The Romance of Lady Isabel Burton, by Isabel Burton

Chapter XIV

Bludán 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 Buká‘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 learnt all I could of oriental mysteries, 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 Salahíyyeh 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 Bludán, 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 Bludán, 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 Bludán 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 better being forthcoming.

In many ways our days at Bludán 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 à 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 Bludán. 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 Bludán 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.

One of our most interesting excursions was to Ba’albak, which is far more beautiful, though smaller, than Palmyra; and it can be seen without danger — Palmyra cannot. The ruins are very beautiful. The village hangs on to the tail of the ruins — not a bad village either, but by comparison it looks like a tatter clinging to an empress’s diamond-bespangled train. The scenery around is wild, rocky, and barren.

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Ba’albak.

When we arrived at Ba’albak, the Governor and the chief people rode out to receive us. Our horses’ hoofs soon rang under a ruined battlement, and we entered in state through the dark tunnels. Horses were neighing, sabres were clanking; it was a noisy, confusing, picturesque scene. We tented for the night in the midst of the grand court of the ruins. In the morning the ladies of the Governor’s harím paid me a visit in my tent. With their blue satin and diamonds, they were the most elaborately dressed women I had seen for a long time. We stayed at Ba'albak several days, and explored the ruins thoroughly. It is the ancient Heliopolis. One of the most striking things amid its rocky tombs and sepulchral caves and its Doric columns and temples was the grand old eagle, the emblem of Baal. On Sunday I heard Mass at the Maronite chapel, and returned the call of the ladies aforesaid. In the evening we dined with the Governor, who illuminated his house for us. We passed a most enjoyable evening. I spent most of the time in the harím with the ladies. They wished me to tell them a story; but as I could not recite one fluently in Arabic, the Governor allowed me as a special favour to blindfold our dragoman, and take him into the harím as an interpreter, the Governor himself being present the whole time to see that the bandage did not come off. One night Mr. Drake and I lit up the ruins with magnesium. The effect was very beautiful. It was like a gigantic transformation scene in a desert plain. Every night the jackals played round our tents in the moonlight, and made the ruins weird with strange sights and sounds.

We left Ba’albak at dawn one morning, and rode to the source of the Lebweh. The water bursts out from the ground, and divides into a dozen sparkling streams. Of all the fountains I have ever seen, there is not one so like liquid diamonds as this. We picketed our horses under a big tree, and slept for a while through the heat of the day. At 4.30 p.m., when it was cooler, we rode on again to Er Ras. When we arrived we met with a furious, rising wind. We stopped there for the night, and the next morning galloped across the plain to Buká'a. We had a long, tiring ride, finally reaching a clump of trees on a height, where we pitched our camp. The Maronite chiefs were jeríding in the hollow. They came to dinner with us, and I gave them a present of some cartridges, which appeared to make them very happy.

The next day we continued to ride up a steep ascent. At last we stood upon a mountain-range of crescent form, ourselves in the centre, and the two cusps to the sea. Turning to the side which we had ascended and looking below, the horizon was bounded by the Anti-Lebanon, with the plain of Buká‘a and the ruins of Ba’albak beneath and far away. From this point we could see the principal heights of the Lebanon, for which we were bound, to make excursions from the Cedars. We had a painful descent for an hour and a half, when we reached the famous Cedars of Lebanon, and camped beneath them. We pitched our tents among the Cedars, under the largest trees. They are scattered over seven mounds in the form of a cross. There are five hundred and fifty-five trees, and they exude the sweetest odours. We spent a very pleasant time camping under their grateful shade.

At last the day came for our party to break up, Mr. Palmer and Mr. Tyrwhitt-Drake en route for England and Richard and I to return to Bludán. So we parted.

It took Richard and myself many days to get back to our home. After parting with our friends, we resolved to visit the Patriarch, Primate of Antioch and of all the East; and escorted by a priest and the shaykh we travelled by way of a short cut and terrible descent of three hours. It was no better than a goat-path. We at last arrived at Dimán, the summer residence of the Patriarch, a conventual yet fortress-like building on an eminence, commanding a view of the whole of his jurisdiction. We were charmed with the reception which his Beatitude gave us. We were received by two bishops and endless retainers. The Patriarch, dressed in purple, sat in a long, narrow room like a covered terrace. We of the Faith knelt and kissed his hands, and the others bowed low. His Beatitude seemed delighted with Richard, and at dinner he sat at the head of the table, with me on his right and Richard on his left. We then went to see the chapel and the monks, and the view from the terrace, where we had coffee. His Beatitude gave me a number of pious things, amongst others a bit of the true Cross, which I still wear.

