The elder of the two cavaliers who welcomed the travellers proved to be Ghafil-el-Haboob, the chief of the most important family of the Djowf. Ghafil, and also his companion, Dafee, invited the travellers to be his guests, and the former, it afterward appeared, had intended that they should reside in his house, hoping to make some profit from the merchandise which they might have brought. They felt bound, at least, to accompany him to his house and partake of coffee, before going elsewhere. Palgrave thus describes the manner of their reception:
“The k’hawah was a large, oblong hall, about twenty feet in height, fifty in length, and sixteen, or thereabouts, in breadth; the walls were colored in a rudely decorative manner, with brown and white wash, and sunk here and there into small triangular recesses, destined to the reception of books—though of these Ghafil at least had no over-abundance—lamps, and other such like objects. The roof of timber, and flat; the floor was strewed with fine clean sand, and garnished all round alongside of the walls with long strips of carpet, upon which cushions, covered with faded silk, were disposed at suitable intervals.
“We enter. On passing the threshold it is proper to say, ‘Bismillah,’ i.e., ‘in the name of God;’ not to do so would be looked on as a bad augury, alike for him who enters and for those within. The visitor next advances in silence, till, on coming about half-way across the room, he gives to all present, but looking specially at the master of the house, the customary ‘Es-salamu’aleykum,’ or ‘Peace be with you,’ literally, ‘on you.’ All this while everyone else in the room has kept his place, motionless, and without saying a word. But on receiving the salaam of etiquette, the master of the house rises, and if a strict Wahabee, or at any rate desirous of seeming such, replies with the full-length traditionary formula ‘And with (or, on) you be peace, and the mercy of God, and his blessings.’ But should he happen to be of anti-Wahabee tendencies, the odds are that he will say ‘Marhaba,’ or ‘Ahlan w’sahlan,’ i.e., ‘welcome,’ or ‘worthy and pleasurable,’ or the like; for of such phrases there is an infinite but elegant variety. All present follow the example thus given by rising and saluting. The guest then goes up to the master of the house, who has also made a step or two forward, and places his open hand in the palm of his host’s, but without grasping or shaking, which would hardly pass as decorous, and, at the same time each repeats once more his greeting, followed by the set phrases of polite inquiry, ‘How are you?’ ‘How goes the world with you?’ and so forth, all in a tone of great interest, and to be gone over three or four times, till one or other has the discretion to say ‘El hamdu Pillah,’ ‘Praise be to God,’ or, in equivalent value, ‘all right,’ and this is a signal for a seasonable diversion to the ceremonious interrogatory.
“Meantime we have become engaged in active conversation with our host and his friends. But our Sherarat guide, Suleyman, like a true Bedouin, feels too awkward when among townsfolk to venture on the upper places, though repeatedly invited, and accordingly has squatted down on the sand near the entrance. Many of Ghafil’s relations are present; their silver-decorated swords proclaim the importance of the family. Others, too, have come to receive us, for our arrival, announced beforehand by those we had met at the entrance pass, is a sort of event in the town; the dress of some betokens poverty, others are better clad, but all have a very polite and decorous manner. Many a question is asked about our native land and town, that is to say, Syria and Damascus, conformably to the disguise already adopted, and which it was highly important to keep well up; then follow inquiries regarding our journey, our business, what we have brought with us, about our medicines, our goods and wares, etc. From the very first it is easy for us to perceive that patients and purchasers are likely to abound. Very few travelling merchants, if any, visit the Djowf at this time of year, for one must be mad, or next door to it, to rush into the vast desert around during the heats of June and July; I for one have certainly no intention of doing it again. Hence we had small danger of competitors, and found the market almost at our absolute disposal.
“But before a quarter of an hour has passed, and while blacky is still roasting or pounding his coffee, a tall, thin lad, Ghafil’s eldest son, appears, charged with a large circular dish, grass-platted like the rest, and throws it with a graceful jerk on the sandy floor close before us. He then produces a large wooden bowlful of dates, bearing in the midst of the heap a cupful of melted butter; all this he places on the circular mat, and says, ‘Semmoo,’ literally, ‘pronounce the Name,’ of God, understood; this means ‘set to work at it.’ Hereon the master of the house quits his place by the fireside and seats himself on the sand opposite to us; we draw nearer to the dish, and four or five others, after some respectful coyness, join the circle. Everyone then picks out a date or two from the juicy, half-amalgamated mass, dips them into the butter, and thus goes on eating till he has had enough, when he rises and washes his hands.”
