Page images
PDF
EPUB
[graphic][merged small]

until all at once a certain moment cuts the deed off and the night has come. In the west there's a newborn crescent and a single star, so bright and so distinctly five-pointed that you can hardly believe it is Venus. In the presence of so much grandeur the chattering of the ship's company ceases. All stand in rapt awe of this vast handiwork, and it needs but the evening chant of the muezzin — “There is no God but God! Lol God is great!” — to give voice to the common feeling in every breast — German, French, English, American, Australian — all who stand bareheaded and silent before this mighty monument of nature.

The passing feluccas add enormously to the picturesqueness of the river by day. They pass by in scores, either drifting in the rapid current, or, if the wind be fair, with sails aslant like the wings of enormous birds. Occasionally we find them troublesome, because, as in every land, the slow-moving sailer has the right of way over steam. Our whistle is constantly being invoked to exhortation, warning, protest — even a mild sort of profanity, such as whistles know. Thus far we have successfully avoided collision, although yesterday while the Professor was taking a quiet nap on the after-deck, with his feet extended toward the port rail, we raked the yard of a passing craft and tore away a bit of the rigging, missing the Professor's stout shoes by the merest hair.

It was early forenoon when we hove in sight of the great barrage at Assiut. There it lay across the stream in a massive yellow line, a lofty dam pierced by a hundred gates. From a few of these water sluiced in a brawling flood, but the majority were partly closed, making the level behind them somewhat higher than below. Across the top, sharply silhouetted against the sky, strode a train of asses loaded deep with "barseem” — the native clover on which all beasts are fed. Close at the western end a horde of feluccas clustered waiting for passage. Along the bank a host of ragged children danced and shouted, and as we drew nearer we heard what it was they said, — "Backsheesh!”

It was our first experience at being “locked through" the barrage, and it was accomplished with surprising ease. Our craft could not have got past had she been six inches longer. The gates swung to behind us. Other gates opened in front — and we sailed out and onward.

Assiut lay just before — a big town crowning a low hillock by the stream and gleaming white in the forenoon sun. It was the pleasantest looking city we had seen above Cairo- and, indeed, the only one of considerable size, for it is rated as containing something over forty thousand people. There is no larger town in Upper Egypt.

The steamer sidled into her berth - a wharf made by tethering a huge scow below the frowning rim of the bank. And such a crowd as there was drawn up to receive us !' The upper reaches of the shore were lined with dusky Arabs and Copts, – at least, I suppose they were Copts, -all shouting frantically and all displaying wares for sale. The main exhibit was, of course,

“ Assiut shawls" those marvelous creations of net-and-silver which the past few years have made so familiar to all the world; but there were many other things to be had, such as pottery articles, amulets, fly-whisks, mummy-beads, and whips of rhinoceros-hide. The tumult was prodigious and the prices fabulous subject, however, to sweeping reductions as the time came for departure.

The Professor and I plunged through the mob for a stroll uptown, but quick as we were, the little colonel was quicker. He was a sight for wondering eyes, fully equipped for a tour in the heat and dust, as well became the veteran of Indian campaigns. His dust-colored uniform sat snugly upon him. His helmet was of a whiteness from which the sun was reflected with more than Oriental splendor. His legs were encased in puttees. To crown it all, his head was graced with a sort of lambrequin of green - a

« PreviousContinue »