« PreviousContinue »
ahead of me. He scorns to bargain for such a trifle, and with such a merchant. He merely seizes the jar, says a guttural word or two in whatever tongue the man knows, flings him a paltry coin, and is back in the carriage, directing our course along the darkening, narrow way.
What a wonderful life the dark is bringing out! There, in front of that coffee-house, that row of men smoking nargileh-surely they are magicians, every one. “That silent group with shaven faces and snowy beards: who are they, Habib ?”
“Mongolians,” he says. “Pilgrims returning from Mecca. They live far over to the north of China, but still are followers of the Prophet.” The scope of Islamism is wide-oh yes, very wide, and increasing. That group gathered at the fountain their dress, their faces
“A copper water-jar, Habib! An old, old man is filling it-such a strange pattern”—
Habib is down instantly, and amid the crowd. Cautiously I follow. The old man is stooped, wrinkled, travel-worn. His robe and his turban are full of dust. He is listening to Habib and replying briefly.
Habib explains. The pilgrim is returning with it from. Mecca; it is very old; he cannot part with it. My heart sinks; every word adds value to the treasure. Habib tries again, while I touch the ancient, curiously wrought jar lovingly. The pilgrim draws away. He will hardly allow me even this comfort.
We return to the carriage sadly. The driver starts. Some one comes running behind, calling. Again we stop; a boy calls something to Habib.
“He will sell,” Habib laughs, “and why not? He demands a napoleon. Of course you will not give it!”
Oh, coward heart! I cannot, after that. I have the napoleon and the desire, but I cannot appear a fool before Habib.
“No, it is too much. Drive on.”
We dash forward; the East closes behind us; the opportunity is forever lost.
If one could only be brave at the instant! All my days shall I recall the group at the fountain: that bent, travel - stained pilgrim; that strangely fashioned water - pot which perhaps came down to him from patriarchal days. How many journeys to Mecca had it made; how many times had it moistened the parching lips of some way-worn pilgrim dragging across the burning sand; how many times had it furnished water for absolution before the prayer in the desert! And all this could have been mine. For a paltry napoleon I could have had the talisman for my own all the wonder of the East, its music, its mystery, its superstition; I could have fondled it and gazed on it and re-created each picture at a touch.
Oh, Habib, Habib, may the Prophet forgive you; for, alas, I never can!
At the station next morning a great horde of pilgrims were waiting for the train which would bear them to Beirut-Mongolians, many of them, who had been on the long, long, pilgrimage over land and sea. At Beirut, we were told, seven steamers were waiting to take them on the next stage of their homeward journey. What a weary way they had yet to travel!
They were all loaded down with baggage. They had their bundles, clothing, quilts, water - bottles : and I wandered about among them vainly hoping to find my pilgrim of the copper pot. Hopeless, indeed. There were pots in plenty, but they were all new or unsightly things.
All the pilgrims were old men, for the Moslem, like most of the rest of us, puts off his spiritual climax until he has acquired his material account. He has to, in fact; for, even going the poorest way and mainly afoot, a journey of ten or twelve thousand miles across mountain and desert, wilderness and wave cannot be made without substance.
We took a goodly number of them on our train. Freight-cars crowded with them were attached behind, and we crawled across the mountains with that cargo of holy men, who poured out at every other station and prostrated themselves, facing Mecca, to pray for our destruction. At least, I suppose they did that. I know they made a most imposing spectacle at their devotions, and the Moslem would hardly overlook an enemy in such easy praying distance.
However, we crossed the steeps, skirted the precipices safely enough, and by-and-by a blue harbor lay below, and in it, like a fair picture, the shiphome. We had been gone less than a week-it seemed a year.
WHERE PILGRIMS GATHER IN
AT some time last night we crossed over the spot A where the Lord stirred up a mighty tempest and a great fish to punish Jonah, and this morning at daybreak we were in the harbor of Jaffa, “the beautiful,” from which port Jonah sailed on that remarkable cruise.
We were not the only ones there. Two other great excursion steamers lay at anchor, the Arabic and the Moltke, their decks filled with our fellow-countrymen, and I think the several parties of ship-dwellers took more interest in looking at one another, and in comparing the appearance of their respective vessels, than in the rare vision of Jaffa aglow with morning. Three ship-loads at once! It seemed like a good deal of an invasion to land on these sacred shores. But then we remembered how many invasions had landed at Jaffa-how Alexander and Titus had been there before us, besides all the crusades—so a modest scourge like ours would hardly matter. As for that military butcher, Napoleon, who a little more than a century ago murdered his way through this inoffending land, he shot four thousand Turkish prisoners here on the Jaffa sands, after accepting their surrender under guarantee of protection. We promised ourselves that we would do nothing like that. We might destroy a pedler now and then, or a baksheesh fiend; but four thousand, even of that breed, would be too heavy a contract.
The Patriarch knew all about Jaffa. It is one of his special landmarks, being the chief seaport of the Phænicians, the one place they never really surrendered. A large share of the vast traffic that went in and out of Palestine in the old days went by Jaffa, and a great deal goes that way still. The cedarwood from Lebanon, used in Solomon's Temple, was brought by water to this port; the treasure and rich goods that went down to Jerusalem in the day of her ancient glory all came this way; her conquerors landed here. The blade and brand prepared for