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    Chapter 55

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    Chapter 56
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    We cast up the account. It footed up pretty fairly. There was nothing
    more at Jerusalem to be seen, except the traditional houses of Dives and
    Lazarus of the parable, the Tombs of the Kings, and those of the Judges;
    the spot where they stoned one of the disciples to death, and beheaded
    another; the room and the table made celebrated by the Last Supper; the
    fig-tree that Jesus withered; a number of historical places about
    Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives, and fifteen or twenty others in
    different portions of the city itself.

    We were approaching the end. Human nature asserted itself, now.
    Overwork and consequent exhaustion began to have their natural effect.
    They began to master the energies and dull the ardor of the party.
    Perfectly secure now, against failing to accomplish any detail of the
    pilgrimage, they felt like drawing in advance upon the holiday soon to be
    placed to their credit. They grew a little lazy. They were late to
    breakfast and sat long at dinner. Thirty or forty pilgrims had arrived
    from the ship, by the short routes, and much swapping of gossip had to be
    indulged in. And in hot afternoons, they showed a strong disposition to
    lie on the cool divans in the hotel and smoke and talk about pleasant
    experiences of a month or so gone by--for even thus early do episodes of
    travel which were sometimes annoying, sometimes exasperating and full as
    often of no consequence at all when they transpired, begin to rise above
    the dead level of monotonous reminiscences and become shapely landmarks
    in one's memory. The fog-whistle, smothered among a million of trifling
    sounds, is not noticed a block away, in the city, but the sailor hears it
    far at sea, whither none of those thousands of trifling sounds can reach.
    When one is in Rome, all the domes are alike; but when he has gone away
    twelve miles, the city fades utterly from sight and leaves St. Peter's
    swelling above the level plain like an anchored balloon. When one is
    traveling in Europe, the daily incidents seem all alike; but when he has
    placed them all two months and two thousand miles behind him, those that
    were worthy of being remembered are prominent, and those that were really
    insignificant have vanished. This disposition to smoke, and idle and
    talk, was not well. It was plain that it must not be allowed to gain
    ground. A diversion must be tried, or demoralization would ensue. The
    Jordan, Jericho and the Dead Sea were suggested. The remainder of
    Jerusalem must be left unvisited, for a little while. The journey was
    approved at once. New life stirred in every pulse. In the saddle
    --abroad on the plains--sleeping in beds bounded only by the horizon: fancy
    was at work with these things in a moment.--It was painful to note how
    readily these town-bred men had taken to the free life of the camp and
    the desert The nomadic instinct is a human instinct; it was born with
    Adam and transmitted through the patriarchs, and after thirty centuries
    of steady effort, civilization has not educated it entirely out of us
    yet. It has a charm which, once tasted, a man will yearn to taste again.
    The nomadic instinct can not be educated out of an Indian at all.

    The Jordan journey being approved, our dragoman was notified.

    At nine in the morning the caravan was before the hotel door and we were
    at breakfast. There was a commotion about the place. Rumors of war and
    bloodshed were flying every where. The lawless Bedouins in the Valley of
    the Jordan and the deserts down by the Dead Sea were up in arms, and were
    going to destroy all comers. They had had a battle with a troop of
    Turkish cavalry and defeated them; several men killed. They had shut up
    the inhabitants of a village and a Turkish garrison in an old fort near
    Jericho, and were besieging them. They had marched upon a camp of our
    excursionists by the Jordan, and the pilgrims only saved their lives by
    stealing away and flying to Jerusalem under whip and spur in the darkness
    of the night. Another of our parties had been fired on from an ambush
    and then attacked in the open day. Shots were fired on both sides.
    Fortunately there was no bloodshed. We spoke with the very pilgrim who
    had fired one of the shots, and learned from his own lips how, in this
    imminent deadly peril, only the cool courage of the pilgrims, their
    strength of numbers and imposing display of war material, had saved them
    from utter destruction. It was reported that the Consul had requested
    that no more of our pilgrims should go to the Jordan while this state of
    things lasted; and further, that he was unwilling that any more should
    go, at least without an unusually strong military guard. Here was
    trouble. But with the horses at the door and every body aware of what
    they were there for, what would you have done? Acknowledged that you
    were afraid, and backed shamefully out? Hardly. It would not be human
    nature, where there were so many women. You would have done as we did:
    said you were not afraid of a million Bedouins--and made your will and
    proposed quietly to yourself to take up an unostentatious position in the
    rear of the procession.

