THE HALL OF THE MUMMIES
There are two of us, and as we light our way by the aid of a lantern through these vast halls we might be taken for a night watch on its round. We have just shut behind us and doubly locked the door by which we entered, and we know that we are alone, rigorously alone, although this place is so vast, with its endless, communicating halls, its high vestibules and great flights of stairs; mathematically alone, one might say, for this palace that we are in is one quite out of the ordinary, and all its outlets were closed and sealed at nightfall. Every night indeed the doors are sealed, on account of the priceless relics that are collected here. So we shall not meet with any living being in these halls to-night, in spite of their vast extent and endless turnings, and in spite too of all these mysterious things that are ranged on every side and fill the place with shadows and hiding-places.
Our round takes us first along the ground floor over flagstones that resound to our footsteps. It is about ten of the clock. Here and there through some stray windows gleams a small patch of luminous blue sky, lit by the stars which for the good folk outside lend transparency to the night; but there, none the less, the place is filled with a solemn gloom, and we lower our voices, remembering perhaps the dead that fill the glass cases in the halls above.
And these things which line the walls on either side of us as we pass also seem to be in the nature of receptacles for the dead. For the most part they are sarcophagi of granite, proud and indestructible: some of them, in the shape of gigantic boxes, are laid out in line on pedestals; others, in the form of mummies, stand upright against the walls and display enormous faces, surmounted by equally enormous head-dresses. Assembled there they look like a lot of malformed giants, with oversized heads sunk curiously in their shoulders. There are, besides, some that are merely statues, colossal figures that have never held a corpse in their interiors; these all wear a strange, scarcely perceptible smile; in their huge sphinxlike headgear they reach nearly to the ceiling and their set stare passes high above our heads. And there are others that are not larger than ourselves, some even quite little, with the stature of gnomes. And, every now and then, at some sudden turning, we encounter a pair of eyes of enamel, wide-open eyes, that pierce straight into the depths of ours, that seem to follow us as we pass and make us shiver as if by the contact of a thought that comes from the abysm of the ages.
We pass on rapidly, however, and somewhat inattentively, for our business here to-night is not with these simulacra on the ground floor, but with the more redoubtable hosts above. Besides our lantern sheds so little light in these great halls that all these people of granite and sandstone and marble appear only at the precise moment of our passage, appear only to disappear, and, spreading their fantastic shadows on the walls, mingle the next moment with the great mute crowd, that grows ever more numerous behind us.