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It is not mentioned how often these children of want visited the hall of plenty, but it is known that they made frequent incursions into the hoards; ay, even to such an extent as to puzzle and bewilder old and worthy Thapa-Thepis. His gods were leaving his heaven. Not singly but handfully his coins were winging their flight. His crocodile had its eyes picked out, and his mythology was orbless. Even his coral monkey had lost all its front teeth of gold. Where was this to end, and who had begun it, and who the unknown evil-spirit that was to finish it and him? In vain he searched with his hooked nose among his chests and boxes; the round corners of his mine were examined, but all in vain. No red-gnome or spirit-bat was found tucked beneath a ruby, or crouching in the shady side of a diamond. Amazement seized the king, despair the miser, Two-fold emotions took possession of the two-fold man.
He had ontered his treasury, and, as usual, the sacred seal of his father's was unbroken. He tapped upon the walls; it was like striking upon a skull; a dead sound was the only answer. Poor king, you have been robbed, and robbed vilely, and the deuce of it is, you can't find out the robber! Poor old king! ay, go tottering out of the cell of countless wealth. Why not take it with you, and cast it far and wide over those Lybian sands that stretch westward and southward from your regal home? Give it to the cut-purses of the desert; build churches to your birds and beasts; crown your queen with a diadem, whose wealth could buy a continent, and whose light would make her dusky beauty shine like a star over the dim mountains of the moon. Take it with you, Oh king! for if you leave it in this dark vault, its glory, shedding lustre round the sombre walls, will light the bandit to its hiding place; and after all, in your old age you will be thrown upon the parish, and finally die in a poor-house! The king does not as I would have urged him to do, but he locks the iron door, and like the jailor at our Tombs, he bolts the useless prisoners in. Oh ThapaThepis, I pity you! Old Shylock of the Nile, you are nearly a ruined man.
The king ate no supper that night, and his chocolate and oiled toast left his breakfast-table untouched next morning. Has Thapa-Thepis been drinking, that his eyes are so red, his rag-picking nose so blue, and his steps so unsteady? He mounts his desert-mare and flies around the sacred depository of his tin. No bird has lit upon the apex of the edifice; no serpent coiling through the blazing sands has wriggled its way to cool its scaly skin in the dark shadow of the walls. The wind from the lone lands of Africa has hidden the footsteps of the mason's sons, and all is mystery and all is dim, and Silence and its sister Safety reign supremely still over the hidden treasure of the miser-king.
A storm gathers in the Afric air; the dial in the palace court has been rendered useless, for the day has fled, and night, the murderer's friend, is abroad in the city of Cheops. Loud howls the blast, and the mysterious Nile chafes against her reedy banks. The monstrous deities of her flood seek safety in their muddy shrines and listen to the rattling thunder of the skies. Gloom and darkness were abroad that night, with tempest and storm. Once more the brothers leave their home for
their Egyptian California. The stone turns on its pivot and they enter; a lucifer match sets fire to a slow-burning torch; the torch is struck into the ground, and Baba-Bebi and his brother pick their way in quest of the choicest stores. Baba-Bebi has lifted from an opened box a bracelet that was worth a battle between nations. His brother stares on the sparkling eyes of an ivory god.
•Hist! what noise at the door? The wax is being broken! Quick! fly!' , It is the younger who speaks.
A gleam of a sword and the deed is done. Baba-Bebi has severed · his younger brother's head from his body. He seizes the gory head;
he flies. The quick revolving stone allows him to escape. He is free; he is outside of his brother's tomb, with his brother's head in his hand. The king is inside, with his brother's lifeless trunk before his eyes. Baba-Bebi flies. Thapa-Thepis cannot move. A burning torch before him; a fresh-bleeding carcass on the floor; a trunk without a head; the seal of the door unbroken before he broke it; what mystery! Where, oh! where the police ?
Is Thapa-Thepis in a dream ? Have the gods given him over to the hands of conjurers ? Thapa-Thepis does not know, and if he stays all night long in that vast room, with that queer trunk, he never can find out. He drags the body to the door; he drags it over the threshold; he leaves it for a moment on the sands. He reënters; he extinguishes the blazing torch, and flies to his palace. The guards are commanded to fetch the dead man's headless body from the pyramid; and then the king, astounded, puzzled, worried, fretted, and frightened, begins to form his plans for the morrow. Wrapt in his dressing-gown and thoughts, let us leave the royal presence, and for a moment breathe.
Why did Baba-Bebi kill his brother by cutting off his head? Simply, to save his own. Any reader of sense will perceive the force of the argument, and will acquit Baba of premeditated murder. Had they both been detected, both would have been destroyed; and to prevent the secret being discovered, Baba removed the only evidence that could speak against him ; his brother's speechless head.
