Through the Suez to Ismailia and Cairo
( Originally Published 1903 )
WE proceeded through the canal under our own steam, but we went very slowly. The rules of the company are very strict, and the pilot regulated the speed from his station on the bridge. Mr. Casey, who had been through very often, said that the wash of the water would wear away the banks if we went faster than five or six miles an hour. As a matter of fact, we went at the rate of about eight miles an hour.
I had heard and read so much about the great Suez that I was rather disappointed when 1 found it not different in appearance from the Erie Canal in New York State. It was wider, of course, and deeper, but it looked like any ordinary canal, just the same. The banks were low and sandy, and Timmie said he wondered how they kept the water from leaking away. Mr. Casey told him the canal is below sea level, so of course there will always be water in it. Dredge boats are working all the time to keep the channel clear, and it costs the company a great sum every year to keep the waterway in good repair. One of the Congressmen told us that it had cost more than a hundred million dollars to build it and keep it in repair, and it seemed to me that the stock of the company couldn't have paid many dividends. But Captain Logan said it cost the McClellan $4,500 to pass through, and after that I changed my opinion. The canal is only eighty-eight miles long, and while going south we met five large steamers going north, so that it must be used a great deal. Most steamers have to pay more than the McClellan, for they are charged according to their tonnage, and so much for each passenger on board. We were of low tonnage and carried comparatively few passengers. They say that the great liners which go every week from Germany and England to the Orient have to pay as much as $10,000 for the passage through the canal.
Through the Suez Canal
Every time we saw the searchlight of another steamer coming north, we were obliged to tie up to the bank. The waterway is too narrow to permit of steamers passing under way, and it looked as if we could almost shake hands with the people on the passing boat. About ten o'clock Captain Logan announced that we were about to meet a United States gunboat, which was on her way to the Mediterranean from Manila. This was great news, and everyone got ready to give her a rousing greeting. The band was stationed on the fo'c'stle head to play " Yankee Doodle," and the soldiers arranged to give three cheers and a tiger for the navy men. When the gunboat at last approached and passed us, we discovered that the enthusiasm was all on our ship. Nearly everyone on the other was asleep in bed, and it seemed that they didn't take the least interest in the fact that they were passing a transport bound for the Philippines with soldiers. It was a disappointment to us all, but we comforted ourselves with the thought of how sorry they'd be when they awoke in the morning and learned what they'd missed. This was the first boat I had seen flying the American flag since leaving New York, and I made a note of the fact in my diary.
A lot of queer-looking negroes followed our boat along the bank, shouting and gesticulating, and begging us to throw money into the canal. They were entirely naked, and looked like some wild men from the jungle. " I guess them are sure-enough Africans," said Dan Driscoll, and all the sailors agreed that they were the " real thing." We didn't throw any money away, but we threw almost everything else, from a chew of tobacco to hard tack, and the natives dived into the canal after it all. They had to run to keep up with the steamer, and they kept up the chase for several miles without apparent exhaustion. " I guess they run by machinery," said Timmie, " or else they haven't sense enough to know when they're tired."
Troubles of a Policeman
The recruits were so anxious to see everything along the banks that it was almost impossible to keep them off the fo'c'stle head. I'd no more than clear one side than both Timmie and I were required to drive them off the other. They had but little respect for any of the crew, and the only person whose orders they obeyed was Captain Logan. One of the corporals was so persistent about standing on the head that Timmie determined to report him, and after he had done so, several of the soldiers jumped on to him, determined on revenge. Of course I entered the fray, and so did Mr. Casey. The three of us were being worsted, when the boatswain, and Mike the messman, took a hand, and finally the whole forward deck was a scene of uproar. It was the sailors against the soldiers, and every man of the crew was anxious to hammer the recruits for past offences. It was a merry battle, and might have ended seriously except for the prompt action of Captain Linder. He elbowed his way into the middle of the crowd and hit about him right and left until there was a general scattering. Then Captain Logan ordered the soldiers to their quarters below, and lectured them there on the duty of soldiers to obey orders. Captain Linder had never a word of reproach for the crew. He evidently considered that we had been on the defensive, and he wasn't the sort to object to a good fight if it were necessary. The whole incident resulted in nothing but good feeling all around. There had been a feud between the soldiers and the crew for some time, and this general scrimmage served to wipe it out. Both sides had fought bravely while they were at it, and each respected the other on that account. Timmie and I found several candidates for the ship's hospital, and each of us had various bruises to rub with witch-hazel before going to bed that night. We didn't regret the occurrence, for after this the recruits obeyed our orders.
