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and said that we must turn out, but the Bank magnifico assured us that we were within our rights in refusing to stir, and we refused, because the gyppy was so consequential about it.
The gyppy was consequential, perhaps because he wanted his wives to have a compartment without other women, so that he could go with them. I thought we might just as well have a compartment to ourselves ; at any rate there was plenty of room for them in the women's compartment, into which the guard forth with conducted them. There were other humours for my note-book and my kodak. The very typical fellahin women of the Delta jingled from ankle to forehead; their foreheads were covered with gold chains and crescents. A shoddy Italian was pouring out such an Italian torrent of words, that he walked full tilt into a pillar, which he had not noticed. The same fate befell a callow Egyptian of the golf-collar type, who was gaping open-mouthed at the prettiness and pretty clothes of an English lady-not a very common sight in Tanta Station. This was made more ridiculous because this gorgeous young man, who wore very light flannels, and one of the then-new green felt hats, and pale lemon-coloured suede gloves, was walking arm in arm with a full-rigged Arab of the old style, reading his Koran as Roman Catholic priests mutter from their breviary.
I always wonder what the priests fall back on to interest them in that oft-read book. When I went to Oxford, and had to go to chapel every day, I consoled myself with reading the parts of the Prayer-book, which did not come into the services I had ordinarily attended, such as the Thirty-Nine Articles. This had the further effect of familiarising me with a subject, in which I knew I should have to be examined, at the close of my University career. deal of it was good food for sardonic reflection. As it happened, I reaped a harvest. When I did come to be examined in the Thirty-Nine Articles, the three examiners (for the first time in many years) determined to make the Rudiments, as we briefly called them, a reality. Out of
A great sixteen men who went up from Trinity all except myself were “caught on the hop" and "spun"; other colleges suffered as severely. I astonished my examiners. I had read the Thirty-Nine Articles (as being the only part of the Prayer-book, in which a very religiously brought up young man like myself had not had all his interest exhausted) so often in chapel that its expressions and statements of opinion were as familiar to me as “ Dearly beloved Brethren.” The examiners and I had quite a witty warfare over the Rudiments, and I was complimented and passed, while the son of a Bishop, who rather bored the Fellows of the College with his “unco guidness," was ignominiously ploughed. With a little encouragement, and reading them over once or twice, I could still bring the Thirty-Nine Articles with great effect into the kind of articles I write.
Tanta is, I believe, a rich business place, but very unabashed in its Egyptianness: it has many minarets and few gentlemen. On the outskirts its houses are no better than Bedrashên's and have their roofs similarly decorated with dung cakes, casks, and so on. Boys were bathing naked in the filthy swamp by the kind of market outside the station. There is nothing more Egyptian than that objectless sheep, hugely fat, with a disgusting beef-pudding of a tail, tied outside a shop, with a little fodder to munch. Most shops near the Tanta Station had a sheep. To show how little Tanta enters into the calculations of the Europeans in Egypt, even Baedeker believes that the dome of the big mosque is still unachieved, whereas it has for some time enjoyed a grandiose dome with two minarets.
I was glad to get away from Tanta Station, with its unlovely surroundings and its persistent hawkers of oranges, bananas, and orange-coloured sponge-cake. The little Delta towns are quite picturesque. They are rather like Sudanese towns with a loose reed thatch. Here and there we passed one of the type you get outside Alexandria, looking like the mastaba tombs round the pyramids, with a door at each end and rows of little pimply domes on the top-really rather on the principle of the bazars of Constantinople and Tunis, a whole village under one dish-cover-for purposes, I suppose, of defence ; for the atmosphere must be undesirable, especially as domestic animals like donkeys and pigs and goats would have to share in its security. The minarets of the little Delta towns are short, and might be taken for forge chimneys. Tanta, by the by, has two hotels of sorts (“The Blooming Hellas” and “The Pyramids"), a palace of the Khedive, and consular agents of four Great Powers.
