BY A. EDWARD NEWTON
‘IF we are ever going to Egypt we had better go,’ said my wife.
There was, possibly, one way of escape. ‘I feel too old to go to Egypt,’I remarked.
‘There are things in Egypt older than you are,’was the rejoinder. The argument was unanswerable, and soon we were on our way.
We landed at Port Said. There are at least half a dozen ways of getting into Egypt: one can go directly from New York to Alexandria, or from Marseilles or Naples or Brindisi or Trieste; but the pleasantest way undoubtedly is to break the journey at Paris, pick up a P. and 0. boat, if one can, at Marseilles, and go on to Port Said. The difficulty is that P. and O. boats sail from London; they prefer to book passengers to Colombo, or at least to Port Sudan, and one cannot be sure, in Paris, of getting accommodation at Marseilles until after the boat has left London; then, if there be room, the steamship company is glad enough to fill up its cabins with passengers for the shorter voyage.
After an exchange of telephone messages between the agent in Paris and the London agent, we were assured of excellent accommodation, and, leaving Paris by the night train, reached Marseilles the next morning, spent the day wandering around that busy and thriving seaport, and sailed away at five o’clock in the afternoon. Had I known then what I do now, I should have gone on to Port Sudan, but when I left home I am not sure that I had ever heard of Port Sudan, which has, in fact, only come into prominence since the war. It is a landing place on the Red Sea, and some day it will be one of the great ports in Africa. From Port Sudan a railway runs to Wadi Haifa in the north and Khartum in the south, thus draining the whole Sudan — and any Vanderbilt will tell you that a railway will drain a country quite as effectively as a river.
Already Port Sudan has made its existence felt in the age-old caravan town of Assiut, on the Nile. For centuries camels headed north or east from almost anywhere in the Sudan just naturally moved toward Assiut; then the Egyptian nationalists got gay and — largely inspired by that foolish phrase of our Great Phrase Maker, ‘the self-determination of small nations’ — revived the ancient slogan, ‘ Egypt for the Egyptians ’; whereupon Great Britain, who had created modern Egypt, said: ‘Very well, we must render ourselves independent of the Nile Valley. It may be that we shall wish some day to give the Egyptians a taste of home rule, as we have the Irish, but we do not wish our trade in the Sudan to be disturbed; so we must create a new port and short-circuit, so to speak, Alexandria and Port Said.’ The result was Port Sudan.
Copyright 1029, by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
Now, if the truth must be told, Egyptians, off their own bat, could n’t stage-manage a strawberry festival: they are accustomed to being governed, and were happier and more flourishing under English rule than they had ever been, until a small group of noisy politicians told them how oppressed they were. The perennial plague of politics is devastating in Egypt as elsewhere. Of course, the Suez Canal must be forever British or the Empire is done for, and it can be protected from the Egyptians with the utmost ease: England has only to empty the contents of a dam or two into the Nile, suddenly, and not fill them again, and the land, now thriving and prosperous, would once again become what it was before Lord Cromer took it in hand.
But I knew nothing of Port Sudan, this back door, as it were, into Egypt; and so, as I have said, we landed at Port Said, took an excellent express train to Cairo, and registered at the Semiramis Hotel, being among the first tourists of the season to do so. But we had hardly taken our places in the dining saloon of the Cathay — the steamer from Marseilles — when I saw someone wigwagging across the room to me, and it proved to be my old friend E. V. Lucas, the ‘Wanderer,’ on his way to wander in, of all places in the world, Colombo. We spent a pleasant evening together, and when it came time to say good-night E. V. remarked, ‘I want to read a few chapters of an excellent novel before switching off the light.’
‘What is the novel?’ I inquired.
‘ The Small House at Allington,’ he replied.
‘One of my favorites,’ I said. ‘How many times have you read it?’
‘Never,’ said E. V.
‘Shame!’ said I. ‘I’ll not keep you from it another minute.’ And we parted.
Early next morning a blue-black Indian steward knocked on my door and entered with a note, addressed to me, marked ‘Important.’ It was from E. V., and I hurriedly tore open the envelope, wondering what could be the matter. And this is what I read: ‘6.49 A.M. Latest Bulletin. Johnny Eames has saved the Earl’s life from the bull and looks like being his heir. E. V.’ Smiling, I climbed back into my bunk, thinking, the while, I could have waited an hour for that message. And to finish the story while I am at it: the next morning at about the same hour there was again a knock and again a note, which read: ‘Crosbie’s eye was blacked at Paddington Station last night at 11.53. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.’ With which sentiment, I am sure, all readers of one of Trollope’s very best novels will entirely agree.
