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AN EGYPTIAN FARM
THE little folks and the donkeys as well were wild to get on shore again and stretch their legs a bit, for they had not left the boat for several days. As soon as they could get away from the boat they scampered off past the big hotels where many tourists were sitting on the verandas and in the gardens sipping cool drinks just as they did at Cairo.
Everywhere George and his uncle were followed around by people who wanted to sell them relics which they said they had found in the ancient ruins, -- coins and scarabs and pottery, and all sorts of odd things. Mustapha waved them all away. "Their antiquities are only make-believes," he said, with contempt. "There are people who make these imitations, and these fellows make a business by selling them to travellers as real curiosities. Sometimes there were real treasures that could be picked up at a bargain, but not so many as in the old days," said Mustapha.
Sun-up next morning found our little party riding out on another excursion. Mizram had packed many good things to eat in a big palm-leaf basket covered over with green leaves to keep the things cool, and this was slung across Teddy Pasha's broad back. Our friends were to have a picnic among some riverside ruins.
Soon they were riding between two rows of stone figures; an avenue of Sphinxes, like the great Sphinx at the Pyramids, only much smaller, and in a few minutes more all dismounted at the entrance to a great temple.
Such a rabble surrounded them! Beggars clamouring for backsheesh, people wanting to guide them through the ruins, and vendors of relics. Mustapha and the boys had to use their sticks freely to make the crowd stand back. Two donkey boys promised to look after the donkeys, so after threatening them with all sorts of dire punishments if any harm should come to their animals, Nabul and his cousin ran after their little American friend.
For several hours Mustapha led his little band in and out among the great columns and across the broad courts of ancient temples. There seemed to be thousands of these columns, some standing in long rows, others lying broken on the ground. How the children stared at the pictures painted on the walls by the old Egyptians, the colours as fresh as if they had just been painted. Mustapha showed them how these pictures made a regular story-book, if one only knew how to read them. Here were a lot of pictures that told all about the doings of one of the Pharaohs, -- how he went to war and the battles he fought. There were other pictures showing how he went hunting, and the various kinds of animals and birds he had brought back with him from the chase.
The children thought it was most amusing to read a story-book like that, and went about trying to make up stories for themselves out of the pictures.
They stopped to watch a number of men hard at work among the ruins lifting a fallen stone column. More than three hundred Egyptians were working to set up the fallen columns and clear away the rubbish, and they worked in much the same way as did the ancient Egyptians who built the same temples. There were many young boys, too, helping to pull on the long ropes by which the columns were raised.
"Come, let us hunt and perhaps we can find some relics for ourselves," said Nabul. "One of the donkey boys last year found a little statue."
"I would like to find a mummy," exclaimed George, as the boys went to work prodding in the sand with their sticks.
"Mummies are too heavy to carry away," said Abdal, wisely shaking his head.
"I should like to find a doll," whispered Menah to her sister as they too turned over the sand in their little fingers, thinking of her own curious little dolls at home fashioned after the same manner as those frequently found among the ruins. " You remember the great traveller who went with our father in the dahabeah to some old city? How he had many men to dig in the sand for him, and how they found many wonderful things there? Well, he said that often the dolls and toys that were put in a little girl's tomb would be made of gold and silver," replied Menah. "I should like a doll of real gold to play with."
Pretty soon the children tired of their search and stretched themselves out in the shade of an enormous stone column to rest.
Our party made many excursions to see many other old ruins, and one day Mustapha took them to see some funny camel races. It was the queerest thing in the world to see the long-legged camels come swinging along, covering yards and yards of ground at each step, each camel ridden by an Arab in flowing white dress and head covering. After this there was a race among the donkey boys. Nabul and Abdal were wild to join in this, but found it was against the rules for outsiders to enter.
"They are jealous, they know we could beat these up-country donkeys," Nabul consoled himself with, saying, but he hurrahed with everybody else all the same when a lively little gray donkey, ridden by a small boy in a green dress, reached the goal first and got the prize.
One morning early found the Isis again sailing up the river toward Assouan and the Great Cataract, which was to be their last stopping-place.
When George and Uncle Ben arrived at Assouan it was market-day, and the square by the riverside was filled with all sorts of queer people and things.
