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THE BOYS CLIMB THE PYRAMIDS
"UNCLE Ben, I am going to ride the Pasha out to the Pyramids," announced George, as they were talking over their plans for a trip to the great Pyramids of Gizeh. They had just come in from a ride, and Nabul and Abdal were anxiously waiting, fearful lest the tall Effendi would say, "Well, boys, we won't need you to-morrow."
"Do you really mean to say that when you an either drive in a comfortable automobile or carriage, or ride on a street-car out to the Pyramids, that you prefer donkey back?" asked his uncle.
"Indeed I do, Uncle Ben, it's lots more fun," said George, "besides we can ride in automobiles and street-cars when we are home." George was now quite used to riding donkey back, though didn't he feel tired and bumped about the first day or two! But now he could ride as well as the little Egyptian boys, and Nabul had taught him how to guide the donkey by taps with his heels; as for Teddy Pasha, he obeyed George almost as well as he did his little master.
"And Nabul, how will he get out there, run all the way? It's some distance, you know," said Mr. Winthrop, smiling at the boys.
"No, no!" broke in Nabul eagerly, "I ride behind the young Effendi; Teddy Pasha, he is strong."
"Yes, uncle, you know how strong these little donkeys are; they don't mind one bit carrying two persons. When Nabul gets tired of walking he can easily ride behind with me, can't you, Nabul?" chimed in George.
Nabul nodded vigorously, "Yes, yes."
"Well, if you boys and Teddy Pasha don't mind, it's all right," laughed Uncle Ben, "but if you don't object, I am going to drive, so, Abdal, I will not want you to-day, but there is a gentleman in the hotel who wants a donkey boy, and I have told him to take you," continued Mr. Winthrop.
The boys all pulled long faces, especially Abdal, who knew he was going to miss a good time, for they intended to take their lunch and stay the day.
"It is just as well if neither of them went," muttered Mustapha, "there is sure to be trouble with the boys out there."
George started to ask why, but before he had a chance Mustapha carried the boys off to make arrangements for the morrow.
Little Nabul was at his usual place bright and early the next morning, all ready for their trip to the great Pyramids. He had a broad grin on his face as he peered through the railings and "salaamed" or bowed to Mr. Winthrop and George, who were finishing their breakfast at one of the little tables on the terrace.
The Pasha, too, looked around and wriggled his ears knowingly.
"He smells sugar, the rascal," exclaimed d George, who had got in the habit of giving him sugar, and so, filling his pocket from the sugar-bowl, he came down into the street and began feeding it to the donkey.
Mustapha now came up with a small open carriage, and they got off at once, leaving Abdal looking very blue.
Uncle Ben was in the carriage and Mustapha on the seat beside the driver, while George on Teddy Pasha trotted along, guided by Nabul on foot as usual.
Soon they were crossing the bridge across the Nile which has two great stone lions at either end, and then out on to a long, straight avenue shaded by big trees, which leads straight as an arrow from the city of Cairo out to the Pyramids; There were many people coming and going along the great avenue. The country folks were bringing their produce into the city to sell, and much of it was carried on the backs of donkeys. There were great lumbering carts drawn by oxen, and long lines of camels, laden with such big loads piled on their backs that they looked like moving mountains.
Up to the very gates of Cairo come the great gardens and farms which grow bountiful supplies of vegetables and fruits, and there are even great wheat-fields watered by the flowing Nile and tilled by the fellaheen, or labourers, after the same manner that the natives of Arabia, across the Red Sea, worked in Bible times.
Egypt is a great and progressive and very wealthy country, but the country folk have not all been taught as yet how to get the best results from their labour. They are learning rapidly, however, and they see things in the city, when they bring their produce to market, which please their fancies, and now in many an Egyptian farmhouse built of sun-baked mud, and even in the tents of the Bedouin Arabs of the desert, one often sees those common nickel alarm clocks, oil lamps, and even little hand sewing machines.
Amidst all this throng of country people going citywards our friends made but slow progress. Often the little donkeys from the country would pass, carrying two and sometimes three big men on their backs.
"See what great loads these country donkeys have to carry," said Nabul to his donkey. "Thou shouldst be willing to carry me for a while," and so saying Nabul jumped up on Teddy Pasha's broad back behind the little American.
Teddy Pasha turned his head around with an inquiring look as much as to say, "Oh, yes, I can see you," and then drooped his ears, then stood stock-still. Not a foot would he budge. "Go on, lazy one, is this the way that thou wilt disgrace me?" cried Nabul, beating his heels against the Pasha. "No one will again believe me when I praise thee! Oh, thou ungrateful beast!" he continued, half-crying with vexation. By this time the carriage was far ahead and some little children wading in a pool by the wayside began to jeer at them.
George remembered the sugar in his pocket and tried to coax the Pasha with some of it. The Pasha ate it gratefully, but that was all he would do.
At this moment the boys heard some one laugh behind them, and the jingle of donkey bells, and who should go dashing past them but Abdal on his donkey, Bobs!
