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PALMYRA AND ZENOBIA. CHAPTER 27.

DOORWAY AT KANAWÂT.
DOORWAY AT KANAWÂT.

CHAPTER XXVII.

We entered Suweideh in company with an enormous flock of little horses returning from their pastures. My old friend Waked el-Hamdân gave us a most fatherly welcome, and his sons looked on our visit as a pleasant incident. Bashire, our old guide on a former tour, but grown very fat and puffy since I last saw him, made a great fuss over us, and recounted all the fine things we then said and the wonderful things we did.

It was arranged that he should give our servants everything we wanted at a fair price; and he gave us to understand that from him we could get a list of all the Englishmen who had sponged on the sheikh for the last ten years, and of all who honestly paid their way.

Bashire is a refugee from the Lebanon, where, in consequence of his great activity in 1860, his head was eagerly inquired after. We found him a trusty guide, [324] and, like Falstaff, he was the occasion of much wit in others, by the wondrous tales he told of himself.

We read in hooks of the unfailing loyalty of the Druzes to hereditary rank, and the statement sounds patriarchal. If it were correct, however, Waked el-Hamdân would have been chief of all the Druzes in the Hauran; but as in other states hereditary claims are set aside for political considerations and personal fitness, so in the Hauran the valiant and turbulent, though plebeian, Atrash family had eclipsed the gentle and humane, though princely, house of Haman; and at the time of our visit there was a radical movement among the Druzes to strip Waked of the last remnant of nominal power, and confer it on Ibrahîm el-Atrash of Kureiyeh.

Nor was this to be wondered at when we remember that the Druzes were engaged in a desperate struggle for national existence. On the one hand, they had to guard against the encroachments of the Turks, and on the other, against the encroachments of the Bedawîn; and occasionally they had a desperate war with the Christians. In such a state of society the fiercest valour is the highest virtue. Waked el-Hamdân was a tall, handsome man, of a most gentle and impressively sweet disposition, and his virtues were such as are recognized in more tranquil times.

All points of etiquette complied with, we declined the proffered banquet, on the ground that it would take up too much of our time, which we wished to spend in selling books and seeing the place. The sheikh the [325] more readily consented to our leaving him for a time, as some question of deep interest was agitating the Druzes, and there were dusty couriers arriving and fresh couriers galloping off. There was also much whispering, and cleaning up of old armour. On our return to our tent we heard a loud voice "proclaiming from the house tops" the programme of the morrow. Part of the proclamation was in the secret language of the Druzes, and it ended in plain Arabic, forbidding, to our surprise, the departure of the caravan for Damascus.

We conjectured the cause of all this, but resolved to go on with our work, asking no questions, until events should reveal themselves.

We explored the ruins the next morning, and found them very extensive, but very much tossed about and crushed into heaps. The place must have been of considerable importance in the past as well as in the present; and the fact of its not being mentioned in history is easily accounted for, on the supposition that its name was changed in the early centuries of our era from Soada to Dionysias, and this conjecture receives confirmation from the fact that "Smith," in a Greek inscription, calls Dionysus the founder of the city.1

If it were Dionysias, it had considerable fame, ecclesiastically and otherwise; but the identification is only a plausible theory, and it ought to remain a theory until proved. The necessity for this last observation will appear the more obvious when we remember how many [326] Hauran theories have been already set aside. We were assured in books that two Greek inscriptions among the ruins of Suweideh had been erected by two companies, which were prototypes of our East India and other famous companies; but when the inscriptions were carefully examined, they turned out to have been no companies at all that erected them, but two historic Arab tribes. Nor is it easy to understand how this blunder was made, for the Greek word translated "company" is rendered by the word "tribus."

1Waddington's Inscriptions Greques et Latines, p.531.

There was a large population among the ruins, and among them some Jews and Christians; but the door was effectually closed against missionary operations by late impracticable attempts to open it.

