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The Ring of Thoth

Mr. John Vansittart Smith, F.R.S., of 147-A Gower Street, was a
man whose energy of purpose and clearness of thought might have
placed him in the very first rank of scientific observers. He was
the victim, however, of a universal ambition which prompted him to
aim at distinction in many subjects rather than preeminence in one.

In his early days he had shown an aptitude for zoology and for
botany which caused his friends to look upon him as a second
Darwin, but when a professorship was almost within his reach he had
suddenly discontinued his studies and turned his whole attention to
chemistry. Here his researches upon the spectra of the metals had
won him his fellowship in the Royal Society; but again he played
the coquette with his subject, and after a year's absence from the
laboratory he joined the Oriental Society, and delivered a paper on
the Hieroglyphic and Demotic inscriptions of El Kab, thus giving a
crowning example both of the versatility and of the inconstancy of
his talents.

The most fickle of wooers, however, is apt to be caught at last,
and so it was with John Vansittart Smith. The more he burrowed his
way into Egyptology the more impressed he became by the vast field
which it opened to the inquirer, and by the extreme importance
of a subject which promised to throw a light upon the first germs
of human civilisation and the origin of the greater part of our
arts and sciences. So struck was Mr. Smith that he straightway
married an Egyptological young lady who had written upon the sixth
dynasty, and having thus secured a sound base of operations he set
himself to collect materials for a work which should unite the
research of Lepsius and the ingenuity of Champollion. The
preparation of this magnum opus entailed many hurried visits to
the magnificent Egyptian collections of the Louvre, upon the last
of which, no longer ago than the middle of last October, he became
involved in a most strange and noteworthy adventure.

The trains had been slow and the Channel had been rough, so that
the student arrived in Paris in a somewhat befogged and feverish
condition. On reaching the Hotel de France, in the Rue Laffitte,
he had thrown himself upon a sofa for a couple of hours, but
finding that he was unable to sleep, he determined, in spite of his
fatigue, to make his way to the Louvre, settle the point which he
had come to decide, and take the evening train back to Dieppe.
Having come to this conclusion, he donned his greatcoat, for it was
a raw rainy day, and made his way across the Boulevard des Italiens
and down the Avenue de l'Opera. Once in the Louvre he was on
familiar ground, and he speedily made his way to the collection of
papyri which it was his intention to consult.

The warmest admirers of John Vansittart Smith could hardly claim
for him that he was a handsome man. His high-beaked nose and
prominent chin had something of the same acute and incisive
character which distinguished his intellect. He held his head in
a birdlike fashion, and birdlike, too, was the pecking motion with
which, in conversation, he threw out his objections and retorts.
As he stood, with the high collar of his greatcoat raised to his
ears, he might have seen from the reflection in the glass-case
before him that his appearance was a singular one. Yet it came
upon him as a sudden jar when an English voice behind him exclaimed
in very audible tones, "What a queer-looking mortal!"

The student had a large amount of petty vanity in his composition
which manifested itself by an ostentatious and overdone disregard
of all personal considerations. He straightened his lips and
looked rigidly at the roll of papyrus, while his heart filled with
bitterness against the whole race of travelling Britons.

"Yes," said another voice, "he really is an extraordinary fellow."

"Do you know," said the first speaker, "one could almost believe
that by the continual contemplation of mummies the chap has become
half a mummy himself?"

"He has certainly an Egyptian cast of countenance," said the other.

John Vansittart Smith spun round upon his heel with the intention
of shaming his countrymen by a corrosive remark or two. To his
surprise and relief, the two young fellows who had been
conversing had their shoulders turned towards him, and were gazing
at one of the Louvre attendants who was polishing some brass-work
at the other side of the room.

"Carter will be waiting for us at the Palais Royal," said one
tourist to the other, glancing at his watch, and they clattered
away, leaving the student to his labours.

"I wonder what these chatterers call an Egyptian cast of
countenance," thought John Vansittart Smith, and he moved his
position slightly in order to catch a glimpse of the man's face.
He started as his eyes fell upon it. It was indeed the very face
with which his studies had made him familiar. The regular
statuesque features, broad brow, well-rounded chin, and dusky
complexion were the exact counterpart of the innumerable statues,
mummy-cases, and pictures which adorned the walls of the apartment.

