The Romance of Lady Isabel Burton, by Isabel Burton

Chapter XVI

Jerusalem and the Holy Land

(1871)

Thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favour the dust thereof.

Psalm cii. 14.

IT had long been our desire to visit Palestine and the Holy Land thoroughly, and so in March, 1871, we determined to set out. Richard wished me to go by sea and meet him at Jerusalem, as he was going by land with Mr. Drake, who had now returned from England; so I travelled across to Beyrout, with the intention of going from there by sea to Jaffa at once. But when I reached the harbour of Beyrout there was such a rough sea that I judged it better to wait for another steamer. So I put up at the hotel at Beyrout, where I made my first acquaintance with Cook’s tourists. They swarmed like locusts over the town, in number about one hundred and eighty; and the natives said of them, “These are not travellers; these are Cookii.” Certainly they were a menagerie of curious human bipeds. I lunched and dined with them every day at the table d’hôte, and mingled with them as freely as possible, for they interested me greatly, and I used to try and classify them much as an entomologist would classify his beetles and insects. One lady of forbidding appearance was known as “the Sphinx.” When on an expedition, it was the custom to call the “Cookii” at 5 a.m., and strike the tents at six. It appears that her bower falling at the stroke of six disclosed the poor thing in a light toilet, whence issued a serious quarrel. She wore an enormous, brown, mushroom hat, like a little table, decorated all over with bunches of brown ribbon. Then there was a rich vulgarian, who had inveigled a poor gentleman into being his travelling companion, in return for his expenses. And didn’t he let us know it! This was his line of conversation at the dinner table: “You want wine, indeed! I dare say. Who brought you out, I should like to know? No end of expense. Who pays for the dinner? Who paid for the ticket? What do I get in return? No end of expense.” And so on, and so on. I longed to drop a little caustic into Dives, but I was afraid that poor Lazarus would have had to pay for it afterwards.

I embarked on the next steamer bound for Jaffa. She was the smallest, dirtiest, and most evil smelling I have ever boarded, and that is saying a good deal. We had a horrid night, very rough, and the first-class cabin became so abominable that I joined the deck passengers, and I longed to be a drover and lie with the cattle. My little Syrian maid was with me, and she was very ill. Jaffa was a rough place for landing, but we accomplished it after some little difficulty. It is a pretty, fez-shaped town on the hillside.

We remained twenty-four hours in Jaffa, and then rode on to Ramleh. The gardens around this town were exceedingly beautiful, groves of orange trees, citrons, and pomegranates. We soon entered the Plain of Sharon. The whole road was green and pretty. The country was a beautiful carpet of wild flowers. We reached Ramleh early, and I went at once to the Franciscan Monastery. The monk who acted as porter received me very stiffly at first, until he knew all about me, and then he became very expansive. They put my Syrian girl and me into a clean bedroom with embroidered muslin curtains and chintz tops. At night the monastery was full, and we were served by the monks. When I saw the company assembled in the refectory at supper, I did not wonder at the porter receiving me with such caution. They snorted and grunted and spat and used their forks for strange purposes. If I had not been so hungry, I could not have eaten a bit, though I am pretty well seasoned through living with all kinds of people.

We started early next morning in delightful weather, and I was highly excited by our near approach to Jerusalem. There were several other travellers along the road, all bound for the Holy City. We occupied seven and a half hours on the journey. We passed two cafés on the road, impromptu donkey sheds, where we found good Turkish coffee and narghílehs; and there were shady orange groves, and fields of marigolds, poppies, and such-like. At last I reached the crest of the hill, and beheld Jerusalem beneath me. I reined in my horse, and with my face towards the Sepulchre gazed down upon the city of my longing eyes with silent emotion and prayer. Every Christian bared his head; every Moslem and Jew saluted. We rode towards the Jaffa Gate, outside of which were stalls of horses and donkeys, and a motley crowd, including lines of hideous-looking lepers. I went to the Damascus Hotel, a comfortable and very quiet hostel, with no tourists or trippers, of which I was glad, for I had come on a devotional pilgrimage. In the evening I was able to sit on the terrace and realize the dream of my life. The sun was setting on the Mount of Olives, where our Saviour’s feet last touched the earth; the Mosque of Omar glittered its rosy farewell; the Arch of Ecce Homo lay beneath; the Cross of the Sepulchre caught the ruddy glow; out beyond were the Mountains of Moab, purple and red in the dying day; and between me and them, deep down I knew, lay the Dead Sea.

