From travellers whose course of wild adventure and whose manifold and uncommon gifts put a pressure upon the reader in following them, similar to that felt by them in exploring, it is very delightful to turn to so small and readable, but fresh and pleasant a volume, as Lady Duff Gordon's. The scenes she visits and describes are supposed to be well known, but assuredly she has the merit of investing them with all interest very new, arising, principally, from her watchfulness over all human ways, and her own interest in every aspect of human life. The letters are written in a singularly captivating and vigorous English style. They possess the rare virtue of enabling the reader to realize the position of the writer and the true aspect of the people.
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Letters from Egypt
1863 - 1865
LUCIE DUFF GORDON
Letters from Egypt, L. Duff Gordon
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
Availability: Publicly available via the Travelers in the Middle East Archive (TIMEA) through the following Creative Commons attribution license: "You are free: to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work; to make derivative works; to make commercial use of the work. Under the following conditions: By Attribution. You must give the original author credit. For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work. Any of these conditions can be waived if you get permission from the copyright holder. Your fair use and other rights are in no way affected by the above." (Status: unknown)
IN the short introduction to Lady Duff Gordon's Letters from the Cape of Good Hope, published last year, I used some expressions which I am tempted to repeat here, because their description of the qualities which characterized those Letters, and the motives which prompted their publication, apply, and with still greater force, to those now submitted to the public.
“It is the entire absence of the exclusive and supercilious spirit which characterizes dominant races; the rare power of entering into new trains of thought, and sympathizing with unaccustomed feelings; the tender pity for the feeble and subject, and the courteous respect for their prejudices; the large and purely human sympathies,—these, far more than any literary or graphic merits, are the qualities which have induced the possessors of the few following Letters to give them to the public.
“They show, (what letters from Egypt, since received from the same writer, prove yet more conclusively,) that even among so-called barbarians are to be found hearts that open to every touch of kindness, and respond to every expression of respect and sympathy.
“If they should awaken any sentiments like those which inspired them, on behalf of races of men who come in contact with civilization only to feel its resistless force and its haughty indifference or contempt, it will be some consolation to those who are enduring the bitterness of the separation to which they owe their existence.”
When I wrote those words, many of the most interesting of the following letters were not yet in existence; nor had I the assurance I now have, that the character and spirit which pervade them would fall in with the tastes and opinions of the English public. Not only, however, are the qualities which distinguished the former letters still more remarkable in these, but those qualities have excited general sympathy and approbation.
They owe their existence to the same afflicting circumstances as those from the Cape. They were written under the influence of dangerous disease, and in the dreariness of solitary exile; far from all the resources which civilized society offers to the suffering body and the weary and dejected spirit; above all, far from all the objects of the dearest affections.
All the wonders and enchantments of Egypt would not have sufficed to fill so immense a void, even to a mind so alive to them. Nothing less than Humanity, in its most literal and its largest sense,—not circumscribed by race or religion, by opinions or customs, but the purely human sympathy which binds together those between whom no other tie exists,—could have made life under such conditions tolerable. But this expansive charity is twice blessed; for if the miserable objects of it have derived comfort from the pitiful and helpful hand of the English-woman, she, on her part, has found, in the interest they inspire and in the consciousness of mitigating their sufferings, some comfort under the privation of all her natural occupations and enjoyments. She has been requited, by grateful affection and boundless confidence, and has had satisfactory proofs that the ascendancy acquired by kindness is far more complete than any that can be obtained by force.
It is to this large and tolerant humanity that the writer owes her power of under-standing and interpreting thoughts and feelings unintelligible to most Europeans; to see the point at which the widely-severed but converging rays of truth meet; to feel those touches of nature which make the whole world kin. No doubt her admiration of her Arab friends will appear to many groundless or exaggerated, and the indulgence with which she regards some of their usages which are the least to our taste, excessive. But her object was not to blame, but to understand, and the first and most indispensable requisite for understanding is absolute impartiality. Nobody can understand that which he approaches with feelings of antipathy.
