Title


PALMYRA AND ZENOBIA. CHAPTER 15.

FRIEZE, GREAT DOOR OF TEMPLE COURT.
FRIEZE, GREAT DOOR OF TEMPLE COURT.

CHAPTER XVI.

On the forenoon of our last day at Palmyra, we were sitting on the brackets of the columns in the portico of the little temple, husbanding our strength for the return journey, and watching the wonderful play of light and shadow, of roseate hues, and golden tints, which over-spread the ruins, and gave them their greatest charm,' when suddenly we heard the shrill war-song of the BedawÓn. In a few minutes we saw a straggling band of spearmen gallop through the pass, and down to the warm fountain. They disappeared from our view, and their war-song ceased; but as we had learnt coming along that the BedawÓn were in a particularly Ishmaelitish mood, we called on our servants to hand us up our breech-loaders and cartridges. We knew that the only law in [171] force, or acknowledged, in the desert, was that of the strongest, and we resolved, in case of absolute necessity, to fall in with the law. I was just then busily engaged in fixing the position of the tomb-towers, and as I had an intelligent sheikh telling me their names, I took little notice of the Bedewin, who were coining up slily at a canter, as if they meant to pass us; but just when they came within charging distance, the leader turned his home and spear towards us, and went right at us.

1Tourists generally speak of the marble ruins of Palmyra white as snow." There is no marble in Palmyra, and the ruins are not white. The stone used is a close-grained limestone (except four granite monoliths) of a yellowish colour, streaked and flushed with pink. The ruins and whole landscape have a yellow, golden hue which is very striking.

My companion's coolness was inimitable. With his back against the column, and his legs dangling from the pedestal on which he sat, he smoked his cigar, and manipulated his cartridges as methodically as he plied his instruments when stuffing a bird, and with certainly more composure than he used to exhibit when under lire in the House of Commons.

He afterwards told me the secret of his composure. He felt safe from our own wild party, who could not shoot him from behind, through, the column, and he was confident that we could empty the saddles as fast as they came up. We determined that we would not let the ruffians, who stripped women and stole donkeys, strip and plunder us with impunity.

For a moment, it seemed that we were in for a brush with real BedawÓn. Most of our guard were absent, and Brandy Bob, instead of calling his men to arms, got hold of a. soldier's rifle, quietly lay down behind it prostrate column, and covered his man. Our soldier of the blind horse, with more prudence than his captain, got into the [172]

GRANITE MONOLITHS.
GRANITE MONOLITHS.

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temple, and putting his rifle through a hole laid his cheek to the stock and his finger to the trigger.

We marked out a wall about twenty yards distant, and resolved to fire as soon as the Bedawvin passed it. As they approached they quickened their pace, and the leader Caine on a little in front, with his spear pointed against one of our breasts, his teeth set, and his eyes flashing fire. The Arab war-song ceased, and there was no sound except the clatter of galloping horses, and my general order, oft-repeated, "Don't tire, till they are close upon us."

The fatal wall was approached, but just then Gazaway, who could contain himself no longer, rushed out from behind us with a double-barrelled gun, and hurled such a volley of Egyptian oaths at the BedawÓn, that he fairly staggered them. The whole party hesitated, wheeled to the right, and made a graceful and masterly retreat. Gazaway by his horrible howling saved us, but much wrath fell on him for his imprudence, so popular is a fight everywhere.

The BedawÓn then charged right up to the village; but the Palmyrans, who had been watching our tactics from the walls of the temple, met them in the gate with matchlocks and lighted fusees, and the robbers, again foiled, fell back and halted in the triumphal arch. In a moment they picketed their horses and threw themselves on the sand to rest.

