Visits to the Pyramids
( Originally Published 1903 )
ABOUT nine o'clock the full moon made the surroundings as plain as by day, and our English friends said it was time we started for the pyramids. So when the trolley-car came along we boarded it, and were soon on our way to the object of our long journey. The track was laid along a fine carriage-road, which was lined with beautiful trees, and we boys decided to ride along that road in the daytime so that we could see more of the scenery. It took us less than twenty minutes to reach the end of the line, and there, when we left the car, we saw the great tombs of the Pharaohs at close range. They looked to be very near, but the Englishmen said it would be a long journey up to their level, and then around them, and that we would have to mount camels for the trip. We were glad to do this, for Howard and Kenneth had never been on the back of a camel in their lives, and I had enjoyed the experience only once. People sometimes get seasick from the swaying of the animal, but we knew we had been too long at sea to go through that again. Each camel had a black boy to drive it along, and when we were once mounted we proceeded up the sandy hill at a rapid pace. In two or three minutes we were on the plateau of Gizeh, and near enough the largest of the pyramids to touch its sides. The moon made everything stand out distinctly, and we all agreed that it was much more romantic to visit the place at night than during the " garish day," as Kenneth expressed it. The whole scene about us was deeply impressive, and none of us had much to say. The Englishmen explained the different peculiarities in the construction of the great monuments, and all of us were wondering how those great stones could ever have been lifted in place. " They didn't have derricks then," said Howard, " and I don't see how else they could ever get them up." The Englishmen laughed at our speculations. " A great many wiser heads than yours have worried over this question," said one of them. " It is still unknown how the pyramids came to be built, and it isn't known certainly why they were ever constructed at all. It is the general supposition that they were erected as tombs for the ancient rulers of Egypt, for the mummies of kings have been recovered from them. If you like, we can walk into one of the pyramids and see the place where the mummies were." This suggestion made us shiver, because we didn't much relish the idea of entering such a dark place at that time of night, but of course we went. We weren't going to miss anything at all, if we could find a way of seeing it.
The Pyramids by Moonlight
We found nothing but a kind of cave within, and didn't remain long. " I'm glad to be able to say that I've been inside the largest of the pyramids," said Kenneth, and he told of this experience many times after our return to the trans-port. When we remounted the camels, we rode across the sand to where the Sphinx was looking out over the valley of the Nile. It was sufficiently dark to hide the irregularities of her features, and from a distance of a hundred feet they seemed to express a knowledge of the wonderful past. I quoted the words of Napoleon when his army was encamped on this plateau, " Remember, men, the wisdom of the ages is looking down upon you." I don't know that we boys felt exactly that, but we were certainly moved at the thought of all that had taken place since first the Sphinx looked out on Egypt. The Englishmen told us that when the Sphinx was first discovered she was covered with sand, and that several times since the sand had been dug away from round her. " She must be anxious to bury herself," said Kenneth, " and I'm glad that they didn't allow her to do it until we'd been there."
After making the round of all three pyramids, Howard suggested that we climb the one called " Cheops," which is the highest of all. " No, indeed," said I. " It must be hard enough to get up in daylight, and I don't want to fall down in the dark." But he was determined to climb the pyramid by moonlight, and the Englishmen sided with him in his contention that it would be easy enough to accomplish. " It's nearly as light as day," they said, and they offered to make the climb with us. I didn't want to seem backward, so I agreed to go, too, and we all started together. The climb wasn't easy, by any means, even if our friends did know the easiest way up, and the best way of gaining a foothold in the stones. It was only after twenty minutes of hard work that we stood at last on the summit. Then I felt repaid for the effort and was glad we had made the ascent. We had stretched out before us a wonderful panorama. Below us was the sandy plain, with a long caravan of camels winding its way southward across the desert. A short distance east was the wonderful Nile, and across it beamed the myriad lights of Cairo. At our right was the impenetrable Sphinx, and clown the Allee des Pyramides were the lighter carriages of pleasure-seekers from Cairo. I couldn't restrain my feelings as I thought of all the history associated with the places I saw before me. " This one experience," I said, " is worth the discomfort of working one's passage on the transport. I can never be sorry after this that I started out to work my way around the world, and I will return to the ship with new courage for the remainder of the trip. I will never forget this beautiful night and our trip to the pyramids." We were loath to descend again to the earth and earthly duties, but the hour was late, and we knew we had a busy day ahead of us on the morrow. We remounted the camels and reached the car-line just in time to take the eleven o'clock car back to the city. The Englishmen accompanied us as far as the hotel, where we said good-night, and arranged to see them again before leaving the city. When we reached the room which we three were to occupy together we didn't feel at all like going to bed. " It's a positive shame to spend any time in sleeping," said Kenneth, " when we're in a place like this for only three days." But I explained that we wouldn't enjoy our experiences on the morrow, if we were tired and ill from loss of sleep, and finally we were all in bed at midnight.
