Narrative Of The United States Expedition To The River Jordan And The Dead Sea/9
FROM THE FALLS OF BUK’AH TO FOURTH CAMPING PLACE ON THE JORDAN.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 12, 1849. Went out at daybreak this morning to look at the whirlpool and rapids, above and below the camp. My ankle feeling sore, from a sprain yesterday, I returned for a horse, and rode nearly down to where the Yermak (ancient Hieromax) falls into the Jordan from the east, when I saw Sherîf coming rapidly towards me, on his spirited mare, and calling out, in an angry tone, to some Arabs, who, I now perceived, were approaching under cover of the bank. They turned back, and when he joined me he said nothing about them, but kept close by me the remainder of the ride. He ordered these people about as if he were a sovereign. During the ride, he was of great service in assisting me to gather flowers, of which there was a profusion; among them were the “bisbas,” a yellow, and the bughuk, a crimson flower. The last like the mullen, except that each flower grows on a separate stem, branching out at the top, some distance from the main stalk. It was seven feet high, a miniature tree in blossom. The banks were fringed with the laurestinus, the oleander, the willow, and the tamarisk; and farther inland, on the slope of the second terrace, grew a small species of oak and the cedar. The arbutus (strawberry tree) was mingled with the flowers of the plain. From the banks to the elevated ridges, on either side, the grass and the flowers presented a surface of luxuriance and beauty.
Picked up some specimens of quartz and trap. The chain of transverse hills through which the Jordan forces its way, is most probably that which separates the Ardh el Hamma from the vale of Jezrael.
The tribes through whose territories we had passed thus far, as given to me by ’Akil, were the Beshatewa, one hour above and below the bridge of Semakh, numbering two hundred fighting men; next, the ‘Obeidiyeh, on both sides, one hour back from the river, mustering five hundred; and the Es Sukr, in whose territories we were now encamped, numbering three hundred warriors.
About three hours from this, on an eminence, at the foot of which flows the Yermâk [Yarmuk], was Um Keis [Umm Qais (Arabic)] (the mother of ruins), the ancient Gadara. This place, restored by Pompey the Great, is said to contain magnificent ruins, in an extraordinary state of preservation. In its wonderful tombs, it is believed that the demoniac of the Gospel dwelt, when our Lord performed a miracle; and in its hot baths is laid the strange scene of incantation in the life of Iamblicus, where he is said to have called up the spirits of Eros and Anteros.
As the hot baths indicated the existence of volcanic characters, which might throw light upon the geological structure of that region, I gave Dr. Anderson an escort, and directed him to diverge from the line of march, visit Umm Qais, and rejoin us at the appointed place of rendezvous at night.
The trap continued on both sides, with occasional interruptions of limestone, sandstone, and conglomerate.
Lake Tiberias was but four hours distant, in a direct line; although we had been a day and a half on the river, so tortuous is its course, and so interrupted is its channel. Before starting this morning, I sent for the elder Sherîf and ’Akil, and told them, and desired them to repeat to the Emir, that we did not ask for, and would neither buy nor receive, protection: — that we were willing to pay for guides and provisions, and for all services rendered in descending the river, as well as for all damage we might occasion to weirs or mill-dams, — but for nothing more; and that the Emir and his guides would not be required beyond the limits of their territory. They said that we were perfectly right; but as the Emir had travelled to Tubariyeh to welcome us, and, with his people, had since been very useful, suggested that a present should be made to him. This was reasonable; and the Emir received anabaand a koofeeyah. Among other things, we had provided ourselves in Acre with articles of Arab wearing apparel for occasions like the present. In this country, it is usual to pay the followers of a sheikh for services in money; but to the sheikh himself, a present is made. With much other judicious advice, the Rev. Mr. Smith had in Beïrût cautioned me not to employ the Arabs of one tribe as guides through the territories of another.
The Uncle Sam foundered, notwithstanding all our exertions to keep her afloat. Built of wood, she was less elastic than our metallic boats, and the thumps upon the rocks which only indented the last, shattered her. Thus ended all our hopes of transporting the tents from place to place along the Dead Sea, and thereby protect the party from the dews of night. In every evil, however, there is an antidote, and we now had conclusive proof of the superior qualities of metallic boats for such service. Frame boats, constructed even in the strongest manner, would sooner or later have shared the fate of the Uncle Sam.
Having reconnoitred in the morning from where the boats lay to the Yermak, we went immediately after breakfast to endeavour to bring the former down. With a lofty hill, the terminus of a lateral range on each side, there was no possibility of conveying them round the falls, and we had, therefore, to shoot them. The current was too strong to use the grapnel.
