Description of Alexandria--Hotels--Houses--Streets--Frank
Shops--Cafes--Equipages--Arrangements for the Journey to
Suez--Pompey's Pillar--Turkish and Arab Burial-grounds--Preparations
for the Journey to Cairo--Embarkation on the Canal--Bad accommodation
in the Boat--Banks of the Canal--Varieties of Costume in
Egypt--Collision during the night--Atfee--Its wretched appearance--The
Pasha--Exchange of Boats--Disappointment at the Nile--Scarcity of
Trees--Manners of the Boatmen--Aspect of the Villages--The Marquess
of Waterford--The Mughreebee Magician--First sight of the
Pyramids--Arrival at Boulak, the Port of Cairo.
There are several excellent hotels at Alexandria for the accommodation of European travellers. We were recommended to Rey's, in which we found every comfort we could desire. The house is large and handsome, and well situated, being at the end of a wide street, or rather place, in which the more wealthy of the Frank inhabitants reside, and where there are several houses belonging to the consuls of various nations. These latter are usually detached mansions, of a very handsome description, and one especially, facing the top, will be magnificent when finished.
All the houses in this quarter are very solidly constructed, lofty, and with flat roofs. The ground-floor seems to be appropriated to merchandize, or as domestic offices, the habitable apartments being above. The windows are supplied with outside Venetian blinds, usually painted green, which, together with the pure white of the walls, gives them a fresh and new appearance, which I had not expected to see. In fact, nothing could exceed the surprise with which I viewed a street that would have excited admiration in many of our European capitals. It will in a short time be embellished by a fountain, which was erecting at the period of my visit: could the residents get trees to grow, nothing more would be wanting to render it one of the most superb avenues of the kind extant; but, a few inches below the surface, the earth at Alexandria is so completely impregnated with briny particles, as to render the progress of vegetation very difficult at all times, and in some places impossible.
This portion of the city is quite modern; near it there is a more singular and more ancient series of buildings, called the Okella; a word, I believe, derived from castle. This consists of one large quadrangle, or square, entered by gateways at different sides. A terrace, approached by flights of steps, extends all round, forming a broad colonnade, supported upon arches. The houses belonging to the Franks open upon this terrace; they are large and commodious, but the look-out does not equal that from the newer quarter; the quadrangle below exhibiting any thing rather than neatness or order. Goods and utensils of various kinds, donkeys, camels, and horses, give it the appearance of the court of a native serai, though at the same time it may be said to be quite as well kept as many places of a similar description upon the continent of Europe. The Frank shopkeepers have their establishments in a narrower avenue at the end of the wide street before-mentioned. Here are several cafes, apparently for the accommodation of persons to whom the hotels might be too expensive; some of these are handsomely fitted up in their way: one, especially, being panelled with shewy French paper, in imitation of the Gobelins tapestry. I was not sufficiently near to discern the subject, but when lighted, the colours and figures produced a very gay effect. I observed a considerable number of druggists' shops; they were generally entirely open in front, so that the whole economy of the interior was revealed to view. The arrangements were very neat; the various articles for sale being disposed upon shelves all round. We did not make any purchases either here or in the Turkish bazaar, which, both morning and evening, was crowded with people. Several very good houses in the European style were pointed out to us as belonging to Turkish gentlemen, high in office and in the receipt of large incomes.
We had ordered dinner at seven o'clock, for the purpose of taking advantage of the cool part of the day to walk about. We confined our peregrinations to the Frank quarter and its immediate neighbourhood, and were amused by the singular figures of other European pedestrians whom we met with, but whose peculiar country it was difficult to discover by their dress. Several gentlemen made their appearance on horseback, but we did not see any females of the superior class. Two English carriages, filled with Turkish grandees, dashed along with the recklessness which usually distinguishes native driving; and other magnates of the land, mounted upon splendid chargers, came forth in all the pride of Oriental pomp. Having sufficiently fatigued ourselves with walking ancle-deep in dust and sand, we returned to our hotel, where we found an excellent dinner, which, among other good things, comprehended a dish of Beccaficos.
