Another trait which, side by side with their patience, prevails amongst these true-blooded Egyptians of the countryside is their attachment to the soil, to the soil which nourishes them, and in which later on they will sleep. To possess land, to forestall at any price the smallest portion of it, to reclaim patches of it from the shifting desert, that is the sole aim, or almost so, which the fellahs pursue in this world: to possess a field, however small it may be—a field, moreover, which they till with the oldest plough invented by man, the exact design of which may be seen carved on the walls of the tombs at Memphis.
And this same people, which was the first of any to conceive magnificence, whose gods and kings were formerly surrounded with an over-powering splendour, contrives, to live to-day, pell-mell with its sheep and goats, in humble, low-roofed cabins made out of sunbaked mud! The Egyptian villages are all of the neutral colour of the soil; a little white chalk brightens, perhaps, the minaret or cupola of the mosque; but except for that little refuge, whither folk come to pray each evening—for no one here would retire for the night without having first prostrated himself before the majesty of Allah—everything is of a mournful grey. Even the costumes of the people are dull-coloured and wretched-looking. It is an East grown poor and old, although the sky remains as wonderful as ever.
But all this past grandeur has left its imprint on the fellahs. They have a refinement of appearance and manner, all unknown amongst the majority of the good people of our villages. And those amongst them who by good fortune become prosperous have forthwith a kind of distinction, and seem to know, as if by birth, how to dispense the gracious hospitality of an aristocrat. The hospitality of even the humblest preserves something of courtesy and ease, which tells of breed. I remember those clear evenings when, after the peaceful navigation of the day, I used to stop and draw up my dahabiya to the bank of the river. (I speak now of out-of-the-way places—free as yet from the canker of the tourist element—such as I habitually chose.) It was in the twilight at the hour when the stars began to shine out from the golden-green sky. As soon as I put foot upon the shore, and my arrival was signalled by the barking of the watchdogs, the chief of the nearest hamlet always came to meet me. A dignified man, in a long robe of striped silk or modest blue cotton, he accosted me with formulae of welcome quite in the grand manner; insisted on my following him to his house of dried mud; and there, escorting me, after the exchange of further compliments, to the place of honour on the poor divan of his lodging, forced me to accept the traditional cup of Arab coffee.