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    Chapter 44

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    Chapter 45
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    The next day was an outrage upon men and horses both. It was another
    thirteen-hour stretch (including an hour's "nooning.") It was over the
    barrenest chalk-hills and through the baldest canons that even Syria can
    show. The heat quivered in the air every where. In the canons we almost
    smothered in the baking atmosphere. On high ground, the reflection from
    the chalk-hills was blinding. It was cruel to urge the crippled horses,
    but it had to be done in order to make Damascus Saturday night. We saw
    ancient tombs and temples of fanciful architecture carved out of the
    solid rock high up in the face of precipices above our heads, but we had
    neither time nor strength to climb up there and examine them. The terse
    language of my note-book will answer for the rest of this day's
    experiences:

    "Broke camp at 7 A.M., and made a ghastly trip through the Zeb Dana
    valley and the rough mountains--horses limping and that Arab
    screech-owl that does most of the singing and carries the
    water-skins, always a thousand miles ahead, of course, and no water
    to drink--will he never die? Beautiful stream in a chasm, lined
    thick with pomegranate, fig, olive and quince orchards, and nooned
    an hour at the celebrated Baalam's Ass Fountain of Figia, second in
    size in Syria, and the coldest water out of Siberia--guide-books do
    not say Baalam's ass ever drank there--somebody been imposing on
    the pilgrims, may be. Bathed in it--Jack and I. Only a
    second--ice-water. It is the principal source of the Abana river
    --only one-half mile down to where it joins. Beautiful
    place--giant trees all around--so shady and cool, if one could keep
    awake--vast stream gushes straight out from under the mountain in a
    torrent. Over it is a very ancient ruin, with no known history
    --supposed to have been for the worship of the deity of the fountain
    or Baalam's ass or somebody. Wretched nest of human vermin about
    the fountain--rags, dirt, sunken cheeks, pallor of sickness, sores,
    projecting bones, dull, aching misery in their eyes and ravenous
    hunger speaking from every eloquent fibre and muscle from head to
    foot. How they sprang upon a bone, how they crunched the bread we
    gave them! Such as these to swarm about one and watch every bite
    he takes, with greedy looks, and swallow unconsciously every time
    he swallows, as if they half fancied the precious morsel went down
    their own throats--hurry up the caravan!--I never shall enjoy a
    meal in this distressful country. To think of eating three times
    every day under such circumstances for three weeks yet--it is worse
    punishment than riding all day in the sun. There are sixteen
    starving babies from one to six years old in the party, and their
    legs are no larger than broom handles. Left the fountain at 1 P.M.
    (the fountain took us at least two hours out of our way,) and
    reached Mahomet's lookout perch, over Damascus, in time to get a
    good long look before it was necessary to move on. Tired? Ask of
    the winds that far away with fragments strewed the sea."

    As the glare of day mellowed into twilight, we looked down upon a picture
    which is celebrated all over the world. I think I have read about four
    hundred times that when Mahomet was a simple camel-driver he reached this
    point and looked down upon Damascus for the first time, and then made a
    certain renowned remark. He said man could enter only one paradise; he
    preferred to go to the one above. So he sat down there and feasted his
    eyes upon the earthly paradise of Damascus, and then went away without
    entering its gates. They have erected a tower on the hill to mark the
    spot where he stood.

    Damascus is beautiful from the mountain. It is beautiful even to
    foreigners accustomed to luxuriant vegetation, and I can easily
    understand how unspeakably beautiful it must be to eyes that are only
    used to the God-forsaken barrenness and desolation of Syria. I should
    think a Syrian would go wild with ecstacy when such a picture bursts upon
    him for the first time.

    From his high perch, one sees before him and below him, a wall of dreary
    mountains, shorn of vegetation, glaring fiercely in the sun; it fences in
    a level desert of yellow sand, smooth as velvet and threaded far away
    with fine lines that stand for roads, and dotted with creeping mites we
    know are camel-trains and journeying men; right in the midst of the
    desert is spread a billowy expanse of green foliage; and nestling in its
    heart sits the great white city, like an island of pearls and opals
    gleaming out of a sea of emeralds. This is the picture you see spread
    far below you, with distance to soften it, the sun to glorify it, strong
    contrasts to heighten the effects, and over it and about it a drowsing
    air of repose to spiritualize it and make it seem rather a beautiful
    estray from the mysterious worlds we visit in dreams than a substantial
    tenant of our coarse, dull globe. And when you think of the leagues of
    blighted, blasted, sandy, rocky, sun-burnt, ugly, dreary, infamous
    country you have ridden over to get here, you think it is the most
    beautiful, beautiful picture that ever human eyes rested upon in all the
    broad universe! If I were to go to Damascus again, I would camp on
    Mahomet's hill about a week, and then go away. There is no need to go
    inside the walls. The Prophet was wise without knowing it when he
    decided not to go down into the paradise of Damascus.

