Thursday, January 21, 2016

Charlie's War, part five

Continued from here

Cairo, Egypt
November 1919

Despite her fears, Charlie slipped into the role of being a wife with ease. It wasn't a difficult part to play – their house in the London area of Kensington had been beautiful and came equipped with a cook, a butler, a gardener, a maid, and a chauffeur. The servants did most of the work, leaving Charlie very little to do domestically, so she threw herself into learning more about hieroglyphics, hieratic, Coptic, and modern Arabic. Jack was shocked at how quickly she learned the complex languages and soon was bringing work home, asking for Charlie's help with translations. Not long after that, she was accompanying him into the offices at the Egyptian Exploration Society, where he introduced her to George Herbert, Fifth Earl of Carnarvon, the financial backer for the massive digs in the Valley of the Kings, and Gaston Maspero, Director of the Antiquities Department at the Bulak Museum in Cairo, and of course Jack's boss, Howard Carter.

Jack and Charlie impressed Carter greatly, reminding him of himself some ten years ago, when he'd first joined the EES. Carter immediately asked Jack and Charlie to accompany him to Egypt to assist in the as-yet unsuccessful excavations in the Valley of the Kings. Work had been continuing on and off in the area for nearly five years, and Carnarvon was getting impatient. Carter hoped that by injecting new blood and archaeologists newly graduated from school would help shake things up a bit and lead to the find of the century.

The Taylors didn't need even a portion of the week Carter gave them to come to their decision. It was a dream come true for both of them and they quickly sold their house, put their affairs in order – including updated wills reflecting their newly married status – and hopped on a ship that would take them to Calais, in the north of France, and then on a train that took them down to the tip of the Italian peninsula, then another ship that took them across the Mediterranean to Port Said, Egypt, and finally another train straight into the heart of Cairo.

The long trip ran together in Charlie's mind; one train station looked like another when one didn't actually leave one's sleeper car. But when she climbed down out of the train into the station in Cairo, she knew immediately that she was in Egypt. The mélange of languages that assaulted her ears – French, Greek, Arabic, even German – and the scents of dry, dusty air combined with foreign spices, frankincense, myrrh, and sandalwood made her giddy. She turned to Jack and grinned up at him. “I can't believe I'm here,” she said in a hushed, awed voice.

Jack chuckled and leaned over to kiss the crown of her head. “You're here, Bunny. And next week, we'll be in the Valley of the Kings, with shovels and pick-axes in our hands.” He flagged down a horse-drawn carriage, loaded first his wife, then their luggage into it, and then asked to be taken to the Shepheard Hotel. Charlie grinned; she'd long dreamed of staying where Napoleon headquartered his army during his invasion of Egypt more than a hundred years ago.

Sandwiched between the Nile River and Ibrahim Pasha Street, the Shepheard Hotel commanded a beautiful view of the city and the surrounding desert from its storied terrace, lined with potted palm trees, wicker chairs and tables, and waiters dressed in pristine white galabeyas and crimson fezzes. As Jack and Charlie sat and sipped thick, syrupy mint tea, he told her a little more of the history of the hotel. “Did you know that both Henry Morton Stanley and T.E. Lawrence sat here?”

Lawrence of Arabia?” Charlie whispered in awe. She grinned and looked around, eyes wide with wonder and excitement as they fell on the Great Pyramid. “Did you ever think you'd sit here and see this view?”

Jack laughed softly, taking a great deal of pleasure in Charlie's excitement. “I did. But do you want to know a secret?” He leaned closer to her, putting his lips right against the delicate shell of her left ear and whispered, his breath warm and ticklish against her skin. “I never thought I'd be sharing it with someone whose beauty beggars that of the view around me.”

Charlie shivered and turned her face to his, kissing his lips softly to hide her blush. “I never, ever thought I'd be here, Jack,” she told him when they sat back in their seats. “Hank and I used to talk about traveling to Europe when we were older.” She frowned softly at the memory of her brother and blinked rapidly to deny the tears that those memories brought. “He would have loved this place,” she said quietly.

He'd be so proud of you, Bunny,” Jack replied in an equally quiet voice, reaching over to take her hand and give it a gentle squeeze. He knew how hard Hank's death had hit her, how much she missed him, and he wanted to do something to take away some of that heartache. Seeing her face light up when she first saw the Pyramids had helped, but he knew just how deeply that pain ran.

