The rosy tint fades on the Sphinx and the pyramids; all things in the ghostly scene grow visibly paler; for the moon as it rises becomes more silvery in the increasing chilliness of midnight. The winter mist, exhaled from the artificially watered fields below, continues to rise, takes heart and envelops the great mute face itself. And the latter persists in its regard of the dead moon, preserving still the old disconcerting smile. It becomes more and more difficult to believe that here before us is a real colossus, so surely does it seem nothing other than a dilated reflection of a thing which exists elsewhere, in some other world. And behind in the distance are the three triangular mountains. Them, too, the fog envelops, till they also cease to exist, and become pure visions of the Apocalypse.
Now it is that little by little an intolerable sadness is expressed in those large eyes with their empty sockets—for, at this moment, the ultimate secret, that which the Sphinx seems to have known for so many centuries, but to have withheld in melancholy irony, is this: that all these dead men and women who sleep in the vast necropolis below have been fooled, and the awakening signal has not sounded for a single one of them; and that the creation of mankind—mankind that thinks and suffers—has had no rational explanation, and that our poor aspirations are vain, but so vain as to awaken pity.
THE PASSING OF CAIRO
Ragged, threatening clouds, like those that bring the showers of our early spring, hurry across a pale evening sky, whose mere aspect makes you cold. A wintry wind, raw and bitter, blows without ceasing, and brings with it every now and then some furtive spots of rain.
A carriage takes me towards what was once the residence of the great Mehemet Ali: by a steep incline it ascends into the midst of rocks and sand—and already, and almost in a moment, we seem to be in the desert; though we have scarcely left behind the last houses of an Arab quarter, where long-robed folk, who looked half frozen, were muffled up to the eyes to-day. . . . Was there formerly such weather as this in this country noted for its unchanging mildness?
This residence of the great sovereign of Egypt, the citadel and the mosque which he had made for his last repose, are perched like eagles’ nests on a spur of the mountain chain of Arabia, the Mokattam, which stretches out like a promontory towards the basin of the Nile, and brings quite close to Cairo, so as almost to overhang it, a little of the desert solitude. And so the eye can see from far off and from all sides the mosque of Mehemet Ali, with the flattened domes of its cupolas, its pointed minarets, the general aspect so entirely Turkish, perched high up, with a certain unexpectedness, above the Arab town which it dominates. The prince who sleeps there wished that it should resemble the mosques of his fatherland, and it looks as if it had been transported bodily from Stamboul.