A Leaf from the Journals of a Landscape Painter
[EDWARD LEAR ― the E. L., whose travels in Greece, illustrated by his exquisite drawings, drew from Tennyson the tribute of a short but charming poem, the author of JOURNALS OF A LANDSCAPE PAINTER in Albania, Calabria, and Corsica (to mention only the volumes published under that title), the more universally famous composer of the incomparable BOOK OF NONSENSE, ― travelled through Syria and Palestine in the spring of 1858, and in pursuance of a long-cherished wish arranged a visit to Petra, the unique rock-city of Edom.
Lear had many gifts of genius, and among them the gift of taking infinite pains. He had an insatiable love of travel, but always with an object clearly kept before him, and an equally insatiable power of work. Before visiting any country (and he visited many, winding up with a tour over a large portion of the Indian empire when he was over sixty) he studied every book he could lay hands on that would give him the best information as to its physical characteristics and its history; and he appreciated instinctively the truth and accuracy of travellers’ descriptions. His habit of accumulating a store of knowledge before setting out made him a valuable and delightful fellow-traveller to those whose tastes and objects were to any degree in unison with his own. He knew what he wanted, and followed it up with energetic determination. My intimate friendship with him of many years began in a two months’ journey of riding and sketching through the wildest and loveliest corners of Greece; and from that time, until his health broke down in old age at Sanremo, I do not think he ever wittingly or willingly wasted an hour. Yet his indefatigable devotion to his work in no way interfered with the volatile fun which in his youth was always ready to bubble over. The BOOK OF NONSENSE is the offspring of an always fresh and fertile humour. I remember one night in Greece when, after scrambling for fifteen hours on horseback over the roughest mountain paths, we had dismounted and were waiting in black darkness for our guide to find among a few huts a tolerably weather-tight shelter for us to sleep in, Lear, who was thoroughly tired, sat down upon what he supposed to be a bank; but an instant grunt and heave convinced him of error as a dark bovine quadruped suddenly rose up under him and tilted him into the mud. As Lear regained his feet he cheerily burst into song:
There was an old man who said, “Now
I’ll sit down on the horns of that cow!”
I am not sure whether the stanza was ever finished and illustrated for any of his NONSENSE volumes.
Lear always called himself a topographical artist; and the phrase was neither an affectation of false modesty nor in any sense untrue. Nothing could have induced him to give to his landscapes any effect of form, colour, light, shade, or other detail which did not actually belong to the scenery of the particular region. The lines of hill and mountain, the depths of valley, the breadth of plain, the character of foreground, were reproduced with stern exactness in his vigorous and delicate drawing. Sir Roderick Murchison used to say that Lear’s sketches always told him the geology of the country, though Lear made no pretensions to geological knowledge. Yet his sketches were not mere photographs. They were full of the intuitively true imagination of an artist who had studied the features of the land till he knew them by heart,
As when a painter, poring o’er a face,
Divinely through all hindrance finds the man
Behind it ―
and if some of his largest oil-paintings may be thought crude or deficient in technique he had a perfectly true sense of colour and atmosphere as dependent on climate or geographical position.
On his journeys he drew sometimes in colour, but mainly in pencil; making notes as he drew, frequently on the surface of the sketch itself, and always in the carefully kept notebooks which formed the foundation of his journals. After each tour he would shut himself up for months, while the impressions were still strong and clear, with the sketches he had gathered together, translating the volatile beauty of pencilled lines into a more stable medium, with the patient delicacy of treatment and handling of a skilful etcher.
I have attempted to specify the character of Lear’s methods in art to show the readers of this leaf from his unpublished journals the intrinsic value of his constant descriptions of the landscape, which in an ordinary traveller might be taken as vague rhetorical word-painting. They deserve full acceptance as true notes of the vivid impressions conveyed to the sense of the painter during his study of the scenery. He afterwards painted one large picture in oils of the eastern cliff of Petra; a picture full of the strange interest and wild beauty so well shadowed forth in his journal. It was bought by the late Sir Thomas Fairbairn, after whose death it again came into the market, and was recently purchased by a near relative of Lear’s own, Mr. Charles Gillies, of Auckland, New Zealand.
Lear was accompanied on his journey to Petra by the faithful Suliot servant, Giorgio Cocali, who had attached himself to his master’s fortunes while Lear was residing in Corfu, and had already roamed with him over the wilds of Albania and to the monasteries of Mount Athos. His dragoman was an Egyptian Copt from Assiout, picked up at Jerusalem on the strength of the usual testimonials, including those of four previous visits to Petra; his most prominent qualification as a dragoman, to judge from Lear’s story, appears to have been an incapacity to express his meaning in any but the most imperfect and perverted English. The arrangements for safe escort were made at Hebron (the nearest point of contact with settled life) with the Sheikh of the Jehaleen tribe of Bedaween Arabs, who was supposed competent to make a binding compact on the great subject of baksheesh with the Sheikh of the Haweitât as the paramount authority in the regions round about Petra. How totally these arrangements failed to secure freedom from discomfort and peril is best told in Lear’s own words. ― F.L.]
Hebron Quarantine Building, April 7th, 1858. ― In came my dragoman Abdel with various Arabs, and lastly no less a person than the Sheikh of the Jehaleen himself, no other than Abou Daôuk or Defr Alla, the guide to Petra of Robinson in 1838, and later of De Saulcy. A child might have read the old Arab’s face, which was expressive of an amount of cunning and avarice hardly to be exceeded in one man’s countenance. Abdel says, beamingly, that he has made a com-pact with the Sheikh that I shall go with an escort of fifteen to Petra, to remain there a week, and to return by the Dead Sea, where I am to remain four days between Es Zuweirah and Ain Gedi, for the sum of £30, which is to include the expense of camels and all etcetera.
This arrangement will give me ample time for what I wish to draw; but it is more expensive than I like, and it may be in practice far less agreeable than in theory, seeing that the trust-worthiness of the Jehaleen has to be proved. Yet it suits me better to close than to remain in Hebron bargaining for better terms, or to return to Jerusalem and give up once more the chance of seeing Wady Mousa. So I agree to the plan, and half the money is as usual to be paid beforehand. I am to sleep to-morrow some distance beyond Kurmel, ― the Carmel of David and Abigail. The last event of the day was the frustrated attempt at embezzlement of my penknife by the scribe who was writing out the contract for the journey. The prolonged night was characterised by the crying of jackals round that dreary quarantine abode. On the previous night a particularly vigorous owl had frequented the building and practised hooting through a hole in the wall.
April 8th. ― Bright sunrise. Hebron, seen through thin mist mingled with its gray and white limestone rocks and houses, seems to me vastly like any old Italian mountain town in early morning. One more small sketch of David’s pool, ― running the gauntlet for the last time of the orthodox Hebronite missiles and curses; and at nine a.m. we leave the town, preceded by the great Abou Daôuk on a gray mare. I am not sorry to lose sight of the green cemetery-vale, with its olives and gray rocks and its innumerable asses, feeling that I have seen and drawn enough of Hebron for a lifetime.
Gravelly and rocky paths led away southward from the town, over long lines of undulating stony hills, not unlike the Murgie of Apulia, only more interesting from the presence of shrubs, and occasional bluer bits of distance, or near at hand patches and strips of green corn, enclosed by hollows with shallow sloping sides that sometimes stretch out into rolling waves of remoter hill-outlines. About ten we passed a well, and first began to see the hills of eastern Moab, pure and beautiful in colour and simple in form; and about an hour later we reached Kurmel, a heap of ruin on one of the most elevated parts of this high and wide-spreading hill-country. The Herodian tower, the reservoir, the theatre, among whose ruins friendly white storks were strutting, and the scattered ruins of a town, are all witnesses to past days. Nabal and Abigail, Saul and Agag, Herod, Saladin, seemed to form portions of the scene as I halted here and passed an hour or two in drawing the ruins, in themselves worth attention for their picturesqueness and position. The grand remains of the solid tower with its sloping outer masonry stood clear off the bright blue sky, the ground near it covered with thousands of cut gray stones, grass-grown or with tufts of cistus and blooming anemones between them. Beyond the middle distance of lilac-green the one line of Moab is drawn quite across the eastern horizon.
