Mr. William Gifford Palgrave, son of Sir Francis Palgrave, the historian, performed, in 1862–63, a journey in Arabia, which gives us the first clear and full account of the interior of the country, including the great Wahabee state of Nedjed, the early home of Arabian poetry and also of the famous Arabian breed of horses. Mr. Palgrave’s qualifications for the undertaking were in some respects superior to those of either Burckhardt or Burton. To a high degree of general culture and a vigorous and picturesque style as a writer, he added a knowledge of the Arabic language and literature equal to that of any native scholar; he spoke the language as well as his mother tongue; his features were sufficiently Oriental to disarm suspicion, and years of residence in the East had rendered him entirely familiar with the habits of the people and even with all those minor forms of etiquette which are so rarely acquired by a stranger. His narrative, therefore, is as admirable and satisfactory in its character as the fields he traversed were new and fascinating. It throws, indeed, so much indirect light upon the experiences of all his predecessors, and is so much richer in its illustrations of Arab life and character that no brief summary of its contents can do justice to its importance.
Of the first stage of the journey, from Gaza on the Mediterranean to the little town of Ma’an, which lies on the route of the caravans from Damascus to Mecca, a short distance to the northeast of Petra, and thus nearly on the boundary between the country of Moab and Edom, Palgrave gives us no account. Yet, in spite of the comparatively brief distance traversed, it must have been both laborious and dangerous. His narrative commences as follows, at the moment of his departure from Ma’an:
“Once for all let us attempt to acquire a fairly correct and comprehensive knowledge of the Arabian Peninsula. With its coasts we are already in great measure acquainted; several of its maritime provinces have been, if not thoroughly, at least sufficiently, explored; Yemen and Hedjaz, Mecca and Medina, are no longer mysteries to us, nor are we wholly without information on the districts of Hadramaut and Oman. But of the interior of the vast region, of its plains and mountains, its tribes and cities, of its governments and institutions, of its inhabitants, their ways and customs, of their social condition, how far advanced in civilization or sunk in barbarism, what do we as yet really know, save from accounts necessarily wanting in fulness and precision? It is time to fill up this blank in the map of Asia, and this, at whatever risks, we will now endeavor; either the land before us shall be our tomb, or we will traverse it in its fullest breadth, and know what it contains from shore to shore. Vestigia nulla retrorsum.”
“Such were my thoughts, and such, more or less, I should suppose, those of my companion, when we found ourselves at fall of night without the eastern gate of Ma’an, while the Arabs, our guides and fellow-travellers, filled their water-skins from a gushing source hard by the town walls, and adjusted the saddles and the burdens of their camels, in preparation for the long journey that lay before us and them. It was the evening of June 16, 1862; the largest stars were already visible in the deep blue depths of a cloudless sky, while the crescent moon, high to the west, shone as she shines in those heavens, and promised us assistance for some hours of our night march. We were soon mounted on our meagre long-necked beasts, ‘as if,’ according to the expression of an Arab poet, ‘we and our men were at mast-heads,’ and now we set our faces to the east. Behind us lay, in a mass of dark outline, the walls and castle of Ma’an, its houses and gardens, and farther back in the distance the high and barren range of the Sheraa’ Mountains, merging into the coast chain of Hejaz. Before and around us extended a wide and level plain, blackened over with countless pebbles of basalt and flint, except where the moonbeams gleamed white on little intervening patches of clear sand, or on yellowish streaks of withered grass, the scanty product of the winter rains, and dried now into hay. Over all a deep silence, which even our Arab companions seemed fearful of breaking; when they spoke it was in a half whisper and in a few words, while the noiseless tread of our camels sped stealthily but rapidly through the gloom without disturbing its stillness.
“Some precaution was not indeed wholly out of place, for that stage of the journey on which we were now entering was anything but safe. We were bound for the Djowf, the nearest inhabited district of Central Arabia, its outlying station, in fact. Now the intervening tract offered for the most part the double danger of robbers and of thirst, of marauding bands and of the summer season. The distance itself to be traversed was near two hundred miles in a straight line, and unavoidable circumstances were likely to render it much longer.”