I fancy the Semiramis is one of the best hotels in the world. It is certainly one of the most expensive, and as I looked about at dinner I remarked that I hoped the management would not expect me to carry the entire overhead until the hotel got into running order — which it hardly did during our stay.
‘Egypt is the Nile and the Nile is Egypt’: I knew that, and as I looked at the river from the windows of my bedroom I was, to speak plainly, very much disappointed. I did not then know that there was an island just opposite the hotel which reduced its width, but take the island out and the Nile would still seem a secondor even third-rate river. It does not tell its whole story at a glance, the Nile does n’t, but after a week one begins to feel its influence, and finally to have a feeling of awe and affection for the river on which has rocked the cradle of our civilization.
Would you visualize Egypt? Take a rope a hundred feet long, tie a knot in it about ten feet from one end; ravel out the ten feet and separate the strands as much as possible, so that the raveled portion forms a triangle; let the knot represent Cairo, and the two corners Alexandria and Port Said, respectively. The triangle is the Nile Delta, probably the most fertile country in the world, but utterly without interest for the tourist. The rope will probably have a lot of twists in it, though not as many as the Nile itself, but its length will suggest faintly the length of the river, and its thickness the width of Egypt.
Cairo does n’t get me, altogether; it has a wonderful museum and five hundred mosques — so our dragoman told us. Some of them are interesting and some magnificent, but it is a big, noisy city, not too clean, and I’m not too good a tourist: I do not hunger and thirst for the second-rate simply because I have not seen that particular kind of second-rate before. But what is first-rate in Cairo cannot be seen or even approached elsewhere. The amazing things with which Tut-AnkhAmen’s tomb was furnished are now all on exhibition in its Museum, and there are altars and statues and mummy cases, and the like, which defy description, — my description, at any rate, — but all the mummies have been put away in deference to the recently ripened susceptibilities of the Egyptians. We visited the Museum first under the patronage of one of its distinguished curators, Jack Gunn, a fine English scholar of our acquaintance, who wears a fez while on duty, but who does not succeed and does n’t even try to make anyone believe that he is an Egyptian, or even an Arab.
The fact is that if it is hard to get the historians to agree who the ancient Egyptians were, it is even more difficult to get them to agree as to who they are. The Copts — that is to say, the Christians — claim to be Egyptians, but there are only a million of them in the whole country and they are not much in evidence. Egypt is to-day, as it has always been, overrun with ‘foreigners.’ Certainly the Arabs have ‘spoiled the Egyptians,’ but they have had the active assistance of the Jew, the Greek, the Armenian, the Persian, the French, and the English; without the English, Egypt would be ‘merely a geographical expression,’ as a brutal Austrian statesman once said of Italy.
I always travel with a large amount of skepticism, which is very disconcerting to my guides: there are so very many more things which I do not believe than those which I do. Consequently, when my dragoman one fine morning — and all mornings are fine in Cairo — suggested a visit to old Cairo, I asked him what was to be seen there. ‘Well,’ he replied, ‘I show you where Pharaoh’s daughter, she find Moses, and I show you where the Holy Virgin hide with the Christ Child, and I show you a wonder-working tree.’ An intelligent man had spent some time the night before making it clear to me that the finding of Moses, if it be anything more than a pretty fairy tale, was merely the old story of the unmarried mother and her child, and must have taken place fully fifty miles from Cairo; so I cut that out. And I always eschew wonder-working trees. But the tradition of the Virgin and Child and their flight into Egypt to escape the bloodthirsty attentions of King Herod has something to recommend it, so I consented to look — and I am afraid without sufficient reverence — into a dirty and smelly crypt or cellar under a place of worship which might easily be two thousand years old; but two thousand years is a mere yesterday in Egypt.
