The Last Egyptian. A Romance of the Nile - L. Frank Baum - ebook

The Last Egyptian. A Romance of the Nile ebook

L. Frank Baum

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When Gerald Winston, an English Egyptologist travelling on the Nile, meets Kara, who claims to be the last descendant of a royal Egyptian family, the scientist’s curiosity is sparked by the story Kara tells. Is it true that Kara’s ancestor Ahtka-Ra, High Priest of Ămen, ruled Rameses II as his puppet? As Winston tries to learn more about the strange Egyptian and his mysterious tale, he is drawn into Kara’s insidious intrigues. A complex tale of embezzlement, forgery, arranged marriages, bigotry and cheating keep the reader guessing the outcome until the last chapter. „The Last Egyptian. A Romance of the Nile” was the only adventure novel and the last adult work of fiction of L. Frank Baum, creator of the „Wizard of Oz”, published eleven years after he wrote „Mother Goose in Prose” which first introduced a little girl by the name of Dorothy. Enjoy this masterpiece.

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Liczba stron: 318

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Contents

Chapter I. Where the Desert Meets the Nile

Chapter II. Hatatcha

Chapter III. The Dragoman

Chapter IV. The Treasure of Ahtka-Rā

Chapter V. A Roll of Papyrus

Chapter VI. Kāra Bathes in the Nile

Chapter VII. A Step Toward the Goal

Chapter VIII. His Grandmother’s Mummy

Chapter IX. Aneth

Chapter X. Lord Cromer’s Reception

Chapter XI. Setting the Snares

Chapter XII. Nephthys

Chapter XIII. The Talisman of Ahtka-Rā

Chapter XIV. Rogues Ancient and Modern

Chapter XV. Winston Bey is Indignant

Chapter XVI. Kāra Threatens

Chapter XVII. Aneth Surrenders

Chapter XVIII. Finding a Way

Chapter XIX. The Abduction

Chapter XX. The Sheik Agrees

Chapter XXI. Lotus Eaters and Crocodiles

Chapter XXII. The Dragoman’s Inspiration

Chapter XXIII. Mother and Daughter

Chapter XXIV. The Sheik Demurs

Chapter XXV. The Bronze Bolts

Chapter XXVI. The Dragoman Wins

CHAPTER I. WHERE THE DESERT MEETS THE NILE

The sun fell hot upon the bosom of the Nile and clung there, vibrant, hesitating, yet aggressive, as if baffled in its desire to penetrate beneath the river’s lurid surface. For the Nile defies the sun, and relegates him to his own broad domain, wherein his power is undisputed.

On either side the broad stream humanity shrank from Ra’s seething disc. The shaduf workers had abandoned their skin-covered buckets and bamboo poles to seek shelter from the heat beneath a straggling tree or a straw mat elevated on stalks of ripe sugar-cane. The boats of the fishermen lay in little coves, where the sails were spread as awnings to shade their crews. The fellaheen laborers had all retired to their clay huts to sleep through this fiercest period of the afternoon heat.

On the Nile, however, a small steam dahabeah puffed lazily along, stemming with its slow motion the sweep of the mighty river toward the sea. The Arab stoker, naked and sweating, stood as far as possible from the little boiler and watched it with a look{10} of absolute repulsion upon his swarthy face. The engineer, also an Arab, lay stretched upon the deck half asleep, but with both ears alert to catch any sound that might denote the fact that the straining, rickety engine was failing to perform its full duty. Back of the tiny cabin sat the dusky steersman, as naked and inert as his fellows, while under the deck awning reclined the one white man of the party, a young Englishman clothed in khaki knickerbockers and a white silk shirt well open at the throat.

There were no tourists in Egypt at this season. If you find a white man on the Nile in April, he is either attached to some exploration party engaged in excavations or a government employee from Cairo, Assyut or Luxor, bent upon an urgent mission.

The dahabeah was not a government boat, though, so that our Englishman was more likely to be an explorer than an official. It was evident he was no stranger to tropical climes, if we judged by his sun-browned skin and the quiet resignation to existing conditions with which he puffed his black briar and relaxed his muscular frame. He did not sleep, but lay with his head upon a low wicker rest that enabled him to sweep the banks of the Nile with his keen blue eyes.

