« PreviousContinue »
boy, whom Joseph generally included in the contract, who was not a boy at all, but a very interesting and very handsome man. His name was Mohammed. All our donkeyboys, except Joseph, seemed to be called Mohammed, and Joseph's name was not really Joseph-he had only adopted it for the convenience of English patrons. Mohammed, when he was not donkey-boying, was the chief howling dervish of Luxor. He led all the surreptitious zikrs, and taught the young idea how to howl and roll its head in conventional dervish fashion. He invited us to go to a zikr one night; it was held in the camel stable, or rather the stable-yard of Joseph Hassan, the curio-seller. One of Joseph Hassan's servants, who had been examined by the Mamur to see if he should be taken for conscription, had been pronounced an imbecile or a hopeless invalid, or something which unfitted him to serve his country, and Joseph Hassan paid for a zikr, or a dervish performance, in honour of the auspicious event. There were very few regular dervishes there; but Mohammed, the donkey-boy, had made their exercises very popular in Luxor, and most of our donkey-boy friends were there, standing in a ring round three duplex lamps, intoning and rolling their heads in the vague hopes, I suppose, of going off into the proper frenzy. None of them did. Donkey-boys are too tough. But it was an interesting spectacle, and Mohammed looked magnificent as he led it. I wished he was not such an awful swell out of business hours. I could not help giving such a hidalgo more than the proper amount of bakshish, and of course the others had to have it too. He ought to have been a dragoman; he spoke good English, and took a more intelligent interest in antiquities than the other donkey-boys. He took me to the Bairam, which the donkey-boys call the Mohammedan Christmas, and made himself very useful because he knew I was anxious to photograph, and his religious position rendered him aware that in a place like Luxor, where the relations between the Arabs and English people are particularly good, I could photograph anything so long as I did not get in the way, and was not illmannered. With Mohammed beside me as mentor, I took many photographs of that splendid spectacle, of the long lines of white-robed figures prostrating themselves, and rising to their feet at this and the other point in the service, or kneeling while the incense-bearer walked down between them sprinkling; of the Sheikh delivering an impassioned address in front of the massed banners of white glowing with texts from the Koran in brilliant hues, and of the final march away with the banners floating in the wind. And under his guidance I went to the festival in the cemetery, later in the day, where I got some of the most humorous snapshots in my collection. There was nothing approaching sentiment there—nothing but shows and feasting. Arab donkey-boys, when they are employed regularly by the same people, are very attentive. As soon as they have bathed and put on clean clothes at the end of the day's ride, they generally come back and hang about the hotel if their patrons are inside, or accompany them if they are going for a walk. Joseph always did this. And it was on these occasions that we gleaned some of the choicest flowers of his conversation. I heard him inquiring of the boy, who stood at the door of the hotel with the ostrich-feather boot-brush, about the Major and myself. “Have they gone out yet, the tall little gentleman and the short big one P” I was the short big one. And he asked the Major one day, “Your mad gentleman friend, the short big gentleman, has he gone the other side P” The other side meant Thebes, and the Tombs of the Kings, and such trifles. When the Major pretended not to understand him he said, “You know, the gentleman who says “I will,’ ‘I won't,' ‘Get out !” “Get away !’” imitating the tones in which I swore at Arabs, when they interrupted the notes I was taking with their inconsequent verbiage. He implied that the Arabs liked me better than any foreigner in Luxor, because they thought I was mad. Madness and saintship are much the same thing to Mohammedans.
It was a shock to exchange the courtly Joseph for the kind of donkey-boy you get at Abydos or Bedrashen, who makes his donkey go by poking him under the tail with the end of a stick, and always does make him go just when you are taking a photograph, or getting into a conversation you enjoy with a new acquaintance.
But, on the whole, I think that the donkey-boys of Egypt have been maligned. I found them a very satisfactory class, if one had the sense to arrange the bakshish as well as the fare beforehand. The bakshish is really part of the fare, and the boy is honestly anxious to please his employer.
I conclude this chapter with a copy of Joseph's card: