At Abdul Ali's Grave
by E. F. Benson
Luxor, as most of those who have been there will allow, is a place
of notable charm, and boasts many attractions for the traveller, chief
among which he will reckon an excellent hotel containing a
billiard-room, a garden fit for the gods to sit in, any quantity of
visitors, at least a weekly dance on board a tourist steamer, quail
shooting, a climate as of Avilion, and a number of stupendously
ancient monuments for those archeologically inclined. But to certain
others, few indeed in number, but almost fanatically convinced of
their own orthodoxy, the charm of Luxor, like some sleeping beauty,
only wakes when these things cease, when the hotel has grown empty and
the billard-marker "has gone for a long rest" to Cairo, when the
decimated quail and the decimating tourist have fled northwards, and
the Theban plain, Dana to a tropical sun, is a gridiron across which
no man would willingly make a journey by day, not even if Queen
Hatasoo herself should signify that she would give him audience on the
terraces of Deir-el-Bahari.
A suspicion however that the fanatic few were right, for in other
respects they were men of estimable opinions, induced me to examine
their convictions for myself, and thus it came about that two years
ago, certain days toward the beginning of June saw me still there, a
Much tobacco and the length of summer days had assisted us to the
analysis of the charm of which summer in the south is possessed, and
Weston — one of the earliest of the elect — and myself had discussed
it at some length, and though we reserved as the principal ingredient a
nameless something which baffled the chemist, and must be felt to be
understood, we were easily able to detect certain other drugs of sight
and sound, which we were agreed contributed to the whole. A few of
them are here sub joined.
The waking in the warm darkness just before dawn to find that the
desire for stopping in bed fails with the awakening.
The silent start across the Nile in the still air with our horses,
who, like us, stand and sniff at the incredible sweetness of the
coming morning without apparently finding it less wonderful in
The moment infinitesimal in duration but infinite in sensation,
just before the sun rises, when the grey shrouded river is struck
suddenly out of darkness, and becomes a sheet of green bronze.
The rose flush, rapid as a change of colour in some chemical
combination, which shoots across the sky from east to west, followed
immediately by the sunlight which catches the peaks of the western
hills, and flows down like some luminous liquid.
The stir and whisper which goes through the world: a breeze springs
up; a lark soars, and sings; the boatman shouts "YalIah, YaIIah"; the
horses toss their heads.
The subsequent ride.
The subsequent breakfast on our return.
The subsequent absence of anything to do.
At sunset the ride into the desert thick with the scent of warm
barren sand, which smells like nothing else in the world, for it
smells of nothing at all.
The blaze of the tropical night.
Converse with the fellahin, who are the most charming and least
accountable people on the face of the earth except when tourists are
about, and when in consequence there is no thought but backsheesh.
Lastly, and with this we are concerned, the possibility of odd
The beginning of the things which make this tale occurred four days
ago, when Abdul Mi, the oldest man in the village, died suddenly, full
of days and riches. Both, some thought, had probably been somewhat
exaggerated, but his relations affirmed without variation that he had
as many years as he had English pounds, and that each was a hundred.
The apt roundness of these numbers was incontestable, the thing was
too neat not to be true, and before he had been dead for twenty-four
hours it was a matter of orthodoxy. But with regard to his relations,
that which turned their bereavement, which must soon have occurred,
into a source of blank dismay instead of pious resignation, was that
not one of these English pounds, not even their less satisfactory
equivalent in notes, which, out of the tourist season, are looked upon
at Luxor as a not very.dependable variety of Philosopher's stone,
though certainly capable of producing gold under favourable
circumstances, could be found. Abdul Au with his hundred years was
dead, his century of sovereigns — they might as well have been an
annuity — were dead with him, and his son Mohamed, who had previously
enjoyed a sort of brevet rank in anticipation of the event, was
considered to be throwing far more dust in the air than the genuine
affection even of a chief mourner wholly justified.
Abdul, it is to be feared, was not a man of stereotyped
respectability; though full of years and riches, he enjoyed no great
reputation for honour. He drank wine whenever he could get it, he ate
food during the days of Ramadan, scornful of the fact, when his
appetite desired it, he was supposed to have the evil eye, and in his
last moments he was attended by the notorious Achmet, who is well
known here to be practised in Black Magic, and has been suspected of
the much meaner crime of robbing the bodies of those lately dead. For
in Egypt, while to despoil the bodies of ancient kings and priests is
a privilege for which advanced and learned societies vie with each
other, to rob the corpses of your contemporaries is considered the deed
of a dog.
