“At our first appearance a slight stir takes place. The customary salutations are given and returned by those nearest at hand; and a small knot of inquisitive idlers, come up to see what and whence we are, soon thickens into a dense circle. Many questions are asked, first of our conductor, Djedey’, and next of ourselves; our answers are tolerably laconic. Meanwhile a thin, middle-sized individual, whose countenance bears the type of smiling urbanity and precise etiquette, befitting his office at court, approaches us. His neat and simple dress, the long silver-circled staff in his hand, his respectful salutation, his politely important manner, all denote him one of the palace retinue. It is Seyf, the court chamberlain, whose special duty is the reception and presentation of strangers. We rise to receive him, and are greeted with a decorous ‘Peace be with you, brothers,’ in the fulness of every inflection and accent that the most scrupulous grammarian could desire. We return an equally Priscianic salutation. ‘Whence have you come?’ is the first question. ‘May good attend you!’ Of course we declare ourselves physicians from Syria, for our bulkier wares had been disposed of in the Djowf, and we were now resolved to depend on medical practice alone. ‘And what do you desire here in our town? may God grant you success!’ says Seyf. ‘We desire the favor of God most high, and, secondly, that of Telal,’ is our answer, conforming our style to the correctest formulas of the country, which we had already begun to pick up. Whereupon Seyf, looking very sweet the while, begins, as in duty bound, a little encomium on his master’s generosity and other excellent qualities, and assures us that we have exactly reached right quarters.
“But alas! while my comrade and myself were exchanging side-glances of mutual felicitation at such fair beginnings, Nemesis suddenly awoke to claim her due, and the serenity of our horizon was at once overcast by an unexpected and most unwelcome cloud. My readers are doubtless already aware that nothing was of higher importance for us than the most absolute incognito, above all in whatever regarded European origin and character. In fact, once known for Europeans, all intimate access and sincerity of intercourse with the people of the land would have been irretrievably lost, and our onward progress to Nedjed rendered totally impossible. These were the very least inconveniences that could follow such a detection; others much more disagreeable might also be well apprehended. Now thus far nothing had occurred capable of exciting serious suspicion; no one had recognized us, or pretended to recognize. We, too, on our part, had thought that Gaza, Ma’an, and perhaps the Djowf, were the only localities where this kind of recognition had to be feared. But we had reckoned without our host; the first real danger was reserved for Ha’yel, within the very limits of Nedjed, and with all the desert-belt between us and our old acquaintances.
“For while Seyf was running through the preliminaries of his politeness, I saw to my horror, amid the circle of bystanders, a figure, a face well known to me scarce six months before in Damascus, and well known to many others also, now merchant, now trader, now post-contractor, shrewd, enterprising, and active, though nigh fifty years of age, and intimate with many Europeans of considerable standing in Syria and Bagdad—one, in short, accustomed to all kinds of men, and not to be easily imposed on by any.
“While I involuntarily stared dismay on my friend, and yet doubted if it could possibly be he, all incertitude was dispelled by his cheerful salutation, in the confidential tone of an old acquaintance, followed by wondering inquiries as to what wind had blown me hither, and what I meant to do here in Ha’yel.
“Wishing him most heartily somewhere else, I had nothing for it but to ‘fix a vacant stare,’ to give a formal return of greeting, and then silence.
“But misfortunes never come single. While I was thus on my defensive against so dangerous an antagonist in the person of my free-and-easy friend, lo! a tall, sinister-featured individual comes up, clad in the dress of an inhabitant of Kaseem, and abruptly breaks in with, ‘And I too have seen him at Damascus,’ naming at the same time the place and date of the meeting, and specifying exactly the circumstances most calculated to set me down for a genuine European.
“Had he really met me as he said? I cannot precisely say; the place he mentioned was one whither men, half-spies, half-travellers, and whole intriguers from the interior districts, nay, even from Nedjed itself, not unfrequently resort; and, as I myself was conscious of having paid more than one visit there, my officious interlocutor might very possibly have been one of those present on some such occasion. So that although I did not now recognize him in particular, there was a strong intrinsic probability in favor of his ill-timed veracity; and his thus coming in to support the first witness in his assertions rendered my predicament, already unsafe, yet worse.
“But ere I could frame an answer or resolve what course to hold, up came a third, who, by overshooting the mark, put the game into our hands. He too salaams me as an old friend, and then, turning to those around, now worked up to a most extraordinary pitch of amazed curiosity, says, ‘And I also know him perfectly well; I have often met him at Cairo, where he lives in great wealth in a large house near the Kasr-el-’Eynee; his name is ’Abd-es-Saleeb; he is married, and has a very beautiful daughter, who rides an expensive horse,’ etc.
“Here at last was a pure invention or mistake (for I know not which it was) that admitted of a flat denial. ‘Aslahek Allah,’ ‘May Heaven set you right,’ said I; ‘never did I live at Cairo, nor have I the blessing of any horse-riding young ladies for daughters.’ Then, looking very hard at my second detector, toward whom I had all the right of doubt, ‘I do not remember having ever seen you; think well as to what you say; many a man besides myself has a reddish beard and straw-colored mustaches,’ taking pains, however, not to seem particularly ‘careful to answer him in this matter,’ but as if merely questioning the precise identity. But for the first of the trio I knew not what to do or to reply, so I continued to look at him with a killing air of inquisitive stupidity, as though not fully understanding his meaning.
“But Seyf, though himself at first somewhat staggered by this sudden downpour of recognition, was now reassured by the discomfiture of the third witness, and came to the convenient conclusion that the two others were no better worthy of credit. ‘Never mind them,’ exclaimed he, addressing himself to us, ‘they are talkative liars, mere gossipers; let them alone, they do not deserve attention; come along with me to the k’hawah in the palace, and rest yourselves.’ Then turning to my poor Damascene friend, whose only wrong was to have been overmuch in the right, he sharply chid him, and next the rest, and led us off, most glad to follow the leader, through the narrow and dark portal into the royal residence.
