Chronicle Three, "The East Gate" Continued
Wasn't that Einstein's theorum? It was close enough to be! Most curious, the inscription was fluid, running through every alphabet and numerical system known to mathematical man--few of which Carter could recognize, but enough to tell him they were all variants of the same thing.
He examined another. Again, he was rewarded when he waited for the right alphanumeric equivalent for him to come up. However, it proved more arcane: N=R*Fp Np Fl Fi Fc L.
Just the same, he knew he had more than enough to think about with the Einstein theorem. He set the prism back on the basalt slab. His hand clapped his vest and felt the pocket. His eyes working wildly in their sockets, Carter considered the matter, then curiousity overcame his shock. He looked and discovered that the other prisms all bore theorems.
What immense trove of knowledge and sciences have I stumbled upon? he marveled, his hours of hard work having paid off wonderfully. But, perhaps, except for the Einstein theorem, they were all gibberish, mere superstition and antiquated notions like so much of Babylonian medical lore. Yet how could he tell for sure? he wasn't really a scientist in training. He had learned Archeology on the job while plying his trade of draughtmanship. At school, a little of Euclid's Geometry, British history up to Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar, short hand and double-entry bookkeeping, completed with how to fold a gentleman's tie, cravat and vest handkerchief, and he was thought educated enough for his class to make a tolerably good shipping clerk, or, failing that, a bank bailiff.
Passing along the ranks of mathematical prisms, he found something of more than remarkable nature--a slim, mirror-like crystal, concave, raised on a gold pedestal. As he looked closer it began showing scenes--people in white linen robes passing to and fro on a bridge strung between two immense blue and tawny yellow spheres, then dazzling white, pyramid-shaped structures with blue fire an streams of saucer-like objects exhaling out the apexes, tail, serpent-twined pillars crowned with heroic figures, and many palaces and great, towering cities set amidst orchards, pools, artificial lakes, and intricately-gardened landscapes. What a Utopian London the capital seemed to be! There could be nothing more splendid than this civilisation!
Though shown in miniature, Carter felt greatly engaged as he watched multitudes of people rush into ships, which waves overwhelmed and sank. Then they rushed into the high mountains, flying in cunningly-fashioned, glistening white spheroids that jetted in convoys from the apexes of the soaring, pyramid-shaped structures. As for the remaining airships they abandoned not only the site of the ruined and sunken continent but headed outwards to seek refuge on the Red Planet and farther places.
By this time Carter sweated all down his spine and under his arms. He watched until the entire country broke in pieces like as sheet of ice dumped from a continent-sized birdbath, which all sank in the sea, people still clinging to fragments and what boats were still seaworthy. All those who did not perish or flee the lanet spread to other lands. Darkness fell, but wherever the Atlanteans fled great empires soon arose, and there followed a rapid cavalcade of Powers that Carter easily recognized--Pharaonic Egypt, Babylon, Minoan Crete, Mitanni, Hatti, Persia, Greece, Rome, Byzantium (or the Eastern Roman Empire), China, the Moche, Toltecs, Incas, Aztecs, Imperial Spain, the Ottoman Caliphate, and many more until finally the British Empire appeared, the largest of all, on which the old Sun never sets.
The prism went dark and Carter, shaking his head, continued. he came to a display different from the rest. A crook and a flail? A uraeus? Lotus and papyrus-decorated crowns? A golden mace, used for ceremonially smiting Egypt's foes on the pate? These, Carter knew, were traditionally royal insigne of Ancient Egyptian monarchs. "So this is an Egyptian archive and has nothing to do with fabled Atlantis!" he thought.
Feeling relieved though unaccountably disappointed, Carter idly picked up the crook, which unlike the specimens at the Cairo Museum, was so charged with an electric current that his hand shook. Instantly, there as a rush of air downward and the next thing Carter saw was something coming at him out of the ceiling. Flinging the crook, he leaped back. Carter had good reason to do so. A suspended slab of inches-thick basalt lowered to his eye level and before him lay a long, glowing crystal object.
The spectacle was more than even this seasoned archeologist could absorb. He might have dashed out through the serpent-guarded door, but he had seen too much and was fatally mesmerized, held against his very will. Forgetting to breathe, he saw it was two skeletons, all replicated in purest, polished cyrstal, and luminous with the queerly pulsing bluish glow that the prisms possessed. From their respective sizes, they appeared at first glance to be perfectly modeled skeletal models of a man and woman, but something was wrong. Their skulls were not human.
Ghastly and beautiful at the same time, the crystal of the nearest skeleton drew Carter's finger to it, just to see if it were not a vision, a fleeing chimera of the brain, and not a real thing.
He touched crystal that felt both hot and cold. He was about to walk round the pair of skeletons when he noticed something. He wasn't sure he was really seeing it at first, but soon he was left with no doubt. A surge of bright light swept from the point where he had first touched the object--the clavicle--of the man's skeleton, and it spread to the toe and finger bones. Suddenly, odder things followed. The hands and feet bones began acquiring what looked to him to be tissue, ligaments, and blood vessels!
Carter reared away in horror. Yet he didn't scamper off. Britons weren't accustomed to doing that sort of thing, no matter how sane a strategic retreat might be in the circumstances. As he watched in helpless stupefaction, muscle and skin covered over the spreading veins and connective nerves and ligaments. By rapid degrees the human mind could not possibly comprehend, the skeleton transformed itself into a living being before Carter's bulging eyes.
Carter, transfixed on the spot, a completely unwilling spectator, saw the fingers and toes began to flex. The the muscles in the arms and legs rippled with life. Still the odd skull remain. Yet it was next apparently for a transformation. The light pooled and shone most brilliantly on it, and as with the legs, arms, and torso, the skull began to flesh out.
Carter now saw he was looking at a virile male, a prime, regal specimen of manhood that had to be seven or eight feet tall. Only the head--he saw it was structured more avian than manlike! Could it be a hawk's or eagles? "Is this the divine Horus, the chief Raptor God of the ancient Egyptian panthon?" The thought nearly made his knees turn to water, and he could stand only with great effort and continue observing.
The brain was, he saw, now forming within the crystalline skull bones. The great predatory beak then started taking final shape. Carter, at this point, wrenched himself out of his trance-like state. With his utmost strength, he grabbed what was nearest to hand, which happened to be the massive, solid gold mace, and brought it down on the head of the crystal Horus, god or no god. With a second blow, he did the same to the monster's consort, too, but striking at her dainty midriff he quite severed her in two pieces.
The reaction to his violent acts was soon coming. Carter, miraculously, survived it--just barely. Something happened the moment after he struck the two crystal beings. What? A force like a great, invisible hand seizing him and hurling him to the ground?
Slowly, Carter raised himself up on his elbows from the floor and noticed the smoking bits of crystal that littered every surface and his clothes. They could burn his clothes to the skin, so he swept them away with his hand, feeling a strange alternating sensation of hot and cold as he did so. Surprised to find himself alive after recognizing the signs of a thrown bomb or artillery shell, he groaned from shock and some pain where he lay after being thrown by the unexplained explosion.
He peered up into the gloom, but there was no sign of the slab or the Horus and his skeleton consort. Appalled into action, he struggled to his feet, staggered toward the door, intending to put the terrible place and its experiences out of sight and mind forever.
