( Originally Published 1903 )
THE Cairo railway station was a busy place. Two trains were arriving at the same time with ours, so there was a great crowd, and a lot of pushing and shoving. It was soon evident that our party couldn't possibly keep together, so it was agreed that we would all meet at the hotel in the evening, and until that time follow our own devices. Howard and Kenneth Eddy said they didn't want to waste any time, and that if we three boys would go about together, we would certainly see more and have more interesting experiences than if we stayed with the crowd. " And besides," said Howard, " we won't have to spend so much if we go by ourselves." This was a potent argument with me, for though I had come as the guest of Mr. —, I was anxious to pay my own incidental expenses. It was agreed then that we would check the hand lug-gage at the station and start out immediately " to do the town," as Kenneth ex-pressed it. 1 said that I wanted to see the pyramids before we did anything else. " If I can see them and the Sphinx, I'm willing to miss some of the other sights." The boys agreed with me, so we left the station and were launched in the teeming city streets.
None of us had any idea in what direction the pyramids were, so when we saw some trolley-cars in front of the depot, Howard said we might as well get on the car and see where it would take us. It was a surprise to me to find electric traction in the capital of Egypt, for I had never heard there were such modern improvements in the Land of the Pharaohs. The cars were comfortable and up-to-date in every way. All the signs were printed in three languages, French, Arabic and Hebrew, but as we boys could read but little of any, we had a hard time making the conductor understand what we meant when he came to collect our fares. We had no Egyptian money, of course, and tried to persuade him to accept American silver. This he refused to do. He talked at us for a while in some strange tongue, and finally he stopped the car and put us off. Kenneth Eddy was highly indignant. " Well," he said, " what do you think of that? American money ought to be good all over the world, and if I were running the government I'd make it so. It's an outrage for us to be put off in the street, and I've a notion to see the American Consul about it." We persuaded him to do nothing so rash: " It would be only a waste of valuable time," I said, " and anyhow, we are sure to see more of the city walking than if we whizzed along in trolley-cars."
In the City of the Caliphs
The street in which we found ourselves was wide, well-paved and beautifully shaded with fine trees. Its general appearance reminded me of the great Paris boulevards, and all the time I was in Cairo I was reminded of the beautiful French city by the cafes, open squares and French architecture which predominated in all the main thoroughfares. At one of the cafes we sat down to have some coffee before proceeding on our search for the pyramids. We expected to stop about ten minutes, and remained an hour. The passing show was fascinating. There were people of nearly every nation passing back and forth along the street. There were French, Germans, Russians, tall Arabs in brilliant costumes, native Egyptians, soldiers of the British garrison, Spanish dancing girls, black Soudanese and haughty Abyssinians. The variety of costumes was wonderfully attractive, and the whole scene recalled the famous Midway of the Chicago Fair. We boys immediately decided that Cairo was great. " Just to think we've got only three days in this place," said Howard ; " I'd like to stay here a year." " Yes," I said, " and if it's this way now, can you imagine how delightful it must be in the winter season, when fashionable tourists are added to the throng? It must be too fine for description then." There was music by a women's orchestra in the cafe, and this added to the enchanting scene. We might not have appreciated it all so much under other circumstances, but having come direct from the tiresome transport, Cairo seemed like another, brighter world. Its cosmopolitan life was a tonic to us all.
At the end of an hour we felt that we had wasted too much time at the cafe, so we started down the street again. Kenneth asked a policeman for the " Neel," as the famous river is called in French, and we turned off in the direction which he pointed out to us. After a few minutes we found ourselves entirely away from the gay boulevards, and in a native quarter which was as different as could be. The streets were narrow, winding and dirty, crowded with camels, donkeys and all sorts of strange vehicles. It was as much as we could do to elbow our way through the multitude, and at last we tried walking lockstep fashion. This worked better, but the dark Arabs scowled after us as if they thought us mentally deficient. After half an hour we were apparently no nearer the Nile than when we started, and were getting discouraged, when all at once we came to a native bazaar. We had all read of the Cairo bazaars and had seen poor imitations at Coney Island and various exhibitions, so now we decided to see what the original was like. It was even more fascinating than we expected it would be. There was an endless network of booths and passageways, all crowded with shoppers, so our progress was necessarily slow. But we were in no hurry to get out. There were innumerable things on sale which none of us had ever seen before, and it was a great temptation to empty our purses then and there. The only thought that restrained me was that I would surely find no end of beautiful things to buy in Ceylon and Singapore and China and Japan, and that if I spent much money in Cairo I would surely be sorry for it afterward. Howard and Kenneth bought a lot of cheap trinkets, and were ashamed of them long before they reached Manila. I purchased a few souvenirs, to take back to Timmie and Mr. Casey and some of my friends among the sailors. They cost but little, and after all their kindnesses I wanted to remember them in some way.