“Here we remained whilst coffee was, as wont, prepared and served. Seyf, who had left us awhile, now came back to say that Telal would soon return from his afternoon walk in a garden where he had been taking the air, and that if we would pass into the outer court we should then and there have the opportunity of paying him our introductory respects. He added that we should afterward find our supper ready, and be provided also with good lodgings for the night; finally, that the k’hawah and what it contained were always at our disposition so long as we should honor Ha’yel by our presence.
“We rose accordingly and returned with Seyf to the outside area. It was fuller than ever, on account of the expected appearance of the monarch. A few minutes later we saw a crowd approach from the upper extremity of the place, namely, that toward the market. When the new-comers drew near, we saw them to be almost exclusively armed men, with some of the more important-looking citizens, but all on foot. In the midst of this circle, though detached from those around them, slowly advanced three personages, whose dress and deportment, together with the respectful distance observed by the rest, announced superior rank. ‘Here comes Telal,’ said Seyf, in an undertone.
“The midmost figure was in fact that of the prince himself. Short of stature, broad-shouldered, and strongly built, of a very dusky complexion, with long black hair, dark and piercing eyes, and a countenance rather severe than open, Telal might readily be supposed above forty years in age, though he is in fact thirty-seven or thirty-eight at most. His step was measured, his demeanor grave and somewhat haughty. His dress, a long robe of cashmere shawl, covered the white Arab shirt, and over all he wore a delicately worked cloak of camel’s-hair from Oman, a great rarity, and highly valued in this part of Arabia. His head was adorned by a broidered handkerchief, in which silk and gold thread had not been spared, and girt by a broad band of camel’s-hair entwined with red silk, the manufacture of Meshid ’Alee. A gold-mounted sword hung by his side, and his dress was perfumed with musk, in a degree better adapted to Arab than to European nostrils. His glance never rested for a moment; sometimes it turned on his nearer companions, sometimes on the crowd; I have seldom seen so truly an ‘eagle eye,’ in rapidity and in brilliancy.
“By his side walked a tall, thin individual, clad in garments of somewhat less costly material, but of gayer colors and embroidery than those of the king himself. His face announced unusual intelligence and courtly politeness; his sword was not, however, adorned with gold, the exclusive privilege of the royal family, but with silver only.
“This was Zamil, the treasurer and prime minister—sole minister, indeed, of the autocrat. Raised from beggary by Abdallah, the late king, who had seen in the ragged orphan signs of rare capacity, he continued to merit the uninterrupted favor of his patron, and after his death, had become equally, or yet more, dear to Telal, who raised him from post to post, till he at last occupied the highest position in the kingdom after the monarch himself. Of the demurely smiling Abd-el-Mahsin, the second companion of the king’s evening walk, I will say nothing for the moment; we shall have him before long for a very intimate acquaintance and a steady friend.
“Everyone stood up as Telal drew nigh. Seyf gave us a sign to follow him, made way through the crowd, and saluted his sovereign with the authorized formula of ‘Peace be with you, O the Protected of God!’ Telal at once cast on us a penetrating glance, and addressed a question in a low voice to Seyf, whose answer was in the same tone. The prince then looked again toward us, but with a friendlier expression of face. We approached and touched his open hand, repeating the same salutation as that used by Seyf. No bow, hand-kissing, or other ceremony is customary on these occasions. Telal returned our greeting, and then, without a word more to us, whispered a moment to Seyf, and passed on through the palace gate.
“‘He will give you a private audience to-morrow,’ said Seyf, ‘and I will take care that you have notice of it in due time; meanwhile come to supper.’ The sun had already set when we re-entered the palace. This time, after passing the arsenal, we turned aside into a large square court, distinct from the former, and surrounded by an open veranda, spread with mats. Two large ostriches, presents offered to Telal by some chiefs of the Solibah tribe, strutted about the enclosure, and afforded much amusement to the negro boys and scullions of the establishment. Seyf conducted us to the further side of the court, where we seated ourselves under the portico.
“Hither some black slaves immediately brought the supper; the ‘pièce de résistance’ was, as usual, a huge dish of rice and boiled meat, with some thin cakes of unleavened bread and dates, and small onions with chopped gourds intermixed. The cookery was better than what we had heretofore tasted, though it would, perhaps, have hardly passed muster with a Vatel. We made a hearty meal, took coffee in the k’hawah, and then returned to sit awhile and smoke our pipes in the open air. Needs not say how lovely are the summer evenings, how cool the breeze, how pure the sky, in these mountainous districts.”
Palgrave gives a historical sketch of the rise of Prince Telal to a position of power and importance in Central Arabia, scarcely secondary to that of the Wahabee ruler of Nedjed. The region of Djebel Shomer was subjected to the Wahabee rule during the last century, and the severe discipline of the new creed was forced upon its inhabitants. But, after the taking of Derreyeh by Ibrahim Pasha, the people regained a partial independence, and a rivalry for the chieftainship ensued between the two noble houses of Djaaper and Beyt Alee. The leader of the former was a young man named Abdallah, of more than ordinary character and intelligence, wealthy and popular. But he was defeated in the struggle, and about the year 1820 was driven into exile.
With a small band of followers he reached the Wady Sirhan (traversed by Palgrave on his way to the Djowf), where they were attacked by the Aneyzeh Bedouins, all the rest slain, and Abdallah left for dead on the sands. The Arab story is that the locusts came around them, scattered the sand with their wings and feet upon his wounds and thus stopped the flow of blood, while a flock of partridges hung above him to screen him from the burning sun. A merchant of Damascus, passing by with his caravan, beheld the miracle, took the youth, bound up his wounds, and restored him to health by the most tender care. When he had recovered his vigor in Damascus, the generous merchant sent him back to Arabia.
He went first to the Nedjed, entered the service of the Wahabee chief, rose to high military rank, and finally, by his own personal bravery, secured the sovereignty to Feysul, the present (1863) ruler. The latter then gave him an army to recover his heritage of Djebel Shomer, and about the year 1830 his sway was secured in his native country. The rival clan of Beyt Alee was extirpated, only one child being left, whom Telal afterward, with a rare but politic generosity, restored to wealth and honors.
