Page images

I was parting from Philæ with a jest, but Philæ is no laughing matter to me. I shall never cease to regret that I did not see this exquisite spot in the days before the dam was built at all. It was one of the most sacred spots in Egypt; its inhabitants had to appeal to their rulers against the burthen of pilgrims who visited it; there were fifteen temples, and flood walls, and colonnades, and Nilometers, with the picturesque adjuncts of a Nile village embosomed in its greenery, and all of them as decayed and deserted as the city of the sleeping beauty. Now it is a Karnak at the bottom of the Nile.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]


The Humours and the Beauties of the Nile as

seen from Cook's Steamers


HERE are people who would go to Egypt without

remembering the existence of the Nile, if they were not obliged to cross it to go to the Khedivial Sporting Club and the Mena House. They will tell you that they do not see any difference between the Nile and the Thames at Hammersmith, except that the Nile's suspension bridge opens and is always in suspense when you want to go across it, and the Nile barges have slightly taller sails. There are many more, who will think this, without having the brutality to put it into words.

To me the Nile was a source of never-ending interest and delight; the shining thread which linked Egypt from end to end; the highway to the dark Sudan; the street of ancient Egyptian temples; the country road from which you see all the quaint procedure of Egyptian agriculture; a chapter in the history of the humours of Egypt. The humours commence for most people at Cairo, though the Delta has a fine crop of its own. The Nile bridge plays a most important part in the economy of Cairo. Perhaps this is because the Nile has so few bridges-much less than a dozen in its whole length-and boats are a tedious way of crossing a river. For about two hours in the very middle of the day the bridge is open for boats to go through. As Cook's steamers don't go through the bridge at all, it would be far more convenient to everybody if the bridge was open to boats, and consequently closed to carriages, for two hours before breakfast. The market people who cater for the early pauper would please their clients better by coming in at dawn; and the boats would hardly have to wait at all, instead of waiting from dawn till lunch-time, as they invariably do. But it would deprive the tourist of a sight, because the assemblage, which collects at the hour when the turn-bridge ought to close, is an assortment of tit-bits of Egyptian and Anglo-Egyptian life. There are the carriagefuls of foreigners with dragomans on the boxes; the stone-carts; the forage camels; the sheikhs in bridal veils on donkeys; the native 'buses, with black humpty-dumpties of women squatting on the floor-the native 'bus is nothing but a floor, it has no roof and no sides, and is more suitable for beer-barrels. But this ordinary jog of traffic is broken up by impatient motors eager to get their only run; British officers in dogcarts, and British officers' polo-ponies, with grooms who are burlesques of the camel-corps. At the near end of the bridge are the Kasr-elNil Barracks, where Tommies play football on the sand in unsuitable weather, and the Semiramis Hotel, which would be so much improved if every other floor was knocked out to give the rooms the proper height for the climate. At the far end are an open-air theatre, where European music-hall artistes of a kind begin to entertain Africans, in the summer after Europeans have gone, and the only public garden in Cairo which has any flowers.

Here there is almost as fine an assortment of native life and native peddling as in the Ataba-el-Khadra, for here the holiday-maker starts for the Pyramids-generally in the wrong tram, which stops halfwayand the hide-bound Englishman goes off to his sporting club. But these belong to another chapter. Those who wish to follow the humours of the Nile turn down to the left, where a fleet of white steamers, which look in the distance like General Gordon's gunboats, Aly the honoured flag of Thomas Cook & Son. Cook is the uncrowned King of Egypt, and this is the navy with which he won his battle of the Nile.

Cook's boats are like the best hotels: there is the same boy with the ostrich-feather broom waiting to dust your legs and feet; the same procession of Arab porters in gowns

[ocr errors]


waiting to seize your luggage. Cook's European stewards, mostly Italians, are very superior to the European waiters you get the hotels; they attend to you instead of to themselves. I wonder that there are not people who spend their lives on Cook's Nile steamers, whenever they are running, just as they spend their lives at golf-clubs which have bed

Here you have the dolce far niente materialised. The dining-room is on deck, and full of windows; you can see the scenery while you are eating. The fore-end of the saloon is one gigantic window. You can also see the scenery as you lie in bed through the big window of your cabin, which has a shutter if you want to keep out publicity or the light, and also a wire screen if you only want to keep out flies

-a real window, not a porthole. Here you can have a pre-breakfast cup of tea or coffee, with biscuits to match, any time after dawn; but you must be careful not to ask for butter unless you are very sure of the pronunciation of the word, for there is a most embarrassing word which sounds like butter in Arabic. Instead of bunks you have quite good beds, high enough from the ground to take two or three ladies' dressbaskets underneath-a consideration in a place where people change their clothes so often as they do in the smart society of Cook's boats. There was one American boy millionaire on one of the Cook's boats in which we travelled, whose appearance at breakfast indicated to a nicety the programme for the day. If he had on a suit of Eau-de-Nil-coloured Shantung silk, with a ribbon to match round his panama, and patent-kid shoes, we knew that we were going to be all day on board taking meals and kodaks. I have never seen such a suit-it was in perfect taste-off the stage. If he was in immaculate white flannels—I beg his pardon, white doeskins—with snow-white boots of another kind of doeskin and a white felt Monte Carlo hat (really white, not pale grey) we knew that we were only going to do little jaunts, such as walking off the steamer to a temple which a considerate Pharaoh had pinned to the bank. But if he was in any of his adorable pale dove or biscuit riding-suits, and hung a helmet on the hat-rack, we knew that we had a long donkey ride before us.

His pretty wife proclaimed her wealth in a different way. She wore one perfect tailor-made dress every day and all day, and one severely made evening frock night after night. This, combined with the fact that she had only one hat-a tennis hat with a club ribbon on it-was real swagger, and she always looked perfectly charmning. She had the most beautiful feet, laced in the most beautiful brown boots a woman could desire.

At each end of the saloon deck of Cook's steamers there is a lounge, the width of the ship and a few yards long, glazed almost from floor to ceiling, but with an effective system of blinds, very necessary in Egypt. This is for getting the first and last views of scenery, and is much used by people who require two hours' rest after breakfast and two hours' rest before dinner. But the chief lounge of the ship is in the centre, between the saloon and the writing-room, where the daily papers arrive every day by a brilliant system of posts, for which the under-dragoman goes ashore before people get up in the morning. In the same way every one finds his letters on his plate when he comes down to breakfast, and posts the letters he writes, just before he goes to bed, in a letter-box beside the donation-box for Cook's hospital, founded at Luxor by the late Mr. Cook's munificence.

The central lounge is a delightful place, as large as a very large drawing-room, spread with soft carpets in the centre, full of easy-chairs and occasional tables, covered in from the sun by a hurricane deck, but with outlying portions where you can walk on wood and stand in the sun, when you are tired of Sybaris. Here you sip coffee after lunch; here you make parties for afternoon tea, with which excursions are never allowed to interfere. You may take lunch into the desert with you, picnic fashion, but you are always back to fight your battles over again at the afternoon tea-tables, and there are generally some people on board who take most of their excursions by hearsay at tea. For the coffee after dinner ; for dancing, or reading, if any one was found who could do either; for bridge, for which few people had the

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »