Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/Lost in a sepulchre
LOST IN A SEPULCHRE.
“I suppose the pacha has told you that I was once a dragoman—ah, I see he has; but I can assure you that I am not ashamed to acknowledge it. I am, as you know, an Italian, and had two uncles in orders at Rome.
“I was at Cairo, teaching a French engineer how to make himself understood by the natives (for fortunately I had learnt Arabic in my youth), when I received a note from an Italian nobleman, inclosing another from my uncle at Rome. The same evening I presented myself at the Consulate, according to Count ——’s request. The count was reputed to be one of the richest of the Roman nobility. His object in coming to Egypt was, he told me, to visit the ruins, and to excavate such portions of them as seemed to offer the most likely chance of meeting with objects of interest. His preparations for carrying on the work were, as I afterwards found, very complete. The tools he had brought with him were much better than could be procured in Alexandria, and shaped in the way which he had found most effective in excavating among the buried cities of Italy.
“After visiting, merely to inspect the pyramids, we travelled direct to Thebes, where he intended to excavate, and had procured a firman requiring the sheikh to supply as many hands as he might think fit. The count had got a plan of Thebes as it used to be when it was an inhabited city. It was drawn on a very ancient-looking parchment, and he made a great deal of mystery about it, never leaving it about for anybody to look at; and once, when I asked him who had drawn it, he rudely turned his back to me without replying, which I conceived to be a hint that he did not wish to be questioned about it. Before he set the men to work, he showed me a drawing of a pillar, on which the figure of a man was sculptured in low relief, and twining round it a serpent, with its head completely buried in the figure, as though devouring its heart. Together we searched for this pillar, and after days and days of vain seeking, we discovered it at, if I remember rightly, the south-west corner of the ruins. It lay on the ground, with fragments of other pillars all around it, and had evidently, like them, been separated from its base by violence, the tradition among the Arabs being, that Defterdar Bey’s artillerymen amused themselves by firing at the upright pillars. The difficulty to be overcome, after finding it, was to ascertain from which of the bases discovered on clearing away the sand the pillar had been detached; and when this had been decided to the best of our judgment, the count drew the symbol of the serpent in the sand, the base lying in the centre of the figure. The dimensions of the symbol were carefully measured, according to some scale, and no time was lost after this in setting as many men to work in clearing away the fragments and the sand as could work without being in each other’s way. The ordinary difficulty of getting labour was easily overcome by a liberal present to the sheikh, and regular payment of the men every evening, allowing such as chose to absent themselves the next day, and taking others in their place when they did not present themselves at the hour fixed. My share of the labour was to watch the operations of the Arabs, to see that every stone they turned up was taken to the count, who examined every stone as it was raised. One day an Arab brought me a stone he had just dug up, and asked me for a present in return. It was a perfect cube, and on one of its faces there was the same design as on the pillar, the figure of the serpent wandering over three others, through a maze of hieroglyphics. I made the man show me the place where it had been dug up, and then I called the count to look at it. The moment he saw the design he turned as pale as death. I drew a glass of water from a cask beside us, and gave it to him to drink; this helped to restore him; he went and sat down again under his umbrella, and resumed his examination of the stones beside him. About an hour afterwards he directed me to tell the men that they were to cease excavating here for the present, till he had had time to examine the stones which had accumulated, and to set them at work at the Temple of the Three Suns, as we named it, from the symbol of the sun being cut on each of the pillars, and arranged in the form of a triangle—three symbols on each column. This temple was about half-a-mile distant, and he desired me to I come back as soon as I had set them to work. The idlers, who were always present watching the operations of the diggers, followed their friends, so that when I returned to the count I found him alone, attentively studying a small plan I had not seen before. I had noted so carefully the spot where the stone was dug out, that I saw at once he was sitting on it, I suppose to make certain that it should not be forgotten. After he had studied the plan for some time, he took up the stone, and, turning it over till the side on which was the tip of the serpent’s tail came uppermost, he appeared to read the hieroglyphics, stopping every minute or so to refer to his plan. Presently he left off reading, and drew the symbol of the serpent on the sand, as before, but on a smaller scale, and with greater attention to accuracy. He next requested me to fetch a shovel and two pickaxes from the tent, and we soon were both of us hard at work. We left off to dine at the usual hour, but the evening being a fine moonlight one, the count expressed his determination to resume his labour, and I followed his example. We had not been at work very long when the count, who was using the pickaxe, left off suddenly and sat down, while I shovelled out the dirt. He then showed me the upper edge of a large stone, which proved to be the threshold of the entrance to the building, which formerly stood on this spot. It was not long before we had made a breach through a thin wall of stone or concrete beneath this stone, large enough to admit of our seeing that it opened into a cellar, or cave. The count wanted to enter immediately, and if I had not checked him he would have dropped through the hole, heedless of the depth he might have fallen—about seven feet. I next went back to the tent, and got four short wax candles, and a box of matches; and, thinking that a stimulant might be useful, I filled a small bottle with brandy, which I put in my pocket, and returned to the count. The moon was so bright that we did not light our candles till we were fairly within the building.