The language of Cairo is French, largely; the people are of all sorts, Arabs chiefly; and the government in the last resort, is English. The new city is rather fine, but old Cairo does not intrigue me — to use that overworked but expressive word. The houses are in ruins, practically; the streets narrow and filthy, — how could they be otherwise? — and the people poor and neglected, the women especially. The women in the Near East usually conceal all or a part of their faces with a veil or a portion of their robe or headdress, either from modesty or lest their beauty should inflame the male passer-by. (Let them have no fear!) The single long black garment of the poorer classes which trails upon the filthy highway is supposed to erase from the dust the tracks of their bare feet, in which otherwise an evil spirit might make hieroglyphics which would bring them bad luck. So it was five thousand years ago, so it is to-day, and so, seemingly, it will be a thousand years hence.
In the Oriental scheme of things, women are little more than beasts of burden. Religion, which in our Western civilization is largely the concern of women, is something unknown to Mohammedan women. Men only worship; women never, so far as I can learn, enter a mosque. Why should they ? — they have no souls. On the other hand, men pray, or are supposed to, after certain hygienic formulæ are complied with, several times a day. In mosques, in the streets, in shop and field, and on the deck of a boat on the Nile, it is not unusual to see a man face toward Mecca, drop down upon his knees, strike his forehead upon the ground, and recite, not once but many times, certain parts of the Koran. I am told that at certain hours it is usual for some holy man to climb to the top of the tower of slender minarets, which is a part of many mosques, and there declare in a singsong voice: ‘Allah is the greatest; I testify there is no god but Allah. Come to prayer, come to worship. Allah is the greatest; there is no god but Allah.’ This would seem to be the brief sum total of their religion; this said, and the sayer is prepared to commit every crime with which we are acquainted, and a few which might be called Mohammedan specialties.
The best half-dozen mosques in Cairo — and no more — are well worth seeing, although to the Occidental mind they hardly suggest worship, chiefly for the reason that they have no religious furniture: there are neither pews, chairs, nor benches of any kind, the devout squatting cross-legged on the floor, which may be covered with rugs, carpet, or matting, in a manner which is difficult if not impossible to one not accustomed to it. I shall recommend that my friend Nelson Doubleday add the movement required to accomplish the act of sitting down, a la turque, to Walter Camp’s ‘Daily Dozen.’ Provided the sitter did not break his legs at the first attempt, it would be a fine thing for his waistline.
What one — what I — enjoyed most in Cairo, if only for a brief time, was the life in the streets: the turmoil, the confusion, and the babble of tongues. Conversations arc seemingly entirely the result of misunderstandings. Men shriek and gesticulate at one another in what would appear to be a most dangerous manner, and then get on their donkeys, frequently on the same donkey, and ride away. And through these streets — or alleys, as we should call them — black-robed women carrying children in their arms or perched astride on their shoulders, poor, neglected, bedraggled creatures, are silently wending their way with burdens on their heads. Are they out for an hour’s shopping, or going to or coming from work — who shall say? And in these same streets, mounted on high benches, sitting on their heels, are groups of men all busy playing games — checkers or chess or games with dice or cards — and drinking out of tiny cups sweet and filthy coffee. In Egypt one is in a man’s world.
The bazaars of Cairo have been too frequently described for me to refer to them other than to say that one is amazed at their number and extent, and especially at the way one goes from one into another. And these bazaars are filled to overflowing with everything which one associates with the East: rugs, embroideries, ivories, brasses, jewels and jewelry (fake and real), perfumes, and things to eat, drink, and smell. But it takes time, courage, and money to secure anything worth while, and after one has cut the merchant’s original price in half, not once but several times, and secured his bargain, one departs with it feeling that with a little more patience one could have cut the price in half once more.
Besides the mosques and the museums, there is not much of surpassing interest in Cairo, but just outside, a few miles away, is the village of Gizeh, with its Pyramids and the Sphinx. One’s first glimpse of the Pyramids is disappointing, as is also the Sphinx. The fact is that one’s mind can hardly take in their enormous proportions: they affect one as does Niagara; they grow upon one and ultimately become even more stunning, for these are the creations of man which have withstood the stress and storm of centuries. How were they built? How were any of the temples and tombs of Egypt built? The Egyptologist will answer you glibly; but his answer, however convincing, remains unsatisfactory: words, after all, must be translated into deeds. Ah! there’s the rub.
