional interest in the ushabti—Cavander, Bewlish and, of course. Professor Larned?”
TV ebber looked shocked. “You can leave Larned out of it. He’s an eminent savant, a most high-minded man. Besides, he has ample private means.”
“TV hat about this secretary of yours?”
“Miss Day? She’s as good an Egyptologist as any of us. She’s been with me for six years and has accompanied me on all my expeditions.”
“That adds a fourth to our list.” Pensively Mr. Treadgold nibbled his thumb. “How many of you knew about this replica?”
r"PHE PROFESSOR started. “ ’Pon my soul. I never thought of that. A shrewd question, my dear sir. and easily answered—besides myself, only Bewlish and Mercia Day. They were with me that day at Luxor when I ordered the copy and. as a matter of fact. Bewlish helped Miss Day and me to unpack it with the rest of my acquisitions when we got back to London.”
“Then it looks as if our suspicions narrow down to one of these two?”
“I had already arrived at this conclusion,” said Webber pedantically. “On the one hand, Miss Day is in and out of the museum all the time—she’d have ample opportunity for planning a coup of this description. On the other, she and Bewlish are as thick as thieves, and 1 ’ve an idea that the young man’s in money trouble. Between ourselves, his bank called him on the telephone when he was at my house the other morning, and from what I happened to overhear, I gathered they were pressing him about some bill that was falling due.”
“Does Bewlish work in the museum, too?”
“Not regularly. When I’m home I employ him on occasional research work at the British Museum or the Bodleian, and he often drops in to see me. He has a few hundreds a year of his own, I understand, but even with what I pay him. I imagine he lives well above his income. Smart clothes, a sjx>rts car.” He paused and added acridly, “A good draughtsman but uppish.”
“Have you spoken of this business to anybody except ourselves?”
“Not to a living soul. My hope was that you’d evolve some means ol inducing the thief to replace the ushabti in the belief that the fraud had not been remarked.”
Mr. Treadgold nodded. “That would certainly seem to be the wisest course in the circymstances. You didn’t mention the loss to your secretary?”
“T\ ith this idea in mind. I carefully refrained from doing so. She was not in the museum when 1 detected the substitution, and unless she’s the delinquent it’s highly improbable that she’ll notice it. I left the replica in situ, and from the outside of the case you’d scarcely know it from the genuine ushabti.”
“Did you tell your wife?”
I he pudgy face assumed a contemptuous expression. “I tell my wife nothing, on principle.”
“Did you handle the replica?”
1 lie professor smiled condescendingly. “I may not be a criminologist, even an amateur one, Mr. Treadgold, but my reason informs me that there’s a gcxxl chance of the thief’s fingerprints, as well as, of course, my own, being found upon the false ushabti. And that reminds me: Through the kind offices of one of the assistant commissioners. 1 had my fingerprints taken at Scotland Yard this morning —you will require them, 1 believe, if you are to isolate the thief’s on the replica.” 1 íe drew a sheet of paper from his jxx ket and laid it on the desk,
“You think of everything,” said Mr. Treadgold, not without a certain dryness. “Could I visit the museum with Mr. Duckett say, at about half-past six this evening?”
“The sooner the better!”
“If you’ll pardon the observation, George,” Mr. Treadgold remarked when the professor had left us, “a thoroughly objectionable fellow. He mistrusts his secretary, despises his wife, and eavesdrops on people’s private conversations. It must be a positive pleasure to rob him.” He glanced at his watch. “I think I shall devote my lunch* hour to a flying trip to the British Museum.”
I laughed. “Do you really imagine that paddling round a lot of mummies is going to tell you who pinched old Webber’s ushabti?”
He smiled sedately. “I like to equip myself before tackling an unfamiliar subject. Besides, aren’t we told that the desire for knowledge, like the thirst for riches, increases ever with the acquisition of it?”
When old H.B. pops out with a tag, you may be sure it comes from “Tristram Shandy,” a work from which he is in the habit of culling maxims to suit any situation.
“Between you and the professor, I’ve had all the culture I can stand for one morning,” I told him brutally. “But I’ll go with you to Roehampton this evening, if you like.”
