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Moving Pictures

( Originally Published 1908 )


OF the voyage, made with all the swiftness and directness of one who seeks the shortest distance between two points, little remains in memory except a few moving pictures, vivid and half-real, as in a kinematograph.

First comes a long, swift ship, the Deutschland, quivering and rolling over the dull March waves of the Atlantic. Then the morning sunlight streams on the jagged rocks of the Lizard, where two wrecked steamships are hanging, and on the green headlands and gray fortresses of Plymouth. Then a soft, rosy sunset over the mole, the dingy houses, the tiled roofs, the cliffs, the misty-budded trees of Cherbourg. Then Paris at two in the morning: the lower quarters still stirring with somnambulistic life, the lines P> of lights twinkling placidly on the empty boulevards. Then a whirl through the Bais in a motor-car, a breakfast at Versailles with a merry little party of friends, a lazy walk through miles of picture-galleries without a guide-book or a care. Then the night express for Italy, a glimpse of the Alps at sunrise, snow all around us, the thick darkness of the Mount Cenis tunnel, the bright sunshine of Italian spring, terraced hillsides, clipped and pollarded trees, waking vine-yards and gardens, Turin, Genoa, Rome, arches of ruined aqueducts, snow upon the Southern Apennines, the blooming fields of Capua, umbrella-pines and silvery poplars, and at last, from my balcony at the hotel, the glorious curving panorama of the bay of Naples, Vesuvius without a cloud, and Capri like an azure lion couchant on the broad shield of the sea. So ends the first series of films, ten days from home.

After an intermission of twenty-four hours, the second series begins on the white ship Oceana, an immense yacht, ploughing through the tranquil, sapphire Mediterranean, with ten passengers on board, and the band playing three times a day just as usual. Then comes the low line of the African coast, the lighthouse of Alexandria, the top of Pornpey's Pillar showing over the white, modern city.

Half a dozen little rowboats meet us, well out at sea, buffeted and tossed by the waves: they are fishing: see! one of the men has a strike, he pulls in his trolling-line, hand over hand, very slowly, it seems, as the steamship rushes by. I lean over the side, run to the stern of the ship to watch,—hurrah, he pulls in a silvery fish nearly three feet long. Good luck to you, my Egyptian brother of the angle!

Now a glimpse of the crowded, busy harbour of Alexandria, (recalling memories of fourteen years ago,) and a leisurely trans-shipment to the little Khedivial steamer, Prince Abbas, with her Scotch officers, Italian stewards, Maltese doctor, Turkish sail-ors, and freight-handlers who come from whatever places it has pleased Heaven they should be born in. The freight is variegated, and the third-class passengers are a motley crowd.

A glance at the forward main-deck shows Egyptians in white cotton, and Turks in the red fez, and Arabs in white and brown, and coal-black Soudanese, and nondescript Levantines, and Russians in fur coats and lamb's-wool caps, and Greeks in blue embroidered jackets, and women in baggy trousers and black veils, and babies, and cats, and parrots.

Here is a tall, venerable grandfather, with spectacles and a long gray beard, dressed in a black robe with a hood and a yellow scarf; grave, patriarchal, imperturbable: his little granddaughter, a pretty elf of a child, with flower-like face and shining eyes, dances hither and yon among the chaos of freight and lug-gage; but as the chill of evening descends she takes shelter between his knees, under the folds of his long robe, and, while he feeds her with bread and sweet-meats, keeps up a running comment of remarks and laughter at all around her, and the unspeakable solemnity of old Father Abraham's face is lit up, now and then, with the flicker of a resistless smile.

Here are two bronzed Arabs of the desert, in striped burnoose and white kaftan, stretched out for the night upon their rugs of many colours. Between them lies their latest purchase, a brand-new patent carpet-sweeper, made in Ohio, and going, who knows where among the hills of Bashan.

A child dies in the night, on the voyage; in the morning, at anchor in the mouth of the Suez Canal, we hear the carpenter hammering together a little pine coffin. All day Sunday the indescribable traffic of Port Said passes around us; ships of all nations coming and going; a big German Lloyd boat just home from India crowded with troops in khaki, band playing, flags flying; huge dredgers, sombre, oxlike-looking things, with lines of incredibly dirty men in fluttering rags running up the gang-planks with bags of coal on their backs; rowboats shuttling to and fro between the ships and the huddled, transient, modern town, which is made up of curiosity shops, hotels, business houses and dens of iniquity; a row of Egyptian sail boats, with high prows, low sides, long lateen yards, ranged along the entrance to the canal. At sunset we steam past the big statue of Ferdinand de Lesseps, standing far out on the break-water and pointing back with a dramatic gesture to his world-transforming ditch. Then we go dancing over the yellow waves into the full moonlight toward Palestine.

In the early morning I clamber on deck into a thunderstorm: wild west wind, rolling billows, flying gusts of rain, low clouds hanging over the sand-hills of the coast: a harbourless shore, far as eye can see, a land that makes no concession to the ocean with bay or inlet, but cries, "Hitherto shalt thou come, but no farther; and here shall thy proud waves be stayed." There are the flat-roofed houses, and the orange groves, and the minaret, and the lighthouse of Jaffa, crowning its rounded hill of rock. We are tossing at anchor a mile from the shore. Will the boats come out to meet us in this storm, or must we go on to Haifa, fifty miles beyond ? Rumour says that the police have refused to permit the boats to put out. But look, here they come, half a dozen open whale-boats, each manned by a dozen lusty, bare-legged, brown rowers, buffeting their way between the scattered rocks, leaping high on the crested waves. The chiefs of the crews scramble on board the steamer, identify the passengers consigned to the different tourist-agencies, sort out the baggage and lower it into the boats.

My tickets, thus far, have been provided by the great Cook, and I fall to the charge of his head boatman, a dusky demon of energy. A slippery climb down the swaying ladder, a leap into the arms of two sturdy rowers, a stumble over the wet thwarts, and I find myself in the stern sheets of the boat. A young Dutchman - follows with stolid suddenness. Two Italian gentlemen, weeping, refuse to descend more than half-way, climb back, and are carried on to Haifa. A German lady with a parrot in a cage comes next, and her anxiety for the parrot makes her forget to be afraid. Then comes a little Polish lady, evidently a bride; she shuts her eyes tight and drops into the boat, pale, silent, resolved that she will not scream: her husband follows, equally pale, and she clings indifferently to his hand and to mine, her eyes still shut, a pretty image of white courage. The boat pushes off; the rowers smite the waves with their long oars and sing "Halli—yallah—yah hallah"; the steersman high in the stern shouts unintelligible (and, I fear, profane) directions; we are swept along on the tops of the waves, between the foaming rocks, drenched by spray and flying showers : at last we bump alongside the little quay, and climb out on the wet, gliddery stones.

The kinematograph pictures are ended, for I am in Palestine, on the first of April, just fifteen days from home.

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