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solitary tent or small encampment whose occupants were unknown to our leader, and suspected to be enemies of his tribe. We were then told to muffle up our faces, drive our dromedaries quickly up to the tent door and dismount. We were thus safe. Arab law made the master of the tent responsible for our lives and our entertainment. On such occasions not a word was spoken till we were seated within the tent; and not a question was ever asked, during the whole time we remained, as to who we were, whence we had come, or whither we were going. A similar trait of the Scottish Highlanders is beautifully illustrated by Scott in the “ Lady of the Lake :"
"Meet welcome to her guest she made,
And every courteous rite was paid
It was, doubtless, such hospitality that Job boasted of when he said : “The stranger did not lodge in the street; I opened my doors to the traveller."
It was, as I said, the fifth morning of our journey. We were up before the dawn, and the first gray streak of the new day was just visible along the eastern horizon as we mounted our dromedaries and rode off. The camp where we had spent the night lay in a broad valley, shut in on the north and south by steep ranges of naked limestone, but opening on the east, at the distance of a few miles, to a boundless plain. Our leader went straight to the northern ridge. Up it we scrambled, by a track so steep, so rugged, and in places so narrow, that I often feared the dromedaries would topple over and dash us to pieces on the rocks far below. From the summit we had a commanding view. In front a broad plain, bare and gray, bounded on the north by a line of rocky mountains almost perfectly white. Behind us another plain, green with the grass of spring, and thickly studded with the black tents of Bedawîn.
We now turned eastward and descended diagonally into a plain so barren and desolate that we had never seen anything like it before. Its whole surface was covered with small fragments of white limestone, mixed with pieces of dark-coloured flint. The sky was still, as it had been for three days, without a cloud; and the sunbeams fell on that parched desert like streams of liquid fire. The skin of our faces and lips shrivelled and cracked with the heat; our eyes could with difficulty endure the intense glare; and, like Jacob,“ the drought consumed us,” for the water was exhausted in our bottles. On we pressed with sweeping step and ship-like motion, in perfect silence, our very dromedaries appearing to feel that this was a region to be traversed with all possible despatch.
Suddenly, on emerging from a little glen, a scene of rare beauty burst upon our view, taking us completely by surprise. A lake appeared in front, its margin fringed with shrubs and tall reeds; here and there an islet varied its surface, covered with dwarf palms, whose graceful feathery branches bent down to the glassy waters. Away along its further shore sped a solitary Arab on a dromedary ;--now marching double, the man and the shadow; now raising the glittering spray as the animal's feet dipped lightly in the margin of the lake. It was a fairy scene, looking all the more enchanting from contrast with the utter barrenness of the surrounding plain.
Again we dipped into a glen that crossed our path. We pressed up the further side; we looked all round. The lake was gone! It was the mirage! The solitary Arab on his fleet dromedary swept past us; and so great was our surprise that we were prepared to see him vanish too.
Swiftly and cautiously the sheikh led us along the base of the mountains, which rose up far overhead, here in long, gravelly slopes, and there in frowning precipices capped by great masses of projecting rock, which seemed as if an infant's touch would hurl them down upon our heads. We surmounted a rocky spur and the sheikh paused. “Look !” he exclaimed, pointing to a narrow opening in the low line of hills which crossed the plain in front. We saw a castle crowning a conical peak; we saw tall slender
It was a
towers on the slopes, and in the bottom of the pass below. * That is Tadmor. Yallah !”
But the next moment two wild Arab horsemen reined up their panting steeds within pistol shot. They spoke not a word. They gave not a sign. One of them, after taking a rapid glance at our party, wheeled his horse and went off at full gallop across the plain. The other remained, motionless as a statue, leaning upon his long lance. Our chief was silent. He seemed almost paralyzed. His dromedary wandered about at will cropping the dry weeds. Something was wrong, we knew not well what. We were not left long in suspense. A cloud of dust appeared approaching us across the plain. It opened, and we saw a troop of some forty or fifty horsemen charging us at full speed. The next moment a score of glittering lances were brandished fiercely round our heads. Resistance would have been worse than useless. We were prisoners.