The thing was beyond all coincidence. The man must be an Egyptian.

The national angularity of the shoulders and narrowness of the hips
were alone sufficient to identify him.

John Vansittart Smith shuffled towards the attendant with some
intention of addressing him. He was not light of touch in
conversation, and found it difficult to strike the happy mean
between the brusqueness of the superior and the geniality of the
equal. As he came nearer, the man presented his side face to him,
but kept his gaze still bent upon his work. Vansittart Smith,
fixing his eyes upon the fellow's skin, was conscious of a sudden
impression that there was something inhuman and preternatural
about its appearance. Over the temple and cheek-bone it was as
glazed and as shiny as varnished parchment. There was no
suggestion of pores. One could not fancy a drop of moisture upon
that arid surface. From brow to chin, however, it was cross-
hatched by a million delicate wrinkles, which shot and interlaced
as though Nature in some Maori mood had tried how wild and
intricate a pattern she could devise.

"Ou est la collection de Memphis?" asked the student, with the
awkward air of a man who is devising a question merely for the
purpose of opening a conversation.

"C'est la," replied the man brusquely, nodding his head at the
other side of the room.

"Vous etes un Egyptien, n'est-ce pas?" asked the Englishman.

The attendant looked up and turned his strange dark eyes upon his
questioner. They were vitreous, with a misty dry shininess, such
as Smith had never seen in a human head before. As he gazed into
them he saw some strong emotion gather in their depths, which rose
and deepened until it broke into a look of something akin both to
horror and to hatred.

"Non, monsieur; je suis Fransais." The man turned abruptly and
bent low over his polishing. The student gazed at him for a moment
in astonishment, and then turning to a chair in a retired corner
behind one of the doors he proceeded to make notes of his
researches among the papyri. His thoughts, however refused to
return into their natural groove. They would run upon the
enigmatical attendant with the sphinx-like face and the parchment

"Where have I seen such eyes?" said Vansittart Smith to himself.
"There is something saurian about them, something reptilian.
There's the membrana nictitans of the snakes," he mused, bethinking
himself of his zoological studies. "It gives a shiny effect. But
there was something more here. There was a sense of power, of
wisdom--so I read them--and of weariness, utter weariness, and
ineffable despair. It may be all imagination, but I never had so
strong an impression. By Jove, I must have another look at them!"
He rose and paced round the Egyptian rooms, but the man who had
excited his curiosity had disappeared.

The student sat down again in his quiet corner, and continued to
work at his notes. He had gained the information which he required
from the papyri, and it only remained to write it down while it was
still fresh in his memory. For a time his pencil travelled rapidiy
over the paper, but soon the lines became less level, the words
more blurred, and finally the pencil tinkled down upon the floor,
and the head of the student dropped heavily forward upon his chest.

Tired out by his journey, he slept so soundly in his lonely post
behind the door that neither the clanking civil guard, nor the
footsteps of sightseers, nor even the loud hoarse bell which gives
the signal for closing, were sufficient to arouse him.

Twilight deepened into darkness, the bustle from the Rue de Rivoli
waxed and then waned, distant Notre Dame clanged out the hour of
midnight, and still the dark and lonely figure sat silently in the
shadow. It was not until close upon one in the morning that, with
a sudden gasp and an intaking of the breath, Vansittart Smith
returned to consciousness. For a moment it flashed upon him that
he had dropped asleep in his study-chair at home. The moon was
shining fitfully through the unshuttered window, however, and, as
his eye ran along the lines of mummies and the endless array of
polished cases, he remembered clearly where he was and how he came
there. The student was not a nervous man. He possessed that love
of a novel situation which is peculiar to his race. Stretching out
his cramped limbs, he looked at his watch, and burst into a chuckle
as he observed the hour. The episode would make an admirable
anecdote to be introduced into his next paper as a relief to the
graver and heavier speculations. He was a little cold, but wide
awake and much refreshed. It was no wonder that the guardians had
overlooked him, for the door threw its heavy black shadow right
across him.

