The Tracer of Lost Persons

Robert W. Chambers


He was "The ancient Egyptian word for the personal pronoun 'I' was anuk," said the Tracer placidly. "The phonetic for a was the hieroglyph

      a reed; for n the water symbol

      for u the symbols

      for k

      Therefore this hieroglyphic inscription begins with the personal pronoun
or I. That is very easy, of course.
"Now, the most ancient of Egyptian inscriptions read vertically in columns; there are only two columns in this papyrus, so we'll try it vertically and pass downward to the next symbol, which is inclosed in a sort of frame or cartouch. That immediately signifies that royalty is mentioned; therefore, we have already translated as much as 'I, the king (or queen).' Do you see?"
"Yes," said Burke, staring.
"Very well. Now this symbol, number two,

      spells out the word 'Meris,' in this way: M (pronounced me) is phonetically symbolized by the characters

      r by

      (a mouth) and the comma

      and the hieroglyph

      i by two reeds

      and two oblique strokes,

      and s by

      This gives us Meris, the name of that deposed and fugitive king of Egypt who, after a last raid on the summer palace of Mer-Shen, usurping ruler of Egypt, was followed and tracked to Saïs, where, with an arrow through his back, he crawled to El Teb and finally died there of his wound. All this Egyptologists are perfectly familiar with in the translations of the boastful tablets and inscriptions erected near Saïs by Mer-Shen, the three hundred and twelfth sovereign after Queen Nitocris."
He looked up at Burke, smiling. "Therefore," he said, "this papyrus scroll was written by Meris, ex-king, a speculative thousands of years before Christ. And it begins: 'I, Meris the King.'"
"How does all this bear upon what concerns me?" demanded Burke.
Something in the quiet significance of the Tracer's brief command sent a curious thrill through the younger man. He leaned stiffly forward, studying the scroll, every faculty concentrated on the symbol which the Tracer had now touched with the carefully sharpened point of his pencil:

      "That," said Mr. Keen, "is the ancient Egyptian word for 'little,' 'Ket.' The next, below, written in two lines, is 'Samaris,' a proper name—the name of a woman. Under that, again, is the symbol for the number 18; the decimal sign,

      and eight vertical strokes,

      Under that, again, is a hieroglyph of another sort, an ideograph representing a girl with a harp; and, beneath that, the symbol which always represented a dancing girl

      and also the royal symbol inclosed in a cartouch,

      which means literally 'the Ruler of Upper and Lower Egypt.' Under that is the significant symbol

      representing an arm and a hand holding a stick. This always means force—to take forcibly or to use violence. Therefore, so far, we have the following literal translation: 'I, Meris the King, little Samaris, eighteen, a harpist, dancing girl, the Ruler of Upper and Lower Egypt, to take by violence—'"
"What does that make?" broke in Burke impatiently.
"Wait! Wait until we have translated everything literally. And, Mr. Burke, it might make it easier for us both if you would remember that I have had the pleasure of deciphering many hundreds of papyri before you had ever heard that there were such things."
"I beg your pardon," said the young man in a low voice.
"I beg yours for my impatience," said the Tracer pleasantly. "This deciphering always did affect my nerves and shorten my temper. And, no doubt, it is quite as hard on you. Shall we go on, Mr. Burke?"
"If you please, Mr. Keen."
So the Tracer laid his pencil point on the next symbol

      "That is the symbol for night," he said; "and that

      is the water symbol again, as you know; and that

      is the ideograph, meaning a ship. The five reversed crescents

      record the number of days voyage; the sign

      means a house, and is also the letter H in the Egyptian alphabet.
"Under it, again, we have a repetition of the first symbol meaning I, and a repetition of the second symbol, meaning 'Meris, the King.' Then, below that cartouch, comes a new symbol,

      which is the feminine personal pronoun, sentus, meaning 'she'; and the first column is completed with the symbol for the ancient Egyptian verb, nehes, 'to awake,'

