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Title: An Artist in Egypt
Author: Tyndale, Walter
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive/American Libraries.)



[Illustration: THE SPHINX BY MOONLIGHT]



[Illustration]

  AN ARTIST IN EGYPT

  BY
  WALTER TYNDALE R.I.

  HODDER & STOUGHTON
  NEW YORK & LONDON



PREFACE


I endeavoured, in a former book on Egypt, to give my first impressions
while the glamour of the East had not been dimmed by familiarity; and
the kind reception of that, my first literary attempt, has encouraged
me to write again after spending some years in the Nile Valley. Though
first impressions may have a charm which familiarity lacks, it would
be astonishing if a country so full of beauty, and of such varied
interests as is Egypt, had caused familiarity to breed contempt. I
may safely say that it has not had that result. A lengthened stay has
certainly added to my experiences as well as to my stock of drawings,
and I trust it has also given me some insight into the character of the
people amidst whom I dwelt.

Mediæval Cairo is doubtless year by year the poorer by many picturesque
‘bits’ which have vanished. But Cairo is a large city, and happily many
years may elapse before artists will cease to go there for material.
What is still untouched by the jerry builder, or has not been allowed
to fall into ruin, is probably more beautiful than anything other
oriental cities can show. Less change is seen in the smaller towns,
and the villages are much the same in aspect as when the Saracen
invaders first occupied the valley of the Nile.

Every season adds to the knowledge of Ancient Egypt, and gives us
something which for centuries lay hid beneath the desert sands. It was
my good fortune to spend some winters at Thebes while some of the most
interesting of recent discoveries were made, and through the courtesy
of Mr. Weigall, the Chief Inspector of Upper Egypt, I was enabled to
dwell and do my work in these congenial surroundings. I have also to
thank him for the unique opportunities which our desert journey, from
the Nile to the Red Sea, offered; of all my experiences in Egypt, none
has given me more pleasure in recalling.

  HASLEMERE, 1912.



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER I
                                                  PAGE

  CAIRO REVISITED                                    1


  CHAPTER II

  RENEWAL OF MY ACQUAINTANCE WITH MOHAMMED
    BROWN AND SOME REFLECTIONS
    ON MATRIMONY                                    11


  CHAPTER III

  THE MOSQUE OF MURISTÂN KALAÛN, MY EXPERIENCE
    WITH THE FAKÍR, AND A DIGRESSION
    ON THE SUBJECT OF DERVISHES                     22


  CHAPTER IV

  THE FESTIVAL OF THE ‘HASANEYN’ AND THE
    STORY OF THE PRINCESS ZOHRA                     31


  CHAPTER V

  OF THE OLD AND THE NEW CAIRO, AND OF A
    VISIT TO THE SHEYKH AMMIN SAHEIME               43

  CHAPTER VI

  MY SECOND VISIT TO THE SHEYKH AND MY
   EXPERIENCES WITH AN UNFAITHFUL SERVANT           57


  CHAPTER VII

  IN WHICH I GET ANOTHER SERVANT AND HUNT
    FOR A CROCODILE; ALSO A CONTINUATION
    OF THE STORY OF PRINCESS ZOHRA                  67


  CHAPTER VIII

  OF A CAIRO CAFÉ AND OTHER MATTERS                 78


  CHAPTER IX

  THE COPTIC CONVENTS OF WADI NATRUN                90


  CHAPTER X

  THE MOSQUE OF ES-SALIH TALAI                     104


  CHAPTER XI

  THE BLUE MOSQUE AND KASR-ESH-SHEMA               116


  CHAPTER XII

  THE SPHINX, AND A DISSERTATION ON TOMMY
    ATKINS                                         127

  CHAPTER XIII

  THE HAMSEEN, THE LAMP-SHOP, AND THE
    ACCESSION OF SAID PASHA                        136


  CHAPTER XIV

  MOHAMMEDAN FESTIVALS: THE HOLY CARPET--THE
    FAST OF RAMADAN AND THE ASHURA                 151


  CHAPTER XV

  MORE RELIGIOUS OBSERVANCES, SPRING’S AWAKENING,
    AND THE CAIRENE HOUSE OF COUNT ZOGHEB          170


  CHAPTER XVI

  DER EL-BAHRI, AND SOME INCIDENTS WHICH
    TOOK PLACE DURING MY STAY THERE                178


  CHAPTER XVII

  DER EL-BAHRI (_continued_)                       194


  CHAPTER XVIII

  THE CROSS DESERT JOURNEY TO KOSSEIR              206

  CHAPTER XIX

  THE VALLEY OF HAMMAMÂT                           221


  CHAPTER XX

  THE WADI FOWAKIYEH AND BÎR HAGI SULIMAN          231


  CHAPTER XXI

  KOSSEIR                                          245


  CHAPTER XXII

  EDFU AND THE QUARRIES OF GEBEL SILSILEH          258


  CHAPTER XXIII

  MY EXPERIENCES AS AN INMATE OF A NATIVE
    HOSPITAL                                       270



ILLUSTRATIONS


                                                  PAGE

  THE SPHINX BY MOONLIGHT               _Frontispiece_

  WATER MELON SELLER                                 8

  AN ARAB WEDDING PROCESSION                        16

  A CHEAP RIDE                                      24

  THE KHAN KHALIL, CAIRO                            32

  SUK ES-SELAH, CAIRO                               48

  ENTRANCE TO THE HAREEM                            56

  THE TAKHTABOSH                                    64

  MOSQUE OF MOHAMMED BEY                            72

  A CAIRENE CAFÉ                                    80

  THE TOMB OF SHEYKH ABD-EL-DEYM                    88

  ARAB SCHOOL                                      104

  THE BLUE MOSQUE                                  112

  PERSIAN ALMSHOUSES                               128

  THE STORE OF NASSÁN                              136

  RETURN OF THE HOLY CARPET                        144

  A FRUIT-STALL AT BULAK                           152

  A THEBAN HOMESTEAD                               168

  THE JACARANDA                                    176

  THE BIRTH COLONNADE IN THE TEMPLE OF
    HATSHEPSU                                      184

  THE HAIRDRESSER                                  192

  A MARKET ON THE EDGE OF THE DESERT               208

  THE TOMBS OF THE KHALIFS                         216

  THE MOSQUE AT KOSSEIR                            232

  DOORWAY IN THE TEMPLE OF ISIS                    240

  POTTERY BAZAAR IN A NILE VILLAGE                 264

  THE VILLAGE OF MARG                              272



CHAPTER I

CAIRO REVISITED


After a lapse of some years, I returned to Cairo to attempt once again
to paint its ancient buildings, as well as the picturesque incidents
seen in the shadows they cast or bathed in light against their sunlit
walls.

I made an early start on the first morning after my arrival, partly to
look for a subject, and more particularly to see whether the pictorial
side of the old quarters of the city would still impress me as it did
on my first visit. It was a fateful morning, for had what I saw failed
to stir up my former enthusiasm, I was resolved to pack up my traps,
and try my hand in Upper Egypt.

I hurried along the Mousky as fast as its usual crowd of people would
allow, and turned down the Khordagiyeh to see if an old favourite
subject of mine had not been ‘improved away.’

Needless to say, it was a brilliant morning, for the occasional grey
days of midwinter were still a long way off. Great awnings hung across
the street, and on one side the shopmen were lowering blinds or rigging
up matting, in anticipation of the sun which would shortly be streaming
down on them. Everything still had its summer look, though October
was far spent;--and Cairo, let me say, is much more beautiful in hot
weather than during the comparatively chill days of winter.

The particular houses I had gone in search of were happily untouched;
but had they been restored out of all shape or allowed to fall down for
want of repair, I should hardly have had room for a depressing thought.

From the crowd of country folk and the heavily laden camels and
donkeys, it was evident that a market was being held in the open
space in front of the Beit-el-Kadi. Locomotion was difficult till the
Nahasseen or coppersmith street was reached, for here the road widens
out at the Muristân. This handsome building, together with the mosques
of Kalaûn, en-Nasir, and of Barkûk, formed a magnificent group, massed
as they then were in a luminous shade. It was a meeting of old friends,
and old friends looking their best. The dark awnings stretched across
the road gave this pile of masonry a light and ethereal look, though
they were dark in contrast to the azure above, save where the sun
tipped the domes and a face of the minarets.

The crowd allowed but little time for contemplation; I had to move with
it, and reaching the short street which leads to the Beit-el-Kadi,
a converging stream of people carried us along till we arrived at
the market square. I picked my way through the heaps of fruit and
vegetables which littered the ground, passed behind a group of camels,
and worked my way to the steps of the court-house, which gives its name
to the market. From this point of vantage I was enabled to make some
rough studies of the animated scene before me.

The sun had now risen high enough to flood the larger part of the
square in light. Bits of matting, sailcloth, or anything which can cast
a shadow, were rigged up to protect the more perishable goods, and the
early comers had taken advantage of the shade of the acacia trees at
the further end of the market.

The general impression is one of light, colour, noise and movement.
The detail is full of human as well as pictorial interest. Various
combinations of colour--some beautiful, some inharmonious--leave ample
scope to the painter to arrange his scheme. A pile of oranges and
lemons, with the black and deep purple dress of the fellaha saleswoman,
make a striking note in the foreground; the stacks of pitchers brought
down from Balliana, in Upper Egypt, give a variety in buffs and
greys, and the blue garments of the buyers are sufficiently faded
not to contrast too violently. It is also a great study of types and
characters. The noisy Cairene is chaffering with the quieter Shami from
far Damascus for some pomegranates which are heaped before him; the
Maghraby hawks a bundle of yellow slippers; Jew and Greek are trying to
outdo each other in a deal over a spavined horse.

Through the motley crowd passes the brightly garmented lemonade-seller,
tinkling his brass cups; his rival, who retails licorice-water, seems
more in demand; one, carrying a heavy pitcher with a long brass spout,
invites the thirsty ones to partake of the charity offered them in the
name of God. ‘Sebeel Alháh yá atchan,’ he drones out at stated periods.
He is less often met at markets than at religious festivals, and he is
paid by some visitor to the tomb of a saint to distribute the water as
a thank-offering.

A young camel about to be slaughtered is being led about and sold
piecemeal, intending purchasers chalking on the hide of the beast the
joint they wish to secure.

The cheap-jack, with his usual flow of language, tempts the fellaheen
to buy his European shoddy; Karakush, the Egyptian Polichinelli, is
here, and also the quack doctor.

The effect is now rapidly changing as Bibar’s ancient palace ceases
to cast its shadow over the further part of the market, and my
vantage-ground becomes untenable as the sun creeps round to the steps
of the court-house. I work my way to the archway at the eastern side of
the square, and find another picture here well worth going to Cairo to
paint, for from this point I get a view of the Muristân and the domes
and minarets of its adjacent mosques, now in the full noonday sun. A
stately background to the busy scene before me.

The studies I had made of the market, though far from satisfying me,
left me too tired to do more than make a few notes and a promise to
come here again on a future occasion.

It is a relief, after the glare and noise of a similar subject, to turn
down the narrow dark lanes which are found in the residential parts of
Old Cairo. The one entered from the archway winds through the Hasaneyn
quarter and ends at the eastern entrance of the Khan Khalil.

These lanes where the old houses are still intact are even more
characteristic of Cairo than are the busy streets, for something
similar to the latter can be seen in most eastern cities. The
projecting latticed windows, which relieve the plane surfaces of
the backs of the houses, are a distinct feature of this city. Known
generally as _mushrbiyeh_, they were originally small bays in which the
water-bottles were placed to cool. The word is derived from the root of
the Arabic _shirib_, to drink, from which we also get our word sherbet.

The bays were gradually enlarged so as to allow two or three people
to sit in them and see up and down the street without being seen
themselves. What corresponds to a glass pane in Europe is here replaced
by a wooden grating. Each joint is turned, and so arranged as to make
a pretty pattern. This grating is much closer in the apartments of the
_hareem_, and though it freely admits the air and a sufficiency of
light, it effectually screens the inmates from those outside.

From the enlarged bays one or more smaller ones often project in which
the earthen bottles are now placed. There are also small windows in
the lower panels, through which I have often seen things hauled up in
small baskets from the street. Sellers of fruit or sweetstuffs are
often met in these lonely lanes, and a stranger might wonder where
they expect to find custom. Presently a little grating will open and
a face will nearly fill the opening. Should the stranger have been
seen through the lattice-work, the face will be partly veiled unless
it be that of a child, and after some bargaining with the hawker, a
small basket containing a coin will be lowered. The coin having been
carefully examined, the purchased article is placed in the basket and
they are hauled up to the window. ‘Ma’s salama, ya sitt,’ ‘ya bint,’
or ‘ya Amma,’ according to the degree of the purchaser, is usually the
farewell salutation of the hawker. But should the purchase not prove on
further examination to be up to expectations, a lively altercation is
sure to ensue, and voices from unseen parties behind the grating may
also be heard.

It is sad to see how much of this _mushrbiyeh_ is disappearing; it
is seldom now repaired and is often replaced by cheap sashes or is
roughly boarded up. There are several causes for this: it is expensive,
and the owners of the larger houses have mostly gone to live in the
modern quarters and have let out their old homes in tenements to the
poorer people. Much also has been destroyed by fire. The houses usually
project over the lane as each story is reached, so that the upper
windows often nearly meet the ones of the opposite houses. It is easily
imagined how a fire will spread with so inflammable a material for it
to feed on. The cheap imported petroleum lamps, which are replacing the
earlier form of lighting, have much to account for. Many of the best
examples of _mushrbiyeh_ have been bought up by dealers to be made into
screens or re-used in the modern suburbs.

As seen from the lane, the houses have a gloomy appearance; but it
should be remembered that the Cairene dwelling was not built to make
an outward display,--its beauty is seen from its inner courts or
garden. When he views them from the narrow sunless lane, the visitor
wonders how people can live in such unhealthy surroundings. Should
he be fortunate enough to have the _entrée_ to a house which is
still inhabited by a prosperous owner, he will probably come to the
conclusion that no more suitable plan could have been adopted in a
country where the summer lasts for three-quarters of the year.

I shall attempt to describe a visit to a beautiful dwelling later on;
at present let us wander through the Hasaneyn quarter, thankful that
the rays of the sun are so carefully excluded.

Reaching the wider thoroughfare, where stands the mosque which gives
the district its name, the difference in the temperature is immediately
felt. We carefully keep to the shady side of the road till we arrive at
the entrance of the Khan Khalil.

This Khan, more commonly called the Turkish Bazaar, is one of the
few which every tourist is taken to see; it is in reality a series
of bazaars, the most conspicuous being that of the metal workers.
Passing through a massive doorway we enter a lane, roofed in overhead
with long rafters and matting; the warm light, which filters through
this, harmonises the various-coloured silks and stuffs which are piled
up in every little shop or hung out to attract a customer. Each shop
is little more than a square cupboard, but as carriages do not enter
here the owners have been allowed to retain the _mastaba_, or raised
seat, on a level with their floors and projecting two feet or more
into the roadway. This was characteristic of every shop in Cairo,
until carriages began to replace the litter and the ass as a means
of locomotion. The merchant drops his slippers as he enters his place
of business, while the customer can sit on the _mastaba_ and keep his
slippered feet in the street.

An old acquaintance recognises me and invites us to sit down; he
claps his hands, and the boy from the coffee shop runs across to take
his orders. When it is decided whether we shall have coffee or green
tea, cigarettes are produced and a series of courteous inquiries then
follow. I in return ask after his health and that of his children, but
am not sufficiently intimate to allude to his wife. ‘Allah be praised,
all are well.’ I ask how his business is, and he tells me that it is
Allah’s will that things are not what they used to be. ‘Large rival
stores now exist in the modern parts of Cairo and are injuring the
trade of the Khan Khalil.’ He might have added that prices are more
fixed in these new stores and that visitors have not the time to spend
hours over a purchase. He asks me when I am coming to sit in his shop,
again to paint that of Seleem, his opposite neighbour. He calls out to
Seleem and asks him if he has forgotten the _ghawaga_ who painted him
and his wares. ‘Ya salaam!’ says Seleem, and crosses over to join in
the conversation. When the greetings are over it is time to begin the
leave-taking, and with a promise to come again and possibly bring a
customer we continue our way.

I am glad to find that both men still retain the _kuftân_ and ample
turban, and have not adopted trousers and the ugly red _tarbouch_, as
most of the metal workers have done.

[Illustration: WATER MELON SELLER]

Descending some steps we come to the handsome gateway built by Garkas
el-Khalíly in 1400; innumerable lamps, copied from those which used
formerly to adorn the mosques, are exposed here for sale; brass
finger-bowls, salvers and ewers cover the counters, and tall damascened
lamp-stands fill up every available place on the floor.

The original colouring of the gateway seems to have worn itself down
to making a quiet and harmonious background to this sparkling mass of
metal work.

I am soon recognised by the owner of one of the stalls, from whose
shop I had also painted a part of this bazaar, and am again invited
to sit down to coffee and a cigarette. As some seven or eight seasons
had passed since my last visit to Cairo, and considering the thousands
of foreigners who must have passed through these bazaars during that
time, it is astonishing that he should have remembered my face. There
is, however, no time now to accept of the good man’s hospitality, but
‘In-sháalláh,’ I shall return before many days.

Each turning gives us a fresh scheme of colour and the interest of
another handicraft. The carpet bazaar leads out of that of the metal
workers. The small cupboard-shaped shop is here replaced by one or two
important show-rooms, and here and there a beautiful old Persian rug
makes one regret the crude colouring of the aniline-dyed modern ones
which are replacing them. Be the colours ever so glaring, the subdued
warm light which passes through the awnings makes them part of one
harmonious whole.

A mass of red and yellow is what catches our eyes as we look down
the slipper market, at a right angle from the carpet bazaar. Festoons
of slippers hang from shop to shop, they are piled in stacks on the
counters, and large skins, both red and yellow, are being cut up and
hammered about as if the supply was not yet equal to the demand.

We have them on our right, and pass through a double row of stalls
where we are pestered to buy strings of beads, amber mouthpieces, cut
and uncut stones, ‘Nice bangles for your lady,’ besides many other
things we are equally not in want of. Here we take our leave of the
Khan Khalil, and I also of the imaginary reader whom I have attempted
to conduct through it.

I am fortunate enough to find an _arabeyeh_, the Cairene cab, and can
ponder over my morning while returning to the hotel.

Yes, Cairo is good enough for a second visit, and, please God, a good
many more. My second impressions were perhaps pleasanter than my first
ones, for I had not now that bewildering sense of how I should set to
work, and also if it were possible to give anything like a pictorial
presentment of these scenes. The physical inconveniences of working in
crowded streets and amongst a strange people appalled me; but I did not
then realise, as I do now, how much a tactful guide can do to make this
work a possibility.



CHAPTER II

RENEWAL OF MY ACQUAINTANCE WITH MOHAMMED BROWN AND SOME REFLECTIONS ON
MATRIMONY


Now the first thing to do was to look up my former servant, Mohammed
el-Asmar, now a dragoman known as Mohammed Brown, the surname being the
English interpretation of Asmar. I have described him fully in _Below
the Cataracts_, a previous book I have written when Egypt was much
newer to me than at present.

I went to that haunt of the dragomans, the pavement outside the terrace
of Shepheard’s hotel, late enough to have allowed for the post-prandial
nap. I found one or two hanging about on the chance of some tourist who
might be taking Cairo on his way home from yet hotter climates.

They had not seen Mohammed lately and did not know to what part of
Cairo he had moved; but one of them knew a relation of his and promised
that he should be made to know that I was in Cairo.

That same evening Mohammed was awaiting me in the hall of the hotel.

After the first greetings I remarked on what a swell he had become, and
asked him why he should have an English covert-coat over his becoming
oriental dress, on so hot an evening as it was. Instead of the old red
slippers, he wore European tanned-leather boots, and the turban was
replaced by the hideous _tarbouch_. He had forgotten my dislike for
this half-and-half get-up, and he told me it was now quite ‘the thing’
amongst the better-class dragomans.

I was glad, however, to find that the seven seasons during which he had
been preying on the tourists had not, apart from these changes in his
garments, altered him much for the worse.

‘Well, how is the baby?’ I asked him. ‘Oh, he is getting a big boy
now.’ ‘And the wife?’ I ventured this time. A rather crestfallen look
prepared me that something was wrong. ‘Which wife, sir, do you mean?’
‘You must be doing uncommonly well if you can afford two wives,’ I
said; ‘most of us who have to earn our living in England find one as
much as we can manage; besides, Mohammed, you used to agree with me
that it was a very foolish thing for any one to have more than one.’ He
certainly seemed to agree with me now, for it was evident that trouble
began when number two made her appearance.

‘It came about like this,’ he went on. ‘You remember I told you that
my first wife, the mother of our Hassan, was very pretty, and that I
loved her very much.’ ‘Yes, I remember she was very pretty, for you
know I caught sight of her that day my wife and I dined at your house.’
He smiled, but shook his head, as much as to say that he, a Moslem,
ought not to have allowed his wife to be seen unveiled. As I, however,
was not a Moslem myself, he tried to console himself that he had not
transgressed Mohammedan law.

‘A pretty face, sir, she still has, but her tongue gets worse and
worse.’

I asked the foolish young man if he expected to improve her tongue by
introducing her to a second wife. ‘I have been a great fool,’ was his
mournful reply; and after a pause, ‘I think I shall have to divorce
her; but I love her very much in spite of her temper.’

‘Well, now, about number two?’ I asked. ‘It came about like this,’ he
began again. ‘You must remember Ahmed Abd-er-Rahman, the old dragoman
that used to come here.’ ‘I don’t remember him, but no matter.’ ‘Well,
I asked his advice about curing a wife’s temper, but got little
encouragement from him. The few remedies he suggested, and which I
tried, only made matters worse.

‘One day he said to me: “Mohammed, I have always loved you as if you
were a son of mine, and as I have still an unmarried daughter, it would
add to my happiness as well as to yours if you became my son-in-law. I
shall only ask a small dowry of you, whereas if I were to marry her to
the one-eyed Mustâpha, he could and would give a much larger one. She
is young and beautiful, and has the sweetest disposition; and while I
kept you waiting in the _hôsh_ the other day, it was but to give her an
opportunity of gazing on you through the _mushrbiyeh_. You can divorce
your Rasheeda and live happily with my Fâtimah.”

‘This sounded very well, and I tried to get the old man to fix the sum
I should have to pay as the dowry. He kept telling me of the price
one-eyed Mustâpha was prepared to pay; but I wanted to know nothing
about Mustâpha, and have since found out that this was all lies. After
many days he agreed to content himself with ten pounds, and I paid
him half that sum, the other half, as you know, to be paid when the
marriage had taken place.

‘I had done well that season, and spent much of my earnings on the
wedding; when I left my friends below to go to the _hareem_, I gave my
bride a handsome present as “the price of the uncovering of the face,”
and when I threw back the shawl, and saw her for the first time, I
nearly fainted.’

It was as much as I could do not to laugh, but the poor fellow
seemed so overcome in recalling his bad bargain that I tried to look
sympathetic.

‘I thought of divorcing her there and then,’ he went on, ‘but I had
not the heart to pronounce those terrible words on the day of the poor
creature’s wedding. She was ugly and old--at least thirty--and had as
brown a face as I have.’

After a pause he went on. ‘Her father--may Allah blacken his face!--did
not lie as regards her temper; but even the best of tempers could not
withstand the jeering and scoffing to which Rasheeda used to treat her.
My mother used to take her part, and we had more rows between Rasheeda
and my mother. When I could stand it no longer, I went with two
witnesses to the Kadi’s court and had her written a _nashizeh_, and she
returned to her own people. Fâtimah tried to mother our little Hassan,
but she could not console him. He got ill, and I was afraid we might
lose him. I then took a room near Saida Zenab, and fetched Rasheeda
away from her people, and she and the child are now living there. My
life has been more peaceful since then, but the cost of two households
makes me a very poor man. I assure you, Mr. Tyndale, that though I did
very well last season, I hardly know where to turn for a piastre.’

It would be two months or more before the next season would be in full
swing, so we arranged that he would accompany me during that time, and
would procure me some one else while he was engaged with the tourists.
He promised to be in good time the next morning, and took his departure.

Probably nothing has tended more to separate the East from the West
than their differing views as to the relation of the sexes. Such
education as there is has until quite recently been entirely confined
to the sons of the more well-to-do, and even at present the instances
of a girl being taught to read or write are very rare. It therefore
follows that as only one parent has had any mental training, the
offspring has less mental capacity to inherit than where both parents
will have had some form of schooling. The religious instruction which
forms so large a part of a Moslem’s training is almost entirely
withheld from the girls, which accounts no doubt for the erroneous idea
held by Europeans that Mohammedans believe women to have no souls.
Religious text-books give pages as to a child’s duty to its father,
and they sum up in a couple of lines the duty to the mother. Educated
Egyptians will often complain that their wives are no companions to
them, but what can they expect when their womenkind are brought up in a
manner so distinctly inferior?

Polygamy is less common than is generally supposed, but a man can
divorce his wife so easily that he has not the necessity of keeping
more than one at a time. It is true that a father will hesitate to give
his daughter to a man who has often used the divorce court, and that he
will also advise his son to keep to one wife if he possibly can.

A young doctor, who appeared to be happily married, told me of the
advice his father gave him previous to the wedding. ‘Don’t be foolish
enough, O my son, ever to take a second wife; for if you do, trouble is
sure to begin. Should you tire of Zenab, get her another dress; women
are all much the same, it is the clothes which make the difference.’ I
asked if this plan had succeeded. ‘Yes, only too well,’ said my friend,
‘for she is continually encouraging me to get her a new dress.’ He also
told me that previous to his wedding he had not even seen his wife
veiled, though they were brought up in the same town. His sisters had
described her so well to him that when he saw her for the first time,
she was very much like what he had anticipated.

[Illustration: AN ARAB WEDDING PROCESSION]

I have described more fully elsewhere a marriage to which my wife and
I were invited as guests, and as such full details of the ceremonial
are given in Lane’s _Modern Egyptians_ I shall not dwell on it here.
Lane’s argument to those who severely condemn Islamic marriage laws
is this: ‘As Moses allowed God’s chosen people, for the hardness of
their hearts, to put away their wives, and forbade neither polygamy
nor concubinage, he who believes that Moses was divinely inspired to
enact the best laws for his people, must hold the permission of these
practices to be less injurious to morality than their prohibition,
among a people similar to the ancient Jews.’ This sounds fairly
plausible, but we must not forget that Mohammedans accept Christ as
a prophet as well as Moses, and also avow that each prophet taught
them something higher than the preceding one had done, and there is
certainly no licence as to polygamy or concubinage allowed in the
teaching of our Lord. Their last prophet, and according to them their
greatest, Mohammed, had overlooked this, and probably only codified
what had more or less become a common practice in his day.

As the modern Jews now hold to one wife just as do the people amongst
whom they live, so it is possible that in time the Moslems may also
modify their marriage customs. Supply and demand has already had
its effect, for with the restrictions on slavery, concubinage has
of necessity lessened and respect for the husband of one wife is
increasing amongst the better educated classes.

I started on a subject on the following morning, of an old house built
alongside and overhanging an entrance to a mosque. A little coffee-shop
under an archway, on the opposite side of the street, made an excellent
point of vantage from which I could do my work without attracting too
much attention. Mohammed, who accompanied me, made arrangements with
the owner of the stall for my accommodation, and sat on the high bench
near me, so as to keep off the more inquisitive. An ideal post for
him, for he could smoke a _nárgeeleh_, sip coffee, and chat with the
other clients as much as he pleased. He would brush away the flies with
one end of his whisp, and poke with the other end any small boy who
ventured too near me. ‘If one comes it may not matter, but if one stays
fifty others will come also,’ he would say, as the stick of the whisp
and a boy’s head came in contact.

It was also in the interest of the owner of the coffee-shop,--as
Mohammed was careful to explain to him,--to make things comfortable
for me, as I should spend many mornings here if I were not molested
in my work. Besides my subject, which was a very beautiful one in
itself, this was a useful perch from which to make studies of the
people and animals which passed. It was in the Nahasseen, one of the
busiest thoroughfares of Cairo, and scarcely an hour would go by
without hearing the _zaghareet_, the shrill cries of joy which told of
the approach of a bridal procession, or the doleful chorus, ‘Lá iláha
illa-lláh,’ would prepare one for the passing of a funeral.

It has happened that the _zaghareet_ was not always the accompaniment
of the more cheerful procession, for these shrill cries of joy replace
those of lamentation when a _welee_, a person of great sanctity, is
carried to his last resting-place. The idea conveyed is that the joys
now awaiting him more than compensate those he has left behind for
his loss. There is a curious superstition, or maybe some other cause
which we cannot explain, that if these cries of joy cease for more
than a minute the bearers of the corpse cannot proceed. It is also
maintained that a _welee_ is able to direct the steps of his bearers
to a particular spot where he may wish to be buried. Lane tells the
following anecdote, describing an ingenious mode of puzzling a dead
saint of this kind. ‘Some men were lately bearing the corpse of a
_welee_ to a tomb prepared for it in the great cemetery on the north of
the metropolis; but on arriving at the gate called Bab-en-Nasr, which
leads to this cemetery, they found themselves unable to proceed further
from the cause above-mentioned. “It seems,” said one of the bearers,
“that the sheykh is determined not to be buried in the cemetery of
Bab-en-Nasr; and what shall we do?” They were all much perplexed; but
being as obstinate as the saint himself, they did not immediately yield
to his caprice. Retreating a few paces, and then advancing with a quick
step, they thought by such an impetus to force the corpse through the
gateway; but their efforts were unsuccessful; and the same experiment
they repeated in vain several times. They then placed the bier on
the ground, to rest and consult; and one of them beckoning away his
comrades to a distance, beyond the hearing of the dead saint, said to
them, “Let us take up the bier again, and turn it round quickly several
times till the sheykh becomes giddy; he then will not know in what
direction we are going, and we may take him easily through the gate.”
This they did; the saint was puzzled, as they expected, and quietly
buried in the place he had striven to avoid.’

I witnessed a similar thing in Japan, a year or two ago; but in that
case it was an idol which showed a similar obstinacy. It was at the
‘Gion Matsuri,’ which annually takes place at Kyôto, when the Shinto
god Susa-no-o is carried to his O Tabisho--that is, his sojourn in the
country with his goddess.

No sooner had the god been placed on his portable throne than the
wildest excitement was manifested by his bearers; some wished to carry
him one way and some another, while others seemed rooted to the ground.
A Japanese gentleman, who was with me, explained that until all the
bearers felt drawn to pull one way, it was not known by which route the
god had decided to go.

It is singular that a similar superstition should obtain with people
differing as much as the Egyptians do to the Japanese.

The constant funerals which passed between me and my subject seemed
little heeded by Mohammed and the other frequenters of the café, except
when the chorus mentioned the name of the prophet, some would murmur,
‘God bless and save him’--‘Salla-lláhu-’aleyhi wasellem.’

The bridal procession, on the contrary, seemed to have a very
depressing effect on my man, and he would hardly cheer up till a
distant wail suggested another funeral.

On one occasion I recognised the camels with the magnificent trappings
used when the holy carpet is conveyed to Mecca; they were doing duty as
a kind of vanguard to a bride who followed in a litter swung between
two other camels. It was a most picturesque sight, and one to take
as many notes of as possible for reference to in a future picture.
Fortunately the progress of the procession is slow, the traffic of the
street compelling it frequently to stop. This would enable me to get
ahead of it and jot down some of the arrangements of colour. The heavy
gold and crimson trappings of one camel, a combination of green and
gold on a second, while the gold brocade of a third was in a purple
setting; all this in a blaze of sunshine, yet subdued compared to the
light caught by the brass kettle-drums. The background in some places,
too cut up in violent patches of light and shade by the awnings over
the shops or too intricate with the drawing of a saracenic mosque
entrance, filled me with confusion as to how I could ever treat such a
subject.

When the broad plain surfaces of Barkûk’s and Kalaûn’s shrines made a
setting to this gorgeous procession, I felt that my task had become
more hopeful.

The number of facts I had to crowd into my memory in a half-hour or so,
I found more exhausting than a long morning’s work on a subject such
as the one I had left to pursue this one. To return to the little café
where I had left Mohammed in charge of my painting materials, pack up
my traps and go back to the hotel, was about as much as I was fit for
during the rest of that morning.



CHAPTER III

THE MOSQUE OF MURISTÂN KALAÛN, MY EXPERIENCE WITH THE FAKÍR, AND A
DIGRESSION ON THE SUBJECT OF DERVISHES


Passing once more the mosque of Kalaûn, I was attracted to one of
its windows; not on account of its particular interest as such, but
of its possibilities as a point of vantage from which I might paint
the opposite side of the road, and, unmolested, make studies of the
interesting incidents which take place in it.

There was still time to go to the Wakfs ministry before it closed for
the midday ‘siesta.’ ‘El Wakfs’ is the name of what we might term the
Board of Religious Endowments. It is here where artists must apply for
a pass to allow them to paint inside the mosques.

I fortunately found Herz Bey, the architect of the Wakfs, and he very
kindly gave me what I required.

Apart from the window of Kalaûn’s mosque which would be of great use to
me, its interior is one of the finest and most ornate in the whole of
Cairo. I had found several subjects there in former years, and I looked
forward to finding a pleasant asylum in which I could restfully do some
work after the fatigue of some days of street painting.

The mosque was falling into a ruinous state when I had last entered it.
Originally most gorgeous, its colouring had then been softened down by
more than six centuries since en-Nasir completed the dome which covers
the tomb of his father.

I also looked forward to a cooler spot than my café, for Cairo has
far from cooled down during the first days of November. Though the
thermometer may not register so high as in June, the damp heat during
the high Nile is more felt than the greater, but dryer, temperature of
early summer.

I was prepared not to find the mosque as paintable as in the earlier
days,

  ‘Before Decay’s effacing fingers
   Have swept the lines where beauty lingers’;

yet I was hardly prepared to find it to all appearance a brand
new building. It had been admirably restored, and restoration was
necessary, I have no doubt, to prevent its falling into complete ruin,
as so many other monuments have done. But, alas, its poetry was gone.
Nor is this likely to return so long as it is kept as a show-place
merely, and only visited by the tourist or student of Saracenic
architecture. The hundred and one signs which suggested the worshippers
who had gathered here during the six bygone centuries were all swept
away; the worn praying mats were gone, and any of the movable furniture
which is not now shelved and labelled in a museum may have found its
way to some dealer’s shop,--the place for which these things were
designed knows them no more.

I started a large drawing, for in spite of all it is a beautiful
building, and looks now in all probability very much as it looked when
Nasir’s work-people left it. I worked hard at this drawing; spent whole
mornings getting the intricate arabesque patterns into perspective
and their relative tones; but the longer I worked the more my drawing
became the lifeless perspective elevation plate of some book on
architecture.

Some day, when my last impressions of the place may fade and I may
remember more clearly the shrine retaining its human associations, I
may possibly be able to take up this drawing again and infuse some life
into it.

I did better from the window overlooking the Nahasseen.

The ruinous domed mosque--built before the one of Kalaûn--to shelter
the remains of Ayyub es-Salih, has been heavily dealt with by ‘decay’s
effacing fingers.’ Copper-smiths have rigged up their stalls against
its crumbling walls, and the mosque school still hangs together
sufficiently to be used by the youths repeating their Koran. This and
an ever-moving crowd of people had at all events a soul left in it.

My regrets at having lost so much time in producing an artistic failure
decreased in proportion as the use I was able to make of this window
increased.

Facing immediately the street leading to the Beit-el-Kadi, I was able
to take notes, on a market day, of all the incidents mentioned in
the last chapter, and at ordinary times there would always be more
than enough subject-matter to furnish the foreground of the couple of
drawings I made from here.

[Illustration: A CHEAP RIDE]

The mosque being now a ‘sight’ more than a place of worship, a fee is
charged for admittance; and even this matter, which I was regretting
before now, proved an advantage to me, for the attentions of the
inquisitive are usually more marked while making figure studies than
while painting some inanimate subject.

Small boys would occasionally crawl on to the sill and hang on to the
grating to try and see what I was doing, till my man, whom I kept
outside, would send them away.

A ragged fakir chose the bit of pavement just below my window to do
a little basking in the sun. Mohammed whispered to me, through the
grating, that he was a great saint, and squatted next to him in the
full odour of his sanctity. A current of air would now and again bring
some of this odour my way; but I restrained Mohammed from disturbing
the fakir in his sleep. Others were not so considerate, for, in spite
of the old man’s saintly repute, a number of young hooligans soon
surrounded him, and comments on his appearance provoked such laughter
as to wake him up.

The fakir now seemed as one possessed of a devil; he laid about with
his staff and cursed his tormentors with a fluency which only a long
practice, during his unregenerate days, could have given him. A young
woman at a safe distance called out to him that the _ghawaga_, that is
I, was sketching him, whereupon he turned round and directed the flow
of bad language in my direction. The grating was a protection from the
old fellow’s staff, and an unused-up lot of curses soon fell on the
head of Mohammed, who moved him off.

Too much attention having been drawn to my window, I retired with my
materials within the shades of the mosque interior.

I made inquiries about the old man. The term, fakir, is used in Egypt
to denote a wandering dervish, and is also applied to any poor beggar.
His rags were not simply the torn garments of a poor man, but a
carefully made coat of many patches and of variously coloured stuffs,
known as a ‘dilk.’ Shreds of coloured cloth were also fastened to the
end of his staff. He wore no turban, and had supplemented his own hair
with what I believe ladies call ‘a front’ made from a horse’s tail.

I was told that he belonged to the Rifaiyeh order of dervishes, and
was famous in his day for being able to pass swords through his body
without leaving a wound; he would also charm serpents and scorpions
away from a house, eat live coals and chew glass.

As I have seen many appear to do these wonders without necessarily
being considered very holy men, there remained a more potent reason for
his reputed sanctity. I tapped my forehead once or twice, suggesting
that an excess of miracles must have made him mad. ‘His mind is in
heaven and only his body remains on earth,’ was the answer to my
suggested question.

A superstitious awe for persons whose intellect is affected obtains
all over the Mohammedan world--the Cairo hooligan being apparently the
exception.

The great majority of dervishes are men of some trade or another and
take part in a _zikr_ during the religious festivals; a few lead a
tramp’s life and beg their way from town to town where one of these
festivals may be taking place; while those who are mentally afflicted
without being actually dangerous can generally find the wherewithal to
live in the district to which they belong. The latter are now rarely
met with in the European parts of Cairo, and as they seem generally
bereft of all sense of decency, the police may have something to say in
the matter.

I attended a _zikr_ during my first visit to Egypt, when an evening
with the Howling or Dancing dervishes was still looked upon as one
of the ‘sights.’ These were often got up by the dragomans as an
entertainment for the tourists. H. H. the Khedive has since forbidden
these shows as liable to bring Islamism into disrepute. Some wit
remarked of the dragomans, that they believed in Mohammed and his
profits. The dervishes (or darweesh, as they are called in Egypt) were
genuine ones, and argued that their religious exercises might be just
as acceptable even if they resulted in some profit in the shape of a
‘baksheesh’ from the unbelievers.

The first part of the performance was the same as may be seen any
evening, in any village, during the month of Ramadan.

About a dozen men sat in a double row facing each other, and, taking
their time from a leader, began by slowly repeating the first words
of the Moslem’s confession of faith: ‘Lá iláha illa-lláh,’ which they
accompanied with a swaying of their bodies backwards and forwards.
Gradually they would increase the speed of the repetition and the
movements, always taking their time from the leader. This got faster
and faster till their chief shouted ‘Alláh!’ Then, repeating this one
word, the swaying of their bodies became so rapid that one or two fell
down exhausted. The remainder kept it up as long as their physical
endurance would allow; their mouths foaming, their faces livid, and
a mad look in their eyes. Presently more would fall down; some lying
still, and others to all appearance in their death agony. The cry of
‘Allah’ finally ceased when the leader fell forward, and, saving a gasp
or a gurgle, all was still.

Some of us were preparing to leave when a sign from the conductor of
our party kept us in our seats.

These bodies stretched on the floor--to all appearance dead or
dying--looked ghastly in the light of the flickering torches.

We sat on some time wondering what the next move would be. A heavy
breathing with alternate choking on the part of one of the performers
directed our attention his way. After making several attempts to rise,
he succeeded in getting into a sitting posture and stared vacantly at
us. When he seemed conscious of where he was and what he was doing, he
rose rapidly to his feet and spun round and round for several minutes;
he next seized hold of a torch, continued his gyrations, and without
stopping held the lighted torch under his one garment, allowing the
flames to pass all over his body. It reminded me horribly of the straw
fires with which peasants are wont to burn the bristles off a stuck pig.

A foreign princess who was of our party, and on whose behalf this
_zikr_ had been arranged, had now seen as much as she could stand, and
she and her immediate suite went away.

The performers seemed quite unconscious of this disturbance; the man
kept on spinning round, toasting his chest and then his back till he
let fall the torch and sank down on the matting.

Another had in the meanwhile come to life again and begun to spin like
a teetotum. He drew two knives from his girdle and, while continuing
his motion, rested the points on his lower eyelids; he next hacked his
face and forehead, and when the blood-letting had sufficiently cooled
his frenzy he joined his companions on the floor.

The low muttered ‘Alláh’ from the other dervishes showed that they were
awakening from the kind of cataleptic sleep they had fallen into.

A third one now arose and startled one of the spectators by rushing
forward and seizing a tumbler near him; he bit off pieces of glass
and crunched them in his teeth. He looked absolutely loathsome as he
appeared to swallow the glass, with the blood streaming from his mouth.
His craving for glass was not satisfied yet. The glass of an oil lamp
near me caught his eye, and catching hold of it, hot as it was, he
chewed it up as a half-starved dog would chew a bone.

I had now had more than enough, and slipped quietly off before a fourth
began his ‘turn.’

Mohammed followed me out. He was not very communicative about the
unnatural orgy we had assisted at, and as he is a good Moslem, I fancy
he seemed ashamed of the performance.

While walking down the Mousky on the following morning, a cabman seated
on the box of his _arabeyeh_ greeted Mohammed with an unusually cheery
‘Salaam Alêkum.’ The answer, ‘Alêkum es-Salaam, ya ibne Kelb,’ with an
accompanying shake of the finger, was surprising; that is, ‘The peace
be with you, O son of a dog.’ The cabby laughed and drove on. Mohammed
looked rather consciously at me, and seeing that I looked puzzled, he
asked me if I did not recall that cabman’s face. Yes, I had seen him
before, but when or where I could not say. ‘Why, he is the darweesh who
ate all that broken glass last night.’

True enough, it was the very man! But no _première danseuse_ seen with
her tinsel and spangles behind the footlights, and afterwards met in
everyday garb, could have shown as great a contrast as did this cabby
and the wild dervish of the previous night. He was dressed in European
clothes, except for the red tarbouch, and he seemed none the worse for
his last night’s glass supper.



CHAPTER IV

THE FESTIVAL OF THE ‘HASANEYN’ AND THE STORY OF THE PRINCESS ZOHRA


The promise I had made to my acquaintances in the Khan Khalil, to come
again, was soon fulfilled. This great bazaar attracts me most when
the season in the modern quarters of Cairo is over or not begun. I
have painted so many of its shops and corners, that I and my faithful
servant must be as familiar to the stall-holders as they are to us.

An opportunity occurred to see it by night, for, except on the great
festival of the ‘Hasaneyn,’ the gates of the Khan are closed before the
evening prayer.

The mosque of Hoseyn stands opposite the east entrance, and it is the
one most used by the shopkeepers of these bazaars.

It is a spacious building, but of little interest from an architectural
point of view. Its great popularity is one cause of this, for money
could always be found to restore it, and unhappily a great wave of
enthusiasm for the shrine of the martyred sons of Ali obtained during a
late period of debased Saracenic architecture, during which the mosque
was almost entirely rebuilt.

Before the Napoleonic invasion of Egypt no Christian or Jew dared pass
down the street in which it stands, and even at the present day, when
foreigners may visit the other mosques of Cairo, while the services
are not being held, the actual shrine where the head of Hoseyn lies may
only be entered by the faithful.

On the night in question it was possible to see as much as I wanted,
as the doors stood wide open, and the interior was lighted with
thousands of lamps. The whole street was roofed over with particoloured
tent-cloth, which caught the light of the torches of the dervishes who
filed in at the central doorway.

The noise of the cymbals, drums, and hautboys of the musicians mingled
with the babel of voices which came from the mosque. Many inside were
performing the _zikr_, and others were marching round and reciting the
Fáthah, or a form of blessing on the prophet.

Every house was profusely decorated with flags, lamps, and festoons of
coloured glass globes. The cafés were overflowing with customers, and
high benches on the pavements outside were all occupied with listeners
to the professional story-tellers who related the deeds of Hasan and
Hoseyn.

It seemed strange to hear the names of these two brothers from the
lips of so many orthodox Moslems, for at a previous festival in their
honour, which I witnessed, only such as were under police protection
dared shout ‘Hasan, Hoseyn.’ It was when the heretic Sheeas, mostly
Persians, paraded the streets of Cairo--a gruesome sight it was--but
at present we will confine ourselves to the doings of the orthodox
Sunnees, to which sect the bulk of the Egyptians belong.

