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This villain was Joseph, from that day forward our faithful servant. He was only trying it on, to see how far he could fool us. He thought he was treating us better than he was obliged to.
That is the Arab donkey-boy's attitude to strangers. But when you employ him regularly, if you always make a contract about the bakshish which you are to give him if you are satisfied, he does not spare himself or his donkeys. He exercises the Egyptian's best quality, that of trying to please in every way. He even tells you (and truthfully) the standard prices of the small antiquities which the dealers are offering you at from twice to a hundred times their value.
Joseph soon found what desirable clients we were. We constantly took donkeys by the day. We took our boats from him at a fixed price and allowed him to sublet the contract, in which way we made the acquaintance of weird fishermen, who were not in the Nile ferrymen's ring, and probably did not receive a quarter of what we agreed to pay Joseph-much as that was below ring prices.
But our best quality, in Joseph's eyes, was that we did not do more riding in the time than a native, because we were continually off our donkeys, sight-seeing or photographing, and that we did the sights so thoroughly that it was like going through a dragoman's course for him.
Joseph would have done for an artist's model of a male nymph, with his long, well-formed legs, straight, slim body, and small, graceful, cat-like head. Perhaps he was more like one of the animal-headed Egyptian gods, with their thin, beautifully formed bodies and feline faces.
He did not think of this, but he thought he would make a very good-looking dragoman, like his brothers, when the time came; and he was always beautifully clean. By day he wore a long galabeah faded to pale blue, and apparently nothing else except a white knitted skull-cap. Each night, after donkey hours, he put on a fresh white galabeah, and I daresay some underclothing too, as he was going to loaf about, looking out for opportunities of conversations with his patrons. He generally joined us, if we were out in the evening, and acted as a sort of guide and guardian. He took no money for this. It kept us out of the harmful way of other donkey-boys, and improved his English.
In one way Joseph was superior to most Egyptians: he had no desire to escape service in the army. He was convinced that a person of his physical perfections had no chance of getting off except by payment. But he always spoke of the time he would have to serve without horror or resentment. I think that he considered the policeman's lot a happy one-serving in the police is military service in Egypt--and I often fancied that Joseph envied the splendid military figure on a white horse, booted and breeched like a rich foreigner, who was autocrat of the donkey-boys at Karnak. Besides, Joseph spent every minute he could with the English, and took his ideas from them, and had plenty of opportunities of seeing what a little god the British officer is in Egypt.
Joseph was a wonderful product: he was barely eighteen, and he was a bare-legged donkey-boy; but he was willing to take up any contract for the conveyance of foreigners, and capable of carrying it out. He was a Mohammedan, educated at the American Mission School. I suppose he had held out hopes of being converted. There was staying with us a very pretty girl of twenty-two, Miss Lorimer's “Lorna," a fearless rider of horse and ass, who liked doing "young" things with the young Englishmen and Americans in the hotel, though she successfully kept them all at arm's length. Joseph adored her : she was she ; no one else was allowed to share that proud title.
If we had ever taken him out camping with us he would have stolen all our blankets for her, as the half-breed did for the pretty girl on our Canadian journey.
Joseph showed his devotion in many ways. For instance, he never gave her Horace Greeley to ride, though she was the fittest of all to control that turbulent animal, who, whenever he saw another donkey, a not infrequent occurrence in Egypt, set up a defiant bray and bolted for it, followed by
Joseph belabouring him with a staff, and calling out : “ Ush, ush, ush. Steady, Horace !"
Joseph was sententious. The first night he accompanied us to Karnak-when the small black dogs were running along the roofs of the village barking out defiance at ushe said : “At night one dog worth more than sixteen men." This is particularly true of Egypt, where you know when danger is approaching because the watchman runs away.
There is danger also in the devotion of a donkey-boy, as we learned from a candid friend. The candid friend arrived at the Winter Palace Hotel from the Sudan. It was Joseph's habit to enter into conversation with all pretty or important new arrivals, so that his lines might fall into pleasant places when we had gone. The candid friend was a stiff AngloIndian official. Joseph's way of ingratiating himself with him, which we learned to be Joseph's invariable way of ingratiating himself with the best class of men, was to say: "Do you know a very beautiful young lady called Miss Ireland ?" The candid friend said, “Yes.” “Well,” said Joseph, "she's looking for a husband.” None of the others to whom Joseph had addressed this leading question had known Miss Ireland, but doubtless they made a point of knowing her by sight, and were the victims of conflicting emotions when they saw her.
