This etext was created by Douglas Levy, littera scripta manet
THE ROMANCE OF ISABEL LADY BURTON VOL. II.
The Story of Her Life
Told In Part by HERSELF and In Part by W. H. WILKINS
CONTENTS OF VOL. II.
BOOK II. (Continued).
XI. IN AND ABOUT DAMASCUS.
XII. EARLY DAYS AT DAMASCUS.
XIII. THROUGH THE DESERT TO PALMYRA.
XIV. BLUDAN IN THE ANTI-LEBANON.
XV. GATHERING CLOUDS.
XVI. JERUSALEM AND THE HOLY LAND.
XVII. THE RECALL.
XVIII. THE TRUE REASONS OF BURTON'S RECALL.
XIX. THE PASSING OF THE CLOUD.
XX. EARLY YEARS AT TRIESTE.
XXI. THE JOURNEY TO BOMBAY.
XXIII. TRIESTE AGAIN.
XXIV. THE SHADOWS LENGTHEN.
XXV. GORDON AND THE BURTONS.
XXVI. THE SWORD HANGS.
XXVII. THE SWORD FALLS.
BOOK III. WIDOWED.
I. THE TRUTH ABOUT "THE SCENTED GARDEN."
II. THE RETURN TO ENGLAND.
III. THE TINKLING OF THE CAMEL'S BELL.
BOOK II. WEDDED (Continued).
CHAPTER XI. IN AND ABOUT DAMASCUS. (1870).
When I nighted and day'd in Damascus town, Time sware such another he ne'er should view; And careless we slept under wing of night, Till dappled morn 'gan her smiles renew, And dewdrops on branch in their beauty hung Like pearls to be dropt when the zephyr blew, And the lake was the page where birds read and wrote, And the clouds set points to what breezes roll.
Alf Laylah wa Laylah (Burton's"Arabian Nights").
During the first weeks at Damascus my only work was to find a suitable house and to settle down in it. Our predecessor in the Consulate had lived in a large house in the city itself, and as soon as he retired he let it to a wealthy Jew. In any case it would not have suited us, nor would any house within the city walls; for though some of them were quite beautiful—indeed, marble palaces gorgeously decorated and furnished after the manner of oriental houses—yet there is always a certain sense of imprisonment about Damascus, as the windows of the houses are all barred and latticed, and the gates of the city are shut at sunset. This would not have suited our wild-cat proclivities; we should have felt as though we were confined in a cage. So after a search of many days we took a house in the environs, about a quarter of an hour's ride from Damascus, high up the hill. Just beyond it was the desert sand, and in the background a saffron-hued mountain known as the Camomile Mountain; and camomile was the scent which pervaded our village and all Damascus. Our house was in the suburb of Salahiyyeh, and we had good air and light, beautiful views, fresh water, quiet, and above all liberty. In five minutes we could gallop out over the mountains, and there we pitched our tent.
I should like to describe our house at Salahiyyeh, once more, though I have described it before, and Frederick Leighton once drew a sketch of it, so that it is pretty well known. Our house faced the road and the opposite gardens, and it was flanked on one side by the Mosque and on the other by the Hammam (Turkish Bath), and there were gardens at the back. On the other side of the road were apricot trees, whose varying beauty of bud and leaf and flower and fruit can be better imagined than described. Among these apricot orchards I had a capital stable for twelve horses, and a good room attached to it for any number of saises, or grooms; and beyond that again was a little garden, through which the river wended its way. So much for the exterior. Now to come indoors. As one entered, first of all came the courtyard, boldly painted in broad stripes of red and white and blue, after the manner of all the courtyards in Damascus. Here too splashed the fountain, and all around were orange, lemon, and jessamine trees. Two steps took one to the liwan, a raised room open one side to the court, and spread with carpets, divans, and Eastern stuffs. It was here, in the summer, I was wont to receive. On the right side of the court was a dining-room, when it was too hot to live upstairs. All the rest of the space below was left to the servants and offices. Upstairs the rooms ran around two sides of the courtyard. A long terrace occupied the other two sides, joining the rooms at either end. This terrace formed a pleasant housetop in the cool evenings. We spread it with mats and divans, and used to sit among the flowers and shrubs, and look over Damascus and sniff the desert air beyond.
Of course this house was not the Consulate, which was in the city, close to the Serai, or Government House.
I think the charm of our house lay chiefly in the gardens around it. We made a beautiful arbour in the garden opposite—a garden of roses and jessamine; and we made it by lifting up overladen vines and citrons, and the branches of lemon and orange trees, and supporting them on a framework, so that no sun could penetrate their luxuriant leafage. We put a divan in this arbour, which overlooked the rushing river; and that and the housetop were our favourite places to smoke on cool summer evenings.
By this time you will probably have discovered my love for animals, and as soon as I had arranged our house at Damascus the first thing I did was to indulge in my hobby of collecting a menagerie. First of all we bought some horses, three-quarter-breds and half-breds. Thorough-bred Arabs, especially mares, were too dear for our stable, and would have made us an object of suspicion. In the East, where there are official hands not clean of bribes, an Arab mare is a a favourite bribe, and I had many such offers before I had been at Damascus long; but I refused them all. Richard always gave me entire command of the stable, and so it was my domain. Living in solitude as I did very much, I discovered how companionable horses could be. There was no speech between us, but I knew everything they said and thought and felt, and they knew everything I said to them. I did not confine my purchases entirely to horses. I bought a camel and a snow-white donkey, which latter is the most honourable mount for grand visiting. I also picked up a splendid Persian cat in the bazars, and I had brought over with me a young pet St. Bernard dog, two brindle bull-terriers and two of the Yarborough breed, and I added later a Kurdish pup. I bought three milk goats for the house, and I had presents of a pet lamb and a nimr (leopard), which became the idol of the house. The domestic hen-yard was duly stocked with all kinds of fowls, turkeys, geese, ducks, and guinea-fowls, and in the garden and on the terrace and the house-top I kept my pigeons. This collection was my delight. I cannot say that they were a happy family. After a time I trained them into living together in something like harmony, but it took a very long time. I added to my family also from time to time half-famished dogs which I had rescued from the streets, or ill-treated and broken-down donkeys, which I purchased from some cruel master. In the course of time it became a truly wonderful gathering.
The animals in the East seem to me to be almost more intelligent than those at home. They certainly have a way of showing their likes and dislikes very strongly. When I first came to Damascus, fond though I was of animals, I found that most of them shied at me. I do not think that they had been accustomed to an Englishwoman at close quarters. For instance, I went for a walk one day, and met a small boy leading a donkey laden with radishes, as high as a small tree. I suppose that I was strange-looking, for at the sight of me the donkey kicked up his heels and threw all the radishes about a hundred yards around. The poor little boy set up a howl. I ran to help him, but the more I tried the more the donkey ran away, and at last I understood by signs that the donkey was shying at me, so I threw the boy a coin and retreated, and sent another boy to help him. We called to an old man riding a shabby-looking horse, but the moment the horse saw me it did exactly the same thing, and nearly flung the old man off. My sides ached with laughing. Fancy being so queer that the animals take fright at one!
I think before I go further I ought to give some general idea of the city of Damascus as it appeared to me. I have already said that my first sight of the city was one of disappointment; but when I got to know it better its charm grew upon me, and I shall never till I die like any place so well. Damascus, as I suppose every one knows, is the largest town in Syria. In shape it is rather like a boy's kite, with a very long tail. The tail of the kite is the Maydan, the poorest part of Damascus, but rich in ruined mosques and hammams, and houses which at first sight look as though they are in decay. But when we got to know these houses better, we found that marble courts, inlaid chambers, arabesque ceilings, often lay behind the muddy exteriors. The city itself is divided into three districts: the Jewish in the southern part, the Moslem in the northern and western, and the Christian in the eastern. The Moslem quarter is clean, the Christian quarter dirty, and the Jewish simply filthy. I often had to gallop through the last-named holding my handkerchief to my mouth, and the kawwasses running as though they had been pursued by devils. Everywhere in Damascus, but especially in this quarter, the labyrinthine streets are piled with heaps of offal, wild dogs are gorged with carrion, and dead dogs are lying about. One must never judge Damascus, however by externals: every house has a mean aspect in the way of entrance and approach. This is done purposely to deceive the Government, and not to betray what may be within in times of looting. You often approach through a mean doorway into a dirty passage; you then enter a second court, and you behold a marvellous transformation. You find the house thoroughly cleaned and perfumed, paved courts with marble fountains and goldfish, orange and jessamine trees, furniture inlaid with gold and ebony and mother-o'-pearl, and stained-glass windows. In the interior of one of the most beautiful houses I visited in Damascus the show-room was very magnificent, upholstered in velvet and gold, and with divans inlaid with marble, mother-o'-pearl, ebony, and walnut, and there were tesselated marble floors and pavements and fountains; but en revanche, God knows where they sleep at all. One of the ladies I went to call on first was a very pretty bride, only a fortnight married. She was gaudily dressed, with about 2,000 pounds sterling worth of diamonds on her head and neck, but the stones were so badly set they looked like rubbish. She strolled from side to side in her walk, which is a habit very chic.
