Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/338

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with lights and shades and tints endlessly varying in shape and hue, from hour to hour, and almost from minute to minute, as the sun runs his course, they have a strange and unique beauty. Moreover, in early spring, the edges of the greenery of the plain lie sharply defined against the yellow sands and gray-brown stones of the waste as if it were so much water.

When I was in Cairo, ten years ago, I delighted in wandering about the heights of the Mokattam range, which rise for some four or five hundred feet immediately to the east of the city. The Sahara itself can not better deserve the name of desert than do these stony solitudes. Looking westward at sunset, the vultures, diminished to mere crows, wheeled about the face of the cliffs far below. Beneath and beyond them, the green expanse stretched northward, until it became lost in the horizon; while, toward the west, its even line followed the contour of the Libyan shore, as if it were the veritable seawater of the Gulf of Herodotus. And sharply defined against the western sky, the great pyramid, which, even in its present mutilated state, reared its summit to the level of my eye, threw its long shadow eastward like the gnomon of an appropriately gigantic dial-plate.

Indeed, the comparison is not far-fetched. For the great shadow has veritably swept, from west to north and from north to east, day after day from the dawn of civilization till now; since the toiling subjects of Chufu, with patient and skillful labor, piled the great stones of his tomb, one upon another, it has marked the birth-hour, and sometimes the death-hour, of each great nation known to history.

For all these ages, day after day, the shadow, as it lengthened eastward, has swept over the weary heads of thousands upon thousands of orderly, cheerful, hard-working men, women, and children, who have been plundered, starved, beaten, decimated, now to serve the ambition or gratify the superstitious vanity of an ancient Pharaoh, and now to enable some thinly varnished savage of a modern Khedive to subsidize his opera troupe in Cairo, and squander the price of their blood among foreign harlots and foreign swindlers.

Six thousand years of grinding oppression, worse than it ever was during the last few centuries, seemed to me a curious reward for laying the foundations of civilization; and yet there was no sign that the great shadow was likely, for another century or so, to mark the hour when Khedive, mudirs, commercial Mamelukes of various nationalities, and all the rest of the "wolves that with privy paw devour apace and nothing said" should be swept away to make room for that even moderately decent and intelligent rule which is all the Egyptian people need to become, at last, a contented and a wealthy nation.

But this, I say, was ten years ago; many things—Tel-el-Kebir among the rest—have happened since then; and perhaps the good time may be coming. At any rate, the great British panacea—constitutional government—is to be administered; and if the Fellaheen