When he had gone I took the book with me, put on my respirator, andwent to my spell of duty in the sick-room!
The Valley of the Sorcerer
I placed the book on the little table on which the shaded lamp restedand moved the screen to one side. Thus I could have the light on mybook; and by looking up, see the bed, and the Nurse, and the door. Icannot say that the conditions were enjoyable, or calculated to allowof that absorption in the subject which is advisable for effectivestudy. However, I composed myself to the work as well as I could. Thebook was one which, on the very face of it, required special attention.It was a folio in Dutch, printed in Amsterdam in 1650. Some one hadmade a literal translation, writing generally the English word underthe Dutch, so that the grammatical differences between the two tonguesmade even the reading of the translation a difficult matter. One hadto dodge backward and forward among the words. This was in addition tothe difficulty of deciphering a strange handwriting of two hundredyears ago. I found, however, that after a short time I got into thehabit of following in conventional English the Dutch construction; and,as I became more familiar with the writing, my task became easier.
At first the circumstances of the room, and the fear lest Miss Trelawnyshould return unexpectedly and find me reading the book, disturbed mesomewhat. For we had arranged amongst us, before Doctor Winchester hadgone home, that she was not to be brought into the range of the cominginvestigation. We considered that there might be some shock to awoman's mind in matters of apparent mystery; and further, that she,being Mr. Trelawny's daughter, might be placed in a difficult positionwith him afterward if she took part in, or even had a personalknowledge of, the disregarding of his expressed wishes. But when Iremembered that she did not come on nursing duty till two o'clock, thefear of interruption passed away. I had still nearly three housebefore me. Nurse Kennedy sat in her chair by the bedside, patient andalert. A clock ticked on the landing; other clocks in the houseticked; the life of the city without manifested itself in the distanthum, now and again swelling into a roar as a breeze floating westwardtook the concourse of sounds with it. But still the dominant idea wasof silence. The light on my book, and the soothing fringe of greensilk round the shade intensified, whenever I looked up, the gloom ofthe sick-room. With every line I read, this seemed to grow deeper anddeeper; so that when my eyes came back to the page the light seemed todazzle me. I stuck to my work, however, and presently began to getsufficiently into the subject to become interested in it.
The book was by one Nicholas van Huyn of Hoorn. In the preface he toldhow, attracted by the work of John Greaves of Merton College,Pyramidographia, he himself visited Egypt, where he became sointerested in its wonders that he devoted some years of his life tovisiting strange places, and exploring the ruins of many temples andtombs. He had come across many variants of the story of the buildingof the Pyramids as told by the Arabian historian, Ibn Abd Alhokin, someof which he set down. These I did not stop to read, but went on to themarked pages.
As soon as I began to read these, however, there grew on me some senseof a disturbing influence. Once or twice I looked to see if the Nursehad moved, for there was a feeling as though some one were near me.Nurse Kennedy sat in her place, as steady and alert as ever; and I cameback to my book again.
The narrative went on to tell how, after passing for several daysthrough the mountains to the east of Aswan, the explorer came to acertain place. Here I give his own words, simply putting thetranslation into modern English:
"Toward evening we came to the entrance of a narrow, deep valley,running east and west. I wished to proceed through this; for the sun,now nearly down on the horizon, showed a wide opening beyond thenarrowing of the cliffs. But the fellaheen absolutely refused to enterthe valley at such a time, alleging that they might be caught by thenight before they could emerge from the other end. At first they wouldgive no reason for their fear. They had hitherto gone anywhere Iwished, and at any time, without demur. On being pressed, however,they said that the place was the Valley of the Sorcerer, where nonemight come in the night. On being asked to tell of the Sorcerer, theyrefused, saying that there was no name, and that they knew nothing. Onthe next morning, however, when the sun was up and shining down thevalley, their fears had somewhat passed away. Then they told me that agreat Sorcerer in ancient days--'millions of millions of years' was theterm they used--a King or a Queen, they could not say which, was buriedthere. They could not give the name, persisting to the last that therewas no name; and that anyone who should name it would waste away inlife so that at death nothing of him would remain to be raised again inthe Other World. In passing through the valley they kept together in acluster, hurrying on in front of me. None dared to remain behind. Theygave, as their reason for so proceeding, that the arms of the Sorcererwere long, and that it was dangerous to be the last. The which was oflittle comfort to me who of this necessity took that honourable post.In the narrowest part of the valley, on the south side, was a greatcliff of rock, rising sheer, of smooth and even surface. Hereon weregraven certain cabalistic signs, and many figures of men and animals,fishes, reptiles and birds; suns and stars; and many quaint symbols.Some of these latter were disjointed limbs and features, such as armsand legs, fingers, eyes, noses, ears, and lips. Mysterious symbolswhich will puzzle the Recording Angel to interpret at the Judgment Day.The cliff faced exactly north. There was something about it sostrange, and so different from the other carved rocks which I hadvisited, that I called a halt and spent the day in examining the rockfront as well as I could with my telescope. The Egyptians of mycompany were terribly afraid, and used every kind of persuasion toinduce me to pass on. I stayed till late in the afternoon, by whichtime I had failed to make out aright the entry of any tomb, for Isuspected that such was the purpose of the sculpture of the rock. Bythis time the men were rebellious; and I had to leave the valley if Idid not wish my whole retinue to desert. But I secretly made up mymind to discover the tomb, and explore it. To this end I went furtherinto the mountains, where I met with an Arab Sheik who was willing totake service with me. The Arabs were not bound by the samesuperstitious fears as the Egyptians; Sheik Abu Some and his followingwere willing to take a part in the explorations.