Abdallah took every means to strengthen his power. He found it necessary, through his dependence on Feysul, to establish the Wahabee creed; he used the Bedouins as allies, in order to repress the rivalry of the nobles, and thus gained power at the expense of popularity. Many plots were formed against him, many attempts made to assassinate him, but they all failed: his lucky star attended him throughout. Up to this time he had dwelt in a quarter of the capital which the old chieftains and the nobility had mainly chosen for their domicile, and where the new monarch was surrounded by men his equals in birth and of even more ancient title to command. But now he added a new quarter to the town, and there laid the foundations of a vast palace destined for the future abode of the king and the display of all his grandeur, amid streets and nobles of his own creation. The walls of the projected edifice were fast rising when he died, almost suddenly, in 1844 or 1845, leaving three sons—Telal, Meta’ab, and Mohammed—the eldest scarce twenty years of age, besides his only surviving brother Obeyd, who could not then have been much under fifty.
“Telal was already highly popular,” says Palgrave, “much more so than his father, and had given early tokens of those superior qualities which accompanied him to the throne. All parties united to proclaim him sole heir to the kingdom and lawful successor to the regal power, and thus the rival pretensions of Obeyd, hated by many and feared by all, were smothered at the outset and put aside without a contest.
“The young sovereign possessed, in fact, all that Arab ideas require to insure good government and lasting popularity. Affable toward the common people, reserved and haughty with the aristocracy, courageous and skilful in war, a lover of commerce and building in time of peace, liberal even to profusion, yet always careful to maintain and augment the state revenue, neither over-strict nor yet scandalously lax in religion, secret in his designs, but never known to break a promise once given, or violate a plighted faith; severe in administration, yet averse to bloodshed, he offered the very type of what an Arab prince should be. I might add, that among all rulers or governors, European or Asiatic, with whose acquaintance I have ever chanced to be honored, I know few equal in the true art of government to Telal, son of Abdallah-ebn-Rasheed.
“His first cares were directed to adorn and civilize the capital. Under his orders, enforced by personal superintendence, the palace commenced by his father was soon brought to completion. But he added, what probably his father would hardly have thought of, a long row of warehouses, the dependencies and property of the same palace; next he built a market-place consisting of about eighty shops or magazines, destined for public commerce and trade, and lastly constructed a large mosque for the official prayers of Friday. Round the palace, and in many other parts of the town, he opened streets, dug wells, and laid out extensive gardens, besides strengthening the old fortifications all round and adding new ones. At the same time he managed to secure at once the fidelity and the absence of his dangerous uncle by giving him charge of those military expeditions which best satisfied the restless energy of Obeyd. The first of these wars was directed, I know not on what pretext, against Kheybar. But as Telal intended rather to enforce submission than to inflict ruin, he associated with Obeyd in the military command his own brother Meta’ab, to put a check on the ferocity of the former. Kheybar was conquered, and Telal sent thither, as governor in his name, a young man of Ha’yel, prudent and gentle, whom I subsequently met when he was on a visit at the capital.
“Not long after, the inhabitants of Kaseem, weary of Wahabee tyranny, turned their eyes toward Telal, who had already given a generous and inviolable asylum to the numerous political exiles of that district. Secret negotiations took place, and at a favorable moment the entire uplands of that province—after a fashion not indeed peculiar to Arabia—annexed themselves to the kingdom of Shomer by universal and unanimous suffrage. Telal made suitable apologies to the Nedjean monarch, the original sovereign of the annexed district; he could not resist the popular wish; it had been forced on him, etc.—but Western Europe is familiar with the style. Feysul felt the inopportuneness of a quarrel with the rapidly growing power to which he himself had given origin only a few years before, and, after a wry face or two, swallowed the pill. Meanwhile Telal knowing the necessity of a high military reputation, both at home and abroad, undertook in person a series of operations against Teyma’ and its neighborhood, and at last against the Djowf itself. Everywhere his arms were successful, and his moderation in victory secured the attachment of the vanquished themselves.
“Toward his own subjects his conduct is uniformly of a nature to merit their obedience and attachment, and few sovereigns have here met with better success. Once a day, often twice, he gives public audience, hears patiently, and decides in person, the minutest causes with great good sense. To the Bedouins, no insignificant portion of his rule, he makes up for the restraint he imposes, and the tribute he levies from them, by a profusion of hospitality not to be found elsewhere in the whole of Arabia from Akabah to Aden. His guests at the midday and evening meal are never less than fifty or sixty, and I have often counted up to two hundred at a banquet, while presents of dress and arms are of frequent if not daily occurrence. It is hard for Europeans to estimate how much popularity such conduct brings an Asiatic prince. Meanwhile the townsfolk and villagers love him for the more solid advantages of undisturbed peace at home, of flourishing commerce, of extended dominion, and military glory.
“To capital punishment he is decidedly adverse, and the severest penalty with which he has hitherto chastised political offences is banishment or prison. Indeed, even in cases of homicide or murder, he has been known not unfrequently to avail himself of the option allowed by Arab custom between a fine and retaliation, and to buy off the offender, by bestowing on the family of the deceased the allotted price of blood from his own private treasury, and that from a pure motive of humanity. When execution does take place, it is always by beheading; nor is indeed any other mode of putting to death customary in Arabia. Stripes, however, are not uncommon, though administered on the broad back, not on the sole of the foot. They are the common chastisement for minor offences, like stealing, cursing, or quarrelling; in this last case both parties usually come in for their share.
“With his numerous retainers he is almost over-indulgent, and readily pardons a mistake or a negligence; falsehood alone he never forgives; and it is notorious that whoever has once lied to Telal must give up all hopes of future favor.”
After describing the public audience which is daily given by this excellent prince, Palgrave describes the more private reception which was accorded to himself and his companion:
“Telal, once free from the mixed crowd, pauses a moment till we rejoin him. The simple and customary salutations are given and returned. I then present him with our only available testimonial, the scrap written by Hamood from the Djowf. He opens it, and hands it over to Zamil, better skilled in reading than his master. Then laying aside all his wonted gravity, and assuming a good-humored smile, he takes my hand in his right and my companion’s in his left, and thus walks on with us through the court, past the mosque, and down the market-place, while his attendants form a moving wall behind and on either side.
