Elinor Grace, exploring Arabia in 1911, travels with a supply of plum puddings and a certain sense of personal inadequacy; ‘Mother’s shawl will prove a godsend in the mountains; its strong Persian blues enliven my rather ordinary plainness...’ She is no novice traveller, is used to her own company; but still, she is a virgin, a scholar, an innocent abroad.
She is also an archaeologist. She is travelling to what is now the Yemen, with the intention of disproving the legend which situates the Queen of Sheba’s kingdom there. Her attitudes are robust and patriotic, and her confidence high: ‘As long as one lets it be known that one comes of a good family, and has the supportof one’s government and one’s King, one comes to no harm.’
Her confidence is misplaced, for the journey is both clandestine and risky. The Red Sea littoral is under Ottoman control, and an Arab tribal revolt threatens; travellers’ routes are blocked by armed brigands of dubious allegiance. British interests are overseen from India, and British policy veers between the pragmatic and