    I think we must all have determined upon the same line of tactics, for it
    did seem as if we never would get to Jericho. I had a notoriously slow
    horse, but somehow I could not keep him in the rear, to save my neck.
    He was forever turning up in the lead. In such cases I trembled a
    little, and got down to fix my saddle. But it was not of any use. The
    others all got down to fix their saddles, too. I never saw such a time
    with saddles. It was the first time any of them had got out of order in
    three weeks, and now they had all broken down at once. I tried walking,
    for exercise--I had not had enough in Jerusalem searching for holy
    places. But it was a failure. The whole mob were suffering for
    exercise, and it was not fifteen minutes till they were all on foot and I
    had the lead again. It was very discouraging.

    This was all after we got beyond Bethany. We stopped at the village of
    Bethany, an hour out from Jerusalem. They showed us the tomb of Lazarus.
    I had rather live in it than in any house in the town. And they showed
    us also a large "Fountain of Lazarus," and in the centre of the village
    the ancient dwelling of Lazarus. Lazarus appears to have been a man of
    property. The legends of the Sunday Schools do him great injustice; they
    give one the impression that he was poor. It is because they get him
    confused with that Lazarus who had no merit but his virtue, and virtue
    never has been as respectable as money. The house of Lazarus is a
    three-story edifice, of stone masonry, but the accumulated rubbish of
    ages has buried all of it but the upper story. We took candles and
    descended to the dismal cell-like chambers where Jesus sat at meat with
    Martha and Mary, and conversed with them about their brother. We could
    not but look upon these old dingy apartments with a more than common
    interest.

    We had had a glimpse, from a mountain top, of the Dead Sea, lying like a
    blue shield in the plain of the Jordan, and now we were marching down a
    close, flaming, rugged, desolate defile, where no living creature could
    enjoy life, except, perhaps, a salamander. It was such a dreary,
    repulsive, horrible solitude! It was the "wilderness" where John
    preached, with camel's hair about his loins--raiment enough--but he never
    could have got his locusts and wild honey here. We were moping along
    down through this dreadful place, every man in the rear. Our guards--two
    gorgeous young Arab sheiks, with cargoes of swords, guns, pistols and
    daggers on board--were loafing ahead.

    "Bedouins!"

    Every man shrunk up and disappeared in his clothes like a mud-turtle.
    My first impulse was to dash forward and destroy the Bedouins. My second
    was to dash to the rear to see if there were any coming in that
    direction. I acted on the latter impulse. So did all the others. If
    any Bedouins had approached us, then, from that point of the compass,
    they would have paid dearly for their rashness. We all remarked that,
    afterwards. There would have been scenes of riot and bloodshed there
    that no pen could describe. I know that, because each man told what he
    would have done, individually; and such a medley of strange and
    unheard-of inventions of cruelty you could not conceive of. One man
    said he had calmly made up his mind to perish where he stood, if need
    be, but never yield an inch; he was going to wait, with deadly patience,
    till he could count the stripes upon the first Bedouin's jacket, and
    then count them and let him have it. Another was going to sit still
    till the first lance reached within an inch of his breast, and then
    dodge it and seize it. I forbear to tell what he was going to do to
    that Bedouin that owned it. It makes my blood run cold to think of it.
    Another was going to scalp such Bedouins as fell to his share, and take
    his bald-headed sons of the desert home with him alive for trophies.
    But the wild-eyed pilgrim rhapsodist was silent. His orbs gleamed with
    a deadly light, but his lips moved not. Anxiety grew, and he was
    questioned. If he had got a Bedouin, what would he have done with him
    --shot him? He smiled a smile of grim contempt and shook his head.
    Would he have stabbed him? Another shake. Would he have quartered him
    --flayed him? More shakes. Oh! horror what would he have done?

    "Eat him!"

