Louisa (Jebb) Mrs. Roland Wilkins. Wilkins.

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landed in rather an unofficial position. We went
through the usual pantomime of salaams, and after
inquiries after the health and rank of our relations
he invited us to come on shore and visit the town.

Jezireh is a stronghold of the Hamidieh Kurds ;
the ragged soldiers about the streets bore their
distinguishing mark, a silver star on the forehead.
Their chief Mustafa had been murdered but a year
ago, after devastating and burning the whole country


round, and under the rule of his weaker son there
was a temporary lull in hostilities. But Mustafa's
name was still only mentioned in whispered words
of awe, and this not by plundered natives alone, but
by Turkish regulars and Turkish officials alike.

On returning to the raft we heard that an English
Pasha had just ridden into the town and that he was
coming to visit us. He had met Hassan, who had
been buying supplies in the bazaars, and the following
conversation had ensued, which Hassan now repeated
for our benefit.

English Pasha. Who are you ?

Hassan. I am a cavasse.

English Pasha. Who is your Pasha ?

Hassan. Victoria Pasha.

English Pasha. Where is he?

Hassan. She is sitting on the raft.

English Pasha. What is she doing there ?

Hassan. She is floating to Baghdad.

English Pasha. Where did she come from ?

Hassan. She came out of England.

English Pasha. Is she alone ?

Hassan. No, she has a friend, who is not her
sister, neither is she her servant.

English Pasiia. Give the ladies my salaams and
say that I will call upon them.

X and I looked at one another. The meeting
of an Englishman under such circumstances is no
doubt, in one sense, an excitement ; so would it be
to meet a tiger in an English country lane. In a
jungle, now, one expects a tiger, and, being prepared
for his attack, does not resent it. In the same way


one is prepared to meet an Englishman on common
ground in England, but, in an Asiatic wild, one is not
prepared for the onslaught and one is therefore taken
at a disadvantage. It was ten days since we had
seen ourselves, as the Man would see us, in a glass
(and then it was only a missionary's glass), and we
had lost nearly all our hairpins in the crevices of
the raft.

"Is my face as red as yours ? " said X.

The question was evidently the outcome of the
thoughts which assailed her mind during the few
moments' silence in which we had gazed at each other,
wondering whether we really looked like that too.

"Your face is all right," I said, "it's only red in

patches ; but your hair is disgraceful. How's

-j >>
mine r

" It's all right," said X, critically, " it's only coming
down in patches. But there is no time to do any-
thing ; here it is ; we must brazen it out."

A young Englishman was boarding the raft ; he
was very spick and span, shaved, brushed, a clean
collar, and polished boots.

"You must excuse me for calling upon you in this
dishevelled manner," he said as we shook hands,
"but travellers have to come as they are ; I daresay
you can sympathise," and he glanced round at our

X laughed. "Oh, as far as that goes," she said,
" we are all in the same boat."

" Raft," I corrected in a nervous flutter.

The Young Man looked at me and smiled. I
realised that he thought I was trying to make a cheap


joke, such as one might have been capable of in the
country lane.

11 I must introduce myself," he went on. " I am

Captain T of V . I am on my way there

now. It's strange you should just have arrived
to-day as I was crossing the river. ..."

I murmured something about tea and fled into the
men's hut, where Arten was boiling the kettle.

"Arten," I stammered out in broken Turkish,
"the English Pasha will have tea with us. You
must bring the cups clean. The English never
have dirty cups."

Arten smiled back very genially ; he breathed into
a cup and wiped it vigorously with one of his dirty
cloths, by which I concluded that he understood
what I had said to him. I had learnt up all the
words about dirt and the desirability of washing.

It was raining slightly and we had to ask the
Young Man under cover. X and I sat down on
one of the camp-beds and the Young Man sat on
the opposite bed, sticking his long legs out through
the door.

"You speak Turkish, then?" he said to me as I

So he had heard my injunctions ! I hastily denied
any claim to a knowledge of the language. Arten
came in with the tea, which he placed on the floor
between the Young Man's top-boots.

"The Pasha," he said, addressing X, "said you
wanted something for tea which the English always
have, only I did not understand what it was."

