The Mummy's Foot
I had entered, in an idle mood, the shop of one of those curiosity
venders who are called marchands de bric-a-brac in that Parisian
argot which is so perfectly unintelligible elsewhere in France.
You have doubtless glanced occasionally through the windows of some of
these shops, which have become so numerous now that it is fashionable
to buy antiquated furniture, and that every petty stock broker thinks
must have his chambre au moyen age.
There is one thing there which clings alike to the shop of the dealer
in old iron, the ware-room of the tapestry maker, the laboratory of the
chemist, and the studio of the painter: in all those gloomy dens where
a furtive daylight filters in through the window-shutters the most
manifestly ancient thing is dust. The cobwebs are more authentic than
the guimp laces, and the old pear-tree furniture on exhibition is
actually younger than the mahogany which arrived but yesterday from
The warehouse of my bric-a-brac dealer was a veritable Capharnaum. All
ages and all nations seemed to have made their rendezvous there. An
Etruscan lamp of red clay stood upon a Boule cabinet, with ebony
panels, brightly striped by lines of inlaid brass; a duchess of the
court of Louis XV. nonchalantly extended her fawn-like feet under a
massive table of the time of Louis XIII., with heavy spiral supports of
oak, and carven designs of chimeras and foliage intermingled.
Upon the denticulated shelves of several sideboards glittered immense
Japanese dishes with red and blue designs relieved by gilded hatching,
side by side with enamelled works by Bernard Palissy, representing
serpents, frogs, and lizards in relief.
From disembowelled cabinets escaped cascades of silver-lustrous Chinese
silks and waves of tinsels which an oblique sunbeam shot through with
luminous beads; while portraits of every era, in frames more or less
tarnished, smiled through their yellow varnish.
The striped breastplate of a damascened suit of Milanese armour
glittered in one corner; loves and nymphs of porcelain, Chinese
grotesques, vases of celadon and crackle-ware, Saxon and old Sevres
cups encumbered the shelves and nooks of the apartment.
The dealer followed me closely through the tortuous way contrived
between the piles of furniture, warding off with his hand the hazardous
sweep of my coat-skirts, watching my elbows with the uneasy attention
of an antiquarian and a usurer.
It was a singular face, that of the merchant; an immense skull,
polished like a knee, and surrounded by a thin aureole of white hair,
which brought out the clear salmon tint of his complexion all the more
strikingly, lent him a false aspect of patriarchal bonhomie,
counteracted, however, by the scintillation of two little yellow eyes
which trembled in their orbits like two louis d'or upon quicksilver.
The curve of his nose presented an aquiline silhouette, which suggested
the Oriental or Jewish type. His hands--thin, slender, full of nerves
which projected like strings upon the finger-board of a violin, and
armed with claws like those on the terminations of bats' wings--shook
with senile trembling; but those convulsively agitated hands became
firmer than steel pincers or lobsters' claws when they lifted any
precious article--an onyx cup, a Venetian glass, or a dish of Bohemian
crystal. This strange old man had an aspect so thoroughly rabbinical
and cabalistic that he would have been burnt on the mere testimony of
his face three centuries ago.
"Will you not buy something from me to-day, sir? Here is a Malay kreese
with a blade undulating like flame. Look at those grooves contrived for
the blood to run along, those teeth set backward so as to tear out the
entrails in withdrawing the weapon. It is a fine character of ferocious
arm, and will look well in your collection. This two-handed sword is
very beautiful. It is the work of Josepe de la Hera; and this
colichemarde, with its fenestrated guard--what a superb specimen of
"No; I have quite enough weapons and instruments of carnage. I want a
small figure, something which will suit me as a paper-weight, for I
cannot endure those trumpery bronzes which the stationers sell, and
which may be found on everybody's desk."
The old gnome foraged among his ancient wares, and finally arranged
before me some antique bronzes, so-called at least; fragments of
malachite, little Hindoo or Chinese idols, a kind of poussah-toys in
jade-stone, representing the incarnations of Brahma or Vishnoo, and
wonderfully appropriate to the very undivine office of holding papers
and letters in place.
I was hesitating between a porcelain dragon, all constellated with
warts, its mouth formidable with bristling tusks and ranges of teeth,
and an abominable little Mexican fetich, representing the god
Vitziliputzili au naturel, when I caught sight of a charming foot,
which I at first took for a fragment of some antique Venus.