“I will take the opportunity of leading my readers over the whole of the Djowf, as a general view will help better to understand what follows in the narrative, besides offering much that will be in part new, I should fancy, to the greater number.
“This province is a sort of oasis, a large oval depression of sixty or seventy miles long, by ten or twelve broad, lying between the northern desert that separates it from Syria and the Euphrates, and the southern Nefood, or sandy waste, and interposed between it and the nearest mountains of the central Arabian plateau. However, from its comparative proximity to the latter, no less than from the character of its climate and productions, it belongs hardly so much to Northern as to Central Arabia, of which it is a kind of porch or vestibule. If an equilateral triangle were to be drawn, having its base from Damascus to Bagdad, the vertex would find itself pretty exactly as the Djowf, which is thus at a nearly equal distance, southeast and southwest, from the two localities just mentioned, while the same cross-line, if continued, will give at about the same intervals of space in the opposite direction, Medina on the one hand, and Zulphah, the great commercial door of Eastern Nedjed, on the other. Djebel Shomer lies almost due south, and much nearer than any other of the places above specified. Partly to this central position, and partly to its own excavated form, the province owes its appropriate name of Djowf, or ‘belly.’
“The principal, or rather the only, town of the district, all the rest being mere hamlets, bears the name of the entire region. It is composed of eight villages, once distinct, but which have in process of time coalesced into one, and exchanged their separate existence and name for that of Sook, or ‘quarter,’ of the common borough. Of these Sooks, the principal is that belonging to the family Haboob, and in which we were now lodged. It includes the central castle already mentioned, and numbers about four hundred houses. The other quarters, some larger, others smaller, stretch up and down the valley, but are connected together by their extensive gardens. The entire length of the town thus formed, with the cultivation immediately annexed, is full four miles, but the average breadth does not exceed half a mile, and sometimes falls short of it.
“The size of the domiciles varies with the condition of their occupants, and the poor are contented with narrow lodgings, though always separate; for I doubt if throughout the whole of Arabia two families, however needy, inhabit the same dwelling. Ghafil’s abode, already described, may give a fair idea of the better kind; in such we have an outer court, for unlading camels and the like, an inner court, a large reception-room, and several other smaller apartments, to which entrance is given by a private door, and where the family itself is lodged.
“But another and a very characteristic feature of domestic architecture is the frequent addition, throughout the Djowf, of a round tower, from thirty to forty feet in height and twelve or more in breadth, with a narrow entrance and loop-holes above. This construction is sometimes contiguous to the dwelling-place, and sometimes isolated in a neighboring garden belonging to the same master. These towers once answered exactly the same purposes as the ‘torri,’ well known to travellers in many cities of Italy, at Bologna, Siena, Rome, and elsewhere, and denoted a somewhat analogous state of society to what formerly prevailed there. Hither, in time of the ever-recurring feuds between rival chiefs and factions, the leaders and their partisans used to retire for refuge and defence, and hence they would make their sallies to burn and destroy. These towers, like all the modern edifices of the Djowf, are of unbaked bricks; their great thickness and solidity of make, along with the extreme tenacity of the soil, joined to a very dry climate, renders the material a rival almost of stone-work in strength and endurance. Since the final occupation of this region by the forces of Telal, all these towers have, without exception, been rendered unfit for defence, and some are even half-ruined. Here again the phenomena of Europe have repeated themselves in Arabia.
“The houses are not unfrequently isolated each from the other by their gardens and plantations; and this is especially the case with the dwellings of chiefs and their families. What has just been said about the towers renders the reasons of this isolation sufficiently obvious. But the dwellings of the commoner sort are generally clustered together, though without symmetry or method.
