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The Scarlet Mummy Volume One
Dead Man’s Command!
Don Langdon was disheartened, dispirited, perhaps a bit disillusioned too, this snowy morning in February, as he climbed up to his two by four bedroom on Chicago’s ancient Washington square, and flinging his hat and overcoat fiercely on his narrow iron bed, sat down to consider the situation with which he was confronted.
In the cracked, worn mirror across the way from him, in the simple little comfortless room, facing on the dismal back alley, he saw his own 23-year-old visage, framed as it was against his lavender-tinted shirt and grey knitted tie, and the black and white checkered business suit he wore: brown eyed, that reflecting visage, a tangle of brown hair over a forehead, a chin that seemed no longer as forward-set as it always had been before, all staring back at his real self, rebellious, and steeped in chagrin; but what he failed to see was the large and very legal-looking envelope bearing the name of Van Noyland and Van Noyland, and postmarked as from Colorado, which sat propped up against his tinny alarm clock. Perhaps if he had, he would not have stopped to mutter:
“The higher education! To hell—with education!”
But a moment later, his eyes narrowed as they rested on that huge letter sprawling across his rickety chiffonier. Only a moment, then he was up with a curious look on his face, and crossing the tiny cubicle in about two steps, picked it up and with a glance at its superscription tore it across and removed its single sheet of paper. And there, indeed, he found a somewhat surprising communication, to say the least!
For its typed message, with embossed firm name of van Noyland and van Noyland, Attorneys at Law, in the Rocky Mountain building, at Denver, and its date of February 16th, three days before, ran:
Mr. Don Langdon,
6 Washington Square,
We are pleased to notify you that, by the will of your uncle, Blyworth Langdon, who died here incidentally February the 2nd, and was, so we understand, your only relative, you are left $20,000 in first-mortgage bonds, Series L, of the Transcontinental and Coasts Railroad Lines, maturing January Sixth, slightly less than six years from now.
The bonds of this particular $5,000,000 18-year issue—sometimes called, it seems, in more laborious railroad parlance, the Diesel Equipment and New Chicago Central Terminal and Old Bond Issues Clean-up Issue!—are unregisterable, as to holders, but are freely negotiable, all, and of denominations $1000, each bond. the bonds, moreover, bear serially-numbered and attested interest coupons, payable annually only, and at rate of 3.87½ percent on $1000 par; and these bonds carry, therefore, the 6 last and final coupons yet to mature. The market value of this issue appears to be, as per quotation in today’s papers as in Eastern bond markets, $1022.30 each.
The particular bond certificates left you—20 in number—comprise the sequence of the issue numbered from L-1925 to L-1944, inclusive. Each bears your uncle’s signature on its back, placed there obviously by him when he acquired them, more for safety’s sake as to possible identification in case of theft than anything else; and each carries also, in red rubber-stamping, in some cases underlapping his own writing, the name of the particular securities firm in Radio City from whom he obviously acquired the bonds when on a trip to New York a little more than 2 years back. But, as we say, the bonds are freely negotiable, and neither the signature of your uncle’s or of the intervening securities dealers who preceded him, have any bearing.
Now the will, having been registered over a half-year ago, in certain prescribed manner, with the Probate Court here under a new law which in certain specific cases does away with the usual year’s probate delay on such things as distributions of bequests, the bonds are being sent to you, on this same mail, care of the Central City Trust and Savings Bank, your city, where, on proper identification and receipt for them, you can claim them.
I am sorry to add that your uncle, in his will (copy of which will reach you in a day or two) makes the specific request that if you accept this legacy, it is with the specific understanding that, when you marry, you will marry a girl with blue eyes only, so that you may transmit to the American Eugenics Society at Utica, New York, to whom most of his estate went, certain data in the field in which he has been most interested; and he mentions that you will understand.
Very truly yours,
Van Noyland and Van Noyland.
And as Don Langdon stood there, gaping at the typewritten communication, trying to absorb the dumfounding contents, his eyes traveled across the more friendly communication written across the bottom of the letter in pencil in the form of a postscript:
P.S. Dear Mr. Langdon: Of course you are not legally held to such an absurd demand as that mentioned above, and if you wish to disregard your uncle’s stipulation, no party nor parties can take from you your legacy. The legacy was unconditional, fortunately.
