Page images
PDF
EPUB

dealer of world-wide fame who used to be a dragoman and now buys for the British Museum. He is not cheap but he is honest. His profits are not inordinate as the profits of knowing ones go, and he sells genuine things and can tell you what they are-a sufficiently rare quality in the Luxor antiquity dealer. One of the best tests of the rapacity of dealers is to ask them the price of the drachmæ of Alexander the Great, which they all have for sale, because they are so numerous. The Cairo Museum price is three shillings; if an excavator wants to buy one for any reason he does not pay more than two shillings. If a dealer asks you five shillings or upwards for an ordinary drachma of Alexander which is not in very fine condition, you know that you must take about forty per cent. off his other prices, which he pretends are fixed. But in the little honest dealer's shop near the Luxor Hotel you can buy second-hand Sudanese jewellery at the price of silver. The massive silver bracelets, for instance, with a knob at each end and a knob at the back of the wrist, which nearly every Sudanese woman wears, would cost you four shillings. They are hollow, of course, but quite thick. Sudanese rings, sometimes very old and of a fascinating filagree, cost about a shilling. Old silver earrings, looking like ancient Roman brooches without their pins, generally chased with antique patterns, cost only two or three shillings a pair. Besides these, you can buy at their proper value silver Mohammedan charms, Nubian necklaces, turquoise rings, and the like. But the last you can get in Cairo as good and cheap as anywhere. If you want to buy little museum things from ancient Egyptian tombs, the kinds I have mentioned above, you would only get them cheap at small antiquity stalls, which have dealings with the fellahin, who find them and do not do much business with foreigners.

There is another class of antiquity dealer at Luxor who should be more interesting to the police than any one else, because it is through these people that valuable antiquities stolen from the tombs are sold to rich foreigners. They would not be easy to catch, because the more important pieces shown in their shops are mostly fakes. Their dishonesty is

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

double-edged, for they not only sell stolen goods, but imitations of stolen goods, whenever they get the chance. If the police raided them they would only find, and very likely would be well paid only to find, imitations. But extremely valuable things are to be bought from them occasionally by rich collectors. Their exhibits, where they would have any value if they were genuine, are generally of the most unblushing order-regiments of wooden soldiers or soul-boats supposed to have been made at the same time as the Sheikh el-Beled in the Cairo Museum, or great gilt mummy-cases, or necklaces and bracelets which are supposed to have belonged to Rameses the Great's very large family.

I should not mention these spiders of the river-bank near the Winter Palace in a chapter addressed to the economical buyer were it not that they keep the pot boiling by the sale, at extravagant prices, of small antiquities and novelties to the gaping tourist. You will never get anything from them of a fair quality or at a fair price.

The most fascinating of all bargaining in Egypt is when you are voyaging on Cook's steamers through Nubia. The guileless Nubian wishes to sell you anything he or she possesses. Having money at all is a new idea to them, dating from the establishment of Cook's steamers, and you can see native jewellery to much better advantage on the necks and arms and legs and fingers and ears and noses of the people whose custom it is to wear these ornaments than you can in any curio shop. They cost you rather more than they do in that little curio shop by the Luxor Hotel, but you are having models to show them off in the style of Lucille and Paquin. I never tried to buy their clothes-nobody would think of buying a Nubian's clothes, off her person, but I have bought the amulet looking like a cabman's badge from her baby's neck, as well as bracelets and rings and earrings and necklaces. The Nubians, who are a most comely people, take evident pleasure in the bargaining, which can only be done by showing them the money you offer for each article. The fascination of buying the Nubian's finery seriously interferes with the adequate examination of Nubian temples.

[ocr errors]

PART II

THE LIFE AND CITIES OF THE NILE: FROM

ALEXANDRIA TO ASSUAN

CHAPTER XVIII

Landing at Alexandria

[ocr errors]

ANDING at Alexandria is like landing yourself in a

It is worse than landing at Marseilles ; much worse than landing at Tunis. Naples is a joke to it. Here on the threshold of his country, the Egyptian commences the sacrifice of the goose which lays the golden egg.

Egypt, having a population of eleven million people who can live on nothing; Egypt, a nation of born valets and born cooks; Egypt, which has water-carriage from Alexandria to Khartûm; Egypt, which, wherever it has water, is three or four times as productive as other countries, ought to be as cheap to live in as Italy.

