The Land of Midian/Chapter 20
|←The Wady Hamz—the Classical Ruin—Abá‘l-Marú, the Mine of “Marwah”—Return to El–Wijh—Résumé of the Southern Journey|| The Land of Midian by
The next day saw us at El–Wijh, dispensing pay and “bakhshísh” to the companions of our Desert march; and shipping the men and mules, with the material collected during the southern journey. The venerable Shaykh ‘Afnán and his Baliyy were not difficult to deal with; and they went their way homewards fully satisfied. We exchanged a friendly adieu, or rather an au revoir, with our excellent travelling companion, Mohammed Shahádah; and I expressed my sincere hopes to find him, at no distant time, governor of the restored Quarantine-station.
On the morning of April 12th we set out betimes, and anchored for the night in one of the snug bays of Jebel Nu’man. The next day placed us at the Sharm Yáhárr, where the process of general distribution happily ended. Here the final parting took place with the gallant companions of our four months’ travel. Shaykh Furayj, delighted with the gift, in addition to his pay, of a Styrian skean-dhu and an Austrian Werndl-carbine, at once set off to rejoin the tribe up-country; while the Sayyid steadfastly stayed with us to the last. These men had become our friends; and my sorrow at leaving them was softened only by the prospect of presently seeing them again.
Immediately after my return to Cairo I strongly recommended the Sayyid for promotion, in these words:—“First and foremost is the Sayyid ‘Abd el-Rahím, the head of a noble family, settled for generations at El–Muwayláh, where he is now Kátib (‘accountant’) to the Fort. He knows thoroughly the whole Land of Midian; he is loved and respected by all the Arabs, and both he and his are devoted to the Government of your Highness. Evidently it would be advantageous to promote such a man to the post of governor of the place—a post which will presently become of high importance, and which is actually held by an old officer, almost bed-ridden.
“The second is Shaykh Mohammed Shahádah, of El–Wijh, a man of family and position; known far and wide, and made generally popular by his generous and charitable actions. He was formerly Wakíl, or ‘agent,’ to the Fort el-Wijh, until that office was abolished. The port will presently have its custom-house; and I propose forwarding to her Britannic Majesty’s Government my notes upon the subject of the Quarantine-station, which has imprudently been transferred from Arabia to Tor, in the Sinaitic Peninsula. Meanwhile it would, I venture to suggest, be most advantageous if Mohammed Shahádah were named governor of his native place.”
The Expedition, in its urgent desire to return northwards, was not seconded by weather. Despite an ugly gale, the Sinnár boldly attempted giving the slip to Arabia on April 16th, but she was beaten back before she reached El–Muwaylah. After another stormy day, we again got up steam; and, fighting hard against adverse winds and waves, greatly to the distress of the unfortunate mules and gazelles, we reached Suez on April 20th.
At Suez my wife had been awaiting me for long weeks, preferring the simplicity of the Desert to the complex life of Cairo. Some delay was again necessary in order to telegraph our arrival, to apply for a special train, and to sort and pack in the travelling-cases our twenty-five tons of specimens. As often happens, the return to civilization was in nowise cheery. Everything seemed to go wrong. For instance, the Dragoman despatched to town from the New Docks in order to lay in certain comforts, such as beef and beer, prudently laid out the coin in a brand-new travelling suit intended for his own service. Such an apology for a dinner had not been seen during the last four months of wild travel—unpleasant when guests have been bidden to a feast! The night at the Docks, also, was a trifle mortuary, over-silent and tranquil: all hands, officers and men, who could not get leave to sleep ashore, simply took leave—I believe myself to have been for a time both captain and crew of the Sinnár. And, lastly, we heard that both our dog-companions, Juno and Páijí, had died of some canine epidemic.
The next day ended our halt at Suez, with visits to slop-shops and a general discussion of choppes. The old hotel, under the charge of Mr. and Mrs. Adams, had greatly improved by the “elimination” of the offensive Hindi element; and my old friends of a quarter-century’s standing received me with all their wonted heartiness. Sa’íd Bey was still a Bey, but none the less jovial and genial; Captain Ali Bey, who had commanded the Sinnár, was now acting commodore; and my only regret was having again missed Colonel Gordon (Pasha).
