It Happened in Egypt
C. N. Williamson & A. M. Williamson
Part 8 out of 8
a well-like hole, into which he had evidently stumbled.
"Let me give you a hand up," I said.
"No thank you," he answered, in a tense, excited voice. "This is where
I want to be. Look!"
I looked and saw, at the bottom of the scooped-out hole, a crevice in
the flat wall of rock which we had been following down the passage,
after its turn from the right angle way to creep along the
mountainside. Out of this crevice protruded a large iron crowbar,
apparently jammed into place, the first tool we had seen anywhere.
The chamber in which I stood, was littered and piled up with hard
masses of earth which had been thrown out of the hole; and on the rough
floor of the latter I stepped on the spade which had done the work. It
nearly turned my ankle as I jumped on to it, but I hardly felt the
pain. Torch and lantern showed clearly that the crevice in the wall was
not a natural crack, but a man-made opening. It was as if a slab of
rock fitted roughly into grooves had first been lifted, and had then
fallen heavily on to the crowbar.
I set the lantern on the earthy floor and its yellow light streamed
through the crack, whence the crowbar protruded like a black pipe in a
negro's mouth. It was all darkness on the other side; from behind the
screen of rock, set in its deep grooves, came the strangest sound I
ever heard, or shall ever hear. It was a voice, groaning, yet it was
not like a human voice. The horrid idea jumped into my head that it was
the howl of an evil spirit sitting in a dead man's skull.
"He's alive then," exclaimed Anthony, pale in the sickly light. "Is
that you, Corkran?" he called. The only answer was another groan.
"I see the whole business now, don't you?" Fenton said. "This passage
is very steep. Already it was far under ground-level, before we got to
the cutting on the mountain wall, and it must have been under ground-level
for many centuries. They dug deep down, to make the tomb, and
then covered up the entrance with earth. When Corkran got to his
portcullis, he thought he'd reached the reward of his labours. Well--so
he had--the punishment. Here's the heap of stone he used as a fulcrum
for his lever. The heap tumbled when he was on the other side, and the
slab of rock came down to trap him. We'll have to build up his fulcrum
again, before we can do anything ourselves."
Together we forced the flat end of the crowbar into the crevice,
pressed a piece of rock under it, and exerted all our strength. The
slab moved upward an inch or two, grating in its rough grooves. The
crack, no higher than the diameter of the crowbar plus a stone or two,
when we saw it first, was now twice its original height. In went
another stone, and so on. We worked like demons in hell, and in an
atmosphere almost as hot and breathless. Yet we could breathe. Whether
all the air we got came through the long twisting passage Corkran had
made, or whether there were ventilation from the other side of the
rock-curtain--some opening in an unseen cave--we could not tell. All we
knew was that the mountain had a secret, and that the man who had tried
to rob us of our rights to it, was caught in the trap of the djinns.
Our "rights!" How fragile as spider-webs, how almost laughable they
seemed down here! Rights we had bargained for with men, which they, not
owning them, had gravely given! I suddenly realized, and I think
Anthony realized, as sweating and silent we piled up the fulcrum of
stones thrown down by the djinns, that they alone, or the sleeping
queen they guarded, had "rights" in this hidden place.
When we had raised the slab to a height of about two feet in its
grooves, and had made sure that the stones held it firmly in place, we
told each other that it was time to cross the threshold. The rock-door
was scarcely more than a yard in width, and we crawled through in
single file, Anthony going ahead as before, with his torch. I passed my
lantern in after him, and then followed. As I crept through the narrow
aperture I was conscious, among other emotions, of vague
disappointment. "If this is the way to a tomb, and the only way, there
can't be anything very fine to discover," I said to myself. "Why, the
entrance isn't big enough to let in a decent-sized sarcophagus."
"It's the man of my dreams all right, and he's lying close to a deep-set
doorway, like the one where I've seen him often. I told you so!"
Anthony was saying in quite a commonplace voice, as I picked myself up,
on the other side of the rock-screen.
We were in a small chamber more roughly hewn, and not so large as the
inner sanctuary of Abu Simbel, which I had such good cause to remember.
