No! These twenty pairs of donkeys belonged to an asinine Trades Union. The twenty pairs went together or not at all; they went up the steep hill with a human being on their backs or not at all; if one solitary moke out of the forty trades-unionists should be asked to climb a hill with nothing on its back, it would not move one step—no, not if the most luscious carrot feast awaited it at the top; and if it refused to budge, the thirty-nine others would support it by also refusing to budge! Yes! even if they held up the whole of the tourist season for eternity and never again tasted luscious carrot in all the years allotted to the asinine race. What is the good of customs if you don’t stick to them? The donkeys’ parents had always climbed that hill heavily-laden, and what was good enough for them was also good enough for their descendants!
“I think it’s horrid of you, Damaris. Besides, what are you going to do all by yourself?” said Ellen, opening a letter bits of which she proceeded to read out. “Here’s a letter from Sybil Sidmouth. She and Mr. Kelham are having a very poor time sitting about in the rocks and tombs all day and half the night.”
“How romantic!” sighed Berenice. “All alone with Nature in an Egyptian desert! It reminds me of Omar’s Jug and Loaf verse. How does it go?” She flipped through her notebook. “Ah! here it is.” And she proceeded to read, with appropriate punctuation with her tea-spoon on the edge of her saucer:
“A book of verses underneath the
A jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and Thou
Beside me, singing in the wilderness;
O, wilderness were Paradise enow!”
She looked up, suddenly, surprised and indignant, at Ellen, who had kicked her violently under the table; then she tried to cover up her confusion at her unfortunate faux pas.
“Mrs. Sidmouth, of course, is far from well,” she continued. But Ellen broke in, in her high staccato and appalling French:
“Revenons a nos moutons—or at least, our donkeys.” She looked at Damaris, who, with over-bright eyes, laughed whole-heartedly at the feeble joke. “Do change your mind, Damaris. The guide is Yussuf, the very best, you know. Besides, we might see the lion.”
“All right,” said Damaris, tucking the jasmine into the belt of her white dress, which she had never done before. “I’ll come. Twenty pairs of donkeys climbing up a hill will be an awfully funny sight,—don’t you think so, Mr. Lumlough?”
She smiled across at Mr. Lumlough, who was thereupon transported to the portals of the seventh heaven with a piece of toast and marmalade in his right hand.
“I was never less alone than when by myself.”
Next morning, with her chaperon’s energetic daughters, Damaris found herself one of the herd foregathered on the Nile bank preparatory to the excursion to the Valley of the Kings, and later in the afternoon by mountain path over the ridge to that marvel of antiquity the Terrace-Temple of Deir el-Bahari.