The Death Ring of Sneferu
by Sax Rohmer
The orchestra had just ceased playing and, taking advantage of the
lull in the music, my companion leaned confidentially forward,
shooting suspicious glances all around him, although there was nothing
about the well-dressed after-dinner throng filling Shepheard's that
night to have aroused misgiving in the mind of a cinema anarchist.
"I have a very big thing in view," he said, speaking in a husky
whisper. "I shall be one up on you, Kernaby, if I pull it off."
He glanced sideways, in the manner of a pantomime brigand, at a
party of New York tourists, our immediate neighbors, and from them to
an elderly peer with whom I was slightly acquainted and who, in
addition to his being stone deaf, had never noticed anything in his
life, much less attempted so fatiguing an operation as intrigue.
"Indeed," I commented; and rang the bell with the purpose in view
of ordering another cooling beverage.
True, I might be the Egyptian representative of a Birmingham
commercial enterprise, but I did not gladly suffer the society of this
individual, whose only claim to my acquaintance lay in the fact that
he was in the employ of a rival house. My lack of interest palpably
disappointed him; but I thought little of the man's qualities as a
connoisseur and less of his company. His name was Theo Bishop and I
fancy that his family was associated with the tanning industry. I have
since thought more kindly of poor Bishop, but at the time of which I
write nothing could have pleased me better than his sudden
Perhaps unconsciously I had allowed my boredom to become rudely
apparent; for Bishop slightly turned his head aside, and—
"Right-o, Kernaby," he said; "I know you think I am an ass, so we
will say no more about it.
And now I became conscience-stricken; for mingled with the
disappointment in Bishop's tone and manner was another note. Vaguely
it occurred to me that the man was yearning for sympathy of some kind,
that he was bursting to unbosom himself, and that the vanity of a
successful rival was by no means wholly responsible. I have since
placed that ambiguous note and recognized it for a note of tragedy.
But at the time I was deaf to its pleading.
We chatted then for some while longer on indifferent topics, Bishop
being, as I have indicated, a man difficult to offend; when, having
correspondence to deal with, I retired to my own room. I suppose I had
been writing for about an hour, when a servant came to announce a
caller. Taking an ordinary visiting-card from the brass salver, I
No title preceded the name, no address followed, but I became aware
of something very like a nervous thrill as I stared at the name of my
visitor. Personality is one of the profoundest mysteries of our being.
Of the person whose card I hold in my hand I knew little, practically
nothing; his actions, if at times irregular, had never been wantonly
violent; his manner was gentle as that of a mother to a baby and his
singular reputation among the natives I thought I could afford to
ignore; for the Egyptian, like the Celt, with all his natural
endowments, is yet a child at heart. Therefore I cannot explain why,
sitting there in my room in Shepheard's Hotel, I knew and recognized,
at the name of Abû Tabâh, the touch of fear.
"I will see him downstairs," I said. Then, as the servant was about
to depart, recognizing that I had made a concession to that strange
sentiment which the Imám Abû Tabâh had somehow inspired in me—
"No," I added; "show him up here to my room."
A few moments later the man returned again, carrying the brass
salver, upon which lay a sealed envelope. I took it up in surprise,
noting that it was one belonging to the hotel, and, ere opening it—
"Where is my visitor?" I said in Arabic.
"He regrets that he cannot stay," replied the man; "but he sends
you this letter."
Greatly mystified, I dismissed the servant and tore open the
envelope. Inside, upon a sheet of hotel notepaper I found this
There are reasons why I cannot stay to see you personally, but I
would have you believe that this warning is dictated by nothing but
friendship. Grave peril threatens. It is associated with the
If you would avert it, and if you value your life, avoid all
contact with anything bearing this figure.
The mystery deepened. There had been something incongruous about
the modern European visiting-card used by this representative of
Islam, this living illustration of the Arabian Nights; now, his
incomprehensible "warning" plunged me back again into the mediæval
Orient to which be properly belonged. Yet I knew Abû Tabâh, for all
his romantic aspect, to be eminently practical, and I could not credit
him with descending to the methods of melodrama.
