Title


PALMYRA AND ZENOBIA. CHAPTER 23.

STONE WINDOW (HAURAS).
STONE WINDOW (HAURAS).

CHAPTER VIII.

On leaving Burâk we proceeded in a south-westerly direction, along El-Luhf with the raised edge of the great lava-bed on our left, and an immense ocean-like plain on our right. It was impossible to get rid of the impression that we were moving along the tide-mark between a great ocean and its rugged shore.

The Lejah (Argob), which is raised twenty or thirty feet above the plain, runs out into promontories, and is indented with bays and creeks, and all the headlands have their ruined towers, like lighthouses, and the bays have their little black ruins, like fishing-villages; and low grey tents here and there in angles of bays and creeks, propped up with sticks, reminded us of nets and fishing-tackle drying; and out on the ocean to the right, camels, steering in different directions, and greatly magnified by the miragy atmosphere, heaved and tossed about like boats; the thick, fat smoke of an occasional Arab's fire hung black in the air, like the smoke of a steamboat [258] starting on a voyage; and the small, round stones on which our horses stumbled ever called to mind the "pebbly beach."

The real objects around us had all the marks of sea and shore; but, in addition, as usual, the mirage was playing all kinds of fantastic tricks, throwing up beautiful wooded beaches with castellated crests, and spreading out glassy seas which mirrored all the surrounding objects.

We coasted along, keeping clear of the headlands, crossing bay after bay in succession. In several of the bays were little Arab encampments of five or six tents each. The men were away with their flocks, and the women, who were hideously tattooed and frightfully dirty, were occupied in churning goat's-milk. The churn is a goat's skin which has been drawn off the goat like a stocking. All the openings of the skin are tied except the neck, and when the milk is put into the skin, the neck opening is tied too. A woman then gets down on her knees beside the skin and rolls it backwards and forwards with her hands on the ground, which is the churning process. She uses her fingers as a strainer to separate the butter from the milk, and she then places the butter separately in another skin.

I have sometimes partaken of such butter, but it smells of camel and tastes of leather, and no one could look at it without sympathizing with the Yankee, who guessed it would be better to serve the butter in one ball and the hairs in another, and then he could exercise his discretion.

The first time we passed this way we had a most [259] exciting chase. Our party- consisted of several clergymen and a celebrated painter and his wife. I ascended a rising ground to get a view of the landscape, and just as I reached the top of the eminence I came face to face with an armed Bedawi. He was a scout sent on in advance by a party of Arabs who wished to pass that way, to see if the country was free of Druzes. As soon as he saw me, he galloped off in a most frightened manner, and I, not knowing what he might be, summoned our Druze escort, and we all started in pursuit, our lady companion among the foremost.

As long as the Bedawi kept his distance he made straight for his companions; but when he found we were gaining upon him, he doubled like a sly old partridge which wishes to decoy the enemy from its young. The day was bright and bracing. The ground inclined gently in the direction of the chase. The Arab, like the manslayer "fleeing before the avenger of blood," bent to his horse's neck, parallel with his spear, and seemed to fly over the plain. The Druzes, like the avengers of blood, thundered along on his track. Our lady friend and her companions galloped along promiscuously in the rear, and thoroughly enjoyed the chase.

Those who have seen the excitement of huntsmen, after a. miserable little hare or fox, can form some idea of the feelings in this wild chase, when the quarry was a son of Ishmael on his own ground, and our fellow-hunters were the chivalrous Druzes, his inveterate enemy. The Bedawi fled for dear life, but after a brief course he was brought [260]

BEDAWIN OF THE HACRAN
BEDAWIN OF THE HACRAN

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to the ground. Ile of course expected instant death at the hands of the Druzes, and he seemed to bear himself, when we came up, as if the bitterness of death were already past; but his manner instantly changed when he found that our presence secured his safety. We kept him as a hostage till near night, and then sent him away happy, with a good backshish.