The three Arabs regarded their master from time to time with stealthy glances, in which wonder was mingled with a certain respect. The foreigner was a fool to travel during the heat of the day; no doubt of that at all. The native knows when to work and when{11} to sleep–a lesson the European never learns. Yet this was no casual adventurer exploiting his folly, but a man who had lived among them for years, who spoke Arabic fluently and could even cipher those hieroglyphics of the dead ages which abound throughout modern Egypt. Hassan, Abdallah and Ali knew this well, for they had accompanied Winston Bey on former expeditions, and heard him translate the ugly signs graven upon the ugly stones into excellent Arabic. It was all very wonderful in its way, but quite useless and impractical, if their opinion were allowed. And the master himself was impractical. He did foolish things at all times, and sacrificed his own comfort and that of his servants in order to accomplish unnecessary objects. Had he not paid well for his whims, Winston Bey might have sought followers in vain; but the Arab will even roast himself upon the Nile on an April afternoon to obtain the much-coveted gold of the European.

At four o’clock a slight breeze arose; but what matter? The journey was nearly done now. They had rounded a curve in the river, and ahead of them, lying close to the east bank, were the low mountains of Gebel Abu Fedah. At the south, where the rocks ended abruptly, lay a small grove of palms. Between the palms and the mountains was the beaten path leading from the Nile to the village of Al-Kusiyeh, a mile or so inland, which was the particular place the master had come so far and so fast to visit.{12}

The breeze, although hardly felt, served to refresh the enervated travelers. Winston sat up and knocked the ashes from his pipe, making a careful scrutiny at the same time of the lifeless landscape ahead.

The mountains of gray limestone looked very uninviting as they lay reeking under the terrible heat of the sun. From their base to the river was no sign of vegetation, but only a hardened clay surface. The desert sands had drifted in in places. Even under the palms it lay in heavy drifts, for the land between the Nile and Al-Kusiyeh was abandoned to nature, and the fellaheen had never cared to redeem it.

The water was deep by the east bank, for the curve of the river swept the current close to the shore. The little dahabeah puffed noisily up to the bank and deposited the Englishman upon the hard clay. Then it backed across into shallow water, and Hassan shut down the engine while Abdallah dropped the anchor.

Winston now wore his cork helmet and carried a brown umbrella lined with green. With all his energy, the transition from the deck of the dahabeah to this oven-like atmosphere of the shore bade fair to overcome his resolution to proceed to the village.

But it would never do to recall his men so soon. They would consider it an acknowledgment that he had erred in judgment, and the only way to manage an Arab is to make him believe you know what you are about. The palm trees were not far away. He would rest in their shade until the sun was lower.{13}

A dozen steps and the perspiration started from every pore. But he kept on, doggedly, until he came to the oblong shadow cast by the first palm, and there he squatted in the sand and mopped his face with his handkerchief.

The silence was oppressive. There was no sound of any kind to relieve it. Even the beetles were hidden far under the sand, and there was no habitation near enough for a donkey’s bray or a camel’s harsh growl to be heard. The Nile flows quietly at this point, and the boat had ceased to puff and rattle its machinery.

Winston brushed aside the top layer of sand with his hands, for that upon the surface was so hot that contact with it was unbearable. Then he extended his body to rest, turning slightly this way and that to catch in his face the faint breath of the breeze that passed between the mountains and the Nile. At the best he was doomed to an uncomfortable hour or two, and he cast longing glances at the other bits of shade to note whether any seemed more inviting than the one he had selected.

During this inspection his eye caught a patch of white some distance away. It was directly over the shadow of the furthest tree of the group, and aroused his curiosity. After a minute he arose in a leisurely fashion and walked over to the spot of white, which on nearer approach proved to be a soiled cotton tunic or burnous. It lay half buried in the sand, and at one end were the folds of a dirty turban, with faded{14} red and yellow stripes running across the coarse cloth.

Winston put his foot on the burnous and the thing stirred and emitted a muffled growl. At that he kicked the form viciously; but now it neither stirred nor made a sound. Instead, a narrow slit appeared between the folds of the turban, and an eye, black and glistening, looked steadfastly upon the intruder.

