Throughout the summer of 1877 I was haunted by memories of mysterious Midian. The Golden Region appeared to me in the glow of primaeval prosperity described by the Egyptian hieroglyphs; as rich in agriculture and in fertility, according to the old Hellenic travellers, as in its Centres of civilization, and in the precious metals catalogued by the Sacred Books of the Hebrews. Again I saw the mining works of the Greek, the Roman, and the Nabathæan, whose names are preserved by Ptolemy; the forty cities, mere ghosts and shadows of their former selves, described in the pages of the mediaeval Arab geographers; and the ruthless ruin which, under the dominion of the Bedawin, gradually crept over the Land of Jethro. The tale of her rise and fall forcibly suggested Algeria, that province so opulent and splendid under the Masters of the World; converted into a fiery wilderness by the representatives of the “gentle and gallant” Turk, and brought to life once more by French energy and industry. And such was my vision of a future Midian, whose rich stores of various minerals will restore to her wealth and health, when the two Khedivial Expeditions shall have shown the world what she has been, and what she may be again.
I was invited to resume my exploration during the winter of 1877–78, by the Viceroy of Egypt, Ismail I., a prince whose superior intelligence is ever anxious to develop the resources of his country. His Highness was perhaps the only man in his own dominions who, believing in the buried wealth of Midian, had the perspicacity to note the advantages offered by its exploitation. For the world around the Viceroy pronounced itself decidedly against the project. My venerable friend, Linant Pasha, suggested a comparison with the abandoned diggings of the Upper Nile; forgetting that in at least half of Midian land, only the “tailings” have been washed: whereas in the Bishárí country, and throughout the “Etbaye,” between the meridians of Berenike and Sawákín, the very thinnest metallic fibrils have been shafted and tunnelled to their end in the rock by those marvellous labourers, the old Egyptians. In the Hamámát country, again, the excessive distances, both from the Nile and from the Red Sea, together with the cost of transport, must bar all profit. Even worse are the conditions of Fayzoghlú and Dár-For; whilst the mines of Midian begin literally at the shore.
Another Pasha wrote to me from Alexandria, congratulating me upon having discovered, during our first Expedition, “a little copper and iron.” Generally, the official public, knowing that I had brought back stones, not solid masses of gold and silver, loudly deplored the prospective waste of money; and money, after the horse-plague, the low Nile, and the excessive exigencies of the short-sighted creditor, was exceptionally scarce. The truly Oriental view of the question was taken by an official, whom I shall call Árif Pasha — the “Knowing One.” When told that M. George Marie, the Government engineer detailed to accompany the first Expedition, had sent in official analyses with sample tubes of gold and silver, thus establishing the presence of auriferous and argentiferous rocks on the Arabian shore, Son Excellence exclaimed, “Imprudent jeune homme, thus to throw away the chances of life! Had he only declared the whole affair a farce, a flam, a sell, a canard, the Viceroy would have held him to be honest, and would have taken care of his future.”
Still, through bad report the Khediv, who had mastered, with his usual accuracy of perception and judgment, the subject of Midian and her Mines, was staunch to his resolve; and when one of his European financiers, a Controleur Général de Dépenses, the normal round peg in the square hole, warned him that there were no public funds for such purpose, his Highness warmly declared, on dit, that the costs of the Expedition should be defrayed at his own expense.
Meanwhile I had passed the summer of 1877 in preparation for the work of the ensuing winter. A long correspondence with many learned friends, and a sedulous study of the latest geographers, especially German, taught me all that was known of mining in Arabia generally, and particularly in Midian. During my six months’ absence from Egypt my vision was fixed steadily upon one point, the Expedition that was to come; and when his Highness was pleased to offer me, in an autograph letter full of the kindest expressions, the government of Dár-For, I deferred accepting the honour till Midian had been disposed of.
Unhappily, certain kindly advisers persuaded me to make well better by a visit to Karlsbad, and a course of its alkaline “Fountains of Health.” Never was there a greater mistake! The air is bad as the water is good; the climate is reeking damp, like that of Western Africa; and, as in St. Petersburg, a plaid must be carried during the finest weather. Its effects, rheumatic and neuralgic, may be judged by the fact that the doctors must walk about with pocketed squirts, for the hypodermal injection of opium. Almost all those whom I knew there, wanting to be better, went away worse; and, in my own case, a whole month of Midian sun, and a sharp attack of ague and fever were required to burn out the Hexenschuss and to counteract the deleterious effects of the “Hygeian springs.”
At last the happy hour for departure struck; and on October 19, 1877, the Austro–Hungarian Espero (Capitano Colombo) steamed out of Trieste. On board were Sefer Pasha, our host of Castle Bertoldstein; and my learned friends, the Aulic Councillor Alfred von Kremer, Austrian Commissioner to Egypt, and Dr. Heinrich Brugsch–Bey. The latter gave me a tough piece of work in the shape of his “Ægypten,” which will presently be quoted in these pages. It would be vain to repeat a description of the little voyage described in “The Gold–Mines of Midian.” The Dalmatian, or first day; the second, or day of Corfu loved and lost; and the third, made memorable by Cephalonia and the glorious Canale, all gave fine smooth weather. But the usual rolling began off still-vexed Cape Matapan. It lasted through the fourth day, or of Candia, this insula nobilis et amæna —
“Crete, the crown of all the isles, flower of Levantine waters”
— while the fifth, or Mediterraneo–Alexandrian day, killed two of the seventeen fine horses, Yuckers and Anglo–Normans, which Sefer Pasha was conveying to Cairo.
On Thursday morning (October 25), after rolling through the night off the old port Eunostus, which now looks brand-new, we landed, and the next day saw me at Cairo. Such was my haste that I could pay only a flying visit to the broken beer-bottles, the burst provision-tins, the ice-plants, and the hospitable society of Ramleh the Sand-heap; and my many acquaintances had barely time to offer their congratulations upon the prospects of my “becoming an Egyptian.”
