I have heard that some people go to the East instead of to theWest, but you can only do so by sailing up the river, and then ahuge stretch of country separates the Nile from the sea. Still, theEast is a fine place, and I should like to see it, for a thousandyears ago the Romans and the Arabs lived there, and I have oftenheard my father speaking about it. But the West was the path ofthem, my ancestors, and to them it was a difficult path, for it wasas lonely as the North, and the heat was almost unbearable. We onlywent that way when we were forced to it, and there were none ofthe comforts of life, and none of the luxury of European travel.My father, who is very old, told me that he had never knownhow to read or write, nor could he count. Most of his tribe wereraiders, and they were not always easy to find; but I, being a girl, wastaught, and so I always knew what was in my father's books.
The first was the most outwardly-frightening, for it ran along thetop of the plateau, and was sheltered from the wind only by a fewbarely-clumped bushes. Even to the people of Cairo, it seemed to be athreateningly lonely and endless frontier. But the second and third werealready familiar to the desert-traveller. The first was a broad riverwhich at last ran due north and south, and so on to Abyssinia, thesouthernmost country in Africa. No one used it, but then no one hadever heard of it, and it was rarely covered by the winds, so thatit was possible to travel along its bank for a few days without beingseen by any caravan which carried goods north to Egypt. But thethird route was the most direct and the most to be desired, for itled me to the village of Assouan, on the west bank of the Nile,and from there on across to the coast. Going westward would take mycamel-leader over the desert which lay between him and Assouan, andI had seen something of this country before, for it is the route myancestors took, a hundred and fifty years ago, from central Africa, whenthey shipped their canoes up the river for the first time. The desertis a frightful place, and the climate is terribly poisonous.
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