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The cities are not so ornamental. In the distance their minarets rising out of palm groves have a noble effect. Close to, they depend on the size and obviousness of their pigeon-towers. If its river-front is full of great pigeontowers a Nile city may look as like a mediæval city as the villages do.
But if it is too civilised and prosperous for this, its river-front consists of little whitewashed terraces in the worst seaside style, and a few mpars—the bars where the Greek sells his infamous decoctions of fire-water to the undiscriminating and unorthodox native.
Twice at least between Cairo and Luxor, a distance of 450 miles, there is a bridge, though one of them is only a track laid above the Assyut Dam. It is lucky that they do not occur oftener: their traffic is entirely of natives, to whom an hour or two is absolutely nothing ; yet they are always shut when a steamer wants to get through.
Not that the people on the steamer seem to care; their general attitude is that of people, who will be on that steamer doing a placid round of baths, meals, and bed for the rest of their lives.
But tell these lotus-eaters that on the next morning, after breakfast, there will be donkeys on the river bank to take them to a temple so many miles away, and they are at once like the sick dog which heard its master say rats! They are most of them ready half an hour before the excursion is advertised to start, and, if the plank is down, have gone ashore and intrigued for the best donkeys, when they know the difference between a good donkey and a bad one. I did not. I used to leave it to the second dragoman, and take his if he made a bad choice for me.
He never made a bad choice for himself. The donkey makes the tourist in Egypt. No one ever gives vent to his feelings completely till he is on the quarter-deck of the humorous Egyptian ass. Camels are incidents too occasional in the life of the tame tourist for them to count much.
But donkeys! You go ashore, and, if no one has been able to steal an unfair advantage, you find yourself confronted by two hundred asses, and their accomplices. Three or four donkey-boys drag at each tourist. The donkey displays a reluctance to be mounted at all by jockeys of twelve, fourteen, and sixteen stone, without their saddles. A policeman comes along and rains blows with his cane on the faces of the donkey-boys, who take no notice of the interruption, being so intent on helping fat men on to brocaded saddles. The donkey-boy recognises that it is the man who gives the tips; his attentions to ladies are mere gallantry. The donkey-boy pays no homage to horsemen. He refused to believe that a smart captain in the Royal Horse Guards, and his wife, the toast of the shires, were capable of directing their own donkeys. He directed the donkeys, generally with jabs under the tail.'
The costumes in which Cook's elect visit the temples and the tombs of the Pharaohs are remarkable for their variety, and many of them err on the side of super-appropriateness. It seems a pity that such splendour should be wasted on the desert air with only a donkey to support it. The prancing white Arab steed of the policeman who escorts the convoy, would be more in keeping, if the rider kept on; and most of them would keep on, for Cook's trips up the Nile cost a great deal of money, though they give such excellent value for it. The English people who go on them belong mostly to the class of the unemployed rich, who have country seats. The Americans are more mixed. All conditions of Americans, who have it, spend money freely on travel. If you see an Englishman in a particularly old tweed suit, instead of a neat riding-kit, he is probably a person of too much importance to care what he looks like. This is a complaint from which women of importance are less likely to suffer. Most Americans of British extraction dress the part. The freaks who fill the
One can live the Nile trip over again in the paintings of Mr. Thackeray : there are the “Sun-worshipers” lining the side of the ship towards the sunset, with the backs of their heads indicating the fixity of their stare at the marvellous golden light, which floods Egypt every day between tea and dinner. One can go through the ordeal with the donkey-boys in his “ Battle of the Nile"; one can see the stout dragoman in the gorgeous galabeah conducting a lot of tourists dressed with as much variety and originality as the students in Puccini's Bohême, between the monstrous piers of an Egyptian temple ; one can almost hear him make his little after-dinner speech in that gay floating restaurant, the saloon of one of Cook's Nile steamers. Everything down to the smile on the servant's face is perfect.
souls of the donkey-boys with unholy joy are, generally, pace Pierre Loti, Germans or French. Few German travellers tempt brigands by their appearance.
The evolution of taste in average tourists as the voyage progresses is remarkable. Early on the trip they cannot all be persuaded to take the excursions. If it was not for the excitement of cantering on the headstrong Egyptian ass, not half of them would go to the tombs of Beni Hassan, which are rather like dimly painted basements, on the top of a sandhill, to the uneducated eye, though they suggest comparisons with the rock-tombs of the Etruscans and Ancient Greeks, to the archæologist. It is almost sufficient joy to exist on a luxurious floating hotel on the Nile. You don't really want any amusement except watching the comic water-life of the Egyptians, and their gambols in agriculture. There is something humorous to photograph almost every minute.
