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water. And now a nuisance far more irritating arose : the mosquitoes came in such legions that I was nearly eaten alive. Clothes appeared to be no protection ; and when I got up at last, half mad, and went and sat upon deck, they attacked me with tenfold spite. The moon was shining with a brightness I had never witnessed in England; and, in its light, the deck and cabins appeared swarming with horrible things,-cockroaches, beetles, spiders, and centipedes. Any more sleep was out of the question; and I sat upon a crate until morning, when the greater part of these abominations shrunk from the heavy fog into their fastnesses, and then I tried to get a little more sleep.
Tuesday, 9th. A dead calm, and the boat made very little way. The high, dingy banks still continued; and I was glad when Giovanni contrived, from his rude kitchen, to turn out a wonderful breakfast of cutlets, fowl, and rice, potatoes, toast, and coffee. A wild dog, having smelt the cooking, followed us for miles ; but, with the exception of a boy on a ragged camel, he was the only living thing we saw on the banks for three or four hours. The crew still threw off their clothes and tumbled into the canal on the least occasion, but were singularly quiet; they did not appear to speak to one another all day long. I occupied myself in fitting up my cabin, driving pegs into the cracks to hang my watch, looking-glass, lantern, and “housewife” on, and running down the spiders, until two o'clock, when we passed some trees and arrived at Atfeh. This was a village of mud huts, on either side of the canal, thatched with grass and fodder, without windows, but having irregular holes for the inmates to crawl in and out. Some had round mud towers built on them, swarming with pigeons. Half-naked women, and children entirely so, were selling coarse bread, under huge umbrellas ; Arabs were idling about in the dust and sun, which they seemed to prefer; and there was a complete “jam” of the most incomprehensible boats I ever saw, of which all the crews were screaming and swearing at the top of their voices, banging one another with poles, breaking each other's rigging, or going coolly down to prayers in the middle of all the uproar. We had to wait more than two hours for some sort of passport, and, at last, got clear of the entangled thicket of boats, and, passing through the locks, swung out into the Nile.
I could see nothing ahead, astern, or around, but one boundless rapid current of reddish, clay-coloured water, for the inundation was scarcely subsiding ; but the expanse was a great relief after the confined, pestilent canal. The stream was so strong that, before we got up our sails, we were carried a long way down. However, there was a brisk north wind, and we soon began to rush through the water. Opposite to Atfeh we passed Fooah, a town with minarets and domes, which looked well in the afternoon haze, rising as it were from a mighty lake. Here the country got very desolate again, with a flat Essexmarsh sort of look-out on either side; and at dark the wind fell, and we pulled up under a bank for the night, if necessary. One advantage over yesterday was, that we had got rid of the mosquitoes. There were several ordinary gnats and flies, but I set a trap for them with great effect ; this was very simple, and was formed by opening the door of the lantern, and hanging it near an open window: in the morning the bottom was half an inch deep in semi-consumed corpses.
Wednesday, 10th. I found, on awaking, that we had been creeping on, almost imperceptibly, nearly all night; and at six in the morning we were nearly thirty miles above Atfeh. As the Arabs tumbled into the water, upon the kandjia running aground, I tumbled in too, and had a good long swim. It was utterly contemptible, however, trying to compete with them : they shot through the water like wager-boats. All day we kept gliding on, passing many more villages of mud houses, looking like clumps of enormous thimbles ; and now and then we saw several small processions of men going along the banks on donkeys, horses, and camels; and here and there was a solitary palm : but, with the exception of these, the scenery still maintained its Essex-marsh character.
The Arabs continued very silent. One of them was the cook to the party, and he was never away from the fireplace, boiling up lentils with coarse bread. This was their only food, and they drank the Nile water. I found to-day that the meat we had brought from Alexandria was touched by the heat; so I gave it to the crew, who soon disposed of it. They threw lumps of it on the live embers, and so broiled it.