At noon we proceed, changing our course to eastward. After the walls and terraces of ruined Kurmel are left behind, the pathway and the land around grow barer and more rocky, the undulations deeper and more compressed, the strips of green corn fewer and scantier, and more closely hemmed in by rocks and low cliffs. At one we halt to water the horses at a spring where reeds and water-weeds grow luxuriantly; and there and afterwards we fall in with parties of mounted Arabs, attired according to the true Horace Vernet type, who all salute our Sheikh minutely, but in their own persons are not calculated to attract confidence or win attachment. The path descends into still narrower valleys, always winding and deepening; the spots of corn cease entirely, and now and then the way leads through rocky passes, lonely and shut out from the outer world by their sinuous curvings. By and by the covering of the soil again becomes greener, and about two p.m. camels are seen grazing on the brow of the opposite slope to which Abou Daôuk points mysteriously and says “Gemelak (your camels).” Presently we arrived at the spot where we were to halt for the night, and the tents were pitched. In the absence of Arab society nothing can be more peaceful and quiet than this green valley with its low hills, dotted with cows and a few camels. The head camp of the Jehaleen is somewhere very near, but the prudent Abou Daôuk, aware of the small sympathy between Arabs and Howadji, has avoided the immediate vicinity of his subjects and relatives. From the highest of the hills above the vale only the upper part of the Moab mountains can be seen, and the little secluded landscape depends on itself alone for interest. This, methinks, as the evening draws on after dinner and pipe, and I sit in the perfect stillness, while the stars begin to shine brightly, ― this is the pleasant side of tent life, ― the more agreeable when most remote from the inhabitants of these lands. Long after the tent was closed for the night, old Abou Daôuk returned from dining out, and an hour of discussion and noise of quarrelling ensued, such as only angry Arabs can produce, and mostly resembling the united gobbling of a thousand exasperated turkey-cocks.
April 9th. ― We are all moving long before daybreak. Myriads of gay little grasshoppers jump up like spray from the grass at each footfall as I walk. The camels appear good, a matter of great import for such a journey. Mine is a very handsome and young one, and behaves himself tranquilly. Giorgio’s looks as if he had been boiled or shaved, but is spare and active. Then there is a huge white Hubblebubble who is evidently a pièce de resistance for all the goods the others decline to carry; one for Abdel, one for the Sheikh Salah, the chief guide (who is called the brother of Abou Daôuk), and one more for luggage, complete the tale of six. But this last individual turns out to be a violent party, and refuses to be loaded, particularly opposing all attempts to make him carry the cage of poultry, as an uncamellike and undignified burden. Altogether the din of snarling, growling, screaming, and guggling was considerable; and the lean Jehaleen attendants, of whom there are fifteen, seem a very filthy and incapable lot by way of escort. But it is useless to complain; the Petra journey is to be made now, so be it made as best it may.
At length we started. A walk over the South Downs from Lewes to Brighton would give a fairly correct idea of the general forms of the rolling hill scenery intersected with smooth dales, through which we passed; but here there is much more rock and much less verdure, though certain portions of the land are pretty profusely tufted with herbs. I always hate camel-riding, and walked on for more than an hour, finding a constant pleasure in the exquisite carpets of lilac hepatica and pale asphodel spread over the most level ground, and the knots of sage, broom, and other shrubs which vary the hillsides. In some of the hollow theatre-like depressions were small parties of white storks walking among corn or beans after their steady business-like fashion; and in one spot we passed three or four capitals of columns and some cut stones, relics of some ancient site which I had no means of identifying, since I was very uncertain as to our exact position. I observed from time to time that my escort fell off in numbers; but on remarking this, the old Sheikh Salah said that the men who had left me were to join again this evening beyond the camp of the Haweitât Arabs : an assertion I did not believe a bit.
The pleasant progress of the morning was frequently delayed by the wicked camel utterly refusing to go on; for whenever one of the cocks in the cage, from a cheerful sympathy with nature in general, or a wish to make an audible comment on his own particular elevation, gave way to crowing, ― that moment the huge beast abandoned himself to extreme spasms of terror, shaking, screaming, and kicking till all the roba, including the guilty fowls, was on the ground. A long cord, passed through the handles of boxes and round baskets, prevented the complete separation of the baggage, and the vexed Ship of the Desert could not disengage himself from his miseries, but dashed hither and thither with a long chain of goods; a curious performance to see, but not altogether conducive to the safety of the articles in motion. After this had occurred three times, the awkward Jehaleen wasting much time in the reloading, the cheerful fowls were transferred to the huge Hubblebubble, whose gravity all the crowing in the world hardly seems likely to move.
We gradually leave the narrow valleys for a more open country, an expanse of downs and of lilac distance widening out beyond the nearer tufted slopes, often reminding one of Sicily and the Roman Campagna. Hereabouts was the end of all corn and beans, and the shallow depressions, or wadys, were filled up with pale blue flowers looking at a little distance like water. As we leave Tel-el-Arad on the right, and shape our course more to the south-west, the scene gradually widens into a most beautiful pale green plain with low lilac hills beyond. Innumerable dots of herbage mark the near foreground, while in the middle distance Abdel points out the black tents of an encampment of the Haweitât Arabs, one of whom is to go with us to Petra, the permanent resort of the tribe who are now here for camel pasturage. The plain was covered as far as eye could reach with thousands of camels of all ages; some, only a few days old and milk-white, looked like groups of swans as they lay on the ground curving their long necks. For nearly an hour we continued to go through this immense assemblage of camels, than which a more striking pastoral scene can hardly be imagined; and after the cessation of cameldom, sheep, goats, asses, and horses took their place. By the time the settlement was left behind, all life and green colour had vanished, superseded by the sterile sand and rock of the desert. Meanwhile a black slave of the Haweitât, Feragh by name, joined our party, being accredited from his Sheikh, and from the Sheikh of the Jehaleen, as guide in chief to the wonderful valley of Petra. Feragh’s face was ugly in a severe degree, but expressed an amount of intelligence and honesty which the Arab physiognomies sadly lacked. In person he was spare, nor was his alertness encumbered by overdress, a plain white shirt and a red handkerchief being all his wardrobe. As for Abou Daôuk, that great man had wholly disappeared, the old Salah, with four lean and awkward satellites, being all that remained of the large escort said to have been so requisite for the journey. About noon, after two more universal luggage-tumbles brought about by the wicked camel, and long violent disputes on the part of the Jehaleen, the way entered a close and dreary wady (El Ghaineh?) whose high, bare walls and stony paths were neither picturesque to see nor pleasant to walk in, but they led on to a point overlooking deep hollow gulfs where a kind of terrible and grand mystery compensated for previous dulness: huge, tawny hills rose beyond, and the long line of the Sufâa Pass, to be accomplished on the morrow; a slip of pale yellow sand and the tops of the Moab or Edom range closed the scene.
The descent from this height was very stony and wearying; and it is wonderful to see how the huge camels go perseveringly on, never making a false step among such crevices and crags. By two we were on a lower level, though several ranges of bare sandy hill and uninteresting wady were yet to be surmounted and crossed before we reached, at four, the spot selected for our encampment in a sheltered hollow, whence only a portion of the highest part of Moab could be seen, and where tufts of broom and tarfa employ the freed camels near at hand. While evening tent-life proceeds, old Salah sits on the ground diligently eating the small snails which everywhere congregate on the little tufts of herbage, and every now and then makes abundant little obeisances as tokens of satisfaction with my Howadjiship. The fires are lit, dinner and pipes discussed, firearms discharged to warn possible robbers. Starlight; and the vast desert silence.
