ONE THOUSAND MILES UP THE NILE
by Amelia Edwards
OUR last weeks on the Nile went like one long, lazy summer's day. Events now were few. We had out-stayed all our fellow-travellers. Even the faithful Bagstones had long since vanished northwards ; and the Phil was the last dahabeeyah of the year. Of the great sights of the river, we had only Abydos and Beni Hassan left to see ; while for minor excursions, daily walks, and explorations by the way, we had little energy left. For the thermometer was rising higher and the Nile was falling lower every day ; and we should have been more than mortal, if we had not felt the languid influences of the glowing Egyptian Spring.
The natives call it spring ; but to our northern fancy it is spring, summer, and autumn in one. Of the splendour of the skies, of the lavish bounty of the soil at this season, only those who have lingered late in the land can form any conception. There is a breadth of repose now about the landscape which it has never worn before. The winter green of the palms is fading fast. The harvests are ripening ; the pigeons are pairing ; the time of the singing of birds is come. There is just enough south wind most days to keep the boat straight, and the sails from flapping. The heat is great ; yet it is a heat which, up to a certain point, one can enjoy. The men ply their oars by night ; and sleep under their benches, or croon old songs and tell stories among themselves, by day. But for the thin canopy of smoke that hangs over the villages, one would fancy now that those clusters of mud-huts were all deserted. Not a human being is to be seen on the banks when the sun is high. The buffaloes stand up to their necks in the shallows. The donkeys huddle together wherever there is shade. The very dogs have given up barking, and lie asleep under the walls.
SAKKIEH AT SIT.
It seemed to us that the wives of the Fellahn were in truth the happiest women in Egypt. They work hard and are bitterly poor ; but they have the free use of their limbs, and they at least know the fresh air, the sunshine, and the open fields.
When we left Ayserat, there still lay 335 miles between us and Cairo. From this time, the navigation of the Nile became every day more difficult. The dahabeeyah, too, got heated through and through, so that not even sluicing and swabbing availed to keep down the temperature. At night when we went to our sleeping-cabins, the timbers alongside of our berths were as hot to the hand as a screen in front of a great fire. Our crew, though to the manner born, suffered even more than ourselves ; and L. at this time had generally a case of sunstroke on her hands. One by one, we passed the places we had seen on our way up--Sit, Manfalt, Gebel Abufayda, Roda, Minieh. After all, we did not see Beni Hassan. The day we reached that part of the river, a furious sandstorm was raging ; such a storm that even the Writer was daunted. Three days later, we took the rail at Bibbeh and went on to Cairo, leaving the Phil to follow as fast as wind and weather might permit.
"IN THE NAME OF THE PROPHET--CAKES!"
We were so wedded by this time to dahabeeyah-life, that we felt lost at first in the big rooms at Shepheard's Hotel, and altogether bewildered in the crowded streets. Yet here was Cairo, more picturesque, more beautiful than ever. Here were the same merchants squatting on the same carpets and smoking the same pipes, in the Tunis bazaar ; here was the same old cake-seller still ensconced in the same doorway in the Muski ; here were the same jewellers selling bracelets in the Khan-Khalli ; the same money-changers sitting behind their little tables at the corners of the streets ; the same veiled ladies riding on donkeys and driving in carriages ; the same hurrying funerals, and noisy weddings ; the same odd cries, and motley costumes, and unaccustomed trades. Nothing was changed. We soon dropped back into the old life of sight-seeing and shopping--buying rugs and silks, and silver ornaments, and old embroideries, and Turkish slippers, and all sorts of antique and pretty trifles ; going from Mohammedan mosques to rare old Coptic churches ; dropping in for an hour or two most afternoons at the Boulak Museum ; and generally ending the day's work with a drive on the Shubra road, or a stroll round the Esbekiyeh Gardens.