[Illustration: THE KHAN KHALIL, CAIRO]

‘Though those dogs of Sheeas,’ an Egyptian will tell you, ‘almost make
gods of Hoseyn and also of his father Ali, is that a reason why we
should fail to honour his birthday? Was he not, after all, a grandson
of the Prophet?’ It is fortunate, however, that both sects do not keep
the festival on the same day, or it would be more than the police could
do to prevent them coming to blows.

How different the Khan looked, lighted up as it then was by hundreds
of lamps in and around the shops! In places brilliantly coloured
tent-cloths stretched across the lanes, and on every _mastaba_ the
store-keeper was entertaining his friends. The dark intervals were the
shops kept by Christians or Jews, which were carefully shuttered up for
the night.

The silk merchant, Mustâpha, and his opposite neighbour Seleem were
both here, and I was not sorry to accept the former’s kindly invitation
to sit down. Being unused to smoking the _nargeeleh_ or the almost
obsolete _shibook_ which were offered me, he procured some cigarettes
and clapped his hands to summon the boy from the coffee-stall. He
regretted that the _mooled_ of the Hasaneyn was not now as in former
days, when hardly a shop in the whole Khan was not lighted up like as
his and Seleem’s. ‘Jews, Nazarenes, Parsees, and what not else, were
invading the stalls held by the faithful,’ he said, pointing to the
shutters of those unenlightened people.

‘Allahu! Allahu!’ from the street outside was clearly heard during the
pauses in the conversation.

‘Was it possible now for a Nazarene to enter the mosque and see the
tomb where Hoseyn’s head lay buried?’ I asked, and also showed him the
ticket I had, allowing me to paint in the mosques of Cairo. He read
the instructions, and pointed out a line which made an exception for
that particular shrine as well as for two others. The talk then drifted
to an instance when one of my countrymen, disguised as a Moslem, was
accidentally discovered near the tomb while the _mooled_ was being
held; of how he was nearly killed by the infuriated mob and saved by
the intervention of the princess Zohra.

The story is so full of dramatic interest that, instead of giving the
garbled versions which obtain in the bazaars, I will try to tell it as
Max Eyth tells it in ‘_Hinter Pflug und Schraubstock_.’ Eyth was in
Egypt during the lifetime of the princess and heard all the details
from a former member of her household.

Zohra was the youngest living daughter of Mohammed Ali, Egypt’s first
viceroy. She was the idol of her father and partook of his character
more than did any of her numerous brothers and sisters. Her childhood
was spent in the same hareem as that of her nephew Abbas, who was the
same age as herself. Self-willed children as they both were, quarrels
were of frequent occurrence. When Abbas would taunt her that she
was only a little girl, she would remind him that she was the great
Ali’s daughter, whereas he was only the son of her brother Tussûn.
Words ending in blows one day, Abbas was packed off to a school and a
governess was found for the young princess.

Wishing to have her taught both English and French, they engaged the
services of a young Irish lady, a Miss O’Donald, who had been brought
up in Paris and spoke French as well as her own language.

Western ladies had hitherto been little seen in Egyptian hareems; the
Mohammedan ladies disapproved of the greater liberty enjoyed by the
newcomer and soon grew jealous of the great influence the governess
held over her pupil.

As Zohra grew older, Miss O’Donald became more of a companion than a
teacher, and she remained in the viceroy’s service for eight years.
Abbas had in the meantime left his school and had a hareem of his own
in his grandfather’s palace. He never forgave Zohra for having been the
cause of his banishment, and awaited his time to wreak his vengeance.

Mohammed Ali had not yet found a husband for his daughter; he aspired
to marrying her to a Sultan or to a son of the Khalif himself. It
therefore happened that at the age of sixteen Zohra still remained
single.

It was at a festival of the Hasaneyn that she met her fate. Accompanied
by Miss O’Donald and two of the eunuchs, she went to visit the tomb of
Hoseyn, for women at all times, says the narrator, are more attracted
to the shrines of heroes than to even that of the Prophet himself. The
mosque was so crowded with people that the dervishes could hardly find
room in which to perform the _zikr_.

The eunuchs managed to force a way through the crowd so as to allow the
princess to approach the tomb, and while she was saying her prayers
at the shrine of the hero, she was disturbed by an uproar which arose
not far off. Shouts of ‘a Christian’ resounded through the building.
Sticks were raised and knives unsheathed by an infuriated mob, who
surrounded a tall, fair-haired man who, with his back to the wall, was
hitting out right and left to keep his assailants at bay. His turban
had fallen off, and his fair and unshaven head showed only too clearly
that he was not a Moslem.

‘It’s my brother,’ called out the governess, and appealed to those near
her to go to his rescue. Zohra, who had now reached her side, first saw
the blood-stained and handsome face of the young Irishman, and uttering
a piercing scream, she ordered the assailants to desist. Seeing from
her attendants that she belonged to the viceregal household, there was
a slight pause, and those near her made way for her to reach the one
they had been attacking. She took the young man by the hand and led
him, through the murmuring crowd, into the street.

As they disappeared, loud cries of ‘Allahu! Allahu!’ resounded
throughout the mosque. The princess threw her arms in the air and
victoriously repeated the cry: ‘Allahu! Allahu!’--Such was their first
meeting.

Two young mamelukes of the household of Abbas also happened to have
witnessed the scene, and repeated every detail of it to their master.
The narrator goes on to say that ‘Abbas was silent, like a serpent who
coils itself in readiness for a spring.’

Spies were sent forth to find out who this man in truth might be. His
name was O’Donald, and there was no doubt that he was the governess’s
brother. He had first come to Egypt in 1840, when, after the siege
of Beirut, Napier’s troops lay outside Alexandria. Fortune had then
forsaken Mohammed Ali. He could not prevent his enemies from drinking
Nile water as much as they pleased, and as the Arabs say: ‘He who has
drunk Nile water will sooner or later return to the Nile.’

After the British troops had quitted Egypt, O’Donald resigned his
commission and returned to Alexandria, where he had got a situation
as manager to the overland route from that port to Suez. His sister
had doubtless described his pupil to him, and had also entertained the
princess with tales of his gallant deeds while serving in the army.
Business matters had taken him to Cairo at the time of this festival,
and his love of adventure had led to his disguising himself and
entering a mosque forbidden to all save the believers.

Zohra, whose affections had so far been disengaged, was all too ready
to fall in love with this handsome Irishman, whose praises she had so
often heard from the lips of his sister. Beholding him for the first
time bravely repelling the attack of the infuriated mob, he personified
in her imagination the heroism of those who first spread the Mohammedan
faith. To use the words of the narrator: ‘She was taken as in a
whirlwind. Love consumed her as a fire. She wept through the whole of
that hot night. She implored one of her sisters to help her to meet her
lover, and on her refusal she bit her in the cheek.’

Miss O’Donald was alarmed at the state of her pupil and also for the
safety of her brother. She wrote and warned him to keep away from
Cairo, and if possible to get away from Egypt. Unfortunately the
eyes of the young princess confirmed the glowing descriptions of her
beauty which his sister had given, and the young Irishman seems to have
been consumed with the same fire as that of his lady-love. Instead of
keeping away from Cairo, he contrived to get his company to give him a
post in that city.

On the third night of Bairam, when rich and poor, old and young, repair
to the cemeteries to pray at the graves of their belongings, the
young lovers seized on this opportunity to see each other once more.
Zohra went with the women of her hareem to that great wilderness of
tombs on the south-eastern outskirts of the city. She was not slow in
recognising her lover in the apparently devout Moslem who came to pray
at the tomb where she sat. The wailing of the women and the howling
of the dervishes, performing the _zikr_, were a sufficient noise to
prevent the words the two interchanged from being heard by Zohra’s
attendants, and before they parted a future means of meeting had been
arranged.

‘I believe,’ goes on the story-teller, ‘that she loved him as the
heroes of our faith in the olden times loved the beautiful women whom
Allah had given them as a foretaste of Paradise. He also must have
loved her as one bereft of his senses, for he must have known that he
moved amidst naked daggers or even worse.’

On the night previous to the ‘Yóm Gebr el-Bahr,’ which signifies
‘the Breaking of the River’ (and when the dam is cut to enable the
Nile to replenish the canal which used to flow through Cairo), great
festivities take place. Tents are erected on each bank of the canal
and also on the edge of the island of Rodah, which faces the canal’s
entrance. The river is crowded with boats lit up with numerous
lanterns; fireworks are let off and guns are fired; yet they fail to
drown the noise of the musical instruments and the eternal refrain of
the singers. Cairo makes a night of it.

From the farther side of the island of Rodah our princess stepped on
to her _dahabieh_ which was moored at the river edge of the palace
gardens. She was accompanied by the hareem, and she gave orders to let
the barge drift down the river and to drop the anchor where the crowd
of boats was not so great.

The ladies of the hareem, including Miss O’Donald, remained on the
deck, from whence they obtained a good view of the fireworks and of the
festivities taking place on the Nile. Zohra retired to her cabin, and
might by the light of her candle have been seen by many of the folks
outside, were these not too much occupied in merry-making. The candle
was moved to and fro for a few seconds and then extinguished.

From the shadow of a clump of trees overhanging the edge of the river
an English-built skiff issued into the main stream, then shot along the
side of the _dahabieh_ and came to a standstill. The lovers had met
once again.

Skilfully as this had been managed, it had not been unobserved by Miss
O’Donald, who, in a fever of anxiety, paced up and down the deck. The
skiff could be seen by the lights of some boats which had drifted that
far down the stream. The governess also suspected that Abbas had spies
amongst the women of the hareem; but she dared not breathe a word of
warning to her brother below for fear of attracting attention.

Not only had he been seen, but from a neighbouring cabin an assignation
had been overheard and in due time reported to Abbas. They were to meet
the following night in the garden of the palace at Rodah. Zohra felt
sure of the silence of the eunuchs and also of her female attendants;
she had not, however, bribed some of the crew as highly as Abbas had
done.

O’Donald, the next night, fastened his boat under the trees which
project over the garden wall and picked his way along the edge of the
river to the steps at the Nile entrance. He found the gates unlocked,
and walked in. Instead of his lady-love four armed mamelukes issued
from the shrubbery and rushed to attack him. The Irishman dropped two
with his revolver, and the other two turned and bolted.

Abbas was awaiting events at the garden door of the hareem, which he
had locked from outside. When he heard the firing and the howls of his
mamelukes, he felt sure that events had not turned out quite as he had
intended. Miserable creature as he was, Abbas was no coward, and his
agents having failed him, he rushed down himself to attack the enemy.

A kick on his shin sent him sprawling into a flower-bed, and O’Donald
made off to his skiff. He had, however, recognised whom it was that he
had knocked over. But before he could take safety in flight he felt
bound to send a warning to Zohra and also to get his sister away.

The story-teller goes on to say: ‘In such moments one’s reasoning
becomes confused. Allah alone can help one. But why should Allah
stretch forth a helping hand to the unbeliever whose audacious conduct
well merited punishment?’

A French Jewess, known as Madame Ricochette, resided in Cairo at that
time. She used to visit all the principal hareems to trade in Paris
jewellery and bonbons. O’Donald went to see her early on the following
morning, and with promises and flattery induced her to take a note to
the princess and to bring back an answer. He was to meet Zohra in the
garden for the last time, his sister was to come away with him in his
boat, and they were to leave Cairo at once.

They never saw each other alive again. He was shot on the threshold of
the hareem in Zohra’s garden. Abbas had intercepted the letters and
had apprised Mohammed Ali of the affair. Six Arnauts--good, dependable
shots--were sent and were placed behind some bushes which the ill-fated
man would pass on the way to his love. Six bullets ended his earthly
career.

Abbas was a clever organiser. A mule was kept in readiness to carry
the body away, and two of the Arnauts placed it on the beast while the
others remained with the prince. The hareem door was thrown open and,
as Zohra approached, Abbas laughingly welcomed her to her lover.

‘Such women,’ goes on the narrator, ‘do not go off in a faint, as do
yours in the West. She flew, as one possessed, to the corpse of her
beloved, and steeped her hands in his blood. She had to be dragged
away and carried back to the hareem. When she had recovered from her
stupefaction, she ordered two servants to see Miss O’Donald off to
Alexandria, where friends would see her safely on board the first
home-going steamer; the princess also provided her handsomely with the
means to get back to her country.’

Worse is still to follow. The devil in Abbas had become more potent
than ever. He had the body of the Irishman taken to Shubra and buried
in an outlying field--upright, with the head below and the feet
sticking out of the ground. Then spoke Abbas: ‘Allah, do thou with him
as thou wilt; but the dogs shall devour the feet which kicked me.’

The field was guarded during a week; no one dared enter by day, and at
night the jackals and dogs did their work. There in that field, to this
day, stands with head downwards a footless corpse!

The O’Donalds, we are told, had no influential relations to get this
matter investigated, and the English company to which O’Donald belonged
knew more than enough to keep them silent. The young Irishman had
placed his life in the balance with his love and had lost.

‘Alláhu! Alláhu! Alláh, láh, láh, láh,’ came the ever-increasing cries
from the mosque outside the Khan. The dervishes were working themselves
up into a state of frenzy; and had my permit to work in the mosques not
made an exception of the Hasaneyn, it would have taken a bolder man
than myself to have entered then. I bade my kindly host good night and
found my way back to the European quarter.



CHAPTER V

OF THE OLD AND THE NEW CAIRO, AND OF A VISIT TO THE SHEYKH AMMIN SAHEIME


It is unfortunate that an artist, residing in Cairo for the purpose of
painting its people and its buildings, cannot live in the city where
his chief interests lie. For there are at present two Cairos: the one
an old oriental city, the other a nondescript modern European town,
placed, as it were by accident, between the Nile and its more venerable
neighbour. The foreigner who speaks of Cairo alludes to the great
blocks of buildings and the palatial hotels which form this modern
town, and he usually terms those other parts which he has scarcely
seen--the native quarters. The true Cairo, and the one of which we
speak, lies in a rough parallelogram between the walls running from the
Citadel to the Bab el-Futouh at the eastern extremity and the Khaleeg,
or the old canal now filled in, on the west. The northern and southern
extremities end at the mosques of Hakim and of Ibn Tulún respectively.
Two outlying bits still remain north and south of the new quarters, and
are known as Bulak and Old Cairo. There are remains here and there of a
yet older Cairo, which stood on the south-west of the present city.

I should dearly love to live in that part spoken of as the native
quarters, instead of having to live at some distance and amongst
surroundings which do not lend themselves to pictorial treatment.
I had the opportunity to live in a beautiful old house which has
been carefully restored under the superintendence of Herz Bey, and
which stands in the very heart of the old town. The inconvenience of
housekeeping, the putting in of necessary furniture, and, above all,
the insanitary condition of its immediate neighbourhood, decided me
not to avail myself of this opportunity. There would also have been
the fear of fire. The beautiful _mushrbiyeh_ work which encloses all
the windows, and is as dry as touchwood, might at any moment be set on
fire through the action of a careless servant. The house is a perfect
specimen of an old Cairene dwelling, and it has been wisely repaired
and is kept in order at the expense of the Wakfs administration.
Possibly restrictions as to the lighting of fires would have been
imposed on me, which would have necessitated a journey to the European
quarters whenever I wished for a hot meal.

No, one cannot live here surrounded with what one loves to paint; one
may remain a lifetime in Cairo and not be of it.

The joy of having bright sunny weather in midwinter is very great,
and it is also a pleasure to meet friends at the club or hotels, and
for those inclined that way balls and parties can be attended on most
evenings during the season. Personally I would forego most of these
things to live more in touch with the life of the old city. As an
illustration of how little the inhabitants of the European quarters
are concerned with what takes place in Cairo proper, I will give the
following:--

While I was painting in the Suk es-Selah, or the gun-makers’ bazaar,
an old house fell in not many paces from where I was sitting. As the
house was inhabited, willing hands were soon on the spot to assist in
excavating those who might be buried under the ruins. Help was also
soon available from official quarters, and during the course of the
day five dead bodies were unearthed. I did not expect this to be given
as important a space in the newspapers--edited and circulating in the
modern quarters--as an account of the last ball at Shepheard’s would
have received; but I thought a line describing an event which cost the
lives of five people might have appeared amongst the smaller items
of news. There was no mention of it in any of them. When I remarked
on this to some European residents, I was casually told that a house
felling down was of constant occurrence, and a lady remarked on hearing
of the five Arabs who had been killed, ‘Il en reste encore bien assez.’
From the little interest shown, one might have supposed that this event
had taken place somewhere in China, instead of within a couple of miles
from the hotel we were in.

I witnessed the funeral procession of a noted Sheykh of Islam this last
winter. The cortège was more than a mile in length, and thousands of
people crowded the streets to pay their last respects to so eminent
a coreligionist. A roar of voices, repeating the profession of the
Mohammedan faith, rose from every quarter of the Arab city. I looked
for some information in the Cairo papers, but not a mention of it did
I find. The Arabic papers were doubtless full of the event; but as few
Europeans, though they may speak the colloquial language fluently, can
read the written Arabic, the news of the old town rarely spreads to the
new.

The older residents are seldom seen in the old parts of the city, and
that is easy to understand, for familiarity with things eastern breeds
an indifference with the majority, even if it does not descend to
contempt. The surprise is that so few are met there of the thousands
of people who flock to Egypt for a short season. A drive down the
Mousky--one of Cairo’s least interesting streets--a visit to the
Khan Khalil, then a walk round three or four mosques and a view from
the citadel. After this a feeling of satisfaction that the ‘native
quarters’ have been thoroughly done. The fear of smells seems to haunt
them, for the hands not carrying a kodak or fly-whisp often hold a
handkerchief near their noses. Bad smells are to be found for those who
seek them, though not as many as in most old European towns.

These might be removed to advantage. But how much would Cairo not lose
of its charm if, deprived of the sense of smell, one wandered through
its bazaars or loitered about its market-places? I cannot think of the
coffee-stalls without their aroma of moka and of latakiyeh. The spice
bazaar recalls the warm land breezes from some tropic isle. Would the
colour of the fruit-stalls charm the eye equally, were the scent gone
from their piles of russet and gold? Even the smell of tan seems to
enhance the sight of the brilliantly hued skins in the leather-workers’
bazaar.

Though each sense may occasionally be shocked, each plays its part
in the enjoyment of all things. To any one keenly interested in this
mediæval city, and who has studied its buildings, the eye is unhappily
more often now shocked than the nose. Uglinesses which are hardly
noticeable in the European quarters are slowly invading the old parts
of the city. I have seen many a beautiful latticed window replaced by
ready-made imported sashes, or where the seclusion of the hareem is
necessary, an ugly fretwork in lieu of the turned _mushrbiyeh_ which
gave so much character to the Cairene dwelling. Streets formerly
covered in with rafters and matting are now exposed to the baking
sun, so as to allow more light on the cheap European goods behind the
plate-glass windows. The official mind is obsessed with the idea that
official work needs trousers, and all aspirants to official billets don
these ugly garments and abandon the graceful _kuftân_ and the flowing
_gibbeh_. The same thing has occurred in the government schools.

Trousered policemen tread their beat by day, while the night watch is
allowed to go its rounds in the native costume; presumably because
it is less seen. The metal _fanus_ which swing before the mosque
entrances are being replaced by ugly petroleum lamps. The water-carrier
will disappear as each stand-pipe is erected; this doubtless has its
hygienic advantages. But had the well-to-do still the same pride
in their city as had their forefathers, the water would have been
conducted to the beautiful fountains which are now allowed to fall into
decay.

Fortunately Cairo is large, and some years may yet elapse before
ugliness will have crept into its innermost recesses.

Round and about the Tumbakiyeh--where the coarse Persian tobacco is
retailed to the smokers of the _nárgeeleh_ and the _sheesheh_--the
old-world look seems still stern enough to frighten off any shoddy
European accessories. Massive doors, nail-studded and heavily hinged,
close in the _Wekálehs_ where the _tumbak_ is stored. More or less
dilapidated gateways lead into spacious Khans where formerly caravans
from Syria and Arabia unloaded their merchandise. The convent mosque
of Beybars, the Taster, dominates this district. From its pepper-box
minaret one can look down on extensive warehouses now partitioned
into tenements of the very poor; houses of erstwhile merchant princes
are now falling into decay, and their gardens used as rope-walks or
bleaching-grounds. The mueddin’s call to prayer sounds like the funeral
dirge of the departed glories of the Tumbakiyeh. The main street, known
as the Gamalieh, has all the dignity of age; it is too poor a district,
and too far from the present business centres, to be rejuvenated with
the lack of taste which has ruined the Mousky.

Down a narrow lane leading out of the Gamalieh, a fine old doorway and
some well-preserved oriel windows gave every promise that this was the
back of a fine old Cairene house, still inhabited by its owner, and
not allowed to fall into the ruinous state of most of its neighbours.
My man Mohammed was with me when I made the discovery. I asked him to
inquire to whom it belonged, and to try to find out if the interior was
at all in keeping with what we saw from the lane.

[Illustration: SUK ES-SELAH, CAIRO]

Mohammed is a man of great resource. After considering his mode of
procedure for a moment, he pushed open the door, which stood ajar, and
we could see the _bowab_, or doorkeeper, asleep on the stone seat at
the angle of the passage. Mohammed stepped lightly along this passage,
evidently in hopes of getting round the angle and obtaining a peep into
the courtyard, without awaking the sleeper. Not succeeding in this, and
being asked what he wanted, he started inquiries after an imaginary
relative who surely was once a servant in this household. ‘Is this
not, then, the house of so-and-so?’ giving the name of an imaginary
owner. ‘Then who does live here?’ The real name of the owner was then
given by the doorkeeper. By a few more leading questions, it was found
out that the owner was in his country place, and would not return
till the cooler weather set in. Mohammed had in the meanwhile got his
peep into the court, and had seen quite enough to feel satisfied that
here was what I wanted. As the hareem was in the country, there would
be no objection to the _ghawaga_ also having a peep into the court,
especially as a _baksheesh_ might follow on the peep.

I was then allowed in, and here was a court similar in plan to many
ruinous ones I had seen; but in a perfect state of preservation, and
suggesting many beautiful things in the house which overlooked it. I
had never painted in the interior of a fine Cairene house, still kept
up as in the days before Ismael Pasha uttered his boast--‘L’Egypte
fait partie de l’Europe.’ I made inquiries amongst Egyptian as well as
European friends regarding the owner, and whether it would be possible
to get an introduction to him. I was told that he was one of the old
school, lived as his forebears had done, and did not frequent the
modern quarters. The more inaccessible this gentleman seemed to be, the
more I longed for an _entrée_ into his house. Years went by, and this
court remained in my memory as a beautiful picture which Lewis only
could have adequately painted.

Towards the latter part of my last season in Cairo, I mentioned to my
friend, Mr. Bowden Smith, how difficult it was to obtain permission to
paint in the few, yet remaining, genuine old Cairene houses. His work,
connected with the ministry of finance, had brought him in contact with
many of the upper class Egyptians, and he named several houses he could
take me to see. ‘Have you seen the house of the Sheykh Saheime near the
Gamalieh?’ he asked, and described the very place which years since had
made so lasting an impression on me.

We went there the very next day, and were fortunate in finding the
Sheykh at home. We were received in the _takhtabosh_, a spacious recess
opening on to the court, and under the principal guest-chamber, which
latter is supported by a handsome granite column. A row of carved
wooden benches line the three walls of the recess, and rest on a paved
floor a few inches higher than the open court. Cushions were placed for
our accommodation, and we were courteously asked to sit down. Here we
took our coffee and conversed with our host.

I told him how glad I was to meet one who still had a pride in the
beautiful things his country had produced, and who preferred keeping
up the home of his ancestors to living _à l’Européenne_ in the modern
quarters. He could not foretell what his sons might do; but as far as
he was concerned, he would keep to the dress of his forebears and end
his days in the dwelling-places which they had built. ‘Should I better
myself,’ he asked, ‘if I left this house for one at Kasrel-Aine, or in
the Ismaelieh quarter?’ A vision of the pretentious villas ‘en style
Arabe,’ ‘en style Egyptien,’ or, worse yet, the Levantine’s conception
of ‘l’art nouveau,’ rose up before me, and by contrast made more
beautiful the court we overlooked. The gentle cooing of the doves, and
the sound of running water amidst the flowering shrubs, would never
here ill-tune with the hooting of a motor. The roses, which garlanded
the trellised windows, seemed more beautiful than those which try to
hide the cast-iron balconies of modern Cairo. No sound from the outside
world penetrated here till the solemn call to prayer from Beybar’s
mosque recalled the hour of day.

We made a move, thinking that our host might wish to attend the _Asr_.
To our delight, however, he asked if we would care to go over the house
with him. Nothing suiting us better, he conducted us across the court
to a door and passage leading to the _mandarah_ or guest-room. The
anteroom we passed through suggested a good subject, and I threw out
some hints that I should like to do a sketch of it. Whether our host
understood what I was driving at or purposely passed on to another
subject, I could not quite make out; but a wink from my friend that he
would have another try later on reassured me. The room was sparsely
furnished, as is generally the case in oriental houses. High wooden
benches lined the walls, and if we add to these a few cushions, some
rugs, and one or two hanging lamps, we shall have described about all
this anteroom contained. The light trickling through the latticed
windows showed up the design of the _mushrbiyeh_, and it is not
appreciable how decorative these turned wooden gratings are until they
are seen from the inside. The wall surfaces were quite plain, and gave
a value to the ornamentation surrounding the lintels of the three doors
which opened into the room. On each lintel was a Koranic text in raised
lettering and relieved on a blue ground.

The simplicity of the anteroom served to enhance the rich decoration of
the guest-room itself. The _durkááh_, which is that part of the floor
nearest to the entrance, had a beautiful tesselated pavement. In the
centre stood a double-basined marble fountain sending up several jets
of water, which were caught in a shallow well around its base. It is in
the _durkááh_ that the guest drops his slippers before ascending to the
_liwán_, which is raised a few inches above the pavement and occupies
about one-third of the apartment. Handsomely covered mattresses with
heavy cushions line the three enclosing walls and form the _diwaan_
or divan, as we call it. In this instance the ceiling of the _liwán_
was several feet lower than the roof of the _durkááh_, and with its
retaining arch bore much the same relation to the rest of the apartment
as does that of the chancel to a one-aisled church. The intricate
pattern of the _mushrbiyeh_ occupied the place of an east window.
Cupboards with minute panels of varying arabesque designs, and shelves
with bowls and dishes of Rhodian or Egyptian ware, furnished the walls
above the divan. The geometrical patterns on the ceiling and the vivid
colours with which they were defined would have been disturbing to the
eye, were it not for the subdued light, in which the decoration was
partially lost.

Everything was harmonious, all seemed exactly right. I would fain have
lingered on the divan and heard our host relate of deeds which may have
been done within these walls. But there was more to see. Leaving this
beautiful guest-chamber and crossing the anteroom, we were taken up a
winding staircase to the _hammám_. Our Turkish baths are modelled on
a similar plan, but as this one was only for private use, it was on a
smaller scale than a public one, and marble floors and seats here took
the place of more ordinary materials. From thence we were taken through
a corridor and into another guest-chamber.

A slight smile on the face of our host seemed to express a question as
to what we should say about this room, having exhausted our terms of
admiration on the one below. Here was the place where he wished us to
linger and sip our coffee until the mueddin once more called to prayer
at the close of the day.

Some of the features of the _mandarah_--as the guest-room below is
called--were here: the two levels of the floor defining the limits of
the _durkááh_ and that of the _liwán_; the tesselated pavement and
marble fountain in the one and the mattressed and cushioned divan
of the other; the _mushrbiyeh_ also split up the light in a pattern
suggesting the interlacing of strings of beads, and the panelling of
the doors and ceiling were as rich in arabesque design as that which we
had seen below. The one apartment was as truly Egyptian as the other,
yet it left a distinctly different impression.

The more subdued light of the _mandarah_, as well as the chancel-like
appearance of the _liwán_, had an impressiveness which was not here;
but it might easily have appeared gloomy had we visited this lighter
and more highly coloured room first.

We were now in what was probably the _Káá_, or principal apartment of
the hareem of former days. I have learnt since that the Sheykh’s family
is a small one, so the rooms overlooking the garden and in a wing of
the house--which we were of course not shown--would be amply sufficient
for the women-folk of his household.

The hareem, or harem, as it is often miscalled in England, is also
often misunderstood. Its true meaning is the ‘prohibited,’ that is
‘sacred’ to the master of the house. It is that portion of the house
which is confined to the women and children, and is not necessarily a
kind of luxurious prison for a number of wives, which many unacquainted
with the East often suppose. The ‘selamlik’ is that part of the house
used by the male portion of the household. As the great majority of
Egyptians have only one wife at a time, the hareem generally occupies
less of the house than the ‘selamlik.’ The term ‘el hareem’ also
applies to women collectively.

It would not have been proper to ask if the beautiful apartment we were
in had ever been used as the _Káá_, for one must be on very intimate
terms with a Moslem before alluding in any way to what concerns his
women-folk. A feminine touch of lightness absent in the selamlik
convinced me that we were being entertained in what at one time formed
a part of the hareem.

The chief attraction was the grand display of beautiful old tiles which
covered the walls. The design showed a Persian influence, and was not
confined to the geometrical patterns of the more orthodox Saracenic
work, and pretty as this is, it is the colour which gives it its great
charm. Blues tending to green played with blues of a violet shade,
touches of puce and emerald green joined in the revelry of colour. No
ornaments were hung or bracketed on these wall spaces, for were they
not ornament sufficient in themselves? The mattresses and cushions of
the divan had richer coverings, were more elegant in pattern, and less
sombre in hue than those of the divan we had first seen.

What a studio this would have made for any one desirous to paint
eastern subjects! Better that it remain as it is--a dignified setting
to a worthy Egyptian gentleman.

As the sun got more round to the west, the shadow of the _mushrbiyeh_
patterned the floor, and gem-like touches of light crept slowly up the
wall facing the great window. Above the turned wooden grating, which
showed its design so beautifully in the shadow it cast, a second window
admitted the light through numerous pieces of coloured glass set in
deep mouldings of old plaster work.

Mr. Bowden Smith chatted with the Sheykh about mutual acquaintances
and of affairs pertaining to the present day; but whether it was
my insufficient knowledge of Arabic or whether my surroundings had
carried my thoughts elsewhere, I lost the thread of their conversation.
When appealed to about some point, I had, before I could answer, to
disentangle my thoughts from ‘The story of the Humpback’ which I had
pictured Shahrazad rehearsing to her sister in anticipation of one of
the thousand and one nights. The two daughters of the Vizir had hardly
settled the point as to the working of this story into the one of ‘Noor
ed-Deen and Enees el Jelees,’ when the deep wail ‘Alláhu Akbar!’ from
Beybar’s minaret announced the _maghrib_.

The patterned shadow had left the floor, and the touches of light from
the stained glass, intensified in colour by the declining sun, crept
from wall to ceiling as we rose to depart.

[Illustration: ENTRANCE TO THE HAREEM]



CHAPTER VI

MY SECOND VISIT TO THE SHEYKH AND MY EXPERIENCES WITH AN UNFAITHFUL
SERVANT


My friend explained to the Sheykh my desire to set up an easel in some
parts of his house. A suspicious fear added to his wish to please
gave me an uncomfortable feeling of having presumed on the good man’s
hospitality. It took some time to clear his mind of any prejudicial
effects which might ensue on my working here. Picture painting is so
foreign to the Moslem’s education, and strictly speaking is a breach
of Koranic law, that a slight hesitation in giving me permission is
understandable. The likeness of nothing, which is in heaven above or
in the earth beneath, hung on his walls to assist us in explaining the
nature of my work; and that veil which is ever in a degree between the
western and the oriental mind seemed thickened for a while. The wish to
please, however, predominated over the suspicious fears, and he bade us
farewell with the assurance that his house was at my disposal.

It was days before I returned, as I wished to complete a street scene
I was then engaged on. I had lost my guide, philosopher, and friend,
Mohammed, whom I did not wish to do out of a lucrative job up the Nile,
and I had in his stead one with a plausible exterior, but possessing
none of the virtues and all the vices which go to make up a dragoman.
To work in the streets and bazaars in Cairo without a man to keep off
the small boys is almost an impossibility, and much of one’s comfort
depends on the tact and willingness of the man one employs.

Mansoor (to give him an alias) spoke and read English remarkably well,
and having learnt like a parrot some sentences concerning the Pyramids
and some of the chief monuments of Cairo, he was in hopes of soon
obtaining a dragoman’s licence. Without this licence, happily, none may
guide the tourist, and as an examination of sorts is now required, and
also a character from some previous employer as to the good behaviour
of the applicant, the tourist may run less risk in future of being
hopelessly swindled than he did in earlier days. But acting merely as
my servant, such licence was not a necessity. He had an irritating way
of giving me uncalled-for information. The parrot-like sentences he had
stored in his memory were repeated each time we passed a monument the
tourist is taken to see. These might have been amusing had I not heard
them _ad nauseam_ before. I did not check him at first, and I even
tried to supplement some facts absent from the little book which he had
learnt by heart. His usual answer, ‘This is all the dragomans say,’
discouraged me from trying to teach him anything.

The Khan Khalil was the school in which the true tricks of his trade
were to be studied. While I worked there, Mansoor would crawl about
listening to the prices paid for the various purchases, and probably
passed sleepless nights till he had found out about the commission the
guides had obtained for bringing a customer. His smart clothes and his
fluent English must have imposed on many a stall-holder that he was
either a licensed dragoman or was shortly to become one. Coffee and
cigarettes were pressed on him at whatever _mastaba_ he deigned to sit.

While I worked in a mosque not far from this bazaar he would sit at the
window and watch for tourists. Several times he had an uncle to bury.
He would explain that there was only just time for him to pay his last
respects to his deceased relative, and if I would let him go he would
be sure to be back by the time I was prepared to leave. I would tell
him to go and bury his relative, and had he asked to bury himself, I
was prepared by this time to give him my full permission.

The last time he left me on his sorrowful errand, I mounted on to the
window-sill where he was wont to watch for the prey as yet withheld
from him. I saw a party of tourists just disappearing into an alley
leading into the Khan Khalil, while Mansoor was questioning the driver
of one of the cabs which they had left, and then he also was lost in
the shadow of the selfsame alley. He returned some time after I was
ready to start for my hotel, and I told him that as he had taken so
long in burying his uncle, he should attend no more funerals while he
was in my service. To be told a lie is seldom pleasant; but a very
stupid lie reflects on the intelligence of the hearer, and this may
partly have accounted for my growing dislike of this man.

I had unfortunately not found another to take his place when I went
to the house of the Sheykh Saheime to start a drawing. I was most
courteously received, and was told to ask for anything which I might
require. I began a drawing from the anteroom of the _mandara_ looking
into the court and through the passage, which also led to the stairs of
the former hareem. I did not wish to begin a too elaborate subject till
I felt more sure that repeated visits were not inconvenient to my host.
Mansoor joined the doorkeeper and the eunuch on their bench at the
front entrance, where he doubtless enhanced his own importance by lying
about my riches and relationship to the various high English officials
in Cairo. The inconvenience of such lies is that a tip proportionate
to such imagined wealth is looked forward to. He came presently as
the bearer of a message from the Sheykh, that had the latter known I
was coming that day, he would have prepared a dinner for me; but that
he hoped I would return on the following morning and would honour
him with my presence at the midday meal. I was grateful for his kind
intentions, and yet sorry that I might be putting him to some trouble
and inconvenience. I wished to come here often, and would only feel
comfortable about doing so if I felt sure that I was not disturbing him.

Not feeling sure as to my intentions, he came himself, and was not
satisfied till I had promised to dine with him the next day. Mansoor
was later cross-questioned as to whether I liked such and such a dish.
Did I always eat with a knife and fork? He supposed I sat on a chair
while I fed, and could Christians get through a meal without strong
drink? Such questions were duly repeated to me, so I sent my man back
to the Sheykh with a message that the more the dinner was as he was
accustomed to have it, the more I should appreciate his hospitality.

I was there early on the following morning, as I wished to complete
my drawing before the meal took place. I had a good long paint with
no other company but a weasel, which is often seen in Egyptian houses
to keep off the mice and rats, or whatever one chooses to call that
creature which is too large for the former and too small for the
latter. I know of but one name for either of these pests, and _firán_
does duty for both. Cats are also household pets, but are less
adaptable for spying out the secret places where the _firán_ are wont
to nest their young.

A message came from the Sheykh to know if I wanted my dinner at twelve
or at one o’clock. I sent Mansoor to find out what his usual hour was,
and being told that it was just after the midday prayer, I sent word
that no other time would suit me better.

About half-past twelve the Sheykh appeared, followed by a gentleman
in European clothes and a ‘tarbouch.’ I was introduced, and informed
that this was a cousin and a judge of a native tribunal. I was relieved
to find that the judge spoke French fluently, for my Arabic is liable
to fail me if put to too severe a test. They seemed interested in my
drawing, and held it close to their eyes to enable them to decipher
the text engraved on the lintel of the door. It is a never-failing
surprise to Easterns if they can read any lettering which one may
have introduced in a drawing. ‘The _ghawaga_ says he can’t write
Arabic; then how is it that we can read what he has here written?’ My
explanation that I had merely copied the strokes and dots which I saw
before my nose seldom satisfied these inquiries, and generally left a
suspicion of something uncanny. Needless to say here that the lady now
shown in the illustration was non-existent at that time, and not being
of the _beau sexe_ myself, the privilege of seeing one at any time in
this house was not to be expected. There are still some things left
which the painter may do and which are still beyond the power of the
camera.

Now, a word of warning to any one who may be about to dine for the
first time with one of the Near East. To put it crudely: Come with an
empty stomach and eat as sparingly of the first dishes as you can. They
may be very good; but our powers of absorption may fail us, and we
might have to pass several subsequent courses untouched, which might be
taken as a slight to the quality of the fare. I was prepared for this,
and had made a very light breakfast. The grace, repeated in a low voice
by the master, is always impressive: ‘Bi-smi-lláhi-r-raḥmani-r-raḥeem’
(In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful), and the smell of
the savoury dish which had been placed before us made the ‘Tafaddal’
or invitation to sit down doubly welcome. Chairs had been borrowed,
as a concession doubtless to the requirements of the _Ferangi_, and
a plate, knife, and fork were also placed before me. I dismissed the
latter articles as only being necessary to cut up the tougher food
of Europeans, and as quite useless with the tenderer dishes of the
_Muslemeen_. The Sheykh seemed pleased at this and, as is the custom,
first tasted of the dish.

When I tore a piece off the thin flat loaf placed before me and,
doubling it, I hooked a piece of meat out of the dish, he exclaimed
that I had eaten in Arab fashion before. The judge agreed with me that
with Arab dishes he did not see where a knife and fork came in. Not
partaking so freely of the _yachnee_ as to satisfy our host, he took a
delicate morsel out of the stew and handed it to me.

The manner of eating with the fingers seems strange at first; but it
is astonishing how soon one gets accustomed to it, and also how much
more delicate it seems than when described to those who may never have
witnessed it. The right hand should always be used if possible, and
should a fowl be served, it is polite to catch hold of one leg, so as
to enable the master to dismember the bird without having to use his
left hand. It may take as long to learn the etiquette pertaining to
the Arab mode of eating as for an Arab to acquire all the niceties
observed at an English table. Should a stranger, however, from want
of experience do something contrary to the usages of the country, an
oriental will pretend not to notice it, as a well-bred Englishman would
do if the cases were reversed.

Dish followed on dish; when some sweetstuffs were placed on the table
my hopes revived, till they were replaced by yet another stew. My
powers of absorption had about reached their limit. I appealed to
my host to consider the limited dimensions of my lower waist, and
that that only prevented me from doing full justice to his generous
fare. This had some effect, and I was let off with a tit-bit which he
politely handed to me in his fingers. ‘El-ḥamdu li-lláh!’ (Praise be to
God) from the judge, who rose up and continued the conversation while
washing his hands, was the abrupt sign that our feast was at an end.

A servant held a brass basin while a second poured the water from a
ewer over my hands, and, our ablutions at an end, we were conducted to
the _takhtabosh_ to sip our coffee and smoke. I was asked where I had
dined before in Arab fashion, and my host was interested to hear about
some dishes peculiar to Morocco, also how I had fared with the Druses
in the Lebanon. An Arab meal, in fact, was not in itself a novelty
to me; but, as I explained to the Sheykh, I had never dined in such
beautiful surroundings. We got on to the subject of Japan, where the
mode of eating is much more difficult to acquire than that of the Near
East. My hearers showed a much greater interest in things Japanese
than I expected, for as a rule a Moslem’s sympathies rarely extend to
countries beyond the sway of Islam. How I had got on without meat,
bread, milk or butter surprised them, and settled any possible doubts
as to whether they might wish to go there themselves. I am told that
during the Russo-Japanese war events were followed with keen interest
in Egypt. Every victory of the Japanese was construed into a victory of
a non-Christian people over a Christian power--of the Asiatic over the
European. When a book I had written on my experiences in Japan appeared
at the Cairo booksellers’, I was interviewed by the editor of an Arabic
paper to give him as many particulars as I could concerning Japan.

[Illustration: THE TAKHTABOSH]

I avoided all talk as to the present régime in Egypt. Though one of
my hearers had a safe billet, and the Sheykh probably felt a greater
security for the property he holds than he would if our occupation
of Egypt ceased, nevertheless the sting of being governed by the
unbelievers is always there, let the unbeliever’s yoke be ever so light
a one.

A suspicion that I might be hindering the afternoon nap induced me to
bid farewell to my host and the judge.

Mansoor had been having a good time feasting with the servants, and
when he joined me I asked him to divide a _riyal_ between those who
had served me. I watched him present the money to one of them and in
the presence of the others, for I had reason to suspect his honesty. I
could not hear the talk which followed, but saw the money passed on to
a boy, who was told to go to a shop and change it. I saw no object in
waiting any longer, so left the house. Mansoor wished to stay behind,
and as I did not see why he should get any of the tip, I made him come
with me. In the main street I hailed a passing cab. Mansoor now seemed
rather disturbed and asked if he could go back. ‘The boy will not know
where to bring the change of the _riyal_.’ ‘Did you not tell the boy
to give the changed money to be divided among the servants?’ I asked.
‘No, I did not say it was for the servants,’ he answered, with the look
of a detected thief; ‘I told him to bring the change back to you, sir.
Please allow me to return to the house and I will tell them what your
intentions were.’ I could not return myself to see the matter through,
as I remembered an appointment I had to keep, and I let the man go. It
dawned on me as I drove to my hotel that Mansoor’s object in hanging
behind was to intercept the boy returning with the change and to pocket
the lot himself.

Explaining the circumstances to one who had had a long experience of
native servants, I was assured that my suspicions were not unfounded.
This villain, who had been well entertained by the servants of the
house, had conceived this ingenious manner of robbing them of their
gratuity.

When he turned up the next morning I told him I should want him no
longer. Seeming to question the reason of his sudden dismissal, I
suggested a police inquiry as to the disposal of the _riyal_. He wished
to hear no more, and vanished like the ghost who was asked for a
subscription.

Now this is a type of man who, but for the salutary regulation as to
granting licences, would have become a dragoman, and have reaped a good
harvest, during the short season, by robbing the tourist by day, and
conducting others by night to witness every kind of abomination.



CHAPTER VII

IN WHICH I GET ANOTHER SERVANT AND HUNT FOR A CROCODILE; ALSO A
CONTINUATION OF THE STORY OF PRINCESS ZOHRA


I found a man, who was used to attending artists on their rounds,
sooner than I had hoped for. He was a rougher type of man than my
last one, but one to whom I took much more readily. He spoke no
English, which was in his favour, for though this might sometimes be
inconvenient, it suited my purpose better to practise my Arabic than to
have him airing his English on me.

Mahmood Hanafy is his name. I give it with pleasure, and in hopes
that possibly these lines may be read by some one who might be glad
of his services. No two men of the same nationality could have been
a greater contrast than this Mahmood and the disgraced Mansoor. The
more traps Mahmood had to carry, the more he seemed to like it; when
I suggested taking a cab, he would say the place was no distance, and
cabs were very dear--he had evidently been well trained by former
brother-brushes. Mansoor, on the other hand, always had a cab near the
hotel when we started, and would place my sketching things on the box
in hopes I would take it. Distances were always enormous with him, and
when I took a cab, he would declare that the doubled fare asked was
none too much. The extra squeeze he could then get out of the cabby
harmonised with his natural laziness. Mahmood was a plucky fellow, and
ready to clear a street of people if he thought they were in my way;
while Mansoor’s bravery never went further than slapping a child if the
parents were not present, whereas, if some hooligans promised to be a
nuisance, he generally slipped away.

Mahmood had one drawback which his predecessor had not, and that was
a loud voice. Now, as no pillow was ever thick enough to prevent my
hearing my watch ticking, a huge volume of sound was not necessary
when he answered my questions. If he thought I did not understand
him, he evidently took it for hardness of hearing, and his answers
would be loud enough to startle the street. I could not correct him
of this, though he tried to mend. Trained as a donkey-boy, this voice
had doubtless been of use both in directing his beast and in the
altercations which often end a ride. Possibly the deafest donkeys were
placed in his care. He was now the owner of many donkeys, he told me,
and he let them out by the month instead of running after one himself.
He was always ready, however, to run after one if I should require it.
His dress was more humble than that of Mansoor, but he never pleaded
poverty to try and get something over his wage. He told me he had all
he wanted, and should I not wish to use him for a few days, he would
willingly rest till his services would be required.