At Assyut, a little higher up, there are plenty of voyagers who have no wish to go farther than the bank; they would rather stay there and bargain for spangled shawls, which have lost their social significance, than visit the bazar and more basement tombs.
But at Denderah they fall surely under the magician's spell, which has caught a few of them in the tomb of Thi at Sakkara. The tomb of Thi, if they only knew it, stands as near the top of the scale of the Egyptian antiquity-fancier as Denderah falls near the bottom. But it is not so easy to be impressed, when you go to a tomb which looks as if it had been removed to a well-lighted museum, as when you stand for the first time in the dim, religious light of a great Egyptian temple, which has not even lost its roof. . The brightly coloured and delicately chiselled sculptures of the agricultural possessions and sporting achievements of Thi rival the decorations of the tomb of Seti I. at Thebes, and his temple at Abydos; but they are on the walls of unimposing square rooms. At Denderah you get your first idea of the gigantic buildings of the Ancient Egyptians other than glorified milestones like the Pyramids.
The Egyptians of the Pharaonic age seem to have been
like the Carthaginians, successful war-makers without having much of the warrior in their own composition. They, too, executed their conquests with the valour of foreigners, but they had more sense than the Carthaginians; they did not allow commercial people, who cared nothing for the safety or prestige of their country, to have the Parliamentary right of interference with their generals ; they had a monarch of the convenient divine type to which Japan owes so much of her greatness to-day; his unquestioned authority made them more than a match for neighbours, who took their orders from guerilla chiefs instead of from Heaven. The neighbours' treasures paid for the endowments of the temples, and the food of the slaves who built them. The neighbours themselves walked to Egypt, with their elbows tied behind them, and built temples and pyramids for as little food as they could exist on. The gigantic buildings of the Egyptians were due to the gigantic numbers of their slaves.
The glories of Denderah are described in another chapter. When they have seen Denderah, the voyagers of Cook are as changed as a hooligan who has heard the call of the Salvation Army. After that, whenever they hear the word temple mentioned, they have visions of vast cathedral-like edifices, whose enormous columns are covered with glowing sculptures of gods and men painted before the great earthquake of Christianity began-sometimes a score of centuries beforeand often almost as uninjured as Westminster Abbey. Temples perfect to their very roofs are to be found at more than one point on the Nile. If the religion of the Pharaohs was to be restored to-morrow, the temples of Denderah and Edfu would stand more in need of a Liberty than a Michael Angelo to fit them for the revival of their services. There is one building which has been an Egyptian temple, a Christian church, and a Mohammedan mosque, and has survived all three, as well as having been a barrack for Turkish soldiers.
Be that as it may, the fact remains that, when once the most unimaginative Nile-trotter has been into a complete temple, he is bitten with the fever and, for ever afterwards, chases the dragoman from hall to hall in a temple, while that prophet of the one Cook fingers cartouches, and adds fresh flowers to the English language. I love Cook's Prophets--the dragomans; they are delightful, cheery people, who to an extensive rule-of-thumb knowledge of the subject add a knowledge of human infirmities, which enables them to interest the scholar and the soldierman in one excursion. The plainest soldierman makes a good sightseer. If his mind is directed towards looking out for a certain class of thing, he sees it very quickly ; Like the bushman, he has a trained eye.
Very cleverly does Cook, through his Prophets, educate his voyagers. He gives them a tasty hors-d'auvre in the painted tombs of Sakkara : he fleshes the appetite of the tiger at Denderah. And lo and behold, on the evening of the day on which they have been appetised at Denderah, they are at Luxor, which is the happy hunting-ground of the Kingdom of Cook. Here they spend three days in a debauch of sightseeing from the backs of willing asses.
If the moon is shining they will begin that very night by a donkey-ride in dress clothes to Karnak, Karnak the Magnificent, sleeping in its palm-groves by the quay on the Nile, from which the Pharaohs used to be rowed, in unimaginable splendour, to sacrifice at the temples of their ancestors in the City of the Dead, which still bears its ancient name of Thebes.
If the ladies do not relish the idea of a donkey-ride in décolleté gowns and delicate slippers, past the village of the barking dogs, to walk in the deep velvet sands of the halls of Karnak, their acquaintance will only be put off till directly after breakfast on the next morning. But they will miss something, for the effect of the Hall of the Columns of Rameses the Great, in the chief temple of Karnak, is magical when the yellow moonlight, streaming down from the clerestory, and the red glare, rising from the watchman's fires, bring the ancient kings sculptured on the world's grandest columns back to life in the imagination of the beholder--the fairy life which is busy in the darkness, and flies from the light of day.
Karnak in the freshness of morning is very lovely too, and