There are passages illustrative of the manners and morals of Arabs which I at first determined to omit; but further reflection convinced me that to do so would be to rob this little volume of much of its value. Of all the problems which society seeks in vain to solve, the most difficult by far are those which regard the relations between the sexes, and it is ridiculous to affect to treat of the condition of a people without endeavouring to discover in what way these most important problems present themselves to its moral sense. The task of civilizing and reforming (which we are so ready to undertake) requires above all things the power of regarding questions which lie at the root of all human society in a spirit equally remote from levity and antipathy. It may be, however, that any allusion to subjects which cynicism and corruption have given over to the jester and the libertine may shock some readers. To such, I have only to repeat that these Letters, like their predecessors, were written “to the two persons with whom of all others the writer felt the least necessity for reserve;” and that if anything were published that ought to have been withheld, the one to whom alone the selection was entrusted were alone to blame.
In justification of the enthusiastic interest with which the wretched condition of the Arabs has inspired Lady Gordon, it might be urged that she saw in them the relics of a most ancient and noble race, once the possessor of a high and distinct form of civilization, now crushed under the same barbarian force which destroyed the last remnants of the civilization of Greece. But it needed not the historical interest attached to Egypt or to Arabia to awaken her profound and passionate sympathy. It will hardly be imagined that the writer of these Letters is incapable of estimating the advantages, or enjoying the pleasures of cultivated society; but sympathy with the oppressed and indignation against the oppressor are evidently more powerful with her than any of the tastes or wants of civilized life.
Such a disposition unquestionably subjects the possessor to mistakes and deceptions. Making every allowance, however, for generous illusions in favour of the unfortunate, it is clear, from the facts and conversations here related, that qualities of a very high kind are to be found among the Arabs, when they are not debased and corrupted by contact with cruel oppressors, or with the worst forms of European civilization.
The Arabic proper names, and other words, which occur in these Letters, have been corrected by an eminent oriental scholar, who is no less intimately acquainted with the people, than with the language of Egypt. To his cordial sympathy with the sentiments of the writer regarding them, I believe I owe much of the kind interest with which he has watched the book through the press.
Nobody will be surprised to learn that the writer distrusts her power of reproducing what made so powerful an impression on her own mind. “It was impossible,” she says, “to express what I saw, and felt, and comprehended.” And again, “All that can be said appears poor to one who knows, as I do, how curious, and interesting, and poetical the country is.”
The publication of this volume has been somewhat delayed, in the hope that a letter might arrive relating the writer's departure from her Egyptian home, and her voyage down the Nile; but none has come, and it is not thought expedient to wait longer. We must, therefore, break off under the painful impression of the scenes which have thrown gloom and horror over the last days of her residence at El-Uksur.
May 25, 1865. 1
I HEARD such reports of the dearness of Malta, and of the beauty of Cairo at this season, that I resolved to go at once to Cairo. We arrived here yesterday evening, I found there was time to go to Pisa, and had a delightful day. The weather was delicious. It was a giorno di festa, and the devices to extract more money on that plea were worth what they cost. The vetturino at Pisa assured me, “Ah, cara signora! siamo troppo sacrificati per il tarif.” He called attention to his fine clothes, and told how he had intended to “divertirsi con la sua innamorata;—e lasciò tutto per mostrar la città alla signora,”—all with such a coaxing air that it was irresistible. The boatman who brought me on board lamented that it was already dark—bujo; that he was frightened, and that the weather might change, and his battello be wrecked (in the port). “Per l'amor di Dio, datemi cinque o quattro franchi!” I sternly refused, and in the same breath he implored me to return with him next morning.
The Duomo, the Baptistery, and the Campo Santo were quite a new world to me, and the leaning tower is as lovely as it is odd. The pictures by Andrea del Sarto alone are worth the journey. I never was more delighted with anything; and the people are so hand-some and pleasant.
I found the climate at Marseilles very trying. Since I have been at sea, I feel quite differently. I had no idea it was so warm; at sea now it is like the tropics,—not a chill in the air. A French artist has given me a letter to Lautner Bey, the Pasha's German doctor, and to a ci-devant St. Simonian, an old French painter turned Mussulman, and living in Old Cairo. I hope he will show me a good deal. We sail in an hour or two.
