|Links in my life on land and sea |
ALEXANDRIA AND PALESTINE
Federal and Confederate vessels of war - An official murder? - An apparition and a suggested explanation - Embark for Jaffa - A fool and his harem - Yashmaks and intrigue - The holy fire fraud at Christ's tomb - The Jordan pilgrimage - Dead Sea bathers - Mistaken sexes - Mar Saba and how the Abbot solved the difficulty - Imitatio Christi - The travelling Teuton and why he is popular - Steamer to England – Religion - Cholera - The raft.
WE returned once more to Gibraltar and here a curious incident occurred. There were, lying under the shelter of the British guns, two American war ships, a Federal corvette, the Kearsarge, and a Confederate cruiser, the Sumpter, a converted merchantman. There was a vast amount of tall talk amongst the officers of both ships about cutting out of their respective vessels, but as this would have brought either of them under fire of the forts ashore and of the Malacca's guns, naturally discretion prevailed.
One night, however, they did cause alarm. There was a ball going on at Government House, and every Executive officer in the Malacca was present at it, except myself, so I was left in command. About midnight, being on deck, I veritably thought that the American ships were attacking each other ; for clear
and sharp came the sound of pistol shots from the Sumpter, and I naturally concluded that the Kearsarge was trying to cut her out. I instantly determined to see what was going on, and giving the order to man and arm a cutter - which was done in three or four minutes - I hurried off to the scene of action. As I got near the Sumpter, I saw, however, that there were no boats alongside of her and no sign of fighting on her decks, so I pulled on and got near her stern. A mile or so farther off I saw lights flashing about the ports and decks of the Kearsarge, and in a short time I made out that she, too, was lowering boats. I began to think things might become serious, being as completely puzzled as to what was going on as the Kearsarge's crew, so I lay on my oars and made the men load their rifles. Soon I was able to distinguish the Kearsarge boats and could hear the noise of their oars. Then the noise ceased, and I knew they were lying to on them. I pulled on to the Sumpter and was nearly alongside when, in the dark, the people on the deck of the Sumpter mistook us for a boat from the Kearsarge, and a voice hailed us, "Boat ahoy! If you come any nearer, darned if we don't fire ! " " British man-of-war ! " I shouted out, and ordering the men to give way, we shot up under the stern and I jumped on to the ladder. There was dead silence throughout the decks as I stepped up, though twenty or thirty men stood about with cutlasses and rifles. Then an officer came up to me and asked what I wanted. In reply, I asked what the firing was about, but before he could answer a tall, wiry man came up leisurely from below, and informed me that he had shot the Captain ; giving, then, no particular reason for having done so, though he found or invented one later. I asked to see the body, and was refused, but I persisted and was taken
A TRAGEDY AND A COMEDY
down into the ward-room. Seated round the table - mostly in their shirt sleeves - I found several officers, drinking whisky and smoking, with no evidence in their demeanour that anything unusual had happened. In one of the cabins - reeking of powder smoke, the door wide open - I saw a large man lying on the bed, and wondered how he slept through all this din.
"That's him as you want to see," said one of the officers, pointing towards the cabin with his thumb. I had brought an assistant surgeon in the boat with me, foreseeing possible eventualities, and we went in and looked at the man. He was stone dead, shot through the heart and in several other places. "Must have been shot asleep, and divil an inch has he budged," said our Irish Sawbones.
"Say, will you have a drink ?" asked an officer, as we came out of the dead man's cabin.
I declined ; but the unlucky assistant surgeon accepted. They poured him out half a tumbler of whisky, and, filling it up from a decanter he tossed it off at a gulp. Accustomed as he was to the stiffest grog I saw it made even him reel. We then went on deck and called the boat alongside, said, "Good-night " to the officers and rowed alongside our own ship. But before we got on board, the assistant surgeon was literally dead drunk, for what he supposed was water in the decanter had been white Bourbon whisky, and he had swallowed over half a pint of the very strongest spirit. Meanwhile, as before leaving the Malacca, I had sent word ashore to Captain Napier, as to what had happened, he had arrived on board. After my report he naturally wished to hear that of the assistant surgeon. But that ill-starred individual was lying in his cabin as speechless as the dead man on board the Sumpter and, of course, could not appear. I need not enter into the sequel of
ALEXANDRIA AND PALESTINE
this shooting affair, except to say that it became a matter of lengthy diplomatic correspondence between our Government and that of the United States. For the murderer was made a prisoner and taken ashore, and then the Federal Government claimed him on the plea that a Neutral Power could not detain a rebel and so on. Eventually he got off; returned to the United States and was held in great admiration by every one; though Heaven and America only knew why. The assistant surgeon was tried by Court Martial and dismissed the Service: he and the dead man the only two who came badly out of the business.
