« PreviousContinue »
ARAB SALUTATIONS. A group of dragomans on the river bank at luxor, with the hills of Thebes in the background.
matter what the sun-power which beats down on the felt. After lunch, while the disinterested members of the party were snoozing and stretching themselves in the shade, I headed the kodaking contingent up that stately mud-brick staircase on to the ramparts. The walk between the parapets was quite six feet wide and commanded fine views, especially of Jebel Ghenneima, the noble mountain which dominates the oasis. After that we went to inspect the other remains, including an old plaster-lined reservoir of the kind which the Arabs call a jebbia, which was about a yard deep and large enough for a lawn-tennis court. There was another well near it, which must have been doing its duty, for it was surrounded by thickets. I did not go up to it; the Arabs said, untruthfully perhaps, that it was snaky; and the idea of snakes had been put into my mind by the Pasha, who, before we started, gave me his lancet and a bottle of manganese crystals for hypodermic injection in case any one was bitten. This is very nearly the Australian remedy : they use permanganate of potash. The Egyptian snakes, except the big cobra naja, which I never met, are, as far as I can make out, not formidable compared with the Australian. The little cerastes, the most frequently met of them, is rarely deadly. The walls of the der were eaten away on the outside, about a yard from the bottom, as if they had been exposed to the sea; it was really done by wind and sand. One can quite imagine a besieger capturing the der, because a succession of gales had piled a drift of sand like a ramp against its walls for the besiegers to enter it by.
When we started to go back in the early part of the afternoon the heat was terrific. I had the comforter in my pocket, which I always left there in case the wind came up cold after a very hot day. I took it out and placed it inside my helmet, so that its many folds might break the power of the vertical sun, which was beating down on me in an atmosphere that robbed one of resisting power. The ladies had parasols, else I don't believe that they would ever have got home. They got so “peeverish.” I believe the
donkeys would have died on the way back, if donkeys ever did die, for, under that merciless sun, sometimes they were ploughing through drifts, as fair and smooth as snow, of that wonderful golden sand, at other times they were stumbling over a beach of chalcedony of marvellous rainbow colours, or the tailings of a prehistoric flint-mine. Great waves of heat struck us as we rode along. It was even worth while to get on the lee-side of a camel for the crumbs of shade.
We rode home all the way; it was so much easier to keep an eye on headquarters than on the arbitrary spot on the line where the trolley was waiting for us. With such a good landmark as the former we could guide the donkeys on to the hard ground and avoid drifts. When we did get home we found that the thermometer was 114° in the shade of the house. It would have been correspondingly greater in the desert, if there had been any shade, because the surroundings were so much hotter.
One thing we kept putting off until it was too late—the going over headquarters to see its various storerooms and appliances. The only room I went into was that which contained the most oddly employed telephone in the world—the long-distance telephone which crosses the desert from here to the base, and is the only link between headquarters and civilisation, except the train which goes up and down twice a week. If any one wants to telegraph, the message is telephoned to the base and sent on from there.
Did we ever enjoy tea so much as that day?
As the sun got lower I went out to see the farming of the oasis. They were harvesting on the last day of March. I thought it was barley, but the Egyptians are fond of bearded wheat. Hot as it was, most of the reapers had their grey —and here and there black-cloaks on. They sat down to cut the corn, and threw it over their shoulders as they cut it. Wherever a bit was green and backward they left it. The reis stood in the middle giving his orders. This part of the oasis must ere these words are printed be full of shady willows, for the Pasha had planted willow sticks all along the leets used for irrigation, and, with water beside them, a willow
stick becomes a willow tree in a couple of years. Vegetables grow here marvellously ; but of course cotton will be the staple here as everywhere else in Egypt, if the Government has the sense to retain English inspectors, without which Egyptian cotton is a drug in the market. Socialist majorities in Parliament may approve of trusting the Egyptian, but the cotton broker never will. He knows Egyptian morality much too well. It is likely, too, that date palms and orange groves will be planted on a great scale, for Kharga dates and Kharga oranges have the reputation of being the best in Egypt.
There seem to be Artesian well-heads everywhere pouring out floods of water. With a steady water-supply anything can be done in Egypt.
We were mighty sorry when the return of the train compelled us to retreat to Cairo. Life at the oasis was SO unusual and so interesting, and the air, in spite of the heat, was delightful. The Temple of Hibis and the Necropolis and that curious village needed a second and a third visit.