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BEN HASSAN'S DAHABEAH
NABUL often talked with the "little Effendi" during their rides together, of his home and the mother and the two little sisters, and about his father and the dahabeah with its huge sails, until nothing would do but George must know them all and take a trip on the dahabeah.
The boys had their heads together a lot these days, and at last it came out that it would be a splendid plan for all of them to take a trip up the Nile on-the dahabeah of Nabul's father.
"Think what a treat it will be, Uncle Ben," said George, "to go and live on a real Egyptian boat. Nabul's mother is going to keep house for us on board, and the little girls will help her. Then, just think! we can take the donkeys, too," continued George, warming up more and more to his subject.
"Well! George, you seem to have thought of everything," and Mr. Winthrop laughed long and heartily. "I did not know you had such a head for business. It does not seem a bad idea, however, this river trip of yours; there must be much that is interesting to be seen in that way," continued his uncle. "I will ask Mustapha what he thinks about it."
"Uncle Ben, you are a good fellow!" exclaimed George, jumping up and hugging his uncle, for now he would have a chance to see something of the real life of the country such as the tourists who stayed only in the cities never had.
Mustapha was very bland and gracious when he found out that he was expected to go along, too. He said that Ben Hassan, Nabul's father, was a good friend of his, that there was no more skilful captain nor better dahabeah on the Nile than his, and that everything could be arranged as they wished.
Nabul was a happy little boy the day he guided these wonderful Americans, as he always thought of them, to his home. There they met Nabul's father, a tall, grave man of few words. While he and Uncle Ben talked the trip over (with Mustapha as interpreter, though Ben Hassan knew some English), Mizram the mother gave them coffee served in tiny cups without handles, each set in a brass holder, -- the thick Turkish coffee which is all grounds and sugar which one gets in Egypt. Then the two little sisters crept in to see the kind people their brother had talked so much about. Menah, who was the eldest, was rather shy and quiet, but Zaida was a roguish, merry little soul who made friends easily. They did not know a word of English, but by smiles and gestures they made friends with George and showed him all their treasures. There was the big white cockatoo who swung on his perch and could talk, and a cage of small singing birds that Abdal's father had sent them.
And the little girls had some dolls of which they were very proud. The dolls were queer little figures, fashioned after those which had been dug up from old tombs where they had been buried for centuries. There were odd little stone and clay figures, too, which the girls treasured quite as much as they did the dolls in human form. One was in the form of a Nile crocodile, another of a buffalo and another of a lion, and still others in the, form of goats, camels, and donkeys. There was another doll in the form of a man carrying a great basket on his shoulder and another of a washerwoman.
The custom of little Egyptian children playing with these dolls and figures is very old -- for all the world their dolls are like the Noah's Ark animals which you have at home -- and ages and ages ago, when little children died, their dolls were always buried with them. After the call upon Nabul's family everybody trooped down to the river to see the Isis, which was the name of Ben Hassan's dahabeah, and Mr. Winthrop agreed with George that it was just the thing they would both like, so it was all arranged on the spot without further ado, and it was decided that they would start on the voyage up-river the following week.
Finally the day came to set sail. It was indeed a busy morning for the family of Ben Hassan! Baskets and pots and pans and jars and sacks of clothing and household belongings of all kinds were loaded on to Teddy Pasha and Bobs, who must have wondered to themselves what was going to happen. At last everything had been thought of, Nabul's mother gave the last directions to the friends whom Abdal lived with who were to look after the house and the fowls and the birds while they were away, then amid good-byes from the neighbours, who were all at their windows and doors to see them off, the little procession started down to the river landing where lay the dahabeah.
"Hurry up, lazy one," cried Abdal, "thou wilt have plenty of time to rest," as he hurried Bobs along with a tap from his stick.
"Thou dost not go that way to-day," said Nabul, giving Teddy Pasha's bridle a jerk as he started to turn down his habitual street.
"Thou goest on a longer journey to-day:" And the two little donkeys put their heads together as if to discuss this unusual proceeding. When they got to the dahabeah everybody was bustling about, putting the boat in order for the voyage. Nabul's father was standing on the little upper deck giving orders to some of the crew who were looking to the ropes and sails, while others were scrubbing the deck. Here and there were piled up all sorts of things, gaily painted wooden boxes, which are the kind of trunks Egyptians use, baskets of eatables, live chickens, and big water-jars.
Everybody was talking and shouting all at once in the usual Egyptian fashion. Mizram, however, at once set to work to get things straightened out, and the little girls helped her as best they could.