“The apartment in which we first entered was small and square, and on its sides were numerous short inscriptions in hieroglyphics. These the count found it necessary to translate before he went any further, so that by the time he had finished, the sun was rising again, and we scrambled out of the hole, putting stones against it and heaping the dirt over them to conceal it. We then went to the new excavations, and remained there about an hour, that none of the Arabs might suspect our discovery. After breakfast we lay down in the tent and slept till evening; then we washed and dined, and lighting a cigar each, we strolled away as though we had no object in view, the count first requesting me to tell the servants they might go to sleep when they liked, as he would want nothing more that night.
“We found the tools and everything else as we had left them, and it took us but a few minutes to reopen the hole and drop through it into the interior. As I have already said, there were several inscriptions on the walls of this apartment: these the count had translated—you can see them if you like. Young Giovanni—Luigi—what’s your name, take these keys, unlock the bottom right-hand drawer of that writing-table, and give me out a parcel rolled up in a piece of rag.
“This piece of canvas,” continued the Italian, “once held the head of a human being, whose dark countenance with its widely-opened eyes, its lip drawn up as though he had died a violent death, and its large white teeth, gave me a startling shock when I first saw it. Certainly those eyes must have looked on Thebes when it was a crowded city: and for aught I know it may have been such when it was inhabited by a race of people who existed there before the Egyptians had become a nation, if he were a type of them, for his hair was of a reddish-yellow colour, and his eyes a bright and rather pale blue. It remains where I saw it, that is to say, in the building I have referred to, for I wanted the canvas for a purpose of my own. Here are the count’s notes; they are most of them incomprehensible, owing to the abbreviations he used: probably he thought he would have future opportunities of examining the hieroglyphics, but the most important is clear enough, it runs thus: ‘Let the serpent be thy guide on thy right hand.’ This the count told me referred to the direction to be followed: that is to say, in going and returning through the labyrinth of apartments we must follow the direction in which the figure of the serpent appeared to be travelling. The rest of the notes you can look over at your leisure, if you like. And now to return to my story.
“From the apartment we had broken into we saw, as soon as we had lighted our candles, a flight of stone stairs, which widened as we went down after the manner of a fan. There were in all about fifty or sixty steps. Before we had descended more than four or five of these, the count put his foot on something which looked like a heap of dirt, but on holding the candle closer, proved to be the remains of a human being; and we saw that similar shadowy heaps were scattered over the steps as far as our lights enabled us to see. Some had the appearance of being seated with the head bent forward on the knees, others were extended over two or three steps, as if asleep, others again had evidently dropped asleep with their arms round each other’s necks; in short there was no imaginable attitude in which these skeletons were not to be seen. There was something awe-inspiring in these remains of human beings, some of whom, from their life-like attitude, looked as if they were capable of rising and questioning us with regard to our intrusion. After a few seconds spent in looking fearfully about us, and in reflection, the count stepped carefully over a recumbent figure, and I followed close behind him, stopping whenever we came near a figure which seemed in better preservation than the others, to examine it. In nearly every case we found that the bodies, however perfect in appearance, crumbled to fragments under the lightest pressure, while the woollen robes which enveloped them remained entire, and served as a cerecloth to keep the remains of each together. The robes were of an extremely fine texture, and the brilliancy of their colours after so many hundreds of years, we agreed in low whispers, was owing to their having remained in a place from which light and dust were totally excluded. The colours I saw were either scarlet or purple: and as I passed my candle over them, I saw here and there the dull glitter of a gold chain, the links of which in every case were in the form of a serpent.
