I landed at El–Muwaylah, described in my last volume,18 on the auspicious Wednesday, December 19, 1877, under a salute from the gunboat Mukhbir, which the fort answered with a rattle and a patter of musketry. All the notables received us, in line drawn up on the shore, close to our camp. To the left stood the civilians in tulip-coloured garb; next were the garrison, a dozen Básh-Buzuks en bourgeois, and mostly armed with matchlocks; then came out quarrymen in uniform, but without weapons; and, lastly, the escort (twenty-five men) held the place of honour on the right. The latter gave me a loud “Hip! hip! hurrah!” as I passed. The tents, a total of twenty, including two four-polers for our mess and for the stores, with several large canvas sheds — páls, the Anglo–Indian calls them — gleamed white against the dark-green fronds of the date-grove; and the magnificent background of the scene was the “Dibbagh” block of the Tiha’mah, or lowland mountains.
The usual “palaver” at once took place; during which everything was “sweet as honey.” After this pleasant prelude came the normal difficulties and disagreeables — it had been reported that I was the happy possessor of £22,000 mostly to be spent at El–MuwayIah. The unsettled Arabs plunder and slay; the settled Arabs slander and cheat.
A whole day was spent in inspecting the soldiers and mules; in despatching a dromedary-post to Suez with news of our unexpectedly safe arrival, and in conciliating the claims of rival Bedawin. His Highness the Viceroy had honoured with an order to serve us Hasan ibn Salim, Shaykh of the Beni ‘Ukbah, a small tribe which will be noticed in a future page. Last spring these men had carried part of our caravan to ‘Aynúnah; and they having no important blood-feuds, I had preferred to employ them. But ‘Abd el-Nabi, of the Tagayát-Huwaytát clan, had been spoilt by over-kindness during my reconnaissance of 1877; besides, I had given him a bowie-knife without taking a penny in exchange. In my first volume he appears as a noble savage, with a mixture of the gentleman; here he becomes a mere Fellah–Bedawi.
The claimants met with the usual ceremony; right hands placed on the opposite left breasts — this is not done when there is bad blood — foreheads touching, and the word of peace, “Salám,” ceremoniously ejaculated by both mouths. Then came the screaming voices, the high words, and the gestures, which looked as if the Kurbáj (“whip”) were being administered. The Huwayti stubbornly refused to march with the other tribe, whom, moreover, he grossly insulted: he professed perfect readiness to carry me and mine gratis, the while driving the hardest bargain; he spoke of “our land,” when the country belongs to the Khediv; he openly denied his allegiance; he was convicted of saying, “If these Christians find gold, there will be much trouble (fitneh) to us Moslems;” and at a subsequent time he went so far as to abuse an officer. I had “Shaykh’d” him (Shayyakht-uh), that is, promoted him in rank, said the Sayyid ‘Abd el-Rahím; and the honour had completely changed his manners. “Nasaggharhu” (We will “small” him), was my reply. The only remedy, in fact, was to undo what had been done; to cut down, as Easterns say, the tree which I had planted. So he was solemnly and conspicuously disrated; the fee, one dollar per diem, allotted as travelling and escort-allowance to the chiefs, was publicly taken from him, and he at once subsided into an ignoble Walad (“lad”), under the lead of his uncle, Shaykh ‘Aláyan ibn Rabí. The latter is a man of substance, who can collect at least two thousand camels. Though much given to sulking, on the whole, he behaved so well that, the Expedition ended, I recommended him to his Highness the Viceroy for appointment to the chieftainship of his tribe, and the usual yearly subsidy. With him was associated his cousin, Shaykh Furayj, an excellent man, of whom I shall have much to say; and thus we had to fee three Bedawi chiefs, including Hasan. The latter was a notable intriguer and mischief-maker, ever breeding bad blood; and his termper was rather violent than sullen. When insulted by a soldier, he would rush off for his gun, ostentatiously light the match, walk about for an hour or two threatening to “shyute,” and then apparently forget the whole matter.
All wanted to let their camels by the day, whereas the custom of Arabia is to bargain for the march. Thus, the pilgrims pay one dollar per stage of twelve hours; and the post-dromedary demands the same sum, besides subsistence-money and “bakhshi’sh.” But our long and frequent halts rendered this proceeding unfair to the Bedawin. I began by offering seven piastres tariff, and ended by agreeing to pay five per diem while in camp, and ten when on the road.19 Of course, it was too much; but our supply of money was ample, and the Viceroy had desired me to be liberal. In the Nile valley, where the price of a camel is some £20, the average daily hire would be one dollar: on the other hand, the animal carries, during short marches, 700 lbs. The American officers in Upper Egypt reduced to 300 lbs. the 500 lbs. heaped on by the Súdáni merchants. In India we consider 400 lbs. a fair load; and the Midianite objects to anything beyond 200 lbs.
I have no intention of troubling the reader with a detailed account of our three first stages from El–Muwaylah to the Jebel el-Abyaz, or White Mountain.20 On December 21st, leaving camp with the most disorderly of caravans — 106 camels instead of 80, dromedaries not included — we marched to the mouth of the Wady Tiryam, where we arrived before our luggage and provisions, lacking even “Adam’s ale.” The Shaykhs took all the water which could be found in the palm-boothies near the shore, and drank coffee behind a bush. This sufficed to give me the measure of these “wall-jumpers.”