On our way to the Pyramids of Gizeh we passed a number of unimportant farms from which the water of the life-giving Nile was just subsiding. Men, women, camels, donkeys, and poultry live together seemingly in great content. The chickens are, in fact, very small, as are the eggs they lay. One would suppose that in the shadow of the Great Pyramid, with its gigantic size, they would feel encouraged to lay enormous eggs, but it is not so. What, however, they lack in size they make up in strength: I do not like them. Herodotus saw and described the Pyramids and the Sphinx twenty-five hundred years ago, and they were then hoary with age. Who shall guess the riddle of the Sphinx? Had she a riddle? One is told one should visit her again and again: at sunrise and at sunset and at night. I visit nothing at sunrise; sunset is all very well; but I should not care to prowl around her much at night. The guides and dragomans and the beggars are an infernal nuisance. I rode out to Gizeh several times in an excellent motor, ‘made in America,’ and I once so far forgot myself as to climb on a camel to have my photograph taken for the purpose of suggesting to my friends at home that I habitually used a camel as a means of locomotion: I here confess to the deceit.
After eight days I was not sorry to leave Cairo and turn over all the problems of my existence to Thomas Cook and Son, who practically own the Nile — and again let me say that the Nile is Egypt. Especially after I had seen our accommodations on the steamer Arabia I felt sure that my holiday was to be a delightful one, and I was not mistaken.
The Nile is a locked river: immense dams have been built across it, by the English, here and there at strategic points, by which the flow of water is carefully regulated. It is these dams — or barrages, as they are called — which have added so greatly to the productive area of Egypt: interfere with their proper functioning, and Egypt would again become what it was before the English took it in hand.
The Nile, like most of the world’s great marvels, is at first disappointing. Its length is — what it is — thousands of miles; its width is not impressive, and its depth is silly. One’s boat, which draws only a few feet, is constantly grounding on mud banks; but what of that? It is ‘liquid history’ indeed. Upon it day merges quickly into night and night into day, and the Nile flows on and on, ever changing, yet always the same. A week passes, and another and another, yet there is still the Nile with seemingly the same volume of water, and millions of peasants are by various means drawing water from that same inexhaustible supply. And it is the two methods by which this is done that interested me most in Egypt.
I knew, of course, — everyone knows, — that there is practically no rainfall in Egypt; yet that it is the most fertile country in the world and that this fertility is due solely to the waters of the Nile. But I did not know that, aside from the annual flooding of the land, the water is being forever lifted from. the river by two methods, one of which is as old as the country itself, — and only Macaulay’s schoolboy (that prodigy!) knows how old that is, — and the other may be scarcely less ancient, counting time as one counts it in Egypt, by thousands of years. Let me attempt to describe the older method first.
Imagine a river flowing between its two banks of black earth, the banks being anywhere from three to fifteen feet above the water. Then imagine a deep trench cut into the bank at right angles with the river, and astride this trench two stout sticks driven into the earth, or perhaps two piers of mud stiffened with the stalks of the sugar cane. Stretched from pier to pier is a rigid bar having fastened to it a long pole set considerably off centre; on the shorter end is a heavy ball of Nile mud, while on the longer end is a bucket which is dipped into the river, being forced down into the water against the weight of the ball of mud, which has become hardened. The bucket — I call it a bucket by courtesy; it may be a jar or an old tin can, or a mere sack kept open on a ring of twigs — quickly fills itself, the weight of the ball raises the water-filled receptacle, and the operator of this crude device, a man probably naked except for a loin cloth, quickly empties the water into a trench which may be six or seven feet above the level of the river and permits it to flow inland for a short or long distance, according to local conditions.
At a point farther inland is another device with which the operation is repeated; and perhaps, at a further distance, a third. By working these contrivances, which are called shadufs, quickly, and for hours on end, three men can irrigate a field or several fields. And this work never stops: day and night, all along the river, spaced sometimes thirty, sometimes three hundred, feet apart, one sees men operating this primitive contraption, as they have been doing any time during these last five thousand years. We know that the shaduf is at least as old as that, for pictures of it have been found in tombs of that age.
The other water-lifting device, called a sakieh, is not as old as the shaduf, and represents an improvement upon it in that it is worked by a beast rather than by a man. Imagine a stout post set firmly into a heavy wooden platform which has been constructed over a large pit, into which water from the river runs by gravity. On the post and parallel with the platform revolves a large wheel, into the outer circumference of which are driven a number of stout wooden pegs at intervals of six or eight inches — a sprocket wheel, in fact, so heavy and clumsy that it takes a pair of oxen or a stout camel to revolve it; for set at right angles with this wheel is another of similar character, and to this is attached an endless belt to which is fastened at intervals a series of buckets or receptacles of any kind which will hold water. The wheel to which the animal is harnessed, being revolved, revolves in turn the second wheel with its attached buckets, with the result that a constant supply of water is raised and emptied into a deep trench, from which it is conducted by smaller trenches all over the land.
