FICTION / FANTASY /GODS
by Fred Saberhagen
Published by JSS Literary Productions
Copyright (c) 1987 by Fred Saberhagen
Tom Scheffler knew that this great-uncle, Montgomery Chapel, had made his fortune by selling ancient Egyptian artifacts that were finer than those in any museum. Scheffler also knew that -- fifty years later -- Chapel was still afraid of some man, some entity, known only as Pilgrim.
What Scheffler didn't know -- and would learn the hard way -- was that Pilgrim was coming back, aboard a ship that traveled both space and time, headed for a confrontation in a weirdly changed past where the monstrous gods of ancient Egypt lay in wait for grave robbers from out of Time.
College student Tom Scheffler can't believe his luck when he gets to apartment-sit for his great-uncle Monty. The big, old place is filled with mint-condition Egyptian antiquities, and in short order Tom discovers a time machine through which his scholarly relative has transported the objects of art. Soon Tom himself journeys to the land of the pharaohs, which is all but deserted, the populace limited to a handful of local grave robbers and some aliens who need the puramids' hidden gold to power a spaceship. This alternate Egupt gets stranger and stranger, particularly when the monstrous dieties begin appearing--along with the spirit of the dead pharaoh whose tomb is being desecrated. Saberhagen's light, imaginative and enjoyable adventures speed along twisting paths to a climax that is even more surprising than the rest of the book. [Publishers Weekly]
Excerpt from Chapter One
There were too many monsters in the apartment to suit Scheffler. Or in some of the bedrooms anyway, though all were clean and otherwise suitably furnished. Going up and down the hallway, looking for a room to make his own, he found them all dusted and swept and ready for occupation. Even the beds were neatly made. The biggest bedroom was out of the running, of course, being already occupied by the old man’s things, obviously the place where he slept when he was home. And it had more than its share of monsters; clearly the old man relished them.
The next room down the hall from the old man’s was plenty big enough for Scheffler, and looked quite comfortable except for a set of three monsters, very nearly life-sized, which were enough to put him off. Two of the figures were standing to one side of the old-fashioned brass bed, one on the other. The three statues were of painted wood or stone or plaster; he couldn’t immediately be sure of the material just by looking at them. The colors of all three were just as bright as if they had been applied yesterday in Chicago instead of thousands of years ago in ancient Egypt.
From the neck down all three of the standing figures looked human, their brown-skinned bodies wearing heavy jeweled collars and white skirts or loincloths that fell in simple carven folds. From the neck up it was a different matter. One statue had the head of a green crocodile, the second that of a black-feathered hawk, and the third a head unlike any that Scheffler had ever beheld on man or beast before. He couldn’t tell if it was meant to represent a ram or a bull or something else altogether. Whatever it was, he didn’t relish the thought of waking up in the middle of the night, in an unfamiliar room, surrounded by these three looming shadow-shapes in conference.
He could have moved them out, but it was easier just to pick another room. When you were about to become the sole tenant of an apartment of fifteen rooms, you had a lot of choices. Scheffler moved on to the next bedroom down the hall, found it free of any disturbing presence, and dumped his duffel bag and backpack and minor packages on the floor. Peeling off his winter jacket, he threw it atop the pile. This room was a little smaller, but that was all right. As long as he had a bed and a chest of drawers and a handy bathroom—every bedroom in this place apparently had its own bathroom attached—he didn’t need much else in the way of housing. He would do his homework about ten doors away in the study, where as he recalled there was plenty of table space, and about a million books.