Mohamed, who soon exchanged the throwing of dust in the air for the
more natural mode of expressing chagrin, which is to gnaw the nails,
told us in confidence that he suspected Achmet of having ascertained
the secret of where his father's money was, but it appeared that Achmet
had as blank a face as anybody when his patient, who was striving to
make some communication to him, went out into the great silence, and
the suspicion that he knew where the money was gave way, in the minds,
of those who were competent to form an estimate of his character, to a
but dubious regret that he had Just failed to learn that very
So Abdul died and was buried, and we all went to the funeral feast,
at which we ate more roast meat than one naturally cares about at five
in the afternoon on a June day, in consequence of which Weston and I,
not requiring dinner, stopped at home after our return from the ride
into the desert, and talked to Mohamed, Abdul's son, and Hussein,
Abdul's youngest grandson, a boy of about twenty, who is also our
valet, cook and housemaid, and they together woefully narrated of the
money that had been and was not, and told us scandalous tales about
Achmet concerning his weakness for cemeteries. They drank coffee and
smoked, for though Hussein was our servant, we had been that day the
guests of his father, and shortly after they had gone, up came
Machmout, who says he thinks he is twelve, but does not know for
certain, is kitchen-maid, groom and gardener, and has to an
extraordinary degree some occult power resembling clairvoyance.
Weston, who is a member of the Society for Psychical Research, and the
tragedy of whose life has been the detection of the fraudulent medium
Mrs. Blunt, says that it is all thought-reading, and has made notes of
many of Machmout's performances, which may subsequently turn out to be
of interest. Thought-reading, however, does not seem to me to fully
explain the experience which followed Abdul's funeral, and with
Machmout I have to put it down to White Magic, which should be a very
inclusive term, or to Pure Coincidence, which is even more inclusive,
and will cover all the inexplicable phenomena of the world, taken
singly. Machmout's method of unloosing the forces of White Magic is
simple, being the ink-mirror known by name to many, and it is as
A little black ink is poured into the palm of Machmout's hand, or,
as ink has been at a premium lately owing to the last post-boat from
Cairo which contained stationery for us having stuck on a sand-bank, a
small piece of black American cloth about an inch in diameter is found
to be a perfect substitute. Upon this he gazes. After five or ten
minutes his shrewd monkey-like expression is struck from his face, his
eyes, wide open, remain fixed on the cloth, a complete rigidity sets
in over his muscles, and he tells us of the curious things he sees. In
whatever position he is, in that position he remains without the
deflection of a hair's breadth until the ink is washed off or the
cloth removed. Then he looks up and says "Khahás," which means, "It is
We only engaged Machmout's services as second general domestic a
fortnight ago, but the first evening he was with us he came upstairs
when he had finished his work, and said, "I will show you White Magic;
give me ink," and proceeded to describe the front hall of our house in
London, saying that there were two horses at the door, and that a man
and woman soon came out, gave the horses each a piece of bread and
mounted. The thing was so probable that by the next mail I wrote
asking my mother to write down exactly what she was doing and where at
half-past five (English time) on the evening of June 12. At the
corresponding time in Egypt Machmout was describing speaking to us of
a "sitt" (lady) having tea in a room which he described with some
minuteness, and I am waiting anxiously for her letter. The explanation
which Weston gives us of all these phenomena is that a certain picture
of people I know is present in my mind, though I may not be aware of
it, — present to my subliminal self, I think, he says, — and that I
give an unspoken suggestion to the hypnotised Machmout. My explanation
is.that there isn't any explanation, for no suggestion on my part would
make my brother go out and ride at the moment when Machmout says he is
so doing (if indeed we find that Machmout's visions are
chronologically correct). Consequently I prefer the open mind and am
prepared to believe anything. Weston, however, does not speak quite so
calmly or scientifically about Machmout's last performance, and since
it took place he has almost entirely ceased to urge me to become a
member of the Society for Psychical Research, in order that I may no
longer be hidebound by vain superstitions.
Machmout will not exercise these powers if his own folk are
present, for he says that when he is in this state, if a man who knew
Black Magic was in the room, or knew that he was practising White
Magic, he could get the spirit who presides over the Black Magic to
kill the spirit of White Magic, for the Black Magic is the more
potent, and the two are foes. And as the spirit of White Magic is on
occasions a powerful friend — he had before now befriended Machmout
in a manner which I consider incredible — Machmout is very desirous
that he should abide long with him. But Englishmen it appears do not
know the Black Magic, so with us he is safe. The spirit of Black
Magic, to speak to whom it is death, Machmout saw once "between heaven
and earth, and night and day," so he phrases it, on the Karnak road. He
may be known, he told us, by the fact that he is of paler skin than
his people, that he has two long teeth, one in each corner of his
mouth, and that his eyes, which are white all over, are as big as the
eyes of a horse.