We were led off across the plain for some two miles, and we then met the whole tribe of our captors on the march. strangely interesting sight. Far as the eye could see, the plain was covered with countless droves of camels, and flocks of sheep, and horsemen, and dromedaries laden with tents and all manner of furniture and utensils. The sheikh, who happened to have my animal by the halter, stuck his spear in the ground and dismounted. It was the signal for encamping. In a moment the tents were on the ground, and hundreds of women wielding the heavy mallets with which they drive in the large iron tent-pins. This is always their work, and they do it with singular dexterity. Looking at them, I could not but remember Jael : “ She put her hand to the tent-pin (the Hebrew word translated 'nail' is the very same as the Arabic name for ‘tent-pin'), her right hand to the hammer of the workers; she hammered Sisera and smote his head, she beat and pierced his temples.”
We had other illustrations of the same tragic story when the tents were pitched. We were thirsty, and they brought us milk fresh from the camel. Then they set before us a huge metal dish of leben (“ sour curds "):, “Blessed above women shall Jael the
wife of Heber the Kenite be; blessed shall she be above women in the tent. Water he asked, milk she gave him. In a lordly dish she set curds before him.”
At first our prospects in our desert prison looked gloomy enough. A large ransom was demanded. Uncomfortable threats were thrown out when we curtly refused it. Gradually, however, our hopes brightened, and by noon the next day all was so satisfactorily arranged that our captors escorted us in grand style to Tadmor.
The first view of that classic city was strange and impressive, far beyond all our anticipations. We reached the pass through the low eastern ridge; we began the ascent of a rising ground that forms the crown of the pass. So far we saw nothing except the old castle overhead on the left, and a few tower-like tombs on the hill-sides. The crest was gained at last, and then the whole site of the city burst upon our view !
Immediately before us lay a white plain, some three or four miles in circuit, entirely covered, and in many places heaped up, with ruins. Through the centre ran a Corinthian colonnade. Away beyond it, on the east, rose the great Temple of the Sun, itself almost a city for magnitude. To the right and left, in endless variety, were scattered groups of columns, and single monumental pillars; while everywhere the ground was thickly strewn with broken shafts and great shapeless piles of ruins—all white and glistening in the bright sunlight. Such a sight no eye ever saw elsewhere.
- Temples, palaces, a wondrous dream, That passes not away, for many a league Illumine yet the desert."
All, too, was desolate. Like bleached bones on a long neglected battle-field those ruins lie, lonely and forsaken.
On the southern side of the city a tiny stream flows from a chasm in the mountain side, and winds eastward fringed with grass and tender foliage, until it ends in a circlet of gardens the
brilliant verdure of whose orchards and palm-groves contrasts beautifully with the intense whiteness of the ruins and of the boundless plain beyond. Palmyra was a double oasis in the desert—an oasis of nature and of art, of physical richness and of architectural splendour.
The walls of Palmyra are now in ruins. In some places it is with difficulty one can even trace their foundations. Not a building within the city remains standing. A strong castle, situated on the summit of a steep conical peak, a short distance from the city, is also in ruins. On a calm bright evening during my stay I clambered up the hill, scaled the shattered battlements, and took my seat on the top of its highest tower. I can never forget that view. It is photographed on my memory in all its vast extent, in all its wild grandeur, in all its strange and terrible desolation. Westward, my eye roamed far away, through the long vista of a bare, white valley, to where the sun's last rays gilt the snow-capped summits of Lebanon. On the north and south were mountain ranges, which, though naked and barren, now exhibited a richness and delicacy of colouring never seen in the West. It was not that of green turf, nor of brown heath, nor of mottled and variegated foliage, nor of transparent blue tinted by the air of heaven. It was different from all these. The highest peaks and crags were tipped as with burnished gold. Beneath was a clear, silvery gray; which was shaded gradually into a deep, rich purple, in the glens and valleys. These soft and strange tints gave the mountains a dreamy, ethereal look, such as one sees on some of the wondrous pictures of Turner. On the east, a glowing horizon swept round a semicircle of unbroken, snow-white plain. At my feet, in the centre of all, lay the ruins of the desert city, magnificent even in their utter desolation.
Solomon “built Tadmor in the wilderness.” The question has been frequently asked, Why did Solomon build a city in the midst of the desert, so far distant from his own kingdom ? . The answer is easy to any one who knows the history of the period and the