My presence at the capital was evidently necessary. A manner of association for utilizing the discoveries of the first Expedition had been formed in London by the Messieurs Vignolles, who knew only the scattered and unofficial notices; issued, without my privity, by English and continental journals. Their representative, General Nuthall, formerly of the Madras army, had twice visited Cairo, in August and October, 1877, seeking a concession of the mines, and offering conditions which were perfectly unacceptable. The Viceroy was to allow, contrary to convention, the free importation of all machinery; to supply guards, who were not wanted; and, in fact, to guarantee the safety of the workmen, who were perfectly safe. In return, ten per cent. on net profits, fifteen being the royalty of the Suez Canal, was the magnificent inducement offered to the viceregal convoitise. I could not help noting, by no means silently, this noble illustration of the principle embodied in Sic vos non vobis. I was to share in the common fate of originators, discoverers, and inventors: the find was mine, the profits were to go — elsewhere. General Nuthall professed inability to regard the matter in that light; while to all others it appeared in no other. However, after a few friendly meetings, the representative left Egypt, with the understanding that possibly we might work together when the exploration should have been completed. His Highness, who had verbally promised me either the concession or four per cent. on gross produce, acted en prince, simply remarking that the affair was in my hands, and that he would not interfere with me.
I must not trouble the reader with the tedious tale of the pains and the labour which accompany the accouchement of such an Expedition. All practicals know that to organize a movement of sixty men is not less troublesome — indeed, rather more so — than if it numbered six hundred or six thousand. The Viceroy had wisely determined that we should not only carry out the work of discovery by tracing the precious metals to their source; but, also, that we should bring back specimens weighing tons enough for assay and analysis, quantitive and qualitive, in London and Paris. Consequently, miners and mining apparatus were wanted, with all the materials for quarrying and blasting: my spirit sighed for dynamite, but experiments at Trieste had shown it to be too dangerous. The party was to consist of an escort numbering twenty-five Súdán soldiers of the Line, negroes liberated some two years ago; a few Ma’danjiyyah (“mine-men”), and thirty Haggárah (“stone-men” or quarrymen).
The Government magazines of Cairo contain everything, but the difficulty is to find where the dispersed articles are stored: there is a something of red-tapeism; but all is plain sailing, compared with what it would be in Europe. The express orders of his Highness Husayn Kámil Pasha, Minister of Finance and Acting Minister of War, at once threw open every door. Had this young prince not taken in the affair a personal interest of the liveliest and most intelligent nature, we might have spent the winter at Cairo. And here I cannot refrain from mentioning, amongst other names, that of Mr. Alfred E. Garwood, C.E., locomotive superintendent; who, in the short space of four months, has introduced order and efficiency into the chaos known as the Bulák magazines. With his friendly cooperation, and under his vigorous arm, difficulties melted away like hail in a tropical sun. General Stone (Pasha), the Chief of Staff, also rendered me some assistance, by lending the instruments which stood in his own cabinet de travail.13
Poor Cairo had spent a seedy autumn. The Russo–Turkish campaign, which had been unjustifiably allowed, by foreign Powers, to drain Egypt of her gold and life-blood — some 25,000 men since the beginning of the Servian prelude — not only caused “abundant sorrow” to the capital, but also frightened off the stranger-host, which habitually supplies the poorer population with sovereigns and napoleons. The horse-pest, a bad typhus, after raging in 1876 and early 1877, had died out: unfortunately, so had the horses; and the well-bred, fine-tempered, and high-spirited little Egyptians were replaced by a mongrel lot, hastily congregated from every breeding ground in Europe. The Fellahs, who had expected great things from the mission of MM. Goschen and Joubert, asked wonderingly if those financiers had died; while a scanty Nile, ten to twelve feet lower, they say, than any known during the last thousand years, added to the troubles of the poor, by throwing some 600,000 feddans (acres) out of gear, and by compelling an exodus from the droughty right to the left bank. Finally, when the river of Egypt did rise, it rose too late, and brought with it a feverish and unwholesome autumn. Briefly, we hardly escaped the horrors of Europe —
“Herbstesahnung! Triste Spuren
In den Wäldern, auf den Fluren!
Regentage, böses Wetter,” etc.
Meanwhile, in the Land of the Pharaohs, whose scanty interest about the war was disguised by affected rejoicings at Ottoman successes, the Prophet gallantly took the field, as in the days of Yúsuf bin Ishák. This time the vehicle of revelation was the learned Shayhk (má? ) Alaysh, who was ordered in a dream by the Apostle of Allah (upon whom be peace!) to announce the victory of the Moslem over the Infidel; and, as the vision took place in Jemádi el-Akhir (June), the first prediction was not more unsuccessful than usual. Shortly afterwards, the same reverend man again dreamt that, seeing two individuals violently quarreling, with voies de fait, he had hastened, like a true believer, to separate and to reconcile them. But what was his surprise when the brawlers proved to be the Sultan and the Czar, the former administering condign personal punishment to his hereditary foe. This, the enlightened Shaykh determined, was a sign that in September the Osmanli would be gloriously triumphant. Nor was he far wrong. The Russians, who had begun the campaign, like the English in India, with a happy contempt both for the enemy and for the elementary rules of war, were struck with a cold fit of caution: instead of marching straight upon and intrenching themselves in Adrianople, they vainly broke their gallant heads against the improvised earthworks of Plevna. And ignorant Europe, marvelling at the prowess of the “noble Turk,” ignored the fact that all the best “Turkish” soldiers were Slavs, originally Christians, renegades of old, unable to speak a word of Turkish; preserving their Bosniac family-names, and without one drop of Turkish blood in their veins. Sulayman Pashás army was about as “Turkish” as are the Poles or the Hungarians.