Waked el-Hamdân was not one of those who welcome the coming and speed the parting guest," and so he would not hear of our departure; but we finally succeeded in taking leave of the kindly old patriarch and his amiable family, and galloped out of the town to show we could ride.

At first we passed among fields with high stone walls, and with many bases of round towers here and there, seven or eight being in sight at once. Druze women were in the fields gathering loads of yellow weeds out of the wheat. They all wore horns, and had unusually dirty veils thrown over them. They had a very ingenious way of getting the loads on their donkeys. They tied up one of the animal's legs and threw it down, and having rolled the sack of weeds on its back, they tugged at its [327] tail till it got up. The poor animal in trying to rise generally stumbled and fell two or three times with the load upon it, so that this system of loading donkeys cannot be recommended on humane grounds.

Passing over a hill, we came in sight of Balm, and we saw on the rising ground to the left twenty-three yoke of oxen ploughing in one field. It was here a custom with the Druzes to meet together and plough each other's land in company. Our way now lay across stony meadows. On our left was Kuleib, the pivot, or little heart, a lofty cone at the southern end of the Druze mountain. It was once a volcano, and the crater is still lying open before us.

The trend of the lava from Kuleib was in a south-western direction, and we were anxious to know if the basalt stretched any further, and whence came the lava which is east of the mountain. Our curiosity was of short duration; for as we passed east of the extinct volcano Kuleib we still found the basaltic lava-bed continued, and there were many cones, large and small, with the peculiar gash in their south-western sides, and we could see clearly that the basalt south-east of Kuleib was traceable to these numerous exhausted volcanoes.

Following a little stream, we came to a fountain called 'Ain Mousa, with a Greek inscription over it, containing the name of "Isaac, the jeweller." By the fountain there was a shepherd boy playing on a reed pipe to a flock of goats and lambs. The music was of the simplest, there being only, as far as we could make out, two notes; but [328] the boy was so charmed with the sound himself had made" that he scarcely noticed us as we passed; and never (lid "high-born maiden in her palace bower" give more rapt attention to the strains of some distracted lover, borne on the midnight air, than did these appreciative sheep and goats to the serenade of the modern David. In fact, they shut their eyes, and nodded, and rocked from side to side, and seemed lulled into drowsiness.

A little beyond the fountain we entered El-Kufr, through high-walled fields, and rode round the town before going to the sheikh's house. When at length we reached the house, we found a number of Druzes armed and in conclave in a large, dark room. One of them, Abu Ali, whom I had once assisted in getting a friend out of prison, recounted what I had done, and so I became immediately a great hero. Abu Ali, however, was sorry he could not tell me what all the arming meant, but assured me that we were perfectly safe as long as we were among the Druzes.

Having used all the compliments we could think of, three or four times over, and a silence ensuing, we mounted amidst the most hearty hand-shaking and rode away. We then passed through lovely meadows, "o'er the smooth, enamelled green," to a wooded upland.

As I stopped on the knoll waiting for my party in the rear, I watched the efforts of a butcher-bird to secure a lizard. The lizard was one of the long, yellow kind, and several times it escaped from the bird's beak, and made for a heap of stones; but at last the butcher-bird carried [329] it off in triumph and impaled it on a thorn. There were different kinds of butcher-birds about, and warblers that I could not see, which sent forth from the bushes a strange sweet song: and there were, in the open patches among the trees, storks, with stately steps, that had not forgotten their season.

We visited Hebiân to the right on the hill, and had a magnificent view of the landscape. We explored the churches, which were once idol temples, and read the Greek inscriptions which, even on this wild summit, "Smith" has left behind him. A cuckoo, a rare bird iii the land, flew out of the ruined church as we entered it. The church had no other tenant except the lizards on the walls.

The Druzes of Hein were by far the most ruffianly-looking set we had seen in the Hauran, but they were civil to us. I almost shuddered to think of the treatment an enemy would meet in that fastness.

The women were not civil, and they looked even more villanous than the men.