" Oh," said X, turning to me, " what was it ? "


I kicked X.

" Biscuits," I said.

" No," said Arten, persistently, " it wasn't biscuits ;
it was something which you don't usually have."

I grave Arten the look which he had learnt to asso-
ciate with the advisability of his own retreat. The
Young Man smiled again and looked the other way.

"Yes," he said, "I don't know where we should
be very often without biscuits in this country ; they
are so easy to carry."

I knew then that he had heard.

The Young Man stayed about half an hour and then
rose to go. His camp had gone on, and it was a two
hours' ride to the place where they would spend the

When he had departed X and I thought it over.

"You bet," I said fretfully, "he will have a five-
course dinner to-night, on a table with clean plates
and knives for each course, and probably a camp-chair
to sit on."

" Yes," said X, " and a looking-glass hung on the
wall of his tent, and hot water and a clean towel."

And that's what a man calls roughing it !



WE left Jezireh early next morning-. The
scenery was now much tamer ; the banks of
the river were low ; stretches of conglomerate and red
rocks were interspersed with grassy slopes. The river
was no longer disturbed by rocks and rapids, and our
two kalekjis had been replaced by a bright-faced
youth who was going to take us single-handed as far
as Mosul.

"Am not I a good kalekji?" he kept on saying to
us, "see how quick I make the raft go. When you
get to Mosul you will remember what a good kalekji
I was," and, standing up on the raft, grasping the two
oars, he would throw himself right backwards, causing
the raft to shoot on through the sluggish stream.
Then when we had got into a faster bit of current
he would lean on his oars and roll up a cigarette,
talking all the time.

"The ladies like me, do they not ? They see I am
a good kalekji. They surely like me better than their
other kalekjis? "

Six rafts laden with merchandise had followed us

from Jezireh, and one with a hut similar to ours, and



flying the Turkish crescent, was conveying a Turkish
Yuzbashi with his harem to Mosul. The women
were shut inside the hut the whole time, and occa-
sionally, when the rafts drifted alongside, we caught
glimpses of them peering shyly at us through the
little glazed window. Did they envy us, sitting boldly
outside, unveiled, open to the stares of all this crowd ?
Or, knowing no other lot, did they merely regard us
with astonished curiosity, these so-called women from
a strange land, who dressed like women but went
about like men ?

The fat little officer in his smart uniform sat outside
most of the day, smoking with Oriental listlessness
or playing with his little fat boy, a miniature counter-
part of himself, dressed in uniform with a toy

On some of the merchandise rafts the kalekjis were
accompanied by their families. The sacks were piled
up to form a rough shelter, under which the women
and children crouched all day and cooked their masters'
food. More rafts joined on to us further down, until
we numbered thirteen. All day we floated in and out
amongst each other, the rafts twisting and turning
with the vagaries of the current ; the kalekjis yelled
and shouted at one another, they raced for the fast
bits of current ahead where only one raft could pass
at a time ; they jostled one another or got entangled
in shallow places, and the other rafts passed them
with jeers.

Our little kalekji put forth all his skill.

"See, Pasha," he would say, excitedly, "see how
we leave them behind ! You have the best kalekji ;


do you see I always have the best of the river? Yah,
yah, yah," and he roared derisive laughter at his

At night we all moored together and the kalekjis
would land and sleep in the caves under overhanging
rocks, or light a fire on the banks and stretch
themselves out round it, taking turns at the night

No sooner was the raft drawn up along the banks
than X and I would land to get as much exercise as
possible in the remaining hour of daylight. The
Zaptiehs, who were obliged to accompany us, wrung
their hands over this display of energy.

