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It was not uninteresting, though. The natives came to inspect us an unusual opportunity for them, and some women came down to the Nile with great stone jars for water. Those jars must hold eight or ten gallons, and are heavy enough empty, yet those women will balance them on their heads and go stepping away chatting lightly, indifferent to their great burdens. They were barefooted and wore anklets which I wanted to buy, but Gaddis did not seem interested, and I could not transact a delicate business like that without careful interpretation.
Our people saw us at last and came for us in a boat. Then there was a bustle of preparation; a loading into the markab which we had engaged to take us ashore; a good-bye to our pretty, unfortunate little Memnon; a drifting down to the donkey landing, and a sorry-looking procession to the railway.
Our guides had difficulty settling with donkey-men, who, never having had tourists before, had engaged, no doubt, at their usual rates; then suddenly they had awakened to the idea that they were missing the chance of a fortune. The baksheesh we gave them must have opened their eyes. Probably they had never received so much at one time before. At all events, they came back for a new settlement, surrounded Gaddis and Abraham, and for a while we thought inferno had broken loose. Gaddis finally resorted to a stick, but Abraham, who is as big as a camel, first delivered an admonition, and then ran bodily upon the whole crowd and swept them like chaff from the platform.
The wait at Fachen was not overlong, but it became
a trifle tedious after the novelty of the place had passed. We telegraphed Cairo of our coming, and Abraham entertained us with a few marvels to while away the time. He said that the stone used in building the pyramids had been brought across the Nile; that such stone was light like pumice-stone when quarried; that it floated across, and that the water it soaked up solidified and turned it into hard, heavy stone on the other side. The Credulous One believed this statement. He said the Memnon had grounded on a reef of crocodiles, at this season asleep, tucked up in the bed of the Nile. The Credulous One believed that, too. Several of the party did. He said that all telegrams in Egypt are sent in English, for the reason that the Arabic characters get tangled up in the wires. I believed that myself. He would have enlightened us further, only the train came just then.
We had to change at Wasta, where it was night, and I shall never forget that fevered scene of Arab faces and flaring lamps, and heat, and thirst—the one hot night in Egypt—as we wandered about that Egyptian station waiting for the Cairo express. Suddenly we came upon another party of our shipdwellers, whose boat, ahead of ours, had grounded too. Finding them there in that weird place was all like something in a fever. Then we were on the express at last, roaring away through the dust and dark and heat to Cairo—a flight out of Egypt so modern that one could imagine the gates of the dead centuries behind us rushing together with a bang.
OTHER WAYS THAT ARE EGYPTIAN
THE Reprobates were at Shepheard's when we
returned, enjoying Egypt thoroughly. Shepheard's is a good place in which to enjoy Egypt. Some of the sights there are quite wonderful, and American refreshments are connected with an electric bell.
The Reprobates had done Upper Egypt, however. They had done it in one day. They had left Cairo in the evening, telegraphing ahead for carriages to meet the train at Luxor, where they had arrived next morning. They had driven directly from the train to Karnak, from Karnak to the temple of Luxor, from Luxor to the hotel for luncheon. In the afternoon they had soared over to the Valley of the Kings; from the Kings they had dropped down on the House of Hatasu, the temples of Rameses and others; they had come coursing back by the Colossi of Memnon in time to catch the Cairo express, which landed them at Shepheard's about daybreak. The Reprobates had enjoyed Upper Egypt very much, though I could see they regretted the necessity of devoting all that time to it when Shepheard's still remained partially unexplored.
I had hardly landed in my room when a call-boy from the office came up to say that a police-officer was
below, asking for me. For a moment I wondered a little feverishly what particular thing it was he wanted me for. Then the boy said, "Pyramid police,” which brought a gleam of light. “Oh, why-yes, of course—show him up!"
And now, while we are waiting for him, I am going to record a circumstance which I suppose a good many readers—especially those familiar with the Eastmay find it difficult to believe. Nevertheless, it is authentic and provable.
In Egypt, baksheesh is a national institution. Everybody takes it-every Egyptian, I mean; if I should begin by saying I had met an exception to this rule I could not expect any one who knows Cairo to read any further. This by-the-way.
It was during our first stop in Cairo, and we had been there a day or two before we made our official visit to the Pyramids and Sphinx. We went in carriages then, attended by two guides. For some reason, however, our protectors left us to shift pretty much for ourselves when we got there, and it was a pretty poor shift. The fortune-tellers and scarabsellers and donkey-men and would-be guides swarmed about us and overran us and would not be appeased. When we repulsed them temporarily they rallied and broke over us in waves, and swept us here and there, until we became mere human flotsam and jetsam on that tossing Egyptian tide.
It was all like a curiously confused dream. Members of our party would suddenly turn up, and as suddenly disappear again: there would be moments of lull when we seemed about to collect, then, presto! without any
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