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WHERE HISTORY BEGAN
W HEN I glanced casually over the little heap of
VV hand-bags that would accompany our party up the Nile—we were then waiting on the terrace of Shepheard's for the carriages—I noticed that my own did not appear to be of the number. I mentioned this to the guides, to the head-porter, to the clerk, to casual Bedouins in the hotel uniform, without arousing any active interest. Finally, I went on a still hunt on my own account. I found the missing bag out in the back area-way, with a Bedouin whom I had not seen before sitting on it, smoking dreamily and murmuring a song about lotus and moonlight and the spell of his lady's charms. Growing familiar with the habits of the country, I dispossessed him with my foot and marched back through the vast corridors carrying my bag myself. Still, I am sorry now I didn't contribute the baksheesh he expected. He was probably the cousin or brother or brother - in - law of one of my room servitors. They all have a line of those relatives, and they must live, I suppose, though it is difficult to imagine why.
There was a red glow in the sky when our train slipped out of the Cairo station toward Luxor. The Nile was red, too, and against this tide of evening were those curious sail-boats of Egypt that are like
great pointed-winged butterflies, and the tall palms of the farther shore. By-and-by we began to run through mud villages that rose from the river among the palms, wonderfully picturesque in the gathering dusk. This was the Egypt of the pictures, the Egypt we have always known. No need to strain one's imagination to accept this reality. You are possessed, enveloped by it, and I cannot think that I enjoyed it any the less from seeing it through the window of a comfortable diner, with the knowledge that an equally comfortable, even if tiny, state-room was reserved in the car ahead. The back of a camel or deck of a dahabiyah would be more picturesque, certainly—more poetic — but those things require time, and there are drawbacks, too. Railway travel in Egypt is both swift and satisfactory. The accommodations differ somewhat from those of America, but not unpleasantly.
We were a small party now. There were fewer than twenty of us-all English-speaking, except a young man who shared my apartment and was polite enough to pretend to understand my German.
It was a little after 5 A.M. when I heard him getting up. I inquired if there was “Etwas los ?” which is the ship idiom for asking if anything had gone wrong. He said no, but that the sun would be upstanding directly, which brought me into similar action. One does not miss sunrises on the Nile, if one cares for sunrises anywhere. We hurried through our dressing and were out on the platform when the train drew up for water at Nag Hamadeh-a station like many others, surrounded by the green luxury of the Nile's fertile strip, with yellow desert and mountains pressing close on either hand. It was just before sunrise. The eastward sky was all resonant with ruddy tones -a stately overture of its coming. Uplifting palms, moveless in the morning air, broke the horizon line, while nearer lay the low village-compact and flat of roof—a vast, irregular hive built of that old material of Egypt, bricks without straw. Below it the Nile repeated the palms, the village, the swelling symphony of dawn. Only here and there was any sign of life. An Arab woman with a water-jar drowsed toward the river-bank; a camp of Bedouins with their camels and their tents were beginning to stir and kindle their morning fires. The railroad crosses the river here, and just as we were creeping out over the slowmoving flood the sun rose, and the orchestra of the sky broke into a majestic crescendo, as rare and radiant and splendid as it was when Memnon answered to its waking thrill and sang welcome to the day.
The young man and I had forgotten each other, I think, for neither of us had spoken for some moments. Then we both spoke at once — "Wunderbar!” we said, “Wunderschon!” for I have trained myself to speak German even when strongly moved. Then with one impulse we looked at our watches. It was precisely six, and we remembered that it was the 22d of March-the equinox.
We stayed out there and saw the land awake—that old land which has awakened so many times and in so much the same fashion. Outside of its cities and its temples it cannot have changed greatly since the days of Rameses. It is still just a green, fertile
thread of life, watered and tilled in the manner of fifty centuries ago. They had to drag us in to breakfast at last, for we would be at Luxor before long, four hundred and fifty miles from Cairo; that is, at ancient Thebes, where—though the place has lingered for our coming a good four thousand years“ze train he have not time to wait.”
We are in Thebes now, the “city of a hundred gateways and twenty thousand chariots of war." Homer called it that, though it was falling to ruin even then. Homer was a poet, but his statistics are believed to be correct enough in this instance, for Diodorus, who saw the ruins a little before the Christian era, states that there were a hundred war stables, each capable of holding two hundred horses, “the marks and signs of which,” he says, "are visible to this day.” Of its glory in general he adds: “There was no city under the sun so adorned with so many and stately monuments of gold and silver and ivory, and multitudes of colossi and obelisks cut out of entire stone." Still further along Diodorus adds, “There, they say, are the wonderful sepulchres of the ancient kings, which for state and grandeur far exceed all that posterity can attain unto at this day.”
Coming from a historian familiar with Athens and Rome in the height of their splendor, this statement is worth considering. We have journeyed to Thebes to see the ruin of the mighty temples which Diodorus -saw, and the colossi and the obelisks, and to visit the royal tombs of which he heard—now open to the light of day.
We had glimpses of these things at the very moment of our arrival. The Temple of Luxor (so called) is but a step from the hotel, and, waiting on the terrace for our donkeys, we looked across the Nile to the Colossi of Memnon, still rising from the wide plain where once a thronging city stood-still warming to the sunrise that has never failed in their thirty-five hundred years.
We were in no hurry to leave that prospect, but our donkeys were ready presently, and a gallant lot indeed. The Luxor donkeys are the best in Egypt, we are told, and we believe it. They are a mad, racing breed-fat, unwearied, and strenuous—the pick of their species. They can gallop all day in the blazing sun, and the naked rascal that races behind, waving a stick and shouting, can keep up with them hour after hour when an American would drop dead in five minutes.
They are appropriately named, those donkeys. Mine was “Whiskey Straight,” and he arrived accordingly. He was a gray, wild-headed animal, made of spring steel. We headed the procession that led away for the Temple of Karnak in a riotous stampede. Laura's donkey was “Whiskey and Soda”-a slightly milder proposition, but sufficient unto the day. I have never seen our ship-dwellers so unreserved in their general behavior, so “let loose,” as it were, from anything that resembled convention, as when we went cavorting through that Arab settlement of "El-Uksur,” where had been ancient Thebes. Beset with a mad, enjoying fear, our ladies—some of whom were no longer young and perhaps had never ridden before-broke into frantic and screaming prophecies