Villa Mandofia, Cairo
January 6, 1920
My dearest Frances-
The long gap in the line of home letters, caused apparently by the storms, is at last ended and I have now beside me a very welcome series I assure you. Charles’s letter will tell you how welcome they were, because the unfortunate delay happened just at Christmas time with the proverbial perversity of such misfortunes. I have now your letters of November 27 (which was 39 days in reaching me), November 29, December 2, December 4 and December 7, which last is numbered one; besides Jamie’s of December 2 and Astrid’s of the same date. You tell me of the beginnings of your winter, with the children eager to reach the first snow; of your Thanksgiving Day and the pretty table decorations which you made of forest leaves, and many other home happenings which I assure you are very eagerly read by a wanderer who has had no home news for three weeks just at the holiday season, when thoughts of home will not yield to work. I am glad to hear that the vexations and anxieties of settling your mother’s estate are now passed. I was sure it could be settled so, and never had any confidence that her will would be worth anything, as I wrote you. You do quite right to go to the rest and quiet of the ladies’ dining room at the University Club, and I hope you will not fail to go there whenever you are downtown at lunch time. When are we to begin doing things the easiest way, if we don’t do it now? I have tried to carry this doctrine through on this trip, and indeed I am obliged to do so. That reminds me that I am not sure whether or not in the hurry of my stay in Paris, I wrote you that besides my little wrist watch, I found opportunity to get a first class Patek-Phillippe watch at a low price just before I took the train from Paris to Venice. It is a great satisfaction to know that I can go to a train by this watch without fear of missing it.
I am very much relieved every time I think of the plentiful stock of coal in our bins; for it is uncomfortable enough here as soon as the sun sinks. We light a petroleum heater at sun down every evening, but we have been having trouble to get the petroleum. Mohammed had to wait in line for two hours the last time he got it. What a shame that the university should be hampered by shortage of coal.
Have no anxiety about Mrs. Warren. I could not give her a minute, if she were to happen in right now; but I do not think there will be any danger. We are leaving soon for Luxor, where we are going to live in the house built over in the cemetery by Morgan for the Metropolitan Expedition, and after that we sail very soon for India and Babylonia. I hardly think she will be able to get her fingers on me. I enjoy all the quaint little sayings of our little daughter, of which you mention several in these last letters.
You can’t make them too numerous. How I wish I could be there to hear them! Tell the little dear I am very much pleased with the Christmas card she made for me, and I have it here on my desk. I will try to write to Jamie also, and acknowledge his letters, which I am always very glad indeed to get. I believe this Christmas letter makes three I have received since I last wrote him. But I don’t forget him and I am very glad to hear he has been doing well at school. Of course I was much pleased with Baby’s letter too, and I have read them both to Mr. Bull, who liked them also.
I have written Charles a long letter, so that I must cut this a little or neglect the writing that awaits attention on my desk. The programme of the last week since I wrote you last has been chiefly the examination of the Bircher collection which is a very heavy task. I have now finished the selection of possible purchases and am trying to arrange prices, another heavy and exacting task. Then comes invoice making and checking off for the packer. Besides this there is the buying for the Art Institute, and going through other collections, where I thought I had finished when the additional money came from both the University and the Institute. Meantime I try also to work in the Museum. Bull and I have been at work on the magnificent encrusted coffin of Ikhnaton, endeavoring to recover its inscriptions which are of the greatest interest, As usual the publication (by the French - though of course nothing must be said about it) is unusable, and I rejoice that I am not puzzling my brains in Haskell over the unspeakably bad copies of Daressy on the printed page, but have before me the sheet gold on which the original inscriptions are charmingly incised. On asking about the body of Ikhnaton I was told that nothing had ever been done about it since its examination by Eliot Smith; but that it lay in a packing box in a magazine. Thither Firth, one of the new men and rather keener than the rest, took me to see it. He pulled a rough box out from under a table and on opening it we found the bones of Ikhnaton. It was a curious experience to lift his skull from the box and endeavor to realize all that it had once harbored. On turning over the lower jaw I found that one wisdom tooth was still embedded in the gums which had partially shrunk away and exposed it. The teeth were powerful and in splendid condition, except that someone had let the skull fall and had broken one of the lower front teeth. We turned to work on the coffin with renewed interest. An anatomist is now working on the body and it will soon be properly prepared and restored to the coffin down the front of which in a sumptuous golden band, runs his mutilated name, to which are added the words: “the beautiful child of the sun (Aton), who here lives forever and forever, and is true in the sight of earth and sky.” It makes my blood boil to think of a slipshod scholar making nonsense of an inscription like that.
Our doings otherwise have not been of special interest. We have been out to dine with the Quibells again, to meet a young captain Cresswell, one of the British inspectors of antiquities in Syria, who proved a very interesting young man. Sunday we lunched at the Mohammed Ali Club with young Vareker of the Foreign Office, and afterward we went with Greg to meet his wife at the zoo, where you and Charles used to go. Afterward we had tea at the Gregs and rode back to town on our wheels by moonlight. The next morning as I was standing in front of Lord Allenby’s office waiting to see his aide de camp, Mr. Thomas, Allenby;s secretary came out and told me that Lord and Lady Allenby had just left for their great trip to the upper equatorial Nile, whence they will not return for six weeks. Lady Allenby had told me all about it when I took Bull in to meet her. Thomas told me she expressed much distress to learn that I would not be here when she returned to share in her trip to Sakkara but I assured him my regret must be greater than hers. There, I will not write any more gossip, but go and turn in for a good long night’s rest. I do hope you will turn over a new leaf and do the same every night; but I fear there is no hope, for every letter I get shows that you are sitting up late. I should dearly hate to lose the letters, but do try to go to bed. It is the difference between success and failure, health and sickness. Do try.
I shall soon begin to look for letters with accounts of your Christmas doings. Bull sends you many greetings and good wishes of the New Year. It is very pleasant to have him here, and I am fortunate indeed if I must be away from home at all, to have so pleasant and congenial a companion. He has not a single unpleasant habit or trait, and is always the same pleasant and kindly soul. Well, good night, my dear wife. The months are passing slowly but they are passing, and I am about to write to Cook’s London office engaging passage for the return voyage! Think of that! I shall ask them to get me reservations for about the 20th of August, or perhaps a little earlier, and as soon as they send me the name of the ship and the date I will let you know. It does me more good to think about that than anything I have done since I left home. So good night, my dearie. Kiss the little folks and be of good cheer. Always your devoted
For the full story of my exciting trip you should come to the special exhibit “Pioneers to the Past: American Archaeologists in the Middle East, 1919-1920,” at the Oriental Institute.
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