THE MUSEUM at Karnak Lodge, as the professor’s house was called, wras a spacious place lined with glass cases and permeated with the faintly sweet aroma peculiar to mummies.
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Webber unlocked a case and showed us, surrounded by a number of other antiquities, a little statuette, in hue a deep peacock blue, representing a woman with the head of a hippopotamus. It struck me as being a singularly repulsive object, but then I am not an Egyptologist. He likewise drew our attention to a shelf of books above the desk against the farther wall, where, he told us, the replica had originally stood.
Mr. Treadgold on the job is direct in his methods. Having received the ushabti, or rather the copy, in a silk handkerchief, he bore it to the desk, where he had already deposited the battered attaché case containing his fingerprint outfit, and told the professor we would not detain him. Rather unwillingly Webber withdrew, saying he would have a glass of sherry for us in his “den” when we had finished.
Mr. Treadgold is a slow and very conscientious worker, and I soon tired of watching him manipulate his blower and powdered graphite. I was drifting round the cases when the door of the museum was silently pushed open and a dark-haired young woman, with a timorous glance behind her, came sidling in. Swiftly she went to the desk and addressed my companion.
“Mr. Treadgold,” she said rather breathlessly, “I can get the ushabti of Thoueris back for you, if you’ll agree to ask no questions and to .say nothing to the professor about how it was recovered. I’m Mercia Day, Professor Webber’s secretary.”
Mr. Treadgold glanced up from his work. “You know me, do you?”
“Mr. Bewlish spoke of you once in connection with the Carshalton diamonds case. Lady Carshalton’s his aunt.”
H.B. bent his bushy eyebrows at her. “So you knew the ushabti was missing?”
She nodded. “Professor Webber may consider himself a great diplomat, but I can always tell when he’s upset. Ever since yesterday he’s been asking me roundabout questions about the party on Tuesday night, continually harping on the moment when the ushabti was being handed round, besides pumping me about Mr. Bewlish’s private affairs.”
“Is Mr. Bewlish a particular friend of yours?”
“Mr. Bewlish is a very nice man and I see a good deal of him.” She paused. “But to return to the ushabti—on one pretext or another, ever since yesterday morning the professor has kept me out of the museum, although we have urgent work to finish. This afternoon, however, just before you came, I caught him before the
open case where the Thoueris ushabti is normally kept, peering at it through a magnifying glass, and I saw at a glance that the figure was not the original, also that the copy had disappeared from the shelf. Then, when I heard you announced, I couldn’t resist listening at the door when he was talking to you about fingerprints.” Mr. Treadgold’s blue eye dwelt sternly on her face. She was a quiet, self-possessed girl who, without being directly beautiful, had a wealth of character in her expression. “And you say you can get the ushabti back?” he questioned.
“How long will it take you?”
“Give me until tomorrow morning.”
He nodded and drew a card from his pocket. “Very well. Call me at that number at noon.”
She was going when he called her back. “Were any of the women wearing gloves on the night of the party?”
She shook her head. “No.”
“Thanks. That was all.”
As deferentially as though she had been a customer at Savile Row, he escorted her to the door.
“Nothing like a reputation!” I chaffed him. “She’d only to hear your name and she owned up at once.”
Mr. Treadgold was repacking his paraphernalia. “So you think it was she who boned the hippo-headed lady, do you?” “Don’t you?”
He sighed. “That’s just the trouble. I do. But I don’t see why she went to all the risk and trouble of taking that particular statuette when—” He broke off. “Do you realize that there are scarabs, no larger than a small match-box, in this room, which cost our friend Webber as much as five and six thousand jfounds? They were telling me about them at the British Museum today.”
“I suppose this copy he had gave her the idea of lifting the ushabti.”
“It’s a reason, but a poor one, George.”
Y\7TIEN WE WENT in search of the ** professor, a slender, rather pallid woman met us in the hall. “I’m Mrs. Webber,” she announced. “The professor has an early dinner engagement and went to his room to dress. Would you care to wait in the drawing-room?”
We found Mercia Day in the drawingroom. There was a decanter of sherry on the piano and she poured us a glass apiece.
“I suppose you’re as keen an Egyptologist as your husband. Mrs. Webber?” I remarked, to make conversation.