As I had not intended to reach Alexandria so soon, neither Miss E. nor myself had given notice of our approach; consequently, there was nothing in readiness. We had, notwithstanding, hoped to have found a boat prepared, a friend in London having promised to mention the possibility of our being in Egypt with the mails that left Marseilles on the 21st; but this precaution had been neglected, and the gentleman, who would have provided us with the best vessel procurable, was too busy with duties which the arrival of the steamer entailed upon him to do more than express his regret that he could not devote his whole attention to our comfort. In this emergency, we applied to Mr. Waghorn, who, in the expectation that I might wish to remain at Alexandria, had most kindly prepared an apartment for my reception at his own house. The aspect of affairs, however, did not admit of my running any risks, and I therefore determined to proceed to Suez without delay. Under these circumstances, he did the best that the nature of the case permitted; assured me that I should have his own boat, which, though small, was perfectly clean, when we got to the Nile, and provided me with all that I required for the passage. Mrs. Waghorn also recommended a servant, whose appearance we liked, and whom we instantly engaged for the trip to Suez.
I had brought letters to the consul-general, and to several residents in Alexandria, who immediately paid me visits at our hotel. Colonel Campbell was most particularly kind and attentive, offering one of the government janissaries as an escort to Cairo; an offer which we most readily accepted, and which proved of infinite service to us. We had no trouble whatever about our baggage; we left it on board, under the care of the trusty black servant. One of the officers of the ship, who had distinguished himself during the voyage by his polite attention to the passengers, had come on shore with us; he sent to the vessel for our goods and chattels, took our keys and the janissary with him to the custom-house, and we had speedily the pleasure of seeing them come upon a camel to the door of the hotel, the fees charged, and the hire of the animal, being very trifling. There was a large apartment on one side of the gateway, in which those boxes which we did not desire to open were deposited, the door being secured by a good lock; in fact, nothing could be better than the whole arrangements of the hotel. It was agreed that as little time as possible should be lost in getting to Suez, and we therefore determined to prosecute our journey as early in the afternoon of the next day as we could get every thing ready. Donkeys were to be in waiting at daylight, to convey the party to Pompey's Pillar, and we retired to rest, overcome by the fatigue and excitement we had undergone. It was sufficiently warm to render it pleasant to have some of the windows open; and once or twice in the night we were awakened by the furious barking of the houseless and ownerless dogs, which are to be found in great numbers throughout Egypt. In the day-time the prevailing sound at Alexandria is the braying of donkeys, diversified by the grunts and moans of the almost equally numerous camels.
Engravings have made every inquiring person well acquainted with the celebrated monument which goes by the name of "Pompey's Pillar," and the feelings with which we gazed upon it are much more easily imagined than described. It has the advantage of standing upon a rather considerable elevation, a ridge of sand, and below it are strewed vast numbers of more humble memorials of the dead. The Turkish and the Arab burial-grounds spread themselves at the feet of the Pillar: each grave is distinguished by a mound of earth and a stone. The piety of surviving relatives has, in some places, forced the stubborn sand to yield proofs of their affectionate remembrance of the deceased; occasionally, we see some single green plant struggling to shadow the last resting-place of one who slept below; and if any thing were wanting to add to the melancholy of the scene, it would have been the stunted and withering leaves thus mournfully enshrouding the silent dead. There is something so unnatural in the conjunction of a scanty vegetation with a soil cursed with hopeless aridity, that the gardens and few green spots, occurring in the neighbourhood of Alexandria, detract from, instead of embellishing, the scene. Though pleasant and beautiful as retreats to those who can command an entrance, these circumscribed patches of verdure offend rather than please the eye, when viewed from a distance.
The antiquities of Egypt have been too deeply studied by the erudite of all Christian countries, for an unlearned traveller to entertain a hope of being able to throw any additional light upon them. Modern tourists must, therefore, be content with the feelings which they excite, and to look, to the present state of things for subjects of any promise of interest to the readers of their journals.
After breakfast, we received a visit from the Egyptian gentleman who had been our fellow-passenger. He brought with him a friend, who, like himself, had been educated in England, and who had obtained a good appointment, together with the rank of a field officer, from the Pasha. The manners of the gentleman were good; modest, but not shy. He spoke excellent English, and conversed very happily upon all the subjects broached. Our friend was still in doubt and anxiety respecting his own destination. Mehemet Ali had left Alexandria for one of his country residences, on the plea of requiring change of air; but, in reality, it was said, to avoid the remonstrances of those who advocated a policy foreign to his wishes. The new arrival could not present himself to the minister until he should be equipped in an Egyptian dress. The friend who accompanied him gave us the pleasing intelligence, that a large handsome boat, with ladies' cabin detached, and capable of carrying forty passengers, had been built by the merchants of Alexandria, and when completed--and it only wanted painting and fitting up--would convey travellers up the canal to Atfee, a distance which, towed by horses, it would perform in twelve hours. Small iron steamers were expected from England, to ply upon the Nile, and with these accommodations, nothing would be more easy and pleasant than a journey which sometimes takes many days to accomplish, and which is frequently attended with inconvenience and difficulty.
