Page images

We had all the old sacrifices and processions and gods and victories over again in Luxor, including the picture story of the birth of Amenophis III., which depicts an immaculate conception; an annunciation; a visitation of wise men with gifts, executed about 1500 B.C.

After which we returned to the hotel; but when the sun was low in the west beyond the Nile and the air was getting balmy, I slipped back and sat in the old Temple in the quiet, and thought of a number of things. Then as the sun slipped below the verge, a figure stepped out on the minaret just over my head and began that weird thrilling chant which once heard will remain forever unforgotten, the cry of the East—“Allah il Allah," the Muezzin's call to prayer.

So it is still a place of worship. The voice of faith has reached down thirty-four centuries, and whatever the form, or the prophet, or the priest, it is all embodied there at evening and at morning in the cry, “There is no God but God.”



• sT was early next morning when we crossed the Nile

I to the rhythm of a weird chorus which the boatmen sang to the beat of the oars. It is probably older than these temples, and the boatmen themselves do not know the meaning of the words, Gaddis said. One intones and the others answer, and it is in minor keys with a dying fall at the end, except now and then when a curious lifting note drops in, like a flash of light on the oars. Bound for the Valley of the Kings, the House of Hatasu, and the Colossi of Memnon, it seemed a fitting overture.

The donkeys were waiting on the other bank—the same we had used yesterday, fat and fresh as ever, and the same boys were there calling and gesticulating to their special charges of the day before. There are always a few more donkey-boys than is necessary, it seems, all of them wildly eager for the privilege of racing all day in the perishing sun, urging the donkeys and yelling for baksheesh at every jump-not that they expect to get it until the end of the day, but as a traditional part of the performance. The donkey-boy gets nothing, we are told, but what one is pleased to give him—the donkey hire going to the Sheik, who owns the donkeys and lets the boys get what they can. I would write a good deal about those half - naked, half - savage, tireless donkey - boys if permitted. They and their brothers, and their cousins even to the fourth remove, who come in like a charging army in the wild baksheesh skirmish at the end, interest me.

Mounted, we led away in the usual stampede along canals and by lush green fields, across the fertile strip that borders the Nile. The green is rather wide here—as much as a mile, I should think, and it was pleasant going through the still morning if one kept well forward in the procession-in front of the dust that rose mightily behind us. Every little way where we slackened speed, detachments of sellers would charge from the roadside with trinkets, imitation scarabs, and images, but more notably with fragments (and these were genuine enough) of what long ago—as much as three or four thousand years, perhaps—had been human beings like ourselves. Remnants of mummies they were, quarried out of the barren hills where lie not only the kings but the millions who in the glory of Egypt lived and died in Thebes. The hills are full of them, Gaddis said, and unearthing them has become an industry.

It was rather grewsome at first to be offered such things—to have a head, or a hand, or a foot thrust up under your eyes, and with it an outstretched palm for payment. The prices demanded were not very high, and the owners, the present owners, would take less-a good deal less than the first quotation. A physician in our party bought a head-hard and black as old mahogany, with some bits of gold-leaf still sticking to it-for five francs, and I was offered

a baby's hand (it had been soft and dimpled onceit was dark and withered now) for a shilling.

We crossed the line which “divides the desert from the sown”—a sharp, perfectly distinguishable line in Egypt-and were in the sand, the sun getting high and blazing down, fairly drenching us with its flame. We thought it would be better when we entered the hills, but that was a mistake. It was worse, for there was not a particle of growing shade, not a blade of any green thing, and there seemed no breath of life in that stirless air.

Remember it never rains here; these hills have never known water since the Flood, but have been baking in this vast kiln for a million years. You will realize that it must be hot, then, but you will never know how hot until you go there. Here and there a rock leaned over a little and made a skimpy blue shadow, which we sidled into as we passed for a blessed instant of relief. We understood now the fuller meaning of that Bible phrase, “As the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” This was a weary land with shadows far between. Now and then those astonishing donkeys broke into a gallop and stirred up a little scorching wind, the unflagging boys capering and shouting behind.

It seemed an endless way, up into these calcined hills to the Burial-place of Kings, but by-and-by there were traces of ruins and excavation, and we heard the throb of a dynamo on the quivering air. We dismounted then, and Gaddis led us up a burning little steep to what at first seemed a great tunnel into the mountain-side. How deep and cool and inviting

it looked up there; we would go in, certainly. Was it really a tomb? No wonder those old kings looked forward to such a place.

It was merely an entrance to a tomb—a tunnel, truly, and of such size that I believe two railway trains could enter it side by side and two more on top of them! I think most of us had the idea—I know I did—that we would go down ladders into these tombs, and that they would be earthy, cheerless places, more interesting than attractive.

They are the most beautiful places I ever saw. The entrances-vast, as I have stated-go directly in from the hillside; the rock floors are dry and clean, while the side-walls and the ceilings are simply a mass of such carving and color as the world nowhere else contains. An electric dynamo set up in a tomb that was never finished (that of Rameses XII., I believe) supplies illumination for these homes of the kingly dead, and as you follow deeper and deeper into the heart of the mountain your wonder grows at the inconceivable artistic effort and constructive labor that have been expended on those walls. Deeper, and still deeper, along a gradual decline that seems a veritable passage to the underworld. Here and there, at the side, are antechambers or avenues that lead away-we wonder whither.

Now and again Gaddis paused to explain the marvellous story of the walls—the progress of the King to the underworld-his reception there, his triumphs, his life in general in that long valley of spirits which ran parallel with Egypt and was neither above nor below the level of the earth. It was this



« PreviousContinue »