We hear voices, and are joined by half a dozen of our fellow-travellers from the steamer. As we all walk back together a child sidles up and holds out a strange little beast with a head like a skull and a long tail like a rat. It is about as big as your hand. One of the army men takes it and puts it in the sleeve of his green tweed coat, and as he walks along carrying it the quaint little beast turns a greenish colour. It is a chameleon and has the faculty of changing to the colour of its background whatever that may be; this forms a protection against its enemies, who cannot easily see it.
"I'll keep it," says the soldier, laughing and giving the child a coin. "He is a useful little beggar. You should see that tongue of his flick out and catch an unwary fly half a foot away."
The steamer hoots a warning note and we all scramble on board hastily. Yes, I told you it was my shirt!
An hour or so later we pass the boundary into the Soudan.
"Now we are out of Egypt," says another of our friends, a Government official with years of experience behind him. "The Soudan is a greatly superior place; no one is allowed to bother you here—we don't let them. The children don't even know the meaning of the word bakshish; they are not allowed to learn it."
This sounds comforting and gives a good prospect for the day we shall have to spend at our stopping-place, Wady Haifa, before going back on the steamer to Assouan.
There is no railway between Assouan and Wady Haifa, and so Government steamers run all the year round to bridge the gap between the two ends of the railway. In the season Cook runs steamers too, and they give much more time for passengers to see Abu Simbel and other temples on the way; unfortunately, as we are too early in the year, we could not take advantage of them and had to go on a Government boat.
The men we have been with are all passing on by rail from Wady Haifa, and when we land there we go in the afternoon to see them off at the station. They are a keen, hard-bitten crew, and make us feel proud of our countrymen; they are reticent mostly, bearing the unmistakable stamp of responsibility. Men who "build the Empire" are little apt to "slop over" or demand sympathy. The boyish vigour remains with them later than with most men, but it is tempered by a certain hardness outside. The train is particularly comfortable and well managed, with sleeping-cars that bear comparison with the best in Europe, and a good dining-car; and it is necessary, for these men have a journey of a day and a night before reaching Khartoum, the capital of the Soudan, and the way lies right across barren desert, where the sand insidiously creeps in at every chink in spite of the closely shut windows. To some of them indeed Khartoum is only a jumping-off place. There is one army man who received orders to leave Cairo at ten days' notice and plunge into Central Africa, there to hold an outpost as the only white man for hundreds of miles around. He knows little of what is expected of him beyond the fact that he is to purchase a year's stores in Khartoum, and that when he has gone as far as boat and waterway can take him, he will have to march at least a hundred miles through country where his equipment must be carried by natives, as it is the haunt of the dreaded tsetse fly whose bite is fatal to animals. He has a map made up mostly of rivers "unexplored" and country "unknown." It looks quite full of information and names when you merely glance at it, but when you begin to handle it you find a great deal of the print tells you only what is not there. The owner of it hardly knows what language he will have to speak, but he is as pleased about it all as a girl going to her first ball. In his own words, he "has got his chance." When we ask him what he is going to take with him, he answers with a merry twinkle, "I started with two dozen tooth-brushes; I should think in their line they would be enough." So long as England produces men of this metal she need not fear the decadence of the race.
When we have parted from them all we stroll down the bazaar at Wady Haifa and are immediately followed by a horde of children of all ages, sizes, and descriptions, who, whenever we stop and look around at them, say with growing confidence, "Bakshish, bakshish!" even the tiny fat babe who can scarcely toddle murmurs "'Shish!"
Still pursued by the horde we make our way to a tea-house, where numerous natives of Haifa sit out in a little compound surrounded by a wooden fence and refresh themselves. We order tea, and get it after some difficulty; but it is more because the attendant guesses what we would be likely to ask for than because he understands us that we eventually are provided with a small pot of quite decent tea.
While we drink the children gather from afar; every one in Haifa under the age of fourteen is there I should say. They glue themselves to the fence and force their little faces between the posts, or spike their chins on the top and then watch in solemn deadly earnest the ways of these strange beings whom fate has so kindly sent to amuse them. The rest-house attendant does not approve of these manners, so he slips out of a side-door with a basin of water in his hand and pitches it straight over the little crew as if they were a flock of intrusive chickens; they fly, shrieking with delight, and return in thicker swarms than ever inside of two minutes.
An affable gentleman in a gown seats himself beside us.
"I wish you good-day," he says in English, and we return his greeting.
"I am dragoman here," he continues.
We point to one small girl with a face quite different from that of the other children, and her hair done in innumerable little tight pigtails, and ask him who she is. "Nubian," he says. "Eat castor oil, plenty oil, like it much." We tell him to bring the child to us, but directly he translates, she flies screaming, is captured by the other children, and a noise begins like that inside the parrot-house at the Zoo. I explain that we don't want her to be frightened, but that if she will come and speak to us she shall have bakshish. The magic word produces instant calm, the child comes forward at once with coquettish assurance and when, through the interpreter, we inquire her name, and she tells us it is "Nafeesa," we give her half a piastre and let her go.
When we start off again for the steamer the whole crowd follows hard on our heels, for it is we who provide the free circus to-day. One mite trotting forward with his eyes glued on us goes smack into a tree and so hurts his little face that he covers it with a crooked arm and sets off homewards wailing softly.
This is really a deserving case, even in England it is allowable to soothe the feelings of a hurt child, so we mutter "Bakshish," and all the eager crew rush after the little suffering child, yelling, "Bakshish," and they bring him back triumphantly with the tears already dried on his hurt face.
So much for the Government official!
Now we are off really! Back down the Nile and good-bye to this glorious land. Rapidly we fly down-stream, past Abu Simbel, past the sweeps of deep rich yellow sand seen nowhere south of Assouan in such glorious colouring; sand that is swept smooth by the wind into great banks and drifts with sharp edges like snow-drifts; past masses of plum-coloured rock sticking up out of it; past defiles of stony mountains falling sheer to the water; hiding here and there in their folds tiny villages indistinguishable from the rocks without glasses. There is hardly a shaduf to be seen and very little cultivation, it is either desert or stony hills on each side. Grand beyond thought is it when seen in the flaming light of the afterglow!
At Assouan we have time for a glimpse at the great dam, extending for over a mile in length and built of masonry eighty-two feet thick at the bottom. This banks up the water, we have already seen, among the hills into a prodigious lake when the great swirl of the river comes down at flood-time, and thus much of it, which would have rushed away and been lost, is stored and let out gradually through the sluice-gates as required.
Then we change on to one of Cook's steamers, and for days we fly down-stream to Cairo. We see the green fields of maize, and we watch the people going home in the evenings with the tired oxen and the little donkeys carrying their provender on their backs. And one day we arrive at Cairo and take the train for Port Said.
Good-bye to Egypt! Mysterious, beautiful land! Never in all our wanderings round the globe shall we come upon a country more interesting.
A WALK ABOUT JERUSALEM
We have passed along the south coast of Europe and have been into a corner of Africa, and now we are going to set foot on a new continent—Asia. From Port Said, before we go on eastward, I want you to see just a little of the Holy Land—the scene of the Bible. The Holy Land stands by itself, apart, and though it is in Asia it doesn't seem to belong to it. Someone once said that it is to the world what a church is to a town—the centre of religion. Anyway, it is curious and interesting to notice that it forms the middle point where three continents meet, so that they all share it. I expect you know the position quite well. At the east end the Mediterranean does not run into a point as it does at Gibraltar, but comes up against a straight wall of land which cuts it off squarely, and this straight line is the coast of Palestine, better known as the Holy Land. If the schoolboys of Palestine were set to draw a map of their own country, they would find it much easier than a British boy would if told to make a map of his country. For all that the Jewish boy would have to do would be to make a fairly straight line, sloping a little out at the bottom end. There would be hardly any indentations on it and only one small bay.
