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Hanit the Enchantress

281 pages
Library of Alexandria
The shop of Tanos the Greek, “Dealer in Genuine Antiques,” as the sign above the door advised, might well have been named a museum of ancient art and curiosities. Entered from the front of the Sharia Kamel, one of the main thoroughfares of Cairo, the shop appeared at first glance to consist of but two long narrow rooms, the one immediately behind the other. Both rooms were filled to the very ceiling with curios of all sorts, from little agate beads to vast and shapeless mummies of Sacred Bulls. A half dozen bodies of Egyptian priests, unwrapped and black with natron, stood propped against the walls of the upper room. The odor of cinnamon, myrrh and other embalming essences filled the rooms and drifted out through the open door to blend with the indefinable, but never forgettable, odor of the Cairene streets. A nearer view of the upper room disclosed the approach to what Tanos called the “holy of holies.” This third, or innermost chamber, was screened from the eyes of the ordinary souvenir hunter by an ivory-inlaid door of ancient Coptic woodwork. Connoisseurs generally knew that here were kept the treasures par excellence. Here Tanos would display rare statuettes, bronzes, ivories and richly glazed potteries for the archæologist; inscriptions on stone or papyrus for the philologist; diadems or pendants in the precious metals, necklaces, bracelets and bangles of varicolored gems,—all such rich treasure from the seemingly inexhaustible storehouse of antiquity as would be most likely to tempt the antiquarian, or dazzle the mere man of millions seeking to enrich his curio cabinet or the shelves of his pet museum or institution. During the course of an unusually hot afternoon in late March three Europeans paused at the threshold of Tanos’ shop. Following their exit from the Ezbekiyeh Gardens their footsteps had been dogged by that genial soul, Ali Nubi, whose efforts to dispose of fly-whisks and sunshades were in no wise affected by the temperature. He was soon joined by a troupe of exceedingly dirty Arab children. These turned handsprings along the gutter in hopes of some small coin with which to buyloukum. Finally, the nerves of the three Europeans had been set on edge by the insistent whine of a deformed Egyptian, whose ceaseless cry for dole, “baksheesh, baksheesh, ya khawageh,” finally caused one of the trio to turn upon him with an impatient, Allah yalik, kelb ibn kelb. This, in plain English, might be rendered, “May God give to thee, dog, son of a dog,” at once a pious wish and a curse.