It had those beautiful ruddy and tawny tints that lend to Florentine
bronze that warm living look so much preferable to the gray-green
aspect of common bronzes, which might easily be mistaken for statues in
a state of putrefaction. Satiny gleams played over its rounded forms,
doubtless polished by the amorous kisses of twenty centuries, for it
seemed a Corinthian bronze, a work of the best era of art, perhaps
moulded by Lysippus himself.
"That foot will be my choice," I said to the merchant, who regarded me
with an ironical and saturnine air, and held out the object desired
that I might examine it more fully.
I was surprised at its lightness. It was not a foot of metal, but in
sooth a foot of flesh, an embalmed foot, a mummy's foot. On examining
it still more closely the very grain of the skin, and the almost
imperceptible lines impressed upon it by the texture of the bandages,
became perceptible. The toes were slender and delicate, and terminated
by perfectly formed nails, pure and transparent as agates. The great
toe, slightly separated from the rest, afforded a happy contrast, in
the antique style, to the position of the other toes, and lent it an
aerial lightness--the grace of a bird's foot. The sole, scarcely
streaked by a few almost imperceptible cross lines, afforded evidence
that it had never touched the bare ground, and had only come in contact
with the finest matting of Nile rushes and the softest carpets of
"Ha, ha, you want the foot of the Princess Hermonthis!" exclaimed the
merchant, with a strange giggle, fixing his owlish eyes upon me. "Ha,
ha, ha! For a paper-weight! An original idea!--an artistic idea! Old
Pharaoh would certainly have been surprised had some one told him that
the foot of his adored daughter would be used for a paper-weight after
he had had a mountain of granite hollowed out as a receptacle for the
triple coffin, painted and gilded, covered with hieroglyphics and
beautiful paintings of the Judgment of Souls," continued the queer
little merchant, half audibly, as though talking to himself.
"How much will you charge me for this mummy fragment?"
"Ah, the highest price I can get, for it is a superb piece. If I had
the match of it you could not have it for less than five hundred
francs. The daughter of a Pharaoh! Nothing is more rare."
"Assuredly that is not a common article, but still, how much do you
want? In the first place let me warn you that all my wealth consists of
just five louis. I can buy anything that costs five louis, but nothing
dearer. You might search my vest pockets and most secret drawers
without even finding one poor five-franc piece more."
"Five louis for the foot of the Princess Hermonthis! That is very
little, very little indeed. 'Tis an authentic foot," muttered the
merchant, shaking his head, and imparting a peculiar rotary motion to
his eyes. "Well, take it, and I will give you the bandages into the
bargain," he added, wrapping the foot in an ancient damask rag. "Very
fine! Real damask--Indian damask which has never been redyed. It is
strong, and yet it is soft," he mumbled, stroking the frayed tissue
with his fingers, through the trade-acquired habit which moved him to
praise even an object of such little value that he himself deemed it
only worth the giving away.
He poured the gold coins into a sort of medieval alms-purse hanging at
his belt, repeating:
"The foot of the Princess Hermonthis to be used for a paper-weight!"
Then turning his phosphorescent eyes upon me, he exclaimed in a voice
strident as the crying of a cat which has swallowed a fish-bone:
"Old Pharaoh will not be well pleased. He loved his daughter, the dear
"You speak as if you were a contemporary of his. You are old enough,
goodness knows! but you do not date back to the Pyramids of Egypt," I
answered, laughingly, from the threshold.
I went home, delighted with my acquisition.
With the idea of putting it to profitable use as soon as possible, I
placed the foot of the divine Princess Hermonthis upon a heap of papers
scribbled over with verses, in themselves an undecipherable mosaic work
of erasures; articles freshly begun; letters forgotten, and posted in
the table drawer in stead of the letter-box, an error to which
absent-minded people are peculiarly liable. The effect was charming,
bizarre, and romantic.
Well satisfied with this embellishment, I went out with the gravity and
pride becoming one who feels that he has the ineffable advantage over
all the passers-by whom he elbows, of possessing a piece of the
Princess Hermonthis, daughter of Pharaoh.
I looked upon all who did not possess, like myself, a paper-weight so
authentically Egyptian as very ridiculous people, and it seemed to me
that the proper occupation of every sensible man should consist in the
mere fact of having a mummy's foot upon his desk.
Happily I met some friends, whose presence distracted me in my
infatuation with this new acquisition. I went to dinner with them, for
I could not very well have dined with myself.
