The Mystery of Khufu’s Tomb - Talbot Mundy - ebook

The Mystery of Khufu’s Tomb ebook

Talbot Mundy

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The mystery of the tomb of Khufu is a story about Jeff Ramsden written by Talbot Mundy. In this fascinating story, Ramsden travels a lot and encounters his old friend, the beautiful Joan Angela Leich. Soon they go to the desert, try to unravel the mystery of the place of the tomb of Khufu and help the old Chinese mathematician, which is blocked by the usual shoemaker from the villains, trying to steal the treasure for himself. Much more modern and anti-imperial in the world than his predecessors Mandy wrote to a soul an interesting novel with a lot of adventures and acute sensations.

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Contents

CHAPTER I Which is a kind of preface

CHAPTER II Moustapha Pasha

CHAPTER III “You talk like the British government”

CHAPTER IV Zoom of the Zee-Bar-Zee

CHAPTER V Zezwinski of the Zee-Bar-Zee

CHAPTER VI “A land in which death is not difficult, but life has its complexities”

CHAPTER VII “The answer is still no”—“Then go to the Devil!”

CHAPTER VIII “If you want to bet I’ll bet with you”

CHAPTER IX “Lent us by Ah Li Wan”

CHAPTER X “Whom Allah hath made mad let none offend”

CHAPTER XI “Too much water!”

CHAPTER XII “Damn-fool thinkee money good for dead man. Makee plenty more mistake”

CHAPTER XIII “Go to it, boys!”

CHAPTER XIV “Please come quickly!”

CHAPTER XV “Speak, o man of swift decisions!”

CHAPTER XVI “Cleopatra, who would have liked to sell Egypt’s soul again”

CHAPTER XVII Magnificent simplicity

CHAPTER I. Which is a kind of preface

We Americans are ostriches. We stick well meaning heads into the political sands of these United States, swear–probably correctly–they are better than all other sands, and accordingly declare ourselves free for ever from entangling alliances. “Struthio camelus,” whose plumes are plucked for market while his head, stowed snugly in a stocking, “sees no evil, hears no evil, speaks no evil,” and who then struts about asserting that a plucked and smarting rump is fashionable, ought to be our national bird, not the all-seeing eagle.

But this isn’t an effort to reform the United States. We’re the finest there is or ever was, only rather more entangled with the old world than we think.

The Great Pyramid of Gizeh is older than the Declaration of Independence, and its claims continue to have precedence, our elected statesmen notwithstanding. Statesmen understand not much beyond the drift of popular opinion; but conspirators have always understood that the safest place to conspire in is the centre of the establishment they aim at.

The men whose lives are spent mainly in the open are the widest awake. To assert the contrary is only another phase of the ostrich habit. If a man wipes his knife on the seat of his trousers and knows where the cinnamon bear will be rooting at six a.m., he’s not necessarily less enlightened than the fellow who thinks he knows what the editorials in the morning paper really mean. That partly explains why the best policemen come from the plough-tail and the woods, and cities don’t often produce Abe Lincolns.

All this sounds rather far from Egypt and the Pyramid of Gizeh, but is not. Few people know or knew why the Great Pyramid was built. Hundreds of thousands toiled at the making of it, most of whom thought they knew, just as most of the people who take the subway in the morning think they know why, and are deluded. They believed what they were told. They were told what was considered good for them to think. The men who told them knew hardly any more but were getting a profit, and hard cash always did look like Euclid’s Q.E.D. But the men who really did know why the Pyramid was building held their tongues and toiled elsewhere, also for cash, except Khufu himself, who was the arch-type of perfect profiteers.

Khufu was king of Upper and Lower Egypt in those days. Cash dividends did not trouble him much, for he had the taxes to draw on and auditors passed his vouchers without comment. Consequently the man in the street of to-day might be paying higher taxes on account of old Khufu, if Joan Angela Leich hadn’t just contrived to miss me with her Ford one dark night on the Geiger Trail; which sounds incredible.

But so is Joan Angela incredible; I’m coming to her presently. Everybody knows her who isn’t fenced in by apartment-house blocks. If she had pushed me over the edge of the Geiger that night, you, who read this, would be paying for more armaments.

But it was Khufu who started the trouble. He is better known to fame as Cheops, and we know pretty well what he looked like.

He was a calm, proud, confident-appearing man, with an obvious sense of his own importance and a smile that seemed to say: “Carry on, boys. What’s good for me is good for you,” Being city folk, he had them all in one place where they had got to listen. Spell-binders laid the argument on thick in one direction; in the other the overseers laid on the lash; and the minstrels, who were the equivalent of the daily Press in those days, praised all concerned.

