"What are you going to do now?" Mr. Trelawny too must have had asuspicion of her feelings, for he answered in a low tone:
"To unroll the mummy of Queen Tera!" She came close to him and saidpleadingly in a whisper:
"Father, you are not going to unswathe her! All you men...! And inthe glare of light!"
"But why not, my dear?"
"Just think, Father, a woman! All alone! In such a way! In such aplace! Oh! it's cruel, cruel!" She was manifestly much overcome. Hercheeks were flaming red, and her eyes were full of indignant tears.Her father saw her distress; and, sympathising with it, began tocomfort her. I was moving off; but he signed to me to stay. I took itthat after the usual manner of men he wanted help on such an occasion,and man-like wished to throw on someone else the task of dealing with awoman in indignant distress. However, he began to appeal first to herreason:
"Not a woman, dear; a mummy! She has been dead nearly five thousandyears!"
"What does that matter? Sex is not a matter of years! A woman is awoman, if she had been dead five thousand centuries! And you expecther to arise out of that long sleep! It could not be real death, ifshe is to rise out of it! You have led me to believe that she willcome alive when the Coffer is opened!"
"I did, my dear; and I believe it! But if it isn't death that has beenthe matter with her all these years, it is something uncommonly likeit. Then again, just think; it was men who embalmed her. They didn'thave women's rights or lady doctors in ancient Egypt, my dear! Andbesides," he went on more freely, seeing that she was accepting hisargume
nt, if not yielding to it, "we men are accustomed to such things.Corbeck and I have unrolled a hundred mummies; and there were as manywomen as men amongst them. Doctor Winchester in his work has had todeal with women as well of men, till custom has made him think nothingof sex. Even Ross has in his work as a barrister..." He stoppedsuddenly.
"You were going to help too!" she said to me, with an indignant look.
I said nothing; I thought silence was best. Mr. Trelawny went onhurriedly; I could see that he was glad of interruption, for the partof his argument concerning a barrister's work was becoming decidedlyweak:
"My child, you will be with us yourself. Would we do anything whichwould hurt or offend you? Come now! be reasonable! We are not at apleasure party. We are all grave men, entering gravely on anexperiment which may unfold the wisdom of old times, and enlarge humanknowledge indefinitely; which may put the minds of men on new tracks ofthought and research. An experiment," as he went on his voicedeepened, "which may be fraught with death to any one of us--to us all!We know from what has been, that there are, or may be, vast and unknowndangers ahead of us, of which none in the house today may ever see theend. Take it, my child, that we are not acting lightly; but with allthe gravity of deeply earnest men! Besides, my dear, whatever feelingsyou or any of us may have on the subject, it is necessary for thesuccess of the experiment to unswathe her. I think that under anycircumstances it would be necessary to remove the wrappings before shebecame again a live human being instead of a spiritualised corpse withan astral body. Were her original intention carried out, and did shecome to new life within her mummy wrappings, it might be to exchange acoffin for a grave! She would die the death of the buried alive! Butnow, when she has voluntarily abandoned for the time her astral power,there can be no doubt on the subject."
Margaret's face cleared. "All right, Father!" she said as she kissedhim. "But oh! it seems a horrible indignity to a Queen, and a woman."
I was moving away to the staircase when she called me:
"Where are you going?" I came back and took her hand and stroked it asI answered:
"I shall come back when the unrolling is over!" She looked at me long,and a faint suggestion of a smile came over her face as she said:
"Perhaps you had better stay, too! It may be useful to you in yourwork as a barrister!" She smiled out as she met my eyes: but in aninstant she changed. Her face grew grave, and deadly white. In a faraway voice she said:
"Father is right! It is a terrible occasion; we need all to be seriousover it. But all the same--nay, for that very reason you had betterstay, Malcolm! You may be glad, later on, that you were presenttonight!"
My heart sank down, down, at her words; but I thought it better to saynothing. Fear was stalking openly enough amongst us already!