When I came back that evening, with my brain slightly confused by a few
glasses of wine, a vague whiff of Oriental perfume delicately
titillated my olfactory nerves. The heat of the room had warmed the
natron, bitumen, and myrrh in which the paraschistes, who cut open
the bodies of the dead, had bathed the corpse of the princess. It was a
perfume at once sweet and penetrating, a perfume that four thousand
years had not been able to dissipate.
The Dream of Egypt was Eternity. Her odours have the solidity of
granite and endure as long.
I soon drank deeply from the black cup of sleep. For a few hours all
remained opaque to me. Oblivion and nothingness inundated me with their
Yet light gradually dawned upon the darkness of my mind. Dreams
commenced to touch me softly in their silent flight.
The eyes of my soul were opened, and I beheld my chamber as it actually
was. I might have believed myself awake but for a vague consciousness
which assured me that I slept, and that something fantastic was about
to take place.
The odour of the myrrh had augmented in intensity, and I felt a slight
headache, which I very naturally attributed to several glasses of
champagne that we had drunk to the unknown gods and our future
I peered through my room with a feeling of expectation which I saw
nothing to justify. Every article of furniture was in its proper place.
The lamp, softly shaded by its globe of ground crystal, burned upon its
bracket; the water-colour sketches shone under their Bohemian glass;
the curtains hung down languidly; everything wore an aspect of tranquil
After a few moments, however, all this calm interior appeared to become
disturbed. The woodwork cracked stealthily, the ash-covered log
suddenly emitted a jet of blue flame, and the disks of the pateras
seemed like great metallic eyes, watching, like myself, for the things
which were about to happen.
My eyes accidentally fell upon the desk where I had placed the foot of
the Princess Hermonthis.
Instead of remaining quiet, as behooved a foot which had been embalmed
for four thousand years, it commenced to act in a nervous manner,
contracted itself, and leaped over the papers like a startled frog. One
would have imagined that it had suddenly been brought into contact with
a galvanic battery. I could distinctly hear the dry sound made by its
little heel, hard as the hoof of a gazelle.
I became rather discontented with my acquisition, inasmuch as I wished
my paper-weights to be of a sedentary disposition, and thought it very
unnatural that feet should walk about without legs, then I commenced to
experience a feeling closely akin to fear.
Suddenly I saw the folds of my bed-curtain stir, and heard a bumping
sound, like that caused by some person hopping on one foot across the
floor. I must confess I became alternately hot and cold, that I felt a
strange wind chill my back, and that my suddenly rising hair caused my
night-cap to execute a leap of several yards.
The bed-curtains opened and I beheld the strangest figure imaginable
It was a young girl of a very deep coffee-brown complexion, like the
bayadere Amani, and possessing the purest Egyptian type of perfect
beauty. Her eyes were almond-shaped and oblique, with eyebrows so black
that they seemed blue; her nose was exquisitely chiselled, almost Greek
in its delicacy of outline; and she might indeed have been taken for a
Corinthian statue of bronze but for the prominence of her cheek-bones
and the slightly African fulness of her lips, which compelled one to
recognize her as belonging beyond all doubt to the hieroglyphic race
which dwelt upon the banks of the Nile.
Her arms, slender and spindle-shaped like those of very young girls,
were encircled by a peculiar kind of metal bands and bracelets of glass
beads; her hair was all twisted into little cords, and she wore upon
her bosom a little idol-figure of green paste, bearing a whip with
seven lashes, which proved it to be an image of Isis; her brow was
adorned with a shining plate of gold, and a few traces of paint
relieved the coppery tint of her cheeks.
As for her costume, it was very odd indeed.
Fancy a pagne, or skirt, all formed of little strips of material
bedizened with red and black hieroglyphics, stiffened with bitumen, and
apparently belonging to a freshly unbandaged mummy.
In one of those sudden flights of thought so common in dreams I heard
the hoarse falsetto of the bric-a-brac dealer, repeating like a
monotonous refrain the phrase he had uttered in his shop with so
enigmatical an intonation:
"Old Pharaoh will not be well pleased. He loved his daughter, the dear
One strange circumstance, which was not at all calculated to restore my
equanimity, was that the apparition had but one foot; the other was
broken off at the ankle!
She approached the table where the foot was starting and fidgetting
about more than ever, and there supported herself upon the edge of the
desk. I saw her eyes fill with pearly gleaming tears.