Exactly opposite the entrance by which we had come in was--as Anthony
had said--a door, deeply set in the rock--a door of the same type as
that through which we had passed; and in the shadow of the overhanging
arch lay the heavy figure of Colonel Corkran, dressed in khaki.
His eyes were open, but he did not stir as we bent over him. Only his
lips moved slightly, as if he were making a grimace.
"He's trying to ask for something to eat or drink," said Fenton. "What
a confounded fool I am!--I've nothing, not even a flask. Have you?"
"No. I'll go back at once and get something," I answered. Strange, but
I was not in the least angry with Corkran, whom I had been execrating.
Perhaps this was partly because the impression that the djinns had sole
rights here was growing stronger every moment. We were all interlopers,
Without stopping for more words, I turned my back to the secret still
unsolved. To my surprise, however, I saw a light stronger than our own
shining outside the partly raised screen of rock. Getting on my knees
to crawl out, my face almost met the face of Monny Gilder, about to
crawl in. Involuntarily I gave way, and in she crept like a big baby,
Biddy coming after. Then we laughed, though I had seldom felt less like
laughing. And the echo of our laughter was as if the spirits laughed,
behind our backs.
"We never _promised_ we wouldn't come," Monny hastily began, before
Anthony could speak. "We just kept still. And Sir Marcus thought you
wouldn't much mind, because the two nicest Nubians brought us quite
safely. Oh, isn't it wonderful? And to be here when you open that door!
But--why, it _isn't_ one of our men with you. It's--it's the _thief_!"
"Don't call him names now, dearest," Brigit begged. "Poor wretch! He
looks nearly dead. What a good thing we brought the biscuits and
"I was going for some," I said. Not only had I got to my feet again,
but had helped Biddy to hers, and Anthony had snatched his tall Monny
up, as if she had been a bundle of thistle-down. The Angels! It would
never have done to tell them how glad we were that they had disobeyed
us. It was Providence, apparently, not Marcus Lark, who had sent them
to the rescue.
"We thought perhaps if you found anything interesting you'd want to
stay with it a long time," explained Monny. "That's why we brought you
food and drink. It is a good thing we came, isn't it?"
Fenton and I did not answer. Instead, we occupied ourselves with
ministering to the enemy: a few bits of crumbled biscuit, a few drops
of brandy to moisten them. He mumbled and swallowed and choked; and
slowly the veinous red came back to the flabby gray cheeks, with their
prickles of sprouting beard.
"It's fresh air he needs now," said Anthony. "He won't die from two or
three days' fasting, not he! And it can't be more, for it would have
taken him days and nights of hard work to get here, after his men were
sent off. Jove, I believe it's more funk than anything else, that's
laid him low. Thought he was done for, and all that. Look, there's his
candle-lantern upset on the floor. It couldn't have been very gay for
him when the light went out. Lend a hand, Duffer, and we'll give him to
the Nubians the girls have brought. They'll carry him to his own tent.
He never got as far in as the second door here, so we needn't search
him. Otherwise I would, like a shot."
Yes, it was Something higher than a mere financier who sent the girls
to us in the antechamber of the secret. We could not, for their own
sakes, have risked bringing them. But here they were, and we should
always have this memory together, we told ourselves, though we did not
tell the disobedient ones. That would have been a bad precedent. What
there was to see, they would see with us. And even the djinns could not
work harm to Angels.
We went out and collected more stones with which to prop up the second
screen of rock, which was not so thick as the first, and used Corkran's
spade to hold it up at last. Beyond, was another roughly hewn chamber,
and at the far end, set in a curiously fitted frame of wood, a wooden
door, looking almost as new as though it had been made yesterday.
Anthony flashed his electric torch over it, and we saw the grain of
deal. There was a bronze lock, and a latch of strange, crude
workmanship which Monny touched deprecatingly. "May I?" she half
whispered. For to her also the place was haunted. She seemed to ask
permission of spirits rather than of her lover. But the latch did not
"It would be sacrilege to break the lock," she said. "What shall you
"Take the door off its supports: they're not hinges," Fenton answered,
in the queer low tone which somehow we all instinctively adopted.