At 10:15 A.M., cast off and shot down the first rapid, and stopped to examine more closely a desperate-looking cascade of eleven feet. In the middle of the channel was a shoot at an angle of about sixty degrees, with a bold, bluff, threatening rock at its foot, exactly in the passage. It would therefore be necessary to turn almost at a sharp angle in descending, to avoid being dashed to pieces. This rock was on the outer edge of the whirlpool, which, a caldron of foam, swept round and round in circling eddies. Yet below were two fierce rapids, each about 150 yards in length, with the points of black rocks peering above the white and agitated surface. Below them again, within a mile, were two other rapids — longer, but more shelving and less difficult.
Fortunately a large bush was growing upon the left bank, about five feet up, where the wash of the water from above had formed a kind of promontory. By swimming across some distance up the stream, one of the men carried over the end of a rope and made it fast around the roots of the bush. The great doubt was whether the hold of the roots would be sufficient to withstand the strain, but there was no alternative. In order not to risk the men, I employed some of the most vigorous Arabs in the camp to swim by the side of the boats, and guide them, if possible, clear of danger. Landing the men, therefore, and tracking the Fanny Mason up stream, we shot her across, and gathering in the slack of the rope, let her drop to the brink of the cascade, where she fairly trembled and bent in the fierce strength of the sweeping current. It was a moment of intense anxiety.
The sailors had now clambered along the banks and stood at intervals below, ready to assist us if thrown from the boat and swept towards them. One man, with me in the boat, stood by the line; a number of naked Arabs were upon the rocks and in the foaming water gesticulating wildly, their shouts mingling with the noise of the boisterous rapids, and their dusky forms contrasting strangely with the effervescing flood, and four on each side, in the water, were clinging to the boat, ready to guide her clear of the threatening rock if possible.
The Fanny Mason, in the meanwhile, swayed from side to side of the mad torrent, like a frightened steed, scaravan ing the line which held her. Watching the moment when her bows were brought in the right direction, I gave the signal to let go the rope. There was a rush, a plunge, an upward leap, and the rock was cleared, the pool was passed, and, half full of water, with breathless velocity, we were swept safely down the rapid. Such screaming and shouting! the Arabs seemed to exult more than ourselves. It was in seeming only, they were glad; but we were grateful. Two of the Arabs lost their hold and were carried far below us, but were rescued with a slight injury to one of them.
It was exactly twelve o’clock when we cleared the cascade. Mr. Aulick soon followed in the Fanny Skinner, and by his skill and coolness passed down in perfect safety.
Stopping sufficiently long to give the men and the Arabs who had assisted us some warm coffee, we started again at .45 P.M., and at one o’clock had completed the descent of the third rapid to-day. Hard work for all hands.
At 1:45, passed down the fourth fall and a shelving rapid of one third of a mile. Hauled over to the right bank, just above a shelving rapid, with a yet more ugly sheer at an abrupt angle, and waited for the Fanny Skinner. Sent for the arms, and gave directions for the caravan to proceed to Jîsr el Mejâmiá (bridge of place of meeting), about three miles distant by land, but much farther, and far more difficult, by the river. It was represented by our friends as the only place where the caravan and boats could meet that night, and where, in the opinion of Sherîf, yet greater difficulties awaited us.
Gathered some geological specimens, and afterwards, as our awnings, sails, &c., had been left in the camp to lighten the boats, and the sun was beginning to warm up, I took shelter under an oleander bush in full bloom. But its fragrance above (for the oleander is here fragrant) scarce compensated for the annoyance of the insects beneath it. Soon, from sheer fatigue, I fell asleep, and was awakened by the sun shining full upon me. We here saw some wire-grass for the first time. The water had a sweet taste.
At 2:30, the caravan passed about a mile off, a camel being detached towards us with our arms. When it came up, as all the arms had been packed away, I imprudently consented to let them be carried back to the caravan, taking out only a few weapons that were convenient. At 3:15, saw the caravan again, creeping along the crest of the high hills to the southward, in an extended and picturesque line. There is no road; — in other words, no camel or mule track.
At 3:50, the Fanny Skinner came down, and we descended the fourth rapid, rounding back from W.S.W. to S.E. by S. in a distance of ninety yards. 4 P.M., shot the equally circuitous but less difficult rapid below.
At 4:20, passed the mouth of the Yermak [Yarmouk; (Hieromax [Greek]), forty yards wide, with moderate current, its centre bearing E. 1/2 S. 4:22, passed an island twelve feet high, covered with grass and weeds. 4:48, a small island- river very rapid-abreast of this island was the most perilous part of our passage, owing to great velocity of current, about twelve miles an hour, and some sunken rocks, one of which we escaped by about two inches.
At 4:32, stopped to examine a bend of the river. 4:45, rounded the bend, a bold, precipitous cliff on the left, a flat peninsula on the right, covered with luxuriant grass and weeds — some resembling the cheat, and others the timothy. At 4:55, a very steep and tumultuous rapid. On hands and knees I climbed an almost perpendicular hill-side to examine for a passage. The hill-side and summit were thickly clothed with grass and flowers, which rendered it very slippery to climb.