Carter spun around toward the voice. Someone whose identity he could not tell in the thick darkness rose from behind a display slab. "Who are you?" he cried.
"Your conscience--which you seem to have buried, sir, and quite mislaid in the course of all your beggarly excavations!"
His pride stung to the quick by her use of "beggarly," he rose to the challenge. "You're mad, whoever you are!" he replied, moving toward the phantom speaker. Then he switched his tone to caring and persuasion, sense and calm solicitude. "But we must leave here at once! Tourists are not allowed in my concession. There are too many dangers, you must go at once! Then Carter paused. The fine, talcum-like dust had now cleared, and visibility was being restored. The intruder's face was illuminated just enough by the blue-glowing prisms. "What are you doing here, Lady Evelyn? How ever did you find--"
Lord Carnarvon's daughter gave him a scornful laugh, and he could see she was holding a small, dark object in her hands, pointed at him. "I've seen reason to watch your behavior for some time, Mr. Carter, ever since I first detected a lust for self-glorification in you. Oh, I didn't think at first it was anything out of the ordinary, given the nature of your work, to want to shine above your peers. You certainly worked hard enough and deserved some success for all your efforts. No one would begrudge you that. But I came to see for certain that you would stop at nothing to gain your object, even if it meant hurting my father's interests."
Carter now laughed in turn, forgetting his bunged up clothes and body for the moment. "You are certainly adept at psychology. Is it Dr. Sigmund Freud you've been seeing in Vienna while I have been faithfully digging for your father's glory and enrichment?"
"You're being deceitful. I dislike your trying to play with me. I have proof that my judgment of you is correct. You gave it to me yourself, unknowingly."
Carter did not respond. After a strained moment, Lady Herbert continued, her quavering voice gathering resolve as she kept the revolver--a female's toy Colt it appeared to Carter--fixed on him as if he were a deadly snake that might strike at her at any moment.
"I said I found evidence, Mr. Carter! It came in this way. I followed and saw you hire the diggers instead of proceeding to Alexandria to escort the queen. I followed you here, and waited until it was safe to enter without your knowing. You were so busy seeking your prospective second Tutankhamun that I had no difficulty hiding in the shadows. But you won't get away with these treasures as you did at the tomb of the boy pharaoh. I will see my father is not again stolen from by the likes of you, Mr. Carter!"
Carter was amazed. He knew he wasn't the treacherous scoundrel she was portraying, a double-dealer who sought advantage over an unsuspecting, trusting patron. Just because he was not supposed to receive any of the artifacts as remumeration, there wasn't any restriction on his publishing his discoveries and gaining all the monies thereby he required for his sunset years. "What are you talking about?" the world's greatest living archeologist burst out in highly offended tones. "Why, I've done absolutely nothing that is not befitting a gentleman's code of honor. My duty to Lord Car--"
"Don't you take my father's name again on that evil serpent's tongue of yours!
Carter clucked his "serpent's tongue." "Tut tut! I am, according to you, a thief of some sort, and a beggar, and now I am a serpent-tongued liar. Is there any end to my depravity, according to Lady Herbert? I must be a terrible bounder, to be all the things you claim I am."
Carter really thought Lady Herbert had gone mad. After all, not only eccentricity but lunacy ran in noble families such as hers, from generation to generation. Why should the blue-blooded Earls of Carnarvon be immune? He thought he had, therefore, best humor her, and somehow get her out and away from the sensitive site and into protective custody at the Museum. After that, he could conveniently fill the site in and then think of some suitable explanation for the public and Lord Carnarvon about his daughter's hysterical attacks on him--if she still continued to spout the nonsense he had just heard. People, he knew, would understand and take his account over hers. Obviously, the poor girl had taken the whole affair of the long, long search for Tutankhamun too much to heart. The strain had been too much for her high-strung, aristocratic nervous system. The sudden, tremendous success had snapped something in her and her natural, female instinct to protect her father had spun out of control and--"
Carter decided to cut the interview short if he could. He had not just survived a near fatal explosion of highly volatile tomb dust--for such dust as was common in Egyptian tombs could blow up due to the intense friction of infinitesimal particles--only to be taken into custody by a mere female. "You just watched me accidentally destroy a prime artifact. Is that the reason you are so hostile toward me and threaten me with a pistol? I did it without thinking, I admit. It seemed just to horrible to allow to exist. I hardly see, however, what business that is of yours, since I was acting in the sphere of my profession, not yours. Surely, that is the reason. You think you can gain some value for yourself from these artifacts I have just discovered."
"Not at all!" Lady Herbert retorted. "I have no idea what these things are here. Let the Egyptologists examine this place. it's beyond my understanding. But I do know what is ours and belongs to my father's concession." She took a step toward him, holding the Colt on him. "So hand over what you stole from him!" she demanded, as Carter swung the light of the torch on her.
Half-blinded, Evelyn blinked in the light but kept the gun pointed at him.
Carter could feel profound sympathy for unfortunate, substandard people, particularly those who had lost either limbs or wits. But the sight of a weapon threatening his life at close proximity put fire into his normally cool, scholarly veins. Besides, how had she found out? He decided something must be done quickly to disarm this highly excitable female--even if it was unpleasant.
"Certainly, Lady Evelyn, you can have the item in question," he replied in soothing tones. "It was quite insignificant and taken by mistake, I can assure you, a thoughtless little slip on my part, and--"
Lady Herbert laughed. "Don't try to excuse yourself, you brazen thief! You were obligated by a signed and countersigned contract to account for every single item in the inventory of the pharaoh's tomb. You were legally and honor-bound to enter everything in the inventory catalog--no exceptions! You knew your obligation, and you put in an entry for the missing item, but you failed to see you had entered it twice as a black nephrite scarab--a fatal slip, since only one of the size and type you describe exists, and it was inventoried years ago by your own hand for Dr. Davis's concession, not my fathers. Since you made so few mistakes of that sort, it was bound to stick out even though you cleverly substituted Dr. Davis's scarab for the item you pilfered. You were, evidently in haste to cover your crime, or you might never have bungled the theft so badly. Mehmet--if more proof is needed--told me all he saw you do. He watched you hide the item in your clothing, your vest pocket, after debauching yourself shamelessly with native liquor and dancing about in their midst like a madman!"
Carter sobered immediately as if ice water was dashed in his face. She had won his full attention. "So HE was the informant!" he hissed beneath his breath. Mehmet, despite his look of integrity, was a sneaking Judas! He had crept in behind him when he was preoccupied with the discovery of the tomb's wonders. How good those villagers were in crawling round foreigners' backs. He ought to have known better than to trust Egyptians--the cowardly, dirty sneaks! They had taken his good money and then betrayed his solemn trust. Theodore Davis and Newberry were right after all in one thing. "Dear boy, you put too much stock in these ignorant natives," they both told him. "You can only properly trust a fellow European, who is civilized and knows what fair play is."
He had to do something first about the weapon, however. It was beginning to make him a bit nervous. In her unstable emotional state, she might be pulling the trigger without intending and discharge the tiny gun chamber's single silver bullet.