April 10th. ― What a strange calm world was the tawny hollow glen landscape, dusky-tufted and be-camelled with ghostly wanderers, before the sunlight came gloriously bursting over the dark sapphire heights of Moab! By sunrise all over that world is astir, and thanks to all-powerful quinine the Howadji can look forward to a good day’s journey. At six-fifteen we start, an early move displeasing to the wicked camel, who said in his heart, ‘‘Hang this! I’ll stop their journey!” and forthwith beginning to dance and kick, all the baggage rolled away, and twenty minutes were used in replacing it. From the nature of the ground to be passed to-day, there will be plenty of walking up and down the Sufâa pass; so when at length we are fairly off, I resolve to sit quietly as long as possible, the rather that a good level pathway leads over a flat sandy tract, here and there decked with shrubs, and ever and anon with delicious little garden-like patches of scarlet poppies or anemones, marigolds and hepaticas. As the plain, or wady, narrows, we pass by a stony ascent into a rockier and less pleasant part of these solitudes, thence into a broad wady, ever rising and widening, while the hills at its sides sink lower, and the path still slowly ascends. The old Sheikh Salah, clad in a single linen garment resembling that which painters allot to the infant Samuel, and giving him the appearance of a white sack of flour, sleeps as he adheres to the inferior end of his camel, who howls and shrieks at intervals, as is the wont of some of these beasts. “In the Arab when his camel not making the noise he is never liking him of a beast,” says the dragoman Abdel apologetically. As the heat increases with the advancing day I have to struggle hard against the irritation which riding these animals always brings me, none the less that just hereabouts they are greatly pestered with flies on their heads, as a relief from which they turn their necks quickly to bump and rub their noses on their riders’ boots.
We now reach an isolated and not very respectable-looking group of Haweitât Arabs, consisting of a semi-nude lady and two quite nude youngsters, with some glossy jet-black goats and kids. Some milk is purchased, but, not having a cleanly hue, is not particularly relished by the Howadji and his Suliot follower. From this little hill-enclosed plain we reach another, ever ascending towards the crest of hills called Nukb-es-Sufâa, over the ridge of which our way lies, accomplishing the thinly shrub-spotted sandy undulations by slow degrees. Looking back towards Hebron we are now so high as to be able to see the long plain and mountains drawn out westward in rosy and opal lines, beautifully remote.
A steep descent, down which I walk, leads to a narrow wady, immediately below the last and highest portion of the Sufâa ridge; and this crossed, we begin the ascent, winding slowly and in silence along the narrow paths which for long ages have been the tracks by which this part of the desert is passed. A portion of the view towards the east now suddenly bursts upon the eye, a pale, strange world of sand and rock, plain and hilly undulations; the broad, faint-hued Arabeh beyond, with the clear ultra-marine Moab mountains and what seems a portion of the south end of the Dead Sea to the left. To this glimpse succeeded an hour and a half of threading very hot, close-walled gorges in the mountain at the top of the Sufâa pass, which at two p.m. brought us to the full view of the whole eastern prospect, ― a view most marvellous and not to be easily forgotten. Just before we reached this particular spot, the camels had been unluckily sent round to descend the pass by an easier route than the steep footpath, so that, as I had left my book on my own beast, I was without materials; otherwise the eastern summit of Nukb-es-Sufâa would have tempted me to try a large sketch of it. And yet, though I resolved to remember this lesson of the inconvenience of parting with my tools, I half rejoiced that I was unable to commence the task of portraying a scene the chief attributes of which were its astonishing beauty of colour and its infinite detail of forms and masses of rock and sand. I lingered long on this point (old Salah making use of the halt to eat a large luncheon of snails), and it seemed impossible that one could ever weary of contemplating so strange a glory and beauty as that outspread desert and mountain horizon presented. Even the usually silent Suliot said: “They do well to come to such places who can; no one could believe in such a beautiful world as this unless he saw it!” The whole tract of plain below the Edom mountains is apparently a broad level, of the loveliest lemon-coloured, rosy pink, and pearly-white delicate hues. Mount Hor, and the hollow lotus-land of Petra, seen from hence, seem almost to blend and melt into the southern sky; while the nearer portion of the Arabeh and all around to the Wady Fikkreh im-mediately below the height we stood on, is fretted and wrinkled and slashed into miraculously twisted and barred cuts and hollows of brown, orange, chocolate, or snuff-coloured tints. Quite beneath my feet are inconceivable grim chasms, along the downward stretching edges of which my diminished camels creep like flies. I made the descent of the pass or steep eastern side of the mountain on foot, the only pleasant method of reaching the bottom; for although the descent does not appear very formidable, it really is so, since the path leads over vast, slippery, inclined slabs of limestone, often entirely smooth and bare, and affording an insecure foothold for laden beasts. But what a scene of stoniness and cragginess, ― points and chasms, ― black grimness, exquisite colours, and strange, wild forms! What strata of giant boulders and rock-forms below! What tawny vastness of lion-coated ridges above! all lit up with the golden light of the afternoon sun, ― a splendour of wonder, ― a bewildering, dream-like, unfinished world, ― bare, terrible, stupendous, strange, and beautiful!
In the downward passage one or two of the camels nearly came to misfortune, the careless childish Arabs taking no heed of the poor animals who sometimes would miss the corner turns of the sharp zigzag paths leading down the mountain side, and so found themselves thrown out among large rocks or close to the edge of a precipitous gulf. On these occasions the helpless expression in the face of the Desert-Ship who loses his way is strongly and ludicrously marked. Apparently too proud to appeal for help, he persists in holding up his head majestically and in floundering on further from the right road, if not led back to it by his nomad masters.
By three-thirty we were at the bottom of the Nukb-es-Safâa, and in another half-hour reached the flat Wady Fikkreh, where we pitched in one of those quiet nooks which seem a kind of Paradise to the traveller, who places his home for the night below the shelter of smooth sandy heights and on level shrub-spotted gravel. Once more the tents rise; the camels wander forth, and the evening life begins.
“Even I regain my freedom with a sigh,” saith the little hen, cooped up all day and shaken to and fro on Hubblebubble’s hump, and only set at liberty to find herself in a world containing nothing but stone and sand, ― whence not ungladly she returns to her prison-house as the least evil. Early supper and bed, for I wish to draw Madurah at sunrise to-morrow. And again the desert silence! though here broken by the whirr of little grasshoppers among the shrubs, ― a sound recalling Bagaladi and summer Calabrian nights.
April 11th. ― Before sunrise a brown or moist sugar hue and texture prevail down in this deep sandy vale, which I leave as soon as possible after the tents are packed with Abdel and black Feragh, to get an early drawing of Madurah, which Ebony, who knows all about the short cuts in these parts, ensures me by going straight to a height where from the edge of a cliff you see the strange flat hill far away below. A vast pale yellow solitude at this hour of sloping sunbeams stretches to the foot of the faint blue artificial-seeming rock, itself backed by still fainter lines of more remote desert-distance. Then we rejoin the respectable and unimpulsive Desert-Ships about six-thirty, they having gone on by the direct path for Petra from our encampment.
