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“I'm the hellfiredest fool in Syria. I walked four hundred miles to buy those things."
The Horse-Doctor regarded him thoughtfully.
“You always interest me,” he said. “I don't know whether it's your shape or your mental habitudes. Both are so peculiar.”
After which we left the Apostle—that is, we stood from under and went in to dinner.
The Apostle is a good traveller, however-all the Reprobates are. They take things as they find them, which cannot be said for all of our people. One wonders what some of them expected in Damascusprobably steamer fare and New York hotel accommodations. I judge this from their remarks.
As a matter of fact, we are at the best hotel in Damascus, and the hotel people are racking their bodies and risking their souls to give us the best they know. A traveller cannot get better than the besteven in heaven. Travelling alone in any strange land, he is more likely to get the worst. Yet the real traveller will make the best of what he finds, and do better when he finds he can. But these malcontents of ours have been pampered and spoiled by that steamer until they expect nothing short of perfection — their kind of perfection — wherever they set foot. They are so disturbed over the fact that the bill-offare is unusual and not adjusted to their tastes that they are not enjoying the sights, and want to clear out, forthwith. They have been in Damascus a little more than a day; they want to go now. This old race has stood it five thousand years or more. These ship-dwellers can't stand it two days without complaint. I don't want to be severe, but such travellers tire me. I suppose the bill-of-fare in heaven won't please them. I hope not, if I'm invited to remain there any length of time, I mean.
The rest of us are having great enjoyment. We like everything, and we eat most of it. There are any number of dried fruits and nuts and fine juicy oranges always on the table, strung down the centre — its full length. And even if the meats are a bit queer, they are by no means bad. We whoop up the bill-offare, and go through it forward and backward and diagonally, working from both ends toward the centre, and back again if we feel like it. We have fruit and nuts piled by our plates and on our plates all through the meal. We don't get tired of Damascus. We could stay here and start a famine. What will these grumblers do in heaven, where very likely there isn't a single dish they ever heard of before?
In the matter of wines, however, I am conservative. You see, Mohammed forbade the use of spirituous beverages by the faithful, and liquor forms no part of their long, symphonic rhyme. They don't drink it themselves; they only make it for visitors.
It would require no command of the Prophet to make me abstain from it. I have tried their vintage. I tried one brand called the “Wine of Ephesus.” The name conjured visions; so did the wine, but they were not the same visions. The name suggested banquets in marble halls, where gentlemen and ladies of the old days reclined on rich divans and were served by slaves on bended knee. The wine itselfthe taste of it, I mean-suggested a combination
of hard cider and kerosene, with a hurry call for the doctor.
I was coy about the wines of the East after that, but by-and-by I tried another brand—a different color with a different name. This time it was “Nectar of Heliopolis.” They had curious ideas of nectar in Heliopolis. Still, it was better than the Wine of Ephesus. Hair-oil is always better than kerosene in a mixture like that—but not much better. The flavor did not invite debauch.
This is Sunday (the Christian Sunday), and I have been out for an early morning walk. I took the trolley that starts near the hotel. I did not care for a trolley excursion, but I wanted to see what a Damascus trolley is like and where it went. It isn't like anything in particular, and it didn't go anywherenot while I was on it.
I noticed that it was divided into three sections, and I climbed into the front one. The conductor motioned to me, and I understood that I had made a wrong selection, somehow. A woman, veiled and bangled, climbed aboard just then, and I understood. I was in the women's section—a thing not allowed in Damascus. So I got back into the rear section, but that wouldn't do, either. The conductor was motioning again.
I comprehended at length. The rear compartment was second class. He wanted me to go in style. So I got into the middle compartment and gave him a tin medal, and got two or three similar ones in change, and sat there waiting for the procession to move. I waited a good while. There was an Arabic inscription on the back of the seats in front of me—in the place where, in America, it says, “Wait for the car to stop.” I suppose it says, “Wait for the car to start” in Damascus. We did that. The conductor dozed.
Now and then somebody climbed on, but the arrivals were infrequent. I wondered if we were waiting for a load. It would take a week to fill up, at that rate. I looked at my watch now and then. The others went to sleep. That is about the difference between the East and the West. The West counts the time; for the East it has no existence. Moments, hours, months mean nothing to the East. The word hurry is not of her language. She drives her horses fast, but merely for pleasure, not haste. She has constructed this trolley, but merely for style. It doesn't really serve any useful purpose.
We moved a little by-and-by, and I had hopes. They were premature. We crawled up in front of a coffee-house where a lot of turbans and fezzes were gathered outside, over tiny cups and hubble-bubble pipes; then we stopped. Our conductor and motorman got off and leaned against an almond-tree and began gossiping with friends. Finally coffee came out to them, and pipes, and they squatted down to smoke.
I finished my ride then; I shall always wonder where those other passengers thought they were going, and if they ever got there.
I followed down a narrow street, and came to a succession of tiny work-shops. It was then I discov
ered what a man's feet are for—that is, some uses I had not known before. They are to assist the hands in performing mechanical labor. All mechanics work barefooted here. They sit flat on the floor or ground, with their various appliances in front of them, and there is scarcely any operation in which the feet do not take part. I came to a turning-lathea whole row of turning-lathes—tiny, crude affairs, down on the ground, of course, driven back and forth with a bow and a string. The workman held the bow in one hand, while the other hand, assisted by the foot, guided the cutting tool. It would never occur to these workmen to put the lathe higher in the air and attach a treadle, leaving both hands free to guide the tool.
Their sawing is the crudest process imaginable. They have no trestles or even saw-bucks. They have only a slanting stick stuck in the ground, and against this, with their feet and one hand, they hold the piece to be sawed, while the other hand runs the earliest saw ever made—the kind Noah used when he built the Ark. Sometimes a sawyer has a helper-a boy who pushes and pulls as the saw runs back and forth.
I bought a Sunday-morning paper. It does not resemble the sixty-four-page New York Sunday dailies. It consists of four small pages, printed in wriggly animalculæ and other aquaria, and contains news four years old-or four hundred, it does not matter. Possibly it denounces the sultan-it is proper to do that just now—but I think not. That would be too current. I think it is still denouncing Constantine.