Louisa (Jebb) Mrs. Roland Wilkins. Wilkins.

By desert ways to Baghdad online

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the next three hours we dawdled along at caravan
pace. It was a motley crew. The muleteers trudge
alon" - behind the laden animals, taking turns on the
back of a patient, sorrowful donkey, on which they
ride sideways with dangling legs, pricking its side
with a long needle, the secondary object of which is
the repairing of broken straps. The pack mules go
doggedly on in front, jostling one another with their
unwieldy loads. Occasionally one gets off the track
and wanders aside, only to be urged back into line
with yells and blows. Another stops dead, feeling its
load slip round sideways. The men rush at it with
shouts of " Allah ! Allah ! " the load is shoved up and
the ropes tightened. There is a general din of
shouting and swearing and jangling of bells ; and
above it all the disdainful camel moves deliberately on
with measured step and arched neck, unmindful of the
petty skirmishes so far below it ; its owner, infected
by its spirit, rocking on the top, surveys the whole
scene with a dejected, uninterested air. Bringing up
the rear, motionless and erect on small donkeys, ride


one or two older Arabs, wrapped in long sheepskin
cloaks, their faces entirely concealed in the folds of a
keffiyeh, save where two stern and solemn eyes gaze
unceasingly at you with expressionless imperturbability.
Wild sons of the desert, product of this eternal silence,
are you so much a part of it that you are unconscious
of its power ?

The only gay and careless element is introduced by
the Turkish soldiers. Mounted on splendid Arab
mares they ride in front, sometimes dashing ahead
at a wild gallop, holding out their rifles at arm's length,
wheeling suddenly round and coming to a dead stop
in front of an imaginary enemy, upright in their
stirrups ; in their more subdued moments breaking
into song- with the mournful Eastern refrains.

And so, forming one small world of our own, we
" follow and follow the journeying sun," and as it
sinks lower on the horizon and its fierce rays cease
to beat pitilessly down on the parched ground and
thirsty animals, a silence falls on the moving band.
The spirit of the desert again holds sway. The men
cease quarrelling, the animals' heads sink lower, the
donkey looks more resigned, the mule more dogged,
the camel more superior, the silent Arab more stern
and forbidding ; the soldier hums where he sang
before. Then at last the walls of a solitary guard-
house heave in sight. The men hail it with joyful
cries, the soldiers dash ahead, the pack animals prick
their ears and quicken their steps to an amble. There
is a general rush and tumble, culminating in a dead
halt on the ground which has formed the place for
caravans since caravans crossed the desert. All is

The Loads are Unloosed.

A Pasha's Camp at Haditha. Euphrates.


noise and confusion. The loads are unloosed and fall
in promiscuous heaps amongst the medley of animals,
who, released of their burdens, roll over on their backs,
kicking up the dust. A line of men draw water from
the well, pulling at a squeaky chain and invoking the
aid of Allah in chorus as they pull. A fight is going
on in one corner ; men are knocking one another
down, encouraged by a circle of yelling spectators.
The din of excited quarrelling voices, the hammering
of tent pegs, dominates everything, broken at times by
the sudden neigh of a horse bitten by its neighbour
or the harsh, imperious cry of the camel for its supper.
And in the middle of it all the Turkish soldier spreads
his cloak upon the ground, turns his face to Mecca,
and offers up his murmured prayer to Allah, the
one restful form in this scene of chaos.

"Allah Akbar " (God is great), prays this son of
Islam, and with his hands upon his knees, he bows his
head; " Subhana 'llah " (I praise God), and he falls
upon his knees; "Allah Akbar" (God is great), and
he bows his head to touch the earth ; " Subhana 'llah,
subhana 'llah, subhana 'llah," and he sits upon his
heels; "Allah Akbar," and he again prostrates him-
self; "Allah Akbar, subhana 'llah."

