Moses and Mrs. Aintree - Talbot Mundy - ebook

Moses and Mrs. Aintree ebook

Talbot Mundy

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The story tells of the discovery of a set of thirty-two golden plaques depicting the organizers and rituals of the occult group, whose member was the biblical Moses. Moses is actually depicted on one of the plates, and his portrait, most notably depicted not by an Egyptian artist, with his miserable skill, but a talented Indian hand.

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Liczba stron: 235

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Contents

CHAPTER I “We can reconstruct the whole of human history.”

CHAPTER II “Moses Miles.”

CHAPTER III “A P.O.P. original charter member.”

CHAPTER IV “His name was Gulad.”

CHAPTER V “Oh you Promis’ Lan’!”

CHAPTER VI “No form of abstinence. No fasts. No saints’ days.”

CHAPTER VII “Murdered at seven fifteen.”

CHAPTER VIII “He likes notes of rather large denominations.”

CHAPTER IX “And if they all offers me a li’l sweet’nin’, Cap’n?”

CHAPTER X “Res egaliter omnibus!”

CHAPTER XI “Man, the plate’s gone!”

CHAPTER XII “Feller, you were right just now!”

CHAPTER XIII “Lake Tahoe don’t give up her dead.”

CHAPTER I “We can reconstruct the whole of human history.”

WELL, you know how the firm of Grim, Ramsden, & Ross had its beginnings. We have had to use all our wits to save ourselves from being used by one government against another; rivals for political power have tried to employ us for their own ends and have succeeded more than once. You’d need the brains of an arch-angel and Satan combined to see through all the proposals that get brought to us. But there’s reasonable money in it, and it’s good fun; we’ve cracked a hard-boiled egg or two, and spilled some beans.

Strange gave Grim sole charge of the near-East end, purchased Narayan Singh’s discharge from the army, and left the two of them in Cairo, planting Jeremy in London. Strange and I went to the States, where, with the aid of his old office staff, we hammered through the organizing and incorporation; and while we were in the middle of all that, the first “view forward” came over the wires from Grim. Strange was in Washington.

MEET JOHN BRICE NEW YORK S. S. OLYMPIC. O.K. FOLLOW UP. GRIM.

I boarded the Olympic along with the pilot away outside Sandy Hook. It was early morning, but Brice was pacing the deck with a companion, and I observed them both for several minutes after a steward had told me who they were.

Brice was short, with a close-clipped gray beard, wiry, dried out, and resolute-looking. He stepped forward gamely with a decided limp, and made way for other people apparently unconsciously. I guessed his age between fifty and fifty-five.

His companion was about two inches taller, angular, and lean, a Scot whichever way you viewed him; a fellow with one of those noses that warn you not to waste persuasion on him, he’ll decide for himself. He had heavy, sandy-colored eyebrows, broad shoulders, and a sort of side-swing that went with them. He wore a heathercolored Highland tam-o’-shanter and a small leather bag slung over his shoulder by a strap. The steward told me his name was Allison, and that he had shared Brice’s stateroom on the voyage.

I introduced myself, and Brice chose one of those leather-upholstered corners in the smoking-room, and curled himself up cross-legged, staring at me frankly and fairly. He made no effort to disguise the fact that he was making an inventory of my pros and cons. His companion, seated next to him, did the same, perhaps not quite so sympathetically.

“We met Grim in Cairo,” Brice began at last. “Allison and I are Egyptologists; we’ve been nineteen years in Egypt on behalf of the British Museum. The Egyptian law as regards antiquities is strict, and no kind of excavating is allowed without a permit, which is only granted to representatives of such institutions as the British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of New York, and so on. All discoveries have to be reported, and nothing may be removed from the spot without permission in writing.

“Allison and I have specialized in the period during which the Israelites were in Egypt, with particular reference to Moses. Very little is known about Moses, historically speaking. In the biblical account not even the name is given of the Egyptian princess who is said to have discovered him among the reeds. It was our purpose, if possible, to throw light on all that period, establishing as many facts as might be–”

“And exploding a number of absur-r-d traditions,” put in Allison. “We’ve disproved more than ye’d imagine possible.”

