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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Old Man at the Water-Wheel
By William Cowper Prime (1825–1905)
 
From ‘Boat Life in Egypt and Nubia’

LIFE in such a country has no great amount of variety, as one might well imagine.  1
  There was an old man that I found one day on shore as I walked by the boat, whose history was strange and worth the hearing.  2
  He was a puny, dried-up old fellow, whose weight, I think, might come within seventy pounds. He sat on the end of the pole of the water-wheel, immediately behind the tails of the bullocks, and followed them around the little circle which they walked, his knees up to his chin, which was buried between them, and his blear eyes gazing listlessly on the cattle and the outer wall of the sakea,—for it was inclosed in a stone-and-mud wall. The everlasting creaking of the wheels—that strange sound that no other machinery on earth emits—seemed, and was to him, the familiar music of his life.  3
  I questioned him, and his story was simply this: He was born just there. It was long before the days of Mohammed Ali, when Hassan Kasheef was king, that he was a boy, sitting on the pole of the sakea and following the bullocks around. He sat there more years than he knew anything about, and grew to be a man. Life was to him still the same round. His view was bounded by the mountains around him, and he never went beyond them. He rode the sakea, and at every circle he caught through the open doorway a vision of one mighty hill, with a grove of palms at its foot. In the night he saw it still and solemn among the stars, and sometimes he had seen tempests gathered around it. It was the one idea of his life; and it was something to find in such a brain one idea, though it was but a rock. He looked out at it as he told me of it, with a sort of affection that I well understood, but which surprised me none the less. But so he had lived. He grew heavier as he grew older, and then he could not ride the pole, but sat down in the doorway and watched his bullocks, looking behind him often at the hill; and so the years slipped along, and age came and he wasted away; and when his second childhood was on him, he mounted the pole again, and was riding to his grave.  4
  He had been a great traveler. I know not how many thousand miles he had been carried around that centre-pin. Had he never been away from the valley? Yes, once: he climbed the hill yonder, and from its summit saw the dreary wastes of sand that stretched far away in all directions, and he came back contented. Did nothing occur in his lifetime that he now remembered as marking some one day more than another? Nothing. Yes! one day the wheel broke, and he was startled and frightened; but they came and mended it, and all went on as before.  5
  I left him there to follow his weary round till death overtake him; and if I find life oppressive at any time hereafter, I shall know where to seek a hermitage and undisturbed calm.  6
 
 
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