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Rosetta, on the Nile. We naturally took his felookah after the sanitary officer-whose nationality we did not discover, but who spoke a certain amount of English-had reduced his demands from six shillings to two.
Our lunch had been consigned, for safety, to the assistant station-master's safe, and, when we had fetched it from the station, we stepped gleefully on board our stout felookah, helped with Arab courtesy by the two picturesque boatmen in dark red galabeahs.
The moment we pushed out the spell began. The boat heeled half way over with the fresh breeze, the blue water rushed hissing past us as we flew over to the farther shore, where the outline of the palm groves was broken by a graceful villa, the retreat of some pasha, and two of the white domes, which mark the tombs of saints (and secure the success of any picture). Four wild-looking Arabs commenced shouting, and made a rush for the boat-as I guessed with no feller intent than to secure a free passage to the farther shore. They did not wait for the boat to put in, they waded out, in Egyptian fashion, and clambered on board. As we had a nice fresh breeze we cruised up and down, while we ate our lunch and photographed mosques and tombs of saints, and felookahs with great white bellying sails. At the end of a mile of blue water to the north was a factory, built in such an open, pleasing way that in my photographs it will be taken for an Egyptian temple. To the south the river contracted, with high banks of sand, bold enough for Assuan, and one dear little mosque nestling under the hill, and another with a soaring minaret down on the river edge, at the point of the picture-I think the most beautiful effect we have seen on the river. Rosetta itself, with its tall, old mansions and all its fantastic minarets and its fringe of quaint native craft drawn up on the steep bank, made a delightful picture. Whichever way we tacked, some vision of pure beauty met our eyes on that sky-blue lake with its quaint Oriental setting. The lunch we had brought from the hotel was not for such surroundings. We gave all those savoury viands to the Arab boatmen, who had never known such a banquet. They gave us their bread in exchange, and Arab bread with pâté de fois gras, washed down by good wine and nice cold soda-water, was good picnic food.
Then we allowed the boatmen to land us at the Mosque Point, strangely like the landing by the old church of the weird Campo Santo at Venice on that lonely isle. The mosques were simple but charming ; the river bank was shady with tall palms. We climbed the cluster of little golden hills where tradition puts that mysterious city of Bolbitine. That may be or may not be. Our eyes were not for it ; we looked northwards where the Nile winds into the sea--the Nile which we had seen from its birth, where the White Nile and the Blue Nile meet, to the point when it forks again into the Delta--the Nile, the other half of which we had seen lose itself in the Mediterranean at Damietta. On the left bank lay Fort St. Julien, which played such a dramatic part in the story of Egypt. The Rosetta Stone was found at Fort St. Julien by the French conquerors of Egypt digging to lay the foundations of the fort. Its existence there was shrouded with mystery, for no other remains were found to keep in countenance so important a monument. There was no Bolbitine, but the Rosetta Stone, in the precincts of Fort St. Julien.
Nor did the dramatic end here, for when the French conquerors in their turn were conquered by the English, and forced to evacuate Egypt, the surrender of the trilingual decree, written in stone by the Pharaohs, was ceded as a trophy of victory.
Abùkir and the Battle of the Nile
HERE is no spot in all Egypt which has the same
significance to the Englishman as Abûkir, for here were dealt the blows by sea and land, but for which Egypt would today, as Algeria, be a department of France. To-day we could regard such a contingency with more equanimity than in the closing years of the nineteenth century, for France is a nation that no longer pursues a policy of pin-pricks against England, though there are individual Frenchmen in Egypt who lose no opportunity of breeding trouble for England. To-day we regard Nelson's and Abercromby's victories in another light, as the first blood drawn in the long fight-to-a-finish between England and Napoleon, rather than between England and France. With Abercromby at Abukir I shall not linger long. I shall only point out the coincidence that the man who shattered France's dreams of Empire in old Egypt was a single-battle man, carried home from his victory to die, like Wolfe, who struck down for ever, on the plains of Quebec, the lilies that had waved for two hundred years in the new France which we call Canada.