October 27, 1862,
… I arrived here “all right,” having lost a day by the giorno di festa at Leghorn, where we shipped a curious motley crew;—French singers and Italian dancers for Cairo; a Spanish grandee, like Don Quixote; Algerines, Egyptians, four Levantine ladies; and one poor Parisienne—a nice person, but so put out by the “méridionaux.” I represented England. I was as comfortable in the boat as French want of order will permit. I had a cabin to myself, and the food was excellent, and beds clean, though hard. But I found the motion of the screw most distressing; it became like the slow torture of the drop of water.
I shall go on to Cairo in a few days. I am dismayed at the noise and turbulence of the people here, after the soft voices and gentle ways of the Cape blacks. The weather is beautiful at present, but threatens rain. It is cool, but so bright after the dull South of France. The difference of atmosphere between Europe and Africa is wonderful; even Malta wants the clearness of Egypt, and this is far more misty than the Cape, but equally beautiful in a different way. I was delighted with Valetta, which seemed to me the most beautiful town I ever saw;—all so handsome and solid.
I am now going with the eldest Levantine girl to Sa-eed Pasha's hareem, where she is very intimate. She told the Princess that I had been very kind to her at sea when she was sick, and I was consequently invited to go to see the hareem.
I am frightened at the dearness of everything here. I found it quite impossible to get on without a servant able to speak English. The janissary of the American Consul-General recommended to me a youth called Omar (surnamed “the Father of sweets”), whom I have taken. He is an enthusiast about the Nile; and if Cairo has a cheap boat, Omar will take it. I don't think I should get much good out of life in an Eastern town; the dust is intolerable, and the stuffiness in-doors very unwholesome. There is none of the out-doors existence which was so healthy at the Cape. My cough is bad, but Omar says I shall lose it and “eat plenty” as soon as I see a crocodile.
Yesterday I went with Mr. Thayer, the American Consul-General, who is equally kind and agreeable, and Hekekian Bey to see a few palaces; oh, what ignoble, shabby-genteel! One of them is merely a “Yankee notion” brought piecemeal from New York, and stuck up by the sea. I asked a poor lad at work there for a piece of the bread (filthy cakes, compounded of dirt, straw, and some grain quite unknown to me) which the labourers crouching about the half finished, half ruined palace were eating, and gave him sixpence. It was touching, the eagerness with which he threw more and more and more into the carriage to make up the value of such a coin. Contrary to my expectation, I find no begging here at all, only a great desire to be paid the uttermost penny. Nor could I blame even more than that in such a state of society. When I find myself fleeced by Christian and civilized men, shall not a poor Arab likewise scrape a few faddahs off me? Allah forbid!
Neither are the voices so bad as I expected. Every one bawls as loud as he can; but the organe is deeper and less screeching than the French or Italian. There is none of the pleasant avenante manner and smiling look to which I grew familiar at the Cape; but the people are prodigiously handsome;—lads like John of Bologna's Mercury, with divine legs, and young women so lovely in their dirt and scanty drapery; and among the Bedawee men I have seen simply the two handsomest men I ever beheld. Likewise the camels enchant me, and the date-palms.
But on the other hand, all is profoundly melancholy; the people's faces, the surface of the country, the dirt, the horrible wretchedness, the whacking of the little boys and girls who do all the work which Irish hodmen do with us. Such is my first impression of the land of Egypt; but Omar's eager description of Cairo and the Nile makes me expect something much more agreeable. If we reach Nubia, we are to take a present of salt from Shaheen, J——'s nice red servant (for he is in form and colour the exact likeness of a hieroglyphic figure), to his parents; likewise to give them money on his account, should they need it. He has the dearest little brother, who is for ever in the hall here, and the Bowwáb's bench is the scene of incessant study. An old whitebearded man teaches reading and writing to Shaheen and a select circle of friends, and Shaheen's white slate looks very creditable indeed to my ignorant eye. The children are mostly hideous here, and cry incessantly. The donkey boy roared because Omar proceeded to change the saddle, but Shaheen tranquillized him with a cuff sufficient to fell an ox; whereupon every one was happy and pleased at once,—particularly the donkey boy, which seemed odd to me. But after cursing me and my saddle, he all at once became intensely loving, and would hug my feet and knees—an attention alike disinterested and undesired.