For centuries lower Egypt had been periodically flooded and then dried out again, and the poor native farmers and fellaheen had suffered greatly, many, many thousands even dying of starvation. All the great volume of water in the river Nile became at certain seasons a mere trickling rivulet.
In late years a plan whereby all lower Egypt was to be properly watered and drained has made even the poorest of the labourers of the countryside happy and prosperous. This great benefit was brought about by the building of a great dam just above Assouan, and as the water was let through little by little in the dry season, and properly stored up when it flowed in abundance, it proved to be just the treatment that was needed to make an otherwise suffering people quite contented with their lot.
"I want to see the great Assouan dam," said George one morning as he and Uncle Ben were just finishing their breakfast. George was a most inquiring little fellow, and he had heard some men talking of this great work at the hotel, and he wanted to see for himself what it really was.
George had become so expert with donkeys, that Uncle Ben called him his little donkey boy. Soon all was ready and Mustapha headed the little procession that made, its way quickly along through clouds of dust and began struggling over a stony desert road.
Little Menah was riding behind George and Mustapha had been gracious enough to let Zaida sit behind him. The reason of this was that the donkey boys on the quay, who were a lot of wild young fellows from the desert, had come to blows among themselves as to which of their number should go with our party to supply the two extra donkeys required, whereupon Mustapha said he wouldn't have any of them, that they were a set of black heathens anyway, -- for some were little negro boys from the Soudan, -- so he borrowed a donkey from a friend of his for himself, and divided up the party in this way.
Mustapha was so big and fat and his donkey so small that poor little Zaida had scarcely any room to sit comfortably. George could hear Menah shaking with laughter at her sister's efforts to keep from slipping off at every bounce the donkey gave.
Meanwhile Mustapha, quite unconscious that they were amused at him, was gravely telling them that the high wall of bricks which followed their road was the old-time boundary to Egypt and was built to keep back the hordes of barbarians from the south, but now Egypt was a much greater country and went far beyond this wall.
Soon they came into a little village on the bank of the river which spread out here like a lake. The children laughed when they dismounted and looked at each other. They were so covered with dust that the brown little Egyptians looked white. They shouted and clapped their hands with glee when Mustapha told them to get into a big boat painted with the brightest colours. Six tall black Soudanese, dressed in white, with red fezes, pulled at the oars, keeping time to a queer sort of chant. The children were so busy watching the rowers that, before they knew it, they were gliding past a tiny temple that seemed to be rising out of the water.
"This is the ancient temple of Philae, one of the most beautiful in Egypt," said Mustapha. "It is on an island, but since the great dam of Assouan was built the island itself is covered by water, and if the dam is raised still higher, as they talk of doing, the little temple will be entirely covered with water, or perhaps destroyed, which would be a pity."
On arriving at the great dam they got into another boat which took them over the First Cataract, or waterfall, on the Nile. Not over the worst part of it by any means, but quite "scary" enough for the little girls. Shortly after they were again back at Assouan.
George would have liked to have kept on up the river to the city of Khartoum, where there is a great school or college erected as a memorial to General Gordon, who opened up and first introduced outside civilization into these parts, but their plans would not permit of spending the extra time. To-day this magnificent school is filled with intelligent, hard-working Egyptian boys who, when they leave college and go out among their fellows, do much to benefit and lift them from the ignorance and superstition which formerly existed.
So the Isis was headed for home, and the good dahabeah raced along, borne by the strong current of the river, as if it knew it was on its way home. The happy days passed quickly and our little friends had many adventures of which there is not time to tell you.
As they came to the wide fertile country above Cairo, and neared Abdal's home, the children were on a sharp lookout, and Abdal was wondering who would come down to the river to meet them. When the Isis did run her sharp prow into the bulrushes at the little landing-place for the farm of Abdal's father, where Mustapha proposed to stop, not only were all of Mustapha's friends there, but most of the villagers besides, and they all gave the visitors the heartiest of welcomes. There was Abdal's father and mother and the baby, and his little brother, who kissed him on both cheeks, and each in turn took the hand of each visitor, kissing his own hand at the same time, a pretty little custom among these people.
After the actual landing Uncle Ben and George mounted the donkeys, and followed by the others on foot, all talking and in the highest spirits, they rode for some distance through great fields of cotton and rice until they came to a little village nestled away in the midst of palm-trees.