“We have established the fact definitely that Moses did exist,” Brice continued. “Whether or not one man wrote the Decalogue; whether or not one individual led that horde of Israelites and established the ten commandments and the law, we have proved that Moses did exist. He lived at a time that corresponds roughly with that of the Israelitish colony in Egypt. Our proofs, however, are missing.”

“Do you expect to find them in New York?” I asked. “You’ll find Moses’ family is not extinct.”

“Our quest has nothing to do with Jews,” Brice answered.

“The most astonishing thing about the Jewish race is their indifference to the monuments of their own past. Allison and I discovered a temple in which Moses undoubtedly studied that ‘learning of the Egyptians’ with which he is credited. There, we found the symbols and insignia that he used in the performance of the secret rites. Those have been stolen, and it might occur to you that Jews would be the logical people on whom suspicion should rest. But Jews have nothing whatever to do with it.

“We kept our discovery secret. It was so important, and the finds themselves were of such intrinsic value that it seemed wisest to close up everything until we could confer with the proper authorities regarding the disposal of what could be easily removed.

“One of our staff was an Abyssinian, an individual named Gulad, who had been educated in America. He had served us faithfully for nine or ten years, and you know the proverb, ‘If a comrade in arms is what you need, buy a Nubian slave; if you want to grow rich, buy an Abyssinian.’ That fellow Gulad was the finest steward of resources that we ever had. Nothing escaped his notice. Nobody–not even a desert Bedouin–could steal from him, and he was sufficiently educated to appreciate the importance of antiquities, aside from the mere price they might bring in the open market.

“We had entered the temple through a hole in one corner of the wall after tunneling through sand for more than a hundred yards, shoring up the tunnel with timber as we went. Most of the important finds were in a great stone chest weighing several tons, almost the exact counterpart of the so-called sarcophagus in the King’s Chamber in the Great Pyramid, only having a lid that fits tightly in place. The chest in the Great Pyramid has no lid.

“Whatever had been found outside the stone chest we placed inside it except for one small item. Then, with the aid of Gulad and ten men, we lifted the lid back, cemented up the breach we had made in the temple wall, pulled down about a dozen cross-pieces of timber from the roof of our tunnel, so as to let the sand fall in and close the passage against thieves, and came away, leaving Gulad on the spot in charge.”

“You understand,” put in Allison, “we never mistrusted Gulad for a minute.”

“Never for a minute,” Brice agreed. “He was as enthusiastic as ourselves. He used to sit and talk with us in the evenings, displaying an intricate knowledge of Bible history. He had theories of his own on a number of things that have puzzled antiquarians. He could read hieroglyphics. We used to give him worn and broken inscriptions to decipher, and he had a fair average of success with them.”

“Aye, we were well taken in,” said Allison. “We might ha’ known it’s not in the nature of an honest black man to be receiving letters from all quarters of the globe.”

Brice laughed.

“It never occurred to us to ask what his voluminous correspondence was about. Now and then we’d see him writing until long after midnight in his tent by candle-light.”

“We’d see his shadow on the side of the tent, ye understand,” put in Allison. “We respected his privacy exactly as if he were a white man like ourselves.”

“Well,” Brice continued, “we left Gulad in charge, and took the train for Cairo. That meant a day on camel-back before we reached the railway, and a day and a night in the train. When we reached Cairo Galbraith, the official we had to see, was away; and we had to wait three days for him.

“When Galbraith returned–he arrived at midnight, and we kept him up all that night talking, though he was tired out–he thought our news so important that he made up his mind to return with us and have our find uncovered in his presence. That meant more delay. One way and another, it was eleven days after our departure before we arrived with Galbraith at sunset, tired and hungry on the scene of our excavations. The camp had completely disappeared! There did not remain one trace of it!”

“Nothing to eat! Nowhere to go!” said Allison.

