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afterglow on which our eyes had been fixed for the first ten minutes of our walk. Which was to hold our heartsKarnak, or Thebes, or Luxor?
We came back a different way, threading the winding bazar of Luxor, with its poor little curio shops lit by a single feeble lamp, and its garish Greek groceries. We had barely time to dress for dinner, and promised ourselves an early retirement to rest from our labours, for we were to rise at dawn to begin a long day at Thebes. But when we stepped ashore after our coffee to make merry over the banalities of the shops, which followed various trades, but all lived by selling postcards, we found night almost turned into day by the southern moon. In Egypt one acts upon impulse, as there is no rain to make one reflect. In a few minutes half the passengers—the men in evening dress, the ladies in décollete dresses and delicate slippers—were galloping on donkeys towards Karnak. The most anybody did in the way of preparation was to spread a dust cloak over the donkey and his saddle to keep off the dirt.
The effect of the flying white dresses in the moonlight was charming, especially as we neared Karnak, and rode into the palm groves with the soft sand of the road glittering like snow wherever the moon could reach it through the trees.
As the cavalcade rode up to Karnak there were more fairytale effects than ever. Little black dogs ran along the dark walls of the village on the left, and barked defiance. Over the wall rose the fantastic outlines of the houses and their mosque. Sometimes at the end of a street was a little group of white-robed men and black-shrouded women. Once a belated camel came swaying past; and more than once an old sheikh, almost veiled in white, ambled past on a gaily caparisoned ass.
Then the Sphinxes of the avenue, at first looking like gnawed bones, and then like wild animals pretending to be asleep, made their appearance, and then the gay pylon of the Ptolemies, a square-headed, richly figured arch, with the sealed temple of Khonsu behind it, burst upon our view.
We made no attempt to enter Khonsu's temple, but whipped up our donkeys past it, on to the great square of Karnak to see the moon strike the heaven-pointing finger of Queen Hatasu's obelisk and the mountainous temple of Amon-Ra.
We took this in as we rode across the square to the pleasant Eastern bungalow of the curator of the temples, the learned and affable Legrain. Here the night struck a different note. For the lights of a human dwelling gleamed out of the odorous masses of tropical creepers, and the loggia on the roof was delicately outlined against the moonlit sky; while our white asses, as we dismounted, went and stood in the shadows under the dark lebbeks, where it was their wont to shelter from the fierceness of the Egyptian day.
We soon forgot both, for right before us were the perfect Sphinxes of the avenue, which led from the Temple of Amon-Ra to the quay, now far from the river, where the Pharaohs took galley for Thebes. The polished granite of these monsters, as perfect as the lions in Trafalgar Square, gleamed like silver. They looked with great benevolence on the dainty women with the trains of their evening dresses over their left arms, who paused to look into their faces and parade a pretty ignorance.
The great gate of Amon-Ra seemed to reach the sky as the tall Arab watchman, with his head muffled, opened the wicket.
He was too idle to look at monument tickets at that hour. And the omission was a hint for tips.
No one lingered in the vast courtyard of King Shishak, the oppressor of the Israelites, except to look at the single column which has survived-one of the noblest in Egypt. It stood up like the great column taken from the basilica of Constantine to stand on the top of the Esquiline before Santa Maria Maggiore. It looked simply glorious in the moonlight. No one would have noticed the beautiful little temple of the third Rameses if it had not been for the mysterious, half-lit Colossi standing at its entrance, called back to life by the moonlight, as Egyptian statues always
are. The ladies tripped unheedingly across the velvet sand; they knew that the Hall of the Columns of Karnak, the most wonderful of the ruins of ancient Egypt, lay behind the pylon on the other side, and they did not intend to be diverted from it.
The whole temple gains in romance at night. The crumbled pylon at the entrance of the Hall of the Columns looks as if the giants of Karnak had emptied a sugar-basin in their play, in which each cube, glistening in the moonlight, measures a yard or two along its edges. Egypt is more beautiful than Rome by moonlight. I could not have believed that the sights before my eyes were anything but a dream if it had not been for the unending barking of the dogs in the Arab villages. The moon was so straight overhead that there was hardly any shadow-only enough to round the columns.
