AT length the slow “month of blessings” passed away. We rejoiced like Romans finishing their Quaresima, when a salvo of artillery from the citadel announced the end of our Lenten woes. On the last day of Ramazan all gave alms to the poor, at the rate of a piastre and a half for each member of the household — slave, servant, and master. The next day, first of the three composing the Bayram or Id1 (the Lesser Festival), we arose before dawn, performed our ablutions, and repaired to the Mosque, to recite the peculiar prayer of the season, and to hear the sermon which bade us be “merry and wise.” After which we ate and drank heartily; then, with pipes and tobacco-pouches in hand, we sauntered out to enjoy the contemplation of smiling faces and street scenery.
The favourite resort on this occasion is the large cemetery beyond the Bab al-Nasr2 — that stern, old, massive gateway which opens upon the Suez road. There we found a scene of jollity. Tents and ambulant coffee-houses were full of men equipped in their — anglice —“Sunday best,” listening to singers and musicians, smoking, chatting, and looking at jugglers, buffoons, snake-charmers, Darwayshes, ape-leaders, and dancing boys habited in women’s attire. Eating-stalls and lollipop-shops, booths full of playthings, and sheds for lemonade and syrups, lined the roads, and disputed with swings and merry-go-rounds the regards of the little Moslems and Moslemahs. The chief item of the crowd, fair Cairenes, carried in their hands huge palm branches, intending to ornament therewith the tombs of parents and friends. Yet, even on this solemn occasion, there is, they say, not a little flirtation and love-making; parties of policemen are posted, with orders to interrupt all such irregularities, with a long cane; but their vigilance is notoriously unequal to the task. I could not help observing that frequent pairs, doubtless cousins or other relations, wandered to unusual distances among the sand-hills, and that sometimes the confusion of a distant bastinado struck the ear. These trifles did not, however, by any means interfere with the general joy. Every one wore something new; most people were in the fresh suits of finery intended to last through the year; and so strong is personal vanity in the breasts of Orientals, men and women, young and old, that from Cairo to Calcutta it would be difficult to find a sad heart under a handsome coat. The men swaggered, the women minced their steps, rolled their eyes, and were eternally arranging, and coquetting with their head-veils. The little boys strutting about foully abused any one of their number who might have a richer suit than his neighbours. And the little girls ogled every one in the ecstacy of conceit, and glanced contemptuously at other little girls their rivals.
Weary of the country, the Haji and I wandered about the city, paying visits, which at this time are like new-year calls in continental Europe. I can describe the operation of calling in Egypt only as the discussion of pipes and coffee in one place, and of coffee and pipes in another. But on this occasion, whenever we meet a friend we throw ourselves upon each other’s breast, placing right arms over left shoulders, and vice versa, squeezing like wrestlers, with intermittent hugs, then laying cheek to cheek delicately, at the same time making the loud noise of many kisses in the air.3 The compliment of the season is, “Kull’am antum bil khayr” — “Every year may you be well!” — in fact, our “Many happy returns of the day!” After this come abundant good wishes, and kindly prophecies; and from a “religious person” a blessing, and a short prayer. To complete the resemblance between a Moslem and a Christian festival, we have dishes of the day, fish, Shurayk, the cross-bun, and a peculiarly indigestible cake, called in Egypt Kahk,4 the plum-pudding of Al-Islam.
This year’s Id was made gloomy, comparatively speaking, by the state of politics. Report of war with Russia, with France, with England, who was going to land three million men at Suez, and with Infideldom in general, rang through Egypt, and the city of Mars5 became unusually martial. The government armouries, arsenals, and manufactories, were crowded with kidnapped workmen. Those who purposed a pilgrimage feared forcible detention. Wherever men gathered together, in the Mosques, for instance, or the coffee-houses, the police closed the doors, and made forcible capture of the able-bodied. This proceeding, almost as barbarous as our impressment law, filled the main streets with detachments of squalid-looking wretches, marching to be made soldiers, with collars round their necks and irons on their wrists. The dismal impression of the scene was deepened by crowds of women, who, habited in mourning, and scattering dust and mud over their rent garments, followed their sons, brothers, and husbands, with cries and shrieks. The death-wail is a peculiar way of cheering on the patriot departing pro patria mori, and the origin of the custom is characteristic of the people. The principal public amusements allowed to Oriental women are those that come under the general name of “Fantasia,” — birth-feasts, marriage festivals, and funerals. And the early campaigns of Mohammed Ali’s family in Syria, and Al-Hijaz having, in many cases, deprived the bereaved of their sex-right to “keen” for the dead, they have now determined not to waste the opportunity, but to revel in the luxury of woe at the live man’s wake.6
Another cloud hung over Cairo. Rumours of conspiracy were afloat. The Jews and Christians, — here as ready to take alarm as the English in Italy, — trembled at the fancied preparations for insurrection, massacre, and plunder. And even the Moslems whispered that some hundred desperadoes had resolved to fire the city, beginning with the bankers’ quarter, and to spoil the wealthy Egyptians. Of course H.H. Abbas Pasha was absent at the time, and, even had he been at Cairo, his presence would have been of little use: the ruler can do nothing towards restoring confidence to a panic-stricken Oriental nation.
At the end of the Id, as a counter-irritant to political excitement, the police magistrates began to bully the people. There is a standing order in the chief cities of Egypt, that all who stir abroad after dark without a lantern shall pass the night in the station-house.7 But at Cairo, in certain quarters, the Azbakiyah8 for instance, a little laxity is usually allowed. Before I left the capital the licence was withdrawn, and the sudden strictness caused many ludicrous scenes.