The hill was about three hundred feet high, and the view from the summit wild and peculiar. The high alluvial terraces on each side were everywhere shaped by the action of the winter rains into a number of conical hills, some of them pyramidal and cuniform, presenting the appearance of a giant encampment, so perfectly tent-like were their shapes. This singular configuration extends southward as far as the eye can reach. At intervals I caught a glimpse of the river in its graceful meanderings, sometimes glittering like a spear-head through an opening in the foliage of its banks, and again, clasping some little island with its shining arms, or, far away, snapping with the fierceness and white foam of a torrent by some projecting point.
Fortunately there were some bushes on the right bank, which determined me to attempt the descent. Bearing the boats as far down as we could hold them against the current, we fastened the end of a rope to a bush and lowered them down to near its.end; then sheering in shore, fastened the rope to another bush, lowered away, and dropped through one of the most frightful rapids we had yet encountered. It was near sunset when both boats had accomplished the passage, and it became necessary in so wild a country to make every exertion to reach our friends, for we had but one carbine and three pistols with us.
After shooting two more slight rapids, we came, at 6:15, in sight of Jîsr el Mejâmiá, above which we landed on the right shore, and ascended the cliff to examine the fall and rapid immediately below.
A ruined khan crowned the crest of the hill, at the foot of which large masses of volcanic rock, or tufa, were lying about, as if shaken from the solid mass by the spasm of an earthquake. The khan had evidently been a solid structure and destroyed by some convulsion, so scattered were the thick and ponderous masses of masonry. The bridge gracefully spans the river at this point. It has one large and three smaller Saracenic arches below, and six smaller ones above them, four on the east and two on the west side. The river, deep, narrow, and impetuous; flows through the larger arch and immediately branches the left arm rushing down a nearly perpendicular fall of about eight feet, and scarce a boat’s length ahead encounters the bold rock of the eastern bank, which deflects it sharply to the right. The right branch, winding by an island in the centre, and spreading over a great space, is shallow and breaks over a number of rocks.
Above and below the bridge and in the bed of the river are huge blocks of trap and conglomerate; and almost immediately opposite is a great fissure exposing perpendicular layers of basalt, the structure distinct, black, and porous. Upon the left bank, which is about sixty feet above the river, a short distance up, were twenty or thirty black Bedouin tents, with a number of camels grazing around, — the men seated in groups — the women, the drudges of each tribe, passing to and fro, busied apparently in culinary preparations, and near them some children playing. We decided to try the right branch, for we dreaded these ugly leaps.
In some instances during the day the rapids had been perfect cataracts, down which the boats plunged with such velocity as to drive them over the rocks below, upon which they would otherwise have rested, from the shallowness of the water.
At 6:24, resumed the oars, shot through the main arch and down about two hundred yards of the descent to the right, when it becoming too dark, hauled to the bank and made fast for the night. Took everything out of the boats and proceeded with the crews to the camp, about a quarter of a mile below. Our main course had been S.S.W., but the river was very serpentine. We descended three very threatening and four less difficult rapids. The only tributary passed was the Yermak, coming in from the east, as wide and as deep nearly as the Jordan. The current was very rapid, averaging eight miles per hour.
Our tents were pitched upon a small promontory, commanding a fine view of the ruined khan and the bridge, with the river dashing and foaming through its arch. Directly in front, the river, filled with fragmentary rocks, is quite wide, and, separating into several channels, forms some small sedgy islands, where snipe were flitting about, and discordant frogs were croaking.
The bridge is on the road from Nabulus, through Beisan, to Damascus. The second place, now in ruins, was the Bethsean of the Bible and Scythopolis of the Greeks. Saul and his three sons, after the defeat of Mount Gilboa, threw themselves upon their swords, and their bodies were exposed from the walls of this town.
“Mejamia” means “place of meeting.” Can this be the place called by Jacob, “Mahanaim” (place of meeting), where the angels of God met him?
At noon to-day the thermometer stood at 90° in the shade. The elder Sherîf (who by way of distinction we call the Sherîf ) and ’Akil frequently visited us in our tent. The former was our counsellor, sagacious and prudent; the latter was the bold warrior and the admirable scout. On the march, it was said that he contrived to get a sight of the boats when no one else could. We never tired of the company of this graceful savage. Altogether, he was the most perfect specimen of manhood we had seen. Looking at his fine face, almost effeminate in its regularity of feature, who would imagine that he had been the stern leader of revolt, and that his laughing, careless eye had ever glanced from his stronghold on the hill upon the Pasha’s troops in the plain, meditating slaughter in their ranks and booty from the routed Turk; or searched the ravines and the hill-sides, the wady and the valley, for the lurking fellahin and their herds? That arm which, in its easy and graceful position, seemed almost nerveless, had wielded the scimitar with fatal strength; and he, seemingly so mild, had successfully led a small but desperate band against the authority of the sultan, and forced the governor of Acre to treat with him, and purchase the security of the district with a high office and the crimson pelisse of honour.