Palestine, of course, is the country of the Jews, though people of many other races and nations live there, and thousands of the Jews are scattered in all parts of the world. Some people dream of restoring all the Jews to their own land, but it is difficult to see what good it would do them. Palestine is held at present by the Turks, but everyone can visit it when they please. It is not a very large country, only about the size of Wales, and yet there isn't a country in the world to equal it in importance. Thousands of people visit it every year in spite of the fact that it is very difficult to get there. There are no good harbours, and the landing at Jaffa, which is the principal port for Jerusalem, has to be done in small boats. As we have to make our visit in the winter we may find the sea rough and dangerous, and may even be carried on north of Jaffa and have to come back on another boat as some friends of mine did. The Holy Land is not great or powerful or even beautiful nowadays, though in the spring the wild flowers are lovely. Seen in the winter it is just a rather barren, stony land, with many hills, and it is inhabited by very poor people. Yet this little country has been more fought over than any other. For centuries there were crusaders, or soldiers of the cross, who went out to try to conquer it, to hold it in Christian keeping, but they did not succeed.
We must leave our heavy luggage at Port Said, to be picked up again on our return, and only take what we can carry in handbags. The rather small steamer which is to take us starts in the evening, and it is best to go straight to bed on board, as we shall have much to go through when we arrive to-morrow morning. After a rather disturbed night we are glad to get up and dress and come on deck. The ship is at anchor off Jaffa, tossing up and down on the grey water, so that we have to clutch at handrails and hold on to keep our footing on the slippery deck, which is cumbered up with bags and bundles and people and crates in a most confusing way.
All around the ship are big clumsy-looking boats filled with swarthy shouting men wearing turbans and immense baggy blue trousers with enough stuff in them to clothe a whole family! Except that they are not armed we might imagine we were held up by pirates! In front of us, a little distance off, are cruel jagged rocks over which the waves pour and dash, spouting up in cascades as they come slap on the hard surfaces.
One of the boats is close to the ship and the men in her are hanging on by a rope which they gather up or let out as they rise and fall at the bottom of the long slippery gangway, much worse than that we climbed at Toulon. The men in our ship are pitching in bags and bundles very cleverly as the boat comes up, and among the things we see our own brown bags. Very soon we shall be pitched in too! How will you like that?
Near us is a very fat Turkish lady, who is so rolled up in clothes, head and all, that it is quite possible she might be mistaken for a feather-bed. Two sailors get hold of her and carry her down the gangway, depositing her neatly in the boat as it swings near.
Before you have quite realised what has happened a muscular man has caught you up like a sack of potatoes. You are run down the gangway with his hand on your arm like a vice, the boat comes up, and just at exactly the right second, when it balances on the crest of the wave, your captor lets you go and you land on the seat gently and sink away again with the boat. I follow, but am not so lucky, for the next wave catches the boat awry and sluices me from neck to heel! However, I have a stout coat on and do not mind. Then, in the heavily laden boat, with the Turkish lady and the bags and the bundles, we start for the distant shore.
This is the principal landing-place for Palestine! Babies and bishops, pilgrims and pigs, pianos and potatoes have all to be pitched into boats!
Our excitement is not over yet, for as we near the rocks it looks as if we must be smashed by the heavy waves. The roar of the surf is so great that we cannot hear each other speak, and the rain and foam bespatter our faces. We blink and hang on to each other, see-sawing up and down, and wondering every second if we shall be feeling colder yet when we are actually in the water, and then the boat swings up on a wave and runs through into calmer water beyond.
We thread our way in and out of narrow channels, still between rocks, and see ahead of us a desolate land with a queer flat-roofed town.
When at last we are on firm ground our guide leads us quickly through some narrow dirty streets, and before we have time to notice anything we are in a noisy, fussy little train, bound for Jerusalem.
We are actually in the land of Israel, the land where all the Bible stories happened, not only those of the New Testament but also of the Old! Here Noah lived when the Flood came, here Abraham and Isaac and Jacob pitched their tents and pastured their flocks. From here the sons of Jacob, who was also called Israel, went down to the land of Egypt to buy corn when there was a terrible famine lasting many years. We know that they settled there, having found their brother Joseph in great power; and long, long after they had all been dead their descendants multiplied into a great people and were treated as slaves by the Egyptians, so God brought them back again to the land of their ancestors.
When they arrived here, after wandering many years in the wilderness, they found the country occupied by stranger races whom they fought and conquered; among them were the Hivites and Jebusites and Amorites and Hittites. Then the Israelites became a great nation and had kings of their own. The second king, David, was of the tribe of Judah, one of the best of old Israel's sons, and he drove out the people who occupied Jerusalem and made it his capital. His son, Solomon, built here the most wonderful temple ever known. But later on trouble came upon the Israelites, and mightier nations from the east swept down upon them, and carried them away as slaves. After long years of captivity some came back to Jerusalem, and they were the descendants of Judah and Benjamin, but the other tribes returned no more, and no one knows what became of them; they are spoken of to this day as the Lost Ten Tribes, but the descendants of Judah were called Jews. These Jews, who returned and lived again in Jerusalem and other parts of the country, were again conquered by the Romans, and when the Saviour Jesus Christ was born the Romans held the supreme power in the Holy Land.
As the train goes on we see a bare and bleak country, which looks as if giants had had a desperate fight and hurled stones at each other, after which the stones had lain there ever since. This was the part of the land inhabited by the Philistines, against whom the Israelites had so many and such bitter fights. It is quite likely that Goliath of Gath, whom David fought, once strode among the fields; and we know that the great Israelitish hero, Samson, the strong man, lived about here and wandered in among the valleys. Most people are disappointed with the country unless they come in the spring, but when you get used to it you find it has a wonderful charm.
It takes nearly four hours in the train to reach Jerusalem station. It seems quite odd to think of Jerusalem having a station. We have heard the Bible stories so long that we forget that they are real, and that they actually happened just as truly as the stories in our own history. Jerusalem is a real town, just as real as York, though it is not like it, except for the fact that it has city walls. The station is a good way from the town, and a mob of eager men are waiting there to catch any tourists and drive them up. They are quite ready to fight each other or to clutch us to gain this privilege, and if it were not for our guide we might be torn in pieces.
Our dragoman is a clever man; he chooses his driver at once and helps us into the ramshackle old conveyance and off we go over the hillside. Soon we see ahead of us the encircling wall of the city on a height above, and we wind up to it by gradually inclined roads till we come to the great gate. We cannot have the satisfaction of saying to ourselves, "Jesus actually looked at these walls with His human eyes," because the walls were built long after His death. The town was utterly destroyed about sixty years after the crucifixion, and nothing was left but piles of stones, and when the rebuilding began no one remembered where the streets had run or where the holy places had been. All we can say with certainty is that the present city must be very much the same kind of city as that Jesus knew.
The hotel is just inside the gateway, and here we can rest and get something to eat, and then we can go out; but we must have the guide with us, for any well-dressed European walking alone in the city would be pestered to death by beggars and touts trying to get money out of him.
It is not long before we sally forth and are led into a curious long dark alley or passage where the houses almost meet overhead; it slopes down steeply and there are shallow steps at intervals. The sun has come out, luckily, and looking up we can see a very narrow strip of blue sky, but down below it is very dark. You slip and nearly come full length on the pavement because of the old cabbage leaves, bits of orange peel, and other messy remnants of food left about, and then I, in my turn, go almost headlong over a bundle of rags lying on a door-step. Immediately a shrivelled hand shoots out and a long melancholy cry which curdles our blood comes from the heap. It is a woman, so wrapped up in rags that she looks like nothing human. A small coin dropped in her hand brings down what we must suppose are blessings on us in her own tongue.
The wee strip of blue sky is cut across here and there by iron bars, high over our heads; these are "camel-bars" put to prevent camels passing through this way, though the donkeys and people can get along underneath. Then we turn a corner and pass into a slightly wider thoroughfare, though it is still merely a passage in comparison with any streets in our western towns. Swaying high above us is the head of a camel whose squashy feet come down almost upon us as we hastily tumble back into our entry, while the great bales on his back brush the walls as he goes on his lordly way. Women selling vegetables crowd the more open spaces at the crossing of the narrow streets. Men in red fezes and flowing garments like dressing-gowns stride along; brown-faced boys run in and out, and the din, the confusion, and the smell are very trying. We begin to wonder when we shall get out into the real streets and we ask the dragoman. He tells us at once that we are in a street, one of the principal ones, that, in fact, they are all like this, and no wheeled vehicle can pass in any part of Jerusalem! This is so bewildering that we feel as if we were in a labyrinth, and huddle close up to the guide anxious not to lose sight of him for a moment.