If by chance you (clad in Oriental garb) had sent on your lantern to a friend’s house by your servant, and had leisurely followed it five minutes after the hour of eight, you were sure to be met, stopped, collared, questioned, and captured by the patrol. You probably punched three or four of them, but found the dozen too strong for you. Held tightly by the sleeves, skirts, and collar of your wide outer garment, you were hurried away on a plane of about nine inches above the ground, your feet mostly treading the air. You were dragged along with a rapidity which scarcely permitted you to answer strings of questions concerning your name, nation, dwelling, faith, profession, and self in general, — especially concerning the present state of your purse. If you lent an ear to the voice of the charmer that began by asking a crown to release you, and gradually came down to two-pence half-penny, you fell into a simple trap; the butt-end of a musket applied a posteriori, immediately after the transfer of property, convicted you of wilful waste. But if, more sensibly, you pretended to have forgotten your purse, you were reviled, and dragged with increased violence of shaking to the office of the Zabit, or police magistrate. You were spun through the large archway leading to the court, every fellow in uniform giving you, as you passed, a Kafa, “cuff,” on the back of the neck. Despite your rage, you were forced up the stairs to a long gallery full of people in a predicament like your own. Again your name, nation, — I suppose you to be masquerading, — offence, and other particulars were asked, and carefully noted in a folio by a ferocious-looking clerk. If you knew no better, you were summarily thrust into the Hasil or condemned cell, to pass the night with pickpockets or ruffians, pell-mell. But if an adept in such matters, you insisted upon being conducted before the “Pasha of the Night,” and, the clerk fearing to refuse, you were hurried to the great man’s office, hoping for justice, and dealing out ideal vengeance to your captors, — the patrol. Here you found the dignitary sitting with pen, ink, and paper before him, and pipe and coffee-cup in hand, upon a wide Diwan of dingy chintz, in a large dimly-lit room, with two guards by his side, and a semi-circle of recent seizures vociferating before him. When your turn came, you were carefully collared, and led up to the presence, as if even at that awful moment you were mutinously and murderously disposed. The Pasha, looking at you with a vicious sneer, turned up his nose, ejaculated “’Ajami,” and prescribed the bastinado. You observed that the mere fact of being a Persian did not give mankind a right to capture, imprison, and punish you; you declared moreover that you were no Persian, but an Indian under British protection. The Pasha, a man accustomed to obedience, then stared at you, to frighten you, and you, we will suppose, stared at him, till, with an oath, he turned to the patrol, and asked them your offence. They all simultaneously swore — by Allah! — that you had been found without a lantern, dead-drunk, beating respectable people, breaking into houses, invading and robbing harims. You openly told the Pasha that they were eating abominations; upon which he directed one of his guards to smell your breath, — the charge of drunkenness being tangible. The fellow, a comrade of your capturers, advanced his nose to your lips; as might be expected, cried “Kikh,” contorted his countenance, and answered, by the beard of “Effendina9” that he perceived a pestilent odour of distilled waters. This announcement probably elicited a grim grin from the “Pasha of the Night,” who loves Curaçoa, and who is not indifferent to the charms of Cognac. Then by his favour, for you improved the occasion, you were allowed to spend the hours of darkness on a wooden bench, in the adjacent long gallery, together with certain little parasites, for which polite language has no name.10 In the morning the janissary of your Consulate was sent for: he came, and claimed you; you were led off criminally; again you gave your name and address, and if your offence was merely sending on your lantern, you were dismissed with advice to be more careful in future. And assuredly your first step was towards the Hammam.
But if, on the other hand, you had declared yourself a European, you would either have been dismissed at once, or sent to your Consul, who is here judge, jury, and jailor. Egyptian authority has of late years lost half its prestige. When Mr. Lane first settled at Cairo, all Europeans accused of aggression against Moslems were, he tells us, surrendered to the Turkish magistrates. Now, the native powers have no jurisdiction over strangers, nor can the police enter their houses. If the West would raise the character of its Eastern co-religionists, it will be forced to push the system a point further, and to allow all bona-fide Christian subjects to register their names at the different Consulates whose protection they might prefer. This is what Russia has so “unwarrantably and outrageously” attempted. We confine ourselves to a lesser injustice, which deprives Eastern states of their right as independent Powers to arrest, and to judge foreigners, who for interest or convenience settle in their dominions. But we still shudder at the right of arrogating any such claim over the born lieges of Oriental Powers. What, however, would be the result were Great Britain to authorise her sons resident at Paris, or Florence, to refuse attendance at a French or an Italian court of justice, and to demand that the police should never force the doors of an English subject? I commend this consideration to all those who “stickle for abstract rights” when the interest and progress of others are concerned, and who become somewhat latitudinarian and concrete in cases where their own welfare and aggrandisement are at stake.