Machmout squatted himself comfortably in the corner, and I gave him
the piece of black American cloth. As some minutes must elapse before
he gets into the hypnotic state in which the visions begin, I strolled
out on to the balcony for coolness. It was the hottest night we had yet
had, and though the sun had set three hours, the thermometer still
registered close on 100º.
Above, the sky seemed veiled with grey, where it should have been
dark velvety blue, and a fitful puffing wind from the south threatened
three days of the sandy intolerable khamseen. A little way up the
street to the left was a small café in front of which were glowing and
waning little glowworm specks of light from the water pipes of Arabs
sitting out there in the dark. From inside came the click of brass
castanets in the hands of some dancing-girl, sounding sharp and
precise against the wailing bagpipe music of the strings and pipes
which accompany these movements which Arabs love and Europeans think
so unpleasing. Eastwards the sky was paler and luminous, for the moon
was imminently rising, and even as I looked the red rim of the
enormous disc cut the line of the desert, and on the instant, with a
curious aptness, one of the Arabs outside the café broke out into that
wonderful chant— "I cannot sleep for longing for thee, 0 full moon.
Far is thy throne over Mecca, slip down, 0 beloved, to me."
Immediately afterwards I heard the piping monotone of Machmout's
voice begin, and in a moment or two I went inside.
We have found that the experiments gave the quickest result by
contact, a fact which confirmed Weston in his explanation of them by
thought transference of some elaborate kind, which I confess I cannot
understand. He was writing at a table in the window when I came in,
but looked up.
"Take his hand," he said; "at present he is quite incoherent."
"Do you explain that?" I asked.
"It is closely analogous, so Myers thinks, to talking in sleep. He
has been saying something about a tomb. Do make a suggestion, and see
if he gives it right. He is remarkably sensitive, and he responds
quicker to you than to me. Probably Abdul's funeral suggested the
A sudden thought struck me.
"Hush!" I said, "I want to listen."
Machmout's head was thrown a little back, and he held the hand in
which was the piece of cloth rather above his face. As usual he was
talking very slowly, and in a high staccato voice, absolutely unlike
his usual tones.
"On one side of the grave," he pipes, "is a tamarisk tree, and the
green beetles make fantasia about it. On the other side is a mud wall.
There are many other graves about, but they are all asleep. This is
the grave, because it is awake, and it moist and not sandy."
"I thought so," said Weston. "It is Abdul's grave he is talking
"There is a red moon sitting on the desert," continued Machmout,
"and it is now. There is the puffing of khamseen, and much dust
coming. The moon is red with dust, and because it is low."
"Still sensitive to external conditions," said Weston. "That is
rather curious. Pinch him, will you?"
I pinched Machmout; he did not pay the slightest attention.
"In the last house of the street, and in the doorway stands a man.
Ah! ah!" cried the boy.suddenly, "it is the Black Magic he knows. Don't
let him come. He is going out of the house," he shrieked, "he is
coming — no, he is going the other way towards the moon and the grave.
He has the Black Magic with him, which can raise the dead, and he has
a murdering knife, and a spade. I cannot see his face, for the Black
Magic is between it and my eyes."
Weston had got up, and, like me, was hanging on Machmout's words.
"We will go there," he said. "Here is an opportunity of testing it.
Listen a moment."
"He is walking, walking, walking," piped Machmout, "still walking
to the moon and the grave. The moon sits no longer on the desert, but
has sprung up a little way."
I pointed out of the window.
"That at any rate is true," I said.
Weston took the cloth out of Machmout's hand, and the piping
ceased. In a moment he stretched himself, and rubbed his eyes.
"Khalás," he said.
"Yes, it is Khalás."
"Did I tell you of the sitt in England?" he asked.
"Yes, oh, yes," I answered; "thank you, little Machmout. The White
Magic was very good to-night.
Get you to bed."
Machmout trotted obediently out of the room, and Weston closed the
door after him.
"We must be quick," he said. "It is worth while going and giving
the thing a chance, though I wish he had seen something less gruesome.
The odd thing is that he was not at the funeral, and yet he describes
the grave accurately. What do you make of it?"