The minute Pasha saw it was Bobs passing him he got on his mettle and away he went after him. Meantime the carriage had halted, and when the boys came up, Uncle Ben was looking anxiously around and Mustapha was ready to scold.
"Why dost thou linger?" he demanded of Nabul, "and Abdal, why art thou not in the city earning money instead of galloping all over the country?"
"I knew well that when the Effendi reaches the great Pyramids he will want to ride out to see the wonderful Sphinx, and I knew, too, he would not want to ride one of those miserable little donkeys that one finds there, so, behold, I am here at his service," and Abdal, quite unabashed, smiled so sweetly at Mr. Winthrop, that the gentleman did not have the heart to scold him for deserting his friend at the hotel.
"Thou wilt have to fight, then, with the donkey boys at the Pyramids; they will call thee a meddler, and perhaps beat thee," called out Mustapha ungraciously as the little procession started on again.
"Pouf," said Nabul, "they are only Bedouins." The little boys who live in Cairo have a great contempt for the Bedouins, the people who live in the desert.
"Why should they object to our riding your donkeys?" asked George, full of curiosity. Nabul explained in his broken English that there was a tribe of Bedouins who lived near the pyramids, who thought that they only had the right to act as guides to the visitors who come to see these great monuments. This was because the men of their tribe had been doing this for years and years; and it was thus that they resented any one coming in and interfering with their ancient privileges.
"I call that real selfish, don't you, Uncle Ben?" exclaimed George.
"But they shall not fight me and Abdal, we are your donkey boys; you ride our donkeys in the great city, and you shall ride our donkeys at the Pyramids; it is the same thing; they shall not run us away," said little Nabul stoutly.
"We won't let them," declared George, and he doubled up his fists, "we'll fight first."
"Behold the great Pyramids!" called out Mustapha, pointing between the trees. Sure enough, there stood the three Pyramids, that every child knows so well from the pictures, rising one behind the other.
"They look very small," said George disappointedly.
"But they are big, very big, wait and you will see," said Nabul. This was quite true. As they rode nearer, the Pyramids seemed to grow bigger and bigger. Now as they had come to the end of the avenue the carriage stopped, for only the sandy desert lay beyond.
Abdal had Bobs ready and Uncle Ben mounted, and away they went up a sloping hill toward the largest of the three Pyramids. All around the base of this Pyramid were gathered a crowd of Egyptians, men and boys, leading camels and donkeys. As soon as they caught sight of the little party, this howling crowd came rushing to meet them. A number of them gathered around Uncle Ben and George, catching hold of them; shouting in their own language and in broken English, "Take me for guide! Take me for guide!" Such a din as they kept up was never heard anywhere else.
George did not know whether to laugh or to feel frightened when two big fellows tried to pull him off his donkey, but he held on to Teddy Pasha for dear life, and the Pasha helped him fend off the fellows by backing his ears and kicking out with his heels.
Meanwhile Nabul and Abdal were brandishing their sticks in the faces of the Bedouins and calling them all kinds of names, all the while holding on tightly to the bridles of their own donkeys. Big, fat Mustapha forgot all about his dignity and went at the fellows, trying to push them away and shouting at the top of his voice. In the midst of the fuss Nabul cried out: "O Sheik, O Sheik, decide for us!" At the same time he rushed up to a tall man with a long gray beard and flowing white garments, who strode up, giving the crowd of Bedouins a whack first to one side and then to the other with a high staff which he carried in his hand.
"Oh, thou ruffians, wilt thou drive the strangers away with thy violence?" demanded the old man, looking sternly around him, while Mustapha explained things to him.
"The Sheik will make them behave now," said Abdal.
"How can he?" asked George, glad to be free of the two Bedouins who had been pestering him.
"It is the Sheik of the Pyramids, the chief of the tribe, they must obey him," answered Nabul.
"Who gave them the right to guard the Pyramids? Why can't anybody walk around here alone if he wants to?" persisted the American boy.
"I know not, it has always been so," said Nabul with a shrug of his shoulders.
"Ah! And they pay many pieces of gold as a tax for the right," chimed in Abdal, looking wise.
"They rob the travellers of money, too, the thieves!" returned Nabul, glowering at a bunch of donkey boys who were poking all manner of fun at the little boys from the city, though they did not dare to attack them while the Sheik was around.
Mustapha had evidently arranged matters with the Sheik, and came back with four of the Bedouins whom he said would take Mr. Winthrop and George up to the top of the great Pyramid.
"Dear me, I certainly don't need two big men to help me climb up there," exclaimed George. "Why, it must be as easy as can be to climb from one of those steps to another, Uncle Ben."
"It's probably harder work than it looks, just try it," answered his uncle.
Mustapha was going to sit in the shade and have a friendly smoke with the Sheik, and rest after his exertions, but he very graciously told Nabul and Abdal that, if they wanted to, they could leave their donkeys in his charge and climb up with the "young Effendi."