"We've got one or two implements may help to do the trick."
He worked cautiously, even tenderly: for this queen's secret was our
secret in the finding, even if the right to it was in the keeping of
the djinns. Monny held my lantern, and it was a good half hour before
Anthony and I together could carefully lift the deal door, unbroken,
from its place.
Still Monny held the lantern, and at the threshold of a dimly seen room
beyond, we all drew back: for on the sanded floor were footprints. To
them the girl pointed, her eyes turning to Anthony's face, as if to
ask; "How can it be that any one came in, when the door was locked, and
there was that screen of rock to raise?"
But as we looked, over one another's shoulders, we realised that the
prints were not made by modern boots. They were the marks of sandals;
and they went across the floor to a thing that glittered in the middle
of the room--a vague shape like a draped coffin, with something high
and pointed on top: crossed to a glittering table on which a ray from
the lantern revealed offerings to the dead: a loaf; a roasted duck, its
wings neatly tied with string: cakes and fruit, all dried and
blackened, but perfect in form: and a saucer of incense, from which a
little ash had fallen from a ghostly pastille onto the table. There the
sandalled feet had paused, while the incense caught a spark, and moving
on, had walked straight to the door.
A faint fragrance from perfume jars came to our nostrils: a strange,
subtle fragrance still, though most of its sweetness had gone, leaving
more marked the smell of fat which had held the perfume all these
years, while civilizations grew up and perished. The man who had lit
the incense and locked the door seemed to have hurried back from--who
knew where?--to stand behind us, saying "I forbid you entrance, in the
name of the ancient gods!" We could not see him, nor hear his voice;
but we could feel that he was there, and something in us revolted
against the ruthlessness of disobeying, of forcing our way into the
room in spite of him, to crush his footprints with ours.
"Why does the sand glitter so?" Monny asked. "Everything glitters!
Everything looks as if it were made of gold."
"The Mountain of the Golden Pyramid," Biddy murmured.
"Go in first, you two, and bless the place," I said, my heart wildly
They obeyed for once, moving delicately as if to music which ears of
men were not fine enough to hear. They went hand in hand: and as Monny
in her straight, pale-tinted dress, held up the lantern, I thought of
the Wise Virgin. When this room had last been lighted, the parable of
the Virgins of the Lamps was yet unspoken.
"It is not sand," said Monny, gasping a little in the heavy air. "It is
sprinkled gold dust. Now it is on the soles of our feet. It shines--it
Anthony and I followed, still with that curious sense of hesitation, as
if we ought to apologize to some one. The room of the dead was very
close, and we drew our breath with difficulty for a moment. But the
discomfort passed. Mechanically we avoided the footmarks printed in
gold--avoided them as if they had been covered by invisible feet.
Monny was right. Everything was gold--and it shone--it shone. Dust from
the terrible mines of Nub, whence the convict-miners never returned,
lay thickly scattered over the rock-floor. The walls of rock were
plastered with gold leaf, as high as the low ceiling: and upon the
ceiling itself, on a background of deep blue colour, was traced in gold
the form of Nut, goddess of Night, her long arms outspread across an
azure sky of golden stars.
The table of offerings was decorated with gold in barbaric patterns,
and the saucer which held the burnt pastille of incense was of gold,
crudely designed, but beautiful. Cloth of gold, soft as old linen,
draped a coffin in the centre of the room, and hid the conical object
on the coffin's lid. On a sudden half savage impulse I lifted the
covering, with a pang of fear lest the fabric should drop to pieces.
But it did not. Its limp, yet heavy folds fell across my feet, as I
stood looking at the wonderful thing it had concealed.