’Akil did not excel in physical qualities alone; his intelligence was far above mediocrity; and although a barbarian, he had much of the manners and feelings of a gentleman. Indeed, we had never seen manners more courtly, or an address more winning, than his. Sherîf was the Nestor, and ’Akil the Achilles, of our camp.
When ’Akil was this evening asked why he did not settle down on some of the fertile lands in his district, and no longer live on pillage, his reply was, “Would you have me disgrace myself, and till the ground like one of the fellahin?”
When I told him that many of our most eminent men were tillers of the ground, his smile was more of a contemptuous one than we had ever seen upon his handsome features. This genuine barbarian owned a small pistol, which he has been known to give loaded to his children for a play thing.
We were all fatigued, and retired early to our hard but welcome beds. The moon was almost at her full, and the same wild scene of Arabs’ tents, tethered horses, and watch-fires, with the strange, monotonous, song of the Bedouin bard, formed a repetition of last night’s romance. Early in the evening, Dr. Anderson returned.
- The following is an extract from Dr. Anderson’s notes of his visit to the ruins of Gadara:
“At 9:15 A.M., left to visit Um Keis. Trap exposed at the banks of the Jordan. Ascended the plain on the east side, in a south-easterly
direction at first. Crossed the Sheriat el Mandur, by a bridge in good preservation, called Jisr el Ahmar. The sides of the stream rocky
and water-worn trap, with basaltic fissures. Water running with rapid current. Occasionally cascades.
“10:15. Apparently in the middle of the great plain. The view down the Ghor is uninterrupted. Atmosphere very clear. Hermon seen
on right of the north end of the Ghor.
“10:50. Had crossed the great plain (terrace). The southern extremity of the Ghor bears S. 30° W. The shores of the Dead Sea faintly visible. The surface of the plain a brown, loamy soil. Vegetation very rank.
“11:02: Halfway up the bluff, on the east side of the Jordan, limestone and trap.
“11:15: On the plain, near the summit. View of Lake Tiberias and town.
“11:19: Saw on right of road two fallen columns, formed of a conglomerate rock.
“11:30. On right of Wady el ‘Arab, many Butm trees (Pistacia terebinthus).
“The guides brought me here, frequent specimens of esculent roots, having, the most of them, a not unpleasant taste. One of these is the root of a plant resembling the burdock, which they called rejateh. It tastes something like a young and very tender radish, without its pungency.
There is another, resembling this, called the harfish, tasting a little like the green stalks of young celery, but more juicy and less
“11:53. Fairly on the summit-plain, which extends horizontally for miles around. The rock is trap, the soil good. Our course was here, E. 15° N. Cultivated fields of barley.
“11:56: Um Keis in sight, east of us, a mile or more distant.
“12:10. The road runs east; then, 12:12, E.S.E. for seven minutes; then east again.
“12:20. A number of broken and fallen columns on the right of the road. Some of conglomerate, some of trap.
“ Before us, a descent of no great depth, and the ruins on the slope east of it.
“12:26: Um Keis. No inhabitants — no habitable buildings.
“The remains of Gadara occupy an eminence, with an inconsiderable valley on the west side, and a steeper and deeper one on the north. The ground southwardly inclines, with some undulations, towards the Wady el ‘Arab.
“ The descent on the north is determined by the Wddy el Yarmak. The ruins comprise a spacious area, covered with many broken columns, &c., a large theatre, a smaller inclosure, and a necropolis.
“The walls may be traced very distinctly on the west side of the great area, and less obviously on the east. The main part of the miscellaneous ruins lies north of the theatre. With some difficulty, I could refer the fragments to distinct buildings, and distinguish passages, which may have been determined by lanes or streets.
“The columns are principally of Hauran basalt, rudely sculptured, a few still standing on their original pedestals; some are of a calcareous conglomerate, brought from the neighbouring hills. Towards the N.E., I observed a few sarcophagi. The ruins here are so buried in weeds and brambles, that it is not easy to make them out.
“The theatre has the form of a half-oval, the longer semi-axis running nearly east and west, — opening on the west. The short diameter, or breadth of the edifice, measured inside of the inclosure, is about eighty feet; including the inclosure, about 120 feet.
“The long semi-diameter, reckoning from the rear of the seats to the middle, of the open part, is little short of the interior breadth. Fifteen steps, or seats, separated at the fifth by one much higher than the others, ascend from the arena to the platform of the including walls.
“At the upper edge of each step is a cornice of several inches in breadth. Every part of this building appears to have been constructed of the. Hauran basalt, which, though porous, is of a very firm texture. The seats are interrupted by five passages, converging towards the centre of the open space below. Beside these adits are the remains of two others, corresponding with the western base.
