CASE OF THE VEIL OF ISIS
I have made no attempt, in these chronicles, to arrange the cases of my remarkable friend, Moris Klaw, in sections. Yet, as has recently been pointed out to me, they seem naturally to fall into two orders. There were those in which he appeared in the role of criminal investigator, and in which he was usually associated with Inspector Grimsby. There was another class of inquiry in which the criminal element was lacking; mysteries which never came under the notice of New Scotland Yard.
Since Moris Klaw’s methods were, if not supernatural, at any rate supernormal, I have been asked if he ever, to my knowledge, inquired into a case which proved insusceptible of a natural explanation—which fell strictly within the province of the occult.
To that I answer that I am aware of several; but I have refrained from including them because readers of these papers would be unlikely to appreciate the nature of Klaw’s investigations outside the sphere of ordinary natural laws. Those who are curious upon the point cannot do better than consult the remarkable work by Moris Klaw entitled Psychic Angles.
But there was one case with which I found myself concerned that I am disposed to include, for it fell between the provinces of the natural and supernatural in such a way that it might, with equal legitimacy, be included under either head. On the whole, I am disposed to bracket it with the case of the headless mummies.
I will take leave to introduce you, then, to the company which met at Otter Brearley’s house one night in August.
“This is most truly amazing,” Moris Klaw was saying; “and I am indebted to my good friend Searles”—he inclined his sparsely covered head in my direction—“for the opportunity to be one of you. It is a séance? Yes and no. But there is a mummy in it—and those mummies are so instructive!”
He extracted the scent-spray from his pocket and refreshed his yellow brow with verbena.
“How to be regretted that my daughter is in Paris,” he continued, his rumbling voice echoing queerly about the room. “She loves them like a mother—those mummies! Ah, Mr. Brearley, this will cement your great reputation!”
Otter Brearley shook his head.
“I am not yet prepared to make it public property,” he declared, slowly. “No one, outside the present circle, knows of my discovery. I do not wish it to go further—at present.”
He glanced around the table, his prominent blue eyes passing from myself to Moris Klaw and from Klaw to the clean-cut, dark face of Dr. Fairbank. The latter, scarce heeding his host’s last words, sat watching how the shaded light played, tenderly, amid the soft billows of Ailsa Brearley’s wonderful hair.
“Shall you make it the subject of a paper?” he asked suddenly.
“My dear Dr. Fairbank!” rumbled Moris Klaw, solemnly, “if you had been paying attention to our good friend you would have heard him say that he was not prepared, at present, to make public his wonderful discovery.”
“Sorry!” said Fairbank, turning to Brearley. “But if it is not to be made public I don’t altogether follow the idea. What do you intend, Brearley?”
“In what way?” I asked.
“In every way possible!”
Dr. Fairbank sat back in his chair and looked thoughtful.
“Rather a comprehensive scheme?”
Brearley toyed with the bundle of notes under his hand.
“I have already,” he said, “exhaustively examined seven of the possibilities; the eighth, and—I believe, the last—remains to be considered.”
“Listen now to me, Mr. Brearley,” said Moris Klaw, wagging a long finger. “I am here, the old curious, and find myself in delightful company. But until this evening I know nothing of your work except that I have read all your books. For me you will be so good as to outline all the points—yes?”
Otter Brearley mutely sought permission of the company, and turned the leaves of his manuscript. All men have an innate love of “talking shop,” but few can make such talk of general interest. Brearley was an exception in this respect. He loved to talk of Egypt, of the Pharaohs, of the temples, of the priesthood and its mysteries; but others loved to hear him. That made all the difference.
“The discovery,” he now began, “upon which I have blundered—for pure accident, alone, led me to it—assumes its great importance by reason of the absolute mystery surrounding certain phases of Egyptian worship. In the old days, Fairbank, you will recall that it was my supreme ambition to learn the secrets of Isis-worship as practised in early Egyptian times. Save for impostors, and legitimate imaginative writers, no one has yet lifted the veil of Isis. That mystical ceremony by which a priest was consecrated to the goddess, or made an arch adept, was thought to be hopelessly lost, or by others, to be a myth devised by the priesthood to awe the ignorant masses. In fact, we know little of the entire religion but its outward form. Of that occult lore so widely attributed to its votaries we know nothing—absolutely nothing! By we, I mean students in general. I, individually, have made a step, if not a stride, into that holy of holies!”
“Mind you don’t lose yourself!” said Fairbank, lightly.
But, professionally, he was displeased with Brearley’s drawn face and with the feverish brightness of his eyes. So much was plain for all to see. In the eyes of Ailsa Brearley, so like, yet so unlike, her brother’s, he read understanding of his displeasure, I think, together with a pathetic appeal.
Brearley waved his long, white hand carelessly.
“Rest assured of that, doctor!” he replied. “The labyrinth in which I find myself is intricate, I readily admit; but all my steps have been well considered. To return, Mr. Klaw”—addressing the latter—“I have secured the mummy of one of those arch adepts! That he was one is proved by the papyrus, presumably in his own writing, which lay upon his breast! I unwrapped the mummy in Egypt, where it now reposes; but the writing I brought back with me, and have recently deciphered. A glance had showed me that it was not the usual excerpts from the Book of the Dead. Six months’ labour has proved it to be a detailed account of his initiation into the inner mysteries!”
“Is such a papyrus unique?” I asked.
“Unique!” cried Moris Klaw. “Name of a little blue man! It is priceless!”
“But why,” I pursued, “should this priest, alone amongst the many who must have been so initiated, have left an account of the ceremony?”
“It was forbidden to divulge any part, any word, of it, Searles!” said Brearley. “Departure from this law was visited with fearful punishments in this world and dire penalties in the next. Khamus, for so this priest was named, well knew this. But some reason which, I fear, can never be known, prompted him to write the papyrus. It is probable, if not certain, that no eye but his, and mine, has read what is written there.”
A silence of a few seconds followed his words.
“Yes,” rumbled Klaw presently; “it is undoubtedly a discovery of extraordinary importance, this. You agree, my friend?”
“That’s evident,” I replied. “But I cannot altogether get the hang of the ceremony itself, Brearley. That is the point upon which I am particularly hazy.”
“To read you the entire account in detail,” Brearley resumed, “would occupy too long, and would almost certainly confuse you. But the singular thing is this: Khamus distinctly asserts that the goddess appeared to him. His writing is eminently sane and reserved, and his account of the ceremony, up to that point, highly interesting. Now, I have tested the papyrus itself—though no possibility of fraud is really admissible, and I have been able to confirm many of the statements made therein. There is only one point, it seems to me, remaining to be settled.”
“What is that?” I asked.
“Whether, as a result of the ceremony described, Khamus did see Isis, or whether he merely imagined he did!”Public Domain, Sax Rohmer, sfw