Arrival at Boulak--Description of the place--Moolid, or Religious
Fair--Surprise of the People--The Hotel at Cairo--Description of
the City--The Citadel--View from thence--The City--The
Shops--The Streets--The interior of the Pasha's
Palace--Pictures--Furniture--Military Band--Affray between a Man and
Woman--Indifference of the Police to Street Broils--Natives beaten
by Englishmen--Visit to an English Antiquary--By-ways of
the City--Interior of the Houses--Nubian
Slave-market--Gypsies--Preparations for Departure to Suez--Mode
of driving in the Streets of Cairo--Leave the City--The Changes in
travelling in Egypt--Attractions of Cairo
It was half-past nine o'clock, on the evening of the 4th of October, 1839, that we arrived at the port of Boulak. We expected to find some person in waiting to give us the pass-word, and thus enable us to get into Cairo, the gates of the city being closed at nine o'clock. Depending upon the attendance of the hotel-keeper at Cairo, who had been apprised of our approach, we had not put the janissary on shore, as we ought to have done, at the British Consul's country-house, who would have furnished us with a talisman to pass the gates. We sent Mohammed and the janissary on shore, to see what could be done. Including the voyage up the canal, Miss E. and myself had passed (we could not say slept) three nights on board a boat, the first without an attempt at repose, the two latter lying down in our dressing-gowns upon thin mattresses, stretched upon hard boards; we, therefore, could not very easily relinquish the endeavour to procure a bed during the time which would intervene between the period (an hour before day-light) in which the gates of the city would be open.
I had a letter to the British Consul, which I gave Mohammed, telling him to try the effect of bribery upon the guardians of the city. During his absence, the Arab captain, feeling that we were left under his protection, came and seated himself beside us, outside the cabin-door. We conversed together without understanding each other's language; he had nothing to offer us except snuff, of which we each took a pinch, giving him in return, as he refused wine, a pomegranate, to which I added a five-franc piece from the remains of my French money. If any thing had been wanting to establish a good understanding between us, this would have accomplished it. The rais, or captain, took my hand in his, and pressed his own to his lips, in token of gratitude; and when upon the return of Mohammed he perceived that I was rather nervous at the idea of crossing the plank from the boat to the shore, he plunged at once into the water to assist me over it. The janissary brought word that there was a moolid, or religious fair, held at the opposite end of the city, and that if we would make a circuit of three miles round the walls, we might enter Cairo that night, as the gate was left open for the convenience of the people in the neighbourhood. Mohammed had aroused a donkey-man of his acquaintance, who was in attendance, with a youth his son, and two donkeys. To the boy was entrusted the care of the lanthorn, without which no person is allowed to traverse the streets after nightfall, and mounting, we set forward.
The streets of Boulak are narrow, but the houses appear to be lofty and substantially built. We were challenged by the soldiers at the gates, but allowed to pass without farther inquiry. The ride round the walls at night was dreary enough, over broken ground, occupied by bandogs barking at us as we passed. We met occasionally groups of people coming from the fair, who gave us the welcome intelligence that the gates were still open, and, pushing on, we came at length to the entrance, an archway of some magnitude. Upon turning an angle of this wall, we suddenly emerged upon a very singular scene. The tomb of the saint, in whose honour the moolid was held, was surrounded by devotees, engaged in the performance of some religious rite. Around, and in front, throughout the neighbouring streets, gleamed a strong illumination, produced by an assemblage of lamps and lanthorns of various kinds. Some of the shops boasted handsome cut-glass chandeliers, or Argand lamps, evidently of European manufacture; others were content with a circular frame, perforated with holes, in which all sorts of glass vessels, wine-glasses, tumblers, mustard-pots, &c., were placed, filled with oil, and having several wicks.
The articles displayed for sale at the fair were, as far as we could judge from the hasty glances we cast as we passed along, good of their kind, and of some value; the confectioners' shops made a gay appearance with their variously-coloured sweetmeats, piled up in tempting heaps, and we saw enough of embroidery and gold to form a very favourable idea of the taste and splendour of the native dress.
