Some instinct of the old Egyptian blood tells him that the creature is God-like. He is conscious of a great mystery lying far back in the past. He has, perhaps, a dim, confused notion that the Big Head knows it all, whatever it may be. He has never heard of the morning-song of Memnon; but he fancies, somehow, that those closed lips might speak if questioned. It is night, and the stars are shining. Vedder has permitted me to enrich this book with an engraving from his picture.
It tells its own tale; or rather it tells as much of its own tale as the artist chooses. Each must interpret for himself The Secret of The Sphinx. Egyptian Chronology V. Contemporary Chronology of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Babylon Here assemble daily some two to three hundred persons of all ranks, nationalities, and pursuits; half of whom are Anglo-Indians homeward or outward bound, European residents, or visitors established in Cairo for the winter.
A Thousand Miles Up the Nile
The other half, it may be taken for granted, are going up the Nile. So composite and incongruous is this body of Nile-goers, young and old, well-dressed and ill-dressed, learned and unlearned, that the new-comer's first impulse is to inquire from what motives so many persons of dissimilar tastes and training can be led to embark upon an expedition which is, to say the least of it, very tedious, very costly, and of an altogether exceptional interest. His curiosity, however, is soon gratified. Before two days are over, he knows everybody's name and everybody's business; distinguishes at first sight between a Cook's tourist and an independent traveller; and has discovered that nine-tenths of those whom he is likely to meet up the river are English or American.
The rest will be mostly German, with a sprinkling of Belgian and French. So far en bloc; but the details are more heterogeneous still. Here are invalids in search of health; artists in search of subjects; sportsmen keen upon crocodiles; statesmen out for a holiday; special correspondents 2. Now in a place like Shepheard's, where every fresh arrival has the honour of contributing, for at least a few minutes, to the general entertainment, the first appearance of L.
People asked each other, most likely, where these two wandering Englishwomen had come from; why they had not dressed for dinner; what brought them to Egypt; and if they also were going up the Nile—to which questions it would have been easy to give satisfactory answers. We came from Alexandria , having had a rough passage from Brindisi followed by forty-eight hours of quarantine. We had not dressed for dinner because, having driven on from the station in advance of dragoman and luggage, we were but just in time to take seats with the rest.
For in simple truth we had drifted hither by accident, with no excuse of health, or business, or any serious object what-ever; and had just taken refuge in Egypt as one might turn aside into the Burlington Arcade or the Passage des Panoramas —to get out of the rain. And with good reason. Having left home early in September for a few weeks' sketching in central France, we had been pursued by the wettest of wet weather. Washed out of the hill-country, we fared no better in the plains. At Nismes, it poured for a month without stopping.
Debating at last whether it were better to take our wet umbrellas back at once to England, or push on farther still in search of sunshine, the talk fell upon Algiers—Malta— Cairo ; and Cairo carried it. Never was distant expedition entered upon with less premeditation. The thing was no sooner decided than we were gone. Nice, Genoa, Bologna, Ancona flitted by, as in a dream; and Bedreddin Hassan when he awoke at the gates of 3. Here, then, without definite plans, outfit, or any kind of Oriental experience, behold us arrived in Cairo on the 29th of November , literally, and most prosaically, in search of fine weather.
But what had memory to do with rains on land, or storms at sea, or the impatient hours of quarantine, or anything dismal or disagreeable, when one awoke at sunrise to see those grey-green palms outside the window solemnly bowing their plumed heads towards each other, against a rose-coloured dawn? It was dark last night, and I had no idea that my room overlooked an enchanted garden, far-reaching and solitary, peopled with stately giants beneath whose tufted crowns hung rich cluster s of maroon and amber dates.
It was a still, warm morning. Grave grey and black crows flew heavily from tree to tree, or perched, cawing meditatively, upon the topmost branches. Yonder, between the pillared stems, rose the minaret of a very distant mosque; and here where the garden was bounded by a high wall and a windowless house, I saw a veiled lady walking on the terraced roof in the midst of a cloud of pigeons. Nothing could be more simple than the scene and its accessories; nothing, at the same time, more Eastern, strange, and unreal. But in order thoroughly to enjoy an overwhelming, ineffaceable first impression of Oriental out-of-doors life, one should begin in Cairo with a day in the native bazaars; neither buying, nor sketching, nor seeking information, but just taking in scene after scene, with its manifold combinations of light and shade, colour, costume, and architectural detail.
Every shop-front, every street corner, every turbaned group is a ready-made picture. The old Turk who sets up his cake-stall in the recess of a sculptured doorway; the donkey-boy with his gaily caparisoned ass, waiting for customers; the beggar asleep on the steps of the mosque; the veiled woman filling her water jar at the public fountain—they all look as if they had been put there expressly to be painted.
Nor is the background less picturesque than the figures. Now a water-carrier goes by, bending under the weight of his newly-replenished goatskin, the legs of which being tied up, the neck fitted with a brass cock, and the hair left on, looks horribly bloated and life-like. The lady wears a rose-coloured silk dress and white veil, besides a black silk outer garment, which, being cloak, hood, and veil all in one, fills out with the wind as she rides, like a balloon. She sits astride; her naked feet, in their violet velvet slippers, just resting on the stirrups.
She takes care to display a plump brown arm laden with massive gold bracelets, and, to judge by the way in which she uses a pair of liquid black eyes, would not be sorry to let her face be seen also.
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Nor is the steed less well dressed than his mistress. His close-shaven legs and hindquarters are painted in blue and white zigzags picked out with bands of pale yellow; his high-pommelled saddle is resplendent with velvet and embroidery; 6.