As I studied the precise wording of the note, I seemed to see the
slim figure of its author before me, black-robed, white-turbaned, and
urbane, his delicate ivory hands crossed and resting upon the head of
the ebony cane without which I had never seen him. Almost, I succumbed
to a sort of subjective hallucination; Abû Tabâh became a veritable
presence, and the poetic beauty of his face struck me anew, as, fixing
upon me his eyes, which were like the eyes of a gazelle, he spoke the
strange words cited above, in the pure and polished English which he
held at command, and described in the air, with a long nervous
forefinger, the queer device which symbolized the Ancient Egyptian
god, Set, the Destroyer.
Of course, it was the aura of a powerful personality, clinging even
to the written message; but there was something about the impression
made upon me which argued for the writer's sincerity.
That Abû Tabâh was some kind of agent, recognized—at any rate
unofficially—by the authorities, I knew or shrewdly surmised; but the
exact nature of his activities, and how be reconciled them with his
religious duties, remained profoundly mysterious. The episode had
rendered further work impossible, and I descended to the terrace, with
no more definite object in view than that of finding a quiet corner
where I might meditate in the congenial society of my briar, and at
the same the seek inspiration from the ever-changing throng in the
Shâria Kâmel Pasha.
I had scarcely set my foot upon the terrace, however, ere a hand
was laid upon my arm.
Turning quickly I recognized, in the dusk, Hassan es-Sugra, for
many years a trusted employee of the British Archæological Society.
His demeanor was at once excited and furtive, and I recognized with
something akin to amazement that he, also, had a story to unfold. I
mentally catalogued this eventful evening "the night of strange
Seated at a little table on the deserted balcony (for the evening
was very chilly) and directly facing the shop of Philip, the dealer in
Arab woodwork, Hassan es-Sugra told his wonder tale; and as he told it
I knew that Fate had cast me, willy-nilly, for a part in some comedy
upon which the curtain had already risen here in Cairo, and whereof
the second act should be played in perhaps the most ancient setting
which the hand of man has builded. As the narrative unrolled itself
before me, I perceived wheels within wheels; I was wholly absorbed, yet
". . . When the professor abandoned work on the pyramid, Kernaby
Pasha," he said, bending eagerly forward and laying his muscular brown
hand upon my sleeve, "it was not because there was no more to learn
"I am aware of this, O Hassan," I interrupted, "it was in order
that they might carry on the work at the Pyramid of Illahûn, which
resulted in a find of jewelery almost unique in the annals of
"Do I not know all this!" exclaimed Hassan impatiently; "and was
not mine the hand that uncovered the golden uræus? But the work
projected at the Pyramid of Méydûm was never completed, and I can tell
I stared at him through the gloom; for I had already some idea
respecting the truth of this matter.
"It was that, the men, over two hundred of them, refused to enter
the passage again," he whispered dramatically, "it was because
misfortune and disaster visited more than one who had penetrated to a
certain place therein." He bent further forward. "The Pyramid of Méydûm
is the home of a powerful Efreet, Kernaby Pasha! But I who was the
last to leave it, know what is concealed there. In a certain place,
low down in the corner of the King's Chamber, is a ring of gold,
bearing a cartouche. It is the royal ring of the Pharaoh who built the
He ceased, watching me intently. I did not doubt Hassan's word, for
I had always counted him a man of integrity; but there was much that
was obscure and much that was mysterious in his story.
"Why did you not bring it away?" I asked.
"I feared to touch it, Kernaby Pasha; it is an evil talisman. Until
to-day I have feared to speak of it."
Hassan extended his hands, palms upward.
"I am threatened with the loss of my house," he said simply, "if I
do not find a certain sum of money within a period of twelve days."
I sat resting my chin on my hand and staring into the face of
Hassan es-Sugra. Could it be that from superstitious motives such a
treasure had indeed been abandoned? Could it be that Fate had
delivered into my hands a relic so priceless as the signet-ring of
Sneferu, one of the earliest Memphite Pharaohs? Since I had recently
incurred the displeasure of my principals, Messrs.
