Following a three hour train ride from Cairo, the men emerged from the Ismailia Railway Station shortly after 2.00pm. Positioning their hats to block the scathing, hot glare, they began to walk the short distance down the wide open road to the Moascar camp. Upon reaching the gates, the three friends exchanged hand shakes before taking separate routes to their respective regiments.
William developed a spring in his step at the sight of the camp’s sparse, temporary landscape. His eyes ran down line after line of peaked white tents that resembled rows of crops in an expansive, sandy field. He felt reassured by what he already knew, that military life suited him. He loved the structure and organization, he enjoyed nurturing his men to reach their full potential. He likened his work to that of a farmer, planting seeds and feeding them until they were healthy grown plants, ready for harvest. The sense of satisfaction he derived was the same, except that in the field of war, the end result could be dire. But, then again, he was well aware that the results of floods and drought could be just as detrimental to crops. ‘It is all in God’s hands,’ He reasoned. ‘tis all in God’s hands.’
He kept ploughing loose sand, listening to the dead quiet that blanketed the desert camp. Despite the occasional drifting sounds of horses and gunshots in the distance, they were dulled by space and wind. Life there was a far cry from the chaos that existed in Egyptian cities and towns. The noise, the busyness, the aggressive nature of men fighting to eke out a living, were exasperating. Despite the little frustrations experienced along the way, he enjoyed his four days of exploration. He was in awe of the country’s history. Most of all, he enjoyed the company of Stevenson and Barr. They proved to be great travel companions.
William spent the afternoon unpacking, sorting and washing his clothes. He took a moment to leaf through his bundle of new postcards and admire his latest purchases from the Mousky Bazaar: a pair of small brass vases engraved with hieroglyphics and several appliqued wall-hangings. As he rewrapped the textiles in the Egyptian newspaper that was used by the seller, he laughed and thought, ‘I’ll need to buy several trunks to transport all my loot home.’
That evening he retired to his tent after an early supper at the Officers’ Mess, with the intention of finishing his letter to Cis. He wanted to write while his memories were fresh and also he hoped to post it the following day. Beneath the lamp light, he wrote:
“The temple at Edfu is nearly a mile from the river, yet they had a tunnel from it and a nilometer in the temple. In one corner a staircase still exists up which, we climbed 242 steps and had a grand view from the top. The huge gateways to these places were called pylons and on each side, as a rule, a place was cut out of the wall to allow a huge flagpole to stand – must have been like the masts of ships.
Left Edfu at 1400 and arrived at Luxor at 1700. Went up to the Luxor Hotel and had some tea and toast and left for Cairo at 1810. We arrived at Cairo at 0710, had breakfast at the National, then took a drive and stroll through the Musky Bazaar. We caught the 1100 train and landed back here at 1400. I felt tip-top the whole time, but Mafeesh feloosh.* ”
He folded his finished, eight-page letter and placed it in an envelope for posting. Extinguishing his lamp, he pulled back the grey wool blankets and climbed into bed. He welcomed a proper bed after spending one night on the hard floor of a felucca and another sitting upright on the train. Although his layers of blankets kept him warm, the thin mattress on his cot, however, was a far cry from the comfort of the double brass bed that he shared with Cis. ‘Ah, something to look forward to when the war is over,’ he thought, although he tried not to dwell on the future because that usually meant facing those difficult questions that plagued his thoughts from time to time. After this war, what next? How will I adapt to the life of a farmer?
Instead, he turned his attention to the present. He made a mental list of things he needed to do the next day: post his letter, check his incoming mail, do his squadron’s payroll. ‘By golly, the trip has cost me dearly,’ he mused, knowing he’d have to cut down on his expenses in the foreseeable future in order to recoup what he has spent. Finally, he closed his eyes, put his thoughts to rest and looked forward to the familiar sound of the reveille at 0400.
* Mafeesh feloosh – put simply, this means that he is broke.