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   Chapter 8 THE CITY OF WONDERFUL COLOUR ALEXANDRIA

At Suvla Bay By John Hargrave Characters: 6539

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Scarlet-orange;

Beetle-green,

Flashing like a magic screen.

Silken garment,

'Broidered hood;

Richly woven gown;

Flashing like a pantomime,

In and out Aladdin's town.

Fretted lattice;

Dancing girl;

Drooping lash and ebon curl.

Silver tassel;

Scented room;

Almond "glad"-eye-look.

Queersome figures prowling round,

From some kiddies' picture-book.

Graeco-Serbian Frontier,

J. H., October 1915.

The coal-yards and dingy quays looked gray and chill. Here were gray-painted Government sheds, with white numbers on the sliding doors, dull gray trucks, and dirty sidings.

A couple of Egyptian native police in khaki drill, brown belts, side-arms, red fezes, and carrying canes, both smoking cigarettes, swaggered up and down in front of an arc-light.

There were dump-yards and gray tin offices, rusty cranes, and a gray floating quay. Gangs of Egyptian beggars in ragged clothes and a flock of little brown children continually dodged the native police as we sailed slowly through the docks. They were the only touch of colour in a muddle of Government buildings, stores, and transport ships.

We were all crowding to the handrail looking overboard. The Egyptian sunset had just vanished and the deep blue of an Eastern night held the docks in a haze of gloom.

The pipe band of the Inniskillings was playing "The Wearin' o' the Green" in that mournful, gurgling chant which we came to know so well.

One of the little Egyptian beggar-girls was dancing to it on the floating quay down below us by the flicker of the arc-lamp. She was a tiny mite, with a shock of black hair and brown face and arms. She wore a pink dress with some brass buttons hung round her neck. She danced with all the supple gracefulness of the out-door tribes of the desert, never out of step, always true and rhythmic in every motion of arms and body.

When the pipes on board trailed away with a hiss of wind and a choking, gurgling noise into silence the little dancing girl began to sing in a deep, musical voice-the voice of one who has lived out-of-doors in tents-

"Itta long way-Tipple-airy!

-Long way to go!

-Long way-Tipple-airy!

Sweetie girl I know!..."

She sang in broken English, and danced to the tune, which she knew perfectly.

The khaki crowd aboard whistled and cheered and laughed. Some one threw a penny. The whole gang of beggars scrambled after it, and there ensued a scrimmage with much shouting and swearing in Arabic.

We could see the city lit up beyond the dull gray docks.

Next morning we went for a route march through Alexandria. We marched through the dockyards. Gangs of native workmen in native costume-coloured robes and bare feet, turbans and red fezes-were working on the transports, unloading box after box of bully-beef and biscuit and piling them in huge "dumps" on the quays. Rusty chains clanked, steam cranes rattled and puffed out whiffs of white steam.

But they did not hustle or hurry. They worked under the direction of English sergeants and officers, loading and unloading.

At last we got outside the zone of awful ugliness which follows the British wherever they go. The docks were left behind and the change was sudden and startling.

It was like putting dow

n a novel by Arnold Bennett and taking up the Koran.

I did not trouble to keep in step or "cover off." My eyes were trying to take in the splendid Eastern scenes. Here were figures which had come right out of the Arabian Nights.

Was that not Haroun Al Raschid, Commander of the Faithful, disguised as a water-carrier, with a goatskin bottle slung over his shoulder, and great yellow baggy trousers and a striped cummerbund?

Here were veiled women and old men squatting under their open bazaar fronts, with coloured mats and blinds strung across the narrow streets. Fruit sellers surrounded by melons, and beans, tomatoes and figs and dates-a jumble of colour, orange, scarlet, green, and gold. Pitchers and jars and woven carpets; queer Eastern scents; shuttered windows and flat roofs, mules and here and there a loaded camel, two Jews in black robes, a band of wild-looking desert wanderers in white with hoods and veils.

Egyptian women carrying little brown babies; who would believe there could be such figures, such colour and picturesque compositions?

It was a short march, but we saw much.

So this was the land of Egypt. It was good. What a pity we could see so little of it...

There were very smartly dressed French women with faces powdered and painted and scented. Old men with hollow eyes and yellow parchment skins all creased and wrinkled squatted on the cobble-stones, smoking hubble-bubbles and long ivory-stemmed pipes.

Arab boys selling oranges ran about the streets. The heat was stifling-the shadows purple-black, the sunlight glared golden-white on the buildings and towers and minarets.

Here were curio-shops with queer oriental carvings and alabaster figures.

It was like a chapter of my Thousand-and-One Nights come true, and I remembered the gray barracks at Limerick and the incessant drill.

At last we marched back through the docks and aboard the Canada. Next morning we were sailing far away upon a blue sea. Just a glimpse of the city of wonderful colour and we were once more creeping closer and closer to the mystery of our unknown venture.

Many of us would never pass that way again-and each one wondered sometimes if he would be claimed by that Mechanical Death which none of us fully realised.

Only a few short hours-a day or two longer-and we should be plunged into battle. A bullet for one, shrapnel for another, dysentery for a third, a bayonet or death from weakness and starvation.

The great game of luck was gathering faster and faster. We loafed about on deck and wondered where we were going and what it would be like... our minds were thinking of the immediate future. Each one tried to make out he didn't care, but each one was thinking upon the same subject-his luck, fate, kismet. How many would return to old England-should I be one; or would the Eastern sunshine blaze down upon my decomposing body on some barren sandy shore?

We passed many of the Greek Islands-some came up pink and mauve out of the sea, others were green with vineyards; once or twice a little triangular-sailed boat bobbed along the coast.

The uncertainty was a strain, and we felt utterly cut off, until at last we sighted a sandy streak, and later a line of volcanic-looking peaks-the Isle of Lemnos.

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