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The Hunt In Egypt

( Originally Published 1914 )



IF nowhere but in Italy were any hunting-ground for old works of art it would be joy enough, had the supply of desirable finds not run so short. The world, however, is wide, and a catholic collector has ground for hope every-where. Best of all ancient countries a quarter of a century ago was Egypt. That was before its soil had been so methodically ransacked by expeditions of all nations, and before the fellaheen had been brought to understand that they excavated at their peril. Of course, the sebak diggers and poachers will always be making finds so long as there are any old mounds to dig into ; but the days when a royal tomb of the eighteenth dynasty could be discovered and secretly looted for a series of seasons are fortunately gone for ever. Science gains if the amateur collector loses, and the attainment of accurate knowledge of the past is incomparably more important than any other consideration, even to the most inveterate of collectors himself.

Now that shiploads of luxurious tourists annually hasten to Egypt to escape a Northern winter, and find amusement in the ordinary round of entertainments which is provided everywhere on the same pattern for modern wealthy idlers, a good deal of the glamour of the East has departed from Cairo. Yet even now some may escape a sense of that loss, by not having been born too soon.

Who that has revelled in the " Arabian Nights " in his childhood can fail to feel a thrill at his first contact with the old romantic world of Islam ? I have not seen Cairo since that first visit, and I do not hunger to go there now. The Cairo that I remember was still distinctly reminiscent of the old great days. Its streets were peopled as with the ancient folk. It was a city of camels and donkeys, of bright costumes and loud shouting. " Oah shemaluk! Oah yeminuk! Yallah ! yallah ! "—the very words call up still fresh memories of its thronged highways, the hurry of men and beasts, and the glamour of dust made golden by the sun. When Islam is, if ever, harnessed into the shafts of the modern industrial world, and all its hands are fettered to machinery, the last great pool of romance will be drained and common day " will reign the whole world round. The first evening in Cairo, the first distant view of the pyramids, now at last actually beheld, the first plunge into the bazaars, the almost incredible emotion that came with the first cup of coffee from a native stall—these are some of the unforgettable treasures, possessions for ever that go to build up what for each of us is the real thing that he calls his life.

Someone must have quickly marked me down as a greedy collector, seeing me, I suppose, grubbing in the bazaars and following me home, for, late in one of the first evenings after our arrival, I was told that two natives were enquiring for me. They entered my room like conspirators, bringing an air of mystery with them. After seeming to assure themselves that they were not overlooked, one of them drew a small packet from his bosom and placed in my hands a most beautiful little manuscript of the Koran. It was fifteenth-century work, still in its original binding, and I think they intended me to believe that it had been stolen, as was probably the fact. It was the first time I had had dealings with an Oriental. Would that that lost opportunity might return ! but such a chance will never again be mine.

" What will you give us for this ? " they demanded. " We must sell it quickly, and you can have it cheap."

I bade them name their price, but they hung back.

" Tell us what you will pay ; it is worth much more money than we can wait to get. Buy it from us, and you shall have it cheap."

"No!" I replied. " I can't be buyer and seller too. Name your price, and if I can afford it I will buy. But I am sure this thing is too expensive for me."

"A price, a price ! they cried. "Name a price that you will pay, and let us see."

But I would not, thinking that they would only laugh if I did ; so at last they suggested eighty pounds.

" That is truly very cheap," I said, "and the book is worth much more ; but I have not eighty pounds to spare, as I want to buy ancient Egyptian things, so you must find another purchaser."

" We will take less. Tell us what you will pay. Name any sum."

But I foolishly would not. Five pounds was in the back of my mind, and I was ashamed to utter the words. I refused to deal, and sent them away still urging, and finally whining out the words, " Name a price ; name any price, however small." If I had said five pounds, I now know that they would have jumped at the money, and that wonderful book would have been mine ; but through shame-facedness at a first contact with these new folk I lost a golden opportunity.

An old-time Damascus dealer once gave to a friend of mine the following simple explanation as to how he came to sell to him for two pounds an object for which he had begun by asking a hundred. " These things," he said, " are worth to us—nothing. To you they are worth various sums of money. How are we to know what they are worth to you? The price you will pay seems to us to depend, not on the things, but on the persons who buy them. You say this thing is worth two pounds to you. It might be worth two hundred to someone else. How are we to tell what it will fetch except by trying ? " That was the happy-go-lucky method of the good old days.