And on this scene the sun casts his final rays of gold
and red. As the shades of night draw in, quiet reigns
once more ; the men collect round the blazing camp
fire, and in its light we see the outline of their dark
forms seated cross-legged, as they eat out of the
common bowl or take turns at the bubbling nargheli ;
to one side the mules are tethered in two lines form-
ing a half square : a muleteer is grooming them, and


one hears the rattle of his scraper and the ever tinkling
bell. The cook is stirring our evening meal in a pot
on the fire outside our tent. Hassan fetches our
rugs and spreads them on the ground ; we lie down
and he covers us over with his sheepskin cloak.
" Rahat" (Rest), he says, and lifts his hands over us
as if pronouncing a blessing. Then he sits down
beside us and lights a cigarette. " Bourda ehe," he
goes on, describing the universe with a sweep of his
hand. " Kimse yok" (It is well here — there is no
one). "Is Allah here?" asks X. "Allah is here,"
he answers with simple reverence, " Allah is every-
where"; and we all lie motionless under the stars,
unwilling to probe the silence by the sound of uttered
thoughts. The murmur of the men's voices gradually
dies away as, one by one, they doze off; a jackal cries
in the distance ; a star falls down to earth. The day
is over, and in this land of the Oriental there is no
thought of the morrow.

The passive silence of sleep ; the active silence of
communing souls ; the silence of night — all fitful
expressions of the one great Silence brooding over
all, be one asleep or awake, by night and by day, in
desert places and in busy haunts of men.




vib in nil Sarai : m Castle at 1'ai.myra.



IT burst upon us all at once, Palmyra in the desert
— a chaos of golden pillars in the glow of the
setting sun. We had been riding all day towards an
indefinite shape on the horizon; slowly it had resolved
itself into a barrier of yellow rock with dark lines
becoming distinguishable against it. We had passed
through the patches of rising corn, making green
holes in the brown desert ; we had wound through
the gardens of pomegranate and plantations of palm
trees and turned the corner of the ugly konak which
barred the ruins from our view ; and there it lay, the
desert-girt city, in the unutterable lonely magnificence
of its reckless confusion.

We drew rein under the Triumphal Arch ; from
here the eye is led on down the great colonnade from
column to column, now upright, now fallen, to where
a mile away a castle crowns a peak of the range under
which Palmyra crouches — an old time harbour for the
sand sea beyond.

Behind us the present village of Tadmor was con-
cealed inside the walls of the great Temple of the

Sun ; its mud hovels lie rotting behind the gigantic



columns of the inner court in the dirt which chokes
the massive archways. Here it is that the present
life of Palmyra, such as it is, is slowly obliterating
the remaining evidences of her past ; while on the
opposite side of the ruins, where the hills cleave to
form a lonely valley, the dead of Palmyra, buried in
a line of square tomb-towers, still keep alive the
memory of her ancient greatness.

Was it the sun only, with its light on the
yellow columns, that made one think of Palmyra
purely as a city of gold ? Or were one's thoughts
unconsciously influenced by the fact that its traditions
all rest on the getting of gold ; its power was built
up on trade ; its great men were the successful
traffickers of the desert ; its statues and columns
were raised to the memory of those who brought the
caravans of goods from India and Persia unharmed
through the dangers of the desert ; its temples were
dedicated to the Sun God by those whose lives were
spared in their getting of great wealth, or to the
memory of those who perished in the attempt.

Those were the days when it was a man's boast
that the blood of a merchant ran in his veins — when
a youth could aspire to no higher goal than that of
being a merchant prince of his proud city.

Her prosperity had been her ruin ; the gold had
led to her undoing ; and now the Sun, to whom the
temples had been raised at the time of her pride,
mocked her ruins by giving them the semblance of
scattered gold.





This is the best way to realise Palmyra — to make
it the culmination of a long and tedious journey
through the desert. The first sight of it under any
conditions must indeed be wonderful, but coming
in from Damascus, which is the natural approach for
visitors to the ruins, one could never feel about it in
quite the same way. Civilisation is only five days
behind you ; the country you pass through, moreover,
although desert enough in a way, does not give you
the same sense of being utterly cut off from everything
in limitless space ; there are chains of mountains to
be seen in the distance, and cultivated patches stretch-
ing round villages are more frequent. Then when
you arrive at Palmyra you ride first through the
valley of tombs — it is the dead that give you the
first greeting ; you get glimpses through the opening
ahead of the highest columns, and are slowly pre-
pared for what is coming, until, emerging finally
through the gap, the whole scene is laid out before
you, with the gleaming desert beyond.