From the window of his finally chosen bedroom, twelve stories above Lake Shore Drive, Scheffler could look east as far as the fog-bound horizon of the wintry lake. Sighting at an angle to the north, through a forest of other tall apartment buildings, most of them taller and much newer than the one in which he stood, he was able to catch a glimpse of the lakeside campus of St. Thomas More University. Commuting to class from here was going to be as easy as staying home, or very nearly so. When warm weather came again, sometime in the remote spring, he would retrieve his bicycle from the friend’s house where it was stored. He ought to be able to wheel to school in only a few minutes along the path traversing the lakeside park. Meanwhile, even under the worst conditions, he could walk the distance in well under half an hour. When classes resumed after New Year’s, Scheffler wasn’t going to have to fight the city’s surface transportation problems any more. Nor was he going to have to cope any longer with the problems of three roommates in an apartment vastly smaller than this one.
Opening the duffel bag, he started to hang up some clothes in his new closet. Far back in the dim recess there was a bathrobe—or maybe it ought to be called a dressing gown—already hanging, that looked and felt like silk. Maybe it would fit him. Uncle Monty had urged him to make himself at home.
Scheffler unpacked the rest of his modest belongings, throwing some items into the otherwise empty drawers of the dresser, and establishing himself in his new private bath. All of the plumbing fixtures he’d seen so far in the apartment were modern. Obviously there’d been some remodeling during the past few years.
Having taken possession of a bedroom, Scheffler went back out to the elegantly carpeted hallway, and stood for a few moments looking from left to right and back again, appreciating the quiet. He still had a lot to investigate. This was only the second time he’d been in the apartment, and there was a lot of territory in it that hadn’t been covered when his great-uncle had given him the tour on his first visit.
Scheffler turned to his right, and strode along the hallway toward what he had already begun to call, in his own mind, the museum wing.
The apartment occupied the building’s entire twelfth floor, and its floor plan was L-shaped. The hallway on this north-south leg of the L, where the bedrooms were, put Scheffler somewhat in mind of a hotel corridor, with rooms opening mostly to his right, and windows, in the alcoves of the wall on his left, looking out over the city. This afternoon the city’s atmosphere was dim with post-Christmas, late December murk, and a lot of lights in other buildings had been turned on.
Some of the rooms over on the east-west leg of the L had good views of the central skyscrapers of the Loop, which were partially visible to the south beyond other buildings of intermediate height; other rooms, on the north side, looked out at more tall apartments, with here and there a glimpse of Lake Michigan.
The front and rear entrances of the apartment building were actually quite close together, near the angle of the L. The normal passenger elevators ascended from the lobby there, and the service elevators from just inside the alley entrance. Here too was the service stair that doubled as interior fire escape. And the largest rooms of the Chapel apartment were near the angle too. Scheffler, passing at this moment through the dining room, impulsively detoured a few steps to see if great-uncle Monty might have left the tall, imposing liquor cabinet unlocked. It turned out that he had, and that the cabinet was well stocked. Not that Scheffler cared all that much about booze, but it was interesting to see that he and the daily housekeeper, Mrs. White, were both apparently considered trustworthy. Attached to the liquor cabinet was a wine rack, holding a score of bottles resting on their sides. Well, maybe Scheffler would try just a sample now and then—Uncle Monty had told him to make himself at home—but there’d be no wild student parties.
Scheffler moved on, running his fingers along the carven backs of five of the twelve near-antique chairs that surrounded the mahogany dining table. There was no dust on any of them. Mrs. White was thorough. He planned to do most of his own eating in the kitchen, where there was a radio, and a table built on a human scale.
From the dining room he progressed into what the old man had called the parlor. This room was a whole apartment in itself, with enough furniture in it for a small house. Still, it wasn’t crowded. Here too were a few ancient Egyptian monster statues. An alabaster lampstand, a grandfather clock, and some other furniture that in most houses would have looked very old. Some of the pieces went back decades, maybe even a century, to the era of fringed lampshades and overstuffing. Scheffler had only a vague idea of the dates of different styles of furniture, but in this place a century was only yesterday.
There were some modern items too, but it occurred to Scheffler as he passed through the room this time that he had yet to see a television set anywhere in the apartment. Unless one of those cabinets over there … but he’d look into that later. The lack of a TV wasn’t going to bother him especially.
