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Mocking the tempest? Ocean, those vast lides,
False, false, all
Bright, for some other world!
WILLIAM THOMPSON Bacon.
FROM THE UNPUBLISHED MANUSCRIPTS OF A TRAVELLER IN THE EAST.
BY J. S. BUCKINGHAM.
The interest that has recently been excited throughout all Europe, by the efforts for renewing the ancient communication between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, on the one hand, and the opening of the route to India, by the Euphrates and the Persian Gulf, on the other, has directed public attention to whatever could elucidate the question, as to whether the Red Sea and the Mediterranean could be advantageously united, by means of a canal, from the one to the other, so as to shorten the communication between western Europe and eastern Asia, and thus avoid the long and generally stormy voyage round the great continent of Africa, by the passage of the Cape of Good Hope.
Having taken an early and a prominent part in the inquiries which were instituted on this subject, during my travels in Egypt, I was specially solicited by its' present ruler, Mohammed Ali Pasha, to undertake a journey across the Isthmus of Suez, for the double purpose, first, of examining the capacity of that port to receive vessels of a certain burthen, and inspecting its anchorages; and secondly, of traversing the desert lying between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, with the view of ascertaining whether any vestiges could still be traced of the ancient canal, said to have been begun by one of the Pharaohs, completed by Darius, and continued open up to the time of the Ptolemies. The object of these inquiries was not the mere gratification of a geographical or antiquarian curiosity, though that would have been motive sufficient to induce me to undertake the task; but it was intended as a prelude to the reopening of the ancient commerce, which, before the circumnavigation of the Cape of Good Hope, by Vasco Da Gama, was carried on extensively and profitably by this route, between Europe and India, by which indeed Alexandria had been enriched, and by which Genoa and Venice acquired such opulence and power, as to reign sole arbiters of the dominion along the shores of these two seas.
I accordingly entered into the project with zeal, believing that whatever night be the privations of the desert journey, I should be gratified by its novelty; and hoping, that beside my own personal gratification, some public good would result from the investigation on which I was about to enter.
It was on the evening of the 14th of February, that I took my leave of the Pasha, and of the numerous friends with whom I had enjoyed so many agreeable days in Cairo, and adopting their advice, to make the journey as privately as possible, so as to avoid the danger of being followed and plundered by the way, I prepared for travelling in the garb of an Arab of the humblest class, being now sufficiently qualified for this, by my knowledge of the Arabic tongue.
DEPARTURE FROM Cairo. TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 15th. - I had slept but little, from the diversity of thoughts by which I was agitated
during the night; and stirring with the earliest dawn, we were dressed and equipped before sunrise. After receiving a letter of credit on Damietta, in case of our visiting that place, as well as the firman of the Pasha, to be shown only in case of neeil, we repaired to the okella, or stables, where our cảmels and their driver lodged. This individual, whose name was Phanoose, (literally a lantern, or a light for the path,) was a Bedouin Arab, from the mountain's near Horeb and Sinai;
he had been long known among the merchants of Egypt for his tried fidelity, and was constantly entrusted by them to be the bearer of large sums in gold and silver between Sinai, Tor, Suez, and Cairo. He was thus charged for a journey at present, and to his care and protection I entirely committed myself. The great caravan of four thousand camels had departed from Cairo for Suez on the preceding evening, and coinciding with bim in his opinion, that it was best to avoid their track, and journey by the upper and least frequented road, to the northward of their course, we left Cairo by the Bab-el-Nasr, or Gate of Victory, for that route, about nine o'clock.
Our dresses were those of the Arab Fellahs, or Egyptian peasants, consisting of a simple shirt of blue cotton, over one of coarse calico next the skin, a coarse muslin turban for the head, and a woollen sash for the waist, with red slippers, and a blue cottou melyah, a kind of shawl, thrown loosely across the shoulders in the day, and serving for a slight covering at night. We had each long full beards, and wore sandals on our feet. Our provisions consisted of a sinall supply of bread, rice, butter, dates, a few hard boiled eggs and salt, some coffee, tobacco, and a goat's skin of water; our cooking utensils comprised only an iron kettle for boiling rice, and a small coffee-pot, with two coffee-cups. Our arms were a sabre, musket, and pistols each, all of the most ordinary quality, to prevent their exciting envy, or a desire in others to possess them; and these, with a straw mat for sleeping on, and a Bedouin cloak, or Burnoose, for a night covering, with the indispensable requisites of a pipe and tobacco-bag, completed our simple travelling equipage.
Taking a course almost due east from the gate we had left, we passed on through a narrow defile, or valley, formed by the near approach of two small yet steep hills, projecting against each other like bluff capes in miniature, leaving the · Birket-el-Hadji,' or the Lake of the Pilgrims, the general point of rendezvous for caravans, to the north of us.
pace of our camels appeared to me light and easy, and as they bore only the few small sacks of money confided to the care of the Bedouin, beside our own baggage, their rate of progress was never less than a league in the hour. The weather was favorable for our journey; and Phanoose occasionally broke the silence of the desert by the songs with which he cheered his camels, so that I felt my spirits growing lighter with every step we took.
