The Mummy's Foot





I had entered, in an idle mood, the shop of one of those curiosity

venders who are called marchands de bric-a-brac in that Parisian

argot which is so perfectly unintelligible elsewhere in France.



You have doubtless glanced occasionally through the windows of some of

these shops, which have become so numerous now that it is fashionable

to buy antiquated furniture, and that every petty stock broker thinks

he must have his chambre au moyen age.



There is one thing there which clings alike to the shop of the dealer

in old iron, the ware-room of the tapestry maker, the laboratory of the

chemist, and the studio of the painter: in all those gloomy dens where

a furtive daylight filters in through the window-shutters the most

manifestly ancient thing is dust. The cobwebs are more authentic than

the guimp laces, and the old pear-tree furniture on exhibition is

actually younger than the mahogany which arrived but yesterday from

America.



The warehouse of my bric-a-brac dealer was a veritable Capharnaum. All

ages and all nations seemed to have made their rendezvous there. An

Etruscan lamp of red clay stood upon a Boule cabinet, with ebony

panels, brightly striped by lines of inlaid brass; a duchess of the

court of Louis XV. nonchalantly extended her fawn-like feet under a

massive table of the time of Louis XIII., with heavy spiral supports of

oak, and carven designs of chimeras and foliage intermingled.



Upon the denticulated shelves of several sideboards glittered immense

Japanese dishes with red and blue designs relieved by gilded hatching,

side by side with enamelled works by Bernard Palissy, representing

serpents, frogs, and lizards in relief.



From disembowelled cabinets escaped cascades of silver-lustrous Chinese

silks and waves of tinsels which an oblique sunbeam shot through with

luminous beads; while portraits of every era, in frames more or less

tarnished, smiled through their yellow varnish.



The striped breastplate of a damascened suit of Milanese armour

glittered in one corner; loves and nymphs of porcelain, Chinese

grotesques, vases of celadon and crackle-ware, Saxon and old Sevres

cups encumbered the shelves and nooks of the apartment.



The dealer followed me closely through the tortuous way contrived

between the piles of furniture, warding off with his hand the hazardous

sweep of my coat-skirts, watching my elbows with the uneasy attention

of an antiquarian and a usurer.



It was a singular face, that of the merchant; an immense skull,

polished like a knee, and surrounded by a thin aureole of white hair,

which brought out the clear salmon tint of his complexion all the more

strikingly, lent him a false aspect of patriarchal bonhomie,

counteracted, however, by the scintillation of two little yellow eyes

which trembled in their orbits like two louis d'or upon quicksilver.

The curve of his nose presented an aquiline silhouette, which suggested

the Oriental or Jewish type. His hands--thin, slender, full of nerves

which projected like strings upon the finger-board of a violin, and

armed with claws like those on the terminations of bats' wings--shook

with senile trembling; but those convulsively agitated hands became

firmer than steel pincers or lobsters' claws when they lifted any

precious article--an onyx cup, a Venetian glass, or a dish of Bohemian

crystal. This strange old man had an aspect so thoroughly rabbinical

and cabalistic that he would have been burnt on the mere testimony of

his face three centuries ago.



"Will you not buy something from me to-day, sir? Here is a Malay kreese

with a blade undulating like flame. Look at those grooves contrived for

the blood to run along, those teeth set backward so as to tear out the

entrails in withdrawing the weapon. It is a fine character of ferocious

arm, and will look well in your collection. This two-handed sword is

very beautiful. It is the work of Josepe de la Hera; and this

colichemarde, with its fenestrated guard--what a superb specimen of

handicraft!"



"No; I have quite enough weapons and instruments of carnage. I want a

small figure, something which will suit me as a paper-weight, for I

cannot endure those trumpery bronzes which the stationers sell, and

which may be found on everybody's desk."



The old gnome foraged among his ancient wares, and finally arranged

before me some antique bronzes, so-called at least; fragments of

malachite, little Hindoo or Chinese idols, a kind of poussah-toys in

jade-stone, representing the incarnations of Brahma or Vishnoo, and

wonderfully appropriate to the very undivine office of holding papers

and letters in place.



I was hesitating between a porcelain dragon, all constellated with

warts, its mouth formidable with bristling tusks and ranges of teeth,

and an abominable little Mexican fetich, representing the god

Vitziliputzili au naturel, when I caught sight of a charming foot,

which I at first took for a fragment of some antique Venus.



