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AT THE MOUTH OF THE NILE
| AM not a gifted person; I cannot write about
existing places and things without seeing them, and I am afraid to steal from the guide-bookunintelligently, I mean. I have sometimes found the guid -book mistaken—not often, I admit, but too often to take chances. I should be struck with remorse if I should steal from the guide-book and then find that I had stolen a mistake. So I shall have to skip Galilee, Tiberias, Nazareth, and Hebron, for the reason that I could not visit those and include Egypt, too, by our schedule.
One must go to Egypt. If the “grand object of all travel is to visit the shores of the Mediterranean," then the grand climax of that tour is Egypt. One must take all the time there is for that amazing land, and any time will be too short, even though it be a lifetime.
The guide-book says that the arrival at Alexandria is not very impressive. I suppose a good deal depends on the day and the time of day and one's mental attitude. As usual with our arrivals, it was early morning, and everything was hazy and yellow-misty with sunrise. We were moving slowly, and the water was glassy still. Here and there across the yellow haze drifted a barge-like craft with a lateen-sail, or a slow moving boat, pulled by men in native dress. Then out of the mist across the port bow came the outline of a low-lying shore, and a shaft that rose, a vague pencil against the morning glow. The Diplomat was leaning on the rail at my side.
“Egypt,” he said, quietly. “That is a lighthouse —they call it a pharos, after the one that Ptolemy built; it must have stood about in the same direction.”
Certainly that was not very dramatic, not actively so at least, but to me it was impressive; and stealing into that dream-like harbor, through the mellow quiet of the morning, I had the feeling that we were creeping up on the past-catching it asleep, as it were; that this was indeed the pharos of the Ptolemies — the harbor they had known.
I shall always remember Alexandria, Egypt. I shall always remember the railway station with its wild hallabaloo of Arab porters, who grab one's handbaggage, make off with it, and sit on it in a secluded place until you race around and hunt it up and produce baksheesh for its return. You do not check baggage in Egypt, by the way; you register it, which means that you tell somebody about it, then try to convince yourself that it is all right and that some day you will see it again.
But I shall remember that station for another reason. When we had finally fought our way through to the train, and Laura and I had placed our things here and there in our compartment-in the racks and about-we realized that we were hot and thirsty, and I said I would slip back and get some oranges, seeing we had plenty of time.
It was easy to do that easy enough, I mean, for I no longer had anything for the Bedouins to grab. I got the oranges and paid a piastre apiece for them — about ten times what they were worth in Jaffa, and I had the usual difficulty making change - a detachment of interested Arabs looking on meanwhile. Then I started back, and was stopped by a guard who wanted to see my ticket. I felt for the flat leather case which I generally carry in my hip-pocket. It was gone!
If there had been anything resembling a chair there I should have sat down. As it was I took hold of the little railing, for my knees had a watery feeling which I felt was not to be trusted. That pocket-book contained my letter of credit; all my money, except a little change; my tickets, my character-everything that an unprotected stranger is likely to need in a strange land! When I got my breath I dived into all my pockets at once, then went through them categorically, as much as three times apiece. I had never realized I owned so many pockets or that they could be so empty, so useless.
Those Bedouins had done it, of course. I rushed back to the orange-man, and in a mixture of three languages which nobody, not even myself, could understand, explained my loss. He shrugged his shoulders in French, elevated his hands in Egyptian, and said “No can tell” in English. I glared around at the contiguous Bedouins, but they all looked disinterestedly guilty. In a mixed daze I went back to the guard, and crept through when he was attending to another passenger. I still held the bag of oranges, and handed them to Laura, who was quietly waiting, looking out the window at the passing show. Little did she guess my condition, and how could I tell her?
It was quite by chance that I glanced up at the overhead rack where I had stowed our smaller packages. Ah me! The gates of bliss open wide will never be a more inspiring sight than what I saw there. There it lay—that precious pocket-book! In the disordered mental state of our arrival I had for some unguessed reason taken out my pocket-case and laid it there with the other items. It was safesafe in every detail. The world suddenly became glorified. Those Bedouins were my brothers. I would have gone back and embraced them if the train had not begun to move.
Yes, I shall always remember Alexandria.
There is a continuous panorama between Alexandria and Cairo, absolutely fascinating to one who has not seen it before, and I wonder how it can ever grow old to any one. Almost immediately there was water—the Nile, or one of its canals—and stretching away, a dead level of green – lavish, luxurious, blossoming green—the delta-land of Lower Egypt, the richest garden in all the world. A network of irrigation; mud villages that might have been made by wasps; a low-dropping sky that met the level green — these made a background, and against it, along the raised road that follows the Nile, an endless procession passed.
A man riding a camel, leading another; a boy watering two buffaloes; an Arab walking, followed
by his wife and a string of loaded donkeys; ditto camels; a cow grinding an old Egyptian water-mill that has been in use since Pharaoh's time; two men turning an Archimedes screw to lift the water to their fields—so the pictures whirl by. The Orient has become familiar to us, yet for some reason the atmosphere, the impression, is wholly different here, because—I cannot tell why-because this is Egypt, I suppose, and there is only one Egypt, a fact easier to realize than to explain.
The day was well along when we reached Cairo and, after the usual battle with the Ishmaelites, drove to Shepheard's Hotel. As there is only one Egypt, so there is only one Shepheard's Hotel. There are other hotels as large and as lavish, with as fair gardens, perhaps, but I believe there is no other hotel on the planet where you can sit on a vast balmy terrace and look down on such a panorama of the nationsAmerican, European, Asiatic, African—such a universal congress of pleasure as each winter assembles here. It would take a more riotous pen than mine to achieve a description of that mixture. If the reader can imagine a World's Fair Midway of every nationality and every costume and every language and mode of locomotion under the sun, and can see mingled with it all the dark-faced sellers of shawls and scarabs, and beads and relics, the picture will serve, and we will let it go at that.
And perhaps I may as well say here that Cairo is the wildest, freest place in Christendom. The confluence of Upper and Lower Egypt—the Delta and the Nile-here on the edge of the desert, it is the