Near the same place we came upon game of another kind — a large bustard and a flock of katha, or pin-tailed sand-grouse. This bustard was the first that my companion or I had ever seen at large, and so we stalked it carefully from different sides. We both got within long range of it, but did not succeed in bringing it down.

I have since seen the same magnificent birds in the wide plains bordering the Orontes. There the young chieftains of Hasya catch them with hawks, which seize the wing of the great bird and bring it to the ground. I succeeded, however, in getting several specimens of the katha, and I was the more anxious to have them, as I knew that Hasselquist and others had declared they were the quails by which the children of Israel were miraculously fed in the wilderness.

I once saw the katha migrating, and they seemed sufficiently numerous to feed all the hungry tribes of the desert. They swarm so thickly in the desert that the Arabs snare them, and knock them down with sticks, and sell them for one half-penny apiece. At Haushhoush, near Bora, Burckhardt declares, "The quantity of kathas is beyond description; the whole plain seemed sometimes to [263] rise, and far off in the air they were seen like moving clouds." Russell says, "A donkey's load of them may sometimes be taken at one shutting of the clasp-net."

They lay their eggs on the desert, and so thickly are they strewed over the ground, that they are gathered every morning like manna. The Arabs go forth two and two, carrying a skin between them, with its mouth open like a sack. Other Arabs, men, women and children, scamper about, picking up the eggs, which are of a black-greenish colour, and as large as pigeons' eggs, and throw them into the bags. The eggs are, of course, all broken up, but the compound is strained through a hair sieve into other skins, and then served out like molasses for use.

The finest specimen I got was nine and a half ounces weight, and between the size of a partridge and a blue rock pigeon. Its colours and tints were very beautiful. A broad band of chestnut, edged with dark green, encircled the breast, and the upper surface of the body was streaked with alternate bars of yellow and green and silver grey, and on the centre of the feathers were yellow, heart-shaped spots. When flying, it shouts hatha, katha!" from which sound it takes its I Hebrew and Arabic name, and it takes its English name, "pin-tailed," from the fact that the two central feathers of the tail are elongated about seven inches, and stand out forked.

We found its flesh dark and tasteless, like that of an old pigeon, and much inferior to partridge. There are many circumstances in favour of these being the quails of Scripture, but I would suggest that the kathas are the [264] kath of Scripture, birds strictly unclean to the Israelites. The Hebrew nine for quails is almost the same as the Arabic, and they migrate through Syria in enormous numbers every spring.

After a ride of two hours a raised promontory stretched out before us, and on its isthmus rose massive, black,

TEMPLE AT MUSMETH-PHENA
TEMPLE AT MUSMETH-PHENA

jagged ruins. We worked our way with difficulty along what was once a Roman road, and entered the city Musmeih, the ancient Phaena. The most conspicuous ruin was [265] a temple in a good state of preservation, and the most striking object in the temple was an enormous scallop shell in the semicircular recess in the back side, opposite the door.

INTERIOR OF THE TEMPLE
INTERIOR OF THE TEMPLE

The columns which supported the half-fallen roof were curiously wreathed with oak chaplets near the top. There were niches round the walls for statues, which would, no doubt, be found Dagon-like, on their faces, if the débris were removed, and one still saw traces of yellow and purple frescoes on the plastered walls.

The spirit that seeks immortality by scribbling on walls was abroad when the temple vas erected. Hence, on the lintel of the door, and over the niches to right and left of the door, and on the stones of the architrave, are long and beautifully cut Greek inscriptions. Some of these inscriptions contain forty lines, and in some of the lines there are over seventy letters. What a paradise for the "Dryasdusts"!

The inscriptions, however, are of great importance. The longest is a letter from the legate to the citizens touching the lodgment of soldiers and strangers. It begins thus: "Julius Saturninus to the Phaenians in the metropolis of Trachon greeting." We ascertain that Trachonitis, of the Tetrarchy of Philip1(Luke iii. 1), [266] and the modern Lejah, are one and the same, and that Phaena was the Roman capital of that region. From another inscription we got the date of the building, which was a little after the middle of the second century of the Christian era.

