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.
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Equipage for crossing the Desert—Donkey-chairs—Sense of calmness and tranquillity on entering the Desert—Nothing dismal in its aspect—The Travellers' Bungalow—Inconvenient construction of these buildings—Kafila of the Governor of Jiddah and his Lady—Their Equipage—Bedouins—Impositions practised on Travellers—Desert Travelling not disagreeable—Report of the sailing of the Steamer—Frequency of false reports—Ease with which an infant of the party bore the journey—A wheeled carriage crossing the Desert—Parties of Passengers from Suez encountered—One of Mr. Hill's tilted Caravans—Difficulty of procuring water at the Travellers' Bungalow—A night in the Desert—Magnificent sunrise—First sight of the Red Sea and the Town of Suez—Miserable appearance of the latter—Engagement of a Passage to Bombay.
We found the equipages in which we were to cross the desert waiting for us at the City of Tombs. They consisted of donkey-chairs, one being provided for each of the females of the party, while my friend Miss E. had also an extra donkey, with a saddle, to ride upon occasionally. Nothing could be more comfortable than these vehicles; a common arm-chair was fastened into a sort of wooden tray, which projected in front about a foot, thereby enabling the passenger to carry a small basket or other package; the chairs were then slung by the arms to long bamboos, one upon either side, and these, by means of ropes or straps placed across, were fastened upon the backs of donkeys, one in front, the other, behind. Five long and narrow vehicles of this kind, running across the desert, made a sufficiently droll and singular appearance, and we did nothing but admire each other as we went along. The movement was delightfully easy, and the donkeys, though not travelling at a quick pace, got on very well. Our cavalcade consisted besides of two stout donkeys, which carried the beds and carpet-bags of the whole party, thus enabling us to send the camels a-head: the three men-servants were also mounted upon donkeys, and there were three or four spare ones, in case any of the others should knock up upon the road. In this particular it is proper to say that we were cheated, for had such an accident occurred, the extra-animals were so weak and inefficient, that they could not have supplied the places of any of those in use. There were eight or ten donkey-men, and a boy; the latter generally contrived to ride, but the others walked by the side of the equipages.
In first striking into the desert, we all enjoyed a most delightful feeling of repose; every thing around appeared to be so calm and tranquil, that, especially after encountering the noises and multitudes of a large and crowded city, it was soothing to the mind thus to emerge from the haunts of men and wander through the vast solitudes that spread their wastes before us. To me there was nothing dismal in the aspect of the desert, nor was the view so boundless as I had expected.
In these wide plains, the fall of a few inches is sufficient to diversify the prospect; there is always some gentle acclivity to be surmounted, which cheats the sense with the expectation of finding a novel scene beyond: the sand-hills in the distance also range themselves in wild and fantastic forms, many appearing like promontories jutting out into some noble harbour, to which the traveller seems to be approaching. Nor were there wanting living objects to animate the scene; our own little kafila was sufficiently large and cheerful to banish every idea of dreariness, and we encountered others much more picturesque.
Soon after losing sight of the tombs, we came upon a party who had bivouac'd for the night; the camels, unladen, were, with their burthens, placed in a circle, and the people busily employed in preparing their evening meal. Other evidences there were, however, to show that the toils of the desert were but too frequently fatal to the wretched beasts of burthen employed in traversing these barren wastes; the whitened bones of camels and donkeys occurred so frequently, as to serve to indicate the road.
Our first stage was the shortest of the whole, and we came to the rest-house, or travellers' bungalow, just as night closed in, and long before I entertained any idea that we should have been able to reach it, travelling as we did at an easy walk. The bungalow was not yet completed, which we found rather an advantage, since it seems to be exceedingly questionable whether the buildings erected for the accommodation of travellers on the track to Suez will be habitable even for a few hours in the course of another year. The funds of the Steam-committee have been lamentably mismanaged in this instance. However, there being no windows, we were enabled to enjoy the fresh air, and the room we occupied, not having been long whitewashed, was perfectly clean.
Nothing can have been worse planned than the construction of these houses. The only entrance is in front, down a narrow passage, open at the top, and having apartments on either side, the two in front being sleeping-rooms for travellers, with a kitchen and other offices beyond, and at the back of all a stable, which occupies the whole width of the building. The consequence is, that all the animals, biped and quadruped, inhabiting the stable, must pass the traveller's door, who is regaled with the smell proceeding from the said stable, cook-rooms, &c.; all the insects they collect, and all the feathers from the fowls slaughtered upon the spot; the plan being, when parties arrive, to drive the unhappy creatures into the house, kill and pluck them immediately.
The persons in care of these bungalows are usually a mongrel sort of Franks, who have no idea of cleanliness, and are regardless of the most unsavoury odours. The furniture of the rooms consisted of a deal table and a moveable divan of wicker-work, while another, formed of the same solid materials as the house, spread in the Egyptian fashion along one side. Upon this Miss E. and myself laid our beds; our two other lady friends, with the infant and female attendant, occupying the opposite apartment. We concluded the evening with tea and supper, for which we were amply provided, having cold fowls, cold ham, hard-boiled eggs, and bread and fruit in abundance. Wrapped up in our dressing-gowns, we passed a very comfortable night, and in the morning were able to procure the luxury of warm water for washing with.
Having discovered that the people of the hotel at Cairo had forgotten to put up some of the articles which we had ordered, and being afraid that our supplies might fail, we had sent Mohammed back for them. He did not rejoin us until eight o'clock the following morning, just as we had begun to grow uneasy about him; it appeared that, although apparently well acquainted with the desert, having crossed it many times, he had missed the track, and lost his way, and after wandering about all night, was glad to meet with a man, whom he engaged as a guide. The poor fellow was much exhausted, but had not omitted to bring us a bottle of fresh milk for our breakfast. We desired him to get some tea for himself, and he soon recovered; his spirits never forsaking him.
In consequence of these delays, it was rather late, past nine o'clock, before we set forward. I had provided myself with a pair of crape spectacles and a double veil, but I speedily discarded both; the crape fretted my eye-lashes, and would have produced a greater degree of irritation than the sand. A much better kind are those of wire, which tie round the head with a ribbon, and take in the whole eye. Though the sun was rather warm, its heat was tempered by a fresh cold air, which blew across the desert, though not strongly enough to lift the sand; we, therefore, travelled with much less inconvenience than is sustained upon a turnpike-road in England in dusty weather. I could not endure to mar the prospect by looking at it through a veil, and found my parasol quite sufficient protection against the rays of the sun.