Overhead there are arches sometimes spanning the narrow space, and at others we cross over curious little open bridges joining one house to another, then we plunge into a cellar and walk right through it and out on the other side. Everyone seems to be doing the same; it is a regular passage-way, and yet people live in that cellar, for we see them crouching over a red fire in the cavernous dark, and we wonder how they like strangers to make a highway of their home.
All the way we see people of so many kinds we have never seen before that it is difficult not to stand still and gape. There are men in cloaks and wrappings, weather-beaten and worn, and men in European clothes and brown or yellow boots, there are thick-lipped negroes with rolling yellow eyeballs, and warlike Turkish soldiers, who clank down the street thrusting everyone aside. The Jews themselves are the least attractive of all, with very greasy head-gear, from each side of which hangs down a corkscrew curl, as often red as black; they wear usually a kind of soiled dressing-gown garment and seem afraid of being struck. Of the many types of men the Arabs are the manliest, and come nearest to our idea of the old patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They wear a kind of cloth on their heads falling down behind, you could easily make something like it with a towel any day. This is bound round the forehead by a fillet sometimes made of camel's hair, which holds it in its place tightly, like a cap. They have across their shoulders a striped narrow blanket of brilliant orange or scarlet, and they walk with a free stride and their heads held up; they are men of the desert, accustomed to freedom and to taking care of themselves against all comers.
At one corner a man who has been angrily expostulating with another bangs him with a bag he carries, the bag bursts and the air is filled with a cloud of flour which envelops the two until they cannot be seen. Furious voices come out of the cloud, and as everyone hastens to the sight we take the chance to go the other way.
In every Eastern city there is a "bazaar" corresponding with what in England we should call the market-place. The guide leads us to the "bazaar," and at the first glance we can hardly believe he is right, for we plunge into a long narrow passage arched overhead so that it is simply neither more nor less than a tunnel. There are three of these, and the light only comes in from the ends or from some holes far overhead. In this dimness we see caverns or recesses on each side, quite open, with no glass, and these are the shops. There is a curious glare from some of them where the owners have a fire for cooking food or for heating their forges. Butchers and shoemakers abound, and the smell of raw leather is revolting. In the next passage many things are sold, and there are quite a number of chemists' shops. In most of these the owner sits serenely smoking as if he had nothing on earth to do. In one we see a chair tilted up against the merchandise, this is to signify that the owner is away and that no one must touch anything till he returns. In the third tunnel, which is the noisiest and darkest of all, there are many silversmiths showing some wonderful work. It is no use our buying any of it, for we cannot carry it round the world with us. Even if we could, we should be rash to get it here, for every man asks about four times as much as he expects to get. That is one of the things which is so different in the East and West. Fancy going into one of the big west-end shops in London where an article was marked at a fixed price and trying to beat the shop assistant down. He would only smile, hardly answer, and turn away. Such a thing is absurd, but in the East any article is worth just as much as it will fetch, and the merchant says at first an enormous price in the hope that his customer is ignorant and will give it him, but if the customer bargains he will slowly come down. It takes much time to shop in this way, and is not altogether satisfactory, for you really have to know what the things are worth first.
After this we must go back to the hotel, for we have wandered about all the afternoon and are weary and bewildered, and we have many sights to see to-morrow.
Thoroughly rested after a good night we start out next morning to see something of the sacred places. Of course we know very well that when the long lane is pointed out down which Jesus bore His cross, the very spots where He stumbled and where Simon was made to carry it for Him, that these things cannot be true. Speaking of Jerusalem Jesus said once, "There shall not be left one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down," and it came literally true, so the present streets are not those He trod. Yet even so the scene is wonderfully interesting, for the old Jerusalem must have been like the present town, and the sights Christ saw must have resembled those we see, as for the first time we walk down these narrow steep alleys. We are going to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre built over the place where the sepulchre of Christ is supposed to have been. As we go toward it we come across more beggars than we yet have encountered. A perfect army of halt and maimed and lame and blind crouch by the sides of the lane and live on the charity of the passers-by. This sort of thing would never be allowed in any Western country, and, as we are not accustomed to it, it strikes us as very distressing. Then we come out into an open space where there is a great building so irregular and piled up that it is difficult to recognise it as a church. Here are seated on the pavement numerous gaily clothed men with crucifixes and mementoes of the Holy Land for sale. They spread their wares out on the paving-stones.
Passing them all we go inside the church and find a darkened atmosphere where red lamps burn always.
We are led up steps and down steps and this way and that, and have many things pointed out to us. We are shown, for instance, the slab on which Christ's body lay and the sepulchre hewn in the rock where He was buried, and though we know that neither of these things can be true, still we feel we are in a more sacred place than any we have ever yet visited. For centuries men of all races and all nations have come here to worship and pray, as the shepherds and Wise Men came to worship and pray at the manger in Bethlehem. The slab of the marble is worn away by the soft lips of adoring pilgrims, who fall prostrate before it and kiss it while tears roll down their cheeks. Of all that come from far the Russian pilgrims are the most devout. These poor people, worse off than any English labourers, save their pence from year to year, and then tramp hundreds of miles from their country homes to the seaport of Odessa in Russia in order to come across to see the Holy Land. They live on the charity of other poor villagers as they go, or they carry sacks of bread-crusts, getting more and more mouldy every week. Thousands arrive at the Holy Land every year just before Easter, old and frail men and women who have undergone incredible hardships. They say, "What does it matter what happens to our bodies?" and many of them die uncomplainingly. They are so good and simple that they believe everything that is told them, and almost faint with joy to think they have at last arrived at the holy places. The air seems to glow with their wonderful faith and love and kindliness to one another. If, indeed, this is not the real sepulchre, at least it is a very holy place.
After this the guide leads us through so many churches of all sorts that we are quite bewildered, until at last we come out on a high open place where all is quiet, and in the midst there stands a huge church quite different from anything we have yet seen—it has a round dome rising from walls of exquisite blue and green slabs of polished stone. This is the church of the Mohammedans, called a mosque, and why it is so especially interesting to us is because it stands on the very spot where stood the Ark of the Jews, and where, from the days of King Solomon, they worshipped God in the Temple. When Solomon built the Temple it was the most wonderful and beautiful church in the world. It was put together of massive stones, made ready and hewn and carved before they came to this place, so that there was no sound of axe or hammer in the sacred precincts. And the fittings were made of carved cedar wood, brought down by sea from Lebanon, while the furnishings were of pure gold. Never was any building before so carefully finished or so artistically designed. Solomon's Temple was utterly destroyed, but there were temples built and rebuilt on the same site, and that site is considered to be peculiarly sacred, because it is a peak of a mountain called Mount Moriah. You remember that it was to Mount Moriah Abraham was told to take his son Isaac and sacrifice him? The Jews hold that the very peak on which the mosque now stands is that place. It is, indeed, quite certain that there is an outcrop of rock belonging to part of the summit of Mount Moriah in the mosque which stands just where the Temple stood. You shall see it. Meantime we must put on huge loose slippers, made of sacking and straw, over our boots before we go in, for the Mohammedans always take off their own shoes on entering holy places, and as our modern boots are not constructed to be easily slipped off like Eastern shoes, we must cover them up. The man at the entrance ties on these enormous things and we shuffle along in them as best we can. Inside, the mosque is light and high and very rich in polished stone and gilding; it is very different from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We are led through it, wondering and gazing, until we come suddenly to a bare rock cropping up out of the pavement to just about your height, and this, for all the ages past, has been a sacred rock. Indeed, no one can say that it was not on this mountain-top, then in the midst of wild natural country, that Abraham laid his only son bound. From this cause the mosque is often known as the "Dome of the Rock."
One more sight we must see before going out on to the quiet hillside called the Mount of Olives. This is that most curious place called the Jews' Wailing-Place.
To reach this we pass down long staircase-like streets in a poor quarter. We see many tall and fierce-looking men, with hooked noses and keen eyes, who wear a white cloak thrown round their heads and hanging down on their shoulders; but there are also many other Jews from all parts,—the Polish Jews are most conspicuous in their brilliant crimson or purple plush gowns, with round velvet hats of the same colour edged with fur; and then we come out into an open space with a huge wall as high as a very high house made of enormous blocks of stone. This is said to be part of the actual wall surrounding the Temple built by Solomon. It is Friday afternoon and there is a great concourse of men and women in flowing garments, bending and bowing and kneeling before the wall and wailing out their prayers. Some crouch low, others cling to the giant blocks and kiss the rough surface, others beat their breasts as if in agony. Standing not far from us is a tall man who calls out some words in a long wailing cry, immediately the crowd respond as in a Litany. What they are crying out is something like this—
"For the sake of the Temple that is destroyed We sit solitary and weep; For the walls that are thrown down We sit solitary and weep."
