« PreviousContinue »
duly decked with the abundant praise of the dead, with the customary scenes from his own life and the society of his time - in pictures of which the color is still fresh and lively.
Not all could afford such tombs, to be sure. But in the huddle of graves below were laid the bodies of the poor — the poor who could not build great homes for all eternity, but who at least might lie close by them in the pathetic hope that some overflow of the abundance of their masters might fall to them in their lower estate. Nevertheless I cannot but feel that the Egyptian religion denied equality of men, even when they were dead and turned to clay.
ARCH 3. They start early on this steamer.
Long before the phantom of false morn has died, we are dimly conscious that the paddles have begun their churning and that the boat is off and away. Oddly enough, one sleeps better when the engines are at work. The nocturnal noises of the ship are then hushed and drowned in the steady drone of the paddles and the rapid wash of the water. During the early evening, after we have anchored, the only sound is the purring of the dynamo and such clatter as is made by belated passengers turning in. Later, all is still, save for the stertorous breathing of one's neighbors. For even the dynamo shuts off at eleven, and thereafter there's not a light to be had save candles and an oil lamp or two in the dim vastness of the corridor outside our door.
As we go southward the scenery begins to be finer. . The past two nights have found us anchored under the shadow of frowning cliffs, one of which, by the way, bore the significant name of Gebel-el-Tayr. It requires but little imagination to discover a derivation for Gibraltar in that, and Raschid maintains that the names are identical. In any case it was a wonderfully fine cliff, crowned with a Coptic convent, from which they say the pious monks of other days were wont to cast themselves down headlong to the muddy waters below — in quest of backsheesh from the steamer-folk. Judging by the impressive bulk of the height in the darkness I imagine the high dive from its top would be well worth paying for
- if it were actually done. Possibly the dragomans are romancing a bit, as our peppery little colonel insists they are doing. None, at any rate, has dived for us, although I understand the convent is still tenanted.
I begin more and more to appreciate the length and narrowness of arable Egypt. We have left the Delta many miles behind and are threading our way up a winding river that meanders in vast curves through the defiles it has worn in ages past. Now on the right bank and now on the left, and sometimes on both at once, is a narrow strip of vivid green, invariably backed by the tawny heights of the desert cliffs. Now and again the latter approach to the very edge of the water, and on their steep sides we may see men breaking off stone and tumbling the rock down to the shore where tiny shallops are loading. The channel is forever shifting from one side of the river to the other at every bend; and when it shifts we obediently follow it, feeling our way across with much sounding and frequent bumps.
The mud banks of the river have been left high above the present current and tower black and hardbaked in the sun. Along these have begun to appear the innumerable "shadoufs," or improvised wellsweeps for lifting the water by easy stages from one level to another, until at the top it can be poured into the trenches that serve to water the fields. At every
bend the natives have erected flimsy retainingwalls, or revêtements, of broken stone, laid without binding of any sort, and subject to be carried away in times of flood, as constant breakages along the way reveal to us.
Thus far most of the greenery has been along the western bank, and as a rule the Libyan Desert lies several miles away on that side - so far away that we are seldom conscious of it. The bank is heavily fringed with palms, and here and there a tiny mud village huddles under the trees. I can imagine nothing more squalid — but at a distance they are undeniably picturesque. All these settlements we have passed without a landing.
Now and again we catch a glimpse of the railroad, which up to this time has kept religiously to the western shore. It is about the only thing that dispels the illusion that we are out of all touch with familiar civilization, and for that I pardon its intrusion of friendly semaphores and unsightly telegraph poles into a landscape otherwise absolutely different from any
I have hitherto seen in any country. As for the desert, which now and then crowds close upon the thread of the river, we are beginning to appreciate it more than ever. It seldom reveals itself to us as a barren waste, but generally appears as a towering and decidedly abrupt cliff, stratified and scarred, battlemented and turreted, its irregular top sharply outlined against a blue with which its buff hues contrast admirably. But it is at sunset that the great cliffs are at their best. Then their tawny notes change, and become all sorts of magnificent colors
- magnificent, but always pale. The blue above deepens to an indigo. If the giant cliffs below contrasted admirably before, they are indescribably grand now. The afterglow is on them in all the marvelous clarity of the Egyptian air. They gleam pallidly against that background of night — and as you gaze they insensibly fade, fade, and grow ghostly,