From the village we descended a very steep hill, passed great dams of yellow water, caught from the winter rain, and proceeded through a pathless, stony plain, with abundance of grass growing among the stones. In some of the fields I counted over one hundred storks. We passed the village Schewet el-Khudr on our left. Khudr is the Arabic name of St. George, who was put to death, under Diocletian, at Lydda(?), and whose bones repose in the Church of St. George at Ezr'a (?). The saint is held in [330] the highest veneration by Moslems as well as by Christians. They all make pilgrimages to his shrine here, and on the 23rd of May they sacrifice a lamb on the threshold of the chapel of St. George.

On our right, over against Schewet el-Khudr, is an extinct volcano, called Tell Miriam — the Mound of Mary. The evening shadow lay black on the mouth of the crater, and brought out its character very distinctly. Here, in a lonely spot, we met five armed Druzes, who deployed in the most skilful manner as we approached, and yet their action was so quiet and natural that one could hardly believe they were preparing for defence. One remained with the horses, and the others took up positions among the rocks, from which it would have been extremely difficult to dislodge them.

We pushed on straight for Ormân, but from the time we came opposite Sulkhad we entered among high-walled gardens. The walls still stood very high, but the gardens were uncultivated. For days we had been exploring the secret recesses of untenanted houses, but now we entered among well-fenced gardens that for ages had known no cultivator. For miles and miles we saw the gardens and vineyards, from which the vine had disappeared, and the silence and desolation were as oppressive as among the homeless houses of the deserted cities of the Lejah.

I have often said to myself, as I wandered from chamber to chamber of some deserted palace. This was once, probably, the home of some chief, looked up to by his neighbours, whose footstep was listened for by wife and [331] children, and there were here the thousand domestic ties that bind a man to place." But now we were passing through desolate vineyards from which joy had been taken away, and we saw how literally the judgments pronounced by Jeremiah had been here fulfilled: "And joy and gladness is taken from the plentiful field, and from the hand of Moab; and I have caused wine to fail from the wine-presses: none shall tread with shouting" (Jer. xlviii. 33).

We have now reached the place where I must fulfil my promise, and speak of the object and uses of the round towers that we meet with throughout the Hauran; and the place is most fitting, for here every garden has its tower, some small, some large, according to the size of the gardens. In investigating the unknown, we should always proceed from the known. The question then is, Have we anything known at present corresponding to these towers, and have we any written notice of such towers? I think I may answer these questions in the affirmative. I believe that these towers corresponded exactly, in use and object, to the mantaras, or watch-towers, now raised in the plain of Damascus, and elsewhere, wherever crops are raised.

In the plain of Damascus, for instance, four long poles are planted firmly in the ground in the form of a square. Near their tops sticks are fastened across from pole to pole, and a large cage is made and covered over, from which one or two men watch the crops and keep off robbers.

For such uses were the towers at Ormân; but they were built of stone, the material which was most abundant, and such were nearly all the towers in the Hauran. [332]

The round tower near Khubab, of which I gave a picture, stood not far from a well, and the land around it had once been cultivated, and it was doubtless the mantara for the bits of garden watered from the well, and for the fields round about.

But the chief key to unlock the secret of these mysterious towers may be found in the parable where our blessed Lord speaks of a householder which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about and digged a wine-press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen" (Matt. xxi. 33). To-day, in Syria, every vineyard and garden has its tower, bearing the same relation to the permanent structures of the past as does everything modern in the land.

A few round towers were mantaras for beacon lights, such as the Kasr Mabroom above Kanawât, and the towers on the hills along the road from Damascus to Aleppo. Some square towers, where Palmyra influence prevailed, were for the bodies of the dead; but nearly all the towers in the land clearly correspond in use and object to the tower mentioned in the parable.

In the neighbourhood of Damascus men sit in these mantaras all day, watching a few roods of melon, or a field of maize, or a vineyard, and they sleep in them during the night; and no doubt these high towers of the Hauran were slept in during the summer, and were used as refuges in times of danger; but most of those that exist now were originally intended as watch-towers.

But if so, why so many together, as at Kanawât? From [333] their position at Kanawât, they were intended to command the plain and the vineyards on the opposite hill, which shows signs of terraced cultivation, and from the spot where the towers are the watchmen could have a bird's-eye view of every vine on the hill. Each man who had a vineyard on the hill would have a tower from which to watch it; and doubtless he and his family slept there during the summer months. As we entered Ormân, enormous flocks of sheep were converging to the village from all sides.

We received a welcome, unusually hearty, from the sheikh, Ibrahîm Nejm el-Atrash, and the other Druzes who remembered my previous visits. The sheikh was a splen-did-looking, big, dark man, about two hundred and eighty pounds' weight. He was also a mighty man of valour, and it was believed that bullets could not pierce him. He occupied one of the outposts of the Druzes, and had to bear the first shock of Arab invasion. He had a large body of Druzes under his command, and they were all well armed, and nearly all well mounted.

In the autumn of 1810, Burckhardt visited Orman and found it uninhabited. At the time of my visit it had a large Druze population, chiefly made up of men who had been civilized off the Lebanon, and whose interest it is to be far from the government; and Nejm el-Atrash ruled as supremely in this cave of Adullam, over his outlaws, as David did over his wild following.

The sheikh and his son, and their retainers, visited us in our tent after dinner. They examined all our books, [334] and for hours we read to them portions of the NOW Testament. We were much impressed with their intelligence, and especially with their knowledge of foreign politics.

Next morning we returned the visit, and found the sheikh sitting in the gate, surrounded by all his followers. The news that disturbed the Druzes on our path had arrived, and a council of war was being held. The sheikh rose and met us, and took us to the guest-chamber, a large, low-roofed house, once a church, erected from material rifled from other buildings.

The roof was supported on two sets of heavy arches, and stone rafters laid across from arch to arch formed the roof. Light was admitted only by the chimney and door, and served to make the darkness visible. The roof was ebon black, ebon stalactites seemed to hang from the rafters, and the chamber was sombre in the extreme. Crowds of Druzes sat around in the thick darkness. Two Christian altars, with Christian emblems and inscriptions, stood in the middle of the floor, having probably never been removed from the building since the time it was a Christian church. We had first, as in all other places, to go through the ordeal of waiting for and drinking coffee, in a becoming manner.

The ceremony was worthy of a sketch, especially as modern civilization had never yet affected the stereotyped customs of this remote village. My companion was deciphering a Greek inscription on one of the altars in the floor, so that I was able to take accurate notes of the [335] coffee-making, the Druzes thinking that I was writing the inscription to dictation.

The operator, a thick-lipped Abyssinian, sat clown, evidently deeply impressed with the importance of the operation he was about to commence.

He first took a handful of small green coffee-berries from a sooty bag, and put them in an iron pan with a long iron handle, which lie held over the tire in the middle of the floor, stirring the berries till they were brown (not black). Then he put them into a wooden mortar, beautifully carved, and with a long wooden similarly-carved pestle he pounded them to the tune of rat-e-tat-tat. The music was so impressive that every one listened in deep silence, and with fallen under lip. He broke the berries fine, but did not pound them into dust, and he emptied them into a very grimy pot, which he placed on the fire in the centre of the chamber.

When the coffee had boiled a little, he took six cups, poured a little water into one of them, and held it, with his fingers outside the cup and his thumb inside, and dexterously turning it rubbed the bottom all round with his thumb. He then poured the water out of the cup into another, and so on till the last.

Then he emptied a little coffee into the first cup, rinsed it, and emptied it into the second, and so on till he rinsed with coffee all the cups. These rinsings are not thrown away, but poured back into a pot of second-quality coffee for the common guests. He had now reached the climax, when he solemnly poured out a little coffee into cup [336] number one, and bravely drank it off, to show it was not poisoned. He then filled the six little cups, which were as large as egg cups, about half full, and they were gravely handed round.