We found that Mrs. Waghorn had provided Miss E. and myself with beds, consisting each of a good mattress stuffed with cotton, a pillow of the same, and a quilted coverlet, also stuffed with cotton. She lent us a very handsome canteen; for the party being obliged to separate, in consequence of the small accommodation afforded in the boats, we could not avail ourselves of that provided by the other ladies with whom we were to travel, until we should all meet again upon the desert. As there may be a danger of not meeting with a canteen, exactly suited to the wants of the traveller, for sale at Alexandria, it is advisable to procure one previously to leaving Europe; those fitted up with tin saucepans are necessary, for it is not easy to carry cooking apparatus in any other form. We did not encumber ourselves with either chair or table, but would afterwards have been glad of a couple of camp-stools. Our supplies consisted of tea, coffee, wine, wax-candles (employing a good glass lanthorn for a candlestick), fowls, bread, fruit, milk, eggs, and butter; a pair of fowls and a piece of beef being ready-roasted for the first meal. We also carried with us some bottles of filtered water. The baggage of the party was conveyed upon three camels and a donkey, and we formed a curious-looking cavalcade as we left the hotel.
In the first place, the native Indian servant bestrode a donkey, carrying at the same time our beautiful baby in his arms, who wore a pink silk bonnet, and had a parasol over her head. All the assistance he required from others was to urge on his beast, and by the application of sundry whacks and thumps, he soon got a-head. The ladies, in coloured muslin dresses, and black silk shawls, rode in a cluster, attended by the janissary, and two Arab servants also on donkey-back; a gentleman, who volunteered his escort, and the owners of the donkeys, who walked by our sides. As I had never rode any animal, excepting an elephant, until I landed at Alexandria, I did not feel perfectly at home on the back of a donkey, and therefore desired Mohammed, our new servant, to give directions to my attendant to take especial care of me. These injunctions he obeyed to the letter, keeping close at my side, and at every rough piece of road putting one hand on the donkey and the other in front of my waist. I could not help shrinking from such close contact with a class of persons not remarkable for cleanliness, either of garment or of skin; but the poor fellow meant well, and as I had really some occasion for his services, and his appearance was respectable, I thought it no time to be fastidious, and could not help laughing at the ridiculous figure I made.
We passed some fine buildings and baths; the latter very tempting in their external appearance, and, according to general repute, excellent of their kind. When we came to the gate of the wall of Alexandria, we encountered a funeral procession returning from the cemetery close to Pompey's Pillar. They were a large party, accompanied by many women, who, notwithstanding their grief, stopped to gratify their curiosity, by a minute inspection of our strange persons, and still stranger garb. We were all huddled together in the gateway, which, the walls being thick, took a few minutes to pass through, and thus had an opportunity of a very close examination of each other; the veils of the women, however, prevented us from scanning their countenances very distinctly; and as we passed on, we encountered a herd of buffaloes, animals quite new to Miss E., who had never seen one even as a zoological specimen. We passed the base of Pompey's Pillar, and through the burying-grounds; and in another quarter of an hour came to the banks of the canal, and got on board the boat, which had been engaged to take us to Atfee.
In the whole course of my travels, I had never seen any thing so forlorn and uncomfortable as this boat. The accommodation destined for us consisted of two cabins, or rather cribs, opening into each other, and so low in the roof as not to permit a full-grown person to stand upright in either. Some attempt had been formerly made at painting and carving, but dirt was now the predominant feature, while the holes and crannies on every side promised free egress to the vermin, apparently long tenants of the place. Although certain of remaining the night upon the canal, we would not suffer our beds to be unpacked; but, seating ourselves upon our boxes, took up a position near the door, in order to see as much as possible of the prospect.
The banks of the canal are very luxuriant; but, lying low, are infested with insects of various kinds; musquitoes came on board in clouds, and the flies were, if possible, more tormenting; it is, therefore, very desirable to get out of this channel as speedily as possible. We saw the vessel, a fine, large, handsome boat, which had been mentioned to us as building for the purpose of conveying passengers to Atfee; consequently, should the political questions now agitating be amicably settled, and Egypt still continue to be a high road for travellers to India, the inconveniences of which I now complain will soon cease to exist.