Not the less did Cairo develop the normal season-humours of the Frank. Among the various ways of “doing the Pyramids,” I registered a new one: Mr. A—— junior, unwilling wholly to neglect them, sent his valet with especial orders to stand upon the topmost plateau. The “second water” of irrigation made November dangerous; many of the “Shepheards” suffered from the Ayán el-Mulúk, the “Evil of Kings” (gout), in the gloomy form as well as the gay; and whisky-cum-soda became popular as upon the banks of the Thames and the Tweed. As happens on dark days, the money-digger was abroad, and one anecdote deserves record. Many years ago, an old widow body had been dunned into buying, for a few piastres, a ragged little manuscript from a pauper Maghrabi. These West Africans are, par excellence, the magicians of modern Egypt and Syria; and here they find treasure, like the Greeks upon the shores of the Northern Adriatic. Perhaps there may be a basis for the idea; oral traditions and written documents concerning buried hoards would take refuge in remote regions, comparatively undisturbed by the storms of war, and inhabited by races more or less literary. At any rate, the Maghrabi Darwaysh went his ways, assuring his customer that, when her son came of age, a fortune would be found in the little book. And true enough, the boy, reaching man’s estate, read in its torn pages ample details concerning a Dafi’nah (hoard) of great value. He was directed, by the manuscript, to a certain spot upon the Mukattam range, immediately behind the Cairene citadel, where the removal of a few stones would disclose a choked shaft: the latter would descend to a tunnel, full of rubbish, and one of the many sidings would open upon the golden chamber. The permission of Government was secured, the workmen began, and the directions proved true —“barring” the treasure, towards which progress was still being made. Such was the legend of Cairo, as recounted to me by my good friend, Yacoub Artin Bey; I can only add to it, Allaho A’alam! — Allah is all-knowing!
The sole cause of delay in beginning exploration was the want of money; and this, of course, even the Prince Minister of Finance could not coin. Egypt, the fertile, the wealthy, the progressive, was, indeed, at the time all but insolvent. At the suggestion of foreigners, “profitable investments,” which yielded literally nothing, had been freely made for many a year, and the sole results were money difficulties and debt. The European financiers had managed admirably for their shareholders; but, having assumed the annual national income at a maximum, instead of a minimum, they had brought the goose of the golden eggs to the very verge of death. The actionnaires were to receive, with a punctuality hardly possible in the East, the usurious interest of six per cent., not including one per cent. for sinking fund. Meanwhile, the officers and officials, military, naval, and civil, had been in arrears of salary for seven to fifteen months; and even the Jews refused to cash at any price their pay certificates.
Nothing could be more unwise or unjust than the exactions of the creditors. Men must live; if not paid, they perforce pay themselves; and thus, of every hundred piastres, hardly thirty find their way into the treasury. Ten times worse was the condition of the miserable Felláhín, who were selling for three or four napoleons the bullocks worth fifteen per head. Thus they would tide over the present year; but a worse than Indian famine was threatened for the following. And the “Bakkál,” at once petty trader and money-lender, whose interest and compound interest here amount, as in Bombay, to hundreds per cent., would complete the ruin which the “low Nile” and the Christian creditor had begun.
A temporary reduction of interest to three per cent., with one per cent of amortization, should content the greedy shareholder, who seeks to combine high profits with perfect security. During November, 1877, there were five M.P.‘s at Shepheard’s; and all cried shame upon the financial condition of the country. Sir George Campbell opened the little game. In his “Inside View of Egypt” (Fortnightly Review, Dec., 1877) he drew a graphic picture of the abnormal state of poor Egypt; he expressed the sensible opinion that, in the settlement, the claims of the bond-holders have been too exclusively considered, and he concluded that no more payments of debt-interest should be made until official arrears are discharged.
At last the Phare d’Alexandrie (November 29, 1877), doubtless under official inspiration, put forth the following article, greatly to the satisfaction of the unfortunate employés:—
“Si nos renseignements particuliers sont exacts, le comité des finances vient de prendre une excellente décision. Elle consiste en ce que, aussitôt l’argent pour le paiement du prochain coupon, préparé, le ministe’re, avant tout autre, procédera au paiement des appointements arriérés des employés.
“Nous apprenons, on outre, que S. A. le ministre des finances, même, a déclaré, molu proprio, que jusqu’au complet paiement des arriérés dûs aux employés, et dans le cas oú il se présenterait une dépense de grande importance, prévue même par le budget, de ne pas en ordonner le paiement sans, au préalable, le sommettre à l’adhésion du comité.
“Nous applaudissons de toutes nos forces à cette bonne nouvelle d’abord, parcequ’elle affirme une fois de plus la scrupuleuse exactitude qu’on apporte au paiement des coupons, ensuite elle prouve le vif intérèt qu’ inspire au gouvernement la situation de ses nombreux employés, enfin elle nous fait espérer qu’après avoir songé à eux, on s’occupera aussi à payer les autres sommes portées et pre’vues au budget de l’année.”
Accordingly, on December 2nd, the Prince Minister of Finance took heart of grace, and distributed among the officials one month’s pay, with a promise that all arrears should presently be made good. On the same day his Highness issued to the Expedition 2000 napoleons, in addition to the 620 already expended upon instruments and provisions. This was the more liberal, as I had calculated the total at 1500: the more, however, the better. In such work it is money versus time, the former saving the latter; and we were already late in the year — it had been proposed to start on November 15th, and we had lost three precious weeks of fine autumnal weather. The stores were equally abundant: I wanted one forge, and received three.
