As Seen By Me
Part 3 out of 4
accomplish anything, there being now but fourteen million Poles to
contend against these three powerful nations, still, as long as they
have one about every thirty-five years, perhaps it is a wise
precaution on the part of the young Tzar to begin with his kindness
promptly, as it is about time for another one!
Another recent thing which the Poles attribute to the Tzar was the
removal from the street corners, the shops, the railroad stations, and
the clubs, of the placards forbidding the Polish language to be spoken
Thus the Poles hope much from the young Tzar in the future, and
believe that he would do more were he not held back by Russian public
opinion. For example, the other day two Russians were overheard in the
train to say: "For thirty years we have tried to force our religion on
the Poles, our language on the Poles, and our customs on the Poles,
but now here comes 'The Little Colonel' (the young Tzar), and in a
moment he sweeps away all the progress we had made."
To call him "The Little Colonel" is a term of great endearment, and
the name arose from the fact that by some strange oversight he was
never made a General by his father, but remained at the death of the
late Tzar only a Colonel. When urged by his councillors to make
himself General, as became a Tzar of all the Russias, he said: "No.
The power which should have made me a General is no more. Now that I
am at the head of the government I surely could not be so conceited as
to promote myself."
The misery among the poor in Poland is almost beyond belief, yet all
charities for them must be conducted secretly, for the government
stills forbids the establishment of kindergartens or free schools
where Polish children would be taught in the Polish language. I have
been questioned very closely about our charities in America,
especially in Chicago, and I have given them all the working plans of
the college settlements, the kindergartens, and the sewing-schools.
The Poles are a wonderfully sympathetic and warm-hearted people, and
are anxious to ameliorate the bitter poverty which exists here to an
enormous extent. They sigh in vain for the freedom with which we may
proceed, and regard Americans as seated in the very lap of a luxurious
government because we are at liberty to give our money to any cause
without being interfered with.
One of the noblest young women I have ever met is a Polish countess,
wealthy, beautiful, and fascinating, who has turned her back upon
society and upon the brilliant marriage her family had hoped for her,
and has taken a friend who was at the head of a London training-school
for nurses to live with her upon her estates, and these two have
consecrated their lives to the service of the poor. They will educate
Polish nurses to use in private charity. With no garb, no creed, no
blare of trumpet, they have made themselves into "Little Sisters of
I could not fail to notice the difference in the young girls as soon
as I crossed the Russian frontier and came into the land of the Slav.
Here at once I found individuality. Polish girls are more like
American girls. If you ask a young English girl what she thinks of
Victor Hugo she tells you that her mamma does not allow her to read
French novels. If you ask a French girl how she likes to live in Paris
she tells you that she never went down town alone in her life.
But the Polish girls are different. They are individual. They all have
a personality. When you have met one you never feel as if you had met
all. In this respect they resemble American girls, but only in this
respect, for whereas there is a type of Polish young girl--and a
charming type she is--I never in my life saw what I considered a
really typical American girl. You cannot typify the psychic charm of
the young American girl. It is altogether beyond you.
These Polish girls who have titles are as simple and unaffected as
possible. I had no difficulty in calling their mothers Countess and
Princess, etc., but I tripped once or twice with the young girls,
whereat they begged me in the sweetest way to call them by their first
names without any prefix. They were charming. They taught us the
Polish mazurka--a dance which has more go to it than any dance I ever
saw. It requires the Auditorium ball-room to dance it in, and enough
breath to play the trombone in an orchestra. The officers dance with
their spurs on, which jingle and click in an exciting manner, and to
my surprise never seem to catch in the women's gowns.
The home life of the Poles is very beautiful; and, in particular, the
deference paid to the father and mother strikes my American
sensibilities forcibly. I never tire of watching the entrance into the
salon of the married sons of the Countess when each comes to pay his
daily visit to his mother. They are all four tall, impressive, and
almost majestic, with a curious hawk-like quality in their glance,
which may be an inheritance from their warrior forefathers. Count
Antoine comes in just before going home to dine, while we are all
assembled and dressed for dinner. He flings the door open, and makes
his military bow to the room, then making straight for his mother's
chair, he kneels at her feet, kisses her hand and then her brow, and
sometimes again her hand. Then he passes the others, and kisses his
sister on the cheek, and after thus saluting all the members of his
family, he turns to us, the guests, and speaks to us.
The Poles are the most individual and interesting people I have yet
encountered. The men in particular are fascinating, and a man who is
truly fascinating in the highest sense of the word; one whose
character is worth study, and whose friendship would repay cultivating
as sincerely as many of the Poles I know, is a boon to thank God for.
Before I came to Poland it always surprised me to realize that so many
men and women of world-wide genius came from so small a nation. But
now that I have had the opportunity of knowing them intimately and of
studying their characteristics, both nationally and individually, I
Poland is the home of genius by right. Her people, even if they never
write or sing or act or play, have all the elements in their character
which go to make up that complex commodity known as genius, whether it
ever becomes articulate or not. You feel that they could all do things
if they tried. They are a sympathetic, interesting, interested, and,
above all, a magnetic people. This forms the top soil for a nation
which has put forth so much of wonder and sweetness to enrich the
world, but the reason which lies deep down at the root of the matter
for the _soul_ which thrills through all this melody of song and story
is in the sorrowful and tragic history of this nation.
The Poles are a race of burning patriots. To-day they are as keen over
national sufferings and national wrongs as on that unfortunate clay
when they went into a fiercely unwilling and resentful captivity.
Their pride, their courage, their bitterness of spirit, their longing
for revenge now no longer find an outlet on the battlefield. Yet it
smoulders continually in their innermost being. You must crush the
heart, you must subdue a people, you must be no stranger to anguish
and loss if you would discover the singer and the song. And so
Poland's fierce and unrelenting patriotism has placed the divine spark
of a genius which thrills a world in souls whose sweetest song is a
cry wrung from a patriot's heart.
It behooves one to be good in Russia, for no matter how excellent your
reputation at home, no matter how long you have been a member in good
and regular standing of the most orthodox church, no matter how
innocent your heart may be of anarchy, nihilism, or murder, you
travel, you rest, you eat, sleep, wake, or dream, tracked by the
They snatch your passport the moment you arrive at a hotel, and
register you, and if you change your hotel every day, every day your
passport is taken, and you are requested to fill out a blank with your
name, age, religion, nationality, and the name and hotel of the town
where you were last.
When we entered our Russian hotel--when we had entirely entered, I
mean, for we passed through six or eight swinging doors with moujiks
to open and shut each one, and bow and scrape at our feet--we found
ourselves in a stiflingly hot corridor, where the odor was a
combination of smoke and people whose furs needed airing.
It would be an excellent idea if Americans who live in cold climates
dressed as sensibly as Russians do. They keep their houses about as
warm as we keep ours, but they wear thin clothing indoors and put on
their enormous furs for the street. On entering any house, church,
shop, or theatre, the chuba and overshoes are removed, and although
they spend half their lives putting them on and taking them off, yet
the other half is comfortable.
The women seem to have no pride about the appearance of their feet,
for now the doctors are ordering them to wear the common gray felt
boot of the peasants, with the top of it reaching to the knee. It is
without doubt the most hideous and unshapely object the mind can
conceive, being all made of one piece and without any regard to the
shape of the foot.
St. Petersburg can hardly be called a typical Russian city. It is too
near other countries, but to us, before we had seen Moscow and Kiev,
it was Russia itself. We arrived one bitterly cold day, and went first
to the hotel to which we had been recommended by our friends.
I shall never forget the wave of longing for home and country which
settled down upon me as we saw our rooms in this hotel. It must have
been built in Peter the Great's time. No electric lights; not even
lamps. Candles! Now, if there is one thing more than another which
makes me frantic with homesickness, it is the use of candles. I would
rather be in London on Sunday than to dress by the light of candles.
Even an excellent luncheon did not raise my spirits. Our rooms were as
dark and gloomy and silent as a mausoleum. Indeed, many a mausoleum I
have seen has been much more cheerful. It was at the time of year also
when we had but three hours of daylight--from eleven until two. Our
salon was furnished in a dreary drab, with a gigantic green stove in
the corner which reached to the ceiling. Then we entered what looked
like a long, narrow corridor, down which we blindly felt our way, and
at the extreme end of which were hung dark red plush curtains, as if
before a shrine. We pulled aside these trappings of gloom, and there
were two iron cots, not over a foot and a half wide, about the shape
and feeling of an ironing-board, covered with what appeared to be gray
army blankets, I looked to see "U.S." stamped on them. I have seen
them in museums at home.
I gazed at my companion in perfect dismay. "I shall not present a
single letter of introduction," I wailed. "I'm going to Moscow
Instead of going to Moscow in the morning, we went out and decided to
present just the one letter to our ambassador. He was at the Hotel
d'Europe, and we went there. Behold! electric lights everywhere. Heaps
of Americans. And the entire Legation there. My companion and I simply
looked at each other, and our whole future grew brighter. We would not
go to Moscow, but we would move at once. We would introduce
electricity into our sombre lives, and look forward with hope into the
great unknown. We rushed around and presented all the rest of our
letters, and went back to spend a wretched evening with eight candles
and a smoky lamp.
The next day we called for our bill and prepared to move. To my
disgust, I found an item of two rubles for the use of that lamp. I had
serious thoughts of opening up communication with the Standard Oil
Company by cable. But we were so delighted with our new accommodations
in prospect that we left the hotel in a state of exhilaration that
nothing could dampen.
To our great disappointment we found a number of Americans leaving St.
Petersburg for Moscow because the Hermitage was closed. Now, the
Hermitage and the ceremony of the Blessing of the Waters of the Neva
were what I most wished to see, but we were informed at the Legation
that we could have neither wish gratified. However, my spirit was
undaunted. It was only the American officials who had pronounced it
impossible. My lucky star had gone with me so far, and had opened so
many unaccustomed doors, that I did not despair. I said I would see
what our letters of introduction brought forth.
We did not have to wait long. No sooner had we presented our letters
than people came to see us, and placed themselves at our disposal for
days and even weeks at a time. Their kindness and hospitality were too
charming for mere words to express.
Although the Winter Palace was closed to visitors, preparatory to the
arrival on the next day of the Tzar and Tzarina, it was opened for us
through the influence of the daughter of the Commodore of the late
Tzar's private yacht, Mademoiselle de Falk, who took us through it. It
was simply superb, and was, of course, in perfect readiness for the
arrival of the imperial family, with all the gorgeous crimson velvet
carpets spread, and the plants and flowers arranged in the Winter
Then, through this same influential friend, the Hermitage--the second
finest and the very richest museum in all Europe--was opened for us,
and--well, I kept my head going through the show palaces in London,
and Paris, and Berlin, and Dresden, and Potsdam, but I lost it
completely in the Hermitage. Then and there I absolutely went crazy. A
whole guide-book devoted simply to the Hermitage could give no sort of
idea of the barbaric splendor of its belongings. Its riches are beyond
belief. Even the presents given by the Emir of Bokhara to the Tzar are
splendid enough to dazzle one like a realization of the Arabian
Nights. But to see the most valuable of all, which are kept in the
Emperor's private vaults, is to be reduced to a state of bewilderment
bordering on idiocy.
It is astonishing enough, to one who has bought even one Russian belt
set with turquoise enamel, to think of all the trappings of a
horse--bit, bridle, saddle-girth, saddlecloth, and all, made of cloth
of gold and set in solid turquoise enamel; with the sword hilt,
scabbard, belts, pistol handle and holster made of the same. Well,
these are there by the dozen. Then you come to the private jewels, and
you see all these same accoutrements made of precious stones--one of
solid diamonds; another of diamonds, emeralds, topazes, and rubies.