Like the monster statues in the bedrooms, the Egyptian artifacts in this part of the house appeared to be undamaged by the ages. In fact they looked quite new. No wonder some of those purchasers, decades ago, had begun to grow suspicious … anyway, Scheffler’s uncle had told him that none of the stuff displayed so casually in this room was really valuable. There was valuable and valuable, of course. Maybe Uncle Monty scorned these things, but Scheffler didn’t think he could afford to buy one if he broke it.
He had left the central area of the apartment behind him now, and was proceeding on down the east-west hallway into the museum wing. From here on, he remembered, things got stranger. Certain objects in these rooms ahead had been puzzling him ever since his first visit, and now he wanted to take a look at them again.
The first door on Scheffler’s right in this new hallway was standing open. Inside was the library. When he touched the modern switch just inside the door, indirect fluorescents came on in the book-lined alcoves, where shadowy afternoon had almost become night. Green-shaded work lamps came alive at the two broad tables. For anyone who liked books it was an inviting atmosphere, that of the office or study just waiting for the scholar to come in. All it needed was a fire blazing in the hearth; and there was even an actual fireplace, with some packaged wood beside it. One incongruous element in the library was a tall gun cabinet, containing half a dozen rifles or shotguns, along with a couple of revolvers, obscured behind a glass door thickly reinforced with metal bars. Scheffler tried the door and found it locked. The firearms were held in place by an additional locked rod run through their trigger guards.
There were only a couple of bits of sculpture in this room—Egyptian again, of course—and these were relatively small and unobtrusive. If he couldn’t get his homework done in here, he never would. There was even, Scheffler noticed now, a small electronic typewriter at one of the tables, and a stack of white paper beside it, though no evidence of any work actually in progress.
And, of course, there were the books. Most of the wall space was paneled from floor to ceiling with built-in shelves. Scheffler strolled into the room and took a volume down at random: Recherches sur plusiers points de lastronomie égyptienne, written by Jean Baptist Biot. Published in Paris, 1823. Old, all right. Next to it was Langen und Richtungen der vier Grundakten der Grossen Pyramide bei Gise. By Ludwig Borchardt, Berlin, 1926. Practically new.
Most of the books were in English, and newer than those two. He walked about, continuing his random sampling of the volumes. If this technique was truly giving him a fair representation of the whole, he thought he must be standing in the middle of just about everything that had ever been written on the subject of Egypt, in English or any other language. There was one book at least in what Scheffler thought must be Arabic. No Chinese, as far as he could tell, but he wouldn’t have been surprised. Some took in wider subjects, such as the whole Near East and Middle East, and one shelf, holding only very recent books, was devoted to the technical aspects of archaeology in general. He took down a pamphlet only a few months old, that discussed in abstruse high-tech language some current project of probing the pyramids’ interiors with cosmic rays.
Then he came to a stop. There, behind glass on a shelf slightly above eye level, were an old wax-cylinder phonograph and a modern tape recorder. Beside the phonograph were a couple of the dark cylinders that were its records. Thanks to memories of his grandmother’s attic in Des Moines, Scheffler could identify them for what they were. It was true, of course, that Uncle Monty had been working away at this stuff for half a century or more.
Opening another glass-doored cabinet, Scheffler to satisfy his curiosity pulled out scrolls of thick, unusual, creamy-feeling paper. He undid one scroll and found it covered with what were, for all he could tell, genuine Egyptian hieroglyphics. To his inexpert eye, at least, the small pictographs appeared to have been painted on by hand.
Enough. More than enough. He had been told to make himself at home, but he had the feeling now that he was prying into things that he was expected to leave alone.
