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PALMYRA AND ZENOBIA. CHAPTER 21.

BAB ES-SHURKY, DAMACUS.
BAB ES-SHURKY, DAMACUS.

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ADVENTURES AMONG THE RUINS OF BASHAN.

CHAPTER XXI.

I had made complete preparation for a thorough inspection of the ruins of Bashan, and for becoming acquainted with their inhabitants. I had undertaken several preliminary visits, and had gained the confidence and friendship of most of the sheikhs and spiritual chiefs of the Druzes. With my colleague, the late Rev. J. O. Scott, I had formed projects for occupying the whole of that interesting district with a network of schools, which should receive our constant surveillance. Circumstances prevented this plan being carried out.

I resolved, however, to go and offer the Scriptures to every individual in all that region. The Rev. Prof. Andrew Harper, then an Australian student, who had completed his studies in Scotland for the ministry, and who was giving a few months to the study of Oriental languages in Damascus, previous to his return to his own land, eagerly [223] entered into my project, and zealously assisted me throughout. The British and Foreign Bible Society placed a colporteur at our disposal, leaving me to choose the man. I chose Khalîl Dawoud, a member of our church in Rasheiya, whom we had formerly employed as colporteur at the expense of the same society.

When we were about to start we made the acquaintance of a pleasant party of Englishmen, who were travelling for the purpose of growing beards, and for other similarly cogent reasons. We all agreed to start on the following morning, and cross the "field of forays" together, to Burâk; but their master the dragoman determined otherwise, fearing the length and danger of the way. The next morning we waited for our new companions till an hour past the appointed time, and then started alone. As soon as the dragoman perceived that we were gone, he brought his party to my house to assure them of the fact also, and then taking them a few hours out of the city, encamped them for the night by a miasma swamp.

We left 21 Straight Street on the 4th of April, about half-past ten o'clock A.M. As we passed along the street eastward, we encountered a string of camels entering the city, laden with olive-wood for fuel. The husbandman during the fruit season marks the trees that are unfruitful, gives them special attention and cultivation, and if they still continue to "cumber the ground," they are cut down, and carried into the city on the backs of animals, and sold by weight as fire-wood.

It is not pleasant meeting a row of camels with these [224] crushing loads. Their cushioned feet make no noise on the pavement, and they swing so in the narrow streets that there is always some dexterity required to evade them. They are conducted along, often without halter or bridle, and as they are exceedingly timorous, they dart and jerk about in the most unexpected manner, like huge uncouth birds.

Camels are very subject to panic. In the desert, a whole caravan of them will sometimes scamper off over the plain, in the wildest manner, like a flock of startled birds, and are only overtaken twenty or thirty miles off. A camel panic is a fearful event in the city. They rush along the narrow streets wildly, and nothing in their path need hope to live. The cry "The camels are coming!" precedes them, and the people rush into their shops and houses. The torrent of camels sweeps along till one slips and falls. The next in succession falls upon it, and so on till the last, when the street is one throbbing mass of living camel.

Here and there on the right we see sides of columns peeping out of the mud walls. These are the remains of the north side of the double colonnade that stretched for a mile down the two sides of the Roman via recta, and made "the street called Straight," in the days of Paul, a splendid thoroughfare, unsurpassed in the magnificent capitals of modern Europe. We passed out of the city by Bab es-Shurky (eastern gate), through one of the Roman side arches. The great central arch is broken down, and tilled up with bits of columns and [225]

SKETCH ROUTE OF BASHAN.
SKETCH ROUTE OF BASHAN.

blocks of Roman masonry. The other side arch is entire and filled up. Through this gate Khalid, "the sword of the Lord," entered by treachery in A.D. 634, and filled the adjoining streets with Christian blood; and near this, in 1148, the Crusaders, under Baldwin III., made their last feeble and vain attempt to capture the city.

The Crusaders carved the fleur-de-lis on a stone outside the eastern gate, and they scattered coins in the ditch, where they are sometimes picked up, but they left no other memorial at Damascus.