But approach it from the desert side, and all the
meaning and force of its one time existence is borne
in upon you with an overwhelming realisation. For
three weeks you have been following the old trade
route from the Persian Gulf. You ' have made one
of a caravan amongst the doggedly jogging mules
and the slow stepping camels, both heavily laden with
the clumsy pack-saddles holding" bales of merchandise ;
the sound of their jangling bells is the only sound
you hear through the long, monotonous ride under the
blazing sun ; you have spent night after night in the


circle round the camp-fire, with the men crouched
under the bales of goods piled up on the ground
to form a rude shelter ; the places where you stop
have been the regular halting places for caravans for
all time — now they are oases big enough to support
a village, now it is merely a well and a guard-house.
As you ride through the immeasurable expanse every
dark object on the horizon line forms a subject for
speculation. Its appearance is a signal for the hasty
consolidation of the stragglingr line of men and
animals, arms are looked to, you all close up and
ride on, apparently unconcerned, but equally prepared
for a sudden onslaught or a friendly greeting. For
it is not only the difficulties and dangers due to
Nature's barrenness that have to be guarded against.
What must it have been in the days when the
countless hordes of wealth of a huge caravan were
at stake, and when the whole desert was beset with
marauding tribes specially on the look-out for such
prey ? What must have been the feelings of those
responsible for its safe conduct when they once more
saw the first dim outline of the Palmyra hills in the
distance ? The goal would be reached that day ; the
troubles, the anxieties, the sleeplessness of the watch-
ing nights would be over ; proud and triumphant
they would ride down the long colonnade, the pack
animals jostling one another in the unaccustomed
crush of the bounded way, and the noise of shouting
drivers and jangling bells sounding strangely loud
and near in the confining space. Down on them
from the columns above would look the statues put
up to honour those who had achieved the same feat

f -J- i


which they themselves had just accomplished. Their
names too would now be written up and handed
down from generation to generation in remembrance
of the service they had rendered their State. For
such deeds as these had built up the great city, and
their fellow-citizens honoured them in this way.

At first it would seem that Tadmor was merely
an Arab encampment, a stopping place amongst
others for the passing caravans. The abundance of its
water and its position on the meeting point of two
great trade routes would gradually cause it to become
an important centre. Dues were levied on all goods
passing in and out, and even the privilege of using
the wells was heavily taxed. Slowly it became the
market-place of the East and the West ; its inhabitants
were the carriers between the Persian Gulf and the
Mediterranean Sea. As the foundations of the city
were built up on trade, so commerce was a pursuit
for its aristocracy, involved as it was with all the
elements of warfare and danger. Its merchants would
be pure Arabs of good blood, welcomed as equals
by the shaykhs of the desert tribes through whose
territory their goods had to pass. Palmyra had thus
gradually built up her own existence as an independent
State. Political events then added to her power.
The wars of Rome with Persia made her an important
military post ; recognised by Rome more as a partner
State than a dependency, she was able to pursue
her own policy with such effect that she tried to
assert her entire independence and cut herself adrift
from the Western power. Taking advantage of the
temporary ascendence of Persia over the Roman



arms, the desert Queen, Zenobia, fulfilled her ambition
as sole Queen of the East. After her defeat by
Aurelian the town was partially destroyed ; a change
in the political factors which had contributed to her
importance now hastened her downfall by lessen-
ing the significance of her geographical position ;
safer trade routes further south led to the decay
of her commercial prosperity. Bit by bit she loses
her place in historical records, and at the present day
Palmyra stands a lonely ruin on a deserted trade
route, inhabited by a score of Arab families.

In one sense Time has dealt gently with her ;
there is no decay from the growth of vegetation in
this dry climate. Neither moss nor ivy has softened
the aspect of destruction ; the overturned columns
show as true and sharp a face now as the day they
were set up, and the ornate carving stands out in
the same relief. One thinks of the place as built
entirely of columns ; they lie in rank profusion every-
where, like a great forest of trunks overturned by
a gale. The great central avenue runs from the
Temple of the Sun in a north-westerly direction to
the castle on the range of hills which bounds the city
to the north. It has been calculated that it alone
contains 1,500 columns. Much of this still remains
standing, but the gaps become more frequent, until
at the castle end the whole thing has collapsed,
forming a perfect sea of broken columns and fragments
of carved pilasters. It is evident that the minor
streets also were lined with pillars in the same way ;
short rows of them stand up here and there in various
directions. Groups of twos and threes suggest also

Palmyra. Tomb Towers.

fact page .'74.


their attachment to some public building or temple.
The statues were placed on brackets projecting from
the upper part of the pillars, and the inscriptions
below, which have escaped destruction, give the
names and dates of those whom they were intended
to honour.