“He was in his own mind thoroughly persuaded that we were, as we appeared, Syrians; but imagined, nor was he entirely in the wrong thus far, that we had other objects in view than mere medical practice. But if he was right in so much, he was less fortunate in the interpretation he chose to put on our riddle, having imagined that our real scope must be to buy horses for some government, of which we must be the agents; a conjecture which had certainly the merit of plausibility. However, Telal had, I believe, no doubt on the matter, and had already determined to treat us well in the horse business, and to let us have a good bargain, as it shortly appeared.
“Accordingly he began a series of questions and cross-questions, all in a jocose way, but so that the very drift of his inquiries soon allowed us to perceive what he really esteemed us. We, following our previous resolution, stuck to medicine, a family in want, hopes of good success under the royal patronage and much of the same tenor. But Telal was not so easily to be blinkered, and kept to his first judgment. Meanwhile we passed down the street, lined with starers at the king and us, and at last arrived at the outer door of a large house near the farther end of the Sook or market-place; it belonged to Hasan, the merchant from Meshid ’Alee.
“Three of the retinue stationed themselves by way of guard at the street door, sword in hand. The rest entered with the king and ourselves; we traversed the court-yard, where the remainder of the armed men took position, while we went on to the k’hawah. It was small, but well furnished and carpeted. Here Telal placed us amicably by his side in the highest place; his brother Mohammed and five or six others were admitted, and seated themselves each according to his rank, while Hasan, being master of the house, did the honors.
“Coffee was brought and pipes lighted. Meantime Ebn-Rasheed renewed his interrogatory, skilfully throwing out side remarks, now on the government of Syria, now on that of Egypt, then on the Bedouins to the north of Djowf, or on the tribes of Hedjaz, or on the banks of the Euphrates, thus to gain light whence and to what end we had in fact come. Next he questioned us on medicine, perhaps to discover whether we had the right professional tone; then on horses, about which same noble animals we affected an ignorance unnatural and very unpardonable in an Englishman; but for which I hope afterward to make amends to my readers. All was in vain; and after a full hour our noble friend had only managed by his cleverness to get himself farther off the right track than he had been at the outset. He felt it, and determined to let matters have their own course, and to await the result of time. So he ended by assuring us of his entire confidence and protection, offering us, to boot, a lodging on the palace grounds. But this we declined, being desirous of studying the country as it was in itself, not through the medium of a court atmosphere; so we begged that an abode might be assigned us as near the market-place as possible; and this he promised, though evidently rather put out by our independent ways.
“Excellent water-melons, ready peeled and cut up, with peaches hardly ripe, for it was the beginning of the season, were now brought in, and we all partook in common. This was the signal for breaking up; Telal renewed his proffers of favor and patronage; and we were at last reconducted to our lodgings by one of the royal guard.
“Seyf now went in search of a permanent dwelling-place wherein to install us; and, before evening, succeeded in finding one situated in a street leading at right angles to the market, and at no unreasonable distance from the palace. Every door was provided with its own distinct lock; the keys here are made of iron, and in this respect Ha’yel has the better of any other Arab town it was my chance to visit, where the keys were invariably wooden, and thus very liable to break and get out of order.
“The court-yard was soon thronged with visitors, some from the palace, others from the town. One had a sick relation, whom he begged us to come and see, another some personal ailment, a third had called out of mere politeness or curiosity; in short, men of all conditions and of all ages, but for the most part open and friendly in manner, so that we could already anticipate a very speedy acquaintance with the town and whatever it contained.
“The nature of our occupations now led to a certain daily routine, though it was often agreeably diversified by incidental occurrences. Perhaps a leaf taken at random from my journal, now regularly kept, may serve to set before my readers a tolerable sample of our ordinary course of life and society at Ha’yel, while it will at the same time give a more distinct idea of the town and people than we have yet supplied.
“Be it, then, the 10th of August, whose jotted notes I will put together and fill up the blanks. I might equally have taken the 9th or the 11th, they are all much the same; but the day I have chosen looks a little the closer written of the two, and for that sole reason I prefer giving it.
“On that day, then, in 1862, about a fortnight after our establishment at Ha’yel, and when we were, in consequence, fully inured to our town existence, Seleem Abou Mahmood-el-’Eys and Barakat-esh-Shamee, that is, my companion and myself, rose, not from our beds, for we had none, but from our roof-spread carpets, and took advantage of the silent hour of the first faint dawn, while the stars yet kept watch in the sky over the slumbering inhabitants of Shomer, to leave the house for a cool and undisturbed walk ere the sun should arise and man go forth unto his work and to his labor. We locked the outer door, and then passed into the still twilight gloom down the cross-street leading to the market-place, which we next followed up to its farther or southwestern end, where large folding-gates separate it from the rest of the town. The wolfish city-dogs, whose bark and bite, too, render walking the streets at night a rather precarious business, now tamely stalked away in the gloaming, while here and there a crouching camel, the packages yet on his back, and his sleeping driver close by, awaited the opening of the warehouse at whose door they had passed the night. Early though it was, the market gates were already unclosed, and the guardian sat wakeful in his niche. On leaving the market we had yet to go down a broad street of houses and gardens cheerfully intermixed, till at last we reached the western wall of the town, or, rather, of the new quarter added by ’Abdallah, where the high portal between round flanking towers gave us issue on the open plain, blown over at this hour by a light gale of life and coolness. To the west, but some four or five miles distant, rose the serrated mass of Djebel Shomer, throwing up its black fantastic peaks, now reddened by the reflected dawn, against the lead-blue sky. Northward the same chain bends round till it meets the town, and then stretches away for a length of ten or twelve days’ journey, gradually losing in height on its approach to Meshid ’Alee and the valley of the Euphrates. On our south we have a little isolated knot of rocks, and far off the extreme ranges of Djebel Shomer, or ’Aja, to give it its historical name, intersected by the broad passes that lead on in the same direction to Djebel Solma. Behind us lies the capital. Telal’s palace, with its high oval keep, houses, gardens, walls, and towers, all coming out black against the ruddy bars of eastern light, and behind, a huge pyramidal peak almost overhanging the town, and connected by lower rocks with the main mountain range to north and south, those stony ribs that protect the central heart of the kingdom. In the plain itself we can just distinguish by the doubtful twilight several blackish patches irregularly scattered over its face, or seen as though leaning upward against its craggy verge; these are the gardens and country houses of ’Obeyd and other chiefs, besides hamlets and villages, such as Kefar and ’Adwah, with their groves of palm and ‘ithel’ (the Arab larch), now blended in the dusk. One solitary traveller on his camel, a troop of jackals sneaking off to their rocky cavern, a few dingy tents of Shomer Bedouins, such are the last details of the landscape. Far away over the southern hills beams the glory of Canopus, and announces a new Arab year; the pole-star to the north lies low over the mountain tops.
