It was only a few seconds in all till they did blaze up. A slow,steady light, growing more and more bright, and changing in colour fromblue to crystal white. So they stayed for a couple of minutes withoutchange in the coffer; till at last there began to appear all over it adelicate glow. This grew and grew, till it became like a blazingjewel, and then like a living thing whose essence of life was light.We waited and waited, our hearts seeming to stand still.
All at once there was a sound like a tiny muffled explosion and thecover lifted right up on a level plane a few inches; there was nomistaking anything now, for the whole room was full of a blaze oflight. Then the cover, staying fast at one side rose slowly up on theother, as though yielding to some pressure of balance. The cofferstill continued to glow; from it began to steal a faint greenish smoke.I could not smell it fully on account of the respirator; but, eventhrough that, I was conscious of a strange pungent odour. Then thissmoke began to grow thicker, and to roll out in volumes of everincreasing density till the whole room began to get obscure. I had aterrible desire to rush over to Margaret, whom I saw through the smokestill standing erect behind the couch. Then, as I looked, I saw DoctorWinchester sink down. He was not unconscious; for he waved his handback and forward, as though to forbid any one to come to him. At thistime the figures of Mr. Trelawny and Mr. Corbeck were becomingindistinct in the smoke which rolled round them in thick billowyclouds. Finally I lost sight of them altogether. The coffer stillcontinued to glow; but the lamps began to grow dim. At first I thoughtthat their light was being overpowered by the thick black smoke; butpresently I saw that they were, one by one, burning out. They musthave burned quickly to produce such fierce and vivid flames.
I waited and waited, expecting every instant to hear the command toturn up the light; but none came. I waited still, and looked withharrowing intensity at the rolling billows of smoke still pouring outof the glowing casket, whilst the lamps sank down and went out one byone.
Finally there was but one lamp alight, and that was dimly blue andflickering. The only effective light in the room was from the glowingcasket. I kept my eyes fixed toward Margaret; it was for her now thatall my anxiety was claimed. I could just see her white frock beyondthe still white shrouded figure on the couch. Silvio was troubled; hispiteous mewing was the only sound in the room. Deeper and denser grewthe black mist and its pungency began to assail my nostrils as well asmy eyes. Now the volume of smoke coming from the coffer seemed tolessen, and the smoke itself to be less dense. Across the room I sawsomething white move where the couch was. There were severalmovements. I could just catch the quick glint of white through thedense smoke in the fading light; for now the glow of the coffer beganquickly to subside. I could still hear Silvio, but his mewing camefrom close under; a moment later I could feel him piteously crouchingon my foot.
Then the last spark of light disappeared, and through the Egyptiandarkness I could see the faint line of white around the window blinds.I felt that the time had come to speak; so I pulled off my respiratorand called out:
"Shall I turn up the light?" There was no answer; so before the thicksmoke choked me, I called again but more loudly:
"Mr. Trelawny, shall I turn up the light?" He did not answer; but fromacross the room I heard Margaret's voice, sounding as sweet and clearas a bell:
"Yes, Malcolm!" I turned the tap and the lamps flashed out. But theywere only dim points of light in the midst of that murky ball of smoke.In that thick atmosphere there was little possibility of illumination.I ran across to Margaret, guided by her white dress, and caught hold ofher and held her hand. She recognised my anxiety and said at once:
"I am all right."
"Thank God!" I said. "How are the others? Quick, let us open all thewindows and get rid of this smoke!" To my surprise, she answered in asleepy way:
"They will be all right. They won't get any harm." I did not stop toinquire how or on what ground she formed such an opinion, but threw upthe lower sashes of all the windows, and pulled down the upper. Then Ithrew open the door.
A few seconds made a perceptible change as the thick, black smoke beganto roll out of the windows. Then the lights began to grow intostrength and I could see the room. All the men were overcome. Besidethe couch Doctor Winchester lay on his back as though he had sunk downand rolled over; and on the farther side of the sarcophagus, where theyhad stood, lay Mr. Trelawny and Mr. Corbeck. It was a relief to me tosee that, though they were unconscious, all three were breathingheavily as though in a stupor. Margaret still stood behind the couch.She seemed at first to be in a partially dazed condition; but everyinstant appeared to get more command of herself. She stepped forwardand helped me to raise her father and drag him close to a window.Together we placed the others similarly, and she flew down to thedining-room and returned with a decanter of brandy. This we proceededto administer to them all in turn. It was not many minutes after wehad opened the windows when all three
were struggling back toconsciousness. During this time my entire thoughts and efforts hadbeen concentrated on their restoration; but now that this strain wasoff, I looked round the room to see what had been the effect of theexperiment. The thick smoke had nearly cleared away; but the room wasstill misty and was full of a strange pungent acrid odour.
The great sarcophagus was just as it had been. The coffer was open,and in it, scattered through certain divisions or partitions wrought inits own substance, was a scattering of black ashes. Over all,sarcophagus, coffer and, indeed, all in the room, was a sort of blackfilm of greasy soot. I went over to the couch. The white sheet stilllay over part of it; but it had been thrown back, as might be when oneis stepping out of bed.
But there was no sign of Queen Tera! I took Margaret by the hand andled her over. She reluctantly left her father to whom she wasadministering, but she came docilely enough. I whispered to her as Iheld her hand:
"What has become of the Queen? Tell me! You were close at hand, andmust have seen if anything happened!" She answered me very softly:
"There was nothing that I could see. Until the smoke grew too dense Ikept my eyes on the couch, but there was no change. Then, when allgrew so dark that I could not see, I thought I heard a movement closeto me. It might have been Doctor Winchester who had sunk down overcome;but I could not be sure. I thought that it might be the Queen waking,so I put down poor Silvio. I did not see what became of him; but Ifelt as if he had deserted me when I heard him mewing over by the door.I hope he is not offended with me!" As if in answer, Silvio camerunning into the room and reared himself against her dress, pulling itas though clamouring to be taken up. She stooped down and took him upand began to pet and comfort him.
I went over and examined the couch and all around it most carefully.When Mr. Trelawny and Mr. Corbeck recovered sufficiently, which theydid quickly, though Doctor Winchester took longer to come round, wewent over it afresh. But all we could find was a sort of ridge ofimpalpable dust, which gave out a strange dead odour. On the couch laythe jewel of the disk and plumes which the Queen had worn in her hair,and the Star Jewel which had words to command the Gods.
Other than this we never got clue to what had happened. There was justone thing which confirmed our idea of the physical annihilation of themummy. In the sarcophagus in the hall, where we had placed the mummyof the cat, was a small patch of similar dust.
* * * * *
In the autumn Margaret and I were married. On the occasion she worethe mummy robe and zone and the jewel which Queen Tera had worn in herhair. On her breast, set in a ring of gold make like a twisted lotusstalk, she wore the strange Jewel of Seven Stars which held words tocommand the God of all the worlds. At the marriage the sunlightstreaming through the chancel windows fell on it, and it seemed to glowlike a living thing.
The graven words may have been of efficacy; for Margaret holds to them,and there is no other life in all the world so happy as my own.
We often think of the great Queen, and we talk of her freely. Once,when I said with a sigh that I was sorry she could not have waked intoa new life in a new world, my wife, putting both her hands in mine andlooking into my eyes with that far-away eloquent dreamy look whichsometimes comes into her own, said lovingly:
"Do not grieve for her! Who knows, but she may have found the joy shesought? Love and patience are all that make for happiness in thisworld; or in the world of the past or of the future; of the living orthe dead. She dreamed her dream; and that is all that any of us canask!"