“The apartment we found ourselves in, on reaching the bottom of the steps, was about twenty feet in width, and as well as we could judge by the imperfect light given by our candles, may have been forty feet in height, and in length about thirty paces. The walls were covered with paintings, not in fresco, but done on some textile fabric, which adhered to the walls so closely that it required considerable force to remove it. Beneath each panel was painted a serpent, in such vivid colours, that I started back when I saw it, thinking it was a real serpent gliding along the ground. A closer examination showed that the appearance of rotundity was not quite an optical illusion due to the art of the painter, but partly the work of the sculptor. I noticed in passing hastily that the figures were not mere outlines, as in that fresco behind you, which was brought from a temple at Edfou, but draped figures; and I was particularly struck by one which represented a dim, shadowy figure of enormous proportions, resembling a man in all respects but one—it was painted without a face. Before this figure were several dressed in long robes, and among them, though standing aloof, and as though he were answering a charge, one which must have been the portrait of the person whose head I afterwards found wrapped in canvas. Guided by the serpent, we passed from this apartment into a broad passage, and from this we turned aside into another, which led to a chamber compared with which, that we had just left was small and insignificant. Of its immense proportions we could scarcely form an idea, owing to the want of light, our candles being wholly inadequate for the purpose. We could discern no paintings on the walls except the serpent, which seemed to have accompanied us from the other room. At one end the wall projected forwards, and had a large number of little niches, in each of which was a beautifully sculptured figure of a man, alternating with a geometrical figure surrounding a painting of the same dim and vaporous-looking figure without a face, of which I have already spoken. In front of this projection was a block of stone, the top of which was slightly hollowed out: it occurred to us that this was used for sacrificial purposes, but there was nothing to establish the fact, and the only grounds we had for the supposition were its position and appearance. Still following the course indicated by the serpent, we passed through three other apartments of equally magnificent dimensions, the walls of which were covered with beautiful paintings, in all of which the figures must have been at least ten feet high. It was in the last of these we met with the most impressive spectacle I ever saw or heard of. The approach to it was so intricate that but for the guidance of the reptile we should never have penetrated to it; nor was access to it at all easy even with our clue; for, as if to prevent persons who might reach thus far and suspect the purpose for which the serpent was painted so frequently, it was depicted as creeping in every direction, and it was only by a careful inspection that we were able to decide that the head inclined to a particular direction, often at variance with that it appeared to be travelling in itself. Following these indications, the count went boldly on, winding in and out till my brain was far from clear. This may have been partly owing to the thought having suddenly occurred to me, how hopeless it would be to try to escape from this labyrinth if our guide were suddenly to fail us. Some idea of its intricacy may be derived from the fact that we had been in it thirty-five minutes when I looked at my watch, and it was some minutes after this before we emerged from it into a short passage which led into a small square apartment having two places of exit, one at each end.
“At the first glance we threw round us we perceived simultaneously a faint light shining in at these openings. The count took in his hand the light pickaxe, which he had hitherto carried suspended from his neck by a strap, and I did the same. We drew close together, and though we did not speak, I had no doubt he was hesitating whether he should not return silently by the way we had come. I hoped he would, and, to decide him, I took a step in that direction; but he caught me by the arm, and drew me abruptly to one of the openings by which the light entered.
“We found ourselves looking down a chamber of enormous length and width, in the centre of which burnt a clear bright flame, which rose straight from the floor to a height of five or six feet. So steady and brilliant was this light that it blinded my eyes. On opening them I looked down the side of the chamber; but, notwithstanding the intense brilliancy of the flame, so vast were its dimensions, that I could only faintly discern from the place where I stood, two lines of shadowy figures, one above the other, apparently seated on thrones. Turning my head a little, and looking to the opposite side, there was the same array of motionless figures. I trembled as I looked on this mysterious assemblage, apparently, of human beings, who sat before me seemingly in silent contemplation of that strange bright flame which rose from the marble floor. I turned my head to look at the count, but he had disappeared, and it was only when I staggered back, with a cold chill creeping over me, that I saw he was prostrate on his face on the pavement. I took him by the shoulder, fearing that he had been overcome by terror; but he drew himself from me in a manner which showed that he was in full possession of his senses, and desired to be left alone. He lay there some time longer, after which he got on his feet and went with head uncovered and reverent step towards the occupants of the seats on the right side of the chamber.
