CASE OF THE POTSHERD OF ANUBIS
In examining the mass of material which I have collated respecting Moris Klaw, several outstanding facts strike me, as being worthy of some special notice.
For instance, an unusual number of the cases in which he was concerned centred about curios and relics of various kinds. His personal tastes (he was, I think, primarily, an antiquarian) may have led him to examine such cases in preference to others. Then again, no two of his acquaintances agree upon the point of Moris Klaw’s actual identity and personality. He was a master of disguise; and the grand secret of his life was one which he jealously guarded from all.
But was the Moris Klaw who kept the curio-shop in Wapping the real Moris Klaw? And to what extent did he believe in those psychical phenomena upon which professedly his methods were based? As particularly bearing upon this phase of the matter, I have selected, for narration here, the story of the potsherd.
Since the Boswell, in records of this kind, has often appeared, to my mind, to overshadow the Johnson, I have decided to present this episode in the words of Mr. J.E. Wilson Clifford, electrical engineer, of Copthall House, Copthall Avenue, E.C., to whom I am indebted for a full and careful account. I do not think I could improve upon his paper, and my own views might unduly intrude upon the story; therefore, with your permission, I will vacate the rostrum in favour of Mr. Clifford, for whom I solicit your attention.
MR. CLIFFORD’S STORY OF THE EGYPTIAN POTSHERD
During the autumn of 19__, I was sharing a pleasant set of rooms with Mark Lesty, who was shortly taking up an appointment at a London hospital, and it was, I think, about the middle of that month, that the extraordinary affair of Halesowen and his Egyptian potsherd came under our notice.
Our rooms (they were in a south-west suburb) overlooked a fine expanse of Common. Halesowen rented a flat commanding a similar prospect; and, at the time of which I write, he had but recently returned from a protracted visit to Egypt.
Halesowen was a tall, fair man, clean-shaven, very fresh coloured and wearing his hair cropped close to his head. He was well travelled, and no mean antiquary. He lived entirely by himself; and Lesty and I frequently spent the evening at his place, which was a veritable museum of curiosities. I distinctly recall the first time that he showed us his latest acquisitions.
Both the windows were wide open and the awning fluttered in the slight breeze. Dusk was just descending, and we sat looking out over the Common and puffing silently at our briars. We had been examining the relics that Halesowen had brought back from the land of the Pharaohs, the one, I remember, which had most impressed me, tyro that I was, being the mummy of a sacred cat from Bubastis.
“It wouldn’t have been worth bringing back only for the wrapping,” Halesowen assured me. “This, now, is really unique.”
The object referred to was a broken pot or vase, upon which he pointed out a number of hieroglyphics and a figure with the head of a jackal. “A potsherd inscribed with the figure of Anubis,” he explained. “Very valuable.”
“Why?” Lesty inquired, in his lazy way.
“Well,” Halesowen replied, “the characters of the inscription are of a kind entirely unfamiliar to me. I believe them to be a sort of secret writing, possibly peculiar to some brotherhood. I am risking expert opinion, although in every sense, I stole the thing!”
“How’s that?” I asked.
“Well, Professor Sheraton—you’ll see his name on a row of cases in the B.M.—excavated it. But it’s a moral certainty he didn’t intend to advise the authorities of his find. He was going to smuggle it out of Egypt into his private collection. I had marked the spot where he found it for inquiries of my own. This dishonest old fossil—”
“Oh! my own motives weren’t above suspicion! But any way the Professor anticipated me. Accordingly, I employed one Ali, a distinguished member of a family of thieves, to visit the learned gentleman’s tent! Cutting the story—there’s the pot!”
“Here! I say!” drawled Lesty. “You’ll come to a bad end, young fellow!”
“The position is a peculiar one,” replied Halesowen, smiling. “Neither of us had any legal claim to the sherd—whilst we were upon Egyptian territory. Therefore, even if the Professor learnt that I had the thing—and he may suspect—he couldn’t prosecute me!”
“Devilish high-handed!” commented Lesty.
“Yes. But remember we were well off the map—miles away from Cook’s route. The possession of this potsherd ought to make a man’s reputation—any man who knows a bit about the subject. Curiously enough, a third party had had his eye upon the place where this much-sought sherd was found. And in some mysterious fashion he tumbled to the fact that it had fallen into my hands. He made a sort of veiled offer of a hundred pounds for it. I refused, but ran across him again, a week or so later, in Cairo, and he raised his price to two hundred.”
“That’s strange,” I said. “Who was he?”
“Called himself Zeda—Dr. Louis Zeda. He quite lost his temper when I declined to sell, and I’ve not set eyes on him since.”
He relocked the fragment in his cabinet, and we lapsed into silence, to sit gazing meditatively across the Common, picturesque in the dim autumn twilight.
“By the way, Halesowen,” I said, “I see that the flat next door, same floor as this, is to let.”
“That’s so,” he replied. “Why don’t you men take it?”
“We’ll think about it,” yawned Lesty, stretching his long limbs. “Might look over it in the morning.”
The following day we viewed the vacant flat, but found, upon inquiry of the agent, that it had already been let. However, as our own rooms suited us very well, we were not greatly concerned. Just as we finished dinner the same evening, Halesowen came in, and, without preamble, plunged into a surprising tale of uncanny happenings at his place.
“Take it slow,” said Lesty. “You say it was after we came away?”
“About an hour after,” replied Halesowen. “I had brought out the potsherd, and had it in the wooden stand on the table before me. I was copying the hieroglyphics, which are unusual, and had my reading-lamp burning only, the rest of the room being consequently in shadow. I was sitting with my back to the windows, facing the door, so no one could possibly have entered the room unseen by me. It was as I bent down to scrutinise a badly defaced character that I felt a queer sensation stealing over me, as though some one were standing close behind my chair, watching me!”
“Very common,” explained Lesty; “merely nerves.”
“Yes, I know; but not what followed. The sensation became so pronounced, that I stood up. No one was in the room. I determined to take a stroll, concluding that the fresh air would clear these uncanny cobwebs out of my brain. Accordingly, I extinguished the lamp and went out. I was just putting my cap on, when something prompted me to return and lock up the potsherd.”
He fixed his eyes upon us with an expression of doubt.
“There was some one, or something, in the room!”Public Domain, Sax Rohmer, sfw