The mosquitoes had gone, but the flies were almost as bad. They took possession of the cabin, and would not be driven away, worrying me almost into a fever. At last I cut out one of the paper net “fly-catchers,” and hung it from the roof. As night came, they all settled on it; and then I gently moved it away, and sent it floating down the Nile, with its freight of intruders. This was all the excitement of the day; but at night there was a terrible skirmish amongst the rats, who, attracted by the fowls, appeared to be boarding the boat on all quarters.
Thursday, 11th. The morning broke with a dead calm. Now and then the wind came in little puffs, and then died away again. The monotony of the voyage was broken by a fight between Giovanni and one of the Arabs, or, rather, my servant had it all on his own side. The man objected to get into the water to tow, upon which the dragoman gave him a good thrashing with a rope, and then he got overboard and worked away well.
About noon the wind came, and all the afternoon we amused ourselves with shooting hawks and ibises, of which there were great numbers. I also shot a sicsac, one of the birds reported to get into the crocodile's mouth and pick its teeth
of parasitical water-animals. It had sharp points on the top of its wings, which the Arabs said were to keep the crocodile from closing its jaws. When the birds fell, the Arabs dashed overboard just like spaniels, and brought them back in their mouths.
It was curious to see how they watched us. Whatever we were about — eating, washing, or reading — they never took their eyes from us, but followed every movement. Their actions were singularly like those of a monkey: they picked up small things, and examined them carefully, usually trying them first with a bite; and an old envelope I had thrown on one side was a matter of great scrutiny: they could not make it out at all; but after passing it round, and apparently offering many opinions on it, they put it carefully by under a board. Giovanni told me they were all thieves, but stole singularly minute things
-odd bits of string, useless lucifers, knobs of sealing-wax, and such-like rubbish. At night a good rattling breeze came on; and whilst we were surging through the water, I amused them with some commonplace conjuring tricks, from which time I was regarded as a great magician.
We anchored alongside a village at night, and I got rid of the flies as before. About one o'clock I was lying awake, and, hearing a throbbing noise up the river, I looked out and saw a light advancing. It came on, and in a few minutes I found it was the Overland mail steamer, homeward bound. This little incident was very impressive. The boat came near enough for me to shout out “Good night!” which was returned by one or two persons on deck, surprised, I have no doubt, at the familiar salutation from a moored kandjia. I watched this out of sight; and then, after a look at my crew, who had completely wrapped themselves up in canvass until they looked like mere bundles, and were lying about the deck in the bright moonlight, I turned in to sleep.
Friday, 12th. The people in the village commenced making such an unearthly riot at daybreak, that, as there was no wind, I made the Arabs tow us up some miles higher, to another clump of houses. A large traffic-boat from Cairo had stopped here, crammed with peasants; many of them were blind, the majority had but one eye, and all the children were suffering from ophthalmia. The passengers landed and bought bread, like pancake, of other women who came down to sell it. The Arabs kept on towing, but very slowly. I do not think we made above a mile an hour; and at noon, with a suffocating hot wind dead against us, they pulled up at a village and said they could not go on, because there was a shallow just above us right across the river, and that we must wait for a wind to take us over to the other bank. I was very angry, but to no effect; so we lay broiling under the sun until three, when they punted across, and we started again. They had only dawdled about from sheer idleness. In the afternoon a cripple, with limbs shockingly distorted and hands webbed like fins, swam off from a hovel on shore to beg money. The wind now came on dead against us; the towing paths were all under water, and the men really could not track the boat, as they did not know where they were going, and every now and then disappeared into deep holes ; so we were obliged to come to a stand-still again, and made fast for the night under a bank of osiers. We amused ourselves and the Arabs by making little rafts of palm-wood, putting bits of lighted candle on them, and then launching them off, one after another, down the stream. As there was no wind, they burnt very steadily, and, when several were started, looked very pretty. . The Arabs said that the peasants would think they were devils. This night was the worst I ever passed in my life. The foliage brought the mosquitoes again in overwhelming force; the rats came along the ropes from the land, and scuffled about our very feet; the spiders and cockroaches were in full activity;