Another stage of our way. From Gaza to Ma’an, from Ma’an to the Djowf, from the Djowf to Ha’yel, three such had now been gone over, not indeed without some fatigue or discomfort, yet at comparatively little personal risk, except what nature herself, not man, might occasion. For to cross the stony desert of the northern frontier, or the sandy Nefood in the very height of summer, could not be said to be entirely free from danger, where in these waterless wastes thirst, if nothing else, may alone, and often does, suffice to cause the disappearance of the over-venturous traveller, nay, even of many a Bedouin, no less effectually than a lance-thrust or a musket-ball. But if nature had been so far unkind, of man at least we had hitherto not much to complain; the Bedouins on the route, however rough and uncouth in their ways, had, with only one exception, meant us fairly well, and the townsmen in general had proved friendly and courteous beyond our expectation. Once within the established government limits of Telal, and among his subjects, we had enjoyed our share in the common security afforded to wayfarers and inhabitants for life and property, while good success had hitherto accompanied us. ‘Judge of the day by its dawn,’ say the Arabs; and although this proverb, like all proverbs, does not always hold exactly true, whether for sunshine or cloud, yet it has its value at times. And thus, whatever unfavorable predictions or dark forebodings our friends might hint regarding the inner Nedjed and its denizens, we trusted that so favorable a past augured somewhat better things for the future.
“From physical and material difficulties like those before met with, there was henceforward much less to fear. The great heats of summer were past, the cooler season had set in; besides, our path now lay through the elevated table-land of Central Arabia, whose northern rim we had already surmounted at our entrance on the Djebel Shomer. Nor did there remain any uncultivated or sandy track to cross comparable to the Nefood of Djowf between Ha’yel and Ri’ad; on the contrary, we were to expect pasture lands and culture, villages and habitations, cool mountain air, and a sufficiency, if not an abundance, of water. Nor were our fellow-companions now mere Bedouins and savages, but men from town or village life, members of organized society, and so far civilized beings.
“When adieus, lookings back, wavings of the hand, and all the customary signs of farewell and good omen were over between our Ha’yel friends and ourselves, we pursued our road by the plain which I have already described as having been the frequent scene of our morning walks; but instead of following the southwesterly path toward Kefar, whose groves and roof-tops now rose in a blended mass before us, we turned eastward, and rounded, though at some distance, the outer wall of Ha’yel for nearly half an hour, till we struck off by a southeasterly track across stony ground, diversified here and there by wells, each with a cluster of gardens and a few houses in its neighborhood. At last we reached a narrow winding pass among the cliffs of Djebel ’Aja’, whose mid-loop encircles Ha’yel on all sides, and here turned our heads to take a last far-off view of what had been our home, or the agreeable semblance of a home, for several weeks.
“Our only companions as yet were Mubarek and Dahesh. We had outstripped the rest, whose baggage and equipments had required a more tedious arrangement than our own. Before long they came up—a motley crew. Ten or thereabouts of the Kaseem, some from Bereydah itself, others from neighboring towns; two individuals, who gave themselves out, but with more asseveration than truth, to be natives of Mecca itself; three Bedouins, two of whom belonged to the Shomer clan, the third an ’Anezah of the north; next a runaway negro, conducting four horses, destined to pass the whole breadth of Arabia, and to be shipped off at Koweyt, on the Persian Gulf, for Indian sale; two merchants, one from Zulphah, in the province of Sedeyr, the other from Zobeyr, near Bussora; lastly, two women, wives of I know not exactly whom in the caravan, with some small children; all this making up, ourselves included, a band of twenty-seven or twenty-eight persons, the most mounted on camels, a few on horseback, and accompanied by a few beasts of burden alongside—such was our Canterbury pilgrims’ group.
“Thus assembled, on we went together, now amid granite rocks, now crossing grassy valleys, till near sunset we stopped under a high cliff, at the extreme southerly verge of Djebel ’Aja’, or, in modern parlance, of Djebel Shomer. The mountain here extended far away to right and left, but in front a wide plain of full twenty miles across opened out before us, till bounded southward by the long bluish chain of Djebel Solma, whose line runs parallel to the heights we were now to leave, and belongs to the same formation and rocky mass denominated in a comprehensive way the mountains of Ta’i or Shomer.