The king was in no humor to be humbugged ; that is the last thing that kings and governors and mayors and magistrates, and other policeofficers, allow; so he was busy that morning in issuing an edict. That edict commanded that every inhabitant, from the oldest down to the youngest, of his city and the neighborhood, should pass before a gibbet on which was to be exposed the body of the unfortunate thief.
There was wit in the policy of Thapa-Thepis, King of Egypt.
Soldiers were placed near the gibbet, whose duty it was to scrutinize the face of every person who passed by, to see if they could trace any expression of recognition. It was the only course to be adopted in the absence of Fouché and Hays. By ten o'clock the public square was crowded with the dusky people. They passed on wondering, but not recognizing. None knew the mason's son. If any one doubts this fact, let him cut off a neighbor's head, and then see if any one will be able to identify the individual. Samson, we are told, slew a host with the jaw-bone of an ass. The ass was verified by the jawbone; a good precedent of anatomical precision, which seems to have been well thought of in the Parkman case, where the entire body of the Doctor was known through the agency of a dentist who had operated upon his grinders. However, people are very curious about these matters, and some I have known who could not even recognize an old friend of whom they had once borrowed money. It is true, nevertheless, that the mason's son was not known to any of that vast throng who passed in solemn review before him. With not one had he upon that melancholy occasion even a speaking acquaintance.
In Egypt death was looked upon as a peculiar institution of nature, and great care was paid to the bodies of the departed. Without burial they could not pass the gulf that separated mortality from immortality, and an unattended-to mummy was no mummy at all, and was excluded from that Paradise whose highest enjoyment was a free and social intercourse with the crocodile and the ibis and the bull.
• Bury your brother you must !' exclaimed Mrs. Tekel Bebi to BabaBebi.
• How can I ?' replied the son.
• Bury your brother you must!' again exclaimed Mrs. Bebi, with emphasis, adding, if you do not, I will tell Thapa-Thepis all about it!'
Baba-Bebi left the room, and proceeded to saddle the widow's donkey. In the panniers of impervious leather he poured wine, in the wine he poured a poisonous opiate, and in the saddle he deposited his person, and made his way toward the public place.
The sun was about setting; tower and steeple glowed in his ruddy splendor, and afar off, over the illimitable sands, the wind began its mourning wail; but onward in the deepening twilight jogged the fratricide.
The people had obeyed in awe and silence the dread mandate of the law, and had withdrawn to their different homes to gossip over the wonders of the adventure. The guards, with their white shawls folded over their heads, and armed with spears and heavy stone hammers, were grouped around the base of the gallows. They were tired with the weary and so far useless ordeal.
Baba dismounted from his donkey and carelessly approached the group. He was the only civilian with the soldiery. It was but an instant's work to prick a hole in one of the panniers and let the wine flow out. Speedily it was observed by the tired guard. They rushed to the wine-sacks; they filled the hollows of their hands; they pressed their mouths to the aperture; they laughed at Baba-Bebi's well-affected grief. It was not his wine; it was not theirs. What was that to them?' And they drank it, those un-Father-Matthewed men, and not tardy was the wine in its potent effect. Through the brain, through the marrow of the bones, through the arteries of the heart, it flew like molten quicksilver, and worse than the arrows and the spears of the sand-enveloped Bedouin, it killed the life within them, and they were stretched one and all, the captain and his men, upon the ground; and with all the dead about him, in the now thick gloom of the evening, he tore his brother's body from the gibbet, and fled; fled to his mother's house, and was safe.
Has Thapa-Thepis been drinking again, that his eyes are so red, his
chiffonnier-nose so blue, and his steps so tottering? Hapless King of Egypt! His treasury invaded, his guards murdered, the body rescued, the culprit fled, and worse than all of these, the secret of the mysterious entrance into his pyramid unravelled. Up to this moment he had acted like a king; he had acted aboveboard; there was no guile in all or any of his acts; but still my old friend was a diplomatist ; in fact, he was tricky. He feigned wonder, admiration, at the cleverness of the mysteries, and forthwith he published the following brief exposition of his royal views and intentions :
6 TO OUR BELOVED SLAVES: THAPA-THEPIS, GREETING :
SLAVES OF CHEOPS! be it known that I, T. T., the King, under the blessing of the Ball and the Apis and the Water-God of the Nile, am willing to pardon the wonderful man who has robbed my coffers, who has killed a part of my bold and victorious army, who has robbed the gallows of its ripened fruit; and I not only pardon, but invite him to come forward on the fourth day of the next moon and stand before my daughter, the Princess EFFERNIZIDA, who will be found, on the day aforesaid, seated in the great Hall of Whispers, in my palace of Golden Grapes, in this my city of CHEOPS my ancestor; and if he will then recount to her and prove that he is the person who has performed the late wonders, and show how he did them, he shall have the hand of my beloved daughter in marriage, as a reward of his illustrious and astounding acts. In the name of the Crocodile.