I had often wished to see a foraging party of Arabs, for the tribes send out their best horses and arms, and only their picked men. I resolved to visit the party; [175] but Brandy Bod, who amused himself with aiming at the BedawÓn with a loaded rifle, declared that he would not consider himself responsible for my safety if I moved beyond our camp. I thought it well to relieve him from the weight of responsibility, and the opportunity was not to be lost, so I started alone for the BedawÓn, who were distant about a quarter of a mile. On the way I met some of our soldiers coming back to our camp, but crouching along hollow places, and behind ruins so as not to be seen by the spearman. The villagers also, who were in the gardens and fields, were stealing home and entering the temple through holes in the wall.

I walked very slowly, with the BedawÓn in view all the way, and in order that I might appear as compose as possible I examined all the ruins in my path, though I had seen them fifty times before. When I came within a few perches of the triumphal arch, one of the BedawÓn sprang to his feet seized a club and spear, and rushed at me like an infuriate bull. Never did I see a man, ever in a mad-house, so utterly beside himself as that man appeared to be. He was livid with rage, and his passion seemed to be choking him, and as he hurled imprecations at me the foam flew from his mouth.

I met his exhibition of wrath with a laugh, and, pushing the point of his spear aside, I walked past him, as if I was accustomed to that sort of thing and thought nothing of it. I went straight, and at my leisure, to the rest of the Arabs, and he followed me, roaring like a [176] wild beast. The others received me with scowling looks, and none of them returned my salutation. I sat down upon a stone, fully believing myself in a trap, and tried to look composed, though I did not feel so.

"Who do you think I am?" thundered the wrathful Bedawi.

"I†think, said I, "you would be a magnificent-looking fellow, if you did not spoil a handsome face by bad temper."

"Know, then, said he, "that I am the great Kufeiley, at whose name pashas tremble."

I said, no one denied that he was the great Kufeiley, but that I had seen as pleasant-looking a man somewhere previously; and then, seeing the necessity for a diversion, I added, pointing to a horrible-looking cut-throat, who stood glowering at me,ó

"Look at the sweet and pleasant countenance of your friend there, on the approach of a guest."

The wit was of the feeblest quality, but it did its work, and a broad grin overspread every countenance, even that of the infuriate Kufeiley. A joke that leaves you to assume that you are superior to some one else in always appreciated.

In less than five minutes from the birth of the first smile we were deep in the politics of the desert and the city. Kufeiley had a grievance against the Turksóas who has not, that has any dealings with them? They had ceased to pay a stipulated tribute for the right of peaceful passage, and he would reduce them to [177] terms, as he had often done before. He had come expressly to plunder us, by way of punishing the Turks, and as Allah was great, he would scatter us like dust on our return journey.

Then the examined everything I had, like big children, and asked me the price of each thingó my boots, my watch, my revolver, my hat; in fact, I believe they were making an inventory of my personal effects, to facilitate future division, after they should have relieved me of them.

I broached the question of the education of their children, but they answered, scornfully, "Do you want to make them clerks?" On further discussion, they promised to entertain the question, or submit to any other humiliation, if I would procure the release of some of their tribe, who were, they said, wrongfully imprisoned in Damascus.

I had now an opportunity to become thoroughly acquainted with the robbers. I found that Kufeiley was the leader of that branch of the Amour Arabs who frequent the desert between Palmyra and Hums. He did not exaggerate the terror his name inspired,1 as he was one of the most active and bloody of all the BedawÓn. He was a short, thick man, with a short, black, shaggy head and bull neck, and with innumerable wrinkles concentrated round his crafty eyes and hard, relentless mouth. His flesh looked black and hard as dried Brazilian beef.

1 Kufeiley was shot dead through the breast the following spring, near Hums, by a peasant whom he was plundering. [178]

Second in command, and in fame for bloody deeds, was Azzab, the father-in-law of Kufeiley, a tall, spare man. They all had the deep, suspicious eyes of their race. They were armed with lances, tufted with ostrich feathers, and most of them had clubs, and flint pistols, and crooked daggers; and there was one double-barrelled fowling-piece, which they seemed to regard with special affection. They exhibited it in triumph; but it was only a Belgian gun, which had got the name "London" engraved on it in Damascus.