“Indeed, she’s not,” Miss Day broke in. “She regards the professor and me as
nothing better than a couple of graverobbers.”
Mrs. Webber smiled wistfully. “I must say I find the living Egypt more interesting than the dead,” she observed.
“The professor always insists on Mrs. Webber going out to Egypt with him,” Miss Day volunteered. “But while we’re grubbing in the Gebbel she remains in Cairo, sitting on all kinds of committees of Egyptian ladies for the relief of the poor.” “An admirable idea!” declared Mr. Treadgold warmly.
“I wish my husband thought as you do.” said Mrs. Webber. “He doesn’t like Egyptians, and it angers him to think of me spending my time in the women’s quarters of the Cairo palaces or in the hovels of the Arab city.” She broke off. "But forgive me—I don’t know why 1 should bother you with all this.”
I could have told her. Old H.B. has a charm of manner which leads the most unlikely people to confide in him at sight —time and time again I have noticed it. He did not reply now and, as though to change the subject, picked up a large photograph that lay loose on the piano aid regarded it.
It was a head and shoulders of a girl in a Hack décolleté, an Egyptian, as the thin gauze veil imperfectly concealing the lower part of the face suggested. Several ropes of magnificent ¡oearls were coiled about the creamy, pale coffee-colored reck. The eyes, lustrous and black above the wisp of gauze, were magnificent. The photograph bore the name of a well-known Mayfair photographer.
“What a lovely face!” said Mr. Treadgold.
Rather hastily Mrs. Webber took the photograph from him. “I’d rather my husband didn’t see that,” she remarked. “He doesn’t approve of my being friendly with the Egyptians.”
“Why, it’s the Princess Murad Ali!” exclaimed the secretary, glancing over her shoulder. “I thought you told me she was ill in Cairo. This picture was done in London.”
“She’s here with her husband,” said Mrs. Webber shortly and slid the photograph out of sight into a drawer. “She gave me that photo today. But please don’t tell the professor ...”
Webber’s voice boomed from the door— he was in evening dress with a decoration at the neck. “Sorry to leave you like this, Treadgold, but I’m dining out tonight.” He ignored his wife and she went quietly away, taking the secretary with her. “Well,” barked the professor, “what about those fingerprints?”
“I’ll report on them tomorrow,” was Mr. Treadgold’s reply. “I may have news lor you by then. If I can recover the ushabti, are you prepared to ask no questions?”
Webber frowned. “We'll, it depends.” “It’s likely to be a condition,” H.B. told him. “I’ll telephone you in the morning.”
I told H.B. I would give him dinner at my club.
“A rum business, George,” he observed glumly as we drove Pall Mallward, “a devilish rum business. My head’s no better than a puzzled skein of silk, as Tristram Shandy’s father remarked on a celebrated occasion, all perplexity, all confusion, withinside.” He grunted. “Well, the night brings counsel, they say. Let’s wait and see what the Day will bring us in the morning.”
But the Day forestalled us. She was at Bury Street when we went round to H.B.’s chambers after dinner.
“I spoke too soon,” she told Mr. Treadgold in an agitated voice. “I can’t help you after all.” She gazed at him despairingly. “You suspect me, don’t you? And so does Webber.”
Mr. Treadgold humped his shoulders. “I don’t see why you shouldn’t have taken a more valuable object—one of those scarabs from the Carnarvon sale, for instance—if it was a question of raising money”—he made a deliberate break— “for a friend.”
Her cheeks flamed. “You know—about that bill?”
“Not as much as I should like to know, my dear.”
“Excuse me a minute!” She darted out.
TN ABOUT five minutes she was back, 1 dragging by the hand a broad-shouldered, reluctant young man. “This is Michael Bewlish,” she announced, and added to the youth, “You’d much better make a clean breast of it, Mike !”
"I only heard about this business from Mercia tonight,” said Bewlish. “But she never pinched that ushabti and no more did I, though, when you hear the facts, you’ll say it looks worse than ever for us. Some months ago I backed a bill for three hundred pounds for a friend of mine.”
“For Charles Cavander,” Mercia Day put in.
Mr. Treadgold sat up abruptly. “The Cavander who was at the professor’s that night?”
