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actually looked upon these gems of Egyptian architecture in the days of their waning glory will give ourselves airs, no doubt!
Another time — if I am spared - I shall come to Assuan in mid-winter. March is proving much too hot. To-day has been breathless and torrid with the mercury at nearly a hundred — much too hot even for a New England summer day and far too trying for those of us who so lately came hither from ice and snow. We are all a bit prostrated to-night by the experience, but what of that? Have we not seen Philæ, and the great dam, and have we not shot the meagre rapids of the First Cataract ?
T., a jovial Englishman of our company on the ship, thoughtfully invited us to go with him to Philæ in advance of the crowd — for T. has a special dragoman of his own, a dapper young Egyptian rejoicing in the name of Taiyah. I met him first on the banks of the river at Bedreschein on the day devoted by all but me to Sakkâra. He introduced himself with a view to future engagements and presented an array of recommendations as long as the moral law, including the potent name of Robert Hichens. However, but few of us are such swells as to afford a special man, and as a matter of fact no one really needs that luxury. If you have a private dragoman he merely goes ahead and meets you at every land
ing, has some selected donkeys waiting for you, rides over the ground and dispenses misinformation about the ruins which the regular dragoman does quite as well, and finally departs by train to meet you at the next stop. The one appreciable advantage is in being independent of hoi polloi and fairly free from bother in the matter of backsheesh problems. The consummate disadvantage may turn out to be that your attendant is almost too anxious to oblige and entertain. You may be asked to the house of some of his relations, which is interesting, and given a dinner of prodigious length and nativeness, which is interesting, too, but cloying. I have had experience of such—but that was years ago, in Greece, and therefore another story. Suffice it to say that I can hardly to this day abide the thought of beer and oysters, or cups of Samian wine.
All of which, however, does not at all imply that Taiyah did aught to-day but justify his existence to the full. His felucca, gayly decked with flags and a merciful awning, came alongside early, for we were to go to Philæ by water. The craft was manned by six husky Egyptians and an agile monkey of a boy, in addition to Taiyah himself, resplendent in a suit of tremendous checks, a freshly ironed tarbush, and a broad smile that simply would not come off.
We departed under a pitiless sun and over a river
as placid as a mirror. Not a breath filled the flapping sail. The men bent to the oars. The rest of us retreated to the friendly shelter of the awning and abandoned ourselves to the luxury of seeing other people work. Meantime Taiyah took me covertly aside and whispered anxious inquiries as to the depth of the Professor's understanding of Egyptology, being a little wary of professional experts in that line, and having no wish to be contradicted in the full tide of his explanations of hieroglyphic mysteries. I reassured him. Later I discovered that he had likewise sounded the Professor himself, who, by the way, is not an Egyptologist at all, and who knows as much about hieroglyphs as, in the homely New England phrase, “a cow does of calculus.”
“He asked me," said the Professor, “if I could decipher inscriptions; and I told him that I could do so only with difficulty.' I omitted to add, however, that the difficulty was extreme!”
At all events, Taiyah was reassured and we went on our way, wilted but rejoicing, passing up the western channel by the island of Elephantine and through a maze and wilderness of smooth, black boulders that have been defying the waters of the Nile since the day of creation. Thus far it was familiar ground, or rather water,
- for we sailed over the same stretch of river twice yesterday and
inspected in the process the ancient Nilometer, now far out of water, on which are to be seen numerous cartouches and the marks of famous floods. So low is the river now that the Nilometer seems an absurd distance from the stream, and indeed, the scant flowage of this season deprives the so-called “Cataract” of its wonted majesty. To-day's excursion has not proved it all our fancies painted. It is simply a sadly depleted river running through a narrow gorge in the rocks, the bottom of which is filled with both ragged and rounded boulders scattered all about as if sown by the careless hand of a passing giant. Uglylooking rocks they are, too, — some very black and hard, some reddish, - such stones, in short, as Rameses and the rest were wont to employ for obelisks and images of themselves. How they ever quarried such obdurate stuff, and how they ever transported such masses of it as they did when quarried in those primitive days remains to me an engineering marvel.
We rowed on and on for five or six miles through this vale of desolation, leaving Assuan far behind. As we advanced, the prospect did not grow more pleasing. On the contrary, it was rockier and rockier and the aspect of the sterile shores became more forbidding. Now and then a bit of a breeze tempted the men to set their sail and rest from the oars, and for a season the boat would be allowed to float gently
onward against the diminished current, whilst the leader of the crew got out a tomtom and beat it for our edification. It delighted the crew at least, and in their joy we piously pretended to share because Taiyah obviously expected it and had provided the entertainment in the goodness of his expansive heart.
But the breeze never endured for very long, and the men had to give up their instrumental music for the sterner labor of the sweeps. Even then, however, they lightened their toil with song, one man always leading off as chorister and the others joining at the appropriate points in a lusty chorus. Occasionally Taiyah translated — freely, I judge, for residents tell me that not all these ditties are subject to accurate rendition and a few are certainly not to be commended for the uses of a Sunday excursion. Most popular of all was a brief snatch of melody in which the leader always chanted a few words first as a sort of invitation, whereat the rest responded as one man with a throaty refrain not devoid of pleasing qualities. Taiyah said the song was of this import :
"My dolly, she walks in the garden ;
M. Maspero more elegantly translates it, “In the garden I saw my handsome friend.”
Still another chantey, much longer and apparently