It was many hours before noon, however, that I made my first visit to Shoubra, beneath a sky as cloudless as it remained during the whole six months I was in Egypt, during which time I have no recollection that we were favoured by a single drop of rain; and yet the ever-living breeze on the great river, and the excellent irrigation of the earth, produce a freshness in the sky and soil, which are missed in other Levantine regions, where there is more variety of the seasons.
This marble pavilion at Shoubra, indeed, with its graceful, terraced peristyles, its chambers and divans, the bright waters beneath, with their painted boats, wherein the ladies of the harem chase the gleaming shoals of gold and silver fish, is a scene worthy of a sultan; but my attendant, a Greek employed in the garden, told me I ought to view it on some high festival, crowded by the court in their rich costumes, to appreciate all its impressive beauty.
Yet this Court is never seen to greater advantage than in the delicious summer palace in the gardens of Shoubra. During the festival of the Bairam the Pasha usually holds his state in this enchanted spot, nor is it easy to forget that strange and brilliant scene.
How the bold Roumelian peasant who in our days has placed himself on the ancient throne of the Pharaohs and the Ptolemies, as Napoleon on the seat of the Merovingian kings, usurping political power by military prowess, lodged and contented himself in the valley of the Nile, was not altogether an uninteresting speculation; and it was with no common curiosity that some fifteen years ago, before he had conquered Syria and scared Constantinople, I made one morning a visit to Shoubra, the palace of Mehemet Ali.
This was a scene not reserved for me, yet my first visit to Shoubra closed with an incident not immemorable. I had quitted the marble pavilion and was about to visit the wilderness where roam, in apparent liberty, many rare animals, when I came, somewhat suddenly, on a small circular plot into which several walks emptied, cut through a thick hedge of myrtle.
TWO or three miles from Cairo, approached by an avenue of sycamores, is Shoubra, a favourite residence of the Pasha of Egypt. The palace, on the banks of the Nile, is not remarkable for its size or splendour, but the gardens are extensive and beautiful, and adorned by a kiosk, which is one of the most elegant and fanciful creations I can remember.
From a distance, looking across the fields of Shoubra, it is very beautiful, especially at sunset, when beyond the dark green foliage of the sycamore and cypress trees which rise above the orange groves, the domes and minarets of the native quarter gleam golden in the sunlight.
The palace of Shoubra is a pile of long low buildings looking to the river moderate in its character, and modest in its appointments; but clean, orderly, and in a state of complete repair; and, if we may use such an epithet with reference to oriental life, comfortable.
One day when Mr. MacWhirter, B.A., was walking in Shoubra Gardens, with His Highness the young Bluebeard Pasha, inducting him into the usages of polished society, and favouring him with reminiscences of Trumpington, there came up a poor fellah, who flung himself at the feet of young Bluebeard, and calling for justice in a loud and pathetic voice, and holding out a petition, besought His Highness to cast a gracious eye upon the same, and see that his slave had justice done him.
The gardens of Shoubra, however, are vast, fanciful, and kept in admirable order. They appeared to me in their character also entirely oriental. You enter them by long, low, winding walks of impenetrable shade; you emerge upon an open ground sparkling with roses, arranged in beds of artificial forms, and leading to gilded pavilions and painted kiosks.