Besides patients, I made some pleasant acquaintances at Cairo. Antun Zananire, a young Syrian of considerable attainments as a linguist, paid me the compliment of permitting me to see the fair face of his “Harim.” Mr. Hatchadur Nury, an Armenian gentleman, well known in Bombay, amongst other acts of kindness, introduced me to one of his compatriots, Khwajah Yusuf, whose advice was most useful to me. The Khwajah had wandered far and wide, picking up everywhere some scrap of strange knowledge, and his history was a romance. Expelled from Cairo for a youthful peccadillo, he started upon his travels, qualified himself for sanctity at Meccah and Al-Madinah, became a religious beggar at Baghdad, studied French at Paris, and finally settled down as a professor of languages,11 under an amnesty, at Cairo. In his house I saw an Armenian marriage. The occasion was memorable: after the gloom and sameness of Moslem society, nothing could be more gladdening than the unveiled face of a pretty woman. Some of the guests were undeniably charming brunettes, with the blackest possible locks, and the brightest conceivable eyes. Only one pretty girl wore the national costume;12 yet they all smoked chibuks and sat upon the Diwans, and, as they entered the room, they kissed with a sweet simplicity the hands of the priest, and of the other old gentlemen present.
Among the number of my acquaintances was a Meccan boy, Mohammed al-Basyuni, from whom I bought the pilgrim-garb called “Al-Ihram” and the Kafan or shroud, with which the Moslem usually starts upon such a journey as mine. He, being in his way homewards after a visit to Constantinople, was most anxious to accompany me in the character of a “companion.” But he had travelled too much to suit me; he had visited India, he had seen Englishmen, and he had lived with the “Nawab Balu” of Surat. Moreover, he showed signs of over-wisdom. He had been a regular visitor, till I cured one of his friends of an ophthalmia, after which he gave me his address at Meccah, and was seen no more. Haji Wali described him and his party to be “Nas jarrar” (extractors), and certainly he had not misjudged them. But the sequel will prove how der Mensch denkt und Gott lenkt; and as the boy, Mohammed, eventually did become my companion throughout the Pilgrimage, I will place him before the reader as summarily as possible.
He is a beardless youth, of about eighteen, chocolate-brown, with high features, and a bold profile; his bony and decided Meccan cast of face is lit up by the peculiar Egyptian eye, which seems to descend from generation to generation.13 His figure is short and broad, with a tendency to be obese, the result of a strong stomach and the power of sleeping at discretion. He can read a little, write his name, and is uncommonly clever at a bargain. Meccah had taught him to speak excellent Arabic, to understand the literary dialect, to be eloquent in abuse, and to be profound at Prayer and Pilgrimage. Constantinople had given him a taste for Anacreontic singing, and female society of the questionable kind, a love of strong waters, — the hypocrite looked positively scandalised when I first suggested the subject, — and an off-hand latitudinarian mode of dealing with serious subjects in general. I found him to be the youngest son of a widow, whose doting fondness had moulded his disposition; he was selfish and affectionate, as spoiled children usually are, volatile, easily offended and as easily pacified (the Oriental), coveting other men’s goods, and profuse of his own (the Arab), with a matchless intrepidity of countenance (the traveller), brazen lunged, not more than half brave, exceedingly astute, with an acute sense of honour, especially where his relations were concerned (the individual). I have seen him in a fit of fury because some one cursed his father; and he and I nearly parted because on one occasion I applied to him an epithet which, etymologically considered, might be exceedingly insulting to a high-minded brother, but which in popular parlance signifies nothing. This “point d’honneur” was the boy Mohammed’s strong point.
During the Ramazan I laid in my stores for the journey. These consisted of tea, coffee, loaf-sugar, rice, dates, biscuit, oil, vinegar, tobacco, lanterns, and cooking pots, a small bell-shaped tent, costing twelve shillings, and three water-skins for the Desert.14 The provisions were placed in a “Kafas” or hamper artistically made of palm sticks, and in a huge Sahharah, or wooden box, about three feet each way, covered with leather or skin, and provided with a small lid fitting into the top.15 The former, together with my green box containing medicines, and saddle-bags full of clothes, hung on one side of the camel, a counterpoise to the big Sahharah on the other flank; the Badawin, like muleteers, always requiring a balance of weight. On the top of the load was placed transversely a Shibriyah or cot, on which Shaykh Nur squatted like a large crow. This worthy had strutted out into the streets armed with a pair of horse-pistols and a sword almost as long as himself. No sooner did the mischievous boys of Cairo — they are as bad as the gamins of Paris and London — catch sight of him than they began to scream with laughter at the sight of the “Hindi (Indian) in arms,” till, like a vagrant owl pursued by a flight of larks, he ran back into the Caravanserai.
Having spent all my ready money at Cairo, I was obliged to renew the supply. My native acquaintances advised me to take at least eighty pounds sterling, and considering the expense of outfit for Desert travelling, the sum did not appear excessive. I should have found some difficulty in raising the money had it not been for the kindness of a friend at Alexandria, John Thurburn, now, I regret to say, no more, and Mr. Sam Shepheard, then of Shepheard’s Hotel, Cairo, presently a landed proprietor near Rugby, and now also gone. My Indians scrutinised the diminutive square of paper16 — the letter of credit — as a raven may sometimes be seen peering, with head askance, into the interior of a suspected marrow-bone. “Can this be a bona-fide draft?” they mentally inquired. And finally they offered, politely, to write to England for me, to draw the money, and to forward it in a sealed bag directed “Al-Madinah.” I need scarcely say that such a style of transmission would, in the case of precious metals, have left no possible chance of its safe arrival. When the difficulty was overcome, I bought fifty pounds’ worth of German dollars (Maria Theresas), and invested the rest in English and Turkish sovereigns.17 The gold I myself carried; part of the silver I sewed up in Shaykh Nur’s leather waistbelt, and part was packed in the boxes, for this reason, — when Badawin begin plundering a respectable man, if they find a certain amount of ready money in his baggage, they do not search his person. If they find none they proceed to a bodily inspection, and if his waist-belt be empty they are rather disposed to rip open his stomach, in the belief that he must have some peculiarly ingenious way of secreting valuables. Having passed through this trouble I immediately fell into another. My hardly-earned Alexandrian passport required a double visa, one at the Police office, the other at the Consul’s. After returning to Egypt, I found it was the practice of travellers who required any civility from Dr. Walne, then the English official at Cairo, to enter the “Presence” furnished with an order from the Foreign Office.