From the library a wide doorway opened directly into the next room to the west. This was almost as large as the library, and it also was a workroom of sorts. A good share of the floor space was taken up by a central built-in table, about seven feet square and sturdily constructed, as if it were meant to support a model railroad. It held a model, all right, but there were no tracks or trains. Plaster of Paris, or some similar substance, had been built and carved into the shape of a four-sided pyramid, occupying almost the entire tabletop, and tipped at the very apex with a dot of what looked like gold. The pale pyramid was readily accessible from all sides, and well lighted from above, once Scheffler had found the proper wall switch.
If you looked closely at the pyramid you could see the dark lines where it must come apart in sections, presumably to allow study of the interior. For about three-fourths of the way up, each sloping side of the pyramid was a series of perhaps a hundred tiny steps; and from each of the four corners of the base a narrow ramp went slanting up across the steps at a gentle grade, to make a right-angled turn at the next corner and go on up again, clinging to the steep sides. The ramps ended at the level where the sides became smooth, about a quarter of the way down from the tiny golden apex.
During his brief tour of the apartment a week ago, Scheffler had naturally noticed this model pyramid and commented on it. His great-uncle Monty had explained how, in the real pyramid, the ramps had been used to haul up the blocks of stone used in construction.
Scheffler had wanted to make some intelligent response. “I seem to remember reading somewhere that there are still different theories on the pyramids. The way they were constructed, I mean.”
“There are different theories,” Uncle Monty had admitted, in his dry, slightly rasping voice. He had been standing in the doorway, leaning his gaunt body slightly against the jamb. Dapper in a dark suit and flamboyant tie, the old man managed to look considerably younger than his age, which from all that Scheffler had heard had to be somewhere in the late seventies. “There are different theories. But this is how the Great Pyramid at Giza was constructed.”
At that point the rasping inflexible voice had paused, and the gray eyes under the bushy gray brows gave Scheffler a hard stare, through fashionable modern steel-rimmed glasses. “Have you taken any courses in astronomy?”
“Astronomy? No, sir. Not at the university, anyway. I did have an astronomy course in high school. Back in Iowa. You mean the pyramids were oriented to the stars somehow?”
“Oh yes. Many of them were. This one certainly was.” The old man gestured toward the model, an impatient flick of the wrist. There were gold rings, one with a green jewel, on two of the gnarled but still active ringers. “The Great Pyramid at Giza,” he repeated. “Built by the great Pharaoh Khufu to be his eternal tomb, and the eternal repository of his treasure.” The old eyes and the old voice were for some reason judging that repository, and perhaps the Pharaoh, harshly. “And it served also as the base of departure for his spirit to its place among the stars … that pyramid was already ancient, of course, when Tutankhamen lived and died, of whom we hear so much. It had been in place for more than a thousand years when Abraham of the Old Testament was born.”
“There are three of them there now, aren’t there? Three large pyramids, near Cairo?”
“Yes. This was the first, and remains the largest.” Suddenly Scheffler’s great-uncle had seemed to be trying to make up his mind about something. “Look here, ah, Tom. There’s a certain unfairness about what I’m doing, going off like this on short notice, turning over the care of this apartment to you. I want you to know I plan to make it up to you.”
“No sir, I don’t see it that way at all. Believe me, I’m glad to get a place like this to stay in. And with a place like this, it’s natural you’d want a house-sitter. It’s great for me, handy to school, a good place to study…”
The old man sighed; he was reluctantly, or so it seemed, allowing himself to remain persuaded that it was a good idea to leave Scheffler here alone. Never mind that it had been his own idea to begin with.
“Mrs. White will handle all the housework,” Montgomery Chapel muttered. He had already covered that; he was starting to repeat himself. Perhaps, with age, his mind was wandering a little. Perhaps he was just running through a mental checklist, making sure that he had thought of everything. “What I rely on you to do, is to keep an eye on the place, of course—and deal with all the messages. There’s a phone-answering machine—I’ll show you presently how that works. In general, I am not anxious for anyone to know where I can be reached, or even that I am traveling.”
