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The Characters of Theophrastus


My Man Jeeves

P. G. Wodehouse

The Revolt of the Netherlands

Friedrich Schiller

The Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Thomas Carlyle, Rudolf Steiner

Adventures in the Libyan desert and the oasis of Jupiter Ammon

by Bayle St. John


ant Egyptians, who allowed themselves the occasional use of two spare animals, which we took with us in case of accidents, began to move down the valley to the west. All were in high spirits as if starting on an ordinary pleasure excursion; and there was a free interchange of cheering remarks and merry gibes. Behind us, at a little distance, came the creeping camels, urged on by two young sons of the Sheikh, who himself bestrode a steadyfooted horse with a Mamluk saddle and shovel-stirrups. At his back was slung the never-forsaken long gun, and a monster pair of pistols adorned his belt. Altogether, with his toga-like blanket, and tarboosh encircled in honour of our departure with a bright Hejazi shawl, one corner of which depended from his shoulders, with his grey beard and single eye, he looked a very picturesque old object.

We followed the valley, which here is full of shrubs, for about an hour, and then struck off towards the shore across the white ridge. Having once committed ourselves to the tender mercies of the Bedawins, we could not expect to know the reason of all our movements; but it was not without surprise that we found ourselves ushered into a large tent close to the beach, where we were invited to occupy a kind of divan, composed of mats and carpets, that had been prepared for our reception. In any other country our guide would have taken the trouble to inform us that he wished us to be content with our day's work, that his own preparations were not quite complete, and that old Saleh, his destined companion, had not hitherto made his appearance. But Yiinus would have considered his dignity sadly compromised by so doing. He had undertaken to conduct us in safety to a certain place, and he expected all details to be left to him. The value of time he could not appreciate otherwise than by counting his skins of water in a desert without wells. As to our having a will of our own, a preference for motion or rest, that was contrary to any crotchet of his, or any independent ideas of comfort and propriety, the very thought seemed to excite in his mind a degree of comical astonishment and perplexity. A bale of goods, in his estimation, might as well have had its peculiar notions about the way in which it was stowed aboard ship. When, therefore, after sitting some time under his woollen roof, we began to show signs of restlessness, and ask a variety of what he must have deemed impertinent questions, he seemed to get very embarrassed, and to experience feelings fluctuating between anger and contempt. So early on the journey, however, prudence dictated to him a mild course of proceeding, and he was content to put us off with small excuses and promises. In the course of the day, one of his sons, a short boy with a long gun slung over his shoulder, and mounted on a tall horse, was sent in search of Saleh. These Bedawins, by the by, as soon as they can walk, have a gun put into their hands: it is their first and only toy, and they charge and uncharge it with the same scrupulous care which they observe in their fathers.

In spite of our impatience, we did not spend an unpleasant day in the Sheikh's tent. It was a good opportunity of witnessing the details of desert life; for after a little curiosity and peeping and whispering among the various members of the family, our existence seemed soon forgotten, and everything went on as before. There were three women in the tent, unveiled, and passably ugly, and dressed in some respects like the Fellahee women, but more heavily, and with their blue shirts confined by a cord or girdle at the waist; and there were five young children, all of them nearly naked, and some rather goodlooking. The tent was a spacious one of an oblong shape, with the ends closed, but open at both sides, so that a deliciously cool breeze swept through it from the sea. It was divided, as it were, into two apartments by one of those long cradles, called tachterwans, with a framework cover to support some kind of awning, in which the weaker members of a Bedawin family frequently travel on a camel's back. For want of a better name I shall designate it in English as a camel-howdah. Several old guns and gunbarrels stood in it, and some bags of wool and piles of blankets completed the partition, which, combined with our politeness, was sufficient to protect the ladies from too curious a gaze. However, they cared little for us, working away at theii ?iandniills with which they were splitting beans, scolding the children, collecting the camels and giving them food, and performing various other domestic offices.