Though Abercromby drove the French out of Egypt and Nelson did not, it would be idle to pretend that his victory, which takes its name from Abukir, is of the same significance as Nelson's in Abûkir Bay; for that was the superlative Battle of the Nile, which was the foundation of England's position as the greatest sea-power in history.
I had the proud story of the battle related to me again at Abûkir by a captain in the Italian army, who told me that his sympathies were with the Egyptian Nationalists, and was, therefore, not bitten with English prestige. He could not find words sufficient to express his admiration of Nelson. "I can only say," he said, " that there could never be such a sailor again."
I own that I was consumed with curiosity as the train, which, for some unfathomable reason, starts from a suburb some miles out of Alexandria, carried me towards Abukir. I will not describe the journey's beauties as you glide between the fresh-water lake of Ramleh, like the sparkle of champagne in a thirsty land, on one side, and a shady palm grove on the other. Before you come to Abûkir there is desert, but the deserts of the Mediterranean littoral are not like the deserts of the Nile Valley ; for here in places fine palm-trees spring from the golden sand, witnessing to lurking moisture. Just before the station of Abûkir the train plunges into sandhummocks, with a large encampment of very tidy Bedouins amid the dwarf prickly pears, which are a mass of yellow blossom in May. As I stepped out of the train my heart sank within me, for I could see nothing but dust-heapy sandhummocks, and the poor little hotel, which had not had the courage to open. But the usual Arab, with a smattering of all languages, appeared as if he had arisen from the earth at the summons of a genie, and led us sharp down to the right.
Then an enchanting scene broke upon my eyes. A deep, blue roadstead, with a fringe of fishing felookahs on a grassy shore, was in front of me; the old yellow fort of Abukir rose high on the left, connected by a dotted line of reefs with Nelson's Island, while on my right was a palm grove, with a gay little minaret towering over it, and the golden blossoms of the dwarf prickly pears spreading over the sand in front of it, like the Beard of Jove on the sands of the Bay of Naples. I could just see through the trees the fort on the other brow of the bay, and the pale-blue line of coast stretching away to the Rosetta mouth of the Nile. The colouring was perfect.
I turned my footsteps instinctively towards the fort on the Abukir headland crowning the termination of the high ridge on which the village stands. The slopes of the ridge presented a blessed sight, for they were covered with wild flowers—more wild flowers than all we had seen in Egypt put together, especially the dwarf mauve unscented wild stock, the bright blue alkamet, a gay and delicate heath, and that dwarf prickly pear.
The calmness of the roadstead, in which the French met their fate a hundred and ten years to a day before the night on which I write these words, was shown by the stillness of the dark-blue mirror as we came upon it at sunset, though we could hear the surf breaking round the head. The picturesque fort, with its two crumbling moats and its dismantled guns, and its polygonal tower of poor, rough masonry, looked as if it might be of any age. We passed in through the vaulted gateway, unchallenged. The little houses for barracks, which ring the enceinte inside, were garrisoned only by native women and a swarm of children. It looked such a deserted place, with its old mortars and rusty Armstrongs. We seemed to be back at Syracuse in the castle of Maniace, which guards the mouth of the Great Harbour, as we walked on the wide ramparts with dwarf stocks spreading their bright flowers over the old masonry, and the carriages of the guns just as they do in the Sicilian Castle. It was all so like Syracuse, for the line of reefs which connected the fort with Nelson's Island recalled irresistibly the more famous reefs of the Marble Harbour of Dionysius at the ancient capital of Sicily. This was a good point for taking in the lie of the battlefield, if one may use such a term of water. The roadstead of Abûkir has the outline of a fret-saw--the French fleet being on the line of the actual saw and the land taking the form of the steel bow which holds the saw. There is a fort at each end of the bow, the left-hand point from the sea being a very bold object in the landscape, at the end of its high ridge, continued in almost a straight line by a succession of reefs to Nelson's Island, which also rises boldly out of the water.
It cannot be said that Admiral Brueys, the French Commander-in-Chief, took as much pains about securing his position as the fearless Nelson would have taken. The semicircle of high ground, which encloses the roadstead, was