A pair of waiters brought their mezze and Charlie stared at it in wonder. She did not recognize anything on the plates in front of her. Jack took pity on her and pointed to each dish and described it. There was hummus, a dip made of ground chickpeas and olive oil and flavored with roasted peppers; fattoush, a green salad covered with grilled eggplant and zucchini and small pieces of toasted pita, which were small, round grilled flatbreads; tabouli, another sort of salad made with bulgar wheat, parsley, tomatoes, cucumbers, mint, and olive oil; baba-ghanoug, which was sort of like hummus, but made with roasted eggplant and sesame seed oil; and koubeiba, torpedo-shaped croquettes made from minced lamb and bulgar wheat and fried in olive oil.

Charlie sampled a bit of everything and was surprised and delighted to discover that she loved it all and had seconds, except for the baba-ghanoug, but then she'd never been a fan of eggplant. After the waiters cleared away their plates, they quickly replaced them with an astounding selection of desserts. “You're trying to make me fat!” Charlie accused Jack, who laughed and shook his head.

No, I'm just trying to introduce you to the cuisine of your new home,” he replied and then named and described every dish again for her. There was fakhfakina, which was a salad made with figs, pomegranates, apricots, and oranges, mixed with their juices and cream and served chilled; baked sweet potatoes, smothered with cinnamon-flavored honey; and qara’asali, a baked concoction of pumpkin, milk, butter, flour and sugar that reminded Charlie of Thanksgiving pumpkin pies.

I cannot eat another bite,” Charlie said after trying everything and going back for seconds of the fakhfakina, which she decided she could live off forever. “I think you're going to have to carry me to our room.”

Jack smiled. “I could do that. In fact,” he said and stood, reaching down to draw her to her feet before scooping her up into his arms. “Shall we retire to our rooms, Mrs. Taylor?”

Charlie giggled when Jack picked her up and buried her face in his shoulder. “I didn't mean it, Jack!” she protested. “Put me down!”

No, ma'am, I will not. You said I'd have to carry you and that is what I'm going to do.” Nodding to the people still gathered in the hotel's terrace and tipping a wink at their smirking waiters, Jack carried Charlie through the hotel and to the elevators, which took them straight up to their suite. Once inside, he gently threw her down on their bed, undressed her, and did to her what Napoleon wished he could have done to Josephine, if only the Empress was as brave and beautiful as Charlie.

Valley of the Kings, Egypt
November 1922

This has to be it, Taylor,” Howard Carter said to Jack, three weeks into their final season in the Valley of the Kings. “Carnarvon is giving us this last season to find Tut and if we don't, he's pulling our funding and we'll be out in the cold. Six years out here and only a few bits of junk to show for it.”

Jack glanced once more at the collection of evidence spread out on the large map table in Carter's tent. There wasn't much in the way of concrete proof that Tut's tomb existed – a few pieces of faience pottery, a bit of gold foil, and a small cache of funerary items that bore Tutankhamun's seal gave a little credence to Carter's theory that the tomb had not yet been found. And the tiny village of workmen's huts and the calcite jars with Akhetaten-era carvings found at the entrance of another Pharaoh's tomb last season indicated that there had been extensive work done in the time not long after the Akhenaten's city had been abandoned. Carter had used these tenuous threads to convince Carnarvon to give him one more season. “But now we have those stairs, that door, and Carnarvon must feel that we've found something important. He's here, after all,” Jack pointed out. Then in a hushed, excited voice said, “We've found him, Howard. We've found Tut. I just know it.”

Well, we've found something, that's for certain. I won't invite Fate to insert her heavy hand into the proceedings just yet,” Carter said with a small smile. “Tomorrow we'll know for certain.”

The group – comprised of Carter, Jack, Charlie and twenty Egyptian diggers – had begun excavating the workmen's huts on the first of November, uncovering the huts quickly and spending the next four days documenting them, before the dig beneath could begin in earnest. Late on the afternoon of the fourth, a single step leading downward had been uncovered; then by mid-morning on the fifth, twelve steps had been uncovered and suddenly, right in front of them, the upper half of a blocked entrance could be seen. With Charlie's help – since she was much smaller than any of them men and could fit into tighter spaces – Carter looked for a royal seal but could only find the seal of the necropolis. Still, the design was of the Eighteenth Dynasty and theories began to spin out of control – they'd found another cache, or the tomb of a major noble who'd built in the Valley with royal consent, or perhaps a place where the Boy Pharaoh's body and its most precious equipment had been moved for its safety, either from flooding or tomb raiders.