Passing a hand dazedly over his forehead, Don returned to his bed, plumped back on the side of it once more, and again, and still again, re-read the contents of this bewildering letter. He thought of the long days in which, as a boy and a youth, he had tended this querulous semi-invalid uncle of his; of the countless baseball games he had given up, swimming parties, the thousand and one joys of a boy. And from that his mind went to the hopeless search for work that had greeted him now, fresh from the university, filled with the facts of his higher-accountancy course, a search that, because of the so-called “readjustment” that today lay across the country, not only had given him not even the job of a bookkeeper—him with a university training back of him—but not more than the prospects of a posting clerk, to begin with, at $50 a week for God knew how long.
And now all that was solved! Twenty thousand dollars—just like a shot out of heaven! And his eyes, lighting up with a strange light, travelled across the room and rested on a big beautiful cabinet photo of a girl that reposed there.
A girl of the most aristocratic type, Avis Westbrooke: great luminous dark eyes—eyes of the deepest brown! —looked out from a face whose nostrils were the quivering nostrils of a thoroughbred; lips curved like Robin Hood’s bow; the queenly throat graced by a single strand of beads as black as the smoke-jet hair that crowned two dainty shell-like ears.
His eyes rested hungrily on that cabinet photo for a minute, and then suddenly his face clouded. He gazed at the letter again. He read its salient statement:
…with the understanding that you marry, when you do marry, a girl with blue eyes only, in order that.…
“Thank God,” he said to himself, “That he didn’t make that unconditional. What would I have done then? What would I—have done?”
Rising from his bed again, and crossing the room, and thrusting the legal letter into his hip pocket as he did to get his hands free, he delved now into one of the drawers of his rickety chiffonier, and abstracted an old folded letter, minus its envelope, which he took to the window and unfolded by the grey light coming in. It was from his uncle, some years back; it was handwritten, and it plainly was even a bit faded, and he disregarded the opening lines to find the part that interested him most. He came at length to the paragraph in question. He re-read it curiously:
As you know, according to Mendel’s law, two blue-eyed people, lacking the pigment which makes for brown eyes, cannot give birth to other than blue-eyed offspring. Deviations, hitherto quite unexplained, have been found in this law which should have no deviations: that is to say, in perhaps one hundred marriages between pure blue-eyed people, such as your mother and father, a brown-eyed child—yes, like yourself!—appears about twice. It is my belief that Mendel’s law is still supreme, and that this apparent “brownness” of eye is due to some kind of reflection from the lens of the eye, and not the iris; and that if such an anomaly mates with a blue-eyed mate, every one of his children will be as blue-eyed as the sky, just as though he himself were a perfect “blue eye”. It is my hope that, for the sake of this old monk Mendel who has done so much for science, you will make it a point to marry only a blue-eyed girl when you do marry, so that the data from your marriage may be given to science.
There was no more of this. He put the letter away in his pocket with the other one, remotely connected to it, as it seemed, and stood musing, half sadly. And so Blyworth Langdon, his uncle, had backed up his “wish”—with $20,000—in gilt-edged bonds! And he, Don Langdon, in love with and loved by a veritable goddess with brown eyes, was supposed to consecrate his life to the substantiation of the theories of a puttering old scholar who had established a few laws with sweet peas. Well—he would soon demonstrate how much old Gregory Mendel, now moulding to the eternal dust, meant to youth and life and happiness. For his, Don’s, uncle had failed—to tie up his bequest!
He stood but a moment longer. It was hard to realize that the long hunt was over, the struggle to be able to carry off Winton Westbrooke’s daughter. Under the rigorous and inexorable conditions and stipulations that Winton Westbrooke had set down for anyone who dared to think to even try that. Requirement I: a self-owned bungalow—brand new! To cost not less than $12,000. Requirement II: to be newly furnished—in best of style and taste. Requirement III: money in bank—sufficient for a year’s comfortable living for two, if things should go wrong otherwise. Requirement IV: a car of style no less than—and vintage no other than—Don sighed. Winton Westbrooke! Who was getting rich so rapidly that if he, Don, didn’t get that daughter soon—he might never be able to get her. For those conditions—“requirements”!—of Winton Westbrooke’s were destined to go high, higher, higher—rather than lower. But now—well, the facts, as set forth in the Denver letter spoke for themselves. And yet a subtle something troubled Don Langdon. Superstition, perhaps—perhaps allegiance to the memory of the crabbed old man who had stolen five years of his boyhood—perhaps something else.