In the hut under the bedroom window, a poor woman is dying of consumption, which seems to be very common here, judging from the faces one sees and the coughs one hears; a baby, too, is ill. The anxious distress of the friends is very affecting, and quite contrary to the commonplace talk about Eastern apathy, hardness, etc. Their faces and behaviour show ten times the feeling of the common people in some parts of Europe; what is not pleasant, is the absence of all brightness or gaiety, even from young and childish faces. The very blacks here can't get up so much as a broad smile; a good laugh I have not yet heard. A stronger contrast than my present henchman, Omar, with his soft but anxious eyes and supple figure, and my last year's driver at the Cape, Choslullah, the world could not afford. The Malay's sturdy figure and beaming smile spoke independence as plainly as possible, while these young men, Omar and Shaheen, are more servile in look and gesture than is pleasant to me.
11th November, 1862.
I WRITE to you out of the real Arabian Nights. Well may the Prophet (upon whom be peace!) smile, when he looks down on Cairo. It is a golden existence, all sunshine and poetry, and, I must add, all kindness and civility. I came up last Thursday by railway with the American Consul-General, and had to stay at Shepherd's Hotel; but I do little but sleep there. Hekekian Bey, a learned old Armenian, takes care of me every day, and the American Consul is my sacrifice.
I went on Sunday to an Armenian christening, and heard Sákneh, “the restorer of hearts.” She is wonderfully like Rachel in person and manner, and her singing is hinreissend from expression and passion. There was a grand fantasia. People feasted all over the house, and in the streets. Arab music clanged, women cried the Zaghareet, black servants served sweetmeats, pipes, and coffee, and behaved as if they belonged to the company, and I was strongly under the impression that I was at Noor-ed-Deen's wedding with the Wezeer's daughter. Yesterday I went to Heliopolis with Hekekian Bey and his wife, and visited an Armenian country lady close by.
My servant Omar turns out a jewel. He has discovered an excellent boat for the Nile voyage; and I am to be mistress of a captain, a steersman, eight men, and a cabin-boy, for £25 a month. I went to Boolák, the port of Cairo, and saw various boats, and admired the way in which English travellers pay for their insolence and caprices. Similar boats cost people with dragomans from £50 to £65. But then, “I shall lick the fellows,” etc. The dragoman, I conclude, pockets the difference. The owner of the boat, Seedee Ahmad el Berberee, asked £30, whereon I touched my breast, mouth, and eyes, and stated, through Omar, that I was not, like other Inkeleez, made of money, but would give £20. He then showed me another boat at £20, very much worse, and I departed (with fresh civilities) and looked at others, and saw two more for £20, but neither was clean, and neither had a little boat for landing. Meanwhile, Seedee Ahmad came after me, and explained that if I was not like other Inkeleez in money, I likewise differed in politeness, and had refrained from abuse, etc. etc., and I should have the boat for £25. It was so excellent in all its fittings, and so much larger than the others, that I thought it would make a great difference in health; so I said if he would go before the American Vice-Consul, and would promise all he had said to me before him, it should be well. The American Consul-General gives me letters to every consular agent depending on him, and two Coptic merchants of Girgeh and Kineh, whom I met at the fantasia, have already begged me to “honour their houses” I rather think the agents, who are all Copts, will think I am the Republic in person. The weather has been all this time like a splendid English August. There is no cold here at night, as at the Cape; but the air is nothing like so clear or bright. It was pleasant to find that Hekekian Bey and the American Vice-Consul exactly confirmed all that Omar had told me about what I must take and what it would cost; they thought I might perfectly trust him. He put everything at just one-fourth of what the Alexandrian English told me, and even less. Moreover, he will cook on board; the kitchen, which is a hole in the bow where the cook must sit cross-legged, would be impossible for a woman to crouch down in. Besides, Omar will avoid everything unclean, and make the food such as he may lawfully eat. He is a pleasant, cheerful young fellow, and I think he rather likes the importance of taking care of me, and showing that he can do as well as a dragoman at £ 12 a month. It is characteristic that he turned his month's wages and the “£2 for a coat” into a bracelet for his little wife before leaving home. That is the Arab savings-bank.