* * * * *
Soon after this we went East again and found ourselves once more in Alexandria. Here my promotion to Lieutenant was waiting for me, so I landed and left my ship, taking my light kit and sending my chest and heavy things home by steamer, determined to see what I could of the East as long as my money lasted, and trusting to Providence to get home somehow or other.
And now I had a curious psychological experience which is worth recording, though I can offer no kind of solution of its mystery. An old shipmate of mine, by name Edwardes, assistant surgeon with me in the Retribution, had set up in Alexandria in private practice. I had lost sight of him for years and knew nothing of his private history since he had left the Service. But he had heard of me from a mutual friend, Dr. Brigstocke of Beyrut, and had written to ask me to put up with him if I found it convenient. This I was very glad to do, to give me time to look about, and, on landing in Alexandria, I went straight to his house. When I got there I found he had been called away to see a patient some distance from Alexandria, but had left
AN UNSOLVED MYSTERY
orders for my entertainment. His Arab servant showed me to my room, a large apartment, and after changing I went downstairs to dinner. I dined alone, strolled out afterwards, and later went home to bed. Edwardes had not returned.
In the night I awoke and distinctly saw a tall woman standing in the middle of the room and naturally thought some one had mistaken the apartment. I put up my eyeglass, which invariably hung round my neck at night, and saw her features plainly, with small curls on her forehead. She was dressed in a long, shiny black dress cut square, with a broad lace collar hanging over the breast. I was particularly struck with the deadly pallor of her face and the vacant look of her eyes which seemed turned to me and yet not to see me. There appeared to be nothing uncanny about her except the supernatural silence which surrounded her ; the room so still that I might have heard her breathe. I am sure I watched her for over a minute and then I moved to get up, when she seemed to turn and walk towards a large press in the wall, which I had not before noticed, where she vanished. The impression of the bodily presence of some one was so strong that I jumped out of bed, went across the room - thinking the cupboard might lead into another - and opened the door through which I thought the woman had passed. The moon, as bright as day, streamed into the cupboard and there, facing me, was a long black dress, with a broad lace collar, hanging on a peg. I was simply amazed. I pushed the dress aside, but there was nothing behind it, and I examined the cupboard in every way. There were many other female garments in it, besides shoes, stockings, hats, all piled in pell-mell. Wondering who the owner might be - some friend of Edwardes' doubtless
and no business of mine - I went to bed again absolutely persuaded that some living being had been in the room, and had got away somehow, and was soon asleep. In the morning I met Edwardes at breakfast and we had much talk of old days, but I purposely refrained from any allusion to what had passed in the night. I soon learnt from him, however, that he had been married, and he incidentally mentioned that his wife had recently died, and in the room now occupied by myself. I still held my peace for I thought it would distress him, whatever might be his point of view. These being almost pre-photographic days there was no portrait for me to see, so I had no confirmation of her identity with the impression of the night, beyond that he said that his wife had been tall with dark curls. I have no possible explanation to offer of this : unless science can demonstrate - as it may hereafter - that through radio-activity atoms are given off living corporeal substances which, still floating about detached, impinge on brains in a receptive condition and produce impressions which, with our present limitations, we call supernatural. If the ultimate "fluid" (behind radium) can pass through a foot of iron or sheets of plate-glass, why not through the thickest skull ever born ?
Keen to revisit Cairo and to go up the Nile, I had no money to do it with, but possessed of an irresistible desire to see these lands, bound up with my earliest teachings, I was quite determined to travel through Palestine and Syria, even if I had to beg my way. By good luck, on board the steamer which was carrying me to Jaffa with very indefinite ideas of what I was going to do, I fell in with an Englishman, who was also about to travel in these parts, and he most kindly permitted me to tack myself on to his caravan, making my own arrangements with his dragoman. He turned out to
A FOOL AND HIS HAREM
be a most delightful travelling companion and we spent many happy days together. On board this little steamer there was a Pasha on his way to take up office as Vali in some part of Armenia. He was a typical Turk - short, squat, fanatical, overbearing - seeming to think the whole ship belonged to him and every European mere dirt under his feet. The saloon and first cabins were in a deck house, with long gangways on each side ; my cabin was the only one of these which looked into this gangway. The gangway itself had been boarded in, both forward and aft, making a long kind of room, and here the Pasha's harem were enclosed, with a guard of Ottoman troops at either end. But the Pasha had evidently overlooked this window of mine, not three feet off the deck and large enough for any one to pass through. I happened to look out of my window and caught the eye of a young Turkish woman, unveiled and quite at her ease. She did not seem the least concerned and nudged her neighbour, a much older woman. These told others, and in a minute or two a giggling, laughing crowd, some ten or twelve in all, were pushing and elbowing each other to get a peep at the Giaour. Not one attempted to put up her veil or even to cover her shoulders. They were of diverse nationalities, Turks, Armenians and Circassians, the youngest perhaps twelve or thirteen, the oldest grey-haired and wrinkled. Although I could not talk a word of Turkish we made rapid progress in our friendship. Then one ran to each end of the place and listened : evidently the guard had not been disturbed by their noise. However, after a little time, an old negress, who was evidently in charge of them, made them come away from my window, and, as it was about ten o'clock, they all lay down on piles of mattresses which encumbered the deck, and pulled their quilts over them.
