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Title: My Winter on the Nile - Eighteenth Edition
Author: Warner, Charles Dudley
Language: English
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MY WINTER ON THE NILE

By Charles Dudley Warner

Eighteenth Edition

Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company

1876



TO MR. A. C. DUNHAM, AND THE VOYAGERS ON THE DAHABEËH “RIP VAN WINKLE,”
THIS IMPERFECT RECORD OF THEIR EXPERIENCE IS DEDICATED.



O Commander of the Faithful. Egypt is a compound of black earth and
green plants, between a pulverized mountain and a red sand. Along the
valley descends a river, on which the blessing of the Most High reposes
both in the evening and the morning, and which rises and falls with the
revolutions of the sun and moon. According to the vicissitudes of
the seasons, the face of the country is adorned with a silver wave, a
verdant emerald, and the deep yellow of a golden harvest.

From Amrou, Conqueror of Egypt, to the Khalif Omar.



CONTENTS

PREFATORY NOTE.

CHAPTER I.—AT THE GATES OF THE EAST.

CHAPTER II.—WITHIN THE PORTALS.

CHAPTER III.—EGYPT OF TO-DAY.

CHAPTER IV.—CAIRO.

CHAPTER V.—IN THE BAZAAR.

CHAPTER VI.—MOSQUES AND TOMBS.

CHAPTER VII.—MOSLEM WORSHIP.—THE CALL TO PRAYER.

CHAPTER VIII.—THE PYRAMIDS.

CHAPTER IX.—PREPARATIONS FOR A VOYAGE.

CHAPTER X.—ON THE NILE.

CHAPTER XI.—PEOPLE ON THE RIVER BANKS.

CHAPTER XII.—SPENDING CHRISTMAS ON THE NILE.

CHAPTER XIII.—SIGHTS AND SCENES ON THE RIVER.

CHAPTER XIV.—MIDWINTER IN EGYPT.

CHAPTER XV.—AMONG THE RUINS OF THEBES.

CHAPTER XVI.—HISTORY IN STONE.

CHAPTER XVII.—KARNAK.

CHAPTER XVIII.—ASCENDING THE RIVER.

CHAPTER XIX.—PASSING THE CATARACT OF THE NILE.

CHAPTER XX.—ON THE BORDERS OF THE DESERT.

CHAPTER XXI—ETHIOPIA.

CHAPTER XXII.—LIFE IN THE TROPICS. WADY HALFA.

CHAPTER XXIII.—APPROACHING THE SECOND CATARACT.

CHAPTER XXIV.—GIANTS IN STONE.

CHAPTER XXV.—FLITTING THROUGH NUBIA.

CHAPTER XXVI.—MYSTERIOUS PHILÆ.

CHAPTER XXVII.—RETURNING.

CHAPTER XXVIII.—MODERN FACTS AND ANCIENT MEMORIES.

CHAPTER XXIX.—THE FUTURE OF THE MUMMY’S SOUL.

CHAPTER XXX.—FAREWELL TO THEBES.

CHAPTER XXXI.—LOITERING BY THE WAY.

CHAPTER XXXII.—JOTTINGS.

CHAPTER XXXIII.—THE KHEDIVE.

CHAPTER XXXIV.—THE WOODEN MAN.

CHAPTER XXXV.—ON THE WAY HOME.

CHAPTER XXXVI.—BY THE RED SEA.

CHAPTER XXXVII.—“EASTWARD HO!”



PREFATORY NOTE.

“My Winter on the Nile,” and its sequel, “In the Levant,” which record
the experiences and observations of an Oriental journey, were both
published in 1876; but as this volume was issued only by subscription,
it has never reached the large public which is served by the general
book trade.

It is now republished and placed within the reach of those who have read
“In the Levant.” Advantage has been taken of its reissue to give it a
careful revision, which, however, has not essentially changed it. Since
it was written the Khedive of so many ambitious projects has given way
to his son, Tufik Pasha; but I have let stand what was written of Ismail
Pasha for whatever historical value it may possess. In other respects,
what was written of the country and the mass of the people in 1876
is true now. The interest of Americans in the land of the oldest
civilization has greatly increased within the past few years, and
literature relating to the Orient is in more demand than at any previous
time.

The brief and incidental allusion in the first chapter to the
peculiarity in the construction of the oldest temple at Pæstum—a
peculiarity here for the first time, so far as I can find, described in
print—is worthy the attention of archaeologists. The use of curved
lines in this so-called Temple of Neptune is more marked than in the
Parthenon, and is the secret of its fascination. The relation of this
secret to the irregularities of such mediaeval buildings as the Duomo at
Pisa is obvious.

Hartford, October, 1880. C. D. W.



0020

CHAPT. I.—AT THE GATES OF THE EAST.

The Mediterranean—The East unlike the West—A World risked for a Woman—An
Unchanging World and a Pickle Sea—Still an Orient—Old Fashions—A Journey
without Reasons—Off for the Orient—Leaving Naples—A Shaky Court—A
Deserted District—Ruins of Pæstum—Temple of Neptune—Entrance to
Purgatory—Safety Valves of the World—Enterprising Natives—Sunset on the
Sea—Sicily—Crete—Our Passengers—The Hottest place on Record—An American
Tourist—An Evangelical Dentist—On a Secret Mission—The Vanquished
Dignitary

CHAPT. II.—WITHIN THE PORTALS.

Africa—Alexandria—Strange Contrasts—A New World—Nature—First View of
the Orient—Hotel Europe—Mixed Nationalities—The First Backsheesh—Street
Scenes in Alexandria—Familiar Pictures Idealized—Cemetery Day—A Novel
Turn Out—A Moslem Cemetery—New Terrors for Death—Pompey’s Pillar—Our
First Camel—Along the Canal—Departed Glory—A set of Fine Fellows—Our
Handsome Dragomen—Bazaars—Universal Good Humor—A Continuous
Holiday—Private life in Egypt—Invisible Blackness—The Land of Color and
the Sun—A Casino

CHAPT. III.—EGYPT OF TO-DAY.

Railways—Our Valiant Dragomen—A Hand-to-Hand Struggle—Alexandria
to Cairo—Artificial Irrigation—An Arab Village—The Nile—Egyptian
Festivals—Pyramids of Geezeh—Cairo—Natural Queries.

CHAPT. IV.—CAIRO.

A Rhapsody—At Shepherd’s—Hotel life, Egyptian plan—English Noblemen—Life
in the Streets—The Valuable Donkey and his Driver—The “swell tiling”
in Cairo—A hint for Central Park—Eunuchs—“Yankee Doodles” of Cairo—A
Representative Arab—Selecting Dragomen—The Great Business of Egypt—An
Egyptian Market-Place—A Substitute for Clothes—Dahabeëhs of the Nile—A
Protracted Negotiation—Egyptian wiles

CHAPT. V.—ON THE BAZAAR.

Sight Seeing in Cairo—An Eastern Bazaar—Courteous Merchants—The Honored
Beggar—Charity to be Rewarded—A Moslem Funeral—The Gold Bazaar—Shopping
for a Necklace—Conducting a Bride Home—A Partnership matter—Early
Marriages and Decay—Longings for Youth

CHAPT. VI.—MOSQUES AND TOMBS.

The Sirocco—The Desert—The Citadel of Cairo—Scene of the Massacre of
the Memlooks—The World’s Verdict—The Mosque of Mohammed Ali—Tomb of the
Memlook Sultans—Life out of Death

CHAPT. VII.—MOSLEM WORSHIP—THE CALL TO
PRATER.

An Enjoyable City—Definition of Conscience—“Prayer is better
than Sleep”—Call of the Muezzin—Moslems at Prayer—Interior of a
Mosque—Oriental Architecture—The Slipper Fitters—Devotional Washing—An
Inman’s Supplications

CHAPT. VIII.—THE PYRAMIDS.

Ancient Sepulchres—Grave Robbers—The Poor Old Mummy—The Oldest Monument
in the World—First View of the Pyramids—The resident Bedaween—Ascending
the Steps—Patent Elevators—A View from the Top—The Guide’s
Opinions—Origin of “Murray’s Guide Book”—Speculations on the
Pyramids—The Interior—Absolute Night—A Taste of Death—The
Sphinx—Domestic Life in a Tomb—Souvenirs of Ancient Egypt—Backsheesh!


CHAPT. IX.—PREPARATIONS FOR A VOYAGE.

A Weighty Question—The Seasons Bewitched—Poetic Dreams Realized—Egyptian
Music—Public Garden—A Wonderful Rock—Its Patrons—The Playing Band—Native
Love Songs—The Howling Derweeshes—An Exciting Performance—The Shakers
put to Shame—Descendants of the Prophet—An Ancient Saracenic Home—The
Land of the Elea and the Copt—Historical Curiosities—Preparing for
our Journey—Laying in of Medicines and Rockets—A Determination to be
Liberal—Official life in Egypt—An Interview with the Bey—Paying for our
Rockets—A Walking Treasury—Waiting for Wind

CHAPT. X.—ON THE NILE.

On Board the “Rip Van Winkle”—A Farewell Dinner—The Three Months Voyage
Commenced—On the Nile—Our Pennant’s Device—Our Dahabeëh—Its Officers
and Crew—Types of Egyptian Races—The Kingdom of the “Stick”—The false
Pyramid of Maydoon—A Night on the River—Curious Crafts—Boat Races on
the Nile—Native Villages—Songs of the Sailors—Incidents of the Day—The
Copts—The Patriarch—The Monks of Gebel é Tayr—Disappointment all Round—A
Royal Luxury—The Banks of the Nile—Gum Arabic—Unfair Reports of us—Speed
of our Dahabeëh—Egyptian Bread—Hasheesh-Smoking—Egyptian Robbers—Sitting
in Darkness—Agriculture—Gathering of Taxes—Successful Voyaging

CHAPT.
XI.—PEOPLE ON THE RIVER BANK.

Sunday on the Nile—A Calm—A Land of Tombs—A New Divinity—Burial of
a Child—A Sunday Companion on Shore—A Philosophical People—No Sunday
Clothes—The Aristocratic Bedaween—The Sheykh—Rare Specimens for the
Centennial—Tracts Needed—Woman’s Rights—Pigeons and Cranes—Balmy Winter
Nights—Tracking—Copying Nature in Dress—Resort of Crocodiles—A Hermit’s
Cave—Waiting for Nothing—Crocodile Mummies—The Boatmen’s Song—Furling
Sails—Life Again—Pictures on the Nile.

CHAPT. XII.—SPENDING CHRISTMAS ON
THE NILE.

Independence in Spelling—Asioot—Christmas Day—The American Consul—A
Visit to the Pasha—Conversing by an Interpreter—The Ghawazees at
Home—Ancient Sculpture—Bird’s Eye View of the Nile—Our Christmas
Dinner—Our Visitor—Grand Reception—The Fire Works—Christmas Eve on the
Nile

CHAPT. XIII.—SIGHTS AND SCENES ON THE RIVER.

Ancient and Modern Ruins—“We Pay Toll—Cold Weather—Night
Sailing—Farshoot—A Visit from the Bey—The Market-Place—The Sakiyas or
Water Wheels—The Nile is Egypt

CHAPT. XIV.—MIDWINTER IN EGYPT.

Midwinter in Egypt—Slaves of Time—Where the Water Jars are Made—Coming
to Anchor and how it was Done—New Years—” Smits” Copper Popularity—Great
Strength of the Women—Conscripts for the Army—Conscription a Good
Thing—On the Threshold of Thebes

CHAPT. XV.—AMONG THE RUINS OF THEBES.

Situation of the City—Ruins—Questions—Luxor—Ivarnak—Glorification of
the Pharaohs—Sculptures in Stone—The Twin Colossi—Four Hundred Miles in
Sixteen Days

CHAPT. XVI.—HISTORY IN STONE.

A Dry City—A Strange Circumstance—A Pleasant Residence—Life on the
Dahabeëh—Illustrious Visitors—Nose-Rings and Beauty—Little Fatimeh—A
Mummy Hand and Thoughts upon it—Plunder of the Tombs—Exploits of the
Great Sesostris—Gigantic Statues and their Object—Skill of Ancient
Artists—Criticisms—Christian Churches and Pagan Temples—Society—A Peep
into an Ancient Harem—Statue of Meiùnon—Mysteries—Pictures of Heroic
Girls—Women in History

CHAPT. XVII.—KARNAK.

An Egyptian Carriage—Wonderful Ruins—The Great Hall of Sethi—The
Largest Obelisk in The World—A City of Temples and Palaces



CHAPT.
XVIII.—ASCENDING THE RIVER.

Ascending the River—An Exciting Boat Race—Inside a Sugar Factory—Setting
Fire to a Town—Who Stole the Rockets?—Striking Contrasts—A Jail—The Kodi
or Judge—What we saw at Assouan—A Gale—Ruins of Kom Ombos—Mysterious
Movement—Land of Eternal Leisure

CHAPT. XIX.—PASSING THE CATARACT OF THE
NILE.

Passing the Cataract of the Nile—Nubian Hills in Sight—Island
of Elephantine—Ownership of the Cataract—Difficulties of the
Ascent—Negotiations for a Passage—Items about Assouan—Off for the
Cataracts—Our Cataract Crew—First Impressions of the Cataract—In
the Stream—Excitement—Audacious Swimmers—Close Steering—A Comical
Orchestra—The Final Struggle—Victory—Above the Rapids—The Temple of
Isis—Ancient Kings and Modern Conquerors

CHAPT. XX.—ON THE BORDERS OF
THE DESERT.

Ethiopia—Relatives of the Ethiopians—Negro Land—Ancestry of the
Negro—Conversion Made Easy—A Land of Negative Blessings—Cool air
from the Desert—Abd-el-Atti’s Opinions—A Land of Comfort—Nubian
Costumes—Turning the Tables—The Great Desert—Sin, Grease and Taxes


CHAPT. XXI.—ETHIOPIA.

Primitive Attire—The Snake Charmer—A House full of Snakes—A Writ of
Ejectments—Natives—The Tomb of Mohammed—Disasters—A Dandy Pilate—Nubian
Beauty—Opening a Baby’s Eyes—A Nubian Pigville

CHAPT. XXII.—LIFE IN THE
TROPICS—WADY HALFA.

Life in the Tropics—Wady Haifa—Capital of Nubia—The Centre of
Fashion—The Southern Cross—Castor Oil Plantations—Justice to a
Thief—Abd-el-Atti’s Court—Mourning for the Dead—Extreme of our Journey—A
Comical Celebration—The March of Civilization.

CHAPT. XXIII.—APPROACHING
THE SECOND CATARACT.

Two Ways to See It—Pleasures of Canal Riding—Bird’s Eye View of the
Cataracts—Signs of Wealth—Wady Haifa—A Nubian Belle—Classic Beauty—A
Greek Bride—Interviewing a Crocodile—Joking with a Widow—A Model Village


CHAPT. XXIV.—GIANTS IN STONE.

The Colossi of Aboo Simbel, the largest in the World—Bombast—Exploits of
Remeses II.—A Mysterious Temple—Feting Ancient Deities—Guardians of the
Nile—The Excavated Rock—The Temple—A Row of Sacred Monkeys—Our Last View
of The Giants

CHAPT. XXV.—FLITTING THROUGH NUBIA.

Learning the Language—Models of Beauty—Cutting up a Crocodile—Egyptian
Loafers—A Modern David—A Present—Our Menagerie—The Chameleon—Woman’s
Rights—False Prophets—Incidents—The School Master at Home—Confusion—Too
Much Conversion—Charity—Wonderful Birds at Mecca

CHAPT. XXVI.—MYSTERIOUS
PHILÆ.

Leave “well enough” Alone—The Myth of Osiris—The Heights of
Biggeh—Cleopatra’s Favorite Spot—A Legend—Mr. Fiddle—Dreamland—Waiting
for a Prince—An Inland Excursion—Quarries—Adieu

CHAPT. XXVII.—RETURNING

Downward Run—Kidnapping a Sheykh—Blessed with Relatives—Making the
Chute—Artless Children—A Model of Integrity—Justice—An Accident—Leaving
Nubia—A Perfect Shame

CHAPT. XXVIII.—MODERN FACTS AND ANCIENT MEMORIES.

The Mysterious Pebble—Ancient Quarries—Prodigies of Labor—Humor
in Stone—A Simoon—Famous Grottoes—Naughty Attractions—Bogus
Relics—Antiquity Smith

CHAPT. XXIX.—THE FUTURE OF THE MUMMY’S SOUL.

Ancient Egyptian Literature—Mummies—A Visit to the Tombs—Disturbing
the Dead—The Funeral Ritual—Unpleasant Explorations A Mummy in Pledge—A
Desolate Way—Buried Secrets—Building for Eternity—Before the
Judgment Seat—Weighed in the Balance The Habitation of the
Dead—Illuminated—Accommodations for the Mummy—The Pharaoh of the
Exodus—A Baby Charon—Bats

CHAPT. XXX.—FAREWELL TO THEBES.

Social Festivities—An Oriental Dinner—Dancing Girls—Honored by the
Sultan—The Native Consul—Finger Feeding—A Dance—Ancient Style
of Dancing—The Poetry of Night—Karnak by Moonlight—Amusements at
Luxor—Farewell to Thebes

CHAPT. XXXI.—LOITERING BY THE WAY.

“Very Grammatick”—The Lying in Temple—A Holy Man—Scarecrows—Asinine
Performers—Antiquity—Old Masters—Profit and Loss—Hopeless
“Fellahs”—Lion’s Oil—A Bad Reputation—An Egyptian Mozart

CHAPT.
XXXII.—JOTTINGS.

Mission School—Education of Women—Contrasts—A Mirage—Tracks of
Successive Ages—Bathers—Tombs of the Sacred Bulls—Religion
and Grammar—Route to Darfoor—Winter Residence of the Holy
Family—Grottoes—Mistaken Views—Dust and Ashes—Osman Bey—A Midsummer’s
Night Dream—Ruins of Memphis—Departed Glory—A Second Visit to the
Pyramids of Geezeh—An Artificial Mother

CHAPT. XXXIII.—THE KHEDIVE.

Al Gezereh—Aboo Yusef the Owner—Cairo Again—A Question—The
Khedive—Solomon and the Viceroy—The Khedive’s Family Expenses—Another
Joseph—Personal Government—Docks of Cairo—Raising Mud—Popular
Superstitions—Leave Taking

CHAPT. XXXIV.—THE WOODEN MAN.

Visiting a Harem—A Reception—The Khedive at Home—Ladies of the
Harem—Wife of Tufik Pasha—The Mummy—The Wooden Man Discoveries of
Mariette Bey—Egypt and Greece Compared—Learned Opinions

CHAPT. XXXV.—ON
THE WAY HOME.

Leaving our Dahabeeh—The Baths in Cairo—Curious Mode of Execution—The
Guzeereh Palace—Empress Eugenia’s Sleeping Room—Medallion of Benjamin
Franklin in Egypt—Heliopolis—The Bedaween Bride—Holy Places—The Resting
Place of the Virgin Mary—Fashionable Drives—The Shoobra Palace—Forbidden
Books—A Glimpse of a Bevy of Ladies—Uncomfortable Guardians.

CHAPT.
XXXVI.—BY THE RED SEA.

Following the Track of the Children of Israel—Routes to
Suez—Temples—Where was the Red Sea Crossed?—In sight of the Bitter
Lakes—Approaching the Red Sea—Faith—The Suez Canal—The Wells of Moses—A
Sentimental Pilgrimage—Price of one of the Wells—Miriam of Marah—Water
of the Wells—Returning to Suez—A Caravan of Bedaweens—Lunch
Baskets searched by Custom Officers—The Commerce of the East

CHAPT.
XXXVII.—EASTWARD HO.

Leaving Suez—Ismailia—The Lotus—A Miracle—Egyptian Steamer—Information
Sought—The Great Highway—Port Said—Abd-el-Atti again—Great Honors
Lost—Farewell to Egypt



0028



CHAPTER I.—AT THE GATES OF THE EAST.

THE Mediterranean still divides the East from the West. Ages of traffic
and intercourse across its waters have not changed this fact; neither
the going of armies nor of embassies, Northmen forays nor Saracenic
maraudings, Christian crusades nor Turkish invasions, neither the
borrowing from Egypt of its philosophy and science, nor the stealing
of its precious monuments of antiquity, down to its bones, not all the
love-making, slave-trading, war-waging, not all the commerce of four
thousand years, by oar and sail and steam, have sufficed to make the
East like the West.

Half the world was lost at Actium, they like to say, for the sake of a
woman; but it was the half that I am convinced we never shall gain—for
though the Romans did win it they did not keep it long, and they made
no impression on it that is not, compared with its own individuality,
as stucco to granite. And I suppose there is not now and never will be
another woman in the East handsome enough to risk a world for.

There, across the most fascinating and fickle sea in the world—a
feminine sea, inconstant as lovely, all sunshine and tears in a moment,
reflecting in its quick mirror in rapid succession the skies of grey
and of blue, the weather of Europe and of Africa, a sea of romance and
nausea—lies a world in Everything unlike our own, a world perfectly
known yet never familiar and never otherwise than strange to the
European and American. I had supposed it otherwise; I had been led to
think that modern civilization had more or less transformed the East
to its own likeness; that, for instance the railway up the Nile had
practically “done for” that historic stream. They say that if you run
a red-hot nail through an orange, the fruit will keep its freshness and
remain unchanged a long time. The thrusting of the iron into Egypt may
arrest decay, but it does not appear to change the country.

There is still an Orient, and I believe there would be if it were all
canaled, and railwayed, and converted; for I have great faith in habits
that have withstood the influence of six or seven thousand years of
changing dynasties and religions. Would you like to go a little way with
me into this Orient?

The old-fashioned travelers had a formal fashion of setting before the
reader the reasons that induced them to take the journey they described;
and they not unfrequently made poor health an apology for their
wanderings, judging that that excuse would be most readily accepted for
their eccentric conduct. “Worn out in body and mind we set sail,” etc.;
and the reader was invited to launch in a sort of funereal bark upon
the Mediterranean and accompany an invalid in search of his last
resting-place.

There was in fact no reason why we should go to Egypt—a remark that the
reader will notice is made before he has a chance to make it—and there
is no reason why any one indisposed to do so should accompany us. If
information is desired, there are whole libraries of excellent books
about the land of the Pharaohs, ancient and modern, historical,
archaeological, statistical, theoretical, geographical; if amusement
is wanted, there are also excellent books, facetious and sentimental. I
suppose that volumes enough have been written about Egypt to cover every
foot of its arable soil if they were spread out, or to dam the Nile if
they were dumped into it, and to cause a drought in either case if they
were not all interesting and the reverse of dry. There is therefore no
onus upon the traveler in the East to-day to write otherwise than suits
his humor; he may describe only what he chooses. With this distinct
understanding I should like the reader to go with me through a winter in
the Orient. Let us say that we go to escape winter.

It is the last of November, 1874—the beginning of what proved to be the
bitterest winter ever known in America and Europe, and I doubt not it
was the first nip of the return of the rotary glacial period—that we go
on board a little Italian steamer in the harbor of Naples, reaching it
in a row-boat and in a cold rain. The deck is wet and dismal; Vesuvius
is invisible, and the whole sweep of the bay is hid by a slanting mist.
Italy has been in a shiver for a month; snow on the Alban hills and in
the Tusculan theatre; Rome was as chilly as a stone tomb with the door
left open. Naples is little better; Boston, at any season, is better
than Naples—now.

We steam slowly down the harbor amid dripping ships, losing all sight of
villages and the lovely coast; only Capri comes out comely in the haze,
an island cut like an antique cameo. Long after dark we see the light on
it and also that of the Punta della Campanella opposite, friendly beams
following us down the coast. We are off Pæstum,’ and I can feel that its
noble temple is looming there in the darkness. This ruin is in some sort
a door into, an introduction to, the East.

Pæstum has been a deadly marsh for eighteen hundred years, and deserted
for almost a thousand. Nettles and unsightly brambles have taken the
place of the “roses of Pæstum” of which the Roman poets sang; but still
as a poetic memory, the cyclamen trails among the debris of the old
city; and the other day I found violets waiting for a propitious
season to bloom. The sea has retired away from the site of the town
and broadened the marsh in front of it. There are at Pæstum three
Greek temples, called, no one can tell why, the Temple of Neptune, the
Basilica, and the Temple of Ceres; remains of the old town wall and
some towers; a tumbledown house or two, and a wretched tavern. The
whole coast is subject to tremors of the earth, and the few inhabitants
hanging about there appear to have had all their bones shaken out of
them by the fever and ague.

We went down one raw November morning from Naples, driving from a
station on the Calabrian railway, called Battipaglia, about twelve miles
over a black marshy plain, relieved only by the bold mountains, on
the right and left. This plain is gradually getting reclaimed and
cultivated; there is raised on it inferior cotton and some of the vile
tobacco which the government monopoly compels the free Italians to
smoke, and large olive-orchards have been recently set out. The soil is
rich and the country can probably be made habitable again. Now, the
few houses are wretched and the few people squalid. Women were pounding
stone on the road we traveled, even young girls among them wielding the
heavy hammers, and all of them very thinly clad, their one sleazy skirt
giving little protection against the keen air. Of course the women were
hard-featured and coarse-handed; and both they and the men have the
swarthy complexion that may betoken a more Eastern origin. We fancied
that they had a brigandish look. Until recently this plain has been a
favorite field for brigands, who spied the rich traveler from the height
of St. Angelo and pounced upon him if he was unguarded. Now, soldiers
are quartered along the road, patrol the country on horseback, and
lounge about the ruins at Pæstum. Perhaps they retire to some height for
the night, for the district is too unhealthy for an Italian even, whose
health may be of no consequence. They say that if even an Englishman,
who goes merely to shoot woodcock, sleeps there one night, in the right
season, that night will be his last.

We saw the ruins of Pæstum under a cold grey sky, which harmonized with
their isolation. We saw them best from the side of the sea, with the
snow-sprinkled mountains rising behind for a background. Then they stood
out, impressive, majestic, time-defying. In all Europe there are no
ruins better worthy the study of the admirer of noble architecture than
these.

The Temple of Neptune is older than the Parthenon, its Doric sister, at
Athens. It was probably built before the Persians of Xerxes occupied the
Acropolis and saw from there the flight of their ruined fleet out of the
Strait of Salamis. It was built when the Doric had attained the acme of
its severe majesty, and it is to-day almost perfect on the exterior.
Its material is a coarse travertine which time and the weather have
honeycombed, showing the petrifications of plants and shells; but of its
thirty-six massive exterior columns not one has fallen, though those on
the north side are so worn by age that the once deep fluting is nearly
obliterated. You may care to know that these columns which are thirty
feet high and seven and a half feet in diameter at the base, taper
symmetrically to the capitals, which are the severest Doric.

At first we thought the temple small, and did not even realize its two
hundred feet of length, but the longer we looked at it the larger it
grew to the eye, until it seemed to expand into gigantic size; and
from whatever point it was viewed its harmonious proportions were an
increasing delight. The beauty is not in any ornament, for even the
pediment is and always was vacant, but in its admirable lines.

The two other temples are fine specimens of Greek architecture, also
Doric, pure and without fault, with only a little tendency to depart
from severe simplicity in the curve of the capitals, and yet they did
not interest us. They are of a period only a little later than the
Temple of Neptune, and that model was before their builders, yet they
missed the extraordinary, many say almost spiritual beauty of that
edifice. We sought the reason, and found it in the fact that there are
absolutely no straight lines in the Temple of Neptune. The side rows of
columns curve a little out; the end rows curve a little in; at the
ends the base line of the columns curves a trifle from the sides to the
center, and the line of the architrave does the same. This may bewilder
the eye and mislead the judgment as to size and distance, but the effect
is more agreeable than almost any other I know in architecture. It is
not repeated in the other temples, the builders of which do not seem to
have known its secret. Had the Greek colony lost the art of this
perfect harmony, in the little time that probably intervened between the
erection of these edifices? It was still kept at Athens, as the Temple
of Theseus and the Parthenon testify.

Looking from the interior of the temple out at either end, the entrance
seems to be wider at the top than at the bottom, an Egyptian effect
produced by the setting of the inward and outer columns. This appeared
to us like a door through which we looked into Egypt, that mother of all
arts and of most of the devices of this now confused world. We were
on our way to see the first columns, prototypes of the Doric order,
chiselled by man.

The custodian—there is one, now that twenty centuries of war and rapine
and storms have wreaked themselves upon this temple—would not permit us
to take our luncheon into its guarded precincts; on a fragment of the
old steps, amid the weeds we drank our red Capri wine; not the usual
compound manufactured at Naples, but the last bottle of pure Capri to
be found on the island, so help the soul of the landlady at the hotel
there; ate one of those imperfectly nourished Italian chicken’s orphan
birds, owning the pitiful legs with which the table d’hote frequenters
in Italy are so familiar, and blessed the government for the care, tardy
as it is, of its grandest monument of antiquity.

When I looked out of the port-hole of the steamer early in the morning,
we were near the volcanic Lipari islands and islets, a group of
seventeen altogether; which serve as chimneys and safety-valves to this
part of the world. One of the small ones is of recent creation, at least
it was heaved up about two thousand years ago, and I fancy that a new
one may pop up here any time. From the time of the Trojan war all sorts
of races and adventurers have fought for the possession of these coveted
islands, and the impartial earthquake has shaken them all off in turn.
But for the mist, we should have clearly seen Stromboli, the ever-active
volcano, but now we can only say we saw it. We are near it, however,
and catch its outline, and listen for the groans of lost souls which the
credulous crusaders used to hear issuing from its depths. It was at
that time the entrance of purgatory; we read in the guide-book that the
crusaders implored the monks of Cluny to intercede for the deliverance
of those confined there, and that therefore Odilo of Cluny instituted
the observance of All Souls’ Day.

The climate of Europe still attends us, and our first view of Sicily
is through the rain. Clouds hide the coast and obscure the base of Ætna
(which is oddly celebrated in America as an assurance against loss by
fire); but its wide fields of snow, banked up high above the clouds,
gleam as molten silver—treasure laid up in heaven—and give us the light
of the rosy morning.

Rounding the point of Faro, the locale of Charybdis and Scylla, we come
into the harbor of Messina and take shelter behind the long, curved
horn of its mole. Whoever shunned the beautiful Scylla was liable to be
sucked into the strong tide Charybdis; but the rock has lost its terror
for moderns, and the current is no longer dangerous. We get our last
dash of rain in this strait, and there is sunny weather and blue sky at
the south. The situation of Messina is picturesque; the shores both of
Calabria and Sicily are mountainous, precipitous and very rocky; there
seems to be no place for vegetation except by terracing. The town is
backed by lofty circling mountains, which form a dark setting for its
white houses and the string of outlying villages. Mediaeval forts cling
to the slopes above it.

No sooner is the anchor down than a fleet of boats surrounds the
steamer, and a crowd of noisy men and boys swarms on board, to sell us
muscles, oranges, and all sorts of merchandise, from a hair-brush to
an under-wrapper. The Sunday is hopelessly broken into fragments in a
minute. These lively traders use the English language and its pronouns
with great freedom. The boot-black smilingly asks: “You black my boot?”

The vender of under-garments says: “I gif you four franc for dis one. I
gif you for dese two a seven franc. No? What you gif?”

A bright orange-boy, we ask, “How much a dozen?”

“Half franc.”

“Too much.”

“How much you give? Tast him; he ver good; a sweet orange; you no like,
you no buy. Yes, sir. Tak one. This a one, he sweet no more.”

And they were sweet no more. They must have been lemons in oranges’
clothing. The flattering tongue of that boy and our greed of tropical
color made us owners of a lot of them, most of which went overboard
before we reached Alexandria, and would make fair lemonade of the streak
of water we passed through.

At noon we sail away into the warm south. We have before us the
beautiful range of Aspromonte, and the village of Reggio bear which
in 1862 Garibaldi received one of his wounds, a sort of inconvenient
love-pat of fame. The coast is rugged and steep. High up is an isolated
Gothic rock, pinnacled and jagged. Close by the shore we can trace the
railway track which winds round the point of Italy, and some of the
passengers look at it longingly; for though there is clear sky overhead,
the sea has on an ungenerous swell; and what is blue sky to a stomach
that knows its own bitterness and feels the world sinking away from
under it?

We are long in sight of Italy, but Sicily still sulks in the clouds and
Mount Ætna will not show itself. The night is bright and the weather has
become milder; it is the prelude to a day calm and uninteresting. Nature
rallies at night, however, and gives us a sunset in a pale gold sky with
cloud-islands on the horizon and palm-groves on them. The stars come out
in extraordinary profusion and a soft brilliancy unknown in New England,
and the sky is of a tender blue—something delicate and not to
be enlarged upon. A sunset is something that no one will accept
second-hand.

On the morning of December 1st., we are off Crete; Greece we have left
to the north, and are going at ten knots an hour towards great hulking
Africa. We sail close to the island and see its long, high barren coast
till late in the afternoon. There is no road visible on this side, nor
any sign of human habitation, except a couple of shanties perched high
up among the rocks. From this point of view, Crete is a mass of naked
rock lifted out of the waves. Mount Ida crowns it, snow-capped and
gigantic. Just below Crete spring up in our geography the little islands
of Gozo and Antigozo, merely vast rocks, with scant patches of low
vegetation on the cliffs, a sort of vegetable blush, a few stunted trees
on the top of the first, and an appearance of grass which has a reddish
color.

The weather is more and more delightful, a balmy atmosphere brooding on
a smooth sea. The chill which we carried in our bones from New York
to Naples finally melts away. Life ceases to be a mere struggle,
and becomes a mild enjoyment. The blue tint of the sky is beyond all
previous comparison delicate, like the shade of a silk, fading at the
horizon into an exquisite grey or nearly white. We are on deck all day
and till late at night, for once enjoying, by the help of an awning,
real winter weather with the thermometer at seventy-two degrees.

Our passengers are not many, but selected. There are a German baron and
his sparkling wife, delightful people, who handle the English language
as delicately as if it were glass, and make of it the most naïve and
interesting form of speech. They are going to Cairo for the winter, and
the young baroness has the longing and curiosity regarding the land of
the sun, which is peculiar to the poetical Germans; she has never seen a
black man nor a palm-tree. In charge of the captain, there is an Italian
woman, whose husband lives in Alexandria, who monopolizes the whole
of the ladies’ cabin, by a league with the slatternly stewardess, and
behaves in a manner to make a state of war and wrath between her and
the rest of the passengers. There is nothing bitterer than the hatred of
people for each other on shipboard. When I afterwards saw this woman in
the streets of Alexandria I had scarcely any wish to shorten her stay
upon this earth. There are also two tough-fibered and strong-brained
dissenting ministers from Australia, who have come round by the Sandwich
Islands and the United States, and are booked for Palestine, the Suez
Canal and the Red Sea. Speaking of Aden, which has the reputation of
being as hot as Constantinople is wicked, one of them tells the story
of an American (the English have a habit of fastening all their dubious
anecdotes upon “an American”) who said that if he owned two places,
one in Aden and the other in H——, he would sell the one in Aden. These
ministers are distinguished lecturers at home—a solemn thought, that
even the most distant land is subjected to the blessing of the popular
lecture.

Our own country is well represented, as it usually is abroad, whether by
appointment or self-selection. It is said that the oddest people in the
world go up the Nile and make the pilgrimage of Palestine. I have even
heard that one must be a little cracked who will give a whole winter to
high Egypt; but this is doubtless said by those who cannot afford to go.
Notwithstanding the peculiarities of so many of those one meets drifting
around the East (as eccentric as the English who frequent Italian
pensions) it must be admitted that a great many estimable and apparently
sane people go up the Nile—and that such are even found among Cook’s
“personally conducted.”

There is on board an American, or a sort of Irish-American more or less
naturalized, from Nebraska, a raw-boned, hard-featured farmer, abroad
for a two-years’ tour; a man who has no guide-book or literature, except
the Bible which he diligently reads. He has spent twenty or thirty years
in acquiring and subduing land in the new country, and without any time
or taste for reading, there has come with his possessions a desire to
see that old world about which he cared nothing before he breathed the
vitalizing air of the West. That he knew absolutely nothing of Europe,
Asia, or Africa, except the little patch called Palestine, and found a
day in Rome too much for a place so run down, was actually none of our
business. He was a good patriotic American, and the only wonder was that
with his qualification he had not been made consul somewhere.

But a more interesting person, in his way, was a slender, no-blooded,
youngish, married man, of the vegetarian and vegetable school, also
alone, and bound for the Holy Land, who was sick of the sea and
otherwise. He also was without books of travel, and knew nothing of
what he was going to see or how to see it. Of what Egypt was he had the
dimmest notion, and why we or he or anyone else should go there. What
do you go up the Nile for? we asked. The reply was that the Spirit had
called him to go through Egypt to Palestine. He had been a dentist, but
now he called himself an evangelist. I made the mistake of supposing
that he was one of those persons who have a call to go about and
convince people that religion is one part milk (skimmed) and three parts
water—harmless, however, unless you see too much of them. Twice is
too much. But I gauged him inadequately. He is one of those few who
comprehend the future, and, guided wholly by the Spirit and not by any
scripture or tradition, his mission is to prepare the world for its
impending change. He is en rapport with the vast uneasiness, which I do
not know how to name, that pervades all lands. He had felt our war in
advance. He now feels a great change in the air; he is illuminated by an
inner light that makes him clairvoyant. America is riper than it knows
for this change. I tried to have him definitely define it, so that I
could write home to my friends and the newspapers and the insurance
companies; but I could only get a vague notion that there was about to
be an end of armies and navies and police, of all forms of religion, of
government, of property, and that universal brotherhood is to set in.

The evangelist had come aboard on an important and rather secret
mission; to observe the progress of things in Europe; and to publish his
observations in a book. Spiritualized as he was, he had no need of
any language except the American; he felt the political and religious
atmosphere of all the cities he visited without speaking to any one.
When he entered a picture gallery, although he knew nothing of pictures,
he saw more than any one else. I suppose he saw more than Mr. Ruskin
sees. He told me, among other valuable information, that he found Europe
not so well prepared for the great movement as America, but that I would
be surprised at the number who were in sympathy with it, especially
those in high places in society and in government. The Roman Catholic
Church was going to pieces; not that he cared any more for this than for
the Presbyterian—he, personally, took what was good in any church,
but he had got beyond them all; he was now only working for the
establishment of the truth, and it was because he had more of the truth
than others that he could see further.

He expected that America would be surprised when he published his
observations. “I can give you a little idea,” he said, “of how things
are working.” This talk was late at night, and by the dim cabin lamp.
“When I was in Rome, I went to see the head-man of the Pope. I talked
with him over an hour, and I found that he knew all about it!”

“Good gracious! You don’t say so!”

“Yes, sir. And he is in full sympathy. But he dare not say anything.
He knows that his church is on its last legs. I told him that I did
not care to see the Pope, but if he wanted to meet me, and discuss the
infallibility question, I was ready for him.”

“What did the Pope’s head-man say to that?”

“He said that he would see the Pope, and see if he could arrange an
interview; and would let me know. I waited a week in Rome, but no notice
came. I tell you the Pope don’t dare discuss it.”

“Then he didn’t see you?”

“No, sir. But I wrote him a letter from Naples.”

“Perhaps he won’t answer it.”

“Well, if he doesn’t, that is a confession that he can’t. He leaves the
field. That will satisfy me.”

I said I thought he would be satisfied.

The Mediterranean enlarges on acquaintance. On the fourth day we are
still without sight of Africa, though the industrious screw brings us
nearer every moment. We talk of Carthage, and think we can see the color
of the Libyan sand in the yellow clouds at night. It is two o’clock
on the morning of December the third, when we make the Pharos of
Alexandria, and wait for a pilot.



0039



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CHAPTER II.—WITHIN THE PORTALS.

EAGERNESS to see Africa brings us on deck at dawn. The low coast is not
yet visible. Africa, as we had been taught, lies in heathen darkness. It
is the policy of the Egyptian government to make the harbor difficult
of access to hostile men-of-war, and we, who are peacefully inclined,
cannot come in till daylight, nor then without a pilot.

The day breaks beautifully, and the Pharos is set like a star in the
bright streak of the East. Before we can distinguish land, we see the
so-called Pompey’s Pillar and the light-house, the palms, the minarets,
and the outline of the domes painted on the straw-color of the sky—a
dream-like picture. The curtain draws up with Eastern leisure—the sun
appears to rise more deliberately in the Orient than elsewhere; the
sky grows more brilliant, there are long lines of clouds, golden and
crimson, and we seem to be looking miles and miles into an enchanted
country. Then ships and boats, a vast number of them, become visible
in the harbor, and as the light grows stronger, the city and land lose
something of their beauty, but the sky grows more softly fiery till the
sun breaks through. The city lies low along the flat coast, and seems
at first like a brownish white streak, with fine lines of masts,
palm-trees, and minarets above it.

The excitement of the arrival in Alexandria and the novelty of
everything connected with the landing can never be repeated. In one
moment the Orient flashes upon the bewildered traveler; and though he
may travel far and see stranger sights, and penetrate the hollow shell
of Eastern mystery, he never will see again at once such a complete
contrast to all his previous experience. One strange, unfamiliar form
takes the place of another so rapidly that there is no time to fix
an impression, and everything is so bizarre that the new-comer has no
points of comparison. He is launched into a new world, and has no time
to adjust the focus of his observation. For myself, I wished the
Orient would stand off a little and stand still so that I could try
to comprehend it. But it would not; a revolving kaleidoscope never
presented more bewildering figures and colors to a child, than the port
of Alexandria to us.

Our first sight of strange dress is that of the pilot and the crew who
bring him off—they are Nubians, he is a swarthy Egyptian. “How black
they are,” says the Baroness; “I don’t like it.” As the pilot steps on
deck, in his white turban, loose robe of cotton, and red slippers,
he brings the East with him; we pass into the influence of the Moslem
spirit. Coming into the harbor we have pointed out to us the batteries,
the palace and harem of the Pasha (more curiosity is felt about a harem
than about any other building, except perhaps a lunatic asylum), and
the new villas along the curve of the shore. It is difficult to see any
ingress, on account of the crowd of shipping.

The anchor is not down before we are surrounded by rowboats, six or
eight deep on both sides, with a mob of boatmen and guides, all standing
up and shouting at us in all the broken languages of three continents.
They are soon up the sides and on deck, black, brown, yellow, in
turbans, in tarbooshes, in robes of white, blue, brown, in brilliant
waist-shawls, slippered, and bare-legged, bare-footed, half-naked,
with little on except a pair of cotton drawers and a red fez, eager,
big-eyed, pushing, yelping, gesticulating, seizing hold of passengers
and baggage, and fighting for the possession of the traveler’s goods
which seem to him about to be shared among a lot of pirates. I saw a
dazed traveler start to land, with some of his traveling-bags in
one boat, his trunk in a second, and himself in yet a third, and a
commissionaire at each arm attempting to drag him into two others. He
evidently couldn’t make up his mind, which to take.

We have decided upon our hotel, and ask for the commissionaire of it. He
appears. In fact there are twenty or thirty of him. The first one is a
tall, persuasive, nearly naked Ethiop, who declares that he is the only
Simon Pure, and grasps our handbags. Instantly, a fluent, business-like
Alexandrian pushes him aside—“I am the commissionaire”—and is about to
take possession of us. But a dozen others are of like mind, and Babel
begins. We rescue our property, and for ten minutes a lively and most
amusing altercation goes on as to who is the representative of the
hotel. They all look like pirates from the Barbary coast, instead of
guardians of peaceful travelers. Quartering an orange, I stand in the
center of an interesting group, engaged in the most lively discussion,
pushing, howling and fiery gesticulation. The dispute is finally between
two:

“I Hotel Europe!”

“I Hotel Europe; he no hotel.”

“He my brother, all same me.”

“He! I never see he before,” with a shrug of the utmost contempt.

As soon as we select one of them, the tumult subsides, the enemies
become friends and cordially join in loading our luggage. In the first
five minutes of his stay in Egypt the traveler learns that he is to
trust and be served by people who haven’t the least idea that lying is
not a perfectly legitimate means of attaining any desirable end. And he
begins to lose any prejudice he may have in favor of a white complexion
and of clothes. In a decent climate he sees how little clothing is
needed for comfort, and how much artificial nations are accustomed to
put on from false modesty.

We begin to thread our way through a maze of shipping, and hundreds of
small boats and barges; the scene is gay and exciting beyond expression.
The first sight of the colored, pictured, lounging, waiting Orient is
enough to drive an impressionable person wild; so much that is novel
and picturesque is crowded into a few minutes; so many colors and flying
robes, such a display of bare legs and swarthy figures. We meet flat
boats coming down the harbor loaded with laborers, dark, immobile groups
in turbans and gowns, squatting on deck in the attitude which is the
most characteristic of the East; no one stands or sits—everybody
squats or reposes cross-legged. Soldiers are on the move; smart Turkish
officers dart by in light boats with half a dozen rowers; the crew of an
English man-of-war pull past; in all directions the swift boats fly, and
with their freight of color, it is like the thrusting of quick shuttles,
in the weaving of a brilliant carpet, before our eyes.

We step on shore at the Custom-House. I have heard travelers complain of
the delay in getting through it. I feel that I want to go slowly, that I
would like to be all day in getting through—that I am hurried along
like a person who is dragged hastily through a gallery, past striking
pictures of which he gets only glimpses. What a group this is on shore;
importunate guides, porters, coolies. They seize hold of us, We want
to stay and look at them. Did ever any civilized men dress so gaily, so
little, or so much in the wrong place? If that fellow would untwist
the folds of his gigantic turban he would have cloth enough to clothe
himself perfectly. Look! that’s an East Indian, that’s a Greek, that’s
a Turk that’s a Syrian-Jew? No, he’s Egyptian, the crook-nose is not
uncommon to Egyptians, that tall round hat is Persian, that one is from
Abys—there they go, we haven’t half seen them! We leave our passports at
the entrance, and are whisked through into the baggage-room, where our
guide pays a noble official three francs for the pleasure of his chance
acquaintance; some nearly naked coolie-porters, who bear long cords,
carry off our luggage, and before we know it we are in a carriage, and a
rascally guide and interpreter—Heaven knows how he fastened himself upon
us in the last five minutes—is on the box and apparently owns us? (It
took us half a day and liberal backsheesh to get rid of the evil-eyed
fellow) We have gone only a little distance when half a dozen of the
naked coolies rush after us, running by the carriage and laying hold of
it, demanding backsheesh. It appears that either the boatman has cheated
them, or they think he will, or they havn’t had enough. Nobody trusts
anybody else, and nobody is ever satisfied with what he gets, in Egypt.
These blacks, in their dirty white gowns, swinging their porter’s ropes
and howling like madmen, pursue us a long way and look as if they
would tear us in pieces. But nothing comes of it. We drive to the Place
Mehemet Ali, the European square,—having nothing Oriental about it,
a square with an equestrian statue of Mehemet Ali, some trees and a
fountain—surrounded by hotels, bankers’ offices and Frank shops.

There is not much in Alexandria to look at except the people, and the
dirty bazaars. We never before had seen so much nakedness, filth
and dirt, so much poverty, and such enjoyment of it, or at least
indifference to it. We were forced to strike a new scale of estimating
poverty and wretchedness. People are poor in proportion as their wants
are not gratified. And here are thousands who have few of the wants
that we have, and perhaps less poverty. It is difficult to estimate the
poverty of those fortunate children to whom the generous sun gives a
warm color for clothing, who have no occupation but to sit in the same,
all day, in some noisy and picturesque thoroughfare, and stretch out the
hand for the few paras sufficient to buy their food, who drink at
the public fountain, wash in the tank of the mosque, sleep in
street-corners, and feel sure of their salvation if they know the
direction of Mecca. And the Mohammedan religion seems to be a sort of
soul-compass, by which the most ignorant believer can always orient
himself. The best-dressed Christian may feel certain of one thing, that
he is the object of the cool contempt of the most naked, opthalmic,
flea-attended, wretched Moslem he meets. The Oriental conceit is a peg
above ours—it is not self-conscious.

In a fifteen minutes walk in the streets the stranger finds all the
pictures that he remembers in his illustrated books of Eastern life.
There is turbaned Ali Baba, seated on the hindquarters of his sorry
donkey, swinging his big feet in a constant effort to urge the beast
forward; there is the one-eyed calender who may have arrived last night
from Bagdad; there is the water-carrier, with a cloth about his loins,
staggering under a full goat-skin—the skin, legs, head, and all the
members of the brute distended, so that the man seems to be carrying a
drowned and water-soaked animal: there is the veiled sister of Zobeide
riding a grey donkey astride, with her knees drawn up, (as all women
ride in the East), entirely enveloped in a white garment which covers
her head and puffs out about her like a balloon—all that can be seen
of the woman are the toes of her pointed yellow slippers and two black
eyes; there is the seller of sherbet, a waterish, feeble, insipid drink,
clinking his glasses; and the veiled woman in black, with hungry eyes,
is gliding about everywhere. The veil is in two parts, a band about
the forehead, and a strip of black which hangs underneath the eyes and
terminates in a point at the waist; the two parts are connected by an
ornamented cylinder of brass, or silver if the wearer can afford it,
two and a half inches long and an inch in diameter. This ugly cylinder
between the restless eyes, gives the woman an imprisoned, frightened
look. Across the street from the hotel, upon the stone coping of the
public square, is squatting hour after hour in the sun, a row of these
forlorn creatures in black, impassive and waiting. We are told that they
are washerwomen waiting for a job. I never can remove the impression
that these women are half stifled behind their veils and the shawls
which they draw over the head; when they move their heads, it is like
the piteous dumb movement of an uncomplaining animal.

But the impatient reader is waiting for Pompey’s Pillar. We drive
outside the walls, though a thronged gateway, through streets and among
people wretched and picturesque to the last degree. This is the road to
the large Moslem cemetery, and to-day is Thursday, the day for visiting
the graves. The way is lined with coffee-shops, where men are smoking
and playing at draughts; with stands and booths for the sale of
fried cakes and confections; and all along, under foot, so that it is
difficult not to tread on them, are private markets for the sale of
dates, nuts, raisins, wheat, and doora; the bare-legged owner sits on
the ground and spreads his dust-covered untempting fare on a straw
mat before him. It is more wretched and forlorn outside the gate than
within. We are amid heaps of rubbish, small mountains of it, perhaps the
ruins of old Alexandria, perhaps only the accumulated sweepings of the
city for ages, piles of dust, and broken pottery. Every Egyptian town
of any size is surrounded by these—the refuse of ages of weary
civilization.

What a number of old men, of blind men, ragged men—though rags are no
disgrace! What a lot of scrawny old women, lean old hags, some of them
without their faces covered—even the veiled ones you can see are only
bags of bones. There is a derweesh, a naked holy man, seated in the
dirt by the wall, reading the Koran. He has no book, but he recites the
sacred text in a loud voice, swaying his body backwards and forwards.
Now and then we see a shrill-voiced, handsome boy also reading the Koran
with all his might, and keeping a laughing eye upon the passing world.
Here comes a novel turn-out. It is a long truck-wagon drawn by one
bony-horse. Upon it are a dozen women, squatting about the edges, facing
each other, veiled, in black, silent, jolting along like so many bags of
meal. A black imp stands in front, driving. They carry baskets of food
and flowers, and are going to the cemetery to spend the day.

We pass the cemetery, for the Pillar is on a little hillock overlooking
it. Nothing can be drearier than this burying-ground—unless it may be
some other Moslem cemetery. It is an uneven plain of sand, without a
spear of grass or a green thing. It is covered thickly with ugly stucco,
oven-like tombs, the whole inconceivably shabby and dust covered; the
tombs of the men have head-stones to distinguish them from the women.
Yet, shabby as all the details of this crumbling cheap place of
sepulture are, nothing could be gayer or more festive than the scene
before us. Although the women are in the majority, there are enough men
and children present, in colored turbans, fezes, and gowns, and shawls
of Persian dye, to transform the graveyard into the semblance of a
parterre of flowers. About hundreds of the tombs are seated in a circle
groups of women, with their food before them, and the flowers laid upon
the tomb, wailing and howling in the very excess of dry-eyed grief. Here
and there a group has employed a “welee” or holy man, or a boy, to read
the Koran for it—and these Koran-readers turn an honest para by their
vocation. The women spend nearly the entire day in this sympathetic
visit to their departed friends—it is a custom as old as history, and
the Egyptians used to build their tombs with a visiting ante-chamber for
the accommodation of the living. I should think that the knowledge that
such a group of women were to eat their luncheon, wailing and roosting
about one’s tomb every week, would add a new terror to death.

The Pillar, which was no doubt erected by Diocletian to his own honor,
after the modest fashion of Romans as well as Egyptians, is in its
present surroundings not an object of enthusiasm, though it is almost a
hundred feet high, and the monolith shaft was, before age affected it,
a fine piece of polished Syenite. It was no doubt a few thousand years
older than Diocletian, and a remnant of that oldest civilization; the
base and capital he gave it are not worthy of it. Its principal use
now is as a surface for the paint-brushes and chisels of distinguished
travelers, who have covered it with their precious names. I cannot
sufficiently admire the naïveté and self-depreciation of those travelers
who paint and cut their names on such monuments, knowing as they must
that the first sensible person who reads the same will say, “This is an
ass.”

We drive, still outside the walls, towards the Mahmoodéeh canal, passing
amid mounds of rubbish, and getting a view of the desert-like
country beyond. And now heaves in sight the unchanged quintessence of
Orientalism—there is our first camel, a camel in use, in his native
setting and not in a menagerie. There is a line of them, loaded with
building-stones, wearily shambling along. The long bended neck apes
humility, but the supercilious nose in the air expresses perfect
contempt for all modern life. The contrast of this haughty
“stuck-up-ativeness” (it is necessary to coin this word to express the
camel’s ancient conceit) with the royal ugliness of the brute, is both
awe-inspiring and amusing. No human royal family dare be uglier than the
camel. He is a mass of bones, faded tufts, humps, lumps, splay-joints
and callosities. His tail is a ridiculous wisp, and a failure as an
ornament or a fly-brush. His feet are simply big sponges. For skin
covering he has patches of old buffalo robes, faded and with the hair
worn off. His voice is more disagreeable than his appearance. With a
reputation for patience, he is snappish and vindictive. His endurance is
over-rated—that is to say he dies like a sheep on an expedition of any
length, if he is not well fed. His gait moves every muscle like an ague.
And yet this ungainly creature carries his head in the air, and regards
the world out of his great brown eyes with disdain. The Sphinx is not
more placid. He reminds me, I don’t know why, of a pyramid. He has a
resemblance to a palm-tree. It is impossible to make an Egyptian picture
without him. What a Hapsburg lip he has! Ancient, royal? The very poise
of his head says plainly, “I have come out of the dim past, before
history was; the deluge did not touch me; I saw Menes come and go; I
helped Shoofoo build the great pyramid; I knew Egypt when it hadn’t
an obelisk nor a temple; I watched the slow building of the pyramid at
Sakkara. Did I not transport the fathers of your race across the
desert? There are three of us; the date-palm, the pyramid, and myself.
Everything else is modern. Go to!”

Along the canal, where lie dahabeëhs that will by and by make their way
up the Nile, are some handsome villas, palaces and gardens. This is
the favorite drive and promenade. In the gardens, that are open to the
public, we find a profusion of tropical trees and flowering shrubs;
roses are decaying, but the blossoms of the yellow acacia scent the air;
there are Egyptian lilies; the plant with crimson leaves, not native
here, grows as high as the arbutilon tree; the red passion-flower is in
bloom, and morning-glories cover with their running vine the tall and
slender cypresses. The finest tree is the sycamore, with great gnarled
trunk, and down-dropping branches. Its fruit, the sycamore fig, grows
directly on the branch, without stem. It is an insipid fruit, sawdust-y,
but the Arabs like it, and have a saying that he who eats one is sure to
return to Egypt. After we had tried to eat one, we thought we should not
care to return. The interior was filled with lively little flies; and a
priest who was attending a school of boys taking a holiday in the grove,
assured us that each fig had to be pierced when it was green, to let
the flies out, in order to make it eatable. But the Egyptians eat them,
flies and all.

The splendors of Alexandria must be sought in books. The traveler will
see scarcely any remains of a magnificence which dazzled the world in
the beginning of our era. He may like to see the mosque that marks the
site of the church of St. Mark, and he may care to look into the Coptic
convent whence the Venetians stole the body of the saint, about a
thousand years ago. Of course we go to see that wonder of our childhood,
Cleopatra’s Needles, as the granite obelisks are called that were
brought from Alexandria and set up before a temple of Caesar in the
time of Tiberius. Only one is standing, the other, mutilated, lies prone
beneath the soil. The erect one stands near the shore and in the midst
of hovels and incredible filth. The name of the earliest king it bears
is that of Thothmes III., the great man of Egypt, whose era of conquest
was about 1500 years before St. Mark came on his mission to Alexandria.

The city which has had as many vicissitudes as most cities, boasting
under the Cæsars a population of half a million, that had decreased to
6,000 in 1800, and has now again grown to over two hundred thousand,
seems to be at a waiting point; the merchants complain that the Suez
Canal has killed its trade. Yet its preeminence for noise, dirt and
shabbiness will hardly be disputed; and its bazaars and streets are much
more interesting, perhaps because it is the meeting-place of all races,
than travelers usually admit.

We had scarcely set foot in our hotel when we were saluted and waited
for by dragomans of all sorts. They knocked at our doors, they waylaid
us in the passages; whenever we emerged from our rooms half a dozen
rose up, bowing low; it was like being a small king, with obsequious
attendants waiting every motion. They presented their cards, they begged
we would step aside privately for a moment and look at the bundle of
recommendations they produced; they would not press themselves, but if
we desired a dragoman for the Nile they were at our service. They were
of all shades of color, except white, and of all degrees of oriental
splendor in their costume. There were Egyptians, Nubians, Maltese,
Greeks, Syrians. They speak well all the languages of the Levant and
of Europe, except the one in which you attempt to converse with them. I
never made the acquaintance of so many fine fellows in the same space
of time. All of them had the strongest letters of commendation from
travelers whom they had served, well-known men of letters and of
affairs. Travelers give these endorsements as freely as they sign
applications for government appointments at home.

The name of the handsome dragoman who walked with us through the bazaars
was, naturally enough, Ahmed Abdallah. He wore the red fez (tarboosh)
with a gay kuffia bound about it; an embroidered shirt without collar or
cravat; a long shawl of checked and bright-colored Beyrout silk girding
the loins, in which was carried his watch and heavy chain; a cloth coat;
and baggy silk trousers that would be a gown if they were not split
enough to gather about each ankle. The costume is rather Syrian than
Egyptian, and very elegant when the materials are fine; but with a
suggestion of effeminacy, to Western eyes.

The native bazaars, which are better at Cairo, reveal to the traveler,
at a glance, the character of the Orient; its cheap tinsel, its squalor,
and its occasional richness and gorgeousness. The shops on each side of
the narrow street are little more than good-sized wardrobes, with
room for shelves of goods in the rear and for the merchant to sit
cross-legged in front. There is usually space for a customer to sit with
him, and indeed two or three can rest on the edge of the platform. Upon
cords stretched across the front hang specimens of the wares for sale.
Wooden shutters close the front at night. These little cubbies are not
only the places of sale but of manufacture of goods. Everything goes on
in the view of all the world. The tailor is stitching, the goldsmith is
blowing the bellows of his tiny forge, the saddler is repairing the old
donkey-saddles, the shoemaker is cutting red leather, the brazier is
hammering, the weaver sits at his little loom with the treadle in the
ground—every trade goes on, adding its own clatter to the uproar.

What impresses us most is the good nature of the throng, under trying
circumstances. The street is so narrow that three or four people abreast
make a jam, and it is packed with those moving in two opposing currents.
Through this mass comes a donkey with a couple of panniers of soil or of
bricks, or bundles of scraggly sticks; or a camel surges in, loaded
with building-joists or with lime; or a Turkish officer, with a gaily
caparisoned horse impatiently stamping; a porter slams along with
a heavy box on his back; the water-carrier with his nasty skin rubs
through; the vender of sweetmeats finds room for his broad tray; the
orange-man pushes his cart into the throng; the Jew auctioneer cries
his antique brasses and more antique raiment. Everybody is jostled and
pushed and jammed; but everybody is in an imperturbable good humor, for
no one is really in a hurry, and whatever is, is as it always has been
and will be. And what a cosmopolitan place it is. We meet Turks, Greeks,
Copts, Egyptians, Nubians, Syrians, Armenians, Italians; tattered
derweeshes, “welees” or holy Moslems, nearly naked, presenting the
appearance of men who have been buried a long time and recently dug up;
Greek priests, Jews, Persian Parsees, Algerines, Hindoos, negroes from
Darfoor, and flat-nosed blacks from beyond Khartoom.

The traveler has come into a country of holiday which is perpetual.
Under this sun and in this air there is nothing to do but to enjoy life
and attend to religion five times a day. We look into a mosque; In the
cool court is a fountain for washing; the mosque is sweet and quiet,
and upon its clean matting a row of Arabs are prostrating themselves
in prayer towards the niche that indicates the direction of Mecca. We
stroll along the open streets encountering a novelty at every step.
Here is a musician a Nubian playing upon a sort of tambour on a frame;
a picking, feeble noise he produces, but he is accompanied by the oddest
character we have seen yet. This is a stalwart, wild-eyed son of the
sand, coal-black, with a great mass of uncombed, disordered hair hanging
about his shoulders. His only clothing is a breech-cloth and a round
shaving-glass bound upon his forehead; but he has hung about his waist
heavy strings of goats’ hoofs, and those he shakes, in time to the
tambour, by a tremulous motion of his big hips as he minces about.
He seems so vastly pleased with himself that I covet knowledge of his
language, in order to tell him that he looks like an idiot.

Near the Fort Napoleon, a hill by the harbor, we encounter another
scene peculiar to the East. A yellow-skinned, cunning-eyed conjurer has
attracted a ring of idlers about him, who squat in the blowing dust,
under the blazing sun, and patiently watch his antics. The conjurer
himself performs no wonders, but the spectators are a study of color
and feature. The costumes are brilliant red, yellow, and white. The
complexions exhaust the possibilities of human color. I thought I had
seen black people in South Carolina; but I saw a boy just now standing
in a doorway who would have been invisible but for his white shirt; and
here is a fat negress in a bright yellow gown and kerchief, whose
jet face has taken an incredible polish; only the most accomplished
boot-black could raise such a shine on a shoe; tranquil enjoyment oozes
out of her. The conjurer is assisted by two mites of children, a girl
and a boy (no clothing wasted on them), and between the three a great
deal of jabber and whacking with cane sticks is going on, but nothing
is performed except the taking of a long snake from a bag and tying it
round the little girl’s neck. Paras are collected, however, and that is
the main object of all performances.

A little further on, another group is gathered around a storyteller,
who is reeling off one of the endless tales in which the Arab delights;
love-adventures, not always the most delicate but none the less enjoyed
for that, or the story of some poor lad who has had a wonderful career
and finally married the Sultan’s daughter. He is accompanied in his
narrative by two men thumping upon darabooka drums, in a monotonous,
sleepy fashion, quite in accordance however with the everlasting leisure
that pervades the air. Walking about are the venders of sweets, and of
greasy cakes, who carry tripods on which to rest their brass trays, and
who split the air with their cries.

It is color, color, that makes all this shifting panorama so
fascinating, and hides the nakedness, the squalor, the wretchedness of
all this unconcealed poverty; color in flowing garments, color in the
shops, color in the sky. We have come to the land of the sun.

At night when we walk around the square we stumble over bundles of
rags containing men who are asleep, in all the corners, stretched on
doorsteps, laid away on the edge of the sidewalk. Opposite the hotel is
a casino, which is more Frank than Egyptian. The musicians are all women
and Germans or Bohemians; the waiter-girls are mostly Italian; one of
them says she comes from Bohemia, and has been in India, to which she
proposes to return. The habitués are mostly young Egyptians in Frank
dress except the tarboosh, and Italians, all effeminate fellows. All the
world of loose living and wandering meets here. Italian is much spoken.
There is little that is Oriental here, except it may be a complaisance
toward anything enervating and languidly wicked that Europe has to
offer. This cheap concert is, we are told, all the amusement at night
that can be offered the traveler, by the once pleasure-loving city of
Cleopatra, in the once brilliant Greek capital in which Hypatia was a
star.



0053



0054



CHAPTER III.—EGYPT OF TO-DAY.

EGYPT has excellent railways. There is no reason why it should not have.
They are made without difficulty and easily maintained in a land of
no frosts; only where they touch the desert an occasional fence is
necessary against the drifting sand. The rails are laid, without wooden
sleepers, on iron saucers, with connecting bands, and the track is firm
and sufficiently elastic. The express train travels the 131 miles to
Cairo in about four and a half hours, running with a punctuality, and
with Egyptian drivers and conductors too, that is unique in Egypt. The
opening scene at the station did not promise expedition or system.

We reach the station three quarters of an hour before the departure
of the train, for it requires a longtime—in Egypt, as everywhere in
Europe—to buy tickets and get baggage weighed. The officials are slower
workers than our treasury-clerks. There is a great crowd of foreigners,
and the baggage-room is piled with trunks of Americans, ‘boxes’ of
Englishmen, and chests and bundles of all sorts. Behind a high counter
in a smaller room stand the scales, the weigher, and the clerks. Piles
of trunks are brought in and dumped by the porters, and thrust forward
by the servants and dragomans upon the counter, to gain them preference
at the scales. No sooner does a dragoman get in his trunk than another
is thrust ahead of it, and others are hurled on top, till the whole pile
comes down with a crash. There is no system, there are neither officials
nor police, and the excited travelers are free to fight it out among
themselves. To venture into the mêlée is to risk broken bones, and it
is wiser to leave the battle to luck and the dragomans. The noise is
something astonishing. A score or two of men are yelling at the top
of their voices, screaming, scolding, damning each other in polyglot,
gesticulating, jumping up and down, quivering with excitement. This is
your Oriental repose! If there were any rule by which passengers could
take their turns, all the trunks could be quickly weighed and passed on;
but now in the scrimmage not a trunk gets to the scales, and a half hour
goes by in which no progress is made and the uproar mounts higher.

Finally, Ahmed, slight and agile, handing me his cane, kuffia and watch,
leaps over the heap of trunks on the counter and comes to close quarters
with the difficulty. He succeeds in getting two trunks upon the platform
of the scales, but a traveler, whose clothes were made in London, tips
them off and substitutes his own. The weighers stand patiently waiting
the result of the struggle. Ahmed hurls off the stranger’s trunk, gives
its owner a turn that sends him spinning over the baggage, and at last
succeeds in getting our luggage weighed. He emerges from the scrimmage
an exhausted man, and we get our seats in the carriage just in time.
However, it does not start for half an hour.

The reader would like to ride from Alexandria to Cairo, but he won’t
care to read much about the route. It is our first experience of a
country living solely by irrigation—the occasional winter showers being
practically of no importance. We pass along and over the vast shallows
of Lake Mareotis, a lake in winter and a marsh in summer, ride between
marshes and cotton-fields, and soon strike firmer ground. We are
traveling, in short, through a Jersey flat, a land black, fat, and rich,
without an elevation, broken only by canals and divided into fields by
ditches. Every rod is cultivated, and there are no detached habitations.
The prospect cannot be called lively, but it is not without interest;
there are ugly buffaloes in the coarse grass, there is the elegant
white heron, which travelers insist is the sacred ibis, there are some
doleful-looking fellaheen, with donkeys, on the bank of the canal,
there is a file of camels, and there are shadoofs. The shadoof is the
primitive method of irrigation, and thousands of years have not changed
it. Two posts are driven into the bank of the canal, with a cross-piece
on top. On this swings a pole with a bucket of leather suspended at
one end, which is outweighed by a ball of clay at the other. The fellah
stands on the slope of the bank and, dipping the bucket into the water,
raises it and pours the fluid into a sluice-way above. If the bank is
high, two and sometimes three shadoofs are needed to raise the water to
the required level. The labor is prodigiously hard and back-straining,
continued as it must be constantly. All the fellaheen we saw were clad
in black, though some had a cloth about their loins. The workman usually
stands in a sort of a recess in the bank, and his color harmonizes with
the dark soil. Any occupation more wearisome and less beneficial to the
mind I cannot conceive. To the credit of the Egyptians, the men alone
work the shadoof. Women here tug water, grind the corn, and carry about
babies, always; but I never saw one pulling at a shadoof pole.

There is an Arab village! We need to be twice assured that it is a
village. Raised on a slight elevation, so as to escape high water, it is
still hardly distinguishable from the land, certainly not in color.
All Arab villages look like ruins; this is a compacted collection of
shapeless mud-huts, flat-topped and irregularly thrown together. It is
an aggregation of dog-kennels, baked in the sun and cracked. However,
a clump of palm-trees near it gives it an air of repose, and if it
possesses a mosque and a minaret it has a picturesque appearance, if the
observer does not go too near. And such are the habitations of nearly
all the Egyptians.

Sixty-five miles from Alexandria, we cross the Rosetta branch of the
Nile, on a fine iron bridge—even this portion of the Nile is a broad,
sprawling river; and we pass through several respectable towns which
have an appearance of thrift—Tanta especially, with its handsome station
and a palace of the Khedive. At Tanta is held three times a year a great
religious festival and fair, not unlike the old fair of the ancient
Egyptians at Bubastis in honor of Diana, with quite as many excesses,
and like that, with a gramme of religion to a pound of pleasure. “Now,”
says Herodotus, “when they are being conveyed to the city Bubastis, they
act as follows:—for men and women embark together, and great numbers
of both sexes in every barge: some of the women have castanets on which
they play, and the men play on the flute during the whole voyage; and
the rest of the women and men sing and clap their hands together at the
same time.” And he goes on to say that when they came to any town they
moored the barge, and the women chaffed those on shore, and danced with
indecent gestures; and that at the festival more wine was consumed than
all the rest of the year. The festival at Tanta is in honor of a famous
Moslem saint whose tomb is there; but the tomb is scarcely so attractive
as the field of the fête, with the story-tellers and the jugglers and
booths of dancing girls.

We pass decayed Benha with its groves of Yoosef-Effendi oranges—the
small fruit called Mandarin by foreigners, and preferred by those who
like a slight medicinal smell and taste in the orange; and when we are
yet twenty miles from Cairo, there in the south-west, visible for a
moment and then hidden by the trees, and again in sight, faintly and yet
clearly outlined against the blue sky, are two forms, the sight of which
gives us a thrill. They stand still in that purple distance in which we
have seen them all our lives. Beyond these level fields and these trees
of sycamore and date-palm, beyond the Nile, on the desert’s edge, with
the low Libyan hills falling off behind them, as delicate in form and
color as clouds, as enduring as the sky they pierce, the Pyramids of
Geezeh! I try to shake off the impression of their solemn antiquity, and
imagine how they would strike one if all their mystery were removed. But
that is impossible. The imagination always prompts the eye. And yet I
believe that standing where they do stand, and in this atmosphere, they
are the most impressive of human structures. But the pyramids would be
effective, as the obelisk is not, out of Egypt.

Trees increase in number; we have villas and gardens; the grey ledges of
the Mokattam hills come into view, then the twin slender spires of the
Mosque of Mohammed Ali on the citadel promontory, and we are in the
modern station of Cairo; and before we take in the situation are
ignominiously driven away in a hotel-omnibus. This might happen in
Europe. Yes; but then, who are these in white and blue and red, these
squatters by the wayside, these smokers in the sun, these turbaned
riders on braying donkeys and grumbling dromedaries; what is all this
fantastic masquerade in open day? Do people live in these houses? Do
women peep from these lattices? Isn’t that gowned Arab conscious that he
is kneeling and praying out doors? Have we come to a land where all our
standards fail and people are not ashamed of their religion?



0058



0059



CHAPTER IV.—CAIRO.

O CAIRO! Cairo! Masr-el-Kaherah, The Victorious! City of the Caliphs, of
Salah-e’-deen, of the Memlooks! Town of mediaeval romance projected
into a prosaic age! More Oriental than Damascus, or Samarcand. Vast,
sprawling city, with dilapidated Saracenic architecture, pretentious
modern barrack-palaces, new villas and gardens, acres of compacted,
squalid, unsunned dwellings. Always picturesque, lamentably dirty, and
thoroughly captivating.

Shall we rhapsodize over it, or attempt to describe it? Fortunately,
writers have sufficiently done both. Let us enjoy it. We are at
Shepherd’s. It is a caravansary through which the world flows. At
its table d’hote are all nations; German princes, English dukes and
shopkeepers, Indian officers, American sovereigns; explorers, savants,
travelers; they have come for the climate of Cairo, they are going
up the Nile, they are going to hunt in Abyssinia, to join an advance
military party on the White Nile; they have come from India, from Japan,
from Australia, from Europe, from America.

We are in the Frank quarter called the Ezbekeëh, which was many years
ago a pond during high water, then a garden with a canal round it, and
is now built over with European houses and shops, except the square
reserved for the public garden. From the old terrace in front of the
hotel, where the traveler used to look on trees, he will see now only
raw new houses and a street usually crowded with passers and rows of
sleepy donkeys and their voluble drivers. The hotel is two stories only,
built round a court, damp in rainy or cloudy weather (and it is learning
how to rain as high up the Nile as Cairo), and lacking the comforts
which invalids require in the winter. It is kept on an ingenious
combination of the American and European plans; that is, the traveler
pays a fixed sum per day and then gets a bill of particulars, besides,
which gives him all the pleasures of the European system. We heard that
one would be more Orientally surrounded and better cared for at the
Hotel du Nil; and the Khedive, who tries his hand at everything, has set
up a New Hotel on the public square; but, somehow, one enters Shepherd’s
as easy as he goes into a city gate.

They call the house entirely European. But there are pelicans walking
about in the tropical garden; on one side is the wall of a harem, a
house belonging to the Khedive’s mother, a harem with closed shutters,
but uninteresting, because there is no one in it, though ostriches are
strutting in its paved court; in the rear of the house stretches a great
grove of tall date-palms standing in a dusty, débris-strown field—a lazy
wind is always singing through their tops, and a sakiya (a cow-impelled
water-wheel) creaks there day and night; we never lock the doors of our
rooms; long-gowned attendants are always watching in the passages, and,
when we want one, in default of bells, we open the door and clap the
hands. All this, with a juggler performing before the house; dragomans
and servants and merchants in Oriental costume; the monotonous strumming
of an Arab band in a neighboring cafe, bricklayers on the unfinished
house opposite us, working in white night-gowns and turbans, who might
be mistaken at a distance for female sleepwalkers; and from a minaret
not far away, the tenor-voiced muezzins urging us in the most
musical invitation ever extended to unbelievers, to come to prayer at
daylight—this cannot be called European.

An end of the dinner-table, however, is occupied by a loud party of
young Englishmen, a sprinkling of dukes and earls and those attendants
and attentive listeners of the nobility who laugh inordinately when my
lord says a good thing, and are encouraged when my lord laughs loudly at
a sally of theirs and declares, “well, now, that’s very good;” a party
who seem to regard Cairo as beyond the line of civilization and its
requirements. They talk loud, roar in laughing, stare at the ladies, and
light their cigars before the latter have withdrawn. My comrade notices
that they call for champagne before fish; we could overlook anything but
that. Some travelers who are annoyed at their boisterousness speak to
the landlord about them, without knowing their rank—supposing that
one could always tell an earl by his superior manners. These young
representatives of England have demanded that the Khedive shall send
them on their hunting-tour in Africa, and he is to do so at considerable
cost; and it is said that he pays their hotel bills in Cairo. The desire
of the Khedive to stand well with all the European powers makes him an
easy prey to any nobleman who does not like to travel in Egypt at his
own expense. (It ought to be added that we encountered on the Nile an
Englishman of high rank who had declined the Khedive’s offer of a free
trip).

Cairo is a city of vast distances, especially the new part which is laid
out with broad streets, and built up with isolated houses having perhaps
a garden or a green court; open squares are devoted to fountains and
flower-beds. Into these broad avenues the sun pours, and through them
the dust swirls in clouds; everything is covered with it; it imparts
its grey tint to the town and sifts everywhere its impalpable powder.
No doubt the health of Cairo is greatly improved and epidemics are
lessened, by the destruction of the pestilent old houses and by running
wide streets through the old quarters of twisting lanes and sunless
alleys. But the wide streets are uninteresting, and the sojourner in the
city likes to escape out of their glare and dust into the cool and
shady recesses of the old town. And he has not far to go to do so. A
few minutes walk from the Ezbekeëh brings one into a tangle like the
crossing paths of an ants nest, into the very heart of the smell and
color of the Orient, among people among shops, in the presence of
manners, habits, costumes, occupations, centuries old, into a life in
which the western man recognizes nothing familiar.

Cairo, between the Mokattam hill of limestone and the Nile, covers a
great deal of ground—about three square miles—on which dwell somewhere
from a third to a half of a million of people. The traveler cannot see
its stock-sights in a fortnight, and though he should be there months he
will find something novel in the street-life daily, even though he does
not, as Mr. Lane has so admirably done, make a study of the people. And
“life” goes on in the open streets, to an extent which always surprises
us, however familiar we may be with Italian habits. People eat, smoke,
pray, sleep, carry on all their trades in sight of the passers by—only
into the recesses of the harem and the faces of the women one may not
look. And this last mystery and reserve almost outweighs the openness
of everything else. One feels as if he were in a masquerade; the part of
the world which is really most important—womankind—appears to him only
in shadow and flitting phantasm. What danger is he in from these wrapped
and veiled figures which glide by, shooting him with a dark and perhaps
wicked eye; what peril is he in as he slips through these narrow streets
with their masked batteries of latticed windows! This Eastern life is
all open to the sun; and yet how little of its secrets does the stranger
fathom. I seem to feel, always, in an Eastern town, that there is a mask
of duplicity and concealment behind which the Orientals live; that they
habitually deceive the traveler in his “gropings after truth.”

The best way of getting about Cairo and its environs is on the donkey.
It is cheap and exhilarating. The donkey is easily mounted and easily
got off from; not seldom he will weaken in his hind legs and let his
rider to the ground—a sinking operation which destroys your confidence
in life itself. Sometimes he stumbles and sends the rider over his head.
But the good donkey never does either. He is the best animal, of his
size and appearance, living. He has the two qualities of our greatest
general, patience and obstinacy. The good donkey is easy as a
rocking-chair, sure-footed as a chamois; he can thread any crowd and
stand patiently dozing in any noisy thoroughfare for hours. To ride him
is only a slight compromise of one’s independence in walking. One is so
near the ground, and so absent-mindedly can he gaze at what is around
him, that he forgets that there is anything under him. When the donkey,
in the excitement of company on the open street and stimulated by the
whacks and cries of his driver, breaks into the rush of a gallop, there
is so much flying of legs and such a general flutter that the rider
fancies he is getting over the ground at an awful rate, running a
breakneck race; but it does not appear so to an observer. The rider has
the feeling of the swift locomotion of the Arab steed without its danger
or its expense. Besides, a long-legged man, with a cork hat and a flying
linen “duster,” tearing madly along on an animal as big as a sheep, is
an amusing spectacle.

The donkey is abused, whacked, beaten till he is raw, saddled so that
all the straps gall him, hard-ridden, left for hours to be assailed by
the flies in the street, and ridiculed by all men. I wish we could know
what sort of an animal centuries of good treatment would have made of
him. Something no doubt quite beyond human deserts; as it is, he is
simply indispensable in Eastern life. And not seldom he is a pet; he
wears jingling bells and silver ornaments around his neck; his hair is
shaved in spots to give him a variegated appearance, and his mane and
tail are dyed with henna; he has on an embroidered cloth bridle and a
handsome saddle, under which is a scarlet cloth worked with gold. The
length and silkiness of his ears are signs of his gentle breeding. I
could never understand why he is loaded with such an enormous saddle;
the pommel of it rising up in front of the rider as big as a half-bushel
measure. Perhaps it is thought well to put this mass upon his back so
that he will not notice or mind any additional weight.

The donkey’s saving quality, in this exacting world, is inertia. And,
yet, he is not without ambition. He dislikes to be passed on the road by
a fellow; and if one attempts it, he is certain to sheer in ahead of
him and shove him off the track. “Donkey jealous one anoder,” say the
drivers.

Each donkey has his driver or attendant, without whose presence, behind
or at the side, the animal ceases to go forward. These boys, and some
of them are men in stature, are the quickest-witted, most importunate,
good-natured vagabonds in this world. They make a study of human nature,
and accurately measure every traveler the moment he appears. They
are agile to do errands, some of them are better guides than the
professionals, they can be entrusted with any purchases you may make,
they run, carrying their slippers in their hand, all day beside the
donkey, and get only a pittance of pay. They are however a jolly,
larkish set, always skylarking with each other, and are not unlike the
newspaper boys of New York; now and then one of them becomes a trader or
a dragoman and makes his fortune.

If you prefer a carriage, good vehicles have become plenty of late
years, since there are broad streets for driving; and some very handsome
equipages are seen, especially towards evening on the Shoobra road, up
and down which people ride and drive to be seen and to see, as they do
in Central or Hyde parks. It is en règle to have a sais running before
the carriage, and it is the “swell thing” to have two of them. The
running sais before a rapidly driven carriage is the prettiest sight in
Cairo. He is usually a slender handsome black fellow, probably a Nubian,
brilliantly dressed, graceful in every motion, running with perfect ease
and able to keep up his pace for hours without apparent fatigue. In the
days of narrow streets his services were indispensable to clear the way;
and even now he is useful in the frequented ways where every one walks
in the middle of the street, and the chattering, chaffing throngs are as
heedless of anything coming as they are of the day of judgment. In red
tarboosh with long tassel, silk and gold embroidered vest and jacket,
colored girdle with ends knotted and hanging at the side, short silk
trousers and bare legs, and long staff, gold-tipped, in the hand, as
graceful in running as Antinous, they are most elegant appendages to a
fashionable turnout. If they could not be naturalized in Central Park,
it might fill some of the requirements of luxury to train a patriot from
the Green Isle to run before the horses, in knee-breeches, flourishing a
shillalah. Faith, I think he would clear the way.

Especially do I like to see the sais coming down the wind before a
carriage of the royal harem. The outriders are eunuchs, two in front
and two behind; they are blacks, dressed in black clothes, European cut,
except the tarboosh. They ride fine horses, English fashion, rising in
the saddle; they have long limbs, lank bodies, cruel, weak faces, and
yet cunning; they are sleek, shiny, emasculated. Having no sex, you
might say they have no souls. How can these anomalies have any virtue,
since virtue implies the opportunity of its opposite? These semblances
of men seem proud enough of their position, however, and of the part
they play to their masters, as if they did not know the repugnance they
excite. The carriage they attend is covered, but the silken hangings of
the glass windows are drawn aside, revealing the white-veiled occupants.
They indeed have no constitutional objections to being seen; the thin
veil enhances their charms, and the observer who sees their painted
faces and bright languishing eyes, no doubt gives them credit for as
much beauty as they possess; and as they flash by, I suppose that every
one, is convinced that he has seen one of the mysterious Circassian or
Georgian beauties.

The minute the traveler shows himself on the hotel terrace, the
donkey-boys clamor, and push forward their animals upon the sidewalk; it
is no small difficulty to select one out of the tangle; there is noise
enough used to fit out an expedition to the desert, and it is not till
the dragoman has laid vigorously about him with his stick that the
way is clear. Your nationality is known at a glance, and a donkey is
instantly named to suit you—the same one being called, indifferently,
“Bismarck” if you are German, “Bonaparte” if you are French, and “Yankee
Doodle” if you are American, or “Ginger Bob” at a venture.

We are going to Boulak, the so-called port of Cairo, to select a
dahabeëh for the Nile voyage. We are indeed only getting ready for this
voyage, and seeing the city by the way. The donkey-boys speak English
like natives—of Egypt. The one running beside me, a handsome boy in a
long cotton shirt, is named, royally, Mahmoud Hassan.

“Are you the brother of Hassan whom I had yesterday?”

“No. He, Hassan not my brother; he better, he friend. Breakfast, lunch,
supper, all together, all same; all same money. We friends.”

Abd-el-Atti, our dragoman, is riding ahead on his grey donkey, and I
have no difficulty in following his broad back and short legs, even
though his donkey should be lost to sight in the press. He rides as
Egyptians do, without stirrups, and uses his heels as spurs. Since
Mohammed Abd-el-Atti Effendi first went up the Nile, it is many years
ago now, with Mr. Wm. C. Prime, and got his name prominently into the
Nile literature, he has grown older, stout, and rich; he is entitled by
his position to the distinction of “Effendi.” He boasts a good family,
as good as any; most of his relatives are, and he himself has been, in
government employ; but he left it because, as he says, he prefers one
master to a thousand. When a boy he went with the embassy of Mohammed
Ali to England, and since that time he has traveled extensively as
courier in Europe and the Levant and as mail-carrier to India. Mr. Prime
described him as having somewhat the complexion and features of the
North American Indian; it is true, but he has a shrewd restless eye,
and very mobile features, quick to image his good humor or the
reverse, breaking into smiles, or clouding over upon his easily aroused
suspicion. He is a good study of the Moslem and the real Oriental,
a combination of the easy, procrastinating fatalism, and yet with a
tindery temper and an activity of body and mind that we do not usually
associate with the East. His prejudices are inveterate, and he is an
unforgiving enemy and a fast, self-sacrificing friend. Not to be driven,
he can always be won by kindness. Fond of money and not forgetting the
last piastre due him, he is generous and lavish to a fault. A devout
Moslem, he has seen too much of the world not to be liberalized. He
knows the Koran and the legendary history of the Arabs, and speaks and
writes Arabic above the average. An exceedingly shrewd observer and
reader of character, and a mimic of other’s peculiarities, he is a good
raconteur, in his peculiar English, and capital company. It is, by the
way, worth mentioning what sharp observers all these Eastern people
become, whose business it is to study and humor the whims and
eccentricities of travelers. The western man who thinks that the Eastern
people are childlike or effete, will change his mind after a few months
acquaintance with the shrewd Egyptians. Abd-el-Atti has a good deal of
influence and even authority in his sphere, and although his executive
ability is without system, he brings things to pass. Wherever he goes,
however, there is a ripple and a noise. He would like to go to Nubia
with us this winter, he says, “for shange of air.”

So much is necessary concerning the character who is to be our companion
for many months. No dragoman is better known in the East; he is
the sheykh of the dragomans of Cairo, and by reason of his age and
experience he is hailed on the river as the sultan of the Nile. He
dresses like an Englishman, except his fez.

The great worry of the voyager in Egypt, from the moment he lands, is
about a dragoman; his comfort and pleasure depend very much upon a right
selection. The dragoman and the dahabeëh interest him more than the
sphinx and the great pyramids. Taking strangers up the Nile seems to be
the great business of Egypt, and all the intricacies and tricks of it
are slowly learned. Ignorant of the language and of the character of the
people, the stranger may well be in a maze of doubt and perplexity. His
gorgeously attired dragoman, whose recommendations would fit him to
hold combined the offices of President of the American Bible Society and
caterer for Delmonico, often turns out to be ignorant of his simplest
duties, to have an inhabited but uninhabitable boat, to furnish a meagre
table, and to be a sly knave. The traveler will certainly have no peace
from the importunity of the dragomans until he makes his choice. One
hint can be given: it is always best in a Moslem country to take a
Moslem dragoman.

We are on our way to Boulak. The sky is full of white light. The air
is full of dust; the streets are full of noise color, vivid life and
motion. Everything is flowing, free, joyous. Naturally people fall into
picturesque groups, forming, separating, shifting like scenes on the
stage. Neither the rich silks and brilliant dyes, nor the tattered rags,
and browns and greys are out of place; full dress and nakedness are
equally en régie. Here is a grave, long-bearded merchant in full turban
and silk gown, riding his caparisoned donkey to his shop, followed by
his pipe-bearer; here is a half-naked fellah seated on the rear of his
sorry-eyed beast, with a basket of greens in front of him; here are a
group of women, hunched astride their donkeys, some in white silk and
some in black, shapeless in their balloon mantles, peeping at the world
over their veils; here a handsome sais runs ahead of a carriage with a
fat Turk lolling in it, and scatters the loiterers right and left; there
are porters and beggars fast asleep by the roadside, only their heads
covered from the sun; there are lines of idlers squatting in all-day
leisure by the wall, smoking, or merely waiting for tomorrow.

As we get down to Old Boulak the Saturday market is encountered. All
Egyptian markets occupy the street or some open place, and whatever is
for sale here, is exposed to the dust and the sun; fish, candy, dates,
live sheep, doora, beans, all the doubtful and greasy compounds on brass
trays which the people eat, nuts, raisins, sugar-cane, cheap jewelry.
It is difficult to force a way through the noisy crowd. The donkey-boy
cries perpetually, to clear the way, take care, “shimalak!” to the left,
“yemenak!” to the right, ya! riglak! look out for your left leg, look
out for your right leg, make way boy, make way old woman; but we joggle
the old woman, and just escape stepping on the children and babies
strewn in the street, and tread on the edge of mats spread on the
ground, upon which provisions are exposed (to the dust) for sale. In the
narrow, shabby streets, with dilapidated old balconies meeting overhead,
we encounter loaded camels, donkeys with double panniers, hawkers of
vegetables; and dodge through, bewildered by color and stunned by
noise. What is it that makes all picturesque? More dirt, shabbiness, and
nakedness never were assembled. That fellow who has cut armholes in a
sack for holding nuts, and slipped into it for his sole garment, would
not make a good figure on Broadway, but he is in place here, and as
fitly dressed as anybody. These rascals will wear a bit of old carpet as
if it were a king’s robe, and go about in a pair of drawers that are all
rags and strings, and a coarse towel twisted about the head for turban,
with a gay insouciance that is pleasing. In fact, I suppose that a good,
well-fitting black or nice brown skin is about as good as a suit of
clothes.

But O! the wrinkled, flabby-breasted old women, who make a pretence of
drawing the shawl over one eye; the naked, big-stomached children with
spindle legs, who sit in the sand and never brush away the circle of
flies around each gummy eye! The tumble-down houses, kennels in which
the family sleep, the poverty of thousands of years, borne as if it were
the only lot of life! In spite of all this, there is not, I venture to
say, in the world beside, anything so full of color, so gay and bizarre
as a street in Cairo. And we are in a squalid suburb.

At the shore of the swift and now falling Nile, at Boulak, are moored,
four or five deep, the passenger dahabeëhs, more than a hundred of them,
gay with new paint and new carpets, to catch the traveler. There are
small and large, old and new (but all looking new); those that were
used for freight during the summer and may be full of vermin, and those
reserved exclusively for strangers. They can be hired at from sixty
pounds to two hundred pounds a month; the English owner of one
handsomely furnished wanted seven hundred and fifty pounds for a
three-months’ voyage. The Nile trip adds luxury to itself every year,
and is getting so costly that only Americans will be able to afford it.

After hours of search we settle upon a boat that will suit us, a large
boat that had only made a short trip, and so new that we are at
liberty to christen it; and the bargaining for it begins. That is, the
bargaining revolves around that boat, but glances off as we depart in a
rage to this or that other, until we appear to me to be hiring half
the craft on the river. We appear to come to terms; again and again
Abd-el-Atti says, “Well, it is finish,” but new difficulties arise.

The owners were an odd pair: a tall Arab in soiled gown and turban,
named Ahmed Aboo Yoosef, a mild and wary Moslem; and Habib Bagdadli, a
furtive little Jew in Frank dress, with a cast in one of his pathetic
eyes and a beseeching look, who spoke bad French fluently. Aboo Yoosef
was ready to come to terms, but Bagdadli stood out; then Bagdadli
acquiesced but Aboo made conditions. Ab-del-Atti alternately coaxed and
stormed; he pulled the Arab’s beard; and he put his arm round his neck
and whispered in his ear.

“Come, let us to go, dis Jews make me mad. I can’t do anything with dis
little Jews.”

Our dragoman’s greatest abhorrence is a Jew. Where is this one from? I
ask.

“He from Algiers.” The Algerian Jews have a bad reputation.

“No, no, monsieur, pas Algiers;” cries the little Jew, appealing to me
with a pitiful look; “I am from Bagdad.” In proof of this there was his
name—Habib Bagdadli.

The bargaining goes on, with fine gesticulation, despairing attitudes,
tones of anger and of grief, violent protestations and fallings into
apathy and dejection. It is Arab against Arab and a Jew thrown in.

“I will have this boat, but I not put you out of the way on it;” says
Abd-el-Atti, and goes at it again.

My sympathies are divided. I can see that the Arab and the Jew will be
ruined if they take what we offer. I know that we shall be ruined if we
give what they ask. This pathetic-eyed little Jew makes me feel that I
am oppressing his race; and yet I am quite certain that he is trying to
overreach us. How the bargain is finally struck I know not, but made it
seems to be, and clinched by Aboo reluctantly pulling his purse from
his bosom and handing Abd-el-Atti a napoleon. That binds the bargain;
instead of the hirer paying something, the lessor gives a pledge.

Trouble, however, is not ended. Certain alterations and additions are to
be made, and it is nearly two weeks before the evasive couple complete
them. The next day they offer us twenty pounds to release them. The pair
are always hanging about for some mitigation or for some advance. The
gentle Jew, who seems to me friendless, always excites the ire of our
dragoman; “Here comes dis little Jews,” he exclaims as he encounters him
in the street, and forces him to go and fulfil some neglected promise.

The boat is of the largest size, and has never been above the Cataract;
the owners guarantee that it can go, and there is put in the contract a
forfeit of a hundred pounds if it will not. We shall see afterwards
how the owners sought to circumvent us. The wiles of the Egyptians are
slowly learned by the open-minded stranger.



0071



0072



CHAPTER V.—IN THE BAZAAR.

OUR sight-seeing in Cairo is accomplished under the superintendence
of another guide and dragoman, a cheerful, willing, good-natured
and careful Moslem, with one eye. He looks exactly like the one-eyed
calender of the story; and his good eye has a humorous and inquiring
twinkle in it. His name is Hassan, but he prefers to be called Hadji,
the name he has taken since he made the pilgrimage to Mecca.

A man who has made the pilgrimage is called “the hhâgg,” a woman “the
hhâggeh.”—often spelled and pronounced “hadj” and “hadjee.” It seems to
be a privilege of travelers to spell Arabic words as they please, and no
two writers agree on a single word or name. The Arabs take a new name or
discard an old one as they like, and half a dozen favorite names do duty
for half the inhabitants. It is rare to meet one who hasn’t somewhere
about him the name of Mohammed, Ahmed, Ali, Hassan, Hosayn, or Mahmoud.
People take a new name as they would a garment that strikes the fancy.

“You like go bazaar?” asks Hadji, after the party is mounted on donkeys
in front of the hotel.

“Yes, Hadji, go by the way of the Mooskee.”

The Mooskee is the best known street in Cairo, and the only one in
the old part of the town that the traveler can find unaided. It runs
straight, or nearly so, a mile perhaps, into the most densely built
quarters, and is broad enough for carriages. A considerable part of it
is roofed lightly over with cane or palm slats, through which the
sun sifts a little light, and, being watered, it is usually cool and
pleasant. It cannot be called a good or even road, but carriages and
donkeys pass over it without noise, the wheels making only a smothered
sound: you may pass through it many times and not discover that a canal
runs underneath it. The lower part of it is occupied by European shops.
There are no fine shops in it like those in the Ezbekeëh, and it is
not interesting like the bazaars, but it is always crowded. Probably no
street in the world offers such a variety of costumes and nationalities,
and in no one can be heard more languages. It is the main artery, from
which branch off the lesser veins and reticulations leading into the
bazaars.

If the Mooskee is crowded, the bazaars are a jam. Different trades and
nationalities have separate quarters, articles that are wanted are far
apart, and one will of necessity consume a day in making two or three
purchases. It is an achievement to find and bargain for a piece of tape.

In one quarter are red slippers, nothing but red slippers, hundreds of
shops hung with them, shops in which they are made and sold; the yellow
slippers are in another quarter, and by no chance does one merchant keep
both kinds. There are the silk bazaars, the gold bazaars, the silver
bazaars, the brass, the arms, the antiquity, the cotton, the spice, and
the fruit bazaars. In one quarter the merchants and manufacturers are
all Egyptians, in another Turks, in another Copts, or Algerines, or
Persians, or Armenians, or Greeks, or Syrians, or Jews.

And what is a bazaar? Simply a lane, narrow, straight or crooked,
winding, involved, interrupted by a fountain, or a mosque, intersected
by other lanes, a congeries of lanes, roofed with matting it may be,
on each side of which are the little shops, not much bigger than a
dry-goods box or a Saratoga trunk. Frequently there is a story above,
with hanging balconies and latticed windows. On the ledge of his shop
the merchant, in fine robes of silk and linen, sits cross-legged,
probably smoking his chibook. He sits all day sipping coffee and
gossipping with his friends, waiting for a customer. At the times of
prayer he spreads his prayer-carpet and pursues his devotions in sight
of all the world.

This Oriental microcosm called a bazaar is the most characteristic thing
in the East, and affords most entertainment; in these cool recesses,
which the sun only penetrates in glints, is all that is shabby and all
that is splendid in this land of violent contrasts. The shops are rude,
the passages are unpaved dirt, the matting above hangs in shreds, the
unpainted balconies are about to tumble down, the lattice-work is grey
with dust; fleas abound; you are jostled by an unsavory throng may be;
run against by loaded donkeys; grazed by the dripping goat-skins of the
water-carriers; beset by beggars; followed by Jews offering old brasses,
old cashmeres, old armor; squeezed against black backs from the Soudan;
and stunned by the sing-song cries of a dozen callings. But all this is
nothing. Here are the perfumes of Arabia, the colors of Paradise. These
narrow streets are streams of glancing color; these shops are more
brilliant than any picture—but in all is a softened harmony, the ancient
art of the East.

We are sitting at a corner, pricing some pieces of old brass and arms.
The merchant sends for tiny cups of coffee and offers cigarettes. He and
the dragoman are wrangling about the price of something for which five
times its value is asked. Not unlikely it will be sold for less than
it is worth, for neither trader nor traveler has any idea of its value.
Opposite is a shop where three men sit cross-legged, making cashmere
shawls by piecing old bits of India scarfs. Next shop is occupied only
by a boy who is reading the Koran in a loud voice, rocking forwards
and backwards. A stooping seller of sherbet comes along clinking his
glasses. A vender of sweetmeats sets his tray before us. A sorry beggar,
a dwarf, beseeches in figurative language.

“What does he want, Hadji?”

“He say him hungry, want piece bread; O, no matter for he.”

The dragomans never interpret anything, except by short cuts. What the
dwarf is really saying, according to Mr. Lane, is, “For the sake of God!
O ye charitable. I am seeking from my lord a cake of bread. I am the
guest of God and the Prophet.”

As we cannot content him by replying in like strain, “God enrich thee,”
we earn his blessing by a copper or two.

Across the street is an opening into a nest of shops, gaily hung with
embroideries from Constantinople, silks from Broussa and Beyrout, stuffs
of Damascus; a Persian rug is spread on the mastabah of the shop, swords
and inlaid pistols with flint locks shine amid the rich stuffs. Looking
down this street, one way, is a long vista of bright color, the street
passing under round arches through which I see an old wall painted in
red and white squares, upon which the sun falls in a flood of white
light. The street in which we are sitting turns abruptly at a little
distance, and apparently ends in a high Moorish house, with queer little
latticed windows, and balconies, and dusty recesses full of mystery in
this half light; and at the corner opposite that, I see part of a public
fountain and hear very distinctly the “studying” of the school over it.