    There is an honored old tradition that the immense garden which Damascus
    stands in was the Garden of Eden, and modern writers have gathered up
    many chapters of evidence tending to show that it really was the Garden
    of Eden, and that the rivers Pharpar and Abana are the "two rivers" that
    watered Adam's Paradise. It may be so, but it is not paradise now, and
    one would be as happy outside of it as he would be likely to be within.
    It is so crooked and cramped and dirty that one can not realize that he
    is in the splendid city he saw from the hill-top. The gardens are hidden
    by high mud-walls, and the paradise is become a very sink of pollution
    and uncomeliness. Damascus has plenty of clear, pure water in it,
    though, and this is enough, of itself, to make an Arab think it beautiful
    and blessed. Water is scarce in blistered Syria. We run railways by our
    large cities in America; in Syria they curve the roads so as to make them
    run by the meagre little puddles they call "fountains," and which are not
    found oftener on a journey than every four hours. But the "rivers" of
    Pharpar and Abana of Scripture (mere creeks,) run through Damascus, and
    so every house and every garden have their sparkling fountains and
    rivulets of water. With her forest of foliage and her abundance of
    water, Damascus must be a wonder of wonders to the Bedouin from the
    deserts. Damascus is simply an oasis--that is what it is. For four
    thousand years its waters have not gone dry or its fertility failed.
    Now we can understand why the city has existed so long. It could not
    die. So long as its waters remain to it away out there in the midst of
    that howling desert, so long will Damascus live to bless the sight of the
    tired and thirsty wayfarer.

    "Though old as history itself, thou art fresh as the breath of
    spring, blooming as thine own rose-bud, and fragrant as thine own
    orange flower, O Damascus, pearl of the East!"

    Damascus dates back anterior to the days of Abraham, and is the oldest
    city in the world. It was founded by Uz, the grandson of Noah. "The
    early history of Damascus is shrouded in the mists of a hoary antiquity."
    Leave the matters written of in the first eleven chapters of the Old
    Testament out, and no recorded event has occurred in the world but
    Damascus was in existence to receive the news of it. Go back as far as
    you will into the vague past, there was always a Damascus. In the
    writings of every century for more than four thousand years, its name has
    been mentioned and its praises sung. To Damascus, years are only
    moments, decades are only flitting trifles of time. She measures time,
    not by days and months and years, but by the empires she has seen rise,
    and prosper and crumble to ruin. She is a type of immortality. She saw
    the foundations of Baalbec, and Thebes, and Ephesus laid; she saw these
    villages grow into mighty cities, and amaze the world with their
    grandeur--and she has lived to see them desolate, deserted, and given
    over to the owls and the bats. She saw the Israelitish empire exalted,
    and she saw it annihilated. She saw Greece rise, and flourish two
    thousand years, and die. In her old age she saw Rome built; she saw it
    overshadow the world with its power; she saw it perish. The few hundreds
    of years of Genoese and Venetian might and splendor were, to grave old
    Damascus, only a trifling scintillation hardly worth remembering.
    Damascus has seen all that has ever occurred on earth, and still she
    lives. She has looked upon the dry bones of a thousand empires, and will
    see the tombs of a thousand more before she dies. Though another claims
    the name, old Damascus is by right the Eternal City.

    We reached the city gates just at sundown. They do say that one can get
    into any walled city of Syria, after night, for bucksheesh, except
    Damascus. But Damascus, with its four thousand years of respectability
    in the world, has many old fogy notions. There are no street lamps
    there, and the law compels all who go abroad at night to carry lanterns,
    just as was the case in old days, when heroes and heroines of the Arabian
    Nights walked the streets of Damascus, or flew away toward Bagdad on
    enchanted carpets.

    It was fairly dark a few minutes after we got within the wall, and we
    rode long distances through wonderfully crooked streets, eight to ten
    feet wide, and shut in on either side by the high mud-walls of the
    gardens. At last we got to where lanterns could be seen flitting about
    here and there, and knew we were in the midst of the curious old city.
    In a little narrow street, crowded with our pack-mules and with a swarm
    of uncouth Arabs, we alighted, and through a kind of a hole in the wall
    entered the hotel. We stood in a great flagged court, with flowers and
    citron trees about us, and a huge tank in the centre that was receiving
    the waters of many pipes. We crossed the court and entered the rooms
    prepared to receive four of us. In a large marble-paved recess between
    the two rooms was a tank of clear, cool water, which was kept running
    over all the time by the streams that were pouring into it from half a
    dozen pipes. Nothing, in this scorching, desolate land could look so
    refreshing as this pure water flashing in the lamp-light; nothing could
    look so beautiful, nothing could sound so delicious as this mimic rain to
    ears long unaccustomed to sounds of such a nature. Our rooms were large,
    comfortably furnished, and even had their floors clothed with soft,
    cheerful-tinted carpets. It was a pleasant thing to see a carpet again,
    for if there is any thing drearier than the tomb-like, stone-paved
    parlors and bed-rooms of Europe and Asia, I do not know what it is.
    They make one think of the grave all the time. A very broad, gaily
    caparisoned divan, some twelve or fourteen feet long, extended across one
    side of each room, and opposite were single beds with spring mattresses.
    There were great looking-glasses and marble-top tables. All this luxury
    was as grateful to systems and senses worn out with an exhausting day's
    travel, as it was unexpected--for one can not tell what to expect in a
    Turkish city of even a quarter of a million inhabitants.