What an engineer would call the friction load of this mechanism is enormous: the cogs do not function smoothly, but bind and creak in operation, making a sort of music which is, however, pleasant compared with the dance music now so much in vogue. This music can be heard well into the night; hearing it, one knows that somewhere, not far away, some small chocolate-colored boy or girl, almost if not quite asleep upon his wheel, is driving an unwilling animal upon its ceaseless round. I, with another man, tried unsuccessfully to operate one of these devices while a camel looked disdainfully upon our efforts. Reader, have you ever had a camel look disdainfully at you? The camel wears, habitually, an expression of supercilious vindictiveness which it would be hard to match in the animal kingdom.
As I raise my head from these notes I see a string of five of these strange animals moving slowly along the road which runs along the bank of the Nile: they are silhouetted in black against the setting sun and look like immense heaps of cornstalks in motion, loaded down as they are with great bundles of sugar cane which conceal their bodies, all except their legs. The camel fascinates me; it always has: it is so ridiculous in appearance, yet so admirably adapted to its purpose or the purpose for which it is used. Have you seen it crouching upon the earth to receive its burden? In getting down you would say that it had dislocated all four of its legs, but not so. At the word of command it rises, pitches forward. ‘There it goes! I knew it!’ you say to yourself. In another moment it has righted itself like a ship in a storm and starts off, first front and hind legs on one side, then on the other, a racking pace. Its legs are covered with corns and calluses, its feet are mere pads, and it stinks to heaven; yet of what feats of strength and endurance it is capable!
I bethought me of that fascinating book. Revolt in the Desert, and how its author depended upon his camel, and how, when it died from exhaustion, he ate it, raw, — for he was afraid to build a fire, — observing that one quickly tires of raw camel sinew as food: I can believe it. I am loath to leave the camel; when I get home I must look up Kipling’s lines, which go something like this: —
The elephant’s a gentleman, the battery-mule’s a mule;
But the commissariat cam-u-el, when all is said an’ done,
’E’s a devil an’ a ostrich an’ a orphan-child in one.
I had only been on the Arabia a few minutes when a man came up and introduced himself to me, saying that he was Britten Austin and that he had carried around with him for several years a letter of introduction from Thomas .J. Wise, the dean of book collectors in London, but that he had not expected to meet me in Egypt. I knew Austin by name, of course: perhaps the best-known writer of short stories now living — Kipling having long since given over that difficult art. Austin’s being on the Arabia was a delightful incident. He had been everywhere, and was a brilliant and exact talker: it made no difference to him whether the conversation turned on the Amazon, — of which I know nothing except that if is a river, — or comparative religions, competitive armaments, or the merits of the English as compared with the Russian novel; all subjects were one to him. One respects a man like that, but when in addition I discovered that he was prepared to debate some vexed and quite unimportant point in bibliography, my respect turned to envy, and finally to hate. If ever I get that man in my library! . . .
The shifting bottom of the Nile frequently makes it necessary for Arabs with long poles to stand in the bow of the lower deck to measure the depth of the water, and even with this precaution we frequently run into mud banks, with a resulting jar. One morning I had just finished dressing when there was a sudden lurch followed by a grinding crash, followed by piercing cries of horror from members of the crew. ‘That’s just what I expected,’ I remarked to myself. ‘We have torn the bottom out of our boat and left our engine in the Nile.’ Such an incident was worth seeing, so I hurriedly left my cabin and rushed to the lower deck — and this is what I saw.
The Arabia draws about four feet of water, and its engine, working two large paddle wheels, stands on the flat steel bottom of the boat in an exposed engine pit, which is surrounded by a brass rail. We had grounded just as a husky Arab carrying two large breakfast trays — bottles of Celestine and Evian water, tea and hot water and toast, ham, eggs, and the inevitable orange marmalade — was thrown off centre by the shock, and deposited the trays with their contents upon an oiler below who was tinkering about with his oil can, as is the habit of oilers. He received the trays and their contents on his head, much to his astonishment; thence they descended into the machinery. ‘The mills of the gods grind slowly’; so it was with our engine: bottles, cups, saucers, plates, and their contents fell from one part of the engine to another below it, with continuing if lessening crashes, until at last all was quiet except the excited members of the crew, who danced about in ecstasy uttering piercing screams of delight. ‘Give ’em something to talk about for months,’ remarked our imperturbable Scotch engineer. It was several hours before cleanliness was restored.