The complete silence was impressive. Neither outside nor inside
was there a creak or a murmur. He was alone with the dead men of
a dead civilisation. What though the outer city reeked of the
garish nineteenth century! In all this chamber there was scarce an
article, from the shrivelled ear of wheat to the pigment-box
of the painter, which had not held its own against four thousand
years. Here was the flotsam and jetsam washed up by the great
ocean of time from that far-off empire. From stately Thebes, from
lordly Luxor, from the great temples of Heliopolis, from a hundred
rifled tombs, these relics had been brought. The student glanced
round at the long silent figures who flickered vaguely up through
the gloom, at the busy toilers who were now so restful, and he fell
into a reverent and thoughtful mood. An unwonted sense of his own
youth and insignificance came over him. Leaning back in his chair,
he gazed dreamily down the long vista of rooms, all silvery with
the moonshine, which extend through the whole wing of the
widespread building. His eyes fell upon the yellow glare of a
distant lamp.

John Vansittart Smith sat up on his chair with his nerves all on
edge. The light was advancing slowly towards him, pausing from
time to time, and then coming jerkily onwards. The bearer moved
noiselessly. In the utter silence there was no suspicion of the
pat of a footfall. An idea of robbers entered the Englishman's
head. He snuggled up further into the corner. The light was two
rooms off. Now it was in the next chamber, and still there was no
sound. With something approaching to a thrill of fear the student
observed a face, floating in the air as it were, behind the flare
of the lamp. The figure was wrapped in shadow, but the light fell
full upon the strange eager face. There was no mistaking the
metallic glistening eyes and the cadaverous skin. It was the
attendant with whom he had conversed.

Vansittart Smith's first impulse was to come forward and address
him. A few words of explanation would set the matter clear, and
lead doubtless to his being conducted to some side door from which
he might make his way to his hotel. As the man entered the
chamber, however, there was something so stealthy in his movements,
and so furtive in his expression, that the Englishman altered his
intention. This was clearly no ordinary official walking the
rounds. The fellow wore felt-soled slippers, stepped with a rising
chest, and glanced quickly from left to right, while his hurried
gasping breathing thrilled the flame of his lamp. Vansittart Smith
crouched silently back into the corner and watched him keenly,
convinced that his errand was one of secret and probably sinister

There was no hesitation in the other's movements. He stepped
lightly and swiftly across to one of the great cases, and, drawing
a key from his pocket, he unlocked it. From the upper shelf he
pulled down a mummy, which he bore away with him, and laid it with
much care and solicitude upon the ground. By it he placed his
lamp, and then squatting down beside it in Eastern fashion he began
with long quivering fingers to undo the cerecloths and bandages
which girt it round. As the crackling rolls of linen peeled off
one after the other, a strong aromatic odour filled the chamber,
and fragments of scented wood and of spices pattered down upon the
marble floor.

It was clear to John Vansittart Smith that this mummy had never
been unswathed before. The operation interested him keenly. He
thrilled all over with curiosity, and his birdlike head protruded
further and further from behind the door. When, however, the last
roll had been removed from the four-thousand-year-old head, it was
all that he could do to stifle an outcry of amazement. First, a
cascade of long, black, glossy tresses poured over the workman's
hands and arms. A second turn of the bandage revealed a low, white
forehead, with a pair of delicately arched eyebrows. A third
uncovered a pair of bright, deeply fringed eyes, and a straight,
well-cut nose, while a fourth and last showed a sweet, full,
sensitive mouth, and a beautifully curved chin. The whole face was
one of extraordinary loveliness, save for the one blemish that in
the centre of the forehead there was a single irregular, coffee-
coloured splotch. It was a triumph of the embalmer's art.
Vansittart Smith's eyes grew larger and larger as he gazed upon it,
and he chirruped in his throat with satisfaction.