Hardly had they done so than in stalked the surly old Pasha ; looked about him, and called the old negress to his side, held a brief parley with her and then retired to the saloon where I saw him, soon after, sitting at the table. I could not help smiling at his ridiculous, self-complacent manner, as if exempt from natural law ; with his harem safe under lock and key, his faithful negress and his guards to keep watch. At the same time I felt sure that it would have gone hard with many of these women if this old brute had caught them amusing themselves with a Giaour, however innocently. I saw them all again in the early morning, but they were very cautious, and, fearing to get them into trouble, I closed my port. They did not disembark at Jaffa, and as I left the steamer I saw the awning curtain which enclosed them lifting at its corners and thought I saw a smile in some of their eyes, and caught the sound of more merriment. Poor things ! What a life ! It is quite a mistake to suppose, however, that there are no cakes and ale in their lives. On the contrary, in all large towns, this very custom of wearing the yashmak greatly facilitates intrigue, notably in Constantinople, Cairo, Beyrut, and other large Eastern towns. For they are allowed out in twos and twos, and, like other cloistered ladies, hunt in couples. And nowadays the yashmak is no longer anything but a symbol, exercising as little restraint as a wedding ring in Europe.
We landed at Jaffa in the usual way, in large boats manned by the splendid Syrian boatmen, and, with not less difficulty than is customary, found ourselves ashore in Palestine. Neither in Jaffa nor Jerusalem was there ordinary accommodation, except in one's own tents, for in those days there were few hotels and those bad. It happened to be Easter, and I went down on Easter Eve to see the Greek ceremony of the Holy Fire at the Holy
SWINDLE OF THE HOLY FIRE
Sepulchre. I came near losing my life in the terrific crush at the entrance of the church, a surging mass of pilgrims of all nationalities striving to get in to benefit by the spiritual advantages of that grotesque fraud. It is needless to describe this monstrous swindle ; countenanced by the highest of the Orthodox clergy, and practised on the spot where there is little doubt once lay the body of the Redeemer.
The crowd was terrible, men and women dropping down to be trodden to death by the excited mob : the Turkish soldiers keeping order with their naked bayonets. After it was over thirty dead bodies were found in or near the Holy Sepulchre, for the brute instinct of self-preservation had triumphed over every feeling of manliness or humanity, the strong striking down the weak, like the French in their Charity Bazaar fire. Cries and groans filled the air, darkened as it was by the smoke of thousands of candles lighted at the Sacred Flame of the Holy Spirit, squirted through a hole by a Greek priest, a regular Jack-in-the-box trick. But it is a fundamental and all-important dogma in that Creed, conferring authority on the priesthood as the Intercessory with the Almighty, whilst the people whose ignorance and superstition are traded on, believe themselves to be in the Presence of the actual and veritable Holy Ghost. They travel thousands of miles, sell their farms, and often their daughters, to enjoy this inestimable privilege, and at the end of their weary journey over land and sea are content to be trampled to death in the throng of their co-believers.
I also witnessed the great annual Festival of Re-baptism in the Jordan. A vast crowd of pilgrims - protected by a Mussulman guard - streamed out of Jerusalem and the neighbouring villages to the banks of the holy river, people of all creeds apparently, but chiefly Orthodox. On they struggled, down the steep road which leads
to Jericho, across the sweltering sandy plain, amidst brambles and camel-thorn, to camp for the night amongst the tamarisks and willows on the river bank, where they passed their time singing low, monotonous hymns, waiting for the dawn.
