SUEZ, Friday, February 28.
We reached Suez at six o'clock in the morning, and anchored within the bay. An enterprising sailboat captain came alongside and offered to take us across the bay to the town in time to catch the only train leaving for Cairo for twenty-four hours. It was two long hours' sail, but the breeze was strong, and Vandy and I resolved to try it, bargaining with the captain, however, upon the basis of no train no pay. The few passengers on deck at that early hour gathered to give the adventurers a farewell cheer, and we were off. We made it just in time, and grasping a bottle of wine and some bread at the station - for we had had no breakfast - we started for Cairo.
The railway runs parallel to the Suez Canal, which, by the way, was a canal in the days of the Pharaohs, but, of course, much smaller and only used for irrigation. We saw the top-masts of several steamers above the sandy banks as they crawled slowly through the desert. How great the traffic already is and with what strides it grows is well known. Its capacity can at any time be doubled by lighting it with electricity, but at present vessels are compelled by rule to lie still after sunset. All is dead through the night. In a few years this will be changed; and indeed the canal must be widened ere long and made a double track throughout to accommodate the continual stream of ships plying between the East and the West. At present it is just like one of our single-track railways with sidings or passing places. The distance from end to end is only about a hundred miles, but ships sometimes take three and even four days to squeeze through. This must be remedied. Twenty-four hours seems to be about the proper time-table. When past Ismailia, the line leaves the canal and runs westward through the land of Goshen. After the parched plains of India, it was refreshing once more to look upon "deep waving fields and pastures green." We were within the regions watered by the Nile, and the harvests resembled those of the carse of Gowrie.
We reached Cairo on time, and our first inquiries were about our friends, Mr. H., Miss N., and party, who were expected there from their three months' excursion upon the Nile. Fortunately, we found their dalbeah anchored in the stream, and we drove to it without delay. Sure enough, as we reached the bank, there lay the Nubia, that little gem, with the Stars and Stripes floating above her. We were rowed on board only to find that our friends were in the city. However, we made ourselves at home in the charming saloon, and awaited their return. Unfortunately, some sailor on shore had told them of two strangers going aboard, and there was not the entire surprise we had intended; but if there was no surprise there was no lack of cordial welcome, and we realized to the fullest extent what a world of meaning lies in the quaint simile, "as the face of a friend in a far-off country."
This reunion at Cairo was one of the fine incidents of our tour. Many months ago we had parted from Mr. H. and family, and half in jest appointed Cairo as our next meeting-place. They went in one direction, we in another, and without special reference to each other's movements it had so turned out that we caught them here. It was a narrow hit, however, as they were to leave next day for Alexandria; and had we remained on the Pekin, as all the other passengers did, and not undertaken the sail across the bay, we should have missed them. We grasped hands once more and sat down to dinner, the Nile gurgling past, the Pyramids with their forty centuries looking down upon us, and here was one more happy band drawing more closely to each other since separated from friends at home, enacting over again such scenes as the famous river has witnessed upon its bosom for thousands of years - one generation going and another coming, but the mysterious Nile remaining to welcome each succeeding host; and thus,
"Thro' plots and counterplots -
Thro' gain and loss - thro' glory and disgrace -
...still the holy stream
Of human happiness glides on!"