The Jewel of Seven Stars - Page 26

"'Good!' I said. He pointed to one of the sheets.

"'Here are the transcripts from the Chapel at the south and the east.I have been looking over the writings again; and I find that in sevenplaces round this corner are the symbols of the constellation which wecall the Plough, which Queen Tera held to rule her birth and herdestiny. I have examined them carefully, and I notice that they areall representations of the grouping of the stars, as the constellationappears in different parts of the heavens. They are all astronomicallycorrect; and as in the real sky the Pointers indicate the Pole Star, sothese all point to one spot in the wall where usually the serdab is tobe found!'

"'Bravo!' I shouted, for such a piece of reasoning demanded applause.He seemed pleased as he went on:

"'When you are in the tomb, examine this spot. There is probably somespring or mechanical contrivance for opening the receptacle. What itmay be, there is no use guessing. You will know what best to do, whenyou are on the spot.'

"I started the next week for Egypt; and never rested till I stood againin the tomb. I had found some of our old following; and was fairlywell provided with help. The country was now in a condition verydifferent to that in which it had been sixteen years before; there wasno need for troops or armed men.

"I climbed the rock face alone. There was no difficulty, for in thatfine climate the woodwork of the ladder was still dependable. It waseasy to see that in the years that had elapsed there had been othervisitors to the tomb; and my heart sank within me when I thought thatsome of them might by chance have come across the secret place. Itwould be a bitter discovery indeed to find that they had forestalledme; and that my journey had been in vain.

"The bitterness was realised when I lit my torches, and passed betweenthe seven-sided columns to the Chapel of the tomb.

"There, in the very spot where I had expected to find it, was theopening of a serdab. And the serdab was empty.

"But the Chapel was not empty; for the dried-up body of a man in Arabdress lay close under the opening, as though he had been stricken down.I examined all round the walls to see if Trelawny's surmise wascorrect; and I found that in all the positions of the stars as given,the Pointers of the Plough indicated a spot to the left hand, or southside, of the opening of the serdab, where was a single star in gold.

"I pressed this, and it gave way. The stone which had marked the frontof the serdab, and which lay back against the wall within, movedslightly. On further examining the other side of the opening, I founda similar spot, indicated by other representations of theconstellation; but this was itself a figure of the seven stars, andeach was wrought in burnished gold. I pressed each star in turn; butwithout result. Then it struck me that if the opening spring was onthe left, this on the right might have been intended for thesimultaneous pressure of all the stars by one hand of seven fingers.By using both my hands, I managed to effect this.

"With a loud click, a metal figure seemed to dart from close to theopening of the serdab; the stone slowly swung back to its place, andshut with a click. The glimpse which I had of the descending figureappalled me for the moment. It was like that grim guardian which,according to the Arabian historian Ibn Abd Alhokin, the builder of thePyramids, King Saurid Ibn Salhouk placed in the Western Pyramid todefend its treasure: 'A marble figure, upright, with lance in hand;with on his head a serpent wreathed. When any approached, the serpentwould bite him on one side, and twining about his throat and killinghim, would return again to his place.'

"I knew well that such a figure was not wrought to pleasantry; and thatto brave it was no child's play. The dead Arab at my feet was proof ofwhat could be done! So I examined again along the wall; and found hereand there chippings as if someone had been tapping with a heavy hammer.This then had been what happened: The grave-robber, more expert at hiswork than we had been, and suspecting the presence of a hidden serdab,had made essay to find it. He had struck the spring by chance; hadreleased the avenging 'Treasurer', as the Arabian writer designatedhim. The issue spoke for itself. I got a piece of wood, and, standingat a safe distance, pr

essed with the end of it upon the star.

"Instantly the stone flew back. The hidden figure within dartedforward and thrust out its lance. Then it rose up and disappeared. Ithought I might now safely press on the seven stars; and did so. Againthe stone rolled back; and the 'Treasurer' flashed by to his hiddenlair.

"I repeated both experiments several times; with always the sameresult. I should have liked to examine the mechanism of that figure ofsuch malignant mobility; but it was not possible without such tools ascould not easily be had. It might be necessary to cut into a wholesection of the rock. Some day I hope to go back, properly equipped,and attempt it.

"Perhaps you do not know that the entrance to a serdab is almost alwaysvery narrow; sometimes a hand can hardly be inserted. Two things Ilearned from this serdab. The first was that the lamps, if lamps atall there had been, could not have been of large size; and secondly,that they would be in some way associated with Hathor, whose symbol,the hawk in a square with the right top corner forming a smallersquare, was cut in relief on the wall within, and coloured the brightvermilion which we had found on the Stele. Hathor is the goddess whoin Egyptian mythology answers to Venus of the Greeks, in as far as sheis the presiding deity of beauty and pleasure. In the Egyptianmythology, however, each God has many forms; and in some aspects Hathorhas to do with the idea of resurrection. There are seven forms orvariants of the Goddess; why should not these correspond in some way tothe seven lamps! That there had been such lamps, I was convinced. Thefirst grave-robber had met his death; the second had found the contentsof the serdab. The first attempt had been made years since; the stateof the body proved this. I had no clue to the second attempt. Itmight have been long ago; or it might have been recently. If, however,others had been to the tomb, it was probable that the lamps had beentaken long ago. Well! all the more difficult would be my search; forundertaken it must be!