I had neglected the precaution, and had ample reason to regret having done so. Failing at the British Consulate, and unwilling to leave Cairo without being “en regle,” — the Egyptians warned me that Suez was a place of obstacles to pilgrims,18 — I was obliged to look elsewhere for protection. My friend Haji Wali was the first consulted; after a long discussion he offered to take me to his Consul, the Persian, and to find out for what sum I could become a temporary subject of the Shah. We went to the sign of the “Lion and the Sun,” and we found the dragoman,19 a subtle Syrian Christian, who, after a rigid inquiry into the state of my purse (my country was no consideration at all20), introduced me to the Great Man. I have described this personage once already, and he merits not a second notice. The interview was truly ludicrous. He treated us with exceeding hauteur, motioned me to sit almost out of hearing, and after rolling his head in profound silence for nearly a quarter of an hour, vouchsafed the information that though my father might be a Shirazi, and my mother an Afghan, he had not the honour of my acquaintance. His companion, a large old Persian with Polyphemean eyebrows and a mulberry beard, put some gruff and discouraging questions. I quoted the verses
“He is a man who benefits his fellow men,
Not he who says ‘why?’ and ‘wherefore?’ and ‘how much?’”
upon which an imperious wave of the arm directed me to return to the dragoman, who had the effrontery to ask me four pounds sterling for a Persian passport. I offered one. He derided my offer, and I went away perplexed. On my return to Cairo some months afterwards, he sent to say that had he known me as an Englishman, I should have had the document gratis, — a civility for which he was duly thanked.
At last my Shaykh Mohammed hit upon the plan. “Thou art,” said he, “an Afghan; I will fetch hither the principal of the Afghan college at the Azhar, and he, if thou make it worth his while,” (this in a whisper) “will be thy friend.” The case was looking desperate; my preceptor was urged to lose no time.
Presently Shaykh Mohammed returned in company with the principal, a little, thin, ragged-bearded, one-eyed, hare-lipped divine, dressed in very dirty clothes, of nondescript cut. Born at Maskat of Afghan parents, and brought up at Meccah, he was a kind of cosmopolite, speaking five languages fluently, and full of reminiscences of toil and travel. He refused pipes and coffee, professing to be ascetically disposed: but he ate more than half my dinner, to reassure me, I presume, should I have been fearful that abstinence might injure his health. We then chatted in sundry tongues. I offered certain presents of books, which were rejected (such articles being valueless), and the Shaykh Abd al-Wahhab having expressed his satisfaction at my account of myself, told me to call for him at the Azhar Mosque next Morning.
Accordingly at six P.M. Shaykh Mohammed and Abdullah Khan,21 — the latter equipped in a gigantic sprigged-muslin turband, so as to pass for a student of theology, — repaired to Al-Azhar. Passing through the open quadrangle, we entered the large hall which forms the body of the Mosque. In the northern wall was a dwarf door, leading by breakneck stairs to a pigeon-hole, the study of the learned Afghan Shaykh. We found him ensconced behind piles of musty and greasy manuscripts, surrounded by scholars and scribes, with whom he was cheapening books. He had not much business to transact; but long before he was ready, the stifling atmosphere drove us out of the study, and we repaired to the hall. Presently the Shaykh joined us, and we all rode on to the citadel, and waited in a Mosque till the office hour struck. When the doors were opened we went into the “Diwan,” and sat patiently till the Shaykh found an opportunity of putting in a word. The officials were two in number; one an old invalid, very thin and sickly-looking, dressed in the Turco-European style, whose hand was being severely kissed by a troop of religious beggars, to whom he had done some small favours; the other was a stout young clerk, whose duty it was to engross, and not to have his hand kissed.
My name and other essentials were required, and no objections were offered, for who holier than the Shaykh Abd al-Wahhab ibn Yunus al-Sulaymani? The clerk filled up a printed paper in the Turkish language, apparent1y borrowed from the European method for spoiling the traveller; certified me, upon the Shaykh’s security, to be one Abdullah, the son of Yusuf (Joseph), originally from Kabul, described my person, and, in exchange for five piastres, handed me the document. I received it with joy.
With bows, and benedictions, and many wishes that Allah might make it the officials’ fate to become pilgrims, we left the office, and returned towards Al-Azhar. When we had nearly reached the Mosque, Shaykh Mohammed lagged behind, and made the sign. I drew near the Afghan, and asked for his hand. He took the hint, and muttering, “It is no matter!” — “It is not necessary!” — “By Allah it is not required!” extended his fingers, and brought the “musculus guineorum” to bear upon three dollars.
Poor man! I believe it was his necessity that consented to be paid for the doing a common act of Moslem charity; he had a wife and children, and the calling of an Alim22 is no longer worth much in Egypt.
My departure from Cairo was hastened by an accident. I lost my reputation by a little misfortune that happened in this wise.