The other man, though smartly dressed, had always some tale of poverty
handy when I gave him his wage, and always begged for an advance on
his future pay. Had he not a number of people dependent on him? and the
cost of food, had it not risen so much? I found out afterwards that
he had no dependants, and that he sponged on his sisters when he was
out of work. He had the appearance of one addicted to hashsheesh, and
probably only smoked this of an evening, for I could never detect the
smell.

This drug is happily now forbidden to enter the country, and strong
measures are taken to prevent its use. A certain amount does, however,
get smuggled in, and the _ḥashshash_ or victim to the drug can still
procure it if he can pay for its enhanced price. The smell of its
fumes was much more familiar formerly in the humbler coffee-shops;
but it is not quite absent now. It is often mixed with _tumbák_, a
kind of Persian tobacco, and is smoked in the _gózeh_, a pipe made
of a cocoanut-shell, which has a long cane stem. One who indulges
slightly in the habit would not be termed a _ḥashshash_ any more than a
moderate drinker in England would be termed a drunkard. The opprobrium
attached to the term is much increased through its association with
the _Ḥashshashseyn_ of the time of the Crusades, whom we know as the
Assassins--the subjects of the ‘Sultan of the Castles and Fortresses,’
more commonly called ‘the old man of the mountain.’ They were said to
indulge freely in hashsheesh when sent on some murderous errand by
their chief. Rowdy or riotous people are often termed ‘Hashshasheen’
whether they be addicted to the drug or not.

Seeing an excitable crowd quite recently, in one of the principal
squares of Cairo, I approached to see what was the matter. A
brutal-looking man was struggling with a couple of policemen who were
taking him off to jail, while others were placing on a stretcher a
youth who was terribly hacked about his face and head. On inquiry I
heard that the man in charge of the police was employed at the public
slaughter-house, that he was given to hashsheesh, and that in a fit
of madness he had just assaulted with his butcher’s knife the wounded
youth. The term _hashshash_, which was freely used by the crowd, had a
particularly gruesome sound on that occasion.

Loud and furious were the comments of Mahmood, and had he not been
carrying my materials he would have joined in the struggle with the
butcher.

As this took place just within the limits of the European quarter, it
was fully reported in the foreign Cairo papers. The youth succumbed to
his wounds, and the _hashshash_ paid the death penalty.

I was on my way to the Khaleeg to look for a subject which had
attracted me on a former visit, and before this canal had been filled
in by the tramway company. A change for the better, possibly, from a
hygienic point of view, and also as a means of communication; but a sad
loss to the picturesque. Many historic buildings which backed on to the
canal have been pulled down, and commonplace frontages will soon blot
out all remembrance of them.

The tramway having come to stay, it is as well to make the best of
it, and to use its cars along the couple of miles which bisect the
city from north to south. From this route many a peep into some old
courtyard, or the back of a mosque or palm-shaded shrine, may induce a
descent from the cars and a tramp along the dusty road.

Just beyond the present governorat was an angle of the enclosure known
as the ‘guarded city.’ This formed more or less of a square of rather
more than half a mile each way, and its western wall stood on the east
side of the present filled-in canal. The building of this enclosure
marks such an important date in the mediæval history of Egypt that a
few words here may not be amiss.

Stanley Lane Poole tells us, in the _Story of Cairo_, how in 959
Gawhar, the victorious general of el-Mo’izz (the first Khalif of the
Fatimid dynasty), entered Masr, as the capital of Egypt was then
called, and still is by its native inhabitants. Plague and famine had
so reduced the population, that scarcely any resistance was offered
to the troops which Gawhar had led from Tunis into the valley of the
Nile. His first thought was to build a fortified place away from the
plague-stricken city, and yet near enough to keep it in subjection.
Beyond its northern extremity he pitched his camp on a sandy waste,
unobstructed by any buildings save an old convent. The prevailing winds
being from the north, hygienic reasons were also in favour of this site.

When the boundaries of the enclosure were marked out, astrologers
were consulted as to an auspicious hour in which to start digging the
foundations. From poles stuck in the ground ropes were stretched, from
which bells were hung, and thousands of men stood ready with shovel
and pick to dig out the trenches as soon as the astrologers shook
the poles, and by the tinkling of the bells announced the auspicious
moment. The intentions of the astrologers were, however, forestalled
by a raven who, alighting on a rope, set the bells aringing, and every
spade was instantly stuck into the soil. It was during the hour when
the planet Mars (el-Káhir) was in the ascendant--an evil omen for the
future peace of the place. ‘Masr el-Káhira’ thus became the name,
not only of the fortified enclosure, but also of the adjacent city.
‘El-Káhira,’ or the Martial, is that from which we get our Cairo. The
omen was turned to good account by the astrologers. Messengers were
sent to Mo’izz to announce that the foundations of a triumphant Masr
had been laid; the name of the last of the Abbasid Khalifs was no more
heard in the prayers which were offered up in the mosque of Amr, and
Mo’izz was proclaimed the ruler of Egypt. His conquests now extended
from the Atlantic to the Arabian desert, and for two centuries the
Fatimid dynasty ruled the country.

Walls, described as being thick enough to allow four horses to be
driven abreast on them, were built round the enclosure; the foundations
of a vast palace worthy of the great Khalif were laid; and buildings
were planned to accommodate his court, and those who would guard his
sacred person. The common folk were not admitted within the gates of
the enclosure after the Khalif had taken up his residence. It was then
designated ‘Kahira-el-Mahrusa,’ or the guarded city.

[Illustration: MOSQUE OF MOHAMMED BEY]

The Sheea heresy which Mo’izz had fostered, whether from conviction or
from policy, had a far-reaching influence on the destiny of the country.

In the mosques orthodox Moslems were replaced by sheykhs of the
favoured sect. Christians and Jews were tolerated and often put in high
positions. What civilisation gained here it more than lost by cutting
off Cairo from the great centres of Saracenic learning, and though bent
on destroying the power of the Sunnee or orthodox Moslems, there is no
reason to suppose that leanings of Mo’izz were towards Christianity. To
remedy this he built the university mosque of el-Azhar, proudly called
‘The Resplendent.’ He endowed it liberally, and gave the students
every opportunity to study the Sheea teaching which had caused the
rift in the Mohammedan world. A great impetus was given to art by the
removal of the prohibition to copy any natural objects; and birds and
beasts, flowers and foliage were freely made use of in design during
the Fatimid period. Unfortunately little remains of this, for, when
the orthodox party gained the ascendant during the rule of the House
of Salahedin, these decorations were ‘a mark of the beast’ and were in
most cases destroyed.

Vivid descriptions exist of the splendour of Mo’izz and the great ‘East
Palace’ which he built. But nothing of all this now remains except the
Azhar, which justly is still one of the most famous monuments of Cairo.

Parallel to the canal runs a narrow street called ‘Beyn-es-Sureyn’ or
‘Between the walls,’ and this conducts into another called ‘sharia
el-Benât,’ which means the street of the sisters. It is here I have
come to make a study of a doorway of little architectural pretensions;
it leads into a house built in the middle of the nineteenth century and
which backed into the canal. A terrific-looking crocodile used to hang
over the door, and this one as well as others had caught my attention
during former visits as being a characteristic ornament of a Nile city.
Stories, I have since heard, refer to this crocodile, and made me wish
to make a drawing of it. Children used to pass it and speak with bated
breath; for it was said that it had grown to its size from feeding on
the children, the parents of whom the master of the house had slain in
Sennaar.

The house was built by the awe-inspiring Defterdar Ahmed, whom Mohammed
Ali had sent to the Sudan to avenge the murder of one of his sons, and
so terrible were his acts of retribution that he is since known as the
‘Tiger of Sennaar.’ His chief interest, however, for the present is,
that, partly as a reward for his valour, the great Pasha gave him one
of his daughters in marriage. Mohammed Ali is reported to have said
that the Tiger would be a fitting mate to his Tigress.

If my readers have not forgotten the fate of O’Donald, the young Irish
officer, they may recognise in this Tigress the lady of his undoing.

It is related that the princess Zohra, after the murder of her lover,
was for many days as one bereft of her senses. The first conscious act
we hear of her is when she stole from the palace in the dead of night
and found her way to the field where O’Donald was buried. The jackals
and dogs had left no trace visible of where the unfortunate man was
placed,--they had done their work as well as Abbas could have wished.
The poor woman was found at break of day, grubbing with her hands in
the soil to find the body of her beloved one. She was forcibly led back
to the palace and the matter was reported to her father. The servants
were severely punished for allowing her to escape from the hareem, and
Zohra was kept in strict confinement.

When the Defterdar returned soon after, from his campaign in the Sudan,
Ali wished to honour him as highly as he could. He saw also in him
one who had strength of will sufficient to be a match for his wilful
daughter. Ahmed was proud of the alliance, and built and furnished a
palace here in the ‘sharia el-Benât,’ worthy to be the home of his
exalted bride. Whether the Defterdar’s life was a happy one we are not
told. But it was a short one:--his death was due to a stroke, said the
court physicians; poison, whispered the neighbours; and poison, said
Abbas, whose hatred of his aunt and former playmate grew as time went
on.

Little was seen or heard of the widowed princess for some time after.
Few ladies from the different hareems were bold enough to call on her,
and the huge crocodile seemed more like a bogey to frighten people off
than an emblem of luck to the house which he adorned.

The mysterious disappearance of one or two young men became the talk
of the neighbourhood, and this increased as the absence of others
was observed. The body of one was found in the canal close to the
water-gate of Zohra’s palace, and shortly after this a second one
was seen there. No one dared voice their suspicions; but when the
public story-tellers (the _shoara_) told of Kattalet-esh-Shugan, the
Arabian Messalina, knowing looks were passed amongst the audience.
The tragedies were repeated from time to time, and every mother of a
handsome son trembled lest he should be caught in the toils of one she
hardly dared name, but whose name was in the thoughts of all.

Abbas kept himself well informed as to what went on in Zohra’s palace,
but he abided his time until Mohammed Ali should return from the wars,
or until fortune should favour his accession to the viceregal throne.
In 1841 the firmân of investiture, as it is called, brought the wars,
which Mohammed Ali had waged with varying success, to a close. The
hereditary sovereignty of Egypt had been secured to the family of the
great Pasha and, except for the annual tribute to be paid to the Porte,
Egypt had become an independent state.

Prince Abbas now informed his grandfather of the goings-on in his
daughter’s palace. Gentle persuasion was never a characteristic of the
old gentleman, and the manner in which he put a stop to these scandals
reads like a story in the _Arabian Nights_. It is related that thirty
masons and twenty-five donkeys laden with bricks were immediately
despatched to wall up, during that very day, every outside window and
door except the one surmounted by the crocodile. A company of soldiers
were also sent to see that these orders were strictly carried out.
Before sundown Zohra’s palace had become a veritable prison.

A modest house immediately facing the crocodile was inhabited by a
Coptic scribe. This innocent man and his family were bundled out with
all their belongings, and his house was turned into a guard-room. A
watch was kept here day and night to see that no one, or nothing but
what was necessary to the upkeep of the household, should pass through
the one access to the palace.

We are not told how the princess passed the next few years in her
prison. Mohammed Ali sank into his dotage, and the reins of government
were taken over by his adopted son Ibrahim. Prince Abbas had not to
wait long before the legitimate succession came to him, for Ibrahim
Pasha died within a year of his viceroyalty and shortly before the
demented Mohammed Ali’s decease. Abbas then became the ruler of Egypt.

Zohra now realised her danger in remaining in Cairo. In spite of the
guard set to watch her movements she succeeded in escaping from the
canal side of her palace, and she crossed into Syria before her flight
became known to her nephew. From Syria she repaired to Constantinople,
where she sought and obtained the protection of the Sultan of Turkey.

We will leave her there for the present, and perhaps we may refer to
her doings later on.

The crocodile I was in search of had disappeared, and nothing remained
whereby I could exactly locate the palace. The story of Zohra, though
of so recent a date, seems now to take its place with the tragedies
enacted within Mo’izz’s ‘guarded city.’



CHAPTER VIII

OF A CAIRO CAFÉ AND OTHER MATTERS


I had not far to go along the filled-in canal before a partly pulled
down housefront enabled me to see the court of a once important
dwelling. It was similar in plan to many I have seen; but it was
the only instance I have met of a vaulted _takhtabosh_. A wooden
screen partly shut it off from the yard, and an opening in one of
the panels served as a doorway. Whether this screen belonged to
the original building I cannot say; but it certainly added greatly
to its picturesque appearance. The recess was now converted into a
coffee-shop, while the rest of the house was let out in tenements to
poor people.

It is never safe to leave a good subject to a later period, if it can
possibly be helped. Some arrangement of line or colour, often hard to
define, may be just what gives the subject its charm. Something may
have disturbed this, or some touch of colour may have gone, before a
second visit, and it leaves the painter wondering as to what he could
have seen in the place to have made him wish to paint it. I started
sketching in the café at once, hoping that some customers might arrive
to suggest a grouping of figures. Should these customers be queer ones,
I could trust to Mahmood to keep them from disturbing me at my work.

I had not long to wait before a half-dozen men came in. They seemed
sufficiently interested in something not to take much notice of me.
They squatted down on their heels, forming a ring, and two of them each
pulled a game-cock from under their cloaks and pitched them on to the
ground. The Cairene is usually very noisy during his entertainments;
but in this case few words were spoken, though the men watched the
varying success of their birds with intense interest. I was too
occupied in taking notes of the men and the action of the cocks to
feel any interest in the sport, and by the time one of the birds was
at its last gasp, and lay bleeding on the ground, I felt a sufficient
disgust for the whole thing to decide me not to make it the subject of
a picture.

I saw them refer to Mahmood as to who I might be, for Koranic law
forbids all betting, and I believe cock-fighting is contrary to police
regulations. They seemed satisfied that I was harmless enough, and they
departed as quietly as they had come.

The sport must be a very popular one, for these birds, with their combs
closely cut and with plucked necks, may be seen in almost any street in
the poorer parts of the town. Whether the ancient Egyptians indulged
in cock-fighting, I have never been able to ascertain. I can recall no
wall inscriptions depicting the sport, neither does Wilkinson refer
to it in his _Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians_. It was
probably introduced into Egypt during the Ptolemies or, at the latest,
during the Roman occupation. Quail-fighting is common in Upper Egypt,
though I have personally never witnessed it.

The sun soon made my place untenable, so I decided to return in the
afternoon, when I might also expect to find more customers to suggest
some figure arrangement suitable to my picture. It was a grand place
for Mahmood--cups of coffee at two for a penny. I could treat him to as
many as he liked, and please the _Kahwegee_ at the same time. I confess
to a good many cups myself, for coffee made in Turkish fashion is most
seductive. The cups are very small, and there is only a sip of liquid
before reaching the grounds, which are allowed to settle at the bottom.
But it is a delicious sip, and it is also very stimulating. The habit
of afternoon tea acquired in England is hard to break, and to make a
journey into the modern quarters to indulge it would have cut seriously
into my work, and I found in one of these little cups of coffee an
excellent substitute. Paint where one wishes, a coffee-shop is sure to
be within easy reach, and the _Kahwegee_ will always for a trifle bring
coffee, a chair, and a glass of water, and place them next to one’s
easel. Now that the native quarters are supplied with pure water, one
can drink the latter with safety. Coffee drinking is often carried to
excess in Egypt, with deleterious effects to nerves and digestion; but
its victims are less objectionable neighbours to the sketcher than the
fuddled European, who may bore him with questions and breathe on him
the odour of his complaint.

It is said that drunkenness is on the increase amongst the natives, and
it is true that tipsy men are occasionally seen. They are chiefly the
loafers who hang about the European quarters, where modest coffee-shops
hardly exist, and where nearly every other house retails some or other
intoxicant. Beer or spirits are hardly obtainable in the purely native
parts of Cairo.

[Illustration: A CAIRENE CAFÉ]

Towards evening this quaint little café would liven up. The wooden
bench which served as a _mastaba_ might seat an _álim_ (as any one who
can read is often called), who would drone out the news from the daily
paper to a group of listeners, and the sound of the chequers slammed
on a backgammon-board would make an accompanying click, click, from
inside the recess. This game has been borrowed from the _Firangi_, and
is still called by its French name of ‘tric-trac.’ It is immensely
popular amongst the effendi class, and is gradually being adopted by
those of a humbler station. The more primitive _mankaleh_ is still
played in Cairo, and is still universal in the villages where tric-trac
has not yet found its way. I have been shown how to play it, but space
will not allow of a lengthy description of its details. It is played on
an oblong board with twelve hollows in two rows of six each, each row
forming an opposing camp. There are seventy-two cowries, or, failing
these, small pebbles, and it is according to the manner in which these
are distributed into the hollows that makes the game. An elaborate
account of the various modes of playing it is given in Lane’s _Modern
Egyptians_. It is reported as having obtained in Pharaonic times, but
this has never been satisfactorily confirmed.

Turkish draughts is also a popular game, and to my thinking much more
amusing than the way we play it in England. That this game was known
(or a form of it) amongst the ancients is certain, and most visitors
to Medinet Habú will have been shown the presentment of Rameses III.
playing it with his queen.

Games of chance, as well as betting, are forbidden by the Koran. A
point is, however, usually stretched in allowing the loser to pay for
the cups of coffee. In _mankaleh_ the player backs his skill more than
his luck, whereas in backgammon the throw of the dice brings in a large
element of chance. A strict Mohammedan will therefore abstain from the
latter game.

As the day declined, more customers would drop in, and by the time the
lamps were lit I often regretted that my hotel _table d’hôte_ called me
away to the Ismaeliyeh quarter.

The light from the primitive lamps piercing a blue atmosphere of smoke,
and falling on the groups of figures intent on their games, left a
picture in my mind which I hoped might not be dimmed by the more
commonplace aspect of an up-to-date hotel.

Perhaps, after all, it is as well that circumstances oblige me to
reside away from that part which I regard as the true Cairo. Putting
aside matters of health, it is a loss to be cut off from one’s
countrymen, or those of other countries whose mode of life resembles
one’s own. Unless a man can take his wife with him, he may pass months
without seeing a woman’s face, or exchanging a word with one of his
opposite sex. This has been my experience in Upper Egypt and while
camping in the desert, where the woman will hide away from a strange
man, and where her voice will never be heard except she be screaming at
one of her children, or in altercation with a neighbour. The servants
are always males, and the food bought in the villages is always sent
by a man or a boy. If I strolled in to see the Omdeh or the village
sheykh, I should have to wait till his women-folk were well out of the
way. Their conversation might not have been edifying; but was that of
the men always so? Life in a purely Mohammedan country, if separated
from wife and family, is a one-sex existence.

I have met cultured men in the Near East, who for long periods had had
little intercourse with those of their own nationality, and I noticed
how ill at ease they seemed when brought in contact with European
ladies and gentlemen. Life was strange enough away from the European
settlements in Japan, but it was a more complete life. Though I might
not understand a word spoken by the _Okosan_ or the _mousume_, their
smiles of welcome were perfectly understandable.

The hotel Villa Victoria, which I have of late made my headquarters
in Cairo, is out of the general rush of tourists, and is frequented
by many who are at times engaged in excavating, or are in some way
connected with the Antiquities Department. There are also permanent
guests in various Government Offices, as well as others whose business
brings them in contact with things Egyptian. I was here long enough
for acquaintance with my fellow-lodgers to ripen into friendship, and
besides the pleasure of their company, I was enabled to pick up a good
deal of information. I could also stay here at any time of the year,
whereas most of the huge caravansaries put up their shutters when the
tourist season is over.

There were also ladies here who had the _entrée_ into the hareems of
the principal houses, and though they were careful not to give away
what is not intended for general discussion, I was yet able to get some
idea of the life which is led in the ‘prohibited places.’ The interior
of a princely home in Cairo at present must resemble that of a large
Parisian or London house, much more than that of the Sheykh Saheime
which I attempted to describe in a former chapter. The picture which
a reception-room in the hareem conjures up in the western mind--of
love-sick Zuleikas sprawling on cushioned floors, sighing for their
Selims and sucking sweets--may be safely dismissed. Diaphanous divided
skirts no more conceal their lower limbs, nor do gold-braided corsets
set off the symmetry of their figures. The Parisian modiste ‘a changé
tout cela.’ To us poor males, who only catch a sight of them as they
drive by in their broughams, they look still as oriental as ever. The
black silk _habarah_ entirely covers the ‘creation’ from Paris, and
the coiffeur’s art is hid beneath its folds. The white muslin _burko_
veils the face except the eyes, and whether these veils be thinner than
formerly I cannot say. But they are not sufficiently thick to hide
completely an often very pretty outline of cheek and chin.

My informant went there to read, or hear read, the French classics,
and though some of the ladies may have felt bored with extracts from
Corneille, I was told that many were intelligently interested. For fear
lest my readers might take Zohra as a fair specimen of an Egyptian
princess, I hasten to assure them that she was as great an exception
among the women as was her illustrious father amongst the men of his
time.

There was much in common between father and daughter. The great Pasha
let nothing stand between himself and his ambitions; any means were
good enough to remove those who obstructed his plans. He was a brave
man and a great soldier, and yet he could stoop to treacherously
murdering the mameluke Beys and their followers, when he considered his
rule in Egypt was safer without them. His young daughter was prepared
to sacrifice any one who might thwart her in her misplaced love; and
the form of madness which followed on her unsatisfied desires had its
parallel in the loss of reason by her father, when his ambitions to
found a great empire were not realised. He is reported to have had
eighty-five children, and strange it is that, with a family of such
dimensions, the succession of the present Khedive should have come
through an adopted son. Therefore, as far as we know, there is no
blood relationship between the actual members of the ruling house and
Mohammed Ali and his descendants.

It is pleasant to turn from Zohra to the mistress of a princely hareem,
who is now a great lady in Cairo. Though having children of her own,
she still finds room in her affections, as well as in her palace, to
mother many little girls who have either lost or have been abandoned
by their parents. She not only gives them a good education, but, as
children by adoption, she keeps them until suitable husbands are
provided for them. A kinder form of charity is hard to conceive.

Entertainments and visits from lady friends are of constant occurrence
in the wealthier hareems in Cairo, though the life of Egyptian ladies
in a general way must, from a European standpoint, be exceedingly
dull. Girl schools are on the increase as well as home instruction;
but taking the whole female population of Egypt, it is barely one per
cent. as yet who can either read or write. The percentage among men is
low enough--about five in a hundred; but as the enormous majority of
Egyptians are peasants, five per cent. may cover those who are above
the status of labouring men.

I have heard the complaint from educated Moslems that their wives were
poor companions, and that they therefore spent but little of their time
in their company. I don’t know what else they could expect. The fellaha
woman may at times be overworked, but her existence seems a happier one
than that of many of her wealthier sisters in their enforced idleness.

A fashionable French modiste was for a while a guest at the Villa
Victoria. She spent her time running from one hareem to another,
getting orders for the latest things in hats. As some of these hats, at
the time of which I am writing, were about half the size of a billiard
table, we would see her driving to her clients nearly lost amongst
colossal bandboxes. For convenience she wore her _chef-d’œuvre_, that
is the biggest, on her own head, and she would sometimes return crowned
with a smaller one, having, as she told us, disposed of the masterpiece
in one of the hareems. We were curious to know when and where her
clients could wear them, for they never appeared in Cairo with a
European hat on their heads. ‘Oh! mais c’est pour Paris ou Vienne,’
she said, and assured us that they looked ‘bien chics.’

Just think of it!--Zuleika in a Paris taxi balancing one of these
shapeless masses of millinery on the top of her head!

To see things as others see them may often be the wish of most of
us. I have never felt this wish stronger than when I have seen some
old village sheykh asking his way about modernised Cairo. Some evil
ginn must have raised these huge blocks of buildings which house the
unbelievers. Strange things to help them on their road to perdition
are exposed in the stores, and sheets of some invisible material which
his eye can penetrate, but which resists the touch of his finger, hang
before the accursed articles. Cars run along the streets with neither
an ass nor a camel to draw them. Sparks which fly from beneath the
wheels and overhead, accompanied by a crackling sound, must be sure
evidence of the _afrit_ who drives them. Naserene women talk in a
strange language to men, and shamelessly expose their faces to all.
He passes a large modern café, and sees coreligionists unturbaned and
dressed as the Frank, partaking of forbidden drinks and disregarding
the call of the mueddin, which alone brings a ray of hope to the poor
sheykh. He hastens to the mosques--it is some way off, for mosques are
few and far between in this godless part--he makes his prostrations,
and he prays to Allah that the _Muslemeen_ may come by their own again.

After he has rested in the native quarters, and he meditates on his
well-watered fields, he may wish that some of his prayers be not too
literally answered. He may still remember the time when excessive
taxation robbed his people of the fruits of their labour, and scars may
yet remain on his back of the _Kurbág_ which drove him to the forced
labour.

I have much in sympathy with the old sheykh, though we may see things
from opposite points of view. Were the old town not being slowly robbed
of its beauty and oriental character, I might feel indifferent as to
what was being done in the new, for my object in spending so many
seasons in Egypt has never been to paint the modern city, which at
its best could never equal that which I could find nearer home. The
inconsistency of the old man’s prayer, and the contemplations of his
better watered fields, finds a parallel in my regrets that the old
order gives place to the new; while I am certainly not indifferent to
the creature comforts which a Europeanised hotel allows me to enjoy.
The discomforts I have endured in native inns in the unfrequented
places may not have left permanent scars; but they would recall some
very unpleasant experiences had not the interest of what I was in
search of given them a back seat in my memory. Apart from this selfish
point of view, it is a joy to know that the thousands who dwell in the
old city can now drink an unpolluted water, that their sick can have an
enlightened medical treatment, and that the education of their young is
at present adapted to a useful citizenship.

[Illustration: THE TOMB OF SHEYKH ABD-EL-DEYM]

Our countrymen who are guiding the destinies of Egypt, and who are
honestly working for the betterment of its people, are not primarily
responsible for the unsuitable planning of the modern Cairo. Ismael
Pasha’s boast, ‘L’Egypte fait partie de l’Europe,’ came after the
remodelling of Alexandria, and since the time when Clot Bey drew the
plans of a northern city to be built in a semi-tropical country.

From what I hear, this unfortunate example is being followed in
Khartúm, which is well inside the tropics. The wide sun-baked streets
may be pleasant to those who only visit it during the short winter; but
they who have to remain there during the long summer months may long
for the shady lanes which wind amongst the habitations of the ancient
parts of Cairo. The well-to-do in the mediæval city were not obliged
to migrate to Europe during the hottest season, as the clients of our
modiste feel now constrained to do.



CHAPTER IX

THE COPTIC CONVENTS OF WADI NATRUN


Amongst the guests who halted at the Villa Victoria, it was my good
fortune to make the acquaintance of Mr. Palmer-Jones, an enthusiastic
architect who had measured up some of the early Coptic convents, and
had also reconstructed on paper dynastic buildings of which little but
the plan is at present traceable. He was making preparations for a
journey to Wadi Natrun to continue his work at the old convents which
are dotted about that valley.

During a stay in Professor Garstang’s camp at Abydos, a few years
ago, my interest in what concerns the Copts had been considerably
excited, while I painted in the Coptic settlement which is a mile or
two distant from Seti’s temple. Although these convents are of recent
date compared to far-off pharaonic times, a period of fifteen centuries
has nevertheless elapsed since many of them have been built. They also
have this, which gives them a human interest above the earlier shrines,
and that is their preservation of the uses for which they were founded.
Many are now no more than a heap of ruins; but there yet remains a good
number still inhabited by monks, and where the Christian liturgy of the
early centuries is still repeated in the chapels.

When Mr. Jones kindly proposed that I should join him in his
expedition, I was not long in making up my mind to do so. His
preparations took longer than mine, for he had to procure a camp outfit
for a stay in the desert, a good distance from the rest-house where he
and I proposed to spend a week together. I could not afford the time to
accompany him further afield, and a week of desert air I hoped would
suffice to shake off the evil effects of a touch of influenza.

It took over a week to get an answer from the manager of the Salt and
Soda Company, in whose rest-house we proposed to stay, although he
wrote by return of post telling us we could come. The distance was
within a hundred miles from Cairo; but postal arrangements are not
expeditious in the desert.

The delay gave me time to paint the street which has been reproduced
as an illustration to this book. The noise and dust, as well as the
importunities of the inquisitive, made me long for the quiet and the
fresh air of the desert. A change of work and of interests now and
again is wholesome, and should but little work be the result of my
expedition, the interest and the fresh air would compensate me for any
loss of time.

We started at midday by a train which runs along the edge of the Libyan
desert, just outside the cultivation area, and not far from the western
bank of the Rosetta branch of the Nile. This is the Behera line, and
if any one could be found with sufficient patience, he could reach
Alexandria by one of its trains, and cover rather less ground than
by the main route. After a crawl along the fringe of the desert for
some seventy miles in a north-westerly direction, the train strikes
into the Delta, and joins the main line at Teh el-Barûd. Fortunately
we could leave it after a thirty-mile crawl, at a station called
el-Khatatbeh. We were met here by the agent of the Salt and Soda
Company, and invited to wait in his house until the steam-tram would
take us to the rest-house. This runs twice a week, and carries coal and
other necessaries to the works. When the passenger carriage had been
coupled on to the trucks, we started on this novel desert journey.

There seemed something sinister in the name of our destination--‘The
Valley of Natron.’ It lay in the direction of the reddening sky,
and seemed somehow to recall a valley with which Bunyan has made us
familiar. The ‘Lacus Asphaltites,’ as classical atlases call the
Dead Sea, is a name which in a similar way brought passages of the
_Pilgrim’s Progress_ back to me, when years ago I took a journey to
Jericho. The engine, which pluckily dragged us into the increasing
darkness, breathed sparks of fire into the clouds of smoke. Was it the
mystery of the desert that got hold of me? The fire and smoke which
snorted from the funnel of the little engine brought Apollyon clearly
back to my mind.

I have passed months on end in the desert, and yet that awe which it
inspires at sundown never leaves me.

For three hours we continued our course through the dreary waste. A
crescent moon revealed an interminable series of low sand-hills; broken
flints caught its light and looked like the reflections of the stars
on a billowy sea. Though our horizon was not a distant one, the sense
that we might have continued in our present direction for more than two
thousand miles impressed us with the immensity of the great Sahara.

The quickened pace of our train told us that we had reached the
depression where the series of natron lakes lies. Before we came
to a standstill my illusions had vanished into thin air. A smell
of caustic soda, and the sight of the works, of the coal trucks,
the shunting cabin, and as we got nearer, that of the men in greasy
overalls, carried me away from the Sahara, and set me down near some
north-country manufacturing village.

We were met by the manager of the rest-house, and some natives (who
might have hailed from Wednesbury from their get-up) shouldered our
luggage while we picked our way to a long one-storied building we could
see outlined against the starlit sky.

It had turned very cold, as it often does in the desert, even
after a baking hot day. I blessed the whole of the Salt and Soda
Company, Limited, for having provided a good stove in the rest-house
sitting-room, and I poured more blessings on the Italian manager,
who soon announced the dinner. What with our long fast and the keen
desert air, we were able to do full justice to the padrone’s efforts.
We asked him if he could hire us donkeys to take us to the convents
the following morning. ‘Leave it to me,’ he said, ‘and you shall have
them at whatever hour you like.’ We decided on half-past seven, and
were promised that they should be there to the minute. We were up with
the lark, and ready to start at the appointed time; but we might scan
the horizon and never a donkey could we see, and the padrone was as
invisible as the donkeys he had promised. After waiting an hour, I
proposed our walking down to the works to make inquiries. Amongst a
number of natives, who all knew nothing about donkeys--never seemed
to have heard of such things--I noticed a fellow-countryman. He was
stirring a bubbling, oily-looking liquid in a huge caldron. ‘Look out,
sir,’ he cried, ‘a drop of this’ll burn right through your clothes, and
if you step on it, your boots won’t be worth sixpence.’

The pot being sufficiently stirred and the lid duly adjusted, the man
stepped over to where I had retreated, and seemed pleased to be able
to talk in his own language again. He was a genial fellow, and was
prepared to tell me all I might wish to know about natron. I got on the
subject of donkeys as soon as I could, and learnt from him that the
only three donkeys (excluding the padrone) which the company possessed,
were probably down at the salt-pits. I explained that I did not expect
to use the Company’s donkeys, but understood that we could hire some. I
then learnt that there were none nearer than el-Khatatbeh.

Later on the manager of the works appeared, and I got Jones to
introduce me to him. After thanking him for letting me use the
rest-house, I told him my difficulties. All he could do, he kindly told
us, would be to send the trolley to the rail-head, and from thence we
should have to walk to the convents, as no donkeys were available that
day. Ibrahim, my friend’s servant, put our lunch and materials on to
the trolley, and as soon as the mule was harnessed, off we went to the
rail-head.

A thin black line on my map of Northern Egypt is drawn from the great
Sahara, through this part of the Libyan desert, till it reaches Cairo.
It then winds along the valleys of the Arabian desert, and disappears
out of the map just north of Suez. About the spot where our trolley now
runs the map describes this line as _Derb el-Hagg el-Meghârbe_, that
is, the ‘Pilgrim’s Way of the Westerns.’ Within a space of twenty miles
on this route stand four Christian convents, two of which we then saw
outlined against the sky. They stood there before this desert tract
was first used by Moslem pilgrims on their way to Mekka; and until the
Behera railway was opened, this same track was followed by the monks on
their journeyings to and from Cairo.

It was not an unfrequented route even before the early Christians
settled here. The mineral alkali, which these marshes produce, was
known and used while Memphis was the capital city of Egypt.

Salt, extracted from the poisonous-looking marshes below us, lay
in hillocks on each side of the little tramway, as we neared its
termination. During the first mile of our tramp to the nearest convent
the ground looked as if it were covered with hoar-frost. It crackled
under our feet as would thin ice, and I longed to reach the sandy plain
on the higher level. The wintry appearance of this uninviting tract of
land contrasted strangely with the hot sun which beat down on us. The
sandy plain, when we reached it, may have been pleasant to our eyes,
but it was infinitely more troublesome to walk over. We sank ankle deep
at every step we took, and I now realised why the ‘Pilgrim’s Way’ ran
through the plague-stricken-looking stretch which we had crossed.

As we neared our objective, the Dêr Amba-Bishai, it looked more and
more like a mediæval fortress than a retreat for the religious. Its
massive outer walls now masked the little domes seen from a greater
distance. Hungry Moslem pilgrims journeying to Mekka might have proved
unwelcome visitors to the handful of _Gubti_ monks within, and some
recent repairs of the walls were probably done more for security than
from any sense of tidiness. The gateway was large and imposing; but the
door itself was small and sufficiently recessed to be defended through
the loopholes in the projecting jambs.

We were glad to rest in the shadow of the walls till we managed to
get admitted into the convent. Repeated pulls at the bell-rope seemed
to have no effect, though the noise broke violently the stillness of
the desert. Ibrahim then picked up a big stone, and using it as a
battering-ram against the door, explained that the sound would reach
further than that of the bell which hung outside from the wall. His
exertions finally had some effect. A shutter was slid back from an iron
grating in the door, and a voice called out, ‘Who’s there?’

We explained our errand to the man inside with the persuasiveness of
those addressing one in an advantageous position. The stupid face at
the grating had no expression but that of suspicion; a slight look of
intelligence showed itself when the word _baksheesh_ was whispered, and
we were told that the Prior must first be consulted.

The man returned after a while, and we heard him remove a heavy stone
from behind the door. Heavy wooden bars had then to be unfastened, and
after several attempts to unfasten the lock, the old door creaked back
on its rusty hinges. An angular passage, through the square tower of
the gateway, led us into a spacious court, in the centre of which stood
the church and the monastic dwellings. Most of the latter were in a
woeful state of disrepair, and in some cases they had completely fallen
in. A well and a fig-tree, as well as some green vegetables, showed
that this court might have been made into a garden. This was a proof of
the lethargic state of the monks, for the Egyptians as a rule will turn
any ground into a garden if only water be available.

We were received by the Prior in a bare and once whitewashed room, with
a wooden bench round the walls. After the usual salutations, he ordered
coffee, and even produced cigarettes; but argue as long as we liked, he
would not give us permission to sketch in the convent. The permission
my friend had got, from the Patriarch in Cairo, mentioned the other
convents, and not the one we were in; we should be allowed to see the
church, but no sketching was to be done.

As Jones had worked here during the previous winter with a permit
from the Patriarch, and had required ladders and other help to do his
measuring up, he did not think it necessary to get an authorisation
merely to make a few sketches at present. I suspected ill-will more
than mere stickling about these formalities was the cause of this, so I
proposed that we should have a look at the church, and then go off to
the neighbouring convent.

The most aggravating part was that the little church was picturesque
in the extreme. Its whitewashed walls and vaulted roof emphasised
the rich colouring of the primitive altar. I have been in the inner
sanctuaries of wellnigh every Egyptian temple, and have entered most
of the mosques of Cairo; but never had I been more impressed with
the sentiment of any than with that of this rude place of Christian
worship. I longed to sit down and paint it; no ‘treatment’ would be
required, for the composition was perfect. Should I go back and offer
the Prior a _baksheesh_? I even meditated on how, ‘to save his face,’ I
might pretend it was for the upkeep of the chapel. On Jones suggesting
that the church in the other convent might suit my purpose as well, we
decided to take our departure.

We were told that the coffee was now ready for us, and were asked to
return to the parlour. My irritation at not being allowed to paint was
increased by the fleas which had got at my ankles, and I neither wished
to see the Prior again nor touch his coffee. Though Ibrahim had the
Moslem’s poor opinion of the Copts, he implored me not to refuse the
coffee, as it would be such an insult to the whole convent. Ibrahim did
not want to paint, and he was probably less sensitive than I to the
fleas, so he could view the matter in a calmer frame of mind. I saw,
however, that he was right, so we went and sipped our coffee, made our
salaams to the Prior, tipped the tatterdemalion of a lay-brother who
had let us in, and were once more in the outside world.

While writing these lines, and missing the accompanying illustration
of the chapel which might have fitted in so well here, I feel mean for
having drunk that coffee.

It took us less time to gain admittance to the next convent, which was
separated from its neighbour by about a quarter of a mile. Its outward
appearance was much the same as the other, it having been built about
the same period and under the same conditions. The dwellings and church
also formed a group in the centre of the enclosure, and though somewhat
different in plan, it had nevertheless much the same character. A
spreading sycamore-tree, with a goat and one or two sheep lying in its
shade, gave the place a less dead-alive look than had its neighbour,
though the same signs of neglect and decay were visible everywhere.

As we turned the angle of the main building, an expression of disgust
escaped my friend. What we saw was disgusting enough, but not quite
sufficiently so to account for my friend’s expression, as he is the
least demonstrative of men. A new erection between two wings of the
earlier work had been run up by some builder whose architectural
taste was of the _café chantant_ order. It was already in a state of
disrepair, which failed to give it a look of respectable age, but was
merely a sign of bad material and still worse workmanship.

I told Jones what a pity it was that they had not asked him to design
something which would have been in keeping with the rest of the
convent, and I was answered that not only had he done so, but that
he had also gone carefully into the cost of the building, and had
given them his services for nothing. What had been run up during the
preceding summer must have cost more than if his designs had been
carried out, for workmen must have been got from Cairo to do the tawdry
ornamentation.

We were shown into this place, with a certain amount of pride, by the
monk who conducted us. The Prior was having his post-prandial sleep,
and we were asked to make ourselves at home till he came to receive
us. We begged that he might not be disturbed just yet, and asked to
be allowed to have our lunch in the meantime. It was now about two
o’clock, and our breakfast in the early dawn seemed a long way off. We
had a hen and a brood of chicks as company in this new reception-room.
The hen seemed to appreciate the samples of our lunch which fell her
way, and her clucking brought more poultry to join the company. The
monk appeared quite indifferent to the mess they made, and he squatted
on the floor and conversed with Ibrahim. He would not join us in our
food, but he willingly helped us with a bottle of wine we had brought.

Before we had finished, a very old man shuffled into the room from a
neighbouring apartment, and muttered some greeting. We rose to meet him
and to explain our errand. Jones tried to recall to his mind the days
he had spent there during the previous winter; but whether the old
man had any recollection of this or not his blank expression did not
reveal. He wore a brown woollen habit, such as the first Christians who
settled here would have worn, and a great rent in the garment showed
that this was all he had on. He did not wish to see the Patriarch’s
authorisation for us to work here; all things pertaining to this world
seemed indifferent to him. He gave a shiver as if he felt the air
passing through the rent in his garment, and shuffled out to sit on the
doorsteps in the sun.

I made signs to Ibrahim to get a spirit-flask from out the basket and
offer some to the old man, who mechanically accepted it, and drank it
down. This seemed to revive him a little, and he passed the cup to have
it refilled. Ibrahim gave him a second dose, and asked him his age. Not
getting an answer that we could understand, the second monk told us
that he must be more than a hundred years old. The poor old man looked
it, and that was probably the only data which the other monk had.

The church was very interesting, and a more important structure than
the previous one; but so dimly lighted that we had to wait till our
eyes got used to the gloom before we could distinguish anything. Two or
three minute windows in the vaulting admitted the only light. As our
eyes got used to the gloom, the dilapidated condition of everything
became more noticeable; some grease marks on the floor, beneath the few
hanging lamps, seemed all the evidence of the place having been used in
recent times.

I started a drawing of an interesting subject, one which might have
consoled me for my disappointment in the other convent had I been able
to see more clearly what I was about. The _heykel_, which corresponds
to a chancel, was not here divided from the nave by the wooden screen
common to most Coptic churches, but by a wall reaching to the vaulted
roof. A high doorway was in the centre surmounted by a wooden grating,
through which we could trace the outlines of the Coptic cross, and a
curtain, as is usual, hung in the place of the door itself. A massive
dresser stood to the left of the doorway, and a lectern slightly to the
right. Rude Byzantine paintings hung from the top of the dresser, and
an ikon of the Virgin and Child was fixed above the curtain.

The afternoon being far advanced, I hoped I might do better, with more
light, on the following morning. It was a long weary tramp we had back
to the rest-house, for no trolley awaited us at the rail-head, in spite
of the most solemn promises that it should be there. We were more
fortunate the next day, as the donkeys were kindly lent us, and we were
able to be back at the convent in fairly good time.

Though I was in the church nearly the whole day, I witnessed no
service, and remarking on this to Jones, he told me that during the
weeks he had worked there he could never remember one having taken
place.

What on earth had the eight other monks who resided here to do? They
were supplied with corn and beans by the charity of others, and all
initiative to do anything for themselves seemed to have left them
during their lethargic existence. Possibly, when the dust of the old
Prior will have returned to the dust of the desert around him, some one
younger and more energetic may put some life into the Sleepy Hollow.



CHAPTER X

THE MOSQUE OF ES-SALIH TALAI


I returned to Cairo little the richer in artistic material, but
feeling much the better for the few days of desert air. Though Cairo
stands on the fringe of a desert, the three-quarters of a million of
its inhabitants are bound to vitiate its air, and they have certainly
polluted its soil. No drainage system as yet carries off the sewage
from the main part of the native city, where the dust is often laid by
the slops emptied on the roadway. It is true that the _Tanzím_ employs
a large number of scavengers; but their efforts are chiefly confined
to the modern quarters, where there is some hope of dealing with so
difficult a task. The Arab’s ideas as to road-cleaning, when he is left
to himself, is to sweep the dust about rather than to clear it away;
the scavenger is therefore the greatest nuisance of all the nuisances
the sketcher has to contend with. When taken unawares, a sweep from
one of these idiots’ brooms may cover with dust your drawing and your
pallet before you can stop him or get out of his way. Were it not for
the sun, which sterilises this dust, a large population could never
have existed here.

[Illustration: ARAB SCHOOL]

Cairo is unpaintable during the few grey days of midwinter, and perhaps
this is just as well, for when the Great Germicide does not shine,
the place must be very unhealthy. An overcast sky often drove me
into the mosques, where I could spend my time in drawing my subject,
until the warm reflections from the sunlit court should make me feel
instinctively for my pallet.

I flattered myself that few nooks and corners existed in the old city
which I had not explored, till I turned up a narrow lane outside the
Bab Zaweyla and found myself in the ruinous court of a delightful old
mosque. It is extraordinary that I should have overlooked this during
the many seasons I have spent in Cairo. The lane is called Haret
es-Salih, and the mosque servant informed me that this was the mosque
of Salih. Who this Salih might be was more than the servant could
tell--he had not been there more than twenty years--should it be a
mosque called after the founder of the mameluke dynasty, its date could
not be earlier than the middle of the thirteenth century. There is much
remaining which suggests an earlier period, both in the plan and in
the construction of the arches; the foliated background, to the Kufic
lettering which decorates these arches, seemed hardly in keeping with
the work of the orthodox Moslems who succeeded the Fátimid dynasty.

I looked up all the Salihs who crop up in Stanley Lane-Poole’s _Story
of Cairo_--a handy little volume, published by Messrs. Dent and Co.,
which no visitor to Egypt should fail to get--and I succeeded in
placing him as Talái ibn-Russik, who on his accession to power styled
himself el-Melik es-Sâlih. He was the last but one of the Fátimid
khalifs, and he built this mosque in 1160, the sixth year of his reign.