It had those beautiful ruddy and tawny tints that lend to Florentine

bronze that warm living look so much preferable to the gray-green

aspect of common bronzes, which might easily be mistaken for statues in

a state of putrefaction. Satiny gleams played over its rounded forms,

doubtless polished by the amorous kisses of twenty centuries, for it

seemed a Corinthian bronze, a work of the best era of art, perhaps

moulded by Lysippus himself.



"That foot will be my choice," I said to the merchant, who regarded me

with an ironical and saturnine air, and held out the object desired

that I might examine it more fully.



I was surprised at its lightness. It was not a foot of metal, but in

sooth a foot of flesh, an embalmed foot, a mummy's foot. On examining

it still more closely the very grain of the skin, and the almost

imperceptible lines impressed upon it by the texture of the bandages,

became perceptible. The toes were slender and delicate, and terminated

by perfectly formed nails, pure and transparent as agates. The great

toe, slightly separated from the rest, afforded a happy contrast, in

the antique style, to the position of the other toes, and lent it an

aerial lightness--the grace of a bird's foot. The sole, scarcely

streaked by a few almost imperceptible cross lines, afforded evidence

that it had never touched the bare ground, and had only come in contact

with the finest matting of Nile rushes and the softest carpets of

panther skin.



"Ha, ha, you want the foot of the Princess Hermonthis!" exclaimed the

merchant, with a strange giggle, fixing his owlish eyes upon me. "Ha,

ha, ha! For a paper-weight! An original idea!--an artistic idea! Old

Pharaoh would certainly have been surprised had some one told him that

the foot of his adored daughter would be used for a paper-weight after

he had had a mountain of granite hollowed out as a receptacle for the

triple coffin, painted and gilded, covered with hieroglyphics and

beautiful paintings of the Judgment of Souls," continued the queer

little merchant, half audibly, as though talking to himself.



"How much will you charge me for this mummy fragment?"



"Ah, the highest price I can get, for it is a superb piece. If I had

the match of it you could not have it for less than five hundred

francs. The daughter of a Pharaoh! Nothing is more rare."



"Assuredly that is not a common article, but still, how much do you

want? In the first place let me warn you that all my wealth consists of

just five louis. I can buy anything that costs five louis, but nothing

dearer. You might search my vest pockets and most secret drawers

without even finding one poor five-franc piece more."



"Five louis for the foot of the Princess Hermonthis! That is very

little, very little indeed. 'Tis an authentic foot," muttered the

merchant, shaking his head, and imparting a peculiar rotary motion to

his eyes. "Well, take it, and I will give you the bandages into the

bargain," he added, wrapping the foot in an ancient damask rag. "Very

fine! Real damask--Indian damask which has never been redyed. It is

strong, and yet it is soft," he mumbled, stroking the frayed tissue

with his fingers, through the trade-acquired habit which moved him to

praise even an object of such little value that he himself deemed it

only worth the giving away.



He poured the gold coins into a sort of medieval alms-purse hanging at

his belt, repeating:



"The foot of the Princess Hermonthis to be used for a paper-weight!"



Then turning his phosphorescent eyes upon me, he exclaimed in a voice

strident as the crying of a cat which has swallowed a fish-bone:



"Old Pharaoh will not be well pleased. He loved his daughter, the dear

man!"



"You speak as if you were a contemporary of his. You are old enough,

goodness knows! but you do not date back to the Pyramids of Egypt," I

answered, laughingly, from the threshold.



I went home, delighted with my acquisition.



With the idea of putting it to profitable use as soon as possible, I

placed the foot of the divine Princess Hermonthis upon a heap of papers

scribbled over with verses, in themselves an undecipherable mosaic work

of erasures; articles freshly begun; letters forgotten, and posted in

the table drawer in stead of the letter-box, an error to which

absent-minded people are peculiarly liable. The effect was charming,

bizarre, and romantic.



Well satisfied with this embellishment, I went out with the gravity and

pride becoming one who feels that he has the ineffable advantage over

all the passers-by whom he elbows, of possessing a piece of the

Princess Hermonthis, daughter of Pharaoh.



I looked upon all who did not possess, like myself, a paper-weight so

authentically Egyptian as very ridiculous people, and it seemed to me

that the proper occupation of every sensible man should consist in the

mere fact of having a mummy's foot upon his desk.



Happily I met some friends, whose presence distracted me in my

infatuation with this new acquisition. I went to dinner with them, for

I could not very well have dined with myself.



