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NABUL AND HIS LITTLE WHITE DONKEY
"HI-YAH! Hi-yah! Who will ride on Nabul's little donkey, - the swiftest donkey in all the great city of Cairo?" called out a shrill, clear voice. Through the crowded street there clattered a little white donkey and on his back was a small boy, laughing merrily and waving a short stick in one hand.
"Oh, look to thy face! Oh, look to thy heels! Oh, make way for me, good people! " cried the little boy as he guided his donkey skilfully through the crowd by taps with his heels.
As the donkey pushed his way along, everybody laughed good-naturedly, and stepped aside.
"'Tis only that imp of mischief, Nabul, and his donkey," they would say as they made way for the little rider, for everybody knew and liked little Nabul Ben Hassan, the youngest donkey boy in Cairo.
Presently the donkey trotted around a corner and nearly upset a little table of cakes, beside which sat an old man fast asleep. "Plague on thee, dost thou not yet know how to drive a donkey?" grumbled the old fellow, who woke up just in time to save his cakes.
"Nay, father, 'tis thou who knowst not how to sell cakes, for thou wast fast asleep, while the flies ate the sugar from thy cakes without paying for it," answered Nabul. This made the passersby laugh, for Nabul was a great favourite in the quarter, and the old cake-seller was not, for sometimes he tried to cheat them when they came to buy his round, brown cakes covered all over with honey.
Nabul now hurried on the faster. He was anxious to reach the square where all the donkey boys of the city were to be found at noon, for he had a great piece of news to tell his chum Abdal, who would be sure to be there.
Nabul had just come from the big hotel in the main street where, along with all the other donkey boys, he liked to trot his little donkey up and down the street in front of the veranda, or terrace, of the hotel, hoping to attract the attention of those strange-speaking people who came from over the seas to see his country and to ride on the little Egyptian donkeys.
Indeed, truth to tell, the donkey boys thought the strangers came to Egypt just for that purpose, and out of compliment to the travellers, and with an eye to business, many of the boys named their donkeys after the great people of the various countries. There was a "King Edward" and a "Chamberlain" and a "Lord Cromer," to please the English, and another donkey was named after the French President "Fallieres," while Nabul himself called his "Teddy," -- you all know who that is, -- and he usually called him " Teddy Pasha," because Pasha means, in his language, a great man.
Nabul already knew about America, that big country so far away, for did he not have an uncle who had been a "donkey boy" in "The Streets of Cairo" at the great Chicago Exposition, and was even now at a place called Coney Island? This uncle wrote him letters full of tales of wonderful doings, and did he not know also two of the oldest donkey boys now in Cairo who had been to the big Exposition in America?
Little Nabul never tired of listening to the marvellous tales they brought back with them, and in this way he came to know how to tell the Americans from the other strangers who visited Cairo, as he watched them sitting on the broad terrace of the hotel.
It was the Americans who laughed and joked the most with the little donkey boys. Often, too, if they happened to be in a very good humour, they would throw them milliemes, the smallest of Egyptian coins, and then such a scramble as went on among the boys down in the street as each tried to get a coin. This would only make the visitors laugh the more, when they would scatter more coins.
"What a country must be that from whence these strangers come," thought Nabul to himself, "that one can throw away money like that! How I should like to go there! Perhaps we will some day, Teddy Pasha. I won't go without thee," he went on, tapping the little donkey gently with his heels, as he sat proudly on his back. He was turning all this over in his mind to-day as he rode to find his cousin Abdal, who was most probably taking his midday rest with the other donkey boys.
When he reached the square it was noon. Here, in the shade of the locust and mimosa trees which bordered the square, stood dozens of donkeys of all sizes and colours, -- white and brown and black and gray donkeys, -- with bright-coloured saddles and blankets, and on their bridles and around their necks were strings of little jingling bells.
There are a great many donkeys in Egypt, for almost everybody uses a donkey on which to get about, and for that reason there are so many donkey boys who make a business of hiring out their clever little animals.
Some of the donkeys were fast asleep, -- that is, they had their eyes tight shut, but one can never tell when a donkey is shamming; others were looking very wise out of the corners of their eyes, but it may have been that they were only planning how to dodge their work, or wondering if they could rub their saddles off against the tree-trunks, and thus give their young masters a little trouble. No one can possibly guess what a donkey is thinking about, though it is safe to say that Egyptian donkeys, like donkeys the world over, are generally up to mischief.
Meanwhile the young owners of the donkeys were stretched out on the ground in the shade. Some were playing a game like knuckle-bones; others were eating their lunch of honey cakes and dates, but all were chattering away at the top of their voices like so many magpies.