“The gardens of the Djowf are much celebrated in this part of the East, and justly so. They are of a productiveness and variety superior to those of Djebel Shomer or of upper Nedjed, and far beyond whatever the Hedjaz and its neighborhood can offer. Here, for the first time in our southward course, we found the date-palm a main object of cultivation; and if its produce be inferior to that of the same tree in Nedjed and Hasa, it is far, very far, above whatever Egypt, Africa, or the valley of the Tigris from Bagdad to Bassora can show. However, the palm is by no means alone here. The apricot and the peach, the fig-tree and the vine, abound throughout these orchards, and their fruit surpasses in copiousness and flavor that supplied by the gardens of Damascus or the hills of Syria and Palestine. In the intervals between the trees or in the fields beyond, corn, leguminous plants, gourds, melons, etc., etc., are widely cultivated. Here, too, for the last time, the traveller bound for the interior sees the irrigation indispensable to all growth and tillage in this droughty climate kept up by running streams of clear water, whereas in the Nedjed and its neighborhood it has to be laboriously procured from wells and cisterns.
“Besides the Djowf itself, or capital, there exist several other villages belonging to the same homonymous province, and all subject to the same central governor. Of these the largest is Sekakah; it lies at about twelve miles distant to the northeast, and though inferior to the principal town in importance and fertility of soil, almost equals it in the number of its inhabitants. I should reckon the united population of these two localities—men, women, and children—at about thirty-three or thirty-four thousand souls. This calculation, like many others before us in the course of the work, rests partly on an approximate survey of the number of dwellings, partly on the military muster, and partly on what I heard on the subject from the natives themselves. A census is here unknown, and no register records birth, marriage, or death. Yet, by aid of the war list, which generally represents about one-tenth of the entire population, a fair though not absolute idea may be obtained on this point.
“Lastly, around and at no great distance from these main centres, are several small villages or hamlets, eight or ten in number, as I was told, and containing each of them from twenty to fifty or sixty houses. But I had neither time nor opportunity to visit each separately. They cluster round lesser water springs, and offer in miniature features much resembling those of the capital. The entire population of the province cannot exceed forty or forty-two thousand, but it is a brave one, and very liberally provided with the physical endowments of which it has been acutely said that they are seldom despised save by those who do not themselves possess them. Tall, well-proportioned, of a tolerably fair complexion, set off by long curling locks of jet-black hair, with features for the most part regular and intelligent, and a dignified carriage, the Djowfites are eminently good specimens of what may be called the pure northern or Ishmaelitish Arab type, and in all these respects they yield the palm to the inhabitants of Djebel Shomer alone. Their large-developed forms and open countenance contrast strongly with the somewhat dwarfish stature and suspicious under-glance of the Bedouin. They are, besides, a very healthy people, and keep up their strength and activity even to an advanced age. It is no uncommon occurrence here, to see an old man of seventy set out full-armed among a band of youths; though, by the way, such “green old age” is often to be met with also in the central province farther south, as I have had frequent opportunity of witnessing. The climate, too, is good and dry, and habits of out-door life contribute not a little to the maintenance of health and vigor.
“In manners, as in locality, the worthies of Djowf occupy a sort of half-way position between Bedouins and the inhabitants of the cultivated districts. Thus they partake largely in the nomad’s aversion to mechanical occupations, in his indifference to literary acquirements, in his aimless fickleness too, and even in his treacherous ways. I have said, in the preceding chapter, that while we were yet threading the narrow gorge near the first entrance of the valley, several horsemen appeared on the upper margin of the pass, and one of them questioned our guide, and then, after a short consultation with his companions, called out to us to go on and fear nothing. Now, the name of this individual was Suliman-ebn-Dahir, a very adventurous and fairly intelligent young fellow, with whom next-door neighborhood and frequent intercourse rendered us intimate during our stay at the Djowf. One day, while we were engaged in friendly conversation, he said, half laughing, ‘Do you know what we were consulting about while you were in the pass below on the morning of your arrival? It was whether we should make you a good reception, and thus procure ourselves the advantage of having you residents among us, or whether we should not do better to kill you all three, and take our gain from the booty to be found in your baggage.’ I replied with equal coolness, ‘It might have proved an awkward affair for yourself and your friends, since Hamood your governor could hardly have failed to get wind of the matter, and would have taken it out of you.’ ‘Pooh!’ replied our friend, ‘never a bit; as if a present out of the plunder would not have tied Hamood’s tongue.’ ‘Bedouins that you are,’ said I, laughing. ‘Of course we are,’ answered Suliman, ‘for such we all were till quite lately, and the present system is too recent to have much changed us.’ However, he admitted that they all had, on second thoughts, congratulated themselves on not having preferred bloodshed to hospitality, though perhaps the better resolution was rather owing to interested than to moral motives.