After we left the Patriarch’s we found a dreadful road. Our horses had literally to jump from one bit of rock to another. It consisted of nothing but débris of rocks. The horses were dead-beat long before we had done our day’s work, and we had to struggle forward on foot. Night found us still scrambling in the dark, worn out with fatigue and heat. I felt unable to go another step. At last, about nine o’clock, we saw a light, and we hoped it was our camp. We had yet some distance to go, and when we reached the light we found a wretched village of a few huts. It was so dark that we could not find our way into the shedlike dwellings. We had lost our camp altogether. At last, by dint of shouting, some men came out with a torch and welcomed us. Tired as I was, I saw all the horses groomed, fed, watered, and tethered in a sheltered spot for the night. We were then able to eat a water-melon, and were soon sound asleep on our saddle-cloths in the open.

The next day’s ride was as bad. The scenery, however, was very wild and beautiful. We breakfasted at the place we ought to have arrived at the previous night, and then we resumed our second bad day in the Kasrawán, the worst desert of Syria. The horses were tired of jumping from ledge to ledge. We passed some Arab tents, and camped for the night.

The following morning we rode to the top of Jebel Sunnin, one of the three highest points in Syria, and we had another six hours of the Kasrawán, which is called by the Syrians “The road of Gehenna.” We were terribly thirsty, and at last we found a little khan, which gave us the best leben I ever tasted. I was so thirsty that I seemed as if I could never drink enough. I could not help laughing when, after drinking off my third big bowl, the poor woman of the khan, in spite of Arab courtesies, was obliged to utter a loud “Máshálláh!” We were still surrounded by amphitheatre-shaped mountains, with the points to the Sea of Sidon. The sunset was splendid, and the air was cool and pleasant. We debated whether to camp or to go on; but the place was so tempting that we ended by remaining, and were repaid by a charming evening.

The next day we rode quietly down the mountains. We enjoyed a grand view and a pleasant ride, but it was as steep as a railway-bank; and we came at last to another little khan, where we breakfasted. The Anti-Lebanon rose on the opposite side. Miss Ellen Wilson, who had a Protestant mission at Zahleh in this district, asked us to her house, and we accepted her hospitality for the night, instead of remaining in our tents. We stayed at Miss Wilson’s for a few days; and we visited and were visited by the Governor of Zahleh, the Bishop, and other dignitaries. Richard was taken with fever. I nursed him all night, and caught the complaint. We both suffered horribly, in spite of every attention on the part of our friends. Richard soon shook off his illness, but I did not; I fancied I could not get well unless I went home to Bludán.

So at sunset on August 11, after we had been at Miss Wilson’s rather more than a week, our horses were made ready. I was lifted out of bed and put into a litter. We wound out of Zahleh, descended into the plain, and began to cross it. I was so sorry for the men who had to carry my litter that I begged to be allowed to ride. I told my Arab stallion Salim to be very quiet. We went at foot’s pace till 1 o’clock a.m. in bright moonlight across the plain. Then we passed regular defiles, where once or twice the horses missed their footing, and struck fire out of the rocks in their struggles to hold up. At two o’clock in the morning I felt that I was going to drop out of my saddle, and cried for quarter. The tents were hastily half pitched, and we lay down on the rugs till daylight. By that time I had to repair to my litter again, but I felt so happy at coming near home that I thought I was cured. As we neared Bludán I was carried along in the litter, and I lay so still that everybody thought that my corpse was coming home to be buried. The news spread far and wide, so I had the pleasure of hearing my own praises and the people’s lamentations.

We had not long returned to Bludán before a great excitement arose. When we had been home about a fortnight, on August 26, Richard received at night by a mounted messenger two letters, one from Mr. Wright, chief Protestant missionary at Damascus, and one from the chief dragoman at the British Consulate, saying that the Christians at Damascus were in great alarm; most of them had fled from the city, or were flying, and everything pointed to a wholesale massacre. Only ten years before (in 1860) there had been the most awful slaughter of Christians at Damascus; and though it had been put down at last, the embers of hatred were still smouldering, and might at any time burst into a flame. Now it seemed there had been one of those eruptions of ill-feeling which were periodical in Damascus, resulting from so many religions, tongues, and races being mixed up together. The chief hatred was between the Moslems and the Christians, and the Jews were fond of stirring up strife between them, because they reaped the benefit of the riot and anarchy. It appeared that the slaughter day was expected on August 27 — on the morrow. It had been so timed. All the chief authorities were absent from Damascus, as well as the Consuls, and therefore there would be nobody to interfere and nobody to be made responsible. We only got notice on the night before, the 26th. Richard and I made our plans and arrangements in ten minutes, and then saddled the horses and cleaned the weapons. Richard would not take me to Damascus, however, because, as he said, he intended to protect Damascus, and he wanted me to protect Bludán and Zebedani. The feeling that I had something to do took away all that remained of my fever. In the night I accompanied Richard down the mountain. He took half the men, and left me half. When we got into the plain, we shook hands like two brothers, and parted, though it might have been that we should never see one another again. There were no tears, nor any display of affection, for emotion might have cost us dear.