At that point Uncle Monty had gone over to the window and put back a curtain to look out at the falling snow. It was coming down thickly enough to reduce the nearby buildings to gray shadows. “There’s one man in particular,” he said then, and sighed so deeply that it made him cough. It sounded to Scheffler as if some important information might be going to come out now. “One man in particular I’m not anxious to see. I haven’t seen him for a number of years, and his appearance might have changed since then—or it might not have changed very much.”
Uncle Monty turned from the window, letting the curtain fall back, and stared at Scheffler. “Looked about thirty years of age when last I saw him. Undoubtedly he’s really older. Darker than you. And shorter, average height or less, but he’s stronger than he looks. Caucasian blood, mainly, I should say, though there’s a suggestion of the Oriental in his appearance. Perhaps a touch of the Negro also.”
“What’s his name?”
“His real name I don’t know. I’ve heard him called Pilgrim. And Peregrinus, which is the Latin form of the same name.” Uncle Monty spelled the variation out. “And once I heard him called just Scar. That was perhaps an abbreviation for something else, because he has no readily visible scars. Of course if he comes while I am gone he might be using some other name entirely. Present himself under some subterfuge. But he has a—how to put it?—a presence about him. I think you’ll know him if he shows up.”
It was beginning to sound to Scheffler as if his great-uncle’s decades of adventure might not be over after all. Maybe his questionable dealings in antiquities weren’t concluded either.
Scheffler asked: “What do I do if he does show up?”
“Tell him no more than you can help about where I am. Or about the state of my affairs.”
“Right.” It was an easy enough promise to make, since Scheffler himself knew next to nothing of those affairs. And up to that time he had known nothing at all of where Uncle Monty was going on this sudden trip. At first Scheffler had thought the trip might well have something to do with the old man’s health, but the old man’s vigorous appearance argued against that.
“But,” Uncle Monty resumed, “if you think that you have seen him, or believe that you have heard from him—you might call the number that I will leave for you, and let me know. There’ll be an envelope for you, containing information on how to reach me, on the kitchen counter the morning you move in.” He peered at the younger man with what looked to Scheffler like a mixture of cunning and anxiety.
“All right sir. I can certainly do that. Anything else?”
“I shouldn’t like to hear of any wild parties while I am gone.” Uncle Monty’s eyes didn’t exactly twinkle—they glinted. “Though you don’t strike me as the type for that. And you are to remain the sole tenant. No one else is to have a key.”
“Beyond that—help yourself, to the foodstuffs, and whatever else you may want to use. I expect to be back, as I say, in about four months.”
It was at that moment that they heard the outer door open. “That’ll be Mrs. White,” said the old man, with renewed briskness. “Come along and meet her. I’ve already told her that my grandnephew is going to be staying here.”
They found Mrs. White hanging up her cloth coat just inside the rear door of the apartment, which opened off an alcove of the kitchen. Her galoshes were already sitting, draining the muck of December sidewalks on a small folded rug. Mrs. White was black, and stoutly built. Scheffler would have been hard put to try to guess her age. Her hair contained one broad dramatic streak of gray, but that looked as if it might have been dyed in.
She acknowledged Scheffler’s presence with a bare minimum of words, and looked him over with an air of reserved suspicion. When he made a tentative motion toward shaking hands, she instantly turned away and opened a closet full of household tools.
As Mrs. White started on her days vacuuming in the bedroom wing, the interrupted tour resumed. The next room down the west hallway after the one holding the pyramid model might have been a small gallery in a museum. It contained more statues and glass cases, and a couple of chairs of carven wood so ancient in appearance that it looked as if it might be worth your life to sit in one. There were also two mummies. To Scheffler the lacquered cases and the bandaged figures looked as genuine as everything else here, as real as anything he had ever seen in a museum, and in much better condition. The cases holding the mummies stood open, their lids beside them, and were at least as finely made as the antique chairs. Scheffler was on the verge of asking if the mummies were real, but held back, not wanting to demonstrate his ignorance.