Something of interest is always going forward on the Arabia: just at the moment of writing we are passing through the locks of Assiut, and the landscape is as ever-changing as our course on the river. We zigzag from side to side, seeking the channel, which at one moment closely skirts a bank of Nile mud through which the river has recently cut its channel, at another avoids a wide shelving beach of sand, which in its turn quickly becomes a precipitous mountain of sandstone. I remember once when motoring in Wales being impressed by the rapidity with which the landscape changed from meadow to mountain; Egypt has the same characteristic. It is never for more than a few minutes the same. It is an incredibly narrow country, as narrow as a piece of string — or rope, to go back to the simile with which I began this paper. Both river banks are dotted with small villages which are filthy beyond words: rain has never been known to fall, and the dust is as fine as flour and inches deep. The Nile, which has many of the characteristics of the Mississippi, is full of mud, but the natives drink it with impunity, with the result, as I heard someone say, that they must have soil enough in their bellies to raise a substantial crop of — anything, for the soil is so rich that one could grow umbrellas, if umbrellas were a desirable crop, merely by sticking them in the ground.
Along the river bank, on one side or the other, frequently on both, is a narrow highway on which strings of heavily loaded camels or tiny donkeys, carrying one and sometimes two men, — smoking imperturbably, their bare feet and legs dangling loosely, — may be seen; while following their lords and masters on foot, with water jars or baskets upon their heads, may be seen the women, walking upright with stately tread, their burdens carefully balanced, their black and filthy robes training in the dust. It will be a long time before skirts to or above the knee become fashionable ‘up the Nile.’ When anything is to be carried, the women carry it. I remember seeing, one morning, a woman carrying a large chicken coop, filled with chickens — on her head. The man walking at her side was carrying a cigarette — in his mouth.
Yet one comes to have a feeling of pity as well as respect for the Egyptian peasant, or fellah, as he is called: he is so patient and, in his own sense, so industrious. He lives on practically nothing, and he grows it himself. A flat loaf of bread or cake made of barley or some other grain, without sweetening or flavoring of any kind except salt and rancid grease, with the plentiful onion, is the standard diet; and men, women, and children are always sucking a stalk of sugar cane when they can get it, while the men do not disdain to go into a field and gather a huge handful of growing clover (the story of Nebuchadnezzar is certainly true, as so many Bible stories are) and eat it with seeming relish. The use of alcohol is forbidden by the Koran, and this rule is, I believe, generally observed. Not often now does one meet a beggar, unless he be a blind or a very old man. The children, to be sure, annoy one with their incessant cries for ’Baksheesh! Baksheesh!’ (‘A gift! A gift!’), but as both the Egyptian Government and Cook frown upon the custom of giving promiscuously, little attention is paid to them.
There are many seemingly thriving towns up the Nile in which the houses are well built, but those in the villages are merely one-story huts, of brick made of mud, dried in the sun, and bonded together by river slime, or are mere palisades of the stalks of sugar cane, on either side of which has been smeared a thick veneer of mud. Of roofs, in our sense of the word, there are none: protection from rain is not important, for there is no rain; protection from the sun is another matter, and it is secured by laying branches of trees from one wall to another, these being, in turn, covered with the stalks of the sugar cane, which resemble in character and appearance our cornstalks. These ‘roofs,’ if they protect from the sun, afford harbor for every form of vermin, and snakes abound. The snake charmer is a not uncommon character, and one afternoon at Luxor I saw one who did, or seemed to do, marvelous things — but he may have been a fake.
I sing of that I know, the common house fly: it is very small, and swarms by millions all over Egypt. About half the size of our fly, it makes up by its persistence and agility what it lacks in size, and it tickles beyond belief. The sale of fly swatters, made of everything conceivable, — wire, horsehair, fibre, rope, and so forth, — is a thriving industry. These are never used by the natives, who have been taught that Allah sent the fly for some good purpose and it is not to be shooed away, but allowed to lay its eggs in children’s eyes, and if the children become blind it is Allah’s will. Indeed, the flies do not seem to annoy the natives: I have seen children playing about or asleep, their faces covered with them; and I once watched an old man sitting quietly at the rudder of a sailboat with dozens of these insects playing very contentedly about his eyes, but he made no effort to drive them away.