Of course, many details had been forgotten; e.g., a farrier and change of mule-irons, a tinsmith and tinning tools, a sulphur-still, boots for the soldiers and the quarrymen, small shot for specimens, and so forth. I had carried out my idea of a Dragoman with two servants; and the result had been a model failure, especially in the most important department. The true “Desert cook” is a man sui generis; he would utterly fail at the Criterion, and even at Shepheard’s; but in the wilderness he will serve coffee within fifteen minutes, and dish the best of dinners within the hour after the halt.
Mr. Clarke and Lieutenant Amir worked with a will; and they were ably seconded by Colonel Ali Bey Robi and Lieutenant–Colonel (of the Staff) Mohammed Bey Báligh. But the finishing touch to such preparations must be done by the master hand; and my unhappy visit to Karlsbad rendered that impossible. The stores and provisions were supplied by MM. Voltéra Brothers, of Cairo: I cannot say too much in their praise; and the packing was as good as the material. M. Gross, of Shepheard’s, was good enough to let me have a barrel of claret; which improved every week by travelling, and which cost only a franc a bottle: it began as a bon ordinaire, and the little that returned to Cairo ranked with a quasi-grand vin, at least as good as the four-shilling Medoc. Finally, Dr. Lowe, of Cairo, kindly prepared for us a medicine chest, containing about £10 worth of the usual drugs and appliances — calomel, tartar emetic, and laudanum; blister, plaster, and simple ointment.14
A special train was made ready for Thursday, December 6th; and, at ten a.m., after taking leave of their Highnesses, who courteously wished me good luck and God-speed, the Expedition found itself under weigh. We were accompanied to the station by many kind friends: my excellent kinsman Lord Francis, and Lady F. Conyngham, Yacoub Artin Bey, General Stone, and MM. George, Garwood, Girard, and Guillemine.
The change from the damp air of Cairo to the drought of the Desert was magical: light ailments and heavy cares seemed to fall off like rags and tatters. We halted at Zagázig, remarking that this young focus of railway traffic has become the eastern key of Lower Egypt, as Benhá is to the western delta; and prophesying that some day, not far distant, will see the glories of Bubastis revived. Here we picked up my old friend Haji Wali, whom age — he declares that he was born in the month Mízán of 1797 — had made only a little fatter and greedier. We gave a wide berth to the future Alexandria, Ismailíyyah, whose splendid climate has been temporarily spoilt by the sweet-water canal of the same name. The soil became literally sopped; and hence the intermittent fevers which have lately assailed it. A similar disregard for drainage has ingeniously managed to convert into pest-houses Simla and other Himalayan sanitaria.
The day ended with running the train into the Suez Docks, so as to embark all our impediments on the next morning; and I fondly expected Saturday to see us sail. But the weather-wise had been true in their forecasts. Friday opened with howling, screaming gusts of southerly wind; and, during the night we were treated to a fierce display of storm — thunder and lightning, and rain. The gale caused one collision on the Canal, and twenty-five steamers were delayed near the Bitter Lake; it broke down the railway and sanded it up for miles, and it levelled fifty English and forty Egyptian telegraph-posts — an ungentle hint to prefer the telephone. Saturday, the beginning of winter, opened with a cold raw souther and a surging sea, which washed over the Dock-piers; in such weather it was impossible to embark ten mules without horse-boxes. On Sunday the waves ran high, but the gale fell about sunset to a dead calm; as usual in the Gulf, the breakers and white horses at once disappeared; and the slaty surface, fringed with dirty yellow, immediately reassumed its robes of purple and turquoise blue. The ill wind, however, had blown us some good by deluging with long-hoped-for rain the now barren mountains of Midian.
This “Fortuna,” according to the people, sets in with the fourth Coptic month, Kayhak,15 which begins the first Arba’ín (“Forty-day period”); and the fourth day is known as the Imtizáj el-Faslayn, or “Mixture of the two Seasons”— autumn and winter. The storm is expected to blow three days from the Azyab (south-east) or from the Shirs (south-west). The qualities of the several winds are described in the following distich:—
“Mirísi Shaytán, wa Gharbi Wazírhu;
Tiyáb Sultán, wa Sharki Nazírhu.”
“The south-wester’s a Satan, and the wester’s his minister;
The norther’s a Sultan, and the easter’s his man.”
On the other hand, fair weather was predicted after the first quarter of the moon (December 12th), according to the saying of the Arab sailor:—
“When the moon sleeps, the seaman may sleep;
When the moon stands, the seaman must stand.”
The “sleeping” moon — náim or rákid, also called Yemáni — is that of the first quarter, which we mark concave to the left; the “standing” moon is that of the last.
Our stay at Suez was saddened by the sudden death of Marius Isnard, who had acted cook to the first Khedivial Expedition. The poor lad, aged only eighteen, had met us at the Suez station, delighted with the prospect of another journey; he had neglected his health; and, after a suppression of two days, which he madly concealed, gangrene set in, and he died a painful death at the hospital during the night preceding our departure.
On December 10th we ran down from Suez Quay in the Bird of the Sea (Tayr el-Bahr), the harbour mouche, or little steam-launch, accompanied by the Governor, Sa’íd Bey, who has not yet been made a Pasha; by Mr. Consul West; by the genial Ra’íf Bey, Wakíl el-Komandaníyyah or acting commodore of the station; by Mr. Willoughby Faulkner, my host at Suez; by the Messieurs Levick, and by other friends. In the highest spirits we boarded our “gun-carriage,” the aviso Mukhbir (Captain Mohammed Siráj); and, after many mutual good wishes, we left the New Docks at 6.10 p.m.