I dined at Hekekian Bey's after the excursion yesterday. He is a most kind, friendly man, and very pleasant and cultivated. He dresses like an Englishman, speaks English like ourselves, and is quite like an uncle to me already. Omar took S——yesterday sight-seeing all day, while I was away, into several mosques. In one he begged her to wait a minute, while he said a prayer. They compare notes about their respective countries, and are great friends; but he is quite put out at my not having provided her with a husband long ago, as is one's duty towards a “female servant,”—which here always means a slave.
Of all the falsehoods I have heard about the East, the assertion that women are old hags at thirty is the greatest. Among the poor Felláh women it may be true enough, but not nearly so true as in Germany; and I have now seen a considerable number of Levantine ladies looking very handsome, or at least comely, till fifty. The lady we visited yesterday was forty-eight, and her daughter a good deal above twenty. The mother was extremely handsome, though very untidy; and the daughter, with two children, the eldest of whom is four years old, looked sixteen. I saw the same in four or five cases at the fantasia. Sákneh, the Arab Grisi, is fifty-five. Her face is ugly, I am told. She was veiled, and we only saw her eyes and glimpses of her mouth when she drank water; but she has the figure of a leopard, all grace and beauty, and a splendid voice of its kind—harsh, but thrilling, like Malibran's. I guessed her thirty, or perhaps thirty-five. When she improvised, the finesse and elegance of her whole manner were ravishing; and I was on the point of shouting out “Máshá-alláh!” as heartily as the natives. The eight younger “A'limeh” (i.e. “learned women,” which we English call Almeh, and think it an improper word) were ugly, and screeched. Sákneh was treated with great consideration and quite as a friend by the Armenian ladies, with whom she talked between her songs. She is a Muslimeh, and very rich and charitable. She gets at least fifty pounds for a night's singing.
It would be very easy to learn colloquial Arabic, as they all speak with such perfect distinctness that one can follow the sentences and catch the words one knows as they occur. I think I know forty or fifty words already.
The reverse of the brilliant side of the medal in this country is sad enough;—deserted palaces and crowded hovels, scarce good enough for pigsties. “One day a man sees his dinner, and one other day he sees none,” as Omar observes; and the children are shocking to look at from bad food, dirt, and overwork; yet the little pot-bellied, blear-eyed wretches grow up into noble young men and women under all their difficulties. But the faces are all sad, and rather what the Scotch call dour, —not méchantes at all, but harsh, like their voices; all their melody is in walk and gesture. They are as graceful as cats, and the women have exactly the “breasts like pomegranates” of their poetry.
A tall Bedawee woman came up to us in the field yesterday, to shake hands and look at us. She wore a white sackcloth shirt and veil, and nothing else. She asked Hekekian a good many questions about me, looked at my face and hands, but took no notice of my rather smart gown which the village women admired so much, shook hands again with the air of a princess, wished me health and happiness, and strode off across the graveyard like a stately ghost. She was on a journey, all alone; and somehow it was very solemn and affecting to see her walking away towards the desert in the setting sun, like Hagar. All is so scriptural in the country here. S—— called out in the railroad, “There is Boaz sitting in the cornfield;” and so it was; and there he has sat for how many thousand years! And in one war-song Sákneh sang as Miriam, the prophetess, may have done when she took a timbrel in her hand and went out to meet the host.
Wednesday.—My contract was drawn up and signed by the American Vice-Consul to-day, and my Reyyis kissed my hand in due form; after which I went to the bazaar and sat on many a divan to buy the needful pots and pans. The transaction lasted an hour. The copper is so much per oka, the workmanship so much. Every article is weighed by a sworn weigher, and a ticket sent with it. More Arabian Nights. The shopkeeper compares notes with me about numerals, and is as much amused as I. He treats me to coffee and pipes from a neighbouring shop, while Omar eloquently depreciates the goods, and offers half the value. A waterseller offers a brass cup of water; I drink, and give the huge sum of twopence, and he distributes the contents of his skin to the crowd (there is always a crowd) in my honour. It seems I have done a pious act.
Finally, a boy is called to carry the batterie de cuisine, while Omar brandishes a gigantic kettle which he has picked up, a little bruised, for four shillings. The boy has a donkey, which I mount astride, à l'Arabe, while the boy carries all the copper things on his head. We are rather a grand procession, and quite enjoy the fury of the dragomans and other leeches who hang on the English, at such independent proceedings; and Omar gets reviled for spoiling the trade, by being cook and dragoman and all in one. We sail this day week, and intend to get to the Upper Cataract as soon as we can, and come leisurely back.