When I came back that evening, with my brain slightly confused by a few

glasses of wine, a vague whiff of Oriental perfume delicately

titillated my olfactory nerves. The heat of the room had warmed the

natron, bitumen, and myrrh in which the paraschistes, who cut open

the bodies of the dead, had bathed the corpse of the princess. It was a

perfume at once sweet and penetrating, a perfume that four thousand

years had not been able to dissipate.



The Dream of Egypt was Eternity. Her odours have the solidity of

granite and endure as long.



I soon drank deeply from the black cup of sleep. For a few hours all

remained opaque to me. Oblivion and nothingness inundated me with their

sombre waves.



Yet light gradually dawned upon the darkness of my mind. Dreams

commenced to touch me softly in their silent flight.



The eyes of my soul were opened, and I beheld my chamber as it actually

was. I might have believed myself awake but for a vague consciousness

which assured me that I slept, and that something fantastic was about

to take place.



The odour of the myrrh had augmented in intensity, and I felt a slight

headache, which I very naturally attributed to several glasses of

champagne that we had drunk to the unknown gods and our future

fortunes.



I peered through my room with a feeling of expectation which I saw

nothing to justify. Every article of furniture was in its proper place.

The lamp, softly shaded by its globe of ground crystal, burned upon its

bracket; the water-colour sketches shone under their Bohemian glass;

the curtains hung down languidly; everything wore an aspect of tranquil

slumber.



After a few moments, however, all this calm interior appeared to become

disturbed. The woodwork cracked stealthily, the ash-covered log

suddenly emitted a jet of blue flame, and the disks of the pateras

seemed like great metallic eyes, watching, like myself, for the things

which were about to happen.



My eyes accidentally fell upon the desk where I had placed the foot of

the Princess Hermonthis.



Instead of remaining quiet, as behooved a foot which had been embalmed

for four thousand years, it commenced to act in a nervous manner,

contracted itself, and leaped over the papers like a startled frog. One

would have imagined that it had suddenly been brought into contact with

a galvanic battery. I could distinctly hear the dry sound made by its

little heel, hard as the hoof of a gazelle.



I became rather discontented with my acquisition, inasmuch as I wished

my paper-weights to be of a sedentary disposition, and thought it very

unnatural that feet should walk about without legs, then I commenced to

experience a feeling closely akin to fear.



Suddenly I saw the folds of my bed-curtain stir, and heard a bumping

sound, like that caused by some person hopping on one foot across the

floor. I must confess I became alternately hot and cold, that I felt a

strange wind chill my back, and that my suddenly rising hair caused my

night-cap to execute a leap of several yards.



The bed-curtains opened and I beheld the strangest figure imaginable

before me.



It was a young girl of a very deep coffee-brown complexion, like the

bayadere Amani, and possessing the purest Egyptian type of perfect

beauty. Her eyes were almond-shaped and oblique, with eyebrows so black

that they seemed blue; her nose was exquisitely chiselled, almost Greek

in its delicacy of outline; and she might indeed have been taken for a

Corinthian statue of bronze but for the prominence of her cheek-bones

and the slightly African fulness of her lips, which compelled one to

recognize her as belonging beyond all doubt to the hieroglyphic race

which dwelt upon the banks of the Nile.



Her arms, slender and spindle-shaped like those of very young girls,

were encircled by a peculiar kind of metal bands and bracelets of glass

beads; her hair was all twisted into little cords, and she wore upon

her bosom a little idol-figure of green paste, bearing a whip with

seven lashes, which proved it to be an image of Isis; her brow was

adorned with a shining plate of gold, and a few traces of paint

relieved the coppery tint of her cheeks.



As for her costume, it was very odd indeed.



Fancy a pagne, or skirt, all formed of little strips of material

bedizened with red and black hieroglyphics, stiffened with bitumen, and

apparently belonging to a freshly unbandaged mummy.



In one of those sudden flights of thought so common in dreams I heard

the hoarse falsetto of the bric-a-brac dealer, repeating like a

monotonous refrain the phrase he had uttered in his shop with so

enigmatical an intonation:



"Old Pharaoh will not be well pleased. He loved his daughter, the dear

man!"



One strange circumstance, which was not at all calculated to restore my

equanimity, was that the apparition had but one foot; the other was

broken off at the ankle!



She approached the table where the foot was starting and fidgetting

about more than ever, and there supported herself upon the edge of the

desk. I saw her eyes fill with pearly gleaming tears.



Although she had not as yet spoken, I fully comprehended the thoughts

which agitated her. She looked at her foot--for it was indeed her

own--with an exquisitely graceful expression of coquettish sadness, but

the foot leaped and ran hither and thither, as though impelled on steel

springs.