As it was necessary that we should eat under the roof of our guide, he offered and we accepted a bowl of dates mashed up with samite (clarified butter), one of the most disgusting messes Chap. ii.] ROMANTIC DEPARTURE. 13

it ever fell to my lot to taste, although, in the spirit of true Oriental compliment, some of us ate more than one handful. In short, we endeavoured to make ourselves as agreeable as possible, hoping to induce him to quicken his movements; but here we made a slight miscalculation. He accepted our civilities, smoked our pipes, and remained immoveable, coolly patching up an old wooden bowl and twisting ropes of palm-fibre for a dooloo or well-bucket of hide. At length, towards the afternoon, in token of displeasure, we abandoned the tent, which we had defiled by eating a lunch of cold ham, and repaired to the place where our traps had been deposited, near the well called Bir-en-Neffe, situated in a terrifically hot hollow about a hundred yards off. Here we remained until some hours after sunset sitting on our mat, and turning a deaf ear to the insinuations of the old Sheikh, who, whilst expressing his displeasure with Saleh and promising to take his own four camels and buy another on the road, tried hard to induce us to wait until morning. At length, seeing we were determined to proceed, he sulkily filled four skins of water, and loaded the camels with the assistance of his young boys and two women, one of whom had a baby all the while slung at her back. The other—perhaps a young wife—interrupted her work to come to us and beseech us, in the melancholy lengthened tones which Arab women can assume at pleasure, not to extend our journey into dangerous regions, but to bring back in safety her Yunus, without whom there was no more joy for her in this world. Such a supplication, delivered in a sweet voice, in the midst of the confusion of breaking up our little bivouac, combined with the consciousness that we were really about to enter on a somewhat hazardous enterprise, and were taking away the stay and support of this desert family, was calculated rather to revive the ideas of romance with which I had at first surrounded the old Sheikh. The sinister glance of his remaining eye was forgotten; so were his incipient arrogance, his palpable attempts at deception, and the vulgar reality of everything about him; and as we moved away by moonlight from the Bir en-Neffe, amidst parting salutations, interrupted by the whistle and the "Zah, zah!" with which the camels were encouraged to clamber over the sand-hills back towards the great valley, I found myself indulging in reflections amidst which the thought of him did not disagreeably intrude. The scene was by no means unromantic. An undulating surface of glittering sand and white stone, covered with black patches of vegetation, stretched on either hand. Behind could be seen the dim expanse of the sea—with the sound of its ceaseless breakers poured full upon us by a light breeze. In front a steep slope sank to the level of the narrow valley that, like a vast trench, extended its undeviating line at our feet. Beyond, casting a deep shadow, rose the long low range of rocky hills that continues in persevering uniformity from the quarries of El Delcale to the east, with scarcely a variation in height or character, to the neighbourhood of Sheikh Abd-er-rahman on the west. A moon in its first quarter and a profusion of stars lighted our rugged path, or no path, along which the steady-footed camels, with their bowsprit necks thrust forward, were slowly sailing, now choosing a way for themselves, now obeying the voice of their drivers. It was not long before we reached the flat surface of the valley, and, taking a due westerly direction, began to move along it.

I may mention here, once for all, that the pace of the camel is exceedingly slow, so that in a lengthy journey it must be calculated that the caravan moves at a rate of no more than two miles and a half an hour. Sometimes it falls much below this, especially where there is opportunity for browsing; and at others, when it is necessary to push forward over a waterless country, they reach three and a half and even four miles an hour. I shall mention any remarkable variations in our pace, requesting the reader for the present to imagine us proceeding at something less than two miles and a half an hour. Very monotonous and fatiguing work it was. We rode donkeys, equipped in the Egyptian style when a long journey is contemplated, namely, with halters; and it being necessary, from our ignorance of the road, to keep in sight of the camels, we had the greatest difficulty in effecting our purpose. The obstinate brutes, little knowing what a journey they were booked for, would go a-head, so that we were constantly obliged to stop, and perhaps light a pipe, until we again saw the rear of our creeping little kafila appearing amidst the bushes, or from behind a swell in the ground.

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