"Ho, here comes the little one!" they all cried out as Nabul rode up, sliding off his donkey and dropping down beside a boy a little older than himself. Meanwhile his little white donkey made at once for the bunch of his fellows and began pushing them about without ceremony, in order to make room for himself in the shade. This of course ended in a great braying and biting of ears, and the boys had to jump up and lay about them with their sticks before order was restored.
"Thy Pasha is like one possessed of an evil spirit," said one of the boys as he went back to his game.
"Nay, he is but masterful; see, he obeys one without the stick. Come here, little dove," called Nabul, who whistled to the little donkey who wriggled his long ears and came as meek as a lamb and stood by the side of his master.
"Abdal," said Nabul eagerly in a low voice to his companion lying in the shade, "I have good news for you. As I came by the big hotel I saw Mustapha, the dragoman, and he told me that it might be that he would want our donkeys to-morrow. There are two strangers at the hotel who have taken him for their dragoman. They have come from America in a big white ship to Alexandria, after many days on the ocean, and they are to stay a long time in our country. Mustapha is to be their guide, and if they want donkeys to ride Mustapha will see that they hire ours," and here Nabul paused for breath.
"Of a truth they will want donkeys, does not every one who comes to Cairo take a donkey ride through the bazaars and under the trees of the broad avenue leading out to the great pyramids?" demanded Abdal, sitting up and becoming as excited as his friend.
"Yes, but these strangers want to do more than that, for Mustapha says they may stay in our country for many weeks. One of these strangers is a boy like ourselves, and did you ever hear of a boy walking when he could ride?" asked Nabul triumphantly.
"But this boy may be different," said Abdal doubtfully; "however, if Mustapha has promised --"
"Well, he has," interrupted Nabul, "so to-morrow we must take care to be the first to show ourselves before them."
The two boys talked it over awhile longer as they ate their bread and dates and bit of cheese which they each took from a big pocket inside their long gowns. Abdal then ran across the square and bought a melon from a fruit merchant who sat there on a round, straw mat with his stock of melons heaped about him. After they had finished this the two cousins mounted and galloped away, each in a different direction.
Nabul and Teddy Pasha did some business that afternoon, carrying a few people up and down the busy streets in the centre of the city, but in such an absent-minded fashion on Nabul's part that he very nearly let the Pasha rub a fat old gentleman, who was riding him, off against a wall. The streets in the older part of Cairo are very, very narrow and crooked.
Usually it was quite dark when Nabul came home in the evening, but to-day he was anxious to tell the good news to his mother and the little sisters, so at sundown he and Teddy Pasha turned toward home.
As the little donkey trotted into the narrow street by the river where he and Nabul lived, Nabul's two little sisters came running to meet them. They had been watching for their brother as was their habit every evening, for often if he and Teddy were not too tired when they got home, they would be given a little canter to the end of the street and back, and they knew also that there were usually cakes or sweets in Nabul's pockets for them.
Nabul was very fond of his little sisters and good to them, better than little Egyptian boys often are to little girls; and as for the two little girls, they thought there was nobody in Cairo like their big brother.
The little girls were dressed in long blue cotton gowns and each wore a black veil wound around her head and hanging down to her waist. One of their greatest pleasures was to go out into the crowded city with Nabul, for they seldom went far away from their home by themselves.
This evening they hung close to their brother as he led Teddy into his stable, which was on the ground floor of the house. Nabul laughed as he caught Zaida peeping into his pocket. "Yes, I have brought thee a sweet morsel," he said, taking a little stick out of his pocket, on which were threaded a row of small cakes, "but I have brought you something better than sweetmeats, a piece of good fortune -- maybe it may mean new dresses -- who knows?" and he ran up the stairs laughing, with the little girls close behind and asking all sorts of questions.
Thus they tumbled into the big family living-room quite out of breath. "Thou makest noise enough for a small army, my children," said their mother, who was setting out the evening meal. "Thou art home early, my son, but all must be well, for thou art merry."
"He has a secret and will not tell it to us, mother," cried Menah, the eldest sister.
"Now you shall hear it, I waited to tell the mother first," said Nabul as he told his story of the strangers who wanted to engage two donkeys and their drivers for, as he hoped, many weeks.
"It would seem, indeed, to be the hand of good fortune which is held out toward thee," said the mother Mizram.
They all sat around on the floor, which was covered with matting, and Mizram gave each one a thin, flat sort of pancake made of corn meal well browned. This was their plate, and on it she heaped up a stew of mutton and big red peppers fried in oil. Children are never too happy nor too excited to eat, but between each mouthful they talked their prospects over and over again, and were only sorry to think that their father was not here, too, to hear the good news. Nabul's father, Mahomet Ben Hassan, was the captain of a dahabeah, an Egyptian sailing boat, which carried merchandise and native passengers up and down the river Nile.