In the midst of it all the carriage drove up with Mr. Winthrop and George and their baggage, with Mustapha beside the driver. George was standing up waving his cap, and was out of the carriage before it stopped. He rushed up the gang-plank and on to the deck, and insisted on shaking hands with everybody, beginning with the reis, as a Nile captain is named, and ending with the boy washing down the deck. Every one was greatly surprised, for Egyptians don't know anything about shaking hands in our way. Their ceremonies of politeness are quite as marked, but very different, as, for instance, a kiss on the forehead.
Meanwhile Mustapha was in his element, storming about and calling on the great Prophet Mohammed to bear witness that they would never be able to get off with such a crew of dullards.
"As for me I am going to get out of the way by going on the upper deck, it seems to be the only quiet place on board," said Uncle Ben, as he dodged the chickens and took refuge on the elevated stern of the boat where the grave, stately reis gave him a deep salaam of welcome.
Urged on by Mustapha's threats, the little crew soon began to get things in order. The tug of war came when it was time for the donkeys to come aboard. The boys got them up to the plank, but there they just planted their feet down firmly and not another step would they budge. They weren't going to leave dry land. Nabul coaxed and pulled, and Abdal clucked and prodded, but all Teddy Pasha did was to back his ears and give an awful bray, which made the crowd of loafers gathered on the river bank laugh. Finally Nabul tied a cloth over the Pasha's head, and while he pulled hard at the bridle in front Abdal tweaked the little donkey's tail, and this made him so mad that he dashed up the plank and on to the deck before he knew it, and just as soon as Bobs saw him go he rushed aft. The donkeys were then led triumphantly to their quarters in the prow of the boat, where they were very comfortable and content. George at once christened this part of the boat "the menagerie," for the chickens were already there pecking away at some grain, each fastened to the railing by a long string tied around one leg to keep them from flying overboard. The little girls, too, had brought the big white cockatoo to keep them company, and his wooden cage hung against the side of the cabin, while curled up in a tight box was a tame snake belonging to one of the crew. The Egyptians of all ages and all classes are very fond of pets.
George was as excited and happy as could be as he rushed about with the children from one end of the boat to the other.
"Isn't it funny to see sailors in long white gowns and turbans on their heads, Uncle Ben?" laughed George. "How can they ever climb up the rigging in clothes like that?"
"But they don't have any rigging to climb, on a dahabeah, they only have to shift a rope once and again," said Mr. Winthrop.
There was a large sail in the bow and a much smaller one in the stern, each of them of the great pointed lateen variety seen on the rivers and along the coasts of all Mediterranean countries. The boat itself was a sharp-prowed, broad-bottomed affair which seemed to glide over the water rather than through it. The Nile dahabeahs are among the most picturesque boats afloat.
In the stern, on the lower deck, were two small cabins for Uncle Ben and George, and a little saloon to eat in. Further forward was the kitchen and storeroom, and beyond these the quarters for the reis's family and Mustapha.
"We sleep on the deck," said Nabul. " Abdal and I just roll up in a blanket and lie down on the deck boards, and sleep just like the crew."
"I should like to do that, too; it must be lots more fun than sleeping in a stuffy little cabin," exclaimed George, much interested.
"It's hard if you aren't used to it, but we think nothing of doing so," said Abdal.
At last the friends who had come down to see them off had taken their leave, and the gangplank was drawn in, the sails unfurled, and two of the men seized a couple of big oars and pushed off the prow from the bank. Slowly the dahabeah swung over to the middle of the stream; the crowd on shore shouted a last farewell; the breeze caught and filled the big sails, and in a few minutes they were gliding swiftly through the muddy brown water of the Nile, up river toward the very heart of the "dark continent" of Africa.
On the upper deck Mustapha had just put two long wicker chairs for the "Effendis," and Uncle Ben, who had picked up a little Arabic, was comfortably stretched out in one trying to talk with the reis, who sat beside him on a rug spread on the deck smoking his big "hubble-bubble" pipe, every once in awhile giving an order to one of the crew as they trimmed the sails to catch all the breeze.
Mats were spread on the decks for the others; the children, however, were too busy to think of sitting down; they kept running from one side to the other, watching the houses and people on the banks as they slipped past, and the queer craft going and coming on the river.
"There come three nuggars," said Abdal, pointing to three broad, flat, barge-like boats, each with a high lateen sail, coming slowly toward them.