    I do not know, but I think they used that tank between the rooms to draw
    drinking water from; that did not occur to me, however, until I had
    dipped my baking head far down into its cool depths. I thought of it
    then, and superb as the bath was, I was sorry I had taken it, and was
    about to go and explain to the landlord. But a finely curled and scented
    poodle dog frisked up and nipped the calf of my leg just then, and before
    I had time to think, I had soused him to the bottom of the tank, and when
    I saw a servant coming with a pitcher I went off and left the pup trying
    to climb out and not succeeding very well. Satisfied revenge was all I
    needed to make me perfectly happy, and when I walked in to supper that
    first night in Damascus I was in that condition. We lay on those divans
    a long time, after supper, smoking narghilies and long-stemmed chibouks,
    and talking about the dreadful ride of the day, and I knew then what I
    had sometimes known before--that it is worth while to get tired out,
    because one so enjoys resting afterward.

    In the morning we sent for donkeys. It is worthy of note that we had to
    send for these things. I said Damascus was an old fossil, and she is.
    Any where else we would have been assailed by a clamorous army of
    donkey-drivers, guides, peddlers and beggars--but in Damascus they so
    hate the very sight of a foreign Christian that they want no intercourse
    whatever with him; only a year or two ago, his person was not always
    safe in Damascus streets. It is the most fanatical Mohammedan purgatory
    out of Arabia. Where you see one green turban of a Hadji elsewhere (the
    honored sign that my lord has made the pilgrimage to Mecca,) I think you
    will see a dozen in Damascus. The Damascenes are the ugliest, wickedest
    looking villains we have seen. All the veiled women we had seen yet,
    nearly, left their eyes exposed, but numbers of these in Damascus
    completely hid the face under a close-drawn black veil that made the
    woman look like a mummy. If ever we caught an eye exposed it was
    quickly hidden from our contaminating Christian vision; the beggars
    actually passed us by without demanding bucksheesh; the merchants in the
    bazaars did not hold up their goods and cry out eagerly, "Hey, John!"
    or "Look this, Howajji!" On the contrary, they only scowled at us and
    said never a word.

    The narrow streets swarmed like a hive with men and women in strange
    Oriental costumes, and our small donkeys knocked them right and left as
    we plowed through them, urged on by the merciless donkey-boys. These
    persecutors run after the animals, shouting and goading them for hours
    together; they keep the donkey in a gallop always, yet never get tired
    themselves or fall behind. The donkeys fell down and spilt us over their
    heads occasionally, but there was nothing for it but to mount and hurry
    on again. We were banged against sharp corners, loaded porters, camels,
    and citizens generally; and we were so taken up with looking out for
    collisions and casualties that we had no chance to look about us at all.
    We rode half through the city and through the famous "street which is
    called Straight" without seeing any thing, hardly. Our bones were nearly
    knocked out of joint, we were wild with excitement, and our sides ached
    with the jolting we had suffered. I do not like riding in the Damascus
    street-cars.

    We were on our way to the reputed houses of Judas and Ananias. About
    eighteen or nineteen hundred years ago, Saul, a native of Tarsus, was
    particularly bitter against the new sect called Christians, and he left
    Jerusalem and started across the country on a furious crusade against
    them. He went forth "breathing threatenings and slaughter against the
    disciples of the Lord."

    "And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus, and suddenly there
    shined round about him a light from heaven:

    "And he fell to the earth and heard a voice saying unto him, 'Saul,
    Saul, why persecutest thou me?'

    "And when he knew that it was Jesus that spoke to him he trembled,
    and was astonished, and said, 'Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?'"

    He was told to arise and go into the ancient city and one would tell
    him what to do. In the meantime his soldiers stood speechless and
    awe-stricken, for they heard the mysterious voice but saw no man. Saul
    rose up and found that that fierce supernatural light had destroyed his
    sight, and he was blind, so "they led him by the hand and brought him to
    Damascus." He was converted.

