April 23, 1924: Journal Entry

23 April, 1924

My goodness, I believe that my life has become fodder for an adventure story!  Perhaps I ought to give up on archaeology entirely—goodness knows it would be safer—and concentrate on writing novels about my experiences.   Of course, in order to write a story, one must understand the mysteries that the reader does not. And therein lies the fundamental problem when it comes to such a change in profession: I have not a clue as to what has happened or why!

Perhaps a list is in order.  I wonder if my jumbled thoughts can be ordered in any coherent fashion, though…

Points to consider:
  •  Ungodly shrieking conversation of the jackals.   Is this natural?   Is this some sort of omen?  (Is this question valid at all or do I merely want to blame those hideous creatures because of the fright that they gave me?)  ((Purchase ear plugs!!!))
  • What can make a man stiff and immobile, yet not cause him to overbalance?   Drugs would surely not produce such an effect—at least I cannot believe they would, from what little I know.  Hypnotism, perhaps?   I have never experienced it myself, but have been told by several friends that it does indeed work.   Who am I to scoff at it?
  • What kind of thief goes to all the trouble of sneaking into the encampment only to be so foolish as to cause a noise loud enough to wake the people around him?  The answer: one who was hired to do the job by someone else, it would seem, and someone who was certainly no professional himself. It is possible that the thief acted alone, of course, but unlikely, I think. 
Oh, it is no use!  I am simply too edgy and tense to sit here and write any further.  I must go and do something, must try and unravel this mystery by discovering more clues rather than staring at my observations on paper.  There will be a time for messy lists at a later time.

I will take a little time to write Peter a note wishing him a swift recovery and assuring him that I will visit soon.  Then I believe that a trip to the antiquities tent is in order.  With all that has happened, I do not think that anyone has taken inventory of the damage.  On that subject, I spoke with the Major this morning and told him that I would be more than willing to pay for the construction of an actual building to house the antiquities, but of course that will take time to construct.   Money does not always buy rapidity here in India, much to my disappointment in this case.   Soon, though, I hope that we will all be able to sleep without fearing another rude invasion.


da solomon said...

In the morning light, the scene seems hardly anything like what she had stumbled and struggled through the night before. It is calm. The Indus River runs silently somewhere in the distance; behind her, the sounds of people hacking at fresh earth. The patch of hard soil and short, sparse grasses between Irene's tent and the tent in which the finds are stored is much smaller than remembered, and hardly threatening.

The antiquities tent is not far enough away. She touches the tear in its flap where the bullet had passed – something in her expected the hole to be hot, but of course it is not. Irene lifts the flap and passes from the sunny outdoors to the cool, still interior. The tent flap falls behind her.

Crates in rows, as if waiting in queue to be filled; an electric lantern sits on the little desk towards the center of the area; beneath the lantern, Jim's catalog of bricks; all these things Irene sees in the dim light. The wind rolls along the fabric of the tent sending waves across the walls. Across the dim space, light shines in through another tear, and then flickers into shadow again. Irene approaches it. She notes some broken bits of clay or terracotta along her path, but puts off going through them until she has light enough to see them properly. First –

It is another bullet hole, and it takes but little inspiration for Irene to peer through it. She hooks her finger into it just enough to keep the tent from rustling in the wind. The sun warms her fingertip. From this vantage, the Major's tent is alone in a vast scrubland. To either side of it grows tall grasses – the thicker brush picks up some ways beyond it, much closer to the river. It looks like the home of a pioneer or an explorer, clearly not in a strategic location where McCormick might easily command his men, who are all housed on the other side of camp. That said, he did seem capable of dealing with an intruder without any aid at all.

Irene steps carefully around the broken bits and reaches for the lamp on the table. The wick glows, the light swells and fills the room. Among the broken bits, Irene can now make out several rusty spots on the bare earth. There was no great dramatic pool of lifeblood; just a few innocent drops and no other sign of the grievous wounds traded amongst living, bleeding persons a few hours prior.

Inspecting each bit carefully before placing it into her open palm, Irene quickly determines that the pieces are not – thank goodness! – from the Pashupati amulet. They are decidedly from one of the dozens of bricks. This fragment of the mystery solved, Irene allows herself to take in grosser details of the scene: There is the half-opened crate from which it was snatched. There are more pieces of brick nearby. She adds these pieces to the pile on the desk, and when she is confident that she has recovered all the little chunks and chips, she sits down with them and brings her face close.