Samanud excited us more than anything we had seen on the railway so far; it had a really splendid cemetery, with Sheikh's tombs good enough for a minor caliph. The cemetery was much larger than the town ; it went on for a mile or twoma most fascinating exhibition of mud domes. It has also, I believe, mounds of real interest belonging to the days when it was the capital of the Sebennyte Nome, which gave its name to the dynasty of Nektanebo, the Pharaoh who entertained Plato. With the reign of the second Nektanebo the native kings of Egypt came to an end. He was conquered by the Persians, who were conquered by the Macedonians. Alexander was succeeded by the Ptolemies, and the Ptolemies by the Roman Emperors. Only four or five miles from Samanud are the ruins of the famous Busiris, the original residence of Osiris. Here the cultivation was given a novel character in our eyes by the use of the doublethreaded Archimedean screw, which Archimedes is said to have invented during his stay in Egypt. I had never seen it before. A fellah turns the handle as if he was grinding a piano-organ, and it drains or irrigates the land according as he pumps from the land to the water or from the water to the land. It looks rather like a cannon of exaggerated rifling, with its nose just below the water and a rod going up the middle. It is used here because the canal banks are low. It could not compete with the shadaf and the sakiya on the high banks of the Nile in Upper Egypt. It has the effect of a cascade running up instead of down, and is quite an interesting toy.
It may be hard work, for there were two men to it. While one was grinding the organ the other was lying on
his belly, holding on to the very sloping side of the canal by his toes, while he had a long drink. The usual ferment of life was going on along the banks of the canal, which the train was following, freshened up a little by the splash a buffalo, led by a tiny girl, made when he tried to have a drink and fell in. He liked it so much that he would not come out again, and of course a child of four could not make him. We saw the whole comedy, because our engine was suffering from hot boxes, a common complaint in Egypt. I might have been vexed at the delay if I had not looked out of the window on the other side, and seen the sky-line of a splendid Arab city broken by many minaretssuch a fantastic outline—the Mansura of St. Louis. Mansura, which means The Victorious, received its name from the defeat of the Crusaders here in 1221 while it was being erected as a base for the siege of Damietta, about fifty miles away. The Crusaders were defeated here again twentyeight years afterwards, when their fleet was destroyed, and their army, including St. Louis, had to surrender. The house in which St. Louis was imprisoned is still shown.
As we went into Mansura station we passed two delightful little saints' tombs with bulbous domes like the Kremlin. We had another long wait at Mansura, with fresh opportunities of observing the humours of Egyptian railway travel. There was, though it was a very hot day, a gorgeous Egyptian wearing a red-lined Raleigh cape with a heavy astrachan collar, striking an attitude on the platform. I got out to have a closer look at him, and with the treacherous intention of kodaking him, if I could manage it without his noticing. While I was waiting I looked into the door, which was open, of the first-class carriage reserved for ladies. Egyptians have a genius for looking idiotic. The ladies were all sitting on the floor ; babies were lying about the seats, being sick as they liked. Right in the middle of the platform a man was squatting down proudly beside a miscellaneous lot of luggage, including articles which are always kept out of sight in England. The police in all these country stations carry rifles.
After Mansura we had no station of sufficient importance to have tarbooshed people. There was nothing above the rank of a galabeah, and few galabeahs troubled to wind a turban round their skull-caps, though some had the mange.
I hope that the inhabitants of the Delta do themselves an injustice by their appearance. I never saw so inany pock-marked, one-eyed stage-villains. But we soon forgot them, for we were getting into the wilder scenery of the coast Delta-brown seaflats with here a saint's tomb, there a farm on a knoll with a few palm-trees round it, very dry-looking country; and it must have been dry, because we saw here the best mirage we had ever seen in Egypt, with grand pink clouds playing over it, and a white mosque with a tall minaret.
As the train drew still nearer to the sea, the scenery assumed a fresh charm; little cities with their mosques and palm groves stood out in silhouette across the fats. We had plenty of opportunity of seeing their points, because our train was always reversing. It did not seem sure which way it wanted to go. And so we drew in to Damietta, a city enshrined in enchanting palm groves.