Section I, Next Section
Posted on Tuesday, 25 May 1999
Author's Note: The idea for this story came from my recent acquaintance with Elizabeth Peters wonderful "Amelia Peabody" mystery series. For those who are familiar with the series, they will know to what the title refers. For those who are not familiar with the series I will explain about the series. Amelia Peabody is a Victorian woman of strong opinions, who, after being left a moderate fortune by her somewhat otherworldly father, decides to travel. Her first port of call so to speak after a short stop in Rome is Egypt, at which point she falls under the country's spell, and she meets her match in Radcliffe Emerson, to whom she refers to as Emerson. Another impetus that caused my very perverse muse to put the idea for this story into my head is that having visited the "Amelia Peabody" web site, which has a page on who should play Emerson. While, Harrison Ford was the top vote getter, Colin Firth is number four. In reading the comments, I noticed that someone went so far as to suggest the re-teaming of Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle as Emerson and Amelia. I look forward to hearing what you think of this, please be kind. This is the first time I have attempted a story in first person and so without further adieu
I have always wished to travel, in fact my Dear Papa had always wished to take me to the places he had seen during his Grand Tour. That is not to say that the places he wished to see were at the top of my list of places that I had longed to see, but I am afraid that I am insulting My Self Appointed Critic who stands over my shoulder as I write this account of what occurred during the winter of the Year of Our Lord 1880. Even though this Critic has not entered into my narrative yet.
Perhaps I should start by making a formal introduction. My name is Elizabeth Bennet, my father was Daniel Bennet; the famous scholar of Eastern Languages. I was his youngest child and only daughter of his second wife. My mother died whilst I was in my infancy, so I was never acquainted with her. As I have said, my late Mother was my father's second wife. By his first wife he had four sons, the oldest was already out of the house, married and in business for himself, by the time I was born. As I grew, so did my other three half siblings and they also left the nest and began their own lives. So I was the sole remaining prop of my father's later years, which I must admit he was entering at the time of his second marriage. I never got on with any of my brothers, for they are of the opinion that females were weak and should be treated as children--I am not of this opinion. My Father may have been of the same opinion, but he allowed me to have the same education as my brothers up to a point, though I am of the belief that he never cared what I studied as long as his house was kept tidy and his meals were on time.
That all changed four months before I was to attain my majority. My Dear Papa died, I was relieved that he did not suffer. He was sitting at his desk in his library reading a new text that he had bought in London two months prior to his death. Some four days after his funeral, Mr. Castleton, Papa's solicitor came to the house to read the will. Imagine my surprise to discover that my Papa had left his entire estate to me. Little did I know that my father, even though he had appeared somewhat eccentric and absent minded, had invested heavily on 'change and had made what vulgar persons would refer to as a very tidy fortune.
I was the sole possessor of 500, 000 pounds sterling.
Posted on Wednesday, 26 May 1999
Yes, my Dear Readers, I must admit that I was surprised by My Papa's gift and as I was never one to look a gift horse in the mouth I accepted it gladly. On the other hand, my four despicable, male half-siblings were not so amenable to the fact that our shared male parent had left me his all his property. They had more than likely expected him to leave me a paltry sum. In fact, my eldest brother Basil had the audacity to threaten to contest the will, due to diminished capacity and undue influence, but Mr. Castleton put a stop to that. That did not say that my "Dear half Brothers" did not try. Suddenly I became "Dear Auntie" to all of my nieces and nephews who had shown their affection through the years by staying away or not acknowledging a gift sent them. Their mothers had invited me to come and make my home with them. They also warned me most assiduously against fortune hunters.
I am afraid I found their warnings not unselfish, for I am not stupid. For in the opinion of a culture that believes that marriage is the only decent vocation a woman should look forward to, by the time she reached her majority and after spending some time at a fashionable Female Seminary, I am what is so unkindly termed on the shelf. I am also aware of the fact my looks are not considered anyone's ideal of beauty, being too tall in height and too lean in some aspects of my figure and too full in others. My hair is too dark and coarse and refuses to stay confined in any style, and I have not the peaches and cream complexion that is proper for the "Flower of Young English Womanhood", or so I had been told by my many sisters-in-law. A plain spinster who suddenly has become the possessor of half a million pounds should be smart enough to realise just what has made her suddenly popular among men of a certain stamp.
Instead of rebuffing the fawning behaviour of "loving nieces and nephews, caring sisters-in-law, and affectionate would-be suitors," I encouraged them in that behaviour so that I might laugh up my sleeve at their clumsy attempts at ingratiating themselves with me or declaring their affections.
I finally decided to stop, for I was becoming cynical, and began to plan my trip. Besides, Dear Reader, my Self Appointed Critic begins to make growling noises in the back of his throat when I discuss that period of my life, but I am of the opinion that he believes that I am taking too long in bringing him into this, my narrative. Be that as it may, I decided, for reasons that even now, Dear Readers, I can only marvel at to travel, not to Paris or Vienna, but to of all places Egypt.
So, Dear Readers, I began my preparations for my trip, having always been a very practical woman, I started by writing out my will, I left my entire fortune to The British Museum. It was a place that my Dear Papa spent most of his time when we visited in London. In fact, I am of the belief that if he had been given a choice, he would have been happy to die in the Reading Room there. Secondly, I hired a lady companion for myself. I know that in this day and age, a woman such as myself may travel unaccompanied, except in the mind of certain overly prudish individuals. I however did not hire one for those reasons, I hired her because I was lonely, having never really had the opportunity to cultivate the friendship of another woman. I found that I would get on with Miss Shipton. She was one of those weak-willed women who always seemed to be collapsing into a chair, one hand over her heart. I would be able to lead her through the streets of Cairo easily. After I had settled my business affairs with Mr. Castleton, I received from him a proposal of marriage, which I assure you, my Dear Readers I turned down. Forgive me, Dear Readers, but My Self Appointed Critic is making noises again, he tells me that he wishes I would not mention that incident. I am still of the opinion that he is getting anxious to read of my impression of that most memorable day we met, but I keep telling him that I will arrive at that point in due course, but this only makes him growl all the more insistently.
Having been so politely turned down, Mr. Castleton asked me," Miss Bennet, have any plans at all to wed?"
To which I answered," At present, no. For I have no wish to have some man ruling over me, nor do I wish to rule over him. Though' I would like to feel something more that just mild affection for him." I replied.
"Is that why you dress the way you do, to put off suitors?" Mr. Castleton asked, most impertinently, if I may say so.
"No, Mr. Castleton, I dress this way for comfort." I am not fond of the fashion conventions that have been pushed upon women in this the eighth decade of the nineteenth century of the Christian era, skirts so tight that one could not walk naturally, but only as a toddle, tightly-boned corsets, and worst of all bustles. "Give up Mr. Castleton, puffs and ruffles and bright colors would not do for me." I told him.
"Strange, I somehow pictured you looking well in more fashionable dress." he said.
"Please, Mr. Castleton, I do know what my mirror tells me, I am a plain twenty-one year old spinster. Sallow complexions and coarse dark hair are not the fashion this year." I replied, as he stood up to leave. I must again ask my Dear Readers forgiveness at the shortness of this, as I am being reminded that I must get on with it.
So, I left England for Rome, on my way to Cairo. I am afraid that in Rome I met my first delay in my journey. Miss Shipton became ill, and it appeared that she would be some weeks before she recovered, so I sent her home with a clergyman and his wife who were leaving Rome. I was then some time trying to decide on a new companion for myself. I had visited the British Consulate to enquire if they may know of a woman who would be interested in a situation as a companion. I had not had any answers and I truly wished to get on to my destination, and on the particular morning I write of, I was in a bad humour as I left my hotel. Little did I know that my most plaguing concern was about to be answered by providence in a most amazing way.
Posted on Saturday, 29 May 1999
I was definitely not in a good humour that morning, as I left my hotel with Marco, my guide. I thought I would try some sightseeing to cheer me up, when I noticed a small crowd of people gathered around in a circle. For some reason they were all looking down at something on the ground.
"Marco." I asked," What are they all looking at?"
"The turisti are all looking at the how you say poor English woman fallen dead on the street," he replied.
I was skeptical about the woman having fallen dead, or whether she was truly dead, so employing my parasol to make my way through the small crowd, I did find a young woman lying on the pavement. All around me the crowd were making comments on her background and how she may have gotten to this sorry state, but they were not doing anything to help her. Since it is our Christian duty to help those in need, I knelt down to check on her condition which I believed to be nothing more than a fainting spell. I quickly brought her around to her senses. It was obvious to me as I observed the young woman, that the clothes she wore, however they were inappropriate for the season, were well made.
"You there, please may I borrow your coat?" I asked of a very portly, very red-faced gentleman, who obviously did not need it.
"What?" he asked in a disgusted tone.
"Your coat, I would like to borrow it." I said in a tone, that certain people who shall remain nameless refer to my trying-to-keep-my-temper tone.
"Where am I? What happened?" asked the young woman, who I noticed was about two or three years older than I.