My reverie was awakened by the arrival of Richard with the horses and the sais and Habíb. Charles Tyrwhitt-Drake was with him.

The next morning we were out early. First we rode to see the Stone of Colloquy on the road to Bethany, so called because it is believed that, when Martha came to tell Jesus that her brother Lazarus was dead, the Saviour sat upon this stone whilst He conversed with her. It is a little table of rock about a yard long. We then went over a jagged country to Bethany, a short hour’s journey from Jerusalem. Bethany is now nothing but a few huts and broken walls in a sheltered spot. We went to see the tomb of Lazarus, which is a small empty rock chamber. About forty yards to the south we were shown the supposed house of Martha and Mary. We passed a little field where Christ withered the tree, marked by an excavation in the rock, where there is always a fig. The way we returned to Jerusalem was that by which Jesus rode upon the ass in triumph upon Palm Sunday, down the Mount of Olives, and in at the Golden Gate of the Temple.

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Mosque of Omar, Jerusalem.

On the south of the American cemetery there is a little spot of desolate land, which is the site of a house where, when all was over, our Blessed Lady lived with St. John. Here she passed her last fifteen years; here she died at the age of sixty-three, and was buried near the Garden of Gethsemane. All that remains of the site of this small dwelling are some large stones, said to be the foundations. We then visited the Cœnaculum, or the room of the Last Supper. An ancient church, which is now converted into a mosque, is built on the site of the Last Supper room. It is a long hall with a groined roof, and some say that it is the actual site, built with other materials. We then visited the house of Caiaphas, and in the afternoon we sat in the English burial-ground on Mount Zion, talking and picking a flower here and there.

Charles Tyrwhitt-Drake was our dear friend and travelling companion. He was a young man full of promise for a brilliant Eastern and scientific career. He was tall, powerful, fair, manly, distinguished for athletic and field sports; his intellectual qualities, and his mastery of languages, Arabic and others, were so great that he made me wonder how at twenty-four years of age a young man could know so much. He was a thorough Englishman, the very soul of honour.

I should weary and not edify if I were to describe all we saw at Jerusalem. I have written of it more fully elsewhere,27 and I can never hope to convey the remarkably vivid way in which it brought home to me the truth of the Gospel narrative. But I think there are two spots which I ought to describe: one is the Calvary Church, and the other is the Holy Sepulchre.

There are six holy spots on Mount Calvary. In the church itself, about four or five yards on the right hand, at the head of the staircase before you advance up the church, the black-and-white rose in the marble shows where our Saviour was stripped. Three yards farther, before an altar, a slab covers the spot where they nailed Him to the Cross; and a little farther on, at the High Altar, the Sacrifice was consummated. The High Altar is resplendent; but one wishes it were not there, for all one’s interest is concentrated upon a large silver star underneath it. On hands and knees I bowed down to kiss it, for it covered the hole in the rock where the Cross, with our dying lord upon it, was planted. I put my arm into the hole, and touched it for a blessing. On the right hand is the hole of the good thief’s cross, and on the left the bad thief’s, each marked by a black marble cross. The cleft in the solid rock which opened when “Jesus, crying with a loud voice, gave up the ghost,” and “the earth quaked and the rocks were rent,” is still visible. You can see it again below, in the deepest part of the church, where lies Adam’s tomb. The surface looks as if it were oxidized with blood, and tradition says that this colour has ever remained upon it.