Early next morning I set the quarrymen to work, with pick and basket, at the north-western angle of the old fort. The latter shows above ground only the normal skeleton-tracery of coralline rock, crowning the gentle sand-swell, which defines the lip and jaw of the Wady; and defending the townlet built on the northern slope and plain. The dimensions of the work are fifty-five mètres each way. The curtains, except the western, where stood the Báb el-Bahr (“Sea gate”), were supported by one central as well as by angular bastions; the northern face had a cant of 32 degrees east (mag.); and the northwestern tower was distant from the sea seventy-two me’tres, whereas the south-western numbered only sixty. The spade showed a substratum of thick old wall, untrimmed granite, and other hard materials. Further down were various shells, especially bénitiers ( Tridacna gigantea) the harp (here called “Sirinbáz”), and the pearl-oyster; sheep-bones and palm charcoal; pottery admirably “cooked,” as the Bedawin remarked; and glass of surprising thinness, iridized by damp to rainbow hues. This, possibly the remains of lachrymatories, was very different from the modern bottle-green, which resembles the old Roman. Lastly, appeared a ring-bezel of lapis lazuli; unfortunately the “royal gem,” of Epiphanus was without inscription.
Whilst we were digging, the two staff-officers rode to the date-groves of Wady Tiryam, and made a plan of the ancient defences — the results of the first Khedivial Expedition had either not been deposited at, or had been lost in, the Staff bureau, Cairo. They found that the late torrents had filled up the sand pits acting as wells; and the people assured them that the Fiumara had ceased to show perennial water only about five or six years ago.
The second march was disorderly as the first: it reminded me of driving a train of unbroken mules over the Prairies; the men were as wild and unmanageable as their beasts. It was every one’s object to get the maximum of money for the minimum of work. The escort took especial care to see that all their belongings were loaded before ours were touched. Each load was felt, and each box was hand-weighed before being accepted: the heaviest, rejected by the rich, were invariably left to the poorest and the lowest clansmen with the weakest and leanest of animals. All at first especially objected to the excellent boxes — a great comfort — made for the Expedition21 at the Citadel, Cairo; but they ended with bestowing their hatred upon the planks, the tables, and the long tent-poles. As a rule, after the fellows had protested that their camels were weighted down to the earth, we passed them on the march comfortably riding — for “the ‘Orbán can’t walk.” And no wonder. At the halting-place they unbag a little barley and wheat-meal, make dough, thrust it into the fire, “break bread,” and wash it down with a few drops of dirty water. This copious refection ends in a thimbleful of thick, black coffee and a pipe. At home they have milk and Ghí (clarified butter) in plenty during the season, game at times, and, on extraordinary occasions, a goat or a sheep, which, however, are usually kept for buying corn in Egypt. But it is a “caution” to see them feed alle spalle altrui.
Nothing shabbier than the pack-saddles; nothing more rotten than the ropes. As these “Desert ships” must weigh about half the sturdy animals of Syria and the Egyptian Delta, future expeditions will, perhaps, do well to march their carriage round by El-‘Akabah. The people declare that the experiment has been tried, but that the civilized animal sickens and dies in these barrens; they forget, however, the two pilgrim-caravans.
At this season the beasts are half-starved. Their “kitchen” is a meagre ration of bruised beans, and their daily bread consists of the dry leaves of thorn trees, beaten down by the Makhbat, a flail-like staff, and caught in a large circle of matting (El–Khasaf). In Sinai the vegetation fares even worse: the branches are rudely lopped off to feed the flocks; only “holy trees” escape this mutilation. With the greatest difficulty we prevented the Arabs tethering their property all night close to our tents: either the brutes were cold; or they wanted to browse or to meet a friend: every movement was punished with a wringing of the halter, and the result may be imagined.
We slept that night at Wady Sharmá. Of this ruined town a plan was made for “The Gold–Mines of Midian,” by Lieutenant Amir, who alone is answerable for its correctness. We afterwards found layers of ashes, slag, and signs of metal-working to the north-east of the enceinte, where the furnace probably stood. The outline measures 1906 metres, not “several kilometres;” and desultory digging yielded nothing but charcoal, cinders, and broken pottery. It was not before nine a.m. on the next day that I could mount my old white, stumbling, starting mule; the delay being caused by M. Marie’s small discovery, which will afterwards be noticed. We crossed both branches of the Sharmá water; and, ascending the long sand-slope of the right bank, we again passed the Bedawi cemetery. I sent Lieutenants Amir and Yusuf to prospect certain stone-heaps which lay seawards of the graves; and they found a little heptangular demi-lune, concave to the north; the curtains varying from a minimum length of ten to a maximum of eighty me’tres, and the thickness averaging two metres, seventy-five centimetres. It was possibly intended, like those above Wady Tiryam, to defend the western approach; and, superficially viewed, it looks like a line of stones heaped up over the dead, with that fine bird’s-eye view of the valley which the Bedawi loves for his last sleeping-place.
Thence we passed through the dry Báb (“sea gap”), cut by a torrent in the regular line of the coralline cliff, the opening of the Wady Melláh, off which lay our Sambúk. Marching up the Wady Maka’dah, our experienced eyes detected many small outcrops of quartz, formerly unobserved, in the sole and on the banks. The granite hills, here as throughout Midian, were veined and dyked with two different classes of plutonic rock. The red and pink are felsites or fine-grained porphyries; the black and bottle-green are the coarse-grained varieties, easily disintegrating, and forming hollows [Illustration with caption: Fortification on the cliff commanding the right bank of Wady Sharma’.] in the harder granite. The ride was made charming by the frontage of picturesque Jebel ‘Urnub, with its perpendicular Pinnacles upon rock-sheets dropping clear a thousand feet; its jutting bluffs; its three huge flying Buttresses, that seemed to support the mighty wall-crest; and its many spits and “organs,” some capped with finials that assume the aspect of logan-stones. There was no want of animal life, and the yellow locusts were abroad; one had been seized by a little lizard which showed all the violent muscular action of the crocodile. There were small long-eared hares, suggesting the leporide; sign of gazelles appeared; and the Bedawin spoke of wolves and hyenas, foxes and jackals.