“We pace the pebble-strown flat to the south till we leave behind us the length of the town wall, and reach the little cluster of rocks already mentioned. We scramble up to a sort of niche near its summit, whence, at a height of a hundred feet or more, we can overlook the whole extent of the plain and wait the sunrise. Yet before the highest crags of Shomer are gilt with its first rays, or the long giant shadows of the easterly chain have crossed the level, we see groups of peasants, who, driving their fruit and vegetable-laden asses before them, issue like little bands of ants from the mountain gorges around, and slowly approach on the tracks converging to the capital. Horsemen from the town ride out to the gardens, and a long line of camels on the westerly Medina road winds up toward Ha’yel. We wait ensconced in our rocky lookout and enjoy the view till the sun has risen, and the coolness of the night air warms rapidly into the sultry day; it is time to return. So we quit our solitary perch and descend to the plain, where, keeping in the shadow of the western fortifications, we regain the town gate and thence the market.
“There all is now life and movement; some of the warehouses, filled with rice, flour, spices, or coffee, and often concealing in their inner recesses stores of the prohibited American weed, are already open; we salute the owners while we pass, and they return a polite and friendly greeting. Camels are unloading in the streets, and Bedouins standing by, looking anything but at home in the town. The shoemaker and the blacksmith, those two main props of Arab handicraft, are already at their work, and some gossiping bystanders are collected around them. At the corner where our cross-street falls into the market-place, three or four country women are seated, with piles of melons, gourds, egg-plant fruits, and the other garden produce before them for sale. My companion falls a haggling with one of these village nymphs, and ends by obtaining a dozen ‘badinjans’ and a couple of water-melons, each bigger than a man’s head, for the equivalent of an English twopence. With this purchase we return home, where we shut and bolt the outer door, then take out of a flat basket what has remained from over night of our wafer-like Ha’yel bread, and with this and a melon make a hasty breakfast. I say a hasty one, for although it is only half an hour after sunrise, repeated knocks at our portal show the arrival of patients and visitors: early rising being here the fashion, and in reason must be wherever artificial lighting is scanty. However, we do not at once open to our friends, nor will they take offence at the delay, but remain where they are, chatting together before our door till we admit them; of so little value is time here.
“In comes a young man of good appearance, clad in the black cloak common to all of the middle or upper classes in Central Arabia; in his hand he bears a wand of the Sidr or lotos-wood. A silver-hilted sword and a glistening Kafee’yah announce him to be a person of some importance, while his long, black ringlets, handsome features, and slightly olive complexion, with a tall stature and easy gait, declare him a native of Djebel Shomer, and townsman of Ha’yel; it is ’Ojeyl, the eldest-born of a large family, and successor to the comfortable house and garden of his father, not long since deceased, in a quarter of the town some twenty minutes’ walk distant. He leads by the hand his younger brother, a modest-looking lad of fair complexion and slim make, but almost blind, and evidently out of health also. After passing through the preliminary ceremonies of introduction to Barakat, he approaches my recess, and standing without, salutes me with the greatest deference. Thinking him a desirable acquaintance I receive him very graciously, and he begs me to see what is the matter with his brother. I examine the case, finding it to be within the limits of my skill, and not likely to require more than a very simple course of treatment. Accordingly I make my bargain for the chances of recovery, and find ’Ojeyl docile to the terms proposed, and with little disposition, all things considered, to backwardness in payment. Arabs, indeed, are in general close in driving a bargain and open in downright giving; they will chaffer half a day about a penny, while they will throw away the worth of pounds on the first asker. But ’Ojeyl was one of the best specimens of the Ha’yel character, and of the clan Ta’i, renowned in all times for their liberal ways and high sense of honor. I next proceed to administer to my patient such drugs as his state requires, and he receives them with that air of absolute and half-religious confidence which well-educated Arabs show to their physician, whom they regard as possessed of an almost sacred and supernatural power—a feeling, by the way, hardly less advantageous to the patient than to the practitioner, and which may often contribute much to the success of the treatment.
“During the rest of my stay at Ha’yel, ’Ojeyl continued to be one of my best friends, I had almost said disciples; our mutual visits were frequent, and always pleasing and hearty. His brother’s cure, which followed in less than a fortnight, confirmed his attachment, nor had I reason to complain of scantiness in his retribution.
“Meanwhile the court-yard has become full of visitors. Close by my door I see the intelligent and demurely smiling face of ’Abd-el-Mahsin, where he sits between two pretty and well-dressed boys; they are the two elder children of Telal—Bedr and Bander. Their guardsman, a negro slave with a handsome cloak and sword, is seated a little lower down; farther on are two townsmen, one armed, the other with a wand at his side. A rough, good-natured youth, of a bronzed complexion, and whose dingy clothes bespeak his mechanical profession, is talking with another of a dress somewhat different in form and coarser in material than that usually worn in Ha’yel; this latter must be a peasant from some one of the mountain villages. Two Bedouins, ragged and uncouth, have straggled in with the rest; while a tall, dark-featured youth, with a gilded hilt to his sword, and more silk about him than a Wahabee would approve, has taken his place opposite to ’Abd-el-Mahsin, and is trying to draw him into conversation. But this last has asked Barakat to lend him one of my Arabic books to read, and is deeply engaged in its perusal.