    Such was the awful sentence that thundered from his lips. What was
    grammar to a desperado like that? I was glad in my heart that I had been
    spared these scenes of malignant carnage. No Bedouins attacked our
    terrible rear. And none attacked the front. The new-comers were only a
    reinforcement of cadaverous Arabs, in shirts and bare legs, sent far
    ahead of us to brandish rusty guns, and shout and brag, and carry on like
    lunatics, and thus scare away all bands of marauding Bedouins that might
    lurk about our path. What a shame it is that armed white Christians must
    travel under guard of vermin like this as a protection against the
    prowling vagabonds of the desert--those sanguinary outlaws who are always
    going to do something desperate, but never do it. I may as well mention
    here that on our whole trip we saw no Bedouins, and had no more use for
    an Arab guard than we could have had for patent leather boots and white
    kid gloves. The Bedouins that attacked the other parties of pilgrims so
    fiercely were provided for the occasion by the Arab guards of those
    parties, and shipped from Jerusalem for temporary service as Bedouins.
    They met together in full view of the pilgrims, after the battle, and
    took lunch, divided the bucksheesh extorted in the season of danger, and
    then accompanied the cavalcade home to the city! The nuisance of an Arab
    guard is one which is created by the Sheiks and the Bedouins together,
    for mutual profit, it is said, and no doubt there is a good deal of truth
    in it.

    We visited the fountain the prophet Elisha sweetened (it is sweet yet,)
    where he remained some time and was fed by the ravens.

    Ancient Jericho is not very picturesque as a ruin. When Joshua marched
    around it seven times, some three thousand years ago, and blew it down
    with his trumpet, he did the work so well and so completely that he
    hardly left enough of the city to cast a shadow. The curse pronounced
    against the rebuilding of it, has never been removed. One King, holding
    the curse in light estimation, made the attempt, but was stricken sorely
    for his presumption. Its site will always remain unoccupied; and yet it
    is one of the very best locations for a town we have seen in all
    Palestine.

    At two in the morning they routed us out of bed--another piece of
    unwarranted cruelty--another stupid effort of our dragoman to get ahead
    of a rival. It was not two hours to the Jordan. However, we were
    dressed and under way before any one thought of looking to see what time
    it was, and so we drowsed on through the chill night air and dreamed of
    camp fires, warm beds, and other comfortable things.

    There was no conversation. People do not talk when they are cold, and
    wretched, and sleepy. We nodded in the saddle, at times, and woke up
    with a start to find that the procession had disappeared in the gloom.
    Then there was energy and attention to business until its dusky outlines
    came in sight again. Occasionally the order was passed in a low voice
    down the line: "Close up--close up! Bedouins lurk here, every where!"
    What an exquisite shudder it sent shivering along one's spine!

    We reached the famous river before four o'clock, and the night was so
    black that we could have ridden into it without seeing it. Some of us
    were in an unhappy frame of mind. We waited and waited for daylight, but
    it did not come. Finally we went away in the dark and slept an hour on
    the ground, in the bushes, and caught cold. It was a costly nap, on that
    account, but otherwise it was a paying investment because it brought
    unconsciousness of the dreary minutes and put us in a somewhat fitter
    mood for a first glimpse of the sacred river.

    With the first suspicion of dawn, every pilgrim took off his clothes and
    waded into the dark torrent, singing:

    "On Jordan's stormy banks I stand,
    And cast a wistful eye
    To Canaan's fair and happy land,
    Where my possessions lie."

    But they did not sing long. The water was so fearfully cold that they
    were obliged to stop singing and scamper out again. Then they stood on
    the bank shivering, and so chagrined and so grieved, that they merited
    holiest compassion. Because another dream, another cherished hope, had
    failed. They had promised themselves all along that they would cross the
    Jordan where the Israelites crossed it when they entered Canaan from
    their long pilgrimage in the desert. They would cross where the twelve
    stones were placed in memory of that great event. While they did it they
    would picture to themselves that vast army of pilgrims marching through
    the cloven waters, bearing the hallowed ark of the covenant and shouting
    hosannahs, and singing songs of thanksgiving and praise. Each had
    promised himself that he would be the first to cross. They were at the
    goal of their hopes at last, but the current was too swift, the water was
    too cold!