Would the Jehaleen were as little given to impulse as the brutes they own! but Giorgio tells me that there has been a fearful row between Hassaneyn and old Sheikh Salah, the dispute having arisen about the loading of the camel belonging to the former, whose sulky looks denote great dissatisfaction with his leader and life in general. Meanwhile we go (I wish I could say quietly) over the desert tract leading down very gradually to the great Wady Arabeh; but such is the constant shrieking and gobbling of the enraged Arabs that I put a great amount of cotton in my ears in order to enjoy the charm of the scenery. Ever the beauty of the landscape increases as we come nearer to the Edom range of mountains, and at each step the position of Wady Mousa and the lofty Mount Hor becomes more distinct. The foreground too is lovely from its forms of rock and slopes of sand, and its plentiful spots of nubk or sont trees growing in every slight depression; but though I often wish to draw, I pass onward without lingering, since Petra is before me.
We are nearly in the Arabeh, and the view, northward towards the Wady Jeeb and the Dead Sea, and southward beyond Mount Hor, is in the last degree exquisite. We pass heaps of stones, but Abdel’s account of them is beyond my power of understanding. The first gazelle seen starts off so close that I can see his horns with a glass; he bounds and leaps like india-rubber, and glides across a ravine and along the edges of its iron rocks like light. We are now fairly down in the shelving plain or wady of the Arabeh, and the ever-searching and mysterious Feragh announces the proximity of water, but adds that it is salt. This man’s ways are wondrous, and betoken a different nature from that of the Arabs. He runs up every small height, peering about from all elevated places, examining all that can be seen and alive to every sound; attending to the camels, and frequently coming to me to point out this or that place, always strictly in accord with the descriptions of Robinson, the Leake of Palestine: and he is not a little puzzled at my knowledge beforehand of the direction of wadys and the names of hills. Nor is he with all his activity ever noisy; a pleasing contrast to the Jehaleen, who are utterly careless and stupid savages, incessantly howling and shouting and gobbling fit to distract one.
At noon we reach El-Weibeh, well described by Robinson as a line of dense reeds and tarfa bushes. Out of it at our approach flew a large eagle. The water, so to speak, existed in two pits or wells (at least I saw no more), round, and resembling tubs, ― the liquid therein being a mixture of sand, water, a little salt, and a plentiful abundance of leeches, on observing which I gave orders that the tin by which the zemzemiyah was to be filled should be well looked to before its contents were added to the existing supply of liquid supposed to be drinkable. This oasis, though long talked of before we reached it, gave me no pleasant memories on quitting it. For first the Arabs let my own particular camel roll on the sand on my looking off for a moment while the watchful Suliot was seizing on the leeches and Abdel was employed with a fresh burst of Jehaleen temper, thereby crushing and damaging some of my small travelling comforts; and secondly, the feud between old Salah, called the Infant Samuel, and Hassaneyn the Grumpy, broke out with fresh fury, till there really seemed small chance of getting to Petra after all, since neither of the disputants would give up his camel for the additional burden of water to be carried hence. It seemed doubtful for a time if the youthful strength of the one or the bulk and moral position of the other would conquer; but after amazing abuse the first blows were followed by a general interference and holding back of the angry parties by Abdel and the rest, and finally the contested waterskin was piled on the camel of Hassaneyn. We then started, Grumpy walking entirely apart and looking dangerous; his whole face was of that livid pale hue which a brown man in a great rage is apt to exhibit; his eyes flashed out fire, and he did not seem inclined to forget the bad names old Salah had called him. As we were progressing towards Mount Hor over a gravelly tract dotted at intervals with shrubs, a little gazelle started up and ran off, three of the Arabs and black Feragh following it with speed unencumbered by much dress. After twenty minutes the Ishmaelites gave in, but Ebony still held on, and in twenty-five minutes from the first start had tired down the beautiful little creature, which he brought triumphantly to me, when Giorgio took charge of it. That evening, however, was the last of its life, for without food it soon drooped; and knowing it must have died if left at large, we gave up Giorgio’s idea of taking it back to Corfu. I unwillingly gave orders for its flesh to be turned into meat, and its four slender legs into handles for paper-cutters.
Shortly after this, as we were quietly proceeding, headed by the Infant Samuel in all security, that dignitary giving way from time to time to violent and angry soliloquies, some one remarked that Grumpy had disappeared. Suddenly he stole as quick as lightning from behind some rocks, where he must have hidden himself while we were occupied with the destinies of the gazelle, and rushed on behind the old Sheikh with his gun levelled at that venerable person’s head. At the very same moment two of the other Arabs threw themselves from their camels, and only just in time reached Grumpy so as to knock up the muzzle of his gun as it went off, the charge happily missing the old gentleman. The Sheikh whirled himself off his camel tempestuously, and fell upon the unrevenged Grumpy now in the hands of my astonished and scandalised suite, part of which had also the task of holding back the sandy and simple-vested ruler, whose indignation was not unnaturally extreme. The row was immense, and old Salah could only be pacified by Hassaneyn’s being totally disarmed. That inconsiderate and violent youth retired to a great distance, vowing all kinds of vengeance for the insults received, and for the appropriation of his camel, and declaring that he would return to the Jehaleen camp, which Abdel desired him to do. But this incident greatly disturbed the general serenity of the afternoon’s progress, since the old Sheikh declared that the attempt was endorsed by the whole party, who, he said, knew well that Hassaneyn intended to kill him. The intolerable continuance of threats and appeals was most worrying
My neighbours with strife
Embitter my life,
as the song says; and in sand, anger, and weariness, we plodded on, though I longed to stop and draw Mount Hor, the outline of which was becoming wonderfully fine, and the crenellations of the low sand-hills around its base beautifully intricate. But there was no good place for encampment, because (so the Arabs declared) there was nothing to eat for the camels: and thus we went on and on till nearly six o’clock, when we pitched the tents after one and a half hour of camelism and botheration. A strange scene! the sinking sun turned all Mount Hor and the ridge of which it is the highest jagged mass into absolute crimson and orange light: below the rugged peaks and sheer rosy precipices the wrinkled forms of sand-hill were wrought out into a fretwork of pure gold; while dark purple shadows stole momently like giant streams of some solemn overflowing river among the undulations of the Wady, rising higher and higher, till the near foreground and lower part of the mountain were alike of one uniform cloud-like pallor, and at last the highest points of Mount Hor shone out like pillars of topaz and garnet above the shadowy desert and against the deepening sky.
But there was to be no peace to-day. Suddenly an alarm of “Dytchmaan (enemies) Arab!” arose, ― these people always speak of “Arabs, Arabs,” as if they themselves were not the very same as those they talk so much of! ― and there was a general rush to guns and pistols. The objects in question, however, kept going to a greater distance from us, and probably had decided not to approach when we fired off our arms on arriving at the place where we encamped. Feverish and weary, I was glad of a basin of soup and to get to bed as soon as possible; now regretting the loss of time and money on what appeared a journey in which so little opportunity of work occurred, and again hopeful to reach Petra the day after the morrow.
April 12th. ― Off by six; the wicked camel and his appointed luggage happily not separating more than twice. Grumpy and the Infant-Samuel had a formal reconciliation before starting; as Abdel said, “He was make him all squar from the Arab in his quarrel of the bad,” ― very queer people are these!