He turned from the window, and crossed the room, went down the thinly carpeted stairway outside to the deserted hallway of the old Washington Square rooming house, where a phone booth for the benefit of the lodgers therein reposed in mahogany brilliance at one side of the glazed door facing the snow-covered and denuded square. Stepping inside and closeting himself tightly within, he raised the telephone instrument, dropped a dime in the slot, and dialed a number he did not even have to look up. Getting it, he asked but four words:
“Chicago Burlap Bag Company?”
With the affirmative answer, he asked a further request.
“Give me Petie Waterlock.”
A pause, and then a man’s voice answered. It was the voice of a young man, but held in it the tone of one who had been a bit beaten himself in the “readjustment” covering the country. Don spoke.
“Petie—this is Don speaking. Yes, your one-time roommate out there on West Monroe Street. Well, Petie, old top, I guess I won’t have to take that entry-posting job you routed up for me there in the burlap bag company, after all. For I’ve just come into $20,000, Petie.”
A whistle from the man on the other end of the wire could be heard.
“Yes, Petie. That uncle in the West. It’s all in Transcontinental and Coasts R.R. bonds. All clean—no strings attached—except this: and no mention of this, of course, Petie, to anybody connected with the Press. This is the—only string: I’m supposed to marry only a blue-eyed girl—if I take the money. Can you beat it? Unc was interested in Eugenics, you know.”
“But he didn’t tie up his demand, eh?” said the man who was bookkeeping in a burlap bag company.
“No, Petie. Which leaves me free to marry the most wonderful brown-eyed girl in the world. And a chance to look further for perhaps a better berth in this accountancy game.”
“Well, ol’ roommate, I sure congratulate you. And I hope you can unearth somethin’ better than that poor berth I dug up for you. Of course, kid, if your heart is set on marrying—go to it—but—but—”
“But what, Petie?”
“Watch out for dead men’s requests, kid. If you violate one, you know, you have the rottenest sort of luck. Dead men seem to hover about just to see that their requests are followed out!”
“Thanks, Petie,” the man on the Washington Square end of the wire laughed triumphantly. “But I’ll give uncle no chance to crab this. For I’m going to marry that girl of mine just as fa-a-ast as I can throw my affairs into shape—two—three days now.”
“Go to it—but watch out for the dead and departed,” the other man laughed. “And I’m serious, Don, I am!”
And with mutual goodbyes, they hung up.
Don Langdon went back to his room only to get his hat and overcoat. A final further glance at the letter from Denver, to assure himself that the words “are being sent to you on this same mail, care of” were not a mirage, revealed the words were right there, all right, all right! Which meant, therefore, the bonds were here right today and now—like this very letter itself. And, best of all, he had played badminton a thousand times, if he had once, at the Chicago Badminton Club, with Jasper Adams, second-assistant cashier in the bank on LaSalle and Quincy where his bequest was right now waiting on his call. Life was moving on greased slides for one who, but an hour before, had considered the world a meager sort of banquet board at best!
He boarded a Loop-bound Clark Street car at the corner, and it was exactly 11 in the morning when he stepped into the busy bank on Chicago’s Wall Street, thronged with people. He went straight to the row of desks, cut off from the public by a narrow 15-inch-wide white marble ledge, occupied mostly by well fed and generally portly middle-aged gentlemen, each desk bearing a polished brass sign bearing his name. An alert looking man, by no means portly, but all of 49, and wearing rimless spectacles, looked up from a desk bearing the sign “Jasper Adams”.
“Well, well, well!” he greeted, smilingly. “If it isn’t Don Langdon, the demon badmintonist!”
“Howdy, Jasper,” said Langdon. He paused a moment, and then added: “I’m going to have to have you identify me, Jasper! I’ve a little legacy sent here to this bank by Van Noyland and van Noyland of Denver. Bonds. Will you fix me—up?”
