Smith was seated in the sanctum of the distinguished Director-General of Antiquities at the new Cairo Museum. It was a very interesting room. Books piled upon the floor; objects from tombs awaiting examination, lying here and there; a hoard of Ptolemaic silver coins, just dug up at Alexandria, standing on a table in the pot that had hidden them for two thousand years; in the corner the mummy of a royal child, aged six or seven, not long ago discovered, with some inscription scrawled upon the wrappings (brought here to be deciphered by the Master), and the withered lotus-bloom, love’s last offering, thrust beneath one of the pink retaining bands.
“A touching object,” thought Smith to himself. “Really, they might have left the dear little girl in peace.”
Smith had a tender heart, but even as he reflected he became aware that some of the jewellery hidden in an inner pocket of his waistcoat (designed for bank-notes) was fretting his skin. He had a tender conscience also.
Just then the Director, a French savant, bustled in, alert, vigorous, full of interest.
“Ah, my dear Mr. Smith!” he said, in his excellent English. “I am indeed glad to see you back again, especially as I understand that you are come rejoicing and bringing your sheaves with you. They tell me you have been extraordinarily successful. What do you say is the name of this queen whose tomb you have found–Ma-Mee? A very unusual name. How do you get the extra vowel? Is it for euphony, eh? Did I not know how good a scholar you are, I should be tempted to believe that you had misread it. Me-Mee, Ma-Mee! That would be pretty in French, would it not? _Ma mie_–my darling! Well, I dare say she was somebody’s _mie_ in her time. But tell me the story.”
Smith told him shortly and clearly; also he produced his photographs and copies of inscriptions.
“This is interesting–interesting truly,” said the Director, when he had glanced through them. “You must leave them with me to study. Also you will publish them, is it not so? Perhaps one of the Societies would help you with the cost, for it should be done in facsimile. Look at this vignette! Most unusual. Oh, what a pity that scoundrelly priest got off with the jewellery and burnt her Majesty’s body!”
“He didn’t get off with all of it.”
“What, Mr. Smith? Our inspector reported to me that you found nothing.”
“I dare say, sir; but your inspector did not know what I found.”
“Ah, you are a discreet man! Well, let us see.”
Slowly Smith unbuttoned his waistcoat. From its inner pocket and elsewhere about his person he extracted the jewels wrapped in mummy-cloth as he had found them. First he produced a sceptre-head of gold, in the shape of a pomegranate fruit and engraved with the throne name and titles of Ma-Mee.
“What a beautiful object!” said the Director. “Look! the handle was of ivory, and that _sacre_ thief of a priest smashed it out at the socket. It was fresh ivory then; the robbery must have taken place not long after the burial. See, this magnifying-glass shows it. Is that all?”
Smith handed him the surviving half of the marvellous necklace that had been torn in two.
“I have re-threaded it,” he muttered, “but every bead is in its place.”
“Oh, heavens! How lovely! Note the cutting of those cornelian heads of Hathor and the gold lotus-blooms between–yes, and the enamelled flies beneath. We have nothing like it in the Museum.”
So it went on.
“Is that all?” gasped the Director at last, when every object from the basket glittered before them on the table.
“Yes,” said Smith. “That is–no. I found a broken statuette hidden in the sand outside the tomb. It is of the queen, but I thought perhaps you would allow me to keep this.”
“But certainly, Mr. Smith; it is yours indeed. We are not niggards here. Still, if I might see it—-”
From yet another pocket Smith produced the head. The Director gazed at it, then he spoke with feeling.
“I said just now that you were discreet, Mr. Smith, and I have been reflecting that you are honest. But now I must add that you are very clever. If you had not made me promise that this bronze should be yours before you showed it me–well, it would never have gone into that pocket again. And, in the public interest, won’t you release me from the promise?”
“_No_,” said Smith.
“You are perhaps not aware,” went on the Director, with a groan, “that this is a portrait of Mariette’s unknown queen whom we are thus able to identify. It seems a pity that the two should be separated; a replica we could let you have.”
“I am quite aware,” said Smith, “and I will be sure to send _you_ a replica, with photographs. Also I promise to leave the original to some museum by will.”