"You fainted. I am just about to arrange transportation for you back to my hotel." I replied, as I gave her some of the food that I had brought in a basket from my hotel. Her very fastidious manner of eating, despite the fact that it was obvious that she had not eaten in some time told me that she was a Lady--fallen on hard times, perhaps--but a Lady nonetheless. I quickly received the name of the hotel of the "gentleman" whose coat I had borrowed and promised that I would have it sent back to him.
Returning to my hotel room, after the physician had determined that I had been correct in my surmise that she had fainted from lack of food. I let the woman rest for a time, before I began to inquire as to how she had come to this state. I was therefore quite surprised when she thanked me for my kindness and that she was sorry I had troubled myself over someone such as she.
"Nonsense, it is our duty to help those in need." I told her.
"You do not know me, or how I came to be in this state, perhaps if you knew that you would not be so compassionate." she replied.
"I will be the judge of that, after I have heard your story." I replied.
Posted on Wednesday, 2 June 1999
Miss Collins-Baines Story
My name is Jane Collins-Baines. I am the granddaughter of the Marquess of Heathstone. I see that even you recognise the name. My Father was his eldest son, he died when I was small child of about three years. My Mother died some months after. I was given into the care of my Mother's only brother; Mr. Edward Gardiner, who resides in Gracechurch Street. I was raised by them until I attained the age of nine years, whereupon my Grandfather whom I was hitherto unacquainted with, prevailed upon my Uncle Gardiner to let me come to live with him at Heathstone Close by in Hertfordshire, not too many miles from the house where I was born; Longbourne.
I must confess that though I missed my Uncle and Aunt, I settled in nicely at my Grandfather's estate. My Grandfather was kind and loving, and I soon became his dear pet. I was also given to know that I would inherit on his death, all his private fortune. I can see that you are a feminist, Miss..... Elizabeth, so I know that you will be aware of the fact that though my father was my Grandfather's eldest son, the estate and title was entailed away on his only Grandson. This was difficult on him, for my Grandfather is a stubborn man and was not happy with his only Daughter's choice of a husband, as she had eloped with a foreigner, and not just any foreigner, but an Italian. My Grandfather is of the belief that those of Latin blood are both unstable and unreliable. My Grandfather, when crossed can be unforgiving, and at my Aunt's elopement, he caused her name to be struck from the Family Bible. Even when she lay dying he, I am sorry to say, he would not seek a reconciliation. After my Aunt died, her only child and son, immediately began a campaign to put himself into my Grandfather's good graces again, beginning with changing his name to an Anglicised form of his name. My cousin William was very friendly with me and he did spend some of his time at Heathstone Close. As a young and impressionable girl, I even had the idea that Grandfather was planning a match between William and myself, until an incident, that was never fully explained to me caused my Grandfather to send William away.
Posted on Thursday, 3 June 1999
Before my Grandfather sent my cousin away, I had evinced an interest in art and drawing. My cousin even went so far as to find a teacher for me and in so doing, though I had not realised at the time my disgrace had been sealed. While nothing came of the belief that my Grandfather had planned a match between myself and my cousin, I was still young enough to believe that love must proceed marriage, so love entered my life with Giorgio; my drawing teacher. Unfortunately, I must confess I was very stupid and very naive enough to believe his protestations and in short, he seduced me and convinced me into an elopement. I took all the jewels that my Grandfather had given me, jewels appropriate for a someone of my years, and sold them. It provided us just enough money get us this far.
As we traveled, I would attempt to discover Giorgio's plans, but he was always evasive. He would not settle for a civil ceremony, as he was a Catholic, and he could not marry me as I was not Catholic. It soon became evident that marriage had never been his intention just as the last of our money ran out. That very morning, I woke to find that he had left and taken everything of mine but this dress, pair of shoes, and mantle. He had also left a note, a poorly written note, explaining that he had chosen me as his prey, as I was obviously a great heiress. At our elopement my Grandfather had written me out of his will, but through Giorgio's communications with the "old man" as he vulgarly referred to him.... (post by Mary Collette was cut off herea. h. )
He had been in communications so to speak, as every morning he visited the British Consul, where he had found that shortly after my elopement, my Grandfather had indeed cut me off without a shilling and afterward suffered a severe stroke that put him in a coma, from which it was believed he would not recover. At this point he informed me that he was leaving me to find a better prospect. (At this point Dear Readers, Jane broke down in great sobs. I held her for a time, but soon she gathered her courage and continued on with her story. ) The shock of my abandonment and the fact I had not eaten properly for some time had caused me to become ill. The hideous woman who ran the house in whose cold attics we stayed, having no wish to have a corpse on her hands, let me stay just long enough to recover. That was this very morning, Miss.... Elizabeth. I was then evicted from there just as you see me. I decided then to find the means to end my poor wasted and ruined life, until you came into the Forum and helped me.
Posted on Wednesday, 1 September 1999
I must admit it took some time to convince Miss Collins-Baines that I was most serious in wishing her to be my companion, but I prevailed in the end. After Jane, as she wished me to call her, was convinced, I set about preparing her for our trip to Egypt, I set about by purchasing a new wardrobe for the girl. It surprised me though, as I was somewhat mistaken in Jane, as she turned from a half starved kitten to a full grown lioness. I do not know how she accomplished it, for she never truly countermanded an order or contradicted my suggestions; but she eventually acquired a wardrobe that was charming and simple and astonishingly expensive. And, in the process, I somehow found myself purchasing at least a dozen new frocks for myself, frocks I had, had no intention of buying. What surprised me most about the frocks was that they were of a styles and colours that I would never have chosen myself. One evening dress, which I definitely did not need, was of the most astonishing shade of crimson satin, with a square neckline cut several inches lower than I would have worn it. The skirts were draped back over a bustle, displaying a sequined underskirt. Jane chose the fabric and bullied the dressmaker quite as effectively, and much more quietly, than I would have done. I thought the gown quite silly, for it squeezed my waist down to nothing and made my bosom seem more ample than it already is, but when Jane said," Wear it!"; I wore it. She also discovered a secret weakness for embroidered batiste, it was so secret that I was not aware of it myself, and the dozens of fine undergarments and nightgowns I had meant to purchase for Jane, ended up being made to my measurements. Though I was surprised by this change in Jane, enough of my practical nature remained, however, to allow me to take certain steps.
I must confess to you my Dear Readers, that My Self Appointed Critic has gotten from the relating of the steps I had taken, the very false impression that I am a man-hater. I had discovered, however, that few persons of the male sex were to be trusted, and Jane's sad story had merely confirmed this theory. The Dear Reader must forgive me but I have had stop this my narrative, but, My Self Appointed Critic must insist at laughing at "my theory". Be that as it may, since Giorgio obviously proved to be an untruthful person, I believed that I should pay a call on our consul to have his story confirmed or denied as the case may be.
I was disappointed for several reasons to learn that on this account, if no other, Giorgio had spoken the truth. The Marquess of Heathstone was personally known to our consul; and of course the health of a peer of such rank was a matter of general concern. The elderly Marquess was not yet dead, but word of his demise was expected at any moment. He had been in a deep coma for days.
I proceeded to tell the consul about Jane. From the way his face changed to a blank diplomatic mask, I could tell he had heard rumours of this affair. He had the temerity to remonstrate with me when I explained my intentions with regard to the girl. I cut him short, naturally. I only had two reasons for mentioning Jane at all. Firstly, to ascertain whether or not any of her kin had made inquiries about her. Secondly, to inform someone in authority of her future whereabouts in case such inquiries were made in future. My first question was answered in the negative. The consul's diplomatic mask notwithstanding, I could see by his expression that he did not expect any such inquiries. He knew the old Marquess too well. I therefore gave him my direction in Cairo and departed, leaving him shaking his head and mumbling to himself.
Those steps taken, Dear Readers, I will now, to the roars of "finally!" or sentiments to the effect by My Self Appointed Critic, I will only add that on the twenty-sixth of the month we boarded the ship at Brindisi and set sail for Alexandria.
Chapter 2 I will spare my Gentle Readers descriptions of the journey and of the picturesque dirt of Alexandria. Every European traveler who can write his or her name feels obliged to publish his memoirs; the reader may refer to "Miss Smith's Egyptian Journals" or "Mr. Jones Winter in Egypt" if he feels cheated of local colour, for all the descriptions are the same. Our voyage was in a word; abominable, but I was glad to find that Jane was a very good traveler. Our journey to Cairo was without incident and soon we were settled in at Shepheards Hotel.
Everyone who travels to Egypt, stays at Shepheards. Among the travelers who meet in its magnificent dining room one may eventually, it is said meet all ones acquaintances; and from the terrace before the hotel the lazy traveler may watch a panorama of eastern life pass before his eyes as he sips his lemonade or tea. Stiff English travelers ride past, on donkeys so small that the riders' feet trail in the dust, followed by the Janissaries in their gold-embroidered uniforms, armed to the teeth; by native women swathed to the eyebrows in dusty black, by stately Arabs in flowing blue and white robes, dervishes with matted hair and fantastic headdresses, sweetmeat vendors with trays of Turkish delight, water sellers with their goatskin containers bloated with liquid, horridly lifelike..... But, again the reader must excuse me, as My Critic reminds me, unnecessarily so, that I am succumbing to the temptations of the traveler, and must stop; the procession is unending and fascinating.