We were, of course, objects of great surprise and curiosity; the sudden appearance of two European ladies, the only women present, at eleven o'clock at night, riding on donkeys through the fair, could not fail to create a sensation. Our boy with the lanthorn walked first, followed by the janissary, who, flourishing his silver stick, made room for us through the crowd. Had we not been accompanied by this respectable official, we should scarcely have dared to venture in such a place, and at such a period. Mohammed and the donkey-man attended at the side of Miss E. and myself, and though some of the people could not help laughing at the oddity of our appearance, we met with no sort of insult or hinderance, but made our way through without the slightest difficulty, much more easily, in fact, than two Arabs in their native costume, even if attended by a policeman, would have traversed a fair in England.
The scene was altogether very singular, and we thought ourselves fortunate in having had an opportunity of witnessing a native fair under such novel circumstances. We could scarcely believe that we were in a Mohammedan city, noted for its intolerance, and could not help feeling grateful to the reigning power which had produced so striking a change in the manners and conduct of the people. Upon leaving the fair, we turned into dark streets, dimly illumined by the light of the lanthorn we carried; occasionally, but very seldom, we met some grave personage, preceded also by a lanthorn, who looked with great astonishment at our party as we passed. At length we came to the door of our hotel, and having knocked loudly, we were admitted into the court-yard, when, dismounting, we proceeded up a flight of stone steps to a verandah, which led into some very good-sized apartments. The principal one, a large dining-room, was furnished at the upper end in the Egyptian fashion, with divans all round; it was, however, also well supplied with European chairs and tables, and in a few minutes cold turkey and ham, and other good things, appeared upon the board.
Being the first arrivals from the steamer, we had to answer numerous questions before we could retire to bed. Upon asking to be conducted to our chamber, we were shown up another flight of stone stairs, leading to a second and much larger verandah, which was screened off in departments serving as ante-chambers to the bed-rooms. There was sufficient space on the terraces of this floor, for the descent of a few steps led to another platform, to afford a walk of some extent, but of this we were not aware until the morning. We found a very comfortable two-bedded room, supplied with glass windows, and everything belonging to it in excellent repair, and apparently free from vermin; most thankfully did we lie down to enjoy the repose which our late exertions had rendered so needful.
Our trusty Mohammed had engaged donkeys for us the next day, and promised to take us to every place worth seeing in the city. We were strongly tempted to visit the Pyramids, but were deterred by the danger of losing the steamer at Suez, and by the difficulties of the undertaking. We were told that the Nile was not sufficiently flooded to admit of our approach in a boat, and that we should be up to the donkey's knees in mud if we attempted to go upon the backs of those animals. We, therefore, reluctantly relinquished the idea, and contented ourselves with what we could see of Cairo.
Our first visit was directed to the Citadel, a place which, I do not scruple to say, was to me quite as interesting as any of the monuments of ancient art that Egypt contains. The remains of ages long past, and whose history is involved in unfathomable obscurity, excite our wonder and admiration, and fill us with an almost painful curiosity to draw aside the veil which time has thrown around them, and to learn secrets that all the learning of man has hitherto been unable to unfold. The citadel of Cairo, on the contrary, has been the theatre of comparatively recent events; it is filled with recollections of the hero whose exploits, narrated by the most eloquent pens, have charmed us in our childhood, and still continue to excite interest in our breasts--the Sultan Saladin. Here are the remains of a palace which he once inhabited, and here is a well which bears his name. Who could sit under the broken pillars of that roofless palace, or drink the water from the deep recesses of that well, without allowing their thoughts to wander back to the days of the Crusades, those chivalric times, in which love, and war, and religion, swayed the hearts and the actions of men; when all that was honoured and coveted was to be found in a soldier of the cross, and when half-frantic enthusiasts, pursuing the vainest of hopes, the recovery of the Holy Land, brought away with them what they did not go to seek, the arts, and learning, and science of the East! The janissary, who was with us, pointed out the direction in which Damietta now stands, and I was instantly filled with a desire to see Damietta, of which I had heard and read so much.