It is impossible to exaggerate the effect of the Temple of Amon-Ra at Karnak; and when one thinks of the Temple of Amon-Ra one thinks of its hall of columns. Many of them are eighty feet high and more than thirty feet round; they are covered to their tops with sculptures and paintings of the religion of Egypt; they have a clerestory above them, sculptured and painted like the rest of this mighty pile. Here are the brightest tints of all; here is the grated window, which gave the eastern part of Thebes its name of Karnak. The whole temple is carpeted with sand, deliciously soft and fine and clean : not even our footsteps could be heard in it : the guardians of the temple moved about like ghosts in their white robes. Whichever way we looked the awe struck into our souls, If we let our eyes wander up the fretted columns they ended in the starry vault of the Egyptian heaven, which the ceiling of the temple must have counterfeited when it was put up in the days of Moses. If we looked back, we saw through the opening the glorious column of King Shishak's court; if we looked forward we saw the two great obelisks of Queen Hatasu and King Thothmes pointing at the moon. The stars shone between those giant, unconquerable columns. The same statues which are the
primmest of all images made by human hands in the daylight, are the most human at night; and there are hundreds of them peopling the shrines of Karnak.
From the shadowy hall we stepped out past fresh piles of ruin turned to goblin silver by the moon; pacing in the soft sand through courts innumerable, halting to look now at the score of giant pylons rising half-ruined from the groves of palms to show where the twin temple of Mut lies under an unbroken spell; now at the reedy lake, where the golden ships once sailed on days of high festival, and the ancient Nilometer, which is so far from the Nile, but registers by sympathy every inch that the great river may rise or fall.
Here there was so much to see. We had exhausted our exclamations over an exquisite little oratory of the finest granite, delicately carved and painted, built for Philip Arrhidæus, the shadowy brother of Alexander the Great. But before we had gone many yards farther we needed them twice told, for we suddenly came upon the most beautiful object in all Karnak-the head of a god or king of divine proportions, which has the beauty of the handiwork of Praxiteles and Polycletus, and the profound expression which was the hallmark of Egyptian genius. The face is pensive, full-lidded, sensuously mouthed, a face to haunt you with its beauty and its meaning. And a few yards from it were those two slender columns, the Column of the Lotus and the Column of the Papyrus—the column of Upper Egypt and the column of Lower Egypt-inspirations of slenderness and simplicity.
Far away at the back of all things rose the vast wall of crude brick like the Great Wall of China, with which some king of the twenty-second dynasty made a circuit a mile and a half long, of Karnak's temples.
It was shrouded from our eyes by the banqueting-hall of the great King Thothmes III., the greatest of all the Pharaohs, very mysterious, very perfect, with faintly frescoed Christian saints gazing down in mild surprise from its multitudinous columns. This was our hall of minor tragedies, for women are headstrong, and between those lotus and papyrus columns and the banqueting hall was a great court crossed by paths
of velvet sand, but guarded by camel-thorns, which stabbed and tore among silk stockings and lace skirts. Behind the banqueting-hall is one of the most beautiful little temples in Karnak, with delightful sculpture; but the camel-thorn had done its work, and I had to gaze alone on those beautiful Osirids, which so few people know.
The only other adventure that the ladies would face after this was the little Temple of Ptah by the northern wall, to which there is an open and well-beaten track.
This was fortunate, for we saw on the right night one of the astronomical devices in which the priests of ancient Egypt delighted.
The avenue of graceful little pylons was exquisite in the moonlight. We passed gaily down it and entered the temple. Every one started back as we crossed the threshold of the third sanctuary, for there was a blaze of light, as vivid as the electric light which plays upon the figure of the Pharaoh of the Exodus in the Tombs of the Kings, playing upon the evil figure of Sekhet, the lion-headed goddess, which has never left this spot since it was placed here by the Pharaoh. It owed its immunity to the hatred and dread and loathing the modern Arab has for this goddess and her congener, the cat-headed goddess, Pasht. To the fellah of to-day they are child-eating ogres, who bring misfortune on all who touch them. Its immunity had another origin. In making its restorations the brilliant Frenchman in charge of the antiquities of Karnak detected that this was one of the cases in which the moon when it was at its height fell through the hole in the roof on the image, and successfully preserved that feature in the restoration. But the purely natural phenomenon was quite startling when you came on it as we did.
I was glad that we visited that temple for other reasons. For, peeping through the adjacent gateway of the wall surrounding the temple, one saw the ruined city of Rameses the Great, transfigured by the moonlight; and as we made our way back to the great temple of Amon-Ra we got a fresh view of the mountainous pile of the Hall of the Columns and the noble obelisk of Queen Hatasu, which pierces the heart of the ruins.