The glass display cases in the center of the room contained several model boats, or ships, made of finely detailed wood and cloth and metal, oars and oarsmen in place as well as the sails and figures of important passengers, gloriously decorated. Scheffler paused to look at them for a while. There was a label that would not have looked out of place in a museum, though rather terse: SOLAR BARQUES, FOURTH DYNASTY.
His great-uncle took note of his concentration on the model boats. The old man said, “Sometimes irreverently called ‘skyboats’ by modern students. To bear the soul on to its final destination.”
“Among the stars.”
“Yes. In a way. One mustn’t expect to find too much consistency in the next world. Or in this one, for that matter … come along here, there’s something I want to show you.”
There was another room after the “Museum Gallery”—Gallery Two, Scheffler immediately christened it. At the windowless west end was a large alcove, fenced off by a formidable steel grillwork that reached from floor to ceiling. A small closed gate or door in the middle of the grill made the alcove into a richly furnished jail cell. Richly furnished indeed, and well lighted. Jewelry reposed on stands and in niches. More than one of the items looked like thick and heavy gold.
At the rear of the alcove was a plastered wall, painted in Egyptian figures; and in front of the center of that rear wall there hung a curtain; or maybe, Scheffler thought, it should be called a tapestry, because of the embroidered figures on it. The bottom of the curtain fell a foot or two above the floor of the alcove, and a double step of rough stone blocks led up to the curtain as if it might conceal a doorway.
“The only really valuable things I keep in the apartment,” said Uncle Monty, “are in that area behind the grill.” He shook the bars gently with an old hand. “Before you leave today, I’ll show you where the key to the door is kept. In the remote chance of there being a fire in the building, or some such difficulty, then you’d have to be able to get at them.”
Responsibilities were mounting. Scheffler wasn’t sure at what financial level things became ‘really valuable’ in his uncle’s mind. He supposed he ought to make sure, hesitated, then took a stab at it. “Sir? You say the only ‘really valuable’ things? Then are the other Egyptian things in the apartment all genuine? The statues and furniture and all? It wouldn’t be any of my business, except if I’m going to be the caretaker…”
Great-uncle Montgomery raised an eyebrow, considering. “You certainly have a right to ask, under the circumstances. I suppose that you’ve heard, from your mother and others, of the accusations that were made against me, forty years ago and more. How I was supposed to have faked a great many artifacts, and sold them? Well, there was no truth in any of those charges.” And the old man looked at him fiercely.
“Yes sir, my mother did say something to me about all that. A long time ago.” And she had returned to the subject quite recently, when Scheffler had phoned her to say he’d heard from Uncle Monty. But certainly Scheffler had never heard anyone else talking about it. The old boy was quite wrong if he thought his youthful troubles were still a common topic of discussion decades later.
Uncle Monty pressed on. “You realize, I hope, that nothing of the sort was ever proven, against me or my brother. That no one ever dared to take such accusations to court.”
“Yes sir,” said Scheffler dutifully. Though ‘no one ever dared’ was not exactly the way he’d heard the story.
Uncle Monty gestured tersely toward the rear of the protected alcove. “That wall back there is a reproduction of a tomb-wall built in Egypt in the twenty-ninth century BC. The stair-steps and a few of the other stones are original. To move the entire real wall here and install it would have been impossible. With that one exception, everything you see in this apartment is a genuine artifact.” He paused, considered, and seemed to decide to stay no more for the moment.
“I see, sir.” Although Scheffler wasn’t sure he really did. He walked right up to the grillwork, looking through it and resting his hands on one of the horizontal bars.
“Probably the necessity for you to open that grill-work will not arise while I am gone.”
“No sir, I didn’t mean—”
“However, in case of some emergency…” And his uncle beckoned him back into the adjoining room.