We passed some handsome houses, built after the European fashion, one of which we were told belonged to the Pasha's daughter, the wife of the dufturdar; it was surrounded by gardens, but had nothing very imposing in its appearance. We came also upon an encampment of the Pasha's troops, which consisted of numerous small round tents, huddled together, without the order displayed by an European army. The men themselves, though report speaks well of their discipline, had not the soldierlike look which I had seen and admired in the native troops of India. The impossibility of keeping their white garments clean, in such a country as Egypt, is very disadvantageous to their appearance, and it is unfortunate that something better adapted to withstand the effects of dust should not have been chosen. The janissary who accompanied us, and who was clothed in red, had a much more military air. He was a fine-looking fellow, tall, and well-made; and his dress, which was very becoming, was formed of fine materials. Our servant Mohammed had also a pleasing countenance, full of vivacity and good humour, which we found the general characteristics of the people of Egypt, especially those immediately above the lower class, and who enjoyed any degree of comfort.
There are several varieties of costume worn in Egypt, some consisting of long gowns or vests worn over the long trowser. The military dress, which was that worn by the janissary and our servant, is both graceful and becoming. It is rather difficult to describe the nether garment, which is wide to the knee, and very full and flowing behind; added to this, the janissary wore a light pantaloon, descending to the ancle; but Mohammed, excepting when he encased them in European stockings, had his legs bare: the waistcoat and jacket fit tight to the shape, and are of a tasteful cut, and together with a sash and the crimson cap with a dark blue tassel, almost universal, form a picturesque and handsome dress. That worn by our servant was made of fine blue stuff, embroidered, or rather braided, at the edges; and this kind of ornament is so general, that even some of the poorest fellahs, who possess but one coarse canvas shirt, will have that garnished with braiding in some scroll-pattern.
There was not much to be seen on the banks of the Mahmoudie: here and there, a priest at his devotions at the water-side, or a few miserable cottages, diversified the scene. We encountered, however, numerous boats; and so great was the carelessness of the navigators, that we had considerable difficulty in preventing a collision, which, but for the good look-out kept by the janissary, must have happened more than once. Whenever the breeze permitted, we hoisted a sail; at other times, the boatmen dragged the boat along; and in this manner we continued our voyage all night. We regretted much the absence of moonlight, since, the moment the day closed, all our amusement was at an end. Cock-roaches, as large as the top of a wine-glass, made their appearance; we heard the rats squeaking around, and found the musquitoes more desperate in their attacks than ever. The flies with one accord went to sleep, settling in such immense numbers on the ceiling immediately over my head, that I felt tempted to look for a lucifer-match, and put them all to death. The expectation, however, of leaving the boat early the next morning, deterred me from this wholesale slaughter; but I had no mercy on the musquitoes, as, attracted by the light, they settled on the glasses of the lanthorn.
It was a long and dismal night, the only accident that occurred being a concussion, which sent Miss E. and myself flying from our portmanteaus. We had run foul of another boat, or rather all the shouting of the Arab lungs on board our vessel had failed to arouse the sleepers in the craft coming down. At length, the day dawned, and we tried, by copious ablution and a change of dress, to refresh ourselves after our sleepless night.
Finding that we wanted milk for breakfast, we put a little boy, one of the crew, on shore, in order to procure some at a village; meanwhile, a breeze sprung up, and we went on at so quick a rate, that we thought we must have left him behind. Presently, however, we saw the poor fellow running as fast as possible, but still careful of his pannikin; and after a time we got him on board. In accomplishing this, the boy was completely ducked; but whether he was otherwise hurt, or this catastrophe occurring when out of breath or fatigued with over-exertion, I do not know; but he began to cry in a more piteous manner than could be justified by the cause alleged, namely, the wetting of his only garment, an old piece of sacking. I directed Mohammed to reward his services with a piastre, a small silver coin of the value of 2-1/2d.; and never, perhaps, did so trifling a sum of money produce so great an effect. In one moment, the cries were hushed, the tears dried, and in the contemplation of his newly-acquired riches, he lost the recollection of all his troubles.