Richard rode into Damascus, put up his horse, and got to business. When he stated what he had heard, the local authorities affected to be surprised; but he said to them, “I must telegraph to Constantinople unless measures are taken at once.” This had the desired effect, and they said, “What will you have us do?” He said, “I would have you post a guard of soldiers in every street, and order a patrol at night. Issue an order that no Jew or Christian shall leave their houses until all is quiet.” These measure were taken at once, and continued for three days; not a drop of blood was shed, and the flock of frightened Christians who had fled to the mountains began to come back. In this way the massacre at Damascus was averted. But I may mention that some of the Christians who had run away in panic to Beyrout, as soon as they were safe, declared that there had been no danger whatever, and they had not been at all frightened. I grieve to say it, but the Eastern Christian is often a poor thing. But all this is to anticipate.

When I had parted from Richard in the plain, I climbed up to my eagle’s nest at Bludán, the view from which commanded the country, and I felt that as long as our ammunition lasted we could defend ourselves, unless overpowered by numbers. Night was coming on, and of course I had not the slightest idea of what would happne, but feared the worst. I knew what had happened at the previous massacre of Christians at Damascus; and flying, excited stragglers dropped in, and from what they said one would have supposed that Damascus was already being deluged in blood, and that eventually crowds of Moslems would surge up to Bludán and exterminate us also. I fully expected an attack, so I collected every available weapon and all the ammunition. I had five men in the house; to each one I gave a revolver, and a bowie-knife. I put one on the roof with a pair of elephant guns carrying four-ounce balls, and a man to each of the four sides of the house, and I commanded the terrace myself. I planted the Union Jack on the flagstaff at the top of the house, and I turned my bull terriers into the garden to give notice of any approach. I locked up a little Syrian girl whom I had taken into my service, and who was terribly frightened, in the safest room; but my English maid, who was as brave as any man, I told off to supply us with provisions and make herself generally useful. I then rode down the hill to the American Mission and begged them to come up and take shelter with me, and then into the village of Bludán to tell the Christians to come up to me on the slightest sign of danger. I gave the same message to the handful of Christians at Zebedani. I rode on to the Shaykhs, and asked them how it would be if the news proved true. They told me that there would be a fight, but they also said, “They shall pass over our dead bodies before they reach you.” It was a brave speech and kindly meant; but if anything had happened I should have been to the fore. I did not wish the Shaykhs to think I was afraid, or wanted their protection against their co-religionists.

When all preparations were completed, I returned to the house, and we waited and watched, and we watched and waited for three days. Nobody came, except more flying stragglers with exaggerated news. After having made all my preparations, I can hardly explain my sensations, whether they were of joy or of disappointment. The suspense and inaction were very trying. I was never destined to do anything worthy of my ancestress, Blanche Lady Arundell, who defended Wardour Castle against the Parliamentary forces.

During the three days we were in suspense a monster vulture kept hovering over our house. The people said it was a bad omen, and so I fetched my little gun, though I rather begrudged the cartridge just then; and when it was out of what they call reach, I had the good luck to bring it down. This gave them great comfort, and we hung the vulture on the top of the tallest tree.

At last at midnight on the third day a mounted messenger rode up with a letter from Richard, saying that all was well at Damascus, but that he would not be back for a week.