The most exciting romance of Oriental history is to be found amid the deserts that surround Egypt; and even if the most spirit-stirring tale of all, the Talisman, had not been written, the scenes in which our own lion-hearted Richard figured, and which witnessed the exploits of the Templars and the knights of St. John of Jerusalem, could not fail to create the highest degree of pleasurable feeling in minds capable of enjoying such brilliant reveries of the past. The Citadel of Cairo is also fraught with the recollections of an event which startled all Europe within the memory of many of the present generation--the massacre of the Mamelukes. We were shown the broken cleft in the wall from which the only one of the devoted men who escaped urged his gallant horse; it was, indeed, a fearful leap, and we gazed upon, the spot and thought of the carnage of that dreadful hour with an involuntary shudder.
The Citadel of Cairo has less the air of a regular fortification than any place of arms I ever recollect to have entered; it is, however, I believe, exceedingly strong by nature, the situation being very commanding. I regretted that I could not look upon these things with a professional eye, and that I had no military authority at hand to refer to. Near to the ruins of Saladin's palace, the Pasha is now constructing a mosque, which, when finished, will be one of the most splendid temples of the kind in all the Moslem land. It is to be lined and faced with marble, very elegantly carved, but it will take three years to complete it, and should any circumstances occur to delay the work during the lifetime of the present ruler of Egypt, the chances seem much in favour of its never being completed at all. Mounting on the embrasure of one of the guns, I feasted my eyes upon one of the finest and most interesting views I had ever beheld. The city, with its minarets, towers, kiosks, and stately palm-trees, lay at my feet, displaying, by its extent, the solidity, loftiness, and magnificence of its buildings, its title to the proud name of "Grand Cairo." Beyond, in one wide flood of silver, flowed the Nile, extending far as the eye could reach along a plain verdant with its fertilizing waters. To the left, the tombs of the caliphs spread themselves over a desert waste, looking, indeed, like a city of the dead. These monuments, though not equalling in size and grandeur the tombs which we find in India, are very striking; they are for the most part surmounted by cupolas, raised upon lofty pillars, with the spaces open between. Upon one of these buildings we were shown a vessel in the form of a boat, which upon a certain festival is filled with grain and water, for the service of the birds.
The Pyramids, which rise beyond the City of Tombs, are not seen to advantage from this point, an intervening ridge of sand cutting off the bases, and presenting the pinnacles only to view; but the whole of the landscape, under the clear bright atmosphere of an Egyptian sky, is of so exquisite a nature, that the eye can never tire of it, and had I been detained as a prisoner in the Pasha's dominions, I might have become reconciled to my fate, had I been confined in a situation which commanded this splendid prospect.
About the middle of the day we again sallied forth, the streets of Cairo being so narrow that the sun is completely shut out, and shade thus afforded at noon. The air was not unpleasantly warm, and we suffered no inconvenience, excepting from the crowd. Mounted upon donkeys, we pushed our way through a dense throng, thrusting aside loaded camels, which scarcely allowed us room to pass, and coming into the closest contact with all sorts of people. The perusal of Mr. Lane's book had given me a very vivid idea of the interior of the city, though I was scarcely prepared to mingle thus intimately with its busy multitude.
We had some shopping to execute, or rather we had to pay for some purchases made by Mohammed for us in the morning, and to return that portion of the goods sent for inspection that we did not intend to keep. We liked the appearance of the shops, which, in all cases of the more respectable kind, were well stocked, whole streets being devoted to the sale of one particular branch of merchandize. A long avenue was occupied by saddlers and the sellers of horse-furniture; another displayed nothing but woollen cloths; a third was devoted to weapons of every description, &c. &c. The wax-chandlers reminded me very much of those in England, being decorated in a similar manner, while the display of goods everywhere was much greater than I had ever seen in Eastern cities, in which for the most part merchandize of the best description is hidden in warehouses, and not to be found without deep research.