“Exterior to the seats are three concentric walls, furnishing a covered corridor of eighteen or twenty feet width within, and an outer opening occupied by staircases ascending to the upper gallery on a level with the hinder seats. The lower lobbies are arched, where necessary, with circular arches formed of large blocks. On the walls of these passages I observed frequently single letters of the Roman alphabet, with several stones marked with Arabic numerals, and not unfrequently stars, crosses, and other symbolic characters of different creeds and times.
“I was told that the warm springs were about an hour and a half distant, towards the N.E. The necessity of returning before night obliged me reluctantly to give up the idea of going to them. They have been described by Irby and Mangles, Seetzen and Buckingham.
“From the brow of the hill there is a fine view of nearly the entire lake of Tiberias, including the valley of the Hieromax in the foreground, and Mount Hermon in the distance.
“4:40 P.M. We descended into the Ghor by the path we had taken in going up; but, in crossing the plain, struck a course south of the morning track, towards a point where we expected to find the camp. The trap was again traceable in fragments, gradually diminishing in size until within a half hour’s ride of the Jordan. On the eastern cliff, south, if I remember, of the Wady el ‘Arab, I was shown the village of Sidum’ad, where a few fellahin, by the payment of an annual tribute, still maintained themselves against the encroachments of the nomad tribes. Along the higher hills, far inwardly, might be seen two or three clusters of black tents, belonging to the Bedouin of Es Seru. Down the Ghor, as far as the eye could reach, a forest of weeds and thistles draw from the teeming soil a sustenance that might have fed the half of Palestine. It was too plain that we had reached a land where property was a crime.
“6 P.M. The descent from the upper terrace of the Ghor to the present valley of the Jordan is here a gradual one. Very near the stream a more sudden change of level is apparent, but there was nothing to prevent our coming down to the bridge El Mejami’ah at a gallop. On both sides of the river the polygonal structure of the rock is very remarkable, and we passed for several hundred yards over the uncovered heads of enormous vertical prisms of columnar basalt. The upper surface was excessively rough and uneven.”
In the forenoon, the weather was warm; towards noon it clouded up and looked like rain, but in the evening, cleared away and was pleasant.
We are in the land of Issachar, that of Gad still opposite.
THURSDAY, APRIL 13, 1849. Hearing that Muhammed Pasha, military governor of the district of Nabulus, was encamped in the Valley of Esdraelon (Jezrael?), a short distance from Beisan, I sent Lieutenant Dale, this morning, to call upon him. I considered this a becoming mark of respect; for, except Said Bey, the Turkish officers have been very civil to us.
Although it threatened rain yesterday, this morning’s sky was cloudless. After much labour we succeeded in getting the boats down the rapids uninjured, except a few indentations in the bilge, and got on board the arms and instruments. At 9:30, started at the same time with the caravan. As we would to-day reach the utmost limits of cultivation, and approach the lower Ghor — a perfect desert, traversed by warlike tribes, — Sherîf warned me to be prepared. I therefore mounted the blunderbuss on the bows of the Fanny Mason. Formidable it must have looked, with its gaping mouth, pointed down stream, and threatening slugs and bullets to all opponents.
At 10:40, came to an ugly rapid, a long, thatched but on the right bank. Notwithstanding all our efforts, the Fanny Mason struck and broached to, broadside on, against the rocks beneath the surface, and was thrown upon her bilge, taking in a quantity of water. For some moments, I feared that she would go to pieces; but, all hands jumping overboard, her combined strength and buoyancy carried her safely over. On the first heights of the Ghor, to the eastward, is the village Sidum’ad; and the village Jum’ah, on the western bank.
At 9:40, passed the village of Kaukab el Hauma, visible to the west, on a lofty height, which presents trap-rock with fissures. 10:12, a rapid. At 11:02, we heard a small tributary falling in, from S.E. by E., but, owing to the thicket, could not see it. A village in sight on a hill far to S.E.
There are evidently two terraces to the Jordan, and through the lowest one, the river runs its labyrinthine course. From the stream, above the immediate banks, there is, on each side, a singular terrace of low hills, like truncated cones; the upper terrace of which I have spoken; which is but the bluff terminus of an extended table-land, reaching quite to the base of the mountains of Hauran on the east, and the high hills on the western side.
Their peculiarity of form is attributable, perhaps, to the washing of rain through a long series of years. The hill-sides presented the appearance of chalk, without the slightest vestige of vegetation, and were absolutely blinding, from the reverberated sunlight. At times we would be perfectly becalmed, the trees and bushes which lined the banks intercepting the light air that came down from the mountains; when, even at this early season, the heat would be intense; and the birds, ceasing to sing, hid themselves among the foliage, from which even the noise we made could not startle them.
There is nothing more vivid than the impression made by such scenes-the stillness of an untrodden wilderness, when “the slightest sound makes an onslaught upon silence,” — a silence rarely broken, except by the noise of the far-distant rapid, which comes upon the ear like the wind when it sweeps the dry leaves of autumn before it.