In many parts of the morning’s progress, which led us directly southward up the Wady Arabeh, the views were delightful: Mount Hor and the range of Edom all ashy-powdery-pigeony purple, and the foreground of sand in shade (the sun not having as yet risen above the eastern heights) covered with numberless fluffy tufts of gray-green tarfa. But I found by-and-by that we were not to ascend to Petra by what seemed the legitimate or northern approach, but were to wind around and up the mountain to the southward; and thus four long hours of very gradual ascent only brought us to a turn in the wady towards the east, where, turning away from the low hills which spurlike strike into the plain, we left the great Wady Arabeh, and at ten-thirty struck into what I suppose is Wady-el-Abiad, ― at least, it is white enough to merit that title. This winding pass reminded me of the Valley of the Tombs of the Kings at Thebes, so chalky-white, so narrow, and so hot. Turn after turn brought no relief or change to the huge walls of brilliant white and yellow rock, enclosing me as I toiled upwards on the see-saw camel over a floor of the same hue, and reflecting a heat that, had one been a large egg, would have caused spontaneous hatching. About one p.m. we arrived at a hollow tufted wady below the great rocks of Mount Hor, which in strange wild craggy forms towered against the sky. Hereabouts water was reputed to be, though after a long search in all probable places none was found. To go quite up the mountain and into Wady Mousa was decreed by Abdel and the old Sheikh to be too far for the day’s work; but there was no medium. The night’s halt must be either there or here: so it was arranged that we should wait till Feragh and Abou Gedagh returned from a more remote spot to which they were sent in the last hope of finding water; and that if their endeavours were fruitless, we must needs go on to Petra. It was rather anxious waiting till four o’clock, when the voice of my unamiable camel-keeper was heard for the first and only time with any pleasure, and a long, long way down the mountain, the speck of a camel was descried gradually coming nearer. Gladly we hailed his long neck as he stepped up the rocks with a large skinful of the desired element; and though, not unlike gruel or barley-water in appearance, it was most welcome, and contained no leeches. We were here then for the night; the immense flat desert unrolled from the foot of the mountain westward, pale lilac fading into the sky, and hard it would be to say if it were sea or earth, if one did not know its nature. Towards sunset there arose a thick scirocco-like vapour which blotted out all the lower world, and the Arabs said it rained at Hebron and Jerusalem, though with us, at the wild base of Mount Hor, all was bright and clear with a starry sky above and the dead stillness of solemn night around.
April 13th. ― Clear pale sky before sunrise, with long rosy clouds floating pennon-like round the harsh jagged outline of Hor. A particularly early start was ordered, that the mountain might be ascended before the hotter part of the day; but this precautionary measure was, to say the least, modified by the wicked camel’s twisting himself viciously against the first rocks he encountered, and shooting all the luggage into a deep hole below. “I am quite sick of camels,” says the traveller in the East. So I walked onwards and upwards for four hours, glad to be away from the wearisome janglings and yells of my unpleasant suite, and longing with increasing impatience for the first glimpse of Petra’s wonders. Every step opened out fresh interest and beauty in the wild scenery; immense chasms and vast views over strange boundless desert unfolded themselves at each turn of the winding path up the steep mountain; and at one spot the intensity of giant-crag solitude, deepest rifts and high pinnacles of naked rock, was more wondrous than anything I have ever seen except the sublimity of Gebel Musa and Sinai. About nine we reached the highest part of the mountain ascent, and passing the ridge immediately below the rocks of Gebel Haroun (Aaron’s mountain), now upon our left, entered the first or upper part of Wady Mousa on its western side. But it was nearly another hour before, still descending by winding tracks, we reached the first cavern tombs and the first coloured rocks. The slow advance chills with a feeling of strange solitude the intruder into the loneliness of this bygone world, where on every side are tokens of older greatness, and where between then and now is no link. As the path wandered among huge crags and over broad slabs of rock, ever becoming more striped and glowing in colour, I was more and more excited with curiosity and expectation. And after passing the solitary column which stands sentinel-like over the heaps of ruin around, and reaching the open space whence the whole area of the old city and the vast eastern cliff are fully seen, I own to having been more delighted and astonished than I had ever been by any spectacle. Not that at the first glance the extent and magnificence of this enchanted valley can be appreciated: this its surprising brilliancy and variety of colour, and its incredible amount of detail, forbid. But after a while, when the eyes have taken in the undulating slopes terraced and cut and covered with immense foundations and innumerable stones, ruined temples, broken pillars and capitals, and the lengthened masses of masonry on each side of the river that runs from east to west through the whole wady, down to the very edge of the water, and when the sight has rested on the towering western cliffs below Mount Hor, crowded with perforated tombs, and on the astonishing array of wonders carved in the opposite face of the great eastern cliff, then the impression that both pen and pencil in travellers’ hands have fallen infinitely short of a true portrait of Petra deepens into certainty. Nor is this the fault of either artist or author. The attraction arising from the singular mixture of architectural labour with the wildest extravagances of nature, ― the excessive and almost terrible feeling of loneliness in the very midst of scenes so plainly telling of a past glory and a race of days long gone, the vivid contrast of the countless fragments of ruin, basement, foundation, wall, and scattered stone, with the bright green of the vegetation, and the rainbow hues of rock and cliff, ― the dark openings of the hollow tombs on every side, ― the white river bed and its clear stream, edged with superb scarlet-tufted blossom of oleander alternating with groups of white-flowered bloom, ― all these combine to form a magical condensation of beauty and wonder which the ablest pen or pencil has no chance of conveying to the eye or mind. Even if all the myriad details of loveliness in colour, and all the visible witchery of wild nature and human toil could be rendered exactly, who could reproduce the dead silence and strange feeling of solitude which are among the chief characteristics of this enchanted region? What art could give the star-bright flitting of the wild dove and rock-partridge through the oleander-gloom, or the sound of the clear river rushing among the ruins of the fallen city? Petra must remain a wonder which can only be understood by visiting the place itself, and memory is the only mirror in which its whole resemblance can faithfully live. I felt, “I have found a new world ― but my art is helpless to recall it to others, or to represent it to those who have never seen it.” Yet, as the enthusiastic foreigner said to the angry huntsman who asked if he meant to catch the fox, ― I will try.
Two small boys tending some ten or twelve goats had been descried far on in the valley as we came down into it; but these brown-striped-vested youths did not await our arrival, and were no more seen. My tents were pitched low down on one of the terraces near the river, about half-way between the east and west cliffs. Taking with me Giorgio and the black Feragh (that jewel among swine) I wandered on eastward through the valley, of which the spaciousness seemed to me more impressive at each step, and the mighty accumulation of ruin more extraordinary. Wonderful is the effect of the east cliff as we approach it with its colours and carved architecture, the tint of the stone being brilliant and gay beyond my anticipation. “Oh master,” said Giorgio (who is prone to culinary similes), “we have come into a world where everything is made of chocolate, ham, curry powder, and salmon”; and the comparison was not far from an apt one. More wonderful yet is the open space, a portion of it cut out into the great theatre, from which you approach to the ravine of the Sik. Colour and detail are gorgeous and amazing beyond imagination. At length we reached the mouth of the Sik, the narrowing space between the loftier walls of rock becoming more overgrown with oleander and broom, and the ravine itself, into which you enter by a sharp turn on your right, seeming to close appallingly above your head. Not far from the entrance I turned round to see the effect of the far-famed Khasmé or rock-fane which is opposite this end of the ravine, a rose-coloured temple cut out in the side of the mountain, its lower part half hidden in scarlet blossom, and the whole fabric gleaming with intense splendour within the narrow cleft of the dark gorge, from four to seven hundred feet in height, and ten or twelve broad. I did not penetrate further into the Sik, supposing I should have ample time in the several days I had arranged to spend at Petra, and wishing as soon as possible to obtain a general view of the valley. Retracing my steps I sat down at noon to draw, and did so uninterruptedly until it grew too dark to see the marks of my pencil or the colours I was using. First promising to call the anxious Feragh if I strayed out of sight of the tents, I worked on the whole view of the valley looking eastward to the great cliff, then in the bed of the stream among its flowering shrubs, then on one of the higher terraces where a mass of fallen columns lies in profuse confusion, not unlike the ruins of the Sicilian Selinunti, and gathered scraps and coloured effects of the whole scene from various points. And lastly at sunset I turned to draw the downward stream running to the dark jaws of the western cliff, all awful in deep shadow which threw a ghastly horror over their tomb-crowded sides, above which rose the jagged summit of Mount Hor against the clear golden sky. As the sun went down, the great eastern cliff became one solid wall of fiery-red stone, rose-coloured piles of cloud resting on it and on the higher hills beyond like a new poem-world betwixt earth and heaven. Purple and darkling the shadows lengthened among the overthrown buildings and over the orange, red, and chocolate rocks of the foreground, over the deep green shrubs and on the livid ashiness of the white watercourse. Silent and ghostly-terrible rose darker and darker the western cliffs and the heights of Aaron’s burial-place, till the dim pale lights fading away from the myriad crags around left this strange tomb-world to death-like quiet and the gray gloom of night. Slowly I went to my tent, happy that, even if I could carry little with me as a correct remembrance of this wonderful place, I had at least seen the valley and ruins of the rock-city of Edom.
