« PreviousContinue »
taken a hasty glance at the pyramids before escaping into the hotel, and they had certainly been all that was claimed for them. Indeed, the half had not been told. Ruddy and appallingly steep they had towered dimly into what was left of the sunset, and the moon, round and full, was climbing the east and silvering the desert from which the last rays of the sun had fled. When we came out again, all was dark and mysterious. The sky was clear. The pyramids rose into it majestically like gigantic ghosts. Their shadows lay sharp across the sands. The night air nipped shrewdly.
A host of shrouded figures at the gate realized our ideals of desert Bedouin to the full, and among them was Hassan. He claimed us, and his claim was instantly disputed. We took several steps forward, but with the utmost difficulty. Tumult and confusion reigned. The clamoring host surrounded us. Advance was almost impossible, as the road was blocked with men, boys, donkeys, camels, sheiks, and the sons of sheiks. We were the first that ever burst into that sunless sea, apparently. The other sowaheen were still at meat. No diversion due to the appearance of other possible customers served to divide the crowd - and here for the first time we learned what an outrageous nuisance the pyramid Bedouin are and how utterly neglectful is the Government in the matter of regulating them. On later visits I learned that the best way to deal with this evil is to suffer and be strong.
When we had got rid of the mob, which finally happened, we found Hassan's two boasted camels reclining and ruminating in the deep shadow which the high wall cast on the gleaming road. The moon made it almost as light as day. The highway wound off into the lofty plateau of the desert in a sweeping curve which glistened like silver. The pyramids stood high above on a surprisingly lofty bluff which marked the eastern edge of the eternal sands. Here it was that we mounted, not without difficulty, yet sustained and soothed by Hassan's persistent coo.
The awakening of the camel should be a fit theme for a tone poem. It presents an infinite variety of motif throughout, to which the rumbling and grunting of the beast afford a droning accompaniment. The worst part of every camel ride is the beginning and the ending thereof. The downsitting and uprising of the brute is a complicated process at best, but most so when one is mounted.
I approached the larger camel and obediently seated myself on his extreme summit.
“Lean back," commanded Hassan. I obeyed.
“Look out, sah! Lean front!” I complied. Lo, we were aloft.
"All right, sah? You feel all right?” I said I did.
"I hope you all right, sah?” — this in a pleading tone that would have melted the hardest Pharaoh's heart. I again assured him—and we were off.
Perched as I was and expecting the most awful things, I dared not turn to see how Katrina was getting along with her camel, but I was aware by certain squeals and exclamations that her beast was under way too and that the cavalcade had started. And in very truth it was a cavalcade, if one may have such without horses. Each camel was led by two boys and two men, all shrouded in white. · Hassan trotted alongside on his donkey. Another boy, who spoke a little English, ran at my side and disturbed me by much conversation. Had I known then what I know now, all these attendants would have been dismissed instanter. They were a needless and wholly expensive luxury, as we discovered when we got back and it was time for the distribution of backsheesh.
Meantime in a solemn and a silent row we paraded past the Great Pyramid, bore around its massive eastern face and down into a valley shadowed by the meaner and more ruinous brick pyramids of those of low degree. The prospect was incredibly glorious. Under the full moon the Nile valley, broad and dim, was fair to see; and the desert stretched afar to the southward to where Sakkâra spread her silver