On one of these occasions, when the stream was shadowed by the graceful oleander, the low, drooping willow and the fern-like tamarisk, and a stillness audible prevailed, we were swept sharply round the base of a high barren bluff, towards the opposite shore, when it became necessary to pull out again into the channel. In so doing, the water-worn banks distinctly echoed the steady beat of the oars in the rullocks; but it was soon after lost in the hoarse murmur of the rapid we were approaching, which went surging over the shallows in its burly, blustering course.
At 11:20, passed an island about a quarter of a mile long, with many trees upon it. A singular gap in the mountains to the southward. Heretofore the course of the river had varied to every quarter of the compass, but to-day it preserved a more southerly direction. The prevailing growth upon the banks were the ghurrah (like the aspen), the turfa (tamarisk), sifsaf (willow), and difleh (oleander). The principal flowers had been the bisbas (yellow), and the baghuk (a crimson one).
At 11:25, Castle Kaukab (star), the Belvoir of the crusaders, bore W. by N. Soon after reached Zor el Basha, the territories of the tribe el Gaurineh (Emir Nassir’s), occupying two hours on the banks of the river, and numbering three hundred fighting men. 11:40, stopped to take observations for the latitude.
There were many wild pigeons flying about, some of them very large. At 12:09, started again; passed two successive but slight rapids, with many trees in the stream. 12:30, stopped to rest in a grove of tamarisk; the weather becoming warmer every day. We were changing our climate in a twofold manner, by descent and by progress southward. We found here the “derukma,” a pleasant tasted vegetable, with flat seeds growing at the extremities of the branches. The seeds are the parts eaten. We also found the ghumsilan, a root resembling a parsnip, of a pale-brown colour; it is not edible; and sufan, a dry, brown fungus, adhering to a tree.
2 P.M. Started again, the river becoming a serpentine course, all round the compass. A great many Arabs on the shore, who ran after us, shouting loudly. They were the subjects of the Emir. Some Arab women on a high hill to the left. The river thirty-five yards wide, six feet deep, gravelly bottom; current, five knots. 2:18, four Arabs in sight; current strong but nobstructed. 2:39, remarkably smooth but rapid descent. 2:41, river very serpentine, five feet deep; a beautiful strip of variegated sands and marls; passed a wady, or dry ravine, on the right. 2:46, course S.W. to W. by N., thick canes and thistles; water appeared to have fallen two feet within the last day or two; steady descent. 2:58, the land ahead worn into small mounds; we saw a beautiful land bird — brown body, white wings tipped with black, and a white ring round the neck, and at root of tail. Large rolled stones on the banks, alternating with clay and sand.
For the last hour, we had seen no rocks. A small rapid, the river running from left to right, across the valley. On the right, a round point with an Arab encampment upon it, the population in an uproar; men, women, and children shouting, and running down to the landing-place; passed a small island just below.
At 3:15, a long reach in the river; the first straight line we have seen in its entire course, thus far. Passed the territory of the tribe Es Sukr el Ghor, 500 fighting men. There were large ghurrah trees on each side. They are like the aspen, and are said to bear a juicy, sweet-flavoured fruit. There were many birds on shore, and several fish-hawk (hedda) flying about. At 6:10, a cluster of small islands; and at 6:30, a number of short turns in the river. Saw ’Akil, our tutelary genius, on the summit of a high bank. Brought-to for the night, and secured the boats. The banks were high and precipitous, but guarded in some measure from the erosive action of the swift current by the gnarled roots of the trees and the thicket growth along the bluff. Just above and below this spot, which was selected for our camping-ground, the river describes a series of frantic curvilinears, and returns in a contrary direction to its main course, thus forming a peninsula; and the isthmus, now rapidly wearing away on both sides, bids fair speedily to become an island. The boats were secured to the right bank, thirty feet below the summit. We have descended to-day three large and seven small rapids; general course, S. by E. We passed one small stream coming in from south-east, and four small islands. The river averaged forty-five yards width, four feet deep, and five knots current.
We were yet in Galilee, in the land of Issachar; opposite was Gilead, the land of Gad. The caravan started with us this morning, ’Akil and his scouts acting as guides. As far as the eye could reach, the plain extended before them; the course of the river distinctly distinguishable in some of its mazes and graceful sinuosities, and again hidden by some bold bluff or conical hill, at the base of which it turned abruptly, and left them in doubt whether it flowed north, east, south, or west.