Here they stopped at Abdal's father's house, which was the biggest in the village, for Ali-Hijaz was the chief man of the little village and had many "fellaheen," or labourers, working in his cotton, rice, and cane fields.
Ali-Hijaz's house, like all the houses in the village, was built of mud bricks, which had first been baked by the sun; it was thatched with palm-leaves, and the trunks of palm-trees strengthened the walls and formed the rafters. Their host invited them into a large room, where they all seated themselves on mats spread on the hard earthen floor. While Ali-Hijaz offered Mr. Winthrop a long-stemmed pipe to smoke, Abdal and Nabul ran little Arab cafe of the village and soon came back bringing a big metal tray on which were a number of small cups and tiny tin pots of coffee. This was put in the middle of the floor and each person was served with a cup and one of the little pots of coffee. Menah and Zaida amused themselves playing with the baby, while their two mothers gossiped together, and George made friends with Abdal's little brother Amad, whom he thought looked very cunning in his white cotton gown and little turban stuck on his clean-shaven head.
"Just think, Uncle Ben," laughed George, he can barely walk and yet he goes to the village school at five o'clock in the morning and stays till sundown, only coming home for dinner in the middle of the day. Whew! but that's hard work!"
"And then, all he learns is to recite the Koran -- the Mohammedan Bible -- at the top of his voice," replied Mr. Winthrop.
"That little mite!" said George with a mock groan. "Well, I am glad I go to school in America."
But Amad seemed to grow fat in spite of it, and was at the head of the procession when the children trooped out to see the village. All the houses looked alike, with only one big wooden door and no windows, just little slits in the walls for air and light. Within most of these houses there was no furniture of any kind, save some rugs, mats, and cooking utensils, and a few boxes made of the wood of the palm-tree, in which to keep the family clothes. Abdal's father had two European beds in his house which he had brought from Cairo, but the villagers had no use for such new-fangled things. As they walked along all the little village children ran out to talk to Abdal and followed them until, as Nabul said, the procession looked like a kite with a long tail. There were almost as many dogs as children, and George fought rather shy of the fierce-looking mongrel curs that barked at their heels.
Abdal took them into the fields where there was a "sakiyeh," or water-wheel, by which the fields are watered. A lazy-looking old camel was slowly turning a great creaking wooden wheel, and this turned another wheel on the rim of which were fastened a lot of earthen jars. These jars were filled with water as the wheel went down into a sort of well, and as it came up the water from the jars was emptied into a ditch which carried it over the fields in every direction.
Here for the first time George saw a camel ploughing, and such a funny plough it was! Just a log of wood with a pointed iron tip at one end and an upright pole at the other, by which the ploughman could guide it.
When they got back to the home at sunset they found Ali-Hijaz had persuaded Mr. Winthrop to stay a day or two, as there was some good bird shooting in his rice fields, a sport of which Uncle Ben was very fond. This pleased the children, and that evening they had lots of fun playing one of their games called "Playing Pasha." They elected a "Pasha," and the choice fell on George, whom they put in a kind of litter made of palm branches. Four of their number carried this on their shoulders while the rest ran beside carrying lighted wisps of straw and hay for make-believe torches. One of the boys meanwhile beat a drum, and another played a small flute; and thus they marched around the village until the torches were all burned out and their mothers called them to bed.
The two guests were made comfortable in one of the beds, which were only kept for grand occasions like this, and early the next morning Mr. Winthrop and his host, with Mustapha, were off to shoot rice birds.
"We will go and see the wild pigeons," said Abdal, as the boys wondered how they should amuse themselves. "I know where there are many of them roosting in the trees."
"Good," answered Nabul, clapping his hands, and the boys started off across the fields. The Egyptian folk are very fond of the wild pigeons of the country, and like to catch them and keep them for pets.
At the same time many of the Egyptian boys, too, are so cruel as to hunt these gentle birds, killing them with stones which they throw with unerring aim.