Its effect upon the Egyptologist was as nothing, however, compared
with that which it produced upon the strange attendant. He threw
his hands up into the air, burst into a harsh clatter of words, and
then, hurling himself down upon the ground beside the mummy, he
threw his arms round her, and kissed her repeatedly upon the lips
and brow. "Ma petite!" he groaned in French. "Ma pauvre petite!"
His voice broke with emotion, and his innumerable wrinkles
quivered and writhed, but the student observed in the
lamplight that his shining eyes were still as dry and tearless as
two beads of steel. For some minutes he lay, with a twitching
face, crooning and moaning over the beautiful head. Then he broke
into a sudden smile, said some words in an unknown tongue, and
sprang to his feet with the vigorous air of one who has braced
himself for an effort.

In the centre of the room there was a large circular case which
contained, as the student had frequently remarked, a magnificent
collection of early Egyptian rings and precious stones. To this
the attendant strode, and, unlocking it, he threw it open. On the
ledge at the side he placed his lamp, and beside it a small
earthenware jar which he had drawn from his pocket. He then took
a handful of rings from the case, and with a most serious and
anxious face he proceeded to smear each in turn with some liquid
substance from the earthen pot, holding them to the light as he did
so. He was clearly disappointed with the first lot, for he threw
them petulantly back into the case, and drew out some more. One of
these, a massive ring with a large crystal set in it, he seized and
eagerly tested with the contents of the jar. Instantly he uttered
a cry of joy, and threw out his arms in a wild gesture which upset
the pot and sent the liquid streaming across the floor to the very
feet of the Englishman. The attendant drew a red handkerchief from
his bosom, and, mopping up the mess, he followed it into the
corner, where in a moment he found himself face to face with his

"Excuse me," said John Vansittart Smith, with all imaginable
politeness; "I have been unfortunate enough to fall asleep behind
this door."

"And you have been watching me?" the other asked in English, with
a most venomous look on his corpse-like face.

The student was a man of veracity. "I confess," said he, "that I
have noticed your movements, and that they have aroused my
curiosity and interest in the highest degree."

The man drew a long flamboyant-bladed knife from his bosom. "You
have had a very narrow escape," he said; "had I seen you ten
minutes ago, I should have driven this through your heart. As it
is, if you touch me or interfere with me in any way you are a dead

"I have no wish to interfere with you," the student answered. "My
presence here is entirely accidental. All I ask is that you will
have the extreme kindness to show me out through some side door."
He spoke with great suavity, for the man was still pressing the tip
of his dagger against the palm of his left hand, as though to
assure himself of its sharpness, while his face preserved its
malignant expression.

"If I thought----" said he. "But no, perhaps it is as well. What
is your name?"

The Englishman gave it.

"Vansittart Smith," the other repeated. "Are you the same
Vansittart Smith who gave a paper in London upon El Kab? I saw a
report of it. Your knowledge of the subject is contemptible."

"Sir!" cried the Egyptologist.

"Yet it is superior to that of many who make even greater
pretensions. The whole keystone of our old life in Egypt was not
the inscriptions or monuments of which you make so much, but was
our hermetic philosophy and mystic knowledge, of which you say
little or nothing."

"Our old life!" repeated the scholar, wide-eyed; and then suddenly,
"Good God, look at the mummy's face!"

The strange man turned and flashed his light upon the dead woman,
uttering a long doleful cry as he did so. The action of the air
had already undone all the art of the embalmer. The skin had
fallen away, the eyes had sunk inwards, the discoloured lips had
writhed away from the yellow teeth, and the brown mark upon the
forehead alone showed that it was indeed the same face which had
shown such youth and beauty a few short minutes before.

The man flapped his hands together in grief and horror. Then
mastering himself by a strong effort he turned his hard eyes once
more upon the Englishman.

"It does not matter," he said, in a shaking voice. "It does not
really matter. I came here to-night with the fixed determination
to do something. It is now done. All else is as nothing. I have
found my quest. The old curse is broken. I can rejoin her.
What matter about her inanimate shell so long as her spirit is
awaiting me at the other side of the veil!"

"These are wild words," said Vansittart Smith. He was becoming
more and more convinced that he had to do with a madman.

"Time presses, and I must go," continued the other. "The moment is
at hand for which I have waited this weary time. But I must show
you out first. Come with me."