They all appeared as if they had dressed at an "oldclo'" shop, as there was nothing like uniformity in their apparel, and they were doubtless arrayed in the garments of their victims. One man had hung about him the black clothes of a European, much too large for him, and sadly in want of buttons in certain places: the ventilation was perfect. Their horses were weedy.

While I lingered with the BedawÓn, the Turkish governor of Palmyra joined us, accompanied by a scribe. He and Kufeiley fell on each other's necks, and it soon became apparent why we and the Palmyrans had to defend ourselves, in presence of a Turkish garrison. The governor got a fair share of all plunder taken by Kufeiley, and he in return abstained from interfering with that chief's enterprises.

On our arrival at Palmyra, this Turkish official paid several visits to our camp, and always, on leaving us, sent his servant to ask us for a bottle of brandy. Our supply was limited to one bottle for medicinal purposes, but we [179] yielded to his importunities in a moment of weakness. We could not, however, give him the whole bottle, and we were ashamed to send it half full; so we did as the brewers do who want to recoup themselves for the lately imposed tax. ó we filled it up with water. Apparently the brandy was not up to the governor's standard of perfection, or he had got from us all that his heart desired, for he appeared at our tent no more, and his friendship was turned into hostility.

My interview with the BedawÓn was cut short by a mounted soldier, who came galloping up from Brandy Bob, delivered his message from distance of twenty yards, and galloped away before the Arabs, who sprang to their feet, had even time to fire at him.

He wished me to return at once, and told the BedawÓn that if they did not retire from the triumphal arch in twenty- minutes, they would be fired on. I thought he might be foolish enough to keep his word, and so I re-turned to prevent mischief. I left the BedawÓn without having effected a treaty of peace for our party.

On my return to the camp, our cavalcade were getting ready to start on their homeward journey. As we moved from the ruins, some of the BedawÓn went before us, and some of them followed us, hut they always kept at a respectful distance. They did not attack us, for they prefer plundering to lighting; but they kept in a position from which they could have cut off stragglers, or caught a runaway horse or mule, had there been any such.

Passing into the long plain which stretches from Palmyra [180] to near Karyetein, we kept to the right, about a mile from the mountain range on the north. The BedawÓn marched parallel with us along the foot of the mountain. In an hour and a half we reached the open mouths of a subterranean water-course. The openings were about eighty feet apart, and the water was eighteen feet from the surface of the ground. The stones round the sides of the openings were much polished and grooved by the friction of ropes drawing up water. This was the water of the Abu el-Fawaris fountain, which was the chief supply of Tadmor.

We pitched our camp by the water, at a point due west from the Castle of Palmyra. The place seemed to have been much used as a camping-ground. The plain around us was green with the el-kali, and another shrub, like a dwarf tamarisk: flocks of pigeons and vultures swarmed about us to get at the water: and the BedawÓn encamped at the foot of the mountain right opposite, and watched for an opportunity to attack us.

Danger in Syria soon loses the romance of novelty and the thrill of excitement. I remember with what feelings of honor I heard from our first landlord in Damascus, that two of his brothers had been murdured in the room which we had made our chief sitting-room. He had come in one gusty night to see how we liked our new quarters, and to keep us from feeling lonely, and with twitching mouth, he said, pointing to where we sat:

"There is where my two brothers were killed, and my father was murdered over there. and then they threw them all into that fountain outside." [181]

The wind made horrid noises about the house that night, and for many a day I fancied I could see the purple stains through the white straw matting. But we soon became familiar with such horrors.

Three skeletons of murdered Christians were fished out of the well from which we had our first water in Damascus. Our colporteur was brought in to us with his head laid open; and a little boy who had been in our school, and our service, was murdered by Druzes, and eaten up by dogs. Our mission-field lay along the border of the desert, and in ten years we had come to look calmly at the deeds of city and desert Ishmaelites.