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But the Egyptian, Arab, and Turkish merchants, whether mingling in the general tide or sitting on their counters, are the most picturesque personages in all this busy scene. They wear ample turbans, for the most part white; long vests of striped Syrian silk reaching to the feet; and an outer robe of braided cloth or cashmere. The vest is confined round the waist by a rich sash; and the outer robe, or gibbeh , is generally of some beautiful degraded colour, such as maize, mulberry, olive, peach, sea-green, salmon-pink, sienna-brown, and the like.
That these stately beings should vulgarly buy and sell, instead of reposing all their lives on luxurious divans and being waited upon by beautiful Circassians, seems altogether contrary to the eternal fitness of things.
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Here, for instance, is a Grand Vizier in a gorgeous white and amber satin vest, who condescends to retail pipe-bowls,—dull red clay pipe-bowls of all sizes and prices. He sells nothing else, and has not only a pile of them on the counter, but a binful at the back of his 7.
A Thousand Miles Up The Nile.
Most amusing of all, however, are those bazaars in which each trade occupies its separate quarter. You pass through an old stone gateway or down a narrow turning, and find yourself amid a colony of saddlers stitching, hammering, punching, riveting. You walk up one alley and down another, between shop-fronts hung round with tasselled head-gear and hump-backed saddles of all qualities and colours.
Here are ladies' saddles, military saddles, donkey-saddles, and saddles for great officers of state; saddles covered with red leather, with crimson and violet velvet, with maroon, and grey, and purple cloth; saddles embroidered with gold and silver, studded with brass-headed nails, or trimmed with braid. Another turn or two, and you are in the slipper bazaar, walking down avenues of red and yellow morocco slippers; the former of home manufacture, the latter from Tunis. Here are slippers with pointed toes, turned-up toes, and toes as round and flat as horse-shoes; walking slippers with thick soles, and soft yellow slippers to be worn as inside socks, which have no soles at all.
These absurd little scarlet bluchers with tassels are for little boys; the brown morocco shoes are for grooms; the velvet slippers embroidered with gold and beads and seed-pearls are for wealthy hareems, and are sold at prices varying from five shillings to five pounds the pair. The carpet bazaar is of considerable extent, and consists of a network of alleys and counter-alleys opening off to the right of the Muski, which is the Regent Street of Cairo. The 9. In the Khan Khaleel, the place of the gold and silversmiths' bazaar, there is found, on the contrary, scarcely any display of goods for sale.
The alleys are so narrow in this part that two persons can with difficulty walk in them abreast; and the shops, tinier than ever, are mere cupboards with about three feet of frontage. The back of each cupboard is fitted with tiers of little drawers and pigeon-holes, and in front is a kind of matted stone step, called a mastabah, which serves for seat and counter. The customer sits on the edge of the mastabah; the merchant squats, cross-legged, inside. In this position he can, without rising, take out drawer after drawer; and thus the space between the two becomes piled with gold and silver ornaments.
These differ from each other only in the metal, the patterns being identical; and they are sold by weight, with a due margin for profit. In dealing with strangers who do not understand the Egyptian system of weights, silver articles are commonly weighed against rupees or five-franc pieces, and gold articles against napoleons or sovereigns. As for the merchants, their civility and patience are inexhaustible. One may turn over their whole stock, try on all their bracelets, go away again and again without buying, and yet be always welcomed and dismissed with smiles.
But the bazaars, however picturesque, are far from being the only sights of Cairo.
There are mosques in plenty; grand old Saracenic gates; ancient Coptic churches; the museum of Egyptian antiquities; and, within driving distance, the tombs of the Caliphs, Heliopolis , the Pyramids, and the Sphinx. To remember in what order the present travellers saw these things would now be impossible; for they lived in a dream, and were at first too bewildered to catalogue their impressions very methodically.
Some places they were for the present obliged to dismiss with only a passing glance; others had to be wholly deferred till their return to Cairo. In the meanwhile, our first business was to look at dahabeeyahs; and the looking at dahabeeyahs compelled us constantly to turn our steps and our thoughts in the direction of Boulak—a desolate place by the river, where some two or three hundred Nile-boats lay moored for hire.
Now, most persons know something of the miseries of house-hunting; but only those who have experienced them know how much keener are the miseries of dahabeeyah-hunting. It is more bewildering and more fatiguing, and is beset by its own special and peculiar difficulties. The boats, in the first place, are all built on the same plan, which is not the case with houses; and except as they run bigger or smaller, cleaner or dirtier, are as like each other as twin oysters. The same may be said of their captains, with the same differences; for to a person who has been only a few days in Egypt, one black or copper-coloured man is exactly like every other black or copper-coloured man.
Thus it came to pass that, for the first ten days or so, some three or four hours had to be devoted every morning to the business of the boats; at the end of which time we were no nearer a conclusion than at first.
A thousand miles up the Nile.
The largest boats, which alone seemed unexceptionable, contained from eight to ten cabins, besides two saloons, and were obviously too large for a party consisting of only L. And all were exorbitantly dear. Encompassed by these manifold difficulties; listening now to this and now to that person's opinion; deliberating, haggling One of our first excursions was, of course, to the Pyramids, which lie within an hour and a half's easy drive from the hotel door.
We started immediately after an early luncheon, followed an excellent road all the way, and were back in time for dinner at half-past six. But it must be understood that we did not go to see the Pyramids. We went only to look at them.