We will now proceed from Calvary to the Holy Sepulchre. Entering the Basilica, the vast church where the Holy Sepulchre is, we find a little chapel enclosing the grave. It stands under the centre of the great dome, which covers the whole Basilica. The Holy Sepulchre itself, all of it cut in one solid rock, consists of a little ante-chamber and an inner chamber containing a place for interment. It is carved out of the stone in the form of a trough, which had a stone slab for a covering, and it is roofed by a small arch, also cut in the rock. When St. Helena prepared for building the Basilica with the Holy Sepulchre and Calvary, she separated the room containing the sacred tomb from the mass of rock, and caused an entrance vestibule to be carved out of the remainder. Would that St. Helena had contented herself with building indestructible walls round the sacred spots and left them to Nature, marking them only with a cross and an inscription! They would thus have better satisfied the love and devotion of Christendom, than the little, ornamented chapels which one shuts one’s eyes not to see, trying to realize what had once been. In the ante-chamber are two columns, and in the middle is the stone on which the angel sat when it was rolled back from the Sepulchre. Christians of every race, tongue, and creed burn gold and silver lamps day and night before the grave, so that the chapel inside is covered with them, and priests of each form of Christian faith officiate here in turn. The exterior of the Sepulchre is also covered with gold and silver lamps, burnt by different Christians. Fifteen lamps of gold hang in a row about the grave itself. The Turks hold the keys. In going in or coming out all kneel three times and kiss the ground. After you cross the vestibule, which is dark, you crouch to pass through the low, rock-cut archway by which you enter the tomb. You kneel by the Sepulchre, which appears like a raised bench of stone; you can put your hands upon it, lean your face upon it, if you will, and think and pray.

I was in Jerusalem all through Holy Week, from Palm Sunday until Easter Day, and I attended all the services that I could attend, and so kept the week of our Lord’s Passion in the Holy City. On Good Friday I went to the “Wailing-place of the Jews” by the west wall of the enclosure around the Mosque of Omar, an old remain of the Temple of Solomon, and listened to their lamentations, tears, prayers and chants. They bewailed their city, their Temple, their departed glory, on the anniversary of the day when their crime was accomplished and Christ was crucified. The scene and the hour made me think deeply. I shall never forget either the scene in the Basilica on Holy Saturday, when the Patriarch undressed to show that he had nothing with him to produce the Greek fire, and bared his head and feet, and then, in a plain surplice, entered the Sepulchre alone. Five minutes later the “Sacred Fire” issued, and a really wonderful scene followed. All the congregation struggled to catch the first fire. They jumped on each other’s heads, shoulders, and backs; they hunted each other round the church with screams of joy. They pass it to one another; they rub it over their faces, they press it to their bosoms, they put it in their hair, they pass it through their clothes, and not one of this mad crowd feels himself burnt. The fire looked to me like spirits on tow; but it never went out, and every part of the Basilica is in one minute alight with the blaze. I once believed in this fire, but it is said now to be produced in this manner: In one of the inner walls of the Sepulchre there is a sliding panel, with a place to contain a lamp, which is blessed, and for centuries the Greeks have never allowed this lamp to go out, and from it they take their “Sacred Fire.” Richard was assured by educated Greeks that a lucifer box did the whole business, and that is probable; but be that so or not, there was a man-of-war waiting at Jaffa to convey the “Sacred Fire” to St. Petersburg.

It was later on in the day, after we had made an excursion to see the Convent of the Cross, that Richard, Charles Tyrwhitt-Drake, and I went off to explore the Magharat el Kotn, also called the Royal Caverns. They are enormous quarries, the entrance to which looks like a hole in the wall outside Jerusalem, not far from the Gate of Damascus. We crept in, and found ourselves lost in endless artificial caves and galleries. Richard and Mr. Drake were delighted with them; but I soon left the enthusiasts, for the caves did not interest me. I had kept Lent fasting; I had attended all the long ceremonies of Holy Week; and I was therefore very tired on this day, Holy Saturday, the more so because I had not only attended my own Church’s ceremonies, but all those of every sect in Jerusalem. So I gave up exploring the caves, and sauntered away to the northernmost point of Mount Bezetha, and saw the Cave of the Prophet Jeremias. It was here that he wrote his Lamentations.