The public fountain is one of the best institutions of Cairo as well
as one of the most ornamental. On the street it is a rounded Saracenic
structure, highly ornamented in carved marble or stucco, and gaily
painted, having in front two or three faucets from which the water is
drawn. Within is a tank which is replenished by water brought in skins
from the Nile. Most of these fountains are charitable foundations, by
pious Moslems who leave or set apart a certain sum to ensure the yearly
supply of so many skins of water. Charity to the poor is one of the
good traits of the Moslems, and the giving of alms and the building of
fountains are the works that will be rewarded in Paradise.

These fountains, some of which are very beautiful, are often erected
near a mosque. Over them, in a room with a vaulted roof and open to the
street by three or four arches with pillars, is usually a boys’ school.
In this room on the floor sit the master and his scholars. Each pupil
has before him his lesson written on a wooden tablet, and this he is
reading at the top of his voice, committing it to memory, and swaying
incessantly backwards and forwards—a movement that is supposed to assist
the memory. With twenty boys shouting together, the noise is heard
above all the clamor of the street. If a boy looks off or stops his
recitation, the stick of the schoolmaster sets him going again.

The boys learn first the alphabet, then the ninety-nine epithets of
God, and then the Koran, chapter by chapter. This is the sum of human
knowledge absolutely necessary; if the boy needs writing and arithmetic
he learns them from the steelyard weigher in the market; or if he is to
enter any of the professions, he has a regular course of study in
the Mosque El Ezher, which has thousands of students and is the great
University of the East.

Sitting in the bazaar for an hour one will see strange sights; wedding
and funeral processions are not the least interesting of them. We can
never get accustomed to the ungainly camel, thrusting his huge bulk into
these narrow limits, and stretching his snake neck from side to side,
his dark driver sitting high up in the dusk of the roof on the wooden
saddle, and swaying to and fro with the long stride of the beast. The
camel ought to be used in funeral processions, but I believe he is not.

We hear now a chanting down the dusky street. Somebody is being carried
to his tomb in the desert outside the city. The procession has to
squeeze through the crowd. First come a half dozen old men, ragged and
half blind, harbingers of death, who move slowly, crying in a whining
tone, “There is no deity but God; Mohammed is God’s apostle; God bless
and save him.” Then come two or three schoolboys singing in a more
lively air verses of a funeral hymn. The bier is borne by friends of
the deceased, who are relieved occasionally by casual passengers. On
the bier, swathed in grave-clothes, lies the body, with a Cashmere shawl
thrown over it. It is followed by female hired mourners, who beat their
breasts and howl with shrill and prolonged ululations. The rear is
brought up by the female mourners, relations—a group of a dozen in this
case—whose hair is dishevelled and who are crying and shrieking with
a perfect abandonment to the luxury of grief. Passengers in the street
stop and say, “God is most great,” and the women point to the bier and
say, “I testify that there is no deity but God.”

When the funeral has passed and its incongruous mingling of chanting and
shrieking dies away, we turn towards the gold bazaar. All the goldsmiths
and silversmiths are Copts; throughout Egypt the working of the precious
metals is in their hands. Descended from the ancient Egyptians, or at
least having more of the blood of the original race in them than others,
they have inherited the traditional skill of the ancient workers in
these metals. They reproduce the old jewelry, the barbarous ornaments,
and work by the same rude methods, producing sometimes the finest work
with the most clumsy tools.

The gold-bazaar is the narrowest passage we have seen. We step down into
its twilight from a broader street. It is in fact about three feet wide,
a lane with an uneven floor of earth, often slippery. On each side are
the little shops, just large enough for the dealer and his iron safe,
or for a tiny forge, bellows and anvil. Two people have to make way for
each other in squeezing along this alley, and if a donkey comes through
he monopolizes the way and the passengers have to climb upon the
mastabahs either side. The mastabah is a raised seat of stone or brick,
built against the front of the shop and level with its floor, say two
feet and a half high and two feet broad. The lower shutter of the
shop turns down upon the mastabah and forms a seat upon which a rug is
spread. The shopkeeper may sit upon this, or withdraw into his shop to
make room for customers, who remove their shoes before drawing up their
feet upon the carpet. Sometimes three or four persons will crowd into
this box called a shop. The bazaar is a noisy as well as a crowded
place, for to the buzz of talk and the cries of the itinerant venders
is added the clang of the goldsmiths’ hammers; it winds down into the
recesses of decaying houses and emerges in another direction.

We are to have manufactured a bracelet of gold of a pattern as old
as the Pharaohs, and made with the same instruments that the cunning
goldsmiths used three thousand years ago. While we are seated and
bargaining for the work, the goldsmith unlocks his safe and shows us
necklaces, bracelets, anklets, and earrings in the very forms, bizarre
but graceful, of the jewelry of which the Israelites spoiled the
Egyptian women. We see just such in the Museum at Boulak; though these
are not so fine as the magnificent jewelry which Queen Aah-hotep, the
mother of Amosis, attempted to carry with her into the under-world, and
which the scientific violators of her tomb rescued at Thebes.

In the shop opposite to us are squeezed in three Egyptian women and a
baby, who have come to spend the day in cheapening some bit of jewelry.
There is apparently nothing that the Cairo women like so much as
shopping—at least those who are permitted to go out at all—and they eke
out its delights by consuming a day or two in buying one article. These
women are taking the trade leisurely, examining slowly and carefully the
whole stock of the goldsmith and deliberating on each bead and drop of a
necklace, glancing slily at us and the passers-by out of their dark eyes
meantime. They have brought cakes of bread for lunch, and the baby
is publicly fed as often as he desires. These women have the power of
sitting still in one spot for hours, squatting with perfect patience in
a posture that would give a western woman the cramp for her lifetime. We
are an hour in bargaining with the goldsmith, and are to return late in
the afternoon and see the bracelet made before our eyes, for no one is
expected to trust his fellow here.

Thus far the gold has only been melted into an ingot, and that with many
precautions against fraud. I first count out the napoleons of which the
bracelet is to be made. These are weighed. A fire is then kindled in the
little forge, the crucible heated, and I drop the napoleons into it, one
by one. We all carefully watch the melting to be sure that no gold is
spilled in the charcoal and no base metal added. The melted mass is then
run into an ingot, and the ingot is weighed against the same number of
napoleons that compose it. And I carry away the ingot.

When we return the women are still squatting in the shop in the attitude
of the morning. They show neither impatience nor weariness; nor does the
shopkeeper. The baby is sprawled out in his brown loveliness, and
the purchase of a barbarous necklace of beads is about concluded. Our
goldsmith now removes his outer garment, revealing his fine gown
of striped silk, pushes up his sleeves and prepares for work. His
only-tools are a small anvil, a hammer and a pair of pincers. The ingot
is heated and hammered, and heated and hammered, until it is drawn out
into an even, thick wire. This is then folded in three to the required
length, and twisted, till the gold looks like molasses candy; the
ends are then hammered together, and the bracelet is bent to its form.
Finally it is weighed again and cleaned. If the owner wishes he can have
put on it the government stamp. Gold ornaments that are stamped, the
goldsmith will take back at any time and give for them their weight in
coin, less two per cent.

On our way home we encounter a wedding procession; this is the
procession conducting the bride to the house of the bridegroom; that to
the bath having taken place two days before. The night of the day before
going to the bridegroom is called the “Night of henna.” The bride has an
entertainment at her own house, receives presents of money, and has her
hands and her feet dyed with henna. The going to the bridegroom is on
the eve of either Monday or Friday. These processions we often meet in
the streets of Cairo; they wander about circuitously through the town
making all the noise and display possible. The procession is a rambling
affair and generally attended by a rabble of boys and men.

This one is preceded by half a dozen shabbily dressed musicians beating
different sorts of drums and blowing hautboys, each instrument on its
own hook; the tune, if there was one, has become discouraged, and
the melody has dropped out; thump, pound, squeak, the music is more
disorganized than the procession, and draggles on in noisy dissonance
like a drunken militia band at the end of a day’s “general training.”

Next come some veiled women in black; and following them are several
small virgins in white. The bride walks next, with a woman each side of
her to direct her steps. This is necessary, for she is covered from head
to feet with a red cashmere shawl hanging from a sort of crown on the
the top of her head. She is in appearance, simply a red cone. Over her
and on three sides of her, but open in front, is a canopy of pink silk,
borne on poles by four men. Behind straggle more musicians, piping and
thumping in an independent nonchalance, followed by gleeful boys. One
attendant sprinkles rose-water on the spectators, and two or three
others seem to have a general direction of the course of the train, and
ask backsheesh for it whenever a stranger is met.

The procession gets tired occasionally and sits down in the dust of
the road to rest. Sometimes it is accompanied by dancers and other
performers to amuse the crowd. I saw one yesterday which had halted by
the roadside, all the women except the bride squatting down in patient
resignation. In a hollow square of spectators, in front, a male dancer
was exhibiting his steps. Holding a wand perpendicularly before him
with both hands, he moved backwards and forwards, with a mincing gait,
exhibiting neither grace nor agility, but looking around with the most
conceited expression I ever saw on a human face. Occasionally he would
look down at his legs with the most approving glance, as much as to
say, “I trust, God being great, that you are taking particular notice of
those legs; it seems to me that they couldn’t be improved.” The fellow
enjoyed his dancing if no one else did, and it was impossible to get
him to desist and let the procession move on. At last the cortege made a
detour round the man who seemed to be so popular with himself, and left
him to enjoy his own performance.

Sometimes the expense of this zeffeh, or bridal procession, is shared by
two parties, and I have seen two brides walking under the same canopy,
but going to different husbands. The public is not excluded from an
interest in these weddings. The house of a bridegroom, near the Mooskee,
was illuminated a night or two before the wedding, colored lanterns
were hung across the street, and story-tellers were engaged to recite in
front of the house. On the night of the marriage there was a crowd
which greatly enjoyed the indelicate songs and stories of the hired
performers. Late in the evening an old woman appeared at a window and
proclaimed that the husband was contented with his wife.

An accompaniment of a bridal procession which we sometimes saw we could
not understand. Before the procession proper, walked another, preceded
by a man carrying on his head a high wooden cabinet, with four legs, the
front covered with pieces of looking-glass and bits of brass; behind him
were musicians and attendants, followed by a boy on horseback, dressed
richly in clothes too large for him and like a girl’s. It turned out
to be a parade before circumcision, the friends of the lad having taken
advantage of the bridal ceremony of a neighbor to make a display.
The wooden case was merely the sign of the barber who walked in the
procession and was to perform the operation.

“I suppose you are married?” I ask Hadji when the procession has gone
by.

“Yes, sir, long time.”

“And you have never had but one wife?”

“Have one. He quite nuff for me.”

“How old was she when you married her?”

“Oh, I marry he, when he much girl! I tink he eleven, maybe twelve, not
more I tink.”

Girls in Egypt are marriageable at ten or eleven, and it is said that
if not married before they are fourteen they have an excellent chance of
being old maids. Precocious to mature, they are quick to fall away and
lose their beauty; the laboring classes especially are ugly and flabby
before eighteen. The low mental, not to say physical, condition of
Egyptian women is no doubt largely due to these early marriages. The
girl is married and is a mother before she has an opportunity to educate
herself or to learn the duties of wife or mother, ignorant of how to
make a home pleasant and even of housekeeping, and when she is utterly
unfit to have the care and training of a child. Ignorant and foolish,
and, as Mr. Lane says, passionate, women and mothers can never produce a
great race. And the only reform for Egypt that will give it new vitality
and a place in the world must begin with the women.

The Khedive, who either has foresight or listens to good advice, issued
a firman some years ago forbidding the marriage of girls under fifteen.
It does not seem to be respected either in city or country; though I
believe that it has some influence in the city, and generally girls are
not married so young in Cairo as in the country. Yet I heard recently in
this city of a man of sixty who took a wife of twelve. As this was not
his first wife, it could not be said of him, as it is said of some great
geniuses, that he struck twelve the first time.



0082



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CHAPTER VI.—MOSQUES AND TOMBS.

WHAT we in Cairo like most to do, is to do nothing in the charming
winter weather—to postpone the regular and necessary sight-seeing to
that limbo to which the Arabs relegate everything—bookra, that is,
tomorrow. Why not as well go to the Pyramids or to Heliopolis or to the
tombs of the Memlooks tomorrow! It is to be the same fair weather; we
never plan an excursion, with the proviso, “If it does not rain.” This
calm certainty of a clear sky adds twenty-five per cent, to the value of
life.

And yet, there is the Sirocco; that enervating, depressing south wind,
when all the sands of the hot desert rise up into the air and envelope
everything in grit and gloom. I have been on the Citadel terrace when
the city was only dimly outlined in the thick air, and all the horizon
and the sky were veiled in dust as if by a black Scotch mist. We once
waited three days after we had set a time to visit the Pyramids, for
the air to clear. The Sirocco is bad enough in the town, the fine dust
penetrates the closed recesses of all apartments; but outside the city
it is unbearable. Indeed any wind raises the sand disagreeably; and dust
is the great plague of Egypt. The streets of Cairo, except those that
are sprinkled, are seldom free from clouds of it. And it is an ancient
dust. I suppose the powdered dead of thousands of years are blowing
about in the air.

The desert makes itself apparent even in Cairo. Not only is it in the
air, but it lies in wait close to the walls and houses, ready to
enter at the gates, sifting in through every crevice. Only by constant
irrigation can it be driven back. As soon as we pass beyond the compact
city eastward, we enter the desert, unless we follow the course of some
refreshing canal. The drive upon it is a favorite one on summer nights.
I have spoken of the desert as hot; but it is always cool at night; and
it is the habit of foreigners who are detained in Cairo in the summer to
go every night to the desert to cool off.

The most conspicuous object in Cairo, from all points, is the Citadel,
built on a bold spur of the Mokattam range, and the adjoining Mosque of
Mohammed Ali in which that savage old reformer is buried. The mosque
is rather Turkish than Saracenic, and its two slender minarets are much
criticised. You who have been in Constantinople are familiar with the
like slight and graceful forms in that city; they certainly are not
so rich or elegant as many of the elaborately carved and more robust
minarets of Cairo which the genius of the old architects reared in the
sun-burst of Saracenic architecture; but they are very picturesque and
effective in their position and especially against a poetic evening sky.

When Salah-e’-deen robbed the pyramids to build the Citadel, he
doubtless thought he was erecting a fortification that would forever
protect his city and be an enduring home for the Sultans of Egypt. But
Mohammed Ali made it untenable as a fort by placing a commanding battery
on the Mokattam ledge; and now the Citadel (by which I mean all the
group of buildings) useless as a fort (except to overawe the city)
and abandoned as a palace, is little more than a ghost-walk of former
splendors. There are barracks in it; recruits are drilling in its
squares; the minister-of-war occupies some of its stately apartments;
the American General Stone, the chief officer of the Khedive’s army,
uses others; in some we find the printing presses and the bureaus of the
engineers and the typographical corps; but vast halls and chambers
of audience, and suites of apartments of the harem, richly carved and
gilded, are now vacant and echo the footsteps of sentries and servitors.
And they have the shabby look of most Eastern architecture when its
first freshness is gone.

We sat in the room and on the platform where Mohammed Ali sat when the
slaughter of the Memlooks was going on; he sat motionless, so it is
reported, and gave no other sign of nervousness than the twisting of a
piece of paper in his hands. And yet he must have heard the cries under
his window, and, of course, the shots of the soldiers on the walls who
were executing his orders. We looked down from the balcony into the
narrow, walled lane, with its closed gates, in which the five hundred
Memlooks were hemmed in and massacred. Think of the nerve of the old
Turk, sitting still without changing countenance while five hundred,
or more, gallant swash-bucklers were being shot in cool blood under his
window! Probably he would not have been so impassive if he had seen one
of the devoted band escape by spurring his horse through a break in the
wall and take a fearful flying leap upon the rubbish below.

The world agrees to condemn this treacherous and ferocious act of
Mohammed Ali and, generally, I believe, to feel grateful to him for it.
Never was there a clan of men that needed exterminating so much as the
Memlooks. Nothing less would have suited their peculiarities. They were
merely a band of robbers, black-mailers, and freebooters, a terror
to Egypt. Dislodged from actual power, they were still greatly to be
dreaded, and no ruler was safe who did not obey them. The term Memlook
means “a white male slave,” and is still so used. The Memlooks, who
originally were mostly Circassian white slaves, climbed from the
position of favorites to that of tyrants. They established a long
dynasty of sultans, and their tombs yonder at the edge of the desert are
among the most beautiful specimens of the Saracenic architecture. Their
sovereignty was overthrown by Sultan Selim in 1517, but they remained
a powerful and aristocratic band which controlled governors, corrupted
even Oriental society by the introduction of monstrous vices, and
oppressed the people. I suppose that in the time of the French invasion
they may have been joined by bold adventurers of many nations. Egypt
could have no security so long as any of them remained. It was doubtless
in bad taste for Mohammed Ali to extend a friendly invitation to the
Memlooks to visit him, and then murder them when they were caught in his
trap; he finally died insane, and perhaps the lunacy was providentially
on him at that time.

In the Citadel precincts is a hall occupied by the “parliament” of the
Khedive, when it is in session; a parliament whose members are
selected by the Viceroy from all over Egypt, in order that he may have
information of the state of the country, but a body that has no power
and certainly not so much influence in the state as the harem has. But
its very assemblage is an innovation in the Orient, and it may lead
in time to infinite gab, to election briberies and multitudinous
legislation, the accompaniments of the highest civilization. We may
yet live to see a member of it rise to enquire into the expenses of the
Khedive’s numerous family.

The great Mosque of Mohammed Ali is in the best repair and is the least
frequented of any in Cairo. Its vast, domed interior, rich in materials
and ambitious in design, is impressive, but this, like all other great
mosques, strikes the Western man as empty. On the floor are beautiful
rugs; a tawdry chandelier hangs in the center, and the great spaces are
strung with lanterns. No one was performing ablution at the handsome
fountain in the marble-paved court; only a single worshipper was
kneeling at prayer in all the edifice. But I heard a bird singing
sweetly in the airy height of the dome.

The view from the terrace of the mosque is the finest in Egypt, not
perhaps in extent, but certainly in variety and objects of interest;
and if the atmosphere and the light are both favorable, it is the most
poetic. From it you command not only the city and a long sweep of the
Nile, with fields of living green and dark lines of palms, but the ruins
and pyramids of slumberous old Memphis, and, amid the yellow sands and
backed by the desolate Libyan hills, the dreamy pyramids of Geezeh. We
are advised to get this view at sunset, because then the light is soft
and all the vast landscape has color. This is good advice so far as the
city at our feet is concerned, with its hundreds of minarets and its
wide expanse of flat roofs, palm-tops and open squares; there is the
best light then also on the purple Mokattam hills; and the tombs of the
Memlooks, north of the cemetery, with their fairy domes and exquisite
minarets and the encompassing grey desert, the whole bathed in violet
light, have a beauty that will linger with one who has once seen them
forever. But looking beyond the Nile, you have the sun in your face. I
should earnestly entreat the stranger to take this view at sunrise. I
never saw it myself at that hour, being always otherwise engaged, but I
am certain that the Pyramids and the Libyan desert would wake at early
morning in a glow of transcendent beauty.

We drive out the gate or Bab e’ Nasr beyond the desolate Moslem
cemetery, to go to the tombs of the Circassian Memlook Sultans. We pass
round and amid hills of rubbish, dirt, and broken pottery, the dumpings
of the city for centuries, and travel a road so sandy that the horses
can scarcely drag the heavy carriage through it. The public horses of
Cairo are sorry beasts and only need a slight excuse for stopping at any
time. There is nothing agreeable about the great Moslem cemetery; it
is a field of sand-heaps, thickly dotted with little oven-shaped stucco
tombs. They may be pleasanter below ground; for the vault into which the
body is put, without a coffin, is high enough to permit its occupant to
sit up, which he is obliged to do, whether he is able to sit up or not,
the first night of his stay there, in order to answer the questions of
two angels who come to examine him on his religious practices and views.

The Tombs of the Sultans, which are in the desert, are in fact vast
structures,—tombs and mosques united—and are built of parti-colored
stone. They are remarkable for the beautiful and varied forms of their
minarets and for their aërial domes; the latter are covered with the
most wonderful arabesque carving and tracing. They stand deserted,
with the sand drifting about them, and falling to rapid decay. In the
interiors are still traces of exquisite carving and color, but much of
the ornamentation, being of stucco on rude wooden frames, only adds to
the appearance of decay. The decay of finery is never respectable.

It is not correct, however, to speak of these mosque-tombs as deserted.
Into all of them have crept families of the poor or of the vicious.
And the business of the occupants, who call themselves guardians, is to
extract backsheesh from the visitor. Spinning, knitting, baking, and all
the simple household occupations go on in the courts and in the gaunt
rooms; one tomb is used as a grist-mill. The women and girls dwelling
there go unveiled; they were tattooed slightly upon the chin and the
forehead, as most Egyptian women are; some of the younger were pretty,
with regular features and handsome dark eyes. Near the mosques are lanes
of wretched homes, occupied by as wretched people. The whole mortal
neighborhood swarms (life out of death) with children; they are as thick
as jars at a pottery factory; they are as numerous as the flies that
live on the rims of their eyes and noses; they are as naked, most of
them, as when they were born. The distended condition of their stomachs
testify that they have plenty to eat, and they tumble about in the dirt,
in the full enjoyment of this delicious climate. People can afford to be
poor when nature is their friend.



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CHAPTER VII.—MOSLEM WORSHIP.—THE CALL TO PRAYER.

I SHOULD like to go once to an interesting city where there are no
sights. That city could be enjoyed; and conscience—which never leaves
any human being in peace until it has nagged him into a perfect
condition morally, and keeps punching him about frivolous little details
of duty, especially at the waking morning hour—would not come to insert
her thumb among the rosy fingers of the dawn.

Perhaps I do not make myself clear about conscience. Conscience is a
kind of gastric juice that gnaws upon the very coatings of a person’s
moral nature, if it has no indigestible sin to feed on. Of course I know
that neither conscience nor gastric juice has a thumb. And, to get out
of these figures, all I wish to say is, that in Cairo, when the traveler
is aware of the glow of the morning stealing into his room, as if the
day were really opened gently (not ripped and torn open as it is in our
own cold north) by a rosy-fingered maiden, and an atmosphere of sweet
leisure prevails, then Conscience suggests remorselessly: “To-day you
must go to the Pyramids,” or, “You must take your pleasure in a drive in
the Shoobra road,” or “You must explore dirty Old Cairo and its
Coptic churches,” or “You must visit the mosques, and see the Howling
Derweeshes.”

But for this Conscience, I think nothing would be so sweet as the coming
of an eastern morning. I fancy that the cool wind stirring in the palms
is from the pure desert. It may be that these birds, so melodiously
singing in the garden, are the small green birds who eat the fruits and
drink the waters of Paradise, and in whose crops the souls of martyrs
abide until Judgment. As I lie quite still, I hear the call of a muezzin
from a minaret not far off, the voice now full and clear and now faint,
as he walks around the tower to send his entreaty over the dark roofs of
the city. I am not disturbed by this early call to the unconverted,
for this is not my religion. With the clamor of morning church bells in
Italy it is different; for to one born in New England, Conscience is in
the bells.

Sometimes at midnight I am dimly conscious of the first call to prayer,
which begins solemnly:

“Prayer is better than sleep.”

But the night calls are not obligatory, and I do not fully wake. The
calls during the night are long chants, that of the daytime is much
shorter. Mr. Lane renders it thus:

“God is most Great” (four times repeated). “I testify that there is
no deity but God” (twice). “I testify that Mohammed is God’s Apostle”
(twice). “Come to prayer” (twice). “Come to security” (twice). “God is
most Great” (twice). “There is no deity but God.”

The muezzin whom I hear when the first faint light appears in the east,
has a most sonorous and sweet tenor voice, and his chant is exceedingly
melodious. In the perfect hush of that hour his voice fills all the air,
and might well be mistaken for a sweet entreaty out of heaven. This call
is a long one, and is in fact a confession and proclamation as well as a
call to prayer. It begins as follows:

“[I extol] the perfection of God, the Existing forever and ever” (three
times): “the perfection of God, the Desired, the Existing, the Single,
the Supreme: the perfection of God, the One, the Sole: the perfection
of Him who taketh to Himself, in his great dominion, neither female
companion nor male partner, nor any like unto Him, nor any that is
disobedient, nor any deputy, nor any equal, nor any offspring. His
perfection [be extolled]: and exalted be His name. He is a Deity who
knew what hath been before it was, and called into existence what hath
been; and He is now existing, as He was [at the first]. His perfection
[be extolled]: and exalted be His name.”

And it ends: “O God, bless and save and still beatify the beatified
Prophet, our lord Mohammed. And may God, whose name be blessed and
exalted, be well pleased with thee, O our lord El-Hassan, and with thee,
O our lord El-Hoseyn, and with thee, O Aboo-Farrâg, O Sheykh of the
Arabs, and with all the favorites [’.he welees’. of God. Amen.”

The mosques of Cairo are more numerous than the churches in Rome; there
are about four hundred, many of them in ruins, but nearly all in daily
use. The old ones are the more interesting architecturally, but all have
a certain attraction. They are always open, they are cool quiet retreats
out of the glare of the sun and the noise of the street; they are
democratic and as hospitable to the beggar in rags as to the pasha in
silk; they offer water for the dusty feet of the pilgrim and a clean mat
on which to kneel; and in their hushed walls, with no images to distract
the mind and no ritual to rely on, the devout worshipper may feel the
presence of the Unseen. At all hours you will see men praying there or
reading the Koran, unconscious of any observers. Women I have seen in
there occasionally, but rarely, at prayer; still it is not uncommon to
see a group of poor women resting in a quiet corner, perhaps sewing or
talking in low voices. The outward steps and open courts are refuges for
the poor, the friendless, the lazy, and the tired. Especially the old
and decaying mosques, do the poor frequent. There about the fountains,
the children play, and under the stately colonnades the men sleep and
the women knit and sew. These houses of God are for the weary as well as
for the pious or the repentant.

The mosques are all much alike. We enter by a few or by a flight of
steps from the street into a large paved court, open to the sky, and
surrounded by colonnades. There is a fountain in the center, a round
or octagonal structure of carved stone, usually with a fanciful wooden
roof; from faucets in the exterior, water runs into a surrounding stone
basin about which the worshippers crouch to perform the ablutions before
prayer. At one side of the court is the entrance to the mosque, covered
by a curtain. Pushing this aside you are in a spacious room lighted
from above, perhaps with a dome, the roof supported by columns rising
to elegant arches. You will notice also the peculiar Arabic
bracketing-work, called by architects “pendentive,” fitting the angles
and the transitions from the corners below to the dome. In decaying
mosques, where the plaster has fallen, revealing the round stick
frame-work of this bracketing, the perishable character of Saracenic
ornament is apparent.

The walls are plain, with the exception of gilded texts from the Koran.
Above, on strings extending across the room are little lamps, and very
often hundreds of ostrich eggs are suspended. These eggs are almost
always seen in Coptic and often in Greek churches. What they signify I
do not know, unless the ostrich, which can digest old iron, is a symbol
of the credulity that can swallow any tradition. Perhaps her eggs
represent the great “cosmic egg” which modern philosophers are trying to
teach (if we may be allowed the expression) their grandmothers to suck.

The stone pavement is covered with matting and perhaps with costly rugs
from Persia, Smyrna, and Tunis. The end towards Mecca is raised a foot
or so; in it is the prayer niche, towards which all worshippers turn,
and near that is the high pulpit with its narrow steps in front; a
pulpit of marble carved, or of wood cut in bewildering arabesque, and
inlaid with pearl.

The oldest mosque in Cairo is Ahmed ebn e’ Tooloon, built in 879 A.D.,
and on the spot where, according to a tradition (of how high authority
I do not know), Abraham was prevented from offering up his son by
the appearance of a ram. The modern name of this hill is, indeed,
Kalat-el-Kebsh, the Citadel of the Ram. I suppose the tradition is as
well based as is the belief of Moslems that it was Ishmael and not
Isaac whose life was spared. The center of this mosque is an open court,
surrounded by rows of fine columns, five deep on the East side; and what
gives it great interest is the fact that the columns all support pointed
arches, and exceedingly graceful ones, with a slight curve of the
horse-shoe at the base. These arches were constructed about three
centuries before the introduction of the pointed arch into Europe; their
adoption in Europe was probably one of the results of the Crusades.

In this same court I saw an old Nebk tree, which grows on the spot where
the ark of Noah is said to have rested after its voyage. This goes to
show, if it goes to show anything, that the Flood was “general” enough
to reach Egypt.

The mosque of Sultan Hassan, notwithstanding its ruined and shabby
condition, is the finest specimen of pure Arabic architecture in
the city; and its lofty and ornamented porch is, I think, as fine as
anything of its kind in the world. One may profitably spend hours in
the study of its exquisite details. I often found myself in front of it,
wondering at the poetic invention and sensitiveness to the beautiful in
form, which enabled the builders to reach the same effects that their
Gothic successors only produced by the aid of images and suggestions
drawn from every department of nature.

We ascend the high steps, pass through some dilapidated parts of the
building, which are inhabited, and come to the threshold. Here the
Moslem removes his shoes, or street-slippers, and carries them in his
hand. Over this sill we may not step, shod as we are. An attendant is
ready, however, with big slippers which go on over our shoes. Eager,
bright little boys and girls put them on for us, and then attend us in
the mosque, keeping a close watch that the slippers are not shuffled
off. When one does get off, leaving the unholy shoe to touch the ground,
they affect a sort of horror and readjust it with a laugh. Even the
children are beginning to feel the general relaxation of bigotry.
To-day the heels of my shoes actually touch the floor at every step, a
transgression which the little girl who is leading me by the hand points
out with a sly shake of the head. The attention of this pretty little
girl looks like affection, but I know by sad experience that it means
“backsheesh.” It is depressing to think that her natural, sweet,
coquettish ways mean only that. She is fierce if any other girl seeks
to do me the least favor, and will not permit my own devotion to her to
wander.

The mosque of Sultan Hassan was built in the fourteenth century, and
differs from most others. Its great, open court has a square recess on
each side, over which is a noble arch; the east one is very spacious,
and is the place of prayer. Behind this, in an attached building, is
the tomb of Hassan; lights are always burning over it, and on it lies a
large copy of the Koran.

When we enter, there are only a few at their devotions, though there are
several groups enjoying the serenity of the court; picturesque groups,
all color and rags! In a far corner an old man is saying his prayers
and near him a negro, perhaps a slave, also prostrates himself. At the
fountain are three or four men preparing for devotion; and indeed the
prayers begin with the washing. The ablution is not a mere form with
these soiled laborers—though it does seem a hopeless task for men of the
color of these to scrub themselves. They bathe the head, neck, breast,
hands and arms, legs and feet; in fact, they take what might be called a
fair bath in any other country. In our sight this is simply a wholesome
“wash”; to them it is both cleanliness and religion, as we know, for Mr.
Lane has taught us what that brown man in the blue gown is saying.
It may help us to understand his acts if we transcribe a few of his
ejaculations.

When he washes his face, he says:—“O God whiten my face with thy light,
on the day when thou shalt whiten the faces of thy favorites; and do not
blacken my face, on the day when Thou shalt blacken the faces of thine
enemies.” Washing his right arm, he entreats:—“O God, give me my book in
my right hand; and reckon with me with an easy reckoning.” Passing his
wetted hand over his head under his raised turban, he says:—“O God,
cover me with thy mercy, and pour down thy blessing upon me; and shade
me under the shadow of thy canopy, on the day when there shall be no
shade but its shade.”

One of the most striking entreaties is the prayer upon washing the right
foot:—“O God, make firm my feet upon the Sirat, on the day when feet
shall slip upon it.”

“Es Sirât” is the bridge, which extends over the midst of Hell, finer
than a hair and sharper than the edge of a sword, over which all must
pass, and from which the wicked shall fall into Hell.

In these mosques order and stillness always reign, and the devotions
are conducted with the utmost propriety, whether there are single
worshippers, or whether the mosque is filled with lines of gowned and
turbaned figures prostrating themselves and bowing with one consent.
But, much stress as the Moslems lay upon prayer, they say that they do
not expect to reach Paradise by that, or by any merit of their own,
but only by faith and forgiveness. This is expressed frequently both
in prayers and in the sermons on Friday. A sermon by an Imam of a Cairo
mosque contains these implorings:—“O God! unloose the captivity of the
captives, and annul the debts of the debtors; and make this town to be
safe and secure, and blessed with wealth and plenty, and all the towns
of the Moslems, O Lord of the beings of the whole earth. And decree
safety and health to us and to all travelers, and pilgrims, and
warriors, and wanderers, upon thy earth, and upon thy sea, such as are
Moslems, O Lord of the beings of the whole world. O Lord, we have acted
unjustly towards our own souls, and if Thou do not forgive us and be
merciful unto us, we shall surely be of those who perish. I beg of
God, the Great, that He may forgive me and you, and all the people of
Mohammed, the servants of God.”



0095



0096



CHAPTER VIII.—THE PYRAMIDS.

THE ancient Egyptians of the Upper Country excavated sepulchres for
their great dead in the solid rocks of the mountain; the dwellers in
the lower country built a mountain of stone in which to hide the royal
mummy. In the necropolis at Thebes there are the vast rock-tombs of
the kings; at Sakkara and Geezeh stand the Pyramids. On the upper Nile
isolated rocks and mountains cut the sky in pyramidal forms; on the
lower Nile the mountain ranges run level along the horizon, and the
constructed pyramids relieve the horizontal lines which are otherwise
unbroken except by the palms.

The rock-tombs were walled up and their entrances concealed as much as
possible, by a natural arrangement of masses of rock; the pyramids were
completely encased and the openings perfectly masked. False passages,
leading through gorgeously carved and decorated halls and chambers to
an empty pit or a blind wall, were hewn in the rock-tombs, simply to
mislead the violator of the repose of the dead as to the position of the
mummy. The entrance to the pyramids is placed away from the center, and
misleading passages run from it, conducting the explorer away from the
royal sarcophagus. Rock-tomb and pyramid were for the same purpose, the
eternal security of the mummy.

That purpose has failed; the burial-place was on too grand a scale, its
contents were too tempting. There is no security for any one after death
but obscurity; to preserve one’s body is to lose it. The bones must
be consumed if they would be safe, or else the owner of them must be a
patriot and gain a forgotten grave. There is nothing that men so enjoy
as digging up the bones of their ancestors. It is doubtful if even
the Egyptian plunderers left long undisturbed the great tombs which
contained so much treasure; and certainly the Persians, the Greeks,
the Romans, the Saracens, left comparatively little for the scientific
grave-robbers of our excellent age. They did, however, leave the
tombs, the sarcophagi, most of the sculptures, and a fair share of the
preserved dead.

But time made a pretty clean sweep of the mummy and nearly all his
personal and real property. The best sculptures of his tomb might
legally be considered in the nature of improvements attaching themselves
to the realty, but our scientists have hacked them off and carried them
away as if they were personal estate. We call the Arabs thieves and
ghouls who prowl in the the tombs in search of valuables. But motive is
everything; digging up the dead and taking his property, tomb and
all, in the name of learning and investigation is respectable and
commendable. It comes to the same thing for the mummy, however, this
being turned out of house and home in his old age. The deed has its
comic aspect, and it seems to me that if a mummy has any humor left in
his dried body, he must smile to see what a ludicrous failure were his
costly efforts at concealment and repose. For there is a point where
frustration of plans may be so sweeping as to be amusing; just as the
mummy himself is so ghastly that his aspect is almost funny.

Nothing more impresses the mind with the antiquity of Egypt than its
vast cemeteries, into which the harvests of the dead have been gathered
for so many thousands of years. Of old Memphis, indeed, nothing remains
except its necropolis, whose monuments have outlasted the palaces and
temples that were the wonder of the world. The magnificence of the city
can be estimated by the extent of its burial-ground.

On the west side of the Nile, opposite Cairo, and extending south along
the edge of the desert, is a nearly continuous necropolis for fifteen
miles. It is marked at intervals by pyramids. At Geezeh are three large
and several small ones; at Abooseer are four; at Sakkara are eleven; at
Dashoor are four. These all belonged to the necropolis of Memphis. At
Geezeh is the largest, that of Cheops or Shoofoo, the third king of the
fourth dynasty, reigning at Memphis about 4235 B.C., according to the
chronology of Mariette Bey, which every new discovery helps to establish
as the most probably correct. This pyramid was about four hundred and
eighty feet high, and the length of a side of its base was about seven
hundred and sixty-four feet; it is now four hundred and fifty feet high
and its base line is seven hundred and forty-six feet. It is big enough
yet for any practical purpose. The old pyramid at Sakkara is believed to
have been built by Ouenephes, the fourth king of the first dynasty,
and to be the oldest monument in the world. Like the mounds of the
Chaldeans, it is built in degrees or stages, of which there are five.
Degraded now and buried at the base in its own rubbish, it rises only
about one hundred and ninety feet above the ground.

It is a drive of two hours from Cairo to the Pyramids of Geezeh, over
a very good road; and we are advised to go by carriage. Hadji is on the
seat with the driver, keeping his single twinkling eye active in the
service of the howadji. The driver is a polished Nubian, with a white
turban and a white gown; feet and legs go bare. You wouldn’t call it
a stylish turnout for the Bois, but it would be all right if we had a
gorgeous sais to attract attention from ourselves.

We drive through the wide and dusty streets of the new quarter. The
barrack-like palace, on the left of abroad place, is the one in which
the Khedive is staying just now, though he may be in another one
to-night. The streets are the same animated theater-like scenes of vivid
color and picturesque costume and indolent waiting on Providence to
which we thought we should never become accustomed, but which are
already beginning to lose their novelty. The fellaheen are coming in to
market, trudging along behind donkeys and camels loaded with vegetables
or freshly cut grass and beans for fodder. Squads of soldiers in white
uniform pass; bugle notes are heard from Kasr e’ Neel, a barrack
of troops on the river. Here, as in Europe, the great business most
seriously pursued is the drilling of men to stand straight, handle arms,
roll their eyes, march with a thousand legs moving as one, and shoot on
sight other human beings who have learned the same tricks. God help us,
it is a pitiful thing for civilized people.

The banks of the Nile here above Boolak are high and steep. We cross
the river on a fine bridge of iron, and drive over the level plain,
opposite, on a raised and winding embankment. This is planted on each
side with lebbekh and sycamore trees. Part of the way the trees are
large and the shade ample; the roots going down into moist ground. Much
of the way the trees are small and kept alive by constant watering. On
the right, by a noble avenue are approached the gardens and the palace
of Gezeereh. We pass by the new summer palace of Geezeh. Other large
ones are in process of construction. If the viceroy is measured for a
new suit of clothes as often as he orders a new palace, his tailors must
be kept busy. Through the trees we see green fields, intersected with
ditches, wheat, barley, and beans, the latter broad-sown and growing
two to three feet high; here and there are lines of palms, clumps of
acacias; peasants are at work or asleep in the shade; there are trains
of camels, and men plowing with cows or buffaloes. Leaving the squalid
huts that are the remains of once beautiful Geezeh, the embankment
strides straight across the level country.

And there before us, on a rocky platform a hundred feet higher than the
meadows, are the pyramids, cutting the stainless blue of the sky with
their sharp lines. They master the eye when we are an hour away, and as
we approach they seem to recede, neither growing larger nor smaller, but
simply withdrawing with a grand reserve.

I suppose there are more “emotions” afloat about the pyramids than
concerning any other artificial’ objects. There are enough. It becomes
constantly more and more difficult for the ordinary traveler to rise to
the height of these accumulated emotions, and it is entirely impossible
to say how much the excitement one experiences on drawing near them
results from reading and association, and how much is due to these
simple forms in such desolate surroundings. But there they stand,
enduring standards, and every visitor seems inclined to measure his own
height by their vastness, in telling what impression they produce upon
him. They have been treated sentimentally, off-handedly, mathematically,
solemnly, historically, humorously. They yield to no sort of treatment.
They are nothing but piles of stone, and shabby piles at that, and they
stand there to astonish people. Mr. Bayard Taylor is entirely right
when he says that the pyramids are and will remain unchanged and
unapproachably impressive however modern life may surge about them, and
though a city should creep about their bases.

Perhaps they do not appear so gigantic when the visitor is close to them
as he thought they would from their mass at a distance. But if he stands
at the base of the great pyramid, and casts his eye along the steps
of its enormous side and up the dizzy height where the summit seems to
pierce the solid blue, he will not complain of want of size. And if he
walks around one, and walks from one to another wading in the loose sand
and under a midday sun, his respect for the pyramids will increase every
moment.

Long before we reach the ascent of the platform we are met by Arab
boys and men, sellers of antiquities, and most persistent beggars. The
antiquities are images of all sorts, of gods, beasts, and birds, in
pottery or in bronze, articles from tombs, bits of mummy-cloth, beads
and scarabæi, and Roman copper coins; all of them at least five thousand
years old in appearance.

Our carriage is stuck in the sand, and we walk a quarter of a mile up
the platform, attended by a rabble of coaxing, imploring, importunate,
half-clad Bedaween. “Look a here, you take dis; dis ver much old, he
from mummy; see here, I get him in tomb; one shillin; in Cairo you get
him one pound; ver sheap. You no like? No anteeka, no money. How much?”

“One penny.”

“Ah,” ironically, “ket’-ther khâyrak (much obliged). You take him
sixpence. Howadji, say, me guide, you want go top pyramid, go inside, go
Sphinkee, allée tomba?”

Surrounded by an increasing swarm of guides and antiquity-hawkers, and
beset with offers, entreaties, and opportunities, we come face to face
with the great pyramid. The ground in front of it is piled high with its
debris. Upon these rocks, in picturesque attitudes, some in the shade
and some in the sun, others of the tribe are waiting the arrival of
pyramid climbers; in the intense light their cotton garments and turbans
are like white paint, brilliant in the sun, ashy in the shadow. All
the shadows are sharp and deep. A dark man leaning on his spear at the
corner of the pyramid makes a picture. At a kiosk near by carriages are
standing and visitors are taking their lunch. But men, carriages, kiosk,
are dwarfed in this great presence. It is, as I said, a shabby pile of
stone, and its beauty is only that of mathematical angles; but then
it is so big, it casts such a shadow; we all beside it are like the
animated lines and dots which represent human beings in the etchings of
Callot.

To be rid of importunities we send for the sheykh of the pyramid tribe.
The Bedaween living here have a sort of ownership of these monuments,
and very good property they are. The tribe supports itself mainly by
tolls levied upon visitors. The sheykh assigns guides and climbers, and
receives the pay for their services. This money is divided among the
families; but what individuals get as backsheesh or by the sale
of antiquities, they keep. They live near by, in huts scarcely
distinguishable from the rocks, many of them in vacant tombs, and some
have shanties on the borders of the green land. Most of them have
the appearance of wretched poverty, and villainous faces abound. But
handsome, intelligent faces and finely developed forms are not rare,
either.

The Sheykh, venerable as Jacob, respectable as a New England deacon,
suave and polite as he traditionally should be, wears a scarf of camel’s
hair and a bright yellow and black kuffia, put on like a hood, fastened
about the head by a cord and falling over the shoulders. He apportioned
his guides to take us up the pyramid and to accompany us inside. I had
already sent for a guide who had been recommended to me in the city,
and I found Ali Gobree the frank, manly, intelligent, quiet man I had
expected, handsome also, and honesty and sincerity beaming from his
countenance. How well-bred he was, and how well he spoke English. Two
other men were given me; for the established order is that two shall
pull and one shall push the visitor up. And it is easier to submit
to the regulation than to attempt to go alone and be followed by an
importunate crowd.

I am aware that every one who writes of the pyramids is expected to make
a scene of the ascent, but if I were to romance I would rather do it in
a fresher field. The fact is that the ascent is not difficult, unless
the person is very weak in the legs or attempts to carry in front of
himself a preposterous stomach. There is no difficulty in going alone;
occasionally the climber encounters a step from three to four feet high,
but he can always flank it. Of course it is tiresome to go up-stairs,
and the great pyramid needs an “elevator”; but a person may leisurely
zig-zag up the side without great fatigue. We went straight up at one
corner; the guides insisting on taking me by the hand; the boosting Arab
who came behind earned his money by grunting every time we reached a
high step, but he didn’t lift a pound.

We stopped frequently to look down and to measure with the eye the mass
on the surface of which we were like flies. When we were a third of the
way up, and turned from the edge to the middle, the height to be climbed
seemed as great as when we started. I should think that a giddy person
might have unpleasant sensations in looking back along the corner and
seeing no resting-place down the sharp edges of the steps short of the
bottom, if he should fall. We measure our ascent by the diminishing size
of the people below, and by the widening of the prospect. The guides are
perfectly civil, they do not threaten to throw us off, nor do they even
mention backsheesh. Stopping to pick out shells from the nummulitic
limestone blocks or to try our glasses on some distant object, we come
easily to the summit in a quarter of an hour.

The top, thirty feet square, is strewn with big blocks of stone and
has a flag-staff. Here ambitious people sometimes breakfast. Arabs are
already here with koollehs of water and antiquities. When the whole
party arrives the guides set up a perfunctory cheer; but the attempt to
give an air of achievement to our climbing performance and to make it
appear that we are the first who have ever accomplished the feat, is a
failure. We sit down upon the blocks and look over Egypt, as if we were
used to this sort of thing at home.

All that is characteristic of Egypt is in sight; to the west, the Libyan
hills and the limitless stretch of yellow desert sand; to the north,
desert also and the ruined pyramid of Abooroâsh; to the south, that long
necropolis of the desert marked by the pyramids of Abooseér, Sakkarah,
and Dashoor; on the east, the Nile and its broad meadows widening into
the dim Delta northward, the white line of Cairo under the Mokattam
hills, and the grey desert beyond. Egypt is a ribbon of green between
two deserts. Canals and lines of trees stripe the green of the
foreground; white sails flicker southward along the river, winging their
way to Nubia; the citadel and its mosque shine in the sun.

An Arab offers to run down the side of this pyramid, climb the second
one, the top of which is still covered with the original casing, and
return in a certain incredible number of minutes. We decline, because we
don’t like to have a half-clad Arab thrust his antics between us and
the contemplation of dead yet mighty Egypt. We regret our refusal
afterwards, for there is nothing people like to read about so much
as feats of this sort. Humanity is more interesting than stones. I am
convinced that if Martha Rugg had fallen off the pyramid instead of the
rock at Niagara Falls, people would have looked at the spot where she
fell, and up at the stairs she came bobbing down, with more interest
than at the pyramid itself. Nevertheless, this Arab, or another did,
while we were there, climb the second pyramid like a monkey; he looked
only a black speck on its side.

That accidents sometimes happen on the pyramids, I gather from the
conversation of Hadji, who is full of both information and philosophy
to-day.

“Sometime man, he fool, he go up. Man say, ‘go this way.’ Fool, he say,
‘let me lone.’ Umbrella he took him, threw him off; he dead in hundred
pieces.”

As to the selling of Scarabæi to travelers, Hadji inclines to the side
of the poor:—“Good one, handsome one,—one pound. Not good for much—but
what to do? Gentleman he want it; man he want the money.”

For Murray’s’ Guide-Book he has not more respect than guides usually
have who have acted as interpreters in the collection of information for
it. For “interpret” Hadji always says “spell.”

“When the Murray come here I spell it to the man, the man to Murray
and him put it down. He don’t know anything before. He told me, what
is this? I told him what it is. Something,” with a knowing nod, “be new
after Murray. Look here, Murray very old now.”

Hadji understands why the cost of living has gone up so much in Egypt.
“He was very sheap; now very different, dearer—because plenty people. I
build a house, another people build a house, and another people he build
a house. Plenty men to work, make it dear.” I have never seen Hadji’s
dwelling, but it is probably of the style of those that he calls—when in
the street we ask him what a specially shabby mud-wall with a ricketty
door in it is—“a brivate house.”

About the Great Pyramid has long waged an archaeological war. Years have
been spent in studying it, measuring it inside and outside, drilling
holes into it, speculating why this stone is in one position and that
in another, and constructing theories about the purpose for which it was
built. Books have been written on it, diagrams of all its chambers
and passages, with accurate measurements of every stone in them, are
printed. If I had control of a restless genius who was dangerous to the
peace of society, I would set him at the Great Pyramid, certain that
he would have occupation for a lifetime and never come to any useful
result. The interior has peculiarities, which distinguish it from all
other pyramids; and many think that it was not intended for a sepulchre
mainly; but that it was erected for astronomical purposes, or as a
witness to the true north, east, south, and west, or to serve as a
standard of measure; not only has the passage which descends obliquely
three hundred and twenty feet from the opening into the bed-rock, and
permits a view of the sky from that depth, some connection with the
observation of Sirius and the fixing of the Sothic year; not only is
the porphyry sarcophagus that is in the King’s Chamber, secure from
fluctuations of temperature, a fixed standard of measure; but the
positions of various stones in the passages (stones which certainly are
stumbling-blocks to everybody who begins to think why they are there)
are full of a mystic and even religious signification. It is most
restful, however, to the mind to look upon this pyramid as a tomb,
and that it was a sepulchre like all the others is the opinion of most
scholars.

Whatever it was, it is a most unpleasant place to go into. But we wanted
one idea of’ Cimmerian darkness, and the sensation of being buried
alive, and we didn’t like to tell a lie when asked if we had been in,
and therefore we went. You will not understand where we went without a
diagram, and you never will have any idea of it until you go. We, with
a guide for each person, light candles, and slide and stumble down an
incline; we crawl up an incline; we shuffle along a level passage that
seems interminable, backs and knees bent double till both are apparently
broken, and the torture of the position is almost unbearable; we get
up the Great Gallery, a passage over a hundred and fifty feet long,
twenty-eight high, and seven broad, and about as easy to ascend as a
logging-sluice, crawl under three or four portcullises, and emerge,
dripping with perspiration and covered with dust, into the king’s
chamber, a room thirty-four feet long, seventeen broad, and nineteen
high. It is built of magnificent blocks of syenite, polished and fitted
together perfectly, and contains the lidless sarcophagus.

If it were anywhere else and decently lighted, it would be a stylish
apartment; but with a dozen torches and candles smoking in it and
heating it, a lot of perspiring Arabs shouting and kicking up a dust,
and the feeling that the weight of the superincumbent mass was upon
us, it seemed to me too small and confined even for a tomb. The Arabs
thought they ought to cheer here as they did on top; we had difficulty
in driving them all out and sending the candles with them, in order
that we might enjoy the quiet and blackness of this retired situation.
I suppose we had for once absolute night, a room full of the original
Night, brother of Chaos, night bottled up for four or five thousand
years, the very night in which old Cheops lay in a frightful isolation,
with all the portcullises down and the passages sealed with massive
stones.

Out of this blackness the eye even by long waiting couldn’t get a ray;
a cat’s eye would be invisible in it. Some scholars think that Cheops
never occupied this sarcophagus. I can understand his feeling if he ever
came in here alive. I think he may have gone away and put up “to let” on
the door.

We scrambled about a good deal in this mountain, visited the so-called
Queen’s Chamber, entered by another passage, below the King’s, lost
all sense of time and of direction, and came out, glad to have seen the
wonderful interior, but welcoming the burst of white light and the pure
air, as if we were being born again. To remain long in that gulf of
mortality is to experience something of the mystery of death.

Ali Gobree had no antiquities to press upon us, but he could show us
some choice things in his house, if we would go there. Besides, his
house would be a cool place in which to eat our lunch. We walked
thither, a quarter of a mile down the sand slope on the edge of the
terrace. We had been wondering where the Sphinx was, expecting it to be
as conspicuous almost as the Pyramids. Suddenly, turning a sand-hill, we
came upon it, the rude lion’s body struggling out of the sand, the human
head lifted up in that stiff majesty which we all know.

So little of the body is now visible, and the features are so much
damaged that it is somewhat difficult to imagine what impression this
monstrous union of beast and man once produced, when all the huge
proportions stood revealed, and color gave a startling life-likeness to
that giant face. It was cut from the rock of the platform; its back
was patched with pieces of sandstone to make the contour; its head was
solid. It was approached by flights of stairs descending, and on the
paved platform where it stood were two small temples; between its paws
was a sort of sanctuary, with an altar. Now, only the back, head and
neck are above the drifting sand. Traces of the double crown of Upper
and Lower Egypt which crowned the head are seen on the forehead, but
the crown has gone. The kingly beard that hung from the chin has been
chipped away. The vast wig—the false mass of hair that encumbered the
shaven heads of the Egyptians, living or dead—still stands out on
either side the head, and adds a certain dignity. In spite of the
broken condition of the face, with the nose gone, it has not lost its
character. There are the heavy eyebrows, the prominent cheek-bones, the
full lips, the poetic chin, the blurred but on-looking eyes. I think
the first feeling of the visitor is that the face is marred beyond
recognition, but the sweep of the majestic lines soon becomes apparent;
it is not difficult to believe that there is a smile on the sweet mouth,
and the stony stare of the eyes, once caught, will never be forgotten.

The Sphinx, grossly symbolizing the union of physical and intellectual
force, and hinting at one of those recondite mysteries which we
still like to believe existed in the twilight of mankind, was called
Hor-em-Khoo (“the Sun in his resting-place”), and had divine honors paid
to it as a deity.

This figure, whatever its purpose, is older than the Pyramid of Cheops.
It has sat facing the east, on the edge of this terrace of tombs,
expecting the break of day, since a period that is lost in the dimness
of tradition. All the achievements of the race, of which we know
anything, have been enacted since that figure was carved. It has seen,
if its stony eyes could see, all the procession of history file before
it. Viewed now at a little distance or with evening shadows on it, its
features live again, and it has the calmness, the simple majesty that
belong to high art. Old writers say that the face was once sweet and
beautiful. How long had that unknown civilization lasted before it
produced this art?

Why should the Sphinx face the rising sun? Why does it stand in a
necropolis like a sleepy warden of the dead who sleep? Was it indeed
the guardian of those many dead, the mighty who slept in pyramids, in
rock-hewn tombs, in pits, their bodies ready for any pilgrimage; and
does it look to the east expecting the resurrection?

Not far from the Sphinx is a marvelous temple of syenite, which the sand
almost buries; in a well in one of its chambers was found the splendid
red-granite statue of Chephren, the builder of the second pyramid, a
piece of art which succeeding ages did not excel. All about the rock
plateau are tombs, and in some of them are beautiful sculptures, upon
which the coloring is fresh. The scenes depicted are of common life, the
occupations and diversions of the people, and are without any religious
signification. The admirable sculptures represent no gods and no funeral
mysteries; when they were cut the Egyptian theology was evidently not
constructed.

The residence of our guide is a tomb, two dry chambers in the rock, the
entrance closed by a wooden door. The rooms are large enough for tables
and chairs; upon the benches where the mummies have lain, are piled
antique fragments of all sorts, set off by a grinning skull or a
thigh-bone; the floor is covered with fine yellow sand. I don’t know how
it may have seemed to its first occupant, but we found it an excellent
luncheon place, and we could sleep there calmly and securely, when the
door was shut against the jackals—though I believe it has never been
objected to a tomb that one couldn’t sleep in it. While we sip our
coffee Ali brings forth his antique images and scarabæi. These are
all genuine, for Ali has certificates from most of the well-known
Egyptologists as to his honesty and knowledge of antiquities. We
are looking for genuine ones; those offered us at the pyramids were
suspicious. We say to Ali:—

“We should like to get a few good scarabæi; we are entirely ignorant of
them; but we were sent to you as an honest man. You select half a dozen
that you consider the best, and we will pay you a fair price; if they do
not pass muster in Cairo you shall take them back.”

“As you are a friend of Mr. Blank,” said Ali, evidently pleased with the
confidence reposed in him, “you shall have the best I have, for about
what they cost me.”

The Scarabæus is the black beetle that the traveler will constantly see
tumbling about in the sand, and rolling up balls of dirt as he does
in lands where he has not so sounding a name. He was sacred to the old
Egyptians as an emblem of immortality, because he was supposed to have
the power of self-production. No mummy went away into the shades of the
nether world without one on his breast, with spread-wings attached to
it. Usually many scarabæi were buried with the mummy—several hundreds
have been found in one mummy-case. They were cut from all sorts of
stones, both precious and common, and made of limestone, or paste,
hardened, glazed and baked. Some of them are exquisitely cut, the
intaglio on the under side being as clean, true, and polished as Greek
work. The devices on them are various; the name of a reigning or a
famous king, in the royal oval, is not uncommon, and an authentic
scarabæus with a royal name is considered of most value. I saw an
insignificant one in soft stone and of a grey color, held at a hundred
pounds; it is the second one that has ever been found with the name of
Cheops on it. The scarabæi were worn in rings, carried as charms, used
as seals; there are large coarse ones of blue pottery which seem to have
been invitations to a funeral, by the inscriptions on them.

The Scarabæus is at once the most significant and portable souvenir of
ancient Egypt that the traveler can carry away, and although the supply
was large, it could not fill the demand. Consequently antique scarabæi
are now manufactured in large quantities at Thebes, and in other places,
and distributed very widely over the length of Egypt; the dealers have
them with a sprinkling of the genuine; almost every peasant can produce
one from his deep pocket; the women wear them in their bosoms.

The traveler up the Nile is pretty sure to be attacked with the fever of
buying Scarabæi; he expects to happen upon one of great value, which he
will get for a few piastres. It is his intention to do so. The Scarabæus
becomes to him the most beautiful and desirable object in the world. He
sees something fascinating in its shape, in its hieroglyphics, however
ugly it may be to untaught eyes.

Ali selected our scarabæi. They did not seem to us exactly the antique
gems that we had expected to see, and they did not give a high idea of
the old Egyptian art. But they had a mysterious history and meaning;
they had shared the repose of a mummy perhaps before Abraham departed
from Ur. We paid for them. We paid in gold. We paid Ali for his
services as guide. We gave him backsheesh on account of his kindness and
intelligence, besides. We said good-bye to his honest face with regret,
and hoped to see him again.

It was not long before we earnestly desired to meet him. He was a most
accomplished fellow, and honesty was his best policy. There isn’t a more
agreeable Bedawee at the Pyramids; and yet Ali is a modern Egyptian,
just like his scarabæi, all the same. The traveler who thinks the
Egyptians are not nimble-witted and clever is likely to pay for his
knowledge to the contrary. An accumulated experience of five thousand
years, in one spot, is not for nothing.

We depart from the pyramids amid a clamor of importunity; prices
have fallen to zero; antiquities old as Pharaoh will be given away;
“backsheesh, backsheesh, O Howadji;” “I havn’t any bread to mangere, I
have six children; what is a piastre for eight persons?” They run
after us, they hang upon the carriage, they follow us a mile, begging,
shrieking, howling, dropping off one by one, swept behind by the weight
of a copper thrown to them.

The shadows fall to the east; there is a lovely light on the plain; we
meet long lines of camels, of donkeys, of fellaheen returning from city
and field. All the west is rosy; the pyramids stand in a purple light;
the Sphinx casts its shade on the yellow sand; its expectant eyes look
beyond the Nile into the mysterious East.



0111



CHAPTER IX.—PREPARATIONS FOR A VOYAGE.

WE are giving our minds to a name for our dahabeëh. The owners have
desired us to christen it, and the task is getting heavy. Whatever
we are doing; guiding a donkey through the mazes of a bazaar; eating
oranges at the noon breakfast; watching the stream of color and
fantastic apparel, swaying camels and dashing harem-equipage with
running saïses and outriding eunuchs, flowing by the hotel; following
a wedding procession in its straggling parade, or strolling vacantly
along, knocked, jostled, evaded by a dozen races in a dozen minutes and
lost in the whirl, color, excitement of this perpetual masquerade, we
are suddenly struck with, “what shall we call that boat?”

We want a name that is characteristic of the country and expressive
of our own feelings, poetic and not sentimental, sensible and not
common-place. It seems impossible to suggest a good name that is not
already borne by a dahabeëh on the river—names such as the Lotus, the
Ibis, the Gazelle, Cleopatra, Zenobia, names with an Eastern flavor. And
we must have not only a name for the boat, but a motto or device for our
pennant, or “distinguisher flag,” as the dragoman calls the narrow fifty
feet long strip of bunting that is to stream from the forward yard.
We carry at the stern the flag of our country, but we float our
individuality in the upper air. If we had been a bridal party we should
of course have taken some such device as that of a couple who went
up the river under the simple but expressive legend of “Nestle-down,”
written on their banner.

What would you name a Nile dahabeëh?

The days go all too rapidly for us to catch the shifting illusions
about us. It is not so much what we see of the stated sights that can
be described, but it is the atmosphere in which we live that makes the
strangeness of our existence. It is as if we had been born into another
world. And the climate is as strange as the people, the costumes, the
habits, the morals. The calendar is bewitched. December is a mixture of
September and July. Alas, yes. There are the night-fogs of September,
and the mosquitoes of July. You cannot tell whether the season is going
backwards or forwards. But for once you are content to let Providence
manage it, at least so long as there is a north wind, and you forget
that the sky has any shade other than blue.

And the prophecy of the poet is realized. The nights are filled with
music, and the cares that infest the day are invariably put off till
tomorrow, in this deliciously procrastinating land. Perhaps, however,
Mr. Longfellow would not be satisfied with the music; for it seems to be
the nasal daughter of Lassitude and Monotony, ancient gods of the East.
Two or three strings stretched over a sounding skin and a parchment drum
suffice to express the few notes that an Arab musician commands; harmony
does not enter into his plan. Yet the people are fond of what they
consider music. We hear on all sides at night the picking of strings,
the throb of the darabooka and the occasional outburst of a wailing and
sentimental strain. Like all barbarous music, this is always minor. When
the performers are sailors or common strollers, it is doubtless
exactly the same music that delighted the ancient Egyptians; even
the instruments are the same, and the method of clapping the hands in
accentuation of the music is unchanged.

There is a café chantant on one side of the open, tree-grown court of a
native hotel, in the Ezbekeëh where one may hear a mongrel music, that
is not inexpressive of both the morals and the mixed condition of Cairo
to-day. The instruments of the band are European; the tunes played are
Egyptian. When the first strain is heard we say that it is strangely
wild, a weird and plaintive minor; but that is the whole of it. The
strain is repeated over and over again for a half hour, as if it were
ground out of a coffee-mill, in an iteration sufficient to drive the
listener insane, the dissolute scraping and thumping and barbarous
dissonance never changing nor ending. From time to time this is varied
with singing, of the nasal, fine-tooth-comb order, with the most
extraordinary attempts at shakes and trills, and with all the agony of a
moonlit cat on a house-top. All this the grave Arabs and young Egyptian
rakes, who sit smoking, accept with entire satisfaction. Later in the
evening dancing begins and goes on with the strumming, monotonous music
till at least the call for morning prayer.

In the handsome Ezbekeëh park or garden, where there are shady walks and
some fine sycamores and banyans to be seen, a military band plays
every afternoon, while the foreigners of both sexes, and Egyptian men
promenade. Of course no Egyptian lady or woman of respectability is ever
seen in so public a place. In another part of the garden, more retired,
a native band is always playing at nightfall. In this sheltered spot,
under the lee of some gigantic rock and grotto-work are tables and
chairs, and a divan for the band. This rock has water pleasantly running
through it, but it must have been struck by somebody besides Moses, for
beer is brought out of its cool recesses, as well. Rows of men of all
colors and costumes may be seen there, with pipe and mug and coffee cup;
and on settees more elevated and next the grotto, are always sitting
veiled women, in outer wrappers of black silk, sometimes open enough
to show an underskirt of bright color and feet in white slippers. These
women call for beer or something stronger, and smoke like the men; they
run no risk in being in this publicity, for they have nothing to lose
here or elsewhere. Opposite them on a raised divan, not unlike a roomy
bedstead, sits the band.

It is the most disreputable of bands. Nothing in the whole East so
expressed to me its fagged-out dissoluteness as this band and its
performances. It is a sleepy, nonchalant band, as if it had been awake
all the previous night; some of its members are blear-eyed, some have
one eye, some have two; they are in turbans, in tarbooshes, in gowns of
soiled silk, of blue cotton, of white drilling. It is the feeblest band;
and yet it is subject to spurts of bacchantic fervor. Sometimes all the
instruments are striving together, and then only one or two dribble
the monotonous refrain; but somehow, with all the stoppings to light
cigarettes and sip coffee, the tune is kept groaning on, in a minor that
is as wild as the desert and suggestive of sin.

The instruments are as African as the music. There is the darabooka,
a drum made of an earthen or wooden cylinder with a flaring head, over
which is stretched a parchment; the tar, a kind of tambourine; kemengeh,
a viol of two strings, with a cocoa-nut sounding-body; the kanoon, an
instrument of strings held on the knees, and played with the fingers;
the ’.od, a sort of guitar with seven double strings; played with a
plectrum, a slip of vultures’ feather held between the thumb and finger;
and the nay, a reed-flute blown at the end.

In the midst of the thumbing and scraping, a rakish youth at the end,
is liable, at any moment, to throw back his head and break out in a soft
womanish voice, which may go no farther than a nasal yah, ah, m-a-r-r,
that appears to satisfy his yearnings; or it may expand into a droning
song, “Ya benat Iskendereeyeh,” like that which Mr. Lane renders:—


“O ye damsels of Alexandria!

Your walk over the furniture is alluring:

Ye wear the Kashmeer shawl with embroidered work,

And your lips are sweet as sugar.”


Below the divan sit some idlers or supernumeraries, who, as inclination
moves them, mark the rhythm by striking the palms of the hands together,
or cry out a prolonged ah-yah, but always in a forgetful, uninterested
manner, and then subside into silence, while the picking and throbbing
of the demoralized tune goes on. It is the “devilish iteration” of it, I
think, that steals away the senses; this, and some occult immorality
in the debased tune, that blots virtue out of the world. Yet there is
something comic in these blinking owls of the night, giving sentimental
tongue to the poetic imagery of the Eastern love-song—“for a solitary
gazelle has taken away my soul”:—


“The beloved came to me with a vacillating gait;

And her eyelids were the cause of my intoxication.

I extended my hand to take the cup;

And was intoxicated by her eyes.

O thou in the rose-colored dress!

O thou in the rose-colored dress!

Beloved of my heart! remain with me.”


Or he pipes to the “dark-complexioned, and with two white roses”:—


“O damsel! thy silk shirt is worn out, and thine arms have become
visible,

And I fear for thee, on account of the blackness of thine eyes.

I desire to intoxicate myself, and kiss thy cheeks,

And do deeds that Antar did not.”


To all of which the irresponsible chorus, swaying its head, responds O!
y-a-a-a-h! And the motley audience sips and smokes; the veiled daughters
of sin flash invitation from their kohl-stained eyes; and the cool night
comes after the flaring heat of the day; and all things are as they
have been for thousands of years. It is time to take you to something
religious.

The Howling Derweeshes are the most active religionists in the East; I
think they spend more force in devotion than the Whirling Derweeshes,
though they are probably not more meritorious. They exceed our own
western “Jumpers,” and by contrast make the worship of our dancing
Shakers tame and worldly. Of all the physical manifestations of
religious feeling there is none more warming than the zikr of these
devotees. The derweeshes are not all wanderers, beggars, saints in
patched garments and filthy skin; perhaps the most of those who belong
to one of the orders pursue some regular occupation; they are fishermen,
laborers in the fields, artisans, and water-carriers, and only
occasionally join in the ceremonies, processions and zikrs of their
faith. I have seen a laborer drop into the ring, take his turn at a
zikr, and drop out again, very much as the western man happens in and
takes a hand in a “free fight,” and then retires.

This mosque at which the Howling Derweeshes perform is circular, and
large enough to admit a considerable number of spectators, who sit, or
stand against the wall. Since the exercise is one of the sights of the
metropolis, and strangers are expected, it has a little the air of a
dress-parade, and I could not but fear that the devotion lost somewhat
of its singleness of purpose. When we enter, about forty men stand in an
oblong ring facing each other; the ring is open towards the mehhrab,
or niche which marks the direction of Mecca. In the opening stands
the Sheykh, to direct the performance; and at his left are seated the
musicians.

The derweeshes have divested themselves of turbans, fezes, outer gowns
and slippers, which lie in a heap in the middle of the circle, an
indistinguishable mass of old clothes, from which when the owners come
to draw they cannot fail to get as good as they deposited. The ceremony
begins with a little uneasiness on the part of the musical instruments;
the sheykh bows his head and brings the palms of his hands together; and
the derweeshes, standing close together, with their hands straight at
their sides, begin slowly to bow and to sway to the right in a compound
motion which is each time extended. The daraboo-ka is beaten softly
and the ’.od is picked to a slow measure. As the worshippers sway,
they chant, La ilaha illa-llah (“There is no deity but God”) in endless
repetition, and imperceptibly quickening the enunciation as they bow
more rapidly. The music gets faster, and now and again one of the
roguish boys who is thumping the drum breaks out into vocal expression
of his piety or of his hilarity. The circle is now under full swing, the
bowings are lower and much more rapid, and the ejaculation has become
merely Allah, Allah, Allah, with a strong stress on the final syllable.

The peculiarities of the individual performers begin to come out. Some
only bow and swing in a perfunctory manner; others throw their strength
into the performance, and their excitement is evinced by the working of
the face and the rolling of the eyes. Many of them have long hair, which
has evidently known neither scissors nor comb for years, and is matted
and twisted in a hopeless tangle. One of the most conspicuous and
the least clad, a hairy man of the desert, is, exactly in apparel and
features, like the conventional John the Baptist. His enormous shock
of faded brown hair is two feet long and its ends are dyed yellow with
henna. When he bends forward his hair sweeps the floor, and when he
throws his head back the mass whips over with a swish through the air.
The most devout person, however, is a negro, who puts all the fervor
of the tropics into his exercise. His ejaculations are rolled out with
extraordinary volume, and his black skin shines with moisture; there is,
too, in his swaying and bowing, an abandon, a laxity of muscles, and a
sort of jerk that belong only to his sympathetic race.

The exercise is every moment growing more rapid, but in regular
increments, as the music hastens—five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen
minutes—until there is a very high pressure on, the revolutions of the
cylinder are almost one in two seconds, and the piston moves quicker and
quicker. The music, however, is not louder, only more intense, and now
and then the reed-flute executes a little obligato, a plaintive strain,
that steals into the frenzy like the note of a lost bird, sweet as love
and sad as death. The performers are now going so rapidly that they can
only ejaculate one syllable, ’.ah, ‘lah, ‘lah, which is aspirated in
a hoarse voice every time the head is flung forward to the floor. The
hands are now at liberty, and swing with the body, or are held palm to
palm before the face. The negro cannot longer contain himself but breaks
occasionally into a shrill “hoo!” He and two or three others have “the
power,” and are not far from an epileptic fit.

There is a limit, however, to the endurance of the body; the swaying
has become so rapid that it is difficult to distinguish faces, and it is
impossible for the performers to repeat even a syllable of the name of
Allah, all they can do is to push out from the depths of the lungs a
vast hoarse aspiration of la-a-h, which becomes finally a gush exactly
like the cut-off of a steam engine, short and quick.

The end has nearly come; in vain the cymbals clang, in vain the drum is
beaten harder, and the horn calls to quicker work. The limit is reached,
and while the reed expresses its plaintive fear, the speed slackens,
the steam puffs are slower, and with an irregular hoo! from the colored
brother, the circle stands still.

You expect to see them sink down exhausted. Not a bit of it. One or
two having had enough of it, take their clothes and withdraw, and their
places are filled by others and by some very sensible-looking men,
trades-people evidently. After a short rest they go through the same or
a similar performance, and so on for an hour and a half, the variations
being mainly in the chanting. At the end, each derweesh affectionately
embraces the Sheykh, kisses his hand without servility, resumes his
garments and quietly withdraws. They seem to have enjoyed the exercise,
and certainly they had plenty of it. I should like to know what they
think of us, the infidel spectators, who go to look at their religious
devotions as if they were a play.

That derweesh beggar in a green turban is by that token a shereef, or
descendant of the Prophet. No one but a shereef is allowed to wear the
green turban. The shereefs are in all ranks of society, many of them
wretched paupers and in the most menial occupations; the title is
inherited from either parent and the representatives of the race have
become common. Some who are entitled to the green turban wear the
white instead, and prefer to be called Sevd (master or lord) instead of
Shereef. Such a man is Seyd Sadat, the most conspicous representative of
the family of the Prophet in Cairo. His ancestors for a long period
were the trustees of the funds of all the great mosques of Cairo, and
consequently handled an enormous revenue and enjoyed great power. These
millions of income from the property of the mosques the Khedive has
diverted to his own purposes by the simple process of making himself
their trustee. Thus the secular power interferes every few centuries,
in all countries, with the accumulation of property in religious houses.
The strict Moslems think with the devout Catholics, that it is an
impious interference.

Seyd Sadat lives in the house that his family have occupied for
over eight centuries! It is perhaps the best and richest specimen of
Saracenic domestic architecture now standing in the East. This house,
or collection of houses and disconnected rooms opening upon courts and
gardens, is in some portions of it in utter decay; a part, whose elegant
arches and marvelous carvings in stone, with elaborate hanging balconies
and painted recesses, are still studies of beauty, is used as a stable.
The inhabited rooms of the house are tiled two-thirds of the way to the
lofty ceilings; the floors are of variegated marbles, and the ceilings
are a mass of wood in the most intricate arabesque carving, and painted
in colors as softly blended as the hues of an ancient camels’ hair
shawl. In one of these gorgeous apartments, the furniture of which is
not at all in keeping with the decorations (an incongruity which one
sees constantly in the East—shabbiness and splendor are indissolubly
married), we are received by the Descendant with all the ceremony of
Eastern hospitality. Seated upon the divan raised above the fountain
at one end of the apartment, we begin one of those encounters of
compliments through an interpreter, out of which the traveler always
comes beaten out of sight. The Seyd is a handsome intelligent man of
thirty-five, sleek with good living and repose, and a master of Oriental
courtesy. His attire is all of silk, the blue color predominating;
his only ornament is a heavy gold chain about the neck. We frame long
speeches to the Seyd, and he appears to reply with equal verboseness,
but what he says or what is said to him we never know. The Eastern
dragoman is not averse to talking, but he always interprets in a sort of
short-hand that is fatal to conversation. I think the dragomans at such
interviews usually translate you into what they think you ought to say,
and give you such a reply as they think will be good for you.

“Say to his lordship that we thank him for the honor of being permitted
to pay our respects to a person so distinguished.”

“His excellency (who has been talking two minutes) say you do him too
much honor.”

“We were unwilling to leave Cairo without seeing the residence of so
celebrated a family.”

“His excellency (who has now got fairly going) feels in deep the visit
of strangers so distinguish.”

“It is a great pleasure also to us to see an Arab house so old and
magnificent.”

“His excellency (who might have been reciting two chapters of the Koran
in the interval) say not to mention it; him sorry it is not more worth
you to see.”

The attendants bring sherbet in large and costly cups, and chibooks
elegantly mounted, and the conversation flounders along. The ladies
visit the harem above, and we look about the garden and are shown into
room after room, decorated in endless variety and with a festivity of
invention and harmony of color which the moderns have lost. The harem
turns out to be, like all ordinary harems, I think, only mysterious on
the outside. We withdraw with profuse thanks, frittered away through our
dragoman, and “His excellency say he hope you have pleasant voyage and
come safe to your family and your country.” About the outer court, and
the door where we mount our donkeys, are many idlers in the sun, half
beggars, half attendants, all of whom want backsheesh, besides the
regular servants who expect a fee in proportion to the “distinguish”
of the visitor. They are probably not unlike the clients of an ancient
Roman house, or the retainers of a baronial lord of the middle ages.

If the visitor, however, really desires to see the antiquities of the
Christian era, he will ride out to Old Cairo, and mouse about among the
immense rubbish heaps that have been piled there since Fostat (as the
ancient city was called) was reduced to ashes, more than seven hundred
years ago, by a fire which raged nearly two months. There is the
ruined mosque of Amer, and there are the quaint old Coptic convents and
churches, built about with mud walls, and hidden away amid mounds of
rubbish. To these dust-filled lanes and into these mouldering edifices
the antiquarian will gladly go. These churches are the land of the flea
and the home of the Copt. Anything dingier, darker, dirtier, doesn’t
exist. To one of them, the Sitt Miriam, Church of Our Lady, we had the
greatest difficulty in getting admission. It is up-stairs in one of the
towers of the old Roman gateway of Babylon. It is a small church, but
it has five aisles and some very rich wood-carving and stone-mosaics. It
was cleaner than the others because it was torn to pieces in the process
of renovation. In these churches are hung ostrich eggs, as in the
mosques, and in many of them are colored marbles, and exquisite mosaics
of marble, mother-of-pearl, and glass. Aboo Sirgeh, the one most
visited, has a subterranean chapel which is the seat of an historical
transaction that may interest some minds. There are two niches in the
wall, and in one of them, at the time of the Flight into Egypt, the
Virgin Mary rested with the Child, and in the other St. Joseph reposed.
That is all.

A little further on, by the river bank, opposite the southern end of the
island of Rhoda, the Moslems show you the spot where little Moses lay in
his little basket, when the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe (for
Pharaoh hadn’t a bath-tub in his house) and espied him. The women of the
Nile do to-day exactly what Pharaoh’s daughter and her maidens did, but
there are no bulrushes at this place now, and no lad of the promise of
Moses is afloat.

One can never have done with an exploration of Cairo, with digging down
into the strata of overlying civilizations, or studying the shifting
surface of its Oriental life. Here, in this Old Cairo, was an ancient
Egyptian town no doubt; the Romans constructed here massive walls and
towers; the followers of St. Mark erected churches; the friends of
Mohammed built mosques; and here the mongrel subjects of the Khedive,
a mixture of ancient Egyptian, conquering Arabian, subject Nubian,
enslaved Soudan, inheritors of all civilizations and appropriators of
none, kennel amid these historic ash-heaps, caring neither for their
past nor their future. But it is drawing towards the middle of December;
there are signs that warn us to be off to the south. It may rain. There
are symptoms of chill in the air, especially at night, and the hotel,
unwarmed, is cheerless as a barn, when the sun does not shine. Indeed,
give Cairo the climate of London in November and everybody would perish
in a week. Our preparations drift along. It is always “tomorrow.” It
requires a week to get the new name of the boat printed on a tin. The
first day the bargain for it is made; the work is to be finished
bookra, tomorrow. Next day the letters are studied. The next the tin is
prepared. The next day is Friday or Wednesday or some other day in which
repose is required. And the next the workman comes to know what
letters the howadji desires to have upon the tin, and how big a sign is
required.

Two other necessary articles remain to be procured; rockets and other
fire-works to illuminate benighted Egypt, and medicines. As we were not
taking along a physician and should find none of those experimenting
people on the Nile, I did not see the use of carrying drugs. Besides
we were going into the one really salubrious region of the globe. But
everybody takes medicines; you must carry medicines. The guide-book
gives you a list of absolutely essential, nasty drugs and compounds,
more than you would need if you were staying at home in an artificial
society, with nothing to do but take them, and a physician in every
street.

I bought chunks of drugs, bottles of poisons, bundles of foul smells
and bitter tastes. And then they told me that I needed balances to weigh
them in. This was too much. I was willing to take along an apothecary’s
shop on this pleasure excursion; I was not willing to become an
apothecary. No, I said, if I am to feed out these nauseous things on the
Nile, I will do it generously, according to taste, and like a physician,
never stinting the quantity. I would never be mean about giving medicine
to other people. And it is not difficult to get up a reputation for
generosity on epsom salts, rhubarb and castor oil.

We carried all these drugs on the entreaty of friends and the druggist,
who said it would be very unsafe to venture so far without them. But I
am glad we had them with us. The knowledge that we had them was a great
comfort. To be sure we never experienced a day’s illness, and brought
them all back, except some doses that I was able to work off upon the
crew. There was a gentle black boy, who had been stolen young out
of Soudan, to whom it was a pleasure to give the most disagreeable
mixtures; he absorbed enormous doses as a lily drinks dew, and they
never seemed to harm him. The aboriginal man, whose constitution is not
weakened by civilization, can stand a great amount of doctor’s stuff.
The Nile voyager is earnestly advised to carry a load of drugs with him;
but I think we rather overdid the business in castor-oil; for the fact
is that the people in Nubia fairly swim in it, and you can cut the cane
and suck it whenever you feel like it.

By all means, go drugged on your pleasure voyage. It is such a cheerful
prelude to it, to read that you will need blue-pills, calomel, rhubarb,
Dover’s powder, James’s powder, carbolic acid, laudanum, quinine,
sulphuric acid, sulphate of zinc, nitrate of silver, ipecacuanha, and
blistering plaster. A few simple directions go with these. If you feel a
little unwell, take a few blue pills, only about as many as you can
hold in your hand; follow these with a little Dover’s powder, and then
repeat, if you feel worse, as you probably will; when you rally, take a
few swallows of castor-oil, and drop into your throat some laudanum; and
then, if you are alive, drink a dram of sulphuric acid. The consulting
friends then generally add a little rice-water and a teaspoonful of
brandy.

In the opinion of our dragoman it is scarcely reputable to go up the
Nile without a store of rockets and other pyrotechnics. Abd-el-Atti
should have been born in America. He would enjoy a life that was a
continual Fourth of July. He would like his pathway to be illuminated
with lights, blue, red, and green, and to blaze with rockets. The
supreme moment of his life is when he feels the rocket-stick tearing out
of his hand. The common fire-works in the Mooskee he despised; nothing
would do but the government-made, which are very good. The passion of
some of the Egyptians for fire-arms and gunpowder is partially due to
the prohibition. The government strictly forbids the use of guns and
pistols and interdicts the importation or selling of powder. On the
river a little powder and shot are more valued than money.

We had obtained permission to order some rockets manufactured at the
government works, and in due time we went with Abd-el-Atti to the bureau
at the citadel to pay for them. The process was attended with all that
deliberation which renders life so long and valuable in the East.

We climbed some littered and dusty steps, to a roof terrace upon which
opened several apartments, brick and stucco chambers with cement floors,
the walls whitewashed, but yellow with time and streaked with dirt.
These were government offices, but office furniture was scarce. Men and
boys in dilapidated gowns were sitting about on their heels smoking.
One of them got up and led the way, and pulling aside a soiled curtain
showed us into the presence of a bey, a handsomely dressed Turk, with
two gold chains about his neck, squatting on a ragged old divan at one
end of the little room; and this divan was absolutely all the furniture
that this cheerless closet, which had one window obscured with dust,
contained. Two or three officers were waiting to get the bey’s signature
to papers, and a heap of documents lay beside him, with an inkhorn, on
the cushions. Half-clad attendants or petitioners shuffled in and out
of the presence of this head of the bureau. Abd-el-Atti produced his
papers, but they were not satisfactory, and we were sent elsewhere.

Passing through one shabby room after another, we came into one dimmer,
more stained and littered than the others. About the sides of the room
upon low divans sat, cross-legged, the clerks. Before each was a shabby
wooden desk which served no purpose, however, but to hold piles of
equally shabby account books. The windows were thick with dust, the
floor was dirty, the desks, books, and clerks were dirty. But the
clerks were evidently good fellows, just like those in all government
offices—nothing to do and not pay enough to make them uneasy to be rich.
They rolled cigarettes and smoked continually; one or two of them were
casting up columns of figures, holding the sheet of paper in the left
hand and calling each figure in a loud voice (as if a little doubtful
whether the figure would respond to that name); and some of them wrote
a little, by way of variety. When they wrote the thin sheet of paper was
held in the left hand and the writing done upon the palm (as the Arabs
always write); the pen used was a blunt reed and the ink about as thick
as tar. The writing resulting from these unfavorable conditions is
generally handsome.

Our entry and papers were an event in that office, and the documents
became the subject of a general conversation. Other public business
(except the cigarettes) was suspended, and nearly every clerk gave
his opinion on the question, whatever it was. I was given a seat on a
rickety divan, coffee was brought in, the clerks rolled cigarettes for
me and the business began to open; not that anybody showed any special
interest in it, however. On the floor sat two or three boys, eating
their dinner of green bean leaves and some harmless mixture of grease
and flour; and a cloud of flies settled on them undisturbed. What
service the ragged boys rendered to the government I could not
determine. Abd-el-Atti was bandying jocularities with the clerks, and
directing the conversation now and then upon the rockets.

In course of time a clerk found a scrap of paper, daubed one side of it
with Arabic characters, and armed with this we went to another office
and got a signature to it. This, with the other documents, we carried to
another room much like the first, where the business appeared to take a
fresh start; that is, we sat down and talked; and gradually induced
one official after another to add a suggestion or a figure or two.
Considering that we were merely trying to pay for some rockets that were
ready to be delivered to us, it did seem to me that almost a whole day
was too much to devote to the affair. But I was mistaken. The afternoon
was waning when we went again to the Bey. He was still in his little
“cubby,” and made room for me on the divan. A servant brought coffee. We
lighted cigarettes, and, without haste, the bey inked the seal that hung
to his gold chain, wet the paper and impressed his name in the proper
corner. We were now in a condition to go to the treasury office and pay.

I expected to see a guarded room and heavily bolted safes. Instead of
this there was no treasury apartment, nor any strong box. But we found
the “treasury” walking about in one of the passages, in the shape of an
old Arab in a white turban and faded yellow gown. This personage fished
out of his deep breast-pocket a rag of a purse, counted out some
change, and put what we paid him into the same receptacle. The Oriental
simplicity of the transaction was pleasing. And the money ought to be
safe, for one would as soon think of robbing a derweesh as this yellow
old man.

The medicine is shipped, the rockets are on board, the crew have been
fitted out with cotton drawers, at our expense, (this garment is an
addition to the gown they wear), the name of the boat is almost painted,
the flags are ready to hoist, and the dahabeëh has been taken from
Boulak and is moored above the drawbridge. We only want a north wind.



0126



0127



CHAPTER X.—ON THE NILE.

WE have taken possession of our dahabeëh, which lies moored under
the bank, out of the current, on the west side of the river above the
bridge. On the top of the bank are some structures that seem to be only
mounds and walls of mud, but they are really “brivate houses,” and each
one has a wooden door, with a wooden lock and key. Here, as at every
other rod of the river, where the shore will permit, the inhabitants
come to fill their water-jars, to wash clothes, to bathe, or to squat on
their heels and wait for the Nile to run dry.

And the Nile is running rapidly away. It sweeps under the arches of the
bridge like a freshet, with a current of about three miles an hour. Our
sandal (the broad clumsy row-boat which we take in tow) is obliged
to aim far above its intended landing-place when we cross, and four
vigorous rowers cannot prevent its drifting rapidly down stream. The
Nile is always in a hurry on its whole length; even when it spreads over
flats for miles, it keeps a channel for swift passage. It is the only
thing that is in a hurry in Egypt; and the more one sees it the stronger
becomes the contrast of this haste with the flat valley through which it
flows and the apathetic inhabitants of its banks.

We not only have taken possession of our boat, but we have begun
housekeeping in it. We have had a farewell dinner-party on board. Our
guests, who are foreigners, declare that they did not suppose such a
dinner possible in the East; a better could not be expected in Paris. We
admit that such dinners are not common in this hungry world out of New
York. Even in New York the soup would not have been made of lentils.

We have passed a night under a mosquito net, more comfortably than on
shore to be sure, but we are anxious to get into motion and change the
mosquitoes, the flies, the fleas of Cairo for some less rapacious. It
is the seventeenth of December. We are in the bazaars, buying the last
things, when, at noon we perceive that the wind has shifted. We hasten
on board. Where is the dragoman! “Mohammed Effendi Abd-el-Atti goin’
bazaar come directly,” says the waiter. At half-past two the stout
dragoman slides off his donkey and hastens on board with all the speed
compatible with short legs, out of breath, but issuing a storm of orders
like a belated captain of a seventy-two. He is accompanied by a black
boy bearing the name of our dahabeëh, rudely painted on a piece of tin,
the paint not yet dry. The dragoman regards it with some pride, and
well he may, for it has cost time and trouble. No Arab on the river can
pronounce the name, but they all understand its signification when
the legend attached to it is related, and having a similar tale in the
Koran, they have no objection to sail in a dahabeëh called the RIP VAN
WINKLE.

The name has a sort of appropriateness in the present awakening of Egypt
to modern life, but exactly what it is we cannot explain.

We seat ourselves on deck to watch the start. There is as much noise and
confusion as if the boat were on fire. The moment has come to cast off,
when it is discovered that two of the crew are absent, no doubt dallying
in some coffee-house. We cannot wait, they must catch us as they can.
The stake is pulled up; the plank is drawn in; the boat is shoved off
from its sand bed with grunting and yah-hoo-ing, some of the crew in the
water, and some pushing with poles; the great sail drops down from
the yard and the corner is hauled in to a wild chorus, and we take the
stream. For a moment it seems as if we should be carried against the
bridge; but the sail is large, the wind seizes us, and the three-months’
voyage has begun.

We are going slowly but steadily, perhaps at the rate of three or four
miles an hour, past the receding city, drawing away from the fleet of
boats and barges on the shore and the multitudinous life on its banks.
It is a scene of color, motion, variety. The river is alive with crafts
of all sorts, the shores are vocal with song, laughter, and the unending
“chaff” of a river population. Beyond, the spires and domes of the city
are lovely in the afternoon light. The citadel and the minarets gleam
like silver against the purple of the Mokattam hills. We pass the long
white palace of the Queen-mother; we are abreast the isle of Rhoda,
its yellow palace and its ancient Nilometer. In the cove at Geezeh
are passenger-dahabeëhs, two flying the American flag, with which we
exchange salutes as we go. The people on their decks are trying with
a telescope to make out the device on our pennant at the yard-arm. It
affords occupation for a great many people at different times during the
voyage. Upon a white ground is a full sun, in red; following it in red
letters is the legend Post Nubila Phobus; it is the motto on the coat
of arms of the City of Hartford. Here it signifies that we four Hartford
people, beginning this voyage, exchange the clouds of New England for
the sun of Egypt. The flag extends beyond the motto in a bifurcated blue
streamer.

Flag, streamer and sail take the freshening north wind. A smaller sail
is set aft. The reïs crouches on the bow, watching the channel; the
steersman, a grave figure, pushes slowly back and forth the long iron
handle of the tiller at the stern; the crew, waiting for their supper,
which is cooking near the mast, begin to sing, one taking the solo and
the others striking in with a minor response; it is not a song but a
one-line ejaculation, followed by a sympathetic and barbaric assent in
chorus.

The shores glide past like that land of the poet’s dream where “it is
always afternoon”; reposeful and yet brilliant. The rows of palms, the
green fields, the lessening minarets, the groups of idlers in flowing
raiment, picturesque in any attitudes they assume, the depth of blue
above and the transparent soft air—can this be a permanent condition, or
is it only the scene of a play?

In fact, we are sailing not only away from Europe, away from Cairo, into
Egypt and the confines of mysterious Africa; we are sailing into the
past. Do you think our voyage is merely a thousand miles on the Nile?
We have committed ourselves to a stream that will lead us thousands of
years backwards in the ages, into the depths of history. When we loosed
from Cairo we let go our hold upon the modern. As we recede, perhaps we
shall get a truer perspective, and see more correctly the width of the
strip of time which we call “our era.” There are the pyramids of Geezeh
watching our departure, lifting themselves aloft in the evening sky;
there are the pyramids of Sakkara, sentinels of that long past into
which we go.

It is a splendid start, for the wind blows steadily and we seem to be
flying before it. It is probable that we are making five miles an hour,
which is very well against such a current. Our dahabeëh proves to be an
excellent sailer, and we have the selfish pleasure of passing boat
after boat, with a little ripple of excitement not enough to destroy
our placid enjoyment. It is much pleasanter to lift your hat to the
travelers on a boat that you are drawing ahead of than it is to those of
one that is dropping your boat astern.

The Nile voyage is so peculiar, and is, in fact, such a luxurious method
of passing a winter, that it may be well to say a little more concerning
our boat. It is about one hundred and twenty feet long, and eighteen
broad in the center, with a fiat bottom and no keel; consequently it
cannot tack or sail contrary to the wind. In the bow is the cook’s
“cubby” with the range, open to the weather forward. Behind it stands
the mast, some forty feet high, and on the top of it is lashed the
slender yard, which is a hundred feet long, and hangs obliquely. The
enormous triangular sail stretches the length of the yard and its point
is hauled down to the deck. When it is shifted, the rope is let go,
leaving the sail flapping, the end of the yard is carried round the mast
and the sail is hauled round in the opposite direction, with an amount
of pulling, roaring, jabbering, and chorusing, more than would be
necessary to change the-course of an American fleet of war. The flat,
open forward deck is capable of accommodating six rowers on a side. It
is floored over now, for the sweeps are only used in descending.

Then comes the cabin, which occupies the greater part of the boat, and
makes it rather top-heavy and difficult of management in an adverse
wind. First in the cabin are the pantry and dragoman’s room; next a
large saloon, used for dining, furnished with divans, mirrors, tables,
and chairs, and lighted by large windows close together. Next are rows
of bedrooms, bathroom etc; a passage between leads to the after or
lounging cabin, made comfortable with divans and Eastern rugs. Over the
whole cabin runs the deck, which has sofas and chairs and an awning,
and is good promenading space. The rear portion of it is devoted to the
steersman, who needs plenty of room for the sweep of the long tiller.
The steering apparatus is of the rudest. The tiller goes into a
stern-post which plays in a hole big enough for four of it, and
creakingly turns a rude rudder.

If you are familiar with the Egyptian temple you will see that our
dahabeëh is built on this plan. If there is no pylon, there is the mast
which was always lashed to it. Then comes the dromos of sphinxes, the
forward deck, with the crew sitting along the low bulwarks; the first
cabin is the hall of columns, or vestibulum; behind it on each side
of the passage are various chambers; and then comes the adytum or
sanctuary—the inner cabin. The deck is the flat roof upon which wound
the solemn processions; and there is a private stairway to the deck just
as there was always an inner passage to the roof from one of the small
chambers of the temple.

The boat is manned by a numerous company whose appearance in procession
would excite enthusiasm in any American town. Abd-el-Atti has for
companion and clerk his nephew, a young Egyptian, (employed in the
telegraph office) but in Frank dress, as all government officials are
required to be.

The reïs, or captain, is Hassan, Aboo Seyda, a rather stately Arab
of sixty years, with a full turban, a long gown of blue cotton, and
bare-footed. He walks the deck with an ease and grace that an actor
might envy; there is neither stiffness nor strut in it; it is a gait
of simple majesty which may be inherited from generations of upright
ancestors, but could never be acquired. Hassan is an admirable
figure-head to the expedition, but he has no more pluck or authority
than an old hen, and was of not much more use on board than a hen would
be in a chicken-hatching establishment.

Abdel Hady Hassed, the steersman, is a Nubian from the First Cataract,
shiny black in color, but with regular and delicate features. I can
see him now, with his turban set well back on his head, in a loose,
long-sleeved, brown garment, and without stockings or slippers,
leaning against his tiller and looking straight ahead with unchanging
countenance. His face had the peculiarity, which is sometimes seen, of
appearing always to have a smile on it. He was born with that smile;
he will die with it. An admirable person, who never showed the least
excitement. That man would run us fast on a sand-bank, put us on a rock
in plain sight, or let his sail jibe, without changing a muscle of his
face, and in the most agreeable and good-natured manner in the world.
And he never exhibited the least petulance at his accidents. I hope
he will be rewarded for the number of hours he patiently stood at
that tiller. The reïs would take the helm when Abdel wanted to say his
prayers or to eat his simple meals; but, otherwise, I always found him
at his post, late at night or in the early morning, gazing around on
Egypt with that same stereotyped expression of pleasure.

The cook, Hasaneyn Mahrowan (the last name has an Irish sound, but
the first is that of the sacred mosque where is buried the head of the
martyr El Hoseyn) is first among his craft, and contrives to produce on
his little range in the bow a dinner that would have made Raineses II. a
better man. He is always at his post, like the steersman, and no matter
what excitement or peril we may be in, Hasaneyn stirs his soup or bastes
his chicken with perfect sang froid. The fact is that these Orientals
have got a thousand or two thousand years beyond worry, and never feel
any responsibility for what others are doing.

The waiter, a handsome Cairene, is the perfection of a trained servant,
who understands signs better than English. Hoseyn Ali also rejoices in
a noble name. Hasan and Hoseyn are, it is well known, the “two lords of
the youths of the people of Paradise, in Paradise”; they were grandsons
of the Prophet. Hoseyn was slain at the battle of the Plain of Karbalà.
Hoseyn is the most smartly dressed fellow on board. His jacket and
trousers are of silk; he wears a gay kuffia about his fez and his waist
is girded with a fine Cashmere shawl. The fatal defect in his dress is
that the full trowsers do not quite meet the stockings. There is always
some point of shabbiness or lack of finish in every Oriental object.

The waiter’s lieutenant is an Abyssinian boy who rejoices in the name
of Ahman Abdallah (or, “Slave of God”); and the cook’s boy is Gohah
ebn Abdallah (“His father slave of God”). This is the poetical way of
putting their condition; they were both slaves of Abd-el-Atti, but now,
he says, he has freed them. For Gohah he gave two napoleons when the lad
was new. Greater contrast could not be between two colored boys. Ahman
is black enough, but his features are regular and well made, he has a
bright merry eye, and is quick in all his intuitions, and intellectually
faithful to the least particular. He divines the wants of his masters by
his quick wit, and never neglects or forgets anything. Gohah is from the
Soudan, and a perfect Congo negro in features and texture of skin—lips
protruding and nose absolutely level with his cheeks; as faithful and
affectionate as a Newfoundland dog, a mild, gentle boy. What another
servant would know through his sharpened interest, Gohah comprehends by
his affections.

I have described these persons, because they are types of the almost
infinite variety of races and tribes in Egypt. Besides these there are
fourteen sailors, and no two of the same shade or with similar features.
Most of them are of Upper Egypt, and two or three of them are Nubians,
but I should say that all are hopelessly mixed in blood. Ahmed, for
instance, is a Nubian, and the negro blood comes out in him in his voice
and laugh and a certain rolling antic movement of the body. Another
sailor has that flush of red under dark in the face which marks the
quadroon. The dress of the crew is usually a gown, a pair of drawers,
and a turban. Ahmed wears a piece of Turkish toweling round his head.
The crew is an incongruous lot altogether; a third of them smoke
hasheesh whenever they can get it; they never obey an order without
talking about it and suggesting something different; they are all
captains in fact; they are rarely quiet, jabbering, or quarreling, or
singing, when they are not hauling the sail, hoisting us from a sandbar,
or stretched on deck in deep but not noiseless slumber. You cannot but
like the good-natured rascals.

An irresponsible, hard-working, jolly, sullen, contradictory lot of
big children, who, it is popularly reported, need a koorbag (a whip of
hippopotamus hide) to keep them in the way of industry and obedience. It
seems to me that a little kindness would do better than a good deal of
whip. But the kindness ought to have begun some generations back. The
koorbag is the legitimate successor of the stick, and the Egyptians have
been ruled by the stick for a period of which history reports not to the
contrary. In the sculptures on the earliest tombs, laborers are driven
to their tasks with the stick. Sailors on the old Nile boats are menaced
with the stick. The overseer in the field swings the stick. Prisoners
and slaves are marshalled in line with the stick. The stick is to-day
also the one visible and prevalent characteristic of the government of
Egypt. And I think that it is a notion among the subject classes, that a
beating is now and then good for them. They might feel neglected without
it. I cannot find that Egypt was ever governed in any other way than on
the old plan of force and fear.

If there is anything that these officers and sailors do not understand,
it is the management of a Nile boat. But this is anticipating. Just now
all goes as merrily as a colored ball. The night is soft, the moon is
half full; the river spreads out in shining shallows; the shores are dim
and show lines of feathery palms against the sky; we meet or pass white
sails which flash out of the dimness and then vanish; the long line of
pyramids of Sakkara is outlined beyond the palms; now there is a light
on shore and a voice or the howling of a dog is heard; along the bank
by the ruins of old Memphis a jackal runs barking in the moonlight.
By half-past nine we are abreast the pyramids of Dashoor. A couple of
dahabeëhs are laid up below for the night, and the lights from their
rows of cabin windows gleam cheerfully on the water.