Then comes a curious scene, in the ecstasy of devotion all decorum seems cast aside, men, women, boys, and girls, packed closely on the bank, strip, and wrapping themselves with winding sheets brought for the purpose, plunge hysterically into the stream, fathers, mothers, children, kissing and embracing each other, throwing the sacred water over their heads, scooping it up in their hands, lying down in it : chattering in a confused babel of tongues. Their bath over, the banks are lined with people donning their clothes, all completely indifferent to the presence of others, and gradually they reform in long strings and begin their journey back across the plain, reaching Jericho before dark. But every one is careful to preserve the linen in which he or she bathed. It is to be their winding sheet, and to be buried in it ensures heaven hereafter. Strange as it is, the most sceptical and indifferent cannot easily turn away from it without feelings of reverential sympathy. For beyond historic doubt their Redeemer was baptized in these very waters.
But it is not the poor alone who come to the Jordan for this purpose, for on the bank were erected numbers of tents for the wealthy, whilst standing a little apart was the camp of a Russian Imperial Highness, with the Imperial flag of Russia floating over it. From these tents emerged a bevy of ladies, six or seven, clad in loose white linen wrappers, headed by a Greek priest carrying an icon, and by bishops and archbishops in their robes, the rear of the procession brought up by some more priests chanting a litany. Then the august personages
AL FRESCO BAPTISM
were handed down previously-prepared wooden steps and the archbishop, holding up his vestments, stepped into the water, and, filling a small gold bowl, poured the sacred stream copiously over the illustrious pilgrims until they were completely soaked. This accomplished, the ladies came up out of the river, when attendants threw cloaks over their dripping bodies - after the manner of Trouville or Dieppe - whilst the choir of priests continued chanting their litanies and the man with the icon - a portrait of St. John the Baptist - brought the sacred object to be kissed. The solemnity of the ceremony, however, was considerably impaired by the ludicrous appearance of the archbishop, with his dripping robes held up and his skinny legs, as hairy as those of Balkis, Queen of Sheba, showing up to his knees, he himself groaning away at the litany in a voice that suggested that he was suffering from some acute internal pain.
Our own immediate party had been augmented, before leaving Jerusalem, by two ladies entrusted to our care, the daughters of a bishop, but being warned by our dragoman that we should find ourselves amongst fifteen hundred or two thousand men and women practically in a state of nature, we arranged that they should see what was going on apart from us : or not at all, if they so chose. They left us after the festival, returning to Jerusalem under another escort, for we were going on to the shores of the Dead Sea, whither our camp had preceded us.
It is a long fatiguing ride, and as we neared the Dead Sea we saw that there was another camp pitched near ours, and observed two people bathing, their closely-cropped heads bobbing about in the water, one with a brick-red face, the other thin and sallow, the former performing sundry aquatic antics, such as rolling over and over like a ball, with arms and legs of much muscular
THE DEAD SEA
development, in evidence. The paler person, however, indulged in no frolics, merely bobbing up and down after the manner of ladies bathing. Both were dressed in suits of striped pyjamas of thin Indian fabric.
We reached our camp just before dark and had dinner, and during the meal our dragoman informed us that the people in the next camp were an Indian Judge and his wife, and that they had sent word asking if we would allow them to join our party next day, if it was our intention to ride to Mar Saba, as it was an unfrequented route, often infested by prowling Bedouins. We said we should be delighted, and that we would come round and pay them a visit. We discussed our neighbours in the usual way, deciding that the Judge seemed a good kind of a fellow, but that we did not think much of his white-faced wife. As soon as our meal was over we walked over to their tents and were ushered in by the dragoman, when, to our amazement, behold, the owner of the brick-red face appeared in woman's garb, whilst the pale-faced was attired in man's. We had mistaken the sexes, when they were disporting themselves in those briny waters, and it was even now difficult to realise that they were not masquerading in each other's dress. We spent a pleasant hour with them and learnt that the pale-face had been a Judge of the Supreme Court in Bengal, and the partner of his bosom had been the widow of a Hooghli pilot. They were both kind and pleasant, and the sense of incongruity in their size and nature wore off when one began to realise that her strength and health were a necessity of existence for the man who the blind-hookey of marriage had entrusted to her considerate keeping.