And the size of these stones! Why, you never would believe me if I
should tell you how large they are. Many of them are uncut and badly
set, from an English stand-point. But in quantity and size--well, I
was glad to get back to my three-ruble-a-day room and to look at my
one trunk, and to realize that my own humble life would go on just the
same, and my letter of credit would not last any longer for all the
splendors which exist for the Tzar of all the Russias.
The churches in St. Petersburg are so magnificent that they, too, go
to your head. We did nothing but go to mass on Christmas Eve and
Christmas Day, for although we spent our Christmas in Berlin, we
arrived in St. Petersburg in time for the Russian Christmas, which
comes twelve days later than ours. St. Isaac's, the Kazan, and Sts.
Peter and Paul dazed me. The icons or images of the Virgin are set
with diamonds and emeralds worth a king's ransom. They are only under
glass, which is kept murky from the kisses which the people press upon
the hands and feet.
The interiors of the cathedrals, with their hundreds of silver
_couronnes_, and battle-flags, and trophies of conquests, look like
great bazaars. Every column is covered clear to the dome. The tombs of
the Tzars are always surrounded by people, and candles burn the year
round. Upon the tomb of Alexander II., under glass, is the exquisite
laurel wreath placed there by President Faure. It is of gold, and was
made by Falize, one of the most famous carvers of gold in Europe.
The famous mass held on Christmas Eve in the cathedral of St. Isaac
was one of the most beautiful services I ever attended. In the first
place, St. Isaac's is the richest church in all Russia. It has, too,
the most wonderful choir, for the Tzar loves music, and wherever in
all his Empire a beautiful voice is found, the boy is brought to St.
Petersburg and educated by the State to enter the Emperor's choir.
When we entered the church the service had been in progress for five
hours. That immense church was packed to suffocation. In the Greek
church every one stands, no matter how long the service. In fact, you
cannot sit down unless you sit on the floor, for there are no seats.
By degrees we worked our way towards the space reserved for the
Diplomatic Corps, where we were invited to enter. Our wraps were taken
and chairs were given to us. We found ourselves on the platform with
the priest, just back of the choir. What heavenly voices! What
wonderful voices! The bass holds on to the last note, and the rumble
and echo of it rolls through those vaulted domes like the tones of an
organ. The long-haired priest, too, had a wonderful resonant voice for
intoning. He passed directly by us in his gorgeous cloth of gold
vestments, as he went out.
The instant he had finished, the little choir boys began to pinch each
other and thrust their tapers in each other's faces, and behaved quite
like ordinary boys. The great crowd scattered and huge ladders were
brought in to put out the hundreds of candles in the enormous
chandeliers. Religion was over, and the world began again.
The other art which is maintained at the government expense is the
ballet. We went several times, and it was very gorgeous. It is all
pantomime--not a word is spoken--but so well done that one does not
tire of it.
Every one sympathized so with us because we could not see the ceremony
of the Blessing of the Waters of the Neva, and our ambassador
apologized for not being able to arrange it, and we said, "Not at
all," and "Pray, do not mention it," at the same time secretly hoping
that our Russian friends, who were putting forth strenuous efforts on
our behalf, would be able to manage it.
On the morning of the 18th of January a note came from a Russian
officer who was on duty at the Winter Palace, saying that Baron
Elsner, the Secretary of the Prefect of Police, would call for us with
his carriage at ten o'clock, and we would be conducted to the private
space reserved just in front of the Winter Palace, where the best view
of everything could be obtained. My companion and I fell into each
other's arms in wild delight, for it had been most difficult to
manage, and we had not been sure until that very moment.
Now, the person of the Tzar is so sacred that it is forbidden by law
even to represent him on the stage, and as to photographing him--a
Russian faints at the mere thought. Nevertheless, we wished very much
to photograph this pageant, so we determined, if possible, to take our
camera. Everything else that we wanted had been done for us ever since
we started, and our faith was strong that we would get this. At first
the stout heart of Baron Elsner quailed at our suggestion. Then he
said to take the camera with us, which we did with joy. His card
parted the crowd right and left, and our carriage drove through long
lines of soldiers, and between throngs of people held in check by
mounted police, and by rows of infantry, who locked arms and made of
themselves a living wall, against which the crowd surged.
To our delight we found our places were not twenty feet from the
entrance to the Winter Palace. We noticed Baron Elsner speaking to
several officials, and we heard the word "Americanski," which had so
often opened hearts and doors to us, for Russia honestly likes
America, and presently the Baron said, in a low tone, "When the
Emperor passes out you may step down here; these soldiers will
surround you, and you may photograph him."
I could scarcely believe my ears. I was so excited that I nearly
dropped the camera.
The procession moves only about one hundred feet--a crimson carpet
being laid from the entrance of the Winter Palace, across the street,
and up into a pavilion which is built out over the Neva.
First came the metropolitans and the priests; then the Emperor's
celebrated choir of about fifty voices; then a detachment of picked
officers bearing the most important battle-flags from the time of
Peter the Great, which showed the marks of sharp conflict; then the
Emperor's suite, and then--the Emperor himself. They all marched with
bared heads, even the soldiers.
My companion had the opera-glasses, I had the camera. "Tell me when,"
I gasped. They passed before me in a sort of haze. I heard the band in
the Winter Palace and the singing of the choir. I heard the splash of
the cross which the Archbishop plunged into the opening that had been
cut in the ice. I heard the priests intone, and the booming of the
guns firing the imperial salute. I saw that the wind was blowing the
candles out. Then came a breathless pause, and then she said, "Now!" A
little click. It was done; I had photographed Nicholas II., the Tzar
of all the Russias!
Yesterday we had our first Russian experience in the shape of a troika
ride. Russians, as a rule, do not troika except at night. In fact,
from my experience, they reverse the established order of things and
turn night into day.
A troika is a superb affair. It makes the tiny sledges which take the
place of cabs, and are used for all ordinary purposes, look even more
like toys than usual. But the sledges are great fun, and so cheap that
it is an extravagance to walk. A course costs only twenty kopecks--ten
cents. The sledges are set so low that you can reach out and touch the
snow with your hand, and they are so small that the horse is in your
lap and the coachman in your pocket. He simply turns in his seat to
hook the fur robe to the back of your seat--only it has no back. If
you fall, you fall clear to the ground.
The horse is far, far above you in your humble position, and there is
so little room that two people can with difficulty stow themselves in
the narrow seat. If a brother and sister or a husband and wife drive
together, the man, in sheer self-defence, is obliged to put his arm
around the woman, no matter how distasteful it may be. Not that she
would ever be conscious of whether he did it or not, for the amount of
clothes one is obliged to wear in Russia destroys any sense of touch.
The idvosjik, or coachman, is so bulky from this same reason that you
cannot see over him. You are obliged to crane your neck to one side.
His head is covered with a Tartar cap. He wears his hair down to his
collar, and then chopped off in a straight line. His pelisse is of a
bluish gray, fits tightly to the waist, and comes to the feet. But the
skirt of it is gathered on back and front, giving him an irresistibly
comical pannier effect, like a Dolly Varden polonaise. The Russian
idvosjik guides his horse curiously. He coaxes it forward by calling
it all sorts of pet names--"doushka," darling, etc. Then he beats it
with a toy whip, which must feel like a fly on its woolly coat, for
all the little fat pony does is to kick up its heels and fly along
like the wind, missing the other sledges by a hair's-breadth. It is
ghostly to see the way they glide along without a sound, for the
sledges wear no bells.
One may drive with perfect safety at a breakneck pace, for they all
drive down on one side of the street and up on the other. Nor will an
idvosjik hesitate to use his whip about the head and face of another
idvosjik who dares to turn without crossing the street.
He stops his horse with a guttural trill, as if one should say
"Tr-r-r-r-r" in the back of the throat. It sounds like a gargle.
The horses are sharp-shod, but in a way quite different from ours. The
spikes on their shoes are an inch long, and dig into the ice with
perfect security, but it makes the horses look as if they wore French
heels. Even over ice like sheer glass they go at a gallop and never
slip. It is wonderful, and the exhilaration of it is like driving
through an air charged with champagne, like the wine-caves of Rintz.
Our troika was like a chariot in comparison with these sledges. It was
gorgeously upholstered in red velvet, and held six--three on each
seat. The robes also were red velvet, bordered and lined with black
bear fur. There were three horses driven abreast. The middle horse was
much larger than the other two, and wore a high white wooden collar,
which stood up from the rest of the harness, and was hung with bells
and painted with red flowers and birds.
To my delight the horses were wild, and stood on their hind legs and
bit each other, and backed us off the road, and otherwise acted like
Tartar horses in books. It seemed almost too good to be true. It was
like driving through the Black Forest and seeing the gnomes and the
fairies one has read about. I told my friends very humbly that I had
never done anything in my life to deserve the good fortune of having
those beautiful horses act in such a satisfactory and historical
manner. We had to get out twice and let the idvosjik calm them down.
But even when ploughing my way out of snow up to my knees I breathed
an ecstatic sigh of gratitude and joy. I could not understand the
men's annoyance. It was too ideal to complain about.
We drove out to the Island for luncheon, and on the way we stopped and
coasted in a curious Russian sledge from the top of a high place,
something like our toboggan-slides, only this sledge was guided from
behind by a peasant on skates.
A Russian meal always begins with a side-table of _hors d'oeuvres_,
called "zakouska." That may not be spelled right, but no Russian would
correct me, because the language is phonetic, and they spell the same
word in many different ways. Their alphabet has thirty-eight letters
in it, besides the little marks to tell you whether to make a letter
hard or soft.
Even proper names take on curious oddities of spelling, and a husband
and wife or two brothers will spell their name differently when using
the Latin letters. If you complain about it, and ask which is correct,
they make that famous Russian reply which Bismarck once had engraved
in his ring, and which he believed brought him such good luck, "Neechy
voe," "It is nothing," or "Never mind." You can spell with your eyes
shut in Russian, and you simply cannot make a mistake, for the
Russians spell with all the abandonment of French dancing.
This zakouska is so delicious and so varied and so tempting that one
not accustomed to it eats too much without realizing. At a dinner an
American looked at my loaded plate and said, with delicious
impertinence, "Confidentially, I don't mind telling you that dinner is
As we came back, the full delight of troika-riding came over us, for
driving in the country we could not tell how fast we were going. But
in town, whizzing past other carriages, hearing the shouts of the
idvosjik, "Troika!" and seeing the people scatter and the sledges turn
out (for a troika has the right of way), we realized at what a pace we
were going. We dashed across the frozen Neva, with its tramway built
right on the ice; past the Winter Palace, along the quai, where all
the embassies are, into the Grand Morskaia, and from there into the
Nevski, with the snow flying and our bells ringing, and the middle
horse trotting and the outer horses galloping, sending clouds of steam
from their heaving flanks and palpitating nostrils, and the biting air
making our blood tingle, and the reiterated shout of the idvosjik,
"Troika! troika!" taking our breath away.
We had one more excitement before we reached home, which was seeing a
Russian fire-engine. We passed it in a run. The engine was on one
sledge, and following it were five other sledges carrying hogsheads of
I am glad we came to Russia in winter, for by so doing we have met the
Russian people, the most fascinating that any country can boast, with
the charm of the French, the courage of the English, the sentiment of
the Germans, the sincerity and hospitality of the Americans. Their
courtesy to each other is a never-ending pleasure to me. Poles and
Russians treat their women more nearly the way our American men treat
us than any nation we have encountered so far. They are the most
marvellous linguists in the world. We have met no one in Russia who
speaks fewer than three languages, and we have met several who speak
twelve. They are not arrogant even concerning their military strength.