Jasper Adams pressed a button on his desk. to a boy who sprung up out of nowhere, he gave an order. “See if a registered express envelope from Denver, probably accompanied by unregistered instructions in different envelope, is waiting call for D. Langdon—in the express cage?”
A moment later the boy was back bearing in his hand a long cloth envelope with red seals showing on its under side. “This’d hafta to be it, they say, Mr. Adams,” he informed his superior. “Though ’tain’t been opened yet. Instructions with it are to d’liver it, when he comes in, to a Mr. Don Langdon. And to get receipts in dooplicate. Th’ blank receipt form is s’posed to be inside.”
The boy was gone. Even while Jasper Adams was zipping open the cloth envelope with a scissors. From it he took a presumably tri-folded sheaf of what manifestly must have been twenty bonds, since they had been described as “thousand-dollar-ers”, and as he unfolded the sheaf, and smoothed it out on the marble ledge between Don and himself, printing courteously upward and facing the new owner himself, Don, watching it all almost unbelievingly, could see that the topmost document was, indeed, for $1000. For the $1000 shown forth from it at the top, midway of the space there, in the broadest of comforting Gothic letters! The bonds had been printed, as was evident, in but one color—dignified black, of course!—on crisp, bond paper—but with such supreme dignity of etched line, and etched shading, and etched word, at proper points, that they looked exactly like great $1000 American currency bills that had been magically expanded out, somehow, to being about 12 inches long and 7 deep! that is, did one ignore the inch-and-a-quarter-deep row of neat—almost petite!—coupons along the whole bottommost margin; the 6 final uncashed—but yet to be cashed!—interest coupons! Around the usual promise to pay, and all that sort of thing in the bond proper, and just below which appeared to be an actual handwritten signature of an official—yes, the grantor’s president, at least of the time of the issue, one, Alexander MacInnes—bless you, Alexander, and also the lack of any arthritis in your wrist the day you signed these!—was a broad, inch-deep frame, or rim, that had been delineated on the engraved plate by the so-called geometrical lathe. A thing seemingly matching, in some indescribable way, the single complicated—and therefore identificatory—rosette lying on the left end of each interest coupon, and obviously delineated by the same lathe. Each bond, judging from the top one which Don was satisfiedly drinking in, bore a single powerful line of letters about midwise of itself, in typography face other than that used in the rest of the certificate, and represented, as even he had heard, the strongest and most powerful way today of the rail lines of America; in upper right hand corner of the bond—as in the case of the interest coupons—was the serial number of the bond, evidently inserted in all by separate printing run; and in the lower left-hand corner was the bond’s maturity date—that being, in this case, the January 8th lying nearly 6 years off from now.
“Kin I turn over this topmost babe here, Jasper?” Don asked very humbly. “And take in—its ’tother side?”
“The ’tother’ side of all bonds I’ve ever seen,” smiled Jasper Adams, “is usually a blank expanse of werry expensive bond paper. But since this ‘babe’, as you call him, is destined to be all yours as soon as you’ve signed a few things, just turn him—over!”
So Don, gingerly handling his own, or virtually his own, for the first time, plucked off Mr. Top Certificate from his underlying brothers, and turned it over. Yes, blank it was three, for the most part, as perhaps should have been the case, except for the name of a certain couple of previous holders; for there, as the Denver lawyers had said, was his uncle’s scrawling signature, Blyworth Langdon, and, slightly underlapping it, at least on this particular certificate, a red-stamped firm-name reading “Gerald Colborough Associates, Dealers in Super-Grade Securities, Radio City, New York”.
Reverently, Don replaced his own bond on the sheaf in correct position and wiped his hands, one on the other, to show that no stray “dollars” were sticking thereon!
Jasper Adams but smiled broadly and openly at the gesture.
There appeared, however, as only now Don, feasting his eyes on the sheaf noticed, to have been two typewritten oblongs of paper inside with the bonds, on the bottom of the sheaf, overlapping it just about enough for one to notice. Indeed, Jasper Adams, as one who had done this sort of thing more than once before, was now leaning over and adroitly extracting the two. In fact, having done so, he swept the entire sheaf over on to his own desk, and after careful examination of the top certificate, then a careful reading of each of the two pieces of typewritten paper, nodding all the while, he moistened his finger on a moistening pad, and proceeded to check every bond in the sheaf in turn, for serial number, for category, for denomination.