"I make that the White Magic has shown Machmout that somebody with
black magic is going to Abdul's grave, perhaps to rob it," I answered
"What are we to do when we get there?" asked Weston.
"See the Black Magic at work. Personally I am in a blue funk. So
"There is no such thing as Black Magic," said Weston. "Ah, I have
it. Give me that orange."
Weston rapidly skinned it, and cut from the rind two circles as big
as a five shilling piece, and two long, white fangs of skin. The first
he fixed in his eyes, the two latter in the corners of his mouth.
"The Spirit of Black Magic?" I asked.
He took up a long black burnous and wrapped it round him. Even in
the bright lamp light, the spirit of black magic was a sufficiently
"I don't believe in black magic," he said, "but others do. If it is
necessary to put a stop to — to anything that is going on, we will
hoist the man on his own petard. Come along. Whom do you suspect it
is— I mean, of course, who was the person you were thinking of when
your thoughts were transferred to Machmout."
"What Machmout said," I answered, "suggested Achmet to me."
Weston indulged in a laugh of scientific incredulity, and we set
The moon, as the boy had told us, was just clear of the horizon,
and as it rose higher, its colour at first red and sombre, like the
blaze of some distant conflagration, paled to a tawny yellow. The hot
wind from the south, blowing no longer fitfully but with a steadily
increasing violence, was thick with sand, and of an incredibly
scorching heat, and the tops of the palm trees in the garden of the
deserted hotel on the right were lashing themselves to and fro with a
harsh rattle of dry leaves. The cemetery lay on the outskirts of the
village, and, as long as our way lay between the mud walls of the
huddling street, the wind came to us only as the heat from behind
closed furnace doors. Every now and then with a whisper and whistle
rising into a great buffeting flap, a sudden whirlwind of dust would
scour some twenty yards along the road, and then break like a
shore-quenched wave against one or other of the mud walls or throw
itself heavily against a house and fall in a shower of sand. But once
free of obstructions we were opposed to the full heat and blast of the
wind which blew full in our teeth. It was the first summer khamseen of
the year, and for the moment I wished I had gone north with the
tourist and the quail and the billiard marker, for khamseen fetches
the marrow out of the bones, and turns the body to blotting paper.
We passed no one in the street, and the only sound we heard, except
the wind, was the howling of moonstruck dogs.
The cemetery is surrounded by a tall mud-built wall, and sheltering
for a few moments under this we discussed our movements. The row of
tamarisks close to which the tomb lay went down the centre of the
graveyard, and by skirting the wall outside and climbing softly over
where they approached it, the fury of the wind might help us to get
near the grave without being seen, if anyone happened to be there. We
had just decided on this, and were moving on to put the scheme into
execution, when the wind dropped for a moment, and in the silence we
could hear the chump of the spade being driven into the earth, and
what gave me a sudden thrill of intimate.horror, the cry of the
carrion-feeding hawk from the dusky sky just overhead.
Two minutes later we were creeping up in the shade of the
tamarisks, to where Abdul had been buried. The great green beetles
which live on the trees were flying about blindly, and once or twice
one dashed into my face with a whirr of mail-dad wings. When we were
within some twenty yards of the grave we stopped for a moment, and,
looking cautiously out from our shelter of tamarisks, saw the figure
of a man already waist deep in the earth, digging out the newly turned
grave. Weston, who was standing behind me, had adjusted the
characteristics of the spirit of Black Magic so as to be ready for
emergencies, and turning round suddenly, and finding myself unawares
face to face with that realistic impersonation, though my nerves are
not precariously strong, I could have found it within me to shriek
aloud. But that unsympathetic man of iron only shook with suppressed
laughter, and, holding the eyes in his hand, motioned me forward again
without speaking to where the trees grew thicker. There we stood not a
dozen yards away from the grave.
We waited, I suppose, for some ten minutes, while the man, whom we
saw to be Achmet, toiled on at his impious task. He was entirely
naked, and his brown skin glistened with the dews of exertion in the
moonlight. At times he chattered in a cold uncanny manner to himself,
and once or twice he stopped for breath. Then he began scraping the
earth away with his hands, and soon afterwards searched in his
clothes, which were lying near, for a piece of rope, with which he
stepped into the grave, and in a moment reappeared again with both ends
in his hands. Then, standing astride the grave, he pulled strongly,
and one end of the coffin appeared above the ground. He chipped a
piece of the lid away to make sure that he had the right end, and then,
setting it upright, wrenched off the top with his knife, and there
faced us, leaning against the coffin lid, the small shrivelled figure
of the dead Abdul, swathed like a baby in white.