Moses, Murphy Co., of Birmingham, the mere anticipation of such a
"find" was sufficient to raise my professional enthusiasm to white
heat, and in those few moments of silence I had decided upon instant
"Meet me at Rikka Station, to-morrow morning at nine o'clock," I
said, "and arrange for donkeys to carry us to the pyramid."
On my arrival at Rikka, and therefore at the very outset of my
inquiry, I met with what one slightly prone to superstition might have
regarded as an unfortunate omen. A native funeral was passing out of
the town and the wailing of women and the chanting by the Yemeneeyeh,
of the Profession of the Faith, with its queer monotonous cadences, a
performance which despite its familiarity in the Near East never
failed to affect me unpleasantly. By the token of the to tarbûsh upon
the bier, I knew that this was a man who was being hurried to his
lonely resting-place on the fringe of the desert.
As the procession wound its way out across the sands, I saw to the
removal of my baggage and joined Hassan es-Sugra, who awaited me by
the wooden barrier. I perceived immediately that something was wrong
within the man; he was palpably laboring under the influence of some
strong excitement, and his dark eyes regarded me almost fearfully, he
was muttering to himself like one suffering from an over-indulgence in
Hashish, and I detected the words "Allahu akbar!"
(God is most great) several times repeated.
"What ails you, Hassan, my friend?" I said; and noting mow his gaze
persistently returned to the melancholy procession wending its way
towards the little Moslem cemetery :—"Was the dead man some relation
"No, no, Kernaby Pasha," he muttered gutturally, and moistened his
his with his tongue; "I was but slightly acquainted with him."
"Yet you are much disturbed."
"Not at all, Kernaby Pasha," he assured me; "not in the slightest."
By which familiar formula I knew that Hassan es-Sugra would conceal
from me the cause of his distress, and therefore, since I had no
appetite for further mysteries, I determined to learn it from another
"See to the loading of the donkey," I directed him—for three sleek
little animals were standing beside him, patiently awaiting the toil
of the day.
Hassan setting about the task with a cheerful alacrity obviously
artificial, I approached the native station master, with whom I was
acquainted, and put to him a number of questions respecting his
important functions—in which I was not even mildly interested. But to
the Oriental mind a direct inquiry is an affront, almost an insult;
and to have inquired bluntly the name of the deceased and the manner
of his death would have been the best way to have learned nothing
whatever about the matter. Therefore having discussed in detail the
slothful incompetence of Arab ticket collectors and the lazy condition
and innate viciousness of Egyptian porters as a class, I mentioned
incidentally that I had observed a funeral leaving Rikka.
The station master (who was bursting to talk about this very
matter, but who would have declined on principle to do so had I
definitely questioned him) now unfolded to me the strange particulars
respecting the death of one, Ahmed Abdulla, who had been a retired
dragoman though some the employed as an excavator.
"He rode out one night upon his white donkey," said my informant,
"and no man knows whither he went. But it is believed, Kernaby Pasha,
that it was to the Haram el-Kaddâb" (the False Pyramid)—extending his
hand to where, beyond the belt of fertility, the tomb of Sneferu
up-reared its three platforms from the fringe of the desert. "To enter
the pyramid even in day the is to court misfortune; to enter at night
is to fall into the hands of the powerful Efreet who dwells there. His
donkey returned without him, and therefore search was made for Ahmed
Abdulla. He was found the next day"—again the long arm shot out
towards the desert—"dead upon the sands, near the foot of the
I looked into the face of the speaker; beyond doubt he was in
"Why should Ahmed Abdulla have wanted to visit such a place at
night?" I asked.
My acquaintance lowered his voice, muttered "Sahâm Allah fee'adoo
ed—dîn!" (May God transfix the enemies of the religion) and touched
his forehead, his mouth, and his breast with the iron ring which he
"There is a great treasure concealed there, Kernaby Pasha," he
replied: "a treasure hidden from the world in the days of Suleyman the
Great, sealed with his seal, and guarded by the servants of Gánn
"So you think the guardian ginn killed Ahmed Abdulla?"
