The buckle was a great yellow stone, round of outline, deep and curved,as if a yielding globe had been pressed down. It shone and glowed, asthough a veritable sun lay within; the rays of its light seemed tostrike out and illumine all round. Flanking it were two greatmoonstones of lesser size, whose glowing, beside the glory of thesunstone, was like the silvery sheen of moonlight.
And then on either side, linked by golden clasps of exquisite shape,was a line of flaming jewels, of which the colours seemed to glow.Each of these stones seemed to hold a living star, which twinkled inevery phase of changing light.
Margaret raised her hands in ecstasy. She bent over to examine moreclosely; but suddenly drew back and stood fully erect at her grandheight. She seemed to speak with the conviction of absolute knowledgeas she sa
"That is no cerement! It was not meant for the clothing of death! Itis a marriage robe!"
Mr. Trelawny leaned over and touched the linen robe. He lifted a foldat the neck, and I knew from the quick intake of his breath thatsomething had surprised him. He lifted yet a little more; and then he,too, stood back and pointed, saying:
"Margaret is right! That dress is not intended to be worn by the dead!See! her figure is not robed in it. It is but laid upon her." Helifted the zone of jewels and handed it to Margaret. Then with bothhands he raised the ample robe, and laid it across the arms which sheextended in a natural impulse. Things of such beauty were too preciousto be handled with any but the greatest care.
We all stood awed at the beauty of the figure which, save for the facecloth, now lay completely nude before us. Mr. Trelawny bent over, andwith hands that trembled slightly, raised this linen cloth which was ofthe same fineness as the robe. As he stood back and the whole gloriousbeauty of the Queen was revealed, I felt a rush of shame sweep over me.It was not right that we should be there, gazing with irreverent eyeson such unclad beauty: it was indecent; it was almost sacrilegious!And yet the white wonder of that beautiful form was something to dreamof. It was not like death at all; it was like a statue carven in ivoryby the hand of a Praxiteles. There was nothing of that horribleshrinkage which death seems to effect in a moment. There was none ofthe wrinkled toughness which seems to be a leading characteristic ofmost mummies. There was not the shrunken attenuation of a body dried inthe sand, as I had seen before in museums. All the pores of the bodyseemed to have been preserved in some wonderful way. The flesh wasfull and round, as in a living person; and the skin was as smooth assatin. The colour seemed extraordinary. It was like ivory, new ivory;except where the right arm, with shattered, bloodstained wrist andmissing hand had lain bare to exposure in the sarcophagus for so manytens of centuries.
With a womanly impulse; with a mouth that drooped with pity, with eyesthat flashed with anger, and cheeks that flamed, Margaret threw overthe body the beautiful robe which lay across her arm. Only the facewas then to be seen. This was more startling even than the body, forit seemed not dead, but alive. The eyelids were closed; but the long,black, curling lashes lay over on the cheeks. The nostrils, set ingrave pride, seemed to have the repose which, when it is seen in life,is greater than the repose of death. The full, red lips, though themouth was not open, showed the tiniest white line of pearly teethwithin. Her hair, glorious in quantity and glossy black as the raven'swing, was piled in great masses over the white forehead, on which a fewcurling tresses strayed like tendrils. I was amazed at the likeness toMargaret, though I had had my mind prepared for this by Mr. Corbeck'squotation of her father's statement. This woman--I could not think ofher as a mummy or a corpse--was the image of Margaret as my eyes hadfirst lit on her. The likeness was increased by the jewelled ornamentwhich she wore in her hair, the "Disk and Plumes", such as Margaret,too, had worn. It, too, was a glorious jewel; one noble pearl ofmoonlight lustre, flanked by carven pieces of moonstone.
Mr. Trelawny was overcome as he looked. He quite broke down; and whenMargaret flew to him and held him close in her arms and comforted him,I heard him murmur brokenly:
"It looks as if you were dead, my child!"
There was a long silence. I could hear without the roar of the wind,which was now risen to a tempest, and the furious dashing of the wavesfar below. Mr. Trelawny's voice broke the spell:
"Later on we must try and find out the process of embalming. It is notlike any that I know. There does not seem to have been any opening cutfor the withdrawing of the viscera and organs, which apparently remainintact within the body. Then, again, there is no moisture in theflesh; but its place is supplied with something else, as though wax orstearine had been conveyed into the veins by some subtle process. Iwonder could it be possible that at that time they could have usedparaffin. It might have been, by some process that we know not, pumpedinto the veins, where it hardened!"
Margaret, having thrown a white sheet over the Queen's body, asked usto bring it to her own room, where we laid it on her bed. Then shesent us away, saying:
"Leave her alone with me. There are still many hours to pass, and I donot like to leave her lying there, all stark in the glare of light.This may be the Bridal she prepared for--the Bridal of Death; and atleast she shall wear her pretty robes."
When presently she brought me back to her room, the dead Queen wasdressed in the robe of fine linen with the embroidery of gold; and allher beautiful jewels were in place. Candles were lit around her, andwhite flowers lay upon her breast.
Hand in hand we stood looking at her for a while. Then with a sigh,Margaret covered her with one of her own snowy sheets. She turnedaway; and after softly closing the door of the room, went back with meto the others who had now come into the dining room. Here we all beganto talk over the things that had been, and that were to be.