“The most distinctive good feature of the inhabitants of Djowf is their liberality. Nowhere else, even in Arabia, is the guest, so at least he be not murdered before admittance, better treated, or more cordially invited to become in every way one of themselves. Courage, too, no one denies them, and they are equally lavish of their own lives and property as of their neighbors’.
“Let us now resume the narrative. On the morning after our arrival—it was now the 1st of July—Ghafil caused a small house in the neighborhood, belonging to one of his dependents, to be put at our entire disposal, according to our previous request. This, our new abode, consisted of a small court with two rooms, one on each side, for warehouse and habitation, the whole being surrounded with an outer wall, whose door was closed by lock and bolt. Of a kitchen-room there was small need, so constant and hospitable are the invitations of the good folks here to strangers; and if our house was not over capacious, it afforded at least what we most desired, namely, seclusion and privacy at will; it was, moreover, at our host’s cost, rent and reparations.
“Hither, accordingly, we transferred baggage and chattels, and arranged everything as comfortably as we best could. And as we had already concluded, from the style and conversation of those around us, that their state of society was hardly far enough advanced to offer a sufficiently good prospect for medical art, whose exercise, to be generally advantageous, requires a certain amount of culture and aptitude in the patient, no less than of skill in the physician, we resolved to make commerce our main affair here, trusting that by so doing we should gain a second advantage, that of lightening our more bulky goods, such as coffee and cloth, whose transport had already annoyed us not a little.
“But in fact we were not more desirous to sell than the men, women, and children of the Djowf were to buy. From the very outset our little courtyard was crowded with customers, and the most amusing scenes of Arab haggling, in all its mixed shrewdness and simplicity, diverted us through the week. Handkerchief after handkerchief, yard after yard of cloth, beads for the women, knives, combs, looking-glasses, and what not? (for our stock was a thorough miscellany) were soon sold off, some for ready money, others on credit; and it is but justice to say that all debts so contracted were soon paid in very honestly; Oxford High Street tradesmen, at least in former times, were not always equally fortunate.
“Meanwhile we had the very best opportunity of becoming acquainted with and appreciating all classes, nay, almost all individuals, of the place. Peasants, too, from various hamlets arrived, led by rumor, whose trumpet, prone to exaggerate under every sky, had proclaimed us throughout the valley of Djowf for much more important characters, and possessed of a much larger stock in hand, than was really the case. All crowded in, and before long there were more customers than wares assembled in the storeroom.
“Our manner of passing the time was as follows: We used to rise at early dawn, lock up the house, and go out in the pure cool air of the morning to some quiet spot among the neighboring palm-groves, or scale the wall of some garden, or pass right on through the by-lanes to where cultivation merges in the adjoining sands of the valley; in short, to any convenient place where we might hope to pass an hour of quiet, undisturbed by Arab sociability, and have leisure to plan our work for the day. We would then return home about sunrise, and find outside the door some tall lad sent by his father, generally one of the wealthier and more influential inhabitants of the quarter yet unvisited by us, waiting our return, to invite us to an early breakfast. We would now accompany our Mercury to his domicile, where a hearty reception, and some neighbors collected for the occasion, or attracted by a cup of good coffee, were sure to be in attendance. Here an hour or so would wear away, and some medical or mercantile transaction be sketched out. We, of course, would bring the conversation, whenever it was possible, on local topics, according as those present seemed likely to afford us exact knowledge and insight into the real state and circumstances of the land. We would then return to our own quarters, where a crowd of customers, awaiting us, would allow us neither rest nor pause till noon. Then a short interval for date or pumpkin eating in some neighbor’s house would occur, and after that business be again resumed for three or four hours. A walk among the gardens, rarely alone, more often in company with friends and acquaintances, would follow; and meanwhile an invitation to supper somewhere had unfailingly been given and accepted.”