    It was then that Jack did them a service. With that engaging
    recklessness of consequences which is natural to youth, and so proper and
    so seemly, as well, he went and led the way across the Jordan, and all
    was happiness again. Every individual waded over, then, and stood upon
    the further bank. The water was not quite breast deep, any where. If it
    had been more, we could hardly have accomplished the feat, for the strong
    current would have swept us down the stream, and we would have been
    exhausted and drowned before reaching a place where we could make a
    landing. The main object compassed, the drooping, miserable party sat
    down to wait for the sun again, for all wanted to see the water as well
    as feel it. But it was too cold a pastime. Some cans were filled from
    the holy river, some canes cut from its banks, and then we mounted and
    rode reluctantly away to keep from freezing to death. So we saw the
    Jordan very dimly. The thickets of bushes that bordered its banks threw
    their shadows across its shallow, turbulent waters ("stormy," the hymn
    makes them, which is rather a complimentary stretch of fancy,) and we
    could not judge of the width of the stream by the eye. We knew by our
    wading experience, however, that many streets in America are double as
    wide as the Jordan.

    Daylight came, soon after we got under way, and in the course of an hour
    or two we reached the Dead Sea. Nothing grows in the flat, burning
    desert around it but weeds and the Dead Sea apple the poets say is
    beautiful to the eye, but crumbles to ashes and dust when you break it.
    Such as we found were not handsome, but they were bitter to the taste.
    They yielded no dust. It was because they were not ripe, perhaps.

    The desert and the barren hills gleam painfully in the sun, around the
    Dead Sea, and there is no pleasant thing or living creature upon it or
    about its borders to cheer the eye. It is a scorching, arid, repulsive
    solitude. A silence broods over the scene that is depressing to the
    spirits. It makes one think of funerals and death.

    The Dead Sea is small. Its waters are very clear, and it has a pebbly
    bottom and is shallow for some distance out from the shores. It yields
    quantities of asphaltum; fragments of it lie all about its banks; this
    stuff gives the place something of an unpleasant smell.

    All our reading had taught us to expect that the first plunge into the
    Dead Sea would be attended with distressing results--our bodies would
    feel as if they were suddenly pierced by millions of red-hot needles; the
    dreadful smarting would continue for hours; we might even look to be
    blistered from head to foot, and suffer miserably for many days. We were
    disappointed. Our eight sprang in at the same time that another party of
    pilgrims did, and nobody screamed once. None of them ever did complain
    of any thing more than a slight pricking sensation in places where their
    skin was abraded, and then only for a short time. My face smarted for a
    couple of hours, but it was partly because I got it badly sun-burned
    while I was bathing, and staid in so long that it became plastered over
    with salt.

    No, the water did not blister us; it did not cover us with a slimy ooze
    and confer upon us an atrocious fragrance; it was not very slimy; and I
    could not discover that we smelt really any worse than we have always
    smelt since we have been in Palestine. It was only a different kind of
    smell, but not conspicuous on that account, because we have a great deal
    of variety in that respect. We didn't smell, there on the Jordan, the
    same as we do in Jerusalem; and we don't smell in Jerusalem just as we
    did in Nazareth, or Tiberias, or Cesarea Philippi, or any of those other
    ruinous ancient towns in Galilee. No, we change all the time, and
    generally for the worse. We do our own washing.

    It was a funny bath. We could not sink. One could stretch himself at
    full length on his back, with his arms on his breast, and all of his body
    above a line drawn from the corner of his jaw past the middle of his
    side, the middle of his leg and through his ancle bone, would remain out
    of water. He could lift his head clear out, if he chose. No position
    can be retained long; you lose your balance and whirl over, first on your
    back and then on your face, and so on. You can lie comfortably, on your
    back, with your head out, and your legs out from your knees down, by
    steadying yourself with your hands. You can sit, with your knees drawn
    up to your chin and your arms clasped around them, but you are bound to
    turn over presently, because you are top-heavy in that position. You can
    stand up straight in water that is over your head, and from the middle of
    your breast upward you will not be wet. But you can not remain so. The
    water will soon float your feet to the surface. You can not swim on your
    back and make any progress of any consequence, because your feet stick
    away above the surface, and there is nothing to propel yourself with but
    your heels. If you swim on your face, you kick up the water like a
    stern-wheel boat. You make no headway. A horse is so top-heavy that he
    can neither swim nor stand up in the Dead Sea. He turns over on his side
    at once. Some of us bathed for more than an hour, and then came out
    coated with salt till we shone like icicles. We scrubbed it off with a
    coarse towel and rode off with a splendid brand-new smell, though it was
    one which was not any more disagreeable than those we have been for
    several weeks enjoying. It was the variegated villainy and novelty of it
    that charmed us. Salt crystals glitter in the sun about the shores of
    the lake. In places they coat the ground like a brilliant crust of ice.