Notwithstanding her internal grandeur, Damascus is but a wreck of her former splendour, albeit a beautiful wreck. Ichabod! her glory has departed; not even the innumerable domes and minarets of multitudinous mosques can reinstate her.
I think I ought to touch on the bazars, as they form such an integral part of the life of Damascus. Many of them were very beautiful, all huddled together in a labyrinth of streets, and containing almost everything which one could want. I used to love to go with my Arab maid and wander through them. There was the saddlery bazar, where one could buy magnificent trappings for one's Arab steeds, saddle-cloths embossed with gold, bridles of scarlet silk, a single rein which makes you look as if you were managing a horse by a single thread, and bridles of silver and ivory. There was a shoemaker's bazar. How different from a shoe shop in England! The stalls were gorgeous with lemon-coloured slippers, stiff red shoes, scarlet boots with tops and tassels and hangings, which form part of the Bedawin dress. There was a marqueterie bazar, where one found many lovely things inlaid with choice woods, mother-o'-pearl, and steel. And there was the gold and silver bazar, where the smiths sat round in little pens, hammering at their anvils. Here one could pick up some most beautiful barbarous and antique ornaments, filigree coffee-cup holders, raki cups of silver inlaid with gold, and many other beautiful things too numerous to mention. There was another bazar where they sold attar and sandle-wood oil; and yet another where one could buy rich Eastern stuffs and silks, the most beautiful things, which would make a fine smoking suit for one's husband, or a sortie de bal for oneself. Here also you can buy izars to walk about the bazars incognita. They are mostly brilliantly hued and beautifully worked in gold. There was also the divan, where one bought beautiful stuffs, gaudy Persian rugs, and prayer-carpets for furnishing the house. There was the bazar where one bought henna, wherewith to stain the hands, the feet, and the finger- nails. And last, but by no means least, there was the pipe or narghileh bazar, which contained the most beautiful pipe-sticks I ever saw, and the most lovely narghilehs, which were made in exquisite shapes and of great length in the tube. The longer the narbish, or tube, the higher your rank, and the greater compliment you pay to your guest. I used to order mine to be all of dark chocolate and gold, and to measure from four to six yards in length, and I never had less than twelve narghilehs in the house at once, one of which I kept for my own particular smoking, and a silver mouthpiece which I kept in my pocket for use when visiting. I cannot hope in a short space to exhaust the treasures of these gorgeous bazars. I can only say in conclusion that there were also the bazars for sweetmeats, most delectable; for coffee, of which one never tastes the like out of Damascus; and every kind of bric-a-brac.
No account of Damascus, not even a bird's-eye-view, would be complete without some mention of the great Mosque, whither I was wont now and again to repair. When I went, I of course took off my boots at the entrance, and put on my lemon-coloured slippers, and I was always careful to be as respectful and as reverent as if I were in my own church, and to never forget to tip when I went out. The Mosque was a magnificent building, with a ceiling of beautiful arabesques; the floor of limestone like marble, covered with mats and prayer-carpets. One of the most beautiful domes had windows of delicately carved wood, whose interstices were filled with crystal. There was a large paved court with a marble dome and fountain; and there were three minarets, which it was possible to ascend and from them to look down upon Damascus. It was up one of these minarets that the Duchesse de Persigny ascended, and when prayer was called she refused to come down. The Shaykh sent all kinds of emissaries and entreaties, to whom she replied: "Dites as Shaykh que je suis la Duchesse de Persigny, que jet me trouve fort bien ici, et que je ne descendrai que quan cela me plaira." She did not please for three- quarters of an hour. She also visited cafes which Moslem women do not visit, and shocked the kawwasses so much that they begged the French Consul not to send them to guard her, as they were losing their reputation! But to return to our muttons. This superb Mosque has alternately served as a place of worship for many creeds: for the Pagans as a temple, for the Christians as a cathedral, and for the Moslems as a mosque. Like Damascus, it has had its vicissitudes, and it has been taken captive by Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Assyrians, and Turks.
The Hammam, Or Turkish Bath, is another feature of Damascus, and was one of my favourite haunts. I first went to the Hammam out of curiosity, and was warmly welcomed by the native women; but I was rather shocked. They squat naked on the floor, and, despoiled of their dress and hair and make-up, are, most of them, truly hideous. Their skins are like parchment, and baggy; their heads as bald as billiard-balls. What little hair they have is dyed an orange red with henna. They look like witches in Macbeth, or at least as if they had been called up from out of the lower regions. They sit chatting with little bundles of sweets and narghilehs before them. An average Englishwoman would look like an houri amongst them; and their customs were beastly, to use the mildest term. The Hammam was entered by a large hall, lit by a skylight, with a huge marble tank in the centre and four little fountains, and all around raised divans covered with cushions. Here one wraps oneself in silk and woollen sheets, and after that proceeds to pass through the six marble rooms. The first is the cold room, the next warmer, the third warmer still, until you come to the sudarium, the hottest room of all. First they lather you, then they wash you with a lif and soap, then they douche you with tubs of hot water, then they shampoo you with fresh layers of soap, and then douche again. They give you iced sherbet, and tie towels dipped in cold water round your head, which prevent you fainting and make you perspire. They scrub your feet with pumice- stone, and move you back through all the rooms gradually, douche you with water, and shampoo you with towels. You now return to the large hall where you first undressed, wrap in woollen shawls, and recline on a divan. The place is all strewn with flowers, incense is burned around, and a cup of hot coffee is handed and a narghileh placed in your mouth. A woman advances and kneads you as though you were bread, until you fall asleep under the process, as though mesmerized. When you wake up, you find music and dancing, the girls chasing one another, eating sweetmeats, and enjoying all sorts of fun. Moslem women go through a good deal more of the performance than I have described. For instance, they have their hair hennaed and their eyebrows plucked. You can also have your hands and feet hennaed, and, if you like it, be tattooed. The whole operation takes about four hours. It is often said by the ignorant that people can get as good a hammam in London or Paris as in the East. I have tried all, and they bear about as much relation to one another as a puddle of dirty water does to a pellucid lake. And the pellucid lake is in the East.
Then the harims. I often spent an evening in them, and I found them very pleasant; only at first the women used to ask me such a lot of inconvenient questions that I became quite confused. They were always puzzled because I had no children. One cannot generalize on the subject of harims; they differ in degree just as much as families in London. A first-class harim at Constantinople is one thing, at Damascus one of the same rank is another, while those of the middle and lower classes are different still. As a rule I met with nothing but courtesy in the harims, and much hospitality, cordiality, and refinement. I only twice met with bad manners, and that was in a middle-class harim. Twice only the conversation displeased me, and that was amongst the lower class. One of the first harims I visited in Damascus was that of the famous Abd el Kadir (of whom more anon), which of course was one of the best class. He had five wives: one of them was very pretty. I asked them how they could bear to live together and pet each other's children. I told them that in England, if a woman thought her husband had another wife or mistress, she would be ready to kill her and strangle the children if they were not her own. They all laughed heartily at me, and seemed to think it a great joke. I am afraid that Abd el Kadir was a bit of a Tartar in his harim, for they were very prim and pious.
So much for the city of Damascus.
In the environs there were many beautiful little roads, leading through gardens and orchards, by bubbling water, and under the shady fig and vine, pomegranate and walnut. You emerged from these shady avenues on to the soft yellow sand of the desert, where you could gallop as hard as you pleased. There were no boundary-lines, no sign-posts, nothing to check one's spirits or one's energy. The breath of the desert is liberty.
CHAPTER XII. EARLY DAYS AT DAMASCUS. (1870).
Though old as history itself, thou art fresh as breath of spring, blooming as thine own rosebud, as fragrant as thine own orange flower, O Damascus, Pearl of the East!