A Morning Ride on Donkeys
At six in the morning we were up again, and at six-thirty we had partaken of a breakfast of coffee and rolls and were in the street. Our plan was to visit the pyramids again before leaving Cairo, and we were anxious to make the journey in the early morning while the air was cool. We had been interested the day before in seeing so many people riding round the city on the backs of donkeys, and it was Howard's suggestion that we make the trip to Gizeh in that way. It would be cheaper than to hire a carriage, and we would be quite safe, for with every donkey a boy was furnished to run behind and poke it with a stick. We found several boys with donkeys near the hotel, and remembering our experience in Tangier, we made an agreement as to payment before we started out. We were all laughing when we began the long ride. It seemed very funny to be trotting through the city streets on the backs of donkeys, which were so short that our feet almost touched the ground when we let them hang, and it was funnier still to think of those black boys running behind to beat the donkeys with a stick in order to make them trot. We wanted them to trot as fast as possible in the beginning, but after a while our chief desire was to have them go slow. We felt as if our very insides would be jolted out, and Kenneth said he was so sore from the continual jolting that he wouldn't be able to walk for a week. We were tired of the experience long before we covered the distance to the pyramids, but none of us were willing to give up. We stayed with the donkeys until we reached the camels, and then Kenneth declared that of the two evils he would choose the lesser and ride around the pyramids on a " ship of the desert." So we dismissed the donkey boys and returned to the city by trolley, and after this, when we saw the natives riding donkeys at a trot, we felt convinced that they had no nerves at all.
Our second visit to the pyramids of Gizeh allowed us to examine them more closely than we had been able to do the night before, and we spent some time with one of the guides, who gave us much interesting information. Among other things he told us that the great stones were at one time covered with alabaster, and presented an appearance so dazzling that it was almost impossible to look at them in the sunlight. The alabaster had finally been carted off by the Mohammedans, who used it to construct their beautiful mosques in Cairo and other cities. He showed us pieces of the alabaster lying about in the sand, and we carried some of it back to the ship as souvenirs.
We returned to the hotel about noon, and learned that the rest of our party were arranging to visit the pyramids during the afternoon. We were able to give them some hints about how to, go and what to do, and we particularly advised them not to be tempted to ride donkeys. " It's all right to do in Rome as the Romans do," said Kenneth, " but don't attempt to do in Cairo as the Egyptians do, or you'll surely come to grief." Nearly all our friends had a vivid recollection of our excursion to Tangier, and this warning was scarcely necessary. We were delighted to find that they hadn't even heard of many of the interesting places we had seen in our tramp about the city. Most everyone had remained at the hotel the previous evening for fear of malaria in the night air, and some of them had wasted their time in playing whist. We boys were horrified. We knew they could play cards on the ship, where there was nothing else to do, and it seemed a wicked waste of opportunity to remain indoors in Cairo.
We started out again immediately after lunch to see something more of the street-life and the native quarters. We had the memorable experience of witnessing a Moslem wedding, and the ensuing progress through the streets. We couldn't understand the meaning of the strange ceremonies, but it was great fun to follow the bride and groom as they drove from the mosque with a band of music to accompany them and a great crowd of natives following after. The music was indescribably strange. It sounded something like the so-called music we had all heard in the streets of Cairo at Coney Island, but there was more of it, and more variety to the one tune, which never seemed to end. The bride and groom amused them-selves by throwing handfuls of copper money out of the carriage windows, and the resulting scramble was worth traveling a long way to see. We boys kept just far enough behind to see everything and to avoid the worst of the crowd, and we felt repaid for the uncomfortable tramp. The procession stopped in front of a handsome house, and there the crowd dispersed. The band went to refresh itself at a neighboring cafe, and Howard suggested that we go there, too, since they might begin to play again. I had no real desire for any more of that kind of music, but I wanted to see everything unusual, and went along.
There was an English newspaper on file in the cafe, and in looking over it I observed something which interested me very much. There was a note stating that the Shah of Persia was staying in Cairo for a few days at one of the great hotels, that he was traveling incognito and on private business. " Well, here's great luck ! " I exclaimed. " An old friend of mine is here, and I'll take you boys to see him. Have you ever heard of Mouzaffer-ed-Din?" Howard and Kenneth looked at me as though they thought me temporarily insane. I hastened to explain. " Mouzaffer-ed-Din is the Shah of Persia," I said, " and I became quite well acquainted with him while I was in Paris at the Exposition. He's very glad to meet young Americans, and we will all three call on him this evening after dinner. I'm sure he hasn't forgotten me, and we won't have any difficulty about getting in He is one of the most interesting characters I ever met." Howard and Kenneth looked at each other and then at me. I could see that they had real doubts about whether they would meet the ruler of Persia, and I decided to say no more at that time. I was delighted at this unexpected good fortune, which had given me an opportunity to renew my acquaintance with one of the strangest men living, and the cafe life had no longer any interest for me. I left the boys to wait for the band to play, and hurried to the hotel which had been mentioned in the paper. I wanted to learn if the Shah were really there before I took the boys to call.