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The majority of servants in Cairo households, I am told, are really Berbers rather than pure Egyptians. Custom, however, leads to calling them all indiscriminately “Arabs,” which is about the last name that can be appropriately applied to them.
The real Egyptian, whether Copt or Mussulman, is commonly held to be of an indigenous race, directly descended from those who in the remote ages toiled for Cheops and Thutmosis. Of the two latterday species the Copt is by far the smarter and at the same time the less numerous. Copts are reckoned as numbering only about 600,000 souls. No one seems to like them, despite their usefulness and quickness of comprehension. They do not get on well either with the English or with the natives of the Moslem faith. But one notes a general tendency to pay tribute to their facility, - at least when working for others, - and above all to their rectitude in a moral way.
As for the Mohammedan Egyptians, forming the greater body of the fellaheen, or peasantry in the agricultural districts, they also appear to be a temperate, affable, enduring, and reasonably industrious race. They still tolerate plural wedlock, after the teaching of the Prophet, and until quite recently have divorced their wives with scandalous ease, yet appear to have established a reputation for probity among their womankind which more civilized nations
would do well to emulate. On the whole, the native population is likely to strike the observer as agreeable and happy in his demeanor; but the poor Copt continues, with all his virtues, to be despised and rejected of men, most of all by his fellow Christians who now dominate Egypt.
F the reader is content to follow in my footsteps
through these pages, he will be forced to pass by Alexandria with short shrift. It was our fortune to be landed there at night, after a dreary day passed within sight of its low-lying shores, a delay made necessary by the tumultuous heaving of the ocean. Smaller vessels ventured in and out through the narrow jaws of the breakwater, but for our steamer of many thousand tons no such hazard was deemed advisable. Wherefore we tugged and tossed at anchor some five miles offshore until late afternoon, when a tiny tug rolled perilously through the trough of the seas, and after a hair-raising struggle, succeeded in putting a pilot aboard.
By the time the vessel had been maneuvred into the inner port, it was already night, and the pallid walls of the city which had mocked us through the day had vanished in the blackness. The special train
was waiting on the quay. The luggage had all been passed on to Cairo, practically innocent of customs examination, and it seemed wise to follow it as closely as possible. As for Alexandria, what cared we? And what should care you? Its ancient greatness is departed. Nothing remains of its classic magnificence, save Pompey's Pillar, which was not Pompey's at all; a museum of antiquities, chiefly of Grecian date; and a cemetery that makes greater claim to antiquity than any other fragment of the past that still survives. All these might give to the painstaking sightseer a good day's work; but it is the common lot to be whisked away to Cairo by the steamboat special, leaving of Alexandria no more than the confused impression of a busy, modern port, a harbor alive with shipping, and a city so flat, stale, and modern in appearance as to cause wonder if this can indeed be Egypt.
It is a pity, however, to be forced, as so many of us are, to make the journey to Cairo in the night. The line passes through a wonderful country, albeit lacking in diversity of view. To one who has made but a casual study of the map, it is astonishing to discover that Alexandria is not situated at one of the mouths of the Nile, but lies well to the western side of the Delta on a shore so low that one approaching by sea is unable to perceive it until close
at hand. Secondly, the wonder is likely to be at finding Cairo so very far inland. It requires between three and four hours to make the journey in a train that is called by proper courtesy an express. You ride for some distance over a perfectly level country before you cross the Nile at all, and even then you are not likely to be much impressed by it. Down here in the Delta, which is nothing at all but a broad, fan-shaped deposit of upland mud, the Nile is a muchdivided and subdivided stream - an extraordinary river, reversing all our notions of river life. For it is actually smaller at its mouth than in its middle reaches! No tributaries have come into it, and vast quantities of water have been diverted from it for irrigation as it has passed along. Evaporation is enormous. It follows that the Nile actually grows smaller as it proceeds, and in the Delta is likely to appear to the expectant eye a very ordinary river indeed.
To us, riding by night, all these wonders of the Delta slipped by in the darkness unguessed. A belated moon lent an uncertain light, its pale bulk reflected in the tranquil bosom of the canals that lay along the line. As we neared the Nile a ghostly mast or two rose from the river mists. But of the wondrous garden of the Delta we saw nothing. Its broad expanses of waving green faded away in illimitable