The kafila, which we had passed the preceding evening, overtook us soon after we started. It consisted of a long train of camels, and belonged to the native governor of Jiddah, who was proceeding to that place with, his wife and family, a native vessel being in waiting at Suez to take him down the Red Sea. We saw several females wrapped closely from head to foot in long blue garments, mounted upon these camels. The governor's wife travelled in a sort of cage, which I recognised immediately, from the description in Anastatius. This vehicle is formed of two rude kinds of sophas, or what in English country phrase would be called settles, canopied overhead, and with a resting place for the feet. They are sometimes separated, and slung on either side of a camel; at other times joined together, and placed on the top, with a curtain or cloth lining, to protect the inmates from the sun, and secure the privacy so necessary for a Mohammedan lady. The height of the camels with their lading, and this cage on the summit of all, give an extraordinary and almost supernatural appearance to the animal as he plods along, his head nodding, and his whole body moving in a strange ungainly manner.
Occasionally we saw a small party of Bedouins, easily distinguished by the fierce countenances glaring from beneath the large rolls of cloth twisted over their turbans, and round their throats, leaving nothing besides flashing eyes, a strongly developed nose, and a bushy beard, to be seen. One or two, superior to the rest, were handsomely dressed, armed to the teeth, and rode camels well-groomed and richly caparisoned; wild-looking warriors, whom it would not have been agreeable to meet were the country in a less tranquil state.
To the present ruler of Egypt we certainly owe the security now enjoyed in passing the desert; a party of ladies, having only three servants and a few donkey-drivers, required no other protection, though our beds, dressing-cases, and carpet-bags, to say nothing of the camels laden with trunks and portmanteaus a-head, must have been rather tempting to robbers by profession. The Pasha is the only person who has hitherto been able to oblige the Sheikhs to respect the property of those travellers not strong enough to protect themselves from outrage. It is said that occasionally these Bedouins, when desirous of obtaining water, make no scruple of helping themselves to the supplies at the bungalows; the will, therefore, is not wanting to commit more serious depredations. Consequently, in maintaining a good understanding with Egypt, we must likewise endeavour to render its sovereign strong enough to keep the neighbouring tribes in awe.
Having made a slight refection on the road, of hard-boiled eggs, bread, grapes, and apples, we came up at mid-day to a rest-house, where it was determined we should remain for an hour or two, to water the donkeys, and afford them needful repose, while we enjoyed a more substantial luncheon. Our companions were so well satisfied with the management of Mohammed, who conducted the whole line of march, that they sent their Egyptian servant forward to order our dinner at the resting-place for the night. We found, however, that advantage had been taken of Mohammed's absence the preceding evening, and of the hurry of the morning's departure, to send back some of the animals we had engaged and paid for, and to substitute others so weak as to be perfectly useless. We were likewise cheated with regard to the water; we were told that the camel bearing the skins, for which we had paid at Cairo, had been taken by mistake by two gentlemen travelling in advance, and as we could not allow the poor animals to suffer, we of course purchased water for them. This was no doubt an imposition, but one for which, under the circumstances, we had no remedy.
Upon reaching the bungalow, we again came up with the kafila that we had seen twice before; the wife of the governor of Jiddah, with her women, vacated the apartment into which we were shown, when we arrived; but her husband sent a message, requesting that we would permit her to occupy another, which was empty. We were but too happy to comply, and should have been glad to have obtained a personal interview; but having no interpreter excepting Mohammed, who would not have been admitted to the conference, we did not like to make the attempt. From the glance which we obtained of the lady, she seemed to be very diminutive; nothing beyond height and size could be distinguishable under the blue envelope she wore, in common with her women: some of the latter occasionally unveiled their faces, which were certainly not very attractive; but others, probably those who were younger and handsomer, kept their features closely shrouded.
Again betaking ourselves to our conveyances, we launched forth into the desert, enjoying it as much the second day as we had done the first. I entertained a hope of seeing some of the beautiful gazelles, for which Arabia is famous; but not one appeared. A pair of birds occasionally skimmed over the desert, at a short distance from its surface; but those were the only specimens of wild animals we encountered. The skeletons of camels occurred as frequently as before; many nearly entire, others with their bones scattered abroad, but whether borne by the winds, or by some savage beast, we could not learn. Neither could we discover whether the deaths of these poor animals had been recent or not; for so short a time only is required in Eastern countries for the insects to anatomize any animal that may fall in their way, that even supposing that jackalls and hyaenas should not be attracted to the spot, the ants would make quick work even of so large a creature as a camel.
There were hills in the back ground, which might probably shelter vultures, kites, and the family of quadrupeds that feed upon offal, and much did I desire to mount a high trotting camel, and take a scamper amongst these hills—obliged to content myself with jogging soberly on with my party, I was fain to find amusement in the contemplation of a cavalcade, the like of which will probably not be often seen again. Our five vehicles sometimes trotted abreast, affording us an opportunity of conversing with each other; but more frequently they would spread themselves all over the plain, the guides allowing their beasts to take their own way, provided they moved straight forward. Occasionally, a spare donkey, or one carrying the baggage, would stray off in an oblique direction, and then the drivers were compelled to make a wide detour to bring them in again. Once or twice, the ropes slipped, and my chair came to the ground; fortunately, it had not to fall far; or a donkey would stumble and fall, but no serious accident occurred; and though one of the party, being behind, and unable to procure assistance in righting the carriage, was obliged to walk a mile or two, we were all speedily in proper trim again. Towards evening, the easy motion of the chair, and the inclination I felt to close my eyes, after staring about all day, caused me to fall asleep; and again, much sooner than I had expected, I found myself at the place of our destination.
Either owing to a want of funds, or to some misunderstanding, the bungalow at this place, which is considered to be nearly midway across the desert, had only been raised a few inches from the ground; there were tents, however, for the accommodation of travellers, which we infinitely preferred. The one we occupied was of sufficient size to admit the whole party—that is, the four ladies, the baby, and its female attendant. There were divans on either side, to spread the beds upon, and the openings at each end made the whole delightfully cool.