1I have a coin of this tetrarch struck at Caesarea-Philippi in the twelfth year of his reign, and eighth A. D.

From the date of this building we may approximate the dates of the other buildings.

The palace, or residence of the legate, now tenanted by swarms of blue rock - pigeons, is three stories high. Around this are grouped the other official residences of the city. The style of architecture is the same in all the buildings: well-built walls of moderate sized stones, roughly dressed; roofs of long, hewn, finely dressed stone slabs, closely jointed, and resting on cornices round the walls, and on central arches; stone windows and doors, whose pivots project from above and below into lintels and threshobds. These buildings of Musmeih have a light, airy appearance seldom met with elsewhere in Bashan.

The native part of the town is of the usual low. gloomy character, and the Roman structures beside them strike one at first sight as being of yesterday in comparison; but then the native houses are generally built of the undressed old stones brought in from the lava beds, and the structures look as aged as the materials of which they are built. On the other hand, the Roman part of the city has a fresh and modern appearance, being built with stones dressed and chiselled, and fresh from the quarry.

The accumulation of rubbish, however, is as deep about [267] the Roman houses as about the native houses, and in most cases deeper, which would seem to prove that the native houses are of more recent construction. And this view is not unreasonable when we consider how much less solidly they are built than the Roman structures, and how much less fitted they are to endure the wear of ages. On the other hand, the native houses stand on much higher mounds of accumulated rubbish than the Roman houses, — a fact which points to many reconstructions of the native houses.

These facts, however, in no way go to disprove the remote antiquity of the city, but only the remote antiquity of its present buildings. It may be added that there are structures in the suburbs, half cave, half house, which might be of any age. There is, however, little accumulation of rubbish about them, and they show few signs of occupation.

Musmeih is not a comfortable place to linger in. Tall men, armed with long guns, which reached a good distance, whether they carried far or not, followed us stealthily, and watched all our movements from afar. Their teeth were glittering white, and their black eyes had a peculiar, uncertain light. Their only garment was a shirt, reaching from neck to heel, which, from colour and circumstance, seems to have been born at their birth, and to have grown with their growth. Through this garment peeped lithe and brawny limbs of a dark olive colour. A camel's-hair rope two or three times round the head, and a broad leathern girdle, with knives and charms pendant, [268] completed their toilets. They were all barefooted, and as they were little encumbered with flesh or garments, they ran over the ruins like tigers.

When approaching a group of ruins, you heard the crowd following with such a tumultuous noise, and with such vigour of epithets, that you supposed they were coming to blows. You turned and faced them, and they shied back like fish in a pond, and there followed a great calm. As you entered the ruin you saw a form emerging from it at the other side, and when you paused in the centre to get an idea of the structure, you know that a score of pairs of eyes were converging upon you, as in a focus, from every part.

They peeped at you from every window, from over the wall, in at the open doors, and down from the portions of the roof still remaining. When you looked at one of these gazers, he returned your look with furtive, pickpocket glances, and soon disappeared. When you moved on to another position, they hurried after, noisily comparing notes, and again scrambled up the walls like monkeys, and took up their positions as mutes.

Everything you do is wonderful in the sight of these wild people. A compass is an instrument for pointing out the position of hid treasures. A cylinder that lets out and in a long measuring-line is looked upon as an inexplicable work of the Jân. But the greatest wonder of all is my Prince Pless breech-loader, which they endow with virtues that would make it the idol of the military powers of Europe. [269]

Before these unsophisticated creatures, it is the custom with some travellers to swagger and to bully any of them that come in their way, and this conduct sometimes meets its reward in the bully getting thrashed; for these men, though shy and sheepish-looking, are not cowards when their blood is up, and as they live like wild beasts in dens they fear no law or government.

I have always found that a joke, or anything that makes them laugh, gains their confidence in a wonderful manner. They are astonished to hear you use their own language, and a question or a proverb which interests them throws them off their guard at once, and you can send them flying over the place, searching out inscriptions, and bringing you antiquities, in a manner that the Sultan himself could not command.