" Aman, aman. These English have strange
habits. They land all in a minute, and before you
know what they are doing one has rushed in one
direction and one in another, and perhaps both are
lost in the darkness, and we have orders from the
Government never to lose sight of them. If the
Government only knew what they were asking ! "

The first evening after leaving Jezireh, Ali and I
climbed to the highest point near the river, from where
I obtained a good view of the surrounding country.
The top of the hill on which we stood was a mass of
stones and bulbous plants with withered leaves and
tufts of rough grass. The country stretched away all
round in strong, firm undulations to a distant horizon.
To the west was the full glory of an Eastern sunset,
intensifying the reddish hue of the rolling hills until
they merged into blackness in the shadows. To the
east the terminating range was snow-clad and the
setting sun, casting a pink glow over the white peaks,


crave a gradation of colour which caused them to melt
imperceptibly into the sky and mingle with the pale
reflection of the sun's setting rays on the opposite
horizon. What villages, what life lay concealed in
the hollows of these rolling hills I do not know. To
the eye there was nothing visible but the hill-tops in
their naked immensity and intense desolation ; on
one side the flaming colours of the setting sun, on
the other its pale reflection on the snowy peaks, and
over it all the vast, inscrutable sky. We were alone,
Ali and I, with "that silence which some call God."
I liked Ali's companionship on these evening walks ;
his nature, truly Eastern, was in keeping with the
country. He had been chatting away merrily all the
way up, trying to teach me Turkish words ; and now
we both lapsed of one accord into silence and his
merry face took on something of the sternness of the
surroundings. He laid his rifle on the ground and,
moving away a little distance, went through the even-
ing prayer. Now upright, now bending, now on his
knees, a misty black form in the dazzling red light, he
murmured inaudibly the prescribed words, words
which at that same hour were being uttered alike by
so many thousands in the fevered rush of busy towns,
on the house-tops and in the Crowded chambers. A
form, a ritual of empty words this prayer may be,
but up here, in Nature's loneliness, the prayer and
the man seemed strangely relevant.

Was it not in such a place as this, alone with the
great forces of Nature, that Mahomet formed his
conception of God as an Irresistible Power?

" Has there come to thee the story of the


overwhelming?" he cries out at one time, and
again :

" Does there not come in man a portion of time
when he is nothing worth mentioning ? "

The great need of man is for expression ; in places
such as these his own insignificance is forced upon
him by the overwhelming might of primeval forces.
Alone with the great silence which his voice cannot
fill, with the great space in which he, as a physical
being, is lost ; with the great mountains against which
to measure his strength, with the stars which he can-
not reach, and the floods which he cannot stem, his
own personality seems so trivial that he doubts its
very existence, until a strong feeling of participation
in the forces themselves, of his own share in them,
gives a truer sense of his own proportion ; and the
reaction of feeling, from this realisation of his own
impotence to that of his own magnificence in being
part of them, produces an overwhelming desire for

Was it under such influences as these that
Mahomet's longing, awe-struck soul first heard,
"Cry, what shall I cry?" and subsequently gave
forth that long blazonry of Nature's beauty in the
Koran ? There is something in the grand simplicity
and childish acceptance of the unspoilt Eastern
character at its best which seems to be a counterpart
of the feeling inspired by Nature in this Eastern land
itself. That it should be so seems natural when we
remember how Mahomet was continually conjuring
his followers to look at Nature and understand great


" Look at the heaven how it is reared, and at the
mountains how they are set up, and at the earth how
it is spread out ..."

" Verily in the creation of the heavens and the
earth are signs to you if you would understand . . . '

" Lift up thine eyes to the heaven ; dost thou see
any flaw therein ? Nay, lift up thine eyes again ; thy
sight returneth dim and dazed ..."

The murmuring words of Ali's prayer had stopped ;
the sun sank behind the distant line of hills ; a breeze
sprang up and stirred the tufts of withered grass,
whispering in the "still of night."

We retraced our steps to the edge of the hill and
dropped into the hidden valley, where the Tigris
rushed along unheeded and unseen from above.

Arten's voice rose with the sound of the waters,
singing the well-worn words of an Armenian
Protestant hymn.

The kalekjis had lit fires at the mouth of the caves,
and crouched round the black pot which contained the
evening meal. From the far corner of one cave came
the wail of a new-born infant.

Under "the splendour of the Night Star" we too
retired to rest.