As we looked down the walls, in which we recognized pieces of the Roman period, we saw houses on the ramparts, and windows overhanging the ditch. From such a place was Paul let down on the night of his memorable escape from Damascus.

Our road lay through the native Christian cemetery. It is a horrible field of death. Many of the vaults are wide open, tainting the air for miles around, and attracting the dogs and other wild animals from afar.1

Among these vaults is an oblong building arched over with a slight curve at the top, and with a little airhole in the end. Into this were gathered the fragments of some seven thousand Christians murdered in 1860.
1The people believe that the rapid decomposition of the body indicates a happy state of the soul, and it is a cause of great grief and scandal to the friends of any one should his body be found after the lapse of a year not sufficiently decomposed. Probably it is to prevent such a calamity that the cemetery is left unwatched, and the bodies uncoffined, a prey to wild beasts. [226]

RUNAWAY CAMELS IN THE DESERT RUNAWAY CAMELS IN THE DESERT

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When the order was given to stop the massacre, all the pieces of the mutilated Christians that the (logs had left were deposited in this mausoleum. There is an Arabic inscription on the soft limestone in the wall, now much defaced; but on my first visit to the place, eight years before, I copied it. It is in rhyme, and runs thus, literally translated: —

"This is what the people of Shem (Damascus) have done unto us. O Lord, let not justice be lost unto us!"

In this we recognize the old Miltonic spirit expressed in the lines: —

"Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints!"

On the other side of the way the ground is strewed with long, wedge-like stones, covered with Hebrew inscriptions dating back several centuries. This was the burying-ground of the Karaite Jews, who have long since disappeared from Damascus.

In the corner of this large Jewish cemetery stands the neat little Protestant burying-ground. In the matter of burying the dead the Protestants have given an example of a more excellent way. The Protestant cemetery is surrounded by a high wall, overhung by fragrant walnuts. The ground is marked off for graves by rows of shady 'Pride of India,' and bordered by damask roses. All further attempts at ornamentation have been frustrated. Yew-trees, those "constant mourners of the dead," were planted, but they were soon carried off. The well that [229] was sunk for the irrigation of shrubs and flowers was destroyed. The ornamental gravestones were broken, and the non-ornamental were stolen and sold.

In the midst of the chaos of neglected open graveyards a closed substantial door is a mark for fanatics, and so the cemetery door is thickly peppered with shot and slugs, and blue bullet marks appear on the stones at each side, showing fanaticism in excess of skill; and sometimes the gate used to be smashed in several times in one year.

To that little cemetery the mission and consular families have made large contributions, giving sad proof of the unhealthy climate of Damascus. In one row, side by side, lie eight of the missionaries' children. Near them is the grave of the Rev. J. Orr Scott's beautiful young bride; but he, though due to Damascus, lies far from her he loved so well, in the bare, red sand of Suez. The Rev. J. Frazer and wife in death are not divided. And there is here the grave of William Hamnets, an English mechanic and man of God, who was brought to Damascus by an Arab company to set up machinery, and lodged in a feverish sty, till he died.

And here lies Buckle, who, with much pretentious scholarship, erected a literary pyramid with its base upwards, and received the last kind offices from the people whom he had laboured hard to misrepresent, by means of his wondrous stores of second-hand learning, and by all the arts of a fascinating style.

By the side of this man of letters, spoiled chiefly by the adulation of women, lies the unfortunate Countess Teleky, [230] in accordance with a wish she had often expressed, even before her visit to Damascus.

At a short distance from these rests one of a different type, — William Broomfield, F.R.S., the kindly Christian gentleman and profound scientific scholar, whose memory is green in the love and esteem of all who knew him. And here also lies the beautiful and cultured Lady Ellenborough, known at Damascus as "The Honourable Mrs. Digby el-Miserab," who lost her way in London in the seething slough of fashionable society, and after a wild, passionate, and reckless career, closed her days in peace, as the wife of a Bedawi sheikh, and died in the Christian faith, in sure and certain hope of a blessed resurrection."