* * * * *
We are alone at last. All the morning it has been raining heavily, and in our wanderings about the city we got drenched by water-spouts from roofs that stuck out across the street, and deluged by drippings from window-sills. In many of the narrow streets we simply had to wade, for the water rushed down them like mountain-torrents, and then we went back to the hotel to get warm and dry before sallying out again. Now we are sitting on a great grey stone on the Mount of Olives, and the sun is coming out and drying up all the dampness. We look down upon Jerusalem as Christ looked down on it that day when He entered in a triumphal procession and paused to weep over it. We can see the domes and the flat roofs with the sun glinting on them and making them shine out white, and the great wall with its turreted top running round all. It is not the same city He saw, but it must be very like it. These buildings, churches, and mosques were not there, of course, and there were a good many more trees than there are now. An olive tree never looks young; from the earliest time it always has a twisted cross appearance like an old man who knows what rheumatism is. The blue-green leaves are small and narrow, and they turn edgewise to the sun as if they were reluctant to give anyone beneath them any more shade than they could help. There is one line of a hymn that always comes into my mind when I look at an olive tree, it runs—
"Beneath the olive's moon-pierced shade."
That is very good, because the brilliant clear white light of an Eastern moon would certainly pierce through any "shade" an olive tree could make.
Many, many times must Jesus have crossed this hill, and the most memorable time was when the people came running beside Him, singing Hosannas and cutting down palm branches, and even spreading their clothes for Him to pass over, on that first Palm Sunday so long ago. The association, which is the most sacred and heart-stirring, is of that night before the crucifixion, when He came out here with His disciples and, kneeling, prayed earnestly while they slept. That was in what is called the Garden of Gethsemane. There is more than one place on the Mount which claims to be that garden. The monks have fenced one in and planted it with gay flowers, and there is a good deal of reason to believe this may be actually right. In the country, places cannot be utterly swept away as they are in towns under an avalanche of brick and stone. We can look down from the hill into this garden, even though it is surrounded by high walls. In the middle is a very ancient olive tree, said to have been growing in Christ's time. Rosaries are made from the stones of the olives which it bears. There are little round flower-beds carefully tended in the garden, and between them you can see a monk walking in his long coarse gown.
The hill is not very high, and the country is barren and stony and would be rather dull were it not for the thought of all the wonderful scenes that have happened here. Let us climb on to the very top. From there, away to the east, we see a long line of high blue hills, the mountains of Moab, and nearer, in a deep hole in the ground, we catch just a glimpse of the water of the Dead Sea. It is a strange name and a strange place! It lies deep, deep down, far below the level of the ocean, and though many rivers and streams run into it none run out. You would think it must always be getting larger, but no. The water evaporates very quickly. You know if there is a drop of water or a wet mark on your hand and you wave it about in the air, presently the water disappears, that is because of evaporation. The dampness has not really gone but turned into another form and made the surrounding air a little more damp. If that drop had been salt, the salt would not have entered into the air, but stayed on your hand, so when the air drinks up the water from the surface of the Dead Sea, the salt remains behind and the sea gets more and more salty; it is many times more salt than the water of an ordinary sea.
The sandy shores all round are full of this salt and nothing can grow there, so all is desolate and dreary, and thus it is that the name Dead Sea is so appropriate. If you tried to swim in that sea you would find it impossible to sink, for just as sea-water holds you up more than fresh, so the Dead Sea water holds you up more than that of the ordinary sea. All the same, though you could not sink to the bottom you might drown, because the head and chest being heavier than the legs go down naturally, and a man might not be able to recover himself but be drowned legs upward, as many have been through not knowing how to manage a lifebelt.
The sacred river Jordan runs into the Dead Sea. We have met one of the sacred rivers of history already—the Nile,—and the Jordan, though very small, is another. It is almost absurdly small in contrast with the Nile, being only one hundred miles long! From all over the world people send to get water from the Jordan with which to baptize their babies; they have a feeling that it is different from ordinary water because Christ Himself was baptized in it. As you have heard, the Russian pilgrims go down in crowds to bathe in the Jordan in their shrouds, for they too look on the river as sacred.
About six miles to the south of where we are sitting is Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, and where the shepherds and Wise Men found Him. Much nearer is Bethany, where He often stayed.
To-day something of the wonder of the Holy Land has come upon us. We have got out of the narrow crowded lanes and away from the jostling people into the country; so the Bible story has become more real than it ever was before. Here is the hillside over which He passed. There are the olive trees, exactly like those He saw.
We have visited Him in His daily life. It is now only left for us to go to Nazareth, where He spent all His life up to the time when He announced Himself as the Christ, the Messiah, and began His Mission. But Nazareth is a long way off. It will take us about three days to get there. We can ride or drive, whichever you like. You prefer to ride? All right, but don't expect a sleek, home-fed pony, or a fine horse champing the bit, or even a well-grown, well-fed Egyptian donkey; wait and you will see what riding means here!
THE COUNTRY OF CHRIST'S CHILDHOOD
If you only knew how funny you look! Perched up on a dirty, thin, white horse which scrambles along somehow, while the great iron stirrups, shaped like shovels, dangle far below your feet. Aha! I thought so, one has fallen off. I try to pull up quickly to dismount and help you, and my bridle, which is made of worsted, like the toy reins children play with, breaks suddenly and my noble steed comes a cropper!
By the time I recover and get to you I find our guide, who looks more like a bundle of rags than anything else, tying up your stirrups with a crazy bit of string full of knots and quite rotten. This is the way we journey in the Holy Land in the present year! This is the third day of it, and these little accidents don't affect us; the harness must have been broken in at least two dozen different places since we started, and, as an Irishman might say, most of it is made of gaps.
To-day we ought to reach Nazareth while it is still light, though, as it is dull and grey, the evening will close in sooner than if the sky were clear. What a pity we could not manage to come here in the spring when the fields of blue lupins look like a strip of summer sky fallen to earth and fill the air with their scent for miles around. There are anemones too, purple and red and white, and lilies, but I think nothing would strike us so much as the homely little daisies which grow here just as they do at home. There is something strange and yet familiar in this country, where so many different sorts of trees and plants grow, that a man coming from almost anywhere in the world will find something that carries his heart back home. Besides the daisies we have the sparrows, just as pert and neat as our own sparrows, yet other things are odd. Yesterday we saw a man carrying a sheep on his shoulders; he wore a striped garment hanging down on each side of his neck, and even the sheep did not seem quite the same as ours. It was some time before we discovered why, and then we found out that the long flapping ears hung down, while the ears of our sheep are small and upright. It is a most difficult thing to remember how an animal's ears grow. Nine people out of ten, on being told to draw a pig, will give him small, pointed, upright ears, instead of making the flaps fall over!
The rest of the flock of sheep quietly followed the shepherd who carried the hurt one, for in the East sheep are used to being led, instead of being driven by a dog, as in Britain, and that is why so often we hear in the Bible of the sheep being led. Jesus took almost all His parables from natural things around Him—the cornfields, the lilies growing, the sparrows, and the vineyards.
We have been steadily rising for long past, now we mount a steeper bit of rising ground and suddenly there comes into view a tiny valley from which the hills rise again, and on the opposite slope, spread out before us, is Nazareth. We pull up and look at it in silence. The little, flat-roofed, white houses are dotted about among gardens and trees, and resemble the square white dice one throws out of a box. Very much as it appears to us now must this little hill-village have looked to Jesus when He lived here, except that the slopes of the hills were more cultivated, and there were more houses. Jesus came here as a small child and lived here until He was thirty. You know, of course, every tree and hole and stream and almost every stone and bird's nest about your own home in the country; you will never get to know any other place so well again in your life, for when one is grown up one can't climb trees and dabble in streams and build huts and root about in the earth. Jesus was just a natural boy; He grew to know all the byways between the little gardens, all the trees which bore figs or pomegranates or olives or oranges, and He climbed the hills around with other lads when He had a holiday—no other place would ever be to Him what Nazareth was.