They first passed some cultivated patches of wheat and barley, even at this early season looking ripe, and nearly ready for the harvest. Who would reap them? Not a human being was in the scope of vision; nor tent, nor hut, nor sight of human dwelling. There was no sound, save the rush of the river and the noise of the wind, as it swept over the nodding grain — a yellow sea! where light seemed chasing shadows as the breeze passed over. And yet, the hands that planted would come to reap them in the season, if not anticipated by the spoiler. The wheat and the barley would fall before the sickle, and the hands of the gleaner be busy in the steps of the reaper; the tents would be spread by the river-side, and the young and the old, the strong and the feeble, the youth and the young girl, would be abroad in those silent fields. And when the sheaves are bound with the wither, and the unmuzzled ox has trodden out the golden grain, or the threshing sledge has been trailed round the slippery croft, and the light wind has winnowed the up-tossed wheat, then, all their wealth close reaped and gleaned, once more, upon their waste, unsheltered fields, will settle silence and the desert heat. The first hour of their journey, which was through a most beautiful tract of alluvial, the country was entirely destitute of cultivation; nothing but a rank luxuriance of thistles and wild grass indicating the natural productiveness of the soil. The variety of thorns and thistles was remarkable.
Along the banks of the river ran a singular terrace of low hills, in shape like truncated cones, which extended quite to the base of the mountains.
From thistles and wild grass, they advanced into utter barrenness and desolation; the soil presenting the appearance of chalk, without the slightest vegetation. Around, and quite near, were large flocks of storks, walking with exceeding vanity, and in no manner alarmed or disconcerted; some even stood on one leg, in quiet contemplation of the unusual spectacle which the caravan presented.
At one time, they stopped to rest; and, seated in the wilderness, the fierce sun beat upon their heads, and glittered on the barrels of their guns, until they became painful to sight and touch. Not a tree, nor a shelter from the heat, in that vast plain! but up from the parched and blasted earth went streaming, like visible air, the waving, heated atmosphere; and the whole extent of land, to the deep-rooted hills in the purple distance, was quivering with the heat.
Starting afresh, a short ride brought them once more near the banks of the river, down to which they turned their horses. It was almost impossible to restrain the thirsty brutes. At the sight and sound of the flowing river, they dashed down the slope, plunged through the thicket, and, standing mid-leg in the stream, thrust in their heads to the very eyes, and drank till their whole frame shook with the action.
The day was considerably advanced when they came in sight of an encampment of black tents. Diverging from their line of march, they ascended the steep bank to an elevated plain, upon which the encampment stood. Several of the tribe came to meet them, bearing the tufted spear, which indicates the sheikh himself or some of his sons. Dismounting, they entered the tent pointed out to them, where mats were spread, and coffee and pipes in readiness, indicating an expectation of their arrival.
“Pot-bellied children,” with hair unkempt and streaming in a scalp-lock (the rest of the head close-shaven), naked as cherubim in a church picture, were rolling on the grass and performing other gambols peculiar to that tender age. Soon after, the old men and the Badawiyeh (female Bedouin), their palms and fingernails tinged with henna, and their cheeks and lips tattooed purple by the kholl powder, came forth to look upon and wonder at the Franks. Some of the young girls would have been pretty, were it not for the disfiguring tattoo, which gave the lips an appearance almost revolting, from its resemblance to the livid hue of death. Some of the young men of the tribe were cast in as soft and delicate a mould as manhood is susceptible of, without leaning to effeminacy. The brother of the Emir was a perfect Antinous, with Hyperian locks and Apollonian limbs, who, however, thought more of his personal beauty than became a brave, and the brother of a warlike sheikh.
The encampment consisted of some thirty or forty of those peculiarly constructed tents, made of coarse cloth of goats’ hair. They were supported by a row of poles in the centre (for they are not shaped like the ordinary tent), the sides slightly inclined and hauled out by ropes which are pinned to the ground. In shape they resemble somewhat an oblong shed, and are, generally speaking, miserable substitutes for a shelter or dwelling.
The little cup (for they had but one, apparently) having been artistically cleansed by the thumb of the attendant Ganymede, and presented to each in turn (the Franks, as guests, having the precedence), the coffee it contained being a concentrated essence of that luxury, pipes were offered, and then having, as usual, submitted to be stared at, and their arms handled about and inspected as if they were at muster, water was brought and poured upon their hands from a very equivocal water jar, after which followed the repast. A large wooden bowl of pilau (boiled rice, liberally larded with rancid butter) constituted this pastoral banquet; the enjoyment of which could not be attained through the medium of fork or spoon, but demanded a kind of scientific conversion of the hands and fingers into these civilized conveniences.
An hour’s ride thence brought them to the end of the plain, or tabular summit of the low range of sand-hills upon which the encampment they had visited was situated. Here descending the precipitous hill to the plain or terrace below, they came once more upon the banks of the Jordan.
Numerous black tents occupied the green and richly cultivated plain, or were scattered here and there, close to the river bluff, half hidden by the pale green willow and the deeper shadow of the tamarisk. Here they pitched the tents and waited for the boats — the whole population crowding round them in speechless admiration of all that transpired.
Camp E. by N. from Beisan, which was two hours distant.