There was no sarcophagus of stone. The doors leading to the rock-tomb
were not large enough to have admitted one. Instead, there was an
extraordinarily high, narrow coffin or mummy-case, richly gilded, and
decorated with intricate designs different from any I had seen in the
museum at Cairo. The top of the case represented the figure of a woman,
with a smiling golden face, painted lips and hair. But the strangeness
and wonder were under the long eyelids, and in the woman's hands. The
slanting eyes had each an immense cabuchon emerald for its iris, set
round with brilliant stones like diamonds, curiously cut. And the
carved, gilded hands of wood, with realistic fingers wearing rings,
were clasped round a pyramid of gold. This it was which had betrayed
its conical shape through the drapery of gold cloth.
The opening in the miniature pyramid was not concealed. There was a
little door, guarded by a tiny golden sphinx; and on the neck of the
sphinx, suspended by a delicate chain, was a bell.
"It is to call the spirit of the queen, if a profane touch should
violate her tomb," Fenton said, dreamily. He was beginning to look like
a man hypnotized. Perhaps it was the close air, with its lingering
perfume of two thousand years ago. Perhaps it was something else, more
subtile; something else that we could all feel, as one feels the touch
of a living hand that moves under a cloak.
No one spoke for an instant. I think we half expected the bell to ring.
Then Fenton said: "Monny, you and Mrs. O'Brien must choose which is to
have the privilege of finding out the secret of the golden pyramid. The
Duffer and I want it to be one of you."
"Oh no, not I!" cried Monny, almost angrily.
"Nor I," Biddy firmly echoed.
"Duffer, the papers were yours. Will you--" Anthony began.
"No--I--It was _your_ faith in the mountain that brought us to it," I
reminded him. "It ought to be you--"
"If--if it ought to be _any one of us_," Monny broke in, with a little
breathless catch in her voice.
"If--But what do you mean?" Anthony turned an odd, startled look upon
"I--hardly know what I mean. Only--I couldn't touch anything here. They
are--_hers_. They've been hers for two thousand and two hundred years.
I never thought I should feel like this. I'd rather drop dead, this
minute, than try to take that little pyramid out of those golden hands.
They've clasped it so long! She wanted so much to keep the secret.
Anthony--this is the strongest feeling that ever came into my heart
--except love for you, this feeling that--we have no right--that it would
be monstrous to rob--this queen."
"It wouldn't be robbing," Anthony said, heavily, "we have the right--"
"Oh, I _wonder_?" Biddy whispered.
"What would become of museums if everybody felt as you suddenly feel
--or think you feel?" Fenton went on. "If it were wrong to open tombs,
the best men in Egypt--"
"Not wrong, perhaps," Monny explained, "but--oh, I'm sure you
understand. I'm sure in your hearts you both--you men--feel just as we
do now we're in this wonderful secret place. That something forbids--I
don't know whether it's something in ourselves or outside, but it's
_here_. It says "No; whatever others do, _you_ cannot do this thing."
If you didn't feel it, you would have taken the pyramid out of those
poor hands, and tried to tear off the rings, and open the coffin
itself, to get at the mummy. But you haven't--either of you. You don't
want to do it. You can't! I dare one of you to tell me it's only for
Biddy and me that you've kept your hands off."
"We've come a long way, and have done a good deal to find this secret
that we expected Egypt to give us," I said, dully, instead of answering
Monny had no argument for me. She turned to Anthony.
"The secret you expected Egypt to give!" she echoed. "And hasn't Egypt
given you a secret?"
"Yes," said Anthony, "Egypt has given us a secret: the greatest secret
of all. But--"
"Is there a 'but'? I wonder if that isn't the only secret which one
_can_ open and learn by heart, without breaking the charm?" Biddy
seemed to be speaking to herself, but we heard. "The secret of love
goes on forever being a secret, doesn't it, the more you find out about
it, just as the world and its beauty grows greater and more wonderful
the higher you climb up a mountain? But other secrets!--You find them
out, and they're gone, like a bright soap bubble. Nothing can mend
"If we didn't touch anything here, what a memory this would be to carry
away!" Monny said. "Don't you remember, Anthony, my saying once how I
loved to dream of all the beautiful lost things, hidden beneath the sea
and earth, never to be found while the world lasts, and stuck miserably
under glass cases? You said you felt the same, in some moods. I love
"I felt--I feel--so about things in general," Anthony admitted. "It was
my romantic side you appealed to--"
"Have you a better side?"
