Chapter XII: The Magic Coffer
"When we recovered our amazement, which seemed to last unduly long, we
did not lose any time carrying the mummy through the passage, and
hoisting it up the Pit shaft. I went first, to receive it at the top.
As I looked down, I saw Mr. Trelawny lift the severed hand and put it in
his breast, manifestly to save it from being injured or lost. We left
the dead Arabs where they lay. With our ropes we lowered our precious
burden to the ground; and then took it to the entrance of the valley
where our escort was to wait. To our astonishment we found them on the
move. When we remonstrated with the Sheik, he answered that he had
fulfilled his contract to the letter; he had waited the three days as
arranged. I thought that he was lying to cover up his base intention of
deserting us; and I found when we compared notes that Trelawny had the
same suspicion. It was not till we arrived at Cairo that we found he
was correct. It was the 3rd of November 1884 when we entered the Mummy
Pit for the second time; we had reason to remember the date.
"We had lost three whole days of our reckoning--out of our lives--whilst
we had stood wondering in that chamber of the dead. Was it strange,
then, that we had a superstitious feeling with regard to the dead Queen
Tera and all belonging to her? Is it any wonder that it rests with us
now, with a bewildering sense of some power outside ourselves or our
comprehension? Will it be any wonder if it go down to the grave with us
at the appointed time? If, indeed, there be any graves for us who have
robbed the dead!" He was silent for quite a minute before he went on:
"We got to Cairo all right, and from there to Alexandria, where we were
to take ship by the Messagerie service to Marseilles, and go thence by
express to London. But
'The best-laid schemes o' mice and men Gang aft agley.'
At Alexandria, Trelawny found waiting a cable stating that Mrs. Trelawny
had died in giving birth to a daughter.
"Her stricken husband hurried off at once by the Orient Express; and I
had to bring the treasure alone to the desolate house. I got to London
all safe; there seemed to be some special good fortune to our journey.
When I got to this house, the funeral had long been over. The child had
been put out to nurse, and Mr. Trelawny had so far recovered from the
shock of his loss that he had set himself to take up again the broken
threads of his life and his work. That he had had a shock, and a bad
one, was apparent. The sudden grey in his black hair was proof enough
in itself; but in addition, the strong cast of his features had become
set and stern. Since he received that cable in the shipping office at
Alexandria I have never seen a happy smile on his face.
"Work is the best thing in such a case; and to his work he devoted
himself heart and soul. The strange tragedy of his loss and gain--for
the child was born after the mother's death--took place during the time
that we stood in that trance in the Mummy Pit of Queen Tera. It seemed
to have become in some way associated with his Egyptian studies, and
more especially with the mysteries connected with the Queen. He told me
very little about his daughter; but that two forces struggled in his
mind regarding her was apparent. I could see that he loved, almost
idolised her. Yet he could never forget that her birth had cost her
mother's life. Also, there was something whose existence seemed to
wring his father's heart, though he would never tell me what it was.
Again, he once said in a moment of relaxation of his purpose of silence:
"'She is unlike her mother; but in both feature and colour she has a
marvellous resemblance to the pictures of Queen Tera.'
"He said that he had sent her away to people who would care for her as
he could not; and that till she became a woman she should have all the
simple pleasures that a young girl might have, and that were best for
her. I would often have talked with him about her; but he would never
say much. Once he said to me: 'There are reasons why I should not
speak more than is necessary. Some day you will know--and understand!'
I respected his reticence; and beyond asking after her on my return
after a journey, I have never spoken of her again. I had never seen her
till I did so in your presence.
"Well, when the treasures which we had--ah!--taken from the tomb had
been brought here, Mr. Trelawny arranged their disposition himself. The
mummy, all except the severed hand, he placed in the great ironstone
sarcophagus in the hall. This was wrought for the Theban High Priest
Uni, and is, as you may have remarked, all inscribed with wonderful
invocations to the old Gods of Egypt. The rest of the things from the
tomb he disposed about his own room, as you have seen. Amongst them he
placed, for special reasons of his own, the mummy hand. I think he
regards this as the most sacred of his possessions, with perhaps one
exception. That is the carven ruby which he calls the 'Jewel of Seven
Stars', which he keeps in that great safe which is locked and guarded by
various devices, as you know.
"I dare say you find this tedious; but I have had to explain it, so that
you should understand all up to the present. It was a long time after
my return with the mummy of Queen Tera when Mr. Trelawny re-opened the
subject with me. He had been several times to Egypt, sometimes with me
and sometimes alone; and I had been several trips, on my own account or
for him. But in all that time, nearly sixteen years, he never mentioned
the subject, unless when some pressing occasion suggested, if it did not
necessitate, a reference.