At Haji Wali’s room in the Caravanserai, I met a Yuzbashi, or captain of Albanian Irregulars, who was in Egypt on leave from Al-Hijaz. He was a tall, bony, and broad-shouldered mountaineer, about forty years old, with the large bombe brow, the fierce eyes, thin lips, lean jaws, and peaky chin of his race. His mustachios were enormously long and tapering, and the rest of his face, like his head, was close shaven. His Fustan23 was none of the cleanest; nor was the red cap, which he wore rakishly pulled over his frowning forehead, quite free from stains. Not permitted to carry the favourite pistols, he contented himself with sticking his right hand in the empty belt, and stalking about the house with a most military mien. Yet he was as little of a bully as carpet knight, that same Ali Agha; his body showed many a grisly scar, and one of his shin bones had been broken by a Turkish bullet, when he was playing tricks on the Albanian hills, — an accident inducing a limp, which he attempted to conceal by a heavy swagger. When he spoke, his voice was affectedly gruff; he had a sad knack of sneering, and I never saw him thoroughly sober.
Our acquaintance began with a kind of storm, which blew over, and left fine weather. I was showing Haji Wali my pistols with Damascene barrels when Ali Agha entered the room. He sat down before me with a grin, which said intelligibly enough, “What business have you with weapons?” — snatched the arm out of my hand, and began to inspect it as a connoisseur. Not admiring this procedure, I wrenched it away from him, and, addressing myself to Haji Wali, proceeded quietly with my dissertation. The captain of Irregulars and I then looked at each other. He cocked his cap on one side, in token of excited pugnacity. I twirled my moustachios to display a kindred emotion. Had he been armed, and in Al-Hijaz, we should have fought it out at once, for the Arnauts are “terribili colla pistola,” as the Italians say, meaning that upon the least provocation they pull out a horse-pistol, and fire it in the face of friend or foe. Of course, the only way under these circumstances is to anticipate them; but even this desperate prevention seldom saves a stranger, as whenever there is danger, these men go about in pairs. I never met with a more reckless brood. Upon the line of march Albanian troops are not allowed ammunition; for otherwise there would be half a dozen duels a day. When they quarrel over their cups, it is the fashion for each man to draw a pistol, and to place it against his opponent’s breast. The weapons being kept accurately clean, seldom miss fire, and if one combatant draw trigger before the other, he would immediately be shot down by the bystanders.24 In Egypt these men, — who are used as Irregulars, and are often quartered upon the hapless villagers, when unable or unwilling to pay taxes, — were the terror of the population. On many occasions they have quarrelled with foreigners, and insulted European women. In Al-Hijaz their recklessness awes even the Badawin. The townspeople say of them that, “tripe-sellers, and bath-servants, at Stambul, they become Pharaohs (tyrants, ruffians,) in Arabia.” At Jeddah the Arnauts have amused themselves with firing at the English Consul, Mr. Ogilvie, when he walked upon his terrace. And this man-shooting appears a favourite sport with them: at Cairo numerous stories illustrate the sang froid with which they used to knock over the camel-drivers, if any one dared to ride past their barracks. The Albanians vaunt their skill in using weapons, and their pretensions impose upon Arabs as well as Egyptians; yet I have never found them wonderful with any arm (the pistol alone excepted); and our officers, who have visited their native hills, speak of them as tolerable but by no means first-rate rifle shots.
The captain of Irregulars being unhappily debarred the pleasure of shooting me, after looking fierce for a time, rose, and walked majestically out of the room. A day or two afterwards, he called upon me civilly enough, sat down, drank a cup of coffee, smoked a pipe, and began to converse. But as he knew about a hundred Arabic words, and I as many Turkish, our conversation was carried on under difficulties. Presently he asked me in a whisper for “’Araki.”25 I replied that there was none in the house, which induced a sneer and an ejaculation sounding like “Himar,” (ass,) the slang synonym amongst fast Moslems for water-drinker. After rising to depart, he seized me waggishly, with an eye to a trial of strength. Thinking that an Indian doctor and a temperance man would not be very dangerous, he exposed himself to what is professionally termed a “cross-buttock,” and had his “nut” come in contact with the stone floor instead of my bed, he might not have drunk for many a day. The fall had a good effect upon his temper. He jumped up, patted my head, called for another pipe, and sat down to show me his wounds, and to boast of his exploits. I could not help remarking a ring of English gold, with a bezel of bloodstone, sitting strangely upon his coarse, sun-stained hand. He declared that it had been snatched by him from a Konsul (Consul) at Jeddah, and he volubly related, in a mixture of Albanian, Turkish, and Arabic, the history of his acquisition. He begged me to supply him with a little poison that “would not lie,” for the purpose of quieting a troublesome enemy, and he carefully stowed away in his pouch five grains of calomel, which I gave him for that laudable purpose. Before taking leave he pressed me strongly to go and drink with him; I refused to do so during the day, but, wishing to see how these men sacrifice to Bacchus, promised compliance that night. About nine o’clock, when the Caravanserai was quiet, I took a pipe, and a tobacco-pouch,26 stuck my dagger in my belt, and slipped into Ali Agha’s room. He was sitting on a bed spread upon the ground: in front of him stood four wax candles (all Orientals hate drinking in any but a bright light), and a tray containing a basin of stuff like soup maigre, a dish of cold stewed meat, and two bowls of Salatah,27 sliced cucumber, and curds. The “materials” peeped out of an iron pot filled with water; one was a long, thin, white-glass flask of ’Araki, the other a bottle of some strong perfume. Both were wrapped up in wet rags, the usual refrigerator.