"But, Lady Evelyn, a man has a right under law to protect hmself, surely?" he hedged. As he was speaking, he was moving closer to the gun-holder. Suddeny, he swung the torch and whacked the arm with the revolver, throwing himself down to catch it as it fell.
In a flash, he had it. Then he grabbed her good arm. Despite her broken arm, she tried to stomp on his foot to make him let go, but that he could not allow. Just then another phantom crept in while Carter subdued Lady Evelyn. Carter dropped her as he felt a breeze from something narrowly missing his head. he swung the torch and caught the lunging form of Theodore Davis.
In the wildly swinging beam of the torch that seemed to take on the role of a mad movie producer, bits and pieces of both men appeared, only to disappear. Shortly, the scuffle was over as Carter wrestled the adze away from the elderly, weaker, old man. Gasping hoarsely, Davis sank to his knees, Lady Herbert throwing herself between the old man and the triumphant Carter.
"Now just what is the reason for this second outrage?" Carter demanded in a savagely, cold voice. "I will see both of you arraigned in court for this unprovoked attack on my person."
Lady Herbert began to weep. Professor Davis's gasps grew more constricted and tormented. Carter, noticing, shone his light and illuminated the professor's pinched, white features. His hand clutched at his chest.
"Senile, evil old goat, he deserves his heart seizure!" thought Carter. Behind him a sound made Carter's surging satisfaction run instantly cold. The door out to the world! It was moving, scraping like knee bone on bone without ligament!
Carter did not stop to think. He sensed there was utterly no time for cogitating. His enemies would have to wait for their disposition. He threw himself forward and succeeded in passing through the doorway half a second before the giant blocking stone slammed back into place, sealing off the archives for all time to come.
Carter sank to his knees outside the door. His mind whirling, he realized how close he had come to being interred alive. He was out! But the totally unexpected attacks and revelations of Lady Evelyn and Theodore Davis had pulled out some of his own stuffing. Rather than deal with it, he scrambled out of the site as fast as he cold, mostly feeling his way by sense not sight, for he could see nothing in the deep shadows where the moon's rays did not penetrate.
The dignity of a civilized Englishman? Whence had it flown? If he had stood on his dignity he would have been immured in the chamber with his two enemies! So he clawed and fought like a tiger up the sandy bank of the deep pit, for the steps were covered again with fallen sand. Only when he gained the top did he fall again to his knees, gasping for air. Safe! When he recovered himself sufficiently, he thought of the prisoners walled up below his feet. He didn't think very long about them. He felt about and finally located an adze and began filling in the pit. he threw the workers' tools in as well. When he had finished and smoothed it over, he was exhausted but feeling better about his prospects. Nothing would be suspected if the two below had not informed anyone of their venture. Mehmet might accept a bribe or something might happen to him, accidentally, of course--natives, after all, were always falling into the River and drowning, for, strangely enough, Egyptians were notoriously poor swimmers and didn't go in the water if they could help it.
The feeling of triumph and safety was short-lived. He was seized with a terrible thought. Where was his hat? In the secret chamber below! In the same place with Lady Evelyn's revolver too!
Well, there they would remain, he decided. And now he knew for certain he would never tell the world what he had seen. It was simply out of the question. The secret archives of Atlantis--for such they seemed to be--would remain secrets of the Ancients forever.
Carter buried his adze carefully It was just beginning to turn light. He could see a bit. After taking a last look around, he began walking. Yet another terrible thought gave him pause. Was it still there? He felt his vest pocket, and the lump assured him he had not lost his darling little treasure. Carter then made his way to the road. This time it was a long walk in the dark, since the cabby had given up long before and gone home to bed.
As he walked, Carter formulated his strategy. He had no desire to remain in Cairo a minute more. As for meeting Queen Beatrice, let her find her own way to the tomb, he decided. There was no difficulty. The route was well-marked for foreigners. He'd render some excuse when she arrived at Luxor--he had fallen suddenly ill with fever, or some such thing. They would believe the great archeologist. Everyone knew how over-worked he was and all liable to abuse his health for the sake of advancing science and human knowledge. Surely, they would believe any story he devised. Yet the farther he got from the Sphinx, he began to feel less sure. A veritable plague of doubts dumped on him like a camel's load of carpets in Cairo's carpet bazaars.
"Lord Carnarvon, is he in on this plot? No, D.P. is a simple, trusting soul despite his affecting a fashionable gentleman's skepticism. Somehow plots didn't fit Carter's appraisal of the man. Yet Lady Herbert had surprised him, along with old Theodore Davis. They had flown at him like avenging harpies. Was he such a monster that he deserved such attacks? Not at all! He was, apparently, paying the first increments of the cost of world-wide notoriety and acclaim. Obsessed by envy and spite, they had ganged up on him and meant to steal his discoveries.
Surely, the Atlantis archives, if made known by Lady Evelyn and Davis, would have instantly eclipsed Tutankhamun's tomb. That he could not allow. He decided he had to move more carefully in the future, lest all he had gained were lost. After all, from what he had observed, the archeological value of the archives was beside the point. Exposed to the world, they wold overturn the whole structure of modern society. Governments would fall. Crowns would topple from royal brows. It wasn't merely another discovery of an ancient civilization's existence--no, this was entirely different.
Nothing about the archives would serve to enhance modern society--rather, the effect would be sheer panic and the dissolution of the entire social fabric. If people only once saw real evidence that Atlantis had preceded Ancient Egyptian civilisation by thousands of years, they would refuse to believe anything they had been taught about progress and the development of humanity. The Bible's Genesis account of Adam and Eve, Creation and Fall, would not be discredited, perhaps, but such a glaring omission of Atlantis from human education would spell the doom of the present world order. After all, everything that had been built up culturally, on the belief that Civilisaton was a recent development, would be blown to bits along with the belief. The artifacts themselves in the archives would revolutionize science and technology, not to mention anthropology and social sciences. No, it would be just too catastrophic a change. Modern society would not survive, and barbarism--like that experienced in the Dark Ages--would seize upon the whole globe in the wake of the archives being made public.
No, to save the world from such a fate he could not let it happen. He must keep the archives secret. That meant, of course...a certain sacrifice on the parts of Lady Evelyn and Theodore Davis.
Concerning their sudden disappearances, he turned to do some thinking. In a few days the news would fill the papers, no doubt, since they were well-known by name and social standing. Lord Carnarvon--poor chap!--would be distraught and make every effort to locate his daughter, offer a handsome reward for any information leading to her whereabouts, and so on. The British army would send out scouts and scour the surrounding desert and wilderness for any sign of them. Every bush would be beaten to turn them up--but that, he knew, would never happen. The Sphinx would keep its latest secret a very long time, indeed. It had kept its Atlantean archives secret for nigh on 12 millenia, had it not?
In any case, Carter knew he had to return to the Tutankhamun tomb in the Valley of the Kings and resume the tedious task of cataloguing as though nothing were out of the ordinary. As for his patron, if he started to suspect he had anything to do with his daughter's disappearance, let him suspect! He wouldn't be able to prove a thing unless the Sphinx dig became known and it was investigated. Yet they would have a hard time implicating him on mere hearsay from some rag-tag mendicants on the streets of Cairo who might claim to have been his diggers. The buried adzes couldn't really be traced--they were too common. As for his hat, it too was the ordinary type Europeans wore, and the country swarmed with men wearing such hats.