We found Ali, the servant sent on in the morning, very busy superintending the cookery for dinner, which was performed in the open air. The share of bread and apples given to me upon the road I now bestowed upon my donkeys, not having reflected at the time that the drivers would be glad of it; so the next day, when the usual distributions were made, I gave the grapes, &c. to the donkey-men, who stuffed them into their usual repository, the bosoms of their blue shirts, and seemed very well pleased to get them.
The adjoining tent was occupied by two gentlemen, passengers of the Berenice; their servant, a European, brought to some of our people the alarming intelligence that the steamers would leave Suez in the course of a few hours, and that our utmost speed would scarcely permit us to arrive in time. Distrusting this information, we sent to inquire into its truth, and learned that no danger of the kind was to be apprehended, as the steamer required repair, the engines being out of order, and the coal having ignited twice on the voyage up the Red Sea.
Whatever may be the cause, whether from sheer misconception or an intention to mislead, it is almost impossible to rely upon any intelligence given concerning the sailing of vessels and other events, about which it would appear very possible to obtain authentic information. From the time of our landing at Alexandria, we had been tormented by reports which, if true, rendered it more than probable that we should be too late for the steamer appointed to convey the Government mails to Bombay. Not one of these reports turned out to be correct, and those who acted upon them sustained much discomfort in hurrying across the desert.
We were, as usual, rather late the following morning; our dear little play-thing, the baby, bore the journey wonderfully; but it seemed very requisite that she should have good and unbroken sleep at night, and we found so little inconvenience in travelling in the day-time, that we could make no objection to an arrangement which contributed so much to her health and comfort. It was delightful to see this lovely little creature actually appearing to enjoy the scene as much as ourselves; sometimes seated in the lap of her nurse, who travelled in a chair, at others at the bottom of one of our chairs; then in the arms of her male attendant, who rode a donkey, or in those of the donkey-men, trudging on foot; she went to every body, crowing and laughing all the time; and I mention her often, not only for the delight she afforded us, but also to show how very easily infants at her tender age—she was not more than seven months old—could be transported across the desert.
After breakfast, and just as we were about to start upon our day's journey, we saw what must certainly be called a strange sight—a wheeled carriage approaching our small encampment. It came along like the wind, and proved to be a phaeton, double-bodied, that is, with a driving-seat in front, with a European charioteer guiding a pair of horses as the wheelers, while the leaders were camels, with an Arab riding postillion. An English and a Parsee gentleman were inside, and the carriage was scarcely in sight, before it had stopped in the midst of us. The party had only been a few hours coming across. We hastily exchanged intelligence; were told that the Berenice had lost all its speed, being reduced, in consequence of alterations made in the dock-yard in Bombay, from twelve knots an hour to eight, and that the engines had never worked well during the voyage up.
During this day's journey, we met several parties, passengers of the steamer, coming from Suez. One lady passed us in a donkey-chair, with her daughter riding a donkey by the side; another group, consisting of two ladies and several gentlemen, were all mounted upon camels, and having large umbrellas over their heads, made an exceedingly odd appearance, the peculiar gait of the camel causing them to rise and fall in a very singular manner. At a distance, their round moving summits looked like the umbrageous tops of trees, and we might fancy as they approached, the lower portion being hidden by ridges of sand, that "Birnam Wood was coming to Dunsinane."
The monotony usually complained of in desert travelling cannot be very strongly felt between Cairo and Suez, for though there is little else but sand to be seen, yet it is so much broken and undulated, that there is always some diversity of objects. The sand-hills now gave place to rock, and it appeared as if many ranges of hills stretched out both to the right and left of the plains we traversed; their crags and peaks, piled one upon the other, and showing various colours, rich browns and purples, as they stood in shade or sunshine. Greenish tints assured us that vegetation was not quite so seamy upon these hills as in the desert they skirted, which only showed at intervals a few coarse plants, scarcely deserving the name. It has been said, that there is only one tree between Cairo and Suez; but we certainly saw several, though none of any size; that which is called, par excellence, "the tree," affording a very poor idea of timber.
We made a short rest, in the middle of the day, at a travellers' bungalow; and just as we were leaving it, one of Mr. Hill's caravans arrived—a tilted cart upon springs, and drawn by a pair of horses; it contained a family, passengers by the Berenice, consisting of a gentleman and his wife, two children and a servant. We conversed with them for a few minutes, and learned that they had not found the road very rough, and that where it was heavy they added a camel as a leader.
At this place we found some difficulty in purchasing, water for the donkeys; competition in the desert is not, as in other places, beneficial to the traveller. By some understanding with the Steam Committee, Mr. Hill has put his people into the bungalows; and they, it appears, have orders not to sell water to persons who travel under Mr. Waghorn's agency. If the original purpose of these houses was to afford general accommodation, the shelter which cannot be refused is rendered nugatory by withholding the supplies necessary for the subsistence of men and cattle. We procured water at last; but every thing attainable at these places is dear and bad.
We arrived, at rather an early hour, at our halting place for the night; and as we considered it to be desirable to get into Suez as speedily as possible, we agreed to start by three o'clock on the following morning. Just as we had finished our evening meal, three gentlemen of our acquaintance, who had scrambled across the desert from the Pyramids, came up, weary and wayworn, and as hungry as possible. We put the best that we had before them, and then retired to the opposite apartment. But in this place I found it impossible to stay; there was no free circulation of air throughout the room, and it had all the benefit of the smell from the stable and other abominations.
Leaving, therefore, my companions asleep, and wrapping myself up in my shawl, I stole out into the passage, where there were several Arabs lying about, and not without difficulty contrived to step between them, and to unfasten the door which opened upon the desert. There was no moon, but the stars gave sufficient light to render the scene distinctly visible. A lamp gleamed from the window of the apartment which I had quitted, and the camels, donkeys, and people belonging to the united parties, formed themselves into very picturesque groups upon the sand, constituting altogether a picture which could not fail to excite many agreeable sensations. The whitened bones of animals perishing from fatigue and thirst, while attempting to cross the arid expanse, associated in our minds with privation, toil, and danger, told too truly that these notions were not purely ideal; but here was a scene of rest and repose which the desert had never before presented; and mean and inconvenient as the building I contemplated might be, its very existence in such a place seemed almost a marvel, and the imagination, kindling at the sight, could scarcely set bounds to its expectations for the future. In the present frame of my mind, however, I was rather disturbed by the indications of change already commenced, and still to increase. I had long desired to spend a night alone upon the desert, and without wandering to a dangerous distance, I placed a ridge of sand between my solitary station and the objects which brought the busy world to view, and indulged in thoughts of scenes and circumstances which happened long ago.