Posted on Friday, 10 September 1999
Author's Note: Before I go on with this, I need to beg the indulgence of all my Dear Readers. One of the things I have enjoyed about the series of books that I am based my story on is the historical details that are in the books. That being said, I must admit that I am taking some historical license with my story, in that the events taking place, that will soon be mentioned actually took place in the year 1884-1885. I also will be using some Arabic and Egyptian words, and I thought I might give a glossary of some of them. I would also like to point out that the names of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs' names used in my story are spellings contemporary to the era.Glossary
English travelers were few in Cairo that winter. The fighting in the Sudan had apparently alarmed them. The mad Mahdi was still besieging the gallant Gordon at Khartoum. However Sir Garnet Woseley's relief expedition had reached Wadi Halfa, and the gentlemen we had met at Shepheards reassured us-or rather reassured Jane-when she expressed her doubts to the wisdom of traveling south. The fighting was still hundreds of miles below Assuan (Aswan) , and by the we arrived there, the war would be over-the Mahdi taken, and his barbaric army crushed, the gallant Gordon relieved.
I, myself, was not so sanguine as the gentlemen. The mad carpenter of the Sudan had proved himself an extremely potent general, as our losses in that area proved. However, I said nothing to Jane, for I had no intentions of changing my plans to suit the Mahdi or anyone else. (Forgive me Dear Readers, but it appears that My Self Appointed Critic has got something caught in the back of his throat, and I must pat him on his back. ) I planned to spend the winter sailing up the Nile and sail I would.
Travel by water is the only comfortable method of seeing Egypt, and the narrow length of the country means that all the antiquities are in easy reach of the river. I had heard from My Dear Papa of the pleasures of travel by dahahbeeyah, and I was anxious to try it. To call these conveyances merely houseboats, hardly does them justice, and gives a poor idea of their luxury. Floating palaces is a better description. They can be fitted up with every convenience the traveler chooses to supply, and the services available depend solely on his or her ability to pay. I intended to go to Boulaq, where the boats are moored, and decide on one the day after our arrival. We could then inspect some of the sights of Cairo and then be on our way in a few days.
When I expressed this intention to some of our fellow guests in the lounge of the hotel after dinner, a burst of hilarity greeted my remarks. I was informed that my hopes were in vain. Choosing a dahahbeeyah was a frustrating, time consuming process; the native Egyptian was a lazy fellow who could not be hurried.
(I have been informed by My Self Appointed Critic that I am voicing opinions that show the natural intolerance of the English race, to which I have informed him that they were not my opinions. )
Posted on Saturday, 11 September 1999
I had my own opinions on that score, but I caught Jane's eye and remained silent. She was having an astonishing effect on me, that girl; I thought if I continued in her company much longer, I might become mellow.
Jane was looking very pretty that night, in a frock of pale-blue silk, and had attracted considerable attention. We had agreed that her real name was not to be mentioned, since it was well known to many Englishmen; she was therefore introduced as Jane Gardiner to honour her maternal Uncle who died when Jane was fourteen. Tiring, finally, of the clumsy efforts of some of the ladies in our group to discover her antecedents, I used fatigue as an excuse for early retirement.
I woke early the next morning. An ethereal rose-tinted light filled the room, and I could see Jane kneeling by the window. I thought that she was brooding over past events again; there had been moments of depression, quickly overcame, but not unnoticed by me. I therefore tried to remain motionless, but I inadvertently caused the bedclothes to rustle, causing Jane to turn around, and I saw not sadness in her eyes, but a face shining with pleasure.
"Come and look Lizzie. It is so beautiful." she exclaimed joyfully.
Before I go on my Dear Readers, I would just like to point out that though my Christian name is Elizabeth, it was my Mother, as my Dear Papa informed me who decided that I was to be Lizzie, which my Papa did call me in the moments of affection we shared.
To obey was not as simple as it sounds. I had first to fight my way through the muffling folds of fine white mosquito netting encircling the bed. When I joined Jane, I shared her pleasure. Our rooms overlooked the gardens of the hotel; stately palms, dark silhouettes in the pale dawn, rose up against a sky filled with translucent azure and pink streaks. Birds fluttered, singing from tree to tree; the lacy minarets of the mosques shone like mother-of-pearl above the treetops. The air was cool and exquisitely clear.
It was a good thing our day began so peacefully and with such beauty, for the wharves of Boulaq, where we went after breakfast, were not at all peaceful. I began to understand what our fellow travelers had warned me about. There were over an hundred boats at their moorings; the confusion and noise were indescribable.
(Forgive me Dear, Gentle Readers, but My Self Appointed Critic is mumbling and growling something to the effect that given the chance, I would eventually come up with the most appropriate words in which to describe the noise and confusion. I though am still of the belief that he wishes me to hurry to describe the momentous day that brought him into my life, and he growls at me when I tell him so. )
Posted on Wednesday, 15 September 1999
Just want to add two more words to the glossary.
Glossary dragoman-------a guide for independent tourists
Copt-----------an Egyptian Christian
The boats are much alike, varying only in size. The cabins occupy the after part of the deck, and their roof forms an upper deck which, when furnished and canopied provides a charming open drawing room for passengers. The crew occupy the lower deck. Here is the kitchen, a shed containing a charcoal stove and a collection of pots and pans. The dahabeeyahs are flat bottom boats with two masts; and when the huge sails are spread to catch the brisk northerly breeze, they present a most attractive picture.
Our problem, then was to decide which boat to hire. At first, even I was bewildered by the variety. (Forgive me, Dear Readers, but My Self Appointed Critic finds the thought of me bewildered by any situation amusing, to which, I ask him if he ever tried to hire a dahabeeyah. He then answers me that he hates that mode of travel. I tell him to keep his opinions to himself. )
It did not take long however, to realise that some of the boats were impossible. There are degrees of uncleanliness; I could tolerate, indeed, I expected a state of sanitation inferior to that of England, but....... ! Unfortunately, the bigger boats were the usually better kept. I did not mind the expense, but it seemed a trifle ridiculous for the two of us-and my maid-to rattle about in a boat with ten staterooms and two saloons.
At Jane's insistence we had hired a dragoman that morning at the hotel. I saw no reason why we should; I had learned some Arabic phrases during our voyage to Alexandria, and had every confidence in my ability in dealing with an Egyptian boat captain. However I yielded to Jane. Our dragoman's name was Michael Bedawee; he was a Copt, an Egyptian Christian, a short, plump, coffee coloured man with a fine black beard and white turban, to my shrewd eye Michael appeared to be about four and twenty years of age-although I must confess that this description would fit half the male population of Egypt. What distinguished Michael was the friendliness of his smile and candor of his soft brown eyes. We took to him at once, and he seemed to like us.
With Michael's help we selected a boat. The Philae was of middle size and of unusual tidiness; Jane and I both liked the looks of the reis or captain. His name was Hassan and he was an Egyptian of Luxor. He appeared to be a some years older than Michael. I approved of the firm set of his mouth and the steady gaze of his black eyes-and the glint of humour in them when I assayed my few words of Arabic. I supposed my accent was atrocious, but Reis Hassan complimented me on my knowledge of his language, and the bargain was concluded.
With pride of ownership Jane and I explored the quarters that would be our home for the next four months. The boat had four cabins, two on either side of a narrow passageway. There was also a bathroom, with water laid on. At the end of the passage, a door opened into the saloon, which was semicircular, following the shape of the stern. It was well lighted by eight windows, and had a long curved divan along the wall. Brussels' carpets covered the floor; the paneling was white with gold trim, giving a light airy feeling. Window curtains of scarlet, a handsome dining table, and several mirrors in gold frames completed the furnishings.
With ardor of ladies equipping a new house, we discussed what else we should need. There were cupboards and shelves in plenty, and we had books to fill the shelves. I had brought a large box of Father's books on Egyptian antiquities, and I had hoped to purchase more. But we should also need a piano. I am accounted an adequate pianist, but I suppose if I took the time to practice, my fingers would move more competently across the keyboard. With My Dear Jane's example, I would more than likely become prodigious, as Jane played and sang beautifully, proof positive that Jane and I will get on very well.
I asked Reis Hassan when he would be ready to depart; here I received my first check. The boat had just returned from a trip. The crew needed time to rest and visit their families; certain mysterious overhaulings needed to be done on the vessel itself. We finally settled on a date a week's hence, but there was something in Hassan's bland black eyes that made me wonder..........
Nothing went as I planned it. Finding a suitable piano took an unreasonable amount of time. I wanted new curtains for the saloon; their shade clashed with my crimson evening frock. As Jane pointed out, we were in no hurry; yet I had a feeling that she was even more anxious than I to be on our way. Every evening when we entered the dining room I felt her shrink. Sooner or later it was more than probable that we should encounter an acquaintance, and I could understand why she shrank from that.