April 22nd convinced us that, even in these prosaic regions, our misadventures and accidents had not reached their fated end. A special train had been organized by Hanafi Effendi for eight a.m. About ten miles from Suez one of the third-class carriages began “running hot;” and, before we could dismount, the axle-box of a truck became a young Vesuvius in the matter of vomiting smoke. I ordered the driver, who was driving furiously, to make half speed; but even with this precaution there were sundry stoppages; and at the Naffíshah station, where my Bolognese acquaintances still throve, we could not be supplied with a change of “rolling-stock.” About Tell el-Kabír, the brake-van also waxed unsafely warm; but it reached Zagázig without developing more caloric. Briefly, we caught fire three times in one morning.
These accidents must always be expected, where spare carriages are placed for months upon sidings to become tinder in the sun; and where the cracks and crevices of the woodwork fill up with the silicious sand of the Desert, an admirable succedaneum for flint and steel. One consolation, however, remained to us: the Dragoman, brand-new clothes and all, was left behind at Suez. His last chef d’œuvre of blundering has already been noticed242—the barrel of Midianitish oysters sent to Admiral M’Killop (Pasha) had been so carelessly headed up, and so carefully turned topsy-turvy, that the result was, to use my friend’s words, they could be nosed from the half-way station. The “Kyrios” had probably passed a Bacchanalian night with his Hellenic friends, and he subsequently made act of presence at Cairo with a very British-looking black eye. His accident at Suez was a bit of “poetical justice,” which almost convinced one of the “moral government.”
A succulent breakfast à la fourchette, in the charming garden of our friend M. Vetter, of Zagázig, duly discussed, we again went “on board,” amusing the lookers-on by our naive enjoyment of the Nile-valley: they had not been in Arabia, and they found the “emerald-green” dusty and yellow. We reached Cairo at 5.30 p.m. More troubles! Ten minutes after arrival we found ourselves in possession, in sole charge of the gare. The train was loaded with Government property, officers, soldiers and escort, mules, boxes and bags of specimens whose collecting had cost money. Yet station-master, agent, and employés at once went their ways, declining even to show the room allotted to our goods, although a telegram from the railway authorities had advised me that one had been made ready. The assistant-agent, when at last hunted up, declared, before vanishing once more, that the porters for whom we applied were busy loading cotton, and that we must e’en do the best we could for ourselves. So the waggons were shunted and unloaded by their tenants, and the minerals were deposited under a kind of shed whose key was not forthcoming. We failed to find even a light, till the local train from Suez was announced; and, when it began whistling, the officials, who had returned like rats from their holes, gave us peremptory directions to shunt again. This time, however, I had the game in my hands; and replied by taking due precautions against being turned out.
At first the soldier-escort worked as well as could be expected; but the numbers fell off every quarter of an hour, till we were left with a very select party; the only recipients, by-the-by, of “bakhshísh.” The Sub–Lieutenant Mohammed Effendi mounted a donkey the moment he stepped out of the R.R. carriage; and, utterly disregarding so vexatious a frivolity as asking leave, rode off to his home at Torah. His example was followed by the Sergeant Mabrúk ‘Awaz. And yet both these men had the impudence to call upon me at the hotel, and to apply for especial Shahádahs, or “testimonials” of good conduct. In short, we were detained at the station for three mortal hours, working with our own hands. If this be a fair specimen of European management in Egypt, and I am told that it has now become worse, much worse in every way, the sooner we return to Egyptian mismanagement the better. The latter is, at any rate, cheap and civil.
On the next day the Viceroy graciously sent his junior Master of Ceremonies, his Excellency Tonino Bey, to welcome me back; and I was at once honoured with audiences at the Khedivial Palace, ‘Abidin, and by Prince Husayn Kámil Pasha at Gizah (Jízah). The Khediv was pleased to express satisfaction with my past exertions, and ordered several measures to be carried out at once. Amongst them was a little exhibition of mineralogy and archaeology, maps and plans, sketches and croquis, at the Hippodrome.
I need hardly say that his Highness at once saw the gist of the matter. Many concessions had been applied for, even from Australia; but the Viceroy determined that, before any could be granted, careful analyses of the specimens must be made, at his Highness’s private expense, in London. M. Ferdinand de Lesseps, of world-wide fame, volunteered, in the most friendly way, to submit échantillons of the rocks to the Parisian Académie des Sciences, of which he is a distinguished member. The Viceroy was also pleased spontaneously to remind me of, and to renew, the verbal promise made upon my return from the first Expedition to Midian; namely, that I should be honoured with a concession, or that a royalty of five per cent. on the general produce of the mines should be the reward of discovery. The young Minister of Finance, Prince Husayn Kámil Pasha, after courteously congratulating me upon the successful result of our labours, put as usual the most pertinent of questions.