Twice or thrice she extended her hand to seize it, but could not

succeed.



Then commenced between the Princess Hermonthis and her foot--which

appeared to be endowed with a special life of its own--a very fantastic

dialogue in a most ancient Coptic tongue, such as might have been

spoken thirty centuries ago in the syrinxes of the land of Ser. Luckily

I understood Coptic perfectly well that night.



The Princess Hermonthis cried, in a voice sweet and vibrant as the

tones of a crystal bell:



"Well, my dear little foot, you always flee from me, yet I always took

good care of you. I bathed you with perfumed water in a bowl of

alabaster; I smoothed your heel with pumice-stone mixed with palm oil;

your nails were cut with golden scissors and polished with a

hippopotamus tooth; I was careful to select tatbebs for you, painted

and embroidered and turned up at the toes, which were the envy of all

the young girls in Egypt. You wore on your great toe rings bearing the

device of the sacred Scarabaeus, and you supported one of the lightest

bodies that a lazy foot could sustain."



The foot replied in a pouting and chagrined tone:



"You know well that I do not belong to myself any longer. I have been

bought and paid for. The old merchant knew what he was about. He bore

you a grudge for having refused to espouse him. This is an ill turn

which he has done you. The Arab who violated your royal coffin in the

subterranean pits of the necropolis of Thebes was sent thither by him.

He desired to prevent you from being present at the reunion of the

shadowy nations in the cities below. Have you five pieces of gold for

my ransom?"



"Alas, no! My jewels, my rings, my purses of gold and silver were all

stolen from me," answered the Princess Hermonthis, with a sob.



"Princess," I then exclaimed, "I never retained anybody's foot

unjustly. Even though you have not got the five louis which it cost me,

I present it to you gladly. I should feel unutterably wretched to think

that I were the cause of so amiable a person as the Princess Hermonthis

being lame."



I delivered this discourse in a royally gallant, troubadour tone which

must have astonished the beautiful Egyptian girl.



She turned a look of deepest gratitude upon me, and her eyes shone with

bluish gleams of light.



She took her foot, which surrendered itself willingly this time, like a

woman about to put on her little shoe, and adjusted it to her leg with

much skill.



This operation over, she took a few steps about the room, as though to

assure herself that she was really no longer lame.



"Ah, how pleased my father will be! He who was so unhappy because of my

mutilation, and who from the moment of my birth set a whole nation at

work to hollow me out a tomb so deep that he might preserve me intact

until that last day, when souls must be weighed in the balance of

Amenthi! Come with me to my father. He will receive you kindly, for you

have given me back my foot."



I thought this proposition natural enough. I arrayed myself in a

dressing-gown of large-flowered pattern, which lent me a very Pharaonic

aspect, hurriedly put on a pair of Turkish slippers, and informed the

Princess Hermonthis that I was ready to follow her.



Before starting, Hermonthis took from her neck the little idol of green

paste, and laid it on the scattered sheets of paper which covered the

table.



"It is only fair," she observed, smilingly, "that I should replace your

paper-weight."



She gave me her hand, which felt soft and cold, like the skin of a

serpent, and we departed.



We passed for some time with the velocity of an arrow through a fluid

and grayish expanse, in which half-formed silhouettes flitted swiftly

by us, to right and left.



For an instant we saw only sky and sea.



A few moments later obelisks commenced to tower in the distance; pylons

and vast flights of steps guarded by sphinxes became clearly outlined

against the horizon.



We had reached our destination.



The princess conducted me to a mountain of rose-coloured granite, in

the face of which appeared an opening so narrow and low that it would

have been difficult to distinguish it from the fissures in the rock,

had not its location been marked by two stelae wrought with sculptures.



Hermonthis kindled a torch and led the way before me.



We traversed corridors hewn through the living rock. These walls

covered with hieroglyphics and paintings of allegorical processions,

might well have occupied thousands of arms for thousands of years in

their formation. These corridors of interminable length opened into

square chambers, in the midst of which pits had been contrived, through

which we descended by cramp-irons or spiral stairways. These pits again

conducted us into other chambers, opening into other corridors,

likewise decorated with painted sparrow-hawks, serpents coiled in

circles, the symbols of the tau and pedum--prodigious works of art

which no living eye can ever examine--interminable legends of granite

which only the dead have time to read through all eternity.