      "And now we take the second column, which begins with the jackal ideograph expressing slyness or cleverness. Under it is the hieroglyph meaning 'to run away,' 'to escape.' And under that, Mr. Burke, is one of the rarest of all Egyptian symbols; a symbol seldom seen on stone or papyrus,

      except in rare references to the mysteries of Isis. The meaning of it, so long in dispute, has finally been practically determined through a new discovery in the cuneiform inscriptions. It is the symbol of two hands holding two closed eyes; and it signifies power."
"You mean that those ancients understood hypnotism?" asked Burke, astonished.
"Evidently their priests did; evidently hypnotism was understood and employed in certain mysteries. And there is the symbol of it; and under it the hieroglyphs

meaning 'a day and a night,' with the symbol

as usual present to signify force or strength employed. Under that, again, is a human figure stretched upon a typical Egyptian couch. And now, Mr. Burke, note carefully three modifying signs: first, that it is a couch or bed on which the figure is stretched, not the funeral couch, not the embalming slab; second, there is no mummy mask covering the face, and no mummy case covering the body; third, that under the recumbent figure is pictured an open mouth, not a closed one.
"All these modify the ideograph, apparently representing death. But the sleep symbol is not present. Therefore it is a sound inference that all this simply confirms the symbol of hypnotism."
Burke, intensely absorbed, stared steadily at the scroll.
"Now," continued Mr. Keen, "we note the symbol of force again, always present; and, continuing horizontally, a cartouch quite empty except for the midday sun. That is simply translated; the midday sun illuminates nothing. Meris, deposed, is king only in name; and the sun no longer shines on him as 'Ruler of Upper and Lower Egypt.' Under that despairing symbol, 'King of Nothing,' we have

the phonetics which spell sha, the word for garden. And, just beyond this, horizontally, the modifying ideograph meaning 'a water garden';

a design of lotus and tree alternating on a terrace. Under that is the symbol for the word 'aneb,'

a 'wall.' Beyond that, horizontally, is the symbol for 'house.' It should be placed under the wall symbol, but the Egyptians were very apt to fill up spaces instead of continuing their vertical columns. Now, beneath, we find the imperative command

'arise!' And the Egyptian personal pronoun 'entuten,'

which means 'you' or 'thou.'
"Under that is the symbol

which means 'priest,' or, literally, 'priest man.' Then comes the imperative 'awake to life!'

      After that, our first symbol again, meaning 'I,' followed horizontally by the symbol

signifying 'to go.'
"Then comes a very important drawing—you see?—the picture of a man with a jackal's head, not a dog's head. It is not accompanied by the phonetic in a cartouch, as it should be. Probably the writer was in desperate haste at the end. But, nevertheless, it is easy to translate that symbol of the man with a jackal's head. It is a picture of the Egyptian god, Anubis, who was supposed to linger at the side of the dying to conduct their souls. Anubis, the jackal-headed, is the courier, the personal escort of departing souls. And this is he.
"And now the screed ends with the cry 'Pray for me!'

the last symbol on this strange scroll—this missive written by a deposed, wounded, and dying king to an unnamed priest. Here is the literal translation in columns:

I                                             cunning
Meris the King                         escape
little                                         hypnotize
Samaris                                   King of Nothing
eighteen                                   place forcibly
a harpist                                  garden
a dancing girl—Ruler of            water garden
            Upper and Lower         wall
            Egypt                          house
took forcibly—night                 Arise. Do
by water                                 Thou
five days                                 Priest Man
ship                                        Awake
house                                     To life
I                                             I go
Meris the King                        Anubis
she                                         Pray

      "And this is what that letter, thousands of years old, means in this language of ours, hundreds of years young: 'I, Meris the King, seized little Samaris, a harpist and a dancing girl, eighteen years of age, belonging to the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, and carried her away at night on shipboard—a voyage of five days—to my house. I, Meris the King, lest she lie awake watching cunningly for a chance to escape, hypnotized her (or had her hypnotized) so that she lay like one dead or asleep, but breathing, and I, King no longer of Upper and Lower Egypt, took her and placed her in my house under the wall of the water garden. Arise! therefore, O thou priest; (go) and awaken her to life. I am dying (I go with Anubis!). Pray for me!'"


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