“No lanterns or candles–nothing but a box or two of matches –no servants, except the two Arabs who had come with us to look after the camels we rode–no firearms–not a word of explanation. Nothing but Egyptian darkness, and the black mouth of a tunnel leading underground! We slept in the tunnel that night.”

“Speak for yourself!” remarked Allison dryly.

“When morning came there was a little dim light down the tunnel, for it points due eastward, and for a short while the rising sun penetrates almost to the end. We saw then that the tunnel was not as we had left it. The overhead beams had been replaced, the loose sand carried out, and then three beams had been removed again to let sand once more block the tunnel. In other words, somebody had paid a visit to our find.

“It was three more days before we could get together another gang and dig through to our temple. The digging took another whole day, and then we saw that whoever had paid the visit in our absence hadn’t taken the trouble to reset the masonry. The hole yawned as wide as if we’d never blocked it up, and nearly all the stones were pushed inside the building.”

“I examined the cement at once,” said Allison. “The masonry had been broken down before our backs were turned. That put outside conspir-racy out of the question. There was only one man who knew enough and had intelligence enough to dig straight to the spot and use crow-bars before the cement was dry. It was Gulad’s doing.”

“Be that as it may,” said Brice, “we proceeded to examine the temple. It’s a wonderful temple–”

“Per-r-fect!” exclaimed Allison. “The pattern and inspiration of the chastity of later Greek. design! But we’ll not bore ye with technicalities. Proceed.”

“Nothing in the main hall had been touched,” said Brice. “We entered the smaller priests’ chamber at the rear, in which we had discovered the great stone chest; and I told you how we had replaced the lid. That lid weighed a ton. It was set leaning against a wall. The stone chest was empty. Absolutely empty!”

“Man, ye’d have wept!” said Allison. “There were portraits done on gold of thirty-two initiates of the mystery, with their names inscribed; and beneath each portrait was writing of a kind never before unearthed in an Egyptian temple. Do ye know Sanskrit? Look at this. This is the single item we took with us that convinced Galbraith he’d better come back with us.”

Allison undid his leather satchel and unwrapped from tissue paper a rectangular gold plate, about nine inches by six and more than a quarter of an inch in thickness. Its weight was prodigious. One side was entirely covered with writing etched into the soft metal. Allison laid that side downward on the table, and bade me consider the obverse.

“Don’t touch! That’s Moses!” he said, sitting back to enjoy the expression of my face.

The gold had been cut away smoothly to leave a portrait of a man in high relief. My previous mental picture of Moses had been taken from the cover of a school atlas. I imagined a man with whiskers like those of the man of Liskeard in the limerick, breaking in his fury two stone tablets by the light of lightning, and kicking over a golden calf, while crowds of Israelites prostrated themselves in terror before him.

The picture I had in mind of him was gigantic–six or seven times as big as other men–clothed in a thing like a purple bathrobe and with his toes sticking out from sandals that suggested seven-league boots.

This man had Jewish features subtly modified to pass Egyptian scrutiny. The beard was trimmed and curled like those of the statues of Pharaoh, and the headdress was the linen one of ancient Egypt, including the jeweled brow-band shaped like a snake.

Yet it hadn’t been done by an Egyptian artist. You could easily recognize the touch of an Indian hand, betrayed by the skill with which the folds of cloth were handled and a kind of alive, compassionate humanity that the Egyptians never tried to picture–having none.

It was a face that you could stare at by the hour–attracting –fascinating–nothing repellent about it–amazing. It expressed not only humor, but the whole great cycle of the virtues, including wisdom. Not wisdom as the Egyptians represented it, static and cold. Wisdom that was so entirely wise that it could sympathize, and laugh with instead of at. I’ve never seen anywhere a face like that one, done in gold in Pharaoh’s day.

“Can ye read Sanskrit?” demanded Allison. “That first line below the picture reads–

Moses, son of Amram, an Initiate inducted to these Mysteries at the appointed time.

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