“At about three in the afternoon, next day, we saw, some way off to our west, a troop of Bedouins coming up from the direction of Medina. While they were yet in the distance, and half-hidden from view by the shrubs and stunted acacias of the plain, we could not precisely distinguish their numbers; but they were evidently enough to make us desire, with Orlando, ‘that we might be better strangers.’ On our side we mustered about fifteen matchlocks, besides a few spears and swords. The Bedouins had already perceived us, and continued to approach, though in the desultory and circuitous way which they affect when doubtful of the strength of their opponent; still they gained on us more than was pleasant.
“Fourteen armed townsmen might stand for a reasonable match against double the number of Bedouins, and in any case we had certainly nothing better to do than to put a bold face on the matter. The ’Eyoon chief, Foleyh, with two of his countrymen and Ghashee, carefully primed their guns, and then set off at full gallop to meet the advancing enemy, brandishing their weapons over their heads, and looking extremely fierce. Under cover of this manœuvre the rest of our band set about getting their arms ready, and an amusing scene ensued. One had lost his match, and was hunting for it in his housings; another, in his haste to ram the bullet home had it stick midway in the barrel, and could neither get it up nor down; the lock of a third was rusty and would not do duty; the women began to whine piteously; the two Meccans, who for economy’s sake were both riding one only camel, a circumstance which caused between them many international squabbles, tried to make their beast gallop off with them, and leave the others to their fate; while the more courageous animal, despising such cowardly measures, insisted on remaining with his companions and sharing their lot; all was thoroughly Arab, much hubbub and little done. Had the menacing feint of the four who protected our rear proved insufficient, we might all have been in a very bad predicament, and this feeling drew every face with reverted gaze in a backward direction. But the Harb banditti, intimidated by the bold countenance of Foleyh and his companions, wheeled about and commenced a skirmishing retreat, in which a few shots, guiltless of bloodshed, were fired for form’s sake on either side, till at last our assailants fairly disappeared in the remote valley.
“Our valiant champions now returned from pursuit, much elated with their success, and we journeyed on together, skirting the last rocky spur of Solma, close by the spot where Hatim Ta’i, the well-known model, half mythic and half historical, of Arab hospitality and exaggerated generosity, is said to be buried. Here we crossed some low hills that form a sort of offshoot to the Solma mountain, and limit the valley; and the last rays of the setting sun gilding to our view, in a sandy bottom some way off, the palm-trees of Feyd.
“Feyd may be taken as a tolerable sample of the villages met with throughout Northern or Upper Kaseem, for they all bear a close likeness in their main features, though various in size. Imagine a little sandy hillock of about sixty or seventy feet high, in the midst of a wide and dusty valley; part of the eminence itself and the adjoining bottom is covered by low earth-built houses, intermixed with groups of the feathery ithel. The grounds in the neighborhood are divided by brick walls into green gardens, where gourds and melons, leguminous plants and maize, grow alongside of an artificial irrigation from the wells among them; palms in plenty—they were now heavy laden with red-brown fruits; and a few peach or apricot trees complete the general lineaments. The outer walls are low, and serve more for the protection of the gardens than of the dwellings; here are neither towers nor trenches, nor even, at least in many places, any central castle or distinguishable residence for the chief; his habitation is of the same one-storied construction as those of his neighbors, only a little larger. Some of the townlets are quite recent, and date from the Shomer annexation, which gave this part of the province a degree of quiet and prosperity unknown under their former Wahabee rulers.
“Next morning, the 10th of September, we were all up by moonlight, two or three hours before dawn, and off on our road to the southeast. The whole country that we had to traverse for the next four days was of so uniform a character that a few words of description may here serve for the landscape of this entire stage of our journey.