"No better, but more practical. _This_ isn't 'things in general.' It's
a thing particular, personal, and definite. If we should be quixotic
enough not to take what we've earned the right to take, we should be
called fools. Instead of claiming our half, the Egyptian government
would get all--"
"Let it!" Monny cried. "A government is a big, cold, soulless
--impersonality! It never could know the thrill that's in our blood this
wonderful minute--or miss the thrill if it were destroyed. Do you mind
being called a fool, Anthony--and you, Lord Ernest?"
Anthony was silent; but something made me speak. "I don't mind. You
know, I've always been a Duffer."
"Our future largely depends on this," Fenton persisted, with a
conscientious wish to persuade us--and himself.
"I believe it does!" Monny strangely agreed with him.
"What do you mean?" Anthony's voice was suddenly sharp with some
emotion; which sounded more like anxiety than anger. "Do you mean, that
if Ernest Borrow and I insist on our rights to whatever treasure is
hidden here, you and Mrs. O'Brien will think less of us?"
"Not less. Nothing you could do would make us think less, after all
that has happened to us, together. But--could it ever be as it has
been--as beautiful, as sweet, with all the dearest kind of romance in
our thoughts of you? You see, you _have_ the glory of finding the
secret. Queen Candace saved it for you. She wouldn't give it to such a
man as Colonel Corkran. She knew he wouldn't respect her. Maybe she
hoped _you_ would. I seem to hear her saying so. All this gold, and the
treasure we haven't seen, is hers. It's been hers for more than two
thousand years. Why should we steal it? _We_ aren't a horrid, cold
Government. It won't be our fault, whatever a Government may choose to
do. She'll know that, and so shall we. Besides, we can beg to have the
tomb kept like this for the great shrine of Meröe. Our memory of this
place can't have the glamour torn away whatever happens. Nothing sordid
will come between it and us, as it would if--why, after all, where's
the great difference between opening the coffin of a woman dead
thousands of years ago, or a few months? Supposing people wanted to dig
up Queen Elizabeth, to see what had been buried with her? Or Napoleon?
What an outcry there'd be all over the world. This poor queen is
defenceless, because her civilization is dead, too. Could _you_ force
open the lid of her coffin, Lord Ernest, and take the jewels off her
"Just now, I feel as if I couldn't," I confessed humbly.
"And you, Anthony? What if _I_ died, and asked to have the jewels I
loved because you'd given them, put on my body to lie there till
"Don't," Anthony cut her short. "There are some things I can't listen
to from you."
"And some things you can't _do_. You may think you could, but--Go and
take the golden pyramid out of those golden hands if you can!"
"I shall not take it," said Anthony, "I shall never take it now. You
must know that."
"I'm not saying I shan't go on loving you if you go against me. I shall
love you always. I can't help that. But--"
"That's it: the 'but'. Let it all go! At least, we've had the
adventure. And we've got Love. I don't want the treasure, now. Or the
secret. I give up my part in them forever."
"Yes, for you. But there's something more."
"I think so. Frankly, it isn't all for you. Only, you've made me feel
it. Without you, I might have felt it--but too late. If there's a drop
of Egyptian blood in my veins--why, yes, it must be that, telling me
the same thing that you have told. This Egyptian queen may lose her
treasure, and must lose her secret; but it won't be through me."
"And because you wouldn't steal them, she has given you the secret and
the treasure, the best of both, with her royal blessing," Biddy said.
"_This_ is what Ferlini's papers, and the legends, really meant for you
and Ernest. Everything that's happened, not only in Egypt, but in our
whole lives, has been leading up to the discovery of the Treasure and
the Secret that we can take without stealing. Do you know what I'm
talking about? And if you do, was it worth coming so far to find--this
treasure that I mean, and this secret?"
"We know very well," Anthony said, "and _you_ know that we realize it
was worth journeying to the end of the world for--or into the next."
"Or into the next!" Monny echoed. "Here we're on the threshold of the
next. That's why the Queen's blessing feels so near."
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