And when the last sound of laughter, and clattering stone under nimble hoof had melted away; when the sky had turned the marble temple mauve and pink and deepest red, and back to pink, to mauve, to softest white; when the first star had fastened the robe of day to the cloak of night, and silence had fallen like balm upon the wound caused by raucous voices, Damaris tip-toed down the steps and out into the Colonnade of Punt.
She was quite alone.
“No time so dark but through
its woof there run
Some blessed threads of gold.”
C. P. CRANACH.
It is difficult—no, it is impossible to describe the wonder of Deir el-Bahari under the moon, just as it is impossible to describe “the light that never was, on land or sea,” or the Taj Mahal, or a mother’s love.
To our eyes it is the picture of desolation. Just as it must have been a picture of grandeur to those of the woman who built it, Queen Hatshepu, sister, wife and queen of Totmes III.
It is built in terraces to which you climb by gentle incline; it is surrounded and crossed by colonnades; there are ruined chapels and vestibules and recesses; an altar upon which offerings had once been made to the great gods; broken steps and closed and open doors, behind which the ghosts of dead kings and queens, priests, priestesses and nobles sit in ghostly council; through which they beckon you—if you belong.
There has surely come to each of us, in this short span we term life, the moment when, just introduced, we look into another’s face and say or think, “We have met before.”
May it not have been that we once met to burn incense together before the dread god Anubis, or to make offerings upon the altar erected to the great god Ra Hamarkhis; or was it perchance that you, if you are a woman, once waited at the temple gates to see him pass upon his return from the great expedition to the land of Punt, which we call Somaliland to-day?
Had the man with hawk-face who offers you a muffin or cup of tea to-day once brought you gifts of ivory, or incense, or skin of panther from the wonderland? Did he sweep the seething crowd with piercing eye to find the face beloved, and pass on to the rolling of drums, the crash of cymbals, the blaring of trumpets, to make obeisance to his monarch and return thanks to the mighty gods?
But Damaris had no thought of the past as she stood amongst the pillars of the colonnade which commemorate the great expedition; she was enthralled with the hour, the solitude, the silence, as she hesitated, wondering which way to go. Then, even as she hesitated, the silence was broken by the distant throbbing of a drum.
It came from one of the villages far down the hill and, caught by the evening breeze, was carried to the temple, to be multiplied a hundredfold in the echoing roof.