THE ROMANCE OF THE WORLD’S GREAT RIVERS
I. THE MODERN NILE By H. RIDER HAGGARD
(Author of King Solomon’s Mines, etc.)
[Originally published in TRAVEL MAGAZINE for December, 1908.]
The Pharaohs are no more; their court and mighty empire are now confined to a glass case beneath a museum dome. Though their blood and that of their subjects survives doubtless in the boys who drive the tourists’ donkeys, or in the fellaheen who labor in the fields, the proud race of the ancient Egyptians at whose history the world will never cease to wonder, has gone the way of the Romans and the Greeks, of Assyria, Phoenicia and Carthage and perhaps of many another nation of which we have now lost count. But the river, the immemorial Nile that made them great, still flows on as it flowed doubtless hundreds of thousands of years before the god-king Osiris, if such a man there were, drank of its waters. Still at the appointed time it rises and refreshes the land of Egypt, making it perhaps in proportion to its size, the most wealthy country in the world. It is a strange thing, indeed a very strange thing, to watch as this writer has done, an Egyptian farmer laboring at his land, or perhaps with the assistance of a son or servant at the “shadoof” where by the help of a simple counterbalance of clay, he lifts water in buckets from the river and pours it into his irrigation trench, and then to reflect upon the history of that individual plot or that individual “shadoof” For whole millennium, almost might one say for tens of thousands of years, this same little field has been the object of the earnest care of generation after generation of husbandmen. Sometimes a Pharaoh owned it, sometimes a temple, sometimes a Mussulman sheik, but more often probably, a little freeholder and his family whose patrimony it was. Multitudes of individuals have earned their living from that field, have known every corner of it, and watched the growth of its produce with eager eyes, especially in the years of low Nile. But, and here comes the pathos of the thingalthough the land remains just the same, although its boundary ditches may not have varied by a foot since the Great Pyramid was built, its cultivators are absolutely gone; they know nothing of each other. Oh! if a clod of the Egyptian clay could find tongue and speak, or better still, the old, old “shadoof” down yonder on the bank which first echoed to its creakings when mankind was young, what a tale would there be to tell. But the clod still bears its crop and the “shadoof,” impelled by new hands, still lifts the running water, and for the rest there is silence, since history has nothing to say of the long-lost, humble men and women who made it history.
Where do we find the real romance of the modern Nile; in works of war or peace? It has seen both. For instance, if we take war, there is the immortal tale of Gordon, who some two and twenty years ago died upon its banks awaiting the succor that was sent too late. Men of middle age know that
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