But right here I’m going to be called in question by the Egyptologists unless I hasten to explain. It will be said with a certain amount of surface truth that the Egyptians who laboured at building the Pyramid were peasants on vacation. Work ceased in the fields when the Nile had overflowed, and they were kept out of mischief by thoughtful superiors, who provided wholesome amusement with educational value that incidentally promoted trade. When the Nile receded at the end of three months, those who had survived the education were permitted to return home and go to work in the fields again, in order to raise crops, with which to pay the taxes, that should keep the ball a-rolling and Jack Pharaoh’s pyramid a-building again next season. That is what the text-book writers will assert.

But those peasants were city folk. Egypt was always one great straggling city, with one wide avenue–the Nile–running straight down the middle of it. Everybody lived on Main Street, and they all do still; there was, and is, nowhere else to live, and if the Nile were to dry up Egypt would disappear.

Living on one long street, Egyptians all look alike, think alike, and react to the same inducement. You can’t change the Nile, but it will change you, and if you stay there long enough will pattern you until you resemble all the others. Egypt has been invaded scores of times, overrun, looted, conquered, and made to pay tribute; its women have been forced to intermarry with the conquerors, because they are beautiful women with the eyes of gazelles and with a properly respectful attitude toward the male; so the pure-blooded Egyptian no longer exists. Nevertheless, the Egyptian of to-day is exactly like the Egyptian of four thousand years ago, and so is Egypt, except that nowadays you see blue cotton dungarees in place of unbleached linen; a corrupt style of near-French architecture; and two streets instead of one, since the foreigner built the railway.

Then, just as now, there was always a small crowd of foreigners running things, while the native Egyptian did the work. It was a foreigner who suggested the Great Pyramid to Pharaoh, and who doubtless drafted the design and got the contract. No Egyptian ever lived who was capable of designing it. Khufu provided the money and labour, but there is always someone pulling strings behind the autocrat.

In a later Pharaoh’s day another foreigner, Joseph by name, thought of cornering corn. Still another foreigner, Lesseps by name, conceived the Suez Canal and put that through. Only the dirt was shifted by Egyptians because they are Egyptians, and the dividends go elsewhere for the same reason.

You can’t change Egypt. Not even its religion has changed except on the surface. The religion of the educated classes century by century may be the nominal creed of the labourer, but it has never got under his skin. He was always a fatalist, always a believer in brute force, born, bred, beaten and buried on the Nile, and tributary to it all his days; and if you want to start trouble on the Nile now you can do it exactly as it was done in Pharaoh’s time.

Pharaoh’s religion was more than perfunctory, or he would never have run the prodigious political risk of forcing gangs of a hundred thousand men to labour in three-month tricks for thirty year. The priests put him up to it, of course. Pharaoh believed that his future in the next world depended wholly on the amount of material preparation that he made for it in this.

He was not only an arch-profiteer. He pyramided profits. He conceived the idea–or priests conceived it for him–of taking the next world by storm. He would be a king for all eternity. He would outdo all the aristocracy who had had themselves entombed in opulence for generations past.

The peasantry–the real Egyptians, that is, who lived on Main Street and paid taxes or were whipped–were no more impressed by that theory than they are by the Sermon on the Mount to-day. They had a more pragmatic, Nile-mud point of view. They wondered, just as they do to-day if anyone propounds a theory to them, whether there was money in it. It was obvious to them that there was. There was their money in it. Every Pharaoh, and every high official who got buried, had as much of the tax money as he could scrape out of the treasury buried with him for his use in the next world. The dwellers on Main Street, preferring this world to the next, and having toiled in the sun for twelve hours a day to earn that money, did some good, plain, Nile-mud thinking; and the result was what you might expect.

It can’t have been long before the insurance Companies, if there were any, who underwrote burglary risks on mausoleums went out of business. It got so that a Pharaoh’s mummy was hardly set stiff before the boys were out with pickaxes to break the door down and get the treasure out of the vault. It was no use putting a guard before the door, because you can always bribe the guard in Egypt, anyhow, and the guard, being peasants in uniform would be quite as anxious to get their share of the loot as anybody else. No doubt a few got caught and hanged, or flayed alive, or whatever was considered suitable for that offence in those days, but the number of kings’ and noblemen’s tombs that were not broken open and robbed was zero, and that was all about it. The cash went into circulation again.