There is a curious optical illusion on the Nile: as one sits contentedly in one’s steamer chair watching the everchanging panorama, the background of the picture seems to be proceeding in the same direction as the steamer, while the foreground is moving rapidly astern. Many prominent pens have attempted to describe the lure of Egypt, and in my opinion they have failed, signally. No less an artist, in words, than Thomas Hardy could make a pen picture of the Nile which could convey, to one who has not seen it, its manifold beauty: its fertile places, interspersed with mountainous cliffs of sandstone, and the glory of its blazing sun. I had no idea that a dry and sandy desert could be so beautiful in such various ways. There is sand and sand: sand which may be as fine and black as pepper, sand as bright and shining as guinea gold, and shifting sand on which only a camel can walk with comfort. At night one observes that the sky, so blue as to be almost black, serves chiefly for a setting for thousands of stars, making such a firmament as causes one to forget how man has appropriated and employed the marvels of nature and exclaim with the Psalmist: ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork.’ Indeed, I felt that I was rapidly becoming a Zoroastrian, when my eyes fell upon the ruins of a temple, so colossal in size, so amazing in design and execution, and withal so old, as to bring me quickly out of my reverie.
I shall say nothing of the tombs and temples of Egypt, or their number and variety. The ancient Egyptians had small knowledge of the use of metals in our sense. Their land was composed of rock, water, and earth washed down from countries far away to the south; this earth by irrigation they made enormously fertile. There was ‘corn in Egypt’ centuries before the announcement was made. Life encompassed two things, luxury and labor: of both more than traces remain. Time was no object and labor was cheap. To see a mountain of rock was to wish to hew and transport and carve and worship it. How were these enormous temples and statues erected? The belief in and craving for immortality was seemingly the strongest passion in these old Pharaohs — one of whom was a woman, Queen Hatshepsut, the Queen Elizabeth of her time. Fancy a civilization which reached its zenith twentyseven hundred years before Christ!
Our tour on the Nile is almost over; it has been a delightful one. When we came aboard our boat six weeks ago we knew no one; now most of the company are friends, at least for the time being. Americans and English, of course, predominate, with a sprinkling of Germans; no French — what would they do so far from the boulevards of Paris ? The Americans make themselves known by their high shrill voices and the impression they instantly create of taking possession of things generally. Our boat has the usual number of English maiden ladies, carrying their English ideas and habits with them, as they always do, to the uttermost parts of the world. On Christmas Day, one sweet old lady — right out of the pages of Cranford — came up to me as we were approaching Luxor and asked me whether I thought the shops would be open to-morrow. ‘Why, yes, madam, why not?’ I replied. ‘Well, it is Boxing Day, isn’t it?’ she twittered, reproachfully.
Throughout our trip our every want has been anticipated and supplied. We have lived in the luxury of an excellent hotel. If mineral waters, a necessity, are expensive, some things are cheap: good Scotch whiskey, famous brands, can be had in all the villages for $l.62 per quart bottle! Our boat anchors about bedtime and our sleep is undisturbed. It is bitter cold at night and very hot in the sun: this makes frequent changes of clothes necessary, but what else has one to do? We go ashore every day once, sometimes twice: camels and donkeys, motors even, are forthcoming as needed, and Arabs to carry one in a chair when one is old or indolent, as is the writer.
Our steamer works its way to the landing place for an inland excursion; instantly all is confusion and excitement: Arabs, scarabs, camels, donkeys and donkey boys; men, white, brown, and black, seeking to sell beads and relics, made yesterday, screaming and gesticulating, prancing about in the dust of ages, four inches deep. Will order ever be restored? one thinks. It will, and promptly. Our excellent dragoman and his assistant see to that; gradually a line is formed, someone is leading; we move off in good order. Our destination may be some temple several miles away. We shall have lunch among the ruins — an excellent lunch, we know from experience — and we shall be back to the boat in excellent time for a ‘wash and a brushup’ and the inevitable cup of tea — all thanks to Thomas Cook and Son.
Egypt has been overrun and conquered many times; what nation, ancient or modern, has not taken toll of her? But the last conqueror of Egypt is Cook.