They are quite modest about their learning and their not
inconsiderable literary and artistic achievements, and they hold
themselves, both nationally and individually, in the plastic state
where they are willing to learn from any nation or any master who can
teach what they wish to know. There is a marvellous future for Russia,
for their riches and resources are as vast and inestimable as their
possessions. They themselves do not realize how mighty they are.
Here is France grovelling at their feet, spending millions of francs
to entertain the Tzar--France, a nation which must see a prospect of
double her money returned before she parts with a sou; with the
cathedrals filled with _couronnes_ sent by the French press; with no
compliment to Russia too fulsome for French gallantry to invent
finding space in the foremost French newspapers; hoping, praying,
beseeching the help of Russia, when Germany makes up her mind to
gobble France, yet dealing Russian achievement a backhanded slap by
hinting what a compliment it is for a cultivated, accomplished,
over-cultured race like the French to beg the assistance of a
barbarous country like Russia.
I believe that Russia is the only country in the world which feels
nationally friendly and individually interested in America. I used to
think France was, and I held Lafayette firmly and proudly in my memory
to prove it. But I was promptly undeceived as to their individual
interest, and when I still clung to Lafayette as a proof of the former
I was laughed to scorn and told that France as a nation had nothing to
do with that; that Lafayette went to America as a soldier of fortune.
He would just as soon have gone to Madagascar or Timbuctoo, but
America was accommodating enough to have a war on just in time to
serve his ambition. If that is true, I wish they had not told me. I
would like to come home with a few ideals left--if they will permit
When I was in Berlin I asked our ambassador, Mr. White, what Germany
thought of America. He replied, "Just what Thackeray thought of
Tupper. When some one asked Thackeray what he thought of Tupper, he
replied, 'I don't think of him at all.'"
But in Russia I have a sore throat all the time from answering
questions about America. I think I am not exaggerating when I say I
have answered a million in a single evening. My companion at first was
disgusted with my wearing myself out in such a manner, but I said, "I
am so grateful to them for _caring_, after the indifference of all
these other self-sufficient countries, that I am willing to sacrifice
myself at it if necessary."
We never realized how little we knew about America until we discovered
the Russian capacity for asking unexpected questions. I bought an
American history in Russia, and sat up nights trying to remember what
my father had tried to instil into my sieve-like brain. After a week
of witnessing my feverish enthusiasm, even my companion's dormant
national pride was roused. She, too, was ashamed to say, "I don't
know," when they asked us these terrible questions. When we get into
the clutches of a party of women we trust to luck that they cannot
remember our statistics long enough to tell their husbands and
brothers (I have a horror of men's accuracy in figures), and we calmly
guess at the answers when our exact knowledge gives out.
One night they attacked my companion on the school question. Now, she
does not know one solitary thing about the public-school system, but,
to my utter amazement, I heard her giving the number of children
between the ages of eight and ten who were in the public schools in
the State of Illinois, and then running them off by counties. I was
afraid she would soon begin to call the roll of their names from
memory, so I rescued her and took her home. I suppose we must have an
air of intelligence which successfully masks our colossal ignorance of
occult facts and defunct dates, because they rely on us to inform them
off-hand concerning everything social, political, historical, sacred
and profane, spirituous and spiritual, from the protoplasm of the
cliff-dwellers to the details of the Dingley bill, not skipping
accurate information on the process of whiskey-making in Kentucky, a
crocodile-hunt in Florida, suffrage in Wyoming, a lynching-bee in
Texas, polygamy in Utah, prune-drying in California, divorces in
Dakota, gold-mining in Colorado, cotton-spinning in Georgia,
tobacco-raising in Alabama, marble-quarrying in Tennessee, the number
of Quakers in Philadelphia, one's sensations while being scalped by
Sioux, how marriages are arranged, what a man says when he proposes,
the details of a camp-meeting, a description of a negro baptism, and
the main arguments on the silver question.
They get some curious ideas in their heads concerning us, but they are
so amazingly well informed about America that their specific
misinformation never irritated me. The small use they have for their
English sometimes accounts for the queer things they say.
The official costume for men who have no particular uniform is
regulation evening dress, which they are obliged to wear all day. They
become so tired of it that this is the reason, they tell me, why so
many men, even in smart society, go to the opera or even dinners in
frock-coats. One one occasion a most intelligent man said to me, "I am
told that in America the ladies always wear decollete costumes at
dinners, and the men are always in night-dress."
For one hysterical moment my mind's eye pictured a dinner-table on
Prairie Avenue with alternately a low-necked gown and a pair of
pajamas, and I choked. Then I happened to think that he meant "evening
dress," and I recovered sufficiently to explain.
The Tzarina has made English the Court language, and since her
coronation no state balls take place on Sunday.
Russian hospitality is delightful. We could remain a year in Russia
and not exhaust our invitations to visit at their country-houses.
Russia must be beautiful in summer, but if you wish to go into
society, to know the best of the people, to see their sweet home life,
and to understand how they live and enjoy themselves, you must go in
the winter. I cannot think what any one would find of national life in
summer in Russia, for everybody has a country-house and everybody goes
to it and leaves the city to tourists.
Russia, in spite of her vast riches, has not arrived at
supercivilization, where there is corruption in the very atmosphere.
She is an undeveloped and a young country, and while the Tzar is wise
and kind and beneficent, and an excellent Tzar as Tzars go, still
Russians, even the best and most enlightened of them, are slaves. I
have met a number of the gentlest and cleverest men who had been
exiled to Siberia, and pardoned. Their picture-galleries bear witness
to this underlying sadness of knowing that in spite of everything they
are not _free_. All their actions are watched, their every word
listened to, spies are everywhere, the police are omnipresent, and
over all their gayety and vivacity and mirth and spontaneity there is
the constant fear of the awful hand in whose complete power they are.
His clemency, his fatherhood to his people, his tremendous
responsibility for their welfare are all appreciated, but the thought
is in every mind, "When will this kindness fail? Upon whose head will
the lightning descend next?"
Title and gentle birth and the long and faithful service of one's
ancestors to the Tzars are of small avail if the evidence should go
against one in Russia. I have heard princes say less than I have said
here, but say it in whispers and with furtive looks at the nearest man
or woman. I have seen their starts of surprise at the frank impudence
of our daring to criticise our administration in their midst, and I
felt as if I were in danger of being bombarded from the back.
In Russia you may spell as you please, but you must have a care how
you criticise the government. In America you may criticise the
government as you will, but you must have a care how you spell.
I thought St. Petersburg interesting, but it is modern compared to
Moscow. Everything is so strange and curious here. The churches, the
chimes, the palace, the coronation chapel, and the street scenes are
enough to drive one mad with interest.
Moscow is said to have sixteen hundred churches, and I really think we
did not skip one. They are almost as magnificent as those in St.
Petersburg, and they impressed--overpowered us, in fact, with the same
unspeakable riches of the Greek Church.
The name of our hotel was so curious that I cannot forbear repeating
it, "The Slavansky Bazaar," and they call their smartest restaurant
"The Hermitage." I felt as if I could be sold at auction in "The
Bazaar," and as if I ought to fast and pray in "The Hermitage."
"The Slavansky Bazaar" was one of the dirtiest hotels it ever was my
lot to see. The Russians of the middle class--to say nothing of the
peasants, who are simply unspeakable--are not a clean set, so one
cannot blame a hotel for not living above the demands of its
_clientele_. There were some antique specimens of cobwebs in our
rooms, which made restful corner ornaments with dignified festoons,
which swung slowly to and fro with such fascinating solemnity that I
could not leave off looking at them. The hotel is built up hill and
down dale, and each corridor smells more musty than the other. It has
a curious arrangement for supplying water in the rooms which I never
can recall with any degree of pleasure. One evening after I had
dressed I went to the wash-stand and discovered that there was no
water. I was madly ringing for the chambermaid when my companion
called from her room, and said, "Put your foot on that brass thing.
There is plenty of water."
I looked down, and near the floor was a brass pedal, like that of a
piano. Sure enough, there was a reservoir above and a faucet with the
head of a dragon on it peering up into my face, which I never had
noticed before. Now, the pedal of my piano works hard, so I bent all
my strength to this one, and lo! from that impudent dragon's mouth I
got a mighty stream of water straight in my unconscious face, and
enough to put out a fire. I fell back with a shriek of astonishment
and indignation, and my companion laughed--nay, she roared. She laughs
until she cries even now every time she thinks of it, although I had
to change my gown. How was _I_ going to know that I was leaning over a
waterspout, I should like to know!
In this same hotel when I asked for a blotter they brought me a box of
sand. I tried to use it, but my hand was not very steady, and none of
it went on the letter. Some got in my shoe, however.
But our environments were more than compensated for by the exceeding
kindness that we received from the most delightful people that it ever
was my good fortune to meet, and their attentions to us were so
charming that we shall remember them as long as we live.
Americans, even though we are as hospitable as any nation on earth,
might well take a lesson from the Russians in regard to the respect
they pay to a letter of introduction. The English send word when you
can be received, and you pay each other frosty formal calls, and then
are asked to five-o'clock tea or some other wildly exciting function
of similar importance. The French are great sticklers for etiquette,
but they are more spontaneous, and you are asked to dine at once.
After that it is your own fault if you are not asked again. But in
Russia it is different. I think that the men must have accompanied my
messenger home, and the women to whom I presented letters early in the
afternoon were actually waiting for me when I returned from presenting
the last ones. In Moscow they came and waited hours for my return. I
was mortified that there were not four of me to respond to all the
beauties of their friendship, for hospitality in Russia includes even
They placed themselves, their carriages, their servants, at our
disposal for whatever we had to do--sight-seeing, shopping, or idling.
Mademoiselle Yermoloff, lady-in-waiting to the two empresses, simply
took us upon her hands to show us Russian society life. She came with
her sledge in the morning, and kept us with her all day long, taking
us to see the most interesting people and places in Moscow. She showed
us the coronation-robes, the embroideries upon which were from her own
beautiful designs. The Empress presented her with an emerald and
diamond brooch in recognition of this important service, for
undoubtedly the coronation-robe of the present Tzarina is much
handsomer and in better taste than any of the others. The designs are
so artistically sketched that they all have a special significance.
Here we visited the charming Princess Golitzine, a most beautiful and
accomplished woman. Her house, we were told, De Lesseps, the father of
the Suez De Lesseps, used as his headquarters during the French
occupation of Moscow.
Mademoiselle Yermoloff's sledge was a very beautiful one, but it was
quite as low-set as all the others, and her footman stood behind. As
there was no back to the seat of her sledge, and her horses were
rather fiery and unmanageable, every time they halted without warning
this solemn flunky pitched forward into our backs, a performance which
would have upset the dignity of an English footman, but which did not
seem to disturb him in the least.
Mademoiselle Yermoloff took us to see Madame Chabelskoi, whose
contributions to the World's Fair were of so much value. I never saw a
private collection of anything so rich, so varied, and of such
historical value as her collection of all the provincial costumes of
the peasants of Finland and Big and Little Russia. In addition to
these she has the fete-day toilets as well. The Kokoshniks are all
embroidered in seed-pearls and gold ornaments, and if she were not a
fabulously rich woman she could never have got all these, for each one
is authentic and has actually been worn. They are not copies.
But Moscow seems to take a peculiar national pride in preserving the
historical monuments of her country. There is a museum there, with a
complete set of all these costumes on wax figures, and they range all
the way from the grotesque to the lovely.