It was nearly twelve o'clock in the day before we reached Atfee; and with all my previous experience of the wretched places inhabited by human beings, I was surprised by the desolation of the village at the head of the canal. The houses, if such they might be called, were huddled upon the side of a cliff; their mud walls, covered on the top with a few reeds or a little straw, looking like the cliff itself. A few irregular holes served for doors and windows; but more uncouth, miserable hovels could not have been seen amongst the wildest savages. Some of these places I perceived had a small court-yard attached, the hut being at the end, and only distinguishable by a poor attempt at a roof, the greater part of which had fallen in.
We were here obliged to leave our boat; landing on the opposite side to this village, and walking a short distance, we found ourselves upon the banks of the Nile. The place was in great confusion, in consequence of the actual presence of the Pasha, who, for himself and suite, we were told, had engaged every boat excepting the one belonging to Mr. Waghorn, in which the mails, entrusted to him, had been put. As it was impossible that four ladies, for our friends had now joined us, with their European female servant and the baby, could be accommodated in this small vessel, we despatched our janissary, with a letter in the Turkish language to the governor of Atfee, with which we had been provided at Alexandria, and we were immediately politely informed that the best boat attainable should be at our disposal.
The Pasha had taken up his quarters at a very mean-looking house, and he soon afterwards made his appearance in front of it. Those who had not become acquainted with his person by portraits, or other descriptions, were disappointed at seeing a common-looking man, short in stature, and very plainly clad, having formed a very different idea of the sovereign of Egypt. Not having any proper introductions, and knowing that the Pasha makes a great favour of granting an audience to European ladies, we made no attempt to address him; thus sacrificing our curiosity to our sense of decorum. There was of course a great crowd round the Pasha, and we embarked for the purpose of surveying it to greater advantage.
Our boat was moored in front of a narrow strip of ground between the river and a large dilapidated mansion, having, however, glass windows in it, which bore the ostentatious title of Hotel du Mahmoudie.
This circumscribed space was crowded with camels and their drivers; great men and their retainers passing to and fro; market people endeavouring to sell their various commodities, together with a multitudinous collection of men, dogs, and donkeys. I observed that all the people surveyed the baby as she was carried through them, in her native servant's arms, with peculiar benignity. She was certainly a beautiful specimen of an English infant, and in her pretty white frock, lace cap, and drawn pink silk bonnet, would have attracted attention anywhere; such an apparition the people now assembled at Atfee had probably never seen before, and they were evidently delighted to look at her. She was equally pleased, crowing and spreading out her little arms to all who approached her.
The smallness of the boat rendered it necessary that I should open one of my portmanteaus, and take out a supply of clothes before it was sent away; while thus occupied, I found myself overlooked by two or three respectably-clad women, who were in a boat, with several men, alongside. I did not, of course, understand what they said, but by their gestures guessed that they were asking for some of the strange things which they saw. I had nothing that I could well spare, or that I thought would be useful to them, excepting a paper of needles, which I put into one of their hands, through the window of the cabin. The envelope being flourished over with gold, they at first thought that there was nothing more to be seen, but being directed by signs to open it, they were in ecstasy at the sight of the needles, which they proceeded forthwith to divide.
We now pushed off, and found that, in the narrow limits to which we were confined, we must only retain our carpet-bags and dressing-cases. The small cabin which occupies the stern was surrounded on three sides with lockers, which formed seats, but which were too narrow to hold our beds; moveable planks, of different dimensions, to suit the shape of the boat, fitted in, making the whole flush when requisite, and forming a space amply wide enough for our mattresses, but in which we could not stand upright. To our great joy, we found the whole extremely clean, and in perfect repair, so that we could easily submit to the minor evils that presented themselves.
We had found Mohammed very active, attentive, and ready in the departments in which we had hitherto employed him, but we were now about to put his culinary abilities to the test. He spoke very tolerable English, but surprised us a little by inquiring whether we should like an Irish stew for dinner. A fowl was killed and picked in a trice, and Mohammed had all his own way, excepting with regard to the onions, which were, in his opinion, woefully restricted. A fowl stewed with butter and potatoes, and garnished with boiled eggs, is no bad thing, especially when followed by a dessert of fresh dates, grapes, and pomegranates. A clerk of Mr. Waghorn's, an European, who had the charge of the mails, went up in the boat with us; but as we could not possibly afford him any accommodation in our cabin, his situation at the prow must have been very uncomfortable. He was attended by a servant; there were ten or twelve boatmen, which, together with Mohammed and the janissary, completely crowded the deck, so that it was impossible for them all to lie down at full length.