We made a late start next day, for Mar Saba, which was unwise, for we had a stiff, difficult journey before us over the worst road in Palestine, long, steeply sloping lime"
ONE GOAT ENOUGH
stone slabs, where even a fairly nimble cat might feel uneasy, as a slip certainly meant death. A wild, desolate land this, as befits it seeing it was here that that much ill-used animal, the scapegoat, was annually set adrift with the sins of Israel on its back. However, it speaks well for the early Jews that one goat was enough. They would require a numerous flock nowadays in Park Lane to pull it off with any success. The mountains of Moab, behind us, were a mass of crimson, and the jagged peaks of Judea in front were already black and gloomy against the evening sky before we emerged from this dangerous pass, and began dimly to distinguish the gigantic buttresses which support the great Convent of Mar Saba. It was not difficult to believe, as our dragoman told us, that numbers of lives had been sacrificed in building these wondrous walls, seeing that every stone had to be put in place by men suspended by ropes from above. But if the same class of persons were employed in this perilous work as now occupy its interior, one could console oneself with the idea that a somewhat cynical Providence occasionally allowed the rope to chafe through or forgot to take a round turn with it overhead. For a more depraved, useless set of human beings than these monks it would be difficult to discover, except perhaps in Tibet.
It was almost pitch dark when we arrived under the walls, and here we were met with the pleasant news that our camp had not turned up, though it had started several hours before us. The man in charge had sent on a messenger to say that some of the animals had stuck in a soft chalky gorge at the foot of the hills, and that it was quite impossible to attempt the ascent in the dark. The difficulty was Mrs -----. ; for, for thirteen hundred years, the foot of woman had never profaned the sacred soil of Mar Saba, and therefore it was necessary for us to remain
outside its walls for the night, or leave the lady to take her chance of Bedouins and hyaenas. This, of course, was not to be thought of, for all the valour of the stout arm and the iron muscle under her feminine garb. In later years a large detached tower was built for the accommodation of travellers ; with a long ladder leading up to a door, placed twenty or thirty feet above the ground, but, at the time I speak of, there was nothing of the kind, and benighted travellers took their chance. As to the Bedouins, it appeared there was no fear at that particular time, but the monks declared that several hyænas were prowling about, and that it would not be safe to bivouac outside. The lady, however, scorned such fears, but not so her husband, evidently a timid person. "It's all very well for her" I heard him muttering with evident resentment in his voice ; "no hyæna would touch her."
"But Bedouins, they mightn't mind ? " some one suggested.
"Bedouins be d-----d!" he was getting irritable;
"I shouldn't like to be the Bedouin who tackled her !"
Finally, after an interminable parley in private with the Abbot, our dragoman suggested that His Holiness should come and himself cast eyes on the lady, undertaking further to go bail that there should be no scandal. Possibly not unwilling for the adventure, the pious man came and peeped through a small hole in the great gate and inspected the party, but whether he had the same difficulty as we had had in distinguishing her sex, or whether he thought that the morals of the convent could not be affected by the presence of a woman, the like of whom he, or few others, had ever seen, we never knew ; and the dragoman refused to say. Suffice it to say, that instead of being left to the mercies of wandering animals, she and her husband were finally hoisted up the wall, and deposited for the night in a watch tower overhanging
HORRORS OF MAR SABA
the gate. We weaker vessels, however, were admitted through the heavy narrow gate into an outer part of the cloister, where we were provided with rugs and blankets, anything but clean, but welcome enough to keep out the bitter cold wind that howled over us.
It is a desolate spot, this Convent of Mar Saba, and has been a recognised sanctuary for criminals of all nations from time immemorial. Every nationality is represented by its inmates and every crime has its example, murderers chiefly predominating. Many of the monks are mere criminal lunatics, but no questions are asked when they seek asylum. It is supposed that regicides lurk amongst them, which is quite likely. For many never open their lips to each other ; indeed silence is one of the rules of the place. It is largely supported by contributions from all civilised countries, especially by Russia. The monks are not required to make any protestation of Faith, but whatever their creed may be they are compelled to spend many hours a day in prayer in the Greek Orthodox church, the central object in the place. They are fed very sparsely, and seem to spend their whole day in sleep, or in feeding the curious and beautiful black and yellow ravens which wheel in great flocks below the parapets overhanging the cliffs. The history of the Convent is curious. It was built over a cave in memory of a saintly personage called Saba, who lived here about A.D. 480, for many years in company with a lion. Mar Saba, like England's patron Saint, St. George, was a Cappadocian.
* * * * *
Next morning - with a sense of escape from a polluted atmosphere - we mounted our horses to return to Jerusalem. We took the road through the wilderness of Judea, commanding a magnificent view of the Dead Sea, with the convent in the foreground - its chapels, rock
chambers, cupolas and hanging galleries, a bewildering labyrinth - and camped next on the site of the Herodium, commonly called the Frank Mountain, where we explored the remains of the palace and the tomb of Herod the Great.