A few days later, returning on the back of a great white hired ass, Lily Tantry " by name, I was rapidly passing the little stall of a working tailor. He was an aged and hairy man, and he sat on a divan that filled the front of his cupboard-like shop. A curious little chest in the shadow behind him caught my eye, so that as soon as I could arrest the ass I returned and entered into conversation with him.

" What is that chest behind you, O Father of Beards ? " I asked.

" In the name of Allah ! it is a chest that belonged to my father, on whom is peace, and to his father before him, how far back I know not. I keep my threads and needles in it, but it is old and crazy. If you want it, and will give me wherewith to buy a new and better one, you shall have it, and your donkey-boy can now carry it away."

Said and done it all was in a few moments, and we parted, both rejoicing ; only the donkey-boy grieved, but he had not very far to carry it. We were presently jammed in the confusion of a wedding procession, and I noticed that the box gave rise to some comment, as it was recognised by the neighbours, who seemed to be congratulating the tailor on having disposed of his old rubbish to an infidel, doubtless at a high price. The box still stands on my writing-table, and holds the tools of my craft—pens, pencils, and the like-instead of the tailor's. I have never seen another at all like it, nor have I any idea of its age. It is a solid construction of brown-toned wood, inlaid with black wood, bone, and mother-of-pearl, and with bone colonettes at the angles. Whatever its age may be, the decoration preserves a very ancient tradition, the front presenting the form of an arcading of four round arches, roughly resembling the façade of a Sassanian palace. On the top is a rosette between two formalised trees, and the back is similar. The workmanship is very rough, but highly effective, and the whole possesses an admirably decorative quality.

Besides this box we only bought stuffs and carpets in Cairo, and the buying of Oriental carpets is the same all the world over, or, at least, all over the Eastern world. Nothing is more entertaining. You are seated beside an empty floor, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes, while carpet after carpet is unrolled or unfolded and strewn around ; they gradually fill the whole place and pile up one upon another, while the eye becomes stimulated and finally satiated with the glory of colour, and one's own little heap of acquisitions slowly piles up. I have sought for carpets in Cairo and Smyrna, in Beyrut and Lahore, in Srinagar and Armritsur. I have had them unladen from the backs of great Bactrian camels newly arrived at Peshawar from Merv and Penjdeh. I have bargained for them with dealers in camp in Ladakh, on the Yarkand road, carrying them down into India from Kashgar, Khotan, and yet further East. I have even purchased from a Central Asian pilgrim en route for Mecca the carpet on which he had just been saying his evening prayer. They are all things of romance. They seem to have come, as it were, on the wings of the morning from the land of dreams. Fairy fingers have woven them in a world of colour and happiness, where nothing is done by rule or law, but the whim of the moment alone is guide, and whatever is done is right, because right feeling has willed it so.

The rubbish heaps of old Cairo in those days were strewn all over with broken fragments of pots and tiles. These blue and green pieces with their glazed surfaces glittered in the sunlight amid the sand like bright stars. A few alert persons had already begun to pay attention to them, and were wont to go out a-hunting, especially after rain, in search for rare fragments of fine quality. Some very valuable collections were thus made which found their way ultimately into museums, and gave useful indications as to the place and time of manufacture of certain well-known types of fabric. The hunt was quite exciting, and I went forth to essay it, but where experienced local col-lectors only cared to pick up specimens of decorated ware, any coloured fragment was good enough for me. I took with me a spare donkey and a sack, and brought home a small load at a time, thus ultimately securing two or three hundredweight of fragments of all kinds and sizes, pre-dominantly blue in colour, but of varying intensities. The sacks returned with me to England, and remained unused for twenty years, but at last an opportunity arrived for their very effective employment. It was when I was engaged in the repair of Allington Castle for rehabitation. There was a niche in a wall in one of the rooms. It had once been a window, but was closed in the thirteenth century. I lined this niche with a mosaic made of the blue Cairo pot-fragments, and fixed a fifteenth-century Flemish statue on a pedestal in the midst. The effect is agreeable, and I do not think that future inhabitants of the house will want to undo it. The remainder of my pot-fragments were similarly employed in other suitable positions, so that they were Bally used up to the last square inch, and my labours so long before spent are receiving their ultimate reward.