The station master muttered invocations, and—
"There are things which may not be spoken of," he said; "but those
who saw him dead say that he was terrible to look upon. A great Welee,
a man of wisdom famed throughout Egypt, has been summoned to avert the
evil; for if the anger of the ginn is aroused they may visit the most
painful and unfortunate penalties upon all Rikka. . ."
Half an hour later I set out, having confidentially informed the
station master that I sought to obtain a fine turquoise necklet which
I knew to be in the possession of the Sheikh of Méydûm.
Little did I suspect how it was written that I should indeed visit
the house of the venerable Sheikh. Out through the fields of young
green corn, the palm groves and the sycamore orchards I rode, Hassan
plodding silently behind me and leading the donkey who bore the
baggage. Curious eyes watched our passage, from field, doorway, and
shadûf; but nothing of note marked our journey save the tremendous
heat of the sun at noon, beneath which I knew myself a fool to travel.
I camped on the western side of the pyramid, but well clear of the
marshes, which arc the home of countless wild-fowl. I had no idea how
long it would take me to extract the coveted ring from its
hiding-place (which Hassan had closely described to me); and,
remembering the speculative glances of the villagers, I had no
intention of exposing myself against the face of the pyramid until
dusk should have come to cloak my operations.
Hassan es-Sugra, whose new taciturnity was remarkable and whose
behavior was distinguished by an odd disquiet, set out with his gun to
procure our dinner, and I mounted the sandy slope on the southwest of
the pyramid, where from my cover behind a mound of rubbish, I studied
through my field-glasses the belt of vegetation marking the course of
the Nile. I could detect no sign of surveillance, but in view of the
fact that the smuggling of relics out of Egypt is a punishable offence
my caution was dictated by wisdom.
We dined excellently, Hassan the Silent and I, upon quail, tinned
tomatoes, fresh dates, bread, and Vichy-water (to which in my own case
was added a stiff three fingers of whisky).
When the newly risen moon cast an ebon shadow of the Pyramid of
Sneferu upon the carpet of the sands, I made my way around the angle
of the ancient building towards the mound on the northern side whereby
one approaches the entrance. Three paces from the shadow's edge, I
paused, transfixed, because of that which confronted me.
Outlined against the moon-bright sky upon a ridge of the desert
behind and to the north of the great structure, stood the motionless
figure of a man!
For a moment I thought that my mind had conjured up this phantasmal
watcher, that he was a thing of moon-magic and not of flesh and blood.
But as I stood regarding him, he moved, seemed to raise his head, then
turned and disappeared beyond the crest.
How long I remained staring at the spot where he had been I know
not; but I was aroused from my useless contemplation by the jingling
of camel bells. The sound came from behind me, stealing sweetly
through the stillness from a great distance. I turned in a flash,
whipped out my glasses and searched the remote fringe of the Fáyûm.
Stately across the jeweled curtain of the night moved a caravan,
blackly marked against that wondrous background. Three walking figures
I counted, three laden donkeys, and two camels. Upon the first of the
camels a man was mounted, upon the second was a shibreeyeh, a sort of
covered litter, which I knew must conceal a woman. The caravan passed
out of sight into the palm grove which conceals the village of Méydûm.
I returned my glasses to their case, and stood for some moments
deep in reflection; then I descended the slope, to the tiny encampment
where I had left Hassan es-Sugra. He was nowhere to be seen; and
having waited some ten minutes I grew impatient, and raising my voice:
"Hassan!" I cried; "Hassan es-Sugra!"
No answer greeted me, although in the desert stillness the call
must have been audible for miles. A second and a third time I called
his name and the only reply was the shrill note of a pyramid bat that
swooped low above my head; the vast solitude of the sands swallowed up
my voice and the walls of the Tomb of Sneferu mocked me with their
echo, crying eerily:
"Hassan! Hassan es-Sugra. . . . Hassan! . . ."