Joseph thought it awful that so pretty a woman had not got a husband. He often said to her : "I hope you come by husband: I hope you come by good husband next year.” "No, Joseph,” she said, trying to be severe, “ English ladies don't like husbands.” But Joseph, wise for his years, said : "Oh, yes," and added : "I think of you every time," and set about that fine fresh way of getting her a husband.
Once Joseph hit upon another friend, who had seriously thought of fulfilling that function, and Joseph had an inkling of the fact. He met him coming down from the Sudan, and said: "I've been with 'she' just now. I take she' to the hotel."
“Captain O'Halloran" was distinctly interested and most distinctly embarrassed. “ All right, Joseph,” he said, “tell she' that I will meet her in Cairo." When we left Luxor
for good-adorable Luxor-with tears in our hearts, Joseph had very copious tears that looked extra large on his small, round face. He went without an entire day's work to hang round the steamer, inquiring if “she” had come on board, and Cook's dragoman wasted most of his day in turning Joseph off the steamer. When “she” did come on board finally, Joseph had just been shoo'ed away, but "she" saw him damping the dust-really damping the dust. Joseph's tears were no effete tears of civilisation---they actually dropped and splashed in the dust. “She” had the good grace to step on to the wharf, and Joseph stooped, like a Frenchman of the old régime, over her hand, which she gave him to shake, but which he felt compelled to kiss. And Joseph was a very graceful person.
He was very frank. He prefered, he said, waiting on the English ladies-American ladies were much harder and talked from their necks, refering, I suppose, to nasality, and not to any fatuity in their remarks: he also disliked their noses. He put Germans bottom on the list. He did not give us any of the stereotyped reasons for German unpopularity. His objection to them was that they never stopped when they got on a donkey-a charge which I should have thought was quite untrue; they are so very minute in their archæological studies from the original. I think his mind always ran on one particular German, whom we had recommended to employ him while we were away. “That gentleman," he said, “who went on Gingerbread, he fly. I catch him as he came out of Der-el-Bahari.” The point of this is better appreciated by those who know that Der-el-Bahari is several miles from the landing, at the very back of the wide plain of Thebes.
Foreigners may seem rather exacting to donkey-boys : they are riding on the donkeys, and the boys are running after them. One day as I came out of the Temple of Medinet-Habu, a man offered me a beautiful mummy-head. I did not buy it, because he would not bargain ; but when I was a mile and a half away I repented, so I cantered back for it. I wonder now what Joseph thought at having to
go the mile and a half back again to the place I had repented.
It was near here that Joseph attempted to deceive me. “ Joseph,” I said, "how long will it take us to get to Der-elBahari?" Sir, half an hour,” said Joseph, in the hopes that I should not go to Der-el-Bahari. I knew it would not take as much as that, so we went, and got there in five minutes. “Joseph,” I said, "why did you tell me that silly lie about Der-el-Bahari being half an hour away?" He said, "Sir, if you had walked it would have taken you longer.” Which was true, as the road was soft sand and the temperature about ninety in the shade.
After this he left off trying to deceive me about distancesmore or less; he saw that I always tested his replies by the map, and could form a pretty good guess as to whether he was telling the truth or not. How he must have blessed the guide-books! He generally had to carry three, and my camera, and my military water-bottle, and anything I bought or picked up, such as a skull or the flint nodules of Thebes, which look so extraordinarily like human carving. I discovered that he put the purchases and keepsakes on the luncheon donkey in the lunch-basket. I was not likely to ask for them ; but they were not always suitable to go with lunch.
You do donkey expeditions in Egypt in a very pleasant, picnicky way; you have plenty of servants, for each donkey has its donkey-boy, and besides the riding donkeys there is the lunch donkey, which carries everything you might want to eat or drink, and wraps, on the rare occasions when you want them in Egypt. The donkey-boys are pretty good guides, and, when they are accustomed to you, and know that you want to see everything of interest, you jog from point to point, and jump off (or not as the case may be) where the antiquities are thick; and where there are none the boys suggest a gallop. They are quite clever in timing an interval for lunch and at laying it, and behave very nicely while you are eating it. Good donkey-boys, like you get at Luxor, have often charming manners. We had one donkey.