There were more people among the ruins than on my former visits, owing to the supply of water holding out, while it was exhausted in other villages. We led our horses to the water at the west of the town, and found swarms of women at the different tanks or cisterns, drawing water. The tanks were very numerous, and seemed to be half cave, half well. The women were partly gipsies, and partly from the Arabs iii the neighbourhood. They were lightly clothed like the men, and horribly tattooed. They had the white teeth of the wild animal, and the piercing glance of the basilisk. Their speech resembled the sharp barking of a dog, and as they drew up their skins of water they screamed and swore at each other like fiends. They were a most unlovely-looking set, who had [270] seldom during their lives heard or uttered a kindly word, and who had not, so far as we could make out, one attractive feature; and yet those black, buttered tresses, escaping down their shoulders from under sooty bands, were eagerly sought to adorn lovely brows in the saloons of civilization. There was in the town a ruffian who watched those hideous harpies till they fell, and then, vulture-like, rushed upon them and tore off their hair to supply raven locks for the European hair-market.

When we attempted to continue our journey south-west, we got inextricably lost among tortuous mazes of lava, and though we were in the midst of Arabs, no one would tell us where the path was without first receiving two hashliks — over two francs. At last a woman with a remnant of the instinct of her sex, pointed in the right direction; and after dragging our horses up and down black waves of rock, that rang metallic under their feet, we emerged on a path flagged with broad stones worn slippery as glass. We soon reached the coast-line, and for a mile or so I walked along the high edge of Argob, parallel with my party, in order to get a better idea of the strange and awful district.

The lava lay in great, petrified waves, and these huge waves were generally split along the centre of their ridge, and the two sides falling away, left a yawning chasm, wide at the top, but narrowing towards the bottom, and disclosing the heart of each wave. The scene had a weird, unearthly appearance. Here we crossed the party that had engaged to start from Damascus with us, but were [271] being led about through the land, and past the most important ruins, at the will of their dragoman.

We coasted along the edge of the Lejah in a south-westerly direction, crossing broad bays which ended in narrow creeks, and skirting headlands with their lighthouses in ruins. We passed, likewise, four considerable towns, with high towers, on the coast of the Lejah, and a number of smaller ruins. The country on our right was entirely under cultivation, and towards night we joined in a long string of farm labourers returning from ploughing. The ploughman generally rode a little donkey, carrying his plough across the saddle before him, and leading his two oxen behind. The men were strong, healthy, and hearty.

They were going to Khubab, and so were we, and we swept along together. As we entered Khubab, we met all the youths of the place drawn out in a line to receive us, headed by the priest, the sheikhs, and the schoolmaster. As we passed, all bent to the ground to honour us, the holy father lowest of all. It soon appeared that some mistake had been made, and that honours had been given us that were not intended for us; for the sheikh, an old acquaintance, darted forward, and shook hands with me in the most familiar manner.

For the moment, Sheikh Diab was the most envied man in KKhubab, for Lord Amadhon's dragoman had sent a report before that a prince was coming, and the simple people beheld with wonder and awe their own sheikh shaking hands with the prince. [272]

It was curious to hear them telling one another that they felt assured from the beginning that I had nothing princely about my hat; but when the real scion of nobility did come, his appearance impressed them so little, that they let him pass without a nod, though they had been waiting all the evening to give him a princely reception.

He that would rule Easterns must not neglect appearances. When the Crown Price of Prussia visited Damascus, he was looked upon as a little account, chiefly, I believe, because he did not wear a crown on his head through the streets, and nothing seemed so inexplicable in that wonderful Franco-German War as that so quiet-looking a man cold be a soldier at all.

A Russian prince entered Damascus in princely trappings, and the effect was marvelous. An old Moslem who stood by my side exclaimed, "W’Allah, such a giant!" and then he went off into the following soliloquy: "Praise be to God who raised up men like themselves to destroy them." Of course he meant the English, whose mission in the world is to fight the Russians whenever the Saltan of Turkey calls upon them to do so. [273]




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