But the months of that winter in Cairo were not mainly devoted to the great hunt. That was a time of terribly hard work, with all the old mosques to be carefully studied in their chronological order, the museums to be learned by heart, and in the evening the mysteries of hieroglyphics to be Iaboriously penetrated and the lore of the ancient Egyptians acquired. At last the day came when we were able to go on board our dahabiyeh and sail away south-wards before a favouring breeze. The noise of Cairo, the throng of its streets, the crying and the going of the folk within it—all faded and vanished as we sailed away. A great silence descended upon us with the oncoming of the night, and all the striving and hurrying of recent weeks seemed suddenly to have belonged to another world and another life. The night silences of the Nile are as wonderful as Alpine silences. Yet, though at first it seems as if sound itself were dead, the listening ear by degrees begins to apprehend a fainter category of subdued voices. Distant sakiehs buzz like far-off swarming bees, an owl hoots, the dogs of some remote village break forth into barking; and are answered by those of another, yet more faint, in a further distance. Then the tiny echoes of these sounds are perceived coming from the steep face of the river-bank, so that presently what seemed the stillness of death is found to be alive with all manner of little tinklings and soft sighs, gentle ripplings of water, and faint rustling of the reeds.

Our progress up the river against unfavourable breezes, and unaided by steam, was almost incredibly slow. It took thirty-seven days to reach the First Cataract. But the slower we went the better we were pleased, and the longer I was able to spend on shore at sites, some of little fame, but to me of great interest. Every day brought some grist to the mill—some new site examined, some temple or tomb visited, some ancient object acquired. As to these acquisitions, there is, for the most part, little to tell. Things were offered for sale on all sides and by all kinds of persons ; some were genuine, many were forgeries, most were of little or no interest-damaged scarabs, broken figurines, imperfect pots, bits of inscribed stone. Some-times we would sail past an individual standing on the bank of the river loudly shouting and waving some object in his hand, for which he desired rather than hoped to find a purchaser. Once it happened that the wind entirely failed us as we were close in near such an individual. He was seated on the bank, surrounded by ancient pots. They were of many shapes and of more than one fabric, and he had no doubt recently dug them up from tombs at the edge of the neighbouring desert, for it was near Kasr-es-Saiyâd. One of these tombs must have belonged to a pre-dynastic Egyptian, for several of the pots were of the same type as those after-ward discovered in pre-dynastic cemeteries which a few years later were revealed to the world by the excavations of Flinders Petrie. Others were of the eighteenth dynasty. I carried off a crate full of them—things of little value, notwithstanding their great antiquity, but to me ever since a source of continual pleasure, because of their fine simplicity of form and good proportions. Nothing decorates a library better than a row of such pots high up on the top of bookcases. In late years thousands of these common pots have been smashed to pieces by excavators, who had no use for more than a small proportion of those they brought to light in ancient burial-places. The picture of that black-robed Egyptian seated so patiently, apparently miles away from anyone, on the bare river-bank, with his ring of pots around him, awaiting the chance (that by a miracle came to him) of someone in a boat stopping just there, still lingers clearly in my memory—a characteristic image of the East putting its trust in Fate, and not in vain.

The first at all memorable adventure of acquisition that came to me on the Nile happened in the desert near Beni-Hasan, on the way to the narrow valley in the side of which is carved out the shrine called by Herodotus the Speos Artemidos. The sacred animal of that temple and of the surrounding district was the cat. It is claimed for man that one of his greatest triumphs is the domestication of that wildest of wild animals, the cat. The claim is monstrous ; it was the cat that domesticated man. Some wise old tabby discovered the trick. She told her young, " Don't run away from him ; sit still and lick yourself, and treat him with confidence, always keeping an eye on him, though you seem to be looking the other way. He's a blundering creature, anyhow. What he throws never hits, and you have always time to jump aside and get out of his way when he comes for you. But if you treat him with confidence and purr when he touches you, he'll do you no harm, and when he is not looking you can eat his food and save the trouble of hunting. Have you not claws and teeth? Use them when finally necessary, and he'll be careful. But, on the whole, trust him, though with discretion, and he'll let you live on him." The policy was entirely successful. Man, being tamed, came to think that he had tamed the cat, and was correspondingly proud of himself. The cat never undeceived him, and has lived a life of luxurious ease ever since.

