« PreviousContinue »
corner of the house St. Paul occupied, just where he sat at table, and a number of such things. Then I noticed the drifting throngs outside, passing and repassing or idling drowsily, who did not seem to know that it was St. Paul's house, and paid no attention to it at all.
At the house of Ananias, which came next, Habib was slow in arriving, and the Horse-Doctor gave us a preliminary lecture.
“This,” he said, “is the house of Ananias, once fed by the ravens. Later, through being a trifle careless with the truth, he became the founder and charter member of a club which in the United States of America still bears his name. Still later he was struck by lightning for deceiving his mother-in-law, Saphira, who perished at the same time to furnish a Scripture example that the innocent must suffer with the guilty (see Deuteronomy xi. 16): This is the spot where Ananias fell. That stone marks the spot where his mother-in-law stood. The hole in the roof was made by the lightning when it came through. We will now pass on to the next-".
That was good enough gospel for our party if Habib had only let it alone. He came in just then and interrupted. He said:
“This is the house of Ananias-called St. Ananias, to distinguish him from a liar by the same name. That Ananias and his wife, Saphira, fell dead at the feet of St. Peter because of falsehood, a warning to those who trifle with the truth to-day. St. Ananias was a good man, who restored St. Paul's sight and instructed him in the Christian doctrine.”
We naturally avoided the Doctor for a time after that. His neighborhood seemed dangerous.
The house of Ananias is below ground, and was probably used as a hiding-place in a day when it was not safe for an active and busy Christian to be at large. Such periods have not been unusual in Damascus. St. Paul preached Christianity openly, but not for long; for the Jews “took counsel to kill him," and watched the gate to see that he did not get away.
“Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down the wall in a basket."
We drove to the outer wall, and came to the place and the window where Paul is said to have been let down. It might have happened there; the wall is Roman, and the window above it could have been there in St. Paul's day. I prefer to believe it is the real window, though I have reason to think they show another one sometimes.
Habib said we were to visit some of the handsome residences of Damascus. We were eager for that. From the Minaret of the Bride we had looked down upon those marble courts and gay façades, and had been fascinated. We drove back into the city, through narrow mud-walled streets, forbidding and not overclean. When these alleys had become so narrow and disheartening that we could travel only with discomfort, we stopped at a wretched entrance and were told to get out. Certainly this was never the portal to any respectable residence. But we were mistaken. The Damascus house is built from the inside out. It is mud and unseemly disrepute without, but it is fairyland within. Every pretentious house is built on the same plan, and has a marble court, with a fountain or pool, and some peach or apricot or orange trees. On one side of the court is the front of the house. It has a high entrance, and rooms to the right and to the left-rooms that have a raised floor at one end (that is where the rich rugs are) and very high ceilings—forty feet high, some of them
-decorated with elaborate designs. In the first house the round writhing rafters were exposed, and the decoration on them made them look exactly like snakes. The Apostle took one look and fled, and I confess I did not care for them much myself. The rest of the house was divided into rooms of many kinds, and there was running water, and a bath. We visited another house, different only in details. Some of the occupants were at home here — women-folks who seemed glad to see us, and showed us about eagerly. A tourist party from far-off America is a diversion to them, no doubt.
Then we went to still another house. We saw at once that it was a grander place than the two already visited, and we were simply bewildered at the abundance of the graven brass and inlaid furniture, rich rugs and general bric-à-brac, that filled a great reception-room. Suddenly servants in Turkish dress appeared with trays of liqueurs—two kinds, orange and violet—urging us to partake of the precious stuff, without stint. Also, there were trays of rare coffee and dainty sweetmeats, and we were invited to sit in the priceless chairs and to handle the wonderful things to our hearts' content. We were amazed,
stunned. Oriental hospitality could go no further. Then in some subtle manner — I don't remember how the information was conveyed, but it must have been delicately, Orientally done—we learned that all this brass, all these marvellous things, were for sale!
Did we buy them? Did we! David did not take more brass from Hadadezer than we carried out of that Damascus residence, which was simply an annex to a great brass and mosaic factory, as we discovered later. Perhaps those strange liqueurs got into our enthusiasm; certainly I have never seen our party so liberal—so little inclined to haggle and hammer down.
But the things themselves were worth while. The most beautiful brass in the world is made in Damascus, and it is made in that factory.
They took us in where the work was going on. I expected to see machinery. Nothing of the sortnot a single machine anywhere. Every stage of the work is performed by hand—done in the most primitive way, by workmen sitting on the ground, shaping some artistic form, or with a simple graving - tool working out an intricate design. Many of the workers were mere children-girls, most of them—some of them not over seven or eight years old, yet even these were producing work which would cause many an “arts and crafts” young lady in America to pale with envy. They get a few cents a day. The skilled workers, whose deft fingers and trained vision produce the exquisite silver inlay designs, get as much as a shilling. No wonder our people did not haggle. The things were cheap, and they knew it.