Howard Eddy, who always knew what was going on among the passengers, had told us that the McClellan would only go through the canal as far as Ismailia, and that she would anchor there for two or three days to allow the Congressmen to visit Cairo, the great Egyptian capital. Sure enough, we reached the town about one o'clock in the morning and dropped anchor. By this time all the passengers were asleep in bed, having tired of the monotony of canal scenery, and as it was Timmie's week with the midnight watch, I turned in, too. But I couldn't sleep for thinking of Cairo. This was a city I had always read about with the greatest interest, and I had heard from travelers that it was one of the most fascinating places to be visited on a trip around the world. And now I was within ninety miles of its busy streets and bazaars, with no likelihood that I would be permitted to see them for even a day. The Congressmen and the passengers could go, but I was only a master-at-arms. I dozed off about three o'clock only to dream of the pyramids and the sphinx, and when I went on deck at six in the morning, I was fully decided to ask for permission to make the excursion. It didn't seem at all likely that it would be given, for I was none too popular with Captain Linder, and Captain Logan might hesitate to send me off without consulting the sailing-master. Still, I reflected that things had often seemed impossible before, and I had been able to accomplish them without much difficulty.
A Piece of Luck
I wondered what would be a good time for me to see the Quartermaster, and decided that just after breakfast was the best. He ought to be in a good humor then. The excursionists were to leave the transport at eight-thirty, and I would have plenty of time to make my arrangements to go. I stationed myself outside the Quartermaster's cabin, and waited for about five minutes for conversation to cease within, when out walked Captain Linder. He glared at me in his usual pleasant way, and I felt weak and faint. He would understand now that some-thing was up, since he saw me waiting there. I mustered up what courage I could and walked into the cabin. " Good morning," said Captain Logan ; " have a seat." I sat on the edge of the chair and made my request. " I'm just crazy to see Cairo," I said, " and I've come to ask if it will be at all possible for me to go along with the Congressmen on the trip." I was immediately sorry that I had come. It seemed so impossible that he could grant what I asked. The Quarter-master waited a minute before replying. " I've just been arranging for you to go," he said. " Captain Linder was just in here, and he thinks it will be all right. Mr. Casey says that he and Timmie will be glad to stand your watch for two or three days." I could hardly express my thanks. " Then I won't have to see Captain Linder ? " I inquired. " No," was the reply, " everything is fixed, and you can start off with the others at eight-thirty. The Eddy boys are going, and Congressman says he will be glad to take you as his guest." '
I went forward with my brain in a whirl and sought Mr. Casey and Timmie. They had known that I was to go, and appeared to en joy the prospect of such an excursion for me almost as much as if they were going themselves. This made me happier still, and everything was lovely. They said I needn't worry about my watch, as one of them would always stay aboard and attend to any necessary duties. I had but few preparations to make. A tooth-brush was the only luggage I carried with me, for the plan was to remain only two nights and three days, and I didn't care to be burdened with anything unnecessary. The Eddy boys had soap and towels, and I put my pajamas in one of their satchels.
Off for Cairo
Our start from the transport was quite an event. The soldiers lined the rail, and they gave a cheer as the sturdy launch left the gangway. We landed at the Ismailia wharf, and a minute later I set foot for the first time in Egypt. Most of the party took carriages to the railway station, but Howard and Kenneth and I decided to walk, as it wasn't far. We were of course interested in our surroundings. We passed along a great avenue of date-palms, and everything about was typical of the Orient. The costumes of the people, the pleasant cafes, the architecture, all reminded us of the Egyptian pictures we had seen, and as Kenneth said, " It's just like the Arabian Nights, and I guess we'll see the Scheherezade at the next corner." In one of the cross-streets we observed some camels, the first any of us had seen hitched to wagons, and they appeared so ludicrous that Howard insisted on stopping to take a photograph of them.
