And, moreover, we are moving towards the south, towards the sun, and every day has a more entrancing clearness, a more caressing warmth, and the bronze of the faces that we see on our way takes on a deeper tint.
And then too one mixes intimately with the life of the river bank, which is still so absorbing and, at certain hours, when the horizon is unsullied by the smoke of pit-coal, recalls you to the days of artless toil and healthy beauty. In the boats that meet us, half-naked men, revelling in their movement, in the sun and air, sing, as they ply their oars, those songs of the Nile that are as old as Thebes or Memphis. When the wind rises there is a riotous unfurling of sails, which, stretched on their long yards, give to the dahabiyas the air of birds in full flight. Bending right over in the wind, they skim along with a lively motion, carrying their cargoes of men and beasts and primitive things. Women are there draped still in the ancient fashion, and sheep and goats, and sometimes piles of fruit and gourds, and sacks of grain. Many are laden to the water’s edge with these earthenware jars, unchanged for 3000 years, which the fellaheens know how to place on their heads with so much grace—and one sees these heaps of fragile pottery gliding along the water as if carried by the gigantic wings of a gull. And in the far-off, almost fabulous, days the life of the mariners of the Nile had the same aspect, as is shown by the bas-reliefs on the oldest tombs; it required the same play of muscles and of sails; was accompanied no doubt by the same songs, and was subject to the withering caress of this same desert wind. And then, as now, the same unchanging rose coloured the continuous curtain of the mountains.
But all at once there is a noise of machinery, and whistlings, and in the air, which was just now so pure, rise noxious columns of black smoke. The modern steamers are coming, and throw into disorder the flotillas of the past; colliers that leave great eddies in their wake, or perhaps a wearisome lot of those three-decked tourist boats, which make a great noise as they plough the water, and are laden for the most part with ugly women, snobs and imbeciles.
Poor, poor Nile! which reflected formerly on its warm mirror the utmost of earthly splendour, which bore in its time so many barques of gods and goddesses in procession behind the golden barge of Amen, and knew in the dawn of the ages only an impeccable purity, alike of the human form and of architectural design! What a downfall is here! To be awakened from that disdainful sleep of twenty centuries and made to carry the floating barracks of Thomas Cook & Son, to feed sugar factories, and to exhaust itself in nourishing with its mud the raw material for English cotton-stuffs.
IN THE TEMPLE OF THE GODDESS OF LOVE AND JOY