As soon as we had settled in our house I had to accustom myself to the honours of my position, which at first were rather irksome to me; but as they were part of the business I had to put up with them. I found my position as the wife of the British Consul in Damascus very different from what it had been in Brazil. A consul in the East as envoye of a Great Power is a big man, and he ranks almost as high as a Minister would in Europe. Nearer home a consul is often hardly considered to be a gentleman, while in many countries he is not allowed to go to Court. In the East, however, the Consular service was, at the time I write, an honoured profession, and the envoyes of the Great Powers were expected to keep up a little state, especially the English and the French. They had a certain number of Consular dragomans, or gentleman secretaries, in distinction to the travelling dragoman, who bears the same relation as a courier in Europe. They also had a certain number of kawwasses, who look like cavalry soldiers. The Consulate at Damascus was then quite like a diplomatic post, and I felt like a Minister's wife, and was treated accordingly. For instance, every time I went outside my door I was attended by four kawwasses, with swords and uniforms much ornamented, also a dragoman interpreter. The duty of these four attendants was to clear the way before and behind me, and I assure you it was far more pain than pleasure to me to see mules, horses, donkeys, camels, little children, and poor old men thrust out of the way, as if I were sacred and they were all dirt. How they must have cursed me! I told my kawwasses that I did not wish them to show themselves officious by doing more than was absolutely necessary for the dignity of the British Consulate and the custom of the country. But their escort certainly was necessary to a great extent. When the common people saw a kawwass, they knew one was of importance, and made way for one; otherwise a woman could not walk the streets of Damascus without being molested: even the famished herds of dogs seemed to know the difference between kawwass and no kawwass. The danger from dogs was that they collected and ran in packs, and you were almost caught in the eddy of wild and half-starved dogs if you were not guarded.
I hate pomp and ceremony of all kinds, except where it is absolutely necessary; but in this case I could not dispense with it. The French Minister's wife was hissed in the streets of Constantinople because she chose to dispense with her escort. A Protestant clergyman's wife was nearly struck by a Turkish soldier for brushing against him with her petticoats, thus rendering him, according to his religion, unclean. Besides, women in the East want a guard. A missionary young lady who came up in the coupe of the diligence from Beyrout to Damascus had an unpleasant experience. A Persian, who called himself a gentleman, was inside, and kissed her all the way up. She, poor little idiot! saw no way out of the transaction, but came and threw herself on Richard's protection several days after, and there was an ugly row. She had the Persian arrested, and tried him. If anybody had tried that sort of game on with me, I should have made an example of him myself, and taken the law in my own hands, whoever he was. An escort was therefore necessary. I can understand how some consuls' wives, sometimes vulgar, ill- conditioned women, might get elated at this newly acquired importance, and presume upon it until they became unbearable. I found the lack of privacy very trying at first, but I was anxious to bear it because I saw that English influence at Damascus required lifting a great many pegs higher than our predecessor left it. The only member or our English noblesse the people had hitherto known in Damascus was Lady Ellenborough, of whom more anon.
As soon as we were settled down I had to begin my receptions. I fixed my reception day on Wednesday; and it was no trifle, for the visitors came all day long. One native lady told me indignantly that she had been to see me three times on my reception day, and had been refused. I said, "When did you come? and how could it happen that I had never heard of it?" She answered almost angrily, "I came at daylight, and again at sunrise, and again at eight o'clock." I said it was rather early; and though I was an early riser, it was just possible that I had not made a suitable toilet to receive her. On my reception day the dragomans interpreted for me. The kawwasses, in full dress of scarlet and gold, kept guard by turns, and the servants were engaged incessantly in bringing up relays of narghilehs, chibouques, cigarettes, sweet-meats, sherbet, Turkish coffee and tea. My visitors sat on the divans, cross- legged or not, according to their nation, and smoked and chatted. If there were Moslem women, I had two separate reception-rooms, and went from one to the other, as the women will not unveil before strange men. It was a most tiring day; for not only did people come all through the day, but I was obliged to concentrate all my thought not to make a mistake in etiquette. There were many grades and ranks to be considered, and the etiquette in receiving each guest was different according to the rank. The dragoman in attendance upon me would whisper until I knew it, "One step," or "Two steps," or "Half across the room," or "The door." I thus knew exactly the visitor's rank, and by what term to address him, from the lowest to the highest. Of course, in receiving natives, the method of receiving men and women was different. I advanced to meet the women; we mutually raised our finger-tips to our hearts, lips, and foreheads. They then seized my hand, which I snatched away to prevent their kissing it (it sounds rude, but it isn't; it is the essence of politeness), and I kissed them on both cheeks. I personally removed their veils and their izars. When they took their leave, I reveiled them, and accompanied them to the door. With the men I did not shake hands: we saluted at a distance. If my visitor was a well-bred man, he would not expect me to rise, but would come and kiss my hand, and had to be pressed two or three times before he would consent to sit down. The only man I was in the habit of rising for was the Wali, or Governor- General of Syria, because he represented the Sultan, and he in his turn paid me a similar respect. When he left, I accompanied him to the door of the room, but never to the street door. Moreover, it was de rigueur every time a visitor came that coffee, tea, or sherbet should be offered him, and that I should take it with him and drink first. It was a custom with the natives, and I could not omit it; but when I first held my receptions I found it a great tax upon me, and mixing so many drinks gave me indigestion. Afterwards I grew more wary, and merely moistened my lips. Another thing I used to do at my earlier receptions was to make tea and coffee and carry them round myself, while the dragomans would lazily sit and look on. I didn't understand this at all, so I told them to get up and help me, and they willingly handed tea and coffee to any European, man or woman, but not to their native ladies, who blushed, begged the dragomans' pardon, and stood up, looking appealingly at me, and praying not to be served. So I found it the easiest thing to wait on the native women myself, though I felt very indignant that any man should feel himself degraded by having to wait on a woman.
I must now mention three of my principal visitors, each of whom afterwards played a large part, though a very different part, in our life at Damascus.
First of all was the Wali, or Governor-General of Syria. I received him in state one day. He came in full uniform with a great many attendants. I seated him in proper form on a divan with pipes and coffee. He was very amiable and polite. He reminded me of an old tom-cat: he was dressed in furs; he was indolent and fat, and walked on his toes and purred. At first sight I thought him a kind-hearted old creature, not very intelligent and easily led. The last quality was true enough; for what disgusted me was that Syria was really governed by dragomans, and the Wali or other great man was a puppet. For instance, if the Consul wanted to see the Wali, he had to send one of his dragomans to the Wali's dragomans, and they arranged between them just what they liked. The two chief men met each other, attended by two dragomans, who reported every word of the conversation round Damascus. These men easily made people enemies; and the lies, mischief, and scandal they originated were beyond imagination. I have said that my first impression of the Wali was as of a well-fed cat; but I soon discovered that the cat had claws, for he quickly became jealous of Richard's influence, and during our two years' sojourn at Damascus he was one or our worst enemies.
Another, and the most interesting of all the personages who attended my receptions, was Lady Ellenborough, known at Damascus as the Honourable Jane Digby El Mezrab. She was the most romantic and picturesque personality: one might say she was Lady Hester Stanhope's successor. She was of the family of Lord Digby, and had married Lord Ellenborough, Governor-General of India, a man much older than herself, when she was quite a girl. The marriage was against her wish. She was very unhappy with him, and she ran away with Prince Schwartzenburg when she was only nineteen, and Lord Ellenborough divorced her. She lived with Prince Schwartzenburg for some years, and had two or three children by him, and then he basely deserted her. I am afraid after that she led a life for a year or two over which it is kinder to draw a veil. She then tired of Europe, and conceived the idea of visiting the East, and of imitating Lady Hester Stanhope and other European ladies, who became more Eastern than the Easterns. She arrived at Beyrout, and went to Damascus, where she arranged to go to Baghdad, across the desert. For this journey a Bedawin escort was necessary; and as the Mezrab tribe occupied the ground, the duty of commanding the escort devolved upon Shaykh Mijwal, a younger brother of the chief of this tribe. On the journey the young Shaykh fell in love with this beautiful woman, and she fell in love with him. The romantic picture of becoming a queen of the desert suited her wild and roving fancy. She married him, in spite of all opposition, according to the Mohammedan law. At the time I came to Damascus she was living half the year in a house just within the city gates; the other half of the year she passed in the desert in the tents of the Bedawin tribe, living absolutely as a Bedawin woman. When I first saw her she was a most beautiful woman, though sixty-one years of age. She wore one blue garment, and her beautiful hair was in two long plaits down to the ground. When she was in the desert, she used to milk the camels, serve her husband, prepare his food, wash his hands, face, and feet, and stood and waited on him while he ate, like any Arab woman, and gloried in so doing. But at Damascus she led a semi-European life. She blackened her eyes with kohl, and lived in a curiously untidy manner. But otherwise she was not in the least extraordinary at Damascus. But what was incomprehensible to me was how she could have given up all she had in England to live with that dirty little black—or nearly so—husband. I could understand her leaving a coarse, cruel husband, much older than herself, whom she never loved (every woman has not the strength of mind and the pride to stand by what she has done); I could understand her running away with Schwartzenburg; but the contact with that black skin I could not understand. Her Shaykh was very dark—darker than a Persian, and much darker than an Arab generally is. All the same, he was a very intelligent and charming man in any light but as a husband. That made me shudder. It was curious how she had retained the charming manner, the soft voice, and all the graces of her youth. You would have known her at once to be an English lady, well born and bred, and she was delighted to greet in me one of her own order. We became great friends, and she dictated to me the whole of her biography, and most romantic and interesting it is. I took a great interest in the poor thing. She was devoted to her Shaykh, whereat I marvelled greatly. Gossip said that he had other wives, but she assured me that he had not, and that both her brother Lord Digby and the British Consul required a legal and official statement to that effect before they were married. She appeared to be quite foolishly in love with him (and I fully comprehend any amount of sacrifice for the man one loves—the greater the better), though the object of her devotion astonished me. Her eyes often used to fill with tears when talking of England, her people, and old times; and when we became more intimate, she spoke to me of every detail of her erring but romantic career. It was easy to see that Schwartzenburg had been the love of her life, for her eyes would light up with a glory when she mentioned him, and she whispered his name with bated breath. It was his desertion which wrecked her life. Poor thing! she was far more sinned against than sinning.
