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PALMYRA AND ZENOBIA. CHAPTER 20.

SQUARE ENTABLATURE IN GREAT TEMPLE.
SQUARE ENTABLATURE IN GREAT TEMPLE.

CHAPTER XX.

Cantering down the dreary plain, towards Jerud, I came in sight of two horsemen who were riding before me. As I was going much faster and steadier than they, I gained rapidly on them, and at last over-took them. They were splendid-looking fellows, well mounted and well armed. They carried, in addition to their spears, and daggers, and horse-pistols, the dabbous, which was the weapon I feared most in Syria. The dabbous of Arabia corresponds to the genuine slidlelah of Ireland. Its growth is watched over for years. Branches are removed, leaving the single stem, and when the root has become large and bulbous, the sap-ling is taken up, seasoned, and dressed. Then steel spikes are driven into it, and the heads, which stand out, are tiled to rough, angular points.

The dabbous is a much more powerful and deadly weapon than the shillelah. I cannot say that I ever feared the firearms of the Arabs. They always seemed [215] to be more formidable to friend than to foe. And the spear, notwithstanding all that has been said in its praise, is an unwieldy and ineffective arm. But the dabbous is a lethal weapon, and one blow of it is sufficient for either man or horse.

In the desert, as I have already said, no law is recognized but that of the strong arm and keen blade, and opportunity is often the occasion of violence. The Arabs will not enter into a contest lightly, unless the chances are greatly in their favour; but being two to one, and fortified with all the orthodox weapons of their calling, they thought they saw a fine opportunity for transferring to themselves my mare, my clothes, and my arms, with pocketfuls of money besides.

I knew well what "Shallih" meant. A party of Arabs had, on one occasion, surprised my colleague, Dr. Crawford, of Damascus, at a well in the desert. They screamed "Shallih" at him and his companions. The companions who showed signs of resistance were knocked over with spears, and then they peeled off every stitch and shred of garment that they wore, and humbly handed all to the robbers. Dr. Crawford would not strip; but [216] his naked companions, seeing that the Arabs were going to kill him, removed all his garments, as he stood passive and motionless —even his boots and socks—and handed all over to the lords of the desert, lie pleaded for his hat, as the heat was fierce, and it was of no use to them; but they ran their spears into it, and tore it into small fragments.

"Shallih!" shouted again one of my would-be despoilers, the words hissing from between his white teeth as we sat on our steeds staring at each other.

Keeping my finger on the trigger, and my eve on the robbers, I said, very slowly and calmly: "You are both absolutely iii my power. I can tire twenty shots with this gun, and six with this revolver, before you have time to lift a hand. Ask pardon from God, and plant your spears instantly in the ground, and I will spare you."

There was a space of ten or fifteen yards between us. I lifted my gun, and my mare, thinking I was going to lire, stood steady as a rock. Instantly both men stuck their spears into the ground, and, leaping off their horses, ran towards me as if to kiss my hand or stirrups.

"Stand back," I shouted; "leave your rusty old daggers and pistols with your spears, picket your horses, and come and eat with me."

On several critical occasions in Syria. both when alone, and in company with others, I succeeded in averting bloodshed by an assumption of authority. The two would-be robbers did as they were told, and then followed [217] me to a hillock, two hundred yards or so from their horses. I spread out my biscuits, dates, and cheese, and we all three sat down to the frugal fare. They added dried olives and salted pistachios to the feast. They handed me some of the salted pistachios, and as soon as I had put one into my mouth, they said we were brothers, and then they proceeded to kiss my hand. I then felt perfectly safe with them, and proceeded to show them the mystery of my arms, telling them how glad I was that I had not been obliged to slay them.

One of them said. "Are you a Franji?" "No," I replied, I am an Inglizi."

"Ah," said lie, you are ruled by a woman, live on calico, and drink brandy-."

I responded: "My people never 'Shallih' at the bidding of another, or show their backs to a foe, or take what is not their own. They make calico, and build ships, and cultivate the ground, and live in peace without fear. Some of them, I added, are not Christians, and they get drunk and make others drunk, and try to 'Shallih' the weak, and either flee to other countries, or get shut up in prisons."

"Are you," he asked, "one of the Nazarites, who worship images and saints?"

"No," I said; "I am a Christian. We worship God only, and if you come to my church in Damascus you will see no pictures and hear no mention of saints."

"Do you believe in Muhammed'?" he asked.

"Yes," I said; "I believe in Muhammed as a famous [218] Arab. Ile slaughtered the idolatrous Nazarites who had departed from the pure and holy religion of Jesus Christ: but he was a gross, cruel, and licentious Bedawi."

Our law," said the robbers, "permits us to take by force from a hostile tribe, from the people of a village, from a desert caravan, and from a traveller like yourself. It is lawful spoil, not theft, is it not? "

I said: "Your law is cowardly, and cruel, and cannot have the approval of God, whatever Muhammed may have thought. It permits you to rob the weak. Christ's law is, ' Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,' and he enjoins on all his followers to do to others what they would wish others to do to them."

"W'Allah, is that so?" ejaculated both at the same time. "We have heard that two great princes contend in your country for the mastery. Prince Kladstone wants to make all the Turks Nazarites, and the Jew prince wants to make all the Nazarites Turks. Is it so?"

I tried to explain that Christians were never made by the sword, as Muhammedans had been, but by love, faith, and voluntary surrender; and then. giving to one the Gospel of St. John in Arabic, and to the other the Gospel of St. Matthew, and exacting from both a promise that they would read the portions, I remounted my mare and galloped off.

Long afterwards, one of the two recognized me in Hamah when I was travelling with Subhi Pasha. He attached himself to me with the most dog-like fidelity, and it was he who procured for me the gypsum by which [219] I was able to take casts of the Hittite inscriptions. He assured me that he and his companion had agreed on the distribution of my arms, money, and clothes, and on the disposal of my mare. When we met in Hamah he had read the Gospel of St. John with delight, and still carried the portion on his person.

The benedictions fell as thick at our parting as the maledictions had fallen at our meeting. Firmness with kindness works miracles even in the desert.

My mare galloped for hours along the homeward track. The scenery was bleak, barren, and desolate, with no living thing except the jerboas, or ground rats, that sat at the mouths of their holes, and whisked in when one came near. The sun was sinking behind the western mountains, and after it disappeared the brief but glowing twilight faded into darkness: a cold wind swept across our path; but my mare went forward with the steadiness and untiring energy of a steam-engine. Such is blood.

I became very sleepy, and slept for hours in the saddle, but occasionally I was suddenly brought to consciousness by my mare stumbling into the holes of the jerboas.

That was the longest night I ever remember, but the lawn came at last, and the sweet and beautiful plain of Damascus was in view, and in it all the trees of the forest and the garden blended their many shades of colour, and extended for many a mile, and held the desert at bay. And the great pearly domes and graceful minarets rose from out the ocean of emerald green that surged around and over the city, and Hermon, grand in its snowy shroud, [220] gleamed beyond. And along the dusty tracks, beneath spreading walnuts, and past tumbling cascades, we held on our way, and entered the city as the sun touched the snowy crest of Hermon, and the criers from the minarets summoned the faithful to prayers.

SOLITARY COLUMN.
SOLITARY COLUMN.

[221]


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