Page images

night that he knew every pathway over the mountain, and that one by which we wished to descend to Fakrah particularly well. I therefore took the liberty of dismissing him very summarily, and he went off bellowing lustily; though far more for the loss of backschish consequent to the failure of his plan, than for that of his stick, broken over his back.

The old Khan-keeper not liking this method of laying down the law,-particularly as his exorbitant bill, though delivered, had not yet been paid, -took alarm, and coming forward with obsequious servility, declared I had served the lying rascal rightly, for that the fellow knew the road perfectly well, and only wanted to be paid beforehand; and he then offered to go himself as our guide if we would but mount bim. To do that was out of the question, but I told him he should certainly go on foot, bongré, malgré, if he did not instantly find a substitute. The old man, thus driven into a corner, hailed a goatherd who was tending his flock on the mountain's side, bidding him come down to do guide to some English travellers, who would pay him handsomely for his trouble. The talismanic word, backschish, soon brought him to our level, notwithstanding the prolonged echoes of our dismissed guide's wailings, and matters were soon arranged between us.

Before departing, however, mine host, finding that no remonstrance was made against the exorbitance of his bill, dismissing all scruples of conscience, said he had left it to our generosity to remunerate him for the trouble he had had in procuring us a guide; joining heartily,-after a moment's pause, devoted to the examination of our countenances—in the peal of laughter with which we received this final attempt at “ a do.

At length we set out, taking the road to Zachle, which ascends gradually towards a pass that connects a large isolated mountain, called Djebel Membough, with the great Lebanon chain; but ere reaching the pass we struck into a path which, inclining rather more to the North, leads direct to Balbec, traversing a more elevated portion of the mountain ridge. This road, however, we likewise quitted after having followed it about a mile, again striking off to the left, and proceeding by a track where our guide's services became of value, as it is crossed in all directions by other equally well beaten goat-paths. The ascent now becomes extremely abrupt, being a succession of zigzags, worn by the herds along the narrow crest of a rocky ledge, in their way to a loftier pasturage.

The character of the mountain is here very remarkable ; to the West, (i. e. on our left hand,) it falls precipitously, presenting towards the sea a stupendous wall of white cliffs, which is often seen from vessels steering for Beyrout, long before the land along the coast, though bold enough and so much nearer, can be discerned. On the opposite side, a most wild, rocky, and broken country extends for some considerable distance; the surface of which is curiously mammillated, presenting successively deep bowls or pits, and rude conical mounds. After for some time threading our way by a rough, stony track amongst these indentations,--the pits being partly filled with snow as we drew near the summit of the mountain, we suddenly found ourselves on the brink of the before-mentioned precipice, and immediately over the little khan in the vicinity of which we had passed the previous night. Our path was now cut along the face of the rock; which, viewed from below, seems quite perpendicular; it was dangerous travelling, however, the pathway being very narrow, and composed mostly of loose round stones ; any one of which that chanced to be displaced by our horses' feet, rolled down to the very bottom of the mountain, and a false step would have rolled us down just as easily. Above us, the cliffs rose perpendicularly to the height of several hundred feet. In a few minutes we reached a break in the crest of the ridge, and having found a sheltered spot, we unloaded our sumpter mule, and directed the servants to prepare breakfast whilst we scrambled up the yet more elevated peaks which serrate the summit of the range.

The part of the chain we had now reached, is that which from the sea, and likewise from Beyrout, appears to have a square or table summit, though, as we now found, the top of the mountain is extremely rugged and uneven. Indeed, the character of the mountain, in reality, altogether differed materially from what I had been led to expect ; for I had read of vast plains on the summit, covered with pasture, which, in summer, afforded subsistence to countless herds of sheep and cattle, whereas, excepting the wilderness of Engeddi, a more wild and sterile tract of country I never beheld. Even a goat would have found but scanty living; for the only thing bearing the semblance of vegetation was a kind of dwarf heather, but so dry and crisp as to appear nearly as devoid of nutriment as the rude blocks of limestone amongst which its roots managed to find a hold.

In the view also I was much disappointed, for, from the peak to which we first clambered, the prospect was altogether confined to the country lying at the western foot of the mountain, which, spread out like a map to us, did not look so well as when viewed in detached portions, and from the less elevated points amongst its own pine woods and vineyards. Of the Bekaa— lying on the eastern side of the mountain range-we could see nothing; cone after cone of the rough, disjointed rocks, rising along the summit in that direction, to impede the view; and it required nearly an hour's scrambling amongst these rugged peaks and their intervening pits, ere we could catch a glimpse of the wide, fruitful valley watered by the Leontes, and discern the massive walls of the ruins of Balbec, rising in the midst of the far distant plain.