Nothing could be more promising than the weather, a young moon mirrored in a sea smooth as oil. The “Giver of Good News” (El–Mukhbir), however, for once failed in her mission. She had lately conducted herself well upon a trial trip round the Zenobia lightship (“Newport Rock”).16 But the two Arab firemen who acted engineers, worn-out grey-beards that hated the idea of four months on the barbarous Arabian shore, had choked the tubes with wastage, and had filled the single boiler, taking care to plug up, instead of opening, the relief-pipe. The consequence was that the engines sweated at every pore; steam instead of water streamed from the sides; and the chimney discharged, besides smoke, a heavy shower of rain. The engine (John Jameson, engineer, Newcastle-on-Tyne, 1866), a good article, in prime condition as far as a literally rotten boiler would allow, presently revenged itself by splitting the air-pipe of the condenser from top to bottom; and after two useless halts the captain reported to me that we must return to Suez. What a beginning! The fracture somewhat relieved the machinery; we did better work after than before the accident, but we were ignobly towed into dock by the ship’s boats.
A telegram with a procès-verbal was at once sent off to the Prince; Sa’íd Bey and Ra’íf Bey hastened to our aid, and Mr. Williams, superintending engineer of the Khedivíyyah line, with the whole of his staff, stripped and set to work at the peccant tubes and air-pump. They commenced with extinguishing a serious fire which burst from the waste-room — by no means pleasant when close to kegs of blasting-powder carefully sewn up in canvas. They laboured with a will, and before sunset Mr. Williams informed us that he would guarantee the engines for eight days, when we were starting on a dangerous cruise for four months. He also supplied us with an Egyptian boiler-maker and with eleven instead of sixty new tubes: we lost forty-two of the old ones between Suez and El–Muwaylah. Before sunset we made a trial trip, the wretched old kettle acting tant bien que mal; we returned to re-embark the soldiers and the mules, and we set out for the second time at 5.30 p.m.
The Mukhbir, 130 feet long, 380 tons, and 80 to go horse-power, under charge of the English or rather Scotch engineer, Mr. David Duguid, who had taken the place of the two Arab firemen, began with 7 1/2 knots an hour, 68 revolutions per minute, and a pressure of 9 lbs. to the square inch. The condenser-vacuum was 26 inches (30 being complete)— 13 lbs. Next morning the rate declined to six miles in consequence of the boiler leaking, and matters became steadily worse. As a French writer says of the genre humain, we were placed, not entre le bien et le mal, but entre le mal et le pire. After sundry narrow escapes in the Gulf of ‘Akabah, we were saved, as will be seen, by a manner of miracles. Briefly, the Mukhbir caused us much risk, heartburn, and loss of time.
Seven a.m. (December 11th) found us crossing the Birkat Fara’ún — Pharaoh’s Gulf — some sixty miles from the great port. Its horrors to native craft I have already described in my “Pilgrimage.” Between this point and Ras Za’faránah, higher up, the wind seems to split: a strong southerly gale will be blowing, whilst a norther of equal pressure prevails at the Gulf-head, and vice versâ. Suez, indeed, appears to be, in more ways than one, a hydrographical puzzle. When it is low water in and near the harbour, the flow is high between the Straits of Jobal and the Daedalus Light; and the ebb tide runs out about two points across the narrows, whilst the flood runs in on a line parallel with it. Finally, when we returned, hardly making headway against an angry norther, Suez, enjoying the “sweet south,” was congratulating the voyagers upon their weather.
The loss of a good working day soon made itself felt. The north wind rose, causing the lively Mukhbir, whose ballast, by-the-by, was all on deck, to waddle dangerously for the poor mules; and it was agreed, nem. con., to put into Tor harbour. We found ourselves at ten a.m. (December 12th) within the natural pier of coralline, and we were not alone in our misfortune; an English steamer making Suez was our companion. This place has superseded El Wijh as the chief quarantine station for the return pilgrimage; and I cannot sufficiently condemn the change.17 The day lagged slowly, as we
“Walked in grief by the merge of the many-voiced
But we looked in vain for our “tender,” a Sambúk of fifty tons, El–Musahhil (Rais Ramazan), which Prince Husayn had thoughtfully sent with us as post-boat. She disappeared on the evening of the 11th, and she did not make act of presence until the 16th, when her master was at once imprisoned in the fort of El–Muwaylah. Moreover, the owner, Mohammed Bukhayt, of Suez, who had received £90 as advance for three months — others said £60 for four — provided her with only a few days’ provisions, leaving us to ration his crew.
A wintry norther in these latitudes is not easily got rid of. According to the people, here, as in the ‘Akabah Gulf, it lasts three days, and dies after a quiet noon; whereas on the 13th, when we expected an escape, it rose angrily at one p.m. I was much cheered by the pleasant news of M. Bianchi, the local Deputato di Sanità, who assured us that a pernicieuse was raging at El–Muwaylah, and that it was certain death to pass one night in the fort. The only fire that emitted all this smoke was the fact that during the date-harvest of North–Western Arabia, July and August, agues are common; and that at all seasons the well water is not “honest,” and is supposed to breed trifling chills. In the Prairies of the Far West I heard of a man who rode some hundreds of miles to deliver himself of a lie. Nothing like solitude and the Desert for freshening the fancy. Another individual who was much exercised by our journey was Khwájeh Konstantin, a Syrian–Greek trader, son of the old agent of the convent, whose blue goggles and comparatively tight pantaloons denoted a certain varnish and veneer. It is his practice to visit El–Muwaylah once every six months; when he takes, in exchange for cheap tobacco, second-hand clothes, and poor cloth, the coral, the pearls fished for in April, the gold dust, the finds of coin, and whatever else will bring money. Such is the course and custom of these small monopolists, who, at “Raitha” and elsewhere, much dislike to see quiet things moved.
At length, after a weary day of far niente, when even le sommeil se faisait prier, we “hardened our hearts,” and at nine p.m., as the gale seemed to slumber, we stood southwards. The Mukhbir rolled painfully off Ras Mohammed, which obliged us with its own peculiar gusts; and the ‘Akabah Gulf, as usual, acted wind-sail. A long détour was necessary in order to spare the mules, which, however, are much less liable to injury, under such circumstances, than horses, having a knack of learning to use sea-legs.