We go right on, holding our way deeper and deeper into this enchanted
country. The night is simply superb, such a wide horizon, such
brilliancy above! Under the night, the boat glides like a phantom ship;
it is perfectly steady, and we should not know we were in motion but for
the running ripple at the sides. By this lulling sound we sleep, having
come, for once in the world, into a country of tranquillity, where
nothing need ever be done till tomorrow, for tomorrow is certain to be
like to-day.

When we came on deck at eight o’clock in the morning after “flying” all
night as on birds’ wings, we found that we had made thirty-five miles,
and were almost abreast of the False Pyramid of Maydoom, so called
because it is supposed to be built about a rock; a crumbled pyramid but
curiously constructed, and perhaps older than that of Cheops. From a
tomb in the necropolis here came the two life-size and striking
figures that are in the Boulak Museum at Cairo. The statues, carved
in calcareous limestone, represent two exceedingly respectable and
intelligent looking persons, who resemble each other enough to be
brother and sister; they were probably alive in the third dynasty. They
sit up now, with hands on knees, having a bright look on their faces
as if they hadn’t winked in five thousand years, and were expecting
company.

I said we were “flying” all night. This needs qualification. We went
aground three times and spent a good part of the night in getting off.
It is the most natural thing in navigation. We are conscious of a slight
grating, then a gentle lurch, not enough to disturb a dream, followed,
however, by a step on deck, and a jabber of voices forward. The sail is
loosed; the poles are taken from the rack and an effort is made to
shove off by the use of some muscle and a good deal of chorus; when
this fails, the crew jump overboard and we hear them splashing along
the side. They put their backs to the boat and lift, with a grunting
“Euh-h’e, euh-h’e” which changes into a rapid “halee, halee, halee,” as
the boat slides off; and the crew scramble on board to haul tight the
sail, with an emphatic “Yah! Mohammed, Yah! Mohammed.”

We were delayed some hours altogether, we learn. But it was not delay.
There can be no delay on this voyage; for there is no one on board
who is in any haste. Are we not the temporary owners of this boat, and
entirely irresponsible for any accident, so that if it goes down with
all on board, and never comes to port, no one can hold us for damages?

The day is before us, and not only the day, but, Providence permitting,
a winter of days like it. There is nothing to be done, and yet we are
too busy to read even the guide-book. There is everything to be seen;
it is drifting past us, we are gliding away from it. It is all old and
absolutely novel. If this is laziness that is stealing over us, it is
of an alert sort. In the East, laziness has the more graceful title of
resignation; but we have not come to that condition even; curiosity
is constantly excited, and it is a sort of employment to breathe this
inspiring air.

We are spectators of a pageant that never repeats itself; for although
there is a certain monotony in the character of the river and one would
think that its narrow strips of arable land would soon be devoid of
interest, the scenes are never twice alike. The combinations vary, the
desert comes near and recedes, the mountains advance in bold precipices
or fall away; the groups of people, villages, trees, are always
shifting.

And yet, in fact, the scenery changes little during the day. There are
great reaches of river, rapidly flowing, and wide bends across which we
see vessels sailing as if in the meadows. The river is crowded all
day with boats, pleasure dahabeëhs, and trading vessels uncouth and
picturesque. The passenger dahabëeh is long, handsomely painted, carries
an enormous sail on its long yard, has a national flag and a long
streamer; and groups of white people sit on deck under the awning; some
of them are reading, some sketching, and now and then a man rises and
discharges his shot-gun at a flock of birds a half a mile beyond its
range.

The boats of African traders are short, high-pooped, and have the rudder
stepped out behind. They usually carry no flag, and are dirty and
lack paint, but they carry a load that would interest the most blasé
European. Those bound up-stream, under full sail, like ourselves, are
piled with European boxes and bales, from stem to stern; and on top of
the freight, in the midst of the freight, sitting on it, stretched out
on it, peeping from it, is another cargo of human beings, men, women and
children, black, yellow, clothed in all the hues of heaven and the rags
of earth. It is an impassive load that stares at us with incurious,
unwinking eyes.

The trading boats coming down against the current, are even more strange
and barbarous. They are piled with merchandise, but of a different
sort. The sails and yards are down, and the long sweeps are in motion,
balanced on outriggers, for the forward deck is filled, and the rowers
walk on top of the goods as they move the oars to and fro. How black the
rowers are! How black everybody on board is! They come suddenly upon
us, like those nations we have read of, who sit in great darkness. The
rowers are stalwart fellows whose basalt backs shine in the sun as they
bend to the oar; in rowing they walk towards the cabin and pull the
heavy oars as they step backwards, and every sweep is accompanied by the
burst of a refrain in chorus, a wild response to a line that has been
chanted by the leader as they stepped forwards. The passengers sit
immoveable in the sun and regard us with a calmness and gravity which
are only attainable near the equatorial regions, where things approach
an equilibrium.

Sometimes we count nearly one hundred dahabeëhs in sight, each dipping
or veering or turning in the sun its bird-wing sail—the most graceful
in the world. A person with fancies, who is watching them, declares that
the triangular sails resemble quills cut at the top for pens, and that
the sails, seen over the tongue of land of a long bend ahead, look like
a procession of goose quills.

The day is warm enough to call out all the birds; flocks of wild geese
clang overhead, and companies of them, ranks on ranks, stand on the low
sand-dunes; there are pelicans also, motionless in the shallow water
near the shore, meditating like a derweesh on one leg, and not caring
that the thermometer does mark 740. Little incidents entertain us.
We like to pass the Dongola, flying “Ohio” from its yard, which took
advantage of our stopping for milk early in the morning to go by us. We
overhaul an English boat and have a mildly exciting race with her till
dark, with varying fortune, the boats being nearly a match, and the
victory depending upon some trick or skill on the part of the crew. All
the party look at us, in a most unsympathetic manner, through goggles,
which the English always put on whenever they leave the twilight of
England. I do not know that we have any right to complain of this habit
of wearing wire eye-screens and goggles; persons who have it mean no
harm by it, and their appearance is a source of gratification to others.
But I must say that goggles have a different effect in different lights.
When we were sailing slowly past the Englishman, the goggles regarded us
with a feeble and hopeless look. But when the Englishman was, in turn,
drawing ahead of us, the goggles had a glare of “Who the devil are you?”
Of course it was only in the goggles. For I have seen many of these
races on the Nile, and passengers always affect an extreme indifference,
leaving all demonstrations of interest to the crews of the boats.

The two banks of the river keep all day about the same relative
character—the one sterile, the other rich. On the east, the brown sand
licks down almost to the water; there is only a strip of green; there
are few trees, and habitations only at long intervals. Only a little
distance back are the Mokattam hills, which keep a rarely broken and
level sky-line for two hundred and fifty miles south of Cairo.

The west side is a broad valley. The bank is high and continually caving
in, like the alluvial bottoms of the Missouri; it is so high that from
our deck we can see little of the land. There are always, however,
palm-trees in sight, massed in groves, standing in lines, or waving
their single tufts in the blue. These are the date-palms, which have no
branches on their long poles; each year the old stalks are cut off for
fuel, and the trunk, a mass of twisted fibres, comes to have a rough
bark, as if the tree had been shingled the wrong way. Stiff in form and
with only the single crown of green, I cannot account for its effect of
grace and beauty. It is the life of the Nile, as the Nile is life to it.
It bears its annual crop of fruit to those who want it, and a crop of
taxes for the Khedive. Every palm pays in fact a poll-tax, whether it
brings forth dates or not.

Where the bank slopes we can see the springing wheat and barley darkly
green; it is sown under the palms even, for no foot of ground is left
vacant. All along the banks are shadoofs, at which men in black stand
all day raising water, that flows back in regulated streams; for the
ground falls slightly away from the height of the bank. At intervals
appears a little collection of mud hovels, dumped together without
so much plan as you would find in a beaver settlement, but called a
village, and having a mud minaret and perhaps a dome. An occasional
figure is that of a man plowing with a single ox; it has just the stiff
square look of the sculptures in the tombs.

Now and then where a zig-zag path is cut, or the bank slopes, women
are washing clothes in the river, or groups of them are filling their
water-jars. They come in files from the villages and we hear their
shrill voices in incessant chatter. These country-women are invariably
in black or dark brown; they are not veiled, but draw their head
shawl over the face as our boat passes. Their long gowns are drawn up,
exposing bare feet and legs as they step into the stream. The jars are
large and heavy when unfilled, and we marvel how they can raise them
to their heads when they are full of water. The woman drags her jar out
upon the sand, squats before it, lifts it to her head with her hands,
and then rises steadily and walks up the steep bank and over the sand,
holding her robe with one hand and steadying the jar with the other,
with perfect grace and ease of motion. The strength of limbs required to
raise that jar to the head and then rise with it, ought to be calculated
by those in our own land who are striving to improve the condition of
woman.

We are still flying along with the unfailing wind, and the merry
progress communicates its spirit to the crew. Before sunset they get
out their musical instruments, and squatting in a circle on the forward
deck, prepare to enjoy themselves. One thumps and shakes the tambourine,
one softly beats with his fingers the darabooka drum, and another
rattles castanets. All who are not so employed beat time by a jerking
motion of the raised hands, the palms occasionally coming together when
the rhythm is properly accented. The leader, who has a very good tenor
voice, chants a minor and monotonous love-song to which the others
respond, either in applause of the sentiment or in a burst of musical
enthusiasm which they cannot contain. Ahmed, the Nubian, whose body is
full of Congoism, enters into it with a delightful abandon, swaying from
side to side and indulging in an occasional shout, as if he were at a
camp-meeting. His ugly and good-natured face beams with satisfaction, an
expression that is only slightly impaired by the vacant place where
two front teeth ought to shine. The song is rude and barbarous but not
without a certain plaintiveness; the song, and scene belong together.
In this manner the sailors of the ancient Egyptians amused themselves
without doubt; their instruments were the same; thus they sat upon the
ground, thus they clapped hands, thus they improvised ejaculations to
the absent beloved:—


“The night! The night! O thou with sweet hands!

Holding the dewy peach.”


The sun goes down, leaving a rosy color in the sky, that changes into an
ashes-of-roses color, that gradually fades into the indefinable softness
of night punctured with stars.

We are booming along all night, under the waxing moon. This is not so
much a voyage as a flight, chased by the north wind. The sail is always
set, the ripples are running always along the sides, the shores slide by
as in a dream; the reïs is at the bow, the smiling steersman is at the
helm; if we were enchanted we could not go on more noiselessly. There is
something ghostly about this night-voyage through a land so imperfectly
defined to the senses but so crowded with history. If only the dead who
are buried on these midnight shores were to rise, we should sail through
a vast and ghastly concourse packing the valley and stretching away into
the desert.

About midnight I step out of the cabin to look at the night. I stumble
over a sleeping Arab. Two sailors, set to hold the sail-rope and let it
go in case of a squall of wind, are nodding over it. The night is not
at all gloomy or mysterious, but in all the broad sweep of it lovely
and full of invitation. We are just passing the English dahabeëh, whose
great sail is dark as we approach, and then takes the moon full upon it
as we file abreast. She is hugging the bank and as we go by there is a
snap. In the morning Abd-el-Atti says that she broke the tip of her yard
against the bank. At any rate she lags behind like a crippled bird.

In the morning we are in sight of four dahabeëhs, but we overhaul and
pass them all. We have contracted a habit of doing it. One of them
gets her stern-sprit knocked off as she sheers before us, whereupon the
sailors exchange compliments, and our steersman smiles just as he would
have done if he had sent the Prussian boat to the bottom. The morning
is delicious, not a cloud in the sky, and the thermometer indicating a
temperature of 56°; this moderates speedily under the sun, but if you
expected an enervating climate in the winter on the Nile you will be
disappointed; it is on the contrary inspiring.

We pass the considerable town of Golosaneh, not caring very much about
it; we have been passing towns and mounds and vestiges of ancient and
many times dug-up civilizations, day and night. We cannot bother with
every ash-heap described in the guide-book. Benisooef, which has been
for thousands of years an enterprising city, we should like to have
seen, but we went by in the night. And at night most of these towns
are as black as the moon will let them be, lights being very rare. We
usually receive from them only the salute of a barking dog. Inland
from Golosaneh rises the tall and beautiful minaret of Semaloot, a very
pretty sight above the palm-groves; so a church spire might rise out of
a Connecticut meadow. At 10 o’clock we draw near the cliffs of Gebel
e’ Tayr, upon the long flat summit of which stands the famous Coptic
convent of Sitteh Miriam el Adra, “Our Lady Mary the Virgin,”—called
also Dayr el Adra.

We are very much interested in the Copts, and are glad of the
opportunity to see something of the practice of their religion. For the
religion is as peculiar as the race. In fact, the more one considers the
Copt, the more difficult it is to define him. He is a descendant of the
ancient Egyptians, it is admitted, and he retains the cunning of the
ancients in working gold and silver; but his blood is crossed with
Abyssinian, Nubian, Greek and Arab, until the original is lost,
and to-day the representatives of the pure old Egyptian type of the
sculptures are found among the Abyssinians and the Noobeh (genuine
Nubians) more frequently than among the Copts. The Copt usually wears
a black or brown turban or cap; but if he wore a white one it would be
difficult to tell him from a Moslem. The Copts universally use Arabic;
their ancient language is practically dead, although their liturgy and
some of their religious books are written in it. This old language is
supposed to be the spoken tongue of the old Egyptians.

The number of Christian Copts in Egypt is small—but still large enough;
they have been persecuted out of existence, or have voluntarily accepted
Mohammedanism and married among the faithful. The Copts in religion are
seceders from the orthodox church, and their doctrine of the Trinity was
condemned by the council of Chalcedon; they consequently hate the Greeks
much more than they hate the Moslems. They reckon St. Mark their first
patriarch.

Their religious practice is an odd jumble of many others. Most of them
practice circumcision. The baptism of infants is held to be necessary;
for a child dying unbaptized will be blind in the next life. Their fasts
are long and strict; in their prayers they copy both Jews and Moslems,
praying often and with endless repetitions. They confess before taking
the sacrament; they abstain from swine’s flesh, and make pilgrimages
to Jerusalem. Like the Moslems they put off their shoes on entering the
place of worship, but they do not behave there with the decorum of the
Moslem; they stand always in the church and as the service is three or
four hours long, beginning often at daybreak, the long staff or crutch
upon which they lean is not a useless appendage. The patriarch, who
dwells in Cairo, is not, I think, a person to be envied. He must be
a monk originally and remain unmarried, and this is a country where
marriage is so prevalent. Besides this, he is obliged to wear always
a woolen garment next the skin, an irritation in this climate more
constant than matrimony. And report says that he lives under rules so
rigid that he is obliged to be waked up, if he sleeps, every fifteen
minutes. I am inclined to think, however, that this is a polite way
of saying that the old man has a habit of dropping off to sleep every
quarter of an hour.

The cliffs of Gebel e’ Tayr are of soft limestone, and seem to be two
hundred feet high. In one place a road is cut down to the water, partly
by a zig-zag covered gallery in the face of the rock, and this is the
usual landing-place for the convent. The convent, which is described
as a church under ground, is in the midst of a mud settlement of lay
brothers and sisters, and the whole is surrounded by a mud wall. From
below it has the appearance of an earthwork fortification. The height
commands the river for a long distance up and down, and from it the
monks are on the lookout for the dahabeëhs of travelers. It is their
habit to plunge into the water, clothed on only with their professions
of holiness, swim to the boats, climb on board and demand “backsheesh”
on account of their religion.

It is very rough as we approach the cliffs, the waves are high, and the
current is running strong. We fear we are to be disappointed, but the
monks are superior to wind and waves. While we are yet half a mile off,
I see two of them in the water, their black heads under white turbans,
bobbing about in the tossing and muddy waves. They make’ heroic efforts
to reach us; we can hear their voices faintly shouting: Ana Christian, O
Howadji, “I am a Christian, O! Howadji.”

“We have no doubt you are exceptional Christians,” we shout to them in
reply, “Why don’t you come aboard—back-s-h-e-e-s-h!”

They are much better swimmers than the average Christian with us. But
it is in vain. They are swept by us and away from us like corks on the
angry waves, and even their hail of Christian fellowship is lost in the
whistling wind. When we are opposite the convent another head is
seen bobbing about in the water; he is also swept below us, but
three-quarters of a mile down-stream he effects a landing on another
dahabeëh. As he climbs into the jolly-boat which is towed behind and
stands erect, he resembles a statue in basalt.

It is a great feat to swim in a current so swift as this and lashed by
such a wind. I should like to have given these monks something, if only
to encourage so robust a religion. But none of them succeeded in getting
on board. Nothing happens to us as to other travelers, and we have no
opportunity to make the usual remarks upon the degraded appearance of
these Coptic monks at Dayr el Adra. So far as I saw them they were very
estimable people.

At noon we are driving past Minieh with a strong wind. It appears to
be—but if you were to land you would find that it is not—a handsome
town, for it has two or three graceful minarets, and the long white
buildings of the sugar-factory, with its tall chimneys, and the palace
of the Khedive, stretching along the bank give it an enterprising and
cheerful aspect. This new palace of his Highness cost about half a
million of dollars, and it is said that he has never passed a night in
it. I confess I rather like this; it must be a royal sensation to be
able to order houses made like suits of clothes without ever even trying
them on. And it is a relief to see a decent building and a garden now
and then, on the river.

We go on, however, as if we were running away from the sheriff, for we
cannot afford to lose the advantage of such a wind. Along the banks the
clover is growing sweet and green as in any New England meadow in May,
and donkeys are browsing in it tended by children; a very pleasant
sight, to see this ill-used animal for once in clover and trying to bury
his long ears in luxury. Patches of water-melon plants are fenced about
by low stockades of dried rushes stuck in the sand—for the soil looks
like sand.

This vegetation is not kept alive, however, without constant labor;
weeds never grow, it is true, but all green things would speedily wither
if the shadoofs were not kept in motion, pouring the Nile into the baked
and thirsty soil.

These simple contrivances for irrigation, unchanged since the time of
the Pharaohs, have already been described. Here two tiers are required
to lift the water to the level of the fields; the first dipping takes it
into a canal parallel with the bank, and thence it is raised to the
top. Two men are dipping the leathern buckets at each machine, and the
constant bending down and lifting up of their dark bodies are fatiguing
even to the spectator. Usually in barbarous countries one pities the
woman; but I suppose this is a civilized region, for here I pity the
men. The women have the easier tasks of washing clothes in the cool
stream, or lying in the sand. The women all over the East have an
unlimited capacity for sitting motionless all day by a running stream or
a pool of water.

In the high wind the palm-trees are in constant motion tossing their
feather tufts in the air; some of them are blown like an umbrella turned
wrong side out, and a grove presents the appearance of crowd of people
overtaken by a sudden squall. The acacia tree, which the Arabs call the
sont, the acanthus of Strabo (Mimosa Nilotica) begins to be seen with
the palm. It is a thorny tree, with small yellow blossoms and bears a
pod. But what interests us most is the gum that exudes from its bark;
for this is the real Gum Arabic! That Heaven has been kind enough to let
us see that mysterious gum manufacturing itself! The Gum Arabic of our
childhood!

How often have I tried to imagine the feelings of a distant and
unconverted boy to whom Gum Arabic was as common as spruce gum to a New
England lad.

As I said, we go on as if we were evading the law; our daha-beëh seems
to have taken the bit in its teeth and is running away with us. We pass
everything that sails, and begin to feel no pride in doing so; it is a
matter of course. The other dalabeëhs are left behind, some with broken
yards. I heard reports afterwards that we broke their yards, and that
we even drowned a man. It is not true. We never drowned a man, and never
wished to. We were attending to our own affairs. The crew were busy the
first day or two of the voyage in cutting up their bread and spreading
it on the upper deck to dry—heaps of it, bushels of it. It is a black
bread, made of inferior unbolted wheat, about as heavy as lead, and sour
to the uneducated taste. The Egyptians like it, however, and it is said
to be very healthful. The men gnaw chunks of it with relish, but it
is usually prepared for eating by first soaking it in Nile-water and
warming it over a fire, in a big copper dish. Into the “stodge” thus
made is sometimes thrown some “greens” snatched from the shore. The crew
seat themselves about this dish when it is ready, and each one dips his
right hand into the mass and claws out a mouthful The dish is always
scraped clean. Meat is very rarely had by them, only a few times during
the whole voyage; but they vary their diet by eating green beans,
lettuce, onions, lentils, and any sort of “greens” they can lay hands
on. The meal is cooked on a little fire built on a pile of stones near
the mast. When it is finished they usually gather about the fire for
a pull at the “hubble-bubble.” This is a sort of pipe with a cocoa-nut
shell filled with water, through which the smoke passes. Usually a lump
of hasheesh is put into the bowl with the tobacco. A puff or two of this
mixture is enough; it sets the smoker coughing and conveys a pleasant
stupor to his brain. Some of the crew never smoke it, but content
themselves with cigarettes. And the cigarettes, they are always rolling
up and smoking while they are awake.

The hasheesh-smokers are alternately elated and depressed, and sometimes
violent and noisy. A man addicted to the habit is not good for much;
the hasheesh destroys his nerves and brain, and finally induces idiocy.
Hasheesh intoxication is the most fearful and prevalent vice in Egypt.
The government has made many attempts to stop it, but it is too firmly
fixed; the use of hasheesh is a temporary refuge from poverty, hunger,
and all the ills of life, and appears to have a stronger fascination
than any other indulgence. In all the towns one may see the dark little
shops where the drug is administered, and generally rows of victims in
a stupid doze stretched on the mud benches. Sailors are so addicted to
hasheesh that it is almost impossible to make up a decent crew for a
dahabeëh.

Late in the afternoon we are passing the famous rock-tombs of Beni
Hassan, square holes cut in the face of the cliff, high up. With our
glasses we can see paths leading to them over the debris and along the
ledges. There are two or three rows of these tombs, on different ledges;
they seem to be high, dry, and airy, and I should rather live in them,
dead or alive, than in the mud hovels of the fellaheen below. These
places of sepulchre are older than those at Thebes, and from the
pictures and sculptures in them, more than from any others, the
antiquarians have reconstructed the domestic life of the ancient
Egyptians. This is a desolate spot now; there is a decayed old mud
village below, and a little south of it is the new town; both can barely
be distinguished from the brown sand and rock in which and in front
of which they stand. This is a good place for thieves, or was before
Ibraheem Pasha destroyed these two villages. We are warned that this
whole country produces very skillful robbers, who will swim off and
glean the valuables from a dahabeëh in a twinkling.

Notwithstanding the stiff breeze the thermometer marks 74°; but both
wind and temperature sink with the sun. Before the sun sets, however, we
are close under the east bank, and are watching the play of light on
a magnificent palm-grove, beneath which stand the huts of the modern
village of Sheykh Abâdeh. It adds romance to the loveliness of the scene
to know that this is the site of ancient Antinoë, built by the Emperor
Adrian. To be sure we didn’t know it till this moment, but the traveler
warms up to a fact of this kind immediately, and never betrays even
to his intimate friends that he is not drawing upon his inexhaustible
memory.

“That is the ancient Antinoë, built by Adrian.”

Oh, the hypocrisy and deceit of the enthusiastic,

“Is it?”

“Yes, and handsome Antinous was drowned here in the Nile.”

“Did they recover his body?”

Upon the bank there are more camels, dogs, and donkeys than we have seen
all day; buffaloes are wallowing in the muddy margin. They are all in
repose; the dogs do not bark, and the camels stretch their necks in a
sort of undulatory expression of discontent, but do not bleat, or roar,
or squawk, or make whatever the unearthly noise which they make is
called. The men and the women are crouching in the shelter of their mud
walls, with the light of the setting sun upon their dark faces. They
draw their wraps closer about them to protect themselves from the north
wind, and regard us stolidly and without interest as we go by. And when
the light fades, what is there for them? No cheerful lamp, no book, no
newspaper. They simply crawl into their kennels and sleep the sleep of
“inwardness” and peace.

Just here the arable land on the east bank is broader than usual, and
there was evidently a fine city built on the edge of the desert behind
it. The Egyptians always took waste and desert land for dwellings and
for burial-places, leaving every foot of soil available for cultivation
free. There is evidence all along here of a once much larger population,
though I doubt if the east bank of the river was ever much inhabited.
The river banks would support many more people than we find here if
the land were cultivated with any care. Its fertility, with the annual
deposit, is simply inexhaustible, and it is good for two and sometimes
three crops a year. But we pass fields now and then that are abandoned,
and others that do not yield half what they might. The people are
oppressed with taxes and have no inducement to raise more than is
absolutely necessary to keep them alive. But I suppose this has always
been the case in Egypt. The masters have squeezed the last drop from the
people, and anything like an accumulation of capital by the laborers is
unknown. The Romans used a long rake, with fine and sharp teeth, and
I have no doubt that they scraped the country as clean as the present
government does.

The government has a very simple method of adjusting its taxes on land
and crops. They are based upon the extent of the inundation. So many
feet rise, overflowing such an area, will give such a return in crops;
and tax on this product can be laid in advance as accurately as when
the crops are harvested. Nature is certain to do her share of the work;
there will be no frost, nor any rain to spoil the harvest, nor any
freakishness whatever on the part of the weather. If the harvest is not
up to the estimate, it is entirely the fault of the laborer, who has
inadequately planted or insufficiently watered. In the same manner a tax
is laid upon each palm-tree, and if it does not bear fruit, that is not
the fault of the government.

There must be some satisfaction in farming on the Nile. You are always
certain of the result of your labor. * Whereas, in our country farming
is the merest lottery. The season will open too wet or too dry, the seed
may rot in the ground, the young plant may be nipped with frost or grow
pale for want of rain, the crop runs the alternate hazards of drought
or floods, it is wasted by rust or devoured by worms; and, to cap the
climax, if the harvest is abundant and of good quality, the price goes
down to an unremunerative figure. In Egypt you may scratch the ground,
put in the seed, and then go to sleep for three months, in perfect
certainty of a good harvest, if only the shadoof and the sakiya are kept
in motion.

* It should be said, however, that the ancient Egyptians found the
agricultural conditions beset with some vexations. A papyrus in the
British Museum contains a correspondence between Ameneman, the librarian
of Rameses II, and his pupil Pentaour, who wrote the celebrated epic
upon the exploits of that king on the river Orontes. One of the letters
describes the life of the agricultural people:—“Have you ever conceived
what sort of life the peasant leads who cultivates the soil? Even before
it is ripe, insects destroy part of his harvest.. . Multitudes of rats
are in the field; next come invasions of locusts, cattle ravage his
harvest, sparrows alight in flocks on his sheaves. If he delays to get
in his harvest, robbers come to carry it off with him; his horse dies of
fatigue in drawing the plow; the tax- collector arrives in the district,
and has with him men armed with sticks, negroes with palm-branches.
All say, ‘Give us of your corn,’ and he has no means of escaping their
exactions. Next the unfortunate wretch is seized, bound, and carried
off by force to work on the canals; his wife is bound, his children are
stripped. And at the same time his neighbors have each of them his own
trouble.”


By eight o’clock in the evening, on a falling wind, we are passing
Rhoda, whose tall chimneys have been long in sight. Here is one of the
largest of the Khedive’s sugar-factories, and a new palace which has
never been occupied. We are one hundred and eighty-eight miles from
Cairo, and have made this distance in two days, a speed for which I
suppose history has no parallel; at least our dragoman says that such
a run has never been made before at this time of the year, and we are
quite willing to believe a statement which reflects so much honor upon
ourselves, for choosing such a boat and such a dragoman.

This Nile voyage is nothing, after all; its length has been greatly
overestimated. We shall skip up the river and back again before the
season is half spent, and have to go somewhere else for the winter. A
man feels all-powerful, so long as the wind blows; but let his sails
collapse and there is not a more crest-fallen creature. Night and day
our sail has been full, and we are puffed up with pride.

At this rate we shall hang out our colored lanterns at Thebes on
Christmas night.



0150



0151



CHAPTER XI.—PEOPLE ON THE RIVER BANKS.

THE morning puts a new face on our affairs. It is Sunday, and the most
devout could not desire a quieter day. There is a thick fog on the
river, and not breeze enough stirring to show the stripes on our flag;
the boat holds its own against the current by a sort of accumulated
impulse. During the night we may have made five miles altogether, and
now we barely crawl. We have run our race; if we have not come into a
haven, we are at a stand-still, and it does not seem now as if we ever
should wake up and go on again. However, it is just as well. Why should
we be tearing through this sleepy land at the rate of four miles an
hour?

The steersman half dozes at the helm; the reïs squats near him watching
the flapping sails; the crew are nearly all asleep on the forward deck,
with their burnouses drawn over their head and the feet bare, for it is
chilly as late as nine o’clock, and the thermometer has dropped to 540.
Abd-el-Atti slips his beads uneasily along between his fingers, and
remembers that when he said that we would reach Asioot in another day,
he forgot to ejaculate; “God willing.” Yet he rises and greets our
coming from the cabin with a willing smile, and a—

“Morning sir, morning marm. I hope you enjoyin’ you sleep, marm.”

“Where are we now, Abd-el-Atti?”

“Not much, marm; this is a place call him Hadji Kandeel. But we do very
well; I not to complain.”

“Do you think we shall have any wind to-day?”

“I d’know, be sure. The wind come from Lord. Not so?”

Hadji Kandeel is in truth only a scattered line of huts, but one lands
here to visit the grottoes or rock-tombs of Tel el Amarna. All this
country is gaping with tombs apparently; all the cliffs are cut into
receptacles for the dead, all along the margin of the desert on each
side are old necropolises and moslem cemeteries, in which generation
after generation, for almost fabulous periods of time, has been
deposited. Here behind Hadji Kandeel are remains of a once vast city
built let us say sixteen hundred years before our era, by Amunoph IV.,
a wayward king of the eighteenth dynasty, and made the capital of Egypt.
In the grottoes of Tel el Amârna were deposited this king and his court
and favorites, and his immediate successors—all the splendor of them
sealed up there and forgotten. This king forsook the worship of the gods
of Thebes, and set up that of a Semitic deity, Aten, a radiating disk, a
sun with rays terminating in human hands. It was his mother who led him
into this, and she was not an Egyptian; neither are the features of the
persons sculptured in the grottoes Egyptian.

Thus all along the stream of Egyptian history cross currents are coming
in, alien sovereigns and foreign task-masters; and great breaks appear,
as if one full civilization had run its course of centuries, and decay
had come, and then ruin, and then a new start and a fresh career.

Early this morning, when we were close in to the west bank, I heard
measured chanting, and saw a procession of men and women coming across
the field. The men bore on a rude bier the body of a child. They came
straight on to the bank, and then turned by the flank with military
precision and marched upstream to the place where a clumsy country
ferry-boat had just landed. The chant of the men, as they walked, was
deep-voiced and solemn, and I could hear in it frequently repeated the
name of Mohammed. The women in straggling file followed, like a sort of
ill-omened birds in black, and the noise they made, a kind of wail,
was exactly like the cackle of wild geese. Indeed before I saw the
procession I thought that some geese were flying overhead.

The body was laid on the ground and four men kneeled upon the bank as
if in prayer. The boat meantime was unloading, men, women and children
scrambling over the sides into the shallow water, and the donkeys, urged
with blows, jumping after them. When they were all out the funeral took
possession of the boat, and was slowly wafted across, as dismal a going
to a funeral as if this were the real river of death. When the mourners
had landed we saw them walking under the palm-trees, to the distant
burial-place in the desert, with a certain solemn dignity, and the
chanting and wailing were borne to us very distinctly.

It is nearly a dead calm all day, and our progress might be
imperceptible to an eye naked, and certainly it must be so to the eyes
of these natives which are full of flies. It grows warm, however, and
is a summer temperature when we go ashore in the afternoon on a tour of
exploration. We have for attendant, Ahmed, who carries a big stick as
a defence against dogs. Ahmed does not differ much in appearance from
a wild barbarian, his lack of a complete set of front teeth alone
preventing him from looking fierce. A towel is twisted about his head,
feet and legs are bare, and he wears a blue cotton robe with full
sleeves longer than his arms, gathered at the waist by a piece of rope,
and falling only to the knees. A nice person to go walking with on the
Holy Sabbath.

The whole land is green with young wheat, but the soil is baked and
cracked three or four inches deep, even close to the shore where the
water has only receded two or three days ago. The land stretches for
several miles, perfectly level and every foot green and smiling, back to
the desert hills. Sprinkled over this expanse, which is only interrupted
by ditches and slight dykes upon which the people walk from village to
village, are frequent small groves of palms. Each grove is the nucleus
of a little settlement, a half dozen sun-baked habitations, where
people, donkeys, pigeons, and smaller sorts of animated nature live
together in dirty amity. The general plan of building is to erect a
circular wall of clay six or seven feet high, which dries, hardens, and
cracks in the sun. This is the Oriental court. In side this and built
against the wall is a low mud-hut with a wooden door, and perhaps here
and there are two similar huts, or half a dozen, according to the size
of the family. In these hovels the floor is of smooth earth, there is a
low bedstead or some matting laid in one corner, but scarcely any other
furniture, except some earthen jars holding doora or dried fruit, and a
few cooking utensils. A people who never sit, except on their heels, do
not need chairs, and those who wear at once all the clothes they possess
need no closets or wardrobes. I looked at first for a place where
they could keep their “Sunday clothes” and “nice things,” but this
philosophical people do not have anything that is too good for daily
use. It is nevertheless true that there is no hope of a people who do
not have “Sunday clothes.”

The inhabitants did not, however, appear conscious of any such want.
They were lounging about or squatting in the dust in picturesque
idleness; the children under twelve years often without clothes and not
ashamed, and the women wearing no veils. The women are coming and going
with the heavy water-jars, or sitting on the ground, sorting doora and
preparing it for cooking; not prepossessing certainly, in their black
or dingy brown gowns and shawls of cotton. Children abound. In all the
fields men are at work, picking up the ground with a rude hoe shaped
like an adze. Tobacco plants have just been set out, and water-melons
carefully shaded from the sun by little tents of rushes. These men are
all Fellaheen, coarsely and scantily clad in brown cotton gowns, open at
the breast. They are not bad figures, better than the women, but there
is a hopeless acceptance of the portion of slaves in their bearing.

We encountered a very different race further from the river, where
we came upon an encampment of Bedaween, or desert Arabs, who hold
themselves as much above the Fellaheen as the poor white trash used to
consider itself above the negroes in our Southern States. They pretend
to keep their blood pure by intermarrying only in desert tribes, and
perhaps it is pure; so, I suppose, the Gipsies are pure blood enough,
but one would not like them for neighbors. These Bedaween, according
to their wandering and predatory habit, have dropped down here from the
desert to feed their little flock of black sheep and give their lean
donkeys a bite of grass. Their tents are merely strips of coarse brown
cloth, probably camel’s hair, like sacking, stretched horizontally over
sticks driven into the sand, so as to form a cover from the sun and
a protection from the north wind. Underneath them are heaps of rags,
matting, old clothes, blankets, mingled with cooking-utensils and the
nameless broken assortment that beggars usually lug about with them.
Hens and lambs are at home there, and dogs, a small, tawny wolfish
breed, abound. The Arabs are worthy of their dwellings, a dirty,
thievish lot to look at, but, as I said, no doubt of pure blood, and
having all the virtues for which these nomads have been celebrated since
the time when Jacob judiciously increased his flock at the expense of
Laban.

A half-naked boy of twelve years escorts us to the bank of the canal
near which the tents are pitched, and we are met by the sheykh of
the tribe, a more venerable and courtly person than the rest of
these pure-blood masqueraders in rags, but not a whit less dirty. The
fellaheen had paid no attention to us; this sheykh looked upon himself
as one of the proprietors of this world, and bound to extend the
hospitalities of this portion of it to strangers. He received us with a
certain formality. When two Moslems meet there is no end to their formal
salutation and complimentary speeches, which may continue as long as
their stock of religious expressions holds out. The usual first greeting
is Es-salaam, aleykoom, “peace be on you,” to which the reply is
Aleykoom es-saalam, “on you be peace.” It is said that persons of
another religion, however, should never make use of this salutation to
a Moslem, and that the latter should not and will not return it. But we
were overflowing with charity and had no bigotry, and went through Egypt
salaaming right and left, sometimes getting no reply and sometimes a
return, to our “peace be on you,” of Wa-aleykoom, “and on you.”

The salutations by gesture are as varied as those by speech When
Abd-el-Atti walked in Cairo with us, he constantly varied his gestures
according to the rank of the people we met. To an inferior he tossed a
free salaam; an equal he saluted by touching with his right hand in one
rapid motion his breast, lips, and head; to a superior he made the same
motion except that his hand first made a dip down to his knees; and when
he met a person of high rank the hand scooped down to the ground before
it passed up to the head.

I flung a cheerful salaam at the sheykh and gave him the Oriental
salute, which he returned. We then shook hands, and the sheykh kissed
his after touching mine, a token of friendship which I didn’t know
enough to imitate, not having been brought up to kiss my own hand.

“Anglais or Français?” asked the sheykh.

“No,” I said, “Americans.”

“Ah,” he ejaculated, throwing back his head with an aspiration of
relief, “Melicans; tyeb (good).”

A ring of inquisitive Arabs gathered about us and were specially
interested in studying the features and costume of one of our party; the
women standing further off and remaining closely veiled kept their eyes
fixed on her. The sheykh invited us to sit and have coffee, but the
surroundings were not tempting to the appetite and we parted with
profuse salutations. I had it in mind to invite him to our American
centennial; I should like to set him off against some of our dirty red
brethren of the prairies. I thought that if I could transport these
Bedaween, tents, children, lank, veiled women, donkeys, and all to the
centennial grounds they would add a most interesting (if unpleasant)
feature. But, then, I reflected, what is a centennial to this Bedawee
whose ancestors were as highly civilized as he is when ours were wading
about the fens with the Angles or burrowing in German forests. Besides,
the Bedawee would be at a disadvantage when away from the desert, or the
bank of this Nile whose unceasing flow symbolizes his tribal longevity.

As we walk along through the lush-fields which the despised Fellaheen
are irritating into a fair yield of food, we are perplexed with the
query, what is the use of the Bedaween in this world? They produce
nothing. To be sure they occupy a portion of the earth that no one else
would inhabit; they dwell on the desert. But there is no need of any one
dwelling on the desert, especially as they have to come from it to levy
contributions on industrious folds in order to live. At this stage of
the inquiry, the philosopher asks, what is the use of any one living?

As no one could answer this, we waded the water where it was shallow
and crossed to a long island, such as the Nile frequently leaves in its
sprawling course. This island was green from end to end, and inhabited
more thickly than the main-land. We attracted a good deal of attention
from the mud-villages, and much anxiety was shown lest we should walk
across the wheat-fields. We expected that the dahabeëh would come on and
take us off, but its streamer did not advance, and we were obliged to
rewade the shallow channel and walk back to the starting-place. There
was a Sunday calm in the scene. At the rosy sunset the broad river shone
like a mirror and the air was soft as June. How strong is habit. Work
was going on as usual, and there could have been no consent of sky,
earth, and people, to keep Sunday, yet there seemed to be the Sunday
spell upon the landscape. I suspect that people here have got into the
way of keeping all the days. The most striking way in which an American
can keep Sunday on the Nile is by not going gunning, not even taking a
“flyer” at a hawk from the deck of the dahabeëh. There is a chance for a
tract on this subject.

Let no one get the impression that we are idling away our time, because
we are on Monday morning exactly where we were on Sunday morning. We
have concluded to “keep” another day. There is not a breath of wind
to scatter the haze, thermometer has gone down, and the sun’s rays
are feeble. This is not our fault, and I will not conceal the adverse
circumstances in order to give you a false impression of the Nile.

We are moored against the bank. The dragoman has gone on shore to shoot
pigeons and buy vegetables. Our turkeys, which live in cages on the
stern-deck, have gone ashore and are strutting up and down the sand;
their gobble is a home sound and recalls New England. Women, as usual,
singly and in groups, come to the river to fill their heavy water-jars.
There is a row of men and boys on the edge of the bank. Behind are two
camels yoked wide apart drawing a plow. Our crew chaff the shore people.
The cook says to a girl, “You would make me a good wife; we will take
you along.” Men, squatting on the bank say, “Take her along, she is of
no use.”

Girl retorts, “You are not of more use than animals, you sit idle all
day, while I bring water and grind the corn.”

One is glad to see this assertion of the rights of women in this region
where nobody has any rights; and if we had a tract we would leave it
with her. Some good might be done by travelers if they would distribute
biscuit along the Nile, stamped in Arabic with the words, “Man ought to
do half the work,” or, “Sisters rise!”

In the afternoon we explore a large extent of country, my companion
carrying a shot-gun for doves. These doves are in fact wild pigeons,
a small and beautiful pearly-grey bird. They live on the tops of the
houses in nests formed for them by the insertion of tiles or earthen
pots in the mud-walls. Many houses have an upper story of this sort on
purpose for the doves; and a collection of mere mud-cabins so ornamented
is a picturesque sight, under a palm-grove. Great flocks of these birds
are flying about, and the shooting is permitted, away from the houses.

We make efforts to get near the wild geese and the cranes, great numbers
of which are sunning themselves on the sandbanks, but these birds know
exactly the range of a gun, and fly at the right moment. A row of cranes
will sometimes trifle with our feelings. The one nearest will let us
approach almost within range before he lifts his huge wings and sails
over the river, the next one will wait for us to come a few steps
further before he flies, and so on until the sand-spit is deserted of
these long-legged useless birds. Hawks are flying about the shore and
great greyish crows, or ravens, come over the fields and light on the
margin of sand—a most gentlemanly looking bird, who is under a queer
necessity of giving one hop before he can raise himself in flight. Small
birds, like sand-pipers, are flitting about the bank. The most beautiful
creature, however, is a brown bird, his wing marked with white, long
bill, head erect and adorned with a high tuft, as elegant as the
blue-jay; the natives call it the crocodile’s guide.

We cross vast fields of wheat and of beans, the Arab “fool,” which are
sown broadcast, interspersed now and then with a melon-patch. Villages,
such as they are, are frequent; one of them has a mosque, the only one
we have seen recently. The water for ablution is outside, in a brick
tank sunk in the ground. A row of men are sitting on their heels
in front of the mosque, smoking; some of them in white gowns, and
fine-looking men. I hope there is some saving merit in this universal
act of sitting on the heels, the soles of the feet flat on the ground;
it is not an easy thing for a Christian to do, as he will find out by
trying.

Toward night a steamboat flying the star and crescent of Egypt, with
passengers on board, some of “Cook’s personally conducted,” goes
thundering down stream, filling the air with smoke and frightening the
geese, who fly before it in vast clouds. I didn’t suppose there were so
many geese in the world.

Truth requires it to be said that on Tuesday morning the dahabeëh holds
about the position it reached on Sunday morning; we begin to think we
are doing well not to lose anything in this rapid current. The day is
warm and cloudy, the wind is from the east and then from the south-east,
exactly the direction we must go. It is in fact a sirocco, and fills
one with languor, which is better than being frost-bitten at home. The
evening, with the cabin windows all open, is like one of those soft
nights which come at the close of sultry northern days, in which
there is a dewy freshness. This is the sort of winter that we ought to
cultivate.

During the day we attempt tracking two or three times, but with little
success; the wind is so strong that the boat is continually blown
ashore. Tracking is not very hard for the passengers and gives them an
opportunity to study the bank and the people on it close at hand. A long
cable fastened on the forward deck is carried ashore, and to the far
end ten or twelve sailors attach themselves at intervals by short ropes
which press across the breast. Leaning in a slant line away from the
river, they walk at a snail’s pace, a file of parti-colored raiment and
glistening legs; occasionally bursting into a snatch of a song, they
slowly pull the bark along. But obstructions to progress are many. A
spit of sand will project itself, followed by deepwater, through which
the men will have to wade in order to bring the boat round; occasionally
the rope must be passed round trees which overhang the caving bank; and
often freight-boats, tied to the shore, must be passed. The leisure with
which the line is carried outside another boat is amusing even in this
land of deliberation. The groups on these boats sit impassive and look
at us with a kind of curiosity that has none of our eagerness in it.
The well-bred indifferent “stare” of these people, which is not exactly
brazen and yet has no element of emotion in it, would make the fortune
of a young fellow in a London season. The Nubian boatmen who are
tracking the freight-dahabeëh appear to have left their clothes in
Cairo; they flop in and out of the water, they haul the rope along the
bank, without consciousness apparently that any spectators are within
miles; and the shore-life goes on all the same, men sit on the banks,
women come constantly to fill their jars, these crews stripped to their
toil excite no more attention than the occasional fish jumping out of
the Nile. The habit seems to be general of minding one’s own business.

At early morning another funeral crossed the river to a desolate
burial-place in the sand, the women wailing the whole distance of the
march; and the noise was more than before like the clang of wild geese.
These women have inherited the Oriental art of “lifting up the voice,”
and it adds not a little to the weirdness of this ululation and
screeching to think that for thousands of years the dead have been
buried along this valley with exactly the same feminine tenderness.

These women wear black; all the countrywomen we have seen are dressed in
sombre gowns and shawls of black or deep blue-black; none of them have
a speck of color in their raiment, not a bit of ribbon nor a bright
kerchief, nor any relief to the dullness of their apparel. And yet they
need not fear to make themselves too attractive. The men have all the
colors that are worn; though the Fellaheen as a rule wear brownish
garments, blue and white are not uncommon, and a white turban or a red
fez, or a silk belt about the waist gives variety and agreeable relief
to the costumes. In this these people imitate that nature which we
affect to admire, but outrage constantly. They imitate the birds. The
male birds have all the gay plumage; the feathers of the females are
sober and quiet, as befits their domestic position. And it must be
admitted that men need the aid of gay dress more than women.

The next morning when the sun shows over the eastern desert, the sailors
are tracking, hauling the boat slowly along an ox-bow in the river,
until at length the sail can catch the light west wind which sprang
up with the dawn. When we feel that, the men scramble aboard, and the
dahabeëh, like a duck that has been loitering in an eddy for days,
becomes instinct with life and flies away to the cliffs opposite, the
bluffs called Gebel Aboofayda, part of the Mokattam range that here
rises precipitously from the river and overhangs it for ten or twelve
miles. I think these limestone ledges are two or three hundred feet
high. The face is scarred by the slow wearing of ages, and worn into
holes and caves innumerable. Immense numbers of cranes are perched on
the narrow ledges of the cliff, and flocks of them are circling in front
of it, apparently having nests there. As numerous also as swallows in a
sand-bank is a species of duck called the diver; they float in troops on
the stream, or wheel about the roosting cranes.

This is a spot famed for its sudden gusts of wind which sometimes
flop over the brink and overturn boats. It also is the resort of the
crocodile, which seldom if ever comes lower down the Nile now. But
the crocodile is evidently shy of exhibiting himself, and we scan the
patches of sand at the foot of the rocks with our glasses for a long
time in vain. The animal dislikes the puffing, swashing steamboats, and
the rifle-balls that passing travelers pester him with. At last we see
a scaly log six or eight feet long close to the water under the rock. By
the aid of the glass it turns out to be a crocodile. He is asleep, and
too far off to notice at all the volley of shot with which we salute
him. It is a great thing to say you saw a crocodile. It isn’t much to
see one.

And yet the scaly beast is an interesting and appropriate feature in
such a landscape,# and the expectation of seeing a crocodile adds to
your enjoyment. On our left are these impressive cliffs; on the right
is a level island. Half-naked boys and girls are tending small flocks of
black sheep on it. Abd-el-Atti raises his gun as if he would shoot
the children and cries out to them, “lift up your arm,” words that
the crocodile hunter uses when he is near enough to fire, and wants to
attract the attention of the beast so that it will raise its fore-paw
to move off, and give the sportsman a chance at the vulnerable spot. The
children understand the allusion and run laughing away.

Groups of people are squatting on the ground, doing nothing, waiting for
nothing, expecting nothing; buffaloes and cattle are feeding on the thin
grass, and camels are kneeling near in stately indifference; women in
blue-black robes come—the everlasting sight—to draw water. The whole
passes in a dumb show. The hot sun bathes all.

We pass next the late residence of a hermit, a Moslem “welee” or holy
man. On a broad ledge of the cliff, some thirty feet above the water,
is a hut built of stone and plaster and whitewashed, about twelve feet
high, the roof rounded like an Esquimau snow-hut and with a knob at
the top. Here the good man lived, isolated from the world, fed by the
charity of passers-by, and meditating on his own holiness. Below him,
out of the rock, with apparently no better means of support than he had,
grows an acacia-tree, now in yellow blossoms. Perhaps the saint chewed
the gum-arabic that oozed from it. Just above, on the river, is a slight
strip of soil, where he used to raise a few cucumbers and other cooling
vegetables. The farm, which is no larger than two bed blankets, is
deserted now. The saint died, and is buried in his house, in a hole
excavated in the rock, so that his condition is little changed, his
house being his tomb, and the Nile still soothing his slumber.

But if it is easy to turn a house into a tomb it is still easier to turn
a tomb into a house. Here are two square-cut tombs in the rock, of which
a family has taken possession, the original occupants probably having
moved out hundreds of years ago. Smoke is issuing from one of them, and
a sorry-looking woman is pulling dead grass among the rocks for fuel.
There seems to be no inducement for any one to live in this barren spot,
but probably rent is low. A little girl seven or eight years old comes
down and walks along the bank, keeping up with the boat, incited
of course by the universal expectation of backsheesh. She has on a
head-veil, covering the back of the head and neck and a single shirt
of brown rags hanging in strings. I throw her an apple, a fruit she has
probably never seen, which she picks up and carries until she joined is
by an elder sister, to whom she shows it. Neither seems to know what
it is. The elder smells it, sticks her teeth into it, and then takes a
bite. The little one tastes, and they eat it in alternate bites, growing
more and more eager for fair bites as the process goes on.

Near the southern end of the cliffs of Gebel Aboofayda are the
crocodile-mummy pits which Mr. Prime explored; caverns in which are
stacked up mummied crocodiles and lizards by the thousands. We shall
not go nearer to them. I dislike mummies; I loathe crocodiles; I have
no fondness for pits. What could be more unpleasant than the three
combined! To crawl on one’s stomach through crevices and hewn passages
in the rock, in order to carry a torch into a stifling chamber, packed
with mummies and cloths soaked in bitumen, is an exploit that we
willingly leave to Egyptologists. If one takes a little pains, he can
find enough unpleasant things above ground.

It requires all our skill to work the boat round the bend above these
cliffs; we are every minute about to go aground on a sand-bar, or jibe
the sail, or turn about. Heaven only knows how we ever get on at all,
with all the crew giving orders and no one obeying. But by five o’clock
we are at the large market-town of Manfaloot, which has half a dozen
minarets and is sheltered by a magnificent palm-grove. You seem to be
approaching an earthly paradise; and one can keep up the illusion if he
does not go ashore. And yet this is a spot that ought to interest the
traveler, for here Lot is said to have spent a portion of the years of
his exile, after the accident to his wife.

At sunset old Abo Arab comes limping along the bank with a tin pail,
having succeeded at length in overtaking the boat; and in reply to the
question, where he has been asleep all day, pulls out from his bosom
nine small fish as a peace-offering. He was put off at sunrise to get
milk for breakfast. What a happy-go-lucky country it is.

After sundown, the crew, who have worked hard all day, on and off,
tacking, poling, and shifting sail, get their supper round an open fire
on deck, take each some whiffs from the “hubble-bubble,” and, as we sail
out over the broad, smooth water, sing a rude and plaintive melody to
the subdued thump of the darabooka. Towards dark, as we are about to
tie up, the wind, which had failed, rises, and we voyage on, the waves
rippling against the sides in a delicious lullaby. The air is soft, the
moon is full and peeps out from the light clouds which obscure the sky
and prevent dew.

The dragoman asleep on the cabin deck, the reïs crouched, attentive of
the course, near him, part of the sailors grouped about the bow in low
chat, and part asleep in the shadow of the sail, we voyage along under
the wide night, still to the south and warmer skies, and seem to be
sailing through an enchanted land.

Put not your trust in breezes. The morning finds us still a dozen miles
from Asioot where we desire to celebrate Christmas; we just move with
sails up, and the crew poling. The head-man chants a line or throws out
a word, and the rest come in with a chorus, as they walk along, bending
the shoulder to the pole. The leader—the “shanty man” the English
sailors call their leader, from the French chanter I suppose—ejaculates
a phrase, sometimes prolonging it, or dwelling on it with a variation,
like “O! Mohammed!” or “O! Howadji!” or some scraps from a love-song,
and the men strike in in chorus: “Hâ Yàlësah, hâ Yâlësah,” a response
that the boatmen have used for hundreds of years.

We sail leisurely past a large mud-village dropped in a splendid grove
of palms and acacias. The scene is very poetical before details are
inspected, and the groves, we think, ought to be the home of refinement
and luxury. Men are building a boat under the long arcade of trees,
women are stooping with the eternal water-jars which do not appear
to retain fluid any better than the sieves of the Danaïdes, and naked
children run along the bank crying “Backsheesh, O Howadji.” Our shot-gun
brings down a pigeon-hawk close to the shore. A boy plunges in and gets
it, handing it to us on deck from the bank, but not relinquishing his
hold with one hand until he feels the half-piastre in the other. So
early is distrust planted in the human breast.

Getting away from this idyllic scene, which has not a single resemblance
to any civilized town, we work our way up to El Hamra late in the
afternoon. This is the landing-place for Asioot; the city itself is a
couple of miles inland, and could be reached by a canal at high water.
We have come again into an active world, and there are evidences that
this is a busy place. New boats are on the stocks, and there is a forge
for making some sort of machinery. So much life has not been met with
since we left Cairo. The furling our great sail is a fine sight as
we round in to the bank, the sailors crawling out on the slender,
hundred-feet-long yard, like monkeys, and drawing up the hanging slack
with both feet and hands.

It is long since we have seen so many or so gaily dressed people as are
moving on shore; a procession of camels passes along; crowds of donkeys
are pushed down to the boat by their noisy drivers; old women come to
sell eggs, and white grease that pretends to be butter, and one of them
pulls some live pigeons from a bag. We lie at the mud-bank, and classes
of half-clad children, squatting in the sand, study us. Two other
dahabeëhs are moored near us, their passengers sitting under the awning
and indolently observing the novel scene, book in hand, after the manner
of Nile voyagers.

These are the pictures constantly recurring on the river, only they are
never the same in grouping or color, and they never weary one. It is
wonderful, indeed, how satisfying the Nile is in itself and how little
effort travelers make for the society of each other. Boats pass or meet
and exchange salutes, but with little more effusion than if they were
on the Thames. Nothing afloat is so much like a private house as
a dahabeëh, and I should think, by what we hear, that sociability
decreases on the Nile with increase of travel and luxury.



0166



0167



CHAPTER XII.—SPENDING CHRISTMAS ON THE NILE.

PROBABLY this present writer has the distinction of being the only
one who has written about the Nile and has not invented a new way of
spelling the name of the town whose many minarets and brown roofs are
visible over the meadows.

It is written Asioot, Asyoot, Asiüt, Ssout, Siôout, Osyoot, Osioot,
O’Sioôt, Siüt, Sioot, O’siout, Si-ôôt, Siout, Syouth, and so on,
indefinitely. People take the liberty to spell names as they sound to
them, and there is consequently a pleasing variety in the names of all
places, persons, and things in Egypt; and when we add to the many ways
of spelling an Arabic word, the French the German, and the English
translation or equivalent, you are in a hopeless jumble of nomenclature.
The only course is to strike out boldly and spell everything as it seems
good in your eyes, and differently in different moods. Even the name of
the Prophet takes on half a dozen forms; there are not only ninety-nine
names of the attributes of God, but I presume there are ninety-nine ways
of spelling each of them.

This Asioot has always been a place of importance. It was of old called
Lycopolis, its divinity being the wolf or the wolf-headed god; and in
a rock-mountain behind the town were not only cut the tombs of the
inhabitants, but there were deposited the mummies of the sacred wolves.
About these no one in Asioot knows or cares much, to day. It is a
city of twenty-five thousand people, with a good many thriving Copt
Christians; the terminus, to day, of the railway, and the point of
arrival and departure of the caravans to and from Darfoor—a desert march
of a month. Here are made the best clay pipe-bowls in Egypt, and a great
variety of ornamented dishes and vases in clay, which the traveler buys
and doesn’t know what to do with. The artisans also work up elephants’
tusks and ostrich feathers into a variety of “notions.”

Christmas day opens warm and with an air of festivity. Great
palm-branches are planted along the bank and form an arbor over the
gang-plank. The cabin is set with them, in gothic arches over windows
and doors, with yellow oranges at the apex. The forward and saloon
decks are completely embowered in palms, which also run up the masts and
spars. The crew have entered with zeal into the decoration, and in the
early morning transformed the boat into a floating bower of greenery;
the effect is Oriental, but it is difficult to believe that this is
really Christmas day. The weather is not right, for one thing. It is
singularly pleasant, in fact like summer. We miss the usual snow and ice
and the hurtling of savage winds that bring suffering to the poor and
make charity meritorious. Besides, the Moslems are celebrating the day
for us and, I fear, regarding it simply as an occasion of backsheesh.
The sailors are very quick to understand so much of our religion as is
profitable to themselves.

In such weather as this it would be possible for “shepherds to watch
their flocks by night.”

Early in the day we have a visit from Wasef el Khyat, the American
consul here for many years, a Copt and a native of Asioot, who speaks
only Arabic; he is accompanied by one of his sons, who was educated at
the American college in Beyrout. So far does that excellent institution
send its light; scattered rays to be sure, but it is from it and such
schools that the East is getting the real impetus of civilization.

I do not know what the consul at Asioot does for America, but our flag
is of great service to him, protecting his property from the exactions
of his own government. Wasef is consequently very polite to all
Americans, and while he sipped coffee and puffed cigars in our cabin he
smiled unutterable things. This is the pleasantest kind of intercourse
in a warm climate, where a puff and an occasional smile will pass for
profuse expressions of social enjoyment.

His excellency Shakirr Pasha, the governor of this large and rich
province, has sent word that he is about to put carriages and donkeys at
our disposal, but this probably meant that the consul would do it; and
the consul has done it. The carriage awaits us on the bank. It is a
high, paneled, venerable ark, that moves with trembling dignity; and
we choose the donkeys as less pretentious and less liable to come to
pieces. This is no doubt the only carriage between Cairo and Kartoom,
and its appearance is regarded as an event.

Our first visit is paid to the Pasha, who has been only a few days in
his province, and has not yet transferred his harem from Cairo. We are
received with distinguished ceremony, to the lively satisfaction of
Abd-el-Atti, whose face beams like the morning, in bringing together
such “distinguish” people as his friend the Pasha, and travelers in his
charge. The Pasha is a courtly Turk, of most elegant manners, and the
simplicity of high breeding, a man of the world and one of the ablest
governors in Egypt. The room into which we are ushered, through a dirty
alley and a mud-wall court is hardly in keeping with the social stilts
on which we are all walking. In our own less favored land, it would
answer very well for a shed or an out-house to store beans in, or for
a “reception room” for sheep; a narrow oblong apartment, covered with a
flat roof of palm logs, with a couple of dirty little windows high up,
the once whitewashed walls stained variously, the cheap divans soiled.

The hospitality of this gorgeous salon was offered us with effusion, and
we sat down and exchanged compliments as if we had been in a palace.
I am convinced that there is nothing like the Oriental imagination. An
attendant (and the servants were in keeping with the premises) brought
in fingans of coffee. The servant presents the cup in his right hand,
holding the bottom of the silver receptacle in his thumb and finger;
he takes it away empty with both hands, placing the left under and the
right on top of it. These formalities are universal and all-important.
Before taking it you ought to make the salutation, by touching breast,
lips, and forehead, with the right hand—an acknowledgment not to the
servant but to the master. Cigars are then handed round, for it is
getting to be considered on the Nile that cigars are more “swell” than
pipes; more’s the pity.

The exchange of compliments meantime went on, and on the part of
the Pasha with a fineness, adroitness, and readiness that showed the
practice of a lifetime in social fence. He surpassed our most daring
invention with a smiling ease, and topped all our extravagances with an
art that made our pool efforts appear clumsy. And what the effect would
have been if we could have understood the flowery Arabic I can only
guess; nor can we ever know how many flowers of his own the dragoman
cast in.

“His excellency say that he feel the honor of your visit.”

“Say to his excellency that although we are only spending one day in
his beautiful capital, we could not forego the-pleasure of paying our
respects to his excellency.” This sentence is built by the critic, and
strikes us all favorably.

“His excellency himself not been here many days, and sorry he not know
you coming, to make some preparations to receive you.”

“Thank his excellency for the palms that decorate our boat.”

“They are nothing, nothing, he say not mention it; the dahabeëh look
very different now if the Nile last summer had not wash away all his
flower-garden. His excellency say, how you enjoyed your voyage?”

“It has been very pleasant; only for a day or two we have wanted wind.”

“Your misfortune, his excellency say, his pleasure; it give him the
opportunity of your society. But he say if you want wind he sorry no
wind; it cause him to suffer that you not come here sooner.”

“Will his excellency dine with us to-day?”

“He say he think it too much honor.”

“Assure his excellency that we feel that the honor is conferred by him.”

And he consents to come. After we have taken our leave, the invitation
is extended to the consul, who is riding with us.

The way to the town is along a winding, shabby embankment, raised above
high water, and shaded with sycamore-trees. It is lively with people on
foot and on donkeys, in more colored and richer dress than that worn
by country-people; the fields are green, the clover is springing
luxuriantly, and spite of the wrecks of unburned-brick houses, left
gaping by the last flood, and spite of the general untidiness of
everything, the ride is enjoyable. I don’t know why it is that an
irrigated country never is pleasing on close inspection, neither is an
irrigated garden. Both need to be seen from a little distance, which
conceals the rawness of the alternately dry and soaked soil, the
frequent thinness of vegetation, the unkempt swampy appearance of the
lowest levels, and the painful whiteness of paths never wet and the
dustiness of trees unwashed by rain. There is no Egyptian landscape or
village that is neat, on near inspection.

Asioot has a better entrance than most towns, through an old gateway
into the square (which is the court of the palace); and the town has
extensive bazaars and some large dwellings. But as we ride through it,
we are always hemmed in by mud-walls, twisting through narrow alleys,
encountering dirt and poverty at every step. We pass through the quarter
of the Ghawâzees, who, since their banishment from Cairo, form little
colonies in all the large Nile towns. There are the dancing-women whom
travelers are so desirous of seeing; the finest-looking women and the
most abandoned courtesans, says Mr. Lane, in Egypt. In showy dresses
of bright yellow and red, adorned with a profusion of silver-gilt
necklaces, earrings, and bracelets, they sit at the doors of their
hovels in idle expectation. If these happen to be the finest-looking
women in Egypt, the others are wise in keeping their veils on.

Outside the town we find a very pretty cemetery of the Egyptian style,
staring white tombs, each dead person resting under his own private
little stucco oven. Near it is encamped a caravan just in from Darfoor,
bringing cinnamon, gum-arabic, tusks, and ostrich feathers. The camels
are worn with the journey; their drivers have a fierce and free air in
striking contrast with the bearing of the fellaheen. Their noses are
straight, their black hair is long and shaggy, their garment is a single
piece of coarse brown cloth; they have the wildness of the desert.

The soft limestone ledge back of the town is honeycombed with grottoes
and tombs; rising in tiers from the bottom to the top. Some of them have
merely square-cut entrances into a chamber of moderate size, in some
part of which, or in a passage beyond, is a pit cut ten or twenty
feet deep in the rock, like a grave, for the mummy. One of them has a
magnificent entrance through a doorway over thirty feet high and fifteen
deep; upon the jambs are gigantic figures cut in the rock. Some of
the chambers are vast and were once pillared, and may have served for
dwellings. These excavations are very old. The hieroglyphics and figures
on the walls are not in relief on the stone, but cut in at the outer
edge and left in a gradual swell in the center—an intaglio relievato.
The drawing is generally spirited, and the figures show knowledge of
form and artistic skill. It is wonderful that such purely conventional
figures, the head almost always in profile and the shoulders square
to the front, can be so expressive. On one wall is a body of infantry
marching, with the long pointed shields mentioned by Xenophon in
describing Egyptian troops. Everywhere are birds, gracefully drawn
and true to species, and upon some of them the blue color is fresh.
A ceiling of one grotto is wrought in ornamental squares—a “Greek
pattern,” executed long before the time of the Greeks. Here we find
two figures with the full face turned towards us, instead of the usual
profile.

These tombs have served for a variety of purposes. As long as the
original occupants rested here, no doubt their friends came and feasted
and were mournfully merry in these sightly chambers overlooking the
Nile. Long after they were turned out, Christian hermits nested in them,
during that extraordinary period of superstition when men thought they
could best secure their salvation by living like wild beasts in the
deserts of Africa. Here one John of Lycopolis had his den, in which he
stayed fifty years, without ever opening the door or seeing the face
of a woman. At least, he enjoyed that reputation. Later, persecuted
Christians dwelt in these tombs, and after them have come wanderers, and
jackals, and houseless Arabs. I think I should rather live here than in
Asioot; the tombs are cleaner and better built than the houses of the
town, and there is good air here and no danger of floods.

When we are on the top of the bluff, the desert in broken ridges is
behind us. The view is one of the best of the usual views from hills
near the Nile, the elements of which are similar; the spectator has
Egypt in all its variety at his feet. The valley here is broad, and we
look a long distance up and down the river. The Nile twists and turns in
its bed like one of the chimerical serpents sculptured in the chambers
of the dead; canals wander from it through the plain; and groves of
palms and lines of sycamores contrast their green with that of the
fields. All this level expanse is now covered with wheat, barley and
thick clover, and the green has a vividness that we have never seen in
vegetation before. This owes somewhat to the brown contrast near at hand
and something maybe to the atmosphere, but I think the growing grain has
a lustre unknown to other lands. This smiling picture is enclosed by
the savage frame of the desert, gaunt ridges of rocky hills, drifts of
stones, and yellow sand that sends its hot tongues in long darts into
the plain. At the foot of the mountain lies Asioot brown as the mud of
the Nile, a city built of sun-dried bricks, but presenting a singular
and not unpleasing appearance on account of the dozen white stone
minarets, some of them worked like lace, which spring out of it.

The consul’s home is one of the best in the city, but outside it shows
only a mud-wall like the meanest. Within is a paved court, and offices
about it; the rooms above are large, many-windowed, darkened with
blinds, and not unlike those of a plain house in America. The furniture
is European mainly, and ugly, and of course out of place in Africa. We
see only the male members of the family. Confectionery and coffee are
served and some champagne, that must have been made by the Peninsular
and Oriental Steamship Company; their champagne is well known in the
Levant, and there is no known decoction that is like it. In my judgment,
if it is proposed to introduce Christianity and that kind of wine into
Egypt, the country would better be left as it is.

During our call the consul presents us fly-whisks with ivory handles,
and gives the ladies beautiful fans of ostrich feathers mounted in
ivory. These presents may have been due to a broad hint from the Pasha,
who said to the consul at our interview in the morning:—

“I should not like to have these distinguished strangers go away without
some remembrance of Asioot. I have not been here long; what is there to
get for them?”

“O, your excellency, I will attend to that,” said the consul.

In the evening, with the dahabeëh beautifully decorated and hung with
colored lanterns, upon the deck, which, shut in with canvas and spread
with Turkish rugs, was a fine reception-room, we awaited our guests,
as if we had been accustomed to this sort of thing in America from our
infancy, and as if we usually celebrated Christmas outdoors, fans in
hand, with fire-works. A stand for the exhibition of fireworks had been
erected on shore. The Pasha was received as he stepped on board, with
three rockets, (that being, I suppose, the number of his official
“tails,”) which flew up into the sky and scattered their bursting bombs
of color amid the stars, announcing to the English dahabeëhs, the two
steamboats and the town of Asioot, that the governor of the richest
province in Egypt was about to eat his dinner.

The dinner was one of those perfections that one likes to speak of only
in confidential moments to dear friends. It wanted nothing either in
number of courses or in variety, in meats, in confections, in pyramids
of gorgeous construction, in fruits and flowers. There was something
touching about the lamb roasted whole, reclining his head on his own
shoulder. There was something tender about the turkey. There was a
terrible moment when the plum-pudding was borne in on fire, as if it
had been a present from the devil himself. The Pasha regarded it with
distrust, and declined, like a wise man, to eat flame. I fear that the
English have fairly introduced this dreadful dish into the Orient, and
that the natives have come to think that all foreigners are Molochs who
can best be pleased by offering up to them its indigestible ball set on
fire of H. It is a fearful spectacle to see this heathen people offering
this incense to a foreign idol, in the subserviency which will sacrifice
even religion to backsheesh.

The conversation during dinner is mostly an exchange of compliments,
in the art of which the Pasha is a master, displaying in it a wit,
a variety of resource and a courtliness that make the game a very
entertaining one. The Arabic language gives full play to this sort of
social espièglerie, and lends a delicacy to encounters of compliment
which the English language does not admit.

Coffee and pipes are served on deck, and the fire-works begin to
tear and astonish the night. The Khedive certainly employs very good
pyrotechnists, and the display by Abd-el-Atti and his equally excited
helpers although simple is brilliant. The intense delight that the
soaring and bursting of a rocket give to Abd-el-Atti is expressed in
unconscious and unrestrained demonstration. He might be himself in
flames but he would watch the flight of the rushing stream of fire,
jumping up and down in his anxiety for it to burst:—

“There! there! that’s—a he, hooray!”

Every time one bursts, scattering its colored stars, the crew, led by
the dragoman, cheer, “Heep, heep, hooray! heep, heep, hooray!”

A whirligig spins upon the river, spouting balls of fire, and the crew
come in with a “Heep, heep, hooray! heep, heep, hooray!”

The steamer, which has a Belgian prince on board, illuminates, and
salutes with shot-guns. In the midst of a fusillade of rockets and
Roman candles, the crew develop a new accomplishment. Drilled by the
indomitable master of ceremonies, they attempt the first line of that
distinctively American melody,


“We won’t go home till morning.”


They really catch the air, and make a bubble, bubble of sounds, like
automata, that somewhat resembles the words. Probably they think that
it is our national anthem, or perhaps a Christmas hymn. No doubt,
“won’t-go-home-till-morning” sort of Americans have been up the river
before us.

The show is not over when the Pasha pleads an engagement to take a
cup of tea with the Belgian prince, and asks permission to retire. He
expresses his anguish at leaving us, and he will not depart if we
say “no.” Of course, our anguish in letting the Pasha go exceeds his
suffering in going, but we sacrifice ourselves to the demand of his
station, and permit him to depart. At the foot of the cabin stairs he
begs us to go no further, insisting that we do him too much honor to
come so far.

The soft night grows more brilliant. Abd-el-Atti and his minions are
still blazing away. The consul declares that Asioot in all his life
has never experienced a night like this. We express ourselves as humbly
thankful in being the instruments of giving Asioot (which is asleep
there two miles off) such an “eye-opener.” (This remark has a finer
sound when translated into Arabic.)

The spectacle closes by a voyage out upon the swift river in the sandal.
We take Roman candles, blue, red, and green lights and floaters which
Abd-el-Atti lets off, while the crew hoarsely roar, “We won’t go home
till morning,” and mingle “Heep, heep, hooray,” with “Hà Yàlësah, hâ
Yâlësah.”

The long range of lights on the steamers, the flashing lines and
pyramids of colors on our own dahabeëh, the soft June-like night, the
moon coming up in fleecy clouds, the broad Nile sparkling under so many
fires, kindled on earth and in the sky, made a scene unique, and as
beautiful as any that the Arabian Nights suggest.

To end all, there was a hubbub on shore among the crew, caused by one of
them who was crazy with hasheesh, and threatened to murder the reïs
and dragoman, if he was not permitted to go on board. It could be
demonstrated that he was less likely to slay them if he did not come on
board, and he was therefore sent to the governor’s lock-up, with a fair
prospect of going into the Khedive’s army. We left him behind, and about
one o’clock in the morning stole away up the river with a gentle and
growing breeze.

Net result of pleasure:—one man in jail, and Abd-el-Atti’s wrist so
seriously burned by the fire-works, that he has no use of his arm for
weeks. But, “‘twas a glorious victory.” For a Christmas, however, it was
a little too much like the Fourth of July.



0177



0178



CHAPTER XIII.—SIGHTS AND SCENES ON THE RIVER.

AS WE sail down into the heart of Egypt and into the remote past,
living in fact, by books and by eye-sight, in eras so far-reaching that
centuries count only as years in them, the word “ancient” gets a new
signification. We pass every day ruins, ruins of the Old Empire, of the
Middle Empire, of the Ptolomies, of the Greeks, of the Romans, of the
Christians, of the Saracens; but nothing seems ancient to us any longer
except the remains of Old Egypt.

We have come to have a singular contempt for anything so modern as the
work of the Greeks, or Romans. Ruins pointed out on shore as Roman,
do not interest us enough to force us to raise the field-glass. Small
antiquities that are of the Roman period are not considered worth
examination. The natives have a depreciatory shrug when they say of an
idol or a brick-wall, “Roman!”

The Greeks and the Romans are moderns like ourselves. They are as
broadly separated in the spirit of their life and culture from those
ancients as we are; we can understand them; it is impossible for us
to enter into the habits of thought and of life of the early Pharaonic
times. When the variation of two thousand years in the assignment of a
dynasty seems to us a trifle, the two thousand years that divide us and
the Romans shrink into no importance.

In future ages the career of the United States and of Rome will be
reckoned in the same era; and children will be taught the story
of George Washington suckled by the wolf, and Romulus cutting the
cherry-tree with his little hatchet. We must have distance in order to
put things in their proper relations. In America, what have we that
will endure a thousand years? Even George Washington’s hatchet may be
forgotten sooner than the fiabellum of Pharaoh.

The day after Christmas we are going with a stiff wind, so fresh that we
can carry only the forward sail. The sky is cloudy and stormy-looking.
It is in fact as disagreeable and as sour a fall day as you can find
anywhere. We keep the cabin, except for a time in the afternoon, when
it is comfortable sitting on deck in an overcoat. We fly by Abooteeg;
Raâineli, a more picturesque village, the top of every house being a
pigeon-tower; Gow, with its remnants of old Antæopolis—it was in the
river here that Horus defeated Typhon in a great battle, as, thank God!
he is always doing in this flourishing world, with a good chance of
killing him outright some day, when Typhon will no more take the shape
of crocodile or other form of evil, war, or paper currency; Tahtah,
conspicuous by its vast mounds of an ancient city; and Gebel Sheykh
Hereédee, near the high cliffs of which we run, impressed by the grey
and frowning crags.

As we are passing these rocks a small boat dashes out to our side, with
a sail in tatters and the mast carrying a curiously embroidered flag,
the like of which is in no signal-book. In the stern of this fantastic
craft sits a young and very shabbily clad Sheykh, and demands
backsheesh, as if he had aright to demand toll of all who pass his
dominions. This right our reïs acknowledges and tosses him some paras
done up in a rag. I am sure I like this sort of custom-house better than
some I have seen.

We go on in the night past Soohag, the capital of the province of
Girgeh; and by other villages and spots of historic interest, where the
visitor will find only some~heaps of stones and rubbish to satisfy a
curiosity raised by reading of their former importance; by the White
Monastery and the Red Convent; and, coming round a bend, as we always
are coming round a bend, and bringing the wind ahead, the crew probably
asleep, we ignominiously run into the bank, and finally come to anchor
in mid-stream.

As if to crowd all weathers into twenty-four hours, it clears off cold
in the night; and in the morning when we are opposite the the pretty
town of Ekhmeem, a temperature of 51° makes it rather fresh for the
men who line the banks working the shadoofs, with no covering but
breech-cloths. The people here, when it is cold, bundle up about the
head and shoulders with thick wraps, and leave the feet and legs bare.
The natives are huddled in clusters on the bank, out of the shade of the
houses, in order to get the warmth of the sun; near one group a couple
of discontented camels kneel; and the naked boy, making no pretence of
a superfluous wardrobe by hanging his shirt on a bush while he goes to
bed, is holding it up to dry.

We skim along in almost a gale the whole day, passing, in the afternoon,
an American dahabeëh tied up, repairing a broken yard, and giving
Bellianeh the go-by as if it were of no importance. And yet this is the
landing for the great Abydus, a city once second only to Thebes, the
burial-place of Osiris himself, and still marked by one of the finest
temples in Egypt. But our business now is navigation, and we improve the
night as well as the day; much against the grain of the crew. There
is always more or less noise and row in a night-sail, going aground,
splashing, and boosting in the water to get off, shouting and chorusing
and tramping on deck, and when the thermometer is as low as 520 these
night-baths are not very welcome when followed by exposure to keen wind,
in a cotton shirt. And with the dragoman in bed, used up like one of his
burnt-out rockets, able only to grumble at “dese fellow care for nothing
but smoke hasheesh,” the crew are not very subordinate. They are liable
to go to sleep and let us run aground, or they are liable to run
aground in order that they may go to sleep. They seem to try both ways
alternately.

But moving or stranded, the night is brilliant all the same; the
night-skies are the more lustrous the farther we go from the moisture
of Lower Egypt, and the stars scintillate with splendor, and flash
deep colors like diamonds in sunlight. Late, the moon rises over the
mountains under which we are sailing, and the effect is magically
lovely. We are approaching Farshoot.

Farshoot is a market-town and has a large sugar-factory, the first set
up in Egypt, built by an uncle of the Khedive. It was the seat of power
of the Howara tribe of Arabs, and famous for its breed of Howara horses
and dogs, the latter bigger and fiercer than the little wolfish curs
with which Egypt swarms. It is much like other Egyptian towns now,
except that its inhabitants, like its dogs, are a little wilder and
more ragged than the fellaheen below. This whole district of Hamram is
exceedingly fertile and bursting with a tropical vegetation.

The Turkish governor pays a formal visit and we enjoy one of those
silent and impressive interviews over chibooks and coffee; in which
nothing is said that one can regret. We finally make the governor
a complimentary speech, which Hoseyn, who only knows a little
table-English, pretends to translate. The Bey replies, talking very
rapidly for two or three minutes. When we asked Hoseyn to translate, he
smiled and said—“Thank you”—which was no doubt the long palaver.

The governor conducts us through the sugar-factory, which is not on so
grand a scale as those we shall see later, but hot enough and sticky
enough, and then gives us the inevitable coffee in his office;
seemingly, if you clap your hands anywhere in Egypt, a polite and ragged
attendant will appear with a tiny cup of coffee.

The town is just such a collection of mud-hovels as the others, and we
learn nothing new in it. Yes, we do. We learn how to scour brass dishes.
We see at the doorway of a house where a group of women sit on the
ground waiting for their hair to grow, two boys actively engaged in this
scouring process. They stand in the dishes, which have sand in them,
and, supporting themselves by the side of the hut, whirl half-way round
and back. The soles of their feet must be like leather. This method of
scouring is worth recording, as it may furnish an occupation for boys at
an age when they are usually, and certainly here, useless.

The weekly market is held in the open air at the edge of the town. The
wares for sale are spread upon the ground, the people sitting behind
them in some sort of order, but the crowd surges everywhere and the
powdered dust rises in clouds. It is the most motley assembly we have
seen. The women are tattooed on the face and on the breast; they wear
anklets of bone and of silver, and are loaded with silver ornaments. As
at every other place where a fair, a wedding, or a funeral attracts
a crowd, there are some shanties of the Ghawazees, who are physically
superior to the other women, but more tattooed, their necks, bosoms and
waists covered with their whole fortune in silver, their eyelids heavily
stained with Kohl—bold-looking jades, who come out and stare at us with
a more than masculine impudence.

The market offers all sorts of green country produce, and eggs, corn,
donkeys, sheep, lentils, tobacco, pipe-stems, and cheap ornaments in
glass. The crowd hustles about us in a troublesome manner, showing
special curiosity about the ladies, as if they had rarely seen white
women. Ahmed and another sailor charge into them with their big sticks
to open a passage for us, but they follow us, commenting freely upon our
appearance. The sailors jabber at them and at us, and are anxious to get
us back to the boat; where we learn that the natives “not like you.” The
feeling is mutual, though it is discouraging to our pride to be despised
by such barbarous half-clad folk.

Beggars come to the boat continually for backsheesh; a tall juggler in a
white, dirty tunic, with a long snake coiled about his neck, will not go
away for less than half a piastre. One tariff piastre (five cents) buys
four eggs here, double the price of former years, but still discouraging
to a hen. However, the hens have learned to lay their eggs small. All
the morning we are trading in the desultory way in which everything is
done here, buying a handful of eggs at a time, and live chickens by the
single one.

In the afternoon the boat is tracked along through a land that is
bursting with richness, waving with vast fields of wheat, of lentils,
of sugar-cane, interspersed with melons and beans. The date-palms are
splendid in stature and mass of crown. We examine for the first time the
Dôm Palm, named from its shape, which will not flourish much lower
on the river than here. Its stem grows up a little distance and then
branches in two, and these two limbs each branch in two; always in
two. The leaves are shorter than those of the date-palm and the tree is
altogether more scraggy, but at a little distance it assumes the dome
form. The fruit, now green, hangs in large bunches a couple of feet
long; each fruit is the size of a large Flemish Beauty pear. It has a
thick rind, and a stone, like vegetable ivory, so hard that it is used
for drill-sockets. The fibrous rind is gnawed off by the natives when it
is ripe and is said to taste like gingerbread. These people live on gums
and watery vegetables and fibrous stuff that wouldn’t give a northern
man strength enough to gather them.

We find also the sont acacia here, and dig the gum-arabic from its
bark. In the midst of a great plain of wheat, intersected by ditches and
raised footways we come upon a Safciya, embowered in trees, which a long
distance off makes itself known by the most doleful squeaking. These
water-wheels, which are not unlike those used by the Persians, are
not often seen lower down the river, where the water is raised by the
shadoof. Here we find a well sunk to the depth of the Nile, and bricked
up. Over it is a wheel, upon which is hung an endless rope of palm
fibres and on its outer rim are tied earthen jars. As the wheel revolves
these jars dip into the well and coming up discharge the water into a
wooden trough, whence it flows into channels of earth. The cogs of this
wheel fit into another, and the motive power of the clumsy machine is
furnished by a couple of oxen or cows, hitched to a pole swinging
round an upright shaft. A little girl, seated on the end of the pole is
driving the oxen, whose slow hitching gait, sets the machine rattling
and squeaking as if in pain, Nothing is exactly in gear, the bearings
are never oiled; half the water is spilled before it gets to the trough;
but the thing keeps grinding on, night and day, and I suppose has not
been improved or changed in its construction for thousands of years.

During our walk we are attended by a friendly crowd of men and boys;
there are always plenty of them who are as idle as we are, and are
probably very much puzzled to know why we roam about in this way. I am
sure a New England farmer, if he saw a troop of these Arabs, strolling
through his corn-field, would set his dogs on them.

Both sides of the river are luxuriant here. The opposite bank, which is
high, is lined with shadoofs, generally in sets of three, in order
to raise the water to the required level. The view is one long to
remember:—the long curving shore, with the shadoofs and the workmen,
singing as they dip; people in flowing garments moving along the high
bank, and processions of donkeys and camels as well; rows of palms above
them, and beyond the purple Libyan hills, in relief against a rosy sky,
slightly clouded along the even mountain line. In the foreground the
Nile is placid and touched with a little color.

We feel more and more that the Nile is Egypt. Everything takes place on
its banks. From our boat we study its life at our leisure. The Nile
is always vocal with singing, or scolding, or calling to prayer; it is
always lively with boatmen or workmen, or picturesque groups, or
women filling their water-jars. It is the highway; it is a spectacle a
thousand miles long. It supplies everything. I only wonder at one thing.
Seeing that it is so swift, and knowing that it flows down and out into
a world whence so many wonders come, I marvel that its inhabitants
are contented to sit on its banks year after year, generation after
generation, shut in behind and before by desert hills, without any
desire to sail down the stream and get into a larger world. We meet
rather intelligent men who have never journeyed so far as the next large
town.

Thus far we have had only a few days of absolutely cloudless skies;
usually we have some clouds, generally at sunrise and sunset, and
occasionally an overcast day like this. But the cloudiness is merely a
sort of shade; there is no possibility of rain in it.

And sure of good weather, why should we hasten? In fact, we do not.
It is something to live a life that has in it neither worry nor
responsibility. We take an interest, however, in How and Disnah and
Fow, places where people have been living and dying now for a long time,
which we cannot expect you to share. In the night while we are anchored
a breeze springs up, and Abd-el-Atti roars at the sailors, to rouse
them, but unsuccessfully, until he cries, “Come to prayer!”

The sleepers, waking, answer, “God is great, and Mohammed is his
prophet.”

They then get up and set the sail. This is what it is to carry religion
into daily life.

To-day we have been going northward, for variety. Keneh, which is thirty
miles higher up the river than How, is nine minutes further north. The
Nile itself loiters through the land. As the crew are poling slowly
along this hot summer day, we have nothing to do but to enjoy the wide
and glassy Nile, its fertile banks vocal with varied life. The songs of
Nubian boatmen, rowing in measured stroke down the stream, come to us.
The round white wind-mills of Keneh are visible on the sand-hills above
the town. Children are bathing and cattle and donkeys wading in the
shallows, and the shrill chatter of women is heard on the shore. If this
is winter, I wonder what summer here is like.



0185



0186



CHAPTER XIV.—MIDWINTER IN EGYPT.

WHETHER we go north or south, or wait for some wandering, unemployed
wind to take us round the next bend, it is all the same to us. We have
ceased to care much for time, and I think we shall adopt the Assyrian
system of reckoning.

The period of the precession of the equinoxes was regarded as one day of
the life of the universe; and this day equals 43,200 of our years. This
day, of 43,200 years, the Assyrians divided into twelve cosmic hours or
“sars,” each one of 3,600 years; each of these hours into six “ners,”
of 600 years; and the “ner” into ten “sosses” or cosmic minutes, of 600
years. And thus, as we reckon sixty seconds to a minute, our ordinary
year was a second of the great chronological period. What then is the
value of a mere second of time? What if we do lie half a day at this
bank, in the sun, waiting for a lazy breeze? There certainly is time
enough, for we seem to have lived a cosmic hour since we landed in
Egypt.

One sees here what an exaggerated importance we are accustomed to attach
to the exact measurement of time. We constantly compare our watches, and
are anxious that they should not gain or lose a second. A person feels
his own importance somehow increased if he owns an accurate watch. There
is nothing that a man resents more than the disparagement of his watch.
(It occurs to me, by the way, that the superior attractiveness of women,
that quality of repose and rest which the world finds in them, springs
from the same amiable laisser aller that suffers their watches never
to be correct. When the day comes that women’s watches keep time, there
will be no peace in this world). When two men meet, one of the most
frequent interchanges of courtesies is to compare watches; certainly, if
the question of time is raised, as it is sure to be shortly among a knot
of men with us, every one pulls out his watch, and comparison is made.

We are, in fact, the slaves of time and of fixed times. We think it a
great loss and misfortune to be without the correct time; and if we are
away from the town-clock and the noon-gun, in some country place, we
importune the city stranger, who appears to have a good watch, for the
time; or we lie in wait for the magnificent conductor of the railway
express, who always has the air of getting the promptest time from
headquarters.

Here in Egypt we see how unnatural and unnecessary this anxiety is. Why
should we care to know the exact time? It is 12 o’clock, Arab time,
at sunset, and that shifts every evening, in order to wean us from the
rigidity of iron habits. Time is flexible, it waits on our moods and
we are not slaves to its accuracy. Watches here never agree, and no one
cares whether they do or not. My own, which was formerly as punctual
as the stars in their courses, loses on the Nile a half hour or three
quarters of an hour a day (speaking in our arbitrary, artificial
manner); so that, if I were good at figures, I could cypher out the
length of time, which would suffice by the loss of time by my watch, to
set me back into the age of Thothmes III.—a very good age to be in. We
are living now by great cosmic periods, and have little care for minute
divisions of time.

This morning we are at Balias, no one knows how, for we anchored three
times in the night. At Balias are made the big earthen jars which the
women carry on their heads, and which are sent from here the length
of Egypt. Immense numbers of them are stacked upon the banks, and
boat-loads of them are waiting for the wind. Rafts of these jars are
made and floated down to the Delta; a frail structure, one would say, in
the swift and shallow Nile, but below this place there are neither rocks
in the stream nor stones on the shore.

The sunrise is magnificent, opening a cloudless day, a day of hot sun,
in which the wheat on the banks and under the palm-groves, now knee-high
and a vivid green, sparkles as if it had dew on it. At night there are
colors of salmon and rose in the sky, and on the water; and the end of
the mountain, where Thebes lies, takes a hue of greyish or pearly pink.
Thebes! And we are really coming to Thebes! It is fit that it should lie
in such a bath of color. Very near to-night seems that great limestone
ledge in which the Thebans entombed their dead; but it is by the winding
river thirty miles distant.

The last day of the year 1874 finds us lounging about in this pleasant
Africa, very much after the leisurely manner of an ancient maritime
expedition, the sailors of which spent most of their time in marauding
on shore, watching for auguries, and sailing a little when the deities
favored. The attempts, the failures, the mismanagements of the day add
not a little to your entertainment on the Nile.

In the morning a light breeze springs up and we are slowly crawling
forward, when the wind expires, and we come to anchor in mid-stream. The
Nile here is wide and glassy, but it is swift, and full of eddies that
make this part of the river exceedingly difficult of navigation. We are
too far from the shore for tracking, and another resource is tried. The
sandal is sent ahead with an anchor and a cable, the intention being
to drop the anchor and then by the cable pull up to it, and repeat the
process until we get beyond these eddies and treacherous sand-bars.

Of course the sailors in the sandal, who never think of two things
at the same time, miscalculate the distance, and after they drop the
anchor, have not rope enough to get back to the dahabeëh. There they
are, just above us, and just out of reach, in a most helpless condition,
but quite resigned to it. After various futile experiments they make a
line with their tracking-cords and float an oar to us, and we send them
rope to lengthen their cable. Nearly an hour is consumed in this. When
the cable is attached, the crew begin slowly to haul it in through the
pullies, walking the short deck in a round and singing a chorus of, “O
Mohammed” to some catch-word or phrase of the leader. They like this, it
is the kind of work that boys prefer, a sort of frolic:—


“Allah, Allah!”

And in response,

“O Mohammed!”

“God forgive us!”

“O Mohammed!”

“God is most great!”

“O Mohammed!”

“El Hoseyn!”


“O Mohammed!”


And so they go round as hilarious as if they played at leapfrog, with
no limit of noise and shouting. They cannot haul a rope or pull an oar
without this vocal expression. When the anchor is reached it is time for
the crew to eat dinner.

We make not more than a mile all day, with hard work, but we reach the
shore. We have been two days in this broad, beautiful bend of the river,
surrounded by luxuriant fields and palm-groves, the picture framed in
rosy mountains of limestone, which glow in the clear sunshine. It is a
becalmment in an enchanted place, out of which there seems to be no way,
and if there were we are losing the desire to go. At night, as we lie at
the bank, a row of ragged fellaheen line the high shore, like buzzards,
looking down on us. There is something admirable in their patience, the
only virtue they seem to practice.

Later, Abd-el-Atti is thrown into a great excitement upon learning
that this is the last day of the year. He had set his heart on being at
Luxor, and celebrating the New Year with a grand illumination and burst
of fire-works. If he had his way we should go blazing up the river in
a perpetual fizz of pyrotechnic glory. At Luxor especially, where many
boats are usually gathered, and which is for many the end of the voyage,
the dragomans like to outshine each other in display. This is the
fashionable season at Thebes, and the harvest-time of its merchants of
antiquities; entertainments are given on shore, boats are illuminated,
and there is a general rivalry in gaiety. Not to be in Thebes on New
Year’s is a misfortune. Something must be done. The Sheykh of the
village of Tookh is sent for, in the hope that he can help us round
the bend. The Sheykh comes, and sits on the deck and smokes. Orion
also comes up the eastern sky, like a conqueror, blazing amid a blazing
heaven. But we don’t stir.

Upon the bank sits the guard of men from the village, to protect us;
the sight of the ragamuffins grouped round their lanterns is very
picturesque. Whenever we tie up at night we are obliged to procure from
the Sheykh of the nearest village a guard to keep thieves from robbing
us, for the thieves are not only numerous but expert all along the Nile.
No wonder. They have to steal their own crops, in order to get a fair
share of the produce of the land they cultivate under the exactions of
the government. The Sheykh would not dare to refuse the guard asked for.
The office of Sheykh is still hereditary from father to eldest son, and
the Sheykh has authority over his own village, according to the ancient
custom, but he is subject to a Bey, set by the government to rule a
district.

New Year’s morning is bright, sparkling, cloudless. When I look from
my window early, the same row of buzzards sit on the high bank, looking
down upon our deck and peering into our windows. Brown, ragged heaps of
humanity; I suppose they are human. One of the youngsters makes mouths
and faces at me; and, no doubt, despises us, as dogs and unbelievers.
Behold our critic:—he has on a single coarse brown garment, through
which his tawny skin shows in spots, and he squats in the sand.

What can come out of such a people? Their ignorance exceeds their
poverty; and they appear to own nothing save a single garment. They look
not ill-fed, but ill-conditioned. And the country is skinned; all the
cattle, the turkeys, the chickens are lean. The fatness of the land goes
elsewhere.

In what contrast are these people, in situation, in habits, in every
thought, to the farmers of America. This Nile valley is in effect cut
off from the world; nothing of what we call news enters it, no news,
or book, no information of other countries, nor of any thought, or
progress, or occurrences.

These people have not, in fact, the least conception of what the world
is; they know no more of geography than they do of history. They think
the world is flat, with an ocean of water round it. Mecca is the center.
It is a religious necessity that the world should be flat in order to
have Mecca its center. All Moslems believe that it is flat, as a matter
of faith, though a few intelligent men know better.

These people, as I say, do not know anything, as we estimate knowledge.
And yet these watchmen and the group on the bank talked all night
long; their tongues were racing incessantly, and it appeared to be
conversation and not monologue or narration. What could they have been
talking about? Is talk in the inverse ratio of knowledge, and do we lose
the power or love for mere talk, as we read and are informed?

These people, however, know the news of the river. There is a sort of
freemasonry of communication by which whatever occurs is flashed up and
down both banks. They know all about the boats and who are on them, and
the name of the dragomans, and hear of all the accidents and disasters.

There was an American this year on the river, by the name of Smith—not
that I class the coming of Smith as a disaster—who made the voyage on a
steamboat. He did not care much about temples or hieroglyphics, and
he sought to purchase no antiquities. He took his enjoyment in another
indulgence. Having changed some of his pounds sterling into copper
paras, he brought bags of this money with him. When the boat stopped at
a town, Smith did not go ashore. He stood on deck and flung his coppers
with a free hand at the group of idlers he was sure to find there. But
Smith combined amusement with his benevolence, by throwing his largesse
into the sand and into the edge of the river, where the recipients of
it would have to fight and scramble and dive for what they got. When he
cast a handful, there was always a tremendous scrimmage, a rolling of
body over body, a rending of garments, and a tumbling into the river.
This feat not only amused Smith, but it made him the most popular man
on the river. Fast as the steamer went, his fame ran before him, and
at every landing there was sure to be a waiting crowd, calling, “Smit,
Smit.” There has been no one in Egypt since Cambyses who has made so
much stir as Smit.

I should not like to convey the idea that the inhabitants here are
stupid; far from it; they are only ignorant, and oppressed by long
misgovernment. There is no inducement for any one to do more than make
a living. The people have sharp countenances, they are lively, keen at a
bargain, and, as we said, many of them expert thieves. They are full of
deceit and cunning, and their affability is unfailing. Both vices and
good qualities are products not of savagery, but of a civilization worn
old and threadbare. The Eastern civilization generally is only one of
manners, and I suspect that of the old Egyptian was no more.

These people may or may not have a drop of the ancient Egyptian blood in
them; they may be no more like the Egyptians of the time of the Pharaohs
than the present European Jews are like the Jews of Judea in Herod’s
time; but it is evident that, in all the changes in the occupants of the
Nile valley, there has been a certain continuity of habits, of modes of
life, a holding to ancient traditions; the relation of men to the soil
is little changed. The Biblical patriarchs, fathers of nomadic tribes,
have their best representatives to-day, in mode of life and even in
poetical and highly figurative speech, not in Israelite bankers in
London nor in Israelite beggars in Jerusalem, but in the Bedaween of the
desert. And I think the patient and sharp-witted, but never educated,
Egyptians of old times are not badly represented by the present settlers
in the Nile valley.

There are ages of hereditary strength in the limbs of the Egyptian
women, who were here, carrying these big water-jars, before Menes turned
the course of the Nile at Memphis. I saw one to-day sit down on her
heels before a full jar that could not weigh less than a hundred pounds,
lift it to her head with her hands, and then rise straight up with it,
as if the muscles of her legs were steel. The jars may be heavier than
I said, for I find a full one not easy to lift, and I never saw an
Egyptian man touch one.

We go on towards Thebes slowly; though the river is not swifter here
than elsewhere, we have the feeling that we are pulling up-hill. We come
in the afternoon to Negâdeh, and into one of the prettiest scenes on the
Nile. The houses of the old town are all topped with pigeon-towers, and
thousands of these birds are circling about the palm-groves or swooping
in large flocks along the shore. The pigeons seem never to be slain
by the inhabitants, but are kept for the sake of the fertilizer they
furnish. It is the correct thing to build a second story to your house
for a deposit of this kind. The inhabitants here are nearly all Copts,
but we see a Roman Catholic church with its cross; and a large wooden
cross stands in the midst of the village—a singular sight in a Moslem
country.

A large barge lies here waiting for a steamboat to tow it to Keneh. It
is crowded, packed solidly, with young fellows who have been conscripted
for the army, so that it looks like a floating hulk covered by a
gigantic swarm of black bees. And they are all buzzing in a continuous
hum, as if the queen bee had not arrived. On the shore are circles of
women, seated in the sand, wailing and mourning as if for the dead—the
mothers and wives of the men who have just been seized for the service
of their country. We all respect grief, and female grief above all; but
these women enter into grief as if it were a pleasure, and appear to
enjoy it. If the son of one of the women in the village is conscripted,
all the women join in with her in mourning.

I presume there are many hard cases of separation, and that there is
real grief enough in the scene before us. The expression of it certainly
is not wanting; relays of women relieve those who have wailed long
enough; and I see a little clay hut into which the women go, I have no
doubt for refreshments, and from which issues a burst of sorrow every
time the door opens.

Yet I suppose that there is no doubt that the conscription (much as
I hate the trade of the soldier) is a good thing for the boys and men
drafted, and for Egypt. Shakirr Pasha told us that this is the first
conscription in fifteen years, and that it does not take more than two
per cent, of the men liable to military duty—one or two from a village.
These lumpish and ignorant louts are put for the first time in their
lives under discipline, are taught to obey; they learn to read and
write, and those who show aptness and brightness have an opportunity, in
the technical education organized by General Stone, to become something
more than common soldiers. When these men have served their time and
return to their villages, they will bring with them some ideas of the
world and some habits of discipline and subordination. It is probably
the speediest way, this conscription, by which the dull cloddishness
of Egypt can be broken up. I suppose that in time we shall discover
something better, but now the harsh discipline of the military service
is often the path by which a nation emerges into a useful career.