One or two tall buildings stand out prominently, these are the churches, and they, of course, were not there in His time. None of the houses can be the same after nineteen hundred years, but many of them are probably exactly like those that existed then.
As we go down toward the village at a foot's pace we see grave, brown-faced, bright-eyed boys, who stand and stare but do not bother us for coppers, as the Jerusalem children did. We pass in among the houses and come to the well where both men and women are standing, for it is just the time that they come to draw water in the evening. This well is one of the most interesting things in Nazareth, for it is the only one, and has been known for generations. It is almost certain that it must have been here when Jesus lived in the village. Now it has a stone arch over it, and as the water gushes out the women fill hand-made earthenware jars with narrow necks and curving sides, and having filled them they put them on their heads and walk gracefully away. Just so must Mary, the mother of Jesus, have filled her jar in the ages long ago, and the child Jesus may have clung to her skirts as that tiny brown boy is doing, shyly hiding at the sight of us. The women are very good looking, and dress in a great variety of colours, many wearing striped clothes. One or two have chains or bands of silver coins across their foreheads, very many have bright red head coverings falling down over blue dresses. There are some swarthy-looking men too, in sheepskins, and one is waiting to water his camel. On one side is a very handsome lad of sixteen with a flock of black goats. They all look at us with interest, but they are quite accustomed to strangers and are not at all embarrassed.
We go on between the houses by the widest road, which is now slippery with mud, and after our guide has asked permission of a man standing in a doorway, we dismount and get a chance of seeing inside one of these little dark houses. The only light comes from the doorway, for there is no window; it shines into one room with a mud floor, beaten hard by many feet. There are a few mats laid about, a few stools, and on one side a kind of shelf with more mats and some cushions—this is where the family sleep at night. In a corner are some of the earthenware jars and some pots and pans. That is all. There is no reason to think that the house Jesus lived in was at all more luxurious than this.
As we turn to go out we hear a flutter of wings, and a flock of white doves rise from the ground and alight on the roof, cooing softly.
In this village are a good many shops, but they are not the sort we are accustomed to. Picture the village shop at home with its small glass panes and the post-office on one side. The window crammed with marbles and liquorice and peppermint, and slates and balls and copybooks and hoops and everything that the owner thinks anyone would be in the least likely to buy. In Nazareth the shops sell only one sort of thing, and those that sell the same sort of thing have a general inclination to come together. In one little street, for instance, are the saddlers' shops.
The front of the house is open, but there is no glass to fill it in, and we can see the men working at their trade inside. The harness is extremely gay, painted in all colours, red and blue and yellow, and made up with bits of tinsel and glitter. The more decorated he can afford to have his harness the prouder is the rider. As we stand watching, a number of women steal gently up behind us and offer some embroidery they have made; they do not push or scramble, and when we shake our heads they melt away again.
As we turn a corner, there, right in front of us, is a carpenter's shop with the front quite open to the street, as in the harness-makers' shops. The bearded man who leans over a cart-wheel and handles it with long brown hands might have been Joseph himself. In just such a workshop as this Jesus learnt His trade.
The life of a little Jewish boy of those days was carefully ordered, and in his life there was much more saying of prayers and going to church—that is, the synagogue—than you have in yours. At school there was a great deal to be learnt by heart, and what with that and the churchgoing and the workshop there cannot have been much spare time.
We go slowly on to the inn, where we are to pass the night. To-morrow we will go down to the Sea of Galilee and watch the fishermen drawing in their nets as they did in Christ's time when He called them to be fishers of men.
After that we will come back, pass Nazareth once more, and make our way to a port called Haifa, where we can get a steamer to take us down to Jaffa instead of returning to Jerusalem again by three days' journey on horseback.
We are late, very late, the moon is rising and I must confess I am just a wee bit uneasy. When we reached Haifa safely last night, coming from Nazareth, and found we couldn't get a steamer till to-morrow it seemed the best thing to drive across the bay and get a look at Acre, that celebrated town which has spent its existence in the turmoil of sieges and assaults. It is a great fort built out into the sea, and nearly everyone who wanted to get possession of the Holy Land has tried first to take Acre as the key to it. One of the most memorable sieges was that of two years in the reign of our own King Richard I., who ended it by arriving with fresh troops and helping his allies the French; but it is reckoned the two countries, between them, lost 100,000 men, one way and another, before they took the stubborn town. After that it remained in English hands for a century.
The Turks held it in much later times against Buonaparte; they were helped by an Englishman, Sir Sydney Smith, and if Acre is celebrated for nothing else it should be celebrated for the fact that it held out for sixty-one days against Buonaparte, who was in the end obliged to give up and go away!
We drove this morning, with three horses abreast, across the twelve miles of sandy bay between Haifa and Acre, in one of the ramshackle waggonettes that take the place of omnibuses and carry any passengers who want to go. We came with numbers of natives, chiefly women, and innumerable bundles and bags, which they always think it necessary to drag about with them. We did not get here till midday, and after spending a few hours we had seen all we cared to of the place, and were ready to go back. But in the East things are not done like that. So we waited and waited long after the hour the omnibus was said to return, and when at last the driver did saunter up, the scarecrow horses had to be sought for, and then the harness, of course, had to be mended with string, and that wasn't nearly the end, because, after waiting again a long time for nothing at all that anyone could see, a Turkish woman who was evidently of some consequence, attended by a maid and quantities of baggage, came up, and everyone had to turn out until all her things were stowed away. So it was nearly nightfall before we got off.
The sands are in most places firm and make good going, but a couple of rivers run down across them to the sea; one of these is that "ancient river, the river Kishon," mentioned in Deborah's song of triumph when the Israelites had overcome their enemies. These rivers have to be crossed with care, and, not so long ago, some people got bogged and were set upon by robbers and stripped, and one was drowned by the incoming tide; but I ought not to tell you these things. We are half across now, and the moon is getting high, so we shall have more light presently.
Bump! The horse on the off-side runs out of his traces suddenly and stands facing the other one in a sort of mild amazement. The harness has given way once more. Grumbling and growling the driver climbs down and pulls him back and goes on muttering to himself. Far off the lapping of the water is heard out at sea; it wouldn't do to be caught by the tide in this situation, but they tell us the tide has not turned yet. The moon sheds a curious unearthly light that fills the air with mystery. The long low sandhills on the shore show up plainly, and nearer there are countless wrecks which have been piled up on this desolate coast. That large one, nearest of all, looks just like the huge up-curving ribs of some mammoth that has had the flesh picked clean from his bones. Look! There is something moving close to it, in the shadow; what is it? It comes out a little way into the light, it is a furtive-looking little four-footed creature whose fur shines with a reddish tinge; there is another, peeping out from the sandhills, and another and another! They are all over, but so silent and light-footed are they that it is difficult to believe them to be anything but shadows. A wave of the hand and they have disappeared! They are jackals, inquisitively watching us with their bright eyes. Nothing to be afraid of. They dare not attack a man if he is alive, though they would gleefully devour him dead. They are much more frightened of you than you are of them. Weird, shy, furtive little beasts. One can imagine them on a night like this playing games and chasing one another in and out of the ribs of the drowned ship in a sort of witches' dance.
Heigho! Well, we're on again at last.
We journey at a foot's pace for another mile or so and the lights of Haifa begin to shine out clearly ahead, when all of a sudden the carriage seems to be going down on one side. The two Turkish women, who are on the high side, roll violently down on to us, screaming and sobbing hysterically. I don't know what you feel like, but I am nearly smothered by the flowing shawls and the strong smell of scent; when I manage to get free I find that you have disappeared altogether till I get hold of a leg and jerk you forth.
The carriage has gone further and further over; the horses are splashing and struggling; and as we stand up the middle one goes down and disappears altogether. The water must be deep and we are evidently in the river.
There is nothing for it but to go to the driver's help, so I leave you to reassure the ladies and get up to my waist almost at once as we pull the horse's head above water, while the sand slips away beneath our feet. The poor beast, after desperate kickings, gets on to his legs again, but no effort of ours can move the carriage, which seems to be sinking deeper and deeper. With the struggles of the horses the harness has all come to bits again, and the poor, mild, dismayed creatures turn round, quite free from their trappings, and look at the vehicle as much as to say, "What a shabby trick you have served us!"