"What a funny name! What are ‘nuggars’" asked George.
"Nuggars are the great Nile cargo boats which carry all kinds of merchandise up and down the river," said Nabul. "See the great boxes and bales on that one," he continued.
"And the one behind has a lot of oxen and sheep on it; they are loaded down to the water's edge, I wonder they don't sink," said George. "Oh! And here come three haystacks floating down-stream! With sails on top of them, too!" he cried.
But no, they too were boats, this time loaded with fodder and the long green bamboos which were being carried to the city. Then a ferryboat filled with people and donkeys crossed the river ahead of them, rowed by men in dark blue cotton gowns. It was all so novel and musing the children were almost sorry to stop looking in order to eat lunch, though George did say he was hungry enough to eat a hippopotamus.
One of the men brought a table and noiselessly set it on deck for the "Effendis," and then served them the nice things that Mizram had cooked. There was chicken with a nice hot pepper sauce and rice and all kinds of vegetables and melons and dates and oranges.
At the other end of the deck the reis and his family and Mustapha had their meal. Mizram served them all sorts of queer dishes that the little Egyptians kept on bringing to the "Effendi" to taste; and how they laughed at the faces the little American made over some of them!
"‘After Al-Ghada, rest, if it be but for two
After Al-Asha, walk, if it be but two steps,’"
said Mustapha, quoting one of their proverbs he stretched himself on a rug for a nap after Al-Ghada is dinner and Al-Asha is supper.
"Nabul, what is in that bag?" asked George, pointing to a big brown bag which hung on the side of the mast of the dahabeah, and which one of the men was just taking down.
"It is the food of the crew. They put it there so that all can see it and no one can steal any of it without his fellows seeing him. The crew are going to eat their dinner now," explained Nabul, "and that fellow there has just climbed up and unhooked it."
By this time the sun was beating down hotly on the canvas awning over the deck, and one by one everybody followed Mustapha's advice, except the men on duty. The little Egyptian children, curled up on their mats, were soon sound asleep. George stoutly declared that he was not going to miss anything by sleeping. Mr. Winthrop had brought a book that told all about Egypt, and George listened while his uncle read aloud about Memphis, which they would soon pass. Thousands of years ago it had been another burial-place, when the haughty Pharaohs reigned in Egypt. But the first thing that George knew, he had forgotten all about the Pharaohs, and woke with a start in his big chair by the rattle of the sails as they were dropped, while the dahabeah gently glided to the landing-place, where the reis was to deliver some merchandise which he had brought up to a dweller on the bank from a Cairo dealer in ironware.
From the landing-place on the river the party had time to take a ride inland, and Nabul and Abdal had the donkeys all ready as soon as the gangplank was pushed out. There was no trouble in getting the little donkeys off the boat. The minute they saw the dry land they made a dash for the shore. And weren't the donkey boys on the landing mad when they saw that the strangers had brought their own donkeys. They howled and shouted, and wanted to know how the Cairo donkeys could be expected to carry the visitors through the sand and rough soil hereabouts.
However, they felt better when Mustapha picked out two of their donkeys, -- one for himself and the other for the two little girls, - grumbling at the same time something about "too many children," but as Nabul whispered to Abdal, " Mustapha was like an old camel with a hard mouth and a soft heart."
The little girls were wild with delight that ' they were going, too. Menah sat with her feet hanging over one side and Zaida behind her with her feet dangling down the other side of the little donkey.
Away went the little procession, the donkeys kicking up a cloud of dust. The road wound through fields of grain, and along the roadside were to be seen children guarding cows and goats and other animals, who shouted merry greetings to our little friends as they passed by. It was not long before Mustapha, who was riding ahead, called out, "Now you can see the village, there between the palms," at the same time pointing with his cane -- which a dragoman is never without -- to a large grove of palm-trees they were approaching and amongst which were huddled a lot of queer flat-roofed houses.
"I don't see anything but big stones," said George.
"Let's see who gets there first," cried Nabul; and giving the donkeys a tap away the boys raced, the Pasha being the first to come to halt beside the palm-trees.
"Now I can see that one of the stones is house, Uncle Ben," cried George as they drew up closer.
There were some natives standing on the little landing of the minaret of the mosque, which no village hereabouts is without, whether it be large or small, and the children lost no time in following their example and climbing up the crazy stairs which wound around inside the slim tower.
The view round about was wonderfully varied. On one side stretched away the sandy desert, where the Bedouin shepherds guarded their flocks of goats, leading them from one little oasis to another, wherever they could find enough herbage to make a meal. On the other side was the flowering river-bottom of the Nile, one of the richest agricultural regions in the world.