The only thing he though he must need explain was his whereabouts when he ought to have met the queen at Alexandria to conduct Her Majesty and her entourage to the Valley of the Kings.
Carter was still making up something suitable when he boarded the Cairo-Asyut train. To put reporters off the scent, he tried to take a second or even a third class berth, but the conductor recognized him. With a scowl, Carter stepped into a First Class compartment and sat down, a London TIMES in hand.
The train began moving down the track, away from the millions of Cairenes who all seemed to reside a good part of the day at the rail station. Carter opened his paper, which was mostly for show, since his mind was preoccupied with other matters. When he thought he had arrived at a good excuse for the queen, he started reading articles concerning himself and Tutankhamun.
Only slightly aware of the existence of two females in the compartment, he was startled when a lady's voice broke in on his private thoughts.
"Mr. Carter the famed archeologist, I presume?"
The famed man glanced with a little irritation up from his lowered paper. He saw a young woman--attired in a modest but not unfashionable dress, cost, and hat--and a motherly-looking, older female.
"My name is Miss Lydia Peckham," the first began, introducing herself in a cultivated voice. "My companion for this journey is Mrs. Henrietta Gresham, my friend and beloved sister in Christ for some years. We are headed for Asyut, to inspect the mission orphanage. Our mission society in London, which contributes substantially to the orphanage, has sent us out to appraise the quality of the care--"
As Miss Peckham talked, Carter began to squirm and rustle his paper. The seat seemed uncomfortably hot and cold, alternately. Besides, he had no personal interest in the condition of orphanges, mission-founded or otherwise. Ham's descendants were best left alone in their original estate, however hopeless. Raise their expectation of life, he always said, and you get nothing but trouble!
Finished with her account, Miss Peckham fixed a keen eye on him. "Are you satisfied with your worldly sucess, Mr. Carter?" she pointedly inquired.
Despite her manlike boldness, Carter felt a surge of pride and warmed to the subject in spite of his reserved nature. He could not help but say a few words on his behalf to this admirer. "Well, yes, I have worked rather hard in some difficult circumstances over the years since coming to this country, in preparation for the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun. It didn't fall like ripe fruit in my lap, I can assure you. Now that the discovery has been made and I am recording it for Posterity, I feel a certain satisfaction, now that you mention it, and I naturally--"
Miss Peckham, her gray eyes darkening beneath a fringe of tastefully-sewn picot piping, shook her neat head slowly. "I couldn't feel that way about it at all, Mr. Carter, if I were in your shoes. It's such a dirty, low-bred trade you took up. No matter how the sinful, fallen world presumes to paint it, what you are doing is vile and beggarly!"
Carter's ears could not believe what they had just heard. "Beggarly" almost made him jump out of his seat in protest. Somehow he held on to his dignity and merely said, "What do you infer by that statement, Miss?"
His antagonist fixed her metallic, gray eye on him without wavering. "I am not inferring anything, Mr. Carter! I mean to say that you are engaged in robbing graves. Is that anything to be proud of?"
Carter half rose from his hot-cold seat. "Really, Miss Burnham!" he exploded.
Miss Peckham's eye fixed on him all the more, drilling right to his brain, it felt to him. "Peckham, Mr. Carter! Peck-ham. P, E, C, K, H-"
Peckham? Burnham? What did it matter to Mr. Carter? He had always known that women did not play fair. But he felt so insulted, he was at a loss for words that were suitable for ladies. Finally, he stopped searching, and responded, "Everybody knows Archeology is a respectable branch of the practical sciences. We are not to be compared with--with grave digging!"
"But those are tombs of real dead people you insist of desecrating and digging up! Did they ask you to expose them brutally to the light of day, after being buried and left in peace for hundreds and even thousands of years? Why, in a moral sense, you would be much better off a shipping clerk, toiling at honest, if poorly paid account work, than doing something you should be ashamed of!"
Carter again lost his composure. Not only had her presence and the disapproving glances of her companion upset him, but the "beggarly" "grave-robbing" charge was hitting home, rather too pointedly. He recovered as best he could. "I hardly see cause to defend my vocation!" he burst out, perhaps too loudly for a gentleman who should have nothing to defend. "And I fail to see how you are in any way qualified to pass judgment on my archeological work!" he added vehementy.
Mrs. Gresham colored and started to say something, but Miss Peckham quicky laid her gloved hand over her companion's. Instead, Miss Peckham drew out a printed tractate of some sort from her belongings. She was about to offer it to Mr. Carter, but he gave her such a glare that she drew back her hand hastily as if from a serpent.
"I am staunch high Church of England since birth, Miss, so you are wasting your time," he said icily. "My Christian baptism is registered at St. Cynewulfs on Battenhead, 14 Monks Close, Gloucester Square, Sandringham." He did not add that he only recalled this fact so long after because of an affair with a young woman connected with the church, a St. Cynewulf's deacon's daughter who had seen his name in the baptism registry while checking the rolls for another entry by request of the family.
Silence crashed down between the born and bred Anglican the the two evangelicals like an iron portcullis.
The train with its Twentieth Century mechanical marvels rolled past mud huts of villages unchanged since the Ancient World, clots of unspeakable and speechless wretchedness strung along the track outside Cairo's dusty sprawl. Dirty, naked children ran to see the glamorous, foreign infidels in the coaches. Men stood up to rest backs, their dusky bodies punctuating the green fields. A woman carried a baby at her naked breast but kept her face covered with a veil.
Carter, meantime, was seeing little of the rural scene he knew so well. He still wished to put the two females in their place, as they richly deserved. After all, it was a totally unprovoked attack on his profession and attainments. But what good would that do? he had to wonder. Suddenly a bad thought made him squirm all the more behind his paper. Two souls were buried alive in a certain chamber miles behind him. How long would they last without food and water? Should he go back, take the chance they would denounce him to the world and destroy his hard-won reputation? They ought to feel grateful if he set them free, enough to keep their mouths shut anyway, but could he count on that? What would they charge him with? Being a thief of petty Tutankhamun artifacts? Or,--as Miss Peckingham assuredly would phrase it--a skulking grave robber? Carter decided he would stay put. He just couldn't go back now. He's lose absolutely everything he had worked so hard and long to achieve in his career.
A porter bustled into the compartment with a large, messy looseleaf notebook and a pencil fixed to a chain that attached to his uniform. "Gentlemen and lady. What please, you order now? Food have we and also many much excellent liquors and drinks--"
The ladies looked at each other in alarm at the mention of alcohol.
Mr. Carter, laughing to himself, shook his head. "No, nothing for them at present," he replied. "Unless you ladies care for some, ah, refreshment?"
As if horrified at the thought, they vigorously shook their heads. "We have a basket brought from London with all the food, tea, and canned milk we require to sustain us, sir!" the married female declared to him.
The porter did not seem to understand, so Mr. Carter graciously spoke for them in his most emphatic tone. "No thank you, we don't desire anything at this time."
The disappointed porter went out, and Carter returned to his former train of thought. It was a pity, he reflected, that Lady Evelyn and Theodore Davis had to experience the misery of being shut up forever in the underground chamber of the Sphinx's belly. But they had brought this on themselves. Wasn't that what his mother would say? Like the time in his boyhood he cried in anger when his risky maneuvers on his first bicycle ended up with a smash-up against a tree in the park near his mother's home?