The greater number of the streets are covered in with matting in rather a dilapidated state, and having many holes and crevices for the admission of air; this gives to the whole a ragged appearance, and we were told that the Pasha had determined not to allow in future awnings of these frail and unsightly materials. The Frank quarter, which is much better contrived, is the model for subsequent erections. This avenue has a roof of wood sufficiently high to allow of a free circulation of air, and having apertures, at regular distances near the top, to admit the light. The streets in this part of Cairo are wider than usual, and the shops appear to be large and convenient.
All sorts of European manufactures are to be found here, for the most part at reasonable prices. The gentlemen who proposed to cross the desert purchased Leghorn hats of very good quality, and admirably adapted, from their size, lightness, and durability, for Indian wear. Wearied, at length, with the confusion and bustle of the streets, we took again the road to the Citadel, being exceedingly desirous to feast our eyes with the sunset view.
After gazing long and earnestly upon a scene which, once beheld, can never be forgotten, we gladly accepted the offer of Mohammed to show us into the interior of the Pasha's palace, a large irregular building, having no great pretensions to architectural beauty, and mingling rather oddly the European with the Oriental style. Ascending a broad flight of steps, we passed through a large kind of guard-room to the state-apartments. These were of rather a singular description, but handsome and well adapted to the climate. A third portion, consisting of the front and part of the two sides of each room, was entirely composed of windows, opening a few feet from the ground, and having a divan running round, furnished in the usual manner with pillows at the back. The windows of some of these apartments opened upon gardens, laid out in the English taste and full of English flowers; others commanded the finest prospects of the city and the open space below. Round these rooms, at the top, forming a sort of cornice, were pictures in compartments or panels, one series consisting of views of the Pasha's palaces and gardens, another of the vessels of war which belong to him, and more especially his favourite steam-boat, of which there are many delineations. There is nothing that more strongly exhibits the freedom with which Mehemet Ali has thrown off the prejudices of the Moslem religion, than his permitting, contrary to its established principles, the representation of objects natural and artificial, which, both in painting and sculpture, is strictly forbidden. Much cannot be said for the execution of these pictures, which seem to have been the work of a native artist; but they become exceedingly interesting as proofs of the decline of a religion so completely opposed to the spread of knowledge, and to all improvement in the moral condition of its followers.
The furniture in the Pasha's palace, though in a great measure limited to carpets and cushions, is very handsome. The divans are covered with rich brocade, figured satin, damask, or cut velvet. The attendants drew aside, with great pride, the curtains which concealed the looking-glasses, evidently fancying that we had never beheld mirrors of such magnitude in our lives. I observed that the chandeliers in some of the apartments did not match each other, but the whole was very creditable to the taste and spirit of the owner. Below them was a handsome apartment entirely lined with marble, and apparently designed as a retreat for the hot weather, the floor being divided into two parts--the one ascended by a step, in which the family might repose upon cushions; the other scooped into basins, with a fountain to play in the centre: the water either had not as yet been laid on, or the season did not render it necessary. Near to this apartment was the Pasha's bed-chamber, a fine room, also lined with marble, and containing a fire-place, which in the warm weather revolved upon a pivot, and was concealed in a recess made on purpose in the wall. The bathing-rooms, close at hand, were of the most beautiful description, the principal apartment and the antechamber having roofs which might serve as models for all erections of the kind. These were fretted in small compartments, light being admitted by a thick piece of ground-glass in the centre of each, thus securing the utmost privacy, together with one of the most beautiful methods of lighting possible.
While we were still sitting in the Pasha's palace, the military band of the garrison began to play upon the parade-ground immediately below. Mohammed, who seemed to be quite at home, conducted us to an apartment which overlooked this space, opened one of the windows, and requested us to seat ourselves upon the cushions, where we remained for some time, listening to the well-known French airs played in the court-yard of the palace of a Turkish prince! The band was not a very large one, but the performers had been well-taught, and the wind-instruments produced in such a situation a very animating effect. They marched up and down the parade-ground, occasionally relieved by the drums and fifes also playing French music. The performers were clothed in white, like the men belonging to the ranks, and had the same soiled appearance, it being impossible to keep white garments pure in the dust of Egyptian cities.