Once there, he removed one of the top sections from the model pyramid—it was evidently lighter than it looked—and indicated the chambers revealed inside. “Here—in what some call Campbell’s Chamber, after an early nineteenth-century explorer. I’m leaving the key in here.” Scheffler saw the key in his great-uncle’s hand, and saw it disappear, sliding into a small cavity. There was a faint hard tap as it came to rest. “Not too easy to get at; you might have to tip the whole model on its side, and shake it out, or devise some kind of tool. But it’s there. In case of some emergency, as I said.”
“Right. In case of fire.”
The old man squinted at Scheffler, as if trying to decide what else his young tenant should know. “Exactly,” he said at last, somehow managing to convey the idea that fire wasn’t really what he’d had in mind, although he’d mentioned it before. Then he turned and moved back into the other room, toward the protected alcove. Scheffler followed.
“Getting that wall built in properly was quite a job,” Professor Chapel said. “Many of the bricks and stones, as I say, are genuine. They were brought from Egypt in several shipments. Yes, quite a job to erect it as you see it here. As I say, most of the wall is a modern reproduction, done from photographs. Only the stones of the false door, behind the curtain, and a few of the other parts are original.”
“Did you say there’s a door behind that curtain? A ‘false door’?”
“Yes. The door through which the spirit of the tomb’s occupant departed for the hereafter. Built right into a wall, as you see. It could not be opened physically.”
“Oh. No solar barques this time, hey?”
“Perhaps not … as I said before, myths, beliefs, are not required to be consistent.” Uncle Monty came closer to smiling than Scheffler had seen him do yet. “Nor, for that matter, is reality. Hm. It took me a long time to discover that.”
“Never mind. The original owner of this tomb was a distant relative of Pharaoh.” And the old man was off, delivering a discursive lecture on what he called the Old Kingdom, of which Scheffler was able to understand very little. The only halfway intelligent comment that he could find to make was that he had seen a room somewhat similar to this one in the Field Museum.
That set off the old man’s contempt. Great-uncle Montgomery, dilating on the faults of museums, their greed and general incompetence, grew somewhat breathless. Maybe the Field, or the Oriental Institute, or some of the others, were still nursing hopes that they might come into possession of something of value when he died—well, if so, they’d find out differently.
Scheffler noted silently that the old man did not mention TMU at all—Thomas More University, where he’d been a faculty member in his youth. Evidently, even forty years later they could not possibly harbor even the faintest hope that he would leave them anything at all.
It was only a mild tirade, but still the old man leaned in the doorway wheezing for a few moments after it was over. Maybe his health was shakier than Scheffler had thought at first. Then, with a nod for Scheffler to follow him, he led the way back into the parlor. There, with evident relief, he sank into one of the overstuffed chairs, motioning his grandnephew to take one of the seats opposite him.
It was an impressive room, and evidently his uncle saw him taking note of his surroundings. “I own this apartment, too, of course. Free and clear now. It wasn’t a common arrangement back in the Thirties, when this building was put up. Condominiums then were not the popular idea that they later became. But it is mine, and now of course worth a small fortune in itself. Whoever inherits my things will get the apartment too.” And he looked at Scheffler earnestly.
Scheffler was vaguely disturbed. Maybe, as he thought about it, even offended. To make matters worse, he also felt, somewhere way down deep, a pang of genuine cupidity. Sure, of course, he would like to be a millionaire. Sure, at this moment he was probably on better terms with the old man than were the one or two other surviving relatives. But at the same time Scheffler wasn’t about to start holding his breath until he came into an inheritance. He was doing all right as he was, without a million. He’d be an engineer when he got out of school. And his mother had told him more than one story about this man.
“Look, Uncle Monty, you don’t have to pay me anything to do a little house-sitting for you. Like I said, it really helps me out too, and I’m glad to do it. Okay?”
His great-uncle, still wheezing faintly in his chair, had peered at Scheffler narrowly for several seconds, without speaking. Then he had given a slightly crooked smile, as if he were satisfied by what he saw.