Mr. X or Captain Pogossian

‘During the conversation the prince suddenly asked me how much I would take to let him make a copy of my parchment. I hesitated, not knowing what to answer, as, speaking frankly, I was afraid that I had lost a good customer. He then offered me two hundred pounds to let him make a copy, and this time I felt ashamed to bargain as, in my opinion, he was giving me this sum for nothing.

‘Just think, for permission merely to make a copy of the parchment I was receiving as much as two hundred pounds! Without thinking longer about it, I agreed to the prince’s offer, telling myself that, after all, the parchment would remain with me and I would always be able to sell it if I wished.

‘The next morning the prince returned. We spread the parchment out on the table, and the prince added water to some powdered alabaster he had brought with him; after covering the parchment with oil he spread the alabaster over it. Several minutes later he removed the alabaster, wrapped it up in a piece of old djedjin I gave him, paid me two hundred pounds, and went away. Thus did God send me two hundred pounds for nothing, and I have the parchment to this day.’

The priest’s story interested me greatly, but I gave no sign of it and simply asked him, as though out of curiosity, to show me what it was for which he had been offered such a large sum of money. The priest went to a chest and took out a roll of parchment. When he unrolled it I could not at first make out what it was, but when I looked at it more closely . . . My God! What I experienced at that moment! I shall never forget it.

I was seized with violent trembling, which was all the more violent because I was inwardly trying to restrain myself and not show my excitement. What I saw—was it not precisely what I had spent long months of sleepless nights thinking about!
It was a map of what is called ‘pre-­sand Egypt’.
With great effort, I continued trying to look as though I were not particularly interested in this thing and spoke of something else.

The priest rolled up the parchment and put it back in the chest. I was no Russian prince to pay two hundred pounds for making a copy, yet this map was perhaps no less necessary to me than to him. I therefore decided, then and there, that at any cost I must have a copy, and at once began to think how it could be obtained.