With the interpreter, Mr. Ameuny, and the Arab escort, Lieut. Dale had started at an early hour to call upon Muhammed Pasha. The banks of the Jordan, he reports, are divided into two regular steps or terraces, one on each side, before reaching the mountains: 1st, a flat through which the river winds, and 2d, an elevated plain. After passing a deep ravine, he came upon the Emir’s wheat fields, which covered the sloping plain to Beisan; the soil a rich marl.
Following the wady (ravine) towards Beisan, he came to quite a large stream, issuing directly from the base of a hill, with a solitary palm-tree near it; the first tree of any kind he saw on the elevated plain. The flat, however, was covered with trees. This spring forms an oasis, and is called Ain és Sauda, the black spring.
Instead of passing through the ruins of Beisan, he went north, about a mile distant from them. He then came in sight of a magnificent valley, filled with the Pasha’s tents, and a thousand horses, all picketed out to graze.
Muhammed Pasha, a fat Osmanlie, received him frankly and kindly. He said he was about to move his command (one thousand Turkish cavalry), for the purpose of chastising a band of bad Arabs to the southward, but had delayed his march on our account, for fear of exasperating them to some attack upon us. He gave him coffee, pipes, and oranges, and insisted upon sending ten horsemen to accompany the expedition through the dangerous territory.
It was a magnificent sight, the camp and war-horses spread over this beautiful plain of Jezrael, a branch of Esdraelon.
After a long talk about European affairs, is which the interpreter endeavoured, quite in vain, to explain to him the beauties of republicanism, Lieut. Dale took his departure, and rode through the ancient city of Scythopolis, or Beisan. There were acres of building-stone, old walls, a theatre, &c., in good preservation. A few columns still stood in the valleys. Most of the present buildings appeared to be Saracenic, mills and khans.
On the summit was a large fortress-looking building, the court now converted into a cow-yard by the Arabs, who have formed a village round it. He then descended to the plains, passing through two or three collections of black tents, the possessions of the Emir Nassir.
I regretted that the Pasha had sent the horsemen, for their presence would tend more, perhaps, to endanger than to aid us; but, as it was meant in kindness, it would have seemed rude to send them immediately back, particularly as the march of the Turkish detachment had been delayed on our account. But the presence of the horsemen increased my anxiety: the sight of them might exasperate the Arabs, and I had no faith in their courage or fidelity.
The Emir insisted upon our dining with him this evening, and would take no denial. It was decided that a part should go, and a part remain to guard the camp. At 6, the former set out to partake of the wild Arab’s hospitality in his black tent. These tents, as I have said, are nothing but strips of black cloth, made of goats’ hair, put up hut-fashion, and opening in front. This cloth is coarse and porous, but is said to swell when wet, and thus become impervious to the rain.
When we arrived at their encampment, an Arab woman screamed out and wept bitterly at the sight of ’Akil. In him she recognised the murderer of her husband, in a foray the previous year. If ’Akil felt remorse, as he certainly must have done, he possessed too much stoicism of the savage to let it become apparent.
Great was the Emir’s delight at our visit, and more particularly at the honour of receiving a lineal descendant of the Prophet in his tent. He exhibited his flocks of sheep, his cows (the first we had seen on the Jordan), his goats, his camels, and little dirty objects which he called his children. There was the children’s pet, a beautiful young camel, three months old, white as drifted snow, with hair soft and fleece-like as wool.
At sunset, a young man wearing a white turban, probably a mullah (or teacher), spread his sheep-skin jacket upon the ground, and stood up and called the faithful to prayer. The Sherîf and four others formed a line behind the mullah, who led the recitations. While going through their prostrations, like a file of soldiers, the others were talking as usual.
To add to the scene, the file of horsemen sent by the Pasha, on their way to our camp, arrived in time to partake of our dinner, just then brought in. It consisted of an enormous wooden bowl, filled with a stew of mutton and rice for the Arabs, and a smaller one for ourselves. The sheep had been killed and dressed immediately in front of the tent. All ate with their hands, — the Arabs gathering up small balls of unctuous rice, and fairly cramming it into their mouths. The ogre prince was the most voracious of all, and, instead of Guzzawy, should be called Guzzle-away. Hungry as we were, it was impossible to eat; for, although a separate bowl was placed before us, we had seen the poor sheep killed, and had misgivings of the cleanliness of the cook. The most we could do, was to affect to eat.
It was a wild sight after dark, to see groups of these ragged Ghuarineh seated, in front of the encampment, around a blazing fire.
It was a soft, clear night, and the dew fell heavily in the mid-watch; and the bulbul sang a low, plaintive song in the myrtle thicket, and the sentinels walked to and fro upon the bank, which was wearing away beneath them.
Drop the crumbling banks forever;
Like echoes to a distant thunder,
“Some gentle thing has heard their tread,” for there was the sound of wings, and a quick, shrill cry, growing fainter and fainter in the distance. This sweet hour of romance was broken in upon by the most appalling sounds: “To arms! to arms!” What is it? Dr. Anderson’s horse has made a foray upon his unsuspicious enemies.