    When I was a boy I somehow got the impression that the river Jordan was
    four thousand miles long and thirty-five miles wide. It is only ninety
    miles long, and so crooked that a man does not know which side of it he
    is on half the time. In going ninety miles it does not get over more
    than fifty miles of ground. It is not any wider than Broadway in New
    York.

    There is the Sea of Galilee and this Dead Sea--neither of them twenty
    miles long or thirteen wide. And yet when I was in Sunday School I
    thought they were sixty thousand miles in diameter.

    Travel and experience mar the grandest pictures and rob us of the most
    cherished traditions of our boyhood. Well, let them go. I have already
    seen the Empire of King Solomon diminish to the size of the State of
    Pennsylvania; I suppose I can bear the reduction of the seas and the
    river.

    We looked every where, as we passed along, but never saw grain or crystal
    of Lot's wife. It was a great disappointment. For many and many a year
    we had known her sad story, and taken that interest in her which
    misfortune always inspires. But she was gone. Her picturesque form no
    longer looms above the desert of the Dead Sea to remind the tourist of
    the doom that fell upon the lost cities.

    I can not describe the hideous afternoon's ride from the Dead Sea to Mars
    Saba. It oppresses me yet, to think of it. The sun so pelted us that
    the tears ran down our cheeks once or twice. The ghastly, treeless,
    grassless, breathless canons smothered us as if we had been in an oven.
    The sun had positive weight to it, I think. Not a man could sit erect
    under it. All drooped low in the saddles. John preached in this
    "Wilderness!" It must have been exhausting work. What a very heaven the
    messy towers and ramparts of vast Mars Saba looked to us when we caught a
    first glimpse of them!

    We staid at this great convent all night, guests of the hospitable
    priests. Mars Saba, perched upon a crag, a human nest stock high up
    against a perpendicular mountain wall, is a world of grand masonry that
    rises, terrace upon terrace away above your head, like the terraced and
    retreating colonnades one sees in fanciful pictures of Belshazzar's Feast
    and the palaces of the ancient Pharaohs. No other human dwelling is
    near. It was founded many ages ago by a holy recluse who lived at first
    in a cave in the rock--a cave which is inclosed in the convent walls,
    now, and was reverently shown to us by the priests. This recluse, by his
    rigorous torturing of his flesh, his diet of bread and water, his utter
    withdrawal from all society and from the vanities of the world, and his
    constant prayer and saintly contemplation of a skull, inspired an
    emulation that brought about him many disciples. The precipice on the
    opposite side of the canyon is well perforated with the small holes they
    dug in the rock to live in. The present occupants of Mars Saba, about
    seventy in number, are all hermits. They wear a coarse robe, an ugly,
    brimless stove-pipe of a hat, and go without shoes. They eat nothing
    whatever but bread and salt; they drink nothing but water. As long as
    they live they can never go outside the walls, or look upon a woman--for
    no woman is permitted to enter Mars Saba, upon any pretext whatsoever.

    Some of those men have been shut up there for thirty years. In all that
    dreary time they have not heard the laughter of a child or the blessed
    voice of a woman; they have seen no human tears, no human smiles; they
    have known no human joys, no wholesome human sorrows. In their hearts
    are no memories of the past, in their brains no dreams of the future.
    All that is lovable, beautiful, worthy, they have put far away from them;
    against all things that are pleasant to look upon, and all sounds that
    are music to the ear, they have barred their massive doors and reared
    their relentless walls of stone forever. They have banished the tender
    grace of life and left only the sapped and skinny mockery. Their lips
    are lips that never kiss and never sing; their hearts are hearts that
    never hate and never love; their breasts are breasts that never swell
    with the sentiment, "I have a country and a flag." They are dead men who
    walk.