The driver brings the horses alongside, and the bundle of scented wrappings, which is the more important lady, is lifted on the back of one. The man himself gets up behind her to hold her on, and when she feels his wet embrace she raises a perfect storm of shrieks as if she were being carried away by a robber. He takes not the slightest notice, but solemnly sets his horse's head to the shore, and they splash away. By yourself you have managed to land on to the back of the next horse, and before you have time to turn round or do anything to help with the other lady, the horse kicks up its heels, sending you shooting on to its neck, and whinnying wildly scrambles off after its comrade. The Turkish lady's companion makes no fuss at all about coming with me. She slips on to the remaining horse as if she were used to riding all her life, and, sitting astride like a man, holds him in until I mount behind. It is lucky indeed this animal has no spirit left, or she and I would have been stranded!
At this rate we shall soon reach Haifa.
When we do get there what a chattering and what excitement! Unfortunately, as we can't speak the native tongue, we miss most of it, but the excited gestures and loud voices show that we are heroes indeed.
Next morning I find myself none the worse for my wetting, and before we leave we have the satisfaction of seeing all the bundles and packages belonging to the ladies safely recovered. But we gather that the waggonette remains immovable. We can see it, far off, partly surrounded by the swirling water like a little black island. The united strength of a dozen men and six horses have been unable to pull it on to firm ground. There it will stay till it rots, in the midst of the stranded ships, and the little soft-footed shadowy jackals will dance around it and tell one another strange tales of that wonderful night when the air was shaken by piercing screams, and strange heavy animals galloped across the sands, making them shake and quiver, and yet, after it all, there was nothing left for them to eat!
THE GATEWAY OF THE EAST
The anchor is up and we are in a stately ship moving on slowly into the Suez Canal. When we arrived at Port Said—how many weeks ago was it? It seems to me like a year—we were on the Orontes, of the Orient Line, and we steamed into the harbour past a long breakwater like a thin arm; standing upon it is a statue of Ferdinand de Lesseps, the man who made the Suez Canal. That meant nothing to you then, for the canal was merely a name and not of any special interest, but now that we are actually passing into it it is different.
Just here, you remember, we are at the place where three continents meet, Europe being represented by the Mediterranean Sea. The other two, Asia and Africa, are joined by a strip of land called the Isthmus of Suez, about a hundred miles across. For ages men had it in their minds to cut through this strip so that their ships could sail straight from the Mediterranean into the Red Sea on the other side of the Isthmus. But it wasn't quite so easy to do as it sounds, for the land was mostly desert sand, and if you have ever tried to dig out a trench on the seashore and then let water into it, you will know very well what happens. The sides slip down, and in a few minutes your trench is level up to the top and is a trench no more!
The ancient Egyptians frequently marched across the Isthmus with their armies and advanced into Palestine and made war on the wild tribes there. They built also a strong wall across the Isthmus to prevent the inhabitants of Palestine from retaliating, just as the Romans built a wall across Northumbria to hold back the Picts and Scots.
It was not until comparatively recent days, that is to say, in the time of your grandfather, that the attempt to cut a canal across the Isthmus was successful, and the man who did it was Ferdinand de Lesseps, whose statue stands on the breakwater. He was a Frenchman, but he wished to get other nations to help in the great work, as France could not raise all the money alone; unfortunately Great Britain would have nothing to do with the idea, though luckily afterwards, when the canal had been built, the Government managed to buy a large number of the shares in it from the Egyptian Government. It took ten years to make the canal, but it was done at last after the expenditure of quantities of money and the loss of many lives, and even up to the opening day there were many who scoffed and said it could never be made useful; yet now that bronze statue stands solemnly watching, day by day, the great ships of many nations crawling slowly into the narrow opening at the northern end.
Not only had the canal to be made but it has to be kept in working order, for the sand silts back into the channel, and so numbers of dredgers are constantly at work scraping out the bottom so as to keep it deep enough for ships of large size.
At first the depth of the main channel was twenty-six feet, but now it has been deepened to twenty-nine feet; but even that seems less than we should expect.
At one time the storms of January and February used to drive quantities of sand from the Mediterranean into the mouth of the canal, and even now, though the breakwater has been lengthened to prevent it, there is always difficulty. Steamers are only allowed to go through slowly, otherwise the suction or pull of the water they disturb would tear down the banks and soon make the canal useless. You have no idea what a wave a big ship can raise in going through that narrow trough; even at a moderate pace it would be sufficient to tear another ship from her moorings by the bank, and then there might be a collision and disastrous results. Ships have to pay a heavy toll for the privilege of using the short cut, but the toll is needed to meet the working expenses and to pay the interest on the money spent in the construction.
The ship we are in is considerably larger than the Orontes; she is the Medina, belonging to the P. & O. Company, and was chosen to take the King and Queen to India in 1911. She is not very cheerful looking outside, being painted buff, with black funnels, but she is a comfortable boat, and we are lucky in having a large cabin on the upper deck, so that we can have our port-hole open whatever the weather may be.
The sun is setting in a flame of salmon and scarlet as we pass the canal offices and turn into the narrow channel. There are sidings dug out about every five or six miles, for as only one big ship can go through at a time, if she meets another, one of them must stop and tie up. There are telegraph stations at every siding, and every ship entering the canal is controlled all the way by an elaborate system of signals which tells the pilot exactly what he is to do, whether he must "shunt into a siding," to use railway language, or if he may go right ahead.
Directly we are in the canal we see over the banks on both sides; on the west is a wide sheet of water lit up to smoky-red by the reflection of the sinking sun. Flocks of storks and pelicans and other birds cover it at certain times of the year to fish in the shallow salt waters, for this is a salt lake, a sort of overflow from the sea. One day it will be drained and then crops can grow upon it. The canal is cut through it and hemmed in by an embankment; farther on it runs through the desert and then goes through another lake. For the greater part of the way a railway line runs beside it, passing through Ismailia, the junction for Cairo, and going on to Suez, and from some parts of this line you can see a strange spectacle, for, as no water is visible, the ships appear to be gliding along the top of a sandbank; there is apparently just a huge modern steamer lost among the sandhills and making the best of her way back to the sea!
The pilot who is on board now takes us to Ismailia, half-way down, and then another replaces him as far as Suez, where the canal ends. Every ship over one hundred tons is compelled to carry a pilot, who is responsible for her while she is in the difficult channel. And, indeed, a pilot is necessary, for the canal is not by any means a straight, deep trench; there are curves where it is a delicate job to manoeuvre a ship of any length, and in places in the deeper lakes the course is only marked by buoys. It needs a man who spends his whole time at the work and gives all his attention to it. The danger at the curves is lest the propeller at the stern should come in contact with the banks, so the ship has to be manoeuvred most slowly and carefully round them. Only at one place in the whole length of the canal was no digging out necessary. This is in the great Bitter Lake, where for eight miles the water is deep enough for the ships to pass safely.
There is not much to see at first; the banks are lined by scrubby bushes, and on them, in a sandy open patch, we see a man falling and bowing at his evening devotions; a few camels pass along the raised bank, looking like gigantic spiders against the illuminated sky, and there comes faintly to us the distant bark of a jackal.
When we come on deck again after dinner we find the air quite mild; we are only going at the rate of six miles an hour, which is the speed-limit.
Somewhere across the desert where we are passing to-night have passed also the feet of many mighty ones of history. Abraham crossed it with Sarah, his beautiful wife, Joseph was carried down a captive over the caravan track of that day. Later on his brothers twice journeyed, driven by famine, and lastly came old Jacob also. Many times, as we know, did the armies of the Pharaohs start out in all the panoply of war and return victorious bringing captives in chains. Across the wilderness somewhere Moses led forth the children of Israel, and, most wonderful remembrance of all, Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth, brought down to Egypt his wife and her infant son to escape the wrath and jealousy of Herod. Hardly any strip of land we could name has so many associations interesting to all the world.