By this time Mr. Trelawny, assisted by Mr. Corbeck and DoctorWinchester, had raised the lid of the ironstone sarcophagus whichcontained the mummy of the Queen. It was a large one; but it was nonetoo big. The mummy was both long and broad and high; and was of suchweight that it was no easy task, even for the four of us, to lift itout. Under Mr. Trelawny's direction we laid it out on the tableprepared for it.
Then, and then only, did the full horror of the whole thing burst uponme! There, in the full glare of the light, the whole material andsordid side of death seemed staringly real. The outer wrappings, tornand loosened by rude touch, and with the colour either darkened by dustor worn light by friction, seemed creased as by rough treatment; thejagged edges of the wrapping-cloths looked fringed; the painting waspatchy, and the varnish chipped. The coverings were evidently many,for the bulk was great. But through all, showed that unhidable humanfigure, which seems to look more horrible when partially concealed thanat any other time. What was before us was Death, and nothing else.All the romance and sentiment of fancy had disappeared. The two eldermen, enthusiasts who had often done such work, were not disconcerted;and Doctor Winchester seemed to hold himself in a business-likeattitude, as if before the operating-table. But I felt low-spirited,and miserable, and ashamed; and besides I was pained and alarmed byMargaret's ghastly pallor.
Then the work began. The unrolling of the mummy cat had prepared mesomewhat for it; but this was so much larger, and so infinitely moreelaborate, that it seemed a different thing. Moreover, in addition tothe ever present sense of death and humanity, there was a feeling ofsomething finer in all this. The cat had been embalmed with coarsermaterials; here, all, when once the outer coverings were removed, wasmore delicately done. It seemed as if only the finest gums and spiceshad been used in this embalming. But there were the same surroundings,the same attendant red dust and pungent presence of bitumen; there wasthe same sound of rending which marked the tearing away of thebandages. There were an enormous number of these, and their bulk whenopened was great. As the men unrolled them, I grew more and moreexcited. I did not take a part in it myself; Margaret had looked at megratefully as I drew back. We clasped hands, and held each other hard.As the unrolling went on, the wrappings became finer, and the smellless laden with bitumen, but more pungent. We all, I think, began tofeel it as though it caught or touched us in some special way. This,however, did not interfere with the work; it went on uninterruptedly.Some of the inner wrappings bore symbols or pictures. These were donesometimes wholly in pale green colour, sometimes in many colours; butalways with a prevalence of green. Now and again Mr. Trelawny or Mr.Corbeck would point out some special drawing before laying the bandageon the pile behind them, which kept growing to a monstrous height.
At last we knew that the wrappings were coming to an end. Already theproportions were reduced to those of a normal figure of the manifestheight of the Queen, who was more than average height. And as the enddrew nearer, so Margaret's pallor grew; and her heart beat more andmore wildly, till her breast heaved in a way that frightened me.
Just as her father was taking away the last of the bandages, hehappened to look up and caught the pained and anxious look of her paleface. He paused, and taking her concern to be as to the outrage onmodesty, said in a comforting way:
"Do not be uneasy, dear! See! there is nothing to harm you. The Queenhas on a robe.--Ay, and a royal robe, too!"
The wrapping was a wide piece the whole length of the body. It beingremoved, a profusely full robe of white linen had appeared, coveringthe body from the throat to the feet.
And such linen! We all bent over to look at it.
Margaret lost her concern, in her woman's interest in fine stuff. Thenthe rest of us looked with admiration; for surely such linen was neverseen by the eyes of our age. It was as fine as the finest silk. Butnever was spun or woven silk which lay in such gracious folds,constrict though they were by the close wrappings of the mummy cloth,and fixed into hardness by the passing of thousands of years.
Round the neck it was delicately embroidered in pure gold with tinysprays of sycamore; and round the feet, similarly worked, was anendless line of lotus plants of unequal height, and with all thegraceful abandon of natural growth.
Across the body, but manifestly not surrounding it, was a girdle ofjewels. A wondrous girdle, which shone and glowed with all the formsand phases and colours of the sky!