. By command of His Majesty,
“THAPA-THEpis, etc., etc. This proclamation had a wonderful effect. The Princess Effernizida was lovely among women ; lovelier but not whiter than the lotus of the Nile, and heiress to the large estates of the monarch. It would fill a library were I to undertake the recital of all the wild stories that were told to the princess, as she sat in the Hall of Whispers, by the gallants of the city of Cheops. Hope inspired them with wit, and their tongues were eloquent, but none could account for the mystery of the pyramid.
The princess was patient. Tree-like flowers exhaled their loaded sweets upon the air of the capacious hall; wondrous birds fluttered from branch to branch of this wilderness of shrubbery; and, chained by a golden link, a huge crocodile spread his flabby feet in a bath of marble inlaid with gold and precious stones, and sighed occasionally for a freer bath in his beloved and native river. The God of Egypt was a prisoner in the bower of the Queen of Beauty. Music ever and anon floated on the scented air from unseen instruments, and filled the space with melody, and breathed voluptuous languor through the room.
Effernizida listened to the recital of the gallants of her father's court amid this scene of inspiration, but none could win a smile of credulity from her roseate lips. Like the image of Silence and of Thought, the Sphynx of the Sand, she heard, but she answered not.
Thapa-Thepis was all on fire. He wandered about his palace, and he visited his pyramid; but only broke its sacred seal to find some other treasure gone, more money lost. Holy snakes and vermin! what was to be done? Wait a while, King of yellow Egypt; wait a while, and be cool!
A figure wrapped in a flowing robe stood before the princess; two dark and daring eyes gazed upon her beauty; two eyes that seemed endowed with the expression of inextinguishable suspicion flashed into her very soul. Those eyes read her heart, read her brain, read her diplomacy. For one instant they wandered toward the tree-like shrub
bery, and a smile played from mouth to eye-brow of the mantle-covered stranger. The princess was seated in a regal chair ; the visitor stood immediately before her. They were alone, for he had waited until all had departed, baffled and disappointed.
• Speak,' said the princess, impatient of his silence.
With slow and deliberate speech he told her all that I have told you, dear reader. She listened to the narrative, and then wondered how simple a thing could have so long baffled the wisdom of her father and his gray-beards. He had just finished, when she, too anxious to obey the secret orders of the king, hurried forth her hand to sieze him, with her mouth opening to call the guard hidden behind the convenient shrubbery; he too extended his willing and unsuspicious hand to receive hers. She seized it with a cry of joy, and Baba-Bebi fled; he fled the palace, he fled the court, he threw aside his cloak. He showed both his hands as he crossed the street. He sought his mother's humble house, and there was safe.
The princess gazed on her suitor's hand; she looked at its withered flesh, its shrunken arm, with its almost rotting bones. The guards are around her; they gaze in wonder at this new demonstration from Hades; they pursue not the demon that has just fled upon his wings of gloom. The king totters into the chamber and demands the prisoner, who is to be given over to the torture.
"That hand! that arm ! cried the king.
• Is his— the fiend's ! exclaimed the daughter; and the skeletonarm fell from her grasp upon the floor.
In vain, in vain, oh, son of Cheops ! Pursue no farther! Magic is against you! That witchcraft and priest-jugglery that was to be used against Aaron, and which he beat all hollow with his walking-stick, are in arms against you. Doomed to live in history but as the puppet of a trick, oh, Thapa-Thepis ! cover 'thy head with dirt, and anoint thy sacred person with cow-fat! Thou hast done thy best, and thy people believe thou hast.
Meanwhile Baba-Bebi laughs in his heart that he has cheated you and got you under his thumb. He chuckles at the idea of your being outwitted. He knew that it was all a hoax about giving your daughter in marriage to the felon, and he knew where the guards were stationed; so he swiftly cut his brother's right arm off, and hid it under his cloak. The princess knows the rest.
But Thapa-Thepis pledged then his royal oath - as if an oath was not a right royal thing, though given by a beggar— that he would pardon the bold perpetrator of these marvels, and marry him to his daughter, if he were mortal, and make him prime minister in the place of Sphinxum Phoçum, who was at best a nincompoop; but if he was a demon, he had nothing farther to say to him on the subject, and hoped he would be good enough to torment some other royal personage who was better able to stand it.
Much to the credit of my favorite historical friend Thapa, I am told that he kept his word, and Baba-Bebi did marry his daughter; and you