"Harold, is that really you, Harold?"
The two women looked at him with widened eyes.
"I heard your voice in here a minute ago,"
the thin, quavering, elderly woman's voice continued.
"Is that you, Harold?"
Carter recognized his mother's voice. It was coming from his midriff, from his vest pocket! Though muffled, he had no trouble making out the words. Though thunderstruck, he roused himself to action. He clamped a hand over the spot and thought the problem taken care of. The paper he used to cover himself completely from the missionary ladies' rigid stares, while his thoughts whirled, wondering what next to do.
the voice continued on more plaintively,
You must know I never like jokes being played on me. I heard you shouting something. Are you really here in the house? Have you come back to London again without telling me? You did that once before, naughty boy! But a friend of mine saw you and told me. My heart's quite broken. I am so lonely without you. Do tell me if you're hiding somewhere! Harold!"
This was too much. He had thought it was simply a jewel, intended to adorn a tie clasp he would order on his return to London. Once activated by some unknown mechanism, he knew no way to direct its powers or change the channels. Carter seized the blue-glowing pill he had found in a gilded box inside one of Tutankhamun's Canopic jars. The compartment window was sealed, but he wrenched it open. "We can use some fresh air, don't you agree?" he practically shouted at the now standing, amazed women.
Wind blew the papers he had dropped, strewing them all around the compartment. At that moment they were passing over a stretch of elevated track, unevenly supported, so that the train rocked hard from side to side most alarmingly. Below ran the dark, deep silty Nile, ready to receive the badly pitching train if it slipped a rail.
Behind him he heard Miss Peckam--or was it Peckerton?--say something, then rapid female footfalls and the very welcome sound of the compartment door shutting him in alone. It would be a lost chance in another moment, but Carter knew when to seize the day. He gave the little talking-hearing pill a tremendous fling out the window. It sailed away, straight into the great river.
Then, slowly, with indescribable relief, Carter sank back on his seat as the train rattled down the track toward Asyut and the Valley of the Kings. At last he could think over the events of the recent past and put them in proper perspective. The vindictive plots and collusion of Theodore Davis and Lady Evelyn, of course, were the main events in question. How well they had kept their suspicions until they could spring at him when he least expected! It was a trying but good lesson for him, he decided. Obviously, the treachery and duplicity of colleagues knew no bounds once you got the edge on them. And as for the vituperative vixen, the sectarian, bigoted Miss Burnington, he knew what to do if she ever served a missionary tractate on him again--he'd haul her before the local magistrates and have her jailed for disseminating seditious Christian literature against Islamic religious law! After all, a man had a right to his own beliefs, and that included the right not to have her own beliefs imposed upon. If she wished to believe as she did, that was her perogative, but she had no right to proselytize him.
The rest of the journey, Carter was free to smoke and imbibe spirits as he pleased. He indulged himself with several excellent cigars and a bottle of Turkish champagne in relative peace after the mission women did not seek to regain his company.
3 Carter's Royal Sphinx Cigarettes
The train slowed to a crawl, then halted, chuffing great clouds of steam next to a small, crowded platform and a station, a converted caravansary with a tumbled-down, mud-brick watchtower.
ASYUT CITY, all passengers ASYUT please to disembark! ASYUT CITY, all passengers. Those continue to LUXOR CITY and GRAND KARNAK MOSQUE, wait in station please and board train in..."
The conductor rapped on Carter's compartment and then passed on, still calling out.
"What a nuisance!" Carter thought. Egyptians had "clean" the train It was totally unnecessary to sweep them from end to end. Sweepers raised more dust than they got rid of, everybody knew that! But there was nothing for it, the sweepers had to make a living too, and so he had to go. Carter took a deep breath, dropped the last page of his paper to the floor, then rose. With a yawn and a good stretch, he was ready to exit. He reached for his hat in the rack above his seat, then withdrew his hand hastily.
He had just stepped out of his compartment onto the platform when his eye caught something at his shoe tip. A discarded cigarette tin, he was about to give it a kick when he saw it was still sealed. he picked it up. A full tin, he thought. That was unusual. Unfortunately, Egyptian "Turkish" cigarettes were hardly worth the few pennies they cost, for the best Egyptian tobacco was shipped direct to England for processing. It was sent back at higher cost to Egypt as "Prince Albert's Fine Turkish Tobaccos" or some other well-known imported brands. This native brand was what the por local people all smoked--to the ruination of lungs. Once he had tried it--once! He accepted a cigarette from Mehmet and...it took a week to get rid of the taste of petrol, civet, moldy hemp sacking, and spoilt sardines that was concentrated like all the fiends of hell in one, horrific puff.
About to give the unwelcome tin a fling into the hands of a passing porter who would be glad of the chance to ruin his organs, he paused. Just then Miss Neckerham and her evil-eyed companion passed by. They both glanced pointedly at his tin.
Miss Neckerham took a step toward him. "I really think, Mr. Carter, you would benefit by turning thoughts away from such vice and self-aggrandizement to the crying needs of your immortal soul." He saw she was holding out a slip of printed material.
"'Zwounds, what now?" Carter replied rather crossly. "Not an evangelical gospel tract, surely. I have no need of such blandishments. It's against the immans' law here, you know. I could have you arrested, Miss Neck--er, Burn--."
Were those tears in her eyes? Obviously, she was not one to give up easily on a "doomed" soul, which was how she apparently viewed him!"
"Call me anything, sir, my name doesn't matter! Please read it, Mr. Carter." She tucked the missionary tractate in his vest pocket in a quick movement before he could stop her. "You won't regret giving it a moment of your time. I can assure you that."
Mr. Carter looked about, but for once no local Egyptian constables were visible.
The women stepped away, and Carter was left staring at the little preachment, with the message he fully expected, proclaiming in simple English that he was lost to eternal fires unless he repented of his sins and vices and confessed them to the Lord Jesus Christ, Savior of the World. There was even a crude portrayal of a lost soul with a wailing, toothless mouth, writhing like a pale worm amidst hell-flame, while tormented on all sides by devils, along with the caption: "Oh, if I had only listened to the mercy call of God instead of Satan and the Alluring World!"
Carter flung the little paper to the ground. "I have no guilt whatsoever to confess to anyone, leastwise God," he decided. "I have always done my gentleman's duty."
The annoying women gone, turning back to the matter at hand, the tin's gaudy gilt decoratiion caught his eye. He took a closer look.
His mouth fell open. There was no question about it, the crowned Sphinx had his own face! And the name! The tin read "Carter's Royal Sphinx Cigarettes"! How could this be? He was so astonished everything else was swept from his mind. Baggage-laden porters and numerous bread and pastry selling local peddlers from local villages bumping into him, he stood with the tin in hand, oblivious of the world. He flipped the tin over and saw something else. Giza was portrayed, the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx. That was altogether expected on such tins, yet...