I then climbed up to a large cave somewhat to the left, above that of Jeremias, where I could look down upon Jerusalem. Here, worn out with fatigue, fasting, and over-excitement, I lay down with my head upon the stone, and slept a long sleep of two hours, during which time I dreamed a long, vivid dream. Its details in full would occupy a volume. Byron says: “Dreams in their development have breath and tears and torture and the touch of joy. They leave a weight upon our waking thoughts and look like heralds of eternity. They pass like the spirits of the past; they speak like sibyls of the future.” The spirit of Jeremias might have touched the stone upon which I slept, or Baruch might have dwelt there. I dreamed for hours, and then I awoke. A goat-herd had entered the cave, and I half fancy he had shaken me, for he looked scared and said, “Pardon, Ya Sitti; I thought you were dead.”

The bells of the Sepulchre were giving out their deep-tongued notes and re-echoing over the hills. I looked at my watch; it was the Ave Maria — sunset. I came back with a rush to reality; all my dream views vanished, and the castles in the air tumbled down like a pack of cards. Nothing remained of my wondrous dream, with its marvellous visions, its stately procession of emperors, kings, queens, pontiffs, and ministers — nothing remained of them all, but only my poor, humble self, private and obscure, still to toil on and pray and suffer. I had to rouse myself at once, and almost to run, so as to pass the gates before I was locked out of the city for the night. No one would have thought of looking for me in that cave. I should certainly have been reported as murdered. When I arrived home it was long past sunset, but Richard and Mr. Tyrwhitt-Drake had not returned from their visit to the Caves of Magharat el Kotn. The gates of Jerusalem were shut, and I felt seriously alarmed, lest they should have met with some accident; so before settling myself to write my dream, I ordered my horse and rode back to the Damascus Gate to propitiate the guard and to post a kawwass at the gate, that I might get into the city again. It was pitch dark; so I went down myself to the caves, which were miles long and deep, with lights and ropes. After a quarter of an hour’s exploration I met them coming back, safe. As soon as we got home I locked myself in my room and wrote down the incidents of my dream.

The next morning, Easter Sunday, I was up before dawn, and had the happiness of hearing two Masses and receiving Holy Communion in the Sepulchre. I was the only person present besides the celebrant and the acolyte. During the day we walked round about Jerusalem, and visited many sacred spots.

On Easter Monday in the afternoon we rode over bad country to the Cave of St. John the Baptist, where he led the life of a hermit and prepared for his preaching. It was a small cave, and there is a bench in it cut in the stone, which served the Baptist as a bed. The priests now celebrate Mass on it.

On Easter Tuesday one of Her Majesty’s men-of-war arrived at Jaffa, and a number of sailors rode up to Jerusalem in the evening, and kept high festival. It sounded strange in the solemn silence of the Holy City to hear the refrains of “We won’t go home till morning” until past midnight. But a truce to sentiment; it did me good to hear their jolly English voices, so I ordered some drink for them, and sent a message to them to sing “Rule Britannia” and “God save the Queen” for me, which they did with a hearty good-will. They made the old walls ring again.

On Wednesday we went to Bethlehem. There is a monastery over the holy places where the Nativity took place. You descend a staircase into the crypt, which must have formed part of the old khan, or inn, where Mary brought forth our Lord. The centre of attraction is a large grotto, with an altar and a silver star under it, and around the star is written, “Hic de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus natus est.” The manger where the animals fed is an excavation in the rock.