"One morning early he sent for me in a hurry; I was then studying in the
British Museum, and had rooms in Hart Street. When I came, he was all
on fire with excitement. I had not seen him in such a glow since before
the news of his wife's death. He took me at once into his room. The
window blinds were down and the shutters closed; not a ray of daylight
came in. The ordinary lights in the room were not lit, but there were a
lot of powerful electric lamps, fifty candle-power at least, arranged on
one side of the room. The little bloodstone table on which the
heptagonal coffer stands was drawn to the centre of the room. The
coffer looked exquisite in the glare of light which shone on it. It
actually seemed to glow as if lit in some way from within.
"'What do you think of it?' he asked.
"'It is like a jewel,' I answered. 'You may well call it the
'sorcerer's Magic Coffer', if it often looks like that. It almost seems
to be alive.'
"'Do you know why it seems so?'
"'From the glare of the light, I suppose?'
"'Light of course,' he answered, 'but it is rather the disposition of
light.' As he spoke he turned up the ordinary lights of the room and
switched off the special ones. The effect on the stone box was
surprising; in a second it lost all its glowing effect. It was still a
very beautiful stone, as always; but it was stone and no more.
"'Do you notice anything about the arrangement of the lamps?' he asked.
"'They were in the shape of the stars in the Plough, as the stars are in
the ruby!' The statement came to me with a certain sense of conviction.
I do not know why, except that there had been so many mysterious
associations with the mummy and all belonging to it that any new one
seemed enlightening. I listened as Trelawny went on to explain:
"'For sixteen years I have never ceased to think of that adventure, or
to try to find a clue to the mysteries which came before us; but never
until last night did I seem to find a solution. I think I must have
dreamed of it, for I woke all on fire about it. I jumped out of bed
with a determination of doing something, before I quite knew what it was
that I wished to do. Then, all at once, the purpose was clear before
me. There were allusions in the writing on the walls of the tomb to the
seven stars of the Great Bear that go to make up the Plough; and the
North was again and again emphasized. The same symbols were repeated
with regard to the "Magic Box", as we called it. We had already noticed
those peculiar translucent spaces in the stone of the box. You remember
the hieroglyphic writing had told that the jewel came from the heart of
an aerolite, and that the coffer was cut from it also. It might be, I
thought, that the light of the seven stars, shining in the right
direction, might have some effect on the box, or something within it. I
raised the blind and looked out. The Plough was high in the heavens, and
both its stars and the Pole Star were straight opposite the window. I
pulled the table with the coffer out into the light, and shifted it
until the translucent patches were in the direction of the stars.
Instantly the box began to glow, as you saw it under the lamps, though
but slightly. I waited and waited; but the sky clouded over, and the
light died away. So I got wires and lamps--you know how often I use them
in experiments--and tried the effect of electric light. It took me some
time to get the lamps properly placed, so that they would correspond to
the parts of the stone, but the moment I got them right the whole thing
began to glow as you have seen it.
"'I could get no further, however. There was evidently something
wanting. All at once it came to me that if light could have some effect
there should be in the tomb some means of producing light, for there
could not be starlight in the Mummy Pit in the cavern. Then the whole
thing seemed to become clear. On the bloodstone table, which has a
hollow carved in its top, into which the bottom of the coffer fits, I
laid the Magic Coffer; and I at once saw that the odd protuberances so
carefully wrought in the substance of the stone corresponded in a way to
the stars in the constellation. These, then, were to hold lights.
"'Eureka!' I cried. 'All we want now is the lamps.'" I tried placing
the electric lights on, or close to, the protuberances. But the glow
never came to the stone. So the conviction grew on me that there were
special lamps made for the purpose. If we could find them, a step on the
road to solving the mystery should be gained.
"'But what about the lamps?' I asked. 'Where are they? When are we to
discover them? How are we to know them if we do find them? What--"
"He stopped me at once:
"'One thing at a time!' he said quietly. 'Your first question contains
all the rest. Where are these lamps? I shall tell you: In the tomb!'
"'In the tomb!' I repeated in surprise. 'Why you and I searched the
place ourselves from end to end; and there was not a sign of a lamp.
Not a sign of anything remaining when we came away the first time; or on
the second, except the bodies of the Arabs.'