We were already afloat when I woke next morning.
From my bed I could see the banks shooting past the
little window of the hut. The reader must not
imagine a continuous view, such as one would get
through the window of a more civilised vehicle of
locomotion. The banks at one moment would move
straight past the window in the orthodox way ; then


they would be suddenly shooting past in the opposite
direction, or we had a view of the river behind.
It requires in many ways a certain amount of practice
to live in a state of equilibrium on a raft. One is
constantly being made aware of the truism that there
are two sides to everything. First of all there are, as
one would expect, two sides to the river ; and owing
to the particular method of our progression we were
always being reminded, in a most irritating way, of
this purely geological fact. No sooner had we
become aware of the scenery on one side, and had
decided that it was the ria;ht bank, than — swish —
round went the raft, and the whole length of the right
bank would be shot before our view like a circular
panorama, and before you could take it in you were
looking at the left bank ; moreover, you would be
looking at it moving past you upwards, though you
were perfectly certain the raft could only be floating
downwards. There was hardly time to reason this
out when — swish — round you go the reverse way
again, the left bank swings past you downwards and
you are travelling up the right bank, although the
raft, you are persuaded, is still pursuing its downward
course. If you stood outside and fixed your eye with
strenuous determination on some fixed and immutable
spot of heaven or earth you might be able to keep
your bearings with a strong mental effort. But when
you observed the features of the landscape through
the small window of your hut you gave it up — and
simply gazed at the view as you would at a magic-
lantern slide being slowly withdrawn through the
porthole of an undulating steamer.


It was equally difficult to look steadily ahead from
a mental point of view. Travelling by yourself you
might be able to arrange your own philosophy, but it
is upsetting when the other person sees the side which
at any particular moment you do not happen to be
looking at. When, for instance, we were delayed
later that morning repairing burst skins, X was
perfectly happy dwelling on the romance of navigating
this noble and ancient river in the same way as those
heroes whose feats were recorded on the tablets of
Nineveh, until I unwittingly disturbed the harmony
of these thoughts by complaining that I was un-
pleasantly reminded of a punctured bicycle on a lonely
road of civilisation.

" How delightful this is," I said, in exuberant
laziness, when we were floating on once more, "to be
able to lose all conception of time and float on, as it
were, to eternity."

" Personally," said X, " I find myself counting the
days with a most unpleasant conception of the lapse
of time, for we have only food enough for one day,
and owing to this delay there is no possibility of
renewing our supply for two."

I felt an injury had been inflicted on me by being
reminded of absence of dinner when I had been
inflated with great thoughts. But I had not long to
wait for my revenge.

II What a picturesque man the kalekji is," X
exclaimed suddenly ; "I take such a delight in
watching him shaking out his flowing garments and
folding himself up in such graceful attitudes."

" Personally," I said, with some malice, "it gives


me no pleasure since I became aware that he is
only engaged in hunting for fleas."

X made no answer : I felt we were quits. She
would have to think of the presence of fleas while I
thought of the absence of dinner.

We floated on very quietly that day. The banks
were flatter and the patches of grass became more
frequent. At long intervals we passed villages of
mud huts built on the sides of the river where the
banks rose to a higher point. Towards evening we
swung round under a rocky prominence, on the top of
which stood the village of Hassoni. There was no
possibility of mooring the raft anywhere near it for
the night. The banks rose up in a straight wall of
rock, of such a height that the inhabitants of the
village, peering down at us from above, seemed like
pigmies on the sky-line. We floated on until the hills
curved and the banks sloped down to a muddy flat.
The other rafts were already moored along the shore
and we drifted alongside of them. Ali and I landed,
and we set off to walk back to the village in the hope
of getting some eggs and milk to eke out our supply
of provisions. We had some difficulty in scrambling
up the wet, grassy places between edges of rock where
the water oozed out and trickled down to the river
below ; and on reaching the top we found ourselves
on the edge of an extensive tableland which ended
abruptly in the escarpment under which we had floated.
Below us we could see the river winding ahead
through a low-lying country to the east. We walked
for half a mile across the flat table top towards the
village ; a long procession of black and yellow cattle


were sauntering along in front of us, lowing quietly
in answer to the shrill calls of a boy who stood motion-
less on a little hillock, a weird figure in the straight,
square-cut sheepskin cloak of the natives.