Our days were not entirely wasted; there is a great deal to see and do in Cairo. The bazaars were a source of constant amusement; the procession of people passing through the narrow passages would have been entertainment enough without the fascination of the wares on display. Each trade occupies a section of its own: saddlers, slipper makers, copper and bronze workers, carpet sellers, and vendors of tobacco and sweetmeats. There are no real shops, only tiny cupboards, open at the front, with a stone platform or mastaba, on which the merchants sit cross-legged, awaiting customers. I could not resist the rugs and bought several for our drawing room on the Philae soft glowing beauties from Persia and Syria. I desperately tried to but some trinkets for Jane; but she would only accept a pair of little velvet slippers.
We visited the bazaars, the mosques, and the Citadel; and then planned excursions somewhat farther afield. Of course I was anxious to see the remains of the ancient civilization, but I little realised what was in store for me that day, when we paid our first visit to Gizeh. (Wonder of wonders, Dear Readers, on this point My Self Appointed Critic actually agrees with me. )
Posted on Saturday, 18 September 1999
Everyone who visits Egypt eventually goes to see the pyramids. I am of the belief that it should be mandatory for anyone who decides to travel to Egypt. Seeing them has been made much easier with the building of the Nile bridge they are within an easy hour-and-half drive from the hotel. We left early that first morning so that we would have more than enough time to explore fully.
I had seen engravings of the Great Pyramid in many of My Dear Papa's books and read about it extensively in them; that I thought had prepared me for my first sight. But I was not! (At this point, Dear, Kind, Indulgent Readers, but My Self Appointed Critic actually smiles at me tenderly, as he reads this particular observation of mine. He then tells me that no one can be prepared properly for their first visit to Gizeh, and their first sight of the Great Pyramid. It surprises me that I fully agree with him. )
It was so much grander that I had imagined! The massive bulk of it bursts suddenly on one's sight as one mounts the steep slope leading up to the rocky platform. It fills the sky! And the colour! No black-and-white engraving can possibly prepare one for the colour of Egyptian limestone, mellow gold in sunlight against a heavenly blue vault.
The vast plateau on which the three pyramids stand is honeycombed with tombs-pits, fallen mounds of masonry, crumbling smaller pyramids. From the midst of its sandy hollow, the head of the Sphinx projects, its body still buried in the ever encroaching sand, but still wearing more majesty on its imperfect features than any sculpture made by man.
We made our way to the greatest of the three pyramids, the tomb of Khufu (Cheops) . It loomed up like a mountain as we approached. The seeming irregularities of its sides were now seen to be huge blocks, each one higher than a man's head; and Jane wondered audibly how one was to mount these giant stairs.
"And in long skirts." she mourned.
"Never mind," I said. "We shall manage."
Posted on Wednesday, 22 September 1999
And manage we did, with the help of six Arabs-three apiece. One on either side and one pushing from behind, we were lifted easily from block to block, and soon we stood on the summit. Jane was a trifle pale, but I scarcely heeded her distress or gave her courage its due; I was too absorbed in the magnificent view. The platform atop the pyramid is about thirty feet square, with blocks of the stripped-off upper tiers remaining to make comfortable seats. I seated myself and stared 'til my eyes swam--with strain, I thought then; but perhaps there was another reason.
On the east, the undulating yellow Mokattam hills formed a frame for a picture whose nearer charms included the vivid green strip of cultivated land next to the river, and in the distance, shining like the towers of fairyland, the domes and mosques of Cairo. To the west and south the desert stretched away in a haze of gold. Along the horizon were other man-made shapes--the tiny pyramid points of Abusir and Sakkarah, and Dashoor.
I gazed until I could gaze no more; and was aroused from a reverie that had lasted far too long by Jane, who was plucking at my sleeve.
"May we not descend?" she begged," I believe I am getting sunburned."
Her nose was certainly turning pink, despite the protection of her broad-brimmed hat. Remorsefully I consented, and we were lowered down by our cheerful guides. Jane declined to enter the pyramid with me, having heard stories of its foul atmosphere. Jane knew better than try to dissuade me. I left her with some ladies who also refused the treat, and hitching up my skirts, followed the gentlemen of the party into the depths.
It was a horrid place--stifling air, debris crunching underfoot, the dark barely disturbed by the flickering candles held by our guides. I reveled in every moment of it, from the long traverse of the passage to the Queen's Chamber, which is so low that one must walk bent over at the waist, to hazardous ascent of the Grand Gallery, that magnificent high-ceilinged slope up one must crawl in semi-darkness relying on sinewy arms of the Egyptians to prevent a tumble back down the stone-lined slope. There were bats as well. But in the end I stood in the King's Chamber, lined with somber black basalt, and containing only the black coffin into which Khufu (Cheops) was laid to rest some four thousand years ago; and with perspiration rolling down my frame, and every breath an effort, I felt the most overpowering sense of satisfaction I had felt since childhood-when Henry, my third half-brother, dared me to climb the apple tree in the garden, and I, perched on the highest bough, watched him tumble out of a lower one. He broke his arm.
When I finally rejoined her outside, Jane's face was a sight to behold. I raked my fingers through my disheveled hair and remarked "It was perfectly splendid, Jane. If you would to like to go, I would be happy to see it again....." "No!" Jane said," Not under any circumstances!"
We had been in Cairo for a week by then, and I really had hopes of getting underway within another fortnight. I had been to Boulaq several times, assisting Reis Hassan-bulllying him, as Jane quaintly put it. In recent days I had not been able to find him on the boat, although once I saw a flutter of striped petticoat that looked like his disappear over the stern as I approached.
After Gizeh, Hassan was left in peace. I had a new interest--but to call it an interest is to understate my sentiments. I admired, I desired--I lusted after pyramids! (Again I must ask My Dear, Kind, Indulgent Readers to forgive my interruption, but My Self Appointed Critic has informed me that once one visits Gizeh and descends into the depths of the Great Pyramid, and if one susceptible, one is easily struck down with Egyptological fever. He tells me that he will never forget his first taste of the Pyramids at Gizeh. ) We went back to Gizeh. I visited the Second and Third pyramids there. We went to Sakkarah to see the Step Pyramid. There are other pyramids at Sakkarah. Being built of rubble within a facing of stone, unlike the solid-stone pyramids of Gizeh, the smaller Sakkarah pyramids are only heaps of debris now that the outer facing stones have been taken away for building purposes; but I did not care. They were, or had been pyramids and pyramids were my passion! I was determined to get into one of the smaller mounds whose burial chamber is beautifully inscribed with hieroglyphic picture writing, and I would have done it, too, but for Jane. Her outcries, when she saw the funnel-shaped well into which I proposed to lower myself, were terrible to hear. I pointed out that with two men holding the rope I should do quite nicely; but she was adamant. I had to yield when she threatened to follow me down, for I saw how appalled she was.
Hill, my maid was no more sympathetic to my pyramid inquiries. She mourned out loud over the state of my clothes, some of which had to be given away as beyond the state of repair, and she objected to the mementos of bats which I carried away from the interiors of the pyramids. One morning, when I proposed a trip to Dashoor, where there are several splendid pyramids, Jane flatly refused. She politely suggested that we visit the museum of Boulaq. I agreed. It was not too far from the wharves; I could go and assist Hassan after the museum.
Posted on Thursday, 23 September 1999
The following characters mentioned in today's post are real persons: M. Maspero, Herr Emil Brugsch, and most importantly, M. Gaston Mariette, Founder of The Service des Antiquites.
I was looking forward to meeting M. Maspero, the French director of antiquities. My Father had been in correspondence with him, and I had hoped my name would be familiar. It was. (The Dear Reader will forgive me, but my Self Appointed Critic has unnecessarily commented that he was a little too familiar. I just would like to point out that he has had a falling out with the aforesaid Gentleman, and is somewhat biased. ) We were fortunate indeed to find Maspero at his museum. He is usually away, his assistant informed us, digging for the treasures that made him known throughout the scholarly world.
This assistant, Herr Emil Brugsch, I knew by reputation, for he had been the first European to gaze upon the famous cache of royal mummies that had been discovered a few years earlier. While we waited for M. Maspero, Brugsch told us of the robber family of Thebes who had discovered the hiding place of the mummies ten years before. (Before I go on Dear Readers, I must in all honesty inform you that the next part does not in any way reflect my feelings toward the native Egyptian. I also write this, so as not to upset My Self Appointed Critic, for we count our workers as our friends and treat them as such. ) The discoverer, a shifty character called Abd er-Rasool Ahmed, had been searching for a missing goat amid the rocky cliffs near his village of Gurnah. The goat had fallen into a crevice or shaft, forty feet deep; upon descending, Ahmed made an incredible discovery-the mummies of the great pharaohs of Egypt, hidden in ancient times to keep their sacred bodies safe from the thieves who had looted their original tombs.