Our other friend at Damascus was the famous Abd el Kadir. Every one knows his history: every one has heard of his hopeless struggles for the independence of Algeria; his capture and imprisonment in France from 1847 to 1852, when he was set free by Louis Napoleon on the intercession of Lord Londonderry. More than that Louis Napoleon was magnanimous enough to pension him, and sent him to Damascus, where he was living when we came, surrounded by five hundred faithful Algerians. He loved the English, but was very loyal to Louis Napoleon. He was dark, and a splendid-looking man with a stately bearing, and perfectly self possessed. He always dressed in snow white turban and burnous, with not a single ornament except his jewelled arms, which were superb. He was every inch a soldier and a sultan, and his mind was as beautiful as his face. Both he and Richard were Master-Sufi, and they greatly enjoyed a talk together, both speaking purest Arabic.
When I look back on those dear days and friends in Damascus, my eyes fill and my heart throbs at the memories which crowd upon me. When I think of all those memories, none is dearer to me than the recollection of the evenings which we four—Lady Ellenborough, Abd el Kadir, Richard, and myself—used to spend together on the top of our house. Often after my reception was over and the sun was setting, we used to ask these two to stay behind the others and have a little supper with us, and we would go up to the roof, where it was prepared, and where mattresses and the cushions of the divans were spread about, and have our evening meal; and after that we would smoke our narghilehs, and talk and talk and talk far into the night, about things above, things on the earth, and things under the earth. I shall never forget the scene on the housetop, backed as it was by the sublime mountain, a strip of sand between it and us, and on the other three sides was the view over Damascus and beyond the desert. It was all wild, romantic, and solemn; and sometimes we would pause in our conversation to listen to the sounds around us: the last call to prayer on the minaret-top, the soughing of the wind through the mountain- gorges, and the noise of the water-wheel in the neighbouring orchard.
I have said we smoked, and that included Lady Ellenborough and myself. I must confess to the soft impeachment, despite insular prejudices; and I would advise any woman who sojourns in the East to learn to smoke, if she can. I am no admirer of a big cigar in a woman's mouth, or a short clay; but I know of nothing more graceful or enjoyable than a cigarette, and even more so in the narghileh, or even the chibouque, which, however, is quite a man's pipe.
I must add that when we were in the East Richard and I made a point of leading two lives. We were always thoroughly English in our Consulate, and endeavoured to set an example of the way in which England should be represented abroad, and in our official life we strictly conformed to English customs and conventions; but when we were off duty, so to speak, we used to live a great deal as natives, and so obtained experience of the inner Eastern life. Richard's friendship with the Mohammedans, and his perfect mastery of the Arabic and Persian languages and literature, naturally put him into intimate relations with the oriental authorities and the Arab tribes, and he was always very popular among them, with one exception, and that was the Turkish Wali, or Governor, aforesaid. Richard was my guide in all things; and since he adapted himself to the native life, I endeavoured to adapt myself to it also, not only because it was my duty, but because I loved it. For instance, though we always wore European dress in Damascus and Beyrout, we wore native dress in the desert. I always wore the men's dress in our expeditions in the desert and up the country. By that I mean the dress of Arab men. This is not so dreadful as Mrs. Grundy may suppose, as it was all drapery, and does not show the figure. There was nothing but the face to show the curious whether you were a man or a woman, I used to tuck my kuffiyyah up to only show my eyes. When we wore Eastern clothes, we always ate as the Easterns ate. If I went to a bazar, I frequently used to dress like a Moslem woman with my face covered, and sit in the shops and let my Arab maid do the talking. They never suspected me, and so I heard all their gossip and entered into something of their lives. The woman frequently took me into the mosque in this garb, but to the harim I always went in my European clothes. Richard and I lived the Eastern life thoroughly, and we loved it.
We went to every kind of ceremony, whether it was a circumcision, or a wedding, or a funeral, or a dervish dance, or anything that was going on; and we mixed with all classes, and religions, and races, and tongues. I remember my first invitation was to a grand fete to celebrate the circumcision of a youth about ten years of age. He was very pretty, and was dressed in gorgeous garments covered with jewellery. Singing, dancing, and feasting went on for about three days. The ceremony took place quite publicly. There was a loud clang of music and firing of guns to drown the boy's cries, and with one stroke of a circular knife the operation was finished in a second. The part cut off was then handed round on a silver salver, as if to force all present to attest that the rite had been performed. I felt quite sick, and English modesty overpowered curiosity, and I could not look. Later on, when I grew more used to Eastern ways, I was forced to accept the compliment paid to the highest rank, and a great compliment to me as a Christian, to hold the boy in my arms whilst the ceremony was being performed. It was rather curious at first to be asked to a circumcision, as one might be asked to a christening in England or a "small and early."
For the first three months of my life at Damascus I only indulged in short excursions, but Richard went away on longer expeditions, often for days, sometimes on business and sometimes to visit the Druze chiefs. I have said that our house was about a quarter of an hour from Damascus, and whilst Richard was away on one of these expeditions I broke through a stupid rule. It was agreed that I could never dine out or go to a soiree in Damascus, because after sunset the roads between Damascus and our house on the hillside were infested with Kurds. I was tired of being "gated" in this way, so I sent to the Chief of Police, and told him I intended to dine out when I chose and where I chose, and to return at all hours—any hours I pleased. He looked astonished, so I gave him a present. He looked cheerful, and I then told him to make it his business that I was never to be attacked or molested. I showed him my revolver, and said, "I will shoot the first man who comes within five yards of me or my horse." I went down twice to Damascus while Richard was away the first time, and I found all the gates of the city open and men posted with lanterns everywhere. I took an escort of four of my servants, and I told them plainly that the first man who ran away I would shoot from behind. I came back one night at eleven o'clock, and another at two o'clock in the morning, and nothing happened.
When I knew that Richard was coming back from the desert, I rode out to meet him about eight miles. I did not meet him until sunset. He said he knew a short cut to Damascus across the mountains, but we lost our way. Night came on, and we were wandering about amongst the rocks and precipices on the mountains. We could not see our hands before our faces. Our horses would not move, and we had to dismount, and grope our way, and lead them. Richard's horse was dead-beat, and mine was too fiery; and we had to wait till the moon rose, reaching home at last half dead with fatigue and hunger.
Our daily life at Damascus, when we were not engaged in any expedition or excursion, was much a follows: We rose at daybreak. Richard went down every day to his Consulate in the city at twelve o'clock, and remained there till four or five. We had two meals a day—breakfast at 11 a.m., and supper at dusk. At the breakfast any of our friends and acquaintances who liked used to drop in and join us; and immediately after our evening meal we received friends, if any came. If not, Richard used to read himself to sleep, and I did the same. Of Richard's great and many activities at Damascus, of his difficult and dangerous work, of his knowledge of Eastern character and Eastern languages, of his political and diplomatic talents, all of which made him just the man for the place, I have written elsewhere. Here I have to perform the infinitely harder task of speaking of myself. But in writing of my daily life at Damascus I must not forget that my first and best work was to interest myself in all my husband's pursuits, and to be, as far as he would allow me to be, his companion, his private secretary, and his aide-de-camp. Thus I saw and learnt much, not only of native life, but also of high political matters. I would only say that my days were all too short: I wish they had been six hours longer. When not helping Richard, my work consisted of looking after my house, servants, stables and horses, of doing a little gardening, of reading, writing, and studying, of trying to pick up Arabic, of receiving visits and returning them, of seeing and learning Damascus thoroughly, and looking after the poor and sick who came in my way. I often also had a gallop over the mountains and plains; or I went shooting, either on foot or on horseback. The game was very wild round Damascus, but I got a shot at redlegged partridges, wild duck, quail, snipe, and woodcock, and I seldom came home with an empty bag. The only time I ever felt lonely was during the long winter nights when Richard was away. In the summer I did not feel lonely, because I could always go and smoke a narghileh with the women at the water-side in a neighbour's garden. But in the winter it was not possible to do this. So I used to occupy myself with music or literature, or with writing these rough notes, which I or some one else will put together some day. But more often than not I sat and listened to the stillness, broken ever and anon by weird sounds outside.