Continuing our journey next day we met a very curious character, an American, grotesquely typical of his nation in manner and in dress ; wearing a tall hat, a much-worn, black frock-coat, no waistcoat or collar, and corduroy trousers tucked into long boots, cracked beyond mending. He was leading a donkey with a sack on its back for a saddle, and large goat-hair bags swinging on each side, in one of these, a Bible, about two feet square, numbers of tracts in English, Syrian, Turkish, and Arabic, a tin pot for making tea, a tin platter and a fork; in the other what change of clothing he had with him, and a blanket. In one hand he carried a black bag which contained, in addition to some remnants of food, sticking-plaster, several boxes of Cockle's pills, dentist's implements, chiefly extractors, creosote, and cotton wool. In the other hand he bore a telescope, about three feet long, but why, not even he could explain, as it was perfectly useless, the object-glass being cracked right across.
In personal appearance he was not less remarkable than his outfit - tall, lean, narrow-chested ; a thin, pale face out of which looked a weary, glittering pair of dark eyes, a weak mouth, partly hidden by a straggling moustache - a face with a pathetic beauty of its own, and the pure light shining on it of absolute self-negation. He seemed to breathe with difficulty, and stooped as he walked, but his astonishing patience with his donkey a particular obstinate specimen of his race was what struck one most on first meeting him. The most humane lover of animals could hardly have refrained from using a
THE HOPELESS EFFORT
stick on this tiresome beast, which seemed almost consciously malevolent in doing things to aggravate. But when his master turned his head and looked one in the eyes, one understood.
We asked him where he was bound, and it came as rather a shock when he answered with a Yankee accent - like a stonecutter's saw-
"I'm gwine to Mount Olivet."
" Can we help you in any way ? " we asked.
" Deeply grateful, gentlemen, but I can get along all right," he answered. Then, after a moment, he added----
" I wur a teuth doctor, and, like many of them, a man of evil ways, but I've been converted and have took to the Gospel business."
And he lifted his battered old hat, as in reverent memory of the solemn event.
"But why come here?" we asked him.
" Guess it's as good a jumping-off place as any other," he replied, without the least levity.
We asked him to join our party, and he jogged along on foot, we finding him a very original and interesting companion, but he left us in the Valley of Hinnom, for he said he usually slept outside the walls of Jerusalem. I saw him again, two or three days after, on the Mount of Olives. He was squatting on the ground with his Bible open, on his knees, and a few ragged Jerusalem loafers hanging about him, to whom he was expounding the Scripture in American English. His boots were off, and he had doffed his frock-coat; by his side were the contents of his sacks; the small kettle, and so forth. His donkey was tethered to an olive-tree close by, and some one had brought the beast some dried grass. I asked him what he was doing, and he replied he was teaching the Gospel.
MOUNT OF OLIVES, PALESTINE
"But surely they cannot understand a word you are saying ? " I asked.
" Strikes me that ain't of no consequence," he answered. "Surely this ain't a tougher job than Pentecost, and He done that all right."
I thought it would be irreverent, or worse still, hurt his feelings, to say that, judging by the faces of his listeners, the process was not going on rapidly ; for he seemed absolutely convinced that he was letting light in on their minds, and absurd as it all was there was something pathetic in this wonderful faith, which had lost all sense of proportion. I asked him where he slept.
"Right here," he said. "I guess this is as handy a fox's hole as I can find lying around : and what was good enough for my Master is good enough for me."
He never slept in a house, ate nothing but bread, onions and fruit, and, of course, only drank water. He had been about three months in this "business," having arrived at Jaffa with four or five thousand dollars, of which he had given away nearly every cent to the poor. But every one in Jerusalem - the clergy, without exception - thought him a fool and lunatic. And so he was, in one way, to think that the life of Christ is possible in the nineteenth century anywhere, more especially in the country where He lived and died.
For if there is a spot on earth where His lessons are absolutely set at naught and His example derided, surely it is in His own city; the very centre of rancorous religious hatred the very hotbed of ecclesiastical fraud and imposture.
* * * * *
Palestine travelling, forty years ago, was far more pleasant than it is now, for the few people one met were almost entirely English, with a smattering of well-bred Italians, French, or a stray American. Nowadays every
TERROR OF GERMAN TOURIST
hole and corner of this land swarms with tourists from all parts of the world, prominent amongst them and far outnumbering them all put together, the Germans, who have, as everywhere else, rendered life miserable for other nationalities. For your travelling German seems to think the whole world is his private apartment - to behave in with what decency he is capable of - indecorously uxorious if newly married, or working his miserable wife like a bootblack if the honeymoon is over.