The night was atrocious; so was the next morning; but about noon we were cheered by the sight of the glorious mountain-walls of well-remembered Midian, which stood out of the clear blue sky in passing grandeur of outline, in exceeding splendid dour of colouring, and in marvellous sharpness of detail. Once more the “power of the hills” was on us.
Three p.m. had struck before we found ourselves in broken water off the fort of El–Muwaylah, where our captain cast a single anchor, and where we had our first escape from drifting upon the razor-like edges of the coralline reefs. In fact, everything looked so menacing, with surging sea around and sable storm-clouds to westward, that I resolved upon revisiting our old haunt, the safe and dock-like Sharm Yáhárr. Here we entered without accident; and were presently greeted by the Sayyid ‘Abd el-Rahím, our former Káfilah-báshi, who had ridden from El–Muwaylah to receive us. The news was good: a truce of one month had been concluded between the Huwaytát and the Ma’ázah, probably for the better plundering of the pilgrims. This year the latter were many: the “Wakfah,” or standing upon Mount Ararat, fell upon a Friday; consequently it was a Hajj el-Akbar, or “Greater Pilgrimage,” very crowded and very dangerous, in more ways than one.
I had given a free passage to one Sulaymán Aftáhi, who declared himself to be of the Beni ‘Ukbah, when he was a Huwayti of the Jeráfín clan. After securing a free passage and provision gratis, when the ship anchored, he at once took French leave. On return I committed him to the tender mercies of the Governor, Sa’íd Bey. The soldiers, the quarry-men, and the mules were landed, and the happy end of the first stage brought with it a feeling of intense relief, like that of returning to Alexandria. Hitherto everything had gone wrong: the delays and difficulties at Cairo; at Suez, the death of poor Marius Isnard and the furious storm; the break-down of the engine; the fire in the wasteroom; and, lastly, the rough and threatening gale between the harbour and El–Muwaylah. What did the Wise King mean by “better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof”? I only hope that it may be applicable to the present case. In the presence of our working ground all evils were incontinently forgotten; and, after the unusual dankness of the Egyptian capital, and the blustering winds of the Gulf and the sea, the soft and delicate air of the Midian shore acted like a cordial. For the first time after leaving Alexandria, I felt justified in taper de l’oeil with the clearest of consciences.
The preliminary stage ended with disembarking at the Fort, El–Muwaylah, all our stores and properties, including sundry cases of cartridges and five hundred pounds of pebble-powder, which had been stored immediately under the main cabin and its eternal cigarettes and allumettes. The implements, as well as the provisions, were made over to the charge of an old Albanian, one Rajab Aghá, who at first acted as our magazine-man for a consideration of two napoleons per month, in advance if possible. This done, the Mukhbir returned into the dock Yáhárr, in order to patch up her kettle, which seemed to grow worse under every improvement. We accompanied her, after ordering a hundred camels to be collected; well knowing that as this was the Bairam, ‘Id, or “Greater Festival,” nothing whatever would be done during its three days’ duration.
The respite was not unwelcome to me; it seemed to offer an opportunity for recovering strength. At Cairo I had taken the advice of a learned friend (if not an “Apostle of Temperance,” at any rate sorely afflicted with the temperance idea), who, by threats of confirmed gout and lumbago, fatty degeneration of the heart and liver, ending in the possible rupture of some valve, had persuaded me that man should live upon a pint of claret per diem. How dangerous is the clever brain with a monomania in it! According to him, a glass of sherry before dinner was a poison, whereas half the world, especially the Eastern half, prefers its potations preprandially; a quarter of the liquor suffices, and both appetite and digestion are held to be improved by it. The result of “turning over a new leaf,” in the shape of a phial of thin “Gladstone,” was a lumbago which lasted me a long month, and which disappeared only after a liberal adhibition of “diffusible stimulants.”
It required no small faith in one’s good star to set out for a six weeks’ work in the Desert under such conditions. My consolation, however, was contained in the lines attributed to half a dozen who wrote good English:—
“He either fears his fate too much,
Or his deserts are small,
Who dares not put it to the touch,
To gain or lose it all.”
This time, however, Mind was tranquil, whatever Matter might suffer. As the novelist says, “Lighting upon a grain of gold or silver betokens that a mine of the precious metal must be in the neighbourhood.” It had been otherwise with my first Expedition: a forlorn hope, a miracle of moral audacity; the heaviest of responsibilities incurred upon the slightest of justifications, upon the pinch of sand which a tricky and greedy old man might readily have salted. It reminds me of a certain “Philip sober,” who in the morning fainted at the sight of the precipice which he had scaled when “Philip drunk.” I look back with amazement upon No. I.
The second Khedivial Expedition to Midian was composed of the following officers and men. The European staff numbered four, not including the commander, viz.:—
M. George Marie, of the État-Major, Egyptian army, an engineer converted into a geologist and mineralogist; he was under the orders of his Highness Prince Husayn Pasha.
Mr. J. Charles J. Clarke, telegraphic engineer, ranking as major in Egypt, commissariat officer.
M. Émile Lacaze, of Cairo, artist and photographer.
M. Jean Philipin, blacksmith.
Besides these, Mr. David Duguid — not related to “Hafed, Prince of Persia,”— chief engineer of the gunboat Mukhbir (Captain Mohammed Síráj), accompanied us part of the way on temporary leave, and kindly assisted me in observing meteorology and in making collections.
The Egyptian commissioned officers numbered six, viz.:—
Ahmed Kaptán Musallam, commander in the navy, and ranking as Sakulághási (major). He had been first officer in the Sinnár, and he was sent to make astronomical observations; but he proved to be a confirmed invalid.