So passed our life at Damascus.
1. Miss Stisted speaks of her as "Jane Digby, who capped her wild career by marrying a camel-driver," and animadverts on Lady Burton for befriending her. The Shaykh was never a camel-driver in his life, and few, I think, will blame Lady Burton for her kindness to this poor lady, her countrywoman, in a strange land.
CHAPTER XIII. THROUGH THE DESERT TO PALMYRA. (1870).
Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?
The Song of Solomon.
The oracles are dumb; No voice or hideous hum Runs through the arched roof in words deceiving.
Richard had wished ever since he came to Damascus to visit Palmyra, or Tadmor, in the wilderness. It is about one hundred and fifty miles distant in the open desert. His main reason for going there was his private wish to explore, but it was also his official duty to open up the country, now infested with hordes of wild Bedawin tribes, who attacked, robbed, and killed right and left. Several Englishmen had been to Palmyra, but always with a large escort of the tribe of El Mezrab, and Richard wanted to break through the system which this tribe had of practically levying blackmail upon travellers, which often meant as much as six thousand francs, as each man in the escort costs about 2 pounds sterling a head. We decided therefore to go without any Bedawin escort, to show that it could be done, and thus to throw open this most interesting part of Syria to travellers. At first a lot of people wanted to join us in the expedition; but when it came to the point they gradually sneaked away, and many of them wept and wished us good-bye, and thought it madness. Indeed, so much was said that I set out with more than a suspicion that we were marching to our deaths. But Richard wished it, and that was enough for me. He never permitted any obstacle to hinder his progress. He made up his mind to travel without the tribe of El Mezrab, and he gave me the option of going with him, and I said, as I always said, "I will follow you to the death." It was rather funny to find the excuses which people made for not going with us. One had business in Beyrout, another was ill, the third had married, and so on. So when the day of departure dawned (April 1; I had been in Damascus three months) our faithful friends dwindled down to two—the Russian Consul, and a French traveller, the Vicomte de Perrochel.
On the morning of our departure we had a very lively breakfast. As I have said, it was our custom to let our friends drop in for this meal, and on this occasion we found ourselves surrounded by every kind of Eastern figure. They evidently thought us mad—especially me. My dress was very picturesque, and I was vain enough to turn myself round and round, at their request, that they might view it, which they did with cries of admiration. It consisted of large yellow button boots and gaiters, and English riding-habit with the long ends of the skirt tucked in to look like their Eastern baggy trousers, an Eastern belt with revolver, dagger, and cartridges. My hair was all tucked up under the tarbash, and I wore one of the Bedawin veils to the waist, only showing a bit of face. The veil was of all colours, chiefly gold braid, bound by a chocolate and gold circlet near the forehead. Richard slung over my back and round my neck a whistle and compass, in case of my being lost. I had brought out two first-rate horses, both stallions, one half-bred, the other three-quarters; they were called Salim and Harpash. An Arab was to ride one, and lead the second when I was riding something else. The first stallion would be good for travelling and fighting, and the second for bolting, if needful. I knew I had to ride erect half a day at a stretch, which meant about fifteen or twenty miles.
We set forth with great pomp and ceremony; for the Mushir, or Commander- in-chief, and a large cavalcade saw us out of the city, and exchanged affectionate farewells outside the gates, evidently not expecting to see us again. This being the first day, we made only a three hours' march; it cleared us of Damascus and its environs, and we camped early on the edge of the desert. I cannot convey to you the charm of a Syrian camp. I shall never forget my first night in the desert. The horses were all picketed about; the men were lying here and there in the silvery moonlight, which lit up our tripod and kettle; and the jackals howled and capered as they sniffed the savoury bones. People talk of danger when surrounded by jackals, but I have always found them most cowardly; they would run away if a pocket-handkerchief were shaken at them. It was the prettiest thing to see them gambolling about in the moonlight; but after we had turned in a strange effect was produced when a jackal, smelling the cookery, ran up round the tent, for the shadow on the white canvas looked as large as a figure exaggerated in a magic lantern. During my first night under canvas I was awakened by hearing a pack coming—a wild, unearthly sound. I thought it was a raid of the Bedawin rushing down upon us, and that this was the war-cry; but the weird yell swept down upon us, passed, and died away in the distance. I grew to love the sound.
The next morning the camp began stirring at dawn. It was bitterly cold. We boiled water and made some tea. We hurried our dressing, saw the animals fed and watered, tents struck, things packed up, and the baggage animals loaded and sent on ahead with orders to await us at Jayrud. We always found it better to see our camp off ahead of us, otherwise the men loitered and did not reach the night-halt in time. We started a little later. The way to Jayrud was across a sandy plain, with patches of houses here and there, and a village at long intervals. A village on the outskirts of the desert means twenty or thirty huts of stones and mud, each shaped like a box, and exactly the same colour as the ground. We breakfasted in a ruined mosque. After that we started again, and came to a vast plain of white sand and rock, which lasted until we reached Jayrud. It was about fifteen hours' ride from Damascus. A little way outside Jayrud we were caught in a sand-storm, which I shall never forget. Richard and I were both well mounted. When it came on, he made a sign in which direction I was to go. There was no time to speak, and we both galloped into the storm as hard as we could pelt. The sand and wind blinded me, and I had no idea where I was going. Once I did not see that I was riding straight at a deep pit; and though Arab horses seldom or never leap, mine cleared it with one bound. After that I was wiser, and I threw the reins on Salim's neck, for his eyes were better than mine. This continued for three hours, and at last we reached Jayrud, where we had arranged to halt for the night.
Jayrud is a large clean village in the middle of the salt and sandy plain. We stopped for the night with Da'as Agha, who was a border chieftain, and a somewhat wild and dangerous character, though Richard knew how to tame him. His house was large and roomy, with spacious walls and high-raftered ceilings. While we were at supper crowds of villagers collected to see us, and the courtyard and the house were filled with and surrounded by all sorts of guests from different Bedawin tribes. Camels were lying about, baggage was piled here and there, and horses were picketed in all directions; it was a thoroughly oriental picture.
An unpleasant incident happened. I had engaged a confidential man as a head servant and interpreter. He was an Arab, but he spoke French. He was an exceedingly clever, skilful man, and Richard told him off to wait on me during the journey, and to ride after me when needful. When we got to Jayrud, as soon as I dismounted, I took Richard's horse and my own and walked them up and down to cool. As soon as my man and another came up I gave them the reins, saying, "After our hard ride in the sand-storm take as much care of the horses as though they were children." He answered, "Be rested, Sitti"; but an unpleasant smile came across his face, which might have warned me. I ought to have mentioned that three times since we had set out from Damascus he had ridden short across me when we were at full gallop. The first time I begged him not to do so, as it was very dangerous, and the second time I threatened him, and the third time I broke my hunting-whip across his face. He merely said, "All is finished," and hung back. However, I did not think anything more of it, and I went in and had my supper. While we were eating, and my back was turned, he threw the reins of my horse to a bystander, and, drawing a sword, he cut the throat of the good, useful, little horse which I had hired for him, and which he had been riding all day. I saw people running, and heard a certain amount of confusion while I was eating; but being very tired and hungry, I did not look round. Presently somebody let it out. I rose in a rage, determined to dismiss the man at once; but Richard checked me with a word, and pointed out the unwisdom of making him an open enemy, and desired me to put a good face on the matter till the end of the journey. The explanation of the little beast's conduct was this. He had really wanted to ride a thorough-bred horse, but it was ridden instead by my dragoman's brother, and his rage had been uncontrollable when he saw the coveted animal caracolling before him. Moreover, he had a spite against me, and he thought that if he killed his own horse I should give him a better one, by some process of oriental reasoning which I do not pretend to understand. However, he was, mistaken, for I mounted him after that on the vilest old screw in the camp.
