To wake these fellahs from their strange sleep, to open their eyes at last, and to transform them by a modern education—that is the task which nowadays a select band of Egyptian patriots is desirous of attempting. Not long ago, such an endeavour would have seemed to me a crime; for these stubborn peasants were living under conditions of the least suffering, rich in faith and poor in desire. But to-day they are suffering from an invasion more undermining, more dangerous than that of the conquerors who killed by sword and fire. The Occidentals are there, everywhere, amongst them, profiting by their meek passivity to turn them into slaves for their business and their pleasure. The work of degradation of these simpletons is so easy: men bring them new desires, new greeds, new needs,—and rob them of their prayers.
Yet, it is time perhaps to wake them from their sleep of more than twenty centuries, to put them on their guard, and to see what yet they may be capable of, what surprises they may have in store for us after that long lethargy, which must surely have been restorative. In any case the human species, in course of deterioration through overstrain, would find amongst these singers of the shaduf and these labourers with the antiquated plough, brains unclouded by alcohol, and a whole reserve of tranquil beauty, of well-balanced physique, of vigour untainted by bestiality.
A CHARMING LUNCHEON
We are making our way through the fields of Abydos in the dazzling splendour of the forenoon, having come, like so many pilgrims of old, from the banks of the Nile to visit the sanctuaries of Osiris, which lie beyond the green plains, on the edge of the desert.
It is a journey of some ten miles or so, under a clear sky and a burning sun. We pass through fields of corn and lucerne, whose wonderful green is piqued with little flowers, such as may be seen in our climate. Hundreds of little birds sing to us distractedly of the joy of life; the sun shines radiantly, magnificently; the impetuous corn is already in the ear; it might be some gay pageant of our days of May. One forgets that it is February, that we are still in the winter—the luminous winter of Egypt.
Here and there amongst the outspread fields are villages buried under the thick foliage of trees—under acacias which, in the distance, resemble ours at home; beyond indeed the mountain chain of Libya, like a wall confining the fertile fields, looks strange perhaps in its rose-colour, and too desolate; but, nevertheless amidst this glad music of the fields, these songs of larks and twitterings of sparrows, you scarcely realise that you are in a foreign land.
Abydos! What magic there is in the name! “Abydos is at hand, and in another moment we shall be there.” The mere words seem somehow to transform the aspect of the homely green fields, and make this pastoral region almost imposing. The buzzing of the flies increases in the overheated air and the song of the birds subsides until at last it dies away in the approach of noon.