Just beside the mosque was a great grove of date palms, and George thought it very strange, and very much to his liking, too, that he could reach out his hand just beyond the gallery railing and pick the golden dates. "How I should like to come up here every day," he said as they made their way down to the ground.
Just before the entrance to the mosque was a great stone statue which astonished George and his uncle very much. The natives, too, evidently had a great regard for it, as they had planted a lot of low-growing, flowering trees all about it, sheltering it as if it were in a bower.
"How long do you suppose it has been here, Uncle Ben?" asked George, as he took his seat on the broad foot of the big statue.
"A long, long time, certainly, my boy," replied his uncle, "perhaps thousands of years." After admiring the great statue awhile longer they discovered Mustapha sitting on the shady terrace of a coffee shop. He was drinking another of those little cups of muddy-looking, sweetish Turkish coffee of which the Egyptians are so fond. Uncle Ben, too, liked it very much, for it was usually made of the purest of Mocha coffee which comes from the other side of the Red Sea not far away from Egypt, so he too stopped for a cup, the boys meanwhile wandering off with the little girls quite by themselves. When they all got back to the coffee shop again each of the children had a little wicker cage or basket in which was imprisoned a chameleon, a queer little beast like a lizard, which lives by catching flies and insects.
The Egyptians have a superstition that to have a chameleon in the house is almost as good as having a cat -- and they are very fond of cats, too. The cat catches rats and mice and the chameleon gathers in all the stinging bugs and insects and flies. This chameleon is thus a very useful little animal indeed. When frightened it changes the colour of its skin instantaneously in a most remarkable manner. It takes on quite a different colour from what it had a moment before. If it is lying on a green leaf it becomes a green colour so like the leaf it can hardly be seen, or if on the yellow sand or a gray stone it becomes yellow or gray in turn. The children had bought the chameleons for a few small coins from some native boys whose acquaintance they had made in their stroll about the village.
Mustapha finally called out that they must go on if they wanted to get back to the boat before dark.
The next morning George was awakened at daybreak by a funny sort of singing and a great clucking of poultry. He dressed himself quickly and ran out on deck. The crew had cast off from the moorings, and as the big sail was being hoisted the sailors sang a slow, monotonous chant with the words, "Pray, pray to Mohammed!" as a sort of chorus. In a few minutes the dahabeah was again under way. From the "menagerie" still came a clucking of distressed hens, a snorting and braying of donkeys, mingled with the shouts of children. "What can be the matter?" thought George as he hurried to the forward end of the boat.
There a funny sight met his eyes! The pet snake had, by some means or other, wriggled itself out between the slats of its box during the night and eaten one of the hens, and now lay gorged and drowsy on the deck, raising its head occasionally to give a feeble hiss at the other chickens, who were clucking and fluttering about at the ends of their cords, frightened out of what few wits a chicken has.
Nabul and Abdal were doing their best to pacify the donkeys, who showed that they didn't like snakes either, by trying to back over the side of the boat.
The cockatoo was swinging on his perch with every feather standing on end, while Menah and Zaida stood huddled together on top of a box, though they knew that the snake could not bite as his fangs had been taken out.
In the middle of the commotion was Mustapha, angrily scolding the sailor who owned the snake and who was cringing and bowing before the dragoman, making all sorts of excuses for his snake.
"Do we buy fowls to feed thy snake?" demanded Mustapha angrily. "Thou shalt pay the price of the chicken."
"Indeed, it was a fine fat hen and cost several piastres," put in Mizram.
The sailor meanwhile was putting the sleepy snake back into its box, calling it an "ingrate" and a "heartless viper" for thus causing its master so much trouble.
"What a lot of talk over one chicken," laughed George when he was telling his uncle about it. But this is just the way these people go on over small things.
When things quieted down breakfast was served on deck, after which the children hung on the railings and enjoyed watching the many things of interest on the shores as the strong northerly breeze carried the dahabeah swiftly along. Sometimes they passed so near the shore that they could call to the little brown children paddling along the water's edge, who would answer back greetings, and hold out their hands and call out, " Backsheesh, give us backsheesh," which meant they wanted pennies thrown to them.
Menah and Zaida were much interested in a group of girls who had brought their big copper pots and water-jars down to the edge of the river, and were scrubbing them while they chatted together, after which they would fill the jars with water and balancing them on their heads go gaily singing back to their homes.