Carter had his diggers cover up the steps and left a small group of those he trusted most to stand guard while he, Jack, and Charlie went back to Cairo to make arrangements, and most importantly, send word to Carnarvon that his gamble had paid off. Early on the morning of the sixth, Carter had asked Charlie to send a cable to Carnarvon in England. She composed a short, fairly vague message: "At last have made discovery; a tomb with seals intact; re-covered same for your arrival; congratulations." Three weeks later, on the afternoon of the twenty-third, George Herbert, the fifth Lord Carnarvon, and his daughter, Lady Evelyn Herbert, arrived at the dig.

Charlie was amazed at the English gentry. She had expected them to be snobby and cold and instead found them to be warm, generous people who worked right alongside Carter, Jack, and herself, getting their hands dirty and sharing meals with the natives. She and Evy – as the woman had insisted on being called – had even begun to form a friendship as both were happy to have female companionship in an otherwise male-dominated place.

The day after the Herbert's arrival in the Valley, the full flight of downward steps – all sixteen of them – had been uncovered and the expedition was faced with an intact door, complete with Tut's seals, which had been still been covered by rubble three weeks ago. The upper left portion of the doorway had been broken through by grave robbers, but the fact that the tomb had been resealed proved that it was not yet empty. Digging paused for a small celebration which lasted long into the night.

Charlie and Carter thoroughly photographed the door on the morning of the twenty-fifth and then it was carefully removed. A passageway emerged in the darkness, a passageway that was filled with limestone chips. The wind went out of everyone's sails, until Jack pointed out that the stones in the upper left portion of the rubble were of a different color. “Yes”, he said, “the tomb has been open and some things have probably been removed, but would they bother to go through all the trouble of sealing it again if it were empty?”

He's right, of course,” said Carnarvon. “This tomb has been broken into twice – probably once only a few years after it was sealed, and then more recently. The robbers could only have gotten away with small pieces; the holes through which they made their ingress and egress are far too small to accommodate anything else.”

The following afternoon had the entire passageway cleared and the group was once more confronted with a sealed doorway, identical to the first one. This door, too, showed signs that robbers had broken through. “I'm starting to think this is going to be another cache,” Carter said, “and not a tomb. The configuration is all wrong – the arrangement of the stairway, the entrance passage and the doors remind me the other cache. They found Tutankhamun's seals there, too.”

Well,” said Charlie. “There's only one way to know for certain. Open the door.”

With trembling hands, Carter made a tiny hole in the upper left corner. Darkness and blank space as far as an iron testing rod could reach showed that whatever lay beyond the door was empty, not filled in like the passageway they were now standing in had been. Candle tests as proof against noxious air were done and then Carter widened the hole a bit more and he peered inside.

Charlie reached for Jack and Evy's hands, finding them just as damp with nervous sweat as hers were. Carnarvon took a step forward, standing now very close to Carter's side. “Well, old man? Can you see anything?” he asked, finally unable to stand the suspense.

Yes,” Carter replied. “Wonderful things.”

The next morning, November the twenty-seventh, Carter and Charlie once more documented the seals and photographed the door before it was removed. The wall of the room – which was later called “the Antechamber” – opposite the entrance was piled floor to ceiling with gold. Couches, boxes, chairs, chariots, statues, and so much more, had been grouped together in barely organized chaos. On the right-hand wall stood two life-sized statues, presumably of the Boy King himself, standing guard over yet another sealed door that bore the signs of having been breached at least once before.

Carter, Jack, and Charlie began to look through the organized chaos of the artifacts collected together in the Antechamber. As they worked, Jack noticed yet another door – this one obviously breached but not sealed – hidden away behind the couches on the far wall. Since Charlie was the smallest member of the group, she was selected to explore what lay beyond. Carefully she crawled through the tiny hole, gripping an electric torch, leaving her husband, his boss, and his boss's boss behind, stooping and peering over her shoulder with breathless anticipation.

