We have been journeying a little more than an hour amongst the verdure of the growing corn that lies upon the fields like a carpet, when suddenly, beyond the little houses and tress of a village, quite a different world is disclosed—the familiar world of glare and death which presses so closely upon inhabited Egypt: the desert! The desert of Libya, and now as ever when we come upon it suddenly from the banks of the old river it rises up before us; beginning at once, without transition, absolute and terrible, as soon as we leave the thick velvet of the last field, the cool shade of the last acacia. Its sands seem to slope towards us, in a prodigious incline, from the strange mountains that we saw from the happy plain, and which now appear, enthroned beyond, like the monarchs of all this nothingness.
The town of Abydos, which has vanished and left no wrack behind, rose once in this spot where we now stand, on the very threshold of the solitudes; but its necropoles, more venerated even than those of Memphis, and its thrice-holy temples, are a little farther on, in the marvellously conserving sand, which has buried them under its tireless waves and preserved them almost intact up till the present day.
The desert! As soon as we put foot upon its shifting soil, which smothers the sound of our steps, the atmosphere too seems suddenly to change; it burns with a strange new heat, as if great fires had been lighted in the neighbourhood.
And this whole domain of light and drought, right away into the distance, is shaded and streaked with the familiar brown, red and yellow colours. The mournful reflection of adjacent things augments to excess the heat and light. The horizon trembles under the little vapours of mirage like water ruffled by the wind. The background, which mounts gradually to the foot of the Libyan mountains, is strewn with the debris of bricks and stones—shapeless ruins which, though they scarcely rise above the sand, abound nevertheless in great numbers, and serve to remind us that here indeed is a very ancient soil, where men laboured in centuries that have drifted out of knowledge. One divines instinctively and at once the catacombs, the hypogea and the mummies that lie beneath!
These necropoles of Abydos once—and for thousands of years—exercised an extraordinary fascination over this people—the precursor of peoples—who dwelt in the valley of the Nile. According to one of the most ancient of human traditions, the head of Osiris, the lord of the other world, reposed in the depths of one of the temples which to-day are buried in the sands. And men, as soon as their thought commenced to issue from the primeval night, were haunted by the idea that there were localities helpful, as if were, to the poor corpses that lay beneath the earth, that there were certain holy places where it behoved them to be buried if they wished to be ready when the signal of awakening was given. And in old Egypt, therefore,