I went this morning with Hekekian Bey to the two earliest mosques. We were accosted most politely by some Arab gentlemen, who pointed out remarkable things, and echoed my lamentations at the neglect and ruin of such noble buildings (which Hekekian translated to them) most heartily. That of the Tooloon is exquisite, noble, simple, and what ornament there is, is the most delicate lacework and embossing in stone and wood. This Arab architecture is even more lovely than our Gothic.
The mosque of the citadel (Mohammad Alee's) (where the English broke the lamps) is like, a fine modern Italian church; but Abbas Pasha stole the alabaster columns, and replaced them by painted wood. The mosque of Sultan Hasan (early in our fourteenth century) is, I think, the most majestic building I ever saw, and the beauty of the details quite beyond belief to European eyes; the huge gates to his tomb are one mass of the finest enamel ornaments, as you may discover by rubbing the dirt off with your glove. No one has said a tenth part enough of the beauty of Arab architecture. The Hasaneeyeh is even grander than a Gothic cathedral, and all is in the noblest taste. The old Tooloon mosque is an absolute jewel of perfection and purity, perfectly simple and yet with details of guipure and embroidery in stone which one wishes to kiss—they are so lovely; but the roof has fallen in, and the great court is the dwelling of paupers.
The Tooloon is now a vast poor-house— “quousque tandem.?” I went into three of their lodgings. Several Turkish families were in a largo square room neatly divided into little partitions with old mats hung on ropes.
In each were as many bits of carpet, mat, and patchwork as the poor owner could collect, and a small chest, and a little brick cooking-place in one corner of the room, with three earthen pipkins, for I don't know how many people;— that was all. They possess no sort of furniture; but all was scrupulously clean, and no bad smell whatever. A little boy seized my hand, and showed where he slept, ate and cooked, with the most expressive pantomime. As there were women, Hekekian could not enter, but when I came out an old man told us they received three loaves (cakes as big as sailors' biscuits), four piastres a month (i.e. sixpence) per adult, a suit of clothes a year, and on festive occasions, lentil soup: such is the almshouse here. A little crowd belonging to that house had collected, and I gave sixpence to an old man to be divided (!) among them all, —ten or twelve people at least, mostly blind or lame. The poverty wrings my heart. We took leave with saláms and politeness, like people of the best society.
I then turned into an Arab hut, stuck against the lovely arches. I stooped low under the door, and several women crowded in. This was still poorer than the last; for there were no mats or rags of carpet, a still worse cooking place, and a sort of dog-kennel, piled up of loose stones to sleep in; it contained a small chest, and the print of human forms on the stone floor. It was however quite free from dirt, and perfectly sweet. I gave the young woman who had led me in sixpence, and here the difference between Turk and Arab appeared. The division of this sum created a perfect storm of noise, and we left five or six Arab women outshrieking a whole rookery. I ought to say, however, that no one begged at all.
I suppose I shall be thought utterly paradoxical when I deny the much talked-of dirt. The narrow, dingy, damp, age-blackened, dust-crusted, unpaved streets of Cairo are sweet as roses compared to those of the “Centre of Civilization;” moreover an Arab crowd does not stink, even under this sun. I beg to say that S——will take her oath of this, contrary as it is to our most cherished illusions. They are ragged, utterly slovenly, and covered with dust, but they do wash their bodies, and they don't diffuse that disgusting human odour which offends one in the most civilized countries of the continent. I have been in a poor boys' school, in the most miserable of workhouses, and in the huts of a village, and I declare that they are sweeter far than anything in Europe of that class, or even higher. The dirt is in fact dust, not foulness.
Friday.—I went to-day on a donkey to a mosque in the bazaar of what we call the “arabesque” style, like the Alhambra. The kibleh was very beautiful; and as I was admiring it, Omar pulled a lemon out of his breast and smeared it on the porphyry pillar on one side of the arch, and then entreated me to lick it. It cures all diseases. The old man who showed the mosque pulled eagerly at my arm to make me perform this absurd ceremony, and I thought I should have been forced to do it. The base of the pillar was clogged with lemon-juice.