The next day, having exhausted the objects of interest in and about Bethlehem, we continued our travels. We rode on to Hebron, an ancient town lying in a valley surrounded by hills. The houses are old and ruinous. One cannot go out upon one’s roof without all the other roofs being crowded, and cries of “Bakshísh” arise like the cackle of fowls. There is a mosque of some interest, which we explored; but it was very disappointing that Richard, who had made the pilgrimage to Mecca, and who was considered as having a right to enter where Moslems enter, could not be admitted by the Hebronites to the cave below the mosque, the only part which was not visited by travellers. The answer was, “If we went, you should go too; but even we dare not go now. The two doors have been closed, one for seventy years, and the other for one hundred and fifty years.” Speaking generally, we found Hebron a dirty, depressing place, full of lazy, idle people, and a shaykh told us that there was not a Christian in the place, as though that were something to be proud of.

On Low Sunday we left Hebron and rode back to Jerusalem, where I enjoyed several days quietly among the holy sites. While we were there we were invited by the Anglican Bishop Gobat to a soirée, which we enjoyed very much indeed, and we met several very interesting people, including Mr. Holman Hunt.

On April 24 we left Jerusalem. Quite a company went with us as far as Bir Ayyúb — Joab’s Well. Then our friends rode back to Jerusalem; Richard and Mr. Tyrwhitt-Drake went in another direction; and I remained alone with servants, horses, and baggage. I sent them on in advance, and turned my horse’s head round to take a long, last look at the sacred walls of Jerusalem. I recited the psalm “Super flumina Babylonis illic sedimus,” and then after a silent meditation I galloped after my belongings.

After half an hour’s riding through orchards and grass I came to a wide defile two or three miles long, winding like a serpent, and the sides full of caves. I climbed up to some to describe them to Richard. The country was truly an abomination of desolation, nothing but naked rockery for miles and miles, with the everlasting fire of the sun raining upon it.

There was a monastery in the defile at the end, a Greek Orthodox monastery. They say that whatever woman enters the monastery dies. I had a great mind to enter it as a boy, for I was very curious to see it. However, I thought better of it, and pulled the ends of my habit out of my big boots and presented myself at the door of the monastery in my own character. The monk who played janitor eyed me sternly, and said, “We do not like women here, my daughter; we are afraid of them.” “You do not look afraid, Father,” I said. “Well,” he answered, laughing, “it is our rule, and any woman who passes this door dies.” “Will you let me risk it, Father?” I asked. “No, my daughter, no. Go in peace.” And he slammed the door in a hurry, for fear that I should try. So I strolled off and perched myself on an airy crag, from which I could look down upon the monastery, and I thought that at any rate the monks liked to look at that forbidden article, woman, for about sixty of them came out to stare at me. When Richard and Charles Tyrwhitt-Drake arrived, they were admitted to the monastery, and shown over everything, which I thought very hard, and I was not greatly reconciled by being told that there was really nothing to see. We camped here for the night. The sun was still tinting the stone-coloured hills, the dark blue range of Moab, when a gong sounded through the rocks, and I saw flocks of jackals clamber up to the monastery to be fed, followed by flights of birds. The monks tame all the wild animals.

Next day we went off to the Dead Sea. We had read in guide-books that the way to it was very difficult, but we did not believe it. I wish we had, for our ride to it across the desert was terrible. The earth was reeking with heat, and was salt, sulphurous, and stony. We were nearly all day crossing the Desert of Judah, and at last our descent became so rugged and bad that our baggage mules stuck fast in the rocks and sand. We had to cut away traps and cords, and sacrifice boxes to release them. We could see the bright blue Dead Sea long before we reached it, but we had to crawl and scramble down on foot as best we could under the broiling sun. It reminded me more of a bleak and desolate Lake Geneva than anything else. While we were waiting for the mules and baggage we tried to hide from the sun, and tied the horses to bits of rocks. Then we plunged into the sea, and had a glorious swim. You cannot sink. You make very little way in the water, and tire yourself if you try to swim fast. If a drop of the water happens to get into your eye, nose, or mouth, it is agonizing; it is so salt, hard, and bitter. Next day I felt very ill from the effects of my bath. In the first place, I was too hot to have plunged into the cold water at once; and, in the second place, I stopped in too long, because, being the only woman, and the place of disrobing being somewhat public, the others kept out of sight until I was well in the water, and when the bath was ended I had to stay in the water until Richard and Charles Tyrwhitt-Drake had gone out and dressed, all the time keeping my head of course discreetly in the other direction, so that by the time they had finished I had been nearly an hour in the Dead Sea, and the result was I suffered from it. After bathing we dined on the borders of the sea. The colours of the water were beautiful, like the opal; and the Mountains of Moab were gorgeous in the dying light.

