GUARDIAN OF THE HORIZON
Aka Charles E. Roberts, owner of several of the world’s greatest
bookstores, to whom I one many hours of good talk, good gin, and friendship of
the highest order
For many of the details of desert travel I have drawn upon, and am indebted to, The Lost
Oases, a remarkable book by a remarkable man. Ahmed Mohammed Hassanein Bey, an Egyptian, an Oxford graduate, and a fine athlete, was the first person to cross the Libyan Desert –a journey of three thousand kilometres- by camel caravan, from Siwa to Darful. He located the “lost oases” of Arkenet and Ouanet and fixed their locations for the first time. Though his epic trip took place fifteen years after the Emersons last visited their “lost oasis”, the conditions were pretty much the same. His accomplishments have been to some extent overshadowed by those of later explorers, who used motor vehicles instead of camels, but he was deservedly honoured by the Royal Geographical Society with its Explorers Medal.
As always, I want to thank my dedicated prereaders, Dennis Forbes of KMT, Kristen Whitbread of MPM Manor, Erika Schmid, and of course Trish Lande Grader of William Morrow, who have perused the entire interminable manuscript and made suggestions and corrections. Any remaining errors are my responsibility.
Just when the Editor believed she was nearing the end of her arduous task of editing the Emerson papers, a new lot of them turned up. They include most of the journals from the so-called missing years, plus miscellaneous letters, newspaper clippings, recipes, lists, receipts, and several unpublished articles. The circumstances under which this discovery was made need not be discussed here. Suffice it to say that Mrs. Emerson‟s
heirs are no longer threatening legal proceedings and have reached a tentative agreement with the Editor that allows her to produce this volume. It is based on Mrs. Emerson‟s journal for the 1907-08 season, and thus immediately follows the events
described in the journal published as The Ape Who Guards the Balance. The editor‟s
reasons for selecting this particular volume are twofold: first, she was dying to know what happened when the Emersons returned to the Lost Oasis; second, up to this time she had only one journal for the years between 1907 and 1914, a period of great importance in the professional, political, and emotional history of various family members. It is hoped that eventually this gap will be filled in; and the Reader may rest assured that astonishing revelations remain to be disclosed.
As before, the Editor has included relevant portions of Manuscript H, written by Ramses Emerson. It seems unlikely that Mrs. Emerson ever read this manuscript, which Ramses seems to have abandoned shortly after the birth of his children (any parent can understand why). One other set of documents provided useful information –the letters
herein designated as Letter Collection C. They were found in a separate bundle. Obviously they never reached the persons to whom they were addressed, but were
collected by Mrs. Emerson after the events to which they refer, for reasons which should be evident to any intelligent Reader.
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 pre-eminent 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 has – I admit – been
We had been excavating in the Valley of the Kings at Luxor, my favourite 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 where there under sufferance, allowed to word 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 has 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 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 tombs 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 Mr. Maspero, the distinguished head of the Service des Antiquités. Maspero really had no choice but to accede to Davis 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 house-keeper, caught a nasty cold that refused to yield to treatment; she went snuffling drearily around the house, and Gargery, our Butler, drove me 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 fulfils his marital
obligations mover 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.
By the end of July, all our tempers had become strained. It continued to rain, Emerson continued to sulk, Rose continued to snuffle, and Gargery‟s nagging never stopped. “Oh, madam, you need me, you know you do; only see what happened last year when I was not there to look after you - Mr. Ramses and Mr. David kidnapped and you carried off by that Master Criminal chap, and poor Abdullah murdered and –“
“Do be quiet, Gargery!” I shouted. “I asked you to serve tea. I did not invite a lecture.”
Gargery stiffened and looked down his snub nose at me. I am one of the few people who is shorter than he, and he takes full advantage. “Tea will be in shortly, madam,” he said, and stalked out.
I seldom shout at the servants – in point of fact, Gargery is the only one I do shout at. As a butler he was something of an anomaly, and his unusual talents, such as his skill at wielding a cudgel, had proved helpful to us in the past. However, he was no longer a young man and he certainly could not have prevented any of the disasters that had befallen us. I sighed and rubbed my eyes. It was – need I say? – raining. The drawing
room was a chill, shadowy cavern, lit by a single lamp, and my troughts were as cold and dark. Gargery‟s words had brought back the memory of that awful day when I held Abdullah clasped in my arms and watched in helpless horror as scarlet drenched the white of his robes. He had taken in his own body the bullets meant for me.
“So, Sitt, am I dying?” he gasped.
I would not have insulted him with a lie. “Yes,” I said.
A spark lit in his dimming eyes, and he launched into the familiar complaint. “Emerson. Look after her. She is not careful. She takes foolish chances …”
Emerson‟s face was almost as white as that of hi dying friend, but he managed to choke out a promise.
I had not realized how much I cared for Abdullah until I was about to lose him. I had not realized the depth of his affection for me until I heard his final, whispered words –
words I had never shared with a living soul. The bitter knowledge that I would never hear that deep voice or see that stern bearded face again was like a void in my heart.
The door opened and my foster daughter‟s voice remarked, “Goodness, but it is as gloomy as a cell in here. Why are you sitting in the dark, Aunt Amelia?”
“Gargery neglected to switch on the lights,” I replied, sniffing. “Curse it, I believe I am catching Rose‟s cold. Ramses, will you oblige?”
My son pressed the switches and the light illumined the three forms standing in the doorway – Ramses, David, and Nefret. The children were usually together.
