Were there leisure to listen, the diamond could readily relate the whole history of this famous valley. For the stone was fashioned to its present shape while the thought that formed the Pyramids was yet unborn, and while the limestone and granite whereof they are built lay in their silent beds, dreaming, perchance, of airy days before the deluge, long ere the heated vapors stiffened into stone. Some great patriarch of early days, founder of a race called by his name, picked up this diamond in the southern desert, and gave it its present form; perhaps, also, breathed into it the marvellous historical gift which it retains to this day. Who was that primal man? how sounded his voice? were his eyes terrible, or mild? Seems, as we speak, we glimpse his majestic figure, and the grandeur of his face and cloudy beard.
He passed away, but the enchanted stone remained, and has sparkled along the splendid march of successive dynasties, and has reflected men and cities which to us are nameless, or but a half-deciphered name. It has seen the mystic ceremonies of Egyptian priests, and counts their boasted wisdom as a twice-told tale. It has watched the unceasing toil of innumerable slaves, piling up through many ardent years the idle tombs of kings. It has beheld vast winding lengths of processions darken and glitter across the plain, slowly devoured by the shining city, or issuing from her gates like a monstrous birth.
But whither wander we? Standing in this hotel of modern Boston, we must confine our inquiries to a far later epoch than the Pharaohs’. Step aside, and let the old history sweep past, like the turbid and eddying current of the mysterious Nile; forbearing to launch our skiff earlier than at the beginning of the present century.
The middle of June, eighteen hundred and sixteen: the river is just beginning to rise, and the thirsty land spreads wide her lap to receive him. Some miles to the north slumbers Cairo in white heat, its outline jagged with minarets and bulbous domes. Southward, the shaded Pyramids print their everlasting outlines against the tremulous distance; old as they are, it seems as though a puff of the Khamsin might dissolve them away. Near at hand is a noisy, naked crowd of men and boys, plunging and swimming in the water, or sitting and standing along the bank. They are watching and discussing the slow approach up stream of a large boat with a broad lateen-sail, and a strange flag fluttering from the mast-head. Rumor says that this boat contains a company of strangers from beyond the sea; men who do not wear turbans, whose dress is close-fitting, and covers them from head to foot,—even the legs. They come to learn wisdom and civilization from the Pyramids, and among the ruins of Memphis.
A hundred yards below this shouting, curious crowd, stands, waist-deep in the Nile, a slender-limbed boy, about ten years old. He belongs to a superior caste, and holds himself above the common rabble. Being perfectly naked, a careless eye might, however, rank him with the rest, were it not for the talisman which he wears suspended to a fine gold chain round his neck; a curiously designed diamond ring, the inheritance of a long line of priestly ancestors. The boy’s face is certainly full of intelligence, and the features are finely moulded for so young a lad.