Next morning we woke early. Mules, donkeys, camels, horses, and mares were screaming and kicking, and the men running about cursing and swearing. In such a Babel it was impossible to feel drowsy. I felt very faint as we set out from Jayrud. The salt marshes in the distance were white and glistening, and the heat spread over them in a white mist which looked like a mirage bearing fantastic ships. We breakfasted at the next village, Atneh, in a harim, the women having all gone out. It was the house of a bride, and she had hung all her new garments round the walls, as we display our wedding presents pour encourager les autres. When the women came back, the men retired from the harim. Atneh was the last settlement, the last water, the last human abode between Jayrud and Karyatyn—a long distance. After this we had a lengthy desert ride in wind and rain, sleet and hail, and the ground was full of holes; but it was a splendid ride all the same. The Arabs, in their gaudy jackets, white trousers, and gold turbans, galloped about furiously, brandishing and throwing their lances, and playing the usual tricks of horsemanship —jerid. We met a terrible storm of thunder and lightning, and between-whiles the fiery sun sent down his beams upon a parched plain. The desert ground was alternately flint, limestone, and smooth gravel; not a tree or shrub, not a human being or animal, was to be seen. The colours were yellow sand and blue sky, blue sky and yellow sand, yellow and blue for ever.
We arrived at dusk at the spot where we had told our advance guard to pitch the tents. We found everything ready, and after our horses were cared for we dined. That night for the first time we slept in our clothes, with revolvers and guns by our sides. The men took turns to keep watch, so that we might not be surprised by a Ghazu, a tribe of six or seven hundred Bedawin, who go out for marauding purposes. The Ghazis charge furiously, with their lances couched. If you have the pluck to stand still until they are within an inch of your nose, and ask what they want, they drop their lances; for they respect courage, but there is no mercy if you show the white feather. We meant to say to them, "We are the English and Russian Consuls travelling on business. If you touch us, there will be consequences; if you want a present you shall have it; but you are not to shame us by taking our horses and arms, and if you insist we well fight." There was a driving wind that night, and I feared the exposure and hardship if the tents were blown down and the fire blown out, as it threatened. We could scarcely keep a lamp or candle alight. No Ghazis came.
We rose next morning in the cold, dark, misty, and freezing dawn. We had some difficulty in starting our camp; the horses were shivering, and the muleteers and camel-men objected. We had a long and lonely ride through the same desolate valley plain as yesterday, banked on either side in the distance by naked, barren mountains, and we were very thankful when the sun came out. We breakfasted at a ruined khan, and changed our horses. Then we rode on and on, seemingly for an age, with no change; not a bird nor a tree nor a sound save the clattering of our horses' hoofs. At length, when within an hour of Karyatayn, we got a little excitement. On slightly rising ground about five miles off we espied, by the aid of field-glasses, something which we discovered to be a large party of mounted Bedawin. We sounded our whistles, and our stragglers came in till we all were collected. I ought to mention here that from the time of our leaving Damascus, stragglers had joined us continually from every village. Naturally the number of our camp-followers became great, until we assumed a most formidable appearance, numbering nearly eighty in all. As soon as our stragglers reached us we formed a line, and the opposite party did the same. They then galloped to meet us, and we did likewise. When within a quarter mile of each other we pulled up, and they pulled up. We fully expected a charge and a skirmish, so we halted in a line and consulted; they did the same. Three of us then rode out to meet them; three horsemen of their line then did likewise. They hailed us, and asked us who we were and what we wanted. We told them we were the English and Russian Consuls passing to Palmyra, and asked in our turn who they were. They replied that they were the representatives of the Shaykh of Karyatayn, and his fighting men, and that they bore invitations to us. They then jumped down from their horses and kissed my hand. We were greeted on all sides, and escorted in triumph to the village; the men riding jerid—that is, firing from horseback at full speed, hanging over by one stirrup with the bridle in their mouths, quivering their long lances in the air, throwing and catching them again at full gallop, yelling and shouting their war-cries. It was a wild and picturesque scene. So we entered Karyatayn, went to the house of the Shaykh, and dispatched a note to him.
His dwelling was a big mud house, with a large reception-room, where we found a big fire. There was a separate house for the harim, which appeared numerous, and I was to sleep there in a room to myself. Before dinner, while we were enjoying the fire and sitting round the rug, a fat young Turkish officer entered with an insolent look. Thinking he had come with a message from Omar Beg, a Hungarian brigadier-general in the Turkish service who was stationed here, we saluted in the usual manner. Without returning it, he walked up, stepped across us, flung himself on our rug, leaned on his elbow, and with an impertinent leer stared in our faces all round until he met Richard's eye, which partook of something of the tiger kind, when he started and turned pale. Richard called out, "Kawwasses!" The kawwasses and two wardis ran into the room. "Remove that son of a dog." They seized him, fat and big as he was, as if he had been a rabbit; and although he kicked and screamed lustily, carried him out of the house. I saw them give him some vicious bumps against the walls as they went out of the door into the village, where they dropped him into the first pool of mud, which represented the village horse-pond. By-and-by Omar Beg came down to dine with us. We all sat round on the ground and ate of several dishes, chiefly a kid stuffed with rice and pistachios. After dinner we reported to Omar Beg the conduct of his sous-officier, and he said that we had done very well, and he was glad of the opportunity of making an example of him, for he was a bad lot; and a Turkish soldier when he is bad is bad indeed. He had committed a gross insult against us, and it is always best in the East to resent an insult at once.
Our next day was a pleasant, lazy day, during which we inspected Karyatayn at our leisure. We rested, read, and wrote, and made a few extra preparations for the march. I went to call on the wife of Omar Beg, who was the daughter of the well-known German savant Herr Mordtmann. She was living with her husband quite contentedly in this desolate place, in a mud hut, and her only companions were a hyena and a lynx, which slept on her bed. The hyena greeted me at the gate; and though I was not prepared for it, I innocently did the right thing. It came and sniffed at my hands, and then jumped up and put its paws on my shoulder and smelt my face. "Oh," I thought, "if it takes a bit out of my cheek, what shall I do?" But I stood as still as a statue, and tried not to breathe, looking steadily in its eyes all the while. At last it made up its mind to be friendly, jumped down, and ran before me into the house. Here I found the lynx on the divan, which sprang at me, mewed, and lashed its tail till Madame Omar came. She was a charming German lady; but her husband kept her secluded in the harim like a Moslem woman. She told me I had done quite the right thing with the hyena. If people began to scream, it took a pleasure in frightening them. I found this out a little later, for it got into Richard's room, and I found him, the Russian Consul, and the Vicomte de Perrochel all sitting on the divan with their legs well tucked under them, clutching their sticks, and looking absurdly uncomfortable at the affreuse bete, as the Vicomte called it.
I had had a tiring day, and was glad to go to the harim that night and turn into my little room. But, alas! no sooner had I got in there than about fifty women came to pay me a visit. By way of being gracious, I had given a pair of earrings to the head wife of the Shaykh, and that caused the most awful jealousy and quarrelling among them. I was dying to go to bed, but they went on nagging at one another, until at last a man, a husband or a brother, came of his own accord to tell them to take leave, and upon their refusing he drove them all out of the room like a flock of sheep. Fortunately I had a bolt to my door, so that I was able to shut them out. My sleep, however, was very much disturbed, for they kept on trying the doors and the shutters nearly all night. They have an intense curiosity concerning European women, and during my toilet next morning I could see fifty pairs of eyes at fifty chinks in the windows and doors. It was really very embarrassing, because I could not tell the sex of the eyes, though I imagined that they belonged to my visitors of the night before. Dressing as I did en Amazone seemed to afford them infinite glee; and when I arrived at the cloth nether garments of my riding-habit, they went into shrieks of laughter. However, I put a bold face on it, and sallied forth to the square of the village, where I found the rest of our party. Our horses were being led up and down by the soldiers; our camels with water in goats' skins, and our baggage beasts, our camp-followers, and our free-lances, were drawn up on one side. Omar Beg accompanied us out of the village with a troop of cavalry, and started us with forty dromedaries, each carrying two soldiers. The cavalcade looked very fine, and when Omar Beg took his leave of us we were about one hundred and sixty strong.
We had a long day's march through the desert. It was very hot. We went through a wild defile, rested, and climbed up a mountain. We then returned to the plains, and in the afternoon we saw a mirage—castles and green fields. We were late in finding our tents, and very tired. Again we did not undress, but slept with our weapons by our sides.
The next morning we set out again at 6:30. We rode towards a mountain in the distance, and defiled by a picturesque and dangerous ledge amongst craggy peaks. We had heard that the Bedawin knew of a well hereabouts, and we determined to find it. We discovered it, and so abolished the worst difficulty which travellers had to undergo in visiting Palmyra. We rested by the well, which was full of the purest water. When sitting by it, we heard guns echoing like thunder in the mountains. We thought it might mean a Bedawin attack; but probably it was a signal, and they found us too strong. They were on our track the whole time. After an hour we descended once more into the arid plain, and rode on and on. At last we descried dimly the khan which was to be our night halt. It seemed quite close, but the nearer we rode the farther it seemed. We reached it at last, a fine old pile, deserted and solitary, which looked splendid in the sunset. Our camp by moonlight will ever live in my memory: the black tents, the animals picketed, the camels resting, the Turkish soldiery seated around, and the wild men and muleteers singing and dancing.