"When I returned to the valley with these Bedouins, I made effort toclimb the face of the rock, but failed, it being of one impenetrablesmoothness. The stone, generally flat and smooth by nature, had beenchiselled to completeness. That there had been projecting steps wasmanifest, for there remained, untouched by the wondrous climate of thatstrange land, the marks of saw and chisel and mallet where the stepshad been cut or broken away.
"Being thus baffled of winning the tomb from below, and beingunprovided with ladders to scale, I found a way by much circuitousjourneying to the top of the cliff. Thence I caused myself to belowered by ropes, till I had investigated that portion of the rock facewherein I expected to find the opening. I found that there was anentrance, closed however by a great stone slab. This was cut in therock more than a hundred feet up, being two-thirds the height of thecliff. The hieroglyphic and cabalistic symbols cut in the rock were somanaged as to disguise it. The cutting was deep, and was continuedthrough the rock and the portals of the doorway, and through the greatslab which formed the door itself. This was fixed in place with suchincredible exactness that no stone chisel or cutting implement which Ihad with me could find a lodgment in the interstices. I used muchforce, however; and by many heavy strokes won a way into the tomb, forsuch I found it to be. The stone door having fallen into the entranceI passed over it into the tomb, noting as I went a long iron chainwhich hung coiled on a bracket close to the doorway.
"The tomb I found to be complete, after the manner of the finestEgyptian tombs, with chamber and shaft leading down to the corridor,ending in the Mummy Pit. It had the table of pictures, which seemssome kind of record--whose meaning is now for ever lost--graven in awondrous colour on a wondrous stone.
"All the walls of the chamber and the passage were carved with strangewritings in the uncanny form mentioned. The huge stone coffin orsar
cophagus in the deep pit was marvellously graven throughout withsigns. The Arab chief and two others who ventured into the tomb withme, and who were evidently used to such grim explorations, managed totake the cover from the sarcophagus without breaking it. At which theywondered; for such good fortune, they said, did not usually attend suchefforts. Indeed they seemed not over careful; and did handle thevarious furniture of the tomb with such little concern that, only forits great strength and thickness, even the coffin itself might havebeen injured. Which gave me much concern, for it was very beautifullywrought of rare stone, such as I had no knowledge of. Much I grievedthat it were not possible to carry it away. But time and desertjourneyings forbade such; I could only take with me such small mattersas could be carried on the person.
"Within the sarcophagus was a body, manifestly of a woman, swathed withmany wrappings of linen, as is usual with all mummies. From certainembroiderings thereon, I gathered that she was of high rank. Acrossthe breast was one hand, unwrapped. In the mummies which I had seen,the arms and hands are within the wrappings, and certain adornments ofwood, shaped and painted to resemble arms and hands, lie outside theenwrapped body.