Bewlish nodded tight-lipped. “He’s crazy about this Fleming woman and she’s deuced expensive.”
“Is he a good judge of Egyptian art?”
The young man’s air was haggard. “None better. But old Charles wouldn’t do a thing like that. He’s out of town tonight, but first thing in the morning—”
“Whatyou have to do, young man,” said Mr. Treadgold sternly, “is to keep this thing under your hat. And that applies to you as well,” he told Miss Day. “What happened about that bill?”
“My aunt, Lady Carshalton, whom I think you know, stumped up,” Bewlish replied. “Charles is going to pay her back by installments.”
“Every word this young man says further embroils the situation,” Mr. Treadgold declared. “For the lord’s sake, George, take him into the dining room and give him a drink, while I have a word in private with Miss Day.”
What that wojd was did not transpire for, after their departure, Mr. Treadgold became impenetrably mute, and next morning I had to go to Manchester on business. On my return, two days later, I found a note from Mr. Treadgold, telling me I was expected to dine at Karnak Lodge that evening. Dinner was at eight and he would meet me there.
npiIERE WAS no sign of Mr. Treadgold •L when I was shown into the drawingroom, and Miss Day was missing, too. But I had a thrill when Webber introduced me to the other guests—with the addition of H.B. and myself, it was the same party which had been present on the occasion of the theft of the ushabti.
One of them was the thief—I glanced them over as the cocktails went round. The Allertons?—one could safely exclude them, a placid, suburban couple. Larned, the American Egyptologist, plump and grey-haired, looked harmless enough as he made himself agreeable to Mrs. Webber, but I was aware to what lengths the mania of collecting will carry the most respectable individuals. With Cavander and his lady friend, Mrs. Fleming, I was less favorably impressed. He was too well-dressed, too sure of himself, a poseur and, I suspected, a bit of an adventurer into the bargain. The woman, a dazzling blond, with the air of flaunting her beautiful clothes at one, was a fit associate for him, it seemed to me.
I could not help noticing that young Bewlish was palpably nervous, his face turned to the door.
When at length Mr. Treadgold, accompanied by Mercia Day, appeared, I divined that a climax was at hand. Success always buoys him up; there was a mischievous twinkle in his blue eye, a certain bristling eagerness under his bland exterior, which told me that things were going his way. I had a surprise at dinner. Mrs. Fleming, who was on my right, said to me: “So our tailor friend is taking up Egyptology?”
I was giving nothing away. “Well, he collects stamps, so why not antiquities?” I returned with a laugh.
“They say he’s going to make Marcus Webber an offer for his collection, that he’s sending the valuers in tomorrow.”
“Who says so?”
“Charles Cavander heard a rumor somewhere. I tackled Mrs. Webber just now and she didn’t deny it.”
We had our coffee at the table and went in a body to the museum afterward. There seemed to be something in the story Mrs. Fleming had told me, for Webber and Lamed took H.B. lrom case to case, the rest of us trailing behind. They started at the near wall beside the door. The case containing the ushabti of Thoueris was against the opposite wall; I could see the little blue statuette with its repulsive head staring from behind the glass. I wondered what would happen when they reached it, for at close quarters like this Lamed would surely detect the forgery.
Webber talked incessantly. The cases were unlocked—presumably in readiness for Mr. Treadgold’s inspection—and he opened one after the other to take out some jar or figurine, some scarab or amulet, and expatiate upon it.
And then the light went out, plunging us all into Stygian darkness. 1 heard a little squeak of excitement —it .sounded like ¡ Mrs. Fleming—and Webber roaring to Miss Day to bring candles. Little points of light appeared in the gloom; two of the crowd had snapped on their cigarette lighters. I had a glimpse of Webber, a match in hand, striding toward the door, but before he reached it, the light went on again.
rT'HERE WAS a little sigh of relief from •L everybody.
“Well, I never knew that to happen before,” Webber grumbled. “It must have been a temporary failure at the power station.” lie had a scarab in his hand which he replaced in its case. “We now come to the jewellery,” he said to Mr. Treadgold.
H.B. cleared his throat. “I think I’d prefer,” he remarked, enunciating clearly, “to have a look at that charming Thoueris ushabti you told me about.”