Yet...his acute powers of perception were not sleeping. Something was added. What was it? He held the tin close to his eye and saw a shaft was pictured, opened up at the same spot on the Sphinx's flank where he had just dug! No! Could it be? Beads of cold and hot alike tumbled off Carter's twitching brow to the ground. He didn't know what to do for a moment. Faint, he looked about, seeing only blurs where crowds milled about on the busy station platform and waited to re-board the train now that the rich foreign infidels were seated.
Then he heard the whistle blasting and saw the train was moving. Grasping the tin, Carter swung back onboard just as the Second Class compartments were passing him. A moment later, he was safely inside, sharing the journey with a surprised triad of Birmingham-trained, Egyptian railway bridge engineers made uncomfortable in European business suits, starched collars, and tie. The only thing that he could be glad of was that they weren't British mission females with an animus for archeologists!
The return trip to Cairo was a torment of "tarrying," but Carter wasn't feeling like conversation anyway. Only one engineer had the temerity to approach him in conversation. "Sir, are you not the--"
"Egad! Who not?" Carter burst out, squelching the fellow's feeble attempt at British civility.
After that, a strained silence reigned in the compartment that was every bit as uncomfortable as the engineers' starched collars. The conductor, of course, was very surprised to find his famed passenger back on board, in second class of all places.
"I received a wire to return at once to the Museum," Carter explained casually. "Can't be helped! As for the fare, I hadn't time to get one. I'm sure you understand my predicament and will accept English pounds instead." He held out the money, plus a generous bribe.
"By nonetheless, Mr. Carter! But you want First Class better! This is not good for you be here!"
Carter shook his head. He wasn't about to risk another missionary inspection team. The accommodating conductor, seeing the bribe, too the money and stamped him a ticket on the spot, then bowed and left.
Hours later, the train huffed to a halt at the vast Cairo station and was swept with waves of humanity. Carter threw himself into the sea of bodies and found a motor cab, a fine new Packard Touring Car, outside the pillared entrance. He knew he must be nearing his destination when he smelled an unmistakable blend of civet, hemp, sardines, and petrol.
Abdul Hamid Hassan and Sons' Fine Rolled Turkish Tobaccos, the same that produced the shameless brand Carter still had in his coat pocket, was a nondescript warehouse-factory like dozens of others that spilled over from the city into the suburb of Ain Shan, anciently knownas Heliopolis. It was late in the day but oriental establishments were never good at keeping exact office hours, so Carter found Mr. Hassan the proprietor on duty.
Egyptian courtesy is careless of time and always elaborate, especially with prospective European customers, but Carter had no time for peppermint tea and other amenities before getting down to business. He stormed past the startled clerks at the front counter and made for the door gilded with the owner's name and "Inquiries and Orders, Factory and European Shop." Holding the tin out, Carter thrust it in Mr. Hassan's face.
"You wish to buy any dozens of those, sir?" began the smiling, gray-haired man who had been seated behind an ornately-carved teakwood desk when Carter stormed in unannounced. "Surely, after we had been served tea, you might perfer some shipments of our wonderful cigars instead, fit for such gentlemen of such a great country."
Carter swept aside all considerations of civility. "Keep your filthy tea! What's the meaning of this?" He again thrust the offending tin in Mr. Hassan's face.
His hospitality called into question by being so roughly refused, Mr. Hassan was too much a gentlemen and showed vastly more confusion than anger. "What do you wish, sir? Is it another tin of that brand?"
Carter thrust his face this time into Mr. Hassan's. "No, I haven't come to buy any of your rot! You put my name and face on your company tin, and I want it taken off immediately, do you hear? This is an outrage! I'll see the Ambassador if I have to!"
Though any Egyptian so thoughtless as this man would have been administered a beating on the spot, Mr. Hassan was even more taken by a highly cultivated man's bewilderment. "But what is the mistake? It is always the Sphinx we carry on our fine tobacco. My honorable grandfather gave it to my father, and he gave it to me, so we change nothing here. Nothing!"
Carter was astounded. It was his turn to be bewildered. "What do you mean? Do you deny you put my name and face on your tin?"
He then made the tactical error of glancing at the tin in question. That was his undoing. He saw only a Sphinx--no crown, no Carter name, and no Carter face! Flipping it over, he saw only the Pyramids of Giza pictured standing against a lurid Oriental sunset.
Carter's face flushed beet red despite his weathered tan. He stumbled backwards, upsetting a chair, and dropping his tin on the carpet. His hands pulled loose his bowtie and he made a choking sound. A moment or two later, he was back in the street, the cabby gazing at him with concern. Aware that people were stopping to stare at him, Carter flung himself into the cab.
When he recovered sufficiently, he decided to treat the whole incident as though it had not happened. It was best to pick up where he had left off. Put on a good, stiff lip. "City station!" he ordered the cabby. "And quickly!"
On the way, Carter deliberately kept his eyes lowered, without a single glance toward Giza. Stopped in clogged traffic, the tribes of peddlers hawking sweets, scented soaps, fly whisks, and other such clap-trap knocked on his window and draped their wares on the stalled cab, but Carter did not even glance up.
The cab made little progress, moving a few feet, then halting, again and again. Carter felt terrible, hot and cold at the same time. When he was sure he would not see a pyramid, he looked out, and his blood visibly drained from his face. In the next car to the side, a rather fine Rolls, Lady Evelyn and Theodore Davis sat. His stare caused them to turn his way. Carter's mouth fell open. What could he do? He simply stared at them, unable to break away.
The traffic started forward again, and his vehicle parted from Lady Evelyn and Theodore Davis's. His cab fell back, however, and Lady Evelyn and Theodore Davis's shot ahead.
"No!" Carter cried to the cabby. "Don't let them get away. After them, you little fool!" It took a good deal more yelling and waving his hands before the cabby really understood how serious he was and stepped on the accelerator. The cab dashed like a runawy horse between slower vehicles intermingled with several camels and flocks of sheep on their way to the meat market.
What was Carter seeing loom ahead of the two speeding cars? The Pyramids of Giza!
"Turn around, go the other way, back to the station!" he shouted at the poor cabby. So they turned back, and the horn-blaring was fierce and other drivers shook fists as they forced a path against the current. Somehow, they got clear and into streets that took them back to the station.
They just pulled up when Carter saw Lady Evelyn and Theodore Davis step out of a cab and stand, looking toward him expectantly, as if a meeting had been arranged. Determined to take their dare, Carter jumped from the still moving cab. But the moment his feet hit the pavement, the two stepped into a cab and were off. The goose chase again took them all back to Giza.
Carter couldn't swallow that, so he ordered anothe return trip to the station. By this time, the cabby--used to the vagaries and whims of rich, eccentric Britons--was beside himself. He had never been so tested and was growing afraid for his life. The cabby slowed to a stop, for the man wanted to get rid of this disconcerting foreigner. Carter knew somehow what the cabby intended. He let the man get out and open the door. Quickly, Carter slipped around and into the driver's seat. His foot rammed on the footfeed, the car vaulted off down the street, promising to hit every fruit stand and stray dog as the vehicle careened from side to side. Behind ran the wailing, gesticulating cabby. Carter reached the station and prepared to abandon the vehicle and board a train immediately.