“’Ojeyl has taken leave, and I give the next turn of course to ’Abd-el-Mahsin. He informs me that Telal has sent me his two sons, Bedr and Bander, that I may examine their state of health, and see if they require doctoring. This is in truth a little stroke of policy on Telal’s part, who knows equally with myself that the boys are perfectly well and want nothing at all. But he wishes to give us a mark of his confidence, and at the same time to help us in establishing our medical reputation in the town; for though by no means himself persuaded of the reality of our doctoral title, he understands the expediency of saving appearances before the public.
“Well, the children are passed in review with all the seriousness due to a case of heart complaint or brain fever, while at a wink from me Barakat prepares in the kitchen a draught of cinnamon water, which, with sugar, named medicine for the occasion, pleases the young heirs of royalty and keeps up the farce; ’Abd-el-Mahsin expatiating all the time to the bystanders on the wonderful skill with which I have at once discovered the ailments and their cure, and the small boys thinking that if this be medicine they will do their best to be ill for it every day.
“’Abd-el-Mahsin now commits them to the negro, who, however, before taking them back to the palace, has his own story to tell of some personal ache, for which I prescribe without stipulating for payment, since he belongs to the palace, where it is important to have the greatest number of friends possible, even on the back stairs. But ’Abd-el-Mahsin remains, reading, chatting, quoting poetry, and talking history, recent events, natural philosophy, or medicine, as the case may be.
“Let us now see some of the other patients. The gold-hilted swordsman has naturally a special claim on our attention. He is the son of Rosheyd, Telal’s maternal uncle. His palace stands on the other side of the way, exactly opposite to our house; and I will say nothing more of him for the present, intending to pay him afterward a special visit, and thus become more thoroughly acquainted with the whole family.
“Next let us take notice of those two townsmen who are conversing, or rather ‘chaffing,’ together. Though both in plain apparel, and much alike in stature and features, there is yet much about them to distinguish the two; one has a civilian look, the other a military. He of the wand is no less a personage than Mohammed-el-Kadee, chief justice of Ha’yel, and of course a very important individual in the town. However, his exterior is that of an elderly, unpretentious, little man, and one, in spite of the proverb which attributes gravity to judges, very fond of a joke, besides being a tolerable representative of what may here be called the moderate party, neither participating in the fanaticism of the Wahabee, nor yet, like the most of the indigenous chiefs, hostile to Mahometanism; he takes his cue from the court direction and is popular with all factions because belonging properly to none.
“He requires some medical treatment for himself, and more for his son, a big, heavy lad with a swollen arm, who has accompanied him hither. Here, too, is a useful acquaintance, well up to all the scandal and small talk of the town, and willing to communicate it. Our visits were frequent, and I found his house well stored with books, partly manuscript, partly printed in Egypt, and mainly on legal or religious subjects.
“Of the country folks in the villages around, like Mogah, Delhemee’eh, and the rest, Mohammed-el-Kadee used to speak with a sort of half-contemptuous pity, much like a Parisian talking of Low Bretons; in fact, the difference between these rough and sturdy boors and the more refined inhabitants of the capital is, all due proportion allowed, no less remarkable here than in Europe itself. We will now let one of them come forward in his own behalf, and my readers shall be judges.
“It is accordingly a stout clown from Mogah, scantily dressed in working wear, and who has been occupied for the last half hour in tracing sundry diagrams on the ground before him with a thick peach-tree switch, thus to pass his time till his betters shall have been served. He now edges forward, and taking his seat in front of the door, calls my attention with an ‘I say, doctor.’ Whereon I suggest to him that his bulky corporation not being formed of glass or any other transparent material, he has by his position entirely intercepted whatever little light my recess might enjoy. He apologizes, and shuffles an inch or two sideways. Next I inquire what ails him, not without some curiosity to hear the answer, so little does the herculean frame before me announce disease. Whereto Do’eymis, or whatever may be his name, replies, ‘I say, I am all made up of pain.’ This statement, like many others, appears to me rather too general to be exactly true. So I proceed in my interrogatory: ‘Does your head pain you?’ ‘No.’ (I might have guessed that; these fellows never feel what our cross-Channel friends entitle ‘le mal des beaux esprits.’) ‘Does your back ache?’ ‘No.’ ‘Your arms?’ ‘No.’ ‘Your legs?’ ‘No.’ ‘Your body?’ ‘No.’ ‘But,’ I conclude, ‘if neither your head nor your body, back, arms, or legs pain you, how can you possibly be such a composition of suffering?’ ‘I am all made up of pain, doctor,’ replies he, manfully intrenching himself within his first position. The fact is, that there is really something wrong with him, but he does not know how to localize his sensations. So I push forward my inquiries, till it appears that our man of Mogah has a chronic rheumatism; and on ulterior investigation, conducted with all the skill that Barakat and I can jointly muster, it comes out that three or four months before he had an attack of the disease in its acute form, accompanied by high fever, since which he has never been himself again.
“This might suffice for the diagnosis, but I wish to see how he will find his way out of more intricate questions; besides, the townsmen sitting by, and equally alive to the joke with myself, whisper, ‘Try him again.’ In consequence, I proceed with, ‘What was the cause of your first illness?’ ‘I say, doctor, its cause was God,’ replies the patient. ‘No doubt of that,’ say I; ‘all things are caused by God: but what was the particular and immediate occasion?’ ‘Doctor, its cause was God, and secondly, that I ate camel’s flesh when I was cold,’ rejoins my scientific friend. ‘But was there nothing else?’ I suggest, not quite satisfied with the lucid explanation just given. ‘Then, too, I drank camel’s milk; but it was all, I say, from God, doctor,’ answers he.