Webber stared at him blankly, then shot across the room. He opened the case and whipped out the little statuette. “Why— what—” he spluttered incoherently.
“A delightful piece,” said Professor Lamed, blinking through his glasses, then exclaimed: “But, dear me, you’ve cut
Webber’s fingers were red. He felt the statuette, then his hand went into the case. “There’s red ink or something spilt on the velvet,” he observed in a puzzled voice. He turned to Larned. “Will you excuse us a moment? There’s something I want to show Mr. Treadgold in my study.”
I followed them outside.
“You got it back then?” cried our host when the door had closed behind us. Mr. Treadgold’s nod was very bland. “But that red ink?”
H.B. showed his fingers. They, too, were smeared with red. “'It was you who put it back just now when the light went out?” Webber demanded.
Mr. Treadgold nodded almost imperceptibly. “You must let me have my little joke. Now, if you’ll rejoin your guests, I want a word with my friend, George Duckett.”
“But. look here—” the professor was beginning.
“No questions was the arrangement,” H.B. shut him up. “We’ll be with you in a minute.” So saying he pulled open the door, thrust Webber inside and, catching my arm, fairly ran me upstairs to the drawing-room.
Mrs. Webber was just coming out. At the sight of us, she fell back a pace, quickly thrusting her hands behind her.
“Show me your hands, please!” Mr. Treadgold said to her.
“What do you mean?” she faltered. “Why should I show you my hands?”
“You can show them either to me or to your husband madam,” was the bleak rejoinder.
For a long moment she made no move, then slowly brought her right hand out from behind her back. The fingers were stained crimson even as her husband’s, as Mr. Treadgold’s were. “So you got the ushabti back from your friend, the Princess Murad Ali?” Mr Treadgold demanded.
“You know?” she said in a choking voice.
“I made it my business to know. Thoueris, the hippopotamus-headed goddess, is the protective deity of women in childbirth, they told me at the British Museum, and the princess gave birth to a son and heir the day before yesterday, didn’t she?”
SHE bowed her head. “It’s her first child, and she’s been married eight years. It meant so much to her to bear her husband a son—she persuaded him to let her come to Ixindon so that the baby might be born under the Ix'st possible conditions. Egyptian women have such faith in these charms, and after all this was the amulet of a great queen. The princess knew about this ushabti and begged me to lend it to her for a day or two until the child was born. I was sure it wouldn’t be missed,
csix'cially as I put that copy in its place—I could have taken the copy, I suppose, but it seemed like cheating the poor thing. Then the baby was late in arriving and I only got the ushabti back yesterday ...” “And you hadn’t the chance to borrow that master key again?”
She shrank back aghast. “How did you discover that?”
“You took the key that night after the party while your husband was asleep, didn’t you?”
She stared at him in terror. “Does my husband know?”
He shook his head. “Have no fear — your husband knows nothing and need know nothing. But the only fingerprints on the replica are his, showing that the thief must have handled it with gloves.” She bowed her head. “I remembered I mustn’t leave any fingerprints.”
“No one wore gloves at the party, therefore it was evident to me that the substitution was effected, not while you were all in the museum, but at some later time that night. What decided you to put the ushabti back just now?”
“Mercia Day told me two days ago
you’d be sending the valuers in tomorrow, and I realized that the fraud was bound to be detected. Ever since yesterday I’ve carried the ushabti round with me, waiting for a chance to put it back. I was standing near the case when the light went out tonight—it seemed like a heaven-sent chance.”
Mr Treadgold chuckled. “It was hardly that, Mrs. Webber. I was virtually certain what had become of the ushabti, but I wanted to make sure. I got Miss Day to spread this completely unfounded rumor in order—forgive me!—to force your hand And a little stain on the velvet inside the case did the rest.”
“Then it was Miss Day who put out the light?” I exclaimed.
He chuckled again. “The switch is by the door. I waited until all the group were bunched around us, then gave her the signal.” He turned to Mrs Webber. “Your secret is safe with me, madam. A little pumice-stone will take that red ink off your fingers. And may the blessing of Thoueris be with the little prince and his mother!”
He slipped his arm into mine. “Come, George, let’s go back to the museum.”