This mysterious episode affected me unpleasantly, but did not divert
me from my purpose: I succeeded in casting out certain demons of
superstition who had sought to lay hold upon me; and a prolonged
scrutiny of the surrounding desert somewhat allayed my fears of human
surveillance. For my visit to the chamber in the heart of the ancient
building I had arrayed myself in rubber-soled shoes, an old pair of
drill trousers, and a pyjama jacket. A Colt repeater was in my hip
pocket, and, in addition to several instruments which I thought might
be useful in extracting the ring from its setting, I carried a
powerful electric torch.
Seated on the threshold of the entrance, fifty feet above the
desert level, I cast a final glance backward towards the Nile valley,
then, the lighted torch carried in my jacket pocket, I commenced the
descent of the narrow, sloping passage. Periodically, when some cranny
between the blocks offered a foothold, I checked my progress, and
inspected the steep path below for snake tracks.
Some two hundred and forty feet of labored descent discovered me in
a sort of shallow cavern little more than a yard high and partly hewn
out of the living rock which formed the foundation of the pyramid. In
this place I found the heat to be almost insufferable, and the smell of
remote mortality which assailed my nostrils from the sand-strewn floor
threatened to choke me. For five minutes or more I lay there, bathed
in perspiration, my nerves at high tension, listening for the
slightest sound within or without. I cannot pretend that I was
entirely master of myself. The stuff that fear is made of seemed to
rise from the ancient dust; and I had little relish for the second part
of my journey, which lay through a long horizontal passage rarely
exceeding fourteen inches in height. The mere memory of that final
crawl of forty feet or so is sufficient to cause me to perspire
profusely; therefore let it suffice that I reached the end of the
second passage, and breathing with difficulty the deathful, poisonous
atmosphere of the place, found myself at the foot of the rugged shaft
which gives access to the King's Chamber. Resting my torch upon a
convenient ledge, I climbed up, and knew myself to be in one of the
oldest chambers fashioned by human handiwork.
The journey had been most exhausting, but, allowing myself only a
few moments' rest, I crossed to the eastern corner of the place and
directed a ray of light upon the crevice which, from Hassan's
description, I believed to conceal the ring. His account having been
detailed, I experienced little difficulty in finding the cavity; but
in the very moment of success the light of the torch grew dim . . .
and I recognized with a mingling of chagrin and fear that it was burnt
out and that I had no means of recharging it.
Ere the light expired, I had the to realize two things: that the
cavity was empty . . . and that someone or something was approaching
the foot of the shaft along the horizontal passage below!
Strictly though I have schooled my emotions, my heart was beating
in a most uncomfortable fashion as, crouching near the edge of the
shaft, I watched the red glow fade from the delicate filament of the
lamp. Retreat was impossible; there is but one entrance to the pyramid;
and the darkness which now descended upon me was indescribable; it
possessed horrific qualities; it seemed palpably to enfold me like the
wings of some monstrous bat. The air of the King's Chamber I found to
be almost unbearable, and it was no steady hand with which I gripped my
The sounds of approach continued. The suspense was becoming
intolerable—when, into the Memphian gloom below me, there suddenly
intruded a faint but ever-growing light. Between excitement and
insufficient air, I regarded suffocation as imminent. Then, out into
view beneath me, was thrust a slim ivory hand which held an electric
pocket lamp. Fascinatedly I watched it, saw it joined by its fellow,
then observed a white-turbaned head and a pair of black-robed
shoulders follow. In my surprise I almost dropped the weapon which I
held. The new arrival now standing upright and raising his bead, I
found myself looking into the face of Abû Tabâh!
"To Allah, the Great, the Compassionate, be all praise that I have
found you alive," he said simply.
He exhibited little evidence of the journey which I had found so
fatiguing, but an expression strongly like that of real anxiety rested
upon his ascetic face.
"If life is dear to you," be continued, "answer me this, Kernaby
Pasha; have you found the ring?"