“The lower row, except two or three at the upper end, were skeletons, a few of which had quite fallen to pieces, and the skulls had rolled along the pavement, while the rest of the bones remained inclosed within the robe worn by the man when living. The greater part of them, however, either retained the frame entire, with the fleshless head resting against the back of the seat, or else had shrunk together and lay in a heap on the seat. The sight of these was painful, but the impression produced was slight compared with the shock I received when I looked at those above. They sat upright and rigid, as though they were living men; the purple colour of their robes was so fresh, and their open eyes reflected the light so brightly, that I could hardly help thinking they were alive and watching our movements. The throne occupied by each of them was of marble, beautifully polished, and above their heads was a plate of gold covered with hieroglyphics, and encircling this the serpent painted in the same vivid colours as those we had seen on the walls previously, but with eyes of a green stone, resembling emerald, which flashed back the light and gave them a life-like appearance. A very slight examination, joined with the experience I had had of such things, enabled me to see that the figures had been carefully and skilfully embalmed.
“Never in my life had I looked upon a man of whom it could be said with so much justice that he had a noble appearance, as might be said of these dried corpses. Without exception, as far as I saw, the expression of their faces was of the most elevated character. Grave and awe-inspiring, it made me feel my littleness so acutely, that, although I knew them to be as devoid of life as so many statues, I was abashed and humbled before them; possibly this feeling may have been heightened by their enormous size, which was so far above that of ordinary men that I supposed they must be sitting on cushions concealed by their robes until I looked closely and satisfied myself that this was not so.
“After we had gone slowly down the chamber and back again, we crossed from the right side to the left. Here there was the same arrangement of bodies as on the opposite side; so we spent but a comparatively short time in looking at them, and passed on to the upper end of the chamber, where was a dais with nine polished marble seats at each end, similar to those already described, and a like number arranged in a semicircle in the centre. Of those in the centre, four were filled by the same soulless tenants, not more grand in their physical appearance, but who probably held posts of authority: for each, instead of the gold plate inlaid in the marble, with the serpent around it, wore a circlet of gold about his head in the form of that reptile, its various brilliant hues being imitated by stones set in the gold, which reflected the flame so vividly that the forehead seemed to be covered with specks of many-coloured fires. There was one other of the central seats occupied, but no circlet of precious stones glittered on the brow of its tenant, for it was headless, the head being placed beside the body and carefully wrapped in canvas, the coarseness of which contrasted strongly with the rich purple woollen robe which enveloped the body. On the pavement before it lay a circlet like the others, but it was cut in two parts. The awe I felt was too great to permit me to remove the ornament from the heads of those who wore them; but the temptation to take the pieces lying on the stone was too strong to be resisted. Having no pocket in my dress except one very small one, I quietly removed the head from the wrapper while the count stood silently regarding the flame, and putting the pieces into it, I fastened it round my body, so as to be ready for the reception of any other article of interest I might meet with. I then rejoined the count, and together we stood looking at the flame, which must have been burning thus for thousands of years. There was no lamp visible: the flame appeared to spring direct from a hole cut in the marble, and I suppose it must have been gas derived from a natural reservoir in the interior of the earth. But whatever it might be that fed it, there was something impressive in the sight of this living fire, which had shed its light through so many ages on the inanimate forms of those demigods in appearance who sat silent and motionless on their marble thrones. The count must have known, I think, who these were, and I would have asked him, but when I looked at his face the expression was so changed; it had become so dignified, and yet so sad and mournful, that I did not dare to address him then; besides I thought there would be abundant opportunity of doing this at some future time. Had I known then that the future accorded to him was bounded by those walls, my curiosity would have been stronger than my respect. As I looked round again at the grave majestic faces, the idea occurred to me that these subterranean apartments had formed part of one of the magnificent temples which formerly stood on the ground above, and that the dead occupants of the seats may have formed part of the priestly hierarchy who, having officiated there in their lifetime, had retired here to die, and that those whose remains lay mouldering here were their successors, who, on some invasion of the city had preferred to retire here and to die with their predecessors, rather than incur the risk of death elsewhere, though combined with chances of escape; those in the outer apartment being members of the same priesthood, though of less exalted degree.“After a considerable time spent in this chamber the count left it by the same way we had entered it; but, returning through the labyrinth, he continued to follow the same guide which had led us thus far, and in a few minutes we found ourselves in a comparatively small apartment, the contents of which excited in my mind a feeling as strong, though different in character, as that I had experienced in the chamber we had just left.
“If you had been permitted to enter the Emperor of Morocco’s treasure-chamber, some years ago, you might be able to form some idea of what I felt at the sight of the vast riches heaped up in this chamber. There were vessels of gold so pure that the lapse of centuries had not tarnished them; vessels innumerable and of the strangest and most beautiful designs. Some of them were arranged on elaborately sculptured shelves, but a much larger number were lying in a confused heap on the ground, as though brought there from some other place and thrown down hastily. Those the count took up he handled reverently, and as though the only value they had in his eyes arose from the uses to which they had been devoted, or from the hands that had grasped them in past ages. My heart beat faster as I looked upon such an accumulation of riches, and I was devising in my mind how they could be removed away with the greatest secrecy, when I was startled by the count suddenly saying:
“‘My candle has gone out; give me another, quickly!’