It was as I was working at my last drawing by the river-bed that Abdel came to me from the tent, and pointing to one of the higher rock-and-ruin terraces, said mysteriously (with that disdain for grammatical precision in general and prepositions in particular which characterised his utterances), “He is seeing? in the Arab from his coming in the some ten?” And truly I saw ten black images squatted in a line immediately above the tents.
“Who are they, Abdel, and what do they want?” said I.
“He is of the Arab, and is for asking from the money.”
Alas! all along of those tell-tale little shepherd-boys, who saw our entrance and have alarmed their remoter friends, I perceive that the peace of this hollow Lotus-land is to suffer change. For although the council of ten behave themselves with a scrupulous and saluteful politeness almost affectionate, it is easy to see by their constant scrutiny of our tents that this is only a preliminary domiciliary visit. As the sun fell nine of the ten departed, leaving one grim savage, who sat on his hams apart. Abdel tells me that they insist on a separate gufr, or tax, beyond what I had agreed with Abou Daôuk to pay to the Haweitât, and say further that the head Sheikh of the Haweitât being away from these parts they (who are fellaheen from Dibdiba and other near villages on the hills) will not allow the Haweitât to have all the money; that in the morning fifty or sixty more fellaheen will come, and that we shall not go without paying something. To all which Abdel and the old Salah replied that the gufr is to be given to the Haweitât Sheikh, and that he will divide and dispose as he thinks proper; but as they go away threatening and murmuring, I begin to think that like many others I may have a good deal of trouble in getting the drawings I wish for, since, if surrounded by these gentry, quiet study is to me impossible. The one remaining coloured gentleman watches our movements after the catlike manner of these people, but as the evening draws on retires into one of the busi, as Giorgio calls the buchi or caves. Here he remains till satisfied we are fairly established for the night and have no intention of moving, and then he also flits. Abdel comes to my tent to say that the Haweitât are at a considerable distance from the valley, and that if before they come the fellaheen from the various surrounding villages take advantage of their delay and pour into the place, he fears I shall have small leisure for drawing. The Arabs declare that Giorgio is not a cook but a Howadji in disguise (as he is dressed like a Frank), that he likewise must pay a gufr, and they laugh at what they call such a bad trick to avoid paying them lawful tribute.
April 14th. ― A little after midnight we were suddenly awakened by a general alarm of shouts, and by the pleasant harmonious voices of many camels and men. We struck lights at once, and Abdel came to my tent saying, “He be coming more and more of the Arab, sir; he be quiet in for the morning from the sun when he be rising.” Salutations after the most correct conventional forms go on from every one arriving, and by the increasing noise the visitors seem numerous. I dress and await further events. The advent of these sons of the desert, brought about by the information of the two little goatherd imps, is by no means auspicious, robbery being ever the cause of these demonstrations towards luckless Howadji. Meanwhile they become tolerably silent, only from time to time calling on and being answered by fresh parties as they arrive; and they have lighted several fires, one close to my tent, possibly to ensure my not running away.
By four a.m. I had packed up everything inside my tent, in case of accidents, and step out on the grassy terrace. What a scene! Groups of nine or ten Arabs, in all upwards of one hundred in number, are around the tents; many are quarrelling among themselves at intervals; others watch every movement of Abdel, and are already asking for sugar, coffee, bread, &c. Abdel and Salah tell them that the gufr, or tribute-money, is to be divided fairly; that it is first to be given to the Haweitât, and that they will settle with the fellaheen. The fellaheen say no Haweitât are come or will come, and declare loudly that they will have the tax for visiting their territory now. Our party reply ― No; the money is to be given into the hands of the Haweitât by order of Abou Daôuk Sheikh of the Jehaleen, and we can do nothing till they arrive: a declaration we persist in, though an immense uproar ensues. Suddenly great shouts are heard, and a body of twenty Haweitât really appear, who announce that their Sheikh is on the way, and that no money is to be allotted till that personage reaches the tents, on which the more demonstrative fellaheen protest and appear inclined to attack the twenty Haweitât, but evidently are not sufficiently united to follow any concerted plan, for presently two sets of them fall upon each other, while the Haweitât dispose themselves to remain quiet spectators. I begin to feel convinced that studied drawing in Petra will prove most difficult or impossible, for unless the Haweitât Sheikh brings a very large body of men with him, the different sets of these rabble fellaheen cannot be controlled, and they assuredly have not come so far for nothing. It seems to me that the affair is a trial of strength or right between them and the Bedaween, and that the latter, if only present in small numbers, are likely to be the losers. I therefore order Giorgio to close and watch my tent while I try a visit to Ed Deir, the highest temple far up the ascent to Mount Hor, reserving to the last my chances for a drawing of the theatre and the entrance to the Sik, on the ground that by the time I return from Ed Deir the fortune of the day may perhaps be changed for the better by the arrival of a sufficient number of friendly Arabs.
So under the paternal care of black Feragh and two of the Haweitât, I set out before sunrise to the western cliffs. We crossed the river-bed, and were soon involved in intricate passages among oleander, tamarisk, and large blocks of pale lilac, red and raspberry-ice-coloured stone, up which the pathway led, often by great flights of stairs cut in the stone, often over vast smooth surfaces, through narrow crevices, below gigantic genii-walls and demon-palatial darknesses. Both Arabs threaded the magic staircase with a rapidity I could hardly keep up, brushing the wild fig, thrusting aside the tamarisk, and startling the hoopoe, rockdove and partridge, until the report of a gun below, the echoes of which circled and reverberated like thunder among the precipices, caused a sudden halt. The Black and Arabs listened attentively, supposing, I imagined, that some disturbance had commenced among the gentle villagers in the valley; a second shot succeeded, but no further sound, so we began to ascend again through the narrow ravine by a difficult labyrinth of rockladder and tangled shrub and creeper hanging from the sides of the striped gorge, till we came out on to a wider space, a wonderful wilderness of coloured crags and chasms, and all kinds of geological enormities. Here, ever looking about me, I suddenly saw something move over a cliff far above, and as suddenly disappear. I called to Feragh, and before I could fix his eyes in that direction, I saw the same movement twice more, a form bobbing up and down quickly. The three dark gentlemen held a rapid council together, which ended in the two Arabs disappearing in a chasm, and presently we saw them at intervals reappearing on the heights far above. Shortly afterwards two reports were heard with shouts and howls in proportion, and as I and the black climbed upwards, lo! a slain roe-deer fell toppling over from one of the tallest precipices at our feet. Down came the two Haweitât; to cut off the animal’s head and double up the body over their shoulders was a work of short time, and away and up we all rushed again in a savage triumphal scramble, over still vaster blocks of stone, now cut into a regular ascent of steps. The views from the heights above the Meteora monasteries in Thessaly, or in parts of Zagori in Albania, most nearly of all the landscapes I know resemble this astonishing scene, but they have not the surprising colours by which this is made all glorious and strange. At the finish of this bewildering climb is a platform of moderate extent, and on one of its sides is the temple or tomb called Ed Deir, ― solitary and striking, cut in the solid rock like the Khasme, but neither so beautiful in colour nor so attractive in situation, yet a fit crown to the marvels of the ascent. To me it seemed probably to be a temple, not only from its position on the platform at nearly the summit of the mountain, with the cut steps in the gorge leading up to it, but also from the echoes of sound so distinctly produced from the opposite rocks, a peculiarity not likely to have been over-looked by any priesthood aware of the influence of natural sounds and scenes over the mind. The whole spot had the air of an absolutely enchanted region, and can never be forgotten by whoever has penetrated so far.