"I have not," I replied; "my lamp failed me; but I think the ring
And now, as I spoke the words, the strangeness of his question came
home to me, bringing with it an acute suspicion.
"What do you know of this ring, O my friend?" I asked.
Abû Tabâh shrugged his shoulders.
"I know much that is evil," he replied; "and because you doubt the
purity of my motives, all that I have learned you shall learn also;
for Allah the Great, the Merciful, this night has protected you from
danger and spared you a frightful death. Follow me, Kernaby Pasha, in
order that these things may be made manifest to you."
A pair of fleet camels were kneeling at the foot of the slope below
the entrance to the pyramid, and having recovered somewhat from the
effect of the fatiguing climb out from the King's Chamber—
"It might be desirable," I said, "that I adopt a more suitable
raiment for camel riding?"
Abû Tabâh slowly shook his head in that dignified manner which
never deserted him, he had again taken up his ebony walking-stick and
was now resting his crossed hands upon it and regarding me with his
strange, melancholy eyes.
"To delay would be unwise," be replied. "You have mercifully been
spared a painful and unfortunate end (all praise to Him who averted
the peril); but the ring, which bears an ancient curse, is gone: for
me there is no rest until I have found and destroyed it."
He spoke with a solemn conviction which bore the seal of verity.
"Your destructive theory may be perfectly sound," I said; "but as
one professionally interested in relics of the past, I feel called
upon to protest. Perhaps before we proceed any further you will
enlighten me respecting this most obscure matter. Can you inform me,
for example, what became of Hassan es-Sugra?"
"He observed my approach from a distance, and fled, being a man of
little virtue. Respecting the other matters you shall be fully
enlightened, to-night. The white camel is for you."
There was a gentle finality in his manner to which I succumbed. My
feelings towards this mysterious being had undergone a slight change;
and whilst I cannot truthfully say that I loved him as a brother, a
certain respect for Abû Tabâh was taking possession of my mind. I began
to understand his reputation with the natives; beyond doubt his
uncanny wisdom was impressive; his lofty dignity awed. And no man is
at his best arrayed in canvas shoes, very dirty drill trousers, and a
As I had anticipated, the village of Méydûm proved to be our
destination, and the gait of the magnificent creatures upon which we
were mounted was exhausting. I shall always remember that moonlight
ride across the desert to the palm groves of Méydûm. I entered the
house of the Sheikh with misgivings; for my attire fell short of the
ideal to which every representative of protective Britain looks up,
but often fails to realize.
In a mandarah, part of it inlaid with fine mosaic and boasting a
pretty fountain, I was presented to the imposing old man who was
evidently the host of Abû Tabâh. Ere taking my seat upon the dîwan, I
shed my canvas shoes, in accordance with custom, accepted a pipe and a
cup of excellent coffee, and awaited with much curiosity the next
development. A brief colloquy between Abû Tabâh and the Sheikh, at the
further end of the apartment resulted in the disappearance of the
Sheikh and the approach of my mysterious friend.
"Because, although you are not a Moslem, you are a man of culture
and understanding," said Abû Tabâh, "I have ordered that my sister
shall be brought into your presence."
"That is exceedingly good of you," I said, but indeed I knew it to
be an honor which spoke volumes at once for Abû Tabâh's enlightenment
and good opinion of myself.
"She is a virgin of great beauty," he continued; "and the
excellence of her mind exceeds the perfection of her person."
"I congratulate you," I answered politely, "upon the possession of
a sister in every way so desirable."
Abû Tabâh inclined his head in a characteristic gesture of gentle
"Allah has indeed blessed my house," he admitted; "and because your
mind is filled with conjectures respecting the source of certain
information which you know me to possess, I desire that the matter
shall be made clear to you."