According to the best authorities, we were in the track of the Israelites, and in meditations suggested by this interesting portion of Bible history, the time passed so rapidly, that I was surprised when I found the people astir and preparing for our departure. My garments were rather damp with the night-dews, for, having left some of my friends sleeping upon my fur cloak, I had gone out more lightly attired than perhaps was prudent. I was not, therefore, sorry to find myself warmly wrapped up, and in my chair, in which I should have slept very comfortably, had Hot the man who guided the donkeys taken it into his head to quarrel with one of his comrades, and to bawl out his grievances close to my ear. My wakefulness was, however, amply repaid by the most glorious sunrise I ever witnessed. The sky had been for some time obscured by clouds, which had gathered themselves in a bank upon the Eastern horizon. The sun's rays started up at once, like an imperial crown, above this bank, and as they darted their glittering spears, for such they seemed, along the heavens, the clouds, dispersing, formed into a mighty arch, their edges becoming golden; while below all was one flush of crimson light. Neither at sea nor on land had I ever witnessed any thing so magnificent as this, and those who desire to see the god of day rise in the fulness of his majesty must make a pilgrimage to the desert.
We made no stay at the rest-house, which we reached about nine o'clock in the morning; and here, for the last time, we saw the governor of Jiddah and his party, winding along at some distance, and giving life and character to the desert. The fantastic appearance of the hills increased as we advanced; the slightest stretch of fancy was alone necessary to transform many into fortresses and towers, and at length a bright glitter at a distance revealed the Red Sea. The sun gleaming upon its waters shewed them like a mirror, and soon afterwards the appearance of some low buildings indicated the town of Suez.
I happened to be in advance of the party, under the conduct of one of the gentlemen who had joined us on the preceding evening; I therefore directed Mohammed to go forward, to announce our approach; and either the sight of the Red Sea, or their eagerness to reach a well-known spring of water, induced my donkeys to gallop along the road with me; a fortunate circumstance, as the day was beginning to be very sultry, and I felt that I should enjoy the shelter and repose of a habitation. As we went along, indications of the new power, which had already effected the easy transit of the desert, were visible in small patches of coal, scattered upon the sand; presently we saw a dark nondescript object, that did not look at all like the abode of men, civilized or uncivilized; and yet, from the group hovering about an aperture, seemed to be tenanted by human beings. This proved to be an old boiler, formerly belonging to a steam-vessel, and appearing, indeed, as if some black and shapeless hulk had been cast on shore. The well, which had attracted my donkeys, was very picturesque; the water flowed into a large stone trough, or rather basin, beneath the walls of a castellated edifice, pierced with many small windows, and apparently in a very dilapidated state. Those melancholy memento moris, which had tracked our whole progress through the desert, were to be seen in the immediate vicinity of this well. The skeletons of five or six camels lay in a group within a few yards of the haven which they had doubtless toiled anxiously, though so vainly, to reach. I never could look upon the bones of these poor animals without a painful feeling, and in the hope that European skill and science may yet bring forward those hidden waters which would disarm the desert of its terrors. It is said that the experiment of boring has been tried, and failed, between Suez and Cairo, but that it succeeded in the great desert; some other method, perhaps, may be found, if the project of bringing water from the hills, by means of aqueducts, should be too expensive. We heard this plan talked of at the bungalow, but I fear that, in the present state of Egypt, it is very chimerical.
This was now our fourth day upon the desert, and we had not sustained the smallest inconvenience; the heat, even at noon, being very bearable, and the sand not in the least degree troublesome. Doubtless, at a less favourable period of the year, both would prove difficult to bear. The wind, we were told, frequently raised the sand in clouds; and though the danger of being buried beneath the tombs thus made, we had reason to believe, was greatly exaggerated, yet the plague of sand is certainly an evil to be dreaded, and travellers will do well to avoid the season in which it prevails. The speed of my donkeys increasing, rather than diminishing, after we left the well, for they seemed to know that Suez would terminate their journey, I crossed the intervening three miles very quickly, and was soon at the walls of the town.
Distance lends no enchantment to the view of Suez. It is difficult to fancy that the few miserable buildings, appearing upon the margin of the sea, actually constitute a town; and the heart sinks at the approach to a place so barren and desolate. My donkeys carried me through a gap in the wall, which answered all the purposes of a gateway, and we passed along broken ground and among wretched habitations, more fit for the abode of savage beasts than men. Even the superior description of houses bore so forlorn and dilapidated an appearance, that I actually trembled as I approached them, fearing that my guide would stop, and tell me that, my journey was at an end.
Before I had time to make any observations upon the place to which I was conducted, I found myself at the foot of a flight of steps, and reaching a landing place, saw another above, and Mohammed descending to meet me. I followed him to the top, and crossing a large apartment, which served as dining and drawing room, entered a passage which led to a light and certainly airy bed-chamber; for half the front wall, and a portion of one of the sides, were entirely formed of wooden trellice, which admitted, with the utmost freedom, all the winds of heaven, the sun, and also the dust. There was a mat upon the floor, and the apartment was whitewashed to the rafters, which were in good condition; and upon Mohammed's declaration that it was free from rats, I felt an assurance of a share of comfort which I had dared not expect before. There were two neat beds, with musquito-curtains, two tables, and washing apparatus, but no looking-glass; an omission which I could supply, though we had dispensed with such a piece of luxury altogether in the desert. Well supplied with hot and cold water, I had enjoyed the refreshment of plenteous ablutions, and nearly completed my toilet, before the arrival of the friends I had so completely distanced. I made an attempt to sit down to my desk, but was unable to write a line, and throwing myself on my bed full dressed, I fell asleep in a moment, and enjoyed the deepest repose for an hour, or perhaps longer.