It was not, however, without a sense of danger that we lay down for the night in full view of a band of well-armed, hardy spearmen, who had vowed to murder us, and who had a will to carry out their vow. Our guard was sufficiently strong and well armed to keep the enemy at a distance, but they were only Turks, and the BedawÓn, on their nimble mares, might slash into our camp during the night, and overwhelm us in the confusion and darkness; and it was not pleasant to fancy a spear penetrating one's tent. I went round our sentinels several times, and they continued to swear, and brag, and keep guard, as long as we watched them; but no sooner had we lain down to sleep than they stacked their arms, rolled them-selves up in their greatcoats, and lay down to sleep likewise.

A little after midnight my servant awaked me, and told me that our soldiers were "all scoring at the stars." [182]

I walked through among them, and over them, and found them loudly asleep. I thought of the sleeping hosts of King Saul that had gone out to seize David, and I wondered if we could repeat David's trick on Saul.1

In a few minutes my servant had the soldiers' rifles carried to beside my bed, and not a soldier had stirred. He then mounted guard himself, but, as sleep under the circumstances was impossible, we roused our camp before dawn for the return journey. Then woke up the most indescribable babel.

The soldiers rushed about in search of their arms, frantic with rage, shame, fear. The cowardly BedawÓn had stolen their rifles while they slept, and would now fall upon them unarmed.

The officers screamed at the men, and the men roared at the officers, and the choicest epithets in Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish, and Armenian were hurled about with much waste of nervous energy.

When the noise had reached the climax, I called over Brandy Bob, and quietly asked him what was all the shouting about.

"Oh, sir," he replied, "I took my eyes off my men for an instant, and they have lost their rifles."

"Nonsense!" I said. "You bragged how you would guard us, and then you all went and fell asleep. There are your weapons. My servant brought them here to prevent the BedawÓn from getting them, and then mounted guard for you."

11 Sam. xxvi. 12. [183]

The soldiers took their guns iii silence, but, with the versatility of Falstaff, they all soon began to swear that they had seen me taking their rifles, and only wanted to humour me.

We struck our tents in silence and in haste, while it was yet hark, and marched to 'Ain el-Wu'ul, and on the following day continued our homeward journey as far as Karyctein.

But what of the BedawÓn who had encamped over against us? We had given them the slip, and got among the hills at the other side of the plain, before they were aware of our departure, and as they never suspected that we had discovered the 'Ain el-Wu'ul water, they pursued us, as they supposed, down the beaten track of ordinary tourists. All day long they spurred their animals in pursuit, and strained their eyes to catch a glimpse of us on the horizon before them. At last the gazelle-traps and gardens of Karyetein rose before them, and they felt that their prey had escaped.

A council of war was held, at which it was the unanimous opinion that we had hidden in some dip of the desert, or among the mountains, as it was clearly impossible that our baggage animals could have reached Karyctein in so short a time.

It was then resolved1 that they should lie across our track until we came up.

All night long they watched in vain, but at eleven [184] o'clock the next morning, a they were about to give us up, a caravan suddenly appeared issuing from the mountains on the north. " Allahu Akbar!" (God is great) shouted the delighted BedawÓn, and tightening the girths on their hungry horses, and the girdles on their own empty stomachs, they rushed with a desert hurrah on their prey.

1These details I had from one of the BedawÓn, who called on me afterwards in Damascus, and gave me all particulars.

The caravan was conducted by the hardy villagers of Jebel Kalamoun, who were bringing provisions for their families from the Euphrates, and they had, besides, Persian carpets, and tobacco and other valuable merchandise for Damascus. They had just passed the most dangerous part of their journey, and had relaxed their ordinary vigilance, and were somewhat scattered, so that with the first onset, the BedawÓn cut off and captured a number of stragglers. These were withdrawn to a distance, and secured. The remainder of the caravan was then drawn up iii a circle, and the camels were tightly bound together in a living rampart, from behind which the villagers fired on their assailants.