The sun was now completely down, and we returned to our hotel, where, to our great joy, we found our two female friends, who had not been able to reach Boulak until many hours after our landing. We had ordered dinner at seven o'clock, in the hope that our fellow-passengers in the steamer would come up, and according to our calculations, several dropped in. The possibility of getting to the Pyramids was again discussed; the greater number of the gentlemen determined at least to try, but we thought it best to avoid all danger of missing the Berenice, and the ladies, adhering to their original intention, determined to cross the desert together. We passed a most agreeable evening, telling over our voyage up the Nile, and upon retiring to my chamber, I regretted that it would be the last I should for some time spend in Cairo.
Nothing can be more quiet than the nights in a city where all the inhabitants retire after dark to their own homes, the streets being perambulated by few persons, and those of the soberest description; but with the sun, a scene of bustle and noise ensues, which effectually prevents repose. The windows of my apartment looked out upon a narrow street, in which the ground-floors were, as it is usual, composed of shops, while several persons, having vegetables or grain to sell, were seated upon the ground. The hum of human voices, the grunting of the camels, and the braying of donkeys, kept up an incessant din, and therefore some minutes elapsed before my attention was attracted by a wordy war which took place beneath my window. Hastily arraying myself in my dressing-gown, and looking out, I saw a man and woman engaged in some vehement discussion, but whether caused by a dispute or not, I could not at first decide. They both belonged to the lower class, and the woman was meanly dressed in a blue garment, with a hood of the same over her head, her face being concealed by one of those hideous narrow black veils, fastened across under the eyes, which always reminded me of the proboscis of an elephant. Her hands were clasped upon the arms of the man just above the elbow, who held her in the same manner, and several people were endeavouring to part them, as they struggled much in the same manner which prevails in a melodrame, when the hero and heroine are about to be separated by main force. I thought it, therefore, probable that they were a loving couple, about to be torn asunder by the myrmidons of the law. Presently, however, I was set right upon this point, for the man, seizing a kind of whip, which is generally carried in Cairo, and flogging off his friends, dashed the poor creature on the ground, and inflicted several severe strokes upon her prostrate body, not one of the by-standers attempting to prevent him. The woman, screaming fearfully, jumped up, and seizing him again, as if determined to gain her point, whatever it might be, poured forth a volley of words, and again the man threw her upon the ground and beat her most cruelly, the spectators remaining, as before, quite passive, and allowing him to wreak his full vengeance upon her.
Had I been dressed, or could I have made my way readily into the street, I should have certainly gone down to interpose, for never did I witness any scene so horrible, or one I so earnestly desired to put an end to. At length, though the pertinacity of the woman was astonishing, when exhausted by blows, she lay fainting on the ground, the man went his way. The spectators, and there were many, who looked on without any attempt to rescue this poor creature from her savage assailant, now raised her from the earth. The whole of this time, the veil she wore was never for a moment displaced, and but for the brutal nature of the scene, it would have been eminently ridiculous in the eyes of a stranger. After crying and moaning for some time, in the arms of her supporters, the woman, whom I now found to be a vender of vegetables in the street, told her sad tale to all the passers-by of her acquaintance, with many tears and much gesticulation, but at length seated herself quietly down by her baskets, though every bone in her body must have ached from the severe beating she had received. This appeared to me to be a scene for the interference of the police, who, however, do not appear to trouble themselves about the protection of people who may be assaulted in the street.