After this excitement life fell back into its normal course at Bludán, and the only variations were small excursions and my doctoring. À propos of the latter, I can tell some amusing anecdotes. Once a girl sent to me saying she had broken her leg. I had a litter constructed, hired men, and went down to see her. When I came near the place where she was, I met her walking. “How can you be walking with a broken leg?” I said. She lifted up her voice and wept; she also lifted up her petticoat and showed me a scratch on her knee that an English baby would not have cried for. Sometimes women would come and ask me for medicine to make them young again, others wished me to improve their complexions, and many wanted me to make them like Sarai of old. I gently reminded them of their ages, and said that I thought that at such a time of life no medicines or doctors could avail. “My age!” screamed one: “why, what age do you take me for?” “Well,” I answered politely, “perhaps you might be sixty” (she looked seventy-five). “I am only twenty-five,” she said in a very hurt tone of voice. “Well then,” I said, “I must congratulate you on your early marriage, for your youngest daughter is seventeen, and she is working in my house. Anyway it is really too late to work a miracle.”

On another occasion I received a very equivocal compliment. A woman came to me and begged for medicines, and described her symptoms. The doctor was with me, but she did not know him. He said in French, "Do not give her anything but a little effervescing magnesia. I won’t have anything to do with her; it is too late, and risks reputation.” I did as he bade me, simply not to seem unkind. The next day she was dead. Soon afterwards a young man of about twenty came to me and said, “Ya Sitti, will you give me some of that nice white bubbling powder for my grandmother that you gave to Umm Saba the day before yesterday? She is so old, and has been in her bed these three months, and will neither recover nor die.” “Oh thou wicked youth!” I answered; “begone from my house! I did but give Umm Saba a powder to calm her sickness, for it was too late to save her, and it was the will of Allah that she should die.”

I will here mention again my little Syrian maid, to whom I had taken a fancy at Miss Wilson’s Mission, where I first met her, and I took her into my service. She was a thorough child of Nature, quite a little wild thing, and it took me a long time to break her into domestic habits. She was about seventeen years of age, just the time of life when a girl requires careful guiding. When she first came to us, she used to say and do the queerest things. Some of them I really do not think are suited to ears polite; but here are a few.

One day, when we were sitting at work, she startled me by asking:

“Lady, why don’t you put your lip out so?” pouting a very long under-lip.

“Why, O Moon?”

“Look, my lip so large. Why all the men love her so because she pout."

“But, O Moon, my lip is not made like yours; and, besides, I never think of men.”

“But do think, Lady. Look, your pretty lip all sucked under.”

I know now how to place my lip, and I always remember her when I sit at work.

On another occasion, seeing my boxes full of dresses and pretty trinkets, and noticing that I wore no jewellery, and always dressed in riding-habits and waterproofs for rough excursions, and looked after the stables instead of lying on a divan and sucking a narghíleh, after the manner of Eastern women, she exclaimed:

“O Lady, Ya Sitti, my happiness, why do you not wear this lovely dress?” — a décolletée blue ball-dress, trimmed with tulle and roses. “I hate the black. When the Beg will come and see his wife so darling, he will be so jealous and ashamed of himself. I beg of you keep this black till you are an old woman, and instead be joyful in your happy time.”

After she had been in the house a fortnight, her ideas grew a little faster; and speaking of an old sedate lady, and hoping she would do something she wished, she startled me by saying, “If she do, she do; and if she don’t, go to hell!”

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“The Moon,” Lady Burton’s Syrian Maid

The girl was remarkably pretty, with black plaits of hair confined by a coloured handkerchief, a round baby face, large eyes, long lashes, small nose, and pouting lips, with white teeth, of which she was very proud: a temperament which was all sunshine or thunder and lightning in ten minutes. She had a nice, plump little figure, encased in a simple, tight-fitting cotton gown, which, however, showed a stomach of size totally disproportionate to her figure. Seeing this, I said gently:

“O Moon, do wear stays! When you get older, you will lose your pretty figure. You are only seventeen, and I am past thirty, and yet I have no stomach. Do let me give you some stays.”

She burst into a storm of tears and indignation at being supposed to have a fault of person, which brought on a rumbling of the stomach. She pointed to it, and said:

“Hush! do you hear, Lady? She cry because she is so great.”

Our kawwass having picked up a little bad language on board ship from the sailors, was in the habit of saying wicked words when angry, and the Moon imitated him. The Moon, on being told to do something one day by my English maid, rapped out a volley of fearful oaths, and my maid fled to me in horror. I was obliged to speak very seriously to the Moon, and told her that these were bad words used by the little gutter-boys in England when they had bad parents and did not know God.

Our dragoman, I regret to say, once took liberties with her. She complained to me.

“O Lady, all the men want my lip and my breast. Hanna he pulled me, and I told him, ‘What you want? I am a girl of seventeen. I have to learn how I shall walk. You know the Arab girl. Not even my brother kiss me without leave. Wait till I run and tell Ya Sitti.’”