There is little now remaining of all that was built in the enclosure
which Gawhar pegged out as the site of el-Mo’izz’s ‘guarded city’; the
small mosque, el-Akmar, happily still exists and enables students to
study the less restricted forms of decoration which the Sheea heresy
permits. The boundaries of el-Kahira were considerably extended during
the two centuries of Fátimid rule; the three great gates and Hakim’s
mosque remain as specimens of the work of that period, and they also
mark the limits of the extended city.

It was outside the walls of the Cairo of those days where Talái
ibn-Russik built his mosque, and it remained for Saladin, who succeeded
the Fátimid khalifs, to yet further enclose and bring this mosque well
within the walls of his enlarged capital.

The entrance is through a gateway supporting the minaret, which latter
is probably of a later period than the rest of the building. The
colonnade, which surrounded three sides of the square court, has almost
disappeared, as well as parts of the enclosing wall. The _liwán_, which
is the subject of the accompanying illustration, is still intact. Kept
sufficiently in repair so as to prevent its falling down, it has never
suffered the hand of the renovator to sweep out every trace of the
mellowing influence of near eight centuries of use.

An ugly wooden fence enclosed it from the court, but I was able to see
enough through the palings to paint it as if this disfigurement were
not there. The court is on a higher level to the _liwán_ owing to
the accumulation of rubbish which has not been cleared away, and this
accounts for the high horizon in the picture. It also enabled me to see
less of the exasperating fence. Though still used as a place of worship
on Fridays, it serves as a school during the rest of the week. The
young students squatting on the matting and committing to memory verses
of the Koran form picturesque groups, and the little crowd around the
rostrum of the teacher centralises the subject.

The scenes are on a smaller scale than those which may be witnessed
any day at the Azhar, or University Mosque. The latter has been so
over-restored, and not always in a judicious manner, that I have never
been tempted to paint there. The students here are mostly lads, and are
either preparing for the university or are the children of parents who
may not approve of the modernised form of instruction at the Khedivial
schools. As in all purely Arab schools, the training is almost entirely
confined to exercising the memory rather than the development of the
reasoning faculties. It is often quite sufficient qualification for a
teacher to know his Koran by heart, so that he can detect any mistakes
in the verses which he hears his scholars repeat. As every lad repeats
aloud what he tries to learn by heart, the noise is easily imagined.
There seems little restraint; the lads nibble at their lunch or buy
drinks from the lemonade-seller when it pleases them; those to whom the
teacher’s back is turned may indulge their liking for _mankalah_ or any
other games easily secreted under their cloaks; and had it not been for
the powerful lungs of Mansoor, most of the scholars would have taken
up a position around my easel.

When the clouds dispersed and the further angle of the court formed
a warm sun pocket, the greater number would leave the _liwán_ and
repeat their verses in the warmth. Mansoor’s work of keeping the lads
away from me then became more arduous. He found an ally in the mosque
servant, and when gentle persuasion failed more drastic measures were
used. The noise in the court did not in the least seem to disturb the
good-natured teacher, and when he left his rostrum he would come and
have a look at the work I was doing.

I came here many times, for not only did the drawing and detail of this
subject take up several long mornings, but I had a second one on hand
of which these lads in the sun made the foreground. That they should be
curious to see what I had made of them was natural enough, so I gave
them an opportunity of satisfying their curiosity before I packed up to
go. In sketching a group of figures which is constantly on the move,
the head of one may be suggested on the body of another who may have
moved away. This seemed to perplex my spectators considerably. When
Ahmed had identified his _kuftan_ or _galabieh_, Seleem would point
out the head as belonging to himself. A good stare at me to see if any
signs of the evil one were visible would follow: if some _afri’t_ had
not assisted me in this uncanny work, how else was it to be explained.

As mornings begun in sunshine may turn to grey in winter, or the other
way about, my having two good subjects in the same place was a great
advantage, for though a reflected sunlight improved my _liwán_, I
could nevertheless find plenty of detail to draw while the sky was
overcast. ‘Good gracious!’ it actually rained one morning, and with my
drawings I joined in the rush for shelter under the arches. Volunteers
to carry my belongings were numerous, but Mansoor would only allow some
privileged youngster to carry my stool. The teacher would drone out the
verses of the _Fáthah_ quite regardless of the disturbance.

The profession of a _fikee_ is, I am told, not a lucrative one. A
half-piastre, _i.e._ five farthings, per week per pupil used to be his
earnings, though this may have increased slightly with the general
increase of wages. If we consider his intellectual equipment and
compare it with that of a schoolmaster at home, it is possible that
the pay of the _fikee_ may compare very favourably. They often eke out
this miserable pittance by reading a chapter of the Koran in the houses
of the well-to-do. One recently ‘killed two birds with one stone’ by
posing as a model to me, while he also repeated the _Fáthah_, outside
the entrance to a hareem. I am afraid that some giggling, which I could
hear through the _mushrbiyeh_, may have been caused by my attempt at
portraiture. I turned my easel towards the wooden grating to satisfy
a legitimate curiosity which might possibly have been excited in the
‘prohibited place.’ The giggles developed into loud laughter. I rather
fancied my sketch, and, in spite of this unfavourable criticism, I
still fail to see anything funny in it. The _fikee_ turned out to be
as big a fraud as most of the natives whom I have induced to pose to
me. The value of time becomes enormous to any loafer who poses for an
hour, and, according to this _fikee_, it might have been as valuable as
that of a Harley Street specialist. Some feminine jeers, heard through
the _mushrbiyeh_, hastened his departure.

According to Lane the schoolmasters in Egypt are mostly persons of
very little learning; few are acquainted with any writings except
the Koran and certain prayers, which, as well as the contents of the
sacred volume, they are hired to recite on particular occasions. It
is fair to say that the Egypt of Lane is the Egypt of full seventy
years ago. Under the advisership of Mr. Dunlop and his staff of able
school-inspectors, a sound education on enlightened lines is now
obtainable even in the smallest towns for the children whose parents
can or will afford the fees of the Khedivial schools. But the _kuttáb_,
as the poorer and purely Mohammedan schools are called, seem to have
drifted into a backwater, and are little influenced by the stream of
enlightenment which flows past them.

The story Lane tells of a _fikee_ of his time might still apply
to present-day teachers in some of the villages, and may be worth
repeating here: ‘I was lately told of a man who could neither read nor
write succeeding to the office of a schoolmaster in my neighbourhood.
Being able to recite the whole of the Koran, he could hear the boys
repeat their lessons; to write them, he employed the _areef_ (or
head-boy and monitor of the school), pretending that his eyes are weak.
A few days after he had taken upon himself this office, a poor woman
brought a letter for him to read to her from her son, who had gone
on pilgrimage. The _fikee_ pretended to read it, but said nothing;
and the woman, inferring from his silence that the letter contained
bad news, said to him, “Shall I shriek?” He answered, “Yes.” “Shall
I tear my clothes?” she asked; he replied, “Yes.” So the poor woman
returned to her house, and with her assembled friends performed the
lamentation and other ceremonies usual on the occasion of a death. Not
many days after this her son arrived, and she asked him what he could
mean by causing a letter to be written stating that he was dead? He
explained the contents of the letter, and she went to the schoolmaster
and begged him to inform her why he had told her to shriek and tear her
clothes, since the letter was to inform her that her son was well, and
he was now arrived at home. Not at all abashed, he said, “God knows
futurity. How could I know that your son would arrive in safety? It is
better that you should think him dead than to be led to expect to see
him and perhaps be disappointed.” Some persons who were sitting with
him praised his wisdom, exclaiming, “Truly, our new _fikee_ is a man
of judgment!” and for a little while he found that he had raised his
reputation by this blunder.’

I must refrain from quoting from that fund of knowledge, Lane’s
_Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians_, for since it has been so
ably edited by Mr. Ernest Rhys, it has been placed within the reach of
every one by Messrs. Dent in the ‘Everyman’s Library’ series.

As my view of the mosque is from the court, there was no objection to
my painting there during the _duhr_ or midday service on Fridays. I was
much tempted to make that my subject, but I refrained from doing so, as
I have done that subject once or twice before. The ritual has become
more familiar to me, and I was able to follow better what was going on.

The mosque servant, who often helped my man to keep off the boys during
the week-days, increased in importance on Fridays (which, I need hardly
inform my readers, correspond to our Sundays). Half an hour before noon
the _mueddin_ ascends the minaret and chants the _selám_ from one of
the balconies. This is not the _adán_ or ordinary call to prayer, but
a salutation to the Prophet, the _adán_ being called a little after
the noon. The worshippers soon arrive, for there are the ablutions to
be performed before they take their seats in the _liwán_. A reader, in
the meanwhile, ascends the rostrum facing the prayer-niche or _mirhab_,
and begins reciting the ‘Soorat el-Kahf,’ which is one of the chapters
in the Koran. Each worshipper drops his slippers before he steps on to
the matting, and places them sole to sole next to where he sits down.
He performs two prostrations and then sits patiently till the _adán_ is
called from the minaret, when the recitation of the _soorat_ ceases.
During this call the whole congregation, which faces the prayer-niche,
kneels instead of sitting cross-legged as hitherto. On the last
syllable of the _adán_ every man rises and, holding his hands, palm
outwards, close to his ears, he repeats the ‘Allahu Akbar’ which has
descended from the minaret. He then makes the various prostrations of
the _rekah_, repeating the same words at each different posture, and
concludes with the salutations to the Prophet.

[Illustration: THE BLUE MOSQUE]

The _murakkee_ (who was no other than the mosque servant and my ally of
the courtyard) then proceeded to open the folding-doors of the pulpit,
and took a wooden sword from behind them, and holding it with its point
to the ground, he also repeated the salutation. From a raised platform
(known as the _dikkeh_, and standing at the entrance to the _liwán_)
an officiant now chants the praises of Mohammed. The servant then
recites each verse of the _adán_, and they are repeated in a sonorous
voice by the man on the _dikkeh_. During this the _khateeb_, as the
preacher is called, advances to the pulpit, and taking the sword from
the _murakkee_, he slowly ascends the steps, and reaching the top one,
he waits till the recital is concluded.

The preacher stands, holding the sword point downwards, and delivers
his address in a solemn and effective manner to his congregation, who
sit rapt in attention.

No special vestments are worn by those who officiate, and the ordinary
robes of a sheykh seem perfectly appropriate. The sword, the only
object used in the simple ritual, is to remind the hearers that Islam
was spread by the sword and that by its power it should, if necessary,
still be maintained. Little outward reverence is shown to the mosque,
as such, at ordinary times, for I have seen it used as a convenient
place to sleep in during the heat of the day, and the playing amongst
its columns of lads during the intervals of their tasks strikes no one
as unseemly behaviour. But at the call to prayer the demeanour of all
present is strikingly reverent.

I have worked in a great number of mosques and must have seen thousands
of men attending the services, but I don’t recall having seen half
a dozen worshippers in any other but the native dress. Now that all
the youth of the country, who attend the Khedivial schools or have of
late years passed through their classes, adopt the European garb; that
the numerous employees in the government and other offices have all
forsaken the native dress--is it not strange that a trousered Moslem
should hardly ever be seen inside a mosque unless he goes there merely
as a spectator? The _effendi_, a title loosely given to every native
in European dress and _tarbouch_, feels, I’m sure, ill at ease amongst
his co-religionists when the services of his religion are being held.
The devout Moslem views the western garb as ‘a mark of the Beast.’ This
is felt so strongly in Morocco, that should a Moor appear in coat and
trousers, his co-religionists would tear them off him.

The encouragement given in Egypt to the adoption of western clothes is
a fatal mistake. The courteous manners of the oriental seem to leave
him with his cast-off _kuftán_; his morals are distinctly worse when
the ties of his creed are loosened; and the Christian missionary knows
well enough that the westernised Egyptian is not a fertile soil for the
Gospel seed. We must not flatter ourselves that our hold on Egypt is in
any way strengthened by this silly fashion; we have only to attend a
nationalist demonstration to see how the trousered effendi out-numbers
the robed Egyptian. Should the sword of the preacher unhappily be held
aloft and a holy war proclaimed from every pulpit, this European veneer
would vanish like smoke, and the effendi would revert to the garb of
the sheykh.

During my first season in Egypt I painted a crowd of young students at
the entrance of one of the Khedivial schools. The lads were all robed
and turbaned, and whatever their social positions may have been, each
individual looked a dignified young gentleman. When next I visited
Cairo all this was changed. The _kuftán_ and the _gibbeh_ were replaced
by sweated tailor goods from some Greek departmental stores. I felt a
personal dislike to the whole education department, and especially to
the British Adviser. I am glad to add that I have since learnt that our
countrymen had nothing to do with it. It was the Egyptian officials
who inaugurated the change. Education has made such advances since the
British occupation, through the efforts of a hard-working and certainly
not overpaid British staff, that I am glad to know that I was not
justified in attributing to it so foolish a blunder.



CHAPTER XI

THE BLUE MOSQUE AND KASR-ESH-SHEMA


I have never passed a season in Cairo without making a study of some
sort in the Blue Mosque. There are many mosques of much greater
architectural pretensions, as well as of more historical interest; but
so long as artists continue to flock to Egypt in search of subjects,
so long will the Blue Mosque serve them for material. On entering
the blue-tiled _liwán_ after a tramp through the glare and the dust
of the open spaces around the citadel, something of the pleasure is
experienced of him who, after a desert journey, first rests his eyes
on the green of cultivation. The pleasure is as much a physical as an
intellectual one, for the hot season draws one there far more than does
the cold. The temperature would be no higher were the walls a scarlet,
but I’m sure it would be more felt; and this is not only so to those
whose training inclines them to search out beautiful colour, for I have
observed that more people come here to sleep through the heat of the
day than to any other mosque.

The actual structure was raised by a certain Aksunkur during the
middle of the fourteenth century, and many much finer mosques of that
period are still remaining. It was restored more than three centuries
later by Ibrahim Agha, and, whatever the purist may have to say to the
contrary, it is these restorations which give the charm to the place.

Blue tiles cover the whole wall of the vast _liwán_; from the matted
pavement to the spring of the vaulting they spread around the
prayer-niche till, high up, they reach the ribbing of the dome. This
was a great undertaking of Ibrahim Agha, for though the tiles were not
worth the fancy prices of the present day, it must have been a very
costly affair even in his time. The domed chapel, containing the tomb
of the founder, is more beautiful still, but it is almost too dark to
make painting a possibility.

The look of neglect and gentle decay is not depressing, as in many a
Cairene building which lies under the sentence of complete renovation
or of a total collapse. Some structural repairs have lately been made,
which were doubtless badly needed; but I hope it may stop at that. The
Moslem has all he wants now for his frequent prayers or his midday nap,
and no renovation of the mosque would ever compensate for the loss of
its present charm.

The mosques of Cairo can be an endless source of instruction to any
one interested in the builder’s art, their number is so great (over
four hundred) and they are so varied in character; they suit their
surroundings as if they had grown into the spaces they occupy, and
those who worship there look as if they had been grown for that purpose.

Interesting as are the temples of ancient Egypt, they have not the
human interest of the Cairene mosques. Old and decrepit as the latter
may be, the beauty of life is still there; the temple at its best has
but the beauty of a corpse. The restoration of the mosques, if well
done, as happily is often the case here, may rob them of some temporary
charm, but it preserves to the people a valuable heritage; whereas the
restored temples will merely give future generations something to laugh
at.

What temple is grander than Tulún’s mosque? Or in which of them did the
builder’s art excel that of the Sultan Hassan? Yet how few visit these
mosques compared with the crowds who are rushed through the temples of
Upper Egypt. The one of all others which every tourist is taken to see
is the mosque of Mohammed Ali, which crowns the citadel heights. It is
imposing from its magnificent position; but who ever leaves it with any
higher thought than of the money which has been lavished on it?

An appreciative guide to the mosques may now be found in Douglas
Sladen’s _Oriental Cairo_, and to do here inadequately what he has done
so well is not the purpose of these pages.

If so much enjoyment is to be got out of the study of Saracenic
structures, what about the early Christian churches? They provide
less æsthetic entertainment than do the mosques, solely because their
number is very much more restricted. But where in this wide world can
any one interested in the dawn of Christianity find a spot to appeal
more to his sympathies than in the seven Coptic churches which cluster
round the old fortress of Babylon? Concealed as they are from public
view, one enters their precincts with much the same feelings as on
entering the catacombs of Rome. Within the walls of this Christian
settlement, dark and narrow passages lead to the unobtrusive interiors
of the churches. The search for the doorkeeper, and when he is found,
the primitive key with which he unbolts the ponderous lock, and the
man’s dress, which twelve centuries of Mohammedan rule has not altered,
all tend to take one back to the days when in these hidden places the
shrines of Abu-Sarga and of Kadisa-Barbára were raised.

The first of these two, which is more familiar to us as Saint Sergius,
is usually visited before the others. It dates from the tenth century,
when the more tolerant rule of the first Fátimid khalifs would allow
of its construction; but it stands on the site of a church of a very
much earlier date. The crypt of its predecessor still remains, and this
takes one back to the times when Memphis stood where some rubbish hills
now only mark its site on the western banks of the Nile; when Bab-li-On
was in truth the southern gate of On, the ‘City of the Sun,’ of which
nothing now is visible but the obelisk of Heliopolis.

A tree marks the spot where the Virgin and the child Jesus are said
to have rested. It is about a mile this side of the obelisk, and some
fifteen miles from the fortress of Babylon which the Romans built on
the site of the gate of On, and whose name it retained. Tradition has
it that near this tree the Virgin bathed her child in some brackish
water, and this becoming sweet, the pilgrims to this day drink of that
fountain. Tradition helps us to trace the journey of the Holy Family
from this tree to the crypt below the church of Abu-Sarga, for it
tells us of another resting-place about midway, and that is Joseph’s
well on the citadel hill.

We are taken down some dilapidated steps to visit the crypt, which
we are told was the Egyptian house of Joseph and Mary while they hid
their child from Herod’s wrath. Needless to say that the crypt is a
Christian structure, and of a later date than the Roman fortress, which
at its earliest is placed in the second century of our Lord. But there
is no reason why this spot should not have been chosen by the Holy
Family after their flight into Egypt. Some ruined shrine to a god of
the decadent mythology may have stood here in which they may have made
their home, as the early Christians oftentimes did some three centuries
later. To build a church on so hallowed a spot would have been the
first thought of these Christians, if any record still remained. When
Babylon was besieged by the Mohammedan invaders, this church might have
then been destroyed, or if it survived so long a siege, it would have
disappeared after Merwán, the last of the Omayyad khalifs, had set fire
to Fostat.

Be this as it may, it is quite probable that this pretty tradition has
some foundation in fact.

There is little at present to see in the crypt by the light of the
tallow dip which the Coptic servant holds in his fingers, but I should
have regretted not to have seen that little. The tenth-century church
above it is a little gem, and however much the dirt of those who attend
it, and the formal ritual which few of the worshippers can understand,
may prejudice one against the modern Copts, the fact remains that their
faith has withstood centuries of persecution. Stanley Lane-Poole
wisely remarks that ‘no one can stand unmoved in a Coptic church
during the celebration of the Mass, or hear the worshippers shout with
one voice, just as they did some fifteen hundred years ago, the loud
response, “I believe this is the Truth,” without emotion.’

The whole of the Coptic settlement here is built within the girdle-wall
of the Roman castle of Babylon, or ‘el-Kasr-esh-Shema,’ as the natives
still call it. This Arabic name, ‘The Castle of the Sun,’ emphasises
the position it held in regard to ancient Heliopolis, of which it was
a bulwark. We also hear mention of this esh-Shema in the prophecies of
Jeremiah xliii. 13: ‘He shall break also the images of Beth-shemesh,
that is in the land of Egypt; and the houses of the gods of the
Egyptians shall he burn with fire.’

Perched up between two bastions of the Roman castle, and over its gate,
is the Mu’állaka or the ‘hanging’ church. Less rich in traditions
than its neighbour, with some of its romance destroyed by a modern
approach, it gives the intelligent visitor even greater pleasure than
Abu-Sarga which he has seen. He may confuse its plan with that of the
neighbouring churches, and time may obliterate the construction of
its piers and barrel-shaped roof, but never will he forget the little
Byzantine pulpit standing on the fifteen slender Saracenic columns, and
relieved against as rich a screen as ever closed in a sanctuary.

I have attempted to enter into more of the details of these Coptic
churches in _Below the Cataracts_, also of the history of Fostat, the
‘Town of the Tent,’ which Amr Ibn el-Âs built around the fortress of
Babylon, and which during successive dynasties of khalifs was extended
until it covered the space now occupied by the old city of Cairo.
The topography and history has been admirably given to us by Stanley
Lane-Poole; students of early Christian architecture can find all that
is known of the Coptic churches in that scholarly work of Dr. A. J.
Butler, _The Ancient Coptic Churches of Egypt_.

I cannot, however, refrain from mentioning the ‘hanging garden’
which adjoins the Mu’állaka. The palms which grow there, high above
the fertilising Nile, are watered by the faithful to perpetuate the
tradition that the Virgin Mary, on arriving at her new abode, first
broke her fast with some dates which she culled from a palm-tree
growing near this spot.

Four more Coptic churches are within easy reach of this one, and as
parts of them date back to the third century, there is much to occupy
the time of the archæologist even if the artist does not always find
what is best suited to his brush.

The fortress of Babylon and the Coptic settlement within its walls
are two or three miles south-west of the main part of the city,
and situated at the back of an old suburb, opposite the island of
Rodah, known as Old Cairo. This name is misleading, for the present
mediæval Cairo existed long before this suburb, which was built on
land recovered from the Nile after Fostat had become a ruinous waste.
It looks old enough now, but it does not require many generations to
impart an ancient appearance to the poorer Arab dwellings.

The Kasr-esh-Shema, on the higher level, is that part which might
justly be called Old, for it is the nucleus from which the present huge
city developed.

There are also several Coptic churches in Cairo proper, and one in Beyn
es-Sureen, near the Armenian Church, is said to be the oldest in Egypt,
and consequently one of the earliest churches in Christendom. A portion
of the Copts, who have joined communion with the Roman Catholics, have
their church close by. I saw a great deal of their priest, and of some
leading members of his community, while I spent a summer in a village
on the Lebanon. They had gone there partly for their health and partly
to escape the hottest months of the Egyptian summer. The priest was
a very different type of man intellectually from the lethargic monks
I met in the convents at Wadi el-Natrún. I am indebted to him for
much information about the Catholic churches in the Near East. He had
been prepared for Holy Orders in Rome, although he and his community
are under allegiance to the Pope, and do not call themselves Roman
Catholics, but members of the Coptic Catholic Church, while they are
very tenacious of the privileges which they secured when they seceded
from the main body of the Copts. The priests are allowed to marry,
and also to say Mass in the obsolete Coptic language. My friend told
me that though allowed to marry if he wished to do so, he had come to
the conclusion that the Latin Church was right in enforcing celibacy
on its clergy. ‘No! no! no!’ from the ladies who were present at our
conversation, shows that my friend’s views were not popular.

Similar privileges have been allowed to the other members of eastern
Christian churches when they submitted to the Church of Rome. It is
the exception when their priests go to a theological college at Rome,
and the great majority evidently do not hold my friend’s views on
matrimony, for few remain single.

As only the Church of Rome repeats the Mass in Latin, it might have
been expected that the eastern churches under her authority would have
made use of languages understood by their congregations. But this
is not so. No Copt can understand the Coptic liturgy which he hears
repeated; only a few cultured Syrian Maronites can follow the Syriac
Mass, and the Catholic Greeks, the Armenians, and the Chaldeans all
hear the liturgy in languages long obsolete.

My friend could follow the meaning of the Coptic phrases he daily used;
but apart from these, Coptic is a dead language to him. He kindly
repeated the Lord’s Prayer to me, and, with possibly an Arabic accent,
his words must have sounded the same as those in use in the days of
the Ptolemies. A few Coptic words have still survived and are in use
amongst the peasantry of Upper Egypt, and possibly philologists may
discover some in the colloquial Arabic of the Delta. It is in Upper
Egypt that we still find the type portrayed in the ancient sculptures,
amongst the Moslems as well as the Christians; but in the Delta the
Copt shows his ancestry more conspicuously, as the Moslems amongst whom
he dwells have there a greater admixture of Arab blood. I was very
much struck with the resemblance a Coptic gentleman, who was staying
at the same inn as myself, bore to the celebrated ‘Sheykh-el-Beled,’
the fifth dynasty statue in the Cairo museum. He was younger and not as
stout as the statue, but he might have passed for a younger brother.
The broad nose and full lips, the rather prominent cheek-bones, and a
slight upward inclination of the eyes from the nose, were all there as
in his prototype of some sixty centuries ago. I remarked to him that
while we were savages his forebears were the greatest people in the
world. His answer was, ‘Yes; and now you are the greatest people in
the world, while we are the savages.’ Lane remarks that the Egyptian,
in answering a question, is more likely to say what he thinks may be
agreeable to his hearer than to stick to the absolute truth. This
looked rather like it.

I have heard our missionaries accused of deceiving the subscribers
to the missions, by stating the numbers of their converts and not
specifying whether these converts were from Islam or were merely Copts
who had changed from one form of Christianity to another. If this is
true, the subscribers might justly feel that they had been deceived.
But I should like further proof of this accusation before accepting
the truth of it; the tendency of Europeans in the East is to believe
anything which may discredit the missionary. That Islam is a barrier
which the missionary has so far failed to break through is true enough,
and missionaries whom I have met have been the first to admit this.
Can one wonder, then, that they turn from so barren a soil to sow
their seed amongst the Copts, who have shown some tendency to receive
it? The faith of the Copts has sustained them through centuries of
persecution; but it is amazing how stagnant a faith may sometimes hold
a people together.

When I think of those lazy monks at Wadi el-Natrún; their neglected
chapels; their barren gardens, though water was there had they the
energy to draw it; I marvel how this people has ever risen to be a
power in Egypt. That they are a power to be reckoned with we have
lately seen. The common mistake of judging a people from a few
specimens who are forced into one’s notice is evident here. A very
much larger proportion of them are literate compared with the Moslem
Egyptians, and they fill, in consequence, a much larger proportion of
situations where some instruction, other than that of the Koran, is
necessary. The grievance they are ventilating is that they do not get
their share of the highly salaried government posts, and as far as I
could ascertain, they have a subject of complaint. Their numbers will
probably increase largely, now that persecution no more drives their
weaker brethren into the folds of Islam. They are fervent in business
if they do not always serve the Lord, and some have accumulated great
wealth.

The black and sometimes the blue turban, which distinguishes them from
the Mohammedans, was originally forced on them with other and more
vexatious enactments; they still wear it, however, though of course
free to put on what they like. The women used to wear the face veil
when out of doors, more as a protection than as an ordinance of their
religion, and at present most of them have discarded it.



CHAPTER XII

THE SPHINX, AND A DISSERTATION ON TOMMY ATKINS


I well remember how sentiment was shocked when it was proposed to
construct a tram-line to the Pyramids of Gizeh: I may also have turned
up the whites of my eyes at the mere thought of such a desecration. It
is now a well-established concern, and we may congratulate ourselves
that neither the Pyramids nor the Sphinx seem much the worse for it.
The line ends just below the plateau on which the Pyramids have been
raised, and by the time these are reached the prosaic tram-cars are
well out of sight. The Antiquities Department holds all the ground
which contains anything here of interest, so we shall be spared the
erection of anything tending to vulgarise it. The tram is in truth a
great boon to many, and not the least to those who, like myself, spend
much time in the bazaars and streets of the old city.

I can look back on nothing more pleasurable, during my last sojourn
in Egypt, than the moonlit evenings quietly spent on the glorious
Pyramid plateau. I put this off until the season was well on the wane
and the first great heat had emptied Cairo of the bulk of its foreign
sightseers. A forty minutes’ run--and, my word, there is no dawdling
here!--along the Gizeh road, blows the heat and the bazaar stuffiness
well out of one’s system, and the pure dry air of the desert, when
the higher level is reached, prepares one to enjoy everything to the
uttermost. Familiarity may have lessened the excitement which a first
gaze at the world’s greatest wonder must produce, but familiarity has
never robbed it of its awful impressiveness.

The rays of the declining sun or the light of the moon may glorify the
most commonplace subjects; but that which is always grand here reaches
the sublime on a fine moonlight night. Let us cross the broad shadow
cast by Kheops’ mighty tomb, and glance up that vast surface, rapidly
receding and lessening, yet more and more clearly defined as it rises
into the deepening background of the star-spangled blue. Its base is
hardly definable from the pale golden sand on which it rests, and the
distance to the further angle is hard to judge. To our left three
shapeless masses stand out dark against the eastern horizon: they are
the ruins of the small pyramids beneath which were laid the Pharaoh’s
daughters. Was Henwetsen young or fair when she found her resting-place
beneath that heap of stones? Had no monument been raised to mark the
spot, the sixty centuries since elapsed might not have disturbed her
sleep.

[Illustration: PERSIAN ALMSHOUSES]

Following a straightish course over the sand-buried necropolis, we
soon see, rising from a hollow in the plateau, a mushroom-shaped rock,
and we know that our objective is in sight. We skirt the depression
in the soil till we are arrested by the huge human profile, which
is now clearly defined against the sky. I leave my companion to his
contemplations; for the supreme moment, when I consider the Sphinx is
to be at his best, has now arrived. I run round the edge of the hollow
to compare a three-quarter view with his full face. He seems too sunk
and dwarfed by the ground behind him, and I descend to the lower level
till his shoulders just appear above the horizon. I feel I can’t better
this view, and I settle down to try and absorb as much as my memory
will hold, with a dim hope of being able to record it on the following
morning.

The moon shines so brightly in these latitudes, that I had looked
forward to being able to paint by its light. That was in my earlier
days, and the muddy-looking mess, which the next morning’s light
revealed, made me abandon any further attempts in that direction. To
take all the notes one can, and to retain as much of the colour as
one’s memory can hold, is the only possible way to battle with this
subject.

There are moments when uncalled-for information might almost justify
homicide. I had flattered myself that, hid away as I was in the shadow
of the shelving slope of the hollow, I might have remained unobserved
by the Pyramid pests who look upon every stranger as their fair prey.
Some broken stones sliding down the slope make me look up, and there to
my horror I find one of these pests taking his seat just above me. ‘Hi,
mister, you take my donkey; Roosevelt best donkey in Egypt; take you to
Mena House for two piastres.’ I tell the man in Arabic to go away and
not to disturb me. He is evidently disappointed in me when he finds I
am not entirely new to the country; possibly this is only a phrase I
may have learnt in a guide-book, so he begins again: ‘Yaas, Roosevelt
best donkey in Egypt; two piastres not much money; you ride my ...’ I
jump up on murder intent, though I am the most peaceable of mortals.
The Arab jumps up also and, throwing himself on Roosevelt’s back, moves
off faster than he came. When my irritation has calmed down, I have to
begin over again to try and impress on my mind the essentials of the
grand subject before me.

I admit that the nuisance of the Pyramid Bedouins has been somewhat
diminished of late; but they are nevertheless a great nuisance still.
The fault lies to a certain extent with the tourists, especially the
ladies, who take far too much notice of them. If the ladies were
aware of what these blackguards say of them, they would perhaps keep
them at a better distance. They have lost all the virtues of the true
Bedouins, and have acquired all the vices of the Fellaheen. They are a
good-looking set of ruffians, which accounts for the way some visitors
spoil them; but this does not excuse the police from stopping their
importunities.

I found on the following morning that a second visit was necessary,
and allowing for the later rising of the moon, I went a second time
accompanied by a sympathetic friend. We managed to shake off the
Pyramid limpets, and my friend kept guard over me while enjoying his
pipe. I think I got what notes I wanted before another distraction
came. Some half-dozen British soldiers were having an evening out,
and were also attracted to the moonlit Sphinx. Their object was also
to get a presentment of the ‘Mysterious One,’ though chiefly as a
background to themselves. The conventional group, which may be seen
here any day during the season, did not satisfy the Tommy with the
camera. He was probably a corporal, for he directed his sitters as
one accustomed to command. ‘Crawl up on to his mug, can’t yer,’ to
two or three who had found a safe seat on the shoulders. ‘Right you
are, Cocky,’ came from an adventurous sitter, who proceeded to climb
the neck and swarm up the wig till he reached a safe position in the
Sphinx’s ear. A more dangerous climb was that of one who worked his way
round the cheek to find a foot-hold in a crack where the nose used to
be. Another proceeded by a northern route and risked his neck to get on
to the lip. Finding this an insecure place he appealed to the artist
below. ‘’Ang on to ’is eyelid and put your foot into ’is norstril,’
came the word of command, as well as plenty of advice from the Arab
spectators. ‘Now--ready--present--fire!’ A dim light from a lucifer
match was all the fire we saw, and loud jeers from the Arabs drowned
what language was addressed to the defective flashlight.

An Arab who had some magnesium wire saw his opportunity to do a
deal. ‘I give you plenty light for one shilling.’ ‘One shilling, you
blighter, for an ’aporth of wire!’ came from the photographic artist,
with comments from the sitters up aloft. The one safely fixed in the
Sphinx’s ear was for holding out, while the one hanging on to the
eyelid proposed coming to terms. ‘We’ll give ye three piastres when
ta job’s feenished,’ bawled out the latter in a strong North British
accent. ‘Me know what them piastres feel like,’ from the Arab, who
had not yet learnt that the word of a Briton is equal to his bond. A
ready-money transaction was clearly indicated, and two piastres down
was finally taken in preference to the promise of three from the Scot
hanging on to the eyelid. A flash of white light and a ‘Hip, hip, hip,
hurrah!’ from the Arab spectators, brought the _séance_ to a close.

The British infantry, when quartered in the East, develop a passion
for riding some beast or another. Donkey-boys fought for its custom,
and the supply being greater than the demand, satisfactory terms were
arranged. One Tommy declaring that the ‘commisairy camuel’ was the
boy for him, camels were soon on the spot. ‘’Ands off, you measly
son of the Proofit, or I’ll give you a clip on the side of the ear,’
was Tommy’s warning to an over-zealous claimant for his custom. The
driver moved off quickly to take his ear out of danger, and a less
presumptuous rival got the fare. We heard, as might be expected, the
well-worn jest about the camel having the hump when the beast showed a
disinclination to rise, and soon after the merry party disappeared in
the shades of the desert.

Times and oft have I heard our occupation of Egypt criticised, not by
foreigners residing there, but by those who could easily clear out if
things looked awkward. It is naturally also a reproach to the native
that his people should not be considered fit to govern themselves,
even when he doubts that fitness himself. But, be this as it may,
the conduct of the British soldier is rarely a cause of complaint.
I will even go further and say that Tommy Atkins is popular with
the very people whom he is called upon to hold in check. He spends
his money--often injudiciously, I admit--more freely than does the
Levantine, and the natives feel sure that the payment of a just debt
can always be enforced. Besides this, he is a jolly fellow, and a bit
of rough fun appeals to the lower orders in Cairo. British military
police patrol the streets at night, and woe betide Tommy if he is
caught in a broil.

How far Cairo is conducive to our soldier’s morals is another matter;
Cairo, however, may be more to blame in this than the men we send
there. The military authorities do their utmost to ensure good
behaviour, but they can’t prevent the men from enjoying themselves
in their own particular way when off duty. Should we be anxious to
know the latest ‘turn’ of the London music-halls, we have but to walk
down some of the streets north of the Esbekiyeh an hour or two before
tattoo, and we will find Tommy giving the ‘turn,’ with suitable action,
to an admiring crowd in the drink-shop. There is also generally one
to play a piano accompaniment, and I have often wondered how and when
this soldier could have found the opportunity to acquire a sufficient
knowledge of his instrument. A concertina _obbligato_ is also of
frequent occurrence. When the Levantine landlord’s raw spirits begin to
tell, the songs do not of necessity become more uproarious, as might
be expected; but a mawkish sentimentality is the chief characteristic.
‘The sailor sighs’ or ‘The soldier dropt a tear’ is then more the type
of song than the livelier ones with rollicking choruses. Donkey-boys
hang about these drink-shops and other less reputable places, and
manage somehow to get the carousers back to barracks before tattoo has
sounded.

Unfortunately, it is those who spend their evenings in the least
profitable manner who are most in evidence. The places where harmless
recreation is provided for the soldiers are not in like manner open to
the street, and the number who use them may well resent being judged by
the samples who frequent the drink-shops.

Let us return to the Sphinx: the very thought of the gaslit streets
near the Esbekiyeh makes the air seem purer and cooler; the expression
of the ‘Mysterious One’ is no more ruffled by his late indignities than
would be the face of a sheykh after having brushed off a few flies. I
had taken the notes I wanted and my companion had been well entertained
by the comic interlude the soldiers had provided. It was a glorious
moonlight night, the Sphinx looked majestic despite his battered
features, the pale warm colouring of the neck and shoulders harmonised
beautifully with the desert shades in which it was partly lost, and the
more sombre lines of the head were relieved against a low-toned blue of
a quality as hopeless to attempt to describe as it seemed hopeless ever
to match with the limitations of the pallet. One leaves such a scene
with much the same sensations as after having witnessed some grand
and solemn function. It is as well that these scenes are not of daily
occurrence, lest the critical eye rob it of its solemnity.

The tram-cars run us back across the five miles of cultivation which
separate the Pyramid plateau from the Nile; they cross by the new
bridge to the island of Rodah, and then, skirting Old Cairo, we are
carried along the east bank of the river till we are put down in the
heart of the modern quarters.



CHAPTER XIII

THE HAMSEEN, THE LAMP-SHOP, AND THE ACCESSION OF SAID PASHA


From the end of March, when the wind shifts to the south, we get a
taste of summer’s heat. The talk in the hotels is of home-returning
steamers, and Cook’s offices are besieged with visitors anxious to
secure early bookings. The Hamseen, as this unpleasant wind is called,
causes a rapid rise in the temperature, and while it lasts the whole
aspect of northern Egypt changes. The sky partakes of the colour of the
desert, and has something of the look of a slight London fog; the sun
also reminds us of the pale orange sphere visible when Londoners remark
on its being a fine day. Apart from these appearances the sensations
felt are very different. Neither moisture nor smoke give that yellowish
look here; it is the sand which the wind collects as it blows across
the desert in its northern course. As the wind increases, so the
temperature rises, and the extreme dryness of the air causes those
unpleasant sensations felt with the first symptoms of fever.

[Illustration: THE STORE OF NASSÁN]

Cairo becomes unpaintable, the sun hardly casts a shadow through the
thickening clouds of dust, and such shadow as it is has none of that
blue reflected light which gives the true shadow quality. Did not
experience teach me that it is only a passing phase, my inclination
would be to pack up and leave by the first available steamer and join
the migration to the north. It is useless to hunt about the streets for
subjects; for even if one were found sufficiently attractive, the dust
would render the work an impossibility. Some subject of a still-life
nature in the shelter of the bazaars or an interior must be found,
unless one makes up one’s mind to stay indoors until the wind sets in a
more favourable quarter.

The word _hamseen_ means fifty, and is given to this wind because of
the fifty days during which spells of it may be expected. If street
rows are more frequent, if irritability or headaches are complained of,
the Cairene shrugs his shoulders and says ‘_Hamseen_.’ It was a day
of that kind that took me once more to the Khan Khalil. I had often
been attracted by a lamp-shop there, but had put off painting it on
account of the elaborate detail, and doubts whether the results would
be proportionate to the work involved. A corner well sheltered from the
wind and an obliging shopman induced me to set up my easel. Should the
wind change, I could always leave it and return when the next _hamseen_
would make work impossible elsewhere.

Every type of Egyptian lamp hung round the entrance, and lamps and
lampstands lined the walls of the passage leading into the store
beyond. There, in the deeper shades, the sparkle of polished metal
suggested innumerable lamps of which the near ones were samples. Brass
bowls and trays, teapots and candlesticks, filled up the spaces where
lamps could not be hung. With the buff-coloured stone of the building,
this metal-work made a harmonious whole. To pull this together so as
not to lose the breadth of effect would be no easy task. During the
third day in this corner of the bazaar a ray of sunlight heralded a
return of beautiful weather; a drop in the temperature and the feel of
one’s skin were enough to tell one that the wind blew no more from the
south, and that once more the cool breezes from the sea ran counter to
the flow of the Nile. The little sunlight which found its way between
the awnings and matting which roof in this bazaar was enough to alter
the whole effect of my subject. My drawing looked leathery and sodden
compared to the rich glow which lit up the shop, and proved that even
the nearest bit of still-life is better when the presence of the sun is
felt. I sponged out more lamps in two minutes than I had put in in two
days, and this corner knew me no more on _hamseen_ days. It was, after
all, only during beautiful days that I could complete the drawing which
illustrates these pages.

Nassán is the proprietor of the shop, and Nassán seemed much exercised
in his mind why I should have so ruthlessly made away with so many
lamps, though they were only on paper. What did a ray of sunlight
matter as long as the name of Nassán was conspicuous on the signboard
which hung over the entrance? As new lamps replaced the old, Nassán’s
interest in my drawing reawakened, and overtures were even made for its
acquisition. I told him I wished to take it to England, as I wanted
illustrations for a book I was about to write, and he, not wishing
to lose a gratis advertisement, got me to promise to say that he was
prepared to supply any one with as many lamps as they could possibly
wish. He had recently furnished the Heliopolis hotel with three hundred
metal ones, and his stock was not nearly exhausted.

I looked up Mustapha, the silk-merchant with whom I had spent an
interesting evening during the Hasaneyn festival. While we sipped our
coffee on the _mastaba_ of his shop, we reverted to the tragic story of
the Irishman O’Donald and his first meeting with the princess Zohra.
Her history has been continued during this narrative, and my readers
may remember that we last saw her settled down in Constantinople under
the protection of the Sultan of Turkey. How her hatred of Abbas (the
then ruling Viceroy) outlived her thwarted love for O’Donald will now
be related. From the account given by the German engineer, Max Eyth, I
was able to tell the silk-merchant more of what happened than he knew;
for Eyth had the details from Halim Pasha, Zohra’s own brother, who was
an important actor in the drama. But nothing to incriminate his sister
fell from Halim’s lips; the part she played was related by the servant
Ramés, from whom Eyth obtained most of her history. Why no English
edition of Max Eyth’s _Hinter Pflug und Schraubstock_ should exist is a
mystery to the present writer.

It will be remembered that when the great Mohammed Ali, towards the
end of his reign, fell into a state of imbecility, the reins of
government were seized by his famous general and adopted son Ibrahim,
and that the latter died within a year after becoming the ruler of
Egypt. Mohammed’s death occurred soon after, and the viceregal throne
passed to his grandson, Abbas I., who reigned from 1849 to 1854. During
these five years the Europeanisation of Egypt ceased. Abbas would have
none of the Frankish innovations which his grandfather encouraged;
European schools, western legal procedure and military instruction were
banished, and the ulemas, dervishes, and fakirs came by their own once
more. His country nevertheless prospered during his reign.

As in so many instances in the history of Egypt, this ruler was a
terror to his numerous near relatives who might be able to establish
a claim to the succession. Of the eighty-five children of Mohammed
Ali but few were living, and this few were well alive to the danger
of their august relationship. Even the princess Zohra, after she had
fled to Constantinople, must be careful of what she ate or drank, and
of the loyalty of those who served her. The Taster became once more an
important personage in the various palaces, and not the least in that
of Abbas himself. His two uncles, Said and Halim, were both much the
same age as their nephew--a thing of constant occurrence in the hareem
life in the East. They lived on tenterhooks, as being possible rivals
to the succession of Abbas’s only son, a delicate little boy called El
Hami. Said Pasha lived at Alexandria when he was not enjoying himself
in Paris. He was the minister of the Egyptian navy--not an arduous
post, for most of the ships had been destroyed during the wars of his
father and those of Ibrahim. Halim Pasha lived in retirement in his
mother’s palace at Shubra.

Abbas and his large hareem divided their time at the palace at
Abbasiyeh, at another which he built in the desert near Suez, and at
a third on the banks of the Nile at Benha. The chief ulema of the
Azhar who was tutor to El Hami, and Elfy Bey, the Governor of Cairo
and Minister of War, became the leading men in the state. Rumours soon
spread through the bazaars that a holy war might any day be proclaimed,
and, if so, a general massacre of the Christians would follow. Later on
it was reported that the day of the horse races at Alexandria was the
day decided on for the rising. Said and Halim, who were both friendly
to the Europeans, trembled at the consequences which might follow;
for in a general rising opportunities are easily found to dispose of
relations who may be thought in the way. The Minister of the Navy found
an excuse for going to Marseilles about the purchase of a frigate, and
he made preparations to sail the day before the races.

It was during the first days of the _hamseen_ that these sinister
rumours spread in the bazaars, and Abbas decided to migrate with his
court to the palace at Benha, which is about a third of the way on the
road from Cairo to Alexandria. It was also decided to send the young
prince El Hami to Syria for the good of his health. From his stables at
Benha the Viceroy would send his favourite horse, el Dogaan, to compete
in the Alexandrian races.

The narrator goes on to say that ‘man may propose, but God disposes.’
Abbas and his court duly arrived at the palace at Benha; the _hamseen_
increased in strength, and with it the temper of Abbas, which at no
time was a good one. It was an easy task for the ulemas and dervishes,
who formed a part of his suite, to dispel any misgivings which
the Pasha may have had as to the contemplated massacre. The court
astrologer, Soliman el Habeshi, had fixed the auspicious hour on which
to begin. The _hamseen_ favoured their designs, for we are told that
the wind increased in violence, and that el Habeshi had to make his
calculations when no stars were visible, owing to the clouds of dust
which hid them.