In Egypt the cat was worshipped. In early days it began by being the totem of some ancient Egyptian clan. Other clans venerated the bull, the crocodile, the hawk, the jackal, the cobra, the lizard, and so forth. Observation of existing totem tribes in Africa, Australia, and elsewhere shows us that one or more representatives of the totem are often fed or even kept alive in captivity by the tribe. Thus Mr. Frazer tells us that " amongst the Narrinyeri, in South Australia, men of the snake clan sometimes catch snakes, pull out their teeth or sew up their mouths, and keep them as pets. In a pigeon clan of Samoa a pigeon was carefully kept and fed. Amongst the Kalang in Java, whose totem is a red dog, each family, as a rule,. keeps one of these animals, which they will, on no account, allow to be struck or ill-used by anyone." The Egyptian cat clan treated cats as the Kalang treat red dogs.

At an early date the cat became a totem venerated all along the Nile. So also did the ibis, the hawk, the beetle, the asp, and other animals. Cicero says that no one ever heard of an Egyptian killing a cat ; the remark might be made at the present day with almost equal truth. Herodotus relates that, when a fire occurred in Egypt, the people's first idea was to save the cats and prevent them from leaping into the flames.

Not only were cats preserved from injury, respected, and petted during life, but they were buried with honour and mourned when dead. Many a parallel may be found to this custom of the ancient Egyptians. For instance, in Samoa, to quote once more from Mr. Frazer, " If a man of the owl totem found a dead owl by the roadside, he would sit down and weep over it and beat his forehead with stones till the blood flowed. The bird would then be wrapped up and buried with as much ceremony as if it had been a human being." The Egyptians' idea of respectable burial implied preliminary mummification. According to their notion, a living man consisted of a body, a ka, or ghost, a ba, or soul, and a " luminous." At death these component parts were broken asunder and set adrift. It was believed that some day all of them would come together again, and there would be a resurrection. This, however, could only happen if all the parts were preserved. Some of them might be destroyed by the infernal powers ; that, of course, could not be prevented by surviving relatives. They could only help to keep the ka going. This ka was an impalpable doublé of the man's body ; it was, in fact, the mediaeval, or, for that matter, the modern, ghost. To keep it alive it had to be fed with the ghost of food, clothed in the ghost of clothing, and housed in the ghost of a house. It might be pleased and amused by the ghosts of luxuries and games, and served by the ghosts of slaves. The ingenuity of the ancient Egyptians may be measured by the fact that they not only invented the double, but found out how to supply it with all these things.

The ghost, or double, of a body (in ancient Egypt) had, however, to have a material something to be the double of. The actual body was, of course, best ; second best was an image of it made in some lasting substance. Hence arose mummification to preserve the body, and portrait sculpture to replace it if destroyed. Such statues are called ka statues. If the mummy were destroyed the ka could still be kept in existence by means of them. A rich man was mummified in costly style, had many ka statues, and was buried in an elaborate tomb ; a poor man was merely dipped in bitumen, rolled in a few yards of common stuff, and hidden in the desert sand.

As with men, so with cats. They, too, had their ka and all the rest of it, and their ka had likewise to be kept from annihilation against the great day of resurrection of cats, crocodiles, and men. A rich man's cat was elaborately mummified, wound round and round with stuff, and cunningly plaited over with linen ribbons dyed two different colours. His head was encased in a rough kind of papier-mâché mask, and that was covered with linen and painted, even gilt sometimes, the ears always carefully pricked up. The mummy might be enclosed in a bronze box with a bronze ka statue of the cat seated on the top. Even finer burial might await a particularly grand cat, as we shall presently see. A poor man's cat was rolled up in a simple lump, but the rolling was respectfully done, which is more than one can say about many a poor ancient Egyptian's body brought to light in these excavating days.

Egypt possessed many temples of the Cat Goddess. First among them was the great temple of Bubastis. It was called by Herodotus the most pleasing of all the temples of Egypt. A festival of an exceedingly merry and immoral character was celebrated there to the yearly delight of thousands of Egyptians. Cat mummies and cat ka statues have been found in many parts of Egypt, but till recently ninety-nine out of a hundred of them came from Bubastis. In the summer of 1888, however, an enormous find of cats was made near Beni-Hasan, a place some hundred miles or so south of Cairo, and well known for its wonderful rock-cut tombs. That an important cats' burying-place would exist somewhere thereabouts might have been predicted from the fact that, as aforesaid, the famous Speos Artemidos exists in the immediate neighbourhood, and this temple was dedicated to Pasht. Cats must, therefore, have been specially venerated in the ancient city.