On this night, as on all nights, I had always plenty to do. It was Richard's business to take the notes and sketches, observations and maps, and to gather all the information. I acted as his secretary and aide- de-camp. My other business was to take care of the stable, see that the horses were properly groomed, and look after any sick or wounded men. My duties varied according to the place in which we halted for the night. If it were near an inhabited place, Richard sat in state on his divan, and received the chiefs with narghilehs and sherbet. I saluted, and walked off with the horses, and saw that they were properly groomed and fed. Sometimes I groomed my own horse and Richard's too, if I did not feel sure that they would be properly attended to. I would then go back to my husband, sit on the divan at a respectful distance and in a respectful attitude, speak if spoken to, and accept, if invited, a little sherbet or a narghileh. I then saluted, went again to see that the horses were properly picketed for the night, prepared my husband's supper, and returned to his tent for supper and bed; and the next day the same over again. So far as I could I made myself useful, and adapted myself to my surroundings as an Eastern woman would have done.
The next day, our eighth from leaving Damascus, we went out of camp at 6.30, and rode over the hot stony desert for five hours. Suddenly we descried a small lake, but about one hundred and fifty Bedawin were there before us. At first we thought it was a Ghazu; but we found afterwards that it was only a party of one hundred and fifty watering their animals; they could not attack us until they had time to collect their men, and mustered some six hundred strong. However, they looked "nasty"; and as our stragglers were all over the place, to attract their attention, and bring us together, asked Richard's leave to make a display of tir. We put an orange on a lance-point seventy yards off. I had the first shot. By good luck I hit, and by better luck still they did not ask for a second, which I might have missed, so that I came off with a great reputation. Everybody fired in turns, and all our people came up by degrees, until we mustered enough to fight any Ghazu, if necessary. We then formed into a single line, and rode until the remainder of the day. We approached Palmyra thus, cheering and singing warsongs; and I am sure that we must have looked very imposing.
The first sight of Palmyra is like a regiment of cavalry drawn up in a single line; but as we got nearer gradually the ruins began to stand out one by one in the sunlight, and a grander sight I have never looked upon, so gigantic, so extensive, so desolate was this splendid city of the dead rising out of, and half buried in, a sea of sand. One felt as if one were wandering in some forgotten world.
The Shaykh of Palmyra and his people came out to greet us, and he conducted us to his house. We approached it over the massive blocks of stone that formed the pavement and by a flight of broad steps. The interior of Palmyra resembles a group of wasps' nests on a large scale, clinging to the gigantic walls of a ruined temple. The people were hideous, poor, ragged, dirty, and diseased, nearly every one of them afflicted with ophthalmia. What have the descendants of the great Zenobia done to come to this? We dined at the Shaykh's house, and had our coffee and pipes. Later we returned to our camp, which consisted of our five tents and ten for the eighty soldiers. It was picturesquely placed, close to the east of the grand colonnade of Palmyra, for the sake of being near the wells, and the animals were picketed as much as possible in the shelter, for during our sojourn there we suffered from ice and snow, sirocco, burning heat, and furious sou'westers. We had two sulphurous wells, one to bathe in, and the other to drink out of. Everybody felt a little tired, and we went to bed early. It was the first night for eight days that we had really undressed and bathed and slept, and it was such a refreshment that I did not wake for twelve hours. My journal of the following morning contains a very short notice. We were considerably refreshed, and attended to our horses and several camp wants. We lounged about till breakfast and wrote our diaries. It was scorchingly hot weather. We were here for five days, so we did not begin serious work until noon.
So many travellers have described Palmyra that it is not necessary for me to describe it again, and I suppose that everybody knows that at one time it was ruled over in the days of its splendour by Zenobia, a great queen of the East. She was an extraordinary woman, full of wisdom and heroic courage. She was conquered by the Romans after a splendid reign, and the Emperor Aurelian caused her to be led through Rome bound in fetters of gold. The city must once have been magnificent, but it was now a ruin. The chief temple was that of the Sun. The whole city was full of columns and ruined colonnades. One of the great colonnades is a mile long.
I saw something of the inner life of Palmyra, the more so because I wore a dress very much like that of a man. So attired I could go almost where I liked, and enter all the places which women are not deemed worthy to see. My chief difficulty was that my toilet always had to be performed in the dead of night. The others never appeared to make any, except in the stream, which was too public for me, and I did not wish to appear singular.
In another way my masculine garment had its drawbacks, for I always used to forget that they regarded me as a boy, and I never could remember not to go into the harims. Once or twice I went into them, and the women ran away to hide themselves screaming and laughing at my appearance; and I remember once or twice, on being remonstrated with, pointing to my chin to plead my youth, and also my ignorance of their customs. I passed Palmyra as Richard's son; and though it was a little awkward at first, I soon fell into my part, and remembered always to be very respectful to my father, and very silent before him and the elders. Often in my character of boy I used to run and hold Richard's stirrup as he alighted from his horse, and sat on the edge of the divan while he talked to the Shaykhs of Palmyra. I always tried to adapt myself as far as possible to the customs of the country where I found myself, and I think I may say without flattery that I had a good many capabilities for being a traveller's wife. I could ride, walk, swim, shoot, and defend myself if attacked, so that I was not dependent on my husband; and I could also make myself generally useful—that is to say, I could make the bed, arrange the tent, cook the dinner, if necessary wash the clothes by the river-side, and mend them and spread them to dry, nurse the sick, bind and dress wounds, pick up a smattering of the language, make the camp of natives respect and obey me, groom my own horse, saddle him, learn to wade him through the rivers, sleep on the ground with the saddle for a pillow, and generally to rough it and do without comforts.
We spent five days at Palmyra. The first was devoted to a general inspection of the place. The second we visited the Temple of the Sun and the Towers of the Tombs. These latter are tall square towers, four storeys in height; and each tower contains apertures for bodies like a honeycomb. I noticed that all the carving was of the rudest and coarsest kind. There was no trace of civilization anywhere, no theatre, no forum, nothing but a barbarous idea of splendour, worked out on a colossal scale in columns and temples. The most interesting thing was the Tombs. These were characteristic of Palmyra, and lined the wild mountain-defile entrance to the city, and were dotted about on the mountain-sides. It was a City of Tombs, a City of the Dead. I was much struck too with the dirtiness of the people of Palmyra, which dirtiness results in pestilence, ophthalmia, and plagues of flies.
The third day two officers, the Shaykh of Palmyra and another, dined with us in our tents, and after dinner we strolled about the ruins by moonlight, and when we were tired we sat down in a large ring on the sand, and the soldiers and muleteers danced a sword-dance with wild cries to musical accompaniments and weird songs. I shall never forget the exceeding beauty of the ruins of Palmyra by moonlight. The following day we explored the caves, and found human bones and things, which I helped Richard to sort, much to the disgust of the Vicomte de Perrochel, who was shocked at my want of sensibility, and said that a Frenchwoman would certainly have had hysteria. We also explored the ruins, and wrote descriptions of our journey to Palmyra. We had all retired to rest, when I was aroused by hearing a roaring like that of a camel. I ran out of my tent to see what was the matter; and being guided by a noise to the servants' quarters, I found the kitchen assistant in convulsions, and the rest holding him down. It was a Syrian disease, a sort of epilepsy. They all wanted to tread on his back, but I would not let them do it. I got some hot brandy and restoratives, and gave him a good dosing between his clenched teeth. The result was he came to in an hour and a half, sensible, but very tipsy; but he managed to kiss my hand and thank me. The last day was Easter Sunday. We performed our Sunday service in one of the ruined temples, we wrote our journals, and prepared for departure on the morrow. The next day we left Palmyra. We should have done better to have remained there fifteen days instead of five. I wish we had taken ropes and ladders, planks to bridge over broken staircases, and a crowbar. We might then have thoroughly examined three places which we could not otherwise do: the Palace of the Pretty, the Palace of the Maiden, and the Palace of the Bride, the three best Tower Tombs.
We left camp at dawn, and a terribly hot day it was. We encamped at 8 p.m. in a mountain defile. We were all dead-beat, and so were the horses. At night I had fever, and a hurricane of wind and rain nearly carried our tents away. On the second day we rode from dawn to sunset, with the driving wind and the sand in our faces, filling eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. I felt so cold, tired, and disheartened, that as I sat in my saddle and rode along I cried for about two hours, and Richard and the others laughed at me. Whilst I was crying we saw a body of mounted Bedawin dodging about in the mountains. So I dried my eyes, and rode on as hard as I could pelt until we reached Karyatayn at sunset; but I had to be lifted off my horse, and could not stand for minutes.