“Well, I consider the case, and make up my mind regarding the treatment. Next comes the grand question of payment, which must be agreed on beforehand, and rendered conditional on success; else no fees for the doctor, not at Ha’yel only, but throughout Arabia. I inquire what he will give me on recovery. ‘Doctor,’ answers the peasant, ‘I will give you, do you hear? I say, I will give you a camel.’ But I reply that I do not want one. ‘I say, remember God,’ which being interpreted here means, ‘do not be unreasonable; I will give you a fat camel, everyone knows my camel; if you choose, I will bring witnesses, I say.’ And while I persist in refusing the proffered camel, he talks of butter, meal, dates, and such like equivalents.
“There is a patient and a paymaster for you. However, all ends by his behaving reasonably enough; he follows my prescriptions with the ordinary docility, gets better, and gives me for my pains an eighteen-penny fee.”
During this residence in Ha’yel, Palgrave made many friends, and soon established those relations of familiar intercourse which are so much easier in Moslem than in Christian lands—a natural result of the preservation of the old importance, which in the earliest Hebrew days was attached to “the stranger.” Palgrave’s intimacies embraced many families related to Telal, and others, whose knowledge of Arabian history or literature made their acquaintance welcome. His own knowledge of these subjects, fortunately, was equal to theirs, and, from the number of his invitations to dinners and suppers, he seems to have been a welcome guest to the better classes of Ha’yel. One of the aristocracy, by name Dohey, was his most agreeable acquaintance; and we quote the following pleasant account of his intercourse:
“Dohey’s invitations were particularly welcome, both from the pleasantness of his dwelling-place, and from the varied and interesting conversation that I was sure to meet with there. This merchant, a tall and stately man of between fifty and sixty years of age, and whose thin features were lighted up by a lustre of more than ordinary intelligence, was a thorough Ha’yelite of the old caste, hating Wahabees from the bottom of his heart, eager for information on cause and effect, on lands and governments, and holding commerce and social life for the main props if not the ends of civil and national organization. His uncle, now near eighty years old, to judge by conjecture in a land where registers are not much in use, had journeyed to India, and traded at Bombay; in token whereof he still wore an Indian skullcap and a cashmere shawl. The rest of the family were in keeping with the elder members, and seldom have I seen more dutiful children or a better educated household. My readers will naturally understand that by education I here imply its moral not its intellectual phase. The eldest son, himself a middle-aged man, would never venture into his father’s presence without unbuckling his sword and leaving it in the vestibule, nor on any account presume to sit on a level with him or by his side in the divan.
“The divan itself was one of the prettiest I met with in these parts. It was a large square room, looking out on the large house-garden, and cheerfully lighted up by trellised windows on two sides, while the wall of the third had purposely been discontinued at about half its height, and the open space thus left between it and the roof propped by pillars, between which ‘a fruitful vine by the sides of the house’ was intertwined so as to fill up the interval with a gay net-work of green leaves and tendrils, transparent like stained glass in the eastern sunbeams. Facing this cheerful light, the floor of the apartment was raised about two feet above the rest, and covered with gay Persian carpets, silk cushions, and the best of Arab furniture. In the lower half of the k’hawah, and at its farthest angle, was the small stone coffee-stove, placed at a distance where its heat might not annoy the master and his guests. Many of the city nobility would here resort, and the talk generally turned on serious subjects, and above all on the parties and politics of Arabia; while Dohey would show himself a thorough Arab patriot, and at the same time a courteous and indulgent judge of foreigners, qualities seldom to be met with together in any notable degree, and therefore more welcome.
“Many a pleasant hour have I passed in this half greenhouse, half k’hawah, mid cheerful faces and varied talk, while inly commenting on the natural resources of this manly and vigorous people, and straining the eye of forethought to discern through the misty curtain of the future by what outlet their now unfruitful, because solitary, good may be brought into fertilizing contact with that of other more advanced nations, to the mutual benefit of each and all.
“Talk went on with the ease and decorum characteristic of good Eastern society, without the flippancy and excitement which occasionally mars it in some countries, no less than over-silence does in others. To my mind the Easterns are generally superior in the science of conversation to the inhabitants of the West; perhaps from a greater necessity of cultivating it, as the only means of general news and intercourse where newspapers and pamphlets are unknown.
“Or else some garden was the scene of our afternoon leisure, among fruit-trees and palms, by the side of a watercourse, whose constant supply from the well hid from view among thick foliage, seemed the work not of laborious art, but of unassisted nature. Here, stretched in the cool and welcome shade, would we for hours canvass with ’Abd-el-Mahsin, and others of similar pursuits, the respective merits of Arab poets and authors, of Omar-ebn-el-Farid or Aboo’l ’Ola, in meetings that had something of the Attic, yet with just enough of the Arab to render them more acceptable by their Semitic character of grave cheerfulness and mirthful composure.
“Or when the stars came out, Barakat and myself would stroll out of the heated air of the streets and market to the cool open plain, and there pass an hour or two alone, or in conversation with what chance passer-by might steal on us, half-unperceived and unperceiving in the dusk, and amuse ourselves with his simplicity if he were a Bedouin, or with his shrewdness if a townsman.
“Thus passed our ordinary life at Ha’yel. Many minor incidents occurred to diversify it, many of the little ups and downs that human intercourse never fails to furnish; sometimes the number of patients and the urgency of their attendance allowed of little leisure for aught except our professional duties; sometimes a day or two would pass with hardly any serious occupation. But of such incidents my readers have a sufficient sample in what has been already set down. Suffice to say, that from the 27th of July to the 8th of September we remained doctoring in the capital or in its immediate neighborhood.”
By this time Palgrave had obtained sufficient knowledge of the country, and was anxious to advance farther eastward before the autumn—the best season for travel—should be spent. Now, the journey across the Shomer frontier could only be pursued with Telal’s cognizance, and by his good will. In fact, a passport bearing the royal signature is indispensable for all who desire to cross the boundary, especially into the Wahabee territory; without such a document in hand no one would venture to conduct them.
