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386

RETURN TO THE CAVE.

countless numbers crowd the streets, laden with the spoil of their Egyptian lords ; and lastly came in a still more recent age, the King Bokhtnasr, to avenge

the

wrongs of Judah, and receive the reward of conquest performed in another and a distant land ;* and a small volume which then lay before me, printed in a far distant isle, and in a language then unknown, tells me all this !

But all that was great or grand of Memphis is no more; the sand rolls its destructive wave along the ground whereon it stood, and Egypt lies beyond, its noble river margined by tall quivering palms ; the hamlet's rustic music, the jackal's evening whine, and the pelican's plaintive note, are the only sounds that wake the stillness of this sequestered spot.

When I re-entered the cave, I found the Arabs had returned with the mummy-pots, several of which I opened—the contents I found in a state of great decay, and lighted a fire with—they burned with a bright flame, and peculiarly aromatic smell. The light created illumined the whole cave, and fell full

upon the forms of the Arabs scattered through its gloomy chambers-some stretched in sleep, some in the act of prayers at a little distance from the

* Ezekiel, xxix. 18-20.

* It is curious that the Mohammadans practise a deception on themselves similar to that of birds. Every one has remarked the sparrow and other small birds, in dry weather, roll themselves in the dust of the road, and performing with their wings the ac

SCENE IN A TOMB.

387

rest, and others squatted round the fire, and the glare now thrown back from their dark sun-burnt faces, formed altogether a picture such as pencil might depict, but pen is inadequate to describe. Finding I could not dispossess the Arabs, who, to say the truth, seemed to have a much better right to the place than I had, I determined to make the most of them ; some I employed in thinning some hieroglyphic tablets, left by the Frenchman, to make them more easily transportable to Alexandria; others occasionally entertained us with some wild song; and again an eastern tale was translated to me by the Maltese, as we sat smoking our pipes round the fire, composed of the bits of wood that formed the coffins of the people of ancient Egypt.* It was now late, and I settled to rest in a sheltered corner; some time elapsed, however, ere I could procure sleep; the peculiar novelty of my situation, the faint glimmering of light from the expiring fire, the group of curious beings I was surrounded by, and the remembrance of the people

tion of washing, by throwing the dust upon their backs, and ruffling up their feathers. Here, in like manner, when the Arabs had no water at hand, they used the dry sand and dust in the manner they perform the ablution before and after prayer, sprinkling it over the head, back of the neck, beard, and arms, &c.

* It is remarkable how the superstitions and prejudices of countries and people vary. How few English of the lower orders would like to inhabit tombs, surrounded by the mouldering remains of human bodies, as the Arabs of Sackara do.

388

THE MUMMY PITS.

and the era that erected this sepulchral hall filled my mind, and long as memory lasts that scene shall never fade; but bodily exhaustion will overcome even such stirring thoughts; and I do not think I ever enjoyed a more peaceful slumber, or awoke more refreshed than next morning.

At an early hour I set forward to rejoin my friends at Geza, and having sent two of the donkeys round by the plain with the antiquities and baggage, proceeded with Paulo and the Arab Alee to the mummy pits of the sacred animals.

Having arrived at the place so famed in travel and in Egyptian mythology, my mortification was great to find we had forgotten the lights; nevertheless my curiosity got the better of my fears, and as I could not see it, I resolved to feel

my way

into it, and bring away some of the urns containing the embalmed ibises.*

An arch cut out of the rock led into a small apartment or shrine, in the centre of the floor of which a square hole, about the size of a large chimney, descended perpendicularly to the sepulchre of the animals. Holes cut in the sides of this passage enabled us to get down to a low, narrow, and perfectly dark vault, the commencement of a series of chambers cut in the rock, about thirty feet below the surface, and extending a great way on all sides. I should say as much as half an acre has been yet opened, and no possible conjecture

* Appendix Q.

*

DIFFICULTY OF EXPLORING.

389

can be made of how far it may extend beyond where the ibis pots now commence.

I was here exposed to a most extraordinary scene, and such as few explorers of catacombs have gone through, or that I would advise to try.

All was utter blackness ; but Alee, who had left all his garments above, took me by the hand, and led me in a stooping posture some way amidst broken pots, sharp stones, and heaps of rubbish, that sunk under us at every step ; then placing me on my face, at a particularly narrow part of the gallery, he assumed a similar snake-like posture himself, and by a vermicular motion, and keeping hold of his legs, I contrived to scramble through a burrow of sand and sharp bits of pottery, frequently scraping my back against the roof. Sometimes my guide would leave me, and I could hear him puffing and blowing like a porpoise, as he scratched out the passage, and groped through the sand like a rabbit for my admittance. This continued through many windings, for upwards of a quarter of an hour, and again I was on the point of returning, as half suffocated with heat and exertion, and choked with sand, I lay panting in some gloomy corner, while Alee was examining the next turn. I do not think in all my travel I ever felt the same strong sensation of being in an enchanted place, so much as when led by this sinewy child of the desert through the dark winding passages, and lonely vaults of this immense mausoleum.

390

URNS OF THE IBIS.

At length we arrived at where we could stand upright, and creeping over a vast pile of pots, and sinking in the dust of thousands of animals, we came to where we felt the urns still undisturbed, and piled up in rows with the larger end or lid pointing outwards. How extensive this hypogeum may be I cannot possibly say, but from the echo it must be very great indeed. Thousands upon thousands of the urns have been removed and broken, either in the cave or outside, where they form an immense heap, yet thousands still remain. With great labour we succeeded in removing six of these, and having them eventually conveyed to England. So fatigued was I, that on reaching the aperture it was with the greatest difficulty I could reach the top, where I lay insensible for some minutes, and on recovering found I had been carried out into the

open

air. Paulo not seeing me awake so soon as he thought I ought, was on the point of taking vengeance on poor Alee for some injury which he supposed I had received, while so long under ground, but a short rest restored me, aided by the thought that I was setting forward to visit the pyramids of Geza.

Numbers of desert partridges* ran in flocks before

[graphic]

* Pterocles Alchatasometimes called pin-tailed sand-grouse. The plumage of this bird is lighter in those I procured in Egypt than the ones figured in most zoological works.

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