We camped upon the old ground to the southwest of the Jebel el-Abyaz; and at the halt our troubles forthwith began. The water, represented to be near, is nowhere nearer than a two hours’ march for camels; and it is mostly derived from rain-puddles in the great range of mountains which subtends maritime Midian. But this was our own discovery. The half-Fellah Bedawin, like the shepherds, their predecessors, in the days of Abimelech and Jethro, are ever chary of their treasure; the only object being extra camel-hire. After eating your salt, a rite whose significance, by-the-by, is wholly ignored throughout Midian and its neighbourhood, they will administer under your eyes a silencing nudge to an over-communicative friend. ‘The very children that drive the sheep and goats instinctively deny all knowledge of the Themáil (“pits”) and holes acting as wells.
At the head of the Wady el-Maka’dah we halted six days (December 24 — 30); this delay gave us time to correct the misapprehensions of our flying visit. The height of the Jebel el-Abyaz, whose colour makes it conspicuous even from the offing when sailing along the coast, was found to be 350 (not 600) feet above the plain. The Grand Filon, which a mauvais plaisant of a reviewer called the “Grand Filou,” forms a “nick” near the hill-top, but does not bifurcate in the interior. The fork is of heavy greenish porphyritic trap, also probably titaniferous iron, with a trace of silver,22 where it meets the quartz and the granite. Standing upon the “old man” with which we had marked the top, I counted five several dykes or outcrops to the east (inland), and one to the west, cutting the prism from north to south; the superficial matter of these injections showed concentric circles like ropy lava. The shape of the block is a saddleback, and the lay is west-east, curving round to the south. The formation is of the coarse grey granite general throughout the Province, and it is dyked and sliced by quartz veins of the amorphous type, crystals being everywhere rare in Midian (?) The filons and filets, varying in thickness from eight metres to a few lines, are so numerous that the whole surface appears to be quartz tarnished by atmospheric corrosion to a dull, pale-grey yellow; while the fracture, sharp and cutting as glass or obsidian, is dazzling and milk-white, except where spotted with pyrites — copper or iron. The neptunian quartz, again, has everywhere been cut by plutonic injections of porphyritic trap, veins averaging perhaps two metres, with a north-south strike, and a dip of 75 degrees (mag.) west. If the capping were removed, the sub-surface would, doubtless, bear the semblance of a honeycomb.
The Jebel el-Abyaz is apparently the centre of the quartzose outcrop in North Midian (Madyan Proper). We judged that it had been a little worked by the ancients, from the rents in the reef that outcrops, like a castle-wall, on the northern and eastern flanks. There are still traces of roads or paths; while heaps, strews, and scatters of stone, handbroken and not showing the natural fracture, whiten like snow the lower slopes of the western hill base. They contrast curiously with the hard felspathic stones and the lithographic calcaires bearing the moss-like impress of metallic dendrites; these occur in many parts near the seaboard, and we found them in Southern as well as in Northern Midian. The conspicuous hill is one of four mamelons thus disposed in bird’s-eye view; the dotted line shows the supposed direction of the lode in the Jibál el-Bayzá, the collective name.
On the plain to the north of the Jebel el-Abyaz also, I found curdles of porphyritic trap, and parallel trap-dykes, cutting the courses of large-grained grey granite: as many as three outcrops of the former appeared within fourteen yards. This convinced me that the whole of the solid square, thirty kilometres (six by five), where the quartz emerges, is underlaid by veins and veinlets of the same rock. Moreover, I then suspected, and afterwards ascertained, that the quartz of the Jibál el-Bayzá, as the Bedawin call this section, is not a local peculiarity. It everywhere bursts, not only the plain between the sea and the coast-range, but the two parallels of mountain which confine it on the east. In fact, throughout our northern march the Arabs, understanding that its object was “Marú,” the generic name for quartz,23 brought us loads of specimens from every direction. Nothing is easier than to work the purely superficial part. A few barrels of gunpowder and half a dozen English miners, with pick and crowbar, suffice. Even our dawdling, feckless quarrymen easily broke and “spelled” for camel loading some six tons in one day.
Our short se’nnight was not wasted; yet I had an uncomfortable feeling that the complication of the country called for an exploration of months and not hours. Every day some novelty appeared. The watercourses of the Gháts or coast-range were streaked with a heavy, metallic, quartzose black sand which M. Marie vainly attempted to analyze. We afterwards found it in almost every Wady, and running north as far as El-‘Akabah; whilst, with few exceptions, all our washings of red earth, chloritic sand, and bruised stone, yielded it and it only. It is apparently the produce of granite and syenite, and it abounds in African Egypt. I was in hopes that tungsten and titaniferous iron would make it valuable for cutlery as the black sand of New Zealand. Experiments in the Citadel, Cairo, produced nothing save magnetic iron with a trace of lead. But according to Colonel Ross, the learned author of “Pyrology, or Fire Chemistry,”24 it is iserine or magnetic ilmenite, titaniferous iron-sand, containing eighty-eight per cent. of iron (oxides and sesquioxides), with eleven per cent. of titanic acid.
The Arabs brought in fine specimens of hematite and of copper ore from Wady Gharr or Ghurr, six miles to the south of camp. Here were found two water-pits in a well-defined valley; the nearer some ten miles south-west of the Jebel el-Abyaz, the other about two miles further to the north-west; making a total of twelve. About the latter there was, however, no level ground for tents. A mile and a half walking almost due north led to a veinlet of copper 30 metres long by 0.30 thick, with an east-west strike, and a dip of 45 degrees south. This metal was also found in the hills to the south. Crystalline pyroxene and crystallized sulphates of lime apparently abound, while the same is the case with carbonate of manganese, and other forms of the metal so common in Western Sinai. Briefly, our engineer came to the conclusion that we were in the very heart of a mining region.