Rames, the servant of Halim Pasha, now relates to Eyth what followed.
‘I had long been supplanted in my post of pipe-filler to Abbas, who at
that time was my master, by two handsome young mamelukes called Hassan
and Husseyn. They were twins, the same as were the heroes after whom
they were named. They had been sent from Constantinople as a present
from the Sultan to the ruler of Egypt. Abbas had every confidence in
them and loaded them with marks of his favour, while I was relegated
to the stables. I did not mind that, for I always loved horses, and el
Dogaan was as the apple of my eye. As no one could ride this horse as
I could, it was decided that I should do jockey in the coming races. I
was in the seventh heaven, and was attending to my charge one night,
when I was startled by the appearance in the stables of the astrologer.
His wild looks and gestures were alarming. “Be silent, Rames!” he said,
“the all-knowing God ordains what is right, but our Lord the Basha is
in his bath! He bathes in his own blood!”

‘The horror of this awful news gave way to a sense of relief that I
was at last freed from a lifelong tyranny. I ran to the palace and
crept silently up the stairs and through the passages which led to the
bathroom. A lamp hung outside the curtain at the entrance. I feared to
pull this aside--I listened, and hearing no sound my curiosity overcame
my fear. I pulled back the curtain, and a red ray from the hanging lamp
fell on to the marble bath. A naked arm hung over the further edge and
a head lay against the end wall. As if to make him look ridiculous,
his assassins had slit the mouth till it nearly reached the ears, and
a horrible grimace added to the awfulness of the scene. A gash in the
throat showed how the Basha had met his death, and a dark red stream
still trickled from this to colour the water in which the body lay.

‘I still see, when I close my eyes, that bloodless face with its
diabolical smile, lit by the red rays of the hanging lamp; though the
Basha was dead, the evil spirit which possessed him still clung to its
tenement. The costly marble bath, the gilded stalactites which hung
from the dome-shaped roof, and all the luxury with which this room was
fitted only added to the horror of the spectacle.

‘I heard voices not far off, and knew the danger I ran if I were caught
here. I slipped off as fast and as silently as I could and returned to
my stables, where I saddled el Dogaan and led him along the footpath
to the bank of the river. Huddled in a heap, there sat the astrologer,
who trembled as the aspen leaf. I asked him what he was doing there,
and, putting his fingers to his lips, he whispered, “Do you not know, O
Rames, that they seek to kill me? The court physician is already under
lock and key, and all who know of this murder must die--you also--for
the secret must on no account leak out until El Hami can be placed on
the throne.” “They must catch me first,” I called out, and jumping into
the saddle I stuck my spurs into el Dogaan and rode towards Shubra as
fast as I could.

‘Halim Basha had oft befriended me, and he would not forsake me now in
my dire necessity. El Dogaan raced along the Cairo road as fast as if
he took part in the Alexandrian meeting. In two hours he covered the
ground between Benha and the Shubra palace, where we arrived before
daybreak. Allah el Azeem! how he ran. I thought not only of my safety,
but of the far-reaching effects my news might have.’

The prince Halim here continues the narrative: ‘I was awakened when the
first light of the rising sun was visible over the edge of the desert
beyond the Abbasiyeh palace. They told me that a man had brought a
message which had to be delivered at once. I descended to the courtyard
and found Rames; but so covered with dust was he that I could hardly
recognise him. After the greeting he whispered in my ear: “God is just!
Your nephew lies dead in his bath at Benha.” You may imagine the shock
this news gave me. But was this mameluke to be trusted? Might it not
be a ruse of Abbas to trap me with a word or gesture, which would have
been my undoing? “God’s will be done,” I said, and ordered Rames to
return at once to Benha and let no one know that I had knowledge of the
crime.

[Illustration: RETURN OF THE HOLY CARPET]

‘No time was to be lost in apprising my brother Said, as he was to have
sailed that very day from Alexandria, and, unless Rames had lied, our
country was now without a ruler. The lad El Hami was at Damietta on his
way to Syria, and if that child were made Viceroy, Egypt and all of us
would be at the tender mercies of Elfy Bey and the Ulema. The English
had lately set up a telegraph office in Cairo; but how could I word
this message so as to be only understood by my brother? The following
at last suggested itself, and Said would not have been a son of his
father had he misunderstood the meaning: “The house thou seekest in
Cairo is empty. The door stands open. Walk in.” Said understood.

‘He told me later that my message was only just in time, for he was
about to start for the steamer. He decided promptly to leave for Cairo
instead, and he and his bodyguard were on the road before the steamer
had disappeared beyond the horizon. They reached Damanhur that evening,
and at an early hour next morning, when he arrived at Benha, he was
informed that Abbas and his court had just left to return to Cairo.
He questioned some of the notabilities of the town, only to hear with
what pomp the Viceroy had set out on his journey. What was my brother
to make of all this? Was this telegram a trap? or had he perhaps
misunderstood its meaning? The palace was deserted, so he and his
followers rested there till the following day, and then continued their
journey to Cairo.

‘I spent an anxious morning at Shubra,’ continued Halim Pasha, ‘but
imagine my astonishment when a runner in my employ arrived from
Kalioub to inform me that Abbas had passed through that village, and
would in all probability arrive at Shubra towards five o’clock that
very afternoon. “That damned mameluke must have lied,” said I to
myself, and I had to make preparations, as the custom is, to welcome
the Viceroy, or (should he not wish to break his journey) to greet him
at the door of my palace. I had hardly put on my court dress when two
messengers were announced, and they informed me that they had been sent
ahead by His Highness, my nephew, to beg me not to stay his journey, as
he was in great haste to reach his palace at Abbasiyeh that evening.
In one of these messengers I recognised Rames, who hung back while the
other spoke. He drooped his head and closed his eyes--was this a sign?
And what could be the interpretation?

‘Towards midnight of the following day Said and his guard arrived.
We had to hide the latter as well as we could in the stables and
outhouses, for it was a dangerous business. Some trusty servants whom I
had sent into Cairo reported on the crowds of people who had gathered
to witness the Viceroy’s progress through the city, and declared that
His Highness bowed in acknowledgment of the ovations he received. Our
anxiety increased with each fresh report. My mother, however, did not
share our misgivings. “Rames has not lied,” she said; “I watched him
carefully, and his actions told me clearly that Abbas was dead.”

‘We spent the following day here awaiting some report which might help
to clear up the mystery. Towards evening some servants of mine brought
in the astrologer, Soliman, whom they had picked up more dead than
alive on the road from Benha. I told them to feed the old blackguard,
and when he had somewhat recovered I questioned him. He wished to tell
me what the stars had revealed, but I soon was satisfied in my mind
that Rames had not lied. There was still time to take action before the
young prince El Hami could have reached Cairo from Damietta, and we
could not anyhow have kept Said and his thirty retainers here without
exciting suspicion. I sent word at once to the Commandant of the
Citadel to open the gate at midnight and admit the ruler of Egypt.

‘That very night my brother Said rode into the old fortress as Viceroy
of this country. The artillery had orders to defend the place should
the necessity arise. Before daybreak we learnt that El Hami had arrived
from Damietta, and presently the Ulema rode up and demanded the gates
to be opened to admit the Viceroy of Egypt. Said admitted the learned
scribe into the audience-chamber and complimented him on his zeal
in coming so early to greet his new master. The Ulema stared as one
bereft of his senses. Said, my brother, was a good-hearted man, and did
not seize on this opportunity to destroy the enemy whom fortune had
delivered into his hands. He was fond of a little joke, and felt that
now he could afford to indulge in one: a barber was summoned to cut off
the Ulema’s beard, and the poor man was sent off with a message to Elfy
Bey to inform the latter that his game was up, and that he would be
received by his new master as soon as he wished to present himself.

‘Elfy, though a devout Moslem, was not the man to bow to the decrees of
fate--a self-inflicted pistol-shot ended the career of the Governor of
Cairo and Egypt’s Minister of War. The Ulema did not long survive the
loss of his beard, and the young prince El Hami was allowed to start
once more for Syria for the good of his health.’

The reader may now be curious to learn how Abbas’s progress from
Benha to Cairo was accomplished, for when we left that prince in his
blood-stained bath his earthly journey was doubtless over.

Rames now continues the narrative:--‘By Allah, the compassionate,
the merciful, how I rode back to Benha! What dangers I incurred in
returning to that palace no one knew better than myself; but to serve
my present master, Halim Basha, was my chief thought. It was barely ten
o’clock, as you Franks reckon the time, when I and el Dogaan arrived.
None of the horses in the stables had been attended to, and two of them
were missing. I had hardly been ten minutes there when I was called and
had to repair to the anteroom of the bath. The mamelukes who personally
attended our late Basha had also been summoned there; but I noticed
that of the twelve two were missing, namely Hassan and Husseyn. Their
non-appearance was evidently accounted for and no one spoke of them.
Presently Elfy Bey and the Ulema entered. They ordered us to repeat the
profession of our faith, and each one had to take an oath that what
we should now see should not be revealed to any living creature. We
all solemnly swore that we would keep the secret, and then Elfy Bey
warned us that if a word escaped our lips, our tongues should be torn
out and our flayed bodies would hang from the walls of Sultan Hassan’s
mosque. He then drew back the curtain, and by the light of day I again
witnessed the terrible sight of the previous night.

‘Six mamelukes were ordered to lift the body out of the bath and to
dress the mortal remains in the garments used on state occasions. I
and three others had to return to the stables to prepare the state
coach and to harness six white horses. When this was brought round to
the door of the hareem, as ordered, the body of Abbas was placed in a
sitting posture on the back seat of the carriage, and the Ulema sat
beside it to hold it in position. Elfy Bey and the favourite eunuch sat
with their backs to the horses. A veil was wound round the corpse’s
turban, and an embroidered _litám_ concealed the lower part of the
face, as the fashion often is with the Bedouin, as a protection from
the dust. Two sat on the box and two stood, as is the style of the
Franks, on the backboard of the coach. Six cavaliers, of whom I was
one, served as an escort.

‘Such is the manner in which we started on that progress to the
capital! The fellaheen greeted us as we passed through the villages.
I heard some remark that our lord looked ill, and they committed him
to the protection of Allah. As I rode el Dogaan, which is famous for
his speed, I was fortunately sent ahead with the second messenger to
announce the viceregal progress to Halim Basha. I dared not speak; but
hoped that my signs would be understood. By night-fall we reached Cairo
and, as was customary, we carried lighted torches on each side of the
coach. Thousands witnessed our progress through the streets; I heard
again the remark that the Effendina looked ill, and there was also a
silence amidst the onlookers which made me wonder whether any suspected
the truth. When we had passed through the Bab en-Nasr and were crossing
the tract of desert which separates that gate from the palace at
Abbasiyeh, the Ulema praised God and let the corpse fall forward. Elfy
Bey cursed the old man and lifted the body into position again.

‘Once inside the palace there was nothing further to do than to await
the return of El Hami from Damietta. It would then be time enough to
announce the death of Abbas and to proclaim his young son as successor
to the viceregal throne. Elfy would then have been the virtual ruler
of Egypt. By the mercy of Allah his plans were frustrated and a bullet
ended his earthly career. I was not long in seeking out my present
master, and what services I may have rendered have been liberally
rewarded.

‘You may wish to know more of Hassan and Husseyn, whose disappearance
after the murder I had noticed. I have since heard that they are now in
the service of Princess Zohra, and, to tell you the truth, they were in
her service before they ever set foot in Egypt.’

Zohra had at last avenged the death of her first love.



CHAPTER XIV

MOHAMMEDAN FESTIVALS: THE HOLY CARPET--THE FAST OF RAMADAN AND THE
ASHURA


Woman so seldom figures in the history of the Mohammedan world that
when she appears in the long records of the khalifs, the emirs and
the vizirs, she is as welcome as a treble solo after a prolonged
bass chorus. The story of the beautiful but unhappy Zohra may not be
edifying in all its details, but it lifts for a moment the veil which
conceals the hareem life, and gives us an insight into the tragic
events occasionally enacted behind these closed doors. The curtain has
but recently descended on the drama in which Zohra took a leading part.
If we change the names and omit a few details referring to present
times, it would be hard to believe that this was not some mediæval
story such as the _shoara_ recite in the market-places.

We have to go back to the thirteenth century to find the name of
a woman who played an important part in the government of Egypt.
There is something refreshing in her name, Sheger-ed-Durr, which
means ‘The Spray of Pearls,’ coming as it does amongst the list of
the blood-stained warriors of those stirring times. She was a slave
who became the wife of the mameluke, Emir es-Salih, not of him who
built the Fátimid mosque mentioned further back, but of the Salih who
founded the mameluke dynasty when he usurped the throne of the last
of the house of Saladin. He was killed while fighting the Crusaders
shortly after Sheger-ed-Durr had become his queen. The heir to the
throne was a son of es-Salih by a former wife, and some time elapsed
before he could be brought from the outlying province where he also
was endeavouring to hold the Crusaders in check. The widowed queen
undertook the management of affairs in the meanwhile, keeping the death
of her husband a secret until the succession should be established. The
new khalif, Turán-Shah ibn es-Salih, was not long on the throne before
he met his death in a brawl, and Sheger-ed-Durr once more took up the
reins of government. She sank her identity in that of her baby son, and
ruled under the title of ‘Mother of the victorious King Khalil.’

[Illustration: A FRUIT-STALL AT BULAK]

While this baby king’s victories were confined to the nursery, his
mother’s generals were defeating the Crusaders in every part of his
dominions. The battle of Mansúra decided the fate of the last Crusade,
and Louis IX. was taken prisoner by the Emir Beybars. The mother of
Khalil arranged the ransom which was paid to release the King of
France; and, though not in name, she in fact governed the country
during some seven or eight years. The baby king died, and Mohammedan
prejudice could not brook a woman at the head of affairs. The khalif
of Baghdád was appealed to, and a husband was chosen for her in the
person of Aybek. It appears that she ruled her husband with as firm a
hand as she ruled her country. But this rule was not of long duration.
‘Like a true woman,’ says Stanley-Lane Poole, ‘she could be jealous;
she made him divorce another wife, and when Aybek ventured to propose
a fresh marriage with a princess of Mosil, the queen gave way to a
regrettable act of resentment; having lured him by fair words to the
Citadel--the facts unhappily can’t be softened--she had him murdered in
his bath’--not unlike Zohra’s vengeance of six centuries later. ‘Her
punishment was speedy and terrible. In three days all was over. The
mamelukes shut her up in the Red Tower, where she vindictively pounded
her jewels in a mortar that they might adorn no other woman, and then
she was dragged before the wife whom she had made Aybek divorce, and
there and then beaten to death with the women’s clogs. For days her
body lay in the Citadel ditch for the curs to worry, till some good
Samaritan buried it. Her tomb may be seen beside the chapel of Sitta
Néfisa, and a pious hand of these latter days has shrouded it with a
cloth on which the Arabic name “Spray of Pearls” is worked in gold.’

The object of the present writer is not the ambitious one of attempting
a history of Egypt, but to give a simple account of such things as he
saw and heard while in pursuit of his work as an artist. The story of
Zohra is still told in the bazaars, and the professional reciter still
entertains his audience with the doings of Sheger-ed-Durr. This queen
has also a bearing on that vexed question of the origin of the Holy
Carpet. The departure of the _Mahmal_ and its return from Mekka are the
two events in Cairo which annually excite the greatest interest.

The _hodag_, or the gorgeous covered litter borne by a camel, is
usually taken by the foreign sightseers to be the covering of the
Holy Carpet which is destined to be placed on the _Kaabah_ at Mekka.
There is little wonder that this should be so, for it is by far the
most striking object in the procession. It does not, however, contain
the carpet, or for that matter anything else. Its origin dates from
the pilgrimage which ‘The Spray of Pearls’ made to the Holy City six
centuries and a half ago; and though she is only reported to have
gone once, her camel and litter were yearly sent to represent her.
The original hood of this litter has since been replaced, and the
Mahmal, as it is called, has ever since been sent with the pilgrims to
represent Royalty at the yearly _hagg_.

I have had the good fortune to see the procession of the Mahmal several
times, both on its starting for Mekka and on its return to Cairo. The
_Kisweh_, as the carpet itself is called, is taken in four separate
pieces, which are enclosed in boxes and borne by camels. Though
handsome cloths cover these boxes, and the trappings of the camels are
magnificent, they yet look far less important than the empty litter
which precedes them.

A new carpet, or, properly speaking, a new covering for the _Kaabah_
is annually made, and, when the fast of Ramadan is over, its component
parts are deposited in the mosque of the Hasaneyn, there to remain for
the few weeks which elapse before the pilgrimage sets out.

When the great day arrives, all Cairo assembles in the large open space
on the south of the Citadel walls, and east of the great mosques of
Sultan Hassan and of el Rifaiya. His Highness the Khedive and all
the great state functionaries are here, and smart up-to-date soldiers
keep back the crowds of sightseers to make way for as picturesque and
truly oriental a spectacle as any one could wish to see. I confess
that familiarity has in this case robbed the proceedings of some of
its charm; for I have seen and sketched some of these camels in their
gorgeous trappings when they have done duty at weddings, and also in
the courtyard of the man who hires them out. The pictorial effect is
there, however, none the less. I have enjoyed it more while seeing it
pass through the old mediæval streets, or file out into the desert
through the Bab en-Nasr. Until quite recently its route lay through the
passes in the Mokattam hills, and by the desert track which leads to
Suez. It is now taken by train to Alexandria, and shipped to Jiddeh, as
the nearest port to the Holy City.

My illustration to this chapter is the return journey to Cairo, and
though I may have taken some liberties with the background, it will
give some idea of its aspect during its desert march. My picture of the
marriage procession in the earlier part of this book shows some of the
properties which figure in this yearly spectacle.

As the Mohammedan year is composed of lunar months, it is eleven
days short of the year as we understand it. Thus these and all other
religious festivals are set back eleven days annually. When, in the
course of time, the pilgrims will start on their journey during the
summer months, few foreigners will have an opportunity to see this
picturesque pageant. The Great Beiram will also fall during the time
when Cairo is empty of visitors, and this is the most important holiday
in the Mohammedan world. It is the day of the sacrificial feast which
the pilgrims partake of in Mekka after they have heard the sermon on
Mount Arafat. As this impressive gathering on the holy mount is only to
be witnessed by the followers of the Prophet, we must content ourselves
with seeing all we can of its commemoration in more accessible places.
The Lesser Beiram, with which we must not confuse it, is the holiday
and feastings which follow the last day of the fast of Ramadan. To be
spared the month of Ramadan is a loss no visitor need regret. He will
not be much aware of it in his modern hotel, where Frankish servants
may eat and drink their fill; but should his occupation lie amongst the
natives, he will indeed rejoice when the last gun is fired to herald
the advent of the Lesser Beiram.

As in many other matters, this fast fells much more heavily on the poor
than on the rich. The well-to-do can pass most of the hours, between
the rising and the setting of the sun, in sleep or in their cool and
comparatively dustless homes. But just think what a long day spent in
the sun and the dust must be to a man who may not let a drop of water
pass his lips! The callous remark that they are used to it is nonsense.
They are used to a drink of water whenever they feel inclined during
the eleven months preceding the fest, and this must quite have broken
the habit of a rigid abstinence.

I spent one Ramadan in the camp of the Egyptian Exploration Fund, and
have seen two or three hundred men and boys working the whole day in a
perpetual dust. What their cravings for a drink of water must have been
was easily imagined; for though I worked in the shade and as far from
the excavation dust as I could, the dry desert air often induced me to
have a pull at the water-bottle. Mr. Currelly, who directed the work,
was considerate enough to alter the hours, when we appreciated how
these men suffered; and by starting at daybreak and working till dark,
a long rest during the extreme heat of the day was permissible.

In the streets and bazaars of Cairo the fast seems to affect the
tempers of the people even more than the _hamseen_ is wont to do.
Quarrels are much more frequent, and the only occasion when I had a
serious row with a native which might have led to very unpleasant
consequences was during Ramadan.

I had secured a comfortable seat on the _mastaba_ of a little shop
and was painting a fruit-stall on the opposite side of the road. My
man Mohammed induced the woman who kept the stall to pose to me while
she squatted amidst the apples and oranges which she sold. The usual
bargaining took place between my man and the woman, and inquisitive
neighbours were interested as usual in the proceedings. When it was
agreed that she would pose for about the value of her whole stock in
trade, I set to work. She was a young woman and wore no face-veil,
which suggested that she was of easy virtue. I was, however, more
concerned with my drawing than with the morals of my model. A
rough-looking fellow presently started an altercation with her, and as
he stood between me and my subject, I told Mohammed to ask him to stand
aside. It appeared that the man objected to the woman being painted,
and he turned furiously on Mohammed when the latter tried to induce him
to move on. Had I then had Mahmood as a servant, he would have made
short work of my interrupter; but Mohammed had neither the courage
nor the physical strength for such strong measures. Gentle persuasion
had no effect on the brute, and he suddenly ended his arguments with
my model by giving her a violent slap on her cheek. He then rushed
across to where I was sitting and roughly sat down beside me. I was
new to Cairo then and could not understand what he said, and I put
my materials aside before attempting to rid myself of my unpleasant
neighbour. Leaning over me he stuck his fingers right on to my drawing,
and was rewarded by a blow in his ribs which sent him sprawling on to
the road. That was one for touching my drawing and two for the slap on
the woman’s cheek.

Personal courage is not a characteristic of the Egyptians; but when
they ‘see red,’ as they describe it, they become like raving madmen.
A crowd collected before the man had hardly picked himself up, and I
did not at once know what the attitude of the crowd towards myself
might be. Mohammed’s persuasive powers were of good service now, and
several onlookers held back the man, who made frantic efforts to get
at me. He then ran back to the shop, and picking up the thickest piece
of sugar-cane, he yelled out his curses and made another rush at me.
The crowd seemed happily to side with the Nusranee, or possibly wished
to prevent the Moslem from getting into further trouble. However that
might have been, the man was well guarded until I could get away.

Mohammed had doubtless been of great service to me; he had most likely
lied to the crowd that I was a nephew of Lord Cromer’s, or son-in-law
to the head of the police, as I found out on later occasions that he
had inspired a certain respect for me by similar falsehoods. Be this as
it may, I was fortunate to have got out of the row as well as I had.
But why should Mohammed have been so alarmed when I insisted on his
going with me to the nearest police-court? He was about to turn tail
when we reached the entrance; I was, however, in no mood to argue the
matter--he should either come in or leave my service.

The Moslem magistrate and his clerks fortunately spoke French, and I
was able to state my case. They questioned Mohammed in Arabic, and he,
having got over his fears of the police-court, gave a fair account of
what had taken place. I was assured that the man would be found, and
that I should hear again from them before long.

I returned the next day to the fruit-stall, and made some compensation
to the woman for the slap on her cheek of which I had been the innocent
cause; but nothing would persuade her to sit to me any more. When I got
to work she closed up her shop and departed. I consoled myself, while
I put in the detail of the _mushrbiyeh_ oriel which projected over her
closed shutters, that the solatium I had given her would more than
cover any loss of custom during a Ramadan morning. When an Arab in the
poorer quarters buys an orange, it is for immediate consumption. To
be seen buying one, unless just before or after the gun announces the
setting of the sun, would awaken suspicions as to the orthodoxy of the
purchaser. A stray Jew or Copt might turn up as a customer; but the
chances were slight, as we were far from either the Jewish or Coptic
quarters.

I had to finish my fruit-shop as best I could from other studies, and
find another woman to help me to finish the figure.

Days went by, and I heard nothing further about my aggressor, and
concluded that either he had not been found, or that my statement had
been pigeon-holed, and its existence forgotten. I was anyhow singularly
free from interruptions when I worked in the street where I had been
molested, and did not much mind if I heard no more about it. After
a fortnight or so, I received a letter from the British consulate,
telling me to appear at the police-court on such and such a day. I
went at the appointed time, and waited in the magistrate’s office
until my case should come on. The clerk was pleased to air his French,
and tell me about the prisoner, and the punishment he would probably
undergo. Had he called me a _Kelb_? seemed a matter of great import.
He had probably called me the ‘son of a dog’; but I was more concerned
at the time as to what he would do with the thick cane than hurt by
these reflections on my parentage. I was asked if I would go into the
hall and see the man, and I did so. I not only found him there, in
the custody of a policeman, but I was introduced to a crowd of his
relations. One and all beseeched me to let him off, and Mohammed told
a woeful tale of how many were dependent on the loafer’s earnings. The
starvation of a numerous offspring would be laid to my account should
the prisoner be prevented from loafing in his own particular manner.
The tears of his mother had some effect--but what could I do? I did not
run this show, I got Mohammed to explain, and the decision must rest
with the magistrate. I would, however, make as light of the case as I
could, seeing that it was during Ramadan that it happened. There being
no skirt to my garments, the old mother had a try at kissing the hem of
my trousers, and as to the prisoner himself, I could hardly recognise
in the poor lachrymose creature the furious ruffian of the fruit-stall.

The result of all this pleading put me in the unusual position (when
our case was called) of advocate for the defence rather than that of
the prosecutor. When the man got off with sixteen days, I had to slip
away quickly to avoid the marks of gratitude from his relations. The
part which struck me as odd was that none of his sentence was due to
his violent slap of the poor woman’s cheek. She was not his wife, I
explained to the clerk while I waited in the office. ‘There had been
matrimonial relations of a sort,’ he explained, and he seemed to hold
that that might cover his right to administer corporal punishment. It
was my first season in Egypt, so I had still much to learn.

Had the sixteen days of my aggressor’s confinement been passed while
the fast lasted, it would have been a light sentence. But Ramadan was
now far spent, and the term lasted over the holidays of the Lesser
Beiram. That must have been a bitter pill for him to swallow, for there
are great rejoicings and feastings on the first day of Shauwâl. Except
those under lock and key, few Arabs sit down to a meal where a bit of
mutton does not enrich their stew.

Some months after, while I passed through the street of my fruit-shop,
I noticed a man smiling at me, and making his salaams; I seemed to
remember his face, though I could not quite place him. I asked Mohammed
who my acquaintance might be, and he said, ‘Do you not remember the man
you had put in prison?’

I have met with many cases since, where an Egyptian has been justly
punished, and has shown as little resentment. I have asked large
employers of labour as to whether any spiteful action ever followed
to the master who had sent one of his men to the lock-up. I was told
that acts of vengeance were common enough; but never in a case where
punishment was merited. They are not slow to wrath, but the sun seldom
goes down on their anger. I have known cases, however, where some
fellah having been grossly cheated, and not being able to get justice
in the courts, has nursed his revenge for a long while. A burning stack
or a lighted thatch may be so long after the first wrong that suspicion
may fall on others than the incendiary. ‘Never hurry your revenge; it
will be just as sweet in two years’ time,’ is a saying amongst the
fellaheen; but nothing but the grossest injustice will excite this
passion in so light-hearted a people.

It is a matter of congratulation to every one in Mohammedan countries,
whether he be a follower of the Prophet or not, when the festivities of
Shauwâl announce that the fast of Ramadan is over.

The streets are full of colour during the first days of the month of
Shauwâl. Parents take their children from house to house to show them
off in their new garments; for all who can possibly afford it cast off
their old clothes at the end of the fast and appear in new ones to
enjoy the feast. Primitive merry-go-rounds are erected in the vacant
spaces, and the various eatables appropriate to the Little Beiram are
on sale everywhere. The rich give of their substance to the needy, and
happy faces contrast pleasantly with the saddened looks so frequent
during the great fast.

There is a pause in the festivals during the month of el-Kaadeh,
which follows Shauwâl, and el-Heggeh, which is the last month of the
Mohammedan year, makes up for this in the excitements pertaining to
the Mekka pilgrimage. The Great Beiram, or the ‘Eed el-Kebir,’ as it
is called by the Egyptians, falls on the tenth day and it lasts during
the three following ones. Its advent is noticeable from the flocks
of sheep and goats and also the buffaloes which enter Cairo from the
fertile plains of the Delta. Sheep are brought round to the bazaars to
sell to the merchants who may not wish to attend the markets, and they
are frequently to be seen tethered outside the stalls in the poorer
quarters, where they are fatted for the sacrifice which takes place at
the same hour as the one offered up by the pilgrims at Mekka.

Almsgiving is an important duty and is well observed in the Mohammedan
world: on the tenth day of el-Heggeh those who cannot afford a sheep
partake of the sacrificial offerings of their well-to-do neighbours.

The new garments of the Lesser Beiram appear again on the greater
festival, and the gaily coloured dresses of the children once more
enliven the streets. For three days all business is at a standstill,
and merry-making and religious exercises go on all the while. On the
third night it is usual to visit the tombs of the deceased relatives--a
less mournful ending to the festivities than might be supposed. The
approaches to the cemeteries are gay with booths and tents, rigged
up either for entertainments or for religious _zikrs_. Should the
festival fall during the hot season the tomb visiting is somewhat of an
all-night picnic.

Moharram is the month which follows the last, and with it begins the
Mohammedan year. The tenth day is called the Ashura, and an event
which takes place on the evening of that day is not easily forgotten
by any strangers who may happen to have witnessed it. The Sheeas in
Cairo (mostly Persians) then commemorate the death of Husseyn, the
twin brother of Hassan and grandson of the Prophet. They claim that as
Hassan had died, the succession should have continued through Husseyn
and his son, Ali Akbar, after him; whereas the Sunnees claim that as
Abubekr was chosen by the Prophet himself as his successor, Abubekr’s
descendants had a claim prior to that of Mohammed’s actual blood
relations. This caused the great split in the Mohammedan world. The
Sunnees revere the memory of the twin brothers, and the festival which
takes place on their birthday is one of the great events in orthodox
Egypt.

The Sheeas commemorate the day of Husseyn’s death, which he met on
the field of Kerbala while fighting the usurper of his rights to the
Khalifate. That they should do so in Persia is easily understood; but
that they should be allowed to parade the streets of Cairo and proclaim
their heresy to the crowds of orthodox Sunnees, speaks well for the
toleration of the latter. It is true that the police rope the streets
through which the procession passes, and a large body of them guard
the processionists from molestation. But were the fanaticism of the
populace really stirred, the events which I witnessed could never take
place.

I got a seat in a coffee-shop close to the Hasaneyn mosque about an
hour after sunset; and although the Persians would not be allowed to
enter the mosque itself, I felt sure that their enthusiasm would be
stirred to the highest pitch when they passed by the shrine where the
head of Husseyn is said to be buried.

Crowds of people awaited alongside the route which the Sheeas would
take; the display of so much heresy seemed to trouble them very little,
and, like myself, they looked forward to an evening’s entertainment.
The street was not lighted up as on the day of the birth of the twin
brothers, so that the light which presently appeared at the further end
of the street attracted the attention of every one at once.

A number of flaming cressets lit up the grey houses where the
procession turned from out the Mousky into the Hasaneyn street. As it
approached, the short jerky chorus of the men was more often repeated:
‘Hassan, Husseyn! Hassan, Husseyn!’ The shouts got wilder and more
frequent as the procession drew near to the mosque. The first to pass
us was a man on horseback, who harangued the crowd during an interval
in the chorus. He told of how the young Husseyn died in fighting for
his faith and against the usurper of his throne. The crowd seemed as
little inclined to contradict him as I was, although a few murmurs of
dissent came from some who sat on the bench beside me. The men who
carried the flaming cressets followed next, and then several mounted
policemen. These were not necessarily Sheeas, but were there to
preserve the heretics from any hostile demonstrations on the part of
onlookers. A number of men carrying tall banners and others with more
cressets followed the guardians of the law. Two led horses between a
long double file of Persians carrying lanterns were the next objects of
interest, for these horses represented the twin sons of Ali, who both
were killed while mounted on their steeds.

The ever-increasing noise at the further end of the procession prepared
me somewhat for an exciting scene; but I hardly expected the gruesome
sight which now followed. A number of men, some half-clad and others in
long white garments, were literally streaming with blood. They carried
naked swords, with which they occasionally slashed their foreheads, and
the white garments which caught the jets of blood seemed as if they
had been worn with the purpose of making the sight more ghastly. Some
swayed as if about to fall, and had hardly any voice left to shout the
names of their heroes. Others, in a state of frenzy, brandished their
swords and shouted, ‘Hassan! Husseyn!’

We were so near some of these men in the narrow street that I had to
withdraw my legs so as not to touch their blood-stained garments. They
wore no turbans, and the awful wounds on their close-shaven heads made
me feel sick. There were some without swords who preferred to flog
their naked bodies with chains, and though this ordeal may have been
worse than the other, it was, at any rate, less gruesome to behold. A
small boy on a led white horse followed, and blood ran down his face
and stained his white robes. I felt indignant that a child should take
part in this ghastly orgy; but a suspicion that the blood had been
skilfully placed there before the procession had started cooled my
indignation.

I witnessed the above some fifteen years ago, and it is possible that
some of the worst features may have been modified. It might well be
prohibited, for these Sheeas are strangers in the land, and no orthodox
Egyptian could object to the prohibition of practices carried on by
those whom they consider heretics. When the Dóseh was stopped soon
after the British occupation, it was a much greater interference with
the religion of the people, for the Dóseh was not a Sheea practice;
it was, on the contrary, one of the great events during the _Moolid
en-Nebi_, the birthday of the Prophet. It was a barbaric performance
and many people were seriously injured, though to this day Moslems
have tried to assure me that when the Sheykh rode over the prostrate
bodies of the faithful, none were injured by the horse’s hoofs, and all
received great blessings through this act of faith. They have, however,
quietly submitted to the prohibition of being trampled on, and would
doubtless raise no objection to the heretics living in this country
being similarly prohibited from practising the barbarities of the
Ashura.

Towards the end of Safar, the second month, the return of the Mekka
caravan may be expected, and we again witness the picturesque
procession of the Mahmal which has been described.

The third month, or Rabeea el-Owwal, is the month of the Prophet.
His birth and death are both said to have taken place on the twelfth
day; and any one wishing to see as much of the life and character of
the Egyptians as possible will find something of interest during the
first two weeks of that month. With the exception of the Dóseh, all
the ceremonies which Lane describes as having taken place in his day
may now be seen during the latter end of the tourist season, for the
first day of the Mohammedan year 1330 was on the twenty-second day of
December 1911. Three lunar months added to that date takes us into the
middle of March 1912. As these dates get a set-back of eleven days each
year, visitors in the near future will not have to wait to as late a
date to assist in the festivities of the Moolid en-Nebi.

[Illustration: A THEBAN HOMESTEAD]

If not pressed for time and a certain amount of heat can be borne,
both April and May are delightful months in Egypt, always excepting
the days of _hamseen_. Apart from this festival (which then fell in
April) modern Cairo is beautified with its numerous blossoming trees.
The trying hot winds cease early in May, and though that month is, I
admit, a hot one, I consider it and also June to be the months when the
painter may do his best work in Egypt.



CHAPTER XV

MORE RELIGIOUS OBSERVANCES, SPRING’S AWAKENING, AND THE CAIRENE HOUSE
OF COUNT ZOGHEB


The religious observances, the festivals, and the superstitions of
Islam have been so fully described by Lane that it seems presumptuous
to attempt to do so here. But they are so intimately associated with
the life and character of the Egyptians that it is impossible to
describe the people amongst whom I have so long lived without referring
to these observances. From the first day of the month of the Prophet
every street and bazaar in Cairo show some signs that the Moolid
en-Nebi will soon be on us. Bands of dervishes, carrying the banners
of the sects to which they belong, make happy incidents in the streets
through which they pass. Should we go past a dervish _tekke_ the sound
of a _zikr_ will be heard; and should we be bold enough to peep in we
may see a group of men swaying backwards and forwards, and hear them
repeat in unison the name of Allah till physical exhaustion causes a
pause. Queer-looking fakirs beg for alms in the name of the Prophet;
and whether they have lain low during ordinary times and only donned
their rags for the great occasion, I cannot tell, but they turn up now
like butterflies on a fine spring morning.

It is pleasant to wander about the streets of the old quarters after
sunset. Their usual dark and deserted appearance is enlivened here and
there by a display of lanterns hung beneath a marvellously patterned
awning, and one’s curiosity is incited to know with what thrilling
romance the _sháer_ is engaging the attention of his audience. It is
also curious to find men who, after the religious excitement of a
_zikr_, will sit in ecstasies in the little theatres while the sensuous
dance of the _ghazeeyeh_ is performed. Arabic music can also be heard
at its best. Incomprehensible at first, as a strange language to the
foreigner, it has a subtle charm which increases as the sounds become
more familiar. A dark lane, where one or two small lanterns mark the
entrances of some old mameluke palaces, may of a sudden be lighted at
one end by the approach of a band of dervishes carrying now flaming
cressets in lieu of the banners we may have seen in the daytime.

I neglected the old quarters, during my last stay in Cairo, when the
month of the Prophet was on us. The commonplace, but luxurious, modern
quarters were made glorious by the wreath of blossoming shrubs and
trees which adorned them. The Esbekiyeh gardens, which I usually avoid,
were a great attraction to me then. A large and rather gimcrack grotto,
which I thought a horror during the winter, was now almost smothered
by the gorgeous blossom of the bougainvillea. Seldom have I seen such
an orgy of colour. I made some studies of it which I have since found
useful; but I should then have left the bougainvillea severely alone. I
heard of a fine display of its blossom in the zoological gardens, where
I knew that the small entrance fee as well as the other attractions
would allow me to work with less of an admiring crowd. Captain Flower
(to whom we are indebted for having made this collection of the fauna
and birds of Africa one of the most interesting in the world) gave me
every facility for working in the gardens which he controls. Besides
the masses of bougainvillea, I found the bohenia in full bloom; the
hibiscus was in flower, the poinciana regia, as well as many other
subtropical shrubs.

I started a morning as well as an afternoon drawing of the
bougainvillea, and much as I was taken by this display of colour in
nature, I found that somehow or another I could not get it to look
pictorially right on my paper. The purplish-crimson fought unpleasantly
with the green, and with the blue of the sky. It is a pity; for the
otherwise delightful days I spent at the Gizeh gardens have this black
mark against them.

The bougainvillea had hardly shed its blossom when the jacaranda
began to show what it is capable of, both as to its beauty as in the
difficulties it sets before the painter who attempts to record the
delicacy of its colouring. I thought nothing more of the bougainvillea
when the jacaranda put on its spring garments. Leafless trees of a
graceful growth, which may be seen in almost every garden, but which
we simply label in our minds as trees without paying them any further
attention, become each one an object of admiration when April glides
into May. I had generally been in Upper Egypt during that season,
or had left the country too soon to see the jacaranda in bloom. The
cherry-blossom had attracted me to Japan the previous year, I have
made studies of the almond tree and the peach during one or two
seasons in Italy, and I never fail to get at the apple-blossom should
I happen to be in England in May. Each in its turn has filled me
with enthusiasm. But there is none to compare with the beauty of the
jacaranda.

Its local colour is a pale violet, but when the declining sun plays
amongst its bloom-laden twigs, it tells as a mass of warm pink against
the turquoise sky. The fear of a _hamseen_ increases as the blossom
gets to perfection, for two or three days of the hot dry wind may rob
the trees of most of their beauty. The colour is so different under a
sand-laden sky that it is hopeless to continue a drawing begun when the
wind came from a better quarter. Should the _hamseen_ have done its
worst before these trees break into blossom, we may enjoy their beauty
for a fortnight or more. When once the green buds show between the
blossoms, we know that in a day or two all will be over. The rapidity
with which a leafless tree changes to a mass of green is surprising to
any one who has spent his years in northern climes.

Whether the oleander was exceptionally fine that season I cannot tell,
but I had seen nothing like it anywhere--and an oleander in flower
is a thing no one with any æsthetic sense would pass unnoticed. The
scorching winds may have shrivelled up some of its bloom, but the
profusion of buds was ever ready to fill up any gaps left by the
falling petals.

Where water is available anything seems to grow in this rich alluvial
soil. Flowers were in plenty during the whole winter, but the flower
gardens in Egypt attracted me less than do those nearer home. The
blackish mud from which they grow makes an unpleasant setting. The
large flowering shrubs get their moisture deeper in the soil, and
little or no irrigation seems required. Cairo is but a few feet above
the level of the Nile, and the roots of the larger trees probably reach
down to where a continuous supply of water is ever available. I can
only account in this way for the luxuriance of growth often seen in a
dry and sandy courtyard.

It is difficult to say when the rose season is at its best; we were
seldom without them. The bushes possibly take a rest during the hottest
months of summer; during the autumn, the winter, and the spring they
are hardly ever denuded of their bloom before they show signs of
renewed efforts to break into flower.

The new suburbs, which are ever stretching out to the north and south
of the modern Cairo, have little to attract one. Architectural studies
may be made there to learn what to avoid. I avoided them altogether
until the blossoming trees, the flowering shrubs, and the gorgeous
colour of some of the creepers attracted me from one otherwise
villainous house to another. There are scarcely any flowers to be seen
in the old parts of the city, so that the houses and mosques could
wait; but not so the blossoming trees in the gardens of the modern
quarters.

Count Zogheb kindly showed me over his house, which forms a striking
exception to the many tasteless buildings in its neighbourhood, and
it was a pleasure to find that the planning and decoration of the
best mameluke palaces can be adapted to modern requirements if the
possessor has the means and the good taste to appreciate them. Herz Bey
designed the building, and though it is no slavish copy of any existing
old Cairene house, it has the spirit and the good taste of the best
Saracenic work. I was also glad to see that it is possible to reproduce
the handsome tiles, which I had repeatedly heard to be a lost art. Some
panels which the owner pointed out to me were made up partly of old
and partly of modern tiles, and I confess I found it difficult to tell
which were which. Connoisseurs in old faience may smile at this, and
they might have pointed out some differences in the glaze; but in the
decorative effect on the walls one was quite as useful as the other.
I wish they had been made in Egypt, for any signs of a revival of the
lost handicraft would be most welcome. The Count informed me that
some were made in Venice from patterns he sent there, and others were
manufactured in Austria.

Nassan, he of the lamp-shop, must have acquired a good customer in
my new acquaintance, for a great number of his lamps were seen here,
and they were beautifully adapted to the electric light. A fear I had
before entering the house was that it might look theatrical and not
suitable to present-day use; but I lost that completely after I had
been there some while. There was no affectation on the part of my host
and his family to live as mediæval Moslems, any more than the possessor
of an old English house attempts to live as did his predecessors.
Chairs, tables, books and all other modern requirements were there,
and they looked no more incongruous than did the unveiled faces of the
handsome wife and daughters of my host. It was a bold venture, and if a
less able architect than Herz Bey had had the designing of this home,
it might have been a deplorable failure, instead of an encouragement to
other wealthy Cairenes to try to do likewise.

The first attempt at a revival of Saracenic domestic architecture was
the French Agency. I can only judge of it from its exterior, which is
a dignified and handsome building; competent judges have assured me
that the interior is very beautiful. It is singular that this noble
attempt to build according to the traditions of Cairo’s best period
went on while Ismael Pasha was tearing down fine old mameluke palaces
and destroying one of the most picturesque parts of the old city, in
order to construct the hideous ‘Boulevard Mohammed Ali.’ This act of
vandalism went on under French influence while a French architect was
constructing the ‘Maison de France,’ as the agency is called, and
endeavouring to give it the appearance of the houses the Cairenes
were destroying. Fine old _mushrbiyeh_ work was to be had in plenty,
and the furniture of a fine mosque, which was partly demolished in
order to preserve the alignment of the Boulevard, were available to
the architect of the agency. It contains, therefore, much genuine old
work which was not procurable when Count Zogheb recently built his
home. It is as well that this should be so. Age does little to improve
the woodwork, whose chief beauty consists in the design, and of this
plenty of examples remain. It is a hopeful sign that all that I saw in
the Count’s beautiful house can still be achieved, providing an able
architect be selected.

[Illustration: THE JACARANDA]



CHAPTER XVI

DER EL-BAHRI, AND SOME INCIDENTS WHICH TOOK PLACE DURING MY STAY THERE


From 1905 and onwards I spent five long seasons in Upper Egypt. I
was engaged during a part of that time in reproducing a series of
eighteenth dynasty bas-reliefs for four different museums. By the
courtesy of the Antiquities Department I was allowed the use of the hut
built by the Egyptian Exploration Fund, when, under the direction of
Professor Naville, the excavations of the Mentuhoteb temple at Thebes
were begun. I joined the camp during the last season of its work there.
I spent a delightful winter in the companionship of four enthusiastic
excavators. The exciting finds while Professor Currelly was in charge
of the camp, as well as the epoch-making discovery of the tomb of Queen
Tyi in the Valley of the Tombs of the Kings, all tend to make the
winter of 1905-1906 a memorable one in the annals of Egyptian research.
It was an exciting time; but as these events, as well as my own work
for the museums, has been given in detail in _Below the Cataracts_, I
propose now to recount some of the incidents which occurred since the
Egyptian Exploration Fund broke up their camp to carry on their work at
Abydos.

The reproduction of the bas-reliefs in the Hatshepsu temple, which
I originally undertook rather as an experiment, brought me numerous
commissions from various museums. The work was interesting as well
as lucrative; but after some months of it I yearned to get back to
my water-colour drawings. I therefore engaged an artist in Paris to
come out the following season to assist me. We then had the hut to
ourselves, and we turned the antiquities store-room into a studio for
such work as we had not to do in the temple itself.