Madame Chabelskoi is now doing a very pretty as well as a valuable and
historical work. She has two accomplished daughters, and these young
girls spend all their time in selecting peasant women with typical
features, dressing them in these costumes, photographing them, and
then coloring these photographs in water-colors. They are making ten
copies of each, to make ten magnificent albums, which are to be
presented to the ten greatest museums in the world. The Hermitage in
St. Petersburg is to have one, the British Museum another, and so on.
Only one was to go to America, and to my metropolitan dismay I found
that it was _not_ to go to Chicago. I shall not say where it was
intended to go; I shall only say that with characteristic modesty I
asked, in my most timid voice, why she did not present it to a museum
in the city which she had already benefited so royally with her
generosity, and which already held her name in affectionate
veneration. It seemed to strike her for the first time that Chicago
_was_ the proper city in which to place that album, so she promised it
to us! I thanked her with sincere gratitude, and retired from the
field with a modest flush of victory on my brow. I cannot forbear a
wicked chuckle, however, when I think of that other museum!
We dined many times at "The Hermitage," which is one of the smartest
restaurants in Europe. The costumes of the waiters were too
extraordinary not to deserve a passing mention. They consisted of a
white cotton garment belted at the waist, with no collar, and a pair
of flapping white trousers. They are always scrupulously clean--which
is a wonder for Russian peasants--for they are made to change their
clothes twice a day. They have a magnificent orchestrion instead of an
orchestra here, and I could scarcely eat those beautiful dinners for
listening to the music. We became so well acquainted with the
repertoire that our friends, knowing our taste, ordered the music to
match the courses. So instead of sherry with the soup, they ordered
the intermezzo from "Cavalleria Rusticana." With the fish we had the
overture to "William Tell." With the _entrecote_ we had a pot-pourri
from "Faust." With the fowl we had "Demon and Tamar," the Russian
opera. With the rest we began on Wagner and worked up to that
thrilling "Tannhaeuser" overture, until I was ready to go home a
nervous wreck from German music, as I always am.
A very interesting incident occurred while we were in Moscow. The Tzar
decorated a non-commissioned officer for an act of bravery which well
deserved it. He was in charge of the powder-magazines just outside of
Moscow, and from the view I had of them I should say that the
gunpowder is stored in pits in the ground.
Something caught fire right on top of one of these pits, and this
young officer saw it. He had no time to send for water, and if he
delayed, at any moment the whole magazine might explode; one pit would
communicate with another, and perhaps the whole city would be
endangered; so without a second's hesitation he and his men sprang
into the fire and literally trod it out with their feet, running the
risk of an explosion by concussion, as well as by a spark of fire. It
was a superb act of courage, and the Tzar decorated this young
sergeant with the order of Vladimir--one of the rarest decorations in
all Russia. I am told that not over six living men possess it to-day.
It was a beautiful thing for the Tzar thus to recognize this heroic
When we left Moscow we were having our first real taste of Russian
winter, for, strange to say, although so much farther south, the
climate is much more severe than that of St. Petersburg.
My companion complained bitterly that we were not seeing anything of
Russia because we came down from St. Petersburg at night, so we
abandoned the courier train, and took the slow day-train for Kiev, the
old capital of Russia, that she might see more of the country.
But now I come to my reward and her chagrin. Between Moscow and Kiev
we were snowed in for sixteen hours. It was between stations, the food
gave out--I mean it gave out because we did not have any to start
with--the train became bitterly cold, and we came near freezing and
starving to death. That made our Russian experiences quite complete.
We had foolishly started without even fruit, and there was nothing to
be had on board the train except the tea which the conductors make in
a samovar and serve to you at the slightest provocation. But even the
tea was exhausted at last, and then the fire gave out, because all the
wood had been used up.
There we were, penned up, wrapped in our seal-skins and steamer-rugs
and with nubias over our heads, so cold that our teeth chattered, and
so hungry we could have eaten anything. The conductor came and spoke
to us several times, but whether he was inviting us to lunch or
quoting Scripture we could never tell. There was no one on the train
who spoke English or French, and nobody else in our car to speak
anything at all--owing to our having come on this particular train, in
order for my companion to "see Russia." I am delighted to record the
fact that not only the outside but the inside windows were frosted so
thickly that they had to light the sickly tallow candle in a tin box
over the door of the compartment, so she never got a peep at Russia or
anything else the whole way.
We consoled each other and kept up our spirits as best we could all
day, but we arrived at Kiev so exhausted with cold and hunger that
although we were received at the train by one of the most charming men
I ever met, we both cried with relief at the sight of a friendly face
and some one to whom we could speak and tell our woes. I have since
wondered what he thought to be met by two forlorn women in tears!
Whatever he thought, like all the Russians, he was courtesy itself,
and we were soon whisked away to the inexpressible comfort of being
thawed and fed.
Such a beautiful city as this is! Whitelaw Reid has declared Kiev to
be one of the four picturesque cities in Europe; certainly it lies in
a heavenly place, all up and down hills, with such vistas down the
streets to where a mosque raises its gilded dome, or where an historic
bronze statue stands out against the horizon. If Kiev had been planned
by the French, it could not be more utterly beautiful. The domes of
the cathedrals are blue, studded with gold stars; or else pale green
or all gold, and the most exquisite churches in all Russia are in
Kiev. A terrible monastery, where you take candles and go down into
the bowels of the earth to see where monks martyred themselves, is
here; and poor simple-minded pilgrims walk many hundred miles to kiss
these tombs. Their devotion is pathetic. We had to walk in a
procession of them, and I know that each of them had his own
particular disease and his own special brand of dirt. The beggars
surrounding the gate of this monastery are too awful to mention, yet
it is reputed to be the richest monastery in all Russia.
In Kiev we heard "Hamlet" in Russian, and the man who played Hamlet
was wonderfully good, surprisingly good. You don't know how strange it
sounded to hear "To be or not to be" in Russian! The acting was so
familiar, the words so strange. The audience went crazy over him, as
Russian audiences always do. We watched him come out and bow
thirty-nine times, and when we came away the noise was still
They make a sort of candy in Kiev which goes far and away above any
sweets I ever have seen. It is a sort of candied rose. The whole rose
is there. It is a solid soft pink mass, and it tastes just as a
tea-rose smells. It is simply celestial.
We dearly love Kiev, it is so hauntingly beautiful. You can't forget
it. Your mind keeps returning to it, but it is the sort of beauty that
you can't describe satisfactorily. It is like your mother's face. You
can see the beauty for yourself, but no one else can see it as you do,
for the love which is behind it.
In Odessa we began to leave Russia behind us. Odessa is all sorts of a
place. It is commercial, and not beautiful, but, as usual, our Russian
friends made us forget the town and its sights, and remember only
their sweet hospitality and friendliness.
We wished to catch the Russian steamer for Constantinople, but we were
told that the police would not permit us to leave on such short
notice. We felt that this was hard, for we had tried so consistently
to be good in Russia that I was determined to go if possible. So I
took an interpreter and drove to the police headquarters myself. To my
amazement and delight my man told me that it could all be arranged by
the payment of a few rubles. But that "few rubles" mounted up into
many before I got my passports duly vised. I discovered that our
American police are not so _very_ different from Russian police after
all, even if they _are_ Irish!
We caught the steamer--the dear, clean, lovely _Nickolai II._, with
the stewardess a Greek named Aspasia, and I persisted in calling the
steward Pericles, just to have things match.
Then we crunched our way out of the harbor through the ice into the
Black Sea, and sailed away for Constantinople.
Constantinople had three different effects upon me. The first was to
make me utterly despise it for its sickening dirt; the second was when
I forgot all about the mud and garbage, and went crazy over its
picturesque streets with their steep slopes, odd turns, and bewitching
vistas, and the last was to make me dread Cairo for fear it would seem
tame in comparison, for Constantinople is enchanting. If I were a
painter I would never leave off painting its delights and spreading
its fascinations broadcast; and then I would take all the money I got
for my pictures and spend it in the bazaars, and if I regretted my
purchases I would barter them for others, because Constantinople is
the beginning of the Orient, and if you remain long you become
thoroughly metamorphosed, and you bargain, trade, exchange, and haggle
until you forget that you ever were a Christian. The hour of our
arrival in Constantinople was an accident. The steamer _Nickolai II._
was late, and as no one may land there after sunset, we were forced to
lie in the Bosphorus all night.
It was dark when we sighted the city, but it was one of those clear
darks where without any apparent light you can see everything.
_Surely_ no other city in the world has so beautiful an approach! Our
great black steamer threaded her way between men-of-war, sail-boats,
and all sorts of shipping, and if there were a thousand lights
twinkling in the water there were a million from the city. It lies on
a series of hills curved out like a monster amphitheatre, and it
stretches all the way around. I looked up into the heavens, and it
seemed to me that I never had seen so many stars in my life. Our sky
at home has not so many. Yet there were no more than the yellow points
of flame which flickered in every part of that sleeping city. Three
tall minarets pierced above the horizon, and each of these wore
circles of light which looked like necklaces and girdles of fire.
Patches of black now and then showed where there were trees or marked
a graveyard. Occasionally we heard a shrill cry or the barking of
dogs, but these sounds came faintly, and seemed a part of the
fairy-picture. It looked so much like a scene from an opera that I
half expected to see the curtain go down and the lights flare up, and
I feared the applause which always spoils the dream.
But nothing spoiled this dream. All night we lay in the beautiful
Bosphorus, and all night at intervals I looked out of my porthole at
that lovely sleeping princess. It never grew any less lovely. Its
beauty and charm increased.
But in the morning everything was changed. A band of howling,
screaming, roaring, fighting pirates came alongside in dirty
row-boats, and to our utter consternation we found these bloodthirsty
brigands were to row us to land. Not one word could we understand in
all that fearful uproar. We were watching them in a terror too abject
to describe, when, to our joy, an English voice said, "I am the guide
for the two American ladies, and here is the kavass which the American
minister sent down to meet you. The consul at Odessa cabled your
Oh, how glad we were! We loaded them with thanks and hand-luggage, and
scrambled down the stairway at the side of the steamer. A dozen dirty
hands were stretched out to receive us. We clutched at their sleeves
instead, and pitched into the boat, and our trunks came tumbling after
us, and away we went over the roughest of seas, which splashed us and
made us feel a little queer; and then we landed at the dirtiest,
smelliest quay, and picked our way through a filthy custom-house,
where, in spite of bribery and corruption, they opened my trunk and
examined all the photographs of the family, which happened to be on
top, and made remarks about them in Turkish which made the other men
laugh. The mud came up over our overshoes as we stood there, so that
altogether we were quite heated in temper when we found ourselves in
an alley outside, filled with garbage which had been there forever,
and learned that this alley was a street, and a very good one for
The porters in Turkey are marvels of strength. They wear a sort of
cushioned saddle on their backs, and to my amazement two men tossed my
enormous trunk on this saddle. I saw it leave their hands before it
reached his poor bent back; he staggered a little, gave it a hitch to
make it more secure, then started up the hill on a trot.
I never saw so much mud, such unspeakably filthy streets, and so many
dogs as Constantinople can boast. You drive at a gallop up streets
slanting at an angle of forty-five degrees, and you nearly fall out of
the back of the carriage. Then presently you come to the top of that
hill and start down the other side, still at a gallop, and you brace
your feet to keep from pitching over the driver's head. You would
notice the dogs first were it not for the smells. But as it is, you
cannot even see until you get your salts to your nose. The odors are
so thick that they darken the air. You are disappointed in the dogs,
however. There are quite as many of them as you expected. You have not
been misled as to the number of them, but nowhere have I seen them
described in a satisfactory way--so that you knew what to expect, I
mean. In the first place, they hardly look like dogs. They have woolly
tails like sheep. Their eyes are dull, sleepy, and utterly devoid of
expression. Constantinople dogs have neither masters nor brains. No
brains because no masters. Perhaps no masters because no brains.