His eyes never left my face, Herr Brugsch explained with affected modesty, that he was responsible for the detective work that eventually discovered the mummies. Collectors had sent him photographs of objects bearing royal names, and realised that these must have come from a tomb. Since the known royal tombs were in Thebes, he had alerted the police to watch out for a peasant from that city who had more money than he had come by honestly. Thus suspicion was focused on the Abd er-Rasool family; and the thieves having fallen out in the meantime over the disposition of the loot, one of them betrayed the secret to Brugsch.
I did not care for this gentleman. His brother is a respectable and well known scholar, and Herr Brugsch has been employed by Maspero and his predecessor, M. Gaston Mariette, founder of the Service des Antiquites, for many years; but I did not like his bold stare and hard face, this aspect of the man affected me unpleasantly, as did his callous description of the interrogation of the unfortunate Abd er-Rasool brothers. Not a muscle in his tanned face moved as he described beatings with palm rods and heated pots being placed on the heads of the suspects. Yet I could not help but being fascinated by an eyewitness account of the incredible discovery. Brugsch admitted that his sensations, as he was lowered into the pit were not wholly comfortable. He was armed of course, but his weapons would not have availed against treachery, and all the inhabitants of the area hated the representatives of the government. (With good reason, My Self Appointed Critic points out here. ) And then his feelings, as he stood in the stifling gloom of the little cave, amid a jumble of royal dead..... ! He knew the bodies must be moved at once, in order to prevent their being stolen, and he accomplished this difficult task in only eight days. He was describing the northward voyage of the barge--the banks of the river lined with mourning women, rending their garments and pouring dust on their heads as the bodies of ancient kings floated by--when Maspero joined us.
As M. Maspero entered his office, I thought I heard a sound like shouting. I would not have noted it, except that it struck me with an odd sense of foreboding, as if I was about to meet my destiny here in the museum of Boulaq. I shook my head as if to make it go away, and when M. Maspero had fully entered his office, it seemed to pass.
Posted on Sunday, 26 September 1999
The director of antiquities was a stout, genial man with twinkling eyes and a short black beard. A true Frenchman, he bowed over my hand and greeted Jane with admiration. As I have stated, M. Maspero had corresponded with my Dear Papa, and he condoled with me about his death. He then, in his effusive French manner; told me that it was a pleasure to meet his good friend Daniel's charming daughter, of whom he had heard such amazing things. (At which, Dear Reader I secretly laughed, and My ever present Self Appointed Critic growls, as he is already of the mistaken belief that every man falls in love with me, as soon as they meet me. ) Seeing how busy M. Maspero was, we quickly excused ourselves, and he begged our pardon for not showing us over the museum himself. Perhaps he and Jane would join us later, he said glancing at Jane.
"You have made another conquest," I said softly to Jane, as we walked away. "M. Maspero could hardly keep his eyes away from you."
"Nor Herr Brugsch his eyes from you," Jane replied with a smile. "He was anxious to escort you; did you not see his scowl when M. Maspero told him he had work for him to do."
"Do not try to give your admirers to me," I retorted. "I am not in need of such mendacious flattery; and even if I were, Herr Brugsch would not be my choice." (The Dear Reader will kindly forgive this, but I thought I heard My Self Appointed Critic mumble something like B----y D--ned right. I am afraid that he does not care for Herr Brugsch at all. )
Deep down in my heart, I was quite glad that M. Maspero did not accompany us when we began our tour. Courtesy must have prevented me from telling him just what I truly thought of his museum. Not that the place was not fascinating; it contained many marvelous things. But the dust! And the clutter! My housewifely and scholarly sensibilities were both equally offended.
"Perhaps you are not being fair," Jane said mildly, when I expressed my feelings. "There are so many objects; new ones discovered daily; and the museum is still too small, despite the recent enlargement."
"All the more reason for neatness and order. Yes, in the early days, European adventurers took away what they discovered in Egypt, there was no need for a national museum. Then M. Mariette, Maspero's predecessor insisted, nay demanded that the Egypt should keep some of its national treasures. The cooperation between Great Britain and France, to regulate and assist this unfortunate country, has resulted in the French being given control over the antiquities department. I suppose they must have something; after all, we control finance, education, foreign affairs, and other matters. But we could do with some English neatness, instead of French nonchalance."
We had penetrated into a back room filled with objects that seemed to be leftovers from the more magnificent exhibits in the front halls of the museum-vases, bead necklaces, little carved ushebti figures (little carved figures of servants of the dead person that are needed in the afterlife. ) , flung helter-skelter onto shelves and into cases. Though there were several other people in the room, I could swear that I heard a low growling somewhere. I paid them and it little heed, in mounting indignation, I went on," They might at least dust! Look at this, Jane!"
And picking up a blue-green statuette from a shelf, I rubbed it with my handkerchief and showed Jane the smudge that resulted.
A howl--a veritable animal howlshook the quiet of the room. (Forgive me Dear Readers, but My Self Appointed Critic informs me that he never howls, and he did not howl on that particular momentous day. ) Before I could collect myself to search for its source, a whirlwind descended on me. A sun-bronzed hand snatched the statuette from me. A voice boomed in my ears.
"Madam! Do me the favor of leaving those priceless relics alone! It is bad enough to see that incompetent a-Maspero, jumble them about; will you complete his idiocy by destroying the fragments he has left!?" (Again, I must beg the Dear Reader's indulgence, while I wait for My Self Appointed Critic to stop laughing. He also informs me that he never shouts in so vulgar a manner. I have my own opinion on that score. )
Jane had retreated. I stood alone. Gathering my dignity, and my parasol. I turned to face my attacker.
He was a tall man with very wide shoulders and a black beard cut square like those statues of Assyrian kings. From a face tanned almost to the shade of an Egyptian, brown eyes flashed fire. His voice, as I had good cause to know was a deep reverberating bass. The accents were those of a gentleman. The sentiments were not.
Posted on Wednesday, 29 September 1999
"Sir," I said, looking him up and down. "I do not know you--"
"But I know you madam! I have met your kind too often-The rampageous British female at her clumsiest and most arrogant. Ye gods! The breed covers the earth like mosquitoes, and is as maddening. The depths of the pyramids, heights of the Himalayas--no spot on earth is safe from you."
He had to pause for breath at this point, which gave me opening I had been waiting for.
"And you sir, are the lordly British male at his loudest and most bad mannered. If the English gentlewoman is covering the earth, it is in the hopes of counteracting some of the mischief her lord and master has perpetrated. Swaggering, loud, certain of his own superiority...."
My adversary was maddened, as I had hoped he would be. Little flecks of foam appeared on the blackness of his beard. His subsequent comments were incomprehensible, but several fragile objects vibrated dangerously on their shelves.
I stepped back a pace, taking a firm on my parasol. I am not easily cowed, nor am I a small woman, but this man towered over me, and the reddening of his face he had thrust into mine was suggestive of violence. He had very large white teeth, and I felt sure I had gotten a glimpse of most of them.
A hand fell on his shoulder. Looking up I saw Jane with a young man who was slighter than my adversary--fair-haired, blue-eyed, tall, but not so bulky.
"Darcy," he said urgently. "You are alarming this lady. I beg you--"
"I am not at all alarmed," I said calmly. "Except for your friend's health. He seems about to have a fit. Is he commonly subject to weakness of the brain?"
The younger man now had both hands on his companion's shoulders. He did not seem concerned; indeed, he was smiling broadly. He was an attractive young fellow; from the way Jane looked at him I suspected that she shared my opinion.
"Madam, you must forgive him--now Darcy, calm yourself. The museum has this effect on him," he explained, looking at me. "You must not blame yourself for upsetting him."
"I certainly should not blame myself if my harmless behaviour brought on such a violent, inexcusable breach of common courtesy--"
"Elizabeth!" Jane caught my arm as a roar of rage burst from the bearded person. "Let us be calm, and not provoke one another."
"I am not provoking anyone." I said coolly.
(My Self Appointed Critic, at this point tells me that, at the time, he could have argued that point. I tell him that I was not to blame for his abominable behaviour that morning in Boulaq. )
Posted on Thursday, 30 September 1999
Jane and the young man exchanged glances. It was if an unspoken message was communicated between the them, they both moved, the young man tugging at his agitated friend, Jane using a gentler but equally firm grip to pull me away. The other visitors were staring at us with ill-bred curiosity. One lady pulled her companion out of the room. Another couple followed, leaving a single spectator. This person appeared to be an Arab, wearing flowing robes, headcloth, and the one item that made me extremely suspicious, bright green goggles. This Arab appearing person continued to watch the antics of the incomprehensible foreigners with amused contempt.
Rapid footsteps in the hall heralded the arrival of M. Maspero, who had apparently been alarmed by the uproar. When he saw us his pace slowed, and a smile spread over his face.
"Ah c'est le bon Darcy. I should have known. You have met one another? You are acquainted?"
"We are not acquainted." said the person called Darcy. , in a slightly, very slightly modified shout. "And if you make any attempt to introduce us, Maspero, I shall fell you to the ground!"
