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THE HIGHWAY OF EGYPT
THERE could hardly be a daintier boat than the
| Memnon. It just holds our party; it is as clean and speckless as possible, and there is an open deck the full width of the tiny steamer, with pretty rugs and lazy chairs, where we may lounge and drowse and dream and look out on the gently passing panorama of the Nile.
For we have left Luxor, and are floating in this peaceful fashion down to Cairo, resting in the delight of it, after those fierce temple-hunting, tomb-visiting days. Not that we are entirely through with temples and the like. Here and there we tie up to the bank, and go ashore and scamper away on donkeys to some tumbled ruin, but it is a diversion now, not a business, and we find such stops welcome. For the most part we spend our days just idling, and submitting to the spell of Egypt, which has encompassed us and possessed us as it will encompass and possess any one who has a trace of the old human tendency to drift and dream.
It has been said of Boston that it is less a locality than a state of mind. I wish I had said that of Egypt. I will say it now, and without humor, for of this land it is so eminently true. A mere riverbank; a filament of green; a long slender lotus-stem, of which the Delta is the flower--that is Egypt. Remote-shut in by the desert and the dead hills-it is far less a country and a habitation than a psychological condition which all the mummied ages have been preparing—which the traveller from the earliest moment is bound to feel. It has lived so long! It had made and recorded its history when the rest of the world was dealing in nursery-tales! The glamour of that stately past has become the spell, the enchantment of to-day. The magic of the lotus grows more potent with the years.
It is such a narrow land! Sometimes the lifeless hills close in on one side or the other to the water's edge. Nowhere is the fertile strip wide, for its fertility depends wholly on the water it receives from the Nile, and when that water is drawn up by hand with a goat-skin pail and a well-sweep-a shaduf, as they call it-it means that fields cannot be very extensive, even if there were room, which as a rule there is not.
Think of watering a whole wheat-field with a wellsweep and a pail! Furthermore, where the banks are high the water is sometimes lifted three times between the Nile and the surface, and much of it is wasted in transit. It is the oldest form of irrigation; the hieroglyphics show that it was in use in Egypt five thousand years ago. It is also still the most popular form in Upper Egypt. We saw a good many of the sakkieh — primitive and wastful water - wheels propelled by a buffalo or a camel or a cow — and at rare intervals a windmill, where some Englishman has established a plantation, but it is the shaduf that largely predominates.
The mud villages among the date-palms are unfailingly picturesque; the sail - boats of the Nile markab they call them-drifting down upon us like great butterflies, have a charm not to be put in words; the life along the shores never loses its interest; the sun sets and the sun rises round the dreamy days with a marvel of color that seems each time more wonderful. Then there is the moonlight. But I must not speak of Egyptian moonlight or I shall lose my sense of proportion altogether, for it is like no other light that ever lay on sea or land.
We do not travel through the night, but anchor at dusk until daybreak. It is curious to reflect that one sees the entire country on a trip like this, if he rises early. We do rise early, most of us—though the cool nights (nights are always cool in Egypt) and the stillness are an inducement to sleep-and we are usually very hungry before breakfast comes along. One may have coffee on the deck if he likes—the picturesque Arab will bring it joyfully, especially where there is a baksheesh at the end. It is good coffee, too, and the food is good; everything is good on the Memnon except the beverages and the cigars. The wine could be improved and the cigars could be thrown away. I paid a shilling for one that was as hard as a stick and crumbled to dust when I bit it. Never mind the flavor. That brand was called “The Scarab.” It should have been named “The Mummy” —it had all the characteristics.
The pilot commands this boat—the captain merely conducts the excursion. The captain wears European dress and speaks English, but the pilot is Arab