All clamoured to rest one day at Karyatayn. We had already been riding for two days hard, and were simply done up. The muleteers mutinied, and said that their backs were broken and their beasts dead-beat. There was only one person in the camp not tired, and that was Richard, who seemed made of cast iron. He said, "You may all remain here, but I shall ride on to Damascus alone, for on Friday the English and Baghdad mails come in, and I must be at my post." All the responsibility then fell upon me, for they all said if I would remain they would be glad. But the idea of Richard riding on alone through the desert infested with Bedawin was not to be entertained by me for one moment, so I said, "On we go."
The next morning we left early. I tried at first to ride in the panniers of one of the camels; but it bumped me so unmercifully that after half an hour I begged to be let down. Camel-riding is pleasant if it is at a long trot; but a slow walk is very tedious, and I should think that a gallop would be annihilation. When I got down from my camel, I mounted my horse, and galloped after the rest, and in time got to my place behind Richard. I always rode a yard or two behind him. In the East it would not have been considered respectful for either wife or son to ride beside a husband. We got to Jayrud at dark, and we saw hovering near us a party of Bedawin, armed and mounted; they eventually retired into the mountains. But when we got back to Damascus, we heard that all through our journey the bandits had been watching us, and would have attacked us, only they were afraid that our rifles would carry too far.
The next day was the last. We started at sunrise, and rode all day, reaching home at 8 p.m. I had not realized the beauty of Damascus until then. After all those days in the desert it seemed a veritable garden of Paradise. First of all we saw a belt of something dark lining the horizon; then we entered by degrees under the trees, the orchards, and the gardens. We smelt the water from afar like a thirsty horse; we heard its gurgling long before we came to it; we scented and saw the limes, citrons, and watermelons. We felt a mad desire to jump into the water, to eat our fill of fruit, to lie down and sleep under the delicious shade. At last we reached our door. The house seemed to me like a palace of comfort. A warm welcome greeted us on all sides; and as every one (except Richard) and all the horses were dead-beat, they all stayed with us for the night.
CHAPTER XIV. BLUDAN IN THE ANTI-LEBANON. (1870).
Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field;
Let us lodge in the villages. Let us get up early to the vineyards; let us see if the vine flourish, whether the tender grape appear, and the pomegranates bud forth: there will I give thee my loves.
The mandrakes give a smell, and at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits, new and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved.
The Song of Solomon.
During the next few weeks at Damascus there was an outbreak of cholera, which gave me a great deal of trouble at the time. Several people died in great agony, and I did what I could to check the outbreak. I made the peasants wash and fumigate their houses and burn the bedding, and send to me for medicine the moment a person was taken ill. Fortunately these precautions checked the spread of the disease; but along the cottages at the river-side there was also an epidemic of scarlet fever more difficult to keep within bounds. I secured the services of a kind-hearted French surgeon, who attended the patients, and I myself nursed them. I wore an outside woollen dress when attending cases, and this I hung on a tree in the garden, and never let it enter my house. I also took a bag of camphor with me to prevent infection. However, after a time I was struck down by one of those virulent, nameless illnesses peculiar to Damascus, which, if neglected, end in death, and I could not move without fainting. An instinct warned me to have a change of air, and I determined to go to Beyrout. Two hours out of Damascus I was able to rise, and at the half-way house at Buka'a I could eat, and when I arrived at Beyrout after fourteen hours' journey I felt almost well. I had three weeks' delicious sea-bathing at Beyrout; and while there we kept Her Majesty's birthday at the Consulate-General with great pomp and ceremony. We also made several little expeditions. Richard went farther afield than I did, to Tyre, Sidon, Carmel, and Juneh. I was too weak to go with him, which I regretted very much, as I would have given a great deal to have visited the grave of Lady Hester Stanhope.
On June 14 we turned our faces homewards to Damascus, and as we journeyed over the Lebanons and descended into the plain I could not help feeling the oriental charm of the scene grow upon me. Beyrout is demi- fashionable, semi-European; but Damascus is the heart of the East, and there is no taint of Europeanism about it. As I was nearing Damascus in the evening I fell in love with it. The first few weeks I had disliked it, but gradually it had grown upon me, and now it took a place in my heart from which it could never be thrust forth. I saw how lovely it was, bathed in the evening sun, and it seemed to me like home—the home that I had dreamed of in my childhood long ago. I cannot tell what worked this charm in me; but henceforth my affections and interests, my life and work, knitted and grew to that Damascus home of ours, where I would willingly have remained all my days. I knew that mine was to be the wanderer's life, and that it is fatal for the wanderer to make ties and get attached to places or things or people; but in spite of this presentiment, I greedily drank in whilst I could all the truths which the desert breathes, and set my hands to do all the good work they could find, until they were full to overflowing.
Ten days after our return to Salahiyyeh we had a severe shock of earthquake. Richard and I were sitting in an inner room, when suddenly the divan began to see-saw under us, and the wardrobe opposite to bow down to us. Fortunately no harm was done; but it was an unpleasant sensation, like being at sea in a gale of wind.
As Damascus began to be very hot about this time we moved to our summer quarters at Bludan, about twenty-seven miles across country from Damascus in the Anti-Lebanon. It was a most beautiful spot, right up in the mountains, and comparatively cool. We threaded the alleys of Bludan, ascended steep places, and soon found ourselves beyond the village, opposite a door which opened into a garden cultivated in ridges up the mountain. In the middle stood a large barn-like limestone hall, with a covered Dutch verandah, from which there was a splendid view. This was our summer-house; it had been built by a former consul. Everybody who came to see us said, "Well, it is glorious; but the thing is to get here." It was a veritable eagle's nest.
We soon settled down and made ourselves comfortable. The large room was in the middle of the house, looking on to the verandah, which overhung the glorious view. We surrounded it with low divans, and the walls became an armoury of weapons. The rooms on either side of this large room were turned into a study for Richard, a sleeping-room, and a study and dressing-room for me. We had stabling for eight horses. There were no windows in the house, only wooden shutters to close at night. The utter solitude and the wildness of the life made it very soothing and restful.
One of my earliest experiences there was a deputation from the shaykhs and chiefs of the villages round, who brought me a present of a sheep, a most acceptable present. Often when alone at Bludan provisions ran short. I remember once sending my servants to forage for food, and they returned with an oath, saying there was nothing but "Arab's head and onions." I don't know about the Arab's head, but there was no doubt about the onions. I often used to dine off a big raw onion and an oatmeal cake, nothing being forthcoming.
In many ways our days at Bludan were the perfection of living. We used to wake at dawn, make a cup of tea, and then sally forth accompanied by the dogs, and take long walks over the mountains with our guns in search of sport. The larger game were bears, gazelles, wolves, wild boars, and a small leopard. The small game nearer home were partridges, quail, and woodcock, with which we replenished our larder. I am fond of sport; and, though I say it, I was not a bad shot in those days. The hotter part of the day we spent indoors reading, writing, and studying Arabic. At twelve we had our first meal, which served as breakfast and luncheon, on the terrace. Sometimes in the afternoon native shaykhs or people from Beyrout and Damascus would come and visit us. When the sun became cooler, all the sick and poor within fifteen or sixteen miles round would come to be doctored and tended. The hungry, the thirsty, the ragged, the sick, and the sore filled our garden, and I used to make it my duty and pleasure to be of some little use to them. I seldom had fewer than fifteen patients a day, half of them with eye diseases, and I acquired a considerable reputation as a doctor. We used to dine at seven o'clock on the terrace. After dinner divans were spread on the housetop, and we would watch the moon lighting up Hermon whilst the after-dinner pipe was being smoked. A pianette from Damascus enabled us to have a little music. Then I would assemble the servants, read the night prayers to them, with a little bit of Scripture or of Thomas a Kempis. The last thing was to go round the premises and see that everything was right, and turn out the dogs on guard. And so to bed. Richard used to ride down into Damascus every few days to see that all was going well; so I was often left alone.
I must not linger too long over our life at Bludan. Mr. E. H. Palmer, afterwards Professor of Arabic at Cambridge, and Mr. Charles Tyrwhitt- Drake, who had done much good work in connexion with the Palestine Exploration, came to us about this time on a visit, and we made many excursions from Bludan with them, some short and some long. We used to saunter or gypsy about the country round, pitching our tents at night. I kept little reckoning of time during these excursions. We generally counted by the sun. I only know that we used to start at dawn, and with the exception of a short halt we would ride until sunset, and often until dusk, and sleep in the desert.