Nothing loath, the little Egyptians began to scramble up the side of the great Pyramid, calling to George to follow, that they knew the way. The Pyramids are so built that the stones form great steps from the bottom to the top. To George's great surprise when he got to the first of these steps, which looked so small from the ground, he found it was as high as he was. The little Egyptian boys quickly hoisted themselves up, and nothing daunted, George followed as best he could; but after two or three of these high steps, he was glad enough to have his two guides take hold of his arms -- one on either side -- and lift him easily from one big step to the other. George was so out of breath that he could not say a word, but only watch Nabul and Abdal away ahead of him, climbing up the great stone blocks like gazelles. The ascent seemed to take a long time to George, but it was really only a few minutes before the two Bedouins lifted him over the last step. Close behind him came his uncle, panting between his two guides, and the little party now found themselves on a sort of platform at the tip-top of the great Pyramid.
How much could be seen from their lofty perch! And how eager were the little Egyptians to point out everything to the strangers!
There were the other two Pyramids, much smaller than the one they stood on, which is called the Pyramid of Cheops. On one side stretched the great yellow desert of sand and rocks; on the other were green fields and groups of little Arab villages and palm-trees. That silver ribbon running through the green fields, way off yonder, was the great waterway of the Nile, and there beside it was the big white city of Cairo. They laughed as they looked down on the guides and donkey boys far below, for they looked like little toy figures.
"The Pyramids were built for tombs, weren't they, Uncle Ben?" asked George, as they rested and sipped tiny cups of coffee, which they bought from a man dressed in a yellow gown and green turban who sat beside a small brazier of charcoal making coffee to sell to the visitors.
"Yes, by those old Kings of Egypt -the Pharaohs. The stones of which they are built were brought from great distances and put into place by regular armies of men who worked many long years. Even to-day there is more or less mystery surrounding them, and strangers from all over the world never cease to wonder and marvel at these curious monuments."
After resting awhile, our party climbed down again, which was almost as hard work as getting up. At the bottom the donkey boys of the Pyramids were waiting for them again, and only the Sheik's stern eye kept them in good order.
"You see that door there," said Nabul, pointing to an opening in the base of the Pyramid; "you can go inside if you like. It is said that the great kings of olden times were buried in there. That is the door to the tombs; and there is a great room inside with pictures painted on the walls, but oh, it is dark, I like it not," said little Nabul, shaking his head.
George did not think he would like it, either, and wanted to know where the Sphinx was. So all mounted the donkeys again and trotted through the sand to see the Sphinx, followed by the disappointed Bedouin donkey boys who finally one by one trailed off and left them in peace.
"I thought the Sphinx was right beside the Pyramids. I don't see it now," said George.
"It is there, the great Sphinx, see!" said Nabul, as they turned around a hillock of sand. Sure enough there was the big stone head sticking up out of the sand. Nabul and Abdal brought the donkeys to a standstill in front of it, and the boys stood on the edge of a great pit staring at the strange figure which has the head of a human being and the body of a lion, and which was carved out of the rock so long ago that no one now knows its history.
"Look, the Sphinx smiles, she always smiles like that," whispered Nabul (he called it "Spinkie" in a funny little way). "I think sometimes I can see her mouth move." It is quite true that the stone lips do seem to smile.
"Let's climb up and whisper something in its ear," said George. The boys ran down the sloping sides of the great pit in which sat the Sphinx, but to George's amazement he found that he could not even climb up to one of the great paws, much less the head which towered high above them.
By this time they all decided that they were very hungry, and that it would be a fine idea to have a picnic between the paws of the great Sphinx. So Mustapha opened the lunch basket which he had brought, and the little party seated themselves in the shade of the strange stone face, and spread out the contents of the palm-leaf basket on a big flat stone. Nabul and Abdal had their lunch stowed away somewhere in their garments, and they were eager that George should taste their favourite dish of fried peppers that -- ugh! -- made his mouth smart, though he liked their sweet honey cakes. But not for anything would the little Egyptian boys eat any of the nice cold ham which was a part of his lunch, for no little Mohammedan child, or grown person either, would touch pork in any shape or form. It was against their religion.
Then they discovered that they were very thirsty, and Abdal ran off to find something cool to drink, and came back with one of the vendors of lemonade who hang around the Pyramids selling their cool drinks. The sherbutli, as Abdal called him, wore a bright red apron and carried little blue china cups on a brass tray. These he filled with lemonade from the big glass bottle which was slung over his shoulder, and the children thought nothing ever tasted nicer.
They rested for awhile and amused themselves watching the people who came riding up on camels or donkeys to see the Sphinx. Finally Mustapha said it was time to go back to the city, and though George stoutly declared he wasn't a bit tired he was not really sorry when Uncle Ben said that he had better drive back in the carriage with him, and Teddy Pasha and Bobs were probably glad, too, when they turned into their stables that night.
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