We made a general reconnaisance (December 27th) of a place whence specimens of pavonine quartz had come to hand. Following the Wady ‘Ifriyá round the north and east of the White Mountain, we fell into the Wady Simákh (of “Wild Sumach”), that drains the great gap between the Pinnacles and the Buttresses of the ‘Urnub–Tihámah section. After riding some two miles, we found to the south-east fragments of dark, iridescent, and metallic quartz: they emerge from the plain like walls, bearing north-south, with 36 degrees of westing and a westward dip of 15 degrees to 20 degrees — exactly the conditions which Australia seeks, and which produced the huge “Welcome Nugget” of Ballarat. They crop out of the normal trap-dyked grey granite, and select specimens show the fine panaché lustre of copper. M. Marie afterwards took from one of the geodes a pinch of powder weighing about half a gramme, and cupelled a bright dust-shot bead weighing not less than two centigrammes. Without further examination he determined it to be argentiferous, when it was possibly iron or antimony. On the other hand, the silver discovered in the Grand Filon by so careful and conscientious an observer as Gastinel Bey, and the fact that we are here on the same line of outcrop, and at a horizon three hundred feet lower, are reassuring.
This vein, which may be of great length and puissance, I took the liberty of calling the “Filon Husayn,” from the prince who had so greatly favoured the Expedition. Here we had hit upon the Negros,25 or coloured quartzose formations of Mexico, in which silver appears as a sulphure; and we may expect to find the Colorado, or argillaceous, that produces the noble metal in the forms of chlorure, bromure, and iodure. The former appears everywhere in Midian, but our specimens are all superficial, taken à ciel ouvert. To ascertain the real value and the extent of the deposits required exposure of the veins at a horizon far lower than our means and appliances allowed us to reach. If the rock prove argentiferous I should hope to strike virgin silver in the capillary or aborescent shape below. Above it, as on the summit of the Jebel el-Abyaz, and generally in the “Marú” hills and hillocks of North Midian, the dull white quartz is comparatively barren; showing specks of copper; crystals of pyrites, the “crow-gold” of the old English miner, and dark dots of various metals which still await analysis.
Thus, I would divide the metalliferous quartzes of this North–Midianite region into two chief kinds: those stained green and light blue, whose chief metallic element is copper, with its derivatives; and the iridescent Negro, which may shelter the Colorado. In South Midian the varieties of quartz are incomparably more numerous, and almost every march shows a new colour or constitution.
About the Jebel el-Abyaz, as in many mining countries, water is a serious difficulty. The principal deposit lies some three miles east of the camping ground in a Nakb or gorge, El–Asaybah, offsetting from the great Fiumara, “El–Simákh;” and apparently it is only a rain-pool. Throughout Midian, I may say, men still fetch water out of the rock. M. Philipin, whilst pottering about this place, saw two Beden (ibex) with their young, which suggests a permanent supply of drink.26
However that may be, Norton’s Abyssinian pumps, for which I had vainly applied at Cairo, would doubtless discover the prime necessary in the Wadys, many of the latter being still damp and muddy. Moreover, the crible continue à grilles filtrantes, the invention of MM. Huet and Geyler, introduced, we are told, into the mechanical treatment of metals, a principle which greatly economizes fluid. Founded upon the fact that sands of nearly the same size, but of different densities, when mixed in liquid and subjected to rapid vertical oscillation, range themselves by order of weight, the heavier sinking and not allowing passage to lighter matter, the new sieve offers the advantages of a single and simple instrument, with increased facility for treating poor “dirt.” Finally, as I shall show, the country is prepared by nature to receive a tramway; and the distance to the sea does not exceed fourteen miles, liberally computed.27
Either the rain-water affected the health of the party, or it suffered from the excessive dryness and variations of the atmosphere, eight to nine hundred feet above sea-level (aner. 29.10), ranging in the tents between 92 degrees by day and 45 degrees at night, a piercing, killing temperature in the Desert. Moreover, the cold weather is mostly the unwholesome season in hot lands, and vice versâ: hence the Arab proverb, Harárat el-Jebel, wa lá Bard-há (“The heat of the hills and not their cold”). Old Haji Wali lost his appetite, complained of indigestion, and clamoured to return home; Ahmed Kaptán suffered from Sulb (“lumbago”) and bad headache; whilst Lieutenant Yusuf was attacked by an ague and fever, which raised the mouth thermometer to 102 degrees — 103 degrees, calling loudly for aconite. These ailments affected the party more or less the whole way, but it was not pleasant to see them begin so soon. When our work of collecting specimens — three tons from the Jebel el-Abyaz, and three from the Filon Husayn — was finished, I resolved upon returning to the coast and treating our loads at the Sharmá water. We reached the valley mouth on December 30th, and we greatly enjoyed the change from the harshness of the inland to the mildness of the seaboard air.
We stayed at Sharmá, much disliking its remarkably monotonous aspect, for another week, till January 7, 1878. Yule, “the wheel,” despite the glorious tree-logs and roaring fires, had been a failure at the White Mountain. The Dragoman had killed our last turkey, and had forgotten to bring the plum-pudding from El–Muwaylah: there was champagne, but that is not the stuff wherewithal to wash down tough mutton. New Year’s Day, on the other hand, had all the honours. Its birth was greeted with a flow of whisky-punch, wherein wine had taken the place of water; and we drank the health of his Highness, the Founder of the Expedition, in a bottle of dry Mumm. The evening ended with music and dancing, by way of “praying the Old Year out and the New Year in.” Mersál, the Boruji, performed a wild solo on his bugle; and another negro, Ahmed el-Shinnáwi, played with the Nái or reed-pipe one of those monotonous and charming minor-key airs — I call them so for want of a word to express them — which extend from Midian to Trafalgar, and which find their ultimate expression in the lovely Iberian Zarzuela.28 The boy Husayn Genínah, a small cyclops in a brown felt calotte and a huge military overcoat cut short, caused roars of laughter by his ultra-Gaditanian style of dancing. I have also reason to suspect that a jig and a breakdown tested the solidity of the plank table, while a Jew’s harp represented Europe. In fact, throughout the journey, reminiscences of Mabille and the Music Halls contrasted strongly with the memories of majestic and mysterious Midian. And, to make the shock more violent, some friend, malè salsus, sent me copies of the cosmopolitan Spectator and the courteous Mayfair, which at once became waste paper for Bedawi cartridges.