For three or four thousand years the cat mummies of Beni-Hasan lay undisturbed, awaiting the resurrection; then a resurrection came to them, but other than they had looked forward to. The archangel that heralded it was an Egyptian fellah from the neighbouring village. By some chance one day this genius dug a hole somewhere in the level floor of the desert, and struck-cats! Not one or two here and there, but dozens, hundreds, hundreds of thousands, a layer of them, a stratum thicker than many a coal-seam, in a series of pits ten to twenty cats deep, mummy squeezed against mummy, tight as herrings in a barrel. The discovery meant wealth for somebody. A systematic exploration of the pits was undertaken. The surface sand was stripped off, and the cats were laid bare. All sorts and conditions of them then appeared—the commoner sort caked together in black lumps, out of which here a grinning face, there a furry paw, or a backbone or row of ribs of some ancient puss stood prominently forth. The better cats and kittens emerged in astonishing numbers, and with all their wrappings as fresh as if they had been put into the ground a week, and not thirty centuries before. Now and again an elaborately plaited mummy turned up ; still more rarely one with a gilded face (of such I myself found three lying about). As far as I can learn, only three cat ka statues were found there. Two of these are small bronze figures. The third is a life-size bronze, a hollow casting, inside which the actual cat was buried. One or more bronze statuettes of Osiris, god of the dead, were likewise found among the cats. All these objects are in my possession.

The plundering of the cemetery was a sight to see, but one had to stand well to windward. The village children came from day to day and provided themselves with the most attractive mummies they could find. These they took down to the river-bank to sell for the smallest coin to passing travellers. Often they took to playing or fighting together with them on the way, and then the ancient fur began to fly as for three thousand years it had never been called upon to do. The path became strewn with mummy cloth and bits of cats' skulls, bones, and fur in horrid pro-fusion, and the wind blew the fragments about and carried the stench afar. This was only the illicit part of the business. The bulk of the old totems went another way. Some contractor came along and offered so much a pound for their bones to make into something—soap or tooth powder, I dare say, or even paint. So men went systematically to work, peeled cat after cat of its wrappings, stripped off the brittle fur, and piled the bones in black heaps a yard or more high, looking from the distance like rotting haycocks dispersed over the sandy plain. The rags and other refuse, it appears, make excellent manure, and donkey-loads of them were carried off to the fields to serve that useful, if unromantic, purpose.

I happened to be riding by just when some of the digging was toward; while halting but a few moments the great gilt bronze cat was discovered. Presumably the villagers suspected that I might be some official who would be down on them for unauthorised appropriation of antiquities. At all events, they thought it better to be on the safe side, so the cat was huddled up in a rag and given to a small boy, who made off with it. Seeing what had happened, I followed him. He began to run, cutting away over the desert, with me in hot pursuit on rather a lazy donkey. I had neither whip nor spur, but only a kind of Mrs. Gamp umbrella wherewith to belabour my steed. The thwacks were more resounding than efficient. However, I was between the boy and his village, so that I could drive him towards the desert hills. The chase was long, but the scales of fate ultimately tipped my way, and as I finally came up with the truant he cast himself on his knees and held up to my delighted gaze the gilt bronze cat. All I desired was to purchase it, so that the boy's feelings under-went a swift and agreeable revulsion. We returned joyously together, I with the cat, he with a handful of piastres.

The bronze cat sits bolt upright (some eighteen and a half inches high), with her forelegs very straight and rigid and her paws set close together. Her neck is long, and perfectly cylindrical. Her head is practically a sphere, with a face patched on to the front. She is, in fact, almost the mathematical abstraction of a cat reduced to its simplest form. The inside of her body is hollow, and in it the cat's mummy was buried. Only the unmistakable smell and a few scraps of mummy cloth remained behind when I first saw the creature. The whole thing, legs and all, was cast in one piece, the cores of clay, about which the forelegs are cast, being still inside them. The right leg has cracked ; moisture at some time found its way to the clay within, which has swollen and burst the whole limb wide open. An interesting feature about this cat is that the whole body of it was thinly plastered over with a fine coating of gesso, and that this was gilded. Alabaster eyes were also introduced. Most of the gilded gesso and one of the eyes remain. The maker of the cat did not intend it to be gilt. This is evident not only because the modelling of the face is entirely altered by the plaster, which is thereabouts quite thick, but because the whiskers were indicated by tooling about the mouth, and this tooling the gesso, before bits of it flaked off, entirely hid. A cat buried with such exceptional magnificence can have been no ordinary beast. It seems hardly too much to assume that it was the temple cat of its day, the sacred animal of that Speos Artemidos which all travellers in Egypt go to see. As such, at all events, the owner finds pleasure in regarding it.