She is good at this. She studies the crumbling planes of each piece and begins to visualize the facets of the brick. It bears an impression, which she pieces together. Many of the bricks bear one or two glyphs in the same style as those deceitful scratches on the Pashupati amulet. While she is uncertain about the number of different glyphic combinations found on the bricks, Irene is aware that Humphries has only catalogued a few of them. Presumably, they are maker's marks, denoting a quarry or craftsman.

Why, thinks Irene, it will be only a very small matter to look up the details of this piece in Jim's notes. How irresponsible of him to have left them here! Not that they would have been much good, written in English, to the thieves. Irene pulls the covers of the notebook apart. She references the crate number, and with no problem at all finds an obsessively complete entry on the brick in question. Good work, Dr. Humphries. She reads snatches of his notes aloud to herself. "Uncovered from the mound side of the trench – standard length (five and a half inches by three inches by two and three-quarters inches) – significantly heavier (one pound eight ounces versus one pound five and one half ounces) – the impression on the brick is so far unique – uncovered twenty-two April by J D." There is a rendition of the pair of marks scored upon the brick. This time, Irene can read no meaning in them.

McCormick had said that the thieves did not actually manage to take anything at all. There was nothing found on either of them, then? Had they simply meant to vandalize the artifacts? Then why this specific brick? Why such deadly intent? Irene is certain now that something highly unusual had taken place.

Oh, she feels like she might also be good at this.

John Daniel opens the tent flap, flooding the room with light. "Miss Howell! I see you're busy!"

(Irene passed an archaeology check and a library use check. Not all rolls have been revealed.)

Irene Howell said...

Irene was not sure if she was glad or sorry that the writing on the brick did not reveal its meaning to her eager eyes. It certainly confirmed her suspicion that something unnatural had happened the other day and that, for some reason, the conditions for hallucinations—how ridiculous that sounded!—were not right today. She did not like to dwell on that moment, but she knew that she would have to think on it seriously about it in the future. More than that, she would have to look at the amulet again and see if anything, er, happened when she did so.

But not now. Her eyes did not even want to look in the general direction of that box. Something about it worried her, though goodness knows that could be an effect of her hallucination.

Shaking her head a little bit, she concentrated on the brick and its written description. When the echoes of her voice had faded away, she was frowning deeply. Uncovered the twenty-second? But how on earth had the intruders—it did not seem right to refer to them as ‘thieves’ anymore—known that this particular piece had been dug up? It was no coincidence, that she was sure of. Someone on the dig, someone who had seen the brick and its inscription (or Humphries’ notes) had passed the information to those men. But why? The key to everything lay in discovering the meaning of those frustratingly elusive symbols.

Irene had just begun to search for a blank piece of paper (rather, a stack of it) and a pen so that she could make a copy of the glyphs—all of them—when a beam of light proclaimed the entry of another person into the tent. At first, Irene frowned ever so slightly, for she was not sure that this would be a welcome intrusion, but her face brightened when she saw that is was not the Major or the somewhat anti-social Humphries, but the very personable John Davies.

She quite liked John Daniel, not only because he had some sensible political views, but because she thought he really was a brilliant scholar as well. Like most men, he seemed to default to the “typical” behavior of males when a woman encroaches upon their particular profession, which is to say that he was kind and courteous (perhaps too much so), but not quite convinced. Irene was well aware that she had much to learn, but she was very confident that she did belong here. No time better than the present to begin convincing him of her merits.

“It’s Irene, please,” she corrected him with her most charming smile.

And she realized at that moment that, as with Howard Carter in the past, she was treading the thin line between academic and romantic admiration. Either she had the unfortunate tendency to confuse the two, or she simply had bad luck with relationships in general.

“I hope you don’t mind,” she went on after only a brief pause and gestured to the reconstructed brick. “I was curious as to the extent of the damage, and when I saw the pieces…well, I was always good at puzzles, not that I ever expected that talent to have any practical application.”

She was eager to tell him about her suspicions, but restrained herself, at least for now. What she had to say would have to be kept quiet, and she was not sure if Davies was the right confidant. He had discovered the brick, after all, and there was no reason why he could not have been the one to leak the information. She really did not want to believe that, though.

“It is sad, is it not,” she commented in seeming innocence, “that these bricks were only pulled from the soil yesterday. To have one almost destroyed before it could be fully studied is indeed a pity, but we have the notes, thank goodness, and nearly all of the broken bits as well.”

Her eyes rested on his face, and she kept her expression as friendly as possible. What she was really hoping to catch a glimpse of was whether or not he thought that anything was amiss, or if he understood what she was driving at. In all likelihood, he probably considered the whole affair to be a bungled burglary, but she had to hope it might be otherwise. If he did not seem likely to give credence to her ideas, then she knew she had only one person left to go to: Peter.

da solomon said...