From all sides flocks of goats and sheep were
coming in and filled the narrow streets, sharing the
homes of their masters as a protection against the
raids of Hamidieh chiefs. It was a partly Kurdish,
partly Arab village, and the inhabitants mingled their
curiosity at my appearance with fright at that of Ali's.
Long experience had taught them that a visit from
a Turkish Zaptieh meant extortion of some sort. A
child in our path screamed aloud, rooted to the spot
with terror. Ali's bright, laughing face clouded over.

" That is what the children are taught to think of
us," he said, "and I have my own little ones at

Our demands for milk were received with sullen
grimness, until the sight of the unwonted coin caused
the faces to clear, and a further present of tobacco
established quite a friendly footing. I sat down inside
an enclosure of maize stalks at the door of a larger
hut, where the cows were being milked, and the
natives, clustering round, plied AH with questions.
One of the villagers offered to walk back with us and
carry the milk. It was dark before we reached the
edge of the tableland again, and I shouted down in
the hopes of getting an answer which would guide
us to the encampment below. The village boy held
up his hand with a scared look : the call was only
answered by its own echo, and the stones, slipping
under our feet, rattled noisily down the steep slope.


" Hush ! " said Ali, " who knows but what Ibrahim
Pasha may hear you," and we slid silently down the
slippery banks in the darkness, until the light of a
camp-fire gleamed out a welcome signal.



AT noon on the tenth day after leaving Diarbekr
and the fourth from Jezireh we caught sight of
the minarets and cupolas of Mosul, and floated for a
couple of miles under the chain of limestone cliffs, on
the end of which the town is built. We had hardly
orot within sioht of the town itself when a fearful
cannonading met our ears, accompanied by piercing
screams and savage, yells. It sounded as if the walls
were being attacked by battering-rams, and all along
the shore line at their base we could faintly distinguish
a seething line of human beings brandishing some
form of weapon. We were evidently going to be eye-
witnesses of a tribal disturbance which would cause
diplomatic unrest in Europe, and who knows but what
our participation in it would not brand us with fame
for the rest of time. I determined to make full use
of the opportunity and prepared my camera and note-

The Zaptiehs, however, seemed quite unconcerned,
and we understood from them that there was no cause
for alarm, and that this sort of thing was of weekly
occurrence in Mosul. On floating up to the scene



of action we realised that it was indeed only Mosul's
washing-day. All along the shore, as far as we could
see, under the walls of the town stretched a continuous
line of women beatingr clothes with flat sticks on the
stones at the water's ed^e ; and the screams resolved
themselves into the ordinary sounds usually emitted
where women congregate in large numbers. Truly,
the men of the East are wise in their generation.
They had thus solved the problem of washing-day
and all its horrors, and were left in peaceful and un-
disputed possession of their hearths and tempers.
The women were there in their hundreds, and, as we
approached the bridge of boats which crossed the
river lower down, we floated past a small army of
them on the opposite shore, where a flat stretch of
mud was covered with gaudy rags laid out to dry.
Mosul, I believe, derives its name from the manufac-
ture of muslin carried on there, and the guide-
book informs us that it is chiefly remarkable for the
Assyrian mounds found near it. I am bound to
confess, however, that it is indelibly impressed on my
mind solely in its connection with the vulgar art of

We had to wait several days at Mosul while a new
raft was beincr constructed, on to which our huts were
bodily transferred. The skins on which we had
floated so far were deflated, and the kalekjis would
return with them to Diarbekr by land on donkey

We spent the time visiting the historic mounds of
Koyunjik and Khorsabad, for detailed information
on which I must refer the reader to the works of


Layard and Botha and King. The site of Nineveh
to the uninitiated eye is represented by the great
mound of Koyunjik, which rises out of the flat country
on the opposite side of the river to Mosul ; it is sur-
rounded by smaller tumuli representing parts of the
ancient walls. Here and there are patches of cultiva-
tion, and at the time of our visit the bare brown earth
was beginning to show promise of being covered by
a scanty vegetation. Of winged bulls, of lettered

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Online LibraryLouisa (Jebb) Mrs. Roland Wilkins. WilkinsBy desert ways to Baghdad → online text (page 11 of 18)