I was awakened by my friend, Miss E., who informed me that the purser of the Berenice was in the drawing-room, and that I must go to him and pay my passage-money. I was not, however, provided with the means of doing this in ready cash, and as the rate of exchange for the thirty pounds in sovereigns which I possessed could not be decided here, at the suggestion of one of my fellow-passengers, I drew a bill upon a banker in Bombay for the amount, eighty pounds, the sum demanded for half a cabin, which, fortunately, I could divide with the friend who had accompanied me from England. This transaction so completely roused me, that I found myself equal to the continuation of the journal which I had commenced at Cairo. I despatched also the letter with which I had been kindly furnished to the British Consul, and was immediately favoured by a visit from him. As we expressed some anxiety about our accommodation on board the steamer, he politely offered to take us to the vessel in his own boat; but to this arrangement the purser objected, stating that the ship was in confusion, and that one of the best cabins had been reserved for us. With this assurance we were accordingly content.
We arrived at Suez on Wednesday, the 9th of October, and were told to hold ourselves in readiness to embark on Friday at noon. We were not sorry for this respite, especially as we found our hotel, which was kept by a person in the employment of Mr. Waghorn, more comfortable than could have been hoped for from its exterior. The greatest annoyance we sustained was from the dust, which was brought in by a very strong wind through the lattices. I endeavoured to remedy this evil, in some degree, by directing the servants of the house to nail a sheet across the upper portion of the perforated wood-work. The windows of our chamber commanded as good a view of Suez as the place afforded; one at the side overlooked an irregular open space, which stretched between the house and the sea. At some distance opposite, there were one or two mansions of much better appearance than the rest, and having an air of comfort imparted to them by outside shutters, of new and neat construction. These we understood to be the abodes of officers in the Pasha's service. Mehemet Ali is said to be extremely unwilling to allow English people to build houses for themselves at Suez; while he freely grants permission to their residence at Alexandria and Cairo, he seems averse to their settling upon the shores of the Red Sea. Mr. Waghorn and Mr. Hill are, therefore, compelled to be content to fit up the only residences at their disposal in the best manner that circumstances will admit. I had no opportunity of forming any opinion respecting Mr. Hill's establishment, but am able to speak very well of the accommodation afforded by the hotel at which we sojourned.
Judging from the exterior, for the desert itself does not appear to be less productive than Suez, there must have been some difficulty in getting supplies, notwithstanding we found no want of good things at our breakfast and dinner-table, plenty of eggs and milk, fowl and fish being supplied; every article doing credit to the skill of the cook. Nor was the cleanliness that prevailed, in despite of all the obstacles opposed to it, less worthy of praise: the servants were civil and attentive, and the prices charged extremely moderate. All the guests of the hotel of course formed one family, assembling daily at meals, after the continental fashion. The dining-room was spacious, and divided into two portions; the one ascended by a step was surrounded by divans, after the Egyptian fashion, and here were books to be found containing useful and entertaining knowledge. A few stray numbers of the Asiatic Journal, half a dozen volumes of standard novels, files of the Bombay Times, and works illustrative of ancient and modern Egypt, served to beguile the time of those who had nothing else to do. Meanwhile, travellers came dropping in, and the caravanserai was soon crowded.
* * * * *
SUEZ TO ADEN.
* * * * *
Travellers assembling at Suez—Remarks on the Pasha's Government—Embarkation on the Steamer—Miserable accommodation in the Berenice, and awkwardness of the attendants—Government Ships not adapted to carry Passengers—Cause of the miserable state of the Red Sea Steamers—Shores of the Red Sea—Arrival at Mocha—Its appearance from the Sea—Arrival at Aden—Its wild and rocky appearance on landing—Cape Aden—The Town—Singular appearance of the Houses—The Garrison expecting an attack by the Arabs—Discontent of the Servants of Europeans at Aden—Complaints by Anglo-Indians against Servants—Causes—Little to interest Europeans in Aden.
Amongst the travellers who came dropping in at the hotel, was the Portuguese governor of Goa and his suite, consisting of four gentlemen, the private and public secretaries, an aide-de-camp, and the fourth holding some other appointment. They came by the French steamer, which had left Marseilles on the day of our departure. The governor, a fine old soldier, and a perfect gentleman, proved a great acquisition to our party; and knowing the state of Goa, and the disappointment he would in all probability sustain upon arriving at the seat of his government in the present low condition to which it is reduced, we could not help feeling much interested in his welfare. This gentleman, who inherited the title of baron, and was moreover an old general officer, had mixed in the very best society, and was evidently well acquainted with courts and camps; he spoke several languages, and in the course of his travels had visited England. His retinue were quiet gentlemanly men, and the young aide-de-camp, in particular, made himself very agreeable.
There were two other travellers of some note at Suez, who had put up at Hill's Hotel; one, an American gentleman, who had come across the desert for the purpose of looking at the Red Sea. I saw him mounted upon a donkey, and gazing as he stood upon the shore at the bright but narrow channel, so interesting to all who have read the history of the Israelites, with reverential feelings. I felt a strong inclination to accost him; but refrained, being unwilling to disturb his reveries with what he might have thought an impertinent interruption. It was evidently a last look, for he was veiled for the journey, and at length, tearing himself away, he turned his donkey's head, and struck into the desert. The other traveller was a young Scotsman, who proposed to go as far as Aden in the Berenice, on his way to Abyssinia, trusting that a residence of some months in Egypt would enable him to pass for a Turk. He had no very precise object in view, but intended to make an attempt to explore the sources of the Nile.
There was nothing in Suez that could make a longer stay desirable, and we quitted it without regret. My journey through Egypt had been much too rapid for me to presume to give any decided opinion concerning the strongly agitated question respecting the merits of the Pasha's government. It is very evident that he has not learned the most instructive lesson of political economy, nor has yet understood that the way to render himself powerful is to make his subjects rich; nevertheless, though his exactions and monopolies may be felt at present as very serious evils, yet, in establishing manufactories, and in embodying a national force, there can be no doubt that he has sown the seeds of much that is good; and should his government, after his death, fall into the hands of people equally free from religious prejudices, we may reasonably hope that they will entertain more enlarged and liberal views, and thus render measures, now difficult to bear, of incalculable advantage to the future prosperity of the country.