The next day we rode over very desolate country to Neby Musa, the so-called tomb of Moses, and we camped for the night on the banks of the Jordan. I was very feverish, weak, and ill. All the others bathed in the sacred river, but I only dipped my head in and filled three bottles to bring home for baptisms. I was most anxious to bathe in Jordan, and I cried with vexation at not being able to do so in consequence of my fever. In the cool of the following afternoon we rode to Jericho, which consists of a few huts and tents; a small part of it is surrounded by pleasant orchards. It was hard to imagine this poor patch of huts was ever a royal city of palaces, where cruel Herod ruled and luxurious Cleopatra revelled.

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The Dead Sea.

Next morning we rode out of the valley of the Jordan, which, fringed with verdure, winds like a green serpent through the burning plain of the desert. We encamped for the night at Bethel, where Jacob dreamed of his ladder. I felt so ill — all that Dead Sea again — that it was proposed that we should ride on to Náblus next day, about ten hours distant, and that we should encamp there for four or five days to let me recover.

We rode over endless stony hills, relieved by fruitful valleys. I felt very ill, and could scarcely go on; but at last we arrived at our camping ground. It was by a stream amidst olive groves and gardens outside Náblus. As this was the boundary between the Damascus and the Jerusalem consular jurisdiction, we now considered ourselves once more upon our own ground. We stayed at Náblus four days, and visited all the places of interest in it and around it, which I have not time to dwell upon now.

We left Náblus in the early morning, and after a delightful ride through groves and streams we entered Samaria, where, however, we did no more than halt for a space, but rode on to Jennin, where we camped for the night. There were several other camps at Jennin besides our own — two of Englishmen, and likewise an American and a German camp — five camps in all. We had quite a foregathering in the evening; and a glorious evening it was, with a May moon. The little white village with its mosque peeped out of the foliage of palm trees and mulberry groves.

We left early next morning, and rode to Scythopolis, where we camped.

The next morning Richard and Mr. Drake went on ahead to take some observations; I jogged on more leisurely behind, and our camp was sent on to Nazareth. Everywhere the earth was beautifully green, and carpeted with wild flowers. The air was fresh and balmy, and laden with the scents of spring. I passed the black tents of some Arabs, who gave me milk to drink. We also passed one well, where we watered the horses. It was a perfect day, but I was alone. We rode on until we came to Nain, and thence to Endor. Here we reposed under some fig trees for an hour, and were twice insulted for so doing. The district around Nazareth was very turbulent. First came some “big-wig” with a long name, who, thinking I was only an Englishwoman, told me to “get up,” and said he “didn’t care for consuls, nor English, nor kawwasses.” A poor woman standing by begged me to go out again into the sun, and not shade myself under the figs, and thus displease this great man. You see, when I was sitting down, he thought that by my voice and face I was a woman, and as long as my servants only addressed me in coarse Arabic he bounced accordingly. But when I arose in my outraged dignity, and he saw my riding-habit tucked into my boots, he thought that I was a boy, or rather a youth; and I flourished my whip and cried, “You may not, O Shaykh, care for consuls, nor English, nor kawwasses, but I am going to make you care for something.” Thereupon he jumped up as nimble as a monkey, and ran for his life. Then the villagers, thinking me the better man of the two, brought me milk for driving him away. He was soon succeeded by a fellah with half a shirt, who came out of his way to insult a stranger, and asked me by what right we sat under the shady figs; but the sais gave him a knock with his knobbed stick, and after that we were left in peace. Endor consists of about twenty wretched huts on the side of a hill, and the women look like descendants of the original witch. I went to a big fountain where crones were drawing water, dreadful old women, who accused me of having the Evil Eye, which made my servant very nervous. Blue eyes are always considered to be dangerous in the East. I said, “You are quite right, O ye women of Endor; I was born with the Evil Eye”; whereupon they became very civil, that I might not hurt them. We then descended into the plain between Endor and Nazareth, and it was so hot and close that I fell asleep on my horse for fully an hour. At last we reached the Vale of Nazareth. I was glad to ride into the camp, where I found all our former travellers. They were very hospitable, and gave me shelter until our tents were pitched. The camps were all pitched in a small plain without the town. Our camp was near the Greek Orthodox Church, and hidden from the others by a slight eminence.