The next collecting adventure I can remember was a wonderful night at Luxor, a village that in those days was a perfect hive of illicit antiquity dealers. No doubt most of the things they sold called for no secrecy, but it suited their notions of how best to impose on travellers to represent every object in their shops as a priceless treasure which the whole power of the local government was eager to seize for the glory of the Cairo Museum. They had plenty of forgeries, some almost perfectly made. Best were the scarabs. There must have been a genius at work producing them. I am told that he was as proud of his craft as Bastianini himself, and was indignant if anyone suggested that his scarabs were really old ; but the dealers who bought from him had no such compunction.

I had spent two or three evenings in the dark native houses of Luxor, finding nothing but the ordinary poor rubbish that came to the surface everywhere in Egypt. At last I was taken, with what seemed no more than the usual precautions, into an inner room within the courtyard of a specially secluded house, and there, to my astonishment, they showed me a few quite extraordinary treasures. I knew enough to recognise them at once as work of the eighteenth dynasty, the most attractive period of ancient Egyptian art. We were in a low-roofed room with a little ramshackle furniture. The mud walls were naked. The floor was of hard mud. The place was very dirty. It was otherwise empty when we entered. Women, veiling their faces, brought things in from the background, one by one. First there was the head of a limestone statue of a woman, very finely wrought and with remains of paint on the voluminous wig. The long face, the drooping chin, the broken fragment of what must have been a long neck, were unmistakable. It was the head of some member of the family of the heretic King Amenhotep IV. A friend who was with me promptly acquired it. Then came a number of small objects, some of very fine quality, but they were all late, and the prices were high. It was no use trying to bargain. Take them or leave them was the order of the day. Then there was a delay. The whole affair was excellently stage-managed. Faint sounds in the back quarters indicated that a heavy object was coming. Two persons brought it into the room and set it on the table. The cloth that covered it was removed, and I beheld a seated lime-stone figure about two feet high and in faultless preservation, the portrait statue of a princess of the family of the same Amenhotep. I have never seen a more perfect work of ancient Egyptian sculpture. It was admirable in design, delicate in finish, entirely portrait-like, and yet as completely incorporating the ancient Egyptian ideal of repose as if it had been solely imagined to that end. The lime-stone bust of Amenhotep IV. in the Louvre, which I did not then know, may have been a work by the same sculptor, but that is damaged, while this had not a scratch. It must have been recently removed from the tomb in which it had remained untouched and even unbeheld for upwards of three millennia. I ought at once to have recognised that these people had found access to royal tombs of the family of that Pharaoh who moved the capital of Egypt to Tel-el-Amarna. But I did not put two and two together till later. For half an hour I lingered regretfully over this beautiful object, whose price was far beyond my reach. In its presence all other objects seemed relatively little desirable. A Russian nobleman bought it next day, I believe, and I have never since heard tell of it. Like the bird of the Synod of Whitby that flew in at one door and out at the other of the great hall, the white princess came for me out of the night and vanished back into it again, but her beauty and perfection abide for ever in my memory.

Returning late to our boat, the men that followed me along the narrow lanes under the brilliant stars carried a few not undesirable acquisitions. These included the painted limestone figure of a kneeling priest holding a stele upright before him. He was Tuty by name, and his office was superintendent of the warehouse. The figure is good genuine work of the early part of the nineteenth dynasty. There was also a seated limestone portrait statue of a man, about twelve inches high, of the end of the same dynasty, a conventional example of well-known type. His name was Sebeh-menkh, and he was superintendent of the recruits. There was also an early wooden figure of a bread-maker, perfectly preserved, with its original wash of paint all over —a sketchy piece of work, but remarkably vital. The shadow or ghost of this figure buried in its owner's tomb was intended to supply that owner's ghost with the ghost of bread throughout all the long interval between his burial and his resurrection. It did its duty for the best part of 4,000 years, till the tomb-robbers carried it off. I wonder whether its owner's ghost now comes to Allington for hot rolls, and whether it hobnobs in the moonlight with the ghosts of Sir Thomas Wyatt and Anne Boleyn. There was also a small limestone figure of a woman of the seventeenth dynasty, two other small portrait statues, and a number of objects of minor interest and fragments.