Ali Agha welcomed me politely, and seeing me admire the preparations, bade me beware how I suspected an Albanian of not knowing how to drink; he made me sit by him on the bed, threw his dagger to a handy distance, signalled me to do the same, and prepared to begin the bout. Taking up a little tumbler, in shape like those from which French postilions used to drink la goutte, he inspected it narrowly, wiped out the interior with his forefinger, filled it to the brim, and offered it to his guest28 with a bow. I received it with a low salam, swallowed its contents at once, turned it upside down in proof of fair play, replaced it upon the floor, with a jaunty movement of the arm, somewhat like a pugilist delivering a “rounder,” bowed again, and requested him to help himself. The same ceremony followed on his part. Immediately after each glass, — and rapidly the cup went about, — we swallowed a draught of water, and ate a spoonful of the meat or the Salatah in order to cool our palates. Then we re-applied ourselves to our pipes, emitting huge puffs, a sign of being “fast” men, and looked facetiously at each other, — drinking being considered by Moslems a funny and pleasant sort of sin.
The Albanian captain was at least half seas over when we began the bout, yet he continued to fill and to drain without showing the least progress towards ebriety. I in vain for a time expected the bad-masti (as the Persians call it,) the horse play, and the gross facetiae, which generally accompany southern and eastern tipsiness. Ali Agha, indeed, occasionally took up the bottle of perfume, filled the palm of his right hand, and dashed it in my face: I followed his example, but our pleasantries went no further.
Presently my companion started a grand project, namely, that I should entice the respectable Haji Wali into the room, where we might force him to drink. The idea was facetious; it was making a Bow-street magistrate polk at a casino. I started up to fetch the Haji; and when I returned with him Ali Agha was found in a new stage of “freshness.” He had stuck a green-leaved twig upright in the floor, and had so turned over a gugglet of water, that its contents trickled slowly, in a tiny stream under the verdure; whilst he was sitting before it mentally gazing, with an outward show of grim Quixotic tenderness, upon the shady trees and the cool rills of his fatherland. Possibly he had peopled the place with “young barbarians at play;” for verily I thought that a tear “which had no business there” was glistening in his stony eye.
The appearance of Haji Wali suddenly changed the scene. Ali Agha jumped up, seized the visitor by the shoulder, compelled him to sit down, and, ecstasied by the old man’s horror at the scene, filled a tumbler, and with the usual grotesque grimaces insisted upon its being drunk off. Haji Wali stoutly refused; then Ali Agha put it to his own lips, and drained it, with a hurt feeling and reproachful aspect. We made our unconvivial friend smoke a few puffs, and then we returned to the charge. In vain the Haji protested that throughout life he had avoided the deadly sin; in vain he promised to drink with us to-morrow, — in vain he quoted the Koran, and alternately coaxed, and threatened us with the police. We were inexorable. At last the Haji started upon his feet, and rushed away, regardless of any thing but escape, leaving his Tarbush, his slippers, and his pipe, in the hands of the enemy. The host did not dare to pursue his recreant guest beyond the door, but returning he carefully sprinkled the polluting liquid on the cap, pipe, and shoes, and called the Haji an ass in every tongue he knew.
Then we applied ourselves to supper, and dispatched the soup, the stew, and the Salatah. A few tumblers and pipes were exhausted to obviate indigestion, when Ali Agha arose majestically, and said that he required a troop of dancing girls to gladden his eyes with a ballet.
I represented that such persons are no longer admitted into Caravanserais.29 He inquired, with calm ferocity, “who hath forbidden it?” I replied “the Pasha;” upon which Ali Agha quietly removed his cap, brushed it with his dexter fore-arm, fitted it on his forehead, raking forwards, twisted his mustachios to the sharp point of a single hair, shouldered his pipe, and moved towards the door, vowing that he would make the Pasha himself come, and dance before us.
I foresaw a brawl, and felt thankful that my boon companion had forgotten his dagger. Prudence whispered me to return to my room, to bolt the door, and to go to bed, but conscience suggested that it would be unfair to abandon the Albanian in his present helpless state. I followed him into the outer gallery, pulling him, and begging him, as a despairing wife might urge a drunken husband, to return home. And he, like the British husband, being greatly irritated by the unjovial advice, instantly belaboured with his pipe-stick30 the first person he met in the gallery, and sent him flying down the stairs with fearful shouts of “O Egyptians! O ye accursed! O genus of Pharaoh! O race of dogs! O Egyptians!”
He then burst open a door with his shoulder, and reeled into a room where two aged dames were placidly reposing by the side of their spouses, who were basket-makers. They immediately awoke, seeing a stranger, and, hearing his foul words, they retorted with a hot volley of vituperation.
Put to flight by the old women’s tongues, Ali Agha, in spite of all my endeavours, reeled down the stairs, and fell upon the sleeping form of the night porter, whose blood he vowed to drink — the Oriental form of threatening “spiflication.” Happily for the assaulted, the Agha’s servant, a sturdy Albanian lad, was lying on a mat in the doorway close by. Roused by the tumult, he jumped up, and found the captain in a state of fury. Apparently the man was used to the master’s mood. Without delay he told us all to assist, and we lending a helping hand, half dragged and half carried the Albanian to his room. Yet even in this ignoble plight, he shouted with all the force of his lungs the old war-cry, “O Egyptians! O race of dogs! I have dishonoured all Sikandariyah — all Kahirah — all Suways.31” And in this vaunting frame of mind he was put to bed. No Welsh undergraduate at Oxford, under similar circumstances, ever gave more trouble.