Leaving this scene of a woe over which it is easy to be
philosophical—the raw recruits, in good spirits, munching black bread
on the barge while the women howl on shore—we celebrate the night of the
New Year by sailing on, till presently the breeze fails us, when it is
dark; the sailors get out the small anchor forward, and the steersman
calmly lets the sail jibe, and there is a shock, a prospect of
shipwreck, and a great tumult, everybody commanding, and no one doing
anything to prevent the boat capsizing or stranding. It is exactly like
boys’ play, but at length we get out of the tangle, and go on, Heaven
knows how, with much pushing and hauling, and calling upon “Allah” and
“Mohammed.”

No. We are not going on, but fast to the bottom, near the shore.

In the morning we are again tracking with an occasional puff of wind,
and not more than ten miles from Luxor. We can, however, outwalk the
boat; and we find the country very attractive and surprisingly rich;
the great fields of wheat, growing rank, testify to the fertility of
the soil, and when the fields are dotted with palm-trees the picture is
beautiful.

It is a scene of wide cultivation, teeming with an easy, ragged, and
abundant life. The doleful sakiyas are creaking in their ceaseless
labor; frequent mud-villages dot with brown the green expanse, villages
abounding in yellow dogs and coffee-colored babies; men are working in
the fields, directing the irrigating streams, digging holes for melons
and small vegetables, and plowing. The plow is simply the iron-pointed
stick that has been used so long, and it scratches the ground five or
six inches deep. The effort of the government to make the peasants use
a modern plow, in the Delta, failed. Besides the wheat, we find large
cotton-fields, the plant in yellow blossoms, and also ripening, and
sugar-cane. With anything like systematic, intelligent agriculture, what
harvests this land would yield.

“Good morning!”

The words were English, the speaker was one of two eager Arabs, who had
suddenly appeared at our side.

“Good morning. O, yes. Me guide Goorna.”

“What is Goorna?”

“Yes. Temp de Goorna. Come bime by.”

“What is Goorna?”

“Plenty. I go you. You want buy any antiques? Come bime by.”

“Do you live in Goorna?”

“All same. Memnonium, Goorna, I show all gentlemens. Me guide. Antiques!
O plenty. Come bime by.”

Come Bime By’s comrade, an older man, loped along by his side, unable to
join in this intelligent conversation, but it turned out that he was the
real guide, and all the better in that he made no pretence of speaking
any English.

“Can you get us a mummy, a real one, in the original package, that
hasn’t been opened?”

“You like. Come plenty mummy. Used be. Not now. You like, I get. Come
bime by, bookra.”

We are in fact on the threshold of great Thebes. These are two of the
prowlers among its sepulchres, who have spied our dahabeeh approaching
from the rocks above the plain, and have come to prey on us. They prey
equally upon the living and the dead, but only upon the dead for the
benefit of the living. They try to supply the demand which we tourists
create. They might themselves be content to dwell in the minor tombs,
in the plain, out of which the dead were long ago ejected; but
Egyptologists have set them the example and taught them the profit of
digging. If these honest fellows cannot always find the ancient scarabæi
and the vases we want, they manufacture very good imitations of them. So
that their industry is not altogether so ghastly as it may appear.

We are at the north end of the vast plain upon which Thebes stood; and
in the afternoon we land, and go to visit the northernmost ruin on
the west bank, the Temple of Koorneh (Goorneh), a comparatively modern
structure, begun by Sethi I., a great warrior and conqueror of the
nineteenth dynasty, before the birth of Moses.



0196



0197



CHAPTER XV.—AMONG THE RUINS OF THEBES.

YOU need not fear that you are to have inflicted upon you a description
of Thebes, its ruins of temples, its statues, obelisks, pylons,
tombs, holes in the ground, mummy-pits and mounds, with an attempt to
reconstruct the fabric of its ancient splendor, and present you, gratis,
the city as it was thirty-five hundred years ago, when Egypt was at the
pinnacle of her glory, the feet of her kings were on the necks of
every nation, and this, her capital, gorged with the spoils of near and
distant maraudings, the spectator of triumph succeeding triumph,
the depot of all that was precious in the ancient world, at once a
treasure-house and a granary, ruled by an aristocracy of cruel and
ostentatious soldiers and crafty and tyrannical priests, inhabited
by abject Egyptians and hordes of captive slaves—was abandoned to a
sensuous luxury rivaling that of Rome in her days of greatest wealth and
least virtue in man or woman.

I should like to do it, but you would go to sleep before you were half
through it, and forget to thank the cause of your comfortable repose. We
can see, however, in a moment, the unique situation of the famous town.

We shall have to give up, at the outset, the notion of Homer’s
“hundred-gated Thebes.” It is one of his generosities of speech. There
never were any walls about Thebes, and it never needed any; if it had
any gates they must have been purely ornamental structures; and perhaps
the pylons of the many temples were called gates. If Homer had been
more careful in the use of his epithets he would have saved us a deal of
trouble.

Nature prepared a place here for a vast city. The valley of the Nile,
narrow above and below, suddenly spreads out into a great circular
plain, the Arabian and Libyan ranges of mountains falling back to make
room for it. In the circle of these mountains, which are bare masses of
limestone, but graceful and bold in outline, lies the plain, with some
undulation of surface, but no hills: the rim of the setting is grey,
pink, purple, according to the position of the sun; the enclosure is
green as the emerald. The Nile cuts this plain into two unequal parts.
The east side is the broader, and the hills around it are neither so
near the stream nor so high as the Libyan range.

When the Nile first burst into this plain it seems to have been
undecided what course to take through it. I think it has been undecided
ever since, and has wandered about, shifting from bluff to bluff, in
the long ages. Where it enters, its natural course would be under the
eastern hills, and there, it seems to me, it once ran. Now, however, it
sweeps to the westward, leaving the larger portion of the plain on the
right bank.

The situation is this: on the east side of the river are the temple of
Luxor on a slight elevation and the modern village built in and around
it; a mile and a half below and further from the river, are the vast
ruins of Karnak; two or three miles north-east of Karnak are some
isolated columns and remains of temples. On the west side of the river
is the great necropolis. The crumbling Libyan hills are pierced with
tombs. The desert near them is nothing but a cemetery. In this desert
are the ruins of the great temples, Medeenet Hâboo, Dayr el Bahree, the
Memnonium (or Rameseum, built by Rameses IL, who succeeded in affixing
his name to as many things in Egypt as Michael Angelo did in Italy),
the temple of Koorneh, and several smaller ones. Advanced out upon the
cultivated plain a mile or so from the Memnonium, stand the two Colossi.
Over beyond the first range of Libyan hills, or precipices, are the
Tombs of the Kings, in a wild gorge, approached from the north by a
winding sort of canon, a defile so hot and savage that a mummy passing
through it couldn’t have had much doubt of the place he was going to.

The ancient city of Thebes spread from its cemetery under and in the
Libyan hills, over the plain beyond Ivarnak. Did the Nile divide that
city? Or did the Nile run under the eastern bluff and leave the plain
and city one?

It is one of the most delightful questions in the world, for no one
knows anything about it, nor ever can know. Why, then, discuss it? Is it
not as important as most of the questions we discuss? What, then, would
become of learning and scholarship, if we couldn’t dispute about the
site of Troy, and if we all agreed that the temple of Pandora Regina was
dedicated to Neptune and not to Jupiter? I am for united Thebes.

Let the objector consider. Let him stand upon one of the terraces of
Dayr el Bahree, and casting his eye over the plain and the Nile in a
straight line to Ivarnak, notice the conformity of directions of the
lines of both temples, and that their avenues of sphinxes produced would
have met; and let him say whether he does not think they did meet.

Let the objector remember that the Colossi, which now stand in an
alluvial soil that buries their bases over seven feet and is annually
inundated, were originally on the hard sand of the desert; and that all
the arable land of the west side has been made within a period easily
reckoned; that every year adds to it the soil washed from the eastern
bank.

Farther, let him see how rapidly the river is eating away the bank at
Luxor; wearing its way back again, is it not? to the old channel under
the Arabian bluff, which is still marked. The temple at Luxor is only a
few rods from the river. The English native consul, who built his house
between the pillars of the temple thirty years ago, remembers that, at
that time, he used to saddle his donkey whenever he wanted to go to the
river. Observation of the land and stream above, at Erment, favors
the impression that the river once ran on the east side and that it is
working its way back to the old channel.

The village of Erment is about eight miles above Luxor, and on the west
side of the river. An intelligent Arab at Luxor told me that one hundred
and fifty years ago Erment was on the east side. It is an ancient
village, and boasts ruins; among the remaining sculptures is an
authentic portrait of Cleopatra, who appears to have sat to all the
stone-cutters in Upper Egypt. Here then is an instance of the Nile going
round a town instead of washing it away.

One thing more: Karnak is going to tumble into a heap some day, Great
Hall of Columns and all. It is slowly having its foundations sapped by
inundations and leachings from the Nile. Now, does it stand to reason
that Osirtasen, who was a sensible king and a man of family; that the
Thothmes people, and especially Hatasoo Thothmes, the woman who erected
the biggest obelisk ever raised; and that the vain Rameses II., who
spent his life in an effort to multiply his name and features in stone,
so that time couldn’t rub them out, would have spent so much money
in structures that the Nile was likely to eat away in three or four
thousand years?

The objector may say that the bed of the Nile has risen; and may ask
how the river got over to the desert of the west side without destroying
Karnak on its way. There is Erment, for an example.

Have you now any idea of the topography of the plain? I ought to say
that along the western bank, opposite Luxor, stretches a long sand
island joined to the main, in low water, and that the wide river is very
shallow on the west side.

We started for Koorneh across a luxuriant wheat-field, but soon struck
the desert and the debris of the old city. Across the river, we had our
first view of the pillars of Luxor and the pylons of Karnak, sights to
heat the imagination and set the blood dancing. But how far off they
are; on what a grand scale this Thebes is laid out—if one forgets London
and Paris and New York.

The desert we pass over is full of rifled tombs, hewn horizontally
in rocks that stand above the general level. Some of them are large
chambers, with pillars left for support. The doors are open and the sand
drifts in and over the rocks in which they are cut. A good many of them
are inhabited by miserable Arabs, who dwell in them and in huts among
them. I fancy that, if the dispossessed mummies should reappear, they
would differ little, except perhaps in being better clad, from these
bony living persons who occupy and keep warm their sepulchres.

Our guide leads us at a lively pace through these holes and heaps of
the dead, over sand hot to the feet, under a sky blue and burning, for
a mile and a half. He is the first Egyptian I have seen who can walk. He
gets over the ground with a sort of skipping lope, barefooted, and looks
not unlike a tough North American Indian. As he swings along, holding
his thin cotton robe with one hand, we feel as if we were following a
shade despatched to conduct us to some Unhappy Hunting-Grounds.

Near the temple are some sycamore-trees and a collection of hovels
called Koorneh, inhabited by a swarm of ill-conditioned creatures, who
are not too proud to beg and probably are not ashamed to steal.
They beset us there and in the ruins to buy all manner of valuable
antiquities, strings of beads from mummies, hands and legs of mummies,
small green and blue images, and the like, and raise such a clamor of
importunity that one can hold no communion, if he desires to, with the
spirits of Sethi I., and his son Rameses II., who spent the people’s
money in erecting these big columns and putting the vast stones on top
of them.

We are impressed with the massiveness and sombreness of the Egyptian
work, but this temple is too squat to be effective, and is scarcely
worth visiting, in comparison with others, except for its sculptures.
Inside and out it is covered with them; either the face of the stone cut
away, leaving the figures in relief, or the figures are cut in at the
sides and left in relief in the center. The rooms are small—from the
necessary limitations of roof-stones that stretched from wall to wall,
or from column to column; but all the walls, in darkness or in light,
are covered with carving.

The sculptures are all a glorification of the Pharaohs. We should
like to know the unpronounceable names of the artists, who, in the
conventional limits set them by their religion, drew pictures of so much
expression and figures so life-like, and chiseled these stones with such
faultless execution; but there are no names here but of Pharaoh and of
the gods.

The king is in battle, driving his chariot into the thick of the fight;
the king crosses rivers, destroys walled cities, routs armies the
king appears in a triumphal procession with chained captives, sacks of
treasure, a menagerie of beasts, and a garden of exotic trees and plants
borne from conquered countries; the king is making offerings to his
predecessors, or to gods many, hawk-headed, cow-headed, ibis-headed,
man-headed. The king’s scribe is taking count of the hands, piled in
a heap, of the men the king has slain in battle. The king, a gigantic
figure, the height of a pylon, grasps by the hair of the head a bunch of
prisoners, whom he is about to slay with a raised club—as one would cut
off the tops of a handful of radishes.

There is a vein of “Big Injun” running through them all. The same
swagger and boastfulness, and cruelty to captives. I was glad to see
one woman in the mythic crowd, doing the generous thing: Isis, slim
and pretty, offers her breast to her son, and Horus stretches up to
the stone opportunity and takes his supper like a little gentleman. And
there is color yet in her cheek and robe that was put on when she was
thirty-five hundred years younger than she is now.

Towards the south we saw the more extensive ruins of the Memnonium and,
more impressive still, the twin Colossi, one of them the so-called vocal
statue of Memnon, standing up in the air against the evening sky more
than a mile distant. They rose out of a calm green plain of what seemed
to be wheat, but which was a field of beans. The friendly green about
them seemed to draw them nearer to us in sympathy. At this distance we
could not see how battered they were. And the unspeakable calm of these
giant figures, sitting with hands on knees, fronting the east, like the
Sphinx, conveys the same impression of lapse of time and of endurance
that the pyramids give.

The sunset, as we went back across the plain, was gorgeous in vermilion,
crimson, and yellow. The Colossi dominated the great expanse, and loomed
up in the fading light like shapes out of the mysterious past.

Our dahabeëh had crept up to the east side of the island, and could only
be reached by passing through sand and water. A deep though not wide
channel of the Nile ran between us and the island. We were taken over
this in a deep tub of a ferryboat. Laboriously wading through the sand
and plowed fields of the island, we found our boat anchored in the
stream, and the shore so shallow that even the sandal could not land.
The sailors took us off to the row-boat on their backs.

In the evening the dahabeëh is worked across and secured to the
crumbling bank of the Luxor. And the accomplishment of a voyage of four
hundred and fifty miles in sixteen days is, of course, announced by
rockets.



0203



02004



CHAPTER XVI.—HISTORY IN STONE.

IT NEVER rains at Thebes; you begin with that fact. But everybody is
anxious to have it rain, so that he can say, “It rained when I was at
Thebes, for the first time in four thousand years.”

It has not rained for four thousand years, and the evidence of this
is that no representation of rain is found in any of the sculptures on
temples or monuments; and all Egyptologists know that what is not found
thus represented has had no existence.

To-day, it rained for the first time in four thousand years The
circumstances were these. We were crossing at sunset from the west side
to the island, in a nasty little ferry, built like a canal-barge, its
depths being full of all uncleanliness and smell—donkeys, peasants, and
camels using it for crossing. (The getting of a camel in and out of such
a deep trough is a work of time and considerable pounding and roaring
of beast and men.) The boat was propelled by two half-clad, handsome,
laughing Egyptian boys, who rowed with some crooked limbs of trees, and
sang “Hà! Yâlesah,” and “Yah! Mohammed” as they stood and pulled the
unwieldy oars.

We were standing, above the reek, on a loose platform of sticks at the
stern, when my comrade said, “It rains, I think I felt a drop on my
hand.”

“It can’t be,” I said, “it has not rained here in four thousand years;”
and I extended my hand. I felt nothing. And yet I could not swear that a
drop or two did not fall into the river.

It had that appearance, nearly. And we have seen no flies skipping on
the Nile at this season.

In the sculpture we remember that the king is often represented
extending his hand. He would not put it out for nothing, for everything
done anciently in Egypt, every scratch on a rock, has a deep and
profound meaning. Pharaoh is in the attitude of fearing that it is going
to rain. Perhaps it did rain last night. At any rate, there were light
clouds over the sky.

The morning opens with a cool west wind, which increases and whirls the
sand in great clouds over the Libyan side of the river, and envelopes
Luxor in its dry storm. Luxor is for the most part a collection of
miserable mud-hovels on a low ridge, with the half-buried temple for a
nucleus, and a few houses of a better sort along the bank, from which
float the consular flags.

The inhabitants of Luxor live upon the winter travelers. Sometimes a
dozen or twenty gay dahabeëhs and several steamboats are moored here,
and the town assumes the appearance of a fashionable watering-place. It
is the best place on the river on the whole, considering its attractions
for scholars and sightseers, to spend the winter, and I have no doubt it
would be a great resort if it had any accommodations for visitors. But
it has not; the stranger must live in his boat. There is not indeed in
the whole land of Egypt above Cairo such a thing as an inn; scarcely
a refuge where a clean Christian, who wishes to keep clean, can pass
a night, unless it be in the house of some governor or a palace of the
Khedive. The perfection of the world’s climate in winter is, to be
sure, higher up, in Nubia; but that of Thebes is good enough for people
accustomed to Europe and New England. With steamboats making regular
trips and a railroad crawling up the river, there is certain to be the
Rameses Hotel at Thebes before long, and its rival a Thothmes House;
together with the Mummy Restaurant, and the Scarabæus Saloon.

You need two or three weeks to see properly the ruins of Thebes, though
Cook’s “personally conducted tourists” do it in four days, and have a
soiree of the dancing-girls besides. The region to be traveled over
is not only vast (Strabo says the city was nine miles long) but it
is exceedingly difficult getting about, and fatiguing, if haste is
necessary. Crossing the swift Nile in a sandal takes time; you must wade
or be carried over shallows to the island beach; there is a weary walk
or ride over this; another stream is to be crossed, and then begins
the work of the day. You set out with a cavalcade of mules, servants,
water-carriers, and a retinue of hungry, begging Arabs, over the fields
and through the desert to the temples and tombs. The distances are long,
the sand is glaring, the incandescent sun is reflected in hot waves from
the burning Libyan chain. It requires hours to master the plan of a vast
temple in its ruins, and days to follow out the story of the wonderful
people who built it, in its marvelous sculptures—acres of inside and
outside walls of picture cut in stone.

Perhaps the easiest way of passing the time in an ancient ruin was that
of two Americans, who used to spread their rugs in some shady court, and
sit there, drinking brandy and champagne all day, letting the ancient
civilization gradually reconstruct itself in their brains.

Life on the dahabeëh is much as usual; in fact, we are only waiting
a favorable wind to pursue our voyage, expecting to see Thebes
satisfactorily on our return. Of the inhabitants and social life of
Luxor, we shall have more to say by and by. We have daily a levee of
idlers on the bank, who spend twilight hours in watching the boat; we
are visited by sharp-eyed dealers in antiquities, who pull out strings
of scarabæi from their bosoms, or cautiously produce from under their
gowns a sculptured tablet, or a stone image, or some articles from
a mummy-case—antiques really as good as new. Abd-el-Atti sits on the
forward-deck cheapening the poor chickens with old women, and surrounded
by an admiring group of Arab friends, who sit all day smoking and
sipping coffee, and kept in a lively enjoyment by his interminable
facetiae and badinage.

Our most illustrious visitors are the American consul, Ali Effendi
Noorad, and the English consul, Mustapha Aga. Ali is a well-featured,
bronze-complexioned Arab of good family (I think of the Ababdehs), whose
brother is Sheykh of a tribe at Karnak.

He cannot speak English, but he has a pleasanter smile than any other
American consul I know. Mustapha, now very old and well known to all
Nile travelers, is a venerable wise man of the East, a most suave,
courtly Arab, plausible, and soft of speech; under his bushy eyebrows
one sees eyes that are keen and yet glazed with a film of secrecy; the
sort of eye that you cannot look into, but which you have no doubt looks
into you.

Mustapha, as I said, built his house between two columns of the temple
of Luxor. These magnificent columns, with flaring lotus capitals, are
half-buried in sand, and the whole area is so built in and over by Arab
habitations that little of the once extensive and splendid structure
can be seen. Indeed, the visitor will do well to be content with the
well-known poetic view of the columns from the river. The elegant
obelisk, whose mate is in Paris, must however be seen, as well as the
statues of Rameses II. sitting behind it up to their necks in sand—as if
a sitz-bath had been prescribed. I went one day into the interior of the
huts, in order to look at some of the sculptures, especially that of a
king’s chariot which is shaded by a parasol—an article which we invented
three or four thousand years after the Egyptians, who first used it, had
gone to the shades where parasols are useless. I was sorry that I went.
The private house I entered was a mud enclosure with a creaky wooden
door. Opening this I found myself in what appeared to be a private
hen-yard, where babies, chickens, old women, straw, flies, and dust,
mingled with the odors of antiquity; about this were the rooms in which
the family sleep—mere dog-kennels. Two of the women had nose-rings put
through the right nostril, hoops of gold two or three inches across. I
cannot say that a nose-ring adds to a woman’s beauty, but if I had to
manage a harem of these sharp-tongued creatures I should want rings in
their noses—it would need only a slight pull of the cord in the ring to
cause the woman to cry, in Oriental language, “where thou goest, I will
go.” The parasol sculpture was half-covered by the mud-wall and the
oven; but there was Pharaoh visible, riding on in glory through all this
squalor. The Pharaohs and priests never let one of the common people
set foot inside these superb temples; and there is a sort of base
satisfaction now! in seeing the ignorant and oppressed living in their
palaces, and letting the hens roost on Pharaoh’s sun-shade. But it was
difficult to make picturesque the inside of this temple-palace, even
with all the flowing rags of its occupants.

We spend a day in a preliminary visit to the Memnonium and the vast
ruins known as those of Medeenet Hâboo. Among our attendants over the
plain are half a dozen little girls, bright, smiling lasses, who salute
us with a cheery “Good morning,” and devote themselves to us the whole
day. Each one carries on her head a light, thin water-koolleh, that
would hold about a quart, balancing it perfectly as she runs along.
I have seen mere infants carrying very small koollehs, beginning thus
young to learn the art of walking with the large ones, which is to be
the chief business of their lives.

One of the girls, who says her name is Fatimeh (the name of the
Prophet’s favorite daughter is in great request), is very pretty, and
may be ten or eleven years old, not far from the marriageable age. She
has black hair, large, soft, black eyes, the lids stained with kohl,
dazzling white teeth and a sweet smile. She wears cheap earrings,
a necklace of beads and metal, and a slight ring on one hand; her
finger-nails and the palms of her little hands are stained with henna.
For dress she has a sort of shawl used as a head-veil, and an ample
outer-garment, a mantle of dark-blue cotton, ornamented down the front
seams with colored beads—a coquettish touch that connects her with her
sisters of the ancient régime who seem to have used the cylindrical
blue bead even more profusely than ladies now-a-day the jet “bugles,”
in dress trimming. I fear the pretty heathen is beginning to be aware of
her attractions.

The girls run patiently beside us or wait for us at the temples all day,
bruising their feet on the stony ways, getting nothing to eat unless we
give them something, chatting cheerfully, smiling at us and using their
little stock of English to gain our good will, constantly ready with
their koollehs, and say nothing of backsheesh until they are about to
leave us at night and go to their homes. But when they begin to ask, and
get a copper or two, they beg with a mixture of pathos and anxiety and a
use of the pronouns that is irresistible.

“You tired. Plenty backsheesh for little girl. Yes.”

“Why don’t you give us backsheesh? We are tired too,” we reply.

“Yes. Me give you backsheesh you tired all day.”

Fatimeh only uses her eyes, conscious already of her power. They are
satisfied with a piastre; which the dragoman says is too much, and
enough to spoil them. But, after all, five cents is not a magnificent
gift, from a stranger who has come five thousand miles, to a little girl
in the heart of Africa, who has lighted up the desert a whole day with
her charming smiles!

The donkey-boy pulls the strings of pathos for his backsheesh, having
no beauty to use; he says, “Father and mother all dead.” Seems to have
belonged to a harem.

Before we can gain space or quiet either to examine or enjoy a temple,
we have to free ourselves of a crowd of adhesive men, boys, and girls,
who press upon us their curiosities, relics of the dead, whose only
value is their antiquity. The price of these relics is of course wholly
“fancy,” and I presume that Thebes, where the influence of the antique
is most strong, is the best market in the world for these trifles; and
that however cheaply they may be bought here, they fetch a better price
than they would elsewhere.

I suppose if I were to stand in Broadway and offer passers-by such
a mummy’s hand as this which is now pressed upon my notice, I could
scarcely give it away. This hand has been “doctored” to sell; the
present owner has re-wrapped its bitumen-soaked flesh in mummy-cloth,
and partially concealed three rings on the fingers. Of course the hand
is old and the cheap rings are new. It is pleasant to think of these
merchants in dried flesh prowling about among the dead, selecting a limb
here and there that they think will decorate well, and tricking out with
cheap jewelry these mortal fragments. This hand, which the rascal has
chosen, is small, and may have been a source of pride to its owner
long ago; somebody else may have been fond of it, though even he—the
lover—would not care to hold it long now. A pretty little hand; I
suppose it has in its better days given many a caress and love-pat, and
many a slap in the face; belonged to one of the people, or it would
not have been found in a common mummy-pit; perhaps the hand of a sweet
water-bearer like Fatimeh, perhaps of some slave-girl whose fatal beauty
threw her into the drag-net that the Pharaohs occasionally cast along
the Upper Nile—slave-hunting raids that appear on the monuments as great
military achievements. This hand, naked, supple, dimpled, henna-tipped,
may have been offered for nothing once; there are wanted for it four
piastres now, rings and all. A dear little hand!

Great quantities of antique beads are offered us in strings, to one end
of which is usually tied a small image of Osiris, or the winged sun, or
the scarabæus with wings. The inexhaustible supply of these beads
and images leads many to think that they are manufactured to suit the
demand. But it is not so. Their blue is of a shade that is not produced
now-a-days. And, besides, there is no need to manufacture what exists
in the mummy-pits in such abundance. The beads and bugles are of glass;
they were much used for necklaces and are found covering the breasts of
mummies, woven in a network of various patterns, like old bead purses.
The vivid blue color was given by copper.

The little blue images of Osiris which are so abundant are also genuine.
They are of porcelain, a sort of porcelain-glass, a sand-paste, glazed,
colored blue, and baked. They are found in great quantities in all
tombs; and it was the Egyptian practice to thickly strew with them the
ground upon which the foundations and floors of temples were laid. These
images found in tombs are more properly figures of the dead under the
form of Osiris, and the hieroglyphics on them sometimes give the name
and quality of the departed. They are in fact a sort of “p.p. c.”
visiting-card, which the mummy has left for future ages. The Egyptians
succeeded in handing themselves down to posterity; but the manner in
which posterity has received them is not encouraging to us to salt
ourselves down for another age.

The Memnonium, or more properly Rameseum, since it was built by Rameses
II., and covered with his deeds, writ in stone, gives you even in
its ruins a very good idea of one of the most symmetrical of Egyptian
temples; the vast columns of its great hall attest its magnificence,
while the elaboration of its sculpture, wanting the classic purity of
the earlier work found in the tombs of Geezeh and Sakkara, speaks of a
time when art was greatly stimulated by royal patronage.

It was the practice of the Pharaohs when they came to the throne to make
one or more military expeditions of conquest and plunder, slay as many
enemies as possible (all people being considered “enemies” who did not
pay tribute), cut as wide a swarth of desolation over the earth as they
were able, loot the cities, drag into captivity the pleasing women,
and return laden with treasure and slaves and the evidences of enlarged
dominion. Then they spent the remainder of their virtuous days in
erecting huge temples and chiseling their exploits on them. This is, in
a word, the history of the Pharaohs.

But I think that Rameses II., who was the handsomest and most conceited
swell of them all, was not so particular about doing the deeds as he was
about recording them. He could not have done much else in his long reign
than erect the temples, carve the hieroglyphics, and set up the statues
of himself, which proclaim his fame. He literally spread himself all
over Egypt, and must have kept the whole country busy, quarrying, and
building, and carving for his glorification. That he did a tenth of the
deeds he is represented performing, no one believes now; and I take a
vindictive pleasure in abusing him. By some historic fatality he got
the name of the Great Sesostris, and was by tradition credited with the
exploits of Thothmes III., the greatest of the Pharaohs, a real hero and
statesman, during whose reign it was no boast to say that Egypt “placed
her frontier where it pleased herself,” and with those of his father
Sethi I., a usurper in the line, but a great soldier.

However, this Rameses did not have good luck with his gigantic statues;
I do not know one that is not shattered, defaced, or thrown down. This
one at the Rameseum is only a wreck of gigantic fragments. It was a
monolith of syenite, and if it was the largest statue in Egypt, as it
is said, it must have been over sixty feet high. The arithmeticians
say that it weighed about eight hundred and eighty-seven tons, having a
solid content of three times the largest obelisk in the world, that at
Karnak. These figures convey no idea to my mind. When a stone man is as
big as a four-story house, I cease to grasp him. I climbed upon the arm
of this Rameses, and found his name cut deeply in the hard granite,
the cutting polished to the very bottom like the finest intaglio. The
polishing alone of this great mass must have been an incredible labor.
How was it moved from its quarry in Assouan, a hundred and thirty miles
distant? And how was it broken into the thousand fragments in which it
lies? An earthquake would not do it. There are no marks of drilling or
the use of an explosive material. But if Cambyses broke it—and Cambyses
must have been remembered in Egypt as Napoleon I. is in Italy, the one
for smashing, the other for stealing—he had something as destructive as
nitro-glycerine.

Rameses II. impressed into his service not only art but literature.
One of his achievements depicted here is his victory over the Khitas
(Hittites), an Asiatic tribe; the king is in the single-handed act of
driving the enemy over the river Orontes,—a bluish streak meandering
down the wall. This scene is the subject of a famous poem, known as
the Poem of Pentaour, which is carved in hieroglyphics at Karnak and
at Luxor. The battle is very spiritedly depicted here. On the walls are
many side-scenes and acts characteristic of the age and the people. The
booty from the enemy is collected in a heap; and the quantity of gold
is indicated by the size of a bag of it which is breaking the back of
an ass; a soldier is pulling the beard of his prisoner, and another is
beating his captives, after the brutal manner of the Egyptians.

The temples at Medeenet Haboo are to me as interesting as those at
Karnak. There are two; the smaller one is of various ages; but its
oldest portions were built by Amun-noo-het, the sister of Thothmes,
the woman who has left more monuments of her vigor than any other in
history, and, woman-like, the monuments are filial offerings, and not
erections to her own greatness; the larger temple is the work of Rameses
III. The more you visit it, the more you will be impressed with the
splendor of its courts, halls and columns, and you may spend days in the
study of its sculptures without exhausting them.

Along these high-columned halls stalk vast processions, armies going
to battle, conquerors in triumphal entry, priests and soldiers bearing
sacrifices, and rows of stone deities of the Egyptian pantheon receiving
them in a divine indifference. Again the battle rages, the chariots
drive furiously, arrows fill the air, the foot-troops press forward with
their big spears and long shields, and the king is slaying the chief,
who tumbles from his car. The alarm has spread to the country beyond;
the terrified inhabitants are in flight; a woman, such is the detail, is
seen to snatch her baby and run into the woods, leaving her pot of broth
cooking on the fire.

The carving in this temple is often very deep, cut in four or five
inches in the syenite, and beautifully polished to the bottom, as if
done with emery. The colors that once gave each figure its character,
are still fresh, red, green, blue, and black. The ceilings of some
of the chambers yet represent the blue and star-sprinkled sky. How
surpassingly brilliant these must have been once! We see how much
the figure owed to color, when the color designated the different
nationalities, the enemies or the captives, the shade of their skin,
hair, beard and garments. We recognize, even, textures of cloth, and
the spotted leopard-skins worn by the priests. How gay are the birds of
varied plumage.

There is considerable variety in sculpture here, but, after all an
endless repetition on wall after wall, in chamber after chamber of the
same royal persons, gods, goddesses, and priests. There is nothing on
earth so tiresome as a row of stone gods, in whom I doubt if anybody
ever sincerely believed, standing to receive the offerings of a
Turveydrop of a king. Occasionally the gods take turn about, and pour
oil on the head of a king, at his coronation, and with this is usually
the very pretty device of four birds flying to the four quarters of
the globe to announce the event. But whatever the scene, warlike or
religious, it is for the glorification of Pharaoh, all the same. He is
commonly represented of gigantic size, and all the other human figures
about him are small in comparison. It must have kept the Pharaoh in a
constantly inflated condition, to walk these halls and behold, on all
sides, his extraordinary apotheosis. But the Pharaoh was not only king
but high priest, and the divine representative on earth, and about to
become, in a peculiar sense, Osiris himself, at his death.

The Egyptians would have saved us much trouble if they had introduced
perspective into these pictures. It is difficult to feel that a pond of
water, a tree and a house, one above the other on a wall, are intended
to be on the same level. We have to accustom ourselves to figures always
in profile, with the eye cut in full as if seen in front, and both
shoulders showing. The hands of prisoners are tied behind them, but this
is shown by bringing both elbows, with no sort of respect for the
man’s anatomy, round to the side, toward us, yet it is wonderful what
character and vivacity they gave to their figures, and how by simple
profile they represent nationalities and races, Ethiops, Nubians, Jews,
Assyrians, Europeans.

These temples are inlaid and overlaid and surrounded with heaps of
rubbish, and the débris of ancient and modern mud and unbaked-brick
dwellings; part of the great pillars are entirely covered. The
Christians once occupied the temples, and there are remains of a church,
and a large church, in one of the vast courts, built of materials at
hand, but gone to ruin more complete than the structure around it. The
early Christians hewed away the beautiful images of Osiris from the
pillars (an Osiride pillar is one upon one side of which, and the length
of it, is cut in full relief, only attached at the back, a figure of
Osiris), and covered the hieroglyphics and sculptures with plaster.
They defaced these temples as the Reformers hacked and whitewashed the
cathedrals of Germany. And sometimes the plaster which was meant to
cover forever from sight the images of a mysterious religion, has
defeated the intentions of the plasterers, by preserving, to an age that
has no fear of stone gods, the ancient pictures, sharp in outline and
fresh in color.

It is indeed marvelous that so much has been preserved, considering what
a destructive creature man is, and how it pleases his ignoble soul to
destroy the works of his forerunners on the earth. The earthquake
has shaken up Egypt time and again, but Cambyses was worse; he was an
earthquake with malice and purpose, and left little standing that he had
leisure to overturn. The ancient Christians spent a great deal of time
in rubbing out the deep-cut hieroglyphics, chiseling away the heads
of strange gods, covering the pictures of ancient ceremonies and
sacrifices, and painting on the walls their own rude conceptions of holy
persons and miraculous occurrences. And then the Moslems came, hating
all images and pictorial representations alike, and scraped away or
battered with bullets the work of pagans and Christians.

There is much discussion whether these so-called temples were not
palaces and royal residences as well as religious edifices. Doubtless
many of them served a double purpose; the great pylons and propylons
having rooms in which men might have lived, who did not know what a
comfortable house is. Certainly no palaces of the Pharaohs have been
discovered in Egypt, if these temples are not palaces in part; and it
is not to be supposed that the Pharaoh dwelt in a mud-house with a
palm-roof, like a common mortal. He was the religious as well as the
civil head, Pope and Cæsar in one, and it is natural that he should have
dwelt in the temple precincts.

The pyramidal towers of the great temple of Medeenet Haboo are thought
to be the remains of the palace of Rameses III. Here indeed the
Egyptologists point out his harem and the private apartments, when the
favored of Amun-Re unbent himself from his usual occupation of seizing a
bunch of captives by the hair and slashing off their heads at a blow,
in the society of his women and the domestic enjoyments of a family man.
Here we get an insight into the private life of the awful monarch, and
are able to penetrate the mysteries of his retirement. It is from
such sculptures as one finds here that scholars have been able to
rehabilitate old Egyptian society and tell us not only what the
Egyptians did but what they were thinking about. The scholar, to whom
we are most indebted for the reconstruction of the ancient life of the
Egyptians, Sir Gardner Wilkinson, is able not only to describe to us
a soirée, from paintings in tombs at Thebes, but to tell us what the
company talked about and what their emotions were. “In the meantime,”
he says, “the conversation became animated,” (as it sometimes does at
parties) “and the ladies fluently discussed the question of dress,” “the
maker of an earring and the shop where it was purchased was anxiously
inquired.” On one occasion when the guests were in “raptures of
admiration” over something, an awkward youth overturned a pedestal,
creating great confusion and frightening the women, who screamed;
however, no one was hurt, and harmony being restored, “the incident
afforded fresh matter for conversation, to be related in full details to
their friends when they returned home.”

This is very wonderful art, and proves that the Egyptians excelled all
who came after them in the use of the chisel and brush; since they could
not only represent in a drawing on the wall of a tomb the gaiety of an
evening party and the subject of its conversation, but could make the
picture convey as well the talk of the guests to their friends after
they returned home!

We had read a good deal about the harem of Rameses III., and it was
naturally the first object of our search at Medeenet Haboo. At the
first visit we could not find it, and all our expectation of his sweet
domestic life was unrealized. It was in vain that we read over the
description:—“Here the king is attended by his harem, some of whom
present him with flowers, or wave before him fans and flabella; and a
favorite is caressed, or invited to divert his leisure hours with a game
of draughts.” We climbed everywhere, and looked into every room, but the
king and his harem were not visible. And yet the pictures, upon which
has been built all this fair fabric of the domestic life of Rameses,
must exist somewhere in these two pyramidal towers. And what a gallery
of delights it must be, we thought. The king attended by his harem!

Upon a subsequent visit, we insisted that the guide should take us
into this harem. That was not possible, but he would show it to us. We
climbed a broken wall, from the top of which we could look up, through a
window, into a small apartment in the tower. The room might be ten feet
by twelve in size, probably smaller. There was no way of getting to it
by any interior stairway or by any exterior one, that we could see, and
I have no doubt that if Pharaoh lived there he climbed up by a ladder
and pulled his harem up after him.

But the pictures on the walls, which we made out by the help of an
opera-glass, prove this to have been one of the private apartments, they
say. There are only two pictures, only one, in fact, not defaced; but
as these are the only examples of the interior decoration of an ancient
royal palace in all Egypt, it is well to make the most of them. They are
both drawn in spirited outlines and are very graceful, the profile
faces having a Greek beauty. In one Rameses III., of colossal size, is
represented seated on an elegant fauteuil, with his feet on a stool. He
wears the royal crown, a necklace, and sandals. Before him stands a lady
of his harem, clad in a high crown of lotus-stems, a slight necklace,
and sandals turned up like skates. It must be remembered that the
weather was usually very warm in Thebes, especially on this side the
river. The lady is holding up a lotus-flower, but it is very far from
the royal nose, and indeed she stands so far off, that the king has to
stretch out his arm to chuck her under the chin. The Pharaoh’s beautiful
face preserves its immortal calm, and the “favorite is caressed” in
accordance with the chastest requirements of high art.

In the other picture, the Pharaoh is seated as before, but he is playing
at draughts. In his left hand he holds some men, and his right is
extended lifting a piece from the draughtboard. His antagonist has been
unfortunate. Her legs are all gone; her head has disappeared. There
remain of this “favorite” only the outline of part of the body, the
right arm and the hand which lifts a piece, and a suggestion of the left
arm extended at full length and pushing a lotus-bud close to the king’s
nose. It is an exhibition of man’s selfishness-The poor woman is not
only compelled to entertain the despot at the game, but she must regale
his fastidious and scornful nose at the same time; it must have been
very tiresome to keep the left hand thus extended through a whole game.
What a passion the Egyptians had for the heavy perfume of this flower.
They are smelling it in all their pictures.

We climbed afterwards, by means of a heap of rubbish, into a room
similar to this one, in the other tower, where we saw remains of the
same sculpture. It was like the Egyptians to repeat that picture five
hundred times in the same palace.

The two Colossi stand half a mile east of the temple of Medeenet Haboo,
and perhaps are the survivors of like figures which lined an avenue
to another temple. One of them is better known to fame than any other
ancient statue, and rests its reputation on the most shadowy basis. In
a line with these statues are the remains of other colossi of nearly the
same size, buried in the alluvial deposit. These figures both represent
Amunoph III. (about 1500 or 1600 b. c.); they are seated; and on either
side of the legs of the king, and attached to the throne, are the
statues of his mother and daughter, little women, eighteen feet high.
The colossi are fifty feet high without the bases, and must have stood
sixty feet in the air before the Nile soil covered the desert on which
they were erected. The pedestal is a solid stone thirty-three feet long.

Both were monoliths. The southern one is still one piece, but shockingly
mutilated. The northern one is the famous Vocal Statue of Memnon; though
why it is called of Memnon and why “vocal” is not easily explained. It
was broken into fragments either by some marauder, or by an earthquake
at the beginning of our era, and built up from the waist by blocks
of stone, in the time of the Roman occupation, during the reign of
Septimius Severus.

There was a tradition—perhaps it was only the tradition of a
tradition—that it used to sing every morning at sunrise. No mention is
made of this singing property, however, until after it was overthrown;
and its singing ceased to be heard after the Roman Emperor put it into
the state in which we now see it. It has been assumed that it used to
sing, and many theories have been invented to explain its vocal method.
Very likely the original report of this prodigy was a Greek or Roman
fable; and the noise may have been produced by a trick for Hadrian’s
benefit (who is said to have heard it) in order to keep up the
reputation of the statue.

Amunoph III. (or Amenôphis, or Amen-hotep—he never knew how to spell
his name) was a tremendous slasher-about over the territories of
other people; there is an inscription down at Samneh (above the second
cataract) which says that he brought, in one expedition, out of Soudan,
seven hundred and forty negro prisoners, half of whom were women and
children. On the records which this modest man made, he is “Lord of both
worlds, absolute master, Son of the Sun.” He is Horus, the strong bull.
“He marches and victory is gained, like Horus, son of Isis, like the
Sun in heaven.” He also built almost as extensively as Rameses II; he
covered both banks of the Nile with splendid monuments; his structures
are found from Ethiopia to the Sinaitic peninsula. He set up his image
in this Colossus, the statue which the Greeks and Romans called Memnon,
the fame of which took such possession of the imagination of poets and
historians. They heard, or said they heard, Memnon, the Ethiopian, one
of the defenders of Troy, each morning saluting his mother, Aurora.

If this sound was heard, scientists think it was produced by the action
of the sun’s rays upon dew fallen in the crevices of the broken figure.
Others think the sound was produced by a priest who sat concealed in the
lap of the figure and struck a metallic stone. And the cavity and the
metallic stone exist there now. Of course the stone was put in there
and the cavity left, when the statue was repaired, it having been a
monolith. And as the sound was never heard before the statue was broken
nor after it was repaired, the noise was not produced by the metallic
stone. And if I am required to believe that the statue sang with his
head off, I begin to doubt altogether. I incline to think that we have
here only one of those beautiful myths in which the Greeks and Romans
loved to clothe the distant and the gigantic.

One of the means of accounting for a sound which may never have been
heard, is that the priests produced it in order to strike with awe the
people. Now, the Egyptian priests never cared anything about the people,
and wouldn’t have taken the trouble; indeed, in the old times “people”
wouldn’t have been allowed anywhere within such a sacred inclosure as
this in which the Colossus stood. And, besides, the priest could not
have got into the cavity mentioned. When the statue was a monolith, it
would puzzle him to get in; and there is no stairway or steps by which
he could ascend now. We sent an Arab up, who scaled the broken fragments
with extreme difficulty, and struck the stone. The noise produced
was like that made by striking the metallic stones we find in the
desert,—not a resonance to be heard far.

So that I doubt that there was any singing at sunrise by the so-called
Memnon (which was Amunoph), and I doubt that it was a priestly device.

This Amunoph family, whose acquaintance we have been obliged to make,
cut a wide swath in their day; they had eccentricities, and there are
told a great many stories about them, which might interest you if you
could believe that the Amunophs were as real as the Hapsburgs and the
Stuarts and the Grants.

Amunoph I. (or Amen-hotep) was the successor of Amosis (or Ahmes) who
expelled the Shepherds, and even pursued them into Canaan and knocked
their walled-towns about their heads. Amunoph I. subdued the Shasu
or Bedaween of the desert between Egypt and Syria, as much as those
hereditary robbers were ever subdued. This was in the seventeenth
century b. c. This king also made a naval expedition up the Nile into
Ethiopia, and it is said that he took captive there the “chief of
the mountaineers.” Probably then, he went into Abyssinia, and did not
discover the real source of the Nile.

The fourth Amunoph went conquering in Asia, as his predecessors had
done, for nations did not stay conquered in those days. He was followed
by his seven daughters in chariots of war. These heroic girls fought,
with their father, and may be seen now, in pictures, gently driving
their chariot-wheels over the crushed Asiatics. When Amunoph IV. came
home and turned his attention to religion, he made lively work with the
Egyptian pantheon. This had grown into vast proportions from the time of
Menes, and Amunoph did not attempt to improve it or reform it; he simply
set it aside, and established a new religion. He it was who abandoned
Thebes and built Tel-el-Amarna, and there set up the worship of a single
god, Aten, represented by the sun’s disc. He shut up the old temples,
effaced the images of the ancient gods, and persecuted mercilessly their
worshippers throughout the empire.

He was prompted to all this by his mother, for he himself was little
better than an imbecile. It was from his mother that he took his foreign
religion as he did his foreign blood, for there was nothing of the
Egyptian type in his face. His mother, Queen Taia, wife of Amunoph
III., had light hair, blue eyes and rosy cheeks, the characteristics of
northern women. She was not of royal family, and not Egyptian; but the
child of a foreign family then living in the Delta, and probably the
king married her for her beauty and cleverness.

M. Lenormant thinks she was a Hebrew. That people were then very
numerous in the Delta, where they lived unmolested keeping their own
religion, a very much corrupted and materialized monotheism. Queen Taia
has the complexion and features of the Hebrews—I don’t mean of the
Jews who are now dispersed over the continents. Lenormant credits the
Hebrews, through the Queen Taia, with the overthrow of the Pharaonic
religion and the establishment of the monotheism of Amunoph IV.—a
worship that had many external likenesses to the Hebrew forms. At
Tel-el-Amarna we see, among the utensils of the worship of Aten,
the Israelitish “Table of Shew-bread.” It is also noticed that the
persecution of the Hebrews coincides with the termination of the
religious revolution introduced by the son of Taia.

Whenever a pretty woman of talent comes into history she makes mischief.
The episode of Queen Taia is however a great relief to the granite-faced
monotony of the conservative Pharaohs. Women rulers and regents always
make the world lively for the time being—and it took in this case two or
three generations to repair the damages. Smashing things and repairing
damages—that is history.

History starts up from every foot of this Theban plain, piled four or
five deep with civilizations. These temples are engulfed in rubbish;
what the Persians and the earthquake spared, Copts and Arabs for
centuries have overlaid with their crumbling habitations. It requires
a large draft upon the imagination to reinstate the edifices that once
covered this vast waste; but we are impressed with the size of the city,
when we see the long distances that the remaining temples are apart, and
the evidence, in broken columns, statues, and great hewn blocks of stone
shouldering out of the sand, of others perhaps as large.



0222



0223



CHAPTER XVII.—KARNAK.

THE WEATHER is almost unsettled. There was actually a dash of rain
against the cabin window last night—over before you could prepare an
affidavit to the fact—and today is cold, more or less cloudy with a
drop, only a drop, of rain occasionally. Besides, the wind is in the
south-west and the sand flies. We cannot sail, and decide to visit
Karnak, in spite of the entreaty of the hand-book to leave this, as the
crown of all sight-seeing, until we have climbed up to its greatness
over all the lesser ruins.

Perhaps this is wise; but I think I should advise a friend to go at once
to Karnak and outrageously astonish himself, while his mind is fresh,
and before he becomes at all sated with ruins or familiar with other
vast and exceedingly impressive edifices. They are certain to dull a
little his impression of Karnak even “Madam—” it is Abd-el-Atti who
comes in, rubbing his hands—“your carriage stops the way.”

“Carriage?”

“Yes, ma’am, I just make him.”

The carriage was an arm-chair slung between two pushing-poles; between
each end of them was harnessed a surly diminutive donkey who seemed to
feel his degradation. Each donkey required a driver; Ahmed, with his
sleeves rolled up and armed with a big club, walked beside, to steady
the swaying chair, and to beat the boys when their donkeys took a fancy
to lie down; and a cloud of interested Arabs hovered about it,
running with it, adding to the noise, dust, and picturesqueness of our
cavalcade.

On the outskirts of the mud-cabins we pass through the weekly market,
a motley assemblage of country-folks and produce, camels, donkeys,
and sheep. It is close by the Ghawazee quarter, where is a colony of
a hundred or more of these dancing-girls. They are always conspicuous
among Egyptian women by their greater comeliness and gay apparel. They
wear red and yellow gowns, many tinkling ornaments of silver and gold,
and their eyes are heavily darkened with kohl. I don’t know what it is
in this kohl, that it gives woman such a wicked and dangerous aspect.
They come out to ask for backsheesh in a brazen but probably intended
to be a seductive manner; they are bold, but some of them rather
well-looking. They claim to be an unmixed race of ancient lineage; but I
suspect their blood is no purer than their morals. There is not much in
Egypt that is not hopelessly mixed.

Of the mile-and-a-half avenue of Sphinxes that once connected Luxor with
Karnak, we see no trace until we are near the latter. The country is
open and beautiful with green wheat, palms, and sycamores. Great Karnak
does not show itself until we are close upon it; its vast extent is
hidden by the remains of the wall of circuit, by the exterior temples
and pylons. It is not until we have passed beyond the great—but called
small—temple of Rameses III., at the north entrance, and climbed
the pyramidal tower to the west of the Great Hall, that we begin to
comprehend the magnitude of these ruins, and that only days of wandering
over them and of study would give us their gigantic plan.

Karnak is not a temple, but a city rather; a city of temples, palaces,
obelisks, colossal statues, It is, like a city, a growth of many
centuries. It is not a conception or the execution of a purpose; it is
the not always harmonious accretion of time and wealth and vanity. Of
the slowness of its growth some idea may be gained from the fact that
the hieroglyphics on one face of one of its obelisks were cut two
hundred and fifty years after those on the opposite face. So long ago
were both chiseled, however, they are alike venerable to us. I shouldn’t
lose my temper with a man who differed with me only a thousand years
about the date of any event in Egypt.

They were working at this mass of edifices, sacred or profane, all the
way from Osirtasen I. down to Alexander II.; that is from about 3064
B. c. according to Mariette (Bunsen, 2781, Wilkinson, 2080,—it doesn’t
matter) to only a short time before our era. There was a modest
beginning in the plain but chaste temple of Osirtasen; but each king
sought to outdo his predecessor until Sethi I. forever distanced rivalry
in building the Great Hall. And after him it is useless for anyone else
to attempt greatness by piling up stones. The length of the temples,
pylons, and obelisks, en suite from west to east, is 1180 feet; but
there are other outlying and gigantic ruins; I suppose it is fully a
mile and a half round the wall of circuit.

There is nothing in the world of architecture like the Great Hall;
nothing so massive, so surprising, and, for me, at least, so crushingly
oppressive. What monstrous columns! And how thickly they are crowded
together! Their array is always compared to a forest. The comparison
is apt in some respects; but how free, uplifting is a forest, how
it expands into the blue air, and lifts the soul with it. A piece of
architecture is to be judged, I suppose, by the effect it produces. It
is not simply that this hall is pagan in its impression; it misses the
highest architectural effect by reason of its unrelieved heaviness.
It is wonderful; it was a prodigious achievement to build so many big
columns.

The setting of enormous columns so close together that you can only
see a few of them at one point of view is the architecture of the Great
Hall. Upon these, big stones are put for a roof. There is no reason why
this might not have been repeated over an acre of ground. Neither from
within nor from without can you see the extent of the hall. * The best
view of it is down the center aisle, formed by the largest columns;
and as these have height as well as bulk, and the sky is now seen above
them, the effect is of the highest majesty. This hall was dimly lighted
by windows in the clerestory, the frames of which exhibit a freedom of
device and grace of carving worthy of a Gothic cathedral. These columns,
all richly sculptured, are laid up in blocks of stone of half the
diameter, the joints broken. If the Egyptians had dared to use the arch,
the principle of which they knew, in this building, so that the columns
could have stood wide apart and still upheld the roof, the sight of
the interior would have been almost too much for the human mind. The
spectator would have been exalted, not crushed by it.

* The Great Hall measures one hundred and seventy feet by three hundred
and twenty-nine; in this space stand one hundred and thirty-four
columns; twelve of these, forming the central avenue of one hundred and
seventy feet, are sixty-two feet high, without plinth and abacus, and
eleven feet six inches in diameter; the other one hundred and twenty-two
columns are forty-two feet five inches in height and about nine feet in
diameter. The great columns stand only fifteen or sixteen feet apart.

Not far off is the obelisk which Amunoo-het erected to the memory of her
father. I am not sure but it will stand long after The Hall of Sethi is
a mass of ruins; for already is the water sapping the foundations of the
latter, some of the columns lean like reeling drunken men, and one day,
with crash after crash, these giants will totter, and the blocks of
stone of which they are built will make another of those shapeless heaps
to which sooner or later our solidest works come. The red granite shaft
of the faithful daughter lifts itself ninety-two feet into the air, and
is the most beautiful as it is the largest obelisk ever raised.

The sanctuary of red granite was once very rich and beautiful; the high
polish of its walls and the remains of its exquisite carving, no less
than the colors that still remain, attest that. The sanctuary is a heap
of ruins, thanks to that ancient Shaker, Cambyses, but the sculptures
in one of the chambers are the most beautiful we have seen; the colors,
red, blue, and green are still brilliant, the ceiling is spangled with
stars on a blue firmament. Considering the hardness of this beautiful
syenite and the difficulty of working it, I think this is the most
admirable piece of work in Thebes.

It may be said of some of the sculptures here, especially of the very
spirited designs and intelligent execution of those of the Great Hall,
that they are superior to those on the other side of the river. And yet
there is endless theological reiteration here; there are dreary miles
of the same gods in the same attitudes; and you cannot call all of them
respectable gods. The longer the religion endured the more conventional
and repetitious its representations became. The sculptors came to have
a traditional habit of doing certain scenes and groups in a certain
way; and the want of life and faith in them becomes very evident in the
sculptures of the Ptolemaic period.

In this vast area you may spend days and not exhaust the objects worth
examination. On one of our last visits we found near the sacred lake
very striking colossal statues which we had never seen before.

When this city of temples and palaces, the favorite royal residence, was
entire and connected with Luxor by the avenue of sphinxes, and the great
edifices and statues on the west side of the river were standing,
this broad basin of the Nile, enclosed by the circle of rose-colored
limestone mountains, which were themselves perforated with vast tombs,
must have been what its splendid fame reports, when it could send to war
twenty thousand chariots. But, I wonder whether the city, aside from its
conspicuous temples and attached palaces, was one of mud-hovels, like
those of most peoples of antiquity, and of the modern Egyptians.


0227



CHAPTER XVIII.—ASCENDING THE RIVER.

WE resume our voyage on the sixth of January, but we leave a hostage
at Luxor as we did at Asioot. This is a sailor who became drunk and
turbulent last night on hasheesh, and was sent to the governor.

We found him this morning with a heavy chain round his neck and tied to
a stake in one corner of the court-yard of the house where the governor
has his office. I think he might have pulled up the stake and run away;
but I believe it is not considered right here for a prisoner to escape.
The common people are so subdued that they wilt, when authority puts its
heavy hand on them. Near the sailor was a mud-kennel into which he could
crawl if he liked. This is the jail of Luxor. Justice is summary here.
This sailor is confined without judge or jury and will be kept till he
refunds his advance wages, since he was discharged from the boat as a
dangerous man.

The sailors dread the lock-up, for they may be forced into the army as
the only way out of it; they would much prefer the stick. They are used
to the stick; four thousand years of Egyptians have been accustomed
to the stick. A beating they do not mind much, or at least are not
humiliated by it as another race would be. But neither the prospect of
the jail nor the stick will wean them from hasheesh, which is the curse
of Egypt.

We spread our sails to a light breeze and depart in company with two
other dahabeëhs, one English (the Philæ) and one American (the Dongela).
Africa and weeks of leisure and sunny skies are before us. We loiter
along in company, in friendly company one may say, now passing a boat
and now falling behind, like three ducks coquetting in a swift current.
We are none of us in a hurry, we are indifferent to progress, our minds
are calm and our worst passions not excited. We do not appear to be
going rapidly, I sometimes doubt if we are going forward at all, but it
gradually becomes apparent that we are in the midst of a race!

Everything in this world is relative. I can imagine a fearfully exciting
match of mud-turtles on a straight track. Think of the agony, prolonged,
that the owner of the slow turtle would suffer! We are evidently in for
it; and a race like this, that lasts all day, will tire out the hardiest
sportsman.

The Rip Van Winkle is the largest boat and happens to have the lead; but
the Philo, a very graceful, gay boat, is crawling up to us; the Dongola
also seems to feel a breeze that we have not. We want a strong wind—the
Rip Van Winkle does not wake up in a mild air. As we desire, it freshens
a little, the big sail swells, and the ripples are louder at the bow.
Unfortunately there is breeze enough for three, and the other vessels
shake themselves out like ducks about to fly. It is a pretty sight just
now; the spread of three great bird-wing sails, the long gaily-painted
cabins and decks, the sweeping yards and the national colors and
variegated streamers flying!

They are gaining on us; the Philae gets inside, and taking our wind, for
a moment, creeps ahead, and attempts to sheer across our bow to force us
into the swifter current; the Dongola sails in at the same time, and a
jam and collision appear inevitable. A storm of language bursts out
of each boat; men run to stern and bow, to ward off intruders or
to disengage an entangled spar; all the crew, sailors, reises, and
dragomans are in the most active vociferation. But the Philae. sails out
of the coil, the Dongola draws ahead at the risk of going into the bank,
and our crew seize the punt-poles and have active work to prevent going
fast on a sand-bar to leeward.

But the prosperity of the wicked is short. The wind falls flat.
Instantly our men are tumbling into the water and carrying the rope
ashore to track. The lines are all out, and the men are attempting to
haul us round a deep bend. The steersmen keep the head of the vessels
off shore, and the strain on the trackers is tremendous. The cables flop
along the bank and scrape over the shadoofs, raking down a stake now
and then, and bring out from their holes the half-naked, protesting
proprietors, who get angry and gesticulate,—as if they had anything to
do with our race!

The men cannot hold the cable any longer; one by one they are forced
to let go, at the risk of being drawn down the crumbling bank, and the
cable splashes into the water. The sailors run ahead and come down upon
a sand-spit; there are puffs of wind in our sail, and we appear to
have made a point, when the men wade on board and haul in the rope. The
Dongola is close upon us; the Philae has lost by keeping too far out in
the current. Oh, for a wind!

Instead of a wind, there is a bland smile in the quiet sky. Why, O
children, do you hasten? Have not Nile sailors been doing this for four
thousand years? The boats begin to yaw about. Poles are got out. We are
all in danger of going aground; we are all striving to get the inside
track at yonder point; we are in danger of collision; we are most of all
in danger of being left behind. The crews are crazy with excitement;
as they hurriedly walk the deck, rapidly shifting their poles in the
shallow water, calling upon Yàlësah in quicker and quicker respirations,
“Hâ Yâlësah,” “Hâ Yàlësah,” as they run to change the sail at the least
indication of a stray breeze, as they see first one dahabeëh and then
the other crawling ahead, the contest assumes a serious aspect, and
their cries are stronger and more barbaric.

The Philæ gets inside again and takes the bank. We are all tracking,
when we come to the point, beyond which is a deep bay. If we had wind
we should sail straight across; the distance round the bay is much
greater—but then we can track along the bank; there is deep water close
under the bank and there is deep water in mid-river. The Philæ stands
away into the river, barely holding its own in the light zephyr. The
Dongola tries to follow the Philæ, but swings round, and her crew take
to the poles. Our plan appears to be more brilliant. Our men take the
cable out upon a sand-bank in the stream and attempt to tow us along the
center channel. All goes well. We gain on the Philæ and pass it. We see
the Dongola behind, struggling in the shallows. But the sand-bank is
a failure. The men begin to go from it into deeper water; it is up to
their knees, it reaches our “drawers,” which we bought for the crew; it
comes to the waist, their shoulders are going under. It is useless; the
cable is let go, and the men rush back to the sand-bar. There they are.
Our cable is trailing down-stream; we have lost our crew, and the
wind is just coming up. While we are sending the sandal to rescue our
mariners, the Philae sails away, and the Dongola shows her stern.

The travelers on the three boats, during all this contest, are sitting
on the warm, sunny decks, with a pretence of books, opera-glasses in
hand; apparently regarding the scene with indifference, but no doubt,
underneath this mask, longing to “lick” the other boats.

After all, we come to Erment (which is eight miles from Luxor) not far
apart. The race is not to the swift. There is no swift on the Nile. But
I do not know how there could be a more exciting race of eight miles a
day!

At Erment is a large sugar-factory belonging to the Khedive; and a
governor lives here in a big house and harem. The house has an extensive
garden laid out by old Mohammed Ali, and a plantation of oranges, Yusef
Effendis, apples, apricots, peaches, lemons, pomegranates, and limes.
The plantation shows that fruit will grow on the Upper Nile, if one will
take the trouble to set out and water the trees. But we see none. The
high Nile here last September so completely washed out the garden that
we can get neither flowers nor vegetables. And some people like the
rapidly-grown watery vegetables that grow along the Nile.

Our dragoman wanted some of the good, unrefined loaf-sugar from the
factory here, and I went with him to see how business is transacted.
We had difficulty in finding any office or place of sale about the
establishment.

But a good-natured dwarf, who seemed to spring out of the ground on
our landing, led us through courts and amid dilapidated warehouses to a
gate, in which sat an Arab in mixed costume. Within the gate hung a
pair of steelyards, and on one side was a bench. The gate, the man, the
steelyards and the bench constituted an office. Beyond was an avenue,
having low enclosures on each side, that with broken pillars and walls
of brick looked very much like Pompeii; in a shallow bin was a great
heap of barley, thrashed, and safe and dry in the open air.

The indifferent man in the gate sent for a slow boy, who, in his own
time, came, bearing a key, a stick an inch square and a foot long, with
four short iron spikes stuck in one side near the end. He led us up
a dirty brick stairway outside a building, and inserting the key in
a wooden lock to match (both lock and key are unchanged since the
Pharaohs) let us into a long, low room, like an old sail-loft full of
dust, packages of sugar-paper and old account-books. When the shutters
were opened we found at one end a few papers of sugar, which we bought,
and our own sailor carried down to the steelyards. The indifferent man
condescended to weigh the sugar, and took the pay: but he lazily handed
the money to the boy, who sauntered off with it. Naturally, you
wouldn’t trust that boy; but there was an indescribable sense of
the worthlessness of time and of money and of all trade, about this
transaction, that precluded the possibility of the smartness of theft.

The next day the race is resumed, with little wind and a good deal of
tracking; we pass the Dongola and are neck-and-neck with the Philæ till
afternoon, when we bid her good-bye; and yet not with unmixed pleasure.

It is a pleasure to pass a boat and leave her toiling after; but the
pleasure only lasts while she is in sight. If I had my way, we should
constantly overhaul boats and pass them, and so go up the stream in
continual triumph. It is only the cold consciousness of duty performed
that sustains us, when we have no spectators of our progress.

We go on serenely. Hailing a crossing ferry-boat, loaded with squatting,
turbaned tatterdemalion Arabs, the dragoman cries, “Salaam aleykoom.”

The reply is, “Salaam; peace be with you; may God meet you in the way;
may God receive you to himself.” The Old Testament style.

While we were loitering along by Mutâneh—where there is a sugar-factory,
and an irrigating steam-pump—trying to count the string of camels,
hundreds of them moving along the bank against the sunset—camels that
bring the cane to be ground—and our crew were eating supper, I am sorry
to say that the Philæ poled ahead of us, and went on to Esneh. But
something happened at Esneh.

It was dark when we arrived at that prosperous town, and, of course,
Abd-el-Atti, who would like to have us go blazing through Egypt like
Cambyses, sent up a rocket. Its fiery serpent tore the black night above
us, exploded in a hundred colored stars, and then dropped its stick into
the water. Splendid rockets! The only decent rockets to be had in Egypt
are those made by the government; and Abd-el-Atti was the only dragoman
who had been thoughtful enough to make interest with the authorities and
procure government rockets. Hence our proud position on the river. We
had no firman, and the Khedive did not pay our expenses, but the Viceroy
himself couldn’t out-rocket us.

As soon as we had come to shore and tied up, an operation taking some
time in the darkness, we had a visit from the governor, a friend of our
dragoman; but this visit was urgent and scarcely friendly. An attempt
had been made to set the town on fire! A rocket from an arriving boat
had been thrown into the town, set fire to the straw on top of one of
the houses and—

“Did it spread?”

“No, but it might. Allah be praised, it was put out. But the town might
have been burned down. What a way is this, to go along the Nile firing
the towns at night?”

“‘Twasn’t our rocket. Ours exploded in the air and fell into the river.
Did the other boat, did the Philæ send up a rocket when she arrived?”

“Yes. There was another rocket.”

“Dat’s it, dat’s it,” says Abd-el-Atti. “Why you no go on board the
Philæ and not come here?” And then he added to us, as if struck by a new
idea, “Where the Philæ get dat rocket? I think he have no rocket before.
Not send any up Christmas in Asioot, not send any up in Luxor. I think
these very strange. Not so?”

“What kind of rocket was it, that burnt the town?” we ask the governor.

“I have it.” The governor ran to the cabin door and called. A servant
brought in the exploded missile. It was a large-sized rocket, like our
own; twice as large as the rockets that are not made by the government,
and which travelers usually carry.

“Seems like our stick,” cries Abd-el-Atti, getting excited. He examined
the sheath with great care. We all gathered round the cabin lamp to
look at the fatal barrel. It had a mark on it, something in Arabic.
Abd-el-Atti turned it sideways and upside down, in an effort to get at
the meaning of the writing.

“That is government; make ‘em by the government; no doubt,” he says,
standing off and becoming solemn. “Dat rocket been stole. Looks like our
rocket.”

Abd-el-Atti flies out, and there is a commotion outside. “Who has been
stealing rockets and sell ‘em to that dragoman?” Boxes are opened.
Rockets are brought in and compared. The exploded one has the same mark
as ours, it is the same size.

A new anxiety dawns upon Abd-el-Atti. What if the Philæ has government
rockets? Our distinction is then gone. No It can’t be. “I know what
every dragoman do in Cairo. He can’t get dese rocket. Nobody get ‘em
dis year ‘cept us.” Abd-el-Atti is for probing the affair to the bottom.
Perhaps the hasheesh-eating sailor we discharged at Luxor stole some
of our rockets and sold them, and thus they came into possession of the
dragoman of the Philæ.

The young governor, however, has had enough of it. He begins to see
a great deal of vexation to himself, and a row with an English and an
American dahabeëh and with natives besides. Let it drop, he says. The
governor sits on the divan smoking a cigar. He is accompanied by a Greek
friend, a merchant of the place. When the governor’s cigar goes out, in
his distraction, the Greek takes it, and re-lights it, puffing it till
it is well enflamed, and then handing it again to the governor. This is
a custom of the East. The servant often “starts” the cigarette for his
master.

“Oh, let it go,” says the governor, appealing to us: “It is finish now.
It was no damage done.”

“But it might,” cries Abd-el-Atti, “it might burn the town,” taking now
the rôle which the governor had dropped.

“But you are not to blame. It is not you have done it.”

“Then why you come to me, why you come to us wid de rocket? Why you no
go to the Philo? Yes. You know that we, nobody else on the river got
government rockets. This government rocket—look the mark,” seizing the
exploded one and a new one, and bringing the ends of both so near the
lamp that we all fear an explosion. “There is something underhands
here.”

“But it’s all right now.”

“How it’s all right? Story go back to Cairo; Rip Van Winkle been gone
set fire to Esneh. Whose rockets? Government rockets. Nobody have
government rockets ‘cept Abd-el-Atti.”

A terrific confab goes on in the cabin for nearly an hour between
the dragoman, the governor, and the Greek; a lively entertainment and
exhibition of character which we have no desire to curtail. The
governor is a young, bright, presentable fellow, in Frank dress, who for
liveliness of talk and gesture would pass for an Italian.

When the governor has departed, our reïs comes in and presents us a
high-toned “certificate” from the gentleman on board the Philo.—he has
learned from our reïs, steersman and some sailors (who are in a panic)
that they are all to be hauled before the governor and punished on
a charge of stealing rockets and selling them to his dragoman. He
certifies that he bought his own rockets in the Mooskee; that his
dragoman was with him when he bought them; and that our men are
innocent. The certificate further certifies that our conduct toward our
crew is unjustifiable and an unheard of cruelty!

Here was a casus belli! Foreign powers had intervened. The right of
search and seizure was again asserted; the war of 1812 was about to be
renewed. Our cruelty unheard of? We should think so. All the rest of
it was unheard of also. We hadn’t the slightest intention of punishing
anybody or hauling anybody before the governor. When Abd-el-Atti hears
the certificate, he shakes his head:—

“Buy ‘em like this in the Mooskee? Not be. Not find government rockets
in any shop in the Mooskee. Something underhands by that dragoman!”

Not wishing to light the flames of war in Africa, we immediately
took servants and lanterns and called on the English Man-of-War. The
Man-of-War had gone to bed. It was nine o’clock.

“What for he send a certificate and go to bed?” Abd-el-Atti wants to
know. “I not like the looks of it.” He began to be suspicious of all the
world.

In the morning the gentleman returned our call. He did not know or care
whose rocket set fire to the town. Couldn’t hurt these towns much to
burn them; small loss if all were burned. The governor had called on him
to say that no damage was done. Our dragoman had, however, no right to
accuse his of buying stolen rockets. His were bought in Cairo, etc.,
etc. And the matter dropped amicably and without bloodshed. But
Abd-el-Atti’s suspicions widened as he thought it over:—

“What for de Governor come to me? What for he not go to dat boat what
fire de rocket? What for de Governor come been call on me wid a rocket?
The Governor never come been call on me wid a rocket before!”

It is customary for all boats which are going above the first cataract
to stop at Esneh twenty-four hours to bake bread for the crew;
frequently they are detained longer, for the wheat has to be bought,
ground in one of the little ox-power mills, mixed and baked; and the
crew hire a mill and oven for the time being and perform the labor.
We had sent sailors ahead to bake the bread, and it was ready in the
morning; but we stayed over., according to immemorial custom. The
sailors are entitled to a holiday, and they like to take it where there
are plenty of coffee-houses and a large colony of Ghawazee girls.

Esneh is not a bad specimen of an Egyptian town. There is a temple here,
of which only the magnificent portico has been excavated; the remainder
lies under the town. We descend some thirty feet to get to the floor
of the portico,—to such a depth has it been covered. And it is a modern
temple, after all, of the period of the Roman occupation. We find here
the cartouches of the Cæsars. The columns are elegant and covered with
very good sculpture; each of the twenty-five has a different capital,
and some are developed into a hint of the Corinthian and the composite.
The rigid constraints of the Egyptian art are beginning to give way.

The work in the period of the Romans differs much from the ancient; it
is less simple, more ornamented and debased. The hieroglyphics are not
so carefully and nicely cut. The figures are not so free in drawing, and
not so good as the old, except that they show more anatomical knowledge,
and begin to exhibit a little thought of perspective. The later artists
attempt to work out more details in the figure, to show muscles and
various members in more particularity. Some of the forms and faces have
much beauty, but most of them declare a decline of art, or perhaps an
attempt to reconcile the old style with new knowledge, and consequent
failure.

We called on the governor. He was absent at the mosque, but his servant
gave us coffee. The Oriental magnificence of the gubernatorial residence
would impress the most faithless traveler. The entrance was through a
yard that would be a fair hen-yard (for common fowl) at home, and the
small apartment into which we were shown might serve for a stable; but
it had a divan, some carpets and chairs, and three small windows. Its
roof was flat, made of rough split palm-trees covered with palm-leaves.
The governor’s lady lives somewhere in the rear of this apartment of the
ruler, in a low mud-house, of which we saw the outside only.

Passing near the government house, we stopped in to see the new levy of
soldiers, which amounts to some four hundred from this province. Men are
taken between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four, and although less
than three per cent, of those liable are seized, the draft makes a
tremendous excitement all along the river. In some places the bazaars
are closed and there is a general panic as if pestilence had broken out.

Outside the government house, and by the river bank, are women,
squatting in the sand, black figures of woe and dirt, bewailing their
relations taken away. In one mud-hovel there is so much howling and
vocal grief that we think at first a funeral is in progress. We are
permitted to look into the lock-up where the recruits are detained
waiting transportation down the river. A hundred or two fellaheen, of
the average as to nakedness and squalor of raiment, are crowded into a
long room with a dirt floor, and among them are many with heavy chains
on their ankles. These latter are murderers and thieves, awaiting trial
or further punishment. It is in fact the jail, and the soldiers are
forced into this companionship until their departure. One would say this
is a bad nursery for patriots.

The court of justice is in the anteroom of this prison; and the two
ought to be near together. The Kadi, or judge, sits cross-legged on the
ground, and others squat around him, among them a scribe. When we enter,
we are given seats on a mat near the judge, and offered coffee and
pipes. This is something like a court of justice, sociable and friendly.
It is impossible to tell who is prisoner, who are witnesses, and who are
spectators. All are talking together, the prisoner (who is pointed out)
louder than any other, the spectators all joining in with the witnesses.
The prisoner is allowed to “talk back,” which must be a satisfaction
to him. When the hubbub subsides, the judge pronounces sentence; and
probably he does as well as an ordinary jury.

The remainder of this town is not sightly. In fact I do not suppose that
six thousand people could live in one dirtier, dustier, of more wretched
houses; rows of unclean, shriveled women, with unclean babies, their
eyes plastered with flies, sitting along the lanes called streets;
plenty of men and boys in no better case as to clothing; but the men are
physically superior to the women. In fact we see no comely women except
the Ghawazees. Upon the provisions, the grain, the sweet-cakes exposed
for sale on the ground, flies settle so that all look black.

Not more palaces and sugar-mills, O! Khedive, will save this Egypt, but
some plan that will lift these women out of dirt and ignorance!

Our next run is to Assouan. Let us sketch it rapidly, and indicate by a
touch the panorama it unrolled for us.

We are under way at daylight, leaving our two companions of the race
asleep. We go on with a good wind, and by lovely sloping banks of green;
banks that have occasionally a New England-river aspect; but palm-trees
are behind them, and beyond are uneven mountain ranges, the crumbling
limestone of which is so rosy in the sun. The wind freshens, and we spin
along five miles an hour. The other boats have started, but they have a
stern chase, and we lose them round a bend.

The atmosphere is delicious, a little under a summer heat, so that it
is pleasant to sit in the sun; we seem to fly, with our great wings of
sails, by the lovely shores. An idle man could desire nothing more. The
crew are cutting up the bread baked yesterday and spreading it on the
deck to dry. They prefer this to bread made of bolted wheat; and it
would be very good, if it were not heavy and sour, and dirty to look at,
and somewhat gritty to the teeth.

In the afternoon we pass the new, the Roman, and the old town of El Kab,
back of which are the famous grottoes of Eilethyas with their pictures
of domestic and agricultural life. We go on famously, leaving
Edfoo behind, to the tune of five miles an hour; and, later, we can
distinguish the top of the sail of the Philæ at least ten miles behind.
Before dark we are abreast of the sandstone quarries of Silsilis, the
most wonderful in the world, and the river is swift, narrow and may be
rocky. We have accomplished fifty-seven miles since morning, and wishing
to make a day’s run that shall astonish Egypt, we keep on in the dark.
The wind increases, and in the midst of our career we go aground. We tug
and push and splash, however, get off the sand, and scud along again.
In a few moments something happens. There is a thump and a lurch, and
bedlam breaks loose on deck.

We have gone hard on the sand. The wind is blowing almost a gale, and
in the shadow of these hills the night is black. Our calm steersman lets
the boat swing right about, facing down-stream, the sail jibes, and we
are in great peril of upsetting, or carrying away yard, mast and all.
The hubbub is something indescribable. The sailors are ordered aloft
to take in the sail. They fear to do it. To venture out upon that long
slender yard, which is foul and threatens to snap every moment, the
wind whipping the loose sail, is no easy or safe task. The yelling that
ensues would astonish the regular service. Reis and sailors are all
screaming together, and above all can be heard the storming of the
dragoman, who is most alive to the danger, his voice broken with
excitement and passion. The crew are crouching about the mast, in
terror, calling upon Mohammed. The reïs is muttering to the Prophet,
in the midst of his entreaty. Abd-el-Atti is rapidly telling his beads,
while he raves. At last Ahmed springs up the rigging, and the others,
induced by shame and the butt-end of a hand-spike, follow him, and are
driven out along the shaking yard. Amid intense anxiety and with extreme
difficulty, the sail is furled and we lie there, aground, with an anchor
out, the wind blowing hard and the waves pounding us, as if we were
making head against a gale at sea. A dark and wildish night it is, and a
lonesome place, the rocky shores dimly seen; but there is starlight.
We should prefer to be tied to the bank, sheltered from the wind rather
than lie swinging and pounding here. However, it shows us the Nile in
a new aspect. And another good comes out of the adventure. Ahmed, who
saved the boat, gets a new suit of clothes. Nobody in Egypt needed one
more. A suit of clothes is a blue cotton gown.

The following morning (Sunday) is cold, but we are off early as if
nothing had happened, and run rapidly against the current—or the current
against us, which produces the impression of going fast. The river is
narrower, the mountains come closer to the shores, and there is, on
either side, only a scant strip of vegetation. Egypt, along here, is
really only three or four rods wide. The desert sands drift down to the
very shores, and the desert hills, broken, jagged, are savage walls of
enclosure.

The Nile no doubt once rose annually and covered these now bleached
wastes, and made them fruitful. But that was long ago. At Silsilis,
below here, where the great quarries are, there was once a rocky
barrier, probably a fall, which set the Nile back, raising its level
from here to Assouan. In some convulsion this was carried away. When?
There is some evidence on this point at hand. By ten o’clock we have
rounded a long bend, and come to the temples of Kom Ombos, their great
columns conspicuous on a hill close to the river. They are rather fine
structures, for the Ptolemies. One of them stands upon foundations of
an ancient edifice built by Thothmes I. (eighteenth dynasty); and these
foundations rest upon alluvial deposit. Consequently the lowering of the
Nile above Silsilis, probably by breaking through the rock-dam there,
was before the time of Thothmes I. The Nile has never risen to the
temple site since. These striking ruins are, however, destined to be
swept away; opposite the bend where they stand a large sand-island is
forming, and every hour the soil is washing from under them. Upon this
sand-island this morning are flocks of birds, sunning themselves, and
bevies of sand-grouse take wing at our approach. A crocodile also lifts
his shoulders and lunges into the water, when we get near enough to see
his ugly scales with the glass.

As we pass the desolate Kom Ombos, a solitary figure emerges from the
ruins and comes down the slope of the sand-hill, with turban flowing,
ragged cotton robe, and a long staff; he runs along the sandy shore and
then turns away into the desert, like a fleeing Cain, probably with no
idea that it is Sunday, and that the “first bell” is about to ring in
Christian countries.

The morning air is a little too sharp for idle comfort, although we
can sit in the sun on deck and read. This west wind coming from the
mountains of the desert brings always cold weather, even in Nubia.

Above Kom Ombos we come to a little village in a palm-grove—a scene out
of the depths of Africa,—such as you have often seen in pictures—which
is the theatre of an extraordinary commotion. There is enacted before
us in dumb-show something like a pantomime in a play-house; but this
is even more remote and enigmatical than that, and has in it all the
elements of a picture of savagery. In the interior of Africa are they
not all children, and do they not spend their time in petty quarreling
and fighting?

On the beach below the village is moored a trading vessel, loaded with
ivory, cinnamon, and gum-arabic, and manned by Nubians, black as coals.
People are climbing into this boat and jumping out of it, splashing in
the water, in a state of great excitement; people are running along
the shore, shouting and gesticulating wildly, flourishing long staves;
parties are chasing each other, and whacking their sticks together; and
a black fellow, in a black gown and white shoes, is chasing others with
an uplifted drawn sword. It looks like war or revolution, picturesque
war in the bright sun on the yellow sand, with all attention to
disposition of raiment and color and striking attitudes. There are
hurryings to and fro, incessant clamors of noise and shoutings and
blows of cudgels; some are running away, and some are climbing into palm
trees, but we notice that no one is hit by cane or sword. Neither is
anybody taken into custody, though there is a great show of arresting
somebody. It is a very animated encounter, and I am glad that we do not
understand it.

Sakiyas increase in number along the bank, taking the place of the
shadoof, and we are never out of hearing of their doleful songs. Labor
here is not hurried. I saw five men digging a well in the bank—into
which the Sakiya buckets dip; that is, there were four, stripped,
coal-black slaves from Soudan superintended by an Arab. One man was
picking up the dirt with a pick-axe hoe. Three others were scraping out
the dirt with a contrivance that would make a lazy man laugh;—one fellow
held the long handle of a small scraper, fastened on like a shovel;
to this upright scraper two ropes were attached which the two others
pulled, indolently, thus gradually scraping the dirt out of the hole a
spoonful at a time. One man with a shovel would have thrown it out
four times as fast. But why should it be thrown out in a hurry? Must we
always intrude our haste into this land of eternal leisure?

By afternoon, the wind falls, and we loiter along. The desert apparently
comes close to the river on each side. On one bank are a hundred camels,
attended by a few men and boys, browsing on the coarse tufts of grass
and the scraggy bushes; the hard surroundings suit the ungainly animals.
It is such pictures of a life, differing in all respects from ours, that
we come to see. A little boat with a tattered sail is towed along close
to the bank by half a dozen ragged Nubians, who sing a not unmelodious
refrain as they walk and pull,—better at any rate than the groan of the
sakiyas.

There is everywhere a sort of Sabbath calm—a common thing here, no
doubt, and of great antiquity; and yet, you would not say that the
people are under any deep religious impression.

As we advance the scenery becomes more Nubian, the river narrower and
apparently smaller, when it should seem larger. This phenomenon of a
river having more and more water as we ascend, is one that we cannot
get accustomed to. The Nile, having no affluents, loses, of course,
continually by evaporation by canals, and the constant drain on it for
irrigation. No wonder the Egyptians were moved by its mystery no less
than by its beneficence to a sort of worship of it.

The rocks are changing their character; granite begins to appear amid
the limestone and sandstone. Along here, seven or eight miles below
Assouan, there is no vegetation in sight from the boat, except strips of
thrifty palm-trees, but there must be soil beyond, for the sakiyas are
always creaking. The character of the population is changed also; above
Kom Ombos it is mostly Nubian—who are to the Fellaheen as granite is to
sandstone. The Nubian hills lift up their pyramidal forms in the south,
and we seem to be getting into real Africa.



0244



0245



CHAPTER XIX.—PASSING THE CATARACT OF THE NILE.

AT LAST, twenty-four days from Cairo, the Nubian hills are in sight,
lifting themselves up in the south, and we appear to be getting into the
real Africa—Africa, which still keeps its barbarous secret, and dribbles
down this commercial highway the Nile, as it has for thousands of years,
its gums and spices and drugs, its tusks and skins of wild animals,
its rude weapons and its cunning work in silver, its slave-boys and
slave-girls. These native boats that we meet, piled with strange and
fragrant merchandise, rowed by antic crews of Nubians whose ebony bodies
shine in the sun as they walk backward and forward at the long sweeps,
chanting a weird, barbarous refrain,—what tropical freights are these
for the imagination!

At sunset we are in a lonesome place, the swift river flowing between
narrow rocky shores, the height beyond Assouan grey in the distance,
and vultures watching our passing boat from the high crumbling sandstone
ledges. The night falls sweet and cool, the soft new moon is remote in
the almost purple depths, the thickly strewn stars blaze like jewels,
and we work slowly on at the rate of a mile an hour, with the slightest
wind, amid the granite rocks of the channel. In this channel we are
in the shadow of the old historical seat of empire, the island of
Elephantine; and, turning into the narrow passage to the left, we
announce by a rocket to the dalabeehs moored at Assouan the arrival
of another inquisitive American. It is Sunday night. Our dragoman des
patches a messenger to the chief reïs of the cataract, who lives at
Philæ, five miles above. A second one is sent in the course of the
night; and a third meets the old patriarch on his way to our boat
at sunrise. It is necessary to impress the Oriental mind with the
importance of the travelers who have arrived at the gate of Nubia.

The Nile voyager who moors his dahabeëh at the sandbank, with the fleet
of merchant boats, above Assouan, seems to be at the end of his journey.
Travelers from the days of Herodotus even to this century have followed
each other in saying that the roar of the cataract deafened the people
for miles around. Civilization has tamed the rapids. Now there is
neither sight nor sound of them here at Assouan. To the southward, the
granite walls which no doubt once dammed the river have been broken
through by some pre-historic convulsion that strewed the fragments about
in grotesque confusion. The island of Elephantine, originally a long
heap of granite, is thrown into the middle of the Nile, dividing it into
two narrow streams. The southern end rises from the water, a bold mass
of granite. Its surface is covered with ruins, or rather with the débris
of many civilizations; and into this mass and hills of brick, stone,
pottery and ashes, Nubian women and children may be seen constantly
poking, digging out coins, beads and images, to sell to the howadji. The
north portion of the island is green with wheat; and it supports two
or three mud-villages, which offer a good field for the tailor and the
missionary.

The passage through the east channel, between Assouan and Elephantine,
is through walls of granite rocks; and southward at the end of it the
view is bounded by a field of broken granite gradually rising, and
apparently forbidding egress in that direction. If the traveler comes
for scenery, as some do, nothing could be wilder and at the same time
more beautiful than these fantastically piled crags; but considered as a
navigable highway the river here is a failure.

Early in the morning the head sheykh of the cataract comes on board, and
the long confab which is preliminary to any undertaking, begins. There
are always as many difficulties in the way of a trade or an arrangement
as there are quills on a porcupine; and a great part of the Egyptian
bargaining is the preliminary plucking out of these quills. The
cataracts are the hereditary property of the Nubian sheykhs and their
tribes who live near them—belonging to them more completely than the
rapids of the St. Lawrence to the Indian pilots; almost their whole
livelihood comes from helping boats up and down the rapids, and their
harvest season is the winter when the dahabeëhs of the howadji require
their assistance. They magnify the difficulties and dangers and make a
mystery of their skill and knowledge. But, with true Orientalism, they
appear to seek rather to lessen than to increase their business. They
oppose intolerable delays to the traveler, keep him waiting at Assouan
by a thousand excuses, and do all they can to drive him discouraged down
the river. During this winter boats have been kept waiting two weeks
on one frivolous excuse or another—the day was unlucky, or the wind was
unfavorable, or some prince had the preference. Princes have been very
much in the way this winter; the fact would seem to be that European
princes are getting to run up the Nile in shoals, as plenty as shad in
the Connecticut, more being hatched at home than Europe has employment
for.

Several thousand people, dwelling along the banks from Assouan to three
or four miles above Philæ, share in the profits of the passing boats;
and although the sheykhs, and head reises (or captains) of the cataract
get the elephant’s share, every family receives something—it may be
only a piastre or two—on each dahabeëh; and the sheykhs draw from the
villages as many men as are required for each passage. It usually takes
two days for a boat to go up the cataract and not seldom they are kept
in it three or four days, and sometimes a week. The first day the boat
gets as far as the island of Séhayl, where it ties up and waits for
the cataract people to gather next morning. They may take it into their
heads not to gather, in which case the traveler can sun himself all day
on the rocks, or hunt up the inscriptions which the Pharaohs, on their
raids into Africa for slaves and other luxuries, cut in the granite in
their days of leisure three or four thousand years ago, before the world
got its present impetus of hurry. Or they may come and pull the boat
up a rapid or two, then declare they have not men enough for the final
struggle, and leave it for another night in the roaring desolation. To
put on force enough, and cables strong enough not to break, and promptly
drag the boat through in one day would lessen the money-value of the
achievement perhaps, in the mind of the owner of the boat. Nature has
done a great deal to make the First Cataract an obstacle to navigation,
but the wily Nubian could teach nature a lesson; at any rate he has
never relinquished the key to the gates. He owns the cataracts as the
Bedowees own the pyramids of Geezeh and the routes across the desert to
Sinai and Petra.

The aged reïs comes on board; and the preliminary ceremonies, exchange
of compliments, religious and social, between him and our astute
dragoman begin. Coffee is made, the reïs’s pipe is lighted, and the
conversation is directed slowly to the ascent of the cataracts. The head
reïs is accompanied by two or three others of inferior dignity and by
attendants who squat on the deck in attitudes of patient indifference.
The world was not made in a day. The reïs looks along the deck and says:
“This boat is very large; it is too long to go up the cataract.” There
is no denying it. The dahabeëh is larger than almost any other on the
river; it is one hundred and twenty feet long. The dragoman says:

“But you took up General McClellan’s boat, and that is large.”

“Very true, Effendi; but why the howadji no come when Genel Clemen come,
ten days ago?”

“We chose to come now.”

“Such a long boat never went up. Why you no come two months ago when the
river was high?” This sort of talk goes on for half an hour. Then the
other sheykh speaks:—“What is the use of talking all this stuff to
Mohammed Abd-el-Atti Effendi; he knows all about it.”

“That is true. We will go.”

“Well, it is ‘finish’,” says Abd-el-Atti.

When the long negotiation is concluded, the reïs is introduced into the
cabin to pay his respects to the howadji; he seats himself with dignity
and salutes the ladies with a watchful self-respect. The reïs is a
sedate Nubian, with finely cut features but a good many shades darker
than would be fellowshipped by the Sheltering Wings Association in
America, small feet, and small hands with long tapering fingers that
confess an aristocratic exemption from manual labor. He wears a black
gown, and a white turban; a camel’s hair scarf distinguishes him from
the vulgar. This sheykh boasts I suppose as ancient blood as runs in any
aristocratic veins, counting his ancestors back in unbroken succession
to the days of the Prophet at least, and not improbably to Ishmael. That
he wears neither stockings nor slippers does not detract from his simple
dignity. Our conversation while he pays his visit is confined to the
smoking of a cigar and some well-meant grins and smiles of mutual good
feeling.

While the morning hours pass, we have time to gather all the knowledge
of Assouan that one needs for the enjoyment of life in this world. It is
an ordinary Egyptian town of sunbaked brick, brown, dusty and unclean,
with shabby bazaars containing nothing, and full of importunate beggars
and insatiable traders in curiosities of the upper country. Importunate
venders beset the traveler as soon as he steps ashore, offering him all
manner of trinkets which he is eager to purchase and doesn’t know what
to do with when he gets them. There are crooked, odd-shaped knives and
daggers, in ornamental sheaths of crocodile skin, and savage spears with
great round hippopotamus shields from Kartoom or Abyssinia; jagged
iron spears and lances and ebony clubs from Darfoor; cunning Nubian
silver-work, bracelets and great rings that have been worn by desert
camel-drivers; moth-eaten ostrich feathers; bows and arrows tipped
with flint from the Soudan, necklaces of glass and dirty leather charms
(containing words from the Koran); broad bracelets and anklets cut out
of big tusks of elephants and traced in black, rude swords that it needs
two hands to swing; bracelets of twisted silver cord and solid silver as
well; earrings so large that they need to be hitched to a strand of the
hair for support; nose-rings of brass and silver and gold, as large
as the earrings; and “Nubian costumes” for women—a string with leather
fringe depending to tie about the loins—suggestions of a tropical life
under the old dispensation.

The beach, crowded with trading vessels and piled up with merchandise,
presents a lively picture. There are piles of Manchester cotton and
boxes of English brandy—to warm outwardly and inwardly the natives of
the Soudan—which are being loaded, for transport above the rapids, upon
kneeling dromedaries which protest against the load in that most vulgar
guttural of all animal sounds, more uncouth and less musical than the
agonized bray of the donkey—a sort of grating menagerie-grumble which
has neither the pathos of the sheep’s bleat nor the dignity of the
lion’s growl; and bales of cinnamon and senna and ivory to go down
the river. The wild Bisharee Arab attends his dromedaries; he has a
clear-cut and rather delicate face, is bareheaded, wears his black hair
in ringlets long upon his shoulders, and has for all dress a long strip
of brown cotton cloth twisted about his body and his loins, leaving his
legs and his right arm free. There are the fat, sleek Greek merchant,
in sumptuous white Oriental costume, lounging amid his merchandise; the
Syrian in gay apparel, with pistols in his shawl-belt, preparing for his
journey to Kartoom; and the black Nubian sailors asleep on the sand.
To add a little color to the picture, a Ghawazee, or dancing-girl, in
striped flaming gown and red slippers, dark but comely, covered with
gold or silver-gilt necklaces and bracelets, is walking about the shore,
seeking whom she may devour.

At twelve o’clock we are ready to push off. The wind is strong from the
north. The cataract men swarm on board, two or three Sheykhs and thirty
or forty men. They take command and possession of the vessel, and our
reïs and crew give way. We have carefully closed the windows and blinds
of our boat, for the cataract men are reputed to have long arms and
fingers that crook easily. The Nubians run about like cats; four are at
the helm, some are on the bow, all are talking and giving orders; there
is an indescribable bustle and whirl as our boat is shoved off from
the sand, with the chorus of “Hâ! Yâlêsah. Hâ! Yâlêsah!” and takes the
current. The great sail, shaped like a bird’s wing, and a hundred feet
long, is shaken out forward, and we pass swiftly on our way between the
granite walls. The excited howadji are on deck feeling to their finger
ends the thrill of expectancy.

* Yalesah (I spell the name according the sound of the pronunciation)
was, some say, one of the sons of Noah who was absent at the time the
ark sailed, having gone down into Abyssinia. They pushed the ark in
pursuit of him, and Noah called after his son, as the crew poled along,
“Ha! Yalesah!” And still the Nile boatmen call Yalesah to come, as they
push the poles and haul the sail, and urge the boat toward Abyssinia.
Very likely “Ha! Yale-sah” (as I catch it) is only a corruption of
“Halee!’.esà Seyyidnà Eesà” is the Moslem name for “Our Lord Jesus.”


The first thing the Nubians want is something to eat—a chronic complaint
here in this land of romance. Squatting in circles all over the boat
they dip their hands into the bowls of softened bread, cramming the
food down their throats, and swallow all the coffee that can be made for
them, with the gusto and appetite of simple men who have a stomach and
no conscience.

While the Nubians are chattering and eating, we are gliding up the swift
stream, the granite rocks opening a passage for us; but at the end of it
our way seems to be barred. The only visible opening is on the extreme
left, where a small stream struggles through the boulders. While we
are wondering if that can be our course, the helm is suddenly put hard
about, and we then shoot to the right, finding our way, amid whirlpools
and boulders of granite, past the head of Elephantine island; and before
we have recovered from this surprise we turn sharply to the left into a
narrow passage, and the cataract is before us.

It is not at all what we have expected. In appearence this is a cataract
without any falls and scarcely any rapids. A person brought up on
Niagara or Montmorency feels himself trifled with here. The fishermen
in the mountain streams of America has come upon many a scene that
resembles this—a river-bed strewn with boulders. Only, this is on a
grand scale. We had been led to expect at least high precipices, walls
of lofty rock, between which we should sail in the midst of raging
rapids and falls; and that there would be hundreds of savages on the
rocks above dragging our boat with cables, and occasionally plunging
into the torrent in order to carry a life-line to the top of some
seagirt rock. All of this we did not see; but yet we have more respect
for the cataract before we get through it than when it first came in
sight.

What we see immediately before us is a basin, it may be a quarter of a
mile, it may be half a mile broad, and two miles long; a wild expanse
of broken granite rocks and boulders strewn hap-hazard, some of them
showing the red of the syenite and others black and polished and shining
in the sun; a field of rocks, none of them high, of fantastic shapes;
and through this field the river breaks in a hundred twisting passages
and chutes, all apparently small, but the water in them is foaming and
leaping and flashing white; and the air begins to be pervaded by the
multitudinous roar of rapids. On the east, the side of the land-passage
between Assouan and Philæ, were high and jagged rocks in odd forms, now
and then a palm-tree, and here and there a mud-village. On the west the
basin of the cataract is hemmed in by the desert hills, and the yellow
Libyan sand drifts over them in shining waves and rifts, which in some
lights have the almost maroon color that we see in Gerome’s pictures.
To the south is an impassable barrier of granite and sand—mountains of
them—beyond the glistening fields of rocks and water through which we
are to find our way.

The difficulty of this navigation is not one cataract to be overcome
by one heroic effort, but a hundred little cataracts or swift tortuous
sluiceways, which are much more formidable when we get into them than
they are when seen at a distance. The dahabeëhs which attempt to wind
through them are in constant danger of having holes knocked in their
hulls by the rocks.

The wind is strong, and we are sailing swiftly on. It is im possible to
tell which one of the half-dozen equally uninviting channels we are to
take. We guess, and of course point out the wrong one. We approach, with
sails still set, a narrow passage through which the water pours in what
is a very respectable torrent; but it is not a straight passage, it has
a bend in it; if we get through it, we must make a sharp turn to the
left or run upon a ridge of rocks, and even then we shall be in a
boiling surge; and if we fail to make head against the current we shall
go whirling down the caldron, bumping on the rocks—not a pleasant thing
for a dahabeëh one hundred and twenty feet long with a cabin in it as
large as a hotel. The passage of a boat of this size is evidently an
event of some interest to the cataract people, for we see groups of them
watching us from the rocks, and following along the shore. And we think
that seeing our boat go up from the shore might be the best way of
seeing it.

We draw slowly in, the boat trembling at the entrance of the swift
water; it enters, nosing the current, feeling the tug of the sail, and
hesitates. Oh, for a strong puff of wind! There are five watchful men at
the helm; there is a moment’s silence, and the boat still hesitates. At
this critical instant, while we hold our breath, a naked man, whose name
I am sorry I cannot give to an admiring American public, appears on the
bow with a rope in his teeth; he plunges in and makes for the nearest
rock. He swims hand over hand, swinging his arms from the shoulders
out of water and striking them forward splashing along like a
sidewheeler—the common way of swimming in the heavy water of the Nile.
Two other black figures follow him and the rope is made fast to the
point of the rock. We have something to hold us against the stream.

And now a terrible tumult arises on board the boat which is seen to be
covered with men; one gang is hauling on the rope to draw the great sail
close to its work; another gang is hauling on the rope attached to the
rock, and both are singing that wild chanting chorus without which no
Egyptian sailors pull an ounce or lift a pound; the men who are not
pulling are shouting and giving orders; the Sheykhs, on the upper deck
where we sit with American serenity exaggerated amid the Babel,
are jumping up and down in a frenzy of excitement, screaming and
gesticulating. We hold our own; we gain a little; we pull forward where
the danger of a smash against the rocks is increased. More men appear
on the rocks, whom we take to be spectators of our passage. No; they lay
hold of the rope. With the additional help we still tremble in the jaws
of the pass. I walk aft, and the stern is almost upon the rocks; it
grazes them; but in the nick of time the bow swings round, we turn short
off into an eddy; the great wing of a sail is let go, and our cat-like
sailors are aloft, crawling along the slender yard, which is a hundred
feet in length, and furling the tugging canvas. We breathe more freely,
for the first danger is over. The first gate is passed.

In this lull there is a confab with the Sheykhs. We are at the island of
Sehâyl, and have accomplished what is usually the first day’s journey of
boats. It would be in harmony with the Oriental habit to stop here for
the remainder of the day and the night. But our dragoman has in mind
to accomplish, if not the impossible, what is synonymous with it in the
East, the unusual. The result of the inflammatory stump-speeches on both
sides is that two or three gold pieces are passed into the pliant hand
of the head Sheykh, and he sends for another Sheykh and more men.

For some time we have been attended by increasing processions of men and
boys on shore; they cheered us as we passed the first rapid; they came
out from the villages, from the crevices of the rocks, their blue and
white gowns flowing in the wind, and make a sort of holiday of our
passage. Less conspicuous at first are those without gowns—they are
hardly distinguishable from the black rocks amid which they move. As we
lie here, with the rising roar of the rapids in our ears, we can see no
further opening for our passage.