I afterwards saw a drunken Englishman, an officer of the Indian army, I am sorry to say, beat several natives of Cairo, with whom he happened to come in contact in the crowd, in the most brutal and unprovoked manner, and yet no notice was taken, and no complaint made. It was certainly something very unexpected to me to see a Frank Christian maltreating the Moslem inhabitants of a Moslem city in which he was a stranger, and I regretted exceedingly that the perpetrator of acts, which brought disgrace upon his character and country, should have been an Englishman, or should have escaped punishment. No sooner have we been permitted to traverse a country in which formerly it was dangerous to appear openly as a Christian, than we abuse the privilege thus granted by outrages on its most peaceable inhabitants. I regret to be obliged to add, that it is but too commonly the habit, of Englishmen to beat the boat-men, donkey-men, and others of the poorer class, whom they may engage in their service. They justify this cowardly practice--cowardly, because the poor creatures can gain no redress--by declaring that there is no possibility of getting them to stir excepting by means of the whip; but, in most cases, all that I witnessed, they were not at the trouble of trying fairer methods: at once enforcing their commands by blows. The comments made by the janissary and our own servant upon those who were guilty of such wanton brutality showed the feeling which it elicited; and when upon one occasion Miss E. and myself interposed, declaring that we would not allow any person in our service to be beaten, they told us not to be alarmed, for that the rais (captain of the boat), who was an Arab, would not put up with ill-treatment, but had threatened to go on shore at the next village with all his men.
An English gentleman, long resident in Cairo, had done me the honour to call upon me on the day after my arrival, and had invited me to come to his house, to see some mummies and other curiosities he had collected. Accompanied by two of my female friends, and escorted by a gentleman who was well acquainted with the topography of the city, we set out on foot, traversing blind alleys and dark lanes, and thus obtaining a better idea of the intricacies of the place than we could possibly have gained by any other means. Sometimes we passed under covered ways perfectly dark, which I trod, not without fear of arousing some noxious animal; then we came to narrow avenues, between the backs of high stone houses, occasionally emerging into small quadrangles, having a single tree in one corner. We passed a house inhabited by one of the superior description of Frank residents, and we knew that it must be tenanted by a European by the handsome curtains and other furniture displayed through its open windows. Turning into a street, for the very narrow lanes led chiefly along the backs of houses, we looked into the lower apartments, the doors of which were usually unclosed, and here we saw the men at their ordinary occupations, and were made acquainted with their domestic arrangements. At length we arrived at a court, which displayed a door and a flight of steps at the corner. Upon knocking, we were admitted by an Egyptian servant, who showed us up stairs into a room, where we found the master of the house seated upon one of the low stools which serve as the support of the dinner-trays in Egypt, the only other furniture that the room contained being a table, and the customary divan, which extended all round. Coffee was brought in, served in small China cups; but all the coffee made in Egypt was too like the Nile mud for me to taste, and warm and fatigued with a walk through places from which the fresh air was excluded, I felt myself unequal to make the trial now.
Our friend's collection of antiquities appeared to be very valuable; but I had been at the opening of a mummy-case before, and though interested by the different articles which his researches had brought to light, was more so in the examination of his house. It was very oddly arranged, according to the ideas formed in Europe, many of the rooms looking like lanthorns, in consequence of their having windows on the stairs and passages, as well as to the street. This was probably caused by a desire to secure a free circulation of air, but it at the same time destroyed every idea of privacy, and therefore looked exceedingly uncomfortable. There were glass-windows to several of the apartments, but the house exhibited considerable quantities of that wooden trellice-work, represented in Mr. Lane's book. Nothing, indeed, can be more accurate than his descriptions; the English inhabitants of Cairo say that, reading it upon the spot, they cannot detect a single error; the designs are equally faithful, and those who study the work carefully may acquire the most correct notion of the city and its inhabitants.
