« PreviousContinue »
It is difficult, however, to abandon oneself to the full enjoyment of the scene. Crowds of Arabs follow the party to the summit, and pester them with entreaties for backsheesh, or with clamorous recommendations of the forged antiquities they have for sale. They are merry, good-humoured fellows, quick at taking a joke, and great as the annoyance may be, it is impossible to lose one's temper. I tried the effect of a retort upon them by asking backsheesh in return. One ragged scoundrel drew himself up with a dignified air, and putting his hand into some mysterious pocket of a cotton shirt, the only garment he possessed, drew out a small coin worth about half a farthing. Putting it into my hand with a condescending gesture, he folded his arms and walked away, amidst shouts of laughter from his comrades. To one of the dealers in forged antiquities, I said, "I shan't buy those; they were made in Birmingham.” A rival trader plucked me by the coat, and said, “No, Mr. Doctor, his were not made in Birmingham, his were made in London;" and then proceeded to vouch for his own as “bono anticos.”
One great feat is for an Arab to leap down the side of the First Pyramid, run across the intervening space of desert sand, and up the Second Pyramid in nine minutes. The sheikh was demanding a shilling apiece from the twenty-four Europeans who were on the summit. I remonstrated, saying that a dollar for the whole was the regular tariff. The sheikh drew me aside, and whispered in my ear," Mr. Doctor, you say nothing,
and pay nothing.” When lie came round to collect the money from the contributors, he passed me by with a merry wink and shrug of his shoulders.
A member of our party had a very powerful opera-glass, which he lent to one of the Arabs. Mohammed, looking through it, was beyond measure astounded to see not only his village in the plain below, but his two wives, Fatima and Zuleika, gaily disporting themselves in his absence, little thinking that "he held them with his glittering eye." When he had given free vent to his feelings, I said to him, “Mohammed, how do you keep two wives in order? We in England find one quite as much as we can manage with advantage; sometimes rather more.” He replied, “Oh, Mr. Doctor, dey berry good; dey like two sisters ; I give them much stick-much stick;" and I have no doubt that they had a good deal of stick on his return home.
All this may seem quite out of keeping with the feelings proper to a visit to the Pyramids-as no doubt it is—but I have been so much annoyed by the unreality and sentimentalism of many books of travel, that I prefer to state facts exactly as they happened. The gift of a shilling to the sheikh, on condition that he allowed no one to speak to me for a quarter of an hour, at length secured a brief interval of quiet, in which I abandoned myself to the undisturbed enjoyment of the scene and its associations. What a wonderful history is unrolled before us as we look around! Across that waste of sand, which stretches away to the north-east, came Abram and Sarai his wife, and his nephew
Lot, " to sojourn in the land." The young Hebrew slave, who should rise to be second only to Pharaoh, is brought by the same route, and is followed once and again by his brethren seeking corn in Egypt. Where the palm-trees cluster so thickly round the ruined mounds on the banks of the river, Moses and Aaron stood before the king, and demanded that he should let the people go. Throughout the succeeding ages of Old Testament history, Egypt constantly reappears, sometimes as the adversary, and sometimes as the ally of Israel. It was across the plain at our feet that the armies of Shishak and Pharaoh Necho marched for the invasion of Palestine. Here, too, came the fugitives Jeroboam, Urijah, and others, seeking refuge among their ancestral enemies.
Near where that single obelisk of red granite rises from amongst the glossy green of the sugarcanes, Joseph married his wife; and when the Jewish monarchy had fallen, Onias, the high-priest, erested a temple upon the plan of that at Jerusalem for his brethren who had settled in Egypt. There, too, if we may trust tradition, the infant Saviour was brought when escaping from the wrath of “Herod the King."
Turning from sacred to secular history, we trace the course of the native monarchs who for nearly two thousand years reigned with absolute sway over a numerous, wealthy, and powerful people. Memories of Persian, Macedonian, and Roman conquerors-Cambyses, Alexander, and Cæsarstart into life as we look down upon the plain. Again the scene changes, and Amrou and Omar unfurl the banner of the False Prophet, and wrest the richest province of the empire from the enfeebled hand of the Byzantine rulers. Again, as we gaze, we seem to see the armies of the magnificent Emir Yusef Salah-e'deen march from Cairo to confront the Crusaders under Richard the Lionhearted, King of England, and, having given some of its most romantic chapters to modern history, to return, and dying, to send his shroud round the city, whilst criers went before it, exclaiming, “This is all that remains of the pomp of Saladin.” Coming down to our own times, we cannot forget the Battle of the Pyramids, when a small compact French army withstood the attack of 60,000 Memlooks, and compelled them to retreat, leaving 15,000 dead upon the field. What a change from the Pyramids of Cheops, and the war-chariots of Rameses, to the cannon of Napoleon, and the railways, steamboats, and cotton factories of the Khedive!
In the four thousand years over which the history of Egypt extends, what generations have lived and died, what empires have risen and flourished and decayed! Surrounded by the affecting memorials of bygone ages, we seem to hear a voice sounding from the silence of the past, and saying, “ All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field : the grass withereth, the flower fadeth ... but the word of our God shall stand for ever."
Dr. S. Manning:
Ile hath seen the tempest lower;
He hath dared the foeman's spear;
How will he greet him here?
You might see the dark man stand, With a fearful vizor on his face,
And a bright axe in his hand.
Now bid the pale priest go;
To meet the fatal blow.
And you might hear him say,
Whence is it white to-day?”.
Lift up the lifeless clay;
But the soul hath past away.
As he heard the tower clock chime;
W. M, Praçit.