When we had finished, we handed our cups back unto a brass tray, and the slave instantly covered them with his hand, that no one might know whether we trusted our host by drinking or only pretending to drink; and we, having laid down our cups, made graceful bows to our host, accompanied with our sweetest smiles and a stereotyped expression.

Before the coffee ceremony was over, we had become so accustomed to the darkness that we could see the outlines of the Druzes, who sat in concentric circles around the room. And what a thrilling picture might have been made of the dark room by the genius of a Rembrandt!

The sheikh, who had never learned the art of "honeying at the whisper of a lord," and who feared no potentate, publicly announced to us the cause of the excitement.

The government of the Hauran had resolved to levy a new tax on the Hauran. The governor had assembled the sheikhs of the villages and proceeded to value the land. The people bad risen in their wrath and slain two of the sheikhs, and the governor had saved himself by flight. The people then wreaked their vengeance on any emblems of Ottoman rule they could find. They tore down fourteen miles of the telegraphic wires, and all the officials fled for their lives. The government had ordered up cannon and troops, and threatened vengeance, and the [337] Hauranees replied that on the 14th of April they would leave the Hauran en masse.

The sheikh then pointed to the messenger who had brought the report, and wound up a calm statement of facts by a few impassioned, burning sentences: "The quarrel of the Hauran is our quarrel. If they tax them, they will also tax us. The government does nothing for us—does not defend us from the Bedawîn —does not make roads for us; and having driven us from our fathers' homes in Lebanon, they now follow us into this desert, that we have reclaimed by our industry and defend with our lives. Shall our children be as cruelly wronged as we have been? No, my children! We will unite with our suffering brethren in the Hauran. We must meet the enemy on the threshold before he enters our harems. With a righteous cause, and God on our side, we are invincible." We required no preternatural perception to see that the sheikh spoke the sentiments of every one present.

Of all who heard the sheikh's declaration we were, perhaps, the most annoyed, for we had resolved to return home through the district that had become disturbed, and offer our books at every village. At Ormân I met a Druze teacher from Mount Hermon, who long ago came to me and professed to be a Christian. He gave me an autobiography, showing by what processes of thought and education he had become a Christian. Chiefly through the influence of this man we were enabled to sell more books in Ormân than at any other village. [338]

Ormân is the Ultima Thule of travellers in the Hauran, but most of them wisely content themselves by looking at it from the castle of Sulkhâd. It was with no ordinary pleasure and surprise that we heard there was an inhabited city two hours east of Ormân in the desert. We rejoiced that the "Handbook" knew nothing of the city, and we resolved to become discoverers ourselves, whatever might be the result.

We sprang to our horses with come of the feelings of Columbus when he started on his great voyage of discovery. We brought with us a mule, with luncheon and books, — all good generals think of the commissariat, — but we soon vanished from the sight of the muleteer, riding into the unknown desert, and we did the whole distance in half the prescribed time.

The morning mirage lay all about, exaggerating every little ruin into giant cities" and "donjon-keeps." and we felt the spirit of exaggeration creeping upon ourselves—that spirit which generally enters into a man in the Hauran. On our right, on distant hills that bordered the horizon, were many ruins, and a few on our left also. We stopped occasionally in our headlong career "to take a round of angles," but it was only for a moment, for we had ceased tamely to follow in the footsteps of others, and we had become discoverers ourselves. Our pace for the future would only be a hand gallop," and woe betide any luckless Arab tribe that might cross our track!

At last a town rose up before us, in the mirage larger [339] than PALMYRA. On we spurred fiercely, and five high towers (like those at Palmyra) came safely out of the mirage and stood majestically around on the city walls. The walls were high, but there were breaches in them here and there; and there was much apparent bustle about the city, and over twenty yoke of oxen were ploughing in the suburbs. The name of the place proved to be Metal' es-Sarrâr.

STONE DOOR (HAURAN).
STONE DOOR (HAURAN).

[340]


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