The apartments at the top of the house opened, as usual, upon a rather extensive terrace or court, but the surrounding wall was too high to admit of any prospect; both here, and in a similar place at our hotel, persons walking about could neither see their neighbours nor be seen by them. We, therefore, gained nothing by climbing so high, and I was disappointed at not obtaining any view of the city. I tried in each place to make acquaintance with an Egyptian cat, but I found the animal too shy. I noticed several, which seemed to be domestic pets; they were fine-looking creatures of the kind, and I fancied larger than the common English cat, but the difference, if existing at all, was very slight. I returned home, so much fatigued with my walk, as to be unable to go out again, especially as we were to start at four o'clock for the desert.
Two of the ladies of the party, not having completed their purchases at the bazaars, went out upon a shopping excursion, and passing near the Nubian slave-market, were induced to enter. Christians are not admitted to the place in which Circassian women are sold, and can only obtain entrance by assuming the Turkish dress and character. My friends were highly interested in one woman, who sat apart from the rest, apparently plunged into the deepest melancholy; the others manifested little sorrow at their condition, which was not, perhaps, in reality, changed for the worse: all eagerly scrambled for some pieces of money which the visitors threw amongst them, and the sight was altogether too painful for Christian ladies to desire to contemplate long.
They were much more amused by some gipsies, who were anxious to show their skill in the occult science. Upon the morning after our arrival, Miss E., who was always the first upon the alert, accepted the escort of a gentleman, who conducted her to a neighbouring shop; while making some purchases, a gipsy came and seated herself opposite, and by way of showing her skill, remarked that the lady was a stranger to Cairo, and had a companion, also of her own sex, who pretended to be a friend, but who would prove treacherous.
As we had ridden through the fair together on the preceding evening, it did not require any great effort of art to discover that two Frank ladies had arrived at Cairo; but in speaking of treachery, the gipsy evidently wished to pique the curiosity of my friend, and tempt her to make further inquiry. Much to my regret, she did not take any notice of the fortune-teller, whose words had been repeated by the gentleman who had accompanied her, and who was well acquainted with the language in which they were spoken. I should like to have had a specimen of the talents of a modern scion of this race, in the country in which the learned have decided that the tribe, now spread over the greater part of the world, originated.
The arrival of the Berenice at Suez had been reported the evening before, and the mails had been brought to Cairo in the coarse of the night. All was, therefore, bustle and confusion in our hotel; gentlemen hourly arriving from the Nile, where they had been delayed by squalls and contrary winds, or snatching a hasty meal before they posted off to the Pyramids. Our camels and donkeys had been laden and despatched to the outskirts of the city, to which we were to be conveyed in a carriage.
I had observed in the court-yard of the hotel an English-built equipage, of the britschka fashion, with a dark-coloured hood, for, whatever might have been its original tint, it had assumed the common hue of Egypt; and I found that two spirited horses were to be harnessed to the vehicle, which was dragged out into the street for our accommodation. A gentleman volunteered his services as coachman, promising that he would drive carefully, and we accordingly got in, a party of four, taking the baby along with us. Although the horses kicked and plunged a little, I did not fancy that we could be in any danger, as it was impossible for them to run away with us through streets so narrow as scarcely to be passable, neither could we have very easily been upset. I, therefore, hoped to have enjoyed the drive amazingly, as it promised to afford me a better opportunity than I had hitherto possessed of seeing Cairo, seated at my ease, instead of pushing and jostling through the crowd either on foot or upon a donkey. The gentleman, however, bent upon showing off, would not listen to our entreaties that the grooms should lead the horses, but dashed along, regardless of the danger to the foot-passengers, or the damage that the donkeys might sustain.
