S.S. "Mantua," Eastern Mediterranean
June 16, 1920
It seems quite impossible that I am really embarked for home! It is a heavenly summer morning, with a wonderful blue sea all around us, and the usual Mediterranean sunshine. I have just breakfasted with Mrs. Morrice and Lady Allenby, and except for a short daily session with this machine, I am going to rest for ten whole days! Just think of it! Ten days with no responsibilities, no telegrams, no packing cases, no check-books, and no antiquity dealers, — but just fresh air and sunshine, and rest on a summer sea! I looked out on the canal as we ran along it last night, trying to realize all that had happened since we steamed through it on the 18th of last February to begin an untried journey entirely around Arabia. It all seemed as unreal as a dream, — particularly the return across the desert, which completed our circumnavigation of Arabia. And somehow or other, in spite of myself I have been plunged into the very midst of the great imperial game of the powers! I certainly never could have done it if I had tried.
At 11:30 last night the aides-de-camp came and got Mrs. Morrice and myself (Dr. Phillips and poor General Clayton had long since gone) and took us to a long lithe government launch which lay waiting for us at the pier. Then one of the aides-de-camp went back and got the High Commissioner and his lady, and her maid, and presently we shot out among the numerous shipping of the port toward the brilliantly lighted liner which lay some way out coaling. It was a lovely star light night and the cool breeze due to our rapid motion was delightfully refreshing after the long hot summer day in Egypt. The coal barges interfered with our getting at the gangway, and evidently the captain was not informed of the hour of the High Commissioner’s coming. A gang of coal-heavers going on board prevented our reaching the gangway. The aides-de-camp almost fell into the water trying to shunt off these workmen, and the ranking youngster, who had charge of the arrangements was presently white with rage as he found there was no ship’s officer at the gangway to assist us on board or receive the High Commissioner. Allenby took it quietly more amused than otherwise as we finally reached the deck and pushed our way through an unconcerned crowd who seemingly had no knowledge of his coming. The captain was nowhere to be found nor could the aide-de-camp find the purser to show us to our rooms. After the magnificence of our departure from Cairo, the contrast was shocking! The aides-de-camp presently found Lady Allenby’s room, and as soon as she had been settled there, Lord Allenby with his never failing kindness turned to the aide-de-camp and said, “Where is Dr. Breasted’s room? I want to know if it is comfortable and satisfactory.” At that moment a manager of the Line appeared, gave me the number of my room, and told me I was to have it alone. I went down and found it a comfortable outside room with only one berth. When I came up again all had changed as in the twinkling of an eye. The captain and the ship’s officials and officers of the Line were grouped about the High Commissioner, smiling and bowing, the aide-de-camp had been suddenly transformed from rage into beaming good nature, the usual ceremonious atmosphere around the High Commissioner had reappeared and all was in order again! Allenby asked me if my room was satisfactory and then strolled off down the gangway for a last word on the nature of the errand I was to carry out. He quite embarrassed me with the kind things he said, and I told him so. “Well”, he said, “you must live up to the reputation I have given you”. I purposely misconstrued him, saying, “You mean on board this ship”, for he had told what he had said to the captain. “No”, he responded, “in London. All joking aside, it is of the highest importance that the facts you have told me this evening should be plainly brought before the Prime Minister and Lord Curzon, and you have the opportunity to do a very important piece of work. For they do not realize the situation at all. They do not understand that Arab feeling, once so friendly to the English, is now stale and hostile toward us. They do not understand that the Arabs and the Christians are now united against the Jews and that the present policy is aggravating this anti-Jewish hostility to a dangerous degree. Do not fail to make this clear to them as you have done to me. And above all tell them of the danger of Arab union with Bolshevism in the north, as you told me this evening”. I must confess to a very depressing sense of helplessness as I caught a glimpse of the responsibility he was putting on me.
It was long after midnight. The shouts of men, the clanging rattle of chain hoists, the crunching of many an avalanche of coal, the smell of coal dust and over all the quiet stars seemed to me to suggest the serene indifference of the tranquil powers that seem to look down so unconcernedly on the strife and turbulence of our present earthly situation. I went up to the uppermost deck, which was large and spacious and seemed lifted above the dust and noise and there I walked for a long time. As I came around a corner supposing I was entirely alone, I suddenly ran into Allenby and his wife having a last little stroll together. We passed a few facetious exchanges and I went on feeling much relieved. A few minutes later I saw Allenby’s launch pushing off from the side of the ship, under the great electric lights. He waved his arm at his wife who watched him from the upper deck and his launch shot away and disappeared in the darkness. So I went below to my stateroom, but being unable to sleep I unpacked my things for an hour, and toward three o’clock I finally dropped asleep in a very uncomfortably stuffy atmosphere churned by the electric fan; for the coal dust made it impossible to keep the port hole open.
The ship is large and comfortable, but I must make some shift for a chair. They do not have chairs for rent on these oriental liners. Everybody brings his own chair. I find everybody is standing on his head for me. Evidently Allenby said every necessary word. In the dining room the chief steward had a selection of seats reserved for Lady Allenby’s party, which consists of Mrs. Morrice, the aide-de-camp’s wife, Lady Allenby and yours truly. We had a pleasant breakfast together, and now, as I have about caught up with this chronicle, I will begin my ten days’ loafing!
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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