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PALMYRA AND ZENOBIA. CHAPTER 3.

CHAPTER III.

FRIEZE ORNAMENT, TEMPLE OF THE SUN.
FRIEZE ORNAMENT, TEMPLE OF THE SUN.

[17]

HAVING thoroughly explored the village, and paid I for my lodging as at an inn, I took leave of the simple-hearted old monk, and started for Yabroud. In a quarter of an hour I had got up out of the amphitheatre or basin, at the bottom of which Maloula stands, and just as I gained the level plateau I came on a party of very savage-looking men sitting round an artificial tank of stagnant water. They were clothed in black sheepskin coats, with the woolly side out, and they were armed with clubs and swords and skin-covered shields. They were a party of Kurds on their way to Damascus, and just such a party as constantly murder and rob solitary travellers. We measured each others strength, and saluted formally.

A ride of three hours over swelling hills, with a range of slate-coloured mountains on the right, and a wide red plain stretching away to distant mountains on the left. brought us to a gorge in the mountain choked with vegetation [18] Beyond the gorge, high over the green, rose a curious conical hill, white as snow, called Ras el-Kowz.

At the base of this hill stands Yabroud, the Jambrouda which sent a bishop to the Council of Nice. The place still continues to be the residence of a bishop.

YABROUD.
YABROUD.

I entered the town past a beautiful fountain which pours its wealth of waters through the village and gardens, creating a little paradise among the parched hills. The sides of the gorge contain many ancient and unused tombs hewn in the rock. Some are high up in the face of the cliffs, and must have been difficult of access at all times, while others are level with the ground, and are spoken of as shops. In one of these some wild-look- [19] ing gipsies were living as passed, calling to mind the demoniac of Gergesa.

FAMILY OF YABROUD.
FAMILY OF YABROUD.

The first thing that strikes one on entering Yabroud is the appearance of the people. The men in this and the other villages about are as a rule tall, well-built, and handsome. Even the Christians here have an air of independence about them such as one seldom meets with in Syrian Christians. The women are in still more striking contrast with their sisters elsewhere throughout the country. They are tall, red-checked, healthy, and comfortable looking, and though seldom beautiful, they have nothing of the gipsy appearance of the women in the south [20] and east, nor of the sickly waxen complexion of Damascus beauties. They have a general resemblance to the women of Nazareth, but they have more stamina and less prudery than the maidens of the pitcher.

In ordinary times, as we passed along, we saw them standing at their doors, with big, rosy children in their arms, or grinding at the mill, or spinning woollen vain with a spindle; and not unfrequently heard from them hearty ringing laughter, such as might resound from a harvest-field at home.

At the time of my visit, however, all cheeks were pale enough, and laughter and gladness had departed, and I started, on entering the mission school, at the pinched and hungry look of the children. There were thirty names on the roll, but only fifteen pupils in attendance. The explanation was brief and sad. Famine was in the district: five or six bad harvests had followed in succession. Madder root, which is largely cultivated in the district for dyeing purposes, had be-come almost unsaleable, owing to a German chemist having discovered a mineral substitute. Those who admired the brilliant aniline dyes, little thought that the new flash and fading colours in Persian rugs meant starvation among the mountains of Northern Syria.

The flocks of the villagers had been swept off by the Arabs, who had also intercepted their supplies; and the Turks insisted on having their taxes in full, though giving nothing in return.

I was assured that there were not ten bushels of wheat [21] in the village of three thousand inhabitants, and the people were living chiefly on wild roots and vegetables. Fifteen of the scholars were on the mountains and in the glens, competing with the goats and gazelles for something to drive away hunger. One-half of the children only went on these expeditions at a time, and the fifteen who were in the school were making a meal of bean bread and hashish, which consisted for the most part of mint from the stream and rhubarb (rabbas) from the mountain. They were like a flock of hungry kids feeding on clover.

One hour beyond Yabroud, I entered Nebk, through the mouldering huts of Ibrahim Pasha's camp. The great Egyptian general, seeing the splendid appearance of the villagers, established his camp where the soldiers could have the best medicines — good air and good water. During his occupation of Syria, the villagers were safe from the Bedawin. The Turks have learned nothing from his example, iii the arts of either war or peace.

The village of Nebk crowns a high hill, or nabk, and is crowned itself by the residence of a Syrian Catholic bishop, whose chief business, like that of his mitred brother in Yabroud, seemed to be the suppression of education. Hunger was pinching also iii Nebk, but the Protestants, having learned principles of thrift with the gospel, were all in circumstances of comfort. Fifty pupils were in the school, and though all were on short allowance, they had not the hide-bound, hunger-pinched appearance of the children of Yabroud.

[22]

Nebk had suffered severely from the two great enemies of the land,—the Bedawin and the Turks.

On my previous visit, I entered the village just a few minutes before the Bedawin made a gazzo up to the very entrance. They carried off a few camels laden with grain, and left the drivers without a garment. Great was the excitement in the village. People rushed to the roofs of their houses and screamed in concert, "1I e that has a sword, and he that has a gun, let him forth against the Arabs "; but while all screamed, none went forth, and the Bedawin swept round the base of the hill and carried off their booty unmolested.

A short distance from the place, two miserable women were gathering brushwood for fuel. Every day they took their two donkeys out in the morning, and returned in the evening with their loads, which they sold and honestly maintained themselves and their animals. They had nothing in the world but the two donkeys, which were little larger than goats. The Bedawin of romance would surely have spared such objects ; but the Bedawin of the desert rushed on the donkeys with a yell of joy, stripped the ragged garments from the women, beating them when they resisted, and left them bare-footed, and without a fig-leaf, to find their way back in shame to the village. Never, perhaps, did romance take greater liberties with truth than when it threw a halo of chivalry round these cut throats of the desert.

Next morning as I passed out among the high-walled gardens to visit the schools of Deir 'Atiyeh, I came [23] suddenly upon a woman sitting by a little stream and wailing plaintively. Beside her was a little basket of cow's dung, which she had gathered for fuel. Her grief was not a surface exhibition to catch sympathy, as no one was near in the early morning. She told me her sad tale: her husband, returning with a load of grain from the Euphrates, had- been speared by the Bedawin, and she and her children were left destitute.

On emerging from the gardens, and reaching the desert once more, I saw a cavalier bearing down furiously upon me. At the distance of a mile, I recognized our lady companion whom I had left at Saidenaya two days previously. As I watched an English lady bounding over the desert on a splendid charger, whose neck of thunder swayed hither and thither to her silken touch, I could not help thinking how much Christianity, in its highest types, owes to its contact with Teutonic chivalry.

Deir 'Atiyeh was our rendezvous, and we all con-verged to the Protestant school. Thence we passed out of the village, and after skirting the gardens for some time, we turned into the desert eastward, in a direct line for Tadmor. We had soon to call a halt, for our muleteers were hugging the village, and hanging back, evidently with the object of making a short day, and putting us down at the first convenient resting-place, as they had done the first day.




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