The Arab force," according to the Levant Herald, "consisted of about twenty horsemen, accompanied by forty dromedaries, each carrying two armed riders. They were the Giath BedawÓn, a branch of the Seba'a tribe, accompanied by the 'Amour, under Sheikh Dabbons." They and their horses took a hurried meal of the food they had captured at the first onset, and then, flushed with victory and with the prospect of large booty, they dashed bodily against the living rampart. A desperate [185] struggle ensued. The circular line swayed and staggered; but in a hand-to-hand encounter the BedawÓn in had no chance with the able-bodied1 villagers, and several of them were dragged from their horses and stricken down with clubs.

The BedawÓn then became more wary, and galloped round and round the circle, making a feint here and an attack there, till the villagers were weary of rushing round their rampart, and their ammunition was exhausted. Thus they continued hour after hour, till near sunset, when a wounded camel staggered and fell, and broke the line. The circle opened out and became a crescent. Quick as lightning, the Bedouin rushed in at the breach, the camels started off in all directions, and the active horse-men, with their flashing spears, decided the victory in a few minutes.

The Lerant Herald summed up the result of the raid thus: "The BedawÓn took possession of, and carried off, all that the caravan contained,ó120 loads of butter (semmen), and an enormous number of donkeys, mules, camels, horses, arms, valued at £4000. In addition to this they stripped all the travellers, and left them naked in the blazing desert. They even stripped the dead. The friends of the murdered men remained to watch the bodies, till animals were brought to convey [186] them to the village. They succeeded in protecting them-selves from the heat by day, and the cold by night, with rags from the furniture of camels that were shot in the mÍlťe.

1The BedawÓn are much smaller-bodied men than the Fallahin of the villages. Colonel Gawler, the late keeper of the crown jewels, informed me that the suits of armour preserved in the Tower were found to be too small for ordinary men.

"The unfortunate men were industrious people, inhabitants of Nebk, Deir-Atiyeh, Rahibeh, and one of them was from Damascus. They were mostly heads of hungry families, and paid taxes to the Sultan for his protection. There is no honest reason why this state of things should be permitted to exist. A few years before, Subhi Pasha kept the desert in almost perfect order. The BedawÓn marauders are within easy reach of the government.

"When the case was laid before Halet Pasha, governor of Damascus, he merely said that was outside the bounds of Syria. Those who were present corrected his Excellency's geography, and he caused a sharp telegram to be sent to his subordinates, and with that the matter rested."

This report, published at the time, in the chief news-paper at Constantinople, was, I know, correct in every detail. I knew several of the murdered men, and one of them, Shibley Gassis, of Nebk, was brother-in-law to our chief Protestant in that district, and very amiable man.

What would the Redawin do with one hundred and twenty loads of butter?

They brought it, or rather, had it brought, into Damascus, and sold publicly.

What would they do with the splendid carpets and shawls from the looms of Persia and Cashmere? [187]

They distributed them among their powerful friends in Damascus, in return for their efficient protection, and some of the best found their way- into the gorgeous saloons of those whose duty it was to administer justice.

One of our Protestants found three of his camels in the hands of the robbers, in Damascus, and, though he got an official order for the restoration of his property, he was never able to get it carried out, and the robbers were permitted to keep his camels.

We rested a day at Karyetein, and had the pleasure of finding that our school had taken root among Moslems and Christians; and we saw Moslems and Christians sitting side by side in that land of violence and blood, and spelling out together the story of Christ's love to men. In the evening we heard that a battle was being fought near by, and I believe the report of the gulls was distinctly heard; but the sheikh said the Turks were there to protect the district, and the Turks smoked their nargilles, and ejaculated "Allah is great," and did nothing.


PALMYRA TERRA-COTTA HEAD IN PROFILE, WITH SUN, MOON, AND STARS
PALMYRA TERRA-COTTA HEAD IN PROFILE, WITH SUN, MOON, AND STARS
Translation- BEL PROTECTS THE TEN SONS OF BARSHA

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