How I should have answered this singular man I know not; but as he
spoke the words, into the mandarah came the Sheikh, followed by a girl
robed and veiled entirely in white. With gait slow and graceful she
approached the dîwan. She wore a white yelek so closely wrapped about
her that it concealed the rest of her attire, and a white tarbar, or
head-veil, decorated with gold embroidery, almost entirely concealed
her hair, save for one jet-black plait in which little gold ornaments
were entwined and which hung down on the left of her forehead. A white
yashmak reached nearly to her feet, which were clad in little red
As she approached me I was impressed, not so much with the details
of her white attire, nor with the fine lines of a graceful figure
which the gossamer robe quite failed to conceal, but with her
wonderful gazelle-like eyes, which were uncannily like those of her
brother, save that their bordering of kohl lent them an appearance of
being larger and more luminous.
No form of introduction was observed; with modestly lowered eyes
the girl saluted me and took her seat upon a heap of cushions before a
small coffee table set at one end of the dîwan. The Sheikh seated
himself beside me, and Abû Tabâh, with a reed pen, wrote something
rapidly on a narrow strip of paper. The Sheikh clapped his hands, a
man entered bearing a brazier containing live charcoal, and, having
placed it upon the floor, immediately withdrew. The dîwan was lighted
by a lantern swung from the ceiling, and its light, pouring fully down
upon the white figure of the girl, and leaving the other persons and
objects in comparative shadow, produced a picture which I am unlikely
Amid a tense silence, Abû Tabâh took from a box upon the table some
resinous substance. This he sprinkled upon the fire in the brazier;
and the girl extending a small hand and round soft arm across the
table, he again dipped his pen in the ink and drew upon the upturned
palm a rough square which he divided into nine parts, writing in each
an Arabic figure. Finally, in the centre he poured a small drop of
ink, upon which, in response to words rapidly spoken, the girl fixed an
Into the brazier Abû Tabâh dropped one by one fragments of the
paper upon which he had written what I presumed to be a form of
invocation. Immediately, standing between the smoking brazier and the
girl, he commenced a subdued muttering. I recognized that I was about
to be treated to an exhibition of darb el-mendel, Abû Tabâh being
evidently a sahhar, or adept in the art called er-roohânee. Save for
this indistinct muttering, no other sound disturbed the silence of the
apartment, until suddenly the girl began to speak Arabic and in a sweet
but monotonous voice.
"Again I see the ring," she said, "a hand is holding it before me.
The ring bears a green scarab, upon which is written the name of a
king of Egypt. . . . The ring is gone. I can see it no more."
"Seek it," directed Abû Tabâh in a low voice, and threw more
incense upon the fire. "Are you seeking it?"
"Yes," replied the girl, who now began to tremble violently, "I am
ill a low passage which slopes downwards so steeply that I am afraid."
"Fear nothing," said Abû Tabâh; "follow the passage."
With marvelous fidelity the girl described the passage and the
shaft leading to the King's Chamber in the Pyramid of Méydûm. She
described the cavity in the wall where once (if Hassan es-Sugra was
worthy of credence) the ring had been concealed.
"There is a freshly made hole in the stonework," she said. "The
picture has gone; I am standing in some dark place and the same hand
again holds the ring before me."
"Is it the hand of an Oriental," asked Abû Tabâh, "or of a
"It is the hand of a European. It has disappeared; I see a funeral
procession winding out from Rikka into the desert."
"Follow the ring," directed Abû Tabâh, a queer, compelling note in
Again he sprinkled perfume upon the fire and—
"I see a Pharaoh upon his throne," continued the monotonous voice,
"upon the first finger of his left hand he wears the ring with the
green scarab. A prisoner stands before him in chains; a woman pleads
with the king, but he is deaf to her. He draws the ring from his finger
and hands it to one standing behind the throne—one who has a very
evil face. Ah! . . ."
The girl's voice died away in a low wail of fear or horror. But—
"What do you see?" demanded Abû Tabâh.
"The death-ring of Pharaoh!" whispered the soft voice tremulously;
"it is the death-ring!"
"Return from the past to the present," ordered Abû Tabâh. "Where is
the ring now?"