    I set down these first thoughts because they are natural--not because
    they are just or because it is right to set them down. It is easy for
    book-makers to say "I thought so and so as I looked upon such and such a
    scene"--when the truth is, they thought all those fine things afterwards.
    One's first thought is not likely to be strictly accurate, yet it is no
    crime to think it and none to write it down, subject to modification by
    later experience. These hermits are dead men, in several respects, but
    not in all; and it is not proper, that, thinking ill of them at first, I
    should go on doing so, or, speaking ill of them I should reiterate the
    words and stick to them. No, they treated us too kindly for that. There
    is something human about them somewhere. They knew we were foreigners
    and Protestants, and not likely to feel admiration or much friendliness
    toward them. But their large charity was above considering such things.
    They simply saw in us men who were hungry, and thirsty, and tired, and
    that was sufficient. They opened their doors and gave us welcome. They
    asked no questions, and they made no self-righteous display of their
    hospitality. They fished for no compliments. They moved quietly about,
    setting the table for us, making the beds, and bringing water to wash in,
    and paid no heed when we said it was wrong for them to do that when we
    had men whose business it was to perform such offices. We fared most
    comfortably, and sat late at dinner. We walked all over the building
    with the hermits afterward, and then sat on the lofty battlements and
    smoked while we enjoyed the cool air, the wild scenery and the sunset.
    One or two chose cosy bed-rooms to sleep in, but the nomadic instinct
    prompted the rest to sleep on the broad divan that extended around the
    great hall, because it seemed like sleeping out of doors, and so was more
    cheery and inviting. It was a royal rest we had.

    When we got up to breakfast in the morning, we were new men. For all
    this hospitality no strict charge was made. We could give something if
    we chose; we need give nothing, if we were poor or if we were stingy.
    The pauper and the miser are as free as any in the Catholic Convents of
    Palestine. I have been educated to enmity toward every thing that is
    Catholic, and sometimes, in consequence of this, I find it much easier to
    discover Catholic faults than Catholic merits. But there is one thing I
    feel no disposition to overlook, and no disposition to forget: and that
    is, the honest gratitude I and all pilgrims owe, to the Convent Fathers
    in Palestine. Their doors are always open, and there is always a welcome
    for any worthy man who comes, whether he comes in rags or clad in purple.
    The Catholic Convents are a priceless blessing to the poor. A pilgrim
    without money, whether he be a Protestant or a Catholic, can travel the
    length and breadth of Palestine, and in the midst of her desert wastes
    find wholesome food and a clean bed every night, in these buildings.
    Pilgrims in better circumstances are often stricken down by the sun and
    the fevers of the country, and then their saving refuge is the Convent.
    Without these hospitable retreats, travel in Palestine would be a
    pleasure which none but the strongest men could dare to undertake. Our
    party, pilgrims and all, will always be ready and always willing, to
    touch glasses and drink health, prosperity and long life to the Convent
    Fathers of Palestine.

    So, rested and refreshed, we fell into line and filed away over the
    barren mountains of Judea, and along rocky ridges and through sterile
    gorges, where eternal silence and solitude reigned. Even the scattering
    groups of armed shepherds we met the afternoon before, tending their
    flocks of long-haired goats, were wanting here. We saw but two living
    creatures. They were gazelles, of "soft-eyed" notoriety. They looked
    like very young kids, but they annihilated distance like an express
    train. I have not seen animals that moved faster, unless I might say it
    of the antelopes of our own great plains.

    At nine or ten in the morning we reached the Plain of the Shepherds, and
    stood in a walled garden of olives where the shepherds were watching
    their flocks by night, eighteen centuries ago, when the multitude of
    angels brought them the tidings that the Saviour was born. A quarter of
    a mile away was Bethlehem of Judea, and the pilgrims took some of the
    stone wall and hurried on.

    The Plain of the Shepherds is a desert, paved with loose stones, void of
    vegetation, glaring in the fierce sun. Only the music of the angels it
    knew once could charm its shrubs and flowers to life again and restore
    its vanished beauty. No less potent enchantment could avail to work this
    miracle.