“I had not got another; but his request instantly attracted my attention to that I held in my hand, and I will leave it to you, who have been in situations where your life depended on the light you carried, to imagine the shock it gave me when I observed that my own light was on the point of going out also. The rich vessels and the jewelled ornaments were at once forgotten, and we turned and left the chamber to get as rapidly as possible through the stony labyrinth which lay between us and safety. The count took the candle from me and led the way, as fast as it was safe to go, without running the risk of extinguishing it. There was so little of it that I tore the sleeves off my dress as we went along, and putting one end between my teeth, I twisted the other so as to have it ready to light in case the candle should be burnt out before we had got through the maze. My precaution was, however, rendered of no avail by the sudden dropping of the wick into the last remains of the wax, where it was extinguished as suddenly as though it had been plunged in water. I put my hand in my pocket, but I must have left the matches on the floor of the apartment we had first entered. I don’t like to recall what I felt when this happened. I caught hold of the count’s dress and held it as he groped his way along in the thick darkness, hoping now we had got so far through it, he might be able to feel the rest of the way. But the constructor of this maze had been too skilful. Hour after hour I followed the man to whom I owed my destruction, as I then thought, and we were still wandering in the narrow passages, and, so far as we could judge, we were as far from the outlet as ever. At last the count stood still, and, taking my hands in his, he said:
“‘Paulo, I can go no further. I have struggled to the utmost, because I would have saved your young life if I could. As for my own, I could not resign it with so much willingness, anywhere, as within these sacred walls. My only wish is that I could breathe my last in the presence of the glorious spirits who once dwelt in those kingly bodies you saw in the chambers, lighted by that everlasting flame . . . Adieu, Paulo. If you escape, all I have left on earth is yours; but do not let the Arabs discover the entrance to this holy place.’ The count loosed his hold of my hands and stretched himself on the ground with a sigh of relief.
“I hesitated whether to leave him, and make the utmost use of my strength in endeavouring to find my way out, or to remain and die with him, for I had less dread of death with him than of perishing alone in the darkness. All of a sudden I remembered that I had some brandy in my pocket, and taking out the flask I groped about till I felt the count’s hand, into which I put it, and begged him to swallow a little. After much persuasion he seemed to become sensible of what I wished him to do, and made an effort to rise, in which I assisted him. A few seconds, after swallowing it, he got on his feet and began groping his way along as before, and when he showed signs of fainting, I gave him a little more. I refrained from taking any as long as I could, but nature gave way at last; and just as I began to hear noises which deafened me, and to feel as though I had swollen so large that the passage was no longer wide enough to allow of my going any further, the count fell heavily on the stone pavement, and I sank down beside him.
“Of all deaths, that from exhaustion is the most easy and painless; nay, I may go further and say, that it is actually a pleasing sensation. It was with a feeling of exquisite relief that I closed my eyes and resigned myself to what I believed was my last sleep—very different indeed to the sensation I experienced when I opened them again in the profound and awful darkness, with hunger gnawing at my stomach, and a terrible pain in my head, which nearly maddened me. With all this there was the desire to live, and I managed to get on my feet, and was in the act of staggering onward, when I suddenly recollected the count. I stooped down and touched his face, and that touch was sufficient to tell me that he was past all knowledge and suffering. I rose and crept along, as well as I was able, till I was so feeble from want of food and fatigue, that I was constantly falling against the wall or beating myself against the abrupt angles until my face seemed beaten to pieces, and I could feel the blood trickling down within my clothes. Still I kept moving, determined that I would not rest again while I retained the power of standing. My perseverance was at last rewarded by the faintest possible glimmer of light,—so faint that no eyes but such as had been in absolute darkness for many hours could have perceived it. Trembling with excitement, I moved towards the opening through which it was reflected, and in another minute I found myself in that mysterious chamber of the dead. No words can say how rejoiced I was at the sight of that eternal flame. I approached it with joy, and with little of that awe I had felt when I saw it for the first time. My sense of the perils of my position was revived by the acute smarting of my face as the heat of the flame reached it, and I became frantically desirous of escaping to the open air. But, without a light, how could I effect this, and where was I to find the materials for a flame which would burn long enough to enable me to make my way through the tortuous passages. I looked round the chamber, but there was nothing there of which I could avail myself, except—and the very idea made me shudder at first—I used the body of one of the embalmed