So succeeding kings and noblemen took thought. They appealed to the public sense of decency, only to find that there was none. They got the priests to threaten damnation in the next world as the sure penalty for robbing tombs, only to discover that the boys who did the robbing didn’t take much stock in the next world, anyhow, but were dead set on getting what small comfort could be had in this. The nobility raised the taxes, strafed whole districts with extra hard labour, issued proclamations, passed laws forbidding anyone below the rank of nobleman to be seen near a cemetery, imported guards from other countries-and all to no effect. Bury a Pharaoh, and the boys got away with his baggage, as often as not in broad daylight, almost before he’d started on his journey to the world beyond.

So they changed part of the plan. It was decided that secrecy would solve the problem. Laws were passed forbidding anyone to know where a Pharaoh was buried. The head undertakers enjoyed a monopoly, and held their tongues for business reasons. Undertakers’ helpers came cheap, so they were all killed and shipped along with Pharaoh to be useful to him in the next world. The mausoleum was underground, out of sight, in an unfrequented spot, and the sand was tidily arranged on top to look as if nothing but the desert wind had ever ruffled it. The living nobility breathed again.

But all they had accomplished was to add a sporting zest to what had hitherto been humdrum certainty. The boys had to go prospecting now, and there’s no doubt whatever they found the loot, getting away with it all the more profitably because there were no expensive imported guards to be bribed. So the upper classes had to think again.

They did not abandon the secrecy theory. Rather they proceeded to improve on it. A Pharaoh would start to build his tomb as soon as he came to the throne and had finished maligning his predecessor. He constructed false tombs nearby to deceive prospectors. Then, to the real tomb, he had long dummy tunnels driven, leading to a pit, which was dumped full of rock; and on the far side of the pit was the real passage leading to the place where his corpse would lie in state.

But the prospectors soon discovered that trick, and it got so that a Pharaoh couldn’t be certain of getting to heaven with a small coin in his jeans.

About that time the easiest way to make money in Egypt was to come along with an intricate plan for an undiscoverable tomb; but as they had no Patent Office, and anyone who had the price could imitate the plans, tombs soon got stereotyped again, and once one real entrance had been discovered it became a comparatively simple matter to repeat the process and open every rich man’s tomb on the country-side.

Things had reached the point where Pharaoh and his friends didn’t know what the rising generation was coming to, when who should ascend the throne but Khufu, otherwise known as Cheops. He went through the usual process of removing his predecessor’s signature from all the public monuments in order to call attention to his own omnipotence, and then proceeded to entertain a distinguished stranger.

Some say that this stranger was Job, the hero of the Old Testament drama. He was certainly an architect and a man of genius. He laughed when Pharaoh told him of the hard work it was for a decent fellow to get to heaven nowadays without arriving like a common tramp.

“Suppose I show you a real idea,” he suggested. “If I draft out a plan by which nobody will ever find your real tomb, Khufu, will you give me the contract for the job?”

The plans were produced, and they were marvelous. No doubt there was a cost-plus-basis contract attached with red tape and sealing-wax. Pharaoh signed that, and for thirty years the labourers–the tax-payers that is–of Egypt toiled at the building of what they were told was to be the largest and most magnificent tomb the world had ever seen.

Meanwhile, very secretly and quite a long way off, other workmen were digging the real tomb; and it was into the real one, when Khufu died, that his body and most of his treasure were smuggled, although the public funeral was held at the base of the Great Pyramid, while the population stood around and cursed the tyrant who had forced them to build such a mausoleum for his bones.

The pyramid was so well built, and on such a titanic scale, that the tax-payers, who had built it, knew better than to try to open that; so for thousands of years it stood intact, with Khufu’s bones and Khufu’s treasure presumably inside. Nobody hunted for his real grave, because everybody knew that he was buried in the pyramid.

But when at last a conquering Moslem, Mahmoun by name, forced his way into the pyramid to get the treasure out, he found it absolutely empty, except for a great stone chest that had no lid. He naturally jumped to the conclusion that tomb robbers had been in there ahead of him. But how I came to know that Mahmoun was wrong and what Joan Angela Leich and the man in the street in the U.S.A. had to do with it shall all be unfolded in the proper order.

CHAPTER II. Moustapha Pasha

I NOW go forward to the Geiger Trail, one dark night. I was driving a Ford up the winding, seven-mile grade toward Virginia City, wondering at the prodigious guts of the men and women who crossed a continent to tear the inside out of those mountains with pick and shovel. I still maintain that the accident was Joan Angela’s fault entirely.

Her Ford, coming down-hill, struck mine very nearly head-on. Her lights were out and her brake-bands burning, so she enjoyed the full advantage of surprise as well as impetus, and it was only a friendly rock at the edge of the road that caught my front axle and saved car and me from falling a couple of hundred feet.

“Why didn’t you get out of the way?” laughed a musical voice. “Are you hurt?”

I proved I wasn’t by scrambling out.

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