The British Consul politely offered to conduct myself and my female friends on board the steamer; he accordingly called for us, and I bade, as I hoped, a last adieu to Suez, it being my wish and intention to return home by way of Cosseir. Previous to our embarkation, a series of regulations had been placed in our hands for the engagement of passages in the Honourable Company's armed steamers, with instructions to passengers, &c.
Upon repairing to our cabin, Miss E. and myself were surprised and disappointed at the miserable accommodation it afforded. The three cabins allotted to the use of the ladies had been appropriated, in two instances, to married couples, and we were obliged to put up with one of smaller size, which had the additional inconvenience of opening into the public saloon. There were no Venetian blinds to the door, consequently, the only means of obtaining a free circulation of air was to have it open. A locker with a hinged shelf, which opened like a shutter, and thus afforded space for one mattress to be placed upon it, ran along one side of the cabin, under the port-hole, but the floor was the only visible means of accommodation for the second person crammed by Government regulation into this den. There was not a place in which a wash-hand basin could be put, so awkwardly were the doors arranged, to one of which there was no fastening whatsoever. Altogether, the case seemed hopeless, and as cock-roaches were walking about the vessel by dozens, the prospect of sleeping on the ground was anything but agreeable, especially with the feeling that we were paying at the rate of four pounds a day for our accommodation.
We were, however, compelled to postpone our arrangements, by a summons to dinner; and in the evening, when repairing again to the cabin, I found my mattress placed upon two portmanteaus and a box. Of course, no attention was paid to the inequalities of the surface, and I endeavoured, by folding my fur cloak and a thick dressing-gown under my sheet, to render this miserable apology for a bed tenable. Hitherto, our berth-places in the Government-steamers had been very comfortable; though small, they answered the purpose of sleeping and of washing, while the larger cabin into which they opened, and which was set apart for the ladies, enabled us all to complete our toilets without inconvenience. A sail had been hung before the door by way of curtain, but the heat was still difficult to bear, and we found that we had adventured upon the Red Sea at least a month too soon. The next morning, the captain, hearing that I had, as might have been expected, passed a wretched night, kindly sent his cot for my future accommodation; after the second night, however, the servants thinking it too much trouble to attend to it properly, the ropes gave way, and it came down. The cabin being much too small to allow it to remain hanging all day, I at first trusted to the servants to put it up at night; but, after this accident, and finding them to be incorrigibly stupid, lazy, and disobliging, I contented myself with placing the cot upon two portmanteaus, and thus forming a bed-place. Subsequently, one of the passengers having kindly adjusted the ropes, Miss E. and myself contrived to sling it; a fatiguing operation, which added much to the discomforts of the voyage. The idea of going upon the quarter-deck, or writing a letter, which might perhaps be handed up to Government, to make a formal complaint to the captain, was not to be thought of, and seeing the impossibility of getting any thing properly done by the tribe of uncouth barbarians dignified by the name of servants, the only plan was to render myself quite independent of them, and much did we miss the activity, good humour, and readiness to oblige manifested by our Egyptian attendant, Mohammed. Where a wish to please is evinced, though wholly unattended by efficiency in the duties undertaken by a servant, I can very easily excuse awkwardness, forgetfulness, or any other fault; but the wretched half-castes, who take service on board the Government steamers, have not even common civility to recommend them; there was not a passenger in the vessel who did not complain of the insults to which all were more or less subjected.
Where the blame lay, it is difficult to state exactly; no one could be more kind and obliging than the captain, and it was this disposition upon his part which rendered us all unwilling to worry him with complaints. The charge of a steamer in the Red Sea seems quite enough to occupy the commandant's time and attention, without having the comforts of seven or eight-and-twenty passengers to look after; but these duties might have been performed by a clever and active steward. Whether there was a personage on board of that designation, I never could learn; I asked several times to speak with him, but he never in a single instance attended the summons.
We had no reason to complain of want of liberality on the part of the captain, for the table was plentifully supplied, though the cooks, being unfortunately most worthy of the patronage of that potentate who is said to send them to our kitchens, generally contrived to render the greater portion uneatable. The advantage of rising from table with an appetite is one which I have usually tried on board ship, having only in few instances, during my numerous voyages, been fortunate enough to find food upon which I dared to venture.
The more I have seen of government ships, the more certain I feel that they are not adapted to carry passengers. The authorities appear to think that people ought to be too thankful to pay an enormous price for the worst species of accommodation. The commandants have not been accustomed to attend to the minutiae which can alone secure the comfort of those who sail with them, while the officers, generally speaking, endeavour to show their contempt of the service in which they are sent, against their inclination, by neglect and even rudeness towards the passengers.
While on board the Berenice, the following paragraph in a Bombay newspaper struck my eye, and as it is a corroboration of the statements which I deem it to be a duty to make, I insert it in this place. "The voyager (from Agra) must not think his troubles at an end on reaching Bombay, or that the steam-packets are equal to the passenger Indiaman in accommodation. In fact, I cannot conceive how a lady manages; we have, however, five. There are only seven very small cabins, into each of which two people are crammed; no room to swing cats. Eight other deluded individuals, of whom I am one, are given to understand that a cabin-passage is included in permission to sleep on the benches and table of the cuddy. For this you pay Rs. 200 extra. The vessel is dirty beyond measure, from the soot, and with the difficulty of copious ablution and private accommodation, is almost worse, to a lover of Indian habits, than the journey to Bombay from Agra upon camels. No civility is to be got from the officers. If they are not directly uncivil, the passengers are luckier than we have been. They declare themselves disgusted with passenger ships, but do not take the proper way of showing their superiority to the duty."
The only officer of the Berenice who dined at the captain's table was the surgeon of the vessel, and in justice to him it must be said, that he left no means untried to promote the comfort of the passengers. It is likewise necessary to state, that we were never put upon an allowance of water, although, in consequence of late alterations made in the dockyard, the vessel had been reduced to about half the quantity she had been accustomed to carry in iron tanks constructed for the purpose. Notwithstanding this reduction, we could always procure a sufficiency, either of hot or cold water, for ablutions, rendered doubly necessary in consequence of the atmosphere of coal-dust which we breathed. Not that it was possible to continue clean for a single hour; nevertheless, there was some comfort in making the attempt.