Palgrave’s companion was a native Syrian, named Barakat—a man on whom he could fully rely. Hardy, young, and enterprising, he belonged to a locality whose inhabitants are accustomed to danger. But the Bedouins who furnished the camels, and acted as guides, were of another class. They were three in number—Salim, their leader, a member of a powerful family of the Howeytat tribe, but outlawed for pillage and murder, and two men, Alee and Djordee, utter barbarians in appearance no less than in character. Even Salim advised the travellers to avoid all familiarities with the latter.
“Myself and my companion,” says Palgrave, “were dressed like ordinary class travellers of inner Syria, an equipment in which we had already made our way from Gaza on the sea-coast to Ma’an without much remark or unseasonable questioning from those whom we fell in with, while we traversed a country so often described already by Pococke, Laborde, and downward, under the name of Arabia Petra, that it would be superfluous for me to enter into any new account of it in the present work. Our dress, then, consisted partly of a long stout blouse of Egyptian hemp, under which, unlike our Bedouin fellow-travellers, we indulged in the luxury of the loose cotton drawers common in the East, while our colored head-kerchiefs, though simple enough, were girt by ’akkals or headbands of some pretension to elegance; the loose red-leather boots of the country completed our toilet.
“But in the large travelling-sacks at our camels’ sides were contained suits of a more elegant appearance, carefully concealed from Bedouin gaze, but destined for appearance when we should reach better inhabited and more civilized districts. This reserve toilet numbered articles like the following: colored overdresses, the Syrian combaz, handkerchiefs whose silk stripes relieved the plebeian cotton, and girdles of good material and tasteful coloring; such clothes being absolutely requisite to maintain our assumed character. Mine was that of a native travelling doctor, a quack if you will; and accordingly a tolerable dress was indispensable for the credit of my medical practice. My comrade, who in a general way passed for my brother-in-law, appeared sometimes as a retail merchant, such as not unfrequently visit these countries, and sometimes as pupil or associate in my assumed profession.
“Our pharmacopoeia consisted of a few but well selected and efficacious drugs, inclosed in small tight-fitting tin boxes, stowed away for the present in the ample recesses of our travelling bags; about fifty of these little cases contained the wherewithal to kill or cure half the sick men of Arabia. Medicines of a liquid form had been as much as possible omitted, not only from the difficulty of insuring them a safe transport amid so rough a mode of journeying, but also on account of the rapid evaporation unavoidable in this dry and burning climate. In fact two or three small bottles whose contents had seemed to me of absolute necessity, soon retained nothing save their labels to indicate what they had held, in spite of airtight stoppers and double coverings. I record this, because the hint may be useful to anyone who should be inclined to embark in similar guise on the same adventures.
“Some other objects requisite in medical practice, two or three European books for my own private use, and kept carefully secret from Arab curiosity, with a couple of Esculapian treatises in good Arabic, intended for professional ostentation, completed this part of our fitting-out. But besides these, an ample provision of cloth handkerchiefs, glass necklaces, pipe-bowls, and the like, for sale in whatever localities might not offer sufficient facility for the healing art, filled up our saddle-bags wellnigh to bursting. Last, but not least, two large sacks of coffee, the sheet-anchor and main hope of our commerce, formed alone a sufficient load for a vigorous camel.”
The first days of travel were a monotony of heat and desolation. The deceptive lakes of the mirage covered the tawny plain, and every dark basaltic block, lying here and there at random, was magnified into a mountain in the heated atmosphere. “Dreary land of death, in which even the face of an enemy were almost a relief amid such utter solitude. But for five whole days the little dried-up lizard of the plain that looks as if he had never a drop of moisture in his ugly body, and the jerboa, or field-rat of Arabia, were the only living creatures to console our view.
“It was a march during which we might have almost repented of our enterprise, had such a sentiment been any longer possible or availing. Day after day found us urging our camels to their utmost pace for fifteen or sixteen hours together out of the twenty-four, under a wellnigh vertical sun, which the Ethiopians of Herodotus might reasonably be excused for cursing, with nothing either in the landscape around or in the companions of our way to relieve for a moment the eye or the mind. Then an insufficient halt for rest or sleep, at most of two or three hours, soon interrupted by the oft-repeated admonition, ‘if we linger here we all die of thirst,’ sounding in our ears; and then to remount our jaded beasts and push them on through the dark night, amid the constant probability of attack and plunder from roving marauders. For myself, I was, to mend matters, under the depressing influence of a tertian fever contracted at Ma’an, and what between weariness and low spirits, began to imagine seriously that no waters remained before us except the waters of death for us and of oblivion for our friends. The days wore by like a delirious dream, till we were often almost unconscious of the ground we travelled over and the journey on which we were engaged. One only herb appeared at our feet to give some appearance of variety and life; it was the bitter and poisonous colocynth of the desert.