John rocked his head in that typically Indian manner that indicated to Western sensibilities a vague composite of 'yes,' 'no,' and 'I don't know,' all at the same time. "By all means – it is a tragedy and you are being responsible only. I was going to just check in on things myself. Quite good work, even if it is only half-reconstructed!" Backlit by the daylight and smiling, John brought with him a beatific air of surety quite unlike the aggressive (but at the time welcome) authority exerted by McCormick the previous evening. It was easy-going, confident in its place; it did not need to bark and shout, and it did not extend itself through other men. "I have heard that you and Peter had an adventure last night. Too bad about Peter; but the men say that you knocked the thief out with your bare hands!" He seemed naïve to her implication. Irene was, however, uncertain whether her suggestion had been too oblique or if John Daniel was holding back his own unvoiced concerns.

"Well!" He entered the tent. "To have it even half-put-together like this is a feat!" His sunlit aura faded in the glow of the lantern – as he neared it, the radiant light slipped around his body and crept up his chest, settling under his chin, into his nose, beneath his eyes. He now appeared less deific and more goblinish. "But one brick? It's simply ridiculous to go to all that effort for one brick. Meaning, to steal it. It is only valuable for what educated people can learn from it. What desperation!" He approached the open crate. "If nothing else, higher standards of education in this country would produce more discerning burglars." He cursorily peeked inside the box. With a sigh, he replaced the lid. "Pity. I should check in with Jim. I suppose that there might have been some significance to the damaged piece. He would know best."

Stepping back into the sun to leave, John paused and turned again. "To waste one's life with a trifle . . . Irene, if you'd like to take a break from straining your eyes in the dark, you could come with me. If you haven't taken any, we might have some tea after talking with Professor Humphries." Without waiting for her reply, he appended his suggestion cornily: "Or one might open this place a little – that may shed some light on things!"

(Irene failed her psychology check.)

Irene Howell said...

Irene was not convinced that the value of the bricks lay only in what they could learn from them. Anything unique, like the bricks, unremarkable as they might seem from an aesthetic standpoint, could still be desirable to a collector, or to a museum. Private collectors as well as men working for a museum would cheat and lie and work through the black market to get what they wanted. That was certainly a possibility here, though Irene was still leaning heavily towards the intent to destroy rather than to steal.

“It was pure luck,” she said modestly when he mentioned her role in stopping the thief. In truth, there had been a bit of skill in it, but there was no need to point that out. She was proud with herself in the best sense, and therefore did not really care what anyone else thought. Though it was nice to be appreciated.

“It may have been more than one brick if the intruders had not been careless and woken us,” Irene said with a small shrug, but left it there.

Now was not the time for speculation, both because she had no idea what John was thinking and because he’d had a very good point about going to see Humphries. Even if John was not easy to read, she might have better luck with Jim. Either way, it was only right to be thorough in her haphazard little investigation, and that meant that it would be wise to speak with Dr. Humphries. Tea afterward was an added bonus.

Irene looked rather thoughtful at John’s last comment, for his point was a valid one even if it had been meant as a quip. “Perhaps you are right about bringing light in. There may be something we’re missing in the darkness. I am a somewhat obsessive person,” she admitted honestly, though with a trace of chagrin, “and I am afraid that this little mystery has me quite captivated. Especially those strange glyphs. I would like to copy them later this afternoon and study them on my own time. It might come to nothing, but I’ve found that I have an affinity for languages. Not to try at all would be more foolish than failing miserably—which I am sure I will do.”

Realizing that she had not answered his question, her cheeks went through a slight, but noticeable change of color. “I apologize; my mind is somewhat jumbled today, as is embarrassingly evident. I would like nothing more than to go with you to see Dr. Humphries and I never say ‘no’ to having good company with my tea,” she said with a cheery smile.

With one last glance at her work, she scooted the chair back and brushed off her hands on her dark blue trousers, smiling a little as dark grey finger marks appeared. One glance at the rest of her outfit told her that there were few places that were not covered by a thin sheen of powder. She wasn’t one to worry about a little dirt, though, so she stood up, brushed the worst of the dust off briskly, and joined John at the door to the tent.

“I would take your arm, but I fear you would end up looking as grimy as I do,” she joked, giving him a chance to be spared from dirt by association.

da solomon said...

"Oh, everything is dusty here, Irene," John insisted as he took her arm anyway. "This is just the beginning of another long, dusty day. So – chale, chalo?" he proposed. He was just a little shorter than she, and, as they exited the tent side-by-side, his slightly rolling gait made it just a little awkward to keep alongside him.