A fortnight later, on our way down the river, we tied up late in the evening off Ekhmîn. At that time the place overflowed with Ptolemaic, Roman, and Coptic antiquities. The villagers seemed to possess right of free warren in the tombs of their forefathers, and those must have been legion. After dinner I landed with a boatman and a lantern, to visit the dealers, of whom there were several. They offered for sale wooden statues and alabaster vases, countless Iittle statuettes, and an excellent wooden Boat of the Dead, with lots of painted oarsmen and steersmen, the dead man seated in state under a four-post canopy, a priest and his son standing before him, and his wife behind kneeling on the deck. Such boats are common enough, but when one comes to them straight off the Nile they have a strangely vivid look. It was late in the season, and the market for the dealers' wares was nearly over, so they began bidding one against another for my custom. If I had had more sense I should have devoted more attention to the quantity of pieces of Coptic woven stuffs with figure designs upon them which were only then beginning to attract the notice they have since received in full measure. These old rags, however, seen by the light of a flickering oil Iamp, are not particularly beautiful or attractive objects, and, besides, I had not begun to take interest in Coptic art. It was the three large wooden figures that attracted me, and I made an offer for one of them. As it was not accepted, I returned to the boat, and then the fun began.

The night was brilliantly starlit, and I could not drag myself away from the company of the constellations. I was only beginning to be familiar with the Southern Cross and that neighbourhood of the heavens, which we had slowly seen rise into view as we went southward, and were now as slowly losing on our northward return. In bygone years astronomy had been a chief interest for me, and for a long time no clear night went by without my spending a few hours at the telescope. Starry nights still bring back the feeling of those young days, their stillness and solitude, the wonder of the heavens, the excitement of a first view of some nebula, some double star, some glittering cluster, surely amongst the fairest sights the eye of man can behold. It was the memory of those even then far-past nights of bliss that kept me on the deck of the dahabiyeh till long after midnight. The village, or part of it, remained awake ; there was a continual drumming and singing. Evidently some local fête was going on. At intervals dim shapes appeared on the bank and called out to me. They were the dealers still trying to tempt me with their wares. The wooden figures approached and vanished on the heads of dusky bearers. Trays of other objects, fitfully illuminated by smoky lights, were displayed, and then carried away. Prices were called out. Folk kept coming forth and re-treating again into the night, only to reappear once more. At last, at two o'clock, I prepared to go to bed. The watchers saw that the decisive moment was come. The wooden figure I really wanted was brought forward once more and handed over to me at my own price. I took it down into my cabin, and it has dwelt with me ever since.

The only other incident of acquisition in Egypt which needs to be recorded is the way we obtained some Coptic steles of about seventh-century date. It was on one of those contrary days in March, when a strong north wind kept us from moving down-stream. As the day advanced it became evident that progress was going to be impossible till the morrow, so I rode off on a donkey to the Coptic settlement called Dair Manaos wa Shenude, some distance south of Esneh. The ruinous church consists of a kind of honeycomb of square chambers, each surmounted by its own little dome, supported on arches across the angles of the square, whilst pointed arched openings connected the chambers together and united them into a church. A great number of Coptic tombstones were built into the walls of the Dair, and there had once been many more. What had happened to them was shown by the neighbouring cluster of houses, of which many, in their turn, were in ruins. The old steles had been pillaged and used as hinge-stones for the doors to turn on, or built in for coigns. A native followed us to one disroofed hut, which he assured us belonged to him. When he saw me examining the stones he promptly pulled down the remains of the door, disengaged the hinge-post from the round hole in the stone within which it had turned, pulled up the stone, and offered it to me for a piece of silver. I purchased it, and he promptly pulled down part of the wall and disengaged two more complete steles and some fragments. Fortunately, several of the boatmen had come with me. Each of them shouldered a stone, and we marched back in triumph with them to the dahabiyeh. They are now firmly built into the repaired part of a thirteenth-century wall at Allington Castle, from which it will be difficult to rend them forth. It is to save future antiquarians trouble when, say in the thirtieth century, this building may once again fall into ruin, that I here put on record the provenance of these stones !



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