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At her feet sat huddled groups of women, just bundles of black robes, some with discs about their necks, some with chains or golden crescents upon the forehead, all wearing the burko [yashmak or face veil] covering the entire face with the exception of the eyes, and held in position between the eyebrows by the quaint tube-shaped selva, fastening it to thetarhah, the flowing black veil which nearly touches the ground behind, covers the head, and pulled down to the eyebrows leaves just the beautiful dark eyes to be seen, glancing up timidly—in this case—at the golden-haired, blue-eyed girl above them.

Men of different classes stood around, or squatted on their heels upon the ground, all in flowing robes of different colouring and various stages of cleanliness, some with heads covered in turbans, some with the tarboosh, others with the kahleelyah or head handkerchief, all chattering with the exception of the higher classes and the Bedouins, the latter clothed in white, with the distinctive thong of camel's hair wound about the head covering, arms folded and face passively serene, looking as though they had stepped right out of the Old Testament on to the fly-ridden, sunbaked station of Ismailiah; whilst vendors of cakes, sticky, melting sweets, and small oranges, wandered in and out of the crowd screaming their wares. Shouts of laughter drew Jill's attention to the other side of the station, where, with terms of endearment mixed with blood-curdling threats, a detachment of British soldiers getting ready to start en route for Suez were urging, coaxing, striving to make that most obstinate of animals, the camel, get to its feet some time before midnight.

From them she looked at a group of native dwellings made of sunbaked clay. Small square buildings, looking in the distance like out-houses, with scarcely perceptible windows, and flat roofs given over to poultry. Near them the patient bullock did its monotonous round, drawing the precious water from the well with which to moisten the arid little patch of earth from which the fellah extracts the so very little necessary to him in his life.

A clump of slender palms, like forgotten scaffolding, stood out clear against the intense blue of the sky; the desert, that wonderful magnetic plain, stretched away in mile upon mile of yellow nothingness, until as minute as flies on a yellow floor, growing more distinct at every step, with solemn and exceeding great dignity stalked a string of camels, each animal fastened by a rope to the saddle of the one in front, each apparently unconscious of its seemingly overwhelming burden, as with heads swaying slightly from side to side with that air of disdain which the dame of Belgravia unsuccessfully tries to imitate when essaying to crush the inhabitant of Suburbia by means of long-handled lorgnettes resting on the shiny arch of her aristocratic nose, they responded without fail to the soft musical voice of the Arab seated cross-legged on the leader.

14 December
Library of Alexandria

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