Although she had not as yet spoken, I fully comprehended the thoughts
which agitated her. She looked at her foot--for it was indeed her
own--with an exquisitely graceful expression of coquettish sadness, but
the foot leaped and ran hither and thither, as though impelled on steel
Twice or thrice she extended her hand to seize it, but could not
Then commenced between the Princess Hermonthis and her foot--which
appeared to be endowed with a special life of its own--a very fantastic
dialogue in a most ancient Coptic tongue, such as might have been
spoken thirty centuries ago in the syrinxes of the land of Ser. Luckily
I understood Coptic perfectly well that night.
The Princess Hermonthis cried, in a voice sweet and vibrant as the
tones of a crystal bell:
"Well, my dear little foot, you always flee from me, yet I always took
good care of you. I bathed you with perfumed water in a bowl of
alabaster; I smoothed your heel with pumice-stone mixed with palm oil;
your nails were cut with golden scissors and polished with a
hippopotamus tooth; I was careful to select tatbebs for you, painted
and embroidered and turned up at the toes, which were the envy of all
the young girls in Egypt. You wore on your great toe rings bearing the
device of the sacred Scarabaeus, and you supported one of the lightest
bodies that a lazy foot could sustain."
The foot replied in a pouting and chagrined tone:
"You know well that I do not belong to myself any longer. I have been
bought and paid for. The old merchant knew what he was about. He bore
you a grudge for having refused to espouse him. This is an ill turn
which he has done you. The Arab who violated your royal coffin in the
subterranean pits of the necropolis of Thebes was sent thither by him.
He desired to prevent you from being present at the reunion of the
shadowy nations in the cities below. Have you five pieces of gold for
"Alas, no! My jewels, my rings, my purses of gold and silver were all
stolen from me," answered the Princess Hermonthis, with a sob.
"Princess," I then exclaimed, "I never retained anybody's foot
unjustly. Even though you have not got the five louis which it cost me,
I present it to you gladly. I should feel unutterably wretched to think
that I were the cause of so amiable a person as the Princess Hermonthis
I delivered this discourse in a royally gallant, troubadour tone which
must have astonished the beautiful Egyptian girl.
She turned a look of deepest gratitude upon me, and her eyes shone with
bluish gleams of light.
She took her foot, which surrendered itself willingly this time, like a
woman about to put on her little shoe, and adjusted it to her leg with
This operation over, she took a few steps about the room, as though to
assure herself that she was really no longer lame.
"Ah, how pleased my father will be! He who was so unhappy because of my
mutilation, and who from the moment of my birth set a whole nation at
work to hollow me out a tomb so deep that he might preserve me intact
until that last day, when souls must be weighed in the balance of
Amenthi! Come with me to my father. He will receive you kindly, for you
have given me back my foot."
I thought this proposition natural enough. I arrayed myself in a
dressing-gown of large-flowered pattern, which lent me a very Pharaonic
aspect, hurriedly put on a pair of Turkish slippers, and informed the
Princess Hermonthis that I was ready to follow her.
Before starting, Hermonthis took from her neck the little idol of green
paste, and laid it on the scattered sheets of paper which covered the
"It is only fair," she observed, smilingly, "that I should replace your
She gave me her hand, which felt soft and cold, like the skin of a
serpent, and we departed.
We passed for some time with the velocity of an arrow through a fluid
and grayish expanse, in which half-formed silhouettes flitted swiftly
by us, to right and left.
For an instant we saw only sky and sea.
A few moments later obelisks commenced to tower in the distance; pylons
and vast flights of steps guarded by sphinxes became clearly outlined
against the horizon.
We had reached our destination.
The princess conducted me to a mountain of rose-coloured granite, in
the face of which appeared an opening so narrow and low that it would
have been difficult to distinguish it from the fissures in the rock,
had not its location been marked by two stelae wrought with sculptures.
Hermonthis kindled a torch and led the way before me.
We traversed corridors hewn through the living rock. These walls
covered with hieroglyphics and paintings of allegorical processions,
might well have occupied thousands of arms for thousands of years in
their formation. These corridors of interminable length opened into
square chambers, in the midst of which pits had been contrived, through
which we descended by cramp-irons or spiral stairways. These pits again
conducted us into other chambers, opening into other corridors,
likewise decorated with painted sparrow-hawks, serpents coiled in
circles, the symbols of the tau and pedum--prodigious works of art
which no living eye can ever examine--interminable legends of granite
which only the dead have time to read through all eternity.
