The concluding lecture which Dr. Redgrove had delivered in his series on Egyptian funerary practices in general and his observations about the mummy in his school’s possession in particular had, at some point during the intervening years, gone missing from its box of his notes at the college library. Since its controversial content had evidently spurred many in attendance to excuse themselves from the hall before the conclusion of his explanation, it had soon come to be rather ignominiously dubbed, “The Speech”. Finding themselves much provoked that (to the mind of the professor, at least) the theological ideas of the subjects of Pharaoh may have been in some regards more cogent than the time honored beliefs of their own tradition, many good citizens of the area had quickly united in a mission to censor and/or censure the scholar and prohibit the proliferation of what might prove to be teachings damaging to the moral foundation of the college, community, and reaches unknown. This concern had soon lost steam when it became obvious to the more influential that the doctor’s suggestions were too sophisticated not to escape notice by the confirmedly dull of wit, and too sound to raise objection amongst the more academically responsible. Yet, there was one lingering segment of the populus that could not rest until the obvious and inexcusable affront to their conservative viewpoint had been satisfied by ostracism of the elderly teacher of the archaeology of the East.
The indignant folk so inconvenienced by the stirrings of polytheist heterodoxy those many years before had soon, however, found their outrage frustrated and targetless by the untimely departure of the scholar; but nothing was ever confirmed regarding the rumors of his possible abduction and murder. And, there was an alternative legend that he had interred himself alive in the family crypt, with thought toward employing his obscure alchemy to induce a fifty year state of torpor, as a skilled Egyptian fakir was once reputed to have done. It was this one notion that seemed to enjoy the greatest favor in the town at dinnertime discussion, despite its romantic and unrealistic nature. As the one hundredth anniversary of the controversial professor’s disappearance drew nigh, interest in the case was rekindled by the discovery of an antique roll of papyrus in the university’s rare book room.
“At a loss for words?” the boy asked.
“Not if you aren’t at a loss for listening. There seems to be a lot of that going around, lately,” said the man, as he peered over his low spectacles, then refocused his gaze at the narrow dark red wooden box on the table in front of him. Then, he mused, “What would Harry do?” glancing almost imperceptibly, as if to look behind him.
The boy looked up at the framed poster of Harry Potter on the wall, whose august but surreal figure was poised like some pagan saint with a pale nimbus about his head, appropriately robed and adroit. Looking down at the scroll in its case once more, his eyes were again drawn to the poster. “Is that a woodcut?”
“Very good!” remarked the librarian. “Art in Japan seems to have come full circle from feudal times with this piece.” The two then returned their attention to the artifact.
“Got any spells that would help me find a girlfriend?”
“You mean,” the graying man paused, “one that isn’t calloused to the quiet urgings of the spirit of illumination, impartiality, and humaneness?” They stared at each other for a moment until he grinned dryly to dissipate the tension. “I didn’t think so.”
The boy paused for a minute as if in a bit of consternation, but then, a thought emerged with a flash of a supercilious smile: “Where would any of us be without occasional help from the ornery?”
The man slightly pursed his lower mouth, as if out maneuvered. “You need a maid to sweep the weariness from your heart?”
The boy turned and around and opened a drawer. From it, he lifted a device that seemed to be some tool of the proper papyrologist. He lifted his own glasses from around his neck, where they had hung from a dark blue cord, and put them on. “So, this scroll was the infamous…”
“Substance of Dr. Redgrove’s lecture...” the man offered in completion of the sentence, as he lifted the fragile parchment-like relic on its spindle and spool onto the unrolling apparatus. After an inspection of the roll’s length, a sigh of quiet alarm escaped from his breast.
“The end is missing.”
“Like the story goes—he took it with him?”
“The box’s label states that the papyrus was measured at 1.1 meters. This fragment, as you can see, is just a little bit over 29 inches,” said the librarian, pointing to the slightly ragged edge. “Like so many conveniently sized items, it appears to have been destined for a private collection.”
“Is there a transcription?”
“Perhaps that, too, may surface in another hundred years.”
“Well, if we can find Dr. Redgrove’s burial place, maybe we’ll be closer to the answer.”
“This is where your crystal ball is more of an advantage than balls of steel,” said the man as he gave the desk toy of hanging, clacking metal spheres a nudge to get them going. “If we only had that talk he gave about the mummy, we might have a clue.”
“Do you want to come out to the crypt, some time?”
“Oh, that’s right. He was an ancestral uncle of yours.”
“And the story is that he managed to entomb himself somewhere in the old Masonic chapel by the graveyard at the edge of the orchard.”
“So, you’ve been there.”
“A couple of times.” The boy’s eyes got big, as if musing in bewilderment.
“Laddy! What is it? Can you speak?” Sensing that it would be needed, the man walked to the other side of the room, located a slender volume on a shelf, returned, and opened it. Laying it on the table, he positioned it where the boy could clearly see, and pointed to a photograph. “Does this help?”
The boy looked, turned the page, pointed to a larger photograph. “One night, this area was a colored window, just like the ones on either side. But, every other time I was out there, it was just a paneled wall of marble, like the picture.”
The man turned the page again to a pair of plates showing the two windows as seen from the interior of the stone structure. “The glass panel in the chapel has a representation of the god of creation in ancient Egypt, Ptah. This one, in the mausoleum, shows the netherworld lord, Osiris.”
The boy then turned to the next printed page, with a floor plan of the building as its central figure. “The schematic says that only the coffins of military men of the family are behind this wall.”
“Did you take a good look at them when you were inside?”
“I could see the bronze plaques and bolts, but they are about twenty feet above eye level, and the inscriptions are not very big.”
“It says here that your uncle was one of the architects. The urn containing the remains of an unnamed relative, one of his most cherished possessions, was to have a prominent place in the crypt. But, there is no further mention of who this was, or where the vase ended up.”
The two inspected the book for a few more moments, then closed it, and returned to their examination of the roll of papyrus. “The final lines of this part are in red,” the boy observed. “What do they say? Need the dictionary?”
The librarian looked intently at the inscription. “Maybe not.” Rubbing his lips deliberately and briskly, he seemed to be making sure that no crumb in his beard might linger to profane the reading of a holy text. Then, he craned over a wastepaper basket momentarily to release a well chewed piece of gum. He squinted once more at the writing and then smiled. “No one who is not a scribe of the house of life shall see this enchantment. Who does disobey this…injunction shall cut off be; death for him quickly following. ‘The chapter of the speech by the god, Zokar, whose…arrangement the dead man returns to his plans among the living. Words to be said over the first jar of the seventy two, its belly filled with grains of the…(something, something)…sacred incense, its lid being in the likeness of…’ and it breaks off, right there.”
“Do you think the urn you read about might be…?”
“The mentioned jar of incense, incognito?” Cogitating for a moment, he spoke to the boy, again: “Did you by any chance happen to notice if the subject in the middle window had the head of a hawk?”
Quickly nodding, “I think so,” he said. “And there was a maybe pyramid kind of thing above his head.”
“Mm hm. And it is my guess that we could be also looking for a statue of Ptah Zokar Osiris. If our dear professor was true to form, it should at least give us a clue to the whereabouts of this revival sermon by the Lord of the Dead.” Walking over to his large desk, the man opened and searched a drawer, bringing out a camera. Attached to this was a collapsible frame, which he unfolded and steadily positioned the camera above the scroll for a clear shot. Peering through a periscope-like viewfinder, he pushed a small plunger on a short flexible cable, capturing an image of the hieroglyphic text.