As we had entered Palmyra with a vivid conception
of its life, so we left it with an equally vivid con-
ception of its death.

Standing- ouard like a row of sentinels at the base
of the hills are the square tomb-towers in which
Palmyra buried its dead. The proud merchants seem
to have been imbued with two main ideas : the
erection of columns in their lifetime and of resting
places for their families in death. Many of the towers
are over a hundred feet high and consist of five and
six storeys. The bodies were arranged in tiers in the
recesses on either side of a central chamber. Some
of these buildings are still nearly perfect, others are
practically heaps of ruins. The bones of the proud
merchants are mingled with the bones of the wild
beasts who have sought refuse there through the
long ages.

We turn our backs on the city and ride away
through the gap in the hills. The city is hidden from
view, but the tomb-towers still stand in silent rows
down the valley on either side.

We forget the golden pillars and all the ruined
magnificence : we can think of nothing but these
ghostly towers seeing us out, as it were, from this city
of the dead.


High up on the hill above, in the still morning
air, a shepherd boy pipes merrily at them, and flocks
of goats and sheep browse unconcernedly at their


4 r-i



I. Arten.

ARTEN was an Armenian ; he was quick, thin,
methodical, dirty, intelligent, and untruthful ;
he was also the cook. I say the cook advisedly,
for a cook he was not. No doubt he would have
made an excellent cook if he had known anything
about the art ; but it was not till after we had
engaged him in this capacity that we discovered
that he had not thought this qualification necessary.
At any rate he knew, being a hungry man himself,
that we were in need of food of some sort at stated
intervals. In this he was a decided improvement
on the Greek cook we had just dismissed ; this man
had a habit of coming to us, after we had been
waiting hours in momentary expectation of a meal,
and saying with a languid air, " Do you wish to eat ? "
He was a good cook, but always seemed over-
come with astonishment when we expected him
to cook.

Arten was a dirty man, and he looked dirtier

than he was owing to his dark complexion and



hairy hands ; besides this, his unbrushed and
greasy black European clothes showed off to
disadvantage amongst the simpler Eastern garments
of his companions.

11 Arten is not a clean cook," Hassan would say,
and Arten would smile sadly. He must have been
slightly conscious of this defect, for he never handed
me a plate or a spoon without saying " Temiz " (clean)
as a forestalling measure before I had even looked
at it. He spent a good deal of time rubbing smeary
plates with a blackish cloth, murmuring " Temiz,

He had a sincere desire to please us ; but he
always imagined this object was attained by the
vigorous assertion of any fact that seemed necessary
for our pleasure. " Taze" (fresh) he would say every
time he handed me an egg ; and, when I cut off the
top and an explosion followed, " Taze " he would
say again.

"Eat it yourself then," I would suggest, handing
it back to him ; after putting his great nose right
into it, " Taze " he would say. But he never ate it ;
he kept it for omelettes.

His nose was his chief feature. One saw the
nose first and then the man behind it. On cold
days, when we all wrapped our heads and faces
entirely in keffiyehs, Arten would be always dis-
tinguishable from the others by this protrusion. He
had a jet black drooping moustache which he was
always wiping furtively with a jet black pocket-
handkerchief, for Arten was a greedy man and the
only person who loved the taste of his own cookery.

Native Girls Bringing Lebhan.

o face pagt -"-.


" I like to see him getting fat," X would say ;
" he looked half starved when he came to us."

But Hassan and I were not so charitable.

" Look," Hassan would say, " the door of the
tent is shut ; that pig Arten is stealing the food,"
and he would go and kick at the tent until Arten
looked out, guiltily wiping his moustache.

"You are cold, I suppose," says Hassan with
lofty sarcasm. Arten mops his perspiring brow — he
was always perspiring.