It is thus, that being almost always a small shop-keeper, he is the pestilence that travelleth by noonday, for in Germany, as yet, there is no cultured middle class, and you pass, at one leap, from the refined, courteous German aristocrat, amongst the best in Europe, to a social level which has no parallel in other European countries. This shopkeeper pervades everything. Under the silent cypresses of Scutari Cemetery his little table and mug of beer stand ready for him : the Holy Sepulchre reeks with the miasma of his woollen underwear and pestiferous Hamburg cigars. In a railway carriage he stifles you by closing every window; taking off his boots preparatory to sleeping under a pile of rugs enough to smother a crocodile. He eats three times more than any other European, and is, in consequence, certain to snore in a train, or to be sick in a steamer, even in dead-smooth water. Finally he believes himself destined to over-run and rule the world, not only by commercial enterprise, but by military achievement.
I parted company with my companion in Jerusalem, as I was obliged to cut my journey short for want of cash, and rode down to Jaffa in company with a man who had come out to write a book on the Holy Land, which was to surpass everything hitherto attempted. To leave his mind unbiassed, he had purposely refrained from reading anything any one had ever written on the subject, with
the exception of such historians as Moses, Samuel, Daniel and Zephaniah. He took everything literally, and when we came to a big grove of myrtles near Mizpah begged me to look out for a "man on a red horse followed by three more red horses speckled with white." He said the most disagreeable thing he had experienced in his journey were the owls at Jericho they kept him awake half the night. I said I had not noticed them and that if I had I rather liked their ghostly noise.
"Well, you must 'ave a taste - you must," he said. " I just 'ated them, and I'll read out to you what I've put in my book about them. ‘Sleep was banished, for a troop of jackals rendered night 'ideous with their melancholy 'owls.' "
At first I thought him a fool, but changed my mind later; for he drank all my brandy and borrowed two sovereigns, which he forgot to repay ; besides getting on board the steamer without having paid for his horse from Jerusalem, pretending to have a fit, which rendered him unconscious until we were well out to sea. On reaching Alexandria he had another fit, which lasted until after dark, when he so far recovered as to be able to crawl out of the port of the steamer into a coal lighter and get ashore ; incidentally taking with him two pairs of boots and a pair of trousers belonging to the man who had shared his cabin, and without having paid for his ticket. I lost sight of him then, and am sorry; for he was an interesting person, with many idiosyncrasies, and likely to get on. From Alexandria I got a passage home in a merchant steamer, which carried a few passengers. We were a very mixed lot in the saloon, amongst us an Indian Chaplain, his wife, and two sickly little girls ; the father, a white-livered person in spectacles, with every particle of energy burnt out of him in some deadly Plain Station ; the mother, with a thin, solemn face and a voice like
a hen. She was fervidly pious and extremely captious, and before we were out of sight of the lighthouse had endeavoured to enlist my services in an attempt she intended to make to reform the morals of two French women - also passengers - connected with the stage. The battery was to open fire by my presenting these ladies with two tracts, one narrating some incidents in the life of Mary Magdalene and another about Bahab, the inn-keeper of Jericho. I was to translate these vivâ voce, and then the Chaplain's wife would appear on the scene and plant the seed on this prepared soil. But it never came off ; for this good woman, coming on deck one evening rather late, actually tumbled over the feet of an old rascal, a second-class passenger with no right to be on the poop, on whose knees was seated one of the damsels we were to reform ; whilst a little farther off the other was peacefully reclining on the lap of the chief engineer. Although she had been to India in a P. and 0. steamer, the good woman was considerably shocked, and came and consulted me about it in the morning. I said there seemed something in sea air which made people behave in unaccountable ways on board ship, and that perhaps it would be best for us not to begin just yet, but to wait further developments; which, indeed, developed with such rapidity that, on arriving at Malta, the French Consul came on board and, at the captain's request, both ladies were removed to the shore, with much shaking of fists and violent language, in which "Ces Maudits Anglais ! " and " Canailles ! " were often repeated.
In Malta we embarked a man who looked as if Death had already placed his hand on his shoulder ; for he was greenish-white, bending forward, and evidently in great pain. I told the captain that I thought the man was in for cholera. He laughed at the idea ; he knew when he saw cholera, and so forth. In a few hours we were at
sea again, and the man was evidently dying, with all the unmistakable symptoms of that fell disease. The skipper asked me what ought to be done; for no one would go near the sick man, as he lay in his cabin in agony. I went down to look at him, he was already becoming unconscious : almost in a state of collapse, his knees drawn up, and a cold sweat all over him. There was nothing could be done for him, but I gave him about a hundred drops of chlorodyne, which, however, I might as well have poured out of the port, for it went there almost immediately. By morning he was dead; I had hardly left him all night. The captain came down and put his hand on him. " Why, he is still warm," said he ; "surely he ain't dead - is he? "
"Yes, he is," I said, "and he will be warmer still, unless I am mistaken."