Taking up the lamp, he turned from the disordered chamber, and led
the student swiftly through the long series of the Egyptian,
Assyrian, and Persian apartments. At the end of the latter he
pushed open a small door let into the wall and descended a winding
stone stair. The Englishman felt the cold fresh air of the night
upon his brow. There was a door opposite him which appeared to
communicate with the street. To the right of this another door
stood ajar, throwing a spurt of yellow light across the passage.
"Come in here!" said the attendant shortly.

Vansittart Smith hesitated. He had hoped that he had come to the
end of his adventure. Yet his curiosity was strong within him. He
could not leave the matter unsolved, so he followed his strange
companion into the lighted chamber.

It was a small room, such as is devoted to a concierge. A wood
fire sparkled in the grate. At one side stood a truckle bed, and
at the other a coarse wooden chair, with a round table in the
centre, which bore the remains of a meal. As the visitor's
eye glanced round he could not but remark with an ever-recurring
thrill that all the small details of the room were of the most
quaint design and antique workmanship. The candlesticks, the vases
upon the chimney-piece, the fire-irons, the ornaments upon the
walls, were all such as he had been wont to associate with the
remote past. The gnarled heavy-eyed man sat himself down upon the
edge of the bed, and motioned his guest into the chair.

"There may be design in this," he said, still speaking excellent
English. "It may be decreed that I should leave some account
behind as a warning to all rash mortals who would set their wits up
against workings of Nature. I leave it with you. Make such use as
you will of it. I speak to you now with my feet upon the threshold
of the other world.

"I am, as you surmised, an Egyptian--not one of the down-trodden
race of slaves who now inhabit the Delta of the Nile, but a
survivor of that fiercer and harder people who tamed the Hebrew,
drove the Ethiopian back into the southern deserts, and built those
mighty works which have been the envy and the wonder of all after
generations. It was in the reign of Tuthmosis, sixteen hundred
years before the birth of Christ, that I first saw the light. You
shrink away from me. Wait, and you will see that I am more to be
pitied than to be feared.

"My name was Sosra. My father had been the chief priest of Osiris
in the great temple of Abaris, which stood in those days upon the
Bubastic branch of the Nile. I was brought up in the temple
and was trained in all those mystic arts which are spoken of in
your own Bible. I was an apt pupil. Before I was sixteen I had
learned all which the wisest priest could teach me. From that time
on I studied Nature's secrets for myself, and shared my knowledge
with no man.

"Of all the questions which attracted me there were none over which
I laboured so long as over those which concern themselves with the
nature of life. I probed deeply into the vital principle. The aim
of medicine had been to drive away disease when it appeared. It
seemed to me that a method might be devised which should so fortify
the body as to prevent weakness or death from ever taking hold of
it. It is useless that I should recount my researches. You would
scarce comprehend them if I did. They were carried out partly upon
animals, partly upon slaves, and partly on myself. Suffice it that
their result was to furnish me with a substance which, when
injected into the blood, would endow the body with strength to
resist the effects of time, of violence, or of disease. It would
not indeed confer immortality, but its potency would endure for
many thousands of years. I used it upon a cat, and afterwards
drugged the creature with the most deadly poisons. That cat is
alive in Lower Egypt at the present moment. There was nothing of
mystery or magic in the matter. It was simply a chemical
discovery, which may well be made again.

"Love of life runs high in the young. It seemed to me that I had
broken away from all human care now that I had abolished pain
and driven death to such a distance. With a light heart I poured
the accursed stuff into my veins. Then I looked round for some one
whom I could benefit. There was a young priest of Thoth, Parmes by
name, who had won my goodwill by his earnest nature and his
devotion to his studies. To him I whispered my secret, and at his
request I injected him with my elixir. I should now, I reflected,
never be without a companion of the same age as myself.

"After this grand discovery I relaxed my studies to some extent,
but Parmes continued his with redoubled energy. Every day I could
see him working with his flasks and his distiller in the Temple of
Thoth, but he said little to me as to the result of his labours.
For my own part, I used to walk through the city and look around me
with exultation as I reflected that all this was destined to pass
away, and that only I should remain. The people would bow to me as
they passed me, for the fame of my knowledge had gone abroad.