As soon as we arrived here, the two Haweitât lit a fire, skinned the deer, cooked and ate the liver; but I interrupted their wild feast by the order to descend, as I did not know how much longer the ascent to the top of Mount Hor might occupy, and thought that if the Arabs in the valley below should molest me to the point of preventing much more study, I would rather get one view of the theatre and the Sik-chasm than any other, if only one. Moreover I had agreed with Abdel to be ready about ten o’clock to leave the valley altogether, if staying in it should become increasingly inconvenient. On regaining the ruined terraces above the stream in the valley, I was sorry to find nearly double the number of Arabs I had left there gathered round the tents, not fewer I suppose than two hundred in all.
Many of these fellaheen were quarrelling violently with each other, and all were more or less insolent except only the Haweitât, whose Sheikh or headman had now arrived with ten others of his tribe, he riding on a white horse and clad in scarlet robes, but evidently unable with his small party to control the numerous and disorderly rabble around. I felt that I must now decide on my plans, and I was of opinion that no firmness on my part (as in the case of Robinson) of refusing to pay anything except on condition of being left in quiet and with stipulations as to a certain time for drawing, could have availed me anything, since there was here no one person to be relied on as exercising authority over the crowd. Nor, if the comparatively small body of Haweitât were to leave the place or get worsted by any united attack of the fellaheen, was there any guarantee that our tents and baggage would have been sacred in the eyes of the latter worthies. I therefore gave orders that our tents should be struck and the camels loaded, greatly vexed at the necessity of shortening my stay, but glad to have secured yesterday’s drawings, and hoping that before these tasks were completed I should still have time to make a last drawing at the theatre.
My Jehaleen escort were not of the slightest use, and did nothing beyond begging me to leave the valley; old Salah alone persisting, in spite of increasing threats from the fellaheen, that he would only pay the gufr to the Haweitât, and Feragh busying himself with staving off on all sides the crowd of Arabs, who became more importunate and turbulent every minute, snatching at any object within their reach, and menacing the Jehaleen with their firearms.
Meanwhile the patient Suliot brought me some coffee, bread, and eggs, saying with his usual calmness that we had better eat a little, for it might be our last breakfast; and leaving him and Abdel to get all ready, I set off with Feragh and the two Haweitât to the theatre. When I turned to look back from the high ground leading to the Sik, no more picturesque scene could be imagined than that of the two tents surrounded by the agitated rabble in the midst of such singular and beautiful landscape, though the appearance of long lines of fresh straggling Arabs pressing towards the encampment by no means added to the pleasure I derived from the prospect.
I had not long to devote to my drawing from the upper part of the theatre; yet how vivid and enduring are the memories of that half hour! The pile of vast rocks before me was dark purple and awful in the shadows of the morning, and the perpendicular walls of the wild rent of the Sik were indescribably grand, closed almost at their roots, but reflecting bright sky and white clouds in the stream which burst through them amid thickets of oleander and broom and rushed onward below the semicircle of the ancient theatre cut in the living rock below me. After I had made my sketch, I still felt a longing to see the Khasmé once more; and though through the gorge of the Sik the ill-omened Arabs still continued to come in small parties, I again stood before the wonderful temple. Both Feragh and the two Haweitât, however, positively withheld me from entering the Sik, saying that many of the Dibdiba Arabs were still on their way downwards. So I contented myself with entering the chamber of the Khasmé, and wrote my name on its wall (the only place in which I can remember ever to have done so), feeling that if I should come by the worst in the impending affray, I might be thus far traced out of the land of the living. For a fray there was to be: great shouts had been heard for the last few minutes, and the Black became very anxious to get back to the eastern cliff, where he said the money was to be divided, and we should find the camels ready. As I returned down the stream, not unforeboding of mischief, loud and louder cries as from a great crowd echoed among the vast enchanted rock-world. I ascended the steep path leading to the tents, and saw thence our Jehaleen Sheikh’s camel near the largest cave at the north end of the east cliff; the cave seemed full of Arabs, and at least a hundred were round its mouth. Others were running to the same point, and as I came in sight of the encampment terrace, I saw that Abdel and Giorgio were coming towards me with the camels, surrounded by a throng of the savages vociferating and mobbing them in their slow progress. A camel, be the exigency what it may, never alters its pace; if anything, the wicked camel on this occasion walked rather less quickly than usual, now and then looking round with an ineffable camel-grin, which said as plain as words, “Don’t you wish you may get me to move on.” There are some narrow steps in the rocks which I wished to pass, but could not before the unlovely community were upon me; so I was compelled to stand still while they rushed by me singly to the number of one hundred and fifty or thereabouts, on their way to their brethren at the cave’s mouth. They were in a state of great excitement, and many yelled and threatened as they ran; a few pushed me or pulled my clothes, and one struck me in the face with one of my own hens, adding insult to injury. The last had gone on, when Abdel and Giorgio came up, and with them and the camels I proceeded to the entrance of the cave, where, said Abdel, “Salah is in the pay of the money from the Arab of the Jehaleen to the Haweitât, and they all fight for about it with another to the other.”
Not only in the cave or tomb and around its mouth was the assembly clustered, but on the paths leading out of the valley northward, intimating very meaningly that we were not as yet to depart. From time to time violent outcries burst from the cave, and the mob without appeared to get more and more excited. Every minute gave plainer proof that the horde of savages was quite disunited and uncontrolled by any authority. More cries from within, and forth rushed twenty or thirty to the camels, which they dragged away from the helpless Jehaleen, when in another moment a larger number fell on the first party, and were for the time masters. The confusion of the scene and the fury of the Arabs increased with every moment, and I expected instantly to see a wholesale dismantling of the imperturbable and lofty Hubblebubble and the wicked camel, whose groans and shrieks of indignation at being pulled this way and that resounded through the valley. All the while, too, parties of the most villainous-looking fellaheen pressed closer on us, and began to insult and annoy us by twitching and jostling. So dense was the crowd, and so impossible any movement of escape, that there was literally but one course left us, that of appearing as far as possible indifferent to the violence one could not resist. For, as Abdel afterwards said, “When it was one or two fire-temper younger in the striking or the shooting, so he all sudden dead.”