Why do you start and catch hold of my arm to draw my attention? That is only a Lascar, one of the sailors, a picturesque fellow, isn't he? Didn't you notice them when we came on board? The P. & O. ships carry a crew of Lascars to work under the white quartermasters; they are dark brown men with shining eyes and gleaming teeth, who dress in bright blue with red belts and caps; they love a bit of finery and stick it on wherever they can. They come from the coasts of India and usually sign on for three years under one of their own headmen called a serang; you can always pick him out by the silver chain of office which he wears round his neck, Lord-Mayor fashion. I saw him just now, a little man rather like a monkey. He is a very important personage, for all the orders are given through him, and he receives the pay for his men and is responsible for their good behaviour. Woe be to the man who is insubordinate! Not only will he be punished now, but his whole village will hear about it, and he will be disgraced and find it difficult to get work thereafter.
The moon is covered with clouds to-night, which is a pity, but the brilliant reflectors the ship carries in her bows throw the light well ahead on to both banks.
Hullo! We're coming to something; there is another ship tied up waiting for us to pass. No, it is true I can't make her out, but I can see her searchlights, so I guess she is behind them. Very slowly we crawl on, making hardly a ripple; we are going dead slow now, scarcely moving, in fact. That light from the other ship is blinding; just where it strikes the water there are any number of little fish wriggling and squirming in an ecstasy of painful delight. The water is alive with them, churning and threshing over one another like a pot full of eels. Bright lights attract fish and it is a very old dodge, known all over the world, to hold a flare over the water and then spear or net the fish who are attracted by it. Fish must have something akin to moths in their nature, as many of them simply cannot resist a light.
Now we are alongside; the other ship's light is out of our eyes and our own falls full upon her. What a spectacle! She looks like a phantom ship carrying a cargo of ghosts! She is transformed by our lights into blue fire! Every plank and rope stands out brilliantly in the ghastly light. Her decks are crowded by a mass of turbaned and fez-covered men, mostly in light garments, and they, their faces and their clothing, are all blue-white. They stand silently, packed side by side like sardines; it doesn't look as if they would have room to lie, or even to sit down. As we glide slowly past a strange odour floats over from them enveloping us—an odour made up of spices and camels and tired unwashed humanity; there is a hint of coffee in it and a touch of wood-smoke—it suggests Eastern bazaars and the desert.
Then our light slips off them and we see the ship as she really is under the faintly diffused light of the clouded moon. She is a dirty commonplace hulk, packed with men in soiled clothes, no longer the radiant white ship of our vision.
"Taking pilgrims back from Mecca," says one of the passengers who is leaning over the rail near us smoking. "They pack them like cattle usually. On some of these vessels their fare doesn't include any accommodation or food; they have to bargain with the captain for a bit of deck to lie down on, and the highest bidder secures the best place!"
Mecca, which lies many miles inland from the port of Jiddah, half-way down the Red Sea, is the birthplace of Mohammed, and the sacred city of the Mohammedans; when they kneel at their devotions it is with their faces turned towards Mecca. Those who have managed to pilgrimage there even once in their lives are looked upon as superior beings.
The siding we have just passed is one of the largest in the canal, and three ships can lie up there together if necessary. It is here that the Syrian caravans cross over into Africa.
Next morning we are up on deck in good time, as we want to see all we can of the canal. We are by this time out in the wide water of the Bitter Lake, where we can go at a good speed, then the canal itself begins again and we pass one of the little station-houses where the signalmen live; it looks as if it was built out of a child's bricks, and stands on the arid banks with only a few scanty palms near. It must be a dreary sort of life for ever signalling to ships which are going onward to all countries of the world, while you yourself remain pinned down in the same few square yards of land.
This narrow waterway that passes down between Asia on the one side and Africa on the other is stimulating to the imagination.
We catch a glimpse of Suez afar off and run by a tree-shadowed road that leads to a peninsula, where are the P. & O. offices and a row of houses inhabited by the men whose work in life it is to look after the canal. Notice that buoy on the port side of the ship, it is about as far from the bank as a man could throw a cricket-ball, yet through that strip of water, which marks the deepest channel, every ship has to pass either on entering or leaving the canal. Think of it! Between five thousand and six thousand ships steam through in a year, they are of all sizes, of many nations, carrying many kinds of cargo. There are the mail ships and passenger ships of the European countries, there are pilgrim ships from Russia and Turkey, there are transports carrying our own khaki-clad soldiers; you can always recognise one of these transports, for she is painted white and carries a large white number on a black square at the stem and stern. Then there are merchant ships innumerable; it is true that the heavily laden Australian ships go home round the Cape, as the distance (from Sydney) is much the same, but those stored with teak wood from Burma, with tea, cotton, spices, and silk from China, Ceylon, and India come through here. If a boy were to sit on the verandah of one of those houses and hear the names, destinations, and freight of all the vessels he saw, he could learn the geography and commerce of half the world with hardly an effort!
That range of mountains across there, which look strangely like ruined forts and castles, forms part of the great peninsula of Sinai where the Law was given to Moses, and though it is in Asia it now belongs to Egypt. It looks as if you could hit it with a stone, so wonderfully do distant objects stand out in this clear atmosphere, but it is seven or eight miles away. That dark clump midway between it and the sea marks the place called Moses' Well.
We are in the Gulf of Suez now, and it must have been somewhere about here that the Israelites crossed over with the host of Pharaoh pursuing them.
We are getting up better speed, and it is not long before we have reached the end of the gulf and pass out into the wide waters of the Red Sea.
There were two delusions I cherished for many a year about this sea. I always imagined it a long, narrow strip, like a river, in which you could see from bank to bank as you sailed along; and secondly, I thought there must be some red colouring on the banks or in the water to account for the strange name. As a matter of fact, the sea is over one thousand miles long and varies from twenty to one hundred and eighty miles in breadth. Being on it in a ship is like being out in the open ocean, for one can see no shore. The name "Red" Sea has never been satisfactorily explained, but some people suggest that it may have arisen from the spawn or eggs of fish which float on the surface in quantities at certain times of the year and are of a reddish tinge, others say it is from the coral which grows so well here, and others think it may have something to do with the rocks of red porphyry on the Egyptian side of the Arabian Gulf.
For the first time since we left England we begin now, as we go southward, to feel uncomfortably hot. It was never too hot in Egypt, for there was always a fresh wind. Here at first we have a following wind which makes it seem dead calm; there is a kind of clammy dampness in the air which makes it impossible to do anything requiring energy. The deck games of "bull" and quoits and even cricket, which have been carried on in such a lively way lately, fall off; no one cares to do anything.
Even the children cease from troubling. There are quite a number of them on board, for this is an Australian ship; if she were going to India there would be no small children. Here I counted fifteen at the table downstairs where they have their meals. You, of course, are treated as a grown-up person, and quite right too, as you are on the eve of a public school. I wonder how you will settle down at Harrow next winter after all this change! There is only one other boy of about the same age. I saw you talking to him this morning; what do you make of him?
A "rotter"? Yes, I thought so too. He seems to consider that the greatest fun on board is to rumple up the stewards' hair or to knock off their caps, and as they can't retaliate it is poor sport. He never plays games either, which is odd considering he is an Australian.
Oh, I hoped that child had sunk into a sweet slumber! He is a nuisance; he can't be more than four, but he never seems to rest day or night, and he spends the laziest hour of the afternoon dragging a squeaking cart up and down the wooden deck, to the annoyance of everyone except the fond mother, who encourages it as a sign of genius! Odd one never can travel without at least one child of that sort on board. There's a nice alcove aft behind the smoking-room where we may find refuge.
Yes, I grant the little girls are just as bad as the boys; there is that pert spoilt little miss who rushes after the steward when he carries round the hors d'oeuvre before dinner and clamours for them.
"They're not for children," he told her.
"But mother doesn't forbid me to have them," she retorted, standing on one leg with her finger in her mouth.
If she refrained from doing only what her mother did forbid her she would have a fairly easy time I think.
It is too stifling to sleep in the cabin, so we will try the deck to-night. It is rather pleasant stepping out on to the warm dry boards when the lights are out. The awning shuts us in overhead, but at the side we can see the smooth water lying white in the moonlight. Here is our place, with our mattresses laid out neatly side by side and the number of our cabin scrawled in white chalk on the wooden boards beside them. There is a story of a certain ape who got loose on board ship and paid a visit to the deck when all the men were asleep! A funny sight it must have been as he landed on the top of one after the other!
