« PreviousContinue »
THE PLAGUE AGAIN.
are no palaces worthy the name. The private residen. ces of the wealthy are agreeable specimens of Oriental lux. ury and taste within, while without they attract no notice. This arises from the oppression and cupidity of those who have so long ruled this favoured land with an iron rod. No person is safe in making an outward show of wealth.
The principal attraction of Damascus is the beauty of its situation, in the midst of the most delicious gardens in the world. And what most interests travellers is the conscious. ness of walking in the streets of a city older than Nineveh, and contemporary with Babylon and Thebes ; a city which, from its peculiar local situation and extraordinary physical advantages, must continue a place of importance to the end of time.
The gentlemen have just communicated to me a very un. pleasant piece of intelligence. We are informed that the plague has broken out along the coast, where we shall be obliged to embark in a few days for the west. As I said before, we find it impossible to obtain fresh animals in order to go north, or we might make our escape in that direction. We are as completely cornered as we were last winter at Moscow; there was no plague there, but it was a plaguy bad business to have a thousand miles of unbroken snow. drift to wade through.
To go back is a thing we have not yet submitted to; nor shall we do it now, so long as we can brace our nerves against this and similar difficulties. We have often been accidentally among the plague, and did not mind it; but to run into it with eyes open is what we have never yet been called upon to do. If we could only get to the north of the Taurus range of mountains, we could there find plenty of horses to take us to Constantinople, thereby avoiding the present impending danger. To stay here would only be to wait the arrival of the disagreeable visiter ; so there is no
alternative left but to run through or “ fly to Araby;" we will leave the last for the “ gineral” as his dernier resort. We have determined to leave here at once, and steal a march upon the enemy ere he shall gain a strong foothold in the country. We shall endeavour to obtain some sort of vessel
upon the coast, and get out of the East as soon as possible. With this view we shall despatch a courier to Beyrout in one hour hence, to have a vessel engaged to meet us on some part of the coast where it may be safe for us to approach. We will arrange a rendezvous with him at Mount Lebanon, when we shall learn what our future movements are to be.
Now I must leave you again, that I may set my house in order for our departure, which is determined on for to-mor. row morning. It is with much regret that I leave this earthly paradise, where I flattered myself that I should be permitted to remain for a few weeks longer. Besides, this sudden interruption will prevent me from giving you such interesting details as I have omitted while under the im. pression that I had plenty of leisure before me.
Where my next will be from I cannot say; but before we reach the coast we shall visit Balbec, Cælo Syria, Mount Lebanon, and the cedars of Solomon; some account of which I may be able to give when I next address you.
The same Providence which has guided and protected us so far will, I hope, continue to watch over and direct us in safety through the perils we have yet before us.
As soon as I reach the coast I will write you again; till then, adieu.
Life in Damascus.- Modern Patriarchs.-An Oriental Hareem.-Departure
of the Moulah's Caravan.--Adieu to Damascus.- Plagues of a Caravan.. -A narrow Escape.-Another Alarm.-- A Night Adventure.
Cedars of Lebanon, ALTHOUGH I have but little to say to you at this time, I cannot refrain from inditing a short epistle beneath the wide-spreading boughs of the Cedars of Solomon.
Before I attempt to describe to you the route we took from Damascus hither, I will return with you to that city, in and around which I ever delight to linger.
A day or two previous to our hurried departure, our amiable hostess, Mrs. F- introduced me to the families of some of the most distinguished residents of the place, by which means I had an opportunity of seeing the interior arrangements of a truly Oriental ménage. A hareem in the East varies but little from those of Western Turkey, the differ. ence consisting merely in the more Oriental style of the houses, and their furniture, and in the more varied shades of colour of the fair inmates, whose complexions here are of every hue, “from snowy white to sooty.”
Having elsewhere described to you a Turkish hareem, I will only advert here to a few particulars, peculiar to those I visited at Damascus.
The family of one of the Arab grandees had been pre. viously apprized of our visit, and were prepared to receive
The custom of all Oriental countries rigidly prescribes, that whenever the female portion of a family expect visiters, (female, of course), the “ lords of creation" must, for the time, absent themselves from home, or shut themselves up in their own apartments : nor does the Pharaoh or Solomon,
of the mansion dare so much as to venture a stolen peep into his own sanctum sanctorum during such visits, should they continue for a whole day. In the present instance, the expected visiters were ladies of Frankistan, who, not so chary of their charms as Eastern dames, never go veiled ; nor is it considered in them a breach of decorum to appear in public with the female face divine as exposed and radiant as the countenance of Isis. My companion and hostess, being a fine specimen of Anglo-Saxon beauty, served as a shield to protect me from the artillery of eyes, planted at the corner of every street through which we rode.
I had been presented to the lord of one of the mansions we visited at the dinner party, a few days previous. Mrs. F. and myself dismounted at his gate, where servants were in waiting to receive us. Passing the small, obscure, and designedly mean outer court, we were ushered into a luxu. rious garden. While passing through its groves, and listen . ing to the sweet murmur of its delicious fountains, a slave was occupied in collecting a splendid bouquet of flowers for each of us.
We were then conducted into the great hall, or “ Atrium.”. Here we found the superb Lucullus of this splendid villa seat. ed on a rich divan, surrounded by some male friends, who had either assembled on a casual visit, or had been invited to see the Frank lady from the New World. They all rose and made us a profound salaam. We were requested to seat ourselves in the place of honour at the corner of the apartment.
Immediately, pipes and coffee were introduced, as usual ; then commenced a series of questions and compliments, all of which were interpreted for me by my accomplished cicerone companion.
In one particular, this was the most extraordinary and impressive scene I have encountered in the East, though one of every day occurrence in Damascus
While passing through the streets of the city, one is every moment called upon to observe and admire the very peculiar head and physiognomy of some venerable old man, the very counterpart of “those of ancient days,” who once walked these same pavements. Although this is of such frequent occurrence, yet one is often startled at the extra. ordinary resemblance of some of these venerable heads to those delineated in the thousand and one Scriptural paintings of the fifteenth century, preserved in the galleries throughout all Europe. Turbans of Oriental stuffs overshadow the radiant countenance of the Caucasian race. Snowy beards, reaching almost down to the girdle, finish these superb heads.
The person is enveloped in long flowing robes of the pe. culiar manufactures of the East. • There is not a patriarch or prophet of the ancient days, or an apostle, disciple, or saint of later times, with whose fancied portraits one has become so familiar through the Italian masters, whom one does not meel, I might almost say, in propia persona, in the streets of Damascus.
At one time, old Father Abraham is seen riding by on his mule, and “his eldest servant of his house” leaning on his staff beside his kneeling camels at the fountain of “the city of Nahor;" and Rebecca,“ with a pitcher on her shoul. der," “ giving him drink,” is personified in a beautiful Syrian Christian girl, whose unveiled countenance is the admiration of every beholder. - Again, in the proud bearing and noble port of a grand mufti of the Moslem law, one sees the counterpart of a member of the sacred Sanhedrim of Jewry. Frequently one passes by an aged and pious priest of the mosque (for in all sects and creeds under heaven there are conscientious, good, and pious men), and under his modest mien and simple garb one can fancy a follower of “the meek and lowly Je. sus," a John, a Simon Peter, or St. Paul. These are what one meets with at all hours in the streets; but when these