Having despatched our tea, toast, eggs, and ham,—the first flesh of the unclean beast that, probably, was ever masticated by human teeth on the summit of Lebanon,- we continued our journey, following a track that led in a North-west direction along the crest of the mountain. After proceeding in this way during the space of an hour our progress being unavoidably very slow-we arrived at a point where the principal ridge bends round to the westward, becoming a mere narrow spine, and detaching itself from the mass, or main body of the mountain chain. Continuing our way along the crest of this narrow, elevated ridge, in half an hour we reached the summit of a truncated conical peak, on which were strewed several large blocks of hewn stone. Pointing to these, our guide announced that we had arrived at the desired goal. We asked what he meant. “ The treasure lies buried beneath those stones," he replied; which accounted for his oft-repeated inquiry during the morning, “ with what we proposed

to dig, as we had not brought either spades or pickaxes ??? However, that the search after this hidden treasure was the whole and sole cause of our long and toilsome journey, he became perfectly convinced, on my producing a pocket sextant and taking some angles with it.

Having for some time watched my proceedings with the most painful anxiety-shuddering as I committed my observations to paperbe at length ventured to ask what was the result of my calculations, and appeared grievously disappointed—having made his calculation that a considerable portion of the disinterred wealth would come to him in the shape of backschishon my replying, as I gravely replaced the instrument in its case, that the man was not yet born who would discover the treasure stated to be concealed on that spot.

On the summit of another, but lower conical peak, situated about three quarters of a mile further to the West, are the ruins of a temple, of which little more than the foundation now remains. It appears to have been on a very small scale, but the blocks of stone of which it was built, are large and finely cut. The knoll whereon this ruin stands, may be considered the extreme westerly point of the Djibel Sanin, as the ground falls rapidly from it towards the sea-coast. Its height above the level of the ocean is not more than 8,000 feet, for we had been gradually descending for the last half hour.

The road_if so it deserves to be called- winds down between the two peaks in a northerly direction; and in about twenty minutes we found ourselves in the bed of a capacious basin, where we crossed a tolerably well defined road that courted our acquaintance. Our old guide held on his way, however, deaf to all our inquiries concerning the road, which now at every step became less easy to trace, from the thick brushwood that clothed the rocky undulations which broke the surface of the country. At last we reached some patches of corn, where all trace of a road was lost, and the old man became quite bewildered, for he was evidently out in his latitude. Much time was consumed in seeking for a road; for being in a basin, and the surrounding country very wild and rugged, all our landmarks were shut out from view : at length we found a goat track, and following it, scrambling, for the space of an hour, up and down some very rough ridges, we reached a pool of water on the side of a well beaten path, which proved to be the road from Zachle to Fakrah. From this spot to Fakrah is about three miles, the road for the greater part of the distance descending the side of a peculiarly rude and jagged mountain; the rocks of which are disposed in vertical strata, as they are often met with in basaltic formations. This part of the road is infinitely worse to travel over than any of the goat tracks on the summit of Sanin.

The modern village of Fakrah consists of a few mud hovels scattered amongst some fig groves, vineyards, and corn-fields; but there are remains of two ancient edifices apparently temples--denoting it to have been a place of some importance in times past. The situation is singularly wild and beautiful. The principal ruin stands on the eastern slope of a rocky eminence, slightly raised above the level of a wide and gently undulated plain, or more properly basin, through the centre of which winds à limpid rivulet, called the Nahr Leban-the River of “ Milk." A name the stream has received, rather, I presume, from the nourishment it affords the country through which it takes its course, than either from the whiteness of its water, or the mountain (Djibel Leban), from whose side it issues; since the Lebanon sends forth many more copious and equally limpid rivulets.

Be that as it may, the clear and never-failing Leban, being led off in various channels, fertilizes every portion of this smiling vale, which, bounded on all sides by lofty mountains faced with rugged precipices, seems to refuse an outlet to its benefactor. Winding, however, towards the foot of the crag, occupied by the ruined temples, the fickle stream, weary of confinement, throws itself into a rocky gorge, leaping a precipice several hundred feet in depth, and gaining a beautifully wooded ravine, that carries it eventually to the Nahr El Kelb.