“Our order of road was this: Long before dawn we were on our way, and paced it till the sun, having attained about half-way between the horizon and the zenith, assigned the moment of alighting for our morning meal. This our Bedouins always took good care should be in some hollow or low ground, for concealment’s sake; in every other respect we had ample liberty of choice, for one patch of black pebbles with a little sand and withered grass between was just like another; shade or shelter, or anything like them, was wholly out of the question in such ‘nakedness of the land.’ We then alighted, and my companion and myself would pile up the baggage into a sort of wall, to afford a half-screen from the scorching sun-rays, and here recline awhile. Next came the culinary preparations, in perfect accordance with our provisions, which were simple enough; namely, a bag of coarse flour mixed with salt and a few dried dates; there was no third item on the bill of fare. We now took a few handfuls of flour, and one of the Bedouins kneaded it with his unwashed hands or dirty bit of leather, pouring over it a little of the dingy water contained in the skins, and then patted out this exquisite paste into a large round cake, about an inch thick and five or six inches across. Meanwhile another had lighted a fire of dry grass, colocynth roots, and dried camels’ dung, till he had prepared a bed of glowing embers; among these the cake was now cast, and immediately covered up with hot ashes, and so left for a few minutes, then taken out, turned, and covered again, till at last, half-kneaded, half-raw, half-roasted, and burnt all round, it was taken out to be broken up between the hungry band, and eaten scalding hot, before it should cool into an indescribable leathery substance, capable of defying the keenest appetite. A draught of dingy water was its sole but suitable accompaniment.
“The meal ended, we had again without loss of time to resume our way from mirage to mirage, till ‘slowly flaming over all, from heat to heat, the day decreased,’ and about an hour before sunset we would stagger off our camels as best we might, to prepare an evening feast of precisely the same description as that of the forenoon, or more often, for fear lest the smoke of our fire should give notice to some distant rover, to content ourselves with dry dates, and half an hour’s rest on the sand. At last our dates, like Æsop’s bread-sack, or that of Beyhas, his Arab prototype, came to an end; and then our supper was a soldier’s one; what that is my military friends will know; but, grit and pebbles excepted, there was no bed in our case. After which, to remount, and travel on by moon or starlight, till a little before midnight we would lie down for just enough sleep to tantalize, not refresh.
“It was now the 22d of June, and the fifth day since our departure from the wells of Wokba. The water in the skins had little more to offer to our thirst than muddy dregs, and as yet no sign appeared of a fresh supply. At last about noon we drew near some hillocks of loose gravel and sandstone a little on our right; our Bedouins conversed together awhile, and then turned their course and ours in that direction. ‘Hold fast on your camels, for they are going to be startled and jump about,’ said Salim to us. Why the camels should be startled I could not understand; when, on crossing the mounds just mentioned, we suddenly came on five or six black tents, of the very poorest description, pitched near some wells excavated in the gravelly hollow below. The reason of Salim’s precautionary hint now became evident, for our silly beasts started at first sight of the tents, as though they had never seen the like before, and then scampered about, bounding friskily here and there, till what between their jolting (for a camel’s run much resembles that of a cow) and our own laughing, we could hardly keep on their backs. However, thirst soon prevailed over timidity, and they left off their pranks to approach the well’s edge and sniff at the water below.”