But we are preparing to go on. Ropes are carried out forward over the
rocks. More men appear, to aid us. We said there were fifty. We count
seventy; we count eighty; there are at least ninety. They come up by
a sort of magic. From whence are they, these black forms: They seem to
grow out of the rocks at the wave of the Sheykh’s hand; they are of the
same color, shining men of granite. The swimmers and divers are simply
smooth statues hewn out of the syenite or the basalt. They are not
unbaked clay like the rest of us. One expects to see them disappear like
stones when they jump into the water. The mode of our navigation is to
draw the boat along, hugged close to the shore rocks, so closely that
the current cannot get full hold of it, and thus to work it round the
bends.

We are crawling slowly on in this manner, clinging to the rocks, when
unexpectedly a passage opens to the left. The water before us runs like
a mill-race. If we enter it, nothing would seem to be able to hold the
boat from dashing down amidst the breakers. But the bow is hardly let to
feel the current before it is pulled short round, and we are swinging
in the swift stream. Before we know it we are in the anxiety of another
tug. Suppose the rope should break! In an instant the black swimmers
are overboard striking out for the rocks; two ropes are sent out, and
secured; and, the gangs hauling on them, we are working inch by inch
through, everybody on board trembling with excitement. We look at our
watches; it seems only fifteen minutes since we left Assouan; it is an
hour and a quarter. Do we gain in the chute? It is difficult to say;
the boat hangs back and strains at the cables; but just as we are in the
pinch of doubt, the big sail unfurls its wing with exciting suddenness,
a strong gust catches it, we feel the lift, and creep upward, amid an
infernal din of singing and shouting and calling on the Prophet from the
gangs who haul in the sail-rope, who tug at the cables attached to the
rocks, who are pulling at the hawsers on the shore. We forge ahead and
are about to dash into a boiling caldron before us, from which there
appears to be no escape, when a skillful turn of the great creaking helm
once more throws us to the left, and we are again in an eddy with the
stream whirling by us, and the sail is let go and is furled.

The place where we lie is barely long enough to admit our boat; its
stern just clears the rocks, its bow is aground on hard sand. The number
of men and boys on the rocks has increased; it is over one hundred, it
is one hundred and thirty; on a re-count it is one hundred and fifty.
An anchor is now carried out to hold us in position when we make a new
start; more ropes are taken to the shore, two hitched to the bow and one
to the stern. Straight before us is a narrow passage through which the
water comes in foaming ridges with extraordinary rapidity. It seems to
be our way; but of course it is not. We are to turn the corner sharply,
before reaching it; what will happen then we shall see.

There is a slight lull in the excitement, while the extra hawsers are
got out and preparations are made for the next struggle. The sheykhs
light their long pipes, and squatting on deck gravely wait. The men who
have tobacco roll up cigarettes and smoke them. The swimmers come on
board for reinforcement. The poor fellows are shivering as if they had
an ague fit. The Nile may be friendly, though it does not offer a warm
bath at this time of the year, but when they come out of it naked on
the rocks the cold north wind sets their white teeth chartering. The
dragoman brings out a bottle of brandy. It is none of your ordinary
brandy, but must have cost over a dollar a gallon, and would burn a hole
in a new piece of cotton cloth. He pours out a tumblerful of it, and
offers it to one of the granite men. The granite man pours it down his
throat in one flow, without moving an eye-winker, and holds the glass
out for another. His throat must be lined with zinc. A second tumblerful
follows the first. It is like pouring liquor into a brazen image.

I said there was a lull, but this is only in contrast to the preceding
fury. There is still noise enough, over and above the roar of the
waters, in the preparations going forward, the din of a hundred people
screaming together, each one giving orders, and elaborating his opinion
by a rhetorical use of his hands. The waiting crowd scattered over the
rocks disposes itself picturesquely, as an Arab crowd always does,
and probably cannot help doing, in its blue and white gowns and white
turbans. In the midst of these preparations, and unmindful of any
excitement or contusion, a Sheykh, standing upon a little square of sand
amid the rocks, and so close to the deck of the boat that we can hear
his “Allâhoo Akbar” (God is most Great), begins his kneelings and
prostrations towards Mecca, and continues at his prayers, as undisturbed
and as unregarded as if he were in a mosque, and wholly oblivious of
the babel around him. So common has religion become in this land of its
origin! Here is a half-clad Sheykh of the desert stopping, in the
midst of his contract to take the howadji up the cataract, to raise his
forefinger and say, “I testify that there is no deity but God; and I
testify that Mohammed is his servant and his apostle.”

Judging by the eye, the double turn we have next to make is too short
to admit our long hull. It does not seem possible that we can squeeze
through; but we try. We first swing out and take the current as if we
were going straight up the rapids. We are held by two ropes from the
stern, while by four ropes from the bow, three on the left shore and one
on an islet to the right, the cataract people are tugging to draw us up.
As we watch almost breathless the strain on the ropes, look! there is a
man in the tumultuous rapid before us swiftly coming down as if to his
destruction. Another one follows, and then another, till there are half
a dozen men and boys in this jeopardy, this situation of certain death
to anybody not made of cork. And the singular thing about it is that the
men are seated upright, sliding down the shining water like a boy, who
has no respect for his trowsers, down a snow-bank. As they dash past us,
we see that each man is seated on a round log about five feet long; some
of them sit upright with their legs on the log, displaying the soles of
their feet, keeping the equilibrium with their hands. These are smooth
slimy logs that a white man would find it difficult to sit on if they
were on shore, and in this water they would turn with him only once—the
log would go one way and the man another. But these fellows are in
no fear of the rocks below; they easily guide their barks out of the
rushing floods, through the whirlpools and eddies, into the slack
shore-water in the rear of the boat, and stand up like men and demand
backsheesh. These logs are popular ferry-boats in the Upper Nile; I have
seen a woman crossing the river on one, her clothes in a basket and the
basket on her head—and the Nile is nowhere an easy stream to swim.

Far ahead of us the cataract people are seen in lines and groups,
half-hidden by the rocks, pulling and stumbling along; black figures are
scattered along lifting the ropes over the jagged stones, and freeing
them so that we shall not be drawn back, as we slowly advance; and
severe as their toil is, it is not enough to keep them warm when the
chilly wind strikes them. They get bruised on the rocks also, and have
time to show us their barked shins and request backsheesh. An Egyptian
is never too busy or too much in peril to forget to prefer that request
at the sight of a traveler. When we turn into the double twist I spoke
of above, the bow goes sideways upon a rock, and the stern is not yet
free. The punt-poles are brought into requisition; half the men are in
the water; there is poling and pushing and grunting, heaving, and
“Yah Mohammed, Yah Mohammed” with all which noise and outlay of brute
strength, the boat moves a little on and still is held close in hand.
The current runs very swiftly We have to turn almost by a right angle
to the left and then by the same angle to the right; and the question
is whether the boat is not too long to turn in the space. We just scrape
along the rocks, the current growing every moment stronger, and at
length get far enough to let the stern swing. I run back to see if it
will go free. It is a close fit. The stern is clear; but if our boat
had been four or five feet longer, her voyage would have ended then
and there. There is now before us a straight pull up the swiftest and
narrowest rapid we have thus far encountered.

Our sandal—the row-boat belonging to the dahabeëh, that becomes a
felucca when a mast is stepped into it—which has accompanied us fitfully
during the passage, appearing here and there tossing about amid the
rocks, and aiding occasionally in the transport of ropes and men to one
rock and another, now turns away to seek a less difficult passage. The
rocks all about us are low, from three feet to ten feet high. We have
one rope out ahead, fastened to a rock, upon which stand a gang of men,
pulling. There is a row of men in the water under the left side of the
boat, heaving at her with their broad backs, to prevent her smashing on
the rocks. But our main dragging force is in the two long lines of men
attached to the ropes on the left shore. They stretch out ahead of us
so far that it needs an opera-glass to discover whether the leaders are
pulling or only soldiering. These two long struggling lines are led and
directed by a new figure who appears upon this operatic scene. It is a
comical Sheykh, who stands upon a high rock at one side and lines out
the catch-lines of a working refrain, while the gangs howl and haul,
in a surging chorus. Nothing could be wilder or more ludicrous, in the
midst of this roar of rapids and strain of cordage. The Sheykh holds a
long staff which he swings like the baton of the leader of an orchestra,
quite unconscious of the odd figure he cuts against the blue sky. He
grows more and more excited, he swings his arms, he shrieks, but always
in tune and in time with the hauling and the wilder chorus of the
cataract men, he lifts up his right leg, he lifts up his left leg, he
is in the very ecstasy of the musical conductor, displaying his white
teeth, and raising first one leg and then the other in a delirious
swinging motion, all the more picturesque on account of his flowing
blue robe and his loose white cotton drawers. He lifts his leg with a
gigantic pull, which is enough in itself to draw the boat onward, and
every time he lifts it, the boat gains on the current. Surely such an
orchestra and such a leader was never seen before. For the orchestra is
scattered over half an acre of ground, swaying and pulling and singing
in rhythmic show, and there is a high wind and a blue sky, and rocks and
foaming torrents, and an African village with palms in the background,
amid the debris of the great convulsion of nature which has resulted
in this chaos. Slowly we creep up against the stiff boiling stream,
the good Moslems on deck muttering prayers and telling their beads, and
finally make the turn and pass the worst eddies; and as we swing round
into an ox-bow channel to the right, the big sail is again let out and
hauled in, and with cheers we float on some rods and come into a quiet
shelter, a stage beyond the journey usually made the first day. It is
now three o’clock.

We have come to the real cataract, to the stiffest pull and the most
dangerous passage.

A small freight dahabeëh obstructs the way, and while this is being
hauled ahead, we prepare for the final struggle. The chief cataract is
called Bab (gate) Aboo Rabbia, from one of Mohammed Ali’s captains who
some years ago vowed that he would take his dahabeëh up it with his own
crew and without aid from the cataract people. He lost his boat. It is
also sometimes called Bab Inglese from a young Englishman, named Cave,
who attempted to swim down it early one morning, in imitation of the
Nubian swimmers, and was drawn into the whirlpools, and not found for
days after. For this last struggle, in addition to the other ropes, an
enormous cable is bent on, not tied to the bow, but twisted round the
cross-beams of the forward deck, and carried out over the rocks. From
the shelter where we lie we are to push out and take the current at a
sharp angle. The water of this main cataract sucks down from both sides
above through a channel perhaps one hundred feet wide, very rapid and
with considerable fall, and with such force as to raise a ridge in the
middle. To pull up this hill of water is the tug; if the ropes let go
we shall be dashed into a hundred pieces on the rocks below and be
swallowed in the whirlpools. It would not be a sufficient compensation
for this fate to have this rapid hereafter take our name.

The preparations are leisurely made, the lines are laid along the rocks
and the men are distributed. The fastenings are carefully examined.
Then we begin to move. There are now four conductors of this gigantic
orchestra (the employment of which as a musical novelty I respectfully
recommend to the next Boston Jubilee), each posted on a high rock, and
waving a stick with a white rag tied to it. It is now four o’clock. An
hour has been consumed in raising the curtain for the last act. We are
now carefully under way along the rocks which are almost within reach,
held tight by the side ropes, but pushed off and slowly urged along by a
line of half-naked fellows under the left side, whose backs are against
the boat and whose feet walk along the perpendicular ledge. It would
take only a sag of the boat, apparently, to crush them. It does not need
our eyes to tell us when the bow of the boat noses the swift water. Our
sandal has meantime carried a line to a rock on the opposite side of the
channel, and our sailors haul on this and draw us ahead. But we are held
firmly by the shore lines. The boat is never suffered, as I said, to get
an inch the advantage, but is always held tight in hand.

As we appear at the foot of the rapid, men come riding down it on logs
as before, a sort of horseback feat in the boiling water, steering
themselves round the eddies and landing below us. One of them swims
round to the rock where a line is tied, and looses it as we pass;
another, sitting on the slippery stick and showing the white soles of
his black feet, paddles himself about amid the whirlpools. We move so
slowly that we have time to enjoy all these details, to admire the deep
yellow of the Libyan sand drifted over the rocks at the right, and
to cheer a sandal bearing the American flag which is at this moment
shooting the rapids in another channel beyond us, tossed about like a
cork. We see the meteor flag flashing out, we lose it behind the
rocks, and catch it again appearing below. “Oh star spang”—but our own
orchestra is in full swing again. The comical Sheykh begins to swing his
arms and his stick back and forth in an increasing measure, until his
whole body is drawn into the vortex of his enthusiasm, and one leg after
the other, by a sort of rhythmic hitch, goes up displaying the white
and baggy cotton drawers. The other three conductors join in, and a
deafening chorus from two hundred men goes up along the ropes, while
we creep slowly on amid the suppressed excitement of those on board
who anxiously watch the straining cables, and with a running fire of
“backsheesh, backsheesh,” from the boys on the rocks close at hand. The
cable holds; the boat nags and jerks at it in vain; through all the
roar and rush we go on, lifted I think perceptibly every time the sheykh
lifts his leg.

At the right moment the sail is again shaken down; and the boat at once
feels it. It is worth five hundred men. The ropes slacken; we are going
by the wind against the current; haste is made to unbend the cable; line
after line is let go until we are held by one alone; the crowd thins
out, dropping away with no warning and before we know that the play is
played out, the cataract people have lost all interest in it and are
scattering over the black rocks to their homes. A few stop to cheer;
the chief conductor is last seen on a rock, swinging the white rag,
hurrahing and salaaming in grinning exultation; the last line is cast
off, and we round the point and come into smooth but swift water, and
glide into a calm mind. The noise, the struggle, the tense strain, the
uproar of men and waves for four hours are all behind; and hours of
keener excitement and enjoyment we have rarely known. At 12.20 we
left Assouan; at 4.45 we swung round the rocky bend above the last and
greatest rapid. I write these figures, for they will be not without a
melancholy interest to those who have spent two or three days or a week
in making this passage.

Turning away from the ragged mountains of granite which obstruct the
straight course of the river, we sail by Mahatta, a little village of
Nubians, a port where the trading and freight boats plying between the
First and Second Cataract load and unload. There is a forest of masts
and spars along the shore which is piled with merchandise, and dotted
with sunlit figures squatting in the sand as if waiting for the goods
to tranship themselves. With the sunlight slanting on our full sail, we
glide into the shadow of high rocks, and enter, with the suddenness of a
first discovery, into a deep winding river, the waters of which are dark
and smooth, between lofty walls of granite. These historic masses, which
have seen pass so many splendid processions and boastful expeditions
of conquest in what seems to us the twilight of the world, and which
excited the wonder of Father Herodotus only the other day, almost in
our own time (for the Greeks belong to us and not to antiquity as it now
unfolds itself), are piled in strange shapes, tottling rock upon rock,
built up grotesquely, now in likeness of an animal, or the gigantic
profile of a human face, or temple walls and castle towers and
battlements. We wind through this solemn highway, and suddenly, in the
very gateway, Philæ! The lovely! Philæ, the most sentimental ruin
in Egypt. There are the great pylon of the temple of Isis, the long
colonnades of pillars, the beautiful square temple, with lofty columns
and elongated capitals, misnamed Pharaoh’s bed. The little oblong
island, something like twelve hundred feet long, banded all round by an
artificial wall, an island of rock completely covered with ruins, is set
like the stone of a ring, with a circle of blue water about it, in the
clasp of higher encircling granite peaks and ledges. On the left bank,
as we turn to pass to the east of the island, is a gigantic rock which
some persons have imagined was a colossus once, perhaps in pre-Adamic
times, but which now has no resemblance to human shape, except in a
breast and left arm. Some Pharaoh cut his cartouche on the back—a sort
of postage-stamp to pass the image along down the ages. The Pharaohs
were ostentatious; they cut their names wherever they could find a
conspicuous and smooth place.

While we are looking, distracted with novelty at every turn and excited
by a grandeur and loveliness opening upon us every moment, we have come
into a quiet haven, shut in on all sides by broken ramparts,—alone with
this island of temples. The sun is about to set, and its level light
comes to us through the columns, and still gilds with red and yellow
gold the Libyan sand sifted over the cliffs. We moor at once to a
sand-bank which has formed under the broken walls, and at once step on
shore. We climb to the top of the temple walls; we walk on the stone
roof; we glance into the temple on the roof, where is sculptured the
resurrection of Osiris. This cannot be called an old temple. It is
a creation of the Ptolemies, though it doubtless replaced an older
edifice. The temple of Isis was not begun more than three centuries
before our era. Not all of these structures were finished—the priests
must have been still carving on their walls these multitudes of
sculptures, when Christ began his mission; and more than four centuries
after that the mysterious rites of Isis were still celebrated in these
dark chambers. It is silent and dead enough here now; and there lives
nowhere upon the earth any man who can even conceive the state of
mind that gave those rites vitality. Even Egypt has changed its
superstitions.

Peace has come upon the earth after the strain of the last few hours. We
can scarcely hear the roar of the rapids, in the beating of which we had
been. The sun goes, leaving a changing yellow and faint orange on the
horizon. Above in the west is the crescent moon; and now all the sky
thereabout is rosy, even to the zenith, a delicate and yet deep color,
like that of the blush-rose—a transparent color that glows. A little
later we see from our boat the young moon through the columns of the
lesser temple. The January night is clear and perfectly dry; no dew
is falling—no dew ever falls here—and the multiplied stars burn with
uncommon lustre. When everything else is still, we hear the roar of the
rapids coming steadily on the night breeze, sighing through the old and
yet modern palace-temples of the parvenu Ptolemies, and of Cleopatra—a
new race of conquerors and pleasure-hunters, who in vain copied the
magnificent works of the ancient Pharaohs.

Here on a pylon gate, General Dessaix has recorded the fact that
in February (Ventose) in the seventh year of the Republic, General
Bonaparte being then in possession of Lower Egypt he pursued to this
spot the retreating Memlooks. Egyptian kings, Ethiopian usurpers,
Persians, Greeks, Romans, Nectanebo, Cambyses, Ptolemy, Philadelphus,
Cleopatra and her Roman lovers, Dessaix,—these are all shades now.



0264



0265



CHAPTER XX.—ON THE BORDERS OF THE DESERT.

IN PASSING the First Cataract of the Nile we pass an ancient boundary
line; we go from the Egypt of old to the Ethiopia of old; we go from
the Egypt proper of to-day, into Nubia. We find a different country, a
different river; the people are of another race; they have a different
language. We have left the mild, lazy, gentle fellaheen—a mixed lot, but
in general of Arabic blood—and come to Barâbra, whose district extends
from Philæ to the Second Cataract, a freer, manlier, sturdier people
altogether. There are two tribes of them, the Kendos and the Nooba; each
has its own language.

Philæ was always the real boundary line, though the Pharaohs pushed
their frontier now and again, down towards the Equator, and built
temples and set up their images, as at Aboo Simbel, as at Samneh, and
raked the south land for slaves and ivory, concubines and gold. But the
Ethiopians turned the tables now and again, and conquered Egypt, and
reigned in the palaces of the Pharaohs, taking that title even, and
making their names dreaded as far as Judea and Assyria.

The Ethiopians were cousins indeed of the old Egyptians, and of the
Canaanites, for they were descendants of Cush, as the Egyptians were of
Mizriam, and the Canaanites were of Canaan; three of the sons of Ham.
The Cushites, or Ethiops, although so much withdrawn from the theater
of history, have done their share of fighting—the main business of man
hitherto. Besides quarrels with their own brethren, they had often the
attentions of the two chief descendants of Shem,—the Jews and the Arabs;
and after Mohammed’s coming, the Arabs descended into Nubia and forced
the inhabitants into their religion at the point of the sword. Even
the sons of Japhet must have their crack at these children of the
“Sun-burned.” It was a Roman prefect who, to avenge an attack on Svene
by a warlike woman, penetrated as far south as El Berkel (of the present
day), and overthrew Candace the Queen of the Ethiopians in Napata, her
capital; the large city, also called Meroë, of which Herodotus heard
such wonders.

Beyond Ethiopia lies the vast, black cloud of Negroland. These negroes,
with the crisp, woolly hair, did not descend from anybody, according to
the last reports; neither from Shem, Ham nor Japhet. They have no part
in the royal house of Noah. They are left out in the heat. They are
the puzzle of ethnologists, the mystery of mankind. They are the real
aristocracy of the world, their origin being lost in the twilight of
time; no one else can trace his descent so far back and come to nothing.
M. Lenormant says the black races have no tradition of the Deluge.
They appear to have been passed over altogether, then. Where were they
hidden? When we first know Central Africa they are there. Where did
they come from? The great effort of ethnologists is to get them dry-shod
round the Deluge, since derivation from Noah is denied them. History
has no information how they came into Africa. It seems to me that, in
history, whenever we hear of the occupation of a new land, there is
found in it a primitive race, to be driven out or subdued. The country
of the primitive negro is the only one that has never invited the
occupation of a more powerful race. But the negro blood, by means of
slavery, has been extensively distributed throughout the Eastern world.

These reflections did not occur to us the morning we left Philæ. It was
too early. In fact, the sun was just gilding “Pharaoh’s bed,” as the
beautiful little Ptolemaic temple is called, when we spread sail and, in
the shadow of the broken crags and savage rocks, began to glide out of
the jaws of this wild pass. At early morning everything has the air of
adventure. It was as if we were discoverers, about to come into a new
African kingdom at each turn in the swift stream.

One must see, he carnot imagine, the havoc and destruction hereabout,
the grotesque and gigantic fragments of rock, the islands of rock, the
precipices of rock, made by the torrent when it broke through here. One
of these islands is Biggeh—all rocks, not enough soft spot on it to set
a hen. The rocks are piled up into the blue sky; from their summit we
get the best view of Philæ—the jewel set in this rim of stone.

Above Philæ we pass the tomb of a holy man, high on the hill, and
underneath it, clinging to the slope, the oldest mosque in Nubia, the
Mosque of Belal, falling now into ruin, but the minaret shows in color
no sign of great age. How should it in this climate, where you might
leave a pair of white gloves upon the rocks for a year, and expect to
find them unsoiled.

“How old do you suppose that mosque is Abd-el-Atti?”

“I tink about twelve hundred years old. Him been built by the Friends of
our prophet when they come up here to make the people believe.”

I like this euphuism. “But,” we ask, “suppose they didn’t believe, what
then?”

“When thim believe, all right; when thim not believe, do away wid ‘em.”

“But they might believe something else, if not what Mohammed believed.”

“Well, what our Prophet say? Mohammed, he say, find him anybody believe
in God, not to touch him; find him anybody believe in the Christ, not to
touch him; find him anybody believe in Moses, not to touch him; find him
believe in the prophets, not to touch him; find him believe in bit wood,
piece stone, do way wid him. Not so? Men worship something wood, stone,
I can’t tell—I tink dis is nothing.”

Abd-el-Atti always says the “Friends” of Mohammed, never followers or
disciples. It is a pleasant word, and reminds us of our native land.
Mohammed had the good sense that our politicians have. When he wanted
anything, a city taken, a new strip of territory added, a “third term,”
or any trifle, he “put himself in the hands of his friends.”

The Friends were successful in this region. While the remote Abyssinians
retained Christianity, the Nubians all became Moslems, and so remain to
this day.

“You think, then, Abd-el-Atti, that the Nubians believed?”

“Thim ‘bliged. But I tink these fellows, all of ‘em, Musselmens as far
as the throat; it don’t go lower down.”

The story is that this mosque was built by one of Mohammed’s captains
after the great battle here with the Infidels—the Nubians. Those
who fell in the fight, it is also only tradition, were buried in the
cemetery near Assouan, and they are martyrs: to this day the Moslems who
pass that way take off their slippers and shoes.

After the battle, as the corpses of the slain lay in indistinguishable
heaps, it was impossible to tell who were martyrs and who were
unbelievers. Mohammed therefore ordered that they should bury as Moslems
all those who had large feet, and pleasant faces, with the mark
of prayer on the forehead. The bodies of the others were burned as
infidels.

As we sweep along, the mountains are still high on either side, and the
strips of verdure are very slight. On the east bank, great patches of
yellow sand, yellow as gold, and yet reddish in some lights, catch the
sun.

I think it is the finest morning I ever saw, for clearness and dryness.
The thermometer indicates only 60°, and yet it is not too cool. The air
is like wine. The sky is absolutely cloudless, and of wonderful clarity.
Here is a perfectly pure and sweet atmosphere. After a little, the wind
freshens, and it is somewhat cold on deck, but the sky is like sapphire;
let the wind blow for a month, it will raise no cloud, nor any film of
it.

Everything is wanting in Nubia that would contribute to the discomfort
of a winter residence:—

It never rains;

There is never any dew above Philæ;

There are no flies;

There are no fleas;

There are no bugs, nor any insects whatever.

The attempt to introduce fleas into Nubia by means of dahabeëhs has been
a failure.

In fact there is very little animal life; scarcely any birds are seen;
fowls of all sorts are rare. There are gazelles, however, and desert
hares, and chameleons. Our chameleons nearly starved for want of flies.
There are big crocodiles and large lizards.

In a bend a few miles above Philæ is a whirlpool called Shaymtel Wah,
from which is supposed to be a channel communicating under the mountain
to the Great Oasis one hundred miles distant. The popular belief in
these subterranean communications is very common throughout the East.
The holy well, Zem-Zem, at Mecca, has a connection with a spring at El
Gebel in Syria. I suppose that is perfectly well known. Abd-el-Atti has
tasted the waters of both; and they are exactly alike; besides, did he
not know of a pilgrim who lost his drinking-cup in Zem-Zem and recovered
it in El Gebel.

This Nubia is to be sure but a river with a colored border, but I
should like to make it seem real to you and not a mere country of
the imagination. People find room to live here; life goes on after a
fashion, and every mile there are evidences of a mighty civilization and
a great power which left its record in gigantic works. There was a time,
before the barriers broke away at Silsilis, when this land was inundated
by the annual rise; the Nile may have perpetually expanded above here
into a lake, as Herodotus reports.

We sail between low ridges of rocky hills, with narrow banks of
green and a few palms, but occasionally there is a village of square
mud-houses. At Gertassee, boldly standing out on a rocky platform, are
some beautiful columns, the remains of a temple built in the Roman time.
The wind is strong and rather colder with the turn of noon; the nearer
we come to the tropics the colder it becomes. The explanation is that
we get nothing but desert winds; and the desert is cool at this season;
that is, it breeds at night cool air, although one does not complain of
its frigidity who walks over it at midday.

After passing Tafa, a pretty-looking village in the palms, which boasts
ruins both pagan and Christian, we come to rapids and scenery almost as
wild and lovely as that at Philæ. The river narrows, there are granite
rocks and black boulders in the stream; we sail for a couple of miles
in swift and deep water, between high cliffs, and by lofty rocky
islands—not without leafage and some cultivation, and through a series
of rapids, not difficult but lively. And so we go cheerily on, through
savage nature and gaunt ruins of forgotten history; past Kalâbshe, where
are remains of the largest temple in Nubia; past Bayt el Wellee—“the
house of the saint”—where Rameses II. hewed a beautiful temple out of
the rock; past Gerf Hossdyn, where Rameses II. hewed a still larger
temple out of the rock and covered it with his achievements, pictures
in which he appears twelve feet high, and slaying small enemies as a
husbandman threshes wheat with a flail. I should like to see an ancient
stone wall in Egypt, where this Barnum of antiquity wasn’t advertising
himself.

We leave him flailing the unfortunate; at eight in the evening we are
still going on, first by the light of the crescent moon, and then by
starlight, which is like a pale moonlight, so many and lustrous are the
stars; and last, about eleven o’clock we go aground, and stop a little
below Dakkeh, or seventy-one miles from Philæ, that being our modest run
for the day.

Dakkeh, by daylight, reveals itself as a small mud-village attached to a
large temple. You would not expect to find a temple here, but its great
pylon looms over the town and it is worth at least a visit. To see such
a structure in America we would travel a thousand miles; the traveler on
the Nile debates whether he will go ashore.

The bank is lined with the natives who have something to sell, eggs,
milk, butter in little greasy “pats,” and a sheep. The men are, as to
features and complexion, rather Arabic than Nubian. The women have
the high cheek-bones and broad faces of our Indian squaws, whom they
resemble in a general way. The little girls who wear the Nubian costume
(a belt with fringe) and strings of beads, are not so bad; some of
them well formed. The morning is cool and the women all wear some outer
garment, so that the Nubian costume is not seen in its simplicity,
except as it is worn by children. I doubt if it is at any season. So far
as we have observed the Nubian women they are as modest in their dress
as their Egyptian sisters. Perhaps ugliness and modesty are sisters in
their country. All the women and girls have their hair braided in a sort
of plait in front, and heavily soaked with grease, so that it looks as
if they had on a wig or a frontlet of leather; it hangs in small, hard,
greasy curls, like leathern thongs, down each side. The hair appears
never to be undone—only freshly greased every morning. Nose-rings and
earrings abound.

This handsome temple was began by Ergamenes, an Ethiopian king ruling at
Meroë, at the time of the second Ptolemy, during the Greek period; and
it was added to both by Ptolemies and Cæsars. This Nubia would seem to
have been in possession of Ethiopians and Egyptians turn and turn about,
and, both having the same religion, the temples prospered.

Ergamenes has gained a reputation by a change he made in his religion,
as it was practiced in Meroë. When the priests thought a king had
reigned long enough it was their custom to send him notice that the gods
had ordered him to die; and the king, who would rather die than commit
an impiety, used to die. But Ergamenes tried another method, which he
found worked just as well; he assembled all the priests, and slew them—a
very sensible thing on his part.

You would expect such a man to build a good temple. The sculptures
are very well executed, whether they are of his time, or owe their
inspiration to Berenice and Cleopatra; they show greater freedom and
variety than those of most temples; the figures of lion, monkeys, cows,
and other animals are excellent; and there is a picture of a man playing
on a musical instrument, a frame with strings stretched over it, played
like a harp but not harp shaped—the like of which is seen nowhere else.
The temple has the appearance of a fortification as well as a place of
worship. The towers of the propylon are ascended by interior flights
of stairs, and have, one above the other, four good-sized chambers. The
stairways and the rooms are lighted by slits in the wall about an inch
in diameter on the outside; but cut with a slant from the interior
through some five feet of solid stone. These windows are exactly like
those in European towers, and one might easily imagine himself in a
Middle Age fortification. The illusion is heightened by the remains of
Christian paintings on the walls, fresh in color, and in style very like
those of the earliest Christian art in Italian churches. In the temple
we are attended by a Nubian with a long and threatening spear, such
as the people like to carry here; the owner does not care for blood,
however; he only wants a little backsheesh.

Beyond Dakkeh the country opens finely; the mountains fall back, and we
look a long distance over the desert on each side, the banks having only
a few rods of green. Far off in the desert on either hand and in front,
are sharp pyramidal mountains, in ranges, in groups, the resemblance
to pyramids being very striking. The atmosphere as to purity is
extraordinary. Simply to inspire it is a delight for which one may well
travel thousands of miles.

We pass small patches of the castor-oil plant, and of a reddish-stemmed
bush, bearing the Indian bendigo, Arabic bahima, the fruit a sort of
bean in appearance and about as palatable. The castor-oil is much used
by the women as a hair-dressing, but they are not fastidious; they use
something else if oil is wanting. The demand for butter for this purpose
raised the price of it enormously this morning at Dakkeh.

In the afternoon, waiting for wind, we walk ashore and out upon the
naked desert—the desert which is broken only by an occasional oasis,
from the Atlantic to the Red Sea; it has a basis of limestone, strewn
with sand like gold-dust, and a detritus of stone as if it had been
scorched by fire and worn by water. There is a great pleasure in
strolling over this pure waste blown by the free air. We visit a Nubian
village, and buy some spurious scarabæi off the necks of the ladies of
the town—alas, for rural simplicity! But these women are not only sharp,
they respect themselves sufficiently to dress modestly and even draw
their shawls over their faces. The children take the world as they find
it, as to clothes.

The night here, there being no moisture in the air is as brilliant as
the day; I have never seen the moon and stars so clear elsewhere. These
are the evenings that invite to long pipes and long stories. Abd-el-Atti
opens his budget from time to time, as we sit on deck and while the time
with anecdotes and marvels out of old Arab chronicles, spiced with his
own ready wit and singular English. Most of them are too long for these
pages; but here is an anecdote which, whether true or not illustrates
the character of old Mohammed Ali:—

“Mohammed Ali sent one of his captains, name of Walee Kasheef, to Derr,
capital of Nubia (you see it by and by, very fashionable place, like
I see ‘em in Hydee Park, what you call Rotten Row). Walee when he come
there, see the women, their hair all twisted up and stuck together with
grease and castor-oil, and their bodies covered with it. He called the
sheykhs together and made them present of soap, and told them to make
the women clean the hair and wash themselves, and make themselves fit
for prayer. It was in accordin’ to the Moslem religion so to do.

“The Nubians they not like this part of our religion, they not like it
at all. They send the sheykhs down to have conversation with Mohammed
Ali, who been stop at Esneh. They complain of what Walee done. Mohammed
send for Walee, and say, ‘What this you been done in Nubia?’ ‘Nothing,
your highness, ‘cept trying to make the Nubians conform to the
religion.’ ‘Well,’ says old Mohammed, ‘I not send you up there as a
priest; I send you up to get a little money. Don’t you trouble the
Nubians. We don’t care if they go to Gennéh or Gehennem, if you get the
money.’.rdquo;

So the Nubians were left in sin and grease, and taxed accordingly. And
at this day the taxes are even heavier. Every date-palm and every sakiya
is taxed. A sakiya sometimes pays three pounds a year, when there is not
a piece of fertile land for it to water three rods square.



0274



CHAPTER XXI—ETHIOPIA.

IT IS a sparkling morning at Wady Saboda; we have the desert and some
of its high, scarred, and sandy pyramidal peaks close to us, but as
is usual where a wady, or valley, comes to the river, there is more
cultivated land. We see very little of the temple of Rameses II. in this
“Valley of the Lions,” nor of the sphinxes in front of it. The desert
sand has blown over it and over it in drifts like snow, so that we walk
over the buried sanctuary, greatly to our delight. It is a pleasure to
find one adytum into which we cannot go and see this Rameses pretending
to make offerings, but really, as usual, offering to show himself.

At the village under the ledges, many of the houses are of stone, and
the sheykh has a pretentious stone enclosure with little in it, all to
himself. Shadoofs are active along the bank, and considerable crops
of wheat, beans, and corn are well forward. We stop to talk with a
bright-looking Arab, who employs men to work his shadoofs, and lives
here in an enclosure of cornstalks, with a cornstalk kennel in one
corner, where he and his family sleep. There is nothing pretentious
about this establishment, but the owner is evidently a man of wealth,
and, indeed, he has the bearing of a shrewd Yankee. He owns a camel,
two donkeys, several calves and two cows, and two young Nubian girls for
wives, black as coal and greased, but rather pleasant-faced. He has also
two good guns—appears to have duplicates of nearly everything. Out of
the cornstalk shanty his wives bring some handsome rugs for us to sit
on.

The Arab accompanies us on our walk, as a sort of host of the country,
and we are soon joined by others, black fellows; some of them carry the
long flint-lock musket, for which they seem to have no powder; and all
wear a knife in a sheath on the left arm; but they are as peaceable
friendly folk as you would care to meet, and simple-minded. I show the
Arab my field-glass, an object new to his experience. He looks through
it, as I direct, and is an astonished man, making motions with his hand,
to indicate how the distant objects are drawn towards him, laughing with
a soft and childlike delight, and then lowering the glass, looks at it,
and cries, “Bismillah! Bismillah,” an ejaculation of wonder, and also
intended to divert any misfortune from coming upon him on account of his
indulgence in this pleasure.

He soon gets the use of the glass and looks beyond the river and all
about, as if he were discovering objects unknown to him before. The
others all take a turn at it, and are equally astonished and delighted.
But when I cause them to look through the large end at a dog near by,
and they see him remove far off in the desert, their astonishment is
complete. My comrade’s watch interested them nearly as much, although
they knew its use; they could never get enough of its ticking and of
looking at its works, and they concluded that the owner of it must be a
Pasha.

The men at work dress in the slight manner of the ancient Egyptians;
the women, however, wear garments covering them, and not seldom hide the
face at our approach. But the material of their dress is not always of
the best quality; an old piece of sacking makes a very good garment for
a Nubian woman. Most of them wear some trinkets, beads or bits of silver
or carnelian round the neck, and heavy bracelets of horn. The boys have
not yet come into their clothing, but the girls wear the leathern belt
and fringe adorned with shells.

The people have little, but they are not poor. It may be that this
cornstalk house of our friend is only his winter residence, while his
shadoof is most active, and that he has another establishment in town.
There are too many sakiyas in operation for this region to be anything
but prosperous, apparently. They are going all night as we sail along,
and the screaming is weird enough in the stillness. I should think that
a prisoner was being tortured every eighth of a mile on the bank. We are
never out of hearing of their shrieks. But the cry is not exactly that
of pain; it is rather a song than a cry, with an impish squeak in it,
and a monotonous iteration of one idea, like all the songs here.
It always repeats one sentence, which sounds like Iskander
logheh-n-e-e-e-n—whatever it is in Arabic; and there is of course a
story about it. The king, Alexander, had concealed under his hair two
horns. Unable to keep the secret to himself he told it in confidence
to the sakiya; the sakiya couldn’t hold the news, but shrieked out,
“Alexander has two horns,” and the other sakiyas got it; and the scandal
went the length of the Nile, and never can be hushed.

The Arabs personify everything, and are as full of superstitions as the
Scotch; peoples who have nothing in common except it may be that the
extreme predestinationism of the one approaches the fatalism of the
other—begetting in both a superstitious habit, which a similar cause
produced in the Greeks. From talking of the sakiya we wander into
stories illustrative of the credulity and superstition of the Egyptians.
Charms and incantations are relied on for expelling diseases and warding
off dangers. The snake-charmer is a person still in considerable request
in towns and cities. Here in Nubia there is no need of his offices, for
there are no snakes; but in Lower Egypt, where snakes are common, the
mud-walls and dirt-floors of the houses permit them to come in and be
at home with the family. Even in Cairo, where the houses are of brick,
snakes are much feared, and the house that is reputed to have snakes in
it cannot be rented. It will stand vacant like an old mansion occupied
by a ghost in a Christian country. The snake-charmers take advantage of
this popular fear.

Once upon a time when Abd-el-Atti was absent from the city, a
snake-charmer came to his house, and told his sister that he divined
that there were snakes in the house. “My sister,” the story goes on,
“never see any snake to house, but she woman, and much ‘fraid of snakes,
and believe what him say. She told the charmer to call out the snakes.
He set to work his mumble, his conjor—(’.xorcism’. yes, dat’s it,
exorcism ‘em, and bring out a snake. She paid him one dollar.

“Then the conjuror say, ‘This the wife; the husband still in the house
and make great trouble if he not got out.’.rdquo;

“He want him one pound for get the husband out, and my sister give it.

“When I come home I find my sister very sick, very sick indeed, and I
say what is it? She tell me the story that the house was full of snakes
and she had a man call them out, but the fright make her long time ill.

“I said, you have done very well to get the snakes out, what could we do
with a house full of the nasty things? And I said, I must get them out
of another house I have—house I let him since to machinery.

“Machinery? For what kind of machinery! Steam-engines?”

“No, misheenary—have a school in it.”

“Oh, missionary.”

“Yes, let ‘em have it for bout three hundred francs less than I get
before. I think the school good for Cairo. I send for the snake-charmer,
and I say I have ‘nother house I think has snakes in it, and I ask him
to divine and see. He comes back and says, my house is full of snakes,
but he can charm them out.

“I say, good, I will pay you well. We appointed early next morning for
the operation, and I agreed to meet the charmer at my house. I take with
me big black fellow I have in the house, strong like a bull. When we get
there I find the charmer there in front of the house and ready to begin.
But I propose that we go in the house, it might make disturbance to the
neighborhood to call so many serpents out into the street. We go in, and
I sav, tell me the room of the most snakes. The charmer say, and as soon
as we go in there, I make him sign the black fellow and he throw the
charmer on the ground, and we tie him with a rope. We find in his bosom
thirteen snakes and scorpions. I tell him I had no idea there were so
many snakes in my house. Then I had the fellow before the Kadi; he had
to pay back all the money he got from my sister and went to prison.
But,” added Abd-el-Atti, “the doctor did not pay back the money for my
sister’s illness.”

Alexandria was the scene of another snake story. The owner of a house
there had for tenants an Italian and his wife, whose lease had
expired, but who would not vacate the premises. He therefore hired a
snake-charmer to go to the house one day when the family were out, and
leave snakes in two of the rooms. When the lady returned and found
a snake in one room she fled into another, but there another serpent
raised his head and hissed at her. She was dreadfully frightened, and
sent for the charmer, and had the snakes called out but she declared
that she wouldn’t occupy such a house another minute. And the family
moved out that day of their own accord. A novel writ of ejectment.

In the morning we touched bottom as to cold weather, the thermometer
at sunrise going down to 47° it did, indeed, as we heard afterwards, go
below 40° at Wady Haifa the next morning, but the days were sure to
be warm enough. The morning is perfectly calm, and the depth of the
blueness of the sky, especially as seen over the yellow desert sand
and the blackened surface of the sandstone hills, is extraordinary. An
artist’s representation of this color would be certain to be called
an exaggeration. The skies of Lower Egypt are absolutely pale in
comparison.

Since we have been in the tropics, the quality of the sky has been the
same day and night—sometimes a turquoise blue, such as on rare days we
get in America through a break in the clouds, but exquisitely delicate
for all its depth. We passed the Tropic of Cancer in the night,
somewhere about Dendodr, and did not see it. I did not know, till
afterwards, that there had been any trouble about it. But it seems that
it has been moved from Assouan, where Strabo put it and some modern
atlases still place it, southward, to a point just below the ruins of
the temple of Dendoor, where Osiris and Isis were worshipped. Probably
the temple, which is thought to be of the time of Augustus and
consequently is little respected by any antiquarian, was not built with
any reference to the Tropic of Cancer; but the point of the turning of
the sun might well have been marked by a temple to the mysterious deity
who personified the sun and who was slain and rose again.

Our walk on shore to-day reminded us of a rugged path in Switzerland.
Before we come to Kalkeh (which is of no account, except that it is in
the great bend below Korosko) the hills of sandstone draw close to the
east bank, in some places in sheer precipices, in others leaving a strip
of sloping sand. Along the cliff is a narrow donkey-path, which travel
for thousands of years has worn deep; and we ascend along it high above
the river. Wherever at the foot of the precipices there was a chance to
grow a handful of beans or a hill of corn, we found the ground occupied.
In one of these lonely recesses we made the acquaintance of an Arab
family.

Walking rapidly, I saw something in the path, and held my foot just in
time to avoid stepping upon a naked brown baby, rather black than brown,
as a baby might be who spent his time outdoors in the sun without any
umbrella.

“By Jorge! a nice plumpee little chile,” cried Abd-el-Atti, who is fond
of children, and picks up and shoulders the boy, who shews no signs of
fear and likes the ride.

We come soon upon his parents. The man was sitting on a rock smoking
a pipe. The woman, dry and withered, was picking some green leaves
and blossoms, of which she would presently make a sort of purée, that
appears to be a great part of the food of these people. They had three
children. Their farm was a small piece of the sloping bank, and was in
appearance exactly like a section of sandy railroad embankment grown to
weeds. They had a few beans and some squash or pumpkin vines, and there
were remains of a few hills of doora which had been harvested.

While the dragoman talked with the family, I climbed up to their
dwelling, in a ravine in the rocks. The house was of the simplest
architecture—a circular stone enclosure, so loosely laid up that you
could anywhere put your hand through it. Over a segment of this was laid
some cornstalks, and under these the piece of matting was spread for the
bed. That matting was the only furniture of the house. All their clothes
the family had on them, and those were none too many—they didn’t hold
out to the boy. And the mercury goes down to 470 these mornings! Before
the opening of this shelter, was a place for a fire against the rocks,
and a saucepan, water-jar, and some broken bottles The only attraction
about this is its simplicity. Probably this is the country-place of the
proprietor, where he retires for “shange of air” during the season when
his crops are maturing, and then moves into town under the palm-trees
during the heat of summer.

Talking about Mohammed (we are still walking by the shore) I found that
Abd-el-Atti had never heard the legend of the miraculous suspension of
the Prophet’s coffin between heaven and earth; no Moslem ever believed
any such thing; no Moslem ever heard of it.

“Then there isn’t any tradition or notion of that sort among Moslems?”

“No, sir. Who said it?”

“Oh, it’s often alluded to in English literature—by Mr-Carlyle for one,
I think.”

“What for him say that? I tink he must put something in his book to make
it sell. How could it? Every year since Mohammed died, pilgrims been
make to his grave, where he buried in the ground; shawl every year
carried to cover it; always buried in that place. No Moslem tink that.”

“Once a good man, a Walee of Fez, a friend of the Prophet, was visited
by a vision and by the spirit of the Prophet, and he was gecited
(excited) to go to Mecca and see him. When he was come near in the way,
a messenger from the Prophet came to the Walee, and told him not to come
any nearer; that he should die and be buried in the spot where he then
was. And it was so. His tomb you see it there now before you come to
Mecca.

“When Mohammed was asked the reason why he would not permit the Walee to
come to his tomb to see him, he said that the Walee was a great friend
of his, and if he came to his tomb he should feel bound to rise and see
him; and he ought not to do that, for the time of the world was not
yet fully come; if he rose from his tomb, it would be finish, the world
would be at an end. Therefore he was ‘bliged to refuse his friend.

“Nobody doubt he buried in the ground. But Ali, different. Ali, the
son-in-law of Mohammed (married his daughter Fat’meh, his sons Hasan and
Hoseyn,) died in Medineh. When he died, he ordered that he should be
put in a coffin, and said that in the morning there would come from the
desert a man with a dromedary; that his coffin should be bound upon the
back of the dromedary, and let go. In the morning, as was foretold, the
man appeared, leading a dromedary; his head was veiled except his eyes.
The coffin was bound upon the back of the beast, and the three went away
into the desert; and no man ever saw either of them more, or knows, to
this day, where Ali is buried. Whether it was a man or an angel with the
dromedary, God knows!”

Getting round the great bend at Korosko and Amada is the most vexatious
and difficult part of the Nile navigation. The distance is only about
eight miles, but the river takes a freak here to run south-south-east,
and as the wind here is usually north-north-west, the boat has both wind
and current against it. But this is not all; it is impossible to track
on the west bank on account of the shallows and sandbars, and the
channel on the east side is beset with dangerous rocks. We thought
ourselves fortunate in making these eight miles in two days, and one of
them was a very exciting day. The danger was in stranding the dahabeëh
on the rocks, and being compelled to leave her; and our big boat was
handled with great difficulty.

Traders and travelers going to the Upper Nile leave the river at
Korosko. Here begins the direct desert route—as utterly waste, barren
and fatiguing as any in Africa—to Aboo Hamed, Sennaar and Kartoom. The
town lies behind a fringe of palms on the river, and backed by high and
savage desert mountains.

As we pass we see on the high bank piles of merchandise and the white
tents of the caravans.

This is still the region of slavery. Most of the Arabs, poor as they
appear, own one or two slaves, got from Sennaar or Darfoor—though called
generally Nubians. We came across a Sennaar girl to day of perhaps ten
years of age, hoeing alone in the field. The poor creature, whose ideas
were as scant as her clothing, had only a sort of animal intelligence;
she could speak a little Arabic, however (much more than we
could—speaking of intelligence!) and said she did not dare come with
us for fear her mistress would beat her. The slave trade is, however,
greatly curtailed by the expeditions of the Khedive. The bright
Abyssinian boy, Ahmed, whom we have on board, was brought from his home
across the Red Sea by way of Mecca. This is one of the ways by which a
few slaves still sift into Cairo.

We are working along in sight of Korosko all day. Just above it, on some
rocks in the channel, lies a handsome dahabeëh belonging to a party
of English gentlemen, which went on a week ago; touched upon concealed
rocks in the evening as the crew were tracking, was swung further on by
the current, and now lies high and almost dry, the Nile falling daily,
in a position where she must wait for the rise next summer. The boat is
entirely uninjured and no doubt might have been got off the first day,
if there had only been mechanical skill in the crew. The governor at
Derr sent down one hundred and fifty men, who hauled and heaved at it
two or three days, with no effect. Half a dozen Yankees, with a couple
of jack-screws, and probably with only logs for rollers, would have set
it afloat. The disaster is exceedingly annoying to the gentlemen, who
have, however, procured a smaller boat from Wady Haifa in which to
continue their voyage. We are several hours in getting past these two
boats, and accomplish it not without a tangling of rigging, scraping
off of paint, smashing of deck rails, and the expenditure of a whole
dictionary of Arabic. Our Arabs never see but one thing at a time. If
they are getting the bow free, the stay-ropes and stern must take care
of themselves. If, by simple heedlessness, we are letting the yard of
another boat rip into our rigging, God wills it. While we are in this
confusion and excitement, the dahabeëh of General McClellan and half a
dozen in company, sweep down past us, going with wind and current.

It is a bright and delicious Sunday morning that we are still tracking
above Korosko. To-day is the day the pilgrims to Mecca spend upon the
mountain of Arafat. Tomorrow they sacrifice; our crew will celebrate it
by killing a sheep and eating it—and it is difficult to see where the
sacrifice comes in for them. The Moslems along this shore lost their
reckoning, mistook the day, and sacrificed yesterday.

This is not the only thing, however, that keeps this place in our
memory. We saw here a pretty woman. Considering her dress, hair, the
manner in which she had been brought up, and her looks, a tolerably
pretty woman; a raving beauty in comparison with her comrades. She has
a slight cast, in one eye, that only shows for a moment occasionally and
then disappears. If these feeble tributary lines ever meet that eye, I
beg her to know that, by reason of her slight visual defect, she is like
a revolving light, all the more brilliant when she flashes out.

We lost time this morning, were whirled about in eddies and drifted on
sandbars, owing to contradictory opinions among our navigators, none of
whom seem to have the least sconce. They generally agree, however, not
to do anything that the pilot orders. Our pilot from Philæ to Wady Haifa
and back, is a Barâbra, and one of the reises of the Cataract, a fellow
very tall, and thin as a hop-pole, with a withered face and a high
forehead. His garments a white cotton nightgown without sleeves, a brown
over-gown with flowing sleeves, both reaching to the ankles, and a white
turban. He is barefooted and barelegged, and, in his many excursions
into the river to explore sandbars, I have noticed a hole where he has
stuck his knee through his nightgown. His stature and his whole bearing
have in them something, I know not what, of the theatrical air of the
Orient.

He had a quarrel to day with the crew, for the reason mentioned above,
in which he was no doubt quite right, a quarrel conducted as usual with
an extraordinary expense of words and vituperation. In his inflamed
remarks, he at length threw out doubts about the mother of one of the
crew, and probably got something back that enraged him still more. While
the wrangle went on, the crew had gathered about their mess-dish on
the forward deck, squatting in a circle round it, and dipping out great
mouthfuls of the puree with the right hand. The pilot paced the upper
deck, and his voice, which is like that of many waters, was lifted up in
louder and louder lamentations, as the other party grew more quiet and
were occupied with their dinner—throwing him a loose taunt now and then,
followed by a chorus of laughter. He strode back and forth, swinging his
arms, and declaring that he would leave the boat, that he would not stay
where he was so treated, that he would cast himself into the river.

“When you do, you’d better leave your clothes behind,” suggested
Abd-el-Atti.

Upon this cruel sarcasm he was unable to contain himself longer. He
strode up and down, raised high his voice, and tore his hair and rent
his garments—the supreme act of Oriental desperation. I had often
read of this performance, both in the Scriptures and in other Oriental
writings, but I had never seen it before. The manner in which he
tore his hair and rent his garments was as follows, to wit:—He
almost entirely unrolled his turban, doing it with an air of
perfect recklessness; and then he carefully wound it again round his
smoothly-shaven head. That stood for tearing his hair. He then swung
his long arms aloft, lifted up his garment above his head, and with
desperate force, appeared to be about to rend it in twain. But he never
started a seam nor broke a thread. The nightgown wouldn’t have stood
much nonsense.

In the midst of his most passionate outburst, he went forward and
filled his pipe, and then returned to his tearing and rending and his
lamentations. The picture of a strong man in grief is always touching.

The country along here is very pretty, the curved shore for miles being
a continual palm-grove, and having a considerable strip of soil which
the sakiya irrigation makes very productive. Beyond this rise mountains
of rocks in ledges; and when we climb them we see only a waste desert
of rock strewn with loose shale and, further inland, black hills of
sandstone, which thickly cover the country all the way to the Red Sea.

Under the ledges are the habitations of the people, square enclosures of
stone and clay of considerable size, with interior courts and kennels.
One of them—the only sign of luxury we have seen in Nubia—had a porch in
front of it covered with palm boughs. The men are well-made and rather
prepossessing in appearance, and some of them well-dressed—they had no
doubt made the voyage to Cairo; the women are hideous without exception.
It is no pleasure to speak thus continually of woman; and I am sometimes
tempted to say that I see here the brown and bewitching maids, with the
eyes of the gazelle and the form of the houri, which gladden the sight
of more fortunate voyagers through this idle land; but when I think of
the heavy amount of misrepresentation that would be necessary to give
any one of these creatures a reputation for good looks abroad, I shrink
from the undertaking.

They are decently covered with black cotton mantles, which they make
a show of drawing over the face; but they are perhaps wild rather than
modest, and have a sort of animal shyness. Their heads are sights to
behold. The hair is all braided in strings, long at the sides and cut
off in front, after the style adopted now-a-days for children (and
women) in civilized countries, and copied from the young princes,
prisoners in the Tower. Each round strand of hair hasa dab of clay on
the end of it. The whole is drenched with castor-oil, and when the sun
shines on it, it is as pleasant to one sense as to another. They have
flattish noses, high cheek-bones, and always splendid teeth; and they
all, young girls as well as old women, hold tobacco in their under lip
and squirt out the juice with placid and scientific accuracy. They wear
two or three strings of trumpery beads and necklaces, bracelets of horn
and of greasy leather, and occasionally a finger-ring or two. Nose-rings
they wear if they have them; if not, they keep the bore open for one by
inserting a kernel of doora.

In going back to the boat we met a party of twenty or thirty of these
attractive creatures, who were returning from burying a boy of the
village. They came striding over the sand, chattering in shrill and
savage tones. Grief was not so weighty on them that they forgot to
demand backsheesh, and (unrestrained by the men in the town) their
clamor for it was like the cawing of crows; and their noise, when
they received little from us, was worse. The tender and loving
woman, stricken in grief by death, is, in these regions, when denied
backsheesh, an enraged, squawking bird of prey. They left us with scorn
in their eyes and abuse on their tongues.

At a place below Korosko we saw a singular custom, in which the women
appeared to better advantage. A whole troop of women, thirty or forty of
them, accompanied by children, came in a rambling procession down to the
Nile, and brought a baby just forty days old. We thought at first that
they were about to dip the infant into Father Nile, as an introduction
to the fountain of all the blessings of Egypt. Instead of this, however,
they sat down on the bank, took kohl and daubed it in the little
fellow’s eyes. They perform this ceremony by the Nile when the boy is
forty days old, and they do it that he may have a fortunate life. Kohl
seems to enlarge the pupil, and doubtless it is intended to open the
boy’s eyes early.

At one of the little settlements to-day the men were very hospitable,
and brought us out plates (straw) of sweet dried dates. Those that we
did not eat, the sailor with us stuffed into his pocket; our sailors
never let a chance of provender slip, and would, so far as capacity
“to live on the country” goes, make good soldiers. The Nubian dates are
called the best in Egypt. They are longer than the dates of the Delta,
but hard and quite dry. They take the place of coffee here in the
complimentary hospitality. Whenever a native invites you to take
“coffee,” and you accept, he will bring you a plate of dates and
probably a plate of popped doora, like our popped corn. Coffee seems not
to be in use here; even the governors entertain us with dates and popped
corn.

We are working up the river slowly enough to make the acquaintance
of every man, woman, and child on the banks; and a precious lot of
acquaintances we shall have. I have no desire to force them upon the
public, but it is only by these details that I can hope to give you any
idea of the Nubian life.

We stop at night. The moon-and-starlight is something superb. From
the high bank under which we are moored, the broad river, the desert
opposite, and the mountains, appear in a remote African calm—a calm only
broken by the shriek of the sakiyas which pierce the air above and below
us.

In the sakiya near us, covered with netting to keep off the north wind,
is a little boy, patient and black, seated on the pole of the wheel,
urging the lean cattle round and round. The little chap is alone and at
some distance from the village, and this must be for him lonesome work.
The moonlight, through the chinks of the palm-leaf, touches tenderly
his pathetic figure, when we look in at the opening, and his small voice
utters the one word of Egypt—“backsheesh.”

Attracted by a light—a rare thing in a habitation here—we walk over to
the village. At the end of the high enclosure of a dwelling there is
a blaze of fire, which is fed by doora-stalks, and about it squat five
women, chattering; the fire lights up their black faces and hair shining
with the castor-oil. Four of them are young; and one is old and skinny,
and with only a piece of sacking for all clothing. Their husbands are
away in Cairo, or up the river with a trading dahabeëh (so they tell our
guide); and these poor creatures are left here (it may be for years it
may be forever) to dig their own living out of the ground. It is quite
the fashion husbands have in this country; but the women are attached
to their homes; they have no desire to go elsewhere. And I have no doubt
that in Cairo they would pine for the free and simple life of Nubia.

These women all want backsheesh, and no doubt will quarrel over the
division of the few piastres they have from us. Being such women as I
have described, and using tobacco as has been sufficiently described
also, crouching about these embers, this group composes as barbaric a
picture as one can anywhere see. I need not have gone so far to set such
a miserable group; I could have found one as wretched in Pigville (every
city has its Pigville)? Yes, but this is characteristic of the country.
These people are as good as anybody here. (We have been careful to
associate only with the first families.) These women have necklaces and
bracelets, and rings in their ears, just like any women, and rings in
the hair, twisted in with the clay and castor-oil. And in Pigville one
would not have the range of savage rocks, which tower above these huts,
whence the jackals, wolves, and gazelles come down to the river, nor
the row of palms, nor the Nile, and the sands beyond, yellow in the
moonlight.



0288



0289



CHAPTER XXII.—LIFE IN THE TROPICS. WADY HALFA.

OURS is the crew to witch the world with noble seamanship. It is like a
first-class orchestra, in which all the performers are artists. Ours
are all captains. The reïs is merely an elder brother. The pilot is not
heeded at all. With so many intentions on board, it is an hourly miracle
that we get on at all.

We are approaching the capital of Nubia, trying to get round a sharp
bend in the river, with wind adverse, current rapid, sandbars on all
sides. Most of the crew are in the water ahead, trying to haul us round
the point of a sand-spit on which the stream foams, and then swirls in
an eddy below. I can see now the Pilot, the long Pilot, who has gone in
to feel about for deep water, in his white nightgown, his shaven head,
denuded of its turban, shining in the sun, standing in two feet of
water, throwing his arms wildly above his head, screaming entreaties,
warnings, commands, imprecations upon the sailors in the river and the
commanders on the boat. I can see the crew, waist deep, slacking the
rope which they have out ahead, stopping to discuss the situation. I
can see the sedate reïs on the bow arguing with the raving pilot, the
steersman, with his eternal smile, calmly regarding the peril, and the
boat swinging helplessly about and going upon the shoals. “Stupids,”
mutters Abd-el-Atti, who is telling his beads rapidly, as he always does
in exciting situations.

When at length we pass the point, we catch the breeze so suddenly and
go away with it, that there is no time for the men to get on board, and
they are obliged to scamper back over the sand-spits to the shore and
make a race of it to meet us at Derr. We can see them running in
file, dodging along under the palms by the shore, stopping to grab
occasionally a squash or a handful of beans for the pot.

The capital of Nubia is the New York of this region, not so large, nor
so well laid out, nor so handsomely built, but the centre of fashion and
the residence of the ton. The governor lives in a whitewashed house,
and there is a Sycamore here eight hundred years old, which is I suppose
older than the Stuyvesant Pear in New York. The houses are not perched
up in the air like tenement buildings for the poor, but aristocratically
keep to the ground in one-story rooms; and they are beautifully moulded
of a tough clay. The whole town lies under a palm-grove. The elegance
of the capital, however, is not in its buildings, but in its women; the
ladies who come to the the river to fill their jars are arrayed in the
height of the mode. Their hair is twisted and clayed and castoroiled,
but, besides this and other garments, they wear an outer robe of black
which sweeps the ground for a yard behind, and gives them the grace
and dignity that court-robes always give. You will scarcely see longer
skirts on Broadway or in a Paris salon. I have, myself, no doubt that
the Broadway fashions came from Derr, all except the chignons. Here the
ladies wear their own hair.

Making no landing in this town so dangerous to one susceptible to the
charms of fashion, we went on, and stopped at night near Ibreem, a lofty
precipice, or range of precipices, the southern hill crowned with ruins
and fortifications which were last occupied by the Memlooks, half a
century and more ago. The night blazed with beauty; the broad river was
a smooth mirror, in which the mountains and the scintillating hosts of
heaven were reflected. And we saw a phenomenon which I have never
seen elsewhere. Not only were the rocky ledges reproduced in a perfect
definition of outline, but even in the varieties of shade, in black and
reddish-brown color.

Perhaps it needs the affidavits of all the party to the more surprising
fact, that we were all on deck next morning before five o’clock, to
see the Southern Cross. The moon had set, and these famous stars of the
southern sky flashed color and brilliancy like enormous diamonds. “Other
worlds than ours”? I should think so! All these myriads of burning
orbs only to illuminate our dahabeëh and a handful of Nubians, who are
asleep! The Southern Cross lay just above the horizon and not far from
other stars of the first quality. There are I believe only three stars
of the first magnitude and one of the second, in this constellation, and
they form, in fact, not a cross but an irregular quadrilateral. It needs
a vivid imagination and the aid of small stars to get even a semblance
of a cross out of it. But if you add to it, as we did, for the foot of
the cross, a brilliant in a neighboring constellation, you have a noble
cross.

This constellation is not so fine as Orion, and for all we saw, we would
not exchange our northern sky for the southern; but this morning we had
a rare combination. The Morning Star was blazing in the east; and the
Great Bear (who has been nightly sinking lower and lower, until he dips
below the horizon) having climbed high up above the Pole in the night,
filled the northern sky with light. In this lucid atmosphere the whole
heavens from north to south seemed to be crowded with stars of the first
size.

During the morning we walked on the west bank through a castor-oil
plantation; many of the plants were good-sized trees, with boles two and
a half to three inches through, and apparently twenty-five feet high.
They were growing in the yellow sand which had been irrigated by
sakiyas, but was then dry, and some of the plants were wilting. We
picked up the ripe seeds and broke off some of the fat branches; and
there was not water enough in the Nile to wash away the odor afterwards.

Walking back over the great sand-plain towards the range of desert
mountains, we came to an artificial mound—an ash-heap, in fact—fifty or
sixty feet high. At its base is a habitation of several compartments,
formed by sticking the stalks of castor-oil plants into the ground, with
a roof of the same. Here we found several women with very neat dabs of
clay on the ends of their hair-twists, and a profusion of necklaces,
rings in the hair and other ornaments—among them, scraps of gold. The
women were hospitable, rather modest than shy, and set before us plates
of dried dates; and no one said “backsheesh.” A better class of people
than those below, and more purely Nubian.

It would perhaps pay to dig open this mound. Near it are three small
oases, watered by sakiyas, which draw from wells that are not more than
twenty feet deep. The water is clear as crystal but not cool. These are
ancient Egyptian wells, which have been re-opened within a few years;
and the ash-mound is no doubt the débris of a village and an old
Egyptian settlement.

At night we are a dozen miles from Aboo Simbel (Ipsamboul), the
wind—which usually in the winter blows with great and steady force from
the north in this part of the river—having taken a fancy to let us see
the country.

A morning walk takes us over a rocky desert; the broken shale is
distributed as evenly over the sand as if the whole had once been under
water, and the shale were a dried mud, cracked in the sun. The miserable
dwellings of the natives are under the ledges back of the strip of
arable land. The women are shy and wild as hawks, but in the mode; they
wear a profusion of glass beads and trail their robes in the dust.

It is near this village that we have an opportunity to execute justice.
As the crew were tracking, and lifting the rope over a sakiya, the
hindmost sailor saw a sheath-knife on the bank, and thrust it into
his pocket as he walked on. In five minutes the owner of the knife
discovered the robbery, and came to the boat to complain. The sailor
denied having the knife, but upon threat of a flogging gave it up. The
incident, however, aroused the town, men and women came forth discussing
it in a high key, and some foolish fellows threatened to stone our boat.
Abd-el-Atti replied that he would stop and give them a chance to do it.
Thereupon they apologized; and as there was no wind, the dragoman asked
leave to stop and do justice.

A court was organized on shore. Abd-el-Atti sat down on a lump of earth,
grasping a marline-spike, the crew squatted in a circle in the high
beans, and the culprit was arraigned. The owner testified to his
knife, a woman swore she saw the sailor take it, Abd-el-Atti pronounced
sentence, and rose to execute it with his stake. The thief was thrown
upon the ground and held by two sailors. Abd-el-Atti, resolute and
solemn as an executioner, raised the club and brought it down with a
tremendous whack—not however upon the back of the victim, he had at
that instant squirmed out of the way. This conduct greatly enraged the
minister of justice, who thereupon came at his object with fury, and
would no doubt have hit him if the criminal had not got up and ran,
screaming, with the sailors and Abd-el-Atti after him. The ground was
rough, the legs of Abd-el-Atti are not long and his wind is short. The
fellow was caught, and escaped again and again, but the punishment was
a mere scrimmage; whenever Abd-el-Atti, in the confusion, could get a
chance to strike he did so, but generally hit the ground, sometimes the
fellow’s gown and perhaps once or twice the man inside, but never to his
injury. He roared all the while, that he was no thief, and seemed a good
deal more hurt by the charge that he was, than by the stick. The beating
was, in short, only a farce laughable from beginning to end, and not a
bad sample of Egyptian justice. And it satisfied everybody.

Having put ourselves thus on friendly relations with this village, one
of the inhabitants brought down to the boat a letter for the dragoman to
interpret. It had been received two weeks before from Alexandria, but no
one had been able to read it until our boat stopped here. Fortunately
we had the above little difficulty here. The contents of the letter gave
the village employment for a month. It brought news of the death of two
inhabitants of the place, who were living as servants in Alexandria, one
of them a man eighty years old and his son aged sixty.

I never saw grief spread so fast and so suddenly as it did with the
uncorking of this vial of bad news. Instantly a lamentation and wild
mourning began in all the settlement. It wasn’t ten minutes before the
village was buried in grief. And, in an incredible short space of time,
the news had spread up and down the river, and the grief-stricken began
to arrive from other places. Where they came from, I have no idea; it
did not seem that we had passed so many women in a week as we saw now
They poured in from all along the shore, long strings of them, striding
over the sand, throwing up their garments, casting dust on their
heads (and all of it stuck), howling, flocking like wild geese to a
rendezvous, and filling the air with their clang. They were arriving for
an hour or two.

The men took no part in this active demonstration. They were seated
gravely before the house in which the bereaved relatives gathered;
and there I found Abd-el-Atti, seated also, and holding forth upon the
inevitable coming of death, and saying that there was nothing to be
regretted in this case, for the time of these men had come. If it hadn’t
come, they wouldn’t have died. Not so?

The women crowded into the enclosure and began mourning in a vigorous
manner. The chief ones grouping themselves in an irregular ring, cried
aloud: “O that he had died here!”

“O that I had seen his face when he died;” repeating these lamentations
over and over again, throwing up the arms, and then the legs in a
kind of barbaric dance as they lamented, and uttering long and shrill
ululations at the end of each sentence.

To-day they kill a calf and feast, and tomorrow the lamentations and the
African dance will go on, and continue for a week. These people are all
feeling. It is a heathen and not a Moslem custom however; and whether
it is of negro origin or of ancient Egyptian I do not know, but probably
the latter. The ancient Egyptian women are depicted in the tombs
mourning in this manner; and no doubt the Jews also so bewailed, when
they “lifted up their voices” and cast dust on their heads, as we saw
these Nubians do. It is an unselfish pleasure to an Eastern woman to
“lift up the voice.” The heavy part of the mourning comes upon the
women, who appear to enjoy it. It is their chief occupation, after the
carrying of water and the grinding of doora, and probably was so with
the old race; these people certainly keep the ancient customs; they
dress the hair, for one thing, very much as the Egyptians did, even to
the castor-oil.

At this village, as in others in Nubia, the old women are the
corn-grinders. These wasted skeletons sit on the ground before a stone
with a hollow in it; in this they bruise the doora with a smaller stone;
the flour is then moistened and rubbed to a paste. The girls and younger
women, a great part of the time, are idling about in their finery. But,
then, they have the babies and the water to bring; and it must be
owned that some of them work in the field—grubbing grass and stuff for
“greens” and for fuel, more than the men. The men do the heavy work of
irrigation.

But we cannot stay to mourn with those who mourn a week in this style;
and in the evening, when a strong breeze springs up, we spread our sail
and go, in the “daylight of the moon,” flying up the river, by black
and weird shores; and before midnight pass lonesome Aboo Simbel, whose
colossi sit in the moonlight with the impassive mien they have held for
so many ages.

In the morning, with an easy wind, we are on the last stage of our
journey. We are almost at the limit of dahabeëh navigation. The country
is less interesting than it was below. The river is very broad, and we
look far over the desert on each side. The strip of cultivated soil is
narrow and now and again disappears altogether. To the east are seen,
since we passed Aboo Simbel, the pyramid hills, some with truncated
tops, scattered without plan over the desert. It requires no stretch
of fancy to think that these mathematically built hills are pyramids
erected by races anterior to Menes, and that all this waste that they
dot is a necropolis of that forgotten people.

The sailors celebrate the finishing of the journey by a ceremony of
state and dignity. The chief actor is Farrag, the wit of the crew.
Suddenly he appears as the Governor of Wady Haifa, with horns on his
head, face painted, a long beard, hair sprinkled with flour, and dressed
in shaggy sheepskin. He has come on board to collect his taxes. He opens
his court, with the sailors about him, holding a long marline spike
which he pretends to smoke as a chibook. His imitation of the town
dignitaries along the river is very comical, and his remarks are greeted
with roars of laughter. One of the crew acts as his bailiff and summons
all the officers and servants of the boat before him, who are thrown
down upon the deck and bastinadoed, and released on payment of
backsheesh. The travelers also have to go before the court and pay a
fine for passing through the Governor’s country. The Governor is
treated with great deference till the end of the farce, when one of
his attendants sets fire to his beard, and another puts him out with a
bucket of water.

‘The end of our journey is very much like the end of everything
else—there is very little in it. When we follow anything to its utmost
we are certain to be disappointed—simply because it is the nature of
things to taper down to a point. I suspect it must always be so with
the traveler, and that the farther he penetrates into any semi-savage
continent, the meaner and ruder will he find the conditions of life.
When we come to the end, ought we not to expect the end?

We have come a thousand miles not surely to see Wady Haifa but to see
the thousand miles. And yet Wady Haifa, figuring as it does on the
map, the gate of the great Second Cataract, the head of navigation, the
destination of so many eager travelers, a point of arrival and departure
of caravans, might be a little less insignificant than it is. There is
the thick growth of palm-trees under which the town lies, and beyond
it, several miles, on the opposite, west bank, is the cliff of Aboosir,
which looks down upon the cataract; but for this noble landmark,
this dominating rock, the traveler could not feel that he had arrived
anywhere, and would be so weakened by the shock of arriving nowhere at
the end of so long a journey (as a man is by striking a blow in the air)
that he would scarcely have strength to turn back.

At the time of our arrival, however, Wady Haifa has some extra life. An
expedition of the government is about to start for Darfoor. When we moor
at the east bank, we see on the west bank the white tents of a military
encampment set in right lines on the yellow sand; near them the
government storehouse and telegraph-office, and in front a mounted
howitzer and a Gatling gun. No contrast could be stronger. Here is Wady
Halfah, in the doze of an African town, a collection of mud-huts under
the trees, listless, apathetic, sitting at the door of a vast region,
without either purpose or ambition. There, yonder, is a piece of life
out of our restless age. There are the tents, the guns, the instruments,
the soldiers and servants of a new order of things for Africa. We hear
the trumpet call to drill. The flag which is planted in the sand in
front of the commander’s tent is to be borne to the equator.

But this is not a military expedition. It is a corps of scientific
observation, simply. Since the Sultan of Darfoor is slain and the
Khedive’s troops have occupied his capital, and formally attached
that empire to Egypt, it is necessary to know something of its extent,
resources, and people, concerning all of which we have only the
uncertain reports of traders. It is thought by some that the annexation
of Darfoor adds five millions to the population of the Khedive’s growing
empire. In order that he may know what he has conquered, he has sent
out exploring expeditions, of which this is one. It is under command
of Purdy Bey assisted by Lieutenant-Colonel Mason, two young American
officers of the Khedive, who fought on opposite sides in our civil war.
They are provided with instruments for making all sorts of observations,
and are to report upon the people and the physical character and
capacity of the country. They expect to be absent three years, and after
surveying Darfoor, will strike southward still, and perhaps contribute
something to the solution of the Nile problem. For escort they have a
hundred soldiers only, but a large train of camels and intendants.
In its purpose it is an expedition that any civilized ruler might be
honored for setting on foot. It is a brave overture of civilization to
barbarism. The nations are daily drawing nearer together. As we sit in
the telegraph-office here, messages are flashed from Cairo to Kartoom.



0298



CHAPTER XXIII.—APPROACHING THE SECOND CATARACT.

THERE are two ways of going to see the Second Cataract and the cliff
of Aboosir, which is about six miles above Wady Haifa; one is by small
boat, the other by dromedary over the desert. We chose the latter, and
the American officers gave us a mount and their company also. Their camp
presented a lively scene when we crossed over to it in the morning.
They had by requisition pressed into their service three or four hundred
camels, and were trying to select out of the lot half a dozen fit to
ride. The camels were, in fact, mostly burden camels and not trained to
the riding-saddle; besides, half of them were poor, miserable rucks of
bones, half-starved to death; for the Arabs, whose business it had been
to feed them, had stolen the government supplies. An expedition which
started south two weeks ago lost more than a hundred camels, from
starvation, before it reached Semneh, thirty-five miles up the river.
They had become so weak, that they wilted and died on the first hard
march. For his size and knotty appearance, the camel is the most
disappointing of beasts. He is a sheep as to endurance. As to temper, he
is vindictive.

Authorities differ in regard to the distinction between the camel and
the dromedary. Some say that there are no camels in Egypt, that they
are all dromedaries, having one hump; and that the true camel is the
Bactrian, which has two humps. It is customary here, however, to call
those camels which are beasts of burden, and those dromedaries which are
trained to ride; the distinction being that between the cart-horse and
the saddle-horse.

The camel-drivers, who are as wild Arabs as you will meet anywhere,
select a promising beast and drag him to the tent. He is reluctant to
come; he rebels against the saddle; he roars all the time it is being
secured on him, and when he is forced to kneel, not seldom he breaks
away from his keepers and shambles off into the desert. The camel does
this always; and every morning on a inarch he receives his load only
after a struggle. The noise of the drivers is little less than the roar
of the beasts, and with their long hair, shaggy breasts, and bare legs
they are not less barbarous in appearance.

Mounting the camel is not difficult, but it has some sweet surprises
for the novice. The camel lies upon the ground with all his legs shut up
under him like a jackknife. You seat yourself in the broad saddle, and
cross your legs in front of the pommel. Before you are ready, something
like a private earthquake begins under you. The camel raises his
hindquarters suddenly, and throws you over upon his neck; and, before
you recover from that he straightens up his knees and gives you a jerk
over his tail; and, while you are not at all certain what has happened,
he begins to move off with that dislocated walk which sets you into a
see-saw motion, a waving backwards and forwards in the capacious saddle.
Not having a hinged back fit for this movement, you lash the beast with
your koorbâsh to make him change his gait. He is nothing loth to do it,
and at once starts into a high trot which sends you a foot into the air
at every step, bobs you from side to side, drives your backbone into
your brain, and makes castanets of your teeth. Capital exercise. When
you have enough of it, you pull up, and humbly enquire what is the
heathen method of riding a dromedary.

It is simple enough. Shake the loose halter-rope (he has neither bridle
nor bit) against his neck as you swing the whip, and the animal at once
swings into an easy pace; that is, a pretty easy pace, like that of
a rocking-horse. But everything depends upon the camel. I happened to
mount one that it was a pleasure to ride, after I brought him to the
proper gait We sailed along over the smooth sand, with level keel, and
(though the expression is not nautical) on cushioned feet. But it is
hard work for the camel, this constant planting of his spongy feet in
the yielding sand.

Our way lay over the waste and rolling desert (the track of the southern
caravans,) at some little distance from the river; and I suppose six
miles of this travel are as good as a hundred. The sun was blazing hot,
the yellow sand glowed in it, and the far distance of like sand and
bristling ledges of black rock shimmered in waves of heat. No tree, no
blade of grass, nothing but blue sky bending over a sterile land. Yet,
how sweet was the air, how pure the breath of the desert, how charged
with electric life the rays of the sun!

The rock Aboosir, the ultima Thule of pleasure-travel on the Nile, is a
sheer precipice of perhaps two to three hundred feet above the Nile;
but this is high enough to make it one of the most extensive lookouts in
Egypt. More desert can be seen here than from almost anywhere else. The
Second Cataract is spread out beneath us. It is less a “fall” even than
the First. The river is from a half mile to a mile in breadth and for
a distance of some five miles is strewn with trap-rock, boulders and
shattered fragments, through which the Nile swiftly forces itself in a
hundred channels. There are no falls of any noticeable height. Here, on
the flat rock, where we eat our luncheon, a cool breeze blows from the
north. Here on this eagle’s perch, commanding a horizon of desert and
river for a hundred miles, fond visitors have carved their immortal
names, following an instinct of ambition that is well-nigh universal,
in the belief no doubt that the name will have for us who come after all
the significance it has in the eyes of him who carved it. But I cannot
recall a single name I read there; I am sorry that I cannot, for it
seems a pitiful and cruel thing to leave them there in their remote
obscurity.

From this rock we look with longing to the southward, into vast Africa,
over a land we may not further travel, which we shall probably never
see again; or the far horizon the blue peaks of Dongola are visible,
and beyond these we know are the ruins of Meroë, that ancient city, the
capital of that Ethiopian Queen, Candace, whose dark face is lighted up
by a momentary gleam from the Scriptures.

On the beach at Wady Haifa are half a dozen trading-vessels, loaded with
African merchandise for Cairo, and in the early morning there is a great
hubbub among the merchants and the caravan owners. A sudden dispute
arises among a large group around the ferry-boat, and there ensues that
excited war, or movement, which always threatens to come to violence in
the East but never does; Niagaras of talk are poured out; the ebb and
flow of the parti-colored crowd, and the violent and not ungraceful
gestures make a singular picture.

Bales of merchandise are piled on shore, cases of brandy and cottons
from England, to keep the natives of Soudan warm inside and out; Greek
merchants splendid in silk attire, are lounging amid their goods, slowly
bargaining for their transportation. Groups of camels are kneeling on
the sand with their Bedaween drivers. These latter are of the Bisharee
Arabs, and free sons of the desert. They wear no turban, and their only
garment is a long strip of brown cotton thrown over the shoulder so as
to leave the right arm free, and then wound about the waist and loins.
The black hair is worn long, braided in strands which shine with oil,
and put behind the ears. This sign of effeminacy is contradicted by
their fine, athletic figures; by a bold, strong eye, and a straight,
resolute nose.

Wady Haifa (wady is valley, and Haifa is a sort of coarse grass) has a
post-office and a mosque, but no bazaar, nor any center of attraction.
Its mud-houses are stretched along the shore for a mile and a half, and
run back into the valley, under the lovely palm-grove; but there are no
streets and no roads through the deep sand. There is occasionally a
sign of wealth in an extensive house, that is, one consisting of several
enclosed courts and apartments within one large mud-wall; and in one we
saw a garden, watered by a sakiya, and two latticed windows in a second
story looking on it, as if some one had a harem here which was handsome
enough to seclude..

We called on the Kadi, the judicial officer of this district, whose
house is a specimen of the best, and as good as is needed in this land
of the sun. On one side of an open enclosure is his harem; in the other
is the reception-room where he holds court. This is a mud-hut, with
nothing whatever in it except some straw mats. The Kadi sent for rugs,
and we sat on the mud-bench outside, while attendants brought us dates,
popped-corn, and even coffee; and then they squatted in a row in front
of us and stared at us, as we did at them. The ladies went into the
harem, and made the acquaintance of the judge’s one wife and his dirty
children. Not without cordiality and courtesy of manner these people;
but how simple are the terms of life here; and what a thoroughly African
picture this is, the mud-huts, the sand, the palms, the black-skinned
groups.

The women here are modestly clad, but most of them frightfully ugly and
castor-oily; yet we chanced upon two handsome girls, or rather married
women, of fifteen or sixteen. One of them had regular features and a
very pretty expression, and evidently knew she was a beauty, for she sat
apart on the ground, keeping her head covered most of the time, and
did not join the women who thronged about us to look with wonder at the
costume of our ladies and to beg for backsheesh. She was loaded with
necklaces, bracelets of horn and ivory, and had a ring on every finger.
There was in her manner something of scorn and resentment at our
intrusion; she no doubt had her circle of admirers and was queen in it.
Who are these pale creatures who come to stare at my charms? Have they
no dark pretty women in their own land? And she might well have asked,
what would she do—a beauty of New York city, let us say—when she sat
combing her hair on the marble doorsteps of her father’s palace in
Madison Square, if a lot of savage, impolite Nubians, should come and
stand in a row in front of her and stare?

The only shops here are the temporary booths of traders, birds of
passage to or from the equatorial region. Many of them have pitched
their gay tents under the trees, making the scene still more like a fair
or an encampment for the night. In some are displayed European finery
and trumpery, manufactured for Africa, calico in striking colors, glass
beads and cotton cloth; others are coffee-shops, where men are playing
at a sort of draughts—the checker-board being holes made in the sand and
the men pebbles. At the door of a pretty tent stood a young and handsome
Syrian merchant, who cordially invited us in, and pressed upon us the
hospitality of his house. He was on his way to Darfoor, and might remain
there two or three years, trading with the natives. We learned this
by the interpretation of his girl-wife, who spoke a little barbarous
French. He had married her only recently, and this was their bridal
tour, we inferred. Into what risks and perils was this pretty woman
going? She was Greek, from one of the islands, and had the naïvete and
freshness of both youth and ignorance. Her fair complexion was touched
by the sun and ruddy with health. Her blue eyes danced with the pleasure
of living. She wore her hair natural, with neither oil nor ornament, but
cut short and pushed behind the ears. For dress she had a simple calico
gown of pale yellow, cut high in the waist, à la Grecque, the prettiest
costume women ever assumed. After our long regimen of the hideous women
of the Nile, plastered with dirt, soaked in oil, and hung with tawdry
ornaments, it may be imagined how welcome was this vision of a woman,
handsome, natural and clean, with neither the shyness of an animal nor
the brazenness of a Ghawazee.

Our hospitable entertainers hastened to set before us what they had;
a bottle of Maraschino was opened, very good European cigars were
produced, and a plate of pistachio nuts, to eat with the cordial. The
artless Greek beauty cracked the nuts for us with her shining teeth,
laughing all the while; urging us to eat, and opening her eyes in wonder
that we would not eat more, and would not carry away more. It must
be confessed that we had not much conversation, but we made it up in
constant smiling, and ate our pistachios and sipped our cordial in great
glee. What indeed could we have done more with words, or how have
passed a happier hour? We perfectly understood each other; we drank each
other’s healths; we were civilized beings, met by chance in a barbarous
place; we were glad to meet, and we parted in the highest opinion of
each other, with gay salaams, and not in tears. What fate I wonder had
these handsome and adventurous merchants among the savages of Darfoor
and Kordofan?

The face of our black boy, Gohah, was shining with pleasure when we
walked away, and he said with enthusiasm, pointing to the tent, “Sitt
tyeb, quéi-is.” Accustomed as he was to the African beauties of
Soudan, I do not wonder that Gohah thought this “lady” both “good” and
“beautiful.”

We have seen Wady Haifa. The expedition to Darfoor is packing up to
begin its desert march in the morning. Our dahabeëh has been transformed
and shorn of a great part of its beauty. We are to see no more the great
bird-wing sail. The long yard has been taken down and is slung above us
the whole length of the deck. The twelve big sweeps are put in place;
the boards of the forward deck are taken up, so that the Lowers will
have place for their feet as they sit on the beams. They sit fronting
the cabin, and rise up and take a step forward at each stroke, settling
slowly back to their seats. On the mast is rigged the short stern-yard
and sail, to be rarely spread. Hereafter we are to float, and drift, and
whirl, and try going with the current and against the wind.

At ten o’clock of a moonlight night, a night of summer heat, we swing
off, the rowers splashing their clumsy oars and setting up a shout and
chorus in minor, that sound very much like a wail, and would be quite
appropriate if they were ferrymen of the Styx. We float a few miles, and
then go aground and go to bed.

The next day we have the same unchanging sky, the same groaning and
creaking of the sakiyas, and in addition the irregular splashing of
the great sweeps as we slide down the river. Two crocodiles have the
carelessness to show themselves on a sand-island, one a monstrous beast,
whose size is magnified every time we think how his great back sunk into
the water when our sandal was yet beyond rifle-shot. Of course he did
not know that we carried only a shot-gun and intended only to amuse him,
or he would not have been in such haste.

The wind is adverse, we gain little either by oars or by the current,
and at length take to the shore, where something novel always rewards
us. This time we explore some Roman ruins, with round arches of unburned
bricks, and find in them also the unmistakable sign of Roman occupation,
the burnt bricks—those thin slabs, eleven inches long, five wide, and
two thick, which, were a favorite form with them, bricks burnt for
eternity, and scattered all over the East wherever the Roman legions
went.

Beyond these is a village, not a deserted village, but probably the
laziest in the world. Men, and women for the most part too, were
lounging about and in the houses, squatting in the dust, in absolute
indolence, except that the women, all of them, were suckling their
babies, and occasionally one of them was spinning a little cotton-thread
on a spindle whirled in the hand. The men are more cleanly than the
women, in every respect in better condition, some of them bright,
fine-looking fellows. One of them showed us through his house, which was
one of the finest in the place, and he was not a little proud of it. It
was a large mud-wall enclosure. Entering by a rude door we came into
an open space, from which opened several doors, irregular breaks in
the wall, closed by shackling doors of wood. Stepping over the sill and
stooping, we entered the living-rooms. First, is the kitchen; the roof
of this is the sky—you are always liable to find yourself outdoors in
these houses—and the fire for cooking is built in one corner. Passing
through another hole in the wall we come to a sleeping-room, where were
some jars of dates and doora, and a mat spread in one corner to lie on.
Nothing but an earth-floor, and dust and grime everywhere. A crowd of
tittering girls were flitting about, peeping at us from doorways, and
diving into them with shrill screams, like frightened rabbits, if we
approached.

Abd-el-Atti raises a great laugh by twisting a piastre into the front
lock of hair of the ugliest hag there, calling her his wife, and drawing
her arm under his to take her to the boat. It is an immense joke. The
old lady is a widow and successfully conceals her reluctance. The tying
the piece of silver in the hair is a sign of marriage. All the married
women wear a piastre or some scale of silver on the forehead; the widows
leave off this ornament from the twist; the young girls show, by the
hair plain, except always the clay dabs, that they are in the market.
The simplicity of these people is noticeable. I saw a woman seated on
the ground, in dust three inches thick, leaning against the mud-bank
in front of the house, having in her lap a naked baby; on the bank sat
another woman, braiding the hair of the first, wetting it with muddy
water, and working into it sand, clay, and tufts of dead hair. What a
way to spend Sunday!

This is, on the whole, a model village. The people appear to have
nothing, and perhaps they want nothing. They do nothing, and I suppose
they would thank no one for coming to increase their wants and set them
to work. Nature is their friend.

I wonder what the staple of conversation of these people is, since the
weather offers nothing, being always the same, and always fine.

A day and a night and a day we fight adverse winds, and make no headway.
One day we lie at Farras, a place of no consequence, but having, almost
as a matter of course, ruins of the time of the Romans and the name
Rameses II. cut on a rock. In a Roman wall we find a drain-tile exactly
like those we use now. In the evening, after moon-rise, we drop down to
Aboo Simbel.



0306



0307



CHAPTER XXIV.—GIANTS IN STONE.

WHEN daylight came the Colossi of Aboo Simbel (or Ipsambool) were
looking into our windows; greeting the sunrise as they have done every
morning for three thousand five hundred years; and keeping guard still
over the approach to the temple, whose gods are no longer anywhere
recognized, whose religion disappeared from the earth two thousand years
ago:—vast images, making an eternity of time in their silent waiting.

The river here runs through an unmitigated desert. On the east the sand
is brown, on the west the sand is yellow; that is the only variety.
There is no vegetation, there are no habitations, there is no path on
the shore, there are no footsteps on the sand, no one comes to break the
spell of silence. To find such a monument of ancient power and art
as this temple in such a solitude enhances the visitor’s wonder and
surprise. The Pyramids, Thebes, and Aboo Simbel are the three wonders of
Egypt. But the great temple of Aboo Simbel is unique. It satisfies the
mind. It is complete in itself, it is the projection of one creative
impulse of genius. Other temples are growths, they have additions,
afterthoughts, we can see in them the workings of many minds and many
periods. This is a complete thought, struck out, you would say, at a
heat.

In order to justify this opinion, I may be permitted a little detail
concerning this temple, which impressed us all as much as anything in
Egypt. There are two temples here, both close to the shore, both cut in
the mountain of rock which here almost overhangs the stream. We need not
delay to speak of the smaller one, although it would be wonderful, if
it were not for the presence of the larger. Between the two was a rocky
gorge. This is now nearly filled up, to the depth of a hundred feet, by
the yellow sand that has drifted and still drifts over from the level of
the desert hills above.

This sand, which drifts exactly like snow, lies in ridges like snow,
and lies loose and sliding under the feet or packs hard like snow, once
covered the façade of the big temple altogether, and now hides a portion
of it. The entrance to the temple was first cleared away in 1817 by
Belzoni and his party, whose gang of laborers worked eight hours a day
for two weeks with the thermometer at 1120 to 1160 Fahrenheit in the
shade—an almost incredible endurance when you consider what the heat
must have been in the sun beating upon this dazzling wall of sand in
front of them.

The rock in which the temple is excavated was cut back a considerable
distance, but in this cutting the great masses were left which were to
be fashioned into the four figures. The façade thus made, to which these
statues are attached, is about one hundred feet high. The statues are
seated on thrones with no intervening screens, and, when first seen,
have the appearance of images in front of and detached from the rock of
which they form a part. The statues are all tolerably perfect, except
one, the head of which is broken and lies in masses at its feet; and
at the time of our visit the sand covered the two northernmost to the
knees. The door of entrance, over which is a hawk-headed figure of Re,
the titular divinity, is twenty feet high. Above the colossi, and as a
frieze over the curve of the cornice, is a row of monkeys, (there were
twenty-one originally, but some are split away), like a company of
negro minstrels, sitting and holding up their hands in the most comical
manner. Perhaps the Egyptians, like the mediaeval cathedral builders,
had a liking for grotesque effects in architecture; but they may have
intended nothing comic here, for the monkey had sacred functions; he
was an emblem of Thoth, the scribe of the under-world, who recorded the
judgments of Osiris.

These colossi are the largest in the world *; they are at least fifteen
feet higher than the wonders of Thebes, but it is not their size
principally that makes their attraction. As works of art they are worthy
of study. Seated, with hands on knees, in that eternal, traditional
rigidity of Egyptian sculpture, nevertheless the grandeur of the head
and the noble beauty of the face take them out of the category of
mechanical works. The figures represent Rameses II. and the features
are of the type which has come down to us as the perfection of Egyptian
beauty.

* The following are some of the measurements of one of these
giants:—height of figure sixty-six feet; pedestal on which it sits, ten;
leg from knee to heel, twenty; great toe, one and a half feet thick;
ear, three feet, five inches long; fore-finger, three feet; from inner
side of elbow-joint to end of middle finger, fifteen feet.

I climbed up into the lap of one of the statues; it is there only that
you can get an adequate idea of the size of the body. What a roomy
lap! Nearly ten feet between the wrists that rest upon the legs! I sat
comfortably in the navel of the statue, as in a niche, and mused on the
passing of the nations. To these massive figures the years go by like
the stream. With impassive, serious features, unchanged in expression
in thousands of years, they sit listening always to the flowing of the
unending Nile, that fills all the air and takes away from that awful
silence which would else be painfully felt in this solitude.

The interior of this temple is in keeping with its introduction. You
enter a grand hall supported by eight massive Osiride columns, about
twenty-two feet high as we estimated them. They are figures of
Rameses become Osiris—to be absorbed into Osiris is the end of all the
transmigrations of the blessed soul. The expression of the faces of such
of these statues as are uninjured, is that of immortal youth—a beauty
that has in it the promise of immortality. The sides of this hall are
covered with fine sculptures, mainly devoted to the exploits of Rameses
II.; and here is found again, cut in the stone the long Poem of the poet
Pentaour, celebrating the single-handed exploit of Rameses against the
Khitas on the river Orontes. It relates that the king, whom his troops
dared not follow, charged with his chariot alone into the ranks of the
enemy and rode through them again and again, and slew them by hundreds.
Rameses at that time was only twenty-three; it was his first great
campaign. Pursuing the enemy, he overtook them in advance of his troops,
and, rejecting the councils of his officers, began the fight at once.
“The footmen and the horsemen then,” says the poet (the translator is M.
de Rouge), “recoiled before the enemy who were masters of Kadesh, on
the left bank of the Orontes.... Then his majesty, in the pride of
his strength, rising up like the god Mauth, put on his fighting dress.
Completely armed, he looked like Baal in the hour of his might. Urging
on his chariot, he pushed into the army of the vile Khitas; he was
alone, no one was with him. He was surrounded by 2,500 chariots, and the
swiftest of the warriors of the vile Khitas, and of the numerous nations
who accompanied them, threw themselves in his way.... Each chariot bore
three men, and the king had with him neither princes nor generals, nor
his captains of archers nor of chariots.”

Then Rameses calls upon Amun; he reminds him of the obelisk he has
raised to him, the bulls he has slain for him:—“Thee, I invoke, O my
Father! I am in the midst of a host of strangers, and no man is with me.
My archers and horsemen have abandoned me; when I cried to them, none of
them has heard, when I called for help. But I prefer Amun to thousands
of millions of archers, to millions of horsemen, to millions of young
heroes all assembled together. The designs of men are nothing, Amun
overrules them.”

Needless to say the prayer was heard, the king rode slashing through
the ranks of opposing chariots, slaying, and putting to rout the host.
Whatever basis of fact the poem may have had in an incident of battle or
in the result of one engagement, it was like one of Napoleon’s bulletins
from Egypt. The Khitas were not subdued and, not many years after, they
drove the Egyptians out of their land and from nearly all Palestine,
forcing them, out of all their conquests, into the valley of the Nile
itself. During the long reign of this Rameses, the power of Egypt
steadily declined, while luxury increased and the nation was exhausted
in building the enormous monuments which the king projected. The close
of his pretentious reign has been aptly compared to that of Louis XIV.—a
time of decadence; in both cases the great fabric was ripe for disaster.

But Rameses liked the poem of Pentaour. It is about as long as a book
of the Iliad, but the stone-cutters of his reign must have known it
by heart. He kept them carving it and illustrating it all his life, on
every wall he built where there was room for the story. He never,
it would seem, could get enough of it. He killed those vile Khitas a
hundred times; he pursued them over all the stone walls in his kingdom.
The story is told here at Ipsambool; it is carved in the Rameseum; the
poem is graved on Luxor and Karnak.

Out of this great hall open eight other chambers, all more or less
sculptured, some of them covered with well-drawn figures on which the
color is still vivid. Two of these rooms are long and very narrow, with
a bench running round the walls, the front of which is cut out so as to
imitate seats with short pillars. In one are square niches, a foot deep,
cut in the wall. The sculptures in one are unfinished, the hieroglyphics
and figures drawn in black but not cut—some event having called off
the artists and left their work incomplete We seem to be present at
the execution of these designs, and so fresh are the colors ot those
finished, that it seems it must have been only yesterday that the
workman laid down the brush. (A small chamber in the rock outside the
temple, which was only opened in 1874, is wonderful in the vividness
of its colors; we see there better than anywhere else the colors of
vestments.)

These chambers are not the least mysterious portion of this temple. They
are in absolute darkness, and have no chance of ventilation. By what
light was this elaborate carving executed? If people ever assembled in
them, and sat on these benches, when lights were burning, how could they
breathe? If they were not used, why should they have been so decorated?
They would serve very well for the awful mysteries of the Odd Fellows.
Perhaps they were used by the Free Masons in Solomon’s time.

Beyond the great hall is a transverse hall (having two small chambers
off from it) with four square pillars, and from this a corridor leads to
the adytum. Here, behind an altar of stone, sit four marred gods, facing
the outer door, two hundred feet from it. They sit in a twilight that is
only-brightened by rays that find their way in at the distant door; but
at morning they can see, from the depth of their mountain cavern, the
rising sun.

We climbed, up the yielding sand-drifts, to the top of the precipice in
which the temple is excavated, and walked back to a higher ridge.
The view from there is perhaps the best desert view on the Nile,
more extensive and varied than that of Aboosir. It is a wide sweep of
desolation. Up and down the river we see vast plains of sand and groups
of black hills; to the west and north the Libyan desert extends with no
limit to a horizon fringed with sharp peaks, like aiguilles of the Alps,
that have an exact resemblance to a forest.

At night, we give the ancient deities a sort of Fourth of July, and
illuminate the temple with colored lights. A blue-light burns upon
the altar in the adytum before the four gods, who may seem in their
penetralia to receive again the worship to which they were accustomed
three thousand years ago. A green flame in the great hall brings out
mysteriously the features of the gigantic Osiride, and revives the
midnight glow of the ancient ceremonies. In the glare of torches and
colored lights on the outside, the colossi loom in their gigantic
proportions and cast grotesque shadows.

Imagine this temple as it appeared to a stranger initiated into
the mysteries of the religion of the Pharaohs—a cultus in which
the mathematical secrets of the Pyramid and the Sphinx, art and
architecture, were wrapped in the same concealment with the problem of
the destiny of the soul; when the colors on these processions of gods
and heroes, upon these wars and pilgrimages sculptured in large on
the walls, were all brilliant; when these chambers were gorgeously
furnished, when the heavy doors that then hung in every passage,
separating the different halls and apartments, only swung open to admit
the neophyte to new and deeper mysteries, to halls blazing with light,
where he stood in the presence of these appalling figures, and of hosts
of priests and acolytes.

The temple of Aboo Simbel was built early in the reign of Rameses II.,
when art, under the impulse of his vigorous predecessors was in its
flower, and before the visible decadence which befel it later under
a royal patronage and “protection,” and in the demand for a wholesale
production, which always reduces any art to mechanical conditions. It
seemed to us about the finest single conception in Egypt. It must have
been a genius of rare order and daring who evoked in this solid mountain
a work of such grandeur and harmony of proportion, and then executed it
without a mistake. The first blow on the exterior, that began to reveal
the Colossi, was struck with the same certainty and precision as that
which brought into being the gods who are seated before the altar in the
depth of the mountain. A bolder idea was never more successfully wrought
out.