We halted for an hour about noon, and made a hearty, though a hasty meal, when overtaking a small caravan of Arabs bound to Tor, we joined their humble camp, for mutual protection, about two hours before sunset. Our salutations at meeting were rather like those of long absent friends than that of perfect strangers, and their rude hospitality had in it a sincerity which enhanced its worth. The camels were unladen, and suffered to feel upon the few dry herbs that were
scattered among the sands, which, in addition to their want of moisture, had the bitterest taste that could be endured. The sacks of grain which formed the lading of those bound to Tor, were ranged on each side of us, as a shelter from the wind; our arms were mustered and examined, and we felt ourselves in a state of security.
The party we had joined were named Moosa, or Moses, a deaf gray-bearded old Bedouin, Abdallah, a negro from the mountains beyond Habesh, or Abyssinia, and Suliman and Hassan, two Arab boys, which was now increased by Phanoose, our guide, and myself. The boys being immediately despatched to collect sufficient fuel for the night, Abdallahı served us with coffee, prepared over a fire of dried camel's dung, collected on the spot. Our pipes were filled from each other's sacks, as a usual interchange of compliment,
and my ready acceptance of a pinch from Moosa's snuff-box, (for the Arabs who frequent Cairo have learnt this habit of the Europeans there,) brought us at once upon a footing of intimacy.
As conversation became general, it was soon discovered that my language as well as color was not exactly that of the Bedouins ; the Arabic spoken in Egypt, though pure, differing materially from that of the desert; and to pass for a Turk, though perfectly easy in the present instance, would have been of no advantage, their whole race being hated and despised by the Bedouins. I therefore confessed myself to be a traveller from the west, wandering over the eastern world in search of knowledge, and of good men; and as this elicited an expression of applause, mingled with surprise, and my protector, Phanoose, honestly avowed that my life was upon his head, all things seemed likely to be turned to our advantage. Interesting as the task would have been, I found it impossible to remember the whole of the conversation which arose upon this single topic: namely, the avowed rarity of finding wisdom or honesty among men, and the grounds on which I hoped to meet with it in my travels through the world, for such appeared to them to be the state-of the argument implied by my confession. But though this discussion was long, it was ingenious, and entertaining even to the end.
As it grew dark, the camels were collected together, and kneeling on the sand near us, their fore-legs were lashed in their bent position, which rendering them unable to rise, was the only precaution necessary for their safety. A small quantity of gunpowder, bruised in oil, was given to them in form of a bolus, and a bag of beans tied to their mouths, for their evening meal. Hassan and Suliman were returned with fuel for the night, and Abdallah, having in the short space of half an hour ground sufficient wheat for the party, mixed it, chaff and all, in the water of their own skin, baked cakes of it on the fire of dung, and made them, while warm, again into a paste, by breaking them in pieces, and kneading them in a wooden bowl, with oil and honey. Each of the party washed his hands in the sand, before commencing their meal, as water is too precious in the desert to be so used; and all dipping their fingers in the same dish, regaled themselves as at a feast of delicacies.
I could not refuse to join them, but it was a painful tribute to their hospitality; and keen as my appetite had been at alighting, it was more than satisfied by witnessing the preparation of our food, so that
I was compelled at last to plead fatigue, and afterward to sup unseen from my own stock; feeling, in this instance, the truth of Solomon's expression, that'stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.' We remained awake, and were engaged in rude yet interesting festivity, until midnight, having a large fire, and one of the party always on the watch, so that we rolled ourselves in our cloaks, and sunk to rest without apprehensions of evil.
DESERT OF Suez. WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 16TH. - The shades of night had scarcely given place to the earliest gleams of morning, before we were again stirring. Coffee and the hasty cakes of yesterday were served with equal expedition, and an hour before sunrise, our little caravan was on the march. The appearance of the country was every where the same; dull sandy plains, unbroken and without variety ; a wide horizon, almost like the sea, and the elevation or depression of the road seldom exceeding an angle of three degrees. In some few parts, where the sand appeared more loose and deep, were tufts of bitter herbs, and a sort of dry heath, on which the camels fed as they passed along; but by far the greater part of the track was a firm, gravelly soil, covered with white and yellow pebbles, of common flint, forming an excellent road, either for wheel carriages, cavalry, or infantry, and even for laden wagons, if necessary.
In the course of the morning, we had passed several spots strewed with logs, resembling petrifactions of trees, or at least portions of their trunks, with the bark on; but remembering the discussion of that question by Volney, and his aspersions on the veracity of Père Sicard, followed by an assurance of his having examined those logs, and found them to be really stones, I passed thein by, contented with admiring their close resemblance to timber, yet still wondering at the cause of their singular shape and situation, remote from rocks or quarries of any kind; my confidence in his better judgment setting the question at rest in my own mind as to their real nature, for the present. At noon, however, we passed another spot on which several of these lay, and among them were some so remarkable, that I could not resist the temptation of alighting to examine them more closely; the result of which was, a conviction of their being petrifactions. I had selected one of the smallest of the trunks that I could find, among those exhibiting unequivocal characteristics, such as the bark, the circular layers, the knots, etc., intending to load it on our camels alternately, and send it back from Suez to Cairo; but the very proposition was resisted with warmth, and persevered against with obstinacy. I offered an increased sum for its conveyance, and even consented to walk myself, for the rest of the way, while my own camel carried it, as it did not exceed my own weight; but neither entreaties, threats, nor rewards, could prevail on our guide to comply with my wishes ; and the silliness of the objections which he urged, only added vexation to disappointment. He knew, he said, that I was 'one' of God's wandering children,' that is, an idiot or madman; and as I understood how to read books, that my search was after hidden treasures; but these, he said, were not the monied