He was getting out when he again saw the fateful pair staring at him from another cab. This time, Carter was prepared, and he ignored them. He went into the station and purchased a ticket and boarded the first train to Asyut-Luxor. Later, reaching Asyut without incident, he disembarked so the train could be swept just as dirty as it arrived, only to see Lady Evelyn and Theodore Davis on the platform. Jumping back on the train, he mistakenly entered an Oblate Mission Society of the Holy Sacraments's reserved for nuns' compartment. That wouldn't do, regarding the nuns' spectacled stares for a moment as they stood with their gathered wraps and belongings ready to depart, so he again disembarked to face the murdered. They saw him and moved toward his position. "No, you don't!" he thought, having changed his mind about a confrontation in front of so many people. Scattering some crouched men on board the emptying train, Carter held his ground in the compartment until they left, uttering oaths concerning infidel foreign goats and their miscarried spawn.
The dust was heavy in the air, and he gagged. He didn't dare open the window, however. He hadn't the nerve to look out. Finally, people streamed back to regain their seats. The whistle blew, the train lurched, and they were off to Luzor. Feeling more himself as the moments passed, Carter gratefully relaxed a fraction and reached for a cigar. He found one, then paused to remove the paper seal. But his fingers froze. His eye caught the decoration--clearly Lady Evelyn and Theodore Davis! What? Carter flew to the window, flung it open, and the abomination went sailing toward the River and struck a lazing crocodile--one of the few left in the area.
They reached Luxor without further incident. But at the station Carter was about to disembark when he spied Lord Carnarvon, standing on the platform with Theodore Davis, and with them was the Egyptian chief of police. Carter's heart stopped. The worst was known! Somehow they had escaped being buried alive, everybody knew what he had done, and he--the attempted assassin of nobility and a notable, senior archeologist--was going to be arrested and disgraced before the whole world. "I'm ruined, utterly ruined!" the man thought, slumping backwards.
He couldn't make himself get off the train. Oddly, he continued to sit where he was and no one came on to remove him. For some unknown reason, the raggedy tribe of carpet sweepers did not descend on the train and drive everyone off with stubby, little dust brooms. Instead, the train moved on, southward, toward Nubia and the Sudan. At the next stop, the desperate man got off and boarded another train going north. Despite the danger of arrest, he had no desire to escape into wilds of the Sahara, to perish there of heat and thirst like a brute animal. Better a hanging or prison for life, than a wretch's death in the Nubian wilderness, he reasoned.
The train eventually pulled in at Luxor and Carter tried to get off. But it was impossible. Again, Lord Carnarvon, Lady Evelyn, Theodore Davis, and a host of local militia stood waiting for him. He continued on, therefore, back to Cairo. Exhausted, his nerves frayed to the snapping point, Carter had no plan, no idea whatsoever what to do. He only wanted to escape, elude the mounted hunters like any small, hounded hare or fox.
But he was afforded no such luxury. Lady Evelyn and Theodore Davis were waiting for him at the Cairo station. He spotted them everywhere he turned. Everywhere! Fleeing them on foot and sometimes by cab, he always found himself back at Giza. "Not again! Oh, not again!" he shrieked, careless of who heard him, as the cab stopped and the first people he saw were the phantom pair.
What a stalking nightmare! He was utterly spent by this time, his clothes soaked with perspiration and streaked with dust. Was it night or day? He could no longer tell, because whether day or night it made no difference in his condition. Mirroring his mind's increasingly confused muddle, a most dismal dusk had seized on the whole landscape, blurring the outlines of things so that nothing was familiar, everything looked strange and foreboding--a croaking phantasmagoria which he seemingly could not escape.
A chill wind off the desert made him shudder uncontrollably. He couldn't find money for the fare, and the cabby began yelling and gesturing. A crowd soon gathered round, taking the driver's cause. He tried to reboard the cab, but the cabby and his helpers prevented hm every time he tried it.
Finally, they left him. No one would help him get away from Giza. Everyone had forsaken him, he realized. He would have to walk. But as he started, the phantoms pulled alongside in a vehicle and accompanied him.
Carter broke away, running back toward Giza. To run faster he took off his coat and flung it. His bowtie and shirt were next. One shoe came off and he didn't stop to retrieve it. He lost a stocking and garter too. The phantom car was catching up. As he ran he could hear it close behind. He tripped and fell, and the Rolls Royce Zephyr with its hounds of hell passed right over him. It backed up, and Lady Evelyn and Theodore Davis looked out at him as he crouched, gasping for breath like a caged animal.
"I can't release you!" he cried out when he got his breath. "You'll both rot there forever! Why do you have to torment me! You brought it on yourselves, don't you see? You forced me to do it!"
No, apparently, they did not see it that way. The phantoms continued to dog his steps, until he had fled all the way round the Sphinx with them in hot pursuit. In the lunatic race he lost his trousers and remaining shoe. He was as good as any naked, native farmer, only his striped briefs and one garter left to cover his manhood.
In that miserable, broken, shameful state, he trudged back into the city on bare feet, drawing shocked stares and the tittering of women because of his European skin and unparalleled nudity, though hordes of beggars, just as naked in tattered loin cloths, went without notice in the city. Yet when he reached the station, his tormentors suddenly vanished.
Free! Free at last! But what good was his freedom in his state? He had no money in hand and certainly wasn't dressed properly, so he had to seek asylum at the nearby Museum before police arrested him for indecent exposure. There was nothing he could say to explain his condition to the mortified, astonished staff, of course, but he forced them to deal with him anyway. He declared that he had been robbed, set upon by dastardly beggars outside the train station, dragged into an alley and stripped of money and clothes. How they fussed over him when they heard that. No more was asked. His story held, and the whole staff made every effort to make his losses good with Egyptian equivalents.
Still he was embarrassed beyond words as he accepted an Egyptian suit, though it was too small for his British frame, and had to take some money too from the staff which would see him back to Luxor. In borrowed garb and aided by borrowed funds, he took leave of the Museum with as much dignity as he could muster. "i refused to play their absurd, little game any longer!" he thought, as he rode back to Luxor. "If I won't play, then they have no power over me. That's the nature of these hallucinations and phantasms born of a touch of brain fever. Give them an inch, these fevers, and they take a mile!" That seemed a most sensible piece of strategy in the circumstances, and he stuck with it the next time the phantom duo appeared--which they did, on the Luxor platform. Even Lord Carnarvon was with them, as before, but Carter, chin up, strode straight past, as though the earl and his attendants were mist and vapor.
Lord Carnaron's voice carried, however, and Carter heard him calling.
"I say, Carter, don't hurry off like that! Can't you see me?"
Carter turned round. Shaking his head, the frail earl struggled through the usual clots of extended families, all laden with baggage and miscellaneous chickens and sheep. The men shook hands on joining company.
I was concerned when you didn't arrive with Her Majesty's entourage," began the earl. "I had to think of some reason you were detained. She is still waiting for you, thank heaven! a day more, and I doubt I could have held her for all the treasure of Tutankhamun. Now, dear boy, you must go at once to see her. She is staying at the Winter Palace. I turned it entirely over to her and her people. But where is my dear daughter? I wasn't feeling up to it, so she went without me. She was going to Alexandria to greet the queen, then she didn't come back with her. Nobody has seen her!"
Not certain this was not just another phantom speaking to him, Carter held silent, and the earl rattled on.