Our last view of this wonder was by moonlight and by sunrise. We arose
and went forth over the sand-bank at five o’clock. Venus blazed as never
before. The Southern Cross was paling in the moonlight. The moon, in its
last half, hung over the south-west corner of the temple rock, and threw
a heavy shadow across a portion of the sitting figures. In this dimness
of the half-light their proportions were supernatural. Details were
lost.

These might be giants of pre-historic times, or the old fabled gods of
antediluvian eras, outlined largely and majestically, groping their way
out of the hills.

Above them was the illimitable, purplish blue of the sky. The Moon, one
of the goddesses of the temple, withdrew more and more before the coming
of Re, the sun-god to whom the temple is dedicated, until she cast no
shadow on the façade. The temple, even the interior, caught the first
glow of the reddening east. The light came, as it always comes at dawn,
in visible waves, and these passed over the features of the Colossi,
wave after wave, slowly brightening them into life.

In the interior the first flush was better than the light of many
torches, and the Osiride figures were revealed in their hiding-places.
At the spring equinox the sun strikes squarely in, two hundred feet,
upon the faces of the sitting figures in the adytum. That is their
annual salute! Now it only sent its light to them; but it made rosy the
Osiride faces on one side of the great hall.

The morning was chilly, and we sat on a sand-drift, wrapped up against
the cutting wind, watching the marvellous revelation. The dawn seemed
to ripple down the gigantic faces of the figures outside, and to touch
their stony calm with something like a smile of gladness; it almost gave
them motion, and we would hardly have felt surprised to see them arise
and stretch their weary limbs, cramped by ages of inaction, and sing
and shout at the coming of the sun-god. But they moved not, the
strengthening light only revealed their stony impassiveness; and when
the sun, rapidly clearing the eastern hills of the desert, gilded first
the row of grinning monkeys, and then the light crept slowly down over
faces and forms to the very feet, the old heathen helplessness stood
confessed.

And when the sun swung free in the sky, we silently drew away and left
the temple and the guardians alone and unmoved. We called the reis and
the crew; the boat was turned to the current, the great sweeps dipped
into the water, and we continued our voyage down the eternal river,
which still sings and flows in this lonely desert place, where sit the
most gigantic figures man ever made.



0314



0315



CHAPTER XXV.—FLITTING THROUGH NUBIA.

WE HAVE been learning the language. The language consists merely of
tyeb. With tyeb in its various accents and inflections, you can carry
on an extended conversation. I have heard two Arabs talking for a half
hour, in which one of them used no word for reply or response except
tyeb “good.”

Tyeb is used for assent, agreement, approval, admiration, both
interrogatively and affectionately. It does the duty of the Yankee “all
right” and the vulgarism “that’s so” combined; it has as many meanings
as the Italian va bene, or the German So! or the English girl’s yes!
yes? ye-e-s, ye-e-as? yes (short), ‘n ye-e-es in doubt and really a
negative—ex.:—“How lovely Blanche looks to-night!” “‘n ye-e-es.” You may
hear two untutored Americans talking, and one of them, through a long
interchange of views will utter nothing except, “that’s so,” “that’s
so?” “that’s so,” “that’s so.” I think two Arabs meeting could come to a
perfect understanding with:

“Tyeb?’

“Tyeb.”

“Tyeb!” (both together).

“Tyeb?” (showing something).

“Tyeb” (emphatically, in admiration).

“Tyeb” (in approval of the other’s admiration).

“Tyeb Ketér” (“good, much”).

“Tyeb Keter?”

“Tyeb.”

“Tyeb.” (together, in ratification of all that has been said).

I say tyeb in my satisfaction with you; you say tyeb in pleasure at my
satisfaction; I say tyeb in my pleasure at your pleasure. The
servant says tyeb when you give him an order; you say tyeb upon his
comprehending it. The Arabic is the richest of languages. I believe
there are three hundred names for earth, a hundred for lion, and so
on. But the vocabulary of the common people is exceedingly limited. Our
sailors talk all day with the aid of a very few words.

But we have got beyond tyeb. We can say eiwa (“yes”)—or nam, when we
wish to be elegant—and la (“no”). The universal negative in Nubia,
however, is simpler than this—it is a cluck of the tongue in the left
check and a slight upward jerk of the head. This cluck and jerk makes
“no,” from which there is no appeal. If you ask a Nubian the price
of anything—be-kam dee?—and he should answer khamsa (“five”), and you
should offer thelata (“three”), and he should kch and jerk up his
head, you might know the trade was hopeless; because the kch expresses
indifference as well as a negative. The best thing you could do would be
to say bookra (“to-morrow”), and go away—meaning in fact to put off the
purchase forever, as the Nubian very well knows when he politely adds,
tyeb.

But there are two other words necessary to be mastered before the
traveller can say he knows Arabic. To the constant call for “backsheesh”
and the obstructing rabble of beggars and children, you must be able to
say mafeesh (“nothing”), and im’shee (“getaway,” “clear out,” “scat.”)
It is my experience that this im’shee is the most necessary word in
Egypt.

We do nothing all day but drift, or try to drift, against the north
wind, not making a mile an hour, constantly turning about, floating from
one side of the river to the other. It is impossible to row, for the
steersman cannot keep the boat’s bow to the current.

There is something exceedingly tedious, even to a lazy and resigned man,
in this perpetual drifting hither and thither. To float, however slowly,
straight down the current, would be quite another thing. To go sideways,
to go stern first, to waltz around so that you never can tell which bank
of the river you are looking at, or which way you are going, or what the
points of the compass are, is confusing and unpleasant. It is the
one serious annoyance of a dahabeëh voyage. If it is calm, we go on
delightfully with oars and current; if there is a southerly breeze
we travel rapidly, and in the most charming way in the world. But our
high-cabined boats are helpless monsters in this wind, which continually
blows; we are worse than becalmed, we are badgered.

However, we might be in a worse winter country, and one less
entertaining. We have just drifted in sight of a dahabeëh, with the
English flag, tied up to the bank. On the shore is a picturesque crowd;
an awning is stretched over high poles; men are busy at something under
it—on the rock near sits a group of white people under umbrellas. What
can it be? Are they repairing a broken yard? Are they holding a court
over some thief? Are they performing some mystic ceremony? We take the
sandal and go to investigate.

An English gentleman has shot two crocodiles, and his people are
skinning them, stuffing the skin, and scraping the flesh from the bones,
preparing the skeletons for a museum. Horrible creatures they are, even
in this butchered condition. The largest is twelve feet long; that is
called a big crocodile here; but last winter the gentleman killed one
that was seventeen feet long; that was a monster.

In the stomach of one of these he found two pairs of bracelets, such
as are worn by Nubian children, two “cunning” little leathern bracelets
ornamented with shells—a most useless ornament for a crocodile.
The animal is becoming more and more shy every year, and it is very
difficult to get a shot at one. They come out in the night, looking for
bracelets. One night we nearly lost Ahmed, one of our black boys; he had
gone down upon the rudder, when an enquiring crocodile came along and
made a snap at him—when the boy climbed on deck he looked white even by
starlight.

The invulnerability of the crocodile hide is exaggerated. One of these
had two bullet-holes in his back. His slayer says he has repeatedly put
bullets through the hide on the back.

When we came away we declined steaks, but the owner gave us some eggs,
so that we might raise our own crocodiles.

Gradually we drift out of this almost utterly sterile country, and come
to long strips of palm-groves, and to sakiyas innumerable, shrieking on
the shore every few hundred feet. We have time to visit a considerable
village, and see the women at their other occupation (besides
lamentation) braiding each other’s hair; sitting on the ground,
sometimes two at a head, patiently twisting odds and ends of loose hair
into the snaky braids, and muddling the whole with sand, water,
and clay, preparatory to the oil. A few women are spinning with a
hand-spindle and producing very good cotton-thread. All appear to have
time on their hands. And what a busy place this must be in summer, when
the heat is like that of an oven! The men loaf about like the women, and
probably do even less. Those at work are mostly slaves, boys and girls
in the slightest clothing; and even these do a great deal of “standing
round.” Wooden hoes are used.

The desert over which we walked beyond the town was very different
from the Libyan with its drifts and drifts of yellow sand. We went over
swelling undulations (like our rolling prairies), cut by considerable
depressions, of sandstone with a light sand cover but all strewn with
shale or shingle. This black shale is sometimes seen adhering like a
layer of glazing to the coarse rock; and, though a part of the rock, it
has the queer appearance of having been a deposit solidified upon it and
subsequently broken off. On the tops of these hills we found everywhere
holes scooped out by the natives in search of nitre; the holes showed
evidence, in dried mud, of the recent presence of water.

We descended into a deep gorge, in which the rocks were broken
squarely down the face, exhibiting strata of red, white, and variegated
sandstone; the gorge was a Wady that ran far back into the country among
the mountains; we followed it down to a belt of sunt acacias and palms
on the river. This wady was full of rocks, like a mountain stream
at home; a great torrent running long in it, had worn the rocks into
fantastic shapes, cutting punch-bowls and the like, and water had
recently dried in the hollows. But it had not rained on the river.

This morning we are awakened by loud talking and wrangling on deck,
that sounds like a Paris revolution. We have only stopped for milk! The
forenoon we spend among the fashionable ladies of Derr, the capital of
Nubia, studying the modes, in order that we may carry home the latest.
This is an aristocratic place. One of the eight-hundred-years-old
sycamore trees, of which we made mention, is still vigorous and was
bearing the sycamore fig. The other is in front of a grand mud-house
with latticed windows, the residence of the Kashefs of Sultan Selim
whose descendants still occupy it, and, though shorn of authority, are
said to be proud of their Turkish origin. One of them, Hassan Kashef, an
old man in the memory of our dragoman, so old that he had to lift up
his eyelids with his finger when he wanted to see, died only a few years
ago. This patriarch had seventy-two wives as his modest portion in this
world; and as the Koran allows only four, there was some difficulty in
settling the good man’s estate. The matter was referred to the Khedive,
but he wisely refused to interfere. When the executor came to divide the
property among the surviving children, he found one hundred and five to
share the inheritance.

The old fellow had many other patriarchal ways. On his death-bed he left
a legacy of both good and evil wishes, requests to reward this friend,
and to “serve out” that enemy, quite in the ancient style, and in the
Oriental style, recalling the last recorded words of King David, whose
expiring breath was an expression of a wish for vengeance upon one of
his enemies, whom he had sworn not to kill. It reads now as if it might
have been spoken by a Bedawee sheykh to his family only yesterday:—“And,
behold, thou hast with thee Shimei the son of Gera, a Benjamite of
Bahurim, which cursed me with a grievous curse in the day when I went to
Mahanaim; but he came down to meet me at Jordan, and I sware to him
by the Lord, saying, I will not put thee to death with the sword. Now
therefore hold him not guiltless: for thou art a wise man, and knowest
what thou oughtest to do unto him; but his hoar head bring thou down to
the grave with blood. So David slept with his fathers, and was buried in
the city of David.”

We call at the sand-covered temple at A’mada, and crawl into it; a very
neat little affair, with fresh color and fine sculptures, and as old as
the time of Osirtasen III. (the date of the obelisk of Heliopolis, of
the Tombs of Beni Hassan, say about fifteen hundred years before Rameses
II.); and then sail quickly down to Korosko, passing over in an hour or
so a distance that required a day and a half on the ascent.

At Korosko there are caravans in from Kartoom; the camel-drivers wear
monstrous silver rings, made in the interior, the crown an inch high and
set with blood-stone. I bought from the neck of a pretty little boy
a silver “charm,” a flat plate with the name of Allah engraved on it.
Neither the boy nor the charm had been washed since they came into
being.

The caravan had brought one interesting piece of freight, which had
just been sent down the river. It was the head of the Sultan of Darfoor,
preserved in spirits, and forwarded to the Khedive as a present. This
was to certify that the Sultan was really killed, when Darfoor was
captured by the army of the Viceroy; though I do not know that there is
any bounty on the heads of African Sultans. It is an odd gift to send to
a ruler who wears the European dress and speaks French, and whose chief
military officers are Americans.

The desolate hills behind Korosko rise a thousand feet, and we climbed
one of the peaks to have a glimpse of the desert route and the country
towards Kartoom. I suppose a more savage landscape does not exist. The
peak of black disintegrated rocks on which we stood was the first of an
assemblage of such as far as we could see south; the whole horizon was
cut by these sharp peaks; and through these thickly clustering hills the
caravan trail made its way in sand and powdered dust. Shut in from
the breeze, it must be a hard road to travel, even with a winter sun
multiplying its rays from all these hot rocks; in the summer it would be
frightful. But on these summits, or on any desert swell, the air is
an absolute elixir of life; it has a quality of lightness but not the
rarity that makes respiration difficult.

At a village below Korosko we had an exhibition of the manner of
fighting with the long Nubian war-spear and the big round shield made of
hippopotamus-hide. The men jumped about and uttered frightening cries,
and displayed more agility than fight, the object being evidently to
terrify by a threatening aspect; but the scene was as barbarous as any
we see in African pictures. Here also was a pretty woman (pretty for
her) with beautiful eyes, who wore a heavy nose-ring of gold, which she
said she put on to make her face beautiful; nevertheless she would sell
the ring for nine dollars and a half. The people along here will
sell anything they have, ornaments, charms to protect them from the
evil-eye,—they will part with anything for money. At this village we
took on a crocodile ten feet long, which had been recently killed, and
lashed it to the horizontal yard. It was Abd-el-Atti’s desire to present
it to a friend in Cairo, and perhaps he was not reluctant, when we
should be below the cataract, to have it take the appearance, in the
eyes of spectators, of having been killed by some one on this boat.

We obtained above Korosko one of the most beautiful animals in the
world—a young gazelle—to add to our growing menagerie; which consists
of a tame duck, who never gets away when his leg is tied; a timid desert
hare, who has lived for a long time in a tin box in the cabin, trembling
like an aspen leaf night and day; and a chameleon.

The chameleon ought to have a chapter to himself. We have reason to
think that he has the soul of some transmigrating Egyptian. He is the
most uncanny beast. We have made him a study, and find very little good
in him. His changeableness of color is not his worst quality. He has the
nature of a spy, and he is sullen and snappish besides. We discovered
that his color is not a purely physical manifestation, but that it
depends upon his state of mind, upon his temper. When everything is
serene, he is green as a May morning, but anger changes him instantly
for the worse. It is however true that he takes his color mainly from
the substance upon which he dwells, not from what he eats; for he eats
flies and allows them to make no impression on his exterior. When he was
taken off an acacia-tree, this chameleon was of the bright-green color
of the leaves. Brought into our cabin, his usual resting-place was on
the reddish maroon window curtains, and his green changed muddily into
the color of the woollen. When angry, he would become mottled with dark
spots, and have a thick cloudy color. This was the range of his changes
of complexion; it is not enough (is it?) to give him his exaggerated
reputation.

I confess that I almost hated him, and perhaps cannot do him justice.
He is a crawling creature at best, and his mode of getting about is
disagreeable; his feet have the power of clinging to the slightest
roughness, and he can climb anywhere; his feet are like hands; besides,
his long tail is like another hand; it is prehensile like the monkey’s.
He feels his way along very carefully, taking a turn with his tail about
some support, when he is passing a chasm, and not letting go until his
feet are firmly fixed on something else. And, then, the way he uses his
eye is odious. His eye-balls are stuck upon the end of protuberances on
his head, which protuberances work like ball-and-socket joints—as if
you had your eye on the end of your finger. When he wants to examine
anything, he never turns his head; he simply swivels his eye round and
brings it to bear on the object. Pretending to live in cold isolation on
the top of a window curtain, he is always making clammy excursions round
the cabin, and is sometimes found in our bed-chambers. You wouldn’t like
to feel his cold tail dragging over you in the night.

The first question every morning, when we come to breakfast, is,

“Where is that chameleon?”

He might be under the table, you know, or on the cushions, and you might
sit on him. Commonly he conceals his body behind the curtain, and just
lifts his head above the roller. There he sits, spying us, gyrating his
evil eye upon us, and never stirring his head; he takes the color of
the curtain so nearly that we could not see him if it was not for that
swivel eye. It is then that he appears malign, and has the aspect of a
wise but ill-disposed Egyptian whose soul has had ill luck in getting
into any respectable bodies for three or four thousand years. He lives
upon nothing,—you would think he had been raised in a French pension.
Few flies happen his way; and, perhaps he is torpid out of the sun so
much of the time, he is not active to catch those that come. I carried
him a big one the other day, and he repaid my kindness by snapping my
finger. And I am his only friend.

Alas, the desert hare, whom we have fed with corn, and greens, and tried
to breed courage in for a long time, died this morning at an early hour;
either he was chilled out of the world by the cold air on deck, or he
died of palpitation of the heart; for he was always in a flutter of
fear, his heart going like a trip-hammer, when anyone approached him.
He only rarely elevated his long silky ears in a serene enjoyment of
society. His tail was too short, but he was, nevertheless, an animal to
become attached to.

Speaking of Hassan Kashef’s violation of the Moslem law, in taking more
than four wives, is it generally known that the women in Mohammed’s
time endeavored also to have the privileges of men? Forty women who
had cooked for the soldiers who were fighting the infidels and had done
great service in the campaign, were asked by the Prophet to name their
reward. The chief lady, who was put forward to prefer the request of
the others, asked that as men were permitted four wives women might be
allowed to have four husbands. The Prophet gave them a plain reason for
refusing their petition, and it has never been renewed. The legend shows
that long ago women protested against their disabilities.

The strong north wind, with coolish weather, continues. On Sunday we are
nowhere in particular, and climb a high sandstone peak, and sit in the
shelter of a rock, where wandering men have often come to rest. It is a
wild, desert place, and there is that in the atmosphere of the day which
leads to talk of the end of the world.

Like many other Moslems, Abd-el-Atti thinks that these are the
last days, bad enough days, and that the end draws near. We have
misunderstood what Mr. Lane says about Christ coming to “judge” the
world. The Moslems believe that Christ, who never died, but was taken up
into heaven away from the Jews,—a person in his likeness being crucified
in his stead,—will come to rule, to establish the Moslem religion and a
reign of justice (the Millenium); and that after this period Christ will
die, and be buried in Medineh, not far from Mohammed. Then the world
will end, and Azrael, the angel of death, will be left alone on the
earth for forty days. He will go to and fro, and find no one; all will
be in their graves. Then Christ and Mohammed and all the dead will rise.
But the Lord God will be the final judge of all.

“Yes, there have been many false prophets. A man came before Haroun e’
Rasheed pretending to be a prophet.

“‘What proof have you that you are one? What miracle can you do?’.rdquo;

“‘Anything you like.’.rdquo;

“‘Christ, on whom be peace, raised men from the dead.’.rdquo;

“‘So will I.’ This took place before the king and the chief-justice.
‘Let the head of the chief-justice be cut off,’ said the pretended
prophet, ‘and I will restore him to life.’.rdquo;

“‘Oh,’ cried the chief-justice, ‘I believe that the man is a real
prophet. Anyone who does not believe can have his head cut off, and try
it.’.rdquo;

“A woman also claimed to be a prophetess. ‘But,’ said the Khalif Haroun
e’ Rasheed, ‘Mohammed declared that he was the last man who should be a
prophet.’.rdquo;

“‘He didn’t say that a woman shouldn’t be,’ the woman she answer.”

The people vary in manners and habits here from village to village, much
more than we supposed they would. Walking this morning for a couple of
miles through the two villages of Maharraka—rude huts scattered under
palm-trees—we find the inhabitants, partly Arab, partly Barabra, and
many negro slaves, more barbaric than any we have seen; boys and girls,
till the marriageable age, in a state of nature, women neither so shy
nor so careful about covering themselves with clothing as in other
places, and the slaves wretchedly provided for. The heads of the young
children are shaved in streaks, with long tufts of hair left; the women
are loaded with tawdry necklaces, and many of them, poor as they
are, sport heavy hoops of gold in the nose, and wear massive silver
bracelets.

The slaves, blacks and mulattoes, were in appearance like those seen
formerly in our southern cotton-fields. I recall a picture, in abolition
times, representing a colored man standing alone, and holding up his
arms, in a manner beseeching the white man, passing by, to free him.
To-day I saw the picture realized. A very black man, standing nearly
naked in the midst of a bean-field, raised up both his arms, and cried
aloud to us as we went by. The attitude had all the old pathos in it.
As the poor fellow threw up his arms in a wild despair, he cried
“Backsheesh, backsheesh, O! howadji!”

For the first time we found the crops in danger. The country was overrun
with reddish-brown locusts, which settled in clouds upon every green
thing; and the people in vain attempted to frighten them from their
scant strip of grain. They are not, however, useless. The attractive
women caught some, and, pulling off the wings and legs, offered them to
us to eat. They said locusts were good; and I suppose they are such as
John the Baptist ate. We are not Baptists.

As we go down the river we take in two or three temples a day, besides
these ruins of humanity in the village,—-Dakkeh, Gerf Hossâyn, Dendoor.
It is easy to get enough of these second-class temples. That at
Gerf Hossâyn is hewn in the rock, and is in general arrangement like
Ipsambool—it was also made by Rameses II.—but is in all respects
inferior, and lacks the Colossi. I saw sitting in the adytum four
figures whom I took to be Athos, Parthos, Aramis, and D’Artignan—though
this edifice was built long before the day of the “Three Guardsmen.”

The people in the village below have such a bad reputation that the
dragoman in great fright sent sailors after us, when he found we were
strolling through the country alone. We have seen no natives so well
off in cattle, sheep, and cooking-utensils, or in nose-rings, beads, and
knives; they are, however, a wild, noisy tribe, and the whole village
followed us for a mile, hooting for backsheesh. The girls wear a
nose-ring and a girdle; the boys have no rings or girdles. The men are
fierce and jealous of their wives, perhaps with reason, stabbing and
throwing them into the river on suspicion, if they are caught talking
with another man. So they say. At this village we saw pits dug in the
sand (like those described in the Old Testament), in which cattle, sheep
and goats were folded; it being cheaper to dig a pit than to build a
stone fence.

At Kalâbshee are two temples, ruins on a sufficiently large scale to
be imposing; sculptures varied in character and beautifully colored;
propylons with narrow staircases, and concealed rooms, and deep windows
bespeaking their use as fortifications and dungeons as well as temples;
and columns of interest to the architect; especially two, fluted (time
of Rameses II.) with square projecting abacus like the Doric, but
with broad bases. The inhabitants are the most pestilent on the river,
crowding their curiosities upon us, and clamoring for money. They have
for sale gazelle-horns, and the henna (which grows here), in the form of
a green powder.

However, Kalâbshee has educational facilities. I saw there a boys’
school in full operation. In the open air, but in the sheltering angle
of a house near the ruins, sat on the ground the schoolmaster. Behind
him leaned his gun against the wall; before him lay an open Koran; and
in his hand he held a thin palm rod with which he enforced education. He
was dictating sentences from the book to a scrap of a scholar, a boy who
sat on the ground, with an inkhorn beside him, and wrote the sentences
on a board slate, repeating the words in aloud voice as he wrote. Nearby
was another urchin, seated before a slate leaning against the angle of
of the wall, committing the writing on it to memory, in a loud voice
also. When he looked off the stick reminded him to attend to his slate.
I do not know whether he calls this a private or a public school.

Quitting these inhospitable savages as speedily as we can, upon the
springing up of a south wind, we are going down stream at a spanking
rate, leaving a rival dahabeëh, belonging to an English lord, behind,
when the adversary puts it into the head of our pilot to steer across
the river, and our prosperous career is suddenly arrested on a sandbar.
We are fast, and the English boat, keeping in the channel, shows us her
rudder and disappears round the bend.

Extraordinary confusion follows; the crew are in the water, they are on
deck, the anchor is got out, there are as many opinions, as people, and
no one obeys. The long pilot is a spectacle, after he has been wading
about in the stream and comes on deck. His gown is off and his turban
also; his head is shaved; his drawers are in tatters like lace-work. He
strides up and down beating his breast, his bare poll shining in the
sun like a billiard ball. We are on the sand nearly four hours, and the
accident, causing us to lose this wind, loses us, it so happens, three
days. By dark we tie up near the most excruciating Sakiya in the world.
It is suggested to go on shore and buy the property and close it out.
But the boy who is driving will neither sell nor stop his cattle.

At Gertassee we have more ruins and we pass a beautiful, single column,
conspicuous for a long distance over the desert, as fine as the once
“nameless column” in the Roman forum, These temples, or places of
worship, are on the whole depressing. There was no lack of religious
privileges if frequency of religious edifices gave them. But the people
evidently had no part in the ceremonies, and went never into these dark
chambers, which are now inhabited by bats. The old religion does not
commend itself to me. Of what use would be one of these temples on
Asylum Hill, in Hartford, and how would the Rev. Mr. Twichell busy
himself in its dark recesses, I wonder, even with the help of the
deacons and the committee? The Gothic is quite enough for us.

This morning—we have now entered upon the month of February—for the
first time in Nubia, we have early a slight haze, a thin veil of it; and
passing between shores rocky and high and among granite breakers, we
are reminded of the Hudson river on a June morning. A strong north wind,
however, comes soon to puff away this illusion, and it blows so hard
that we are actually driven up-stream.

The people and villages under the crumbling granite ledges that this
delay enables us to see, are the least promising we have encountered;
women and children are more nearly barbarians in dress and manners; for
the women, a single strip of brown cotton, worn à la Bedawee, leaving
free the legs, the right arm and breast, is a common dress. And yet,
some of these women are not without beauty. One pretty girl sitting on
a rock, the sun glistening on the castor-oil of her hair, asked for
backsheesh in a sweet voice, her eyes sparkling with merriment. A flower
blooming in vain in this desert!

Is it a question of “converting” these people? Certainly, nothing but
the religion of the New Testament, put in practice here, bringing in
its train, industry, self-respect, and a desire to know, can awaken the
higher nature, and lift these creatures into a respectable womanhood.
But the task is more difficult than it would be with remote tribes in
Central Africa. These people have been converted over and over again.
They have had all sorts of religions during the last few thousand years,
and they remain essentially the same. They once had the old Egyptian
faith, whatever it was; and subsequently they varied that with the
Greek and Roman shades of heathenism. They then accepted the early
Christianity, as the Abyssinians did, and had, for hundreds of years,
opportunity of Christian worship, when there were Christian churches
all along the Nile from Alexander to Meroë, and holy hermits in every
eligible cave and tomb. And then came Mohammed’s friends, giving them
the choice of belief or martyrdom, and they embraced the religion of
Mecca as cordially as any other.

They have remained essentially unchanged through all their changes. This
hopelessness of their condition is in the fact that in all the shiftings
of religions and of dynasties, the women have continued to soak their
hair in castor-oil. The fashion is as old as the Nile world. Many people
look upon castor-oil as an excellent remedy. I should like to know what
it has done for Africa.

At Dabod is an interesting ruin, and a man sits there in front of his
house, weaving, confident that no rain will come to spoil his yarn.
He sits and works the treadle of his loom in a hole in the ground, the
thread being stretched out twenty or thirty feet on the wall before
him. It is the only industry of the village, and a group of natives are
looking on. The poor weaver asks backsheesh, and when I tell him I have
nothing smaller than an English sovereign, he says he can change it!

Here we find also a sort of Holly-Tree Inn, a house for charitable
entertainment, such as is often seen in Moslem villages. It is a square
mud-structure, entered by two doors, and contains two long rooms with
communicating openings. The dirt-floors are cleanly swept and fresh mats
are laid down at intervals. Any stranger or weary traveler, passing
by, is welcome to come in and rest or pass the night, to have a cup of
coffee and some bread. There are two cleanly dressed attendants, and
one of them is making coffee, within, over a handful of fire, in a
tiny coffee-pot. In front, in the sun, on neat mats, sit half a dozen
turbaned men, perhaps tired wanderers and pilgrims in this world, who
have turned aside to rest for an hour, for a day, or for a week. They
appear to have been there forever. The establishment is maintained by
a rich man of the place; but signs of an abode of wealth we failed to
discover in any of the mud-enclosures.

When we are under way again, we express surprise at finding here such an
excellent charity.

“You no think the Lord he take care for his own?” says Abd-el-Atti.
“When the kin’ [king] of Abyssinia go to ‘stroy the Kaabeh in Mecca”—

“Did you ever see the Kaabeh?”

“Many times. Plenty times I been in Mecca.”

“In what part of the Kaabeh is the Black Stone?”

“So. The Kaabeh is a building like a cube, about, I think him, thirty
feet high, built in the middle of the mosque at Mecca. It was built by
Abraham, of white marble. In the outside the east wall, near the corner,
‘bout so (four feet) high you find him, the Black Stone, put there by
Abraham, call him haggeh el ashad, the lucky, the fortunate stone. It is
opposite the sunrise. Where Abraham get him? God knows. If any one sick,
he touch this stone, be made so well as he was. So I hunderstand.
The Kaabeh is in the centre of the earth, and has fronts to the four
quarters of the globe, Asia, Hindia, Egypt, all places, toward which
the Moslem kneel in prayer. Near the Kaabeh is the well, the sacred well
Zem-Zem, has clear water, beautiful, so lifely. One time a year, in the
month before Ramadan, Zem-Zem spouts up high in the air, and people come
to drink of it. When Hagar left Ishmael, to look for water, being very
thirsty, the little fellow scratched with his fingers in the sand, and a
spring of water rushed up; this is the well Zem-Zem. I told you the same
water is in the spring in Syria, El Gebel; I find him just the same;
come under the earth from Zem-Zem.”

“When the kin’ of Abyssinia, who not believe, what you call infidel,
like that Englishman, yes, Mr. Buckle, I see him in Sinai and Petra—very
wise man, know a great deal, very nice gentleman, I like him very much,
but I think he not believe—when the kin’ of Abyssinia came with all his
great army and his elephants to fight against Mecca, and to ‘stroy the
Kaabeh as well the same time to carry off all the cattle of the people,
then the people they say, ‘the cattle are ours, but the Kaabeh is the
Lord’s, and he will have care over it; the Kaabeh is not ours.’ There
was one of the elephants of the kin’ of Abyssinia, the name of Mahmoud,
and he was very wise, more wise than anybody else. When he came in sight
of Mecca, he turned back and went the other way, and not all the spears
and darts of the soldiers could stop him. The others went on. Then the
Lord sent out of the hell very small birds, with very little stones,
taken out of hell, in their claws, no larger than mustard seeds; and
the birds dropped these on the heads of the soldiers that rode on the
elephants—generally three or four on an elephant. The little seeds went
right down through the men and through the elephants, and killed them,
and by this the army was ‘stroyed.”

“When the kin’, after that, come into the mosque, some power outside
himself made him to bow down in respect to the Kaabeh. He went away and
did not touch it. And it stands there the same now.”



0331



CHAPTER XXVI.—MYSTERIOUS PHILÆ.

WE are on deck early to see the approach to Philæ, which is through a
gateway of high rocks. The scenery is like parts of the Rhine; and as we
come in sight of the old mosque perched on the hillside, and the round
tomb on the pinnacle above, it is very like the Rhine, with castle
ruins. The ragged and rock island of Biggeh rises before us and seems to
stop the way, but, at a turn in the river, the little temple, with its
conspicuous columns, then the pylon of the great temple, and at length
the mass of ruins, that cover the little island of Philæ, open on the
view.

In the narrows we meet the fleet of government boats conveying the
engineer expedition going up to begin the railway from Wady Haifa to
Berber. Abd-el-Atti does not like the prospect of Egypt running deeper
and deeper in debt, with no good to come of it, he says; he believes
that the Khedive is acting under the advice of England, which is
entirely selfish and only desires a short way to India, in case the
French should shut the Suez Canal against them (his view is a very good
example of a Moslem’s comprehension of affairs). Also thinking, with all
Moslems, that it is best to leave the world and its people as the Lord
has created and placed them, he replied to an enquiry about his opinion
of the railroad, with this story of Jonah:—

“When the prophet Jonah came out of the whale and sat down on the bank
to dry under a tree (I have seen the tree) in Syria, there was a blind
man sitting near by, who begged the prophet to give him sight. Then
Jonah asked the Lord for help and the blind man was let to see. The man
was eating dates at the same time, and the first thing he did when he
got his eyes open was to snap the hard seeds at Jonah, who you know
was very tender from being so long in the whale. Jonah was stung on his
skin, and bruised by the stones, and he cry out, ‘O! Lord, how is this?’
And the Lord said, ‘Jonah, you not satisfied to leave things as I placed
‘em; and now you must suffer for it’.”

One muses and dreams at Philæ, and does not readily arouse himself
to the necessity of exploring and comprehending the marvels and the
beauties that insensibly lead him into sentimental reveries. If ever the
spirit of beauty haunted a spot, it is this. Whatever was harsh in the
granite ledges, or too sharp in the granite walls, whatever is repellant
in the memory concerning the uses of these temples of a monstrous
theogony, all is softened now by time, all asperities are worn away;
nature and art grow lovely together in a gentle decay, sunk in a repose
too beautiful to be sad. Nowhere else in Egypt has the grim mystery of
the Egyptians cultus softened into so harmless a memory.

The oval island contains perhaps a hundred acres. It is a rock, with
only a patch or two of green, and a few scattered palms, just enough to
give it a lonely, poetic, and not a fruitful aspect, and, as has been
said, is walled all round from the water’s edge. Covered with ruins, the
principal are those of the temple of Isis. Beginning at the southern end
of the island, where a flight of steps led up to it, it stretches along,
with a curved and broadening colonnade, giant pylons, great courts and
covered temples. It is impossible to imagine a structure or series of
structures, more irregular in the lines or capricious in the forms. The
architects gave free play to their fancy, and we find here the fertility
and variety, if not the grotesqueness of imagination of the mediaeval
cathedral builders. The capitals of the columns of the colonnade are
sculptured in rich variety; the walls of the west cloister are covered
with fine carvings, the color on them still fresh and delicate; and the
ornamental designs are as beautiful and artistic as the finest Greek
work, which some of it suggests: as rich as the most lovely Moorish
patterns, many of which seem to have been copied from these living
creations—-diamond-work, birds, exquisite medallions of flowers, and
sphinxes.

Without seeing this mass of buildings, you can have no notion of the
labor expended in decorating them. All the surfaces of the gigantic
pylons, of the walls and courts, exterior and interior, are covered with
finely and carefully cut figures and hieroglyphics, and a great deal of
the work is minute and delicate chiselling. You are lost in wonder if
you attempt to estimate the time and the number of workmen necessary to
accomplish all this. It seems incredible that men could ever have had
patience or leisure for it. A great portion of the figures, within and
without, have been, with much painstaking, defaced; probably it was done
by the early Christians, and this is the only impress they have left of
their domination in this region.

The most interesting sculptures, however, at Philæ are those in a small
chamber, or mortuary chapel, on the roof of the main temple, touching
the most sacred mystery of the Egyptian religion, the death and
resurrection of Osiris. This myth, which took many fantastic forms, was
no doubt that forbidden topic upon which Herodotus was not at liberty to
speak. It was the growth of a period in the Egyptian theology when the
original revelation of one God grew weak and began to disappear under
a monstrous symbolism. It is possible that the priests, who held their
religious philosophy a profound secret from the vulgar (whose religion
was simply a gross worship of symbols), never relinquished the belief
expressed in their sacred texts, which say of God “that He is the sole
generator in heaven and earth, and that He has not been begotten....
That He is the only living and true God, who was begotten by Himself....
He who has existed from the beginning.... who has made all things and
was not Himself made.” It is possible that they may have held to this
and still kept in the purity of its first conception the myth of the
manifestation of Osiris, however fantastic the myth subsequently became
in mythology and in the popular worship.

Osiris, the personification of the sun, the life-giving, came upon the
earth to benefit men, and one of his titles was the “manifester of good
and truth.” He was slain in a conflict with Set the spirit of evil and
darkness; he was buried; he was raised from the dead by the prayers of
his wife, Isis; he became the judge of the dead; he was not only the
life-giving but the saving deity; “himself the first raised from the
dead, he assisted to raise those who were justified, after having aided
them to overcome all their trials.”

But whatever the priests and the initiated believed, this myth is here
symbolized in the baldest forms. We have the mummy of Osiris passing
through its interment and the successive stages of the under-world; then
his body is dismembered and scattered, and finally the limbs and organs
are reassembled and joined together, and the resurrection takes place
before our eyes. It reminds one of a pantomime of the Ravels, who used
to chop up the body of a comrade and then put him together again as good
as new, with the insouciance of beings who lived in a world where such
transactions were common. This whole temple indeed, would be a royal
place for the tricks of a conjurer or the delusions of a troop of stage
wizards. It is full of dark chambers and secret passages, some of them
in the walls and some subterranean, the entrances to which are only
disclosed by removing a close-fitting stone.

The great pylons, ascended by internal stairways, have habitable
chambers in each story, lighted by deep slits of windows, and are
like palace fortresses. The view from the summit of one of them is
fascinating, but almost grim; that is, your surroundings are huge masses
of granite mountains and islands, only relieved by some patches of green
and a few palms on the east shore. But time has so worn and fashioned
the stones of the overtopping crags, and the color of the red granite is
so warm, and the contours are so softened that under the brilliant sky
the view is mellowed and highly poetical, and ought not to be called
grim.

This little island, gay with its gorgeously colored walls, graceful
colonnades, garden-roofs and spreading terraces, set in its rim of swift
water, protected by these granite fortresses, bent over by this sky,
must have been a dear and sacred place to the worshippers of Isis and
Osiris, and we scarcely wonder that the celebration of their rites
was continued so long in our era. We do not need, in order to feel
the romance of the place, to know that it was a favorite spot with
Cleopatra, and that she moored her silken-sailed dahabeëh on the
sandbank where ours now lies. Perhaps she was not a person of romantic
nature. There is a portrait of her here (the authenticity of which rests
upon I know not what authority) stiffly cut in the stone, in which she
appears to be a resolute woman with full sensual lips and a determined
chin. Her hair is put up in decent simplicity. But I half think that she
herself was like her other Egyptian sisters and made her silken locks
to shine with the juice of the castor-oil plant. But what were these
mysteries in which she took part, and what was this worship, conducted
in these dark and secret chambers? It was veiled from all vulgar eyes;
probably the people were scarcely allowed to set foot upon the sacred
island.

Sunday morning was fresh and cool, with fleecy clouds, light and
summer-like. Instead of Sabbath bells, when I rose late, I heard the
wild chant of a crew rowing a dahabeëh down the echoing channel. And I
wondered how church bells, rung on the top of these pylons, would sound
reverberating among these granite rocks and boulders. We climbed, during
the afternoon, to the summit of the island of Biggeh, which overshadows
Philæ, and is a most fantastic pile of crags. You can best understand
this region by supposing that a gigantic internal explosion lifted the
granite strata into the air, and that the fragments fell hap-hazard.
This Biggeh might have been piled up by the giants who attempted to
scale heaven, when Zeus blasted them and their work with his launched
lightning.

From this summit, we have in view the broken, rock-strewn field called
the Cataract, and all the extraordinary islands of rock above, that
almost dam the river; there, over Philæ, on the north shore, is the
barrack-like Austrian Mission, and neat it the railway that runs through
the desert waste, round the hills of the Cataract, to Assouan. These
vast piled-up fragments and splintered ledges, here and all about
us, although of raw granite and syenite, are all disintegrating and
crumbling into fine atoms. It is this decay that softens the hardness
of the outlines, and harmonizes with the ruins below. Wild as the
convulsion was that caused this fantastic wreck, the scene is not
without a certain peace now, as we sit here this Sunday afternoon, on a
high crag, looking down upon the pagan temples, which resist the
tooth of time almost as well as the masses of granite rock that are in
position and in form their sentinels.

Opposite, on the hill, is the mosque, and the plastered dome of the
sheykh’s tomb, with its prayer-niche, a quiet and commanding place
of repose. The mosque looks down upon the ever-flowing Nile, upon the
granite desolation, upon the decaying temple of Isis,—converted
once into a temple of the true God, and now merely the marvel of the
traveler. The mosque itself, representative of the latest religion, is
falling to ruin. What will come next? What will come to break up this
civilized barbarism?

“Abd-el-Atti, why do you suppose the Lord permitted the old heathen
to have such a lovely place as this Philæ for the practice of their
superstitions?”

“Do’ know, be sure. Once there was a stranger, I reckon him travel
without any dragoman, come to the tent of the prophet Abraham, and ask
for food and lodging; he was a kind of infidel, not believe in God, not
to believe in anything but a bit of stone. And Abraham was very angry,
and sent him away without any dinner. Then the Lord, when he saw it,
scolded Abraham.

“‘But,’ says Abraham, ‘the man is an infidel, and does not believe in
Thee.’

“‘Well,’ the Lord he answer to Abraham, ‘he has lived in my world all
his life, and I have suffered him, and taken care of him, and prospered
him, and borne his infidelity; and you could not give him a dinner, or
shelter for one night in your house!

“Then Abraham ran after the infidel, and called him back, and told him
all that the Lord he say. And the infidel when he heard it, answer,
‘If the Lord says that, I believe in Him; and I believe that you are a
prophet.’.rdquo;

“And do you think, Abd-el-Atti, that men have been more tolerant, the
Friends of Mohammed, for instance, since then?”

“Men pretty nearly always the same; I see ‘em all ‘bout alike. I read
in our books a little, what you call ‘em?—yes, anecdote, how a Moslem
‘ulama, and a Christian priest, and a Jewish rabbi, were in a place
together, and had some conversation, and they agreed to tell what each
would like best to happen.

“The priest he began:—’I should like,’ says he, ‘as many Moslems to die
as there are animals sacrificed by them on the day of sacrifice.’

“‘And I,’ says the ‘ulama, ‘would like to see put out of the way so many
Christians as they eat eggs on Easter.’

“Now it is your turn, says they both to the rabbi:—’Well, I should like
you both to have your wishes.’ I think the Jew have the best of it. Not
so?”

The night is soft and still, and envelopes Philæ in a summer warmth. The
stars crowd the blue-black sky with scintillant points, obtrusive and
blazing in startling nearness; they are all repeated in the darker
blue of the smooth river, where lie also, perfectly outlined, the heavy
shadows of the granite masses. Upon the silence suddenly breaks the
notes of a cornet, from a dahabeëh moored above us, in pulsations,
however, rather to emphasize than to break the hush of the night.

“Eh! that’s Mr. Fiddle,” cries Abd-el-Atti, whose musical nomenclature
is not very extensive, “that’s a him.”

Once on a moonless night in Upper Nubia, as we lay tied to the bank,
under the shadow of the palms, there had swept past us, flashing
into sight an instant and then gone in the darkness, an upward-bound
dahabeëh, from the deck of which a cornet-à-piston flung out, in
salute, the lively notes of a popular American air. The player (whom the
dragoman could never call by any name but “Mr. Fiddle”) as we came to
know later, was an Irish gentleman, Anglicized and Americanized, and
indeed cosmopolitan, who has a fancy for going about the world and
awaking here and there remote and commonly undisturbed echoes with his
favorite brass horn. I daresay that moonlight voyagers on the Hudson
have heard its notes dropping down from the Highlands; it has stirred
the air of every land on the globe except India; our own Sierras have
responded to its invitations, and Mount Sinai itself has echoed its
strains. There is a prejudice against the cornet, that it is not exactly
a family instrument; and not more suited to assist in morning and
evening devotions than the violin, which a young clergyman, whom I
knew, was endeavoring to learn, in order to play it, gently, at family
prayers.

This traveled cornet, however, begins to play, with deliberate
pauses between the bars, the notes of that glorious hymn, “How firm a
foundation ye saints of the Lord,” following it with the Prayer from
Der Freischutz, and that, again, with some familiar Scotch airs (a
transition perfectly natural in home-circles on Sunday evening), every
note of which, leisurely floating out into the night, is sent back in
distant echoes. Nothing can be lovelier than the scene,—the tropical
night, the sentimental island, the shadows of columns and crags, the
mysterious presence of a brooding past,—and nothing can be sweeter than
these dulcet, lingering, re-echoing strains, which are the music of our
faith, of civilization, of home. From these old temples did never come,
in the days of the flute and the darabooka, such melodies. And do the
spirits of Isis and Osiris, and of Berenice, Cleopatra, and Antoninus,
who worshipped them here, listen, and know perhaps that a purer and
better spirit has come into the world?

In the midst of this echoing melody, a little boat, its sail noiselessly
furled, its gunwales crowded with gowned and white-turbaned Nubians,
glides out of the shadow and comes alongside, as silently as a
ferry-boat of the under-world bearing the robed figures of the departed,
and the venerable Reis of the Cataract steps on board, with es-salam
‘aleykum; and the negotiation for shooting the rapids in the morning
begins.

The reïs is a Nubian of grave aspect, of a complexion many shades darker
than would have been needed to disqualify its possessor to enjoy civil
rights in our country a few years ago, and with watchful and shrewd
black eyes which have an occasional gleam of humor; his robe is mingled
black and white, his turban is a fine camels-hair shawl; his legs are
bare, but he wears pointed red-morocco slippers. There is a long confab
between him and the dragoman, over pipes and coffee, about the down
trip. It seems that there is a dahabeëh at Assouan, carrying the English
Prince Arthur and a Moslem Prince, which has been waiting for ten days
the whim of the royal scion, to make the ascent. Meantime no other
boat can go up or down. The cataract business is at a standstill. The
government has given orders that no other boat shall get in the way; and
many travelers’ boats have been detained from one to two weeks; some of
them have turned back, without seeing Nubia, unable to spend any longer
time in a vexatious uncertainty. The prince has signified his intention
of coming up the Cataract tomorrow morning, and consequently we
cannot go down, although the descending channel is not the same as
the ascending. A considerable fleet of boats is now at each end of the
cataract, powerless to move.

The cataract people express great dissatisfaction at this interference
in their concerns by the government, which does not pay them as much as
the ordinary traveler does for passing the cataract. And yet they have
their own sly and mysterious method of dealing with boats that is not
less annoying than the government favoritism. They will very seldom take
a dahabeëh through in a day; they have delight in detaining it in the
rapids and showing their authority.

When, at length, the Reis comes into the cabin, to pay us a visit of
courtesy, he is perfect in dignity and good-breeding, in spite of his
bare legs; and enters into a discourse of the situation with spirit and
intelligence. In reply to a remark, that, in America we are not obliged
to wait for princes, his eyes sparkle, as he answers, with much vivacity
of manner, “You quite right. In Egypt we are in a mess. Egypt is a ewe
sheep from which every year they shear the wool close off; the milk that
should go the lamb they drink; and when the poor old thing dies, they
give the carcass to the people—the skin they cut up among themselves.
This season,” he goes on, “is to the cataracts like what the pilgrimage
is to Mecca and to Jerusalem—the time when to make the money from the
traveler. And when the princes they come, crowding the traveler to one
side, and the government makes everything done for them for nothing,
and pays only one dollar for a turkey for which the traveler pays two,
‘bliges the people to sell their provisions at its own price,”—the
sheykh stopped.

“The Reis, then, Abd-el-Atti, doesn’t fancy this method of doing
business?”

“No, him say he not like it at all.”

And the Reis kindled up, “You may call the Prince anything you like, you
may call him king; but the real Sultan is the man who pays his money and
does not come here at the cost of the government. Great beggars some of
these big nobility; all the great people want the Viceroyal to do ‘em
charity and take ‘em up the Nile, into Abyssinia, I don’t know where
all. I think the greatest beggars always those who can best afford to
pay.”

With this philosophical remark the old Sheykh concludes a long harangue,
the substance of which is given above, and takes his leave with a
hundred complimentary speeches.

Forced to wait, we employed Monday advantageously in exploring the
land-route to Assouan, going by Mahatta, where the trading-boats lie and
piles of merchandise lumber the shore. It is a considerable village, and
full of most persistent beggars and curiosity venders. The road, sandy
and dusty, winds through hills of granite boulders—a hot and desolate
though not deserted highway, for strings of camels, with merchandise,
were in sight the whole distance. We passed through the ancient
cemetery, outside of Assouan, a dreary field of sand and rocks, the
leaning grave-stones covered with inscriptions in old Arabic, (or
Cufic), where are said to rest the martyred friends of the prophet who
perished in the first battle with the infidels above Philæ.

Returning, we made a detour to the famous syenite quarries, the openings
of several of which are still visible. They were worked from the sides
and not in pits, and offer little to interest the ordinary sight-seer.
Yet we like to see where the old workmen chipped away at the rocks;
there are frequent marks of the square holes that they drilled, in order
to split off the stone with wet wedges of wood. The great obelisk which
lies in the quarry, half covered by sand, is unfinished; it is tapered
from the base to its tip, ninety-eight feet, but it was doubtless, as
the marks indicate, to be worked down to the size of the big obelisk at
Karnak; the part which is exposed measures ten to eleven feet square.
It lies behind ledges of rock, and it could only have been removed by
cutting away the enormous mass in front of it or by hoisting it over.
The suggestion of Mr. Wilkinson that it was to be floated out by a
canal, does not commend itself to one standing on the ground.

We came back by the long road, the ancient traveled way, along which,
on the boulders, are rudely-cut sculptures and hieroglyphics, mere
scratchings on the stone, but recording the passage of kings and armies
as long ago as the twelfth dynasty. Nearly all the way from Assouan to
Philæ are remains of a huge wall of unburnt bricks, ten to fifteen feet
broad and probably fifteen to twenty feet high, winding along the valley
and over the low ridges. An apparently more unnecessary wall does not
exist; it is said by people here to have been thrown up by the Moslems
as a protection against the Nubians when they first traversed this
desert; but it is no doubt Roman. There are indications that the Nile
once poured its main flood through this opening.

We emerge not far from the south end of the railway track, and at the
deserted Austrian Mission. A few Nubian families live in huts on the
bank of the stream. Among the bright-eyed young ladies, with shining
hair, who entreat backsheesh, while we are waiting for our sandal, is
the daughter of our up-river pilot. We should have had a higher opinion
of his dignity and rank if we had not seen his house and his family.

After sunset the dahabeëhs of the Prince came up and were received with
salutes by the waiting boats, which the royal craft did not return. Why
the dragoman of the arriving dahabeëh came to ours with the Prince’s
request, as he said, for our cards, we were not informed; we certainly
intended no offence by the salute; it was, on the part of the other
boats, a natural expression of pleasure that the royal boat was at last
out of the way.

At dark we loose from lovely Philæ, in order to drop down to Mahatta and
take our station for running the cataract in the morning. As we draw
out from the little fleet of boats, Irish, Hungarian, American, English,
rockets and blue lights illumine the night, and we go off in a blaze of
glory. Regardless of the Presence, the Irish gentleman responds on his
cornet with the Star-Spangled Banner, the martial strains of which echo
from all the hills.

In a moment, the lights are out, the dahabeëhs disappear and the
enchanting island is lost to sight. We are gliding down the swift
and winding channel, through granite walls, under the shadow of giant
boulders, immersed in the gloom of a night which the stars do not
penetrate. There is no sound save the regular, chopping fall of the
heavy sweeps, which steady the timorous boat, and are the only sign,
breaking the oppressive silence, that we are not a phantom ship in a
world of shades. It is a short but ghostly voyage, and we see at length
with a sigh of relief the lines of masts and spars in the port of
Mahatta. Working the boat through the crowd that lie there we moor for
the night, with the roar of the cataract in our ears.



0342



0343



CHAPTER XXVII.—RETURNING.

WE ARE on deck before sunrise, a film is over the sky and a light breeze
blows out our streamer—a bad omen for the passage.

The downward run of the Cataract is always made in the early morning,
that being the time when there is least likely to be any wind. And a
calm is considered absolutely necessary to the safety of the boat. The
north wind, which helps the passage up, would be fatal going down. The
boat runs with the current, and any exterior disturbance would whirl her
about and cast her upon the rocks.

If we are going this morning, we have no time to lose, for it is easy to
see that this breeze, which is now uncertainly dallying with our colors,
will before long strengthen. The Cataract people begin to arrive; there
is already a blue and white row of them squatting on the bank above
us, drawing their cotton robes about them, for the morning is a trifle
chilly. They come loitering along the bank and sit down as if they were
merely spectators, and had no interest in the performance.

The sun comes, and scatters the cloud-films; as the sun rises we are
ready to go; everything has been made snug and fast above and below; and
the breeze has subsided entirely. We ought to take instant advantage of
the calm; seconds count now. But we wait for the Reis of the Cataract,
the head reïs, without whose consent no move can be made. It is the sly
old sheykh with whom we have already negociated, and he has his reasons
for delaying. By priority of arrival at Philæ our boat is entitled to be
first taken down; but the dragoman of another boat has been crossing the
palms of the guileless patriarch with gold pieces, and he has agreed to
give the other boat the preference. It is not probable that the virtuous
sheykh ever intended to do so, but he must make some show of keeping his
bargain. He would like to postpone our voyage, and take the chances of
another day.

But here he comes, mounted on a donkey, in state, wrapped about the
head and neck in his cashmere, and with a train of attendants—the
imperturbable, shrewd old man. He halts a moment on the high bank,
looks up at our pennant, mutters something about “wind, not good day, no
safe,” and is coolly about to ride by.

Our dragoman in an instant is at his side, and with half-jocular but
firm persistence, invites him to dismount. It is in vain that the sheykh
invents excuse after excuse for going on. There is a neighbor in the
village whose child is dead, and he must visit him. The consolation,
Abd-el-Atti thinks, can be postponed an hour or two, Allah is all
merciful. He is chilly, his fingers are cold, he will just ride to the
next house and warm his hands, and by that time we can tell whether
it is to be a good morning; Abd-el-Atti is sure that he can warm his
fingers much better on our boat, in fact he can get warm all through
there.

“I’ll warm him if he won’t come.” continues the dragoman, turning to us;
“if I let him go by, the old rascal, he slip down to Assouan, and that
become the last of him.”

Before the patriarch knows exactly what has happened, or the other
dragoman can hinder, he is gently hustled down the steep bank aboard our
boat. There is a brief palaver, and then he is seated, with a big bowl
of coffee and bread; we are still waiting, but it is evident that the
decisive nod has been given. The complexion of affairs has changed!

The people are called from the shore; before we interpret rightly their
lazy stir, they are swarming on board. The men are getting their places
on the benches at the oars—three stout fellows at each oar; it looks
like “business.” The three principal reïses are on board; there are at
least a dozen steersmen; several heads of families are present, and a
dozen boys. More than seventy-five men have invaded us—and they may all
be needed to get ropes ashore in case of accident. This unusual swarm
of men and the assistance of so many sheykhs, these extra precautions,
denote either fear, or a desire to impress us with the magnitude of
the undertaking. The head reïs shakes his head at the boat and mutters,
“much big.” We have aboard almost every skillful pilot of the rapids.

The Cataract flag, two bands of red and yellow with the name of “Allah”
worked on it in white, is set up by the cabin stairs.

There is a great deal of talking, some confusion, and a little
nervousness. Our dragoman cheerfully says, “we will hope for the
better,” as the beads pass through his fingers. The reïses are audibly
muttering their prayers. The pilots begin to strip to their work. A
bright boy of twelve years, squat on deck by the tiller, is loudly and
rapidly reciting the Koran.

At the last moment, the most venerable reïs of the cataract comes on
board, as a great favor to us. He has long been superannuated, his hair
is white, his eye-sight is dim, but when he is on board all will go
well. Given a conspicous seat in a chair on the cabin deck, he begins
at once prayers for our safe passage. This sheykh is very distinguished,
tracing his ancestry back beyond the days of Abraham; his family is very
large—seven hundred is the number of his relations; this seems to be a
favorite number; Ali Moorad at Luxor has also seven hundred relations.
The sheykh is treated with great deference; he seems to have had
something to do with designing the cataract, and opening it to the
public.

The last rope is hauled in; the crowd on shore cheer; our rowers dip
the oars, and in a moment we are sweeping along in the stiff current,
avoiding the boulders on either side. We go swiftly. Everybody is
muttering prayers now; two venerable reïses seated on a box in front of
the rudder increase the speed of their devotions; and the boy chants the
Koran with a freer swing.

Our route down is not the same as it was up. We pass the head of the
chief rapid—in which we struggle—into which it would need only a wink of
the helm to turn us—and sweep away to the west side; and even appear to
go a little out of our way to run near a precipice of rock. A party of
ladies and gentlemen who have come down from their dahabeëh above,
to see us make the chûte, are standing on the summit, and wave
handkerchiefs and hats as we rush by.

Before us, we can see the great rapids—a down-hill prospect. The passage
is narrow, and so crowded is the hurrying water that there is a ridge
down the centre. On this ridge, which is broken and also curved, we are
to go. If it were straight, it would be more attractive, but it curves
short to the right near the bottom of the rapid, and, if we do not turn
sharp with it, we shall dash against the rocks ahead, where the waves
strike in curling foam. All will depend upon the skill and strength of
the steersmen, and the sheer at the exact instant.

There is not long to think of it, however, and no possibility now of
evading the trial. Before we know it, the nose of the boat is in the
rapid, which flings it up in the air; the next second we are tossed on
the waves. The bow dips, and a heavy wave deluges the cook’s domain; we
ship a tun or two of water, the dragoman, who stands forward, is wet to
his breast; but the boat shakes it off and rises again, tossed like an
egg-shell. It is glorious. The boat obeys her helm admirably, as the
half-dozen pilots, throwing their weight upon the tiller, skillfully
veer it slightly or give it a broad sweep.

It is a matter of only three or four minutes, but they are minutes of
intense excitement. In the midst of them, the reïs of our boat, who has
no command now and no responsibility, and is usually imperturbably calm,
becomes completely unmanned by the strain upon his nerves, and breaks
forth into convulsive shouting, tears and perspiration running down his
cheeks. He has “the power,” and would have hysterics if he were not a
man. A half-dozen people fly to his rescue, snatch off his turban, hold
his hands, mop his face, and try to call him out of his panic. By the
time he is somewhat composed, we have shunned the rocks and made the
turn, and are floating in smoother but still swift water. The reises
shake hands and come to us with salaams and congratulations. The chief
pilot desires to put my fez on his own head in token of great joy and
amity. The boy stops shouting the Koran, the prayers cease, the beads
are put up. It is only when we are in a tight place that it is necessary
to call upon the name of the Lord vigorously.

“You need not have feared,” says a reïs of the Cataract to ours,
pointing to the name on the red and yellow flag, “Allah would bring us
through.”

That there was no danger in this passage we cannot affirm. The dahabeëhs
that we left at Mahatta, ready to go down, and which might have been
brought through that morning, were detained four or five days upon
the whim of the reises. Of the two that came first, one escaped with a
slight knock against the rocks, and the other was dashed on them, her
bottom staved in, and half filled with water immediately. Fortunately,
she was fast on the rock; the passengers, luggage, and stores were got
ashore; and after some days the boat was rescued and repaired.

For a mile below this chûte we have rapid going, rocks to shun, short
turns to make, and quite uncertainty enough to keep us on the qui vive,
and finally, another lesser rapid, where there is infinitely more noise
by the crew, but less danger from the river than above.

As we approach the last rapid, a woman appears in the swift stream,
swimming by the help of a log—that being the handy ferry-boat of the
country; her clothes are all in a big basket, and the basket is secured
on her head. The sandal, which is making its way down a side channel,
with our sheep on board, is signalled to take this lady of the lake in,
and land her on the opposite shore. These sheep of ours, though much
tossed about, seem to enjoy the voyage and look about upon the raging
scene with that indifference which comes of high breeding. They are
black, but that was not to their prejudice in their Nubian home. They
are comely animals in life, and in death are the best mutton in the
East; it is said that they are fed on dates, and that this diet imparts
to their flesh its sweet flavor. I think their excellence is quite as
much due to the splendid air they breathe.

While we are watching the manoeuvring of the boat, the woman swims to
a place where she can securely lodge her precious log in the rocks and
touch bottom with her feet. The boat follows her and steadies itself
against the same rocks, about which the swift current is swirling. The
water is up to the woman’s neck, and the problem seems to be to get the
clothes out of the basket which is on her head, and put them on, and not
wet the clothes. It is the old myth of Venus rising from the sea, but
under changed conditions, and in the face of modern sensitiveness. How
it was accomplished, I cannot say, but when I look again the aquatic
Venus is seated in the sandal, clothed, dry, and placid.

We were an hour passing the rapids, the last part of the time with
a strong wind against us; if it had risen sooner we should have had
serious trouble. As it was, it took another hour with three men at each
oar, to work down to Assouan through the tortuous channel, which is
full of rocks and whirlpools, The men at each bank of oars belonged to
different tribes, and they fell into a rivalry of rowing, which resulted
in an immense amount of splashing, spurting, yelling, chorusing, and
calling on the Prophet. When the contest became hot, the oars were all
at sixes and sevens, and in fact the rowing gave way to vituperation
and a general scrimmage. Once, in one of the most ticklish places in the
rapids, the rowers had fallen to quarrelling, and the boat would have
gone to smash, if the reïs had not rushed in and laid about him with a
stick. These artless children of the sun! However we came down to our
landing in good form, exchanging salutes with the fleet of boats waiting
to make the ascent.

At once four boats, making a gallant show with their spread wings,
sailed past us, bound up the cataract. The passengers fired salutes,
waved their handkerchiefs, and exhibited the exultation they felt in
being at last under way for Philæ; and well they might, for some of them
had been waiting here fifteen days.

But alas for their brief prosperity. The head reïs was not with them;
that autocrat was still upon our deck, leisurely stowing away coffee,
eggs, cold meat, and whatever provisions were brought him, with the
calmness of one who has a good conscience. As the dahabeëhs swept by he
shook his head and murmured, “not much go.”

And they did “not much go.” They stopped indeed, and lay all day at the
first gate, and all night. The next morning, two dahabeëhs, carrying
persons of rank, passed up, and were given the preference, leaving
the first-comers still in the rapids; and two days after, they were in
mid-passage, and kept day after day in the roar and desolation of the
cataract, at the pleasure of its owners. The only resource they had was
to write indignant letters of remonstrance to the governor at Assouan.

This passage of the cataract is a mysterious business, the secrets of
which are only mastered by patient study. Why the reises should desire
to make it so vexatious is the prime mystery. The traveler who reaches
Assouan often finds himself entangled in an invisible web of restraints.
There is no opposition to his going on; on the contrary the governor,
the reises, and everyone overflow with courtesy and helpfulness. But,
somehow, he does not go on, he is played with from day to day. The old
sheykh, before he took his affectionate leave of us that morning, let
out the reason of the momentary hesitation he had exhibited in agreeing
to take our boat up the cataract when we arrived. The excellent owners,
honest Aboo Yoosef and the plaintive little Jew of Bagdad, had sent him
a bribe of a whole piece of cotton cloth, and some money to induce him
to prevent our passage. He was not to refuse, not by any means, for in
that case the owners would have been liable to us for the hundred pounds
forfeit named in the contract in case the boat could not be taken up;
but he was to amuse us, and encourage us, and delay us, on various
pretexts, so long that we should tire out and freely choose not to go
any farther.

The integrity of the reïs was proof against the seduction of this bribe;
he appropriated it, and then earned the heavy fee for carrying us up, in
addition. I can add nothing by way of eulogium upon this clever old man,
whose virtue enabled him to withstand so much temptation.

We lay for two days at the island Elephantine, opposite Assouan, and
have ample time to explore its two miserable villages, and to wander
over the heaps on heaps, the débris of so many successive civilizations.
All day long, women and children are clambering over these mounds
of ashes, pottery, bricks, and fragments of stone, unearthing coins,
images, beads, and bits of antiquity, which the strangers buy. There is
nothing else on the island. These indistinguishable mounds are almost
the sole evidence of the successive occupation of ancient Egyptians,
Canaanites, Ethiopians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Christians, and
conquering Arabs. But the grey island has an indefinable charm. The
northern end is green with wheat and palms; but if it were absolutely
naked, its fine granite outlines would be attractive under this splendid
sky. The days are lovely, and the nights enchanting. Nothing more poetic
could be imagined than the silvery reaches of river at night, with their
fringed islands and shores, the stars and the new moon, the uplifted
rocks, and the town reflected in the stream.

Of Assouan itself, its palm-groves and dirty huddle of dwellings, we
have quite enough in a day. Curiosity leads us to visit the jail, and
we find there, by chance, one of our sailors, who is locked up for
insubordination, and our venerable reïs keeping him company, for being
inefficient in authority over his crew. In front of the jail, under the
shade of two large acacia trees, the governor has placed his divan and
holds his levées in the open air, transacting business, and entertaining
his visitors with coffee and cigars. His excellency is a very
“smartish,” big black fellow, not a negro nor a Nubian exactly, but
an Ababdeh, from a tribe of desert Arabs; a man of some aptitude for
affairs and with very little palaver. The jail has an outer guard-room,
furnished with divans and open at both ends, and used as a court of
justice. A not formidable door leads to the first room, which is some
twenty feet square; and here, seated upon the ground with some thirty
others, we are surprised to recognize our reïs. The respectable old
incapable was greatly humiliated by the indignity. Although he was
speedily released, his incarceration was a mistake; it seemed to break
his spirit, and he was sullen and uncheerful ever afterwards. His
companions were in for trivial offences: most of them for not paying the
government taxes, or for debt to the Khedive, as the phrase was. In
an adjoining, smaller room, were the great criminals, the thieves and
murderers. Three murderers were chained together by enormous iron cables
attached to collars about their necks, and their wrists were clamped in
small wooden stocks. In this company were five decent-looking men, who
were also bound together by heavy chains from neck to neck; we were told
that these were the brothers of men who had run away from the draft, and
that they would be held until their relations surrendered themselves.
They all sat glumly on the ground. The jail does not differ in comfort
from the ordinary houses; and the men are led out once a day for fresh
air; we saw the murderers taking an airing, and exercise also in lugging
their ponderous irons.

We departed from Assouan early in the morning, with water and wind
favorable for a prosperous day. At seven o’clock our worthy steersman
stranded us on a rock. It was a little difficult to do it, for he had to
go out of his way and to leave the broad and plainly staked-out channel.
But he did it very neatly. The rock was a dozen feet out of water, and
he laid the boat, without injury, on the shelving upper side of it, so
that the current would constantly wash it further on, and the falling
river would desert it. The steersman was born in Assouan and knows every
rock and current here, even in the dark. This accident no doubt happened
out of sympathy with the indignity to the reïs. That able commander is
curled up on the deck ill, and no doubt felt greatly grieved when he
felt the grating of the bottom upon the rock; but he was not too ill to
exchange glances with the serene and ever-smiling steersman. Three hours
after the stranding, our crew have succeeded in working us a little
further on than we were at first, and are still busy; surely there are
in all history no such navigators as these.

It is with some regret that we leave, or are trying to leave, Nubia,
both on account of its climate and its people. The men, various sorts
of Arabs as well as the Nubians, are better material than the fellaheen
below, finer looking, with more spirit and pride, more independence and
self-respect. They are also more barbarous; they carry knives and heavy
sticks universally, and guns if they can get them, and in many places
have the reputation of being quarrelsome, turbulent, and thieves. But we
have rarely received other than courteous treatment from them. Some of
the youngest women are quite pretty, or would be but for the enormous
nose and ear rings, the twisted hair and the oil; the old women are all
unnecessarily ugly. The children are apt to be what might be called
free in apparel, except that the girls wear fringe, but the women are as
modest in dress and manner as those of Egypt. That the highest morality
invariably prevails, however, one cannot affirm, notwithstanding the
privilege of husbands, which we are assured is sometimes exercised, of
disposing of a wife (by means of the knife and the river) who may have
merely incurred suspicion by talking privately with another man. This
process is evidently not frequent, for women are plenty, and we saw no
bodies in the river.

But our chief regret at quitting Nubia is on account of the climate.
It is incomparably the finest winter climate I have ever known; it is
nearly perfect. The air is always elastic and inspiring; the days are
full of sun; the nights are cool and refreshing; the absolute dryness
seems to counteract the danger from changes of temperature. You may do
there what you cannot in any place in Europe in the winter—get warm. You
may also, there, have repose without languor.

We went on the rock at seven and got off at two. The governor of Assouan
was asked for help and he sent down a couple of boat-loads of men, who
lifted us off by main strength and the power of their lungs. We drifted
on, but at sunset we were not out of sight of the mosque of Assouan.
Strolling ashore, we found a broad and rich plain, large palm-groves
and wheat-fields, and a swarming population—in striking contrast to
the country above the Cataract. The character of the people is wholly
different; the women are neither so oily, nor have they the wild shyness
of the Nubians; they mind their own business and belong to a more
civilized society; slaves, negroes as black as night, abound in
the fields. Some of the large wheat-fields are wholly enclosed by
substantial unburnt brick walls, ten feet high.

Early in the evening, our serene steersman puts us hard aground again on
a sandbar. I suppose it was another accident. The wife and children of
the steersman live at a little town opposite the shoal upon which we
have so conveniently landed, and I suppose the poor fellow wanted an
opportunity to visit them. He was not permitted leave of absence while
the boat lay at Assouan, and now the dragoman says that, so far as he
is concerned, the permission shall not be given from here, although the
village is almost in sight; the steersman ought to be punished for his
conduct, and he must wait till he comes up next year before he can see
his wife and children. It seems a hard case, to separate a man from his
family in this manner.

“I think it’s a perfect shame,” cries Madame, when she hears of it, “not
to see his family for a year!”

“But one of his sons is on board, you know, as a sailor. And the
steersman spent most of his time with his wife the boy’s mother, when we
were at Assouan.”

“I thought you said his wife lived opposite here?”

“Yes, but this is a newer one, a younger one; that is his old wife, in
Assouan.”

“Oh!”

“The poor fellow has another in Cairo.”

“Oh!”

“He has wives, I daresay, at proper distances along the Nile, and
whenever he wants to spend an hour or two with his family, he runs us
aground.”

“I don’t care to hear anything more about him.”

The Moslem religion is admirably suited to the poor mariner, and
especially to the sailor on the Nile through a country that is all
length and no width.



0354



CHAPTER XXVIII.—MODERN FACTS AND ANCIENT MEMORIES.

ON a high bluff stands the tottering temple of Kom Ombos conspicuous
from a distance, and commanding a dreary waste of desert. Its gigantic
columns are of the Ptolemaic time, and the capitals show either Greek
influence or the relaxation of the Egyptian hieratic restraint.

The temple is double, with two entrances and parallel suites of
apartments, a happy idea of the builders, impartially to split the
difference between good and evil; one side is devoted to the worship of
Horus, the embodiment of the principle of Light, and the other to that
of Savak, the crocodile-headed god of Darkness. I fear that the latter
had here the more worshippers; his title was Lord of Ombos, and the fear
of him spread like night. On the sand-bank, opposite, the once-favored
crocodiles still lounge in the sun, with a sharp eye out for the rifle
of the foreigner, and, no doubt, wonder at the murderous spirit which
has come into the world to supplant the peaceful heathenism.

These ruins are an example of the jealousy with which the hierarchy
guarded their temples from popular intrusion. The sacred precincts were
enclosed by a thick and high brick wall, which must have concealed the
temple from view except on the river side; so formidable was this wall,
that although the edifice stands upon an eminence, it lies in a basin
formed by the ruins of the enclosure. The sun beating in it at noon
converted it into a reverberating furnace—a heat sufficient to melt any
image not of stone, and not to be endured by persons who do not believe
in Savak.

We walked a long time on the broad desert below Ombos, over sand as
hard as a sea-beach pounded by the waves, looking for the bed of pebbles
mentioned in the handbook, and found it a couple of miles below. In
the soft bank an enormous mass of pebbles has been deposited, and is
annually added to—sweepings of the Nubian deserts, flints and agates,
bits of syenite from Assouan, and colored stones in great variety. There
is a tradition that a sailor once found a valuable diamond here, and it
seems always possible that one may pick some precious jewel out of the
sand. Some of the desert pebbles, polished by ages of sand-blasts, are
very beautiful.

Every day when I walk upon the smooth desert away from the river, I look
for colored stones, pebbles, flints, chalcedonies, and agates. And I
expect to find, some day, the ewige pebble, the stone translucent,
more beautiful than any in the world—perhaps, the lost seal of Solomon,
dropped by some wandering Bedawee. I remind myself of one looking,
always in the desert, for the pearl of great price, which all the
markets and jewelers of the world wait for. It seems possible, here
under this serene sky, on this expanse of sand, which has been trodden
for thousands of years by all the Oriental people in turn, by caravans,
by merchants and warriors and wanderers, swept by so many geologic
floods and catastrophes, to find it. I never tire of looking, and
curiously examine every bit of translucent and variegated flint that
sparkles in the sand. I almost hope, when I find it, that it will not
be cut by hand of man, but that it will be changeable in color, and
be fashioned in a cunning manner by nature herself. Unless, indeed, it
should be, as I said, the talismanic ring of Solomon, which is known to
be somewhere in the world.

In the early morning we have drifted down to Silsilis, one of the most
interesting localities on the Nile. The difference in the level of the
land above and below and the character of the rocky passage at Silsilis
teach that the first cataract was here before the sandstone dam wore
away and transferred it to Assouan. Marks have been vainly sought here
for the former height of the Nile above; and we were interested in
examining the upper strata of rocks laid bare in the quarries. At a
height of perhaps sixty feet from the floor of a quarry, we saw between
two strata of sandstone a layer of other material that had exactly the
appearance of the deposits of the Nile which so closely resemble rock
along the shore. Upon reaching it we found that it was friable and, in
fact, a sort of hardened earth. Analysis would show whether it is a Nile
deposit, and might contribute something to the solution of the date of
the catastrophe here.

The interest at Silsilis is in these vast sandstone quarries, and very
little in the excavated grottoes and rock-temples on the west shore,
with their defaced and smoke-obscured images. Indeed, nothing in Egypt,
not even the temples and pyramids, has given us such an idea of
the immense labor the Egyptians expended in building, as these vast
excavations in the rock. We have wondered before where all the stone
came from that we have seen piled up in buildings and heaped in miles
of ruins; we wonder now what use could have been made of all the stone
quarried from these hills. But we remember that it was not removed in a
century, nor in ten centuries, but that for great periods of a thousand
years workmen were hewing here, and that much of the stone transported
and scattered over Egypt has sunk into the soil out of sight.

There are half a dozen of these enormous quarries close together, each
of which has its communication with the river. The method of working was
this:—a narrow passage was cut in from the river several hundred feet
into the mountain, or until the best-working stone was reached, and then
the excavation was broadened out without limit. We followed one of these
passages, the sides of which are evenly-cut rock, the height of the
hill. At length we came into an open area, like a vast cathedral in the
mountain, except that it wanted both pillars and roof. The floor was
smooth, the sides were from fifty to seventy-five feet high, and all
perpendicular, and as even as if dressed down with chisel and hammer.
This was their general character, but in some of them steps were left
in the wall and platforms, showing perfectly the manner of working. The
quarrymen worked from the top down perpendicularly, stage by stage. We
saw one of these platforms, a third of the distance from the top, the
only means of reaching which was by nicks cut in the face of the rock,
in which one might plant his feet and swing down by a rope. There was
no sign of splitting by drilling or by the the use of plugs, or of any
explosive material. The walls of the quarries are all cut down in fine
lines that run from top to bottom slantingly and parallel. These lines
have every inch or two round cavities, as if the stone had been bored by
some flexible instrument that turned in its progress. The workmen seem
to have cut out the stone always of the shape and size they wanted to
use; if it was for a statue, the place from which it came in the quarry
is rounded, showing the contour of the figure taken. They took out every
stone by the most patient labor. Whether it was square or round, they
cut all about it a channel four to five inches wide, and then separated
it from the mass underneath by a like broad cut. Nothing was split away;
all was carefully chiseled out, apparently by small tools. Abandoned
work, unfinished, plainly shows this. The ages and the amount of labor
required to hew out such enormous quantities of stone are heightened
in our thought, by the recognition of this slow process. And what hells
these quarries must have been for the workmen, exposed to the blaze of
a sun intensified by the glaring reflection from the light-colored rock,
and stifled for want of air. They have left the marks of their unending
task in these little chiselings on the face of the sandstone walls.
Here and there some one has rudely sketched a figure or outlined a
hieroglyphic. At intervals places are cut in the rock through which
ropes could be passed, and these are worn deeply, showing the use of
ropes, and no doubt of derricks, in handling the stones.

These quarries are as deserted now as the temples which were taken from
them; but nowhere else in Egypt was I more impressed with the duration,
the patience, the greatness of the race that accomplished such prodigies
of labor.

The grottoes, as I said, did not detain us; they are common
calling-places, where sailors and wanderers often light fires at night
and where our crew slept during the heat of this day, We saw there
nothing more remarkable than the repeated figure of the boy Horus taking
nourishment from the breast of his mother, which provoked the irreverent
remark of a voyager that Horus was more fortunate than his dragoman had
been in finding milk in this stony region.

Creeping on, often aground and always expecting to be, the weather
growing warmer as we went north, we reached Edfoo. It was Sunday,
and the temperature was like that of a July day, a south wind and the
mercury at 85°.

In this condition of affairs it was not unpleasant to find a temple,
entire, clean, perfectly excavated, and a cool retreat from the glare
of the sun. It was not unlike entering a cathedral. The door by which we
were admitted was closed and guarded; we were alone; and we experienced
something of the sentiment of the sanctuary, that hush and cool
serenity which is sometimes mistaken for religion, in the presence of
ecclesiastical architecture.

Although this is a Ptolemaic temple, it is, by reason of its nearly
perfect condition, the best example for study. The propylon which is two
hundred and fifty feet high and one hundred and fifteen long, contains
many spacious chambers, and confirms our idea that these portions of the
temples were residences. The roof is something enormous, being composed
of blocks of stone, three feet thick, by twelve wide, and twenty-two
long. Upon this roof are other chambers. As we wandered through the vast
pillared courts, many chambers and curious passages, peered into the
secret ways and underground and intermural alleys, and emerged upon the
roof, we thought what a magnificent edifice it must have been for the
gorgeous processions of the old worship, which are sculptured on the
walls.

But outside this temple and only a few feet from it is a stone wall of
circuit, higher than the roof of the temple itself. Like every inch
of the temple walls, this wall outside and inside is covered with
sculptures, scenes in river life, showing a free fancy and now and then
a dash of humor; as, when a rhinoceros is made to tow a boat—recalling
the western sportiveness of David Crockett with the alligator. Not only
did this wall conceal the temple from the vulgar gaze, but outside
it was again an enciente of unbaked brick, effectually excluding and
removing to a safe distance all the populace. Mariette Bey is of the
opinion that all the imposing ceremonies of the old ritual had no
witnesses except the privileged ones of the temple; and that no one
except the king could enter the adytum.

It seems to us also that the King, who was high priest and King, lived
in these palace-temples, the pylons of which served him for fortresses
as well as residences. We find no ruins of palaces in Egypt, and it
seems not reasonable that the king who had all the riches of the land at
his command would have lived in a hut of mud.

From the summit of this pylon we had an extensive view of the Nile and
the fields of ripening wheat. A glance into the squalid town was not so
agreeable. I know it would be a severe test of any village if it were
unroofed and one could behold its varied domestic life. We may from such
a sight as this have some conception of the appearance of this world to
the angels looking down. Our view was into filthy courts and roofless
enclosures, in which were sorry women and unclad children, sitting in
the dirt; where old people, emaciated and feeble, and men and women ill
of some wasting disease, lay stretched upon the ground, uncared for,
stifled by the heat and swarmed upon of flies.

The heated day lapsed into a delicious evening, a half-moon over head,
the water glassy, the shores fringed with palms, the air soft. As
we came to El Kab, where we stopped, a carawan was whistling on the
opposite shore—a long, shrill whistle like that of a mocking-bird. If
we had known, it was a warning to us that the placid appearances of the
night were deceitful, and that violence was masked under this smiling
aspect. The barometer indeed had been falling rapidly for two days. We
were about to have our first experience of what may be called a simoon.

Towards nine o’clock, and suddenly, the wind began to blow from the
north, like one of our gusts in summer, proceeding a thunderstorm. The
boat took the alarm at once and endeavored to fly, swinging to the wind
and tugging at her moorings. With great difficulty she was secured by
strong cables fore and aft anchored in the sand, but she trembled and
shook and rattled, and the wind whistled through the rigging as if we
had been on the Atlantic—any boat loose upon the river that night must
have gone to inevitable wreck. It became at once dark, and yet it was a
ghastly darkness; the air was full of fine sand that obscured the sky,
except directly overhead, where there were the ghost of a wan moon and
some spectral stars. Looking upon the river, it was like a Connecticut
fog—but a sand fog; and the river itself roared, and high waves ran
against the current. When we stepped from the boat, eyes, nose, and
mouth were instantly choked with sand, and it was almost impossible to
stand. The wind increased, and rocked the boat like a storm at sea; for
three hours it blew with much violence, and in fact did not spend itself
in the whole night.

“The worser storm, God be merciful,” says Abd-el-Atti, “ever I saw in
Egypt.”

When it somewhat abated, the dragoman recognized a divine beneficence in
it; “It show that God ‘member us.”

It is a beautiful belief of devout Moslems that personal afflictions
and illnesses are tokens of a heavenly care. Often when our dragoman has
been ill, he has congratulated himself that God was remembering him.

“Not so? A friend of me in Cairo was never in his life ill, never any
pain, toothache, headache, nothing. Always well. He begin to have fear
that something should happen, mebbe God forgot him. One day I meet him
in the Mooskee very much pleased; all right now, he been broke him the
arm; God ‘member him.”

During the gale we had a good specimen of Arab character. When it was
at its height, and many things about the attacked vessel needed looking
after, securing and tightening, most of the sailors rolled themselves
up, drawing their heads into their burnouses, and went sound asleep.
The after-sail was blown loose and flapping in the wind; our reïs sat
composedly looking at it, never stirring from his haunches, and let the
canvas whip to rags; finally a couple of men were aroused, and secured
the shreds. The Nile crew is a marvel of helplessness in an emergency;
and considering the dangers of the river to these top-heavy boats, it
is a wonder that any accomplish the voyage in safety. There is no more
discipline on board than in a district-school meeting at home. The boat
might as well be run by ballot.

It was almost a relief to have an unpleasant day to talk about. The
forenoon was like a mixed fall and spring day in New England, strong
wind, flying clouds, but the air full of sand instead of snow; there
was even a drop of rain, and we heard a peal or two of feeble
thunder—evidently an article not readily manufactured in this country;
but the afternoon settled back into the old pleasantness.

Of the objects of interest at Eilethyas I will mention only two, the
famous grottoes, and a small temple of Amunoph III., not often visited.
It stands between two and three miles from the river, in a desolate
valley, down which the Bisharee Arabs used to come on marauding
excursions. What freak placed it in this remote solitude? It contains
only one room, a few paces square, and is, in fact, only a chapel, but
it is full of capital pieces of sculptures of a good period of art. The
architect will find here four pillars, which clearly suggest the Doric
style. They are fourteen-sided, but one of the planes is broader than
the others and has a raised tablet of sculptures which terminate above
in a face, said to be that of Lucina, to whom the temple is dedicated,
but resembling the cow-headed Isis. These pillars, with the sculptures
on one side finished at the top with a head, may have suggested the
Osiride pillars.

The grottoes are tombs in the sandstone mountain, of the time of the
eighteenth dynasty, which began some thirty-five hundred years ago.
Two of them have remarkable sculptures, the coloring of which is still
fresh; and I wish to speak of them a little, because it is from them
(and some of the same character) that Egyptologists have largely
reconstructed for us the common life of the ancient Egyptians. Although
the work is somewhat rude, it has a certain veracity of execution which
is pleasing.

We assume this tomb to have been that of a man of wealth. This is
the ante-chamber; the mummy was deposited in a pit let into a small
excavation in the rear. On one wall are sculptured agricultural scenes:
plowing, sowing, reaping wheat and pulling doora (the color indicates
the kind of grain), hatcheling the latter, while oxen are treading out
the wheat, and the song of the threshers encouraging the oxen is written
in hieroglyphics above; the winnowing and storing of the grain; in
a line under these, the various domestic animals of the deceased are
brought forward to a scribe, who enumerates them and notes the numbers
on a roll of papyrus. There are river-scenes:—grain is loaded into
freight-boats; pleasure-dahabeëhs are on the stream, gaily painted, with
one square sail amidship, rowers along the sides, and windows in the
cabin; one has a horse and chariot on board, the reïs stands at the
bow, the overseer, kurbash in hand, is threatening the crew, a sailor is
falling overboard. Men are gathering grapes, and treading out the
wine with their feet; others are catching fish and birds in nets, and
dressing and curing them. At the end of this wall, offerings are made to
Osiris. In one compartment a man is seated holding a boy on his lap.

On the opposite wall are two large figures, supposed to be the occupant
of the tomb and his wife, seated on a fauteuil; men and women, in two
separate lines, facing the large figures, are seated, one leg bent under
them, each smelling a lotus flower. In the rear, men are killing and
cutting up animals as if preparing for a feast. To the leg of the
fauteuil is tied a monkey; and Mr. Wilkinson says that it was customary
at entertainments for the hosts to have a “favorite monkey” tied to the
leg of the chair. Notwithstanding the appearance of the monkey here
in that position, I do not suppose that he would say that an ordinary
entertainment is represented here. For, although there are preparations
for a feast, there is a priest standing between the friends and the
principal personages, making offerings, and the monkey may be present
in his character of emblem of Thoth. It seems to be a funeral and not
a festive representation. The pictures apparently tell the story of the
life of the deceased and his occupations, and represent the mourning at
his tomb. In other grottoes, where the married pair are seated as here,
the arm of the woman on the shoulder of the man, and the “favorite
monkey” tied to the chair, friends are present in the act of mourning,
throwing dust on their heads, and accompanied by musicians; and the
mummy is drawn on a sledge to the tomb, a priest standing on the front,
and a person pouring oil on the ground that the runners may slip easily.

The setting sun strikes into these chambers, so carefully prepared for
people of rank of whom not a pinch of dust now remains, and lights them
up with a certain cheer and hope. We cannot make anything melancholy out
of a tomb so high and with such a lovely prospect from its front door.
The former occupants are unknown, but not more unknown than the peasants
we see on the fields below, still at the tasks depicted in these
sculptures. Thirty-five hundred years is not so very long ago! Slowly
we pick our way down the hill and regain our floating home; and, bidding
farewell forever to El Kab, drift down in the twilight. In the morning
we are at Esneh.

In Esneh the sound of the grinding is never low. The town is full of
primitive ox-power mills in which the wheat is ground, and there are
always dahabeëhs staying here for the crew to bake their bread. Having
already had one day of Esneh we are tired of it, for it is exactly
like all other Egyptian towns of its size: we know all the possible
combinations of mud-hovels, crooked lanes, stifling dust, nakedness,
squalor. We are so accustomed to picking our way in the street amid
women and children sprawling in the dirt, that the scene has lost its
strangeness; it is even difficult to remember that in other countries
women usually keep indoors and sit on chairs.

The town is not without liveliness It is half Copt, and beggars demand
backsheesh on the ground that they are Christians, and have a common
interest with us. We wander through the bazaars where there is nothing
to buy and into the market-place, always the most interesting study in
an unknown city. The same wheat lies on the ground in heaps; the same
roots and short stalks of the doora are tied in bundles and sold for
fuel, and cakes of dried manure for the like use; people are lying about
in the sun in all picturesque attitudes, some curled up and some on
their backs fast asleep; more are squating before little heaps of
corn or beans or some wilted “greens,” or dried tobacco-leaves and
pipe-bowls; children swarm and tumble about everywhere; donkeys and
camels pick their way through the groups.

I spent half an hour in teaching a handsome young Copt how to pronounce
English words in his Arabic-English primer. He was very eager to learn
and very grateful for assistance. We had a large and admiring crowd
about us, who laughed at every successful and still more at every
unsuccessful attempt on the part of the pupil, and repeated the English
words themselves when they could catch the sound,—an exceedingly
good-natured lot of idlers. We found the people altogether pleasant,
some in the ingrained habit of begging, quick to take a joke and easily
excited. While I had my scholar, a fantasia of music on two tambourines
was performed for the amusement of my comrade, which had also its ring
of spectators watching the effect of the monotonous thumping, upon
the grave howadji; he was seated upon the mastabah of a shop, with
all formality, and enjoyed all the honors of the entertainment, as was
proper, since he bore the entire expense alone,—about five cents.

The coffee-shops of Esneh are many, some respectable and others
decidedly otherwise. The former are the least attractive, being merely
long and dingy mud-apartments, in which the visitors usually sit on
the floor and play at draughts. The coffee-houses near the river have
porticoes and pleasant terraces in front, and look not unlike some
picturesque Swiss or Italian wine-shops. The attraction there seems to
be the Ghawazees or dancing-girls, of whom there is a large colony here,
the colony consisting of a tribe. All the family act as procurers
for the young women, who are usually married. Their dress is an
extraordinary combination of stripes and colors, red and yellow being
favorites, which harmonize well with their dark, often black, skins, and
eyes heavily shaded with kohl. I suppose it must be admitted, in spite
of their total want of any womanly charm of modesty, that they are
the finest-looking women in Egypt, though many of them are ugly; they
certainly are of a different type from the Egyptians, though not of
a pure type; they boast that they have preserved themselves without
admixture with other peoples or tribes from a very remote period;
one thing is certain, their profession is as old as history and their
antiquity may entitle them to be considered an aristocracy of vice. They
say that their race is allied in origin to that of the people called
gypsies, with whom many of their customs are common. The men are
tinkers, blacksmiths, or musicians, and the women are the ruling element
in the band; the husband is subject to the wife. But whatever their
origin, it is admitted that their dance is the same as that with which
the dancing-women amused the Pharaohs, the same that the Phoenicians
carried to Gades and which Juvenal describes, and, Mr. Lane thinks, the
same by which the daughter of Herodias danced off the head of John the
Baptist. Modified here and there, it is the immemorial dance of the
Orient.

Esneh has other attractions for the sailors of the Nile; there are the
mahsheshehs, or shops where hasheesh is smoked; an attendant brings
the “hubble-bubble” to the guests who are lolling on the mastabah; they
inhale their portion, and then lie down in a stupor, which is at every
experiment one remove nearer idiocy.

Still drifting, giving us an opportunity to be on shore all the morning.
We visit the sugar establishment at Mutâneh, and walk along the high
bank under the shade of the acacias for a couple of miles below it.
Nothing could be lovelier in this sparkling morning—the silver-grey
range of mountains across the river and the level smiling land on our
left. This is one of the Viceroy’s possessions, bought of one of his
relations at a price fixed by his highness. There are ten thousand acres
of arable land, of which some fifteen hundred is in sugar-cane, and the
rest in grain. The whole is watered by a steam-pump, which sends a
vast stream of water inland, giving life to the broad fields and the
extensive groves, as well as to a village the minaret of which we can
see. It is a noble estate. Near the factory are a palace and garden,
somewhat in decay, as is usual in this country, but able to offer us
roses and lemons.

The works are large, modern, with improved machinery for crushing and
boiling, and apparently well managed; there is said to be one of the
sixteen sugar-factories of the Khedive which pays expenses; perhaps this
is the one. A great quantity of rum is distilled from the refuse. The
vast field in the rear, enclosed by a whitewashed wall, presented a
lively appearance, with camels bringing in the cane and unloading it and
arranging it upon the endless trough for the crushers. In the factory,
the workmen wear little clothing and are driven to their task; all
the overseers march among them kurbash in hand; the sight of the black
fellows treading about in the crystallized sugar, while putting it up in
sacks, would decide a fastidious person to take her tea unsweetened.

The next morning we pass Erment without calling, satisfied to take the
word of others that you may see there a portrait of Cleopatra; and by
noon come to our old mooring-place at Luxor, and add ours to the painted
dalabeëhs lounging in this idle and gay resort.

During the day we enjoyed only one novel sensation. We ate of the ripe
fruit ot the dôm-palm. It tastes and smells like stale gingerbread, made
of sawdust instead of flour.

I do not know how long one could stay contentedly at Thebes; certainly
a winter, if only to breathe the inspiring air, to bask in the sun,
to gaze, never sated, upon plains and soft mountains which climate and
association clothe with hues of beauty and romance, to yield for once
to a leisure that is here rebuked by no person and by no urgency of
affairs; perhaps for years, if one seriously attempted a study of
antiquities.

The habit of leisure is at least two thousand years old here; at any
rate, we fell into it without the least desire to resist its spell. This
is one of the eddies of the world in which the modern hurry is unfelt.
If it were not for the coughing steamboats and the occasional glimpse
one has of a whisking file of Cook’s tourists, Thebes would be entirely
serene, and an admirable place of retirement.

It has a reputation, however, for a dubious sort of industry. All along
the river from Geezeh to Assouan, whenever a spurious scarabæus or a
bogus image turned up, we would hear, “Yes, make ‘em in Luxor.” As we
drew near to this great mart of antiquities, the specification became
more personal—“Can’t tell edzacly whether that make by Mr. Smith or by
that Moslem in Goorneh, over the other side.”

The person named is well known to all Nile voyagers as Antiquity Smith,
and he has, though I cannot say that he enjoys, the reputation hinted at
above. How much of it is due to the enmity of rival dealers in relics of
the dead, I do not know; but it must be evident to anyone that the very
clever forgeries of antiquities, which one sees, could only be produced
by skillful and practiced workmen. We had some curiosity to see a man
who has made the American name so familiar the length of the Nile, for
Mr. Smith is a citizen of the United States. For seventeen years he has
been a voluntary exile here, and most of the time the only foreigner
resident in the place; long enough to give him a good title to the
occupation of any grotto he may choose.

In appearance Mr. Smith is somewhat like a superannuated agent of the
tract society, of the long, thin, shrewd, learned Yankee type. Few
men have enjoyed his advantages for sharpening the wits. Born in
Connecticut, reared in New Jersey, trained for seventeen years among the
Arabs and antiquity-mongers of this region, the sharpest in the Orient,
he ought to have not only the learning attached to the best-wrapped
mummy, but to be able to read the hieroglyphics on the most inscrutable
human face among the living.

Mr. Smith lives on the outskirts of the village, in a house, surrounded
by a garden, which is a kind of museum of the property, not to say the
bones, of the early Egyptians.

“You seem to be retired from society here Mr. Smith,” we ventured to
say.

“Yes, for eight months of the year, I see nobody, literally nobody. It
is only during the winter that strangers come here.”

“Isn’t it lonesome?”

“A little, but you get used to it.”

“What do you do during the hottest months?”

“As near nothing as possible.”

“How hot is it?”

“Sometimes the thermometer goes to 120° Fahrenheit. It stays a long time
at 100°. The worst of it is that the nights are almost as hot as the
days.”

“How do you exist?”

“I keep very quiet, don’t write, don’t read anything that requires the
least thought. Seldom go out, never in the daytime. In the early morning
I sit a while on the verandah, and about ten o’clock get into a big
bath-tub, which I have on the ground-floor, and stay in it nearly all
day, reading some very mild novel, and smoking the weakest tobacco. In
the evening I find it rather cooler outside the house than in. A white
man can’t do anything here in the summer.”

I did not say it to Mr. Smith, but I should scarcely like to live in
a country where one is obliged to be in water half the year, like a
pelican. We can have, however, from his experience some idea what this
basin must have been in summer, when its area was a crowded city, upon
which the sun, reverberated from the incandescent limestone hills, beat
in unceasing fervor.



0368



0369



CHAPTER XXIX.—THE FUTURE OF THE MUMMY’S SOUL.

I SHOULD like to give you a conception, however faint, of the Tombs of
the ancient Egyptians, for in them is to be found the innermost
secret of the character, the belief, the immortal expectation of that
accomplished and wise people. A barren description of these places
of sepulchre would be of small service to you, for the key would be
wanting, and you would be simply confused by a mass of details and
measurements, which convey no definite idea to a person who does not see
them with his own eyes. I should not indeed be warranted in attempting
to say anything about these great Tombs at Thebes, which are so
completely described in many learned volumes, did I not have the hope
that some readers, who have never had access to the works referred to
will be glad to know something of that which most engaged the educated
Egyptian mind.

No doubt the most obvious and immediate interest of the Tombs of old
Egypt, is in the sculptures that depict so minutely the life of the
people, represent all their occupations and associations, are, in fact,
their domestic and social history written in stone. But it is not of
this that I wish to speak here; I want to write a word upon the tombs
and what they contain, in their relation to the future life.

A study of the tombs of the different epochs, chronologically pursued,
would show, I think, pretty accurately, the growth of the Egyptian
theology, its development, or rather its departure from the primitive
revelation of one God, into the monstrosities of its final mixture
of coarse polytheistic idolatry and the vaguest pantheism. These two
extremes are represented by the beautiful places of sepulchre of the
fourth and fifth dynasties at Geezeh and Memphis, in which all the
sculptures relate to the life of the deceased and no deities are
represented; and the tombs of the twenty-fourth dynasty at Thebes which
are so largely covered with the gods and symbols of a religion become
wholly fantastic. It was in the twenty-sixth dynasty (just before the
conquest of Egypt by the Persians) that the Funeral Ritual received
its final revision and additions—the sacred chart of the dead which had
grown, paragraph by paragraph, and chapter by chapter, from its brief
and simple form in the earliest times.

The Egyptians had a considerable, and also a rich literature, judging by
the specimens of it preserved and by the value set upon it by classical
writers; in which no department of writing was unrepresented. The works
which would seem of most value to the Greeks were doubtless those
on agriculture, astronomy, and geometry; the Egyptians wrote also on
medicine, but the science was empirical then as it is now. They had
an enormous bulk of historical literature, both in verse and prose,
probably as semifabulous and voluminous as the thousand great volumes of
Chinese history. They did not lack, either, in the department of belles
lettres; there were poets, poor devils no doubt who were compelled to
celebrate in grandiose strains achievements they did not believe; and
essayists and letter-writers, graceful, philosophic, humorous. Nor
was the field of fiction unoccupied; some of their lesser fables and
romances have been preserved; they are however of a religious
character, myths of doctrine, and it is safe to say different from our
Sunday-School tales. The story of Cinderella was a religious myth. No
one has yet been fortunate enough to find an Egyptian novel, and we may
suppose that the quid-nunes, the critics of Thebes, were all the time
calling upon the writers of that day to make an effort and produce The
Great Egyptian Novel.

The most important part, however, of the literature of Egypt was the
religious, and of that we have, in the Ritual or Book of the Dead,
probably the most valuable portion. It will be necessary to refer to
this more at length. A copy of the Funeral Ritual, or “The Book of
the Manifestation to Light” as it was entitled, or some portion of
it—probably according to the rank or wealth of the deceased, was
deposited with every mummy. In this point of view, as this document was
supposed to be of infinite service, a person’s wealth would aid him in
the next world; but there came a point in the peregrination of every
soul where absolute democracy was reached, and every man stood for
judgment on his character. There was a foreshadowing of this even in the
ceremonies of the burial. When the mummy, after the lapse of the seventy
days of mourning, was taken by the friends to the sacred lake of the
nome (district), across which it must be transported in the boat of
Charon before it could be deposited in the tomb, it was subjected to an
ordeal. Forty-two judges were assembled on the shore of the lake, and if
anyone accused the deceased, and could prove that he led an evil life,
he was denied burial. Even kings were subjected to this trial, and those
who had been wicked, in the judgment of their people, were refused the
honors of sepulchre. Cases were probably rare where one would dare to
accuse even a dead Pharaoh.

Debts would sometimes keep a man out of his tomb, both because he was
wrong in being in debt, and because his tomb was mortgaged. For it was
permitted a man to mortgage not only his family tomb but the mummy of
his father,—a kind of mortmain security that could not run away, but a
ghastly pledge to hold. A man’s tomb, it would seem, was accounted his
chief possession; as the one he was longest to use. It was prepared at
an expense never squandered on his habitation in life.