For I had seen temperature rise after death in cholera. And so it did with him, but there was not a shadow of doubt he was dead.
All day long the skipper and I went in and out of the cabin where he lay, in order that the passengers might not know that he had gone. Nevertheless a nameless horror was plainly showing itself on board, both they and the crew guessing something had happened. After nightfall the skipper and I sewed him up in canvas, and with the aid of the mate, carried him on deck. As we stumbled up the companion, the Chaplain looked out of his cabin, saw what was going on, and immediately dodged in again and banged-to the door. I thought he would have come out to read the Burial Service; but as he did not offer to do so, we did not ask him. So there we stood, we three, the mate holding a lantern whilst I read out the last sentences of the Burial Service as used at sea ; and then the splash.
We then went down and collected all the clothes the
man had worn, as well as the sheets, blankets, towels, carpet, curtains, cushions, washing utensils, in fact everything movable in the cabin, rolling them all up in bundles and throwing them overboard. Next day the terror had deepened, most of the passengers refusing to touch fruit or fish, many remaining in their cabins all day with the door shut; whilst amongst the most invisible was the parson, who, with his wife and children all jammed-up in one cabin, we could hear groaning out prayers all day long.
In the Bay of Biscay, in a heavy south-west gale, we almost ran into a raft, constructed of heavy timbers, and had it been night we should probably have struck it, and, I cannot doubt, should have stove in our bows and foundered. A barrel was still lashed to a mast that had been broken off five or six feet above the planks, which had been well nailed down to the timbers, and lying between the mast and the barrel, with a lashing round her waist, was the body of a woman in a light cotton dress ; one arm with a broad gold bracelet, her shoulder bare where the bodice had been torn away; her feet and ankles without covering. It was a terrible sight, for with every plunge of the raft, now carried to the crest of a green-grey roller, now plunging down into the seething foam, the corpse dashed itself about; the arm flung up as if imploring help, the head tossing from side to side, the long hair washing backwards and forwards over the white face. We were quite unable to board the raft ; for, even if the sea had been less violent, the steamer's boats - which had hung rotting at the davits for years - would not have floated in a duck-pond. A well-found man-of-war's boat could have done it, however, and some one with a line round him would have got on to the raft, and at least given rest to that sad sea-tossed form. But the skipper absolutely declined to
THE BAY OF BISCAY
make any attempt, and so, after slowing down and examining the raft as closely as possible, we stood on, leaving the mystery unsolved. But sufficient evidence to throw some light on the history of the raft was in its construction. We knew that it had been put together out of spars from a steamer ; for there were none in it that could have belonged to a sailing ship. There had been ample time, too, to make it well, showing that the ship from which it came had either foundered slowly in fine weather, or may have been burnt. The ropes and lashings had not been long in the water, and no doubt the other occupants of the raft had been washed away, for if the woman had died before their rescue her body would certainly have been cut adrift and the bracelet taken away. I have seen many terrible sights : massacres in Bulgaria, the horrible death-pits of Las Palmas, the Canton River with its floating dead after a typhoon, Chinese pirates beheaded, a man crucified in Japan, with other nameless horrors, but nothing has left a sadder impression on my mind than this poor woman, her body tossing frantically on the wild waters of the Bay of Biscay - her soul awake on the sea-less shore.
I watched the raft for a long time, and then went down into the saloon. Three men were playing cards : two of them hopelessly trying to cheat the third a Maltese Jew. The Chaplain put his head out of his cabin the first time he had been seen since the death of the man by cholera and, calling the steward, abused him roundly, because a can of water had upset in his cabin through his own stupidity. The chief engineer, already half-seas over, was drinking whisky and water, in the proportion of three of the former to one of the latter, whilst narrating a long yarn of doubtful tendency to a blowsy widow, who regaled herself with occasional sips out of his tumbler.
Truly a microcosm ! this rusty, rotten, old iron box,
ENGLAND ONCE MORE
ploughing over the ocean, trusting to Providence, bearing this strange agglomeration of human beings.
We reached Liverpool without further incidents, and, there being no doctor to report how the man had died, there were no delays in allowing us to land.
And so closed another stage in my life.
<-Previous Chapter - Next Chapter ->
^ back to top ^