We led the ‘simple life’ here with a vengeance. We slept under the
canopy of the starlit heavens; we fed on what our Arab cook could find
in the village between us and the cultivated land, supplemented with
preserves I had sent out from England; we rose with the sun and retired
not very long after it had set. Hatshepsu’s temple rises in terraces a
couple of hundred yards from the hut, and the foundations of the newly
excavated shrine of Mentuhoteb lie beside it, the former more or less
an enlarged copy of its neighbour of twelve centuries earlier date.
An amphitheatre of imposing limestone cliffs backs the two ruins and
divides us from the Valley of the Tombs of the Kings.

The great Theban necropolis spreads over the desert between us and the
cultivation, and stretches some two miles both to the north and to the
south of our hut, the vast temple of Medinet Habu being at the southern
extremity and the road to the Valley of the Kings at its northern end.
In these two to three square miles of broken ground, raised above
the limits of the Nile’s overflow, can we read most of what is known
of the history of Egypt from the Middle Empire up to the Mohammedan
invasion. Little is known from the decline of the twelfth dynasty until
the rise of the New Empire some five-and-thirty centuries past. But the
story of the renaissance during the eighteenth dynasty, the conquests
of the second and the third Rameses, as well as the gradual decline
of the empire until the foreign domination, can be read here by the
Egyptologist as in an open book. Of the rule of the Tanites, of the
Libyans, and of the Ethiopians, we find fewer indications. Some remains
remind us of the second renaissance during the late Egyptian period,
and we are also reminded of Cambyses and the Persian domination, when
we behold the overturned colossal image of Rameses. A beautiful little
temple of Nektanebos carries us forward to when the Egyptians came by
their own again.

The Ptolemaic façade at Medinet Habu, the beautiful little shrine at
Der el-Medineh, and the inner sanctuary of Hatshepsu’s temple remain as
examples of the work done under the Ptolemies. If we go a mile beyond
Medinet Habu we find a little temple of Isis erected by Hadrian and
Antoninus Pius, and bearing the inscriptions of Vespasian, Domitian,
and Otho.

The early Christians have left their mark in Hatshepsu’s shrine to
Ammon Ra; unfortunately little of their constructive work is seen,
but a great many obliterations of beautiful eighteenth dynasty
bas-reliefs make us regret their pious zeal. Until recently a partly
ruined Christian church stood in the centre of the second court of the
Rameses III. temple at Medinet Habu. Misplaced zeal on the part of
Egyptologists caused this primitive place of Christian worship to be
cleared away so as not to obstruct the view of the earlier building.
A broader view of archæology might have spared such an interesting
structure.

To settle down to a stay of seven consecutive months in an arid waste,
surrounded by tombs and the crumbling remains of a bygone age, might
strike the man in the street as holding out a gloomy prospect. The
idea that I had not been particularly favoured never entered my head
till, after four or five months passed here, I received a visit from
a relative. This lady had picked her way on a donkey, through a mile
or more of pit tombs, rock tombs and broken mausoleums, on a hot and
dusty day, before she reached my hut. After our greetings she remarked,
‘You must be fed up with this place by now.’ She asked me to come and
stay, as her guest, in the huge new hotel which we could see from here
outlined against the eastern horizon. That I had become an object of
pity instead of one to be envied was a new and strange idea to me. To
give up my free life in this fine air, surrounded as I was with an
infinity of things which filled me with interest, and my only regret
being that the days were far too short--to give this up to loaf about
the hotel at Luxor amidst a crowd of people whose one object is to kill
time--the very thought of it gave me a shudder. I tried to console my
kindly intentioned relative that she would think better of my locality
when she had seen the beautiful things Hatshepsu’s temple had in store
for her.

The beautiful series of reliefs illustrating the expedition to the
Land of Punt, the presentation of Queen Aahmes to Ammon Ra and the
divine birth of Hatshepsu, all executed during the best period of
the eighteenth dynasty, did less to expel the gloomy thoughts of my
relation than did the cup of tea which my Arab cook had prepared for
her. The frank admission that the chipped and cracked examples of an
archaic art did not appeal to her was refreshing, and I began already
to have my suspicions as to the genuineness of many exclamations of
admiration I had heard.

Early Egyptian art must ever remain as caviare to the masses until they
learn that art is not merely a slavish reproduction of some natural
objects. They would do well to credit those who have studied it and
who assure them that it is in truth a very great art, and that it well
repays any intelligent person who approaches it with proper reverence.
The absence of perspective and of all foreshortening in these low
reliefs shocks the tyro, and he may express himself that the figures
must be wrong when an attitude is depicted which it is impossible
to hold. The mind, however, soon accepts these conventions and is
free to admire the wonderful drawing of the outline, the sense of
proportion, and the marvellously suggested modelling in a relief that
seldom surpasses the eighth of an inch in thickness. Apart from the
purely æsthetic pleasure the eighteenth dynasty work gives us, it is a
delight to be carried back to a remote age and to see depicted not only
the gods and the kings, but the everyday life, with its joys and its
sorrows, of a people who flourished more than three millenniums ago.

The past may seem too remote to awaken much sympathy in many who
are always surrounded by the comforts of the present day. But if we
enter into the life of the fellaheen who dwell in the villages where
desert and cultivation meet, we find much in common between the early
Egyptians and this country-folk.

Some actually live in the tombs, using the forecourts for their beasts.
Where exceptionally interesting wall inscriptions exist in the ancient
sepulchres, the Antiquities Department has stepped in and protected
them from the risk of being damaged. The evicted tenants then build
their homes nearer the cultivation. The one I give as an illustration
to this chapter is a fair sample of a modern Theban homestead. The
dress of the people has altered slightly from that of their remote
ancestors, and the camel was presumably non-existent in pharaonic
times; but little else has been changed. The rude bins made of dried
mud are of early Egyptian rather than of Saracenic design. The stone in
the right-hand corner with which the fellaha grinds the corn, finds its
prototype on the walls of many an adjacent tomb.

The farming operations have little changed during this great lapse of
time. The scenes depicted on the walls of the tomb of Nakht: the men
reaping with sickles, the women gleaning; others packing the ears of
corn or measuring the garnered grain--all this can be seen now, in any
of these villages, and it is done in the same simple and primitive
manner. The types of the labouring people are less changed than their
simple garments. The women plucking durra or winnowing the corn in
Nakht’s sepulchre might have been drawn from any of the women we now
see carrying their pitchers of water from the wells. All are now
followers of the Prophet save a few Coptic Christians; the worship of
Isis gave way to that of the risen Christ, and the crescent has since
replaced the cross. But many a superstition has survived these changes.
The mental characteristics of the Upper Egyptian differ very much from
those of the true bred Arab; it is therefore rational to believe that
these have been transmitted as well as the cast of the features.

Some allowance must be made for the inhabitants of Gurna, the long
straggling village at the base of the necropolis. Year after year
tourists pass by its hovels, and from a coin thrown now and again to
the children, a breed of beggars is replacing an otherwise hard-working
people. The demand for ‘antikas’ has caused a supply of false ones, or
tempted the men to steal from the temples whenever a favourable chance
presents itself. Many have lost the habit of work in consequence of
these evil influences; thus, on the whole, the Gurna peasants compare
badly with those of less frequented villages.

[Illustration: THE BIRTH COLONNADE IN THE TEMPLE OF HATSHEPSU]

With the exception of a few friends who were connected with the
excavations, or an occasional visit from acquaintances who were
spending a season in Upper Egypt, I saw few human beings beside the
Gurna peasants. I endeavoured to see the best side of their natures,
and to make allowances for the centuries of bad government under which
they have existed. I found them not quite so bad as they are painted.
Their ingratitude, of which I had heard a good deal, can be explained
in two ways; firstly, hospitality is a duty of the Mohammedan religion,
and hospitality of a kind is expected and taken for granted. We are
seldom grateful for what we consider our due. Secondly, many favours
conferred by the foreigner are little more than common humanity
demands, and he is liable to place too high an estimate on what he may
have done. Where too much gratitude was not expected for some service
performed, I generally found that the fellah could be as grateful as
the peasant nearer home.

Their greed for money is a characteristic which the tourist cannot
fail to perceive; but the tourist seldom meets any of the fellaheen
save those who live near the frequented ‘sights.’ The annual influx
of sightseers has become as a crop, to these peasants, from which
a harvest should be gathered. In their eyes the _Sauwâhîn_ are all
millionaires, and, according to the oriental mind, the rich man
should pay out of the abundance of his riches, and not necessarily
in proportion to the services rendered. Our mediæval ‘largess’ was
taken in that light by our forebears, and corresponds very much to
the fellaheen’s notion of _baksheesh_. This is not expected of those
who live and work amongst them, for ‘How can a man be rich if he
works daily with his hands?’ _Baksheesh_ from such as myself would be
expected not as largess, but more as a gratuity after a certain period
of service.

I remember a man asking where the _Beled es-Sauwâhîn_ was, that is, the
‘Land of the Foreigners.’ On being told that the English, the French
and Germans, who were all _Sauwâhîn_, had each a separate country, my
questioner retorted, ‘But surely you are not one of them?’ I told him
that as I was an Englishman, I was of course one of them, and I, in
my turn asking him a few questions, managed to arrive at his views on
the subject. He was aware that there existed beyond the seas a land of
the _Ingleesi_, also one of the _Fransowi_, and one of the _Nemsawi_;
but besides these there was a land of the _Sauwâhîn_, a rich people who
apparently did no work, and annually migrated to the south to visit the
temples and tombs of the ancient Egyptians for some obscure purpose
which he had not quite fathomed.

They are superstitious to a greater degree than the pure Arab, who,
to my thinking, is less so than most other illiterate people, and it
would be an interesting study to sift the superstitions which date back
to the Pantheism of the early Egyptians from those which have been
imported since the Mohammedan invasion.

They seem to credit every foreigner who lives amongst them with a
certain amount of medical knowledge, and when their own treatment will
have failed in its object, any European living amongst them may expect
a visit from the sufferer. A supply of Epsom salts and a solution of
boracic acid, left in my hut by the last tenants, did duty for most
internal and external complaints which were brought to me during my
first season; and these remedies, largely assisted by the antiseptic
air of the desert, soon established my reputation as a _hakeem_.
The remedies being gratis, and a bottle thrown in, it is possible
that the bottle may have attracted some of my patients. There is a
well-appointed hospital at Luxor to which I vainly tried to persuade
many to apply. Wild stories of imaginary horrors practised there, and
the usual fear that some means would be used to extract money from
them, prevents many an excellent hospital from being the blessing it
should be.

A painful case that was brought to my notice decided me to augment not
only my medical stores, but also to gain some elementary knowledge as
to first-aid treatment. In early November scorpions are still active,
and are not hibernating, as they do while the tourist’s season is on,
and only those who live here in the hot season have any idea what a
pest scorpions can be. The case in point was that of a little girl who
had been stung, and the father hurried round to my hut to ask me for a
remedy. The only treatment I had then heard of was to take alcohol in
sufficient quantities to counteract the poison of the scorpion. As the
child was only eleven years old, I put more water than whisky in the
bottle, and told the man to give his girl a teaspoonful about every
half-hour, and to be careful to keep the wound clean. I saw the man
the next day, and he told me that the child was well again; how far he
had applied the whisky solution I could not tell. A suspicion crossed
my mind that he had probably drunk the whisky, and possibly rubbed
the wound with the empty bottle. The child, however, being well, I
thought no more about it till I again met the man, a week or so later.
I playfully remarked that I hoped no more whisky might be required for
scorpion stings, and received the startling answer that the child was
dead. The man took his loss in the resigned fatalistic manner of most
Mohammedans. ‘It was the will of Allah, and we must accept that as all
for the best.’

I sent a letter the next day to the dispensary which is attached to the
American mission, and begged the man in charge of it to supply me with
any known remedies for the sting of the scorpion, and also to kindly
write out how the remedies should be applied. My servant brought back
two preparations of ammonia, some lint, and detailed instructions how
to use them. There was no mention of alcohol, so I trusted that my
suspicions as to who had swallowed my whisky had been well founded.

As we got into December, we heard and saw little of scorpions, and,
during the season of hibernation, I forgot about these creatures
as well as about the remedies, till a very rude reminder of their
existence brought one and the other back to me.

While lifting up some stones in the Ramesseum so as to arrange a
level place to stand my sketching-stool, I put my hand inadvertently
on a sleeping scorpion. He was soon awake, and the sting I got in my
hand caused the most acute physical pain I can ever remember. I was
a mile away from my hut and the remedies; but remembering the first
instructions, I endeavoured to tie my handkerchief tightly round my
wrist, so as to stop the poison, which I felt shooting up my arm. I
could not manage this with one hand, and had to call in the assistance
of two American ladies who happened to be viewing the temple. When one
kindly tied the handkerchief as tight as I could stand, the shooting
pains up my arm lessened, and the poison then worked its way to my
finger-tips. My good Samaritan tried to induce me to mount her ass and
ride into Luxor to see a doctor. This and the crossing of the Nile
would have taken me over an hour, and the pain in my finger-tips became
too acute to make an hour of it even thinkable. Besides which, I was
keen on trying my new remedies.

The treatment which my missionary friend had written out worked very
well; the application of ammonia to the wound, and the drops taken
internally, soon had some effect, and Ebers’s _Bride of the Nile_,
which I was reading, and on which I tried hard to concentrate my
thoughts, probably did some good also. A native acquaintance called
to suggest a cure. I was to repeat certain words accompanied by some
signs, and I know not what else, for I was not in the mood to take his
instructions in. Not wishing, however, to throw cold water on his good
intentions, I told him that, good as his remedy might be, I was afraid
that it might act counter to the one I was trying. The cabalistic words
and signs might not agree with the ammonia treatment prescribed by one
who had no belief in these words, and my friend admitted that he had
never thought of that. I also pretended to fall asleep, and succeeded
thereby in ridding myself of my well-intentioned visitor.

A peculiar stiffness hung about my finger-joints for nearly a week
and then left me; it was my left hand, so it did not interfere with
my work. One detail I had omitted may be well to mention, in case a
reader be similarly circumstanced, and that is, when using some sharp
instrument to open the puncture so as to squeeze out as much poison as
possible, be sure to disinfect this instrument properly. I imagined a
good wipe of the hypodermic syringe I used for the purpose would be a
sufficient precaution; but a sore place which took some time to heal
has taught me in future either to dip the instrument into carbolic
acid, or, failing that, to heat it in the flame of a candle before
trying any surgical operations with it.

No patients from scorpion stings applied to me again, for the death of
the poor little girl may have been put to my charge. As an eye doctor
I was in great request. Dirt being the chief cause of the complaints,
a wash with the boracic solution did no harm, and generally did some
good. Some brought blind people to my hut--rather a lot to expect from
a little boracic acid! Some cases were probably only cataract, and
quite curable; but say what I would, I could not persuade these people
to go to the Luxor hospital.

Since then I hear that a member of the Khedivial family has devoted
a large sum of money to send properly equipped medical men to the
villages to see how far they can cope with the various eye maladies. A
wiser and better charity it is hard to conceive. Had my patients dwelt
in the towns or on the cultivated land, my cures might have been few
and far between. The pure desert air had much to do with my healings.

I mentioned the case of the little girl who had died to a medical
friend who happened to be spending the season at Luxor. In his opinion
the poison from the scorpion was not the cause of the death; but when
picking at the little wound some poisonous matter must have got in and
caused blood-poisoning.

I went out the next season more fully provided with medical stores, and
our good doctor in Haslemere had given me some hints as to bandaging a
wound and applying first-aid treatment. I had not long to wait before
putting my freshly acquired knowledge to a test. One of the guards at
the Hatshepsu temple trod with his naked foot on a jagged bottle end
which some careless picnickers had left there. It was a ghastly wound,
and though I told the man I would pay for a donkey to take him to
Luxor, and would see that he lost no wages while he might be laid up,
he would not go, and preferred taking the risk of losing his foot. As
all persuasion failed, I set to work to do my best. I washed his foot
and bandaged it with the antiseptic material I had, and sent him home
with a broomstick for a crutch. He and the broomstick appeared early
next morning to have the wound dressed, and his visits were repeated
twice daily for the best part of a week. The rapidity with which
that foot healed up made me doubt as to whether I had not missed my
vocation. No London surgeon could have effected a cure as rapidly with
all his experience and his up-to-date appliances. But lest I should
become too conceited, I reflected that the London surgeon had neither
the desert air to operate in, nor had he as abstemious patients as
mine was. No strong drinks had ever heated his blood, and his simple
fare was sufficient for the easy work he had to do, but not enough to
produce the acids of the often overfed Britisher.

Now this man was grateful for the trouble I had taken, and I’ll be
bound to say, more so than many London hospital patients who take all
that is gratuitously done for them as a matter of course.

He tried to show his gratitude one day in a manner I had to decline. I
found him shaving the head of his fellow-guard with pieces of broken
glass. I watched him for some time performing this dry shave: he would
break a piece off a bottle and then jag the sharp edge over his mate’s
skull. When the edge was blunted, he would break off another piece of
glass and continue the operation, till finally the head appeared as
free of hair as a billiard ball. It took the best part of an afternoon
to complete the job to his satisfaction. It was past the season when
visitors to the temple might be expected, and time was therefore of
no object. Seeing that my hair wanted cutting badly, my late patient
seriously offered to shave my head in like manner.

I dislike long hair, especially in hot weather, but I thought I might
dislike the broken glass still more. Neither I nor my assistant from
Paris wished to lose a whole day by going to Luxor to visit the
hairdresser, and the latter decided that he would let our cook try his
hand on his head. Our cook appeared to be as expert a barber as the
temple guard, and time being rather more valuable to him, he cleared
the hair off my companion’s head very quickly.

Even this did not encourage me to submit to the operation, and I
reflected that as my time was more valuable than that of a native Luxor
barber, I would get a barber from thence to come to me. I also prefer
these artists in hair to use my own brushes to any they may themselves
possess. The brushes were, however, of little use, for there was
nothing to brush for a fortnight after the Luxor hairdresser’s visit.

[Illustration: THE HAIRDRESSER]

I have no picture of the broken bottle school of barber; but I painted
one of the craft, at a recent date, plying his trade in a street in
Cairo. He had a pair of scissors to take off the main crop, and a dry
shave (where no blood was spilt) followed with a razor. He got through
his job very much quicker than the amateurs at Der el-Bahri, but he
did not do it as cleanly. While I painted my street corner, I noticed
several heads the worse for the razor, and though some talk as to the
charge for the operation usually preceded it, there were seldom any
complaints about the cuts in the scalps.



CHAPTER XVII

DER EL-BAHRI--(_continued_)


From the middle of January till the beginning of March not a day went
by but some parties of visitors passed through Der el-Bahri to see
Hatshepsu’s temple. They usually went to the Valley of the Tombs of
the Kings first, and then crossing over the mountain which separated
us from that valley, we would see them defiling down the steep incline
which leads to Cook’s rest-house. After lunch the guide would rush them
through Hatshepsu’s shrine, and then start them off to see the tombs
of Sheykh Abd-el-Gurna; the Ramesseum would then be visited, and with
hardly a pause for breath every one would remount their donkeys or get
into their litters to be rushed off to Medinet Habu. The Valley of the
Tombs of the Queens might then be visited, and a long ride, with a
short halt at the Colossi of Memnon, would take them to the Nile, to be
crossed after sunset, before the Luxor hotels could be reached.

I have no doubt that most of these good people were thankful when so
fatiguing a day was well over, and vowed that no power on earth would
ever induce them to go through it again. A week would barely suffice
to get more than a cursory glance of all the sights which are crowded
into this one long day. The following day is usually devoted to ‘doing’
the Luxor temple, and being rushed through the ruins of Karnak. These
people who do their sights at such a giddy speed usually take part
in a tour up the Nile organised by some travelling agency. A few
well-advised ones remain at Luxor till the steam _dahabieh_, which has
taken them so far, picks them up on its return trip from Assuan. This
gives them time to see at their ease that which the ill-advised ones
had merely been rushed through.

It was amusing, after some months of solitude, to see my
fellow-creatures again, but before the tourist season was over I
longed to get back to the usual quietude of our valley. The trippers
would arrive in batches of from one to two hundred, and add to this
an equal number of donkeys and their drivers--Der el-Bahri on those
occasions became a veritable pandemonium. Fortunately they generally
swept down on us at about the same hour of the day--in time to lunch
at the rest-house opposite my hut; by three o’clock they were driven
off, by the guide in charge of the party, to see the Ramesseum. I had
to rearrange my day and feed when they fed, and take a ‘siesta’ until
the temple was empty once more. Until the tripper season we were almost
flyless, being sufficiently far in the desert to be away from that
pest. The donkeys and the débris of the picnickers brought the usual
swarms of flies with them, and work in any of the temples was as bad in
that respect as in the bazaars at Cairo.

The smaller parties who dropped on us unawares were most to be feared.
I might be making some studies in one of the tombs, which are airless
enough at the best of times, and be suddenly aware that a party was
approaching by hearing, ‘Dis way, ladies and shentlemens, to de Tomb
of Rekmaré.’ There would be no help for it but to pack up my traps and
be off. If I returned after the crowd had been rushed off somewhere
else, the air would be unbreathable, both from the numbers who had been
there, and from the extinguished tapers or magnesium wire.

By the end of March I, and possibly some artist friend, would again
reign supreme at Der el-Bahri. It is a hot valley, for it is shut off
from the northerly breezes, and the cliffs throw back the rays of the
sun. By rearranging our days we managed to avoid the worst of the heat.
We breakfasted at daybreak, and we took our midday meal about eleven,
and from twelve till four we would sleep in some recess where the sun’s
rays had never penetrated. After that, and a cold bath and some tea,
we could get to work till sundown. The hut became unbearable in April,
for it had no double roof. The coolest spot I could find for the midday
rest was in the Ptolemaic sanctuary in Hatshepsu’s temple. This is cut
deep into the overhanging cliffs, and in the hot season would be some
twenty degrees cooler than my hut. I put an Arab bed in here, and by
lying with my head to the entrance, there was just light enough to be
able to read myself to sleep.

There was no fear of trippers now, and the few visitors who remained
on in Luxor would only arrive before or after the heat of the day. On
first entering my temporary boudoir nothing would be visible on the
dark walls; but on getting accustomed to the dim light, rows of gods
and goddesses would appear. The hawk-headed Homs, jackal-laced Anubis,
and the unspeakable Min of Koptos were all here; also the rounded forms
of Euergetes’s Queen, and Maat, the goddess of truth. The tiger-headed
Sekhmet, Bellona’s prototype, and Sobk with his crocodile snout made a
foil to the rounded features of Hathor and Isis.

A squeaky sound somewhere above would make me aware that I was not the
only living tenant of this sanctuary. Bats have long since discovered
that it is fairly cool here in summer, and not too cold in winter. A
noise like gentle taps from a hammer would draw my eyes to a wide crack
in the wall, and around two shiny little beads I would make out the
form of a large lizard. The little beads would stare at me for some
time, and if I just moved my head they would disappear into the depths
of the wall. The bats like myself only used this place as a shelter
from the heat, and would venture out towards night to find a living;
but what could this lizard (a gecko, I believe, it is called) find here
to subsist on? Flies kept away from this dark sanctuary, and except the
water I had in my water-bottle no moisture finds its way here.

The guards occasionally shot a snake, but all I have seen in this
temple appeared to be harmless ones; anyhow, none ever shared my
resting-place with me. It was different in the enclosure of the
Ramesseum, which is nearer the moisture of the cultivated land. I
was returning from my work there one evening, and passed close to a
large cobra. It was curled round a stone which was partly hid in the
scrub growing near the pylon. I had no stick with me, or I might have
been able to kill it. It was the first I had ever seen, except in
captivity, and I was very interested in comparing it with its numerous
presentments in every temple in Egypt. To kill it, with as little risk
as possible of its killing me, became my chief wish when I had watched
it for some time, and reflected what a danger this beautiful creature
was to the numbers of people who roam about the temple. When I picked
up a good-sized stone, it shifted its place and disappeared in the
scrub.

I came to the spot on the following evening with Mr. Howard Carter and
a shot-gun; we also brought some milk in a pan, and placed it near
where I had seen the cobra. We waited till dark in the hopes of our
bait attracting it, but I am sorry to say we saw it no more.

Professor Flinders Petrie told me that he had killed several with his
walking-stick. They are easily destroyed; but if one merely wounds
the creature with a blow, it may strike its fangs into one before a
second blow can be dealt. We told the guardians of the temple, and
they promised to try to shoot it. I never heard of their having done
so, and I have a suspicion that the prospect of a gratuity from a
snake-charmer may have prevented them. Whether this cobra has since
hearkened to the voice of the charmers, charming never so wisely, and
is now occasionally pulled out of a sack to perform on the pavement in
front of Shepheard’s hotel, I cannot say. I have never seen as large a
specimen in Cairo, and I expect they are taken when they are young.

As this is an art practised now as in pharaonic times, it may be of
interest to hear what Canon Tristram says about it in _The Natural
History of the Bible_: ‘The art of serpent charming, referred to in Ps.
lviii. 4 and Jas. iii. 7, is of immense antiquity, and is practised not
only in Africa but in India. In the latter country it is exercised on
another species of cobra (_naja tripudians_) very like the _haje_. The
resources of the charmers appear to be very simple--the shrill notes of
a flute, which are the only kind of tones which the serpent, with its
very imperfect sense of sound, is capable of distinctly following: and,
above all, coolness and courage, combined with gentleness in handling
the animal, so as not to irritate it. The charmers are not impostors;
for though they may sometimes remove the fangs, it is a well-attested
fact that they generally allow them to remain, and they will operate
on the animals when just caught as willingly as on individuals which
have long been in their possession; but they are very reluctant to make
experiments on any other species than the cobra. When a cobra has been
discovered in a hole, the charmer plays at the mouth until the serpent,
attracted by the sound, comes out, when it is suddenly seized by the
tail, and held at arm’s length. Thus suspended, it is unable to turn
itself so as to bite, and, when it has become exhausted by its own
efforts, it is put into a basket, the lid of which is raised while the
music is playing, but, at each attempt of the serpent to dart out, the
lid is shut down upon it, until it learns to stand quietly on its tail,
swaying to and fro to the music, and ceases to attempt to escape. If
it shows more restlessness than ordinary, the fangs are extracted as a
precaution. Instances are not uncommon in which, with all their care,
the jugglers’ lives are sacrificed in the exhibition.’

We were surprised one evening by a much more alarming creature than
a cobra, and that was a raving madman. My friend Erskine Nicol was
staying with me, and we had asked Howard Carter to dine with us. When
the latter arrived within sight of our hut, he was accompanied by a
native who farmed a large part of the land between the fringe of the
desert and the Nile. The man appeared very excited about something,
and Carter was doing his best to pacify him. As they got nearer, we
heard him accusing some one who had cut down a tree belonging to him,
and he kept pointing to our hut, and saying that the culprit lived
there. Nicol then approached the man, and asked what the excitement was
about, and after some conversation he called out to me not to let the
man in as he was out of his mind. It was dusk at the time, and my cook
had lighted the lamp and set the table; we had a lot of inflammable
material about, as I and my assistant were packing a large number of
casts to send off to America. A madman amongst our casts was about the
last thing we wanted, besides the danger of his upsetting the petroleum
lamp.

The man of a sudden dodged away from my two friends and made a dash for
the hut. I was just in time to close the door, and my assistant and I
had to lean against it to prevent the madman from bursting it in. It
was a frail double door and could not long resist the onslaughts of
our unwelcome visitor. I managed to reach a crowbar, and, by sticking
one end in the floor and jamming the other under one of the transoms,
it made a powerful buttress. Finding that that half of the door
resisted his efforts too stubbornly, the man threw himself on his back
and kicked his foot through a panel and forced his leg well inside.
‘Hold on a bit longer,’ called out my friends outside, ‘we have sent
for the temple guards and some rope.’ I had to dislodge that leg or we
should have had the whole man in through the broken panel. A severe
bastinado on the sole of the foot finally made the man withdraw it. He
then butted the door with his head and, making several rushes, threw
the weight of his body against it. Another panel had just given in when
the guards arrived.

My two friends then closed with the man and called on us to come out,
and we also threw ourselves on to the poor fellow. The guards handed us
a bit of rope, but would not touch the man, not through physical fear
so much as apprehension of making an enemy of one who from his wealth
was a power in the village. With his turban we pinioned his arms, and
we tied his ankles together with the rope, and then sat on his body
till his relations had been sent for. We did our best not to hurt the
unfortunate man; but as he was powerfully built, it was all we could do
to master him.

When his relations arrived he was sufficiently exhausted to allow of
his being lifted on to a donkey and taken away into the darkness.

That same evening we had several of his relatives round, as well as
the _Omdeh_ of the village, and they all implored us not to let the
authorities in Luxor know about it. They would keep him locked up till
he was safe to be at large; whereas, if he were taken to the _Mamúr_,
he would be sent to the madhouse at Keneh, and there, according to
these villagers, he would be treated with the utmost cruelty. Now
the right person to report him was the Omdeh of the village, and we
reminded him of this, and told him that if any one was harmed by this
madman we should report the Omdeh for having neglected his duty. The
latter promised to take all responsibility, and said that we could rest
assured that the man would never come near my hut again.

For a couple of days we had peace, for the poor madman had probably
not recovered from his exhaustion. After that time we saw him rushing
about the neighbourhood with half the village-folk after him. We called
on the Omdeh to tell him that he must inform the authorities at Luxor,
or we should do it ourselves, and he promised that he would send a
messenger that very day. I did not expect him to keep his promise, and
decided to write to the Mamúr the next day to report on the madman
as well as on the Omdeh for neglect of duty. This time, however, the
latter did not lie, and we heard that some mounted police and a litter
had arrived and had taken the man off.

An important official and his secretary rode over to my hut on the
following day and gave us a good example of Egyptian red-tapism: age,
place of birth, nationality, profession, etc., of all the witnesses had
to be taken down by the secretary; each one in turn down to the cook
and our messenger had to give their testimony. ‘Did the man call you
names, and if so how many?’ was one of the questions put to me; as if
it mattered what a madman said, for the poor man had been pronounced
insane by the doctor that very morning. It is also difficult to see how
our ages and places of birth bore on the subject, unless one had the
mind of an Egyptian and that of an official as well.

We heard that the patient had gone out of his mind once before some
years previously, and that he had now been sent to the lunatic
asylum at Keneh. Madness must either be quickly cured there or else
the rumours--that _baksheesh_ (if in sufficient quantity) can get a
patient out--must be true, for in less than three weeks the man was
in our neighbourhood again. He was, however, carefully watched by his
relatives, and we had no further visits from him.

To give some idea of the dread the fellaheen have of hospitals (unless
they go as out-patients), as well as of lunatic asylums, I will repeat
what one of these peasants maintained takes place in the latter. He
declared that those of unsound mind were hung by their heels from the
ceiling, over a charcoal brazier, and then holes were bored in their
heads to let out a valuable juice for which the doctors got a large
price. ‘A piastre a drop,’ said one; ‘No, three piastres a drop,’
declared another. It would be curious to trace the origin of such an
absurd statement. In some of the out-of-the-way places, I am, however,
sorry to hear that some native doctors are not above extracting
_baksheesh_ from their patients.

I heard this from an Englishman and his wife, whose words I cannot
doubt. A man whom they employed as gardener in Upper Egypt, where they
were living, had to go to a hospital owing to some accident to his
leg. The doctor who attended him said he could cure the leg, but might
possibly have to amputate it. He then asked the patient what he earned
and what his relatives were worth, and on being told, suggested that a
certain sum would be necessary to save the leg. The poor gardener could
not pay this, and, after the usual bargaining, the sum agreed on was
obtained from the patient’s people, and the man soon left the hospital
with both his legs. Of course, had the doctor’s villainous behaviour
been reported to high quarters he would have been summarily dealt with.
Let us hope that he has been found out since.

Any one seeing the poor hovels many of the fellaheen dwell in would
be surprised at the attachment they have for their homes. During my
second winter at Thebes we had a poor Nile, and a large portion of the
land near us had not had its usual share of inundation; besides this,
the Egyptian Exploration Fund having started their work elsewhere, the
three hundred men and boys it had been employing for some years past
had not this work to do. It was therefore a singularly bad year for
the people of Gurna. Work at the Assuan dam was being paid at three
times the rate these men got while the excavations were on, and now a
great many were stranded with no means of a livelihood. It was useless
to try and persuade any to apply at Assuan for work, the idea of going
more than a hundred miles to better their circumstances was abhorrent
to them. It was pitiable to see the number of men who applied for the
little work I could give them in connection with the reproduction of
the bas-reliefs.

Towards the end of the season the view of the Ramesseum was being
spoilt by a great bank of earth that was being raised round it as an
encircling wall. I was sorry to see this, as it ruined the effect of
the temple from a distance; but I had some consolation in the fact that
it gave employment to a number of the villagers. Let us hope that a
similar amount of work in pulling it down again may be reserved for the
next bad Nile.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE CROSS DESERT JOURNEY TO KOSSEIR


I propose now to break the sequence of events during my second season
at Thebes, and attempt to describe a desert journey I took early in
November. During the months I spent at Der el-Bahri, when I joined the
camp of the Egyptian Exploration Fund, I was awakened every morning by
the first light in the eastern sky, and daily saw the sun rise above
the distant hills which shut off the Nile valley from the Arabian
desert. The Libyan desert, on the eastern fringe of which we camped,
stretches for two thousand miles and more in a westerly direction till
it reaches Morocco, that land of the setting sun known in Egypt as
el-Maghrib, the West.

The ‘call of the desert’ could easily have been satisfied without
crossing the Nile valley; but the Libyan desert called me no further
into its tractless wastes than to the Valley of the Tombs of the Kings.
Distance lent an enchantment to the view of the low-lying hills between
me and the rising sun, and as Alice wished to see what went on in the
room beyond the looking-glass, so I felt drawn to the land which lay
between those hills and the Red Sea.

It was across that tract that the Thebans of old journeyed to the port
of Kosseir to bring back the products from the far East. Beyond those
hills gangs of slaves were driven to dig for the gold now found in the
tombs of the Pharaohs--King Solomon’s mines are spoken of as being
there--and the Rehenu valley of the ancient Egyptians, shut in with
black breccia cliffs, echoed to the sounds of hammer and pick, while
many a statue was there being fashioned, to be dragged down to the Nile
and floated to far-away Gizeh or Memphis.

From the earliest dynasties right up to the present day each generation
has left its mark on the rock surfaces between those hills and the
sea-coast. Ancient Kosseir, which remained a port of some importance
to within a quite recent date, had often been the goal of imaginary
journeys I had made across the desert which lay between it and my
present camp.

Imagine my surprise when, shortly after I and my assistant from Paris
had settled down at Der el-Bahri, Mr. Weigall, who is Chief Inspector
of Antiquities in Upper Egypt, told me he was about to take that desert
journey, and wondered whether I would care to accompany him. I had only
to provide my own camel and to share in the provisions we should need
on the way; the chief expense of the train of camels and men to take
the tents, the water-supply, and the other necessaries of a desert
journey, would be borne by the government, as Mr. Weigall was going to
get information connected with his department. Mr. Charles Whymper,
who had come out from England with me, and Mr. Erskine Nicol, whom I
had long known in Egypt, were also asked to join the party. None of us
wished to lose such a chance, and in three or four days after first
hearing the proposal, we mounted our camels and started from Luxor for
the over and beyond which had been my dream for many a long day.

Our caravan consisted of twenty-three camels, fourteen of which left
an hour or two before us, to take our heavy baggage to that night’s
halting-place. We four started in company of the sheykh of the
camel-drivers, two guards, Mr. Weigall’s servant, who carried our
lunch, and an Ababdi son of the desert, who acted as our guide. We
struck inland for a short distance and then took a northern course
parallel to the Nile; we skirted the further side of the ruins of
Karnak, and shortly after left the cultivation to continue our route on
the higher level of the desert. During the twenty miles of our first
day’s ride nothing could have been more dissimilar than the country on
our right to that which we beheld to the left of us. The contrast was
startling--the scorching desert on one hand, and on the other the shady
palm groves on the fringe of the cultivation, with the rich dark soil
covered in places by the Nile’s overflow or just turning to green by
the lately sown crops. Yet this very contrast is more characteristic of
Egypt than anything else; and it is this which must have called forth
the saying of Herodotus that ‘Egypt is the gift of the Nile.’

[Illustration: A MARKET ON THE EDGE OF THE DESERT]

We halted for lunch under the shade of the tamarisk trees, which seem
able to grow on a slightly higher level than the palms. The shade was
more than welcome; for sitting still in the noonday sun is a very
different matter to passing through it even at the gentle trot of our
camels. It was a beautiful spot, for no trees harmonise with a desert
background as do the tamarisks, and these had an especially massive and
plumy leafage of an even more delicate grey than usual; their gnarled
and twisted trunks seeming a mute protest to the poor soil in which
fete had forced them to grow.

We did not remain here long, as we wished to reach the Coptic convent,
Maris Bughtra, while there was still daylight, and there we proposed to
pitch our camp for the night. Though the sun was hot, the crisp air was
so invigorating that what would be a very fatiguing day elsewhere is
easily borne in the desert. The motion of the camel is trying till one
has got accustomed to it, and a few miles will cause the beginner an
incredible amount of stiffness. There being no stirrups, it takes some
time to learn to rise and fall with the motion of the beast, and until
that is acquired every stride means a bump for the would-be rider. I
had unhappily not acquired this, and felt rather stiff and sore when I
dismounted for lunch; when we halted at the end of that day’s journey
the stiffness was positive pain. I had misgivings as to how I should
feel by the time Kosseir was reached and when longer hours in the
saddle would be the order of the day. To lie down seemed more painful
than to walk about, for on whatever part of one’s anatomy one rested
that part seemed more painful than any other--until one tried that
other.

Outside the walls of the Coptic convent we came on our baggage, and
found the men already pitching our tents, hobbling the camels, and
boiling some water over a fire of dry brushwood. We sent some one to
Qus (on the outskirts of which little town this convent is situated)
to find the priest who could show us over the building. No monks dwell
there at present and the chapel is only used on the day dedicated to
Saint Bughtra, whoever he may be. All that remains of the convent,
except the chapel, could be seen before the priest arrived, as the
fortress-like wall which encircled it had crumbled down in several
places. A few cells were still roofed over, but for the most part ugly
ruin had disfigured the buildings. Except where some fine columns or
portals have endured the wear and tear of ages, as in the case of some
of the temples, a desert ruin is a depressing sight; no growth to hide
the shapeless bits of fallen masonry are there, neither moss nor lichen
give it the beautiful colouring associated with the remains of bygone
structures. A shrine which may have crumbled down centuries ago might
have fallen in the day before yesterday unless the desert winds had
swept a covering of sand to give it a partial burial.

The little many-domed church still stood erect amidst the fallen
masonry, and when the priest arrived and fumbled with his wooden key
to loose the bolt in the ponderous lock, our expectations somewhat
revived. Some tawdry objects of piety showed that some folks still
remained who gave this place of worship a passing thought; but in
the otherwise neglected interior these tawdry ornaments reminded me
horribly of the patches of paint I have seen on the cheeks of a corpse
laid out for burial in Portugal. The simile may be far-fetched, but
there it was, and I was pleased when we had gone through the farce of
giving the priest his gratuity--called, to save his face, ‘for the
upkeep of the church.’

We found our camp all prepared for us when we rejoined it. The
packing-cases which served as a table were neatly set for dinner, and
our saddles were arranged to do duty as chairs. Our two sleeping-tents
stood primly one on each side of the small marquee which served as a
dining-room. Weigall’s servant was an excellent cook, and a long day
in the desert had prepared us to do justice to his dishes. The saddles
make very good chairs when sitting is not a painful operation; they are
covered with sheepskin, but the thickest fleece, in my condition, could
not disguise the hard wooden skeleton beneath it. An air-cushion helped
matters a trifle, though the air seemed harder than it usually is.
Stiffness crept over the bodies of the two of us who had most recently
come from England; but on comparing our complaints I fancied that I had
more than my share--I was more conscious of it anyhow.

When the dinner was cleared and pipes were alight, we discussed our
several interests in our desert journey. To Charles Whymper the
birds we had seen along the fringe of the cultivation were of the
greatest importance. We had passed many white Egyptian vultures; we
had also put up some coveys of cream-coloured coursers; the desert
lark, the sand-grouse, and desert martins had all been seen as well
as the familiar hoopoes, the black kite, the little owl, and green
bee-eaters--or shall we call them blue, for they can be either colour
according as the light catches their plumage? The archæological
interests were still before us, and though these had not been explored
for some time, records of journeys in this eastern desert have been
left by the German Egyptologist Lepsius, by Golenischeff, the Russian,
as well as by the more recent Schweinfurth. Its pictorial aspects
appealed to each of us, and as I had brought my sketching materials
I hoped that there might be sufficiently long halts to allow of my
doing some painting. Erskine Nicol is well versed in the habits of the
wandering tribes who pitch their tents on the higher levels where the
cultivation stops short. The Ababdi and the Bishareen territories meet
on this desert highroad, and we should probably come across a few of
both one and the other. As we were to start soon after sunrise the next
morning, we deferred our topics of conversation to another occasion.

It was still dark in our tents when we were awakened, because the heavy
baggage was to be got off as soon after daybreak as possible. The tents
were lowered and stowed away on the camels, leaving us to pack our
bedding in the open, and it was surprising to find what a difference
in temperature there was when our canvas shelters were removed. It was
bitterly cold, and much movement was impossible in my case, for I was
rigidly stiff. I stuck to a couple of blankets, and with some straps
improvised a primitive garment; my camel served as a shelter from the
cold breeze and made a warm back to lean against, while we squatted in
a circle to have our breakfast. The blankets would serve later, when
the sun got up, as extra padding to the saddle.

Our cross desert journey began this morning, for on the previous day
we had skirted the cultivation to reach at Qus the mediæval route from
the Nile to the Red Sea port. We started before the baggage train of
camels, which would overtake us before we reached Lakéta, a small oasis
where we should spend the night. Selim, as the cook was called, and our
Ababdi guide accompanied us. The former looked a quaint object, seated
on his camel amidst pots and kettles, photographic apparatus, sketching
materials, and any other odds and ends which we might require before
the camp would again be pitched.

The rising sun was very beautiful; when I have tried to paint it, it
has always risen and lost its rich colouring too quickly. This morning
I was concerned with the slowness of these proceedings, for until it
rose well above the distant hills I felt perished with the cold. We
could plainly see the cliffs around Hatshepsu’s temple, right across
the Nile valley; they and the Theban hills were pink in the early
sunlight whilst we were still in the shade. Slowly the light caught us
on our high mounts, while the soil beneath us was still in a blue grey
tone. Looking back after a while camel legs a mile long could be seen
in pale shadow on the track behind us, and by the time they contracted
to a lengthened silhouette of a comprehensible form, I began to feel my
blankets were more than I could stand.

To unrobe on a trotting camel was no easy matter, and to make the camel
do anything different from those ahead of it was an impossibility.
I had practised making the peculiar noise of the bedouin when they
wish to make their beasts kneel down--it spells something like this,
‘ghrrr,’ and is repeated at rapid intervals. Laura, as my camel was
called, either affected not to understand me or felt too great a
contempt for her rider to heed what he said. She was very nearly
riderless before the unrobing was completed, and I am not sure that
Laura had not that wish in her mind. When I was near landing on her
neck, I thought I saw Laura’s mouth working up towards my boot, which
was her way of smiling. I tried to fix the blankets over the saddle,
for the wooden skeleton beneath the sheepskin seemed painfully near
parts of my skeleton; but I only gave Laura fresh cause to smile.

The clatter of Selim’s pots and pans was not far behind me, so I yelled
out to the cook to overtake me and to stow my blankets amongst his
ironmongery. Laura disapproved of this, for, as the clatter, clatter
behind me got louder, she quickened her pace. There are no reins to
check the creatures; the camel rope is merely fastened to a face strap,
which is held in place by a second strap passing behind the nape of the
neck. I lugged on to the rope as hard as I could, but as there were
no stirrups I should have pulled myself off the saddle before I could
have bent the beast’s stiff neck. Not to be beaten, I placed my foot on
her neck, and thus got a sufficient leverage to pull her head sideways
till I could see her ugly profile; by this means I checked her pace
sufficiently for the cook to overtake me, and I threw the blankets amid
the pots and pans.

We reached Gebel el-Korn about noon; we had seen this hill for the last
two hours reflected in what appeared to be a lake, and as this effect
of the mirage disappeared here, we saw it repeated in the distance
beyond. Three routes to Kosseir join at this point; the mediæval one
we had been on was a part of the highway which the caravans took since
the Mohammedan invasion and until Keneh eclipsed Qus as a Nilotic town.
The Keneh route, starting some twenty miles further down the river, is
still used by the Arabs, who bring camels from Arabia to barter in the
Nile valley. The ancient Egyptian road was from Kuft, known as Koptos
in Græco-Roman times, and starts about midway between the two others to
join the one great highway uniting the Thebaid to the sea.

