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CHAPTER XVI. ABYDOS: TELL EL
TARCH 15. Like Pepys and other diarists less V noted, I have been postponing the completion of the record of the past few days until a convenient season, for to say truth the jaunt to Philæ on that torrid Sunday has left most of us a little the worse for wear.
I have nothing much to add of Assuan, for although there are some exquisitely painted cliff tombs on the western bank of the stream, they differ in no marked degree from numerous others already described, unless it be in the greater brilliancy of their decoration. The ancient granite quarries we have been forced to omit entirely from our calendar. And as for the village of Assuan, while it is a considerable place and possessed of attractive bazaars which compare favorably in all but extent with those of Cairo, it is in these latter days so devoted to the exploitation of the tourist that it has permitted that profitable pursuit to overshadow everything. I shall long remember those bazaars, however. They may not be large, but the variety of wares displayed is notable, ranging all the way from barbaric cloths and Egyptian stuffs to weapons of a fearful and wonderful deadliness. The Professor has become a walking arsenal in consequence. His stateroom bristles with assegais and dirks. And unless he alters his mind his numerous brood at home are destined to be provided with several bright, new, and interesting ways of maiming themselves.
We slipped back to Luxor without sticking on any bars, but it looks as if we should have our experience of delay before we win to Cairo again. The river is shoaling rapidly day by day, and in the brief interval since we passed over these waters the change is already apparent..
There is one thing to which I wish I might do justice, however, and that is our midnight visit to Karnak. The clouds which persistently prevented it on the journey up mercifully absented themselves on our way down, and we had the temple at its very
grandest. The Professor and I rode out alone, still attended respectively by Joseph and Abd’Allah, but alas, my poor donkey of other days appeared to have succumbed to the strain of our first visit. He was not to be had, and the beast I did secure was beyond peradventure the worst in Egypt. Nothing could stir him from a walk, and all attempts to do so resulted in nothing more than a coy side-step. However, we managed to reach Karnak at last-beset for the last hundred yards by a howling company of pariah dogs — and then came the magnificence!
The temple rose majestic and mysterious out of the yellow sands into that indescribable luminous blue of the night. Its enormous pylon threw a gigantic shadow, and behind it in the moonlight soared the pallid towers of an enchanted palace, stretching on and on until they were lost in the dimness of the distance. We dismounted and strolled at our leisure through the vast and silent corridors, across the spacious and deserted court of Rameses, and on to the crowning glory of Karnak— the hypostyle hall. For the moment we had it to ourselves in all its grandeur. It was an awesome thing. Down between the rows of huge columns led the gloomy aisles, across which here and there shot great beams of moonlight from the grills and apertures above. To the left the hall melted away in shadows. It was like being in an enchanted wood — a forest of gigantic stone trees whose mammoth tops flared high above under the ponderous roof. We sat ourselves down upon convenient blocks of stone and said not a word. It was beyond speech.
Silently, in twos and threes, others began to arrive through the dim doorways, and these also sat them down to awe-struck contemplation. If Karnak by day is magnificent, it is a hundred times more so by night. Its impressive bulk is magnified. Its mellow stones are glorified. No god ever had a prouder shrine than Ammon- and the sun-god's temple is at its finest when its master is away.
A young man with a tenor voice stole silently from the gathered groups and mounted into the dim obscurity under the great roof by means of a convenient mound of débris — and unannounced began to sing. His song was not of Ammon-Ra. In fact it sounded suspiciously like “the Rosary.” It was all very absurd and very incongruous, no doubt, — or it sounds so now; but for the moment, under the spell of that enormous building in the slanting rays of the moon, We were carried out of ourselves and listened spellbound as the voice rang through the silence of the shrine. It flooded the twilight of the gigantic nave and swelled through the deserted aisles like an organ. And when singing's best was done we relapsed again
into the silent awe of the place—sat and wandered by turns until it was time to go home to the ship. That evening I account one of the most memorable of my life. I have wandered among many ruins of a day that is dead, but never among them all have I found one to loom so impressively up from the past as the grand hall of Karnak under the magic of the moon. The memory of it cannot fade. It cannot be described. And to write of it here seems little short of profanation.
Since then we have advanced two days' journey to Baliana, the landing for Abydos, — and, by the way, it appears to be fashionable to pronounce Abydos with the stress on its second syllable. I find this difficult myself, and as local opinion is evenly divided, I have compromised by using the new pronunciation only half the time.
The road to Abydos is better than most in Egypt and partakes strongly of the character of a real highway. It is as level as a floor and the recurrent visits of the steamer-folk have made it locally profitable to maintain a limited number of decrepit carriages for the aged and infirm. As for the distance to the temples, it is not far from eight miles — the longest ride of the voyage and one of the pleasantest.
We were off in a group this time and cantered merrily through the dusty streets of Baliana to the