“You had better start on your pilgrimage at once,” said Haji Wali, meeting me the next morning with a “goguenard” smile.
He was right. Throughout the Caravanserai nothing was talked of for nearly a week but the wickedness of the captain of Albanian Irregulars, and the hypocrisy of the staid Indian doctor. Thus it was, gentle reader, that I lost my reputation of being a “serious person” at Cairo. And all I have to show for it is the personal experience of an Albanian drinking-bout.
I wasted but little time in taking leave of my friends, telling them, by way of precaution, that my destination was Meccah via Jeddah, and firmly determining, if possible, to make Al-Madinah via Yambu’. “Conceal,” says the Arab’s proverb, “Thy Tenets, thy Treasure, and thy Travelling.”
1 Festival. It lasts the three first days of Shawwal, the month immediately following Ramazan, and therefore, among Moslems, corresponds with our Paschal holidays, which succeed Lent. It is called the “Lesser Festival,” the “Greater” being in Zu’l Hijjah, the pilgrimage-month.
2 In Chap. V. of this Volume, I have mentioned this cemetery as Burckhardt’s last resting-place.
3 You are bound also to meet even your enemies in the most friendly way — for which mortification you afterwards hate them more cordially than before.
5 With due deference to the many of a different opinion, I believe “Kahirah” (corrupted through the Italian into Cairo) to mean, not the “victorious,” but the “City of Kahir,” or Mars the Planet. It was so called because, as Richardson has informed the world, it was founded in A.D. 968 by one Jauhar, a Dalmatian renegade before mentioned, when the warlike planet was in the ascendant.
6 “There were no weeping women; no neighhours came in to sit down in the ashes, as they might have done had the soldier died at home; there was no Nubian dance for the dead, no Egyptian song of the women lauding the memory of the deceased, and beseeching him to tell why he had left them alone in the world to weep.” — (Letter from Widdin, March 25, 1854, describing a Turkish soldier’s funeral.)
7 Captain Haines wisely introduced the custom into Aden. I wonder that it is not made universal in the cities of India, where so much iniquity is perpetrated under the shadow of night.
8 The reason being that respectable Europeans, and the passengers by the Overland Mail, live and lodge in this quarter.
9 “Our lord,” i.e. H.H. the Pasha. “Kikh” is an interjection noting disapproval, or disgust:— “Fie!” or “Ugh!”
10 Shortly after the Ramazan of 1853, the Consul, I am told, obtained an order that British subjects should be sent directly from the police office, at all hours of the night, to the Consulate. This was a most sensible measure.
11 Most Eastern nations, owing to their fine ear for sounds, are quick at picking up languages; but the Armenian is here, what the Russian is in the West, the facile princeps of conversational linguists. I have frequently heard them speak with the purest accent, and admirable phraseology, besides their mother tongue, Turkish, Arabic, Persian, and Hindustani, nor do they evince less aptitude for acquiring the Occidental languages.
12 It has been too frequently treated of, to leave room for a fresh description. Though pretty and picturesque, it is open to the reproach of Moslem dressing, namely, that the in-door toilette admits of a display of bust, and is generally so scanty and flimsy that it is unfit to meet the eye of a stranger. This, probably the effect of secluding women, has now become a cause for concealing them.
13 He was from the banks of the Nile, as his cognomen, al-Basyuni proves, but his family, I was told, had been settled for three or four generations at Meccah.
14 Almost all the articles of food were so far useful, that they served every one of the party at least as much as they did their owner. My friends drank my coffee, smoked my tobacco, and ate my rice. I bought better tea at Meccah than at Cairo, and found as good sugar there. It would have been wiser to lay in a small stock merely for the voyage to Yambu’, in which case there might have been more economy. But I followed the advice of those interested in setting me wrong. Turks and Egyptians always go pilgrimaging with a large outfit, as notably as the East-Indian cadet of the present day, and your outfitter at Cairo, as well as Cornhill, is sure to supply you with a variety of superfluities. The tent was useful to me; so were the water-skins, which I preferred to barrels, as being more portable, and less liable to leak. Good skins cost about a dollar each; they should be bought new and always kept half full of water.
15 This shape secures the lid, which otherwise, on account of the weight of the box, would infallibly be torn off, or burst open. Like the Kafas, the Sahharah should be well padlocked, and if the owner be a saving man, he does not entrust his keys to a servant. I gave away my Kafas at Yambu’, because it had been crushed during the sea-voyage, and I was obliged to leave the Sahharah at Al-Madinah, as my Badawi camel-shaykh positively refused to carry it to Meccah, so that both these articles were well nigh useless to me. The Kafas cost four shillings, and the Sahharah about twelve. When these large boxes are really strong and good, they are worth about a pound sterling each.
16 At my final interview with the committee of the Royal Geographical Society, one member, Sir Woodbine Parish, advised an order to be made out on the Society’s bankers; another, Sir Roderick Murchison, kindly offered to give me one on his own, Coutts & Co.; but I, having more experience in Oriental travelling, begged only to be furnished with a diminutive piece of paper, permitting me to draw upon the Society. It was at once given by Dr. Shaw, the Secretary, and it proved of much use eventually. It was purposely made as small as possible, in order to fit into a talisman case. But the traveller must bear in mind, that if his letters of credit be addressed to Orientals, the sheet of paper should always be large, and grand-looking. These people have no faith in notes, — commercial, epistolary, or diplomatic.