“Upper Kaseem is an elevated plateau or steppe, and forms part of a long upland belt, crossing diagonally the northern half of the peninsula; one extremity reaches the neighborhood of Zobeyr and the Euphrates, while the other extends downward to the vicinity of Medina. Its surface is in general covered with grass in the spring and summer seasons, and with shrubs and brushwood at all times, and thus affords excellent pasture for sheep and camels. Across it blows the fresh eastern gale, so celebrated in Arab poetry under the name of ‘Seba Nedjin,’ or ‘Zephyr of Nedjed’ (only it comes from precisely the opposite corner to the Greek or Roman Zephyr), and continually invoked by sentimental bards to bring them news of imaginary loves or pleasing reminiscences. No wonder; for most of these versifiers being themselves natives of the barren Hedjaz or the scorching Tehama, perhaps inhabitants of Egypt and Syria, and knowing little of Arabia, except what they have seen on the dreary Meccan pilgrim road, they naturally look back to with longing, and frequently record, whatever glimpses chance may have allowed them of the cooler and more fertile highlands of the centre, denominated by them Nedjed, in a general way, with their transient experience of its fresh and invigorating climate, of its courteous men and sprightly maidens.
“But when, nor is this seldom, the sweet smell of the aromatic thyme-like plants that here abound mixes with the light morning breeze and enhances its balmy influence, then indeed can one excuse the raptures of an Arab Ovid or Theocritus, and appreciate—at least I often did—their yearnings after Nedjed, and all the praises they lavish on its memory.
“Then said I to my companion, while the camels were hastening
To bear us down the pass between Meneefah and Demar,
‘Enjoy while thou canst the sweets of the meadows of Nedjed:
With no such meadows and sweets shalt thou meet after this evening.
Ah! heaven’s blessing on the scented gales of Nedjed,
And its greensward and groves glittering from the spring shower,
And thy dear friends, when thy lot was cast awhile in Nedjed,
Little hadst thou to complain of what the days brought thee;
Months flew past, they passed and we perceived not,
Nor when their moons were new, nor when they waned.’”
For three days more they travelled forward over this undulating table-land, making from sixty to seventy miles a day. The view was extensive, but rather monotonous. There were no high mountains, no rivers, no lakes, no deep valleys; but a constant repetition of stony uplands, shallow and sandy hollows, and villages surrounded by belts of palm-groves, the extent and direction of which indicated the subterranean water-courses.
On the third evening they reached Kowarah, the most southern station in Telal territory—a large village, lying in a wooded and well-watered hollow. Here they still found the order and security which that ruler had established, and maintained everywhere throughout his dominions. Leaving the next morning, the 14th of September, they crossed a few low hills, came to a sudden dip in the general level of the country, and then the extent of Southern Kaseem burst suddenly upon their view.
“Now, for the first time,” says Palgrave, “we could in some measure appreciate the strength of the Wahabee in his mastery over such a land. Before us to the utmost horizon stretched an immense plain, studded with towns and villages, towers and groves, all steeped in the dazzling noon, and announcing everywhere life, opulence, and activity. The average breadth of this populous district is about sixty miles, its length twice as much, or more; it lies full two hundred feet below the level of the uplands, which here break off like a wall. Fifty or more good-sized villages and four or five large towns form the commercial and agricultural centres of the province, and its surface is moreover thickly strewn with smaller hamlets, isolated wells, and gardens, and traversed by a net-work of tracks in every direction. Here begin, and hence extend to Djebel Toweyk itself, the series of high watch-towers that afford the inhabitants a means, denied otherwise by their level flats, of discerning from afar the approach of foray or invasion, and thus preparing for resistance. For while no part of Central Arabia has an older or a better established title to civilization or wealth, no part also has been the starting-point and theatre of so many wars, or witnessed the gathering of such numerous armies.