"Hist! they roost here," whispered Abdal as they came to a clump of low trees. Just then a number of pigeons flew out of the trees; at the same time, to the great surprise of the boys, one apparently was injured, and fell to the ground, and Nabul ran to pick it up. Some one had evidently injured its leg or wing. Just then two wild, savage-looking young boys came dashing up to Nabul crying, "Thou hast killed one of our tame pigeons, our father shall beat thee," trying at the same time to snatch the bird away from Nabul.
"'Tis not true," returned Nabul angrily, "dost thou think I am such a dullard as not to know a wild pigeon from a tame one?"
"And I know these birds well, I have often been here, they always roost in these trees," exclaimed Abdal. "I know thee, and I know that thy pigeons are far from here."
The Egyptians in the country usually tame many of these pigeons, and build them little houses to live in on the side of their own, and sometimes one will see a big mud tower in the village where hundreds of these pigeons live and build their nests.
In the midst of the dispute a tall man with an ugly, scowling face strode up with a stick, so, thinking things were getting too hot for them, our little friends turned and fled toward the village, Nabul, however, triumphantly holding on to the pigeon.
The other hunting party had brought back a big bag of birds and were well pleased with the day's work.
The next day they were to take leave of their kind hosts and go back to the Isis. When George awakened in the early morning, such a wailing met his ears he could only imagine that some one must be dead. Throwing on his clothes he rushed down the short flight of steps that led from his room to the big room on the ground floor and from there into the yard. There he saw Nabul lying face downward on the ground beside the stable door, with his sisters sitting beside him rocking themselves backwards and forwards and wailing piteously, while Abdal and the older people rushed wildly about all talking at once.
"What is the matter? Nabul, are you hurt?" cried George, rushing up to the little group. "Teddy Pasha is gone, some thief has stolen him," they all cried in one breath.
It was only too true, the little donkey had mysteriously disappeared in the night. Nabul had got up early to get the Pasha ready for their return to the boat. He had found the little donkey gone, as well as his bridle and saddle; Nabul had been looking for him ever since and had just come back broken-hearted.
"Oh, Nabul, we are sure to find him! Come and we will all look," cried George, nearly ready to cry himself, -- he had grown really attached to his little steed.
Poor little Nabul lifted up a wobegone face and slowly rose to his feet. His donkey was like a brother to him, and he felt he would never see him again.
No one thought of going back to the boat until the little donkey was found, and the whole village turned out to search for him.
Suddenly Nabul struck his forehead with his hand. "I know now! Those two ruffian boys we saw yesterday! 'Tis they who have stolen my donkey. The wretches! This is their revenge! We will go to their house and demand news of the Pasha," cried the distracted little boy.
"Follow, I know the way," said Abdal. The boys hurried through the fields and rice swamps until they came to a tumbled-down group of mud huts. No one was in sight save an ugly-looking brute of a dog and a little girl, who peered at the strangers from behind a corner of a wall.
Nabul boldly went up and shook the heavy wooden door of the house and called loudly, but it was tightly fastened and no one answered. He then gave the whistle he always used to call Teddy Pasha, but only the dog began to bark.
George was for battering in the door, but the boys said it was no use. "Teddy is not here, or he would have answered me," sighed Nabul, as he turned away sorrowfully, "but they have stolen him, I am sure."
"They would not dare keep him here so near our village," replied Abdal. "They have doubtless put him in some hiding-place far off. That is their sister," he continued, pointing to the little girl behind the wall. "Where art thy brothers?" he demanded, but she only laughed and made a face at them.
"She knows something," said George, making a face in return at the child. But there was nothing for them to do but walk away and keep on with their search.
At sundown the boys returned home and poor Nabul sat on the ground with his head buried in his arms, refusing to be consoled. He had eaten nothing all day, and when his mother brought him a nice dish of curds she had made herself, he only shook his head.
It was a miserable household and nobody slept much that night. George and Abdal refused to go to bed at all and sat beside Nabul in the big room. Just as George was dozing away at daybreak he was roused up by a terrible bray just outside the door, answered by one from Bobs in the stable.
Like a flash Nabul, who had heard it too, tore open the house door and nearly tumbled over Teddy Pasha, who calmly walked into the middle of the room and stood there as much as to say, "Here I am, at last."
Little Nabul gave a shriek of joy and threw his arms about the little donkey's neck and cried and laughed in the same breath. Abdal called out the good news, and in another moment everybody was petting Teddy Pasha and making as much to-do over him as if he were a long-lost member of the family. As for the little American, he was as happy as could be to see the little companion of his wanderings once more.