At last we found ourselves in a hall so vast, so enormous, so
immeasurable, that the eye could not reach its limits. Files of
monstrous columns stretched far out of sight on every side, between
which twinkled livid stars of yellowish flame; points of light which
revealed further depths incalculable in the darkness beyond.
The Princess Hermonthis still held my hand, and graciously saluted the
mummies of her acquaintance.
My eyes became accustomed to the dim twilight, and objects became
I beheld the kings of the subterranean races seated upon thrones--grand
old men, though dry, withered, wrinkled like parchment, and blackened
with naphtha and bitumen--all wearing pshents of gold, and
breast-plates and gorgets glittering with precious stones, their eyes
immovably fixed like the eyes of sphinxes, and their long beards
whitened by the snow of centuries. Behind them stood their peoples, in
the stiff and constrained posture enjoined by Egyptian art, all
eternally preserving the attitude prescribed by the hieratic code.
Behind these nations, the cats, ibixes, and crocodiles contemporary
with them--rendered monstrous of aspect by their swathing bands--mewed,
flapped their wings, or extended their jaws in a saurian giggle.
All the Pharaohs were there--Cheops, Chephrenes, Psammetichus,
Sesostris, Amenotaph--all the dark rulers of the pyramids and syrinxes.
On yet higher thrones sat Chronos and Xixouthros, who was contemporary
with the deluge, and Tubal Cain, who reigned before it.
The beard of King Xixouthros had grown seven times around the granite
table, upon which he leaned, lost in deep reverie, and buried in
Farther back, through a dusty cloud, I beheld dimly the seventy-two
preadamite kings, with their seventy-two peoples, forever passed away.
After permitting me to gaze upon this bewildering spectacle a few
moments, the Princess Hermonthis presented me to her father Pharaoh,
who favoured me with a most gracious nod.
"I have found my foot again! I have found my foot!" cried the princess,
clapping her little hands together with every sign of frantic joy. "It
was this gentleman who restored it to me."
The races of Kemi, the races of Nahasi--all the black, bronzed, and
copper-coloured nations repeated in chorus:
"The Princess Hermonthis has found her foot again!"
Even Xixouthros himself was visibly affected.
He raised his heavy eyelids, stroked his moustache with his fingers,
and turned upon me a glance weighty with centuries.
"By Oms, the dog of Hell, and Tmei, daughter of the Sun and of Truth,
this is a brave and worthy lad!" exclaimed Pharaoh, pointing to me with
his sceptre, which was terminated with a lotus-flower.
"What recompense do you desire?"
Filled with that daring inspired by dreams in which nothing seems
impossible, I asked him for the hand of the Princess Hermonthis. The
hand seemed to me a very proper antithetic recompense for the foot.
Pharaoh opened wide his great eyes of glass in astonishment at my witty
"What country do you come from, what is your age?"
"I am a Frenchman, and I am twenty-seven years old, venerable Pharaoh."
"Twenty-seven years old, and he wishes to espouse the Princess
Hermonthis who is thirty centuries old!" cried out at once all the
Thrones and all the Circles of Nations.
Only Hermonthis herself did not seem to think my request unreasonable.
"If you were even only two thousand years old," replied the ancient
king, "I would willingly give you the princess, but the disproportion
is too great; and, besides, we must give our daughters husbands who
will last well. You do not know how to preserve yourselves any longer.
Even those who died only fifteen centuries ago are already no more than
a handful of dust. Behold, my flesh is solid as basalt, my bones are
bones of steel!
"I will be present on the last day of the world with the same body and
the same features which I had during my lifetime. My daughter
Hermonthis will last longer than a statue of bronze.
"Then the last particles of your dust will have been scattered abroad
by the winds, and even Isis herself, who was able to find the atoms of
Osiris, would scarce be able to recompense your being.
"See how vigorous I yet remain, and how mighty is my grasp," he added,
shaking my hand in the English fashion with a strength that buried my
rings in the flesh of my fingers.
He squeezed me so hard that I awoke, and found my friend Alfred shaking
me by the arm to make me get up.
"Oh, you everlasting sleeper! Must I have you carried out into the
middle of the street, and fireworks exploded in your ears? It is
afternoon. Don't you recollect your promise to take me with you to see
M. Aguado's Spanish pictures?"
"God! I forgot all, all about it," I answered, dressing myself
hurriedly. "We will go there at once. I have the permit lying there on
I started to find it, but fancy my astonishment when I beheld, instead
of the mummy's foot I had purchased the evening before, the little
green paste idol left in its place by the Princess Hermonthis!