Nobody wants to adopt an idiot. They are, of course, mongrels of the
most hopeless type. They are yellowish, with thick, short, woolly
coats, and much fatter than you expect to find them. They walk like a
funeral procession. Never have I seen one frisk or even wag his tail.
Everybody turns out for them. They sleep--from twelve to twenty of
them--on a single pile of garbage, and never notice either men or each
other unless a dog which lives in the next street trespasses. Then
they eat him up, for they are jackals as well as dogs, and they are no
more epicures than ostriches. They never show interest in anything.
They are _blase_. I saw some mother dogs asleep, with tiny puppies
swarming over them like little fat rats, but the mothers paid no
attention to them. Children seem to bore them quite as successfully as
if they were women of fashion.
We went sailing up the Golden Horn to the Skutari cemetery, one of the
loveliest spots of this thrice-fascinating Constantinople. As we were
descending that steep hill upon which it is situated we met a darling
little baby Turk in a fez riding on a pony which his father was
leading. This child of a different race, and six thousand miles away,
looked so much like our Billy that I wanted to eat him up--dirt and
all. I contented myself with giving him backsheesh, while my companion
photographed him. Such an afternoon as that was on that lovely golden
river, with the sun just setting, and our picturesque boatmen sending
the boat through thousands upon thousands of sea-gulls just to make
them fly, until the air grew dark with their wings, and the sunlight
on their white breasts looked like a great glistening snow-storm!
One night we went to a masked ball given for the benefit of a new
hospital which is situated upon the Golden Horn. It was given by Mr.
Levy, one of the Turkish Commissioners at the World's Fair, and the
decorations were something marvellous. The walls were hung with
embroideries which drove us the next day to the bazaars and nearly
bankrupted us. Every street of Constantinople looks like a masked
ball, so this one merely continued the illusion. We could distinguish
the Mohammedan women from the others because they all went home before
midnight without unmasking.
This ball is interesting because it is called "The Engagement Ball."
We were told that only at a subscription ball given for a charity in
which their parents are interested and feel under moral obligation to
support by their presence are the young people of Constantinople
allowed to meet each other. The fathers and mothers occupy the boxes,
and thus, under their very eyes, and masked, can love affairs be
brought to a conclusion. During the week which followed no fewer than
ten important engagements were duly heralded in the columns of the
The most exciting things in Constantinople are the earthquakes. We
were afraid they would not have any while we were there, but they
accommodated us with a very satisfactory one! It upset my ink-bottle
and broke the lamp and rattled everything in the room until I was
delighted. When my companion came in she was indignant to think that I
had enjoyed the earthquake all to myself, for she was in the rooms of
the American Bible Society, and being thus protected, did not feel it.
But I told her that that was her punishment for trying to prove that a
missionary had cheated her, for she was not in that place for a godly
At another time, however, we met with better success in obtaining a
sensation of a different sort. We visited, in company with our Turkish
friend, a small but wonderfully beautiful mosque not often seen by
ordinary tourists, and afterwards went up on Galata tower to get the
fine view of Constantinople which may be had there. It was just before
sunset again, and I am quite unable to make you see the utter
loveliness of it. We crawled out on the narrow ledge which surrounds
the top, and I had just got a capital picture of my companion as she
clutched the Turk to prevent being blown off, for the wind was
something terrible, when suddenly the keepers rushed to the windows
and jabbered excitedly in Turkish and ran up a flag, and behold, there
was a fire! Galata tower is the fire observatory. By the flags they
hoist you can tell where the fire is. I never was at a fire in my
life. Even when our stables burned down I was away from home. So here
was my opportunity. The way we drove down those narrow streets was
enough to make one think that we were the fire department itself. But
when we arrived we found to our grief that it was our dear little
mosque which was burning. Undoubtedly we were the last visitors to
We went back to the hotel for dinner, and about nine o'clock, hearing
that the fire was spreading, we drove down again with our Turk, who
regarded it as no unusual thing to take American women to two fires in
the same day. We found the tenement-houses burning. Our carriage gave
us no vantage-ground, so our friend, who speaks twelve languages,
obtained permission to enter a house and go up on the roof. We never
stopped to think that we might catch all sorts of diseases; we were so
pleased at the courtesy of the poor souls. They had all their poor
belongings packed ready to remove if the fire crept any nearer, but
they ran ahead and lighted us up the dark stairway with candles, and
told us in Turkish what an honor we were doing their house, all of
which touched me deeply. I wondered how many people I would have
assisted up to _our_ roof if _my_ clothes were tied up in sheets in
the hall, with the fire not a square away!
Fortunately, it came no nearer, and from that high, flat roof we
watched the seething mass of yellow flames grow less and less and then
go completely under control. It was Providence which did it, however,
and not the Constantinople fire department, with its little streams of
water the size of slate-pencils!
The dogs were one of the sights we were anxious to see; the Sultan was
the other. We found the bazaars more fascinating than either. But we
wanted to photograph the Sultan--chiefly, I think, because it was
forbidden. I have an ever-present unruly desire to do everything which
these foreign countries absolutely forbid. But everybody said we could
not. So we very meekly went to see him go to prayers, and left our
cameras with the kavass. We had, with our customary good fortune, a
window directly in front of the Sultan's gate, not twenty feet from
the door of the mosque.
"If I had that camera here I could get him, and _nobody_ would know!"
"But there are so many spies," our Turkish friend said. "It would be
We waited, and waited, and waited. Never have the hours seemed so
mortally long as they seemed to us as we watched the hands of the
clock crawl past luncheon-time, hours and hours later than the Sultan
was announced to pray, and still no Sultan. His little six-and
seven-year old sons, in the uniform of colonels, were mounted on
superb Arabian horses. These horses had tails so long that servants
held them up going through the mud, as if they were ladies' trains.
The children were dear things, with clear olive complexions and soft,
dark eyes--Italian eyes. Then they grew tired of waiting, and
dismounted, and came up to where we were, and shook hands in the
sweetest manner. My companion was for coaxing the little one into her
lap, but she looked somewhat staggered when I reminded her that she
would be trotting the colonel of the regiment on her knee.
Then more cavalry came, and more bands, playing a little the worst of
any that I ever heard, and we impatiently thrust our heads out of the
window, thinking, of course, the Sultan was coining, but he was not.
Then some infantry with white leggings and stiff knee-joints, with
coils of green gas-pipe on their heads, like our student-lamps,
marched by with a gait like a battalion of horses with the
string-halt, and we shrieked with laughter. Our friend said they
called that the German step. Germany would declare war with Turkey if
she ever heard that.
By this time we were so tired and hungry and disgusted that we were
about to go home and give up the Sultan when we saw no fewer than
fifty men come toiling up the hill with carpet-bags, as if they had
brought their clothes, and intended to see the Sultan if it took a
week. I do not know who or what they were, and I do not want to know.
They served their purpose with us in that they put us into
instantaneous good humor, and just then there was a commotion, and
everybody straightened up and craned their necks; and then, preceded
by his body-guard, the Sultan drove slowly down, looked directly up at
our window (and we groaned), and then turned in at the gate. Opposite
to him sat Osman Pasha, the hero of Plevna. The ladies of the harem
were driven into the court-yard surrounded by eunuchs, the horses were
taken from their carriages, and there the ladies sat, guarded like
prisoners, until the Sultan came out again. He then mounted into a
superb gold chariot drawn by two beautiful white horses, and he
himself drove out. Everybody salaamed, and he raised his hand in
return as if it was all the greatest possible bore.
While he was driving into the court-yard the priest came out on the
minaret and called men to prayer, and an English girl who sat at the
next window informed her mother that he was announcing the names of
the important persons in the procession! Her mother trained her
glasses on him--a mere speck against the sky--and said, "Fancy!"
The Sultan is not a beauty. If he were in America his sign would be
that of the three golden balls.
We went to see the mosques, and the officials and priests and boatmen
were so cross and surly on account of the fast of Ramazan that they
would not let us take photographs without a fight. During Ramazan they
neither eat nor drink between sunrise and sunset.
On the fifteenth day of Ramazan the Sultan goes to the mosque of Eyoob
to buckle on the sword of Mohammed in order to remind himself that the
power of that sword has descended to himself. He does not announce his
route, therefore the whole city is in a commotion, and they spread
miles of streets with sand for fear he might take it into his head to
go by some unusual way. It passes my comprehension why they should
ever put any more dirt in the streets even for a Sultan. But sand is a
mark of respect in Russia and Turkey, and it really cleans the streets
a little. At least it absorbs the mud. Just as we were about to start
for a balcony beneath which he was almost sure to pass, our Turkish
friend whispered to us that if we wore capes we might take our
cameras. Imagine our delight, for it was so dangerous. But the capes!
Ours were not half long enough to conceal the camera properly. It was
growing late. So in a perfect frenzy I dragged out my long pale blue
_sortie du bal_, ripped the white velvet capes from it, pinned a short
sable cape to the top of it with safety-pins, and enveloped myself in
this gorgeousness at eleven o'clock in the morning. We made a curious
trio. Our Turk was in English tweeds with a fez. My companion wore a
smart tailor gown, and I was got up as if for a fancy-dress ball, but
in the streets of Constantinople no one gave me a second glance. I was
in mourning compared to some of the others.
On the balcony with us were two small boys with projecting ears, of
whom I stood in deadly terror, for if their boyish interest centred in
that camera of mine I was lost. Presently, however, with a tremendous
clatter, the Sultan's advance-guard came galloping down the street. I
got them, turned the film, and was ready for the next--the carriages
of the state officials. I aimed well, and got them, but I was growing
nervous. The boys writhed closer. I shoved them a little when their
mother was not looking.
"Don't try to take so many," said our Turk. "Here comes the Sultan.
Aim low, and don't fire until you see the whites of his eyes."
Again he looked up directly at us, and I snapped the shutter promptly.
It was done. I had succeeded in photographing the Sultan! To be sure,
it was an offense against the state, punishable by fine and
imprisonment, but nobody had caught me. The little boy next to me, who
had walked on my dress and ground his elbows into me, craned his neck
and stared at the Sultan with round eyes. He had been in my way ever
since we arrived, but in an exuberance of tenderness I patted his
But when we had those negatives developed I discovered to my disgust
that instead of the Sultan I had taken an excellent photograph of that
wretched little boy's ear.
I need not have been afraid that the charms of Constantinople would
spoil Cairo for me, although at first I was disappointed. Most places
have to be lived up to, especially one like Cairo, whose attractions
are vaunted by every tourist, every woman of fashion, every scholar,
every idle club-man, everybody, either with brains or without. I
wondered how it _could_ be all things to all men. I simply thought it
was the fashion to rave about it, and I was sick of the very sound of
its name before I came. It was too perfect. It aroused the spirit of
antagonism in me.
First of all, when you arrive in Cairo you find that it is very, very
fashionable. You can get everything here, and yet it is practically
the end of the world. Nearly everybody who comes here turns around and
goes back. Few go on. Even when you go up the Nile you must come back
to Cairo. There is really nowhere else to go.