You may see as many tombs as you like at Thebes, you may spend weeks
underground roaming about in vast chambers or burrowing in zig-zag
tunnels, until the upper-world shall seem to you only a passing show;
but you will find little, here or elsewhere, after the Tombs of the
Kings, to awaken your keenest interest; and the exploration of a very
few of these will suffice to satisfy you. We visited these gigantic
masoleums twice; it is not an easy trip to them, for they are situated
in wild ravines or gorges that lie beyond the western mountains which
circle the plain and ruins of Thebes. They can be reached by a footpath
over the crest of the ridge behind Medeenet Haboo; the ancient and usual
road to them is up a valley that opens from the north.

The first time we tried the footpath, riding over the blooming valley
and leaving our donkeys at the foot of the ascent. I do not know how
high this mountain backbone may be, but it is not a pleasant one to
scale. The path winds, but it is steep; the sun blazes on it; every
step is in pulverized limestone, that seems to have been calcined by
the intense heat, and rises in irritating powder; the mountain-side
is white, chalky, glaring, reflecting the solar rays with blinding
brilliancy, and not a breath of air comes to temper the furnace
temperature. On the summit however there was a delicious breeze, and we
stood long looking over the great basin, upon the temples, the villages,
the verdant areas of grain, the patches of desert, all harmonized by the
wonderful light, and the purple eastern hills—a view unsurpassed. The
descent to the other side was steeper than the ascent, and wound by
precipices, on narrow ledges, round sharp turns, through jagged gorges,
amid rocks striken with the ashy hue of death, into the bottoms of
intersecting ravines, a region scarred, blasted, scorched, a grey
Gehenna, more desolate than imagination ever conceived.

Another day we rode to it up the valley from the river, some three
miles. It is a winding, narrow valley, little more than the bed of a
torrent; but as we advanced windings became shorter, the sides higher,
fantastic precipices of limestone frowned on us, and there was evidence
of a made road and of rocks cut away to broaden it. The scene is wilder,
more freakishly savage, as we go on, and knowing that it is a funereal
way and that only, and that it leads to graves and to nothing else, our
procession imperceptibly took on the sombre character of an expedition
after death, relieved by I know not what that is droll in the impish
forms of the crags, and the reaction of our natures against this
unnecessary accumulation of grim desolation. The sun overhead was like a
dish from which poured liquid heat, I could feel the waves, I thought I
could see it running in streams down the crumbling ashy slopes; but
it was not unendurable, for the air was pure and elastic and we had no
sense of weariness; indeed, now and then a puff of desert air suddenly
greeted us as we turned a corner. The slender strip of sky seen above
the grey limestone was of astonishing depth and color—a purple, almost
like a night sky, but of unimpeachable delicacy.

Up this strange road were borne in solemn state, as the author of Job
may have seen, “the kings and counsellors of the earth, which built
desolate places for themselves;” the journey was a fitting prelude to
an entry into the depths of these frightful hills. It must have been an
awful march, awful in its errand, awful in the desolation of the way:
and, in the heat of summer, a mummy passing this way might have melted
down in his cercueil before he could reach his cool retreat.

When we come to the end of the road, we see no tombs. There are paths
winding in several directions, round projecting ridges and shoulders of
powdered rock, but one might pass through here and not know he was in a
cemetery. Above the rubbish here and there we see, when they are pointed
out, holes in the rock. We climb one of these heaps, and behold the
entrance, maybe half-filled up, of one of the great tombs. This entrance
may have been laid open so as to disclose a portal cut in the face of
the rock and a smoothed space in front. Originally the tomb was not
only walled up and sealed, but rocks were tumbled down over it, so as
to restore that spot in the hill to its natural appearance. The chief
object of every tomb was to conceal the mummy from intrusion forever.
All sorts of misleading devices were resorted to for this purpose.

Twenty-five tombs (of the nineteenth and twentieth dynasties) have been
opened in this locality, but some of them belonged to princes and other
high functionaries; in a valley west of this are tombs of the eighteenth
dynasty, and in still another gorge are the tombs of the queens. These
tombs all differ in plan, in extent, in decoration; they are alike in
not having, as many others elsewhere have, an exterior chamber where
friends could assemble to mourn; you enter all these tombs by passing
through an insignificant opening, by an inclined passage, directly
into the heart of the mountain, and there they open into various halls
chambers, and grottoes. One of them, that of Sethi I., into whose
furthermost and most splendid halls Belzoni broke his way, extends
horizontally four hundred and seventy feet into the hill, and descends
to a depth of one hundred and eighty feet below the opening. The line
of direction of the excavation is often changed, and the continuation
skillfully masked, so that the explorer may be baffled. You come by
several descents and passages, through grand chambers and halls, to a
hall vast in size and magnificently decorated; here is a pit, here is
the granite sarcophagus; here is the fitting resting-place of the royal
mummy. But it never occupied this sarcophagus. Somewhere in this hall is
a concealed passage. It was by breaking through a wall of solid masonry
in such a room, smoothly stuccoed and elaborately painted with a
continuation of the scenes on the side-walls, that Belzoni discovered
the magnificent apartment beyond, and at last a chamber that was never
finished, where one still sees the first draughts of the figures for
sculpture on the wall, and gets an idea of the bold freedom of the
old draughtsmen, in the long, graceful lines, made at a stroke by the
Egyptian artists. Were these inner chambers so elaborately concealed,
by walls and stucco and painting, after the royal mummy was somewhere
hidden in them? Or was the mummy deposited in some obscure lateral pit,
and was it the fancy of the king himself merely to make these splendid
and highly decorated inner apartments private?

It is not uncommon to find rooms in the tombs unfinished. The excavation
of the tomb was began when the king began to reign; it was a work of
many years and might happen to be unfinished at his death. He might
himself become so enamoured of his enterprise and his ideas might expand
in regard to his requirements, as those of builders always do, that
death would find him still excavating and decorating. I can imagine that
if one thought he were building a house for eternity—or cycles beyond
human computation,—he would, up to his last moment, desire to add to it
new beauties and conveniences. And he must have had a certain humorous
satisfaction in his architectural tricks, for putting posterity on a
false scent about his remains.

It would not be in human nature to leave undisturbed tombs containing
so much treasure as was buried with a rich or royal mummy. The Greeks
walked through all these sepulchres; they had already been rifled by
the Persians; it is not unlikely that some of them had been ransacked by
Egyptians, who could appreciate jewelry and fine-work in gold as much as
we do that found by M. Mariette on the cold person of Queen Aah-hotep.
This dainty lady might have begun to flatter herself, having escaped
through so many ages of pillage, that danger was over, but she had not
counted upon there coming an age of science. It is believed that she was
the mother of Amosis, who expelled the Shepherds, and the wife of Kamés,
who long ago went to his elements. After a repose here at Thebes, not
far from the temple of Koorneh, of about thirty-five hundred years,
Science one day cried,—“Aah-hotep of Drah-Aboo-l-neggah! we want you
for an Exposition of the industries of all nations at Paris; put on your
best things and come forth.”

I suppose that there is no one living who would not like to be the
first to break into an Egyptian tomb (and there are doubtless still some
undisturbed in this valley), to look upon its glowing paintings before
the air had impaired a tint, and to discover a sweet and sleeping
princess, simply encrusted in gems, and cunning work in gold, of
priceless value—in order that he might add something to our knowledge of
ancient art!

But the government prohibits all excavations by private persons. You are
permitted, indeed, to go to the common pits and carry off an armful of
mummies, if you like; but there is no pleasure in the disturbance of
this sort of mummy; he may perhaps be a late Roman; he has no history,
no real antiquity, and probably not a scarabæus of any value about him.

When we pass out of the glare of the sun and descend the incline down
which the mummy went, we feel as if we had begun his awful journey. On
the walls are sculptured the ceremonies and liturgies of the dead, the
grotesque monsters of the under-world, which will meet him and assail
him on his pilgrimage, the deities friendly and unfriendly, the
tremendous scenes of cycles of transmigration. Other sculptures there
are; to be sure, and in some tombs these latter predominate, in which
astronomy, agriculture, and domestic life are depicted. In one chamber
are exhibited trades, in another the kitchen, in another arms, in
another the gay boats and navigation of the Nile, in another all the
vanities of elegant house-furniture. But all these only emphasize the
fact that we are passing into another world, and one of the grimmest
realities. We come at length, whatever other wonders or beauties may
detain us, to the king, the royal mummy, in the presence of the
deities, standing before Osiris, Athor, Phtah, Isis, Horus, Anubis, and
Nofre-Atmoo.

Somewhere in this vast and dark mausoleum the mummy has been deposited;
he has with him the roll of the Funeral Ritual; the sacred scarabæus is
on his breast; in one chamber bread and wine are set out; his bearers
withdraw, the tomb is closed, sealed, all trace of its entrance effaced.
The mummy begins his pilgrimage.

The Ritual * describes all the series of pilgrimages of the soul in the
lower-world; it contains the hymns, prayers, and formula for all funeral
ceremonies and the worship of the dead; it embodies the philosophy and
religion of Egypt; the basis of it is the immortality of the soul,
that is of the souls of the justified, but a clear notion of the soul’s
personality apart from the body it does not give.

* Lenormant’s Epitome.

The book opens with a grand dialogue, at the moment of death, in which
the deceased, invoking the god of the lower-world, asks entrance to
his domain; a chorus of glorified souls interposes for him; the priest
implores the divine clemency; Osiris responds, granting permission, and
the soul enters Kar-Neter, the land of the dead; and then renews his
invocations. Upon his entry he is dazzled by the splendor of the
sun (which is Osiris) in this subterranean region, and sings to it a
magnificent hymn.

The second part traces the journeys of the soul. Without knowledge, he
would fail, and finally be rejected at the tribunal.

Knowledge is in Egyptian sbo, that is, “food in plenty,” knowledge and
food are identified in the Ritual; “the knowledge of religious truths is
the mysterious nourishment that the soul must carry with it to sustain
it in its journeys and trials.” This necessary preliminary knowledge
is found in the statement of the Egyptian faith in the Ritual; other
information is given him from time to time on his journey. But although
his body is wrapped up, and his soul instructed, he cannot move, he has
not the use of his limbs; and he prays to be restored to his faculties
that he may be able to walk, speak, eat, fight; the prayer granted, he
holds his scarabæus over his head, as a passport, and enters Hades.

His way is at once beset by formidable obstacles; monsters, servants of
Typhon, assail him; slimy reptiles, crocodiles, serpents seek to devour
him; he begins a series of desperate combats, in which the hero and his
enemies hurl long and insulting speeches at each other. Out of these
combats he comes victorious, and sings songs of triumph; and after rest
and refreshment from the Tree of Life, given him by the goddess Nu,
he begins a dialogue with the personification of the divine Light, who
instructs him, explaining the sublime mysteries of nature. Guided
by this new Light, he advances, and enters into a series of
transformations, identifying himself with the noblest divine symbols: he
becomes a hawk, an angel, a lotus, the god Ptah, a heron, etc.

Up to this time the deceased has been only a shade, an eidolon, the
simulacrum of the appearance of his body. He now takes his body, which
is needed for the rest of the journey; it was necessary therefore that
it should be perfectly preserved by the embalming process. He goes on to
new trials and dangers, to new knowledge, to severer examinations of his
competence: he shuns wiles and delusions; he sails down a subterranean
river and comes to the Elysian Fields, in fact, to a reproduction of
Egypt with its camels and its industries, when the soul engages in
agriculture, sowing and reaping divine fruit for the bread of knowledge
which he needs now more than ever.

At length he comes to the last and severest trial, to the judgment-hall
where Osiris awaits him, seated on his throne, accompanied by the
forty-two assessors of the dead. Here his knowledge is put to the test;
here he must give an account of his whole life. He goes on to justify
himself by declaring at first, negatively, the crimes that he has not
committed. “I have not blasphemed,” he says in the Ritual; “I have not
stolen; I have not smitten men privily; I have not treated any person
with cruelty; I have not stirred up trouble; I have not been idle; I
have not been intoxicated; I have not made unjust commandmants; I
have shown no improper curiosity; I have not allowed my mouth to tell
secrets; I have not wounded anyone; I have not put anyone in fear; I
have not slandered anyone; I have not let envy gnaw my heart; I have
spoken evil neither of the king nor of my father; I have not falsely
accused anyone; I have not withheld milk from the mouths of sucklings; I
have not practiced any shameful crime; I have not calumniated a slave to
his master.”

The deceased then speaks of the good he has done in his lifetime; and
the positive declarations rise to a higher morality than the negative;
among them is this wonderful sentence:—“I have given food to the hungry,
drink to the thirsty, and clothes to the naked.”

The heart of the deceased, who is now called Osiris, is then weighed in
the balance against “truth,” and (if he is just) is not found wanting;
the forty-two assessors decide that his knowledge is sufficient, the god
Osiris gives sentence of justification, Thoth (the Hermes of the
Greeks, the conductor of souls, the scribe of Osiris, and also the
personification of literature or letters) records it, and the soul
enters into bliss.

In a chamber at Dayr el Medeeneh you may see this judgment-scene. Osiris
is seated on his throne waiting the introduction of souls into Amenti;
the child Harpocrates, with his finger on his lip, sits upon his crook;
behind are the forty-two assessors. The deceased humbly approaches;
Thoth presents his good deeds written upon papyrus; they are weighed in
the balance against an ostrich-feather, the symbol of truth; on the beam
sits a monkey, the emblem of Thoth.

The same conceit of weighing the soul in judgment-scenes was common to
the mediaeval church; it is very quaintly represented in a fresco in the
porch of the church of St. Lawrence at Rome.

Sometimes the balance tipped the wrong way; in the tomb of Rameses VI.
is sculptured a wicked soul, unjustified, retiring from the presence of
Osiris in the ignoble form of a pig.

The justified soul retired into bliss. What was this bliss? The third
part of the Ritual is obscure. The deceased is Osiris, identified with
the sun, traversing with him, and as him, the various houses of heaven;
afterwards he seems to pass into an identification with all the deities
of the pantheon. This is a poetical flight. The justified soul was
absorbed into the intelligence from which it emanated. For the wicked,
there was annihilation; they were destroyed, decapitated by the evil
powers. In these tombs you will see pictures of beheadings at the block,
of dismembered bodies.

It would seem that in some cases the souls of the wicked returned to
the earth and entered unclean animals. We always had a suspicion, a mere
idle fancy, that the chameleon, which we had on our boat, which had a
knowing and wicked eye, had been somebody.

The visitor’s first astonishment here is to find such vast and rich
tombs, underground temples in fact, in a region so unutterably desolate,
remote from men, to be reached only by a painful pilgrimage. He is
bewildered by the variety and beauty of the decorations, the grace and
freedom of art, the minute finish of birds and flowers, the immortal
loveliness of faces here and there; and he cannot understand that all
this was not made for exhibition, that it was never intended to be seen,
that it was not seen except by the workmen and the funeral attendants,
and that it was then sealed away from human eyes forever. Think of the
years of labor expended, the treasure lavished in all this gorgeous
creation, which was not for men to see! Has human nature changed?
Expensive monuments and mausoleums are built now as they have been in
all the Christian era; but they are never concealed from the public
view. I cannot account for these extraordinary excavations, not even for
one at the Assaseef, which extends over an acre and a quarter of ground,
upon an ostentation of wealth, for they were all closed from inspection,
and the very entrances masked. The builders must have believed in the
mysteries of the under-world, or they would not have expended so much in
enduring representations of them; they must have believed also that
the soul had need of such a royal abode. Did they have the thought that
money lavished in this pious labor would benefit the soul, as much as
now-a-days legacies bequeathed to missions and charities?

On our second visit to these tombs we noticed many details that had
escaped us before. I found sculptured a cross of equal arms, three or
four inches long, among other sacred symbols. We were struck by the
peculiar whiteness of the light, the sort of chalkiness of the sunshine
as we saw it falling across the entrance of a tomb from which we were
coming, and by the lightness of the shadows. We illuminated some of
the interiors, lighting up the vast sculptured and painted halls and
corniced chambers, to get the tout ensemble of colors and figures. The
colors came out with startling vividness on the stuccoed, white walls,
and it needed no imagination, amidst these awful and bizarre images and
fantastic scenes, to feel that we were in a real underworld. And all
this was created for darkness!

But these chambers could neither have been cut nor decorated without
light, and bright light. The effect of the rich ceiling and sides could
not have been obtained without strong light. I believe that these rooms,
as well as the dark and decorated chambers in the temples, must have
been brilliantly illuminated on occasion; the one at the imposing
funeral ceremonies, the other at the temple services. What light was
used? The sculptures give us no information. But the light must have
been not only a very brilliant but a pure flame, for these colors were
fresh and unsullied when the tombs were opened. However these chambers
were lighted, some illuminating substance was used that produced no
smoke, nor formed any gas that could soil the whiteness of the painted
lotus.

In one of these brilliant apartments, which is finished with a carved
and painted cornice, and would serve for a drawing-room with the
addition of some furniture, we almost had a feeling of comfort and
domesticity—as long as the illumination lasted. When that flashed but,
and we were left in that thick darkness of the grave which one can feel
gathering itself in folds about him, and which the twinkling candles in
our hands punctured but did not scatter, and we groped our way, able
to see only a step ahead and to examine only a yard square of wall at a
time, there was something terrible in this subterranean seclusion. And
yet, this tomb was intended as the place of abode of the deceased owner
during the long ages before soul and body, united, should be received
into bliss; here were buried with him no doubt some portions of his
property, at least jewels and personal ornaments of value; here were
pictured his possessions and his occupations while on earth; here were
his gods, visibly cut in stone; here were spread out, in various symbols
and condensed writing, the precepts of profound wisdom and the liturgies
of the book of the dead. If at any time he could have awakened (as
no doubt he supposed he should), and got rid of his heavy granite
sarcophagus (if his body ever lay in it) and removed the myrrh and pitch
from his person, he would have found himself in a most spacious and gay
mansion, of which the only needs were food, light, and air.

While remembering, however, the grotesque conception the Egyptians had
of the next world, it seems to me that the decorators of these tombs
often let their imaginations run riot, and that not every fantastic
device has a deep signification. Take the elongated figures on the
ceiling, stretching fifty feet across, the legs bent down one side and
the head the other; or such a picture as this:—a sacred boat having a
crocodile on the deck, on the back of the crocodile a human head, out
of the head a long stick protruding which bears on its end the crown of
lower Egypt; or this conceit:—a small boat ascending a cataract, bearing
a huge beetle (scarabæus) having a ram’s head, and sitting on each side
of it a bird with a human head. I think much of this work is pure fancy.

In these tombs the snake plays a great part, the snake purely, coiled
or extended, carried in processions his length borne on the shoulders
of scores of priests, crawling along the walls in hideous convolutions;
and, again, the snake with two, three, and four heads, with two and six
feet; the snake with wings; the snake coiled about the statues of the
gods, about the images of the mummies, and in short everywhere. The
snake is the most conspicuous figure.

The monkey is also numerous, and always pleasing; I think he is the
comic element of hell, though perhaps gravely meant. He squats about
the lower-world of the heathen, and gives it an almost cheerful and
debonnair aspect. It is certainly refreshing to meet his self-possessed,
grave, and yet friendly face amid all the serpents, crocodiles, hybrids,
and chimerical monsters of the Egyptian under-world.

Conspicuous in ceremonies represented in the tombs and in the temples
is the sacred boat or ark, reminding one always, in its form and use and
the sacredness attached to it, of the Jewish Ark of the Covenant. The
arks contain the sacred emblems, and sometimes the beetle of the sun,
overshadowed by the wings of the goddess of Thmei or Truth, which
suggest the cherubim of the Jews. Mr. Wilkinson notices the fact, also,
that Thmei, the name of the goddess who was worshipped under the double
character of Truth and Justice, is the origin of the Hebrew Thummim—a
word implying “truth”; this Thummim (a symbol perfectly comprehensible
now that we know its origin) which was worn only by the high priest of
the Jews, was, like the Egyptian figure, which the archjudge put on when
he sat at the trial of a case, studded with precious stones of various
colors.

Before we left the valley we entered the tomb of Menephtah (or
Merenphtah), and I broke off a bit of crumbling limestone from the inner
cave as a memento of the Pharaoh of the Exodus. I used to suppose that
this Pharaoh was drowned in the Red Sea; but he could not have been if
he was buried here; and here certainly is his tomb. It is the opinion
of scholars that Menephtah long survived the Exodus. There is nothing
to conflict with this in the Biblical description of the disaster to the
Egyptians. It says that all Pharaoh’s host was drowned, but it does not
say that the king was drowned; if he had been, so important a fact, it
is likely, would have been emphasized. Joseph came into Egypt during the
reign of one of the usurping Shepherd Kings, Apepi probably. Their seat
of empire was at Tanis, where their tombs have been discovered.
The Israelites were settled in that part of the Delta. After some
generations the Shepherds were expelled, and the ancient Egyptian race
of kings was reinstated in the dominion of all Egypt. This is probably
the meaning of the passage, “now there arose up a new king over Egypt,
which knew not Joseph.” The narrative of the Exodus seems to require
that the Pharaoh should be at Memphis. The kings of the nineteenth
dynasty, to which Menephtah belonged, had the seat of their empire at
Thebes; he alone of that dynasty established his court at Memphis. But
it was natural that he should build his tomb at Thebes.

We went again and again to the temples on the west side and to the tombs
there. I never wearied of the fresh morning ride across the green plain,
saluting the battered Colossi as we passed under them, and galloping
(don’t, please, remember that we were mounted on donkeys) out upon the
desert. Not all the crowd of loping Arabs with glittering eyes and lying
tongues, who attended us, offering their dead merchandise, could put me
out of humor. Besides, there were always slender, pretty, and cheerful
little girls running beside us with their water-koollehs. And may I
never forget the baby Charon on the vile ferry-boat that sets us over
one of the narrow streams. He is the cunningest specimen of a boy in
Africa. His small brothers pole the boat, but he is steersman, and
stands aft pushing about the tiller, which is level with his head. He is
a mere baby as to stature, and is in fact only four years old, but he
is a perfect beauty, even to the ivory teeth which his engaging smile
discloses. And such self-possession and self-respect. He is a man of
business, and minds his helm, “the dear little scrap,” say the ladies.
When we give him some evidently unexpected coppers, his eyes and whole
face beam with pleasure, and in the sweetest voice he says, Ket’ther
khdyrak, keteer (“Thank you very much indeed”).

I yield myself to, but cannot account for the fascination of this vast
field of desolation, this waste of crumbled limestone, gouged into
ravines and hills, honeycombed with tombs and mummy-pits, strewn with
the bones of ancient temples, brightened by the glow of sunshine on
elegant colonnades and sculptured walls, saddened by the mud-hovels of
the fellaheen. The dust is abundant, and the glare of the sun reflected
from the high, white precipices behind is something unendurable.

Of the tombs of the Assaseef, we went far into none, except that of the
priest Petamunoph, the one which occupies, with its many chambers and
passages, an acre and a quarter of underground. It was beautifully
carved and painted throughout, but the inscriptions are mostly illegible
now, and so fouled by bats as to be uninteresting. Our guide said truly,
“bats not too much good for ‘scriptions.” In truth, the place smells
horribly of bats,—an odor that will come back to you with sickening
freshness days after,—and a strong stomach is required for the
exploration.

Even the chambers of some of the temples here were used in later times
as receptacles for mummies. The novel and most interesting temple
of Dayr el Bahree did not escape this indignity. It was built by
Amun-noo-het, or Hatasoo as we more familiarly call her, and like
everything else that this spirited woman did it bears the stamp of
originality and genius. The structure rises up the side of the
mountain in terraces, temple above temple, and is of a most graceful
architecture; its varied and brilliant sculptures must be referred to a
good period of art. Walls that have recently been laid bare shine with
extraordinary vividness of color. The last chambers in the rock are
entered by arched doorways, but the arch is in appearance, not in
principle. Its structure is peculiar. Square stones were laid up on each
side, the one above lapping over the one beneath until the last two met
at the top; the interior corners were then cut away, leaving a perfect
round arch; but there is no lateral support or keystone. In these
interior rooms were depths on depths of mummy-wrappings and bones, and a
sickening odor of dissolution.

There are no tombs better known than those of Sheykh el Koorneh, for it
is in them that so much was discovered revealing the private life, the
trades, the varied pursuits of the Egyptians. We entered those called
the most interesting, but they are so smoked, and the paintings are so
defaced, that we had small satisfaction in them. Some of them are full
of mummy-cloths and skeletons, and smell of mortality, to that degree
that it needs all the wind of the desert to take the scent of death out
of our nostrils.

All this plain and its mounds and hills are dug over and pawed out
for remnants of the dead, scarabæi, beads, images, trinkets sacred and
profane. It is the custom of some travelers to descend into the horrible
and common mummy-pits, treading about among the dead, and bring up in
their arms the body of some man, or some woman, who may have been, for
aught the traveler knows, not a respectable person. I confess to an
uncontrollable aversion to all of them, however well preserved they are.
The present generation here (I was daily beset by an Arab who wanted
always to sell mean arm or a foot, from whose eager, glittering eyes
I seemed to see a ghoul looking out,) lives by plundering the dead. A
singular comment upon our age and upon the futile hope of security for
the body after death, even in the strongest house of rock.

Old Petamunoph, with whom be peace, builded better than he knew; he
excavated a vast hotel for bats. Perhaps he changed into bats himself in
the course of his transmigrations, and in this state is only able to see
dimly, as bats do, and to comprehend only partially, as an old Egyptian
might, our modern civilization.



0386



CHAPTER XXX.—FAREWELL TO THEBES.

SOCIAL life at Thebes, in the season, is subject to peculiar conditions.
For one thing, you suspect a commercial element in it. Back of all the
politeness of native consuls and resident effendis, you see spread out
a collection of antiques, veritable belongings of the ancient Egyptians,
the furniture of their tombs, the ornaments they wore when they began
their last and most solemn journey, the very scarabæus, cut on the back
in the likeness of the mysterious eye of Osiris, which the mummy held
over his head when he entered the ominously silent land of Kar-Neter,
the intaglio seal which he always used for his signature, the “charms”
that he wore at his guard-chain, the necklaces of his wife, the rings
and bracelets of his daughter.

These are very precious things, but you may have them—such is the
softening influence of friendship—for a trifle of coined gold, a mere
trifle, considering their value and the impossibility of replacing them.
What are two, five, even ten pounds for a genuine bronze figure of Isis,
for a sacred cat, for a bit of stone, wrought four thousand years ago by
an artist into the likeness of the immortal beetle, carved exquisitely
with the name of the Pharaoh of that epoch, a bit of stone that some
Egyptian wore at his chain during his life and which was laid upon his
breast when he was wrapped up for eternity. Here in Thebes, where the
most important personage is the mummy and the Egyptian past is the only
real and marketable article, there comes to be an extraordinary value
attached to these trinkets of mortality. But when the traveler gets
away, out of this charmed circle of enthusiasm for antiquity, away from
this fictitious market in sentiment, among the cold people of the world
who know not Joseph, and only half believe in Potiphar, and think the
little blue images of Osiris ugly, and the me my-beads trash, and who
never heard of the scarabæus, when, I say, he comes with his load of
antiques into this air of scepticism, he finds that he has invested in
a property no longer generally current, objects of vertu for which Egypt
is actually the best market. And if he finds, as he may, that a good
part of his purchases are only counterfeits of the antique, manufactured
and doctored to give them an appearance of age, he experiences a sinking
of the heart mingled with a lively admiration of the adroitness of the
smooth and courtly Arabs of Luxor.

Social life is so peculiar in the absence of the sex that is thought
to add a charm to it in other parts of the world. We receive visits or
ceremony or of friendship from the chief citizens of the village, we
entertain them at dinner, but they are never accompanied by their wives
or daughters; we call at their houses and are feted in turn, but the
light of the harem never appears. Dahabeëhs of all nations are arriving
and departing, there are always several moored before the town, some of
them are certain to have lovely passengers, and the polite Arabs are
not insensible to the charm of their society: there is much visiting
constantly on the boats; but when it is returned at the houses of the
natives, at an evening entertainment, the only female society offered is
that of the dancing-girls.

Of course, when there is so much lingual difficulty in intercourse, the
demonstrations of civility must be mainly overt, and in fact they are
mostly illuminations and “fantasies.” Almost every boat once in the
course of its stay, and usually upon some natal day or in honor of some
arrival, will be beautifully illuminated and display fireworks. No sight
is prettier than a dahabeëh strung along its decks and along its masts
and yards with many colored lanterns. The people of Luxor respond with
illuminations in the houses, to which they add barbarous music and the
kicking and posturing of the Ghawazees. In this consists the gaiety of
the Luxor season.

Perhaps we reached the high-water mark of this gaiety in an
entertainment given us by Ali Moorad Effendi, the American consular
agent, in return for a dinner on the dahabeëh. Ali is of good Bedawee
blood; and has relations at Karnak enough to fill an opera-house, we
esteemed him one of the most trustworthy Arabs in the country, and he
takes great pains and pleasure in performing all the duties of his
post, which are principally civilities to American travelers. The
entertainment consisted of a dinner and a ‘fantasia.’ It was understood
that it was to be a dinner in Arab style.

We go at sunset when all the broad surface of the Nile is like an opal
in the reflected light. The consul’s house is near the bank of the
river, and is built against the hill so that we climb two or three
narrow stairways before we get to the top of it. The landing-places of
the stairways are terraces overlooking the river; and the word terrace
has such a grand air that it is impossible to describe this house
without making it appear better than it is. The consul comes down to
the bank to receive us; we scramble up its crumbling face. We ascend a
stairway to the long consular reception-room, where we sit for half an
hour, during which coffee is served and we get the last of the glowing
sunset from the windows.

We are then taken across a little terrace, up another flight of steps,
to the main house, which is seen to consist of a broad hall with small
rooms on each side. No other members of the consul’s family appear,
and, regarding Arab etiquette, we make no inquiry for them. We could not
commit a greater breach of good-breeding than to ask after the health of
any members of the harem. Into one of the little rooms we are shown for
dinner. It is very small, only large enough to contain a divan and a
round table capable of seating eight persons. The only ornaments of the
room are an American flag, and a hand-mirror hung too high for anyone to
see herself in it. The round table is of metal, hammered out and turned
at the edge,—a little barrier that prevents anything rolling off. At
each place are a napkin and a piece of bread—no plate or knives or
forks.

Deference is so far paid to European prejudice that we sit in chairs,
but I confess that when I am to eat with my fingers I prefer to sit on
the ground—the position in a chair is too formal for what is to follow.
When we are seated, a servant brings water in a basin and ewer, and a
towel, and we wash our right hands—the left hand is not to be used. Soup
is first served. The dish is placed in the middle of the table, and we
are given spoons with which each one dips in, and eats rapidly or slowly
according to habit; but there is necessarily some deliberation about it,
for we cannot all dip at once. The soup is excellent, and we praise it,
to the great delight of our host, who shows his handsome teeth and says
tyeb all that we have hitherto said was tyeb, we now add kateér. More
smiles; and claret is brought in—another concession to foreign tastes.

After the soup, we rely upon our fingers, under the instructions of Ali
and an Arab guest. The dinner consists of many courses, each article
served separately, but sometimes placed upon the table in three or four
dishes for the convenience of the convive in reaching it. There are
meats and vegetables of all sorts procurable, fish, beef, mutton, veal,
chickens, turkeys, quails and other small birds, pease, beans, salad,
and some compositions which defied such analysis as one could make with
his thumb and finger. Our host prided himself upon having a Turkish
artist in the kitchen, and the cooking was really good and toothsome,
even to the pastry and sweetmeats; we did not accuse him of making the
champagne.

There is no difficulty in getting at the meats; we tear off strips,
mutually assisting each other in pulling them asunder; but there is
more trouble about such dishes as pease and a purée of something. One
hesitates to make a scoop of his four fingers, and plunge in; and then
it is disappointing to an unskilled person to see how few peas he
can convey to his mouth at a time. I sequester and keep by me the
breast-bone of a chicken, which makes an excellent scoop for small
vegetables and gravies, and I am doing very well with it, until there is
a universal protest against the unfairness of the device.

Our host praises everything himself in the utmost simplicity, and urges
us to partake of each dish; he is continually picking out nice bits from
the dish and conveying them to the mouth of his nearest guest. My friend
who sits next to All, ought to be grateful for this delicate attention,
but I fear he is not. The fact is that Ali, by some accident, in
fishing, hunting, or war, has lost the tip of the index finger of his
right hand, the very hand that conveys the delicacies to my friend’s
mouth. And he told me afterwards, that he felt each time he was fed that
he had swallowed that piece of the consul’s finger.

During the feast there is music by performers in the adjoining hall,
music in minor, barbaric strains insisted on with the monotonous
nonchalance of the Orient, and calculated, I should say, to excite a
person to ferocity, and to make feeding with his fingers a vent to his
aroused and savage passions. At the end of the courses water is brought
for us to lave our hands, and coffee and chibooks are served.

“Dinner very nice, very fine,” says Ali, speaking the common thought
which most hosts are too conventional to utter.

“A splendid dinner, O! consul; I have never seen such an one in
America.”

The Ghawazees have meantime arrived; we hear a burst of singing
occasionally with the wail of the instruments. The dancing is to be in
the narrow hall of the house, which is lighted as well as a room can be
with so many dusky faces in it. At the far end are seated on the
floor the musicians, with two stringed instruments, a tambourine and a
darabooka. That which answers for a violin has two strings of horsehair,
stretched over a cocoanut-shell; the bowstring, which is tightened
by the hand as it is drawn, is of horsehair. The music is certainly
exciting, harassing, plaintive, complaining; the very monotony of it
would drive one wild in time. Behind the musicians is a dark cloud of
turbaned servants and various privileged retainers of the house. In
front of the musicians sit the Ghawazees, six girls, and an old women
with parchment skin and twinkling eyes, who has been a famous dancer in
her day. They are waiting a little wearily, and from time to time one
of them throws out the note or two of a song, as if the music were
beginning to work in her veins. The spectators are grouped at the
entrance of the hall and seated on chairs down each side, leaving but a
narrow space for the dancers between; and there are dusky faces peering
in at the door.

Before the dance begins we have an opportunity to see what these
Ghawazees are like, a race which prides itself upon preserving a pure
blood for thousands of years, and upon an ancestry that has always
followed the most disreputable profession. These girls are aged say
from sixteen to twenty; one appears much older and looks exactly like an
Indian squaw, but, strange to say, her profile is also exactly that of
Rameses as we see it in the sculptures. The leading dancer is dressed
in a flaring gown of red and figured silk, a costly Syrian dress; she is
fat, rather comely, but coarsely uninteresting, although she is said to
have on more jewelry than any other dancing-girl in Egypt; her abundant
black hair is worn long and in strands thickly hung with gold coins; her
breast is covered with necklaces of gold-work and coins; and a mass of
heavy twinkling silver ornaments hangs about her waist. A third dancer
is in an almost equally striking gown of yellow, and wears also much
coin; she is a Pharaonic beauty, with a soft skin and the real
Oriental eye and profile. The dresses of all are plainly cut, and
straight-waisted, like an ordinary calico gown of a milkmaid. They
wear no shawls or any other Oriental wrappings, and dance in their
stocking-feet.

At a turn in the music, the girl in red and the girl in yellow stand up;
for an instant they raise their castanets till the time of the music is
caught, and then start forward, with less of languor and a more skipping
movement than we expected; and they are not ungraceful as they come
rapidly down the hall, throwing the arms aloft and the feet forward,
to the rattle of the castanets. These latter are small convex pieces of
brass, held between the thumb and finger, which have a click like the
rattle of the snake. In mid-advance they stop, face each other, chassée,
retire, and again come further forward, stop, and the peculiar portion
of the dance begins, which is not dancing at all, but a quivering,
undulating motion given to the body, as the girl stands with feet
planted wide apart. The feet are still, the head scarcely stirs, except
with an almost imperceptible snakelike movement, but the muscles of the
body to the hips quiver in time to the monotonous music, in muscular
thrills, in waves running down, and at intervals extending below
the waist. Sometimes one side of the body quivers while the other is
perfectly still, and then the whole frame, for a second, shares in the
ague. It is certainly an astonishing muscular performance, but you
could not call it either graceful or pleasing. Some people see in the
intention of the dance a deep symbolic meaning, something about the Old
Serpent of the Nile, with its gliding, quivering movement and its fatal
fascination. Others see in it only the common old Snake that was in
Eden. I suppose in fact that it is the old and universal Oriental dance,
the chief attraction of which never was its modesty.

After standing for a brief space, with the body throbbing and quivering,
the castanets all the time held above the head in sympathetic throbs,
the dancers start forward, face each other, pass, pirouette, and
take some dancing steps, retire, advance and repeat the earthquake
performance. This is kept up a long time, and with wonderful endurance,
without change of figure; but sometimes the movements are more rapid,
when the music hastens, and more passion is shown. But five minutes of
it is as good as an hour. Evidently the dance is nothing except with a
master, with an actress who shall abandon herself to the tide of feeling
which the music suggests and throw herself into the full passion of it;
who knows how to tell a story by pantomime, and to depict the woes
of love and despair. All this needs grace, beauty, and genius. Few
dancing-girls have either. An old resident of Luxor complains that the
dancing is not at all what it was twenty years ago, that the old fire
and art seem to be lost.

“The old hag, sitting there on the floor, was asked to exhibit the
ancient style; she consented, and danced marvelously for a time, but the
performance became in the end too shameful to be witnessed.”

I fancy that if the dance has gained anything in propriety, which
is hard to believe, it has lost in spirit. It might be passionate,
dramatic, tragic. But it needs genius to make it anything more than a
suggestive and repulsive vulgarity.

During the intervals, the girls sing to the music; the singing is very
wild and barbaric. The song is in praise of the Night, a love-song
consisting of repeated epithets:—


“O the Night! nothing is so lovely as the Night!

O my heart! O my soul! O my liver!

My love he passed my door, and saw me not;

O the night! How lovely is the Night!”


The strain is minor, and there is a wail in the voices which stridently
chant to the twanging strings. Is it only the echo of ages of sin in
those despairing voices? How melancholy it all becomes! The girl in
yellow, she of the oblong eyes, straight nose and high type of Oriental
beauty, dances down alone; she is slender, she has the charm of grace,
her eyes never wander to the spectators. Is there in her soul any faint
contempt for herself or for the part she plays? Or is the historic
consciousness of the antiquity of both her profession and her sin strong
enough to throw yet the lights of illusion over such a performance?
Evidently the fat girl in red is a prey to no such misgiving, as she
comes bouncing down the line, and flings herself into her ague fit.

“Look out, the hippopotamus!” cries Abd-el-Atti, “I ‘fraid she kick me.”

While the dance goes on, pipes, coffee, and brandy are frequently
passed; the dancers swallow the brandy readily. The house is
illuminated, and the entertainment ends with a few rockets from the
terrace. This is a full-blown “fantasia.”

As the night is still young and the moon is full, we decide to efface,
as much as may be, the vulgarities of modern Egypt, by a vision of the
ancient, and taking donkeys we ride to Karnak.

For myself I prefer day to night, and abounding sunshine to the most
generous moonlight; there is always some disappointment in the night
effect in ruins, under the most favorable conditions. But I have great
deference to that poetic yearning for half-light, which leads one to
grope about in the heavy night-shadows of a stately temple; there is
no bird more worthy of respect than the round-eyed attendant of
Pallas-Athene.

And it cannot be denied that there is something mysterious and almost
ghostly in our silent night ride. For once, our attendants fall into the
spirit of the adventure, keep silent, and are only shades at our side.
Not a word or a blow is heard as we emerge from the dark lanes of Luxor
and come out into the yellow light of the plain; the light seems strong
and yet the plain is spectral, small objects become gigantic, and
although the valley is flooded in radiance, the end of our small
procession is lost in dimness. Nothing is real, all things take
fantastic forms, and all proportions are changed. One moves as in a
sort of spell, and it is this unreality which becomes painful. The
old Egyptians had need of little imagination to conjure up the
phantasmagoria of the under-world; it is this without the sun.

So far as we can see it, the great mass of stone is impressive as we
approach—I suspect because we know how vast and solid it is; and the
pylons never seemed so gigantic before. We do our best to get into a
proper frame of mind, by wandering apart, and losing ourselves in the
heavy shadows. And for moments we succeed. It would have been the shame
of our lives not to have seen Karnak by moonlight. The Great Hall, with
its enormous columns planted close together, it is more difficult to
see by night than by day, but such glimpses as we have of it, the silver
light slanting through the stone forest and the heavy shadows, are
profoundly impressive. I climb upon a tottering pylon where I can see
over the indistinct field and chaos of stone, and look down into the
weird and half-illumined Hall of Columns. In this isolated situation
I am beginning to fall into the classical meditation of Marius at
Carthage, when another party of visitors arrives, and their donkeys,
meeting our donkeys in the center of the Great Hall, begin (it is
their donkeys that begin) such a braying as never was heard before; the
challenge is promptly responded to, and a duet ensues and is continued
and runs into a chorus, so hideous, so unsanctified, so wretchedly
attuned, and out of harmony with history, romance, and religion, that
sentiment takes wings with silence and flies from the spot.

We can pick up again only some scattered fragments of emotion by
wandering alone in the remotest nooks. But we can go nowhere that an
Arab, silent and gowned, does not glide from behind a pillar or step
out of the shade, staff in hand, and stealthily accompany us. Even the
donkey-boys have cultivated their sensibilities by association with
other nocturnal pilgrims, and encourage our gush of feeling by remarking
in a low voice, “Karnak very good.” One of them, who had apparently
attended only the most refined and appreciative, keeps repeating at each
point of view, “Exquisite!”

As I am lingering behind the company a shadow glides up to me in the
gloom of the great columns, with “good evening”; and, when I reply, it
draws nearer, and, in confidential tones, whispers, as if it knew that
the moonlight visit was different from that by day, “Backsheesh.”

There is never wanting something to do at Luxor, if all the excursions
were made. There is always an exchange of courtesies between dahabeëhs,
calls are made and dinners given. In the matter of visits the naval
etiquette prevails, and the last comer makes the first call. But if you
do not care for the society of travelers, you can at least make one of
the picturesque idlers on the bank; you may chance to see a display
of Arab horsemanship; you may be entertained by some new device of the
curiosity-mongers; and there always remain the “collections” of the
dealers to examine. One of the best of them is that of the German
consul, who rejoices in the odd name of Todrous Paulos, which reappears
in his son as Moharb Todrous; a Copt who enjoys the reputation among
Moslems of a trustworthy man—which probably means that a larger
proportion of his antiquities are genuine than of theirs. If one were
disposed to moralize there is abundant field for it here in Luxor.
I wonder if there is an insatiable demoralization connected with the
dealing in antiquities, and especially in the relics of the departed.
When a person, as a business, obtains his merchandise from the
unresisting clutch of the dead, in violation of the firman of his ruler,
does he add to his wickedness by manufacturing imitations and selling
them as real? And what of the traveler who encourages both trades by
buying?

One night the venerable Mustapha Aga gave a grand entertainment, in
honor of his reception of a firman from the Sultan, who sent him a
decoration of diamonds set in silver. Nothing in a Moslem’s eyes could
exceed the honor of this recognition by the Khalif, the successor of
the Prophet. It was an occasion of religious as well as of social
demonstration of gratitude. There was service, with the reading of the
Koran in the mosque, for the faithful only; there was a slaughter of
sheep with a distribution of the mutton among the poor; and there was a
fantasia at the residence of Mustapha (the house built into the columns
of the temple of Luxor), to which everybody was bidden. There had been
an arrival of Cook’s Excursionists by steamboat, and there must have
been as many as two hundred foreigners at the entertainment in the
course of the evening.

The way before the house was arched with palms and hung with colored
lanterns; bands of sailors from the dahabeëhs sat in front, strumming
the darabooka and chanting their wild refrains; crowds of Arabs squatted
in the light of the illumination and filled the steps and the doorway.
Within were feasting, music, and dancing, in Oriental abandon. In the
hall, which was lined with spectators, was to be seen the stiff-legged
sprawling-about and quivering of the Ghawazees, to the barbarous
tum-tum, thump-thump, of the musicians; in each side-room also dancing
was extemporized, until the house was pervaded with the monotonous
vulgarity, which was more pronounced than at the house of Ali.

In the midst of these strange festivities, the grave Mustapha received
congratulations upon his newly conferred honor, with the air of a man
who was responding to it in the finest Oriental style. Nothing grander
than this entertainment could be conceived in Luxor.

Let us try to look at it also with Oriental eyes. How fatal it would
be to it not to look at it with Oriental eyes, we can conceive by
transferring the scene to New York. A citizen, from one of the
oldest families, has received from the President, let us suppose, the
decoration of the Grand Order of Inspector of Consulates. In order to
do honor to the occasion, he throws open his residence on Gramercy Park,
procures a lot of sailors to sit on his steps and sing nautical ditties,
and drafts a score of girls from Centre-street to entertain his guests
with a style of dancing which could not be worse if it had three
thousand years of antiquity.

I prefer not to regard this Luxor entertainment in such a light; and
although we hasten from it as soon as we can with civility, I am
haunted for a long time afterwards by I know not what there was in it of
fantastic and barbaric fascination.

The last afternoon at Luxor we give to a long walk to Karnak and beyond,
through the wheat and barley fields now vocal with the songs of birds.
We do not, however, reach the conspicuous pillars of a temple on the
desert far to the northeast; but, returning, climb the wall of circuit
and look our last upon these fascinating ruins. From this point the
relative vastness of the Great Hall is apparent. The view this afternoon
is certainly one of the most beautiful in the world. You know already
the elements of it.

Late at night, after a parting dinner of ceremony, and with a pang of
regret, although we are in bed, the dahabeëh is loosed from Luxor and we
quietly drop down below old Thebes.



0397



0398



CHAPTER XXXI.—LOITERING BY THE WAY.

WE ARE at home again. Our little world, which has been somewhat
disturbed by the gaiety of Thebes, and is already as weary of tombs as
of temples and of the whole incubus of Egyptian civilization, readjusts
itself and settles into its usual placid enjoyment.

We have now two gazelles on board, and a most disagreeable lizard,
nearly three feet long; I dislike the way his legs are set on his sides;
I dislike his tail, which is a fat continuation of his body; and the
“feel” of his cold, creeping flesh is worse than his appearance; he is
exceedingly active, darting rapidly about in every direction to the end
of his rope. The gazelles chase each other about the deck, frolicking in
the sun, and their eyes express as much tenderness and affection as any
eyes can, set like theirs. If they were mounted in a woman’s head, and
properly shaded with long lashes, she would be the most dangerous being
in existence.

Somehow there is a little change in the atmosphere of the dahabeëh. The
jester of the crew, who kept them alternately laughing and grumbling,
singing and quarreling, turbulent with hasheesh or sulky for want of it,
was left in jail at Assouan. The reïs has never recovered the injury to
his dignity inflicted by his brief incarceration, and gives us no more
a cheerful good-morning. The steersman smiles still, with the fixed look
of enjoyment that his face assumed when it first came into the world,
but he is listless; I think he has struck a section of the river in
which there is a dearth of his wives; he has complained that his feet
were cold in the fresh mornings, but the stockings we gave him he does
not wear, and probably is reserving for a dress occasion. Abd-el-Atti
meditates seriously upon a misunderstanding with one of his old friends
at Luxor; he likes to tell us about the diplomatic and sarcastic letter
he addressed him on leaving; “I wrote it,” he says, “very grammatick,
the meaning of him very deep; I think he feel it.” There is no language
like the Arabic for the delivery of courtly sarcasm, in soft words, at
which no offence can be taken,—for administering a smart slap in the
face, so to say, with a feather.

It is a ravishing sort of day, a slight haze, warm but life-giving air,
and we row a little and sail a little down the broadening river, by the
palms, and the wheat-fields growing yellow, and the soft chain of Libyan
hills,—the very dolce far niente of life. Other dahabeëhs accompany us,
and we hear the choruses of their crews responding to ours. From the
shore comes the hum of labor and of idleness, men at the shadoofs, women
at the shore for water; there are flocks of white herons and spoonbills
on the sandbars; we glide past villages with picturesque pigeon-houses;
a ferry-boat ever and anon puts across, a low black scow, its sides
banked up with clay, a sail all patches and tatters, and crowded in it
three or four donkeys and a group of shawled women and turbaned men,
silent and sombre. The country through which we walk, towards night,
is a vast plain of wheat, irrigated by canals, with villages in all
directions; the peasants are shabbily dressed, as if taxes ate up all
their labor, but they do not beg.

The city of Keneh, to which we come next morning, is the nearest point
of the Nile to the Red Sea, the desert route to Kosseir being only one
hundred and twenty miles; it is the Neapolis of which Herodotus speaks,
near which was the great city of Chemmis, that had a temple dedicated to
Perseus. The Chemmitæ declared that this demi-god often appeared to them
on earth, and that he was descended from citizens of their country who
had sailed into Greece; there if no doubt that Perseus came here when he
made the expedition into Libya to bring the Gorgon’s head.

Keneh is now a thriving city, full of evidences of wealth, and of
well-dressed people, and there are handsome houses and bazaars like
those of Cairo. From time immemorial it has been famous for its
koollehs, which are made of a fine clay found only in this vicinity,
of which ware is manufactured almost as thin as paper. The process of
making them has not changed since the potters of the Pharaohs’ time.
The potters of to-day are very skillful at the wheel. A small mass of
moistened clay, mixed with sifted ashes of halfeh-grass and kneaded like
bread, is placed upon a round plate of wood which whirls by a treadle.
As it revolves the workman with his hands fashions the clay into vessels
of all shapes, graceful and delicate, with a sleight of hand that is
wonderful. He makes a koolleh, or a drinking-cup, or a vase with a
slender neck, in a few seconds, fashioning it as truly as if it were
cast in a mould. It was like magic to see the fragile forms grow in
his hands. We sat for a long time in one of the cool rooms where two or
three potters were at work, shaded from the sun by palm-branches,
which let the light flicker upon the earth-floor, upon the freshly made
vessels and the spinning wheels of the turbaned workmen, whose deft
fingers wrought out unceasingly these beautiful shapes from the
revolving clay.

At the house of the English consul we have coffee; he afterwards lunches
with us and insists, but in vain, that we stay and be entertained by a
Ghawazee dance in the evening. It is a kind of amusement of which a very
little satisfies one. At his house, Prince Arthur and his suite were
also calling; a slender, pleasant appearing young gentleman, not
noticeable anywhere and with a face of no special force, but bearing
the family likeness. As we have had occasion to remark more than once,
Princes are so plenty on the Nile this year as to be a burden to the
officials,—especially German princes, who, however, do not count any
more. The private, unostentatious traveler, who asks no favor of the
Khedive, is becoming almost a rarity. I hear the natives complain that
almost all the Englishmen of rank who come to Egypt, beg, or shall we
say accept? substantial favors of the Khedive. The nobility appear to
have a new rendering of noblesse oblige. This is rather humiliating to
us Americans, who are, after all, almost blood-relations of the English;
and besides, we are often taken for Inglese, in villages where
few strangers go. It cannot be said that all Americans are modest,
unassuming travelers; but we are glad to record a point or two in their
favor:—they pay their way, and they do not appear to cut and paint their
names upon the ruins in such numbers as travelers from other countries;
the French are the greatest offenders in this respect, and the Germans
next.

We cross the river in the afternoon and ride to the temple of Athor
or Venus at Denderah. This temple, although of late construction, is
considered one of the most important in Egypt. But it is incomplete,
smaller, and less satisfactory than that at Edfoo. The architecture of
the portico and succeeding hall is on the whole noble, but the columns
are thick and ungraceful, and the sculptures are clumsy and unartistic.
The myth of the Egyptian Avenues is worked out everywhere with the
elaboration of a later Greek temple. On the ceiling of several rooms her
gigantic figure is bent round three sides, and from a globe in her lap
rays proceed in the vivifying influence of which trees are made to grow.

Everywhere in the temple are subterranean and intramural passages,
entrance to which is only had by a narrow aperture, once closed by a
stone. For what were these perfectly dark alleys intended? Processions
could not move in them, and if they were merely used for concealing
valuables, why should their inner sides have been covered with such
elaborate sculptures?

The most interesting thing at Denderah is the small temple of Osiris,
which is called the “lying-in temple,” the subjects of sculptures being
the mystical conception, birth, and babyhood of Osiris. You might think
from the pictures on the walls, of babes at nurse and babes in arms,
that you had obtruded into one of the institutions of charity called a
Day Nursery. We are glad to find here, carved in large, the image of the
four-headed ugly little creature we have been calling Typhon, the spirit
of evil; and to learn that it is not Typhon but is the god Bes, a jolly
promoter of merriment and dancing. His appearance is very much against
him.

Mariette Bey makes the great mystery of the adytum of the large temple,
which the king alone could enter, the golden sistrum which was kept
there. The sistrum was the mysterious emblem of Venus; it is sculptured
everywhere in this building—although it is one of the sacred symbols
found in all temples. This sacred instrument par excellence of the
Egyptians played as important a part in their worship, says Mr.
Wilkinson, as the tinkling bell in Roman Catholic services. The great
privilege of holding it was accorded to queens, and ladies of rank who
were devoted to the service of the deity. The sistrum is a strip of
gold, or bronze, bent in a long loop, and the ends, coming together,
are fastened in an ornamented handle. Through the loop bars are run upon
which are rings, and when the instrument is shaken the rings move to
and fro. Upon the sides of the handle were sometimes carved the faces of
Isis and of Nephthys, the sister goddesses, representing the beginning
and the end.

It is a little startling to find, when we get at the inner secret of the
Egyptian religion, that it is a rattle! But it is the symbol of eternal
agitation, without which there is no life. And the Egyptians profoundly
knew this great secret of the universe.

We pass next day, quietly, to the exhibition of a religious devotion
which is trying to get on without any sistrum or any agitation whatever.
Towards sunset, below How, we come to a place where a holy man, called
Sheykh Saleem, roosts forever on a sloping bank, with a rich country
behind him; beyond, on the plain, hundreds of men and boys are at work
throwing up an embankment against the next inundation; but he does not
heed them. The holy man is stark naked and sits upon his haunches, his
head, a shock of yellow hair, upon his knees. He is of that sickly,
whitey-black color which such holy skin as his gets by long exposure.
Before him on the bank is a row of large water-jars; behind him is a
little kennel of mud, into which he can crawl if it ever occurs to him
to go to bed.

About him, seated on the ground, is a group of his admirers. Boys run
after us along the bank begging backsheesh for Sheykh Saleem. A crowd
of hangers-on, we are told, always surround him, and live on the charity
that his piety evokes from the faithful. His own wants are few. He spend
his life in this attitude principally, contemplating the sand between
his knees. He has sat here for forty years.

People pass and repass, camels swing by him, the sun shines, a breeze as
of summer moves the wheat behind him and our great barque, with its gay
flags and a dozen rowers rowing in time, sweeps before him, but he
does not raise his head. Perhaps he has found the secret of perfect
happiness. But his example cannot be widely imitated. There are not many
climates in the world in which a man can enjoy such a religion out of
doors at all seasons of the year.

We row on and by sundown are opposite Farshoot and its sugar-factories;
the river broadens into a lake, shut in to the north by limestone hills
rosy in this light, and it is perfectly still at this hour. But for the
palms against the sky, and the cries of men at the shadoofs, and the
clumsy native boats with their freight of immobile figures, this might
be a glassy lake in the remote Adirondack forest, especially when the
light has so much diminished that the mountains no longer appear naked.

The next morning as we were loitering along, wishing for a breeze to
take us quickly to Bellianeh, that we might spend the day in visiting
old Abydus, a beautiful wind suddenly arose according to our desire.

“You always have good fortune,” says the dragoman.

“I thought you didn’t believe in luck?”

“Not to call him luck. You think the wind to blow ‘thout the Lord know
it?”

We approach Bellianeh under such fine headway that we fall almost into
the opposite murmuring, that this helpful breeze should come just when
we were obliged to stop and lose the benefit. We half incline to go on,
and leave Abydus in its ashes, but the absurdity of making a journey of
seven thousand miles and then passing near to, but unseen, the spot most
sacred to the old Egyptians, flashes upon us, and we meekly land. But
our inclination to go on was not so absurd as it seems; the mind is so
constituted that it can contain only a certain amount of old ruins, and
we were getting a mental indigestion of them. Loathing is perhaps too
strong a word to use in regard to a piece of sculpture, but I think that
a sight at this time, of Rameses II. in his favorite attitude of slicing
off the heads of a lot of small captives, would have made us sick.

By eleven o’clock we were mounted for the ride of eight miles, and it
may give some idea of the speed of the donkey under compulsion, to say
that we made the distance in an hour and forty minutes. The sun was hot,
the wind fresh, the dust considerable,—a fine sandy powder that, before
night, penetrated clothes and skin. Nevertheless, the ride was charming.
The way lay through a plain extending for many miles in every direction,
every foot of it green with barley (of which here and there a spot was
ripening), with clover, with the rank, dark Egyptian bean. The air was
sweet, and filled with songs of the birds that glanced over the fields
or poised in air on even wing like the lark. Through the vast, unfenced
fields were narrow well-beaten roads in all directions, upon which
men women, and children, usually poorly and scantily clad, donkeys and
camels, were coming and going. There was the hum of voices everywhere,
the occasional agonized blast of the donkey and the caravan bleat of the
camel. It often seems to us that the more rich and broad the fields and
the more abundant the life, the more squalor among the people.

We had noticed, at little distances apart in the plain, mounds of dirt
five or six feet high. Upon each of these stood a solitary figure,
usually a naked boy—a bronze image set up above the green.

“What are these?” we ask.

“What you call scarecrows, to frighten the birds; see that chile throw
dirt at ‘em!”

“They look like sentries; do the people here steal?”

“Everybody help himself, if nobody watch him.”

At length we reach the dust-swept village of Arâbat, on the edge of the
desert, near the ruins of the ancient Thinis (or Abvdus), the so-called
cradle of the Egyptian monarchy. They have recently been excavated. I
cannot think that this ancient and most important city was originally so
far from the Nile; in the day of its glory the river must have run near
it. Here was the seat of the first Egyptian dynasty, five thousand and
four years before Christ, according to the chronology of Mariette Bey. I
find no difficulty in accepting the five thousand but I am puzzled about
the four years. It makes Menes four years older than he is generally
supposed to have been. It is the accuracy of the date that sets one
pondering. Menes, the first-known Egyptian king, and the founder of
Memphis, was born here. If he established his dynasty here six thousand
eight hundred and seventy-nine years ago, he must have been born some
time before that date; and to be a ruler he must have been of noble
parents, and no doubt received a good education. I should like to know
what sort of a place, as to art, say, and literature, and architecture,
Thinis was seven thousand and four years ago. It is chiefly sand-heaps
now.

Not only was Menes born here, in the grey dawn of history, but Osiris,
the manifestation of Light on earth, was buried here in the greyer dawn
of a mythic period. His tomb was venerated by the Pharaonic worshippers
as the Holy Sepulchre is by Christians, and for many ages. It was the
last desire of the rich and noble Egyptians to be buried at Thinis, in
order that they might lie in the same grave with Osiris; and bodies were
brought here from all parts of Egypt to rest in the sacred earth. Their
tombs were heaped up one above another, about the grave of the god.
There are thousands of mounds here, clustering thickly about a larger
mound; and, by digging, M. Mariette hopes to find the reputed tomb of
Osiris. An enclosure of crude brick marks the supposed site of this
supposed most ancient city of Egypt.

From these prehistoric ashes, it is like going from Rome to Peoria,
to pass to a temple built so late as the time of Sethi I., only about
thirty-three hundred years ago. It has been nearly all excavated and it
is worth a long ride to see it. Its plan differs from that of all other
temples, and its varied sculpture ranks with the best of temple carving;
nowhere else have we found more life and grace of action in the figures
and more expressive features; in number of singular emblems and devices,
and in their careful and beautiful cutting, and brilliant coloring, the
temple is unsurpassed. The non-stereotyped plan of the temple beguiled
us into a hearty enjoyment of it. Its numerous columns are pure Egyptian
of the best style—lotus capitals; and it contains some excellent
specimens of the Doric column, or of its original, rather. The famous
original tablet of kings, seventy-six, from Menes to Sethi, a partial
copy of which is in the British Museum, has been re-covered with sand
for its preservation. This must have been one of the finest of the old
temples. We find here the novelty of vaulted roofs, formed by a singular
method. The roof stones are not laid flat, as elsewhere, but on edge,
and the roof, thus having sufficient thickness, is hollowed out on the
under side, and the arch is decorated with stars and other devices. Of
course, there is a temple of Rameses II., next door to this one, but it
exists now only in its magnificent foundations.

We rode back through the village of Arâbat in a whirlwind of dust, amid
cries of “backsheesh,” hailed from every door and pursued by yelling
children. One boy, clad in the loose gown that passes for a wardrobe in
these parts, in order to earn his money, threw a summersault before us,
and, in a flash, turned completely out of his clothes, like a new-made
Adam! Nothing was ever more neatly done; except it may have been a feat
of my donkey a moment afterwards, executed perhaps in rivalry of the
boy. Pretending to stumble, he went on his head, and threw a summersault
also. When I went back to look for him, his head was doubled under his
body so that he had to be helped up.

When we returned we found six other dahabeëhs moored near ours. Out of
the seven, six carried the American flag—one of them in union with the
German—and the seventh was English. The American flags largely outnumber
all others on the Nile this year; in fact Americans and various kinds
of Princes appear to be monopolizing this stream. A German, who shares a
boat with Americans, drops in for a talk. It is wonderful how much more
space in the world every German needs, now that there is a Germany. Our
visitor expresses the belief that the Germans and the Americans are to
share the dominion of the world between them. I suppose that this means
that we are to be permitted to dwell on our present possessions in
peace, if we don’t make faces; but one cannot contemplate the extinction
of all the other powers without regret.

Of course we have outstayed the south wind; the next morning we are
slowly drifting against the north wind. As I look from the window before
breakfast, a Nubian trader floats past, and on the bow deck is crouched
a handsome young lion, honest of face and free of glance, little
dreaming of the miserable menagerie life before him. There are two lions
and a leopard, and a cargo of cinnamon, senna, elephants’ tusks, and
ostrich-feathers, on board; all Central Africa seems to float beside us,
and the coal-black crew do not lessen the barbaric impression.

It is after dark when we reach Girgeh, and are guided to our moorage by
the lights of other dahabeëhs. All that we see of this decayed but once
capital town, are four minarets, two of them surrounding picturesque
ruins and some slender columns of a mosque, the remainder of the
building having been washed into the river. As we land, a muezzin sings
the evening call to prayer in a sweet, high tenor voice; and it sounds
like a welcome.

Decayed, did we say of Girgeh? What is not decayed, or decaying, or
shifting, on this aggressive river? How age laps back on age and one
religion shuffles another out of sight. In the hazy morning we are
passing Menshéëh, the site of an old town that once was not inferior to
Memphis; and then we come to Ekhmeem—ancient Panopolis. You never heard
of it? A Roman visitor called it the oldest city of all Egypt; it was in
fact founded by Ekhmeem, the son of Misraim, the offspring of Cush,
the son of Ham. There you are, almost personally present at the Deluge.
Below here are two Coptic convents, probably later than the time of the
Empress Helena. On the shore are walking some Coptic Christians, but
they are in no way superior in appearance to other natives; a woman,
whom we hail, makes the sign of the cross, and then demands backsheesh.

We had some curiosity to visit a town of such honorable foundation.
We found in it fine mosques and elegant minarets, of a good Saracenic
epoch. Upon the lofty stone top of one sat an eagle, who looked down
upon us unscared; the mosque was ruinous and the door closed, but
through the windows we could see the gaily decorated ceiling; the whole
was in the sort of decay that the traveler learns to think Moslemism
itself.

We made a pretence of searching for the remains of a temple of
Pan,—though we probably care less for Pan than we do for Rameses. Making
known our wants, several polite gentlemen in turbans, offered to show
us the way—the gentlemen in these towns seem to have no other occupation
than to sit on the ground and smoke the chibook—and we were attended by
a procession, beyond the walls, to the cemetery. There, in a hollow, we
saw a few large stones, some of them showing marks of cutting. This
was the temple spoken of in the hand-book. Our hosts then insisted upon
dragging us half a mile further through the dust of the cemetery mounds,
in the glare of the sun, and showed us a stone half buried, with a few
hieroglyphics on one end. Never were people so polite. A grave man here
joined us, and proposed to show us some quei-is antéeka (“beautiful
antiquities”); and we followed this obliging person half over town; and
finally, in the court of a private house, he pointed to the torso of
a blue granite statue. All this was done out of pure hospitality; the
people could not have been more attentive if they had had something
really worth seeing. The town has handsome, spacious coffee-houses and
shops, and an appearance of Oriental luxury.

One novelty the place offered, and that was in a drinking-fountain.
Under a canopy, in a wall-panel, in the street, was inserted a copper
nipple, which was worn, by constant use, as smooth as the toe of St.
Peter at Rome. When one wishes to drink, he applies his mouth to this
nipple and draws; it requires some power of suction to raise the water,
but it is good and cool when it comes. As Herodotus would remark, now I
have done speaking about this nipple.

We walked on interminably and at length obtained a native boat, with a
fine assortment of fellahs and donkeys for passengers, to set us over
to Soohag, the capital of the province, a busy and insupportably dirty
town, with hordes of free-and-easy natives loafing about, and groups
of them, squatting by little dabs of tobacco, or candy, or doora, or
sugar-cane, making what they are pleased to call a market.

It seemed to be a day for hauling us about. Two bright boys seized us,
and urged us to go with them and see something marvelously beautiful.
One of them was an erect, handsome lad, with courtly and even elegant
dignity, a high and yet simple bearing, which I venture to say not a
king’s son in Europe is possessed of. They led us a chase, through half
the sprawling town, by lanes and filthy streets, under bazaars, into
the recesses of domestic poverty, among unknown and inquisitive natives,
until we began to think that we should never see our native dahabeëh
again. At last we were landed in a court where sat two men, adding
up columns of figures. It was an Oriental picture, but scarcely worth
coming so far to see.

The men looked at us in wondering query, as if demanding what we wanted.

We stood looking at them, but couldn’t tell them what we wanted, since
we did not know. And if we had known, we could not have told them. We
only pointed to the boys who had brought us. The boys pointed to the
ornamental portals of a closed door.

After a long delay, and the most earnest posturing and professions of
our young guides, and evident suspicion of us, a key was brought, and
we were admitted, into a cool and clean Coptic church, which had fresh
matting and an odor of incense. Ostrich-eggs hung before the holy
places, as in mosques; an old clock, with a long and richly inlaid
dial-case, stood at one end; and there were paintings in the Byzantine
style of “old masters.” One of them represented the patron saint of the
Copts, St. George, slaying the dragon; the conception does equal honor
to the saint and the artist; the wooden horse, upon which St. George is
mounted, and its rider, fill nearly all the space of the canvas, leaving
very little room for the landscape with its trees, for the dragon, for
the maiden, and for her parents looking down upon her from the castle
window. And this picture perfectly represents the present condition of
art in the whole Orient.

At Soohag a steamboat passed down towing four barges, packed with motley
loads of boys and men, impressed to work in the Khedive’s sugar-factory
at Rhodes. They are seized, so many from a village, like the recruits
for the army. They receive from two to two and a half piastres (ten to
twelve and a half cents) a day wages, and a couple of pounds of bread
each.

I suspect the reason the Khedive’s agricultural operations and his
sugar-factories are unprofitable, is to be sought in the dishonest
agents and middle-men—a kind of dishonesty that seems to be ingrained in
the Eastern economy. The Khedive loses both ways:—that which he attempts
to expend on a certain improvement is greatly diminished before it
reaches its object; and the returns from the investment, on their way
back to his highness, are rubbed away, passing through so many hands, to
the vanishing point. It is the same with the taxes; the fellah pays four
times as much as he ought, and the Khedive receives not the government
due. The abuse is worse than it was in France with the farmers-general
in the time of Louis XIV. and Louis XV. The tax apportioned to a
province is required of its governor. He adds a lumping per cent, to
the total, and divides the increased amount among his sub-governors
for collection; they add a third to their levy and divide it among the
tax-gatherers of sections of the district; these again swell their quota
before apportioning it among the sheykhs or actual collectors, and the
latter take the very life-blood out of the fellah.

As we sail down the river in this approaching harvest-season we are
in continual wonder at the fertility of the land; a fertility on
the slightest cultivation, the shallowest plowing, and without
fertilization. It is customary to say that the soil is inexhaustible,
that crop after crop of the same kind can be depended on, and the mud
(limon) of the overflowing Nile will repair all wastes.

And yet, I somehow get an impression of degeneracy, of exhaustion, both
in Upper and Lower Egypt, in the soil; and it extends to men and
to animals; horses, cattle, donkeys, camels, domestic fowls look
impoverished—we have had occasion to say before that the hens lay
ridiculously small eggs—they put the contents of one egg into three
shells. (They might not take this trouble if eggs were sold by weight,
as they should be.) The food of the country does not sufficiently
nourish man or beast. Its quality is deficient. The Egyptian wheat does
not make wholesome bread; most of it has an unpleasant odor—it tends to
speedy corruption, it lacks certain elements, phosphorus probably.
The bread that we eat on the dahabeëh is made from foreign wheat. The
Egyptian wheat is at a large discount in European markets. One reason of
this inferiority is supposed to be the succession of a wheat crop year
after year upon the same field; another is the absolute want of any
fertilizer except the Nile mud; and another the use of the same seed
forever. Its virtue has departed from it, and the most hopeless thing in
the situation is the unwillingness of the fellah to try anything new, in
his contented ignorance. The Khedive has made extraordinary efforts to
introduce improved machinery and processes, and he has set the example
on his own plantations It has no effect on the fellah. He will have none
of the new inventions or new ways. It seems as hopeless to attempt to
change him as it would be to convert a pyramid into a Congregational
meeting-house.

For the political economist and the humanitarian, Egypt is the most
interesting and the saddest study of this age; its agriculture and its
people are alike unique. For the ordinary traveler the country has not
less interest, and I suppose he may be pardoned if he sometimes loses
sight of the misery in the strangeness, the antique barbarity, the
romance by which he is surrounded.

As we lay, windbound, a few miles below Soohag, the Nubian trading-boat
I had seen the day before was moored near; and we improved this
opportunity for an easy journey to Central Africa, by going on board.
The forward-deck was piled with African hides so high that the oars were
obliged to be hung on outriggers; the cabin deck was loaded with bags of
gums, spices, medicines; and the cabin itself was stored so full, that
when we crawled down into it, there was scarcely room to sit upright
on the bags. Into this penetralia of barbaric merchandise, the ladies
preceded us, upon the promise of the sedate and shrewd-eyed traveler to
exhibit his ostrich-feathers. I suppose nothing in the world of ornament
is so fascinating to a woman as an ostrich-feather; and to delve into
a mine of them, to be able to toss about handfuls, sheafs of them, to
choose any size and shape and any color, glossy black, white, grey, and
white with black tips,—it makes one a little delirious to think of it!
There is even a mild enjoyment in seeing a lady take up a long, drooping
plume, hold it up before her dancing, critical eyes, turning the head
a little one side, shaking the feathered curve into its most graceful
fall—“Isn’t it a beauty?” Is she thinking how it will look upon a hat of
the mode? Not in the least. The ostrich-feather is the symbol of truth
and justice; things that are equal to the same thing are equal to
each other—it is also the symbol of woman. In the last Judgment before
Osiris, the ostrich-feather is weighed in the balance against all the
good deeds of a man’s life. You have seen many a man put all his life
against the pursuit of an ostrich-feather in a woman’s hat—the plume of
truth in beauty’s bonnet.

While the ostrich-trade is dragging along its graceful length, other
curiosities are produced; the short, dangerous tusks of the wild boar;
the long tusks of the elephant—a beast whose enormous strength is only
made a snow of, like that of Samson; and pretty silver-work from Soudan.

“What is this beautiful tawny skin, upon which I am sitting?”

“Lion’s; she was the mother of one of the young lions out yonder. And
this,” continued the trader, drawing something from the corner, “is her
skull.” It gave a tender interest to the orphan outside, to see these
remains of his mother. But sadness is misplaced on her account; it is
better that she died, than to live to see her child in a menagerie.

“What’s that thick stuff in a bottle there behind you?”

“That’s lion’s oil, some of her oil.” Unhappy family, the mother skinned
and boiled, the offspring dragged into slavery.

I took the bottle. To think that I held in my hand the oil of a lion!
Bear’s oil is vulgar. But this is different; one might anoint himself
for any heroic deed with this royal ointment.

“And is that another bottle of it?”

“Mais, no; you don’t get a lion every day for oil; that is ostrich-oil.
This is good for rheumatism.”

It ought to be. There is nothing rheumatic about the ostrich. When I
have tasted sufficiently the barbaric joys of the cabin I climb out upon
the deck to see more of this strange craft.

Upon the narrow and dirty bow, over a slow fire, on a shallow copper
dish, a dark and slender boy is cooking flap-jacks as big as the flap of
a leathern apron. He takes the flap-jack up by the edge in his fingers
and turns it over, when one side is cooked, as easily as if it were a
sheepskin. There is a pile of them beside him, enough to make a whole
suit of clothes, burnous and all, and very durable it would prove. Near
him is tied, by a cotton cord, a half-grown leopard, elegantly spotted,
who has a habit of running out his tongue, giving a side-lick of his
chops, and looking at you in the most friendly manner. If I were the boy
I wouldn’t stand with my naked back to a leopard which is tied with a
slight string.

On shore, on the sand and in the edge of the wheat, are playing in the
sun a couple of handsome young lions, gentle as kittens. After watching
their antics for some time, and calculating the weight of their paws as
they cuff each other, I satisfy a long ungratified Van Amburg ambition,
by patting the youngest on the head and putting my hand (for an
exceedingly brief instant) into his mouth, experiencing a certain
fearful pleasure, remembering that although young he is a lion!

The two play together very prettily, and when I leave them they have
lain down to sleep, face to face, with their arms round each other’s
necks, like the babes in the wood. The lovely leopard occasionally rises
to his feet and looks at them, and then lies down again, giving a soft
sweep to his long and rather vicious tail. His countenance is devoid
of the nobility of the lion’s. The lion’s face inspires you with
confidence; but I can see little to trust in the yellow depths of
his eyes. The lion’s eyes, like those of all untamed beasts, have the
repulsive trait of looking at you without any recognition in them—the
dull glare of animality.

The next morning, when the wind falls, we slip out from our cover, like
the baffled mariners of Jason, and row past the bold, purplish-grey
cliff of Gebel Sheykh Herëedee, in which are grottoes and a tomb of the
sixth dynasty, and on to Tahta, a large town, almost as picturesque,
in the distance, with its tall minarets and one great, red-colored
building, as Venice from the Lido. Then the wind rises, and we are again
tantalized with no progress. One likes to dally and eat the lotus by his
own will; but when the elements baffle him, and the wind blows contrary
to his desires, the old impatience, the free will of ancient Adam,
arises, and man falls out of his paradise. We are tempted to wish to
be hitched (just for a day, or to get round a bend,) to one of these
miserable steamboats that go swashing by, frightening all the gamebirds,
and fouling the sweet air of Egypt with the black smoke of their
chimneys.

In default of going on, we climb a high spur of the Mokat-tam, which has
a vast desert plain on each side, and in front, and up and down the very
crooked river (the wind would need to change every five minutes to get
us round these bends), an enormous stretch of green fields, dotted
with villages, flocks of sheep and cattle, and strips of palm-groves.
Whenever we get in Egypt this extensive view over mountains, desert,
arable land, and river it is always both lovely and grand. There was
this afternoon on the bare limestone precipices a bloom as of incipient
spring verdure. There is always some surprise of color for the traveler
who goes ashore, or looks from his window, on the Nile,—either in the
sky, or in the ground which has been steeped in color for so many ages
that even the brown earth is rich.

The people hereabouts have a bad reputation, perhaps given them by the
government, against which they rebelled on account of excessive taxes;
the insurrection was reduced by knocking a village or two into the
original dust with cannon balls. We, however, found the inhabitants
very civil. In the village was one of the houses of entertainment for
wanderers—a half-open cow-shed it would be called in less favored lands.
The interior was decorated with the rudest designs in bright colors, and
sentences from the Koran; we were told that any stranger could lodge in
it and have something to eat and drink; but I should advise the coming
traveler to bring his bed, and board also. We were offered the fruit of
the nabbek tree (something like a sycamore), a small apple, a sort of
cross between the thorn and the crab, with the disagreeable qualities of
both. Most of the vegetables and fruits of the valley we find insipid;
but the Fellaheen seem to like neutral flavors as they do neutral
colors. The almost universal brown of the gowns in this region
harmonizes with the soil, and the color does not show dirt; a great
point for people who sit always on the ground.

The next day we still have need of patience; we start, meet an
increasing wind, which whirls us about and blows us up stream. We creep
under a bank and lie all day, a cold March day, and the air dark with
dust.

After this Sunday of rest, we walk all the following morning
through fields of wheat and lentils, along the shore. The people are
uninteresting, men gruff; women ugly; clothes scarce; fruit, the nabbek,
which a young lady climbs a tree to shake down for us. But I encountered
here a little boy who filled my day with sunshine.

He was a sort of shepherd boy, and I found him alone in a field, the
guardian of a donkey which was nibbling coarse grass. But his mind was
not on his charge, and he was so much absorbed in his occupation that
he did not notice my approach. He was playing, for his own delight and
evidently with intense enjoyment, upon a reed pipe—an instrument of two
short reeds, each with four holes, bound together, and played like a
clarionet.

Its compass was small, and the tune ran round and round in it,
accompanied by one of the most doleful drones imaginable. Nothing could
be more harrowing to the nerves. I got the boy to play it a good deal.
I saw that it was an antique instrument (it was in fact Pan’s pipe
unchanged in five thousand years), and that the boy was a musical
enthusiast—a gentle Mozart who lived in an ideal world which he created
for himself in the midst of the most forlorn conditions. The little
fellow had the knack of inhaling and blowing at the same time, expanding
his cheeks, and using his stomach like the bellows of the Scotch
bagpipe, and producing the same droning sound as that delightful
instrument. But I would rather hear this boy half a day than the bagpipe
a week.

I talked about buying the pipe, but the boy made it himself, and prized
it so highly that I could not pay him what he thought it was worth, and
I had not the heart to offer its real value. Therefore I left him in
possession of his darling, and gave him half a silver piastre. He kissed
it and thanked me warmly, holding the unexpected remuneration for his
genius in his hand, and looking at it with shining eyes. I feel an
instant pang, and I am sorry that I gave it to him. I have destroyed
the pure and ideal world in which he played to himself, and tainted
the divine love of sweet sounds with the idea of gain and the scent of
money. The serenity of his soul is broken up, and he will never again
be the same boy, exercising his talent merely for the pleasure of it.
He will inevitably think of profit, and will feverishly expect something
from every traveler. He may even fall so far as to repair to landings
where boats stop, and play in the hope of backsheesh.

At night we came to Assiout, greeted from afar by the sight of its
slender and tall minarets and trees, on the rosy background of sunset.



0417



CHAPTER XXXII.—JOTTINGS.

LETTING our dahabeëh drift on in the morning, we spend the day at
Assiout, intending to overtake it by a short cut across the oxbow which
the river makes here. We saw in the city two examples, very unlike, of
the new activity in Egypt. One related to education, the other to the
physical development of the country and to conquest.

After paying out respects to the consul, we were conducted by his two
sons to the Presbyterian Mission-School. These young men were educated
at the American College in Beyrout. Nearly everywhere we have been in
the East, we have found a graduate of this school, that is as much as
to say, a person intelligent and anxious and able to aid in the
regeneration of his country. It would not be easy to overestimate the
services that this one liberal institution of learning is doing in the
Orient.

The mission-school was under the charge of the Rev. Dr. John Hogg and
his wife (both Scotch), with two women-teachers, and several native
assistants. We were surprised to find an establishment of about one
hundred and twenty scholars, of whom over twenty were girls. Of course
the majority of the students were in the primary studies, and some were
very young; but there were classes in advanced mathematics, in logic,
history, English, etc. The Arab young men have a fondness for logic and
metaphysics, and develop easily an inherited subtlety in such studies.
The text-books in use are Arabic, and that is the medium of teaching.

The students come from all parts of Upper Egypt, and are almost all
the children of Protestant parents, and they are, with an occasional
exception, supported by their parents, who pay at least their board
while they are at school. There were few Moslems among them, I think
only one Moslem girl. I am bound to say that the boys and young men
in their close rooms did not present an attractive appearance; an
ill-assorted assembly, with the stamp of physical inferiority and
dullness—an effect partially due to their scant and shabby apparel, for
some of them had bright, intelligent faces.

The school for girls, small as it is, impressed us as one of the most
hopeful things in Egypt. I have no confidence in any scheme for the
regeneration of the country, in any development if agriculture, or
extension of territory, or even in education, that does not reach woman
and radically change her and her position. It is not enough to say that
the harem system is a curse to the East: woman herself is everywhere
degraded. Until she becomes totally different from what she now is, I am
not sure but the Arab is right in saying that the harem is a necessity:
the woman is secluded in it (and in the vast majority of harems there
is only one wife) and has a watch set over her, because she cannot be
trusted. One hears that Cairo is full of intrigue, in spite of locked
doors and eunuchs. The large towns are worse than the country; but I
have heard it said that woman is the evil and plague of Egypt—though
I don’t know how the country could go on without her. Sweeping
generalizations are dangerous, but it is said that the sole education of
most Egyptian women is in arts to stimulate the passion of men. In the
idleness of the most luxurious harem, in the grim poverty of the lowest
cabin, woman is simply an animal.

What can you expect of her? She is literally uneducated, untrained in
every respect. She knows no more of domestic economy than she does of
books, and she is no more fitted to make a house attractive or a room
tidy than she is to hold an intelligent conversation. Married when she
is yet a child, to person she may have never seen, and a mother at an
age when she should be in school, there is no opportunity for her to
become anything better than she is.

A primary intention in this school is to fit the girls to become good
wives, who can set an example of tidy homes economically managed,
in which there shall be something of social life and intelligent
companionship between husband and wife. The girls are taught the common
branches, sewing, cooking, and housekeeping—as there is opportunity for
learning it in the family of the missionaries. This house of Dr. Hogg’s,
with its books, music, civilized menage, is a school in itself, and the
girl who has access to it for three or four years will not be content
with the inconvenience, the barren squalor of her parental hovel; for
it is quite as much ignorance as poverty that produces miserable homes.
Some of the girls now here expect to become teachers; some will marry
young men who are also at this school. Such an institution would be of
incalculable service if it did nothing else than postpone the marriage
of women a few years. This school is a small seed in Egypt, but it is,
I believe, the germ of a social revolution. It is, I think, the only one
in Upper Egypt. There is a mission school of similar character in Cairo,
and the Khedive also has undertaken schools for the education of girls.

In the last room we came to the highest class, a dozen girls, some of
them mere children in appearence, but all of marriageable age. I asked
the age of one pretty child, who showed uncommon brightness in her
exercises.

“She is twelve,” said the superintendent, “and no doubt would be
married, if she were not here. The girls become marriageable from eleven
years, and occasionally they marry younger; if one is not married at
fifteen she is in danger of remaining single.”

“Do the Moslems oppose your school?”

“The heads of the religion endeavor to prevent Moslem children coming
to it; we have had considerable trouble; but generally the mothers would
like to have their girls taught here, they become better daughters and
more useful at home.”

“Can you see that you gain here?”

“Little by little. The mission has been a wonderful success. I have
been in Egypt eighteen years; since the ten years that we have been
at Assiout, we have planted, in various towns in Upper Egypt, ten
churches.”

“What do do you think is your greatest difficulty?”

“Well, perhaps the Arabic language.”

“The labor of mastering it?”

“Not that exactly, although it is an unending study. Arabic is an
exceedingly rich language, as you know—a tongue that has often a
hundred words for one simple object has almost infinite capabilities for
expressing shades of meaning. To know Arabic grammatically is the work
of a lifetime. A man says, when he has given a long life to it, that
he knows a little Arabic. My Moslem teacher here, who was as learned an
Arab as I ever knew, never would hear me in a grammatical lesson upon
any passage he had not carefully studied beforehand. He begged me to
excuse him, one morning, from hearing me (I think we were reading from
the Koran) because he had not had time to go over the portion to be
read. Still, the difficulty of which I speak, is that Arabic and
the Moslem religion are one and the same thing, in the minds of the
faithful. To know Arabic is to learn the Koran, and that is the learning
of a learned Arab. He never gets to the end of the deep religious
meaning hidden in the grammatical intricacies. Religion and grammar thus
become one.”

“I suppose that is what our dragoman means, when he is reading me
something out of the Koran, and comes to a passage that he calls too
deep.”

“Yes. There is room for endless differences of opinion in the rendering
of almost any passage, and the disagreement is important, because it
becomes a religious difference. I had an example of the unity of the
language and the religion in the Moslem mind. When I came here the
learned thought I must be a Moslem because I knew the grammatical
Arabic; they could not conceive how else I should know it.”

When we called upon his excellency, Shakeer Pasha, the square in front
of his office and the streets leading to it were so covered with sitting
figures that it was difficulty to make a way amidst them. There was an
unusual assembly of some sort, but its purport we could not guess. It
was hardly in the nature of a popular convention, although its members
sat at their ease, smoking, and a babel of talk arose. Nowhere else
in Egypt have I seen so many fine and even white-looking men gathered
together. The center of every group was a clerk, with inkhorn and reed,
going over columns of figures.

The governor’s quarters were a good specimen of Oriental style and
shabbiness; spacious whitewashed apartments, with dirty faded curtains.
But we were received with a politeness that would have befitted
a palace, and with the cordial ease of old friends. The Pasha was
heartbroken that we had not notified him of our coming, and that now our
time would not permit us to stay and accept a dinner—had we not promised
to do so on our return? He would send couriers and recall our boat, he
would detain us by force. Allowing for all the exaggeration of Oriental
phraseology, it appeared only too probable that the Pasha would die if
we did not stay to dinner and spend the night. But we did not.

This great concourse? Oh, they were sheykhs and head men of all the
villages in the country round, whom he had summoned to arrange for
the purchase of dromedaries. The government has issued orders for the
purchase of a large number, which it wants to send to Darfour.
The Khedive is making a great effort to open the route to Darfour
(twenty-eight days by camel) to regular and safe travel, and to
establish stations on the road. That immense and almost unknown
territory will thus be brought within the commercial world.

During our call we were served with a new beverage in place of coffee;
it was a hot and sweetened tea of cinnamon, and very delicious.

On our return to the river, we passed the new railway station building
which is to be a handsome edifice of white limestone. Men women, and
children are impressed to labor on it, and, an intelligent Copt told
us, without pay. Very young girls were the mortar-carriers, and as
they walked to and fro, with small boxes on their heads, they sang, the
precocious children, an Arab love-song;—


“He passed by my door, he did not speak to me.”


We have seen little girls, quite as small as these, forced to load coal
upon the steamers, and beaten and cuffed by the overseers. It is a
hard country for women. They have only a year or two of time, in which
all-powerful nature and the wooing sun sing within them the songs of
love, then a few years of married slavery, and then ugliness, old age,
and hard work.

I do not know a more melancholy subject of reflection than the
condition, the lives of these women we have been seeing for three
months. They have neither any social nor any religious life. If there
were nothing else to condemn the system of Mohammed, this is sufficient.
I know what splendors of art it has produced, what achievements in war,
what benefits to literature and science in the dark ages of Europe.
But all the culture of a race that in its men has borne accomplished
scholars, warriors, and artists, has never touched the women. The
condition of woman in the Orient is the conclusive verdict against the
religion of the Prophet.

I will not contrast that condition with the highest; I will not compare
a collection of Egyptian women, assembled for any purpose, a funeral or
a wedding, with a society of American ladies in consultation upon some
work of charity, nor with an English drawing-room. I chanced once to be
present at a representation of Verdi’s Grand Mass, in Venice, when all
the world of fashion, of beauty, of intelligence, assisted. The
coup d’oil was brilliant. Upon the stage, half a hundred of the
chorus-singers were ladies. The leading solo-singers were ladies. I
remember the freshness, the beauty even, the vivacity, the gay decency
of the toilet, of that group of women who contributed their full share
in a most intelligent and at times profoundly pathetic rendering of the
Mass. I recall the sympathetic audience, largely composed of women, the
quick response to a noble strain nobly sung, the cheers, the tears even
which were not wanting in answer to the solemn appeal, in fine, the
highly civilized sensitiveness to the best product of religious art.
Think of some such scene as that, and of the women of an European
civilization; and then behold the women who are the product of this,—the
sad, dark fringe of water-drawers and baby-carriers, for eight hundred
miles along the Nile.

We have a row in the sandal of nine miles before we overtake our
dahabeëh, which the wind still baffles. However, we slip along under the
cover of darkness, for, at dawn, I hear the muezzin calling to prayer at
Manfaloot, trying in vain to impress a believing but drowsy world, that
prayer is better than sleep. This is said to be the place where Lot
passed the period of his exile. Near here, also, the Holy Family
sojourned when it spent a winter in Egypt. (The Moslems have
appropriated and localized everything in our Scriptures which is
picturesque, and they plant our Biblical characters where it is
convenient). It is a very pretty town, with minarets and gardens.

It surprises us to experience such cool weather towards the middle of
March; at nine in the morning the thermometer marks 550; the north wind
is cold, but otherwise the day is royal. Having nothing better to do we
climb the cliffs of Gebel Aboofeyda, at least a thousand feet above the
river; for ten miles it presents a bold precipice, unscalable except at
intervals. We find our way up a ravine. The rocks’ surface in the river
and the ravine are worn exactly as the sea wears rock, honeycombed by
the action of water, and excavated into veritable sea-caves near the
summit. The limestone is rich in fossil shells.

The plain on top presented a singular appearance. It was strewn with
small boulders, many of them round and as shapely as cannon-balls, all
formed no doubt before the invention of the conical missiles. While we
were amusing ourselves with the thousand fantastic freaks of nature in
hardened clay, two sinister Arabs approached us from behind and cut
off our retreat. One was armed with a long gun and the other with a
portentous spear. We saluted them in the most friendly manner, and hoped
that they would pass on: but, no, they attached themselves to us. I
tried to think of cases of travelers followed into the desert on the
Nile and murdered, but none occurred to me. There seemed to be no danger
from the gun so long as we kept near its owner, for the length of it
would prevent his bringing it into action close at hand. The spear
appeared to be the more effective weapon of the two; it was so, for I
soon ascertained that the gun was not loaded and that its bearer had
neither powder nor balls. It turned out that this was a detachment of
the local guard, sent out to protect us; it would have been a formidable
party in case of an attack.

Continuing our walk over the stone-clad and desolate swells, it
suddenly occurred to us that we had become so accustomed to this sort
of desert-walking, with no green or growing thing in sight, that it
had ceased to seem strange to us. It gave us something like a start,
therefore, shortly after, to see, away to the right, blue water forming
islands out of the hill-tops along the horizon; there was an appearance
of verdure about the edge of the water, and dark clouds sailed over it.
There was, however, when we looked steadily, about the whole landscape a
shimmer and a shadowy look that taught us to know that it was a mirage,
the rich Nile valley below us, with the blue water, the green fields,
the black lines of palms, was dimly mirrored in the sky and thrown upon
the desert hills in the distance. We stood where we could compare the
original picture with the blurred copy.

Making our way down the face of the cliff, along some ledges, we
came upon many grottoes and mummy-pits cut in the rock, all without
sculptures, except one; this had on one side an arched niche and
pilasters from which the arch sprung. The vault of the niche had been
plastered and painted, and a Greek cross was chiseled in each pilaster;
but underneath the plaster the rock was in ornamental squares, lozenges
and curves in Saracenic style, although it may have been ancient
Egyptian. How one religion has whitewashed, and lived on the remains of
another here; the tombs of one age become the temples of another and the
dwellings of a third. On these ledges, and on the desert above, we found
bits of pottery. Wherever we have wandered, however far into the desert
from the river, we never get beyond the limit of broken pottery; and
this evidence of man’s presence everywhere, on the most barren of
these high or low plains of stone and sand, speak of age and of human
occupation as clearly as the temples and monuments. There is no virgin
foot of desert even; all is worn and used. Human feet have trodden it in
every direction for ages. Even on high peaks where the eagles sit, men
have piled stones and made shelters, perhaps lookouts for enemies,
it may be five hundred, it may be three thousand years ago. There is
nowhere in Egypt a virgin spot.

By moonlight we are creeping under the frowning cliffs of Aboofeyda,
and voyage on all night in a buccaneerish fashion; and next day sail by
Hadji Kandeel, where travelers disembark for Tel el Amarna. The remains
of a once vast city strew the plain, but we only survey it through a
field-glass. What, we sometimes say in our more modern moments, is
one spot more than another? The whole valley is a sepulchre of dead
civilizations; its inhabitants were stowed away, tier on tier, shelf on
shelf, in these ledges.

However, respect for age sent us in the afternoon to the grottoes on the
north side of the cliff of Sheykh Said. This whole curved range, away
round to the remains of Antinoë, is full of tombs. Some that we visited
are large and would be very comfortable dwellings; they had been used
for Christian churches, having been plastered and painted. Traces of one
painting remain—trees and a comical donkey, probably part of the story
of the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt. We found in one the ovals
of Cheops, the builder of the great pyramid, and much good sculpture in
the best old manner—agricultural scenes, musicians, dancers, beautifully
cut, with careful details and also with spirit. This is very old work,
and, even abused as it has been, it is as good as any the traveler will
find in Egypt. This tomb no doubt goes back to the fourth dynasty, and
its drawing of animals, cows, birds, and fish is better than we usually
see later. In a net in which fish are taken, many kinds are represented,
and so faithfully that the species are recognizable; in a marsh is
seen a hippopotamus, full of life and viciousness, drawn with his mouth
stretched asunder wide enough to serve for a menagerie show-bill. There
are some curious false doors and architectural ornaments, like those of
the same epoch in the tombs at the pyramids.

At night we were at Rhoda, where is one of the largest of the Khedive’s
sugar-factories; and the next morning at Beni Hassan, famed, next to
Thebes, for its grottoes, which have preserved to us, in painted scenes,
so much of the old Egyptian life. Whoever has seen pictures of these
old paintings and read the vast amount of description and inferences
concerning the old Egyptian life, based upon them, must be disappointed
when he sees them to-day. In the first place they are only painted, not
cut, and in this respect are inferior to those in the grottoes of Sheykh
Saïd; in the second place, they are so defaced, as to be with difficulty
deciphered, especially those depicting the trades.

Some of the grottoes are large—sixty feet by forty feet; fine apartments
in the rock, high and well lighted by the portal. Architecturally, no
tombs are more interesting; some of the ceilings are vaulted, in three
sections; they are supported by fluted pillars some like the Doric, and
some in the beautiful lotus style; the pillars have architraves; and
there are some elaborately wrought false doorways. And all this goes
to show that, however ancient these tombs are, they imitated stone
buildings already existing in a highly developed architecture.

Essentially the same subjects are represented in all the tombs; these
are the trades, occupations, amusements of the people. Men are blowing
glass, working in gold, breaking flax, tending herds (even doctoring
animals that are ill), chiseling statues, painting, turning the potter’s
wheel; the barber shaves his customer; two men play at draughts; the
games most in favor are wrestling and throwing balls, and in the
latter women play. But what one specially admires is the honesty of the
decorators, which conceals nothing from posterity; the punishment of the
bastinado is again and again represented, and even women are subject
to it; but respect was shown for sex; the women was not cast upon the
ground, she kneels and takes the flagellation on her shoulders.

We saw in these tombs no horses among the many animals; we have never
seen the horse in any sculptures except harnessed in a war-chariot; “the
horse and his rider” do not appear.

There is a scene here which was the subject of a singular mistake, that
illustrates the needless zeal of early explorers to find in everything
in Egypt confirmation of the Old Testament narrative. A procession,
painted on the wall, now known to represent the advent of an Asiatic
tribe into Egypt, perhaps the Shepherds, in a remote period, was
declared to represent the arrival of Joseph’s brethren. The tomb,
however, was made several centuries before the advent of Joseph himself.
And even if it were of later date than the event named, we should
not expect to find in it a record of an occurrence of such little
significance at that time. We ought not to be surprised at the absence
in Egypt of traces of the Israelitish sojourn, and we should not be,
if we looked at the event from the Egyptian point of view and not from
ours. In a view of the great drama of the ancient world in the awful
Egyptian perspective, the Jewish episode is relegated to its proper
proportion in secular history. The whole Jewish history, as a worldly
phenomenon, occupies its narrow limits. The incalculable effect upon
desert tribes of a long sojourn in a highly civilized state, the
subsequent development of law and of a literature unsurpassed in after
times, and the final flower into Christianity,—it is in the light of all
this that we read the smallest incident of Jewish history, and are
in the habit of magnifying its contemporary relations. It was the
slenderest thread in the days of Egyptian puissance. In the ancient
atmosphere of Egypt, events purely historical fall into their proper
proportions. Many people have an idea that the ancient world revolved
round the Jews, and even hold it as a sort of religious faith.

It is difficult to believe that the race we see here are descendants of
the active, inventive, joyous people who painted their life upon these
tombs. As we lie all the afternoon before a little village opposite
Beni Hassan I wonder for the hundredth time what it is that saves such
miserable places from seeming to us as vile as the most wretched abodes
of poverty in our own land. Is it because, with an ever-cheerful sun and
a porous soil, this village is not so filthy as a like abode of misery
would be with us? Is it that the imagination invests the foreign and the
Orient with its own hues; or is it that our reading, prepossessing our
minds, gives the lie to all our senses? I cannot understand why we are
not more disgusted with such a scene as this. Not to weary you with a
repetition of scenes sufficiently familiar, let us put the life of the
Egyptian fellah, as it appears at the moment, into a paragraph.

Here is a jumble of small mud-hovels, many of them only roofed with
cornstalks, thrown together without so much order as a beaver would use
in building a village, distinguishable only from dog-kennels in that
they have wooden doors—not distinguishable from them when the door
is open and a figure is seen in the aperture. Nowhere any comfort or
cleanliness, except that sometimes the inner kennel, of which the woman
guards the key, will have its floor swept and clean matting in one
corner. The court about which there are two or three of these kennels,
serves the family for all purposes; there the fire for cooking is built,
there are the water-jars, and the stone for grinding corn; there the
chickens and the dogs are; there crouch in the dirt women and men, the
women spinning, making bread, or nursing children, the men in vacant
idleness. While the women stir about and go for water, the men will
sit still all day long. The amount of sitting down here in Egypt is
inconceivable; you might almost call it the feature of the country. No
one in the village knows anything, either of religion or of the world;
no one has any plans; no one exhibits any interest in anything; can any
of them have any hopes? From this life nearly everything but the animal
is eliminated. Children, and pretty children, swarm, tumbling about
everywhere; besides, nearly every woman has one in her arms.

We ought not to be vexed at this constant north wind which baffles us,
for they say it is necessary to the proper filling out of the wheat
heads. The boat drifts about all day in a mile square, having passed
the morning on a sand-spit where the stupidity and laziness of the crew
placed it; and we have leisure to explore the large town of Minieh,
which lies prettily along the river. Here is a costly palace, which I
believe has never been occupied by the Khedive, and a garden attached,
less slovenly in condition than those of country palaces usually are.
The sugar-factory is furnished with much costly machinery, which could
not have been bought for less than half a million of dollars. Many of
the private houses give evidences of wealth in their highly ornamented
doorways and Moorish arches, but the mass of the town is of the usual
sort here—tortuous lanes in which weary hundreds of people sit in dirt,
poverty, and resignation. We met in the street and in the shops many
coal-black Nubians and negroes, smartly dressed in the recent European
style, having an impudent air, who seemed to be persons of wealth and
consideration here. In the course of our wanderings I came to a large
public building, built in galleries about an open court, and unwittingly
in my examination of it, stumbled into the apartment of the Governor,
Osman Bey, who was giving audience to all comers. Justice is still
administered in patriarchal style; the door is open to all; rich and
poor were crowding in, presenting petitions and papers of all sorts, and
among them a woman preferred a request. Whether justice was really done
did not appear, but Oriental hospitality is at least unfailing. Before
I could withdraw, having discovered my blunder, the governor welcomed
me with all politeness and gave me a seat beside him. We smiled at each
other in Arabic and American, and came to a perfect understanding on
coffee and cigarettes.