The two ruined edifices of Fakrah are very interesting. They are both of rectangular form, and built of large blocks of cut stone, disposed in horizontal courses, and nicely fitted, as in the walls of the ancient Pelasgic fortresses, which are yet to be met with in Greece and Italy. The upper temple is considerably larger than the other, and the walls of the Cella are tolerably perfect, but of the portico only the bases of the columns remain in their places, the capitals, shafts, &c. being broken and scattered about in all directions. It appears to have been of the Corinthian order, and built principally of the limestone of the country; but several fragments of sculptured marble were lying about. The portico faces the East, like those of the temples at Balbec.

We had planned remaining at Fakrah for the night, but having ascertained that no provisions could be procured for either ourselves or cattle, it became necessary to seek some place which offered more resources than figs and water. The village of Meserah, we were told, could supply all our wants, and thither accordingly we despatched our tent and servants, lingering ourselves amongst the interesting ruins, until warned by the lengthening shadows cast by their toppling walls, that it was time for us to depart.

Our road passing between the two piles of ruin, and crossing the rocky ledge whereon the principal one is perched, proceeded thenceforth along the side of the rough mountain that forms the northern boundary of the Wadi Leban. In some places it is extremely bad, passing over large flat slabs of polished limestone, on which our horses had great difficulty to “ keep their legs;" at other times keeping along the bed of a brawling stream, which, issuing from the mountain's side, is pent up by artificial means, to render it available for the irrigation of the vineyards situated lower down the valley. The valley itself is beautifully green with the bright foliage of fig, mulberry, and other fruit trees; the sombre tints of the frowning precipices that overlook it, and the shining cottages with which it is thinly sprinkled, giving a varied and picturesque character to the scenery.

In half an hour we reached a kind of pass, where a road descending the opposite side of the ridge, proceeds to Miruba, &c.; our path now also began to descend more abruptly than heretofore, and in another half hour we reached Meserah.

We found our tent pitched on a kind of village green, and a host of the patives assembled to receive us. Meserah is a large scattered place, inhabited principally by Maronites, who have three churches in it. It contains several " influential” families of Scheicks, and they, with their respective retinues, were the persons assembled at our eneampment. They urged us very hospitably to take up our abode in one of their houses; but the dread of phlebotomy was before us, and we excused ourselves on the plea of wishing to take our departure at a very early hour on the following morning. Indeed, I was suffering with a bad headache, brought on by the heat of the sun, and wished to retire to rest; so, with the hope of getting rid of them, we said we would pay them a visit after we had had our supper. This produced a civil invitation to partake of their evening meal, which compelled me to inform them that I was unwell, and wished to have some tea. However, they were not to be denied—our society they were determined to have ; and since we would not come to them, they proposed, in the superabundance of their civility, to come to us, and smoke a friendly pipe of digestion after our supper. We then ordered pipes, in the expectation that the process of digestion-if dependent upon smoke-would go on as well before supper as after, But there is nothing more difficult to fence off than the importunate civilities of those who make them a cloak for some ulterior purpose ; and in this instance, the puff preliminary only served to make matters worse, by prolonging their present visit, without at all shortening that which was in store for us. One only chance of evading their pertinacious civility, without being positively rude, remained, namely, to despatch our meal with all possible haste and go to bed. But, alas! in this hope also we were doomed to disappointment; for before we had even finished our soup, two huge flagons of wine were sent for our acceptance, accompanied by a message to acquaint us that the donors would wait upon us whenever we had finished our repast. It was evidently their intention to “make a night of it,” and our tent, soon after the arrival of the wine, was filled with as ill-looking a set of ruffians as could be collected in any Christian country. The drift of their visit -apart the drinking and smoking-soon became obvious. They wished to ascertain what we English thought of the scheme of taxation for the Lebanon, which had recently been promulgated by the Turkish authorities in Syria.

As this was a subject on which I had no inclination to touch, I left the discussion of it to my companions, offering no remark on the abuse heaped on the Turkish government, until pointedly asked whether England did not intend to interfere in the matter? Whether, after having aided the Syrians to shake off the bondage of Egypt, Eng. land intended to stand tamely by to see them trampled under foot by the Turks? Whether, in one word, this scheme of taxation was not in reality the work of the English? This last accusation I unhesitatingly denied, assuring them, that if they had been led to believe such to be the case, their informants were persons who wished to plant enmity between us and them. As to interfering, I observed that all the English government could do was to advise, and they might rest assured we should never recommend an excessive amount

« PreviousContinue »