Only now he turned to his customer, swinging back the bonds and the two typewritten papers on the ledge, and indicating the low fountain pen holder thereon.
‘We’re not permitted here to make comments, Don, particularly envious ones, otherwise I’d say—anyway,” he broke off dryly, “read carefully—yes, both forms there—and sign both. They are but receipts—nearly in duplicate—for your legacy—wow, twenty thou!—oh my!—now where am I?—well, one of those papers goes back to Denver, and one stays here with us. And count them thar sweet oblongs yourself—and check—afore you sign. For I took me a pickpocket course, once, you know, and—”
Don magnificently waved away the thought of Jasper Adams being a pickpocket. But did maker a gesture with his two hands that said: “You bankers want things thisaway; so you’ll get your wishes.” Dutifully he counted the oblongs. 20 they were, all right. And each one as beautiful, had it been a kitten and the counter a mother cat, as any of the other 19 kittens—with it.
Now he read the typewritten receipt papers. Both practically the same. And he noted, moreover, that nothing—quite nothing!—was said in either about “blue eyes’! Okay! He signed both papers. Took the bonds, now his, folded them up across their own fold-lines, and put them into the breast pocket of his inner black and white checkered coat. Which fortunately had a button-carrying flap. For he intended to show them proudly, before another hour, to one certain person in Chicago. A girl! A girl named Avis! A girl—
He turned now to the man who sat smiling, genuinely congratulatory, surveying him.
“And now, Jasper,” Don said, “one more thing. I wants to borry a thousand dollars in cash. How many bonds will I have to put up—for security?”
“Oh, two would be more than ample,” said the assistant cashier. “They’re selling slightly above par. As I happen to know from a small exchange-transaction we carried through here yesterday. Yes, each is quoted at around $1022.32. Yes, two are too much for a loan of the size you specify, but we can’t break them down and so—maybe you’d like even a bit more on the two you’d have to put up. Yes?”
“No, Jasper, just a thousand for—for—for—”
“For pocket money, eh?” the cashier smiled, half sadly, half tolerantly.
“Right,” Don reached back into his breast pocket, and extracted his sheaf. Skinned off two of his bonds, the topmost two, like a millionaire, and airy-fairily to boot! Restoring the sheaf carefully, not forgetting the buttons! Jasper Adams was already filling out a small receipt-form of some sort for the two coming up. Now he took them, adding to his receipt-form the serial numbers which he checked, each in turn. He glanced at the big clock hanging from the ceiling 10 feet away.
“Will 4 o’clock today be time enough for the money, Don? The bank is open, you know, for loaning business till 4. Our Mr. Mortimer Kell has to countersign all loans on collateral—and he’s out today till about 3. There’ll be no trouble, however, of course. Just formality, that’s all.”
“Not at all, Jasper. Not at all.” Don took the receipt, examined it perfunctorily, only to prove he hadn’t lost all the business wits he’d ever putatively had, folded it up, and with a handshake of the other man, left the bank.
It was lunchtime, but hunger in him was completely non-est and zero minus. Outside on the sidewalk, with people rushing madly in all directions for lunch counters, he thought of all the penny pinching he’d been doing of recent weeks, walking downtown instead of riding in the busses or subway—thought of the fortune in his breast pocket—grandiloquently flagged a taxi which was drifting by—ordered the driver to take him to 80 East Bellevue Place, and “don’t spare the chickens on the way, pal”. He settled back on the cushions as the cab circled about. And drank the situation all in. Tried to, anyway! Gad, but it was wonderful—to be rich. For this was what he now was. Wealthy. For wealth was all relative, wasn’t it? Even Einstein would have conceded that. Why he, Don, and Croesus, could well have gone out to lunch together—had they been contemporaneous. Rich! Twenty thou! Why, with conditions as they are right now in the building trades, I can build a brand new bungalow for not a penny more than—Oh, the whole thing was a dream, of course, he realized, a tantalizing dream. But the fine part of this dream, he noted, as the cab elbowed, wriggled its way out of the Loop and picked up speed in Wacker Drive, was that he, Don Langdon, failed—to awaken from it!
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