At sunrise next morning a Copt wanted to enter my tent, either for stealing or some other purpose. I was still in bed, half awake, and I heard the servants tell him to go. He refused, and was very insolent. He took up stones, and threw them, and struck the men. The noise awoke me thoroughly. I got up, and watched the proceedings through the top of my tent wall. I called out to my servants to leave him alone; but by this time they were angry, and began to beat the Copt. A little affair of this sort among the people would hardly be noticed in the usual way; but as ill-luck would have it, the Greeks, whom it didn't concern, were coming out of church, and seeing a quarrel they joined in it and sided with the Copt. Our servants were only six, and the Greeks were one hundred and fifty. Richard and Mr. Tyrwhitt-Drake, hearing the noise, ran out of their tents half dressed to see what was the matter, and said and did everything to calm the people. They were received with a hail-storm of stones, each the size of a melon, which seemed to darken the air for several minutes. A rich and respectable Greek called out, “Kill them all; I’ll pay the blood money.” Our Druze muleteer called out, “Shame! This is the English Consul of Damascus on his own ground.” Another Greek shouted, “So much the worse for him.” I put on some clothes while the fighting was going on, and watched Richard. As an old soldier accustomed to fire, he stood perfectly calm, though the stones hit him right and left. Most men under such pain and provocation would have fired, but he contented himself with marking out the ringleaders, to take them afterwards. I ran out to give him two six-shot revolvers, but before I got within stone’s reach he waved me back; so I kept near enough to carry him off if he were badly wounded, and put the revolvers in my belt, meaning to have twelve lives for his if he were killed. Seeing that he could not appease the Greeks, and three of the servants were badly hurt, and one lay for dead on the ground, Richard pulled a pistol out of Habíb’s belt and fired a shot into the air. I understood the signal, and flew round to the other camps and called all the English and Americans with their guns. When they saw a reinforcement of ten armed English and Americans running down to them, the cowardly crew of one hundred and fifty Greeks turned and fled. But for this timely assistance, we none of us should have been left alive. The whole affair did not last ten minutes.

We found out afterwards that the cause of the Greek ill-feeling originated with the Greek Orthodox Bishop of Nazareth, who had snatched away a synagogue and cemetery from British-protected Jews, against which arbitrary proceeding Richard had strongly protested. Richard went later in the day to report what had happened to the Turkish official, the Káim-makám, and to ask for redress, but he was unable to do anything. He had only twelve zaptíyeh (policemen), armed with canes! So we had to wait at Nazareth five days, until Richard sent to St. Jean d’Acre for soldiers. The Greeks were at first very insolent; but when they found that Richard was in earnest about having the offenders punished, they came in a body to beg pardon. The Bishop also sent to say that he deeply regretted the part he had taken. But whilst the Greeks were so occupied in our presence, they were manufacturing the most untruthful and scandalous report of the affair, which they sent to Damascus and Beyrout, to St. Jean d’Acre and to Constantinople, which was signed and sealed by the Bishop and endorsed by the Wali of Syria, who never waited or asked for one word of explanation from Richard.

