BLTC Press Titles

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The Secret Doctrine, Volume II Anthropogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky

Theory of Colours

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas

The Art of Worldly Wisdom

Baltasar Gracian

Egypt in 1898

by George Warrington Steevens


December 16.—As we brought up at Port Said I cast a casual glance to starboard, and saw that we were attached by cables to what looked like a black island in mid-Canal. I took no heed of it; but, looking that way a moment later, saw it had drawn nearer. It seemed a great black raft, slowly warping itself nearer and nearer, and on it—what was moving ?—by the Powers, they were men!

Men they were, and the raft was an enormous coal-lighter; only which was coal and which was lighter and which were men was more than anybody could say. So black a crew it carried, swarming like flies on a treacle-jar, on every inch of foothold to the water's edge. They seemed to wear shirt and drawers and a rag round the head; but, again, which was clothes and which was man? Clothes and skin were both grimed the same black with coal-dust. As they approached they set up a kind of wailing chant, and the white teeth flashing out were the only part of all the raft that was not coal-black. Once more I was looking at a crew of devils going through some unholy ritual of their devilry. Only the devilish-looking Lascars at Brindisi had been working in half-light and shadow; on these the high sun shone drily; everything round was refulgent, except that one murky blot on the water. Slowly and slowly, but nearer and nearer, howling aod grinning, naked and black—till you thought the Canal must have opened and let up the sooty monster straight out of the Pit.

As the thing drew to the ship's side they heaved up four huge planks, two forward and two aft of the lighter, to the level of the high


main-deck. And the moment they were in position — before, you would have said, the tottering bridges could possibly be stable— the devils had paused in their incantations, and got to work. Up the dizzy plank they came, tottering under rush-baskets piled up with coal. The slope was half perpendicular, and the planks were narrow, and some of the demons carried one basket on the head, and another in the arms. But they never slipped: their naked feet gripping the wood, one after another pattered up and plunged into the bowels of the ship. They still kept up their rising, falling lullaby, as one, two, three, halfa-dozen sprang on board, and hurried his freight into the bunkers. In a minute there was a complete chain of them, two rows tripping up with full baskets, two rows tripping down with empties. In the body of the lighter another gang of demons was hacking, and delving, and shovelling. More baskets leaping up full, more bounding down empty, more tilting, more lilting, more dust. This dust rose up round them in a choking cloud. And as I went ashore the last of it was a rolling pillar of blackness against the ship's side, and, dimly seen through it, a racing chain of devils up and down, with a forlorn and melancholy croon, working out the tale of their damnation.

December 17.—That melodramatic sight, I learn, is Port Said. That is just the essence and root of being of Port Said. Port Said is coal—the Clapham Junction of nations, the gate of East and West, the coaling-station of the world. Its native population is all made of coal - porters, and those that minister to them; its Europeans are in coal companies or connected with ships that need coaling. A million tons a - year is the figure of Port Said's coal - bill. It nearly all comes from Wales, and what does not comes from Newcastle; but in the main ships will burn nothing but Ocean Merthyr. Residents in Port Said expatiate on the beauties of Ocean Merthyr for domestic purposes also; but though I am quite ready to take their expert opinion about sun, I stick to my own


about winter firing. "I wish I could show you a fire of it now," said one to me; "but we haven't a fire going to-day :" now what can a man who has no fire on December 17 know about house coals?

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