I strolled on by her side, speculating a little anxiously on the coming introduction. Was I being conducted to the lair of one of the savants attached to the establishment? and would he add a superfluous third to our little party of two, so complete and companionable, solus cum sola, in this populated wilderness? Above all, would he turn out to be a comely young man, and bring my aerial castles tumbling about my ears? The shy look and the blush with which she had suggested the introduction were ominous indications, upon which I mused gloomily as we ascended the stairs and passed through the wide doorway. I glanced apprehensively at my companion, and met a quiet, inscrutable smile; and at that moment she halted outside a wall-case and faced me.
“This is my friend,” she said. “Let me present you to Artemidorus, late of the Fayyum. Oh, don’t smile!” she pleaded. “I am quite serious. Have you never heard of pious Catholics who cherish a devotion to some long-departed saint? That is my feeling towards Artemidorus, and if you only knew what comfort he has shed into the heart of a lonely woman; what a quiet, unobtrusive friend he has been to me in my solitary, friendless days, always ready with a kindly greeting on his gentle, thoughtful face, you would like him for that alone. And I want you to like him and to share our silent friendship. Am I very silly, very sentimental?”
A wave of relief had swept over me, and the mercury of my emotional thermometer, which had shrunk almost into the bulb, leaped up to summer heat. How charming it was of her and how sweetly intimate, to wish to share this mystical friendship with me! And what a pretty conceit it was, too, and how like this strange, inscrutable maiden, to come here and hold silent converse with this long-departed Greek. And the pathos of it all touched me deeply amidst the joy of this newborn intimacy.
“Are you scornful?” she asked, with a shade of disappointment, as I made no reply.
“No, indeed I am not,” I answered earnestly. “I want to make you aware of my sympathy and my appreciation without offending you by seeming to exaggerate, and I don’t know how to express it.”
“Oh, never mind about the expression, so long as you feel it. I thought you would understand,” and she gave me a smile that made me tingle to my finger-tips.
We stood awhile gazing in silence at the mummy—for such, indeed, was her friend Artemidorus. But not an ordinary mummy. Egyptian in form, it was entirely Greek in feeling; and brightly coloured as it was, in accordance with the racial love of colour, the tasteful refinement with which the decoration of the case was treated made those around look garish and barbaric. But the most striking feature was a charming panel portrait which occupied the place of the usual mask. This painting was a revelation to me. Except that it was executed in tempera instead of oil, it differed in no respect from modern work. There was nothing archaic or even ancient about it. With its freedom of handling and its correct rendering of light and shade, it might have been painted yesterday; indeed, enclosed in an ordinary gilt frame, it might have passed without remark in an exhibition of modern portraits.