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Then she
called two or three servants, and ordered them to make ready the boat
and transport to the other side of the river the chariot and oxen.

The palace, or if this name seems too pompous, the dwelling of Tahoser,
rose close to the Nile, from which it was separated by gardens only.
Petamounoph's daughter, her hand resting on Nofré's shoulder, and
preceded by her servants, walked down to the water-gate through the
arbour, the broad leaves of which, softening the rays of the sun,
flecked with light shadows her lovely face. She soon reached the wide
brick quay, on which swarmed a mighty multitude, awaiting the departure
or return of the boats.

The vast city held now only the sick, the invalids, old people unable to
move, and the slaves left in charge of the houses. Through the streets,
the squares, the dromos (temple avenues), down the sphinx avenues,
through the pylons, along the quays, flowed streams of human beings all
bound for the Nile. The multitude exhibited the strangest variety. The
Egyptians were there in largest numbers, and were recognisable by their
clean profile, their tall, slender figures, their fine linen robes or
their carefully pleated calasiris. Some, their heads enveloped in
striped green or blue cloth, with narrow drawers closely fitting to
their loins, showed to the belt their bare torsos the colour of baked
clay. Against this mass of natives stood out divers members of exotic
races: negroes from the Upper Nile, as black as basalt gods, their arms
bound round with broad ivory rings, their ears adorned with barbaric
ornaments; bronzed Ethiopians, fierce-eyed, uneasy, and restless in the
midst of this civilisation, like wild beasts in the glare of day;
Asiatics with their pale-yellow complexion and their blue eyes, their
beard curled in spirals, wearing a tiara fastened by a band, and draped
in heavily embroidered, fringed robes; Pelasgi, dressed in wild beasts'
skins fastened on the shoulder, showing their curiously tattooed legs
and arms, wearing feathers in their hair, with two long love-locks
hanging down. Through the multitude gravely marched shaven-headed
priests with a panther's-skin twisted around their body in such a way
that the head of the animal formed a sort of belt-buckle, byblos shoes
on their feet, in their hand a tall acacia-stick on which were engraved
hieroglyphic characters; soldiers, their silver-studded daggers by their
side, their bucklers on their backs, their bronze axes in their hands;
distinguished personages, their breasts adorned with neck-plates of
honour, to whom the slaves bowed low, bringing their hands close to the
ground; and sliding along the walls with humble and sad mien, poor,
half-nude women travelling along bowed under the weight of their
children suspended from their neck in rags of stuff or baskets of
espartero; while handsome girls, accompanied by three or four maids,
passed proudly with their long, transparent dresses knotted under their
breasts with long, floating scarfs, sparkling with enamels, pearls, and
gold, and giving out a fragrance of flowers and aromatic essences.

Among the foot-passengers went litters borne by Ethiopians running
rapidly and rhythmically; light carts drawn by spirited horses with
plumed headgear; ox chariots moving slowly along and bearing a whole
family. Scarcely did the crowd, careless of being run over, draw aside
to make room, and often the drivers were forced to strike with their
whips those who were slow or obstinate in moving away.

The greatest animation reigned on the river, which, notwithstanding its
breadth, was so covered with boats of all kinds that the water was
invisible along the whole stretch of the city; all manner of craft, from
the bark with raised poop and prow and richly painted and gilded cabin
to the light papyrus skiff,--everything had been called into use. Even
the boats used to ferry cattle and to carry freight, and the reed rafts
kept up by skins, which generally carried loads of clay vessels, had
not been disdained. The waters of the Nile, beaten, lashed, and cut by
oars, sweeps, and rudders, foamed like the sea, and formed many an eddy
that broke the force of the current.

The build of the boats was as varied as it was picturesque. Some were
finished off at each end with a great lotus flower curving inwards, the
stem adorned with fluttering flags; others were forked at the poop which
rose to a point; others again were crescent-shaped, with horns at either
end; others bore a sort of a castle or platform on which stood the
pilots; still others were composed of three strips of bark bound with
cords, and were driven by a paddle. The boats for the transport of
animals and chariots were moored side by side, supporting a platform on
which rested a floating bridge to facilitate embarking and disembarking.
The number of these was very great. The horses, terrified, neighed and
stamped with their sounding hoofs; the oxen turned restlessly towards
the shore their shining noses whence hung filaments of saliva, but grew
calmer under the caresses of their drivers. The boatswains marked time
for the rowers by striking together the palms of their hands; the
pilots, perched on the poop or walking about on the raised cabins,
shouted their orders, indicating the manoeuvres necessary to make way
through the moving labyrinth of vessels. Sometimes, in spite of all
precautions, boats collided, and crews exchanged insults or struck at
each other with their oars. These countless crafts, most of them painted
white and adorned with ornaments of green, blue, or red, laden with men
and women dressed in many-coloured costumes, caused the Nile to
disappear entirely over an extent of many miles, and presented under the
brilliant Egyptian sun a spectacle dazzling in its changefulness. The
water, agitated in every direction, surged, sparkled, and gleamed like
quicksilver, and resembled a sun shattered into millions of pieces.

