Friday, March 7, 2014

"The Face of Isis" by Cyril G. Wates, part 1

It's been way too long since we at the Johnny Pez blog unearthed an ancient science fiction story from the dusty, yellowing pages of a Gernsback-era magazine and restored it to life through the miracle of the internet. So, here comes another one.

Today's story is "The Face of Isis", originally published in the March 1928 issue of Amazing Stories and never reprinted. The author, Cyril G. Wates (1883-1946), is an Anglo-Canadian engineer, mountaineer, and amateur astronomer. He published four stories in Amazing between 1927 and 1930; "The Face of Isis" was his second. As usual, I'll be reposting the story in a blog-friendly multi-part format.

And now, without further ado, here is the first part of

The Face of Isis
by Cyril G. Wates

Chapter I: The Golden Casket

Elliot Courtland swung into the driver's seat, his face aglow with pleasure. He stepped on the starter, threw in the gear and released the clutch. There was a crash as the little roadster backed violently into a portly and dignified limousine, which was reposing pompously at the curb a few feet behind us.

"Damn!" ejaculated Courtland. "That's as bad as Old Waddles and the Face of Isis!"

* * *

Many years before, Courtland and I were classmates, but after our graduation we drifted apart and I had not heard from him for a long time. At last, business called me east. The morning after my arrival in Boston, I left my hotel and turned down Boylston Street. As I was standing at the corner of Washington, waiting for the traffic signals to change, I received a violent blow between the shoulder blades and wheeled around to behold my old schoolmate.

"By the Pyramids of Egypt!" he roared. "If it isn't Pete the Polliwog!"

"You seem to be in some doubt about it," I grumbled, wishing that elbows were double jointed, so that I could rub my spine. "How do you know that I'm not the Emir of Afghanistan in disguise?"

"Good old Pete!" cried Courtland, pumphandling my arm like mad. "I'd know that homely frog face if I saw it in the Aquarium. Where are you bound? It doesn't matter, anyhow; you're going with me. Come on, Leicester's in the next block."

Unheeding my protests, he hurried me along to where a rather dilapidated sporting car was parked.

"Jump in! Jump in!" he cried.

"But where is your friend?" I asked, doubtfully. "Mr. -- er -- Mr. Lesterter?"

Courtland roared with glee.

"Leicester! This is Leicester. Got tired of Lizzie. No name for a bachelor's car. So called him Leicester. You know, Queen Lizzie's best beau. Earl of Leicester."

Courtland all over. Rattle-brained as ever. And then, in his excitement, he threw the gear shift into reverse instead of low and brought about the collision which called forth his cryptic remark.

"That's as bad as Old Waddles and the Face of Isis!"

I thought it wise not to interrupt him in his duties at the steering wheel, to demand an explanation. Waddles I knew. It was the popular name for Dr. Myron Wadsworth, Professor of Inorganic Chemistry under whom Courtland and I had learned our first smattering of the mysteries of spectrum analysis. I remembered the little man vividly, with his faultlessly trimmed Vandyke beard and gold pince-nez, hurrying across the Campus with that peculiar waddle, which, in combination with his name, had been responsible for the cognomen "Old Waddles." He always carried a cane, not to assist his faltering steps, for it never touched the ground, and besides, he was extremely active, but to keep his hat on! He invariably grasped that cane like a billiard cue and rested the crook on the crown of his grey felt hat. It made no difference to Waddles whether the wind blew like a hurricane or a zephyr, that cane was used for one purpose only -- to hold his hat on!

Yes, I knew Old Waddles, but Courtland's reference to the "Face of Isis" left me completely in the dark. It sounded like the name of some heathen idol. Persian or Egyptian, that was it. But what an Egyptian God had to do with Waddles, and what they both had to do with a broken down car, was beyond my power of imagination.

Presently we escaped from the thick of the traffic and were clattering up Commonwealth Avenue bound for the Cambridge side of the Charles. No longer in imminent danger of sudden death, I ventured to ask for an explanation, sensing a possible story for my newspaper, out West.

"Oh! That!" exclaimed Courtland. "The Face of Isis! Quite an adventure! Poor old Waddles, he was mad as a wet hen! I'll take you out to the shanty and my Jap'll get us a snack. After dinner, I'll tell you the story if you care to hear it."

* * *

That evening, in Courtland's cosy den, with our pipes lit and drawing well and our feet stretched out on the fender, I reminded my friend of his promise. Courtland puffed thoughtfully for a few seconds.

"Know anything about Egyptology?" he asked, abruptly.

"Not a thing. Why?"

He rose and went to a large cabinet and returned bearing a metal casket about a foot square and perhaps half as deep. He handed it to me and I exclaimed in surprise as I felt its weight.

"What do you think of that?" asked Courtland. "It's solid gold, you know. Fifth Dynasty. King Kut-Amen-Pash. That's his cartouche on the corners."

The casket, which must have been immensely valuable, was a marvel of the goldsmith's art. At the corners were four female figures, each bearing in uplifted hands, a scarab inscribed with the king's name and titles in the customary hieroglyphics. On the head of each of these statues was a curious crown like a globe with two curved horns.

The top of the casket bore a design in bas-relief, representing a bull with its forehoofs resting on a crescent and the brow of the animal bore another scarab inscribed with the royal symbols. The sides of the box were closely covered with rows and rows of hieroglyphs. I turned the massive casket over and on the bottom, which was otherwise perfectly smooth, was a deeply incised pattern.

"This looks for all the world like a working drawing of some kind of machine," I commented.

"You're not far wrong, at that," replied Courtland, as he took the casket from me and set it on the table. And then he told me the promised story. I cannot attempt to reproduce Courtland's jerky, emphatic speech, or the graphic gestures, with which he filled in the gaps in his narrative. The whole story was so improbable that I should have doubted Courtland's veracity, but for the dumb witness of the glittering golden casket on the table. Professor Wadsworth is dead, so his evidence is not available. Courtland has given me permission to publish the story, so here it is. Take it or leave it!

(continue to part 2)

1 comment:

DaveMB said...

This looks like it's going to be fun...