"How cold?" he answers with well feigned

" Because you shut the tent door," answers

" Aman," rejoins Arten, "what am I to do? if
the muleteers see me cooking they come and ask
for food ; they are such greedy men, the mule-

Hassan returns to us snorting.

" Arten says the muleteers are greedy men.
Mashallah ! greedy men ! We know who is the
greedy man ! " And he slaps his thigh vehe-

Arten's notions of cookery were, as I have said,
limited. His staple dish was a mixture of mutton,
potatoes, onions and rice, which were all cooked
up together in the same pot, each ingredient being
thrown in according to the length of time it took
to cook. It certainly tasted very good, and I would
surest the method to those in England who dislike
washing many saucepans. His other idea of cooking
mutton was less satisfactory in results, though simpler


in method, and I have no hesitation in not recom-
mending it to English housewives, though I append
the recipe as a matter of interest from its origin-

Take a piece of sheep, and with an axe cut it
into chunks, regardless of bones or gristle ; take
a chunk and throw it on to red-hot charcoal in a
brazier ; when there is a distinct smell of burning
and the hissing has nearly ceased, turn it over on
the other side. When it resembles a piece of burnt
charcoal, remove it and serve at once ; swallow whole,
as if you try to bite it your teeth will remind you
of it for a considerable time, and in any case you
will be conscious of its resting-place for the remainder
of the day.

When staying at a consulate in the middle of our
tour, the consul's wife, horrified at our fare, offered
to let her cook teach Arten a few simple dishes
which would considerably add to our comfort. Arten
acquiesced with very good grace, and was inducted,
amongst other things, in the art of making cutlets.
On our departure our kind hostess, moreover,
provided us with a piece of meat suitable for cutlets.
The first evening there was an undercurrent of
excitement in the air ; there were to be cutlets
for dinner. Arten had an important, self-conscious
bustle about him and looked mysterious ; the Zaptiehs
seemed awed and asked questions under their breath ;
the greedy muleteers were distinctly interested ; we
pretended to be unmoved. Finally, with a modest air,
through which bumptiousness glared furiously, Arten
announced that supper was ready. There was a


covered dish keeping warm under the brazier ; Arten
very deliberately placed it before us and with a
dramatic flourish removed the cover. We were only
conscious of a yellow-looking crumby paste.

" Where are the cutlets ? " we asked, keeping up
our courage nobly.

"That is cutlets, Pasha."

We tasted it : it appeared to consist of fried eggs
and breadcrumbs. We felt justified in contradicting
him, but he still persisted that it was cutlets.

" But we want the cutlets like those the Effendi's
cook showed you how to make."

" Yes, that is it, Pasha ; that is what the Effendi's
cook showed me."

" But cutlets are meat," we persisted.

" Yes, Pasha ; but that is cutlets without the

This reasoning- was incontrovertible. We tried to
fill up with dates and rice and went to bed crest-
fallen and hungry. The next day we returned to
the charge. I undertook to show Arten how to cook
cutlets, though I had not the smallest idea myself how
it ought to be done. I had an inkling, however, that
egg and breadcrumbs were in it somehow.

"Arten," I said, "cut the meat as the Effendi's
cook did for cutlets." Arten obeyed.

" Make egg and breadcrumb," I said. He did
this also.

" Now do with it what the Effendi's cook did,"
I said. Arten smeared the meat with it. I began
to see light and breathed more freely, but I had still
one venture to make.


" Now cook the meat as the Effendi's cook did,"
I said.

I held my breath ; for all I knew they might now
have to be boiled in a saucepan or toasted on a fork.
But Arten appeared to know what he was doing.
He took a frying pan and fried them in fat. A glow
of satisfaction crept all over me as I watched them
beginning to resemble the finished appearance I was
acquainted with. When they were actually on a
dish, I said loftily : —

" Please remember for the future that when we
say we want cutlets, this is what we mean."

" As you please," he answered affably ; " I call them
frisolen. I knew how to cook them before the
Effendi's cook showed me," he went on.

"Why did you never let us have them, then?"
I said severely.

" How could I know you would like them ? " he
answered with injured innocence.

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Online LibraryLouisa (Jebb) Mrs. Roland Wilkins. WilkinsBy desert ways to Baghdad → online text (page 16 of 18)