“After supper all rise, wash their hands, and then go out into the open air to sit and smoke a quiet pipe under the still transparent sky of the summer evening. Neither mist nor vapor, much less a cloud, appears; the moon dips down in silvery whiteness to the very verge of the palm-tree tops, and the last rays of daylight are almost as sharp and clear as the dawn itself. Chat and society continue for an hour or two, and then everyone goes home, most to sleep, I fancy, for few Penseroso lamps are here to be seen at midnight hour, nor does the spirit of Plato stand much risk of unsphering from the nocturnal studies of the Djowf; we, to write our journal, or to compare observations and estimate characters.
“Sometimes a comfortable landed proprietor would invite us to pass an extemporary holiday morning in his garden, or rather orchard, there to eat grapes and enjoy ourselves at will, seated under clustering vine-trellises, with palm-trees above and running streams around. How pleasant it was after the desert! At other times visits of patients, prescriptions, and similar duties would take up a part of the day; or some young fellow, particularly desirous of information about Syria or Egypt, or perhaps curious after history and moral science, would hold us for a couple of hours in serious and sensible talk, at any rate to our advantage.”
It was necessary that the travellers should not delay in paying their official visit to Hamood, the vice-gerent of Telal. His residence is in the centre of the garden region, near a solitary round tower, whose massive stone walls are mentioned in Arabian poetry. Hamood’s residence is an irregular structure, of more recent date, with no distinguishing feature except a tower about fifty feet in height. Palgrave and his companion were accompanied by a large number of their newly-found friends. After passing through an outer court, filled with armed guards, they found the ruler seated in his large reception-hall:
“There, in the place of distinction, which he never yields to any individual of Djowf, whatever be his birth or wealth, appeared the governor, a strong, broad-shouldered, dark-browed, dark-eyed man, clad in the long white shirt of the country, and over it a handsome black cloak, embroidered with crimson silk; on his august head a silken handkerchief or keffee’yeh, girt by a white band of finely woven camel’s hair; and in his fingers a grass fan. He rose graciously on our approach, extended to us the palm of his hand, and made us sit down near his side, keeping, however, Ghafil, as an old acquaintance, between himself and us, perhaps as a precautionary arrangement against any sudden assault or treasonable intention on our part, for an Arab, be he who he may, is never off his guard when new faces are in presence. In other respects he showed us much courtesy and good-will, made many civil inquiries about our health after so fatiguing a journey, praised Damascus and the Damascenes, by way of an indirect compliment, and offered us a lodging in the castle. But here Ghafil availed himself of the privileges conceded by Arab custom to priority of host-ship to put in his negative on our behalf; nor were we anxious to press the matter. A pound or so of our choicest coffee, with which we on this occasion presented his excellency, both as a mute witness to the object of our journey, and the better to secure his good-will, was accepted very readily by the great man, who in due return offered us his best services. We replied that we stood in need of nothing save his long life, this being the Arab formula for rejoinder to such fair speeches; and, next in order, of means to get safe on to Ha’yel so soon as our business at the Djowf should permit, being desirous to establish ourselves under the immediate patronage of Telal. In this he promised to aid us, and kept his word.”
Hamood afterward politely returned their visit, and they frequently went to his castle for the purpose of studying the many interesting scenes presented by the exercise of the very primitive Arab system of justice. Palgrave gives the following case as a specimen:
“One day my comrade and myself were on a visit of mere politeness at the castle; the customary ceremonies had been gone through, and business, at first interrupted by our entrance, had resumed its course. A Bedouin of the Ma’az tribe was pleading his cause before Hamood, and accusing someone of having forcibly taken away his camel. The governor was seated with an air of intense gravity in his corner, half leaning on a cushion, while the Bedouin, cross-legged on the ground before him, and within six feet of his person, flourished in his hand a large reaping-hook, identically that which is here used for cutting grass. Energetically gesticulating with this graceful implement, he thus challenged his judge’s attention: ‘You, Hamood, do you hear?’ (stretching out at the same time the hook toward the governor, so as almost to reach his body, as though he meant to rip him open); ‘he has taken from me my camel; have you called God to mind?’ (again putting his weapon close to the unflinching magistrate). ‘The camel is my camel; do you hear?’ (with another reminder from the reaping-hook); ‘he is mine, by God’s award, and yours too; do you hear, child?’ and so on, while Hamood sat without moving a muscle of face or limb, imperturbable and impassible till some one of the counsellors quieted the plaintiff with ‘Remember God, child; it is of no consequence, you shall not be wronged.’ Then the judge called on the witnesses, men of the Djowf, to say their say, and on their confirmation of the Bedouin’s statement, gave orders to two of his satellites to search for and bring before him the accused party; while he added to the Ma’azee, ‘All right, daddy, you shall have your own; put your confidence in God,’ and composedly motioned him back to his place.