“Accordingly,” he says, “we requested and obtained a special audience at the palace. Telal, of whose good-will we had received frequent, indeed daily, proofs during our sojourn at Ha’yel, proved a sincere friend—patron would be a juster word—to the last; exemplifying the Scotch proverb about the guest not only who ‘will stay,’ but also who ‘maun gang.’ To this end he then dictated to Zamil, for Telal himself is no scribe, a passport or general letter of safe conduct, enough to insure us good treatment within the limits of his rule, and even beyond.
“When this was written, Telal affixed his seal, and rose to leave us alone with Zamil, after a parting shake of the hand, and wishing us a prosperous journey and speedy return. Yet with all these motives for going, I could not but feel reluctant to quit a pleasing town, where we certainly possessed many sincere friends and well-wishers, for countries in which we could by no means anticipate equal favor, or even equal safety. Indeed, so ominous was all that we heard about Wahabee Nedjed, so black did the landscape before us look, on nearer approach, that I almost repented of my resolution, and was considerably inclined to say, ‘Thus far enough, and no farther.’
“’Obeyd, Telal’s uncle, had left Ha’yel the day before on a military expedition against the Bedouins of the West. In common with all the sight-seers of the town, we had gone to witness his departure. It was a gay and interesting scene. ’Obeyd had caused his tent to be pitched in the plain without the northern walls, and there reviewed his forces. About one-third were on horseback, the rest were mounted on light and speedy camels; all had spears and matchlocks, to which the gentry added swords; and while they rode hither and thither in sham manœuvres over the parade ground, the whole appearance was very picturesque and tolerably martial. ’Obeyd now unfurled his own peculiar standard, in which the green color, distinctive of Islam, had been added border-wise to the white ground of the ancestral Nedjean banner, mentioned fourteen centuries back by ’Omar-ebn-Kelthoom, the poet of Taghleb, and many others. Barakat and myself mixed with the crowd of spectators. ’Obeyd saw us, and it was now several days since we had last met. Without hesitating he cantered up to us, and while he tendered his hand for a farewell shake, he said: ‘I have heard that you intend going to Ri’ad; there you will meet with ’Abdallah, the eldest son of Feysul; he is my particular friend; I should much desire to see you high in his good graces, and to that end I have written him a letter in your behalf, of which you yourselves are to be the bearers; you will find it in my house, where I have left it for you with one of my servants.’ He then assured us that if he found us still at Ha’yel on his return, he would continue to befriend us in every way; but that if we journeyed forward to Nedjed, we should meet with a sincere friend in ’Abdallah, especially if we gave him the letter in question.
“He then took his leave with a semblance of affectionate cordiality that made the bystanders stare; thus supporting to the last the profound dissimulation which he had only once belied for a moment. The letter was duly handed over to us the same afternoon by his head steward, whom he had left to look after the house and garden in his absence. Doubtless my readers will be curious to know what sort of recommendation ’Obeyd had provided us with. It was written on a small scrap of thick paper, about four inches each way, carefully folded up and secured by three seals. However, ‘our fears forgetting manners,’ we thought best with Hamlet to make perusal of this grand commission before delivering it to its destination. So we undid the seals with precautions admitting of reclosing them in proper form, and read the royal knavery. I give it word for word; it ran thus: ‘In the name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate, we, ’Obeyd-ebn-Rasheed, salute you, O ’Abdallah, son of Feysul-ebn-Sa’ood, and peace be on you, and the mercy of God and His blessings.’ (This is the invariable commencement of all Wahabee epistles, to the entire omission of the complimentary formulas used by other Orientals.) ‘After which,’ so proceeded the document, ‘we inform you that the bearers of this are one Seleem-el-’Eys, and his comrade, Barakat-esh-Shamee, who give themselves out for having some knowledge in’—here followed a word of equivocal import, capable of interpretation alike by ‘medicine’ or ‘magic,’ but generally used in Nedjed for the latter, which is at Ri’ad a capital crime. ‘Now may God forbid that we should hear of any evil having befallen you. We salute also your father, Feysul, and your brothers, and all your family, and anxiously await your news in answer. Peace be with you.’ Here followed the signet impression.
“A pretty recommendation, especially under the actual circumstances! However, not content with this, ’Obeyd found means to transmit further information regarding us, and all in the same tenor, to Ri’ad, as we afterward discovered. For his letter, I need hardly say that it never passed from our possession, where it yet remains as an interesting autograph, to that of ’Abdallah; with whom it would inevitably have proved the one only thing wanting, as we shall subsequently see, to make us leave the forfeit of our lives in the Nedjean man-trap.
“Before evening three men knocked at our door; they were our future guides. The eldest bore the name of Mubarek, and was a native of the suburbs of Bereydah; all three were of the genuine Kaseem breed, darker and lower in stature than the inhabitants of Ha’yel, but not ill-looking, and extremely affable in their demeanor.
“We had soon made all necessary arrangements for our departure, got in a few scattered debts, packed up our pharmacopoeia, and nothing now remained but the pleasurable pain of farewells. They were many and mutually sincere. Meta’ab had indeed made his a few days before, when he a second time left Ha’yel for the pastures; Telal we had already taken leave of, but there remained his younger brother Mohammed to give us a hearty adieu of good augury. Most of my old acquaintance or patients, Dohey the merchant, Mohammed the judge, Doheym and his family, not forgetting our earliest friend Seyf the chamberlain, Sa’eed, the cavalry officer, and others of the court, freemen and slaves, white or black (for negroes readily follow the direction indicated by their masters, and are not ungrateful if kindly treated, while kept in their due position), and many others of whose names Homer would have made a catalogue and I will not, heard of our near departure and came to express their regrets, with hopes of future meeting and return.”
“Early next morning, before day, Mubarek and another of his countrymen, named Dahesh, were at our door with the camels. Some of our town friends had also come, even at this hour, to accompany us as far as the city gates. We mounted our beasts, and while the first sunbeams streamed level over the plain, passed through the southwestern portal beyond the market-place, the 8th of September, 1862, and left the city of Ha’yel.”