Of the Arkán-Harb (Staff) were:—
Lieutenant Amir Rushdi, who had accompanied me before.
Lieutenant Yusuf Taufik.
Lieutenant Darwaysh Ukkáb, of the Piyédah or infantry. He was also a great sufferer on a small scale.
Sub–Lieutenant Mohammed Farahát, of the Muhandism (Engineers), in charge of the Laggámgiyyah or Haggárah (blasters and quarrymen). He ended by deserting his duty on arrival at Cairo.
The non-commissioned officers, all Egyptians, amounted to seven:—
Bulúk-amín (writer) Mohammed Sharkáwi (infantry).
Chawush (serjeant) ‘Atwah El–Ashírí (infantry).
Chawush (serjeant) Mabrúk Awadh (quarryman); deserted at Cairo.
Onbáshi (corporal) Higázi Ammár (Staff).
Onbáshi (corporal) Mohammed Sulaymán (infantry): also our barber, and a good man.
Onbáshi (corporal) Mahmu’d Abd el-Rahmán (infantry): I had to put him in irons.
Onbáshi (corporal) Ibráhím Hedíb.
There were three Nafar (privates) of the Staff:—
‘Ali ‘Brahim Ma’danji, generally known as Ali Marie, from the officer whom he served; a hard-working man, over-devoted to his master. I recommended him for promotion.
Hasan Mohammed. He proved useful, as he brought with him all the necessary tools for mending saddles.
The twenty-five privates of infantry were emancipated negroes, a few being from the Súdán; composed of every tribe, it was a curious mixture, good, bad, and indifferent. Some were slaves who had been given, in free gift, by their owners to the Mírí (Government), and men never part with a good “chattel,” except for a sufficient cause. As will be seen, many of the names are “fancy”:—
Sayyid Ahmed El–Tawíl.
Yúsuf Faragallah (Faraj–Allah).
Sa’íd Hasan Básha’. His owner was a Fellah called Hasan Báshá— peasants often give this title as a name to a boy who is born under fortunate circumstances. Sa’íd was a fat, jolly fellow, a Sidi Bháí from the Mrímá, or mainland of Zanzibar, who had wholly forgotten his Kisawáhílí. Corporal Mahmúd was punished for keeping him eighteen hours on guard. He was one of the very few to whom I gave “bakhshísh” after returning to Cairo.
Abdullah Mohammed Zaghúl.
Faragallah Sharaf el-Dín.
Salámat el-Nahhás; an excellent and intelligent man, who was attached to the service of M. Lacaze. He distinguished himself by picking up antiques, until his weakness, the Dá el-Faranj, found him out.
Farag Ahmed Bura’í.
Farag Mohammed Amín.
Mabrúk Hasan Osmán.
Khayr Ramazán, a large and sturdy negro, from Dár-Wadái, with long cuts down both sides of his face; a hard-working and intelligent soldier, who naturally took command of his fellows. I made him an acting corporal, and on return recommended him for promotion.
Fadl ‘Allah ‘Ali el-Kholi, a Shillúk, one of the worst tribes of the Upper Nile, whom it is forbidden to enlist. He began by refusing to obey an order, he pushed an officer out of his way, and he struck an Arab Shaykh. Consequently, he passed the greater part of the time in durance vile at the fort of El–Muwaylah.
Mirgán Yúsuf; flogged for insolence to his officer, January 19.
Mabrúk Mansúr Agwah.
The Boruji (bugler) Mersál Abú Dunyá, a “character” who retires for practice to lonely hills and vales. His progress is not equal to his zeal and ambition.
The thirty quarrymen were all Egyptians, and it would be hard to find a poorer lot; they never worked, save under compulsion, and they stole whatever they could. I examined their packs during the homeward cruise, and found that many of them had secreted Government gunpowder:—
5. Mustafá Husayn.
Ali ‘Abd el-Rahmán.
10. ‘Alí Bedawi.
Mustafá Sa’dáni (died of fever at El–Muwaylah).
15. Mahmu’d Gum’ah.,
Abú Zayd Hassá‘nah.
20. ‘Ali Atwadh.
Ibra’hi’m ‘Ali Mohammed.
Mohammed ‘Abd el-Záhir.
25. ‘Ali Wahish.
Abbási Mansúr (a tinman by trade, but without tools).
30. Mohammed Ajízah.
And lastly (31), the carpenter, ‘Ali Sulaymán; a “knowing dodger,” who brought with him a little stock-intrade of tobacco, cigarette-paper, and similar comforts.
There were five soldiers, or rather matchlock-men, engaged from the fort-garrison, El–Muwaylah:—
Husayn Bayrakdár; a man who has travelled, and has become too clever by half. He was equally remarkable as a liar and as a cook.
Bukháyt Ahmed, generally known as El–Ahmar from his red coat; a Dinká slave, some sixty years old, and looking forty-five. He was still a savage, never sleeping save in the open air.
Bukhayt Mohammed, popularly termed El–Aswad; a Foráwi (Dár-Forian) and a good man. He was called “The Shadow of the Bey.”
Ahmed Sálih; a stout fellow, and the worst of guides.
The head of the caravan was the Sayyid’ Abd el-Rahím, accountant at the Fort el-Muwaylah, of whom I have spoken before. He was subsequently recommended by me to his Highness for the post of Názir or commandant.
Haji Wali, my old Cairene friend, who lost no time in bolting.
There were also generally three Bedawi Shaykhs, who, by virtue of their office, received each one dollar (twenty piastres) per diem.
The servants and camp followers were:—
Anton Dimitriadis, the dragoman; a Bakkál or small shopkeeper at Zagázig, and a tenant of Haji Wali.
Giorgi (Jorgos) Sifenus, the cook, whose main disadvantage was his extreme and ultra-Greek uncleanliness.