But the poor little donkey, wasn't he a sight, all covered with mud! He had evidently been taken away and hidden in the rice swamps; his pretty bridle and saddle were gone, and only a dirty and knotted piece of rope was around his neck. An ugly cut on one of his feet showed where he had been hobbled; his captors had evidently done everything to keep him secure, but in spite of it he had broken away by some means or other, and had come straight back to his master.
After leaving Abdal's family, and just as our party were going on board the dahabeah, Nabul picked up an odd greenish pebble. "What a funny looking stone!" he said. "It looks just like a beetle."
"That is what the learned ones call a scarab, -- don't you know there are many of these in the big museum at Cairo?" cried Abdal, as the children bent over the tiny stone.
"Oh! maybe it is old," exclaimed George eagerly, "and worth lots and lots of money." Just at that moment a party of learned looking men, Europeans, came up the bank from their dahabeah which had tied up just below the Isis.
At their head was a Frenchman, an inspector of the Egyptian public monuments. With his party he was going some miles inland to pass judgment upon some newly discovered ruins of which he had recently heard.
"Let us go and ask the great Frenchman, he surely can tell us," and so saying, Nabul ran back to where Mr. Winthrop and the Frenchman were already talking together.
"Please, monsieur, is this old?" said Nabul, in his queer French, holding up the little pebble carved in the form of the sacred beetle of the Egyptians.
"Eh!" said the great man, taking the beetle in his hand. "Is it old, indeed!" he exclaimed in great excitement. "It is a sacred scarab. Most rare! There are only two others like it in the world. Where did you find it, mon petit?"
Nabul pointed out the spot where he had found the stone.
"Voila! and to think that I have already passed over that spot and did not know one of the most ancient and most wonderful scarabs known to the world was lying there! " and the great man paced up and down, running his hands through his hair.
"Mon petit," the Frenchman said at last, stopping in front of Nabul, "you know the great museum at Cairo? Well, if you will take this little stone to the gentleman who is in charge there, he will be very glad to have it, and the authorities of the museum will reward you handsomely; it is worth more than money to them. I will give you a letter, which you must also give to this gentleman," and so saying the Frenchman took a pencil out of his pocket, and, tearing a leaf out of a small blank book, quickly wrote a few words and gave it to Nabul. "I will write him myself at once," he continued, "but I beg of you to guard the scarab most carefully. I rely on you to see that he does not lose it," said the Frenchman, turning earnestly to Mr. Winthrop. "It does not seem fair to take it from him unless I at once took it myself to Cairo, and it is impossible for me to leave here now."
Mr. Winthrop and all of them promised, for they were all now interested in the wonderful stone, and Nabul proudly and carefully hid it inside his embroidered vest.
There was a happy little party on the dahabeah when she set sail again, and many were the farewells to the kind people of the little village, who all came to see them off.
And wasn't Teddy Pasha a spoiled and pampered little donkey! He was petted and fed and rubbed down by everybody on board until he not only looked as fine and sleek as ever, but also got so fat and lazy that Mustapha doubted if he would ever be willing to do any more work.
At last the Isis floated up to her moorings at Cairo, and everybody felt that they were home again. The first thing George did was to buy the finest donkey saddle and bridle he could find in Cairo and give to Teddy Pasha, who thereupon got vainer than ever. George and his little Egyptian friends took many more rides together before he and Uncle Ben went back to America. They all went together when Nabul carried the wonderful scarab and the Frenchman's letter to the great man in the big museum, who talked very wisely about it. He thanked Nabul and told him he had done his country a service, and used a lot of long words that the children could not understand. But one day, not long afterward, a man in a fine uniform came riding in great style up to Nabul's house and gave little Nabul a sealed packet from the authorities of the big museum, and in it was a handsome sum of money for the little donkey boy who found the wonderful scarab.
It was enough indeed to set him up as a dragoman when he was older, but this would not be, Nabul promised himself, until he had first made a visit to see his little friend, George, in that wonderful country over the sea.
And thus it happened that the Little American Cousin really did bring the good fortune to little Nabul, the youngest donkey boy in the big city of Cairo.
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