    Paul lay three days, blind, in the house of Judas, and during that time
    he neither ate nor drank.

    There came a voice to a citizen of Damascus, named Ananias, saying,
    "Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire at
    the house of Judas, for one called Saul, of Tarsus; for behold, he
    prayeth."

    Ananias did not wish to go at first, for he had heard of Saul before, and
    he had his doubts about that style of a "chosen vessel" to preach the
    gospel of peace. However, in obedience to orders, he went into the
    "street called Straight" (how he found his way into it, and after he did,
    how he ever found his way out of it again, are mysteries only to be
    accounted for by the fact that he was acting under Divine inspiration.)
    He found Paul and restored him, and ordained him a preacher; and from
    this old house we had hunted up in the street which is miscalled
    Straight, he had started out on that bold missionary career which he
    prosecuted till his death. It was not the house of the disciple who sold
    the Master for thirty pieces of silver. I make this explanation in
    justice to Judas, who was a far different sort of man from the person
    just referred to. A very different style of man, and lived in a very
    good house. It is a pity we do not know more about him.

    I have given, in the above paragraphs, some more information for people
    who will not read Bible history until they are defrauded into it by some
    such method as this. I hope that no friend of progress and education
    will obstruct or interfere with my peculiar mission.

    The street called Straight is straighter than a corkscrew, but not as
    straight as a rainbow. St. Luke is careful not to commit himself; he
    does not say it is the street which is straight, but the "street which is
    called Straight." It is a fine piece of irony; it is the only facetious
    remark in the Bible, I believe. We traversed the street called Straight
    a good way, and then turned off and called at the reputed house of
    Ananias. There is small question that a part of the original house is
    there still; it is an old room twelve or fifteen feet under ground, and
    its masonry is evidently ancient. If Ananias did not live there in St.
    Paul's time, somebody else did, which is just as well. I took a drink
    out of Ananias' well, and singularly enough, the water was just as fresh
    as if the well had been dug yesterday.

    We went out toward the north end of the city to see the place where the
    disciples let Paul down over the Damascus wall at dead of night--for he
    preached Christ so fearlessly in Damascus that the people sought to kill
    him, just as they would to-day for the same offense, and he had to escape
    and flee to Jerusalem.

    Then we called at the tomb of Mahomet's children and at a tomb which
    purported to be that of St. George who killed the dragon, and so on out
    to the hollow place under a rock where Paul hid during his flight till
    his pursuers gave him up; and to the mausoleum of the five thousand
    Christians who were massacred in Damascus in 1861 by the Turks. They say
    those narrow streets ran blood for several days, and that men, women and
    children were butchered indiscriminately and left to rot by hundreds all
    through the Christian quarter; they say, further, that the stench was
    dreadful. All the Christians who could get away fled from the city, and
    the Mohammedans would not defile their hands by burying the "infidel
    dogs." The thirst for blood extended to the high lands of Hermon and
    Anti-Lebanon, and in a short time twenty-five thousand more Christians
    were massacred and their possessions laid waste. How they hate a
    Christian in Damascus!--and pretty much all over Turkeydom as well. And
    how they will pay for it when Russia turns her guns upon them again!

    It is soothing to the heart to abuse England and France for interposing
    to save the Ottoman Empire from the destruction it has so richly deserved
    for a thousand years. It hurts my vanity to see these pagans refuse to
    eat of food that has been cooked for us; or to eat from a dish we have
    eaten from; or to drink from a goatskin which we have polluted with our
    Christian lips, except by filtering the water through a rag which they
    put over the mouth of it or through a sponge! I never disliked a
    Chinaman as I do these degraded Turks and Arabs, and when Russia is ready
    to war with them again, I hope England and France will not find it good
    breeding or good judgment to interfere.

    In Damascus they think there are no such rivers in all the world as their
    little Abana and Pharpar. The Damascenes have always thought that way.
    In 2 Kings, chapter v., Naaman boasts extravagantly about them. That was
    three thousand years ago. He says: "Are not Abana and Pharpar rivers of
    Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? May I not wash in them
    and be clean?" But some of my readers have forgotten who Naaman was,
    long ago. Naaman was the commander of the Syrian armies. He was the
    favorite of the king and lived in great state. "He was a mighty man of
    valor, but he was a leper." Strangely enough, the house they point out
    to you now as his, has been turned into a leper hospital, and the inmates
    expose their horrid deformities and hold up their hands and beg for
    bucksheesh when a stranger enters.

    One can not appreciate the horror of this disease until he looks upon it
    in all its ghastliness, in Naaman's ancient dwelling in Damascus. Bones
    all twisted out of shape, great knots protruding from face and body,
    joints decaying and dropping away--horrible!
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