"There was war at this time, and the Great King had sent down his
soldiers to the eastern boundary to drive away the Hyksos. A
Governor, too, was sent to Abaris, that he might hold it for the
King. I had heard much of the beauty of the daughter of this
Governor, but one day as I walked out with Parmes we met her, borne
upon the shoulders of her slaves. I was struck with love as with
lightning. My heart went out from me. I could have thrown myself
beneath the feet of her bearers. This was my woman. Life without
her was impossible. I swore by the head of Horus that she
should be mine. I swore it to the Priest of Thoth. He turned away
from me with a brow which was as black as midnight.

"There is no need to tell you of our wooing. She came to love me
even as I loved her. I learned that Parmes had seen her before I
did, and had shown her that he too loved her, but I could smile at
his passion, for I knew that her heart was mine. The white plague
had come upon the city and many were stricken, but I laid my hands
upon the sick and nursed them without fear or scathe. She
marvelled at my daring. Then I told her my secret, and begged her
that she would let me use my art upon her.

"`Your flower shall then be unwithered, Atma,' I said. `Other
things may pass away, but you and I, and our great love for each
other, shall outlive the tomb of King Chefru.'

"But she was full of timid, maidenly objections. `Was it right?'
she asked, `was it not a thwarting of the will of the gods? If the
great Osiris had wished that our years should be so long, would he
not himself have brought it about?'

"With fond and loving words I overcame her doubts, and yet she
hesitated. It was a great question, she said. She would think it
over for this one night. In the morning I should know her
resolution. Surely one night was not too much to ask. She wished
to pray to Isis for help in her decision.

"With a sinking heart and a sad foreboding of evil I left her with
her tirewomen. In the morning, when the early sacrifice was
over, I hurried to her house. A frightened slave met me upon the
steps. Her mistress was ill, she said, very ill. In a frenzy I
broke my way through the attendants, and rushed through hall and
corridor to my Atma's chamber. She lay upon her couch, her head
high upon the pillow, with a pallid face and a glazed eye. On her
forehead there blazed a single angry purple patch. I knew that
hell-mark of old. It was the scar of the white plague, the sign-
manual of death.

"Why should I speak of that terrible time? For months I was mad,
fevered, delirious, and yet I could not die. Never did an Arab
thirst after the sweet wells as I longed after death. Could poison
or steel have shortened the thread of my existence, I should soon
have rejoined my love in the land with the narrow portal. I tried,
but it was of no avail. The accursed influence was too strong upon
me. One night as I lay upon my couch, weak and weary, Parmes, the
priest of Thoth, came to my chamber. He stood in the circle of the
lamplight, and he looked down upon me with eyes which were bright
with a mad joy.

"`Why did you let the maiden die?' he asked; `why did you not
strengthen her as you strengthened me?'

"`I was too late,' I answered. `But I had forgot. You also loved
her. You are my fellow in misfortune. Is it not terrible to think
of the centuries which must pass ere we look upon her again?
Fools, fools, that we were to take death to be our enemy!'

"`You may say that,' he cried with a wild laugh; `the words come
well from your lips. For me they have no meaning.'

"`What mean you?' I cried, raising myself upon my elbow. `Surely,
friend, this grief has turned your brain.' His face was aflame
with joy, and he writhed and shook like one who hath a devil.

"`Do you know whither I go?' he asked.

"`Nay,' I answered, `I cannot tell.'

"`I go to her,' said he. `She lies embalmed in the further tomb by
the double palm-tree beyond the city wall.'

"`Why do you go there?' I asked.

"`To die!' he shrieked, `to die! I am not bound by earthen

"`But the elixir is in your blood,' I cried.

"`I can defy it,' said he; `I have found a stronger principle which
will destroy it. It is working in my veins at this moment, and in
an hour I shall be a dead man. I shall join her, and you shall
remain behind.'

"As I looked upon him I could see that he spoke words of truth.
The light in his eye told me that he was indeed beyond the power of
the elixir.

"`You will teach me!' I cried.