M. Maspero chuckled. "Then I shall not risk it. Come, mesdemoiselles, and let me show you some of our finer objects. These are unimportant--a miscellany only."
"But they are most interesting," Jane said in her gentle voice. "I admire the soft colours of the jewelry."
"Ah but these trinkets are not valuable-no gold only beads and amulets, made of faience, common as sand. We find such bracelets and necklaces by the hundreds."
"Faience?" Jane repeated, curiously. "Then the coral, the delicate blue-green which resembles turquoise, are not the real stones?"
The black-bearded male person had turned his back on us, and was pretending to sneer at a collection of ushebtis; I knew that he was eavesdropping, however. His friend was not so rude. The young fellow stood looking shyly at Jane, and when she asked about the jewelry he started to answer. The ebullient M. Maspero anticipated him.
"Mais non mademoiselle, they are imitations of coral, turquoise, lapis lazuli, made from a coloured paste common in ancient Egypt."
"They are lovely, all the same." I said. "And the very age of them boggles the mind and staggers the imagination. To think that these beads adorned the slim brown wrist of an Egyptian maiden four thousand years before Our Saviour was born!"
Blackbeard whirled round. "Three thousand years," he corrected. "Maspero's chronology, like all his work, is inexcusably inaccurate!"
Maspero smiled, but his I think his next act was prompted to some extent by the annoyance he was too courteous to express directly. Lifting a necklace of coral and blue beads, he handed it to Jane with a courtly bow.
"Keep it as memento of your visit, if you treasure such things. No, no," --he waved away Jane's protests--"it is of no consequence; I only regret that I have nothing finer for such a charming lady. For you too, Mademoiselle Bennet," -and another string of beads was pressed into my hands.
"Oh, but--" I began, with a glance at the black-bearded person, who was shaking like an engine about to burst.
"Do me the honour," Maspero, insisted. "Unless you fear the foolish tales of curses and avenging Egyptian ghosts."
"Certainly not!" I said firmly.
"But what of the curses of M. Darcy?" Maspero asked, his eyes twinkling. "Regardez--he is about to say unkind things to me again."
"Never fear," Darcy snarled. (At this point Dear Reader, My Self Appointed Critic tells me that he never snarls, He always behaves with great tact, everywhere he happens to go. ) "I am leaving. I can only stand so many minutes in this horror house of yours. In God's name man, why do you not classify your pots?!"
Posted on Wednesday, 20 October 1999
With that parting shot, he rushed off, pulling his slighter companion with him. The young fellow turned his head; his gaze went straight to Jane and remained fixed on her until he had been removed from the room.
"He has almost the Gallic temperament," said Maspero admiringly. "One observes the magnificence of his rages with respect."
"I cannot agree with you," I said, through gritted teeth. "Who is the fellow?"
"One of your fellow countrymen, dear Lady, who has interested himself in the antiquities of this country. He has done admirable work excavating, but I fear M. Darcy does not admire the rest of us. You heard his abuse of my poor museum. He abuses my excavation methods with the same ardor. But indeed, there is no archaeologist in Egypt who has been spared his criticism." replied Maspero.
"I do not care to speak of him," I said with a sniff.
"We think your museum is very fascinating , M. Maspero," Jane added very tactfully. "I could spend days here."
We spent several hours more inspecting the exhibits. I would not have said so for the world, but I felt a certain sympathy for the odious Darcy's criticisms. The exhibits were not arranged as methodically as they might have been, and there was dust everywhere!
Jane said that she was too tired to go down to the dahahbeeyah that day, so we took a carriage back to the hotel. She was pensive and silent during the drive; as we neared Cairo, I said slyly," Mr. Darcy's young friend does not have his temper, I believe. Did you happen to hear his name?"
"Bingley, Mr. Charles Bingley," said Jane, and blushed betrayingly.
"Ah," I pretended not to notice the blush," I found him very pleasant. Perhaps we will meet them again at the hotel."
"Oh, no they do not stay at Shepheard's. Charl-Mr. Bingley explained to me that his friend is not comfortable in society. They use all their combined incomes for their excavation work. His friend is not supported by any institution or museum; they both have only their yearly incomes and, as Charles says, if they had the wealth of the Indies, Mr. Darcy would consider it insufficient enough for their purposes." replied Jane.
"You seem to have covered quite a bit of ground in a very short time," I said, watching Jane out of the corner of my eye. "It is a pity we cannot continue the acquaintance with Mr. Bingley, and avoid his insane friend.
(The Dear Reader will forgive my little interruption, as My Self Appointed Critic informs me that he is of extremely sound mind and has always been. I tell him that he should avoid the Boulaq Museum and M. Maspero, as it is detrimental to his health, mental that is. )
"I dare say we shall not meet again," said Jane softly.
I had my own opinion on that score.
Posted on Thursday, 21 October 1999
In the afternoon, after a rest, we went to shop for medical supplies for the dahabeeyah. The guidebooks advise travelers to carry a considerable quantity of medicines and drugs, since there are no doctors south of Cairo. I had copied a list of suggested remedies from my guide, and was determined to do the thins properly. If I had not been a woman, I might have studied medicine; I have natural aptitude for the subject, possessing steady hands and far less squeamishness about blood and wounds than many males of my acquaintance. I planned to buy a few small surgical knives also; I fancied I could amputate a limb--or at least a toe or finger--rather neatly if called upon to do so.
Our dragoman, Michael accompanied us, I thought he was quieter than usual, but I was occupied with my list: blue pills, calomel, rhubarb, Dovers powder, James' powder, carbolic acid, laudanum, quinine, sulfuric acid, ipecacuanha.... It was Jane who asked Michael what the trouble was. He hesitated, looking at us in turn.
"It is my child who is ill," he said finally. "She is only a girl-child of course."
The faltering of his voice and his troubled countenance betrayed a paternal emotion that contradicted the words, so I modified what had begun as an indignant comment into an offer of assistance.
Posted on Saturday, 30 October 1999
Michael protested, but it was clear that he would welcome our help. He led us quickly to his home. It was a narrow old house with the intricately carved balconies that are typical of Old Cairo. It seemed to me appallingly dirty, but compared with the squalor and filth we had seen elsewhere, it could have been worse. The sickroom where the child lay was dreadful. The wooden shutters were closely barred, lest evil spirits enter the room to harm the child further, and the stench was frightful. I could scarcely see the small sufferer, for the only illumination came from a clay lamp filled with smoking fat, with a wick of twisted cloth. My first move, therefore, was to go to the windows and throw them open.
A wavering shriek of protest arose from the women huddled on the floor. There were six of them, clad in dusty black and doing nothing that I could sees except add to the contamination of the air and keep the child awake by their endless wailing. I quickly evicted them. The child's mother I allowed to remain. She was a pretty little thing with great black eyes, and was herself, I suspected not more than fifteen years of age.
Careless of her dainty gingham skirts, Jane was already seated on the floor by the pallet where the child lay. Gently she brushed the tangled black curls from her face and dislodged a cluster of the flies swarming around her eyes. Her mother made a gesture of protest, but subsided after a frightened glance at me. Jane and I had already had cause to be horrified at the way these people allow insects to infest the eyes of the children; I had seen pitiful infants so beset with flies that they looked as if they were wearing black goggles. If they attempted to brush the stinging creatures away, the mothers slapped their hands. One sees tiny children who have already lost the sight of one or both eyes through this dreadful custom; and, of course, infant mortality is extremely high. One authority, of whom I am quite familiar with, claims that three out of five die young.
I looked at Michael's agonised face, and at the flushed face of the small sufferer, and decided then and there that this was one child who would not succumb if I could help it. How fortunate we had just come from purchasing medical supplies.
The cause of the child's illness was not hard to discover. She had fallen and cut herself, as children will; infection had entered the wound, which had not been washed or cleaned. One small arm was puffed and swollen. When I cut into the swelling, after disinfecting the knife as best I could, the infected matter spurted out in an evil smelling flood. I then cleaned and dressed the wound, then lectured the distracted parents on the necessity of keeping it clean.
Posted on Thursday, 18 November 1999
I must at this point reward Jane for being a tower of strength throughout the whole business. It was not until we returned to the hotel that she was quietly and thoroughly sick. I dismissed Michael for the rest of the day, telling him to go home and keep his horde of female relatives out of his daughter's room.
Jane was feeling better by evening, and I insisted that we dress and dine downstairs, instead of having a bowl of soup in our room as she wished to do. Although she never complained, I knew that she was often depressed on her own account. We had as yet heard no word of the Marquis' fate, but Jane expected news of his death daily, and it fretted her tender heart to think of him dying alone. For my part, I felt that the old reprobate was meeting the end he richly de served.