There were eight cabins in the Berenice, besides the three appropriated to ladies; these were ranged four on either side of the saloon, reaching up two-thirds of the length. The apartment, therefore, took the form of a T, and the upper end or cross was furnished with horse-hair sofas; upon these, and upon the table, those passengers slept who were not provided with cabins. Many preferred the deck, but being washed out of it by the necessary cleaning process, which took place at day-break, were obliged to make their toilettes in the saloon. This also formed the dressing-place for dinner, and the basins of dirty water, hair-brushes, &c. were scarcely removed from the side-tables before the party were summoned to their repast. The preparations for this meal were a work of time, always beginning at half-past one; an hour was employed in placing the dishes upon the table, in order that every thing might have time to cool.
The reason assigned for not putting Venetian blinds to the cabin-doors was this: it would injure the appearance of the cabin—an appearance certainly not much improved by the dirty sail which hung against our portal. The saloon itself, without this addition, was dingy enough, being panelled with dark oak, relieved by a narrow gilt cornice, and the royal arms carved and gilded over an arm-chair at the rudder-case, the ornaments of a clock which never kept time. All the servants, who could not find accommodation elsewhere, slept under the table; thus adding to the abominations of this frightful place. And yet we were congratulated upon our good fortune, in being accommodated in the Berenice, being told that the Zenobia, which passed us on our way, had been employed in carrying pigs between Waterford and Bristol, and that the Hugh Lindsay was in even worse condition; the Berenice being, in short, the crack ship.
Every day added to the heat and the dirt, and in the evening, when going upon deck to inhale the odours of the hen-coops, the smell was insufferable. When to this annoyance coal-dust, half an inch deep, is added, my preference of my own cabin will not be a subject of surprise. With what degree of truth, I cannot pretend to say, all the disagreeable circumstances sustained on board the Berenice were attributed to the alterations made in the docks. Previously to these changes, we were told, the furnaces were supplied with coal by a method which obviated the necessity of having it upon deck, whence the dust was now carried all over the ship upon the feet of the persons who were continually passing to and fro.
Occasionally, we suffered some inconvenience from the motion of the vessel, but, generally speaking, nothing more disagreeable occurred than the tremulous action of the engines, an action which completely incapacitated me from any employment except that of reading. The only seats or tables we could command in our cabin consisted of our boxes, so that being turned out of the saloon at half-past one, by the servants who laid the cloth for dinner, it was not very easy to make an attempt at writing, or even needle-work. Doubtless the passengers from Bombay could contrive to have more comforts about them. It was impossible, however, that those who had already made a long overland journey should be provided with the means of furnishing their cabins, and this consideration should weigh with the Government when taking money for the accommodation of passengers. Cabins ought certainly to be supplied with bed-places and a washing-table, and not to be left perfectly dismantled by those occupants who arrive at Suez, and who, having previously fitted them up, have a right to all they contain.
The miserable state of the Red Sea steamers, of course, often furnished a theme for conversation, and we were repeatedly told that their condition was entirely owing to the jealousy of the people of Calcutta, who could not endure the idea of the importance to which Bombay was rising, in consequence of its speedy communication with England. Without knowing exactly where the fault may lie, it must be said that there is great room for improvement. In all probability, the increased number of persons who will proceed to India by way of the Red Sea, now that the passage is open, will compel the merchants, or other speculators, to provide better vessels for the trip. At present, the price demanded is enormously disproportioned to the accommodation given, while the chance of falling in with a disagreeable person in the commandant should be always taken into consideration by those who meditate the overland journey. The consolation, in so fine a vessel as the Berenice, consists in the degree of certainty with which the duration of the voyage may be calculated, eighteen or twenty days being the usual period employed. In smaller steamers, and those of a less favourable construction, accidents and delays are very frequent; sometimes the coal is burning half the voyage, and thus rendered nearly useless to the remaining portion, the vessel depending entirely upon the sails.
During the hot weather and the monsoons, the navigation of the Red Sea is attended with much inconvenience, from the sultriness of the atmosphere and the high winds; it is only, therefore, at one season of the year that travellers can, with any hope of comfort, avail themselves of the route; it must, consequently, be questionable whether the influx of voyagers will be sufficiently great to cover the expense of the vessels required. A large steamer is now building at Bombay, for the purpose of conveying the mails, and another is expected out from England with the same object.
The shores of the Red Sea are bold and rocky, exhibiting ranges of picturesque hills, sometimes seceding from, at others approaching, the beach. A few days brought us to Mocha. The captain had kindly promised to take me on shore with him; but, unfortunately, the heat and the fatigue which I had sustained had occasioned a slight attack of fever, and as we did not arrive before the town until nearly twelve o'clock, I was afraid to encounter the rays of the sun during the day. We could obtain a good view of the city from the vessel; it appeared to be large and well built, that is, comparatively speaking; but its unsheltered walls, absolutely baked in the sun, and the arid waste on which it stood, gave to it a wild and desolate appearance.
We were told that already, since the British occupation of Aden, the trade of Mocha had fallen off. It seldom happens that a steamer passes down the Red Sea without bringing emigrants from Mocha, anxious to establish themselves in the new settlement; and if Aden were made a free port, there can be little doubt that it would monopolize the whole commerce of the neighbourhood. The persons desirous to colonize the place say, very justly, that they cannot afford to pay duties, having to quit their own houses at a loss, and to construct others, Aden being at present destitute of accommodation for strangers. If, however, encouragement should be given them, they will flock thither in great numbers; and, under proper management, there is every reason to hope that Aden will recover all its former importance and wealth, and become one of the most useful dependencies of the British crown.
We were to take in coals and water at Aden, and arriving there in the afternoon of Saturday, the 19th of October, every body determined to go on shore, if possible, on the ensuing morning. By the kindness of some friends, we had palanquins in waiting at day-break, which were to convey us a distance of five miles to the place now occupied as cantonments. Our road conducted us for a mile or two along the sea-shore, with high crags piled on one side, a rugged path, and rocks rising out of the water to a considerable distance. We then ascended a height, which led to an aperture in the hills, called the Pass. Here we found a gate and a guard of sepoys. The scenery was wild, and though nearly destitute of vegetation—a few coarse plants occurring here and there scarcely deserving the name—very beautiful.