Tahoser entered her barge, which was decorated with wondrous richness.
In the centre stood a cabin, its entablature surmounted with a row of
urĉus-snakes, the angles squared to the shape of pillars, and the walls
adorned with designs. A binnacle with pointed roof stood on the poop,
and was matched at the other end by a sort of altar enriched with
paintings. The rudder consisted of two huge sweeps, ending in heads of
Hathor, that were fastened with long strips of stuff and worked upon
hollow posts. On the mast shivered--for the east wind had just risen--an
oblong sail fastened to two yards, the rich stuff of which was
embroidered and painted with lozenges, chevrons, birds, and chimerical
animals in brilliant colours; from the lower yard hung a fringe of great
tufts.

The moorings cast off and the sail braced to the wind, the vessel left
the bank, sheering with its sharp prow between the innumerable boats,
the oars of which became entangled and moved about like the legs of a
scarabĉus thrown over on its back. It sailed on carelessly amidst a
stream of insults and shouts. Its greater power enabled it to disdain
collisions which would have run down frailer vessels. Besides, Tahoser's
crew were so skilful that their vessel seemed endowed with life, so
swiftly did it obey the rudder and avoid in the nick of time serious
obstacles. Soon it had left behind the heavily laden boats with their
cabins filled with passengers inside, and on the roof three or four rows
of men, women, and children crouching in the attitude so dear to the
Egyptian people. These individuals, so kneeling, might have been
mistaken for the assistant judges of Osiris, had not their faces,
instead of bearing the expression of meditation suited to funeral
councillors, expressed the most unmistakable delight. The fact was that
the Pharaoh was returning victorious, bringing vast booty with him.
Thebes was given up to joy, and its whole population was proceeding to
welcome the favourite of Ammon Ra, Lord of the Diadem, the Emperor of
the Pure Region, the mighty Aroëris, the Sun God and the Subduer of
Nations.

Tahoser's barge soon reached the opposite bank. The boat bearing her car
came alongside almost at the same moment. The oxen ascended the flying
bridge, and in a few minutes were yoked by the alert servants who had
been landed with them.

The oxen were white spotted with black, and bore on their heads a sort
of tiara which partly covered the yoke; the latter was fastened by broad
leather straps, one of which passed around the neck of the oxen, and the
other, fastened to the first, passed under their belly. Their high
withers, their broad dewlaps, their clean limbs, their small hoofs,
shining like agate, their tails with the tuft carefully combed, showed
that they were thorough-bred and that hard field-work had never deformed
them. They exhibited the majestic placidity of Apis, the sacred bull,
when it receives homage and offerings.

The chariot, extremely light, could hold two or three persons standing.
The semicircular body, covered with ornaments and gilding arranged in
graceful curved lines, was supported by a sort of diagonal stay, which
rose somewhat beyond the upper edge and to which the traveller clung
with his hand when the road was rough or the speed of the oxen rapid. On
the axle, placed at the back of the body in order to diminish the
jolting, were two six-spoked wheels held by keyed bolts. On top of a
staff planted at the back of the vehicle spread a parasol in the shape
of palm leaves.

Nofré, bending over the edge of the chariot, held the reins of the oxen,
bridled like horses, and drove the car in the Egyptian fashion, while
Tahoser, motionless by her side, leaned a hand, studded with rings from
the little finger to the thumb, on the gilded moulding of the shell.
These two lovely maidens, the one brilliant with enamels and precious
stones, the other scarcely veiled in a transparent tunic of gauze,
formed a charming group on the brilliantly painted car. Eight or ten
men-servants, dressed in tunics with transverse stripes, the folds of
which were massed in front, accompanied the equipage, keeping step with
the oxen.

On this side of the river the crowd was not less great.



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