17 Before leaving Cairo, I bought English sovereigns for 112, and sold them in Arabia for 122 piastres. “Abu Takahs,” (pataks, or Spanish pillar-dollars), as they are called in Al-Hijaz, cost me 24 piastres, and in the Holy City were worth 28. The “Sinku” (French five franc piece) is bought for 22 piastres in Egypt, and sells at 24 in Arabia. The silver Majidi costs 20 at Cairo, and is worth 22 in the Red Sea, and finally I gained 3 piastres upon the gold “Ghazi” of 19. Such was the rate of exchange in 1853. It varies, however, perpetually, and in 1863 may be totally different.
18 The reason of this will be explained in a future chapter.
19 The Consular dragoman is one of the greatest abuses I know. The tribe is, for the most part, Levantine and Christian, and its connections are extensive. The father will perhaps be interpreter to the English, the son to the French Consulate. By this means the most privy affairs will become known to every member of the department, except the head, and eventually to that best of spy-trainers, the Turkish government. This explains how a subordinate, whose pay is L200 per annum, and who spends double that sum, can afford, after twelve or thirteen years’ service, to purchase a house for L2,000 and to furnish it for as much more. Besides which, the condition, the ideas, and the very nature of these dragomans are completely Oriental. The most timid and cringing of men, they dare not take the proper tone with a government to which, in case of the expulsion of a Consul, they and their families would become subject. And their prepossessions are utterly Oriental. Hanna Massara, dragoman to the Consul-General at Cairo, in my presence and before others, advocated the secret murder of a Moslem girl who had fled with a Greek, on the grounds that an adulteress must always be put to death, either publicly or under the rose. Yet this man is an “old and tried servant” of the State. Such evils might be in part mitigated by employing English youths, of whom an ample supply, if there were any demand, would soon be forthcoming. This measure has been advocated by the best authorities, but without success. Most probably, the reason of the neglect is the difficulty how to begin, or where to end, the Augean labour of Consular reform.
20 In a previous chapter I have alluded to the species of protection formerly common in the East. Europe, it is to be feared, is not yet immaculate in this respect, and men say that were a list of “protected” furnished by the different Consulates at Cairo, it would be a curious document. As no one, Egyptian or foreigner, would, if he could possibly help it, be subject to the Egyptian government, large sums might be raised by the simple process of naturalising strangers. At the Persian Consulate 110 dollars — the century for the Consul, and the decade for his dragoman — have been paid for protection. A stern fact this for those who advocate the self-government of the childish East.
21 Khan is a title assumed in India and other countries by all Afghans, and Pathans, their descendants, simple as well as gentle.
22 A theologian, a learned man.
23 The stiff, white, plaited kilt worn by Albanians.
24 Those curious about the manners of these desperadoes may consult the pages of Giovanni Finati (Murray, London, 1830), and I will be answerable that he exaggerates nothing.
25 Vulgarly Raki, the cognac of Egypt and Turkey. Generically the word means any spirit; specifically, it is applied to that extracted from dates, or dried grapes. The latter is more expensive than the former, and costs from 5 to 7 piastres the bottle. It whitens the water like Eau de Cologne, and being considered a stomachic, is patronised by Europeans as much as by Asiatics. In the Azbakiyah gardens at Cairo, the traveller is astonished by perpetual “shouts” for “Sciroppo di gomma,” as if all the Western population was afflicted with sore throat. The reason is that spirituous liquors in a Moslem land must not be sold in places of public resort; so the infidel asks for a “syrup of gum,” and obtains a “dram” of ’Araki. The favourite way of drinking it, is to swallow it neat, and to wash it down with a mouthful of cold water. Taken in this way it acts like the “petit verre d’absinthe.” Egyptian women delight in it, and Eastern topers of all classes and sexes prefer it to brandy and cognac, the smell of which, being strange, is offensive to them.
26 When Egyptians of the middle classes call upon one another, the visitor always carries with him his tobacco-pouch, which he hands to the servant, who fills his pipe.
27 The “Salatah” is made as follows. Take a cucumber, pare, slice and place it in a plate, sprinkling it over with salt. After a few minutes, season it abundantly with pepper, and put it in a bowl containing some peppercorns, and about a pint of curds. When the dish is properly mixed, a live coal is placed upon the top of the compound to make it bind, as the Arabs say. It is considered a cooling dish, and is esteemed by the abstemious, as well as by the toper.
28 These Albanians are at most half Asiatic as regards manner. In the East generally, the host drinks of the cup, and dips his hand into the dish before his guest, for the same reason that the master of the house precedes his visitor over the threshold. Both actions denote that no treachery is intended, and to reverse them, as amongst us, would be a gross breach of custom, likely to excite the liveliest suspicions.
29 Formerly these places, like the coffee-houses, were crowded with bad characters. Of late years the latter have been refused admittance, but it would be as easy to bar the door to gnats and flies. They appear as “foot-pages,” as washerwomen, as beggars; in fact, they evade the law with ingenuity and impunity.
30 Isma’il Pasha was murdered by Malik Nimr, chief of Shendy, for striking him with a chibuk across the face. Travellers would do well to remember, that in these lands the pipe-stick and the slipper disgrace a man, whereas a whip or a rod would not do so. The probable reason of this is, that the two articles of domestic use are applied slightingly, not seriously, to the purposes of punishment.
31 Anglice, Alexandria, Cairo, and Suez, — an extensive field of operations.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:48