"`Never!' he answered.

"`I implore you, by the wisdom of Thoth, by the majesty of Anubis!'

"`It is useless,' he said coldly.

"`Then I will find it out,' I cried.

"`You cannot,' he answered; `it came to me by chance. There
is one ingredient which you can never get. Save that which is in
the ring of Thoth, none will ever more be made.

"`In the ring of Thoth!' I repeated; `where then is the ring of

"`That also you shall never know,' he answered. `You won her love.

Who has won in the end? I leave you to your sordid earth life. My
chains are broken. I must go!' He turned upon his heel and fled
from the chamber. In the morning came the news that the Priest of
Thoth was dead.

"My days after that were spent in study. I must find this subtle
poison which was strong enough to undo the elixir. From early dawn
to midnight I bent over the test-tube and the furnace. Above all,
I collected the papyri and the chemical flasks of the Priest of
Thoth. Alas! they taught me little. Here and there some hint or
stray expression would raise hope in my bosom, but no good ever
came of it. Still, month after month, I struggled on. When my
heart grew faint I would make my way to the tomb by the palm-trees.

There, standing by the dead casket from which the jewel had been
rifled, I would feel her sweet presence, and would whisper to her
that I would rejoin her if mortal wit could solve the riddle.

"Parmes had said that his discovery was connected with the ring of
Thoth. I had some remembrance of the trinket. It was a large and
weighty circlet, made, not of gold, but of a rarer and heavier
metal brought from the mines of Mount Harbal. Platinum, you call
it. The ring had, I remembered, a hollow crystal set in it,
in which some few drops of liquid might be stored. Now, the secret
of Parmes could not have to do with the metal alone, for there were
many rings of that metal in the Temple. Was it not more likely
that he had stored his precious poison within the cavity of the
crystal? I had scarce come to this conclusion before, in hunting
through his papers, I came upon one which told me that it was
indeed so, and that there was still some of the liquid unused.

"But how to find the ring? It was not upon him when he was
stripped for the embalmer. Of that I made sure. Neither was it
among his private effects. In vain I searched every room that he
had entered, every box, and vase, and chattel that he had owned.
I sifted the very sand of the desert in the places where he had
been wont to walk; but, do what I would, I could come upon no
traces of the ring of Thoth. Yet it may be that my labours would
have overcome all obstacles had it not been for a new and unlooked-
for misfortune.

"A great war had been waged against the Hyksos, and the Captains of
the Great King had been cut off in the desert, with all their
bowmen and horsemen. The shepherd tribes were upon us like the
locusts in a dry year. From the wilderness of Shur to the great
bitter lake there was blood by day and fire by night. Abaris was
the bulwark of Egypt, but we could not keep the savages back. The
city fell. The Governor and the soldiers were put to the
sword, and I, with many more, was led away into captivity.

"For years and years I tended cattle in the great plains by the
Euphrates. My master died, and his son grew old, but I was still
as far from death as ever. At last I escaped upon a swift camel,
and made my way back to Egypt. The Hyksos had settled in the land
which they had conquered, and their own King ruled over the country
Abaris had been torn down, the city had been burned, and of the
great Temple there was nothing left save an unsightly mound.
Everywhere the tombs had been rifled and the monuments destroyed.
Of my Atma's grave no sign was left. It was buried in the sands of
the desert, and the palm-trees which marked the spot had long
disappeared. The papers of Parmes and the remains of the Temple of
Thoth were either destroyed or scattered far and wide over the
deserts of Syria. All search after them was vain.

"From that time I gave up all hope of ever finding the ring or
discovering the subtle drug. I set myself to live as patiently as
might be until the effect of the elixir should wear away. How can
you understand how terrible a thing time is, you who have
experience only of the narrow course which lies between the cradle
and the grave! I know it to my cost, I who have floated down the
whole stream of history. I was old when Ilium fell. I was very
old when Herodotus came to Memphis. I was bowed down with years
when the new gospel came upon earth. Yet you see me much as
other men are, with the cursed elixir still sweetening my blood,
and guarding me against that which I would court. Now at last, at
last I have come to the end of it!

