Syce by Sara
THE SYCE ON DUTY.
One of the most novel and interesting sights which attracts the
traveller's attention when he first arrives in Egypt is the syce running
before the horses as they go through the narrow, closely packed streets.
How the crowd scatters, and the donkey-boys hustle their meek property
out of the way as one of those runners comes bounding along, shouting,
in the strange Arabic tongue, "Clear the way!" The sun shines upon his
velvet vest, glittering with its spangled trimmings, the breeze fills
the large floating sleeves till they wave backward like white wings.
Then on dash the spirited horses, dogs bark, children squeal, beggars
dodge, men swear, and women, holding their face-veil closer, ejaculate
On springs the syce; what cares he for man or beast? while proudly
following rolls the rich equipage, or prances the Arab steed with its
turbaned rider and Oriental robes.
Mahmoud, the subject of this little sketch, was the syce of a rich Pasha
in Cairo; he was a favorite with his master, and everybody loved
him—even the horses would neigh joyfully at his approach, and eat from
his hand as gently as a dog. His life was an easy one, for, being a
favorite, no arduous duties were placed upon him, and his strength was
encouraged and sustained by the master for the swift running which
commands so much admiration. So agile did he become, that no name among
the syce of Egypt was more renowned than that of Mahmoud. Often at the
latticed windows bright eyes of hidden beauties followed him through the
narrow streets, and watched for his coming as he led the way for his
master each morning in his rides. Sometimes they threaded their way
through the crowded bazars amid scenes of the Arabian Nights,
breathing wonderful Eastern perfumes, gazing on rare gems and exquisite
embroideries; and again, down the road to the Pyramids, with the soft
air blowing in his face, trees waving overhead, and birds singing
merrily; or, in the blood-red sunset, passing down the Choubra Road, the
fashionable drive of Cairo, with its shade of gnarled old sycamores, and
crowded with conveyances of every description. Sometimes he led the way
for the harem carriage, very proud of the honor.
One morning the Pasha sat in his garden under the blossoming
orange-tree, smoking his chibouque, and talking with his friend the Bey
from Alexandria, whose horse stood in the path champing impatiently at
his bit, and held by his syce, Abdullah, in his gay costume. They talked
of politics, the condition of the country, its financial troubles; they
spoke of their religion and their mosque, of the Suez Canal, the
improvements of the city, the Khedive's new palace, their own
dwelling-places. By-and-by the conversation ran upon their horses and
their favorite syce.
"Abdullah can outrun them all," said the Bey.
"Not so," replied the Pasha; "my Mahmoud is the finest runner in
Cairo—ay, in all Egpyt."
"Sayest thou so?" cried the Bey. "Come and let us test their skill."
"Most surely," answered the Pasha, "and I will give a prize to the boy
The news soon spread over Cairo that Mahmoud and Abdullah were to run a
race, the winner to receive a costly girdle of rich embroidery, finished
with a clasp set with gems. Great was the interest, and on the day
appointed crowds assembled to see the race, gathering long before the
What a motley group there was! Camels with their riders, stylish
carriages with pretty French children, rosy-cheeked English girls,
Italian singers, American officers and tourists, English lords, wild
desert Arabs, swarthy-faced fellaheen, pistachio and pea-nut dealers,
donkey-boys, beggars, and peddlers. A Turkish band played a quick
reveille. Here they come! The crowd cheers—the signal is given—they
are off! The general sympathy is with Mahmoud, but Abdullah is a strong
fellow, of tremendous muscle, more experience, and mighty will, so that
little Mahmoud has a rival of no mean powers.
Every eye is fixed upon those two figures, side by side, leaping onward
in graceful bounds. Forward they fly, past the cotton field, around the
curved path; but look!— Abdullah is ahead; Mahmoud seems far behind.
The band plays quicker. Abdullah is flying; he will win; he— But no;
Mahmoud is gaining; he nears his rival. Abdullah sees and strains every
nerve, but in vain. Mahmoud swings his light wand over his head, and
shoots by like an arrow. It is over; the goal is reached. Mahmoud has
won, and amid the loud cheers of the crowd the Pasha descends from his
carriage, and places the glittering sash around the victor's waist.
Abdullah approaches, gives his successful rival a hearty salam, which
awakens fresh applause. Somebody scatters a shower of gold coins over
them, and the crowd disperses.