"That was nearly three years ago; and for all that time I have beenlike the man in the Arabian Nights, seeking old lamps, not for new, butfor cash. I dared not say what I was looking for, or attempt to giveany description; for such would have defeated my purpose. But I had inmy own mind at the start a vague idea of what I must find. In processof time this grew more and more clear; till at last I almost overshotmy mark by searching for something which might have been wrong.

"The disappointments I suffered, and the wild-goose chases I made,would fill a volume; but I persevered. At last, not two months ago, Iwas shown by an old dealer in Mossul one lamp such as I had looked for.I had been tracing it for nearly a year, always sufferingdisappointment, but always buoyed up to further endeavour by a growinghope that I was on the track.

"I do not know how I restrained myself when I realised that, at last, Iwas at least close to success. I was skilled, however, in the finesseof Eastern trade; and the Jew-Arab-Portugee trader met his match. Iwanted to see all his stock before buying; and one by one he produced,amongst masses of rubbish, seven different lamps. Each of them had adistinguishing mark; and each and all was some form of the symbol ofHathor. I think I shook the imperturbability of my swarthy friend bythe magnitude of my purchases; for in order to prevent him guessingwhat form of goods I sought, I nearly cleared out his shop. At the endhe nearly wept, and said I had ruined him; for now he had nothing tosell. He would have torn his hair had he known what price I shouldultimately have given for some of his stock, that perhaps he valuedleast.

"I parted with most of my merchandise at normal price as I hurriedhome. I did not dare to give it away, or even lose it, lest I shouldincur suspicion. My burden was far too precious to be risked by anyfoolishness now. I got on as fast as it is possible to travel in suchcountries; and arrived in London with only the lamps and certainportable curios and papyri which I had picked up on my travels.

"Now, Mr. Ross, you know all I know; and I leave it to your discretionhow much, if any of it, you will tell Miss Trelawny."

As he finished a clear young voice said behind us:

"What about Miss Trelawny? She is here!"

We turned, startled; and looked at each other inquiringly. MissTrelawny stood in the doorway. We did not know how long she had beenpresent, or how much she had heard.

Chapter XIII

Awaking From the Trance

The first unexpected words may always startle a hearer; but when theshock is over, the listener's reason has asserted itself, and he canjudge of the manner, as well as of the matter, of speech. Thus it wason this occasion. With intelligence now alert, I could not doubt ofthe simple sincerity of Margaret's next question.

"What have you two men been talking about all this time, Mr. Ross? Isuppose, Mr. Corbeck has been telling you all his adventures in findingthe lamps. I hope you will tell me too, some day, Mr. Corbeck; butthat must not be till my poor Father is better. He would like, I amsure, to tell me all about these things himself; or to be present whenI heard them." She glanced sharply from one to the other. "Oh, thatwas what you were saying as I came in? All right! I shall wait; but Ihope it won't be long. The continuance of Father's condition is, Ifeel, breaking me down. A little while ago I felt that my nerves weregiving out; so I determined to go out for a walk in the Park. I amsure it will do me good. I want you, if you will, Mr. Ross, to be withFather whilst I am away. I shall feel secure then."

I rose with alacrity, rejoicing that the poor girl was going out, evenfor half an hour. She was looking terribly wearied and haggard; and thesight of her pale cheeks made my heart ache. I went to the sick-room;and sat down in my usual place. Mrs. Grant was then on duty; we hadnot found it necessary to have more than one person in the room duringthe day. When I came in, she took occasion to go about some householdduty. The blinds were up, but the north aspect of the room softened thehot glare of the sunlight without.

I sat for a long time thinking over all that Mr. Corbeck had told me;and weaving its wonders into the tissue of strange things which hadcome to pass since I had entered the house. At times I was inclined todoubt; to doubt everything and every one; to doubt even the evidencesof my own five senses. The warnings of the skilled detective keptcoming back to my mind. He had put down Mr. Corbeck as a clever liar,and a confederate of Miss Trelawny. Of Margaret! That settled it!Face to face with such a proposition as that, doubt vanished. Eachtime when her image, her name, the merest thought of her, came beforemy mind, each event stood out stark as a living fact. My life upon herfaith!

Tags: Bram Stoker Horror
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