“We halted for a moment on the verge of the uplands to enjoy the magnificent prospect before us. Below lay the wide plain; at a few miles’ distance we saw the thick palm-groves of ’Eyoon, and what little of its towers and citadel the dense foliage permitted to the eye. Far off on our right, that is, to the west, a large dark patch marked the tillage and plantations which girdle the town of Rass; other villages and hamlets, too, were thickly scattered over the landscape. All along the ridge where we stood, and visible at various distances down the level, rose the tall, circular watch-towers of Kaseem. But immediately before us stood a more remarkable monument, one that fixed the attention and wonder even of our Arab companions themselves.
“For hardly had we descended the narrow path where it winds from ledge to ledge down to the bottom, when we saw before us several huge stones, like enormous bowlders, placed endways perpendicularly on the soil, while some of them yet upheld similar masses laid transversely over their summit. They were arranged in a curve, once forming part, it would appear, of a large circle, and many other like fragments lay rolled on the ground at a moderate distance; the number of those still upright was, to speak by memory, eight or nine. Two, at about ten or twelve feet apart one from the other, and resembling huge gate-posts, yet bore their horizontal lintel, a long block laid across them; a few were deprived of their upper traverse, the rest supported each its headpiece in defiance of time and of the more destructive efforts of man. So nicely balanced did one of these cross-bars appear that, in hope it might prove a rocking-stone, I guided my camel right under it, and then stretching up my riding-stick at arm’s-length could just manage to touch and push it, but it did not stir. Meanwhile the respective heights of camel, rider, and stick taken together would place the stone in question full fifteen feet from the ground.
“These blocks seem, by their quality, to have been hewn from the neighboring limestone cliff, and roughly shaped, but present no further trace of art, no groove or cavity of sacrificial import, much less anything intended for figure or ornament. The people of the country attribute their erection to Darim, and by his own hands, too, seeing that he was a giant; perhaps, also, for some magical ceremony, since he was a magician. Pointing toward Rass, our companions affirmed that a second and similar stone circle, also of gigantic dimensions, existed there; and, lastly, they mentioned a third toward the southwest, that is, on the confines of Hedjaz.
“Here, as in most parts of Arabia, the staple article of cultivation is the date-palm. Of this tree there are, however, many widely differing species, and Kaseem can boast of containing the best known anywhere, the Khalas of Hasa alone excepted. The ripening season coincides with the latter half of August and the first of September, and we had thus an ample opportunity for testing the produce. Those who, like most Europeans at home, only know the date from the dried specimens of that fruit shown beneath a label in shop-windows, can hardly imagine how delicious it is when eaten fresh and in Central Arabia. Nor is it, when newly gathered, heating, a defect inherent to the preserved fruit everywhere; nor does its richness, however great, bring satiety: in short, it is an article of food alike pleasant and healthy. Its cheapness in its native land might astonish a Londoner. Enough of the very best dates from the Bereydah gardens to fill a large Arab handkerchief, about fifteen inches each way, almost to bursting, cost Barakat and myself the moderate sum of three farthings. We hung it up from the roof-beam of our apartment to preserve the luscious fruit from the ants, and it continued to drip molten sweetness into a sugary pool on the floor below for three days together, before we had demolished the contents, though it figured at every dinner and supper during that period.
“We were soon under the outer walls of ’Eyoon, a good-sized town containing at least ten thousand inhabitants according to my rough computation. Its central site, at the very juncture of the great northern and western lines of communication, renders it important, and for this reason it is carefully fortified, that is, for the country, and furnished with watchtowers much resembling manufactory chimneys, in size and shape, beside a massive and capacious citadel. My readers may anticipate analogous, though proportionate, features in most other towns and villages of this province.
“Between the town-walls and the sand-hills close by was a sheltered spot, where we took about four hours of sleep, till the waning moon rose. Then all were once more in movement, camels gnarling, men loading, and the doctor and his apprentice mounting their beasts, all for Bereydah. But that town was distant, and when day broke at last there was yet a long road to traverse. This now lay amid mounds and valleys, thick with the vegetation already described; and somewhat after sunrise we took a full hour to pass the gardens and fields of Ghat, a straggling village, where a dozen wells supplied the valley with copious irrigation. On the adjoining hillocks—I may not call them heights—was continued the series of watch-towers, corresponding with others farther off that belonged to villages seen by glimpses in the landscape; I heard, but soon forgot, their names.