Inside a Mohammedan Mosque
It was even harder for us to leave the bazaar than it had been to start away from the cafe on the boulevard, but it was after four o'clock, and I knew that we would never see the pyramids unless we continued on our way. It seemed to me that the further we walked the more interesting our surroundings became. When. we arrived in front of a beautiful mosque the Eddy boys insisted on entering. They wanted to see what it was like inside and what the worshipers were doing, if there were any. Of course we had to remove our shoes at the door. Howard and Kenneth thought that a great joke, but it was no joke for me, since I had a great hole in my stocking. There had been so much excitement on the transport during the past week that I hadn't accomplished my usual darning. The attendants didn't seem to notice the hole, and I suppose they thought me very luxurious to be wearing stockings at all. The mosque was worth taking off one's shoes to see. Its decorations were gorgeously beautiful, and the whole interior was finished in white alabaster. There were rich Oriental rugs for the prayerful to kneel upon, and several Mohammedans were engaged in their devotions at the time of our visit. " My," whispered Kenneth, "how they do bob up and down. I should think they wouldn't need any physical culture if they come here every day and go through all those motions." I explained that Mohammedans go through the motions whether they visit the mosque or not, and later in the evening we saw numbers of them kneeling in front of their houses, facing toward Mecca, and praying to Mohammed. It was a scene that made us realize more than before that at last we were actually in the East, with all its queer customs and traditions.
When we left the mosque we started again in the direction which had been pointed out to us by a policeman ; but for fear we were going wrong, I stopped a native and asked him for the " Neel." It was some time before he grasped my meaning, and then he pointed, and we knew we were going right. In five or ten minutes it was evident that at last we were approaching the great river, and about seven o'clock in the evening we stood on the bank, and saw before us the " Saviour of Egypt." It was indeed a great river, with a sweeping current, and this was only one of several branches. We had no time to look at the water. " Look over there !" shouted Kenneth, and there were the three great pyramids, standing out dim and majestic in the evening light. They appeared to be not far away, but I said it was out of the question for us to reach them this evening. It would be dark before we could go half way, and certainly we didn't want to get lost out in that desert. " Besides," said Howard, " we are due at the hotel for dinner now." Kenneth wanted to go on. " I'm willing to miss dinner any time," he said, " if I can visit the pyramids, and I think we ought to continue, now that we've come this far. I'm sure we can get out there before it's dark." We couldn't decide what was best to do. Howard wanted to return to the hotel. Kenneth was determined to see the pyramids before he slept, and I was neutral. It did seem a shame to be so near and then go back to the boulevards. While we were hesitating, a couple of young fellows came along who looked to be English. We stopped them to ask how far it was to the monuments, and they said it must be about six or seven miles. We found them so interesting, and so willing to answer our questions, that we asked them a great many things about the city. They inquired whether we were ordinary tourists, and when we explained whither we were bound, they said they had read in the papers of the McClellan's arrival at Ismailia, and had wondered whether some of the passengers wouldn't visit Cairo. They said they were young Englishmen who were staying in Cairo for their health, and that they had found Americans " awfully interesting." We sat talking on the banks of the Nile for half an hour, and finally one of our new-found friends jumped up with the suggestion. "I'll tell you what we can do," he said. " It will be moonlight about nine o'clock, and we can as easily visit the pyramids then as during the day. It will be much more interesting, in fact, and if you once see those great piles of stone and the Sphinx by the light of the moon, you never will forget it. We can cross the river here by ferry, and have some lunch in a little cafe on the other side. Then, when the moon comes up, we can go out to the pyramids by trolley."
" By trolley ! " I exclaimed.
" Why, yes," said the Englishman, laughing. " We're quite American in our enterprise. We have a rapid electric line running out from the Kasr-el-Nil, and it will take you the six or seven miles in about twenty-five minutes." He went on to explain that the trolley system is owned by a Belgian company, which declared a thirty-per-cent. dividend during the previous year. " So, you see, the trolley is popular here. Many of the natives ride back and forth without any object whatever, except to enjoy the sensation of traveling through the air so rapidly. One of their favorite recreations is to take a trolley-ride, and on a holiday it is nearly impossible to obtain a seat in one of the cars."
We all thought it exceedingly kind of the Englishmen to take us out to the pyramids, and accepted their invitation without any hesitation. One of the great joys of traveling is the experience of meeting new people and making friends with them, and this seemed a fitting climax to our first delightful day in Cairo. We crossed the Nile on a ferry, which seemed very primitive when we remembered the ferry-boats of New York harbor, but we reflected that we were several thousand miles from Broadway, and wouldn't care to find everything as we were accustomed to see it at home. The cafe where we ate our evening lunch was built out over the river, and from its cool balcony we had a splendid view of the river itself and the city of Cairo opposite. The night was fine and cool, so cool, in fact, that I wished for a light overcoat. The Englishmen told us that the nights and mornings are cool in Egypt the year round. " It's only the middle of the day which is uncomfortable," they said, " and nearly everyone stays indoors at that time. It's only tourists, like yourselves, who are so foolish as to go about in the noonday sun." Kenneth hastened to defend our seeming indiscretion. " If you had only three days in which to see all this wonderful city and its surroundings," he said, " I imagine that you, too, would go out in the hot sun. Neither sun nor rain nor snow could keep me indoors here." This speech expressed the sentiments of Howard and myself, for we were continually thinking of the short time we had to stay. I looked forward with dread to going back to the transport and my little bunk on the forward deck, and as I observed my pleasant surroundings in the cafe, I almost decided to stay for a time in Cairo, and give up my plan of going around the world.