When we left Egypt in the spring of 1907, I felt like a defeated general who has retreated to lick his wounds (if I may be permitted a somewhat inelegant but expressive metaphor). Our archaeological season had experienced the usual ups and downs -- kidnapping, murderous attacks, and the like -- to which I was well accustomed. But that year disasters of an unprecented scope had befallen us.
The worst was the death of our dear old friend Abdullah, who had been foreman of our excavations for many years. He had died as he would have wished, in a glorious gesture of sacrifice, but that was small consolation to those of us who had learned to love him. It was hard to imagine continuing our work without him.
If we continued it. My spouse, Radcliffe Emerson, is without doubt the preeminent Egyptologist of this or any other era. To say that Emerson (who prefers to be addressed by that name) has the most explosive temper of anyone I know might be a slight exaggeration -- but only slight. His passions are most often aroused by incompetent excavators and careless scholarship, and during this past season he had -- I admit -- been sorely provoked.
We had been excavating in the Valley of the Kings at Luxor, my favorite site in all of Egypt. The concession for the Valley was held by an irritating elderly American, Mr. Theodore Davis, who was more interested in finding treasure than in scholarly research; we were there under sufferance, allowed to work only in the lesser, more boring tombs. Still, we were there, and we would be there again in the autumn had it not been for Emerson.
The trouble began when Mr. Davis's crew discovered one of the strangest, most mysterious tombs ever found in the Valley. It was a hodgepodge of miscellaneous funerary equipment, much of it in poor condition, including a mummy and coffin and pieces of a magnificent golden shrine; and if it had been properly investigated, new light would have been shed on a particularly intriguing era of Egyptian history. In vain did we offer Mr. Davis the services of our staff. Abdullah, who was still with us, was the most experienced reis in Egypt, our son Ramses was a skilled linguist and excavator, and his friend David an equally skilled copyist. Not to mention our foster daughter Nefret, to whose excavation experience was added medical training and a thorough acquaintance with mummies. Only an egotistical idiot would have refused. Davis did refuse. He regarded excavation as entertainment, not as a tool in scholarly research, and he was jealous of a better man. He wanted no one to interfere with his toy.
Watching Davis "rip the tomb apart" (I quote Emerson) was trying enough. The denouement came on the day when the mummy fell apart due to careless handling. (It might not have survived anyhow, but Emerson was in no state of mind to admit that.) Face handsomely flushed, blue eyes blazing, impressive form towering over that of the withered old American, Emerson expressed his sentiments in the ringing tones and rich vocabulary that have earned him his sobriquet of Abu Shitaim, Father of Curses. He included in them M. Maspero, the distinguished head of the Service des Antiquités. Maspero really had no choice but to accede to Davis's infuriated demand that we be barred from the Valley altogether.
There are many other sites in Luxor. Maspero offered several of them to Emerson. By that time Emerson was in such a state of fury that he rejected them all, and when we sailed from Port Said we had no idea where we would be working the following season.
It was good to be back at our English home in Kent, and I make it a point to look on the bright side, but as spring turned to summer and summer wore on, my attempts to do so failed miserably. It rained incessantly. The roses developed mildew. Rose, our admirable housekeeper, caught a nasty cold that refused to yield to treatment; she went snuffling drearily around the house, and Gargery, our butler, drove me wild with his incessant prying and his pointed hints that he be allowed to come to Egypt with us in the autumn. Emerson, sulking in his study like a gargoyle, refused to discuss our future plans. He knew he had been in the wrong but would not admit it, and his attempts to get back in my good graces had, I confess, not been well received. As a rule I welcome my husband's attentions. His thick black locks and brilliant blue eyes, his magnificent physique, and -- how shall I put it? -- the expertise with which he fulfills his marital obligations moved me as they always had; but I resented his efforts to get round me by taking advantage of my feelings instead of throwing himself on my mercy and begging forgiveness.
From Guardian of the Horizon, pages 1-8, by Elizabeth Peters. HarperCollins Publishers. Used by permission.
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