In her soft-blue evening dress, with its wide lace cuffs and ruffled underskirt, Jane looked quite charming; the wistful droop of her mouth only added to her appealing appearance. I decided to wear my crimson satin, feeling we needed something bright and cheerful, although I still felt self-conscious in the dress. (I do hope that my Dear, Kind, Indulgent Reader will forgive another interruption, but I must say that I am surprised to discover that My Ever-Present Self Appointed Critic has informed me that I look especially well in crimson. ) We made a fine show. Several of our gentlemen acquaintances followed us into the lounge after dinner and attempted to win a smile from Jane. Suddenly I saw a rosy flush spread over her face. I suspected the cause even before I followed her gaze to the doorway. There stood young Mr. Charles Bingley, looking very handsome in evening dress. He had eyes only for Jane, and crossed the room so quickly that he nearly stumbled over a low table.
He had brought his friend with him. I had to force myself to stifle a laugh at the sight of the irascible Darcy, he wore a look of such gloom. His evening clothes looked as if they had been pulled from the bottom of a traveling bag and put on without the benefit of pressing; his collar seemed to be too tight. He had lost all his swagger and shambled along behind Mr. Bingley like a great black bear, darting suspicious glances at the elegantly garbed travelers a round him.
After greeting me hastily, Charles turned to Jane and they were soon deep in conversation. The other gentlemen, being ignored, faded away; and I was left face to face with Darcy. He stood looking down at me with an expression of sullen dejection.
"I am to make my apologies," he growled.
"I accept them," I said, and indicated the place next to me on the sofa. "Do sit down Mr. Darcy. I am surprised to see you here. I understood that social life was not to your taste."
"It was Charles' idea," said Darcy bluntly. He sat down, edging as far away from me as the limited confines of the small sofa would allow. "I hate such things."
Posted on Wednesday, 24 November 1999
"What things?" I inquired, enjoying myself hugely. It was delightful to see the arrogant Darcy cowed by society at large.
"The hotel. The people. The--the--in short all this." He waved a contemptuous hand at the handsome chamber and its finely dressed occupants.
"Where would you rather be?" I asked.
"Anywhere in Egypt but here. Specifically at the site of my excavations." Darcy replied in an earnest, if somewhat raised voice.
"In the dust of the desert, away from all the comforts of civilization?" With only ignorant Arabs for company--" (As before, I must remind the Dear Reader, that these are not my opinions, but as you will see, I could not help baiting My Self Appointed Critic. )
"Ignorant perhaps; but lacking the hypocrisies of civilization. Good God! how it maddens to hear the smug comments of English travelers concerning the 'natives' as they call them! There are good and bad Egyptians, as there are in any race; but by and large they are an admirable people, friendly, cheerful, loyal, intelligent--when taught..... For centuries these people were oppressed by a vicious cruel despotism. They riddled by disease, poverty, and ignorance, but through no fault of their own!"
He was recovering his confidence. His fists clenched on his knees, he glared at me. I rather liked him for his defense of an oppressed people, but as I have mentioned before I just could not help baiting him.
"Then you should approve of what we British are doing in Egypt. By assuming responsibility for the finances of the country--"
"Bah!" said Darcy vigorously. "Do you really think we "British" are acting out of benevolence? Ask the inhabitants of Alexandria how they enjoyed being shelled by British gunboats two years ago. We are not so uncivilised as the Turk, but we have the same purpose--our own self interest. And we are letting those imbecile French mismanage the antiquities department! Not that our own scholars are any better!"
"Are they all wrong?" I inquired. "All but you?"
My irony went unnoticed. Darcy considered the question seriously.
"There is one young fellow--Petrie is his name--who seems to have some method in archaeology. He is excavating in the Delta this winter. But he has no influence; and mean while every year, every passing day sees destruction that cannot be remedied. We are destroying the past, Bennet! Digging like children for treasure, wrenching objects out of the ground without keeping proper records of how and where they were found....."
I glanced at Jane. I could not hear what she and Charles were discussing, Darcy's voice was too loud, but she seemed to find the conversation enjoyable, as I said, I could not hear all of what they were saying, but I was able to catch such phrases as "favorite soapbox" and such. I turned my attention back to Darcy who was still ranting.
"...... scraps of pottery! Something should be done with pottery you know. One should study the various types-discover what kinds of pottery accompany certain kinds of ornaments, weapons, furnishing......"
"For what purpose?" I inquired in a surprisingly even for me, curious tone.
"Why there are a dozen purposes. Pottery, like other objects changes and develops with time. We could work out a basic chronological sequence which would enable us not only to date the pottery, but other objects found with it. And it is not only pottery that can be useful. Every object, every small scrap of the past can teach us something. Most of these objects are now tossed into rubbish heaps or carried off by ignorant tourists, lost forever to science. For instance the beads Maspero gave to you and your companion, to him, they are of little consequence, but to a scientist, even they would be able teach us something. Maspero saves only the impressive objects, and half of those are lost or smashed or stolen, in that reputed museum of his."
"I understand," I said. "For example, studies might be made of anatomical remains. The race to which the ancient Egyptians belonged might be ascertained, and the racial mixtures. Are they the same stock today as they were in ancient times? But scholars do not collect mummies, do they, except to display the latter as curiosities."
Darcy's jaw dropped. "Good God!" he said. "A woman with an inquiring mind? Is it possible?"
I ignored the insult, having become interested in what he was saying. I was about to pursue the subject further when there was a dramatic interruption.
Posted on Friday, 26 November 1999
I looked back to where Jane sat, with Charles leaning on the back of her chair. Of a sudden, Jane started to her feet. As Jane turned, I saw that her face had gone as white as linen. She was staring with a fixed look of horror toward the entrance of the room.
I glanced about. The room was crowded with people, but I saw nothing that might explain her agitation. Before I could make a more searching perusal, Jane collapsed onto the floor. When Charles, clumsy with agitation, managed to reach her and raise her in his arms, she was in a dead faint, from which she was restored with some difficulty.
She would not answer any of our questions; she was only capable of reiterating her desire to return to our rooms.
"Let me carry you," Charles begged. "You are no burden; you cannot walk--"
He put out his arms. Surprisingly, she shrank back as if he had offered to strike her.
"No, no," she gasped. "Elizabeth will help me. I can walk, indeed I can. Pray do not touch me."
Poor Charles was as white as Jane. But there was nothing to be done but accede to her wishes. She walked falteringly, but without any assistance except mine, to the stairs. As we started up, I had only time to assure Charles that I would let him know next morning how Jane was, if he cared to come by.
My maid was waiting when we reached our rooms. Jane rejected her attentions, which were given grudgingly enough; she seemed to shrink from any company but mine, but still re fused to tell me what was wrong. At her request, I dismissed Hill, telling her to go to bed.
"I believe I will send Hill home." I said, seeking to strike a casual note, since Jane still would not speak of the matter uppermost in our minds. "She hates everything-the country, the Egyptians, the boat--" "And me," said Jane, with a faint smile, and a somewhat recovered look.
"She does not think highly of me, either," I said pleased to see Jane regaining her spirits. "We can manage without her nicely. I will make arrangements tomorrow. Jane dearest, will you not tell me now--"
Posted on Friday, 26 November 1999
"Later," Jane replied. "I will explain later, Elizabeth, when I have..... Will you not return to the saloon? You were having such a pleasant conversation with Mr. Darcy. I am sure that he is still there. You might reassure him and his..... You might reassure them and make my apologies. I am well; I only need rest. I will go straight to bed. I really am quite well."
This speech, delivered in a rapid monotone, was quite unlike the girl I had come to know. I looked searchingly, she refused to meet my eyes. I started to speak, fully prepared to break down a reticence which now alarmed me; when there came a loud knock at the door of our sitting room.
Jane started convulsively. A renewed pallor spread over her face. I stared at her, too bewildered to speak. (For give me Dear Readers, for this precipitate interruption, but My Self Appointed Critic has experienced some kind of fit at reading the above passage. ) Who could this visitor be, who knocked so peremptorily? And at such an hour! It was not too late for the evening's social activities, but it was certainly too late for anyone to be coming to our rooms. I could not believe that Charles' anxiety would drive him to such a step. Moreover, it was clear from Jane's demeanour that she suspected who the visitor might be, and that her suspicion had been the cause of her deep dread.
Her eyes met mine. Her shoulders straightened, and she set her lips in a firm line, before opening them to speak.
"Open the door, Elizabeth, if you will be so good. I am being a miserable coward. I must face this."
I suppose her speech conveyed a clue to my mind, which inspired me to take my parasol from its convenient stand. I remember I felt no surprise when I opened the door and saw the man who stood there. (The Dear Reader must indulge me again, as My Self Appointed Critic has laughed at the above passage and mentioned that he was surprised that I did not feel an overwhelming urge to lay about the bounder's head with my parasol. Though I am not saying that I did consider it. ) I had never seen him before, but his swarthy complexion, his sleek black hair, and his bold good looks confirmed the suspicion Jane's manner had aroused.
"Ah," I said, taking a firmer hold of my parasol. "Signor Giorgio, I presume."
Chapter 3 Posted on Wednesday, 1 December 1999
Giorgio placed one hand over his heart and bowed. His look, as well as his manner verged on insolence; and his eyes moved from my face toward the inner doorway where Jane stood, pale and still as a statue, it was all I could do not to slap him. (The Dear Reader must again indulge me, as once again, My Self Appointed Critic has begun to laugh at this passage. He says that it may have been all I could do not to slap the cad, but was it all I could do not to give him a taste of my parasol?)
