In these hot catacombs we had forgotten the cold wind that blew outside, and the physiognomy of the Memphite desert, the aspects of horror that were awaiting us above had vanished from our mind. Sinister as it is under a blue sky, this desert becomes absolutely intolerable to look upon if by chance the sky is cloudy when the daylight fails.
On our return to it, from the subterranean darkness, everything in its dead immensity has begun to take on the blue tint of the night. On the top of the sandhills, of which the yellow colour has greatly paled since we went below, the wind amuses itself by raising little vortices of sand that imitate the spray of an angry sea. On all sides dark clouds stretch themselves as at the moment of our descent. The horizon detaches itself more and more clearly from them, and, farther towards the east, it actually seems to be tilted up; one of the highest of the waves of this waterless sea, a mountain of sand whose soft contours are deceptive in the distance, makes it look as if it sloped towards us, so as almost to produce a sensation of vertigo. The sun itself has deigned to remain on the scene a few seconds longer, held beyond its time by the effect of mirage; but it is so changed behind its thick veils that we would prefer that it should not be there. Of the colour of dying embers, it seems too near and too large; it has ceased to give any light, and is become a mere rose-coloured globe, that is losing its shape and becoming oval. No longer in the free heavens, but stranded there on the extreme edge of the desert, it watches the scene like a large dull eye, about to close itself in death. And the mysterious superhuman triangles, they too, of course, are there, waiting for us on our return from underground, some near, some far, posted in their eternal places; but surely they have grown gradually more blue. . . .
Such a night, in such a place, it seems the last night.
THE OUTSKIRTS OF CAIRO
Night. A long straight road, the artery of some capital, through which our carriage drives at a fast trot, making a deafening clatter on the pavement. Electric light everywhere. The shops are closing; it must needs be late.
The road is Levantine in its general character; and we should have no clear notion of the place did we not see in our rapid, noisy passage signs that recall us to the land of the Arabs. People pass dressed in the long robe and tarboosh of the East; and some of the houses, above the European shops, are ornamented with mushrabiyas. But this blinding electricity strikes a false note. In our hearts are we quite sure we are in the East?