We were now fairly on our way — colporteur. cook, and two muleteers — when the colporteur, seated between his two boxes on his little horse, dashed past us like a bolt, disappearing in a cloud of dust, which streamed behind him like the smoke of a railway train. "Bravo!" shouted the muleteers; but it was not a case for bravo, as the race was entirely involuntary on the part of the rider. He soon appeared again, shooting off at a tangent iii another direction, and presently, with a general crash, the horse disengaged himself from rider and boxes, and then turned round in the most gallant manner to learn the result.

We rode up, fearing the worst; but as Dawoud had only fallen on his head, there was no harm done. A leathern water-bottle, however, had got crushed in the fall, and its precious contents, Scripture type of the evanescence [231] of life, was spilled upon the ground, and could not be gathered.

The gardens and orchards through which we now passed were very beautiful. The light-green apricots, and darkgreen walnuts, and silvery, evergreen olives, interspersed here and there with red-brown pomegranates and whitestemmed poplars, quivered in the bright spring morning, each leaf catching from its neighbour sunbeams, and each flinging back to each burnished diamonds; and beneath the trees was the broad, level carpet of green, fresh corn; and Hermon, in his glittering shroud, ever and anon shone like burnished silver through the vistas formed by the arching branches. In front, at a distance of seven or eight miles, the sombre wall of the black mountain seemed to cross our path, each ravine flooded with wondrous tints, from roseate and pale violet to deepest indigo.

In about an hour we passed the Moslem village Babîla, with its dome and minaret and saint's tomb. By the saint's tomb there was a tree with thousands of rags fastened to its branches. Every one who fastens a rag to a branch of this tree does a meritorious act, and some of these festoons are sometimes taken away to serve as charms.

Passing the village, we were in the open, level plain. Away to the left, in front, the mirage was playing fantastic tricks with the little conical tells of the Safa, elevating them into considerable mountains, mantled with groves, and crowned with villages and fortresses, and girt around with seas, which reflected the shadows of the trees [232] and towns, and gave to the whole a wonderful appearance of reality. I never passed that way without seeing the mirage in one form or another, but always wonderful.

Leaving the cultivated ground, we entered on a part of the plain where the grass grew deep and thick as in an Irish meadow. Large flocks of cattle and camels were browsing about, and innumerable swarms of sheep and goats covered the face of the whole district. After this the ground was thickly covered with scented southernwood, the little shrubs being about a foot and a half high, through which our horses had to pick their steps. Here numerous storks, called by the Arabs "the father of luck." stepped out of our way in a stately, dignified manner, and eyed us with curiosity from a distance of twenty yards. as we passed.

We struck the basaltic formation at one o'clock, and in half an hour more, having passed though a ruin on the eastern spur of Jebel el-Aswad, we alighted for lunch in it little grove of poplars at Nejha. Nejha was the last village in the Damascus plain on our road. It was built on a rising ground, and contained about eight houses and forty souls, all Moslems. A duct, led off from the 'Awaj, supplied it with a little dirty water. The men had an evil look, and two of them, with long guns and heavy bludgeons, were very anxious to take us in charge; but we disliked their looks, and declined their escort—of course with great civility, explaining to them the nature of our guns, which blazed away at the rate of thirty shots a minute, rendering guard or escort unnecessary. [233]

The women had a gipsy appearance. One blue calico shirt, closely fitting at the neck, and extending to their toes, was their only garment. A sooty-looking cloth was wrapped round their heads, leaving the crowns, that never felt a comb, bare, and permitting the hair to hang down their backs in coarse plaits. They wore an ornament stuck in their noses, and all had bracelets of glass or brass. Their tawny faces were horribly tattooed, from the lips down, and they had sharp, quick, restless eyes, such as are seen in confirmed pickpockets; but they had the most lovely teeth, perfect in form, and white as the purest ivory. Unlike village women generally, they were as fanatical as their sisters in Damascus, and we could not get from them a pleasant look or word.