"I have travelled in all lands and I have dwelt with all nations.
Every tongue is the same to me. I learned them all to help pass
the weary time. I need not tell you how slowly they drifted by,
the long dawn of modern civilisation, the dreary middle years, the
dark times of barbarism. They are all behind me now, I have never
looked with the eyes of love upon another woman. Atma knows that
I have been constant to her.

"It was my custom to read all that the scholars had to say upon
Ancient Egypt. I have been in many positions, sometimes affluent,
sometimes poor, but I have always found enough to enable me to buy
the journals which deal with such matters. Some nine months ago I
was in San Francisco, when I read an account of some discoveries
made in the neighbourhood of Abaris. My heart leapt into my mouth
as I read it. It said that the excavator had busied himself in
exploring some tombs recently unearthed. In one there had been
found an unopened mummy with an inscription upon the outer case
setting forth that it contained the body of the daughter of the
Governor of the city in the days of Tuthmosis. It added that on
removing the outer case there had been exposed a large platinum
ring set with a crystal, which had been laid upon the breast of the
embalmed woman. This, then was where Parmes had hid the ring
of Thoth. He might well say that it was safe, for no Egyptian
would ever stain his soul by moving even the outer case of a buried

"That very night I set off from San Francisco, and in a few weeks
I found myself once more at Abaris, if a few sand-heaps and
crumbling walls may retain the name of the great city. I hurried
to the Frenchmen who were digging there and asked them for the
ring. They replied that both the ring and the mummy had been sent
to the Boulak Museum at Cairo. To Boulak I went, but only to be
told that Mariette Bey had claimed them and had shipped them to the
Louvre. I followed them, and there at last, in the Egyptian
chamber, I came, after close upon four thousand years, upon the
remains of my Atma, and upon the ring for which I had sought so

"But how was I to lay hands upon them? How was I to have them for
my very own? It chanced that the office of attendant was vacant.
I went to the Director. I convinced him that I knew much about
Egypt. In my eagerness I said too much. He remarked that a
Professor's chair would suit me better than a seat in the
Conciergerie. I knew more, he said, than he did. It was only by
blundering, and letting him think that he had over-estimated my
knowledge, that I prevailed upon him to let me move the few effects
which I have retained into this chamber. It is my first and my
last night here.

"Such is my story, Mr. Vansittart Smith. I need not say more
to a man of your perception. By a strange chance you have this
night looked upon the face of the woman whom I loved in those far-
off days. There were many rings with crystals in the case, and I
had to test for the platinum to be sure of the one which I wanted.
A glance at the crystal has shown me that the liquid is indeed
within it, and that I shall at last be able to shake off that
accursed health which has been worse to me than the foulest
disease. I have nothing more to say to you. I have unburdened
myself. You may tell my story or you may withhold it at your
pleasure. The choice rests with you. I owe you some amends, for
you have had a narrow escape of your life this night. I was a
desperate man, and not to be baulked in my purpose. Had I seen you
before the thing was done, I might have put it beyond your power to
oppose me or to raise an alarm. This is the door. It leads into
the Rue de Rivoli. Good night!"

The Englishman glanced back. For a moment the lean figure of Sosra
the Egyptian stood framed in the narrow doorway. The next the door
had slammed, and the heavy rasping of a bolt broke on the silent

It was on the second day after his return to London that Mr. John
Vansittart Smith saw the following concise narrative in the Paris
correspondence of the Times:--

"Curious Occurrence in the Louvre.--Yesterday morning a strange
discovery was made in the principal Egyptian Chamber. The
ouvriers who are employed to clean out the rooms in the morning
found one of the attendants lying dead upon the floor with his arms
round one of the mummies. So close was his embrace that it was
only with the utmost difficulty that they were separated. One of
the cases containing valuable rings had been opened and rifled.
The authorities are of opinion that the man was bearing away the
mummy with some idea of selling it to a private collector, but that
he was struck down in the very act by long-standing disease of the
heart. It is said that he was a man of uncertain age and eccentric
habits, without any living relations to mourn over his dramatic and
untimely end."

Arthur Conan Doyle

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