"See the fisherman yonder, he is about to throw his net," cried Abdal, pointing to a man who stood on the high bank with a large net gathered up in his arms. With a swing of his arms the man skilfully flung the net out into the river. It spread out into a great circle as it touched the water. The boys explained to George how it was weighted with stones, and as it slowly sank to the bottom it would imprison the fish so they could not get away. One has to be very skilful to do that, they said.
Sometimes the children would all gather around Mustapha and listen to his wonderful tales. How when he was young he took long journeys on camel-back far south in the great Lybian Desert, which they could see stretching away on their right. Once, too, he had there killed a lion which had chased him, and there were still lions to be found there, but not so many as there used to be. When he told them how he had seen crocodiles basking in the sun on the river banks, not so very far from Cairo, the children clapped their hands and wanted to know if they weren't going to see some crocodiles.
"And hippopotamuses, too?" asked George. But Mustapha shook his head and said he thought not, that there was so much traffic and so many steamboats and other craft on the river now that these animals had been frightened away and were only found now in the Upper Nile, far beyond where they were going. This disappointed the boys very much.
Then again to while away the time the little Egyptians would show George how to play their games, while George in turn would attempt to teach them some of the American children's games.
On several occasions the sailor brought his tame snake on the upper deck and showed them all the wonderful tricks his pet could do. The snake would follow him all around the deck, holding its head erect and waving it about as if it liked the queer little tune the man whistled. The sailor offered to let the snake wrap itself around the boys' arms, but they would not agree to this, though they thought it amusing enough to watch its tricks with its master.
Everybody was so much amused by the snake's tricks that Mustapha amiably told the sailor he would not have to pay for the chicken it had eaten.
Abdal had been telling the "little Effendi" so much about his home in the country that George was anxious to see an Egyptian farm.
So the boys talked it over with Mustapha, and as the farm was not far from the river Mustapha said it would be possible to stop off there for a day or so on their way back.
Mustapha then busied himself all one day writing a letter to Abdal's father, saying that he and his party would stop at his farm and telling him what day the dahabeah would be at his landing, that he might make preparations to welcome the American Effendis.
George wondered how Mustapha was going to send the letter, but just then a big "steam dahabeah" passed them coming down the river crowded with a lot of tourists. The reis said this was their chance to send back Mustapha's letter. So he hailed it and as it slowed down he ordered several of his crew to launch the small boat which the dahabeah carried. This they did, and rowing over to the steamer threw the letter on board as she steamed past them. So George thought there was some use after all for a steamboat on the Nile, though it did seem out of place and not at all as comfortable and picturesque way of travelling as by a sailing vessel.
It was always a great event for the children when the boat was tied up near some little village in order to lay in a new stock of provisions, to get some grain to carry further on, or to deliver some which they had brought from Cairo. They would all go on shore and it was great fun watching the people who came from near-by farms bringing vegetables and fruits and fowls to sell. They crowded around Mustapha, who did the bargaining, shouting in a high voice the prices of their wares. At each landing they always found the water-sellers who refilled the big water-jars on board, from the goat-skin water-bags slung by a strap over their shoulders. All the little children came trooping down from the neighbouring villages to stare shyly at the strangers, often hiding half-afraid behind their mother's gowns; but whether they were shy or bold, all of them would hold out their hands for backsheesh; even the babies perched on their mothers' shoulders held out their little hands, though they could not speak a word.
"'Tis the strangers who have spoiled them," Mustapha said as he drove away a crowd of little children who were pestering George at one little village. "They throw coins to the little ones on the banks as they go past on the great steamers; they mean it kindly, but it teaches our little Egyptian children to beg and that makes them bad," and the fat dragoman scowled at the village children until they shook in their little slippers and ran away as fast as possible.
As they went farther up the river the green fields grew fewer and fewer and the yellow sand of the deserts on both sides came nearer and nearer the river.
One morning the Isis rounded a sharp bend in the river and there in the distance were a group of tall columns, rising from the bank surrounded by houses and trees.
"'Tis Luxor, the site of the most wonderful ruins in all Egypt," said Mustapha with pride. Everybody crowded eagerly forward while Mustapha pointed out the places of interest. First came the part of the town where the Egyptians live and then the great hotels and gay shops, and finally, just at noon, our dahabeah pushed its high prow in among a lot of other dahabeahs and smaller craft, and tied up alongside the old temple with its row of a hundred tall columns which towered high above them on the river bank.
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