“A march of ten or twelve hours had tired us, and the weather was oppressively close, no uncommon phenomenon in Kaseem, where, what between low sandy ground and a southerly latitude, the climate is much more sultry than in Djebel Shomer, or the mountains of Toweyk. So that we were very glad when the ascent of a slight eminence discovered to our gaze the long-desired town of Bereydah, whose oval fortifications rose to view amid an open and cultivated plain. It was a view for Turner. An enormous watch-tower, near a hundred feet in height, a minaret of scarce inferior proportions, a mass of bastioned walls, such as we had not yet witnessed in Arabia, green groves around and thickets of ithel, all under the dreamy glare of noon, offered a striking spectacle, far surpassing whatever I had anticipated, and announced populousness and wealth. We longed to enter those gates and walk those streets. But we had yet a delay to wear out. At about a league from the town our guide, Mubarek, led us off the main road to the right, up and down several little but steep sand-hills, and hot declivities, till about two in the afternoon, half-roasted with the sun, we reached, never so weary, his garden gate.
“The morning was bright, yet cool, when we got free of the maze of ithel and sand-slopes, and entered the lanes that traverse the garden circle round the town, in all quiet and security. But our approach to Bereydah was destined to furnish us an unexpected and undesired surprise, though indeed less startling than that which discomposed our first arrival at Ha’yel. We had just passed a well near the angle of a garden wall, when we saw a man whose garb and appearance at once bespoke him for a muleteer of the north, watering a couple of mules at the pool hard by. Barakat and I stared with astonishment, and could hardly believe our eyes. For since the day we left Gaza for the southeastern desert we had never met with a like dress, nor with these animals; and how, then, came they here? But there was no mistaking either the man or the beasts, and as the muleteer raised his head to look at the passers-by, he also started at our sight, and evidently recognized in us something that took him unawares. But the riddle was soon solved. A few paces farther on, our way opened out on the great plain that lies immediately under the town walls to the north. This space was now covered with tents and thronged with men of foreign dress and bearing, mixed with Arabs of town and desert, women and children, talking and quarrelling, buying and selling, going and coming; everywhere baskets full of dates and vegetables, platters bearing eggs and butter, milk and whey, meat hung on poles, bundles of firewood, etc., stood ranged in rows, horsemen and camel-men were riding about between groups seated round fires or reclining against their baggage; in the midst of all this medley a gilt ball surmounted a large white pavilion of a make that I had not seen since last I left India, some eleven years before, and numerous smaller tents of striped cloth, and certainly not of Arab fashion, clustered around; a lively scene, especially of a clear morning, but requiring some explanation from its exotic and non-Arab character. These tents belonged to the great caravan of Persian pilgrims, on their return from Medina to Meshid ’Alee by the road of Kaseem, and hence all this unusual concourse and bustle.
“Passing a little on to the east, we left the crowded encampment on one side and turned to enter the city gates. Here, and this is generally the case in the larger Arab towns of old date, the fortifications surround houses alone, and the gardens all lie without, sometimes defended—at ’Oneyzah, for example—by a second outer girdle of walls and towers, but sometimes, as at Bereydah, devoid of any mural protection. The town itself is composed exclusively of streets, houses, and market-places, and bears in consequence a more regular appearance than the recent and village-like arrangements of the Djowf and even of Ha’yel. We passed a few streets, tolerably large but crooked, and then made the camels kneel down in a little square or public place, where I remained seated by them on the baggage, switch in hand, like an ordinary Arab traveller, and Barakat with Mubarek went in search of lodgings.
“Very long did the half-hour seem to me during which I had thus to mount guard till my companions returned from their quest; the streets were full of people, and a disagreeable crowd of the lower sort was every moment collecting round myself and my camels, with all the inquisitiveness of the idle and vulgar in every land. At last my companions came back to say that they had found what they wanted; a kick or two brought the camels on their legs again, and we moved off to our new quarters.