Gebel el-Korn, or the Hill of the Horn, would have been more attractive
had it been steep enough to shade us from the midday sun. The rise
in temperature in the moist air of cultivated lands is as nothing to
what it is in the dry air of the desert. We saw some bushes ahead,
along what appeared to be a dried watercourse, and we decided to move
on and possibly to find some shade in which to pass our midday halt.
This, however, was nothing more than camel-thorn--a dried-up mass of
prickles--as useless for shade as it apparently was for fodder. But
Laura and the other camels thought differently; the absence of shade
did not trouble them, and the way they started devouring these long
sharp thorns reminded us that of the twenty-three camels which formed
our caravan not one carried anything in the shape of fodder. They
would be away no less than a fortnight from the cultivation, and on
questioning our guide as to what the creatures would have to eat, he
seemed to think that enough fodder could be picked up on the journey.
‘You forget the hump,’ said one of our companions. Camels having ‘the
hump’ is an old and well-seasoned jest, but their feeding on their
humps was news to me. I decided to examine Laura’s hump when next she
was unsaddled and see if it held a fortnight’s nutrition, also to
take daily observations of its disappearance. The throaty noise spelt
‘ghrrr!’ from our guide brought his camel down on its haunches. I made
the same noise, or thought I did, and, like descending a lift in two
shifts, Laura came down to the ground. She looked at me when I jumped
off, as much as to say, ‘Don’t flatter yourself that I have come down
owing to the silly noise you made; I was only following the example of
my husband over there.’

Laura was not her real name, it was more like Laharrha with a
throat-scraping sound in the middle. This was not euphonious, and all
the throat-scraping sounds I could produce were to be reserved for when
a halt should be called.

We decided to lunch on the top of a low-lying hill where, if there
was no shade, we should at all events get the benefit of what breeze
there was. My word! we did enjoy that lunch. I forget what we had, and
can only remember the appetite with which we ate it. I kept some back
for Laura, to see if kindness could overcome the dislike I felt sure
she had for me. She gobbled it up, and nearly took a bit of my hand
with it. I think she preferred this to the sharp thorns of her last
snack; but if she felt any gratitude, she carefully disguised it. It
was probably more contempt for me as a rider than a dislike of me
personally. Her expression was as a sealed book with an ugly cover.

[Illustration: THE TOMBS OF THE KHALIFS]

Now was the time to fix the blankets on to the saddle, and the Ababdi
guide and Selim made a good job of it. The trot at which we started
was less painful in consequence, and I had also, by carefully watching
the motion of our guide, fallen into the movement myself, and the
bump, bump of the previous day, which had caused my discomfiture,
disappeared, and I rose and fell to the motion of my mount. When once
this is acquired, a long day’s ride will cause less stiffness than an
hour’s journey to a novice.

It was not until we had reached Gebel el-Korn that we finally lost
sight of the Der el-Bahri cliffs. A feeling of being far away from home
and of venturing into the unknown got hold of me, though I was barely
twenty miles in a direct line from the hut beneath those cliffs. I
consoled myself that the assistant I had brought out from Paris had
some French neighbours close by, who could assist him with his novel
housekeeping. M. Baraize and his wife would also appreciate having a
near neighbour who spoke their language.

Nothing much in the way of archæological finds were made during the
day, and these were not to be expected till the wide track closed in
between the rock surfaces. We saw in the distance the little oasis
of Lakéta, with its palms upside down in illusive sheets of water at
their bases; for a moment it looked like an island shimmering in the
sunlight, and which might vanish as easily as the reflections it cast.
It looked as if it might be reached in a half-hour’s trot; but it had
that look for a long while--the appearance of water gave way to that
of the arid waste all around us more than an hour before the oasis was
reached.

How strange it looked when we were near enough to see some crops,
between the palms, growing apparently out of the desert soil. We then
caught sight of a man working a _shadoof_, and after that we could
distinguish the chessboard patterning of the ground, so familiar in
the Nile valley. The whole oasis seemed little more than three or four
acres in extent; but probably a good deal more cultivable soil had
been covered by the sand drifts where no walling existed to prevent
this. Some half-dozen Ababdi families lived here; our guide found
friends amongst them, and we heard some greetings in their dialect.
The people seemed very little surprised to see us, and this not being
a tourist-ridden spot, we had no beggars. A building with a many-domed
roof stood here, and looked very like a deserted Coptic convent, though
I was told that it was formerly built for an Arab caravanserai.

I watched a woman patching up the mud runnels to carry the water
from the _shadoof_ to the furthest squares of cultivated ground, and
I tasted the water when the man first tilted it out of his leathern
bucket. It was distinctly brackish--the only thing, of course, which
these poor creatures had to drink. The man did not seem to mind that;
but he complained that it was a thirsty soil, and that working all day
at the _shadoof_ hardly brought up a sufficiency of water to irrigate
his little patch of corn. Taking me for an official, he asked me if
I could not induce the government to place a small pumping station
here. ‘Were it only known what a lot could be grown here if enough
water could be got up, the government would not hesitate to bring the
machinery.’ The poor man might genuinely have thought so; but the cost
of the fuel, brought to this out-of-the-way place to raise the brackish
water, had evidently not entered the man’s calculations.

Canon Tristram mentions in his book, _The Great Sahara_, that artesian
wells were used by the Rouaras centuries before the principle of those
wells was acknowledged in Europe. What a blessing they might be here!
Possibly the sub-soil would not be suitable for such borings or they
would have been in use.

The sun was still hot enough for us to enjoy our tea in the shade of
the tamarisks which grew here. The children watched us from a distance
and spoke in hushed voices. ‘Were these people dangerous who spoke in
an unknown tongue and wore a strange garb?’ A smile and a hint that
sugar was good brought them a little nearer. A venturesome little tot
came near enough to pick up a lump, and then scampered away; by the
time we had finished our tea, the juvenile population of Lakéta knew
the taste of a Huntley and Palmer biscuit and a lump of sugar.

A little bird, the green willow-wren, according to our ornithologist,
was less shy than the children, and picked up crumbs long before the
latter ventured so near us.

Our baggage camels were only just in sight when we sat down, and at
their rate of travel it would take an hour and a half before they
reached us. I tried to make a sketch of the little oasis, which looked
charming in the evening sunlight, but I was too stiff and tired to do
much. A vague hope that it might look as well on our return journey
induced me to put up my materials and lie on my back and stare at
nothing in particular, till I became unconscious of my surroundings.

It was dark when I was awakened by the noise of the men driving in the
tent-pegs. The four tents, including the little one which served as a
cook-shop, were being erected, camp beds and bedding sorted out and
fixed up, and all the other bustle was going on of pitching a camp.
While I slept, Weigall had found our first graffiti: it was a fragment
of stone on which we could read the name of the Emperor Tiberius
Claudius.

A very good account of the archæological finds we made during our
journey is given in Mr. Arthur Weigall’s _Travels in the Upper Egyptian
Deserts_, published by Messrs. Blackwood and Sons. These have been so
fully described in that handy volume, that I do not purpose to mention
more than one or two.



CHAPTER XIX

THE VALLEY OF HAMMAMÁT


We left Lakéta at dawn the next day. Being on higher ground and so
much further in the desert, we felt the cold more than on the previous
morning, and it was hard to realise that we should be seeking a shady
spot for our luncheon at midday. We trotted our camels faster than
previously, as if in a hurry to get nearer the luminous red disk which
was peering over the distant hills.

The desert so far was hard surfaced, and not the sandy waste one is
given to expect. When I attempted to make Laura go at more than a fast
trot, I soon looked anxiously about for soft places below, and I was
lucky in having kept my seat till she caught up with the rest of the
party, when she as usual took her pace from that of the leader.

We passed nothing of exceptional interest during the first ten miles.
The valley we followed would widen out to a mile or more, and sometimes
contract to a few hundred feet. The rows of camel tracks, marked here
and there by the skeleton of one which had fallen on the way, showed
that this was still an important highway. I counted over twenty of
these skeletons during one hour’s ride. Some may have been bleaching
there for many years, but a few were of sufficiently recent date to
make it advisable to keep on the windward side of them. The hackneyed
camel ribs in the foregrounds of pictures of desert incidents are not
the stage property I used to think they might be.

The Kasr el-Benat, or ‘the Castle of the Maidens,’ was the first object
of real archæological interest we reached. It is a Roman station
known formerly as the Hydreuma, and is still in a very fair state of
preservation. No new builders have been at work near here since, to
use it as a quarry with ready-cut stones; and Time in the desert deals
gently with the structures of bygone ages. Roman soldiers in charge of
gangs of quarrymen have used the little vaulted chambers within the
large rectangular enclosing wall.

A huge rock close by was covered with inscriptions and rude drawings,
dating from the early dynasties to the times when Arab traders began
to use this highway to the coast. Drawings and photographs were duly
taken of these records; and during most of that day we zigzagged across
the valley to wherever a smooth rock surface showed any likelihood of
inscriptions being found. We were seldom disappointed, and on one rock
in particular our interest was particularly excited, for the graffiti
here threw some light on the much vexed question as to the age of
Akhnaton when he first came to the throne. I have described elsewhere
our excitement at Thebes when, during the previous season, the royal
tomb of Queen Thiy was discovered; how, after the body had been bereft
of its royal casing, the archæological world was startled to find that
the body was that of a young man.

Since then Weigall has made out a strong case in favour of the
mummy being that of the heretic Queen’s son, Ammonhotep IV. (_vide_
the October number of _Blackwood’s Magazine_ for 1907). This same
Ammonhotep, when secure of his throne, at the instigation of his
mother, proclaimed the worship of Aton--the one supreme God whose
earthly manifestation was the sun’s disk--and, so as to sever every tie
with the worship of Ammon and the lesser divinities of that pantheism,
the young Pharaoh changed his name from Ammonhotep to Akhnaton, _i.e._
the Beloved of Aton.

The weak point in Weigall’s contention was the youth of the mummy,
which Dr. Elliot Smith declared could not have exceeded some
five-and-twenty years of age, and it was doubtful whether he could have
inaugurated and carried out a great religious revolution had he died at
so early an age.

The three cartouches on this rock face are: one of Queen Thiy, one of
her son as Ammonhotep IV., and one of the same prince under the name
of Akhnaton. The symbols of royalty are placed beneath each cartouche,
while the rays of the sun’s disk embrace the three from above. This
clearly proves that the Pharaoh was still a child when he came to the
throne, and that his mother ruled in fact if not in name, otherwise
the royal cartouches would not have been united as here they are; and
it also proves that the worship of Aton had begun while the prince was
still under the tutelage of his mother.

As the images of Ammon and the lesser divinities were destroyed during
the youth of Akhnaton, so did the priests of Ammon, when the old
religion was restored, deface the inscriptions relating to the newer
creed. The cartouches here of both Thiy and Akhnaton were partly
erased; but the rays, terminating in hands, from the disk above were
left intact as if the workmen, sent to obliterate the ‘marks of the
beast,’ feared to desecrate the divine symbol. Thus after three and
a half millenniums this rock gives an echo of the religious movement
which caused the fall of the eighteenth dynasty.

I have so far encroached on a subject fully treated by Weigall because
I had devoted a chapter to it in _Below the Cataracts_ and sent this
into print before the subject had been so fully thrashed out, and while
speculation was rife as to whom to ascribe the mummy found in the royal
sarcophagus of the great Queen Thiy.

Shortly after losing sight of the tell-tale rock and the Roman
Hydreuma, our path lay through a narrowing valley which contracted
to a pass between imposing masses of granite, now known as el-Mutrak
es-Salâm. It was an awe-inspiring pass. These gigantic and shiny black
rocks which rose up on each side of us, deprived as they were of every
vestige of growth, seemed hardly terrestrial, and suggested some
landscape in the moon. There was no difficulty in finding a shady place
for our midday meal and rest; but I was glad when we moved on, for
there was something as oppressive in the aspect of the pass as there
was in the atmosphere. More graffiti were found and duly photographed;
but wishing to get into a more open country I pushed on ahead. I was
safe not to lose my way as long as I followed the tracks of previous
caravans, which were plainly visible. After a couple of hours of this
pass the black shiny rocks became hateful to me, and when I emerged
into a wide valley again my spirits rose rapidly.

Ranges of sandstone rock were to the right and left of me, and though
not as beautiful in form as the limestone cliffs of Der el-Bahri, they
were congenial in colour, and set off the intense blue of the distant
mountains.

My solitary ride had to come to an end when the road branched off on
two sides of a range of hills on both of which were camel tracks,
though not in equal quantities. There is no risking a wrong route in
a wilderness such as this, so I chose a shady place, and felt proud
when I induced my camel to go down on its knees. I tied up its foreleg
in the approved fashion to stop its running away in case I might fall
asleep. My companions might easily fail to see me, but they would be
sure to catch sight of the camel.

I tried to analyse the charm of the desert, the ‘Call of the Desert,’
as Hichens aptly names it; for while I rested here its inexplicable
charm pervaded my whole being. I am fond of my fellow-creatures and
am in no wise cut out for the life of a hermit; besides, many lonely
places exist far removed from desert wastes where solitude can still
be enjoyed. It was not, therefore, the feeling of solitude that could
alone explain the desert’s attraction, now that I had left behind me
the oppressive blackness of the Mutrak es-Salam pass. A drowsiness soon
began to displace my futile analysis, when a slight tickling of my
ankle prevented me from felling asleep. My presence was being resented
by a colony of ants whose operations I was impeding. I had to shift my
position, and there being room enough for them as well as for myself
in this vast desert, I returned those, which were exploring my leg, to
their companions.

We were some fifty miles from any cultivation, except the little oasis
where we had last camped, so what on earth could have induced these
ants to choose this spot? The inexplicable charm of the desert would
soon fizzle out were we cut off from water and provisions; and where
could these ants have found either? I followed the trails, which
started from the nest, to discover what means of subsistence they had,
and found that some camel’s dung, buried beneath the sand-drift, was
the ‘call’ which had attracted them so far.

Hardly an hour had passed since we left the Nile valley but we had seen
some animal life. Birds follow the camel tracks and flies and beetles
infest the _Mabwala_, or stations, where the caravans rest. These are
often in the only shady places, and they often obliged us to take our
midday meals in the blazing sun; for we could hardly add a tent to the
load which was carried on Selim’s longsuffering camel. We had seen two
butterflies that very morning, and accounted for them as having been
carried here by the prevailing wind. A poor look-out for them, for the
desert reaches to the Red Sea coast. The ants puzzled me, for I saw no
signs of any organic matter when I chose my resting-place.

Meditations in this climate soon end in sleep, and I became unconscious
of my surroundings till I heard my name being shouted. I looked up,
and behold, my camel was gone, and following the track in the loose
sand I saw Laura hobbling on three legs, about half a mile away, and
making for the guide who rode the leading camel; my companions in the
meanwhile were zigzagging across the valley to find me. When I caught
the beast up and satisfied my friends that I was not lost, I made Laura
go down on her knees to allow me to mount, and now all the cussedness
of her camel nature showed itself. I had to undo the end of the halter
which tied the foreleg into its bent position and also keep at a safe
distance from Laura’s teeth. The instant I got it undone, up she would
jump before I had a chance of getting my seat. She did this several
times, till I was obliged to hang on to her as best I could and climb
into my saddle while she moved off.

Canon Tristram says: ‘The camel is by no means an amiable animal, and
its owner never seems to form any attachment to his beast, nor the
animal to reciprocate kindness in any degree. I never found one camel
valued above his fellow for intelligence or affection. A traveller
always makes a friend of his horse, most certainly of his ass,
sometimes of his mule, but never of his camel. I have made a journey
in Africa for three months with the same camels, but never succeeded
in eliciting the slightest token of recognition from one of them, or a
friendly disposition for kindness shown.’ Canon Tristram never wrote
truer words. Laura was a beast! I would do my best to get something
for her to feed on, other than on her hump, when we should reach
Kosseir; but no corner of my eye would moisten when Laura and I should
part company.

When we got to a further reach in the valley, we were surprised
to see some gazelle. This was more surprising than the ants, for
surely gazelle could find neither fodder nor water here. That the
poor creatures had been frightened further and further away from the
cultivation was probable, but until they returned there nothing but a
long fast awaited them; if they were making for the coast, nothing to
feed on awaited them there. We were near enough to have shot some with
a rifle, but I am glad to say that none of us had a rifle; we had even
packed up our revolvers with the baggage. We regretted the latter for a
moment the next day, but of this anon.

We reached a second Roman station as the shadows were lengthening; it
was considerably smaller than the Hydreuma of the morning, and was also
in a worse state of repair. We heeded it little beyond using one of the
walls for our backs while Selim brewed us some tea. The guide climbed
one of the hills to see if there was any sign of the baggage, and on
his reporting that none was visible, we could take the next ten or
twelve miles to Bîr Hammamât at our ease. The colour of the landscape
took extraordinary combinations as the sun declined, and as we again
approached the blackish hills which contracted the caravan route.

The lower-lying sandstone hills turned a greyish violet, except where
a roseate light caught their summits, and purple black hung about
the base of the Hammamât mountains. The altitude of the latter being
considerably more than any we had so far seen, the heights still
reflected the light from the setting sun--a flame-colour split up in
violet patches of shade. It was wonderful, but was it beautiful? Where
strange combinations of colour and form are first seen, this question
is often difficult to answer. We watched the dark shades rise and
spread over these mountains till they told black against an ash-grey
sky. The Rehenu Valley of the Egyptians was a spooky place to enter.
Our path wound through great masses of breccia rock, and it contracted
in places so that we could hardly ride abreast. The darkness increased
till the camels of my companions were lost in the gloom, and the white
helmets rising and falling with the motion of the beasts were soon all
that I could see of our party.

Our track becoming quite invisible, there was just a chance that our
Ababdi guide might take a wrong turning, and if once well out of the
beaten road, in a wilderness such as this, it is doubtful whether we
could find our way before our water-supply gave out.

The longed-for moon showed herself at last, and by her light we pursued
our way to the well where we had settled to camp for the night. The
valley opens up here to a considerable width, and the well, known as
Bîr Hammamât, is a conspicuous object in the centre. There was nothing
now to do but to wait for our baggage camels, and to keep ourselves as
warm as we could.

Our guide rode back to reconnoitre, and when we could distinguish an
answer to his calls, other than the echo, we were filled with a sense
of relief.

Lakéta is only thirty miles from Bîr Hammamât, but with our crossing
and recrossing the valleys in search of graffiti we must have ridden
half again as far. Dinner and sleep, and an easy day to follow, were
pleasant things to contemplate.



CHAPTER XX

THE WADY FOWAKIYEH AND BÎR HAGI SULIMAN


We slumbered till the sun beat down on our tents. There was enough
water obtainable to fill our collapsible baths to the brim, and good
enough for the camels to drink--poor brackish stuff we should have
found it, had we depended on it for our own consumption.

The well seemed an immense depth, and had a spiral staircase down it,
though it was dangerous to descend more than a few yards. A mining
company had of late years partially restored the building which stood
over it, and for the first time since we left Luxor we saw the names
of some fellow-countrymen who had put this well in workable order.
Unfinished sarcophagi lay near by, with some flaws in the stone to
account for their having been left here by the workmen of one of the
Ptolemies.

We did not propose to travel more than a few miles that day, for the
Wady Fowakiyeh, as the natives call it, is that part of the Hammamât
valley where Lepsius and other former explorers made their greatest
finds.

Now, as Mr. Weigall devotes to this valley many pages in his _Travels
in Upper Egyptian Deserts_, I shall not attempt to describe what he has
so ably given to the public. I will quote what he says of our arrival
there, and of the earliest inscription which was found: ‘Amidst these
relics of the old world our tents were pitched, having been removed
from Bîr Hammamât as soon as breakfast had been finished; and with
camera, note-book, and sketching apparatus, the four of us dispersed
in different directions, my own objective, of course, being the
inscriptions. The history of Wady Fowakiyeh begins when the history of
Egypt begins, and one must look back into the dim uncertainties of the
archaic period for the first evidences of the working of the quarries
of the valley. Many beautifully made bowls and other objects of this
tuff are found in the graves of Dynasty I., fifty-five centuries ago;
and my friends and I scrambling over the rocks were fortunate enough to
find in a little wady leading northwards from the main valley a large
rock-drawing and inscriptions of this date. A “vase-maker” here offers
a prayer to the sacred barque of the hawk-god Horus, which is drawn so
clearly that one may see the hawk standing upon its shrine in the boat,
an upright spear set before the door; and one may observe the bull’s
head, so often found in primitive countries, affixed to the prow; while
the barque itself is shown to be standing upon a sledge in order that
it might be dragged over the ground.’

[Illustration: THE MOSQUE AT KOSSEIR]

By the modern German school of computation, which Mr. Weigall accepts,
the period of the Shepherd Kings was but of two centuries’ duration;
but according to the reckoning of the majority of Egyptologists, this
period lasted a millennium longer. Should the latter be right these
graffiti would date back sixty-five centuries; and from that remote
period (with the exception of the dark ages known as that of the
Hyksos or Shepherd Kings) some signs of human activity were visible
in this valley, telling us something of the various peoples who ruled
Egypt until the three Englishmen scratched their names with a penknife
shortly after the British occupation.

Every collection of Egyptological objects will have some specimens of
sculptured stone quarried out of these tufa and breccia rocks.

I found a large smooth surface of stone, forming the back wall of a
hollow quarried out of a gigantic mass of breccia, which, in Ptolemaic
times, had been made to serve as a shrine to the god Min of Koptos, the
protecting deity of the Upper Egyptian deserts. There were signs that
this shady nook had recently been used as an Arab encampment, and it
suggested a delightful subject to paint. I was torn with conflicting
emotions: whether to secure so good a background for a figure subject,
or whether to join my companions in their search for archæological
treasure. The background won the day. A faint hope that we might spend
a second morning here on our return journey, which would make it
possible to complete my study, finally decided me.

The smooth stone at the back of the hollow was decorated with very
delicately incised Ptolemaic work. The spacing of the panels containing
the deities was most artistically done, and the figures were chiselled
with a delicacy and style not usually seen in work of that period.
I had seen little Ptolemaic sculpture on any other material than
on sandstone, and this was bound to look coarse compared to the
eighteenth dynasty work on the finer grained limestone. The hard
breccia rock surface gave the sculptor a chance; and though it lacked
the distinction of earlier work, it compared well as to delicacy of
treatment. Greek influence seemed more apparent than ever. Hathor
looked less of a goddess, and was possibly more charming as a pretty
little mortal; Ammon Ra without his headdress would have passed for
a lithe and well-proportioned Greek slave; but the god Min, owing
to his conventional pose, combined the Hellenic sensuosity with the
severer Egyptian traditions. The Ptolemy who made offerings to the
above trilogy was a Greek grandee in the pose and apparel of a Pharaoh.
The figures measured about two feet high except that of an attendant
priest, who, as modesty demanded, was a few inches shorter. There were
one or two more panels in which Min figured conspicuously.

The bold forms of the massive rock which overhung this wall may have
helped to emphasise the delicacy of the sculpture. The colour of the
rock formation is as extraordinary as its drawing: the untouched
portions are a chocolate brown, and those parts exposed by the work of
the quarrymen vary from green to a bluish black.

When the sun shifted to where I sat, the effect changed so much that
it seemed hardly worth risking sunstroke by continuing my study. My
companions calling out their several discoveries tempted me to join in
the hunt. So much of interest was crowded into the one day spent at
Wady Fowakiyeh that the thirteenth day of November 1908 will remain as
a landmark in my somewhat varied existence.

One long inscription, which Mr. Weigall interpreted, tells us of 10,000
men who were sent during the eleventh dynasty to work the quarries.
Amongst this army of quarrymen there were miners, artists, draughtsmen,
stone-cutters, gold-workers, and officials, and full directions were
given as to the work they were sent to do. When one thought of the
voices of this host of men, awakening the echoes of the cliff-bound
valley, the present silence became almost oppressive. As the shades
deepened with the declining sun, the impressiveness of our surroundings
seemed to have got hold even of our escort. We could just hear them
muttering their evening prayer, and when that was over nothing but the
crackling of the fire, round which they sat, disturbed the stillness of
the night.

Till this point in our journey, the road we trod is sufficiently hard
and smooth to allow a motor-car to do it in three or four hours. We had
now reached the highest part of the desert highway, but the incline is
so imperceptible that only the aneroid could prove that we were on a
greater altitude than when we left Qús. No motor-car could, however,
cross the mile or two of boulders which choked up the road on which
we made an early start the following morning. Most of this we did on
foot, jumping from boulder to boulder, the men leading the camels a
serpentine route or assisting them over the rocks which blocked the
way. We followed up a narrow pass in the mountains to inspect the
abandoned workings of the gold-mines. We soon came across some huts
used by miners who had in quite recent years come here to glean where
the early Egyptians had reaped a good harvest. The huts were already in
worse repair than many we saw at the Roman Hydreuma. From what I have
heard since, the modern working of these mines had soon been abandoned
as a hopeless task. There are, however, other mines north of these
which are now worked at a profit.

We decided to continue on this pass and join the main route to Kosseir
a few miles further on, the baggage train, of course, following the
usual caravan road. Our guide declared that he knew the road, so there
seemed nothing to apprehend. Nevertheless we took the precaution of
leaving a trail behind us, as boys do on a paperchase, for there were
tracks in the sand of other camels than our own, and the road, such as
it was, split up into several winding passes through the hills. As one
of our party had chosen to follow the baggage, we decided to send back
Selim to the main highway to tell him when and where we expected to
join him, and Selim had also instructions to prepare our midday meal at
that spot.

The landscape became more extraordinary than ever when we left the tuff
and breccia rocks behind us. On either side of us rose sandstone cliffs
worn into the most fantastic shapes. It is difficult to associate
rain with such a country as the one we were in, yet rain and nothing
else could have worn this stone into the shapes we now beheld. An
inscription which Weigall had carefully copied described a torrential
shower which descended on the quarrymen in early dynastic times, and
which they considered a good omen of a successful issue to their
labours. Rain descends at long intervals, but during periods as counted
by geologists an immense amount of water had fashioned these sandstone
rocks into their unearthly shapes, for no growth is here to impede the
action of the torrential streams.

We wound amongst these hills for two or three hours, and I was
delighted when we regained the highway and returned to less strange,
though more beautiful scenery. But where was Selim? We fortunately
could see our companion in the distance, while the baggage camels which
he followed were disappearing round an angle in the range of hills. We
managed to make him hear, and he rode back to meet us. He had neither
seen nor heard anything of our cook, and had the latter followed the
trail he should have joined the main body a couple of hours ago. Our
guide went back to try to find the lost cook, and as he was born to the
desert, we had little fear of losing him. After a hunt of a couple of
hours the guide returned, hoping that Selim might have found his way to
us by the main road. There was nothing to be done but to send the guide
back to try some of the passes which he had considered too unlikely for
the cook to have taken.

It was awkward to lose the man on whom depends your midday meal. But
worse than a long day’s fast was the possibility that the man had
completely lost his bearings, in which case, his bones and those of
his mount might, at the time I am writing, be bleaching in the desert
surrounded by his pans and kettles as well as by our sketching and
photographic paraphernalia.

About four o’clock a clatter, clatter awoke us from a doze we had
indulged in under the shade of a projecting rock. The cook had turned
up at last, still trembling with the danger of being lost which he had
experienced, and also expecting a blowing up for being so late with our
lunch. A puff of wind had, it appeared, blown some of our paper trail
over a low hillock into a pass which we had not taken, and seeing camel
tracks there he followed it up and got lost in the labyrinth amongst
the sandstone cliffs. Though he rode his camel well, his practice had
hitherto been confined to the cultivated land where he could hardly go
a quarter of a mile without meeting some one to direct his way.

We made a hasty meal, for we had a long ride before we could reach
our night’s camping-place. We passed two more Roman stations, but
could not give them much time. The scenery increased in grandeur and
beauty, for the Hammamât mountains we had left behind us are in truth
more extraordinary than beautiful. A high range of limestone mountains
caught the evening light, while the meaner hills in the foreground were
lost in a subtle grey-violet shade.

Twilight is of short duration, and not long after admiring the
after-glow on the limestone heights, we had to trace our way in no
other light than that from the starlit sky.

When we reached our halting-place for the night we found our tents
pitched, table set, and our meal ready to be served up. Selim had
got over his fright, and was anxious to do his best to make up for
the inconvenience he had put us to during the day; the Ababdi guide
likewise arrived before we turned in for the night. Our camp was near
another Roman station, known by the name of the well close by, Bîr Hagi
Suliman. Whatever else of interest there may be in a desert highway,
the vital importance of water (even though it be brackish) is such that
the name of the supply is the name the district is known by. Beer runs
this close in London, judging from the names of public-houses being so
conspicuous on any omnibus route. Should you ask an Ababdi Arab where
the Hydreuma was he would shrug his shoulders; but if you mention a
well, _el Bîr_, anywhere within fifty miles, he will be able to direct
you. The similarity in the name of their water-supplies to that of the
British favourite drink is a curious coincidence.

The domed enclosure of the Bîr Hagi Suliman was in good repair, and a
tablet in the wall bore these three names and a date: ‘Briggs, Hancock,
and Wood, 1832.’ Probably the names of three Englishmen who were
prospecting for gold in these regions.

We decided the next morning to follow the caravan road, and that we
should return from Kosseir by a second route which joins this one
near the well. No archæological find was as welcome as the first rays
of sun which fell on our perishing bodies. To get out of the cold
wind and creep along the rocks which first caught the morning sun was
our only thought. One is obliged to dress in thin summer clothes, as
these valleys are very hot by the time the sun is high in the heavens.
I strapped enough blankets round me to give me the appearance of a
well-packed breakable object stowed on the top of a camel, and I kept
near the useful Selim, so as to enable him to catch the blankets as
I shed them. I had hardly got down to my cotton suit when we arrived
at another Roman station. It seemed as difficult to avoid Roman ruins
here as to get away from trippers in the Nile valley. Some Cufic
inscriptions on a doorpost interested us the most, as an indication
of this route being used soon after the Mohammedan conquest of Egypt.
Our ornithologist had his sketch-book out to note the flight of some
sandgrouse which rose from amongst the ruins as we entered them.

We had met but one or two nomad Arabs since we left the oasis of
Lakéta, so that our interest was considerably excited when we perceived
a considerable caravan advancing towards us in the distance. They
were undoubtedly Arabs from the Hedjaz who had crossed the Red Sea to
barter their camels in the Nile valley--queer customers for so small a
party to meet in this lonely place. We were miles ahead of our baggage
train, and I found that my companions had, as I had done, packed their
revolvers in their kit-bags. We consoled ourselves with the thought
that our want of precaution would not be suspected by the people we
were approaching, and I was more anxious to get a shot at them with
a hand camera than with any more deadly weapon. They were a most
picturesque lot, and might have posed for a group of Hyksos invaders,
or, to come to modern times (which only their long-barrelled guns
suggested), they might have been a small host of the Midianite Arabs
who plunder the pilgrims on the Mecca road. Some of their womenfolk
were with them, but enclosed in litters on the camels’ humps.

[Illustration: DOORWAY IN THE TEMPLE OF ISIS]

I managed with difficulty to get a couple of snapshots: the head of
my own camel had to be avoided, and I wished not to attract too much
attention from the evil-looking men, who greeted neither us nor the two
Arab servants in our party--a most unusual occurrence anywhere in the
Near East.

The first bit of news we heard, when we got back to Luxor, was that a
party of three Egyptians had been attacked by Arabians travelling from
Kosseir to Keneh, and the date given was that of the day after we had
met these people. One Egyptian had been killed, and the two others
had managed to escape. The attacking party could have been no other
than the one we passed. Whether they were ever brought to justice, or
whether they were able to recross the Red Sea and get safe back to the
Hedjaz, I was never able to ascertain. Little news, except that which
an occasional European paper gave us, reached my camp at Der el-Bahri
when I was reinstalled there.

We halted at midday at a well in an open plain. Bîr el-Ingliz, as this
well is called, and also the names of two Frenchmen, on a rock near by,
and dated 1799, vaguely recalled some incidents in the fight between
France and England during the Napoleonic wars. Desaix, who commanded
the French troops in Upper Egypt 1799, must have sent his men by this
route to garrison the still existing fort at Kosseir. We know of no
record that the young French general was ever at Kosseir himself;
but we know that in January 1800 both Desaix and Kleber signed the
convention of el-Arish, six months after Buonaparte had left Egypt. The
two Frenchmen, Forcard and Materon, whose names we find near the well,
were therefore in all probability returning with a detachment from
Kosseir to join Desaix before he went north to el-Arish. The English
could not have restored this well till two years later, as it was
not till May 1801 that an Anglo-Indian force, under Baird, landed at
Kosseir and drove the garrison back into the desert.

Though the well is known as Bîr el-Ingliz, it is probable that the
English put an already existing one into working order, and built the
well-house as a protection to it. Some of its slightly brackish water
may have been the cause of these Frenchmen resting here.

A magnificent range of limestone cliffs, which came into view soon
after our rest, shut us off from any glimpse we might have had of
the sea. These were the finest mountains I had seen in Egypt; their
formation is very similar to that of the Der el-Bahri cliffs, but they
were more imposing from their greater altitude.

As we approached the northern extremity of the range, a patch of vivid
green had a singular attraction for us, and hastened the trot of our
camels. It could not be a mirage, for the form that phenomenon took, as
far as our experience went, was that of reflecting, in what appeared
water, objects above our horizon. Our Ababdi guide knew it as the Bîr
Ambagi. We had been only a few days in the desert; but we felt some
of the excitement of pilgrims in the wilderness who, after a prolonged
journey, catch their first glimpse of a land of Canaan. Our oasis
turned out to be nothing more than a mass of rushes surrounding some
pools of water; it was, however, a refreshing sight to our eyes, and
possibly more refreshing to the stomachs of our camels--there was not
much left of Laura’s hump when I had last taken observations.

A half-dozen goats--sole milk-supply of Kosseir, as we later on
found out--grazed peacefully here, while the young goat-herds stared
round-eyed at the newcomers.

The air we breathed was different, and though no air is purer than that
of the desert, there was something singularly exhilarating in that
which was here. The sea, which we could not yet catch a glimpse of, had
sent its breezes to welcome us to its shores.

On remounting our camels we followed the dry bed of a river--a
wash-out,--and after descending it for a few miles, we turned the
corner of some low-lying sand-hills, and the Red Sea was before us.
How intensely blue it looked! I had not at that time gone down the
Red Sea, or I might have been prepared for its being no redder than a
blue band-box. It is just as well that its colour was no other, for no
sight could have given us greater pleasure. We kept our camels at the
trot, and it looked as if we should be there in half an hour. The low
white houses of Kosseir were on our left horizon, with some huge ugly
erection over-topping them. In a couple of hours we cleared the sandy
waste, and jumped off our camels on the strand.

One of our party threw off his clothes to have a swim, in spite of our
warning him that the water might be infested with sharks. ‘I’ll risk it
anyhow,’ he called out, and we watched him splashing about with mixed
feelings of sour grapes. Weigall sent our guide with a note to the
_Mudir_ to tell him of our arrival, and Selim lighted the spirit lamp
to prepare our tea. We strolled some way along the beach, when we came
on the body of a young shark, with its throat cut, lying on the edge
of the water, and our looks at our venturesome companion silenced his
boastings of how he had enjoyed his bathe.



CHAPTER XXI

KOSSEIR


We had not long to wait before the _Mudir_, or Governor of Kosseir,
arrived to welcome us. He was a stout, good-natured, middle-aged
Maltese; he spoke English fluently, but with the accent of his
countrymen. His pleasure at seeing us was very genuine, and the more
we heard him tell of life in Kosseir, the more we appreciated what an
event in his dull existence our arrival must have been. Besides his
wife and little daughter there was not a European in the place, except
an Austrian mechanic who attended to the sea-water condenser. A Syrian
doctor had been sent here to attend to the sick, and as no one ever was
sick, and the Mudir never had any cases to try, their only topic of
conversation was of the dulness of the place. There were 1500 souls in
Kosseir when the Mudir was first appointed, and now there are barely
300. They lived on the fish they caught and some bags of flour which
a coasting steamer left here at long intervals. The arrival of the
steamer was the one event which awakened the inhabitants, who, during
the intervals, spent most of their time in sleep.

I asked what the large building was which we noticed when first we
caught sight of the place, and I was told that it was a condenser
which the government had erected so as to save the people having to go
four miles to the nearest well to fetch the brackish water it supplied.
The Mudir would show us over it the following morning, as well as
the other objects of interest in the town. We were told we could not
get some necessaries we thought we might be able to procure for our
return journey. ‘There is nothing here, nothing, nothing,’ and which
he pronounced ‘Nozing, nozing, nozing,’ while the tears almost started
from the poor man’s eyes.

It appeared that when he was first sent here the people were often
reduced to eating chopped straw with their fish. The little trade,
which had hitherto kept the place going, disappeared when Suakin and
Suez became the only places of call on that coast. The great condenser
had supplied the ships with water, and a trade in fish gave the men an
occupation and brought a little money into the place. The Mudir sent a
report to the government on the starving condition of the inhabitants,
and a grant was voted to transplant the population to more prosperous
districts. Three-quarters of the people left when the means were given
them to do so, and as none but the aged remained, it was hoped that
Kosseir would soon cease as an inhabited town. So great, however,
is the native’s attachment to his locality, that a certain number
returned, after a while, to the semi-starvation of their natal place.

We asked if the people were honest and well-behaved. ‘Dere is nozing to
steal, and when they are not fishing dey sleep,’ was our answer. The
doctor had as little to do as the Mudir in his capacity as magistrate,
for, in spite of the poor living, old age was the only physical
complaint from which any one suffered.

On this barren coast, where no blade of grass can grow, the germs of
disease do not easily spread, and the filth from the habitations is
soon sterilised in the perpetual sunshine. To rust out takes longer
than to wear out in such a climate, and this must account for the great
age which most of the inhabitants attain.

Our baggage had arrived during these tales of woe, and we tried to
induce the governor to share our dinner. He would not stay, but
promised to have tea with us the next day, and to bring his daughter,
the Austrian mechanic, and the Syrian doctor. He had hardly taken his
departure when some men arrived bringing half a dozen chairs and a
present of fish, with a message that if there was anything Kosseir
could supply, it was at our orders. I think the kind-hearted Mudir left
to spare us our expressions of gratitude.

To lie on the soft sand within a few yards of the gentle plashing of
the incoming waves, and to watch the full moon slowly emerging above
the sharp-cut line of the blue waters, consoled us that Kosseir could
at least supply a half-hour of as exquisite enjoyment as any wealth
could command in the most prosperous of cities. The fizzling sounds
which proceeded from Selim’s cooking-tent did not jar in the least,
for the anticipation of some fresh fish, after a régime of tinned
meats, was far from disagreeable. After a course of crayfish and of a
well-served _belbul_, we told Selim that he could give his tin-opener a
thorough rest.

We returned to our soft couches in the sand, and lay there till the
moon was high in the heavens, when we turned in for the night.

The Mudir was awaiting us when we arrived at his office at eight
o’clock on the following morning. It was in a large building, for our
host’s duties were various: he was consul to many nations, of whom a
subject might be here cast ashore; he was also postmaster-general,
in case a letter ever arrived; head of the customs--on what dutiable
articles was not related. As captain of the coastguards a chance of
some work might occur, for were this coast not guarded, hasheesh would
be sure to find an inlet and poison some of the people in the Nile
valley. He was here also to enforce the orders given by the sanitary
inspectors in regard to pilgrims returning from Mecca through this
port. In spite of these and other duties, Mr. Wirth (as we discovered
his name to be) had plenty of time to place at our disposal, and when
we had sipped the usual cup of coffee we started to see Kosseir under
his guidance.

The huge and unsightly building which housed the condensing machinery
was, as might be expected, the _pièce de résistance_, and with pride
we were shown the one thing left in which some lingering signs of
vitality remained. The government had spent £14,000 to put this thing
up. It was large enough to supply water to 10,000 souls, and now by
working it during two mornings per month it more than supplied the
present population. A paternal government had decreed that a charge
of one millième, that is a farthing, should be made for each pailful
supplied; but as many had not the farthing, it was a case of ‘thank
you for nothing.’ The governor informed us that many women filled their
pitchers at the brackish well, four miles off, from want of this money
to pay for the distilled water: a case of farthing wise and pound
foolish on the part of the government.

I was glad when we got out of the place and proceeded to inspect the
chief mosque. When we had awakened the caretaker, he started removing
the matting, so as not to oblige us to take off our shoes. Mr. Wirth
wittily remarked that the ground would be less likely to dirty our
shoes than would the mats if we stepped on them. We prevented the man
from moving one of them, so as not to disturb the sleep of one or two
worshippers who lay there. It was a picturesque old mosque, and Mr.
Whymper and I decided to return and make a drawing of it when we had
seen what else Kosseir had to show.

The fort stands close by, and we were taken to see the place where
Desaix had quartered some troops, and where these French soldiers
pined, during two years, for their native country, until they were
hurriedly dislodged by the Anglo-British force under Baird. Our
Maltese friend, being a British subject, pointed out with pride
the gate through which the English and Indian soldiers effected an
entrance, and at the back of the fort he showed us from whence the poor
Frenchmen escaped to try and reach the Nile across the desert. How many
succeeded, history does not relate. Knowing what preparations have to
be made to make a desert journey, it is awful to contemplate the fate
of these soldiers with only the food they could hurriedly grab up, and
the wells guarded by the enemy. We are told that the British troops
reached Keneh, and that the French had by that time evacuated Egypt.
General Desaix had joined Napoleon’s army more than a year before, and
fell in the battle of Marengo on the 14th of June 1800.

His brilliant career was cut short while only in his thirty-second
year, his greatest achievement being the conquest of Upper Egypt, where
he became known by the natives as the Just Sultan.

The custodian of the fort told us how the British fired water from
their ships on to the ammunition of the French, and the latter, then
being unable to return the fire, tried to reach Keneh as best they
could. Strange things are often related by Arab custodians!

The main street of Kosseir is picturesque, with the minaret towering
above the deserted shops, or rather it might have been, had the
coloured stuffs and fruits and a busy throng been there to furnish it
with the usual properties which make up an oriental street picture.
The two stalls which had something to sell had no other customers than
a swarm of flies, and we should hardly have had the heart to wake the
shopman from his profound sleep had there been anything worth buying.
The Mudir had had the little quay repaired, as well as the wooden pier
which formed the breakwater to a small harbour. He had also fenced in
a space of about a hundred yards square in the sea, so as to allow any
one who wished to bathe to be able to do so in safety from the sharks.
We mentioned that one of our party had bathed near our camp, and he
was horrified, for the sea, he told us, was alive with sharks. ‘Had
we not noticed a shark lying on the strand with its throat cut?’ We
mentioned that we had, though not till after our friend’s bath. We were
then told that a youth was standing there with his feet just in the sea
when a shark made a dash at him, and, missing his prey, landed too high
on the beach to be able to get back into the water before the youth cut
its throat. This had only happened a couple of days before our arrival
at the coast.

Two high-sterned dhows were beached near here for repairs; they added
considerably to the characteristics of the place, which had something
un-Egyptian about them. Kosseir is a Red Sea port, and it bears
something, hard to define, but which is not to be observed till on this
side of Suez. The people dressed as Egyptians; but on studying their
features more carefully, one could discern that nothing of the old
Egyptian stock was here. Their blood is Arabian intermixed with that of
the Ababdi tribe. We were neither pestered with beggars nor importuned
by the officiousness met with in the Nile resorts.

I returned to the mosque to start my drawing, and remained there until
it was time to join our tea-party at the camp. Two or three men dropped
in during the midday prayer, but the caretaker beckoned to me not to
move my easel. Some boys arrived later on and sat around an old sheykh
who expounded the Koran to them.

A date stone of two hundred years ago, probably only alluded to
a restoration. I should place the original construction some five
centuries earlier, though in an out-of-the-world place such as this
architectural style changes very slowly.

I arrived at the camp in time for our tea-party. The governor regretted
that Mrs. Wirth was not well enough to accompany him; his daughter
was a pretty girl of about thirteen years of age. The poor child
seemed very conscious of having outgrown her frock, judging from the
way she kept smoothing it down over her knees. She had plenty to say
for herself, and could say it in four different languages. Her father
regretted that no means of educating the child existed except such
instruction as her mother could give her, and that there was not
another child in Kosseir for her to associate with. ‘If I could only
get her to Alexandria and get there myself also,’ he said with a sigh.
‘It is four years since we had an opportunity of getting her some
frocks.’ The poor girl coloured up and seemed more conscious of her
legs than ever, and had the last pleat of her skirt not been newly let
out to its full limits, we should probably not have seen her at our
party.

The Austrian mechanic was pleased to find some one who could speak
German; but he, poor man, seemed conscious of being without a collar
to his shirt. It was difficult to put him at his ease till he got well
launched into the subject of what a dismal hole Kosseir was to live in.
The Syrian doctor seemed disappointed at not seeing a possible patient
amongst us; we all looked in disgustingly rude health. We promised to
look in at his dispensary the next day, where he assured us he had the
means of coping with every ailment; but as the whole population was
always in the best of health, time hung heavily on his hands.

He amused himself by fishing occasionally, and told us of the
extraordinary number of crayfish which were to be got by the simple
process of getting on to the coral reefs at night and holding a candle
over the pools. The stupid creatures then come to have a look at
the light, and you have only then to pick them out of the water and
put them in the basket. Should we care to have a try, he would be
delighted to take us to the best place that very night. The moon was
the difficulty, for a dark night was necessary. It was settled that he
should bring some men and lanterns at midnight, when he reckoned that
the moon would have disappeared.