In spite of the calmness of the night it is always more or less noisy on a ship: there is the flap of an awning, the crack of a rope, the creaking of the plates, and the frilling away of the water past the ship's side. I lie awake a long time, turning uneasily and feeling the taste of the salt on my lips. At last, low down between the rails, away on the horizon, I see the well-known constellation, the Southern Cross. You have often heard of it I expect. It is one of the most famous groups of stars in the southern hemisphere and as much beloved by southerners as the Great Bear is by us. As the Great Bear sinks night by night lower in the north so the Southern Cross rises into sight. It is not a very brilliant or even cross, but rather straggly, and the stars are not very large, but it means much—hot skies, blue-black and brilliantly star-spangled, lines of white surf breaking on silvery sand beneath palm trees, fire-flies and scented air—I am growing drowsy at last—sleep is coming.... I must show you the cross another night.
Hullo! it's morning! A Lascar is standing by grinning, with a bucket of water and a deck-swab; they want to begin holystoning down the decks. How sleepy I am! And as for you, the night steward, who is still on duty, lifts you in his arms and carries you into your bunk, where you'll find yourself when you do wake. It's only five—time for some more hours yet. Sleeping on deck is rather an overrated amusement I think!
Before getting out of the Red Sea into the Indian Ocean we have to pass through the Straits of Babel-Mandeb, which means the Gate of Affliction or Tears, because of the numerous wrecks there have been here. Then we stop at Aden, where the passengers going on to India change to another P. & O. steamer, the Salsette, which is waiting for them. The Medina goes across to Ceylon and then south to Australia, but the ship following her next week goes straight to India.
It is lucky for Britain that she owns Aden, for it is the doorway at the south end of the Red Sea, as the canal is the doorway at the north end. Of course it is more important to us that the route to the East should be kept clear than it is to any nation, because in case of difficulties in India we should have to send troops there at once. It is more by good luck than good management that just these little corners of the world, that mean so much, should happen to fall into our possession—Gibraltar, for instance, the gateway of the Mediterranean. And though the British Government refused to have any hand in the making of the Suez Canal, yet afterwards, because the Khedive of Egypt was hard up and willing to sell his shares, we bought at a reasonable rate and have much influence in the management of the canal.
Standing beside us, watching the passengers for India climb down the gangway, is a fresh-looking, pink-faced young man of about one-and-twenty. He has a simple look, and you would think he was too young and innocent to go round the world by himself.
"I'm right down glad I'm not going to 'do' India," he remarks. "I'm sick of travelling; I'm just longing to get back."
"Yes; I'm a sheep-farmer there. I've worked four years without a break, so I took a holiday in Europe."
Anything less like one's idea of a sheep-farmer it would be hard to find! I always pictured them stern bearded men, with brick-red faces and sinewy limbs. This lad doesn't look as if he had ever been in a strong sun, and his slender loose-jointed legs and arms do not give the impression of an open-air life spent mostly in the saddle.
"You have a sheep-farm? Hard life, isn't it?"
"Best life in the world," he answers with enthusiasm. "Always on horseback, miles of open country, not shut in by beastly houses."
"But there's a lack of water, isn't there?"
"You can always sink a well, that's what they do now. It costs a good deal, but you can get water almost anywhere within reason."
"Are you far out?"
"No, only about three hundred and forty miles from the town where my mother lives. I go down to see her at week-ends; we're lucky in being close to a station, only a fifteen-mile ride."
Three hundred and forty miles! About the distance from London to Berwick! Good place for week-ends, especially with a fifteen-mile ride at one end! I suppose our ideas get small from living in a little country. Pity we can't visit Australia, but we can't manage it this time. That great island-continent and its sister, New Zealand, are well worth seeing. Except for the Canadians there are no people nearer akin to us than the Australasians. The world-famous harbour of Sydney, the great hills clothed in eucalyptus, hiding in their depths vast caverns of stalactites, the wide open ranges stretching for leagues inland, all these things are attractive. In New Zealand, too, we should find tree-ferns of gigantic size, lovely scenery, and spouting geysers; it is an England set in a very different climate from ours! Then we might pass on to those strange South Seas, gemmed by coral islands, and to the latitudes where the mighty albatross swings overhead like an aeroplane, only, unlike an aeroplane, he glides in a never-ending plane without apparent effort or even one flap of his huge twelve-foot wings.
Alas, we can't see everything this trip!
THE DEPTHS OF THE OCEAN
Now we are right out in the Indian Ocean, and it is a bright day with a certain freshness in the air, instead of that horrible muggy heat that made us feel so languid when we were in the Red Sea. Look over the ship's side and watch the rainbow in the spray; that is one of the prettiest things to see on board. As the vessel cuts through the water she raises a frill of foam on either side—what the sailors call "a bone in her mouth." The frill, rising to a continuous wave along the side, catches the sunlight and a perpetual rainbow dances in it, changing always but remaining ever. Whew! What a rush! Flying fish. Look at them! These are the first we have seen so near; when they spring out of the water like that and skim along in the air they are not doing it for fun, but to escape a bitter enemy in the water, the bonito, a ferocious large fish who preys upon them; he is their chief foe, but there are many others also. They curve up all together like a glittering bow and slither down again. In dropping back into the sea they make a kind of pattering noise, though, of course, we are too far to hear it, and the fishermen in the small islands near India make use of this in trying to catch the bonito. They go out in boats specially built for the purpose, with a kind of platform overhanging the stern; here they sit and make a splashing with their paddles, at the same time using some little fish, which they catch and breed in tanks, for bait. The noise attracts the large fish, who think there is a shoal of the small fry about, and they jump at the bait and are caught. The catch is often very good, and the boats come back to the huts laden with the ogre fish, destined to be eaten in their turn!
Have you ever thought what it must be like right down there in the deeps below the green water? We can't see because of the light striking the surface, but if we had a water-glass we could. This is a wooden funnel like that made of paper by village shopkeepers to roll up soft sugar in. At the broad end is a piece of strong glass, which is thrust under the water, and by peering through the small end it is possible to make out what is happening below if it is not too deep; anyway, we are too high up out of the water to use one here even if we had it, but in a boat near the coral reefs and islands there are wonderful things to be seen by the help of one of these glasses.
If you dropped a stone overboard here it would sink and sink gradually for about two miles, until it found a resting-place on a slimy bottom of ooze in a strange dark place. You have a pretty good idea of what a mile is from running in the school races; in imagination set it up on end, and add another to it, and then think of that stone sinking that distance into the grey water! Down there it must be quite dark, for the mass of water above cuts off the sunlight like a black curtain. There are many beasts living there, nevertheless; lobsters and other shell-fish as well as fish, and in a great many cases those that have been examined are found to have no eyes; it is probable that they have lost their eyesight in the course of many generations, because it would be no help to them in getting a living in those black depths. The subject is not fully understood yet, because some deep-sea fishes have exceptionally good sight, but these may possibly live higher up in the water, where there is a certain amount of glare, and then their eyes would become sharpened by necessity.
The bed of the ocean is not a level plain; if you could see it emptied of all water, you would discover that the land slopes down, sometimes gradually and sometimes with terrific precipices from the shores, and that at the mouths of great rivers there are great banks of mud brought down by the current and piled up, making a fat living for innumerable sea-creatures. But at the very bottom, in this carpet of slime, there are no weeds, or as we might call them sea-vegetables, for they cannot live altogether without light, so the creatures which have their home in what to us would seem this cheerless, miserable retreat, must live on one another. They are differently built from surface fish, because they have always resting upon them the weight of an enormous pile of water. Picture a pyramid of water two miles high resting on anybody. It would crush him to atoms; but the fish and crustacea down there are used to it, and fitted by nature to support it, and so, if they are brought up to the surface by any means, they burst! In deep-sea trawling it is quite a common occurrence to see fishes literally burst open, with their eyes protruding from the sockets, and this annoys the fishermen, because they are of no use for the market in that condition. It is difficult to imagine creatures unable to live without a great weight resting on them, but as a matter of fact it is the same thing with us in a less degree. There is a column of air some miles high resting on every one of us, and if we could imagine ourselves lifted out of it into space, our heads would throb, and our eyes would burst out, and we should be as helpless as a deep-sea fish brought up to the surface.