So long as we proceeded slowly, the drive was very agreeable, since it enabled me to observe the effect produced by our party upon the spectators. Many sat with the utmost gravity in their shops, scarcely deigning to cast their eyes upon what must certainly have been a novel sight; others manifested much more curiosity, and seemed to be infinitely amused, while heads put out of the upper windows showed that we attracted some attention. My enjoyment was destined to be very brief, for in a short time our coachman, heedless of the mischief that might ensue, drove rapidly forward, upsetting and damaging every thing that came in his way. In vain did we scream and implore; he declared that it was the fault of the people, who would not remove themselves out of danger; but as we had no avant-courrier to clear the road before us, and our carriage came very suddenly upon many persons, I do not see how they could have managed to escape. At length, we drove over an unfortunate donkey, which was pulled down by a piece of iron sticking from the carriage, and thus becoming entangled in the load he bore. I fear that the animal was injured, for the poor boy who drove him cried bitterly, and though we (that is, the ladies of the party) would gladly have remunerated him for the damage he might have sustained, neither time nor opportunity was permitted for this act of justice. On we drove, every moment expecting to be flung out against the walls, as the carriage turned round the corners of streets placed at right angles to each other. At length, we succeeded in our wish to have the grooms at the horses' heads, and without further accident, though rendered as nervous as possible, passed through the gate of the city. We drove forward now without any obstacle through the Necropolis, or City of Tombs, before-mentioned, and I regretted much that we had not left Cairo at an earlier hour, which would have permitted us to examine the interiors.
The desert comes up to the very walls of Cairo, and these tombs rise from a plain of bare sand. I observed some gardens and cultivated places stretching out into the wilderness, no intermediate state occurring between the garden and the arid waste in which vegetation suddenly ceased. We might have performed the whole journey across the desert in the carriage which had brought us thus far, but as one of the ladies was a little nervous, and moreover thought the road too rough, I readily agreed to choose another mode of conveyance; in fact, I wished particularly to proceed leisurely to Suez, and in the manner in which travellers had hitherto been conveyed.
The mighty changes which are now effecting in Egypt, should nothing occur to check their progress, will soon render the track to India so completely beaten, and so deeply worn by wheels, that I felt anxious to take advantage of the opportunity now offered to traverse the desert in a more primitive way. I disliked the idea of hurrying through a scene replete with so many interesting recollections. I had commenced reading the Arabian Nights' Entertainment at the age of five years; since which period, I had read them over and over again at every opportunity, finishing with the last published number of the translation by Mr. Lane. This study had given me a strong taste for every thing relating to the East, and Arabia especially. I trust that I am not less familiar with the writings of the Old and New Testament, and consequently it may easily be imagined that I should not find three days in the desert tedious, and that I felt anxious to enjoy to the uttermost the reveries which it could not fail to suggest.
In parting with our friend and the carriage, he declared that he would indemnify himself for the constraint we had placed upon him, by driving over two or three people at least. Fortunately, his desire of showing off was displayed too soon; we heard, and rejoiced at the tidings, that he upset the carriage before he got to the gate of Cairo. Two or three lives are lost, it is said, whenever the Pasha, who drives furiously, traverses the city in a European equipage. That he should not trouble himself about so mean a thing as the life or limb of a subject, may not be wonderful; but that he should permit Frank strangers to endanger both, seems unaccountable.
No Anglo-Indian resident in either of the three presidencies thinks of driving a wheel-carriage through streets never intended for such conveyances. In visiting Benares, Patna, or any other of the celebrated native cities of India, elephants, horses, palanquins, or some other vehicle adapted for the occasion, are chosen. It, therefore, appears to be the more extraordinary that English people, who are certainly living upon sufferance in Egypt, should thus recklessly expose the inhabitants to danger, to which they are not subjected by any of their own people under the rank of princes. Nothing can be more agreeable or safe than a drive across the desert, and probably the time is speedily approaching in which the rich inhabitants of Cairo will indulge, as they do at Alexandria, in the luxury of English carriages, and for this purpose, the streets and open spaces best adapted for driving will be improved and widened.
I cannot take leave of Cairo without paying the tribute due to the manner in which the streets are kept. In passing along the narrow lanes and avenues before-mentioned, not one of the senses was shocked; dust, of course, there is every where, but nothing worse to be seen at least; and the sight and smell were not offended, as at Paris or even in London, when passing through the by-ways of either. Altogether, if I may venture to pronounce an opinion, after so short a residence, I should say that, if our peaceful relations with Egypt should continue to be kept up, in no place will travellers be better received or entertained than in Cairo.