Presently a more supreme uproar arose at the cave’s mouth, and Abdel said that the money which we had brought for the pre-arranged ordinary gufr was awarded respectively by the Red Sheikh, but that the many-tribed crowds rejected the division; and immediately a large body of these odious Ishmaelites rushed out in a frenzy of fury with deafening cries, and hustled and dragged us from where we were waiting by the camels to the entrance of the cave. Even among these ruffians there seemed a divided mind, for while some pushed us on others endeavoured to hold us back, and with increasing menaces and ill-usage seemed anxious to proceed at once to a division of the spoil; a consummation only prevented by their want of union, each lot of thieves being fearful of the interference of all the others. The expression of intense rage in their disgusting faces as they put them close to mine, shrieking and howling out, “Hât! hât! ― give us dollars!” would have been a study for a painter had the circumstances permitted: and it was not easy to keep up the passive air so needful at a time when each moment was adding to our cause of irritation. The tranquil and dignified dodge was however beneficial to our interests; for when one of the younger brutes seized my beard, he was severely rebuked by an elder for this peculiar development of impropriety, though there was no abatement of ear-nipping and arm-pinching, and the Suliot had a hard task to follow my orders and be quiet. Another and a greater clamour now rose again from the great cave, and a fresh supply of savages joined in the tumult outside. A party still more violent than the last succeeded in appropriating us; and these, holding my arms and unbuttoning all my clothing, extracted in a twinkling everything from all my many pockets, from dollars and penknives to handkerchiefs and hard-boiled eggs; excepting only my pistols and watch. Whether they left me these as calculated to carry dissension among themselves from their being unable to divide them, whether from knowing that no one among them could conceal an object of such value, or because they were aware that the fire-arms would be useless to them without percussion-caps, or from thinking the watch an infernal machine, I cannot tell.
During this scramble, in which the Suliot underwent a similar ordeal, the hubbub and yells were incessant, but the great weight of their anger fell upon the unlucky Abdel. “We will kill your two Howadji, and not be cheated out of our money,” cried one. “I,” bellowed a second, “am the man who killed the dragoman two years ago so you had better give us all you have;” and in less time than I can write it, they had pinioned him (for, though a powerful man, more than twenty were attacking him), had torn off his turban and thrown him on the ground, when, amidst the horrid uproar, I determined to make a last effort to prevent bloodshed if possible. The first pistol-shot would have been the signal for our instant sacrifice, which I believed was probable enough, because the quarrelling among the wretches themselves was becoming so frantic, and the whole scene one of such uncontrollable lawlessness. I forced my way into the cave, by the very door of which all this was happening, threw myself on the Red Sheikh, who was re-dividing some of the money in the vain hope of appeasing the mob, and uniting to my small amount of Arabic a much larger persuasion by my hands, I pulled him up from his seat and to the door of the tomb, where Abdel was still struggling with his assailants. To these the Sheikh instantly proceeded to deal blows and immense abuse, saying at the same time to us: “You must pay twenty dollars at once to these men of Dibdiba or I can do nothing for you; after that I will help you on if I can.” Farther discussion would have been useless, so I ordered Abdel to pay the money, and immediately that particular body of aggressors wheeled off and left the field, howling and jumping like demoniacs.
The Red Haweitât Sheikh, ― who, to do him justice, had not seemed aware of the lengths to which the fellaheen were proceeding outside the cave now mounted his horse, and with several of his followers urged on the camels beyond the last of the caves, and towards the path leading upwards and northwards out of the valley of Petra. He was not, however, allowed to assist us in escaping without fresh bodies of fellaheen making efforts to prevent him, some of them rushing on him and trying to drag him off his horse; nor until he had struck one down with his spear and others had been more or less seriously knocked about, was he able to follow us. In a quarter of an hour we turned out of Wady Mousa; the Red Sheikh, who was evidently still anxious at the anger and numbers of the rabble, left us to return to the cave, saying he must needs go back to prevent further mischief. The Jehaleen escort silently crept after their camels, shorn, alas! of all smaller ornaments, pipes, sacks, and, worst of all, of the whole remains of the poultry except two; and the Desert-Ships themselves began to step forth with their usual measured gait, the wicked camel persevering now and then in stopping to look round with a ridiculously plaintive expression of vexation at leaving the green valley and the pure water.
But hardly were we out of sight of the cliffs, steadily going up the track north-west towards Wady Nemula, when lo! new shouts were heard, and more than thirty guns bristled and sparkled up the hillside. Headed by five of the most outrageous, and calling on us to stop or they would fire, on they came and surrounded us with their former violence, declaring that they had had no share of money from the Haweitât, and would by hook or crook have it from us. Resistance was absolutely useless now as before, and the only policy was to save the luggage by giving up more money; after a long parley, seven dollars sent off the savages and left us free once more. Again we moved on, but as we proceeded upwards we saw that the Arabs who left us encountered a smaller party below, and that a row ensued between them; the end of the struggle being that the path again bristled with arms, and a fresh knot of twenty brought us to a halt once more in another ten minutes. Four dollars sent back these horseleeches, and again we proceeded, again to be brought up by ten of the vermin, more enraged than any on account of their longer run, who did not quit us till the last two dollars we had were disbursed to ensure our liberty. Had the Jehaleen had any desire of slaying their Ishmaelite brethren, we might have been a match for this last set, but the sound of gunshots would have attracted the main mob below, and we were still in the heart of the Fellah villages. Three more of the thieves came up with us in another quarter of an hour, and it was Abdel’s policy to get them to accompany us as far as possible, until a few reluctantly-extorted coppers convinced them that nothing else was to be got. And thus we passed the last hill, looking back into Wady Mousa; a memorable spot to me for more than its wonders and beauties, as I believe that at one time it was extremely probable that our lives would have been taken, not from any premeditated design or love of blood, but in the blind rage of so many furious savages. All along it appeared to me that each odious pack of robbers declined to take on itself the responsibility of unloading and seizing all the goods, because that action would have been the signal for an instant general scramble in which they might have been beaten off by stronger ill-doers. It was the intent of each one to get what he could with the least show of offence to the rest.
The camels themselves could not perhaps have been appropriated without the theft provoking a war with the whole Jehaleen tribe. It was between ten and eleven when we really began to make some progress towards the pass of Nemula; but even yet the chances of pursuit seemed by no means over, and a single strong and united set of thieves might proceed to a far more summary process of highway robbery than had been ventured on by the divided factions below. As we slowly wound up the rising ground towards the pass by which we were to descend to the desert, a rabid old man came out of his field storming and yelling after us ― “Why were we there? what business had Abou Daôuk’s men or camels on their ground? why had not everything been taken from us? Hât! hât! hât! baksheesh instantly, or on his horse he would alarm the two villages close above, and we should be pursued and caught in the pass!” So we left old Salah to diplomatise, and went on by a wild upper gorge which at any other time would have held out temptations to a sketcher to linger, ― a wondrous wady with great detached, Meteora-like cliffs and rocks, full of eyes and holes like enormous petrified Gruyère cheeses, and further on breaking into wider and more closely-wooded depths equal in beauty to many a well-remembered scene in Greece. But to stay or to draw was out of the question; there was nothing for it but to continue the Hegira till we could encamp in the open plain beyond the marauders’ reach.
On arriving at the head of the pass the vast silent desert shone boundless to the western horizon, and it was hard to believe that the great pale expanse was not water, but sand. It was late in the afternoon before we accomplished the descent, which is very crabbed and crooked and difficult, not over a slippery bare surface of rock like that of the Nukb-es-Sufâa, but tortuous and twisted and steep and rock-walled, affording misery to camel and discomfort to man. Lower down the rocks are dark and greenish in colour, here and there reminding one of the passes near Antrodoco in the Abruzzi. Once only there was a cry of “Arabs!” (as if the whole party except myself and the Suliot were not of that charming race!) but the people we met were few and friendly wood-gatherers; and so we went down, down, down to the plain, and on and on till the promontories and capes of hill grew lower and lower, and by sunset we were fairly out on the broad ocean-desert. For more than two hours longer we continued to press on, and at length, quitting the track to Hebron, pitched the tents behind some sandy bluffs, according to Salah about two hours from the Ain Muwéribeh. Here we were glad to rest, after a day of no light fatigue; but even here, supposing some of the livelier fellaheen might pursue us, we remained on our guard all night, and only sleeping winkily prepared to start again long before dawn. But there was no pursuit nor alarm; these vermin rarely leave their dens.
“A Leaf from the Journal of a Landscape Painter,” Macmillan’s Magazine, LXXV (April 1897): 410-30.