“Do you take me for a beast, you imbecile, that you dare to disturb my slumbers?” asked a calm voice, in Arabic.

The heat had made Winston Bey impatient.

“Yes; you are a dog. Get up!” he commanded, kicking the form again.

The turban was removed, disclosing a face, and the man sat up, crossing his bare legs beneath him as he stared fixedly at his persecutor.

Aside from the coarse burnous, sadly discolored in many places, the fellow was unclothed. His skin showed at the breast and below his knees, and did not convey an impression of immaculate cleanliness. Of slender build, with broad shoulders, long hands and feet and sinewy arms and legs, the form disclosed was curiously like those so often presented in the picture-writing upon the walls of ancient temples. His forehead was high, his chin square, his eyes large and soft, his cheeks full, his mouth wide and sensual, his nose short and rounded. His jaws protruded slightly and his hair was smooth and fine. In color the tint of his{15} skin was not darker than the tanned cuticle of the Englishman, but the brown was softer, and resembled coffee that has been plentifully diluted with cream. A handsome fellow in his way, with an expression rather unconcerned than dignified, which masked a countenance calculated to baffle even a shrewder and more experienced observer than Winston Bey.

Said the Englishman, looking at him closely:

“You are a Copt.”

Inadvertently he had spoken in his mother tongue and the man laughed.

“If you follow the common prejudice and consider every Copt a Christian,” he returned in purest English, “then I am no Copt; but if you mean that I am an Egyptian, and no dog of an Arab, then, indeed, you are correct in your estimate.”

Winston uttered an involuntary exclamation of surprise. For a native to speak English is not so unusual; but none that he knew expressed himself with the same ease and confidence indicated in this man’s reply. He brushed away some of the superheated sand and sat down facing his new acquaintance.

“Perhaps,” said he–a touch of sarcasm in his voice–“I am speaking with a descendant of the Great Rameses himself.”

“Better than that,” rejoined the other, coolly. “My forefather was Ahtka-Rā, of true royal blood, who ruled the second Rameses as cleverly as that foolish monarch imagined he ruled the Egyptians.”{16}

Winston seemed amused.

“I regret,” said he, with mock politeness, “that I have never before heard of your great forefather.”

“But why should you?” asked the Egyptian. “You are, I suppose, one of those uneasy investigators that prowl through Egypt in a stupid endeavor to decipher the inscriptions on the old temples and tombs. You can read a little–yes; but that little puzzles and confuses you. Your most learned scholars–your Mariettes and Petries and Masperos–discover one clue and guess at twenty, and so build up a wonderful history of the ancient kings that is absurd to those who know the true records.”

“Who knows them?” asked Winston, quickly.

The man dropped his eyes.

“No one, perhaps,” he mumbled. “At the best, but one or two. But you would know more if you first studied the language of the ancient Egyptians, so that when you deciphered the signs and picture writings you could tell with some degree of certainty what they meant.”

Winston sniffed. “Answer my question!” said he, sternly. “Who knows the true records, and where are they?”

“Ah, I am very ignorant,” said the other, shaking his head with an humble expression. “Who am I, the poor Kāra, to dispute with the scholars of Europe?”

The Englishman fanned himself with his helmet and sat silent for a time.{17}

“But this ancestor of yours–the man who ruled the Great Rameses–who was he?” he asked, presently.

“Men called him Ahtka-Rā, as I said. He was descended from the famous Queen Hatshepset, and his blood was pure. Indeed, my ancestor should have ruled Egypt as its king, had not the first Rameses overthrown the line of Mēnēs and established a dynasty of his own. But Ahtka-Rā, unable to rule in his own name, nevertheless ruled through the weak Rameses, under whom he bore the titles of High Priest of Āmen, Lord of the Harvests and Chief Treasurer. All of the kingdom he controlled and managed, sending Rameses to wars to keep him occupied, and then, when the king returned, setting him to build temples and palaces, and to erect monuments to himself, that he might have no excuse to interfere with the real business of the government. You, therefore, who read the inscriptions of the vain king wonder at his power and call him great; and, in your ignorance, you know not even the name of Ahtka-Rā, the most wonderful ruler that Egypt has ever known.”

“It is true that we do not know him,” returned Winston, scrutinizing the man before him with a puzzled expression. “You seem better informed than the Egyptologists!”