You drive through smart English streets, and when you find yourself at
Shepheard's you are at the most famous hotel in the world; yet,
strange to say, in spite of its size, in spite of the thousands of
learned, famous, titled, and distinguished people who have been here,
in spite of its smartness and fashion, it is the most homelike hotel I
ever was in. Everybody seems to know about you and to take an interest
in what you are doing, and all the servants know your name and the
number of your room, and when you go out into the great corridor, or
when you sit on the terrace, there is not a trace of the supercilious
scrutiny which takes a mental inventory of your clothes and your looks
and your letter of credit, which so often spoils the sunset for you at
Ghezireh Palace is even more fashionable than Shepheard's. Here we
have baronets and counts and a few earls. But there they have dukes
and kings and emperors, yet there is a gold-and-alabaster mantelpiece
which takes your mind even from royalty, it is so beautiful. Ghezireh
is situated on the Nile, half an hour's drive away, so that in spite
of its royal atmosphere it never will take the place of Shepheard's.
Here you see all the interesting people you have heard of in your
life. You trip over the easels of famous artists in an angle of the
narrow street, and many famous authors, scientists, archaeologists,
and scholars are here working or resting.
Yesterday I was told that four Americans who stood talking together on
the terrace represented two hundred millions of dollars. At dinner the
red coats of the officers make brilliant spots of color among all the
black of the other men, and at first sight it does seem too odd to see
evening dress consist of black trousers and a bright-red coat which
stops off short at the waist. But if you think that looks odd, what
will you say to the officers of the Highland regiments? _Their_ full
dress is almost as immodest in a different way as that of some
women, and one of the most exquisite paradoxes of British custom
is that a Highland undress uniform consists of the addition of
long-trousers--more clothes than they wear in dress uniform.
Cairo is cosmopolitan. You may ride a smart cob, a camel, or a donkey,
and nobody will even look twice at you. You will see harem carriages
with closed blinds; coupes with the syces running before them (and
there is nothing in Cairo more beautiful than some of these men and
the way they run); you will see the Khedive driving with his
body-guard of cavalry; you will see fat Egyptian nurses out in basket
phaeton with little English children; you will see tiny boys, no
bigger than our Billy, in a fever of delight over riding on a live
donkey, and attended by a syce; you will see emancipated Egyptian
women trying to imitate European dress and manners, and making a mess
of it; you will see gamblers, adventurers, and savants all mixed
together, with all the hues of the rainbow in their costumes; you will
see water-carriers carrying drinking-water in nasty-looking dried
skins, which still retain the outlines of the animals, only swollen
out of shape, and unspeakably revolting; you will see native women
carrying their babies astride their shoulders, with the little things
resting their tiny brown hands on their mothers' heads, and often
laying their little black heads down, too, and going fast to sleep,
while these women walk majestically through the streets with only
their eyes showing; you will see all sorts of hideous cripples, and
more blind and cross-eyed people than you ever saw in all your life
before; you will see venders of fly-brushes, turquoises, amber,
ostrich-feathers, bead necklaces from Nubia, scarabaei and antiquities
which bear the hall-marks of the manufacturers as clearly as if
stamped "Made in Germany"; you will see sore-eyed children sitting in
groups in doorways, with numberless flies on each eye, making no
effort to dislodge them; and you will visit mosques and bazaars which
you feel sure call for insect-powder; you will see Arabian men
knitting stockings in the street, and thinking it no shame; you will
see countless eunuchs with their coal-black, beardless faces, their
long, soft, nerveless hands, long legs, and the general make-up of a
mushroom-boy who has outgrown his strength; you will hear the cawing
of countless rooks and crows, and if you leave your window open these
rascals will fly in and eat your fruit and sweets; you will see and
hear the picturesque lemonade-vendor selling his vile-tasting acid
from a long, beautiful brass vessel of irregular shape, and you never
can get away from the horrible jangling noise he makes from two brass
bowls to call attention to his wares; you will see tiny boys in tights
doing acrobatic feats on the sidewalk, walking on their hands in front
of you for a whole square as you take your afternoon stroll, and then
pleading with you for backsheesh; you will see hideous monkeys of a
sort you never saw before, trained to do the same thing, so that you
cannot walk out in Cairo without being attended with some sort of a
bodyguard, either monkey, acrobat, cripple, or the beggar-girls with
their sweet, plaintive voices, their pretty smiles, and their eternal
hunger, to coax the piasters from your open purse. But you accept
these sights and sounds as a part of this wonderful old city, and each
day the fascination will grow on you until you will be obliged to go
to a series of afternoon teas in order to cool your enthusiasm.
In passing, the flies of Egypt deserve a tribute to their peculiar
qualities. A plague of American flies would be a luxury compared to
the visit of one fly from Egypt. For untold centuries they have been
in the habit of crawling over thick-skinned faces and bodies, and not
being dislodged. They can stay all day if they like. Consequently, if
they see an American eye, and they light on it, not content with that,
they try to crawl in. You attempt to brush them off, but they only
move around to the other side, until you nearly go mad with
nervousness from their sticky feet. If they find out your ear they
crawl in and walk around. You cannot discourage them. They craze you
with their infuriating persistence. If _I_ had been the Egyptians, the
Israelites would have been escorted out of the country in state at the
arrival of the first fly.
England has done a marvellous good to Egypt by her training. She has
taken a lot of worthless rascals and educated them to work at
something, no matter if it does take five of them to call a cab. She
has trained them to make good soldiers, well drilled because drilled
by English officers, and making a creditable showing. She has made
fairly dependable policemen of them, but their legs are the most
wabbly and crooked of any that ever were seen. These policemen are
armed. One carries a pistol and the other the cartridges. If they
happened to be together they could be very dangerous to criminals. She
has developed all the resources of the country, and made it fat and
productive, but she never can give the common people brains.
It poured rain this morning, and there is no drainage; consequently,
rivers of water were rushing down the gutters, making crossings
impassable and traffic impossible. They called out the fire-engines to
pump the water up in the main thoroughfare, but on a side street I
stopped the carriage for half an hour and watched four Arabs working
at the problem. One walked in with a broom and swept the water down
the gutter to another man who had a dust-pan. With this dustpan he
scooped up as much as a pint of water at a time, and poured it into a
tin pail, which gave occupation to the third Arab, who stood in a bent
position and urged him on. The fourth Arab then took this pail of
water, ran out, and emptied it into the middle of the street, and the
water beat him running back to the gutter. I said to them, "Why don't
you use a sieve? It would take longer." And they said, "No speak
I watched them until I grew tired, and then I went to the ostrich-farm
as a sort of distraction, and I really think that an ostrich has more
brains than an Arab.
This farm is very large, and the ostrich-pens are built of mud. I
never had seen ostriches before, and I had no idea how hideous, how
big, and how enchanting they are. They have the most curious
agate-colored eyes--colorless, cold, yet intelligent eyes. But they
are the eyes of a bird without a conscience. They have no soul, as
camels have. An ostrich looks as if he would really enjoy villainy, as
if he could commit crime after crime from pure love of it, and never
know remorse; yet there is a fascination about the old birds, and they
have their good points. The father is domestic in spite of looking as
if he belonged to all the clubs, and, much to my delight, I saw one
sitting on the eggs while the mother walked out and took the air.
Ostriches and Arabs do women's work with an admirable disregard of
Mrs. Grundy. Ostriches have an irresistible way of waving their lovely
plumy wings, and one old fellow twenty-five years old actually
imitates the dervishes. The keeper says to him, "Dance," and although
he is about ten feet tall, he sits down with his scaly legs spread out
on each side of him, and, shutting his eyes, he throws his long, ugly
red neck from side to side, making a curious grunting noise, and
waving his wings in billowy line like a skirt-dancer. It was too
wonderful to see him, and it was almost as revolting as a real
We saw these dervishes once; nothing could persuade us to go
twice--they were too nasty. The night the Khedive goes to the Citadel,
to the mosque of Mohammed Ali, to pray for his heart's desire (for on
that night all prayers of the faithful are sure to be answered), the
dervishes in great numbers are performing their rites. They are called
the howling dervishes, but they do not howl; they only make a horrible
grunting noise. They have long, dirty, greasy hair, and as they throw
their bodies backward and forward this hair flies, and sometimes
strikes the careless observer in the face. They work themselves up to
a perfect passion of religious ecstasy to the monotonous sound of Arab
music, and never have I heard or seen anything more revolting. The
negroes in the South when they "get the power" are not nearly so
It is England's wise policy in all her colonies to have her army take
part in the national religious ceremonies, so when the Sacred Carpet
started from the Citadel on its journey to Mecca there was a
magnificent military display.
It is an odd thing to call it a carpet, for it not only is not a
carpet in itself, but it is not the shape of a carpet, it is not used
for a carpet, and does not look like a carpet.
We were among the fortunate ones who were invited to the private view
of it the night before, when the faithful were dedicating it. They sat
on the floor, these Mohammedans, rocking themselves back and forth,
and chanting the Koran. I believe the reason nearly all Arabs have
crooked legs is because they squat so much. One cannot have straight
legs when one uses one's legs to sit down on for hours at a time. They
always sit in the sun, too, and that must bake them into their
The "carpet" is a black velvet embroidered solidly in silver and gold.
It is shaped like an old-fashioned Methodist church, only there are
minarets at the four corners. It looks like a pall. Every year they
send a new one to Mecca, and then the old one is cut into tiny bits
and distributed among the faithful, who wear it next their hearts.
This carpet was about six feet long, and was railed in so that no one
could touch it. A man stood by and sprayed attar of roses on you as
you passed, but I do not know what he did it for, unless it was to
turn sensitive women faint with the heaviness of the perfume.
But the next morning the procession formed, and amid the wildest
enthusiasm, the bowing and salaaming of the men, and the shouting and
running of the children, and the singing of the Arabs who bore the
carpet, it was placed upon the most magnificent camel I ever saw,
which was covered from head to foot with cloth of gold, and whose very
gait seemed more majestic because of his sacred burden, and thus, led
by scores of enthusiastic Arabs, he moved slowly down the street,
following the covering for the tomb, and in turn being followed by one
scarcely less magnificent destined to cover the sacred carpet in its
camel journey to Mecca. That was absolutely all there was to it, yet
the Khedive was there with a fine military escort, and all Cairo
turned out at the unearthly hour of eight o'clock in the morning to
As we drove back we saw the streets for blocks around a certain house
hung with colored-glass lanterns, and thousands upon thousands of
small Turkey-red banners with white Arabic letters on them strung on
wires on each side of the street. These we knew were the decorations
for the famous wedding which was to occur that night, and to which we
had fortunately been bidden. It was in very smart society. The son of
a pasha was to marry the daughter of a pasha, and the presents were
said to be superb.
We wore our best clothes. We had ordered our bouquets beforehand, for
one always presents the bride with a bouquet, and they were really
very beautiful. It was a warm night, with no wind, and the heavens
were twinkling with millions of stars. Such big stars as they have in
When we arrived we were taken in charge by a eunuch so black that I
had to feel my way up-stairs. There were, perhaps, fifty other eunuchs
standing guard in the ante-chamber, and our dragoman took the men who
brought us around to another door, where all the men had to wait while
we women visited the bride.
A motley throng of women were in the outer room--fat black women with
waists two yards around, canary-colored women laced into low-cut
European evening dresses, brown women in native dress; a babel of
voices, chattering in curious French, Arabic, Turkish, and Greek. All
the women were terribly out of shape from every point of view, and not
a pretty one among them. One attendant snatched my bouquet without
even a "Thank you" (I had been wondering to whom I should give it, but
I need not have worried), and patted me on the back as she pushed me
into the room where the bride sat on a throne amid piles upon piles of
bouquets. She had a heavy, pale face covered with powder, eyes and
eyebrows blackened, nails stained with henna, and a figure much too
fat. She wore a garment made of something which looked like
mosquito-netting heavily embroidered in gold, which hung like a rag.