Petro Giorgiadis, of Zante; a poor devil who has evidently been a waiter in some small Greek café which supplies a cup per hour.
These three men were a great mistake; but, as has been said, poor health at Cairo prevented my looking into details.
Yúsuf el-Fazi, Dumánji or quartermaster from the Mukhbir, acting servant to Captain Ahmed, and a thoroughly good man. He was also recommended for promotion.
Ahmed, the Saís or mule-groom; another pauvre diable, rascally withal, who was flogged for selling the mules’ barley to the Bedawin. He was assisted by the Corporal (and barber) Mohammed Sulaymán and by five quarrymen.
Husayn Ganínah; a one-eyed little Felláh, fourteen years old, looking ten, and knowing all that a man of fifty knows. He was body-servant to Lieutenant Yusuf.
As usual, the caravan was accompanied by a suttler from El–Muwaylah, one Hamad, who sold tobacco, coffee, clarified butter, and so forth. He was chaffed with the saying, Hamad fi’ bayt ak —“Thy house is a pauper.”
Finally, there were two dogs: Juno, a Clumber spaniel, young and inexperienced; Páikí, a pariah, also a pup.
Besides these two permanents, various “casuals,” the dog ‘Brahim, etc., attached themselves to our camp.
13 “Little health” at Cairo prevented my choosing the instruments; and the result was that at last I had to depend upon my pocket-set by Casella. Even this excellent maker’s maxima and minima failed to stand the camel-jolting. The barometer, lent by the Chief of Staff (Elliott Brothers, 24), contained amalgam, not mercury. The patent messrad, or odometer (Wittmann, Wien), with its works of soft brass instead of steel, was fit only to measure a drawing-room carpet. M. Ebner sold us, at the highest prices, absolutely useless maxima and minima, plus a baromètre aneroide, whose chain was unhooked when it left the box. M. Sussmann, of the Muski, supplied, for fifty francs, a good and useful microscope magnifying seventy-five times. The watches from M. Meyer (“Dent and Co.!”) were cheap and nasty Swiss articles; but they were also subjected to terrible treatment:— I once saw the wearers opening them with table-knives. Fortunately M. Lacaze, the artist, had a good practical knowledge of instruments; and this did us many a good turn.
14 For Arabian travel I should advise aconite, instead of Dover’s powder; Cockle’s pills, in lieu of blue mass; Warburg’s Drops, in addition to quinine; pyretic saline and Karlsbad, besides Epsom salts; and chloral, together with chlorodyne. “Pain Killer” is useful amongst wild people, and Oxley’s ginger, with the simple root, is equally prized. A little borax serves for eye-water and alum for sore mouth. I need not mention special medicines like the liqueur Laville, and the invaluable Waldöl (oil of the maritime pine), which each traveller must choose for himself.
15 It is Lane’s “Kiyakh, vulgó Kiyák,” and Michell’s “Kyhak, the ancient Khoiak,” or fourth month. The Copts begin their solar year on our September 10–11; and date from the 2nd of Diocletian, or the Era of the “Martyrs” (A.D. 284). It is the old Sothic, or annus quadratus, which became the Alexandrine under the Ptolemies; and which Sosigenes, the Egyptian, converted into the Julian, by assuming the Urbs condita as a point de départ, and by transferring New Year’s Day from the equinox to the solstice.
Thus Kayhák I, 1594, would correspond with December 9, A.D. 1877, and with Zúl-Hijjah 4, A.H. 1294. On the evening of Kayhák 14 (December 22nd) winter is supposed to set in. The fifth month, Tubá— Lane’s “Toobeh,” and Michell’s “Toubeh, the ancient Tobi”— is the coldest of the year at Suez, on the isthmus and in the adjacent parts of Arabia; rigorous weather generally lasts from January 20th to February 20th. In Amshír, about early March, torrents of rain are expected to fall for a few hours. The people say of it, in their rhyming way, Amshír, Za’bíb el-kathir —“Amshír hath many a blast;” and
Yakul li’l-Zará ‘Sir!
Wa yalhak bi’l-tawi’l el-kasi’r.”’
“Amshír saith to the plants, ‘Go (forth), and the little shall reach the big.”’ It is divided into three ‘Asharát or tens — 1. ‘Asharat el-‘Ajúz (“of the old man”), from the cold and killing wind El–Husúm; 2. ‘Asharat el-‘Anzah (“of the she-goat”), from the blasts and gales; and 3. ‘Asharat el-Rá’í’ (“of the shepherd”), from its change to genial warmth. Concerning Barmahát (vulgó Barambát), of old Phamenoth (seventh month), the popular jingle is, Ruh el-Ghayt wa hát —“Go to the field and bring (what it yields);” this being the month of flowers, when the world is green. Barmúdah (Pharmuthi)! dukh bi’l-‘amúdah (“April! pound with the pestle!”) alludes to the ripening of the spring crops; and so forth almost ad infinitum. For more information see the “Egyptian Calendar,” etc. (Alexandria: Mourès, 1878), a valuable compilation by our friend Mr. Roland L. N. Michell, who will, let us hope, prefix his name to a future edition, enlarged and enriched with more copious quotations from the weather-rhymes and the folk-lore of Egypt.
16 This is a most interesting feature. According to Forskâl (Descriptiones xxix.), “Suénsia litora, a recedente mari serius orta, nesciunt corallia;” and he makes the submaritime “Cryptogama regio animalis” begin at Tor (Raitha) and extend to (Gonfoda). Near Suez is the Newport Shoal, which could be sailed over with impunity twenty years ago, and which is now dangerous: it resembles, in fact, the other reef at the entrance of the Gulf, where tile soundings have changed, in late years, from 7–7 1/2 fathoms to 3–3 1/2. Geologists differ as to the cause — elevation or accretion by current-borne drift.
17 In Chap. XIV, we will return to this subject.
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