We found the railway station without any difficulty, and the train was there, ready to start. The Congressmen were engaged in a mad effort to make the ticket-seller understand English. They had only American money, and that he refused to receive, insisting that they produce some English gold in payment for the tickets. The situation was rather alarming, for the reason that only a very few minutes remained for argument before the train started, and no one knew where they could get American money changed. Finally a professional money-changer appeared on the scene, and he was welcomed as a long-lost brother. The Congressmen weren't particular at what rate the exchange was made, just so they obtained their tickets for Cairo.
The train and locomotive had evidently been constructed in England, and were on the English plan. There were first, second and third-class coaches, and our party traveled second-class, which was fairly comfortable. The third-class compartments were impossible, for the reason that they were crowded with all sorts of ill-smelling natives, who were probably wearing the clothing they had donned at Christmas time. We boys couldn't understand why the Egyptians wear such quantities of clothing in midsummer, when Egypt is one of the hottest places on earth. Some of the men and women looked like rag-bags, padded to the fullest extent, and they must have been almost smothered. They were really so much upholstered, that when two of them engaged in a fist fight at the Ismailia depot, the blows had no effect whatever unless they struck the faces of the combatants.
Through Historic Towns
We began the journey of ninety miles soon after nine o'clock, and for three hours we passed through a country different from any we had ever seen before. For some time after we left Ismailia there was nothing visible but stretches of hot sand as far as we could see, and the wind which came in at the windows was fairly scorching to the skin. Kenneth said it was really too hot to breathe, but it felt cool in our lungs, and the Congressmen tried to figure out how it could burn our faces and still be good to breathe. They finally decided that it was refreshing because of the total absence of moisture in its composition. When we had accomplished about half the distance to Cairo the appearance of the country was entirely changed, and the reason wasn't hard to find. The whole landscape was a network of canals, in which the waters of the Nile were carried to irrigate what had formerly been an arid desert. Oxen were turning water-wheels to force the water from the main canal to dozens of smaller ones, and as a result the former desert was now a picture of fruitfulness. Cotton and tobacco were growing side by side, and I mentioned that I never before had seen cotton in the field. " Well, that's a nice thing to admit," said Kenneth. " An American boy doesn't need to visit Egypt to see cotton growing, and you ought to be ashamed to confess such a thing."
The country villages along the railway consisted mainly of mud huts, which seemed to be connected one with another, and from a distance one could only discern a black, shapeless mass. Animals and human beings exist under the same roof, and the filth we observed was sickening. Every collection of huts was deco-rated with piles of rubbish on the roofs, and the only attractive features were the palm groves which were invariably near by. Judging by what we saw on the way to Cairo, village life in Egypt is primitive indeed.
At the larger stations there was always a lively scene. Native girls came to the car-windows with earthern jars of water, and at a place called Zagazig I was so thirsty that I couldn't resist drinking some. I knew it was probably dirty, but I wasn't prepared for the shock one of the Congressmen gave me. " Why," he exclaimed, " you don't know what you're doing. This town is infested with cholera, and more than likely that water is filled with germs." He was quite right. The town was about to be quarantined, and I was sorry I had yielded to my thirst.
I was actually nervous for days for fear the cholera would show itself, but there were no symptoms whatever. After this warning, I drank no water at stations, knowing it to be from the canal, and when we finally pulled into the Cairo station at twelve-thirty, I was ready to drink almost anything in the way of liquids.
The question of water was a troublesome one during the whole of the trip around the world. Most of the passengers on the transport were afraid to drink any but bottled water, and I was often warned against drinking that which was supplied to the sailors. But I found it impossible to follow any other course. The water from the tank was always at hand, and it wasn't easy to get the bottled variety. Mr. Casey didn't take much stock in the tales of impure water. " Take my word for it," said he, " a man's goin' to die when his time comes, and he can't put it off by drinking bottled water. I've drunk water thick with germs, and look at me." And after looking at the sturdy old fellow, I laughed at my fears, and went to the tank for a drink.