Her jewels were magnificent, but the effect of all this gorgeousness
was rather spoiled to the artistic eye by her grotesque surroundings.
After we had visited the bride we were approached by a little yellow
woman in blue satin, who asked me in French if I would not like to see
the _chambre a coucher_, and I said I would. We were then conducted to
a room all hung in blue satin embroidered in red. Lambrequins,
chair-covers, bed-covers, pillows, bed-hangings--all the careful work
of the bride. Then we were invited to inspect the presents in another
room, which were all in glass cabinets. Dozens of amber and jewelled
cigarette-holders and ornaments of every description, most
magnificent, but of no earthly use--as wedding presents sometimes are.
Then we came down-stairs, and had all sorts of things at a banquet,
and heard Arab music, and sat around in the room, where our men met
us, and feeling rather bored, we decided to go home. There we were
wise, for we met quite by accident the procession of the bridegroom.
He was escorted through the streets by a band, and two rows of young
men carrying candelabra under glass shades. We turned and drove along
beside him and watched him, but he was so nervous we felt that it was
rather a mean thing to do. He was a handsome fellow, but never have I
seen a man who looked so unhappy and ill at ease. When he entered the
house he proceeded to the door of the bride's room, where he threw
down silver and gold as backsheesh until her women were satisfied;
then he was permitted to enter.
As we drove away for the second time I remembered that they were
having "torchlight tattoo" at the barracks, and we decided to stop for
"It won't seem bad to see some soldiers who can march, for the English
soldiers are magnificently trained," I said, as we stopped to buy our
tickets. A young officer whom I had met heard my remark, and smiled
"The English soldiers _are_ the best in the world, _aren't_ they?" he
"Undoubtedly," I replied, tranquilly.
He looked a little staggered. He had encountered my belligerent spirit
before, and he did not expect me to agree with him.
"You--you, an American, admit _that_?" he said.
"Surely," I replied. "But why?" he persisted, most unwisely, for it
gave me my chance.
"Because the Americans are the only ones who ever whipped them!
American soldiers can beat even the best!"
It is now six weeks since I said that, but as yet he has made no
In travelling abroad there are some things which you wish to do more
than others. There are certain treasures you particularly desire to
see, certain scenes your mind has pictured, until the dream has almost
become a reality. The ascent of the Nile was one of my Meccas, and now
that it is over the reality has almost become a dream.
In Egypt the weather is so nearly perfect during the season that it
was no surprise to find the day of our departure a cloudless one. I
seldom worry myself to arrange beforehand for the creature comforts of
a journey, trusting to the beneficent star which seems to hover over
the unworthy to shine upon my pathway. But this time I had so dreamed
of and brooded over and longed for the Nile that I went so far as to
investigate the different lines of boats, and we chose the moonlight
time of the month, and we hurried through Russia and Turkey and Greece
with but one aim in view, and that was to have our feet on the deck of
the _Mayflower_ on the 19th of February. And we succeeded.
Ah, it was a dream well worth realizing! Twenty-one days of rest.
Three glorious weeks of smooth sailing over calm waters. Three weeks
of warmth and sunshine by day, and of poetry and starlight by night.
Three weeks of drifting in the romance which surrounds the name of
that great sorceress, that wonderful siren, that consummate coquette,
that most fascinating woman the world has ever known. Three weeks of
steeping one's soul in the oldest, most complete and satisfactory
ruins on the face of the earth. Here, in delving into the past, we
would have no use for the comparative word "hundreds." We could boldly
use the superlative word "thousands." What memories! what dreams! what
fragments of half-forgotten history and romance came floating through
the brain! I have, generally, little use for guide-books except,
afterwards, to verify what I have seen. But I admit that I had an
especial longing to reach the temple of Denderah, which was said to
contain the most famous relief of Cleopatra extant. I was anxious to
see if her beauty or her charm or anything which accounted for her
sorceries were reproduced. "If Cleopatra's nose had been shorter, the
whole history of the world would have been changed." How far away she
seemed! How near she would become!
On the terrace at Shepheard's the morning of our departure you could
see by people's faces how they were going to make this journey. Some
had Stanley helmets on, and were laden with cushions and
steamer-chairs and fruits as if for an ocean voyage. Others were
clutching their Baedeker, and their Amelia Edwards, and their
"Kismet," and their note-books, and wore a do-or-die expression of
countenance. One or two others floated around aimlessly, with dreamy
eyes, as if they were already lost in the past which now pressed so
closely at hand. Then the coach from the Gehzireh Palace rolled by in
a cloud of dust, and people hurried down the steps of Shepheard's and
took their places in _our_ coach, and the dragomans in their gorgeous
costumes followed with wraps, and the porters bustled about stowing
away hand-luggage, and Arabs crowded near, thrusting their violets and
roses and amber necklaces and beaded fly-brushes into your very face,
and the old man who sells turquoises made his last effort to sell you
a set for shirt-studs, and the Egyptians and East-Indians from the
bazaars opposite came to the door and looked on with the perennial
interest and friendliness of the Orient, and a swarm of beggars
pleaded, with the excitement of a last chance, for backsheesh, and
there was a babel of tongues--French, English, Italian, German, and
Arabic, all hurtling about your ears like so many verbal bullets in a
battle, when suddenly the door slammed, the driver cracked his whip,
the coach lurched forward, the children scattered--and we were off.
Everybody knows when a boat starts up the Nile, and everybody is
interested and nods and waves to everybody else. There was a short
drive to the river amid polite calls of "good-bye" and "_bon voyage_,"
and there lay the _Mayflower_, like a great white bird with
comfortably folded wings. Nobody seemed to hurry much, for a Nile boat
does not start until her passengers are all on board. An hour or so
makes no difference.
You go down the bank of the Nile to go on board a boat upon steps cut
in the earth, and if your hands are full and you cannot hold up your
dress, you sweep some three inches of fine yellow dust after you. But
you don't care. The man ahead scuffed his dust in your face, and the
woman behind you is sneezing in yours, and everything and everybody
are a little yellowish from it, but nobody stops to brush it off. It
is too exciting to hurry up on deck and place your steamer-chair and
fling your things into your stateroom and rush out again for fear that
you will miss something. There were Italians, French, English, Poles,
Swedes, and Americans on board. Some of them had titles. Some had only
bad manners, with nothing to excuse them. But, after all, everybody
was nice, I got through the whole three weeks without hating anybody
and with only wanting to drown one passenger. What better record of
amiability could you ask?
But one thing marred the start. This Anglo-American line of boats is
the only line in Egypt which flies the American flag. That was the
final inducement they offered which decided my choice of the
_Mayflower_. But while we knew that she was obliged to fly the
British flag also, we were indignant beyond words to see a huge Union
Jack floating at the top of the forward flagstaff and beneath it a
toy American flag about the size of a cigar-box. _Beneath_ the
English flag! I nearly wept with rage. The owner of the line was
at hand, and I did not wait to draw up a petition or to consult my
fellow-Americans. I just said: "Have the goodness to haul down that
infant American flag, will you? I have no objection to sailing under
both, but I do object to such an insulting disparity in size. Besides
that, you seem to have forgotten that the American flag never flies
_below_ any other flag on God's green earth!"
He made some apologies, and gave the order at once. The baby was
hauled down amid the smiles of the English passengers. But at Assiout
we were avenged when an enormous American flag arrived by rail and was
hoisted to the main flagstaff, twenty feet higher than the British.
When I came out on deck that Sunday morning, and saw that blessed flag
waving above me, everything blurred before my eyes, and I do assure
you that it was the most beautiful sight I saw in all of that European
continent. You may talk about your temples and your ruins and your old
masters! Have _you_ ever seen "Old Glory" flying straight out from a
flagstaff in a foreign country seven thousand miles away from home?
The Nile is much broader than I expected to find it, and, like the
Missouri and the Golden Horn, it is always muddy. The _Mayflower_
carries only fifty passengers, which is of the greatest advantage for
donkey-rides and for seeing the ruins, a larger party being unwieldy.
She draws but two feet of water, having been built expressly for Nile
service, so we had the proud satisfaction of seeing one of the big
Rameses boats stuck on a sand-bank for eighteen hours, while we tooted
past her blowing whistles of defiance and derision. Whenever we felt
ourselves going aground on a sand-bank we just reversed the engines
and backed off again, or else put on extra steam and ground our way
through it. In the whole three weeks we were not aground five minutes,
although we passed one wreck settling in the water, with the bedding
and stores piled up on the bank, and the passengers sailing away in
the swallow-winged feluccas, which had swooped down to their rescue
like so many compassionate birds.
Afternoon tea on the Nile is an unforgetable function. Everybody comes
on deck and sits under the awning and watches the sun go down. Each
day the sunsets grow more beautiful. Each day they differ from all the
rest. Such yellows and purples! Such violet shadows on the golden
water! Such a marvellously sudden sinking of the sun in a crimson
flame behind the flat brown hills! And then the stillness of the Nile
in the opal aftermath! Those sunsets are something to carry in the
memory forever and a day.
At night the sailors lower the side awnings, crawling along the
railings with their naked prehensile feet. The captain, a Nubian, on a
salary of eighty-five cents a day, selects a suitable spot on the bank
where the boat may remain all night. Then the bow of the boat heads
for the shore and digs her nose in the soft mud. The sailors pitch the
stakes and mallets out on to the bank and spring ashore. Then with
Arab songs which they always sing when rowing, hauling ropes,
scrubbing the decks, or doing any sort of work, the stern is gradually
hauled alongside the bank, and there we stay until morning in a
stillness so absolute that even the cry of the jackals seems in
harmony with the loneliness of it.
I dreaded the first excursion. It was to Memphis and Sakhara, eighteen
miles in all, and I never had been on a donkey in my life. I am not
afraid of horses, but donkeys are so much like mules. My friends
encouraged me all they could. They said that I would have a donkey-boy
all to myself, that the donkey never went out of a walk, and wound up
by the cheerful assurance that if he did pitch me over his head I
would not have far to fall.
The donkey-boys of the Nile deserve a book all to themselves. Such
craft! Such flattery! Such knowledge of human nature! With unerring
sagacity they discover your nationality and give your donkey names
famous in your own country. Never will an Englishman find himself
astride "Yankee Doodle" or "Uncle Sam," or an American upon "John
Bull." They pick you up in their arms to put you on or take you from
your donkey as if you were a baby. They run beside you holding your
umbrella with one hand, and with the other arm holding you on if you
are timid. Staid, dignified women who teach Sunday-school classes at
home, who would not permit a white manservant to touch them, lean on
their donkey-boys as if they were human balustrades.
My first donkey-boy was an enchanting rascal. He looked like a
handsome bronze statue. My donkey was a pale, drab little beast,
woolly and dejected. He looked as though if you hurled contemptuous
epithets at him for a week they would all fit his case. My companion's
was more jaunty. He had been clipped in patterns. His legs were all
done in hieroglyphics, and he held his ears up while mine trailed his
in the sand.
Nevertheless, I was so deadly afraid of him that I saw my forty-nine
fellow-passengers leave me, one after the other, while I still
hesitated and eyed him suspiciously. Perhaps I never would have
mounted had not Imam, the dragoman, with the frank unceremoniousness
of the East, caught me up in his arms and landed me on my donkey
before I could protest. And in the face of his childish smile of
confidence I could only gasp. We moved off with the majesty of a
"What's the name of my donkey?" asked my companion.
"Cleveland," came the answer like a flash.
We were enchanted.
"And what's the name of mine?" I asked.
