The Director clasped the image tenderly, and, holding it to the light, read the broken cartouche beneath the breasts.
“‘Ma-Me, Great Royal Lady. Beloved of —-’ Beloved of whom? Well, of Smith, for one. Take it, monsieur, and hide it away at once, lest soon there should be another mummy in this collection, a modern mummy called Smith; and, in the name of Justice, let the museum which inherits it be not the British, but that of Cairo, for this queen belongs to Egypt. By the way, I have been told that you are delicate in the lungs. How is your health now? Our cold winds are very trying. Quite good? Ah, that is excellent! I suppose that you have no more articles that you can show me?”
“I have nothing more except a mummied hand, which I found in the basket with the jewels. The two rings off it lie there. Doubtless it was removed to get at that bracelet. I suppose you will not mind my keeping the hand—-”
“Of the beloved of Smith,” interrupted the Director drolly. “No, I suppose not, though for my part I should prefer one that was not quite so old. Still, perhaps _you_ will not mind my seeing it. That pocket of yours still looks a little bulky; I thought that it contained books!”
Smith produced a cigar-box; in it was the hand wrapped in cotton wool.
“Ah,” said the Director, “a pretty, well-bred hand. No doubt this Ma-Mee was the real heiress to the throne, as she describes herself. The Pharaoh was somebody of inferior birth, half-brother–she is called ‘Royal Sister,’ you remember–son of one of the Pharaoh’s slave-women, perhaps. Odd that she never mentioned him in the tomb. It looks as though they didn’t get on in life, and that she was determined to have done with him in death. Those were the rings upon that hand, were they not?”
He replaced them on the fingers, then took off one, a royal signet in a cartouche, and read the inscription on the other: “‘Bes Ank, Ank Bes.’ ‘Bes the Living, the Living Bes.’
“Your Ma-Mee had some human vanity about her,” he added. “Bes, among other things, as you know, was the god of beauty and of the adornments of women. She wore that ring that she might remain beautiful, and that her dresses might always fit, and her rouge never cake when she was dancing before the gods. Also it fixes her period pretty closely, but then so do other things. It seems a pity to rob Ma-Mee of her pet ring, does it not? The royal signet will be enough for us.”
With a little bow he gave the hand back to Smith, leaving the Bes ring on the finger that had worn it for more than three thousand years. At least, Smith was so sure it was the Bes ring that at the time he did not look at it again.
Then they parted, Smith promising to return upon the morrow, which, owing to events to be described, he did not do.
“Ah!” said the Master to himself, as the door closed behind his visitor. “He’s in a hurry to be gone. He has fear lest I should change my mind about that ring. Also there is the bronze. Monsieur Smith was _ruse_ there. It is worth a thousand pounds, that bronze. Yet I do not believe he was thinking of the money. I believe he is in love with that Ma-Mee and wants to keep her picture. _Mon Dieu!_ A well-established affection. At least he is what the English call an odd fish, one whom I could never make out, and of whom no one seems to know anything. Still, honest, I am sure–quite honest. Why, he might have kept every one of those jewels and no one have been the wiser. And what things! What a find! _Ciel!_ what a find! There has been nothing like it for years. Benedictions on the head of Odd-fish Smith!”
Then he collected the precious objects, thrust them into an inner compartment of his safe, which he locked and double-locked, and, as it was nearly five o’clock, departed from the Museum to his private residence in the grounds, there to study Smith’s copies and photographs, and to tell some friends of the great things that had happened.
When Smith found himself outside the sacred door, and had presented its venerable guardian with a baksheesh of five piastres, he walked a few paces to the right and paused a while to watch some native labourers who were dragging a huge sarcophagus upon an improvised tramway. As they dragged they sang an echoing rhythmic song, whereof each line ended with an invocation to Allah.