THE TALE OF THE MUMMY
“During one of my sojourns in Paris,” says Mr. Elliott O’Donnell, in his “Byways of Ghost Land,” “I met a Frenchman who, he informed me, had just returned from the East. I asked him if he had brought back any curios such as vases, funeral urns, weapons or amulets. ‘Yes, lots,’ he replied, ‘two cases full. But no mummies! Mon Dieu! No mummies. You ask me why? Ah! Thereby hangs a tale. If you will have patience, I will tell it you.’
“The following is the gist of his narrative: “‘Some seasons ago I traveled up the Nile as far as Assiut, and when there, managed to pay a visit to the grand ruins of Thebes. Among the various treasures I brought away with me was a mummy. I found it lying in an enormous lidless sarcophagus, close to a mutilated statue of Anubis. On my return to Assiut, I had the mummy placed in my tent, and thought no more of it till something awoke me with startling suddenness in the night. Then, obeying a peculiar impulse, I turned over on my side and looked in the direction of my treasure.
“The nights in the Soudan at this time of year are brilliant, one can even see to read, and every object in the desert is almost as clearly visible as by day. But I was quite startled by the whiteness of the glow which rested on the mummy, the face of which was immediately opposite mine. The remains—those of Met-OmKarema, lady of the College of the god Amen-ra —were swathed in bandages, some of which had worn away in parts or become loose; and the figure, plainly discernible, was that of a shapely woman with elegant bust, well-formed limbs, rounded arms and small hands. The thumbs were slender, and the fingers, each of which was separately bandaged, long and tapering. The neck was full, the cranium rather long, the nose aquiline, the chin firm. Imitation eyes, brows, and lips were painted on the wrappings, and the effect thus produced and in the phosphorescent glare of the moonbeams, was very weird. I was quite alone in the tent, the only European who accompanied me to Assiut, having stayed in the town by preference, and my servants being encamped at one hundred or so yards from me on the ground.
“Sound travels far in the desert, but the silence now was absolute, and, though I listened attentively, I could not detect the slightest noise —man, beast and insect were abnormally still. There was something in the air, too, which struck me as unusual; an odd, clammy coldness that reminded me at once of the catacombs in Paris. I had hardly, however, conceived the resemblance, when a sob—low, gentle, but very distinct—sent a thrill of horror through me. It was ridiculous, absurd. It could not be, and I fought against the idea as to whence the sound had proceeded, as something too utterly fantastic, too utterly impossible. I tried to occupy my mind with other thoughts—the frivolities of Cairo, the casinos of Nice; but all to no purpose; and soon, on my eager, throbbing ear there again fell that sound, that low and gentle sob. My hair stood on end; this time there was no doubt, no possible manner of doubt—the mummy lived! I looked at it aghast. I strained my vision to detect any movement in its limbs, but none was perceptible. Yet the noise had come from it, it had breathed—breathed—and even as I hissed the word unconsciously through my clenched lips, the bosom of the mummy rose and fell.
“A frightful terror seized me. I tried to shriek to my servants; I could not ejaculate a syllable. I tried to close my eye-lids, but they were held open as in a vice. Again there came a sob that was immediately succeeded by a sigh; and a tremor ran through the figure from head to foot. One of its hands then began to move, the fingers clutched the air convulsively, then grew rigid, then curled slowly into the palms, then suddenly straightened. The bandages concealing them from view then fell off, and to my agonized sight were disclosed objects that struck me as strangely familiar. There is something about fingers, a marked individuality, I never forget. No two persons’ hands are alike. And in these fingers, in their excessive whiteness, round knuckles, and blue veins, I read a likeness whose prototype, struggle how I would, I could not recall. Gradually the hand moved upwards, and, reaching the throat, the fingers set to work at once to remove the wrappings. My terror was now sublime. I dare not imagine, I dare not for one instant think, what I should see. And there was no getting away from it; I could not stir an inch, and the ghastly revelation would take place within a yard of my face!
“One by one the bandages came off. A glimmer of skin, pale as marble; the beginning of the nose, the whole nose; the upper lip, exquisitely, delicately cut; the teeth, white and even on the whole, but here and there a shining gold filling; the under lip, soft and gentle; a mouth I knew, but—God, where? In my dreams, in the wild fantasies that had oft-times visited by pillow at night—in delirium, in reality, where? Mon Dieu! WHERE?
“The uncasing continued. The chin next, a chin that was purely feminine, purely classical; then the upper part of the head—the hair long, black, luxuriant—the forehead low and white— the brows black, firmly pencilled; and last of all, the eyes!—and as they met my frenzied gaze, smiled, smiled right down into the depths of my living soul, I recognized them—they were the eyes of my mother, my mother who had died in my boyhood! Seized with a madness that knew no bounds, I sprang to my feet. The figure rose and confronted me. I flung open my arms to embrace her, the woman of all women in the world I loved best, the only woman I had ever loved. Shrinking from my touch, she cowered against the side of the tent. I fell on my knees before her and kissed—what? Not the feet of my mother, but those of the long-buried dead. Sick with repulsion and fear I looked up, and there bending over and peering into my eyes was the face, the fleshless, mouldering face of the foul and barely recognizable corpse! With a shriek of horror I rolled backwards, and, springing to my feet, prepared to fly. I glanced at the mummy. It was lying on the ground, stiff and still, every bandage in its place; whilst standing over it, a look of fiendish glee in its light, doglike eyes, was the figure of Anubis, lurid and menacing.
“‘The voices of my servants, assuring me they were coming, broke the silence, and in an instant the apparition vanished.
“I had had enough of the tent, however, at least for that night, and, seeking refuge in the town, I whiled away the hours till morning with a fragrant cigar and a novel. Directly I had breakfasted, I took the mummy back to Thebes, and left it there. No thank you, Mr. O’Donnell, I collect many kinds of curios, but—no more mummies!”
True Ghost Stories, Hereward Carrington, 1915
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: In these pages we have previously seen accounts of a fad where ladies had themselves photographed as mummies. Most ladies take such great care of their complexions that Mrs Daffodil cannot fathom why they wished to be immortalised as withered, hennaed creatures in filthy bandages. As the entertaining Mr O’Donnell illustrates, there is a certain mysterious allure as to the features so tantalisingly veiled by those bandages. But that eminent alienist, Dr Freud of Vienna, would almost certainly have something to say about this witness’s vision of his beloved mummy’s eyes….
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