The inhabitants of the tents showed the ordinary curiosity, but were not unfriendly, and the little caravan rested there for the remainder of the day. A further journey of two days over a region of sand-hills, with an occasional well, still intervened before they could reach Wady Sirhan—a long valley running directly to the populated region of the Djowf. While passing over this intermediate region an incident occurred which had wellnigh put a premature end to the travels and the travellers together. “My readers, no less than myself,” says Palgrave, “must have heard or read many a story of the simoom, or deadly wind of the desert, but for me I had never yet met it in full force; and its modified form, or shelook, to use the Arab phrase, that is, the sirocco of the Syrian waste, though disagreeable enough, can hardly ever be termed dangerous. Hence I had been almost inclined to set down the tales told of the strange phenomena and fatal effects of this ‘poisoned gale’ in the same category with the moving pillars of sand, recorded in many works of higher historical pretensions than ‘Thalaba.’ At those perambulatory columns and sand-smothered caravans the Bedouins, whenever I interrogated them on the subject, laughed outright, and declared that beyond an occasional dust-storm, similar to those which anyone who has passed a summer in Scinde can hardly fail to have experienced, nothing of the romantic kind just alluded to occurred in Arabia. But when questioned about the simoom, they always treated it as a much more serious matter, and such in real earnest we now found it.
“It was about noon, the noon of a summer solstice in the unclouded Arabian sky over a scorched desert, when abrupt and burning gusts of wind began to blow by fits from the south, while the oppressiveness of the air increased every moment, till my companion and myself mutually asked each other what this could mean, and what was to be its result. We turned to inquire of Salim, but he had already wrapped up his face in his mantle, and bowed down and crouching on the neck of his camel, replied not a word. His comrades, the two Sherarat Bedouins, had adopted a similar position, and were equally silent. At last, after repeated interrogations, Salim, instead of replying directly to our questioning, pointed to a small black tent, providentially at no great distance in front, and said: Try to reach that; if we can get there we are saved.’ He added: ‘Take care that your camels do not stop and lie down;’ and then, giving his own several vigorous blows, relapsed into muffled silence.
“We looked anxiously toward the tent; it was yet a hundred yards off, or more. Meanwhile the gusts grew hotter and more violent, and it was only by repeated efforts that we could urge our beasts forward. The horizon rapidly darkened to a deep violet line, and seemed to draw in like a curtain on every side, while at the same time a stifling blast, as though from some enormous oven opening right on our path, blew steadily under the gloom; our camels, too, began, in spite of all we could do, to turn round and round and bend their knees, preparing to lie down. The simoom was fairly upon us.
“Of course we had followed our Arabs’ example by muffling our faces, and now with blows and kicks we forced the staggering animals onward to the only asylum within reach. So dark was the atmosphere, and so burning the heat, that it seemed that hell had risen from the earth, or descended from above. But we were yet in time, and at the moment when the worst of the concentrated poison-blast was coming around, we were already prostrate, one and all, within the tent, with our heads well wrapped up, almost suffocated, indeed, but safe; while our camels lay without like dead, their long necks stretched out on the sand, awaiting the passing of the gale.
“On our first arrival the tent contained a solitary Bedouin woman, whose husband was away with his camels in the Wady Sirhan. When she saw five handsome men like us rush thus suddenly into her dwelling without a word of leave or salutation, she very properly set up a scream to the tune of the four crown pleas—murder, arson, robbery, and I know not what else. Salim hastened to reassure her by calling out ‘friends,’ and without more words threw himself flat on the ground. All followed his example in silence.
“We remained thus for about ten minutes, during which a still heat like that of red-hot iron slowly passing over us was alone to be felt. Then the tent walls began again to flap in the returning gusts, and announced that the worst of the simoom had gone by. We got up, half dead with exhaustion, and unmuffled our faces. My comrades appeared more like corpses than living men, and so, I suppose, did I. However, I could not forbear, in spite of warnings, to step out and look at the camels; they were still lying flat as though they had been shot. The air was yet darkish, but before long it brightened up to its usual dazzling clearness. During the whole time that the simoom lasted, the atmosphere was entirely free from sand or dust, so that I hardly know how to account for its singular obscurity.”
