« PreviousContinue »
apparent cause there would occur wild confusion and despair.
It was no use. Laura and I wanted to go inside the Great Pyramid, and we did not want to climb it. It was impossible to do one, and it was about equally impossible not to do the other. Out of the confusion of things at last I remembered a young officer of the police, whom I had met riding home that first night on the trolley-a mere lad of nineteen or twenty, but a big fellow, who spoke excellent English and said he was Superintendent of the Pyramid Police. I decided now to see if this was true, and, if so, to ask his advice in our present difficulties.
I remembered that the police station was near the trolley terminus, and we gradually fought our way back there. Yes, there he was, at his desk, a handsome soldierly figure in a tall red fez. He rose and bowed, remembering us immediately.
We would like to look about a little, I said, and to go inside the big Pyramid, but we preferred to be alive when we got through; also fairly decent as to appearance. Couldn't he pick us out a guard or two, who would keep the enemy in check, and see us through?
He bowed with easy grace.
Now, I already knew the custom of Egypt, and I began to make a hasty estimate of my ready money, wondering if I had sufficient for a baksheesh of this rank. It was by no means certain. However, there would be ship-dwellers about: I could borrow, perhaps.
I decided presently that whatever the duty imposed, it was worth it. With that big uniformed fellow
at our side we were immune to all that hungry horde of Arab vultures. We walked through unscathed. Our protector procured the entrance tickets for us; he selected two strong men to push and pull us up the long, dark, glassy-slick passage that leads to the sepulchre of Khufu in the very heart of the Pyramid; he went with us himself into that still mysterious place, explaining in perfect English how five or six thousand years ago the sarcophagus of the great king was pushed up that incline; he showed us the mortises in the stone where uprights were set to hold the great granite coffin when the laborers stopped to rest. It was a weird experience in the cool, quiet darkness of that mightiest of tombs with the flaring candles and eager sure-footed Arabs; it seemed to belong in Rider Haggard's story of She. Then, after we had seen the old black sarcophagus, which is empty now, and had remained a little in that removed place, trying to imagine that we were really in the very centre of the big Pyramid, we made our way out again to light and the burning desert heat. I settled with our Arabs with little or no difficulty, which is worth something in itself, and when we had found a quiet place I thanked our guardian and tendered him what I thought a liberal honorarium-fairly liberal, even for America.
He drew back a little.
I had not made it large enough then. I glanced about for some of the party who would have funds.
“I am sorry," I began, “it is not more. I will—” “I beg your pardon,” he repeated, “but I could not accept anything for what is but my duty. I am only very glad to do what I may for you. I will do something more, if you wish.”
Then, of course, I knew it must be a dream, and that I would wake up presently in Shepheard's Hotel to find that we hadn't started for the Pyramids yet. Still, I would keep up the blessed trance a moment longer.
“You mean that you will not allow me to acknowledge your great favor to us?” I said in that polite manner for which our ship is justly famous.
"Not in money,” he said. “The Government pays me a salary for my work and this is only part of my work. It has also given me pleasure."
I surreptitiously pinched myself in certain tender places to see if I couldn't wake up. It was no use. He persisted in his refusal, and presently produced an ancient corroded coin, Greek or Roman, such as is sometimes found among the débris.
“I should like to offer you this,” he said. "I found it myself, so I am sure it is genuine."
Ah, this was the delicate opportunity. “You will let me buy it, of course.”
But no, he declined that, too. He wished us only to remember him, he insisted. He added:
“I have two scarabs at home; I should like to bring them to your hotel.”
It was rather dazing. The seller of scarabsgenuine or imitation-will not let a prospective purchaser get out of sight. I wondered why we should be trusted in this unheard-of way; I also wondered what those two scarabs were likely to be worth.
Could he come to-night? I asked; we should be sight-seeing to-morrow and leaving for Upper Egypt in the afternoon.
But no, he would not be home in time. He would wait until we returned from Upper Egypt.
So it was we had parted, and in the tumult of sightseeing up the Nile I had forgotten the matter altogether. Now, here he was. I counted up my spare currency, and waited.
He had on his best smile as he entered, also a brandnew uniform, and he certainly made a handsome figure. He inquired as to our sight-seeing up the Nile, then rather timidly he produced two of those little Egyptian gems-a scarab and an amulet, such as men and women of old Egypt wore, and took with them to their tombs.
“I got them from a man who took them from a mummy. They are genuine. I want to give them to you and the little la-dy,” he said.
“But you must not give them to us—they are too valuable," I began.
He flushed and straightened up a little.
Now, of course, no one who knows Cairo can ever believe that story. Yet it all truly happened, precisely as I have set it down. He was just a young Egyptian who had attended school in Alexandria, and he spoke and wrote English, French, Italian, and the dialects of Arabic. The Egyptian acquires the lore of languages naturally, it would seem, but that this youth should acquire all those things, and such a standard of honor and generosity, here in a land where baksheesh is the native god, did seem amazing. When we left, he wrote down our address in the neatest possible hand, requesting permission to send us something more.