I have not said a word about the far-famed river, which I had so long and so anxiously desired to see; the late inundations had filled it to the brim, consequently it could not have been viewed at a more favourable period; but I was dreadfully disappointed. In a flat country, like Lower Egypt, I had not expected any thing beyond luxuriance of vegetation; but my imagination had been excited by ideas of groves of palms. I found the date trees so thinly scattered, as to be quite insignificant as a feature in the scene, and except when we came to a village, there were no other.
The wind being strong, we got on at first at a rapid rate, and as we carried a press of sail, the boat lay over completely, as to put the gunwale (as I believe it is called) in the water. We looked eagerly out, pleased when we saw some illustration of old customs with which the Bible had made us acquainted, or when the janissary, who was an intelligent person, pointed to a Bedouin on the banks. Miss E. flattered herself that she had caught sight of a crocodile, and as she described the huge jaws of some creature gaping out of the water, I thought that she was right, and envied her good fortune: however, afterwards, being assured that crocodiles never make their appearance below Cairo, I was convinced that, unaccustomed to see animals belonging to the Bovine group in a foreign element, she had taken the head of a buffalo emerging from the river, for one of the classic monsters of the flood. When weary of looking out, without seeing any thing but sky and water, and a few palm trees, I amused myself with reading Wordsworth, and thus the day passed away.
When evening came, we seated ourselves in front of the cabin, outside, to enjoy the sunset, and after our loss of rest on the preceding night, slept very comfortably. The next morning at noon, we had accomplished half the distance to Cairo, having some time passed every boat we saw upon the river. Arriving at a village, Mr. Waghorn's agent determined upon going on shore, and carrying the mails on the backs of donkeys, in order to ensure their arrival at Suez time enough to meet the steamer. He had been assured that we had passed the boat containing the Government mails in the night, but had not been able to ascertain the fact himself. I think it necessary to mention this, as a proof of the indefatigable endeavours made by Mr. Waghorn to ensure the speediest method of transit.
As the people had worked very hard, we directed Mohammed to purchase some meat for them in the bazaar, in order that they might indulge in a good meal; we also took the opportunity of purchasing a supply of eggs, fowls, and fruit, lest we should fall short before we reached Cairo. The fowls were so small, that, having our appetites sharpened by the fresh air of the river, we could easily manage one between us for breakfast, and another at dinner. We did not make trial of the unfiltered waters of the Nile, not drinking it until it had deposited its mud. Though previously informed that no beverage could be more delightful than that afforded by this queen of rivers in its unsophisticated state, I did not feel at all tempted to indulge; but am quite ready to do justice to its excellence when purified from the grosser element.
We were much pleased with the alacrity and good humour of our boatmen, and the untiring manner in which they performed their laborious duties. When a favouring breeze allowed them to rest, they seldom indulged in sleep, but, sitting round in a ring upon the narrow deck, either told stories, or were amused by the dancing of one of the group, who, without changing his place, contrived to shift his feet very vigorously to the music of his own voice, and that of two sticks struck together to keep the time. They frequently used their oars in parts of the river where they could not find a towing-path, and when rowing, invariably accompanied their labours with a song, which, though rude, was not unpleasant. The breeze, which had hitherto favoured us, dying away, the poor fellows were obliged to work harder than ever, dragging the boat up against the stream: upon these occasions, however, we enjoyed a very agreeable degree of quietude, and were, moreover, enabled to take a more accurate survey of the river's banks. Living objects were not numerous, excepting in the immediate vicinity of the villages. I was delighted when I caught sight of an ibis, but was surprised at the comparatively small number of birds; having been accustomed to the immense flocks which congregate on the banks of Indian rivers.
Our arrival at a village alone relieved the monotony of the landscape. Some of these places were prettily situated under groves of dates and wild fig trees, and they occasionally boasted houses of a decent description; the majority were, however, most wretched, and we were often surprized to see persons respectably dressed, and mounted upon good-looking donkeys, emerge from streets and lanes leading to the most squalid and poverty-stricken dwellings imaginable. The arrival of a boat caused all the beggars to hasten down to the river-side; these chiefly consisted of very old or blind persons. We had provided ourselves with paras, a small copper coin, for the purpose of giving alms to the miserable beings who solicited our charity, and the poor creatures always went away well satisfied with the trifling gift bestowed upon them.