Then we shouted. You have no idea how funny it sounded to hear those
two familiar names in such strange surroundings. We nearly tumbled off
in our delight, and so quick are those clever little donkey-boys to
watch your face and divine your mood that in a second they gave that
Weird, long-drawn donkey call, "Oh-h-ah-h!" and my companion's donkey
swung into a gentle trot, with her donkey-boy running behind, beating
him with a stick and pinching him in the legs.
At that McKinley, not to be outdone by any Democratic donkey, pricked
up his ears. I heard a terrific commotion behind me. The string of
bells around McKinley's neck deafened me, and I remember then and
there losing all confidence in the administration, for McKinley was a
Derby winner. He was a circus donkey. He broke into a crazy gallop,
then into a mad run. I shrieked but my donkey-boy thought it was a
sound of joy, and only prodded him the more. In less than two minutes
I had shot past every one of the party; and for the whole day McKinley
and I headed the procession. I only saw my companion at a distance
through a cloud of dust, and she does not trust me any more. Thus have
I to bear the sins of Mohammed Ali, my perfidious donkey-boy, who
forced me to lead the van on that dreadful first day at Sakhara.
Everywhere you go you hear the insistent, importunate cry for
backsheesh. Old men, women, children, dragomans, guides, merchants,
and street-venders--all sorts and conditions of men beg for it. They
teach even babies to take hold of your dress and cry for it. And to
toss backsheesh over to the crowd on the bank as the steamer moves
away is to see every one of them roll over in the dirt and fight and
scratch like cats over half a piaster. There is no such thing as
self-respect among the natives. They are governed by blows and curses,
and even the eyes of sheiks and native police glisten at the word
At Assiout one night we heard some one calling from the bank in
English: "Lady, lady, give me some English books. I am a Christian. I
can read English. Give me a Bible. I go to the American college. I
want to be a preacher." I leaned over the railing and discerned a very
black boy, whose name, he said, was Solomon. I was so surprised to
hear "Bible" instead of "backsheesh" that I investigated. He said his
mother and father were dead; that he had only been to college a year;
that he wanted to be a preacher, and that he would pray God for me if
I would give him a Bible. I was touched. He spelled America, and I
gave him backsheesh. He told me the population of the United States,
and I gave him more backsheesh. He sang "Upidee" with an accent which
threw me into such ecstasies that it brought the whole boat to hear
him, and we all gave him backsheesh. But his piety was what captivated
us. I heard afterwards that no fewer than ten of us privately resolved
to give him Bibles. He begged us to visit the college; so the next day
eight of us gave up the tombs and went to the American college, which
was floating the Stars and Stripes because it was Washington's
birthday. We spoke to Dr. Alexander, the president, of our friend
Solomon. He told us that he was an absolute fraud, but one of the
cleverest boys in the college. He was not an orphan. His father took a
new wife every year, and his mother also had an assorted collection of
husbands. He had been to school five years instead of one. He had no
end of Bibles. People gave them to him and he sold them. He had been
in jail for stealing, and on the whole his showing was not such as to
encourage us to help him to preach. Such was Solomon, a typical
Egyptian, an equally accurate type of the Arab. They are the cleverest
and most consummate liars in the world. I wonder that the noble men
and women who are giving their lives to teaching in that wonderful
mission college have the courage to go on with it, the material is so
unpromising. Yet Arabic acuteness makes it interesting, after all. A
pretty little water-carrier named Fatima, who wore a blue bead in the
hole bored in her nose, and only one other garment besides, ran beside
me at Denderah, calling me "beautiful princess," and kissing my hand
until she made my glove sticky. None of us were too old or too hideous
in our Nile costumes to be called beautiful and good. My donkey-boy at
Karnak assured me that I was his father and his mother. He touched his
forehead to my hand, then showed me how his dress was "broken," and
begged his new father-and-mother to give him a new one.
They are creatures of a different race. You treat them as you would
treat affectionate dogs. You beat them if they pick your pockets, as
they do every chance they get, and then they offer to show you the boy
who did it. I never got to the point of personally beating mine, but
Imam beat a few of them every day. On one occasion my donkey-boy,
Hassan, was angry with me because I would not let him buy feed for the
donkey, Ammon Ra, and refused to bring him up when I wanted to mount.
I called to the dragoman, and said:
"Imam, Hassan won't bring up my donkey."
Imam looked at him a moment in silence, then with a lightning slap on
the cheek he laid him flat in the sand. I was horrified. But to my
amazement Hassan hopped up and began to kiss my sleeve and to
apologize, saying, "Very good lady. Bad donkey-boy. Hassan sorry. Very
We have had three Christmases this year. The first was in Berlin, the
second in Russia, and the third on the Nile--the day after the fast of
Ramazan is ended. Ramazan lasts only thirty days instead of forty,
like our Lent. The thirty-first is a holiday. They present each other
with gifts, do no work, and picnic in the graveyards.
Between Esneh and Luxor we passed a steamer with some English officers
on board, and their steamer was towing two flat-boats containing their
regiments, all going to Kitchener in the Soudan. I used the
field-glass on-them, while my companion photographed them. We waved to
them, and they waved to us and swung their hats and saluted. At Edfou
they caught up with us, and passed so close to our boat that the
gentlemen talked to them and asked what their regiments were. They
said the Twenty-first Lancers and the Seaforth and Cameron
Highlanders. Then their boat was gone. How could we know that those
gallant officers of the Twenty-first Lancers would so soon lead that
daring cavalry charge at Omdurman, and possibly one of those who
saluted so gayly was the one killed on the awful day? It touched us
very much, however, to think that they might be going to their death,
and we were glad they did not belong to us, little dreaming that the
blowing-up of the _Maine_, of which we had just heard, would so soon
plunge our own dear country into war, and that our own fathers and
brothers and friends would be marching and sailing away to defend that
same "Old Glory" whose stars and stripes were floating over our heads,
and whose gallant colors would succor the oppressed and avenge insult
with equal promptness and equal dignity.
The temple of Denderah is not, to my mind, more beautiful than those
of Luxor and Karnak; in fact, both of those are more majestic, but the
mural decorations of Denderah are in a state of marvellous
preservation. I own, after seeing that in some places even the
original colors remained, that I quite held my breath as we approached
the famous figure of Cleopatra. The sorceress of the Nile! The
favorite of the goddess Hathor herself! The siren who could tempt an
emperor to forsake his empire or a general to renounce fame and honor
more easily than a modern woman could persuade a man to break an
engagement to dine with her rival! Queen of the Lotus! Empress of the
Pyramids! What grace, what charm I anticipated! I wondered if she
would be portrayed floating down to meet Antony, with her purple and
perfumed sails, her cloth of gold garments, her peacocks, her ibex,
her lotus-blooms, and if all her mysterious fascinations would be
spread before the delighted gaze of her humble worshipper.
What I found is shown in the frontispiece to this volume. Beauty
unadorned with a vengeance! From this time on I shall question the
taste of Antony. I only wish he could have lived to see some American
girls I know.
We saw Karnak and Philae by moonlight, and we lunched in the tombs of
the kings, with hieroglyphics thousands of years old looking down upon
our pickled onions and cold fowl, and we ploughed through the sands at
Assouan and saw the naked Nubians, with a silver ear-ring in the top
of their left ear, shoot the rapids of the first cataract. We stood,
too, in the temple of Luxor, before the altar of Hathor, with the
sunset on one side and the moonrise on the other, and heard what her
votaries say to the Goddess of Beauty. It was so mystical that we
almost joined in the worship of the Egyptian Venus Aphrodite. It was
so still, so majestic, so aloof from everything modern and new.
The Nile is essentially a river of silence and mystery. The ibis is
always to be seen, standing alone, seemingly absorbed in meditation.
The camels turn their beautiful soft eyes upon you as if you were
intruding upon their silence and reserve. Never were the eyes in a
human head so beautiful as a camel's. There is a limpid softness, an
appealing plaintiveness in their expression which drags at your
sympathies like the look in the eyes of a hunchback. It means that,
with your opportunities, you might have done more with your life. Your
mother looks at you that way sometimes in church, when the sermon
touches a particularly raw nerve in your spiritual make-up. I always
feel like apologizing when a camel looks at me.
One moonlight night was so bright that our boat started about three
o'clock instead of waiting for daylight, and the start swung my
state-room door open. It was so warm that I let it remain, and lay
there hearing the gentle swish of the water curling against the side
of the steamer, and seeing the soft moonlight form a silver pathway
from the yellow bank across the river to my cabin door. The machinery
made no noise. There was no more vibration than on a sail-boat. And
there was the whole panorama of the Nile spread before my eyes, with
all its romance and all its mystery bathed in an enchanting radiance.
Occasionally a raven croaked. Sometimes a jackal howled. An obelisk
made an exclamation-point against the sky, or the ruins of a temple
fretted the horizon. It was the land of Ptolemy, of Rameses, of
Hathor, of Horus, of Isis and Osiris, of Herodotus and Cleopatra, of
Pharaoh's daughter and Moses. It was the silence of the ages which
fell upon me, and then and there, in that hour of absolute stillness
and solitude and beauty unspeakable, all my dreams of the Nile came
After our ship left Smyrna, where the camels are the finest in the
world, and where the rugs set you crazy, we came across to the
Piraeus, and arrived so late that very few of the passengers dared to
land for fear the ship would sail without them. It was blowing a
perfect gale, the sea was rough, and the captain too cross to tell us
how long we would have on shore. I looked at my companion and she
looked at me. In that one glance we decided that we would see the
Acropolis or die in the attempt. A Cook's guide was watching our
indecision with hungry eyes. We have since named him Barabbas, for
reasons known to every unfortunate who ever fell into his hands. But
he was clever. He said that we might cut his head off if he did not
get us back to the boat in time. We assured him that we would gladly
avail ourselves of his permission if that ship sailed without us. Then
we scuttled down the heaving stairway at the ship's side, and away we
went over (or mostly through) the waves to the Piraeus. There we took
a carriage, and at the maddest gallop it ever was my lot to travel we
raced up that lovely smooth avenue, between rows of wild pepper-trees
which met overhead, to Athens; through Athens at a run, and reached
the Acropolis, blown almost to pieces ourselves, and with the horses
in a white foam.
Up to that time the Acropolis had been but a name to me. I landed
because it was a sight to see, and I thought an hour or so would be
better than to miss it altogether. But when I climbed that hill and
set my foot within that majestic ruin, something awful clutched at my
heart. I could not get my breath. The tears came into my eyes, and all
at once I was helpless in the grasp of the most powerful emotion which
ever has come over me in all Europe. I could not understand it, for I
came in an idle mood, no more interested in it than in scores of other
wonders I was thirsting to see; Luxor, Karnak, Philae, Denderah--all
of those invited me quite as much as the Acropolis, but here I was
speechless with surprise at my own emotion, I can imagine that such
violence of feeding might turn a child into a woman, a boy into a man.
All at once I saw the whole of Greek art in its proper setting. The
Venus of Milo was no longer in the Louvre against its red background,
where French taste has placed it, the better to set it off. Its cold,
proud beauty was here again in Greece; the Hermes at Olympia; the
Wingless Victory from the temple of Nike Apteros, made wingless that
victory might never depart from Athens; the lovelier Winged Victory
from the Louvre, with her electric poise, the most exhilarating, the
most inspiring, the most intoxicating Victory the world has ever
known, was loosed from her marble prison, and was again breathing the
pure air of her native hills. Their white figures came crowding into
The learning of the philosophers of Greece; the "plain living and high
thinking" they taught; the unspeakable purity of her art; the
Back to Full Books