I then went to the Tombs of the Memlook Sultans; one of the great ones had the most beautiful arches and wondrous cupolas, but all in ruins. There are scores of these noble buildings, any one of which is a treasure, falling to decay.
The next I went to, strange to say, was - in perfect repair. I got off the donkey, and Omar fidgeted and hesitated a little, and consulted with a woman who had the key. As there were no overshoes, I pulled my boots off, and was rewarded by seeing the footprints of Mohammad in two black stones, and a lovely little mosque,—a sort of sainte chapelle. Omar prayed with ardent fervour, and went out backwards, saluting the Prophet aloud. To my surprise, the woman was highly pleased with sixpence, and did not ask for more. When I remarked this, Omar said that no Frank had ever been inside, to his knowledge. A mosque-keeper of the sterner sex would not have let me in.
I returned home through endless streets and squares of Muslim tombs, those of the Memlooks among them. It is very striking; and it was getting so dark that I thought of Noor-ed-Deen Alee, and wondered if a jinnee would take me anywhere if I took up my night's lodging in one of the comfortable little cupola-covered buildings.
I must now finish my letter, as the mail will close to-night. My Coptic friend has just called in, to say that his brother expects me at Kiné. I find nothing but civility and desire to please.
My boat is the Zeenet-el-Bahreyn, and I carry the English flag and a small American distinguishing pennant, as a signal to my consular agents. We sail next Wednesday.
Boat off Imbábeh,
November 21, 1862.
WE embarked yesterday, and after the fashion of eastern caravans, are abiding to-day at a village opposite to Cairo. It is Friday, and therefore it would be improper and unlucky to set out on our journey. What one pays here on the exchange is frightful,—four shillings in the pound for Egyptian money; and no other is of any use for butter, milk, eggs, etc.
The scenes on the river are wonderfully diverting and curious; so much life and movement. But the boatmen are sophisticated. My crew have all sported new white drawers, in honour of the Sitt Inkeleezeeyeh. Of course compensation will be expected. Poor fellows they are very well mannered and quiet in their rags and misery, and their queer little humming song is rather pretty,—“Ei-yá Mohammad, ei-yá Mohammad,” ad infinitum, except when one more energetic man cries “Yalláh!” (oh God!) Omar is gone to Cairo to fetch one or two more unconsidered trifles, and I have been explaining the defects to be remedied in the cabin door, broken window, etc. to my Reyyis, with the help of six words of Arabic and dumb show, which they understand and answer with wonderful quickness.
The air on the river is certainly quite celestial —totally unlike the damp chilly feeling of the hotel and Frank quarter of Cairo. The Ezbekeeyeh, or public garden, where all Franks live, was a lake, I believe, and is still very damp.
I shall go up to the Second Cataract as fast as possible, and return back at leisure. Hekekian Bey came and spent the day on board here yesterday, to take leave. He lent me several books. Pray tell Mr. Senior what a kindness his introduction to this excellent man has been. It would have been rather dismal in Cairo, if one could be dismal there, without a soul to speak to. I was sorry to know no Turks or Arabs, and have no opportunity of seeing any but the tradesmen of whom I bought my stores; but even that was very amusing. The young man of whom I bought - my fingáns was so handsome, elegant, and melancholy, that I knew he must be the lover of the Sultan's favourite slave.
How I wish you were here to enjoy all this,—so new, so beautiful, and yet so familiar! And you would like the people, poor things! they are complete children, but amiable children. I went into the village here, where I was a curiosity, and some women took me into their houses and showed me their sleeping-place, cookery, poultry, etc., and a man followed me to keep off the children; but no baksheesh was asked for, which showed that Europeans were rare there. The utter destitution is terrible to see, though in this climate, of course, it matters less. But the much-talked-of dirt is simply utter poverty. The poor souls are as clean as Nile mud and water will make their bodies; and they have not a second shirt, or any bed but dried mud.
My cough has been better now for five days, without a bad return of it. It is the first reprieve for so long. The sun is so hot,—a regular broil (Nov. 21),—and all doors and windows open in the cabin,—a delicious breeze!
Monday, November 30, 1862.