“A fortnight and more went by, and found us still in the Djowf, ‘honored guests’ in Arab phrase, and well rested from the bygone fatigues of the desert. Ghafil’s dwelling was still, so to speak, our official home; but there were two other houses where we were still more at our ease; that of Dafee, the same who along with Ghafil came to meet us on our first arrival; and that of Salim, a respectable and, in his way, a literary old man, our near neighbor, and surrounded by a large family of fine strapping youths, all of them brought up more or less in the fear of Allah and in good example. Hither we used to retire when wearied of Ghafil and his like, and pass a quiet hour in their k’hawah, reciting or hearing Arab poetry, talking over the condition of the country and its future prospects, discussing points of morality, or commenting on the ways and fashions of the day.”
The important question for the travellers was how they should get to Djebel Shomer, the great fertile oasis to the south, under the rule of the famous Prince Telal. The terrible Nefood, or sand-passes, which the Arabs themselves look upon with dread, must be crossed, and it was now the middle of summer. The hospitable people of the Djowf begged Palgrave and his friends to remain until September, and they probably would have been delayed for some time but for a lucky chance. The Azzam tribe of Bedouins, which had been attacked by Prince Telal, submitted, and a dozen of their chiefs arrived at the Djowf, on their way to Djebel Shomer, where they purposed to win Telal’s good graces by tendering him their allegiance in his very capital. Hamood received them and lodged them for several days, while they rested from their past fatigues, and prepared themselves for what yet lay before them. Some inhabitants of the Djowf, whose business required their presence at Ha’yel, were to join the party. “Hamood sent for us,” Palgrave continues, “and gave us notice of this expedition, and on our declaring that we desired to profit by it, he handed us a scrap of paper, addressed to Telal himself, wherein he certified that we had duly paid the entrance fee exacted from strangers on their coming within the limits of Shomer rule, and that we were indeed respectable individuals, worthy of all good treatment. We then, in presence of Hamood, struck our bargain with one of the band for a couple of camels, whose price, including all the services of their master as guide and companion for ten days of July travelling, was not extravagant either; it came up to just a hundred and ten piastres, equivalent to eighteen or nineteen shillings of English money.
“Many delays occurred, and it was not till the 18th of July, when the figs were fully ripe—a circumstance which furnished the natives of Djowf with new cause of wonder at our rushing away, in lieu of waiting like rational beings to enjoy the good things of the land—that we received our final ‘Son of Hodeirah, depart.’ This was intimated to us, not by a locust, but by a creature almost as queer, namely, our new conductor, a half-cracked Arab, neither peasant nor Bedouin, but something anomalous between the two, hight Djedey’, and a native of the outskirts of Djebel Shomer, who darkened our door in the forenoon, and warned us to make our final packing up, and get ready for starting the same day.
“When once clear of the houses and gardens, Djedey’ led us by a road skirting the southern side of the valley, till we arrived, before sunset, at the other, or eastern, extremity of the town. Here was the rendezvous agreed on by our companions; but they did not appear, and reason good, for they had right to a supper more under Hamood’s roof, and were loath to lose it. So we halted and alighted alone. The chief of this quarter, which is above two miles distant from the castle, invited us to supper, and thence we returned to our baggage, there to sleep. To pass a summer’s night in the open air on a soft sand bed implies no great privation in these countries, nor is anyone looked on as a hero for so doing.
“Early next morning, while Venus yet shone like a drop of melted silver on the slaty blue, three of our party arrived and announced that the rest of our companions would soon come up. Encouraged by the news, we determined to march on without further tarrying, and ere sunrise we climbed the steep ascent of the southerly bank, whence we had a magnificent view of the whole length of the Djowf, its castle and towers, and groves and gardens, in the ruddy light of morning, and beyond the drear northern deserts stretching far away. We then dipped down the other side of the bordering hill, not again to see the Djowf till—who knows when?”