The Greeks said, in their report, that we began the quarrel, and many other things absolutely false. For instance, they stated that Richard fired upon them several times when they were playing games; that he entered the church armed to profane it, tore down the pictures, broke the lamps, and shot a priest; and that I also went forth in my nightgown, and, sword in hand, tore everything down, and jumped and shrieked upon the débris, and did many other unwomanly things. This report was actually signed and sealed by the Bishop and by the Wali, and forwarded, unknown to us, to Constantinople and London. Naturally Richard’s few enemies at home tried to make capital out of the accident.

The whole day after the brutal attack upon us we had to do all the work of our tents and the cooking and attend to our horses ourselves. Even if we had wished to move away from Nazareth we could not have done so with four of our servants disabled and helpless. Dr. Varden and myself were entirely occupied with the suffering men. Richard and Mr. Tyrwhitt-Drake took charge of the tents and horses, and the doctor sent me a woman to help to cook, as it was necessary to prepare soup and invalid food for the wounded, who, in consequence of their injuries, suffered from fever. Richard’s sword arm was injured by stones, and the sprained muscles were not thoroughly cured for two years afterwards. Besides this, we had to be prepared for a night attack of revenge. And what with the whispering of the Turkish soldiers, who had come from St. Jean d’Acre, the evident excitement prevailing in the town, and the barking of dogs, the nights were not peaceful enough to admit of sleep.

On May 10 we left Nazareth, and every one came out to see our departure. Our exit was over a steep country composed of slabs of slippery rock, but we soon got into a better district, over flowery plains, now and then varied by difficult passes and tracks. We camped for the night by the Lake of Tiberias, the Sea of Galilee. Next day we hired a boat and went round the lake. Towards night there was a glare behind the mountains, as if some town in the neighbourhood was on fire. We could not sleep in consequence of the stifling heat, and flies and mosquitoes were numerous. The day after I went off to the hot baths of Hamath, or Emmaus. They were salt and sulphuric. In the middle of the bath-house was a large marble basin, through which the water passed, with little rooms around. Here people bathed for bone-aches. The women advised me to enter cautiously. I laughed; and by way of showing them that Englishwomen were accustomed to water and were not afraid, I plunged in for a swim. But I soon repented. I felt as if I had jumped into boiling water. My skin was all burnt red, and I began to be faint. However, on leaving the bath I felt much invigorated, and lost all the fever and illness resulting from my swim in the Dead Sea.

The next morning we galloped round the northern end of the Sea of Galilee. In the afternoon we rode to Safed, where we camped for the night. Safed is a town of considerable size, and surrounded by beautiful gardens. There is a large Jewish quarter, and from the hour of our coming the Jews were all hospitality and flocked to our tents to greet us. It was very hot at Safed in the daytime; and when we left the next day we had a most trying ride across a country burnt black with the recent prairie fire. We encamped for the night in a lonely spot, which turned out to be a perfect paradise for mosquitoes, spiders, scorpions, and other pests, but a perfect hell for us. We could do nothing but wrap ourselves up completely in sheets, and walk up and down all night long by the camp-fires, while the jackals howled outside. When the morning light came, we were able to laugh at one another’s faces, all swollen with bites and stings. Mine was like the face one sees in a spoon.

I need not dwell upon the next three days, because they were all exactly alike. We rode all day and camped at night until the morning of May 19 dawned. In the cool light we entered the Plain of Damascus. We halted for breakfast under a favourite fig tree, where were shade, water, and grass. We then ambled for three and a half hours over the barren plain, until at last we arrived on the borders of the green groves around Damascus. We entered our own oasis. Oh how grateful were the shade, the cool water, and the aromatic smells! One hour more and we entered our own little paradise again, and met with a cordial greeting from all. It was a happy day. I did not know it then, but our happy days at Damascus were numbered.

27 The Inner Life of Syria, Palestine, and the Holy Land, by Isabel Burton, 2 vols.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/burton/isabel/romance/chapter26.html

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