If Egypt was as cheap as Italy, half the English who live in Italy and the Riviera would go to Cairo, Luxor, and Assuan. The English people who live abroad, mainly in pensions, because they have not enough to live on in England, would all, instead of none of them, go to Egypt; for Egypt is the only place where you can be decently warm in winter without a fire.

How wise the Italian is! He knows that if a man, and more especially a woman, can get pension at his own price be it five, seven, ten, or twelve francs a day-he will allow himself to be pillaged in any other direction, smiling. In Italy you pay almost every time you enter a door; you can hardly ask a question without tipping some one. Italy is only cheap if you go without any luggage, and see nothing when you get there, except the views and the streets

[ocr errors][merged small]

churches count as streets in Italy. The Italian knows that people who want pension for seven francs a day in Rome, and four and a half in San Gimignano, will often pour out money the whole day on cabs, guides, caretakers, curios, photographs, postcards, cafés, and local products. Cheap living is the Italian spider's web. He knows the importance of inducing the fly to enter the web. When the victim is once inside, blood-sucking can begin.

The Egyptian has not the sense to see this: he allows Egypt to be expensive solely for the benefit of a few big hotels; he allows the expensiveness of Egypt to be paraded, with the result that no one goes to Egypt, except those who are paid to go, and those who can pay any price.

The most patriotic thing which the Khedive, who has plenty of land in Cairo, could do would be to put up buildings suitable for pensions, and let them at a moderate price to pension-keepers who undertook to charge five shillings a day for pension. Five Egyptian shillings come to about seven francs. The crying need of Cairo is to have pensions as comfortable as those of Florence at five shillings a day. A slummy Egyptian pension, where you always have maids of every character and ladies of none, costs seven or eight shillings a day.

The fun begins at Alexandria, where you have to pay Cook four shillings a head (and other landing agents more), with a tip to the dragoman, to pass your baggage through the Customs, and take it and you from the ship to the railway station. At the railway station every pound of baggage you register is charged for, and, in addition to the porter, the man, who dusts the carriage before you get in, expects to be paid.

Paying is not your only excitement when you land. You have to get your luggage off the ship. When you have engaged Cook's uniformed giants you imagine that your troubles are at an end; but they are not allowed to begin for another half an hour, till every mail-bag has been taken out and counted and put into carts, or otherwise the Egyptian would make use of the confusion to steal the mails. When

[ocr errors]

Cook's men do come on board they are so hampered by precautions against theft that you take an eternity to get off with your belongings. It is no good not having belongings; you have to wait for other people's if you have none of your own. It is only, when all the passengers' baggage has been taken off the steamer, that the procession to the custom-house is allowed to begin.

The custom-house harpies will not trouble you if you employ Cook. If he says "Nothing dutiable,” they take his word for it. Is there anything for which the Egyptian will not take the word of Thomas Cook & Son?

You will already have been waiting for an hour or two. You will really have been on the quay seeing that all your baggage has been brought out of the ship. But you are under the belief that you have been in an Egyptian open-air servants' registry office, where the tables are turned and employers are scarce, not servants. The servants, with which you are bombarded, are long-legged things called dragomans, who assure you that they are all kinds of servants rooled into one, and ready to accompany you anywhere. Assuan is nothing of a journey ; Khartûm is a flea-bite ; Gondokoro is perfectly simple ; Uganda nothing extraordinary ; anything as far as the Cape is within their compass, and they wish to accompany you back to London afterwards.

The only way to pacify them is to take their names and say that you will ask Cook about them ; even then they go on trying to impress you with their powers of conversation. As if there was any doubt of them.

There was a would-be employee named Hassan, who wearied me to death at Alexandria, and showed me many politenesses afterwards. To escape from his conversation I stooped to pat a friendly little Egyptian mongrel which was following me with equal persistence.

"That very good dogs,” said Hassan—" follow you all day.” We christened Hassan “Very good dogs" in my family circle. We met him everywhere we went. He was standing on the banks of the Blue Nile when we got to Khartûm North. “This way to Cook's steamer, gentlemen."

« PreviousContinue »