The next morning we are slowly passing the Copt convent of Gebel e’
Tayr, and expecting the appearance of the swimming Christians. There is
a good opportunity to board us, but no one appears. Perhaps because it
is Sunday and these Christians do not swim on Sunday. No. We learn from
a thinly clad and melancholy person who is regarding us from the rocks
that the Khedive has forbidden this disagreeable exhibition of muscular
Christianity. It was quite time. But thus, one by one, the attractions
of the Nile vanish.

What a Sunday! But not an exceptional day. “Oh dear,” says madame, in
a tone of injury, “here’s another fine day!” Although the north wind is
strong, the air is soft, caressing, elastic.

More and more is forced upon us the contrast of the scenery of Upper
and Lower Egypt. Here it is not simply that the river is wider and the
mountains more removed and the arable land broader; the lines are all
straight and horizontal, the mountain-ranges are level-topped, parallel
to the flat prairies—at sunset a low level of white limestone hills in
the east looked exactly like a long line of fence whitewashed. In Upper
Egypt, as we have said, the plains roll, the hills are broken, there are
pyramidal mountains, and evidences of upheaval and disorder. But these
wide sweeping and majestic lines have their charm; the sunsets and
sunrises are in some respects finer than in Nubia; the tints are not so
delicate, the colors not so pure, but the moister atmosphere and clouds
make them more brilliant and various. The dawn, like the after-glow, is
long; the sky burns half round with rose and pink, the color mounts high
up. The sunsets are beyond praise, and always surprise. Last night the
reflection in the east was of a color unseen before—almost a purple
below and a rose above; and the west glowed for an hour in changing
tints. The night was not less beautiful—we have a certain comfort in
contrasting both with March in New England. It was summer; the Nile
slept, the moon half-full, let the stars show; and as we glided swiftly
down, the oars rising and falling to the murmured chorus of the
rowers, there were deep shadows under the banks, and the stately palms,
sentinelling the vast plain of moonlight over which we passed,—the great
silence of an Egyptian night—seemed to remove us all into dreamland. The
land was still, except for the creak of an occasional shadoof worked by
some wise man who thinks it easier to draw water in the night than
in the heat of the day, or an aroused wolfish dog, or a solitary bird
piping on the shore.

Thus we go, thus we stay, in the delicious weather, encouraged now and
again by a puff of southern wind, but held back from our destination by
some mysterious angel of delay. But one day the wind comes, the sail is
distended, the bow points downstream, and we move at the dizzy rate of
five miles an hour.

It is a day of incomparable beauty. We see very little labor along the
Nile; the crops are maturing. But the whole population comes to the
river, to bathe, to sit in the shallows, to sit on the bank. All the
afternoon we pass groups, men, women, children, motionless, the picture
of idleness. There they are, hour after hour, in the sun. Women, coming
for water, put down their jars, and bathe and frolic in the grateful
stream. In some distant reaches of the river there are rows of women
along the shore, exactly like the birds which stand in the shallow
places or sun themselves on the sand. There are more than twenty miles
of bathers, of all sexes and ages.

When at last we come to a long sand-reef, dotted with storks, cranes and
pelicans, the critic says he is glad to see something with feathers on
it.

We are in full tide of success and puffed up with confidence: it is
perfectly easy to descend the Nile. All the latter part of the afternoon
we are studying the False Pyramid of Maydoom, that structure, older
than Cheops, built, like all the primitive monuments, in degrees, as
the Tower of Babel was, as the Chaldean temples were. It lifts up, miles
away from the river, only a broken mass from the debris at its base.
We leave it behind. We shall be at Bedreshayn, for Memphis, before
daylight. As we turn in, the critic says, “We’ve got the thing in our
own hands now.”

Alas! the Lord reached down and took it out. The wind chopped suddenly,
and blew a gale from the north. At breakfast time we were waltzing round
opposite the pyramids of Dashoor, liable to go aground on islands and
sandbars, and unable to make the land. Determined not to lose the day,
we anchored, took the sandal, had a long pull, against the gale, to
Bedreshayn, and mounted donkeys for the ruins of ancient Memphis.

When Herodotus visited Memphis, probably about four hundred and fifty
years before Christ, it was a great city. He makes special mention of
its temple of Vulcan, whose priests gave him a circumstantial account of
the building of the city by Menes, the first Pharaoh. Four hundred
years later, Diodorus found it magnificent; about the beginning of the
Christian era, Strabo says it was next in size to Alexandria. Although
at the end of the twelfth century it had been systematically despoiled
to build Cairo, an Arab traveler says that, “its ruins occupy a space
half a day’s journey every way,” and that its wonders could not
be described. Temples, palaces, gardens, villas, acres of common
dwellings—the city covered this vast plain with its splendor and its
squalor.

The traveler now needs a guide to discover a vestige, a stone here and
there, of this once most magnificent capital. Here came Moses and
Aaron, from the Israelitish settlement in the Delta, from Zoan (Tanis)
probably, to beg Menephtah to let the Jews depart; here were performed
the miracles of the Exodus. This is the Biblical Noph, against which
burned the wrath of the prophets. “No (Heliopolis, or On) shall be
rent asunder, and Noph shall have distresses daily.” The decree was
“published in Noph”:—“Noph shall be waste and desolate without an
inhabitant;” “I will cause their images to cease out of Noph.”

The images have ceased, the temples have either been removed or have
disappeared under the deposits of inundations; you would ride over old
Memphis without knowing it, but the inhabitants have returned to this
fertile and exuberant plain. It is only in the long range of pyramids
and the great necropolis in the desert that you can find old Memphis.

The superabundant life of the region encountered us at once. At
Bedreshayn is a ferry, and its boats were thronged, chiefly by women,
coming and going, and always with a load of grain or other produce on
the head. We rode round the town on an elevated dyke, lined with palms,
and wound onward over a flat, rich with wheat and barley, to Mitrahenny,
a little village in a splendid palm-grove. This marks the central
spot of the ruins of old Memphis. Here are some mounds, here are found
fragments of statues and cut stones, which are preserved in a temporary
shelter. And here, lying on its side, in a hollow from which the water
was just subsiding, is a polished colossal statue of Rameses II.—the
Pharaoh who left more monuments of less achievements than any other
“swell” of antiquity. The face is handsome, as all his statues are, and
is probably conventionalized like our pictures of George Washington,
or Napoleon’s busts of himself. I confess to a feeling of perfect
satisfaction at seeing his finely chiseled nose rooting in the mud.

This—some mounds, some fragments of stone, and the statue,—was all we
saw of Memphis. But I should like to have spent a day in this lovely
grove, which was carpeted with the only turf I saw in Egypt; reclining
upon the old mounds in the shade, and pretending to think of Menes and
Moses and Menephtah; and of Rhampsinitus, the king who “descended alive
into the place which the Greeks call Hades, and there played at dice
with Ceres, and sometimes won, and other times lost,” and of the
treasure-house he built here; and whether, as Herodotus believed, Helen,
the beautiful cause of the Iliad, really once dwelt in a palace here,
and whether Homer ever recited his epic in these streets.

We go on over the still rich plain to the village of Sakkarah—chiefly
babies and small children. The cheerful life of this prairie fills us
with delight—flocks of sheep, herds of buffaloes, trains of dromedaries,
hundreds of laborers of both sexes in the fields, children skylarking
about; on every path are women, always with a basket on the head, their
blue cotton gown (the only article of dress except a head-shawl,) open
in front, blowing back so as to show their figures as they walk.

When we reach the desert we are in the presence of death—perhaps the
most mournful sight on this earth is a necropolis in the desert, savage,
sand-drifted, plundered, all its mounds dug over and over. We ride along
at the bases of the pyramids. I stop at one, climb over the débris at
its base, and break off a fragment of stone. The pyramid is of crumbling
limestone, and, built in stages or degrees, like that of Maydoom; it is
slowly becoming an unsightly heap. And it is time. This is believed
to be the oldest structure in the world, except the Tower of Babel. It
seems to have been the sepulchre of Keken, a king of the second dynasty.
At this period hieroglyphic writing was developed, but the construction
and ornamentation of the doorway of the pyramid exhibit art in its
infancy. This would seem to show that the Egyptians did not emigrate
from Asia with the developed and highly perfected art found in the
sculptures of the tombs of the fourth, fifth, and sixth dynasties, as
some have supposed, but that there was a growth, which was arrested
later.

But no inference in regard to old Egypt is safe; a discovery tomorrow
may upset it. Statues recently found, representing persons living in
the third dynasty, present a different type of race from that shown in
statues of the fourth and fifth dynasties. So that, in that period in
which one might infer a growth of art, there may have been a change of
the dominating race.

The first great work of Mariette Bey in Egypt—and it is a monument of
his sagacity, enthusiasm, and determination, was the unearthing, in this
waste of Memphis, the lost Serapeum and the Apis Mausoleum, the tombs of
the sacred bulls. The remains of the temple are again covered with sand;
but the visitor can explore the Mausoluem. He can walk, taper in hand,
through endless galleries, hewn in the rock, passing between rows of
gigantic granite sarcophagi, in which once rested the mummies of
the sacred bulls. Living, the bull was daintily fed—the Nile water
unfiltered was thought to be too fattening for him—and devotedly
worshipped; and dying, he was entombed in a sepulchre as magnificent as
that of kings, and his adorers lined the walls of his tomb with votive
offerings. It is partly from these stelæ, or slabs with inscriptions,
that Mariette Bey has added so much to our knowledge of Egyptian
history.

Near the Serapeum is perhaps the most elegant tomb in Egypt, the tomb
of Tih, who lived in the fifth dynasty, some time later than Cheops, but
when hippopotami abounded in the river in front of his farm,
Although Tih was a priest, he was a gentleman of elegant tastes, an
agriculturist, a sportsman. He had a model farm, as you may see by the
buildings and by the thousand details of good management here carved.
His tomb does him great credit. In all the work of later times there is
nothing so good as this sculpture, so free, so varied, so beautiful; it
promises everything. Tih even had, what we do not expect in people of
that early time, humor; you are sure of it from some of the pictures
here. He must have taken delight in decorating his tomb, and have spent,
altogether, some pleasant years in it before he occupied it finally; so
that he had become accustomed to staying here.

But his rule was despotic, it was that of the “stick.” Egyptians have
never changed in this respect, as we have remarked before. They are
now, as then, under the despotism of some notion of governance—divine
or human—despotic and fateful. The “stick” is as old as the monarchy;
it appears in these tombs; as to day, nobody then worked or paid taxes
without its application.

The sudden arrest of Egyptian art was also forced upon us next day, in a
second visit to the pyramids of Geezeh. We spent most of the day in the
tombs there. In some of them we saw the ovals of all the kings of the
fourth dynasty, many of them perfect and fresh in color. As to drawing,
cutting, variety, liveliness of attitude and color, there is nothing
better, little so good, in tombs of recent date. We find almost every
secular subject in the early tombs that is seen in the latest. In
thousands of years, the Egyptians scarcely changed or made any progress.
The figures of men and animals are better executed in these old
tombs than in the later. Again, these tombs are free from the endless
repetitions of gods and of offerings to them. The life of the people
represented is more natural, less superstitious; common events are
naively portrayed, with the humorous unconsciousness of a simple age;
art has thought it not unworthy its skill to represent the fact in one
tomb, that men acted as midwives to cows, in the dawn of history.

While we lay at Geezeh we visited one of the chicken-hatching
establishments for which the Egyptians have been famous from a remote
period. It was a very unpretending affair, in a dirty suburb of the
town. We were admitted into a low mud-building, and into a passage with
ovens on each side. In these ovens the eggs are spread upon mats, and
the necessary fire is made underneath. The temperature is at 100° to
108° Fahrenheit. Each oven has a hole in the center, through which the
naked attendant crawls to turn the eggs from time to time. The process
requires usually twenty-one days, but some eggs hatch on the twentieth.
The eggs are supplied by the peasants who usually receive, without
charge, half as many chickens as they bring eggs. About one third of the
eggs do not hatch. The hatching is only performed about three months in
the year, during the spring.

In the passage, before one of the ovens, was a heap of soft chickens,
perhaps half a bushel, which the attendant scraped together whenever
they attempted to toddle off. We had the pleasure of taking up some
handfuls of them. We also looked into the ovens, where there was a stir
of life, and were permitted to hold some eggs while the occupants kicked
off the shell.

I don’t know that a plan will ever be invented by which eggs, as well as
chickens, will be produced without the intervention of the hen. If one
could be, it would leave the hen so much more time to scratch—it would
relieve her from domestic cares so that she could take part in public
affairs. The hen in Egypt is only partially emancipated, But since she
is relieved from setting, I do not know that she is any better hen. She
lays very small eggs.

This ends what I have to say about the hen. We have come to Cairo, and
the world is again before us.



0436



0437



CHAPTER XXXIII.—THE KHEDIVE.

WHAT excitement there is in adjacency to a great city! To hear its
inarticulate hum, to feel the thrill of its myriads, the magnetism of a
vast society! How the pulse quickens at the mere sight of multitudes
of buildings, and the overhanging haze of smoke and dust that covers a
little from the sight of the angels the great human struggle and folly.
How impatient one is to dive into the ocean of his fellows.

The stir of life has multiplied every hour in the past two days. The
river swarms with boats, the banks are vocal with labor, traffic,
merriment. This morning early we are dropping down past huge casernes
full of soldiers—the bank is lined with them, thousands of them, bathing
and washing their clothes, their gabble filling the air. We see again
the lofty mosque of Mohamed Ali, the citadel of Salàdin, the forest of
minarets above the brown roofs of the town. We pass the isle of Rhoda
and the ample palaces of the Queen-Mother. We moor at Gezereh amid a
great shoal of dahabeëhs, returned from High Egypt, deserted of their
passengers, flags down, blinds closed—a spectacle to fill one with
melancholy that so much pleasure is over.

The dahabeëhs usually discharge their passengers at Gezereh, above
the bridge. If the boat goes below with baggage it is subject to a
port-duty, as if it were a traveler,—besides the tax for passing the
draw-bridge. We decide to remain some days on our boat, because it is
comfortable, and because we want to postpone the dreaded breaking up
of housekeeping, packing up our scattered effects, and moving. Having
obtained permission to moor at the government dock below Kasr-el-Nil, we
drop down there.

The first person to greet us there is Aboo Yusef, the owner. Behind him
comes Habib Bagdadli, the little Jew partner. There is always that in
his mien which says, “I was really born in Bagdad, but I know you still
think I am a Jew from Algiers. No, gentlemens, you wrong a man to whom
reputation is everything.” But he is glad to see his boat safe; he
expresses as much pleasure as one can throw from an eye with a cast in
it. Aboo Yusef is radiant. He is attired gorgeously, in a new suit, from
fresh turban to red slippers, on the profits of the voyage. His robe is
silk, his sash is cashmere. He overflows with complimentary speech.

“Allah be praised, I see you safe.”

“We have reason to be grateful.”

“And that you had a good journey.”

“A perfect journey.”

“We have been made desolate by your absence; thank God, you have enjoyed
the winter.”

“I suppose you are glad to see the boat back safe also?”

“That is nothing, not to mention it, I not think of it; the return of
the boat safe, that is nothing. I only think that you are safe. But it
is a good boat. You will say it is the first-class of boats? And she
goes up the cataract all right. Did I not say she go up the cataract?
Abd-el-Atti he bear me witness.”

“You did. You said so. Habib said so also. Was there any report here in
Cairo that we could not go up.”

“Mashallah. Such news. The boat was lost in the cataract; the reïs
was drowned. For the loss of the boat I did not care; only if you were
safe.”

“Did you hear that the cataract reises objected to take us up?”

“What rascals! They always make the traveler some trouble. But, Allah
forgive us all, the head reïs is dead. Not so, Abd-el-Atti?”

“What, the old reïs that we said good-bye to only a little while ago at
Assouan?”

“Him dead,” says Abd-el-Atti. “I have this morning some conversation
with a tradin’ boat from the Cataract. Him dead shortly after we leave.”

It was the first time it had ever occurred to me that one of these tough
old Bedaween could die in the ordinary manner.

But alas his spirit was too powerful for his frame. We have not in this
case the consolation of feeling that his loss is our gain; for there
are plenty more like him at the First Cataract. He took money from Aboo
Yusef for not taking us up the Cataract, and he took money from us for
taking us up. His account is balanced. He was an impartial man. Peace to
his colored ashes.

Aboo Yusef and the little Jew took leave with increased demonstrations
of affection, and repeated again and again their joy that we had
ascended the Cataract and returned safe. The Jew, as I said, had a
furtive look, but Aboo is open as the day. He is an Arab you would
trust. I can scarcely believe that it was he and his partner who sent
the bribe to the reïs of the Cataract to prevent our going up.

As we ride to town through the new part, the city looks exceedingly
bright and attractive; the streets are very broad; the handsome square
houses—ornamented villas, with balconies, pillared piazzas, painted with
lively figures and in bizarre patterns—stand behind walls overgrown with
the convolvulus, and in the midst of gardens; plats in the center
of open spaces and at the angles of streets are gay with flowers in
bloom—chiefly scarlet geraniums. The town wears a spring aspect, and
would be altogether bright but for the dust which overlays everything,
houses, streets, foliage. No amount of irrigation can brighten the
dust-powdered trees.

When we came to Cairo last fall, fresh from European cities, it seemed
very shabby. Now that we come from Upper Egypt, with our eyes trained
to eight hundred miles of mud-hovels, Cairo is magnificent. But it
is Cairo. There are just as many people squatting in the dust of the
highways as when we last saw them, and they have the air of not having
moved in three months. We ride to Shepherd’s Hotel; there are twenty
dragomans for every tourist who wants to go to Syria, there is the usual
hurry of arrival and departure, and no one to be found; we call at the
consul’s: it is not his hour; we ride through the blindest ways to
the bankers, in the Rosetti Gardens (don’t imagine there is any garden
there), they do no business from twelve to three. It is impossible to
accomplish anything in Cairo without calm delay. And, falling into the
mode, we find ourselves sauntering through one of the most picturesque
quarters, the bazaar of Khan Khaléel, feasting the eye on the Oriental
splendors of silks, embroidered stuffs, stiff with gold and silver,
sown with pearls, antique Persian brasses, old arms of the followers
of Saladin. How cool, how quiet it is. All the noises are soft. Noises
enough there are, a babel of traffic, jostling, pushing, clamoring;
and yet we have a sense of quiet in it all. There is no rudeness, no
angularity, no glare of sun. At times you feel an underflow of silence.
I know no place so convenient for meditation as the recesses of these
intricate bazaars. Their unlikeness to the streets of other cities is
mainly in the absence of any hard pavement. From the moment you come
into the Mooskee, you strike a silent way, no noise of wheels or hoofs,
nor footfalls of the crowd. It is this absence of footfall-patter which
is always heard in our streets, that gives us the impression here of the
underflow of silence.

Returning through the Ezbekeëh Park and through the new streets, we are
glad we are not to judge the manhood of Egypt by the Young Egypt we
meet here, nor the future of Egypt by the dissolute idlers of Cairo and
Alexandria. From Cairo to Wady Halfeh we have seen men physically well
developed, fine specimens of their race, and better in Nubia than in
Egypt Proper; but these youths are feeble, and of unclean appearance,
even in their smart European dress. They are not unlike the effeminate
and gilded youth of Italy that one sees in the cities, or Parisians of
the same class. Egypt, which needed a different importation, has added
most of the vices of Europe to its own; it is noticeable that the
Italians, who emigrate elsewhere little, come here in great numbers, and
men and women alike take kindly to this loose feebleness. French as well
as Italians adapt themselves easily to Eastern dissoluteness. The
French have never shown in any part of the globe any prejudice against a
mingling of races. The mixture here of the youths of the Latin races
and the worn-out Orientals, who are a little polished by a lacquer of
European vice, is not a good omen for Egypt. Happily such youths are
feeble and, I trust, not to be found outside the two large cities.

The great question in Egypt, among foreigners and observers (there is
no great question among the common people), is about the Khedive, Ismail
Pasha, his policy and his real intentions with regard to the country.
You will hear three distinct opinions; one from devout Moslems, another
from the English, and a third from the Americans. The strict and
conservative Moslems like none of the changes and innovations, and
express not too much confidence in the Khedive’s religion. He has bought
pictures and statues for his palaces, he has marble images of himself,
he has set up an equestrian statue in the street; all this is contrary
to the religion. He introduces European manners and costumes, every
government employé is obliged to wear European dress, except the
tarboosh. What does he want with such a great army; why are the taxes so
high, and growing higher every day?

With the Americans in Cairo, as a rule, the Khedive is popular; they
sympathize with his ambition, and think that he has the good of Egypt
at heart; almost uniformly they defend him. The English, generally,
distrust the Khedive and criticise his every movement. Scarcely ever
have I heard Englishmen speak well of the Khedive and his policy. They
express a want of confidence in the sincerity of his efforts to suppress
the slave-trade, for one thing. How much the fact that American officers
are preferred in the Khedive’s service has to do with the English
and the American estimate, I do not know; the Americans are naturally
preferred over all others, for in case of a European complication over
Egypt they would have no entangling alliances.

The Americans point to what has actually been accomplished by the
present Viceroy, the radical improvements in the direction of a better
civilization, improvements which already change the aspect of Egypt to
the most casual observer. There are the railroads, which intersect the
Delta in all directions, and extend over two hundred and fifty miles up
the Nile, and the adventurous iron track which is now following the
line of the telegraph to distant Kartoom. There are the canals, the
Sweet-Water that runs from Cairo and makes life on the Isthmus possible,
and the network of irrigating canals and system of ditches, which have
not only transformed the Delta, but have changed its climate, increasing
enormously the rainfall. No one who has not seen it can have any
conception of the magnitude of this irrigation by canals which all draw
water from the Nile, nor of the immense number of laborers necessary
to keep the canals in repair. Talk of the old Pharaohs, and their
magnificent canals, projected or constructed, and their vaunted
expeditions of conquest into Central Africa! Their achievements, take
them all together, are not comparable to the marvels the Khedive
is producing under our own eyes, in spite of a people ignorant,
superstitious, reluctant. He does not simply make raids into Africa:
he occupies vast territories, he has absolutely stopped the Nile
slave-trade, he has converted the great slave-traders into his allies,
by making it more their interest to develope legitimate commerce than
to deal in flesh and blood; he has permanently opened a region twice
as large as Egypt to commercial intercourse; he sends explorers and
scientific expeditions into the heart of Africa. It is true that he
wastes money, that he is robbed and cheated by his servants, but he
perseveres, and behold the results. Egypt is waking out of its sleep,
it is annexing territory, and population by millions, it is becoming a
power. And Ismail Pasha is the center and spring of the whole movement.

Look at Cairo! Since the introduction of gas, the opening of broad
streets, the tearing down of some of the worst rookeries, the admission
of sun and air, Cairo is exempt from the old epidemics, the general
health is improved, and even that scourge, ophthalmia, has diminished.
You know his decree forbidding early marriages; you know he has
established and encourages schools for girls; you see what General Stone
is doing in the education of the common soldiers, and in his training
of those who show any aptitude in engineering, draughting, and the
scientific accomplishments of the military profession.

Thus the warmest admirers of the Khedive speak. His despotism, which
is now the most absolute in the world, perhaps, and least disputed, is
referred to as a “personal government.” And it is difficult to see
how under present circumstances it could be anything else. There is
absolutely in Egypt no material for anything else. The Khedive has
annually summoned for several years, a sort of parliament of the
chief men of Egypt, for information and consultation. At first it was
difficult to induce the members to say a word, to give any information
or utter an opinion. It is a new thing in a despotic government, the
shadow even of a parliament.

An English gentleman in Cairo, and a very intelligent man, gives the
Khedive credit for nothing but a selfish desire to enrich himself, to
establish his own family, and to enjoy the traditional pleasures of the
Orient.

“But he is suppressing the slave-trade.”

“He is trying to make England believe so. Slaves still come to Cairo;
not so many down the Nile, but by the desert. I found a slave-den in
some desert tombs once over the other side the river; horrible treatment
of women and children; a caravan came from Darfour by way of Assiout.”

“But that route is cut off by the capture of Darfour.”

“Well, you’ll see; slaves will come if they are wanted. Why, look at the
Khedive’s harem!”

“He hasn’t so many wives as Solomon, who had seven hundred; the Khedive
has only four.”

“Yes, but he has more concubines; Solomon kept only three hundred, the
Khedive has four hundred and fifty, and perhaps nearer five hundred.
Some of them are beautiful Circassians for whom it is said he paid as
much as £2000 and even £3000 sterling.”

“I suppose that is an outside price.”

“Of course, but think of the cost of keeping them. Then, each of
his four wives has her separate palace and establishment. Rather an
expensive family.”

“Almost as costly as the royal family of England.”

“That’s another affair; to say nothing of the difference of income.
The five hundred, more or less, concubines are under the charge of
the Queen-mother, but they have carte blanche in indulgence in jewels,
dress, and all that. They wear the most costly Paris modes. They
spend enormous sums in pearls and diamonds. They have their palaces
refurnished whenever the whim seizes them, re-decorated in European
style. Where does the money come from? You can see that Egypt is taxed
to death. I heard to-day that the Khedive was paying seventeen per cent,
for money, money borrowed to pay the interest on his private debts. What
does he do with the money he raises?”

“Spends a good deal of it on his improvements, canals, railroads, on his
army.”

“I think he runs in debt for his improvements. Look again at his family.
He has something like forty palaces, costing from one half-million to
a million dollars each; some of them, which he built, he has never
occupied, many of them are empty, many of those of his predecessors,
which would lodge a thousand people, are going to decay; and yet he is
building new ones all the time. There are two or three in process of
erection on the road to the pyramids.”

“Perhaps they are for his sons or for his high officers? Victor Emanuel,
whose treasury is in somewhat the condition of the Khedive’s, has a
palace in every city of Italy, and yet he builds more.”

“If the Khedive is building for his children, I give it up. He has
somewhere between twenty and thirty acknowledged children. But he does
give away palaces and houses. When he has done with a pretty slave, he
may give her, with a palace or a fine house here in town, to a favorite
officer. I can show you houses here that were taken away from their
owners, at a price fixed by the Khedive and not by the owner, because
the Viceroy wanted them to give away with one or another of his
concubines.”

“I suppose that is Oriental custom.”

“I thought you Americans defended the Khedive on account of his
progressive spirit.”

“He is a man who is accomplishing wonders, trammelled as he is by usages
thousands of years old, which appear monstrous to us, but are to him as
natural as any other Oriental condition. Yet I confess that he stands
in very contradictory lights. If he knew it, he could do the greatest
service to Egypt by abolishing his harem of concubines, converting it
into—I don’t know what—a convent, or a boarding-school, or a milliner’s
shop, or an establishment for canning fruit—and then set the example of
living, openly, with one wife.”

“Wait till he does. And you talk about the condition of Egypt! Every
palm-tree, and every sakiya is taxed, and the tax has doubled within a
few years. The taxes are now from one pound and a half to three pounds
an acre on all lands not owned by him.”

“In many cases, I know this is not a high tax (compared with taxes
elsewhere) considering the yield of the land, and the enormous cost of
the irrigating canals.”

“It is high for such managers as the fellahs. But they will not have to
complain long. The Khedive is getting into his own hands all the lands
of Egypt. He owns I think a third of it now, and probably half of it is
in his family; and this is much the better land.”

“History repeats itself in Egypt. He is following the example of Joseph
who, you know, taking advantage of the famine, wrung all the land,
except that in possession of the priests, from the people, and made
it over to Pharaoh; by Joseph’s management the king owned, before the
famine was over, not only all the land, but all the money, all the
cattle, and all the people of Egypt. And he let the land to them for a
fifth of its increase.”

“I don’t know that it is any better because Egypt is used to it. Joseph
was a Jew. The Khedive pretends to be influenced by the highest motives,
the elevation of the condition of the people, the regeneration of
Egypt.”

“I think he is sincerely trying to improve Egypt and the Egyptians. Of
course a despot, reared in Oriental prejudices, is slow to see that you
can’t make a nation except by making men; that you can’t make a rich
nation unless individuals have free scope to accumulate property. I
confess that the chief complaint I heard up the river was, that no one
dared to show that he had any money, or to engage in extensive business,
for fear he would be ‘squeezed.’.rdquo;

“So he would be. The Khedive has some sixteen sugar-factories, worked by
forced labor, very poorly paid. They ought to be very profitable.”

“They are not.”

“Well, he wants more money, at any rate. I have just heard that he
is resorting to a forced loan, in the form of bonds. A land-owner is
required to buy them in the proportion of one dollar and a half for
each acre he owns; and he is to receive seven per cent, interest on the
bonds. In Cairo a person is required to take these bonds in a certain
proportion on his personal property. And it is said that the bonds are
not transferable, and that they will be worthless to the heirs. I heard
of this new dodge from a Copt.”

“I suppose the Khedive’s friends would say that he is trying to change
Egypt in a day, whereas it is the work of generations.”

When we returned to the dahabeëh we had a specimen of “personal
government.” Abd-el-Atti was standing on the deck, slipping his beads,
and looking down.

“What has happened?”

“Ahman, been took him.”

“Who took him?”

“Police, been grab him first time he go ‘shore, and lock him up.”

“What had he been doing?”

“Nothing he been done; I send him uptown of errand; police catch him
right out there.”

“What for?”

“Take him down to Soudan to work; the vice-royal he issue an order for
the police to catch all the black fellows in Cairo, and take ‘em to the
Soudan, down to Gondokora for what I know, to work the land there.”

“But Ahman is our servant; he can’t be seized.”

“Oh, I know, Ahman belong to me, he was my slave till I give him
liberty; I go to get him out directly. These people know me, I get him
off.”

“But if you had no influence with the police, Ahman would be dragged off
to Soudan to work in a cotton or rice field?”

“Lots of black fellows like him sent off. But I get him back, don’t you
have worry. What the vice-royal to do with my servant—I don’t care if he
Kin’ of Constantinople!”

Sure enough, early in the evening the handsome Abyssinian boy came back,
none the worse, except for a thorough scare, eyes and teeth shining, and
bursting into his usual hearty laugh upon allusion to his capture.

“Police tyeb?”

“Moosh-tyeb” (“bad”), with an explosion of merriment.

The boy hadn’t given himself much uneasiness, for he regards his master
as his Providence.

We are moored at the dock and below the lock of the Sweet-Water Canal
which runs to Ismailia. A dredge-boat lies in the entrance, and we
have an opportunity of seeing how government labor is performed; we
can understand why it is that so many laborers are needed, and that the
great present want of Egypt is stout and willing arms.

In the entrance of the canal and in front of the lock is a flat-boat
upon which are fifteen men. They have two iron scoops, which would hold
about a gallon each; to each is attached a long pole and a rope. Two
men jab the pole down and hold the pot on the bottom, while half a dozen
pull leisurely on the rope, with a “yah-sah” or other chorus, and haul
in the load; when it comes up, a man scrapes out the mud with his hand,
sometimes not getting more than two quarts. It is very restful to watch
their unexhausting toil. It takes several minutes to capture a pot of
sand. There are fifteen men at this spoon-work, but one scoop is only
kept going at a time. After it is emptied, the men stop and look about,
converse a little, and get ready for another effort, standing meantime
in liquid mud, ankle deep. When they have rested, over goes the scoop
again, and the men stand to the rope, and pull feebly, but only at
intervals, that is when they sing the response to the line of the
leader. The programme of singing and pulling is something like this:

Salee ah nadd (voice of the leader).

Yalee, halee (chorus, pull altogether).

Salee ah nadd.

Yalee, halee (pull).

Salee ah nadd.

Yalee, halee (pull).

And the outcome of three or four minutes of hauling and noise enough to
raise a ton, is about a quart of mud!

The river panorama is always varied and entertaining, and we are of a
divided mind between a lazy inclination to sit here and watch the busy
idleness of the population, or address ourselves to the much that still
remains to be seen in Cairo. I ought to speak, however, of an American
sensation on the river. This is a little steam-yacht—fifty feet long by
seven and a half broad—which we saw up the Nile, where it attracted
more attention along the banks than anything else this season. I call
it American, because it carries the American flag and is owned by a
New-York art student, Mr. Anderson, and an English-American, Mr. Medler;
but the yacht was built in London, and shipped on a large steamboat to
Alexandria. It is the first steam-vessel, I believe, carrying anything
except Egyptian (or Turkish) colors that has ever been permitted to
ascend the Nile. We took a trip on it one fine morning up to Helwân, and
enjoyed the animation of its saucy speed. When put to its best, it makes
eighteen miles an hour; but life would not be as long on it as it is
on a dahabeëh. At Helwân are some hot sulphur-springs, famous and
much resorted to in the days of the Pharaohs, and just now becoming
fashionable again.

Our days pass we can hardly say how, while we wait for the proper season
for Syria, and regard the invincible obstacles that debar us from the
longed-for desert journey to Sinai and Arabia Petra. The bazaars are
always a refuge from the heat, a never-failing entertainment. We spend
hours in lounging through them. We lunch at the shops of the sweatmeat
makers, on bread, pistachio-nuts, conserve of roses, I know not what,
and Nile-water, with fingans of coffee fetched hot and creamy from the
shop near by. We give a copper to an occasional beggar: for beggars
are few in the street, and these are either blind or very poor, or
derweeshes; and to all these, being regarded as Allah’s poor, the
Moslems give cheerfully, for charity is a part of their religion. We
like also to stand at the doors of the artisans. There is a street where
all the workmen are still making the old flint-lock guns and pistols,
and the firearms with the flaring blunderbuss muzzles, as if the object
was to scatter the charge, and hit a great many people but to kill none.
I think the peace society would do well to encourage this kind of gun.
There are shops also where a man sits before a heap of flint-chalk,
chipping the stone with a flat iron mallet, and forming the flints for
the antiquated locks.

We happen to come often in our wanderings, the distinction being a
matter of luck, upon a very interesting old city-gate of one of the
quarters. The gate itself is a wooden one of two leaves, crossed with
iron bands fastened with heavy spikes, and not remarkable except as an
illustration of one of the popular superstitions of the Arabs. The wood
is driven full of nails, bits of rags flutter on it, and human teeth are
crowded under the iron bands. It is believed that if a person afflicted
with headache will drive a nail into this door he will never have the
headache again. Other ills are relieved by other offerings, bits of
rag, teeth, etc. It would seem to be a pretty sure cure for toothache
to leave the tooth in this gate. The Arabs are called the most
superstitious of peoples, they wear charms against the evil-eye (“charm
from the eye of girl, sharper than a spike; charm from the eye of boy,
more painful than a whip”), and they have a thousand absurd practices.
Yet we can match most of them in Christian communities.

How patiently all the people work, and wait. Complaints are rare. The
only reproof I ever received was from a donkey-boy, whom I had kept
waiting late one evening at the Hotel Nil. When I roused him from his
sleep on the ground, he asked, with an accent of weariness, “how much
clock you got?”

By the twenty-third day of March it is getting warm; the thermometer is
81°. It is not simply the heat, but the Khâmaseen, the south wind, the
smoky air, the dust in the city, the languor. To-day it rained a few
drops, and looked threatening, just as it does in a hot summer day at
home. The outskirts of Cairo are enveloped in dust, and the heat begins
to simmer over the palaces and gardens. The travelers are leaving. The
sharp traders, Jews from Bagdad, Syrians, Jews from Constantinople,
Greeks, Armenians from Damascus, all sorts, are packing up their goods,
in order to meet the traveler and fleece him again in Jerusalem, in
Beyrout, in Damascus, in Smyrna, on the Golden Horn. In the outskirts,
especially on the open grounds by the canal, are the coffee-booths and
dance-shanties—rows of the disreputable. The life, always out of doors
even in the winter, is now more flamboyantly displayed in these open and
verandahed dwellings; there is a yielding to the relaxation of summer.
We hear at night, as we sit on the deck of our dahabeëh, the throbbing
of the darabookah-drum and the monotonous song of the dissolute ones.



0450



0451



CHAPTER XXXIV.—THE WOODEN MAN.

THE Khedive and his court, if it may be so called, are not hedged in by
any formidable barriers; but there are peculiarities of etiquette. When
his Highness gives a grand ball and public reception, of course only the
male members of his household are present, only the men of the Egyptian
society; it would in fact be a male assembly but for the foreign ladies
visiting or residing in the city. Of course there cannot be any such
thing as “society” under such circumstances; and as there are no women
to regulate the ball invitations, the assembly is “mixed.” There is no
such thing as reciprocity with the Arabs and Turks; they are willing to
meet the wives or the female friends of all foreigners; they never show
their own.

If a lady visiting Cairo wishes to visit one of the royal harems, it is
necessary that her husband or some gentleman of her party, should first
be presented to the Khedive. After this ceremony, notice is received
through the chamberlain of the Viceroy that the lady will be received
on such a day and hour, in a palace named, by her Highness So So. Which
Highness? That you can never tell before the notice is received. It is a
matter of royal convenience at the time. In a family so large and varied
as that of the Khedive, you can only be presented to a fragment of
it. You may be received by one of his wives; it may please the Queen,
mother, who is in charge of his largest harem, to do the honors or the
wife of the heir-apparent, or of one of the younger sons, may open her
doors to you. I suppose it is a good deal a matter of whim with the
inmates of the harem; sometimes they are tired of seeing strangers and
of dressing for them. Usually they are eager to break the monotony of
their lives with a visit that promises to show them a new costume. There
is only one condition made as to the dress of the lady who is to
be received at a royal harem; she must not wear black, there is a
superstition connected with a black dress, it puts the inmates of the
harem in low spirits. Gentlemen presented to the Khedive wear the usual
evening dress.

The Khedive’s winter-residence is the Palace of Abdeen, not far from the
Ezbekeëh, and it was there that Dr. Lamborn and myself were presented to
his highness by Mr. Beardsley, our consul-general. Nothing regal could
be more simple or less ceremonious. We arrived at the door at the moment
fixed, for the Khedive is a man of promptness and I imagine has his
entire day parcelled out in engagements. We first entered a spacious
entrance-hall, from which a broad stairway leads to the first story;
here were thirty or forty janizaries, gentlemen-in-waiting, and eunuchs,
standing motionless, at the sides, and guarding the approach to the
stairway, in reception attitudes. Here we were received by an attendant
who conducted us to a room on the left, where we were introduced to the
chamberlain, and deposited our outer coats and hats. The chamberlain
then led us to the foot of the stairs, but accompanied us no further; we
ascended to the first landing, and turning to another broad stairway saw
the Khedive awaiting us at the head of it. He was unattended; indeed we
saw no officer or servant on this floor. The furniture above and below
was European, except the rich, thick carpets of Turkey and Persia.

His Highness, who wore a dress altogether European except the fez,
received us cordially, shaking hands and speaking with simplicity, as a
private gentleman might, and, wasting no time in Oriental compliments,
led the way to a small reception-room furnished in blue satin. We were
seated together in a corner of the apartment, and an animated talk at
once began. Dr. Lamborn’s special errand was to ascertain whether Egypt
would be represented in our Centennial, about which the Khedive was
well informed. The conversation then passed to the material condition of
Egypt, the development of its resources, its canals and railroads, and
especially the new road into Soudan, and the opening of Darfour. The
Khedive listened attentively to any practical information, either about
railroads, factories, or agriculture, that my companion was able to give
him, and had the air of a man eager to seize any idea that might be for
the advancement of Egypt; when he himself spoke, it was with vivacity,
shrewdness, and good sense. And he is not without a gleam of humor now
and then,—a very hopeful quality in a sovereign and especially in an
Oriental ruler.

The Khedive, in short, is a person to inspire confidence; he appears to
be an able, energetic man of affairs, quick and resolute; there is not
the slightest stiffness or “divine right” pretence in his manner. He is
short, perhaps five feet seven or eight inches in height, and stout. He
has a well-proportioned, solid head, good features, light complexion,
and a heavy, strong jaw, which his closely-trimmed beard does not
conceal. I am not sure that the penetration of his glance does not gain
a little from a slight defect in one eye—the result of ophthalmia in his
boyhood.

When the interview had lasted about fifteen minutes, the Khedive ended
it by rising; at the head of the stairs we shook hands and exchanged the
proper speeches; at the bottom of the first flight we turned and bowed,
his highness still standing and bowing, and then we saw him no more. As
we passed out an order had come from above which set the whole household
in a flurry of preparation, a running hither and thither as for speedy
departure—the sort of haste that is mingled with fear, as for the
command of a power that will not brook an instant’s delay.

Exaggerated notions are current about harems and harem-receptions,
notions born partly of the seclusion of the female portion of the
household in the East. Of course the majority of harems in Egypt are
simply the apartment of the one wife and her children. The lady who
enters one of them pays an ordinary call, and finds no mystery whatever.
If there is more than one wife, a privileged visitor, able to converse
with the inmates, might find some skeletons behind the screened windows.
It is also true that a foreign lady may enter one of the royal harems
and be received with scarcely more ceremony than would attend an
ordinary call at home. The receptions at which there is great display,
at which crowds of beautiful or ugly slaves line the apartments, at
which there is music and dancing by almehs, an endless service of sweets
and pipes and coffee, and a dozen changes of dress by the hostess during
the ceremony, are not frequent, are for some special occasion, the
celebration of a marriage, or the entertainment of a visitor of high
rank. One who expects, upon a royal invitation to the harem, to wander
into the populous dove-cote of the Khedive, where languish the beauties
of Asia, the sisters from the Gardens of Gul, pining for a new robe of
the mode from Paris, will be most cruelly disappointed.

But a harem remains a harem, in the imagination. The ladies went one
day to the house—I suppose it is a harem—of Hussein, the waiter who has
served us with unremitting fidelity and cleverness. The house was one of
the ordinary sort of unburnt brick, very humble, but perfectly tidy
and bright. The secret of its cheerfulness was in a nice, cheery, happy
little wife, who made a home for Hussein such as it was a pleasure to
see in Egypt. They had four children, the eldest a daughter, twelve
years old and very good-mannered and pretty. As she was of marriageable
age, her parents were beginning to think of settling her in life.

“What a nice girl she is, Hussein,” says Madame.

“Yes’m,” says Hussein, waving his hands in his usual struggle with the
English language, and uttering the longest speech ever heard from him in
that tongue, but still speaking as if about something at table, “yes’m;
good man have it; bad man, drinkin’ man, smokin’ man, eatin’ man not
have it.”

I will describe briefly two royal presentations, one to the favorite
wife of the Khedive, the other to the wife of Mohammed Tufik Pasha, the
eldest son and heir-apparent, according to the late revolution in the
rules of descent. French, the court language, is spoken not only by the
Khedive but by all the ladies of his family who receive foreigners. The
lady who was presented to the Khedive’s wife, after passing the usual
guard of eunuchs in the palace, was escorted through a long suite of
showy apartments. In each one she was introduced to a maid of honor who
escorted her to the next, each lady-in-waiting being more richly attired
than her predecessor, and the lady was always thinking that now this one
must be the princess herself. Female slaves were in every room, and a
great number of them waited in the hall where the princess received her
visitor. She was a strikingly handsome woman, dressed in pink satin and
encrusted with diamonds. The conversation consisted chiefly of the most
exaggerated and barefaced compliments on both sides, both as to articles
of apparel and personal appearance. Coffee, cigarettes, and sweets
without end, in cups of gold set with precious stones, were served by
the female slaves. The wife was evidently delighted with the impression
made by her beauty, her jewels, and her rich dress.

The wife of Tufik Pasha received at one of the palaces in the suburbs.
At the door eunuchs were in waiting to conduct the visitors up the
flight of marble steps, and to deliver them to female slaves in waiting.
Passing up several broad stairways, they were ushered into a grand
reception-hall furnished in European style, except the divans. Only a
few servants were in attendance, and they were white female slaves. The
princess is petite, pretty, intelligent, and attractive. She received
her visitors with entire simplicity, and without ceremony, as a lady
would receive callers in America. The conversation ran on the opera, the
travel on the Nile, and topics of the town. Coffee and cigarettes were
offered, and the sensible interview ended like an occidental visit. It
is a little disenchanting, all this adoption of European customs; but
the wife of Tufik Pasha should ask him to go a little further, and send
all the eunuchs out of the palace.

We had believed that summer was come. But we learned that March in Cairo
is, like the same month the world over, treacherous. The morning of the
twenty-sixth was cold, the thermometer 60°. A north wind began to blow,
and by afternoon increased to a gale, such as had not been known here
for years. The town was enveloped in a whirlwind of sand; everything
loose was shaking and flying; it was impossible to see one’s way, and
people scudding about the streets with their heads drawn under their
robes continually dashed into each other. The sun was wholly hidden.
From our boat we could see only a few rods over the turbulent river.
The air was so thick with sand, that it had the appearance of a yellow
canvas. The desert had invaded the air—that was all. The effect of the
light through this was extremely weird; not like a dark day of
clouds and storm in New England, but a pale, yellowish, greenish,
phantasmagoric light, which seemed to presage calamity. Such a light as
may be at the Judgment Day. Cairo friends who dined with us said they
had never seen such a day in Egypt. Dahabeëhs were torn from their
moorings; trees were blown down in the Ezbekëeh Gardens.

We spent the day, as we had spent other days, in the Museum of
Antiquities at Boulak. This wonderful collection, which is the work of
Mariette Bey, had a thousand times more interest for us now than before
we made the Nile voyage and acquired some knowledge of ancient Egypt
through its monuments. Everything that we saw had meaning—statues,
mummy-cases, images, scarabæi, seals, stelae, gold jewelry, and the
simple articles in domestic use.

It must be confessed that to a person uninformed about Egypt and
unaccustomed to its ancient art, there is nothing in the world so dreary
as a collection of its antiquities. The endless repetition of designs,
the unyielding rigidity of forms, the hideous mingling of the human and
the bestial, the dead formality, are insufferably wearisome. The
mummy is thoroughly disagreeable. You can easily hate him and all his
belongings; there is an air of infinite conceit about him; I feel it in
the exclusive box in which he stands, in the smirk of his face painted
on his case. I wonder if it is the perkishness of immortality—as if his
race alone were immortal. His very calmness, like that of so many of the
statues he made, is an offensive contempt. It is no doubt unreasonable,
but as a living person I resent this intrusion of a preserved dead
person into our warm times,—an appearance anachronistic and repellant.

But as an illustration of Egyptian customs, art, and history, the Boulak
museum is almost a fascinating place. True it is not so rich in many
respects as some European collections of Egyptian antiquities, but it
has some objects that are unique; for instance, the jewels of Queen
Aah-hotep, a few statues, and some stelæ, which furnish the most
important information.

This is not the place, had I the knowledge, to enter upon any discussion
of the antiquity of these monuments or of Egyptian chronology. I believe
I am not mistaken, however, in saying that the discoveries of Mariette
Bey tend strongly to establish the credit of the long undervalued list
of Egyptian sovereigns made by Manetho, and that many Oriental scholars
agree with the director of this museum that the date of the first
Egyptian dynasty is about five thousand years before the Christian era.
But the almost startling thought presented by this collection is not
in the antiquity of some of these objects, but in the long civilization
anterior to their production, and which must have been necessary to the
growth of the art here exhibited.

It could not have been a barbarous people who produced, for instance,
these life-like images found at Maydoom, statues of a prince and
princess who lived under the ancient king Snéfrou, the last sovereign of
the third dynasty, and the predecessor of Cheops. At no epoch, says M.
Mariette, did Egypt produce portraits more speaking, though they want
the breadth of style of the statue in wood—of which more anon. But it
is as much in an ethnographic as an art view that these statues are
important. If the Egyptian race at that epoch was of the type offered
by these portraits, it resembled in nothing the race which inhabited the
north of Egypt not many years after Snéfrou. To comprehend the problem
here presented we have only to compare the features of these statues
with those of others in this collection belonging to the fourth and
fifth dynasties.

The best work of art in the Museum is the statue of Chephron, the
builder of the second pyramid. “The epoch of Chephron,” says M.
Mariette, “corresponding to the third reign of the fourth dynasty of
Manetho, our statue is not less than six thousand years old.” It is
a life-size sitting figure, executed in red granite. We admire its
tranquil majesty, we marvel at the close study of nature in the moulding
of the breast and limbs, we confess the skill that could produce an
effect so fine in such intractable material. It seems as if Egyptian art
were about to burst its trammels. But it never did; it never exceeded
this cleverness; on the contrary it constantly fell away from it.

The most interesting statue to us, and perhaps the oldest image in
Egypt, and, if so, in the world, is the Wooden Man, which was found at
Memphis. This image, one metre and ten centimetres high, stands erect,
holding a staff. The figure is full of life, the pose expresses vigor,
action, pride, the head, round in form, indicates intellect. The eyes
are crystal, in a setting of bronze, giving a startling look of life to
the regard. It is no doubt a portrait. “There is nothing more striking,”
says its discoverer, “than this image, in a manner living, of a person
who has been dead six thousand years.” He must have been a man of mark,
and a citizen of a state well-civilized; this is not the portrait of
a barbarian, nor was it carved by a rude artist. Few artists, I think,
have lived since, who could impart more vitality to wood.

And if the date assigned to this statue is correct, sculpture in
Egypt attained its maximum of development six thousand years ago. This
conclusion will be resisted by many, and on different grounds. I heard
a clergyman of the Church of England say to his comrade, as they were
looking at this figure:—

“It’s all nonsense; six thousand years! It couldn’t be. That’s before
the creation of man.”

“Well,” said the other, irreverently, “perhaps this was the model.”

This museum is for the historian, the archaeologist, not for the artist,
except in his study of the history of art. What Egypt had to impart
to the world of art was given thousands of years ago—intimations,
suggestions, outlines that, in freer circumstances, expanded into works
of immortal beauty. The highest beauty, that last touch of genius, that
creative inspiration which is genius and not mere talent, Egyptian art
never attained. It achieved wonders; they are all mediocre wonders;
miracles of talent. The architecture profoundly impresses, almost
crushes one; it never touches the highest in the soul, it never charms,
it never satisfies.

The total impression upon myself of this ancient architecture and this
plastic art is a melancholy one. And I think this is not altogether due
to its monotony. The Egyptian art is said to be sui generis; it has a
character that is instantly recognized; whenever and wherever we see a
specimen of it, we say without fear of mistake, “that is Egyptian.” We
are as sure of it as we are of a piece of Greek work of the best age,
perhaps surer. Is Egyptian art, then, elevated to the dignity of a type,
of itself? Is it so to be studied, as something which has flowered into
a perfection of its kind? I know we are accustomed to look at it as
if it were, and to set it apart; in short, I have heard it judged
absolutely, as if it were a rule to itself. I cannot bring myself so to
look at it. All art is one. We recognize peculiarities of an age or of a
people; but there is only one absolute standard; to that touchstone all
must come.

It seems to me then that the melancholy impression produced by Egyptian
art is not alone from its monotony, its rigidity, its stiff formality,
but it is because we recognize in it an arrested development. It is
archaic. The peculiarity of it is that it always remained archaic.
We have seen specimens of the earliest Etruscan figure-drawing, Gen.
Cesnola found in Cyprus Phoenician work, and we have statues of an
earlier period of Greek sculpture, all of which more or less resemble
Egyptian art. The latter are the beginnings of a consummate development.
Egypt stopped at the beginnings. And we have the sad spectacle of an
archaic art, not growing, but elaborated into a fixed type and adhered
to as if it were perfection. In some of the figures I have spoken of in
this museum, you can find that art was about to emancipate itself. In
all later works you see no such effort, no such tendency, no such
hope. It had been abandoned. By and by impulse died out entirely. For
thousands of years the Egyptians worked at perfecting the mediocre.
Many attribute this remote and total repression to religious influence.
Something of the same sort may be seen in the paintings of saints in
the Greek chambers of the East to-day; the type of which is that of the
Byzantine period. Are we to attribute a like arrest of development in
China to the same cause?

It is a theory very plausibly sustained, that the art of a people is the
flower of its civilization, the final expression of the conditions
of its growth and its character. In reading Mr. Taine’s ingenious
observations upon art in the Netherlands and art in Greece, we are ready
to assent to the theory. It may be the general law of a free development
in national life and in art. If it is, then it is not disturbed by the
example of Egypt. Egyptian art is not the expression of the natural
character, for its art was never developed. The Egyptians were a joyous
race, given to mirth, to the dance, to entertainments, to the charms of
society, a people rather gay than grave; they lived in the open air,
in the most friendly climate in the world. The sculptures in the early
tombs represent their life—an existence full of gaiety, grace, humor.
This natural character is not expressed in the sombre temples, nor in
their symbolic carvings, nor in these serious, rigid statues, whose calm
faces look straight on as if into eternity. This art may express the
religion of the priestly caste; when it had attained the power to
portray the rigid expectation of immortality, the inscrutable repose of
the Sphinx, it was arrested there, and never allowed in any respect to
change its formality. And I cannot but believe that if it had been
free, Egyptian art would have budded and bloomed into a grace of form in
harmony with the character of the climate and the people.

It is true that the architecture of Egypt was freer than its sculptures,
but the whole of it together is not worth one edifice like the Greek
temple at Pæstum. And to end, by what may seem a sweeping statement, I
have had more pleasure from a bit of Greek work—an intaglio, or a coin
of the best period, or the sculptures on a broken entablature—than from
anything that Egypt ever produced in art.



0461



CHAPTER XXXV.—ON THE WAY HOME.

FOR two days after the sand-storm, it gives us pleasure to write,
the weather was cold, raw, thoroughly unpleasant, resembling dear New
England quite enough to make one homesick. As late as the twenty-eighth
of March, this was. The fact may be a comfort to those who dwell in a
region where winter takes a fresh hold in March.

We broke up our establishment on the dahabeëh and moved to the hotel,
abandoning I know not how many curiosities, antiquities and specimens,
the possession of which had once seemed to us of the last importance. I
shall spare you the scene at parting with our crew. It would have
been very touching, but for the backsheesh. Some of them were faithful
fellows to whom we were attached; some of them were graceless scamps.
But they all received backsheesh. That is always the way. It was clearly
understood that we should reward only the deserving, and we had again
and again resolved not to give a piastre to certain ones of the crew.
But, at the end, the obdurate howadji always softens; and the Egyptians
know that he will. Egypt is full of good-for-nothings who have not only
received presents but certificates of character from travelers whom
they have disobliged for three months. There was, however, some
discrimination in this case; backsheesh was distributed with some regard
to good conduct; at the formal judgment on deck, Abd-el-Atti acted the
part of Thoth in weighing out the portions, and my friend took the rôle
of Osiris, receiving, vicariously for all of us, the kisses on his hand
of the grateful crew. I shall not be misunderstood in saying that
the faithful Soudan boy, Gohah, would have felt just as much grief in
bidding us good-bye if he had not received a penny (the rest of the
crew would have been inconsolable in like case); his service was always
marked by an affectionate devotion without any thought of reward. He
must have had a magnanimous soul to forgive us for the doses we gave him
when he was ill during the voyage.

We are waiting in Cairo professedly for the weather to become settled
and pleasant in Syria—which does not happen, one year with another, till
after the first of April; but we are contented, for the novelties of
the town are inexhaustible, and we are never weary of its animation and
picturesque movement. I suppose I should be held in low estimation if
I said nothing concerning the baths of Cairo. It is expected of every
traveler that he will describe them, or one at least—one is usually
sufficient. Indeed when I have read these descriptions, I have wondered
how the writers lived to tell their story. When a person has been for
hours roasted and stifled, and had all his bones broken, you could
not reasonably expect him to write so powerfully of the bath as many
travelers write who are so treated. I think these bath descriptions are
among the marvels of Oriental literature; Mr. Longfellow says of the
Roman Catholic system, that it is a religion of the deepest dungeons and
the highest towers; the Oriental bath (in literature) is like this; the
unwashed infidel is first plunged in a gulf of dark despair, and then he
is elevated to a physical bliss that is ecstatic. The story is too long
at each end.

I had experience of several different baths in Cairo, and I invariably
found them less vigorous, that is milder in treatment, than the Turkish
baths of New York or of Germany. With the Orientals the bath is a
luxury, a thing to be enjoyed, and not an affair of extreme shocks and
brutal surprises. In the bath itself there is never the excessive heat
that I have experienced in such baths in New York, nor the sudden change
of temperature in water, nor the vigorous manipulation. The Cairo bath,
in my experience, is gentle, moderate, enjoyable. The heat of the rooms
is never excessive, the air is very moist, and water flows abundantly
over the marble floors; the attendants are apt to be too lazy to
maltreat the bather, and perhaps err in gentleness. You are never
roasted in a dry air and then plunged suddenly into cold water. I do not
wonder that the Orientals are fond of their bath. The baths abound,
for men and for women, and the natives pay a very small sum for the
privilege of using them. Women make up parties, and spend a good part
of the day in a bath; having an entertainment there sometimes, and a
frolic. It is said that mothers sometimes choose wives for their sons
from girls they see at the baths. Some of them are used by men in the
forenoon and by women in the afternoon, and I have seen a great crowd
of veiled women waiting at the door at noon. There must be over
seventy-five of these public baths in Cairo.

As the harem had not yet gone over to the Gezeereh palace, we took the
opportunity to visit it. This palace was built by the Khedive, on what
was the island of Gezeereh, when a branch of the Nile was suffered
to run to the west of its present area. The ground is now the seat
of gardens, and of the most interesting botanical and horticultural
experiments on the part of the Khedive, under charge of competent
scientific men. A botanist or an arboriculturist would find material
in the nurseries for long study. I was chiefly interested (since I half
believe in the malevolence of some plants) in a sort of murderous East
Indian cane, which grows about fifteen to twenty feet high, and so
rapidly that (we were told) it attains its growth in a day or two. At
any rate, it thrusts up its stalks so vigorously and rapidly that Indian
tyrants have employed it to execute criminals. The victim is bound to
the ground over a bed of this cane at night, and in the morning it has
grown up through his body. We need such a vengeful vegetable as this in
our country, to plant round the edges of our city gardens.

The grounds about the palace are prettily, but formally laid out in
flower-gardens, with fountains and a kiosk in the style of the Alhambra.
Near by is a hot-house, with one of the best collections of orchids
in the world; and not far off is the zoological garden, containing a
menagerie of African birds and beasts, very well arranged and said to be
nearly complete.

The palace is a square building of iron and stucco, the light pillars
and piazzas painted in Saracenic designs and Persian colors, but the
whole rather dingy, and beginning to be shabby. Inside it is at once a
showy and a comfortable palace, and much better than we expected to see
in Egypt; the carpenter and mason work are, however, badly done, as if
the Khedive had been swindled by sharp Europeans; it is full of rich and
costly furniture. The rooms are large and effective, and we saw a good
deal of splendor in hangings and curtains, especially in the apartments
fitted up for the occupation of the Empress Eugénie. It is wonderful, by
the way, with what interest people look at a bed in which an Empress
has slept; and we may add awe, for it is usually a broad, high and
awful place of repose. Scattered about the rooms are, in defiance of
the Prophet’s religion, several paintings, all inferior, and a few busts
(some of the Khedive) and other pieces of statuary. The place of honor
is given to an American subject, although the group was executed by an
Italian artist. It stands upon the first landing of the great staircase.
An impish-looking young Jupiter is seated on top of a chimney, below
which is the suggestion of a house-roof. Above his head is the point of
a lightning-rod. The celestial electrician is discharging a bolt into
the rod, which is supposed to pass harmless over the roof below.
Upon the pedestal is a medallion, the head of Benjamin Franklin, and
encircling it, the legend:—Eripuit coelo fulmen. 1790. The group looks
better than you would imagine from the description.

Beyond the garden is the harem-building, which was undergoing a thorough
renovation and refurnishing, in the most gaudy French style—such being
the wish of the ladies who occupy it. They are eager to discard the
beautiful Moorish designs which once covered the walls and to substitute
French decoration. The dormitory portions consist of passages with rooms
on each side, very much like a young ladies’ boarding-school; the rooms
are large enough to accommodate three or four occupants. While we were
leisurely strolling through the house, we noticed a great flurry and
scurry in the building, and the attendants came to us in a panic,
and made desperate efforts to hurry us out of the building by a
side-entrance, giving signs of woe and destruction to themselves if we
did not flee. The Khedive had arrived, on horseback, and unexpectedly,
to inspect his domestic hearths.

We rode, one sparkling morning, after a night of heavy rain, to
Heliopolis; there was no mud, however, the rain having served to beat
the sand firm. Heliopolis is the On of the Bible, and in the time of
Herodotus, its inhabitants were esteemed the most learned in history of
all the Egyptians. The father-in-law of Joseph was a priest there, and
there Moses and Plato both learned wisdom. The road is excellent and
planted most of the distance with acacia trees; there are extensive
gardens on either hand, plantations of trees, broad fields under
cultivation, and all the way the air was full of the odor of flowers,
blossoms of lemon and orange. In luxuriance and riant vegetation, it
seemed an Oriental paradise. And the whole of this beautiful land of
verdure, covered now with plantations so valuable, was a sand-desert as
late as 1869. The water of the Nile alone has changed the desert into a
garden.

On the way we passed the race-course belonging to the Khedive, an
observatory, and the old palace of Abbas Pasha, now in process of
demolition, the foundations being bad, like his own. It is said that
the favorite wife of this hated tyrant, who was a Bedawee girl of rank,
always preferred to live on the desert, and in a tent rather than a
palace. Here at any rate, on the sand, lived Abbas Pasha, in hourly fear
of assassination by his enemies. It was not difficult to conjure up the
cowering figure, hiding in the recesses of this lonely palace, listening
for the sound of horses’ hoofs coming on the city road, and ready to
mount a swift dromedary, which was kept saddled night and day in the
stable, and flee into the desert lor Bedaween protection.

At Mataréëh, we turned into a garden to visit the famous Sycamore tree,
under which the Virgin sat to rest, in the time of the flight of the
Holy Family. It is a large, scrubby-looking tree, probably two hundred
years old. I wonder that it does not give up the ghost, for every inch
of its bark, even to the small limbs, is cut with names. The Copt, who
owns it, to prevent its destruction, has put a fence about it; and that
also is covered all over. I looked in vain for the name of “Joseph”; but
could find it neither on the fence nor on the tree.

At Heliopolis one can work up any number of reflections; but all he can
see is the obelisk, which is sunken somewhat in the ground. It is more
correct, however, to say that the ground about it, and the whole site
of the former town and Temple of the Sun, have risen many feet since the
beginning of the Christian Era. This is the oldest obelisk in Egypt, and
bears the cartouche of Amenemhe I., the successor of Osirtasen I.—about
three thousand b. c., according to Mariette; Wilkinson and Mariette are
only one thousand years apart, on this date of this monument. The wasps
or bees have filled up the lettering on one side, and given it the
appearance of being plastered with mud. There was no place for us to sit
down and meditate, and having stood, surrounded by a swarm of the latest
children of the sun, and looked at the remains as long as etiquette
required, without a single historical tremor, we mounted and rode
joyfully city-ward between the lemon hedges.

In this Spring-time, late in the afternoon, the fashionable drive out
the Shoobra road, under the arches of sycamore trees, is more thronged
than in winter even. Handsome carriages appear and now and then a pair
of blooded Arab horses. There are two lines of vehicles extending for a
mile or so, the one going out and the other returning, and the round
of the promenade continues long enough for everybody to see everybody.
Conspicuous always are the neat two-horse cabriolets, lined with gay
silks and belonging to the royal harem; outriders are in advance, and
eunuchs behind, and within each are two fair and painted Circassians,
shining in their thin white veils, looking from the windows, eager to
see the world, and not averse to be seen by it. The veil has become with
them, as it is in Constantinople, a mere pretext and a heightener of
beauty. We saw by chance one day some of these birds of paradise abroad
in the Shoobra Garden—and live to speak of it.

The Shoobra palace and its harem, hidden by a high wall, were built
by Mohammed Ali; he also laid out the celebrated garden; and the
establishment was in his day no doubt the handsomest in the East. The
garden is still rich in rare trees, fruit-trees native and exotic,
shrubs, and flowers, but fallen into a too-common Oriental decay.
Instead of keeping up this fine place the Khedive builds a new one.
These Oriental despots erect costly and showy palaces, in a manner that
invites decay, and their successors build new ones, as people get new
suits of clothes instead of wearing the garments of their fathers.

In the midst of the garden is a singular summer-palace, built upon
terraces and hidden by trees; but the great attraction is the immense
Kiosk, the most characteristic Oriental building I have seen, and a very
good specimen of the costly and yet cheap magnificence of the Orient.
It is a large square pavilion, the center of which is a little lake, but
large enough for boats, and it has an orchestral platform in the
middle; the verandah about this is supported on marble pillars and has a
highly-decorated ceiling; carvings in marble abound; and in the corners
are apartments decorated in the height of barbaric splendor.

The pipes are still in place which conveyed gas to every corner
and outline of this bizarre edifice. I should like to have seen it
illuminated on a summer night when the air was heavy with the garden
perfumes. I should like to have seen it then thronged with the dark-eyed
girls of the North, in their fleecy splendors of drapery, sailing like
water-nymphs in these fairy boats, flashing their diamonds in the mirror
of this pool, dancing down the marble floor to the music of soft
drums and flutes that beat from the orchestral platform hidden by the
water-lilies. Such a vision is not permitted to an infidel. But on such
a night old Mohammed Ali might have been excused if he thought he was
already in El Genneh, in the company of the girls of Paradise, “whose
eyes will be very large and entirely black, and whose stature will be
proportioned to that of the men, which will be the height of a tall
palm-tree,” or about sixty feet and that he was entertained in “a tent
erected for him of pearls, jacinths, and emeralds, of a very large
extent.”

While we were lounging in this place of melancholy gaiety, which in the
sunlight bears something the aspect of a tawdry watering-place when the
season is over, several harem carriages drove to the entrance: but the
eunuchs seeing that unbelievers were in the kiosk would not permit
the ladies to descend, and the cortege went on and disappeared in the
shrubbery. The attendants invited us to leave. While we were still
near the kiosk the carriages came round again, and the ladies began to
alight. The attendants in the garden were now quite beside themselves,
and endeavored to keep our eyes from beholding, and to hustle us down a
side-path.

It was in vain that we said to them that we were not afraid, that we
were accustomed to see ladies walk in gardens, and that it couldn’t
possibly harm us. They persisted in misunderstanding us, and piteously
begged us to turn away and flee. The ladies were already out of the
carriages, veils withdrawn, and beginning to enjoy rural life in the
garden. They seemed to have no more fear than we. The horses of the
out-riders were led down our path; superb animals, and we stopped to
admire them. The harem ladies, rather over-dressed for a promenade, were
in full attire of soft silks, blue and pink, in delicate shades, and
really made a pretty appearance amid the green. It seemed impossible
that it could be wrong to look at them. The attendants couldn’t deny
that the horses were beautiful, but they regarded our admiration of them
as inopportune. They seemed to fear we might look under, or over, or
around the horses, towards that forbidden sight by the kiosk. It was
useless for us to enquire the age and the breed of the horses. Our
efforts to gain information only added to the agony of the gardeners.
They wrung their hands, they tried to face us about, they ran hither and
thither, and it was not till we were out of sight of the odalisques that
they recovered any calmness and began to cull flowers for us, and to
produce some Yusef Effendis, as a sign of amity and willingness to
accept a few piastres.

The last day of March has come. It is time to depart. Even the harem
will soon be going out of town. We have remained in the city long enough
to imbibe its atmosphere; not long enough to wear out its strangeness,
nor to become familiar with all objects of interest. And we pack our
trunks with reluctance, in the belief that we are leaving the most
thoroughly Oriental and interesting city in all the East.



0469



0470



CHAPTER XXXVI.—BY THE RED SEA.

A GENTLEMAN started from Cairo a few days before us, with the avowed
purpose of following in the track of the Children of Israel and viewing
the exact point where they crossed the Red Sea. I have no doubt that
he was successful. So many routes have been laid out for the Children
across the Isthmus, that one can scarcely fail to fall into one of them.
Our purpose was merely to see Suez and the famous Sea, and the great
canal of M. Lesseps; not doubting, however, that when we looked over the
ground we should decide where the Exodus must have taken place.

The old direct railway to Suez is abandoned; the present route is by
Zagazeeg and Ismailia—a tedious journey, requiring a day. The ride
is wearisome, for the country is flat and presents nothing new to one
familiar with Egyptian landscapes. The first part of the journey is,
however, enlivened by the company of the canal of Fresh Water, and
by the bright verdure of the plain which the canal produces. And this
luxuriant vegetation continues until you come to the still unreclaimed
desert of the Land of Goshen. Now that water can be supplied it only
needs people to make this Land as fat as it was in the days of the
Israelites.

Some twenty miles from Cairo we pass near the so-called Mound of the
Jew, believed to be the ruins of the city of Orion and the temple
built by the high priest Onias in the reign of Ptolemy Philometer and
Cleopatra, as described by Josephus. The temple was after the style of
that at Jerusalem. This Jewish settlement was made upon old Egyptian
ruins; in 1870 the remains of a splendid temple of the time of Rameses
II. were laid open. The special interest to Biblical scholars of this
Jewish colony here, which multiplied itself and spread over considerable
territory, is that its establishment fulfilled a prophesy of Isaiah
(xix, 19, etc.); and Onias urged this prophesy, in his letter to the
Ptolemy, asking permission to purge the remains of the heathen temple
in the name of Heliopolis and to erect there a temple to Almighty God.
Ptolemy and Cleopatra replied that they wondered Onias should desire to
build a temple in a place so unclean and so full of sacred animals, but
since Isaiah foretold it, he had leave to do so. We saw nothing of this
ancient and once flourishing seat of Jewish enterprise, save some sharp
mounds in the distance.

Nor did we see more of the more famous city of Bubastis, where was the
temple to Pasht, the cat or lioness-headed deity (whom Herodotus called
Diana), the avenger of crimes. According to Herodotus, all the cats of
Egypt were embalmed and buried in Bubastis. This city was the residence
of the Pharaoh Sheshonk I. (the Shishak of the Bible) who sacked
Jerusalem, and it was at that time the capital of Egypt. It was from
here, on the Bubastic (or Pelusiac) branch of the Nile, that the ancient
canal was dug to connect with the Heroôpolite Gulf (now the Bitter
Lakes), the northernmost arm of the Red Sea at that date; and the city
was then, by that fresh-water canal, on the water-way between the Red
Sea and the Mediterranean. But before the Christian era the Red Sea had
retired to about its present limit (the Bitter Lakes being cut off from
it), and the Bubastic branch of the Nile was nearly dried up. Bubastis
and all this region are now fed by the canal which leaves the Nile
at Cairo and runs to Ismailia, and thence to Suez. It is a startling
thought that all this portion of the Delta, east, and south, and the
Isthmus depend for life upon the keeper of the gate of the canal at
Cairo. If we were to leave the train here and stumble about in the
mounds of Bubastis, we should find only fragments of walls, blocks of
granite, and a few sculptures.

At the Zagazeeg station, where there is a junction with the Alexandria
and Cairo main line, we wait some time, and find very pleasant the
garden and the picturesque refreshment-house in which our minds are
suddenly diverted from ancient Egypt by a large display of East Indian
and Japanese curiosities on sale.

From this we follow, substantially, the route of the canal, running by
villages and fertile districts, and again on the desert’s edge. We
come upon no traces of the Israelites until we reach Masamah, which is
supposed to be the site of Rameses, one of the treasure-cities mentioned
in the Bible, and the probable starting-point of the Jews in their
flight. This is about the center of the Land of Goshen, and Rameses may
have been the chief city of the district.

If I knew exactly the route the Israelites took, I should not dare to
disclose it; for this has become, I do not know why, a tender subject.
But it seems to me that if the Jews were assembled here from the Delta
for a start, a very natural way of exit would have been down the Wadee
to the head of the Heroopolite Gulf, the route of the present and the
ancient canal. And if it should be ascertained beyond a doubt that Sethi
I. built as well as planned such a canal, the argument of probability
would be greatly strengthened that Moses led his vast host along the
canal. Any dragoman to-day, desiring to cross the Isthmus and be beyond
pursuit as soon as possible, supposing the condition of the country now
as it was at the time of the Exodus, would strike for the shortest line.
And it is reasonable to suppose that Moses would lead his charge to
a point where the crossing of the sea, or one of its arms, was more
feasible than it is anywhere below Suez; unless we are to start with the
supposition that Moses expected a miracle, and led the Jews to a spot
where, apparently, escape for them was hopeless if the Egyptian pursued.
It is believed that at the time of the Exodus there was a communication
between the Red Sea and the Bitter Lakes—formerly called Heroopolite
Gulf—which it was the effort of many rulers to keep open by a canal.
Very anciently, it is evident, the Red Sea extended to and included
these lakes; and it is not improbable that, in the time of Moses, the
water was, by certain winds, forced up to the north into these lakes:
and again, that, crossings could easily be made, the wind being
favorable, at several points between what is now Suez and the head of
the Bitter Lakes. Many scholars make Cha-loof, about twelve miles above
Suez the point of passage.

We only touch the outskirts of Ismailia in going on to Suez. Below, we
pass the extensive plantation and garden of the Khedive, in which he
has over fifty thousand young trees in a nursery. This spot would be
absolute desert but for the Nile-water let in upon it. All day our
astonishment has increased at the irrigation projects of the Viceroy,
and his herculean efforts to reclaim a vast land of desert; the
enlarging of the Sweet-Water Canal, and the gigantic experiments in
arboriculture and agriculture.

We noticed that the Egyptian laborers at work with the wheelbarrows
(instead of the baskets formerly used by them) on the enlargement of
the canal, were under French contractors, for the most part. The men
are paid from a franc to a franc and a quarter per day; but they told
us that it was very difficult to get laborers, so many men being drafted
for the army.

At dark we come in sight of the Bitter Lakes, through which the canal is
dredged; we can see vessels of various sorts and steamers moving across
them in one line; and we see nothing more until we reach Suez. The train
stops “at nowhere,” in the sand, outside the town. It is the only train
of the day, but there are neither carriages nor donkeys in waiting.
There is an air about the station of not caring whether anyone comes or
not. We walk a mile to the hotel, which stands close to the sea,
with nothing but a person’s good sense to prevent his walking off the
platform into the water. In the night the water looked like the sand,
and it was only by accident that we did not step off into it; however,
it turned out to be only a couple of feet deep.

The hotel, which I suppose is rather Indian than Egyptian, is built
round a pleasant court; corridors and latticed doors are suggestive
of hot nights; the servants and waiters are all Hindoos; we have come
suddenly in contact with another type of Oriental life.

Coming down from Ismailia, a friend who was with us had no ticket.
It was a case beyond the conductor’s experience; he utterly refused
backsheesh and he insisted on having a ticket. At last he accepted ten
francs and went away. Looking in the official guide we found that the
fare was nine francs and a quarter. The conductor, thinking he had
opened a guileless source of supply, soon returned and demanded two
francs more. My friend countermined him by asking the return of the
seventy-five centimes overpaid. An amusing pantomime ensued. At length
the conductor lowered his demand to one franc, and, not getting that,
he begged for backsheesh. I was sorry to have my high ideal of a
railway-conductor, formed in America, lowered in this manner.

We are impatient above all things for a sight of the Red Sea. But in the
brilliant starlight, all that appears is smooth water and a soft picture
of vessels at anchor or aground looming up in the night. Suez, seen by
early daylight, is a scattered city of some ten thousand inhabitants,
too modern and too cheap in its buildings to be interesting. There is
only a little section of it, where we find native bazaars, twisting
streets, overhanging balconies, and latticed windows. It lies on a sand
peninsula, and the sand-drifts close all about it, ready to lick it up,
if the canal of fresh water should fail.

The only elevation near is a large mound, which may be the site of the
fort of ancient Clysma, or Gholzim as it was afterwards called—the city
believed to be the predecessor of Suez. Upon this mound an American has
built, and presented to the Khedive, a sort of châlet of wood—the whole
transported from America ready-made, one of those white, painfully
unpicturesque things with two little gables at the end, for which our
country is justly distinguished. Cheap. But then it is of wood, and wood
is one of the dearest things in Egypt. I only hope the fashion of it may
not spread in this land of grace.

It was a delightful morning, the wind west and fresh. From this hillock
we commanded one of the most interesting prospects in the world. We
looked over the whole desert-flat on which lies the little town, and
which is pierced by an arm of the Gulf that narrows into the Suez canal;
we looked upon two miles of curved causeway which runs down to the
docks and the anchoring place of the steam-vessels—there cluster the
dry-docks, the dredges, the canal-offices, and just beyond the shipping
lay; in the distance we saw the Red Sea, like a long lake, deep-green or
deep-blue, according to the light, and very sparkling; to the right was
the reddish limestone range called Gebel Attâka—a continuation of the
Mokattam; on the left there was a great sweep of desert, and far off—one
hundred and twenty miles as the crow flies—the broken Sinai range of
mountains, in which we tried to believe we could distinguish the sacred
peak itself.

I asked an intelligent railway official, a Moslem, who acted as guide
that morning, “What is the local opinion as to the place where the
Children of Israel crossed over?”

“The French,” he replied, “are trying to make it out that it was at
Chaloof, about twenty miles above here, where there is little water.
But we think it was at a point twenty miles below here; we must put it
there, or there wouldn’t be any miracle. You see that point, away to the
right? That’s the spot. There is a wady comes down the side.”

“But where do the Christians think the crossing was?”

“Oh, here at Suez; there, about at this end of Gebel Attâka.” The
Moslems’ faith in the miraculous deliverance is disturbed by no
speculations. Instead of trying to explain the miracle by the use of
natural causes, and seeking for a crossing where the water might at one
time have been heaped and at another forced away by the winds, their
only care is to fix the passage where the miracle would be most
striking.

After breakfast and preparations to visit Moses’ Well, we rode down the
causeway to the made land where the docks are. The earth dumped here by
the dredging-machines (and which now forms solid building ground), is
full of a great variety of small sea-shells; the walls that enclose it
are of rocks conglomerate of shells. The ground all about gives evidence
of salt we found shallow pools evaporated so that a thick crust of
excellent salt had formed on the bottom and at the sides. The water in
them was of a decidedly rosy color, caused by some infusorial growth.
The name, Red Sea, however, has nothing to do with this appearance, I
believe.

We looked at the pretty houses and gardens, the dry-dock and the shops,
and the world-famous dredges, without which the Suez Canal would very
likely never have been finished. These enormous machines have arms or
ducts, an iron spout of semi-elliptical form, two hundred and thirty
feet long, by means of which the dredger working in the center of the
channel could discharge its contents over the bank. One of them removed,
on an average, eighty thousand cubit yards of soil a month. A faint idea
may be had of this gigantic work by the amount of excavation here, done
by the dredgers, in one month,—two million seven hundred and sixty-three
thousand cubic yards. M. de Lesseps says that if this soil were “laid
out between the Arc de Triomphe and the Place de la Concorde, it would
cover the entire length and breadth of the Champs Elysées, a distance
equal to a mile and a quarter, and reach to the top of the trees on
either side.”

At the pier our felucca met us and we embarked and sailed into the mouth
of the canal. The channel leading to it is not wide, and is buoyed at
short intervals. The mouth of the canal is about nine hundred feet wide
and twenty-seven deep, * and it is guarded on the east by a long stone
mole projected from the Asiatic shore. There is considerable ebb and
flow of the tide in this part of the canal and as far as the Bitter
Lakes, where it is nearly all lost in the expanse, being only slightly
felt at Lake Timsah, from which point there is a slight uniform current
to the Mediterranean.

* Total length of Canal, 100 miles. Width of water-line, where banks are
low, 328 feet; in deep cuttings, 190; width at base, 2; depth, 26.

From the canal entrance we saw great ships and steamboats in the
distance, across the desert, and apparently sailing in the desert; but
we did not follow them; we turned, and crossed to the Asiatic shore.
We had brought donkeys with us, and were soon mounted for a scrambling
gallop of an hour and a half, down the coast, over level and hard sand,
to Moses’ Well. The air was delicious and the ride exhilarating. I tried
to get from our pleasant Arab guide, who had a habit of closing one eye,
what he thought of the place of the passage.

“Where did the Children of Israel cross?”

“Over dat mountain.”

“Yes, but where did they cross the Sea?”

“You know Moses?”

“Yes, I know Moses. Where did he cross?”

“Well,” closing his eye very tight, “him long time ago, not now. He
cross way down there, can’t see him from here.”

On the way we passed the white tents of the Quarantine Station, on
our right by the shore, where the caravan of Mecca pilgrims had been
detained. We hoped to see it: but it had just set out on its desert
march further inland. It was seen from Suez all day, straggling along
in detachments, and at night camped about two miles north of the town.
However, we found a dozen or two of the pilgrims, dirty, ragged, burned
by the sun, and hungry, lying outside the enclosure at the wells.

The Wells of Moses (or Ain Moosa, “Moses’ Well,” in the Arabic) are
distant a mile or more from the low shore, and our first warning of
nearness to them was the appearance of some palms in a sandy depression.
The attempt at vegetation is rather sickly, and the spot is but a
desolate one. It is the beginning of the route to Mount Sinai, however,
and is no doubt a very welcome sight to returning pilgrims. Contrast is
everything; it is contrast with its surroundings that has given Damascus
its renown.

There are half a dozen of these wells, three of which are some fifteen
to twenty feet across, and are in size and appearance very respectable
frog-ponds. One of them is walled with masonry, evidently ancient, and
two shadoofs draw water from it for the garden, an enclosure of an acre,
fenced with palm-matting. It contains some palms and shrubs and a few
vegetables. Here also is a half-deserted house, that may once have been
a hotel and is now a miserable trattoria without beds. It is in charge
of an Arab who lives in a hut at the other side of the garden, with
his wife and a person who bore the unmistakable signs of being a
mother-in-law. The Arab made coffee for us, and furnished us a table,
on which we spread our luncheon under the verandah. He also gave us
Nile-water which had been brought from Suez in a cask on camel-back;
and his whole charge was only one bob (a shilling) each. I mention the
charge, because it is disenchanting in a spot of so much romance to pay
for your entertainment in “bobs.”

We had come, upon what I may truly call a sentimental pilgrimage, on
account of Moses and the Children of Israel. If they crossed over from
Mount Attâka yonder, then this might be the very spot where Miriam sang
the song of triumph. If they crossed at Chaloof, twenty miles above, as
it is more probable they did, then this might be the Marah whose bitter
waters Moses sweetened for the time being; the Arabs have a tradition
that Moses brought up water here by striking the ground with his stick.
At all events, the name of Moses is forever attached to this oasis, and
it did not seem exactly right that the best well should be owned by an
Arab who makes it the means of accumulating bobs. One room of the house
was occupied by three Jews, traders, who establish themselves here
a part of the year in order to buy, from the Bedaween, turquoise and
antiquities which are found at Mount Sinai. I saw them sorting over a
peck of rough and inferior turquoise, which would speedily be forwarded
to Constantinople, Paris, and London. One of them sold me a small
intaglio, which was no doubt of old Greek workmanship, and which he
swore was picked up at Mount Sinai. There is nothing I long more to
know, sometimes, than the history of wandering coins and intaglios which
we see in the Orient.

It is not easy to reckon the value of a tradition, nor of a traditional
spot like this in which all the world feels a certain proprietorship. It
seemed to us, however, that it would be worth while to own this famous
Asiatic well; and we asked the owner what he would take for it. He
offered to sell the ranche for one hundred and fifty guineas; this,
however, would not include the camel,—for that he wanted ten pounds
in addition; but it did include a young gazelle, two goats, a
brownish-yellow dog, and a cat the color of the sand. And it also
comprised, in the plantation, a few palms, some junipers, of the
Biblical sort, the acacia or “shittah” tree of the Bible, and, best of
all, the large shrub called the tamarisk, which exudes during two
months in the year a sweet gummy substance that was the “manna” of the
Israelites.

Mother-in-law wore a veil, a string of silver-gilt imitation coins,
several large silver bracelets, and a necklace upon which was sewed a
string of small Arabic gold coins. As this person more than anyone else
there represented Miriam,—not being too young,—we persuaded her to sell
us some of the coins as mementoes of our visit. We could not determine,
as I said, whether this spot is associated with Miriam or whether it is
the Marah of bitter waters; consequently it was difficult to say what
our emotions should be. However, we decided to let them be expressed
by the inscription that a Frenchman had written on a wall of the house,
which reads:—Le cour me palpitait comme un amant qui revoit sa bien
aimée.

There are three other wells enclosed, but unwalled, the largest of
which—and it has near it a sort of loggia or open shed where some dirty
pilgrims were reposing—is an unsightly pond full of a green growth of
algæ. In this enclosure, which contains two or three acres, are three
smaller wells, or natural springs, as they all are, and a considerable
thicket of palms and tamarisks. The larger well is the stronger in taste
and most bitter, containing more magnesia. The water in all is flat
and unpleasant, and not enlivened by carbonic acid gas, although we saw
bubbles coming to the surface constantly. If the spring we first visited
could be aerated, it would not be worse to drink than many waters that
are sought after. The donkeys liked it; but a donkey likes any thing.
About these feeble plantations the sand drifts from all directions, and
it would soon cover them but for the protecting fence. The way towards
Sinai winds through shifting sand-mounds, and is not inviting.

The desert over which we return is dotted frequently with tufts of a
flat-leafed, pale-green plant, which seem to thrive without moisture;
and in the distance this vegetation presents an appearance of large
shrub growth, greatly relieving the barrenness of the sand-plain. We had
some fine effects of mirage, blue lakes and hazy banks, as of streams
afar off. When we reached an elevation that commanded a view of the
indistinct Sinai range, we asked the guide to point out to us the “rosy
peaks of Mount Sinai” which Murray sees from Suez when he is there. The
guide refused to believe that you can see a rosy peak one hundred
and twenty miles through the air, and confirmed the assertion of the
inhabitants of Suez that Mount Sinai cannot be seen from there.

On our return we overtook a caravan of Bedaween returning from the holy
mount, armed with long rifles, spears, and huge swords, swinging along
on their dromedaries,—a Colt’s revolver would put the whole lot of
braggarts to flight. One of them was a splendid specimen of manhood, and
we had a chance to study his graceful carriage, as he ran besides us all
the way; he had the traditional free air, a fine face and well-developed
limbs, and his picturesque dress of light-blue and buff, somewhat in
rags, added to his attractions. It is some solace to the traveler to
call these fellows beggars, since he is all the time conscious that
their natural grand manner contrasts so strongly with the uncouthness of
his more recent and western civilization.

Coming back into Suez, from this journey to another continent, we
were stopped by two customs-officers, who insisted upon searching our
lunch-basket, to see if we were attempting to smuggle anything from
Asia. We told the guide to give the representative of his Highness, with
our compliments, a hard-boiled egg.

Suez itself has not many attractions. But we are much impressed at the
hotel by the grave Hindoo waiters, who serve at table in a close-fitting
habit, like the present extremely narrow gown worn by ladies, and
ludicrous to our eyes accustomed to the flowing robes of the Arabs.
They wear also, while waiting, broad-brimmed, white, cork hats, slightly
turned up at the rim. It is like being waited on by serious genii. These
men also act as chambermaids. Their costume is Bengalee, and would not
be at all “style” in Bombay.

Suez is reputed a healthful place, enjoying both sea and desert air,
free from malaria, and even in summer the heat is tempered. This is what
the natives say. The English landlady admits that it is very pleasant in
winter, but the summer is intensely hot, especially when the Khamseen,
or south wind, blows—always three days at a time—it is hardly endurable;
the thermometer stands at 110° to 1140 in the shaded halls of the hotel
round the court. It is unsafe for foreigners to stay here more than two
years at a time; they are certain to have a fever or some disease of the
liver.

The town is very much depressed now, and has been ever since the opening
of the canal. The great railway business fell off at once, all freight
going by water. Hundreds of merchants, shippers and forwarders are
out of employment. We hear the Khedive much blamed for his part in the
canal, and people here believe that he regrets it. Egypt, they say,
is ruined by this loss of trade; Suez is killed; Alexandria is ruined
beyond reparation, business there is entirely stagnant. What a builder
and a destroyer of cities has been the fluctuation of the course of the
East India commerce!



0481] \ [illustration: 0482



CHAPTER XXXVII.—“EASTWARD HO!”

WE left Suez at eight in the morning by rail, and reached Ismailia in
four hours, the fare—to do justice to the conductor already named—being
fourteen francs. A part of the way the Bitter Lakes are visible, and
we can see where the canal channel is staked out through them. Next
we encountered the Fresh-Water Canal, and came in view of Lake Timsah,
through which the Suez canal also flows. This was no doubt once a
fresh-water lake, fed by water taken from the Nile at Bubastis.

Ismailia is a surprise, no matter how much you have heard of it. True,
it has something the appearance of a rectangular streeted town dropped,
ready-made, at a railway station on a western prairie; but Ismailia
was dropped by people of good taste. In 1860 there was nothing here but
desert sand, not a drop of water, not a spear of vegetation. To-day
you walk into a pretty village, of three or four thousand inhabitants,
smiling with verdure. Trees grow along the walks; little gardens bloom
by every cottage. Fronting the quay Mohammed Ali, which extends along
the broad Fresh-Water Canal, are the best residences, and many of them
have better gardens than you can find elsewhere, with few exceptions, in
Egypt.

The first house we were shown was that which had most interest for
us—the Swiss-like châlet of M. de Lesseps; a summerish, cheerful box,
furnished simply, but adorned with many Oriental curiosities. The garden
which surrounds it is rich in native and exotic plants, flowers and
fruits. On this quay are two or three barn-like, unfurnished palaces
built hastily and cheaply by the Khedive for the entertainment of
guests. The finest garden, however, and as interesting as any we saw
in the East, is that belonging to M. Pierre, who has charge of the
waterworks. In this garden can be found almost all varieties of European
and Egyptian flowers; strawberries were just ripening. We made inquiry
here, as we had done throughout Egypt, for the lotus, the favorite
flower of the old Egyptians, the sacred symbol, the mythic plant, the
feeding upon which lulls the conscience, destroys ambition, dulls the
memory of all unpleasant things, enervates the will, and soothes one in
a sensuous enjoyment of the day to which there is no tomorrow. It seems
to have disappeared from Egypt with the papyrus.

The lotus of the poets I fear never existed, not even in Egypt. The
lotus represented so frequently in the sculptures, is a water-plant,
the Nymphaea lutea, and is I suppose the plant that was once common. The
poor used its bulb for food in times of scarcity. The Indian lotus, or
Nelumbium, is not seen in the sculptures, though Latin writers say it
existed in Egypt. It may have been this that had the lethean properties;
although the modern eaters and smokers of Indian hemp appear to be the
legitimate descendants of the lotus-eaters of the poets. However, the
lotus whose stalks and buds gave character to a distinct architectural
style, we enquired for in vain on the Nile. If it still grows there it
would scarcely be visible above water in the winter. But M. Pierre has
what he supposes to be the ancient lotus-plant; and his wife gave
us seeds of it in the seed-vessel—a large flat-topped funnel-shaped
receptacle, exactly the shape of the sprinkler of a watering-pot.
Perhaps this is the plant that Herodotus calls a lily like a rose, the
fruit of which is contained in a separate pod, that springs up from the
root in form very like a wasp’s nest; in this are many berries fit to be
eaten.

The garden adjoins the water-works, in which two powerful
pumping-engines raise the sweet water into a stand-pipe, and send it
forward in iron pipes fifty miles along the Suez Canal to Port Said, at
which port there is a reservoir that will hold three days’ supply. This
stream of fresh water is the sole dependence of Port Said and all the
intervening country.

We rode out over the desert on an excellent road, lined with sickly
acacias growing in the watered ditches, to station No 6 on the canal.
The way lies along Lake Timsah. Upon a considerable elevation, called
the Heights of El Guisr, is built a château for the Khedive; and from
this you get an extensive view of the desert, of Lake Timsah and the
Bitter Lakes. Below us was the deep cutting of the Canal. El Guisr is
the highest point in the Isthmus, an elevated plateau six miles across
and some sixty-five feet above the level of the sea. The famous gardens
that flourished here during the progress of the excavation have entirely
disappeared with the cessation of the water from Ismailia. While we were
there an East India bound steamboat moved slowly up the canal, creating,
of course, waves along the banks, but washing them very little, for the
speed is limited to five miles an hour.

Although the back streets of Ismailia are crude and unpicturesque, the
whole effect of the town is pleasing; and it enjoys a climate that must
commend it to invalids. It is dry, free from dust, and even in summer
not too warm, for there is a breeze from the lakes by day, and the
nights are always cooled by the desert air. Sea-bathing can be enjoyed
there the year round. It ought to be a wholesome spot, for there is
nothing in sight around it but sand and salt-water. The invalid who
should go there would probably die shortly of ennui, but he would escape
the death expected from his disease. But Ismailia is well worth seeing.
The miracle wrought here by a slender stream of water from the distant
Nile, is worthy the consideration of those who have the solution of the
problem of making fertile our western sand-deserts.

We ate at Suez and Ismailia what we had not tasted for several
months—excellent fish. The fish of the Nile are nearly as good as a
New-England sucker, grown in a muddy mill-pond. I saw fishermen angling
in the salt canal at Ismailia, and the fish are good the whole length
of it; they are of excellent quality even in the Bitter Lakes, which are
much salter than the Mediterranean—in fact the bottom of these lakes is
encrusted with salt.

We took passage towards evening on the daily Egyptian pocket-boat for
Port Said—a puffing little cigar-box of a vessel, hardly fifty feet
long. The only accommodation for passengers was in the forward cabin,
which is about the size of an omnibus, and into it were crammed twenty
passengers, Greeks, Jews, Koorlanders, English clergymen, and American
travelers, and the surly Egyptian mail-agent, who occupied a great deal
of room, and insisted on having the windows closed. Some of us tried
perching on the scrap of a deck, hanging our legs over the side; but it
was bitterly cold and a strong wind drove us below. In the cabin the air
was utterly vile; and when we succeeded in opening the hatchway for a
moment, the draught chilled us to the bones.

I do not mean to complain of all this; but I want it to appear
that sailing on the Suez Canal, especially at night, is not a
pleasure-excursion. It might be more endurable by day; but I do not
know. In the hours we had of daylight, I became excessively weary of
looking at the steep sand-slopes between which we sailed, and of hoping
that every turn would bring us to a spot where we could see over the
bank.

At eight o’clock we stopped at Katanah for supper, and I climbed the
bank to see if I could obtain any information about the Children of
Israel. They are said to have crossed here. This is the highest point
of the low hills which separate Lake Menzaleh from the interior lakes.
Along this ridge is still the caravan-route between Egypt and Syria;
it has been, for ages unnumbered, the great highway of commerce and of
conquest. This way Thothmes III., the greatest of the Pharaohs and the
real Sesostris, led his legions into Asia; and this way Cambyses came to
repay the visit with interest.

It was so dark that I could see little, but I had a historic sense of
all this stir and movement, of the passage of armies laden with spoils,
and of caravans from Nineveh and Damascus. And, although it was my first
visit to the place, it seemed strange to see here a restaurant, and
waiters hurrying about, and travelers snatching a hasty meal in the
night on this wind-blown sand-hill. And to feel that the stream of
travel is no more along this divide but across it! By the half-light I
could distinguish some Bedaween loitering about; their little caravan
had camped here, for they find it very convenient to draw water from the
iron pipes.

It was quite dark when we presently sailed into Lake Menzaleh, and we
could see little. I only know that we held a straight course through it
for some thirty miles to Port Said. In the daytime you can see a dreary
expanse of morass and lake, a few little islands clad with tamarisks,
and flocks of aquatic birds floating in the water or drawn up on the
sand-spits in martial array—the white spoonbill, the scarlet flamingo,
the pink pelican. It was one o’clock in the morning when we saw the
Pharos of Port Said and sailed into the basin, amid many lights.

Port Said was made out of nothing, and it is pretty good. A town of
eight to ten thousand inhabitants, with docks, quays, squares, streets,
shops, mosques, hospitals, public buildings; in front of our hotel is a
garden and public square; all this fed by the iron pipe and the pump at
Ismailia—without this there is no fresh water nearer than Damietta. It
is a shabby city, and just now has the over-done appearance of one of
our own western town inflations. But its history is a record of one of
the most astonishing achievements of any age. Before there could be any
town here it was necessary to build a standpoint for it with a dredging
machine.

Along this coast from Damietta to the gulf of Pelusium, where once
emptied the Pelusiac branch of the Nile, is a narrow strip of sand,
separating the Mediterranean from Lake Menzaleh; a high sea often breaks
over it. It would have saved much in distance to have carried the canal
to the Pelusium gulf, but the Mediterranean is shallow there many miles
from shore. The spot on which Port Said now stands was selected for the
entrance of the canal, because it was here that the land can be best
approached—the Mediterranean having sufficient depth at only two miles
from the shore. Here therefore, the dredgers began to work. The lake
was dredged for interior basins; the strip of sand was cut through; the
outer harbor was dredged; and the dredgings made the land for the town.
Artificial stone was then manufactured on the spot, and of this the long
walls, running out into the sea and protecting the harbor, the quays,
and the lighthouses were built. We saw enormous blocks of this composite
of sand and hydraulic lime, which weigh twenty-five tons each.

It is impossible not to respect a city built by such heroic labor as
this; but we saw enough of it in half a day. The shops are many, and the
signs are in many languages, Greek being most frequent. I was pleased to
read an honest one in English—“Blood-Letting and Tooth-picking.” I have
no doubt they all would take your blood. In the streets are vagabonds,
adventurers, merchants, travelers, of all nations; and yet you would
not call the streets picturesque. Everything is strangely modernized and
made uninteresting. There is, besides, no sense of permanence here. The
traders appear to occupy their shops as if they were booths for the day.
It is a place of transit; a spot of sand amid the waters. I have never
been in any locality that seemed to me so nearly nowhere. A spot for
an African bird to light on a moment on his way to Asia. But the world
flows through here. Here lie the great vessels in the Eastern trade; all
the Mediterranean steamers call here.

The Erymanthe is taking in her last freight, and it is time for us to
go on board. Abd-el-Atti has arrived with the baggage from Cairo. He has
the air of one with an important errand. In the hotels, on the street,
in the steamer, his manner is that of one who precedes an imposing
embassy. He likes state. If he had been born under the Pharaohs he would
have been the bearer of the flabellum before the king; and he would have
carried it majestically, with perhaps a humorous twinkle in his eye for
some comrade by the way. Ahman Abdallah, the faithful, is with him.
He it was who made and brought us the early morning coffee
to-day,—recalling the peace of those days on the Nile which now are
in the dim past. It is ages ago since we were hunting in the ruins of
Abydus for the tomb of Osiris. It was in another life, that delicious
winter in Nubia, those weeks following weeks, free from care and from
all the restlessness of this driving age.

“I shouldn’t wonder if you were right, Abd-el-Atti, in not wanting to
start for Syria sooner. It was very cold on the boat last night.”

“Not go in Syria before April; always find him bad. ‘Member what I say
when it rain in Cairo?—’This go to be snow in Jerusalem.’ It been snow
there last week, awful storm, nobody go on the road, travelers all stop,
not get anywhere. So I hunderstand.”

“What is the prospect for landing at Jaffa tomorrow morning?”

“Do’ know, be sure. We hope for the better.”

We get away beyond the breakwater, as the sun goes down. The wind
freshens, and short waves hector the long sea swell, Egypt lies low; it
is only a line; it fades from view.





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