Our Rosh há Shanah (“New Year’s Day”) was further distinguished by the discovery of a vein and outcrop of metalliferous quartz, about half an hour’s walk, and bearing nearly east (80 degrees mag.) from camp. We followed the Wady Sharmá, and found above its “gate” the masonry-foundation of a square work; near it lay the graves of the Wild Men, one with the normal awning of palm-fronds honoris causâ. There were signs of stone-quarrying, and at one place a road had been cut in the rock. Leaving on the north the left side of the watercourse, with its rushes (Scirpus), and huge-headed reeds (Arundo donax), its dates and Daums — the two latter often scorched and killed by the careless Bedawi — we struck into a parallel formation, the Wady el Wuday, bone-dry and much trodden by camels. Arrived at the spot, we found that the confused masses of hill subtending the regular cliff-line of the old coast, are composed of grey granite, seamed with snowy quartz, and cut by the usual bands of bottle-coloured porphyritic trap, which here and there becomes red. Some of the heights are of greenish-yellow chloritic felspar, well adapted for brick-making. The surface of the land is scattered with fragments of white silex and fine red jasper, banded with black oligistic iron: this rock, close, hard, and fine enough to bear cutting, appears everywhere in scatters and amongst the conglomerates. Only one fossil was picked up, a mould so broken as to be quite useless.
We also followed out M. Marie’s find, to which he had been guided by a patch of red matter, conspicuous on the road from Tiryam to Sharmá. For forty minutes we skirted the seaward face of the old cliff, a line broken by many deep water-gashes and buttressed by Goz, or high heaps of loose white sand. We then turned eastwards or inland, ascended a Nakb (“gorge”), and saw, as before, the corallines and carbonates of lime altered, fused, scorified, and blackened by heated injections; the grey granite scored with quartz veins, running in all rhumbs; and the porphyritic trap forming crests that projected from the sands. The cupriferous stone struck east-west, with a dip to the south; the outcrops, visible without digging, measured fifteen to twenty metres long, by one to one and a half in breadth.
New Year’s Day also restored to us the pup “Páijí.” When quite a babe, it had walked up to me in the streets of Cairo, evidently claimed acquaintanceship, and straightway followed me into Shepheard’s, where; having a certain sneaking belief in metempsychosis, I provided it with bed and board. During our third march to the White Mountain, being given to violent yelps, which startled both mules and camels, the small thing had been left to walk, and had apparently made friends with an Arab goatherd. After nine days’ absence without leave, “Páijí” reappeared, with dirty rags tied round its bony back and wasted waist, showing an admirable skeleton, and making the most frantic demonstrations of joy. The loss of the poor little brute had affected all our spirits: we thought that the hyenas and the ravens had seen the last of it; and it received a warm welcome home.
M. Lacaze, unlike the rest, took a violent fancy for the Wady Sharmá: the water-scenery enchanted him. His sketches were almost confined to the palm-growth, and to the greenery so unexpected in arid Midian, where, according to the old and exploded opinion, Moses wrote the Book of Job. The idea of Arabia is certainly not associated with flowing rills, and waving trees, and rustling zephyrs. Every morning I used to awake surprised by the song of the Naiad, the little runnel whimpling down its bed of rushes, stone, and sand; and the response of the palms making music in the land-breeze.
Finally, on New Year’s Day, Lieutenant Amir, guided by Shaykh Furayj, and escorted by soldiers and miners, made a three days’ trip to the Wady ‘Urnub. There he surveyed a large isolated “Mará,” or quartz-hill, some twenty-two to twenty-five direct miles south-east of the main outcrop; thus giving a considerable extent to the northern mining-focus. This feature is described as being four or five times larger than the Jebel el-Abyaz (proper); and the specimens of quartz and grey granite proved it to be of the same formation. It showed a broken outline, with four great steps or dykes, which had apparently been worked. In the basal valleys, and spread over the land generally, was found a heavy yellow sand, calcareous and full of silex: the guide called it Awwal Hismá (the “Hismá frontier”).
Our travellers returned by a parallel line, southerly and more direct. In the Wady ‘Urnub, the Ma’ázah of the Salímát clan received them with apparent kindness, inwardly grumbling the while at their land being “spied out;” and they especially welcomed Furayj, who, being a brave soldier, is also noted as a peacemaker. All the men were armed, and wore the same dress as the Huwaytát; like these, they also breed camels and asses — that is, they are not cow-Arabs. Certain travellers on the Upper Nile have distributed the Bedawin into these two groups; add horse-Arabs and ass-Arabs, and you have all the divisions of the race as connected with the so-called “lower animals.” About three hours (= eleven miles) from Sharmá camp, some pyramids of sand were pointed out in the Wady Rátiyah: the Bedawin call one of them the Goz et-Hannán (“Moaning Sand-heap”). They declare that when the Hajj-caravan passes, or rather used to pass, by that way, before the early sixteenth century, when Sultán Selim laid out his maritime high-road, a Naubah (“orchestra”) was wont to sound within its bowels. This tale, which, by-the-by, is told of two other places in Midian, may have been suggested by the Jebel el-Nákús (“Bell Mountain”) in Sinai-land; but as the Arabs perform visitation and sacrifice to the “Moaning-heap,” the superstition probably dates from ancient days. Ruins are also reported to exist in the Jebel Fa’s, the southern boundary of the ‘Urnub valley; and, further south, in the Jebel el-Harb, I was told by some one whose name has escaped me, of a dolmen mounted upon three supports. Lieutenant Amir also brought copper ore from the Wady ‘Urnub, and from the Ras Wady el-Mukhbir specimens of a metal which the Arabs use as a kohl or collyrium. It proved, however, iron, not antimony; and the same mistake has been made in the Sinaitic Peninsula.