He was away now on a trip and would not be home again for a week or more. An Egyptian household is very industrious, and every one of a suitable age and state of health is always very much occupied. Soon even the little girls would be taught to embroider, and their work would be sold to some merchant in the great Bazaar, and he in turn would sell it to strangers at, of course, a much higher price than the little girls would get for their labour.
When the girls had eaten the cakes that Nabul had brought them and some fruit, they sat in the big window that overlooked the river, and Abdal came in and sat with them until bedtime. Abdal's home was on a farm near Cairo, but since he had become a donkey boy he lived with friends just at the top of the street.
The little girls and their mother slept on a broad cot in the back room, up against the wall which was hung with matting to keep off the chill, but Nabul just rolled himself up in a woollen coverlid and slept on the hard matted floor, just as soundly, too, as he would have done in a soft bed.
As you may imagine, little Nabul did not oversleep the next morning. He was up with a hound as soon as he heard the call of. the old muezzin from the little gallery of a near-by Mosque, for that meant it was time for every one to get up and say his morning prayers and begin the work of the day. All over Cairo are found these Mohammedan places of worship, and from their towers and minarets, five times a day, the muezzin's call to prayer serves the people for a town clock.
"Thou must put on thy best clothes to-day," said Nabul's mother, as she opened a low wooden box painted green with red and gold decorations. This was Nabul's own particular trunk, and from it was taken his best suit. Instead of the blue cotton gown which Nabul usually wore, he to-day put on a white one that had pretty yellow silk stripes in it, tying it in with a broad red silk sash at his waist. After this he stuck his little turban jauntily on the side of his head so that its long black tassel hung right down over one eye, but he did not seem to mind this in the least.
"There will not be another donkey boy in Cairo as fine as thee," said little Zaida, clapping her hands, while Menah stuffed in her brother's pocket a piece of sweet bread and some dates wrapped in a handkerchief for his lunch. Nor did she forget a couple of morsels of sugar for Teddy Pasha.
Nabul now rushed down-stairs to the stable, the Pasha neighing good morning to him as he heard his little master come in the door. Nabul brushed and rubbed the little donkey down until his coat was as fine and glossy as a little donkey's coat could be. Then he dusted off the gaily coloured blanket and threw it over Teddy Pasha's back, and strapped on the high padded red saddle, after which, catching the bridle, hung with red tassels and little bells in his hand, he sprang on his back, Teddy looking back at his
little master and wiggling his ears as though he quite approved of everything that had been done. "Now be off, little dove, we are fine enough for the Khedive himself," said Nabul, waving a good-bye with his stick to the home folks, and riding away to join Abdal, who was just then leading his donkey out of its stable door near by. "Art thou ready?" cried Nabul as he came up to his cousin. Abdal nodded and mounted quickly, and away went the two boys laughing and shouting and calling out pet names to their donkeys as they galloped along.
Soon the boys had left the narrow winding streets of old Cairo behind them, and were trotting past the beautiful gardens and through the wide thoroughfares where are only the fine modern houses and big hotels. Finally they halted in front of the great hotel where the strangers were staying.
Early as it was, there was a crowd of natives standing on the sidewalk and gathered about the steps leading from the broad terrace to the street. All of them were hoping to attract the attention of the guests of the hotel, some of whom were already eating their breakfasts at little tables set about on the terrace.
There were beggars of all sorts asking alms, and street peddlers with their wares well displayed. Some of these were loaded down with heavy rugs and draperies, others had their arms full of gold and silver embroideries, or tinsel knickknacks of all kinds. There were snake-charmers and musicians and jugglers too. It was like a circus or a county fair. There were the dragomans, as the guides are called, in a group all by themselves, looking as if they owned the earth, as they swaggered grandly up and down the pavement dressed in their handsome silk clothes. No wonder they felt proud, for they were a big, fine-looking lot of fellows, and most of them spoke many languages. Our two little friends looked at them with admiration, for you must know it is the ambition of every donkey boy to become a dragoman himself some day.
In spite of the haste of our little friends, there were already other donkey boys ahead of them. These were gathered about a tall dragoman who stood leaning against the railings smoking his cigarette and paying not a bit of attention to them.
"There is Mustapha, the dragoman," whispered Nabul to his friend, pointing to the group; "he too has on his beautiful new clothes."
"Yes, and see how those other fellows stick close to him, like flies around a honey jar," answered Abdal.
"Aha! they well know that Mustapha is the most popular dragoman in Cairo, and they hope that he will hire their donkeys," answered Nabul.
Our two little friends now slipped off their donkeys and ran up to the big dragoman, crying, "We are here, oh, Mustapha! send away these others."