"Whilst I was speaking, he had uncoiled some large sheets of paper which
he had brought in his hand from his own room. These he spread out on
the great table, keeping their edges down with books and weights. I
knew them at a glance; they were the careful copies which he had made of
our first transcripts from the writing in the tomb. When he had all
ready, he turned to me and said slowly:
"'Do you remember wondering, when we examined the tomb, at the lack of
one thing which is usually found in such a tomb?'
"'Yes! There was no serdab.'
"The serdab, I may perhaps explain," said Mr. Corbeck to me, "is a sort
of niche built or hewn in the wall of a tomb. Those which have as yet
been examined bear no inscriptions, and contain only effigies of the
dead for whom the tomb was made." Then he went on with his narrative:
"Trelawny, when he saw that I had caught his meaning, went on speaking
with something of his old enthusiasm:
"'I have come to the conclusion that there must be a serdab--a secret
one. We were dull not to have thought of it before. We might have
known that the maker of such a tomb--a woman, who had shown in other ways
such a sense of beauty and completeness, and who had finished every
detail with a feminine richness of elaboration--would not have neglected
such an architectural feature. Even if it had not its own special
significance in ritual, she would have had it as an adornment. Others
had had it, and she liked her own work to be complete. Depend upon it,
there was--there is--a serdab; and that in it, when it is discovered, we
shall find the lamps. Of course, had we known then what we now know or
at all events surmise, that there were lamps, we might have suspected
some hidden spot, some cachet. I am going to ask you to go out to Egypt
again; to seek the tomb; to find the serdab; and to bring back the
"'And if I find there is no serdab; or if discovering it I find no lamps
in it, what then?' He smiled grimly with that saturnine smile of his, so
rarely seen for years past, as he spoke slowly:
"'Then you will have to hustle till you find them!'
"'Good!' I said. He pointed to one of the sheets.
"'Here are the transcripts from the Chapel at the south and the east. I
have been looking over the writings again; and I find that in seven
places round this corner are the symbols of the constellation which we
call the Plough, which Queen Tera held to rule her birth and her
destiny. I have examined them carefully, and I notice that they are all
representations of the grouping of the stars, as the constellation
appears in different parts of the heavens. They are all astronomically
correct; and as in the real sky the Pointers indicate the Pole Star, so
these all point to one spot in the wall where usually the serdab is to
"'Bravo!' I shouted, for such a piece of reasoning demanded applause.
He seemed pleased as he went on:
"'When you are in the tomb, examine this spot. There is probably some
spring or mechanical contrivance for opening the receptacle. What it
may be, there is no use guessing. You will know what best to do, when
you are on the spot.'
"I started the next week for Egypt; and never rested till I stood again
in the tomb. I had found some of our old following; and was fairly well
provided with help. The country was now in a condition very different
to that in which it had been sixteen years before; there was no need for
troops or armed men.
"I climbed the rock face alone. There was no difficulty, for in that
fine climate the woodwork of the ladder was still dependable. It was
easy to see that in the years that had elapsed there had been other
visitors to the tomb; and my heart sank within me when I thought that
some of them might by chance have come across the secret place. It
would be a bitter discovery indeed to find that they had forestalled me;
and that my journey had been in vain.
"The bitterness was realised when I lit my torches, and passed between
the seven-sided columns to the Chapel of the tomb.
"There, in the very spot where I had expected to find it, was the
opening of a serdab. And the serdab was empty.
"But the Chapel was not empty; for the dried-up body of a man in Arab
dress lay close under the opening, as though he had been stricken down.
I examined all round the walls to see if Trelawny's surmise was correct;
and I found that in all the positions of the stars as given, the
Pointers of the Plough indicated a spot to the left hand, or south side,
of the opening of the serdab, where was a single star in gold.
"I pressed this, and it gave way. The stone which had marked the front
of the serdab, and which lay back against the wall within, moved
slightly. On further examining the other side of the opening, I found a
similar spot, indicated by other representations of the constellation;
but this was itself a figure of the seven stars, and each was wrought in
burnished gold. I pressed each star in turn; but without result. Then
it struck me that if the opening spring was on the left, this on the
right might have been intended for the simultaneous pressure of all the
stars by one hand of seven fingers. By using both my hands, I managed
to effect this.
"With a loud click, a metal figure seemed to dart from close to the
opening of the serdab; the stone slowly swung back to its place, and
shut with a click. The glimpse which I had of the descending figure
appalled me for the moment. It was like that grim guardian which,
according to the Arabian historian Ibn Abd Alhokin, the builder of the
Pyramids, King Saurid Ibn Salhouk placed in the Western Pyramid to
defend its treasure: 'A marble figure, upright, with lance in hand;
with on his head a serpent wreathed. When any approached, the serpent
would bite him on one side, and twining about his throat and killing
him, would return again to his place.'
