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PALMYRA AND ZENOBIA. CHAPTER 17.

ORNICE SOFFIT OF TOMB TOWER.
ORNICE SOFFIT OF TOMB TOWER.

CHAPTER XVII.

We finished the day by visiting and receiving the visits of our friends, and on the following morning continued our homeward journey, before receiving the details of the battle. We passed several ruined khans, resting-places for caravans and travellers in more propitious times; had several spurts after gazelles with our Persian greyhound, caught a fox alive and a curious land rat; and after a weary ride, encamped at 'Atny, a few miles west of a salt lake that glowed and sparkled in the evening sun.

Here, too, we were met by rumours of oppression and deceit." The Ishmaelites had been to the village three hours before us, and had carried off several flocks of sheep, and all the donkeys and camels and portable things they could find.

Any one who makes a tour through Northern Syria will be able to appreciate for the remainder of his life the advantages of a civilized government. He will there [189] see as fine a peasantry as is to be found anywhere, -handsome, and courteous, but picturesque in rags; thrifty and frugal, but penniless; comparatively truthful and enterprising, but without credit or resources. They have broad acres which only require to be scratched and they bring forth sixty-fold; but they only cultivate little patches, surrounded by mud walls, and within the range of their matchlocks.

During the greater part of the year they dare not walk over their own uncultivated fields, for fear of being stripped of their tattered garments.1

And yet these poor people are the most heavily taxed peasantry in the world. They pay blackmail," called khowieh (brotherhood), to the BedawÓn, who plunder them notwithstanding. And they pay taxes to the Turks, who give then no protection in return. The Bedouin's claim is from time immemqrial, and they enforce their claim by cutting off the ears of peasants from the defaulting villages, and by carrying off a number of the village children into the desert. The latter plan always brings the villages to terms. The Turks enforce their claims by imprisoning the village sheikhs in foul, pestiferous sties, without food, till they have paid "the uttermost farthing."

1The Levant Herald of 12th August 1874, referring to this subject, pointed out that "three villages, not the most important, had lost during the year 7680 sheep and goats, 55 camels, 32 donkeys, and an enormous amount of other property, besides shepherds and drivers killed and wounded. The other villages had suffered equal losses, and the people were in a state of despair." [190]

These spoilers follow on each others heels, and that which the Turkish caterpillar leaves the Bedawi locust devours. With anything like protection or fair government, the peasantry of Northern Syria would be among the happiest in the world; but for the ten years that I knew them, they saw the fruit of their labour swept away by organized robbers, and they lived in a state of starvation and despair. All who can get away leave for Egypt and for the large cities, and the region is becoming depopulated year by year. Hundreds succeed in breaking the Turkish cordon, and in effecting their escape to America.

It was pleasant to see how lightly sorrow sat on the simple people of 'Atny. When we arrived they were plucking at their beards, and rending their garments, and calling for vengeance from heaven on their spoilers and on the Turks. Toward sunset, however, the ceremony of marrying the Sheikh's daughter, a mature maiden of twelve, was commenced. and the people (lanced, and sang, and shouted, and clapped their hands, and the women sent up shrill notes of joy, and the old Sheikh scattered sweet-meats among the revellers, and all seemed merry and light-hearted, as if they had sat all their lives under their own vines and fig-trees, with none to molest or make them afraid.

The bouling and screaming came to an end about mid-night, but soon broke out again. Somebody's house had been plundered, and the people were all proclaiming it from the house-tops. The women's voices were still in tune, and they howled as if they had been robbed of their [191] most precious treasures. I had been giving battle to a number of persevering mosquitoes, up till the time that this new disturbance arose. Finding, however, that sleep was impossible, and that my presence was no longer required by my companions, I started alone, in the dark, for Damascus.

I passed through Jeyrud, Muaddamiyeh, and El-Kutifeh while the people were still sleeping. The dogs lay thick in the streets, and my horse had difficulty in threading his way among them. They were too lazy and sleepy even to bark at me.

The night was long, but at last the tops of the mountains were touched with gold. and as the plain of Damascus burst upon me through the Eth-thuniyeh Pass, the rising sun was pouring its first rays into a surging sea of verdure and beauty, and lighting up the minarets of hamlet and city with tongues of fire.

No wonder Orientals rave over the beauties of Damascus. At all seasons of the year, and from every point of view, Damascus is beautiful; but its beauty is enhanced tenfold by the fact that you can only approach it through a howling wilderness. Your eye has been resting oil the heavens as brass and the earth as iron. Every green thing is a prickly shrub. Desolation and dreariness and sterility reign on every side. Suddenly you turn a corner, and your eve rests on Paradise.

A gallop down the hill, and I was among luxurious harvests. Then I passed through miles of orchards golden with ripe apricots, the paths overspread by fragrant walnuts. [192] Crystal waters tumbled iii cascades over the walls, and ran babbling by the side of the road. At last I reached Bab Es-Shurki, the eastern gate of' Damascus, iii which the Roman arch is still visible: and as I passed through where Khaled and his fiery. Saracens first entered the city, my heart sank as I saw a Turkish soldier levying "blackmail" on a miserable Jewish pedlar. A minute more, and I was at home even in Damascus.

CEILING OF HOLY OF HOLIES, TEMPLE OF THE SUN.
CEILING OF HOLY OF HOLIES, TEMPLE OF THE SUN.

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