It would, perhaps, be too much to designate the bare and lofty cliffs, which piled themselves upwards in confused masses, with the name of mountains; they nevertheless conveyed ideas of sublimity which I had not associated with other landscapes of a similar nature. The Pass, narrow and enclosed on either side by winding rocks, brought us at length down a rather steep declivity to a sort of basin, surrounded upon three sides with lofty hills, and on the fourth by the sea.
Cape Aden forms a high and rocky promontory, the most elevated portion being 1,776 feet above the level of the sea. This lofty headland, when viewed at a distance, appears like an island, in consequence of its being connected with the interior by low ground, which, in the vicinity of Khora Muckse, is quite a swamp. Its summits assume the aspect of turretted peaks, having ruined forts and watch-towers on the highest elevations. The hills are naked and barren, and the valley little better; the whole, however, presenting a grand, picturesque, and imposing appearance. The town of Aden lies on the east side of the Cape, in the amphitheatre before mentioned. A sketch of its history will be given, gathered upon the spot, in a subsequent paper, the place being sufficiently interesting to demand a lengthened notice; meanwhile a passing remark is called for on its present appearance.
At first sight of Aden, it is difficult to suppose it to be the residence of human beings, and more especially of European families. The town, if such it may be called, consists of a few scattered houses of stone, apparently loosely put together, with pigeon-holes for windows, and roofs which, being flat, and apparently surrounded by a low parapet, afford no idea of their being habitable. It is difficult to find a comparison for these dwellings, which appeared to be composed of nothing more than four walls, and yet, to judge from the apertures, contained two or more stories. The greater number were enclosed in a sort of yard or compound, the fences being formed of long yellow reeds; the less substantial dwellings were entirely made of these reeds, so that they looked like immense crates or cages for domestic fowls.
My palanquin at length stopped at a flight of steps hewn out of the rock; and I found myself at the entrance of a habitation, half-bungalow, half-tent; and certainly, as the permanent abode of civilized beings, the strangest residence I had ever seen. The uprights and frame-work were made of reeds and bamboos, lined with thin mats, which had at one time been double; but the harbour thus afforded for rats being found inconvenient, the outer casing had been removed. Two good-sized apartments, with verandahs all round, and dressing and bathing-rooms attached, were formed in this way; they were well carpeted and well furnished, but destitute both of glass windows and wooden doors; what are called in India jaumps, and chicks of split bamboo, being the substitutes.
Government not yet having fixed upon the site for the station intended to be established at Aden, none of the European inhabitants have begun to build their houses, which, it is said, are to be very solidly constructed of stone; at present, they are scattered, in Gipsy fashion, upon the rocks overlooking the sea, and at the time of the year in which I visited them they enjoyed a delightfully cool breeze. What they would be in the hot weather, it is difficult to say. The supplies, for the most part, come from a considerable distance, but appear to be abundant; and when at length a good understanding shall have taken place between the British Government and the neighbouring sheikhs, the markets will be furnished with every thing that the countries in the vicinity produce.
The garrison were prepared, at the period of our arrival, for the outbreak which has since occurred. It is melancholy to contemplate the sacrifice of life which will in all probability take place before the Arabs will be reconciled to the loss of a territory which has for a long time been of no use to them, but which, under its present masters, bids fair to introduce mines of wealth into an impoverished country. The Pasha of Egypt had long cast a covetous eye upon Aden, and its occupation by the British took place at the precise period requisite to check the ambitious designs of a man thirsting for conquest, and to allay the fears of the Imaum of Muscat, who, naturally enough, dreaded encroachments upon his territory.
Aden had hitherto agreed very well with its European residents. The sepoys, servants, and camp-followers, however, had suffered much both from mental and bodily ailments. They were deprived of their usual sources of amusement, and of their accustomed food, and languished under that home-sickness, which the natives of India feel in a very acute degree. The greater number of servants were discontented, and anxious to return to their native country. This natural desire upon their part was highly resented by their masters, who, instead of taking the most obvious means of remedying the evil, and employing the natives of the place, who appeared to be tractable and teachable enough, abused and threatened to beat the unfortunate people, convicted of what self-love styles "ingratitude."
In a very clever work, I have seen the whole sum of the miseries of human life comprised in one word, "servants;" and until we can procure human beings with all the perfections of our fallen nature, and none of our faults, to minister to our wants and wishes, the complaint, so sickening and so general, and frequently so unjust, will be reiterated. Anglo-Indians, however, seem to be more tormented by these domestic plagues than any other set of people. The instant a stranger lands upon Asiatic ground, we hear of nothing else. It is considered to be polite conversation in the drawing-room, aid delicate-looking women will listen with the greatest complacence to the most brutal threats uttered by their male associates against the wretched people whom hard fate has placed about their persons. By some mischance, these very individuals are equally ill-served at home, the greater number who return to England being either rendered miserable there, or driven back to India in consequence of the impossibility of managing their servants. As far as my own experience goes, with the exception of the people in the Berenice, who were not in the slightest degree under the control of the passengers, or, it may be said, attached to them in any way, I have always found it easy, both at home and abroad, to obtain good servants, at least quite as good as people, conscious of the infirmities of humanity in their own persons, have a right to expect. My simple rule has been, never to keep a person who did not suit me, and to treat those who did with kindness and indulgence. The system has always answered, and I am probably on that account the less inclined to sympathize with persons who are eternally complaining.
There may be some excuse at Aden for the conversation turning upon domestic matters of this kind, and perhaps I do the station injustice in supposing that they form a common topic. With the exception of those persons who take pleasure in the anticipation of the improvement of the surrounding tribes, there is very little to interest European residents in this arid spot. Should, however, the hopes which many enlightened individuals entertain be realized, or the prospect of their fulfilment continue unclouded, those who now endure a dreary exile in a barren country, and surrounded by a hostile people, will or ought to derive much consolation from the thought, that their employment upon a disagreeable duty may prove of the utmost benefit to thousands of their fellow-creatures. It is pleasant to look forward to the civilization of Abyssinia, and other more remote places, by means of commercial intercourse with Aden.