I HAVE now been enjoying this most delightful way of life for ten days, and am certainly better. I begin to eat and sleep, and cough less.
My crew are a great amusement to me. They are mostly men from the First Cataract about Aswán,—sleek-skinned, gentle, patient, merry black fellows. The little black Reyyis is the very picture of good-nature, and full of fun, “chaffing” the girls as we pass the villages, and always smiling. The steersman is of lighter complexion, also very cheery, but decidedly pious. He prays five times a day, and utters ejaculations to the apostle “Rasool” continually. He hurt his ankle on one leg and his instep on the other, with a rusty nail, and they festered. I dressed them with poultices, and then with lint and strapping, with perfect success, to the great admiration of all hands, and he announced how much better he felt. “Praise be to God, and thanks without end, O lady!” and every one echoed the thanks. The most important person on board is the “weled” (boy), Ahmad—the most merry, clever, omnipresent little rascal, with an ugly pug-nosed face, a shape like an antique Cupid liberally displayed, and a skin of dark brown velvet. His voice, shrill and clear, is always heard above the rest; he cooks for the crew; he jumps overboard with the rope, and gives advice on all occasions; grinds the coffee with the end of a stick in a mortar, which he holds between his feet, and if I go ashore for a minute, uses the same large stick to walk proudly before me, brandishing it and ordering every one out of the way. “Yá Ahmad” resounds all day whenever anybody wants anything, and the “weled” is always ready and able. My favourite is Osmán, a tall, long-limbed black, who seems to have stepped out of a hieroglyphical drawing, shirt, skull-cap, and all. He has only those two garments, and how any one contrives to look so inconceivably “neat and respectable,” as S——said, in that costume is a mystery. He is always at work, always cheerful, but rather silent; in short, the able seaman, and steady respectable “hand,” par excellence. Then we have Ez-Zankalonee, from near Cairo,—an old fellow of white complexion, Sand a valuable person; an inexhaustible teller of stories at night and always ‘en train;’ full of jokes, and remarkable for dry humour, much relished by the crew. I wish I understood the stories, which sound delightful, all about Sultans and Efreets, with effective “points,” at which all hands exclaim “Máshá-alláh” or “ah!” (as long as you can drawl it out). The jokes perhaps I may as well be ignorant of. There is also a certain Shereef, who does nothing but laugh and work, and be obliging; helps Omar with one hand and S——with the other, and looks like a great innocent black child. The rest of the dozen are of various colours, sizes, and ages, some quite old, but all very quiet and well behaved.
We have had either dead calms or contrary winds all the time, and the men have worked very hard at the towing-rope. On Friday I proclaimed a halt at a village in the afternoon at prayer-time, for the pious Muslims to go to - mosque. This gave great satisfaction, though only five went,—the Reyyis, steersman, Zankalonee, and two old men. The up-river men never pray at all, and Osmán occupied himself by buying salt out of another boat and storing it to take to his family, as it is terribly dear high up the river. At Benee-Suweyf we halted to buy meat and bread. There is one butcher, who kills a sheep a day. I walked about the streets, escorted by Omar in front, and two sailors with huge staves behind, and created a sensation accordingly. It is a dull little country town, with a wretched palace of Sa-eed Pasha's.
On Sunday we halted at Bibeh, where I caught sight of a large Coptic church, and sallied forth to see whether they would let me in. The road lay past the house of the head man of the village, and there “in the gate,” sat a patriarch surrounded by his servants and his cattle. Over the gateway were crosses, and queer constellations of dots more like Mithraic symbols than anything Christian; but Girgis was a Copt (Kubtee), though chosen head of the Muslim village. He rose as I came up, stepped out and salámed, then took my hand and said I must go into his house and enter the hareem before I saw the church. His old mother, who looked a hundred, and his pretty wife, were very friendly; but as I had to leave Omar at the door, our talk soon came to an end, and Girgis took me into the divan, without the sacred precincts of the hareem. Of course we had pipes and coffee, and he pressed me to stay some days, and to eat with him every day and to accept all his house contained. I took the milk he offered and asked him to visit me in the boat, saying I must return before sunset, when it gets cold, as I was ill. The house was a curious specimen of a wealthy man's house. I could not describe it if I tried; but I felt as if I were acting a passage in the Old Testament.
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