The Captain of the Polestar and Other Tales HTML version

The Ring Of Thoth
Mr. John Vansittart Smith, F.R.S., of 147-A Gower Street, was a man whose energy of
purpose and clearness of thought might have placed him in the very first rank of scientific
observers. He was the victim, however, of a universal ambition which prompted him to
aim at distinction in many subjects rather than preeminence in one.
In his early days he had shown an aptitude for zoology and for botany which caused his
friends to look upon him as a second Darwin, but when a professorship was almost within
his reach he had suddenly discontinued his studies and turned his whole attention to
chemistry. Here his researches upon the spectra of the metals had won him his fellowship
in the Royal Society; but again he played the coquette with his subject, and after a year's
absence from the laboratory he joined the Oriental Society, and delivered a paper on the
Hieroglyphic and Demotic inscriptions of El Kab, thus giving a crowning example both
of the versatility and of the inconstancy of his talents.
The most fickle of wooers, however, is apt to be caught at last, and so it was with John
Vansittart Smith. The more he burrowed his way into Egyptology the more impressed he
became by the vast field which it opened to the inquirer, and by the extreme importance
of a subject which promised to throw a light upon the first germs of human civilisation
and the origin of the greater part of our arts and sciences. So struck was Mr. Smith that he
straightway married an Egyptological young lady who had written upon the sixth
dynasty, and having thus secured a sound base of operations he set himself to collect
materials for a work which should unite the research of Lepsius and the ingenuity of
Champollion. The preparation of this magnum opus entailed many hurried visits to the
magnificent Egyptian collections of the Louvre, upon the last of which, no longer ago
than the middle of last October, he became involved in a most strange and noteworthy
The trains had been slow and the Channel had been rough, so that the student arrived in
Paris in a somewhat befogged and feverish condition. On reaching the Hotel de France, in
the Rue Laffitte, he had thrown himself upon a sofa for a couple of hours, but finding that
he was unable to sleep, he determined, in spite of his fatigue, to make his way to the
Louvre, settle the point which he had come to decide, and take the evening train back to
Dieppe. Having come to this conclusion, he donned his greatcoat, for it was a raw rainy
day, and made his way across the Boulevard des Italiens and down the Avenue de
l'Opera. Once in the Louvre he was on familiar ground, and he speedily made his way to
the collection of papyri which it was his intention to consult.
The warmest admirers of John Vansittart Smith could hardly claim for him that he was a
handsome man. His high-beaked nose and prominent chin had something of the same
acute and incisive character which distinguished his intellect. He held his head in a
birdlike fashion, and birdlike, too, was the pecking motion with which, in conversation,
he threw out his objections and retorts. As he stood, with the high collar of his greatcoat
raised to his ears, he might have seen from the reflection in the glass-case before him that