Now and again I could feel that one or other of us was forcingconversation, as if we were not sure of ourselves. The long wait wasbeginning to tell on our nerves. It was apparent to me that Mr.Trelawny had suffered in that strange trance more than we suspected, orthan he cared to show. True, his will and his determination were asstrong as ever; but the purely physical side of him had been weakenedsomewhat. It was indeed only natural that it should be. No man can gothrough a period of four days of absolute negation of life withoutbeing weakened by it somehow.
As the hours crept by, the time passed more and more slowly. The othermen seemed to get unconsciously a little drowsy. I wondered if in thecase of Mr. Trelawny and Mr. Corbeck, who had already been under thehypnotic influence of the Queen, the same dormance was manifestingitself. Doctor Winchester had periods of distraction which grew longerand more frequent as the time wore on.
As to Margaret, the suspense told on her exceedingly, as might havebeen expected in the case of a woman. She grew paler and paler still;till at last about midnight, I began to be seriously alarmed about her.I got her to come into the library with me, and tried to make her liedown on a sofa for a little while. As Mr. Trelawny had decided thatthe experiment was to be made exactly at the seventh hour after sunset,it would be as nearly as possible three o'clock in the morning when thegreat trial should be made. Even allowing a whole hour for the finalpreparations, we had still two hours of waiting to go through, and Ipromised faithfully to watch her and to awake her at any time she mightname. She would not hear of it, however. She thanked me sweetly andsmiled at me as she did so; but she assured me that she was not sleepy,and that she was quite able to bear up. That it was only the suspenseand excitement of waiting that made her pale. I agreed perforce; but Ikept her talking of many things in the library for more than an hour;so that at last, when she insisted on going back to her father's room Ifelt that I had at least done something to help her pass the time.
We found the three men sitting patiently in silence. With manlikefortitude they were content to be still when they felt they had doneall in their power. And so we waited.
The striking of two o'clock seemed to freshen us all up. Whatevershadows had been settling over us during the long hours precedingseemed to lift at once; and we went about our separate duties alert andwith alacrity. We looked first to the windows to see that they wereclosed, and we got ready our respirators to put them on when the timeshould be close at hand. We had from the first arranged to use themfor we did not know whether some noxious fume might not come from themagic coffer when it should be opened. Somehow, it never seemed tooccur to any of us that there was any doubt as to its opening.
Then, under Margaret's guidance, we carried the mummied body of QueenTera from her room into her father's, and laid it on a couch. We putthe sheet lightly over it, so that if she should wake she could at onceslip from under it. The severed hand was placed in its true positionon her breast, and under it the Jewel of Seven Stars which Mr. Trelawnyhad taken from the great safe. It seemed to flash and
blaze as he putit in its place.
It was a strange sight, and a strange experience. The group of gravesilent men carried the white still figure, which looked like an ivorystatue when through our moving the sheet fell back, away from thelighted candles and the white flowers. We placed it on the couch inthat other room, where the blaze of the electric lights shone on thegreat sarcophagus fixed in the middle of the room ready for the finalexperiment, the great experiment consequent on the researches during alifetime of these two travelled scholars. Again, the startlinglikeness between Margaret and the mummy, intensified by her ownextraordinary pallor, heightened the strangeness of it all. When allwas finally fixed three-quarters of an hour had gone, for we weredeliberate in all our doings. Margaret beckoned me, and I went outwith her to bring in Silvio. He came to her purring. She took him upand handed him to me; and then did a thing which moved me strangely andbrought home to me keenly the desperate nature of the enterprise onwhich we were embarked. One by one, she blew out the candles carefullyand placed them back in their usual places. When she had finished shesaid to me:
"They are done with now. Whatever comes--life or death--there will beno purpose in their using now." Then taking Silvio into her arms, andpressing him close to her bosom where he purred loudly, we went back tothe room. I closed the door carefully behind me, feeling as I did so astrange thrill as of finality. There was to be no going back now.Then we put on our respirators, and took our places as had beenarranged. I was to stand by the taps of the electric lights beside thedoor, ready to turn them off or on as Mr. Trelawny should direct.Doctor Winchester was to stand behind the couch so that he should notbe between the mummy and the sarcophagus; he was to watch carefullywhat should take place with regard to the Queen. Margaret was to bebeside him; she held Silvio ready to place him upon the couch or besideit when she might think right. Mr. Trelawny and Mr. Corbeck were toattend to the lighting of the lamps. When the hands of the clock wereclose to the hour, they stood ready with their linstocks.
The striking of the silver bell of the clock seemed to smite on ourhearts like a knell of doom. One! Two! Three!
Before the third stroke the wicks of the lamps had caught, and I hadturned out the electric light. In the dimness of the struggling lamps,and after the bright glow of the electric light, the room and allwithin it took weird shapes, and all seemed in an instant to change.We waited with our hearts beating. I know mine did, and I fancied Icould hear the pulsation of the others.
The seconds seemed to pass with leaden wings. It were as though allthe world were standing still. The figures of the others stood outdimly, Margaret's white dress alone showing clearly in the gloom. Thethick respirators which we all wore added to the strange appearance.The thin light of the lamps showed Mr. Trelawny's square jaw and strongmouth and the brown shaven face of Mr. Corbeck. Their eyes seemed toglare in the light. Across the room Doctor Winchester's eyes twinkledlike stars, and Margaret's blazed like black suns. Silvio's eyes werelike emeralds.
Would the lamps never burn up!