“Late in the evening we continued our way, and next day early entered Wady Sirhan, where the character of our journey underwent a considerable modification; for the northerly Arabian desert, which we are now traversing, offers, in spite of all its dreariness, some spots of comparatively better cast, where water is less scanty and vegetation less niggard. These spots are the favorite resorts of Bedouins, and serve, too, to direct the ordinary routes of whatever travellers, trade-led or from other motives, may venture on this wilderness. These oases, if indeed they deserve the name, are formed by a slight depression in the surrounding desert surface, and take at times the form of a long valley, or of an oblong patch, where rock and pebble give place to a light soil more or less intermixed with sand, and concealing under its surface a tolerable supply of moisture at no great distance below ground. Here, in consequence, bushes and herbs spring up, and grass, if not green all the year round, is at least of somewhat longer duration than elsewhere; certain fruit-bearing plants, of a nature to suffice for meagre Bedouin existence, grow here spontaneously; in a word, man and beast find not exactly comfortable accommodation, but the absolutely needful supply. Such a spot is Wady Sirhan, literally, the ‘Valley of the Wolf.’”
They entered Wady Sirhan on June 21st. “Passing tent after tent, and leaving behind us many a tattered Bedouin and grazing camel, Salim at last indicated to us a group of habitations, two or three of which seemed of somewhat more ample dimensions than the rest, and informed us that our supper that night (for the afternoon was already on the decline) would be at the cost of these dwellings. ‘Ajaweed,’ i.e., ‘generous fellow,’ he subjoined, to encourage us by the prospect of a handsome reception. Of course we could only defer to his better judgment, and in a few minutes were alongside of the black goats’ hair coverings where lodged our intended hosts.
“The chief or chieflet, for such he was, came out, and interchanged a few words of masonic laconism with Salim. The latter then came up to us where we remained halted in expectation, led our camels to a little distance from the tents, made them kneel down, helped us to disburden them, and while we installed ourselves on a sandy slope opposite to the abodes of the tribe, recommended us to keep a sharp lookout after our baggage, since there might be pickers and stealers among our hosts, for all ‘Ajaweed’ as they were. Disagreeable news! for ‘Ajaweed’ in an Arab mouth corresponds the nearest possible to our English ‘gentlemen.’ Now, if the gentlemen were thieves, what must the blackguards be? We put a good face on it, and then seated ourselves in dignified gravity on the sand awaiting the further results of our guide’s negotiations.
“For some time we remained undisturbed, though not unnoticed; a group of Arabs had collected round our companions at the tent door, and were engaged in getting from them all possible information, especially about us and our baggage, which last was an object of much curiosity, not to say cupidity. Next came our turn. The chief, his family (women excepted), his intimate followers, and some twenty others, young and old, boys and men, came up, and, after a brief salutation, Bedouinwise seated themselves in a semicircle before us. Every man held a short crooked stick for camel-driving in his hand, to gesticulate with when speaking, or to play with in the intervals of conversation, while the younger members of society, less prompt in discourse, politely employed their leisure in staring at us, or in picking up dried pellets of dirt from the sand and tossing them about.”
“‘What are you? what is your business?’ so runs the ordinary and unprefaced opening of the discourse. To which we answer, ‘Physicians from Damascus, and our business is whatsoever God may put in our way.’ The next question will be about the baggage; someone pokes it with a stick, to draw attention to it, and says, ‘What is this? have you any little object to sell us?’
“We fight shy of selling; to open out our wares and chattels in full air, on the sand, and amid a crowd whose appearance and circumstances offer but a poor guarantee for the exact observance of the eighth commandment, would be hardly prudent or worth our while. After several fruitless trials they desist from their request. Another, who is troubled by some bodily infirmity, for which all the united faculties of London and Paris might prescribe in vain—a withered hand, for instance, or stone-blind of an eye—asks for medicine, which no sooner applied shall, in his expectation, suddenly restore him to perfect health and corporal integrity. But I had been already forewarned that to doctor a Bedouin, even under the most favorable circumstances, or a camel, is pretty much the same thing, and with about an equal chance of success or advantage. I politely decline. He insists; I turn him off with a joke.
“‘So you laugh at us, O you inhabitants of towns. We are Bedouins, we do not know your customs,’ replies he, in a whining tone; while the boys grin unconscionably at the discomfiture of their tribesman.
“‘Ya woleyd,’ or young fellow (for so they style every human male from eight to eighty without distinction), ‘will you not fill my pipe?’ says one, who has observed that mine was not idle, and who, though well provided with a good stock of dry tobacco tied up in a rag at his greasy waist-belt, thinks the moment a fair opportunity for a little begging, since neither medicine nor merchandise is to be had.