I was just about to motion the spirit of Black Magic to make his
appearance, when Machmout's words came into my head: "He had with him
the Black Magic which can raise the dead," and sudden overwhelming
curiosity, which froze disgust and horror into chill unfeeling things,
came over me.
"Wait," I whispered to Weston, "he will use the Black Magic."
Again the wind dropped for a moment, and again, in the silence that
came with it, I heard the chiding of the hawk overhead, this time
nearer, and thought I heard more birds than one.
Achmet meantime had taken the covering from off the face, and had
undone the swathing band, which at the moment after death is bound
round the chin to close the jaw, and in Arab burial is always left
there, and from where we stood I could see that the jaw dropped when
the bandage was untied, as if, though the wind blew towards us with a
ghastly scent of mortality on it, the muscles were not even now set,
though the man had been dead sixty hours. But still a rank and burning
curiosity to see what this unclean ghoul would do next stifled all
other feelings in my mind. He seemed not to notice, or, at any rate,
to disregard that mouth gaping awry, and moved about nimbly in the
He took from a pocket of his clothes, which were lying near, two
small black objects, which now are safely embedded in the mud at the
bottom of the Nile, and rubbed them briskly together.
By degrees they grew luminous with a sickly yellow pallor of light,
and from his hands went up a wavy, phosphorescent flame. One of these
cubes he placed in the open mouth of the corpse, the other in his own,
and, taking the dead man closely in his arms as though he would indeed
dance with death, he breathed long breaths from his mouth into that
dead cavern which was pressed to his. Suddenly he started back with a
quick-drawn breath of wonder and perhaps of horror, and stood for a
space as if irresolute, for the cube which the dead man held instead of
lying loosely in the jaw was pressed tight between clenched teeth.
After a moment of irresolution he stepped back quickly to his clothes
again, and took up from near them the knife with which he had stripped
off the coffin lid, and holding this in one hand behind his back, with
the other he took out the cube from the dead man's mouth, though with
a visible exhibition of force, and spoke.
"Abdul," he said, "I am your friend, and I swear I will give your
money to Mohamed, if you will tell me where it is."
Certain I am that the lips of the dead moved, and the eyelids
fluttered for a moment like the wings of a wounded bird, but at that
sight the horror so grew on me that I was physically incapable of
stifling the cry that rose to my lips, and Achmet turned round. Next
moment the complete Spirit of Black Magic glided out of the shade of
the trees, and stood before him. The wretched man stood for a moment
without stirring, then, turning with shaking knees to flee, he stepped
back and fell into the grave he had just opened.
Weston turned on me angrily, dropping the eyes and the teeth of the
"You spoiled it all," he cried. "It would perhaps have been the
most interesting..." and his eye lighted on the dead Abdul, who peered
open-eyed from the coffin, then swayed, tottered, and fell forward,
face downwards on the ground close to him. For one moment he lay there,
and then.the body rolled slowly on to its back without visible cause of
movement, and lay staring into the sky. The face was covered with
dust, but with the dust was mingled fresh blood. A nail had caught the
cloth that wound him, underneath which, as usual, were the clothes in
which he had died, for the Arabs do not wash their dead, and it had
torn a great rent through them all, leaving the right shoulder bare.
Weston strove to speak once, but failed. Then:
"I will go and inform the police," he said, "if you will stop here,
and see that Achmet does not get out."
But this I altogether refused to do, and, after covering the body
with the coffin to protect it from the hawks, we secured Achmet's arms
with the rope he had already used that night, and took him off to
Next morning Mohamed came to see us.
"I thought Achmet knew where the money was," he said exultantly.
"Where was it?"
"In a little purse tied round the shoulder. The dog had already
begun stripping it. See" — and he brought it out of his pocket— "it
is all there in those English notes, five pounds each, and there are
twenty of them."
Our conclusion was slightly different, for even Weston will allow
that Achmet hoped to learn from dead lips the secret of the treasure,
and then to kill the man anew and bury him. But that is pure
The only other point of interest lies in the two black cubes which
we picked up, and found to be graven with curious characters. These I
put one evening into Machmout's hand, when he was exhibiting to us his
curious powers of "thought transference." The effect was that he
screamed aloud, crying out that the Black Magic had come, and though I
did not feel certain about that, I thought they would be safer in
mid-Nile. Weston grumbled a little, and said that he had wanted to
take them to the British Museum, but that I feel sure was an