The opening of our little Exposition was delayed by sundry difficulties. The Greek Easter set in with its usual severity about later April. A general shop-shutting, a carouse unlimited, catholic, universal; and, despite stringent police orders, a bombardment of the town by squibs and crackers, were the principal features of the fête. The 29th was the classical Shamm el-Nasin, or “the Smelling of the Zephyr,” a local May-day religiously kept with utter idleness. Mr. W. E. Hayns and I utilized it by going a flint-hunting on the left bank of the Nile.243 Then the terrible “May coupon” gave immense trouble and annoyance to the rulers; who, so far from making merry with the lieges, had to work in person between five a.m. and midnight. After such exertion as this, rest was of course necessary. Subsequently, a grand review monopolized one day; another was spent by the Court in despatching the young Prince Fu’ád to Switzerland; and yet another was given to his Highness the Prince Hasan Pasha, Commander-inChief of the Egyptian auxiliaries, who, on the conclusion of the war, had returned to Cairo en route for Europe.
Briefly, it was not before May 9th that the Khediv, accompanied by the Prince héritier, Taufík Pasha, found leisure personally to open the Exhibition—the first, by-the-by, ever honoured with the Viceregal presence. Despite all my efforts, the rooms, which should have been kept clear till his Highness had passed through, were crowded at an early hour. The maps prepared at the Citadel by Lieutenants Amir and Yusuf, with the aid of three extra hands, were very imperfect, half finished at the last moment, and abounding in such atrocities as “Ouorh” for “El–Wijh.” The engineer, M. Marie, when asked aloud, and with all publicity, by the Khediv whether he was sure that such and such specimens contained gold, shirked a direct reply, evasively declaring that “Midian is a fine mining country.” He had pointed out to me the precious metal during our exploration of Umm el-Karáyat; but such is the wretched result of “knowing the people,” instead of telling the truth like a man. And one of the many jealous, a mild Mephisto., whispered in the Viceregal ear, “There can’t be much gold there, or ces messieurs would have said more about it.”
Despite these small contretemps the Exhibition244 was pronounced a success, and served, as such things do, for a nine days’ wonder. Several travellers from England and Australia took the opportunity of inspecting the rocks; and I was much encouraged to find the general opinion so highly favourable. Locally there were dissidents, but this must be expected where interests differ.
Meanwhile his Highness kept me hard at work. I was directed to draw up a concise general description of the province; to report upon the political and other measures by which the Midian country would be benefited; and, lastly, to suggest the means which, in my humble opinion, were best calculated for successfully working the mines. In former days the Viceroy would at once have undertaken the task, and probably would have sent down five thousand men to open the diggings. Now, however, the endless trickery of European adventurers and speculators has made a wise precaution absolutely necessary. During the last audience, his Highness ably and lucidly resumed the history of the past measures, and the steps which he proposed for the future. The first Khedivial Expedition had been simply one of exploration, sent to ascertain whether the precious metals really existed. The second was intrusted with the charge of laying down the probable limits of the mining formation; and of bringing back varied specimens, in quantities sufficient for scientific analysis. The third and next step would be to organize a Compagnie de Recherche, with the object of beginning a serious exploitation. The future thus settled, I was kindly and courteously dismissed, with a desire that I should take charge of the specimens, and personally superintend the work of assaying. Mr. Charles Clarke received pay and leave for three months, and was ordered to convey the boxes by “long sea.”
On May 10th we left Cairo in company with our friend Mr. Garwood, C.E. At Alexandria a great repose fell upon my spirit; it was like gliding into a smooth port after a storm at sea. All the petty troubles and worries of Cairo; the cancans, the intrigues, the silly reports of the envious and the jealous, with the buzz and sting of mosquitoes; the weary waiting; the visits of “friends” whose main object in life seemed to be tuer le ver; and the exigencies of my late fellow-travellers, who, after liberal pay and free living for four months, seemed determined to quarter themselves upon the Egyptian Government for the rest of their natural lives;—all these small cares, not the less annoying because they were small, disappeared like magic at the first glimpse of blue water. I had barely time to pass an afternoon at Ramleh, “the Sand-heap,” with an intimate of twenty-five years’ standing, Hartley John Gisborne, an old servant of the Egyptian “Crown,” for whom new men and new measures have, I regret to see, made the valley of the Nile no longer habitable.