"I knew well that such a figure was not wrought to pleasantry; and that
to brave it was no child's play. The dead Arab at my feet was proof of
what could be done! So I examined again along the wall; and found here
and there chippings as if someone had been tapping with a heavy hammer.
This then had been what happened: The grave-robber, more expert at his
work than we had been, and suspecting the presence of a hidden serdab,
had made essay to find it. He had struck the spring by chance; had
released the avenging 'Treasurer', as the Arabian writer designated him.
The issue spoke for itself. I got a piece of wood, and, standing at a
safe distance, pressed with the end of it upon the star.
"Instantly the stone flew back. The hidden figure within darted forward
and thrust out its lance. Then it rose up and disappeared. I thought I
might now safely press on the seven stars; and did so. Again the stone
rolled back; and the 'Treasurer' flashed by to his hidden lair.
"I repeated both experiments several times; with always the same result.
I should have liked to examine the mechanism of that figure of such
malignant mobility; but it was not possible without such tools as could
not easily be had. It might be necessary to cut into a whole section of
the rock. Some day I hope to go back, properly equipped, and attempt
"Perhaps you do not know that the entrance to a serdab is almost always
very narrow; sometimes a hand can hardly be inserted. Two things I
learned from this serdab. The first was that the lamps, if lamps at all
there had been, could not have been of large size; and secondly, that
they would be in some way associated with Hathor, whose symbol, the hawk
in a square with the right top corner forming a smaller square, was cut
in relief on the wall within, and coloured the bright vermilion which we
had found on the Stele. Hathor is the goddess who in Egyptian mythology
answers to Venus of the Greeks, in as far as she is the presiding deity
of beauty and pleasure. In the Egyptian mythology, however, each God
has many forms; and in some aspects Hathor has to do with the idea of
resurrection. There are seven forms or variants of the Goddess; why
should not these correspond in some way to the seven lamps! That there
had been such lamps, I was convinced. The first grave-robber had met
his death; the second had found the contents of the serdab. The first
attempt had been made years since; the state of the body proved this. I
had no clue to the second attempt. It might have been long ago; or it
might have been recently. If, however, others had been to the tomb, it
was probable that the lamps had been taken long ago. Well! all the more
difficult would be my search; for undertaken it must be!
"That was nearly three years ago; and for all that time I have been like
the man in the Arabian Nights, seeking old lamps, not for new, but for
cash. I dared not say what I was looking for, or attempt to give any
description; for such would have defeated my purpose. But I had in my
own mind at the start a vague idea of what I must find. In process of
time this grew more and more clear; till at last I almost overshot my
mark by searching for something which might have been wrong.
"The disappointments I suffered, and the wild-goose chases I made, would
fill a volume; but I persevered. At last, not two months ago, I was
shown by an old dealer in Mossul one lamp such as I had looked for. I
had been tracing it for nearly a year, always suffering disappointment,
but always buoyed up to further endeavour by a growing hope that I was
on the track.
"I do not know how I restrained myself when I realised that, at last, I
was at least close to success. I was skilled, however, in the finesse
of Eastern trade; and the Jew-Arab-Portugee trader met his match. I
wanted to see all his stock before buying; and one by one he produced,
amongst masses of rubbish, seven different lamps. Each of them had a
distinguishing mark; and each and all was some form of the symbol of
Hathor. I think I shook the imperturbability of my swarthy friend by
the magnitude of my purchases; for in order to prevent him guessing what
form of goods I sought, I nearly cleared out his shop. At the end he
nearly wept, and said I had ruined him; for now he had nothing to sell.
He would have torn his hair had he known what price I should ultimately
have given for some of his stock, that perhaps he valued least.
"I parted with most of my merchandise at normal price as I hurried home.
I did not dare to give it away, or even lose it, lest I should incur
suspicion. My burden was far too precious to be risked by any
foolishness now. I got on as fast as it is possible to travel in such
countries; and arrived in London with only the lamps and certain
portable curios and papyri which I had picked up on my travels.
"Now, Mr. Ross, you know all I know; and I leave it to your discretion
how much, if any of it, you will tell Miss Trelawny."
As he finished a clear young voice said behind us:
"What about Miss Trelawny? She is here!"
We turned, startled; and looked at each other inquiringly. Miss
Trelawny stood in the doorway. We did not know how long she had been
present, or how much she had heard.