“The house in question was hardly more than five minutes’ walk from the north gate, and at about an equal distance only from the great market-place on the other side. Its position was therefore good. It possessed two large rooms on the ground story, and three smaller, besides a spacious court-yard, surrounded by high walls. A winding stair of irregular steps and badly lighted, like all in the Nedjed, led up to an extent of flat roof, girt round by a parapet six feet high, and divided into two compartments by a cross-wall, thus affording a very tolerable place for occupation morning and evening, at the hours when the side-walls might yet project enough shade to shelter those seated alongside of them, besides an excellent sleeping place for night.”
The day after their arrival they made a call upon Mohanna, the ruler of Bereydah, in order to ask his assistance in proceeding to Nedjed. But he was too busy in devising means to exact more tribute-money from the Persian pilgrims to give any notice to two persons whose dress and appearance gave no token of wealth. This neglect afterward proved to be a piece of good fortune. They then spent several days in a vain attempt to find camels and guides; no one was willing to undertake the service. The central province of Nedjed, the genuine Wahabee country, is to the rest of Arabia a sort of lion’s den, into which few venture and yet fewer return. An elderly man of Bereydah, of whom Palgrave demanded information, simply replied, “It is Nedjed; he who enters it does not come out again,” and this is almost literally true. Its mountains, once the fastnesses of robbers and assassins, are at the present day equally, or even more, formidable as the stronghold of fanatics who consider everyone save themselves an infidel or a heretic, and who regard the slaughter of an infidel or a heretic as a duty, at least a merit. In addition to this general cause of anticipating a worse than cold reception in Nedjed, wars and bloodshed, aggression and tyranny, have heightened the original antipathy of the surrounding population into special and definite resentment for wrongs received, perhaps inflicted, till Nedjed has become for all but her born sons doubly dangerous and doubly hateful.
Another circumstance, which seemed to make Palgrave’s situation more difficult, although it was equally fortunate in the end, was a rebellion which had broken out in the neighboring city of ’Oneyzah, headed by Zamil, a native chief. The town was at that time besieged by the Wahabees, yet held out gallantly, and the sympathy of the people of all Kaseem was so strongly on the side of Zamil, that only the presence of the Wahabee troops in Bereydah kept that city, also, from revolt. The rebels had sent deputations to Mecca and also to Djebel Shomer for assistance, and there seemed to be some possibility of a general Central Arabian revolt against the hated Wahabee supremacy. It seemed thus to be a most unpropitious time for penetrating the stronghold of Nedjed. Palgrave did not so much fear the suspicion of being a European, as that of being an Ottoman spy. His first need, however, was the means of going forward safely. He thus described how an apparent chance made him acquainted with the man to whom almost the entire success of his later travels was due:
“It was the sixth day after our arrival, and the 22d of September, when about noon I was sitting alone and rather melancholy, and trying to beguile the time with reading the incomparable Divan of Ebn-el-Farid, the favorite companion of my travels. Barakat had at my request betaken himself out of doors, less in hopes of success than to ‘go to and fro in the earth and walk up and down in it;’ nor did I now dare to expect that he would return any wiser than he had set forth. When lo! after a long two hours’ absence he came in with cheerful face, index of good tidings.
“Good, indeed, they were, none better. Their bearer said, that after roaming awhile to no purport through the streets and market-place, he had bethought him of a visit to the Persian camp. There, while straying among the tents, ‘like a washerwoman’s dog,’ as a Hindoo would say, he noticed somewhat aloof from the crowd a small group of pilgrims seated near their baggage on the sand, while curls of smoke going up from amid the circle indicated the presence of a fire, which at that time of day could be for nothing else than coffee. Civilized though Barakat undoubtedly was, he was yet by blood and heart an Arab, and for an Arab to see coffee-making and not to put himself in the way of getting a share would be an act of self-restraint totally unheard of. So he approached the group, and was of course invited to sit down and drink. The party consisted of two wealthy Persians, accompanied by three or four of that class of men, half-servants, half-companions, who often hook on to travellers at Bagdad or its neighborhood, besides a mulatto of Arabo-negrine origin, and his master, this last being the leader of the band, and the giver of the aromatic entertainment.