“But Salim, seated amid the circle, makes me a sign not to comply. Accordingly, I evade the demand. However, my petitioner goes on begging, and is imitated by two or three others, each of whom thrusts forward (a true Irish hint) a bit of marrowbone with a hole drilled in one side to act for a pipe, or a porous stone, not uncommon throughout the desert, clumsily fashioned into a smoking apparatus, a sort of primitive meerschaum.
“As they grow rude, I pretend to become angry, thus to cut the matter short. ‘We are your guests, O you Bedouins; are you not ashamed to beg of us?’ ‘Never mind, excuse us; those are ignorant fellows, ill-bred clowns,’ etc., interposes one close by the chief’s side; and whose dress is in somewhat better condition than that of the other half and three-quarter naked individuals who complete the assembly.
“‘Will you not people the pipe for your little brother?’ subjoins the chief himself, producing an empty one with a modest air. Bedouin language, like that of most Orientals, abounds with not ungraceful imagery, and accordingly, ‘people’ here means ‘fill.’ Salim gives me a wink of compliance. I take out a handful of tobacco and put it on his long shirt-sleeve, which he knots over it, and looks uncommonly well pleased. At any rate they are easily satisfied, these Bedouins.
“The night air in these wilds is life and health itself. We sleep soundly, unharassed by the anticipation of an early summons to march next morning, for both men and beasts have alike need of a full day’s repose. When the sun has risen we are invited to enter the chief’s tent and to bring our baggage under its shelter. A main object of our entertainer, in proposing this move, is to try whether he cannot render our visit some way profitable to himself, by present or purchase. Whatever politeness he can muster is accordingly brought into play, and a large bowl of fresh camel’s milk, an excellent beverage, now appears on the stage. I leave to chemical analysis to decide why this milk will not furnish butter, for such is the fact, and content myself with bearing witness to its very nutritious and agreeable qualities.
“The day passes on. About noon our host naturally enough supposes us hungry, and accordingly a new dish is brought in: it looks much like a bowl full of coarse red paste, or bran mixed with ochre. This is samh, a main article of subsistence to the Bedouins of Northern Arabia. Throughout this part of the desert grows a small herbaceous and tufted plant, with juicy stalks and a little ovate yellow-tinted leaf; the flowers are of a brighter yellow, with many stamens and pistils. When the blossoms fall off there remains in place of each a four-leaved capsule about the size of an ordinary pea, and this, when ripe, opens to show a mass of minute reddish seeds, resembling grit in feel and appearance, but farinaceous in substance. The ripening season is in July, when old and young, men and women, all are out to collect the unsown and untoiled-for harvest.
“On the 27th of the month we passed with some difficulty a series of abrupt sand-hills that close in the direct course of Wady Sirhan. Here, for the first time, we saw the ghada, a shrub almost characteristic, from its very frequency, of the Arabian Peninsula, and often alluded to by its poets. It is of the genus Euphorbia, with a woody stem, often five or six feet in height, and innumerable round green twigs, very slender and flexible, forming a large feathery tuft, not ungraceful to the eye, while it affords some kind of shelter to the traveller and food to his camels. These last are passionately fond of ghada, and will continually turn right out of their way, in spite of blows and kicks, to crop a mouthful of it, and then swing back their long necks into the former direction, ready to repeat the same manœuvre at the next bush, as though they had never received a beating for their past voracity.
“I have, while in England, heard and read more than once of the ‘docile camel.’ If ‘docile’ means stupid, well and good; in such a case the camel is the very model of docility. But if the epithet is intended to designate an animal that takes an interest in its rider so far as a beast can, that in some way understands his intentions or shares them in a subordinate fashion, that obeys from a sort of submissive or half fellow-feeling with his master, like the horse and elephant, then I say that the camel is by no means docile, very much the contrary; he takes no heed of his rider, pays no attention whether he be on his back or not, walks straight on when once set a-going, merely because he is too stupid to turn aside; and then, should some tempting thorn or green branch allure him out of the path, continues to walk on in this new direction simply because he is too dull to turn back into the right road. His only care is to cross as much pasture as he conveniently can while pacing mechanically onward; and for effecting this, his long, flexible neck sets him at great advantage, and a hard blow or a downright kick alone has any influence on him whether to direct or impel. He will never attempt to throw you off his back, such a trick being far beyond his limited comprehension; but if you fall off, he will never dream of stopping for you, and walks on just the same, grazing while he goes, without knowing or caring an atom what has become of you. If turned loose, it is a thousand to one that he will never find his way back to his accustomed home or pasture, and the first comer who picks him up will have no particular shyness to get over; Jack or Tom is all the same to him, and the loss of his old master, and of his own kith and kin, gives him no regret, and occasions no endeavor to find them again.”
