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The Archaeologist: a Fantasy
Our Archaeologist is a wealthy young man, by name of Cecil Edmund, who is my brother, and who tells incredible tales of his discoveries. He has been to South America, Egypt, Italy, and Greece—oh, in Italy must the most marvelous discovery have occurred!
My brother went to explore Pompeii several years ago—was it six? He had dug about for several weeks, discovering bits of old vessels here and metal tools there, finding himself interested in the history of the lava-covered city, but not thrilled by any extraordinary artifacts. Early on a Wednesday morning, Cecil tells me, he began to dig up a smooth rock that “kept going” for a length of about five feet and six inches, a width of a little more than a foot and a half, and a depth of just over a foot. He excavated it completely, having found partway through that it was a lava-encased human, which he thought quite fascinating and wished to study further.
He had the grotesque statue moved from its ancient bed to an office he was renting, wherein it was gently laid on a sturdy table, so that he might peruse it, make notes, and have photographs taken. These proceedings finished, he idly tapped at the rock with a chisel,wondering if he might use that tool to break open the shell-like stone, in order to examine the bones inside it, as well as any other remaining materials. He decided that he would split the stone, because he wondered how well the sealed space inside of it had allowed the human body to be preserved. (Unlike me, my brother is not affected—not in the very least!—by dead things.)
Assistant and colleague watching with rapt, scholarly attitudes, Cecil picked up his chisel and mallet, set the point of the former against the statue's arm, and brought the mallet down on the other tool's end, so that the chisel went through the stone, leaving many large cracks in it. He removed the chisel from the hole, and something peculiar about it caught his eye. He looked at it again, his expression that of great astonishment, before he held it out to his fellows. They, likewise, were astounded and perplexed, wondering who might have played a trick on them; the colleague looked at the broken stone on the statue's arm, and he exclaimed that there was blood, too, coming through the cracks!
Cautiously, Cecil put the tip of the chisel back to the stone and used it to remove one of the shards, beneath which he saw a spot of skin, as unwithered and alive as his own. He tells me he ceased to move for a moment, but believes that another moment of seeing blood against human skin roused him and caused him to ignore the utter queerness of the situation, for he then had the clarity of mind to take out his handkerchief, cut it into strips, and, after removing more of the stone, wrap those strips around the strange, anonymous arm. The other men gave him their handkerchiefs, too, so that he could make a more substantial bandage.
“What—what ever—is to be done now?” asked my brother, staring at that sign of life on the tip of the chisel and picking up the shards of stone.
The assistant, Mr. Theodore Flanders, thought to be practical: his reply was that they, of course, ought to remove all of the stone, carefully as possible, and summon a doctor to see to “whose-ever-it-was's arm.” Evidently, the man was too befuddled to bother about proper grammar.
Remove the stone they did, and the body received only a few scratches during that process, which revealed the form to be that of a young woman, of Mediterranean appearance and petite frame, who wore Roman clothes.
How was it possible? wondered the archaeologists, staring at the prostrate woman. I fancy that was rather a comical scene, with an ancient Roman sleeping, face-down, on a table, watched—fairly gaped at—by three dumbfounded scholars, whose fine college educations had never given them to expect such a find, nor prepared them for the possibility of it. They thought they were in a dream, perhaps, until Flanders pinched each in turn, himself last of all, and more or less led them to think that they were most likely awake as they could be. Certain that they were awake, they shook their heads at one another, and the elderly colleague, who was set in his ideas of possible and impossible, blustered,
“I never!—well!—I never! Never seen such a thing! Never!—I never!” which appeared to wake the girl.
She moved—narrators call it “stirring”—you know the type of movement—and she sat up, confusion and fright overtaking the sleepiness on her countenance. She then scrabbled from the table and ran to a windowed corner, whence she cried out unworded shrieks as she put her hand to the handkerchiefs on her arm. Her pain must have frightened her, and it is likely that the odd things wrapped around her arm did, as well. (Of course, I am certain that the archaeologists' countenances did not soothe the poor thing, either, even if they did not give her more fear.) She ran to a casement window, but, as it was closed and locked, she could not use it for egress, being not strong enough to break it with her small hand.
I know not from whom my brother inherited his wits. He is uncommonly bright, as a rule, but every rule has at least one exception, which, in this case of his wits, is that he rather loses them in most emergencies. Should he offer his help at such a time, the task for which he offers it will in the end be only halfway finished, at most.
Well, his wits having chosen to take a holiday, Cecil was heartless enough to stand still as though he was coated in rock and stare at the well-nigh terrified young woman, who had become hysterical and frantic. After ten minutes, she seemed to be “overcome,” for she fainted, knocking over a floor lamp and falling atop it.
When the chaos was over, my brother laid down his chisel at last and looked first at it and then at the recently-frenzied figure which he had discovered and set at large. Said he, to his assistant, “I think it would be well if I went for my aunt, who lives near this city. Oughtn't to leave her [he referred to the girl, not the aunt] alone, I imagine. Theodore... you might think to find someone who can do something about her cut. Strange—dead people don't bother me a bit, but an injured live one somewhat disturbs me.”
“What is the story behind her to be?” asked Flanders, who was quite unskilled in creating false stories, but could repeat them as easily as he could walk.
“Hm. Perhaps she is your sister, and she is slightly mad, although harmless. She is well educated, which will be the reason for her speech of Latin, and she has such a passion for ancient Rome that she wishes to believe herself one of those people. I supposed you would be considered insane if you explained the truth, so that is the story you should tell to anyone who observes the girl.”
Our maiden aunt managed to believe her nephew's story, for there was nothing else she could do. She bade him have the girl brought to her apartments, where she was willing to teach her the proper ways of life in our modern world, clothe her in modern fashions, and lead her away from belief in her Jupiter, Diana, and company. I revere her devotion to her cause; I cannot imagine succeeding in converting an ancient Roman, particularly when she believes her salvation from Vesuvian lava to be the doing of one of her deities. What may be more incredible than Aunt Flora's effort and patience is that she succeeded, within three years, in her undertaking—I believe it was because she was such a fine model of her ideas.
Anyway, the girl was taken to Aunt Flora's, and Cecil eventually calmed her by saying who-knew-what to her in Latin—he does affirm that it was some variety of nonsense. He and Auntie taught her English, and she accustomed herself to the strange fashions and implements of our day, and she was not very unhappy that she had been awakened and freed from her stone.
And, naturally, it ends that this Claudia is now my sister, for she and Cecil managed to love each other—and how she endures his frequent loss of wits when wits are most needed, I know not.