At Wady Sharmá we rigged up, under the superintendence of M. Philipin, a trough and a cradle for washing the black sands, the pounded quartz of the Jebel el-Abyaz, and the red sands; these latter had shown a trace of silver (1/10000) to the first Expedition. We mixed it with mercury and amalgamed it in goatskins; the men moved them to and fro; but, of course, the water evaporated, and the mass speedily became dry. The upper or superficial white yielded only, as far as our engineer could judge, a little copper and bright knobs of pyrites. The Negros, or iridized formations, of the “Filon Husayn” on a lower horizon, gave the dubious result already alluded to. All the experiments were conducted in the rudest way. Of course, a quantity of metal may have escaped notice; and a fair proportion of the powdered stone was reserved for scientific treatment in Europe.
During our first trip we had found, upon the right jaw of the Wady Sharmá, a ruined village of workmen, probably slaves, whose bothans measured some twelve feet by eight. They differ from the Nawámis, or “mosquito-huts,” as the word is generally translated, only in shape — the latter are circular, with a diameter of ten feet — and they perfectly resemble the small stone hovels in the Wady Mukattab, which Professor Palmer (“Desert of the Exodus,” p. 202) supposes to have been occupied by the captive miners and their military guardians. This time we ascended the coralline ridge which forms the left jamb. At its foot a rounded and half degraded dorsum of stiff gravel, the nucleus of its former self, showed a segment of foundation-wall, and the state of the stone suggested the action of fire. Possibly here had been a furnace. The summit also bears signs of human occupation. The southern part of the buttress-crest still supports a double concentric circle with a maximum diameter of about fifteen feet; the outside is of earth, apparently thrown up for a rampart behind a moat, and the inside is of rough stones. Going south along the dorsum, we found remains of oval foundations; a trench apparently cut in the rock, pottery often an inch and more thick, and broken handmills made of the New Red Sandstone of the Hismá. Finally, at the northernmost point, where the cliff-edge falls abruptly, with a natural arch, towards the swamp, about one kilometre broad at the Báb, we came upon another circle of rough stones. We were doubtful whether these rude remains were habitations or old graves; nor was the difficulty solved by digging into four of them: the pick at once came upon the ground-rock. Hitherto these ruins have proved remarkably sterile; the only products were potsherds, fragments of hand-mills, and a fine lump of white marble (Rukhám), supposed to come from the Jebel el-Lauz.
Amongst our followers was a “Kázi of the Arabs,” one Jabr bin ‘Abd el-Nabi, who is a manner of judge in civil, but not in criminal matters. Before the suit begins the plaintiff, or his surety, deposits a certain sum in coin, corn, or other valuables, and lays his damages at so much. The defendant, if inclined to contest the claim, pays into court the disputed amount, and the question is settled after the traditional and immemorial customs of the tribe. This man, covetous as any other disciple of Justinian, was exceedingly anxious to obtain the honorarium of a Shaykh, and he worked hard to deserve it. Shortly before our departure from Sharmá, he brought in some scoriae and slag, broken and streaked with copper — in fact, ekvolades. They are thinly scattered over the seaward slope of the left jaw, where the stone nowhere shows a trace of the mineral in situ. As, however, the Expedition had found native copper in three places, more or less near the Jebel el-Abyaz, it was decided that the ore had been brought from the interior.
We were again much puzzled concerning the form of industry which gave rise to such a large establishment as Sharmá. Agriculture was suggested and rejected; and we finally resolved that it was a branch-town that supplied ore to the great smelting-place and workshop of the coast, ‘Aynúnah, and possibly carbonate of lime to serve for flux.
The distance along the winding Wady, between the settlement and the sea westward, where the watercourse ends in sand-heaps, is seven to eight miles, and the coast shows no sign of harbour or of houses. About three miles, however, to the northwest is the admirable Bay of ‘Aynu’nah, unknown to the charts. Defended on both sides by sandspits, and open only between the west and the north-west, where reefs and shoals allow but a narrow passage, its breadth across the mouth from east to west measures at least five thousand metres, and the length inland, useful for refuge, is at least three thousand. At the bottom of this noble Límán, the Kolpos so scandalously abused by the ancients, are three sandy buttresses metalled with water rolled stones, and showing traces of graves. Possibly here may have been the site of an ancient settlement. The Arabs call the southern anchorage, marked by a post and a pit of brackish water, El–Musaybah or Musaybat Sharmá. Its only present use seems to be embarking bundles of rushes for mat-making in Egypt. The north-eastern end of the little gulf is the Gád (Jád), or Mersá of El–Khuraybah, before described as the port of ‘Aynu’nah.
At the Musaybah I stationed our tender, the Sambúk El–Musahhil, which carried our heavy goods, specimens by the ton; rations and stores; forge, planks, and crowbars. The sailors lost no time in showing their rapacity. Every day they dunned us for tobacco; and when we made a counter-demand for the excellent fish which was caught in shoals, they simply asked, “What will you pay for it?” I imprudently left my keg of specimen-spirits on board this ignoble craft, and the consequence was that it speedily became bone-dry. The Musaybah bight is a direct continuation of the Wady el-Melláh, which, joining that of El–Maka’dah, runs straight up to the Jebel el-Abyaz and to the Filon Husayn. These metalliferous quartzes cannot be further from the coast than a maximum distance of fourteen miles, and the broad, smooth watercourse, with its easy gradients, points it out as the site of the future tramway. I should prefer a simpler form of the “Pioneer Steam Caravan or Saddleback–Railway System,” patented by Mr John L. Haddan, C.E., formerly of Damascus.29 He recommends iron as the best material for the construction; and the cost, delivered at Alexandria, would not exceed £1200, instead of £3000 to £20,000 per kilometre, including the rolling stock. As the distance from the port is nothing, £300 per kilometre would be amply sufficient for “fixing up;” but I should reduce the price to £500 for the transport of some 50 tons per diem. By proper management of the rails or the main rail, it would be easy for trained camels to draw the train up the Wady; and the natural slope towards the sea would give work only to the brake where derailments are not possible.