They weren‟t children, though; I had to keep reminding myself of that. Ramses had just celebrated his twentieth birthday. His height matched Emerson‟s six feet, and his form, though not as heavily muscled as that of his father, won admiring glances from innumerable young ladies (and a few older ones).
Some persons might (and indeed did) claim that Ramses‟s upbringing had been quite unsuitable for an English lad of good family. From an early age he had spent half the year with us in Egypt, hobnobbing with archaeologists and Egyptians of all classes. He was essentially self-educated, since his father did not approve of schools at all. He had been an extremely trying child, given to bombastic speeches and a habit of interfering in the business of other persons, which often led to a desire on the part of those persons to mutilate or murder him. Yet somehow – I could not claim all the credit, though heaven
knows I had done my best – he had turned into a personable young man, linguistically
gifted, well-mannered, and taciturn. Too taciturn, perhaps? I never though I would see the day when I regretted his abominable loquacity, but he had got into the habit of keeping his thoughts to himself and of concealing his feelings behind a mask Nefret called his “stone-pharaoh face”. He had been looking particularly stony of late. I was worried about Ramses.
David, his best friend, closely resembled him, with his bronzed complexion, curly black hair, and long-fringed dark eyes. We were not certain of Davis‟s precise age; he was Abdullah‟s grandson, but his mother and father had been estranged from the old man and David had worked for a notorious forger of antiquities in Luxor until we freed him from virtual slavery. He was, I thought, a year or two older than Ramses.
Nefret, our adopted daughter, was the third member of the youthful triumvirate. Golden fair instead of dark, open and candid instead of secretive, she and her foster brother could not have been more unlike. Her upbringing had been even more extraordinary than his or David‟s, for she had been raised from birth to the age or thirteen in a remote oasis in the western Desert, where the old religion of Egypt was still practiced. We had gone there a decade ago, at considerable risk to ourselves, in search of her parents, who had vanished into the desert, and we had no idea she existed until that unforgettable night when she appeared before us in the robes of a high priestess of Isis, her gold-red hair and rose-white complexion unmistakable evidence of her ancestry. I often wondered if she ever thought of those strange days, and of Tarek, prince of the Holy Mountain, who had risked his life and throne to help us get her back to England. She never spoke of him. Perhaps I ought to be worrying about her too.
I knew why David‟s dark eyes were so sad and his face so somber; he had become engaged this past winter to Emerson‟s niece Lia and saw less of her than a lover‟s heart desired. Lia‟s parents had been won over to the match with some difficulty, for David was a purebred Egyptian, and narrow-minded English society frowned on such alliances. I was thinking seriously of going to Yorkshire for a time, to visit Walter and Evelyn, Lia‟s parents, and have one of my little talks with them.
Nefret‟s cat, Horus, did his best to trip Ramses up when they came into the room together, but since Ramses was familiar with the cat‟s nasty tricks, he was nimble enough to avoid him. Horus detested everybody except Nefret, and discipline the evil-minded beast, however, since Nefret always took his part. After an insolent survey of the room, Horus settled down at her feet.
Emerson was the last to join us. He had been working on his excavation report, as his ink-speckled shirt and stained fingers testified. “Where is tea?” he demanded.
“It will be in shortly. Come and sit down,” Nefret said, taking his arm. She was the brightest spot in the room, with the lights shining on her golden head and smiling face. Emerson loved to have her fuss over him (goodness knows he got little fussing from me these days), and his dour face softened as she settled him in a comfortable chair and pulled up a hassock for his feet. Ramses watched the pretty scene with a particularly blank expression; he waited until Nefret had settled onto the arm of Emerson‟s chair before joining David on the settee, where they sat like matching painted statues. Was it perhaps the uncertainty of our future plans that made my son look as gloomy as his love-struck friend?
I determined to make one more effort to break through Emerson‟s stubbornness.
“I was in receipt today of a letter from Annie Quibell,” I began. “She and James are returning to Cairo shortly to resume their duties at the Museum.”
Emerson said, “Hmph”, and stirred sugar into his tea.
I continued. “She asked when we are setting out for Egypt, and what are our plans for this season. James wished her to remind you that the most interesting sites will all be taken if you don‟t make your application soon.”
“I never apply in advance,” Emerson growled. “You know that. So does Quibell.”
“That may have served you in the past,” I retorted. “But there are more expeditions in the field every year. Face it, Emerson. You must apologize to M. Maspero if you hope to get-“
“Apologize be damned!” Emerson slammed his cup into the saucer. It was the third cup he had cracked that week. “Maspero was in he wrong. He was the only one with the authority to stop Davis wrecking that bloody tomb, and he bloody well refused to exert it.”
Despite the bad language and the sheer volume of his reverberant baritone voice, I thought I detected the faintest tone of wavering. I recognized that tone. Emerson had had second thoughts but was too stubborn to back down. He wanted me to bully him into doing so. I therefore obliged him.
“That may be so, Emerson, but it is water over the dam. Do you intend to sit here in Kent all winter sulking like Achilles in his tent? What about the rest of us? It‟s all very
well for David; I am sure he would prefer to remain in England with his betrothed, but will you condemn Ramses – to say nothing of me and Nefret - to boredom and
Ramses put is cup down and cleared his throat. “Uh -excuse me-“
Emerson cut him short with an impetuous gesture. A benevolent smile wreathed his well-cut lips. “Say no more, my boy. Your mother is right to remind me that I have obligations to others, obligations for which I will sacrifice my own principles. What would be your choice for this season, Ramses? Amarna? Beni Hassan? I will leave it to you to decide.”
He took out his pipe, looking very pleased with himself –as well he might. I had
given him the excuse for which he yearned. It was what I had intended to do