Every morning, the janissary and the Arab captain of the boat came to the door of the cabin to pay their respects; with the latter we could not hold much communication, as he did not speak a word of English; we were, nevertheless, excellent friends. He was very good-humoured, and we were always laughing, so that a bond of union was established between us. He had once or twice come into such close contact with some of our crockery-ware, as to put me in a fright, and the comic look, with which he showed that he was aware of the mischief he had nearly done, amused me excessively. He was evidently a wag, and from the moment in which he discovered the congeniality of our feelings, when any droll incident occurred, he was sure to look at us and laugh.
The janissary spoke very tolerable English, and after sunset, when we seated ourselves outside the cabin-door, he came forward and entered into conversation. He told us that a quarrel having taken place between the boatmen of a small vessel and the people of a village, the former came on board in great numbers in the night, and murdered six of the boatmen; and that on the affair being represented to the Pasha, he sent three hundred soldiers to the village, and razed it to the ground. He said that he had been in the service of several English gentlemen, and had once an opportunity of going to England with a captain in the navy, but that his mother was alive at that time, and when he mentioned his wishes to her, she cried, and therefore he could not go. The captain had told him that he would always repent not having taken his offer; but though he wished to see England, he was glad he had not grieved his mother. He had been at Malta, but had taken a dislike to the Maltese, in consequence of a wrong he had received, as a stranger, upon his landing.
Amongst the noblemen and gentlemen whom he had served, he mentioned the Marquess of Waterford. We asked him what sort of a person he was, and he immediately replied, "A young devil." Mohammed, who had been in various services with English travellers, expressed a great desire to go to England; he said, that if he could once get there, he would "never return to this dirty country." Both he and the janissary apparently had formed magnificent ideas of the wealth of Great Britain, from the lavish manner in which the English are accustomed to part with their money while travelling.
We inquired of Mohammed concerning the magician, whose exploits Mr. Lane and other authors have recorded. At first, he did not understand what we meant; but, upon further explanation, told us that he thought the whole an imposture. He said, that when a boy, about the age of the Arab captain's son, who was on board, he was in the service of a lady who wished to witness the exhibition, and who selected him as the medium of communication, because she said that she knew he would tell her the truth. The ceremonies, therefore, commenced; but though anxiously looking into the magic mirror, he declared that he saw nothing: afterwards, he continued, "A boy was called out of the bazaar, who saw all that the man told him." But while Mohammed expressed his entire disbelief in the power of this celebrated person, he was not devoid of the superstition of his creed and country, for he told us that he knew of another who really did wonderful things. He then asked us what we had called the Mughreebee whom we had described to him: we replied, a magician; and he and the janissary repeated the word over many times, in order to make themselves thoroughly acquainted with it. In all cases, they were delighted with the acquisition of a new word, and were very thankful to me when I corrected their pronunciation. Thus, when the janissary showed me what he called kundergo, growing in the fields, and explained that it made a blue dye, and I told him that we called it indigo, he never rested until he had learned the word, which he repeated to Mohammed and Mohammed to him. I never met with two more intelligent men in their rank of life, or persons who would do greater credit to their teachers; and brief as has been my intercourse with the Egyptians, I feel persuaded, that a good method of imparting knowledge is all that is wanting to raise them in the scale of nations.
During our progress up the river, I had been schooling myself, and endeavouring to keep down my expectations, lest I should be disappointed at the sight of the Pyramids. We were told that we should see them at the distance of five-and-thirty miles; and when informed that they were in view, my heart beat audibly as I threw open the cabin door, and beheld them gleaming in the sun, pure and bright as the silvery clouds above them. Far from being disappointed, the vastness of their dimensions struck me at once, as they rose in lonely majesty on the bare plain, with nothing to detract from their grandeur, or to afford, by its littleness, a point of comparison. We were never tired of gazing upon these noble monuments of an age shrouded in impenetrable mystery. They were afterwards seen at less advantage, in consequence of the intervention of some rising ground; but from all points they created the strongest degree of interest.
We had a magnificent thunder-storm just as it was growing dark, and the red lightning lit up the pyramids, which came out, as it were, from the black masses of clouds behind them, while the broad waters of the Nile assumed a dark and troubled aspect. The scene was sublime, but of short duration; for the tempest speedily rolled off down the river; when, accompanied by a squall and heavy rain, it caught several boats, which were obliged to put into the shore. We did not experience the slightest inconvenience; and though the latter part of the voyage had been protracted from want of wind, arrived at the port of Boulak at half-past nine on the second evening of our embarkation.