This frightened Hanna, a man like a little old walnut, with a wife and children, and he begged her not to do so. But she came and told me, and I replied:

“O Moon, the next time he does it, slap his face and scream, and I will come down and ask him what he takes my house to be. He shall get more than he reckons on.”

There was a great deal of ill-feeling simmering between the Moslems and Christians all this summer, and there were many squabbles between them. Sometimes the Christians were to blame, and needlessly offended the susceptibilities of the Moslems. I was always very careful about this, and would not eat pig for fear of offending the Moslems and Jews, though we were often short of meat, and I hungered for a good rasher of bacon. I used to ride down to Zebedani, the next village to Bludán, to hear Mass, attended by only one servant, a boy of twenty. The people loved me, and my chief difficulty was to pass through the crowd that came to kiss my hand or my habit, so I might really have gone alone. I would not mention this but that our enemies misreported the facts home, and it went forth to the world that I behaved like a female tyrant, and flogged and shot the people. How this rumour arose I know not, for I never shot anybody, and the only time I flogged a man was as follows. I do not repent it, and under similar circumstances should do the same over again.

One day I was riding alone through the village of Zebedani; as usual every one rose up and saluted me, and I was joined by several native Christians. Suddenly Hasan, a youth of about twenty-two, thrust himself before my horse, and said, “What fellows you fellahin are to salute this Christian woman! I will show you the way to treat her.” This was an insult. I reined in my horse; the natives dropped on their knee, praying me not to be angry, and kissed my hands, which meant, “For Allah’s sake bear it patiently! We are not strong enough to fight for you.” By this time quite a crowd had collected, and I was the centre of all eyes. “What is the meaning of this?” I asked Hasan. “It means,” he answered, “that I want to raise the devil to-day, and I will pull you off your horse and duck you in the water. I am a Beg, and you are a Beg. Salute me!” Salute him indeed! I did salute him, but hardly in the way he bargained for. I had only an instant to think over what I could do. I knew that to give him the slightest advantage over me would be to bring on a Consular and European row, and a Christian row too, and that if I evinced the smallest cowardice I should never be able to show my face again. I had a strong English hunting-whip, and was wearing a short riding-habit. So I sprang nimbly from my saddle, and seized him by the throat, twisting his necktie tightly, and at the same time showering blows upon his head, face, and shoulders with the butt-end of my whip till he howled for mercy. My servant, who was a little way behind, heard the noise at this moment, and, seeing how I was engaged thought that I was attacked, and flew to the rescue. Six men flung themselves upon him, and during the struggle his pistol or blunderbuss went off, and the ball whizzed past our heads to lodge in the plaster wall. It might have shot me as well as Hasan, though afterwards this fact was used against me. The native Christians all threw themselves on the ground, as they often do when there is any shooting. The brother of Hasan then dragged him howling away from me. I mounted my horse again, and rode on amid the curses of his brothers. “We will follow you,” they shouted, “with sticks and stones and guns, and at night we will come in a party and burn your house, and whenever we meet an English son of a pig we will kill him.” “Thank you for your warning,” I said; “you may be quite sure I shall be ready for you.”

I went home and waited to see if any apology would be offered, but none came. The Shaykhs came up, and the Christians told me if I allowed this insult to pass in silence they would be unable to stay in the village, they were too few. I waited, however, some time, and then wrote an account of the affair and sent it to Damascus to the Wali. The Wali, who at that time was not ill-disposed towards Richard, behaved like a gentleman. He expressed regret at the incident, and sent soldiers up to burn and sack the home of Hasan and his family, but I interceded and got them off with only a few weeks’ imprisonment. The father of the youth Hasan, accompanied by about fifty of the principal people, came up to beg my pardon the morning after the insult. I, however, received them coldly, and merely said the affair had passed out of my hands. But I begged them off all the same.

There was a sequel to this story, which I may as well mention here. The following summer, when we were at Bludán, Hasan and I became great friends. One day, after doctoring him for weak eyes, I said, “What made you want to hurt me, O Hasan, last summer?” He replied, “I don’t know; the devil entered my heart. I was jealous to see you always with the Shaykhs and never noticing us. But since I have got to know you I could kill myself for it.” He had an excellent heart, but was apt to be carried off his head by the troubles of the times. I may mention that I reported the matter to the Consul-General, who had also received the story in another form; to wit, that I had seen a poor Arab beggar sitting at my gate, and because he did not rise and salute me I had drawn a revolver and shot him dead. This is a specimen of Turkish falsehood.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:33