The next Sunday placed us on board the Austro–Hungarian Lloyd’s screw-steamer Austria (Capitano Rossol). As usual, the commander and officers did all they could to make their voyagers comfortable; the Company did the contrary. At this spring season, true, the migratory host of unfeathered bipeds crowds northwards; even as in autumn it accompanies the birds southwards. But when berths are full, passengers should be refused; and if the commercial director prefers dead to live goods, travellers should be duly warned. The accommodation would have been tolerable in a second-class or third-class English steamer, which charges fifteen shillings to a sovereign per diem; here, however, we were paying between £2 and £3.
The Alexandrian agent had been asked to lodge us decently. My wife found herself in a cabin occupied by two nurses. I was placed in a manner of omnibus, a loose box for six, of whom one was an Armenian and two were Circassians from Daghistán—good men enough, but not pleasant as bedroom fellows. No extra service had been engaged for an extra cargo of seventy-two; that is, forty-two first, and thirty second class. There were only three stewards, including the stewardess; and the sick were left to serve themselves. At least half a dozen were required; and, in such places as Trieste and Alexandria, a large staff of cooks and waiters can always be engaged in a few hours. On board any English ship some of the smartest and handiest seamen would have been converted into temporary attendants—here no one seemed to think of a proceeding so far out of the usual way. There was only one, instead of three or four cooks; and the unfortunate had to fill a total of one hundred and thirty-five mouths, the crew included, three times a day. The other tenant of the close and wretched little galley lay sick with spotted typhus; and, after barbarous neglect, he died on the day following our arrival at Trieste—I did not hear that the surgeon of the screw-steamer Austria had met with his deserts by summary dismissal from the service. The Austro–Hungarian Lloyd’s was once famed for good living; over-economy and high dividends have now made the cuisine worse than the cheapest of tables d’hôte. Provisions as well as their preparation were so bad that Sefer Pasha, an invalid, confined himself to a diet of potatoes and eggs.
Add the quasi-impossibility of obtaining a bath; the uncleanliness of the offices; the hard narrowness of the sofas; the small basins, or rather bowls, and the tiny towels like napkins; the clamorous pets of the small fry, cats and dogs; the crowding of second-class passengers on the quarter-deck; and the noise of the Armenian lady beating her maid, who objected to the process in truly dreadful language: throw in an engine which, despite the efforts of her energetic English engineer, Mr. Wilkinson, managed only nine instead of eleven and a half knots an hour; an ugly north-easter off Cape Matapan, bringing tropical downfalls of rain; and a muggy Scirocco off Istria, when we breathed almost as much water as air: and I think that the short entry in my journal, “horridly uncomfortable,” was to a certain extent justified by the conduct of the poor Austria. Yet the Austro–Hungarian Lloyd’s boasts a dividend of seven per cent. She shall see no more of my money: until she mend her ways I shall prefer the Genoese Rubattino.
But, as the Persian poet has it, Ín níz bug’zared—“Even these things pass away.” At Corfu we were cheered by once more meeting Sir Charles Sebright, who looked hale and hearty as of yore. When we reached Trieste, his Excellency Baron Pino von Friendenthall, accompanied by the most amiable of “better halves,” came off in his galley, happily unconscious of typhus; and carried us away without the usual troubles and delays of landing in harbour bumboats. Friendly faces smiled a welcome; and, after an absence of some seven months, I found myself once more in the good town which has given us a home during the last five years.
At Trieste I was delayed for some time, awaiting the report that the specimens collected by the Expedition had arrived at their destination, the warehouses of the London Docks. Mr. Clarke met with obstacles at Suez; and, consequently, did not reach England till June 20th, after twenty-three rough days. As her Majesty’s Foreign Office had been pleased to accord me two months of leave to England, I determined to make the voyage by “long sea.” Both suffering from the same complaint, want of rest and of roast-beef, as opposed to rosbif, we resolved to ship on board the English steamer Hecla, of the B. and N. A. R. M. S. P. Company, the old Cunard line, famous for never having lost a life, a ship, or a letter. We left Trieste on July 7, 1878, in charge of our excellent commander, Captain James Brown; and, after a cruise of twenty days, viâ Venice, Palermo, and Gibraltar—a comfortable, cheery, hygienic cruise in charming weather over summer seas—we found ourselves once more (July 26th) in the city of the Liver.