TO BE HONEST, Carter’s time in the valley had been expensive and fruitless. He had found nothing to warrant the hundreds of thousands of pounds Lord Carnarvon had spent in search of a great lost pharaoh—or even a minor one.
The alabaster jars had buoyed hope after the 1920 season, momentarily pushing aside memories of barren searches in years past.
But 1921 had yielded nothing important. There seemed no reason to think that the upcoming 1922 season would be any different.
Now the two men strolled across the sprawling grounds of Highclere Castle, Carnarvon’s family estate back in England.
The mood was uneasy, and Carter had an inkling that he had been summoned for very bad news.
The two had become unlikely friends over the years. They had spent so much time together, fingers crossed, praying that their next effort would be the one to unearth some great buried treasure. But now that hope was apparently gone.
Tons of rock had been scraped away. But Howard Carter hadn’t made a major find in almost twenty years, and his reputation as a cranky, self-important, washed-up Egyptologist was well known in Luxor and even here in England.
The war hadn’t helped. His Lordship’s health had suffered in the absence of those warm Egyptian winters. He had gotten out of the habit, so to speak. And now he was ready to stop funding costly excavations that yielded nothing.
Carter quietly made his case anyway: He had located ancient workmen’s huts near the tomb of Rameses VI, but because of heavy tourist traffic he hadn’t been able to dig deeper. His plan was to start digging in early November to avoid the peak tourist season.
Carnarvon rebuffed him. He was through with the valley. There would be no more excavations with his money. Their partnership was over. “I’m so sorry, Howard. I’m nearly as sad about this as you are,” Carnarvon said.
The news would have been even more crushing to Carter if he had not anticipated this moment and planned his next move. He cleared his throat. “There’s one last tomb to be found, sir. I’m sure of it. So sure that if you will allow me to make use of your concession in the valley, I will fund the next year of digging myself. Of course,” he added hastily, “we would split whatever I find evenly.”
Carnarvon was astounded. “You don’t have that kind of money,” he exclaimed.
“I’ll find the money, sir.”
“You will? To pay the wages of a hundred diggers? To pay for the guards? To feed yourself?”
Carter offered a rare smile. “I’m not all that hungry, for food that is. I suppose I will need cigarette money.”
Carnarvon squinted as he rubbed a manicured hand across his face. He was touched by this show of faith. “I will fund one more year. But just one, Howard. This is your last chance. Find King Tut, or we’re done.”