The journey to Egypt was almost as cumbersome as the thought of having to live there. We travelled by boat via Italy before reaching Benghazi. The rest of the journey to Cairo was made by train. I hated it. The train seemed to be travelling past the same scenery for hours; miles of rough sand and barren landscape extending out into the horizon; a wide expanse of nothingness. There were no clouds; the sun seared everything it touched and the air was stale and putrid.
I longed to return home to England, to feel fresh air on my skin and hear a soft summer breeze rustling through the trees in our garden back in Dorset. I missed our house, I missed the greenery and I missed all the friends and acquaintances we had left behind. I dreaded the life I would have to lead in the sickening heat of the Egyptian desert, following my father around like the good, obedient little daughter I was meant to be.
It was 1922 and I was twenty-one years of age. Egypt was furthest I had ever been from England. My father had succumbed to a lustful obsession with Egyptology since my mother had died a year earlier. We were moving to Egypt for a few months at least, while he pursued his new hobby like a little boy with a brand new toy. I thought at that point that the whole thing was simply throwing money away. Not that we were ever short of money, we were extremely wealthy. But I felt he was still in some strange haze of instability following my mother's death, and it annoyed me intensely that it had grown to the extent of us packing up everything and moving to a foreign country.
"We are not too far now, Bella. Look, the pyramids are visible from here."
I looked out of the train window behind me, in the direction my father was looking. Two peaks were emerging above the horizon slowly as we advanced towards the city.
"Magnificent," he said. "Simply magnificent. Bella, look."
I looked at his eyes and saw the reason why I had kept quiet about my discontent at being uprooted so mercilessly. There was something rather mystical and spell-binding that overcame my father whenever he spoke of Egypt, as if it were seducing him or bewitching him. I had never known him to be so passionate about anything like that before.
We were immediately taken to a hotel which stood proudly just beneath the great pyramids of Giza. It was an impressive and grand establishment, with suitably Arabic decor. Gold-leaf symbols were plastered over walls, ceilings and floors.
Eager young houseboys rallied around and tended to our every need as we were shown to our rooms. Father's room had a glorious perspective over the neighbouring pyramids.
"Just look at that, Belle. Can you believe that thousands of Egyptian slaves built those tremendous monuments with their bare hands?"
"I'd die partaking in any form of mild exercise in this heat," I answered, fanning myself with my hat as I sat on his bed.
He sat down next to me.
"Now, Arabella, I know you don't much fancy this venture of ours. But please try to look upon it with a bit of excitement. You will soon settle in...and you never know, you may even learn to love Egyptology as much as I," he said, patting my arm.
"I'll try," I said.
"That's my girl," he said, kissing my head. "Now then, off to get ready. We have to meet my trusty team in an hour."
Father's 'trusty team' was his group of excavators that would be working for him for the next few months. Father knew nothing of the finer details of excavating, naturally. So he was funding a group of expert diggers and Egyptology fanatics in an effort to realise his dream of finding a significant artefact or two. They were all men, of course. I couldn't decide whether this was a good thing or not.