corpses for the purpose. I had more than once seen fragments of mummies used with substances of the foulest description to kindle a fire but there seemed something so sacrilegious in breaking up a perfect human body for such a purpose that nothing but the state of desperation in which I was could have given me the courage to do it. Shutting my senses to all considerations but that of my own condition, I dragged one of these noble-looking figures from its throne, tore off the robe, as though acting under a species of frenzy, and broke the body in pieces. Untying the piece of canvas which I had fastened round my waist, I shook out the glittering diadem on the pavement as though it were of no more value than the tawdry thing which that wretched dancing-girl yonder wears on her head, and with it I made a cord by which I slung the members from my shoulders. Taking one of them, I thrust it into the flame: it kindled instantly, burning so fiercely that there was little fear of its being extinguished by any accident. I hastened away as fast as my strength would enable me, and I had not got far into the labyrinth before I perceived the body of the count, who, had he only taken three steps to the left, instead of the right, would have been saved. I stopped an instant to look on him for the last time, and repeating the verse—
Il tempo verrà in cui tutti queigli che sono ne’ sepolcri udirnnuo la voce del Figliuolo di Dio e usciranno,
I continued my way, with all the speed which my condition and the necessity of carefully studying the direction in which the serpent pointed would permit. Sick, dizzy, and with eyes so dimmed that even with the strong light I carried, I could distinguish small objects only with great difficulty, I emerged from the maze into an apartment which was not that through which we had entered it for the first time. Whatever there may have been in it, I was but too anxious to escape while a little strength remained to me, and my attention was wholly directed to the discovery of the creeping reptile, which was the only barrier between me and death. Having discovered this, I followed it through passages and apartments till it led me to a chamber from which there was no apparent outlet. I felt that, in a few minutes, my strength would entirely give way. To lengthen my power of endurance, I had recourse to what was once considered an infallible restorative, which, disgusting as it was, I managed to swallow, and I have no doubt it was the means of keeping me alive long enough to get out of the horrible position in which I was placed. I examined the guiding representation with the utmost care, yet it was not till I had been twice round the chamber that I detected that in one of these the tip of the tongue was wanting. I divined at once that this was purposely to indicate an opening in the wall, and dashing myself recklessly against it, the stone moved heavily though smoothly outward, and admitted me into the chamber where still lay the skeletons the sight of which had so impressed me what appeared months before. Climbing these steps with hope once more strong in me, I dragged myself up to the hole we had made and emerged into the open air.
“It was night, and the stars were shining brightly in the dark blue sky. I could see a fire burning in the direction of our tent; but I preferred to lie down on the soft sand and sleep where I was, to attempting to reach it. The pure air and the sound sleep so refreshed me that I woke another man. There was nobody near me when I opened my eyes. Hastily heaping up a few stones against the hole, I covered them with sand, and then made my way to our tent. Here I found the Sheikh had taken up his quarters, and he did not appear at all gratified at seeing me. His first question was as to where I had left the count. I might have known that this question would be asked of me; but I had not thought of it, and I saw myself under the necessity of disregarding the count’s last request, or of being treated as a criminal who had murdered him. Under these circumstances I told the Sheikh of all that had occurred, and the day following I showed him the opening, and directed him how to reach the place where I had left the count’s body. Probably, fearing that I might lessen the amount of his gains, if I remained to enter the subterranean building with him, he gladly drew up, with me, a certificate of the circumstances under which the count had perished, and after a hasty settlement of the accounts of the labourers, I caused the luggage to be packed, and returned to Alexandria with the least delay possible, being anxious to place myself under the care of a medical man, fever having laid hold of me within a few hours after my escape.
“It was long before I recovered from it, and then I was offered a post by my friend the Pasha, there, with the sanction of the Viceroy, which suited me a great deal better than that of mere dragoman; and thanks to good friends, and perhaps a little to the conscientiousness and ability with which I discharged the functions of my office, my position improved till it became what you know it to be now. I have never had any occasion to ascend the Nile, beyond a short distance, since my unfortunate journey with the count; but from the experience I have had of the cunning and perseverance of the Arabs, when the discovery of treasure is in question, I know that very few days had passed before the whole of this subterranean building had been ravaged, so that I have never been tempted to make a journey to Thebes for the purpose of seeking to appropriate the treasures it contained.”