We turned in after our dinner, so as to get what sleep we could before
starting on our fishing expedition. When the doctor summoned us that
night, the moon was so high in the sky that we were loath to turn out.
Bed was so comfortable; while pottering about on a sunken reef, with
the moon to spoil our sport, seemed hardly good enough. The doctor
hoped that the moon would be down before we reached the coral reefs,
and for the first time we realised that the reefs were three miles
away. It seemed, however, ungracious not to go, so off we started.

The doctor was rather depressed when he heard moonlight effects being
discussed, though we were thinking more of its pictorial aspects than
of its influence on crayfish. Early recollections of coral islands, in
a book which made my tenth birthday memorable, excited my curiosity to
see at last what a coral reef was like. Grottos as pink as a necklace,
of a ten-year-old little girl I associated with my book, rose in my
imagination, and to see these in a brilliant moonlight might more than
compensate me for a poor catch of crayfish.

We found several fishermen on the reefs, and we were puzzled to guess
what they were up to. They appeared to be walking on the water, for
when we first saw them they were some distance out at sea, and the
water looked no shallower than that which we had hitherto skirted. Some
were running about and beating the surface with long sticks, and the
proceedings had an uncanny look until we got near enough to follow what
they were about. A long net, which a couple of men hung on to at the
water’s edge, reached some distance into the sea, making a slight curve
to its furthest extremity, which was held by some men far out on the
partially submerged reef; the water was being beaten with the object of
driving the fish into the net. The men furthest out presently advanced
towards the shore, dragging the net through the deep water while they
walked along the edge of the reef. We were able to reach them by seldom
being more than ankle deep, taking care, however, to avoid the deep
holes in the coral. As the net curved more and more on the advance to
the shore of its further end, our interest to see what it would bring
in became as great as that of the fishermen.

When finally the whole net was drawn on to the strand, we beheld
as strange an assortment of creatures as can be seen in the Naples
Aquarium. Some had transparent bodies with long filmy tentacles, others
were difficult to class, whether as fish or as marine plants, for they
were so rapidly picked up and thrown into baskets that we had little
time to examine them. The queer things left on the shore might safely
be classed as unedible. The men telling us that the moon would not
be down till three o’clock, I bothered no more about crayfish, but
found plenty of entertainment in peering into the holes in the reef.
The water was so transparent that, where the moonlight reached the
bottom, the shadow of my head was clearly defined. I might have been
looking into a depth of one or two feet instead of into several fathoms
of water. Some of the beautifully arranged tanks in the Aquarium at
Naples might have been modelled on what I saw here. The holes were
sometimes globular in shape, though passages might have existed where
the moonbeams did not fall. Two lights, an inch or two apart, moved
about in the shadow of one of these holes, and disappeared whenever
they reached the moonlit part. I crept down on my knees to see if I
could distinguish any form around these weird lights, and as I could
not do so, I concluded that they were the eyes of a transparent fish
such as those we had seen taken out of the fishermen’s nets. The lights
disappearing, I crept round to a hole a few yards off, and there I
could distinguish the entrance to a passage leading towards the hole
I had left. The two lights reappeared, were lost again as they passed
through the moonlit space, and seen once more until they were lost in
some cavern in the darkness.

Sea-anemones stuck to the sides and hung from the roofs of these
fairylike chambers, the claws of a hermit crab just distinguishable in
a hollow at the base of what looked more like some hot-house plant than
of a conscious creature. On touching the spreading tentacles with my
stick, they rapidly contracted to a conical knob.

The reefs in themselves were a disappointment, for I should hardly have
known them as coral had I not been told so; but what we saw of the
marvellous forms of life contained in their caverns well repaid us for
our night’s excursion. Some attempts were made to beguile the crayfish
with lighted candles; three were brought back to our camp, but I never
quite got rid of a suspicion that the Syrian doctor had caught these
out of the fishermen’s net by means of a piastre. He need not have
looked so sad about his miscalculations, for each one of us had spent
a most interesting hour or more on the reefs. It became too cold for
us to remain any longer in our wet clothes, and we were glad to tramp
briskly back to our camp.

Weigall and Erskine Nicol rode on the following morning to the ruins
of Old Kosseir, some five miles north of the Arab town, while Whymper
and I returned to the mosque to finish our drawings. We paid the doctor
a visit in his dispensary, and were shown how up-to-date was its
equipment. ‘But what is the use of all this,’ he said, ‘if no one is
ever ill?’--one more proof of the ingratitude of the native.

We bid farewell to the kindly governor, and hoped for his sake that
he might soon be transferred to some more congenial place, trusting
that one who had the welfare of the people at heart as much as he had
might be found to fill his post. May his charming little daughter
be where suitable companions abound, and also frocks long enough to
reach to her ankles. The doctor may now be surrounded with patients
more than enough, for the two years’ exile he then anticipated are now
over. Let us hope that the Austrian engineer has been replaced by one
whose orders may allow him to distribute the distilled water without
having to exact the farthing per bucket from the impoverished people of
Kosseir.

We bought some pretty shells--about the only things the town had to
sell. The good Mudir spoke the truth when he said, ‘In Kosseir dere is
nozing, nozing, nozing!’

Some fish was sent to us as a departing present when we were starting
on our return journey to the Nile valley. The whitewashed town was pink
in the light from the rising sun when we again mounted our camels.
Kosseir was asleep, and Kosseir has probably slept ever since, just
waking up for a short while when the coasting steamer brings the bags
of flour.



CHAPTER XXII

EDFU AND THE QUARRIES OF GEBEL SILSILEH


The few incidents which occurred during the following six months,
after I was reinstalled in my hut at Der el-Bahri, have been related
in previous chapters. During the short season at Luxor friends and
acquaintances often paid me a visit when going the rounds on the Theban
side of the Nile. Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Parker induced me to leave my
camp to spend Christmastide with them in the delightful house they had
lately built at Assuan. It is one of the few new houses in Upper Egypt
which in aspect fits in exactly with its surroundings. Situated as it
is on the western bank of the Nile, it commands a beautiful view both
up and down the river, and Elephantine Island, the only green spot near
Assuan, lies just opposite. A more ideal residence in which to pass the
winter months would be hard to conceive. Would that he who built it had
been spared to enjoy it for more than a few short seasons! Two years
previously I had spent three months with them on their _dahabieh_.
Henry Simpson, the artist, was of our company. We visited everything
worth visiting between the first and second cataracts, mooring the
ship wherever we found a subject we wished to paint. This is the
ideal way of seeing the Nile, and when, as in this case, congenial
companionship is added to the comforts of a well-equipped dahabieh, no
more delightful way of tiding over the winter months is imaginable.

A diary in the form of caricatures of the daily events, which Mr.
Simpson had left with the Parkers, brought those pleasant times vividly
back to us.

Mrs. Parker and I made several excursions to Philae while there was
still a chance of recording some of its beauty before it would be
entirely submerged by the raising of the Assuan dam. As it is proposed
that I should treat of Nubia in another volume, I shall defer what I
may have to say on Assuan and of the country south of it.

Towards the end of my season at Der el-Bahri, which as usual was two
months after the hotels at Luxor had put up the shutters, Mr. Weigall
suggested my spending June with him in the tombs and temples south of
Thebes. The valley in which I camped had become a veritable oven, and
my hut was untenable till the sun sank behind the cliffs which form the
amphitheatre behind Hatshepsu’s shrine. Some work I wished to do in the
temple of Edfu, as well as to get shelter from the burning sun, tempted
me to accept this kind invitation. The quarries and shrines at Gebel
Silsileh, the tombs of Assuan and the courts and colonnades at Philae,
all held out hopes of shady places in which I should find plenty of
subjects to paint.

Our preparations were soon made. On the first day of June we took the
train from Luxor to Edfu, and were encamped that afternoon in the dark
shades of the great temple of Horus.

The thermometer fell to 100° Fahrenheit in the hypostyle hall, and we
were grateful for this comparative coolness. Our attire could safely be
of the scantiest, as there was no fear of a party of trippers arriving
at this time of the year. Shoes were advisable till the pavements
had been examined, for in some seasons the temple is infested with
scorpions. Happily this was a poor scorpion season, and barely a dozen
were killed during the eight days we spent there.

We decided on the hypostyle hall as our dining-room, unless the open
court should cool down sufficiently after sundown; our beds were to
be made on the roof of the great vestibule, and no cooler spot could
be apportioned for our midday siesta than in one of the corridors
which run round the sanctuary. What earthly potentate could claim so
majestic a dwelling-place? If an apology for its modernity be needed to
those whose interests lie in the earlier dynastic remains, we at all
events had a roof over our heads, and Edfu temple, though shorn of its
furniture, is not a ruin. Going back to pre-Ptolemaic times, no temple
in Egypt exists where imagination has not to fill in great portions
which are not in the places which the builders designed for them. Edfu
temple is doubtless the grandest preserved edifice in the world which
can date back rather more than two thousand years.

Some portions are out of repair; but let us hope that no more attempts
at restoration may be made, more than to tie or buttress such places
that may be in danger of falling. All credit is due to Mariette, who,
under the auspices of Saîd Pasha, cleared the temple of the rubbish
which in places filled it to the roofing slabs; a part of the town
actually stood on the roof. The rubbish hills which surround it are
gradually lessening, for the septic material of which they are composed
serves as a valuable manure to the fields around.

The entire building took 187 years to complete, its progress going
on more or less uninterruptedly during the rule of eleven of the
Ptolemies. The design is so complete that it is hard to believe that
one architect did not draw up all the plans. I do not purpose to give
the details of this vast building, as this has been so adequately done
by Baedeker and in other guide-books. Curiously enough the Baedeker,
which so accurately describes the most interesting details to be
observed, makes no mention of the dimensions, though the first thing
which impresses the visitor is the vastness of the building. Actual
measurements are liable to do little more than give an impression of
size, but a comparison with well-known structures often conveys a truer
conception. The area of St. Paul’s, in square feet measurement, is
28,050, that of St. Peter’s at Rome is 54,000, while the temple at Edfu
covers an area of 80,000 square feet. There is but one other temple in
Egypt with which we can compare it, and that is the temple of Denderah.
But in every way it is Denderah’s superior. The great temple of Ammon
at Karnak was raised when Egyptian art was at a higher level than at
the time of the Ptolemies, and, grand as that ruin may be, it fails to
impress one as much as the almost intact structure here at Edfu.

The temples of Edfu, of Denderah, and of Esneh, though all three
were raised during a debased period of Egyptian art, owe their
impressiveness chiefly to the fact that they still have a roof above
them. The subdued light of the vestibule, the dimmer light of the
hypostyle hall, and the increasing darkness as one passes through the
next two chambers till the blackness of the sanctuary is reached,
strikes the imagination to a degree which no sunlit ruins can do, be
they ever so fine. The reliefs which cover every wall space and column
are not to be compared with the refined work in Hatshepsu’s shrine;
but in this dim religious light they serve their purpose, and the
general effect is in no wise diminished. The sculptured reliefs, on the
girdle-wall and the pylons, which are seen in broad daylight, suffer
greatly in comparison with the eighteenth dynasty work. But taken as a
whole, the design of these temples is probably more beautiful than was
that of the earlier structures, of which only fragments now remain.
A Greek most likely furnished the design, the detail being left to
Egyptians who had lost much of their artistry.

We ascended to the roof by a long inclined plane in the thickness
of one of the walls, and in the comparative coolness of the evening
we watched the sun dip into the coloured mists which hung over the
cultivation between us and the Libyan desert. Edfu spreads round three
sides of the temple, and we got a bird’s-eye view of the medley of
mud huts, little courtyards, and modest places of worship which go to
make up a small Nilotic town. Children were at play amidst the cattle
and fowls in the yards, while their elders were attending to their
household duties on the roof. The houses were on a higher level as they
neared the temple, and the piles of débris on which they stood were
sharply cut away a few yards from the girdle-wall, forming a second
enclosure on that side of us. It was easily seen that before the temple
was cleared the incline of the rubbish mounds would have reached to the
roof we stood on.

In a letter which Mariette wrote in 1860 to the _Révue Archéologique_,
he says: ‘I caused to be demolished the sixty-four houses which
encumbered the roof, as well as twenty-eight more which approached too
near the outer wall of the temple. When the whole shall be isolated
from its present surroundings by a massive wall, the work of Edfu will
be accomplished.’

Something similar to what Mariette found here fifty years ago may
still be seen at the north end of the Luxor temple, where a mosque and
a cluster of houses still remain on the top, on the yet unexcavated
portions. The apertures in the roofing slabs (which now at midday allow
of some rays of sunlight to lighten the interior) served as drains to
carry off the filth from the houses on the roof. No wonder that the
fellaheen gladly now fatten their land with the scourings from the
temple enclosure. Many of the smaller objects now seen in the Antika
shops are found by the peasants while they load their asses with this
septic rubbish. Sub-inspectors and guards are told off to watch these
operations; but it is seldom that anything which is not too heavy to
carry off can be saved to the Antiquities Department.

It is no sinecure being Chief Inspector over as extended an area as
that which is in Mr. Weigall’s charge.

By the light of a couple of candles we dined in the courtyard. The
afterglow caught the top of the propylon as we sat down--from a deep
rose it sank to a slaty grey, and then slowly darkened to a black mass
against the starlit sky.

The two guardians preceded us with candles, so that we could find
our way to the stairway entrance at the further end of the temple.
Thousands of bats squeaked and fluttered above, disturbed by these
unwonted lights; and from the rounded columns, whose summits were
lost in the darkness, beast and bird headed gods seemed to resent our
intrusion into the sacred precincts. When we ascended the inclined
stairway we rubbed shoulders with the divinities and the Ptolemies
which lined the wall surfaces of the narrow passage to the roof.

Selim had fixed up our camp beds above the great vestibule, which is
considerably higher than the inner precincts of the temple; and here we
slept well above the gods, but beneath the canopy of the heavens.

We arose with the first glimmer of light in the eastern sky and
found Selim preparing our bath on the roof. When we descended to the
interior of the temple we found that the thermometer had only fallen
three degrees. The courtyard was again our coolest breakfasting place,
besides being more or less free from the smell of bats, which is a
distinctive feature of all enclosed temples.

[Illustration: POTTERY BAZAAR IN A NILE VILLAGE]

The town is as unspoilt as any on the banks of the Nile, and the
early morning and evening are the only times when it is possible to
explore it in comfort at this time of the year. I found some delightful
subjects in the little bazaar, and could paint here till the sun drove
me from where I had set up my easel. The temple interior, even at a
hundred degrees of Fahrenheit, then became a welcome shelter from the
burning sun.

My companion was engaged on some literary work and never stirred out of
the temple till dusk. After lunch we would retire to improvised beds
near the sanctuary, and a ray of sunlight descending through a slit in
the roof gave us light by which we could read till we fell asleep.

We spent eight days in the shades of this majestic shrine, and though
Weigall had brought quite a library of books on things Egyptological
and was also able fluently to read the inscriptions with which the
walls are covered, we could only cull a fraction of the flowery
descriptions of the deeds that were done while this temple of Horus was
being raised. I made a careful study of a fine panel on the inner side
of the western girdle-wall. It represents a ship with expanded sail,
with Isis kneeling at the prow and Horus astride on the deck launching
a javelin into a minute hippopotamus near the edge of the river; both
he and the goddess hold a cord which is attached to the beast. The
king stands on the bank and is also driving a spear into the victim.
The figures are so beautifully drawn and the panel is so decoratively
filled, that when we speak of the debased art of the Ptolemies, it must
be understood as being so only in comparison with the superlatively
fine work of some of the earlier dynasties.

We left Edfu in the early morning to step on to a steam-launch which
would run us up to Gebel Silsileh in six hours. I seemed awakened from
a sleep gently disturbed with dreams in which the great, of an age long
past, and their strange divinities had slowly filed before me, to be
lost in the darkness of Edfu’s sanctuary.

The steam-launch seemed an anachronism after the eight days during
which we had been transported back to times before the dawn of
Christianity. Running against the current our progress was slow;
but it was a giddy speed compared with that of the Nile boats we
overtook, though their great sails were swelled with the wind blowing
up the river. Lying on a mattress in the shade of an extemporised
awning and enjoying the breeze which overtook us, we could thoroughly
enjoy some hours of complete laziness which we glorified by the name
of well-deserved rest. It seemed a pity to fall asleep and to lose
consciousness for a moment of this delicious feeling of fresh air and
pleasant coolness. Objects we passed were just of sufficient interest
not to over-excite us, but just to prevent any feeling of monotony.
The remains of a Byzantine fortified town with the ruins of a convent
spread picturesquely over the crest of the hill es-Serâg. I should like
to have made a sketch of this, though I soon found consolation in the
thought that I might pass here again and catch it in a more pictorial
lighting. Consolation for most ills comes easily while afloat on the
Nile.

The character of the landscape changes considerably here. The nummulite
limestone hills, with their pretty crag and cliff drawing, give place
to the sandstone rocks. Ancient quarries with inscriptions abound, and
had we not been making for the far-famed quarries of Silsileh, we might
have felt inclined to stop and examine some.

We reached our destination in the early afternoon, and moored on the
west bank of the river. Gebel Silsileh (the Mountain of the Chain) is
so called on account of a tradition that ancient kings here blocked
the river with a chain stretched across it from the cliffs on either
side. The Nile contracts to within a couple of hundred yards, and
the rocks rise, in most places, sheer out of the water. That a more
natural barrier than this chain once blocked the river is evident, and
also that it held up the waters in Lower Nubia sufficiently to force a
second arm of the river to flow along the low-lying land between the
first cataract, and on the western side of Assuan. A great disruption
of the barrier is said to have taken place towards the end of the
Hyksos period, when until then it was probably a rushing cataract.
But in prehistoric times, when the course of the Nile was completely
blocked at this gorge, the river must have flowed through other
channels for a hundred miles or more.

We fixed on a tomb recess, cut out of a rock facing north, as our
living-room, and put off deciding where we should sleep till we found
which place might be the coolest after the sun had gone down. Selim
improvised a kitchen in a disused tomb nearer the edge of the river.
These arrangements being completed, we visited the numerous objects of
interest on our side of the Nile.

The rock chapel, known as the Speos of Haremheb, lies furthest north,
and it contains some very beautiful late eighteenth dynasty work. A
relief of the young king taking the divine milk at the breast of a
goddess can be compared in beauty with the similar subject in the Seti
temple at Abydos. The workmanship appearing coarser here is owing to
the sandstone not having the marble-like surface of the nummulite
limestone in the latter temple. The relief of King Haremheb returning
in triumph from Cush (generally supposed to be the district between
the first two cataracts, which we now know as Nubia) is also very
beautiful, and reminds one strongly of some of the Der el-Bahri work.
The Speos itself is very interesting, being a form of shrine of a
plan different to any I had so far seen. It is a long narrow chamber
parallel with the rock-face, and entered by five doorways which are
separated from each other by four square pillars hewn out of the rock.
In the centre of the back wall is an entrance to an inner chamber also
covered with reliefs, except the end which faces the doorway where
damaged statues of the Pharaoh and of six gods occupy each a recess.

For the best part of half a mile we scrambled over the rocks and
through disused quarries, examining a number of little shrines, tomb
recesses and _stele_, all of which are more or less ornamented with
reliefs while some show traces of colour.

Three imposing chapels hewn out of the solid rock are at the south end
of the quarries. These are votive shrines to Seti I., Rameses II.,
and to the son of the latter, Merenptah--proscenium-shaped alcoves
supported by columns of the clustered papyrus type, and surmounted with
bold cornices. A rank growth of scrub on the strip of land between the
shrines and the river relieved the amber hues of the sandstone, and
some touches of pure colour in the shrines themselves helped to make
this a promising subject for a picture.

Our camp was about midway between the Speos and these votive shrines.
Selim was preparing our dinner when we returned, and during these odd
moments we enjoyed a swim in the Nile. As usual we cut our evenings
short by retiring early to bed, and we began our days with the first
glimmer of light.

We spent four delightful days here, Weigall collecting Egyptological
facts, and I increasing my number of drawings. We should have stayed
here longer; but how this sojourn, as well as the remainder of our
expedition, came to an end, will form the subject of another chapter.



CHAPTER XXIII

MY EXPERIENCES AS AN INMATE OF A NATIVE HOSPITAL


I had placed my bed on a rock high enough to get the benefit of any
breath of cooler air which the north breeze might bring; the nightly
drop in the temperature usual in the desert does not obtain in like
manner on the edge of the Nile. Our exalted position on the roof of
Edfu temple had been conducive to sleep, and during the first three
nights I slept well, perched up on my rock. Strange dreams, however,
disturbed the fourth night. My identity got hopelessly mixed up with
that of Horus; the steam-launch and the ship I had copied at Edfu
temple became a composite craft, with the lassoed hippopotamus serving
as a drag anchor. I resented the anxiety shown by the goddess in the
prow to meet the handsome young king on the bank, and felt I was
handicapped in my courtship by having a hawk’s head. My divinity was
outweighed by the good looks of the mortal, and I was preparing to use
my spear in as effective a manner on him as I had on the hippopotamus,
when the boat bumped heavily against the bank and awoke me.

I was shivering on the rock, having fallen out of my bed, and was soon
conscious enough to know that I had fever. I never sleep out of doors
without having a blanket handy to pull over me in case of a sudden
drop in the temperature, and I made use of it now. I could not trust
myself to climb down the rock and get to the more sheltered place of my
companions, nor could I make any one hear me. Slowly the night went by,
shivering fits alternating with fantastic dreams--yet no inclination
to rise came with the dawn. I heard shouts from below that breakfast
was ready, but all the breakfast I wanted was a dose of quinine. My
friend climbed up bringing me the drug, and was anxious to see what was
the matter. Thinking it was a touch of the malarious fever which for
years I had been subject to, I hoped that in a day or two I should be
all right again. I could not, however, remain where I lay, for as the
sun got up, so my rock became untenable. Getting into the shade of the
tomb, which we called our living-room, ways and means were discussed, I
acquiescing in whatever my friend proposed.

Assuan was the nearest place where a doctor could be found, and a
four-mile ride would take us to the nearest station on the line. A
train left about two o’clock, and donkeys might be obtainable at the
nearest village. We drifted down the Nile to the nearest spot from
which we could ride to the station, and while writing these lines that
ride comes back to me as a horrible nightmare. The midday sun of June
in Upper Egypt is carefully avoided by those in the best of health,
even when a well-saddled donkey is obtainable. But ill as I was, with
nothing but a sack of straw for a saddle, the trials of that ride are
indescribable. My sketching umbrella and pith helmet were a protection
from the direct rays of the sun, but none from the scorching heat which
rose from the baked soil. When we left the sandstone rocks on our right
we got on to the cultivated land, and I could see the little station,
across the plain, trembling in the heated air. I managed somehow to
get there without tumbling off the straw sack, and I had that sack
taken off my donkey to use it as a pillow on the station floor. Some
fellaheen were lying about on the flags, and even they seemed overcome
with the oven-like heat of the station, on the flat roof of which the
vertical rays of the sun had been beating.

The train service in Upper Egypt is excellent while the tourist season
is on; but, as may be supposed, few trains crawl along the desert track
in midsummer. Happily there is generally one first-class car attached,
on the chance of some official being obliged to make a journey, and
in this car there is often a sunk well in the floor, which serves as
a small ice cellar. I had at other times unfavourably contrasted the
luxuriousness of the official car with the cattle trucks which seemed
good enough for the natives. I forgave them readily enough now, while I
greedily drank of the cold water obtainable by means of the ice cellar.
Fortunately, also, one decent hotel remains open at Assuan after the
more luxurious ones put up their shutters. I could, therefore, look
forward to a comfortable bed after the five long hours of the train
journey.

[Illustration: THE VILLAGE OF MARG]

When the proprietor seemed satisfied that I had neither the plague nor
cholera, a room was got ready for me, and the only European doctor
then in Assuan was soon at my bedside. He was a kind-hearted Swiss
missionary, who had still four days to remain here before he left for
Jerusalem, and should I not be well enough to move then, the permanent
medical man at the dam could be sent for from Shellal. He said I was
down with sunstroke, and ordered an ice-bag to be put to my head,
and told me I could put another on my chest if I liked. He looked in
again about midnight, and several Englishmen also called to offer any
assistance they could give. Who they were and what they said I only
found out when I returned to Egypt the following season. One sentence,
however, I understood, and that was that the thermometer had reached
124 degrees in the shade during the afternoon. I was also conscious
enough, when left alone, of a cutting pain in the right side of my
chest, and decided to dispense with the ice-bag there until I knew what
this pain meant. I heard voices in another room, and a declaration of
‘no trumps,’ also an argument about ‘going diamonds,’ and I felt a
certain comfort that countrymen of mine were near at hand.

While I lay awake that night a curious sensation that I was two people
got hold of me. Was it I or my double who felt this cutting pain? And
whose turn was it to take the medicine the doctor had left? It was very
nasty, and I rather resented that my double had not fairly shared in
the taste. The _Ka_ (which the ancient Egyptians believed was born with
the body, as distinct from the soul) served as a guardian spirit or
‘double,’ who accompanied the mortal during his lifetime and tended to
his wants after death as long as his remains were preserved in their
mummy state. One of us must be this _Ka_, I thought; and whether I or
the other fellow was the ‘double’ exercised what little mind I could
bring to bear on the subject.

The Swiss missionary came early the next day, and was evidently not
satisfied that sunstroke was entirely my complaint. He sounded my
chest, and called out, ‘Oh, it is pleurisy.’ He seemed very excited,
and said that, though occupied most of his time with people’s bodies,
it was their souls which concerned him most. ‘As a doctor I can give
you no hope, but as a missionary I can tell you that everything is
possible with God. What is your name?’ I told him this, and, startled
as I was, I still puzzled whether the name applied to me or to my
‘double.’ I can just recall the good man going down on his knees, and
also his loud and earnest prayers; but owing to my semi-delirious state
I can recall nothing of the latter but the good man’s foreign accent.

Why pleurisy should have so much alarmed him I cannot say, as I can
recall many who have got the better of it. One good thing about it was
that I could be attended to by the hotel servants, who up till that
time would not answer my bell; they evidently were not satisfied till
then that I was not down with cholera. The fever abated somewhat with
the new treatment, and I was able to recognise Weigall and one or two
other acquaintances who looked in. The doctor was most attentive, and
advised my going with him as far as Assiout, where there is a good
hospital run by the American Mission. He called in the native medical
man to get a second opinion as to whether I could do the journey,
and between the two of them it was decided that I had better risk the
journey than risk remaining in the terrible heat of Assuan without any
means of proper nursing.

The Swiss doctor would accompany me as far as Assiout, and he would
wire to the mission to have me met at the station and take me to the
hospital.

We left Assuan after I had been there four days, and a friend who was a
manager of the line got a sleeping-car put on to the train. We started
in the morning, and after a thirteen-hour journey we reached Assiout in
the dead of night. Here I had to part company with the Swiss doctor,
who was on his way to Jerusalem. Now, whether the telegram ever reached
the mission or not I can’t say; anyhow, the doctor looked in vain for
any one connected with the hospital. A good Samaritan in the shape of
a Scot, connected with the government, had fortunately travelled down
in the same train, and by good luck Assiout was his destination also.
I can recall his carrying me to a carriage, and I can also recall his
slapping the cheek of a native who tried to force his way in while he
clamoured for baksheesh.

He rang up the hall-porter at the hospital, when we reached it, and
asked if I was not expected. The porter knew nothing about it, and said
every one had retired for the night; there was, however, an empty bed
in the room kept for occasional paying patients. I was then placed on
that bed while the porter was sent to inform the head of the mission of
my arrival. On his return he told us that the _hakim_ was dressing and
would be down in a few minutes; there was therefore no occasion for
the Scotsman, who had been such a friend in need, to wait any longer.
It was then about one o’clock, and I lay on that bed till half-past
seven in the morning before I saw another soul except that porter, and
he kept out of my way as much as he could, for I don’t believe he ever
went to the doctor’s rooms.

Never shall I forget that night, and how I regretted that I had not
spent it in the train and gone to a hospital in Cairo. The porter
snored in the passage until it was time for him to give out doses to
the patients, and then he rang a bell just over the entrance to my room
and bawled out the names of those who were to take their medicine.
The watchmen in the street, at intervals, called _wahed_ with a long
plaintive drawl on the last syllable, and this started every sleeping
dog barking once more. A fretful baby in a dormitory next to my room
put a treble to the bass notes of the watchmen and the howling of the
dogs. I tried to awaken the snoring brute of a porter so that I might
get something to drink; but my voice was not strong enough to have any
effect, and I had to lie there perishing with thirst till the time came
for that dreadful bell to be rung. When finally he brought me a glass
of milk my ‘double’ was once more keeping me company--and one small
glass for two people seemed a perfect mockery of my thirst. Thus I lay
in the clothes I travelled in till a vision of a ministering angel, in
white cap and pinafore, appeared in the doorway.

She asked the porter who I was and when I had arrived, for until that
moment no one in the hospital was aware of my existence except that
lying porter. She sent for the doctor, got a sleeping-suit out of my
trunk, and with the help of a male attendant she put me to bed.

Dr. Henry, an active, rather over-middle-aged American who has charge
of the mission, was about as great a contrast to the little Swiss
doctor as it is possible to conceive. He asked no questions till he
had sounded my chest, and then gave the ministering angel, otherwise
Sister Dora, orders to prepare a pneumonia jacket. ‘Ever had pneumonia
before?’ he jerked out, and on my saying that I had not, and also that
the Swiss doctor said I had pleurisy, he retorted, ‘Guess you’ve got
both.’ Possibly lying all night between the open window and door had
added this to the list of my complaints.

Dr. Henry was too practical a man to waste much thought on idle
speculations as to causes; here was something definite to go for,
and he went for it in good earnest. ‘That lung is clearing itself
tiptop,’ he would say with professional pride after the fourth or fifth
examination. The sunstroke was curing itself, unless my ‘double,’
who had left me, had gone off with it. The pneumonia jacket and the
night noises were my chief discomfort after a few days. Assiout was
distinctly cooler than Assuan, though there is plenty of room for heat
without reaching 124° of Fahrenheit in the shade. A cotton-wool jacket
about two inches thick was a severe trial and it stuck to me like a wet
hot sponge, and before it was thinned down to vanishing point I was
covered with prickly heat which I did not lose till after I had got
back to England.

I was very anxious to write home, as my wife must have been alarmed at
not having heard for some time. The Swiss doctor’s gloomy forecasts
might easily be correct, and I wished to put my affairs in order.
Writing was, however, such an exertion that I decided first to ask Dr.
Henry whether my chances of recovery were good, and if so to put off
correspondence until I could more easily manage it.

I asked him to tell me if I was likely to die, and his short ‘Guess
not’ acted as a stimulant, and one also which was not followed by a
reaction. Had I not had that irritating prickly heat I should have
enjoyed the feeling of daily gaining strength. Three other nurses used
to come and relieve Sister Dora; the head one was a fine strapping
American lady with a strong and cheery face which acted like a tonic.
There was also a sister from Holland who could wash me as clean as a
Dutch milk-can. I could chat with her in her own language, and while
we talked of the juicy green meadows of her country, it seemed to
make my room feel cooler. I saw least of the German sister, who had
some accident cases which took up most of her time. What a godsend to
have educated women who will devote their lives to alleviating the
sufferings of so many people!

The hospital was full to overflowing; but, being the only European
patient, I had the room allotted to them to myself. The two assistant
doctors were both ill themselves, and the whole burden fell on Dr.
Henry alone and his excellent nurses. No wonder he had not much time
for conversation.

Sister Dora had been in Morocco before she came to Egypt, and was able
to tell of her experiences while nursing the sick in Fez. I was also
interested to hear about this mission, and how it is supported; for it
is a large building, equipped for a hundred in-patients, which number
was at that time using it. It is a great work, and though Assiout has
a good government hospital, there is more than room enough for both.
Subscriptions to the mission fell off when statistics showed that
converts from Mohammedanism were few--a proof of Dr. Henry’s honesty;
for the converted Egyptian Moslem hardly exists, whatever other
statistics may attempt to prove. He did a great work amongst the Copts,
Assiout being more or less their headquarters, and a large proportion
of the patients in the hospital were Copts.

One Sunday afternoon a chorus of men singing in the next ward surprised
me. The tune seemed familiar, and tunes rendered by unassisted
Egyptians are not always easy to follow. It was an Arabic version of
Sankey’s ‘Safe in the Arms of Jesus.’ Loud prayers to Allah followed,
asking Him to look down in compassion on these sick people. It was
very touching to hear the afflicted ones calling out _Ameem! Ameem!_
whenever there was a pause in the deep voice of the Elder. I was
informed by Sister Dora that a Coptic Plymouth brother visited that
ward (which was set apart for the Christian patients) every Sunday, and
held a service. A sermon in Arabic with no mention of Mohammed was new
to me, and familiar texts in that sonorous language sounded very much
as they must have sounded to Hebrew ears. The Arabic of an educated
Egyptian has a strong affinity with the original language of the Old
Testament.

After about ten days Dr. Henry told me that my lung was cleared, ‘and,
mind you, if you had not been a teetotaller, you could never have
pulled through this.’ I had to disappoint him by telling him that I
had never taken the pledge; the disappointment did not abash him, as
I expected it would. ‘The little you’ve taken has made no difference,
anyhow,’ was his answer. I seldom feel the want of stimulant, but I
felt it strongly then. I longed for a glass of port, and I told him
so. He shook his head: total abstinence was the rule of the mission.
There was something, however, in my next medicine that proved that the
word ‘total’ must not always be taken too literally. It tasted very
like a favourite prescription friends in Oporto order on the least
provocation. I drank Sister Dora’s health in it, likewise that of the
three other ladies who brightened the lives of all who entered this
hospital. The only health the three doctors seemed to neglect was their
own. One had to leave, during my stay, to try to recruit in a cooler
climate, another was awaiting an operation, and Dr. Henry looked as if
the strain of overwork was telling on him.

I left Assiout by the same night train which had brought me there from
Assuan, and recruited sufficiently during ten days in Cairo to enable
me to take the homeward voyage.

Having arrived at Assiout and having left it also during the night, I
have seen no more of what is considered the capital of Upper Egypt
than I could see from my bedroom window in the hospital.

I often feel indignant at the sneers the very word missionary provokes
amongst the self-indulgent people I meet in the hotels in eastern
countries; for whatever the religious or moral convictions of these
critics may be, their self-indulgence contrasts unfavourably with the
self-denial of the many missionaries I have happened to meet.

After a stay of three months in England, I was ready to return to Egypt
to complete a series of water-colour drawings for a future one-man
show in London. The incidents related in this volume have not always
followed a consecutive order: some took place after my return to Cairo,
when also several of the illustrations to this book were painted. At
Luxor I ran across my Scottish good Samaritan, whom I had not seen
since he left me to the care of the hospital porter. He asked me if I
remembered his slapping the face of the man who had importuned us while
we drove from Assiout station, and on my replying that I did, he told
me that on the following day he received a summons to appear before the
Mamoor for assault and battery. This might have led to very serious
consequences had the Mamoor reported him to his chief in Cairo, for to
strike a native is as much as an Englishman’s place in a government
office is worth. It would also have been an easy way for the Mamoor
to gain popularity with the Moslems, to have got a British official
dismissed for such an offence. Fortunately the Scotsman had made the
Mamoor’s acquaintance on a previous visit to Assiout, and both men
liked each other. When the native had told his version of the services
he had rendered and the brutal reward he received, my friend explained
what really happened, namely, that while he was lifting an apparently
dying compatriot into the cab, this man, who had done no more than to
pick up the hat which had fallen off the sick man’s head, tried, in his
greed for baksheesh, to force his way into the cab as it was driving
off. For this impertinence he received his slap in the face.

‘Come here,’ said the Mamoor, ‘and show me exactly where you were
struck.’ The man approached and showed his left cheek, whereupon the
modern Solomon gave him a smart slap on the right one, and told him
that neither cheek could then be jealous of its fellow.

For once I left Egypt before the exodus of the tourists, as I was due
in Japan before the cherry-trees had shed their blossom. As the ship
slowly moved through the Suez Canal, the remembrance of unpleasant
hours I had spent in Egypt vanished with the smoke from the funnel, and
only happy recollections sped me on my voyage from the Near to the Far
East.



INDEX


  Aahmes, Queen, 182.

  Ababdi, 212.

  ---- guide, 208, 229, 237.

  Abbas, Prince, 34, 36, 40-1, 76-7, 139.

  ---- murder of, 142-4.

  ---- his post-mortem honours, 148.

  Abydos, 90.

  Arab nomads from the Hedjaz, 241-2.

  Ashura, the festival of, 164-7.

  Assiout, 280.

  ---- hospital at, 275-80.

  Astrologer, the court, 142.

  Azhar, el-, 73, 107.


  Bab en-Nasr, 19.

  ---- Zaweyla, 105.

  Babylon, Roman castle of, 121-2.

  Baird, General, 242.

  _Baksheesh_, 49, 185.

  Barber, primitive procedure of the, 192-3.

  Baths. See Hammám.

  Bazaars, 4, 7, 8, 31, 58.

  Beiram, 163.

  Beit-el-Kadi, 2.

  _Below the Cataracts_, 11, 121, 178, 224.

  Birds seen in the desert, 211, 219.

  Blue Mosque. See Mosque of Aksunkur.

  Bougainvillea, 171.

  Bowden Smith, Herman, 50, 56.

  Bride, Mohammedan, 14.

  British troops in Cairo, 131-4.

  Butler, Dr. A. J., author of _Ancient Coptic Churches of Egypt_, 122.


  Camels, 132, 183, 208-9, 213-14.

  ---- skeletons of, 221-2.

  Carter, Howard, 198, 200.

  Characteristics of the modern Egyptians, 185.

  Clothes, 8, 11, 16, 114-15, 126.

  Cobra, 198-9.

  Cock-fighting, 79.

  Coffee, 80, 98.

  ---- shops, 17, 18, 78.

  Copts, 90-103, 124-5, 279.

  ---- their churches, 118-21.

  ---- Catholic, 124-5.

  Coral reefs, 253-6.

  Crayfish, 253-6.

  Currelly, Professor C. T., 157, 178.


  Defterdar, Ahmed el-, 74.

  Der el-Bahri, 178, 194.

  Dervishes, 26-30.

  Desaix, General, 242, 249-50.

  Desert, the Sahara, 92, 95.

  ---- antiseptic air of, 186, 190-1.

  ---- journey in the Arabian, 206-244.

  _Diwaan_, or divan, 52.

  Doctors, Missionary, 273-5, 277-80.

  ---- Native, 203-4.

  ---- the Syrian _hakim_, 252-3.

  Dogaan, el-, 141, 143.

  Dóseh, the, 167-8.

  Dragomans, 11, 58-9.

  Drink, the consumption of, 80.

  _Durkááh_, 52.


  Edfu, camping in temple of, 259-66.

  Egyptian Art, beauty of early, 182, 233-4, 262, 265.

  ---- Exploration Fund, 157, 178-9.

  Elfy Bey, 141, 147-8.

  Esbekiyeh gardens, 171.

  Eye-doctor, 190.

  Eyth, Max, 34, 139, 142.


  Fakirs, 25-6.

  Fatimid Khalifs, 71-3, 106.

  Fellaheen, 182-5.

  Festivals, 153-168, 170-1.

  _Fikee_, or schoolmaster, 109-10.

  Flies, 195, 197.

  Foreigners, as regarded by natives, 185-6.

  French Agency in Cairo, the, 176.

  ---- army in Egypt, 241-2, 249-50.

  Funerals, Mohammedan, 18-20, 45.


  Gamalieh, el-, 48.

  Games, 81.

  Gawhar, 71.

  Gebel-Silsileh, 259, 267-9.

  Graffiti, 220, 222-4.

  ‘Guarded city,’ 71.

  Gurna, 184-5.


  Halim Pasha, 144.

  _Hammám_, 53, 143.

  Hamseen, 136, 141, 164.

  Hareem, 5, 14, 52, 84.

  Hasaneyn, festival of the, 31.

  ---- quarter, 7.

  _Hasheesh_, 248.

  _Hashshah_, 69, 70.

  Hatshepsu, temple of, 179, 181-2.

  Henry, Doctor, 277-80.

  Herodotus, saying of, 208.

  Herz Bey, 22, 175-6.

  _Hinter Pflug und Schraubstock_, 34, 139.

  Holy Carpet, festival of the, 153-5.

  Holy Family, journey of the, 119.

  Hoseyn, 32-3.

  Hospitals of the American Mission, 188, 277-80.

  ---- natives’ fear of, 187, 203.


  Insane fellah, experiences with an, 200-2.

  Insanity regarded as a form of saintliness, 26.

  Inscriptions, 220, 222-4, 233-5, 239.

  Ismael Pasha, 49, 89, 176.


  Jacaranda, the blossom of the, 172-3.

  Jones, Mr. Palmer, 90, 98-9.


  ‘Kahira-el-Mahrusa,’ 72.

  ‘Kasr-esh-Shema,’ 121.

  ‘Khaleeg, el,’ 43, 70.

  Khan Khalil, 4, 7, 8, 31, 58.

  _Kisweh, el._ See Holy Carpet.

  Kosseir, 245-57.

  ---- mosque at, 249, 251-2.


  Lakéta, oasis of, 217-20.

  Lane’s _Modern Egyptians_, 16, 111.

  _Liwán_, 52, 106.


  Mahmal, el-, 153-55.

  Mahmood Hanafy, 67.

  Mamelukes, 36, 40, 142, 144, 148-50.

  _Mandarah_, 51.

  _Mankaleh_, 81, 107.

  _Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians._ See Wilkinson.

  Mansoor, 58, 65.

  Mariette, 263.

  Marriages, Mohammedan, 12, 13.

  _Mastaba_, 7, 8, 33.

  Missionaries, 125, 281.

  Modiste, French, 86.

  Mohammed Ali, 34, 41, 74, 76, 85, 139.

  Mohammed Brown, 11, 57.

  Mo’izz, 71-2.

  Mosques of Cairo--
    Aksunkur, 116.
    Ayyub es-Salih, 24.
    Barkûk, 2, 21.
    Beybars, 48.
    Hassaneyn, 31, 165.
    Kalaûn, 2, 21-4.
    Sâlih Talái, es-, 105.
    Tulún, 118.
    Restorations of, 23, 107.

  Mousky, the, 1, 46.

  Mu’állaka, el-, 121.

  Mudir of Kosseir, 245-52.

  Muristân, el-, 4.

  Mushrbiyeh, 5, 6, 47, 52, 176.


  Nahasseen, 2, 18.

  Nakht, tomb of, 183.

  Nicol, Erskine, 200, 207, 212.


  O’Donald, Captain, 34-42, 134.

  ---- Miss, 35, 39, 42.

  Omdeh of Gurna, 202.


  Parker, Herbert R., 258-9.

  Petrie, Professor Flinders, 198.

  Pilgrims, 95, 154-5.

  Polygamy, 16, 17.

  Ptolemies, period of the, 180, 233-4, 261, 265-6.

  Pyramid Bedouins, 127.

  Pyramids, 127.


  Queen Thiy, 178, 222-3.


  Ramadan, the fast of, 156-7, 160-2.

  Rames, 142, 146, 148.

  Red Sea, 243.

  Reliefs, 262, 265, 268.


  Saheime, Sheykh Ammin, 50.

  Said Pasha, 140, 145;
    accession of, 147.

  Salih, es-, 151.

  Salt and Soda Company, 91, 93.

  Saracenic Art, 73.

  Schools, 117.

  Scorpions, 187-90, 260.

  _Shadoof_, 218.

  Sharks, 244, 251.

  Shauwâl, month of, 163.

  Sheea Heresy, 73, 106.

  Sheeas, 32-3, 164-7.

  Sheger-ed-Durr, 151-2.

  Shiites. See Sheeas.

  _Shoara_, 76, 151.

  Sladen, Douglas, 118.

  Smells of Cairo, 46.

  Sphinx, the, 127-34.

  ‘Spray of Pearls.’ See Sheger-ed-Durr.

  Surgery, amateur, 191.


  Tarbouch, 8.

  Temples of--
    Denderah, 261.
    Edfu, 259-66.
    Hatshepsu, 179, 181-2.
    Medinet Habu, 179.
    Philae, 259.

  Thebes, 178, 258.

  ‘Tommy Atkins,’ 131-4.

  Tourists, 59, 194-6.

  Tramways, 70, 127.

  Tristram, Canon, 199, 227.

  Tumbakiyeh, el-, 47.


  Ulema, an Azhar, 141, 147.


  Villa Victoria Hotel, 83.


  Wadi Natrun, 92.

  Wakfs’ administration, 22, 44.

  Weigall, Arthur, Preface, 207, 220, 223, 231-2, 274.

  _Welee_, 18, 19.

  Whymper, Charles, 207, 211.

  Wilkinson, 79.


  Zikr, 26-28, 32, 164.

  Zogheb, Count, 174-6.

  Zohra, Story of the Princess, 34-42, 74-7, 84, 85, 139, 151-3.


Printed by T. and A. CONSTABLE, Printers to His Majesty at the
Edinburgh University Press



Transcriber’s Note:

Attempts have been made to retain variations in hyphenation, spelling,
capitalisation, and accented characters as they appear in the original
publication.





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