John and Jim's tents were beside one another on the opposite end of the camp from Major McCormick's, amidst the soldiers' quarters. The men were up, and several of them were crowded around a fire, seasoning chai. John greeted them as a group in Urdu, and they each nodded, bowed, or waved to Irene. One of them called after her, "It is said that you are a ferocious woman!" The soldiers all laughed and gesture with their clay cups at the man who had been posted to her tent. "She needs no guard!" he says.

The tent where Humphries stayed was on the outskirt of this little cluster, and some distance beyond it was the dig site itself, where Irene could make out the forms of the workers, wrapped from head to toe in their blankets. Some of them were up, too, and had started their own fire.

"Hullo! Professor Humphries, are you awake yet!"
A hushed voice from within the closed tent answered him. "Yes, Professor Daniel! Hurry, come in! You know what happened last night, don't you?"
"Of course I do, I have Irene right here with me." John lifted the tent flap and directed Irene in before him. "You know," he continued to Jim, "that she and Peter laid low one of the thieves, don't you?"
"I do." Humphries was himself wrapped in a blanket and sitting up on his charpai. "They won't stop talking about it." He closed his notebook and sat his pen down. "What can I do for you just now?"
John took a seat on a stool near the bed. "Well, we'd like to have a word with you about some of the bricks that were unearthed yesterday. One of them was destroyed by the thieves. Irene has been reconstructing it, and . . . well," he turned his attention to Irene, "what would you like to know?"
"Wait." Humphries interrupted. "I'll need my other notebook. It's with the antiquities – it is alright, isn't it?"
"I just saw it. I'll go fetch it," John said. "The two of you just wait a moment."

Irene was left sitting alone with Professor Humphries. As soon as the gregarious John Daniel departed, Humphries turned his eyes to the ground and waited. He said nothing for several seconds. Finally, without bringing his eyes up to hers, he asked Irene, "Um, you're interested in a broken brick? Can you say . . . which one?"

Irene tried ineffectually to describe the brick to Humphries, who for his part sat in silence and listened. He gave her no further prompts to speak, though Irene distinctly felt that he wished her to save him the trouble of talking. After several minutes, just as she was beginning to wonder what was taking John so long, he reappeared, notebook in hand. "I was chatting with the men," he said by way of apology. "Here are your notes – I believe it was this one," he shows the open pages first to Irene, then to Humphries, "that was broken. I dug it up, according to what you have written."

"That's too bad. I had thought that it might have been a piece of a foundation."
"Of a building?"
"Yes, it was heavier than the others, and the mark on it was unique. I thought that it might have been made of denser material, such as what might be fit to use as the foundation for a large structure. It was just a guess, though. We don't have much to go on. Do we know who the thieves were? Were they after anything in particular? Or just vandals?"

"Haven't the foggiest idea."

Irene Howell said...

The news that this was likely a foundation stone only furthered Irene’s interest in the brick and what its secretive symbols proclaimed. Surely there was some unique information on it, a blessing perhaps, or an explanation of when or why the structure was erected.

“Was there any evidence of an offering near the brick?” she inquired, referring to the practice, in some civilizations, of consecrating the ground or building to the gods before construction.

There was not much else that she wanted to ask at that time. It seemed best to concentrate on the burglary and its motives, though she was pretty well convinced that the purpose of the bricks or something about what they represented had triggered their destruction, and thus there was an unavoidable link. If she could not find the answer through one channel, then she’d try the other, or a combination of the two.

But, she could not refrain from requesting that she be allowed to make her own copies of the symbols on the bricks, for her personal study and record. Even if Jim might find her suggestion pretentious—though she was as humble as possible, even self-deprecating, about her chances of divining anything from the glyphs—surely he could not refuse her. Though the chance was small that she might be able to help, it was worth due consideration and investigation. Besides that, it was probably wise to have another copy of the symbols, just in case any further trouble befell the antiquities, or Jim’s notes.

da solomon said...

"Evidence of an offering?" Prof. Humphries mulled the question, cupping his chin in his hand. "We've found animal remains, specifically fragments of caprine bones. There hasn't been enough to determine if there's any link with the site, or if they're just animals from a herder's flock that happened to have died at the site, or were washed there by flooding action.

"And," he added, "It's no trouble at all if you wish to copy the notes. Please do apply yourself to them and do inform me if you learn anything. They could have been stolen last night! Out here, books can meet with all kinds of gruesome ends. Moths, dew, mold, dust, sand, dirt, termites" (he cringed) "sun bleaching, dessication, dropping, banging, and bruising . . . last but not least, it seems, thievery."