This made the other boys clamour all the louder. Meanwhile Mustapha paid not the slightest attention to any of them, but went on puffing away at his cigarette, for Egyptians have the bad habit of smoking one of these nasty little cigarettes at nearly all times.
Mustapha did indeed look gorgeous. He had on a bright green silk garment and over this a pale yellow silk gown; a rich red sash was wound round his waist many times and around his head was rolled the folds of a great silken turban of white and gold.
"Thou will want us, oh, Mustapha?" questioned Nabul at last in a whisper, giving Mustapha's sleeve a tug to remind the great man that they were still there.
"Who can tell? Allah alone knows the mind of these strangers," answered the dragoman, finally. "It may be that they will even want to ride in one of those evil-smelling flying carriages," he continued, throwing a scornful, glance at a big automobile that just at that moment came to a halt beside them, one of the few to be seen in Egypt.
It is true that there are even automobiles in Egypt, and every dragoman and donkey boy is very jealous of them, for they are afraid that if there are too many automobiles, people will not ride on their camels and donkeys.
"Who would not rather ride on a beautiful donkey like mine than in one of those noisy, smelly things?" said Abdal, patting his little donkey's head.
"Hush, here come the two strangers," whispered Abdal, as a little boy, followed by a tall gentleman, came out on to the terrace.
But Mustapha's quick eye had seen them, and forgetting his lofty manners he tossed away his cigarette and was smiling and bowing down to the ground when the little American boy ran up to him, crying: "Here is our dragoman, isn't he splendid, and look at all the little donkeys! Oh, do let us take a donkey ride right now, Uncle Ben," he went on eagerly, "wouldn't that be lots of fun, so much better than tramping about as we did yesterday?"
"Well, it's the thing to do when one comes to Egypt, so perhaps we had better try it if you think I can find a donkey high enough to keep my feet off the ground," said the tall gentleman, looking the little donkeys over.
All the donkey boys saw that he was talking about them, and pressed eagerly around, waving their sticks wildly, and each calling out that his was the best and fastest donkey in Cairo, and there was no other like him in all the world.
Little Nabul, with his arm over the Pasha's neck, called out as loudly as any of them, but his heart sank when he saw the little American put his hand on the bridle of one of the other donkeys standing near him. What chance had he among so many big fellows? And suppose Mustapha forgot his promise, after all! Mustapha was so busy talking to the tall gentleman that he paid no attention to the boys.
At that moment a big donkey boy pushed Nabul so roughly to one side that both he and Teddy Pasha came very near tumbling between the long legs of a great wobbly camel that was just coming down the street laden with big sacks of grain hung across the humps on his back.
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself to hit a little fellow like that," cried the little American boy, who had seen it all. "You are twice as big as he."
Meanwhile Nabul had recovered his balance with tears of anger and mortification in his eyes. His pretty suit was splashed with mud, and the end of the rough, heavy sack that was slung across the camel's back had badly scratched the Pasha's saddle. With his heart almost bursting with grief and rage he went at the big boy with Abdal close behind him. If he could only give him a good whack with his stick!
"That's right, go for him," shouted the little American excitedly, rushing down the steps, "I'll help you out!" For a minute it looked as if there would be a general fight, but Mustapha with great dignity got between the boys and talked so sternly in Arabic to the big one that he was glad enough to slink away to the farther side of the street, glad indeed that he had not got the beating which he deserved.
"Never mind," said the little American to Nabul, "I will ride your donkey. I think he is the nicest of them all, anyway."
Nabul did not understand all he said, but he knew what he meant quickly enough.
"Oh, yes," he cried, "me speak American, too."
"Oh, can you? Then we can talk together and we shall understand each other very well," cried the little American with great joy.
Nabul was so happy that he could only grin
and point to the Pasha. " Teddy Pasha, his name, Teddy Pasha," he kept on saying.
"Oh, Uncle Ben, his little donkey is named Teddy; we must have him now, mustn't we?" cried George, as our little American friend was named.
"I don't imagine he can talk very much 'American' as he calls it," replied Uncle Ben, "but Mustapha has just been telling me that these two boys are good reliable little fellows and advises us to take them."
"I am sure they are," said George, enthusiastically, who had already made friends with the Pasha.
"Well, so long as you have made up your mind to see Egypt on donkey back, and are going to make your staid old uncle do the same thing, we will try these two boys and their donkeys to-day, and if they suit us we will engage them for the whole time we are here," said his uncle.
"Oh, you will be sure to like it, Uncle Ben," said George coaxingly; but he well knew that his uncle would do anything to please him, even to riding on a jolting donkey over the rough streets of Cairo.
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