On coming in sight of the mountains of Djowf the travellers were obliged to halt for two days at an encampment of the Sherarat Arabs, because Salim could not enter the Djowf with them in person, on account of a murder which he had committed there. He was therefore obliged to procure them another guide capable of conducting them safely the remainder of the journey. After much search and discussion, Salim ended by finding a good-natured, but somewhat timid, individual, who undertook their guidance to the Djowf.
Journeying one whole day and night over an open plateau, where they saw a large troop of ostriches, they mounted again on the 30th, by the light of the morning star, anxious to enter the Djowf before the intense heat of noon should come on; “but we had yet a long way to go, and our track followed endless windings among low hills and stony ledges, without any symptom of approach to cultivated regions. At last the slopes grew greener, and a small knot of houses, with traces of tillage close by, appeared. It was the little village of Djoon, the most westerly appendage of Djowf itself. I counted between twenty and thirty houses. We next entered a long and narrow pass, whose precipitous banks shut in the view on either side. Suddenly several horsemen appeared on the opposite cliff, and one of them, a handsome youth, with long, curling hair, well armed and well mounted (we shall make his more special acquaintance in the next chapter), called out to our guide to halt, and answer in his own behalf and ours. This Suleyman did, not without those marks of timidity in his voice and gesture which a Bedouin seldom fails to show on his approach to a town, for, when once in it, he is apt to sneak about much like a dog who has just received a beating for theft. On his answer, delivered in a most submissive tone, the horsemen held a brief consultation, and we then saw two of them turn their horses’ heads and gallop off in the direction of the Djowf, while our original interlocutor called out to Suleyman, ‘All right, go on, and fear nothing,’ and then disappeared after the rest of the band behind the verge of the upland.
“We had yet to drag on for an hour of tedious march; my camel fairly broke down, and fell again and again; his bad example was followed by the coffee-laden beast; the heat was terrible in these gorges, and noon was approaching. At last we cleared the pass, but found the onward prospect still shut out by an intervening mass of rocks. The water in our skins was spent, and we had eaten nothing that morning. When shall we get in sight of the Djowf? or has it flown away from before us? While thus wearily laboring on our way we turned a huge pile of crags, and a new and beautiful scene burst upon our view.
“A broad, deep valley, descending ledge after ledge till its innermost depths are hidden from sight amid far-reaching shelves of reddish rock, below everywhere studded with tufts of palm-groves and clustering fruit-trees, in dark-green patches, down to the furthest end of its windings; a large brown mass of irregular masonry crowning a central hill; beyond, a tall and solitary tower overlooking the opposite bank of the hollow, and further down small round turrets and flat house-tops, half buried amid the garden foliage, the whole plunged in a perpendicular flood of light and heat; such was the first aspect of the Djowf as we now approached it from the west. It was a lovely scene, and seemed yet more so to our eyes, weary of the long desolation through which we had, with hardly an exception, journeyed day after day, since our last farewell glimpse of Gaza and Palestine, up to the first entrance on inhabited Arabia. ‘Like the Paradise of eternity, none can enter it till after having previously passed over hell-bridge,’ says an Arab poet, describing some similar locality in Algerian lands.
“Reanimated by the view, we pushed on our jaded beasts, and were already descending the first craggy slope of the valley when two horsemen, well dressed and fully armed after the fashion of these parts, came up toward us from the town, and at once saluted us with a loud and hearty ‘Marhaba,’ or ‘welcome;’ and without further preface they added, ‘Alight and eat,’ giving themselves the example of the former by descending briskly from their light-limbed horses and untying a large leather bag full of excellent dates and a water-skin filled from the running spring; then, spreading out these most opportune refreshments on the rock, and adding, ‘we were sure that you must be hungry and thirsty, so we have come ready provided,’ they invited us once more to sit down and begin.”