"I am dreadfully, dreadfully worried. This country isn't as safe as it might be, with so many of our kind about--it's too far out East, you understand, for civilisation to sink too bloody deep to wash out. Oh, I forgot, I've reserved a suite at Karnak Imperial Hotel--ot much lodgings for a gentleman, to be sure, but I trust you will make do there like the good chap you are. As for me, I'm going at once to Alexandria. I simply must find little Evie!"
The earl paused abruptly, as if confused about how to proceed. "Oh, you might know I was shaving this morning and cut myself on a mosquito bite. Is it serious? I feel a slight inflammation and a bit warm, but haven't time to check it out. Besides, you know the native sort here, better at soothsaying and applying chicken bone and camel dung poultices to their sick sheep and donkeys, I fear!
Carter, badly wishing to call this interview to an end, faced his old patron as best he could after his trying experiences. At last he spoke, phantom or not. "How strange she should not be here with you as planned! I understand your fears, sir, but surely she will be coming shortly, maybe on the next train. Yours may be a wasted trip. But if you think best to go, then godspeed! Well, I must go to see the queen now, I expect. But first I must freshen up and change clothes."
Lord Carnarvon, his anxious, fatherly face betrayed deep concern, nodded at Carter's comments and then took preoccupied leave of the famed archeologist. Carter, after the train moved off with the earl, turned. No phantoms, or absurd Egyptian "djinni" to prevent him this time, he gathered courage, walked away and got on with his life, having "cut his losses" and consolidated his gains.
It wasn't long after Carter parted from Lord Carnarvon that Mehmet had his accident--falling off a raft to his doom. Native folk claimed his spirit haunted the riverbanks nearest his drowning, for years afterwards. It was the common tale surrounding such mishaps, and no one thought anything was unusual about them. The "Curse of the Pharoahs"? You could carlry such a thing only so far. Lord Carnarvon's sudden death by fever, his daughter's disappearance, Theodore Davis's disappearance, these certainly could point to the enduring efficacy of the ancient curses that guarded every pharaoh's tomb against violation. But as it turned out, of all the principal actors in the Tutankhamun drama, Harold Carter survived into his sunset years, long enough to write three volumes of memoirs and finish a secret diary.
If Carter bore a deadly curse of some sort, he certainly carried it like a gentleman. True, the whiz and bang of the "Red Mystery Light" no longer led him to spectacular finds. Without its spontaneous pyrotechnics, life for Carter devolved to something predictable and sedate--a quiet, exclusive, scholarly London club and a cozy flat stuffed with memorabilia of his Tutankhamun days, not to mention a raft of honorary doctorates from British and American universities that he had framed in gold and hung on the the walls.
To keep his limbs from stiffening too much he went on long walks in a nearby park. Only once did he see a young woman in the company of an elderly man whom he thought he knew--but he paid no heed to the spectres and nothing more came of the late, fading encounter.
Growing too arthritic to walk with advancing age, Carter had his man-servant drive him through the parks on days when the weather permitted. Increasingly, Carter slept so soundly that the driver took to watering himself down at various workingmen's pubs. The chauffeur learned that he could leave Carter in the car for an hour or more, then return with a ready explanation if Carter asked him about his absence. "A man's got to relive himself, guv'nor, righto?" he would laugh, and Carter made no more comment as they drove on home. On one such outing at the park, hours late to return to the parked car and drive his employer home, he found a crowd gathered round the smoking car where he had left it in a leafy-bowered, particularly isolated spot. Despite the danger of petrol blowing up, people wouldn't clear away as the driver fought to get to his employer. "'E's burnt like a fagot on a bonfire!" a Cockney man cried, jumped up and down. "Poor, poor gen'lman, to die like that!"
Carter's driver pushed the Cochney asise and flung the door open, despite the smoke pouring out the window where the seal had melted away. In a moment the smoke cleared enough to see inside. But the driver stared with his eyes bulging. Where was his employer? He saw a rumped mess of ash lying where Carter had been seated, and two pairs of gaiters and shoed feet, lying with two gloved hands--but nothing else! A hand grabbed the driver's shoulder, forcing him to move aside as someone else peered in.
By this time, the fire had gone out, and the smoke cleared. "I say, where's the cause?" the one who had pushed the sodden and astounded driver aside. "I see nothing here that would burn anybody. Perhaps, the authorities should handle this, not the firemen! Keep away from the evidence, everybody! Don't you touch anything!"
Called in by the strange circumstances, Scotland Yard detectives arrived. Though too professional to show it, they were mystified. Identified, the driver was taken in hand, and they plumbed him of all sorts of information until he was exhausted. They even found out that he had ciminally neglected his employer for several years, and he was not so drunken that he didn't realize he was now in serious danger of being charged with Harold Carter's unspeakable demise. To all appearances, his master had dissolved in an unnatural specie of flame, so intense the victim had no chance, not one, to cry for help. A torch-like combustion had burst upon him without warning, utterly consuming his viscera but leaving his gaiters and shoes with the feet still in them. His cane, spectacles, gloves, bowtie, were also virtually intact, though his shirt, trousers, and underclothes, along with their flesh and bone contents, were consumed.
"The Aldsgate Park Mystery Combustion"--the event went down in Scotland Yard annals unsolved. The driver was jailed for criminal negligence of duty, and when released a year later couldn't get another such position and ended up a street cleaner, pushing a cart full of dog offal, earning a fraction of his former wages. His downward spiral exerted little sympathy, however, since he had never held claim to an appealing personality. And strange tales grew round the incident in the neighborhood of the combustion. That particular spot was avoided by the public for years afterwards. Phantoms had been observed, hovering round the site where car had stood with its lone, flaming occupant, the renowned archeologist who had discovered King Tutankhamun, the golden-coffined Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt. An older gentleman with a young woman, it was said, haunted the area. What connection they might have with the incident was never satisfactorily explained. Dark things, exposed in the darkness, shed little light on what had happened. All the popular imagination could make of it all was that the ancient "Curse of the Pharaohs" had finally caught up with Harold Carter, who had despoiled their tombs over in the Valley of the Kings.
Left to himself, the ex-chauffeur turned street cleaner could make himself out to be a sort of victim of the whole thing. At his favorite watering hole, "The Oxenham Hedgehog," he would mumble in his beer, "Aw, that's my bloody fate, to be set upon by that bloody old curse that gets to any bloke who ever dared touch that bloody King Tut! If not for that, I'd still be chauffeurin', for some government nabob, instead of pushing a bloody cart for the streets department!"
But who listened to that? People had better things to do than entertain drivel. Once or twice, the ex-chauffeur, poisoned into insensibility by his own talk, made himself so tedious to others at the bar that he was roughed up and, everybody ganging up on him, thrown out in the street he was supposed to keep clean but didn't. He had to find his feet somehow, and make it home to his lodgings if he could. "It's the Curse of the Pharaohs! The bloody curse is on me, don't you know?" he would moan, as he dragged himself homeward.
PLEASE GO NEXT TO G-EAOU, WHERE LADY EVELYN MEETS A QUEEN OF A LONG VANISHED CIVILIZATION AND A MARATHON AEROPLANE CONTEST ENDS WITH A RELUCTANT MISSION TO MARS.
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