"But this hand was strange to see, for it was the real hand of her wholay enwrapped there; the arm projecting from the cerements being offlesh, seemingly made as like marble in the process of embalming. Armand hand were of dusky white, being of the hue of ivory that hath lainlong in air. The skin and the nails were complete and whole, as thoughthe body had been placed for burial over night. I touched the hand andmoved it, the arm being something flexible as a live arm; though stiffwith long disuse, as are the arms of those faqueers which I have seenin the Indees. There was, too, an added wonder that on this ancienthand were no less than seven fingers, the same all being fine and long,and of great beauty. Sooth to say, it made me shudder and my fleshcreep to touch that hand that had lain there undisturbed for so manythousands of years, and yet was like unto living flesh. Underneath thehand, as though guarded by it, lay a huge jewel of ruby; a great stoneof wondrous bigness, for the ruby is in the main a small jewel. Thisone was of wondrous colour, being as of fine blood whereon the lightshineth. But its wonder lay not in its size or colour, though thesewere, as I have said, of priceless rarity; but in that the light of itshone from seven stars, each of seven points, as clearly as though thestars were in reality there imprisoned. When that the hand was lifted,the sight of that wondrous stone lying there struck me with a shockalmost to momentary paralysis. I stood gazing on it, as did those withme, as though it were that faded head of the Gorgon Medusa with thesnakes in her hair, whose sight struck into stone those who beheld. Sostrong was the feeling that I wanted to hurry away from the place. So,too, those with me; therefore, taking this rare jewel, together withcertain amulets of strangeness and richness being wrought ofjewel-stones, I made haste to depart. I would have remained longer,and made further research in the wrappings of the mummy, but that Ifeared so to do. For it came to me all at once that I was in a desertplace, with strange men who were with me because they were notover-scrupulous. That we were in a lone cavern of the dead, an hundredfeet above the ground, where none could find me were ill done to me,nor would any ever seek. But in secret I determined that I would comeagain, though with more secure following. Moreover, was I tempted toseek further, as in examining the wrappings I saw many things ofstrange import in that wondrous tomb; including a casket of eccentricshape made of some strange stone, which methought might have containedother jewels, inasmuch as it had secure lodgment in the greatsarcophagus itself. There was in the tomb also another coffer which,though of rare proportion and adornment, was more simply shaped. Itwas of ironstone of great thickness; but the cover was lightly cementeddown with what seemed gum and Paris plaster, as though to insure thatno air could penetrate. The Arabs with me so insisted in its opening,thinking that from its thickness much treasure was stored therein, thatI consented thereto. But their hope was a false one, as it proved.Within, closely packed, stood four jars finely wrought and carved withvarious adornments. Of these one was the head of a man, another of adog, another of a jackal, and another of a hawk. I had before knownthat such burial urns as these were used to contain the entrails andother organs of the mummied dead; but on opening these, for thefastening of wax, though complete, was thin, and yielded easily, wefound that they held but oil. The Bedouins, spilling most of the oilin the process, groped with their hands in the jars lest treasureshould have been there concealed. But their searching was of no avail;no treasure was there. I was warned of my danger by seeing in the eyesof the Arabs certain covetous glances. Whereon, in order to hastentheir departure, I wrought upon those fears of superstition which evenin these callous men were apparent. The chief of the Bedouins ascendedfrom the Pit to give the signal to those above to raise us; and I, notcaring to remain with the men whom I mistrusted, followed himimmediately. The others did not come at once; from which I feared thatthey were rifling the tomb afresh on their own account. I refrained tospeak of it, however, lest worse should befall. At last they came.One of them, who ascended first, in landing at the top of the clifflost his foothold and fell below. He was instantly killed. The otherfollowed, but in safety. The chief came next, and I came last. Beforecoming away I pulled into its place again, as well as I could, the slabof stone that covered the entrance to the tomb. I wished, if possible,to preserve it for my own examination should I come again.
"When we all stood on the hill above the cliff, the burning sun thatwas bright and full of glory was good to see after the darkness andstrange mystery of the tomb. Even was I glad that the poor Arab whofell down the cliff and lay dead below, lay in the sunlight and not inthat gloomy cavern. I would fain have gone with my companions to seekhim and give him sepulture of some kind; but the Sheik made light ofit, and sent two of his men to see to it whilst we went on our way.
"That night as we camped, one of the men only returned, saying that alion of the desert had killed his companion after that they had buriedthe dead man in a deep sand without the valley, and had covered thespot where he lay with many great rocks, so that jackals or otherpreying beasts might not dig him up again as is their wont.
"Later, in the light of the fire round which the men sat or lay, I sawhim exhibit to his fellows something white which they seemed to regardwith special awe and reverence. So I drew near silently, and saw thatit was none other than the white hand of the mummy which had lainprotecting the Jewel in the great sarcophagus. I heard the Bedouin tellhow he had found it on the body of him who had fallen from the cliff.There was no mistaking it, for there were the seven fingers which I hadnoted before. This man must have wrenched it off the dead body whilsthis chief and I were otherwise engaged; and from the awe of the othersI doubted not that he had hoped to use it as an Amulet, or charm.Whereas if powers it had, they were not for him who had taken it fromthe dead; since his death followed hard upon his theft. Already hisAmulet had had an awesome baptism; for the wrist of the dead hand wasstained with red as though it had been dipped in recent blood.