At Sharmá we saw the crescent, when the Englishmen turned their money in their pockets, and the Egyptian offficers muttered a blessing upon the coming moon. Every day we waxed more weary of the place; possibly the memories of the first visit were not pleasant. Many in camp still suffered; and an old Bedawi, uncle to Shaykh ‘Alayan, died and was buried at ‘Aynúnah. The number of servants also made us uncomfortable. The head Dragoman, whose memory was confined to his carnet, forgot everything; and, had we trusted to him, half the supplies would have returned to Suez, probably for the benefit of his own shop at Zagázig. I soon found his true use, and always left him behind as magazine-man, storekeeper, and guardian of reserve provisions. He was also a dangerous, mischief-making fellow; and such men always find willing ears that ought to know better. Petros, the Zante man, was the model of a tipotenios (an “anybody”), who seemed to have been born limp, without bones or brains. He was sent back as soon as possible to Cairo. The worst point of these worthies was, that they prevented, for their own reasons, the natives working for us; while they preferred eternal chatter and squabbles to working themselves. So the Greek element was reduced to George the cook, a short, squat, unwashed fellow, who looked like a fair-Hercules out of luck; who worked like three, and who loudly clamoured for a revolver and a bowie-knife. His main fault, professionally speaking, was that he literally drenched us with oil till the store happily ran out. His complexion was that of an animated ripe olive, evidently the result of his own cookery. His surprise when I imperatively ordered plain boiled rice, instead of a mess dripping with grease; and when told to boil the fish in sea water and to serve up the bouillon, was high comedy. Doubtless he has often, since his return, astounded his “Hellenion” by describing our Frankish freaks and mad eccentricities.
The stationary camp also retained Lieutenant Yusuf and MM. Duguid and Philipin, with thirteen soldiers and sixteen miners. The six camels were placed under Gabr, Kázi el-‘Orbán; and all the stay-behinds were charged with washing the several earths, with scouring the country for specimens, and with transporting sundry tons of the black sand before mentioned. Old Haji Wali, probably frightened by the Arabs, and maddened by the idea that, during his absence in the thick of the cotton season, the Fellahs of Zagázig would neglect to pay their various debts, began to “malinger” with such intensity of purpose, that I feared lest he would kill himself to spite us. The venerable Shylock, who ever pleaded poverty, had made some £300 by lending a napoleon, say, on January 1st, which became a sovereign on February 1st; not to speak of the presents and “benevolences” which the debtor would be compelled to offer his creditor. So he departed for El–Muwaylah, whence some correspondent had warned him that a pilgrim boat was about to start; declaring that he was dying, and trotting his mule as hard as it would go, the moment a safe corner was turned. He stayed two days on board the gunboat, and straightway returned to Egypt and the cotton season:— we had the supreme satisfaction, however, to hear that he had gone through the long quarantine at Tor. Yet after our return he reproached me, with inimitable coolness and effrontery, for not having behaved well to him.
On the morning of January 7th, a walk of two hours and twenty minutes (= seven miles) northwards, and mostly along the shore of the noble “Musaybat Sharmá,” transferred us to well-remembered ‘Aynúnah. The sea in places washed over slabs of the fine old conglomerates which, in this country, line the banks and soles of all the greater Wadys: these are the Cascalho of the Brazil, a rock which is treated by rejecting the pebbles and by pounding the silicious paste. The air was softer and less exciting than that of Sharmá; and, although the vegetation was of the crapaud mort d’amour hue — here a sickly green, there a duller brown than April had showed — the scene was more picturesque, the “Gate” was taller and narrower, and the recollection of a happy first visit made me return to it with pleasure. Birds were more abundant: long-shanked water-fowl with hazel eyes; red-legged rail; the brown swallow of Egypt; green-blue fly-catchers; and a black muscivor, with a snowy-white rump, of which I failed to secure a specimen. We also saw the tern-coloured plover, known in Egypt as Domenicain and red kingfishers. The game species were fine large green mallard; dark pintail; quail, and red-beaked brown partridge with the soft black eye.
New formations began to develop themselves, and the sickly hues of the serpentines and the chlorites, so rich in the New World, appeared more charming than brow of milk or cheek of rose.30 There were few changes. A half-peasant Bedawi had planted a strip of barley near the camping place; the late floods had shifted the course of the waters; more date-trees had been wilfully burned; a big block of quartz, brother to that which we had broken, had been carried off; and where several of the old furnaces formerly stood, deep holes, dug by the “money-hunter,” now yawned. I again examined the two large fragments of the broken barrage, and found that they were of uncut stone, compacted with fine cement, which contained palm-charcoal.