“Barakat’s whole attention was at once engrossed by this personage. A remarkably handsome face, of a type evidently not belonging to the Arab peninsula, long hair curling down to the shoulders, an over-dress of fine spun silk, somewhat soiled by travel, a colored handkerchief of Syrian manufacture on the head, a manner and look indicating an education much superior to that ordinary in his class and occupation, a camel-driver’s, were peculiarities sufficient of themselves to attract notice, and give rise to conjecture. But when these went along with a welcome and a salute in the forms and tone of Damascus or Aleppo, and a ready flow of that superabundant and overcharged politeness for which the Syrian subjects of the Turkish empire are renowned, Barakat could no longer doubt that he had a fellow-countryman, and one, too, of some note, before him.
“Such was in fact the case. Aboo-’Eysa, to give him the name by which he was commonly known in these parts, though in his own country he bears another denomination, was a native of Aleppo, and son of a not unimportant individual in that fair city. His education, and the circumstances of his early youth, had rendered him equally conversant with townsmen and herdsmen, with citizens and Bedouins, with Arabs and Europeans. By lineal descent he was a Bedouin, since his grandfather belonged to the Mejadimah, who are themselves an offshoot of the Benoo-Khalid; but in habits, thoughts, and manners he was a very son of Aleppo, where he had passed the greater part of his boyhood and youth. When about twenty-five years of age he became involved, culpably or not, in the great conspiracy against the Turkish government which broke out in the Aleppine insurrection of 1852. Like many others he was compelled to anticipate consequences by a prompt flight.
“After trying commerce in order to retrieve his ruined fortunes, but with ill success, Aboo-’Eysa engaged in the horse trade between Persia and Arabia, and also failed. He then went to Ri’ad, the capital of Nedjed, and by presents to Feysul, the chief, obtained a post as guide to the Persian caravans of pilgrims to Mecca, across Arabia. At this time he had followed that career for three years, and had amassed considerable wealth, for his politeness, easy manners, and strict probity made him popular with the pilgrims.
“He recognized a fellow-countryman in Barakat,” says Palgrave, “received him with marked politeness, and carefully informed himself of our whence and whither. Barakat, overjoyed to find at last a kind of opening after difficulties that had appeared to obstruct all further progress, made no delay in inquiring whether he would undertake our guidance to Ri’ad. Aboo-’Eysa replied that he was just on the point of separating from his friends the Persians, whose departure would leave camels enough and to spare at his disposition, and that so far there was no hindrance to the proposal. As for the Wahabees and their unwillingness to admit strangers within their limits, he stated himself to be well known to them, and that in his company we should have nothing to fear from their suspicious criticism.”
The agreement was made at once, and the travellers now only waited until their new companion should have made some final arrangements with the Persian pilgrims, who were to travel directly from Bereydah to Bagdad. In the meantime, the former took advantage of the delay to see as much as possible of the place, and even to make excursions in the neighborhood, especially in the direction of the beleaguered city of ’Oneyzah. Palgrave’s description of the place shows that it possesses the same general features as the other Arabian towns, yet may be quoted for its intrinsic picturesqueness:
“Barakat and myself have made our morning household purchases at the fair, and the sun being now an hour or more above the horizon, we think it time to visit the market-place of the town, which would hardly be open sooner. We re-enter the city gate, and pass on our way by our house door, where we leave our bundle of eatables, and regain the high street of Bereydah. Before long we reach a high arch across the road; this gate divides the market from the rest of the quarter. We enter. First of all we see a long range of butchers’ shops on either side, thick hung with flesh of sheep and camel, and very dirtily kept. Were not the air pure and the climate healthy, the plague would assuredly be endemic here; but in Arabia no special harm seems to follow. We hasten on, and next pass a series of cloth and linen warehouses, stocked partly with home manufacture, but more imported; Bagdad cloaks and head-gear, for instance, Syrian shawls and Egyptian slippers. Here markets follow the law general throughout the East, that all shops or stores of the same description should be clustered together, a system whose advantages on the whole outweigh its inconveniences, at least for small towns like these. In the large cities and capitals of Europe greater extent of locality requires evidently a different method of arrangement; it might be awkward for the inhabitants of Hyde Park were no hatters to be found nearer than the Tower. But what is Bereydah compared even with a second-rate European city? However, in a crowd, it yields to none; the streets at this time of the day are thronged to choking, and to make matters worse, a huge, splay-footed camel comes every now and then, heaving from side to side like a lubber-rowed boat, with a long beam on his back menacing the heads of those in the way, or with two enormous loads of firewood, each as large as himself, sweeping the road before him of men, women, and children, while the driver, high-perched on the hump, regards such trifles with the most supreme indifference, so long as he brushes his path open. Sometimes there is a whole string of these beasts, the head-rope of each tied to the crupper of his precursor, very uncomfortable passengers when met with at a narrow turning.