"That night I was in certain fear lest there should be some violencedone to me; for if the poor dead hand was so valued as a charm, whatmust be the worth in such wise of the rare Jewel which it had guarded.Though only the chief knew of it, my doubt was perhaps even greater;for he could so order matters as to have me at his mercy when he would.I guarded myself, therefore, with wakefulness so well as I could,determined that at my earliest opportunity I should leave this party,and complete my journeying home, first to the Nile bank, and then downits course to Alexandria; with other guides who knew not what strangematters I had with me.
"At last there came over me a disposition of sleep, so potent that Ifelt it would be resistless. Fearing attack, or that being searched inmy sleep the Bedouin might find the Star Jewel which he had seen meplace with others in my dress, I took it out unobserved and held it inmy hand. It seemed to give back the light of the flickering fire andthe light of the stars--for there was n
o moon--with equal fidelity; andI could note that on its reverse it was graven deeply with certainsigns such as I had seen in the tomb. As I sank into theunconsciousness of sleep, the graven Star Jewel was hidden in thehollow of my clenched hand.
"I waked out of sleep with the light of the morning sun on my face. Isat up and looked around me. The fire was out, and the camp wasdesolate; save for one figure which lay prone close to me. It was thatof the Arab chief, who lay on his back, dead. His face was almostblack; and his eyes were open, and staring horribly up at the sky, asthough he saw there some dreadful vision. He had evidently beenstrangled; for on looking, I found on his throat the red marks wherefingers had pressed. There seemed so many of these marks that Icounted them. There were seven; and all parallel, except the thumbmark, as though made with one hand. This thrilled me as I thought ofthe mummy hand with the seven fingers.
"Even there, in the open desert, it seemed as if there could beenchantments!
"In my surprise, as I bent over him, I opened my right hand, which upto now I had held shut with the feeling, instinctive even in sleep, ofkeeping safe that which it held. As I did so, the Star Jewel heldthere fell out and struck the dead man on the mouth. Mirabile dictuthere came forth at once from the dead mouth a great gush of blood, inwhich the red jewel was for the moment lost. I turned the dead manover to look for it, and found that he lay with his right hand bentunder him as though he had fallen on it; and in it he held a greatknife, keen of point and edge, such as Arabs carry at the belt. It mayhave been that he was about to murder me when vengeance came on him,whether from man or God, or the Gods of Old, I know not. Suffice it,that when I found my Ruby Jewel, which shone up as a living star fromthe mess of blood wherein it lay, I paused not, but fled from theplace. I journeyed on alone through the hot desert, till, by God'sgrace, I came upon an Arab tribe camping by a well, who gave me salt.With them I rested till they had set me on my way.
"I know not what became of the mummy hand, or of those who had it.What strife, or suspicion, or disaster, or greed went with it I knownot; but some such cause there must have been, since those who had itfled with it. It doubtless is used as a charm of potence by somedesert tribe.
"At the earliest opportunity I made examination of the Star Ruby, as Iwished to try to understand what was graven on it. The symbols--whosemeaning, however, I could not understand--were as follows..."
Twice, whilst I had been reading this engrossing narrative, I hadthought that I had seen across the page streaks of shade, which theweirdness of the subject had made to seem like the shadow of a hand.On the first of these occasions I found that the illusion came from thefringe of green silk around the lamp; but on the second I had lookedup, and my eyes had lit on the mummy hand across the room on which thestarlight was falling under the edge of the blind. It was of littlewonder that I had connected it with such a narrative; for if my eyestold me truly, here, in this room with me, was the very hand of whichthe traveller Van Huyn had written. I looked over at the bed; and itcomforted me to think that the Nurse still sat there, calm and wakeful.At such a time, with such surrounds, during such a narrative, it waswell to have assurance of the presence of some living person.
I sat looking at the book on the table before me; and so many strangethoughts crowded on me that my mind began to whirl. It was almost asif the light on the white fingers in front of me was beginning to havesome hypnotic effect. All at once, all thoughts seemed to stop; andfor an instant the world and time stood still.
There lay a real hand across the book! What was there to so overcomeme, as was the case? I knew the hand that I saw on the book--and lovedit. Margaret Trelawny's hand was a joy to me to see--to touch; and yetat that moment, coming after other marvellous things, it had astrangely moving effect on me. It was but momentary, however, and hadpassed even before her voice had reached me.