The village contains no ancient ruins, but it has two Latin inscriptions on an inverted column in the little mosque. They contain the names of Diocletianus and Maximianus, Constantinus, Constantius, and Constans. The column may have been brought from a distance.

A few minutes after leaving Nejha we reached a broken bridge over the almost dry bed of the 'Awaj. This river has its origin in the springs of Hermon, passes Kefr Howar and Sasa, and flows into the Hejâoy marsh. It is very tortuous in its windings, and hence is called 'Awaj, namely, "the crooked." For several years this river has been called by travellers the Pharpar, and has found its way into modern maps under that name, without, as far as I can ascertain, a single claim, logical or archaeological, to be so honoured. [234]

"Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?" The language of Naaman, the Syrian captain, was, no doubt. a jealous burst of patriotic indignation ; but the great general would not have made himself ridiculous in the eves of his followers by ranking the brook 'Awaj higher than the river Jordan, or by declaring that it was a river in which he could bathe at all. Nor would he have called it a river of Damascus, seeing that it is distant from the city a ride of three hours, and interposes between itself and the plain of Damascus the whole range of the Jebel el-Aswad. On the other hand, the meanest follower in the Syrian's train would have endorsed his leader's boast, as would every Damascene in the city to-day, that the Abana and Pharpar were better than all the waters of Israel.

In riding through that heated land I was never able to resist the temptation of a cold bath, when one offered; but after two attempts to bathe in the 'Awaj, I can safely say that its waters have now no attraction for me. On my first attempt I lay down on the pebbly bed of the river, held to the bottom by my nails, and let the water and sand run over me. I came out of the turgid stream as if I had been whitewashed. On my second attempt 1 plunged into what seemed to me a considerable pool, and found myself up to the knees in mud, surrounded by tortoises and frogs and leeches. If Naaman meant the 'Awaj when he declared the Syrian waters superior to those of Palestine, he was certainly open to experience. [235]

The rivers of Damascus are its one great and abiding charm, and every Damascene loves them passionately. The Barada is split up into different channels, several miles above the city, and these all flow through Damascus, bearing different names as rivers, and are supposed to have different degrees of excellence. The river whose

VILLA ON THE BARADA, DAMASCUS
VILLA ON THE BARADA, DAMASCUS

water is most prized is called the Abanias (doubtless the Abana), and passes through what was once a fashionable suburb, the "Southern West End" of Damascus, overhanging the green merj. Another river of Damascus passes through what was the northern West End suburb of the city, until Tamerlane destroyed it. It is now called [236]

THE BARADA AND MERJ.
THE BARADA AND MERJ.

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the river Taura, which name we find in an old Arabic version of the Bible instead of Pharpar; and Benjamin of Tudela identified the Taura with the Pharpar.

The "Wady Barbar," said to be at the source of the 'Awaj, and which was supposed to contain in its name the word Pharpar, is now known to have no existence and as there are at Damascus a number of rivers,1 known by distinct and different names, there need be no question that the same rivers with various names flowed through the city in the days of Naaman and Elisha.

And there is no reason to doubt that the great Damascene mentioned in his haughty boast the two rivers he had most enjoyed. And if the various rivers of the Syrian capital now sparkle in fifty-eight public baths during the decadence of the city, who will doubt that the same sparkling waters were as extensively used for purposes of luxury in the palmy days of the Ben Hadad dynasty? Nor is it for a moment to be supposed that the great Syrian leader, who knew the refreshing charms of the Damascus rivers, would mention as on a parity with one of them the brawling little 'Awaj.

1Nahr(river Taura, Nahr Abanias, NAT. Kanawât, Nahr Yazid, Nahr Barada, Nahr Deirany, Nahr Akrabany. Each is called a river. [239]


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