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EBRUARY 28. This morning we embarked on
the steamer Egypt. We found her moored at the western shore of the Nile, alongside what is known as the Kasr-el-Nil, in the midst of a numerous company of craft. The others were mostly small private steamers and dahabiyehs, out of whose throng the Egypt towered like Saul in the assembly of the people.
Our first impressions are highly agreeable. The Egypt is to all appearance a fine ship, something more than one hundred and thirty feet long — which is as long as any Nile craft can be and still pass the locks at Assiut and Esneh. I am credibly informed also that she draws only a 'trifle over three feet of water, despite her size; which is desirable, because every Cairo newspaper nowadays relates that the river is falling at the rate of several centimetres a day, and
navigation is correspondingly difficult for boats of much burthen.
Our stateroom is down below — where all the double rooms are. Most of it is below the waterline. It boasts one large window, from which one looks out over a waste of muddy waters. It has two real beds, each clamped to the floor and equipped with mosquito netting; likewise a double washstand and a capacious closet. Even so there is almost room enough in it for a dance. The Professor, who is with us, has a single room on the deck above. He, too, would have plenty of room if it were not for the water - that is to say, drinking-water, of which the Professor has providently laid in a large supply. The “Ship" insists that if he must have his own private drink he must keep it in his room. He is, in consequence, an inspiring sight, entirely surrounded by gallons and gallons of “Source Cachat" -- a sort of human island in a sea of bottles. Meantime I observe on the main deck rows of huge filters in latticed boxes, the same designed to supply great quantities of "môyeh Nil” — Nile water — in a proper state of purification, and I suspect we shall all end by drinking it, despite the fact that we are so abundantly provisioned.
We got away promptly at ten this forenoon to the tune of much chantey-music in the fo'c'sle. I foresee
that the antics of the crew are to be among the interesting things on this voyage, for nothing is ever done without the accompaniment of song, no matter if it is only the overhauling of a rope. Six brawny Arabs are even now laying down a huge hawser on the deck outside, grunting “Mahmoud ! Mahmoud !” in a rhythmic, growling bass as they sway to and fro. A villainous-looking pirate with a single eye is washing himself at the common tank forward, preparing, no doubt, to pray. From all appearances neither the ablution nor the prayer will be amiss.
Some delay occurred at the upper bridge which spans the Nile something like a mile and a half above Cairo's chief landing-stage, and which serves to convey the tram cars from the city to the pyramids. As a bridge it serves no other observable purpose, and one of my Cairo friends has recommended the centre of it to me as a quiet spot in which to read. If grass grew anywhere in Egypt without constant care, it might well be in the midst of this deserted structure which gave the steamer so much trouble this noon. Handling a craft as large as the Egypt in a narrow draw, hardly wider than her beam, and against a good stiff current is a task of some little difficulty but we managed it somehow to everybody's admiration under the voluble direction of a swart pilot in a turban high aloft in a birdcage of a pilothouse. Once