At ‘Aynúnah we gave only one day to work. While M. Lacaze sketched the views, we blasted with gunpowder more than half charcoal the Ma’dan el-Fayrúz (“turquoise mine”), as the Arabs called it, on the right side of the Wady. The colour and texture were so unlike the true lapis Pharanitis that we began to suspect, and presently we ascertained from the few remaining fragments, it had been worked for copper — the carbonates and the silicates which characterize Cyprus. Presently good specimens of the latter were brought to us from the Jebel el-Fará by a Bedawi pauper, ‘Ayd of the Tagaygát-Huwaytát tribe. These half-naked shepherds and goatherds, who know every stone in the land, are its best guides; not the Shaykhs, who, as a rule, see little or nothing outside their tents. From our camp the direction, as reported by Ahmed Kaptán, was 102 degrees (mag.), and the distance three miles. I afterwards sent Lieutenant Yusuf from El–Muwaylah to make a detailed plan.31
We also dug in an old pit amongst the Christian graves to the south-east of the camp, and below the left jamb of the “Gate.” Here also the Bedawin had been at work; and, when unable to work deep enough, they told us wonderful tales of an alabaster slab, which doubtless concealed vast treasures. In Arabia, as in Africa, one must look out for what there is not, as well as for what there is. After spending a morning in sinking a twelve-feet shaft, we came upon a shapeless coralline-boulder, which in old times had slipped from the sea-face of the cliff to the left of the valley. I ascended this height, and saw some stones disposed by the hand of man; but there were no signs of a large slave-miner settlement like that on the other side of the Báb.
In the afternoon Mr. Clarke led a party of quarrymen across the graveyards to El–Khuraybah, the seaport of ‘Aynúnah, and applied them to excavating the floor of a cistern and the foundations of several houses; a little pottery was the only result. It was a slow walk of forty minutes; and thus the total length of the aqueducts would be three miles, not “between four and five kilometres.” I had much trouble and went to some expense in sending camels to fetch a “written stone” which, placed at the head of every newly buried corpse, is kept there till another requires it. It proved to be a broken marble pillar with a modern Arabic epitaph. In the Gád el-Khuraybah, the little inlet near the Gumruk (“custom-house”), as we called in waggery the shed of palm-fronds at the base of the eastern sandspit, lay five small Sambúks, which have not yet begun fishing for mother-of-pearl. Here we found sundry tents of the Tagaygát-Huwaytát, the half Fellahs that own and spoil the once goodly land; the dogs barked at us, but the men never thought of offering us hospitality. We had an admirable view of the Tihámah Mountains — Zahd, with its “nick;” the parrot-beak of Jebel el-Shátí; the three perpendicular Pinnacles and flying Buttresses of Jebel ‘Urnub; the isolated lump of Jebel Fás; the single cupola of Jebel Harb; the huge block of Dibbagh, with its tall truncated tower; the little Umm Jedayl, here looking like a pyramid; and the four mighty horns of Jebel Shárr.
I left ‘Aynúnah under the conviction that it has been the great Warshah (“workshop”) and embarking-place of the coast-section extending from El–Muwaylah to Makná; and that upon it depended both Wady Tiryam and Sharmá, with their respective establishments in the interior. Moreover, the condition of the slag convinced me that iron and the baser metals have been worked here in modern times, perhaps even in our own, but by whom I should not like to say.
18 “The Gold–Mines of Midian,” etc. (London: C. Kegan Paul & Co., 1878).
19 Assuming the sovereign at 97 piastres 40 parahs, this hire would be in round numbers one and two shillings; the shilling being exactly 4 piastres 24 parahs. See Chap. VII. for further details.
20 Besides a popular account of the stages in “The Gold Mines of Midian,” a geographical itinerary has been offered to the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society.
21 They were, perhaps, a trifle too long for small beasts: seventy-seven centimètres (better seventy); and too deep, sixty, instead of fifty-eight. The width (forty-six) was all right. The best were painted, and defended from wet by an upper plate of zinc; the angles and the bottoms were strengthened with iron bands in pairs; and they were closed with hasps. At each end was a small block, carrying a strong looped rope for slinging the load to the pack-saddle; of these, duplicates should be provided. In order to defend our delicate apparatus from excessive shaking, we divided the inside, by battens, into several compartments. The smaller cases of bottles and breakables should have been cut to fit into the larger, but this had been neglected at Cairo. Finally, not a single box gave way on the march: that was reserved for the Suez–Cairo Railway, and for landing at the London Docks.
22 MM. Gastinel (Bey) and Marie give it per cent.:—
|Silver. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .||100.0|
|Titaniferous iron. . . . . . . . . .||86.50|
|Silica||. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .||10.10|
|Copper||. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .||3.40 (2 1/2 per cent.)|
23 Hence, evidently, the derivation of the “Marwah” hill near Meccah, and the famous “Marwah” gold mine which we shall visit in South Midian. The Arabs here use Jebel el-Mará and Jebel el-Abyaz (plur. Jibál el-Bayzá) synonymously.
24 Spon: London, 1875. A book opening a new epoch, and duly neglected.
25 So said the engineer. He relied chiefly upon M. Amedée Burat, p. 229, “Géologic Appliquáe” (Paris: Garnier, 1870), who quotes the compte rendu of M. Guillemin, C.E. to the Exposition of 1867. The latter gentleman, who probably did not, like the former, place Mexico in South America, makes the metalliferous lands measure four-fifths of the total surface. I am much mistaken if the same is not the case with Midian.
26 In “The Gold–Mines of Midian,” p. 171, I erroneously asserted that the Beden does not extend to these mountains. The second Expedition could learn nothing about the stag with large branches vaguely spoken of by the Bedawin.
27 When “miles” are given, I mean the statute of 1760 yards as opposed to the geographical; the latter equals 1 minute (of a degree) = 1 Italian or Arab = 1/4 German = 1 1/4 Roman = 10 stadia.
28 Were I a wealthy man, nothing would delight me more than to introduce London to La Zarzuela, the Spanish and Portuguese opera bouffe. Sir Julius Benedict tells me that it has reached Paris.
29 See Le Pionnier, Chemin de Fer Abyssinien d’apré‘s les desseins de M. J. L. Haddan. Another valuable form is “The Economical” (Mr. Russell Shaw).
30 Chloritic slate is the matrix of gold in the Brazil and in Upper Styria.
31 Chap. IX.
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