    In the huge Church of the Nativity, in Bethlehem, built fifteen hundred
    years ago by the inveterate St. Helena, they took us below ground, and
    into a grotto cut in the living rock. This was the "manger" where Christ
    was born. A silver star set in the floor bears a Latin inscription to
    that effect. It is polished with the kisses of many generations of
    worshiping pilgrims. The grotto was tricked out in the usual tasteless
    style observable in all the holy places of Palestine. As in the Church
    of the Holy Sepulchre, envy and uncharitableness were apparent here. The
    priests and the members of the Greek and Latin churches can not come by
    the same corridor to kneel in the sacred birthplace of the Redeemer, but
    are compelled to approach and retire by different avenues, lest they
    quarrel and fight on this holiest ground on earth.

    I have no "meditations," suggested by this spot where the very first
    "Merry Christmas!" was uttered in all the world, and from whence the
    friend of my childhood, Santa Claus, departed on his first journey, to
    gladden and continue to gladden roaring firesides on wintry mornings in
    many a distant land forever and forever. I touch, with reverent finger,
    the actual spot where the infant Jesus lay, but I think--nothing.

    You can not think in this place any more than you can in any other in
    Palestine that would be likely to inspire reflection. Beggars, cripples
    and monks compass you about, and make you think only of bucksheesh when
    you would rather think of something more in keeping with the character of
    the spot.

    I was glad to get away, and glad when we had walked through the grottoes
    where Eusebius wrote, and Jerome fasted, and Joseph prepared for the
    flight into Egypt, and the dozen other distinguished grottoes, and knew
    we were done. The Church of the Nativity is almost as well packed with
    exceeding holy places as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre itself. They
    even have in it a grotto wherein twenty thousand children were
    slaughtered by Herod when he was seeking the life of the infant Saviour.

    We went to the Milk Grotto, of course--a cavern where Mary hid herself
    for a while before the flight into Egypt. Its walls were black before
    she entered, but in suckling the Child, a drop of her milk fell upon the
    floor and instantly changed the darkness of the walls to its own snowy
    hue. We took many little fragments of stone from here, because it is
    well known in all the East that a barren woman hath need only to touch
    her lips to one of these and her failing will depart from her. We took
    many specimens, to the end that we might confer happiness upon certain
    households that we wot of.

    We got away from Bethlehem and its troops of beggars and relic-peddlers
    in the afternoon, and after spending some little time at Rachel's tomb,
    hurried to Jerusalem as fast as possible. I never was so glad to get
    home again before. I never have enjoyed rest as I have enjoyed it during
    these last few hours. The journey to the Dead Sea, the Jordan and
    Bethlehem was short, but it was an exhausting one. Such roasting heat,
    such oppressive solitude, and such dismal desolation can not surely exist
    elsewhere on earth. And such fatigue!

    The commonest sagacity warns me that I ought to tell the customary
    pleasant lie, and say I tore myself reluctantly away from every noted
    place in Palestine. Every body tells that, but with as little
    ostentation as I may, I doubt the word of every he who tells it. I could
    take a dreadful oath that I have never heard any one of our forty
    pilgrims say any thing of the sort, and they are as worthy and as
    sincerely devout as any that come here. They will say it when they get
    home, fast enough, but why should they not? They do not wish to array
    themselves against all the Lamartines and Grimeses in the world. It does
    not stand to reason that men are reluctant to leave places where the very
    life is almost badgered out of them by importunate swarms of beggars and
    peddlers who hang in strings to one's sleeves and coat-tails and shriek
    and shout in his ears and horrify his vision with the ghastly sores and
    malformations they exhibit. One is glad to get away. I have heard
    shameless people say they were glad to get away from Ladies' Festivals
    where they were importuned to buy by bevies of lovely young ladies.
    Transform those houris into dusky hags and ragged savages, and replace
    their rounded forms with shrunken and knotted distortions, their soft
    hands with scarred and hideous deformities, and the persuasive music of
    their voices with the discordant din of a hated language, and then see
    how much lingering reluctance to leave could be mustered. No, it is the
    neat thing to say you were reluctant, and then append the profound
    thoughts that "struggled for utterance," in your brain; but it is the
    true thing to say you were not reluctant, and found it impossible to
    think at all--though in good sooth it is not respectable to say it, and
    not poetical, either.

    We do not think, in the holy places; we think in bed, afterwards, when
    the glare, and the noise, and the confusion are gone, and in fancy we
    revisit alone, the solemn monuments of the past, and summon the phantom
    pageants of an age that has passed away.
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    Chapter 56
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