Page images
PDF
EPUB

This is left on for a week, during which time it is sufficiently baked by the sun. The head is then washed, the woolly hair put into curl papers, and the Somali beau walks about with the conviction that he is rather fetching.

Aden town lies, as it were, in the bottom of a cup, the sides being rugged volcanic hills. It must be a fearful place in summer.

In these January days it is dangerous to appear out of doors without a sun helmet or a terai, which is simply composed of two felt hats, one fitting close upon the top of the other. The streets are narrow and dirty, swarming with black-eyed children, chiefly naked, who run after the carriage and lisp for backsheesh. There is also a choice collection of deformity, the fortunate possessors of which close round the visitor and make it almost impossible to proceed a few yards on foot. Another nuisance are the money-changers, who cannot be convinced that the chief object of one landing in Aden is not either to get rupees changed into English money or English money converted into rupees. One of these men spent the whole morning with us, holding out a handful of silver. It was a little monotonous, but we got used to it in time, and he seemed to be enjoying himself.

The one thing Aden has to show to the tourist are its famous tanks. These are scooped out of hills standing a little above town. They are natural excavations, nature having been but slightly assisted by art. There is a series of four or five tanks, yawning caldrons, each one capable of holding thousands of gallons of water if it could only get them. That is, however, the drawback. The tanks are quite empty now, as they always are except for a short period after unusually heavy rains. They are no use for the purpose for which it is naturally supposed they were constructed, that of supplying Aden with water. When the rains do come, after the long drought, they bring down tons of mud, the washings of the dusty hills. It would take a year, with a constant supply of fresh and cleaner water, before the store could be used for domestic purposes. But the Government, whose property the tanks are, manage to turn them to commercial account. These washings of the hills are full of manurial properties, for which the agriculturists for miles around compete. Last year the dirty water sold for £800, and went to irrigate a thirsty land.

As to the origin of these colossal reservoirs it is lost in remote antiquity. The generally accepted theory is that they were made by the Romans, who once had a settlement here. They were accidentally discovered some years ago, and the rubbish with which they had been gradually filled was cleared away at the expense of the Government. They are approached by a neatly kept garden, in which, at nearly every turn, is set up an earnest request that visitors will not pluck the flowers. This, I fancy, is a bitter joke, for scarcely any flowers will bloom in this enclosed space, on which the sun beats down with a terrible power that dries up the thinly sprinkled soil.

We returned to the port by another route, on which the dust was laid by water-carts, drawn by camels. From this road, not Aden, but the prospect from its hills, looked fairer. The volcanic peaks on the opposite shore were doubtless as brown and desolate as that on which we stood. But seen at a distance across the blue bay, they were dowered with soft reds and deep purples, whilst here and there the riven masses opened up glimpses of golden sand.

CHAPTER XXIV.

THROUGH THE SUEZ CANAL.

The voyage from Aden to Suez in such weather as fell to our lot is one of dreamy delight. Leaving Aden behind, we sailed along a coast guarded by files of sentinel hills rising one above another, with boundless wealth of blue sea at their feet. There is no sign of tree or verdure, but the rocks, birth of volcano, take on in the varying distance hues of infinite beauty. Close by Aden there is a miniature bay of pure white sand, shut out from the world in the rear by an impenetrable wall of rock; this is called “Honeymoon Bay,” because, it is said, young couples getting married have been known to sail away and build them a tent here. Further out there are a constant succession of bays sufficient to meet the honeymoon necessities of the close of a London season. We had magnificent weather and seas without a ripple till almost within sight of Suez; but the clouds had, as of old, hidden Mount Sinai as we passed.

On the afternoon before we reached Suez, the wind suddenly veered round, and a summer's afternoon was instantly changed into bleakest October weather, the sun still shining, but the wind piercingly cold. The Southern Cross, constant harbinger of the coming day, was left behind, not to be seen again on this journey. The last time I saw it, midway up the R Sea, it was shining brightly in the southern heavens, whilst to the eastward both sea and sky were suffused with the rosy tints. of the coming sun.

In the west the moon and its attendant court of stars and planets shone out as brightly as if the sky were their unquestioned empire, and there was no such thing as day.

On the fifth morning after leaving Aden we awoke to find ourselves anchored at Suez. Two miles away on the left, lay the town, its white-walled houses shining fair in the morning light, though I believe it is the cleanliness and beauty of a whited sepulchre. We got a nearer view of Suez as we entered the Canal, and saw the long procession of mules travelling to and fro along the narrow causeway raised above the swampy level, and connecting

« PreviousContinue »