"You invite me in?" he asked, looking at me. "I think you prefer I would not speak of matters close to our hearts except in the privacy."
I stepped back; silently I motioned him in; gently I closed the door. I wanted to slam it. (My Self Appointed Critic wonders why I did not. I tell him that would have been not only vulgar, it would have been childish, and I happen to pride myself on my maturity. ) Before I could prevent him, Giorgio rushed towards Jane.
"Ah, my lost darling, my heart's beloved. How can you desert me? How can you leave me with agony for your fate?"
Jane raised her hand. Giorgio stopped a few feet away from her. I really believed the rascal would have taken her into his arms, if she had not moved. Now he cocked his head on one side and said in tones of reproach," You push me! You crush me! Ah, I understand. You have found the rich protectoress. She give you gifts and you abandon the lover who give only love."
I began to raise my parasol. Jane was silent throughout. I think she was too thunderstruck at the man's insolence to speak. I approached Giorgio and jabbed him in the waistcoat with my parasol. He quickly jumped back.
"That will do," I said briskly. "You abandoned this lady; she did not abandon you, although she would have been wise to do so. How dare you come here after writing that abominable message to her, after taking all her possessions--"
"Message?" Giorgio rolled his eyes," I leave no message. Going out to seek employment so I buy food for my beloved, I was strike by a horse while I cross the street. Weeks I lie in terrible hospital, in delirious, crying for my Jane. When I recover, I stagger back to the room which has been my paradise. But she is gone! My angel has flown away. I leave no message! If there is message, my enemy must leave it. I have many enemy. Many who hate me, who try to steal my happiness, who envy me my angel."
He looked meaningfully at me at that point and I had the overwhelming urge to begin, as My Self Appointed Critic has suggested, laying about his head with my parasol. And I would have. Had I not had Jane to think of.
I have rarely seen such an unconvincing dramatic performance. Yet I was not sure it might not convince Jane; love has a most unfortunate effect on the brain, and I feared some lingering fondness for the rascal might still move her.
I need not have feared. Jane's colour had returned, her cheeks were flushed becomingly with an emotion that I recognised as anger.
Posted on Saturday, 11 December 1999
"How dare you!?" she said in a low voice," Have you not done me enough harm? Oh you are right to reproach me; I deserve your contempt. Not for having left you, but for ever coming away with you in the first place. But how dare you come here and insinuate such things about this lady? You are not worthy to occupy the same room with her, to breathe the same air. Be gone, and never trouble my sight again!!"
Giorgio staggered back a few paces. He was counterfeiting shock and anguish, but the ferrule of my parasol might have assisted his retreat.
"You cannot speak with true meaning. You are sick. No--you do not understand. I come to marry you. I offer you my hand and name. There is no other way. No other man marry you now, not when he know--"
He was an agile fellow; he jumped nimbly back as I tried to bring my parasol down on his head, and when I raised it for a second attempt, Jane caught at my arm.
"Pray do not break a good parasol," she said with a curling lip. "He is just not worth it."
(At this point, I must confess to My Dear Readers that My Self Appointed Critic is of the opinion that the cad was worth a dozen broken parasols. I am afraid that I must agree with him, though as I am a lady, must not give him my reasons for not 'breaking a good parasol'. )
Posted on Wednesday, 15 March 2000
"But he is trying to blackmail you," I said, panting with rage. "He is threatening you with exposure unless you agree--"
"He may publish my infamy to the world," Jane said coldly. "Believe me Lizzie, he has no more power over me. If any lingering trace of fondness remained, this would have ended it."
Smoothing down his hair, which had become disarranged by his rapid movement, Giorgio stared us in affected horror.
"Blackmail? Threat? Dio mio, how you do not understand me? I would not--"
"You had better not," I interrupted, brandishing my parasol towards a delicate part of his person. "The first sign of trouble from you, you rascal, (At this My Self Appointed Critic laughs at what he considers such a weak term. "I have heard you use stronger terms for such as he." I ask him, who is keeping this journal?) and I will have you put in prison. Egyptian prisons are vastly uncomfortable, I am told, and I have a good deal more influence with the present government than you do."
Giorgio drew himself up.
Posted on Thursday, 16 March 2000
"Now you threaten me," he said with such smugness, that I wished to give that impertinent face such a slap, but I had to remember that I was a Lady, despite the comments from My Self Appointed Critic. "No need for threat. If the lady do not want me, I go, I came only for honour. I see now, I understand. There is another! It is true, no? Who is this villain who steal my darling's heart?"
Jane who had born up magnificently, now showed signs of breaking--which was no wonder.
"I cannot stand any more of this," she whispered. "Lizzie, can we not make him go away? Can we not call for Michael, to help us?"
"We certainly can. I am sure that he is waiting just outside," I whispered back.
I passed Giorgio--who drew back nervously--and threw open the door. There is usually a floor attendant on duty, but I knew that I would not need to call him, for just as I predicted, our dragoman*, Michael was there, sitting on the floor across the hall from the door. I did not stop to ask him why he was there. He leaped to his feet when he saw me, and I beckoned him in.
"Michael, take this male person by the collar, and throw him out," I said gesturing at Giorgio.
Michael looked surprised, but he did not hesitate. As he reached out for Giorgio, the latter stepped back.
"No need, I go, I go," he exclaimed. "I leave Egypt. My heart is broke, my life is--"
"Never mind that." I said, as I truly felt that I had begun to reach my breaking point, but I was curious about one thing." One question before you go. How did you find us here, and how did you get the money to follow us?" I do not know why I asked him this, but I started to get the impression that Signor Giorgio would not be telling the truth.
Posted on Saturday, 18 March 2000
"But I go to the British consul at Rome, what else? I work way on boat--I am seasick, I am cold, but I work to follow my heart's--"
"Enough of that you scoundrel," I said in my most sharpest tone." Or Michael will--"
"I go." Giorgio drew himself up. He rolled his eyes one last time at Jane; then Michael took a step forward, and Giorgio bolted out the door with more speed than dignity.
As I watched him hurry away, I still had the nagging feeling that we had not seen the last of Signor Giorgio, nor had I believed one word of his explanation of how he came to be in Cairo, and was able to discover our present location.
"I follow, to be sure he is gone," offered Michael in a most eager and earnest tone.
"Thank you," said Jane gratefully. "Your little girl, Michael--how is she? Did you want us to come to her again?"
"No," replied Michael. "Thank you lady, I come to tell you that she is better. She wakes up and asks for food. I come to thank you; to tell you, when you want anything from Michael, you ask, even if it is his life. Now I will follow the evil man."
With a gesture that oddly combined humility and dignity, he departed; and as the door closed, Jane broke into a storm of weeping.
Posted on Saturday, 18 March 2000
The storm was soon over. While I rushed around searching for smelling salts and handkerchiefs, Jane recovered herself and insisted that I sit down. She relieved me of my parasol, which I was still holding.
"You are more upset than you will care to admit," she said." Let me--"
At that point, she was interrupted by a knock at the door once more. Jane squared her shoulders, and went to answer it, and we were both surprised to discover that it was Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley.
Posted on Wednesday, 26 April 2000
I was quite surprised and shocked to find that the gentlemen had returned and actually had come to our rooms. I looked a question at Mr. Darcy, who immediately made reply, "Miss Bennet, Bingley here insisted that we must return and inquire after Miss Gardiner. I agreed, insofar as to determine who that seedy looking fellow was that you so effectively chased from your rooms, and your dragoman is following from the hotel."
"Thank you Sir," I replied, trying to regain my composure, for I was still relatively shocked by the return of both Mr. Darcy & Mr. Bingley.
Mr. Bingley, as was to be expected, hurried to Jane's side, took her hands in his and declared gallantly, "Miss Gardiner, I could not leave without knowing whether or not you had recovered."
"So you and your friend are leaving Cairo, Mr. Darcy?" I asked.
"I fear we must, we have been away from our dig for far too long, Miss Bennet." replied Mr. Darcy.
I offered the gentlemen glasses of sherry, which they accepted, though I must say that Mr. Bingley ignored his completely, as he was far too engrossed in My Dear Jane's blue eyes. While they spoke quietly, Mr. Darcy spoke with me.
"Tell me Miss Bennet, the seedy looking fellow you chased away, what do you know of him?" asked Mr. Darcy, in a most curious tone, that was surprisingly subdued.
"No more than what Miss Gardiner has told me. The cad treated her hideously, but further than that I cannot say, as it really is not my story to tell, but I will say that I do not trust Signor Giorgio for a second and that we have not seen the last of him. He claims that he worked his way across to Cairo and he protested this prettily, but as I have always been a shrewd judge of character, I can say plainly that the man is lying in his teeth. He has had help from some quarter, though I could say for sure who he might be, but I see a greater danger to my friend from this person or persons whoever he or they may be." I replied truthfully.