“Through such obstacles we have found or made our way, and are now amid leather and shoemakers’ shops, then among coppersmiths and ironsmiths, whose united clang might waken the dead or kill the living, till at last we emerge on the central town-square, not a bad one either, nor very irregular, considering that it is in Kaseem.
“The vegetable and fruit market is very extensive, and kept almost exclusively by women; so are also the shops for grocery and spices. Nor do the fair sex of Bereydah seem a whit inferior to their rougher partners in knowledge of business and thrifty diligence. ‘Close-handedness beseems a woman no less than generosity a man,’ says an Arab poet, unconsciously coinciding with Lance of Verona in his comments on the catalogue of his future spouse’s ‘conditions.’
“The whole town has an aspect of old but declining prosperity. There are few new houses, but many falling into ruin. The faces, too, of most we meet are serious, and their voices in an undertone. Silk dresses are prohibited by the dominant faction, and tobacco can only be smoked within doors, and by stealth. Every now and then zealous Wahabee missionaries from Ri’ad pay a visit of reform and preaching to unwilling auditors, and disobedience to the customs of the Nedjean sect is noticed and punished, often severely.
“Enough of the town; the streets are narrow, hot, and dusty; the day, too, advances; but the gardens are yet cool. So we dash at a venture through a labyrinth of by-ways and cross-ways till we find ourselves in the wide street that, like a boulevard in France, runs immediately along but inside the walls.
“We stroll about in the shade, hide ourselves amid the high maize to smoke a quiet pipe unobserved by prying Nedjean eyes, and then walk on till at some distance we come under a high ridge of sand.
“While on one of our suburban excursions we took the direction of ’Oneyzah, but found it utterly impossible to arrive within its walls; so we contented ourselves with an outside and distant view of this large and populous town; the number of its houses, and their size, judging by the overtopping summits that marked out the dwelling of Zamil and his family, far surpassed anything in Bereydah. The outer fortifications are enormously thick, and the girdle of palm-trees between them and the town affords a considerable additional defence to the latter. For all I could see there is little stonework in the construction; they appear almost exclusively of unbaked bricks; yet even so they are formidable defences for Arabia. The whole country around, and whatever lay northeast toward Bereydah, was more or less ravaged by the war; and we were blamed by our friends as very rash in having ventured thus far; in fact, it was a mere chance that we did not fall in with skirmishers or plunderers; and in such a case the military discipline of Kaseem would hardly have insured our safety.
“When all was ready for the long-expected departure, it was definitely fixed for the 3d of October, a Friday, I think, at nightfall. Since our first interview Barakat and myself had not again presented ourselves before Mohanna, except in chance meetings, accompanied by distant salutations in the street or market-place; and we did not see any need for paying him a special farewell call. Indeed, after learning who and what he was, we did our best not to draw his gray eye on us, and thereby escaped some additional trouble and surplus duties to pay, nor did any one mention us to him. At star-rise we bade our host and householder Ahmed a final adieu, and left the town with Aboo-’Eysa for our guide.”