My God,” she whispered as she swept the room with her tiny light. If the Antechamber was organized chaos, this room – later called “the Annex” – was nothing more than pure pandemonium. Grave goods – faience pots, jewelry, a chariot, couches, chairs, tables, statues, even a small barque had been piled and tossed willy-nilly. There was no room for even tiny Charlie to maneuver in the mass of stuff. “It's so crowded in here,” she called out to Jack and Carter. “I don't know how we're going to document everything in here. There's no way we can do this in a single season!”

That night, Carnarvon, Carter, Jack, Charlie, and Evy sat down together to discuss the prodigious task ahead of them. Just clearing out the Antechamber would be a monumental undertaking. Each and every item had first to be photographed in situ, then sketched with a written documentation made on correspondingly numbered cards. Then the item was noted on a ground plan of the tomb. All of this had to be done before items could be removed from the tomb and loaded into wooden boxes to be transported by train to Cairo, where each piece would be further documented by the Cairo Museum’s curator. After this, the Curator would decide which pieces would be retained in Egypt, and which would be sent to the Egypt Exploration Society's other facilities around the world.

It's like a game of pick-up sticks,” Jack said around a mouthful of tabouli and pita. “How will we ever move those sandals, for example? They're being held together by 3,000 years of habit alone; the threads have all long since disintegrated.”

Carter nodded and sipped his tea. “It will prove to be a matter of extreme difficulty, but I've no doubts that we'll be able to make a proper go at it. We can undertake an elaborate system of props and supports to hold one object in place while another is removed. Then we can place them on stretchers, wrap them in gauze and bandages and remove them that way.”

Yes,” Carnarvon agreed. “That is a capital suggestion. We will use another tomb, perhaps Seti's, as a conservation laboratory, as well as a dark room for you to use in developing your photographs, Mrs. Taylor.” Charlie readily agreed and over the next seven weeks, the Antechamber was slowly emptied of its contents, including the two life-sized statues.

Finally, on February the seventeenth, 1923, the Antechamber was cleared and Carter began dismantling the sealed door that stood between the two statues. After approximately ten minutes of work, he'd made a hole large enough to insert an electric torch into. He was presented with a wall – floor to ceiling – of pure gold. “We've found the sepulchral chamber,” he said in an awed, shaky voice.

After the door and most of the wall surrounding it were removed, they discovered that the chamber contained a massive shrine made from wood, gilded with gold foil and inlaid with a brilliant blue porcelain – Egyptian faience at its finest. Charlie remarked later that it was the exact shade of her husband's eyes. The shrine was sixteen feet long, ten feet wide, and nine feet tall. There were only eighteen inches of clearance between the walls of the shrine and the walls of the chamber itself.

Over the next two months, work on the items recovered in the Antechamber continued. Carter and Carnarvon both determined that the conversation of these artifacts took precedence over dismantling and moving the shrine. As the group worked steadily, word spread of their amazing find, and soon the entrance to the tomb was surrounded by hundreds of tourists, newspaper reporters and photographers, and even a motion picture camera crew. When stretchers laden with artifacts covered in gauze were carried out of the tomb, the workers were met with cheers, applause, and the pop of camera flashes. Photographs of Carnarvon, Carter, Jack, Charlie, and even Evy were published in just about every newspaper in the entire world, making them instant heroes and celebrities.

Egyptian fever gripped the world, insinuating itself into every facet of life. Masses of mail and telegrams deluged the team, and people tried to use their money and their influence to arrange tours of the tomb. Even fashion and architecture began to reflect the obsession; clothing with ancient Egyptian influences began appearing in magazines from New York to Paris, and Grauman's Theatre in Los Angeles, and even Lenin's tomb in Moscow, were built with obvious Egyptian styles.

As the rainy season began in late March, work tapered off in order to protect the expedition from a plague of mosquitoes, whose bite brought with it the very deadly threat of malaria. Carnarvon received one such bite on his cheek, but it was not malaria that killed him on April fifth, 1923. It was a blood infection due to aggravating the bite by shaving over it that ended his life and his sponsorship of Carter's digs. It was also an awful foreshadowing of what would happen just a week later.

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