Page images
PDF
EPUB

cursionists climbing the steep path to Palestine on their sorry nags.

It is warm in Syria, even now, but we were not too warm, riding; besides, we were going steadily uphill, and by-and-by somebody pointed out a white streak along the mountain-top, and it was snow. Then, after a long time, we got to a place where the vegetation was very scanty and there were no more terraced hills, but only barren peaks and sand, where the wind blew cold and colder, and presently the snow lay right along our way. We had reached the highest point then-five thousand feet above the sea. In five hours we had come thirty-six miles—thirty-five in length and one straight up in the air. Somebody said:

“Look, there is Mount Hermon!”

And, sure enough, away to the south, though nigh upon us it seemed-so close that one might put out his hand and touch it, almost-there rose a stately, snow-clad elevation which, once seen, dominated the barren landscape. It was so pure white against the blue—so impressive in its massive dignity—the eye followed it across every vista, longed for it when immediate peaks rose between, welcomed it when time after time it rose grandly into view.

With an altitude of between nine and ten thousand feet, Mount Hermon is the highest mountain in Syria, I believe-certainly the most important. The Bible is full of it. The Amorites and the Hivites, and most of the other tribes that Joshua buried or persuaded to go away, had their lands under Mount Hermon (all of them in sight of it), and that grand old hill looked down on Joshua's slaughter of men and women

and little children, and perhaps thought it a puny performance to be undertaken in the name, and by the direction, of God.

Joshua established Mount Hermon as the northern boundary of Palestine, and from whatever point the Israelite turned his face northward, he saw its white summit against the blue. It became symbolic of grandeur, stability, purity, and peace. It was to one of its three peaks that Christ came when, with Peter, James, and John, He withdrew to “an high mountain apart” for the Transfiguration. So it became sanctified as a sort of holy judgment-seat.

Down the Lebanon slope and across the valley to Reyak, a Syrian village in the sand, at the foot of the Anti-Lebanon range. Reyak is the parting of the ways — the railways — that lead to Damascus and Baalbec, and there is a lunch-room there—a good one by Turkish standards. It was our first complete introduction to Turkish food—that is a diet of nuts, dates, oranges, and curious meat and vegetable preparations

—and I ate a good deal for a dying man. Then I went outside to look at the population, and wonder what these people, who scratch a living out of the sand and stone barrens, would do in a fertile country like America. They would consider it heaven, I thought.

At the end of the station sat a drowsy, stoutish man in semi-European dress, holding a few pairs of coarse home-knit socks, evidently for sale. I stopped and talked to him. He spoke English very well, and when he told me his story I marvelled.

One tradition places the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, but Tabor is fifty miles away whereas Cesarea Philippi, to which the little group descended, lies at the foot of Hermon.

He had been in America; in Brooklyn; had carried on business there—something in Syrian merchandise—and had done very well. He had married there

-a Syrian woman; his children were born thereAmericans. Then one day he had sold out and brought them all to this flat-topped mud village in the Syrian sand. Why had he done it? Well, he could hardly tell; he had wanted to see Syria again-he could think of no other reason. No, his wife did not like it, nor the children-not at all.

He pointed out his mud hut a little way from the station, and I could not blame them. He would go back some day-yes, certainly. Meantime, his wife is earning money for the trip by knitting the coarse socks which he sells around the station at Reyak at a few piastres a pair.

Our train was about ready to start for Baalbec, and I was lingering over a little collection of relics which a blind pedler offered, when I felt a hand on my shoulder and heard' my name called. I turned and was face to face with the artist Jules Gurin, of New York. I had known nothing of his presence in Syria, he had known nothing of our coming. He was going in one direction, I in another. In this remote waste our lines had crossed. He was so glad to see me—he thought I had a supply of cigars. I never saw a man's enthusiasm die so suddenly as his did when I told him how I had been sick that morning and forgotten them.

Altogether that was a curious half hour. Reyak is the most uninteresting place in Syria, but I shall always remember it.

XXIV

THE HOUSE THAT CAIN BUILT

JT was well along in the afternoon when we reached I Baalbec, and drove through a cloud of dust to a hotel which stands in a mud village near the ruins. Long before we arrived we could make out massive remnants of what was once a wonder of the world, and remains no less so to-day. We could distinguish sections of the vast wall, and, towering high above them, the six columns of the Temple of the Sun.

I knew those six columns. I had carried a picture of them in my mind ever since that winter so long ago when the old first edition of the New Pilgrim's Progress became familiar in our household. I know they were seventy-five feet high and eight feet through, and had blocks of stone on the top of them as big as our old-fashioned parlor at home; also, that they were probably erected by giants. Those items had made an impression that had lasted. Now, here they were, outlined against the sky, in full view and perfectly familiar, but never in the world could they be as big as the book said. Why, these were as slender and graceful as fairy architecture! I recalled that there were some big stones to see, stones laid by Cain and his giants when the world was new. Perhaps they would not be so very big, after all. I had a feeling that we ought to hurry.

We did hurry-Laura and I. We did not wait for the party, but set out straight for the ruins, through narrow streets and byways, with beggars at our heels. By-and-by we came to a rushing brook, and just beyond it were the temple walls.

I remembered now. There had been a wonderful garden outside the temples in the old days, and this stream had made it richly verdant and beautiful. There was no garden any more. Only some grass and bushes, such as will gather about an oasis.

They would not let us into the temple enclosure until our party came, so we wandered around the outer walls and gazed up at cornices and capitals and entablatures as beautiful, we thought, as any we had seen at Athens. Then the party arrived, and there was a gatekeeper to let us in.

It would take a man in perfect health to carry away even an approximate impression of Baalbec. Trying to remember now, I seem to have spent the afternoon in some amazing delirium of tumbling walls and ruined colonnades; of heaped and piled fragments; of scarred and defaced sculpture; of Titanic masonry flung about by the fury of angry gods. Athens had been a mellowed and hallowed dream of the past; Ephesus a vast suggestion of ancient greatness buried and overgrown; Baalbec was a wild agony of destruction and desecration crying out to the sky.

It is a colossal object-lesson in what religions can do when they try. Nobody really knows who began to build temples here, but from the time of Adam Baalbec became a place of altars. Before history began it was already a splendid Syrian city, associated

« PreviousContinue »