He continued his weird muttering, whilst the girl, who still
shuddered violently, peered again into the pool of ink. Suddenly—
"I see a long line of dead men," she whispered, speaking in a kind
of chant; "they are of all the races of the East, and some are swathed
in mummy wrappings; the wrappings are sealed with the death-ring of
Pharaoh. They are passing me slowly, on their way across the desert
from the Pyramid of Méydûm to a narrow ravine where a tent is erected.
They go to summon one who is about to join their company. . . ."
I suppose the suffocating perfume of the burning incense was
chiefly responsible, but at this point I realized that I was becoming
dizzy and that immediate departure into a cooler atmosphere was
imperative. Quietly, in order to avoid disturbing the séance, I left
the mandarah. So absorbed were the three in their weird performance
that my departure was apparently unnoticed.
Out in the coolness of the palm grove I soon recovered. I doubt if
I possess the temperament which enables one to contemplate with
equanimity a number of dead men promenading in their shrouds.
"The truth is now wholly made manifest," said Abû Tabâh; "the
revelation is complete."
Once more I was mounted upon the white camel and the mysterious
imám rode beside me upon its fellow, which was of less remarkable
"I hear your words," I replied.
"The poor Ahmed Abdulla," he continued, "who was of little wisdom,
knew, as Hassan es-Sugra knew, of the hidden ring; for he was one of
those who fled from the pyramid refusing to enter it again. Greed
spoke to him, however, and he revealed the secret to a certain
Englishman, called Bishop, contracting to aid him in recovering the
At last enlightenment was mine . . . and it brought in its train a
"Something I knew of the peril," said Abû Tabâh, "but not, at
first, all. The Englishman I warned, but he neglected my warning.
Already Ahmed Abdulla was dead, having been despatched by his employer
to the pyramid; and the people of Rikka had sent for me. Now, by means
known to you, I learned that evil powers threatened your life also, in
what form I knew not at that time save that the sign of Set had been
revealed to me in conjunction with your death."
"That the secret of the pyramid was a Pharaoh's ring I did not
learn until later; but now it is made manifest that the thing of power
is the death-ring of Sneferu. . . ."
The huge bulk of the Pyramid of Méydûm loomed above us as he spoke
the words, for we were nearly come to our destination; and its
proximity occasioned within me a physical chill. I do not think an
open check for a thousand pounds would have tempted me to enter the
place again. The death-ring of Sneferu possessed uncomfortable and
supernatural properties. So far as I was aware, no example of such a
ring (the lettre de cachet of the period) was included in any known
collection. One dating much after Sneferu, and bearing the cartouche of
Apepi II (one of the Hyksos, or Shepherd Kings) came to light late in
the nineteenth century; it was reported to be the ring which,
traditionally, Joseph wore as emblematical of the power vested in him
by Pharaoh. Sir Gaston Maspero and other authorities considered it to
be a forgery and it vanished from the ken of connoisseurs. I never
learned by what firm it was manufactured.
A mile to the west of the pyramid we found Theo Bishop's
encampment. I thought it to be deserted-until I entered the little
tent. . . .
An oil-lamp stood upon a wooden box; and its rays made yellow the
face of the man stretched upon the camp-bed. My premonition was
realized; Bishop must have entered the pyramid less than an hour ahead
of me; he it was who had stood upon the mound, silhouetted against the
sky, when I had first approached the slope, he had met with the fate
of Ahmed Abdulla.
He had been dead for at least two hours, and by the token of
certain hideous glandular swellings, I knew that he had met his end by
the bite of an Egyptian viper.
"Abû Tabâh!" I cried, my voice hoarsely unnatural—"the recess in
the King's Chamber is a viper's nest!"
"You speak wisdom, Kernaby Pasha; the viper is the servant of the
Upon the third finger of his swollen right hand Bishop wore the
ring of ghastly history; and the mysterious significance of the Sign
of Set became apparent. For added to the usual cartouche of the
Pharaoh was the symbol of the god of destruction, thus:
We buried him deeply, piling stones upon the grave, that the
jackals of the desert might never disturb the last holder of the
death-ring of Sneferu.