Kāra dipped his hands into the sand beside him and let the grains slip between his fingers, watching them thoughtfully.{18}

“Rameses the Second,” said he, “reigned sixty-five years, and–”

“Sixty-seven years,” corrected Winston. “It is written.”

“In the inscriptions, which are false,” explained the Egyptian. “My ancestor concealed the death of Rameses for two years, because Meremptah, who would succeed him, was a deadly enemy. But Meremptah discovered the secret at last, and at once killed Ahtka-Rā, who was very old and unable to oppose him longer. And after that the treasure cities of Pithom and Raamses, which my ancestor had built, were seized by the new king, but no treasures were found in them. Even in death my great ancestor was able to deceive and humble his enemies.”

“Listen, Kāra,” said Winston, his voice trembling with suppressed eagerness; “to know that which you have told to me means that you have discovered some sort of record hitherto unknown to scientists. To us who are striving to unravel the mystery of ancient Egyptian history this information will be invaluable. Let me share your knowledge, and tell me what you require in exchange for your secret. You are poor; I will make you rich. You are unknown; I will make the name of Kāra famous. You are young; you shall enjoy life. Speak, my brother, and believe that I will deal justly by you–on the word of an Englishman.”

The Egyptian did not even look up, but continued{19} playing with the sand. Yet over his grave features a smile slowly spread.

“It is not five minutes,” he murmured softly, “since I was twice kicked and called a dog. Now I am the Englishman’s brother, and he will make me rich and famous.”

Winston frowned, as if he would like to kick the fellow again. But he resisted the temptation.

“What would you?” he asked, indifferently. “The burnous might mean an Arab. It is good for the Arab to be kicked at times.”

Possibly Kāra neither saw the jest nor understood the apology. His unreadable countenance was still turned toward the sand, and he answered nothing.

The Englishman moved uneasily. Then he extracted a cigarette case from his pocket, opened it, and extended it toward the Egyptian.

Kāra looked at the cigarettes and his face bore the first expression of interest it had yet shown. Very deliberately he bowed, touched his forehead and then his heart with his right hand, and afterward leaned forward and calmly selected a cigarette.

Winston produced a match and lighted it, the Egyptian’s eyes seriously following his every motion. He applied the light to his own cigarette first; then to that of Kāra. Another touch of the forehead and breast and the native was luxuriously inhaling the smoke of the tobacco. His eyes were brighter and he wore a look of great content.{20}

The Englishman silently watched until the other had taken his third whiff; then, the ceremonial being completed, he spoke, choosing his words carefully.

“Seek as we may, my brother, for the records of the dead civilization of your native land, we know full well that the most important documents will be discovered in the future, as in the past, by the modern Egyptians themselves. Your traditions, handed down through many generations, give to you a secret knowledge of where the important papyri and tablets are deposited. If there are hidden tombs in Gebel Abu Fedah, or near the city of Al-Kusiyeh, perhaps you know where to find them; and if so, we will open them together and profit equally by what we secure.”

The Egyptian shook his head and flicked the ash from his cigarette with an annoyed gesture.

“You are wrong in estimating the source of my knowledge,” said he, in a tone that was slightly acrimonious. “Look at my rags,” spreading his arms outward; “would I refuse your bribe if I knew how to earn it? I have not smoked a cigarette before in months–not since Tadros the dragoman came to Al Fedah in the winter. I am barefoot, because I fear to wear out my sandals until I know how to replace them. Often I am hungry, and I live like a jackal, shrinking from all intercourse with my fellows or with the world. That is Kāra, the son of kings, the royal one!”

Winston was astonished. It is seldom a native complains of his lot or resents his condition, however{21} lowly it may be. Yet here was one absolutely rebellious.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because my high birth isolates me,” was the reply, with an accent of pride. “It is no comfortable thing to be Kāra, the lineal descendant of the great Ahtka-Rā, in the days when Egypt’s power is gone, and her children are scorned by the Arab Muslims and buffeted by the English Christians.”

“Do you live in the village?” asked Winston.

“No; my burrow is in a huddle of huts behind the mountain, in a place that is called Fedah.”

“With whom do you live?”

“My grandmother, Hatatcha.”

“Ah!”

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