At last we found ourselves in a hall so vast, so enormous, so

immeasurable, that the eye could not reach its limits. Files of

monstrous columns stretched far out of sight on every side, between

which twinkled livid stars of yellowish flame; points of light which

revealed further depths incalculable in the darkness beyond.



The Princess Hermonthis still held my hand, and graciously saluted the

mummies of her acquaintance.



My eyes became accustomed to the dim twilight, and objects became

discernible.



I beheld the kings of the subterranean races seated upon thrones--grand

old men, though dry, withered, wrinkled like parchment, and blackened

with naphtha and bitumen--all wearing pshents of gold, and

breast-plates and gorgets glittering with precious stones, their eyes

immovably fixed like the eyes of sphinxes, and their long beards

whitened by the snow of centuries. Behind them stood their peoples, in

the stiff and constrained posture enjoined by Egyptian art, all

eternally preserving the attitude prescribed by the hieratic code.

Behind these nations, the cats, ibixes, and crocodiles contemporary

with them--rendered monstrous of aspect by their swathing bands--mewed,

flapped their wings, or extended their jaws in a saurian giggle.



All the Pharaohs were there--Cheops, Chephrenes, Psammetichus,

Sesostris, Amenotaph--all the dark rulers of the pyramids and syrinxes.

On yet higher thrones sat Chronos and Xixouthros, who was contemporary

with the deluge, and Tubal Cain, who reigned before it.



The beard of King Xixouthros had grown seven times around the granite

table, upon which he leaned, lost in deep reverie, and buried in

dreams.



Farther back, through a dusty cloud, I beheld dimly the seventy-two

preadamite kings, with their seventy-two peoples, forever passed away.



After permitting me to gaze upon this bewildering spectacle a few

moments, the Princess Hermonthis presented me to her father Pharaoh,

who favoured me with a most gracious nod.



"I have found my foot again! I have found my foot!" cried the princess,

clapping her little hands together with every sign of frantic joy. "It

was this gentleman who restored it to me."



The races of Kemi, the races of Nahasi--all the black, bronzed, and

copper-coloured nations repeated in chorus:



"The Princess Hermonthis has found her foot again!"



Even Xixouthros himself was visibly affected.



He raised his heavy eyelids, stroked his moustache with his fingers,

and turned upon me a glance weighty with centuries.



"By Oms, the dog of Hell, and Tmei, daughter of the Sun and of Truth,

this is a brave and worthy lad!" exclaimed Pharaoh, pointing to me with

his sceptre, which was terminated with a lotus-flower.



"What recompense do you desire?"



Filled with that daring inspired by dreams in which nothing seems

impossible, I asked him for the hand of the Princess Hermonthis. The

hand seemed to me a very proper antithetic recompense for the foot.



Pharaoh opened wide his great eyes of glass in astonishment at my witty

request.



"What country do you come from, what is your age?"



"I am a Frenchman, and I am twenty-seven years old, venerable Pharaoh."



"Twenty-seven years old, and he wishes to espouse the Princess

Hermonthis who is thirty centuries old!" cried out at once all the

Thrones and all the Circles of Nations.



Only Hermonthis herself did not seem to think my request unreasonable.



"If you were even only two thousand years old," replied the ancient

king, "I would willingly give you the princess, but the disproportion

is too great; and, besides, we must give our daughters husbands who

will last well. You do not know how to preserve yourselves any longer.

Even those who died only fifteen centuries ago are already no more than

a handful of dust. Behold, my flesh is solid as basalt, my bones are

bones of steel!



"I will be present on the last day of the world with the same body and

the same features which I had during my lifetime. My daughter

Hermonthis will last longer than a statue of bronze.



"Then the last particles of your dust will have been scattered abroad

by the winds, and even Isis herself, who was able to find the atoms of

Osiris, would scarce be able to recompense your being.



"See how vigorous I yet remain, and how mighty is my grasp," he added,

shaking my hand in the English fashion with a strength that buried my

rings in the flesh of my fingers.



He squeezed me so hard that I awoke, and found my friend Alfred shaking

me by the arm to make me get up.



"Oh, you everlasting sleeper! Must I have you carried out into the

middle of the street, and fireworks exploded in your ears? It is

afternoon. Don't you recollect your promise to take me with you to see

M. Aguado's Spanish pictures?"



"God! I forgot all, all about it," I answered, dressing myself

hurriedly. "We will go there at once. I have the permit lying there on

my desk."



I started to find it, but fancy my astonishment when I beheld, instead

of the mummy's foot I had purchased the evening before, the little

green paste idol left in its place by the Princess Hermonthis!





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